Archive for July 2011

Good for Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson gave the finger to the Republican my-family-values-must-be-your-family-values set

Presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson charged today in a formal statement through his campaign that the Family Leader “pledge” Republican candidates for President are being asked to sign is “offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded”.  Governor Johnson also plans to further state his position against the Family Leader pledge this afternoon in Las Vegas, NV at a speech he will deliver at the Conservative Leadership Conference.

Johnson went on to state that “the so-called ‘Marriage Vow” pledge that FAMILY LEADER is asking Republican candidates for President to sign attacks minority segments of our population and attempts to prevent and eliminate personal freedom.   This type of rhetoric is what gives Republicans a bad name.

“Government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I have always been a strong advocate of liberty and freedom from unnecessary government intervention into our lives. The freedoms that our forefathers fought for in this country are sacred and must be preserved. The Republican Party cannot be sidetracked into discussing these morally judgmental issues — such a discussion is simply wrongheaded. We need to maintain our position as the party of efficient government management and the watchdogs of the “public’s pocket book”.

“This ‘pledge’ is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn’t fit into a particular definition of ‘virtue’.

Johnson is easily my favorite Presidential candidate in recent memory.

The Next Step Past "Unexpected"

What does a statist government do when attaching "unexpected" to all negative economic numbers does not provide the necessary political cover?

Argentina’s government has filed criminal charges against the managers of an economic consulting firm, escalating its persecution of independent economists.

…The government is charging MyS Consultores with “publishing false information about inflation data” to benefit themselves and their clients. The criminal complaint alleges that MyS’s data also lead to speculative behavior in Argentina’s bond market.

…Consumer prices rose 9.7% in May from a year ago, according to the national statistics agency, Indec. But virtually all economists say annual inflation surpasses 20%—one of the world’s highest rates—angering government officials who dismiss inflation as a problem.

…So far this year, the Secretariat has fined at least nine economic research firms 500,000 pesos ($122,000) each. This week, the Secretariat also slapped a second fine on Orlando J Ferreres & Asociados.

“They fine us for saying how much prices have risen,” Mr. Ferreres, director of his eponymous firm, said. “They could seek criminal charges against all of us. We don’t know how far they’re willing to go.”

Mr. Ferreres said the legal actions are part of a strategy to prevent independent economists from publishing potentially negative information during an election year…

Government officials say they hoped the fines would deter economists from “deceiving” the public into making poor financial decisions by publishing inflation estimates that differ considerably from Indec’s consumer price index.

It is sad to see how far Argentina has fallen.  In the past it has been one of my favorite countries in the world to visit.

Libertarians as Corporate Whores

I am amazed lately as the left has tried to pitch libertarians as corporate whores, taking certain small-government positions because they have been paid off by Koch or Exxon.

I can understand how this charge might bite for Democrats and Republicans whose positions tend to be a hodge-podge of individual liberty and state control (and which seem to morph back and forth depending on which team is in the White House).  When there is no consistent, temporally stable philosophy that drives political positions, then it might be appropriate to look at other factors that might drive a public stance on an issue.  If, for example, I had always supported tight regulation of corporate market share, one might wonder why I defend Google against anti-trust scrutiny and reasonably look for other motives.

But as a libertarian, I consistently support market solutions over government regulation.  On this site I have supported the right of hair threaders and interior designers and real estate agents and casket sellers to ply their trade without government permissions.  I have supported legalization of gambling, marijuana and narcotic sales, and prostitution.

So why is it that I can plow along trying my best to be a consistent advocate of individual liberty, without a hint that I am in the pay of hair threaders or hookers, but as soon as I write on, say, natural gas fracking I am in the pay of the Koch brothers?  This strikes me as the lamest possible argument.

On this blog, think of me as sitting at a roulette table and always betting on black  (yes, the house will eventually win but welcome to the world of being a libertarian in modern statist politics).  Spin after spin I bet black.  Imagine a couple of folks walking up and seeing me place my next bet on black.  Why do you think he did that?  Was it because the last number was a 6?  Or because three of the last five were red?  No guys, it's because I always bet black.

