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August 8, 2014

Lack of Innovation, Not Globalization, Killed U.S. Furniture Industry




The following is from a review by Marc Levinson, one of our leading experts on process innovation. I'm guessing that there is more wisdom in the review than in the book being reviewed:


(p. C6) . . . it was not by chance that the U.S. furniture industry provided easy pickings for foreign manufacturers.

In the 1990s, U.S. furniture making was a backward industry. Its productivity--the efficiency with which capital and labor are put to use--grew only one-third as fast as in manufacturing overall. While firms in other industries were investing in laser cutters and five-axis milling machines, furniture makers were devoting only 2.6% of their revenue to capital investment. Instead, they relied heavily on cheap labor, paying their average worker 29% less than the average in all manufacturing.

Nor was there much innovation. When Ikea's flat-pack furniture, designed to minimize shipping costs and leave assembly to the purchaser, arrived in the United States in 1985, American manufacturers had nothing like it. Ms. Macy reports that Universal Furniture cut costs by designing for efficient production at high volume; U.S. manufacturers did not. Similarly, when JBIII countered the distant Chinese by guaranteeing that Vaughan-Bassett would deliver orders within a week, his own company's credit and delivery departments couldn't cope.

Globalization takes the blame for many ills these days. But the implosion that Ms. Macy chronicles owes less to import competition than to executives in a sheltered industry who failed to keep up with a changing world.



For the full, largely negative, review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Made in America; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Factory Man' by Beth Macy; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less.")


The book being mainly panned is:

Macy, Beth. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.






June 16, 2014

June 16th Is Liberalism Day




In the old days a "liberal" was someone who believed in freedom, including free markets and minimal government. Milton Friedman defended "liberal" in its original sense in his article "Liberalism, Old Style."

At some point the left hijacked the word, at least in the United States. (I understand that in much of the rest of the world "liberal" still retains more of its original meaning.)

Maybe there's some defensible justification for hijacking a word, but most of the time it seems like a dishonest and cowardly way to win an argument by muddying up the debate.

Dan Klein and Kevin Frei are trying to reclaim the word "liberal" from the pirates of the left. As part of their effort, they have proclaimed June 16th to be "Liberalism Day."

I believe their cause is just, but I am not sure it is efficient. Time and effort are scarce, so we must pick our battles.

On the other hand, the meaning of "libertarian" has narrowed over recent decades. It used to be that most libertarians believed in minimal government; increasingly more libertarians endorse anarchism. It used to be that most libertarians believed in national defense; increasingly more libertarians endorse total isolationism.

I do believe in some minimal night-watchman state, and I do believe that sometimes there is evil in the world that must be fought. So maybe I should start calling myself a "liberal" in the original sense, what Friedman called a "classical liberal"?


#LiberalismDay





May 15, 2014

Koch Industries Was Only Major Ethanol Producer to Oppose Ethanol Tax Credits



(p. A17) I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles--the principles of a free society--that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles.


. . .


Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs--even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers--many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "OPINION; I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "OPINION; Charles Koch: I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." )


Koch's philosophy of the free market is more fully elaborated in:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.






April 18, 2014

In the Gilded Age Moguls Cleaned Up Their Own Mess and the Economy Was Not Hurt



HarrimanVSHillBK2014-04-09.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) Takeover wars seem to have lost their sizzle. What happened to the battles of corporate goliaths? Where have they gone, those swaggering deal makers? "Harriman vs. Hill" is a corporate dust-up that takes us back to the beginning of the 20th century, when tycoons who traveled by private rail merrily raided each other's empires while the world around them cringed.


. . .


Mr. Haeg conveys a vivid picture of the Gilded Age in splendor and in turmoil. Champagne still flowed in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria, but fistfights erupted on the floor of the exchange, and a young trader named Bernard Baruch skirted disaster with the help of an inside tip, then perfectly legal. There were scant rules governing stock trading, the author reminds us--no taxes, either. "If you won in the market, you kept it all."

In that era, moguls were left to clean up their own mess.   . . .


. . .


Though hardly a cheerleader, Mr. Haeg is admiring of his cast, nostalgic for the laissez-faire world they inhabited. Observing that the economy wasn't upset by the stock market's mayhem, he concludes that, "in a perverse way, the market had worked."



For the full review, see:

ROGER LOWENSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; When Titans Tie the Knot; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 13, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Harriman vs. Hill,' by Larry Haeg; Businessmen of a century ago didn't place 'competition' on a revered pedestal. Merger and monopoly were considered preferable.")


The book under review is:

Haeg, Larry. Harriman Vs. Hill: Wall Street's Great Railroad War. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.






March 19, 2014

As Venezuelan Economy Collapses, Socialists Urge Citizens to Hit the Beach and Party



VenezuelaProtestersBeachScene2014-03-06.jpg "Antigovernment protesters blocking a street in San Cristóbal, in western Venezuela, decorated their barrier like a beach scene." Source of caption and photo: online version of WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Slum Dwellers in Caracas Ask, What Protests?" The New York Times (Sat., March 1, 2014): A1 & A8.



(p. A6) CARACAS, Venezuela--President Nicolás Maduro declared an extended Carnival holiday season, betting that sun, sand and rum will help calm the worst civil unrest to sweep the oil-rich nation in more than a decade.

As some opposition leaders called to cancel the celebrations to mourn those who died in recent weeks during protests, Mr. Maduro's ministers publicly encouraged Venezuelans to hit the beach for the pre-Lent festivities.


. . .


Among those officials most visible to the public these days has been Tourism Minister Andres Izarra, who has been hitting tourist hot spots with a campaign called "Carnival 2014--The Coolest Holiday."

He said that officials were opening 180 tourist information centers for the long holiday weekend and increasing maintenance and trash pickup at beaches that are often covered with empty alcohol containers. Meanwhile, the transportation minister, Haiman El Troudi, said new bus routes would be added to get Venezuelans to the beach.



For the full story, see:

KEJAL VYAS and JUAN FORERO. "Venezuela Leader Fights Unrest With Fiesta; President Maduro Extends Carnival Celebration After Opposition Call For Mourning, More Protests." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEB. 28, 2014): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 27, 2014.)



VenezuelaSupermarketLine2014-03-06.jpg "PARTY LINE: Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, reeling from weeks of protests, called for Carnival season to begin early, and his ministers urged Venezuelans to hit the beach. But the crumbling economy and food shortages created scenes such as the lines at a supermarket." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.


VenezuelaProtestersWearingCarnivalMasks2014-03-06.jpg "Opposition demonstrators wearing Carnival masks take part in a women's rally against Nicolás Maduro's government in Caracas on Wednesday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






March 3, 2014

United States Drops Out of Top 10 in Economic Freedom



IndexOfEconomicFreedom2014.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday [Jan. 14, 2014] by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.

For 20 years, the index has measured a nation's commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY MILLER. "America's Dwindling Economic Freedom; Regulation, taxes and debt knock the U.S. out of the world's top 10." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 13, 2014.)


For more on the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, visit:

http://www.heritage.org/index/






February 26, 2014

Carnegie's Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs



(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices--and profits--higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.

On the issue of the tariff--as on few others--Pittsburgh's workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.

The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 22, 2014

Jay Gould Said Railroad Rates Should Be Set by "the Laws of Supply and Demand"



(p. 344) Jay Gould, asked in 1885 by a Senate investigating committee if he believed a "general national law" was needed to regulate railroad rates, responded that they were already regulated by "the laws of supply and demand, production, and consumption."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 18, 2014

Carnegie Donated to Pro-Steel-Tariff Republicans



(p. 331) Through good times and bad, protected tariffs on imported steel rails had kept the domestic steel business strong--and the steelmakers, a major force in Pennsylvania politics, had responded by doing all they could to reelect pro-tariff Republicans. Three weeks before the 1884 elections, Carnegie had written his partners in Pittsburgh that "Bethlehem, Penna. Steel Co., Cambria, and Lackawanna I & C [Iron & Coal] have each given $ 5,000 to the Republican National Committee and we have been asked to give the same amount which I think is only fair."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 4, 2014

Ending U.S. Sugar Import Quotas Would Create 20,000 U.S. Jobs in Food Manufacturing



CalvoBacciOwnerCandyShop2013-12-j07.jpg "Erin Calvo-Bacci, the owner of a candy shop, the Chocolate Truffle, in Reading, Mass., lamented the cost of American sugar." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) READING, Mass. -- Inside the Chocolate Truffle candy shop in this Boston suburb are chocolate pizzas, chocolate buffalo wings, even a chocolate wingtip shoe. The owner, Erin Calvo-Bacci, would like to expand her business close to home, but is instead thinking of moving her operations to Canada, where the sugar essential for her products costs far less.

"We are committed to offering locally made affordable products, but the cost of sugar is driving manufacturers out of the country," Ms. Calvo-Bacci said, echoing other American candy producers, like the maker of Dum Dum lollipops, that are moving jobs to Mexico to take advantage of the lower sugar prices there.

Candy makers say the culprit is the federal sugar program, a combination of import restrictions, production quotas and loan programs dating to the 1930s, all designed to keep the price of American sugar well above that of the world market. Now the program is at the center of an intensifying battle as the House and Senate open formal negotiations this week on a long-delayed farm bill.

The price for one type of sugar, wholesale refined beet sugar, averaged 43.4 cents per pound at Midwest markets last year, the Agriculture Department reported, compared with 26.5 cents per pound for the world refined sugar price.


. . .


. . . sugar producers, bolstered by lawmakers from sugar-beet-producing states like Minnesota and sugarcane states like Florida, have spent an estimated $20 million since 2011 to block efforts to change the program. . . . Small candy makers, bakers and others who have lobbied Congress for lower prices say that taking on the sugar lobby is like taking on Goliath.

"We were no match for the sugar people," said Judy Hilliard McCarthy, an owner of Hilliard's House of Candy, a candy maker just outside Boston. Ms. McCarthy said she had made several trips to Washington to lobby on behalf of the industry.

Government and academic studies support claims by candy makers that the sugar program has had an impact on the industry. A widely cited 2006 study by the Commerce Department and a 2011 Iowa State University study found that the price supports had led to job losses among candy makers.

In particular, the Commerce Department study found that three candy-making jobs were lost for each job growing or processing sugar that was saved by higher prices. The Iowa State study found that eliminating price supports and quotas for sugar would create about 20,000 jobs for American food processors, bakeries and candy makers.


For the full story, see:

RON NIXON. "Candy Makers, Pinched by Inflated Sugar Prices in the U.S., Look Abroad." The New York Times (Thurs., October 31, 2013): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 30, 2013, and has the title "American Candy Makers, Pinched by Inflated Sugar Prices, Look Abroad.")



The latest version of the John Beghin Iowa State report, mentioned above, is:

Beghin, John C., and Amani Elobeid. "The Impact of the U.S. Sugar Program Redux." Working Paper No. 13010. Iowa State University, Department of Economics, Staff General Research Papers, May 2013.



SugarPouredForConfection2013-12-07.jpg "Sugar was poured to make a confection for Hilliard's House of Candy, just outside Boston, whose owner has lobbied officials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






October 30, 2013

Fed-Mandated High Sugar Prices Drive Candy Jobs Abroad



CandyJobsLostGraph2013-10-23.jpg











Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) On Friday, [Oct. 18, 2013] the U.S. sugar contract in the futures market settled at 22.28 cents a pound, or 14% higher than the benchmark global price.

U.S. prices can't fall much lower because of a federal government program that guarantees sugar processors a minimum price. The rest of the world also has a surfeit of sugar, but fewer price restrictions, and big growers like Brazil are expecting a record crop for the current season.

The squeeze explains why Atkinson Candy Co. has moved 80% of its peppermint-candy production to a factory in Guatemala that opened in 2010. That means it can sell bite-size Mint Twists to retailers for 10% to 20% less.

"It wasn't like we did it for (p. A14) profit reasons. We did it for survival reasons," said Eric Atkinson, president of the family-owned candy maker, based in Lufkin, Texas. "These are 60 jobs down there...that could be in the U.S.," he added. "It's a damn shame."

Jelly Belly Candy Co. is finishing its second expansion of a factory in Thailand that was opened by the Fairfield, Calif., company in 2007. The sixth-generation family-owned firm sells about 20% of its jelly beans, made in flavors from buttered popcorn to very cherry, outside the U.S.

Sugar makes up about half of the ingredients and cost of a typical jelly bean, said Bob Simpson, Jelly Belly's president and chief operating officer. Thailand is the world's fourth-largest sugar producer and gives Jelly Belly access to cheaper sugar, labor and other raw materials than the candy maker has in the U.S.

"You can't compete shipping finished U.S. goods" anymore, Mr. Simpson said. In the U.S., Jelly Belly has had to raise prices "several times" in the past 10 years due to high sugar prices.


. . .


Three candy-making jobs are lost for each sugar-growing and processing job saved by higher sugar prices, according to a Commerce Department report in 2006.

In a sign that candy makers are taking advantage of lower sugar prices elsewhere, the amount of sugar contained in imported products surged 33% from 2002 to 2012, according to the Agriculture Department.



For the full story, see:

Wexler, Alexandra. "Cheaper Sugar Sends Candy Makers Abroad." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 21, 2013): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 20, 2013.)



JellyBellyCaliforniaFactory2013-10-23.jpg









"Jelly Belly, whose facility in Fairfield, Calif., is shown above, is expanding its factory in Thailand." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






September 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Funeral: "Suddenly from the Crowd a Great Roar"



ThatcherSupporterWithSign203-09-02.jpg "A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn't have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.


. . .


At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession--the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.

England came. The people came. Later we would learn they'd stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: "But We Loved Her."

. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. "Santo Subito."

And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.

What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "DECLARATIONS; Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Margaret Thatcher's coffin stood over he crypts that hold the tombs of Nelson and Wellington. It mattered." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 20, 2013): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 22, 2013 (I did not see any update in the part I quoted above), and has the title "DECLARATIONS; Noonan: Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Mrs. Thatcher is with Wellington and Nelson now.")






August 29, 2013

Philosopher Herbert Spencer Defended Capitalism in America



BanquetAtDelmonicosBK2013-08-12.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






Spencer was sometimes a much better philosopher than the modern caricature portrays, a caricature exemplified by the review quoted below and, perhaps, by the book reviewed. I would like to look at this book sometime, because there may be some interesting history in it---though I am not optimistic about the book's economic assumptions, or its account of Spencer's philosophy.


(p. A11) Herbert Spencer, the 19th-century British philosopher, is remembered today as the forbidding -- almost forbidden -- father of "Social Darwinism," a school of thought declaring that the fittest prosper in a free marketplace and the human race is gradually improved because only the strong survive. In Barry Werth's satisfying "Banquet at Delmonico's," Spencer is also a querulous 62-year-old celibate whose 1882 American tour culminates in a feast to which are invited the "mostly Republican men of science, religion, business, and government" who shared and spread the Spencerian creed.

Applying Darwinian insights about evolution to political, economic and social life -- though he did not himself use the term "Social Darwinism" -- Spencer concluded that vigorous competition and unfettered capitalism conduced to the betterment of society. He predicted that the American, raised in liberty, would evolve into "a finer type of man than has hitherto existed," dazzling the world with "the highest form of government" and "a civilization grander than any the world has known."


. . .


The public clamor over the visit of a dyspeptic foreign philosopher to these shores was partly due to the indefatigable promotion of Edward Livingston Youmans, Spencer's chief American proselytizer, who called his beau ideal the most original thinker in the history of mankind. Youmans is among the several critics and apostles of Spencer and Darwin whose profiles Mr. Werth skillfully interweaves in this Gilded Age tapestry.



For the full review, see:

BILL KAUFFMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Darwin in the New World; When the father of Social Darwinism came to America, the place where the fittest were supposed to thrive." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 9, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)


The book under review is:

Werth, Barry. Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America. New York: Random House, 2009.


For a more balanced account of Spencer, see the first review below for the mostly good in Spencer, and the second review below for the mostly bad in Spencer:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Spencer's Tragedy: Review of Herbert Spencer's The Principles of Ethics." Modern Age 24, no. 4 (Fall 1980): 419-421.

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "The State of Spencer: Review of Herbert Spencer's The Man Versus the State." Modern Age 28, nos. 2-3 (Spring/Summer 1984): 286-288.






August 25, 2013

Dubai Has Strong Ruling Clan, But Weak Institutions



DubaiBK2013-08-12.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.christopherdavidson.net/sitebuilder/images/DVOS_cover-210x300.jpg



(p. 4) For Mr. Davidson, Dubai's greatest weakness lies in its autocratic governing system. Politics in the emirate, as in most of the Middle East, pivots not on institutions but on clans -- a ruling dynasty and its favorites who own and run Dubai in opaque fashion.

True enough, but most of the Middle East is authoritarian, yet Dubai's enlightened despotism and welcoming social environment have stood out for fostering economic advance. Like China, albeit on a tiny scale, Dubai is engaged in an experiment of economic liberalization without political democracy.

Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai's success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.

In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN KOTKIN. "OFF THE SHELF; The Glittering Emirate, Revisited." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 7, 2008): 4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2008, and the title "OFF THE SHELF; Dubai, the Glittering Emirate, Revisited.")


The book under review, is:

Davidson, Christopher M. Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.






August 17, 2013

It's Hard to Be Consistent



TheFirstBillionIsTheHardestBK2013-08-08.jpg









Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) Both Adam Smith and Horatio Alger would find something to like in the rise of T. Boone Pickens. "Boy geologist" Boone quit a promising job at Phillips Petroleum in the mid-1950s and built, over the following decades, Mesa Petroleum, a top North American independent oil and gas producer. Mesa found lots of oil and gas, provided jobs for hundreds of workers, and earned wealth for thousands of investors. During the same years, Mr. Pickens's attempts to take over Cities Service, Gulf Oil, Phillips and Unocal made the whole oil industry shape up: His bids required the managers of each company to look hard at its practices and improve its shareholder returns.

Such accomplishments are the core of Mr. Pickens's 1987 autobiography, "Boone," which was updated 13 years later and retitled "The Luckiest Guy in the World." In those books, Mr. Pickens's political philosophy rang loud and clear. "I believe," he stated, "the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace." He warned: "There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy. I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends."


. . .


Now Mr. Pickens has new dreams -- and he is lobbying Washington to make them come alive.

In particular, Mr. Pickens wants the federal government -- through a mix of tax incentives, mandates and subsidies -- to override the market and redirect the uses of natural gas.


. . .


"The First Billion" argues for this plan, along with recounting Mr. Pickens's business ups and downs. The book is often entertaining, featuring the usual "Boone-isms": e.g., "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." But readers unfamiliar with Mr. Pickens's earlier memoirs may not realize that the new one represents a kind of bait-and-switch. Mr. Pickens's standing to pronounce on energy matters was earned as a free-market producer. He is now using that standing to defy the market itself.



For the full review, see:

ROBERT BRADLEY JR. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; When Effort Is Energetic." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 10, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Pickens, T. Boone. The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future. New York: Crown Business, 2008.






August 9, 2013

Less Credentialed Hazlitt Got More Right than Keynes and White



TheBattleOfBrettonWoodsBK2013-07-21.jpg




















Source of book image:
http://s.s-bol.com/imgbase0/imagebase/large/FC/7/0/6/9/9200000009899607.jpg



(p. C5) One of the many merits of "The Battle of Bretton Woods," a superb history of mid-20th-century monetary affairs, is the timing of its publication. Today, as never before, central banks are printing money, suppressing interest rates and manipulating markets. You wonder where it will all end.


. . .


(p. C6) According to Mr. Steil, the recondite Bretton Woods debates failed to engage the American public as a political issue. If so, it was no fault of Henry Hazlitt's. An editorial writer for the New York Times, Hazlitt directed persistent, withering fire against White's and Keynes's brainchild. (His collected editorials, titled "From Bretton Woods to World Inflation," were published in 1984.) The conference had it all wrong, Hazlitt thundered in the Times. The IMF would subsidize unsound policies. What was wanted were sound ones.

"The broad principles should not be difficult to formulate," the readers of the Times were reminded on the eve of the gathering in New Hampshire. Governments should balance their budgets, forswear 1930s-style impediments to free trade (quotas, exchange restrictions) and refrain from "currency and credit inflation." And the currency itself? It should be "redeemable in something that is itself fixed and definite: for all practical purposes this means a return to the historic gold standard."


. . .


White was a Harvard Ph.D. Keynes was, at least according to Mr. Steil, "the most innovative and iconoclastic economist of his age, if not of all time." Hazlitt was no trained economist at all. But it was he, not the two acclaimed experts, who turned out to be right.



For the full review, see:

James Grant. "A Fateful Meeting That Shaped the World." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 16, 2013): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 15, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Steil, Benn. The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.






July 10, 2013

Samuel Adams Is Underrated Founder Because He Burned His Paper Trail



SamelAdamsALifeBK2013-07-09.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.




(p. A17) "Samuel Adams: A Life" makes it abundantly clear why the British so detested Adams. He started talking independence more than a decade before the Declaration and did more than anyone to organize opposition to colonial taxes and to make "no taxation without representation" a rallying cry. . . .


. . .


If Mr. Stoll's biography lacks the narrative power of books on other Founders, such as David McCullough's "John Adams," the reason may be that the paper trail left by Samuel Adams is frustratingly short. He destroyed much of his correspondence during the revolutionary years, fearful that it could fall into the wrong hands. Some of the letters that remain end with the words "burn this." This Adams wasn't playing for the history books. He was trying to plot a revolution. Mr. Stoll makes a convincing case that Samuel Adams is not just the most underrated of the Founders but also one of the most admirable, down-to-earth and principled (he worked to abolish slavery).



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN KARL. "Revolution Is No Tea Party; Rabble-rouser, wordsmith, strategist and defender of liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 3, 2008): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Stoll, Ira. Samuel Adams: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2008.






December 27, 2012

'Buy Local' Implies 'Sell Local'




In the spirit of the great Bastiat:


(p. 1117) Buy local (BL) campaigns are gaining ground in many towns, cities, counties, and states throughout the United States. These commendable efforts are based on intuitive principles that: local production reduces energy usage and therefore mitigates against climate change; the rapid approach of peak oil will lead to potentially disastrous dislocations that will erode society's ability to provide adequate food supplies and medical care; and face-to-face economic relationships between producer and consumer, such as in a farmers' market setting, provide a superior form of economic organization relative to the impersonal nature of our current industrial modes of production.

It is in this spirit that we, the members of Sustainability in Transportation, Utilities, Production, the Environment, and Development (STUPED), urge our local governments to take the next logical step: requirements for selling local.


. . .


This is also clearly a fairer way to approach the problem of non-local production. There exists the temptation for a given locality to urge its community members to BL, but to also simultaneously promote selling to other localities in the name of "increased local employment." Of course, this kind of thinking totally ignores the fact that by selling goods to another region, those of us in a local production area cause harm to workers in that distant region who, as a result of our incursion into their local economies, reduce that distant region's abilities to provide for itself.

Given the foregoing, it is evident that selllocal requirements are virtually required for the sustainability of our local economies. Buy Local publicity campaigns may make us feel better, but a well-enforced set of sell-local regulations eliminates the thorniest problem of a free-market approach--the tendency of consumers to buy whatever they darn well please. STUPED urges our local governments to adopt such a set of regulations.



Source:

Thompson, Philip, and Hart Hodges. "Sell Local! The Next Logical Step." Economic Inquiry 49, no. 4 (October 2011): 1117-17.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)





December 15, 2012

Why Health Care Costs So Much in McAllen



(p. 235) Atul Gawande lays out "The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care." "It is spring in McAllen, Texas. The morning sun is warm. The streets are lined with palm trees and pickup trucks. McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which has the lowest household income in the country, but it's a border town, and a thriving foreign-trade zone has kept the unemployment rate below ten per cent. McAllen calls itself the Square Dance Capital of the World. 'Lonesome Dove' was set around here. McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami--which has much higher labor and living costs--spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns."


Gawande as quoted in:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 231-38.


The full Gawande article can be viewed online at:

Gawande, Atul. "Annals of Medicine; the Cost Conundrum; What a Texas Town Can Teach Us About Health Care." The New Yorker 85, no. 16 (June 2009): 36-44.


A later Gawande article, that asks why the health care system cannot be run as well as The Cheesecake Factory, can be viewed online at the link below. (Spoiler alert: I haven't read this article yet, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the feedback and incentives provided by the free market.)

Gawande, Atul. "Annals of Health Care; Big Med; Restaurant Chains Have Managed to Combine Quality Control, Cost Control, and Innovation. Can Health Care?" The New Yorker 88, no. 24 (August 2012): 52-63.






November 6, 2012

When Trade Is a Matter of Life and Death (and the Progress of Knowledge)



BataviasGraveyardBK2012-11-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.mikedash.com/assets/images/Batavia-l.jpg



(p. 236) In Mike Dash's book, Batavia's Graveyard, the mutineers on the ship Batavia get stranded on a parched sand bar with the liquor and foodstuffs, but no fresh water. A few hundred watery yards away are the remnants of the loyal crew, stuck on another islet without liquor or provisions, but with plentiful fresh water. Trade proves impossible. The analog of this breakdown is the current relationship between history and the social sciences.


Source:

Clark, Gregory. "The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfillment in Early Modern England." Journal of Economic History 71, no. 1 (March 2011): 236-37.

(Note: italics in original.)


Dash's book that Clark mentions:

Dash, Mike. Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny. New York: Crown, 2002.






September 5, 2012

Renaissance Florence: "A Really Vibrant, Flexible, and Free-Market City"



the-economy-of-renaissance-florenceBK2012-08-29.jpg
















Source of book image: http://covers.booktopia.com.au/big/9781421400594/the-economy-of-renaissance-florence.jpg



(p. 176) Chapters 4 and 5 deal with manufacturing, by far the main source of employment in the city. The Florentine textile industry had developed thanks to the Arno River, which provided water and power, and had become a market leader in Europe for high-quality products. Production was based, as everywhere in Europe, on a putting-out system--but strictly confined to the city. The author describes the organization and its changes over time, stressing, as for international banking, the flexibility of firms and their high turnover. Workers were organized in guilds, but the author stresses their nature as political associations rather than their economic role. Florentine guilds did not restrict the access to profession nor stifle innovation. Chapter 6 describes the banks catering for urban market--including local branches of international banks as well as smaller local firms, plus pawnbrokers, both Catholic and Jews. Local banks appeared thoroughly modern in their business and the resort to banking services was quite widespread. Artisans and workers were routinely paid with checks and had bank accounts. And the whole system worked well with almost no state intervention, at least until the late sixteenth century.


. . .


. . . , the author argues that Florentine society was very upwardly mobile, at least for the standard of the time and that the distribution of wealth by household according to the 1427 Catasto was fairly equal (although inequality increased in the next century).

(p. 177) As a whole, at the end of the book one has the impression of a really vibrant, flexible, and free-market city. The standard of living was undoubtedly high and not only for the wealthy, as witnessed by the art treasures of the city, but also for the working class. Literacy and numeracy was very common, and the majority of children attended a primary school.



For the full review, see:

Federico, Giovanni. "Review of: The Economy of Renaissance Florence." Journal of Economic Literature 48, no. 1 (2010): 175-77.


Book under review:

Goldthwaite, Richard A. The Economy of Renaissance Florence. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.





August 14, 2012

"Let the Consumers Decide When and Where They Want to Eat"



BillowRachelLaCocinita2012-08-13.jpg"Rachel Billow is the co-founder of La Cocinita, a food truck in New Orleans that serves Latin American cuisine. She says the city's requirement that mobile food vendors change locations after 45 minutes in one spot isn't feasible. "It takes about a half-hour to set up," she says." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) A street fight is brewing between gourmet food-truck vendors and restaurants--not over the grub, but how it's sold.

Under pressure to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants from increased competition, several big cities are starting to apply the brakes on a rising tide of food-truck vendors with fully loaded kitchens.

Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle are among the cities enacting laws that restrict where food trucks can serve customers in proximity to their rivals and for how long. Some food-truck operators argue that they shouldn't be punished for offering an innovative service, especially since many cities already allow restaurants to open up alongside one another.

"The rules are unfair," says Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, a food truck in Chicago serving Asian-style cuisine that includes short ribs and mango lychee.

Three weeks after she launched the business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.

Ms. Le says she later had to spend nearly a full day in court to find out what the violation would cost her--about $300--and that she lost an estimated $600 to $700 in sales as a result.

"The 200-foot buffer prohibits me from competing," says Ms. Le, 32 years old, who also opposes a new rule requiring food trucks to install global-positioning devices so the city can track their whereabouts. "It is a free market. Let the consumers decide when and where they want to eat."


. . .


Gourmet food-truck operators say another problem is that in many cities they are still relegated to antiquated rules intended for ice-cream, hot-dog and other traditional mobile vendors with smaller and less complex menus.

New Orleans, for example, requires mobile food vendors to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot, among other restrictions.

"It's not a feasible amount of time for this business model," says 31-year-old Rachel Billow, who last year co-founded La Cocinita, a food truck that serves Latin American cuisine such as plantains and arepas. "It takes about a half-hour to set up."

Ms. Billow says she and her business partner, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, started La Cocinita after several years of working in the restaurant industry. They invested $50,000 in start-up costs, an amount that included $12,000 in modifications to their vehicle to satisfy the city's fire code, she adds.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Street Fight: Food Trucks vs. Restaurants; Some Big Cities Jump Into the Fray, Enacting Parking Restrictions to Cope With Rising Tide of Gourmet Vendors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 9, 2012): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



LeAmyDuckNRollTruck2012-08-13.jpg "Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, an Asian-style food truck in Chicago, says last fall she received a fine for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar--50 feet within the city's limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






July 24, 2012

People "Enmeshed in Modern Commerce" Are More Generous



(p. C4) A few years ago, Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues did a series of experiments in small-scale societies in the Amazon, New Guinea and Africa. They asked people to play the "ultimatum game," in which a player must decide how much of a windfall he needs to share with another player to prevent the other player from exercising his right to veto the whole deal. The more the small-scale society is enmeshed in modern commerce, the more generous the offers people make. This may shock those who believe in Rousseau's idea of the "noble savage," but not those who believe in the virtues of what Montesquieu called "sweet commerce."


. . .


. . . , though human beings do kind things unrewarded for their neighbors, for reward they also do kind things for strangers: They hand more cash to merchants than they do to beggars.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Which Makes Us Nicer, Team Spirit or Trade?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 27, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Page 76 of the Henrich et al article has the key result that Ridley summarizes:

Henrich, Joseph, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin F. Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, and Richard McElreath. "In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies." American Economic Review 91, no. 2 (May 2001): 73-78.






May 26, 2012

Middle Class "Doesn't Want to Fight Wars. It Has Other Things to Do."



IndiaTradeShowInPakistanCloseShot2012-05-25.jpg "A booth for Motherson International, an Indian company that produces clothes and costume jewelry, at the Indian trade show in Lahore, Pakistan, in February." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 6) LAHORE, Pakistan -- On the day the Indian trade delegation came across the border, Pakistan was having another political crisis. The prime minister was embroiled in a showdown with the country's Supreme Court. Early elections were rumored. And Islamists had just staged a rally in Karachi to protest "foreign intervention" on Pakistani soil.

Not, perhaps, the perfect moment to hammer out closer trade ties.

Yet Rajiv Kumar, a leader of the Indian delegation, was pleased. It was mid-February, and his business group was staging the first Indian trade show ever held in Pakistan. Tens of thousands of visitors would attend during three days. And Indian and Pakistani business leaders, as well as both countries' commerce ministers, swapped cards, sipped tea and feasted at lavish banquets.

"Look at this!" Mr. Kumar exclaimed as his car rolled up to the convention center here in Lahore, where crowds were thronging for the trade show. "My God! Quite good, I'd say."


. . .


(p. 12) Ashok Malik, a journalist who was one of the writers of an academic analysis of India's private sector diplomacy, said the influence of Indian business is evident beyond the changed relationship with the United States.


. . .


Mr. Malik noted that the rise of India's middle class, as well as the growing domestic influence of the private sector, has created a quiet constituency for easing hostilities with Pakistan. "The growth phenomenon has made the Indian middle class less tolerant of adventurism, lawlessness and war," he said. "It is still worried about terrorism. But it doesn't want to fight wars. It has other things to do."



For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY. "INDIA'S WAY; Propelling a Nation Onto the World Stage; Industry Opens Doors to India's Neighbors and Rivals, Including Pakistan." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., April 1, 2012): 6 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 31, 2012 and has the title "INDIA'S WAY; Industry in India Helps Open a Door to the World.")



IndiaTradeShowInPakistanWideShot2012-05-25.jpg "India held its first trade show in Pakistan in Lahore." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







April 14, 2012

Libertarian Law Professor Defends Free Choice in Health Care



BarnettRandyLibertarianLawProfessor2012-03-31.jpg





"Randy E. Barnett has argued against the health care law." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- When Congress passed legislation requiring nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance, Randy E. Barnett, a passionate libertarian who teaches law at Georgetown, argued that the bill was unconstitutional.


. . .


. . . over the past two years, through his prolific writings, speaking engagements and television appearances, Professor Barnett has helped drive the question of the health care law's constitutionality from the fringes of academia into the mainstream of American legal debate and right onto the agenda of the United States Supreme Court.


. . .


. . . the challenge championed by Professor Barnett: that Congress's power to set rules for commerce does not extend to regulating "inactivity," like choosing not to be insured.


. . .


(p. A14) He is a fierce advocate of economic freedom who is accustomed to being a legal underdog. In 2004, in his first (and, he says, probably his last) appearance before the Supreme Court, he argued that Congress could not criminalize the production of home-grown marijuana for personal medical use. There again, critics said he would lose 8 to 1. He did lose, but took satisfaction in the actual vote, 6 to 3.


. . .


Professor Barnett's work on the health care law fits into a much broader intellectual project, his defense of economic freedom. He has long argued that the Supreme Court went too far in upholding New Deal economic laws -- a position that concerns his liberal critics.

Even a close friend and fellow Georgetown law professor, Lawrence B. Solum, says that Professor Barnett is aware of the "big divide between his views and the views of lots of other people," and that his political philosophy is "much more radical" than his legal argument in the health care case. Professor Barnett, for his part, insists that if the health law is struck down, it will not "threaten the foundation of the New Deal." But, he allowed, it would be "a huge symbolic victory for limited government."



For the full story, see:

SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and CHARLIE SAVAGE. "Libertarian's Pet Cause Reaches Supreme Court." The New York Times (Tues., March 27, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 26, 2012 and has the title "Vindication for Challenger of Health Care Law.")





March 3, 2012

Freedom Grew from the Greek Agora



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Source of book image: http://images.borders.com.au/images/bau/97801997/9780199747405/0/0/plain/a-culture-of-freedom-ancient-greece-and-the-origins-of-europe.jpg





(p. C9) A city's central space reveals much about the society that built it. In the middle of the typical Greek city-state, or polis, stood neither a palace nor a temple--the dominant centering structures of Asian and Egyptian cities--but an open public square, an agora, useful for gatherings and the conduct of business. When Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, first encountered Greeks on his western boundaries, he sneered at the race of shopkeepers who hung about the agora cheating one another all day. Yet that same race would later defeat his descendants, Darius and Xerxes, in two of the most consequential battles the Western world has seen, at Marathon in 490 B.C. and at Salamis 10 years later.


. . .


Mr. Meier's approach runs counter to a tendency in recent classical scholarship to trace Greek ideas to non-Greek sources or to seek common ground on which East and West once met. The polis itself has been claimed in the past few decades as a Near Eastern, or Phoenician, invention; Carthage too, it seems, had an agora at its hub. But Mr. Meier takes pains to dismiss this claim. Relying on expertise amassed in his long academic career, he reasserts the uniqueness of Greek political evolution, the mysterious and somewhat miraculous process that culminates, at the end of this account, in the emergence of Athenian democracy.


. . .


After surveying the crucial reforms of the Athenian leader Cleisthenes, the foundation stones of the world's first democratic constitution, Mr. Meier asks: "Was it just a matter of time before the Attic citizenry was reorganized--so that Cleisthenes did something that would have happened sooner or later anyway? Or were Cleisthenes' achievements beyond the scope of men less able and daring?"



For the full review, see:

JAMES ROMM. "The Greeks' Daring Experiment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., FEBRUARY 11, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Meier, Christian. A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011.





February 19, 2012

Economic Freedom and Growth Depend on Protecting the Right to Rise



(p. A19) Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. . . .


. . .


But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles of growth and loss, of trial and error, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.


. . .


. . . , we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.



For the full commentary, see:

JEB BUSH. "OPINION; Capitalism and the Right to Rise; In freedom lies the risk of failure. But in statism lies the certainty of stagnation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., December 19, 2011): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)







January 26, 2012

Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Engaged in Long Distance Trade



(p. 71) At Mezherich, in what is now Ukraine, 18,000 years ago, jewellery made of shells from the Black Sea and amber from the Baltic implied trade over hundreds of miles.

This is in striking contrast to the Neanderthals, whose stone tools were virtually always made from raw material available within an hour's walk of where the tool was used.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





January 23, 2012

California Vegan Defends Freedom to Choose McDonald's



WarehamEllsworthVegan2012-01-21.jpg "Ellsworth Wareham, 97, in Loma Linda, Calif. Mr. Wareham was a heart surgeon who stopped working only two years ago. He is a vegan, but says choice is part of the "great American system."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) . . . last week, when the City Council approved Loma Linda's first McDonald's restaurant, many residents bemoaned the decision, worrying that the officials were jeopardizing the city's reputation as a paragon of healthy lifestyles.


. . .


. . . , Dr. Rigsby [said] . . . he would support having a citywide vote on whether fast-food outlets should be banned entirely from the city. "If this is something that people are really opposed to, that's how we should deal with it."

What would happen during such a vote is anyone's guess. Ellsworth Wareham, who stopped working as a heart surgeon only two years ago, at 95, is often used as an example of someone with more energy than someone half his age. Dr. Wareham attributes his health at least partly to the fact that he has been a vegan for the last 30 or 40 years (he does not remember precisely).

Eating at home, he said, is the best way to ensure that one is eating healthy food. He is certainly not about to let the impending arrival of McDonald's raise his blood pressure.

"I don't subscribe to the menu that these dear people put out, but let's face it, the average eating place serves food that is, let us say, a little bit of a higher quality, but the end result is the same -- it's unhealthy," he said.

"They can put it right next to the church as far as I am concerned," Dr. Wareham added. "If they choose to eat that way, I'm not going to stop them. That's the great American system."



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER MEDINA. "LOMA LINDA JOURNAL; Fast-Food Outlet Stirs Concerns in a Mecca of Healthy Living." The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 18, 2011.)






January 18, 2012

You Have More Servants than the Sun King



(p. 36) The Sun King had dinner each night alone. He chose from forty dishes, served on gold and silver plate. It took a staggering 498 people to prepare each meal. He was rich because he consumed the work of other people, mainly in the form of their services. He was rich because other people did things for him. At that time, the average French family would have prepared and consumed its own meals as well as paid tax to support his servants in the palace. So it is not hard to conclude that Louis XIV was rich because others were poor.

But what about today? Consider that you are an average person, say a woman of 35, living in, for the sake of argument, Paris and earning the median wage, with a working husband and two children. You are far from poor, but in relative terms, you are immeasurably poorer than Louis was. Where he was the richest of the rich in the world's richest city, you have no servants, no palace, no carriage, no kingdom. As you toil home from work on the crowded Metro, stopping at the shop on the way to buy a ready meal for four, you might be thinking that Louis XIV's dining arrangements were way beyond your reach. And yet consider this. The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella). You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary . . . You may have no chefs, but you can decide (p. 37) on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour's notice. Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.

You employ no tailor, but you can browse the internet and instantly order from an almost infinite range of excellent, affordable clothes of cotton, silk, linen, wool and nylon made up for you in factories all over Asia. You have no carriage, but you can buy a ticket which will summon the services of a skilled pilot of a budget airline to fly you to one of hundreds of destinations that Louis never dreamed of seeing. You have no woodcutters to bring you logs for the fire, but the operators of gas rigs in Russia are clamouring to bring you clean central heating. You have no wick-trimming footman, but your light switch gives you the instant and brilliant produce of hardworking people at a grid of distant nuclear power stations. You have no runner to send messages, but even now a repairman is climbing a mobile-phone mast somewhere in the world to make sure it is working properly just in case you need to call that cell. You have no private apothecary, but your local pharmacy supplies you with the handiwork of many thousands of chemists, engineers and logistics experts. You have no government ministers, but diligent reporters are even now standing ready to tell you about a film star's divorce if you will only switch to their channel or log on to their blogs.

My point is that you have far, far more than 498 servants at your immediate beck and call. Of course, unlike the Sun King's servants, these people work for many other people too, but from your perspective what is the difference? That is the magic that exchange and specialisation have wrought for the human species.



Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)





January 14, 2012

Diversity of Sources of What We Consume in a Free Market




Matt Ridley's wonderful riff below reminds one of Leonard Read's classic essay "I, Pencil," made even more famous by Milton Friedman's rendition of it.


(p. 35) As I write this, it is nine o'clock in the morning. In the two hours since I got out of bed I have showered in water heated by North Sea gas, shaved using an American razor running on electricity made from British coal, eaten a slice of bread made from French wheat, spread with New Zealand butter and Spanish marmalade, then brewed a cup of tea using leaves grown in Sri Lanka, dressed myself in clothes of Indian cotton and Australian wool, with shoes of Chinese leather and Malaysian rubber, and read a newspaper made from Finnish wood pulp and Chinese ink. I am now sitting at a desk typing on a Thai plastic keyboard (which perhaps began life in an Arab oil well) in order to move electrons through a Korean silicon chip and some wires of Chilean copper to display text on a computer designed and manufactured by an American firm. I have consumed goods and services from dozens of countries already this morning. Actually, I am guessing at the nationalities of some of these items, because it is almost impossible to define some of them as coming from any country, so diverse are their sources.


Source:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.





November 14, 2011

More Winners than Losers from Columbian Exchange



1493BK.jpg
















Source of book image:
http://portland.readinglocal.com/files/2011/09/mann-1493.jpg


(p. D2) The foods we consider local are results of a globalization process that has been in full swing for more than five centuries, ever since Columbus landed in the New World. Suddenly all the continents were linked, mixing plants and animals that had evolved separately since the breakup of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea.

What resulted, Mr. Mann argues in his fascinating new book, "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," was a new epoch in human life, the Homogenocene. This age of homogeneity was brought on by the creation of a world-spanning economic system as crops, worms, parasites and people traveled among Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia -- the Columbian Exchange, as it was dubbed by the geographer Alfred W. Crosby.


. . .


"There's no way the Industrial Revolution could have so occurred so quickly and so widely if the world had depended solely on Brazilians tapping rubber trees," Mr. Mann said. Indeed, the Asian plantations proved crucial when Brazilian trees were struck by blight.

"On the whole, there are lots more winners than losers from the Columbian Exchange," Mr. Mann said. "I don't want to tell Italians they can't have tomatoes, or people in Sichuan they can't have peppers. People have a way of taking things and making them their own. I know nothing in my garden is native, but I still have this idiotic feeling that it's my home."

How does he reconcile this feeling with this book? What's a locavore to do? Mr. Mann doesn't presume to dictate anyone's food preferences, but he does offer one piece of advice for locavores: go easy on the preaching.

"I'm willing to pay more to get fresh vegetables grown by nice people farming nearby," he said. "It's incredible to eat lettuce an hour after it was picked.

"But if your concern is to produce the maximum amount of food possible for the lowest cost, which is a serious concern around the world for people who aren't middle-class foodies like me, this seems like a crazy luxury. It doesn't make sense for my aesthetic preference to be elevated to a moral imperative."



For the full review, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "FINDINGS; Fresh and Direct From the Garden an Ocean Away." The New York Times (Tues., August 30, 2011): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 29, 2011.)





November 11, 2011

Unable to Compete with Cotton "European Textile Workers Bayed for Protection"



(p. 390) Cotton is such a commonplace material now that we forget that it was once extremely precious - more valuable than silk. But then in the seventeenth century, the East India Company began importing calicoes from India (from the city of Calicut, from which they take their name), and suddenly cotton became affordable. Calico was then essentially a collective term for chintzes, muslins, percales and other colourful fabrics, which caused unimaginable delight among western consumers because they were light and washable and the colours didn't run. Although some cotton was grown in Egypt, India dominated the cotton trade, as we are reminded by the endless numbers of words that came into English by way of that trade: khaki, dungarees, gingham, muslin, pyjamas, shawl, seersucker, and so on.

The sudden surge of Indian cotton pleased consumers, but not (p. 391) manufacturers. Unable to compete with this wonder fabric, European textile workers bayed for protection almost everywhere, and almost everywhere they received it. The importation of finished cotton fabrics was banned in much of Europe throughout the eighteenth century.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)





November 3, 2011

Wigmakers Petitioned King "to Make Wig-Wearing by Males Compulsory"



(p. 384) . . . , pretty abruptly, wigs went out of fashion. Wigmakers, in desperation, petitioned George III to make wig-wearing by males compulsory, but the king declined. By the early 1800s nobody wanted them and old wigs were commonly used as dust mops. Today they survive only in certain courtrooms in Britain and the Commonwealth. Judicial wigs these days are made of horsehair and cost about £600,

I'm told. To avoid a look of newness - which many lawyers fear might suggest inexperience - new wigs are customarily soaked in tea to give them a suitable air of age.




Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 29, 2011

Statute of Caps "Required People to Wear Caps Instead of Hats"



(p. 381) Sumptuary laws were enacted partly to keep people within their class, but partly also for the good of domestic industries, since they were often designed to depress the importation of foreign materials. For the same reason for a time there was a Statute of Caps, aimed at helping national capmakers through a depression, which required people to wear caps instead of hats. For obscure reasons, Puritans resented the law and were often fined for flouting it. But on the whole sumptuary laws weren't much enforced. Various clothing restrictions were enshrined in (p. 382) statutes in 1337, 1363, 1463, 1483, 1510, 1533 and 1554, but records show they were never much enforced. They were repealed altogether in 1604.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





October 1, 2011

Americans Resented Being Kept as a Captive Market




(p. 300) This suppression of free trade greatly angered the Scottish economist Adam Smith (whose Wealth of Nations, not coincidentally, came out the same year that America declared its independence) but not nearly as much as it did the Americans, who naturally resented the idea of being kept eternally as a captive market. It would be overstating matters to suggest that the exasperations of commerce were the cause of the American revolution, but they were certainly a powerful component.


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





September 23, 2011

Navigation Acts, Were "Insanely Inefficient, but Gratifyingly Lucrative to British Merchants and Manufacturers"




(p. 297) Many of Monticello's quirks spring from the limitations of Jefferson's workmen. He had to stick to a simple Doric style for the exterior columns because he could find no one with the skills to handle anything more complex. But the greatest problem of all, in terms of both expense and frustration, was a lack of home-grown materials. It is worth taking a minute to consider what the American colonists were up against in trying to build a civilization in a land without infrastructure.

(p. 298) Britain's philosophy of empire was that America should provide it with raw materials at a fair price and take finished products in return. The system was enshrined in a series of laws known as the Navigation Acts, which stipulated that any product bound for the New World had either to originate in Britain or pass through it on the way there, even if it had been created in, say, the West Indies, and ended up making a pointless double crossing of the Atlantic. The arrangement was insanely inefficient, but gratifyingly lucrative to British merchants and manufacturers, who essentially had a fast-growing continent at their commercial mercy. By the eve of the revolution America effectively was Britain's export market. It took 80 per cent of British linen exports, 76 per cent of exported nails, 60 per cent of wrought iron and nearly half of all the glass sold abroad. In bulk terms, America annually imported 30,000 pounds of silk, 11,000 pounds of salt and over 130,000 beaver hats, among much else. Many of these things - not least the beaver hats - were made from materials that originated in America in the first place and could easily have been manufactured in American factories - a point that did not escape the Americans.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





August 19, 2011

"A Brilliant and Exhilarating and Profoundly Eccentric Book"



DeutschDavid2011-08-14.jpg







"David Deutsch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.




(p. 16) David Deutsch's "Beginning of Infinity" is a brilliant and exhilarating and profoundly eccentric book. It's about everything: art, science, philosophy, history, politics, evil, death, the future, infinity, bugs, thumbs, what have you. And the business of giving it anything like the attention it deserves, in the small space allotted here, is out of the question. But I will do what I can.


. . .


The thought to which Deutsch's conversation most often returns is that the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, or something like it, may turn out to have been the pivotal event not merely of the history of the West, or of human beings, or of the earth, but (literally, physically) of the universe as a whole.


. . .


(p. 17) Deutsch's enthusiasm for the scientific and technological transformation of the totality of existence naturally brings with it a radical impatience with the pieties of environmentalism, and cultural relativism, and even procedural democracy -- and this is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes creepy. He attacks these pieties, with spectacular clarity and intelligence, as small-­minded and cowardly and boring. The metaphor of the earth as a spaceship or life-­support system, he writes, "is quite perverse. . . . To the extent that we are on a 'spaceship,' we have never merely been its passengers, nor (as is often said) its stewards, nor even its maintenance crew: we are its designers and builders. Before the designs created by humans, it was not a vehicle, but only a heap of dangerous raw materials." But it's hard to get to the end of this book without feeling that Deutsch is too little moved by actual contemporary human suffering. What moves him is the grand Darwinian competition among ideas. What he adores, what he is convinced contains the salvation of the world, is, in every sense of the word, The Market.



