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March 31, 2006

Nuclear Power Looking "Increasingly Attractive"



(p. A2) Nuclear power has looked increasingly attractive in many nations amid advancing energy prices and concerns about rising emissions believed to cause global warming. Costs for energy sources such as coal have risen amid global expansion and China's increasing need for raw materials. China and India, especially, are looking to nuclear power as their consumption expands.

Meanwhile, emissions of the gases believed to cause global warming have risen despite efforts in many nations to adhere to the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

At the same time, improved reactor design has led to increased interest in the long-dormant U.S. market, which dried up in the early 1980s amid public outcry about safety and investors' dismay over high costs. Since then, manufacturers have continued to build reactors overseas in Asia and Europe, while the U.S. remains the most coveted market because of its economic might and hunger for new energy sources.


For the full article, see:

DENNIS K. BERMAN. "Toshiba to Buy Nuclear-Power Firm." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 24, 2006): A2.

(Note: A somewhat different version of the article appeared in the online version of the WSJ, under the title: "Japan's Toshiba Wins Nuclear-Power Assets; Purchase of Westinghouse May Open Door to Markets Like U.S., China and India.")




March 30, 2006

'Is he not a manly man?'


Twenty-five years ago today, President Ronald Reagan was shot.  Sometimes they say that you only know a person's character when they are sorely tested.   Well, when Ronald Reagan was sorely tested, he engaged in his usual optimistic, self-deprecating banter with those around him.   'Sorry, honey, I forgot to duck' he said to Nancy; and 'I sure hope you're a Republican' to the surgeon.

By his manner, the great communicator communicated that random acts of violence are not what is important in life.

What I remember most from the first couple of days after the shooting was a packed news conference with Reagan's doctors at the hospital.   I remember an Hispanic reporter, in broken English, praising Reagan's joking and then asking Reagan's doctor, 'Is he not a manly man?'   The doctor looked puzzled, and without commenting on the question, moved on.   But I thought it was a good question---with an obvious answer.




March 29, 2006

Contrasting Planners with Searchers in Economic Development




Source of book image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594200378/sr=8-1/qid=1143511279/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0403843-7507349?%5Fencoding=UTF8


A professor at New York University and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, Easterly spent most of his career as an economist at the World Bank. He had to leave that job after publishing his iconoclastic 2001 book, "The Elusive Quest for Growth," which skillfully combined a history of economists' growth theories with a devastating empirical analysis of the failure of international efforts to spur third world development. The book's theme was "incentives matter."

In "The White Man's Burden," Easterly turns from incentives to the subtler problems of knowledge. If we truly want to help the poor, rather than just congratulate ourselves for generosity, he argues, we rich Westerners have to give up our grand ambitions. Piecemeal problem-solving has the best chance of success.

He contrasts the traditional "Planner" approach of most aid projects with the "Searcher" approach that works so well in the markets and democracies of the West. Searchers treat problem-solving as an incremental discovery process, relying on competition and feedback to figure out what works.

. . .

"The White Man's Burden" does not match "The Elusive Quest for Growth" as a tour de force. Easterly is doing something harder here: not merely cataloging past failures but trying to suggest a more promising approach. Unfortunately, his alternative is still underdeveloped, devolving at times into slogans.

After all, Searchers plan, too. The question is not whether to plan, but who makes the plans, how they are changed and where feedback comes from. "The White Man's Burden" underplays the essential role of competition, not only in markets but between political jurisdictions.


For the full review, see:

VIRGINIA POSTREL. "The Poverty Puzzle." The New York Times, Section 7 (Sun., March 19, 2006): 12.


For Easterly's latest book, see:

Easterly, William. The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. The Penguin Press, 2006. 436 pp. $27.95.




March 28, 2006

Justice Souter's Home to Become "Lost Liberty Hotel"


LostLIbertyHotel.jpg
Source of image: http://www.cafepress.com/freestarmedia.24473311


WEARE, N.H. - When we reached Justice David Souter's home, a ramshackle old farmhouse along a dirt road, Keith Lacasse explained his plans for it if he's voted onto the town's Board of Selectmen in the election today.

The first plan, which Lacasse and his friends drew up right after hearing of Souter's vote in the Kelo eminent-domain case last year, was for the town to seize Souter's property and turn it into a park with a monument to the Constitution. But then Lacasse, a local architect, switched to an idea proposed by an activist from California: turning it into the Lost Liberty Hotel.

''Actually, it would be more like a bed and breakfast,'' Lacasse said. ''We'd use the front of the house for a cafe and a little museum. There'd be nine suites, with a black robe in each of the closets.''

. . .

Most Americans have the traditional idea that property can be taken for ''public use'' if it is actually going to be used by the public as, for example, a road or a park. But that definition gradually expanded over the last half-century as the Supreme Court ruled that property could be seized and turned over to private parties if there were special circumstances and an overriding public benefit, like eliminating ''blight'' in a poor Washington neighborhood or breaking up a land oligopoly in Hawaii.

The Kelo case, however, went way beyond those decisions, allowing the town of New London to seize property that wasn't blighted simply because it thought it could find a developer to make a more profitable use of the property. It was a new version of the field of dreams theory: if you tear it down, they will come.

''The Kelo decision wasn't compelled by legal precedents,'' says Richard Epstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago. ''It wasn't a case of eliminating blight or breaking up an oligopoly. There was no precedent for kicking people out of their private homes just to warehouse the land for future development.''

The Kelo case was an opportunity for the justices to put limits on the use of eminent domain -- and to look at how the power had been abused since cities had begun using expanded powers of eminent domain half a century ago. As Clarence Thomas pointed out in his dissenting opinion in Kelo, ''In cities across the country, urban renewal came to be known as 'Negro removal.' ''


For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "Supreme Home Makeover." New York Times (Tues., March 14, 2006): A31.


