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May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 11, 2014

Fair Use Doctrine Allows Copying for Educational Purposes



(p. 23) I am a public-school teacher with a limited budget for supplies. Is it unethical to illegally download copyrighted instructional materials for use in my class? BEN L., BROOKLYN

It is not. In fact, it's sometimes not even illegal. In 1976, Congress created copyright exceptions for educational purposes. Copyright law allows "face-to-face" exhibition and presentation of a copyrighted work, assuming the purpose is academic. There is also the doctrine of fair use, which states that copies "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright."

Now, it's worth acknowledging that these guidelines were implemented before downloading a textbook was even possible. And even in an educational setting, using an entire copyrighted work, and thereby diminishing its market potential, might constitute a violation of fair use. But in my opinion, the principles are the same, even if you do violate copyright law: If your sole motive for downloading material is educational (and there is no free or low-cost equivalent that serves your purposes equally well), there should be no problem.



For the full commentary, see:

Chuck Klosterman. "THE ETHICIST; Piracy 101." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 30, 2014): 23.

(Note: italics and bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 28, 2014.)






March 15, 2014

"It's a Very Simple Rule -- If You Clean It, It's Yours"



ParkingSpaceSavingBoston2014-03-06.jpg A bar stool is used to claim a shoveled-out parking space in Boston. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A8) BOSTON -- It is a time-honored winter tradition here: Shovel out your car, and guard your newly cleared parking spot with whatever you have handy -- a traffic cone, a potted plant, a bust of Elvis.

And so it was on Thursday, after the snowstorm that paralyzed parts of the South had found its way to Boston, that the cones and more personal items, known as space savers, began to appear.

"It's a very simple rule -- if you clean it, it's yours," said David Skirkey, 56, a guard at the Museum of Fine Arts, who cleared his wife's parking spot in South Boston on Thursday afternoon, leaving buckets as his marker.

And while the practice appears to be alive and well in South Boston, which is believed to be the cradle of space saving in the city, another neighborhood, the historic South End, this week moved to ban it. Space savers are not unique to Boston. The practice has long been common in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and in Philadelphia, . . .



For the full story, see:

JESS BIDGOOD. "Efforts to Mark Turf When Snowstorms Hit Endure Despite Critics." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 15, 2014): A8 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 14, 2014.)






December 13, 2013

"Government Takes What It Wants"



FreethAndCampbellZimbabweFarmers2013-10-27.jpg "Mike Campbell, 76, challenged Zimbabwe's land redistribution law. He and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, 38, were beaten by a gang." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 1) CHEGUTU, Zimbabwe -- Edna Madzongwe, president of the Senate and a powerful member of Zimbabwe's ruling party, began showing up uninvited at the Etheredges' farm here last year, at times still dressed up after a day in Parliament.

And she made her intentions clear, the Etheredges say: she wanted their farm and intended to get it through the government's land redistribution program.

The farm is a beautiful spread, with three roomy farm houses and a lush, 55,000-tree orange orchard that generates $4 million a year in exports. The Etheredges, outraged by what they saw as her attempt to steal the farm, secretly taped their exchanges with her.

"Are you really serious to tell me that I cannot take up residence because of what it does to you?" she asked Richard Etheredge, 72, whose father bought the farm in 1947. "Government takes what it wants."

He dryly replied, "That we don't deny," according to a transcript of the tapes.



For the full story, see:

CELIA W. DUGGER. "White Farmers Confront Mugabe in a Legal Battle." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 28, 2008): 1 & 10.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 27, 2008 and has the title "White Farmers Confront Mugabe in a Legal Battle.")


FreethInjuriesAfterBeating2013-10-27.jpg











"Mr. Freeth circulated photographs of his injuries online after the invasion of his farm." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







November 20, 2013

Companies Do Less R&D in Countries that Steal Intellectual Property




The conclusions of Gupta and Wang, quoted below, are consistent with research done many years ago by economist Edwin Mansfield.


(p. A15) China's indigenous innovation program, launched in 2006, has alarmed the world's technology giants more than any other policy measure since the start of economic reforms in 1978. A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce even went so far as to call this program "a blueprint for technology theft on a scale the world has not seen before."


. . .


A comparison with India is illustrative. India has no equivalent to indigenous innovation rules. The government also is content to allow companies to set up R&D facilities without any rules about sharing technology with local partners or the like.

These policy differences appear to have a significant influence on corporate behavior. Consider the top 10 U.S.-based technology giants that received the most patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) between 2006 and 2010: IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Micron, GE, Cisco, Texas Instruments, Broadcom and Honeywell.

Half of these companies appear not to be doing any significant R&D work in China. Between 2006 and 2010, the U.S. PTO did not award a single patent to any China-based units of five out of the 10 companies. In contrast, only one of the 10 did not receive a patent for an innovation developed in India.



For the full commentary, see:

Anil K. Gupta and Haiyan Wang. "How Beijing Is Stifling Chinese Innovation." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., September 1, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Beijing Is Stifling Chinese Innovation.")


Mansfield's relevant paper is:

Mansfield, Edwin. "Unauthorized Use of Intellectual Property: Effects on Investment, Technology Transfer, and Innovation." In Global Dimensions of Intellectual Property Rights in Science and Technology, edited by M. E. Mogee M. B. Wallerstein, and R. A. Schoen. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993, pp. 107-45.


Mansfield's research on this issue is discussed on pp. 1611-1612 of:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "Edwin Mansfield's Contributions to the Economics of Technology." Research Policy 32, no. 9 (Oct. 2003): 1607-17.






November 6, 2013

Steve Jobs Felt Betrayed by Google's Page and Brin



(p. 221) From all accounts, Jobs prided himself as a canny observer not only of business but also of human character, and he did not want to admit-- especially to himself--that he had been betrayed by the two young men he had been attempting to mentor. He felt the trust between the two companies had been violated. After increasingly contentious phone calls, in the summer of 2008, Jobs ventured to Mountain View to see the Android phone and personally judge the extent of the violation. He was reportedly furious. Not only did he believe that Google had performed a bait and switch on him, replacing a noncompeting phone with one that was very much in the iPhone mode, but he also felt that Google had stolen Apple's intellectual property to do so, appropriating features for which Apple had current or pending patents.

While Jobs could not stop Google from developing the Dream version of Android, he apparently was successful, at least in the first version of the Google phone, in halting its implementation of some of the multitouch gestures that Apple had pioneered. Jobs believed that Apple's patents gave it exclusive rights to certain on-screen gestures--the pinch and the swipe, for example. According to one insider, Jobs demanded that Google remove support of those gestures from Android phones. Google complied, even though those gestures, which allowed users to resize images, were tremendously useful for viewing web pages on handheld devices.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






September 5, 2013

Venezuelan Socialists Seize Private Toilet Paper



(p. A6) CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Police in Venezuela say they have seized nearly 2,500 rolls of toilet paper in an overnight raid of a clandestine warehouse storing scarce goods.


. . .


The socialist government says the shortages are part of a plot by opponents to destabilize the country. Economists blame the government's price and currency controls.



For the full story, see:

AP. "World; Police Seize 2,500 Rolls of Toilet Paper." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., May 31, 2013): 6A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 25, 2013

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country



(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.


Source:

Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.






July 4, 2013

Walker Says Those Who Call Him "Patent Troll" Want His Property Without Paying



WalkerJayPatentDefender2013-06-28.jpg














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




(p. B1) Jay Walker turned his idea for "name your own price" Internet auctions into a fortune by starting Priceline.com Inc. Now the entrepreneur is trying to cash in on his ideas by suing other companies.

Since it was founded in 1994 as a research lab, Walker Digital LLC has made much of its money by spinning out its inventions, like online travel agent Priceline and vending-machine firm Vendmore Systems LLC, as independent businesses.


. . .


Mr. Walker defends his newly aggressive tactics, which some critics compare to those of "patent trolls," a derogatory term for firms that opportunistically enforce patents. Without the lawsuits, he said, his patents could expire while other companies exploit them. Patents have a 20-year lifespan.

"Not only are we not a troll, but the people who want to label me are often the same ones that want to use our property and not pay," Mr. Walker said in an interview.



For the full story, see:

JOHN LETZING. "Founder of Priceline Spoiling for a Fight Over Tech Patents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 22, 2011): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 2, 2013

Property Rights, Flexible Work Rules, Open Markets Are Keys to Economic Growth



BalanceBK2013-06-28.jpg











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







(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






June 10, 2013

After Failing to Enslave Indians, Starving Jamestown Colonists Ate 14-Year-Old Girl



JamestownFourteenYearOldCannibalized2013-05-14.jpg








"A facial reconstruction of a 14-year-old girl whose skull shows signs that her remains were used for food after her death and burial." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Acemoglu and Robinson in the long, but thought-provoking, opening chapter of their Why Nations Fail book, discuss starvation at the Jamestown colony. Only they don't mainly attribute it to a harsh winter or a slow rescue from England, as does the article quoted below (it is from the New York Times, after all).

Economists Acemoglu and Robinson (p. 23) instead criticize the colony's initial plan to thrive by enslaving natives to bring them gold and food. Eventually John Smith made the bold suggestion that the colonists should try to work to produce something to eat or to trade. The rulers of the colony ignored Smith, resulting in starvation and cannibalism.



(p. A11) Archaeologists excavating a trash pit at the Jamestown colony site in Virginia have found the first physical evidence of cannibalism among the desperate population, corroborating written accounts left behind by witnesses. Cut marks on the skull and skeleton of a 14-year-old girl show that her flesh and brain were removed, presumably to be eaten by the starving colonists during the harsh winter of 1609.

The remains were excavated by archaeologists led by William Kelso of Preservation Virginia, a private nonprofit group, and analyzed by Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The skull bears tentative cuts to the forehead, followed by four strikes to the back of the head, one of which split the skull open, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine, where the find was reported Wednesday.

It is unclear how the girl died, but she was almost certainly dead and buried before her remains were butchered. According to a letter written in 1625 by George Percy, president of Jamestown during the starvation period, the famine was so intense "thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Girl's Bones Bear Signs of Cannibalism by Starving Virginia Colonists." The New York Times (Thurs., May 2, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2013.)



The Acemoglu book mentioned above is:

Acemoglu, Daron, and James Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Business, 2012.



JamestownBonesShowCannibalism2013-05-14.jpg "Human remains from the Jamestown colony site in Virginia bearing evidence of cannibalism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






February 3, 2013

Steve Jobs Viewed Patents as Protecting Property Rights in Ideas



(p. 512) . . . Apple filed suit against HTC (and, by extension, Android), alleging infringement of twenty of its patents. Among them were patents covering various multi-touch gestures, swipe to open, double-tap to zoom, pinch and expand, and the sensors that determined how a device was being held. As he sat in his house in Palo Alto the week the lawsuit was filed, he became angrier than I had ever seen him:

Our lawsuit is saying, "Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off." Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products--Android, Google Docs--are shit.

A few days after this rant, Jobs got a call from Schmidt, who had resigned from the Apple board the previous summer. He suggested they get together for coffee, and they met at a café in a Palo Alto shopping center. "We spent half the time talking about personal matters, then half the time on his perception that Google had stolen Apple's user interface designs," recalled Schmidt. When it came to the latter subject, Jobs did most of the talking. Google had ripped him off, (p. 513) he said in colorful language. "We've got you red-handed," he told Schmidt. "I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." They resolved nothing.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 31, 2012

Ancient Recipe Rights Protection



"The Sybarites," Phylarchus [the 3rd cent. BCE historian] says, "having drifted into luxury wrote a law that women be invited to festivals and that those who make the call to the sacrifice issue their summons a year in advance; thus the women could prepare their dresses and other adornments in a manner befitting that time span before answering the summons. And if some cook or chef invented an extraordinary recipe of his own, no one but the inventor was entitled to use it for a year, in order that during this time the inventor should have the profit and others might labor to excel in such endeavors. Similarly, those who sold eels were not charged taxes, nor those who caught them. In the same manner they made those who worked with sea-purple dye and those who imported it exempt from taxes."


Source:

Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae (the Scholars at Dinner), XII 521c2-d7.

(Note: as quoted on the back cover of Journal of Political Economy 118, no. 6 (December 2010).)






August 17, 2012

"If Apple Is a Fruit on a Tree, Its Branches Are the Freedom to Think and Create"



(p. B3) Millions of Chinese flooded the popular micro blogging site Sina Weibo to tweet their condolences on the death of Steve Jobs over the past two days. They also raised the question: Why isn't there a Steve Jobs in China?


. . .


One of the most popular postings on Mr. Jobs' legacy came from scholar Wu Jiaxiang. "If Apple is a fruit on a tree, its branches are the freedom to think and create, and its root is constitutional democracy," he wrote. "An authoritarian nation may be able to build huge projects collectively but will never be able to produce science and technology giants." On that, Wang Ran, founder of a boutique investment bank China eCapital Corp., added, "And its trunk is a society whose legal system acknowledges the value of intellectual property."



