Archive for October 2007

Government Sucks

I really wanted to fisk in depth this post at Government Is Good.  While there are loads of factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies, the most common is the assumption that if the government does something today, that activity would not have been performed by anyone without government.  For example, if the government did not educate our kids, we'd all be happy to let them lay around all day and play Nintendo.

The article reminds me of nothing so much as the old "better living through chemicals" commercials which were so ably parodied with the Kentucky Fried Movie skit about zinc oxide.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time. Fortunately, TJIC has already done a great job. Here is one example from a long post:

7:01 a.m. Government also helps you own your house in more than the
legal sense. On a more practical level, the federal government actually
gives you money every year to help pay for your house. It's called a
mortgage interest tax deduction

So I earn $100, and the government would normally steal $30 of
that, but because I fill out certain forms, the government only steals
$20 of it"¦and the $10 that the government would have stolen, but chose
not to, is a "gift" ?

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

Let's Get These Guys to Run Health Care

From the New York Post via Carpe Diem and TJIC:

For
seven hours a day, five days a week, hundreds of Department of
Education employees - who've been accused of wrongdoing ranging from
buying a plant for a school against the principal's wishes to
inappropriately touching a student - do absolutely no work.

The
Post has learned that the number of salaried teachers sitting idly
waiting for their cases to be heard has exploded to 757 this year -
more than twice the number just two years ago - at a cost of about $40
million a year, based on the median teacher salary.

The city pays millions more for substitute teachers and employees to replace them and to lease rubber-room space.

Meanwhile,
the 757 - paid from $42,500 to $93,400 a year - bring in lounge chairs
to recline, talk on their cellphones and watch movies on portable DVD
players, according to interviews with more than 50 employees.

Dual-Class Citizenship

I understand the logic behind reporter shield laws.  However, I can't support the establishment of different classes of citizenship with different rights, particularly when these rights are tied to certain professions.  Either everyone should be able to ignore a subpoena, or nobody should be able to do so.   My individual rights should not be subject to a hiring decision by the NY Times.

For those who believe this is essential to the functioning of the press, it is left as an exercise to explain how the press has survived without it for over 200 years.

It is worth noting that this is effectively an extension of what Congress began with McCain-Feingold.  In that law, Congress gave members of the press unique speech rights within 60 days of an election that the rest of us do not have.  The press tries to piously portray itself as a special entity, but they sure do look like any other special interest group lobbying Congress for special privileges.

Much more here.

The Howard Beale Vote

As a libertarian, I am hugely excited that Ron Paul is getting some positive attention.  However, I have a terrible time syncing up the enthusiasm for him in some quarters with the historic indifference to libertarian ideas in the same quarters.  I am worried that this country has a 5-10% Howard Beale segment (I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more) that will get enthusiastic about any third party candidate who seams to challenge the establishment.  Do these people behind Paul really understand him, or are they just the same folks who supported Ross Perot's populist melange?

Great Moments In Justice

It's been a while since I posted any tort pr0n, so here are a couple of juicy onces:

From West Virginia:

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content
drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn't drive in that
state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a
parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who
didn't check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck
at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to
save Meadows's life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck
company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury
decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which
means he "only" gets two thirds of the three million dollars they
awarded.

And from Florida:

"A police officer has sued the family of a 1-year-old boy who nearly
drowned because she slipped and injured a knee responding to their
9-1-1 rescue call." Andrea Eichhorn, a police sergeant in Casselberry,
Florida, responded to the pool accident, and now "claims the boy's
family left a puddle of water on the floor, causing her fall during the
rescue efforts. She broke her knee and missed two months of work." So
she's suing the Cosmillo family. "It's a situation where the Cosmillos
have caused these problems, brought them on themselves, then tried to
play the victim," says her attorney, David Heil. Joey Cosmillo, the
infant in question, suffered severe brain damage and lives in a nursing
home now.

West Virginia and Florida -- who'd have thought it?

A Bad Idea

Hopefully, the idea of burning food to power automobiles is finally being discredited.  It's amazing to me that environmentalists, of all people, who for years have criticized America's love affair with cars, have been at the leading edge of advocating government subsidies to shovel our food supply into our SUV's.  Particularly when corn ethanol creates more CO2 and other pollutants than it eliminates.  More on the insanity of biofuels here and here.

This is Low?

