Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Gouging....HOOAH....GOOD God, y'all....What is it GOOD for?

When I walk into a Circle K, to buy ice, is it because I love the owner and want to make sure he stays in business. Probably not; I walk in there to take advantage of him, because the value of the ice to me far exceeds the price he is charging.

And does Circle K man open his store out of love for me, out of concern for my welfare? He does not. He opens because the price he can charge for ice exceeds the cost of production, and he can make money.

In other words, we are taking advantage of each other, and both of us are better off. (Here is an ad, where Circle K advertises the fact that they have ice. Watch out for the bowling ball, tho!)

And....now? Millions in Florida are without power. And, therefore, without ice. That means lots of people want to buy ice. But, Florida has a robust anti-gouging law.

The result is that, if you wanted to drive to Florida with truckloads of ice, and try to sell it at the market price, you would be arrested. Does that make sense? Sure, the people who might drive down there with the much-needed ice are doing it out of greed. Who cares? The people buying it are doing THAT out of greed, too. They certainly aren't worried about truck man's welfare.

Outlawing price-gouging makes sense, if you think that statutes, and vague feelings that scarcity is somehow wrong, create reality. Me, I think that physical facts, like people's need for ice to save freezers full of soon-to-be-rotting food, matters more.

An excellent article on price-gouging after Charlie. And another article, for background. And, another, yet again. In the latter two articles, the claim is that citizens were "hit with price-gouging." No, no, no. Citizens were hit with scarcity, since there isn't enough stuff to go around. People who like price-gouging laws simply refuse to accept the physical reality of "not enough." Higher prices reflect scarcity, rather than cause it. And higher prices, if allowed to do their magic, might ameliorate "not enough."

(Yes, this rant continues K. Grease's previous rant. And I may rant about this again).

Monday, September 06, 2004

Why is it that knowledge of basic economics seems to be a bar to employment at the New York Times?

Bob Herbert, in his column today:

"American workers are in an increasingly defensive position. In a tight labor market, when jobs are plentiful, workers have leverage and can demand increased wages and benefits. But today's workers have lost power in many different ways - through the slack labor market, government policies that favor corporate interests, the weakening of unions, the growth of lower-paying service industries, global trade, capital mobility, the declining real value of the minimum wage, immigration and so on.

"The end result of all this is a portrait of American families struggling just to hang on, rather than to get ahead. The benefits of productivity gains and economic growth are flowing to profits, not worker compensation. The fat cats are getting fatter, while workers, at least for the time being, are watching the curtain come down on the heralded American dream."

Three points immediately occur:
1. If U.S. unions weren't so powerful, and the minimum wage weren't so high, then both immigration (to get jobs at artificially high wages) and out-sourcing (finding workers who will work at wages that are not so artificially high) would not be such a problem. Herbert's list confuses causes and effects. When I reread the list, I find it truly remarkable that someone with even a high school education could be so fundamentally confused.

2. There is a third group, besides workers and corporations, to consider. That is consumers. If you adjust for quality, and price, the chief beneficiary of productivity gains in the last decade have been consumers. So, as workers many people are little better off. But as consumers, their welfare is steadily improving. At least Marx was smart enough to study economics. Bob Herbert isn't even smart enough to study Marx.

3. This idea, constantly repeated by the hand-wringers and bed-wetters who don't understand capitalism, that the poor are not getting better off, is nonsense. Consider a form of analysis that focuses on individuals: a family comes to the U.S., puts down roots, learns the language, and moves up the economic ladder. Or, a family is born into poverty, works hard and saves, and sends kids to college. Over time, THAT FAMILY and its members get better off. (My family: mom and dad born into abject poverty, no one in family went to college. They scrimped, put three kids into private schools, and now all of us have graduate degrees and six-figure family incomes). That is the American dream; why doesn't it count for "the poor"? Because that family isn't poor any more! If you only focus on the "average" of "the poor", then of course that average is falling, because so many abjectly poor people are coming to the U.S. as immigrants, and people who were poor last generation are graduating to the middle class, where their higher incomes don't count in the average anymore.

If Herbert is right and "the poor" are getting poorer, why is it that so many poor people are becoming middle class? Why is it that so many truly poor people, in other nations, are risking their lives to come here? It is because the U.S. is the greatest wealth creation machine the world has ever known. The American dream is alive and well, unless you are a university professor or an ideology-blinded liberal columnist for the New York Times.