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "China Frets: Innovators Stymied Here." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 8, 2011): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 31, 2012

Richard Posner Seeks to Limit and Reform the Patent System



PosnerRichard2012-07-20.jpg













"Judge Richard Posner." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





I am deeply conflicted about patents. On the one hand, property rights are important, both ethically and in terms of economic incentives. On the other hand, patents seem to restrict innovation.

The views of Posner are worth serious consideration. My own current view is that the patent rules need to be reformed and their implementation made more efficient. But I do not think the patent system should be abolished.


(p. B1) While technology companies continue to fight over smartphone patents, one judge has fought his way into the ring.

He is 73-year-old Richard Posner, among the most potent forces on the federal bench and an outspoken critic of the patent system.

Presiding over a lawsuit between Apple Inc. . . . and Google Inc.'s . . . Motorola Mobility in June, he dropped a bombshell, scrapping the entire case and preventing the companies from refiling their claims. The ruling startled the litigants in the case and fueled a national discussion about whether the patent system (p. B5) is broken.


. . .


In the June ruling, explaining why he wouldn't ban Motorola products from the shelves, Judge Posner said: "An injunction that imposes greater costs on the defendant than it confers benefits on the plaintiff reduces net social welfare."

Judge Posner, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has continued to press the issue.

This month, he wrote an essay in the Atlantic headlined, "Why There Are Too Many Patents In America." He said "most industries could get along fine without patent protection" and that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has done a woeful job, calling it "understaffed," and "many patent examinations...perfunctory."

He saved ammunition for juries and fellow jurists. "Judges have difficulty understanding modern technology and jurors have even greater difficulty," he wrote. He suggested several reforms to the patent system, including shortening the patent term for inventors in some industries and expanding the authority of the Patent and Trademark Office to try patents cases.


. . .


Judge Posner's intellectual curiosity is well-known and "people assume he has no political ax to grind because he's not trying to advance the fortunes of any particular segment of the economy," said Arthur D. Hellman, a law professor at University of Pittsburgh who studies the judiciary.

Yet his ruling poses a difficult question for the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the specialized one that handles intellectual property cases, about whether infringement matters without damages.

Peter Menell, a law professor at UC Berkeley, likened it to the old thought experiment that begins "If a tree falls in the woods." He said: "If there are no damages, do you need to have a trial?"

Juge Posner also rejected Google's bid to block the sale of iPhones that allegedly infringed a so-called "standards-essential patent" owned by Google. Standards-essential patents protect innovations used in technologies that industries collectively agree to use, like Wi-Fi or 3G. A company that holds one of these patents stands to profit enormously, because its competitors have to pay it for licenses to use the technology.

But Judge Posner ruled that holders of such patents aren't entitled to injunctions. Michael Carrier, a law professor at Rutgers University, Camden, said the opinion on standards-essential patents came amid a groundswell of opposition to injunctions for such patents and could put an end to the practice among U.S. federal judges.



For the full story, see:

JOE PALAZZOLO and ASHBY JONES. "Also on Trial: A Judge's Worldview." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 24, 2012): B1 & B5.

(Note: all ellipses were added except for the one internal to the quote from Judge Posner's Atlantic blog posting.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date July 23, 2012 and has the title "Apple and Samsung Patent Suit Puts Judge Posner's Worldview on Trial." The print version of the title could be interpreted as a sub-title of the main title to the accompanying adjacent article. The title of the main article was "Apple v. Samsung; In Silicon Valley, Patents Go on Trial." The last two paragraphs above appear only in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)


The Atlantic blog posting by Posner can be found at:

Posner, Richard A. "Why There Are Too Many Patents in America." In The Atlantic blog, posted on July 12, 2012 at: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/why-there-are-too-many-patents-in-america/259725/.

(Note: the WSJ article above implies that the Posner essay was published in the print version of The Atlantic, but I can only find it in Posner's blog on The Atlantic web site.)






June 1, 2012

Lucasfilm Will Build Somewhere "That Sees Us as a Creative Asset, Not as an Evil Empire"



LucasValleyMarinCounty2012-05-30.jpg "Lucas Valley in Marin County, Calif., where residents' objections led George Lucas to abandon a bid to expand operations at a new site near Skywalker Ranch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- In 1978, a year after "Star Wars" was released, George Lucas began building his movie production company far from Hollywood, in the quiet hills and valley of Marin County here just north of San Francisco. Starting with Skywalker Ranch, the various pieces of Lucasfilm came together over the decades behind the large trees on his 6,100-acre property, invisible from the single two-lane road that snakes through the area.

And even as his fame grew, Mr. Lucas earned his neighbors' respect through his discretion. Marin, one of America's richest counties, liked it that way.

But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place "that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire."

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring "low income housing" here.


. . .


Whatever Mr. Lucas's intentions, his announcement has unsettled a county whose famously liberal politics often sits uncomfortably with the issue of low-cost housing and where battles have been fought over such construction before. His proposal has pitted neighbor against neighbor, who, after failed peacemaking efforts over local artisanal cheese and wine, traded accusations in the local newspaper.

The staunchest opponents of Lucasfilm's expansion are now being accused of driving away the filmmaker and opening the door to a low-income housing development. That has created an atmosphere that one opponent, who asked not to be identified, saying she feared for her safety, described as "sheer terror" and likened to "Syria."

Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: "We got letters saying, 'You guys are going to get what you deserve. You're going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.' "



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "A Pyrrhic Victory for Foes of a New Lucasfilm Project; In Lieu of digital Studio, Plan for Low-Income Homes." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): A13 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 21, 2012 and has the title "Lucas and Rich Neighbors Agree to Disagree: Part II.")



LucasGeorge2012-05-30.jpg "Mr. Lucas said Marin needs affordable housing. A resident called his plan "class warfare."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 3, 2012

Steve Jobs Channels Ellis Wyatt



(p. 260) In 2007 Forbes magazine named Steve Jobs the highest-paid exec-(p. 261)utive of any of America's five hundred largest companies, based on gains in the value of stock granted to him at Apple. He was on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co. Yet his former residence in Woodside, where he had once met with Catmull and Smith and mused about buying Lucasfilm's Computer Division, was now in a state of decay under his ownership.

He had wanted to demolish it; after a group of neighborhood residents opposed his plan to do so, he left the house open to the elements. The interior suffered damage from water and mold. Vines crept up the stucco walls and wandered inside.

The memories that haunted its hallways were those of Jobs's darkest times. He had bought the house only months before the humiliation of his firing from Apple; he lived in it through that firing and through the hard, money-hemorrhaging years of Pixar and NeXT. He left it as his fortunes were about to change, as he was sending Microsoft away from Pixar, convinced that he had something he should hold on to.

When a judge ruled against his quest for a demolition permit, Jobs appealed in 2006 and 2007 all the way to the California Supreme Court, but he lost at every stage. He received proposals from property owners offering to cart the house away in sections and restore it elsewhere; he rejected them. One way or another, it seemed, he meant for the house to be destroyed.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: The passage above is from the Epilogue and the pages given above are from the hardback edition (pp. 260-261). The identical passage also appears in the 2009 paperback edition, but on p. 265.





December 22, 2011

Feds Increase Seizure of Property from Those Who Have Not Been Convicted of a Crime



CaswellMotelOwner2011-11-10.jpg"Mr. Caswell, here in the motel's lobby, is not accused of any wrongdoing but stands to lose his business under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to crimes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) TEWKSBURY, Mass.--The $57-a-night Motel Caswell, magnet for hard-luck cases, police patrol cars and the occasional drug deal, is the unlikely prize in a high-stakes tug-of-war between conservative legal activists and the government.

The motel's owner, spurred by a recent Supreme Court decision, is trying to convince a federal court that the Constitution bars the U.S. Department of Justice from seizing his property, where guests have been found guilty of drug offenses. The owner, Russell Caswell, isn't accused of any wrongdoing. But he stands to lose his business nonetheless under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to

Mr. Caswell's federal court case challenges the U.S. government's ballooning asset-forfeiture system that in more than 15,000 cases last year confiscated cash, cars, boats and real estate valued at $2.5 billion. While many asset forfeitures are tied to convictions, the federal government can seize properties stained by crime even if owners face no charges.

"People shouldn't lose their property if they haven't been convicted of any crime," said Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Arlington, Va., that has joined in the motel's defense. "Mr. Caswell hasn't even been accused."

(p. A14) Civil rights groups, libertarians and attorneys defending against seizures say the government is overstepping its bounds in a practice that has swelled in the past decade to encompass some 400 federal statutes, covering crimes from drug trafficking to racketeering to halibut poaching.



For the full story, see:

JOHN R. EMSHWILLER, GARY FIELDS and JENNIFER LEVITZ. "Motel Is Latest Stopover in Federal Forfeiture Battle." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 18, 2011): A1 & A14.






December 15, 2011

How Entrepreneurship Rebuilt San Francisco After the Fire



(p. 5) At 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, Amadeo Peter Giannini felt an odd sensation, then a violent one, a slight, almost imperceptible shift in his surroundings coupled with a distant rumble like faraway thunder or a train! Pause. One second. Two seconds. Then-bang!-his house in San Mateo, California, began to pitch and shake, to, fro, up, and down. Seventeen miles north in (p. 6) San Francisco, the ground liquefied underneath hundreds of buildings, while heaving spasms under more solid ground catapulted stones and facades into the streets. Walls collapsed. Gas mains exploded. Fires erupted.

Determined to find out what had happened to his fledgling company, the Bank of Italy, Giannini endured a six-hour odyssey, navigating his way into the city by train and then by foot while people streamed in the opposite direction, fleeing the conflagration. Fires swept toward his offices, and Giannini had to rescue all the imperiled cash sitting in the bank. But criminals roamed through the rubble, prompting the mayor to issue a terse proclamation: "Officers have been authorized by me to KILL any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime." With the help of two employees, Giannini hid the cash under crates of oranges on two commandeered produce wagons and made a nighttime journey back to San Mateo, where he hid the money in his fireplace. Giannini returned to San Francisco the next morning and found himself at odds with other bankers who wanted to impose up to a six-month moratorium on lending. His response: putting a plank across two barrels right in the middle of a busy pier and opening for business the very next day. "We are going to rebuild San Francisco," he proclaimed.

Giannini lent to the little guy when the little guy needed it most. In return, the little guy made deposits at Giannini's bank. As San Francisco moved from chaos to order, from order to growth, from growth to prosperity, Giannini lent more to the little guy, and the little guy banked even more with Giannini. The bank gained momentum, little guy by little guy, loan by loan, deposit by deposit, branch by branch, across California, (p. 7) renaming itself Bank of America along the way. In October 1945, it became the largest commercial bank in the world, overtaking the venerable Chase National Bank. (Note of clarification: in 1998, NationsBank acquired Bank of America and took the name; the Bank of America described here is a different company than NationsBank.)



Source:

Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.






November 4, 2011

"Whatsoever a Man Soweth, That Shall He Also Reap"



PlantThiefSign2011-08-07.jpg "A gardener's recipe for vengeance at the Sixth Street and Avenue B Community Garden in Manhattan." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 20) At the 700 community gardens sprinkled through the city like little Edens, the first commandment should be obvious: Thou shalt not covet, much less steal, thy neighbor's tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers. But people do.

"This was an inside job," Holland Haiis-Aguirre, a key-holder at the West Side Community Garden, said after she arrived at her plot on July 24 to pick a "big, beautiful, full-sized cucumber" that she and her husband had tended from infancy. Instead, she found a denuded vine; her prize cuke apparently was in someone else's salad. "So frustrating," she wailed.


. . .


Sally Young shrouds her 18 heirloom tomato plants in bird netting, but it is not birds she is trying to outwit. Claude Bastide, who grows aromatic herbs, had his spearmint and rosemary plants stolen early in the season. He responded with a sign: "Dear Plant Thief: If I catch you stealing my plants, I will boil you alive in a cauldron filled with poison ivy and stinging nettles until your flesh falls off your bones!"



For the full story, see:

ROBIN FINN. "Peck of Pilfered Peppers in City Gardens; Tomatoes, Too." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 7, 2011): 20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was dated August 5, 2011, and had the title "Pilfered Peppers in City Gardens; Tomatoes, Too.")



Source of the title of this blog entry: The Bible, Galatians 6:7-9 (King James Version).







