Friday, September 29, 2006

 

Intelligence and Strategerty

Intelligence on Bush's side, apparently....

 

125

Today is the 125th Anniversary of Ludwig Heinrich edler von Mises's birth.

Read more here.

 

New NBER

Here's some new NBER Research

Effectiveness of Cigarette Regulation on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Alcohol Use and Labor Market Outcomes


Elasticity of Demand Gasoline

Tobacco Control

Medicaid Crowding Out

Thursday, September 28, 2006

 

"Take care of the Micro..."

After reading this list (nod to the Door), I pondered a statement I made yesterday to a friend. Is it a fallacy of composition to say, "Take care of the micro and the macro will take care of itself." or is it MORE of a fallacy of composition to make the assumptions of aggregation Macro makes in its assertions?
Nathan

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

 

"Entrepreneurs discern human needs and act upon them"

From Mises:

Even more inspiring has been the explosion of interest in Katrina Cottages… The Katrina Cottage effort is producing an expanding family of designs for appealing, storm-worthy houses that compromise nothing but square footage in the effort to create homes worthy of long-term roles in neighborhood redevelopment. The first designs for Katrina Cottages came out of efforts to create design alternatives for FEMA trailers. The plans (website not yet up) immediately captured the imaginations of citizens and building industry leaders. Now Katrina Cottages are claiming a broadening niche in the private-sector housing market and creating more alternatives for Mississippi home shoppers.

Lowe's has just announced plans to offer four Katrina Cottage designs as kits to property owners in the storm zone. Home Front, in Florida, is offering a growing list of models as panelized cottages. And the New Urban Guild has certified several manufactured housing companies to produce Katrina Cottages likely to set new standards for manufactured housing.

 

Big Load

NYC proposed a ban on trans fats. What a load....

I can't even comprehend this stuff. What are they thinking?

Thoughts? Read more here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

Two Stories

Here are two stories that I am sure we will be continuing to hear more about in the near future:

Highest Global Temperatures

Diabetes, not Obesity, Increases Critical Illness and Death Risk

We can begin from here, or add some questions for further discussion...

Monday, September 25, 2006

 

The Saints Go Marchin'

Because of Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome in New Orleans was significantly damaged. Many thought it was beyond repair. However, they were able to fix it up in time for this season, with its debut tonight on Monday Night Football (formerly). It is being pushed as if it were a Superbowl.

Apparently some folks are not happy with the money spent on the renovations and the celebration, when there is still so much devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. What a bunch of downers, huh?

Look what Federal dollars were able to accomplish in such a short time period:

The renovation has cost $144 million and is expected to top out at $185 million.

About $114 million of that was allocated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided funds to cover uninsured losses to state property — separate from funds used to reimburse individual homeowners. The Superdome Commission contributed $41 million, and $13 million came from the state. The NFL's contribution of $15 million was for improvements to the stadium rather than repairs.


Read more here.

 

Should we have taken him out?

Should we have taken him out? Should we blame Clinton for not? What about Bush?

Is it even appropriate to use hired guns to handle foreign policy? Have we learned anything from our previous mistakes in this area?

You know what I am talking about...

Part of me wants to blame Clinton for not handling things before 9/11 and the other part wants to scold this braggart for his statements on being the closest one to killing him.

Why is he even in the news anyways? Comments?

 

Sports

State upsets BC. Who would have thought. Surely not me...

Carolina Panthers win in the last moments as Kasay kicks a 46-yard field goal. Shortly after the win, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms had his spleen removed. Apparently it was ruptured during the game.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

Markets In Education

Here is a nice essay by Stephen Miller on education, where he argues that formal education can provide people with better heuristics (mental shortcuts that reduce the cost of understanding new information), but only if "market feedback" mechanisms are in place to ensure that "inefficient heuristics" are discouraged.

Of course, I don't agree with everything Miller says. For one, I think his argument concerning the unimportance of education's "external" benefits is pretty loose. But, overall, i think the paper presents a well articulated argument for introducing more competition to the educational system.

