Thursday, January 27, 2011

Disney's EPCOT and the Dream of Freedom

I thought that I would take a break from my healthcare postings and add this article that I read on today of the same title by Aaron Everitt. I hope you enjoy it.

I recently took a trip to Orlando, Florida, for the International Home Builders' Show. After touring the floor and having my suspicions about the industry’s issues of corruption and collusion verified, I decided I would invest some time in a different, more inspiring place — Disney World. I love the Disney theme parks. They are creative, fun, and have some of the best-executed designs anywhere in the world.

At one point during the excursion in the theme parks, I had the chance to go to a new attraction that is a museum about Disney's Florida project. There is a fascinating video of Walt Disney speaking about the project one month before his death. It was a political video that had been used to persuade the Florida legislature to allow Disney to construct Disney World. It was also intended to persuade the state government that because of the size and scale of the project the company would need to receive some relief from code requirements and to establish the Reedy Creek District, an autonomous pseudo government that oversees the entire Disney property. The district gave Disney authority over its own property and relief from significant oversight by the state government in Florida.

In the video, Walt Disney spoke of his dreams for EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

I thought that Walt's saying "EPCOT will always be a showcase … of American free enterprise" was a nice line, and given his propensity for being avuncular it came across as quite folksy; it harked back to a bygone era. It stirred in me a fondness for the past and a thought that there must have been an era sometime in America when people spoke openly of profit and free enterprise. I felt the urge to wonder if there was more to our history than the simple statement that "we've always been at war with the capitalists." Perhaps there was a time when we were freer, when it was copacetic for businesspeople to celebrate free enterprise.

Spending a few days in the Disney World parks and seeing the full expression of creativity, I began to wonder if, even though EPCOT was never implemented in the form that Walt Disney had envisioned, this place wasn't nonetheless accomplishing that altruistic goal of showcasing American free enterprise. Because of the early work that the Walt Disney Company did to establish their own pseudo-government entity, it appeared there was more flexibility in how they could work and design on the Florida property than in the heavily regulated field of commercial development within the confines of a city or town jurisdiction.

I thought for a moment about my travels to this showcase of free enterprise and wondered just how much of the free-enterprise system was left in America. I began to recall all of the elements of my travel and realized quite quickly that, while we may hold out the idea of being a free society, government and its regulators have their mitts on just about every facet of our lives.

I remembered that it had started with my Greek yogurt the morning I left — I was able to see that what I was consuming had no fat and 20 grams of protein. This information had been nicely printed on the back label of the product, a label mandated and standardized by the FDA.

As I kissed my wife goodbye and put on my coat, I noticed that it had a mandatory materials label.

I locked the front door behind me, and even that was tested by an EPA-approved method that allowed me to receive my certificate of occupancy to live in the home — because my home energy rating had been acceptable to the state in which I live.

I scraped the ice off my window to find a federally mandated vehicle identification number and emission sticker in the window. The government had required my car manufacturer to provide the label so that they could track my vehicle, license it, and potentially reveal my private information.

The emissions sticker was there to verify that the car had originally been built to CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards and that my emission levels were at a tolerable level for state licensing.

I sat down and put on my safety belt, a required part of the driving experience in my state.

I exited onto Interstate 25 on a federally-mandated exit radius and drove the state-mandated speed limit to the government-owned airport on a highway designed to federally-mandated standards.

Along the way, I stopped to purchase gasoline that had been sanctioned clean enough by the state, through a pump tested by the state, with a credit card that is subject to federal regulations that are ever on the rise.

I parked my car and headed inside to take my place in the TSA's Fourth Amendment-free zone. I was subjected to a warrantless search and seizure. I was treated as the common criminal I am not and asked to remove my shoes, belt, and any other item that would have been required for my entrance into any café in the airport — another state regulation from the health department, I might add.

I proceeded through the checkpoint and down to the terminal. The PA announcer reminded me that the Department of Homeland Security had raised the terror alert in 2006 to "orange."

Once on the plane I spent the first few minutes of the taxi being reminded of all the federal regulations I had the chance to violate in this sardine can in the air.

I was shown how to put on a seat belt in a safety demonstration required by the FAA. We were told about the federal violations of smoking a cigarette, tampering with a smoke detector, and sitting in an exit row if under the age of 16. I was also told of the mandate that I had to refrain from using my electronic devices for the first ten minutes of flight.

After we were finally in the air, I was reminded that gathering at the front of the airplane waiting for one of the two bathrooms allotted for 300 people was a federal offense against a federal regulation.

Once in Orlando, I was picked up by my traveling companions and whisked away to the hotel. I crossed the street intersection using a federally mandated ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) handicap ramp with federally standardized truncated domes, climbed onto the federally mandated, state-inspected elevator in the building, and went to our room. Once there, the strange layout of the bathroom left three of us to use one awkwardly located toilet, because our room was helping the building meet its compliance to ADA standards.

