Saturday, February 16, 2008

Too clever by half

I've always been in favor of compulsory education financed by general taxation. I know, what a doofus. I'm cool with choice and vouchers and all that, but I always thought that the education revolution in the USA was an example of a very good thing that was facilitated, speeded up, or at least not completely screwed up by government.

But now I think the end is near, at least in France:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The article goes on to quote people saying it will be too traumatic for the kids and contains a big discussion of Sarkozy's religiousity, but to me that misses the point, which is:

How in the world can one guy unilaterally impose something like this for every family in France?

The article doesn't say he is asking for a public debate or endorsing pending legislation (though that wouldn't really make me any happier on Mungowitzian grounds).

Overall, the scope of what government through the school system has taken on has enlarged so much, and opportunities for arbitrary, freedom stealing, pernicious impositions have become so large, that I am not even sure if I still support the entire enterprise (and yes, I know that I teach at a state university).

As for Sarkozy, wow. It seems to me that he is well on his way down the Saparmurat Niyazov highway.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cato Unbound Essay

Here is an issue of CATO UNBOUND, on "Is Limited Government Possible?"

My contribution, which actually turned out quite well, IMHO. Thanks to Will Wilkinson for making some really key suggestions. Always good to have an editor who is fast and smart.

And, Will being such excellent eye candy is certainly a bonus.

I guess it was a trick question

On Economist's View, I saw a headline "What makes Sugar Explode?" with a link to a Slate article.

I assumed that the answer was foreign competition, but it turns out they are talking about an actual fire at a sugar refinery in Georgia.

How long can this go on?

Bobby Mugabe has been drowning his country in a sea of worthless currency for quite some time now. In March of 2006 the official inflation rate hit 900%. It turns out that those were the good old days. By the summer of 07, the inflation rate was had at least tripled from that level, and the IMF was forecasting that it would reach 100,000% in 2008.

It looks like that's at least one forecast the IMF will nail, as inflation surged from over 25,000% in December of 07 to over 66,000% in January of 08 (these are annualized rates).

From the AP report:

Zimbabwe's economy has been on a downturn for the past eight years characterised by galloping inflation and shortages of basic foodstuffs such as sugar and cooking oil.

At least 80 percent of the population is living below the poverty threshold, often skipping meals to stretch their income, which frequently fails to cover basic needs.

The government has introduced several measures to rein in inflation including imposing a ceiling on prices of some goods and services and knocking off three zeros from the country's currency.

The CSO last released the monthly inflation statistics to the media in September last year and the November figure was only released by the central bank chief in a statement last month.

It's amazing how they make it sound like an exogenous event the government is doing its best to fight rather than calling it the deliberate policy of the government, i.e. Mugabe-omics.

It's also amazing how South Africa still seems to be propping up Mugabe. Who do they think they are, us??

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A question to our readers from Angus & Mungowitz

Humorous Pictures

I am not stimulated by the stimulus

First, Greg Mankiw fills me in on the cost per job allegedly to be created by the package: $336,000

Then Art Laffer (and you know he's never wrong) tells me the stimulus will be a net negative for the economy: "any rebate will reduce output because it reduces incentives to produce output. The larger the rebate, the greater the reduction in the incentives to work and the greater the reduction in output. It's as simple as that. This $170 billion rebate camouflaged as economic stimulus will deal a serious blow to the economic health of the country."

Finally, online financial advice columns are advising people to save, not spend, their rebate checks!! People, I give you the wisdom of Suze Orman: "The rebate you're about to get should be saved, not spent. It should be used to pay down debt and build up an emergency savings account. What you need to focus on is not what your government wants you to do for the national economy, but what you can do for your personal financial security. Help yourself first."

How 'bout y'all? Feel stimulated yet?

Dog Bites Man!

Mitt Romney will endorse John McCain as the GOP nominee for president, CNN has learned.

Munger Goes Negative!