Dump Dumping, Redivivus: Amend the Byrd Amendment

The WTO is rightly yanking our chain over the infamous "Byrd Amendment." Now, you have to give him credit: Robert Byrd of WV moved to the "Vote for me, and I will give you other people's money!" platform years before the rest of the Democrats realized that, lacking actual ideas, they should do the same thing.

But this thing needs to go (the Amendment, I mean. Byrd....well, his continued success is explained by his "Porkman" superhero identity). (You might like CAGW's Byrd Droppings page). (And they say W smirks! Check this guy out....)

Interesting analysis (scroll to Aug 31, 2004 entry) by CATO's own Daniel Ikenson. An excerpt:

"By compensating petitioners and supporters of petitions, the Byrd amendment provides an additional financial incentive to file antidumping and countervailing duty cases,” remarked Ikenson. “Furthermore, by excluding from compensation those companies or unions not supporting the petitions, the law encourages companies that might otherwise decline to support petitions to do so simply to maintain eligibility for compensation.”

(Press release continues) While petitioning industries and their representatives tend to deny any linkage between the Byrd amendment and support for trade remedy petitions, the WTO case included as evidence a letter from a U.S. law firm urging a company to register
support for the countervailing duty case against lumber from Canada in order to qualify for Byrd amendment payouts.

“Despite opposition to the law at its inception from President Clinton and advocacy for repeal from President Bush, the U.S. Congress seems to have drawn a line in the sand over this issue,” Ikenson explained. “It is proving difficult to pry Congressional hands from a tool that allows them to quietly subsidize their business constituents. Unfortunately, the relatively low levels of retaliation authorized—about $150 million this year—will do little to inspire a change in that mindset.”

The dispute over the Byrd amendment is not an isolated event. There are a number of outstanding WTO rulings against U.S. laws and policies—including the Foreign Sales Corporation/Extraterritorial Income Tax provision and the Antidumping Act of 1916—that the United States has yet to implement. This mounting record of noncompliance must call into question the commitment of the United States to a rules-based trading system.

Those darned rules...they apply to everyone else, but not U.S., right?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

U.S. Cellular Field, and the White Sox: Where America Lives

I bailed out from APSA and went to White Sox games. Italian sausage, beer, loud folks in the stands. A drunk guy ran onto the field, HOLDING A BEER ("I'd better take along something to drink, in case I get thirsty!"), and was still fast enough to elude the "security" guys. When they did run him down, they beat hell out of him, discreetly, with knees and elbows, right in center field. Actual holes in the turf where the carnage took place; guy was bloody. Great American entertainment.

Later, a Mariners batter got the high-n-tite treatment on a pitch, and fell on his back, hard. A fan a couple of seats to my right immediately yells (to the White Sox catcher): "Kick him! Kick him in the head!"

On the other hand, the Mariners' nonpareil, Ichiro, went five for five, and got a nice standing ovation from the White Sox fans. He tipped his hat. The four of us attending the game together agreed: with his off-balance stance and weak little swing, Ichiro will never succeed as a hitter.

Best moment of the two games I saw: White Sox bullpen is so bad, they fritter away a 8-3 lead. Bajenaru gives up hits and walks, until it's 8-5. Then the Sox management bring out their frisbee-throwing pet hamster, "Shingo" Takatsu. Big production: gongs, "Shingo Time!" on the big screen, loud music, Japanese characters on the really big screen. He has 15 saves for the year; some closers get that in a month. Of course, your team has to win to get a save, so maybe it isn't all Shingo's fault.

Shingo strikes out Edgar Martinez (Edgar: retire, please; this is embarrassing) on pitches that look like wads of tissue paper (Shingo's fastball is 89, if the radar is feeling friendly). Now there are two outs and the bases are loaded; Sox still up 8-5.

