Friday, April 30

Marxist Boundaries

In Chinese Leaders Revive Marxist Orthodoxy, Willy Lam reports,
Ideologues and propagandists have, since the winter, been waging a campaign that is focused on “distinguishing four boundaries.” In a nutshell, party commissars are demanding that China’s intellectuals, particularly college teachers and students, make clear-cut distinctions between four sets of values. They are Marxism versus anti-Marxism; a mixed economy that is led by Chinese-style public ownership on the one hand, and an economic order that is dominated by either private capital or total state ownership on the other; democracy under socialism with Chinese characteristics versus Western capitalist democracy; and socialist thoughts and culture on the one hand, and feudal and corrupt capitalist ideas and culture on the other (People’s Daily, March 23; Liberation Army Daily, December 22, 2009).
In Chinese, the four great boundaries (四个重大界限; sorry for the awful translation) are something like this:

Anti-immigration hysterics

The anti-immigration hysterics keep warning us that foreigners want to come over here and exploit our welfare system. The insincerity of that stance is exposed whenever, as in Arizona, its proponents set out to prevent those very same foreigners from coming here and working.

Wednesday, April 28

Reducing Illinois pension benefits for future work?

Joshua D. Rauh, a Northwestern University economist and an expert on how states finance their pension systems estimates
...Illinois’s three largest pension funds will run out of money by 2018 if no further reform measures are enacted.

Such an event, Mr. Rauh said, “threatens to bankrupt the state on a 10-year horizon.”

The reforms do not go far enough, Mr. Rauh added. For example, current employees have earned the pension benefits they have accrued up to this point, but it would be legal, he said, to reduce pension benefits for any future work.
It's probably a good idea, but I don't think it will fly.

Tuesday, April 27

Misguided Fears of Crime Fuel Arizona Immigration Law

The crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the lowest it has been in four decades. In the past decade, as the number of illegal immigrants in the state grew rapidly, the violent crime rate dropped by 23 percent, the property crime rate by 28 percent. (You can check out the DoJ figures here.)

Census data show that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts, as I unpacked a few months ago in an article for Commentary magazine titled, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime.”

Does disclosure really help?

Even if disclosures are easy to think about, investors still may not focus on what matters most. A team of economists, including David Laibson of Harvard, tested whether investors would favor the lowest-cost choice among four index funds if the importance of fees was hammered home in a one-page "cheat sheet."

The good news: By presenting a simplified emphasis on fees, the researchers tripled the number of investors who favored the lowest-cost funds. The bad news: That tripling brought the proportion up only to 9% from 3%. "We still ended up with a 91% failure rate," says Prof. Laibson. Encouraged to focus on fees, investors nevertheless fixated on—and chased—past performance.

Monday, April 26

I'll give you my satellite dish when you take it from my cold, dead hands

SARFT Outlaws Shanzhai Satellite Dishes
Shanzhai satellite dishes are unapproved satellite receivers often seen in rural areas where cable television is not available; it is also prevalent in lower-tier cities as the cost of cable television is often too expensive for the average consumer. The recent decree from China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) outlawing shanzhai satellite dishes was met with general disapproval, with some netizens posting pictures of their dishes hidden or disguised to avoid being discovered.
Comments include:
中国人民完全可以继承老一辈的革命传统和战斗精神______中国人民万岁。。。。打倒一切压迫力量 ("Chinese people can really inherit the previous generation’s revolutionary tradition and fighting spirit…long live the Chinese people…defeat all oppressive powers.")
哪里有压迫哪里就有反抗————("Where there is oppression, there will be retaliation——– [quote from Mao].")

Implementing the REAL ID act

Even though [Arizona's controversial new immigration law] in effect requires everybody to carry an approved form of ID and present it to police on demand, the authors want us to know that "nothing in this act shall implement or shall be construed or interpreted to implement or establish the REAL ID act," a 2005 federal law that Arizona legislators rebelled against in large part because they feared the scenario that are now trying to achieve.

Mattel 's malfeasance gets them a waiver

Mattel buys millions of items from China that violate American product-safety laws and standards. Congress reacts by punishing the entire industry, especially those small businesses that can’t afford independent testing, especially on products that don’t really need it. Thrift stores can’t resell merchandise without testing, making their business model impossible and threatening the charities that rely on those sales. Meanwhile, the economy of scale means that this law gives Mattel a competitive advantage from their own malfeasance — and they get the waiver on independent testing?

Saturday, April 24

It's still our Government Motors

GM is using government money to pay back government money to get more government money.

Emphasis mine

Thursday, April 22

Here's one Democrat's excellent idea

Jack D. Franks writes:

Instead of pushing for a tax increase, Quinn should stop the unnecessary spending.

Quinn could cut $1.2 billion worth of "member initiative" pork projects by executive order. He could push to collect more than $1 billion in taxes and fees owed to Illinois. He could push to scrap the lieutenant governor's office, which would save us $16 million over four years.

Rather than play politics with education, Quinn needs to scour Illinois' budget, assess every dollar spent and cut all but the most necessary expenditures.

We can do our part in the House and Senate. We can eliminate the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to save another $1 billion. We can combine the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority with the Illinois Department of Transportation and save millions. We can eliminate governor-appointed boards and commissions.

And we need to fundamentally change how we set the state budget each year.

We need forensic audits of all spending. Justify every dime and know where every dime is going.

