Monday, February 28, 2011

How Do You Spell Boondoggle?

Take, for example, the 350ft monstrosity familiar to millions of motorists who drive past as it sluggishly revolves above the M4 outside Reading.

This wind turbine performed so poorly (working at only 15% of its capacity) that the £130,000 government subsidy given to its owners was more than the £100,000 worth of electricity it produced last year.

Meanwhile, official figures have confirmed that during those freezing, windless weeks around Christmas, when electricity demand was at record levels, the contribution made by Britain's 3,500 turbines was minuscule.

I'd also like to see how much oil is used to build, transport, install and maintain these things - with an auto, for example, it consumes as much oil to build the car as the car will use in its lifespan; what's the 'oil payoff run time' for one of these turbines?  IOW, how many hours does the thing have to run until it has generated an amount of electricity equavalent to the amount used to get it/keep it running?

Classic Quotes, Hemingway

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."  Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Alternatives to Coercion? Or Does Might Make Right?

Greater negotiating power? The effect of unions, to the extent they are effective at all, is to make it harder for people to find work in particular areas. Unions try to raise wages above what they would otherwise be. Employers respond by trying to substitute capital for labor or more skilled workers for less skilled workers.  You want negotiating power? Get educated. Get a skill. What keeps wages up in a world of 7% unionization in the private sector is that I have alternatives. So stay in school and study something serious that has value alongside whatever else you’re interested in. Or study something interesting that has little market value. But if you do that, don’t complain about your low salary and lack of a union.  The bottom line–you don’t need a union to protect you from your employer. You need alternatives–you need to have a skill that more than one employer values. If you have no skills, you are in trouble and the union won’t help you either except at the expense of other workers.
The narrative that would make anyone sympathetic to unions is that the poor worker is unprotected from an amoral, unsympathetic boss.  The worker's safety, ability to feed his/her family, and human dignity are all protected by the union.
The primary condition from which unions derive power is their backing by federal law, which allows them a coercive monopoly on labor with a particular business.  Once a union has achieved its status in the law, the owner(s) of a business no longer control who can be hired or at what compensation level.  That means if a worker wants employment from the company, he/she cannot agree to work at a lower price, or to perform the work at higher quality/output for  the same price.  In other words, the union does not protect its members from management, except by protecting its members from non-members, in other words, at the expense of 'workers.'  
The defining condition of unions is they protect members from non-members, using the coercive power of federal law.
link This was the conversation that prompted me to post on something that most of my readers would consider mundane and obvious.  So, next, I'll discuss their points - relationships between safety, risk, pay, options, and unions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Posting On Cafe Hayek Today

Saw a comment at the Cafe today that I wanted to weight in on - which you can find here.

They posted bits of Harsanyi's brilliant riposte to Krugman.

State Death Spiral

Many of Michigan's local governments have made retirement promises to their employees that they probably can't keep. A new study from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan finds that counties, municipalities and schools have built up huge retiree health care liabilities, most of which are unfunded. Dealing with these costs can no longer be avoided or postponed.

From The Detroit News:

Why do folks continue to pen lines like that?  It can be avoided and postponed, and it will be; that is a fact.  The truth is, the damage that is being done to both parties, the citizenry and their employees, will worsen as the politicians play the Darwinian chicken that is part and parcel of being a politician.  But that won't stop them from avoiding and postponing the costs.

High Speed Rail and Other Fairy Tales

High-speed rail may be feasible in parts of Europe or Japan, where the population density is much higher than in the United States. But, without enough people packed into a given space, there will never be enough riders to repay the high cost of building and maintaining a high-speed rail system.
Building a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco may sound great to people who don't give it any serious thought. But we are a more spread-out country than England, France or Japan. The distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco is greater than the distance from London to Paris-- by more than 100 miles.
In Japan, the distance between Tokyo and Osaka is comparable to the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the population of Osaka alone is larger than the combined populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco-- and Tokyo has millions more people than Osaka. That is why it can make sense to have a "bullet train" running between Osaka and Tokyo, but makes no sense to build one between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
However little President Obama knows or cares about economics, he knows a lot about politics-- and especially political rhetoric. "High-speed rail" is simply another set of lofty words to justify continued expansion of government spending. So are words like "investment in education" or "investment" in any number of other things, which serves the same political purpose.

The Fiasco That Is Public Sector Unions

"In the private sector, the capitalist knows that when he negotiates with the union, if he gives away the store, he loses his shirt. In the public sector, the politicians who approve any deal have none of their own money at stake. On the contrary, the more favorably they dispose of union demands, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of union largess in the next election. It's the perfect cozy setup."