The Mariners' Ibanez creams a low liner to right, his third hit of the night. (This means that Shingo gives up two more runs, neither of them earned for him, because Bajenaru put them on base. Shingo is no bargain for other pitchers' ERAs). Two runs score easily, so it's 8-7. But, for some reason, Boone (who had been on first) decides he needs to be on third base. Why did he go for third, with two outs? He's already on second, in scoring position, with Bucky Jacobson, mountain-size phenom, coming to the plate. But Boone scoots for third, is thrown out by a step. The game is over, on Boone's boner. Shingo gets another save (now he has 16). The White Sox shoot off fireworks, and then there is a real fireworks display, made to seem less loud by the truly deafening "best of the 70s, 80s, and today!" pseudo-rock blaring from the speakers. An exquisite evening in the heartland.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

From the (APSA) Convention

I am up at the Am Pol Sci Assoc meetings, home of the combover and the sack-assed K-mart suit, in Chicago. Pity me!

Post-RNConvention thoughts:

Bush's speech was about what an incumbent should do. He was ill-served by his speech writers, because the thing was long and had random micro-initiatives (what happened to Mars?). And if a guy is a bad speaker (Bush is not gifted, to say the least) then why not make the thing short and thematic? It's like the old Groucho Marx joke: we were relieved, on finding that the food was bad, because at least the portions were small.

The reason that this was all okay is that the Republicans are pursuing a fundamentally different strategy from the Democrats, and at this point the race is once again Bush's to lose. A month ago, Kerry had the upper hand, and he has let the advantage slip away.

Kerry strategy: appeal to the center, to the swing voters, and win a majority of the usual voters. Make the appeal broad. Run like an incumbent, take no risks, and make the other guy beat you with policy proposals or negative ads. (This would require quick and decisive reactions to negative ads, which is where Kerry has failed).

Bush strategy: recognize that turnout is 55-60% in Prez elections. Go deep, not broad. Make sure all the disaffected people on the right (pro-life, religious, very patriotic, veterans who feel the left disrespects them, libertarians who like Arnold Sch'ger) actually are contacted and turn out.

Bush / Rove are winning because:
1. Their convention was diffuse, giggly, manic, scriptedly unscripted (okay, Bush twins, go up there and make mild sex jokes!) and with plenty of overtly patriotic tartare de beouf.
2. Kerry failed to respond to the Swifties. In fact, he teed them up by emphasizing this Viet Nam record, and ignoring the 30 years since. His "midnight madness" gig was too little, too late.
3. Kerry is conducting an old-fashioned race, appealing to swing voters. But there aren't enough of those.
4. Bush is going after a much bigger group, the people who don't vote but who have latent (poorly informed, manipulable) beliefs that favor a particular view of the Republicans. If the Bush can sustain that view of the Republicans (handsome, confident entrepreneur Arnold, patriotic Zell, maternal and sweet Laura), then he can win by a lot.

Friday, September 03, 2004

What He Said

I was going to write about GWB's convention speech.

But then I found an article by Tom Shales at the WaPo that said what I would have said, and also said more, and said all of it a lot better.

Two excerpts:
It's doubtful that four more years in office would turn George W. Bush into a great speechmaker, but that he's improving was evident last night when he stood on a circular stage meant to suggest a pitcher's mound and made his case for a second term to near-deafening cheers at the Republican National Convention in New York.

Bush still has problems maintaining poise. Twice, when cheers from the crowd were interrupted by jeers from protesters -- who were quickly hustled out of the hall by security guards and police -- Bush looked flustered, even frightened, though he did keep reading from the prompting devices encircling him. Ronald Reagan in the same situation would have responded with a quip and dismissed the protesters with a tolerant smile. Bush clung carefully to his text, his eyes darting anxiously around the hall.

Where the Republican convention seemed to fall disgracefully short was in paying proper tribute to Ronald Reagan, whose name is invoked at every opportunity but who seemed to get very little in the way of passionate posthumous tribute. Maybe the Republicans feared that too much homage would only serve to remind viewers that Reagan is gone, and that if it isn't mentioned, people will be lulled into thinking he's still around.

Reagan could have beaten John Kerry with one hand tied behind him. George W. Bush will need both hands and lots of additional help besides. Then again, the Democrats' post-convention antics, poor use of TV and Kerry's ill-advised photo ops give the impression that the Democrats are so determined to lose that nobody can stop them -- no matter what and no matter who.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

11 Things I Didn't Know, Plus One More

A list of interesting things, from Gallup.

And, a funny bit. Thanks to Elkrider. This other Elkrider post is just a paranoid fantasy, of course....or is it?

Midnight Madness

Why is Kerry campaigning in the middle of the night, in Ohio?