A study finds that 17.6% of social scientists at American universities self-identify themselves as Marxists.  And the study's authors find this percentage to be "low".  By the way, had Coyote been responsible for assigning the Marxist label rather than just self-idntification, my guess is the number would have easily cracked 50%.

The Long Drain

The long drain begins:

When Kathleen Casey-Kirschling signs up for
Social Security benefits Monday, it will represent one small step for
her, one giant leap for her baby boom generation "” and a symbolic jump
toward the retirement system's looming bankruptcy.

Casey-Kirschling "” generally recognized as the
nation's first boomer (born in Philadelphia on Jan. 1, 1946, at
12:00:01 a.m.) "” won't bankrupt the Social Security system by taking
early retirement at 62. But after her, the deluge: 80 million Americans
born from 1946 to 1964 who could qualify for Social Security and
Medicare during the next 22 years.

The first wave of 3.2 million baby boomers turns
62 next year "” 365 an hour. About 49% of the men and 53% of the women
are projected to choose early retirement and begin drawing monthly
Social Security checks representing 75% of the benefit they'd be
entitled to receive if they waited four more years to retire.

If Social Security were a well-managed private insurance program, this would be a non-event.  The returns on investments over the last 40 years have been tremendous, such that a private fund could easily start paying out benefits based on boomers' premiums.

Unfortunately, as a government program, the funds in the program are subject to the whims of politicians.  And it turns out that boomers have elected politicians who have spent all the money that has been contributed to Social Security (despite USA Today in their graphics trying to continue the myth that a meaningful "trust fund" actually exists as anything but a bunch of government IOU's to itself.)  So, because Congress has spent all the past contributions, an action that would have had any private manager jailed decades ago, Social Security must now run itself as a Ponzi scheme, where current contributions pay off retiree benefits.  This game runs out somewhere in the 2020's.  And this all despite the fact that Social Security pays out a negative rate of return.

Hurray!

In a blinding glimpse of the obvious for those of you who just reached CoyoteBlog.com, the blog is a going concern again. Problem explained here.  Sorry.

What Happened to Coyote Blog (Network Solutions Sucks Edition)

Years ago, I, without really knowing what I was doing, established a bunch of my URLs through Network Solutions.  I didn't understand at the time that Network Solutions was both irritating and the high-cost provider. 

Now that I know more, I have doing my registrations via a much lower cost supplier (GoDaddy).  A few weeks ago, I did a mass transfer from Network Solutions.  Apparently, Network Solutions locks the domains down, ostensibly for security (which is probably true) but also to make it harder to leave them, which makes sense as given their prices there must be a serious net drain of business out of the company.  Most of my domains cleared this Berlin Wall to freedom, but I screwed up on a couple, one of which was CoyoteBlog.com.  As a result, the domain ended up expired, and email dead.

Thanks for all of you who have tried to notify me of the problems.  Nearly two days ago I went ahead and renewed at Network Solutions for another year, just to get things back up ASAP.  Unfortunately, the URL still seems to be marked expired.  I don't know if that is their poor service or because I am in Hawaii and at the absolute end of the earth for name server updates.  Hopefully all will be right tomorrow.  For those who visited CoyoteBlog this weekend, I am sorry about the flurry of tacky popups Network Solutions was dealing out at the URL (as many as three at a time, the losers).  For those of you who access via http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/ you should have been able to read the blog but without formatting.  I believe that RSS access was unaffected.

Zero

Number of experts that predicted that the NLCS would feature two teams from the National League West.  Go D'backs.

Sorry

Network Solutions and I seem to have a disagreement as to whether I have already renewed my domain name.  Hopefully we will be back up soon.

How Princeton Uses Its Money

Everybody is always trying to spend someone else's money.  This kind of thing would really make me sick, except it is a little funny to see the kind of class warfare and redistributionist economics preached by elite universities come back to bite them:

Dr. Gravelle points out that endowment wealth is concentrated in the
upper ranks, much of it at 62 institutions with endowments larger than
$1 billion. But just three years ago only 39 schools had billion-plus
endowments. That's a 38% increase in just a few years. In 2006, 125
schools had endowments over $500 million"”a third more than in 2002. The
number of schools that can count themselves as endowment-rich or
super-rich is growing rapidly....

What the data shows is that endowment wealth is everywhere"”except in
the hands of the students who need it today. Last year endowments
increased 17.7% on average"”those larger than a billion increased 18.4%.
Yet, despite double-digit increases stretching back a decade or more
"”endowment spending is at a nearly all-time low of 4.2%--down from 5.1%
in 1994, 6.5% in 1982, and 5.2% in 1975....