As an aside, I am still new to the subject of bounded rationality, but if you're interested in the subject, I recommend this textbook. It gets technical in parts, but I don't think it's too demanding. Just checking out the introduction is well worth your time. If anyone else has recomendations for papersor books on the subject of bounded rationality, please share 'em.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

 

Stuff

Target follows the lead of Wal-Mart. I wonder who's next. Read here.

Bonds ties Aaron. Not the top one yet, just the NL record.

Howard Hits 58th.

The nation's first union of pizza delivery drivers

Friday, September 22, 2006

 

The Perfect Pair

The dynamic Hugo Chávez has spurred the sales of Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.

This is a great discussion starter. Do you think Chávez is accurate in his statements about President Bush? What about Chomsky? I don't mean about their world views, but simply about their seemingly contradictory and hypocritical accusations about America, her people, and her President.

 

New News

Wal-Mart to sell generic drugs for $4. I am thinking that the study will go well. Hopefully we can see more of that in the near future, or atleast some competitor reaction. Here's the story.

Save us Branson. Branson pledges three billion to fight global warming. If its private money, I have no problems with it. Something tells me that it is not.

Oh wait, here it is

The billionaire pledged all profits from his Virgin air and rail interests over the next 10 years to combating rising global temperatures. However, the estimated $3bn will not go to charities and will be invested in a new branch of Sir Richard's ever-expanding Virgin conglomerate, Virgin Fuels. Much of the investment will focus on biofuels, an alternative to oil-based fuels made from plants.

So, he isn't really pledging anything. He is investing in new technology. One problem with this might be that those profits don't actually belong to him alone.

 

Research

WSJ covers a new study showing that educators are woefully unqualified... I know it was true when I was in college. The worst students were the Ed majors (I knew the exceptions).

Schools of education have gotten bad grades before. Yet there are some truly shocking statistics about teacher training in this week's report from the Education Schools Project. According to "Educating School Teachers," three-quarters of the country's 1,206 university-level schools of education don't have the capacity to produce excellent teachers. More than half of teachers are educated in programs with the lowest admission standards (often accepting 100% of applicants) and with "the least accomplished professors." When school principals were asked to rate the skills and preparedness of new teachers, only 40% on average thought education schools were doing even a moderately good job.


New NBER Research

Contigent Valuation for Childhood Obesity

Willingness to Pay For Drug Rehabilitation


I think the assumptions and underlying premises are false, not to mention the conclusions. I don't think it is appropriate to apply the average or median WTP (willingness to pay) from some individuals surveyed and then apply it to the entire population. That might be the normal practice in the research, but it seems inaccurate and likely to overestimate the total WTP.

Conclusions: Clients' median willingness to pay for drug rehabilitation fell short of the average program costs of $82 per week, which reinforces the need for continued subsidization as drug treatment has high positive externalities. Clients will pay more for higher rates of treatment success and for the presence of case management.

The conclusion reached from the Drug Rehabilitation study (above) is problematic because of its intitial assumption that heroin users desire rehabilitation over continued drug use. This is paternalism at work. So we need to subsidize rehab, to fill the gap. Has anybody ever asked why there was a gap in the first place?


Lastly, WSJ covers human right violators. Nothing new needs to be said about that one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

 

Wondering

What is the purpose of government? Why does it exist? Can it ever achieve its stated purpose?

About a year ago when I was in an MPA class over at State, I was arguing with the Student Teacher (a PhD candidate) that was doing a very poor job of explaining market failures. As a response to one of my statements, she blurted out something like, "government is not meant to be efficient", upon which I stated that efficiency was in fact the purpose of the class (Public Policy Analysis). The reality is that the sole purpose of achieving the 'higher education' via an MPA or PhD degree is to apply the learned efficiencies to the bureaucracies of the public sector where these individuals are most likely to find employment. In all my three MPA classes, that was the approach I saw used.

She was, however, correct in her statement. It is folly to expect efficiency of government and even more so, government is not meant to be efficient. Its purpose both in the political and administrative workings is to be slow, lethargic, and inefficient. That, some say, is the value of democracy. What about for the administrative side? Should we value inefficiency with the same fervor? What separates the two?