I probably should have avoided criticizing someone else' haircuts. Since, I mean, NO ONE knows more about bad haircuts than I do.

Still, a story in the News and Observer today discusses my candidacy. And I establish myself, unfortunately, as someone who just calls other people names. (BTW: I was not misquoted, in any way).

My older son, Kevin, is delighted, however. Yelling "Munger goes negative" in the house. Thanks, kid, for your sympathy.

Obama is some kind of housecat?

Mark Halperin said that Edwards thinks that Obama is "kind of a pussy."

Then Halperin apologized for using a naughty word.

As Dutch Boy notes, in his email alerting me to this, "Not the Onion."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Was 1993 just a bad dream??

Responding to a recent post, one of our more pointed commentators excoriated me for claiming that I feared for my wallet under an all Democratic Party Federal Government saying in part:

"The last time a Democratic president and congress combined to significantly raise taxes, they were doing it to pay for the Vietnam War."

Now, I am probably always deserving of a good scolding but I have to ask: What about 1993? It didn't happen? Or it wasn't "significant"? WJ Clinton's first term, all Dem Congress, big tax increase. Ring any bells for anybody?

Republicans called it "the biggest tax increase in history". Here the website debunks that myth saying: "the Clinton tax increase was indeed large, but not the largest."

Heck, according to them it was only the second largest.

The last chopper left Saigon in 1975 right??

What do Barack Obama and Nigel Tufnel have in common?

No, not that. They're both BIG IN JAPAN.

In Barack's case, in a specific town, Obama Japan (not making this up).

Obama (the town) is known for its chopsticks and Obama (the man) was born on August 4th, the day the city conducts its annual "Chopsticks Day" festivities. Karma.

Pictures don't lie people:

The citizens of Obama are some serious front runners too. Check out the Mayor:

"At first we were more low-key as Hillary Clinton looked to be ahead, but now we see he is getting more popular," Obama Mayor Toshio Murakami said.

"I give him an 80 percent chance of becoming president," the 75-year-old said with a proud grin.

Ladies and Gentlemen I implore you: Is there no McCain China out there to even things up a bit??

It Feels Like the Third Time; It Feels Like the Third or Fourth Time

Article on economics of Valentine's Day in Oz.

Consumer advocate group Choice says the price hike [dozen roses for $150!!] is a case of textbook economics.

“To sound very economically rational about it, Valentine’s day is the perfect illustration of supply and demand, which at its most naked is not very romantic,” spokesperson Christopher Zinn said.

He suggested prospective romantics substitute roses for other flowers, which presumably wouldn’t cost as much – if they are available.

“These kinds of events like Valentines day and Easter, they are a bit of a marketing goldmine,” he said.

It’s not just florists that are making the most of the day. Most restaurants offer Valentine’s Day specials when more often than not, you’re not actually saving.

Sydney’s Aria Restaurant usually has a seven-course tasting menu, including wine, for $250. On Valentine's Day, that price becomes $295.

It may seem like a rort, but some restaurants say it’s the worst day of the year.

“People have too high an expectation of what's going to happen; it creates a really strange atmosphere with all those couples, and if something's going to go wrong it always goes wrong on those nights,” an industry veteran told the Sunday Telegraph.

A rort? I feel old.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Mexico, Calderón rises and AMLO sinks

Calderón's popularity in Mexico currently sits at 66%, up from 57% in November and this is the highest it's been during his Presidency so far. At the other extreme Lopez-Obrador (aka AMLO or el peje) has pretty much hit rock bottom. In another poll, 63% of PRD (AMLO's party) members say the next party leader should recognize Calderón as the legitimate president (which AMLO refuses to do) and 77% say the PRD should cooperate with Calderón in the legislature (which AMLO refuses to do). Here is an article in English about the trials of the Mexican Left.

Hat Tip to Boz.

Friedman > Krugman

And then HE said, get this, he said, "Oh, yeah? Well, YO mama is so fat, her blood type is RAGU!"