We traveled to one of our favorite and most inspiring hotels, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, and caught a bus there at the facility. It smoothly lowered to comply with the ADA and let us on.

Once in Disney World, I saw a crane that was working on Cinderella's castle in Fantasyland. I also saw several signs that Disney was adhering to the demands of OSHA (the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration). OSHA requires a construction fence, the wearing of mandated hard hats, and the use of awkward safety ropes — none of which was contributing to the illusion of Fantasyland or actually making workers safer.

The silt fence that surrounded the construction site was mandated by the EPA to help keep the water (which Disney uses for recreation and to derive a premium on their properties) clean.

We made our way to Space Mountain, a high-speed roller coaster that is entirely in the dark. By "entirely" I mean with the exception of the government-mandated exit signs that distract from the overall theme and scene of a futuristic rocket in space. It struck me as odd that it would be required that I know where the exits were at all times as I was strapped into my harness, blazing past them at 20 miles per hour.

I needed a bathroom break and noticed that the toilet I used had a federally-mandated "gallons per flush" tattooed on the top of the porcelain. I thought it was interesting that Disney has no legal ability to make an analysis of the most efficient toilet and use a different kind if they choose. I am certain that they would be the best judge of what toilet makes their bottom line better. If more water makes toilets clog less, and their paid staff has to clean up the ultimate disaster less frequently, can't Disney be the judge of that efficiency? After all, I know through attending several Disney Institute business seminars that the company spends millions of dollars on efficiency studies and monitoring each year in order to save themselves millions in the future.

Finally it was time to retire to our hotel, and so we embarked on a trip on the monorail, a futuristic mode of transportation that Walt Disney helped create. When I was younger, I loved riding in the front car along with the pilot, as he explained the ins and outs of driving this sleek method of transport. This time again, the door to the cockpit was open, and we made our way to the front. We asked if we could ride with the pilot in the front car that was designed for passengers, and we were politely denied entrance.

When we probed further, we found that the federal government had reclassified the monorail from a theme-park attraction to a mode of transportation, and now it fell under the watchful eye of the TSA. It, like many other forms of transportation, was now subject to all the rules that were passed in a frenzy after the 9/11 tragedies. The TSA is now spending effort and energy monitoring the monorail at Disney World, the very safest method of transportation, which has had one fatal accident in over 50 years of service.

The sheer intellectual dishonesty of the state, which has concluded that Disney has no private interest in monitoring its own safety at as high a level as possible, indicates to me that the rules are not about keeping people safe. There are significant financial and aesthetic incentives for Disney to make sure that the water that surrounds its properties is clean and that the environment that it has billions of dollars invested in remains as pristine and wonderful as it can, so that Disney can continue to derive the highest possible dollar for its free-enterprise endeavor.

It is obvious that Disney has a high stake in seeing that the workers who work for them are safe and free of situations that might cause any litigious heartache. In the end, all this makes one aware that none of the current system of regulation is about the actual safety or benefit of the people. It becomes crystal clear that government's goal is maintaining as much power as possible over people and free enterprise.

If one thinks further about the confiscation of money through all of the additional taxes levied upon each of the events in my trip, the control over our lives by the bureaucrats is astounding. Walt Disney maintained his desire to see the free-enterprise system of America always promoted as the solution to issues that societies face. The unfortunate reality of the present is that Disney World is becoming more of a museum about a bygone era than a workable showcase for the future. The inventiveness and creativity has become invested in finding ways around the government codes the company is required to meet instead of ways to promote free enterprise.

Originally posted here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do We Need Medical Licensing At All?

Imagine this scenario. You were born and raised in India. You excel at school and you graduate high school at the top of your class. You go on to college and study to become a doctor. You go through all the tests and the training and you become a well paid doctor. At 40, you decide that you want to move to the United States. When you come to the United States, you now have to go through all the licensing procedures again. You cannot simply start working, the government needs to certify you. Inefficiency? This is not a bad example of it.

To put the point forward simply, medical licensing is unnecessary and a waste of resources. Generally speaking, what good does it do? Imagine the case of a world without medical licensing. You would probably go to school and then graduate and start working for a company in some introductory position. Eventually you move up in the company and you could switch companies if you wanted to. The system would operate very similarly to the way corporate jobs work today.

But what about those who are not qualified to be doctors? They could practice all they want to the detriment of us all! Well, not really. After all, if you could to the hospital which hires qualified doctors that they trust, you're more likely to go there than to get your headaches checked out by Sam, the random guy you found in the phonebook. Not to say that individuals could not build up their reputations and work individually, but the real issue here is that trust would be a big part. The problem of unqualified doctors would not be a problem because no one would go to see them.

So what is the advantage? An assurance of medical competency? Private companies could easily do that. We don't need the government to do quality control on our computers, but we buy them from companies and we usually get a good product. There are no advantages to medical licensing, but there are plenty of disadvantages.