A related observation:

Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Writing for the Majority in a Warrantless Search Case Decided by The Court This Week, Possibly Forgetting his Previous Vote in Kelo, to Allow Government to Seize Private Property Under Eminent Domain to Give to Developers:

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle."


Source of the observation:

Center for Individual Freedom, Lunchtime Liberty Update, emailed 3/24/06.




March 27, 2006

The Case Against Privatizing the Post Office


 

The free market can be defended with a variety of plausible philosophical arguments. But most people care more about what "works" than what is "right." So in the constant struggle between free markets and the government, it may be useful to maintain the government's monopoly in delivering first class mail. That way when someone suggests a new intervention by the government, the free marketer can refute them with two persuasive words: "post office."

 

When it comes to first-class mail, the U.S. still does things the old-fashioned way, with one Postal Service. Not so in places like New Zealand and Sweden, which have opened their mail systems to private companies. The latest is Britain, where the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly on delivery. At least 14 companies are now competing to sort and transport mail. British regulators believe competition will be good for the mail system. Japan is soon to follow. With the recent rise in U.S. stamp prices, expect more calls for privatization here too.

 

Source:

Lyric Wallwork Winik. "Intelligence Report; Is the Mailman Endangered?" Parade (Sun., March 19, 2006): 25.

 




March 26, 2006

"The world we have lost was ripe for rejection"


   The source for the image of the book cover is: http://img.textbookx.com/images/large/91/0521633591.jpg

 

Roche delineates minimal light and exiguous fires, chilblains and miasmas, the distinction of white linen, the rare treat of sweetness, the still rarer taste of coffee that made its drinkers sparkle, and the hankerings they inspired. Limited access to water affected drinking habits, cooking, hygiene, and sartorial practices. Housewives and laundresses coped with mountains of dirty linen by river or by pond; the great sent their laundry to the American islands for a whiter wash; the poor rioted for soap as well as bread. Society moved from an economy of scarcity and salvation to one of plenty and prodigality. But the move was slow and spotty. The world we have lost was ripe for rejection.

 

For the full review, see:

Weber, Eugen. "Recommended Reading." The Key Reporter 67, no. 2 (Winter 2002): 12.

 

The reviewed book is:

Roche, Daniel. A History of Everyday Things: The Birth of Consumption in France, 1600-1800. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

 




March 25, 2006

Villepin Attacked for Trying to Make French Economy More Open to Creative Destruction


VillepinProtesters.jpg
French students in Lyon protest Villepin with a sign that says "Villepin branche ton sonotone" which I think translates into "Villepin, plug in your hearing aide.' Source of image: http://www.larazon.es/noticias/noti_int18071.htm


There is much to dislike about French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin; for example his performance on Iraq, and his restrictions on foreign companies buying French companies. But, so far, he has acted heroically in trying to add flexibility to French labor laws. French students have marched and rioted, French unions will not speak to him, and French politicians have ridiculed him. Now he is under attack, even within his own party.

". . . one day we are alone on the front line," he said in defending his youth jobs plan last month. "In this solitude we must find the force to advance."

But Mr. de Villepin's problem of late is that his enemies have been multiplying, even in his own camp.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who, like Mr. de Villepin, wants to run for president next year, for the first time distanced himself from his boss over the new labor law, which would allow employers to fire workers under the age of 26 without cause during their first two years on the job.


For the full story, see:

ELAINE SCIOLINO. "Labor Protests Put French Premier in a Bind." The New York Times (Thurs., March 23, 2006): A10.


VillepinSalute.jpg A salute to Villepin may be in order. Source of image: http://www.lesoir.be/rubriques/monde/page_5715_419028.shtml




March 24, 2006

Welch: Importance of Taking and Spreading Best Employee Ideas


Sam Walton may have been the grand master of absorbing good ideas of others and then spreading the ideas across the company. Another master was Jack Welch:

 

(p. 383) Getting every employee's mind into the game is a huge part of what the CEO job is all about. Taking everyone's best ideas and transferring them to others is the secret. There's nothing more important. I tried to be a sponge, absorbing and questioning every good idea. The first step is being open to the best of what everyone , everywhere, has to offer. The second is transferring that learning across the organization.

 

Source:

Welch, Jack. Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

See also pp. 197-198 for Welch's description of the specifics of how Wal-Mart got this job done.

For even more details, see: Walton, Sam. Made in America: Doubleday, 1992.

 




March 23, 2006

Jefferson Believed: "redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment"


Source of book image: http://images-eu.amazon.com/images/P/0060598964.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

(p. 43) Jefferson was not a man of the Enlightenment only in the ordinary sense that he believed in reason or perhaps in rationality. He was very specifically one of those who believed that human redemption lay in education, discovery, innovation, and experiment. There were many such in the American Revolution. Thomas Paine spent much of his career designing a new form of iron bridge to aid transportation and communication. Dr. Joseph Priestley, another man who fled royalist and Anglican persecution and who removed himself from England to Philadephia after a "Church and King" mob had smashed his laboratory, was a chemist and physician of great renown. Benjamin Franklin would be remembered for his de- (p. 44) ductions about the practical use of electricity if he had done nothing else. Jefferson, too, considered himself a scientist. He studied botany, fossils, crop cycles, and animals. He made copious notes on what he saw. He designed a new kind of plow, which would cut a deeper furrow in soil exhausted by the false economy of tobacco farming. He was fascinated by the invention of air balloons, which he instantly saw might provide a new form of transport as well as a new form of warfare. He enjoyed surveying and prospecting and, when whaling became an important matter in the negotiation of a commercial treaty, wrote a treatise on the subject himself. He sent horticultural clippings from Virginia to the brilliant French consul Crevecoeur in New York, comparing notes on everything from potatoes to cedars. As president, he did much to further Dr. Edward Jenner's novel idea of cowpox vaccination as an insurance against the nightmare of smallpox, helping Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse of Boston---the initiator of the scheme in America---to overcome early difficulties in transporting the vaccine by suggesting that it lost its potency when exposed to wamth. Henceforward carried in water-cooled vials, the marvelous new prophylactic was administred to all at Monticello. (Not everything that Jeffrson did on his estate was exploitation.) For a comparison in context, we might note that Dr. Timothy Dwight, then president of Yale and to this day celebrated as an American Divine, was sternly opposed to vaccination as a profane interference with God's beneficent design.