For the full review, see:

DAVID ALBERT. "Explaining it All: David Deutsch Offers Views on Everything from Subatomic Particles to the Shaping of the Universe Itself." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., August 14, 2011): 16-17.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis in Deutsch quote in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated August 12, 2011 and has the title "Explaining it All: How We Became the Center of the Universe.")


Book under review:

Deutsch, David. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.





August 2, 2011

Refuting Claims of Bread Adulteration




(p. 67) . . . : The Nature of Bread, Honestly and Dishonestly Made, by Joseph Manning, M.D., . . . reported that it was common for bakers to add bean meal, chalk, white lead, slaked lime, and bone ash to every loaf they made.

These assertions are routinely reported as fact, even though it was demonstrated pretty conclusively over seventy years ago by Frederick A. Filby, in his classic work Food Adulteration (1934), that the claims could not possibly be true. Filby took the interesting and obvious step of baking loaves of bread using the accused adulterants in the manner and proportions described. In every case but one the bread was either as hard as (p. 68) concrete or failed to set at all, and nearly all the loaves smelled or tasted disgusting. Several needed more baking time than conventional loaves and so were actually more expensive to produce. Not one of the adulterated loaves was edible.




Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)





July 24, 2011

Bricks-and-Mortar Restaurants Use Police (Instead of Better Food) to Beat Food Trucks



KimImaAndKennyLaoFoodTruck2011-07-16.jpg "Kim Ima and Kenny Lao parked their food trucks on Front Street in Dumbo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D4) FOOD trucks, those rolling symbols of New York City's infatuation with haute casual food, are suddenly being chased from Midtown Manhattan. In the last 10 days, the Treats Truck, which has sold cookies and brownies for four years during lunchtime at West 45th Street near Avenue of the Americas, has been told by police officers that it is no longer welcome there, nor at its late-afternoon 38th Street and Fifth Avenue location. The Rickshaw Dumpling truck, a presence for three years at West 45th Street near the Treats Truck, has been shooed away as well.

The police "have told us they no longer want food trucks in Midtown," said Kim Ima, the owner of the Treats Truck, a pioneer of the city's new-wave food-truck movement, who began cultivating customers on West 45th Street in 2007.


. . .


Mr. Lao and other food-truck operators said they suspect that the police are responding to complaints by brick-and-mortar businesses that resent competition. Such was the case last year, when store merchants on the Upper East Side complained about Patty's Taco Truck, which sold tortas, tacos de lengua and cemitas on Lexington Avenue. The truck was towed several times and the operator arrested, prompting the Street Vendor Project, an advocate for vendors based at the Urban Justice Center, to file the lawsuit that resulted in Judge Wright's ruling, which said food is merchandise that can be regulated.



For the full story, see:

GLENN COLLINS. "Food Trucks Shooed From Midtown." The New York Times (Weds., June 29, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 28, 2011.)






May 18, 2011

"For the First 40 Years of Indian Independence, Entrepreneurs . . . Were Looked Down Upon"



(p. 8) Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the '90s rolled around, and India's government was almost bankrupt, India's technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.

"America," said Srivastava, "was the one who said to us: 'You have to go for meritocracy. You don't have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.' This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they're beginning to learn how to hum it, you're changing the anthem. ... Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn't fashionable."

If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India's bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "It's Morning in India." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., October 31, 2010): 8.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated October 30, 2010.)






April 23, 2011

"If We Actually Want to Change Anything--Dedicate Our Lives to It--We Need to Make Money Doing It"



DavidsonNeilUndergroundFood2011-04-22.jpg "The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid the costs -- including for health permits and liability insurance -- required by legitimate farmers' markets. Neil Davidson prepared part of a Hawaiian breakfast dish for a customer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- . . .


. . .


At midnight, the smell of stir-fried pork bellies was wafting through the Mission district. There was live music, liquor, bouncers, a disco ball -- and a line waiting to sample hundreds of delicacies made mostly on location, among them bacon-wrapped mochi (a Japanese rice paste) and ice cream made from red beets, Guinness and chocolate cake.

In a sense it is civil disobedience on a paper plate.

The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid roughly $1,000 a year in fees -- including those for health permits and liability insurance -- required by legitimate farmers markets. Here, where the food rave -- call it a crave -- was born, the market organizers sidestep city health inspections by operating as a private club, requiring that participants become "members" (free) and sign a disclaimer noting that food might not be prepared in a space that has been inspected.


. . .


(p. A12) Where psychedelic drugs famously transported another self-conscious San Francisco generation, the rebel act of choice by Valerie Luu, 23, a first-generation Vietnamese chef, is deep-frying string cheese in a cast-iron pan.

"When I was their age I was doing drugs and going to rock shows," said Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer and author who recently got into a spat with the City of Oakland for selling chard and other produce at a pop-up farm stand without a permit. "That's not their culture," she continued. "Their culture is food -- incredible yummy-tasting food."


. . .


The underground market here, which also has a less chic daytime component, was started by Iso Rabins, 30, the founder of ForageSF, a company that began with foraging walks and dinners featuring dishes like wild nettle soup with crème fraiche.

He started in 2009 from a private home after observing that many friends could not afford to sell at farmers markets, which requires business and product liability insurance (around $250), space rental ($40 to $55 a day), yearly member fees (around $110), and a health and safety permit (about $500). The use of commercial kitchens would cost an additional $45 to $75 an hour, Mr. Rabins noted, and making jam can take eight hours or more. "The small-batch economics just don't work," he said.

The goal is to be an incubator for culinary start-ups, and be a profit-making venture. Vendors pay $50 to reserve a cooking space and return 10 percent of sales over $500 to ForageSF. "The feeling in the food community is that if you're making money, it's not something you're passionate about," Mr. Rabins said. "But if we actually want to change anything -- dedicate our lives to it -- we need to make money doing it," he said.

Amateur cooks around the country are pushing to have the right to sell unlicensed goods directly to consumers. So-called "cottage food" laws that allow products considered nonhazardous, like pies and cookies, exist in 18 states, with five more considering similar legislation.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN. "They Gather Secretly at Night, and Then They (Shhh!) Eat." The New York Times (Weds., April 15, 2011): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 14, 2011.)





March 23, 2011

Estonia Re-Elects "Government that Continued to Embrace Laissez-Faire Capitalism"



(p. A5) MOSCOW -- Early results in Estonia's parliamentary election on Sunday showed the ruling coalition headed for a victory, in a remarkable show of support for a government that has imposed harsh austerity measures to lift the country out of recession.


. . .


The vote reflects approval for a government that continued to embrace laissez-faire capitalism during the painful months after the global downturn. After Estonia's economy shrank nearly 15 percent, the state reduced its budget by the equivalent of 9 percent of gross domestic product. Demand fell steeply, and unemployment crept up, early in 2010, to 19.8 percent.

But in contrast to their neighbors in Latvia, where economic troubles led to riots and the government's collapse, Estonians stoically absorbed the suffering. These sacrifices allowed Estonia to join the euro zone in January, a move its leaders hailed as a sign that the country was on its way to achieving Western European standards of living. Meanwhile, the economy has been projected to grow by 4 percent this year, and unemployment has dropped to around 10 percent, according to the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund.



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "After Cuts, Voters Back Ruling Bloc in Estonia." The New York Times (Mon., March 7, 2011): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 6, 2011.)





March 17, 2011

Koch Does Not Run with the Antelope



If you were standing amongst a herd of antelope when a dangerous predator arrived, you would not see the antelope defending themselves against the predator. What you would see would be their white rear ends disappearing in the distance.

Last July in Wichita I heard some executives from Koch Industries talking about Market-Based Management. A couple of them mentioned Koch's stands in defense of the free market. As a result of these efforts, Koch Industries has become the target of many agencies of the government and of groups opposed to the free market. Once or twice I heard an executive say something like: 'it would have been a lot easier if we had just painted our butts white and run with the antelope.'

Schumpeter thought that those in business would not defend the fortress of capitalism (CSD, p. 142). And the evidence suggests that Schumpeter was mainly right. But we can hope that there are enough exceptions, in unpretentious places like Wichita, to keep the fortress standing.


(p.A15) Years of tremendous overspending by federal, state and local governments have brought us face-to-face with an economic crisis. Federal spending will total at least $3.8 trillion this year--double what it was 10 years ago. And unlike in 2001, when there was a small federal surplus, this year's projected budget deficit is more than $1.6 trillion.

Several trillions more in debt have been accumulated by state and local governments. States are looking at a combined total of more than $130 billion in budget shortfalls this year. Next year, they will be in even worse shape as most so-called stimulus payments end.

For many years, I, my family and our company have contributed to a variety of intellectual and political causes working to solve these problems. Because of our activism, we've been vilified by various groups. Despite this criticism, we're determined to keep contributing and standing up for those politicians, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are taking these challenges seriously.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "Why Koch Industries Is Speaking Out; Crony capitalism and bloated government prevent entrepreneurs from producing the products and services that make people's lives better." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., MARCH 1, 2011): A15.


Koch's book is:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.





February 21, 2011

The Story of Spielberg's "World-Changing Movies" Deserves "a Detailed, Impassioned and Insightful Telling"



(p. 20) . . . , LaPorte combines tabloid celebrity worship with an older oddity: the incongruous fact that a free market also produces resentment, especially when a competitor like Spielberg demonstrates leadership, superior achievement and undeniable success. He's one of the few filmmakers still committed to exploring the human condition -- and in popular terms. This is what sets him apart and makes him admired, envied and even inscrutable to those who think only in craven terms of business and royalty.


. . .


So it's a tabloid book. We can only hope it doesn't become the historical record. LaPorte undermines her research with a headachy repetition of anonymous informants ("one insider," "one former executive," "one source"). She concludes that "inherent in all of it was hubris." But a story this significant, about world-changing movies, doesn't need homilies. It needs a detailed, impassioned and insightful telling, one that would help us better appreciate a frequently misunderstood, underinterpreted pop artist whose work connects with the public, defines the complexities of human experience and dwarfs most of contemporary Hollywood's output. DreamWorks calls for a sensitive sociologist -- a Tom Wolfe or a Norman Mailer or a Pauline Kael -- who can discern the deep, divided heart of Hollywood.



For the full review, see:

ARMOND WHITE. "The Big Picture." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 11, 2010): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated July 9, 2010.)


The book White credibly pans is:

LaPorte, Nicole. The Men Who Would Be King; an Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called Dreamworks. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.





February 17, 2011

Insider Training Increases the Efficiency of Markets



(p. W2) As argued forcefully by Henry Manne in his 1966 book "Insider Trading and the Stock Market," prohibitions on insider trading prevent asset prices from adjusting in this way. Mr. Manne, dean emeritus at George Mason University School of Law, pointed out that when insiders trade on their nonpublic, nonproprietary information, they cause asset prices to reflect that information sooner than otherwise and therefore prompt other market participants to make better decisions.

This achievement can have ramifications beyond a few percentage-point increases in productivity growth.

According to Mr. Manne, corporate scandals such as Enron and Global Crossing would occur much less frequently and impose fewer costs if the government didn't prohibit insider trading. As Mr. Manne said a few years ago in a radio interview, "I don't think the scandals would ever have erupted if we had allowed insider trading because there would be plenty of people in those companies who would know exactly what was going on, and who couldn't resist the temptation to get rich by trading on the information, and the stock market would have reflected those problems months and months earlier than they did under this cockamamie regulatory system we have."

Another potential benefit of lifting the ban on insider trading is explained by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron: "In a world with no ban, small investors might fear to trade individual stocks and would face a greater incentive to diversify; that is also a good thing."



For the full commentary, see:

DONALD J. BOUDREAUX. "Learning to Love Insider Trading; Here's a hot tip: Want to keep companies honest, make the markets work more efficiently and encourage investors to diversify? Let insiders buy and sell, argues Donald J. Boudreaux." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 24, 2009): W1-W2.


The book mentioned is:

Manne, Henry. Insider Trading and the Stock Market. New York: The Free Press, 1966.





February 9, 2011

Informal Sector Responded Quicker to Quake than Established Companies



HaitianCoalVendors2011-02-02.jpg "In Port-au-Prince . . . , Haitian vendors peddled small bags of coal." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The price of candles in the teeming La Saline market here has climbed 60 percent since last week's earthquake. A box of matches is up 50 percent. A package of Perdue Chicken Franks has gone up 30 percent.


. . .


Haiti's huge informal sector reacted faster to the quake than did established companies and banks. Outdoor markets like La Saline are already filled with goods from the countryside, including salt, cornmeal, fruits like mangoes and used clothing from the United States.


. . .


"People want candles because they have no electricity or fuel for their generators," said Manouchka Wendiwou, 21, a vendor in La Saline who raised her candle prices by 60 percent and made no apology for charging what the market would bear.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Economy in Shock Struggles to Restart." The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 21, 2010.)





January 23, 2011

More Economic Freedom in World (But Not in U.S.)



FreedomIndexTable2011.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A15) Riots in Greece and France! An IMF bailout for Ireland! The Euro under threat! A new government in London! Tea parties in America! Is it the end of capitalism? Many were predicting just that last year.

The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, released today by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, tells a different story. The Index records countries' commitment to the free enterprise/capitalist system by measuring 10 categories of economic freedom: fiscal soundness and openness to trade and investment, government size, business and labor regulation, property rights, corruption, monetary stability and financial competition.

The good news this year? One hundred and seventeen countries, mainly developing and emerging market economies, improved their scores, and the average level of economic freedom around the world improved by about a third of a point on the Index's 0 to 100 scale.


. . .


For the U.S. and the U.K., the Index of Economic Freedom confirms what those countries' voters already knew, that there is an urgent need for real change. The U.S. dropped to ninth place in the 2011 Index from eighth (its lowest economic freedom score in a decade), and the UK fell all the way to 16th place from 11th.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY MILLER. "The U.S. Loses Ground on Economic Freedom." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 12, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last sentence quoted above is the slightly more informative print version rather than the slightly less informative online version.)





January 7, 2011

Trade Stats Count iPhone as Chinese Export, Despite Only 3.6% of iPhone Costs from China



iPhoneGlobalTradeGraph2011-01-02.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) . . . two academic researchers estimate that Apple Inc.'s iPhone--one of the best-selling U.S. technology products--actually added $1.9 billion to the U.S. trade deficit with China last year.

How is this possible? The researchers say traditional ways of measuring global trade produce the number but fail to reflect the complexities of global commerce where the design, manufacturing and assembly of products often involve several countries.

"A distorted picture" is the result, they say, one that exaggerates trade imbalances between nations.

Trade statistics in both countries consider the iPhone a Chinese export to the U.S., even though it is entirely designed and owned by a U.S. company, and is made largely of parts produced in several Asian and European countries. China's contribution is the last step--assembling and shipping the phones.

So the entire $178.96 estimated wholesale cost of the shipped phone is credited to China, even though the value of the work performed by the Chinese workers at Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. accounts for just 3.6%, or $6.50, of the total, the researchers calculated in a report published this month.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW BATSON. "Not Really 'Made in China'; The iPhone's Complex Supply Chain Highlights Problems With Trade Statistics." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 16, 2010): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 15, 2010nd that were not in the print version.)


The research report breaking down iPhone costs by country is:

Xing, Yuqing, and Neal Detert. "How the Iphone Widens the United States Trade Deficit with the People's Republic of China." ADBI Working Paper Series, no. 257, December 2010.






January 3, 2011

Not Long on Dong---Vietnam's Proletariat Use American Dollar Instead



HanoiBlackMarketMoneyExchange2010-12-29.jpg "A black-market money exchange in Hanoi trades dong for dollars." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


They say that for children, 'a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.' Maybe for adults, a spoonful of irony helps the zeitgeist go down?

America lost the war in Vietnam to the Communist Vietcong. Now, the Vietnam government, consisting of the linear descendants of the Communist Vietcong, has so run their currency (the dong) into the ground, that Vietnam's proletariat are choosing to use the American dollar instead of the Vietnamese dong.


(p. C1) HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam--At a time when many emerging markets are trying to stem a destabilizing rise in their local currencies against the dollar, up-and-coming Vietnam is grappling with a rather different problem: Residents can't get enough of the U.S. greenback, as their own currency, the dong, threatens to spiral lower.


. . .


. . . the Communist-run government's determination to hit persistently high growth targets, coupled with state-directed lending growth of more than 30% annually in recent years, have flooded Vietnam's economy with money and created a raft of problems for the local currency. The excess capital has triggered a sharper uptick in inflation than has been seen in other emerging markets, stripping confidence in the dong as residents doubt their government can manage rising costs in the months ahead.


. . .


. . . , the government is projecting an inflation rate of at least 7% a year for the next five years, far higher than its neighbors, in a sign that it intends to pursue its target-driven, growth-at-all-costs policies.

"This isn't a sustainable way to run an economy," says Nguyen Quang A, an economist who ran Vietnam's only independent economic think tank until its founders opted to close it amid tightening government censorship.



For the full story, see:

JAMES HOOKWAY. "Vietnam Battles Dark Side of Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., DECEMBER 16, 2010): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 15, 2010; the last couple of sentences (starting with "the government") appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)





December 28, 2010

Environmentalist Antiglobalization "Vandals" Destroy Giorgio's Corn



FidenatoGiorgioItalianFarmer2010-12-21.jpg "Last week, Giorgio Fidenato, who had planted genetically modified corn, stood amid stalks that had been trampled by antiglobalization activists." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) VIVARO, Italy -- Giorgio Fidenato declared war on the Italian government and environmental groups in April with a news conference and a YouTube video, which showed him poking six genetically modified corn seeds into Italian soil.

In fact, said Mr. Fidenato, 49, an agronomist, he planted two fields of genetically modified corn. But since "corn looks like corn," as he put it, it took his opponents weeks to find his crop.

The seeds, known as MON810, are modified so that the corn produces a chemical that kills the larvae of the corn borer, a devastating pest. Yet while European Union rules allow this particular seed to be planted, Italy requires farmers to get special permission for any genetically modified, or G.M., crop -- and the Agriculture Ministry never said yes.

"We had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience -- these seeds are legal in Europe," said Mr. Fidenato, who has repeatedly applied for permission, adding that he drew more inspiration from Ron Paul than Gandhi.


. . .


After Mr. Fidenato's provocation, investigators did genetic testing to identify the locations of the offending stalks in the sea of cornfields that surround this tiny town. Officials seized two suspect fields -- about 12 acres -- and declared the plantings illegal. Greenpeace activists surreptitiously snipped off the stalks' tassels in the hope of preventing pollen from being disseminated.

On Aug. 9, 100 machete-wielding environmental activists from an antiglobalization group called Ya Basta descended on Vivaro and trampled the field before local police officers could intervene. They left behind placards with a skull and crossbones reading: "Danger -- Contaminated -- G.M.O."

Giancarlo Galan, who became agriculture minister in April, called the protesters "vandals," although he did not say he would allow genetically modified crops. But Luca Zaia, the previous agriculture minister and president of the nearby Veneto region, applauded the rampage, saying: "There is a need to show multinationals that they can't introduce Frankenstein crops into our country without authorization."

Over the past decade, genetically modified crops have been a major (p. A8) source of trade friction between Europe and the United States.

Both the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Agency say that there is no scientific evidence that eating MON810 corn is dangerous.


. . .


. . . it is not clear that the battle of Vivaro will have a quick victor. Jail time or at least fines are expected for Mr. Fidenato (illegal planting) and Mr. Tornatore (trespassing and destroying private property).



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "In the Fields of Italy, a Conflict Over Corn." The New York Times (Tues., August 24, 2010): A4 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 23, 2010.)



CornBorer2010-12-21.jpg"An ear of corn infested with corn borers. A modified variety is meant to counteract the pest." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 24, 2010

A Late Bronze Age "Cornucopian Example of Multiculturism"



BronzeAgeContainer2010-12-20.jpg"Influences from Egypt and Mediterranean Asia appear to merge in this container, from around 1390 to 1352 B.C." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



The cultural flowering (see above and below) brought about by Late Bronze Age Mediterranean trade, is highly compatible with arguments made in Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction, which argues that capitalism promotes the important kind of diversity that within cultures increases creativity and options for individual choice.

It would be interesting and useful to know more about the causes and effects of the dark age mentioned below--the one that started around 1200 BC. An earlier entry mentioned archeological evidence of a small family group near Katilimata on Crete who attempted to hunker down to defend themselves and their property from the invaders from the sea mentioned below.

Sometimes the Phoenicians are given credit for the trade, and Paul Johnson in his recent Heroes book (p. 4), identifies the evil invaders who killed the trade as being the Philistines.


(p. C28) For a truly cornucopian example of multiculturalism, though, nothing matches the contents of the Late Bronze Age merchant ship recovered from the sea off the southern coast of Turkey. Discovered by a sponge diver in 1984 and considered the oldest surviving example of a seagoing ship, it probably sank around 1300 B.C., packed with cargo representing a dozen cultures, from Nubia to the Balkans.

Although the ship's home port is unknown, it appears to have traveled a circular route through the Mediterranean and Aegean, stopping in Greece, Crete, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, picking up and unloading as it went. Bulk materials included copper ingots, Cypriot pottery, African wood and Near Eastern textiles, all for waiting markets.

Divers also found luxury items, possibly personal possessions of the ship's crew and passengers. Examples of ivory containers in the form of ducks have parallels with Egyptian prototypes, but were probably made in Mediterranean Asia. The two sources merge in a figure found in a tomb: a nude female swimmer with a chic, Nile-style pageboy who is hitching a ride behind an ivory-headed bird.

More precious and enigmatic is a standing bronze figure of a woman, probably a goddess, her head and face still covered with the sheet gold that may once have encased her whole body in a radiant epidermis. The exhibition catalog suggests that she might be a talismanic charm intended to protect the ship from harm.

Harm came anyway, as it did to much of the Mediterranean world, around 1200 B.C. with the arrival of mysterious, sea-based invaders, who conquered most of the great maritime cities, interrupting trade and easy cultural exchange, and bringing on a dark age, a depression. The depression -- or was it severe recession? -- didn't last forever. The passion for acquisition, exchange and accumulation survived it, as it always does.

This passion is, of course, our own. It is one reason that we can, if we try, identify with the diverse people who, thousands of years ago, made the objects in this show. The globalist, all-in-it-together world model they invented is another reason. Their dark age could be one too.



For the full review, see:

HOLLAND COTTER. "Art Review; 'Beyond Babylon'; Global Exchange, Early Version." The New York Times (Fri., November 21, 2008): C23 & C28.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 20, 2008.)



The Cowen book mentioned in my initial comments, is:

Cowen, Tyler. Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.



The Paul Johnson book mentioned in my initial comments, is:

Johnson, Paul M. Heroes. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.





December 20, 2010

Government "Gave People the Crazy Juice"



BoettkePete2010-12-19.jpg "Peter J. Boettke of George Mason University is the emerging standardbearer for a revived Austrian school of economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Peter J. Boettke, shuffling around in a maroon velour track suit or faux-leather rubber shoes he calls "dress Crocs," hardly seems like the type to lead a revolution.

But the 50-year-old professor of economics at George Mason University in Virginia is emerging as the intellectual standard-bearer for the Austrian school of economics that opposes government intervention in markets and decries federal spending to prop up demand during times of crisis. Mr. Boettke, whose latest research explores people's ability to self-regulate, also is minting a new generation of disciples who are spreading the Austrian approach throughout academia, where it had long been left for dead.

To these free-market economists, government intrusion ultimately sows the seeds of the next crisis. It hampers what one famous Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter, called the process of "creative destruction."


. . .


(p. B3) It wasn't a lack of government oversight that led to the crisis, as some economists argue, but too much of it, Mr. Boettke says. Specifically, low interest rates and policies that subsidized homeownership "gave people the crazy juice," he says.




For the full story, see:

KELLY EVANS. "Spreading Hayek, Spurning Keynes; Professor Leads an Austrian Revival." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 28, 2010): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 19, 2010

Chinese Centralized Autocracy Prevents Sustained Innovation




Zheng He's voyages of exploration were mentioned in a previous blog entry.



(p. C12) The real problem with contemporary China's version of the Zheng He story is that it omits the ending. In the century after Zheng's death in 1433, emperors cut back on shipbuilding and exploration. When private merchants replaced the old tribute trade, the central authorities banned those ships as well. Building a ship with more than two masts became a crime punishable by death. Going to sea in a multimasted ship, even to trade, was also forbidden. Zheng's logs were hidden or destroyed, lest they encourage future expeditions. To the Confucians who controlled the court, writes Ms. Levathes, "a desire for contact with the outside world meant that China itself needed something from abroad and was therefore not strong and self-sufficient."

Today's globalized China has apparently abandoned that insular ideology. But it still clings to the centralized autocracy that could produce Zheng's voyages in one generation only to destroy the technology and ambition they embodied in the next. It still officially celebrates "harmony" against the unruliness and competition that create sustained innovation. Its past would be more usable if it offered models of diversity and dissent or, at the very least, sanctuary from the all-or-nothing decisions of absolutist rule.



For the full commentary, see:

VIRGINIA POSTREL. "COMMERCE & CULTURE; Recovering China's Past on Kenya's Coast." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 4, 2010): C12.





December 2, 2010

Castro's Reform: Private Restaurants May Now Have Up to 20 Seats



CubanRestaurant2010-11-14.jpg "Restaurants, . . . , offer limited menus." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A18) HAVANA--A package of capitalist reforms from President Raúl Castro is creating something new for many Cubans: uncertainty.

Since 1959, when Fidel Castro rode into Havana atop a tank, the Cuban state has promised its people the certainty of a job, food, education and health care. No one expected to get rich under the arrangement; the old joke here is that people pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay them.


. . .


On the island, where many Cubans have taken to using the word "changes," rather than "reforms," to refer to the restructuring, people remain cautious. Some suspect that once the economy recovers and small businesses begin to grow, the Cuban government will tighten the noose on entrepreneurs with stricter regulation and steep taxes.

A restaurant on Calle Animas offers an example of such frustrations. Opened in 1996 after an effort by Fidel Castro to jump-start the domestic economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has never expanded, because of a law that limits privately owned restaurants to only 12 seats. "It's the rules, you live by them," the owner says.

Prices are high--about $20 for a lunch with fish from the fixed menu--largely, the owner says, because she can't find ingredients anywhere except in underground markets, where prices are steep. Under the new rules, private restaurants will be permitted to have up to 20 seats. Still, the owner complains that state-run restaurants in the tourist district, which don't face such restrictions, have many more than 20 seats.




For the full story, see:

A WSJ Staff Reporter. "Cubans Dip a Toe in Capitalist Waters; As State Cuts Half a Million Jobs, Future Looks Murky to Some; 'We're Being Left to Fend for Ourselves'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 6, 2010): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)






November 29, 2010

School Choice "Makes Parents and Students Happier with Their Schools"




Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for 'Superman'" movie has brought renewed attention to the case for school choice. New York Times commentator Ross Douthat reasonably discusses that case:


(p. A21) Guggenheim's movie, which follows five families through the brutal charter school lotteries that determine whether their kids will escape from public "dropout factories," stirs an entirely justified outrage at the system's unfairnesses and cruelties. This outrage needs to be supplemented, though, with a dose of realism about what education reformers can reasonably hope to accomplish, and what real choice and competition would ultimately involve.

With that in mind, I have a modest proposal: Copies of Frederick Hess's recent National Affairs essay, "Does School Choice 'Work'?" should be handed out at every "Waiting for 'Superman' " showing, as a sober-minded complement to Guggenheim's cinematic call to arms.


. . .


A real marketplace in education, he suggests, probably wouldn't fund schools directly at all. It would only fund students, tying a school's budget to the number of children seeking to enroll. If there are 150 applicants for a charter school, they should all bring their funding with them -- and take it away from the failing schools they're trying to escape.

This is a radical idea, guaranteed to meet intense resistance from just about every educational interest group. But Hess makes a compelling case that it needs to be the school choice movement's long-term goal, if reformers hope to do more than just tinker around the edges of the system.

In the shorter term, meanwhile, he suggests that school choice advocates need to make a case for greater competition that doesn't depend on test scores alone. Maybe charter schools, merit pay and vouchers won't instantly turn every American child into a test-acing dynamo. But if they "only" create a more cost-effective system that makes parents and students happier with their schools -- well, that would be no small feat, and well worth fighting for.



For the full commentary, see:

ROSS DOUTHAT. "Grading School Choice." The New York Times (Mon., October 11, 2010): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 10, 2010.)


The Hess article is:

Hess, Frederick M. "Does School Choice "Work"?" National Affairs, Issue 5, FALL 2010.





November 4, 2010

Consumers Sack Noisy Green Bags



SunChips2010-10-23.jpg














"Frito-Lay aims to quell complaints about SunChips bags by dumping the new bags for the old packaging." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.



The Omaha World-Herald ran a similar article to the WSJ article quoted below, in which they noted that the noisy Sun Chip bags are made from Inego which is a plastic made from corn at a Cargill facility in Blair, Nebraska.


(p. B8) Frito-Lay, the snack giant owned by PepsiCo Inc., says it is pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks, following an outcry from consumers who complained the new bags were too noisy.

Touted by Frito-Lay as 100% compostable, the packaging, made from biodegradable plant material, began hitting store shelves in January. Sales of the multigrain snack have since tumbled.


. . .


Consumers have posted videos on the Web poking fun at the new bags and lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites. Since January, year-on-year sales of Sun Chips have decreased each month, according to SymphonyIRI, a Chicago market-research firm that tracks sales at retailers.



For the full story, see:

SUZANNE VRANICA. "Sun Chips Bag to Lose Its Crunch." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCTOBER 6, 2010): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: I noticed the "sack" pun in a commentary by Eric Felton, WSJ, 10/8/2010.)


The Omaha World-Herald article mentioned above, is:

AP. "Frito-Lay Is Pulling Most Noisy Bags from Shelves." Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, October 5, 2010): 1D & 2D.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Frito-Lay pulls most noisy bags.")





November 2, 2010

William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World"



Most-Powerful-Idea-in-the-WorldBK2010-10-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the-most-powerful-idea-in-the-world.jpg




The range of William Rosen's fascinating and useful book is very broad indeed. He is interested in THE question: why did the singular improvement in living standards known as the industrial revolution happen where and when it did?

The question is not just of historical interest---if we can figure out what caused the improvement then and there, we have a better shot at continuing to improve in the here and now.

I especially enjoyed and learned from William Rosen's discussion, examples and quotations on the difficult issue of whether patents are on balance a good or bad institution.

Deirdre McCloskey taught me that the most important part of a sentence is the last word, and the most important part of a paragraph is the last sentence, and the most important part of a chapter is the last paragraph.

Here are the last couple of sentences of Rosen's book:


(p. 324) Incised in the stone over the Herbert C. Hoover Building's north entrance is the legend that, with Lincoln's characteristic brevity, sums up the single most important idea in the world:

THE PATENT SYSTEM ADDED

THE FUEL OF INTEREST

TO THE FIRE OF GENIUS



In the next few weeks I will occasionally quote a few of the more illuminating passages from Rosen's well-written account.


Book discussed:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





October 27, 2010

Manuel "Muso" Ayau, RIP



AyauManual2010-10-23.jpg





Manuel "Muso" Ayau. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A21) Lago Amatitlán, Guatemala

High on a hill overlooking this picturesque volcanic lake, Manuel "Muso" Ayau--arguably Latin America's most influential champion of liberty in the second half of the 20th century--was laid to rest last month.


. . .


Ayau and his colleagues read voraciously and debated vociferously. "All of us were self-taught in these subjects, which would come to absorb much of our time," he recalled. Over the next half century CEES would publish over 900 pamphlets in defense of the market. Ayau's many contributions (98) had titles like "On the Morality of Government," "Planning: Rational or Absurd," and "Robinson and Friday Invent the Common Market." In October 1978 he wrote an essay in a CEES pamphlet called "Price Controls," while Milton Friedman penned "In Defense of Dumping" in the same publication.

Those pamphlets went all over the region. Peruvian Enrique Ghersi, one of the co-authors of the 1986 best-seller "The Other Path," says that one called "Ten Lessons for Underdevelopment" was "key to awakening in me the vocation and commitment to defend liberty." CEES brought to Guatemala such intellectual giants as Ludwig von Mises (1964), Friedrich Hayek (1965) and Ludwig Erhard (1968).



For the full commentary, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "Manuel Ayau: Champion of Liberty; He opened Latin America's eyes to the true source of prosperity." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 20, 2010): A21.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated SEPTEMBER 19, 2010.)



IMG_2452-2.JPGOn the left is a photo autographed by Ayau and Hayek. On the right is a bust of Hayek. Source of photo: taken by Art Diamond on April 4, 2009 at the APEE meetings held at Francisco Marroquín University (UFM) in Guatemala City.





September 21, 2010

Government Import Quotas Increase Price of Sugar in U.S.



SugarPriceGraph2010-09-01.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A1) The gap between what Americans and the rest of the world pay for sugar has reached its widest level in at least a decade, breathing new life into the battle over import quotas that prop up the price of the sweet stuff in the U.S.

For years, U.S. prices have been artificially inflated by import restrictions designed to protect American farmers. That has kept the price well above the global market.

But in recent days, the difference between the two has ballooned, giving new impetus to U.S. sugar processors and confectioners to step up their long campaign to pressure the government to increase import limits.

Attention to sugar prices, and the dwindling supply of sugar left in U.S. warehouses, has intensified in the lead up to April 1, after which the U.S. Department of Agriculture can review and change the import quotas, which now stand at 1.3 million metric tons.

Sugar users have long been vocal critics of the quotas but have failed to convince the government to change the limits. The quota has remained unchanged since it was first imposed in 1990, except for two temporary increases after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a major refinery explosion in 2008.




For the full story, see:

CAROLYN CUI. "Price Gap Puts Spice in Sugar-Quota Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 15, 2010): A1 & A20.





August 21, 2010

Feds' Sugar Quotas Lead to More Demand for Obesity-Causing Corn Syrup



CornSyrupGraph2010-08-05.jpgSource of graph: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


The federal government puts quotas on the amount of sugar that can be imported from abroad, with the result that U.S. consumers pay higher prices for sugar. One result, as taught in economics micro principles courses, is that demand increases for sugar substitutes, such as corn syrup.

Evidence is accumulating (see below) that corn syrup is worse for our health than sugar.

Michelle Obama is leading a drive to reduce obesity. If she is serious, she can begin by asking her husband to ask his congress to remove import quotas on sugar.


(p. 2A) Well-publicized research also has suggested that high fructose corn syrup poses an even greater threat of obesity and other health problems than regular table sugar.


. . .


Researchers at Princeton University made headlines earlier this year when they released the results of a study that found rats drinking a high fructose corn syrup beverage for six months showed abnormal weight gain and other factors indicating obesity. The study concluded that overconsumption of the sweetener "could very well be a major factor in the 'obesity epidemic,' which correlates with the upsurge in the use of HFCS."

A related study found that rats drinking the high fructose corn syrup solution gained more weight than rats drinking a basic sucrose solution.

"The conclusion from that is that high fructose corn syrup and sucrose are not the same after all," said Bart Hoebel, the professor who worked on the study.



For the full story, see:

Ross Boettcher and Joseph Morton. "Is Corn Syrup Slump Healthy? ConAgra, Farmers Divided." Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday, July 26, 2010): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 26, 2010 and has the title "Consumers sour on sugars.)





August 17, 2010

"Portland Sucks" Pokes Fun at Angry, Elitest Localism



BechardEric2010-08-04.jpg"Mr. Bechard came to blows when he encountered the organizer of a national culinary contest held in Portland, over the winning pig from Iowa. He objected to the pig's origin because the flier he received from the event advertised local farms and local chefs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A9) In its song "Portland Sucks," the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from the city's joblessness to its self-obsession and sometimes counterintuitive rigidity, from "angry vegans" to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself ("DIY") culture (p. A12) -- localism in the extreme.

"Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive," said Erik Gage, 21, the band's lead singer, . . .


. . .


For Mr. Bechard, it came down to this: never should a pig from Kansas or Iowa have even been entered in the contest; it only made it worse that the Iowa pig won. After all, there are Red Wattle heritage pigs raised right here in Oregon. The chefs who competed work in Oregon, and most promote locally produced food.

"I get there and I get the flier and I'm immediately sickened because I'm seeing 'local,' 'sustainable,' 'local farms,' 'local chefs,' 'local wine,' " Mr. Bechard recalled, "and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I'm looking at my friend and he said, 'Eric, just let it go.' "

Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event's Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.

Mr. Lowe, who said his leg was fractured in the fight, said Mr. Bechard "missed the big picture" . . .

"To grow you need to bring in ideas from the outside or you're just living in a closed community," he added.



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "Portland Journal; The Pride and Prejudice of 'Local'." The New York Times (Fri., July 9, 2010): A9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 8, 2010.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


WhiteFang2010-08-04.jpg"In its song, "Portland Sucks", the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from "angry vegans" to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself culture--localism in the extreme. "Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive," said Erik Gage, right, the band's lead singer. "You can argue about it, but I think one of the most important things about localism is getting along with the locals."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 28, 2010

China Exports to U.S. Are Smaller than Trade Stats Imply



ImportedContentInExportsGraph2010-05-20.gif












Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A2) The WTO says world trade fell 12.2% in 2009. On Friday, the organization predicted that trade would bounce back sharply this year, rising 9.5%.

But these figures don't tell the whole truth about trade.

According to some economists, trade in finished products--the things consumers actually buy, such as cars, computers and iPods--declined by much less than 12.2% last year. That is because as much as two-thirds of the value of goods that go into trade statistics represent intermediate parts, which are imported from other countries and used to make finished products that then get re-exported. Economists call this the "valued-added effect." If the value of imported parts were stripped out, however, global trade would have declined by between 4% and around 8% last year, economists say.

By ignoring the multinational composition of goods, conventional trade data also make trade imbalances between some trading partners seem larger than they really are.

China imports a huge quantity of parts from places like Japan and South Korea, but when those components are assembled into finished goods and shipped to the U.S., all the pieces count as Chinese exports, inflating the U.S. trade imbalance with its most polarizing trade partner.

A study by the Sloan Foundation in 2007, for example, found that only $4 of an iPod that costs $150 to produce is made in China, even though the final assembly and export occurs in China. The remaining $146 represents parts imported to China. If only the value added by manufacturers in China were counted, the real U.S.-China trade deficit would be as much as 30% lower than last year's gap of at $226.8 billion, according to a number of economists.

At the same time, the U.S. trade deficit with Japan would have been 25% higher than the $44.8 billion reported last year, because many goods that China and others export to the U.S. contain parts purchased in Japan.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Some Say Trade Numbers Don't Deliver the Goods ." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 27, 2010): A2.





June 26, 2010

Not All Entrepreneurs Believe in Property Rights



OdomBobbTitanCement2010-05-20.jpg"Titan Cement's Bob Odom in March at the site of a proposed plant near Wilmington, N.C. The company says hundreds of jobs would be created." Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.


Is it just me, or does entrepreneur Lloyd Smith, quoted below, come across as a bit arrogant in believing the government should enforce his view of what Wilmington should be like, even if that means violating the property rights of the owner of the land on which the cement plant will be built? (And even if that means that would-be janitor Ron Givens remains unemployed.)


(p. A3) WILMINGTON, N.C.--The old economy and the new economy are squaring off in this coastal city, which is having second thoughts about revisiting its roots in heavy industry.

Titan Cement Co. of Greece wants to build one of the largest U.S. cement plants on the outskirts of the city and is promising hundreds of jobs. The factory would be on the site of a cement plant that closed in 1982 and today is populated mainly by fire ants, copperhead snakes and the occasional skateboarder.

The proposed $450 million plant by Titan America LLC, Titan's U.S. unit, is welcome news to Ron Givens Sr., a 44-year-old unemployed Wilmington native. Mr. Givens's father supported 12 children while working at the former Ideal Cement plant, and Mr. Givens and two brothers have now applied for jobs with Titan. "I will apply for janitor if that's what is going to get me into that plant," he said.

But thousands of opponents have petitioned local and state politicians to block the plan. They object to the emissions from the plant and say it will scare off tourists, retirees, entrepreneurs and others who might otherwise want to live here.

An initial state environmental review has dragged on for two years, and critics of the plant have filed a lawsuit seeking to further broaden the review. The governor, amid public pressure, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to probe the plant's permitting process.

"That's their tactic: Delay, delay, and at some point Titan will leave," said Bob Odom, Titan's general manager in Wilmington, of opposition efforts.

Among the most vocal opponents is a fast-growing class of high-tech entrepreneurs and telecommuters who moved to Wilmington in recent years, drawn to the temperate climate, sandy beaches and good fishing. They argue the plant, by curbing the community's appeal, will cost more jobs and tax revenue in the long run than it produces.

"I think we can be discriminating," said Lloyd Smith, a 43-year-old entrepreneur who moved here from northern Virginia in 2001 and founded Cortech Solutions Inc., a neuroscience company with nine employees and about $5 million in annual sales.

The standoff in Wilmington reflects a broader tug-of-war across the country as communities try to kick-start employment. It is unclear how much manufacturing will power the long-term U.S. economic recovery--even in southern states that have long embraced heavy industry but have begun to feel the new economy's pull.




For the full story, see:

MIKE ESTERL. "Clash of Old, New Economy; Cement Plant Is Resisted by Some Neighbors Who Would Rather Lure High-Tech Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A3.


ServicesManufactureGraph2010-05-20.jpg


















Source of graph: scanned from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






June 24, 2010

U.S. Jobs Lost Due to Law Restricting Mexican Truck Drivers



CarbonlessPaperMachine2010-05-20.jpg"Carbonless paper comes off a coating machine at Appleton Papers in March. Mexican tariffs have hit sales." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) APPLETON, Wis.--Congress's vote last year to keep Mexican truck drivers south of the border was good news for DuWayne Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, 49 years old, owns a truck and hauls loads all over the U.S. from his home in Wisconsin. "Why should I have to compete against Third World drivers within my own borders?" Mr. Marshall asked during a break on a run to San Diego. "By closing down the borders, we are saving American jobs."

Elizabeth Villagomez, 38, isn't so sure. A single mother of two teens, she has worked at a paper plant in this community near Green Bay for 15 years. After the Mexican government retaliated against the trucking ban by slapping $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. paper, produce and other goods, orders plunged and managers began slashing shifts and overtime for the unionized work force.

"The company has done all it can to cut costs," Ms. Villagomez said. "I'm at the bottom of the list if they have layoffs. It's kind of scary, not knowing if you're going to have a job."


. . .


At Appleton Papers Inc., the fight over who can drive a truck across a border 1,600 miles away has translated into falling wages and rising anxiety.

Rick Bahr, head of the United Steelworkers union local that represents more than 500 employees at the Appleton plant, said six shifts have already been cut, cutting down on overtime.

"The battle ends up union versus union, truckers versus the paper workers," Mr. Bahr said. The national steelworkers' union has been supporting the Teamsters on the issue of Mexican trucks in the U.S.

Nearly half the company's revenue, about $420 million last year, comes from carbonless paper sales. Its largest foreign customer is Mexico. After Mexico put a 10% tariff on carbonless paper, revenue from Mexico fell to $37 million in 2009 from $46 million in 2008.

Now, more Mexican customers say they will look for alternative suppliers to avoid having to bear part of the tariff costs. Just last month a major customer told Appleton it was going to get its carbonless paper from a European producer.

Even before the tariffs were imposed, the company had seen business hit by the economic slowdown and had cut its work force in 2008 and stopped other benefits, such as reimbursing tuition and matching workers' contributions to their 401K retirement plans. Company officials said it was hard to quantify what part of the business downturn could be blamed directly on the tariffs, but they noted that Appleton sold 18% fewer tons of carbonless paper in the U.S. last year, compared with 2008. The number of tons sold to Mexican customers was down 24%.

Inside the plant, the machine that coats 4,000-pound rolls of paper to make it carbonless was idle one recent afternoon. Once run 24 hours a day, it is now used only half that time.

Kevin Bunnow, 50, a 33-year veteran of the plant, said the reduction in shifts had meant a wage cut of several thousand dollars last year.

"When elephants fight, the grass loses," he said. "It didn't take me long to realize, we're the grass."




For the full story, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Trade Dispute Divides Workers; It's 'Union vs. Union' as Ban on Mexican Trucks Cheers Drivers, Triggers Cut in Hours at Paper Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 15, 2010

Barney Frank Calls European Agriculture Policy "Ridiculous"



(p. A13) Mr. Frank said the Jeffersonian notion that farming was a superior form of life has led to subsidies and protectionism in the U.S. Similar problems exist in the European Union. Saying EU agriculture policy is "ridiculous," Frank claimed European farmers should be bought out.

The idea that the "noble yeoman" must be protected at all costs leads to protectionism, Frank said.



For the full story, see:

Neal Lipschutz. "Davos Dispatch: Frank vs. Thomas Jefferson on Farming and Protectionism." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Jan 28, 2010): A13.


A version of the brief story appeared online as:

Neal Lipschutz. "Davos Live; Frank Takes On Jefferson Over Farming." Posted Jan 28, 2010. http://blogs.wsj.com/davos/2010/01/27/frank-takes-on-jefferson-over-farming/?KEYWORDS=Thomas+Jefferson+Protectionism





June 5, 2010

Becker Believes the Fight for Liberty Can Be Won



(p. A13) My last question involves a little story. Not long before Milton Friedman's death in 2006, I tell Mr. Becker, I had a conversation with Friedman. He had just reviewed the growth of spending that was then taking place under the Bush administration, and he was not happy. After a pause during the Reagan years, Friedman had explained, government spending had once again begun to rise. "The challenge for my generation," Friedman had told me, "was to provide an intellectual defense of liberty." Then Friedman had looked at me. "The challenge for your generation is to keep it."

What was the prospect, I asked Mr. Becker, that this generation would indeed keep its liberty? "It could go either way," he replies. "Milton was right about that."

Mr. Becker recites some figures. For years, federal spending remained level at about 20% of GDP. Now federal spending has risen to 25% of GDP. On current projections, federal spending would soon rise to 28%. "That concerns me," Mr. Becker says. "It concerns me a great deal.

"But when Milton was starting out," he continues, "people really believed a state-run economy was the most efficient way of promoting growth. Today nobody believes that, except maybe in North Korea. You go to China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, even Western Europe. Most of the economists under 50 have a free-market orientation. Now, there are differences of emphasis and opinion among them. But they're oriented toward the markets. That's a very, very important intellectual victory. Will this victory have an effect on policy? Yes. It already has. And in years to come, I believe it will have an even greater impact."

The sky outside his window has begun to darken. Mr. Becker stands, places some papers into his briefcase, then puts on a tweed jacket and cap. "When I think of my children and grandchildren," he says, "yes, they'll have to fight. Liberty can't be had on the cheap. But it's not a hopeless fight. It's not a hopeless fight by any means. I remain basically an optimist."



For the full interview, see:

PETER ROBINSON. "'Basically an Optimist'--Still; The Nobel economist says the health-care bill will cause serious damage, but that the American people can be trusted to vote for limited government in November." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 27, 2010): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated March 26, 2010.)





May 31, 2010

Feds Give EnergyStar Label to Fake Products Like Feather Duster Space Heater



EnergyStarSpaceHeaterFeatherDuster2010-05-18.jpg

















"A space heater with a feather duster qualified for Energy Star . . . as an air purifier." Source of caption and photo: http://blogs.consumerreports.org/home/2010/03/gao-audit-energy-star-program-bogus-products-energy-use-consumer-reports-testing-best-appliances.html



Those who call for more government regulations to protect us, should deeply ponder the story quoted below.


(p. A16) WASHINGTON -- Does a "gasoline-powered alarm clock" qualify for the EnergyStar label, the government stamp of approval for an energy-saving product?

Like more than a dozen other bogus products submitted for approval since last June by Congressional auditors posing as companies, it easily secured the label, according to a Congressional report to be issued Friday. So did an "air purifier" that was essentially an electric space heater with a feather duster pasted on top, the Government Accountability Office said.

In a nine-month study, four fictitious companies invented by the accountability office also sought EnergyStar status for some conventional devices like dehumidifiers and heat pump models that existed only on paper. The fake companies submitted data indicating that the models consumed 20 percent less energy than even the most efficient ones on the market. Yet those applications were mostly approved without a challenge or even questions, the report said.

Auditors concluded that the EnergyStar program was highly vulnerable to fraud.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "EnergyStar Program Audit Finds Fraud Vulnerability." The New York Times (Fri., March 26, 2010): A16.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated March 25, 2010 and had the title "Audit Finds Vulnerability of EnergyStar Program.")





May 27, 2010

In Whom Can You Trust?



MedvedevKlausObamaToast2010-05-18.jpg"Russian President Medvedev, left, Czech Republic President Klaus, center, and U.S. President Obama, right, toast the treaty's signing on Thursday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article cited below.


In the photo above, which of these three men would you want to sip champagne with? (Hint: the libertarian is in the middle.)


The photo accompanies this article:

JONATHAN WEISMAN. "Russia Sets Limits on Iran Sanctions." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, APRIL 9, 2010): A8.

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "U.S., Russia Focus on Iran Sanctions.")





May 22, 2010

After Health Care Plan, Are There Any Limits to What the Government Can Mandate?



(p. A10) As they constructed the requirement that Americans have health insurance, Democrats in Congress took pains to make their bill as constitutionally impregnable as possible.

But despite the health care law's elaborate scaffolding, attorneys general and governors from 20 states, all but one of them Republicans, have now joined as confident litigants in a bid to topple its central pillar. In the process, they hope to present the Supreme Court with a landmark opportunity to define the limits of federal authority, perhaps for generations.