July 2, 2011

Partage Provides Incentives to Recover Antiquities and the Means to Preserve Them



WhoOwnsAntiquityBK2011-06-05.gif
















Source of book image: http://press.princeton.edu/images/k8602.gif





(p. D1) In some cases, it makes aesthetic or archaeological sense to keep artifacts grouped together where they were found, but it can also be risky to leave everything in one place, particularly if the country is in turmoil or can't afford to excavate or guard all its treasures. After the Metropolitan Museum was pressured to hand over a collection called the Lydian Hoard, one of the most valuable (p. D2) pieces was stolen several years ago from its new home in Turkey.


. . .


(p. D2) In his book "Who Owns Antiquity?", James Cuno argues that scholars have betrayed their principles by acquiescing to politicians who have exploited antiquities to legitimize themselves and their governments. Saddam Hussein was the most blatant, turning Iraqi archeology museums into propaganda for himself as the modern Nebuchadnezzar, but other leaders have been just as cynical in using antiquities to bolster their claims of sovereignty.

Dr. Cuno advocates the revival of partage, the traditional system in which archeologists digging in foreign countries would give some of their discoveries to the host country and take others home. That way both sides benefit, and both sides have incentives to recover antiquities before looters beat them to it. . . .

As the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Cuno has his own obvious motives for acquiring foreign antiquities, and he makes no apology for wanting to display Middle Eastern statues to Midwesterners.

"It is in the nature of our species to connect and exchange," Dr. Cuno writes. "And the result is a common culture in which we all have a stake. It is not, and can never be, the property of one modern nation or another."

Some of the most culturally protectionist nations today, like Egypt, Italy and Turkey, are trying to hoard treasures that couldn't have been created without the inspiration provided by imported works of art. (Imagine the Renaissance without the influence of "looted" Greek antiquities.) And the current political rulers of those countries often have little in common culturally with the creators of the artifacts they claim to own.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "FINDINGS; A Case in Antiquities for 'Finders Keepers'." The New York Times (Tues., November 17, 2009): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated November 16, 2009.)


The Cuno book discussed above, is:

Cuno, James. Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.






June 20, 2011

Entrepreneur Defends His Store with Gun



SpinelliAnthonyDefendedStore2011-06-05.jpg















"Anthony Spinelli, outside his store in the Bronx on Thursday, was called brave for shooting a man suspected of trying to rob his shop." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A23) On Arthur Avenue, a group of men piled out of Pasquale's Rigoletto restaurant onto the sidewalk to pay their respects to a sudden local hero.

"Anthony, we love you," they shouted across the street.

They summed up the local sentiment about a man, Anthony Spinelli, celebrated for protecting his livelihood. On Wednesday, Mr. Spinelli pulled one of two licensed guns in the store, and shot one of the three people suspected of trying to rob his Arthur Avenue jewelry store at gunpoint.

The Bronx neighborhood seemed energized by the event, which people here saw as a testament to the toughness of one of the last Italian neighborhoods in New York City.

"You don't come in and try to take a man's livelihood," said Nick Lousido, who called himself a neighborhood regular. "His family's store has 50 years on this block, they're going to come in and rob him?"

On Thursday, Mr. Spinelli, 49, had returned to his shop and sized up the broken front windows and the mess inside. He said that a man and woman had entered his store, and the man had held a gun to his head while the woman had gone through jewelry drawers and stuffed jewelry into a bag. He said he had feared for his life, and that he was still shaken.


. . .


Next door to Mr. Spinelli's shop is M & M Painter Supplies, which has photographs of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa next to a paint color chart on the wall.

"He's a very brave man," said the store owner, Ernie Verino. "He had the gun, and it takes guts to use it."



For the full story, see:

COREY KILGANNON. "Merchant Shooting to Defend His Store Is Celebrated as Hero of Arthur Avenue." The New York Times (Fri., February 18, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 17, 2011 and has the title "After Shooting, Merchant Is Hero of Arthur Avenue.")






May 26, 2011

Government Finally Allows Steve Jobs to Creatively Destroy His Own House



(p. A18) WOODSIDE, Calif. -- There may not be an app for it, but Steve Jobs did have a permit. And with that, his epic battle to tear down his own house is finally over.

For the better part of the last decade, Mr. Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, has been trying to demolish a sprawling, Spanish-style mansion he owns here in Woodside, a tony and techie enclave some 30 miles south of San Francisco, in hopes of building a new, smaller home on the lot. His efforts, however, had been delayed by legal challenges and cries for preservation of the so-called Jackling House, which was built in the 1920s for another successful industrialist: Daniel Jackling, whose money was in copper, not silicon.


. . .


"Steve Jobs knew about the historic significance of the house," Mr. Turner said. "And unfortunately he disregarded it."

Mr. Turner said the mansion, which had 35 rooms in nearly 15,000 square feet of interior space, was significant in part because it was built by George Washington Smith, an architect who is known for his work in California. But Mr. Jobs had been dismissive of Mr. Smith's talents, calling the house "one of the biggest abominations" he had ever seen.



For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Demolition, Apple Chief Makes Way for House 2.0." The New York Times (Fri., February 16, 2011): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 15, 2011.)





March 1, 2011

Property Rights Arise When Labor Creates Scarce Value



Marking snow-cleared parking spaces is a wonderful example of Demsetz's theory of how property rights tend to emerge when the efficiency gains are large enough.

I remember when I was a graduate student in Chicago sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, there were a couple of very snowy winters in which Chicagoans would similarly claim spaces from which they had cleared the snow.

I remember, but alas did not save, an article (probably in the Chicago Tribune) documenting how someone "stole" a marked space, and later returned to find that a garden hose had been used to cover their car in a considerable layer of ice.


(p. 8A) CHICAGO (AP) -- A blizzard that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on Chicago last week has revived a city tradition: Break out the patio furniture. Or, if none is available, suitcases, gar­bage cans, strollers, bar stools and milk crates work, too.

Chicagoans use all these items in a time-honored yet controver­sial system of preserving park­ing spots, a system known as "dibs."


. . .


Actually, a city ordinance makes the practice illegal.


. . .


Even the city's top police offi­cer sympathizes with those who do it.

"Think about it, you spend a couple hours clearing a spot, and somebody from another block takes it?" Superintendent Jody Weis said Friday.


. . .


"This is my spot because I worked hard to dig my car out," said Max Rosario, 27, just be­fore he put his patio chair on the street. It joined 16 chairs, one slab of plywood, a plastic kids table, three bar stools and a TV dinner tray, among other things.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Chicagoans calling dibs after digging out; Chairs and other objects save precious parking spots that have been shoveled." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., FEBRUARY 6, 2011): 8A.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The Demsetz paper is:

Demsetz, Harold. "Toward a Theory of Property Rights." American Economic Review 57, no. 2 (May 1967): 347-59.





February 18, 2011

Bloggers See Bad Conditions for Entrepreneurs



conditions.gif


The chart above and the one below are from the recently-released results of the First Quarter 2011 influential blogger survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation. (Tim Kane gave permission to put the charts on my blog.) artdiamondblog.com is one of the blogs included in the survey.

The results above show a perception that conditions are currently tough for entrepreneurs. The chart below displays one of the main reasons: the current economy is perceived as uncertain and fragile. There are many reasons for the uncertainty, but one of them is surely that the bloggers have doubts about the depth of support in government for the institutions and policies upon which entrepreneurship depends (like private property, restrained regulations, and low taxes).


For a full PDF report on the 2011 Q1 survey results, see:

http://www.kauffman.org/uploadedfiles/econ_blogger_outlook_q1_2011.pdf



word-cloud.gif






February 15, 2011

Luddism in 1811 England



(p. 243) The stockingers began in the town of Arnold, where weaving frames were being used to make cut-ups and, even worse, were being operated by weavers who had not yet completed the seven-year apprenticeship that the law required. They moved next to Nottingham and the weaver-heavy villages surrounding it, attacking virtually every night for weeks, a few dozen men carrying torches and using prybars and hammers to turn wooden frames--and any doors, walls, or windows that surrounded them--into kindling. None of the perpetrators were arrested, much less convicted and punished.

The attacks continued throughout the spring of' 1811, and after a brief summertime lull started up again in the fall, by which time nearly one thousand weaving frames had been destroyed (out of the 25.000 to 29,000 then in Nottingham, Leicestershire, and Derbyshire), resulting in damages of between £6,000 and £10.000. That November, a commander using the nom de sabotage of Ned Ludd (sometimes Lud)--the name was supposedly derived from an apprentice to a Leicester stockinger named Ned Ludham whose reaction to a reprimand was to hammer the nearest stocking frame to splinters--led a series of increasingly daring attacks throughout the Midlands. On November 13, a letter to the Home Office demanded action against the "2000 men, many of them armed, [who] were riotously traversing the County of Nottingham."

By December 1811, rioters appeared in the cotton manufacturing capital of Manchester, where Luddites smashed both weaving and spinning machinery. Because Manchester was further down the path to industrialization, and therefore housed such machines in large factories as opposed to small shops, the destruction demanded larger, and better organized, mobs.



Source:

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

(Note: italics and bracketed word in original.)





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.





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.





August 13, 2010

"Intimidation, Threats and Violence Against the White Farmers" in Zimbabwe



ForcingWhiteFarmerOffLand2010-08-04.jpg"A man tries to force a white Zimbabwean farmer off of his land in "Mugabe and the White African."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C9) Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's "Mugabe and the White African" is a documentary account of the efforts of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, to hold onto their farm. It tracks their precedent-setting lawsuit against Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian Zimbabwean president, in a regional African court, as well as events on the ground in Zimbabwe: intimidation, threats and violence against the white farmers still holding out after a decade of land seizures by the government.

Many viewers will leave "Mugabe and the White African" thinking that they have seen few, if any, documentaries as wrenching, sad and infuriating, and those feelings will be justified. What has happened (and continues to happen) to the Campbells, the Freeths and some of their white neighbors is not only unjust but also a horrifying, slow-motion nightmare. That sensation is reinforced by the movie's political-thriller style, partly a result of the covert filming methods necessary in a country where practicing journalism can get you thrown in jail.



For the full movie review, see:

MIKE HALE. "Fighting His Country to Keep His Farmland." The New York Times (Fri., July 23, 2010): C9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 22, 2010.)





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.






May 19, 2010

Russell Crowe as a Libertarian Robin Hood Fighting High Taxes



RobinHoodRussellCrowe2010-05-14.jpg "Mr. Crowe as Robin Hood." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


Ridley Scott has directed some entertaining movies (Blade Runner and Alien to name two) and he also directed one of the most famous tech ads of all time: upstart Apple smashing the uptight corporate conformity of IBM.

And now he brings us what we could use about now: a libertarian Robin Hood who defends property rights and fights high taxes.

When all is said and done, liberal NYT reviewer A.O. Scott doesn't much like the movie in the full review that is briefly quoted below. (But I want to see the movie anyway.)


(p. C1) You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is no socialist bandit practicing freelance wealth redistribution, but rather a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles. Don't tread on him!


For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "Rob the Rich? Give to the Poor? Oh, Puh-leeze." The New York Times (Fri., May 14, 2010): C1 & C14.

(Note: the italics in the title of Scott's NYT review, appeared in the print, but not the online, version of the review.)





April 3, 2010

"We're Taking Care of the Streets, Just in Case They Try to Rob Us"



SilvaJaimeStickProtectStreet2010-03-17.jpg"Jaime Silva, 10, wielded a stick with a nail on the end in Los Ángeles, Chile, "just in case they try to rob us," he said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A16) LOS ÁNGELES, Chile -- At night, residents huddle around bonfires and guard their streets with torches and sticks, ready to repel outsiders who might try to break into their darkened homes.

Elsewhere, the military and the federal police enforce nighttime curfews, guard the entrances to supermarkets and monitor gasoline rationing to make sure no one gets more than his share.

As darkness settled in and the curfew took effect on Wednesday, residents on the outskirts of Los Ángeles began placing wooden barriers in front of their streets and picking up weapons to protect against armed bandits they said were taking advantage of the chaos to steal from their homes.

"We're taking care of the streets, just in case they try to rob us," said Jaime Silva, 10, as he wielded a thick stick with a nail on the end.

Nearby, his mother looked on, her arms crossed, watching her son and other boys as they stood guard behind the barrier.

"We're trying to take care of the little we have here," said the mother, Ana Beroiz, 34, noting that there had been robberies in other parts of town. "We're here all night, first the mothers and then the fathers."



For the full story, see:

ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO. "Fears of Lawlessness Prompt Show of Force in Chile." The New York Times (Thurs., March 4, 2010): A16.

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





February 13, 2010

"Conservation Is About Managing People," Not Wildlife



(p. C27) People are hard-wired to be fearful of large carnivores. What's more, it's hard for the poor to see the economic advantage of rewilding. Humans don't like conservationists telling them what they can and can't do with the land that surrounds them. As one conservationist counterintuitively points out to Ms. Fraser: "Conservation is about managing people. It's not about managing wildlife."