What really is the purpose of government?

 

Free Day

Today is a free day. Anybody want to dicuss anything in particular?

Sports? Celebrities? Gossip? News? TV? Movies? Music?

We could even discuss some DeTocqueville or any other book that folks are working on.

Everything is fair game. Any takers?

Don't hesitate, just leave a comment or two and we can get the discussion rolling...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

 

The Opportunity Cost of Friendship

Two weeks ago I was faced with a dilemma. I had been invited to a large-ish party in Chapel Hill where I knew about half of the people in attendance and had also been invited to a small gathering to watch "Army of Darkness" with some close friends.

I ended up doing both, because I didn't want to say "no" to anyone.

Which brings me to my point: the opportunity costs of friendship. Post-college, I've discovered that making friends isn't as easy as it once was, and often has a lower payoff. I feel like my time is already sufficiently spoken-for; if I make additional friends, I'll have to diminish the time I spend with current friends. (Alternately, I could decrease the time spent on my dissertation proposal, but it's already woefully neglected.)

I wonder if this is something that I alone have experienced. Was I already so wonderfully popular upon graduating from college that I needed no additional friends? (Unlikely.) Are my friends just unusually demanding? (I don't think so.) Or unusually giving of their own time? (Not really - they're busy people.) Or, is this something that everyone experiences to some degree?

It probably seems rather ruthless, but for now at least, I'm full up with friends. The opportunity cost of making any more of them is too high to pay.

At least until one of my current friends pisses me off.

;)

 

The Pontiff

I would like to hear some thoughts on the Pope's recent comments about Islam. Here's an opinion piece to get the ball rolling.

 

Some News

Triple-Standard in the works to take care of patent battle. Looks interesting...Check out the article here.

Overnight coup ousts Thai Prime Minister. The military leader promises elections for October 2007. Read more here.

So what do we hope to accomplish from these mini-revolutions? Why so long for an election? Will he keep his promise? Apparently it was well planned, quick, and non-violent, so how different is it than the normal shake-up from new party take-overs?
Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

 

Freshman left off Student Senate ballot - News

Freshman left off Student Senate ballot - News
SPEL member takes the heat for SG and administrative ineptitude. Doucett is the only one involved with any integrity.

 

Spinach A-hoy

With the growing concern about the Spinach market in the United States and the associated inreased risk of E coli exposure, what is the appropriate approach for the United States government to take in this process? Should this be an extensive public health investigation, or is the market capable to adjusting prices and qualities to assume the associated risks.

Read more on the 'Dead Market'...

FYE

Monday, September 18, 2006

 

Worst book in history?

"Why Mommy is a Democrat" probably seems like a great idea to Democrats, but as a libertarian I think it's a very bad idea with dangerous consequences. Isn't picture-book age a bit early to indoctrinate kids on politics? Read some sample pages to see what I mean.

Anyone have a problem with the dark-skinned homeless man and the rich white people in the book? What about the big scary elephant chasing away said homeless man? Beyond the pictures, how about things like "Democrats make sure we share..."? More like "Democrats make it legal to steal."

Bill O'Reilly also wrote a kid's book, but I think it was a little different. I don't think it has pictures and I don't think little kids will actually read it.

Are libertarians on this battlefield? I hope so.

 

Thoughts

Upon reading this article about the world's most famous bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman, I thought about this issue:

Is bounty hunting an ethical practice? Is the kidnapping of human beings an appropriate activity or policy?


Although I think one can always use a "greater good" or utilitarian argument, that specific ethical argument can only be used with the predetermined conclusion of guilt. What if the individual is innocent, but escaping injustice? Without that knowledge of actual quilt, it is difficult to justify and activity of kidnapping another human being for society's greater good.

Recognizing that however, there are a whole slew of department of justice practices that are problematic and even the notion of "innocent until proven guilty" is actually rather specious and sophistic.

Thoughts?

