Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And Now For Some Football

Not only has my schedule prevented me from blogging regularly, I have only caught a grand total of 5 minutes of football.

Granted, as a Packer fan, there isn't much to watch but I spent my youth watching whatever was on TV and miss playing armchair quarterback. So I don't have much to say about any actual games, but I caught an interesting proposal about instant replays that I thought I would share.
Get rid of instant replay. Stop delaying the game while we sit around debating what constitutes a "football move." Stop tempering our excitement when we see a spectacular catch because we know we're going to have to wait to find out if the receiver really got both feet down. Tell the coaches they don't have to worry how far they throw their red flags. Tell the referees they don't have to stick their heads into a peep show on the sidelines.
Oops, I quoted the wrong part. Mike Smith actually proposes five changes to the instant replay system. I'm not sure that instant replay should be eliminated, but it certainly needs to be changed.

The incentives are all wrong, coaches get three challenges that bare no cost. As any economist will tell you, when something is free it will be over consumed. That being the case I can completely get behind his his proposal to provide unlimited challenges with severe costs.

Let the coaches decide when calls are important enough to challenge, the 15 yard penalty will essentially eliminate all challenges except ones that are game changing which is the way that it should be.

Defending Government

I'm not typically in the habit of defending government organizations, but sometimes its necessary, especially when the facts are being misrepresented.
In advance of a House Committee on Government Reform hearing, in which the matter would have come up anyway, the U.S. Commerce Dept. responded to a Committee request by disclosing in a private briefing yesterday that it believes as many as 1,137 laptop computers have been lost from the Dept.'s inventory since 2001.
The article goes on to say that this number represents about 3% of the laptops used over the 5 year period.

It sounds terrible to have lost over 1000 laptops, but the truth is - its not that bad. Speaking from personal experience, its not that hard to lose computers from inventory if you have sloppy inventory or audit procedures.

I can also say, with near absolute conviction, that the laptops aren't really lost; they just don't know where they are. In reality, those computers are sitting on a shelf someplace out of reach of automatic inventory.

Should the Commerce Department be chastised for shoddy accounting? Absolutely, but they really didn't lose those computers.

Yet Another Story About Economic Illiteracy

Its kinda like shooting fish in a barrel - everywhere you look you see some reporter just not getting how economies work.

Microsoft is considering giving away its basic Microsoft Works word processing and spreadsheet software, aimed at preventing a possible challenge from Google, who bought web-word processor Writely in March, and began testing Google Spreadsheet in June.

However, the Redmond company runs the risk of hurting its Office business, which contributes a significant amount of revenue to the company's bottom line. The challenge will be how Microsoft handles the Web-based service while still making money off its Office suite.

Nearly every advance runs the risk of hurting the bottom line. That was competition does! It drives down price in order to fight to fulfill customer demand. When Apple release the iPod mini it threatened to hurt sales of the iPod. When IBM released the PC it threatened to hurt sales of the typewriter (can you even buy a typewriter anymore?)

Competition is destructive - especially for the companies competing, but it is Oh-So-Wonderful for us consumers.

RIAA Gets Sued

Responding by a suit from the RIAA, LimeWire has filed a couterclaim accusing the RIAA of anti-trust violations and consumer fraud.

[RIAA's] goal was simple: to destroy any online music distribution service they did not own or control, or force such services to do business with them on exclusive and/or other anticompetitive terms so as to limit and ultimately control the distribution and pricing of digital music, all to the detriment of consumers. (Counterclaim, paragraph 26, page 18).


This case is but one part of a much larger modern conspiracy to destroy all innovation that content owners cannot control and that disrupts their historical business models.(Counterclaim, paragraph 28, page 18).

I like the idea of going after psuedo-governmental bodies using anti-trust regulation. If the suit is successful (and I have no way of guessing whether it will be) I would love to see people start using it against unions, the ABA, AMA and all the other protectionist organizations out there.

Some People Just Don't Get It - Business Edition

Its becoming more and more clear that there are a lot of people that simply don't understand the internet. You make money by getting people onto your site. When you make it harder for people to get to your site you make less money.

Google maintains an opt-out policy for both its Google News and Google Print services, saying any publisher can withdraw its content simply by asking.

In one example of how ACAP would work, a newspaper publisher could grant search engines permission to index its site, but specify that only select ones display articles for a limited time after paying a royalty.

WAN is a Paris-based umbrella organization encompassing 72 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives from 100 nations and 13 news agencies.