Of nearly all the political groups, libertarians should be the most transparent.  We always side with individual liberty, and searching for other motives for these positions is generally futile.

All Your Salary Are Below To Us

Apparently the newest pro-tax meme out of the Left is that millions of dumb Americans don't already know that they are benefactors of social spending programs and that if they understood this, they would surely support government expansion.  Such programs they highlight include:

  • 529 or Coverdell savings deduction
  • mortgage interest deduction
  • hope or lifetime learning tax credit
  • student loans
  • child and dependent tax care credit

etc. etc.  Whole list here.  I don't want to spend too much time on this silliness, but two immediate responses come to mind

  1. If tax credits, ie the ability to keep more of your money and be taxed less, is a government social program, then the implication is that all your money belongs to the government, and the very fact you keep any of it is a gift or benefaction of the government for which you should be grateful.  The fact the Left cannot understand the simple difference between, on the one hand, keeping more of your own money, and on the other, getting money that has been taken by force from others, explains a lot about the current budget fight.
  2. In many cases, Americans "benefit" from government programs because the government does not allow any alternative.  Or, if it allows an alternative, the government provides heavily subsidized services or pre-paid services (e.g. public education which you pay for whether you use it or not) that crowd out private alternatives.  Just because roads and schools and home loans have heavy government involvement does not mean that they require that government involvement to exist.

More analysis here.

More on Our Dust Storm

I blogged on our dust storm last week.  It was really bizarre to watch it rolling in on us.  It was one of those things that you know intellectually is not really threatening but a steady diet of Stephen King and other authors had some part of my brain wondering if I shouldn't be driving north at 90MPH to stay ahead of it.

By the way, such storms are called a "haboob".

Radley Balko linked this time lapse video.

The Worst Sort of Discourse

Kevin Drum had a post lamenting that Congress is doing nothing when it could be spending money that would, in his view, stimulate the economy out of a recession.  All well and good, and predictable based on his assumptions.  But he ended with this

We are ruled by charlatans and cowards. Our economy is in the tank, we know what to do about it, and we're just not going to do it. The charlatans prefer instead to stand by and let people suffer because that's politically useful, while the cowards let them get away with it because it's politically risky to fight back. Ugh indeed.

I was horrified by this sort of discourse, and wrote back:

It is so tiring to see both parties ascribing horrible and hostile motivations to their political opponents.  Your last paragraph is just absurd, implying that everyone agrees with your economic prescriptions and that the only reason everyone is not following them is either a) political self-interest or b) loathing for the poor and helpless.

Is it really so hard to understand that well-intentioned, intelligent people who honestly want the economy to get better might disagree with you about the benefits of deficit spending? The literature is at best mixed on this topic and certainly there is nothing about the last stimulus that causes me to become a believer.

Those of us who believe strongly that diverting trillions of dollars of capital from private to public hands (ie from hands focused on productively employing it to hands focused on politically employing it) makes the economy worse by necessity are just as motivated by trying to improve the economy as you.

I really don't understand this absolute insistence on ascribing bad motivations to those with whom one disagrees.  Is it ego, or just insecurity?  If one admits his or her opponents can be smart and well-motivated, it certainly creates an edge of doubt and uncertainty.  Deal with it.  That's healthy.  It keeps us intellectually honest.

Obamacare and the Lost Recovery

Corporate profitability is back up, and output has returned to nearly pre-recession levels.  But employment still has not recovered.  Why?

Well, I am sure there are a lot of reasons, but one potential reason I have pointed out for a while are Federal efforts to increase the cost of employment.  If the true cost of an employee is higher, or even more uncertain, then investments are going to be funneled preferentially into capital rather than labor.  Certainly that is what our company has been doing for a while.  Thus productivity is way up, and employment is low.

