Friday, June 30, 2006

 

Move over NC

During the upcoming holiday season, North Carolina's Highway Patrol will be increasing its forces to slow everyone down.

State Troopers will be conducting Operation Slow Down during the holiday. Operation Slow Down is an effort by the Highway Patrol to reduce speed related collisions on North Carolina highways. Troopers will increase patrols on all interstates and major four lane highways during the holiday. Speed is the leading cause of traffic collisions and fatalities in the state.

Additionally, there was an increase in penalties for not "moving over" when there is an officer on the side of the road.

Penalties for a violation of the Move Over law become effective July 1st. Fines increase from $25 to $250 for a conviction of violating the Move Over law, a $500 fine for a Move Over violation that results in injury or property damage and Felony charge if death occurs.

To me it seems that it should be the other way around. If they are so worried about officers getting hit by cars, why not have them pull off to sides at the ramps or at one of the exits. Why slow down traffic even more and potentially put motorists and officers in greater harm?

My general opinion is that the Highway Patrol does more harm than good and they are continuing to live up to that opinion. Here's the press release.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

 

Lysander Spooner Hates Your Property

I took Jenna’s advice and I’ve been reading through Lysander Spooner’s No Treason. But there is one thing I’m not getting. Here’s an excerpt where Spooner explains why the Constitution has no authority.

“The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.

How does this same argument NOT apply to contracts regarding property? For clarity let’s use an example. Suppose that two families, the Hatfields and McCoys, land on an uninhabited island. They both agree to divide the island in half and everyone in the family signs a contract to that affect. 80 years later, what should stop the ancestors of the McCoys from taking the land “owned” by the Hatfields? They didn’t sign the contract. As Spooner notes, the contract died with their ancestors. So why should they recognize the other half of the island as the “property” of the Hatfields? Generalizing from this example, why should I respect ANYONES "property”?

I’m sure the answer has something to do with believing in the magic of “natural rights”. But I’m still at a loss to explain what these “rights” are or where they come from. If someone can help me on this, I would be most appreciative.

 

Who Do You Trust On Climate Change?

An "expert" is someone presumed to know more about a given subject than the average person. They are the egg-heads that sit at the front of the class. Or the doctors that tell you that eating a pound of bacon everyday will kill you. They're the poindexters trying to ruin all your fun because they "know best".

So it's no surprise that populists and contrarians relish in taking these know-it alls to task. Steven Levitt pretty much dedicates his entire book, Freakonomics, to mocking the mistakes of "experts" in one way or another. Orson Welles does the same in his movie "F is for Fake". But is the moral of their stories that we should ignore "experts" all together?

Our time is scarce. And most of us don't have the time, interest, or ability to investigate how a heart beats, what the moon is made of, or how the economy works. So what should we do when we have important questions relating to these subjects? Take pride in our ignorance? Guess? Or ask an expert on the subject?

I would assume that on many questions, most of you would prefer the latter. This brings up the question of choosing a credible expert and the problem of asymmetric information. This is a particular problem in the Global Warming debate. If you aren't trained in Climate Science, who should you trust? How do you know?

What do you all think? How do you decide who to trust on Climate Change?

 

History Lesson

Here is the answer to a question I posed my new wife on our honeymoon, as we passed it:

What is the Mason-Dixon Line and who are Mason and Dixon. Although she was a history major, she was unaware of the anwer, so here it is courtesy of About.com:

Although the Mason-Dixon line is most commonly associated with the division between the northern and southern (free and slave, respectively) states during the 1800s and American Civil War-era, the line was delineated in the mid-1700s to settle a property dispute. The two surveyors who mapped the line, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, will always be known for their famous boundary.

In 1632, King Charles I of England gave the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, the colony of Maryland. Fifty years later, in 1682, King Charles II gave William Penn the territory to the north, which later became Pennsylvania. A year later, Charles II gave Penn land on the Delmarva Peninsula (the peninsula that includes the eastern portion of modern Maryland and all of Delaware).

The description of the boundaries in the grants to Calvert and Penn did not match and there was a great deal of confusion as to where the boundary (supposedly along 40 degrees north) lay. The Calvert and Penn families took the matter to the British court and England's chief justice declared in 1750 that the boundary between southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland should lie 15 miles south of Philadelphia. A decade later, the two families agreed on the compromise and set out to have the new boundary surveyed. Unfortunately, colonial surveyors were no match for the difficult job and two experts from England had to be recruited.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon arrived in Philadelphia in November 1763. Mason was an astronomer who had worked at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and Dixon was a renowned surveyor. The two had worked together as a team prior to their assignment to the colonies.

After arriving in Philadelphia, their first task was to determine the exact absolute location of Philadelphia. From there, they began to survey the north-south line that divided the Delmarva Peninsula into the Calvert and Penn properties. Only after the Delmarva portion of the line had been completed did the duo move to mark the east-west running line between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

They precisely established the point fifteen miles south of Philadelphia and since the beginning of their line was west of Philadelphia, they had to begin their measurement to the east of the beginning of their line. They erected a limestone benchmark at their point of origin.