Tuition has been going up so rapidly for so long it has reached nearly
ungraspable levels. So let me put today's tuition cost in concrete
terms. Senators, what would your constituents say if gasoline cost
$9.15 a gallon? Or if the price of milk was over $15? That is how much
those items would cost if their price had gone up at the same rate that
tuition has since 1980.

I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education. What can
possibly be more discouraging to a capable student whose parents are
not wealthy than a school with a $45,000 price tag on the door?...

Congress should not hesitate to consider a minimum payout
requirement"”and 5% should be considered a starting point. The 5% number
is a dated one"”even for private foundations. Many schools have been
rolling over so much money for so long that they should easily be able
to accommodate a higher rate of payout. Possibly the most significant
challenge for policymakers will be to make sure that any newly directed
monies actually go toward aid or tuition reduction and don't become
part of a shell game.

Seriously, is there no pocket of private money that socialists won't stick their hand into?  In effect, at the same time Americans get lambasted for saving too little, this guy is going after private universities for saving too much?  And note the implicit assumption about government intervention he holds and expects all of Congress to hold in the third paragraph above:  It is just assumed that if prices go up enough to upset the constituents, then it is Congress's job to act.

Far be it for facts to get in the way of good populism, but I do know what Princeton does with its 2nd or 3rd largest endowment:

  • Every student who gets admitted gets a financial aid package from the University that will allow them to attend, no matter what their finances are.  Yes, the student may have to work his butt off, but if he really wants to go to Princeton he will be able to go.  Princeton's wealth also allows it to be much more friendly in these financial assessments.  For example, many assets like the parent's house are taken off the table when assessing ability to pay
  • If a student graduates normally, then all of her debts are paid off at graduation.  Every student graduates debt-free, giving them far more flexibility in what jobs they choose our of college.  No longer must they eschew non-profit or low-paying jobs due to the burden of debt.
  • Princeton has accepted that applying more money to increasing the educational intensity of its existing 4000 students by an additional 0.1% is not the best use of its investment.  It has committed (in too small of a way for my preferences, but that is another matter) to using its fortunes to increase its size and bring Ivy League education to more people.  This year, it increased its entry class size by 250, which may seem small to those of you from large universities but is about a 20% increase for Princeton.

Since all Princeton students get whatever aid they need and graduate debt-free.  So the tuition number is irrelevent.  And statements like "I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education" are virtually meaningless. 

We're Saved!

The Arizona Republic had this headline on the front of the business section this morning:

Arizona economy will get boost

Oh, is there some interesting structural change in the economy?  Did some local company get a big contract.  No, it turns out that the state government is going to reorganize some of its committees:

Gov. Janet Napolitano announced creation of a new non-profit on
Thursday aimed at improving the state's economy and reducing its
dependence on housing and construction.

The Arizona Economic Resources Organization, or AERO, will bring
together the state's "disorganized" business-recruiting efforts, she
said.

AERO's board of directors will include representatives of government
organizations such as the Commerce and Economic Development Commission,
private enterprise and the state's universities, the governor said.

Is there a single person who reads this and thinks to himself "Oh, that should help?"  Is this really what the Arizona Republic thinks boosts economies and creates value?  Some reorganization among the bureaucrats that run around doling out taxpayer money for relocations so the governor can claim to have boosted the economy, or God forbid, to have created jobs?  How about an income tax cut instead?

Just as an aside, I couldn't help but note this hilarious quote:

"The governor has taken some important and bold steps, probably steps
that we should have taken 20 if not 30 years ago," said Barry Broome,
president and chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council,
which he said has discussed representation on the AERO board with the
governor.

It's simultaneously "bold" and 30 years late.   Is that possible?

Update:  As to my last question, it probably is possible.  After all, actually limiting the Congress to the enumerated powers in the Constitution would be both bold and about a hundred years late.

Nevermind

Up until now, the retreat of Arctic ice to 30 year lows has been credited, without proof, to global warming.  This never made a lot of sense to me, since at the same time Antarctic sea ice was hitting an all-time high.  Over at Climate Skeptic, I discuss a new NASA study that proposes that Arctic sea ice melting over the last decade has been due mainly to shifting wind patterns that basically push the ice into warmer waters where it melts faster.

I Blame Mattel

From the WSJ:

By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is
bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democratic
views and suggests trade deals could face high hurdles under a new
president.