For this, we only need to look at the practical example. Look at medical licensing and schools in this country. A prospective doctor must first go to college, and to get a degree from an accredited institution he must take a performing arts class, a social studies course, English classes, and many other irrelevant classes. This is a waste of time. We do not need doctors that can tell you what Iago symbolizes in Othello. Why do we waste sparse resources and drive up the cost of their education in the process? Then we have the problem of licensing being controlled by the AMA who has it in their best interest to limit the number of doctors so as to keep doctor salaries high.

Licensing has been, is, and always will be a terrible idea. We gain nothing and the process allows corruption and inefficiency. The only reason that we continue this ridiculous system is to satisfy doctors and so that politicians can win elections (ending medical licenses would be a loser politically because people vote with their first emotions rather than really thinking an issue out). For we the people, it does nothing but drive up the cost of medical care by limiting the number of doctors.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How the AMA artificially limits the number of doctors

The American Medical Association controls medical schools and licensure of doctors. In other words, this organization can directly control the number of doctors in the United States. It is an organization composed of doctors working for the advantage of doctors. There is a name for such an organization: labor union.

Milton Friedman was one of the most vociferous opponents of the AMA. As he put it, "The American Medical Association is perhaps the strongest trade union in the United States." Obviously the effect of such a union with governmental powers can be detrimental, but how bad is it?

It is very bad. Doctors are still making good salaries in other countries. In the United States, doctors get paid exorbitant salaries. This does not make sense. The demand for these jobs is very high, so we should expect to see a great decrease in these salaries, but it has not happened. Just look at this chart of acceptance rates at medical schools:

There are currently 159 medical schools in the United States. At the beginning of the 19th century there were about 166. We have 4 times the population in this country now than we had in 1900. 4 times the population, yet less medical schools. In terms of the number of doctors, the United States currently has 2.3 doctors per 1000 people. In 1910 there were 1.46 doctors per 1000 people. Yet the services we can provide has expanded greatly.

The number of doctors is an obvious problem as evidence by physician salary by country. This system can and should be fixed. The AMA needs to be seen for what it is, a strong labor union only looking out for its members. Fixing this problem is the first step in fixing US healthcare.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Neither Party Knows How to Fix Healthcare

The Democrats want to make us like Europe, and the Republicans want us to keep the system that we have been using for years. Both systems are wrought with problems. Europeans do nothing innovative in terms of healthcare unless they learn about it from another country. They face long lines and rationed care. The United States has skyrocketing insurance costs that deny access to many people. I know that Republicans have proposals, but they do not answer the fundamental issues in my opinion. Democrats just want to ignore the problem and make healthcare a collective cost. I have a better solution.

First, what are the main issues plaguing our healthcare system? A shortage of doctors, an obscure price system, and government favoritism, just to name a few issues. This will be the first of a series of posts on healthcare since this is and will be a big issue. Right now, though, I will merely post a snippet about these problems and what to do about them.

The shortage of doctors
Doctors in this country get paid great salaries, but they are in a mountain of debt when they get out of medical school. The problem here is that new medical schools are impossible to open because of pressure from the American Medical Association (who want to keep the salaries of doctors high, hence they act like a union). And the effect of this is simple: lower supply means higher prices all other things being equal. Adding more doctors to this industry can do nothing but help to fix the problem.

An obscure price system
Do you know how much an appendectomy costs? How about open heart surgery? A simple physical? Nobody knows these costs because government incentivizes the purchase of medical insurance. HMO's were unheard of at the beginning of the century, limited mostly to people in very high risk lines of work. Because of this incentivization, nobody knows the price of most operations, hence an obscure price system. This only serves to allow prices to rise because competition cannot work correctly if consumers do not know prices.

Government favoritism
Besides the obvious case of insurance plans, government also shows favoritism in hospitals. Non-profits get many tax exemptions, and for-profit hospitals are not allowed to open. What is the difference between for profit and non-profit hospitals? For profit hospitals would seek to become more efficient and lower prices in order to keep profits high. Such an incentive does not exist for non-profits. It does not matter for them.

Medicare and Medicaid
The problem of unintended consequences was largely ignored during the Great Society era, and this is one of its hallmarks. These programs raise demand. The result is obvious: higher prices. Programs such as these do nothing to answer the underlying problem of economics, which is scarcity. We should incentivize optimization and new techniques that allow us to provide more services. The only way to help people in the long run is through more production.

Do you have any other ideas on what causes our healthcare problems?

Chivas Regal 12 Year Old (On the Rocks)

Chivas Regal is one of your most common brands of Scotch whisky. It is 40% alcohol and is priced around $20 for a 750 mL bottle.

It has a nice smell to it. It is not too strong and not too weak, though someone who is not accustomed to smelling the drink may at first be put off by it.