Democracy, naturally, can only be saved by public-sector unions, which attain their political power and taxpayer-funded benefits by "negotiating" with politicians elected with the help of unions who use, well, taxpayer dollars. And you know, that doesn't sound like an oligarchy at all.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting.
Here's the funny part.  Krugman just figured out that politicians sometimes have bad intentions.  But he also figured out the cure:  Make sure the corruption runs both ways!  This way, unions and  union thugs can take money from their serfs and buy the votes of their elected officials, just like the wealthy!!!  This is a brilliant solution.  A simpleton like myself would think that perhaps there's far too much power in the hands of those who hold elected office, and the inevitable result of that fact is that politicians will abuse said power.  But what the heck to I know!  I mean, sure, the crux of the problem the founders of this nation were trying to deal with when they forged the US constitution was how to balance the need for a federal state strong enough to defend the States from outside coercion, whilst minimizing squabbling between the states, while not granting enough power to that Federal state that it could become tyrannical.  Yes, they were terrified of an over-arching federal or local government.  Good thing those bad times are past us and we can just trust those democratically elected to do the right thing.  Well, trust them to do the right thing as long as they are on OUR side of the political spectrum.  That must be the keen insight that super-geniuses like Krugman have that I'm just not getting. 

Though Walker -- who won office using obnoxious Third World oligarchic tactics, e.g., getting more votes than the other candidate -- is a cancer in the heart of democracy, union-funded Democrats evading their constitutional obligation to cast votes are only protecting the integrity of representative government by completely avoiding democracy.
You're getting it now, right?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Supply and Demand Is REAL?

All this happened while total federal student aid more than doubled, in constant dollars, from $60 billion ten years ago to $120 billion today. Sadly, more federal student aid simply fuels the rising costs. The cost of education tracks with the growth in federal aid; the transaction cost for students is not lowered. The federal money effectively flows directly to the operating expenses of the Universities-which seem to rise in direct proportion to the flow of federal funds.

You mean, it's just like they said in Econ 101?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Laughing At Politicians

Rush Limbaugh was lamenting the state of affairs today on his show, and part of his lament was something like "and we have a President whom people are laughing at."  I tried to remember a President who wasn't laughted at - Reagan for his reported memory issues and moments of confusion, Bush for his supposed lack of intellect, Clinton for the endless stream of females with whom he was reported to have behaved badly, Bush the elder for not knowing what a gallon of milk costs, Carter for generally not seeming up to the job and for wearing sweaters, etc, etc, etc.

But to the point - what better should we be doing with Presidents?  They are after all politicians, creatures which survive, by and large, by being comfortable with avoiding saying anything blatantly truthful - at all costs.  These are people who ask to be given other people's money so that they can run for office and extract all of our money with the government's monopoly on coercive force, which they then spend to burnish their reputations and/or to be re-elected, and then they retire with benefits that will be paid irrespective of the quality of "service" they provided.  I say keep laughing, but the jokes really on us.

What would cause me to give a politician, Presdient or otherwise, my respect?  Aside from the legal compulsion that I do so in my present occupation, I would happily extend my respect to a President who is successful in doing what government should be doing - defending my rights and rights of my fellow citizens, all day and all night.  Forget the pretty words and promises of great deeds to make the economy work better and make all of our lives a little better - those who still believe that kind of magic making is held in the hands of heads of state deserve what they get. 

Just defend my rights, perhaps even undertake to roll back legislation which infringes on my rights; that's a noble, worthy pursuit of any politician which would earn the respect of many.

Until then, I say keep laughing as they flounder around trying to be all things to all people while demonstrating that they are, after all, just human and not equipped in any way to do the things they must promise to do in order to get themselves elected.

P for Privatzation

The root of the problem is, of course, a lack of political will, extending down from the president himself to the lowliest Tea Party activist living on Social Security and Medicare. But a convenient excuse for ongoing borrowing is also provided by Keynesian economic theory, which states that a fiscal squeeze will tend to reduce economic growth, thereby widening the gap between revenues and expenditures. Fiscal hawks respond that a bond-market panic induced by excessive borrowing could be even nastier.
Yet there is another fiscal option that neither party seems to be considering. The U.S. needs to do exactly what it would if it were a severely indebted company: sell off assets to balance its books.

The mystery is why freedom-loving Americans are so averse to privatization—a policy that has been a huge success nearly everywhere it’s been tried. From Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, where the word “privatization” was coined, to present-day China, selling off government-owned industries has not only improved the fiscal position of governments; it has usually enhanced the efficiency with which the sold assets are managed.
The figures are impressive. Since the 1990s, about 75,000 medium-to-large firms have been privatized all around the world, from Argentina to Zambia, as have hundreds of thousands of smaller enterprises. The total proceeds: $735 billion. The United States accounts for only a tiny fraction of that number. Other countries are miles ahead. On a visit to Beijing in November last year, I even heard a leading Chinese economist half-seriously recommend the privatization of the Great Hall of the People. Yet American fiscal reformers—including the boldest of them, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan—tend to steer clear of the P word.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Playing "Kick the Can"

Yet for all its gimmicks, this budget leaves the country at decade's end saddled with publicly held debt triple what Obama inherited.
A more cynical budget is hard to imagine. This one ignores the looming debt crisis, shifts all responsibility for serious budget-cutting to the Republicans - for which Democrats are ready with a two-year, full-artillery demagogic assault - and sets Obama up perfectly for reelection in 2012.

