Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Income Inequality

Cross-posted as a comment at EconLog:

Along with dire claims of "inequality" and "shrinking wages" doesn't it make sense to look at European countries that have many of the policies that progressives want to implement? How are Germany and France doing under higher minimum wages, more powerful unions andmore restrictive labor policies?

Everything is argued in theory, but there are plenty of real world implementations of similar policies.

A Republican Shows Signs Of Fiscal Restraint

Unfortunately, its only when it serves naked self-interest. The man that brought you the Bridge to Nowhere has learned fiscally responsibility!

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) held up a bill that would create a free, searchable database of government contracts and grants because he was worried about the proposal's price tag, his spokesman told me this afternoon. Its cost has been estimated at $15 million.

Stevens' office has asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the sponsor of the bill, for "a cost-benefit analysis to make sure this does not create an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” spokesman Aaron Saunders said. The Senator “wanted to make sure that this wasn’t going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve.”

So building a $200 million dollar bridge for 50 people that didn't even ask for a bridge is beyond reproach, but a $15 million dollar bill that will provide a little (and I do mean only a little) bit of transparency needs extra scrutiny.

When is Mr Stevens up for re-election again? (answer: 2008) I certainly hope that a Republican will seek to overthrow this particular benevolent dictator.

And The Number One Reason Is

There are a lot of reasons to oppose municiple internet providers. This example, by far, is the one that will be the most persuasive to the largest number of people.

Culver City, Calif., is the first operator of a municipal wireless network to filter legal content and applications that the city finds objectionable.

The city has installed filtering software that blocks access to legal adult sites and, more significantly, prevents peer-to-peer file sharing. Ironically, municipal networks are often touted by activists who say commercial service providers are more likely to interfere with free access to Web content. Let the record show that the first U.S. ISP to censor Internet access was a muni network.

Suppliers motivated by profit will give consumers what they want, suppliers motivated by politics will provide customers with what they think they need or with what will score them the most political points.

Culver City may be the first municiple provider to censor content, but they won't be the last.

Will Germany Follow Ireland or East Germany?

My guess is that this is the leading edge of a growing trend.

Koerber is one of 145,000 Germans who fled the fatherland last year amid record postwar unemployment, pushing emigration to its highest level since 1954, Federal Statistics Office figures show. Last year was also the first since the late 1960s that emigrants outnumbered Germans returning home from living abroad, the statistics office said.

Even more troubling to German officials and business leaders, many were skilled workers like Koerber. The loss of such people, they say, may threaten Germany's economic competitiveness in the future.

As more and more Germans leave and find success they lower the perception of risk in picking up your roots to relocate. They tell their family and friends how great it is and supply a base of support for other emigrants. If Germany doesn’t take drastic measures to improve its economy – lower taxes, relax labor rules, ease the burden of regulation – this trickle is going to become a river.

I shouldn’t have to explain what will happen to the German tax base and pension system when highly paid, skilled workers are replaced by uneducated immigrants, I only hope that German lawmakers are as smart.

The only question I have is will the response be to create a freer economy or a restrictive emigration policy?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Living The Life Of The Unwashed

Red-light cameras seemed like a great idea to Albuquerque city officials--until they started catching colleagues on camera. At least a dozen city cops and bus drivers have filed a lawsuit, after discovering that it doesn't seem very fair to get a ticket from a machine in the mail, with almost no recourse to challenge it.

So, is the problem the automatic tickets or the fact that city officials routinely are able to escape the laws that they impose on the rest of us?

I have a sneaking suspicion that far fewer laws would be passed if they were enforced across the board.

Look Before You Leap

I happened to notice that Blogger is running a new Beta for its blog interface. Some cool new features include drag-and-drop template changes, labels (tags finally!) and RSS feeds for comments.

I had the form all filled out and mouse hovering over the submit button to make the switch when out of the corner of my eyes I saw a link to stuff that doesn't work yet. Oops. I almost alienated my two readers that comment regularly. That would have been disasterous.

You would think that I would follow my own advise a bit more often. Never click on any button unless you know what it does.