Christopher Hitchens. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 0060598964




March 22, 2006

The Best Company at Making Cars Powered by Steam




Danny DeVito was Larry the Liquidator in the movie "Other People's Money." The source of the image of the VHS tape box cover is Amazon.com.



A key passage from Larry the Liquidator's great speech in "Other People's Money":


This company is dead. I didn't kill it. Don't blame me. It was dead when I got here. It's too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We're dead alright. We're just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies makin' buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let's have the intelligence, let's have the decency, to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.



For a transcript, and audio version, of the full speech by Larry the Liquidator, see:

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechotherpeople'smoneydevito.html


Larry would not have been surprised by the following account of steam automobiles that mentions that the last maker of steam-powered cars, Doble, "managed to hang on until the early 30's, building what many consider to be the finest of all the steam cars."


The notion of steam cars seems quaint today, but they were a natural offshoot of an age when much of industry was powered by pressurized steam. By the end of the 19th century, steam engines were ubiquitous, running everything from factories to ships. As a mature, well-developed technology, steam was a logical competitor to electricity and gasoline as a power source for early cars.

Electric vehicles disappeared relatively quickly, a result of their batteries' meager storage capacity and high weight. The popularity of early gasoline cars was hampered by the arduous, sometimes dangerous, hand-crank starting routine.

As a result, in the early decades of the 20th century steam managed to hold on against the "explosive" engine -- as Stanley advertising derisively referred to the internal combustion motor. More than 125 companies manufactured steam automobiles. Among American companies, Stanley, White and Locomobile were the most successful, with Stanleys priced higher than mass-market Fords but below the luxury brands of the time.

Even the most innovative makers of steam cars were not impervious to developments in other technologies: the introduction of the electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac sealed their fate. While gasoline-powered cars became "transportation on demand," steam cars still needed up to half an hour for the entire process of lighting the burners and developing sufficient pressure before driving away.

White dropped out of the steam business, and Stanley's operation in Newton, Mass., was gone by the mid-1920's. Only Doble, in Emeryville, Calif., managed to hang on until the early 30's, building what many consider to be the finest of all the steam cars.



For the full article, see:

ROB SASS. "Autos on Monday / Collecting; When These Boil Over, They're Ready to Drive." The New York Times (Mon., February 27, 2006): D9.



The Stanley Rocket Racer that held the land-speed record for four years for cars of all power plants, starting in 1906. It reached a speed of 127.659 mph. Source of photo, and caption information: NYT article cited above.





March 21, 2006

High Tech



Aqueduct1.jpg
Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Source of image: online version of WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. P12) Of all the stupendous engineering structures produced by the Industrial Revolution, the Pontcysyllte is one of the most extraordinary: a ribbon of water in the sky. A narrow cast-iron water-filled trough, over 1,000 feet long, strides out across a steep-sided Welsh valley on a series of slender stone piers. Canal boats drift across, reaching a height of 126 feet above the valley floor. I first made this trip as a child and it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It still is. Because while there is a towpath and handrail on one side of you, on the other there is nothing but the thin lip of the trough, rising to only a few inches above the waterline. It does not look strong enough. You feel you are going to plunge over the edge.


This is one of those marvels of engineering and architecture that really should not exist. Economically, it never made any sense. A product of Britain's canal-building mania of the 1790s, it opened in 1805 and found itself on a route that went nowhere much, and then stopped. Having been built, it should not logically have survived. It is sited on a truncated stretch of waterway, a puzzling fragment of a much larger, never-completed scheme. This was known as the Ellesmere Canal, intended to link the mighty rivers of Mersey and Severn via the coal and iron ore mines of North Wales. But no sooner had engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop completed this hugely ambitious structure -- along with other expensive aqueducts and tunnels, piercing the hills and leaping the valleys to get to this point -- than financial reality took hold and the project was halted. Commercial boat traffic on the inconclusive sections that were built was always light, and had ceased by 1939. The waterway was officially abandoned to navigation in 1944. But salvation was at hand.

It, and its matchless aqueduct, survived for two reasons. Almost by accident, it provided a fresh water supply from the Welsh hills to the towns and cities of northwest England. And it became an early campaign victory, a symbol, for Britain's nascent waterways preservation movement in the 1940s. The canal network was being rediscovered by a generation of postwar nostalgists, alert both to industrial heritage and to the fast-vanishing gypsy-like lifestyle of the traditional boating families in their "narrow boats" (never called barges).


For the full commentary, see:

Hugh Pearman. "MASTERPIECE; A Marvel That Shouldn't Exist; In Wales, a fusion of architecture, engineering and nature." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 4, 2006): P12.


Aqueduct2.jpg
Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited above.




March 20, 2006

Fascism's "Most Notable Achievement Was that It Survived as Long as it Did"






Source of image of book cover: Amazon.com.




Some experts on National Socialism have concluded that its economy was not as efficient as usually believed. According to a recent expert, facism also was not a very efficient economic system (in spite of its oft-mentioned reputation for the trains running on time):


(p. B36) Yet for all the personality cult, the regime's most notable achievement, as Mr. Bosworth sees it, was that it survived as long as it did. Virtually irrespective of where it set its sights -- culture, science, economics, let alone the military -- its performance persistently fell short of its discredited Liberal predecessor's.




Note: in the review, "liberal" refers to 19th-century liberals. E.g.:


(p. B36) Like their 19th-century peers from Belgium to Romania, Italian Liberals yearned for a common flag, parliament, economy, identity, even empire. To a point, the truths held to be self-evident north of the Alps worked in Italy, too. But the transition to constitutional government was a work in progress, where progress needed all the help it could get.