In the seven weeks since the legislation passed, at least a dozen lawsuits have been filed in federal courts to challenge it, according to the Justice Department. But the case that could carry the most weight, and may be on the fastest track in the most advantageous venue, is the one filed in Pensacola, Fla., by state officials, just minutes after President Obama signed the bill.

Some legal scholars, including some who normally lean to the left, believe the states have identified the law's weak spot and devised a credible theory for eviscerating it.

The power of their argument lies in questioning whether Congress can regulate inactivity -- in this case by levying a tax penalty on those who do not obtain health insurance. If so, they ask, what would theoretically prevent the government from mandating all manner of acts in the national interest, say regular exercise or buying an American car?


. . .


Jonathan Turley, who teaches at George Washington University Law School, said that if forced to bet, he would predict that the courts would uphold the health care law. But Mr. Turley said that the federal government's case was far from open-and-shut, and that he found the arguments against the mandate compelling.

"There are few cases in the history of the court system that have a more significant assertion of authority by the government," said Mr. Turley, a civil libertarian who acknowledged being strange bedfellows with the conservative theorists behind the lawsuit. "This case, more than any other, may give the court sticker shock in terms of its impact on federalism."




For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK. "Florida Suit Rated Best As Challenge to Care Law." The New York Times (Tues., May 11, 2010): A10 & A11.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 10, 2010 and has the slightly different title "Florida Suit Poses a Challenge to Health Care Law.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 18, 2010

Housing Crumbles Under Portugal's Rent Control Laws



Stigler and Friedman's only co-authored paper showed the flaws in rent controls. Although excellent, the paper apparently is seldom read in Portugal (or New York City).


(p. B3) LISBON -- José Gago da Graça owns a Portuguese real estate company and has two identical apartments in the same building in the heart of Lisbon. One rents for €2,750 a month, the other for almost 40 times less, €75.

The discrepancy is a result of 100-year-old tenancy rules, which have frozen the rent of hundreds of thousands of tenants and protected them against eviction in Portugal. Mr. Gago da Graça has been in a lawsuit for a decade over the €75-a-month apartment, since his tenant died in 2000 and her son took over and refused to alter his mother's contract, which dates to the 1960s.

"We're the only country in Europe that doesn't have a free housing market and that's just amazing," Mr. Gago da Graça said.

Rules like these, which economists also blame for contributing to Portugal's private debt load, help explain why this nation of 11 million has followed Greece and Spain into investors' line of fire.


. . .


The . . . rules helped protect tenants, but also led to a chronic shortage of rental housing. This, in turn, persuaded a new generation of Portuguese to tap recently into low interest rates and buy instead -- often in new suburbs -- thereby exacerbating the country's mortgage debt and leaving Portugal with one of Europe's lowest savings rates, of 7.5 percent.

"This system of controlled rents is a major problem for the Portuguese economy, but we will probably be waiting for a generational change to have room for institutional reform," said Cristina Casalinho, chief economist of Banco BPI, a Portuguese bank. Beyond fueling housing credit, she added, the system "basically stops flexibility and mobility in the labor market because you can perhaps find a new job in another city but it will then be very difficult to rent a house there."


. . .


"Nobody has had the political courage to change something like these rental laws and I don't see the situation changing in the short term, even if I don't think the Portuguese tend to react as dramatically as the Greeks," said Salvador Posser, who runs a family-owned company renting out construction equipment.

Besides distorting pricing in the housing market, the tenancy rules have left physical scars. Portugal's historic city centers are dotted with abandoned and crumbling houses that are either subject to a court dispute or have rental income that cannot cover repair and maintenance costs.

"This economic crisis is clearly keeping our very slow courts even more occupied because of the amount of conflict that it is creating between landlords and tenants," said Menezes Leitão, a law professor and president of PLA, a property owners association.

Mr. Posser cited a recent estimate that 8 percent of the buildings in central Lisbon were deserted, in large part because of rent-related obstacles. In Porto, the second-largest city, less than 10 percent of inner-city housing is available for rent, which has helped shrink the population by a third over three decades.

"We're still losing about 30 inhabitants a day," said Rui Moreira, president of the Porto Commercial Association.




For the full story, see:

RAPHAEL MINDER. "Like Spain, Portugal Hopes to Make Cuts, but It Is Mired in Structural Weakness." The New York Times (Fri., May 14, 2010): B3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 13, 2010 and has the title "Portugal Follows Spain on Austerity Cuts.")

(Note: ellipses added.)


The original source of the Friedman and Stigler article (in pamphlet form) was:

Friedman, Milton, and George J. Stigler. Roofs or Ceilings? The Current Housing Problem. Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: Foundation for Economic Education, 1946.





May 1, 2010

Pear Growers Suffer From Unintended Consequences of Land-Use Law



PearGrower2010-04-30.jpg""We hit the wall," the 63-year-old grower says. . . . , Mr. Naumes showed off a Bosc pear." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A3) MEDFORD, Ore.--Farmers say conditions in southern Oregon's Rogue River Valley are among the best in the world for raising pears. Yet for the past decade, acreage planted in pears has been halved, as has the number of growers.

Land-use regulations designed to maintain open space and preserve farmland are to blame, pear growers here say.

It is a paradox few foresaw in 1973, when Oregon passed Senate Bill 100. That measure, considered a landmark of the budding environmental movement, put Oregon on the map as the "greenest" of U.S. states by placing zoning decisions with a central agency, outside the purview of local authorities.

The law had a huge impact in restricting suburban sprawl throughout the state, preserving environmentally critical habitats.

But since the mid-1990s, more than 3,500 acres planted in pears have gone out of production here. From 87 pear farms operating in 1992, only 48 remain.


. . .


The credit crunch and consumers unwilling to splurge for $30 boxes of pears are behind much of the pain, growers say. Yet they insist their real headache is their inability to raise capital by selling land at top value, which they say would let them buy farmland further from residential areas. That is because land-use laws say their orchards must remain in agriculture.

"It's the worst case of unintended consequences you can imagine," says David D. Lowry, chief executive of Associated Fruit Co., the smallest of Medford's Big Three, who fears his business could be the next to close. Like others, he has plenty of land to sell, but no one willing to buy as long as it is zoned for farming only.



For the full story, see:

JOEL MILLMAN. "Oregon Pear Growers Sour on Land Law; Farmers Say Landmark 1970s Measure Aimed at Conserving Agricultural Areas Limits Their Ability to Nurture Investment." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 2, 2010): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


PearBarGraph2010-04-30.gif






















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






April 30, 2010

FDR's NRA Price-Fixing Helped Big Firms "Ruin" Little Firms



(p. 50) Among those damaged was Carl Pharis, the general manager of Pharis Tire and Rubber Company in Newark, Ohio. Pharis employed over one thousand people, mainly in the Newark area. His company grew because, in Pharis's words, "we would make the best possible rubber tire and sell it at the lowest price consistent with a modest but safe profit." He and his employees had survived the grim Great Depression years because they had lower prices, a good tire, and solid support in central Ohio from buyers who knew the company because it was local and because it priced its tires lower than the larger firms. As Pharis said, "It is obvious that they cannot make as good a tire as we make and sell it at the price at which we can sell at a profit:"

Then came the NRA with its high fixed prices for tires. As Pharis said, "Since the industry began to formulate a Code under the N. R. A., in June, 1933, we have at all times opposed any form of price-fixing. We believe it to be illegal and we know it to be oppressive." He added, "We quite understand that, if we were compelled to sell our tires at exactly the same price as they sell their tires, their great national consumer acceptance would soon capture our purchasers and ruin us. Since we have so little of this consumer publicity when compared with them, our only hope is in our ability (p. 51) to make as good or a better tire than they make and to sell it at a less[er] price. . . . "

Since Pharis and other small companies were no longer allowed to sell tires at discounted rates, Goodyear and Firestone "could go out just as they have gone out," Pharis noted, "and say to prospective customers that, since they had to pay the same price, it would be wiser if they bought the nationally advertised lines."

In a nutshell, Pharis put it this way: "The Government deliberately raised our prices up towards the prices at which the big companies wanted to sell, at which they could make a profit, . . . where more easily, with much less loss, they could come down and 'get us' and where, bound by N. R. A. decrees, we could not use lower prices, although we could have lowered them and still made a decent profit."

Pharis was on the verge of closing down and having to lay off all of his one thousand employees. His company, with its low prices and quality tires, could weather the Great Depression, but not the NRA. "If we were asking favors from the Government," Pharis concluded, "there would be little justice in our complaints. . . . And so, if the big fellows, with their too-heavy investments and high costs of manufacturing and selling, cannot successfully compete with us little fellows without Government aid, they should quit."




Source:

Folsom, Burton W., Jr. New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America. New York: Threshold Editions, 2008.

(Note: ellipses in original.)





April 28, 2010

Government Quotas Raise U.S. Sugar Price from 17 Cents a Pound to 31 Cents a Pound



Every semester in my principles of microeconomics course, I show the students a wonderful old 60 Minutes segment on the U.S. government's sugar quotas program. I tell them, alas, that the policy is still the same. Below is recent evidence:


(p. C1) . . . , U.S. sugar farmers have successfully blocked efforts to significantly increase imports, assuring them of little price competition.

Restrictions on imports have caused American users to pay much more than the rest of the world for sugar. That gap recently blew out to its widest in a decade.

Mr. Vilsack's comments raised the prospect of increased demand for global sugar and drove prices up 2.7%, or 0.44 cent, to 16.98 cents a pound on ICE Futures U.S. Prices for U.S. domestic sugar dropped 2.1%, to 30.8 cents a pound. That narrowed the gap between the two to 13.82 cents a pound.




For the full story, see:

CAROLYN CUI and BILL TOMSON , ILAN BRAT. "USDA Says It May Relax Sugar Quotas For This Year." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., APRIL 14, 2010): C1 & C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the title of the online version of the article is "USDA Says It May Relax Sugar Quotas.")





April 26, 2010

Much of the Value of "Chinese" Imports is Added Outside of China



(p. A17) In a 2006 paper, Stanford University economist Lawrence Lau found that Chinese value-added accounted for about 37% of the total value of U.S. imports from China. In 2008, using a different methodology, U.S. International Trade Commission economist Robert Koopman, along with economists Zhi Wang and Shang-jin Wei, found the figure to be closer to 50%. In other words, despite all the hand-wringing about the value of imports from China, one-half to nearly two thirds of that value is not even Chinese. Instead, it reflects the efforts of workers and capital in other countries, including the U.S. In overstating Chinese value by 100% to 200%, the official U.S. import statistics are a poor proxy for job loss.

Seldom noted in the union-controlled discussion of trade on Capitol Hill is that the jobs of large numbers of American workers depend on imports from China. The proliferation of transnational production and supply chains has joined higher-value-added U.S. manufacturing, design, and R&D activities with lower-value manufacturing and assembly operations in China.

According to a widely cited 2007 study by Greg Linden, Kenneth L. Kraemer and Jason Dedrick of the University of California, Irvine, each Apple iPod costs $150 to produce. But only about $4 of that cost is Chinese value-added. Most of the value comes from components made in other countries, including the U.S. Yet when those iPods are imported from China, where they are snapped together, the full $150 is counted as an import from China, adding to the trade deficit and inflating EPI's job-loss figures.

In reality, those imported iPods support thousands of U.S. jobs up the value chain--in engineering, design, finance, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, retail and elsewhere. A 25% tariff on imports from China would penalize the non-Chinese companies and workers who create most of the iPod's value.




For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL IKENSON. "China Trade and American Jobs; Studies suggest that one-half to two-thirds of the value of 'Chinese' imports is added in other countries, including the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 2, 2010): A17.





April 24, 2010

Liberal Democrat Hesburgh Condems Obama Administration's Killing School Vouchers



My Chicago professor Milton Friedman proposed educational vouchers in Capitalism and Freedom, a great book based on lectures that Friedman delivered several decades ago at Wabash College at the invitation of my first economics professor, Ben Rogge.

Friedman's belief was that parents generally care about their children, and will seek a good education for them, if provided the means to choose among credible alternatives.

Special interests are arrayed against this idea, but that does not mean that Friedman was wrong.

Another distinguished educator who supports vouchers (see below) is Father Hesburgh, who for many years was President of Notre Dame in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.


(p. A19) If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country's race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the "civil rights issue of our generation." Millions of our children--disproportionately poor and minority--remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.


. . .


. . . , I was deeply disappointed when Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) successfully inserted a provision in last year's omnibus spending bill that ended one of the best efforts to give these struggling children the chance to attend a safe and decent school.

That effort is called the Opportunity Scholarship program. Since 2004 it has allowed thousands of children in Washington, D.C., to escape one of the worst public school systems in the nation by providing them with scholarships of up to $7,500.

Despite its successes, it is now closing down. On Tuesday the Senate voted against a measure introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) that would have extended the program. Throughout this process Mr. Duncan's Education Department and the White House raised no protest.


. . .


I know that some consider voucher programs such as the Opportunity Scholarships a right-wing affair. I do not accept that label. This program was passed with the bipartisan support of a Republican president and Democratic mayor. The children it serves are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They are the future of our nation, and they deserve better from our nation's leaders.

I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don't pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn't have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice stand.




For the full commentary, see:

THEODORE M. HESBURGH. "A Setback for Educational Civil Rights; I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice of killing D.C. vouchers stand." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 18, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated MARCH 17, 2010.)


Reference to the Friedman book mentioned above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.





April 19, 2010

Underwater Power Cables Maximize Profits and Improve Environment



TransBayCableSanFrancisco2010-04-17.jpg"Laying line in San Francisco for the Trans Bay Cable project, which submerged 33 miles of cable." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Generating 20 percent of America's electricity with wind, as recent studies proposed, would require building up to 22,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines. But the huge towers and unsightly tree-cutting that these projects require have provoked intense public opposition.

Recently, though, some companies are finding a remarkably simple answer to that political problem. They are putting power lines under water, in a string of projects that has so far provoked only token opposition from environmentalists and virtually no reaction from the larger public.


. . .


(p. B7) . . . , the underwater approach solves some intractable problems. In San Francisco, for example, old power plants that burn natural gas are about to be retired because a new transmission company has succeeded in running a line 33 miles across the San Francisco Bay.

Mr. Stern said his company's Neptune Cable, which runs from Sayreville, N.J., to Levittown, N.Y., on Long Island, now carries 22 percent of Long Island's electricity. His company is trying to complete a deal for a cable that would run from Ridgefield, N.J., to a Consolidated Edison substation on West 49th Street in Manhattan.

Those two cables were not motivated primarily by environmental goals -- they are meant to connect cheap generation to areas where power prices are high. Mr. Stern's company, PowerBridge, is now considering two renewable energy projects, however. One cable would connect proposed wind farms on the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Lanai to the urban center on Oahu, and another would bring wind power from Maine along the Atlantic coast to Boston.




For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "A Power Line Runs Through It; Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers." The New York Times (Weds., March 17, 2010): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version is dated March 16, 2010 and has the shorter title "Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers.")





March 31, 2010

New York Forces Entrepreneur to Subsidize His Competitor


(p. A24) Last year, the State Legislature levied a new tariff on most of the businesses in the New York City region. The metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax requires employers to set aside 34 cents for every $100 in payroll costs, and hand the money over to a battered, barely breathing patient on the state's fiscal operating table: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The tax has not worked out so well. So far, its projected revenues are coming in about $400 million below the state's estimates -- which, in part, will mean reduced subway and bus service for New Yorkers starting this summer. It has also prompted a furious backlash from suburban officials who resent bankrolling an agency that, they say, benefits the city at the expense of its surrounding counties.

And then there is William Schoolman, 69, amateur activist, self-described ''prototypical entrepreneur,'' and proprietor of the Hampton Luxury Liner bus fleet. In December, he filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court claiming the tax is unconstitutional and demanding its repeal. The reason?

''Competition,'' Mr. Schoolman said in a recent telephone interview, anger rising in his voice. ''This is the first time that I ever had to pay a subsidy directly to my competitor. That's the thing that really bothers me.''



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM. "Suing Over a Transit Tax, in the Name of Competition." The New York Times (Tues., February 16, 2010): A24.





March 30, 2010

Market Entrepreneurs Versus Political Entrepreneurs



HillJamesRailroad2010-03-16.jpg"James J. Hill (center) built a great railroad on his own dime." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) Let's bring back the robber barons.

"Robber baron" became a term of derision to generations of American students after many earnest teachers made them read Matthew Josephson's long tome of the same name about the men whose enterprise drove the American industrial age from 1861 to 1901.

Josephson's cast of pillaging villains was comprehensive: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Astor, Jay Gould, James J. Hill. His table of contents alone shaped impressions of those times: "Carnegie as 'business pirate'.'' "Henry Frick, baron of coke." "Terrorism in Oil." "The sack of California."

I say, bring 'em back, and the sooner the better. What we need, a lot more than a $1,000 tax credit, are industries no one has thought of before. We need vision, vitality and commercial moxie. This government is draining it away.

The antidote to Josephson's book is a small classic by Hillsdale College historian Burton W. Folsom called "The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America" (Young America's Foundation). Prof. Folsom's core insight is to divide the men of that age into market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs.

Market entrepreneurs like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Hill built businesses on product and price. Hill was the railroad magnate who finished his transcontinental line without a public land grant. Rockefeller took on and beat the world's dominant oil power at the time, Russia. Rockefeller innovated his way to energy primacy for the U.S.

Political entrepreneurs, by contrast, made money back then by gaming the political system. Steamship builder Robert Fulton acquired a 30-year monopoly on Hudson River steamship traffic from, no surprise, the New York legislature. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with the slogan "New Jersey must be free," broke Fulton's government-granted monopoly.



For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL HENNINGER. "Bring Back the Robber Barons." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 4, 2010): A17.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated MARCH 3, 2010.)


The full reference for Folsom's book is:

Folsom, Burton W. The Myth of the Robber Barons. 4th ed: Young America's Foundation, 2003.





March 26, 2010

United States Exports "High-Value-Added Services that Support Well-Paying Jobs"



ServiceImportsExportsGraph2010-03-16.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A23) Exports of American services have jumped by 84 percent since 2000, while the growth rate among goods was 66 percent. America trails both China and Germany in sales of goods abroad, but ranks No. 1 in global services by a wide margin. And while trade deficits in goods have been enormous -- $840 billion in 2008 -- the country runs a large and growing surplus in services: we exported $144 billion more in services than we imported, dwarfing the surpluses of $75 billion in 2000 and $58 billion in 1992.

Equally important, Commerce Department data show that the United States is a top-notch competitor in many of the high-value-added services that support well-paying jobs.


. . .


. . . , will Washington offer tax breaks or other export incentives? While businesses may clamor for them, these would be a setback for freer trade -- after all, for years it has been America that has been hectoring other countries to end their subsidies to exporters. Will Washington try to pick winners in the global marketplace, like green energy? More often than not, this kind of industrial policy wastes money, fosters inefficiency and creates few permanent jobs.



For the full story, see:

W. MICHAEL COX. "An Order of Prosperity, to Go." The New York Times (Weds., February 17, 2010): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 28, 2010

Chamber's Donohue Promotes Free Enterprise



DonohueTomChamberPresident2010-01-27.jpg




Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohoe. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A13) The White House's war on the Chamber has come just as the group is launching a new $100 million campaign promoting free enterprise.

"We want to encourage and promote and educate and get a bunch of enthusiasm behind . . . the free enterprise system with free capital markets and free trade and the ability to fail and fall right on your ass and get up and do it again!" he says.

The belief in that system, Mr. Donohue says, has been eroded by the recession and subsequent criticism of the free market. "The purpose of this is to get out of the doldrums! Quit sulking and worrying." He hopes the campaign will remind Americans that "We created 20 million jobs in the '90s, we can do it again. We don't have to do it exactly like that--Adam Smith didn't have a BlackBerry--but we ought to pay attention to what made it work."



For the full interview, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Tom Donohue; Business Fights Back; His organization under attack by the White House, the president of the Chamber of Commerce stands by his defense of free enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 24, 2009): A13.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 23, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis in original.)





February 18, 2010

Socialist Chavez's Thugs Destroy Venezuelans' Economic Freedom



VenezuelanNationalGuardPriceInspection2010-01-24.jpg "A member of the National Guard stands guard during a inspection of prices at a store in La Guaira outside Caracas Jan. 12." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) CARACAS -- President Hugo Chávez's decision to devalue Venezuela's currency in order to shore up government finances could backfire on the populist leader if the move leads to substantially higher prices and extends an economic downturn.

Just days after Mr. Chávez cut the value of the "strong bolivar" currency, some businesses were marking up prices. Shoppers jammed stores to stock up on goods before the increases took hold.

Amelia Soto, a 52-year-old housewife waited in line at a Caracas drugstore to buy 23 tubes of toothpaste. "Everywhere I hear that prices are going to skyrocket so I want to buy as much as I can now," she said.

Airlines have doubled fares; government officials said they were looking into reports that large retail chains were also increasing prices.


. . .


The price increases are setting the stage for confrontations with authorities following Mr. Chávez's orders to shut down retailers that raise prices.


. . .


The higher prices for consumer goods represent a huge liability for a country facing 27% inflation, one of the highest levels in the world.




For the full story, see:

DARCY CROWE and DAN MOLINSKI. "Prices in Venezuela Surge After Devaluation." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 13, 2010): A8.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Venezuelans Rush to Shop as Stores Increase Prices.")

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 10, 2010

EU's Farm Subsidy Program Creates Fraud and High Prices



SugarSubsidyTable2010-01-27.gif Source of the table: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Call it the mystery of the European sugar triangle.

It began when Belgian customs officials examined shipping records for dozens of giant tanker trucks that outlined an odd, triangular journey across Europe. The trucks, each carrying 22 tons of liquid sugar, swung through eight nations and covered a driving distance of roughly 2,500 miles from a Belgian sugar refinery to Croatia and back -- instead of taking the most direct, 900-mile route.

Along the way the trucks made a brief stop in Kaliningrad, a grim and bustling Russian border checkpoint on the Baltic Sea.

Suddenly the sugar triangle made sense to them. Because Russia, and not Croatia, was listed as the intended destination, the shipments qualified for valuable special payments known as export rebates from the European Union's farm subsidy program.

Some 200 shipments roared along this route over a three-year-period, investigators say, earning 3 million euros in refunds (about $4.5 million) for the Belgian sugar maker Beneo-Orafti. In the spring, dozens of Belgian and European investigators raided the company's offices, freezing half of its refunds and initiating an investigation that could cost the company the remaining 1.5 million euros, and possibly more.

In the sprawling European subsidy program -- which lavishes more than 50 billion euros ($75 billion at current exchange rates) a year in agricultural aid -- no commodity is more susceptible to fraud, chicanery and rule-bending, experts say, than simple household sugar.

(p. B4) Across Europe there are some 2.5 million acres of beet fields that will produce 16.7 million metric tons of sugar this year for an industry worth 7 billion euros. Last year the European Union spent 475 million euros in price supports for sugar, including export subsidies. Then it spent another 1.3 billion euros on restructuring aid to reform a subsidy regime so lavish that it even prompted cold-weather Finland to start producing more sugar.

Sugar producers across the Continent cashed in -- from Italy, where Italia Zuccheri collected more than 139 million euros, to France, where a handful of sugar producers received 128.5 million.

With this much money at stake, critics and some analysts say, the sugar subsidy system is like a cookie jar waiting to be pilfered.


. . .


"There's a whole world of commercial fraud, which goes under the radar for most people," said James Byrne, a law professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Virginia who has studied the global sugar trade. "It is a parallel universe that mimics the real world of commerce and finance."



For the full story, see:

STEPHEN CASTLE and DOREEN CARVAJAL. "Subsidies Spur Fraud In European Sugar." The New York Times (Tues., October 27, 2009): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Fraud Plagues Sugar Subsidy System in Europe" and has the date October 26, 2009. The online version reverses the order of the authors' names, and differs significantly in the first several paragraphs, mainly stylistically, but also somewhat in substance. The version quoted here is the online version.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


SugarFraudMap2010-01-27.jpg


SugarPriceTable2010-01-27.gif

Source of both the map and the table: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





February 4, 2010

Economic Freedom Declined in United States in 2009



IndexOfEconomicFreedom2010.gif





















Source of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A17) The United States is losing ground to its major competitors in the global marketplace, according to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom released today by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. This year, of the world's 20 largest economies, the U.S. suffered the largest drop in overall economic freedom. Its score declined to 78 from 80.7 on the 0 to 100 Index scale.

The U.S. lost ground on many fronts. Scores declined in seven of the 10 categories of economic freedom. Losses were particularly significant in the areas of financial and monetary freedom and property rights. Driving it all were the federal government's interventionist responses to the financial and economic crises of the last two years, which have included politically influenced regulatory changes, protectionist trade restrictions, massive stimulus spending and bailouts of financial and automotive firms deemed "too big to fail." These policies have resulted in job losses, discouraged entrepreneurship, and saddled America with unprecedented government deficits.


. . .


The abiding lesson of the last few years is that the battle for liberty requires perpetual vigilance. President Obama professes desire to foster prosperity, environmental protection, poverty reduction and better health care. How ironic, then, that his economic proposals so consistently ignore or even undermine the one system--free enterprise capitalism--that has proven best able to achieve those goals.

Now America's once high-flying economy is barely crawling forward. Americans deserve better, and they can do better--as soon as they reverse course and start regaining the economic freedom that made America the most prosperous country in the world.




For the full story, see:

TERRY MILLER. "The U.S. Isn't as Free as It Used to Be; Canada now boasts North America's freest economy." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 20, 2010): A17.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated JANUARY 19, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 15, 2010

The Decline of Motive Power in Socialist Venezuela



VenezuelaEnergy2010-01-10.jpg"In Venezuela, which faces power shortages, blackouts have spurred protests like this demonstration in Caracas." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) CARACAS -- Venezuela, a country with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as massive rushing waterways that cut through its immense rain forests, strangely finds itself teetering on the verge of an energy crisis.


. . .


The government has forced draconian electricity rationing on certain sectors, which could make matters worse for an economy already racked by recession. Critics say the socialist government is trying to snuff out capitalist-driven sectors with the rationing, while allowing government-favored industries in good standing to continue with business as usual.

Shopping malls, which analysts say use less than 1% of the power consumed in Venezuela, have nonetheless been a main focus for the government.

Malls have been told most stores can only be open between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"In a certain way, Chávez is attacking capitalism with the orders on shopping malls," said Emilio Grateron, mayor of Caracas's Chacao municipality, a bastion of those opposed to Mr. Chávez. "By limiting the hours we can go to malls, he is trying to slowly take away liberties, to create absolute control over things such as shopping."

In Venezuela, whose capital Caracas is consistently ranked among the world's most dangerous cities, residents see shopping malls as one of few havens in the country.

The government's rationing efforts are also hitting metal producers. Their production has already been cut as much as 40%. Mr. Rodriguez, the electricity minister, said they may have to be completely closed to save more electricity.




For the full story, see:

DAN MOLINSKI. "Energy-Rich Venezuela Faces Power Crisis." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 8, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 7, 2010

"Today You Can Be What You Want to Be"



CzechDemonstrator1989-11-25.jpg"In this Nov. 25, 1989, file photo a Czech demonstrator overcome by emotion after hearing about the resignation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Prague." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A16) . . . Mirek Kodym, 56, a ponytailed former security guard who published illegal political and literary tracts before 1989 and marched on Tuesday as he had 20 years ago, said the Velvet Revolution had been a seminal moment in which a beleaguered nation had finally tasted freedom.

"Today you can be what you want to be and do what you want to do, and no one will interfere," he said. "The nostalgia for the past is a stupid thing."




For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "Celebrating Revolution With Roots in a Rumor." The New York Times (Weds., November 18, 2009): A16.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 17, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)



CzechVelvetRevolutionCandles2009-12-20.jpg"The former Czech Republic's president Vaclav Havel, background center, with a red scarf, placed a candle at a commemoration of the so-called Velvet Revolution, in Prague on Tuesday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 30, 2009

"When the Sons of the Communists Themselves Wanted to Become Capitalists and Entrepreneurs"



JanicekJosefPlasticPeople2009-12-19.jpg"Josef Janicek, 61, was on the keyboard for a concert in Prague last week by the band Plastic People of the Universe." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) PRAGUE -- It has been called the Velvet Revolution, a revolution so velvety that not a single bullet was fired.

But the largely peaceful overthrow of four decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia that kicked off on Nov. 17, 1989, can also be linked decades earlier to a Velvet Underground-inspired rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. Band members donned satin togas, painted their faces with lurid colors and wrote wild, sometimes angry, incendiary songs.

It was their refusal to cut their long, dank hair; their willingness to brave prison cells rather than alter their darkly subversive lyrics ("peace, peace, peace, just like toilet paper!"); and their talent for tapping into a generation's collective despair that helped change the future direction of a nation.

"We were unwilling heroes who just wanted to play rock 'n' roll," said Josef Janicek, 61, the band's doughy-faced keyboard player, who bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon and still sports the grungy look that once helped get him arrested. "The Bolsheviks understood that culture and music has a strong influence on people, and our refusal to compromise drove them insane."


. . .


In 1970, the Communist government revoked the license for the Plastics to perform in public, forcing the band to go underground. In February 1976, the Plastic People organized a music festival in the small town of Bojanovice -- dubbed "Magor's Wedding" -- featuring 13 other bands. One month later, the police set out to silence the musical rebels, arresting dozens. Mr. Janicek was jailed for six months; Mr. Jirous and other band members got longer sentences.

Mr. Havel, already a leading dissident, was irate. The trial of the Plastic People that soon followed became a cause célèbre.

Looking back on the Velvet Revolution they helped inspire, however indirectly, Mr. Janicek recalled that on Nov. 17, 1989, the day of mass demonstrations, he was in a pub nursing a beer. He argued that the revolution had been an evolution, fomented by the loosening of Communism's grip under Mikhail Gorbachev and the overwhelming frustration of ordinary people with their grim, everyday lives. "The Bolsheviks knew the game was up," he said, "when the sons of the Communists themselves wanted to become capitalists and entrepreneurs."




For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "Czechs' Velvet Revolution Paved by Plastic People." The New York Times (Mon., November 16, 2009): A10.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 15, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 16, 2009

Chocolate Evidence of Early Indian Trade



CacaoJarsInRuins2009-11-11.JPG"Tests of jars found in the ruins of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico confirmed the presence of theobromine, a cacao marker." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) ALBUQUERQUE -- For years Patricia Crown puzzled over the cylindrical clay jars found in the ruins at Chaco Canyon, the great complex of multistory masonry dwellings set amid the arid mesas of northwestern New Mexico. They were utterly unlike other pots and pitchers she had seen.

Some scholars believed that Chaco's inhabitants, ancestors of the modern Pueblo people of the Southwest, had stretched skins across the cylinders and used them for drums, while others thought they held sacred objects.

But the answer is simpler, though no less intriguing, Ms. Crown asserts in a paper published Tuesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the jars were used for drinking liquid chocolate. Her findings offer the first proof of chocolate use in North America north of the Mexican border.

How did the ancient Pueblos come to have cacao beans in the desert, more than 1,200 miles from the nearest cacao trees? Ms. Crown, a University of New Mexico anthropologist, noted that maize, beans and corn spread to the Southwest after being domesticated in southern Mexico. Earlier excavations at Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the Chaco complex, had found scarlet macaws and other imported items.




For the full story, see:

MICHAEL HAEDERLE. "Mystery of Ancient Pueblo Jars Is Solved." The New York Times (Weds., February 4, 2009): A14.

(Note: the online version is dated Tues., Feb. 3rd.)


CacaoJar2009-11-11.jpg











"Researchers believe ancient Pueblos used the jars to drink chocolate." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 14, 2009

Gilder's Microcosm Tells the Story of the Entrepreneurs Who Made Personal Computers Possible



MicrocosmBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://images.indiebound.com/923/705/9780671705923.jpg




Many years ago Telecosm was the first George Gilder book that I read; I enjoyed it for its over-the-top verbal exuberance in detailing, praising and predicting the progress of the then-new broadband technologies. I bought his earlier Microcosm at about the same time, but didn't get around to reading it because I assumed it would be a dated read, dealing in a similar manner with the earlier personal computer (PC) technology.

In the last year or so I have read Gilder's Wealth and Poverty and Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise. There is some interesting material in Gilder's famous Wealth and Poverty, which has sometimes been described as one of the main intellectual manifestos of the Reagan administration. But Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise has become my favorite Gilder book (so far).

In each chapter, the main modus operandi of that book is to present a case study of a recent entrepreneur, with plenty of interpretation of the lessons to be learned about why entrepreneurship is important to the economy, what sort of personal characteristics are common in entrepreneurs, and what government policies encourage or discourage entrepreneurs.

In that book I read that the original plan had been to include several chapters on the entrepreneurs who had built the personal computer revolution. But the original manuscript grew to unwieldy size, and so the personal computer chapters became the basis of the book Microcosm.

So Microcosm moved to the top of my "to-read" list, and turned out to be a much less-dated book than I had expected.

Microcosm does for the personal computer entrepreneurs what Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise did for a broader set of entrepreneurs.

In the next few weeks, I will occasionally quote a few especially important examples or thought-provoking observations from Microcosm.




Reference to Gilder's MIcrocosm:

Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.


Other Gilder books mentioned:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992. (The first edition was called simply The Spirit of Enterprise, and appeared in 1984.)

Gilder, George. Telecosm: The World after Bandwidth Abundance. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

Gilder, George. Wealth and Poverty. 3rd ed. New York: ICS Press, 1993.





December 8, 2009

"Market Wu" Annoys Maoists and Corrupt Bureaucrats



WuJinnglian2009-10-24.jpg "Wu Jinglian helped to create China's market economy, and now he is defending it against conservative hardliners in the Communist Party." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) AT 79, Wu Jinglian is considered China's most famous economist.

In the 1980s and '90s, he was an adviser to China's leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. He helped push through some of this country's earliest market reforms, paving the way for China's spectacular rise and earning him the nickname "Market Wu."

Last year, China's state-controlled media slapped him with a new moniker: spy.

Mr. Wu has not been interrogated, charged or imprisoned. But the fact that a state newspaper, The People's Daily, among others, was allowed to publish Internet rumors alleging that he had been detained on suspicions of being a spy for the United States hints that he is annoying some very important people in the government.

He denied the allegations, and soon after they were published, China's cabinet denied that an investigation was under way.

But in a country that often jails critics, Mr. Wu seems to be testing the limits of what Beijing deems permissible. While many economists argue that China's growth model is flawed, rarely does a prominent Chinese figure, in the government or out, speak with such candor about flaws he sees in China's leadership.

Mr. Wu -- who still holds a research post at an institute affiliated with the State Council, China's cabinet -- has white hair and an amiable face, and he appears frail. But his assessments are often harsh. In books, speeches, interviews and television appearances, he warns that conservative hardliners in the Communist Party have gained influence in the government and are trying to dismantle the market reforms he helped formulate.

He complains that business tycoons and corrupt officials have hijacked the economy and manipulated it for their own ends, a system he calls crony capitalism. He has even called on Beijing to establish a British-style democracy, arguing that political reform is inevitable.

Provocative statements have made him a kind of dissident economist here, and revealed the sharp debates behind the scenes, at the highest levels of the Communist Party, about the direction of China's half-market, half-socialist economy.

In many ways, it is a continuation of the debate that has been raging for three decades: What role should the government play in China's hybrid economy?

Mr. Wu says the spy rumors were "dirty tricks" employed by his critics to discredit him.

"I have two enemies," he said in a recent interview. "The crony capitalists and the Maoists. They will use any means to attack me."


. . .


(p. 7) In interviews, Mr. Wu says he feels compelled to speak out because conservatives and "old-style Maoists" have been gaining influence in the government since 2004. These groups, he said, are pressing for a return to central planning and placing blame for corruption and social inequality on the very market reforms he championed.

At the same time, Mr. Wu says, corrupt bureaucrats are pushing for the state to take a larger economic role so they can cash in on their positions through payoffs and bribes, as well as by steering business to allies.

"I'm not optimistic about the future," Mr. Wu said. "The Maoists want to go back to central planning and the cronies want to get richer."



For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "China's Mr. Wu Keeps Talking." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., September 26, 2009): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


WuChinaTimeline2009-10-24.jpgSource of timeline graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





November 30, 2009

Obama Tire Tariff Hurts Poor



TiresChinese2009-10-29.jpg "A man walks past a tire store in Beijing on Sunday. A new U.S. tariff on Chinese tires could lead to shortages in the lower-cost-tire market segment as retailers scramble to find alternative sources in other countries." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) Consumers who buy low-price Chinese tires -- the bulk of the tires China exports to the U.S. -- will be hit hardest by the new tariff, as shortages in this market segment cause retailers to scramble to find alternative sources in other countries.

The tariffs, which apply to all Chinese tires, will cut off much of the flow of the more than 46 million Chinese tires that came to the U.S. last year, nearly 17% of all tires sold in the country.

The low end of the market will feel the impact of the tariff most, as U.S. manufacturers, who joined the Chinese in opposing the tariffs, have said it isn't profitable to produce inexpensive tires in domestic plants.

"I think within the next 60 days you'll see some pretty significant price increases," said Jim Mayfield, president of Del-Nat Tire Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., a large importer and distributor of Chinese tires. He estimates prices for "entry-level" tires could increase 20% to 30%.



For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY AEPPEL. "Tariff on Tires to Cost Consumers; Higher Prices Expected at Market's Low End, Where China Focuses Its Exports." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 14, 2009): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Tues., Sept. 15.)





November 22, 2009

World Trade Barriers Are Increasing



ProtectionistMeasuresBarGraph2009-10-28.gifThe small dark blue squares indicate the "number of nations that have imposed protectionist measures on each country" and the light blue squares indicate the "number of measures imposed on each category of goods." Source of quotations in caption and of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) BRUSSELS -- This weekend's U.S.-China trade skirmish is just the tip of a coming protectionist iceberg, according to a report released Monday by Global Trade Alert, a team of trade analysts backed by independent think tanks, the World Bank and the U.K. government.

A report by the World Trade Organization, backed by its 153 members and also released Monday, found "slippage" in promises to abstain from protectionism, but drew less dramatic conclusions.

Governments have planned 130 protectionist measures that have yet to be implemented, according to the GTA's research. These include state aid funds, higher tariffs, immigration restrictions and export subsidies.


. . .


According to the GTA report, the number of discriminatory trade laws outnumbers liberalizing trade laws by six to one. Governments are applying protectionist measures at the rate of 60 per quarter. More than 90% of goods traded in the world have been affected by some sort of protectionist measure.



For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "Protectionist Measures Expected to Rise, Report Warns." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 30, 2009

Samuel Johnson Saw Benefits of Free Markets



(p. A19) In "A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland," an account of his travels with James Boswell through the Hebrides in 1773, Johnson vividly described the desolation of a feudal land, untouched by commercial exuberance. He was struck by the utter hopelessness in a country where money was largely unknown, and the lack of basic material improvements--the windows, he noticed, did not operate on hinges, but had to be held up by hand, making the houses unbearably stuffy.

He was even more struck by the contrast between places where markets thrived and those where they didn't. In Old Aberdeen, where "commerce was yet unstudied," Johnson found nothing but decay, whereas New Aberdeen, which "has all the bustle of prosperous trade," was beautiful, opulent, and promised to be "very lasting."

Johnson also understood that what Smith would later call the division of labor was instrumental for human happiness and progress. "The Adventurer 67," which he wrote in 1753 at the height of a commercial boom (and 23 years before Smith published "The Wealth of Nations"), delights in the sheer number of occupations available in a commercial capital like London.



For the full commentary, see:

ELIZA GRAY. "Samuel Johnson and the Virtue of Capitalism; The great 18th century writer on commerce and human happiness." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 11, 2009): A19.





October 11, 2009

Dutch Were Too Busy Trading to Build a Church



NewAmsterdamPrint2009-09-26.jpg "Print of New Amsterdam by Joost Hartgers, 1626." Source of caption and image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A15) The financial collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession have had, not surprisingly, a major adverse impact on the economy of the country's financial center, New York City. There have been over 40,000 job losses in the financial community alone and both city and state budgets are deeply dependent on tax revenues from this one industry. There has been much talk that New York might take years to recover--if, indeed, it ever can.

But if one looks at the history of New York there is reason for much optimism. The city's whole raison d'être since its earliest days explains why.

The Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, and the Catholics in Maryland first and foremost came to what would be the United States to find the freedom to worship God as they saw fit. The Dutch--who invented many aspects of modern capitalism and became immensely rich in the process--came to Manhattan to make money. And they didn't much care who else came to do the same. Indeed, they were so busy trading beaver pelts they didn't even get around to building a church for 17 years.

Twenty years after the Dutch arrived, the settlement at the end of Manhattan had only about a thousand inhabitants. But it was already so cosmopolitan that a French priest heard no fewer than 18 languages being spoken on its streets.


. . .


Deep within the heart of this vast metropolis--like the child within the adult--there is still to be found that little hustly-bustly, live-and-let-live, let's-make-a-deal Dutch village. And the creation of wealth is still the city's dearest love.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Opinion; Don't Bet Against New York; The financial crisis has been devastating, but the city has reinvented itself many times before.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 19, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 10, 2009

Voting With Feet Is "Most Compelling Evidence"



(p. 45) The most compelling evidence that freedom promotes happiness comes from the fact that migration is almost always toward more freedom.



Source:

Lee, Dwight R. "Happiness and Liberty." Intercollegiate Review 42, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 41-48.

(Note: italics in original.)






October 9, 2009

Doctors Seek to Regulate Retail Health Clinic Competitors



NursePractitioner2009-09-26.jpg"A nurse practitioner with a patient at a retail clinic in Wilmington, Del." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Clayton Christensen, in a chapter of Seeing What's Next, and at greater length in The Innovator's Prescription, has persuasively advocated the evolution of nurse practitioners and retail health clinics as disruptive innovations that have the potential to improve the quality and reduce the costs of health care.

An obstacle to the realization of Christensen's vision would be government regulation demanded by health care incumbents who would rather not have to compete with nurse practitioners and retail health clinics. See below for more:


(p. B1) Retail health clinics are adding treatments for chronic diseases such as asthma to their repertoire, hoping to find steadier revenue, but putting the clinics into greater competition with doctors' groups and hospitals.

Walgreen Co.'s Take Care retail clinic recently started a pilot program in Tampa and Orlando offering injected and infused drugs for asthma and osteoporosis to Medicare patients. At some MinuteClinics run by CVS Caremark Corp., nurse practitioners now counsel teenagers about acne, recommend over-the-counter products and sometimes prescribe antibiotics.


. . .


As part of their efforts to halt losses at the clinics, the chains are lobbying for more insurance coverage, and angling for a place in pending health-care reform legislation, while trying to temper calls for regulations.


. . .


(p. B2) But such moves are raising the ire of physicians' groups that see the in-store clinics as inappropriate venues for treating complex illnesses. In May, the Massachusetts Medical Society urged its members to press insurance companies on co-payments to eliminate any financial incentive to use retail clinics.


. . .


The clinics are helping alter the practice of medicine. Doctors are expanding office hours to evenings and weekends. Hospitals are opening more urgent-care centers to treat relatively minor health problems.



For the full story, see:

AMY MERRICK. "Retail Health Clinics Move to Treat Complex Illnesses, Rankling Doctors." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 10, 2009): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)


A brief commentary by Christensen (and Hwang) on these issues, can be found at:

CLAYTON CHRISTENSEN and JASON HWANG. "How CEOs Can Help Fix Health Care." The New York Times (Tues., July 28, 2009).



For the full account, see:

Christensen, Clayton M., Jerome H. Grossman, and Jason Hwang. The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.


RetailHealthClinicGraph2009-09-26.gif












Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






October 2, 2009

Obama Should Remember that a Tariff War Helped Create the Great Depression



As an economics graduate student at Harvard, David Rockefeller was a student of Joseph Schumpeter.

After Schumpeter died, his wife spent the last few years of her life working to pull together the disorganized, but nearly completed, manuscript of Schumpeter's magnificent History of Economic Analysis. In her preface, Mrs. Schumpeter writes: "It seems appropriate at this point to acknowledge gratefully a gift from David Rockefeller and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation which made possible much of the secretarial and editorial assistance outlined above." (p. x)

Below I quote a few passages from David Rockefeller's reaction to Obama's imposition of tariffs on Chinese automobile tires:


(p. A21) AS if he needed another policy concern to distract him from the health care debate, President Obama now finds himself embroiled in a quarrel with China over his imposition of a steep tariff on automobile tires from that country that is to take effect this week. The Chinese have responded by threatening to impose higher tariffs on American chicken. This may seem like a petty dispute, but the controversy could endanger the global economic recovery if the underlying issue -- the rise in protectionism --is not resolved quickly and forcefully. Perhaps Washington has justification for increasing tariffs in this particular case, but in general it sets a bad precedent.

President Obama should resist the desire to accommodate the forces of protectionism from unions, environmentalists and cable television pundits alike. Giving in to their demands may be politically astute, but it would send the wrong message to our trading partners and, more important, inflict damage on the already weakened American economy. Despite the recent rally in the stock market, the next two or three years could still be very painful.

I lived through the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it, and I saw that there was no direct cause and effect relationship. Rather, there were specific governmental actions and equally important failures to act, often driven by political expediency, that brought on the Depression and determined its severity and longevity.

One critical mistake was America's retreat from international trade. This not only helped to turn the 1929 stock market decline into a depression, it also chipped away at trust between nations, paving the way for World War II.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID ROCKEFELLER. "Present at the Trade Wars." The New York Times (Mon., September 21, 2009): A21.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated Sun., Sept. 20.)





October 1, 2009

Free-Market German Aristocrat Receives Ovation for Opposing Bailout



(p. A7) BERLIN -- Could the heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel be a wealthy, handsome 37-year-old baron who loves rock 'n' roll?

The baron, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, vaulted to prominence this year when he took over the often dull job of economics minister in the midst of the financial crisis. His independent stand on a thorny economic matter earned him the respect of voters.


. . .

It was his independent streak that earned him the respect of voters, rather than just their curiosity. Mr. Guttenberg broke ranks with Mrs. Merkel over how to handle the troubled German automaker Opel. Mrs. Merkel supported a consortium led by Magna International, a Canadian auto parts maker, and Sberbank, a Russian bank. Mr. Guttenberg favored bankruptcy, and even offered to resign just months into his tenure.

He lost the battle, but gained credibility with voters -- an important commodity with a disenchanted electorate that has largely ignored the coming vote. At the big kickoff campaign rally in Düsseldorf for Mrs. Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, Mr. Guttenberg was the only politician to receive a spontaneous ovation from the crowd of 9,000.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS KULISH and JUDY DEMPSEY. "Aristocrat's Rise Shakes German Doldrums." The New York Times (Weds., September 22, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 26, 2009

Increase Health Insurance Competition by Ending Cross-State Ban



(p. A13) How do we get to a competitive market? The tax deduction for employer-provided group insurance, which has nearly destroyed the individual insurance market, is a central culprit. If we don't have the will to remove it, the deduction could be structured to enhance competition and the right to future insurance. We could restrict the tax deduction to individual, portable, long-term insurance and to the high-deductible plans that people choose with their own money.

More importantly, health care and insurance are overly protected and regulated businesses. We need to allow the same innovation, entry, and competition that has slashed costs elsewhere in our economy. For example, we need to remove regulations such as the ban on cross-state insurance. Think about it. What else aren't we allowed to purchase in another state?



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN H. COCHRANE . "What to Do About Pre-existing Conditions; Most Americans worry about health coverage if they lose their job and get sick. There is a market solution." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 14, 2009): A13.






September 21, 2009

Feds Force Farmers to Let Tons of Cherries Rot



LigonLeonardCherryFarmer2009-09-07.jpg "Leonard Ligon, a farmer near Traverse City, Mich., stands in mounds of tart cherries that he had to dump because of a price-stabilization program. Mr. Ligon says he discarded 72,000 pounds of the crop." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) Farmers in Michigan and six other states are harvesting a bumper crop of tart cherries. But the bounty is turning out to be the pits for farmers whose fruit is rotting in orchards instead of bubbling in cherry pies.

Under a Depression-era federal program designed to keep prices from plummeting, tart-cherry farmers are being told by fruit processors to leave up to 40% of their crop unharvested.

"It's kind of heartbreaking," said Rob Manigold, a tart-cherry farmer near Traverse City, Mich. Michigan grows about 75% of all the tart cherries in the U.S.


. . .


The tart-cherry industry operates under a government-sanctioned plan called a federal marketing order that dates to 1933. It allows farmers and processors to legally regulate supply to keep prices stable. Other commodities that operate under similar programs include some types of dates, olives and kiwifruit.


. . .


This year, the industry board, a 18-member panel of growers and processors, determined that there were more than enough cherries in the fields to satisfy demand and to replenish the reserves. So the board limited how much processors can put on the market in the U.S. That leaves farmers with cherries they can't sell and are left to rot.

Bern Kroupa, a 61-year-old fruit farmer outside Traverse City in Michigan's northern lower peninsula, said this year he is going to let about a quarter of his crop -- about 500,000 pounds -- rot.


. . .


Leonard Ligon, another tart-cherry grower near Traverse City, Mich., generated a lot of local press last week when he dumped 72,000 pounds of cherries alongside a country road on his farm. "I wanted to make the public aware of the plight of the tart-cherry farmer," he said. "I could call it a mulch pile."



For the full story, see:

LAUREN ETTER. "Bumper Cherry Crop Turns Sour; Tons of Unharvested Fruit Rots Under Government Program to Keep Prices Stable." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 22, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 18, 2009

Obama Industrial Policy Risks Funding Dead Ends



(p. B1) President Obama has cast himself as a reluctant interventionist in two of the nation's major industries, Wall Street and Detroit. The federal aid, he says, is a financial bridge to a postcrisis future and the hand-holding will be temporary.

