Friday, April 28, 2006

Decriminalization: Win the Battle, Lose the War

Mexico has recently passed legislation that would decriminalize drug possession; including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, opium and several other recreational drugs. In conjunction with this liberalization they are going to impose stiff penalties on individuals caught dealing drugs. (which makes little sense to me, how can it be ok to buy drugs but bad to sell them?) Jeffery Miron and Rough Ol’ Boy both seem to think this is a positive development. I’m more than a little skeptical.

I think that decriminalization will end up increasing the rate of violent crimes. By increasing demand and increasing the costs of supply (via harsher penalties for getting caught) competition will become violent as suppliers seek to maximize short term profits to hedge against long term incarceration.

The sad thing is that people that do not understand the economics behind it (which, honestly, as to be most of American correct?) will use this anecdotal evidence as rationalization of continuing the War On Drugs.

This short term gain will end up resulting in long term failure for liberalization of drug laws in the US.

Update: Don at Cafe Hayek takes the opposite view.
Update: But Patri at Catallarchy agrees with me.

Another Update: Professor Bainbridge is reporting that US meddling has caused Mexico to question its stance on decriminalization.

Civil Disobedience

Does anyone know what would happen if Microsoft just refused to pay all or part of the €497 million fine being levied against it?

Sprawling Legislation

If more people actually read my blog I’d call this Smilerz’s Law – Government regulation causes more of the problem it’s trying to fix.

But in many counties, the so-called adequate public facilities ordinances have become de facto building moratoriums because the needed infrastructure has not been built, said the center's report, which was underwritten by home-building industry groups.
Even worse, researchers said, the measures are diverting new housing from areas designated for development under Maryland's pioneering Smart Growth law, which was adopted a decade ago in an attempt to curtail suburban sprawl.

So Maryland’s anti-sprawl law causes sprawl, who would have thought? When are politicians and central planners ever going to learn that they just simply aren’t smart enough to mold human behavior?
Perhaps the most effective way to lobby against such “reforms” isn’t to convince everyone that they aren’t needed, but to convince everyone that you simply can’t fix these so-called problems.

Standing Up For What You Believe In

There is nothing quite as spectacular as taking a stand for something when there is absolutely no risk
...The Democrat leaders of the California State Assembly.... declared Monday a "check-in" day so as not to forfeit their $459 tax-free per diem for the weekend and Monday. A true legislative walkout would have led to lawmakers losing per diem pay for Saturday and Sunday, as well as Monday since spending more than three consecutive days away from the Capitol triggers a halt in the highly-prized extra pay.
So thousands of immigrants are going to walk off the job, forfeiting their pay – something that they will feel accurately since, presumably, they aren’t making a lot of money anyway. Meanwhile, Democrats show their solidarity by changing the rules so that they can collect their free money while looking like they care. Keep in mind that the legislators of California are, on average, amongst the wealthiest of California citizens.

If I was an immigrant I would tell the bastards to shove their walk-out where the sun doesn’t shine. If the Democrats of California truly cared about anyone other than themselves they would eliminate the per diem extra pay and use the money to “help people” since that is what they promise to do during election season. You know help those less fortunate and not just appear to do so.

HatTip: Hit and Run

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Oil, Oil Everywhere and Not a Drop To Drink

I should never have promised to not blog about oil, it’s everywhere and the ignorance that it generates just can’t go unanswered.

I guess there are at least some people that are cheering about high oil prices.

What none can acknowledge is that higher gas prices in the United States are a good thing. To be sure, oil at $70 a barrel causes hardships for working people and delights some of the world's worst dictators. But cheap gasoline imposes its own costs on society: greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and its attendant health risks, traffic congestion, and accidents. The ideal way to cope with these externalities would be with higher gas taxes or a carbon tax. But these are politically impossible ideas at the moment—Democrats lost control of Congress in part because they passed a 4-cent-per-gallon tax increase in 1993. The next best solution is the one that has arrived on its own: a high market price for oil, which spurs conservation and substitution.

So I guess at least some environmentalists are dedicated to their cause. I wish there were more of them to offset some of the big government proposals to punish success.
Meanwhile Senators are going to give every American $100 to offset gas prices. My first question is what are they going to cut for this payout? My second question is why are people that don’t own cars getting this payoff payout?

The answer is simply – it’s a free campaign ad. I hope someone in Congress calls attention to this cheap political trick. If Congress truly wanted to do something about gas prices in the short term they would eliminate the federal taxes on gasoline. Not that such a ploy would work, but at least they could pretend that their actions had some effect. Professor Bainbridge wants to know where the party of small government is – the answer is simple; it hasn't existed for years. There are no Democrats or Republicans anymore, just populists that will try every trick in the book to retain power at the expense of anything approaching a governing philosophy.