Oh The Humanity

In the manufactured crisis of the moment, the PC crowd is in a tizzy about Survivor using – gasp – race to separate the contestants into teams. What, exactly, is so troubling about a group of Asians battling a group of White guys battling a group of Hispanics battling a group of Blacks in a relay race?

I have even been accused of being racist for pointing at that this arbitrary separation is no big deal. So tell me who is the racist? The person that thinks that teams doing logic puzzles can approach a game regardless of the racial makeup of the teams or the person that feels pointing out the differences in the color of skin is unmentionable?

A group of New York City officials are a bit miffed about the tribe setup in the newest installment of CBS's Survivor, which begins its new season in a few short weeks. You see, in order to keep the franchise as fresh as possible after thirteen editions of the program Mark Brunett has decided to split the tribes along racial lines: blacks, Asians, Latinos and whites.

Well, NYC officials aren't happy about that. According to City Councilman John Liu, the division along racial lines will promotes divisiveness. Liu, along with a coalition of officials, are asking CBS to reconsider its plans to air the program because it will promote racial division and negative typecasts. The network is defending the show, saying that the racially-divided theme of this season follows the show's tradition of introducing new creative elements and casting structures that reflect cultural and social issues.

Let me be the first person to mention publicly how thankful I am that government officials do not (yet) get to decide what is on my TV. Can you imagine the bland, substance free drivel that would crowd the airwaves if hack politicians got a veto? You probably don’t even have to venture outside the NYC City Council to find someone that would be offended by just about anything.

So now that the airwaves are safe for now, perhaps the NYC City Council can tackle more troubling issues like the suffering of Geese or the color of their taxi driver’s socks.

The False Choice

From Bruce Schneier on the British terrorism plot.

  1. There was some serious cash flow from someone, presumably someone abroad.

  2. There was no imminent threat.

  3. However, the threat was real. And it seems pretty clear that it would have bypassed all existing airport security systems.

  4. The conspirators were radicalized by the war in Iraq, although it is impossible to say whether they would have been otherwise radicalized without it.

  5. They were caught through police work, not through any broad surveillance, and were under surveillance for more than a year.
I wanted to touch briefly on item number three.  Terrorists will always try to bypass existing security systems which is why it is pointless to continuously move the target on what is and what is not legal to take on a plane.

Terrorists hit soft targets, the perpetrators of 9/11 used items that were legal as did the British nuts.  The only way to defeat attacks on airplanes is to undercover the plots before they hatch.  The rest of this nonsense merely makes life difficult for the rest of us while accomplishing nothing in realms of safety.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What Is Going On?

The bill was introduced in early April and has already been passed by a committee (the step in the process where senators usually bottle up controversial bills) and placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar.

But one senator doesn’t like it. And that may be enough to derail it, because he (or she) has put a hold on it. A secret hold. How’s that for irony -- a secret hold on an open-government bill?

How is it that one anonymous prick can put a halt on legislation? Filabusters are bad enough, but now anyone can put a halt to the legislative process merely by being vindictive?

On second thought – how come Coburn, Obama, et al don’t use this clever process to just halt the budget process?

Something is fishy here – can anyone explain it to me?

The Infallible Academic

Why do so many people give automatic deference to people with a couple of letters after their last name?
I don't know if anyone has noticed this, but's Aaron Stanton is in the middle of a back and forth firefight with Dr. Thompson, a Harvard researcher who recently testified before the U.S. Congress about violent video games. She published a study that listed Pac-Man as being 62% violent. Stanton attacked in an article criticizing her research. Then, contacted Dr. Thompson and got an interview and a response, published her rebuttal, in which she defends the Pac-Man rating and the study. So today, Stanton attempted to tear the study apart, detailing why it's flawed even though Thompson claims otherwise. On one hand we have an established Harvard Phd, who has testified before the U.S. congress, against a game journalist with a bachelors degree in Psychology. Hmmm…

You can find an opinion that spans the entire realm of possibility within academia – heck even within a single institution the size of Harvard. Just because some professor spouts an opinion or publishes a paper doesn’t make it fact. The disdain that many show to people that would dare question someone in the Ivory Tower is scandalous.

