I am working on some posts on income inequality, especially as compared between nations. One thing I have been thinking about is whether the US GINI (a measure of income inequality) is overstated because the US has a tiered retail system that gives lower income people access to lower prices (though for sometimes lower quality goods). We have Wal-Mart and Family Dollar, discount retail concepts that are rare, and often illegal (due to limitations on retail discounting) in European countries.
On a sort of purchasing power parity basis, I wonder if this has any impact in narrowing the US effective GINI. Of course, this mitigating factor is somewhat mitigated itself by the fact that a number of urban areas with some of the poorest families (e.g. Washington DC) restrict entry of these low-cost retail establishments.
Last year, there were about 3.2 trillion passenger miles driven by urban drivers in cars in the US. My point about light rail is that we can barely afford it for just a few people, given that we spent $1.3 billion to build a rail line for just 17,000 daily round trip riders in Phoenix. If it were truly a sustainable technology, it could be applied to all commuters. But at a national average taxpayer subsidy per light rail passenger mile of about $2**, this means that to roll light rail out to every urban commuter would cost $6.4 trillion a year in government spending, almost half our annual GDP. If it required the subsidy rates we have in Phoenix per passenger-mile, such a system would cost over $12 trillion year. In fact, the numbers would likely be even higher in reality, because light rail in most cities is almost certainly built on the highest populated corridors with the most bang for the buck (though some of the diminishing returns would be offset by network effects).
Light rail only works today because we drain resources from millions of taxpayers to benefit just a few generally middle class commuters. This is not a model that will scale.
** This includes both service on the debt, which is payment for the original construction costs, as well as annual operating losses. This subsidy is required essentially forever. After 20-30 years when the original bonds are paid off, by that time systems generally have to be rebuilt in their entirety (as folks in places like Washington DC are learning). There are probably only 5-6 cities in this country that have the urban population densities to make rail systems come even in the ballpark of working financially, and places like Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, Portland and LA are NOT among them.
It is a really weird mental block we have against paying out of pocket for medical bills, particularly since this is probably the most, not the least, important thing we can spend our money on. Having a high-deductible health insurance plan has been a real eye-opener for me. As in this post from Maggie's Farm, I too have found doctors will very often give a discount for cash. My son has a great sports medicine guy (he plays 3 varsity sports so we seem to be at the doctor a lot for one injury or another) who gives us a $40 cash rate for a visit. Further, when he needs X-rays, the radiology place downstairs usually does 2-3 films of the injured appendage du jour for around $35. The X-ray place has a special cash price book they pull out when I show up. I shudder to think what rate they charge insurance companies. And t just think of the piles of infrastructure from my doctors office to the insurance company to Washington DC that would have had to come into play had I sought 3rd party payments for these bills.
And when it comes to the expensive things, it is amazing what price cuts you can find with just a little shopping. Previously, I had spent less time in my whole life shopping medical care prices than I had price-shopping my last hard drive. But when my son had to get a CT scan on his head (yes, another sports injury) we saved hundreds of dollars just calling a second place for a quote. In fact, even mentioning that we were going to price shop the first quote got a few hundred dollars knocked off. The lack of any rigor in health care pricing is just appalling, and will only get worse as government / single payer solutions crowd out approaches like mine under Obamacare.
If you are young (I suppose 20's or younger) and have been actively involved in some way as a climate skeptic in the Washington DC area, reporter Andrew Restuccia of the Washington Independent would like to talk to you. He is writing an article on young climate skeptics, I think. Drop him a note, he seems to be developing a hypothesis that skeptics are all crusty old dudes and showing him some fresh faces would help: arestuccia --at-- washingtonindependent.com
Apparently, Washington DC politicians think that it is an economic disaster that there are ... too many competitors in the taxicab business.
The District's open, all-are-invited taxicab industry is so saturated with drivers that the entire enterprise is threatened, according to a D.C. Council member who has filed a bill to cap the number of cabs allowed on city streets.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham introduced legislation Tuesday to limit the number of taxicabs in D.C. through either a medallion system, like ones used in New York City and Chicago, or a certification system.
The soaring number of taxicab operators in D.C. "” roughly 8,000, most of whom own their own cars "” is a "pressing and urgent problem," Graham said. There are more licensed drivers in D.C. per capita than any place in the world, he said, and new applicants continue to take the required class, giving them access to the driver exam administered by the D.C. Taxicab Commission. A glut of drivers could jeopardize the chances of any cabbies making an adequate living, Graham has said.
After spending an entire hour trying to get a cab in the middle of a sunny day in Paris, I have not very sympathetic. Another example of how government licensing is almost always aimed at protecting incumbent businesses from competition, rather than helping the consumer.
One of the worst violations of due process on the books today is law enforcement's ability to seize cash and assets from people only suspected to be drug dealers, with no due process whatsoever. In fact, the only process involved is that, once seized, the private citizen from which the assets were taken must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the money or assets are legitimately theirs, rather than the other way around. This was a great case in point.
Along the same lines, the city of Washington DC has decided that all that due process stuff is getting in the way of their harvesting the maximum amount of cash from drivers:
In an attempt to stem the loss of revenue from motorists contesting
parking tickets, cities are effectively eliminating the traditional due
process rights of motorists to defend themselves at an impartial
hearing. By the end of next year, Washington, DC's Department of Motor
Vehicles (DMV) will not allow anyone who believes he unfairly received
a citation to have his day in an administrative hearing.
will complete the phase-out of in-person adjudication of parking
tickets in favor of mail-in and e-mail adjudication by December 2008,"
the Fiscal Year 2008 DMV plan states.