Even so, the scale of the government investment and control -- especially by the auto task force now vetting plans at Chrysler and General Motors -- points to an approach that has been shunned by the United States more than other developed nations.

"By any coherent definition, this is industrial policy," said Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.


. . .


(p. B7) . . . a more comprehensive, industrial-policylike approach to Detroit carries its own perils, economists say. In trying to manage the industrial shrinkage, they say, there is a fine line between easing the social impact and protecting jobs in ways that inhibit economic change and renewal. In pursuit of new growth, governments risk encouraging overinvestment in areas that prove to be technological dead ends.

In the Japanese experience, economists see evidence of both dangers. Problems, they say, are typically byproducts of what economists call "political capture." That is, an industrial sector earmarked for special government attention builds up its own political constituency, lobbyists and government bureaucrats to serve that industry. They slow the pace of change, and an economy becomes less nimble and efficient as a result.

Economists say the phenomenon is scarcely confined to nations with explicit industrial policies and cite the history of agricultural subsidies in America or military procurement practices.

But going down the path of industrial policy certainly holds that risk. "You have to bear in mind the opportunity costs of these kinds of government interventions, and remember that life is not an economic textbook and that politics can easily override economic rationality," said Mr. Noland, an author, with Howard Pack, of "Industrial Policy in an Era of Globalization: Lessons From Asia."




For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "Highway to the Unknown; Forays in Industrial Policy Bring Risks." The New York Times (Weds., May 19, 2009): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online title is "In U.S., Steps Toward Industrial Policy in Autos.")

(Note: ellipses added.)


The full reference to Noland and Pack's book is:

Noland, Marcus, and Howard Pack. Industrial Policy in an Era of Globalization: Lessons from Asia, Policy Analyses in International Economics. Washington, D.C.: Peterson Institute, 2003.







September 16, 2009

Four Month Wait for Blood Test in Brits' Government Health Care



(p. 6) Founded in 1948 during the grim postwar era, the National Health Service is essential to Britain's identity. But Britons grouse about it, almost as a national sport. Among their complaints: it rations treatment; it forces people to wait for care; it favors the young over the old; its dental service is rudimentary at best; its hospitals are crawling with drug-resistant superbugs.

All these things are true, sometimes, up to a point.


. . .


Told my husband needed a sophisticated blood test from a particular doctor, I telephoned her office, only to be told there was a four-month wait.

"But I'm a private patient," I said.

"Then we can see you tomorrow," the secretary said.

And so it went. When it came time for my husband to undergo physical rehabilitation, I went to look at the facility offered by the N.H.S. The treatment was first rate, I was told, but the building was dismal: grim, dusty, hot, understaffed, housing 8 to 10 elderly men per ward. The food was inedible. The place reeked of desperation and despair.

Then I toured the other option, a private rehabilitation hospital with air-conditioned rooms, private bathrooms and cable televisions, a state-of-the-art gym, passably tasty food and cheery nurses who made a cup of cocoa for my husband every night before bed.



For the full commentary, see:

SARAH LYALL. "An Expat Goes for a Checkup." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., August 8, 2009): 1 & 6.

(Note: the online title is "Health Care in Britain: Expat Goes for a Checkup.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 14, 2009

Clunker-Like Subsidies May Mainly Affect Timing of Purchases



(p. A6) The next program to test the effect of government funds comes this fall. Consumers who buy high-efficiency appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and dishwasher can receive rebates of up to $200 on certain products; no trade-ins would be required. The $300 million program was included in the $787 billion stimulus law.

As with the clunkers program, it's unclear whether the rebate program will offer anything more than a short-term economic boost.

"The people who will most like likely respond to this are the people who need appliances, and they were probably going to buy appliances anyway," said Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. "If all you've done is move that from tomorrow to today, then the economy is going to lag even more tomorrow."



For the full story, see:

SUDEEP REDDY. "Dealers Get More Time to File for Clunker Rebates." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., AUGUST 25, 2009): A6.





September 8, 2009

Government Regulations Stifle Creative Venture Capital



(p. A9) This is a good time to recall that the venture-capital industry was born as a reaction to New Deal regulations that stifled capital and prolonged the Depression. The country's first venture-capital firm (other than family-run funds) was American Research and Development, planned in the 1930s and launched after World War II in Boston.

Its leader was longtime Harvard Business School professor Georges Doriot, who is the subject of a fascinating recent biography, "Creative Capital," by Spencer Ante. Mr. Ante, a BusinessWeek editor, tells me that as he researched the topic "one of the most surprising things I learned was how concerned financiers and industrialists had become about the riskless economy in direct response to the New Deal. Even in the 1930s, people understood that small business was the lifeblood of the economy."

American Research and Development backed early-stage companies deemed too risky by banks and investment trusts at the time. The firm was an early investor in Digital Equipment Corp., the Boston-area company that revolutionized computing.

Despite financial success, the history of the firm is a reminder that our regulatory system, by its nature focused on avoiding risk, has a hard time dealing with investment firms whose mission is to take risks. Doriot was a well-known name in commerce and academia from the 1940s through the 1970s. He was the first French graduate of Harvard Business School, a founder of the INSEAD business school and a leading adviser to the U.S. military.

But even as a pillar of Boston's commercial and academic worlds, Doriot had many run-ins with federal regulators. Over the years, regulators dictated compensation for the American Research and Development staff, tried to force disclosure of the performance of its early-stage companies, and second-guessed how it tracked the valuations of its investments.

The Securities and Exchange Commission hounded the company so often that Doriot once wrote a three-page memo saying, "ARD has more knowledge of what is right and wrong than the average person at the SEC." He was prudent enough not to send it. He did mail another memo to the SEC enforcement office in Boston, in 1965: "I rather resent, after 20 years of experience, to have two men come here, spend two days, and tell us that we do not know what we are doing."


. . .


No venture capital firm has asked to be bailed out, and none are too big to fail. As hard as it is for regulators to understand, the nature of venture capital is such that it should not even aspire to be a low-risk enterprise

.

For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "No Such Thing as Riskless Venture Capital; New regulations could retard the innovation our economy needs." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., AUGUST 9, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 7, 2009

Government Protects Us from Unlicensed Eight Year Old Lemonade Entrepreneur



DanielaEarnestLemonadeStand.jpgDaniela Earnest at her lemonade stand (left) and in court (right). Source of photo: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_GGAmzDRA_BY/SnvDbYoMpzI/AAAAAAAAHEg/W1BI2XK8DH4/s400/daniela%2Bearnest.jpg


(p. 5A) THE FRESNO BEE

TULARE, Calif. -- Eight­-year- old Daniela Earnest made lemonade out of lemons in more ways than one last week.

Hoping to raise money for a family trip to Disneyland, the Tulare girl opened a lemonade stand Monday. But she didn't have a business license, so the city shut it down that day.


. . .

Tulare officials said they could not recall ever shutting down a lemonade stand before, though such action is not uncommon. Authorities across the nation have done it.


. . .


Daniela found the situation "pretty weird" but said it hadn't soured her on reopening the lemonade stand.



For the full story, see:

The Fresno Bee. "City puts squeeze on pint-size purveyor of lemonade." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Aug. 9, 2009): 5A.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 1, 2009

BB&T Founder John Allison Speaks for Rand's Free Market Philosophy



AllisonJohn2009-08-14.jpg "John A. Allison IV, chairman of the banking company BB&T, is a devoted follower of Ayn Rand's antigovernment views." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) OVER much of the last four decades, John A. Allison IV built BB&T from a local bank in North Carolina into a regional powerhouse that has weathered the economic crisis far better than many of its troubled rivals -- largely by avoiding financial gimmickry.

And in his spare time, Mr. Allison travels the country making speeches about his bank's distinctive philosophy.

Speaking at a recent convention in Boston to a group of like-minded business people and students, Mr. Allison tells a story: A boy is playing in a sandbox, only to have his truck taken by another child. A fight ensues, and the boy's mother tells him to stop being selfish and to share.

"You learned in that sandbox at some really deep level that it's bad to be selfish," says Mr. Allison, adding that the mother has taught a horrible lesson. "To say man is bad because he is selfish is to say it's bad because he's alive."

If Mr. Allison's speech sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who celebrated the virtues of reason, self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism while maintaining that altruism is a destructive force. In Ms. Rand's world, nothing is more heroic -- and sexy -- than a hard-working businessman free to pursue his wealth. And nothing is worse than a pesky bureaucrat trying to restrict business and redistribute wealth.

Or, as Mr. Allison explained, "put balls and chains on good people, and bad things happen."

Ms. Rand, who died in 1982, has all sorts of admirers on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms and in the entertainment industry, including the hedge fund manager Clifford Asness, the former baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. and the Whole Foods chief executive, John Mackey.

But Mr. Allison, who remains BB&T's chairman after retiring as chief executive in December, has emerged as perhaps the most vocal proponent of Ms. Rand's ideas and of the dangers of government meddling in the markets. For a dedicated Randian like him, the government's headlong rush to try to rescue and fix the economy is a horrifying re-(p. 6)alization of his worst fears.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "Give Him Liberty, but Not a Bailout." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., August 2, 2009): 1 & 6.

(Note: the online title is the slightly different: "Give BB&T Liberty, but Not a Bailout.")





August 26, 2009

"How Do We Get on the Special Interests, Special Treatment Bandwagon?"



SodiumSilicatePouredIntoClunker2009-08-12.jpgUncreative destruction. "Jose Luis Garcia pours sodium silicate into a junkyard car engine to render it inoperable at a lot in Sun Valley, Calif., on Tuesday. The process destroys the car's engine in a matter of minutes." Source of photo and part of caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A4) WASHINGTON -- Who doesn't like the government's "cash for clunkers" program? Your mechanic, for one.

Owners of automotive repair shops say the program to help invigorate sales of new cars is succeeding at their expense.

Bill Wiygul, whose family owns four repair shops in Virginia, said he has already had five or six customers decide against repairs. A man who sits on the board of Mr. Wiygul's bank traded in his car rather than repair it. "He'd been a customer at our Reston store since it opened," Mr. Wiygul said.

The clunkers program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, offers subsidies of as much as $4,500 to consumers who trade in older vehicles and buy new, more fuel-efficient models. The program was initially given $1 billion. That money was spent in one week.

The Senate reached a deal to extend the clunkers program Wednesday night, agreeing to vote on a measure Thursday that would add $2 billion to the program, the Associated Press reported.

The House approve a $2 billion extension last week.

For Mr. Wiygul and other mechanics, until now the recession has brought them more customers as people fixed cars rather than go into debt for new ones. He has hired five people and is expanding one of the shops.

Auto dealers who offer the rebates on new cars in exchange for clunkers must agree to "kill" the old models by disabling the engines and shipping the dead vehicle to a junkyard.

The loss of such potential work -- as many as 250,000 vehicles will be destroyed in the program's first round -- prompted Mr. Wiygul to question the federal program's focus on dealers and big business at the expense of the little guy.

"How do we get on the special interests, special treatment bandwagon? How much is it going to cost me and to whom shall I send the check?" he said. "Who picks the winners in this game 'cause obviously the game is fixed."



For the full commentary, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Clunkers Plan Deflates Mechanics." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., AUGUST 6, 2009): A4.





August 21, 2009

"The Voluntary Slaves of a 'Compassionate' Government"



Thomas Szaz has been defending liberty for many decades. It is good to see him still eloquently at it:


(p. A13) If we persevere in our quixotic quest for a fetishized medical equality we will sacrifice personal freedom as its price. We will become the voluntary slaves of a "compassionate" government that will provide the same low quality health care to everyone.


For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS SZASZ. "Universal Health Care Isn't Worth Our Freedom." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JULY 15, 2009): A13.





August 20, 2009

Penn Government Protects Us from "Little Old Ladies Baking Pies"



StCeciliaFishFry2009-08-12.jpgStCeciliaFishFryTables2009-08-12.jpg





"After a state crackdown forbidding the sale of homemade pies, members of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Rochester, Pa., proceeded with their annual Lenten fish fries anyway. The pie flap helped draw healthy crowds." Source of photos and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.








(p. A1) ROCHESTER, Pa. -- On the first Friday of Lent, an elderly female parishioner of St. Cecilia Catholic Church began unwrapping pies at the church. That's when the trouble started.

A state inspector, there for an annual checkup on the church's kitchen, spied the desserts. After it was determined that the pies were home-baked, the inspector decreed they couldn't be sold.

"Everyone was devastated," says Josie Reed, a 69-year-old former teacher known for her pumpkin and berry pies.

. . .

The disappearance of Mary Pratte's coconut-cream pie, Louise Humbert's raisin pie and (p. A10) Marge Murtha's "farm apple" pie from the fish-fry fund-raisers sparked an uproar that spread far beyond the small parish.

. . .

(p. A10) The ruckus at St. Cecilia's could lead to changes in Pennsylvania state law. State Sen. Elder Vogel Jr. has drafted legislation aimed at allowing nonprofits, including churches, to serve food prepared at home. That would cover fish fries held during Lent. "Once again, you've got the heavy hand of government coming in," he says. "These ladies bake pies, out of the goodness of their hearts."

Sen. Vogel, who sits on the state legislature's agriculture committee, says state officials seem willing to change the law. "They have more work on their hands than going after little old ladies baking pies."

The inspector's warning to St. Cecilia's carried no fine. But the inspector has raised some hackles by telling the women that the state would allow them to bake pies for sale in their own kitchens, if they paid $35 to have them inspected as well.

"Well, that's just ridiculous," says Ms. Humbert, 73, one of the parish bakers. She has been bringing raisin pies to the church for more than a decade and says she thought the women's kitchens "are probably a lot cleaner than some restaurants," but might not meet "nitpicky" requirements.

Ms. Pratte, 88, has been attending St. Cecilia's since she was a girl. She missed a step and spent two and a half weeks in the hospital earlier this year. She said it would be "kind of hard" to get to the church to do any baking. "I'd rather just make them at home," she says of her coconut-cream pies. Others say it's difficult to bake good pies in a strange oven.

Thanks to the publicity caused by the crackdown, the St. Cecilia's fish fries attracted more visitors than ever before.



For the full story, see:

KRIS MAHER. "Pennsylvania Pie Fight: State Cracks Down on Baked Goods; Inspector Nabs Homemade Desserts At St. Cecilia Church's Lenten Fish Fry." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 10, 2009): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)





August 14, 2009

Trinity College Tries to Renege on Deal with Donor



Gunderson_Gerald.jpg









Gerald Gunderson. Source of photo: http://www.yorktownuniversity.com/faculty/gunderson.html



Gerald Gunderson, highlighted in the story quoted below, gave me some useful comments on my book project Openness to Creative Destruction at the April 2009 meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.

Battles such as the one described below are easier to forgo than to fight. Gunderson has guts.


(p. A1) In one previously undisclosed fight, Trinity College in Connecticut is facing government scrutiny for its plan to spend part of a $9 million endowment from Wall Street investing legend Shelby Cullom Davis.

Trinity's Davis professor of business, Gerald Gunderson, says he believed the plan, which would have funded scholarships for international students, violated the wishes of the late Mr. Davis. He alerted the Connecticut attorney general's office. Then, Mr. Gunderson said in notes submitted to the agency, Trinity's president summoned him to the school's cavernous Gothic conference room, where he called the professor a "scoundrel" and threatened not to reappoint him.

Trinity said some of Mr. Davis's family approved of the plan but it is now coming up with a new one, and declined to discuss the meeting.


. . .


(p. A14) The clash over the Davis gift has simmered on Trinity's quiet campus of 2,200 students. Founded in 1823, the liberal-arts college has Episcopalian roots and Gothic architecture patterned after British universities.

In 1976, the school accepted a $750,000 gift from Mr. Davis, founder of a New York money-management firm who made a $900 million fortune investing in insurance stocks. Mr. Davis was a major benefactor to Wellesley College, Columbia University, Tufts University and his own alma mater, Princeton. But he had a personal connection to Trinity: His son-in-law was a graduate of the school and its campus overlooks downtown Hartford, an insurance hub.

In 1981, Trinity President Theodore D. Lockwood wrote to Mr. Davis that the fund, by then $1.6 million, was big enough to be tapped to create a Shelby Cullom Davis Professorship of American Business and Economic Enterprise. The letter listed several related activities, such as campus visits from business leaders. Mr. Lockwood also sought flexibility to use the money as the school saw fit "as conditions evolved and opportunities arose."

In a return letter, Mr. Davis approved the professorship and activities Mr. Lockwood specified. But he rejected any other leeway. "It is my wish that the funds and income from the Endowment be used for the various purposes you have described...and for no other purposes."

Trinity tapped Mr. Gunderson, an economic historian who shared Mr. Davis's conservative political philosophy, to be the Davis professor.

The Davis fund grew beyond the needs of meeting Mr. Gunderson's $155,000-a-year salary. By 2007, it reached $13.5 million, or 3% of Trinity's total endowment, and generated more than $500,000 a year in income. After recent market declines, the fund is now estimated at $9 million.

Mr. Gunderson, 68 years old, says he complained for years that the school was starving the program and had rejected his frequent requests to add another full-time professor and a business-executive-in-residence program. The letter from Mr. Lockwood provides for the creation of a single professorship, but it doesn't explicitly rule out adding another.

Mr. Gunderson says he suspects that liberal academics at Trinity have blocked these plans and have little interest in Mr. Davis's vision. Mr. Gunderson, who is treasurer of the free-market nonprofit Yankee Institute, says some professors opposed his position in the 1970s in an economics department whose courses often stressed the downside of capitalism.


. . .


Last April, Trinity's current president, James F. Jones Jr., sent Mr. Gunderson an email saying he had been looking for ways to use the "enormous" Davis fund to "benefit the College in ways different from merely watching the endowment continue to balloon because of the original strictures." Mr. Jones said he had approached some Davis family members about using the money for financial aid for foreign students through another program the family had helped fund.

Mr. Gunderson replied that the college had entered into a binding contract with Shelby Cullom Davis, not his family. "Simply wishing things were different or saying that someone thinks it is a good idea is not sufficient and will not stand a legal challenge," he wrote.

Following that exchange, Kathryn W. Davis, the donor's 102-year-old widow, signed a document endorsing the use of her husband's gift for the scholarships. But in an interview, she said the school hadn't explained the restrictions her husband had outlined in his 1981 letter to the school, and said the endowment "should be used as my husband wished."

The couple's son, Shelby M.C. Davis, and grandson, Christopher C. Davis, both successful money managers, signed off on the fund's use for scholarships.

Diana Davis Spencer, the donor's daughter, says she only recently heard about the plan from Mr. Gunderson and is angry that Trinity didn't contact her. Ms. Spencer, whose own philanthropy focuses on entrepreneurship, says her father would have opposed any change to the endowment's mission. The university is "morally incorrect" and its plan "undermines donors' confidence," she says.

Trinity's Mr. Joyce says the school believed key members of the family had been briefed.

After the April email exchange, Mr. Gunderson's lawyer contacted the Connecticut attorney general's office, which began its review. In the fall, Mr. Gunderson looked through financial data that the school had filed with the attorney general and noticed that about $200,000 of endowment money had been used to fund an internship program for college students over the past five years.

Mr. Gunderson says he was concerned in part because the school, facing a budget crunch, had tapped other restricted endowment money in 2004 but returned it after a faculty revolt. Trinity confirms this episode.

Mr. Joyce said Trinity this month reimbursed the Davis endowment for $191,337 spent on the internship program, though he said the original agreement still permits the school to spend a small amount annually on the initiative.

On Oct. 20, Mr. Jones, Trinity's president, called Mr. Gunderson to the conference-room meeting. According to the professor's notes, submitted to the attorney general, Mr. Jones called him "a liar and a bully," threatened not to reappoint him and told him not speak to any other administrators. The notes said the president insisted on approving future spending from the Davis fund "down to a box of paperclips."

Mr. Joyce, who said Mr. Jones wouldn't be available for comment, declined to discuss the meeting. Mr. Joyce says he would be "very surprised" if Mr. Gunderson's contract weren't renewed when it comes up in July 2010.

In a February letter, the attorney general's office told Trinity it could find no evidence that Mr. Davis intended the college or his family to have discretion to direct income from the endowment to purposes "other than the study and promotion of the economic theories of the free enterprise system."

Mr. Joyce says Trinity scuttled its scholarship plan. The school intends to submit a new proposal to the attorney general and the Davis family on how it would spend excess Davis funds.

The attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, says he will consider the proposal. But he cautioned that colleges, despite financial pressures, can't stray from donors' intent: "There's a vastly increasing temptation for schools to fill gaps or even launch new initiatives using money that was meant for another purpose."



For the full story, see:

JOHN HECHINGER. "New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 23, 2009): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Among Professor Gunderson's publications is:

Gunderson, Gerald A. Wealth Creators: An Entrepreneurial History of the United States. 1st ed. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989.





August 13, 2009

Amazon Rebels Against Hawaii Tax



After Amazon's rebellion, summarized in the quote below, the Governor of Hawaii vetoed the tax, and Amazon has now invited its former affiliates to rejoin the program.

Lesson: sometimes entrepreneurial enterprise can fight the government, and win.


(p. B7) Amazon.com Inc. has informed its marketing affiliates in Hawaii that it is ending its business with them to avoid collecting sales tax in the state.

Lawmakers in Hawaii, following in the footsteps of North Carolina and Rhode Island, have passed legislation that would require companies to collect sales tax if they have marketing affiliates in the state. Affiliate marketers run blogs or Web sites and get a sales commission by featuring links to outside e-commerce sites.



For the full story, see:

GEOFFREY A. FOWLER. "Amazon Cuts Ties to Affiliates in Hawaii." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JULY 1, 2009): B7.





August 4, 2009

"It Is No Time to Concede"



BeckerGaryCartoon2009_07_10.jpg






Gary Becker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.




(p. A9) "What can we do that would be beneficial? [One thing] is lower corporate taxes and businesses taxes and maybe taxes in general. Particularly, you want to lower the tax on capital so you raise the after-tax return to investing and get more investing going on."


. . .


What Mr. Becker has seen over a career spanning more than five decades is that free markets are good for human progress. And at a time when increasing government intervention in the economy is all the rage, he insists that economic liberals must not withdraw from the debate simply because their cause, for now, appears quixotic.

As a young academic in 1956, Mr. Becker wrote an important paper against conscription. He was discouraged from publishing it because, at the time, the popular view was that the military draft could never be abolished. Of course it was, and looking back, he says, "that taught me a lesson." Today as Washington appears unstoppable in its quest for more power and lovers of liberty are accused of tilting at windmills, he says it is no time to concede.



For the full interview, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Now Is No Time to Give Up on Markets." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 21, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



Gary Becker_2009_07_10.jpg Gary Becker. Source of photo: http://larryevansphotography.com/Gary%20Becker_2.jpg






August 3, 2009

People Do Not Appreciate the Entrepreneur's Accomplishment



(p. A17) Bertrand de Jouvenel, writing in 1951 about popular attitudes toward income inequality in "The Ethics of Redistribution":

The film-star or the crooner is not grudged the income that is grudged to the oil magnate, because the people appreciate the entertainer's accomplishment and not the entrepreneur's, and because the former's personality is liked and the latter's is not. They feel that consumption of the entertainer's income is itself an entertainment, while the capitalist's is not, and somehow think that what the entertainer enjoys is deliberately given by them while the capitalist's income is somehow filched from them.


Source:

"Notable & Quotable." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 5, 2009): A17.

(Note: italics in original.)


Original source of de Jouvenel quote:

Jouvenel, Bertrand de. The Ethics of Redistribution. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund Inc., 1990 (originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1951).






July 15, 2009

Milton Friedman's Legacy Was the "Remarkable Progress of Mankind"



(p. W13) With each passing week that the assault against global capitalism continues in Washington, I become more nostalgic for one missing voice: Milton Friedman's. No one could slice and dice the sophistry of government market interventions better than Milton, who died at the age of 94 in 2006. Imagine what the great economist would have to say about the U.S. Treasury owning and operating several car brands or managing the health-care industry. "Why not?" I can almost hear him ask cheerfully. "After all, they've done such a wonderful job delivering the mail."


. . .


I've been thinking a lot lately of one of my last conversations with Milton, who warned that "even though socialism is a discredited economic model and capitalism is raising living standards to new heights, the left intellectuals continue to push for bigger government everywhere I look." He predicted that people would be seduced by collectivist ideas again.


. . .


A few scholars are now properly celebrating the Friedman legacy. Andrei Shleifer, a Harvard economics professor, has just published a tribute to Friedman in the Journal of Economic Literature. He describes the period 1980-2005 as "The Age of Milton Friedman," an era that "witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. As the world embraced free market policies, living standards rose sharply while life expectancy, educational attainment, and democracy improved and absolute poverty declined."



For the full commentary, see:

Moore, Stephen. "Missing Milton: Who Will Speak for Free Markets?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 29, 2009): W13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The full reference to the article by Shleifer, is:

Shleifer, Andrei. "The Age of Milton Friedman." Journal of Economic Literature 47, no. 1 (March 2009): 123-35.





July 13, 2009

Justice Department is Creating Barriers to Companies Trying to Create New Technologies



BarrettCraigIntel2009-06-20.jpg















Intel CEO Craig Barrett. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A9) Craig Barrett is spending the last days of his tenure as Intel chairman the same way he spent his previous 35 years at the corporation: moving at a superhuman pace that leaves exhausted subordinates in his wake.

Mr. Barrett has maintained this lifestyle since he replaced Andrew Grove as CEO of Intel in 1998. "Was it hard to follow a legend?" he asks himself in his typical blunt way, adding, "What do you think?" Mr. Barrett barely broke pace when he became chairman in 2005, and shows no sign of slowing even now, at age 69, as he faces retirement.


. . .


The latest thing that has him animated is the record $1.45 billion antitrust fine levied against Intel by the European Union this week. Mr. Barrett shakes his head and says, "The antitrust rules and regulations seem designed for a different era. When you look at high-tech companies, with the high R&D budgets, specialization and market creation they need to hold their big market shares, it's so very different from the old world of oil companies and auto makers that the antitrust regulations were designed for. They are out of sync with reality.

"And how do you reconcile European regulators, who don't believe that any company should have more than 50% market share -- even a market that company created -- with the way we operate here? Of course, now it seems as if our Justice Department is preparing to march in lock-step behind Europe. In the end, all they are going to do is create barriers to companies growing, entering into new markets, and bringing new technologies into those markets. And when we stop being the land of opportunity, all of those smart immigrant kids getting their Ph.D.s here are going to start heading home after they graduate. Then watch what happens to our competitiveness."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Barrett; From Moore's Law to Barrett's Rules; Intel's chairman on antitrust silliness and the secrets of high-tech success." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 16, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 9, 2009

Government Regulators Again Suppress Entrepreneurial Innovation



FeetNibblingFish2009-06-20.jpgSource of photo: http://images.quickblogcast.com/82086-71861/pedicurex_large.jpg


(p. A1) Until Mr. Ho brought his skin-eating fish here from China last year, no salon in the U.S. had been publicly known to employ a live animal in the exfoliation of feet. The novelty factor was such that Mr. Ho became a minor celebrity. On "Good Morning America" in July, Diane Sawyer placed her feet in a tank supplied by Mr. Ho and compared the fish nibbles to "tiny little delicate kisses."

Since then, cosmetology regulators have taken a less flattering view, insisting fish pedicures are unsanitary. At least 14 states, including Texas and Florida, have outlawed them. Virginia doesn't see a problem. Ohio permitted fish pedicures after a review, and other states haven't yet made up their minds. The world of foot care, meanwhile, has been plunged into a piscine uproar. Salon owners who (p. A12) bought fish and tanks before the bans were imposed in their states are fuming.

The issue: cosmetology regulations generally mandate that tools need to be discarded or sanitized after each use. But epidermis-eating fish are too expensive to throw away. "And there's no way to sanitize them unless you bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees," says Lynda Elliott, an official with the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. The board outlawed fish pedicures in November.

In Ohio, ophthalmologist Marilyn Huheey, who sits on the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology, decided to try it out for herself in a Columbus salon last fall. After watching the fish lazily munch on her skin, she recommended approval to the board. "It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile of course," Dr. Huheey says. "Sanitation is what we've got to live with in this world, not sterility."


. . .


State bans have disrupted Mr. Ho's plans to build a nationwide franchise network. Currently, he has four active franchises, in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri. But others have terminated franchise agreements. In Calhoun, Ga., Tran Lam, owner of Sky Nails, says she paid Mr. Ho $17,500 in exchange for fish and custom-made pedicure tanks. A few weeks later, in October, the Georgia Board of Cosmetology deemed fish pedicures illegal. "I'm very mad," says Ms. Lam. "I lost a lot of money and the economy is so bad."




For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook; Mr. Ho's Import From China Caught On, But Some State Pedicure Inspectors Object." Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 23, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 28, 2009

"Don't Kill the Goose"



(p. A11) I think there are two major but not fully formed or fully articulated fears among thinking Americans right now, and the deliberate obscurity of official language only intensifies those fears.

The first is that Mr. Obama's government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliché as they come, but too bad, it's what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they--we--wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, "By the way, don't kill the goose."

The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don't mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed--by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, "Don't kill the goose."



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "What's Elevated, Health-Care Provider? Economy of language would be good for the economy." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 15, 2009): A11.






June 15, 2009

Becker and Farmer on the Economics of Discrimination



FarmerDonnaAndChildren2009-06-09.jpg "ROYAL SUBJECTS; Donna Farmer, with her children, applauds Disney's efforts." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In Gary Becker's initially controversial doctoral dissertation, he argued that those who discriminate in the labor market pay a price for their prejudice: they end up paying higher wages, than do those employers are not prejudiced.

The bottom line is that the free market provides incentives for the encouragement of diversity and tolerance.

Similarly, Donna Farmer argues, in the passages below, that the marketplace provides the Disney company with incentives to have "The Princess and the Frog" appeal to black audiences.


(p. 1) "THE Princess and the Frog" does not open nationwide until December, but the buzz is already breathless: For the first time in Walt Disney animation history, the fairest of them all is black.


. . .


After viewing some photographs of merchandise tied to the movie, which is still unfinished, Black Voices, a Web site on AOL dedicated to African-American culture, faulted the prince's relatively light skin color. Prince Naveen hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.

"Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worthy of the title of prince," Angela Bronner Helm wrote March 19 on the site. "His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking (p. 8) their head in befuddlement and even rage."

Others see insensitivity in the locale.

"Disney should be ashamed," William Blackburn, a former columnist at The Charlotte Observer, told London's Daily Telegraph. "This princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community."

ALSO under scrutiny is Ray the firefly, performed by Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Yosemite Sam). Some people think Ray sounds too much like the stereotype of an uneducated Southerner in an early trailer.

Of course, armchair critics have also been complaining about the princess. Disney originally called her Maddy (short for Madeleine). Too much like Mammy and thus racist. A rumor surfaced on the Internet that an early script called for her to be a chambermaid to a white woman, a historically correct profession. Too much like slavery.

And wait: We finally get a black princess and she spends the majority of her time on screen as a frog?


. . .


Donna Farmer, a Los Angeles Web designer who is African-American and has two children, applauded Disney's efforts to add diversity.

"I don't know how important having a black princess is to little girls -- my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that -- but I think it's important to moms," she said.

"Who knows if Disney will get it right," she added. "They haven't always in the past, but the idea that Disney is not bending over backward to be sensitive is laughable. It wants to sell a whole lot of Tiana dolls and some Tiana paper plates and make people line up to see Tiana at Disney World."



For the full article, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., May 31, 2009): 1, 8-9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The published version of Becker's doctoral dissertation is:

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


DisneyPrincessAndFrog2009-06-09.jpg Movie still of Princess Tiana from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" to be released in December 2009. Source of movie still: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 9, 2009

Taiwan Government's Industrial Policy Ruins Economy



ExportsPlungeEastAsia2009-05-31.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A8) Taiwan, where for years the government encouraged information technology companies with tax breaks, cheap land, loans and more, is probably the most endangered of the small Asian economies. The result of that government largess is an economy extremely dependent on a single industrial sector that has been devastated by plunging worldwide sales of electronics. "Half of the industries just got a bad cold, they probably can recover quickly -- the other 50 percent, they've got, not cancer, but close," said Preston W. Chen, a chemicals tycoon who is also the chairman of Taiwan's Chinese National Federation of Industries.


For the full article, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Memo From Singapore - East Asia's Small Edens of Trade Wilt as Need for Exports Dries Up." The New York Times (Thurs., March 5, 2009): A8.





May 23, 2009

Government's Terrible Track Record Running Businesses



John Steele Gordon, the author of the sagacious commentary below, has also written a wonderful book called A Thread Across the Atlantic, which tells the story of how entrepreneur Cyrus Field persevered in his attempts to lay telegraphic cable across the Atlantic Ocean.


(p. A17) The Obama administration is bent on becoming a major player in -- if not taking over entirely -- America's health-care, automobile and banking industries. Before that happens, it might be a good idea to look at the government's track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible.

In 1913, for instance, thinking it was being overcharged by the steel companies for armor plate for warships, the federal government decided to build its own plant. It estimated that a plant with a 10,000-ton annual capacity could produce armor plate for only 70% of what the steel companies charged.

When the plant was finally finished, however -- three years after World War I had ended -- it was millions over budget and able to produce armor plate only at twice what the steel companies charged. It produced one batch and then shut down, never to reopen.

Or take Medicare. Other than the source of its premiums, Medicare is no different, economically, than a regular health-insurance company. But unlike, say, UnitedHealthcare, it is a bureaucracy-beclotted nightmare, riven with waste and fraud. Last year the Government Accountability Office estimated that no less than one-third of all Medicare disbursements for durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and hospital beds, were improper or fraudulent. Medicare was so lax in its oversight that it was approving orthopedic shoes for amputees.

. . .

It is government's job to make and enforce the rules that allow a civilized society to flourish. But it has a dismal record of regulating itself. Imagine, for instance, if a corporation, seeking to make its bottom line look better, transferred employee contributions from the company pension fund to its own accounts, replaced the money with general obligation corporate bonds, and called the money it expropriated income. We all know what would happen: The company accountants would refuse to certify the books and management would likely -- and rightly -- end up in jail.

But that is exactly what the federal government (which, unlike corporations, decides how to keep its own books) does with Social Security. In the late 1990s, the government was running what it -- and a largely unquestioning Washington press corps -- called budget "surpluses." But the national debt still increased in every single one of those years because the government was borrowing money to create the "surpluses."

Capitalism isn't perfect. Indeed, to paraphrase Winston Churchill's famous description of democracy, it's the worst economic system except for all the others. But the inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Why Government Can't Run a Business; Politicians need headlines. Executives need profits." Wall Street Journal (Weds., MAY 21, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The wonderful book, I mentioned, is:

Gordon, John Steele. A Thread across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable. New York: Walker & Co., 2002.





May 22, 2009

OSHA Did Not Make the Workplace Safer



OSHAgraphViscusi1992c.gif Source of image of graph: http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/personal_pages/bob_reed/econ3003/book/chap26a.gif (Original source of graph: Viscusi, W. Kip, John M. Vernon, and Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. Economics of Regulation and Antitrust. 2nd ed. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992, page 714.)


The graph above, from a leading textbook on the economics of regulation, strikingly shows that OSHA had no discernible effect on reducing workplace accidents.

(Note: I am grateful to Susan Dudley who mentioned this graph in one of the Association of Private Enterprise Education sessions in Guatemala City, and who graciously elaborated the source in conversation afterwards.)





May 20, 2009

Economic Freedom Map



EconomicFreedomPoster.JPG Source of image: http://divisionoflabour.com/archives/EFWposter.JPG


I heard a useful presentation by John Morton on the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom Map at the April 2009 Association of Private Enterprise Education meetings in Guatemala City. Using data developed by Jim Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and their associates, the map provides striking visual evidence of the relationship between economic freedom and economic growth.

For additional information, and to purchase a copy of the map, visit: http://www.freetheworld.com/ef_map.html





May 18, 2009

Greenmarket Rules Are "Cumbersome, Confusing and Contradictory"



HesseDanteGreenmarket.jpg "Dante Hesse, . . . , of Milk Thistle Farm, thinks Greenmarket rules are too hard on dairies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: ellipsis in caption added.)


(p. D4) The basic aim of the producer-only rules is to ensure that all foods sold at market originate entirely or mostly on family farms within a half day's drive from New York City. The 10-page document detailing these rules, however, is anything but clear.

"Cumbersome, confusing and contradictory," was the assessment of Michael Hurwitz, the director of Greenmarket, which operates 45 markets in the five boroughs.

Pickle makers can sell preserved foods such as peppers in vinegar, but not processed foods such as hot sauce. Farmers, on the other hand, can sell processed hot sauce if it is made with their peppers. Dairies may purchase a higher percentage of their milk for cheese if the cheese is made from one type of milk rather than two milks, such as cow and sheep. Cider makers can buy 40 percent of the apples they press from local farmers, whereas wheatgrass juice sellers must grow all their wheatgrass.



For the full story, see:

INDRANI SEN. "Greenmarket Sellers Debate Maze of Producer-Only Rules." The New York Times (Weds., August 6, 2008): D4.





May 1, 2009

Frazer Institute Seeks Better Measures of Policy Variables



George Gilder emphasizes that the importance of entrepreneurship to economic growth has been missed by many economists, in part because of the difficulty of measuring both the inputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., courage, persistence, creativity, etc.) and the outputs of entrepreneurship (e.g., happiness from more challenging work, greater variety of products, etc.).

Unfortunately this is not just an academic problem, because economists' policy advice is based on their models, and their models focus on what they can measure. If they can't measure entrepreneurship, then policies to encourage entrepreneurship are neglected.

Now the Frazer Institute, is seeking proposals to improve the measurement of important poorly measured policy-relevant variables. This initiative is in the spirit of the good work that the Frazer Institute has done in correlating measures of economic freedom with measures of economic growth.

I have been asked to publicize this initiative, and am pleased to do so:


Dear Art Diamond,

The Fraser Institute is launching a new contest to identify economic and public policy issues which still require proper measurement in order to facilitate meaningful analysis and public discourse. We hope you can help promote this contest by posting it on your weblog, artdiamondblog.

The Essay Contest for Excellence in the Pursuit of Measurement is an opportunity for the public to comment on an economic or public policy issue that they feel is important and deserves to be properly measured.

A top prize of $1,000 and other cash prizes can be won by identifying a vital issue that is either not being measured, or is being measured inappropriately. Acceptable entry formats include a short 500-600 word essay, or a short one-minute video essay.

Complete details and a promotional flyer are available at: http://www.fraserinstitute.org/programsandinitiatives/measurement_center.htm.

Entry deadline is Friday, May 15th, 2009.

Sponsored by the R.J. Addington Center for the Study of Measurement.

Enquiries may be directed to:

Courtenay Vermeulen
Education Programs Assistant
The Fraser Institute
Direct: 604.714.4533
courtenay.vermeulen@fraserinstitute.org



The Fraser Institute is an independent international research and educational organization with offices in Canada and the United States and active research ties with similar independent organizations in more than 70 countries around the world. Our vision is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility. Our mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government interventions on the welfare of individuals.



An important source of Gilder's views, obliquely referred to in my comments above, is:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.





April 30, 2009

Charles Wolf's Main Cancer Regret: "I'm Not There for the Market Open"



WolfCharles2009-2-15.jpg "Charles Wolf with laptop and Archie, in his house near Denver last spring." Source of the caption and the photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C5) He was irked when a cancer recurrence last year required him to resume morning radiation treatments, partly because that took him away from the market. "What kills me more than anything else is that I'm not there for the market open," he said.


For the full obituary, see:

E.S. BROWNING. "Wolf Loses Battle With Cancer; Disease Didn't Affect His Investing Success; Model Patient." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JANUARY 29, 2009): C5.





April 24, 2009

Government Elevator Inspectors Vote with Their Feet for the Private Sector



MiragliaCharles2009-02-15.jpg












"The chief inspection official, Charles Miraglia, works on the side for at least one private elevator company." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A27) More than a dozen members of the New York Housing Authority's elevator staff -- including the official who directs all safety inspections -- also work second jobs for private companies in the elevator industry, according to interviews and city records.

The employees, including three managers and nearly half the inspection staff, say their second jobs do not conflict with their duties maintaining the 3,300 elevators in the authority's 2,600 buildings. Tenant complaints and inspection records indicate that the authority's elevators are among the worst maintained in the city.

All of the elevator staff members with second jobs, including the chief inspection official, Charles Miraglia, have received a waiver from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board, which ruled the second jobs did not present an ethical conflict. Each waiver was granted, the board said, based on the endorsement of the Housing Authority chairman, Tino Hernandez, and an assurance from the employee that the job would not interfere with his authority duties.

. . .


Criticism of the way the authority, the nation's largest public housing landlord, maintains its elevators intensified recently, after a 5-year-old boy died trying to escape a stalled elevator in an authority-owned building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Aug. 19. The Brooklyn district attorney's office continues to investigate that accident.

. . .


Some of those who received waivers to work a second job said in interviews that they worked only part time, and always after hours or on weekends.

Scott T. Hayes, a longtime elevator consultant and inspector for building owners in the city, said 99 percent of all commercial and residential inspections take place during normal business hours, and almost never on weekends. "If a building super works till 4:30 or 5 o'clock and then they're off, and you show up at 6 o'clock and say I want to inspect the elevator, he'll throw you out of the building," Mr. Hayes said. "So I don't know what kind of work they could be doing. It doesn't make sense."

Mr. Miraglia earns $104,000 a year in his authority post and received his waiver to work outside jobs in August 2007, at a time when the authority's difficulties in inspecting elevators were already apparent.



For the full story, see:

RAY RIVERA. "Fixing Elevators: For the City, and on the Side." The New York Times (Tues., September 30, 2008): B1.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 10, 2009

Instead of Government Money, Benson "Just Wanted the Opportunity to Compete"


BensonJim.jpg















"Jim Benson" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) "A number of people had told me they wanted to start space businesses," Mr. Huntress says, "but they always wanted government money. Jim said he didn't want any government money. He just wanted the opportunity to compete. That got my attention."

Mr. Benson, who died Oct. 10 at age 63 of a brain tumor, put it directly: "If we're going to space to stay, space has to pay."

He thought he'd found a business model. "We offer FedEx-like package delivery rides," he proclaimed in 1999. He imagined getting customers like NASA itself and the armed forces, as well as scientists and industry. Always looking for an angle, he also envisioned a more terrestrial use for his rockets: sending a package from San Jose, Calif., to Taipei in 20 minutes.

With organizational ability he developed at software start-ups in the 1980s, Mr. Benson assembled a team of mostly young engineers plus some NASA veterans and set to work. To avoid high development costs, he used off-the-shelf technologies and designs. He quickly landed several contracts, including one from the University of California at Berkeley for ChipSat, a small satellite built for carrying scientific instruments to study interstellar gas. It cost $7 million to build -- peanuts in space bucks -- and has continued to function since its 2003 launch.



For the full obituary, see:

STEPHEN MILLER. "REMEMBRANCES; Jim Benson (1945 - 2008); Rocket Man Ran a Proper Business, But Loftiest Plans Were Ill-Starred." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 18, 2008): A10.





April 9, 2009

How Ayn Rand Matters Today


(p. A7) Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged," is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history.


. . .


Rand . . . noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.

Rand offered us a way out -- to fight for a morality of rational self-interest, and for capitalism, the system which is its expression. And that is the source of her relevance today.



For the full commentary, see:

YARON BROOK. "Is Rand Relevant?" Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 14, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 8, 2009

"The Vast Inefficiencies of Public Sector Airports"


MidwayAirport2009-02-15.jpg "One aviation expert said the Midway deal was a way to overcome inefficiencies of public airports." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited.

(p. A16) CHICAGO -- Midway Airport is poised to become the first large privately run hub airport in the country, officials said Tuesday, after an investment group bid $2.52 billion to win rights to a long-term lease.

. . .

An aviation expert at the Brookings Institution, Clifford Winston, said he saw the deal's attractiveness as helping to overcome "the vast inefficiencies of public sector airports."

"The Midway experiment is important," Mr. Winston said, "but it's only a tiny step."



For the full story, see:

SUSAN SAULNY. "In Chicago, Private Firm Is to Run Midway Airport." The New York Times (Weds., October 1, 2008): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 29, 2009

Vaclav Klaus: The Czech Republic's Free Market Crusader


KlausVaclav2009-02-15.jpg "President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic is known for his economic liberalism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) To supporters, Mr. Klaus is a brave, lone crusader, a defender of liberty, the only European leader in the mold of the formidable Margaret Thatcher. (Aides say Mr. Klaus has a photo of the former British prime minister in his office near his desk.)


. . .


As a former finance minister and prime minister, he is credited with presiding over the peaceful 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into two states and helping to transform the Czech Republic into one of the former Soviet bloc's most successful economies.

But his ideas about governance are out of step with many of the European Union nations that his country will lead starting Jan. 1.

While even many of the world's most ardent free marketeers acknowledged the need for the recent coordinated bailout of European banks, Mr. Klaus lambasted it as irresponsible protectionism. He blamed too much -- rather than too little -- regulation for the crisis.

A fervent critic of the environmental movement, he has called global warming a dangerous "myth," arguing that the fight against climate change threatens economic growth.

. . .


Those who know Mr. Klaus say his economic liberalism is an outgrowth of his upbringing. Born in 1941, he obtained an economics degree in 1963 and was deeply influenced by free market economists like Milton Friedman.

Mr. Klaus's son and namesake, Vaclav, recalled in an interview that when he was 13, his father told him to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to better understand Communism's oppressiveness.

"If you lived under communism, then you are very sensitive to forces that try to control or limit human liberty," he said in an interview.



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "A Fiery Czech Is Poised to Be the Face of Europe." The New York Times (Tues., November 25, 2008): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 28, 2009

"Government Interventions Only Prolonged the Crisis"


The comments of Maart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, are worth considering:

(p.A13) It is said that the only thing that people learn from history is that people learn nothing from history. Looking at how the world is handling the current economic crisis, this aphorism appears sadly true.

World leaders have forgotten how the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 developed into a world-wide depression. It happened not thanks to market failures but as a result of mistakes made by governments which tried to protect their national economies and markets. The market was not allowed to make its corrections. Government interventions only prolonged the crisis.

We may hope that, even as we see several bad signs of neo-interventionist attitude, all the mistakes of the 1930s will not be repeated. But it is clear that the tide has turned again. Capitalism has been declared dead, Marx is honored, and the invisible hand of the market is blamed for all failures. This is not fair. Actually it is not markets that have failed but governments, which did not fulfill their role of the "visible hand" -- creating and guaranteeing market rules. Weak regulation of the banking sector and extensive lending, encouraged by governments, are examples of this failure.



For the full commentary, see:

MART LAAR. "Economic Freedom Is Still the Best Policy." Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 13, 2009): A13.





March 21, 2009

The Values of the Belgian Diamond Market


DiamondTradeOrthodoxJews.JPG "Orthodox Jews have been at the center of Antwerp's diamond trade since the late 19th century, when they fled Eastern Europe." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Markets will work better when a critical mass of participants hold certain core values, including those of tolerance and honesty.

(p. A11) ANTWERP, Belgium -- Teetering on their bicycles or strolling amiably while chattering into cellphones in Yiddish, Dutch, French, Hebrew or English, the Orthodox Jews of this Belgian port city have set the tone of its lively diamond market for more than a century.

Hoveniersstraat, or Gardener's Street, is the backbone of the market, where four-fifths of the world's uncut diamonds are traded. It winds past the L & A Jewelry Factory and the office of Brinks, the armored car company, and on to the World Diamond Center just opposite the little Sephardic synagogue. On any given day but Friday, it is sprinkled liberally with Orthodox Jewish diamond traders, many of them Hasidim.

. . .

Ari Epstein, 33, is the son of a diamond trader, whose father emigrated from a village in Romania in the 1960s. "It's a typical shtetl environment," he said, wearing the yarmulke with a business suit. "It's live and let live. Most important is to do business together and to be honorable."



For the full story, see:

JOHN TAGLIABUE. "Antwerp Journal; Belgian Market's Luster Dims, but Legacy Stays." The New York Times (Tues., January 6, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


DiamondBelgianMarket.jpg













"The market employs about 7,000 and creates work indirectly for another 26,000." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





March 19, 2009

Globalization Helps U.S. During Financial Crisis


ExportsAsShareLocalGDP2006Graph.jpg Source of the graphic: screen capture from the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) Much of the world may be struggling with the economic downturn, but life has been getting better in Columbus, Ind., Kingsport, Tenn., and Waterloo, Iowa.

These out-of-the-way places have become trade hot spots as U.S. exports, fueled by the dollar's fall, continue to provide a rare spark in an otherwise gloomy economy.

While many economists expect a recent snapback in the value of the dollar and a spreading global slowdown to soften that growth, exports have become a key to greater local prosperity more than at any time in decades.

. . .

(p. A16) Export-driven growth marks a dramatic shift in an economy that has relied heavily on consumer spending. That has slowed in recent months as Americans, nervous about job losses, teetering banks, falling home values, and rising gasoline and food prices, have tightened spending. Against that background, exports have emerged as a powerful motor.

Over the past year, real-goods exports have risen $115 billion, or 12%, and are up across every major category. They now make up nearly 13.5% of gross domestic product, the highest percentage since World War II. Critics often grumble that the U.S. exports masses of scrap steel and other waste materials to recyclers in China and elsewhere, which is true, but exports of manufactured goods, commodities and services are also growing. Consumer products, from sporting goods to art supplies, have risen 12%, and even autos, which are languishing on showroom floors in the U.S., saw a 4% bump up in exports.