People expressing opinions should always – always – be challenged. Academics make mistakes, they suffer confirmation bias and they are frequently just wrong. It is only by questioning conventional wisdom that progress can ever be made. Automatically agreeing with whatever some prof says will only ensure that we maintain the status quo forever. Not a prospect that is remotely appealing to me.

Lessons From Geekdom

Gartner thinks that Microsoft needs to modularize its OS through virtualization.
Virtualisation[sic] is best known as a way of running multiple server instances on a single hardware platform, but it can also be used to run individual operating system functions or applications. The technique isolates the various components from one another, making them easier to manage. Gartner believes Microsoft will use virtualisation[sic] to divide the Windows client into a "service partition", controlling system functions such as management and security, and one or more application partitions. Such a path is already being followed in the x86 server world, Gartner said.

"The combination of the service partition and the ability to deliver horizontal functions in software appliances provides the key for unbundling the Windows OS," the analysts wrote. Such an architecture would allow Microsoft to make major development changes to Windows without worrying about disrupting dependencies across the entire operating system. This, in turn, would mean the company could release regular updates, and would make backward compatibility easier.
Microsoft disagrees, but Garner thinks that their concerns are unfounded. I’m more willing to trust the company with some skin in the game. I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with companies and people that don’t actually do anything trying to tell the companies and people that do do something how they should do it better.

The lesson is clear – when there are no risks it is easy to theorize and postulate all sorts of grandiose ideas, but when you have to suffer the risks of your own decisions chances are that your actions will be much more successful.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is Conventional Wisdom Always Wrong?

So much of political debate (I almost said these days, but I’m guessing its always been this way) is about anecdote and misconception. Even given my pro-immigration stance I found much of the information in Doug Massey’s CATO Unbound essay suprising.

Mexican immigration is not a tidal wave. The rate of undocumented migration has not increased in over two decades. Neither is Mexico a demographic time bomb; its fertility rate is only slightly above replacement.

Mexico is not impoverished or disorganized. It is a dynamic, one trillion dollar economy and along with Canada, our largest trading partner. It’s per capita income is $10,000, which puts it at the upper tier of middle income countries, not far behind Russia’s per capita income of $11,000.

From 1965 to 1985, 85% of undocumented entries from Mexico were offset by departures and the net increase in the undocumented population was small. The build-up of enforcement resources at the border has not decreased the entry of migrants so much as discouraged their return home. Since the late 1980s the rate of undocumented out-migration has been halved. Undocumented population growth in the United States stems not from rising in-migration, but from falling out-migration.

If you can’t even get the scary information right – why is there even a debate? Just call Mexican immigrants drug-addled pedophilic baby killing communists and get it over with. The facts don't matter much anyway, do they?

"Don't Need To" Isn't the Same As "Can't"

Over at CATO@Liberty, Chris Edwards chronicles yet another government failure – this time it’s a large computer system implementation/upgrade.

The federal government simply cannot manage large, complex tasks with any degree of efficiency. The list of multi-billion dollar failures of technology, highway, and weapons projects grows longer all the time.

This type of argument is frequently how us small-government types immediate lose arguments before they have even begun. There is simply no reason why government can’t run massive complex project successfully, we libertarians need to stop framing the argument this way.

The basic premise behind the public v. private sector argument is that profit is a unique motivator that provides a much higher rate of innovation and efficiency. When your own money is on the line you tend to be more careful with it. Government is only spending other people’s money and if they run out, they simply ask (or simply take) more.

Government is full of smart, dedicated people – just like any other industry – they could succeed at these large projects if organized in the correct way. So it is not an inherent flaw in public organization that prevent them from succeeding, it’s a lack of reasons to try.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book Meme

I’m a sucker for a good meme and Atlas Blogged has a good one on books.  I don’t read as much as I used to and have only recently started reading non-fiction, but it is still a pastime that I enjoy immensely.

One Book That Changed My Life:  To be honest, I don’t think I’ve read one.  I never read any of Rand’s stuff – I came to libertarian thought through personal experience and observation.  If I had to pick it would probably have to be The Lord of the Rings – not because of some profound insight, but because it started my love and fascination with the epic fantasy genre.  Lame, I know.