Charging someone for doing you a favor seems like bad business doesn't it?
Earlier this month, the Belgian Court of First Instance ordered Google to stop publishing content from Belgian newspapers without asking their permission or paying them fees. Local newspaper editors argued that Google's popular news site, which features small photos and excerpts from news reported elsewhere, stole traffic from individual newspapers' sites
And this one simply makes no sense. Belgian newspapers can opt-out of Google at any time. Why waste money going to court over it?

These companies are shooting themselves in the foot. Google is ubiquitous with finding content on the internet. There are companies that pay money to get higher Google rankings - why are these companies spending money to get removed from the process entirely?

Shuting down their online business seems like a more effective way of doing it.

Anti-Walmart Rhetoric

When I read stories like this I just have to shake my head.

The last thing studios want to do before the holiday shopping season is to offend their biggest sales outlet; the studios, collectively, rely on Wal-Mart for some $5 billion of DVD sales in the fourth quarter.

But several weeks ago, in the midst of rumors that Apple was close to announcing a deal with Disney, Wal-Mart's David Porter - the executive responsible for stocking the retailer's shelves with DVDs and CDs and whose influence is so immense in Tinseltown that he's been named to Premiere magazine's annual power list - made the rounds of Hollywood studios.

His message, according to a studio exec involved in the discussions: that there would be "serious ramifications" if the studios hopped in bed with Apple.

"They threatened to hurt us in terms of buying less products," said this person.

Um, duh? If Walmart feels that selling movies on iTunes is going to hurt their DVD sales of course they are going to buy less product. Isn't that what hurting sales means?

This crap about Walmart being a behemoth and demanding other businesses do things they don't want to do is a bunch of hooey.

Wal-Mart, worried that offering the shows for viewing on iPods would cut into DVD sales at its stores, sent "cases and cases" of DVDs back to Disney, according to a source familiar with the matter.
If Wal-Mart can't sell the product why wouldn't they return the unused merchandise? Its part of the contract? Trying to spin this business-as-usual conduct into some massive conspiracy is bad reporting at its best.

Some People Just Don't Get It

Still smarting from California's recent enactment of emissions caps, the oil industry is confronting another assault in the Golden State — this one bankrolled in part by Silicon Valley tycoons pushing to fund conservation and alternative-energy initiatives with a tax on oil output.

Something tells me that no one is telling California consumers that this would lead to higher prices at the pump. Something also tells me that when (if) prices rise that the oil companies will take the blame.

As much as politicians and activists would love to repeal the laws of economics, its just not possible.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Libertarian Lesson Number One

Here is a lesson for partisans of all stripes. When trying to justify some expansion of power remember this simple lesson that all libertarians know by heart.

When you give government power they will use it as some point in ways that you don't like.

Feminist Biting Beaver is upset that she can't get emergency contraception. Suprise, when you make doctors the gatekeepers for drugs sometimes they will decide you don't need drugs. The government knows better than you - at least that was the justification when the policy was initially put in place.

It would do everyone a whole lot of good to think about how policy can be used for ill and use that as the basis for approval as opposed to the good that it can do. It would save all of us a lot of grief.

Osama Dead?

Since French sources are generating the news does this mean lefty conspiracy nuts will avoid blaming the timing on Bush?

I'm skeptical, after all they are blaming the drop in gas prices on election season politics so rational thought is clearly not an obstacle.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Life Is Busy

Life is still keeping me too busy to blog regularly but I'll share something that made me laugh today.

As far as I know, you can hump the living crap out of a midget all day long and it’s totally legal, assuming the midget is onboard with the plan. Or you can just share your bed with midgets as friends. That’s legal too.

And you thought I was going to say something about Pelosi defending Bush didn't you?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who Are The Top 1%?

I've been asking for awhile now - who are these top 1% that appear to be stealing from everyone? The common assumption in the blogosphere - at least the left leaning blogosphere - is that they are CEOs. I've always been skeptical, there just aren't enough companies.

Turns out that someone asked the same question, but was smart enough to answer it too.
We consider how much of the top end of the income distribution can be attributed to four sectors – top executives of non-financial firms (Main Street); financial service sector employees from investment banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, and mutual funds (Wall Street); corporate lawyers; and professional athletes and celebrities. Non-financial public company CEOs and top executives do not represent more than 8% of any of the top AGI brackets (the top 0.1%, 0.01%, 0.001%, and 0.0001%). Individuals in the Wall Street category comprise at least as high a percentage of the top AGI brackets as non-financial executives of public companies.
Turns out I was right, there aren't enough CEOs to account for a signifigant number of the top income earners.