HatTip: Hit and Run

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gas Prices - I Was Wrong

Turns out I was wrong – it looks like taxes make up most (if not all) of the price difference of gasoline between the US and the EU. Here are a couple interesting charts.

Something that I find interesting is that the high price of gasoline seems to push consumers towards fuel efficient cars, though its hard to tell for certain since there is so much (over) regulation involved. Also of note is that all that extra efficiency is completely lost to the government through obscenely high taxes. So even though our cars don’t have nearly the economy that European cars do, we get much more bang for the buck.


Sorry - More on Gas

I know I said I was tired of the ‘energy crisis,’ but I just can’t help it.  It’s like a car crash – its brutally disturbing, but you just have to watch.

Anyway, something that I find interesting.  American gas prices are much lower than prices in Europe (and possibly the rest of the world where there are no price caps, though I can’t confirm that), yet fuel efficiency standards are much higher in Japan, EU and Canada.  So one of the solutions that liberals constantly propose (improving efficiency will lower the price of gasoline) doesn’t seem to pan out.

Are the differences in price solely due to tax rates?  I find that a bit implausible, does anyone have a source to prove or disprove the theory?

Small Aside on Gas Prices

To be frank, I’m more than a bit tired of the hysteria surrounding oil prices.  I’m especially tired of the populist morons (read Bill O’Reilly, et al) that claim it can be ‘fixed’ with just the right policy solution.

I don’t have anything substantive to add to the fisking of “windfall profits,” profiteering, price gouging or the other nonsensical arguments against success.  I wish that the press would spend some more time talking about how difficult (read – impossible) it is to build a new refinery.  Or maybe how Congress’s past attempts at meddling with gasoline mixtures (mandatory ethanol, lower sulfur output, etc) have contributed to the high prices.  The mainstream media doesn’t even acknowledge that these past actions have contributed to the current state of things.  It’s almost like the past doesn’t exist at all.

However, my TRUE question is where are all the environmentalists at?  Shouldn’t they be begging Congress to sit on their hands for the “good of the environment?”  If high prices reduce consumption shouldn’t they be clamoring for more of the same?  Their silence seems to confirm my suspicions that they don’t actually care about the environment – they just hate Big Business and the success that it implies.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Revolting Partisanship

There is a reason why substantive discussions about policy don't take place in Washington.

I’ve made the comment several times that I simply don’t consider most of the left to be my countrymen.

We may occupy the same bit of real estate but our vision of the nation – what it was and what it should be – are so divergent as to suggest that we inhabit parallel universes. As some may have noticed, I’m not terribly interested in finding common ground with the left because I simply do not believe most of them are capable of acting in good faith and I fear for my nation whenever they get their fingers on the levers of power.

Partisans are so busy trying to win - making the opposition out to be evil monsters that have no place at the table they can't even conceive that perhaps they both actually want the same thing. As long as politics is Us v. Them no good can ever be done.

Obama On Education

Senator Barrack Obama thinks our schools suck.

One study shows that two groups of students who started third grade at about the same level of math achievement finished fifth grade at vastly different levels. The group with the effective teacher saw their scores rise by nearly 25%. The group with the ineffective teacher actually saw their scores drop by 25%.
To hold schools and teachers accountable for the results of all these reforms, districts that don't improve would be removed from the program. To find out what works and what doesn't, we'd provide them with powerful data and technology, and also give them the option of partnering with local universities to help them improve performance.

(Not so) Suprising is that there no talk about dropping teachers out of the program. In the example that he sites the teachers will both get the same raise as negotiated by their union. Both teachers will have job security. Both teachers will get the same benefits.

How can we talk about making our schools and teachers accountable when only the schools suffer the consequences? You can't make schools accountable until teachers are made accountable. Teachers will not become accountable (and can you blame them) until there is a price for failure.

There is much more said (wrong) and left out of the speech, but don't take my word for it, read it yourself.

Failing to Succeed

Venzuela president Hugo Chavez makes moves to further isolate his country from his neighbors. I think that it is a blatant move to try to gain regional power by coercing his neighbors to abandon relationships with the US.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says his country is withdrawing from the South American trade bloc, the Andean Community of Nations.

He told a summit in Paraguay that Venezuela was leaving because recent trade deals between Peru, Colombia and the US had killed off the community.

He has accused fellow members of being overly aligned with the US.