A Book I Have Read More Than Once:  I’m gonna be stuck on epic fantasy for this whole meme I think.  I’ve read the Sword of Fire and Ice series about five times so far with many more readings to come.  Martin tells a great story with a ton of detail that you simply can’t absorb in one reading.

One Book I Would Want On A Desert Island: Treasure Island – maybe I would actually finish it.  Moby Dick would also fit in this category.

One Book That Made me Laugh: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

One Book That Made Me Cry: It doesn’t take much to bring a tear to my eye, but nothing really stands out in this category.  I do remember being quite side after reading Snoopy Come Home as a little kid.

One Book I Wish I Had Written: Parliament of Whores.  If I was half as funny and smart as P. J. O’Rourke people would actually care about this little meme.

One Book I Wish Had Never Been Written:  Das Kapital.  I often wonder how much different the world would be if despots and tyrants didn’t have Marx’s utopian philosophy to fool the masses into thinking that Communism was a legitimate option.

One Book I Am Currently Reading:  I’m reading The Prisoner of Azkaban with my daughter.

One Book I Have Been Meaning To Read:  The list is long, but the book that I really want to read that I probably won’t get to for some time is Atlas Shrugged.  There are many that would revoke my libertarian card for not reading Atlas Shrugged, there are even more that would line me up and have me shot for not having read any Rand.  I’ll read it someday, I just don’t know when.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Prior Blogging

Blogging will probably be light over the next several weeks as I adjust to the rigors of my new job. [Yay Me!]

When reading the news during my hiatus assume that I will have the following reactions wrapped up in compelling, thought provoking prose:
  • Discouraged by every attempt to escalate Federal Power.

  • Disgusted by every ear-mark.

  • Angry at the Incumbency Protection Act.

  • Amused by the hypocrisy of Congress.

  • And generally snarky about anyone that doesn’t understand economics.

The Religion of Science

Why does science start to feel a lot like religion these days? From a Time article on String Theory:
It was bad enough, they say, when string theorists treated nonbelievers as though they were a little slow-witted. Now, it seems, at least some superstring advocates are ready to abandon the essential definition of science itself on the basis that string theory is too important to be hampered by old-fashioned notions of experimental proof.

Sounds a bit like certain segments of the environmental movement doesn’t it?

HatTip: Not Even Wrong via ElectEcon

Monday, August 14, 2006

Excuse Me, You Aren't Charging Enough For Gas

An ethanol-pump owner says he wants to lower his prices but the state won't let him.
Badger Ethanol in Monroe charges around $2.22 for a gallon of E-85, an alcohol-fuel mixture that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, by volume.

Badger's owners wanted to cut the price to $2 but said they had to artificially hike prices after some competitors complained Badger wasn't meeting the state's minimum markup laws.

The markup law is "antiquated" and the governor and Legislature should eliminate it, said Gary Kramer, head of Badger State Ethanol.

Wisconsin Consumer Protection investigators launched a probe into Badger's fuel prices and found E-85 selling for just over $2 a gallon.

Based on a complicated formula, the investigators said the price should have been $1 more.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Doyle ordered state investigators to do nothing to stop the pricing.

I’m glad that the governor stepped up in the name of common-sense, but why were the regulators even wasting their time on this?  Which consumer interests were they perusing?

Is any more evidence necessary that government shouldn’t be messing in markets?  They will always come to serve entrenched special interests at the expense of consumers.

HatTip: Pagan Vigil

Friday, August 11, 2006

Never Underestimate The Logic Of Politicians

Opponents of statewide franchise licensing for television services have a really bizarre argument:

Some lawmakers in South Jersey opposed the law because they feared it would allow the telephone companies to focus on providing television service only to the state’s more densely populated — and profitable regions — while ignoring lower-income and sparsely populated communities in the south.

Even if true (and you don’t have to look any farther than cell-phone competition to know that it’s not) it make no sense. Leaving some residents at the status quo is a reason to oppose a bill that would make everyone else better off?

Of course the real reason that they opposed the legislation is that it cuts local governments out of the tax game. They will no longer be able to extort cash out of the cable providers.