I believe that Obamacare is a very important element in raising the cost and uncertainty of hiring new employees, particularly for small and middle-sized businesses that so often drive much of American employment growth.  Certainly in the NFIB, the small business group to which my company belongs, the entire character of our internal discussions has changed.  Three years ago we might have been discussing a mix of 10 or 12 issues we had.  Now all you hear is Obamacare discussion.  [Note - some on the Left like Kevin Drum argue that this concern is irrational.  I seldom take seriously the opinion of people who have never tried to make a payroll about what business people should and should not be concerned about, but it almost does not matter.  Whether it is irrational or not, the concern is a fact.]

Let me share a chart I just saw on Kevin Drum's blog (which he used to make an entirely different point).  Let's look at the recession up to March 2010:

Look at the orange line which is private sector employment growth (the blue bars include government and get squirrelly in 2010 due to temporary census workers).  This looks like a normal (though deep) recession with a nice recovery beginning.

Then, on March 18, 2010, Obamacare passed.  Now lets play the numbers forward.  Again, pay attention to the private job growth in orange - the blue spike in April in May is all temporary census workers

Correlation is not equal to causation, but Obamacare looks to me to be exactly like the National Industrial Recovery Act under FDR, a huge source of regime uncertainty and stab at free markets that killed an incipient recovery.

Test Driving Communist Cars

This is awesome, and the only real argument is which one is the bigger piece of crap.  The drag race was particularly funny. Part 2 here

Update: Fixed the second link.  Forgot to give credit to reader Leith Kronenberg for the link, who, by the way, needs his own blog.

I Love It When Businesses Get Scrappy with the Government

It happens all to seldom, for reasons I understand well.  Oil companies and Wal-Mart and other vilified private entities that are the object of populist and cynical political attacks very seldom fight back.  The reason is not because they are in the wrong, but because  the government has the power to gut them like a fish in a myriad of ways, and are populated by petty little thugs who love to dish it out but can seldom take any criticism.

That is why its great to see Koch Industries telling demagogues in the Democratic Party to take a hike.  For some bizarre reason, perhaps because the Left saw how much fun the Right had vilifying George Soros for everything, the Koch brothers are not the source of all imaginable plots and schemes.

Check out this letter, where Koch Industries responds to Democratic fundraising pitch.

Media Mascot for Prosecutorial Abuse

Until two days ago, I had never ever heard of Nancy Grace but apparently she has a TV show or something and uses it to actively root for prosecutorial abuse.  The presumption of innocence is frustrating until they come for you.

Government Funding Appeals For Bigger Government

Our rulers are pretty good at finding tricky ways to expand their power

...several environmental groups that have received millions in EPA grants regularly file suit against that same agency. A dozen green groups were responsible for more than 3,000 suits against the EPA and other government agencies over the past decade, according to a study by the Wyoming-based Budd-Falen Law Offices.

The EPA even tacitly encourages such suits, going so far as to pay for and promote a "Citizen's Guide" that, among other things, explains how to sue the agency under "citizen suit" provisions in environmental laws. The guide's author — the Environmental Law Institute — has received $9.9 million in EPA grants over the past decade.

And, to top it off, critics say the EPA often ends up paying the groups' legal fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

"The EPA isn't harmed by these suits," said Jeffrey Holmstead, who was an EPA official during the Bush administration. "Often the suits involve things the EPA wants to do anyway. By inviting a lawsuit and then signing a consent decree, the agency gets legal cover from political heat."


Corn Farmers and Hollywood Studios

What do corn farmers and Hollywood studios have in common?  They both have an uncanny ability to force self-serving legislation through Congress.  This week's bit of sucking up to Hollywood is the PROTECT IP act, currently under consideration in Congress:

An ideologically diverse group of 90 law professors has signed a letter opposing the PROTECT IP Act, the Hollywood-backed copyright enforcement/Internet blacklist legislation now working its way through Congress. The letter argues that its domain-blocking provisions amount to Internet censorship that is barred by the First Amendment.

Jointly authored by Mark Lemley, David Levine, and David Post, the letter is signed not only by prominent liberals like Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler, but also by libertarians like Post and Glenn "Instapundit"Reynolds.