For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; Conservation as a Matter of Managing People." The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): C1 & C27.

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


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Caroline. Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.





August 5, 2009

Property Rights Would Allow American Indians to Prosper



(p. A19) President Barack Obama courted the Indian vote. During the campaign, he visited Montana's Crow Reservation last May and was adopted into the tribe under the Crow name "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land." There he said, "Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans," and vowed to improve their economic opportunities, health care and education.

Two vital steps in this direction are to strengthen property rights and the rule of law on reservations. Virtually every study of international development shows that both of these are crucial to prosperity. Indian country is no different. The effect of insecure property rights is evident on a drive through any western reservation. When you see 160 acres overgrazed and a house unfit for occupancy, you can be sure the title to the land is held by the federal government bureaucracy.


. . .

My own research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics, shows that for tribes with state jurisdiction, per capita income grew 20% faster between 1969 and 1999 than for their counterparts under tribal court jurisdiction. All Indians are less likely than whites to get home loans, but the likelihood of a loan rejection falls by 50% on reservations under state jurisdiction.


. . .

Mr. Obama's rallying cry was "change," and that is exactly what he needs to bring about in Indian policy. The first Americans deserve to be freed from the bureaucratic shackles that have made them victims, and allowed to establish property rights and legal systems that can make them victors.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY L. ANDERSON. "OPINION; Native Americans Need the Rule of Law." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 16, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses in original.)





July 14, 2009

The Case for Patent System Reform



(p. A13) The Patent Office now gets some 500 million applications a year, leading to litigation costs of over $10 billion a year to define who has what rights. As Judge Richard Posner has written, patents for ideas create the risk of "enormous monopoly power (imagine if the first person to think up the auction had been able to patent it)." Studies indicate that aside from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the cost of litigation now exceeds the profits companies generate from licensing patents.


For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "OPINION: INFORMATION AGE; Why Technologists Want Fewer Patents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JUNE 15, 2009): A13.






January 24, 2009

Capitalism's Defenseless Fortress



FortressDefended.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

(p. 143) . . . capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.

The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless. Defenseless fortresses invite aggression especially if there is rich booty in them. Aggressors will work themselves up into a state of rationalizing hostility---aggressors always do.



Source:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.


FortressDefenseless.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.





January 9, 2009

French Entrepreneur Fourneau Was Against Law, But Used It


The existence and details of patent laws can matter for creating incentives for invention and innovation. The patent laws in Germany and France in the 1930s reduced the incentives for inventing new drugs.

(p. 141) German chemical patents were often small masterpieces of mumbo jumbo. It was a market necessity. Patents in Germany were issued to protect processes used to make a new chemical, not, as in America, the new chemical itself; German law protected the means, not the end.   . . .

. . .

(p. 166) Fourneau decided that if the French were going to compete, the nation's scientists would either have to discover their own new drugs and get them into production before the Germans could or find ways to make French versions of German compounds before the Germans had earned back their research and production costs---in other words, get French versions of new German drugs into the market before the Germans could lower their prices. French patent laws, like those in Germany, did not protect the final product. "I was always against the French law and I thought it was shocking that one could not patent one's invention," Fourneau said, "but the law was what it was, and there was no reasons not to use it."



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.

(Note: ellipses added.)




July 19, 2008

Chavez Nationalizes Cement in Venezuela


(p. A13) Venezuela said it will take majority stakes in the local units of Cemex SAB, Lafarge SA and Holcim Ltd. as it divulges the first details of a nationalization plan that will affect the world's biggest cement producers.

The nationalization, announced last week, is designed to deflect criticism that the socialist government of Hugo Chávez isn't delivering on its promises of new housing and other infrastructure projects, experts said.

"The Venezuelan state will take control of these companies. We told them all three will be subject to this [nationalization] measure," Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on state television.

. . .

Mr. Chávez's nationalizations have resulted in efficiency declines in the past. For instance, Venezuelan oil production has fallen since major foreign oil-field operators were nationalized.



For the full story, see:

JOEL MILLMAN, RAUL GALLEGOS and DARCY CROWE. "Venezuela Will Take Control of Top Cement Producers." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the title of the online version is "Venezuela Will Take Control of Top Cement Producers.")




April 23, 2008

The Inefficiency of Zoning Laws


CasinoVegasTrailerZoning.jpg "It may not look like much, but the opening of this casino, for one day only, let its owner keep a crucial zoning designation." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) For eight hours on Tuesday, Station Casinos opened a nondescript 40-by-10-foot trailer on a vacant 26-acre plot about six miles east of the Strip with just 16 slot machines. The sole purpose was to comply with a state law that requires public gambling to occur on a property for at least one shift every two years in order for the landowner to retain the valuable zoning designation needed to conduct wagering.

. . .

As of midday, nobody but reporters had turned out for the event, which had been publicized by only a few bloggers on the Internet. The biggest payout on the bank of video poker and blackjack machines was $2.50.

. . .

The opening of the nameless temporary casino, which the local newspaper dubbed Trailer Station, was rich in red tape, including seven permits, approvals from the City Council and the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and a certificate of occupancy.

As required by the city code, the trailer, brought onto the land just for the day, came complete with a portable toilet outside and, to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a wheelchair-accessible entrance. A casino floor manager sat at one end of the narrow room ready to pay out winnings should there be any, a security guard patrolled outside, and two city zoning officers visited for 20 minutes to inspect and fill out paperwork.


For the full story, see:

STEVE FRIESS. "If This Happens in Vegas, It Can Sure Stay in Vegas." The New York Times (Weds., January 9, 2008): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)


CasinoVegasSlotsZoning.jpg "A floor manager watched over 16 slot machines Tuesday, but there was hardly a rush on them." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




March 12, 2008

Controversial Patent Reform


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

(p. A3) The sweeping patent initiative -- backed by a business coalition dominated by technology companies such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. -- would . . . shift the balance of power of the U.S. patent system. It would make it a bit harder for holders to protect patents.  Advocates of the legislation contend the current system encourages patent litigation and costly judgments against infringers -- and stifles innovation.  They say the proposals are designed to bring patent rules in line with the rapidly changing U.S. economy, where inventions often reflect hundreds of potentially patentable ideas.

Mark Chandler, Cisco's general counsel, dismissed concerns that non-U.S. companies might gain some advantage by the bill. He said the proposed changes would strengthen companies at "the heart of innovation in the American economy," better positioning them to compete at home and abroad.

Opponents of the legislation argue that it would make it easier for foreign competitors to legally copy patented methods and products.

For the full story, see:

GREG HITT.  "Patent System's Revamp Hits Wall; Globalization Fears Stall Momentum in Congress; AFL-CIO Sends a Letter."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., August 27, 2007):   A3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)




January 22, 2008

Alaska Air Used Skunk Works to Develop Check-In Innovation

 

AlaskaAirDeparturesTable.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

The innovation described in the article excerpted below is credited as arising from a 'skunk works' project.  There's a neat book called Skunk Works that describes how Lockheed set up an autonomous unit to develop the first stealth air force technology.  (Their plant was in a smelly part of town, so it was dubbed the 'Skunk Works.')

Clayton Christensen has recommended that established incumbent companies set up skunk works operations in order to develop disruptive technologies that would not survive if they were developed within the main corporate culture and infrastructure. 

(In the article excerpted below, it is puzzling to read that Alaska Air went to the trouble to take out a patent, even though they apparently have no intention of enforcing it.) 

 

(p. B1)  ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- When the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was planning a new concourse, prime tenant Alaska Airlines insisted on a counterintuitive design: "The one thing we don't want is a ticket counter," said Ed White, the airline's vice president of corporate real estate.

So the 447,000-square-foot Concourse C, which opened in 2004, has only one small, traditional ticket counter, even though the carrier's 1.2 million Anchorage passengers checked in through that area last year. This unconventional approach -- which uses self-service check-in machines and manned "bag drop" stations in a spacious hall that looks nothing like a typical airport -- has doubled Alaska's capacity here, halved its staffing needs and cut costs, while speeding travelers through the building in far less time.

. . .

(p. B4)  Alaska's design in Anchorage has turned heads in the industry, and in 2006 the airline was awarded a U.S. patent for the check-in process, something it calls the two-step flow-through. Mr. White says his company isn't trying to keep competitors from going down the same path, but pursued the patent more to reward the many employees who helped to bring the idea to fruition.

Other airlines quickly sent scouts up to Anchorage to check out the new concourse, including a team from Delta Air Lines Inc., Mr. White says. A few months ago, Delta completed a $26 million renovation of its check-in hall at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the finished product looks remarkably similar to that of Alaska Airlines. Greg Kennedy, Delta's vice president for customer service there, says the new layout has enabled the airline to process passengers checking in during the peak spring break travel period in 20 to 30 minutes at most, compared with two or three hours three years ago -- and all in the same amount of square footage but 50% more usable space. Mr. Kennedy says he isn't aware of a visit to Anchorage but doesn't dispute it.

. . .  

Alaska, the nation's ninth-largest carrier by traffic, started a "skunk works" lab a decade ago to figure out how to use technology to make air travel less of a hassle for passengers. Out of that effort came the airline's ground-breaking ability to sell tickets on the Internet and allow fliers to check in online, developments other carriers quickly followed.

 

For the full story, see: 

SUSAN CAREY.  "Case of the Vanishing Airport Lines; Alaska Air Speeds Up Flow Of Passengers by Jettisoning Traditional Ticket Counters."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., August 9, 2007):  B1 & B4.

 

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

 




November 28, 2007

Communist China's "Greatest Folly": Renewable Energy Dam

 

  "Liu Jun leaving his home in Miaohe, China, near the Three Gorges Dam.  All of the village's residents are being relocated."  Source of caption:  p. A1 of print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  JIANMIN VILLAGE, China — Last year, Chinese officials celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam by releasing a list of 10 world records. As in: The Three Gorges is the world’s biggest dam, biggest power plant and biggest consumer of dirt, stone, concrete and steel. Ever. Even the project’s official tally of 1.13 million displaced people made the list as record No. 10.

Today, the Communist Party is hoping the dam does not become China’s biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first.

The rising controversy makes it easy to overlook what could have been listed as world record No. 11: The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s biggest man-made producer of electricity from renewable energy.

. . .

(p. A12)  The Communist Party leaders who broke ground on the Three Gorges project in 1994 had promised that China could build the world’s biggest dam, manage the world’s biggest human resettlement and also protect the environment.

. . .

(p. A13)  In the isolated mountain villages above the reservoir, farmers have heard nothing about a new resettlement plan. For many farmers, the immediate concern is the land beneath their feet. Landslides are striking different hillsides as the rising water places more pressure on the shoreline, local officials say.  . . .

. . .

Around daybreak on June 22, Lu Youbing awoke to the screams of her brother-in-law and the sickening sensation of the earth collapsing. Her mountain farmhouse in Jianmin Village buckled as a landslide swept it downhill. In all, 20 homes were demolished. Five months later, Ms. Lu is living in a tent, fending off rats and wondering where her family can go.

“We have nothing left,” she said. “Not a single thing.”

Winter is approaching, and she is trying to block out cold air — and rats — by pinning down the tent flaps with rocks. Villagers have been told that more landslides are possible. Ms. Lu lives with her second husband and their two children. They are too poor to buy an apartment in the city or to build a new home on higher ground. Local officials gave them the tent. Villagers have donated clothes.

The tents are pitched on the only available flat land — a terrace with a monument celebrating efforts by local officials to improve the environment.

“We don’t know about winter,” she said. “This is the only option we have. What else can we do?”

 

For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY.  "At China's Dams, Problems Rise With Water."   The New York Times  (Mon., November 19, 2007):  A1, A12-A13. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  online the title of the article is "Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs.")

 

   "The Three Gorges Dam is projected as an anchor in a string of hydropower “mega-bases” planned for the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




September 7, 2007

Reagan's "Crazy" Speech Inspired Lessig to Pursue the "Impossible"

 

Mr. Lessig has become the standard-bearer for those who see copyright law as too protective of original creators and too stifling of the artists who follow them. That position has made him the darling of those who want a relatively unfettered Internet, whether it be music sharers or online poem reprinters.

But it has also made him an opponent of many big media companies, including the Walt Disney Company, whose signature creation, Mickey Mouse, would have passed into the public domain years ago if not for a series of well-timed extensions to the law.

. . .

. . . , it might surprise many of Mr. Lessig’s supporters to find that his inspiration for his copyright work was Ronald Reagan.

“I heard George Shultz give a talk in Berlin on the 20th anniversary of Reagan’s ‘tear down this wall’ speech,” Mr. Lessig said. “It was very moving to be at this event. Many of the Germans in the audience were moved to tears. They said that at the time this happened, it was impossible to see this change happening.”