Any bets on whether the rhetoric changes to give the much maligned CEOs a break? I didn't think so.

HatTip: Greg Mankiw

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Winds of Change?

A federal court finally put an end to the ridiculousness that is the Illinois ballot access regulations.

Just to give you an idea about the crap that passed for laws in Illinois consider this:
  • Independent candidates must file nearly a year before the election - the same deadline that Democrats and Republicans use for their primaries.
  • Petitions for Independents must include at least 10% of all registered voters that voted in the last election.
  • Anyone that signs a 3rd party petition is barred from voting in any primary. (almost forgot the periods Kip.)
  • You can only sign a single petition for any office, an effective technique for getting most independent petitions tossed out. Does anyone know this rule? No, so they sign whatever piece of paper is put in front of them.
In short;
Since Illinois’ filing deadline and signature requirement substantially
burden independent voters’ core First Amendment rights, they are
constitutionally suspect.
Of course, now the Libertarians have to put up or shut up. They have been whining for some time now that they could win if only they could get on the ballot. Its now much easier to get on the ballot? Will this translate to success? I doubt it.

But any change is good change, so I'm welcoming it with open arms (and crossed fingers).

HatTip: Volokh Conspiracy

Organic Food

This should come as a suprise to - well no one.

Federal health officials last night linked a deadly E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach products to a California farm company that sells organic produce in 74 percent of the country's grocery stores.

There are some very good reasons that farmers started using pesticides in growing food - they make the food safer and cheaper. There are those that hate progress for progress's sake, conveniently forgetting how tough times used to be. Getting sick from food and the environment used to be the norm, how quickly we forget how good we have it.

Unfortunately, people have had to die or get very sick in order to learn this lesson. The question is whether or not they will understand it. From the early noises of litigating in order to ensure safe organic food I'm highly skeptical.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gas Price Question

The gas station by my house has lowered its price by almost 30 cents over the last two days - yet has not received any new shipments.

According to the "gouging" argument, his price should not change if the product in his tanks hasn't changed - should the government compensate the owner for his losses caused by competition?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Hate November

Kip poses the question "what is so terrible about being an independent?"

Many small-l libertarians, and disaffected Republicans, are finally starting to ask a question not posited for quite a while: Is the best strategy now simply to vote "gridlock for the sake of gridlock"?

If I could vote - "Hillary, but only if Republicans control Congress" I certainly would. Unfortunately, that is not the choice you get to make. Election time is probably my least favorite time of the year. You only get a choice between bad and worse - and you are never sure which is which until it is way too late. That old adage about politicians and moving lips is more than a little true.

Kip postulates that the best way to fight the two party system is to not be a part of it. I'm not so sure. At the end of the day Republicans and Democrats want to get elected. If you vote for them as a Registered Republicrat or a Registered Libertarian or plain old independent really doesn't matter. Once in office they are going to do what politics demand, not what the party faithful want, or even the electorate at large.

Until the choice at the ballot box becomes something other than Tweedle Dee vs Tweedle Dum the entire question is irrelevant.

Iowa v. Microsoft

I can't believe that there are still anti-trust cases against Microsoft still in the works. Iowa's case against the company goes to court in November.

The case claims Microsoft violated Iowa's antitrust laws by illegally overcharging for its software and denying consumers free choice in software products.

If this is the extent of the charges (while I am sure they are quite technical) this should be (but probably won't be) a no-brainer.

How do you overcharge for software? Does the state, or anyone else know how much software is worth? Consumers surely do - after all purchasing a non-essential product proves that it was worth the cost doesn't it?

And trying to say that Microsoft doesn't offer consumers choice in software products is ridiculous. There are no restrictions in installing competitor's software on Windows. I ran Netscape and Word Perfect for years. Of course, Microsoft's products eventually outperformed the competitors and I switched - but that was a free choice.

Its unfortunate that these trumped up accusations of anti-trust behavior are still occuring. The money that Microsoft is having to spend on lawyers could go to much better uses - like making their products better.

On Parenting

Brad Pitt has an interesting parenting style:

I try not to stifle them in any way ... If it's not hurting anyone, I want them to be able to explore. Sometimes that means they're quite rambunctious

I always find it exasperating that the very people that encourage their children to make their own decisions, whether good or bad - and face the consequences of those decisions - feel it is necessary to shelter adults from that same decision making process.