"The Act would allow courts to order any Internet service to stop recognizing [a] site even on a temporary restraining order... issued the same day the complaint is filed," they write. Such a restraining order, which they describe as "the equivalent of an Internet death penalty," raises serious constitutional questions.

The Supreme Court has held that it's unconstitutional to suppress speech without an "adversary proceeding." That is, a speaker must, at a minimum, be given the opportunity to tell his side of the story to a judge before his speech can be suppressed.

Yet under PIPA, a judge decides whether to block a domain after hearing only from the government. Overseas domain owners (and the speakers who might make use of their websites) aren't offered the opportunity to either participate in the legal process or appeal the decision after the fact. (Affected domain owners may file a separate lawsuit after the fact.) This, the professors say, "falls far short of what the Constitution requires before speech can be eliminated from public circulation."


OK, So We Greens Are Communists After All

This is pretty hilarious. Environmentalist and global warming advocate Chris Mooney writes

My latest DeSmogBlog post is about how climate skeptics basically seem to believe that their opponents are driven by socialism and communism. We aren’t, of course–duh–but it is fascinating to listen to how they explain this, in their own words.

After some participation years ago in this kind of finger-pointing over motivations in the climate debate, I have of late found such activity to be worthless at best and have tried to stay away from it.

But this became funny when Mooney's readers started commenting on the post.  In effect, they wrote "we are anti-growth socialists."  Mooney was forced to write, in comment #32:

yes. i guess my side loses this round, thanks to this thread. depressing

Thanks to Climate Depot for the tip.

Sacrificing Privacy for, Err, for What?

Wiretaps and government surveillance is on the rise, and it has little to do with terrorism.  The failed war on drugs continues to be the main excuse for assaults on privacy:

State and federal investigators obtained 3,194 wiretap orders in 2010, an increase of 34 percent over the previous year, and a whopping 168 percent increase over 2000. Only one wiretap application was denied—which you can choose to take as evidence that law enforcement is extremely scrupulous in seeking applications, or that judges tend to rubber stamp them, according to your preferred level of paranoia. Just half the states reported any wiretaps, and nearly 68 percent of the total 1,987 state wiretaps were attributable to just three states: California, New York and New Jersey....

Still, this invasive technique is still reserved for investigating the most serious violent crimes, right? Alas, no: For 84 percent of wiretap applications (2,675 wiretaps), the most serious offense under investigation involved illegal drugs. Further proof, if proof were needed, that privacy suffers enormous collateral damage in our failed drug war. Drugs have long been the reason for the vast majority of wiretaps, but that trend, too, is on the upswing: Drug cases accounted for “just” 75 percent of intercept orders in 2000.

And Then What?

Coke has a billboard covered in some kind of plants that it claims absorbs 46,800 pounds of CO2 a year.  Forgetting for a moment whether we should care about CO2 abatement, I have a question for Coke:  What are you going to do with the plants after you take down the billboard and/or after they die?  Are you going to shrink-wrap them and bury them deep?  Because otherwise, when they die, they are just going to give up the carbon back to the atmosphere as they decompose.  If you really want to abate carbon with plant growth, go build some wood-frame houses.

Update: Incredibly, as the 13th commenter on the linked post, I was the very first who did not think this was an awesome step for the environment.

Save A Worker by Keeping Him Unemployed

Here is a portion of Kevin Drum's argument against lowering the minimum wage to stimulate employment

Is this really what we've come to? That we should provide a (probably very small) boost to the job market by allowing businesses to hire people for $9,500 per year instead of $14,500? Seriously? I mean, this is the ultimate safety net program, aimed squarely at working people at the very bottom of the income ladder. If we're willing to throw them under the bus, who aren't we willing to throw under the bus?

Part of the problem is that Drum is absolutely convinced that our intuition (and, oh, 200 years of experience) that demand curves slope downward is flawed in the case of low-skill labor.  He has read the two studies out of a zillion that, contrary to all the others, suggests that minimum wage increases may not affect employment and has convinced himself that these are the last word in the science.    As an employer who has laid people off and made larger and larger investments in automation with each successive minimum wage increase, I will continue to trust my intuition that higher minimum wages makes hiring less desirable.