Service exports -- which include media, entertainment, financial services, computer software and foreign tourism in the U.S. -- have grown strongly right along with the larger goods side of the trade ledger. Through the second quarter of 2008, real-service exports are up nearly 10% over the past year.

It's a badly needed tonic for the beleaguered U.S. economy.



For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY AEPPEL. "Exports Bolster Local Economies." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 11, 2008): A1 & A16.

(Note: the title of the article on the web is: "Exports Prop Up Local Economies.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 7, 2009

Economic Freedom Correlated with "Every Indicator of Well-Being"


FreedomIndex2009.gif Source of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) For 15 years, The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation have been measuring countries' commitment to free-market capitalism in the "Index of Economic Freedom." The 2009 Index, published this week, provides strong evidence that the countries that maintain the freest economies do the best job of promoting prosperity for all citizens.

The positive correlation between economic freedom and national income is confirmed yet again by this year's data. The freest countries enjoy per capita incomes over 10 times higher than those in countries ranked as "repressed." This year, for the first time, the Index also correlates economic freedom with important societal values like poverty reduction, human development, political freedom and environmental protection. The linkages are robust, with economically freer countries performing significantly better on every indicator of well-being.

. . .

In a special chapter in this year's Index, the Journal's Stephen Moore chronicles the critical role that tax cuts, particularly cuts in corporate taxes, have played in economic growth in Eastern European countries and others like Ireland. The citizens of those countries lived for decades with state-directed economic planning and regulation, which many now advocate for the U.S. and other advanced economies. They remember the clumsiness of socialism and the government missteps that fostered economic disaster. To switch dance partners now that they have adapted to the quick step of capitalism and are enjoying its many benefits would be a tragic mistake.

It would be ironic indeed if the world's advanced economies, in seeking to address current woes, abandoned the system that has brought them and others around the world the amazing levels of prosperity experienced over the last half century. The "Index of Economic Freedom" provides a record of that progress. It charts the path to economic advancement and proves that the best way forward is to hang onto our partner and step to the music of the market.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY MILLER. "Freedom Is Still the Winning Formula." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 13, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




February 3, 2009

Taxpayers Pay $91 Million for Surplus Milk Powder


MilkPowderGovWarehouse.jpg






"Millions of pounds of government-owned milk powder stored in a warehouse in Fowler, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) FOWLER, Calif. -- The long economic boom, fueled by easy credit that allowed people to spend money they did not have, led to a huge oversupply of cars, houses and shopping malls, as recent months have made clear. Now, add one more item to the list: an oversupply of cows.

And it turns out that shutting down the milk supply is not as easy as closing an automobile assembly line.

As a breakneck expansion in the global dairy industry turns to bust, Roger Van Groningen must deal with the consequences. In a warehouse that his company runs here, 8 to 20 trucks pull up every day to unload milk powder. Bags of the stuff -- surplus that nobody will buy, at least not at a price the dairy industry regards as acceptable -- are unloaded and stacked into towering rows that nearly fill the warehouse.

Mr. Van Groningen's company does not own the surplus milk powder, but merely stores it for the new owners: the taxpayers of the United States. To date, the government has agreed to buy about $91 million worth of milk powder.

. . .

(p. B5) Government price supports provide a price floor for agricultural products as a way of keeping farmers afloat during hard times and ensuring an adequate food supply.

The Agriculture Department has committed to buying 111.6 million pounds of milk powder at 80 cents a pound, for roughly $91 million, which includes some handling fees. . . .

. . .

. . . the agency has not decided what to do with the cache of milk powder in California.

Some critics of farm subsidies argue that price support programs are antiquated and allow farmers to continue producing even when the economics make no sense, as taxpayers will always buy up the excess production.

"They don't want to downsize or respond to the market signal. They want to keep producing," said Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research organization that has long been critical of the government's farm policy. "Once you get in a jam like this, it becomes our collective problem."




For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "Awash in Milk and Headaches; Cows Keep Producing Despite Drop in Demand." The New York Times (Fri., January 1, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 1, 2009, and is entitled "As Recession Deepens, So Does Milk Surplus.")

MacadoArthurDairyFarmer.jpg "Arthur Machado, a dairy farmer in Fresno, Calif., has to keep feeding his herd of more than 300 cows. He plans to sell them and take up a more stable commodity." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




January 31, 2009

Car Bailout Destroys Dynamism of Process of Creative Destruction


(p. A29) Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target. The U.S. became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction -- with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country's prosperity.

But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.

This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.

Granting immortality to Detroit's Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. . . .

. . .

But the larger principle is over the nature of America's political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country's success.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "Bailout to Nowhere." The New York Times (Fri., November 18, 2008): A29.

(Note: ellipses added.)




January 16, 2009

The Palace of Discovery: "They Came for Wonder and Hope"


PalaceOfDiscoveryParis.jpg
The Palace of Discovery (aka Palais de la Decouverte) in Paris. Source of photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paris2e/2524827592/


Near the beginning of World War II, the 1937 Palace of Discovery in Paris, was a popular source of hope for the future:

(p. 206) An unexpectedly popular draw at the exposition was a relatively small hall hidden away behind the Grand Palais. The Palace of Discovery, as it was called, attracted more than 2 million visitors, five times the number that visited the modern art exhibit. They came for wonder and hope. The wonder was provided by exhibits including a huge electrostatic generator, like something from Dr. Frankenstein's lab, two enormous metal spheres thirteen feet apart, across which a 5-million-volt current threw a hissing, crackling bolt of electricity. The hope came from the very nature of science itself. Designed by a group of liberal French researchers, the Palace of Discovery was intended to be more a "people's university" than a stuffy museum, a place to hear inspiring lectures on the latest wonders of science, messages abut technological confidence and progress for the peoples of the world.


Source:

Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.




January 12, 2009

"Commerce in Goods Brought with it Commerce in Entertainment, Music, Ideas, Gods and Cults"


TerraCottaVessel.jpg






"This terra-cotta vessel, from the Hittite site in Turkey, looks strikingly modern." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D7) The show whisks us along on complementary interlocking narratives that take the visitor down a spaghetti junction of cultural confluences. We learn that in the 1950s a prominent Turkish archaeologist excavated a site known locally as Kultepe. It yielded a vast hoard of cuneiform tablets that record in detail the town's trade in copper and numerous aspects of its domestic life, including letters home -- many of which are on display. As a result, we know that Assyrian merchants in the copper trade moved en masse to Central Anatolia and founded the town, and many like it, to feed the burgeoning trade in what Ms. Aruz calls "the luxury goods of the time." She adds that "potentates competed to possess artifacts like these -- the more distant and exotic their origins, the more desirable because their possession denoted power and prestige."

Visitors should, in particular, feast their eyes on the smoothly burnished terra-cotta spouted vessels from Kultepe and Hittite sites in Turkey. Outlandishly geometric and eerily modern, futuristic even, they alone are worth the price of admission.

In following the visual motif of bull-leaping acrobats from Crete to Anatolia to Egypt on everything from Minoan vases to cylinder seals and carved boxes, the show makes the point that commerce in goods brought with it commerce in entertainment, music, ideas, gods and cults. Suddenly images of Sphinxes and Gryphons pop up all over the 15th-century B.C. geosphere, as do toys and board games and educational institutions.



For the full story, see:

SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. "Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs; Mathematicians Land Top Spot in New Ranking of Best and Worst Occupations in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 6, 2008): D2.

For the case for the complementarity between capitalism and culture, see:

Cowen, Tyler. Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.


AmagiCuneiform.gif "The cuneiform inscription . . . is the earliest-known written appearance of the word "freedom" (amagi), or "liberty." It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 B.C. in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash." Source of the cuneiform and the caption: http://www.libertyfund.org/aboutlogo.htm

(Note: ellipsis added.)




December 31, 2008

European Commission Now Lets Consumers Buy Ugly Vegetables



(p. A6) BRUSSELS -- Misshapen fruit and vegetables won a reprieve on Wednesday from the European Union as it scrapped rules banning overly curved, extra knobbly or oddly shaped produce from supermarket shelves.

Ending regulations on the size and shape of 26 types of fruit and vegetables, the European authorities killed off restrictions that had become synonymous with bureaucratic meddling.

The rising cost of commodities also persuaded the European Commission that there was no point in throwing away food just because it looked strange.

As of July, when the changes go into force, these standards for the 26 products, as varied as peas and plums, will disappear. European shoppers will then be able to choose their produce whatever its appearance.



For the full story, see:

STEPHEN CASTLE. "Europe Relaxes Rules on Sale of Ugly Fruits and Vegetables." The New York Times (Thurs., November 13, 2008): A6.





December 23, 2008

Governments Still Give Sugar's Fanjuls a Sweet Deal


FanjulSugarOperations.jpg "As Florida buys U.S. Sugar, company land could go on the block. The Fanjul family, with sugar operations like this one in Palm Beach County, is waiting." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Many years ago, CBS's "Sixty Minutes" program ran a wonderful Steve Kroft piece (called, I think, "A Sweet Deal") exposing how protectionist federal government sugar import quotas, benefit the extraordinarily wealthy and powerful Fanjul family, at the expense of ordinary consumers.

Nothing has changed:

(p. 1) IN June, Gov. Charlie Crist announced that Florida would buy one of the state's two big sugar enterprises, the United States Sugar Corporation. He billed the purchase as a "jump-start" in the environmental restoration of the Everglades, which cane growers are accused of polluting with fertilizer runoff.

But in the end, the $1.7 billion buyout, scheduled to be completed in early 2009, may also prove to be a financial boon to the state's remaining sugar superpower, Florida Crystals.

One of the country's wealthiest families, the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, controls Florida Crystals and today touches virtually every aspect of the sugar trade in the United States.

. . .

"This is going to be a really good deal for the Fanjuls," says Dexter Lehtinen, a former federal prosecutor whose 1988 lawsuit against the state led to a settlement instituting tough clean water standards. "The state embarked on a nonachievable goal, and now in desperation to wrap up some package, they're going to have to give access to Florida Crystals on favorable terms."

Others, like makers of candy and cereal, say the (p. 9) Fanjuls already control too much of the sugar trade. They want to buy sugar cheap and say the Fanjuls have long charmed Congress into legislating price supports that keep it expensive.

Free-trade advocates also complain, saying that a private business has used the shelter of the federal sugar program, created in the Depression to nurture struggling farmers, to increase its corporate hammerlock.

"These people have been absolutely extorting consumers for decades, and the only reason they're existing in the first place is, they were able to get sweet deals from governments that were propping them up," says Sallie James, a trade policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, referring to Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar.



For the full story, see:

MARY WILLIAMS WALSH. "Florida Deal for Everglades May Help Big Sugar." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., September 14, 2008): 1 & 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

FanjulsPepeJrPepeAndAlfonsoJr.jpg "Three leaders of the Fanjul family: Pepe Jr., left; J. Pepe, center; and Alfonso Jr., called Alfy. After Fidel Castro chased the family from Cuba, it rebuilt its sugar empire in the United States." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

FanjulWaterSugarGraphic.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





December 11, 2008

"The Authorities Were Shocked" at Private Airport Success



DomodedovoAirportMoscow.jpg "Investors renovated a terminal at Domodedovo and oversaw construction of a train line to Moscow." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B9) MOSCOW -- A heated battle for passengers between the Russian capital's main airports offers an unlikely model of competition for the aviation industry.

In most cities, airports are monopolies. Even in cities that have more than one, including New York, Paris and Tokyo, airports are usually owned by the same operator. That means airlines can rarely make the kind of choices passengers take for granted, such as choosing an airport for its efficiency, shopping or lounges.

Not so in Moscow, where two international airports, Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, owned by rival organizations, battle for business. The result is lower fees, better service and fast-improving facilities all around.

Domodedovo Airport, for example, recently convinced several top airlines to make it their Russian base, thanks to a major modernization that added more than 20 new restaurants, jewelry boutiques and a shop where passengers can rent DVDs to watch in booths.

Sheremetyevo Airport responded by building a fast rail link to Moscow, complete with a Starbucks at the airport station.

Moscow's airport rivalry highlights a paradox of the global aviation industry: Airlines compete fiercely with each other for customers, but they face many monopolist suppliers, such as air-traffic control systems, fuel distributors and airports. Resulting costs and poor services get passed on to travelers.


. . .


During Russia's privatization drive of the 1990s, local investors bought Domodedovo, which was previously Moscow's airport serving Soviet Central Asia. The investors, grouped into an upstart charter-airline operator, East Line Group, renovated a terminal at Domodedovo and oversaw construction of a train line to Moscow.

East Line charged airlines landing and operating fees that undercut Sheremetyevo by around 30%. For passengers, Domodedovo's rail link guaranteed a 40-minute trip to downtown Moscow. Private Russian carriers, largely frozen out of Aeroflot's base at Sheremetyevo, expanded quickly at the spacious Domodedovo.

East Line's big break came in 2003, when British Airways announced it would switch from Sheremetyevo to Domodedovo.

"The authorities were shocked that a major airline would leave the government airport," recalls Daniel Burkard, BA's former country manager for Russia.



For the full story, see:

DANIEL MICHAELS. "Moscow Points the Way With Airport Competition; While Most Nations Sport Monopolies, Rivalry Between Two Russian Gateways Ushers in Improvements for Carriers, Travelers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 1, 2008): B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


MoscowAirportTrafficGraph.gif
















Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.








December 7, 2008

In Amsterdam: Expecting the Spanish Inquisition


Gregorius.jpg



A cartoon of the cartoonist who calls himself Gregorius Nekschot. Source of the photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. W1) Amsterdam

On a sunny May morning, six plainclothes police officers, two uniformed policemen and a trio of functionaries from the state prosecutor's office closed in on a small apartment in Amsterdam. Their quarry: a skinny Dutch cartoonist with a rude sense of humor. Informed that he was suspected of sketching offensive drawings of Muslims and other minorities, the Dutchman surrendered without a struggle.

"I never expected the Spanish Inquisition," recalls the cartoonist, who goes by the nom de plume Gregorius Nekschot, quoting the British comedy team Monty Python. A fan of ribald gags, he's a caustic foe of religion, particularly Islam. The Quran, crucifixion, sexual organs and goats are among his favorite motifs.

Mr. Nekschot, whose cartoons had appeared mainly on his own Web site, spent the night in a jail cell. Police grabbed his computer, a hard drive and sketch pads. He's been summoned for further questioning later this month by prosecutors. He hasn't been charged with a crime, but the prosecutor's office says he's been under investigation for three years on suspicion that he violated a Dutch law that forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation.

The cartoon affair has come as a shock to a country that sees itself as a bastion of tolerance, a tradition forged by grim memories of bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Netherlands sheltered Jews and other refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and Calvinists fleeing persecution in France. Its thinkers helped nurture the 18th-century Enlightenment. Prostitutes, marijuana and pornography have been legal for decades.

"This is serious. It is about freedom of speech," says Mark Rutte, the leader of a center-right opposition party. Some of Mr. Nekschot's oeuvre is "really disgusting," he says, "but that is free speech."

. . .


Mr. Nekschot, who calls the investigation "surreal," says, "Not even Monty Python could have come up with this." (His pen name, Gregorius Nekschot, is a mocking tribute to Gregory IX, a 13th-century pope who set up a Vatican department to hunt down and execute heretics. Nekschot means "shot in the neck" in Dutch.) Some Muslim groups have voiced dismay at his arrest as well. The head of an organization of Moroccan preachers in Holland said authorities seemed "more afraid" of offending Islam than Muslims.

. . .

The cartoonist blames his woes on what he calls Holland's "political correctness industry," a network of often state-funded organizations set up to protect Muslims and other minority groups. One of these, an Internet monitoring group known as MDI, says it received dozens of complaints about the cartoonist's mockery of Islam and first reported him to the prosecutor's office in 2005.

"We're not sure what he does is illegal, but there is a possibility that it is not legal," says the group's head, Niels van Tamelen. Many of the complaints, he says, came from followers of a controversial Muslim convert called Abdul-Jabbar van de Ven.

Mr. Van de Ven caused an uproar after the 2004 murder of Mr. Van Gogh, when he seemed to welcome the killing on national TV. He said Mr. Wilders, the anti-immigrant legislator, also deserved to die, preferably from cancer. Mr. Nekschot, appalled by the outburst, caricatured the convert as a fatwa-spewing fanatic.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "Why Islam Is Unfunny for a Cartoonist; The arrest of a controversial Dutch cartoonist has set off a wave of protests. The case is raising questions for a changing Europe about free speech, religion and art." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 12, 2008): W1 & W6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




December 5, 2008

75th Anniversary of End of Prohibition



(p. W8) "Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920, and blew up at last on December 5, 1933 -- an elapsed time of twelve years, ten months and nineteen days," H.L. Mencken wrote shortly after ratification of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution eliminated the 18th Amendment. "It seemed almost a geologic epoch while it was going on, and the human suffering that it entailed must have been a fair match for that of the Black Death or the Thirty Years War."

The demise of Prohibition, 75 years ago . . . , is something of a cause for celebration, and it will be treated as such with Repeal Day parties in Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. . . .

. . .

Temperance advocates had argued Prohibition would usher in an era of sober moral rectitude. When it didn't quite work out that way, public opinion began to turn against the drys. They joined those who opposed Prohibition because it had handed new and oppressive powers to the federal government. Charles Lindbergh's father-in-law, Dwight Whitney Morrow, won a Senate seat from New Jersey in 1930 running as a Republican against Prohibition. He argued that it had caused Americans to "conceive of the Federal Government as an alien and even a hostile Power."

And yet, it was finance that finally did Prohibition in. As the nation sank into the Depression, tax revenues dwindled. The prospect of capturing all the liquor excise taxes that had for a decade been missing (and, in effect, had gone into the pockets of bootlegging mobs) was alluring to Democrats and Republicans alike. Pierre du Pont lobbied his fellow plutocrats to support repeal in the vain hope that liquor taxes would replace income taxes. But the New Dealers saw repeal as creating a vast pile of money with which to fund expansive new government programs. Not only did Prohibition and its enforcement increase the size and scope of the federal government, but so did Prohibition's repeal.



For the full story, see:

ERIC FELTEN. "HOW'S YOUR DRINK; Celebrating Cinco de Drinko." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., NOVEMBER 28, 2008): W8.

(Note: ellipses added.)





November 25, 2008

Oil Companies Often Drill Deep With No Payoff


DeepestOilWellMap.gif Source of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) McMoRan Exploration Co. is leading a renewed effort to find natural gas in a site known as one of the world's deepest dry holes.

Exxon Mobil Corp. walked away from the legendary Blackbeard prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 after drilling to more than 30,000 feet without a payoff. But high energy prices have emboldened the industry, stirring wildcatter passions and prompting companies to look anew at previously abandoned projects.

. . .

(p. B2) If industry reports, unconfirmed by Exxon, are correct, the company spent more than $200 million on the well, making it one of the most expensive dry holes ever drilled.

The industry is littered with expensive failures, but Blackbeard proved too tempting to let go, especially in today's record-price environment, where any reasonably promising prospect is worth a try. Indeed, there are more drilling rigs at work in the U.S. today than at any point since 1985, according to Baker Hughes Inc.

Mr. Moffett, the 69-year-old founder of McMoRan Exploration, is a geologist and inveterate risk taker. He discovered the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia, parlaying it into global mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. The oil-and-gas exploration company was spun off from the mining assets in 1994.

Last August, McMoRan paid $1.1 billion for a package of shallow Gulf of Mexico assets, including Blackbeard, from Newfield Exploration Co., Exxon's former partner on the well. Studying the geology, Mr. Moffett found it similar to successful wells drilled by other companies in the deeper parts of the Gulf.

He now says that if McMoRan decides to keep drilling to 35,000 feet, it will cost about $75 million.



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLD "A Famed Dry Hole Gets a Second Shot." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 21, 2008): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

OilRigDrillingBlackbeard.jpgMoffettJames.jpg









Photo on left is "GorillaIV, the rig drilling Blackbeard." Image on right is the Co-Chairman of McMoRan. Source of photo, image, and caption on left photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




November 13, 2008

A Standing Ovation, and a Salute, for Colonel Jack Moelmann


MoelmannColonel20080823.jpg "Colonel Moelmann, a retired Air Force officer, sold seats for $50, but had to spend almost $120,000 of his own to perform." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I do not share Colonel Moelmann's particular dream, but I do salute him for paying for his dream himself, rather than trying to force taxpayers to finance it, as so many do in pursuit of their dreams.

(p. A18) Col. Jack Moelmann, a retired Air Force officer from O'Fallon, Ill., blew $118,182.44 on a one-night stand in New York on Saturday. It was everything he had dreamed of, and more: three hours with the mightiest of the mighty Wurlitzers, the legendary pipe organ at Radio City Music Hall.

The experience left him sweaty and exhausted -- having your way with a mechanical marvel that contains more than a million parts is hard work -- and it reduced his net worth to "the mid-five figures," he said. But Colonel Moelmann had no regrets. He soldiered through tune after tune, from "The Trolley Song" from "Meet Me in St. Louis" to patriotic songs like "America the Beautiful," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Which, as he pointed out before he climbed onto the bench of the giant ebony console at the left-hand edge of the Rockettes' high-kicking home, guaranteed him a standing ovation.

. . .

"Not many people get their name on the marquee," he said.

Not many people spend a large chunk of their life savings to buy their way in, either.

The idea for a Radio City concert began with the president of the year-old Theater Organ Society International, the Rev. Gus L. Franklin, and Mr. Page, a member. "We turned our pockets inside out and said, 'It's not going to happen,' " Mr. Page said.

Colonel Moelmann, the society's secretary, decided to make it happen -- "I looked in the mirror and said: 'Jack, you have a dream. Go for it.' "-- even though, he said, it was a foregone conclusion that "we're going to lose money big time."

He and the organ society put the price of the tickets at $50 a seat, but the show was far from a sellout. Even with the three balconies closed, the orchestra level was about a third full.

Some in the audience were Moelmann fans from way back. Susan Conrad Wells, a law librarian from Granby, Mass., said she had met Colonel Moelmann through an organ club in 1967, when he was stationed in Massachusetts.

Colonel Moelmann said that playing at Radio City presented its own challenges. "You can't listen to what you're playing," he said. "If you listen note by note, once you've hit the note and you hear it, it's too late to say, 'Oops, I hit the wrong note.' "

In the end, he got his standing ovation.



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "Organist Rents Radio City to Play, Fulfilling Wish." The New York Times (Mon., August 11, 2008): A18. (B4 in NY edition)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

MoelmannColonelAtOrgan20080823.jpg "Jack Moelmann always wanted to play Radio City's pipe organ, above, even after playing at Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





November 3, 2008

"We Will Stay a Laissez-Faire Economy"


AnsipAndrusEstonianPrimeMinister.jpg








"Andrus Ansip, leader of Estonia, an ex-Soviet Republic." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

An earlier entry suggested that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's support for Steve Forbes' flat tax, had helped Estonia achieve a high rate of growth.

Apparently there is some sentiment in Estonia to stay the course:

(p. B6) TALLINN, Estonia -- For nearly two decades, Estonia embraced capitalism with such gusto that it seemed to be channeling the laissez-faire philosophy of Milton Friedman. From its policies meant to attract foreign investors to its flat tax and freewheeling business culture, it stood out as the former Soviet republic most adept at turning post-Communist chaos into a thriving market economy.

Now Estonians, and some of their Baltic neighbors, are slogging through their first serious economic downturn since liberation from the Soviet grip in the early 1990s.

. . .

Whatever happens, government officials say there will be no betrayal of Friedman's philosophy. "We will stay a laissez-faire economy," said Juhan Parts, Estonia's minister of the economy.

. . .

"I'm an optimist," said Marje Josing, director of the Estonian Institute for Economic Research. "Fifteen years ago things looked bad, but they managed. A little real-life pressure won't hurt."

Indeed, so far the downturn has done little to discourage Estonia's ambitious entrepreneurs. If anything, it has made them look more avidly elsewhere for growth.

"Estonia may be a small country," Tarmo Prikk, chief executive of Thulema, an office furniture maker, said with a laugh. "But my ego is bigger."



For the full story, see:

CARTER DOUGHERTY. "Estonia's Let-It-Be Economy Is Rattled by Worldwide Distress." The New York Times (Fri., October 10, 2008): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)




October 29, 2008

"The Real Economic Heroes of Capitalism: the Self-Made Entrepreneurs"


(p. A19) Much of the resentment felt by citizens toward the massive investment companies . . . stems from the perception that capitalism is rigged toward the most powerful. When the owner of a small retail outlet or medium-sized service firm gets into financial trouble -- who steps in to help? Why are the rules to start a business so onerous, why is the bureaucratic process so lengthy, why are the requirements for hiring employees so burdensome? When does the entrepreneur receive the respect and cooperation he deserves for making a genuine contribution to the productive capacity of the economy? Equal access to credit is sacrificed to the overwhelming appetite of big business -- especially when government skews the terms in favor of its friends. It is time to pay deference to the real economic heroes of capitalism: the self-made entrepreneurs who have the courage to start a business from scratch, the fidelity to pay their taxes, and the dedication to provide real goods and services to their fellow man.

. . .

Who would have guessed that it would take a Frenchman to remind us that hope is the limitless source of power that drives the human spirit to create, to improve, to achieve its dreams; it is the greatest civilizing influence in our culture. Yet it was Mr. Sarkozy, speaking before Congress last November, who offered the most profound assessment of our nation's gift to the world. "What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind," he said. "America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who -- with their hands, their intelligence and their heart -- built the greatest nation in the world: 'Come, and everything will be given to you.' She said: 'Come, and the only limits to what you'll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.'"



For the full commentary, see:

JUDY SHELTON. "A Capitalist Manifesto; Markets remain our best hope for a better future." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 13, 2008): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)




October 4, 2008

Making a Profit Selling Solid Houses to Citizens of New Orleans


EverhouseNewOrleans.jpg



"The Everhouse." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Tomorrow, tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina and are still living in federally owned trailers will be forced to find a new place to live. After nearly three years, the federal government's temporary housing is coming to an end.

These folks are not going to have an easy time of it, because affordable housing in the Gulf Coast region is scarce. The problem has persisted despite billions in government aid - and the efforts of large private developers - because of a shortage of skilled laborers and sky-high insurance rates.

Yet now there is hope, in the person of John Sawyer. Not only does this 64-year-old Bostonian believe he can build houses people can afford to buy and insure; he says they will withstand the next big storm. And, by the way, he intends to makes a tidy profit.

. . .

The dwellings will arrive in the form of kits that can be assembled in as little as 14 days. With walls of reinforced concrete, there isn't much wood, and so mold won't pose a major problem if the houses are ever flooded. They can "take a bath" as the locals say. Everhouses also cost $68 a square foot, less than half the going rate for affordable housing in New Orleans.

The upshot of the house's durability and cost is that it's easy to insure.


For the full commentary, see:

JAKE HALPERN. "A Market Solution to Hurricane Risk." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2008): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




October 1, 2008

Musings on the Financial Crisis and the Paulson Plan


A few people have asked me for my views on the current financial turmoil. Below, is an email that I sent this morning (10/1/08) to my brother Eric.

Hi Eric,

I'm with Abby in the 'stewing' department. I'm way conflicted.

On the one hand I believe that the least government is usually the best. On the other hand, I've read a couple of books recently about the Great Depression, and I'd rather keep that title in the "history" folder than in the "personal experience" folder.

I'm mad about the irresponsible home loans taken on by irresponsible consumers, and encouraged by irresponsible, and sometimes dishonest, mortgage pushers, and government and quasi-governmental agencies (aka Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

I'm also mad at investment bankers who created totally nontransparent securities based on these mortgages, garnering huge bonuses for themselves, without creating any value for consumers.

And I'm most mad that the fallout from this will almost certainly result in more government, and more taxes, that will reduce innovation, economic progress, and freedom.

In the long-run, I think we need to get the government out of the business of encouraging, and selling mortgage loans. And investment banks need to change the incentive structure for their high flyers, to make surer that they're rewarding good judgment, rather than rewarding opacity and unjustified risk-taking.

But the short-run gives me trouble. I have no sympathy for the investment banks. They deserve to go down.

The problem is the claim that the investment banks are an integral part of the financial infrastructure of the country. If that is true, then letting them totally fail, will take down many firms and taxpayers, who had no responsibility for the problems.

One crucial question is whether in fact, letting the investment banks fail would result in systemic collapse of the financial infrastructure. And I do not know the answer. This is a difficult question, outside my area of specialization.

But in the Great Depression, something sort of like that happened. And historians/economists have blamed Mellon/Hoover for adopting a position something akin to what the rebel house Republicans are adopting.

I have never met Ben Bernanke, and have never read any of his articles. But my impression is that he is a conscientious, serious scholar, who is generally friendly to free markets, and whose main research focus was the economics of the Great Depression. So when he looks worried, and says that something major needs to be done, I give that credibility.

I don't like growing the government in this way. But if we don't act, and if the collapse comes, then the proposed growth in government in the Paulson proposal will look petty ante, compared to what will follow.

I believe the government should provide national defense, police and courts. On infrastructure I've always been conflicted. I think a lot of infrastructure can be usefully privatized, and when it can, I favor it (although when I'm talking to Mom, I try not to mention my admiration for Mitch Daniels ;).

On the other hand I usually don't lose much sleep about government infrastructure like the Omaha streets and FDIC insurance.

It's a stretch, but maybe you can kind of think of what they are proposing as an emergency extension of infrastructure?

I didn't mean to write a long message. But I couldn't think of a good short one.

Cheers,

Art




September 27, 2008

EPA Mandates that Texas Keep Digging Ethanol Hole


ReeveEthanolPlant.jpg "At the Reeve plant near Garden City, Kan., grain is made into ethanol, and the byproducts are fed to cattle in the adjacent feedlot." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Unfortunately, the EPA rejected Gov. Paley's request, discussed in the article quoted below:

(p. C1) The ethanol industry, until recently a golden child that got favorable treatment from Washington, is facing a critical decision on its future.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive regulations requiring the oil industry to blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Mr. Perry says the billions of bushels of corn being used to produce all that mandated ethanol would be better suited as livestock feed than as fuel.

Feed prices have soared in the last two years as fuel has begun competing with food for cropland.

"When you find yourself in a hole, you have to quit digging," Mr. Perry said in an interview. "And we are in a hole."

His request for an emergency waiver cutting the ethanol mandate to 4.5 billion gallons, from the 9 billion gallons required this year and the 10.5 billion required in 2009, is backed by a coalition of food, livestock and environmental groups.

Farmers and ethanol and other biofuel producers are lobbying to keep the existing mandates.



For the full story, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Uprising Against the Ethanol Mandate." The New York Times (Weds., July 23, 2008): C1 & C5.




September 18, 2008

Medicare Pays $110 for Walker that Wal-Mart Sells for $60


MedicareSavingsFromEquipmentBids.jpg Source of table: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) On Wal-Mart's Web site, you can buy a walker for $59.92. It is called the Carex Explorer, and it's a typical walker: a few feet high, with four metal poles extending to the ground. The Explorer is one of the walkers covered by Medicare.

But Medicare and its beneficiaries aren't paying $59.92 for the Explorer or any similar walker. In fact, they're not paying anything close to it. They are paying about $110.

. . .

(p. C5) In the abstract, fixing the health care system sounds perfectly unobjectionable: it's about reducing costs (and then being able to cover the uninsured) by getting rid of inefficiency and waste. In reality, though, almost every bit of waste benefits someone.

Doctors who perform spinal fusion surgeries, despite decidedly mixed evidence that they're effective, are making a nice living. Hospitals that order $1,000 diagnostic tests, even when a cheaper one would work just as well, are helping their bottom line. Medical equipment makers selling walkers for $110, while Wal-Mart sells them for $60, are fattening their profits.

The current fight to protect those profits is a microcosm of what you can expect to see if a larger effort to rein in health costs ever gets going. The defenders of the status quo won't say that they are protecting themselves. Instead, they'll use the same arguments that the medical equipment makers are using -- that a change will destroy jobs, bankrupt small businesses and, above all, harm patients.

. . .

But this is a case in which the market can clearly do a better job than a government-mandated fee schedule. Just look at Wal-Mart's Web site or, for that matter, the bids that Medicare has already received.

By standing in the way of this competition, Congress is really standing up for higher health care costs.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; High Medicare Costs, Courtesy of Congress." The New York Times (Weds., June 25, 2008): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)




September 14, 2008

Cubans Skeptical of Their Government


CubanCellPhone.jpg "Cubans used a cellphone to take photos in Havana recently after Cuba's government lifted some restrictions on consumer items." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) MEXICO CITY -- A rare study conducted surreptitiously in Cuba found that more than half of those interviewed considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country.

"Almost every poll you ever see, even those in the U.S., goes to bread-and-butter issues," said Alex Sutton, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute, which conducted the study. "Everybody everywhere is interested in their purchasing power."

The results showed deep anxiety about the state of the country, with 35 percent of respondents saying things were "so-so" and 47 percent saying they were going "badly" or "very badly." As for the government's ability to turn things around, Cubans were skeptical, with 70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country's biggest problem in the next few years.

The study, to be released on Thursday, was conducted from March 14 to April 12, after Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency.



For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "In Rare Study, Cubans Put Money Worries First." The New York Times (Thurs., June 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: the order of some of the article content differed in the print and online versions; the version above is consistent with the print version.)




September 12, 2008

Keynes Was Relying on the Invisible Hand of the Market in 1946


AusterityBritainBK.jpg









Source of book image:
http://www.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TWS/CoverImages_0/074/757/0747579857.jpg

(p. B7) As Mr. Kynaston sets his scene, what immediately becomes clear is that the recent past is not so recent. "Britain in 1945. No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food. ... No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash day every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board. ...Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal. White faces everywhere." And with all those white faces was the single overwhelming, blanketing fact of deprivation, a bare-bones existence. Britain had just prevailed in a struggle for its very survival, but victory never looked so grim.

. . .

The Labor Party won the 1945 election in a landslide on a promise of national planning. The debate now was how far to take socialism, with the Laborites divided between the hell-bent nationalizers and the more market-oriented Keynesians. In 1946 Keynes himself admitted (though privately) that "I find myself more and more relying for a solution of our problems on the invisible hand" of the market, "which I tried to eject from economic thinking 20 years ago."

. . .

Almost invisible in Mr. Kynaston's sparkling panorama is a sign of what was to come. One Conservative politician was out of step not only with Labor's policies but even with the prevailing views of her own party. Margaret Roberts was just about alone in condemning the welfare state as "pernicious," destructive of the national character. In 1951, a year after Labor's second postwar electoral victory, she got married. Her husband's name was Thatcher.



For the full review, see:

Barry Gewen. "Books of The Times - In Postwar Britain, the Grim Face of Victory." The New York Times (Thurs., June 12, 2008): B7.

(Note: ellipses within the Kynaston quote are in the original; ellipses between paragraphs are added.)




August 20, 2008

FDR Turned Schumpeter into a Fan of Ludwig von Mises


From McCraw writing about Schumpeter:

(pp. 318-319) The New Deal struck him as still another prelude to authoritarianism. He became convinced that Roosevelt's program represented a step toward either fascism or socialism, and in either case potential dictatorship. He wrote a friend that Roosevelt was like a child mindlessly breaking a machine because he didn't understand its design. The president "is going to turn me into a fan of [Ludwig von] Mises," his classmate at the University of Vienna who had become a free-market fundamentalist and an opponent of almost all government intervention.


Source:

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.




August 19, 2008

"The Low Prices Today Seem Almost Ridiculous"


BrooksBrothersSuit.JPG






In 2008 dollars, a basic Brooks Brothers suit cost $788 in 1998 and costs $598 in 2008. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. E1) As luxury fashion has become more expensive, mainstream apparel has become markedly less so. Today, shoppers pay the same price for a basic Brooks Brothers men's suit, $598, as they did in 1998. The suggested retail price of a pair of Levi's 501 jeans, $46, is about $4 less than it was a decade ago. A three-pack of Calvin Klein men's briefs costs $21.50, only $3.50 more than in 1998. Which is the better buy?

Factoring for inflation, each of these examples is actually less expensive today. In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24.

. . .

(p. E9) Anyone who has spent time walking along 34th Street in Manhattan recently, from Kmart to Macy's to Forever 21 and H&M, would think that the economic outlook is rosy. Shoppers there are still laden with bags from Payless and Victoria's Secret, and several said they perceived fashion to be a better buy, with more variety and style at lower prices, than a decade ago.

"You can buy a lot more with your money today than before," said Joanna Eliza, a recent graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, shopping on 34th Street on Tuesday. "Stores like H&M and Forever 21 make it more affordable for people who want to be fashionable, and that makes me feel really good."

Over all, apparel prices have gone down primarily because of two factors: the overwhelming movement of manufacturing to countries with cheaper labor, where the clothes are made, and increased competition between traditional retailers and discounters, where the clothes are sold.

In some cases, the low prices today seem almost ridiculous. Steve & Barry's sells celebrity-branded shoes and dresses for $8.98 or less. Target offers a silk faille ball gown from Isaac Mizrahi on sale for $129.99. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, promotes an Op T-shirt for 97 cents.



For the full story, see:

ERIC WILSON. "Dress for Less and Less." The New York Times (Thurs., May 29, 2008): E1 & E9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




August 15, 2008

How to Save a Species by Eating It


RenewingAmericasFoodTraditionsBK.jpg








Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61cDbDl665L._SS500_.jpg

(p. D1) SOME people would just as soon ignore the culinary potential of the Carolina flying squirrel or the Waldoboro green neck rutabaga. To them, the creamy Hutterite soup bean is too obscure and the Tennessee fainting goat, which keels over when startled, sounds more like a sideshow act than the centerpiece of a barbecue.

But not Gary Paul Nabhan. He has spent most of the past four years compiling a list of endangered plants and animals that were once fairly commonplace in American kitchens but are now threatened, endangered or essentially extinct in the marketplace. He has set out to save them, which often involves urging people to eat them.

Mr. Nabhan's list, 1,080 items and growing, forms the basis of his new book, an engaging journey through the nooks and crannies of American culinary history titled "Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods" (Chelsea Green Publishing, $35).

. . .

(p. C5) Some of the items on the list, like Ojai pixie tangerines and Sonoma County Gravenstein apples, were well on their way back before Mr. Nabhan came along. But other foods are enjoying a renaissance largely as a result of the coalition's work.

The Makah ozette potato, a nutty fingerling with such a rich, creamy texture that it needs only a whisper of oil, is one of the success stories. It is named after the Makah Indians, who live at the northwest tip of Washington state and have been growing the potatoes for more than 200 years.

The Seattle chapters of Slow Food and the Chefs Collaborative adopted the rare potato. In 2006, Slow Food passed out seed potatoes to a handful of local farmers and gardeners, and chefs like Seth Caswell at the Stumbling Goat Bistro in Seattle began putting them on the menu.

Mr. Caswell says they are delicious roasted with a little hazelnut oil for salads or cut into wedges to go with burgers made with wagyu beef and Washington State black truffle oil.

There have been other revivals, the moon and stars watermelon and the tepary bean among them. The effort to reintroduce heritage turkeys to the American table was a precursor to the work of Mr. Nabhan and his collaborators.

The meaty Buckeye chicken, with its long legs suitable for ranging around, is considered one of five most endangered chicken breeds. Last year over 1,000 chicks were hatched and delivered to breeders, Mr. Nabhan said.

Justin Pitts, whose family has raised Pineywoods cattle in southern Mississippi for generations, credits the coalition with saving those animals. The small, lean cattle that provide milk, meat and labor spent centuries adapting to the pine barrens of the deep south, raised by families who can trace their herds back as far as anyone can remember. There are less than a dozen of those families left, and at one point the number of pure Pineywoods breeding animals fell to under 200. In the past few years, it has grown to nearly 1,000.

Mr. Pitts, who has "90 head if I can find them all," sells New York strips and other cuts at the New Orleans farmers' market and to chefs.

"I can't raise cattle fast as they eat them," he said.

He supports the notion that you've got to eat something to save it.

"If you're keeping them for a museum piece," he said, "you've just signed their death warrant."



For the full story, see:

KIM SEVERSON. "An Unlikely Way to Save a Species: Serve It for Dinner." The New York Times (Weds., April 30, 2008): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Reference to book:

Nabhan, Gary Paul. Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2008.

WatermelonMoonAndStar.jpg







Moon and stars watermelon. Source of image: http://bp0.blogger.com/_Tyq14YRMHCI/SBlWLE9tynI/AAAAAAAAAD8/gphhc3wgK-4/s1600/purplewatermelon266.jpg




August 10, 2008

"We Educate Them and Then Tell them to Go Home"


(p. C3) The United States may be synonymous with the high-tech revolution, but it is in danger of losing its high-tech edge, according to Cybercities 2008, a report released Tuesday by AeA, a technology industry trade association.

Because the federal government does not issue a sufficient number of green cards or work visas to talented foreign students studying here, there are a "tremendous number of unfilled jobs," said Christopher Hansen, AeA's chief executive.

"We educate them and then tell them to go home. This is absurd," said Mr. Hansen, whose group has lobbied to increase the number of visas for foreign technology industry workers.



For the full story, see:

ERIC A. TAUB. "U.S. High Tech Said to Slip." The New York Times (Weds., June 25, 2008): C3.




July 30, 2008

After Tort Reform, 7,000 M.D.s Have Gone to Texas



(p. A9) When Sam Houston was still hanging his hat in Tennessee in the 1830s, it wasn't uncommon for fellow Tennesseans who were packing up and moving south and west to hang a sign on their cabins that read "GTT" - Gone to Texas.

Today obstetricians, surgeons and other doctors might consider reviving the practice. Over the past three years, some 7,000 M.D.s have flooded into Texas, many from Tennessee.

Why? Two words: Tort reform.

In 2003 and in 2005, Texas enacted a series of reforms to the state's civil justice system. They are stunning in their success. Texas Medical Liability Trust, one of the largest malpractice insurance companies in the state, has slashed its premiums by 35%, saving doctors some $217 million over four years. There is also a competitive malpractice insurance industry in Texas, with over 30 companies competing for business. This is driving rates down.

The result is an influx of doctors so great that recently the State Board of Medical Examiners couldn't process all the new medical-license applications quickly enough. The board faced a backlog of 3,000 applications. To handle the extra workload, the legislature rushed through an emergency appropriation last year.



For the full commentary, see:


JOSEPH NIXON. "CROSS COUNTRY; Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 17, 2008): A9.






July 26, 2008

Acclaimed Playwrite David Mamet Endorses Free Market


MametDavid.gif






Source of image: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. A18) The American playwright David Mamet wrote a piece for the Village Voice last week titled, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal.'" Mr. Mamet, whose characters famously use the f-word as a rhythmic device (I think of it now as the "Mamet-word"), didn't himself mince words on his transition. He was riding with his wife one day, listening to National Public Radio: "I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: 'Shut the [Mamet-word] up.'" Been known to happen.

Toward the end of the essay, he names names: "I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."


For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL HENNINGER. "WONDER LAND; David Mamet's Revision." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 20, 2008): A18.




July 25, 2008

African Farmer-Entrepreneurs, and U.S. Companies, Creating Another Breadbasket


(p. A14) ARSI NEGELE, Ethiopia -- Babou Galgo, a 61-year-old farmer, proudly showed off his prized harvest from last season: two shiny gold medals from the regional and federal government and a slick certificate praising his "outstanding performance in increasing agriculture production and productivity."

What he had done was boost his corn yields on his small farm in southern Ethiopia an eye-popping sevenfold over the past several years. Even more impressive, he had boosted the well-being of his family as well: With the added income, they moved out of a traditional mud-brick tukul and into a brick and concrete house furnished with a refrigerator, television and DVD player, rare luxuries for a farmer in one of the world's poorest countries.

Indeed, not long ago, Mr. Galgo would have had no need for a refrigerator as meager yields had him struggling to feed his family. "It's the seeds," he says, noting the reason for his reversal of fortunes. "Hybrids."

Africa's nascent push to finally feed itself is turning the clock back to the early part of 20th-century America. It was in the 1930s and '40s when Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International popularized hybrid seeds in the U.S., swelling corn yields throughout the Midwest. Seven decades later, African farmers and U.S. companies are trying to recreate the same boom that turned America into the world's breadbasket, only this time in the harsh climate -- environmental and political -- of Ethiopia and greater Africa.

. . .

Farmer Galgo is ready for another upgrade. Sitting in his comfortable living room, beneath wall murals of Jesus and a peace dove, he tells Mr. Admassu, "I want to expand my land and buy a tractor. A big tractor, with a lot of power."



For the full story, see:


ROGER THUROW. "Agriculture's Last Frontier; African Farmers, U.S. Companies Try to Create Another Breadbasket With Hybrids." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2008): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




July 21, 2008

Free Trade Defended By Democratic Leadership Council Founder


(p. A15) Where are the pro-trade Democrats? America won't increase middle-class incomes and create jobs without them.

. . .

History proves that expanding trade and productivity help create growth. We learned that the hard way when the Smoot-Hawley tariff helped crush trade and exacerbate the Great Depression. Conversely, we have seen trade drive the economy during the great expansions of the 1960s and 1990s.

. . .

Trade gives poor people around the globe the opportunity to build a brighter future. During the Clinton administration, new trade programs like the African Growth and Opportunity Act helped key regions in the world succeed, while American workers stood to gain.

I helped found the Democratic Leadership Council in the wake of Walter Mondale's 49-state defeat in 1984, and we have always supported expanded trade. We still have a ways to go to win that argument in the Democratic Party. But the record is clear. Over the past 20 years, our party has grown stronger when we've been willing to do the right thing on the toughest issues, from putting the nation's fiscal house in order to overhauling a broken welfare system that trapped millions in poverty.



For the full commentary, see:

AL FROM. "Confessions of a Pro-Trade Democrat." The Wall Street Journal
(Mon., June 9, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 17, 2008

Starbucks Hypocritically Censors Its Customers


(p. A12) Laissez-faire. It's a policy that made Starbucks vastly successful. But don't try to put that phrase on a customized Starbucks Card.

The cards are supposed be personalized to reflect customers' tastes and uniqueness. They are available in a range of colors, often given as gifts and used by regular customers who prefer to prepay for their java.

But when my friend Roger Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, received a Starbucks gift card for Christmas, he found there was a limit to how personalized a card could be. His card required him to customize it on the company's Web site. So he went to the site and requested that the phrase "Laissez Faire" be printed on his card. A few days later he was informed that the company couldn't issue such a card because the wording violated company policy.

. . .

Maybe Starbucks considers the phrase inappropriate because it's "overtly political commentary"? Certainly my friend regards it as a firm statement of political philosophy.

And so, at my suggestion, my friend went back to the Web site and asked that his card be issued with the phrase "People Not Profits." Bingo! Starbucks had no problem with that phrase, and the card arrived in a few days.

I wondered just what the company's standards were. If "laissez-faire" is unacceptably political, how could the socialist slogan "people not profits" be acceptable?

. . .

Starbucks has prospered mightily in a free economy. For the most recent fiscal year, the company earned $672.6 million on revenue of $9.4 billion, a very healthy profit. And these days, in the wake of a California Superior Court judge's order that the company repay $100 million in back tips that were shared by shift supervisors, Starbucks honchos just might like a little less government intervention in their affairs and a little more laissez-faire.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BOAZ. "Starbucks and 'Laissez Faire'." The Wall Street Journal
(Mon., April 7, 2008): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 16, 2008

Argentine Taxes "Killing Their Incentives"


ArgentinaMarchettiPresidentCigraGroup.jpg "Marcelo Marchetti, president of Cigra group." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) WENCESLAO ESCALANTE, Argentina -- When the government decided in March to raise taxes on farmers' profits, it set off a rural revolt in Argentina. For three weeks enraged farmers blocked roads nationwide, paralyzing grain and meat sales and causing food shortages.

. . .

The farmers say they are concerned not only about profits, though the steeper taxes have cut into them. They also say Mrs. Kirchner's policies are threatening to reverse one of the great agricultural booms in Argentina's history and to snuff out a technological and entrepreneurial revolution that has made the country a leading food source in a world racked by hunger and rising food prices.

"We have an enormous historic opportunity to grow as a country, but the government wants to punish a sector that should continue to be an engine of growth," said Marcelo Marchetti, 39. "The world has opened its doors to us, and here we are fighting among ourselves."

. . .

An emergency law passed in 2002, in the midst of an economic crisis, has allowed the Kirchner government to create export taxes and keep the revenues away from governors and mayors. The Kirchners have used the doling out of those revenues to maintain political control over the provinces, which were critical to Mrs. Kirchner's election.

. . .

In Wenceslao Escalante, the Marchetti brothers, who both studied accounting in college, said the government's policies were killing their incentives to produce more. A decade ago they formed their company, Cigra, investing in the latest seed technology and farm equipment, and later buying $400,000 grain harvesters with global positioning systems.

Seven years ago the brothers expanded north into Chaco and Santiago del Estero, provinces where the land was thought to be too dry to support corn and soybeans. Today, with more advanced seeds and better crop rotation, it is considered the frontier for Argentine agriculture. But production there is threatened by declining profitability.

As the government has taken more from the farmers, international prices for the supplies to produce their crops, including fertilizers and seeds, have been rising faster than the prices of the commodities, Marcelo Marchetti said. The price of phosphorus, for example, has nearly tripled since last year, he said.