 

Mas en La Democracia en Estados Unidos

A thought from dT on Democracy in America:

The principle of the sovereignty of the people governs the whole political system of the Anglo-Americans...In the nations by which the sovereignty of the people is recognized, every individual has an equal share of power, and participates equally in the government of the state. Why, then, does he obey the government, and what are the natural limits of his obedience? Every individual is always supposed to be as well informed, as virtuous, and as strong as any of his fellow-citizens. He obeys the government, not because he is inferior to those who conduct it, or because he is less capable than any other of governing himself; but because he acknowledged the utility of an association with his fellow-men, and he knows that no such association can exist without a regulating force. He is a subject in all that concerns the duties of citizens to each other; he is free, and responsible to God alone, for all that concerns himself. Hence arises the maxim, that every one is the best and sole judge of his own private interest, and that society has no right to control a man's actions, unless they are prejudicial to the common weal, or unless the common weal demands his help. This doctrine is universally admitted in the United States.

Sounds pretty good, up until the end there...Any thoughts on the subject?
I like the voluntary governing approach of the "utility of association". I have some problems with the "prejudicial to the common weal, or unless the common weal demands his help". I think these are the essential problems and inherent costs associated with organization,governmental regulation, and the creation of "society". Can there exist an true anarchic "society"? Are we doomed to always be coerced from above?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

 

Immigration

New numbers from the GAO state that more immigrants are dying trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. Sad really...I wonder how the risk of death comes into play into the formulation of expected utility (asymetric information as well) from the decision to cross the border? Can we expect to see a decline in number of illegal immigrants if they take this new information into account? Or are they still better off even in the face of this increased risk?

Now to throw a wrench into that. The House decided to put up a fence and also go back and discuss a fence on the northern border as well. We need to remember that a fence limits all mobility. Individuals can't get in as easily and individuals can't get out as easily. It is not the panacea it appears to be to so many on the Right.

Lastly, some FEE education.

 

More dT

Here's a few good one-liners (some are a bit a little more lengthy) from Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America":

The gifts of intellect proceed directly from God, and man cannot prevent their unequal distribution.

There is in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality which incited men to wish all to powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which imples the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.

"The will of the nation" is one of those phrases which have been most largely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

 

How Many?

How many had to die to figure this one out?

It really is the dark side of public policy and prohibition.

WHO backs DDT reintroduction...

 

Try the Vodka

It's a bit hot, but you might just like it. Check it out here.

FYE

Friday, September 15, 2006

 

One Book Meme Game

You've probably all seen this on Division of Labour or the Locker Room, but now it's infecting The Broken Window as well.

Here goes:

1. One book that changed my life: Anthem by Ayn Rand. I read it in 9th grade and it was my first real taste of political philosophy of any kind. An interesting place to start, to say the least.

2. One Book I've Read More Than Once: There are loads of books I've read twice (I'm a devout re-reader), but the best, I think, is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

3. One Book I Would Want on a Desert Island: Just one? It'd have to be both long and good. Could I take the whole Lord of the Rings?

4. One Book that Made Me Laugh: Well, if I ever get around to reading any of Dave Barry's books, I'm sure they'll make me laugh. They're on the ever-growing reading list.

5. One Book that Made Me Cry: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Actually, anything by Wharton falls into this category, but Age of Innocence is best.

6. One Book that I Wish Had Been Written: Hmmm, this is a hard one. So many possibilities. I'm going to have to go with a rather flippant answer here: Hogwarts, A History by J.K. Rowling. It's mentioned dozens of times throughout the Harry Potter series. And now I'm intrigued. Maybe someday, she'll write it for charity like she did Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages.

7. One Book I Wish Had Not Been Written: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Aside from the line "When you wet the bed, at first it's warm and then it gets cold," the whole book was a torment. Actually, almost all of 11th grade English was a torment, so I'll have to add "Invisible Man" to the list of books I wish had not been written. (Everyone on the JLF blog already took all the good, serious answers.)

8. One Book I'm Currently Reading: Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard and Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.

9. One Book I've Been Meaning to Read: Atlas Shrugged. I just can't manage to get through it - something else less preachy always turns up.

Now, I'm tagging Travis, Chris, Student, Juris and Ron. Have fun!