On the rocks, the taste waters down and becomes more bearable. This is not a very smooth drink. That is not to say that the drink is too strong to the point that it is unbearable, as whiskeys are supposed to be strong. Drinking it straight, though, probably would take some time to get used to. The taste is surprisingly not bad for the price. It has a nice taste to it: slightly sweet and not too much burn.

Overall, I have a favorable view of the drink, especially for the price. You can do a lot worse than Chivas Regal for low-priced Scotch. I approve of it, but do not expect to like it if this is your first time drinking hard liquor.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Division of Labor and a Toaster

Competition, especially in labor, is a tremendously valuable thing. Do you know how to make a computer? Do you know how to make an oven? Do you even know how to make a pencil? None of us do, yet these things are essential parts of our lives. None of us individually knows how to make these things from scratch, yet our economy produces them all the time. This is possible because the division of labor.

In a famous paper entitled I, Pencil, Leonard Read describes how none of us knows how to make a pencil, yet it is still created. This is because someone knows how to make the rubber and someone knows how to make the metal and someone knows how to fashion the metal and someone knows how to make the paint etc. etc. etc. None of us individually could do these things, but because of the division of labor, these things are not just possible, but easy! And this is all done without a top-heavy apparatus telling everybody what to do. This is spontaneous order.

Thomas Thwaites used this essay and tried to craft a modern corollary about making a toaster. Watch the video, it's fascinating.

And please post your comments below. What do you think are the implications of this?

Political Links for the Day

Power and Control - Smart people apparently use drugs.

Krugman-in-Wonderland - Discusses how Paul Krugman sees the world as black and white, good versus evil, and his superiority complex.

Conservatives on Fire - Discussion about the motives of Mr. George Soros.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Can Goods be Allocated Without a Price System?

Yes, that is an image of a Soviet breadline. Less than a century ago, Ludwig von Mises described in his book Socialism why any centrally planned economy would be doomed to failure. The problem lies in the fact that only through voluntary exchange and cooperation can the demand of people be known and adequate amounts of the right goods can be produced. You would also know whether a project is worth the scarce resources available to make it. This is known as the Economic Calculation Problem.

Where should wood be used? Should it be used to build more homes? Should it be used to make paper? What about pencils? Maybe desks? How can you know without a price system? It is profit which tells us which projects are worthwhile. A profit is nothing but a signal. Profit tells us that there is more demand than production can keep up with. If there is no profit, then enough is being made. If there is a loss, then too much is being made and production needs to be curtailed.

The price that we pay represents how much we demand a product. If I am willing to pay $4 for a chicken dinner and $1 for a pencil, then it means I value the dinner more than the pencil. If I had to choose between $2 for a pencil and $3 for a dinner, I will always choose the dinner. Thanks to the price system, companies can know how much of something to make. I vote with my dollar.

The price system is the only way that goods can be allocated rationally. This is the central problem of economics: scarcity. Knowing how to do distribute goods best only can be done by an omnipotent being. The price system is the best system ever devised to deal with the issue.

But some say that there are exceptions and that sometimes prices need to be set. What do you think? Are there any goods that the market cannot provide? Goods that the government has to provide because the market cannot price them correctly?

Free Trade and Protectionism: Spontaneous Order Always Wins Out

Bunkerville has written a post entitled Obama Seeks to Lift Ban on Controversial Cross-Border Trucking Program. In this, he talks about the folly of free trade and how we need to keep these trucks out of the United States in order to protect domestic jobs. In a friendly dialogue, I would like to disagree with him and offer my own opinion about free trade.

The easiest response is that the "America First" mantra would set off a trade war. If we do not accept products from other countries, then what will other countries do in response? Simple, they'll close off their markets from American goods. So in the name of protecting jobs, you have destroyed jobs. But there is much more to the issue, I believe.

The next easiest issue would be competitiveness. Look, for example, at the American auto industry. For years it has been a source of complaint and ridicule. Imagine what would have happened if the Japanese and German automakers had not grown in market share in this country. Presumably, we would have the same poor quality and high price that American car companies had offered for the past few years. When Toyota and other companies began to grow, American car companies realized that they had to change. GM was too bogged down by union labor and so probably would have been better off going out of business, but Ford revamped their image, came out with stylish cars, and have really bounced back. Would this have happened without the Japanese putting pressure on Ford? It is highly doubtful. So the benefit to consumers is clear.

But what about the workers who, without protections, will see their jobs outsourced? There is always a cry for sympathy and brotherhood when we see jobs going to other countries. One of the oft used examples is how American manufacturing dominance is being lost to China and other growing countries. Well, I do not like doing this, but I have to say that it is just wrong.


What is really happening is that we are becoming much more efficient, so we do not need as many industrial jobs. The reason that industrial jobs are being lost is because we can produce more wealth per worker than we could before. Should we really bemoan the loss of high-intensity industrial jobs? I think not.