In recalling his thoughts on the possibility of communism falling, he said, “When I heard Reagan’s speech, I remember thinking, ‘boy, he is crazy,’ ” he said.

It is fair to say you can quote him on that.

 

For the full story, see: 

NOAM COHEN.  "LINK BY LINK; Taking the Copyright Fight Into a New Arena."  The New York Times   (Mon., July 2, 2007):  C3.

 




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.

 




June 4, 2007

Chinese Restaurant Entrepreneur: "A Citizen's Legal Property Is Not to Be Encroached Upon"

 

CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks the confrontation drew attention from people all across China, as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news, of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France, in the middle of a vast excavation.

Newspapers dived in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media after the government, bloggers here said, decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

. . .

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How did this owner, a woman no less, manage? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which on meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people try to use public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities. 

. . .  

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China such things shock the common mind.”

. . .  

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached on.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house is perched, he said with a wink, “Magic.”  

 

For the full story, see: 

HOWARD W. FRENCH.  "CHONGQING JOURNAL; Homeowner Stares Down Wreckers, at Least for a While."  The New York Times  (Tues., March 27, 2007):  A4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

ChinaHomeDefenderWuPing.jpg ChinaChonqingMap.jpg   On left, Wu Ping, with her tall brother in the background.  On right, a map showing the location of Chongqing in China.  Source of photo and map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




April 29, 2007

"Under the Spell of a Theory"

 

Johnson's wonderful book is part mystery, part history, part philosophy of science, and part musing on political philosophy.  The passage below warms the heart (and stimulates the brain) of the libertarian.  Against great odds, Dr. Snow persisted in presenting ever-more convincing evidence for his correct water-borne theory of cholera.  Meanwhile Chadwick, the main advocate of government public health activities, continued to direct policy on the basis of the mistaken theory that cholera was spread by foul vapors in the air. 

 

(p. 120) Herein lies the dominant irony of the state of British public health in the late 1840s.  Just as Snow was concocting his theory of cholera as a waterborne agent that had to be ingested to do harm, Chadwick was building an elaborate scheme that would deliver the cholera bacteria directly to the mouths of Londoners.  (A modern bioterrorist couldn't have come up with a more ingenious and far-reaching scheme.)  Sure enough, the cholera returned with a vengeance in 1848-1849, the rising death toll neatly following the Sewer Commission's cheerful data on the growing supply of waste deposited in the river.  By the end of the outbreak, nearly 15,000 Londoners would be dead.  The first defining act of a modern, centralized public-health authority was to poison an entire urban population.  (There is some precedent to Chadwick's folly, however.  During the plague years of 1665-1666, popular lore had it that the disease was being spread by dogs and cats.  The Lord Mayor promptly called for a mass extermination of the city's entire population of pets and strays, which was dutifully carried out by his minions.  Of course, the plague turned out to be (p. 121) transmitted via the rats, whose numbers grew exponentially after the sudden, state-sponsored demise of their only predators.)

Why would the authorities go to such lengths to destroy the Thames?  All the members of these various commissions were fully aware that the waste being flushed into the river was having disastrous effects on the quality of the water.  And they were equally aware that a significant percentage of the population was drinking the water.  Even without a waterborne theory of cholera's origin, it seems like madness to celebrate the ever-increasing tonnage of human excrement being flushed into the water supply.  And, indeed, it was a kind of madness, the madness that comes from being under the spell of a Theory.  If all smell was disease, if London's health crisis was entirely attributable to contaminated air, then any effort to rid the houses and streets of miasmatic vapors was worth the cost, even if it meant turning the Thames into a river of sewage.

 

Source: 

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.

 




April 6, 2007

Morales Slaughters Snow-White Llama to Celebrate Nationalization of Tin Smelter

   A snow-white llama that has not yet been symbolically sacrificed by Bolivian President Evo Morales.  Source of the photo:  http://www.staff.stir.ac.uk/f.r.wheater/images/25%20Llama%205_8_04.JPG

 

Picture it, in President Evo Morales' Bolivia:  a peaceful, innocent-looking, snow-white llama slaughtered in homage to a barbaric mystical ritual, and in celebration of the slaughter, through nationalization, of private property and economic growth.  And afterwards, one imagines the visitng French brass band played on. 

 

VINTO, Bolivia: The ritual sacrifice of a snow-white llama provided a symbolic completion Friday to President Evo Morales' nationalization of Bolivia's lone operating tin smelter.

Swiss mining giant Glencore International AG owned the plant until last week and has threatened to seek compensation through international arbitration. Morales still says his government will not compensate Glencore for the Feb. 9 nationalization of the Vinto plant, located on a high Andean plain 180 kilometers (110 miles) southeast of the capital of La Paz.

. . .

After the ceremony, Morales hosted plant workers, a troupe of Andean pipers and a visiting French brass band to an outdoor supper of fried chicken and chuno, a traditional Bolivian dish of dehydrated potatoes.

While the nationalization retained all but a handful of smelter employees, workers remained divided over the change in management. Some rushed to greet "Companero Evo" as he toured the plant; others hung back and wondered about the future.

"Anywhere in the world they'll tell you the government can't be a good administrator," said plant employee Oscar Leyton. "But we'll just have to wait and see how they do it. If they screw up here, they'll screw up the whole country."

 

For the full story, see: 

"In Bolivia, llama sacrifice completes Morales' tin smelter nationalization."  International Herald Tribune  February 16, 2007.

(Note:  ellipsis added.) 

 




March 8, 2007

Communists Import Giant Rabbits to End Starvation in North Korea

 

Apparently the North Korean Communist government's plan to end starvation in North Korea, is to import and breed giant German rabbits.  If they were really serious, they would do better by respecting property rights, and embracing the free market.

 

EBERSWALDE, Germany -- Few people raise bigger bunny rabbits than Karl Szmolinsky, who has been producing long-eared whoppers since 1964.  His favorite breed, German gray giants, are the size of a full-grown beagle and so fat they can barely hop.

Last year, after the retired chauffeur entered some of his monsters in an agricultural fair, word of his breeding skills spread to the North Korean Embassy in Berlin.  Diplomats looked past the cute, furry faces with the twitching noses and saw a possible solution to their nation's endemic food shortage:  an enormous bunny in every Korean pot.

The North Koreans approached Szmolinsky in November and asked whether he'd advise them on how to start a rabbit breeding program to help "feed the population," the 67-year-old pensioner recalled in an interview at his home in Eberswalde, an eastern German town a few miles from the Polish border.  Sympathetic to the Koreans' plight, he agreed to sell some of his best stock at a steep discount and volunteered to travel to the hermetic nation as a consultant.

. . .

In December, Szmolinsky stuffed six of his rabbits into modified dog carriers and took them to the airport in Berlin, where they boarded a flight for Pyongyang, via Frankfurt, Germany, and Beijing.  Robert, a 23-pounder, was the largest of the bunch, which included four female rabbits and one other male carefully selected for their breeding potential.

How, exactly, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea intends to parlay the small herd of German Flopsies into hunger relief for its 23 million citizens is unclear.

 

For the full story, see: 

Craig Whitlock.  "A Colossal Leap of Faith In Fight Against Famine North Koreans See Potential in German Breeder's Giants."  The Washington Post  (Friday, February 2, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 RabbitGiantGerman.jpg   A giant German rabbit.  Source of photo:  http://www.spiegel.de/img/0,1020,774187,00.jpg

 




February 4, 2007

Middendorf "Studied Under Joseph Schumpeter"

GloriousDisasterBK.jpg   Source of book image:  http://basicbooks.com/perseus/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465045731

 

William Middendorf was important in the Goldwater campaign for president.  Here is a brief excerpt from his recent book about the campaign:

 

(p. 8)  . . ., I became a disciple of the Austrian libertarian school of economics, having studied under Joseph Schumpeter (an odd-man-out at Harvard, later named by the Wall Street Journal as the most important economist of the twentieth century) and Ludwig Von Mises (at New York University).  Schumpeter and Von Mises saw entrepreneurship as a major driving force in economic development, considered private property---protected by an independent judiciary---essential to the efficient use of resources, and held that government intereference in market processes was usually counterproductive.

 

The reference to the book is: 

Middendorf, J. William, II. Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

 




February 3, 2007

To Help Poor: "Allow Entrepreneurs to Flourish"

 

Of the three "views" discussed in Wessel's original commentary, the following excerpt just includes the one that I share:

 

With the billions of dollars they are spending, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton and Bono are likely to make progress in their quest to prevent treatable diseases from killing millions of people.  Nearly all of these people live or will live in poor countries.

That worries economist Simon Johnson.  He doesn't doubt the moral imperative to fight disease.  Still, he wonders:  "Do we really know how to help the poor people -- the increasing number of poor people?  Do we really know how to help them out of poverty?"

Such questions haunt academics, governments, international institutions and global do-gooders.  They are impressed with China's rapid modernization, though puzzled that it has done so well without following standard precepts.  They are disappointed and puzzled that Latin America nations haven't done better, especially because so many did take the advice of the experts.  They are depressed and puzzled by the continued widespread misery in Africa.

With intellectual humility, Mr. Johnson, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, faced a roomful of peers at the annual meeting of the American Economics Association last weekend and said, "Public health had the germ theory of disease.  Economics has made great progress, but it's still waiting for its 'germ theory of disease.'"  That probably overstates the challenges remaining to public-health warriors -- avian flu, AIDS/HIV, malaria and all -- but not the shortcomings of economic understanding of what poor countries should do to achieve sustained growth.

. . .

A third view is that earlier economists focused on the wrong thing.  Mr. Johnson, among others, argues that what really matters is having solid political, legal and economic institutions -- courts, central banks, honest bureaucrats, private-property rights -- that allow entrepreneurs to flourish.  Imposing what seem to be sound economic policies on corrupt, incompetent or myopic governments is doomed.  Building strong institutions is a necessary prerequisite.  In this camp, there is a running side argument about which comes first:  the institutions or the educated people who create them.  Was the Constitution key to U.S. success, or was it Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton?

 

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID WESSEL.  "CAPITAL; Why Economists Are Still Grasping For Cure to Global Poverty."  The Wall Streeet Journal  (Thurs.,  January 11, 2007):  A7.

 




January 26, 2007

The Poignant Nobility of Katalimata

 

DefensibleSitesInCreteBk.jpg  Source of book image:  the web site cited below.

 

Years ago I saw a program on the History Channel that has stuck in my mind.  (But, alas, I do not remember the title.)  Near the end, I think, they discussed an ancient horde of invaders that created a dark age in the Mediterranean region.  An on-sight scholar discussed a tiny cliff-side settlement that a family of natives had retreated to, to defend what little they had.

Attacking the tiny enclave would have been difficult.  It was a long way up a treacherous and visible trail.  But for the same reasons, living there would have been difficult too.

How human these unknown ancients were who defended their family and property; how poignantly noble.

 

 

When I watched the program, I jotted down a single word, the name of the site:  Katalimata.

In doing a web search, I encountered the book (a monograph in the Aegean series), whose image appears above.  I'm guessing that the book discusses the site I saw in the program, since the book description says that its author participated in digs at Katalimata.

 

The reference to the book is:

Nowicki, Krzysztof.  "Defensible Sites in Crete C.1200 - 800 B.C."  Aegaeum Vol. 21, 2000.

 

For more information on the book, see:

http://www.ulg.ac.be/archgrec/aegaeum21.html

 

 




January 11, 2007

Intellectual Property Rights in Toilet


 

CHICAGO (AP) — The gun­man who fatally shot three peo­ple in a law firm’s high-rise office before he was killed by police felt cheated over an invention, au­thorities said Saturday.

  Joe Jackson forced a security guard at gunpoint to take him up to the 38th floor offices of Wood, Phillips, Katz, Clark & Mortimer, which specialized in intellectual property and patents.  He carried the revolver, a knife and a ham­mer in a large manila envelope and chained the office doors be­hind him, police said.

  Jackson, 59, told witnesses be­fore he was shot that he had been cheated over a toilet he had in­vented for use in trucks, Police Superintendent Phil Cline said.

 

For the full story, see:

"Shooter felt cheated over toilet, police say."  Omaha World-Herald  (Sun., 12/10/2006):   4A.

 




December 18, 2006

The Entrepreneur Versus the Government


A great story about Jim Clark, who founded Silicon Graphics:


(p. 46)  Just a few years back, before the Internet boom, Clark's house in Atherton had been surrounded by empty fields.  Now he was surrounded by new houses, many of them bigger than his own.  One morning he looked up from his kitchen table and saw the neighbors looking (p. 47) back.  He requested, and was denied, a permit to build a fence tall enough to screen them from his view.  The city of Atherton, California, had strict rules about fences, and the fence Clark wanted to build was declared too high.  So Clark built a hill, and put the fence on top of the hill.  It did not occur to him that there was anything unusual about this.