Travel and surveying in the rugged "west" was difficult and slow going. The surveyors had to deal with many different hazards, one of the most dangerous to the men being the indigenous Native Americans living in the region. The duo did have Native American guides although once the survey team reached a point 36 miles east of the end point of the boundary, their guides told them not to travel any farther. Hostile residents kept the survey from reaching its end goal. Thus, on October 9, 1767, almost four years after they began their surveying, the 233 mile-long Mason-Dixon line had (almost) been completely surveyed.

Over fifty years later, the boundary between the two states came into the spotlight with the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Compromise established a boundary between the slave states of the south and the free states of the north (however its separation of Maryland and Delaware is a bit confusing since Delaware was a slave state that stayed in the Union). This boundary became referred to as the Mason-Dixon line because it began in the east along the Mason-Dixon line and headed westward to the Ohio River and along the Ohio to its mouth at the Mississippi River and then west along 36 degrees 30 minutes North.

The Mason-Dixon line was very symbolic in the minds of the people of the young nation struggling over slavery and the names of the two surveyors who created it will evermore be associated with that struggle and its geographic association.

 

Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. It was enacted on June 29, 1956.

It was the largest public works project in American history to that point in time, appropriating $25 billion for the construction of more than 40,000 miles of interstate highways over a ten-year period.

All in the name of national defense. I suppose it was to be expected from a military president.

For more and links to other bills...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

 

Incentive structure

How strong are the incentives for a doctor to "cure" a patient? Assuming there is assymetric information, it would be difficult to measure the quality of the doctor and whether or not they are taking you down the Road to Wellville. It seems unlikely that a doctor would want you to be deathly ill at any point in time, but would likely prefer to maintain a chronic disease or atleast something that keeps you coming back for their expertise. I don't know how strong the current (or past) incentive structure is (was) for doctors to cure patients, but I wonder how the current insurance and welfare systems influence (distort) that incentive structure. Any thoughts?

This actually reminds me of the line from Thank you for smoking, where Nick Naylor is on a TV talk show with 'cancer boy' and tells the audience that Big Tobacco doesn't want to see this kid die, rather they want him to live a long life as a smoker.

This all came to mind from an email from the HR department about a change in benefits for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits. Two questions: What incentive do either mental health or substance abuse facilities have to "cure" their patients? How many people take a look at the rates of successful treatments before checking in?

 

Flag Burning

The Senate rejected an effort to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to ban desecration of the American flag by a single vote. Just yesterday, the 66 to 34 vote fell just short of the two-thirds majority required to approve a constitutional amendment and submit it to the states for ratification. Here's the Washington Post article.

Here's a misguided Shapiro (in my opinion).

LockerRoom debate: Jon, Roy and Jenna

As I think is aptly pointed out in the debate, this is more an issue of "looking good" and maintaining patriotism, rather than some virtuous protection of the legacy of America. Roy also points out the issue of property rights rather than a violation of the First Amendment. I am interested in what others have to say on the subject.

 

Hmmm...

Well I am getting back to the daily grind of work again and it is quite difficult getting used to sitting in front of a computer all day and working. After having off so much time, getting used to things has been a fair challenge thus far.

I greatly enjoyed the vacation and here are a few things I noticed along my travels:


Toll roads are more prevalent in the NorthEast, however it appears they do not use that revenue for maintaining roadways (strictly an opinion, but from a good size sample of driving 2400 miles in a week).

Speed limits are lower (except perhaps I-95).

There is a strong prevalence of authority. There were a great deal more policing units with increased visibility.

Gas-pump attendants are a unique form of protectionism.

Gas prices fluctuate significantly across state lines (low of 2.51 in Maine and high of 3.36 in Connecticut).



Anybody want to add something from their travels in the NorthEast or in any part of the country?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

 

Intentions

I know I have covered this before, but I was just thinking..

If I were planning to rob a liquor store and was only detered of this because of a cop standing at the entrance, is that a criminal act? Is my intention to commit sufficient? Should I be punished with the same severity as some that actually robbed the liquor store? Should intent only come into play when a crime has been committed, or is it a stand-alone offense?

Travis' previous statement prompted this response:

I thought about this post when I saw the "To Catch a Predator" show on MSNBC about older guys who try to solicit sex from 13 year olds online, then go to the house where they think the 13 year old is, and run into the reporter. Turns out the 13 year old was more like 30 and works for a sexual predator prevention organization.

On the way out, after having been lectured by the reporter, they are arrested on the spot.

I just thought this fit right in with the whole "criminal intent" argument. Should they be arrested or not, according to your different philosophies?


My problem with the criminal intent approach is that is makes thoughts, feelings, and potential action criminal. I am not a fan of that slight of hand. Possible future action is made guilty today and actual crime is no longer needed to justify coercive action by a court of policing unit. Action is seperate from intent and I think that should be true in the court system

Although I have never seen the movie, Minority Report appears to take this 'intention' approach to its logical conclusion.

 

A favorite subject of mine

The minimum wage debate

Here's a new Mises daily article on the subject.

 

Why should it be any different?

Why would aid to a foreign "War on Drugs" have any different outcome to our disasterous domestic policy? Novak calls for more aid. I think it is folly.

Monday, June 26, 2006

 

Shameless self-promotion

My former boss from the Locke Foundation, Michael Sanera, was apparently on TV recently and I got this link (watch the video) from the communications department, otherwise known as Mr. Mitch Kokai.