He has vowed to create economic and political unity in South America without the help of Washington
I have a hard time trying to decide whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing. Certainly, it is a defeat for the citizens of Venezuala and the other nations in the trading block, no good can come from protectionist policies. I certainly hold no joy over other people's becoming poorer, despite David Friedman's admission of tribalism.

The reason that it may be good news is that the further that the South American countries descend into socialism, the sooner that they will fail. The outcome isn't certain, but I'm hoping that the failure can be seen as a failure of socialism. Or enlightened capitalism, or whatever they are calling socialism these days. I have similar hopes for France and Germany as well.

The more socialism is shown to fail the more likely that free markets and free societies will succeed. I very much want Venezuela and other nations to prosper, but I don't think that they will until they fail.

Who Writes These?

No point other than to ask how rivers can be secret? Doesn't a secret imply that someone knows about them but has been hiding it from everyone else?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What's The Fallacy In This Statement

Extra brownie points for the first correct answer.

1.) An academic scientist designs an experiment to answer an important question.

2.) The scientist applies to the government to fund the research.

3.) The money pays for students and fellows who conduct the research.

4.) The results are published in journals, which advance the field.

5.) An invention may result. This may lead to a patent, which then is licensed to a start-up company.

6.) With a monopoly granted by the patent, the company attracts venture capital. If it is successful, the company grows.

7.) Years later, the discovery becomes a therapy for patients.

It takes $28.8 billion, the annual budget of the NIH, to prime this machine. Every year, the money generates an astonishing amount of fundamental knowledge and thousands of biomedical discoveries. With no initial funding, this apparatus stops at Step 1.

HatTip: Prometheus

Smoking Reduces HealthCare Costs

More evidence for my theory that whenever government tries something it usually succeeds in accomplishing the opposite goal.

Health care costs for smokers at a given age are as much as
40 percent higher than those for nonsmokers, but in a
population in which no one smoked the costs would be 7
percent higher among men and 4 percent higher among
women than the costs in the current mixed population of
smokers and nonsmokers. If all smokers quit, health care
costs would be lower at first, but after 15 years they would
become higher than at present. In the long term, complete
smoking cessation would produce a net increase in health
care costs, but it could still be seen as economically
favorable under reasonable assumptions of discount rate
and evaluation period.

So, oddly enough, if smoking bans reduce smoking (evidence shows this isn't necessarily true) they only succeed in increasing the overall healthcare burden.

HatTip: Truth On the Market

Outsourcing Medicine

Supposedly, radiology is being outsourced to India.

On ABC, George Will said the outsourcing of radiology could make health care affordable again, to which Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York retorted that thousands of American radiologists would lose their jobs. On NPR, an economist said the pay of radiologists was already suffering. At the White House, an adviser to President Bush suggested that fewer medical students would enter the field in the future.

Which leads me to wonder why Schumer is sticking up for people that make $350,000 per year. Isn't this the class of people that are ruining America? The dreaded top 5%? Either way, why are the jobs of a handful of people more important than millions of people getting cheap x-rays? If the total cost of healthcare can be reduced by outsourcing a service, I'm all for it.

There are other fallacies associated with this as well. Does anyone think that all of these people will lose their job? I doubt it. They go on to worry that less people will enter the field. So what? That just means that they will do something else that has more value.

Because these people tend to be more powerful than your average factory worker, so expect to see special licensing requirement to "protect" these jobs. The arguments will include xenophobia, safety - you know, all the standard protectionist arguments.

If you continue reading the NYT column by David Leonhardt you will see it is much ado about nothing, but when has government ever been afraid of solving problems that don't exist?

HatTip: Prometheus

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Are Proffessional Organizations Really Liberal Activists?

It certainly seems so.

The American Librarians Association refused to stick up for a conservative librarian that was being sued for recommending conservative books.

The American Psychiatric Association has used its clout to advance a liberal agenda.

The American Bar Association states that law schools should institute quotas regardless of state and federal laws.

The American Medical Association, National Education Association, and others certainly seem quite liberal from where I sit.

My question is if this is a temporary state of things? Will proffessionals that are no longer being served by these organizations revolt or simply ignore them. I would imagine that a sizable percentage of the proffessionals that are "represented" by these organizations are either conservative or nominally apolitical. I can envision a scenario where there is an internal revolt and the leadership is replaced by people with vastly different ideological leanings.

The question then becomes will they be replaced by conservative activists thus swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction or by principled actors that only wish to serve their constituents? I fear that the likely outcome is to swing far to the right - it would be an improvement, at least temporarily, but not by much.