I think the POTUS can win no matter what he does because there's no one in the GOP that can beat him, nevermind the fact that if there was, the primary system currently use would prevent that person from winning (unless by change they happened to be from New Hampshire or South Carolina).

Classic Quotes, Zorba

"Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I'm a man. So I married . Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe."  Zorba the Greek

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Classic Quotes, Zorba

"Two equally steep yet bold paths may lead to the same peak." Zorba the Greek

HT David "Chef" Wallack,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Birth of Liberty

Zeus neither speaks nor holds his tongue but makes a sign, as Heraclitus said. Man discovers that he himself is responsible for giving meaning to this sign.

"...the Talmudists take a quasi-Socratic position with respect to the divine word, which they discuss, explore, and question ceaselessly. They open up the space of human freedom by observing that while the word of God is pure and perfect, men are impure and imperfect, and so their interpretation of that word will never be definitive. Indeed, human imperfection engenders freedom of interpretation in all three great monotheistic traditions, to various degrees."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where's the AGW When You Need It?!?

Freezing temperatures across a wide swath of Mexico the night of Feb. 3-4 have made a big impact in available fresh produce. Expect the effects to be felt in your supermarket any day now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Embrace uncertainty. Hard problems rarely have easy solutions."
-- Jonah Lehrer

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Who's After Your Liberty? The Smart Folk Are!

I loath the left end of the political spectrum, especially the collectivist end (but I repeat myself).  It chaps my hide that I have to go to people whom I consider to be living in a fantasy world to get some semblance of reality in terms of public policy. But that's where it's at. Yea, I suppose I could be a friend of even someone like Sarah Palin, even though I think she's either a moron or, so ignorant on so many levels as to make the distinction meaningless. But you know what: I trust her to leave me alone to a far greater extent than your average Prius driving, NPR sticker sporting, miserable commie -- who would have me in the social cannibal pot in the blink of an eye.

LOL on that quote!  There have been plenty of comparisons between how likely you are to be murdered by a Harvard grad vice an NRA member, and this one's in that vein - who'd you trust your liberty to?  A well intentioned Harvard grad or a semi-educated self starting pistol like Sarah Palin?  

My truth is - neither, but since that's not the choice, I'd trust Palin with my liberty over any liberal, any day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Unlearning - A Mark of Intelligence?

Among the scientific certainties I have had to unlearn: that upbringing strongly shapes your personality; that nurture is the opposite of nature; that dietary fat causes obesity more than dietary carbohydrate; that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of climate change in the past.

It is always interesting to see how knowledge expands.  I have been reading about the role of carbohydrates in obesity for a long time, and often feel astounded when I find folks who still think it has something to do with fat consumption, or is just a "calories in calories out" linear equation.  How long until everyone's unlearned 'the truth' about diet and obesity?

Mr. Stevenson borrows it from Abraham Lincoln, whose 1862 message to Congress speaks of disenthralling ourselves of "the dogmas of the quiet past" in order to "think anew."

We are always on a path, never at a turning point (every generation narcissistically thinks it stands at a turning point in history). There simply is no ideal human social arrangement, and there won't ever be one. For me this has been the biggest disenthrallment of all—the growing realization of the ever-changing, chronically dynamic nature of the world. "Nothing endures," said Heraclitus (supposedly), "but change."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Be Proud, America

"Sweden’s School Voucher System is a Model for America"

We put people in jail for working extra hard to get their kids into a desirable school.  Wretched.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Let's Put the Beast Back in its Cage

I'm all for a 'party' to put the federal government back in the cage it was intended to reside in.

Limits on the commerce clause, limits on taxation, limits on involvement in education, limits on involvement in health care, limits on federal power to coerce compliance with programs like social security ...

Put that overgrown power hungry gorilla back in its rightful box!

Reason for Hope (that health care won't be fascist)?

Then, earlier this week, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the linchpin of the law -- the mandate that people buy health insurance or pay a penalty. It was the second ruling in about six weeks to go against the White House on this point. This time around the judge struck down not just that one provision, but the entire law. It was a stunning repudiation of President Obama's overreach and a stirring victory for individual liberty.

No doubt our health care system isn't as functional or cheap as it could be, but the same statists who have pushed the health care markets away from being responsive to consumer needs, are using that outcome to justify further coercion in the provision of health care.  I don't believe that they have the faintest notion of how to create a system that will do what they say they want it to do.  Humans are not that smart.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making Others Look Smart

A Quiz
Cafe Hayek does the dirty work of pointing out how confused Paul Krugman's current support of the President seems to those not able to think with his particular intellectual flexibility.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

AGW, Ice and Science

This article is compelling.  Please speak up all you anthropogenic glowal warming advocates and explain why this doesn't put your mind at ease.  Otherwise, I'm going to conclude from this that Hitler would be proud.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Infamous Quotes, Hitler

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.
–Adolf Hitler
What luck for the rulers that men do not think.
–Adolf Hitler