Sanera and I co-authored the report they're talking about, which is available online here.

Please feel free to criticize it or ask questions about it. But by all means, at least read it. It's surprisingly short now that Joe condensed it (thanks Joe).

 

Five -isms to Fear

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is a real economist with a Ph.D. from the University of Economics in Prague. He took part in the Velvet Revolution and helped make the Czech Republic a successful market economy.

Klaus recently warned about "the emergence of non-ideological but very agressive 'isms,' which are really quite new."

Klaus said, "I see the current all-embracing legislation influenced by the powerful special-interest groups representing the new 'isms' to be a real danger to the liberty of all of us."

We could also add "healthism" to the list, with the efforts to ban soft drinks and Fluff in schools, the broader campaign against obesity, and the misguided attempts to cover the uninsured.

 

Free Market Health Care

You may not have noticed if you don't pay close attention to health care policy, but the big new ideas in this area are becoming more pro-market.

Tennessee had to give up a big state plan to insure people through Medicaid -- it did but was too expensive to maintain. Now the best policy options are experiments in South Carolina and Florida to put more personal responsibility on the Medicaid recipients.

In the broader health care market, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are the best news since chewable vitamins. Though they can become even better.

The best books on health care policy advocate market solutions. Even two Republican presidential candidates -- Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney -- are trying to improve health care through markets.

Most state-level work focuses on covering the uninsured, but a larger percentage of drivers go without auto insurance and there is no car care crisis.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

 

What are shrinks for?

In our intermediate micro courses, we assume that a person's knows what makes him or her happy, and that they will try and maximize that happiness given their budget constraints.

But if that really were the case, then why do we have psychiatrists? Or Dr. Phil? Or Oprah Winfrey? Or any of the other gurus out there that people employ to teach them how to live their "best life"?

To phrase my question another way, why do some people put locks on their refrigerators? If their utility was maximized by eating less, then why do they have to worry about falling victim to other urges?

Maybe people don't know what makes them happy? Or maybe they know, but they just aren't good at making themselves happy? It's something to consider the next time we talk about how the economy "really" works. Or how people "really" behave.

Friday, June 23, 2006

 

Ayn Rand's Missing Pieces

Ayn Rand says "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil". In other words, that which destroys the "life" of a rational being is evil.

Putting aside the question of defining "life", how do we know its destruction is evil? I mean really know? According to Rand's Objectivist philosophy, all of man's knowledge must be based on observation (man's concepts come from reality, because he is a blank slate at birth). For elaboration, see here and here.

But, if all of our knowledge must be based on observation (which reason processes into concepts), then what observation led Ayn Rand to form the concept behind the normative statement above?

IOW: How did Ayn Rand derive an ought from an is?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

 

A Drug War Carol

This fun little comic is based on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but focuses on the evils created by America's War on Drugs. It includes a lot of interesting history about the gradual ban on drugs in the United States and some of the effects the ban has had. It includes thorough footnotes for those who want to do some follow-up reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

 

More in the Movies

Rand's classic Atlas Shrugged is set for release in 2008. The screenplay was written by James V. Hart, who also wrote for Bram Stoker's Dracula, Muppet's Treasure Island and Hook. Fans have set up an unofficial webpage for the film, in anticipation of its release.

Sadly, the bigger news (for most), is the couple in talks to play Dagny Taggart and John Galt: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It would be a major departure for Pitt from the political message in Fight Club, where his character (Tyler Derden) plots to blow up all the financial institutions in the city to wipe out debt, meanwhile destroying billions in private property.

It will be interesting to see if this really happens on the Big Screen.

 

New Libertarian Film "Scariest You'll See This Year"

From the Liberator Online:

Libertarian Aaron Russo's sizzling new documentary "America: Freedom to Fascism" received this rave review from CBS's Todd David Schwartz: "FOUR STARS (Highest Rating): The scariest goddamn film you'll see this year. It will leave you staggering out of the theatre, slack-jawed and trembling. Makes 'Fahrenheit 9/11' look like 'Bambi.' After watching this movie, your comfy, secure notions about America -- and about what it means to be an American -- will be forever shattered. Producer/director Aaron Russo and the folks at Cinema Libre Studio deserve to be heralded as heroes of a post-modern New American Revolution. This is shocking stuff. You'll be angry, you'll be disgusted, but you may actually break out in a cold sweat and feel a sickness deep in your gut; I would advise movie theatre managers to hand out vomit bags. You may end up needing one." You can learn more and see the trailer at: freedomtofacism.com.

I've thoroughly explored the website and decided that the film's a little more on the left-libertarian than the right-libertarian side, but it seems to be solid, nonetheless. Russo seems to emphasize issues that will play well with a liberal audience - the environment, the central bank. But he also devotes time to taxes and the IRS. When it comes to Raleigh, I'll definitely see it. (And, of course, review it for Carolina Journal).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

 

Careful with that check card

As soon as I got back from my trip abroad this summer, I went to the grocery store. It was a fairly standard trip until I went to pay. For the first time ever, my check card was denied. I had some cash, so I just paid and walked away scratching my head.