It’s quite simple really – when you give consumers more choices they win. Every time.

Update: Brian and Eli respond in the comments - perhaps they weren't agreeing quite as much as I thought they were.

The Problem Is Not The Guns

Arnold Kling thinks that we should disarm Muslims and there are others that seem to agree.

I believe that what we need going forward is a policy of disarming Muslims. I believe that we must keep devout Muslims away from weapons, and keep weapons away from devout Muslims. I can work with Muslims, send my children to school with Muslims, and be friends with Muslims. I do not have an issue with their religion, as long as they do not have weapons. However, the combination of weapons and Islam poses unacceptable danger to the rest of us.

To be honest, it appears to me simply a justification for a prejudiced view. Only a very small minority of Muslims take up arms against the West (many more would express a desire to, but few actually do).

Is it really appropriate to disarm (thus violate their natural rights) the majority in order to protect ourselves against a minority?

I think that the clear answer is no. There is something wrong with the Muslim world right now, but going after symptoms will not cure the disease.

Add onto this the fact that most of the violence is not perpetrated with conventional weapons I think that you clearly have a policy that will confirm to the Arab world that the west hates them and provide little, if any, actual benefit.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Black Tax Gold

Gov. Frank Murkowski imposed a state hiring freeze Wednesday because of the millions of dollars in revenue Alaska is losing as a result of the Prudhoe Bay oil field shutdown, and said he would support hearings into BP's maintenance practices.

The governor also said he would direct Alaska's attorney general to investigate whether the state could hold the oil giant fully accountable for the state's losses.

The expected loss of 400,000 barrels per day at today's oil prices means the state is losing about $6.4 million a day in royalties and taxes, Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus said.
The state receives 89 percent of its income from oil revenue; Alaska has no state sales tax and no personal income tax. The Prudhoe Bay shutdown will cut in half Alaska's total oil production and the resulting revenue.

What an interesting theory of governance – grow government to the size of tax revenue and when the people you are stealing collecting from don’t meet your estimates – they are responsible for your poor planning.

"BP must get the entire Prudhoe Bay back up and running as soon as it is safely possible," Murkowski told a joint session of the state Legislature.

Three Democratic legislators released a letter to Murkowski calling on the governor to hold hearings and have BP officials explain under oath what they did, or failed to do, to maintain Prudhoe Bay's pipelines.

Murkowski questioned why BP abruptly shut down the entire Prudhoe Bay field after finding a leak of only four to five barrels.

"What did BP learn last Sunday that it did not know previously that would cause BP to take such precipitous action?" Murkowski asked. He complained also that the state was not consulted before the decision was made.

What an arrogant prick. The operation of the oil pipelines are not a state concern – it’s a private concern. No one other than BP knows what is the best way to handle its oil pipelines. It should not have to justify its actions to any government, especially a state government.

If BP was somehow negligent and caused environmental damage its certainly plausible to fine them for that, but holding hearings because BP wasn’t responsible enough to keep the tax oil pipeline open is simply going too far.

If only BP wasn’t interested in fixing the pipelines anyway (after all they are losing billions a day in real revenue), they could sit on it and tell Gov Murkowski to go stick it.

Slapping Israel's Hand

I have avoided talking about the Israeli – Hezollah crisis to date mainly because I don’t have anything to add.  Israel has the right to defend herself in whichever way she thinks is most effective.  I’m not sure that the current tact is the correct one, but that is neither here nor there.

I do know that the US’s unwavering support exacerbates the issue.  The Arab world has this perception and I don’t think that they are necessarily wrong.  Imagine my surprise when I came across this headline:

U.S. directs criticism at Israel

Wow, is the US really going to be an impartial party in the current crisis?  Not quite.

The White House said Wednesday neither Israel nor Hezbollah should escalate their month-old war, as Israel decided to widen its ground invasion in southern Lebanon.