EU Law More Important Than US

Microsoft has been rebuffed a second time in its attempts to subpoena competitors in order to fight its antitrust case with the European Union. A U.S. District Court judge in Boston said Monday that allowing Microsoft to obtain documents from Novell would undermine European Union law.

Now, keep in mind I haven't read the opinion (and likely wouldn't understand it if I had) so I'm taking BetaNews's analysis at face value (and assume all the risks that implies), but I simply don't understand the reasoning. Why should US law be subjagated to EU law?

Wolf also admitted that, at first, he had been leaning towards siding with the Redmond company. However, Microsoft's repeated assertions that the European Commission lacked any authority to bar Microsoft from seeing the documents changed his mind.

To make matters worse, Wolf admits, to my reading, that Microsoft may be right in seeking the documents, but the way that they did it pissed him off. If Microsoft's competitors are, indeed, colluding against the company (as Microsoft alledges) then Microsoft should, rightly, have access to the documents to support their claim regardless of EU's opinion on the matter.

Creative judicial opinions that are used to "punish" unpopular companies and legislation undermine the rule of law and the US has become complicit in the EU's crusade against success.

Nucular Threats

It its effort to make nuclear power as ugly as possible, Greenpeace skews the impact.

Official UN figures predicted up to 9,000 Chernobyl-related cancer deaths.

But Greenpeace says in a report released on Tuesday that recent studies estimate that the actual number of such deaths will be 93,000.

Stressing that there is a problem with diagnosis, it adds that other illnesses could take the toll to 200,000.

"Our problem is that there is no accepted methodology to calculate the numbers of people who might have died from such diseases," Greenpeace campaigner Jan van de Putte told Reuters news agency.

"The only methodology that is accepted is for calculating fatal cancers."

So, in other words, we can't calculate the number directly, so we'll just include everyone that died from a disease that could be linked to radiation. Never mind that some of these people would have contracted their disease whether or not the meltdown occurred. Of course, no deception is unjust if it can be used to fight against the evil that is nuclear power.

It is certainly plausible that the UN is under-counting, though I fail to see what motivation they would have to do so intentionally.

Meanwhile, Patrick Moore, the founder of Greenpeace, writes a passionate op-ed to environmentalists to rethink their stance on nuclear power.

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots.
Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.
You have to wonder what the full scope of harm environmentalists have done through their meddling. How much cleaner would the environment would have been? How much less CO2 would their have been? How much wealthier would we have been? I don't think that I am completely off-base by saying that environmentalists may be the most dangerous threat to the environment today.

I hope the current batch of activists heed his call, I disagree with their motives, but the ends are just.

The Future of Linux

Linux will forever be relegated to the domain of hobbyists and contrarians and will never achieve mainstream status. Not only is it based on technology that is over twenty years old, the proponents are dumb.

To write open-source graphics drivers without help from Nvidia or ATI is tough. Efforts to reverse-engineer open-source equivalents often are months behind and produce only 'rudimentary' drivers, said Michael Larabel, founder of a high-end Linux hardware site Phoronix ... Torvalds has argued that some proprietary modules should be permissible because they're not derived from the Linux kernel, but were originally designed to work with other operating systems.' The FSF however, sharply disagrees. 'If the kernel were pure GPL in its license couldn't link proprietary video drivers into it, whether dynamically or statically.

Computer users, generally, could care less about Open Source Purity. They want a product that works. Not only works, but works well, works easily and works intuitively. As long as the Linux community is going to get into pissing matches about what is and what is not appropriate for "their" OS the world is going to pass them by.

Companies (and countries) will toy with the OS because they think Microsoft is evil, but as they experience delays in getting features that they want I think they will abandon the experiment.

I'm hopeful that Apple will wise up to what is holding it back (proprietary hardware) and starts to challenge Microsoft for space on the desktop, but Linux is hopeless.

Friday, April 14, 2006

US Evil, Everyone Else Just Incompetent

The world is likely to suffer a temperature rise of more than 3C, the government's chief scientist warned.

That would put up to 400 million people worldwide at risk of hunger, said Professor Sir David King in a report based on computer predictions.

He told the BBC the world had to act now to tackle global warming expected to happen over the next 100 years.

He said even if international agreement could be reached on limiting emissions, climate change was inevitable.

The UK Government and the EU want to stabilise the climate at an increase of no more than 2C, but the US refuses to cut emissions and those of India and China are rising quickly.

This BBC report is very dissengenious; blaming US, China and India for the totality of the problem while not even addressing the concerns that led the US to not sign Kyoto. The fact is that Canada has backed out of Kyoto (yet, amazingly, were not accused of "refusing to cut emissions") and none of the Kyoto signatories have met their goals. Well no one but Russia, which had it's economy collapse so the compliance wasn't necessarily voluntarily.