So what will these people do for jobs if we are losing all of these jobs to other countries? The simple answer lay in the fact that "production creates its own demand." Because other countries are producing more, that means they will be consuming more. A new job market then opens up for Americans. A loss of a job does not mean permanent unemployment.

America First is a short-sighted ideology. It makes American companies less competitive and holds us back from doing other jobs that increase our well-being. For instance, why make an exhaust pipe here if China can make an exhaust pipe and those workers instead do something else like increase our technological advancement (indirectly this is exactly what would happen). The best way to increase our future prosperity is to maximize our production right now. The only way to do that is to have people realize how much their labor is truly worth so that they will only produce what is most highly desired by consumers. The source of prosperity is production, not artificially inflated wages.

Political Links for the Day

Obama Seeks to Lift Ban on Controversial Cross-Border Trucking Program - Bunkerville does not like that Obama wants to lift a ban on Mexican trucks coming into the country. I disagree and will post later.

Is collective pursuit of happiness taking us to a 'brave new world'? - Winton Bates at Freedom and Flourishing asks if we are becoming a Brave New World.

If Our Politicians Won’t Do It, We The People Will Have To Do It For Them - Jim Gourdie at Conservatives on Fire has a plan for bringing America to prosperity again. I'm not in full agreement, but it is not a bad plan and it is a very interesting post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Invisible Man and the Housing Market

Thomas Sowell came out with a new article entitled ‘Saving’ the Housing Market. In it, he describes the folly of trying to save the housing market. I happen to agree with him, and so would like to go through a couple of points that he makes and add my own input.

We hear all sorts of sad stories about people whose homes are "under water" or who are facing foreclosure. But why should our attention be arbitrarily focused on these particular people, rather than on the many other people who would benefit from being able to buy those same houses, if the prices came down?

This is an obvious point that he makes that it seems to many people fail to understand. It is due to a limited scope when viewing economic effects. When people look at an issue, they only look at who it directly affects, and not who is indirectly harmed. In the case of the housing market, by trying to keep prices high, we benefit current homeowners and whoever owns the loans for those homes. The people harmed are potential homebuyers who are kept out of the market because of high prices. But there is also another group of people who are harmed. That is, the rest of the economy. Because people must spend so much money on a home, it means that they have less money to spend on everything else they buy like clothes and toys and food, etc. So in this case, not only are those indirectly affected ignored (as usual), but even those directly affected are ignored.

But what of sympathy? Surely these people fully expected to pay back their loans before the market crashed. Sowell has a response to this.

If anyone is especially deserving, it is those who had the common sense to avoid taking on bigger financial obligations than they could handle, but who are now expected to pay as taxpayers for other people's irresponsibility.

No doubt some people who are facing foreclosures might have been able to continue making their mortgage payments if they had not lost their jobs. But since when were we all guaranteed never to lose our jobs? People used to put money aside "for a rainy day." But now people who have spent like there are no rainy days are supposed to have the taxpayers pay to give them an umbrella.

There is no such thing as a guarantee in a free market. Even the guarantee that you get from a company such as a lifetime warranty is not guaranteed because what happens if that company goes out of business?

We need to stop being sympathetic. It is detrimental to our entire economy and it does not allow a correction (a falling in prices of homes). The government cannot make life better and fairer without getting in the way of a growing economy. Besides, the government obviously cannot control the economy or else we would have gotten out of this mess already. We are still here, so what exactly are we sacrificing our full potential for? Let's stop trying to fix the economy; the economy can fix itself.

Why Barry Bonds Should Never be Inducted into the Hall of Fame

First, Pete Rose is not allowed into the Hall (at least not while living) because he tarnished the image of the game by betting on it. So if tarnishing the game is enough to get you banned for life, then what about what Barry Bonds did? It is so much worse than betting on the game.

Of the 10 best ever single-season on-base percentage marks, John McGraw is there once, Billy Hamilton is there once, Ted Williams is there twice, Babe Ruth is there three times, and Barry Bonds is there three times. Obviously it is very impressive. Only four of those marks came after age 32 for any player, and Barry Bonds did it all three times. Only Ted Williams is the other one. So right away we see an issue. Most of these marks were recorded before the player turned 32, but Barry Bonds gets all of his marks after he turns that age?

Secondly, we have to realize what the list looked like before Barry forced his way in. Ted Williams had the highest mark at .5528 before that. But Barry topped it twice with marks of .5817 and .6094. Yes, you read that right, an OBP of .6094. Barry was 39 at the time! I had to search for a while, but the next-closest player on that mark to be at least 39 years of age is Ted Williams (coincidentally enough), but he was at position 139!

This should not even be a debate. Barry obviously cheated and tarnished the game. It was no game when Barry came to the plate. You just walked him and moved on with the game. It was never that way before in the history of baseball. The whole steroid era was a great scandal and it ruined the image of the game. We are still dealing with the issue. Why should we reward the poster-child of this era with a plaque in Cooperstown?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Any Evidence to Sustain the Claim that the Tea Party Incited this Violence?