I will say, though, that there are a number of reasons why a change in the minimum wage may have a smaller overall effect nowadays than one might expect.  That is because the minimum wage vastly understates the cost of taking on an unskilled worker.  Even with a lower minimum wage, these government costs will remain:

  • Soon, the employer will have to pay for the employees health care, a very expensive proposition
  • Workers comp and other labor taxes add as much as 20% to the cost of labor
  • In states like California, bad employees have an increasing number of avenues to prevent employers from firing them, from appeal to an ADA law stretched out of recognition to any number of other legal presumptions that employers have to just live with hiring mistakes

Hiring employees used to be a joyous occasion.  Now I cringe and wonder what kind of liabilities I am taking on.

But back to Drum's statement, how sick is it that allowing people off the dole to actually get a job is called "throwing them under the bus?" Drum, for someone so fired up to make decisions based on academic work, sure is willing to put on blinders to all the academic work that actually characterizes who works for minimum wage and how long they stay on it.  He who argues against making policy based on flawed intuition is operating here entirely from a flawed perception of who minimum wage workers are.  He seems to want to picture families of eight supported for decades by someone trapped in the same minimum wage job, for whom a raise only comes when Congress grants it, but that is simply not the reality.

Just as one metric, for example, the percentage of all wage and salaried workers making minimum wage or less fell from 8.8% in 1980 to 1.7% in 2008.  In fact, the actual absolute number of people making the minimum wage fell by over 2/3 during these years.    I would argue that this number is probably too low.  A dynamic labor market needs to bring people in at the bottom, and raising the minimum wage makes this harder, and so traps people into unemployment.  In fact, the number of unemployed in this country is at least 6 times larger than the number of minimum wage workers.

If we dropped the minimum wage, only a fraction of the 2 million or so who make the minimum wage would see their wages go down, but lets assume a quarter of them would.  We are therefore trying to prop up wages for 500,000 but at the same time creating barriers for 13.9 million people who are unemployed and are looking for work.  And it is low-skilled workers who we are most particularly throwing under the bus by keeping minimum wages high.

Asymetric Definition of "Partisan Bickering"

Have you ever notices how "partisan bickering" seems to be defined asymmetrically?   In most of the media, when such a term is used, it generally means "folks trying to reduce the size of the state have gotten uppity of late."   We have just such an example here in Phoenix:

A non-profit organization created by a former spokesman for the Phoenix Mayor's Office is bankrolling the political committee aiming to recall Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

The group, Protect Voters' Rights, has contributed $50,000 to the anti-DiCiccio group called Save Phoenix Taxpayers, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the Phoenix city clerk. The contributions from Protect Voters' Rights make up all but $100 of the funding Save Phoenix Taxpayers reported earning since the group formed to launch its recall campaign against DiCiccio in April.

Scott Phelps, a retired Phoenix employee who served as the spokesman for four different mayors during his 19-year tenure, said he formed Protect Voters' Rights to protect the city from being destroyed by partisan politics.

"One of the things I find discouraging and destructive is the rush by folks to make city government more like Congress and the state Legislature," Phelps said. "I can't think of a single soul who looks at the partisan bickering there and says we can use a little more of that at City Hall."

The latter statement is telling, as it seems to be in response to Republican and Tea Party influence in Congress since the last election.  Phelps longs for a return to one-party (Democratic) rule, and for him "bickering" means any sort of political opposition to his agenda, which seems to be the continued growth of government size and power.

DiCiccio is certainly a hell-raiser.  Most recently, he has complained about the mayor's back-door efforts to slip large pay raises for city workers into the budget, despite the ongoing recession that has hit city finances hard.   Further, he has suggested that private enterprises might be able to do things, like maintenance, janitorial, or clerical work, cheaper than government employees.  It is this latter idea, which sounds good to me, which apparently puts him beyond the pale for agents of the state:

Save Phoenix Taxpayers received the first check because some of what DiCiccio has been doing is an example of what Protect Voters' Rights aims to fight.