By 1914, it was clear that it would take more than a constitutional monarchy, a railroad, a gold-based currency and African colonies to overcome the limits imposed by geography, culture and history. Eager to play with the big powers, Italians were not only poor, illiterate and economically underdeveloped, they were also allergic to any state, modern or otherwise. This would include dictatorship.



For the full review, see:

DAVID SCHOENBAUM. "Books of The Times | 'Mussolini's Italy'; Where Fascism Was Stylish and Vicious, if Ineffectual." The New York Times (Fri., March 3, 2006): B36.


The book is:

R. J. B. Bosworth. MUSSOLINI'S ITALY: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945. Penguin Press, 2006. Illustrated. 692 pages. $35. ISBN: 1594200785


BosworthJB.jpg R.J.B. Bosworth. Source of image: NYT book review quoted and cited above.





March 19, 2006

Occupational Licensing Does More Harm Than Good




Source of book cover image: http://www.upjohninst.org/publications/titles/lo.html



(p. C3) It is well known that doctors, dentists, and lawyers must be licensed to practice their professions. But what about occupational therapists, manicurists and barbers? How about fortune tellers, massage therapists, shampoo assistants, librarians, beekeepers, electrologists and movie projector operators? These are just a sampling of the hundreds of occupations that require a license in at least some states or counties.

In a new book, "Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting Competition?" (Upjohn Institute, 2006), Morris M. Kleiner, an economist at the University of Minnesota, questions whether occupational licensing has gone too far. He provides much evidence that the balance of occupational licensing has shifted away from protecting consumers and toward limiting the supply of workers in various professions. A result is that services provided by licensed workers are more expensive than necessary and that quality is not noticeably affected.


. . .


Several studies have examined the effect of license requirements on performance in occupations like dentists and teachers. In one study, Professor Kleiner and a colleague, Robert T. Kudrle, found that stricter state licensing requirements for dentists did not noticeably affect the dental health of 464 Air Force recruits. Other studies have found at best weak evidence that students in classes taught by licensed teachers performed better than those taught by unlicensed teachers.

Summarizing the literature, Professor Kleiner concludes, "there is little to show that occupational regulation has a major effect on the quality of service received by consumers."

At the same time, the hurdles imposed by occupational licensing reduce the supply of workers in many regulated professions, which drives up wages in those jobs and the price of services. Dentists, for example, were found to earn and charge 11 percent more in states with the most restrictive licensing requirements. While tough licensing standards may help higher-income consumers avoid low-quality providers, it also appears to prevent lower-income consumers from gaining access to some services.



For the full commentary, see:

Krueger, Alan B. "Economic Scene; Do You Need a License to Earn a Living? You Might Be Surprised at the Answer." The New York Times (Thurs., March 2, 2006): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


You want more evidence? OK, here's more evidence:


(p. A20) BISMARCK, N.D., Oct. 10 (AP) - The State of North Dakota is exploring whether people who sell items on eBay for others must get standrd auctioneers' licenses, a process that includes taking instruction in talking real fast.

To get a license in the stare, aplicants must pay a $35 fee, obtain a $5,000 bond and undergo training at one of eight approved auction schools, where the curriculum includes rapid-fie speaking, breathing control and reading hand gestures.

"I don't think it offers any additional protection for the consumer," said Mark Nichols, who runs a small consignment store in Crosby. "It just creates a lot of red tape for the business, as well as having to put out a lot of money."



For the full story, see:

"North Dakota Weighs Auction License for Some eBay Sellers." The New York Times (Tues., Oct. 11, 2005): A20.


For Kleiner's book, see:

Morris M. Kleiner. Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting Competition? Upjohn Institute, 2006.





March 18, 2006

The Centrally Planned Economy: "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"


WuhanHeatless.jpg

Li Qiao tries to stay warm in unheated apartment in Wuhan. Source of image: online version of WSJ article cited below.

(p. B1) WUHAN, China -- As a winter wind howled through this central Chinese city, university lecturer Li Qiao settled down in his two-bedroom apartment for what should have been a cozy evening of reading. Around his apartment were signs of China's new prosperity: a color television, refrigerator, washing machine and air conditioner. The only thing missing: heating.

Even though winter temperatures in Wuhan dip into the 30s with occasional snow, virtually none of the city's homes are heated. "The cold is cutting into my bones," lamented Mr. Li, who was bundled up in a down coat and a quilt, with an electric heater blowing warm air toward him. "Why doesn't Wuhan have heating?"

Mr. Li isn't the only one asking. Heating systems are one of the last areas that remain under China's former centrally planned economy, with government regulators still setting the thermostat for homes, classrooms and offices across the country. Under the policy, which dates back to Mao Zedong in the 1950s, the government provides heat in the northern half of China, and, to save money, it provides no heat in the southern half. As a result, northerners often wilt in steaming apartments, while those in southern provinces shiver through the winter.

With no heat, even residents of modern cities like Shanghai spend much of the winter trying to get warm.

. . .

(p. B2) Mr. Li, the university teacher, and his wife ward off the cold air that seeps into their apartment at the university with an electrical heater, a hot-air fan and a wall unit air-conditioner that also blows out heat. At night, they wriggle into long underwear before piling under two sets of thick quilts. Although he has a three-hour lunch break, Mr. Li seldom goes back to his apartment, opting instead to hole up in his heated office.

His students aren't so lucky. Classrooms aren't heated, so they listen to his lectures swathed in down jackets, caps and gloves. Some students even carry hot-water bottles to keep their hands warm and cushions to place on the icy chairs.


For the full story, see:

Cui Rong. "China's Winter of Discontent; Mao-Era Policy Provides Heat Up North but None in South; Shivering Citizens Are Fed Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 14, 2006): B1 & B2.