Mattel screwed up the design, specification, and their quality control responsibilities which resulted in a series of toy recalls.  Eager to save face and push the blame onto others, management eagerly spun the story as a general failing of Chinese production, rather than their own personal screw-up.

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies

What guy wouldn't want one of these?

552a_12

Hat tip Tyler Cowen

Money Laying on the Sidewalk

For years I had some kind of corporate health plan.  When I started my own business, I bought a Blue Cross plan that roughly mirrored the corporate health plan I used to have -- very low deductible, lots of coverage.  And it had very high premiums. 

So I finally got serious and went out and did something 99% of Americans never do or never have to do:  I went out and really researched my health care options.  And what I found was that to raise our family's deductible from $500 a year to $2000 a year would save me over $3000 a year in premiums.  In fact, if I switched plans, I would get just as high of a maximum payout and I would get a better gaurantee on future pricing and a commitment never to drop my coverage from a large, well-rated insurance company.

There's an old joke about an economist and another fellow walking down the street.  There was a $10 bill laying on the ground, but the economist just walked right past it.  The other fellow said "what are you doing, you just passed up $10."  And the economist replied "It can't be a real $10 bill, because in an efficient market someone would have already picked it up."

That was my reaction to my health care options.  I asked my broker, "you mean that if I increase my deductible $1500 I can save $3000 a year?  Even in a worst case year I am better off, and in a healthy year I am MUCH better off."  He replied "Yep."  I asked, "But why doesn't everyone do this?"  He just shrugged.  As my Harvard investment management professor used to say, as he wrote up a market situation on the chalkboard to begin each class, either this is an opportunity, of there is something we don't understand.  As I have gained more experience with my new health plan, I have become convinced it is the former.

McQ over at Q&O
has a great post on insurance vs. insulation.  I won't quote it all, but it is well worth your read.  Towards the end, he quotes John Stoessel on my particular conundrum:

But people are so conditioned to expect others to pay their medical
bills that they hate high deductibles: They feel ripped off if they
must pay a thousand dollars before the insurance company starts paying.

But high deductibles may be the key to lowering costs and putting you in charge of your health care.

I am absolutely convinced that the best possible step for US health care is to expose more users to the market and price-value trade offs, while providing high-deductible insurance that shelters people from bankrupting unusual events.  More here, here, and here.

A Thought On Defending the Right of Commerce

From the Associated Press:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to
Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle
and sending a warning to store owners to clean off their shelves.

An adult-store owner had asked the justices to throw out the law as
an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of the bedroom. But the
Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving intact a lower court
ruling that upheld the law.

Sherri Williams, owner of Pleasures stores in Huntsville and
Decatur, said she was disappointed, but plans to sue again on First
Amendment free speech grounds.

"My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up," she said.

The appeals court made this distinction:

Williams had asked the Supreme Court to review a decision by the
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Alabama's law was not
affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision knocking down Texas' sodomy
law.

The
Texas sodomy law involved private conduct, while the Alabama law
regulated commercial activity, the appeals court judges said. Public
morality was an insufficient government interest in the Texas case but
was sufficient in the Alabama case, they said.

Now, I don't in any way shape or form see any differences between "private conduct" and "commerce."  How in the hell can sexual decisions between consenting adults be any different, legally, than commercial transactions between consenting adults.  It is a distinction that socialists have been succesful in introducing in the US, and to which many now cling.

The interesting part is to consider the folks who are fighting the sex toy ban.  My wild guess, which may be off the mark, is that this is not a bunch of Christian conservative Republicans.  My guess is that these folks are probably a bit left of center, and further, that many of them accept and support the notion that the government has every right to regulate dirty old commerce, but no right to regulate one's "private life."  Well, maybe now it will be clearer, at least to some, how dangerous this distinction is.   As a parting note, it has been two years now since we saw the irony of left-leaning members of the Supreme Court overrule state laws allowing medical marijuana use based on the commerce clause.

Government Thugs

Rad Geek has three awful stories of petty little thugs hired by government schools to harass and intimidate students.  At least one of these stories has racial overtones, but it would be a mistake to ascribe these actions merely to prejudice.  This is what inevitably happens when government employees are given carte blanch to exercise cohesive power.

In the first story, a 13-year-old girl was asked to strip naked because school security thugs has "reliable" information that she had an ibuprofen tablet - basically a freaking aspirin.

In the second story, security officers quiz high school girls about whether they are having their period to see if it is OK that they are carrying a small purse.