 

"NC Legislative Hearing on Race & the Death Penalty"

Excerpt from an email I received:

NC House Select Committee on Capital Punishment Hearing
Date: Friday, Sept. 22, 2006 - 10am
Location: NC General Assembly - Legislative Office Bldg (Room 643), Raleigh, NC

The NC House Select Committee on Capital Punishment will hold a hearing on race and the death penalty on Friday, September 22, 2006 at 10am at the NC General Assembly in Raleigh. The Carolina Justice Policy Center encourages you to attend this hearing and to bring others. We strongly encourage racial and ethnic minority organizations to spread the word about this hearing and to bring your members.

As you may know from previous CJPC alerts, African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white, a former NC prosecutor gave his assistant district attorneys "noose lapel pins" as awards for winning death penalty cases and saw nothing wrong with such a practice, and attorneys continue to find cases where African Americans in NC have been illegally kept off of juries or sentenced by all-white juries. Such inequities must be addressed and we hope that we will have your continued support. Please let us know if you or others will be attending the hearing.

Also, please let me know if I can provide more information about the upcoming hearing or the scheduled topic. Please forward this email to friends who may be interested in attending.

Here is the legislative calendar. Here are the House Select Committees.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

 

Why Do They Hate Us?

Richard Maybury lists and analyzes US government intervention in other nations in this six part series. Maybury's books are the reason I am a juris naturalist today.
Some highlights from Part 1:

"Almost from the day it was created, Washington has had a policy of backing any tyrant who claimed to be pro-US. These "pro-US" cutthroats have received money, weapons, ammunition, almost anything they needed to suppress their own populations and attack other countries."
On terrorism: "
I'm convinced that in most cases the attackers do not hate the people they are killing, any more than US bomber crews hated the civilian men, women and children they were killing in World War II." "Terrorists use what they have and hit what they can."
"
The most important war in US history was the Spanish-American War in 1898. After defeating Spain, Washington set up a puppet government in the Philippines. To install this puppet, the US Army massacred 220,000 Filipino men, women and children. This was the precedent for Washington's massive and routine interventions in foreign countries."

"The problem is, the Bill of Rights stops at the border. It does not protect foreigners.
A politician spends a substantial part of his life trying to acquire power, then when he finally has it, he's hamstrung inside the US.
Outside the US, he can do anything he pleases."

A good reference if nothing else.
Nathan

 

Paternalistic Endeavors

Do we have any evidence to actually suggest that the public policy to "educate" individuals about reducing consumption of allegedly dangerous goods and services (tobacco, lottery, alcohol, illicit drugs) is effective?

I know that the US government has spent billions of dollars on many paternalistic endeavors and I think most individuals would call it a substantial failure. Has anything changed? Why should the outcome be any different now?

Here's a new BBC article about "educating" youth.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

 

Liberty Arcade

I've recently found a fun teaching tool: The Liberty Arcade. It was created by the IHS to teach social science principles. It includes "The Tragedy of the Bunnies" (Tragedy of the Commons); a comparative advantage game, and several others that I've yet to explore.

I think these could be very helpful in trying to explain otherwise boring concepts. Check them out!

(My students will be playing the comparative advantage game this week.)

 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I was reading through a Code of Ethics yesterday and stumbled upon what was called the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, I had to give it a look over. Here are some "rights" of particular note:

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

 

Austrians In Odd Places

According to Tyler Cowen, if he believed in the Austrian Business Cycle Theory, he would think that monetary intervention by Asian central banks has distorted relative prices in such a way that the United States has become over-invested in non-export durables. Furthermore, he would also believe that the inevitable consequence of this distorition will be a sectoral shift back toward exports (as relative prices return to their “natural” positions) that could possibly lead to a recession as the economy takes time to adjust.

Of course, Tyler Cowen doesn't believe this, but it certainly falls in line with the boom-bust cycle described by the ABCT. And if this is really what Austrians think, then New Keynesian economists like Brad Delong are playing on the same team. An odd partnership, isn't it?