"If any good can come of the horror in Tucson, it will be that this becomes a McKinley moment for Sarah Palin and her chief spokesman, Glenn Beck." "Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands after putting cross hair over district." These are just a sample of some of the ridiculous comments concerning the attempted assassination of Gabriel Giffords over the weekend. Are these people serious? There is absolutely no evidence that this shooting was about politics. In fact, any reports seem to indicate only that this was a disturbed man that went on a shooting rampage.

The first quote is from Dana Milbank in his Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post entitled For Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, a McKinley moment? In the story he writes:

One hundred and ten years ago, during another low point in the nation's political discourse, newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst - who was angling for a presidential run in 1904 - published a pair of columns fantasizing about violence against President William McKinley.

Columnist Ambrose Bierce wrote that a bullet "is speeding here to stretch McKinley on his bier." Next, an unsigned column widely attributed to Hearst editor Arthur Brisbane declared: "If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done." Six months later, a deranged man named Leon Czolgosz assassinated McKinley.

And he compares these writings to the map that Sarah Palin made of districts that she wanted a victory in, indicated by crosshairs. Marc Thiessen, also writing in The Washington Post, in his Op-Ed piece Stop blaming the Tea Party for the Arizona tragedy, wrote that:

Left-wing bloggers and commentators blamed the attack on Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin because she had "targeted" Giffords for defeat during the 2010 elections. The New York Daily News published a column headlined "Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands after putting cross hair over district." And an hour after Giffords was shot, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas actually tweeted: "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin." He conveniently failed to mention that his Daily Kos had put a "bull's eye" (their words) on Giffords in 2008 - including her on a list of centrist Democrats who should be "targeted" in Democratic primaries. Mission accomplished, Markos?

Any claim or insinuation that Sarah Palin or the Tea Party are responsible for this tragedy is irresponsible and reckless. If political rhetoric is enough to incite violence, then what do we make of claims that one group is actually causing violence and murder. Wouldn't that, even moreso, seem to cause violence?

And this event is not only being used to attack the Tea Party. Michael Daly, who wrote in the New York Daily News an Op-Ed piece entitled Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands after putting cross hair over district, tried to tie in gun control to the event. He says:

Even if Giffords had been carrying her Glock at her latest Congress On Your Corner event yesterday, she would have had no time to reach for it and defend herself. Unlike in all those westerns, gunmen bent on homicide almost never give you a chance to draw.

Which is nonsense, of course. Giffords would not have even needed to take down the shooter herself. Any one of a member of that crowd could have stopped him.

But the real point is that using a tragedy like this for political gains is morally reprehensible. What happened was a tragedy and it was executed by a maniac. We should be mourning the event, not salivating at the chance to use it to attack our enemies. Can we just mourn as a nation? Do we constantly have to be on the offensive? Is there nothing that we can agree on?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Political Post Roundup

Let’s Talk About Murder and Gun Control - A post about how the murder rate in Venezuela has skyrocketed even though gun controls were imposed.

Harsanyi: The Constitution is dead. Long live the Constitution. - Talking about how neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to know what the Constitution says and that the Constitution may have just been written too vaguely to protect our liberties.

Numbering the Days - M. Simon discusses how the Tea Party will not go away until the debt goes first.

First Beer - Heineken Keg Can

Well, it's not exactly my first beer, but it is the first beer in what I hope to be a long series of posts detailing my opinions on certain beers. I am not a professional in this area in the slightest, so I intend this to be a kind of journey where I gain a sharper sense for quality beer. So first up is the ever-popular Heineken.

First the basic information on the beer from the Wikipedia article about Heineken. It is a pale lager with an alcohol content of 5%.

One of the first things that you'll notice about the beer is the smell. It's not so great. Kind of a bitter smell that normally would cause aversion, but I guess that advertising works really well. Looking in the can you notice that it's very clear and slightly yellow. It has the opacity of Sprite, seemingly. And the taste? It's weekly bitter with a pretty nasty aftertaste. It is almost as though you have to wash this beer down with water just to get the taste out of your mouth afterward.

To put it bluntly, I do not like this beer. I will drink it if it is served to me, but it is never something that I would choose if I was buying beer myself (I'm not going to look a gift beer in the mouth). It is tolerable, and that is a gracious assessment.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Marijuana Mushrooms

This was originally posted on the Power and Control blog and the original Marijuana Mushrooms post can be found in the preceding link.

No. This is not some new way to make THC with genetically altered mushrooms. (it is just a matter of time though). It is about a follow up to my story Mutiny In Montana. The Helena Independent Record has a story called Missoula marijuana ‘mutiny’ mushrooms.

Call it the Pot Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

Oh, wait. Somebody already did that.