So, if the US honestly says they won't participate, but everyone else says they will but fail to comply, who is really at fault?

Read the whole thing, but hurry - time is short because the world is ending.

The French Are Great At Coercion

Are things so desperate in France that politicians have to pull stunts like this:

Jean Lassalle, 52, has lost 21kg (46lbs) since starting his protest and was admitted to hospital on Friday.

But he agreed to end the protest after Toyal told Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy it would not close its paint factory in Accous in the Pyrenees.

The firm employs about 150 people in Mr Lassalle's constituency.

It planned to open another factory 60km away and the MP feared the Accous site would close, despite the firm's insistence that it would not.

Like a sad clown. I'm not asking to win. I'm asking for good sense to triumph
Jean Lassalle

After talks with Mr Sarkozy, Toyal agreed to continue investment in Accous before investing elsewhere.

150 Jobs. 150 jobs that weren't necessarily at risk. So basically the people that live in one part (of the same country) should benefit before anyone else. Brilliant!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

What Happens When Everyone Is Selfish?

Bryan Caplan responds to a hypothetical:
Would a society made up of totally selfish human beings be worse than the society we have today? Could it even function? In last week's Inaugural James M. Buchanan Lecture, Deirdre McCloskey seemed to think that the obvious answers were No on both counts. A society that practiced no virtue other than Prudence would be a disaster.
He disagrees, but I think he goes too far on some counts and not far enough on others. My fundamental belief about human behavior is that man is inherently greedy and selfish. I have a difficult time imagining this hypothetical world much differently from the one that we actually live in.

You can ascribe almost all human behavior to a selfish trait. People rarely give to charities that they could not benefit from; for example how many men give freely to the American Breast Cancer Assoc? Poverty related charities offer two selfish benefits. First, we know that there is a chance that we, someday, could need their services, so we invest in that possible future. Secondly, offerings like homeless shelters and soup kitchens keep the homeless and very poor congregated in a single spot - away from the wealth and out of site.

Bryan claims that charity to strangers would disappear, but I'm not so sure. We rarely help strangers if it costs us anything. We point them in the right direction, we recommend a good place to eat and sometimes we help them push their car out of the snow. Are these acts completely selfless? I don't' think so, if we refuse to offer free assistance to strangers they could become belligerent - especially if we assume that they are very selfish. We offer to help the stranger in the snow hoping that someone may help us if we were in the same situation, or perhaps they are blocking traffic and we need to get to work.

However, if we knew that no one would help us in times of random need, we would likely be better prepared for most eventualities. We would buy AAA services to help us when we were stuck, we would research restaurant locations before we traveled, or buy homeless insurance. The absence of stranger assistance would not effect us greatly in this hypothetical world.

Bryan then goes too far when he reasons that with Prudence there would be little or no war. He reasons that no one would be willing to die for a cause ending war and aggression. I find this more than a little difficult to believe. Many, if not most, religions base their principles on the fact that this world is temporary and the afterlife is where bliss begins. What selfish person would not give their life on this world to be guaranteed eternal bliss? Religion, racism and nationalism are inherently selfish traits. We want to prosper at the expense of others. When you have an opportunity to collaborate with others of similar traits (religion, race, ethnicity, nationality) to try to succeed at the expense of others there is no reason that selfishness would prevent that behavior.

The other aspect of war that he fails to take into account is the aggression of tyrants and dictators. When thugs hold the reins of power the powerless often have little choice but to cooperate. If you look at most of the wars in modern times, they are wars of tyrants or against tyrants.

In short, I think that we live in this hypothetical world, or close enough that it makes little difference. If everyone understood that man is driven by greed and selfishness and made policy decisions based on this fact we could avoid the "compassionate" legislation that is intended to help others that typically just makes everyone worse off than they originally were.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Proletariate Part II

After killing a measure that would lead to lower unemployment among young, inexperienced workers by liberalizing employment rules, the French Parliament have decided to swing in the opposite direction.

The new bill establishes the principle of state aid to employers taking on young people in difficulties on a contract for an indeterminate period.

These provisions concern the youngsters aged between 16 and 26 experiencing the greatest difficulties in gaining access to the labour market.

So, instead of reducing the risk associated with hiring young people, France is just going to bribe businesses to hire young people. Brilliant! No doubt this is going to put an end to that pesky deficit and GDP growth problem they have been having.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Uncertainty in Concensus

I don't frequently link to a post and say "How Great" with little to add, but this is going to be one of those times.