Suddenly the future seems cloudier. The brothers have decided not to make any investments over the next year.

"Everything is on hold," Mr. Marchetti said.



For the full story, see:

ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO. "In Argentina's Grain Belt, Farmers Revolt Over Taxes." The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., April 27, 2008): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

ArgentinaButcherShop.jpg "At a butcher shop in Buenos Aires, supplies were down during strikes by farmers in rural towns like Wenceslao Escalante." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




July 9, 2008

Economists' Statement on McCain Economic Plan (that I Signed)


I agreed to have my name added to the "Economist's Statement" below, which was released to the press on Mon., July 7th. My general view is that free markets encourage morality, free choice, efficiency, and innovation; and that John McCain is much more likely to adopt free market policies than is Barack Obama.

Economists' Statement:

We enthusiastically support John McCain's economic plan. It is a comprehensive, pro-growth, reform agenda. The reform focuses on the real economic problems Americans face today and will face in the future. And it builds on the core economic principles that have made America great.

His plan would control government spending by vetoing every bill with earmarks, implementing a constitutionally valid line-item veto, pausing non-military discretionary government spending programs for one year to stop their explosive growth and place accountability on federal government agencies.

His plan would keep taxes from rising, because higher tax rates are exactly the wrong policy to restore economic growth, especially at this time.

His plan would reduce tax rates by cutting the tax that corporations pay to 25 percent in line with other countries, by completely phasing out the alternative minimum tax, by increasing the exemption for dependents, by permitting the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology, and by making permanent a reformed tax credit for R&D.

His plan would also create a new and much simpler tax system and give Americans a free choice of whether to pay taxes under that simple system or the current complex and burdensome income tax.

His plan would open new markets for American goods and services and thereby create additional jobs for Americans by supporting good free trade agreements, such as the one with Colombia, and working with leaders around the world to avoid isolationism and protectionism. His plan would also reform education, retraining, and other assistance programs so they better help those displaced by trade and other changes in the economy. His plan addresses problems in the financial markets and housing markets by calling for increased transparency and accountability, by targeted assistance to deserving homeowners to refinance their mortgages, and by opposing so-called reform plans which would raise the costs of home-ownership in the future.

The above actions, as well as plans to address entitlement programs -- especially Social Security, Medicare and other government health care programs -- and his regulatory reforms -- especially in the area of health care -- constitute a broad and powerful economic agenda. Because of John McCain's experience working with the American people in all walks of life, with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and with leaders around the world, we are optimistic that these plans will become a reality and will create jobs and restore confidence and strong economic growth.

Economists Who Have Signed The Statement:

Burton Abrams, University of Delaware
James D. Adams, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Douglas K. Adie, Ohio University
Richard Agnello, University of Delaware
William Albrecht, University of Iowa
Constantine Alexandrakis, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth
William Alpert, University of Connecticut
Wayne Angell, Former Fed Governor
Fernando E. Alvarez, University of Chicago
Geoffrey T. Andron, Austin Community College
George R. Averitt, Purdue University North Central
Charles Baird, California State University, East Bay
Howard Beales, George W ashington University
Stacie E. Beck, University of Delaware
Gary Becker, University of Chicago
Donald Bellante, University of South Florida
Daniel K. Benjamin, Clemson University
John J. Bethune, Barton CollegeSanjai Bhagat, University of Colorado
Andrew G. Biggs, American Enterprise Institute
Robert G. Bise, Orange Coast College
Michael K. Block, University of Arizona
Donald Booth, Chapman University
Karl J. Borden, University of Nebraska
Michael Bordo, Rutgers University
George H. Borts, Brown University
Mich ael Boskin, Stanford University
Daniel P. Brandt III, Washington, D.C.
Ike Brannon, Department of the Treasury
David P. Brown, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Jeff Brown, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Joseph Brusuelas, Merk Investments
Phillip J. Bryson, Brigham Young University
Andrzej Brzeski, University of California, Davis
James Buchanan, George Mason University
Todd Buchholz, Two Oceans Management
Richard Burdekin, Claremont McKenna College
Richard V. Burkhauser, Cornell University
James B. Burnham, Duquesne University
Andr ew B. Busch, BMO Capital Markets
James L. Butkiewicz, University of Delaware
Mark Calabria, United States Senate
James Carter, Vienna, VA
Don Chance, Louisiana State University
Barry R. Chiswick, University of Illinois at Chicago
Bhagwan Chowdhry, UCLA
Richard Clarida, Columbia University
Candice Clark, Economic consultant
Kenneth W. Clarkson, University of Miami
Warren Coats, IMF, retired
John Cogan, Hoover Institution
Boyd D. Collier, Tarleton State University
Michael Connolly, University of Miami
Kathleen B. Cooper, Southern Methodist University
Joshua Coval, Harvard University
Ted Covey, McLean, Virginia
Nicole Crain, Lafayette College
W. Mark Crain, Lafayette College
Dan Crippen, Former CBO Director
Thomas D. Crocker, University of Wyoming
Robert L. Crouch, University of California, Santa Barbara
Mario J. Crucini, Vanderbilt University
Ward S. Curran, Trinity College
Coldwell Daniel III, The University of Memphis
Antony Davies, Duquesne University
Steven Davis, University of Chicago
Clarence R. Deitsch, Ball State University
Richard DeKaser, National City Corporation
Stephen J. Dempsey, University of Vermont
Christopher DeMuth, American Enterprise Institute
David B.H. Denoon, New York University
William G. Dewald, Ohio State University
Arthur M. Diamond Jr., University of Nebraska at Omaha
John Diamond, Rice University
David L. Dickinson, Appalachian State University
Francis X. Diebold, University of Pennsylvania
Jeffrey H. Dorfman, University of Georgia
Thomas J. Duesterberg, Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI
Parnell Duverger, Broward Community College
Isaac Ehrlich, SUNY at Buffalo
Martin Eichenbaum, Northwestern University
Jeffrey A. Eisenach, Criterion Economics
Michael A. Ellis, Kent State University
Joachim G. Elterich, University of Delaware
Kenneth Elzinga, University of Virginia
Stephen J. Entin, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation
T.W. Epps, University of Virginia
Michael G. Erickson, The College of Idaho
Paul Evans, Ohio State University
Dino Falaschetti, Hoover Institution
Frank Falero Jr., California State University
Susan K. Feigenbaum, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Martin Feldstei n, Harvard University
Eric Fisher, California Polytechnic State University
Arthur A "Trey" Fleisher III, Metro State College of Denver
James Forcier, University of San Francisco
William F. Ford, Middle Tenn. State U.
Michele Fratianni, Indiana University
Luke Froeb, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth C. Froewiss, NYU Stern School of Business
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Hudson Institute
Timothy S. Fuerst, Bowling Green State University
Lowell Gallaway, Ohio University
B Delworth Gardner, Brigham Young University
Dave Garthoff, The University of Akron
Ilhan K. Geckil, Anderson Economic Group
Rick Geddes, Cornell University
Joseph A. Giacalone, St. John's University
Adam Gifford, California State University, Northridge
David Gillette, Truman State University
Micha Gisser, University of New Mexico
Amy Jocelyn Glass, Texas A&M University
Charles J. Goetz, The University of Virginia
Claudio Gonzalez-Vega, The Ohio State University
Lawrence Goodman, Bergen City, NJ
Barry K. Goodwin, North Carolina State University
Eric S. Graber, Independent Economist
Douglas H. Graham, The Ohio State University
J. Edward Graham, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Phil Gramm, Former U.S. Senator
Teresa Beckham Gramm, Rhodes College
Wendy Lee Gramm
William B. Green, Sam Houston State University
Kenneth Greene, Binghamton University
Paul Gregory, University of Houston
Earl Grinols, Baylor University
Gary Hansen, UCLA
Eric Hanushek, Hoover Institution
Stephen Happel, Arizona State University
James E. Hartley, Mount Holyoke College
Kevin Hassett, American Enterprise Institute
Joel W. Hay, University of Southern California
Jared E. Hazleton, Texecon: A Texas Economic Consulting Firm
Charles E. Hegji, Auburn University Montgomery
Robert H. Heidt, Indiana University School of Law
Harold M. Hochman, CUNY Graduate Center and Lafayette College
Robert J. Hodrick, Columbia Business School
Stuart G. Hoffman, The PNC Financial Services Group
Arlene Holen, Washington, D.C.
Mac R. Holmes, Troy University
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain 2008
C. Thomas Howard, University of Denver
E. Philip Howrey, University of Michigan
Glenn Hubbard, Columbia University
James L. Huffman, Lewis & Clark Law School
J. Christopher Hughen, University of Denver
E. Kingdon Hurlock, Calvert Investment Counsel
Stephen L. Jackstadt, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Joseph M. Jadlow, Oklahoma State University
Sherry L Jarrell, Wake Forest University
Michael C. Jensen, Harvard Business School
Dennis A. Johnson, University of South Dakota
Shane A. Johnson, Texas A&M University
Richard Just, University of Maryland
Tim Kane, Washington, D.C.
Steven Kaplan, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business
Alexander Katkov, Johnson and Wales University
Melissa Kearney, University of Maryland
Joe Kennedy, Arlington, Virginia
Lawrence W. Kenny, University of Florida
Calvin A. Kent, Marshall University
E. Han Kim, University of Michigan
Robert G. King, Boston University
Paul R. Koch, Olivet Nazarene University
Meir Kohn, Dartmouth College
James W. Kolari, Texas A&M University
Roger C. Kormendi, Kormendi/Gardner Partners
Marvin Kosters, American Enterprise Institute
Robert Krol, California State University, Northridge
Anne Krueger, Johns Hopkins University
Deepak Lal, University of Cal ifornia, Los Angeles
Douglas Lamdin, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Daniel L Landau, University of Connecticut
Richard La Near, Missouri Southern State University
Nicholas A. Lash, Loyola University
Don R. Leet, California State University, Fresno
Norman B. Lefton, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Tom Lehman, Indiana Wesleyan University
Thomas M. Lenard, Technology Policy Institute
Noreen E. Lephardt, Marquette University
Adam Lerrick, Carnegie Mellon University and the American Enterprise Institute
Philip I. Levy, American Enterprise Institute
W. Cris Lewis, Utah State University
Andrew Light, Liberty University
Jane Lillydahl, University of Colorado at Boulder
Zheng Liu, Emory University
Luis Locay, University of Miami
John R. Lott Jr., University of Maryland
Lawrence W. Lovik, Alabama Policy Institute
Robert Lucas, University of Chicago
John Lunn, Hope College
R. Ashley Lyman, University of Idaho
Paul W. MacAvoy, Yale School of Management
Glenn MacDonald, Washington University in St. Louis
John Makin, American Enterprise Institute
Burton Malkiel, Princeton University
David Malpass, Encima Global LLC
Michael Marlow, California Polytechnic State University
Donald J. Marshall, Consulting Engineer and Economist
Aparna Mathur, American Enterprise Institute
Timothy Matthews, Kennesaw State University
John Matsusaka, University of Southern California
Bennett McCallum, Carnegie Mellon University
Paul W. McCracken, University of Michigan
Martin C. McGuire, University of California-Irvine
W. Douglas McMillin, Louisiana State University
Roger Meiners, University of Texas - Arlington
Will Melick, Kenyon College
Allan Meltzer, Ca rnegie Mellon University
John Merrifield, University of Texas at San Antonio
Paul Merski, Independent Community Bankers of America
Jim Mietus, Great Falls, VA
Todd Milbourn, Washington University in St. Louis
Geoffrey P. Miller, New York University Law School
James Miller, George Mason University and The Hoover Institution
William C. Miller, Pioneer Analytics LLC
David E. Mills, University of Virginia
Velma Montoya, National Council of Hispanic Women
Michael Moore, George Washington University
Charles Britt Moss, University of Florida
Robert Mundell, Columbia University
Tim Muris, George Mason University
David B. Mustard, University of Georgia
Richard F. Muth, Emory University
Anthony N. Negbenebor, Gardner-Webb University
Charles Nelson, University of Washington
Robert J. Newman, Louisiana State University
Michael P. Niemira, International Council of Shopping Centers
Tom O'Brien, University of Connecticut
Lee E. Ohanian, UCLA
June O'Neill, Baruch College, CUNY
Steve Parente, University of Minnesota
Randall Parker, East Carolina University
Douglas Patterson, Virginia Tech
Tim Perri, Appalachian State University
Mark J. Perry, University of Michigan-Flint
Tomas Philipson, University of Chicago
William Poole, University of Delaware
Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business School
Barry Poulson, University of Colorado Boulder
James Prieger, Pepperdine University
R. David Ranson, H. C. Wainwrigth & Co. Economics Inc.
Richard Rawlins, Missouri Southern State University
Martin A. Regalia, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Barrie Richardson, Centenary College
Christine P. Ries, Georgia Institute of Technology
Aldona Robbins, Fiscal Associates
Gary Robbins, Fiscal Associates
Kenneth Rogoff, Harvard University
Richard Roll, UCLA
Harvey Rosen, Princeton University
Larry L. Ross, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Robert Rossana, Wayne State University
Timothy P. Roth, The University of Texas at El Paso
Charles Rowley, George Mason University
Paul H. Rubin, Emory University
Roy Ruffin, University of Houston
Gary J. Santoni, Ball State University
T.R. Saving, Texas A&M University
Mike Schuyler, Institute for Research on the Economics of Taxation
Anna Schwartz, National B ureau of Economic Research
Loren C. Scott, Louisiana State University
Robert Haney Scott, California State University, Chico
Carlos Seiglie, Rutgers University
Richard Selden, University of Virginia
John Semmens, Laissez Faire Institute
Sol S. Shalit, University of Wisconsin
Alan Shapiro, University of Southern California
Judy Shelton
William F. Shughart II, The University of Mississippi
George Shultz, Hoover Institution
Jerome Siebert, University of California, Berkeley
John Silvia, Wachovia
Chuck Skipton, University of Tampa
Scott B. Smart, Indiana University
Amy Smith, Former OMB Chief Economist
James F. Smith, The University of North Carolina
Vernon Smith, Chapman University
Sean M. Snaith, University of Central Florida
Douglas Southgate, Ohio State University
Frank Spreng, McKendree University
Beryl W. Sprinkel, Retired
Stan Spurlock, Mississippi State University
George J. Staller, Cornell University
Craig A. Stephenson, Babson College
Houston Stokes, University of Illinois at Chicago
Courtenay C. Stone, Ball State University
Scott Sumner , Bentley College
James Sweeney, Stanford University
Richard Sweeney, Georgetown University
Robert Tamura, Clemson University
Clifford Tan, Stanford Center for International Development
John A. Tatom, Indiana State University
John Taylor, Stanford University
Paul Taylor, Vienna, VA
Teresa Tharp, Valencia Community College
Clifford F. Thies, Shenandoah University
Henry Thompson, Auburn University
Walter N. Thurman, North Carolina State University
Jerry G. Thursby, Georgia Institute of Technology
Robert D Tollison, Clemson University
William N. Trumbull, West Virginia University
Kamal Upadhyaya, University of New Haven
Charles W. Upton, Kent State University
Peter J Van Blokland, University of Florida
T. Norman Van Cott, Ball State University
Richard Vedder, American Enterprise Institute
George J. Viksnins, Georgetown University
J. Antonio Villamil, The Washington Economics Group
Richard E. Wagner, George Mason University
William B. Walstad, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Murray Weidenbaum, Washington University in St. Louis
Marc D. Weidenmier, Claremont McKenna College
Finis We lch, Texas A&M University
James B. Whitaker, Centreville, VA
John Wicks, University of Montana
Wayne H. Winegarden, Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics
Gary Wolfram, Hillsdale College
DeVo L. Yoho, Ball State University
Nancy A. Yonge, Smith Center for Private Enterprise
Paul J. Zak, Claremont Graduate University
Mokhlis Y. Zaki, Northern Michigan University
Mark Zandi, Malvern, PA
Arnold Zellner, University of Chicago
Kate Zhou, University of Hawaii
Joseph Zoric, Franciscan University of Steubenville
Benjamin Zycher, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

* Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.



The statement may be found online at:

http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/News/PressReleases/Read.aspx?guid=c90681b9-5dfe-4de4-8057-ceedb30c228d





June 30, 2008

The Inefficiency of a Labor Safety Net


IndiaMilkStall.jpg


"Government milk is sold mostly through curbside milk stalls. Some customers don't find the milk stands appealing since they can be dingy and the milk sometimes bad." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) MUMBAI -- Every workday morning, milkman D.T. Walkar faithfully comes to Worli Dairy to not deliver milk.

Most days, he and his fellow drivers at the government dairy sign in, then move to the rest area. While others read the paper, nap or play rummy, Mr. Walkar likes to do the Sudoku puzzle in the Maharashtra Times, unless someone else has gotten to it first. He then wanders around the complex and talks to friends. The last delivery trucks were sold last year. "The trucks are all gone so we just sit around and talk," says Mr. Walkar, 50 years old. "We are bored."

Once respected civil servants, Mr. Walkar and his 300-odd fellow drivers have been left in a strange limbo. Milk sales at their dairy have plummeted as the state government lost its monopoly on milk and consumer tastes changed. But because Indian work rules strictly protect government workers from layoffs, the delivery men show up for work each morning for eight-hour shifts, as they always did, then proceed to do nothing all day. They rarely, if ever, leave the plant.

. . .

(p. A5) In 2001, the Indian government started opening the dairy market in Maharashtra to competition. Private carriers with higher quality milk swiftly won customers by delivering milk to doorsteps. The government milkmen have always been restricted to delivering mostly to curbside milk stalls so they could cover a greater area.

Customers swiftly deserted. Many switched to heat-treated milk in sealed packages that resist spoiling. Some ditched the government's former best sellers of sweet Pineapple milk and spicy Masala milk for Coca-Cola and Sprite as Indian tastes westernized. Others never found the milk stands appealing -- they can be dingy and the milk sometimes bad.


For the full story, see:

ERIC BELLMAN. "Out to Pasture: India's Milkmen Bide Their Time; No Work, Secure Job Put Them in Limbo; Where's the Sudoku?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 29, 2008): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


IndiaMilkmenSleepingOnJob.jpg "Because Indian work rules protect government workers from layoffs, 300-odd former milk truck drivers show up at the Worli Dairy for work each morning just as they always did, then do nothing all day. To pass the time, the men do puzzles, yoga or just sleep off the hours. Once, they tried planting a garden." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




June 28, 2008

Raúl Castro Decrees that Cubans May Now Buy DVD Players, Computers, and Cell Phones


HavanaDVDplayer.jpg "Cubans in Havana recently bought DVD players, among newly available appliances." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) HAVANA -- Can a rice maker possibly be revolutionary?

There they were, piled up one atop another, Chinese-made rice makers selling for $70 each. Beside them, sleek DVD players. Across the well-stocked electronics store were computers and televisions and other household appliances that President Raúl Castro recently decreed ought to be made available to average Cubans, or at least those who could afford them.

Since finally succeeding his ailing 81-year-old brother, Fidel, in February, Mr. Castro, 76, who appeared before hundreds of thousands of Cubans at a May Day rally on Thursday here in the capital, has been busy with a flurry of changes. In the last eight weeks he has also opened access to cellphones, lifted the ban on Cubans using tourist hotels and granted farmers the right to manage unused land for profit.

More is on the horizon, government officials say, like easing restrictions on traveling abroad and the possibility of allowing Cubans to buy and sell their own cars, and perhaps even their homes. Each of these changes may be microscopic in contrast to the outsize problems facing Cuba. But taken together, they are shaking up this stoic, time-warped place.


For the full story, see:

MARC LACEY. "Stores Hint at Change Under New Castro." The New York Times (Fri., May 2, 2008): A1 & A8.




June 27, 2008

The Role of the Irish Potato Famine in the Repeal of the Corn Laws


In one of his more famous, and outrageous, essays, George Stigler argued that economists do not matter, because changes in policy do not arise from changes in ideas, but from changing circumstances and special interests.

One of the cases that he briefly mentions is the repeal of the English Corn Laws that had restricted the importation of wheat (in England "corn" is what we call "wheat) into Britain. The usual account is that the free market arguments of Cobden and Bright made the difference.

The account quoted below, might be taken as support for Stigler's position. But it might also be evidence for the more optimistic position of Stigler's buddy, Milton Friedman. Friedman held that on major issues, economists' policy proposals go ignored until some crisis occurs that sends the politicians looking for policy alternatives. (Friedman thought that this is what occurred in the case of his own proposal for floating exchange rates.)

(p. A23) THE feast of Ireland's patron saint has always been an occasion for saluting the beautiful land "where the praties grow," but it's also a time to look again at the disaster that established around the world the Irish communities that today celebrate St. Patrick's Day: the Great Potato Famine of 1845-6. In its wake, the Irish left the old country, with more than half a million settling in United States. The famine and the migrations changed Irish and American history, of course, but they drastically changed Britain too.

. . .

The first intimations of Ireland's looming calamity reached the British government in August 1845. Although Britain was responsible for the social and economic iniquities which had made Ireland so susceptible, the government of the day deserves some credit for its efforts to avert mass starvation. There were political as well as logistical difficulties.

. . .

To Peel it was obvious that the Corn Laws would have to go, but his electorate of large landowners was vehemently opposed to their abolition. The Duke of Wellington, leader of the House of Lords, complained that Ireland's "rotten potatoes have done it all -- they put Peel in his damned fright." Peel drew heavily on the news from Ireland as he urged Parliament to vote for abolition:

"Are you to hesitate in averting famine which may come, because it possibly may not come? Are you to look to and depend upon chance in such an extremity? Or, good God! are you to sit in cabinet, and consider and calculate how much diarrhea, and bloody flux, and dysentery, a people can bear before it becomes necessary for you to provide them with food?"

The bill abolishing the Corn Laws was passed in May 1846 in the House of Commons, with two-thirds of Peel's party voting against it and the entire opposition voting in favor. A month later, Peel was out of office.

. . .

. . . Ireland's famine, by ending the Corn Laws, prompted the beginning of the free trade that established the success of Britain's industrial economy.



For the full commentary, see the article referenced immediately below, or see his forthcoming book Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History:


JOHN READER. "The Fungus That Conquered Europe." The New York Times (Mon., March 17, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The Stigler essay mentioned above is:

Stigler, George J. "Do Economists Matter?" Southern Economic Journal 42, no. 3 (1976): 347-54.

(I will try to dig out a reference for the Friedman position when I have more time.)




June 24, 2008

Private Athenaeum Libraries Where Members Are "Proprietors"


AthenaeumRedwood.jpg
"TRADITION; Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, R.I., dates back to 1747." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) A GROUP of first-time visitors to the Providence Athenaeum climbed the steep stones steps to the imposing front door. One pried open the door tentatively, peered inside and exclaimed, "Oh, this is what a library is supposed to look like!"

This scene was observed by Alison Maxell, executive director of the athenaeum, who said that time and again, she has seen this same reaction: curiosity followed by wonderment.

. . .

(p. D4) THE New England athenaeums I visited on a recent trip maintain not only active memberships, but also some peculiar terminology. Members are commonly called proprietors; some athenaeums distinguish share-holding proprietors from a second tier of members, called subscribers. At the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the director is called the keeper.

Many athenaeums maintain lists of rules that spell out consequences for offenses like writing in books. Some prohibit pens and provide pencils for notation, as well as cotton gloves for handling aged materials. Large or old books often must be rested on wedge-shaped foam cradles to protect brittle spines.

Surprisingly, the Boston Athenaeum permits dogs -- those that behave, a staff member was quick to add.

These athenaeums also provide, in those areas where talking aloud is encouraged, lively opportunities for exchanging ideas with other devotees of literature, arts and sciences.

"In addition to having access to our book stock, members find intellectual stimulation in our exhibitions and by being part of discussion groups," said Richard Wendorf, director and librarian of the Boston Athenaeum and the editor of "America's Membership Libraries" (Oak Knoll Press, 2007), which details histories of 16 of the largest membership libraries.


For the full story, see:

ROGER MUMMERT. "Where Greek Ideals Meet New England Charm." The New York Times (Fri., March 7, 2008): D1 & D4-D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


AthenaeumBoston.jpg "While roaming through stacks of the Boston Athenaeum, one encounters books from completely different eras, making for random discoveries." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




June 22, 2008

Reducing the Cost of Hotels: Prefab Rooms from China


ChinesePrefabHotelRooms.jpg "The Travelodge chain in Britain is building two hotels from stackable metal containers imported from China. One of the hotels, in Uxbridge in West London, is shown under construction at right and in a rendering at left." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 23) TRAVELODGE, one of the largest budget hotel chains in Britain, is a company in a hurry.

. . .

Once the company finds a location, it turns to a construction partner with equally aggressive plans: Verbus Systems, a London-based company that builds rooms in metal containers in factories near Shenzhen, China, and delivers them ready to be stacked into buildings up to 16 stories tall.

Verbus Systems' commercial director, Paul Rollett, said his company "can build a 300-room hotel anywhere on the planet in 20 weeks."

. . .

When they arrive at Heathrow, the containers will be hoisted into place by crane. The containers, which are as large as 12 by 47 feet, will support one another just as they do when they are crossing the ocean by ship, Mr. Rollett said. No additional structure is necessary.

. . .

DON CARLSON, the editor and publisher of Automated Builder, a trade magazine based in Ventura, Calif., said that in hotels, "modular is definitely the wave of the future." Modular buildings, he said, are stronger, and more soundproof, because stacking units -- each a fully enclosed room -- "gives you double walls, double floors, double everything."

Mr. Rollett agreed, saying that with the steel shipping container approach, "You could have a party in your room, and people in the next room wouldn't hear a thing."

. . .

He is working with his British clients, which, he said, include a Travelodge competitor, Premier Inn, to make the best possible use of the assembly-line method. "We're increasing the degree of modularity," he said, noting that the latest units come with fully fitted bathrooms and "even the paint on the walls."

The only thing they don't have, he said, "is the girl to put a chocolate on your pillow."


For the full article, see:

FRED A. BERNSTEIN. "CHECKING IN; Arriving in London: Hotels Made in China." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., May 11, 2008): 23.

(Note: ellipses added.)




June 21, 2008

"The Nature of Freedom of Choice"


Former Senator George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. In the commentary below, he defends our freedom of choice:

(p. A15) Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as "payday lending."

With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee -- usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn't perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who's familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.

Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

. . .

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.


For the full commentary, see:

GEORGE MCGOVERN. "Freedom Means Responsibility." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




June 12, 2008

Competition in an Ice Cream Duopoly


GoodHumorIceCreamTruck.jpg "Jose Martinez parked his Good Humor truck Tuesday at an Upper West Side corner that is said to be Mister Softee territory." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C13) On Tuesday afternoon, new battle lines were drawn on the Upper West Side at the corner of Columbus Avenue and 83rd Street, where Ceasar Ruiz, 50, the Mister Softee man, said he had been selling ice cream without any competition for more than eight years.

He said his routine was the same every season. He arrives at the corner by about 2:30 each afternoon, mostly to catch the students getting out of Public School 9 and the Anderson School, just a few yards from the corner. He stays for about an hour and a half, then moves to his next location, he said.

But Tuesday afternoon was different. When he arrived, there sat the freshly painted Good Humor truck and Mr. Martinez, decked out in a crisp uniform, ringing his bell.

"I sell Good Humor, too," Mr. Ruiz said. "But his is more cheap. I sell bar for $2. He might sell for $1.50. Not good. Not good."

Over the din of children clamoring for Dora the Explorer ice cream bars and Mega Missile Pops (red, white and blue rocket-shaped popsicles), Mr. Martinez rang his bell louder, openly competing for customers.

"I'm trying to make a dollar just like he is," said Mr. Martinez, his voice rising loud enough for the other driver to hear. "He's telling me I have to go. But he doesn't own this spot."

. . .

About five minutes before 4 o'clock, Mr. Ruiz leaned out of his Mister Softee truck, looking over at Mr. Martinez.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to beat him here," he said. "I'll be the first one here."


For the full story, see:

TRYMAINE LEE. "It's Still Spring, but the Ice Cream Truck War Revs Up." The New York Times (Weds., May 14, 2008): C13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




June 2, 2008

Haley Barbour Proves the Economic Benefits of Tort Reform


BarbourHaleyToyota.jpg "Haley Barbour, left, with Toyota officials in February 2007 moments after announcing Toyota Motor Corp. will build a $1.3 billion assembly plant in northeast Mississippi." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Jackson, Miss. Shortly after winning election in 2003 by running on a tort-reform platform, Mr. Barbour stitched together a coalition of doctors, business groups, taxpayers and even unions to roll back the trial lawyer lobby.

"It was not just a battle," recalls Charlie Ross, the Senate sponsor of the reform bill, "it was a five-year war." The law that eventually passed was every trial lawyers' worst nightmare. It capped awards for noneconomic damages, and prevented the popular practice whereby a plaintiff attorney seeking to bring a class-action shops around for a court where he'll be likely to get a favorable ruling or judgment.

Almost overnight, the flow of lawsuits began to dry up and businesses started to trickle in. Federal Express invested $1 billion in a new facility in the state. Toyota chose Mississippi over about a dozen other states for a new $1.2 billion, 2,000-worker auto plant. The auto maker has stipulated that the company would pull up stakes if the tort reforms were overturned by the legislature or activist judges.

That hasn't happened. About 60,000 new jobs have arrived in four years - not a small number in a workforce of about 1.3 million - and a sharp improvement from the 30,000 jobs lost in the four years before Mr. Barbour took office. Since the law took effect, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits has fallen by nearly 90%, which in turn has cut malpractice insurance costs by 30% to 45%, depending on the county.

Another encouraging sign: Fewer Mississippians are heading to law school and more are looking at business school as the best way to get rich. Many in the younger generation are pursuing a career path that will make them wealth creators, not wealth redistributors.

. . .

Thanks to Mr. Barbour, the state's unemployment rate is down to about 6% from nearly 9%. Last year, Mississippi's per capita income growth was 6.7%, third highest of the 50 states and well above the national average of 5.2%. Mississippi tort reform is making the poor richer, and the rich lawyers less fabulously rich. Now that's a good way to close the income gap.


For the full commentary, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "CROSS COUNTRY; Mississippi's Tort Reform Triumph." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 10, 2008): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




May 31, 2008

Airline Deregulation Allowed Entry, Lower Prices, and More Routes


DeregulationScorecardGraphic.jpg

















Source of graphic: online version of the NYT column quoted and cited below.



The top graph above usefully summarizes one of the main results of airline deregulation--lower fares. Other results are sketched below in a couple of passages from a Leonhardt column.


(p. C8) Flying is less expensive, as fares have fallen steadily, adjusted for inflation, and there are more flights to more cities. The barrier to entry is lower. Over the last 30 years, more than 150 airlines have sought bankruptcy protection or disappeared, but more keep springing up as investors continue to put hope over experience, said Denis O'Connor, managing director with AlixPartners, a restructuring firm.

"People don't understand how easy it is to start an airline," Mr. O'Connor said, because of a ready supply of pilots and other employees, as well as used airplanes. "Why would you put capital in something if you can't make a go of it? Southwest is an example of why you would."

. . .

. . . Southwest's transformation from a Texas puddle jumper to the biggest airline in terms of domestic traffic (at least until the Delta-Northwest merger is completed) would not have happened without deregulation.

That airline's evolution is what some experts point to as the best proof of why deregulation, for all its troubles, ultimately is better than a regulated environment.

"This is the free market at work, and we're not used to it," said Mo Garfinkle, a lawyer and a longtime airline industry consultant. "The idea of deregulation was to allow entry, whether it was successful or not."


For the full commentary, see:

MICHELINE MAYNARD. "Did Ending Regulation Help Fliers?" The New York Times (Thurs., April 17, 2008): C1 & C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)




May 29, 2008

Private Space Companies Compete on Price and Quality


XCORvehicle.jpg


"A rendering of XCOR's Lynx rocket-powered vehicle." Source of the caption and image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) A price war already is brewing among companies seeking to sign up would-be space tourists, years before the first privately financed rocketplanes are scheduled to begin flying.

XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., the latest entrant to the derby to blast thrill-seekers into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, is expected to unveil plans Wednesday for a rocket-powered vehicle that is substantially smaller, slower and less expensive to build than any of those proposed by rivals. With tickets projected at $100,000 a pop, the low-fare carrier to the heavens would hardly be cheap.

Anticipated to cost less than $10 million to build and to be more compact than many propeller planes used by recreational pilots, XCOR's Lynx vehicle is intended to carry a pilot and a single passenger at twice the speed of sound to about 37 miles above the earth. The entire outing, which would begin and end at a conventional airport and include about two minutes of suborbital zero gravity, would take less than half an hour.

That is a significantly shorter trip -- and only about half the ticket price -- envisioned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson on his Virgin Galactic spaceship. A sleek and more powerful six-passenger craft, it is designed to travel at about four times the speed of sound and zoom completely out of the atmosphere -- reaching true space more than 60 miles above the earth.


For the full story, see:

ANDY PASZTOR. "Economy Fare ( $100,000) Lifts Space-Tourism Race." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 26, 2008): B1-B2.


VirginGlacticRocket.jpg
"Virgin Galactic will launch its rocket from a plane." Source of the caption and image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




May 21, 2008

Candy Competition


CandyIndustryGraphic.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In class, we discuss how consumers pay higher prices for candy and soft drinks because the U.S. government limits on how much foregin sugar we can import. Sometimes a student will claim that candy companies would not lower prices if the price of sugar declined. And sometimes that issue leads to a discussion of whether the candy industry is competitive.

The graphic above, and the quotation below, provide some relevant evidence.

(p. B1) The global confectionary industry has long lacked a dominant player. The top 10 manufacturers controlled just 47% of the $141 billion market as of 2006, the most recent available data. . . .

. . .

If the Wrigley acquisition is successful, Mars will become the world's largest confectionary company with about 14.4% of the market, overtaking Cadbury's 10.1%, based on 2006 figures, the latest available, from Euromonitor International.


For the full story, see:

JULIE JARGON and AARON O. PATRICK. "More Sweet Deals in the Candy Aisle?; Cadbury and Hershey in the Spotlight in the Wake of Mars-Wrigley Linkup." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 29, 2008): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 17, 2008

New York Rent Control Limits Incentives to Build Apartments


NewYorkLoftBuilding.jpg "Tryn Collins, left, and Mary Hill share small quarters at a loft building in Brooklyn that was transformed from a factory." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

New York City has had rent control in effect for decades. Economists predict that one effect of rent control is that incentives are reduced to build and maintain apartments. As a result, those seeking living space, have fewer options. (For example, the WSJ a few years ago ran a front page article explaining how some enterprising New Yorkers were living in abandoned elevator shafts.)

The article quoted below, provides additional evidence.

(p. A1) One "room" is a cramped cubby that measures, in all, perhaps 25 square feet, just enough for a full-size mattress and whatever can be stashed beneath. The first-floor rooms, in the basement, are musty and windowless, like caves. The second-floor rooms have plywood walls but no doors, only cut-out windows that overlook a kitchen cluttered with day-old dishes, a chore wheel and the odd paintbrush.


One of the residents likens her home to a "giant treehouse." Another says it is like "living in a public bathroom."

"Where the stalls are just superficial sight lines that block the other person, but you can hear everything they do," said Robyn Frank, a 23-year-old artist. She had just moved in to the McKibbin lofts in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and sometimes they literally become bathrooms. They are known for their giant, raucous parties; revelers occasionally urinate in the halls.

This is life in what some refer to as the McKibbin "dorms," a landing pad for hundreds of postcollegiate creative types yearning to make it as artists, and live like them too, in today's New York.

Newcomers marvel that such a place exists: two sprawling, almost identical five-story former factories filled with mostly white hip young things, smack in the middle of a neighborhood that has little in common with Williamsburg proper, its cocktail-mixing neighbor to the west.

Perhaps 300 people live in each building, which face each other and sit, respectively, at 248 and 255 McKibbin Street. Between one and eight people live in each loft. Few were born before the mid-1980s. Rents can range from $375 for one person to roughly $800 for a space.


For the full story, see:

CARA BUCKLEY. "Young Artists Find a Private Space, Only Without the Privacy." The New York Times (Weds., May 7, 2008): A1 & A17.




May 11, 2008

Franklin Roosevelt Exposed in The Forgotten Man


ForgottenManBK.jpg









Source of book image: http://blog.syracuse.com/shelflife/forgotten.jpg

Amity Shlaes's new history of the Great Depression is at once depressing and encouraging. It is depressing in showing how vulnerable human progress is to the threat from a dishonest, slick orator, who has not a clue about how the economy works. It is encouraging in that it shows so clearly that the length and depth of the Great Depression was due to easily avoidable mistakes in policy, rather than due to some fundamental flaw in capitalism, as has occasionally been claimed.

Although the book does not shy away from pointing out the flaws of Coolidge, Hoover and Willke, it mainly shows how F.D.R.'s routine whimsical policy reversals and double-dealings, alienated not only his original opponents, but many of his early friends and allies.

The New Deal policies to seize business profits, reduced business incentives to take risks: if the risks turned out badly, the business would lose the investment, while if the risks turned out well, the profits would be taxed away by the federal government.

In addition, the sheer unpredictability of New Deal policies further led the prudent to delay investments, thereby further impeding recovery.

The book is well-written, and should be equally well-read.

The reference for the book is:

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.





May 1, 2008

Federal Subsidies for "Those Who Choose to Live Far from a City"


SubsidiesAirNebraskaGraphic.jpg Source of graphic: the online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1A) WASHINGTON -- Opponents of federal air travel subsidies make two points: that subsidized airports are relatively close to regular commercial air service and subsidized flights are used by only a few people a day.

Both are true in Nebraska.

For example, U.S. taxpayers spend nearly $1.4 million a year so that fewer than two dozen travelers a day, on average, can fly out of Grand Island rather than drive the 100 miles to Lincoln.

Taxpayers also chip in $748,635 annually to maintain two daily flights from Alliance to Denver, even though only about a half dozen people a day board the planes.

. . .

(p. 2A) Groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense and Citizens Against Government Waste say that although the subsidies might have made sense 30 years ago, to prevent communities from losing air service overnight, people know what they're getting into today if they choose to live far from a city with regular air service.

It's a matter of prioritizing public spending, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"People have the right to food and clean water," Ellis said. "We don't need to make sure it's a chicken in every pot and air service in every community."



For the full story, see:

JOSEPH MORTON. "Rural travel subsidies still up in the air." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, February 24, 2008): 1A & 2A.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Federal spending on Essential Air Service
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Year     # of communities    Total funding for subsidies *

1998   101   $50
1999   100   $50
2000   106   $50
2001   115   $50
2002   123   $113
2003   126   $101.3
2004   140   $101.7
2005   146   $101.6
2006   151   $109.4
2007   145   $109.4
2008   142   $125

*Figures in millions

Source of data: Government Accountability Office; U.S. Department of Transportation

Source of version of table above: very slightly modified from the online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.




April 28, 2008

Wal-Mart Designs Health Care Around the Needs of Consumers


LedlieAliciaWalMartHealth.jpg "Alicia Ledlie, senior director of health business development for Wal-Mart, said walk-in medical clinics would look like the mockup behind her, in a warehouse in Bentonville, Ark." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C4) Moving to upgrade its walk-in medical clinic business, Wal-Mart is set to announce on Thursday plans for several hundred new clinics at its stores, using a standardized format and jointly branded with hospitals and medical groups.

. . .

Walk-in medical clinics are a growing industry, with numerous competitors that include big-box retailers, drugstores and even grocery chains around the country. Industry executives say 1,500 to 1,800 clinics will be open by the end of the year.

Propelled by the drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens, by far the biggest sponsors of the clinics to date, more than 700 clinics have opened in the last 15 months. But the business model is unproven so far.

Few, if any, clinics are profitable, according to industry analysts, and only a handful have broken even on daily operations. Most have been open a year or less, and executives say it takes up to three years for a clinic to become profitable enough to recover start-up costs.

Medical societies are inclined to be skeptical of the clinics. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes them, saying they add to fragmentation in the health care system.

Dr. Edward Zissman, a pediatrician in central Florida, said he had qualms about hospitals that hook up with the clinics. "Putting their name on a product that I don't think has the highest quality," he said, "is going to cost them dearly with physicians."

The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association have set forth principles for clinics to observe, including sending patients' medical record to their doctors and finding doctors for patients who do not already have them. Most states require varying degrees of physician supervision of the clinic nurses. Clinic operators say they are complying.

Many patients have said they like the convenience of the walk-in clinics' weekend and evening hours, the short waiting times to see a nurse practitioner, and the posted price lists for a limited menu of care like tests and prescriptions for sore throats and ear infections and seasonal flu shots.

. . .

"The clinics are the latest big example of how you could think about consumers and what their needs are, rather than a health care system exclusively designed around the needs of providers," said Margaret Laws, director of an innovations program at the California Health Care Foundation, an independent group that finances health policy research.


For the full story, see:

MILT FREUDENHEIM. "Wal-Mart Will Expand In-Store Medical Clinics." The New York Times (Thurs., February 7, 2008): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)


WalMartMedicalClinicDesign.jpg "The design of the Wal-Mart medical clinic is intended to look like a doctor's office, complete with the usual medical hardware." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




April 27, 2008

Hitler's Critique of American Materialism



Here are some musings by Hitler, in which he compares Germany under Hitler's National Socialism, with America. The musings are dated August 1, 1942, and are quoted in the article cited below:


(p. 3) I grant you that our standard of life is lower. But the German Reich has 270 opera houses - a standard of cultural existence of which they over there have no conception. They have clothes, food, cars and a badly constructed house - but with a refrigerator! This sort of thing does not impress us.


For the full story, see:

MARC D. CHARNEY. "Ideas & Trends; Well, at Least He Liked Our Cars." The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., April 3, 2005): 3.




April 16, 2008

The Free Market Works


The story quoted below tells how outsourcing high-tech jobs to India has bid up the salaries of high-tech Indian engineers, thereby reducing the appeal of further outsourcing. Marvelous how the market works!

Another lesson from the story applies to forecasting: mechanical extrapolation of current trends is inferior to prediction that takes account of predictable changes in prices (in this case, salaries).


(p. A15) Around the century's turn, when U.S. companies first began flooding to India for its cheap labor, pundits warned that the subcontinent could increasingly rob the U.S. of high-end white-collar jobs. Debate was especially sharp in Silicon Valley, then in a slump, because India annually turns out nearly 500,000 engineering graduates.

. . .

Several years on, the forces of globalization are starting to even things out between the U.S. and India, in sophisticated technology work. As more U.S. tech companies poured in, they soaked up the pool of high-end engineers qualified to work at global companies, belying the notion of an unlimited supply of top Indian engineering talent. In a 2005 study, McKinsey & Co. estimated that just a quarter of India's computer engineers had the language proficiency, cultural fit and practical skills to work at multinational companies.

The result is increasing competition for the most skilled Indian computer engineers and a narrowing U.S.-India gap in their compensation. India's software-and-service association puts wage inflation in its industry at 10% to 15% a year. Some tech executives say it's closer to 50%. In the U.S., wage inflation in the software sector is under 3%, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Rafiq Dossani, a scholar at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center who recently studied the Indian market, found that while most Indian technology workers' wages remain low -- an average $5,000 a year for a new engineer with little experience -- the experienced engineers Silicon Valley companies covet can now cost $60,000 to $100,000 a year. "For the top-level talent, there's an equalization," he says.


For the full story, see:

Pui-Wing Tam and Jackie Range. "Second Thoughts: Some in Silicon Valley Begin to Sour on India; A Few Bring Jobs Back As Pay of Top Engineers In Bangalore Skyrockets." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 3, 2007): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




April 13, 2008

Entrepreneur Calls 2008 "The Year of the Spaceship"


WhiteKnightTwo-SpaceShipTwo.jpg Burt Rutan's current design for WhiteKnightTwo, carrying the smaller SpaceShipTwo spaceship. Source of image: http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=news&news=4993

(p. A18) Virgin Galactic, the company that hopes to fly well-heeled tourists to the edge of space by the end of 2009, provided a peek Wednesday at the craft that will take them there.

During a news conference at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur whose Virgin Airways is the parent company of the project, said 2008 would be "the year of the spaceship."

Mr. Branson showed models of two vehicles, both created by the airplane designer Burt Rutan. WhiteKnightTwo, a two-fuselage, four-engine plane, is designed to ferry a smaller spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, high into the sky and release it. The pilot of SpaceShipTwo will then fire the craft's rocket engine, which burns a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel, shooting the vehicle to an altitude of more than 62 miles into the realm of black sky.


For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Built to Fly Into Space With the Greatest of Ease (They Hope)." The New York Times (Thurs., January 24, 2008): A18.


SpaceShipTwo.jpg Artist's rendering of SpaceShipTwo spaceship. Source of image: http://www.techno-science.net/?onglet=news&news=4993




April 12, 2008

Media Futures Market Achieves "Astonishing Accuracy"


The passage below is quoted from a WSJ summary of an article that appeared in the July 9-16, 2007 issue of The New Yorker:

(p. B8) The most successful media prediction market is the Hollywood Stock Exchange. According to a study by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse, the markets' forecasts of box-office performance are off by 16% on average. That's astonishing accuracy for an industry which, despite all kinds of attempts to predict what will work, assumes that the vast majority of its product will fail at the box office.

For the full summary, see:

"The Informed Reader; Marketing; What's the Next Big Thing? Prediction Markets Answer." Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 2, 2007): B8.




April 10, 2008

Non-Market Health Care Pricing Results in Health Care Shortages


(p. A22) When my Labrador retriever became acutely lame, we were able to locate a veterinary orthopedic expert in Atlanta within 48 hours who was able to repair a ruptured tendon within one week. But my prospects of identifying an endocrinologist who can care for my daughter's diabetes when she turns 18 are much less promising.

The limited number of endocrine specialists is a not a consequence of limited demand -- everyone is aware of the epidemic of diabetes we are facing. There are also shortages of generalists and other specialists, and the reason is the absence of market signals -- i.e., market-based prices -- for influencing the supply of physicians in various specialties.

The roots of this problem lay in the use of administrative pricing structures in medicine. The way prices are set in health care already distorts the appropriate allocation of efforts and resources in health care today. Unfortunately, many of the suggested reforms of our health care system -- including the various plans for universal care, or universal insurance, or a single-payer system, that various policy makers and Democratic presidential candidates espouse -- rest on the same unsound foundations, and will produce more of the same.

. . .

One important lesson of the 20th century is that, while markets are far from perfect, more choices are available when people are able to use free markets to interact with each other. Markets may not get the prices exactly correct all the time, but they are capable of self- correction, a capacity that has yet to be demonstrated by administrative pricing.

It tells you something when the supply of and demand for specialist veterinary care is so easily matched when the prices of these services are established on the market -- while shortages and oversupplies are common for human medical care when the prices of these services are set by administrators in the public sector. Will health-care reformers -- and American citizens -- get the message?


For the full commentary, see:

Robert A. Swerlick. "Our Soviet Health System." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jun 5, 2007): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




April 6, 2008

Market Prices Send "the Right Signal to the Customer to Save Energy"


In the passage quoted below, the "commission" refers to China's "National Development and Reform Commission."

(p. A6) The commission estimates China's energy efficiency is about 10% below that of developed countries because of obsolete technology. But many experts say Beijing's policy priorities are a bigger obstacle.

Worries about social unrest and inflation led Beijing to put the brakes on pricing overhauls, at tremendous cost to state refiners PetroChina Co. and China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec.

"Market prices are a very important and key issue because they send out the right signal to the customer to save energy," said Yang Fuqiang, vice president of the Energy Foundation in Beijing.


For the full story, see:

David Winning. "Why Energy Efficiencies Prove Elusive in China." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 6, 2007): A6.




March 24, 2008

Why We Need Some Savvy Entrepreneur to Start a Garage-Rating Business


SchneiderHenry.jpg




"Henry Schneider found few competent, honest mechanics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) . . . , Mr. Schneider drove home to Connecticut and undertook a devilish little test.

Over the next few months, he took the Subaru to 40 garages, loosening the battery cable and draining some coolant before each visit. He even wrote himself a script and memorized it, to make sure he was telling every garage the same thing. "We bought the car recently, and we should have had it looked at before we bought it, but we didn't," he would say. "It hasn't started a few times. Can you check that out?" He also asked for a thorough inspection.

Mr. Schneider was trying to answer a question that has occurred to pretty much all drivers who have ever been given the unsettling news that a car needs more repairs than they had expected: Does it really? Or is the garage just looking to make some extra money off me?

. . .

At only 27 of the 40 garages did mechanics tell Mr. Schneider that he had a disconnected battery cable, the very problem to which he had pointed them by saying his car didn't always start. Only 11 mentioned the low coolant, a problem that can ruin a car's engine. Ten of the garages, meanwhile, recommended costly repairs that were plainly unnecessary, like replacing the starter motor or the battery. (Tellingly, his results were in line with what the Automobile Protection Association found when it performed its experiments in Canada.)

In all, only about 20 percent of the garages deserved a passing grade. "And that's with a pretty low bar," Mr. Schneider told me. "I'm even allowing them to have missed a blown taillight that should have been caught."

. . .

. . . , Mr. Schneider didn't set out to study cars. His original goal was to examine the health care system. But he couldn't very well give himself a heart murmur and then visit 40 cardiologists.

"It turns out it's hard to get objective measures of people's bodies," as Thomas Hubbard, a Northwestern University professor who has also studied the economics of reputation, put it. "It's a lot easier to get objective measures of people's cars."

. . .