Source of graphic: online version of WSJ article cited above.




March 17, 2006

Ethanol Serves Agricultural Lobby


 

The U.S. imposes a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, to discourage competition with domestic ethanol, which receives a 54-cent subsidy from taxpayers. The European Union just slapped new duties on Pakistani ethanol.

This should lay bare the fraud that what's going here has anything to do with energy security. It has only to do with the agricultural lobby masquerading its interests behind foolish and misleading rhetoric about energy security.

Take the pressure for flex-fuel mandates, requiring auto companies to build cars capable of running on 85% ethanol. Unmodified cars can already burn fuel comprised 10% of ethanol. If we were honestly keen on diversifying supply and squeezing out imported oil, we'd throw open our dense coastal markets to ethanol producers in Brazil, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Thailand, displacing perhaps 10 billion gallons of current gasoline use without any vehicle modification or taxpayer subsidy at all.

 

For the full story, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.  "BUSINESS WORLD; What's Wrong with Free Trade in Biofuels?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., February 22, 2006):  A15.

 




March 16, 2006

Paternalistic FDA Violates Patients' Freedom to Choose


The notion that the FDA should "err on the side of safety" sounds like a tautology but is an affront to patients with incurable or poorly treatable diseases: For them, there is no safety in the status quo, and we only damage them further with paternalistic public policy that prevents individuals from exercising their own judgment about risks and benefits. If the FDA must err, it should be on the side of patients' freedom to choose.


For the full commentary, see:

HENRY I. MILLER. "Paternalism Costs Lives." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 2, 2006): A14.




March 15, 2006

Indiana Almost Legislated Wrong Value of Pi


pi_day1.gif

Yesterday (3/14) was "Pi Day." Source of image: http://www.mathwithmrherte.com/pi_day.htm


After school yesterday, my daughter Jenny told me that in her sixth grade class with Barbara Jens, they had celebrated "Pi Day." I didn't get it until Jen pointed out that the date was 3/14 and the first three digits of pi are 3.14.

Being a hoosier by birth and upbringing, Pi Day reminded me that in 1897 the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill legislating the wrong value of pi. It would make a better story if the House had taken this action based on a literal interpretation of the bible, which gives the value of pi as an even 3. But apparently the House action was based on a mistaken "proof" offered by physician Edwin J. Goodwin. Fortunately for the reputation of Indiana government, a mathematician visiting the state capitol for other reasons, convinced Senators of the mistake, and consideration of the bill was postponed indefinitely in the Senate, before it could become law.


For my source, and more details, see Petr Beckmann's wonderful book:

Beckmann, Petr. A History of Pi. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.


Source of image: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312381859/ref=ed_oe_p/104-6209536-4473568?%5Fencoding=UTF8




March 14, 2006

EU Free Market Undermined by National Protectionism




BRUSSELS -- After French and Dutch voters killed the EU constitution last year, its framers fretted that Europe couldn't function without their bloated document. That was always laughable. But driven by economic insecurity, those failed referendums, particularly in France, ended up calling into question the very foundation of the EU, a common and free market.

It didn't take politicians long to take this message to heart. In recent weeks, the idea and reality of a single European market has come under threat. From France to Spain, from Luxembourg to Italy and even newcomer Poland, economic nationalism is gaining strength, evoking memories that the European project was created expressly to bury. Neelie Kroes, the EU's competition commissioner, told me that these developments "risk taking Europe into a 1930s-style downward spiral of tit-for-tat protectionism." This sensible Dutchwoman is not prone to hyperbole, and hardly alone in voicing the concern.

This winter, France made 11 sectors, from data security to (bizarrely) casinos, off limits to foreign buyers. And together with Luxembourg, Paris opposed a mooted merger between the world's biggest steel companies, Mittal and Arcelor. (The protectionist furies so far haven't managed to sink Mittal's hostile bid.)

Prime Minister José Louis Rodríguez Zapatero also wants to keep the energy sector in Spanish hands. When Germany's E.On moved to trump a rival Spanish bid from Gas Natural for the utility Endesa, Mr. Zapatero gave the regulator wider powers to block the takeover.

The most audacious national block was yet to come. Two weeks ago, France stepped in to stop Italy's Enel from acquiring Suez by forcing through a shotgun wedding between the publicly owned Suez and state-owned Gaz de France. This tie-up epitomized Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's notion of "economic patriotism." The Italians saw only economic protectionism, which the country's central bank governor, Mario Draghi, said was "doomed to failure." But Rome can't easily claim the moral high ground, having shielded its banking sector for more than a decade.

The single market isn't doing well on other fronts either. Last month, the European Parliament, with lawmakers following orders from their capitals, emasculated legislation that would have freed up the EU's services market. A free market for services, by some estimates, would have added 0.7% to Europe's GDP and created some 600,000 jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL SCHWAMMENTHAL. "Common Market? Think Again!" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 13, 2006): A19.





March 13, 2006

In Canada: Dog Health Care Better than Human Health Care?


VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb. 23 - The Cambie Surgery Center, Canada's most prominent private hospital, may be considered a rogue enterprise.

Accepting money from patients for operations they would otherwise receive free of charge in a public hospital is technically prohibited in this country, even in cases where patients would wait months or even years before receiving treatment.

But no one is about to arrest Dr. Brian Day, who is president and medical director of the center, or any of the 120 doctors who work there. Public hospitals are sending him growing numbers of patients they are too busy to treat, and his center is advertising that patients do not have to wait to replace their aching knees.

The country's publicly financed health insurance system -- frequently described as the third rail of its political system and a core value of its national identity -- is gradually breaking down. Private clinics are opening around the country by an estimated one a week, and private insurance companies are about to find a gold mine.

Dr. Day, for instance, is planning to open more private hospitals, first in Toronto and Ottawa, then in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton. Ontario provincial officials are already threatening stiff fines. Dr. Day says he is eager to see them in court.