I checked the balance when I got home and, as it turned out, I was overdrawn by more than $600. (&%$*!) Someone had been using my card information to make purchases online the whole time I was out of the country, although I never lost the physical card. They must have thought I was a real idiot for not noticing it for a whole week. Perhaps the only funny part is that they spent most of the money at online dating sites. WTF?

So the money was placed back into my account and I have a new card now. Whether I get to keep the money or not depends on the results of the investigation, which I was told will wrap up by July 14th.

I used to use my card everywhere, and now I rarely do. I guess it'll take some time for me to warm back up to it. Moral of the story: be careful with your card. Someone must have written down the 3-digit security code on the back of my card in order to make all those online transactions, so make sure no one gets that information. And as always, early detection is key. People can buy a lot of stuff on your dime if you give them a whole week.

Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Libertarians 4 ANWR Drilling?

Okay. I'm confused.

Libertarians on this board and the Locker Room support drilling in ANWR. But why?

If this was private land (and transaction costs were low) we could safely assume that the land would eventually be put to its wealth-maximizing use. But that isn't the case. This land is "public" property. So, without the proper institutional structure in place, how can we be sure that drilling for oil is this land's most efficient use? We can't.

So wouldn’t an efficiency-minded libertarian want to privatize the park instead? And how could a rights-minded libertarian demand anything less? Isn’t the entire idea of “public property” an affront to our holy “private property rights"? And doesn't using this land for the financial benefit of a few business men just add insult to injury?

This is indeed a very confusing position you’ve taken. So be honest. You just want to piss off the hippie protesters don’t you?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

 

For My John Locke Pals

I thought you might enjoy this.
Guess who was featured in the Independent's "Best of the Triangle" Issue?

Most Infuriating Blog for a Roundup of State News that Matters

www.carolinajournal.com

Art Pope and his millions have done a lot of brazen things in recent years--from trying to influence curriculum at UNC to contributing more than $700,000 to the state Republican Party (enough to have its headquarters named after him) to spearheading the defeat of renegade Republican co-speaker of the House Richard Morgan. But one of his better projects has been the Carolina Journal and the Carolina Journal online. While its leanings are right-wing and libertarian, and it's a cousin to the arch-conservative John Locke Foundation, the money has paid for a solid Web site with a good roundup of state news, links to the Carolina Journal itself (which has broken a number of big stories, including recently raising questions about Gov. Mike Easley's relationship with winners of a contract to run the marina in Southport). Its opinion columns are religiously conservative and free market (against eminent domain, against toll roads, against taxes) and often led by the Rev. (not really, but he's a talking-points evangelist) John Hood, but it's a must-read in the capital--and it's always good to know what the other side is up to.

Friday, June 16, 2006

 

SMOKE!

Passing through London's Gatwick airport, I had to stop and take a picture of this duty-free cigarette carton rack. I couldn't believe how large the warnings on the boxes were, and some of them didn't even seem to be medical fact. Did you know that smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attacks? Do cigarettes have cholesterol and trans fat these days? These all seem way over-the-top:
"Smoking kills"
"Smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attacks"
"Protect children: don't make them breathe your smoke"
"Smoking can cause a slow and painful death"

It wouldn't be too much of a reach to throw in:
"If you smoke, then you hate children and want them to die"
"You are a horrible person"
"Do us a favor and just shoot yourself in the face"

 

Apt Hunting in DC

My job in Washington DC starts on June 26th. I drove up there last week to look for apartments (and hopefully sign a lease) but it was so much harder than I thought it would be.

First of all, it is not obvious from Google Maps that the building where I will be working is basically at the end of the good side of town, and that walking to work from the North side of Union Station would mean being begged for money about four times daily, probably getting shot at if I ever walked home late. No one from recruiting told me this, either. The first apartment I saw was in said crappy area and there was a homeless (either dead or just very close and sleeping) man lying on a couch on the sidewalk just outside the building. Bad first impression of DC.

Next, everything is ridiculously expensive. If it's in a good neighborhood in DC or close to the Metro in Virginia, a 1-bedroom apartment usually costs about $1200-$1800 a month. For a comparison, my girlfriend lived in a really nice 1-bedroom in Raleigh for about $615 a month. So my salary in DC looks worse and worse the closer I come to accepting that I can't really avoid this price difference. Efficiencies are getting more attractive.

I think apartments are so expensive because there can be no highrise apartments in DC. Don't take this as fact, but I've heard that there is a height restriction for any building in DC so that nothing competes with the sight of the Washington Monument. I suspected there was some legal barrier to height because the first time I went to downtown DC I noticed all the tallest buildings were exactly at 13 stories tall (12 if the lobby had a really high ceiling). Naturally I think this kind of law, if it's real, is egregiously wrong. Politicians want DC to look cool while everyone who works there is miserable because the apartment situation is so backward. Thanks guys. I can only imagine that office space is similarly artificially scarce.

If an apartment is nice and inexpensive, it's unavailable. Some places have waitlists of up to 6-8 months. These are the places that I like and can afford, but how can I move into them now? No dice. Why do they even have waitlists that long? Can't they just raise rent and whittle down the wait? (Wouldn't this make them more money?) I don't know if this is from more legal barriers or just strange private sector stuff.