Phelps specifically cited DiCiccio's lobbying of a bill during the last Legislative session that would have required Phoenix to competitively bid out city services that cost more than $250,000. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

"It's not the right thing to do to run down to the Legislature and try to get that group's leadership, which isn't being filled by the deepest thinkers that have ever held those positions, to impose the will of one or two council members on the entire city," Phelps said.

I will admit that seeking a state law to force Phoenix's hand is an odd approach, but the core objection here is not the odd legislative approach but the threat to government worker jobs.  DiCiccio suspects the group is a front for government workers unions, and I think he is probably right.   After all, it is extremely odd to see a group that nominally calls itself a good-government group shocked by the very idea of seeking competitive bids for city services.

Dust Storm

We get dust storms from time to time here (though not as often as, say, in Eastern Washington, at least from the short experience I had there).  Last night we had a big one, and as usual every surface is covered in dirt.  While it was going on, it looked like a London fog, but with dirt instead of water.

What made this one different for me is that I got to see it roll in from the south.  It was an amazing sight.  It looked like a scene from Steven King's the Mist, or perhaps from the bottom of a volcano slope watching a pyroclastic flow coming at you.  It reminded me of standing in the streets of Manhattan on 9/11 and watching the cloud of debris coming at us after the first tower fell.  Here is a picture from the AZ Republic of the storm rolling in from the south like a giant tsunami.

Here is a video of it rolling in, which is really cool, if you can ignore the end-is-near typical style of local reporting that has to blow up every odd event into a catastrophe demanding that one tune in at eleven.

What Liberal Reporters Used to Do

Lefties are struggling with the concept of a libertarian doing a good deed (in this case, Radley Balko's great journalism leading to the release of Cory Maye.

Here is the real problem for the Left:  This is exactly the kind of story -- a black man  railroaded into jail in Mississippi -- that leftish reporters used to pursue, before they shifted their attention to sorting through Sarah Palin's emails.  A lot of investigative journalism has gone by the wayside -- in Phoenix, it has really been left to independent Phoenix New Times to do real investigative journalism on folks like Joe Arpiao, as our main paper the Arizona Republic has largely fled the field.

More Wind Craziness

I still contend that wind is, except in a few niche applications, probably the worst alternate energy source.   Other forms of energy like solar have issues, but there is a lot of reason to believe these a fixable over time with better technology.  Wind is just a plain dog.

One of the biggest problems with wind is the need for backup power.  Because wind's lapses are hard to predict, a lot of fossil fuels have to be burned in spinning, hot backup capacity ready at a moment's notice to take over.  In Germany, the net effect has been very little substitution of fossil fuel burning despite an enormous wind investment

As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.

Natural gas makes this situation a little better, as natural gas turbines can be brought up much faster than, say, an oil or coal-powered plant.  But the duplicate investment is still necesary

Britain's richest energy companies want homeowners to subsidise billions of pounds worth of gas-powered stations that will stand idle for most of the time.

Talks have taken place between the Government, Centrica, owner of British Gas, and other energy companies on incentives to build the power stations needed as back-ups for the wind farms now being built around the country.

It is understood 17 gas-fired plants worth about £10 billion will be needed by 2020.

The Energy Department has been warned that without this massive back-up for the new generation of heavily subsidised giant wind farms, the lights could go out when the wind dies down.

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said renewables, such as large-scale wind energy, were intermittent and required back-up generation, a role gas was uniquely qualified to fill.

But as power stations that operate only intermittently would not be financially viable, Laidlaw said: 'The building of new gas-fired capacity must be incentivised so that gas can fulfil its role as a bridging fuel.'

Great.  So we have wind power, which is not financially viable so it must be subsidized, that required backup power plants to be constructed, which will not be financially viable so gas plants must be subsidized.