In story number three, a fifteen-year-old girl was tackled by security officers, forced down on a table, and had her wrist broken in an arm lock.  Later she was arrested and charged with assault.  All because she failed to fully clean up a piece of cake she dropped on the floor. 

Cakedropping

In the same incident, two onlookers were attacked, tackled, handcuffed, and arrested for photographing and video-taping the incident.  This is what you get for trying to record video of government employees at work:

Bystander

Twenty years ago, when I would have called myself a conservative instead of a libertarian as I do today, I probably would have said, "Oh, there are probably two sides of the story.  He probably provoked them."  I am embarrassed to admit it, but that might have been my reaction.  But watch the video that is linked from Rad Geeks post.  What could he have possibly done to warrant this?  You can see in the video he was just circling the security guards filming them until one pointed at him, the other came at him, and then this.  This boy was led from the school in handcuffs and spent the night in jail.  Sick.

Hat tip Catallarchy.

Dispatches from Zimbabwe

Here are a few scenes from Zimbabwe, stitched together form several posts by Cathy Buckle.  For all of those who support Hugo Chavez, and there are a surprising number in this country, this is exactly where Venezuela would be in a year if it wasn't for its oil.  And it may get there none-the-less (hat tip Q&O):

After three months of price controls the food situation in the country is
perilous and even those who were able to stock their pantries and cupboards are
now in trouble. In a main supermarket in my home town this week there was air
freshener, window cleaner, some vegetables, Indonesian toothpaste and imported
cornflakes from South Africa - one single packet costing more than half of a
teachers monthly salary.  There was also milk being sold from a bulk tank to
people who bring their own bottles and the queue went through the empty shop,
out the door and along the pavement. The line broke up suddenly before 10am when
the milk ran out and the huge shop was suddenly completely empty - nothing left
to sell, no more customers. This situation was a mirror image of conditions at
three other major supermarkets in the town and so we look desperately into
another week of struggle, praying for relief....

Milk is like gold in our town, as it is almost all over the country. When you
appreciate that the shops are empty and there is no food to buy, no protein, no
meat or eggs and now not even bread, you understand that people are desperate
for nourishment. A phone call to the local bulk dairy marketing outlet this week
went as follows:

Q: Hello, Do you have milk please?
A: Nothing.
Q: What about lacto (sour milk)?
A: Nothing.
Q: Any cheese?
A: (Bored) Nothing
Q: Ice Cream! ?
A: (Slightly annoyed) No, we have nothing. We are playing football in the car
park!
...

Standing outside over yet another smoky fire late one afternoon this week, a
Go-Away bird chastised me from a nearby tree. I'm sure this Grey Lourie is as
fed up of me intruding into its territory as I am of  being there - trying to
get a hot meal for supper. For five of the last six days the electricity has
gone off before 5 in the morning and only come back 16 or 17 hours later a
little before midnight. "Go Away! Go Away!" the Grey Lourie called out
repeatedly as my eyes streamed from the smoke and I stirred my little pot. My
hair and clothes stink of smoke, fingers are yellow and sooty but this is what
we've all been reduced to in Zimbabwe. Our government don't talk about the power
cuts anymore and don't even try and feed us with lame excuses about how the
power is being used to irrigate non-existent crops. We all know it's not true
and the proof is there in the empty fields for all to see.

Something else our government aren't talking about  anymore is the nationwide
non availability of bread and the  empty shops in all our towns and cities.
Everywhere you go people are struggling almost beyond description to try and
survive and yet the country's MP's, both from the ruling party and the
opposition, do nothing to put an end to this time of  horror. I have lost count
of how many weeks this has been going on for but it must be around three months.
None of the basics needed for daily survival are available to buy. There is no
flour to bake with, no pasta, rice, lentils, dried beans or canned goods. People
everywhere are hungry, not for luxuries like  biscuits or snack food but for the
staples  that fill your stomach. When you ask people nowadays how they are
coping, mostly they say that they are not, they say they are hungry, tired and
have little energy. This is a national crisis almost beyond description and
people say they are alive only because of " the hand of God."

But No One Shops for Health Care

For a while, I have been trying to highlight that the real problem with health care is that consumers who receive the service do not have any incentive to shop for the best price or to make trade offs on marginal procedures based on price.  The only people who have any incentive to shop are 1) people without insurance and 2) people with high deductibles (like me).  Politicians are trying to eliminate the former group, even if they don't want insurance, and programs like Romney's in Massachusetts actually ban high deductible insurance.