This is an old topic on the blogosphere, but I thought it would be fun to discuss with an Austrian-sympathetic crowd. Are Brad DeLong and other economists that worry about asian central banks fueling national borrowing really unleashing their “inner-Hayeks”? Or has there been some confusion? Do Austrians really think something like this will happen? If so, how do their policy perscriptions differ from folks like Delong?

 

Killing the living

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley vetoed the living wage ordinace Monday.

Smart move economically, but he is being protrayed rather negatively for it.

Read more here.

 

Docu-Dramas

What do you think of Docu-Dramas?

There has been a whole lot of controversy lately about the 9/11 special on ABC.

Is it really re-writing history, or is it simply an interpretation of reality? Should we be offended if it is not completely accurate?

What do you think?

Here's one opinion...

Monday, September 11, 2006

 

Ham on Blogs

Jon Ham was spoke at today's Shaftesbury Society Luncheon here at the office. The topic? Blogging. Here's what Jon had to say about blogging (includes links to several influential/interesting blogs.)

 

Sick and Tired

Is it just me or is anybody else out there sick and tired of everything associated with five years ago today? Anniversary this, remeberance that... It was bad enough that we had all of the phoniness of the Katrina anniversary, now we again have to suffer through extended sessions of "specials" on television...

So, I have decided instead to remember September 11th for a very different reason. I have decided to remember 9/11 as the birthday of a very special boy that have brought a tear to our eye, joy to our heart and happiness to our lives. Happy Birthday Butters!!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

Commies at the NC Art Gallery?

The other night at the NC Art Gallery, the group Paperhand Puppet Intervention presented four short stories in their puppet show "As the Crow Flies: Tales from Four Directions". The show was fun to watch and very well executed, but I'm not sure I agree with the political message behind their interprutation of the story of John Henry and the Machine.

As most of you remember, John Henry (a steel driver on the rail road) is confronted with the prospect of losing his job to a machine that can drive steel more cheaply than he can. So, to save his job, he challenges the machine's owner to a contest of who can drive the most steel. At the end, John Henry wins, but dies in the process.

In the program, the group describes this as a story about regular people overcomming others that would "opress" them for "profit and progress". Apparently, a lot of people agree this interprutaion because they all cheered when John Henry beat the machine. But I don't see how John Henry was being oppressed at all. He was going to lose his job because a machine could do it better. How is that opression? Would John Henry be oppressing the rail road owner if he had quit his job for a better one? Was John Henry, himself, oppressing other people by building a rail road? Once it's completed, all kinds of carriage and wagon businesses will be put out of business. Isn't that just as bad as the machine putting Henry out of a job?

It's very sad he would have lost his job, but the alternative of never firing anyone can lead us to some awkward conclusions. Personally, I prefer to live in a dynamic world where I can ride exciting waves of change. I think most of the people in the audience would have agreed if the issue were phrased that way. If we really want to help people that are left behind by "progress" (yes, they do exist), we should help them obtain skills that will help them move between jobs and even between careers. Isn't that a large part of what college is about?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

 

HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray

Kicking off my tech articles, I'd like to first dust off the and examine the format war between Sony's Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. As many of you are aware, these are supposed to be the next great format to replace DVD. Unfortunately what was originally supposed to be a single replacement format, turned into two, when the companies involved couldn't agree. This then led to there being two formats which are incompatible with eachother. Of course some companies looked into creating systems which support both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, but to my knowledge, there was a clause built into Sony's agreements that any manufacturer of Blu-Ray systems is strictly prohibited from building in HD-DVD support. So, the net result is of course a format war, one on the scale of VHS vs. Beta.

So, who's going to win the format wars? Right now, the line has been drawn and both formats are readily available at your local electronics store, but there is no clear winner thus far. Sony is banking on their PS3 which has a built in Blu-Ray player as adding to their market share, but at $599, the PS3 isn't going to be affordable to most. Microsoft (a supporter of HD-DVD) is supporting having HD-DVD drives in their Xbox 360's, also to increase the number of players in the market.