I have an idea, why not have gas plants which are financially viable serving the base load and just get rid of wind and this double subsidy all together?



Assuming Your Conclusion

The latest stimulus analysis out of the Administration is yet another crock.  It claims 2+ million jobs created, but has absolutely no evidence for this.  All it does is take the same hypothetical Keynesian multipliers it used when it proposed the stimulus, and reapply them.  In other words, the models basically say X jobs should have been created per billion dollars spent, so they run the models that then announce that X jobs must have been created per billion dollars spent.  Surely.  Somewhere.  We swear.

This notion of confirming your original predictive model runs with new runs of the same model is the same kind of BS that has become so popular in climate science.  The fact is, the net effect of the stimulus is almost impossible to measure in a complex economy where so much is changing.  It's possible, perhaps  (though this is surprisingly difficult to do right) to measure each person employed in a stimulus project, but this does not answer the question of how many jobs would have been created if the $800 billion had been left in the hands of private actors rather than spent by the government.


Additional Thoughts on Risk

SB7 has some good observations about risk:

I was listening to the WSJ radio podcast while getting some dinner ready, and one of their reporters said, in the context of discussing Fukushima, that some of the engineers at the plant "knew there was a risk" in the plant's older design and could conceivably face charges for not doing something about said risk.

This kind of talk really grinds my gears.  In any engineering situation there is always some risk.  You can have less risk, or more risk, but risk is not something you either have or do not have.

I will go one step further.  This ex post facto witch hunt aimed at folks who discussed risks  (an pogrom that occurs in nearly every product liability lawsuit with fishing expeditions through company memos) is the WORST possible thing for consumers concerned about the safety of their products and environment.  Engineers have to feel free to express safety concerns within organizations no matter how hypothetical these suppositions may be.

Some concerns will turn out to be unfounded.  Some suggested risks will be deemed too small to economically overcome.  And some will turn out to be substantial and require action.  And sometimes well-intentioned people will make what is, in retrospect, the wrong trade-offs with risks.   These witch hunts only tend to suppress this very valuable and necessary internal dialog within organizations.  Nothing is going to turn the brains of engineers off faster than an incentive system that punishes them retroactively for well-intentioned discussions about risk.

Things Are Getting Better All The Time

Do You Want to Be A Farmer?

Do you want to be a farmer?  I don't.  But around 1900 there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing about rising urbanization and the loss of agricultural jobs.  Of course, as we (hopefully) all understand today, the important thing was producing a lot of food inexpensively.  The "decline" of the US agricultural sector was never a reality in terms of output -- only in terms of its declining share of employment.  Agricultural workers freed up from the farming grind are today's manufacturing and service workers.

It seems crazy to lament this economic shift, but folks are making the same mistake today with the supposed demise of the manufacturing sector.  Like agriculture in 1900, manufacturing output has never been higher.  So on this basis, the manufacturing sector is as strong as ever.  The only thing that has changed is that manufacturing's share of employment has declined.  Yesterday's blue collar worker is now a service or office worker.

It is particularly odd that the Left should today be the one's lamenting the job shift away from manufacturing and expressing nostalgia for the 1950's.  When I grew up in the 1970's, the soul-sucking mindless dangerous awfulness of manufacturing work was a big concern of the Left.  They wanted nice, clean, more cerebral and rewarding jobs for manufacturing workers, but now, never satisfied, they want the opposite.

More Upward-Sloping Demand Curves

Other than the demand among the status-conscious for Chanel handbags, the demand for a product or service generally decreases as its price decreases.  This is an observation so trivial it is almost stupid to write down. But I guess the point is still not understood in Washington.

"The Center for American Progress, often called the think tank for the Obama White House, recentlyrecommended another increase in the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour. Though the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1%, the thinkers assert that a rising wage would "stimulate economic growth to the tune of 50,000 new jobs." So if the government orders employers to pay more to hire workers when they're already not hiring, they'll somehow hire more workers. By this logic, if we raised the minimum wage to $25 an hour we'd have full employment."