Now, Obama is worried about anti-trust:

The consequences of lax enforcement for consumers are clear. Take
health care, for example. There have been over 400 health care mergers
in the last 10 years. The American Medical Association reports that 95%
of insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated
and the number of insurers has fallen by just under 20% since 2000.
These changes were supposed to make the industry more efficient, but
instead premiums have skyrocketed, increasing over 87 percent over the
past six years. As president, I will direct my administration to
reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. It will step up review of merger
activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers
that are likely to harm consumer welfare, while quickly clearing those
that do not.

How can these mergers harm consumers when consumers don't shop for the service and don't care about price in the first place?  Candidates like Obama and Clinton are threatening to create single payer systems that use monopsony power combined presumably with the coercive power of government to hammer suppliers.  Is it any wonder that they are joining together to try to gain some sort of bargaining position for themselves?  In the context of what Obama wants to do with health care buying, this can be thought of more as unionizing than merging.

By the way, does anyone else note the irony of Obama, who wants to create a single supplier for health care (the US Government) lamenting concentration in the health care field?

I am Tired of Paying For People's Winter Vacations

I hire retired couples for the summer to run campgrounds and other recreation facilities.  Since these campgrounds are closed in the winter (most are under 8 feet of snow) I lay most of these folks off in October. 

The vast majority of my employees do not work the winter.  They have other retirement savings that they supplement working for me in the summer and then they take the winter off.   And that would be all of the story, except in  California.  For some reason in California, but not in most other states, all these folks run straight to the unemployment office and file for unemployment over the winter.  For those of you who don't know how unemployment insurance premiums work, the premium I pay as a percentage of wages is based on past claims experience.  In California, I am an "F", the worst category, and have to pay over 6%(!) of wages to unemployment insurance. 

Now in most states, what these employees are doing is illegal.   It is typical of unemployment offices that you have to call in each week and certify that you are looking for work.  If you are not actively looking for work, then you are not eligible, and most states outside CA seem fairly diligent about enforcing the rules.  Last year, not one but two of the people who were claiming unemployment in CA over the winter were in Mexico on the beach the whole time!  I know, because they called me from there to see if they were going to be rehired in the spring.

It was then that I found out why this happens more in CA than in other states.  I called the California state unemployment office and asked them how I could have cases of unemployment fraud (ie claiming unemployment when one is not actually looking for work) investigated.  The person from the state office got very hostile with me.  She said that I was making a very serious charge, and that if I made such a charge, and fraud was not proven, then I could be liable for civil and even criminal penalties for asking for the investigation.  I said forget it, raised prices to customers to cover the extra winter vacation wages I was forced to pay, and moved on.   

The Green Security State

Via Hit and Run:

Chris Martin, Coldplay lead singer founder and frontman of the CleanScapes waste removal agency, is bidding for a piece of Seattle's garbage collection contract.

If
Martin is allowed to implement what he calls "my best idea, my
get-people-riled-up thing," we could all soon be subject to a kind of
garbage audit, too. He wants to bring the equivalent of the red-light
camera to your front curb. Just as the traffic camera captures you
running through a stoplight, CleanScapes' incriminating photos would
catch you improperly disposing of a milk carton. (It belongs in the
recycling bin.)

"We could do it the nice way," he says, meaning
his company would e-mail you pictures of your detritus, along with
helpful information about separating out recyclables. Or, he says,
CleanScapes could send the pictures on to municipal inspectors, and
"the city could enforce its own laws." (While the city has sent warning
letters, no fines have ever been issued, according to Seattle Public
Utilities.)

The vast majority of recycling is a net loss, both in dollars and in energy.  Only a few items (scrap iron, aluminum cans, bulk news print) make any sense at all in curbside recycling programs.  Milk cartons are not one of them.  The rest of the curbside recycling we do is merely symbolism actions that demonstrate our commitment to the cause, much like reciting a liturgy in church (Interestingly, the more honest environmentalists have admitted this, but still support the program because they believe the symbolic action is an important source of public commitment to the environment).

I guess it is not surprising to see folks like Mr. Martin bring the full power of the state to bear to make sure you are sorting your milk cartons correctly.  After all, in previous generations, the powers-that-be in small towns would employ people to watch for folks skipping out on church, and nations like Cuba still use neighborhood watches to spy out political heresy.  It's just a sign of the times that now such tactics are being used to smoke out environmental heresy.