Of course, most of the companies involved in the format war have neglected to see what the consumer wants. All current systems to play the new formats cost in excess of over $600. The titles out there are currently limited (although growing), and many consumers do not see the need for a new format. Most of the companies involved in the format wars are thinking several years ahead, when most consumers all have televisions which support higher resolution, and most consumers have plunked down and paid to get specialized equipment that supports these formats. Yes, that's correct, you'll need to buy specialized equipment to view these formats correctly! As part of a security feature built in, the HD-DVD will only play at full resolution on special screens when played from your computer (so you'll need to go buy a new monitor to watch a new movie). Another added security feature is that these systems will be connected to the internet to receive updates, so in case you modified your system to play say a pirated blu-ray disc, the system be updated to prevent this vulnerability. Oh, and if you happen to not want it to update automatically, and say you don't let it update, it'll eventually shut down and not let you play any more content until it's updated. Also standard is more annoying anti-piracy technology (which of course will be cracked at some point) and will remain a pain for the average person. Most consumers are also happy with the current formats, they're at a high enough resolution for most, they're cheap, and familiar. When DVD first was introduced to replace VHS, it was a major jump forward, higher quality picture, digital sound, and no need to rewind. Jump ahead a few years, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray only offer two new things, additional storage space, and higher resolution...at a premium. So the net result of all of this, is as of now the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats are really just a novelty, you may have one of these systems if you're an early adopter, but there are still bugs to be worked out. Many of the Blu-Ray movies out now were not scanned and cleaned up, so when you watch a film, you can actually see hairs and specs on the original film.

Competition is almost always a good thing, however, after many consumers got burned on the last major format war, most consumers are holding off on buying one of these just yet. Fortunately, as time goes on and one of these formats does take over, the price on these systems will go down, and it's likely many of the technological kinks that these systems currently face will also be ironed out.

Friday, September 08, 2006

 

Time for an Introduction...

Hopefully over the upcoming weeks I'll be starting to write several articles for the site, but prior to doing so, I wanted to first take the time to introduce myself, as many of you may not know me and have likely never met me (unless you saw me at Chris' wedding).

I'm currently employed by a large financial company, and I specifically work in the investment bank accounting department in Delaware. One of my main interests is technology as well as film, and of course from time to time, I enjoy philosphy and economics.

So, that being the case, hopefully, I'll be writing a few articles addressing technology. As things go, we'll see about tailoring my submissions to fit some of the interests of others when it comes to technology. No point in going off on tangents about things nobody cares about.

Anyway, I'm glad to be here, and I'm looking forward to contributing in the future!

 

Good article

This is a good blog post, titled "The Wages and Productivity Hoax". Many of the comments are interesting too.

Got the heads up on the blog from The Door.

 

What to do about Mr. Ed?

Yesterday the House voted overwhelmingly to shut down the horsemeat industry in the United States. Apparently, it looks bad for us to sell some animals for meat. We would rather just kill than "appropriately" according to some arbitrary guidelines of an activist animals group.

Apparently, the slaughterhouses in Kaufman and Fort Worth, Texas, and DeKalb, Ill. process approximately 90,000 horses a year. So, what is to happen to all those unwanted animals? Regulations are already pretty strict on housing animals of that size and who is and who isn't allowed to adopt. So, what is proposed exactly to alleviate this allocation problem in the near future? It appears that many celebrities would simply like us to ignore it. They seem to forget that you can't just dispose of unwanted animals in the United States. Perhaps we can force them to adopt the 90 some-odd thousand per year...

Here's a good last line from the article:

"When you see a horse galloping gracefully across the plains, that's not a commodity. That's an inspiration," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. "There's no reason to be slaughtering horses."

FYE...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

 

News Stories

These two stories interest me. Perhaps they will interest you as well.

This one is a really great story, except for the last sentence...

This is an interesting story and it will be even more interesting to see how it continues to play out as we learn more about here experience.

 

The Distinction

Taking off from our Wal-Mart discussion:

How much responsibility can we place on a rational individual/business for using the legal opportunities presented them by government?

What about politicians? Is a politician not to blame for expanding a program just to have more people beneath him? It is perfectly rational for him and he is just using the existing framework and "legal opportunities" presented him, just like a private business takes advantage of laws like eminent domain.