The always great, Roger Pielke Jr has a great article on Consessus in the Climate Change debate. Most telling, for me, was this translation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) statement.
In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.
Which he translates (using standardized IPCC verbiage guidlines) thusly:
Relevant IPCC Lead Authors judge that over the past 50 years that the majority of observed warming has been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations with between 64% and 90% certainty.
The whole post is a must read, though the comments have started to degenerate into personal attacks instead of substantive discussion (typically a hallmark of Prometheus).

Lessons From the Road

As I mentioned earlier, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling lately. One of the unfortunate side effects is that I have been over-eating. You see, since I am traveling for business they have been paying for all my meals with a healthy per diem allowance.

Since I am not paying for my own meals, I haven't been paying much attention to what I consume. I pay relatively close attention to how much I am spending, but very little to the amount of food. I don't spend much time in Subway or Quiznos, preferring, instead, Tuscan Kitchen and Ramsi's Cafe on the World.

Now when you go to someplace like Ramsi's you can't just order a salad and a water, well at least I can't. Food is one of life's great pleasures and when confronted with a unique menu I simply have to try something that I have never had before. So bring me the Brie Bernadette followed by Smoked Salmon and Kentucky White Cheddar Strudel (BTW, if you ever find yourself within 100 miles of Louisville, go to Ramsi's just to have the Brie Bernadette, it's worth it!) . If I'm feeling particularly decadent I'll even throw in a dessert, especially if it is something I have never had before.

So the long and the short of it is I've put on a couple pounds, but what does this have to do with anything beyond my bragging about eating at some fabulous restaurants on someone else's dime and probably need to take some extra trips to the gym? Well, that is the point. Since I am not paying for what I'm consuming I'm consuming more than I would if I had to pay for my meals out of my own wallet.

When someone else picks up the tab you don't care about how much you consume - to be honest I try to get as close to the per diem as possible to get the full value from my perk. It's an odd incentive and one that I hadn't truly considered until I wrote this post - but there you have it.

Still don't get the point? Why are my culinary habits fundamentally different from health care? Certainly not all medical procedures and doctor visits are necessary, but if someone is picking up the bill why wouldn't you make the trip? In fact, isn't it in your best interest to go as often as possible since something might be wrong with you? Why go through a couple days of a runny nose when you can get full strength decongestants that aren't available over the counter? Isn't it every Americans God Given Right to feel as good as possible at all times?

Unless there is market discipline in the health industry there will be over-consumption and the consequences of that over-consumption will be much more severe than my pants fitting a little too tight.

Lessons from Jefferson

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
I'm not sure if Thomas Jefferson was extremely prescient or if merely the more things change the more things stay the same. When I browse though his quotable quotes and it seems like he is speaking about current events.

What confuses me about the liberal agenda is that they profess distrust of the wealth and powerful, while consistently ignoring that government is run by the wealth and powerful and vesting in them more and more power.

Perhaps liberals and democrats should study Jefferson more thoroughly and take lessons from his distrust with power.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wal-Mart - Just Greedy

[T]his week, the mega-retailer stood its ground and resisted calls from the American Family Association to refuse to sell the "Brokeback Mountain" DVD.

Wal-Mart even promoted the DVD in displays featuring the gay characters portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.
Some will say that Wal-Mart is just greedy and knows a hot-selling product when it sees it. But the behemoth is uber-popular in the red states where the American Family Association and other so-called Christian groups hold lots of influence.

So, just this once, kudos to Wal-Mart.

Emphasis mine. Isn't that what capitalism is all about? Providing people what they want? Wal-Mart just happens to do it at a lower cost than most people. Now when you consider that Wal-Mart has historically caved to RedState conservatism by keeping some products off the shelf, perhaps some kudos are in order.

Kudos for allowing greed to finally win out!

The Problem With Massachusetts

The biggest disappointment with Massachusetts health care plan is that it is likely to raise health care costs and give statists more ammunition with their accusation that the free-market doesn’t work; furthering their fight for single-payer health care.

The problem is that it isn’t a free-market system – consumers are insolated from the costs of health care and only pay indirectly via co-pays and premiums. The result will be even more over consumption of healthcare and slowly increasing costs. It wouldn’t surprise me if lower quality of care is experienced as well.

The incentive problem, of course, is little different from the current system of employer-paid healthcare, but now we’ve added rent seekers to the mix as providers soak up government provided dollars to cover those at the bottom. It will take years for the system to degenerate into a complete cluster, but by that time more states will have joined the bandwagon bringing us to a point of no return.