Then there's "Affordable Housing" or "Section 8" or "Vouchers." I hate them all. I found an apartment I really liked (in Arlington, VA, mind you--not DC) and I couldn't live there because that particular unit is reserved for "Affordable Housing" and my salary was just a touch too high to live there. Meanwhile, I watched two perfectly capable young people apply for this affordable housing. I was sad and angry that Uncle Sam told me to stay away from the apartment I liked. It got even worse when I considered that I could have lived there (earned under the salary cap) had I not continued on to get a Master's degree. I felt punished for bettering my education while I watched people just like me but maybe less motivated apply for this "Affordable Housing." The other two things I hate (Sec. 8 and vouchers) are varieties of housing welfare that allow very sketchy people to afford to live in places that would otherwise be too expensive for them. For this reason, I may never feel safe in the DC area.

This post turned out to be a bit too long, but this is pretty much the whole story. Living in DC will probably be a nice shot of practical system-gaming for me. As my boss at my last job (a hardcore libertarian) told me, "This is the real world. All you can hope for is to get yourself and your family through before the whole thing collapses." Sad but true.

I'll respond to any comments.

 

Economist of the Day!


James M. Buchanan! Co-founder of public choice theory and all around brilliant guy. I am currently making my way through the Calculus of Concent.
A good read I would recomend to anyone.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

 

Data Collection

Part of my job involves collecting data from conducting surveys.
The other day I was conducting some phone interviews to determine how much money agricultural businesses spend on certain types of equipment and products.

Here is how most of my interviews went:

"How much money does your firm spend on product X on average?"
"Well, I can't really say. It varies."

OF COURSE IT VARIES!! That's why I am asking for an average--a measure of central tendency that represents a set of unequal values!

In the end, I feel like they make up whatever answer they gave me, just to get me off the phone. I’ve got answers ranging all over the place! If this job has taught me anything so far, it’s to be even more skeptical of empirical studies than I already was.

 

Happy the Ides

I will be on a short hiatus (until the 26th of June) and will have guest bloggers handling the everyday writing.

Please comment on their writings and challenge them in their opinions and assertions. They all enjoy the debate just as much as I do.

The schedule, goes something like this:

Travis will have the 16th and 20th
Student will have the 19th and 23rd
Jenna will have the 21st and 22nd
Joe will have the 26th

Enjoy....

 

Parkinson's Law

Parkinson's Law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

According to wiki:

It was first articulated by C. Northcote Parkinson in the book Parkinson's Law: The Pursuit of Progress, (London, John Murray, 1958) based on extensive experience in the British Civil Service. The scientific observations which contributed to the law's development included noting that as Britain's overseas empire declined in importance, the number of employees at the Colonial Office increased.

According to Parkinson, this is motivated by two forces: (1) "An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals" and (2) "Officials make work for each other." He also noted that the total of those employed inside a bureaucracy rose by 5-7% per year "irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done".

"Parkinson's Law" could be more generalized still as: "The demand upon a resource always expands to match the supply of the resource." Brian Tracy put forth an interpretation of this in his course The 21 Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires, noting that "expenses rise to meet income", as a corollary of the law.

It is interesting to note that this generalization has become very similar to the economics law of cost and demand; that the lower the cost of a service or commodity, the greater the demand.

Parkinson also proposed a rule about the efficiency of administrative councils. He defines a coefficient of inefficiency with the number of members as the main explaining variable.

Here is an interesting application in North Carolina.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

 

DUI or DWI

I apologize ahead of time for anyone who is offended by this posting.

I disagree with the current legislation and enforcement of DUI and DWI laws. Additionally, I disagree with the laws currently regulating the governmental monopoly of illegal drugs involving 'intent', i.e. intent to sell, distribute, or transport.

My problem with these laws and their enforcement is that they are based on the potentiality for criminal action, rather than the act itself. Personally, I find this to be problematic. The Utilitarians can easily legitimize this intervention because of the possible deterence of criminal acts and loss of life and injury. However, that viewpoint, when taken to its logical conclusion is very limiting to individual liberty and freedom. Just about anything could be pursued for the "greater good". To me, this is just not good enough.

If there is no loss to life, liberty, or property, then why is it criminal? Why should it be considered criminal? What's the justification?

I got to thinking about this after reading this article today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

More thoughts...

Does being found guilty in a court of law, legitimize coercive action by that court or any policing state against that 'guilty' individual? Why?

 

A thought

Does the difference between innocence and guilt really matter?

Many times, you hear individuals justify or condemn actions based on this quality of an indiviudal. Why should it matter if the individuals were either criminal or innocent if you killed or injured them in some way? Does this measure of their 'quality of life' somehow justify your action?

If you murder someone, should it matter if they were either 'evil' or 'good'? I know many of us prefer to legitimize the action (or at least accept is a lesser evil) if the person who died was 'evil'. Why should this matter? Should it take away something from the crime itself? Is it any less of a murder, deserving of a lesser sentence?

Monday, June 12, 2006

 

Fear of Foreign Owners

Good Analysis by David Friedman

 

Invention and Allocating Scarce Resources

Today's Mises Daily Article is about the history of the Internet and its invention by public funds and its growth in private markets.