Until some savvy entrepreneur starts a garage-rating business, the best solution may be the oldest one: asking for a recommendation from someone who is knowledgeable enough to distinguish between good service and bad. Just remember that a lot of people don't know quite as much about cars -- or their mechanic -- as they think they do.


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; When Trust In an Expert Is Unwise." The New York Times (Weds., November 7, 2007): C1 & C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


SchneiderDadSubaru.jpg
"Schneider sabotaged his dad's old station wagon to test the honesty of mechanics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited above.





March 20, 2008

Mexico Supplies United States Aerospace Industry


MexicoAerospaceMap.gif Source of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A2) Mexico has felt the downside of globalization in recent years as cheaper Asian manufacturers of everything from electronics to auto parts have undercut the advantages provided by looser North American trade barriers.

Now, Mexican officials are turning to another sector they hope will put down deeper roots: The booming North American aerospace industry.

Mexico has moved to make it even easier for foreign companies to do business south of the border. Already, big names in aerospace such as Goodrich Corp. of the U.S. and Bombardier Inc. of Canada have set up facilities there.

The nation offers proximity and easy reach at a time when aerospace giants are under pressure to hit deadlines and deliver new aircraft to customers. Aerospace officials also say they are impressed by Mexico's deep talent pool. And if Mexico successfully bolsters its aerospace industry, it will demonstrate that skills burnished servicing the automotive sector can be transferred to higher-end industries.

. . .

Mexico's biggest advantage may be its location. For years, major aerospace manufacturers such as Boeing Co. have farmed out a growing share of their work to suppliers in Japan, China and elsewhere. But these arrangements can make it a challenge to get finished components back to the companies' main factories for final assembly. The choice often boils down to waiting weeks for delivery by ship or paying for costly space on a cargo jet.

With demand for new jetliners and other aircraft at record levels, however, companies are under greater pressure to cut shipping time and increase production. Many U.S. aerospace companies already have built up considerable capacity in Mexico to feed the industry's production hub in Southern California.


For the full commentary, see:

JOEL MILLMAN and J. LYNN LUNSFORD. "THE OUTLOOK; Mexico Seeks a Lasting Share Of Aerospace Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 26, 2007): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




March 18, 2008

Southwest Airline Manages Risk Through Oil Price Hedges


SouthwestOilHedge.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) Southwest Airlines, in danger for much of this year of losing its quirky dominance in the domestic airline industry, could soon be standing, once again, head and shoulders above the competition.

Better service? Happier and more productive workers?

Not this time. The reason for Southwest's rapidly increasing advantage over other big airlines is much simpler: it loaded up years ago on hedges against higher fuel prices. And with oil trading above $90 a barrel, most of the rest of the airline industry is facing a huge run-up in costs, and Southwest is not.

Southwest owns long-term contracts to buy most of its fuel through 2009 for what it would cost if oil were $51 a barrel. The value of those hedges soared as oil raced above $90 a barrel, and they are now worth more than $2 billion. Those gains will mostly be realized over the next two years.

Other major airlines passed on buying all but the shortest-term insurance against high fuel prices, allowing Southwest executives a bit of schadenfreude.


For the full story, see:

JEFF BAILEY. "An Airline Shrugs at Oil Prices." The New York Times (Thurs., November 29, 2007): C1 & C10.


SouthwestRefueling.jpg
'A Southwest Airlines worker fueled a plane. Southwest's chief said the hedges against rising fuel costs "bought us time to retool our company."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




March 11, 2008

Bolivia Sells More Brazil Nuts Than Brazil


(p. A4) Throughout the 20th century, most of the Brazil nuts consumed around the world came from the jungle surrounding this bustling river market town in the eastern Amazon. But the bitter joke here these days is that the only place you can still find a Brazil nut tree is on the municipal seal.

To the chagrin of Brazilians, exports of the nuts that bear their country's name have fallen precipitously to about 7,000 metric tons in 2003 from nearly 19,000 metric tons in 2000, allowing neighboring Bolivia to become the market leader. Groves of Brazil nut trees are disappearing all over the Brazilian Amazon, and the question of who bears responsibility for that sharp decline and resulting deforestation has become the subject of a heated and growing debate.

Economists, scientists and other scholars tend to point to a single family, based here, that has dominated the industry for three generations and controls hundreds of thousands of acres in this region at the junction of the Araguaia and Tocantins rivers. But members of the influential clan, called Mutran, say they are being unjustly attacked and complain of unfair competition and contraband.

. . .

''At their peak, the Mutrans had a monopoly on everything connected with the Brazil nut industry, from harvesting to transport to exports,'' said Marilia Emmi, a professor at the Nucleus for Amazon Research at the Federal University of Pará. ''Much of their own production occurred on public lands that belonged to the state but were initially leased to them for a pittance as the result of backroom political deals.''

. . .

''Because of their monopoly, the Mutrans paid a price so low that production dropped off the map,'' said Zico Bronzeado, a former Brazil nut harvester who now represents Acre in the lower house of Congress. The low prices drove growers to abandon the business, the critics say, selling their lands to loggers and cattle ranchers in a process that deforested vast stretches of the Amazon and further enriched the Brazilian elite.


For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Marabá Journal; Brazil's Problem in a Nutshell: Bolivia Grows Nuts Best." The New York Times (Thurs., August 26, 2004): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)




March 10, 2008

Kibbutzim Abandon Socialism

 

     "Once for communal use, the Kibbutz Yasur swimming pool is now run as a private business."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1)  KIBBUTZ YASUR, Israel -- For much of Israel's existence, the kibbutz embodied its highest ideals: collective labor, love of the land and a no-frills egalitarianism.

But starting in the 1980s, when socialism was on a global downward spiral and the country was mired in hyperinflation, Israel's 250 or so kibbutzim seemed doomed. Their debt mounted and their group dining halls grew empty as the young moved away.

Now, in a surprising third act, the kibbutzim are again thriving. Only in 2007 they are less about pure socialism than a kind of suburbanized version of it.

On most kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized; on many, houses may be transferred to individual members, and newcomers can buy in. While the major assets of the kibbutzim are still collectively owned, the communities are now largely run by professional managers rather than by popular vote. And, most important, not everyone is paid the same.

. . .

(p. A4) The kibbutzim were once austere communes of pioneers who drained the swamps, shared clothes (and sometimes spouses) and lived according to the Marxist axiom, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Today, most are undergoing a process of privatization, though kibbutz officials prefer a more euphemistic term: renewal.

. . .

Mr. Varol was born on a kibbutz in the far north, but he left at 18. He is at peace in his new home, but bitter about the past. "My parents worked all their lives, carrying at least 10 parasites on their backs," he said. "If they'd worked that hard in the city for as many years, I'd have had quite an inheritance coming to me by now."


For the full story, see:

ISABEL KERSHNER.  "The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism And Regains Lost Popularity."  The New York Times  (Mon., August 27, 2007):  A1 & A4. 


(Note:  the online version of the article had the title: "KIBBUTZ YASUR JOURNAL; The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism And Regains Lost Popularity.")

(Note:  ellipses added.)


     "The dining room in Kibbutz Nachshon charges members $4 per meal. While kibbutzim once paid all members equally and provided food, today many have adopted a system of varying wages and require payment for many services."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




March 6, 2008

Chinese Wages and Productivity Rise


      "At the Dahon bicycle plant in Shenzhen, China, pay has risen 10 to 15 percent a year, but productivity gains have held down costs."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SHENZHEN, China, Aug. 28 -- At the Dahon bicycle factory here, Zhang Jingming's fingers move quickly and methodically -- grabbing bicycle seats, wrapping them in cardboard and smoothly attaching them to frames.

Working a 45-hour week, Mr. Zhang makes the equivalent of $263 a month; as recently as February, he was making just $197. Some of his higher pay comes from working more efficiently. "When I first started, I wasn't this fast," he said.

But a good portion reflects a raise Mr. Zhang got: to 1.45 cents for each bicycle seat from 1.32 cents. It is a small difference that signifies major change.

Chinese wages are on the rise. No reliable figures for average wages exist; the government's economic data are notably unreliable. But factory owners and experts who monitor the nation's labor market say that businesses are having a hard time finding able-bodied workers and are having to pay the workers they can find more money.

And higher wages in China are likely to lead to higher prices in the United States -- at the mall, at the grocery, even at the gas pump.

Chinese companies are already passing along some of their higher costs to overseas customers. Prices for goods from China, after years of gradual decline, have risen 1.2 percent since February, according to the Labor Department. July's increase was the biggest yet: 0.4 percent compared with June. Chinese companies and contractors are also passing on the cost of the rising value of their currency, the yuan, up 8.8 percent against the dollar in the last two years.

For decades, many labor economists said that China's vast population would supply a nearly bottomless pool of workers. So many people would be seeking jobs at any given time, this rea-(p. A9)soning went, that wages in this country would be stuck just above subsistence levels. As recently as four years ago, some experts estimated that most of the perhaps 150 million underemployed workers in the countryside would be heading to cities.

Instead, sporadic labor shortages started to appear in 2003 at factories in the Pearl River delta of southeastern China. Now those shortages have spread to factories up and down the Chinese coast, specialists say.

. . .

(p. A9) The hardest variable to judge in China's changing labor market is the pace of productivity growth. Since there are few reliable statistics, the best way to assess productivity is to look at individual factories like the Dahon operation here, which produces bicycles that collapse for easy storage.

David T. Hon, chief executive of the privately held Dahon Group, said that while he had been raising wages 10 to 15 percent a year, the average labor cost for each bicycle had actually edged downward. This is possible, he said, because sales are growing 30 percent a year and increasingly large-scale production has brought savings. The cost of engineering a new bicycle design, or handling the accounting and other back-office operations, is spread over more and more bicycles as production rises.


For the full story, see: 

KEITH BRADSHER.  "Wages Are on the Rise in China As Young Workers Grow Scarce."  The New York Times   (Weds., August 29, 2007):  A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

PriceChineseImportsGraph.jpg     Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




March 5, 2008

Britain's "Novel Immigration Problem": Too Few Polish Immigrants


PolishSausage.jpg "Polish women selling sausages at the Borough Market in London. The British have also grown to enjoy Polish food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the International Herald Tribune version of the article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) LONDON, Oct. 18 -- When Piotr Farbiszewski landed here three years ago, he had enough money in his pocket to live for two weeks.

A successful technology consultant in Warsaw, he and his wife, Ela, a schoolteacher, had come to London to try it on for size; if they liked it, they would stay. To earn money, he worked as a builder while she flipped hamburgers.

They decided that they liked London, and within a year, Mr. Farbiszewski was a senior programmer at a software company. In March, the couple bought a small terraced house outside London, where they plan to raise a family.

"We're very happy here," Mr. Farbiszewski, 31, said. "The quality of life is better, the economy is stronger, there is less bureaucracy, it's a multicultural society and the lady in the supermarket will smile at me. People don't smile at each other in Poland."

The Farbiszewskis are small players in one of Europe's most successful immigration stories. Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and Britain, unlike France and most other members, welcomed Polish workers, an estimated 1.1 million Poles, mainly young, have come to Britain. Today, they are the third-largest group of immigrants in the country, behind (p. C5) Irish and Indians.

Britain has benefited. On Tuesday, the Home Office estimated that immigration added £6 billion ($12.3 billion) to the nation's economy last year. According to David Blanchflower of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, East European immigration has also reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services.

Indeed, Britain may soon face a novel immigration problem. As Poland's economy has improved this year, immigration has slowed, which economists say could cause labor shortages in British industries.


For the full story, see:

JULIA WERDIGIER. "As the Poles Get Richer, Fewer Seek British Jobs." The New York Times (Fri., October 19, 2007): C1 & C5.





March 3, 2008

The Government's War on Working Bodega Cats


CatHollyBrooklynDeli.jpg "Holly scares the rodents away at home, a deli in Williamsburg, Brooklyn." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A28) Across the city, delis and bodegas are a familiar and vital part of the streetscape, modest places where customers can pick up necessities, a container of milk, a can of soup, a loaf of bread.

Amid the goods found in the stores, there is one thing that many owners and employees say they cannot do without: their cats. And it goes beyond cuddly companionship. These cats are workers, tireless and enthusiastic hunters of unwanted vermin, and they typically do a far better job than exterminators and poisons.

When a bodega cat is on the prowl, workers say, rats and mice vanish.

. . .

To store owners, the services of cats are indispensable in a city where the rodent problem is serious enough to be documented in a still popular two-minute video clip on YouTube from late February (youtube.com/watch?v=su0U37w2tws) of rats running amok in a KFC/Taco Bell in Greenwich Village. Store-dwelling cats are so common that there is a Web site, workingclasscats.com, dedicated to telling their tales.

But as efficient as the cats may be, their presence in stores can lead to legal trouble. The city's health code and state law forbid animals in places where food or beverages are sold for human consumption. Fines range from $300 for a first offense to $2,000 or higher for subsequent offenses.

. . .

In October, a health inspector fined Mr. Martinez $300 and warned him that if Junior was still there by the time of the next inspection he would be fined $2,000.

"He wants me to get rid of the cat, but the rats will take over if I do," Mr. Martinez said. "I need the cat, and the cat needs a home."

Because stores do not get advance notification of an inspection, Mr. Martinez is trying to keep Junior in his office as much as possible. Many bodega owners reason that a cat is less of a health threat than an army of nibbling rats. "If cats live in homes and apartments where people have food, a cat shouldn't be a threat in a store if it's well maintained," Mr. Fernández said.


For the full story, see:

KATE HAMMER. "To Dismay Of Inspectors, Prowling Cats Keep Rodents On the Run At City Delis The New York Times (Fri., December 21, 2007): A28.

(Note: ellipses added.)


CatOreoBroolynDeli.jpg "Oreo roams at a deli in Greenpoint, Brooklyn." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




February 23, 2008

Private Airlines "Are Pulling Along a Slow-Moving Government Agency"

 

     "Delta Air Lines uses G.P.S. technology to reduce the time its planes spend on the runway."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. C1)  WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta Air Lines said its jets take off an average of 10 minutes after pushing back from the gate — three minutes faster than in previous years.

Using new technology, planes take off following a narrow route, so that that jets right behind them taking different routes do not have to wait as long. That makes the system move a bit faster.

“The pilots say, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat,’ ” said Joseph C. Kolshak, executive vice president for operations at Delta.

Delta, and also Alaska Airlines and U.P.S., is demonstrating pieces of the possible future of the nation’s air traffic system, hinting at what aviation might be like — if the airlines and the federal government can get the details worked out.

All three airlines use refinements based on the constellation of G.P.S., or global positioning system, satellites. Many of these save at most a few minutes. But in a crowded system plagued by delays, that may be enough to help smooth out bottlenecks.

The carriers’ use of satellite navigation and other tools and techniques represents a step toward replacing a 50-year-old system of radar and radio beacons.

In the process, they are pulling along a slow-moving government agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, that is eager for better air traffic control systems but short on money and the authority to put changes in place.

It is a revolution in technology, but also in politics. Previously, the F.A.A. usually bought new systems on the ground and told airlines to equip themselves to use them; now the airlines are taking the initiative to outfit their planes, with safety regulation from the F.A.A.

Airlines are even developing their own approach patterns for airports, which has almost always been a government job.

U.P.S. Airlines, working with Aviation Communications and Surveillance Systems, based in Phoenix, is developing a landing pattern based on separating planes by time, not distance, so they land at the briefest safe interval.

“We’re going to create the future, because we think we know (p. C5) where it’s going to go,” said Karen Lee, director of operations at U.P.S. This is in contrast to the traditional way of doing business, typified by “the F.A.A. tells us what the roadmap is,” she said, then “we’ll start building the stuff to do it.”

 

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "For Airlines, Hands-On Air Traffic Control."  The New York Times  (Weds., September 5, 2007):  C1 & C5. 

 

UPSplaneGPSdevice.jpg    "A device that U.P.S. installed in the cockpit of one of its cargo planes to display traffic information."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




February 17, 2008

Puzzle: Entrepreneurial Silicon Valley Donates Mainly to Democrats

 

    Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Entrepreneurship thrives when government is small, so it puzzles me when the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley embrace the Democrats, who generally advocate bigger government.

Of course, my Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to point out that there are always cross-currents that go in a different direction from the mainstream. And among the Democrats, there are what used to be called "new Democrats" who appreciate Schumpeter, and entrepreneurship, and dynamism.

Plus, some Democrats are more respectful of personal, lifestyle choices, and in Silicon Valley, that may be what is given the most weight.

Or, more cynically, maybe there's a public choice explanation---that Silicon Valley donates to Democrats as a form of 'insurance,' in the hope that if the Democrats are elected, they will refrain from over-regulating and over-taxing Silicon Valley. (Even more cynically, compare the case of Florida's sugar-subsidy-rich Fanjul brothers, one of whom donated huge bucks to the first Bush, while another donated huge bucks to Bill Clinton.)

(Another factor is that, alas, entrepreneurs often do not pay much attention to what conditions encourage entrepreneurship.)


(p. C4)  In a flip from the primary season for the 2000 presidential election, 60 percent of the contributions so far from people in the technology field here are going to Democrats. The Democratic candidates raised $1.4 million from the industry in the first half of this year, while Republican candidates raised $890,000. That total is up from $1.2 million in the first six months of each of the last two presidential primary races.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "In Primary, Tech's Home Is a Magnet." The New York Times  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  C1 & C4.

 




February 5, 2008

The Spontaneous Order of Houston Tunnels

 

   "The three major sections of the tunnel system are connected under the building at 919 Milam Street in downtown Houston."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

Houston is one of the most vibrant, free-wheeling cities in the United States.  It is the only major city that does not have zoning laws,  (See:   Bernard Siegan's Land Use Without Zoning.)

The tunnels of Houston appear to be another great example of what Hayek called "spontaneous order." 

 

(p. A14) HOUSTON, Aug. 20 — Where is everybody? 

Seared by triple-digit heat and drenched by tropical storms, midday downtown Houston appears eerily deserted, the nation’s fourth-largest city passing for a ghost town.

On the street, that is.

But below, there are tunnels at the end of the light — nearly seven color-coded miles of them connecting 77 buildings — aswarm with Houstonians lunching, shopping and power-walking in dry, air-chilled comfort.

. . .

It was not centrally planned; it just grew, inspired by Rockefeller Center in New York. But it is not connected to a transit network. And, befitting Texans’ distrust of government, most of it is private; each segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to allow the public access during business hours — and then locks the doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders altogether.

Few claim mastery of the labyrinth.

“It’s one of Houston’s best-kept secrets,” said Sandra Lord, widely known as the Tunnel Lady, a Yankee transplant who dispels the mysteries for $10 a head and roams the downtown underworld with proprietary aplomb, sometimes stopping strangers to ask, “And you are?” Corporations pay Ms. Lord to orient new employees below ground, and nearly 45,000 natives and visitors have taken her Discover Houston Tours since 1988.

. . .

Ms. Lord, a writer and Houston historian, traced the origins of the tunnels to Ross Sterling, an oilman and governor during the Depression, who, inspired by Rockefeller Center, linked two of his downtown buildings underground in the early 1930s. Soon after, an entertainment entrepreneur, Will Horwitz, connected three of his vaudeville and movie theaters to save on air-conditioning.

And the tunnels grew from there, despite the private expense of digging connections. The oil bust of the 1980s forced many building owners to compete for business with amenities like tunnels.

Many were flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, prompting installation of submarine-type doors with inflatable rubber insulation for airtight seals.

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "It’s Lonesome in This Old Town, Until You Go Underground."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 21, 2007):  A14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Top photo shows "Sandra Lord, owner of Discover Houston Tours, leading a tunnel excursion . . . "  Bottom photo shows a map of the tunnels.  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

 




February 3, 2008

Google and Microsoft Seek to Shift Health Care Power to Consumers

 

InternetHealthGraph.jpg    Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. C1)  In politics, every serious candidate for the White House has a health care plan. So too in business, where the two leading candidates for Web supremacy, Google and Microsoft, are working up their plans to improve the nation’s health care.

. . .

(p. C8)  If the efforts of the two big companies gain momentum over time, that promises to accelerate a shift in power to consumers in health care, just as Internet technology has done in other industries.

Today, about 20 percent of the nation’s patient population have computerized records — rather than paper ones — and the Bush administration has pushed the health care industry to speed up the switch to electronic formats. But these records still tend to be controlled by doctors, hospitals or insurers. A patient moves to another state, for example, but the record usually stays.

The Google and Microsoft initiatives would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable. “Patients will ultimately be the stewards of their own information,” said John D. Halamka, a doctor and the chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School.

Already the Web is allowing people to take a more activist approach to health. According to the Harris survey, 58 percent of people who look online for health information discussed what they found with their doctors in the last year.

It is common these days, Dr. Halamka said, for a patient to come in carrying a pile of Web page printouts. “The doctor is becoming a knowledge navigator,” he said. “In the future, health care will be a much more collaborative process between patients and doctors.”

Microsoft and Google are hoping this will lead people to seek more control over their own health records, using tools the companies will provide.

 

For the full story, see: 

STEVE LOHR.  "Dr. Google and Dr. Microsoft."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 14, 2007):  C1 & C8.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




February 2, 2008

Unhappy Italians: "More Fear than Hope"

 

    "A priest passes an abandoned garage covered with graffiti in Milan. Italy's malaise, an economic, political, and social funk, was summed up in a recent poll: Italians report themselves to be the least happy people in Western Europe."  Source of caption and photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  ROME — All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk.  Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself.   The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister.  “There is more fear than hope.”

. . .

. . .   In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain.  Now Spain, which joined the European Union only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.

Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest.

. . .

(p. A18)  . . .  entrepreneurs complain that they are alone. Politicians offered little help making Italy competitive, and this remains a major impediment to making their gains grow. Businesses want less bureaucracy, more flexible labor laws and large investments in infrastructure to make moving goods around easier.

. . .  

. . .   Many worry . . . that Italy may share the same fate as the Republic of Venice, based in what many say is the most beautiful of cities, but whose domination of trade with the Near East died with no culminating event. Napoleon’s conquest in 1797 only made it official.

Now it is essentially an exquisite corpse, trampled over by millions of tourists.  If Italy does not shed its comforts for change, many say, a similar fate awaits it: blocked by past greatness, with aging tourists the questionable source of life, the Florida of Europe.

. . .  

. . .   “We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.”

“We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

IAN FISHER  "In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment."  The New York Times  (Thurs., December 13, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 




January 31, 2008

"Liberty and Life"

  

(p. 8)  At the time of last month's referendum on Mr. Chávez's efforts to remake the Constitution to his liking, I got to know some of the "chamos," as the student activists are known. What struck me was not only how effective they were, but how different their movement was from almost all its many antecedents in the region.

Most important, the Venezuelans are not calling for socialist revolution, but for liberal democracy. Instead of vindicating the statist ideologies of the 20th century or the romantic passions of the 19th, they have embraced classic 18th-century humanism.

. . .

Will they make up a new political party? Can they remain united? Their enemy is formidable, and the chances of a violent or even tragic conclusion are very likely. But against the Chávez slogan, "Socialism or Death," they have their own: "Liberty and Life." In the battle of words they might have the upper hand. Perhaps they can take hope from a line by the Mexican poet-diplomat Octavio Paz: "We must give back transparency to words." 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ENRIQUE KRAUZE.  "Humanizing the Revolution."  The New York Times, Week in Review section (Sun., December 30, 2007):  8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




January 29, 2008

Marconi Matters

 

    Source of book image:  http://palmaddict.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/big_larsonthunderstruckdrm_1.jpg

 

Larson's book plays off a murder mystery against Marconi as the innovator who brought us communication through the air. 

I'm most enthused about hte Marconi part.  It shows how he proceeded against the theorists of the day, whose theories told them that what he was trying to do was impossible.  He was more entrepreneur, than scientist.  And it turned out that it was a good thing that the theoretical scientists did not rule, as they might if all decisions about technology were made by the government.

What happened here is an example of what Taleb would call a Black Swan.

 

Source:

Larson, Erik. Thunderstruck. New York: Crown, 2006.

 




Marconi Matters

 

    Source of book image:  http://palmaddict.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/big_larsonthunderstruckdrm_1.jpg

 

Larson's book plays off a murder mystery against Marconi as the innovator who brought us communication through the air. 

I'm most enthused about hte Marconi part.  It shows how he proceeded against the theorists of the day, whose theories told them that what he was trying to do was impossible.  He was more entrepreneur, than scientist.  And it turned out that it was a good thing that the theoretical scientists did not rule, as they might if all decisions about technology were made by the government.

What happened here is an example of what Taleb would call a Black Swan.

 

Source:

Larson, Erik. Thunderstruck. New York: Crown, 2006.

 




January 26, 2008

Free Market Can Provide Better, Cheaper Health Care

 

   "Eve Linney, 5, who had an infected finger, went with her family last week to a walk-in clinic at a Duane Reade drugstore on Broadway in Manhattan. Her father, John, is at the counter."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  

 

Clayton Christensen and co-authors in Seeing What's Next, make a plausible case for the improvement of health care through disruptive innovation.  A key aspect of their vision is the increasing role of nurse-practitioners in taking on increasingly routinized tasks, a development they see as generally both effective, and cost-efficient.

The article excerpted below suggests that this trend is promising, if it does not get killed by the government, and by organized medical doctors protecting their turf from competition.

 

(p. A1)  The concept has been called urgent care “lite”:  Patients who are tired of waiting days to see a doctor for bronchitis, pinkeye or a sprained ankle can instead walk into a nearby drugstore and, at lower cost, with brief waits, see a doctor or a nurse and then fill a prescription on the spot.

With demand for primary care doctors surpassing the supply in many parts of the country, the number of these retail clinics in drugstores has exploded over the past two years, and several companies operating them are now aggressively seeking to open clinics in New York City. 

. . .

More than 700 clinics are operating across the country at chain stores including Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and Duane Reade.

New York State regulators are investigating the business relationships between drugstore companies and medical providers to determine whether the clinics are being used improperly to increase business or steer patients to the pharmacies in which the clinics are located.

And doctors’ groups, whose members stand to lose business from the clinics, are citing concerns about standards of care, safety and hygiene, and they have urged the federal and state governments to step in to more rigorously regulate the new businesses.

. . .

(p. A16)  Patients, however, have flocked to the clinics, according to a new industry group, the Convenient Care Association.

“I think it’s great you don’t have to make an appointment. That could take weeks,” said Ezequiel Strachan, 33, who lives in Manhattan and walked into the clinic at the Duane Reade store at 50th Street and Broadway on a recent morning for treatment of a sore throat. “People here value their time a lot.”

The average waiting time for an exam at such clinics nationwide is 15 to 25 minutes, according to the Convenient Care Association.

The association estimated that 70 percent of clinic patients have health insurance and are using the clinics because of convenience. For them, costs may not be much different from those at doctors’ offices, because the same insurance co-payments apply. But uninsured patients could reap substantial savings.

In New York City, one in five residents lacks a regular doctor and one in six is uninsured, according to a recent survey by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and overcrowded emergency rooms are often their first resort for routine care.

. . .

MinuteClinic officials insisted that there was nothing improper in the relationships between providers and the drugstores and that medical care is not being compromised.

“We are transparent with regulators,” said Michael C. Howe, the chief executive of MinuteClinic, which is based in Minneapolis and operates more than 200 clinics nationwide. using the motto “You’re Sick, We’re Quick.”

Mr. Howe said the concerns of doctors’ groups and other critics “are being raised by voices of people who have not really studied the model.”

Preliminary data from a two-year study of claims from MinuteClinic by a Minnesota health maintenance organization, HealthPartners, which was released to The Minneapolis Star Tribune in July, showed that each visit to the retail clinic cost an average of $18 less than a visit to other primary-care clinics, but that pharmacy costs were $4 higher per patient.

Duane Reade, New York City’s largest drugstore chain, which opened four clinics in Manhattan in May, plans to open as many as 60 more across the city in the next 18 months. A key difference at the Duane Reade clinics is that they use doctors, while nurse practitioners and physician assistants typically provide the care at most retail clinics.

 

For the full story, see:

SARAH KERSHAW.  "Tired of Waiting for a Doctor?  Try the Drugstore."  The New York Times  (Thurs., . August 23, 2007):  A1 & A16.

(Note:  the title of the online version is "Drugstore Clinics Spread, and Scrutiny Grows."  Ellipses added.)

 

   "Dr. Maggie Bertisch saw Eve while her mother, Claire, waited."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.  

 




January 23, 2008

Subsidized Bread Leads to Long Lines, and Corruption

 

   "A vendor sold bread on Wednesday in a poor section of Cairo, where lines are long and customers pushy."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A4)  Much of what ails Egypt seems to converge in the story of subsidized bread. It speaks to a state that is in many ways stuck in the past, struggling to pull itself into the future, unable, or unwilling, to conquer corruption or even to persuade people to care about one another.

How do you take a broken system that somehow helps feed 80 million people and fix it without causing social disorder? That is a challenge for Egypt at large, and for this little bakery where Mr. Muhammad ekes out a living, with a cigarette hanging from his lips and an angry crowd demanding his bread.

. . .

“The most corrupt sector in the country is the provisions sector,” said a government inspector who asked not to be identified for fear of punishment. His job is to go to bakeries to ensure they are actually using the cheap government flour to produce cheap bread that is sold at the proper price.

The inspector explained why the system was so open to abuse. The government sells bakeries 25-pound bags of flour for 8 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of about $1.50. The bakeries are then supposed to sell the flatbread at the subsidized rate, which gives them a profit of about $10 from each sack. Or the baker can simply sell the flour on the black market for $15 a bag.

If the inspector, who said he was paid $42 a month, certifies that after three months the baker has faithfully used the flour to bake bread, the baker gets a refund of about $1 a bag. A baker who goes through 40 sacks a day over the three-month period gets back 18,000 pounds (around $3,300) — a nice sum, this inspector said, which could easily be shared with an underpaid inspector.

. . .

Over the course of an hour one recent day, 14-year-old Mahmoud Ahmed managed four trips to the counter. His job, he said, was to ensure a steady stream of bread for a nearby food vendor, who then resold it in sandwiches. It appeared that the baker let him push his way to the front to get bread before others. Was there a deal going? Mahmoud would not say.

Down the road, five blocks away, a 12-year-old, Muhammad Abdul Nabi, was selling bread, the same kind of bread, from a makeshift table for more than double the price at the bakery. But there were no lines.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL SLACKMAN.  "CAIRO MEMO; Egypt’s Problem and Its Challenge: Bread Corrupts."   The New York Times  (Thurs.,  January 17, 2008):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

   "Fresh baked for less than a penny, and that's just the start of the complications."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. 

 




January 19, 2008

"Freedom and Prosperity Are Highly Correlated"

 

    Source of graph:  http://www.heritage.org/Press/ALAChart/images/ALC_017_index_econ_freedom_3col_c.jpg

 

(p. A13)  . . .  the evidence is piling up that neither government nor multilateral spending on education and infrastructure are key to development. To move out of poverty, countries instead need fast growth; and to get that they need to unleash the animal spirits of entrepreneurs.

Empirical support for this view is presented again this year in The Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, released today. In its 14th edition, the annual survey grades countries on a combination of factors including property rights protection, tax rates, government intervention in the economy, monetary, fiscal and trade policy, and business freedom.

The nearby table shows the 2008 rankings but doesn't tell the whole story. The Index also reports that the freest 20% of the world's economies have twice the per capita income of those in the second quintile and five times that of the least-free 20%. In other words, freedom and prosperity are highly correlated.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY.  "The Real Key to Development."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 15, 2008):  A13. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

IndexOfEconomicFreedom2008.gif     Source of table:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




January 11, 2008

Feds Force Us to Fluoresce, Causing Migraines and Epileptic Seizures

 

   Source:  screen capture from the CNN report cited below.

 

The new energy bill signed into law on Weds., Dec. 19, 2007, included a provision to force us all to fluoresce starting in 2012.  In the CNN report cited below, Dr. Sanjay Gupta summarizes recent research suggesting that fluorescent bulbs cause a significant increase in the number of migraine headaches and epileptic seizures.

 

For the full story, see:

Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "Eco-bulbs and migraines." CNN Report. Posted online on January 4, 2008.

 

   Source:  screen capture from the CNN report cited above.

 




January 1, 2008

Prominent Transplant Surgeon Endorses Market for Kidneys

 

KidneyTransplantWaitingListGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  Amid a severe kidney-donor shortage, an idea long considered anathema in the medical community is gaining new currency: payments for people willing to give up a kidney. 

One of the most outspoken voices on the topic isn't a free-market libertarian, but a prominent transplant surgeon named Arthur Matas.

Dr. Matas, 59 years old, is a Canadian-born physician best known for his research at the University of Minnesota. Lately, he's been traveling the country trying to make the case that barring kidney sales is tantamount to sentencing some patients to death.

"There's one clear argument for sales," Dr. Matas told a gathering of surgeons earlier this year. The practice, currently illegal in the U.S., "would increase the supply of kidneys, save lives and improve the quality of life for those with end-stage renal disease."

The doctor supports a regulated market only for kidneys, since live donors can give one up and survive without excessive health risks. (Transplants of other organs, such as livers and lungs, pose greater complications to a living donor.) And Dr. Matas doesn't rule out financial incentives for the families of deceased donors.

 

For the full story, see:

LAURA MECKLER.  "Kidney Shortage Inspires A Radical Idea: Organ Sales As Waiting List Grows, Some Seek to Lift Ban; Exploiting the Poor?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., November 13, 2007):  A1 & A22.

 

MatasArthurTransplantSurgeon.jpg  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 




December 19, 2007

Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights

 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




November 22, 2007

New Farm Bill Is Sweet for Sugar Industry, but Sour for Sugar Consumers

 

  "Sugar being processed at the Louisiana Sugar Cooperative mill in St. Martinville, La."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. C1)  A little-noticed provision in the new farm bill working its way through Congress would oblige the Agriculture Department to buy surplus domestic sugar caused by the expected influx of Mexican sugar next year. Then the government would sell it, most likely at a steep discount, to ethanol producers to add to their fermentation tanks. The Bush administration is fighting the measure.

Sugar producers say the cost would be relatively low and the plan would help keep prices at a level they consider fair. As a side benefit, the deal would allow the nation to produce more ethanol to mix with gasoline, displacing some foreign oil, they say.

But ethanol producers are unenthused. And the plan is drawing fire from opponents of agricultural subsidies and from longtime critics of the sugar in- (p. C4) dustry, who complain that producers already have one of the best deals in American agriculture.

“It’s a tax burden without a benefit that distorts both the ethanol market and the food-ingredient market,” said Richard E. Pasco, counsel for the Sweetener Users Association, a lobby group for food companies that use sugar. “And guess who will pay the price? Taxpayers and consumers.”

. . .

The measure would be grafted onto an existing sugar policy so complex that even many farmers have trouble understanding it. The government limits the supply of sugar through production quotas and import restrictions, and it uses financial mechanisms to set an effective price floor.

The system does not cost taxpayers money directly, a point of pride for the industry. But it costs consumers money in the form of higher sugar prices. The system has been subjected to withering criticism for decades, but the sugar lobby has clout on Capitol Hill. Sugar producers donated $2.7 million in campaign contributions to House and Senate incumbents in 2006, more than any other group of food growers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington group.

The new farm bill would retain much of the existing system, which sugar producers defend on the ground that virtually every country with a domestic sugar industry has strong protections. But it would add more guarantees, including one that would assure American producers 85 percent of the market no matter how much sugar comes in from abroad.

 

For the full story, see: 

CLIFFORD KRAUSS.  "Seeing Sugar's Future in Fuel."  The New York Times   (Thurs., October 18, 2007):  C1 & C4.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

SugarFarmingMap.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of NYT article cited above.

 




November 21, 2007

Hong Kong Dim Sum Lovers Rebuke Government

 

     "Wong Yuen enjoying breakfast at a Hong Kong restaurant. The government, he says, "shouldn't be telling anyone how dim sum should be served.""   Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Longtime dim sum lovers are indignant.

"The government is putting its thumb on every part of citizens' lives, and it shouldn't be telling anyone how dim sum should be served," said Wong Yuen, a retired mechanic and truck driver who says he has eaten dim sum every morning for the last two decades. "People can make their own decisions. If it's unhealthy, they can eat less. They don't need the government to tell them."

 

For the full story, see: 

KEITH BRADSHER.  "HONG KONG JOURNAL; Dim Sum Under Assault, and Devotees Say 'Hands Off'."  The New York Times  (Thurs., April 28, 2005):  A4.

 




November 19, 2007

Incentives for Organ Donations Would Save Lives

 

SatelSally.jpg    Sally Satel is a medical doctor and a resident scholar at the Amerrican Enterprise Institute.  Source of photo:  http://www.aei.org/publications/filter.all,pubID.25785/pub_detail.asp

 

(p. A12)  At the annual meeting of The American Society of Transplant Surgeons this winter a straw poll revealed that 80 to 85% were in favor of studying incentives for living donors, according to society president Arthur Matas. In 2003, the American Medical Association testified on behalf of legislation that would have permitted pilot studies of incentives for deceased organs.

The public seems receptive as well, according to a new Gallup poll on attitudes toward donation of organs after death. The most striking results were among 18 to 34 year olds wherein an impressive 34% said that incentives would make them "more likely" to donate while 6% said less likely.  . . .

. . .

The idea of combining organ donation with material gain can make people queasy. Yet the mix of financial and humanitarian motives is commonplace. No one objects, for example, to a tax credit for charitable contributions--a financial incentive to complement the "pure" motive of giving to others. The great teachers who enlighten us and the doctors who heal us inspire no less gratitude because they are paid. An increase in the supply of kidneys will ameliorate suffering and prevent needless death. This is more important than whether an organ has been given freely or for material gain.  . . .

 

For the full commentary, see: 

Satel, Sally.  "Doing Well By Doing Good."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri, March 16 2007):  A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




November 16, 2007

"India is Outsourcing Outsourcing"

 

   "Infosys employs workers in Brno, Czech Republic."   Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted, and cited, below.

 

(p. A1)  MYSORE, India — Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model.

Many executives here acknowledge that outsourcing, having rained most heavily on India, will increasingly sprinkle tasks around the globe. Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”

. . .

(p. A14)  Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.

In Europe, too, companies now hire Infosys to manage back offices in their own backyards. When an American manufacturer, for instance, needed a system to handle bills from multiple vendors supplying its factories in different European countries, it turned to the Indian company. The manufacturer’s different locations scan the invoices and send them to an office of Infosys, where each bill is passed to the right language team. The teams verify the orders and send the payment to the suppliers while logged in to the client’s computer system.

More than a dozen languages are spoken at the Infosys office, which is in Brno, Czech Republic.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS.  "Outsourcing Comes Full Circle As India Starts to Export Jobs."  The New York Times   (Tues., September 25, 2007):  A1 & A14.

(Note:  the somewhat different title of the online version was:  "Outsourcing Works So Well, India Is Sending Jobs Abroad.")

 




November 12, 2007

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade -- But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 




November 8, 2007

"Merchant Generator" Leads Nuclear Renaissance

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted, and cited, below. 

 

(p. B1)  In a move that could mark the beginning of a nuclear-power revival, a New Jersey-based energy company today plans to submit an application to build and operate two new reactors. The request, the first submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 31 years, comes from an unlikely source: NRG Energy Inc., a company that has never before built a nuclear plant.

The application -- for a two-reactor addition to the company's existing South Texas nuclear station -- could offer the first full test of the nuclear agency's new licensing process, which has been under development since the 1980s. The new process allows companies to submit a single application for a construction permit and conditional operating license, eliminating the risk that a firm could build a plant but not be allowed to run it.

. . .

(p. B2)  . . . , the industry has regained momentum, partly because other forms of power generation have continued to show significant flaws. Coal-fired plants undermine efforts to combat global warming. Many natural-gas-fired plants rely on a fuel with volatile prices. And renewable energy mostly comes from intermittent forces like wind, rain and sunlight.

This first application comes from a somewhat unlikely source; NRG is a so-called "merchant generator," a company that makes electricity and sells it on the open market. NRG has never built a nuclear plant, and because it doesn't own a utility, has no ratepayers to whom it could bill the estimated $5.5 billion to $6 billion expense.

"We're like the uncola," says David Crane, NRG chief executive in Princeton, N.J.

. . .

So far, it appears merchant generators think Texas provides the most promising market. Deregulation in that state has resulted in a sharp run up in wholesale power prices since 2004. A recent decision by Dallas-based TXU to abandon efforts to build eight coal-fired plants could result in shrinking electricity reserves in the coming years, creating an environment receptive to operators looking to bring large units online and sell such units' full output.

 

For the full story, see: 

REBECCA SMITH.  "Nuclear Energy's Second Act? Bid to Build Two New Reactors In Texas May Mark Resurgence; NRC Gears Up for Many More."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., September 25, 2007):  B1 & B2.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




November 1, 2007

Pulling Teeth Slowly

 

   Source of book image:  http://mitpress.mit.edu/images/products/books/0262113023-f30.jpg

 

Many years ago, I read János Kornai's The Road to the Free Market, which gave Kornai's advice on how Eastern Europe could best make the transition from communism to the free market.  What I remember most from the book, is his discussion of whether it is more humane for the transition to be quick or gradual.  He answers the question by asking another:  if you need to have a tooth pulled, is it more humane for it to be pulled quickly or gradually?

 

(p. B15) . . .,  Mr. Kornai's books and lectures in Europe, North America and Asia established him as one of the leading scholars of socialist economics and an expert on the difficult transitions that many countries face when they move from socialism to a more democratic and capitalist system.   . . .

At one point in 1974, under the more relaxed rule of János Kádár, when Hungary was the "most cheerful barrack in the camp," Mr. Kornai and his wife decided to build their own home. Over the course of several months, they personally confronted the corruption, endemic shortages and shoddy construction materials that were so common in Eastern Europe. A year later, on a trip to India, Mr. Kornai was faced by idealistic young Maoists whose concern for the desperately poor reinforced their support for socialism. Mr. Kornai responded to them by arguing, as he puts it here, that "rationing systems that spread misery equally may assuage feelings of injustice for a while, but they will not solve anything."

 

For the full review, see:

JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN.  "BOOKS; Critic Behind the Curtain."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., January 30, 2007):  B15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

The book reviewed, is: 

János Kornai.  By Force of Thought.  (MIT Press, 461 pages, $40)

 

The earlier book by Kornai, that I read and liked, is:

Kornai, Janos. The Road to a Free Economy: Shifting from a Socialist System, the Example of Hungary. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

 




October 30, 2007

United States Cotton Subsidies Hurt Poor African Farmers

 

Dan Sumner did his dissertation many years ago under T.W. Schultz, a great economist, and a great human being.  (Dan was a friend of mine in grad school--we were members of a club that gathered once a month to discuss the works of Bertrand Russell.) 

 

Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.

Agricultural economists at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study for Oxfam, found that a typical farm family of 10 in Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso or Mali — Africa’s major cotton producers — that now earns $2,000 a year would have an extra $46 to $114 a year to spend if American subsidies were removed.

“Fifty to a hundred bucks is a lot of money to these people,” said Daniel Sumner, chairman of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the university. “It’s not right to think that changing U.S. subsidies will turn very poor people into middle-class households by our standards. That’s a generational process. But it’s money in their pocket.”

. . .

Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard who is skeptical of the importance of reduced agricultural subsidies, said he found Oxfam’s new estimates credible, but said the gains forecast were relatively small.  . . .

. . .

But the authors of the report said that removing American subsidies would permanently shift the price of cotton upward, with prices subsequently fluctuating around a higher average. 

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies."  The New York Times  (Thurs., June 21, 2007):  A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




October 25, 2007

Creative Entrepreneurship Helps U.S. Thrive in Globalization's "Invisible Competition"

 

The passage below is an excerpt of a WSJ summary of an article in the  Autumn 2007 issue of The Wilson Quarterly.

 

Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, says many U.S. accomplishments stem from Americans' ability to thrive in competitive environments.  . . .

Mr. Cowen believes that the U.S. is particularly well-suited to the type of competition fostered by globalization, which he calls "invisible competition." Rivals in business, romance and life now compete anonymously and from a distance. Programmers compete with computer professionals across the ocean. Dating Web sites pit anonymous strangers against one other. Many American qualities suit the distinct challenges posed by invisible competition, says Mr. Cowen. A tradition of creative entrepreneurship is especially useful, since invisible competitors don't have the same motivating power as rivals in the next cubicle or on the next block.

 

For the full summary, see:

"Informed Reader; ECONOMICS Divergent Views on Competition in the U.S."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., October 9, 2007):  B14.   

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 19, 2007

Business Should Stop Apologizing for Creating Wealth

 

   Source of book image:  http://hoeiboei.web-log.nl/photos/uncategorized/atlasshrugged.jpg

 

David Kelley's op-ed piece, excerpted below, was published in the WSJ on October 10, 2007, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's greatest novel.

  

Fifty years ago today Ayn Rand published her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged." It's an enduringly popular novel -- all 1,168 pages of it -- with some 150,000 new copies still sold each year in bookstores alone. And it's always had a special appeal for people in business. The reasons, at least on the surface, are obvious enough.

Businessmen are favorite villains in popular media, routinely featured as polluters, crooks and murderers in network TV dramas and first-run movies, not to mention novels. Oil company CEOs are hauled before congressional committees whenever fuel prices rise, to be harangued and publicly shamed for the sin of high profits. Genuine cases of wrongdoing like Enron set off witch hunts that drag in prominent achievers like Frank Quattrone and Martha Stewart.

By contrast, the heroes in "Atlas Shrugged" are businessmen -- and women. Rand imbues them with heroic, larger-than-life stature in the Romantic mold, for their courage, integrity and ability to create wealth. They are not the exploiters but the exploited: victims of parasites and predators who want to wrap the producers in regulatory chains and expropriate their wealth.

. . .  

. . .   At a crucial point in the novel, the industrialist Hank Rearden is on trial for violating an arbitrary economic regulation. Instead of apologizing for his pursuit of profit or seeking mercy on the basis of philanthropy, he says, "I work for nothing but my own profit -- which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage -- and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner…"

We will know the lesson of "Atlas Shrugged" has been learned when business people, facing accusers in Congress or the media, stand up like Rearden for their right to produce and trade freely, when they take pride in their profits and stop apologizing for creating wealth.

 

For the full commentary/review, see: 

DAVID KELLEY. "Capitalist Heroes."   The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., October 10, 2007):  A21. 

(Note:  ellipsis in Rearden quote was in original; the other two ellipses were added.)

 




October 18, 2007

Good Democracies and Bad Democracies

 

  A street demonstration in Ukraine's December 2004 democratic revolution.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Democracy is neither a necessary, nor a sufficient, condition for having free markets.  At best, we can argue that in the long run, liberal democracies may be more likely to sustain free market economies.

 

. . . , as the free market and autocrats gained power in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Latin America and Russia, the initial optimism about democracy’s sure-footed march faltered. Some scholars pointed out that the American experience, where democracy and capitalism arose at the same time, was not so much a model for the rest of the world as an anomaly. “Capitalism came before democracy essentially everywhere, except in this country, where they started at the same time,” said Bruce R. Scott, an economist at Harvard Business School who is finishing a book titled “Capitalism, Democracy and Development.”

“In the rest of the world, it took 100, 200, 300 years before they got to where they could manage a democracy,” Mr. Scott said. A big mistake, he said, was assuming that “all you had to have was a constitution and an election and you had a democracy; that was really stupid.” 

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate now at Columbia University, agrees that one of the biggest changes since the early 1990s is an appreciation of the complexity and limits of democracy.

As more fledgling democracies fail, various theories have surfaced to explain the appearance of democracy and elections without real freedom.  

 

For the full commentary, see:

PATRICIA COHEN.  "POLITICAL MEMO; An Unexpected Odd Couple: Free Markets and Freedom."  The New York Times   (Thurs., June 14, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




October 14, 2007

A Toast to the Feisty Old Lady Entrepreneur Who Fought the Government, and Won

(p. B10) When Virginia-based vintner Juanita Swedenburg discovered Prohibition-vintage laws prevented her from mailing cases of wine to customers in New York, she decided to make a federal case of it.

"I was furious, never so cross, as cross as I can get," Ms. Swedenburg told the Washington Post in April 2005. A month later, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Swedenburg v. Kelly that a New York law preventing wine sales across state lines was unconstitutional.

. . .

To Ms. Swedenburg, it was a matter of principle, not peddling more vino, says her son, Marc Swedenburg. She shut down her mail-order business when she filed suit in 2000, to ensure she wasn't violating the law. The family winery still does very little mail-order sales.

Ms. Swedenburg's day before the nation's high court was set in motion in the early 1990s, when lawyer Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based libertarian law firm, stopped by her Middleburg, Va., tasting room. There, he discovered "a chardonnay with the toastiest nose I can remember," Mr. Bolick wrote in his book "David's Hammer" (2007), which includes Ms. Swedenburg's story in an anthology of David vs. Goliath tales. Mr. Bolick and Ms. Swedenburg got to talking, he writes, "When I told her that, among other things, I challenged regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship, she exclaimed, 'Have I got a regulation for you!' "

. . .

Ms. Swedenburg expressed regret that her husband didn't see her constitutional arguments prevail. "He never made fun of me for doing something as foolish as this. Some men would say, 'What are you getting into all this foolishness for?' Not him," she told the Washington Post. "He would always be very quiet when I'd go off on my rampage about the situation." The decision in her favor was rendered on May 16, 2005, the first anniversary of his death. Ms. Swedenburg was still bouncing around on her tractor days before her death at age 82 on June 9 in Middleburg.