We need a zero-based approach that requires all spending be justified. It is simply common sense. I have co-sponsored legislation that would require the General Assembly to adopt a full accrual-based accounting statement. Legislators would know exactly what our economic position is before they approved any budget. We can prevent this type of fiscal nightmare from recurring.

Illinois can pull itself out of this mess. We have to shrink the size of government through better accounting and restrained spending.

How GM is "repaying" its loan

Crony capitalism

In the U.S today, we are moving away from reliance on honest pricing. The federal government controls 90% of housing finance. Policies to encourage home ownership remain on the books, and more have been added. Fed policies of low interest rates result in capital being misallocated across time. Low interest rates particularly impact housing because a home is a pre-eminent long-lived asset whose value is enhanced by low interest rates.

Distorted prices and interest rates no longer serve as accurate indicators of the relative importance of goods. Crony capitalism ensures the special access of protected firms and industries to capital. Businesses that stumble in the process of doing what is politically favored are bailed out. That leads to moral hazard and more bailouts in the future. And those losing money may be enabled to hide it by accounting chicanery.

If we want to restore our economic freedom and recover the wonderfully productive free market, we must restore truth-telling on markets. That means the end to price-distorting subsidies, which include artificially low interest rates. No one admits to preferring crony capitalism, but an expansive regulatory state undergirds it in practice.

I gotta move to New York

Best Weight Loss Plan Ever.

Guy #1: How's that new apartment?
Guy #2: Every night the rats eat a little bit more of my foot...

--N Train

via Overheard in New York, Apr 22, 2010

Sunday, April 18

Idiotic Charles Schumer

Charles Schumer declares that passengers have the right to bring a carry-on aboard “without having to worry about getting nickeled and dimed.’’ ...[I]f Schumer grieves so deeply about travelers being “nickeled and dimed’’ when they fly, why has he never gone after the US ticket tax, which adds 7.5 percent to the price of every domestic flight? Or the $16.50 the federal government charges for each international departure and arrival? Or the $17 in customs and inspection fees paid by passengers flying into US airports from abroad? Or the “passenger facilities charges’’ (up to $18 per round-trip)? Or the “US Security Service Fee’’ ($2.50 per departure)? Or the “domestic segment fee’’ ($3.70 per flight segment)? The government’s unremitting “nickeling and diming’’ of airline passengers doesn’t trouble the sleep of New York’s senior senator. Only when a private firm acts does he toss and turn in anguish.

Contempt for the bourgeoisie in general and the United States in particular

[C]ontempt for the bourgeoisie was part of an intellectual tradition dating back to the 19th century, when English aesthetes..., German sociologists..., and French litterateurs... made careers out of flaying the middle class. They defined it as comprising, in the words of the great French historian Francois Furet, “petty, ugly, miserly, laborious, stick-in-the-muds, while artists were great, beautiful, brilliant and bohemian.” Flaubert, for one, argued against democracy on the grounds that “the whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.”

It was only in the 1920s...that such contempt for the bourgeoisie—and with it a deep hostility toward the United States’s position as the quintessentially middle-class, democratic, and capitalist nation—found a wide audience in this country through a new generation of writers....
And still today in the academy, there's lots of hostility to the hand that feeds us.

Wednesday, April 7

Obama's unpaid interns

Mr. Obama should not only apologize to the thousands of young, unpaid volunteers whom he exploited in 2008 for his own profit – namely, to win his election to the highest pulpit in the land – he should also give to each and every one of them back pay (with interest) for their efforts on his behalf.

Feeling good about ourselves

[I]n truth, differences between parties are often small. Democrats want to spend more and don't want to raise taxes, except on higher earners. Republicans want to reduce taxes but don't want to spend less. Vast budget deficits reflect both parties' unwillingness to make unpopular choices of whose benefits to cut or whose taxes to boost.

Given this evasion, the public agenda gravitates toward issues framed as moral matters. Global warming is about "saving the planet." Abortion and gay marriage evoke deep values, each side believing it commands the high ground. Certainly, President Obama pitched his health care plan as a moral issue. It embodies "the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care," as he said when signing the legislation. Health care is a "right"; opponents are, by extension, less moral.

Obama's approach was politically necessary. On a simple calculus of benefits, his proposal would have failed. Perhaps 32 million Americans will receive insurance coverage -- about 10 percent of the population. Other provisions add somewhat to total beneficiaries. Still, for most Americans, the bill won't do much. It may impose costs: higher taxes, longer waits for appointments.

People backed it because they thought it "the right thing"; it made them feel good about themselves. What they got from the political process are what I call "psychic benefits." Economic benefits aim to make people richer. Psychic benefits strive to make them feel morally upright and superior. But this emphasis often obscures practical realities and qualifications. For example: The uninsured already receive substantial medical care, and it's unclear how much insurance will improve their health.

Tuesday, April 6

Nobody would want to live in a world where rich people and poor people got the same kind of health care

The government should withdraw its support for the NCAA cartel

Ilya Somin proposes "a conceptually simple, though politically difficult, solution" to the problem of underpaid college athletes:
The government should withdraw its support for the NCAA cartel. Universities will gradually stop pretending that Division I football and basketball players are primarily students, and start treating them as the employees they actually are. The players will get paid for their work, and they and the universities won’t have to waste time and money forcing players to attend bogus classes in order to keep up appearances. Those who have the desire and academic credentials to do real coursework should of course be allowed to do so.