Posts tagged ‘Ford’

Isn't This A Measurement Problem?

I often see the stat that US manufacturing employment has shrunk substantially over the last 50 or so years, usually accompanied by much wailing from the left (yes, the same people who criticized manufacturing work as dehumanizing 40 years ago).

The WaPo, via Hit and Run, says that US manufacturing output is at an all time high, and that the only way to reconcile these two is with technology and productivity.  Which is certainly part of the story, and its refreshing to see someone telling this story and not trying to cast the manufacturing numbers as a reason to slam the borders closed against imports.

But isn't there also a measurement problem here?  Eighty years ago, if a Ford Motor factory needed the windows cleaned, a Ford employee did it.  If it needed the parking lot striped, Ford workers did it.  When it needed the bathrooms cleaned at night, Ford janitors did it.  Today, the same Ford factory needs its windows and bathrooms cleaned, but an outside service contractor likely does the work.  In the economic statistics, haven't these workers migrated from "manufacturing" to "service" without anything real on the ground changing?

Should Juries Be Able to Ban Products?

I have written on this before on the context of Vioxx, but is it really rational public policy to have juries be allowed to effectively ban products, products that both legislatures and regulatory bodies have explicitly or implicitly deemed as legal?  Ted Frank takes this on at Overlawyered in a nice follow-up post on a $31 million jury verdict against Ford:

SUVs are designed to have high clearance to traverse rugged terrain.
This raises the center of gravity and affects the handling: it's a
known tradeoff of the laws of physics. There are a wide variety of
tests of varying degrees of scientific merit one can use to suggest a
vehicle is "too prone" to roll over, and plaintiffs have the benefit of
cherry-picking which tests to apply to which vehicles. You'll find lots
of lawyers complaining that the Bronco II allegedly responded poorly in
"J-turn tests", where the steering wheel is turned 330 degrees in one
third of a second and held there for another 4.67 seconds. Ford
designed the Explorer to pass the J-turn test to take away this claim,
and the trial lawyers started using different methodologies to claim
that the Explorer was too prone to roll over.

Empirically, however, the Bronco doesn't roll over more than several
other SUVs on the market, which is why NHTSA, in both the Bush I and
Clinton administrations, refused to recall the Bronco when the
plaintiffs' bar asked it to. When I say Ford was held liable for
producing an SUV, I'm not spinning: it was because it was held liable
for producing an SUV.

Moreover, a vehicle should be viewed in totality: an auto that is
more likely to roll over may be safer in other particulars that more
than compensate for that increased propensity. So I question the
premise. One can't change the rollover propensity without creating a
different vehicle entirely. The vehicle should be viewed holistically,
and holistically, the Bronco is a safe car when used as designed.

Perhaps we as a society would be better off taking the nanny-state
step of banning SUVs, forbidding people from wildnerness driving
because too many drivers don't know how to drive SUVs in highway
conditions, but that's a decision that not only would end the American
auto industry, but should be made other than by a 12-person jury of
laypeople. This vehicle rolled over because the driver drove off the
road.

I had similar thoughts about the Vioxx cases:

Anyway, the point of this post is that this verdict represents a very dangerous assault on individual choice.  Recognize that there are many, many activities in life where individuals are presented with the following choice:

If I choose to do X, my life will be improved in some way but I may statiscally increase my chance of an early death.

You
may react at first to say that "I would never risk death to improve my
life", but likely you make this choice every day.  For example, if you
drive a car, you are certainly increasing your chance of early death
via a auto accident, but you accept this risk because driving allows
you to get so much more done in your life (vs. walking).  If you ride a
bike, swim, snow ski, roller blade, etc. you are making this choice.
Heck, everyone on the California coast is playing Russian Roulette with
an earthquake in exchange for a great climate, beautiful scenery, and
plentiful jobs.

The vast majority of drugs and medical therapies carry this same
value proposition:  A drug will likely improve or extend your life in
some way but carries a statistical chance of inducing a side effect
that is worse than the original problem, up to and including death.
The problem is that we have structured a liability system in this
country such that the few people who evince the side effects can claim
more money in damages than the drug was worth to all the people it
helped.  For example, if a drug helps 999 people, but kills the
thousandth, and that thousandth person's family is awarded $253 million
in damages (as in this case), the drug is never going to be put on the
market again.  Even if the next 1000 people sign a paper saying we are
willing to take the one-in-a-thousand risk to relieve the pain that is
ruining our lives, they still are not going to get the drug because the
drug companies know that some Oprah-loving jury will buy the argument
that they did not understand the risk they were taking and award the
next death another quarter of a billion dollars....