Peter Klein does a good job of talking about the 'unseen' involved in a formal analysis of this topic. What would the internet be like, if it was not developed by the government and produced as a congestible public good? He claims that they would have developed varying pricing mechanisms for different transmissions.

Although I agree with his conclusion from an ideological standpoint, he is not very convincing. It is still a good read -- it just has an abrupt and unsupported ending.

(P.S. he also notes Margolis and Leibowitz's work)

 

Creating some political insurance

I think this editorial in the WSJ is pretty good. However, I don' think they have it right. In some sense the editorial points out that the Republicans are going to try and take advantage of the gerrymandering opportunity just as much as the Democrats. Then they call on the Republicans to hold strong. To think that they will not take the opportunity to flex their political muscles on their own turf and ensure greater political insurance (assurance) for incumbents seems rather counter intuitive.

In this particular move, i.e. the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, both sides can hide behind the veil of inequality while furthering their own political agenda and Congressional lifespan.

I like this editorial because it comments so much on the unseen and the unintended consequences of legislation and political action.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

 

Interesting...

A study on Racism

 

New Journal on Capitalism's Dynamic Benefits

A new journal, called Capitalism and Society, has recently been introduced by the Berkeley Electronic Press. It's goal's is to fill in certain gaps in current economic theory, which are summarized as:

The capitalist system is of great interest and importance in view of its outstanding dynamism relative to that of other systems tried in the past century. Yet the established body of economic theory – intertemporal, information-theoretic and game-theoretic – does not incorporate key elements of the capitalist dynamic: business innovation as distinct from technological advance and the contributions of entrepreneurs and financiers to the innovation process. As a consequence, established theory cannot capture the core of the dynamism. In fact it contradicts the existence of such dynamism: Capitalism is an evolving, unruly, open-ended system while the theory implies a deterministic future however buffeted it is by stochastic shocks.

I'm sure Travis and Chris will love this. I'm also expecting very good and interesting things from this journal. Just look at the editorial board! It includes Jeff Sachs, Joesph Stiglitz, Ed Phelps, and Glenn Hubbard. Not a shabby crowd at all.

Go check out the first issue today!

Friday, June 09, 2006

 

Is it a good thing

Is it a good thing to celebrate the death, or even the murder of anyone? What if that person is a criminal, a deviant, or terrorist? Of course, many of you know where I am going with this. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Queda leader in Iraq, was killed in an air raid north of the town of Baquba on Wednesday evening. After news of his death, politicians were giddy with joy and many citizens all over the world were celebrating his passing.

And although the Afghanistan's Taleban are downplaying his death, many of the rest of the world is pointing out the importance of this event and hoping that it will be a turning point in this "War on Terror".

So, my question for all of those exicted:

Is this an appropriate reaction, even for the most hated of individuals? Does anyone deserve to die or be killed? Even under special circumstances, like war or crime? How do we justify this action, and even more so, how do we justify our pleasure with his passing?

 

You gotta have faith

Why do people put so much value in democracy?

As if tyranny by majority is somehow justified.


It seems to almost be consensus that a democracy is the "winner" in governmental establishments. Why? When you listen to movies, songs, the media, and politicians, you would think that democracy will save us all. Not only do I think its benefits are over exaggerated, but I don't see how it can produce optimal results beyond any other coercive establishment. Is there anything better?

Even voluntary governmental establishments, have there own problems.

If there must be a government, I think I would ‘vote’ for something like a constitutional republic, where the laws are derived more from competitive courts than legislators. If courts actually tend towards the most wealth maximizing decision, then there might be something very good about this. Additionally, I would prefer there be multiple court systems, allowing for greater wealth in common law.

What would you 'vote' for?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

 

Reparations and the Death Tax

I was watching the first season of the unique documentary of African American culture know as the Chappelle Show last night, and came across the Reparations episode. In this episode, he foresaw a change in wealth status of many individuals and changes in consumer behavior. It is quite an interesting interpretation and it spurred me to think about the idea of reparations a little bit of more.

Reparations are meant to "right" the wrong for past crimes. They are an intergenerational wealth transfer from future generations to the current generation for past wrong. It is kind of confusing really. Why should future citizens pay for our current political opinions and agendas? The same should be said for our current tax breaks and the excessive largess of modern America. From a policy stand point, I am opposed to the use of reparations for a number of reasons. First, they will only serve to make future individuals, who had no part in the crime, worse off. How long is a "society" guilty for its actions? How many generations back should we go?

The second reason that I disapprove is because it will simply turn into a welfare program. It will be a simple transfer of wealth, i.e. votes for cash to whichever party is the most generous. It could never be a one time pay-out. Moreover, who says that our current generation of African Americans are the most “deserving” of these reparations? Should the past generation have received it? What about the next generations?

Not only is it not appropriate to hand out money to just one generation, but it can't possibly right the wrongs of past crimes with a cash settlement involving none of the aggressors.

After wanting to go over reparations this morning, I came across this WSJ article about the Death Tax. It appears to be much the same issue. The Death Tax is in place to limit one type (heredity) of intergenerational wealth transfer. As the WSJ article points out, it is the people that can shelter their funds that are actually in support of the maintaining the tax, along with the Insurance companies. Here's an interesting question, should we support the death tax, if we think that intergenerational wealth transfers are appropriate? Forget about it as a tax or as a coercive instrument, but rather as a theoretical construct.