The real question is why Bush isn't behind in Ohio by 10 percentage points. Some polls actually have Bush ahead, which is remarkable, given the jobs situation there. At this point, you'd have to say that if Bush wins Ohio, he wins the election.

The "midnight madness" bit is exactly like college basketball, of course. Lots of schools do a "midnight madness" practice, on the first day they can hold practice. You'll probably want to be at "The Ralph" on October 15. I hear it's crazy there.

But, for politics: The norm is that you don't do major campaign events during the other side's convention. But the convention ends on Thursday! So, at 12:01 on Friday morning, it is okay to hold an event.

Bush may get a good convention bounce, which Kerry can't afford (Kerry is sinking already!). So, Kerry wants to make the bounce look like a guitar string: plucked, makes noise for a little while, but then settles down to pretty much where it started out.

Three Trials

(On the title: with apologies to John Edwards, whose book Four Trials is now #5,523 on Amazon (and # 7 overall here in Raleigh, NC)). (To be fair, though, I bought the book, and I would say that the good Johnnie Reed owes me an apology, or perhaps a refund).

Trial #1: Todd Parrish, of Cary, NC, thought he was done. He had served the four years active duty, and the four years reserve duty, required by his ROTC contract.

But it turns out he forgot to say "Simon says I quit", and so the Army still owns him. An excerpt from the Army Times story:
The Defense Department has been using numerous devices to keep enlistment up during the Iraq conflict, included a “stop loss” order that prevents soldiers from leaving the military when their obligations end and multiple deployments of guard and reserve units.
Don't the authorities realize that this is a "stop recruiting" order? Who is going to sign up for the reserves now, when Dean Wormer-Rumsfeld can simply declare you subject to "double secret probation" and send your big butt back to a war that may never end.

Trial #2: David Passaro, CIA "contractor", has been charged with abusing prisoners in Afghanistan. In particular, he is charged with beating (using hands, feet, and a large flashlight) one Abdul Wali on June 19 and 20 of 2003. Wali died in his prison cell at the Asadabad Base, quite possibly of injuries inflicted by Passaro, on June 21.

Interesting twist, as John Ashcroft pointed out in his statement on the indictment:
I also note that this case would have been more difficult to investigate and prosecute were it not for the USA PATRIOT Act. The Act expanded U.S. law enforcement jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against U.S. nationals on land or facilities designated for use by the United States government.
Trial # 3: Kobe Bryant. Now a non-trial. Not clear that Mr. Bryant really won, but the criminal part is over. Here is part of his statement, elicited as a term of the agreement to drop charges:
I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.
Rape is so ungentlemanly. Sorry, sweetie, my bad. Don't know what I was thinking. You want to get some dinner, later?

At least we all got to hear the claim, by Bryant mouthpiece Pamela Mackey, that this was really all about race. She said:
There is lots of history about black men being falsely accused of this crime by white women.
Sure, that's true. There is also lots of history of rich men using power and influence to escape prosecution after abusing and raping women. The relevant comparison here is not to OJ Simpson; Kobe Bryant is simply another William Kennedy Smith. I don't often go for overblown accusations about "the patriarchy," but...

Another great day for American justice.

What Do They Think This Is, The Olympics?

If you were to try to watch the conventions (either the D or the R version), you might wonder if there really is a convention, or just an excuse for the network talking heads to preen.

There really does seem to be a sense among the chattercult that the events here are much to important to be left to the viewers to view or interpret. More important that they explain things to us, even if they don't know a darned thing and the chattering obscures the actual events. I have been watching C-SPAN, for heaven's sake.

Here's an exercise. It is interesting, and it may even be fun. Compare the following two web sites. Which one is doing the better, more accurate job of covering the Republican convention? (Hint: Trick question! It's a tie).

News Organization 1

News Organization 2

The Poets Down There Don't Write Nothin' at All

They just stand back and let it all be laughed at.

On Union Square, hard to tell parody from serious self-delusion. But this is parody.

An excerpt:

Soon our horde of professional rebels is joined by a local weekend rebel dressed in well-ironed Middle Eastern pajamas. His sign says, "The Destruction of the USA is a necessary condition for Peace." How brave of him, to engage in a battle of wits unarmed!

(Thanks to TG for the tip!)