By the way, have you noticed the odd irony here?  Robert Ernst (the
gentleman who died in the Vioxx case) is assumed, both by the FDA and
the litigation system, to be unable to make informed decisions about
risk and his own health.  But a jury of 12 random people who never
experienced his pain can make such decisions for him?  And us?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution said it even more succinctly:

How did we arrive at a system in which 12 random Texans are assigned
responsibility for evaluating the scientific merits of statistical evidence of
this type, weighing the costs and benefits, and potentially
sending
a productive blue-chip American company into bankruptcy protection?

Han and Chewie: The Early Years

If George Lucas needs any more money, here is my movie idea for him:  Make a movie about Han Solo and Chewbacca in their early years.  How did a Wookie prince become a smuggler?  How did he meet Han?  How did Han win the Millennium Falcon from Lando?  In my imagination, the movie would be more in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than the most recent star wars movie, putting the emphasis on adventure and action over special effects, Republic politics, and endless light-saber fights.  The only real challenge would be casting the young Han Solo part -- who would be willing to try to replace Harrison Ford?

Does anyone doubt that this would make a fortune, particularly if you teamed Lucas with someone to do the writing?  The series would easily lend itself to a serial format, with multiple episodes, though in that format it might make a better TV show than movie.

Han_chewie

PS-  I got started thinking about this because I saw Star Wars III again this weekend.  As an update to my review:  it did not wear very well.  The back third from the (attempted) arrest of Palpatine forward was still engaging, but the front half actually had me squirming in my seat. The dialog still sucks, the initial mission sequence still makes no sense, and the battle with General Grievous is still just one more gratuitous light saber battle and chase scene.

Creating Two Classes of Citizens

Over the past couple of days, the comment period and the resulting debate about FEC rule-making for blogs and campaign finance reform really has me simmering.  As a review, McCain-Feingold for the second* time in modern US history created a dual class of citizenship when it comes to First Amendment speech rights:  The "media" (however defined) was given full speech rights without limitations during an election, while all other citizens had their first amendment rights limited. 

These past few weeks, we have been debating whether this media exemption from speech restrictions should be extended to bloggers.  At first, I was in favorThen I was torn.  Now, I am pissed.  The more I think of it, it is insane that we are creating a 2-tiered system of first amendment rights at all, and I really don't care any more who is in which tier.  Given the wording of the Constitution, how do I decide who gets speech and who doesn't - it sounds like everyone is supposed to:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I have come to the conclusion that arguing over who gets the media exemption is like arguing about whether a Native American in 1960's Alabama should use the white or the colored-only bathroom:  It is an obscene discussion and is missing the whole point, that the facilities shouldn't be segregated in the first place.

I have read my handy pocket Constitution (courtesy of the Cato Institute) through a number of times, and I have yet to find any mention of special constitutional privileges or rights for employees of major media firms.  Unfortunately, we seem to act like its in there somewhere, as I wrote here as well, though in a different context.

*  Footnote:  This is not the first time we have created two classes of citizen when it comes to speech.  Over the last 30-40 years, we have differentiated "political" speech from "commercial" speech.  Until McCain-Feingold, political speech was pretty zealously protected by the courts, while we have gotten to the point that the government can pass nearly any law it wants restricting commercial speech.  Here is a simplistic example.  Unless I am over some spending limit, I can buy an ad in the NY Times and print in 70 point type "Bush Sucks" and no court would bat an eye.  If I am a pissed off Ford customer, I can print an ad in the Times saying "Ford Sucks" and probably be fine as well.  However, if I am a Honda dealer, and place an ad in the NY Times saying "Ford Sucks", I will likely get fined and slapped with an injunction.

When the Constitution says that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech" it sure seems like there aren't any qualifying words like "political" or "commercial"

More Nutty Tort Decisions

Frequent readers of this site will know that I am a strong opponent of how the current tort system works.  However, I am not a big supporter of damage caps.  Damage caps may limit the harm of a broken tort system, but they don't fix the root problem - the jackpot justice that seeks wealth transfers from wealthy parties irrespective of who was really at fault.  For example, note this case, where teens who were not wearing their seat belts were killed by a driver breaking the speed limit and with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit.  The jury decided the accident was 90% the fault of... Ford, for designing a car with the same glass used by everyone else in the auto industry.  But the unfairness of the decision is only the beginning of the outright nuttiness and fraud by the plaintiff in this case.  Make sure to go to this article - you have to scroll to the article on Ford appealing frontier justice, but the extra finger work is justified.