The move is intended to allow automated street sweeper parking ticket machines
to boost the number of infractions cited well beyond the 1.6 million
currently handed out by meter maids. As one-third of those who contest
citations in the city are successful, the hearings cut significantly into the $100 million in revenue tickets generate each year.
the DMV's plan, motorists will only be able to object to a ticket by
email or letter where city employees can ignore or reject letters in
bulk without affected motorists having any realistic recourse.
Thanks to Radley Balko, who also found this little gem:
In Boston and other cities in Massachusetts,
motorists cannot challenge a $100 parking ticket in court without first
paying a $275 court fee. If found innocent, the motorist does not
receive a refund of the $275.
I found this when I went to Pandora today (one of those applications that makes the Internet so entirely cool and worth all the spam and flame wars). I found this message:
Hi, it's Tim from Pandora,
I'm sorry to say that
today Pandora, along with most Internet radio sites, is going off the
air in observance of a Day Of Silence. We are doing this to bring to
your attention a disastrous turn of events that threatens the existence
of Pandora and all of internet radio. We need your help.
Ignoring all rationality and responding only to the
lobbying of the RIAA, an arbitration committee in Washington DC has
drastically increased the licensing fees Internet radio sites must pay
to stream songs. Pandora's fees will triple, and are retroactive for
eighteen months! Left unchanged by Congress, every day will be like
today as internet radio sites start shutting down and the music dies.
A bill called the "Internet Radio Equality Act" has already
been introduced in both the Senate (S. 1353) and House of
Representatives (H.R. 2060) to fix the problem and save Internet
radio--and Pandora--from obliteration.
I'd like to ask you to call your Congressional
representatives today and ask them to become co-sponsors of the bill.
It will only take a few minutes and you can find your Congresspersons and their phone numbers by entering your zip code here.
Your opinion matters to your representatives - so please take just a minute to call.
Visit www.savenetradio.org to continue following the fight to Save Internet Radio.
As always, and now more than ever, thank you for your support.
I thought the city of Washington DC had declared a "Crime emergency" because there was too much crime. Apparently not, since they have created a whole new class of criminals: 16-year-olds who are ... shudder ... out and about after 10PM.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday that the city had to
set the new 10 p.m. curfew for youths 16 and younger because of
"irresponsible" parents who don't control their children.
"You shouldn't need a curfew if you've got parents who are
responsible," Ramsey said on Washington Post Radio. "But unfortunately
we've got some parents here that are totally irresponsible. Their idea
of raising a kid is throwing a kid out of the house and letting them
straggle back in at 2 o' clock in the morning."
Hat tip to Reason's Hit and Run, which had this comment:
It's not that city officials want to play parent to every kid in the district. It's just that, gosh, turns out law enforcement professionals are better parents.
I hate to think what ideas this will give our local stormtrooper Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff with the largest PR budget in the nation.
Props by the way to Phoenix New Times reporter John Dougherty, whose longstanding reporting on Sheriff Joe is reminiscent of the tough, confrontational local reporting of old. Of course, there's no room for that in the milquetoast pander-to-the-local-pols reality of big-city newspapers today, so Dougherty is relegated to the local alternative paper (which may not be fair -- I don't know Mr. Dougherty -- he may prefer to be where he is). Sheriff Joe is popular here in Phoenix, so the Arizona Republic (the big paper here) panders to him rather than risk confronting a popular figure. The fact that one of Sheriff Joe's family helps run the Arizona Republic's editorial page may also have something to do with it.
Quite a while back, I suggested that a better use for HOV lanes would be to charge money for their use, thereby creating a new revenue stream to increase future freeway capacity and beginning to experiment with peak pricing.
Several years ago, I sent in a proposal to the Arizona
Dept. of Transportation for their new HOV lanes in the Phoenix area,
though I never got a response back. I suggested that HOV lanes
probably did not really increase carpooling, since they probably just
shifted vehicles that would have already been carrying 2+ people into
the faster lane. Why should I get this artificial subsidy of a
dedicated lane when I am driving my kid to a soccer game but not when I
am driving myself to do productive work? Either way, the lane is not
changing my behavior.
Anyway, I suggested that instead, AZ DOT should create a
number of special passes for exclusive use of the HOV lane. The number
of passes should be set as the largest number that could be issued
while keeping the HOV lane moving at the speed limit at rush hour.
Maybe 5000? Anyway, they would have the stats to set the number, and
it could be adjusted over time. I proposed that they then auction off
these passes in a dutch auction once a year. I posited that the
clearing price might be as high as $1000, thus raising $5,000,000 a
year that could be used for other transportation projects.
I suggested that $1000 as the clearing price might be low. For some workers and businesses, 20 saves minutes a day might be worth thousands of dollars a year. Some wealthy people would buy it just because they can, or as a status symbol. I observed that many people were buying hybrids in Washington DC solely so they could use the HOV lane, putting a price of at least $5000 (based on the hybrid's price premium over similar non-hybrids) on HOV lane use. In this example, I posited an annual pass, rather than a toll, solely because we have not toll roads here and no infrastructure at all to support tolls and a customer based unused to paying them.
Apparently, Lynn Kiesling, the DC/Northern Virginia area may soon experiment with exactly this concept, charging a congestion-variable price for HOV lane use while giving a discount to carpools. Apparently the idea already is in use in SoCal.