(page numbers above are from the Norton hardback edition; the full quote is on p. 31 of the paperback edition) 

 

The reference to the hardback edition, is: 

Lewis, Michael.  The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.

 




December 3, 2006

Cheap, Easy, Transparent Property Rights Institutions Are Key to Developing Long Tail

Chris Anderson points out that the main thing currently holding back the long tail, are legal restrictions in the form of clearing copyrights.  This is somewhat analogous to how the legal restrictions to starting up a small business, end up protecting the larger incumbent companies, a la Hernando de Soto's The Other Path

Figuring out how to quickly and cheaply process small intellectual property rights claims is the key.  The assumption that this could and would be done was an underpinning of Bill Gates' prediction of the key importance of content in his The Road Ahead.

If Gates' vision could be realized, it would provide the consumer much greater variety (and much closer matches between what is sought and what is found); and it would provide many more producers of content, the opportunity to support themselves through their productive activities.  (As opposed to the current situation where most such producers must produce as a part-time, labor-of-love, while they support themselves by their unrelated 'day job.')

 

Books mentioned:

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

 




October 21, 2006

In Egypt: The Authorities Versus the Entrepreneur


  Cairo entrepreneur serves good food to willing customers.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In The Other Path, Hernando de Soto wrote about how governments in much of the world make it nearly impossible for the poor to legally get a start as entrepreneurs.  Here is a perfect example of de Soto's point:


CAIRO, Oct. 2 — With his cart tucked beneath a highway overpass, just beside the railroad tracks and behind a parked taxi, Farouk Salem darted his eyes back and forth nervously as he awaited customers.

On most days, except during Ramadan, the sun has barely risen and worshipers are shuffling out of the nearby mosque after morning prayers as the first customers make their way to Mr. Salem.  A few quick flicks of a ladle, the shaking of a bottle or two, and breakfast is ready.

Mr. Salem sells ful, the fava bean stew that is a staple of Egyptian cuisine, as a cheap, hearty breakfast for just 20 cents.  But he is an unlicensed street vendor, one of the many hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who make their living in what economists here describe as Egypt’s informal work force:  selling, delivering, cooking, cleaning, serving, ferrying, shoeshining, anything that will provide income.

Dr. Rashad Abdou, a professor of economics at Cairo University, estimated that the informal sector might account for as much as 60 percent of Egypt’s economy.

“As long as I keep a low profile, they don’t bother me,” Mr. Salem said on a recent day, as his brother worked behind the parked metal cart, dishing out bowls of ful.  The police have forced him to move many times and have even confiscated his cart.  But it is hard to keep a really low profile when the food is good and the prices are cheap.

As the sun began to heat up the morning air, customers showed up in a steady stream, some still in their pajamas.

“It’s good,” said Muhammad Abbadi.  “It’s clean.  And the most important thing is it’s cheap.  We are poor.  You see how poor we are in Egypt.”

. . .

“If the authorities want to chase me away, they will do it,” he says, his face tight and nervous.  “If they want to put me in prison, they can.  If they want to take my cart away, they can.”

He walked over to get some more bread as Muhammad kept ladling.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL SLACKMAN.  "CAIRO JOURNAL; A Hand on the Ladle, and an Eye Out for the Law."  The New York Times (Tues., October 3, 2006):  A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

 

CairoFulFavaBeanStew.jpg  Ful is a fava bean stew that is popular in Cairo.  Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

The reference to the de Soto book is: 

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. 1st ed: HarperCollins, 1989.

 




October 13, 2006

Hernando de Soto Creates Buzz in Clinton Hallways

DeSotoClinton.jpg  Hernando de Soto and Bill Clinton at the second annual Clinton Global Initiative.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

. . . the buzz in the hallways centered on a topic that until recently most philanthropists all but ignored:  registering poor people's property so they could borrow against it to build businesses, pay taxes or for other purposes.  Many citizens of developing countries don't formally have title to their land, and many economists -- including Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, another conference attendee -- see this as a key source of urban poverty.  According to Mr. de Soto's research, the value of unregistered land in developing countries totals over $9 trillion.  Mr. Clinton told the audience that these assets "cannot be converted into collateral for loans -- wealth locked-up and locked-down -- keeping people in grinding poverty instead of being an asset that can lift them up."  Up to 85% of urban land parcels in the developing world are unregistered, Mr. Clinton said, citing Mr. de Soto's research.

But standing in the way of widespread land-ownership records are insufficient legal frameworks, confusing procedures and corrupt property registries.  And establishing land ownership is all but impossible in communist and socialist countries, where property usually is owned by the state, said John Bryant, chief executive of Operation Hope, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that provides financial services to the poor.

 

For the full article, see: 

SALLY BEATTY. "GIVING BACK; Helping the Poor Register Land." Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 29, 2006): W2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)




October 6, 2006

Unintended Consequences of "Protecting" Rare Woodpecker

  Red-cockaded woodpecker.  Source of image:  http://www.fws.gov/athens/images/Red-cockaded%20woodpecker%20120%20KB%205x7.jpg

 

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C., Sept. 23 (AP) — Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

The chain saws started in February, when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker.

The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker “clusters,” and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.

Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits.  Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers.  Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.

The results can be seen all over town.  Along the roadsides, scattered brown bark is all that is left of pine stands.  Mayor Joan Kinney has watched with dismay as waterfront lots across from her home on Big Lake have been stripped down to sandy wasteland.

. . .

Like the woodpeckers, humans are also looking to defend their nest eggs.

Bonner Stiller has been holding on to two wooded half-acre lakefront lots for 23 years.  He stripped both lots of longleaf pines before the government could issue its new map.

“They have finally developed a value,” said Mr. Stiller, a Republican member of the state General Assembly.  “And then to have that taken away from you?”

 

For the full story, see:

"Rare Woodpecker Sends a Town Running for Its Chain Saws."  The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., September 24, 2006):  20.

 




September 13, 2006

Salt Lake Mayor Violates "Ridiculous" Zoning Law

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, whose "xeriscape" yard violates a Salt Lake City zoning ordinance.  Source of photo:  scan from a paper copy of the NYT article cited below.

 

SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 21 — Covered as it is by red bark and dotted with ornamental grasses and purple sage shrubs, the front yard of Salt Lake City’s mayor stands out in contrast against the other, uniformly green lawns on the tree-lined street.

Not only is Mayor Rocky Anderson’s yard distinctive, though.  It is also illegal, one of hundreds of drought-friendly yards and gardens here that are in violation of zoning ordinances.

In light of a five-year drought that meteorologists say ended last year, Mr. Anderson is one of a growing number of homeowners in desert cities across the West who have traded in their manicured lawns and colorful flower beds for ground cover and gardens that require little water.

In Salt Lake City, though, all front yards must be completely covered with flat green grass, which needs to be watered often to keep it from turning brown and strawlike.  Although the zoning ordinance is rarely enforced, some Salt Lake City leaders — including the mayor — want to bring the letter of law in line with current landscaping trends.

“I think the zoning ordinance is ridiculous,’’ Mr. Anderson said.  “It clearly needs to be changed.” 

 

For the full story, see:

MELISSA SANFORD.  "Salt Lake City Moving Toward Less Thirsty Lawns."  The New York Times (Fri., August 25, 2006):  A12.

 




September 9, 2006

Feds Slowed DSL by Forcing "Open Access"

Here is the background.  From the earliest days of broadband service, controversy raged over whether the physical networks used to transport data should be allowed to control content.  Thus open access rules, which forced telcos to allow broadband company rivals to use their networks at regulated rates.  Cable TV systems, meanwhile, also provided Internet connections via cable modems, but without any obligation to share their facilities.  If an independent Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Covad or Earthlink wanted to connect customers via Comcast's lines, they could negotiate a deal but had no legal club -- as they did under open access.

There was a vigorous campaign to mandate open access on cable similar to DSL; regulators under both Presidents Clinton and Bush refused.  The inevitable litigation ensued; but the Supreme Court set the matter to rest in FCC v. Brand X (2005).  Its 6-3 decision upheld the FCC's classification of cable broadband as an "information service," placing it beyond the scope of common carrier regulation.

For a number of years, therefore, DSL service was subject to open access while cable was not.  Unsurprisingly, DSL providers were blown away early in the race for market share.  By the end of 2002, cable-modem subscribers numbered 11 million and DSL just 6.1 million, according to Leichtman Research.

Then DSL began its deregulatory trek.  The first critical reform was a surprise FCC decision in February 2003 to end "line sharing" rules.  This dramatically raised the prices which ISPs would have to pay to use phone company facilities to provide retail DSL service, dealing a severe blow to companies like Covad.  Echoing conventional wisdom, the New York Times news story forecast a consumer defeat: "High-Speed Service May Cost More."

It hasn't.  Average DSL rates, according to Kagan Research, dropped from $39.51 per month in 2002 to $34.72 in 2003.  Telcos also expanded the scope, capacity and quality of advanced networks, even improving its endemic customer relations problems.

Consumers responded.  DSL, holding just 35% market share in 2002, pulled even with cable among new subscribers in 2004.  Leichtman Research reports that "DSL providers have added more broadband subscribers than cable providers in each of the last six quarters," and that overall, "the first quarter of 2006 was the best ever for both DSL and cable broadband providers."  Unleashed from open access, DSL is attracting customers like never before -- and the overall growth of broadband subscribers (DSL and cable) is notably higher.

 

For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS W. HAZLETT.  "RULE OF LAW; Broadbandits."  Wall Street Journal  (Sat., August 12, 2006):  A9.




July 31, 2006

"Capitalism has Not Corrupted Our Souls; It has Improved Them"


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226556638/sr=8-1/qid=1153708722/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8

 

Deirdre McCloskey's unfashionable,  contrarian and compelling manifesto in favor of what she calls the bourgeois virtues starts with an uncompromising "apology" for how private property, free labor, free trade and prudent calculation are the fount of most ethical good in modern society, not a moral threat to it.

The intelligentsia -- in thrall for centuries to religion and now to socialism -- has for a long time snobbishly despised the bourgeoisie that practices capitalism.  Ms. McCloskey calls such people the "clerisy."  Their values and virtues, like those of the proletariat and the aristocracy, are widely admired.  But almost nobody admires the bourgeoisie.  Yet it was for anti-bourgeois ideologies, she notes, that "the twentieth century paid the butcher's bill."

As Ms. McCloskey explains:  "Anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for government action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention."  By contrast, she argues, "capitalism has not corrupted our souls.  It has improved them."

 

For the full review, see:

MATT RIDLEY.  "Capitalism Without Tears; Fashionable thinkers sneer at the free market and its practitioners, but economic liberty may actually be a force for personal goodness."   The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., July 22, 2006):  P10.

(Note:  in the passage above, I took the liberty of correcting a misspelling of "Deirdre.") 

 

The full citation to the McCloskey book is: 

McCloskey, Deirdre N.  The Bourgeois Virtues:  Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2006.  (616 pages, $32.50)





July 5, 2006

Russians Try to Steal Rocker's Vacuum Tube Factory

Mike Matthews holding one of the vacuum tubes produced in the Russian factory he owns.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. C1)  SARATOV, Russia — Mike Matthews, a sound-effects designer and one-time promoter of Jimi Hendrix, bought an unusual Russian factory making vacuum tubes for guitar amplifiers.  Now he has encountered a problem increasingly common here: someone is trying to steal his company.

Sharp-elbowed personalities in Russia's business world are threatening this factory in a case that features accusations of bribery and dark hints of involvement by the agency that used to be the K.G.B.

Though similar to hundreds of such disputes across Russia, this one is resonating around the world, particularly in circles of musicians and fans of high-end audio equipment.

Russia is one of only three countries still making vacuum tubes for use in reproducing music, an aging technology that nonetheless "warms up" the sound of electronic music in audio equipment.

"It's rock 'n' roll versus the mob," Mr. Matthews, 64, said in a telephone interview from New York, where he manages his business distributing the Russian vacuum tubes.  "I will not give in to racketeers."

Yet the hostile takeover under way here is not strictly mob-related.  It is a dispute peculiar to a country where property rights — whether for large oil companies, car dealerships or this midsize factory — seem always open to renegotiation.  It provides a view of the wobbly understanding of ownership that still prevails.

. . .

(p. C4)  If the tube factory dies, so will the future of a rock 'n' roll sound dating back half a century, the rich grumble of a guitar tube amplifier — think of Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" — that musicians say cannot be replicated with modern technology.

"It's nice and sweet and just pleasing sounding," Peter Stroud, the guitarist for Sheryl Crow, said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.  "It's a smooth, crunchy distortion that just sounds good.  It just feels good to play on a tube amp."

He added:  "It would be a catastrophe for the music industry if something happened to that plant."