The main "concern" or problem with intergenerational wealth transfers, by the Left is that it creates an uneven playing field or that it maintains inequality. This is problematic because it is based on an unrealistic world view. Taking that to its logical conclusion, we would all end up being Harrison Bergeron.

The Right tends to oppose it because it is a tax. They see it as a coercive instrument that creates additional disincentives for thrift and savings with in a family unit. Although few actually pay the tax, it does appear to hit the middle class and first-generation entrepreneur hardest.

Should we oppose all types of wealth transfers to be consistent, or should the appropriate action be to oppose only those involving coercion?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

Making Time

Make sure you leave some room in your schedule for a quick helping of EconTalk.

Russ Roberts hosts these podcast episodes through the Library of Economics and Liberty.

Check out the latest installment here. Travis will like this one. It's titled "The Economics of Organ Donations".

Also, check out the readings for each section!!

 

Priceless

How to choose a college major. Kudos to Newmark.

Check it out here.

 

Zero

Zero Energy Home reaches "Affordable Range", says the story by Discovery Channel

Hmm... Couple of words I am not liking:

'Zero Energy' and 'Affordable'

How can anything run off of zero energy?

Although all of these components work together to reduce the home's overall energy consumption, a zero-energy home must generate its own power. To this end, Ideal Homes installed rooftop solar panels, which produce approximately 6,600 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

During months when the house needs more energy, it draws it from the local power grid. But during months when it is producing more electricity than it needs, it transfers the energy back into the grid for a credit.

At the end of the year, the home's energy bills averages zero.


Apparently, under $200,000 is the "affordable" range.

So, what is it that they aren't telling us? If this is so great, what's the catch? There are problems with every structure and design. Just look at the hybrid-cars and the green, eco-friendly buildings, they have their problems, just as much as any other structure. What are we missing here?

So far the home, built in September 2005, is living up to its claim.

"It's saving about 85 percent [of the] energy from the builder's normal product, which is already better than code," said Ron Judkoff, director of the Buildings and Thermal Systems Center at the NREL.

Ideal Homes is currently renting out their zero-energy home in order to retain rights to study its performance over time. Knowledge they gain from this house will go into incorporating energy-efficient technology into their mainstream production.


So, I guess they are still studying it. Not zero to you or me, but zero on the bill.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

 

Not in my backyard

If you have spent any time up in Stokes or Forsyth counties of North Carolina recently, you might have driven by a sign posted in many frontyards that tells the reader to:

Say No to the Dump: www.Nodump.org

So, I followed the instructions and visited the website. I was pleased to see that people opposed the coercion coming from the Capital (General Assembly) forcing the area to acquire a dump. As always, I support the local movement against coercion, but it seems like many of their alleged "supporters" only appear to divert the coercion to a different area.

Groups like the Sierra Club would rather not have the dump, but instead support more expensive recycling facilities, rather than the normal waste management facility proposed by the Utilities Commission.

Yeah, I guess people need to have dumps, but does that necessitate the forced removal of people from where they currently live, or force people to have to 'accept' living near the dump. It is one of those decisions that usually hits the poorest the hardest, and although the common sentiment is "not in my back yard", there are many groups that would gladly take our garbage, so why waste resources and increase coercion? What real purpose does it serve, other than to increase the autonomy of local governing units, rather than improve the efficiency of them.

Here's a little background info:

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utilities Commission has requested re-zoning of 435 acres nestled between Hwy 311, Fagg Road and Salem Chapel Road on the border of Forsyth and Stokes County. This property would be used for a Construction and Demolition (C&D) landfill. If approved, Forsyth County will proceed with the dump independent of the Stokes County decision.

For more on the policy implications, check out the JLF's own Michael Senara.

Check out the protest and join in.

 

Great Day in History

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the implementation of the national fuel tax in the United States by President Herbert Hoover. On June 6th of 1932, the Revenue Act of 1932 was officially signed into law. Among other things, it raised United States tax rates across the board, with the rate on top incomes rising from 25 percent to 63 percent. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15 percent.

And we wonder why the Great Depression lasted so long?

Anywho, celebrate this day, as a great day in history and take great joy in paying that extra 18.5 cents of federal fuel tax and that extra 25 cents of state tax. We should all rejoice in the high prices and thank our lucky stars that President Hoover had the foresight to protect us from ourselves. Can I get an 'Amen'?

For more info, check out these websites:

Fuel tax info

History of Gasoline Tax

Monday, June 05, 2006

 

Happy Birthday

Don't blow out the candles quite yet on these fellow.

June the 5th marks the birthday of two very famous economists. Any guesses?

John Maynard Keynes (wiki, Econlib) and Adam Smith (wiki, Econlib)

Happy Birthday!!


Sorry for the delay, I didn't really have a lot of time to plan the surprise party.

 

Book Review

Jeffery Tucker, editor of Mises.org has written an good review of Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, ... America (or at least the Republican Party) by Rod Dreher. Pre-order the Paperback or the check out the Hardcover.

It's a good review and Dreher's ideology seems rather like our old friend Distributism. Check it out here.