It would be encouraging to see a state trying the opposite approach of dealing with the incentives that cause high costs, but the federal government has caused most of that problem so I’m not optimistic that any will have the courage to try.

Victory for the Proletariat

How depressing - faced with violent hooligans the French government resorts to handouts.

At the height of the demonstrations, he was sidelined in efforts to broker talks, with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy -- a presidential hopeful -- taking the helm.

But, according to Chirac, new measures in the stead of the controversial clause had come at the suggestion of De Villepin.

Unveiling details of the replacement, Bernard Accoyer, the head of the ruling UMP party, said there would be no new law but the government would introduce policy that would directly help disadvantaged youths. [emphasis mine]

So instead of providing he means for the French youth to help themselves they are just going to open up the wallet book. Perhaps this is a good thing - as France descends further and further into socialism perhaps the whole system will crumble leaving capitalism as the sole survivor.

However, I'm not optimistic that any good can come from this.

HatTip: Marginal Revolution


I entered my hotel room last evening and found several friendly placards information me, in part:
If you are staying with us for more than one night, as part of [our conservation] program, we will launder your linens every three days.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm rather skeptical that reducing laundry will have any appreciable effect on the environment. Indoor plumbing is very near a closed loop system, and when you add in central sewer system it is all but a closed loop system.

We use water, we send water down the sewer, they clean the water and they send it back to us again. So I don't beleive for a minute that it has anything to do with water conservation, but everything to do with money conservation.

Of course, unlike some people, I don't begudge a guy (or a corporation) from trying to save a couple bucks (and thus me a couple bucks). It's just sad that they have to lie to us to get us to cooperate.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Liberals Can't Afford To Educate The Poor

Partisans on the right and left rarely agree on anything, but they do agree that there is something wrong with the public school system where performance is static at best. Conservatives and libertarians have been arguing that lack of competition is what is ailing public schools and have proposed a number of voucher based systems to help correct the situation.

This leaves the left with something of a quandary because their typical attacks of “help the rich at the expense of the poor” doesn’t fit the bill. The wealthy already have school choice so would have little to gain from a voucher system, even middle class parents have little to gain as suburban schools far outperform urban schools in every category. So how do liberals challenge vouchers?
National critics of school choice like Reg Weaver, president of the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, accused voucher supporters of "exploiting the frustration of these minority parents to push for a political agenda" intended to undermine public schools.

Hmmm. The right is offering frustrated minority parents on opportunity to provide better education for their children and this is bad. Is it bad because it matches the rights agenda? That doesn’t make any sense because it’s Mr. Weaver’s agenda to expand public education. Does that automatically marginalize anything that Mr. Weaver says? I doubt he would legitimize such a claim. If private schools provided for through vouchers are better than public schools who cares if public schools are undermined? Is it the ends that matter or the means (assuming that the means are just)?

"They're really about subsidizing private schools, not about improving schools for all children," Mr. Weaver said in an interview.

A common logical fallacy – you can’t undermine an argument by showing that there may be ulterior motives involved. Either the proposal will be successful or it won’t the motives of those advocating vouchers is irrelevant. Though I have to point out, again, that the wealthy – those dirty rotten scoundrels that control the Republican party – have little, if anything, to gain from vouchers.

That’s just one opponent, perhaps others are more eloquent.
At Turner Elementary School in the hard-edged Anacostia neighborhood, Marcia Parker, the principal, picked up candy wrappers from the stairwells as she toured classrooms equipped with computers and books. She insisted that private and charter schools had nothing on Turner. Four students had returned from charters this year, some expelled for misbehavior, she said.
"We're about educating everybody," Ms. Parker said, dismissing vouchers and charters as "a way of raping the public schools of students and resources.

Maybe I’m missing her point, but it sounds like she is saying that giving everyone crappy education is better than giving some crappy education and others a better education. Well, I suppose that is the logic that the Florida Supreme Court used to outlaw vouchers in that state, so maybe it’s not so farfetched after all. But take note, there is no argument that vouchers wouldn’t be successful at improving conditions for many students looking for a way out of failing schools.

Admittedly these were not compelling arguments against vouchers, I’m sure that there may be some out there, but I only had what the NYT provided for me. I’m generally very confused by the left’s opposition to vouchers because the poor have the most to gain and that is supposedly who progressives are “fighting” for. In fact the program seems custom made for progressives everywhere – government provided education that is identical to the education procured by the wealthy – why are they so opposed to the proposition? Maybe they are worried that conservatives will finally have proof that market based reforms perform better than government provided programs – and that would be the ultimate defeat.