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "From Russia, With Dread; American Faces a Truly Hostile Takeover Attempt at His Factory."  The New York Times   (Tuesday, May 16, 2006):  C1 & C4.

 

The transistor disrupted the vacuum tube, a case that would usually be described as an episode of creative destruction.  One secondary lesson from the story above is that there may be a previously unremarked symmetry to the process of disruption.  A disruptive technology typically appeals only to a niche in the market, while the incumbent technology dominates the mainstream.  But after the disruptive technology improves sufficiently to capture much of the mainstream market, maybe there often will remain a niche market that still prefers the older disruptive technology?

To use Danny DeVito's example in "Other People's Money," the car may have disrupted horse-and-buggies.  But for some nostalgic "jobs" the horse-and-buggy may still be the better product, so there will likely remain some demand for buggy whips.

To the extent that this phenomenon is significant, it might serve to ease the labor market transition when one technology leapfrogs another.

 

VacuumTubeBox.jpg A vacuum tube used in guitar amplifiers, that was produced in the factory that Mike Matthews owned.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.




May 5, 2006

Expecting Nationalization, Companies Held Off Investing in Bolivia

 

Bolivian President Morales announcing the nationalization of Bolivia's energy industry.  Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/03/world/americas/03bolivia.html

 

Bolivia's nationalization of its energy industry, announced Monday by President Evo Morales, was a vivid illustration that the populist policies, championed most prominently by Venezuela, were spreading.

. . .

. . .  while Brazil might feel tremors from Bolivia's decision, it is Bolivia that may be risking its potential as a major natural gas exporter.

Companies had been holding off on investments in Bolivia for some time, unnerved by growing talk of precisely the kind of step that Mr. Morales took this week.  Foreign direct investment, much of which goes to energy and mining, fell to $103 million in 2005, from $1 billion in 1999.

What is more, unlike oil, natural gas is not easily exportable, with costly liquefaction facilities, customized tankers or pipelines needed to take the fuel to markets.  Chile, a potential market for Bolivian gas, may choose instead a project to import the fuel from as far away as Africa.

Even Brazil, while now reliant on Bolivian gas, has recently discovered large offshore gas reserves of its own.  Thus the window of opportunity for Bolivia to become a leading gas exporter may be closing, even as it grows more courageous in its dealings with foreigners.

"If Brazil decides to give the cold shoulder to Bolivia," said Carlos Alberto López, an independent consultant for oil companies in La Paz, "Bolivia will be left with its gas underground."

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO and JUAN FORERO.  "Bolivia's Energy Takeover:  Populism Rules in the Andes."  The New York Times  (Weds., May 3, 2006):  A8.

 

 BolivianSoldiersNationalization.jpg Bolivian soldiers after seizing natural gas facilities.  Source of image: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/03/world/americas/03bolivia.html

 




May 3, 2006

Jane Jacobs Saw Spontaneous Cities Work Better Than Planned Cities

Jane Jacobs died on Tues., April 25, 2006 at the age of 89.  ("Jane Jacobs, Author and Activist, Dies."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., April 25, 2006), online edition.)

 

Jacobs's ideas came from the heart.  Her foray into urban theory was partly inspired by the failed urban renewal efforts of the post-World War II era that displaced tens of thousands of poor and minority residents and resulted in the isolation or destruction of previously vibrant neighborhoods in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

Fundamentally, there is little difference behind the social engineering mentality of those who wrought the disaster of postwar urban renewal and the mindset of today's planners trying to regulate away suburbia in hopes of master-planned urban living for everyone.

More and more, these planners are calling for the centralization of land-use control under state and regional governments, usurping the American tradition of local control over development.  In the view of many planners, this command-and-control bureaucracy is needed because municipal planning is too "uncoordinated" to achieve "societally beneficial" goals like open-space preservation, mass transit and urban densification.

But if they go back and reread "Death and Life," they'll find Jacobs rightly asking, "How is bigger administration, with labyrinths nobody can comprehend or navigate, an improvement over crazy-quilt township and suburban governments?"

She went on to ridicule the idea of regionalism as "escapism from intellectual helplessness" predicated on the delusion that the problems planners are unable to solve at the local level will somehow be more easily addressed on a larger-scale, concluding that "no other expertise can substitute for locality knowledge in planning."

Politicians and planners would do well to commemorate Jacobs by revisiting her work.  Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned planners, you can't "create" a vibrant city or neighborhood.  The best cities and neighborhoods just happen, and the best thing we can do is to step out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs.

 

For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD GILROY.  "Urban Planners Are Blind To What Jane Jacobs Really Saw."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., May 2, 2006):  D8.

 

The reference to Jacobs' most important book is:

Jacobs, Jane.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  New York:  Random House, 1961.

 

 DeathAndLifeOfGreatAmericanCitiesBK.jpg Source of book image: http://archives.cnn.com/2000/books/news/11/23/jane.jacobs.ap/




March 28, 2006

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

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


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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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


For the full commentary, see:

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


A related observation:

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

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


Source of the observation:

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




March 2, 2006

Owlish Evidence: More on Why Crichton is Right

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


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

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

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

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


For the full story, see:

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




January 28, 2006

Private Property Rights Would Help American Indians

(p. W11) The main problem with Indian reservations isn't, as some argue, that they were established on worthless tracts of grassland. Consider the case of Buffalo County, S.D., which Census data reveal to be America's poorest county. Some 2,000 people live there. More than 30% of the homes are headed by women without husbands. The median household income is less than $13,000. The unemployment rate is sky high.

Just to the east of Buffalo County lies Jerauld County, which is similar in size and population. Yet only 6% of its homes are headed by women without husbands, the median household income is more than $30,000, and the unemployment rate hovers around 3%. The fundamental difference between these two counties is that the Crow Creek Indian Reservation occupies much of Buffalo County. The place is a pocket of poverty in a land of plenty.

Maybe we should give land back to the rez-dwellers, so that they may own private property the way other Americans do. Currently, the inability to put up land as collateral for personal mortgages and loans is a major obstacle to economic development. This problem is complicated by the fact that not all reservations have adopted uniform commercial codes or created court systems that are independent branches of tribal government -- the sorts of devices and institutions that give confidence to investors who might have the means to fund the small businesses that are the engines of rural economies.

. . .

. . . the real tragedy is that reservations, as collectivist enclaves within a capitalist society, have beaten down their inhabitants with brute force rather than lifting them up with opportunity. As their economies have withered, other social pathologies have taken root: Indians are distressingly prone to crime, alcoholism and suicide. Families have suffered enormously. About 60% of Indian children are born out of wedlock. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by because so many arrangements are informal, Indian kids are perhaps five times as likely as white ones to live in some form of foster care. Their schools are depressingly bad.

Even if casino revenues were able to address these soul-crushing problems -- a doubtful proposition -- most reservations are too isolated geographically to profit from big-dollar gambling. Yet the rise of the casinos may help point the way forward: Their ability to flourish contradicts the tenured Marxists in ethnic-studies departments who claim that communitarian Indian cultures aren't compatible with market capitalism. After all, it takes entrepreneurship to run some of the world's biggest casinos.

What's more, this modern-day entrepreneurship is part of a long tradition: Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) described the Chinooks as "great hagglers in trade." I once visited Poverty Point, a 3,000-year-old set of earthen mounds in Louisiana; the museum there displayed ancient artifacts found at the site, including copper from the Great Lakes and obsidian from the Rockies. These prehistoric Americans were budding globalizers, and there's no reason why their descendants should remain walled off from the world economy.



For the full story, see:

JOHN J. MILLER. "The Projects on the Prairie." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 27, 2006): W11.(Note: ellipses added.)





January 24, 2006

"Sachs Aid Model Has Financed Tyranny": More on Why Aftrica is Poor


Famine in Niger is no surprise -- desert wastes, locusts and decades of Marxist rule keep it second-to-last on the world poverty list. Famine in the fertile climes of southern and eastern Africa, however, seems more shocking. But there's a common thread: centralized state rule -- incompetent at best -- marked by corruption and sustained by aid. These are the shackles that keep Africans poor: It would be nice if EU and U.S. trade barriers were removed at trade talks in Hong Kong this week, but exports are a distant notion to the 75% of Africans who live off the land.

Niger is little-blessed by nature, but it has also spent its postcolonial era trying various forms of failed government, with Marxism reigning longest. A quarter of the population -- 2.5 million people -- faces starvation. Yet more temperate southern and eastern African countries are on the edge of famine, too, with 10 million affected in southern Africa alone. Again, we find the same economic profile: Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho all lack economic freedom and property rights; all have economies mismanaged by the state; all depend on aid. All these countries have a history of utopian schemes that failed to produce everlasting manna. State farms, marketing boards, land redistribution, price controls and huge regional tariffs left few incentives or opportunities for subsistence farmers to expand. Despite torrents of aid, these cruel social experiments could not turn sands verdant or prevent the granaries of southern and eastern Africa from rotting.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi believes that allowing Ethiopians to own their land would make them sell out to multinationals. He seems to have overlooked a basic market principle: It demands a willing seller and a willing buyer at an agreed price. If that price is worth selling for, the farmer might have some money to reinvest elsewhere; if that price is worth buying for, the purchaser must have plans to make the land profitable. If there is no sale, owners might have an incentive to invest in their own land and future, having, at last, the collateral of the land on which to get a loan. After decades of socialism, Ethiopia's agricultural sector -- the mainstay of the economy -- is less productive per capita than 20 years ago when Band Aid tried to defeat famine. Although 60% of the country is arable, only 10% has been cultivated. Ethiopia is entirely dependent on donations; but instead of grasping reality, Mr. Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair's "Commission for Africa," is forcing resettlement on 2.2 million people.

In Zimbabwe, the murderous kleptocrats of Robert Mugabe's regime deny that land seizure has pushed their rich and fertile country into famine: Some three million people face starvation today.

. . .

African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy. But the ruling cliques will do none of these unless forced to do so as a condition of aid. The Sachs aid model has financed tyranny and corruption for 40 years, leaving Africans destitute. The world trade meeting in Hong Kong will hear cries for "Trade Justice" for Africa, representing more protectionism and more state-run, aid-fueled schemes. What we really need is economic freedom and the rule of law at home: We are perfectly capable of improving our own lot if only allowed to do so.


For the full commentary, see:

FRANKLIN CUDJOE. "The Terms of Trade: Africa Needs Freer Markets -- and Fewer Tyrants." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 14, 2005): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: The WSJ identifies Mr. Cudjoe as "director of Imani, a policy think tank in Ghana.")




January 21, 2006

Land Next to Proposed Ethanol Plant Suddenly Declared "Blighted"


(p. 1A) ORD, Neb. - Carl and Charlene Schauer were upset and more than a little offended when the City Council declared their 50-acre cornfield "blighted and substandard."

Nothing is wrong with the cornfield, located almost five miles outside of town.

Nothing - except its proximity to the site of a proposed $75 million ethanol plant that local officials say will bring 34 jobs to the community of 2,300.

Invented to give cities the power to enlist private development in clearing slums, the "blighted and substandard" designation has become a critical tool for economic development projects across Nebraska.

It allows cities to use property taxes to help pay development costs on behalf of private enterprise, under a mechanism called tax increment financing. That allows increased property taxes generated by improvements of blighted property to be used to help fund the redevelopment.

Blighted land even can be condemned through eminent domain, then turned over to private developers. That practice was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Stunned by that ruling, several Nebraska lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent local governments from using eminent domain to acquire private property that would be turned over to another private (p. 2A) owner for economic development.

Three bills (Legislative Bills 924, 910 and 799) specifically protect agricultural land, forbidding governments to declare it blighted. A fourth bill (LB 1252) would limit eminent domain to public projects like parks and roads.

And State Sen. Matt Connealy of Decatur proposes a constitutional amendment (LR 272 CA) to remove the requirement that land be designated as substandard and blighted before cities can use property taxes to help private developers pay project costs.

Connealy said it appears some smaller cities are pushing the boundaries of the blight definition.

The Ord ethanol project has been touted by Gov. Dave Heineman, the New York Times and others as an example of small-town hustle and progress.

Carl Schauer's son, Curt, and his wife, Susan, however, have gone to court to try to stop it.

They live directly across Nebraska Highway 11 from Carl Schauer's cornfield. Although not included in the proposed ethanol site, their home is less than 1,000 feet from where the plant would be built. They are worried about noise, smell, traffic and health hazards from the around-the-clock operation.

"I guess we're the sacrificial lambs in the name of economic development," said Susan Schauer, a licensed practical nurse.

A local official said the city does not want to take even the smallest part of Curt Schauer's property if he doesn't want to sell it.

"I don't think anybody in this community would ever do that," said Bethanne Kunz of the Valley County Economic Development Board.