The Examiner online news site — one of many news organizations that picked up on the story of a Missoula jury pool that dug in its heels last month at the prospect of trying a case involving “a couple of buds” of marijuana — put a variation of that headline on its story.

Others likewise had fun with it. “The Great Montana Marijuana Mutiny,” the Wall Street Journal’s legal blog termed it.

“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Change,” pronounced the Toronto Star.

And Huffington Post declared in a possible first that “Sanity Broke Out in Missoula, Montana, Today.”

Headline hijinks aside, the jury pool’s action — and the reaction to it — has serious ramifications for continued prosecution of low-level nonviolent drug crimes, not just in Missoula County but around the country.

“It was almost like a slap in the face to the system,” said John Zeimet, of the moment on Dec. 16 when he watched his fellow prospective jurors, one after another, tell Missoula County District Judge Dusty Deschamps that not only were they disinclined to convict, but wondered aloud why taxpayer money was being wasted on the case.

“The people stood up and spoke out.”

Yes they did. We could use a lot more of that in this country. The judge in the case is also speaking out.

The judge and former Missoula County attorney said he’s “more or less” convinced that marijuana should be legalized in some form, despite being “much alarmed at what I consider to be rampant abuse of what I think was a well-intentioned initiative” — that being the 2004 statewide voter initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Montana. Deschamps also voted for that initiative.

“We’ve seen some downside in the medical marijuana thing, but I’m reasonably convinced that, over the years, I haven’t seen very many criminals go out and commit horrible crimes under the influence of marijuana. Alcohol is 10 times the problem marijuana is, a hundred times.”

Yes. Alcohol is the biggest drug problem in America. And yet, we are solving that problem, little by little over time without further recourse to prohibitions.

Which brings up the other bette noirs of our prohibitionist friends. Cocaine and heroin. A recent headline from the UK says it all: Alcohol 'more harmful than heroin or crack'.

Alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place, according to an authoritative study published today which will reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink.

Led by the sacked government drugs adviser David Nutt with colleagues from the breakaway Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, the study says that if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.

Today's paper, published by the respected Lancet medical journal, will be seen as a challenge to the government to take on the fraught issue of the relative harms of legal and illegal drugs, which proved politically damaging to Labour

The caption on a picture included in the article encapsulates the findings.

Heroin causes harm to users, but alcohol causes considerably more harm in the wider community, study finds. Photograph: Action Press/Rex Features

Why is that? From my studies on the subject recounted in my article Heroin, only the most abused children turn to heroin. And even those must be genetically susceptible. Most people are not interested in the stuff. But suppose you are one of those who got a habit from medical use? For those people with no history of abuse detox works well. What detox does not fix is the pain in the brain left over from child abuse. We have no fix for that. Which is why addiction is different from habituation.

We are spending tens of billions a year in America on what appears to be a minor problem. In fact if we could switch alcohol addicts from alcohol to pot we might have a LOT less trouble with alcohol. In fact just such switching was considered a valid treatment for alcohol addiction before cannabis was prohibited nationally in 1937. So not only is the spending a waste, it may actually be counter productive.

Way to go my "sufficient punishment can cure any social ill" friends.

No it can't.

Are Public Schools Failing Because We Are Not Spending Enough Money?

The mantra is constantly raised that we do not spend enough money on our schools. When spending cuts are proposed and it could effect schools, the proponent of the measure is demonized and portrayed as a monster. After all, how can we be so cruel to the children? The fact is, we are anything but cruel to our children, especially those in public schools. Private schools spend less per pupil and get better results.

Adam Schaeffer of the CATO Institute last year wrote a paper describing that public school districts drastically understate the amount of money that they spend per pupil. Most of this is due to the fact that they do not report the cost of construction and maintenance on buildings and legacy costs. But these are all important costs that factor into the budget of private schools. So when public schools say that they do not spend that much on their students because they do not have the money, then they are lying.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.

It is not even as if this is a local-phenomenon. This is happening in many metropolitan areas (all of the ones that were studied). It is common practice to under-report the budget of a public school district.

Now as for how much public schools spend as compared to private schools:

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

More money spent and worse results. It's time for education reform, and spending more money obviously is not the answer.

Thanks to the CATO Institute and Adam B. Schaeffer for the quotations from this post.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Intellectuals and Society

As a fan of Thomas Sowell, I always get excited when I learn about a new book he's written. Of course to me most of his works are new because most were published before I even knew what economics meant.

Intellectuals and Society is Sowell's look at politics and the way that intellectuals have shaped it. In a way, his work is about how we have a blind faith in the "experts" whom we believe can take care of all of our societal ills.

My own view is that this is largely true. Before the age of FDR's Brain Trust things seemed to work pretty well in the country. We had tremendous rates of growth both in national wealth and in population. Sure, we had problems with racism and the business cycle, but these in their own way were the result of government policies (Jim Crow and state banks respectively). FDR tried changing things with his policy of an economy run by experts. Of course it failed miserably, but we still live with the system. A return to the old system of voluntarism and free markets is the best way to get back to the rapidly-growing economy that this country used to have.