Travis doesn't see the distinction.

 

Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates

There is a new study out by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (under USDOJ) that discusses the prevalence of meantal health problems. Here are some of the highlights of the report:

* Nearly a quarter of both State prisoners and jail inmates who had a mental health problem, compared to a fifth of those without, had served 3 or more prior incarcerations.
* Female inmates had higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (State prisons: 73% of females and 55% of males; Federal prisons: 61% of females and 44% of males; local jails: 75% of females and 63% of males).
* Over 1 in 3 State prisoners, 1 in 4 Federal prisoners, and 1 in 6 jail inmates who had a mental health problem had received treatment since admission.

Two Questions:

Are these mental health problems pre- or post- incarceration?
Does anyone you know of any research on this subject?

 

Substitutability

This is interesting article from Slate. It was going around the JLF email and I don't think anybody else has blogged on it yet (if so apologies).

Perhaps not appropriate at work? -- you be the judge.

 

Title Fraud

In North York, Ontario, an 89-year-old man was a victim of title fraud and lost his home. Apparently Ontario law favors banks/lenders and buyers in the case of fraud, so he would be trespassing if he went into his (former) home that he did not sell, nor want to.

"I fled Hungary to escape lawlessness like this and now my sense of security in Canada is gone," he said. According to his lawyer, "it was very painful to have to break the news to Reviczky that he may lose his house forever — even though he was an innocent victim of fraud — because Ontario law recognizes the transaction as valid where the purchaser is unaware of the scam."

Why is this on the books and is there any good reason for this? Sounds like a Law & Econ question to me.

 

Democracy

I was reading the Author's Introduction of Alexis DeTocqueville's Democracy in America last night and I felt he had some interesting things to say:

To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God.

The consequence has been, that the democratic revolution has taken place in the body of society, without that concomitant change in the laws, ideas, customs, and manners, which was necessary to render such a revolution beneficial. Thus we have a democracy, without anything to lessen its vices and bring out its natural advantages; and although we already perceive the evils it brings, we are ignorant of the benefits it may confer.

Custom and the manners of the time, moreover, had established certain limits to oppression, and put a sort of legal restraint upon violence.

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues; he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science that puts it to use; and his selfishness is no less blind than was formerly his devotedness to others.

If society is tranquil, it is not because it is conscious of its strength and its well-being, but because it fears its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort may cost it its life.

The religionists are the enemies of liberty, and the friends of liberty attack religion; the high-minded and noble advocate bondage, and the meanest and most servile preach independence; honest and enlightened citizens are opposed to all progress, whilst men without patriotism and without principle put themselves forward as apostles of civilization and intelligence....


Although, some of these quotations are beyond the scope of my initial post, I enjoy the prose and potential agent for discussion in other areas -- so they made it up. Alexis dT is making the case for democracy where there has been little more than tyranny for centuries of man's history. Notably, there have been few periods of "enlightened" government in the history of man like the great Republic and the early days of America. But for what reason, if any, should we continue to value democracy?

Why do so many put such great value in democracy? Is government "by the people" necessarily less coercive than a dictatorship? Why should we support a democracy at all?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

 

Reason

A new Reason Magazine article talks about the "grey market" of goods. Specifically, they talk about ovas. Although you don't have online access to the article yet, I think you can get your hands on a free sample or article here.

So, I was thinking about the market for human organs and reproductive cells.

What about sperm banks? What is that market like?

Since there is apparently little problems with scarcity, how do they allocate the resources efficiently? Is it efficient? How does the pricing mechanism work to "clear" the market for sperm?

Has anyone ever seen anything on this?
Here's a little discussion by future pundit and core econ and an unusual discussion.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

 

This is great

An Airline for smokers...

Friday, September 01, 2006

 

What if?

How many of you would still be libertarians if free markets weren't the best economic system?

It's possible to arrive at the same conclusion (that liberty is the best system) using either utilitarian (J.S. Mill) or natural rights (Locke) arguments. Which do you think is most common? Best for converting people to libertarianism?

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