After Schauer rejected an offer to buy a strip of his land for a railcar loading area, Kunz said, the ethanol site was reconfigured to leave out Schauer's property. The field was annexed by the city as part of a redevelopment zone under a Nebraska law that allows small towns and villages to acquire outlying land through "remote annexation."

The Schauer family still doesn't know why the field was declared blighted - and it's worried that the designation could spell trouble. Could their land be taken if another new factory wanted to locate in the area?

"I think it's wrong that government can take private property and turn it over to private enterprise," said State Sen. Tom Baker of Trenton.

Government already offers plenty of help - including grants and tax breaks - to business to encourage development, said State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. "Does government have to give away the farm, too?"



Read the full story at:

REED, LESLIE. "'Blight' label raises concerns." Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Saturday, January 21, 2006): A1 & A2.




January 19, 2006

Chinese Version of 'Eminent Domain": Villagers Die Protesting Theft of Their Land

"People here have tried everything you can think of to get the problem solved before this happened," said a resident who gave his name as Chen. "They talked to the village committee, the township and municipal governments. One of them even went to Beijing. But nothing is done - the village officials just simply ignore them."

Mr. Chen described the peak of the protests, on Saturday night, when the deaths occurred. "It was like a war, so real and so brutal," he said. "I did not see who started it, but I saw policemen were beating the villagers and the villagers were fighting back with stones and firecrackers."

Since then, villagers said, many residents are being forced to report each morning to the police, who detain them until late in the evening, when they are allowed to return home until the next morning.

As with so many recent rural protests, Panlong's problems began with land. Many villagers told stories of having been deceived by corrupt local officials who they said had enriched themselves by selling off rights to the villagers' farmland.

"Two years back, one day some villagers were asked to attend a routine meeting," said a 42-year-old farmer who gave his name as Fang. "They went and they paid 10 yuan for participation fees, and they signed in as usual. Later, when we discovered our land was being sold, we asked the village committee to explain what's going on, and they answered that we had signed the contract. Suddenly we remembered that meeting, and everyone understood that we had already been cheated."


For the full story, see:

FRENCH, HOWARD W. "Panlong Journal: Visit to Chinese Anytown Shows a Dark Side of Progress." The New York Times (Thurs., January 19, 2006): A4.




January 14, 2006

Only 13% of Americans Want to Live in Dense Urban Places

(p. A8) Strict growth limits have driven population and job growth further out, in part by raising the price of land within the growth boundary, to communities across the Columbia River in Washington state and to distant places in Oregon. Suburbia has not been crushed, but simply pushed farther away. Portland's dispersing trend appears to have intensified since 2000: The city's population growth has slowed considerably, and 95% of regional population increase has taken place outside the city limits.

This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people's aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, "details too intimate" to merit the attention of the university-trained. Even around cities like Paris, London, Toronto and Tokyo -- all places with a strong tradition of central planning -- growth continues to follow the preference of citizens to look for lower-density communities. High energy prices and convenient transit have not stopped most of these cities from continuing to lose population to their ever-expanding suburban rings.

But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside. The preference for suburban-style living continues to be particularly strong among younger families. Market trends parallel these opinions. Despite widespread media exposure about a massive "return to the city," demographic data suggest that the tide continues to go out toward suburbia, which now accounts for two-thirds of the population in our large metropolitan areas. Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 85% of all growth in these areas. And much of the growth credited to "cities" has actually taken place in the totally suburb-like fringes of places like Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

. . .

It is time politicians recognized how their constituents actually want to live. If not, they will only hurt their communities, and force aspiring middle-class families to migrate ever further out to the periphery for the privacy, personal space and ownership that constitutes the basis of their common dreams.

For the full article, see:

JOEL KOTKIN. "The War Against Suburbia." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 14, 2006): A8.


For more of Kotkin's observations, it might be worth consulting his: The City: A Global History. Modern Library, 2005.




January 12, 2006

Nebraska's Ban on Corporate Farming May be History (Three Cheers)

(1A) Initiative 300 generally bans corporations and certain other business entities from owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in Nebraska, although there are a number of exceptions geared toward family-based organizations.

It was added to the Nebraska Constitution through a petition drive and vote of the people.

Since receiving 57 percent of the vote in 1982, Initiative 300 has survived several state and federal court challenges, a petition drive to repeal it and attempts by state lawmakers to circumvent it.

The ban was promoted as a way to protect family farms in Nebraska from large corporations.

But Camp ruled that the effort to protect Nebraska farmers violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause because it discriminated against out-of-state interests.

"There is considerable evidence to support the premise that Initiative 300 was conceived and born in a protectionist fervor," the judge said.

Camp acknowledged that the ban might promote legitimate state interests, such as conservation of natural resources and rural economic development. But she said the state had not shown that the ban was the only (p. 2A) way to reach those goals.

In the lawsuit, Jones said the result of the ban has been a loss of income because he cannot contract with out-of-state corporations for raising and feeding livestock. The ban also reduces the value of his land and his stock in the family farm corporation by barring potential purchasers.

Other plaintiffs said the ban has prevented them from transferring their farm and ranchland as they wished and has interfered with their ability to compete in a national market.

In addition, the judge agreed with two of the plaintiffs who said the ban violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it says the person holding a majority of a farm must supply a majority of the day-to-day labor on the farm.

One was Shad Dahlgren of Lincoln, who was paralyzed as a teenager and uses a wheelchair. The other is Todd Ehler, an Elkhorn man who also is disabled.

Both said they are limited in their ability to own farms, since they cannot provide the day-to-day labor required under Initiative 300.


Governments do not know, and usually do not seek, the most efficient market structure. When they try to impose one, as in the Nebraska ban on corporate farming, their actions almost always end up reducing efficiency, and increasing prices for consumers.

For the full article, see:

Stoddard, Martha and Bill Hord. "Ruling Hits Corporate Fram Ban: Initiative 300 Unconstitutional, Judge Says." Omaha World-Herald (Sunrise Edition, Friday, December 16, 2005): 1A & 2A.

(The online version is, I believe, the version printed in the evening edition of Thurs., Dec. 15, 2005, which I believe is the same, except for the headline.)




December 18, 2005

Indians "continually raiding and fighting, band against band"

IndianWarsBK.jpg Image source: online version of WSJ article cited below.


The Indians, as Mr. Yenne shows, were far from peaceful, cooperative peoples living in harmony with each other and with nature. They were continually raiding and fighting, band against band, tribe against tribe. They saw each newly arrived white group -- whether English, French, Spanish or Dutch -- as just another tribe to contest with. Some Indian tribes were weakened or decimated by these encounters, others were strengthened by getting hold of guns, iron tools and horses. Adopting the horse culture increased the power of the Plains Indians dramatically, making them especially tough foes for the whites moving into the Great American West.

ROGER D. MCGRATH. "Red vs. White, Uncolored by Ideology." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 13, 2005): D8.

The book McGrath is reviewing:

Bill Yenne. Indian Wars. Westholme, 2005. (325 pages, $26)




December 10, 2005

In Defense of Suburban Sprawl


SprawlBK.jpg Image source: web version of WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. P16) For at least half a century, academics, aesthetes and all-purpose agonizers have looked at our ever-sprawling cities with disdain and even horror. The spectacle of rings and rings of humankind nested in single-family homes has inspired in them all sorts of revulsion and, relatedly, a whole discipline of blame: Suburban sprawl has been faulted for exacerbating racial tension, contributing to energy shortages, worsening pollution and heating up the globe -- even expanding waistlines.

Largely missing from this debate has been a sound and reasoned history of this pattern of living. With Robert Bruegmann's "Sprawl: A Compact History," we now have one. What a pleasure it is: well-written, accessible and eager to challenge the current cant about sprawl.

No, Mr. Bruegmann says, don't go blaming the Federal Highway Administration for sprawl or the executives at General Motors and Exxon or racist developers fleeing urban environments. Don't even blame Karl Rove. You really don't need to blame anyone. Mr. Bruegmann notes that contemporary sprawl -- best defined by places like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Houston -- is nothing new. It represents "merely the latest chapter in a long and curious history."

What propels that curious history is something often overlooked by the makers of grand theories -- the particular choices of individual human beings. Mr. Bruegmann places the urge to sprawl squarely where it belongs: on people's logical desire to escape the high costs, crime, pollution, congestion and lack of privacy that accompanies life in dense cities.



For the full review, read:

JOEL KOTKIN. "In Praise of 'Burbs. Academics, planners and tastemakers may vilify suburbia as an American blight. But even the Romans knew: It can be nice to get out of the city." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2005): P16.

The book that Kotkin's review is praising:

Robert Bruegmann. Sprawl: A Compact History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. (264 pages, $27.50)




September 10, 2005

"Treat Me with Benign Neglect."


Source: Screen capture from CNN "Refusing to Leave" report by Dan Simon on the morning of 9-9-05.

"This is America. Has your neighborhood ever been invaded by state troopers from another state?" "I will leave when I am dead." Ashton O'Dwyer can't understand why he is being forced to leave his dry, intact home in New Orleans. He asks the city: "Treat me with benign neglect." The 9-9-05 report was followed up by Drew Griffin on 9-10-05 with the "Staying Put" report that presented businesses, and Afro-Americans, expressing sentiments similar to O'Dwyer's.

Dr. Michael Baden on the "On the Record" Fox News show, hosted by Greta Van Susteren at about 9:47 PM central time on 9-9-05, stated that there was little danger from the "toxic" water unless people drink it. (Toxic water is the main reason given for the current, post-hurricane, forced evacuations.) Baden claims if the city wants to help people, they would be much more effective if they sprayed the water against mosquitoes.

(Dr. Michael Baden is the Chief Forensic Pathologist of the New York State Police, and was formerly the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.)

Watch the CNN report: "Refusing to Leave":

Watch the CNN report: "Staying Put":

For more on O'Dwyer, see also:

CHRISTOPHER COOPER. "Old-Line Families Escape Worst of Flood and Plot the Future." THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (September 8, 2005): A1.




September 4, 2005

Looting New Orleans


"In downtown New Orleans, where looters are floating garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street." From an online slideshow of looting at Wal-Mart and Walgreens in New Orleans. Caption for photo, and photo itself, from: http://www.nbc10.com/slideshow/news/4917518/detail.html?qs=;s=4;p=news;dm=ss;w=400 (POSTED: 9:45 pm EDT August 30, 2005; UPDATED: 10:53 am EDT August 31, 2005; Downloaded Sept. 5, 2005)


Harold Andersen reports on the observations of his wife's cousin, Michael Ross, a member of the faculty of the history department of Loyola University in New Orleans:

When the levees broke and put the major share of New Orleans under water, a substantial portion of the city was still dry because it was on higher ground, above sea level. Included were the French Quarter, some attractive residential neighborhoods and the land on which Loyola University is located.

There was some wind damage in the higher-ground areas of the city, but those areas were basically preserved and could have served as a base from which the city could be rebuilt.

"But they're gone now, as a result of looting," Ross told us.

The looting wasn't random. Organized street gangs, armed with weapons stolen from looted stores, went about looting quickly and systematically, Ross said. In residential areas, they went down streets kicking in the doors of house after house after house, leaving the residences in shambles.

One unforgettable scene, Ross said, was the telecast showing five pickup trucks of gang members leaving a looted Wal-Mart store with dozens of weapons they had stolen.

Ross is pessimistic about the chances that Loyola and Tulane Universities will reopen this fall, even if their campuses are intact. Students, particularly new students, are most likely to be discouraged from attending school in a nearly destroyed city.

On a personal note, Ross expects that the house in which he has been living will be a victim of looting and his computer files are likely to have been destroyed.

Andersen, Harold W. "If New Orleans is Dead Forever, Looters Delivered the Fatal Blow." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, September 4, 2005): 13B. Also online at: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=609&u_sid=2006986

New Orleans is the opposite of America, and we must hold onto places that are the opposite of us. New Orleans is not fast or energetic or efficient, not a go-get-'em Calvinist well-ordered city. It's slow, lazy, sleepy, sweaty, hot, wet, lazy and exotic. (p. 9)

Childress, Mark. "Tribute: What It Means to Miss New Orleans." New York Times, Section 9 (September 4, 2005): 9 & 11.


OK, so then why is it that all us fast, energetic, efficient, go-get-'em Calvinists are responsible for coughing up billions to save a lifestyle we don't much get to enjoy?




August 14, 2005

Stealing Indian Land

These lands once belonged to the Kiowas and the Crows, but we whipped these nations out of them, and in this we did what the white men do when they want the lands of the Indians. We met the Kiowas and the Crows and whipped them at the Kiowa Creek, just below where we now are. We met them and whipped them again, and the last time at Crow Creek.

Oglala Lakota Leader Black Hawk, 1851; as quoted in a display at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, designed and built by the National Park Service, and observed on 8/13/05.




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