Is that really what passes as criticism these days?  That neither party should escalate violence?  No wonder the Arab states think that we kowtow to Israel demands.  A criticism would be a directive to actually do something substantive, not a mild statement of what everyone in the world really wants.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Budgets Don't Grow On Trees

I don’t think Bono understands where government budgets come from:

[T]he band — whose frontman Bono campaigns against global poverty — made the move in response to Ireland imposing a 250,000-euro cap on tax-free incomes. The ceiling ... [removes] the tax exemption on royalties previously in place and from which U2 and other Irish singers and bands benefited in their early years.

U2 were reportedly the world's biggest music earners last year, with an income of about 217 million euros. ... Last week, it was widely reported in Britain that the Rolling Stones paid only 1.6 percent in tax on earnings of 81.3 million pounds last year by using offshore trusts and companies, including one in the Netherlands.

The man that has been begging, pleading and cajoling governments to hand out billions of dollars in aid to Africa doesn’t think that he should participate in footing the bill.

What a hypocrite.

HatTip: KipEsquire


Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday afternoon denied the request of the Texas GOP to delay a federal appeals court ruling that requires the name of former Rep. Tom DeLay to remain on the congressional ballot for this fall's election. That ended the matter, since the Republican party's lawyer, James Bopp, Jr., said he would not renew the request with another member of the Court.

I must be reading that wrong.  I thought Scalia was a Republican lapdog and simply did their bidding.  Can someone point out the right-wing conspiracy in this move?  

Perhaps he thought DeLay was a Democrat.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Morons Use Commerce to Avoid... Commerce?

I stumbled upon the Burning Man festival via a comment on A Stitch In Haste.

It doesn’t sound particularly interesting (to me) but I found something odd in the description of the event.

Primary Focus of the Event

Commerce-free event. No cash transactions are allowed at Burning Man

The participants instead rely on a gift economy, a sort of potlatch. Since the earliest days of the event, an underground barter economy has also existed, in which burners exchange material goods and/or favors with each other;

Um, isn’t any exchange of goods de facto commerce?
Commerce is the trading of something of economic value such as goods, services, information or money between two or more entities.

The arbitrary banning of money (which is what I assume they mean by commerce free) is rather inefficient. If I want a groovy Burning-Man t-shirt but the guy that has one only wants a Che t-shirt and I only have Eliot Sptizer t-shirts I’m probably not going to get what I want.

The concept of money is to allow everyone to possess something that can be universally traded. I have $10, I give it to the guy with the Burning Man t-shirt and he, in turn, gives it to the guy with the Che t-shirt. Everyone gets what they want without have to deal with a bunch of unnecessary transactions (which are still commerce).

People find the dumbest ways to show their dislike for capitalism without understanding that their replacement activity is really an inefficient form of the exact same system that they are trying to protest.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Outlandish Government Salaries?

Chris Edwards says that federal employees make twice as much as private citizens (on average):
New data was released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on federal employee wages and benefits. The data for 2005 shows that compensation for the average federal civilian worker ($106,579) is now exactly double the average compensation in the U.S. private sector ($53,289).
(See Tables 6.2D, 6.5D, and 6.6D here,
The federal pay advantage has been soaring in recent years. The ratio of average federal to average private compensation increased from 51 percent in 1990, to 68 percent in 2000, to 100 percent today.

If that is true, and I see no reason to doubt the numbers, why do I always hear about how crappy public sector pay is? The benefits are (supposedly) great, but the pay sucks. Is that an urban myth? Does it depend on job function? Or are political jobs so overpaid that it skews the overall outlook?

Busting At The Seams

Amanda Frost on overcrowding on Capital Hill:

So why should anyone care? Well, I don’t claim that improving working conditions on Capitol Hill should become a national priority. But nonetheless I think the time lost waiting for elevators, foraging for food, and trying to find a quiet place for a conference call is a net loss for taxpayers. And I wonder if it doesn’t create an atmosphere of anxiety, annoyance, and general frustration that infects the day-to-day interactions of staffers and senators with each other and the constituencies they serve.

My first instinct is to say – the more time Senators and staffers spend waiting, the less time they have eroding our liberties.

My second reaction is that the solution is easy – decrease the size of government so that there aren’t quite so many people on the Hill.

Either way, I find it difficult to feel sorry for our Senatorial Overlords. (Which isn’t to say that Amanda does either, follow the link and decide for yourself)