The impact of Milton Friedman on modern monetary economics: Setting the
record straight on Paul Krugman's "who was Milton Friedman?"

Edward Nelson & Anna Schwartz
Journal of Monetary Economics, forthcoming

Paul Krugman's essay "Who Was Milton Friedman?" seriously mischaracterizes Friedman's economics and his legacy. In this paper we provide a rejoinder to Krugman on these issues. In the course of setting the record straight, we provide a self-contained guide to Milton Friedman's impact on modern monetary economics and on today's central banks. We also refute the conclusions that Krugman draws about monetary policy from the experiences of the United States in the 1930s and of Japan in the 1990s.

(Nod to KL)

Bad news comes in Bunches

Great, just great. Not only are my stock portfolio and retirement portfolio totally in the tank, but now I find out I'm likely to need the money for a very long time!! Turns out it's EZ to live to 100 these days (Phone message for Robin Hanson: sell your freezer space!!!).

A larger study of men in their 70s found that those who avoided smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes and high blood pressure greatly improved their chances of living into their 90s. In fact, they had a 54 percent chance of living that long.

Their survival decreased with each risk factor, and those with all five had only a 4 percent chance of living into their 90s, according to Harvard University researchers.

Those who managed to avoid lifestyle-related ailments also increased their chances of functioning well physically and mentally two decades later.

The study followed 2,357 men for about 25 years or until death, starting in their early 70s. About 40 percent survived to at least age 90. Among survivors, 24 percent had none of the five risk factors.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The best paragraph I've read today.

"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

Andy Warhol

hat tip to machiavelli999

The WORST Thing That Could Happen

Angus, as usual, is TOTALLY insensitive to the plight of the working writer. The END of the nightmare? No, more like the beginning.

Hollywood is FULL of writers, working as waitrons, or bartenders, or hookers.

Last week? Last week, they are not working because they were ON STRIKE! Stand up for the working man, don't cross the line on principle, that sort of thing.

This week? This week they are not working because they don't actually have JOBS as writers. They are just unemployed.

Oh, the humanity.

Revise and Resubmit

The essence of the "revise and resubmit" process of journal
authoring, caught live in a documentary.

Well, not THAT, exactly, but yes.

(Nod to Zorro)

Behold the Power of Facebook!

Last week's anti-FARC protest in Colombia and around the world was impressive for two reasons. First, the magnitude of the demonstration. Via KPC friend Greg Weeks, here are a couple photos from Colombia:

Estimates are that more than 2 million Colombians participated and maybe close to a million others in various locations around the world.

The second reason to be impressed is that it all started on Facebook. While I am on there attacking Zombies with my undead Slayer (thanks SO MUCH for that Mungowitz), The youth of Colombia is gettin' 'er done bigtime. Kudos to them and to the small but spirited group of demonstrators that turned up at OU.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Grand Game: Find the MOST Appalling Passage

Sometimes here at KPC, we play The Grand Game. TGG involves readers picking out the most appalling passage of something someone has written.

This is a fine one. It comes from a "blog" the TSA has established (I'm not making this up) to give travellers a chance to vent about the....TSA!

Check this inspired entry.


A Win for the Blogesphere

Posters on this blog have had their first official impact on our operations. That’s right, less than one week since we began the blog and already you’re affecting security in a very positive way.

On Monday afternoon we began receiving questions about airports that were requiring ALL electronics to be removed from carry-on bags (everything, including blackberrys, iPods and even cords). This practice was also mentioned on several other blogs and left us scratching our heads.

So…we checked with our security operations team to figure out what was going on. After some calls to our airports, we learned that this exercise was set up by local TSA offices and was not part of any grand plan across the country. These practices were stopped on Monday afternoon and blackberrys, cords and iPods began to flow through checkpoints like the booze was flowing on Bourbon Street Tuesday night. (Fat Tuesday of course).