You know adults - the ones that can actually comprehend what decisions are being made and are capable of living with the consequences. Why don't statists see the connection? People just want to make live their own lives without government trying to do it for them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What is The EU Thinking?

The EU is so intent on Microsoft bashing that it sees every move that will obsolete other technology as an abuse of monopolistic power.

Computer security depends on diversity and innovation in the field of security software, (and) such diversity and innovation could be at risk if Microsoft was allowed to foreclose the existing competition in the security software markets

So making improvements to the Windows OS that eliminates the need for other security products is a no-no in the EU's mind. Simply wonderful. Why not just pass a law that Microsoft can't release new products and be done with it?

I would be suprised if someone within Microsoft isn't simply going to write off the continent as a lost cause and move on. i doubt it would happen, but someone has to be thinking it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

5 Years Later

So what was I doing on this terrible anniversary?

Sitting in new hire training.
No moments of silence.
No strained metaphors grasping for special meaning.
No second thoughts to the tragedy that happened that day.

Life went on as normal, just as it should.

Holy Crap

Mayor Daley exercised his power to veto for the very first time in his 17 year career as the mayor of Chicago.

Mayor Richard Daley vetoed an ordinance Monday that would have required mega-retailers to pay their workers more than other employers after some of the nation's largest stores including Wal-Mart Stores warned that the measure would keep them from opening their doors within the city's limits.

This is one of the smartest things that Daley has even done; though to be honest, the list isn't very long. Unfortunately, it may very well cost the mayor his re-election bid if this becomes a campaign issue next year.

I certainly hope that is not the case. While I have no love for Daley, the alternatives are much, much worse and losing an election for making the correct decision is not a precedent I would like to see set in my backyard.

HatTip: Greg Mankiw

More thoughts at Cafe Hayek - including some quotes from alderman that have changed their minds on the ordinance.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bill Clinton - TV Police

Former President has his panties in a bunch because TV doesn't present pure unadulturated fact (as he sees it).

ABC's TV movie The Path to 9/11, based on the 9/11 Commission report and other sources, is supposed to be a dramaticized account of the lead-up to the attacks on that date in 2001. But it seems like a few of the segments in the two-part movie, set to air this weekend, are a little too dramaticized for Bill Clinton's tastes. According to the New York Post, aides of the former President have fired off a letter of ABC's Bob Iger complaining about three segments in the movie that they feel portray the Clinton Administration's handling of Osama bin Laden in an unfair light.

Remeber what I said before about politicians getting to decide what is on TV? Its doubly true now. If ABC caves in (and I don't think they will) I will be royally pissed off.

The Speed of Capitalism

Both Apple iTunes and Amazon are expected to launch movie download services before the end of the year (and likely before the end of the month). While there is some fretting that only some of the major studio houses are signing up, I can't imagine that will last long.

I also understand the hesitancy of the major studios in joining such an endevour; the Big Boys have the distribution game locked up. If you eliminate the costs associated with distribution and you allow anyone to distribute their movie to anyone in the world it puts a large crimp in the advantages that Hollywood has held for so long.

What suprises me is how fast the changes are taking place. I predicted some time ago that home distribution would close the gap on theater distribution - movies would be simultaneously released to home viewers and on the big screen. But my feeling is that the change would take ten years.

With studios jumping on the broadband distribution about five years faster than I would have guessed I'm forced to change my estimate. I'm willing to bet that you will be able to watch The Next Big Thing in your living room, with your own popcorn within a month (and more likely a week or ten days) of major release.

These changes are a huge win for the general public. For one, it is a whole lot cheaper. Second, the big budgets will longer be the huge advantage that they are currently. Directors and movie makers of all stripes will finally be able to target their movies to a more eclectic audience (i.e. The Long Tail). The immediate feedback that iTunes and Amazon can provide also means that producers will get a better understanding of what people like and will (hopefully) respond by making better movies.

Its easy to forget what amazing times we live in. Did anyone imagine, ten years ago, that the internet would change are lives in such interesting ways?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

False Asumptions

Stephen Rose points to evidence that, yes, the middle class is shrinking. Of course, that's only because they are becoming upper class. But facts have never matter much to the left anyway.