''We've taken the position that the law is illegal,'' Dr. Day, 59, says. ''This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years.''

. . .

The median wait time between a referral by a family doctor and an appointment with a specialist has increased to 8.3 weeks last year from 3.7 weeks in 1993, according to a recent study by The Fraser Institute, a conservative research group. Meanwhile the median wait between an appointment with a specialist and treatment has increased to 9.4 weeks from 5.6 weeks over the same period.

Average wait times between referral by a family doctor and treatment range from 5.5 weeks for oncology to 40 weeks for orthopedic surgery, according to the study.


For the full article, see:

CLIFFORD KRAUSS. " Canada's Private Clinics Surge as Public System Falters." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 28, 2006): A3.




March 12, 2006

Tom Friedman's The World is Flat, is Worth the Wait



Source of the graphic is page 1 of: MICHAEL O'CONNOR. "Library may help turn borrowers into buyers." Omaha World-Herald (Saturday, March 4, 2006): 1 & 2.


If you live in Omaha, and want to check out a copy of Thomas Friedman's pro-trade and globalization best-seller The World is Flat, it looks as though you're going to have to wait awhile. While you're waiting, you may want to read his earlier, and in some ways better, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. It is better in its discussion of the importance of Schumpeterian creative destruction, and better in terms of the coherence and flow of the argument.

See:

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. [ISBN # 0-385-49934-5]

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.




March 11, 2006

French Courage: In Defense of Voltaire and Free Speech


Voltaire.gif   Better known by his nom de plume: Voltaire.  Source of image: WSJ article cited below.

 

There is much to like about Voltaire: he defended reason; his novel Candide is hilarious; and he is reputed to have drunk more than 40 cups of coffee a day.

The enemies of freedom censored Voltaire when he was alive, 250 years ago. In an unintended tribute to the power of his ideas, today's enemies of freedom still seek to censor him:

 

(p. A1) SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France -- Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France's border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe's commitment to secularism. The play, "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet," uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. "This play...constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community," said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born café owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled.

Instead, Mayor Hubert Bertrand called in police reinforcements to protect the theater. On the night of the December reading, a small riot broke out involving several dozen people and youths who set fire to a car and garbage cans. It was "the most excitement we've ever had down here," says the socialist mayor.

The dispute rumbles on, playing into a wider debate over faith and free-speech. Supporters of Europe's secular values have rushed to embrace Voltaire as their standard-bearer. France's national library last week opened an exhibition dedicated to the writer and other Enlightenment thinkers. It features a police file started in 1748 on Voltaire, highlighting efforts by authorities to muzzle him. "Spirit of the Enlightenment, are you there?" asked a headline Saturday in Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper.

 . . .

(p. A10) Now that tempers have calmed, Mayor Bertrand says he is proud his town took a stand by refusing to cave in under pressure to call off the reading. Free speech is modern Europe's "foundation stone," he says. "For a long time we have not confirmed our convictions, so lots of people think they can contest them."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW HIGGINS.  "Blame It on Voltaire: Muslims Ask French To Cancel 1741 Play; Alpine Village Riles Activists By Letting Show Go On; Calling on the Riot Police."  The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 6, 2006):  A1 & A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




March 10, 2006

"Unlike Pilots, Doctors Don't Go Down with Their Planes"



(p. C1) With all the tools available to modern medicine -- the blood tests and M.R.I.'s and endoscopes -- you might think that misdiagnosis has become a rare thing. But you would be wrong. Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time. So millions of patients are being treated for the wrong disease.

As shocking as that is, the more astonishing fact may be that the rate has not really changed since the 1930's. "No improvement!" was how an article in the normally exclamation-free Journal of the American Medical Association summarized the situation.

. . .

But we still could be doing a lot better. Under the current medical system, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and hospital executives are not actually paid to come up with the right diagnosis. They are paid to perform tests and to do surgery and to dispense drugs.

There is no bonus for curing someone and no penalty for failing, except when the mistakes rise to the level of malpractice. So even though doctors can have the best intentions, they have little economic incentive to spend time double-checking their instincts, and hospitals have little incentive to give them the tools to do so.

. . .

(p. C4) Joseph Britto, a former intensive-care doctor, likes to compare medicine's attitude toward mistakes with the airline industry's. At the insistence of pilots, who have the ultimate incentive not to mess up, airlines have studied their errors and nearly eliminated crashes.

"Unlike pilots," Dr. Britto said, "doctors don't go down with their planes."


For the full story, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "Why Doctors So Often Get It Wrong." The New York Times (Weds., February 22, 2006): C1 & C4.




March 9, 2006

Vouchers Enable Choice, Competition, and Learning


TierneyJohn.jpg
John Tierney. Source of image: online version of NYT article cited below.


The New York Times Op-Ed education columnist offers a provocative evaluation of how Milton Friedman's educational voucher proposal is working in Milwuakee:

The Journal Sentinel, which endorsed John Kerry in 2004, has parted company with the Democratic Party on the voucher issue. It backed Republican efforts this year to expand the program, which has led to the creation of dozens of new private schools in Milwaukee.

"We've seen what school choice can do," said Gregory Stanford, an editorial writer and a columnist at the paper. "It's impressive to go around to the voucher schools and see kids learning. Their parents are much more satisfied with these schools. And the fears that the public schools would be hurt have turned out to be wrong."

In fact, the students in public schools have benefited from the competition. Two studies by Harvard researchers, one by Caroline Hoxby and another by Rajashri Chakrabarti, have shown that as the voucher program expanded in Milwaukee, there was a marked improvement in test scores at the public schools most threatened by the program (the ones with large numbers of low-income students eligible for the vouchers).

The competition spurred the public system to shift power from the central administration to individual schools, allowing councils of parents and teachers to decide who should teach there, instead of forcing the schools to accept incompetent teachers just because they had seniority.