 

Good Questions (updated)

With implicit permission, and a bit editing, here are Student's questions -- and good ones at that:

1) What do you mean when you say you have the "right" to the "value" of your property?

What do you mean by value? Is "value" the price you can receive for your property on the market? Or something else? Why? If something externally lowers the market value of your property, is that a violation of your rights?

To make getting answers to these questions a little easier, let's use some examples. In the case of land, do you have the "right" to the "value" of the land before or after you make improvements (like adding a home)? Both?? What if the land's market value changes for "external" reasons?

For example, let's say Disney World moves in a mile down the road, dramatically raising the market value of your land. Do you have the right to that extra value? Or Does Disney?

Or what about Tyler's example? What if a more competitive restaurant moves in next to your restaurant and puts you out of business? Are your competitors violating your rights by lowering the value of your property? What if you go out of business because customers decide they don't like your food and they stop coming? Are THEY violating your rights?

2) Even if we decide you do have a "right" to the "value" of your property, what gives you the "right” to take compensation from people that destroy it??

In Tyler's example, what about the rights of the art thief? Doesn't he have a right to HIS property? Why should we allow you to violate HIS rights?

And before you answer, If our rights really are derived from reason, given to us by God, or delivered by magic, how can you lose them?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

 

Sometimes, Governments Fail

An excerpt from Friday's News and Observer:

Progress Energy is pulling the plug on a controversial line of business that has allowed the company to legally avoid paying nearly $2 billion in federal income taxes.

The Raleigh-based utility has benefited from a lucrative but little-known tax credit awarded for producing a type of processed coal called synthetic fuel. Synthetic fuel is a money-losing venture without the tax credit.
According to the N&O, These credits (subsidies) were installed during the 1970s oil crisis with the hope that companies could sell synthfuel cheaper than coal and(somehow) reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Apparently, that wasn't a good idea.

A few questions, wouldn't rising oil prices provided oil consumers enough incentive to find oil-alternatives? And if there were some externality or other barrier that "justified" government intervention, wouldn't raising taxes on oil have been a better way to curb oil use? It would have amplified the incentive to seek out alternatvies and it would eliminate the no need for the government to pick "winning" products or technologies.

I guess market intervention is never as easy as it looks on paper. The efficiency-minded economist has his own interests and so does the self-interested politician. Maybe subsidizing energy companies would sound better in the press than raising taxes? Either way, we should keep history in mind when we are formulating todays energy policies. It might save us from repeating it down the road.

Friday, June 02, 2006

 

God Save the Beaches

A little bit of beach worrying. Check out the story here.

 

Interesting Topic

This is an interesting question posed by JLF's Daren Bakst:

Is it appropriate for states to influence the direction and decisions of private corporations? I understand that NC owns stock in ExxonMobil and obviously needs pension funds, but isn't there a problem when the state can literally buy enough shares to influence a private company? Should there be laws prohibiting states from exercising any control over private companies (i.e. through votes)?


Personally, I am not a fan of laws that prohibit most any activity. This is an interesting issue, however I think that the influence of one group is rather over-exaggerated. With the likely hundreds of millions of shares of stocks and the continued emphasis on diversification, it seems unlikely that one firm, individual, or even public entity can easily manipulate a financial market -- unless of course you are George Soros.

What do you all think?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

 

Request from Joe

I got a request from Joe to see if we could compile a Top 50 (or at least 25) list of conservative hip-hop songs. Here's his post.

This might be tough, does anybody know any?

 

Tyler Cowen On "Rights"

Tyler trolls Alex over at Marginal Revolution. Here are some excerpts I would like to hear Jenna's or Travis' take on.

It's liability per se that isn't justified by libertarian standards. Under Lockean property rights theory, you own physical things, not the values of those things. It is for this reason that if you set up shop next to a competitor, you are not infringing his property rights, even if his business ends up being worth less. So let's say I steal your painting. Yes, you do deserve your painting back. It is yours. But say I steal your painting and lose it or wreck it. That should be the end of the story. You never owned the "value of that painting." You simply owned the physical painting. You are not due compensation. If you take my money as compensation for your loss, that is simply another theft.
And further...
Rights aggressors do not, in fact, lose their own rights in turn. Why should they? Evreyone in prison is there unjustly and yes that includes murderers.

 

Buzz kill

I was thinking about this the other day. I feel like the buzz kill or the killjoy many times. I seem to comment on everything, have an alternative opinion to every issue, and as my fiancee says "am so negative" about human virtue.

For example, she was telling me the other day about this guy who stopped and helped push another car out of the way that had stalled. Given how hot it was that day and the fact that he got out of his air conditioned vehicle, there is not doubt it was quite virtuous. Then I responded that he was still only acting in his best interest. She didn't like that, commenting on how I was "so negative" about humanity. I tried to explain, but that ship had already sunk.

I had a similar instance during Memorial Day weekend. I was happy to have the day off, but wasn't in the mood for celebration. I guess that I am supposed to be joyous for all the wars, government monuments, fallen soldiers, and politicians, but I could just not get into it. I now feel this way for all State-created holidays. I am not looking forward to July 4th....I don't think fireworks are gonna cut it.

Question to anyone out there:

Does this sound like the trait of an economist, or simply that of a cynic and political radical?

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