Can We Trust the New Republicans?

The New Republican House of Representatives was sworn in yesterday. Republican pundits made a big deal about how this represents a big change for the country and that the people have had enough of "big government." But will Republicans actually fulfill their campaign promises? Can we trust them to shrink the size of government like they say they will?

There is some reason for hope. Much of the support for this change came from the Tea Party, who agitated for less spending and lower taxes. Republicans used their support for the elections, and used the language of that political group. Politicians have a history of going back on their promises, and even going in the opposite direction, but this at least seems like a step in the right direction and maybe even a hopeful turn of events.

In reality, however, attacking waste and corruption in government spending will not be enough. Taken together, social security, medicare, and medicaid take up nearly 40% of the federal budget. If you do nothing about these programs then you will only make a small dent in the federal budget. Republicans have stayed far away from talking about these programs because they realize that they are sacred cows. But this is the only way to effect real change in spending levels. Sadly enough, it does not seem as though this political generation is up to the task.

Furthermore, there is the history of Republican spending under Bush.

See there between 2000 and 2007? I do not see a decrease in spending in that time period, even though Republicans had majorities in the federal government. If a Republican federal government could not do it, then how can a coalition government do it, and why should we trust them to do it?

One day it will happen, we will finally see decreases in federal spending, but I just do not foresee that day as being in the near future.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Schwarzenegger Goes Out With a Bang

More like a stab, that is. It was recently announced that in the waning hours of his term as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the sentence of a man that plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The real issue that people have taken with this, though, is that this is the son of the former speaker of the California Assembly. Esteban Nuñez is the son of Fabian Nuñez.

And now that the deed is done, there is no recourse to correct this obvious injustice and corruption. Only impeachment could have reversed the decision, but now that Schwarzenegger is a former governor, this is not possible. The decision is done. As if Schwarzenegger's reputation was not tarnished enough by going back on all of his campaign promises and leaving California in worse shape than it was when he first came into office, he now has this on his hands. He became buddy-buddy with a politician and sold out his soul.

But I thought that this would be a good opportunity to discuss the concept of voluntary manslaughter as a crime. Murder is punishable by life in prison, as it should be. Involuntary manslaughter, which is defined as an accident, is also punishable. Isn't the reason that we put people into prison supposed to be because they pose a threat to the general public? Does a person who engages in involuntary manslaughter dangerous? If it is an accident, then we have to say no.

Esteban Nuñez, though, intended to kill. There is no reason for him to get an early release. There is no justice when such a disregard for justice, as Schwarzenegger showed, goes unpunished and has no legal recourse for retraction. A sad moment indeed.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Stop Demonizing the Rich

Once upon a time in America, there were some popular sayings. "It's none of your business," is one that we seem to have lost, and we need it back badly. How many times in the past few years have we heard rumblings about windfall profits, corporate profits, executive salaries, etc. Why should this matter? When did profits become evil? When did becoming rich become evil? This pseudo-socialistic ideal is spreading far, but before we go tarring and feathering, let's remind ourselves of the purpose of wealth accumulation.

Capital and finance are oft forgotten parts of the economy. When a factory wants to buy a new machine, where does it get the capital to finance such a project? The factory will get a loan. And who imparts these loans? Well either directly or indirectly, that would be people who save money. And who saves (and invests) the most money? The rich of course.

With more production, we get a lower average price of goods, higher real salaries, and in general a greater standard of life. All of this is possible because of capital. Without the rich, there is no capital in a free market. Well, there would be some capital from the lower income earners, but the bulk of capital in our economy comes from the rich. Instead of demonizing the rich, we should be thanking them for furnishing the jobs that we have.

But couldn't the government invest just as easily? Why not just tax the rich, allow the government to invest, and then distribute the profits amongst the people? The fact is, we should never trust the government with such a responsibility. Not only would it be very liable to corruption, it simply would not work. The man who lends his money has in his best interest the greatest net return on that money. He never wants to lose money. The government, on the other hand, may not have that as its highest goal. Furthermore, it is slightly less concerned with earning a profit. The man who lends could lose everything if the investment does not succeed. What will happen to the government bureaucrat who does the same thing with that money? Probably not much, he has a secure salary. So then the rich who have an interest in keeping their money will be the best investors. The best investments help all of us.

So before we get mad about record profits and executive payouts, let's realize the function that the rich serve. Sure, get mad at profits that are unjustly earned (such as by sweetheart deals with the government), but the honest businessman that becomes rich by his work should be thanked. Without capital, we would still be peasants just barely avoiding starvation our entire lives. Thankfully we have developed and can live a relatively opulent lifestyle. Wealth accumulation has made life enjoyable and not just laborious.