One point that kinda bothered me though was this:

Two things set the top quintile apart: people in the top quintile are much more likely to have finished college, and they are much more likely to be in married, two-earner families. We can move more people up the ladder by doing two things: one, by helping more students graduate from college, and two, by supporting two-earner families in balancing work and family. This means such things as broad-based tuition tax relief, paid family leave, and more tax breaks for child care costs.

He assumes that finishing college is the important part. I beg to differ. College doesn't really provide you with any, you know, actual skills. The attribute that matters in seperating those that finish college and those that don't is intelligence, a drive to succeed and a good work ethic. I think that these traits are going to be far more prevalent in the top quintile than a college degree.

HatTip: Greg Mankiw

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jane's Love Child

I want to have it. Writing like this just makes the rest of us look bad. I think we should confiscate her spell-checker so that we can giggle at her silly mispellings. It would sure make me feel much better.

Given that Mr Delong is at the apex of a group I once described as "one of the most radically inegalitarian societies to be seen since Louis XVI fled Versailles", I am surprised at his readiness to attribute such dreadful motives to the rich. I've had a taste of both academia and investment banking. The dominance hierarchy of banking is so strong that if you could get the bankers out of their pinstripes for an hour, you could have filmed your average pitch meeting for the Discovery Channel. Yet when it comes to hyper-obsession with invisibly fine status distinctions, no banker could hold a candle to the average academic--or journalist, for that matter.

I am quite positive that Mr Delong's enjoyment of his prestigious professorship is substantially augmented by its position high in the academic firmament, twinkling light years above adjunct professors at Missoula Central Community College. Would he describe that emotion as spite for those less fortunate than himself? For after all, the existence of a pyramid for them to be at the top of is what makes him and his colleagues successful academics, rather than cranks with an odd hobby of publishing monographs almost no one reads. Should we punish them for their spiteful indulgence? Or should we recognize that it is normal, even laudable, to desire success?

And There Was Much Rejoicing

Congress returns to Washington this week with the Republican majorities in both chambers at risk and GOP leaders planning to turn the House and Senate into battlegrounds over which political party can best protect the country from terrorists and other security threats... No budget plan for 2007 will be completed. Promised relief for seniors struggling with their Medicare prescription-drug plans will have to wait. And up to eight of the 11 bills needed to fund the government will not be passed before the November elections.

Is there any greater thing for lovers of small-government these days than reports that Congress is not passing budgets and resolutions? That they are instead wasting time on stupid shit?

If it were up to me Congress would waste much more time on inconsequential political posturing and much less time drafting legislation.

California Takes the Plunge

California's legislature has passed a single-payer health care system; the only outstanding question is whether or not Arnold will sign it.

It’s been largely under the media radar screen, but California may be on the verge of establishing a single-payer health care system. Late last month, The California Assembly passed legislation establishing a Canadian-style, government-run health care system. The legislation had earlier passed the California Senate, and while there are small differences that will have to be reconciled, but there is no doubt that the bill will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger. The question now is whether Schwarzenegger will veto the bill. In the past he has said he would, but it’s an election year and he is under big pressure from unions and others to sign it. Schwarzenegger has caved in other issues recently, from prescription drug price controls for MediCal to vehicle emission controls to state budgeting. If he signs this bill it will be bad news for Californians and a terrible precedent for the nation.
I am of two minds on California's proposal. I mean its obviously a terrible idea, but...

The negative effects stemming from socialized medicine will occur much faster when implemented in a state as opposed to a nation. Its easier for doctors to move to Nevada or Arizona than it would be to simply leave the country. Its easier for companies to avoid price caps by simply selling inventory in New York instead of LA. Its also easier for businesses to relocate out of state to avoid the entire mess.

Its also possible that nearby states will start to develop consumer influenced pricing since there will be many people that will be paying for healthcare out of pocket to avoid the shortages that are bound to occur. Finally released from the mess that is employer supplied insurance a real market could actually emerge.

I think it is important for American's to experience first hand the downsides of such a policy, otherwise its inevitable that we would get a nationwide single-payer which will be much harder to get rid of.

On the other hand, I'm scared that other states will simply jump on the bandwagon without pausing to consider what it is really doing to California. If enough states take the plunge and find out that it is too expensive they will pressure the fed to pick up the tab in the form of a national plan.

I'm fully in favor of California going it alone, but god save the rest of us.

Update: Cato@Liberty is reporting that Arnold will likely veto the bill. Again, I'm not sure if this is good or bad news as the advent of government medicine is going to come eventually. The only question is whether or not its at the state or federal level.