"Poor teachers used to shuffle from one school on to another in what we called the dance of the lemons," says Ken Johnson, the head of the school board. "But we couldn't let that continue once our students had the option to go somewhere else. We had to react to students' needs. We had to start seeing them as customers, not just seat-fillers."

Some of the new voucher schools have flopped — but the advantage of a voucher program is that a bad private school can be shut down a lot faster than a bad public school. And while critics complain that there still isn't definitive evidence that voucher students are doing better over all in their new schools, the results so far in Milwaukee and other cities are more than enough to declare vouchers a success.

"All the good research, including the voucher opponents' work, shows that kids who accept vouchers are doing at least as well as their public school peers," says Joseph Viteritti of Hunter College. "That's remarkable, considering how much less money is being spent on the voucher students."

In Milwaukee, where the public system spends more than $10,000 per student, private schools get less than $6,400 for each voucher student. But when you see what can be done for that money, you realize what's wrong with Democrats' favorite solution for education: more money for the public-school monopoly.

. . .

The school principal, Denise Pitchford, worked in the public schools, but she took a pay cut in exchange for less red tape. "I wanted the flexibility to give immediate personal attention to every student," she said. "To me, it represented less money but a better opportunity." Just like the whole voucher program.


For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "City Schools That Work." The New York Times (Tues., March 7, 2006): A25.


Note: This article was reprinted under the title "Vouchers Offer Many Positives." in: Omaha World-Herald (Weds., March 8, 2006): 7B.




March 8, 2006

Farmer Ed Wiederstein Opposes Farm Subsidies


Opposing government subsidies to one's own group is a good way to make enemies. Few have the guts or principles to do so. So it is worth pausing to salute farmer Ed Wiederstein:


. . . Ed Wiederstein of Audubon, Iowa, said direct payments reduce motivation for farmers to be self-sufficient and often give money to people who don't need it.

"Do I deserve money from the government to, supposedly, support me any more than the Ace Hardware man in downtown Audubon, or the feed store, the local newspaper, the local flower shop or the funeral home?" Wiederstein said. "Is what they do really any less important than what I do?

"There are a lot of farmers with a million-dollar net worth receiving thousands of dollars of support. Somehow, that picture just doesn't look right."

Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., called Wiederstein an "outside thinker."

Peterson told Wiederstein, "If you were up in western Minnesota, you might run into some trouble right now."

A number of people said there should be less reliance on price guarantees and more on entrepreneurship and the creativity of American farm families.


For the full story, see:

"Farm subsidies, imports debated at Ag Committee meeting." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, March 6, 2006): 8B.




March 7, 2006

Enron's Kenneth Rice in Omaha on 9/11/01



Kenneth Rice exiting a Houston federal courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006. Source of image: the online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.


A lot of people remember what they were doing when the first jet crashed into the twin towers on 9/11/01. I was listening to a presentation on the potential of broadband given by Kenneth Rice, at a forum sponsored by Creighton University. A day or two earlier, Creighton had presented Rice with a distinguished alumnus award. I don't remember much detail about Rice's presentation, but remember thinking that he gave a clear and informative analysis of the potential and risks of the broadband business.


(p. 1D) HOUSTON (AP) - Kenneth Rice, former chief of Enron Corp.'s struggling broadband unit, testified Thursday that his boss, Jeffrey Skilling, directed him to paint a rosy, misleading picture for the Enron board of directors that was in line with false statements Rice said he already made to financial analysts in 2001.

But Rice, the former CEO of Enron Broadband Services, said in his third day on the stand at the fraud and conspiracy trial of Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay that he had no documents and "only my recollection" to back up a conversation he had with Skilling, Enron's chief executive, as he prepared for a May 2001 meeting of the company's board.

"What I took from meeting with Mr. Skilling was he wanted me to put a presentation together that was more consistent with the analyst conference and less direct on some of the challenges we were facing at EBS," Rice said.

In January 2001, Rice told Wall Street analysts who influenced the company's stock price that the business was well positioned for strong long-term financial performance. In reality, however, Enron's broadband unit was spending $100 million per quarter and generating little revenue and business, he said.


For the full story, see:

"Skilling said paint rosy picture, Rice says." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, February 17, 2006): 1D.




March 6, 2006

Lazear, New Chair of Council of Economic Advisors, Emphasizes Labor Market Flexibility



Ed Lazear was a labor economist at the University of Chicago during the time that I was a graduate student there, circa 1975-81. Sometimes in collaboration with the late Sherwin Rosen, he created models of the labor market that suggest ways of understanding otherwise puzzling labor market phenomena, for example in suggesting that CEOs might be highly paid to provide an incentive for all those who participate in the 'rank-order tournament' that results in the choice of CEO (see the Lazear-Rosen paper cited below).

Here is a brief excerpt from remarks by Ed Lazear following his being sworn in as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors on 3/6/06:

Healthy productivity growth over the past few years has been followed by impressive job creation and reductions in unemployment rates to levels that are low by historical standards. And we continue to improve. Much of the strength of the U.S. economy results from flexibility in labor and capital markets, and from keeping tax rates low.

For the full remarks, see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060306.html (Thanks to Gary Blank for providing me this link.)


One of Lazear's most interesting papers:

Lazear, Edward, and Sherwin Rosen. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts." Journal of Political Economy 89, no. 5 (1981): 841-864.





March 5, 2006

The Market Rewards the Unprejudiced


 

  Source of book cover image: Amazon.com.