So thanks to everyone for asking about this and for giving us a chance to make it right. Our hope is that examples like this validate our forum and show the solid partnerships we can form with our customers - the traveling public - in not only increasing security but in making all of our lives just a little easier.

Thanks again and keep those comments and questions coming.

Now, let's play the game!

My favorite appallinghoods:

1. They misspelled "blogosphere." Misspellings are common in blogs, Angus and I do it all the time. But...if you are trying to convince me you are paying close attention to the blogosphere, please don't spell it "blogesphere."

2. The title of the post is, "Hooray, bloggers!" I'm no hipster, but even I know that the word "hooray" should NEVER be used except ironically. (I note the possibility exists that the entire "TSA blogs" gig is a giant ironic deception. If it is, it will make me so happy that I will touch myself. Hell, I'll be so happy that I'll touch ANGUS. But I detect no irony anywhere on their blog. They are playing it horribly, apocalyptically, straight.)

3. "blackberrys, cords and iPods began to flow through checkpoints like the booze was flowing on Bourbon Street." Um. I can't think of any way that that analogy makes sense. More importantly, the fact that these items had NOT been flowing through checkpoints reflects the REAL problem with TSA: small kings.

(Nod to Anonyman, who is being ironic when he says, "hello.")
(Update: "is" changed to "exists" in 2 above, to make it English, rather than Mungerish)

At least one of us doesn't understand how markets work

Either me or Hugo has it wrong, and given his infatuation with price controls as a way of dealing with high prices, I think it may be him. Anyway he's not happy with the British court ruling in favor of Exxon and freezing billions of Veneulan assets.

President Hugo Chavez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States in an "economic war" if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets. Exxon Mobil has gone after the assets of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in U.S., British and Dutch courts as it challenges the nationalization of a multibillion dollar oil project by Chavez's government. A British court has issued an injunction "freezing" as much as $12 billion in assets. "If you end up freezing (Venezuelan assets) and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chavez said during his weekly radio and television program, "Hello, President." "Do you know how? We aren't going to send oil to the United States. Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger."

So this would be inconvenient but not really harmful, right? Oil is oil, it doesn't matter where we buy it from. Holding quality constant, price is determined by world supply and demand and who ships what where isn't crucial, is it? Unless there is some kind of situation where US refineries are designed to use oil with the specific physical attributes of Venezuelan oil or something weird like that.

I have found an article claiming that it IS hard for the US to replace Venezuelan crude (its heavy and sour, you know) but the analysis deals with a case when Venezuelan production was cut off resulting in a short term drop in available world supplies. Good stuff in there about types of crude oil though.

The Best Sentence I Read this Morning

Ross Douthat writing in the NY Times (the whole article is worth reading):

"Precisely because the right has won so many battles — on taxes, welfare, crime and the cold war — in the decades since it squared off against Gerald Ford and Jacob Javits, the greatest danger facing the contemporary Republican Party is ideological sclerosis, rather than insufficient orthodoxy."

History in the making

Yes, our national nightmare is over. The TV writers are going back to work. As you might expect, they have some comments about the epic nature of their struggle:

"It's a historic moment for labor in this country," said Oscar-nominated WGA member Michael Moore, who attended the New York meeting.

Carmen Culver, a film and TV writer, lauded the guild "for hanging tough."

"It's a great day for the labor movement. We have suffered a lot of privation in order to achieve what we've achieved," Culver said.

And what, you ask, did they achieve? Well, I am no longer a trade unionist, but I'd have to say not very much:

The writers deal (includes) a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn't kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed "promotional" by the studios. Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal's first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor's gross in year three.

Pretty sure they were asking for a percentage from day one. They got a delayed percentage that starts in the third year. That three week delay seems like a big concession, doesn't it?

Finally while "According to Jim" (yes there are writers on that show) will be back in production soon, it's not all good news on the entertainment front:

The Grammy Awards, set for Sunday night, were not affected because they received a waiver allowing writers to work on them. But an end to the strike could permit resumption of work for the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show.