HatTip: The Case For Small Government

Does Apple Finally Get It?

In what may be one of the brightest move Apple has made in awhile, they have released an official utility that will allow users to dual-boot Windows and Mac on the Apple Intel platform.

In a stunning move, Apple on Wednesday officially sanctioned the running of the Windows XP operating system on Intel-based Macs through the release of a software package. Called Boot Camp, the 86MB beta product provides a dual-boot sequence and the drivers necessary to run Windows.

"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware now that we use Intel processors," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing.

"We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch."

I have been saying for quite a while now that the number one thing that is keeping Apple down is it’s all or none approach to everything. Apple runs proprietary software on proprietary hardware that requires third party software/hardware that won’t work on anything but Apple products. By increasing the risk associated with buying into Apple they lock some users out.

I’m hoping that this initial move is a test for wider availability across the board. I would love to have the option to run Macintosh on my existing hardware, I would also love to play my existing MP3s on iPod – but I won’t do it unless the stuff that I buy from iTunes can also be played on my other MP3 players.

When Apple finally learns that consumers like choice generally more than they like features they may actually hit the big time. When they do we will finally see what innovation really is as Apple and Microsoft actively start competing for customers.

What Is A Right?

All sorts of special interests have hijacked the term ‘right’ in order to convey some magic meaning that simply doesn’t exist.  They insist that we have a RIGHT to healthcare (I presume they actually mean a RIGHT to government provided healthcare), they argue that we have a RIGHT to work, even a RIGHT to not be offended by anyone and everyone.  It’s almost as if by elevating something to a RIGHT proponents simultaneously label the opposition as tyrants and themselves as warriors for liberty and justice.

Obviously this is a bunch of poppycock; by defining ‘right’ so broadly it loses all possible meaning – and our rights are entirely too important to become meaningless at the hands of special interests.  

Properly defined, rights are self-evident and exist even without government and government interference.  This means, by definition, if the special interest could not achieve their ends without government interference it cannot be a right.  Let’s try some examples.

Speech (Expression) – Can you speak your mind in the absence of government?  Yep!  That means it is a legitimate right.

Healthcare (Government Provided) – This one is too easy; it says government right in the description so obviously cannot be a right.  What happens if you change the assumption to remove the government provided part?  Well, it just becomes a service that is available for purchase – you have the right to purchase healthcare from voluntary providers since that is something that you could do without government intervention, but you have no RIGHT to those services if they don’t want to sell them to you since it would take a third party (government) to force them to exchange services.

Property – The fruits of my labor are mine before government gets involved – oddly enough governments were created to protect the fruits of that labor but are the thieves more often than not.  So properly defined property is a right because without government or other coercive entities my property is always mine.

Employment – Can you force someone to employ you without government intervention?  Of course not, therefore you have no RIGHT to work.  You have the right to look for employment – to find an arrangement that is mutually beneficial for both you, as employee and employer.  However, the arrangement is (or at least should be) voluntary – when the arrangement is no longer mutually beneficial either party should be allowed to terminate the agreement.

The Founding Fathers saw government as a necessary evil whose purpose was to protect the natural rights of citizens from the powerful – how did we stray so far as to think that governments role is to subjugate those natural rights to the benefits of special interests?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

MSM Proves America Sucks At Science

I’ve just returned from a pleasant five day vacation in Florida where the news coverage is wall to wall arm waving about the upcoming Hurricane Season (at least when they weren’t celebrating the Gators victory over UCLA).

News anchors were wringing their hands that about an “expert” that predicted only thirteen named storms last year (which ended with a total of 27 names storms) is now calling for nearly thirty this season.  Now I don’t know about you, but if I had asked an “expert” his opinion on something and they were off by 50% I wouldn’t be knocking down his door for the latest analysis.  Or maybe he didn’t see the same reports that I had been hearing about since 2004 – that 2005 was going to be the start of a 20 year cycle of increased hurricane activity.

Obviously, each of these reports had to be followed up with stories about global warming so that viewers had no choice be to connect the two stories (i.e. global warming causes hurricanes) despite wide consensus that there are no links between the two.  I guess the five minute story didn’t have time to include an analytical point of view.

Similar chicken little reporting was recently published in Time magazine where they tell you that over 50% of people believe that global warming is caused by human activity.  Oddly enough there is no survey on what most scientists believe – I imagine it’s because they are too busy building emergency shelters to answer reporters’ calls.

When this is the quality of scientific study that the general populous is exposed to it is no wonder that everyone believes that Americans are falling behind the rest of the word.