 

For the full story, see:

STEPHEN MILLER.  "REMEMBRANCES; Juanita Swedenburg (1925 - 2007); Passionate Winemaker Won Fight To Sell Product Across State Lines." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 16, 2007):  A6.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

The reference for the Bolick book, is:

Bolick, Clint. David's Hammer: The Case for an Activist Judiciary. Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, 2007.

 

  Source of book image:   http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/12270000/12274961.jpg

 




October 1, 2007

Mugabe Driven by Quest for Power, More than from Paranoia, or Marxism: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

No one outside of Mr. Mugabe’s inner circle, of course, can say with certainty why he has pursued policies since 2000 that have produced economic and social bedlam. For his part, Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s chaos is the product of a Western plot to reassert colonial rule, while he is simply taking steps to fight that off.

Among many outside that circle, however, the growing conviction is that Zimbabwe’s descent is neither the result of paranoia nor the product of Mr. Mugabe’s longstanding belief in Marxist economic theory. Instead, they say, Zimbabwe is fast becoming a kleptocracy, and the government’s seemingly inexplicable policies are in fact preserving and expanding it.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s government declares currency trading illegal, but regularly dumps vast stacks of new bills on the black market, still wrapped in plastic, to raise foreign exchange for its own needs, business leaders and economists say.

The nation’s extraordinary hyperinflation, last pegged by analysts at 10,000 percent a year, is an economic disaster that, by all accounts, the government needs to address. Yet after it ordered merchants in July to slash their prices, cadres of policemen and soldiers moved into shops to enforce the new controls, scoop up bargains and give friends and political heavyweights preferential access to cheap goods.

. . .

Mr. Mugabe’s 25-bedroom mansion in Borrowdale, the gated high-end suburb of Harare, the capital, is the locus of a boomlet that has spawned luxury homes for government and party officials. (Mr. Mugabe said his mansion was built with goods and labor donated by foreign governments.)

Mr. Mugabe arrived to open Zimbabwe’s Parliament this month in a Rolls-Royce. Equally telling, the legislature’s parking lot was crammed with luxury cars.

Such riches have been accompanied by a steep decline in living standards for just about everyone else. The death rate for Zimbabweans under the age of 5 grew by 65 percent from 1990 to 2005, even as the rate for the world’s poorest nations dropped. Average life expectancy here is among the world’s lowest, according to the United Nations.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "News Analysis; Zimbabwe’s Chaos: The Powerful Thrive."  The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




September 17, 2007

How to Protect Against Bad Drugs: "Don't Take Them"

 

The FDA's major problem is not laxity, but zealotry.  Its current get-tough view on conflict of interest only aggravates the fundamental flaw in its institutional design. Transfixed on the harms drugs can cause, the FDA remains largely oblivious to the harms they can prevent. Any delay in the use of a successful drug is costly: The delay matters little to the FDA, but a great deal to the thousands who plea for compassionate exemptions to try a drug that has not met with FDA approval.  Nor is the FDA sensitive, as individual physicians surely are, to the simple fact that a drug which cannot be tolerated by one person works wonders in another.

. . .

Right now, we all have a simple expedient to protect ourselves against dangerous drugs that make it to the market: Don't take them. But we have no protection at all when the FDA denies us that choice in the first place. Right now the pace of drug approval is too slow.  We don't need the FDA to slow it up still further.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

Richard A. Epstein.  “Drug Crazy.”  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., March 26, 2007):  A12.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




September 9, 2007

Majority of iPod Value-Added is from the United States

 

Who makes the Apple iPod? Here's a hint: It is not Apple. The company outsources the entire manufacture of the device to a number of Asian enterprises, among them Asustek, Inventec Appliances and Foxconn.

But this list of companies isn't a satisfactory answer either: They only do final assembly. What about the 451 parts that go into the iPod? Where are they made and by whom?

 

Three researchers at the University of California, Irvine -- Greg Linden, Kenneth L. Kraemer and Jason Dedrick -- applied some investigative cost accounting to this question, using a report from Portelligent Inc. that examined all the parts that went into the iPod.

. . .

Continuing in this way, the researchers examined the major components of the iPod and tried to calculate the value added at different stages of the production process and then assigned that value added to the country where the value was created. This isn't an easy task, but even based on their initial examination, it is quite clear that the largest share of the value added in the iPod goes to enterprises in the United States, particularly for units sold here.

The researchers estimated that $163 of the iPod's $299 retail value in the United States was captured by American companies and workers, breaking it down to $75 for distribution and retail costs, $80 to Apple, and $8 to various domestic component makers. Japan contributed about $26 to the value added (mostly via the Toshiba disk drive), while Korea contributed less than $1.

. . .

The real value of the iPod doesn't lie in its parts or even in putting those parts together. The bulk of the iPod's value is in the conception and design of the iPod. That is why Apple gets $80 for each of these video iPods it sells, which is by far the largest piece of value added in the entire supply chain.

Those clever folks at Apple figured out how to combine 451 mostly generic parts into a valuable product. They may not make the iPod, but they created it. In the end, that's what really matters.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

VARIAN, HAL R.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; An iPod Has Global Value. Ask the (Many) Countries That Make It."  The New York Times  (Thurs.,  June 28, 2007):  C3.

 

The working paper that is the main source for Varian's commentary, is: 

Linden, Greg, Kenneth Kraemer, and Jason Dedrick. "Who Captures Value in a Global Innovation System? The Case of Apple's Ipod." UC Irvine, June 2007.

The link is:   http://pcic.merage.uci.edu/papers/2007/AppleiPod.pdf

 




September 2, 2007

The End of "the Road to Socialism"

 

     The frenetic pace of productive work at a Chavez socialist farm cooperative in Santa Barbara, Venezuela.  Souce of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  Mr. Chávez’s supporters have formed thousands of state-financed cooperatives to wrest farms and cattle ranches from private owners.  Landowners say compensation is hard to obtain.  Local officials describe the land seizures as paving stones on “the road to socialism.”

. . .

(p. A10)  But while some of the newly settled farming communities are euphoric, landowners are jittery.  Economists say the land reform may have the opposite effect of what Mr. Chavez intends, and make the country more dependent on imported food than before.

The uncertainties and disruptions of the land seizures have led to lower investment by some farmers.  Production of some foods has been relatively flat, adding to shortages of items like sugar, economists say.  

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Clash of Hope and Fear As Venezuela Seizes Land."  The New York Times  (Thurs., May 17, 2007):  A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 




August 31, 2007

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent's solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:


Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




August 29, 2007

"Total Freedom"

 

   On Monday, May 28th, protesters at the G8 meeting in Hamburg, Germany protested for "Total Freedom" and against globalization.  Source of this version of the banner picture:  http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20070528131819740

 

A photo fairly similar to the one above was run in the print version of the NYT on Tuesday, May 29, 2007, but was not included in the online version.  It appeared by itself, without an attached article.  But, referring to the "Total Freedom" banner, it had the following wonderfully ironic caption:

 

Except, Perhaps, When It Comes to Trade

Thousands of protesters marched against globalization on Monday in Hamburg, Germany, where the Group of Eight industrialized nations will meet next week.  After the largely peaceful rally, some protesters clashed with police and 21 were arrested.  The rest, however, were totally free.

 

Source of the NYT version of the banner picture, and of the caption:

The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  A3. 

(Note:  caption title was in bold, and in larger font than the body of the caption, in the original.)

 




August 25, 2007

Must-Visit London Attraction "Was Entirely Commercially Funded"


 

The most elegant big wheel in the world, standing 443 feet high, . . .

Unlike old-style Ferris wheels, where the cars hang inside the structure as it rotates, here the pods are on the outside so as to obtain the best view. Their rotation is not dependent on gravity, but on electric motors synchronized by computerized radio signals sent from the hub. Finally, the whole wheel is hung from one side only, so as to hover over the river. This meant some nifty foundation work. Two separate forests of concrete piles -- one taking the Eye's weight, the other stopping it from toppling over sideways -- plunge 108 feet into the ground.  . . .  

As with all the best engineering structures, building it became a public spectacle. It was floated up the Thames in segments on giant barges, complete with the world's largest floating cranes in attendance. It was then assembled flat on pontoons in the river, its giant central spindle was attached to the perimeter by a skein of steel cables -- the suspension-bridge variety, but acting like bicycle spokes -- and then came an unforgettable week as the whole wheel, weighing 1,780 tons without its 32 capsules (each a further 10 tons), was hauled slowly from the horizontal to an acute angle. Where it stayed, leaning alarmingly, for several days while the final work was done to bring it to its vertical position.

. . .  

Even more remarkably at a time when ambitious architectural projects funded by a national lottery were being built all over Britain, the London Eye -- costing £85 million, or about $150 million at the time -- was entirely commercially funded. Today it is a must-visit attraction in the British capital, carrying an average of 10,000 visitors a day. Each trip is one 30-minute revolution.

It opened in late 2000 and immediately became exactly the iconic object that the Millennium Dome downstream had tried and failed to be. That was perhaps unfair -- the Dome was also a prodigious feat of engineering and architecture -- but in the end what decides these things is the public response.

And the public has always responded to a buccaneering spirit in engineering, the idea that enormous risks are being taken, that enormous reward is the prize, but that total disaster is a looming possibility. That, in short, is the achievement of Mr. Marks and Ms. Barfield's London Eye: The process of making it was every bit as compelling as the ride on the finished product. They are diffident people -- the way they tell it, it was just a matter of A following B -- but they surely fall into the category of designer as hero (and heroine). In this sense they are in the tradition of the great 19th-century British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who with his extraordinarily ambitious railways and steamships overcame obstacles with flair and style.  . . .

 

For the full commentary, see: 

HUGH PEARMAN.  "MASTERPIECE; Anatomy of a Classic; Reinventing the Wheel; The London Eye is an engineering marvel with tourist appeal."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., May 26, 2007):  P14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 




August 9, 2007

Private Companies Beat Government in Accessible and Affordable Health Care

 

MinuteClinic.jpg    A CVS pharmacy MinuteClinic.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below. 

 

It's Friday evening and you suspect that your child might have strep throat or a worsening ear infection. Do you bundle him up and wait half the night in an emergency room? Or do you suffer through the weekend and hope that you can get an appointment with your pediatrician on Monday -- taking time off your job to drive across town for another wait in the doctor's office?

Every parent has faced this dilemma. But now there are new options, courtesy of the competitive marketplace. You might instead be able to take a quick trip on Friday night to a RediClinic in the nearby Wal-Mart or a MinuteClinic at CVS, where you will be seen by a nurse practitioner within 15 minutes, most likely getting a prescription that you can have filled right there. Cost of the visit? Generally between $40 and $60.

These new retail health clinics are opening in big box stores and local pharmacies around the country to treat common maladies at prices lower than a typical doctor's visit and much lower than the emergency room. No appointment necessary. Open daytime, evenings and weekends. Most take insurance.

Much like the response to Hurricane Katrina, private companies are far ahead of the government in answering Americans' needs, this time for more accessible and more affordable health care. Political leaders across the country seeking to expand government's role in health care should take note. 

 

For the full commentary, see:

GRACE-MARIE TURNER.  "Customer Health Care."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., May 14, 2007):   A17.

 




August 1, 2007

Free Trade with China Benefits Both U.S. and China

 

 

The image above is from a full-page ad that is scheduled to run in today's eastern edition of the Wall Street Journal.  I am one of the 1,028 economists who agreed to have their names attached to the petition.

Here is the petition: 

 

PETITION
Concerning Protectionist Policies Against China

We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about the recent protectionist sentiments coming from Congress, especially with regards to China.

By the end of this year, China will most likely be the United States’ second largest trading partner.  Over the past six years, total trade between the two countries has soared, growing from $116 billion in 2000 to almost $343 billion in 2006.  That’s an average growth rate of almost 20% a year.

This marvelous growth has led to more affordable goods; higher productivity; strong job growth; and a higher standard of living for both countries.  These economic benefits were made possible in large part because both China and the United States embraced freer trade.

As economists, we understand the vital and beneficial role that free trade plays in the world economy.  Conversely, we believe that barriers to free trade destroy wealth and benefit no one in the long run.  Because of these fundamental economic principles, we sign this letter to advise Congress against imposing retaliatory trade measures against China.

There is no foundation in economics that supports punitive tariffs.  China currently supplies American consumers with inexpensive goods and low-interest rate loans.  Retaliatory tariffs on China are tantamount to taxing ourselves as a punishment.  Worse, such a move will likely encourage China to impose its own tariffs, increasing the possibility of a futile and harmful trade war.  American consumers and businesses would pay the price for this senseless war through higher prices, worse jobs, and reduced economic growth.

We urge Congress to discard any plans for increased protectionism, and instead urge lawmakers to work towards fostering stronger global economic ties through free trade.


 




July 30, 2007

"I Fly with Leslie"

 

FlyWithLesliePoster.jpg  A poster that is displayed in some Wall Street Journal offices in solidarity with a Bancroft family member who has openly expressed doubts about Rupert Murdoch's proposed purchase of the Journal.  Source of the image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

A lot of the news media imitate each other in viewpoint and content.  The Wall Street Journal is fresh and innovative, and frequently gives us important news that is new.

And there have been times throughout recent decades when the editorial page of the Journal was one of the few voices for truth, justice and freedom.  It would be a great loss for that voice to be silenced.

On the other hand, I have noted in an earlier entry, that the business side of the Journal is in need of improvement. 

I do not know if in the end, the Murdoch bid is the best chance for the long-run survival of what is good about the Journal.  But I do wish the Journal, and the Journal's journalists, well. 

 

(p. C1)  On May 14, more than 100 reporters, editors and executives clustered in The Wall Street Journal’s main newsroom to mark the retirement of Peter R. Kann, the longtime leader of their corporate parent, Dow Jones & Company.

Mr. Kann, in rolled-up shirtsleeves, was typically self-effacing about his own contributions to the company. But the celebration of the past was muted by worry about The Journal’s future. A few weeks earlier, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation had offered $5 billion to buy Dow Jones. The Bancroft family, owners of a controlling stake in the company, rebuffed the offer at first, but there were signs that some of them were wavering.

Mr. Kann, who had been advising the family against selling, expressed hope that Mr. Murdoch would not prevail, using an image of The Journal as a citadel trying to repel an invasion by tabloid barbarians.

“The drawbridge is up,” Mr. Kann told the group. “So far, so good.”

For employees at Dow Jones, the 11 weeks since they learned of the Murdoch offer have been a wrenching time, raising the prospect of fundamental changes at an organization that had already had its fill of big changes in the last couple of years — with Mr. Kann being replaced by Richard F. Zannino as chief executive, with Marcus W. Brauchli taking over from Paul E. Steiger as top editor; and with a shift of its mission, by adding a Saturday paper and more lifestyle articles to appeal to new advertisers, and investing heavily in its digital properties.

. . .  

(p. C12)  The anti-Murdoch forces enjoyed one of their brief lifts on June 29 when The Journal reported that Leslie Hill, a Bancroft family member, had grave reservations about selling to Mr. Murdoch. Someone enlarged The Journal’s dot drawing of Ms. Hill, a retired airline pilot, adding the words “I Fly with Leslie” above her face. Copies of the makeshift poster appeared in Journal offices around the country.

. . .  

As the chances of an alternative have appeared to wane, more reporters and editors have polished their résumés and approached rival publications about jobs. Some have even talked of starting their own business news Web site.

Many voiced disappointment in the Bancrofts, the family that has owned the company for more than a century and taken great pride in it, for not playing a leading role in running it for more than 70 years.

“We understand that for the Bancrofts this is a choice between getting much richer, and holding onto something because they believe in it,” a reporter said. “What they may not realize is that many of us in the newsroom have made the same choice. There are a lot of people here who could be traders or lawyers, people with M.B.A.’s, who could be making a lot more money. To us, this is not an abstract choice.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA. "At The Gates; Murdoch’s Arrival Worries Journal Employees." The New York Times  (Thurs., July 19, 2007):  C1 & C12. 

 

MurdochRupert.jpg Rupert Murdoch.  Note that the image is a tribute, or humorous small jab at, the hallmark image style of the Wall Street Journal, in which photographs are re-done by artists into an example of something like pointillism.  (True also of the poster image above.)  Source of the image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




July 25, 2007

FDA Rejects Long-Lasting Disappearance of Disease as a "Theoretical Construct"

 

Consider the FDA's handling of Genasense, a new drug for melanoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), two often terminal forms of cancer. The drug is being developed by Genta, a small, innovative company with only one approved drug and limited financial resources. Despite compelling evidence that Genasense is making progress in fighting both diseases, the FDA appears determined to kill the drug.

In the case of the melanoma application, instead of reviewing the clinical-trial data in accordance with usual methods (which showed positive results), the FDA chose a nonstandard statistical approach aimed at discrediting the results. The agency used this analysis in its briefing to its advisory committee, claiming that the drug might not be effective. The committee then relied on that information to vote against approval.

. . .

The FDA's inane answer to the CLL experts was that the long-lasting disappearance of disease in patients taking Genasense was a "theoretical construct" and not grounds for approval.

The experts explained to the FDA that complete responses in advanced CLL patients are the medical equivalent of the Holy Grail. The FDA finally agreed, but was unimpressed with emerging data showing responders to Genasense living longer than responders in the control group.

The experts were unanimous in advising that Genasense should be approved, but the FDA was unmoved. The agency's Dr. Pazdur suggested that Genta could make the drug available as an unapproved treatment through an expanded access program -- this from a regulator fond of stating that the best way to get a drug to patients in need is through approval! In this case the agency was saying to Genta: We are not going to approve your drug, but any patient who needs it can have it so long as you give it away.

. . .

The FDA's handling of Genasense lays bare the all too common, aggressive incompetence of the FDA's cancer-drug division and should lead to an immediate examination of its policies and leadership, followed by swift corrective action.

As for the FDA's belief that their power to control us and even deny us the pursuit of life itself is unlimited under the Constitution, we can only hope the appeals court disagrees. An agency that blocks progress against deadly diseases -- while arguing that its power to do so is above challenge -- is in dire need of a court supervised review.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEVEN WALKER.  "Drug Czars."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., May 4, 2007):  A15.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




July 20, 2007

Kirkcaldy's Current Native-Son Would Do Well to Remember Kirkcaldy's 18th Century Native Son


 

In Kirckcaldy, Gordon Brown, the man on the right, tries to persuade the natives to vote for the Labor Party.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Many years ago, we took the train from Edinburgh to spend a few hours in Kirkcaldy, the birthplace of Adam Smith.  I was surprised at how little there was to honor Smith in the town where he was born and raised.  There was a small cafe/theatre named after Smith.  A small crystal shop sold some shot glasses with Smith's image engraved on them.  And there was a small plaque, above a no-parking sign, on the main street, at the spot where Smith's family home had been. 

I remember asking a very polite young father with two or three small children in tow, why there was so little of Smith in Kirckaldy?  With a twinge of something like regret, he said that everyone in that part of Scotland supported Labor, and they saw Smith as supporting capitalism, and so did not like him much.

It was a crowded Saturday shopping day when Jeanette took my picture in front of the small plaque.  Incredulous passers-by turned and glanced in my direction, probably wondering why the crazy American wanted his picture taken next to a no-parking sign.  

For the sake of Kirkcaldy, and Britain, let us hope that Gordon Brown has read a bit of the work of his fellow Kirkcaldy native son:

 

(p. A10) KIRKCALDY, Scotland, April 30 — Gordon Brown, Britain’s presumed prime minister-to-be, is usually associated with a somewhat dour manner and a mastery of statistics. But here, he displays other skills — a bolt-on smile and a ready handshake to work sparse crowds between the discount stores on the High Street, asking parents with strollers whether their new babies are keeping them awake at night, and inquiring whether the men support the local Raith Rovers soccer team.

. . .

“This is a big choice on Thursday, between those who want to break up Britain and those who want to build up Scotland,” Mr. Brown, currently Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, told students at Adam Smith College, named for the 18th-century economist who was born here.

. . .

Mr. Brown, who is not standing in these elections, came to town, alongside the choppy waters of the Firth of Forth, to support the Scottish Labor campaign and resist the nationalists.

“I do not think the Scottish people want to see the breakup of the union” that makes up Britain, he said here in Kirkcaldy (pronounced kerr-CUDDY).

But advocates of independence say it would propel Scotland to a bright future, as viable as any other small European state.

 

For the full story, see: 

ALAN COWELL.  "Elections in Britain Reveal a Scottish Line in the Sand."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 2, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipses  added.)

 

 KirkcaldyScotlandMap.jpg   Source of the map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

   Art Diamond in Kirkcaldy in 1994 at location (I think on High Street) where  Adam Smith's boyhood home used to be.  (Photo by Jeanette Diamond.)

 




July 14, 2007

Mugabe Prints More Money and Beats Up Shopkeepers, as Inflation Soars: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     "Inflation made food cost a fortune in Harare this week.  The government imposed controls that required vendors to sell some items below cost."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

JOHANNESBURG, July 3 — Zimbabwe’s week-old campaign to quell its rampant inflation by forcing merchants to lower prices is edging the nation close to chaos, some economists and merchants say.

As the police and a pro-government youth militia swept into shops and factories, threatening arrest and worse unless prices were rolled back, staple foods vanished from store shelves and some merchants reported huge losses. News reports said that some shopkeepers who had refused to lower prices had been beaten by the youth militia, known as the Green Bombers for the color of their fatigues.

In interviews, merchants said that crowds of people were following the police and militia from shop to shop to buy goods at the government-ordered prices.

“People are losing millions and millions and millions of dollars,” said one merchant in Bulawayo, referring to the Zimbabwean currency, which is becoming worthless given the nation’s inflation, the world’s highest. “Everyone is now running out of stock, and not being able to replace it.”

. . .

Gasoline was reported to be vanishing from stations as the going price, about 180,000 dollars per liter, was slashed by the government to something closer to the officially approved price of 450 dollars per liter. Mr. Mugabe’s government intends to cope with the shortages by subsidizing producers of basic goods. One of the few newspapers not under government control, The Zimbabwe Independent, reported last week that flour, which is controlled entirely by the state, will be sold to bakers for 10 million dollars a ton, half the market price. Similarly, many suppliers of basic goods have been told by the government that they will be allowed to buy gasoline at one tenth the going price, the newspaper reported. The government apparently plans to make up those losses by printing more money. Zimbabwe’s dollar has lost more than half its value in recent weeks because the government has constantly issued new bills to pay its mounting debts.

 

For the full story, see: 

MICHAEL WINES.  "Anti-Inflation Curbs on Prices Create Havoc for Zimbabwe."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 4, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

CNN on 7/10/07 broadcast a great clip from ITN, that had been courageously recorded undercover by Martin Geissler.  See  "Desperation in Zimbabwe":

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/offbeat/2007/06/23/vo.mi.ugly.dogs.ap?DPFPR=true

(Note:  ITN is sometimes also called ITV.  "ITN" stands for the International Television Network.)

 

Postscript:  According to an entry on the ITV web site entitled "Mugabe Battles Economic Crises," Mugabe "has warned he will not be restrained by "bookish economics"."  (He makes a great case for cracking open the books, doesn't he?  Or at least for opening the window and looking at what is happening outside?)

For the Mugabe quote on bookish economics, see:

http://itn.co.uk/news/a1d7763de3c4778b619a72cbeab24d6d.html

 




July 8, 2007

Dubai Is "Turbo-Charged Free-Market Capitalism"

 

DubaiCamel.jpg   Dubai skyline.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A9) Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, represents turbo-charged free-market capitalism at its purest -- sometimes crass, often over-the-top, and always in motion. Home to more than 1.2 million people, more than 80% of whom are resident aliens, Dubai is as much a multicultural melting pot as New York City was in its late 19th century heyday. And like New York then, Dubai teems with winners and losers, the rich and not-so-rich, and immigrants who often find that life in the glittering metropolis is cold, hard and unfair. But the government maintains order, spends billions on infrastructure and is dedicated to establishing the city-state as a global capital of, well, capital.

. . .

Seeing Dubai as an economic model for other parts of the Arab world is admittedly a challenge: Like Singapore, it has the virtues of a small ruling class, a tiny population and not much territory, and that is not something Egypt or Syria could emulate. But as a cultural model, or an attitude, it does offer an alternate vision of the future, one with its own excesses and vices for sure, but still free of the divisiveness and religious conflict that has become the assumed status quo in other parts of the Middle East.

Dubai should not be written off as little more than an Arab Las Vegas. It deeply challenges the assumption that Muslims, Christians and Jews cannot find common ground and work together to construct a shared future. Dubai is proof, not perfect, but real, that they can.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ZACHARY KARABELL. "City of Dreams." The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., March 17, 2007):  A9.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




June 30, 2007

Burned Up Over Gas Rationing in Iran

 

   "Protesters burned at least two gas stations in Tehran after the Oil Ministry announced gas rationing would begin Wednesday just after midnight."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

TEHRAN, June 27 — Angry drivers set fire to at least two gas stations overnight in Tehran after the government announced that gasoline rationing would begin Wednesday just after midnight.

The state television news said Wednesday that “several gas stations and public places had been attacked by vandals.” While there were some reports that a large number of gas stations had been set on fire, only two fires were confirmed.

. . .

Under the new regulations announced by the Oil Ministry on Tuesday evening, private cars will be able to buy a maximum of 26 gallons of gasoline a month at the subsidized price of 34 cents per gallon. Taxis will be allowed 211 gallons a month. Parliament would have to determine whether individuals would be allowed to buy more at market rates.

There were long lines at gas stations in Tehran on Wednesday, causing traffic jams, and the police moved in to control the lines.

Iran is OPEC’s second-largest exporter of oil. But it needs to import half of its gasoline — at a cost of $5 billion a year — because of high consumption and low refining capabilities.

Inflation in Iran had already been high, as a result of a combination of economic factors and government decisions. The price of dairy products like milk, butter and yogurt increased this week by at least 20 percent.

 

For the full story, see: 

NAZILA FATHI.  "2 Iranian Gas Stations Burned Over Rationing."  The New York Times   (Thurs., June 28, 2007):  A8. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




June 22, 2007

"Unlikely Collection of French Socialists" Liberated Global Capital Flows?

 

CapitalRulesBK.jpg   Source of book graphic:  http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/ADBCAP.html

 

Rawi Abdelal, a Harvard Business School professor, has advanced a novel theory in "Capital Rules: The Construction of Global Finance." Drawing on extensive documentary evidence, as well as dozens of interviews with high-level finance officials and midlevel bureaucrats, he tells a fascinating (and largely unknown) tale: how a clutch of French socialists helped to upend economic orthodoxy and lead the charge for lifting restrictions on capital flows within Europe and throughout the world.

. . .

Mr. Abdelal's story heats up with the election of Francois Mitterrand in 1981. The new president, together with his majority Socialist Party, set out to storm the Bastille of the economy. He announced plans to nationalize the banks and restrict cross-border capital flows to such a degree that French citizens could take the equivalent of only $427 with them for leisure travel outside France (and were prohibited from using credit cards during such travel). Rather than create a socialist Shangri-La, the moves led to economic chaos. The French had to devalue the franc three times in two short years. Mitterrand then made what the French would elegantly refer to as a tournant but we may bluntly call a U-turn.

This painful episode provided a powerful lesson to a number of senior French officials. Said one: "We recognized, at last, that in an age of interdependence capital would find a way to free itself, and we were obliged to liberate the rest." And so in a Nixon-goes-to-China move, an unlikely collection of French socialists set out to liberalize the country's controls on cross-border capital flows with a determination that gave new meaning to laissez-faire.

. . .

Mr. Abdelal is unequivocal about the value of Europe's action: "Global financial markets are global primarily because the process of European financial integration became open and uniformly liberal." He also highlights how free capital flows got a boost from the two primary credit-rating agencies, Standard & Poor's and Moody's. In the 1990s, both began to give higher ratings to government-backed debt when the country in question had an open capital account.

 

For the full review, see: 

MATTHEW REES.  "Business Bookshelf:  Why Money Can Now Make Its Way Around the World."  The Wall Street Journal (Weds., February 14, 2007):  D12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Boof reference: 

Rawi Abdelal.  CAPITAL RULES.  Harvard University Press, 304 pages, $49.95.

 




June 21, 2007

Even France Recognizes English as the Language of Business

 

The story below provides further evidence that those who are working hard to make English the mandatory language of the United States, should find themselves a real problem to worry about.

 

PARIS, April 7 — When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, copies of a simple one-page petition were posted in the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

“We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English,” the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it was unacceptable for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

In the shifting universe of global academia, English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world’s top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues by attracting more international students and as a way to respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, partly because changes in international accreditation standards in the late 1990s required them to include English-language components. But English is also spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language. The former president of Korea University in Seoul sought to raise that share to 60 percent, but ultimately was not re-elected to his post in December.

In Madrid, business students can take their admissions test in English for the elite Instituto de Empresa and enroll in core courses for a master’s degree in business administration in the same language. The Lille School of Management in France stopped considering English a foreign language in 1999, and now half the postgraduate programs are taught in English to accommodate a rising number of international students.

Over the last three years, the number of master’s programs offered in English at universities with another host language has more than doubled, to 3,300 programs at 1,700 universities, according to David A. Wilson, chief executive of the Graduate Management Admission Council, an international organization of leading business schools that is based in McLean, Va.

“We are shifting to English. Why?” said Laurent Bibard, the dean of M.B.A. programs at Essec, a top French business school in a suburb of Paris that is a fertile breeding ground for chief executives.

“It’s the language for international teaching,” he said. “English allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students — the French ones — to go everywhere.”

 

For the full story, see: 

DOREEN CARVAJAL.  "English as Language of Global Education."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 11, 2007):  A21.

 




June 20, 2007

Chichen Itza May Have Lasted Longer than Other Mayan City-States Because of Its Free Trade

 

  The guide told us that this area of pillars at Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan of Mexico, is thought to have been a market area.  (Photo taken by me on April 8, 2007, at the excursion to Chichen Itza arranged for the Association of Private Enterprise Education.)

 

Usually we think of the Catholic Church's great damage to knowledge being its persecution of Galileo and attempted suppression of heliocentricism.  But the suppression quickly failed and nothing permanent was lost.

A greater harm to knowledge may have been done when, in the name of the inquisition, countless Mayan manuscripts were burned by the Spanish conquistadors.

Evidence was destroyed that likely would have helped us understand how the Mayan society worked.

For example, we were told on our visit to Chichen Itza that one hypothesis has it that Chichen Itza lasted 300 years longer than all other Mayan city-states because it was the only city-state dominated by cosmopolitan merchant and entrepreneur culture--an hypothesis that I find highly congenial.

Unfortunately, much of the evidence that might have confirmed, elaborated, or refuted this hypothesis, was destroyed forever.

 




June 18, 2007

Mexican Federal Taxi "Charters" Increase Taxi Prices

 

     A non-federally-chartered taxi leaves the Cancun Hilton, headed for the Cancun airport, charging $23.  An identical, but federally-chartered cab, making the reverse trip, charges $40.  (Photo by Art Diamond.)

 

When we arrived at the Cancun airport we faced a chaotic environment where many Mexicans were yelling at us to buy taxi tickets.  After buying a ticket for $40, someone escorted us to a crowded, chaotic place to wait for a cab.  We waited and waited in the noise and the heat.  At some point, my daughter Jenny commented, "These people need to get organized."

Yes, Jenny they sure do!  And you might think that what they need in order to get organized, is for the government to come in to organize them.

But it turns out that the government has already come in.  Only federally charged taxis are allowed to take passengers from the airport to the hotel zone.  The price is fixed at $40.  On the other hand, any taxi may take passengers back to the airport, from the hotel zone.  The base price for a return trip was $23 .  (I added a $2 tip out of sympathy for the cabbie not driving a federally anointed cab.)

So, yes, these people need to get organized, and the best way to do that is to get their government out of their way, so that they can organize themselves through the free market.

 

Note:  relevant guide book passage:  "[Returning to the airport] the rate will be much less for the trip from the airport.  (Only federally chartered taxis may take fared from the airport, but any taxi may bring passengers to the airport.)"  (p. 78)

Note:  italics in original; bracketed phrase added.

 

Source:   

Baird, David, and Lynne Bairstow.  Frommer's Cancun, Cozumel  &  the Yucatan 2007.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2006.

 




June 16, 2007

Most Subprime Mortgages are Paid, and Allow the Poor to Own Homes

 

A study conducted by Kristopher Gerardi and Paul S. Willen from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Harvey S. Rosen of Princeton, Do Households Benefit from Financial Deregulation and Innovation? The Case of the Mortgage Market (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12967), shows that the three decades from 1970 to 2000 witnessed an incredible flowering of new types of home loans. These innovations mainly served to give people power to make their own decisions about housing, and they ended up being quite sensible with their newfound access to capital.

These economists followed thousands of people over their lives and examined the evidence for whether mortgage markets have become more efficient over time. Lost in the current discussion about borrowers' income levels in the subprime market is the fact that someone with a low income now but who stands to earn much more in the future would, in a perfect market, be able to borrow from a bank to buy a house. That is how economists view the efficiency of a capital market: people's decisions unrestricted by the amount of money they have right now.

And this study shows that measured this way, the mortgage market has become more perfect, not more irresponsible. People tend to make good decisions about their own economic prospects. As Professor Rosen said in an interview, ''Our findings suggest that people make sensible housing decisions in that the size of house they buy today relates to their future income, not just their current income and that the innovations in mortgages over 30 years gave many people the opportunity to own a home that they would not have otherwise had, just because they didn't have enough assets in the bank at the moment they needed the house.''

Of course, basing loans on future earnings expectations is riskier than lending money to prime borrowers at 30-year fixed interest rates. That is why interest rates are higher for subprime borrowers and for big mortgages that require little money down. Sometimes the risks flop. Sometimes people even have to sell their properties because they cannot make the numbers work.

. . .

And do not forget that the vast majority of even subprime borrowers have been making their payments. Indeed, fewer than 15 percent of borrowers in this most risky group have even been delinquent on a payment, much less defaulted.

When contemplating ways to prevent excessive mortgages for the 13 percent of subprime borrowers whose loans go sour, regulators must be careful that they do not wreck the ability of the other 87 percent to obtain mortgages. 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; 'Irresponsible' Mortgages Have Opened Doors to Many of the Excluded."  The New York Times  (Thurs., March 29, 2007):  C3. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




June 15, 2007

Blinder on Free Trade

 

OccupationsVulnerableGraph.gif    Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

For awhile, during the Clinton administration, many Democratic economists, such as Alan Blinder, seemed to solidly support free trade as an engine for economic growth.  But now several Democratic economists, such as Blinder as described in the excerpt below, seem to be returning to the usual Democratic protectionist policies.

If the goal is economic progress and growth, such policies remain ill-advised, no matter how effective they are at helping Democrats to win elections.  To whit:  Ed Leamer provides the arguments and evidence against worries about outsourcing in his long, but excellent, review of Thomas Friedman's hand-wringing in The World is Flat.  (See way below for the reference.)

 

(p. A14)  Mr. Blinder's job-loss estimates in particular are electrifying Democratic candidates searching for ways to address angst about trade. "Alan, because of his stature, provided a degree of legitimacy to what many of us had come to feel anecdotally -- that the anxiety over outsourcing and offshoring was a far larger phenomenon than traditional economic analysis was showing," says Gene Sperling, an adviser to President Clinton and, now, to Hillary Clinton. Her rival, Barack Obama, spent an hour with Mr. Blinder earlier in this year.

Mr. Blinder's answer is not protectionism, a word he utters with the contempt that Cold Warriors reserved for communism. Rather, Mr. Blinder still believes the principle British economist David Ricardo introduced 200 years ago: Nations prosper by focusing on things they do best -- their "comparative advantage" -- and trading with other nations with different strengths. He accepts the economic logic that U.S. trade with large low-wage countries like India and China will make all of them richer -- eventually. He acknowledges that trade can create jobs in the U.S. and bolster productivity growth.

But he says the harm done when some lose jobs and others get them will be far more painful and disruptive than trade advocates acknowledge. He wants government to do far more for displaced workers than the few months of retraining it offers today. He thinks the U.S. education system must be revamped so it prepares workers for jobs that can't easily go overseas, and is contemplating changes to the tax code that would reward companies that produce jobs that stay in the U.S.

His critique puts Mr. Blinder in a minority among economists, most of whom emphasize the enormous gains from trade. "He's dead wrong," says Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who will debate Mr. Blinder at Harvard in May over his assertions about the magnitude of job losses from trade. Mr. Bhagwati says that in highly skilled fields such as medicine, law and accounting, "If we do a real balance sheet, I have no doubt we're creating far more jobs than we're losing."

. . .

He was silent when his former Princeton student, N. Gregory Mankiw, then chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, unleashed a political firestorm by reciting standard theory but appearing indifferent to pain caused to those whose jobs go overseas. "Does it matter from an economic standpoint whether items produced abroad come on planes and ships or over fiber optic cables?" Mr. Mankiw said at a February 2004 briefing. "Well, no, the economics is basically the same....More things are tradable than...in the past, and that's a good thing."

Mr. Blinder says he agreed with Mr. Mankiw's point that the economics of trade are the same however imports are delivered. But he'd begun to wonder if the technology that allowed English-speaking workers in India to do the jobs of American workers at lower wages was "a good thing" for many Americans. At a Princeton dinner, a Wall Street executive told Mr. Blinder how pleased her company was with the securities analysts it had hired in India. From New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman's 2005 book, "The World is Flat," he found anecdotes about competition to U.S. workers "in walks of life I didn't know about."

Mr. Blinder began to muse about this in public. At a Council on Foreign Relations forum in January 2005 he called "offshoring," or the exporting of U.S. jobs, "the big issue for the next generation of Americans." Eight months later on Capitol Hill, he warned that "tens of millions of additional American workers will start to experience an element of job insecurity that has heretofore been reserved for manufacturing workers."

At the urging of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Mr. Blinder wrote an essay, "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?" published last year in Foreign Affairs. "The old assumption that if you cannot put it in a box, you cannot trade it is hopelessly obsolete," he wrote. "The cheap and easy flow of information around the globe...will require vast and unsettling adjustments in the way Americans and residents of other developed countries work, live and educate their children." (Read that full article.)

. . .

Diana Farrell, head of the McKinsey Global Institute, a pro-globalization think-tank arm of the consulting firm that has done its own analysis of vulnerable jobs, calls Mr. Blinder "an alarmist" and frets about the impact he is having on politicians, particularly the Democrats who see resistance to free trade as a political winner. She insists many jobs that could go overseas won't actually go.

Ms. Farrell says Mr. Blinder's work doesn't take into account the realities of business which make exporting of some jobs impractical or which create offsetting gains elsewhere in the U.S. economy. He counters he is looking further into the future than McKinsey -- 10 or 20 years instead of five -- and expects more technological change than the consultants do "even without the Buck Rogers stuff."

 

For the full story, see:

DAVID WESSEL and BOB DAVIS.  "JOB PROSPECTS; Pain From Free Trade Spurs Second Thoughts; Mr. Blinder's Shift Spotlights Warnings Of Deeper Downside."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., March 28, 2007):  A1 & A14. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For Leamer's wonderful riff on why we need not worry about outsourcing, see:

Leamer, Edward E.  "A Flat World, a Level Playing Field, a Small World after All, or None of the Above? A Review of Thomas L. Friedman's the World Is Flat."  Journal of Economic Literature  45, no. 1 (March 2007):  83-126.

 

BlinderAlanS.jpg  Alan S. Blinder.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




June 14, 2007

Entrepreneur Bets on Nuclear Power Revival

 

Entrepreneur Kyle Kimmerle at one of his 600 uranium claims.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Kyle Kimmerle is an entrepreneur, risking his own money.  If he guesses right, he will make himself rich, by helping provide the fuel needed for generating electricity for us. 

 

(p. C1)  . . .   Prices for processed uranium ore, also called U308, or yellowcake, are rising rapidly. Yellowcake is trading at $90 a pound, nearing the record high, adjusted for inflation, of about $120 in the mid-1970s. The price (p. C4) has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10.

A string of natural disasters, notably flooding of large mines in Canada and Australia, has set off the most recent spike. Hedge funds and other institutional investors, who began buying up uranium in late 2004 to exploit the volatility in this relatively small market, have accelerated the price rally.

But the more fundamental causes of the uninterrupted ascendance of prices since 2003 can be traced to inventory constraints among power companies and a drying up of the excess supply of uranium from old Soviet-era nuclear weapons that was converted to use in power plants. Add in to those factors the expected surge in demand from China, India, Russia and a few other countries for new nuclear power plants to fuel their growing economies.

“I’d call it lucky timing,” said David Miller, a Wyoming legislator and president of the Strathmore Mineral Corporation, a uranium development firm. “Three relatively independent factors — dwindling supplies of inventory, low overall production from the handful of uranium miners that survived the 25-year drought and rising concerns about global warming — all have coincided to drive the current uranium price higher by more than 1,000 percent since 2001.”

. . .  

. . .   “We won’t build a new plant knowing there’s nowhere to put the used fuel,” Mr. Malone of Exelon said. “We won’t build one without community support, and we won’t build until market conditions are in place where it makes sense.”

But that is not holding back Kyle Kimmerle, owner of the Kimmerle Funeral Home in Moab. Mr. Kimmerle, 30, spent summers during his childhood camping and working at several of his father’s mines in the area. In his spare time he has amassed more than 600 uranium claims throughout the once-productive Colorado Plateau.

“My guess is that next year my name won’t be on the sign of this funeral home anymore and I’ll be out at the mines,” he said.

He recently struck a deal with a company to lease 111 of his claims for development. The company, new to uranium mining, has pledged $500,000 a year for five years to improve the properties. Mr. Kimmerle will receive annual payments plus royalties for any uranium mined from the area.

 

For the full story, see: 

SUSAN MORAN and ANNE RAUP.  "A Rush for Uranium; Mines in the West Reopen as Ore Prices Reach Highs of the 1970s."  The New York Times  (Weds., March 28, 2007):   C1 & C4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

UraniumPriceGraph.gif   Yellowcake, which is processed uranium, is in the third jar from the left of the top photo.  The photo below it is of old equipment at a dormant uranium mine.  Source of the photos and the graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




June 11, 2007

The Safety Net in Europe and the United States

 

SafetyNetGraph.jpg   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

FROM issues of crime and punishment to the proper domain of the spiritual and temporal powers, Americans and Europeans have long cast a skeptical eye at one another across the Atlantic.

Perhaps nowhere has the gaze been more jaundiced than in the area of work. From the perspective of Western Europe, American employers have a relatively free hand to hire and fire, coupled with meager and short-lived unemployment benefits. America’s deregulated labor markets seem to provide hardly any safety net when it comes to economic dislocations of workers.

Americans, by contrast, have found it hard to resist a touch of schadenfreude at the joblessness stoked by European governments’ intervention in labor markets, with rules on everything from wages to layoffs, on top of generous unemployment benefits.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

EDUARDO PORTER.  "Economic View; A Bridge Over the Atlantic, in Labor Policy."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., April 1, 2007):  5.

 




June 2, 2007

Communist Dictator Chavez Destroys Freedom of the Press in Venezuela

 

   Supporters of freedom in Venezuela protesting communist dictator Chavez's shutting down the television network that dared to criticize him.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article that is quoted and cited below. 

 

My Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, used to say that political freedom ultimately depended on economic freedom:  how could you depend on a socialist government to provide a printing press to those who seek to undermine socialism?

(In his article "The Case for Economic Freedom" published in his Can Capitalism Survive? Rogge gives credit for the argument to his friend Milton Friedman in his Capitalism and Freedom, which was based on lectures given at Wabash.)

Well, if there is a heaven, I can imagine Rogge there, reading the following passages, and reacting with his sad, knowing, half-smile.

 

(p. A3)  CARACAS, Venezuela, May 27 — With little more than an hour to go late Sunday until this country’s oldest television network was to be taken off the air after 53 years of broadcasting, the police dispersed thousands of protesters by firing tear gas into demonstrations against the measure.

. . .

The president has defended the RCTV decision, saying that the network supported a coup that briefly removed him from office in 2002.

RCTV’s news programs regularly deride Mr. Chávez’s Socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society. “RCTV lacks respect for the Venezuelan people,” said Onán Mauricio Aristigueta, 46, a messenger at the National Assembly who showed up to support the president.

Mr. Chávez has left untouched the operations of other private broadcasters who were also critical of him at the time of the 2002 coup but who have changed editorial policies to stop criticizing his government. That has led Mr. Chávez’s critics to claim that the move to allow RCTV’s license to expire amounts to a stifling of dissent in the news media.

“The other channels don’t say anything,” said Elisa Parejo, 69, an actress who was one of RCTV’s first soap opera stars. “What we’re living in Venezuela is a monstrosity,” she said at RCTV’s headquarters on Sunday, as employees gathered for an on-air remembrance of the network’s history. “It is a dictatorship.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Dueling Protests Over Shutdown of Venezuela TV Station."  The New York Times  (Mon., May 28, 2007):  A3.

(Note: the excerpts above are from the updated online version of the article that appeared online under the title: "Venezuela Police Repel Protests Over TV Network’s Closing.")

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

On 5/28/07 CNN broadcast a Harris Whitbeck report on students protesting the Chavez censorship under the title "Hear No Evil, See No Evil."

 

   Monica Herrero protests Chavez closing down the television network that dared to criticize his government.  Source of photo:  screen capture from the CNN report at http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/world/2007/05/28/whitbeck.chavez.tv.affl

 




June 1, 2007

Passport Fiasco Would Bankrupt a Private Company, But Government Lumbers On

 

Here is an email that I sent to Congressman Lee Terry's office on Sat., March 24, 2007: 

 

I applied for a passport renewal on January 20, 2007.  The web form said that it would take about six weeks.  Later, on the web site they increased that to eight weeks.  Then 10 weeks.  The trip was scheduled for April 3rd, and as the weeks passed, my stress increased enormously.  I would have been willing (not happy, but willing) to pay the extra $60 for "expedited" service, if I had known they were going to lengthen the time for routine handling by a month.  But they only passed out that information after it was too late to do anything about it.  Insult was added to injury when the State Department passport office was unwilling to answer their phone after many tries at times ranging from early in the morning until a few minutes before midnight (eastern time).  Each time, a recorded voice would say:  visit the web site, or try to call later.  (But the web site did not have the answers to my questions, and calling "later" never worked.)

There is no excuse for the State Department not anticipating that there would be a huge increase in demand for passports when they put into effect the new mandate that passports be used to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico.  If a private business operated with the inefficiency of the passport office, they would justly go bankrupt. 

The only ray of sunlight in this dark vista was "Susie" of Lee Terry's office.  When I called the Omaha office they put her on the line, and she asked me relevant questions, and proceeded to get back to me the same day with what I needed to know.  She got through to an actual human being at the State Department, and learned that I would receive my passport in a few days.  (I received it yesterday.)  "Thank you" to Susie, and thank you to Lee Terry, for having an office staffed with competent people, who care.

Sincerely,

Art Diamond

 




May 24, 2007

Chambers of Commerce Dump Commerce and Embrace Big Government

 

The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda -- but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They're becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.

. . .

In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government. This behavior, they note, erodes the very pro-growth climate necessary for businesses -- at least those not connected at the hip with government -- to prosper. Journalist Tim Carney agrees: All too often, he notes in his recent book, "Rip-Off," "state and local chambers have become corrupted by the lure of big dollar corporate welfare schemes."

. . .

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce boasts that the organization's "core mission is to fight for business and free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies . . . and governments around the world." The national chamber has done just that, pushing tort reform and free trade -- but in the states, chambers have come to believe their primary function is to secure tax financing for sports stadiums, convention centers, high-tech research institutes and transit boondoggles. Some local chambers have reportedly asked local utilities, school administrators and even politicians to join; others have opened membership to arts councils, museums, civic associations and other "tax eater" entities.

. . .

"I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition and private sector solutions," says Mr. Caldera of the Independence Institute. "I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special interest business cartel that labels itself 'the business community' and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations." 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE.  "Tax Chambers."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 10, 2007):  A8.

(Note:  ellipses added, except the one in the quote following the word "agencies.")

 




May 23, 2007

Private Money Can Top Government Money in Space, as in IT

 

Lots of people are building new IT companies. You can start a company and sell it to Yahoo! or Google in a couple of years. But so can anyone else. Aerospace is different. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy in 1962: We choose to go to the moon not because it's easy, but because it's hard.

That's why, as a long-time investor in IT and Internet start-ups, I'm now spending more and more time on private aviation and commercial space start-ups. I'm trailing an illustrius crew of IT pioneers: Elon Musk (Space-X, rockets, formerly with PayPal), Vern Raburn (Eclipse Aviation, very light jets, formerly at Microsoft, Symantec and Lotus), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, rockets, and still at Amazon, too!), Jeff Greason (XCOR, rockets and formerly with Intel) and Ed Iacobucci (DayJet, air taxi operator, and founder of Citrix).

. . .

On the space side, there's a . . . strong parallel with the world of IT. The establishment in "space" is the government and especially the military, just as it once was (along with academia) for the Internet. I remember the days when commerce on the Internet was considered sleazy—but look at the innovations and productivity it unleashed.

In the same way, the current priests of space are dismayed by the privately funded space start-ups—unsafe, sleazy, frivolous. Imagine: Ads on the side of a rocket ship! Well, why not, if it helps pay for the fuel... and the R&D that designed the thing?

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ESTHER DYSON  "New Horizons for the Intrepid VC."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., March 20, 2007):  A19.

(Note:  ellipses added, except for the ellipsis following the word "fuel" which was in the original.)

 




May 18, 2007

"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn't had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don't exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there's some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I'd be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there's plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There's also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 




"Free Agent Nation" Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink's 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top---at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself---Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that littl