 

In his doctoral disseratation on the economics of discrimination, Gary Becker argued that those who discriminate in the labor market pay a price for their prejudice in the form of having to pay higher wages. Those who do not discriminate have open to them an additional pool of workers, whose talents will contribute to the firm's bottom line. GE's Jack Welch recounts a story that supports Becker's claims:

 

(p. 212) Another idea I'll leave behind is one that developed when I was visiting Japan in the fall of 2000. I had been going there for years and found it difficult to get the best male Japanese graduates (p. 213) to join us. We were having increasing success, but still had a long way to go. Finally, it dawned on me. One of our best opportunities to differentiate GE from Japanese companies was to focus on women. Women were not the preferred hires for Japanese companies, and few had progressed far in their organizations. Again, I got revved up. Fortunately, we had Anne Abaya, an ideal Japanese-speaking U.S. woman in a senior position at GE Capital. She agreed to go to Tokyo to become head of human resources for GE Japan. I gave her a million dollars for an advertising campaign to position GE as "the employer of choice for women. What I didn't know was how much talent we already had in place. In May 2001, when Jeff and I were on a Japanese business trip, we had a private dinner with 14 of our high-potential women. They ranged from CFO of GE Plastics Japan, general manager of sales and marketing of GE Medical Systems Japan, marketing director of GE Consumer Finance Japan, to the heads of human resources for GE-Toshiba Silicones and GE Medical Systems. Jeff and I had never been with a more impressive young crowd. It confirmed for me how big the opportunity could be.

 

Source:

Welch, Jack. Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 

For the revised version of Becker's dissertation, see:

Becker, Gary S. The Economics of Discrimination. 2nd Rev. ed., Economic Research Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

 




March 4, 2006

Mary K. Fox


Jenny's fourth and fifth grade teacher, Mary K. Fox, ended a long battle with cancer on January 30, 2006. Here are our "Guest Book" entries:


February 1, 2006

You were a great teacher. I will miss you very much. I remember the first day you met Willy (my dog). You liked him very much. Willy will always remember you, and think of you as Jenny's teacher.

Love, Jenny (and Willy)
Jenny Diamond (Omaha, NE )


February 1, 2006

We admired Mary's strength and determination; her patience and good will.

Art & Jeanette Diamond (Omaha, NE )




March 3, 2006

Harry Browne Sought Freedom in an Unfree World


Source of book image: Amazon.com.


Harry Browne died Wednesday, on March 1, 2006, of Lou Gehrig's disease.


Every semester I mention Browne to students in most of my classes. I tell them of his bestseller, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.

I have not read the book for many years. My memory is that Browne tells of how he was unhappy in a high-paying investment career because he did not like having to report to the job on set days, at set times, and to take orders he sometimes did not agree with, from bosses he did not always respect.

He did not feel free, and he he felt that being unfree was making him unhappy. So he quit, his job, divorced his wife, and headed west to write best-selling self-help books.

I tell my students that we don't have to go as far as Browne did in order to sympathize with his wishing he was not constrained by the firm that had employed him. So I ask my students: given the appeal of Browne's sentiments, why do we have firms? Why don't we all just become independent contractors?

The answer, I tell them, is to be found in Ronald Coase's article "The Theory of the Firm," in which Coase suggests that firms reduce the transaction costs of team production activities.

I also mention, though, that developments in information technology and the internet, are reducing the transactions costs of creating production teams on a project-by-project basis, and hence are increasing the feasibility of more and more of us becoming independent contractors, or at least working for small firms.

In this regard, I refer them to an article co-authored by Brynjolfsson that argues that IT has differentailly benefitted the small firm, and I refer them to Daniel Pink's Free Agent Nation. I also mention web sites like guru.com that make it possible for those who want to work as free-agents to find firms that want to hire them on a project-by-project basis. I tell them about the movie industry, that already pretty much assembles teams on a project-by-project basis.

The world may never be the way Harry Browne wanted it to be. But it may be possible to come closer to Browne's vision, than Browne's detractors imagined.


Besides his book Harry Browne served the cause of freedom in other ways as well, running for President in 1996 and 2000 on the Libertarian Party ticket.

I do not completely share Browne's views: sometimes he seems to treat personal commitments too cavalierly. But he wrote well, he stimulated thought, and he sought to make the world a better place. Harry Browne, rest in peace.




March 2, 2006

Owlish Evidence: More on Why Crichton is Right


Environmentalists have hypothesized that there is a link between harvesting old-growth forests and declines in owl populations. But there is reason to believe that the hypothesis may be false, and apparently environmentalists and the federal government do not have much interest in testing it:


. . . , we know little about the relationship between harvesting and owl populations. One such study -- privately funded -- infers an inverse relationship between harvesting and owls. In other words, in areas where some harvesting has occurred, owl numbers are increasing a bit, or at least holding their own, while numbers are declining in areas where no harvesting has occurred.

This news will come as no surprise to Oregon, Washington and California timberland owners who are legally required to provide habitat for owls. Their actively managed lands are home to the highest reproductive rates ever recorded for spotted owls. Why is this?

One possible answer is that the anecdotal evidence on which the listing decision was based is incomplete. No one denies the presence of owls in old-growth forests, but what about the owls that are prospering in managed forests and in forests where little old growth remains? Could it be that spotted owls are more resourceful than we think?

We don't know -- and the reason we don't know is that 16 years ago federal scientists chose to politicize their hypothesis rather than test it rigorously, to flatly reject critiques from biometricians who questioned the statistical validity of the evidence on which the listing decision was based, and to declare with by-god certainty that once the old-growth harvest stopped owl populations would begin to recover.


For the full story, see:

JIM PETERSEN. "RULE OF LAW; Owl Be Damned." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 18, 2006): A9.




March 1, 2006

EU Legislation to Protect the Incompetent


The source for the book cover image is: Amazon.com.


The brief book description on Amazon. com:

Bad is the new good. In the not too distant future the European Union enacts its most far reaching human rights legislation ever. The incompetent have been persecuted for too long. After all it's not their fault they can't do it right, is it? So it is made illegal to sack or otherwise discriminate against anyone for being incompetent. And now a murder has been committed and our possibly incompetent detective must find out who the murderer is. As long as he can find directions to get him through the mean streets.


Rob Grant. Incompetence. Orion Pub Co., 2003. ISBN: 0575074191




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