Why Not Have The Government Approve Our Car Choices Too?

As a follow-on to the issues I raised in this post about the FDA making our risk-reward choices for us, comes this tongue-in-cheek suggestions from Café Hayek:  Lets start the FCA, the Federal Car Administration, to approve cars for consumer use:

Choices would be few.  Because of the high costs of the approval process, only cars that appealed to large numbers of consumers would receive attention from the manufacturers.  On the plus side, the cars that did survive the process would be very safe and very good cars.  They'd have to be.  Manufacturers would want to reduce the odds of failure to avoid a ten year approval process that resulted in rejection.

It would be great, assuming the bureaucrats in Washington would make exactly the same choices that you would.  In other words, it would be great if we all wanted to drive identical Ford Taurus's.

If you think this suggestion is just ridiculous humor, ask yourself whether this is what Ralph Nader has been after all along.

Airline Industry and Inventory Pooling

For several years, I worked for a major supplier to the commercial airline industry.  Eventually, I had to leave, because the entire industry just drove me nuts - some of the worst structural problems in any industry I have seen combined with an incredible unwillingness to do anything about them.  Marginal Revolution reminds me about the airline industry with this post.

Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (fee req'd).

As entertaining as this is, the industry is still totally unwilling to address the real problems in the industry.

Continue reading ‘Airline Industry and Inventory Pooling’ »

Something Unusual Will Happen in 2008

Assuming Cheney does not want to run for president, which I think is a given, something will happen in 2008 that has not happened in 56 years since 1952: Neither of the two major-party presidential candidates will be incumbents of the President or Vice-President jobs. In 1952 we had Eisenhower vs. Stevenson. Since then we have always had incumbents running, though not necessarily successfully -
1956: Eisenhower
1960: Nixon
1964: Johnson
1968: Humphrey
1972: Nixon
1976: Ford
1980: Carter
1984: Mondale and Reagan
1988: Bush
1992: Bush
1996: Clinton
2000: Gore
2004: Bush v 1.1

I guess the only exception you could make to this is if you called Hillary an incumbent. Full list of presidents and VP's here

UPDATE

I didn't just bury the conclusion, but left it out entirely. The point is that 2008 is likely to be a zoo. Not one but two wide open nominating battles, plus of course the general election. Can we please, please before then try to figure out a way to choose our candidates other than just letting Iowa do it?

UPDATE #2

Welcome Instapundit (guess I need to send a check to my host for more bandwidth). While you are here, you might check out my latest roundup on Kyoto and Global Warming, as well as an interesting analysis on the economic and political success of ex-French vs. ex-Anglo/American colonies. Short answer is that you didn't want the French as masters.

UPDATE #3

Check out the comments section, which has several good posts handicapping the Republican candidates in 2008. Several people suggest a Republican strategy to replace Cheney mid-term with their next candidate. I know that the leadership of both political parties lament their loss of control, due to the primary system, in selecting their nominee, and this certainly would be an intriguing way of getting around that and the Iowa/NH problem. However, the move is so transparently Machiavellian, and I think unprecedented, that the first party to try it will probably get punished in the court of public opinion.

Avoiding Difficult Customers

This blog will often touch on the insanity that is the current American tort system. I don't think there is any greater threat to capitalism, due process, or democracy than the growing power of the litigation bar.

Via Overlawyered.com, which should be an essential part of your daily blog browsing, comes this story. Apparently, after being sued by Okaloosa County for making defective police cars, Ford refused to sell the county any more of this type car. The County sued again, this time to force Ford to sell it more cars of the type it is suing Ford for being defective:

One of Morris' attorneys, Don Barrett, has said the sheriff firmly believes the Police Interceptors are defective but he wants to buy new ones to replace aging cars because seeking other vehicles would be more costly.

lol. Unfortunately, in the service business, it is legally more difficult to exclude customers from the premises. We have several well-known customers who come to our campgrounds (plus Wal-mart and any other private retail establishment) desperately hoping to slip and fall and sue. In a future post, I will tell the story of a Florida campground that is being sued by a visitor for sexual dysfunction after the visitor allegedly stepped on a nail in their facility.