Friday, July 31, 2009

Unintended Consequences Part I --UPDATED

House plan seeks to pull car sales out of doldrums: "With auto sales in the doldrums, the House was considering a plan Tuesday to provide vouchers of up to $4,500 for consumers who turn in their gas-guzzling cars and trucks for more fuel-efficient vehicles." I see the cost of new vehicles "inexplicably" rising by about $4500 or so in the next 18 months, no doubt to cover the cost of proposed efficiency improvements... (On the other hand, this is far more than the estimated $1000 my old Explorer is probably worth on the open market.)

UPDATE: Nevermind, the program has run out of money after just one week. Consumers never actually got the money: the government promised the vouchers to the dealers in reimbursement. Lots and lots of unhappy dealers who might not get their government checks now may put these clunkers back out on the road to recoup their costs --including a significant number that probably weren't being run before the program was announced. And reports indicated that there was a lot of this sort of thing going around: Mommy wanted a new Lexus, so Daddy told Suzie to give back the old Suburban (which was still in his name), gave Suzie the keys to the old Lexus, and went and bought Mommy a new Lexus at a good discount. Doesn't anyone in the government think ahead or get second opinions anymore?

UPDATE II: oh goody, they're going to solve the problem by throwing more money at it!!! Now it has been pointed out that this is precisely the sort of stimulus spending that could, you know, actually help ordinary people. Still, I'm just not at all happy that no one is thinking about long-term here.

UPDATE III: there may be a $45,000 limit on the new car, but consumers are still lining up to buy imports: four of the top five cars purchased via "cash for clunkers" are foreign-made. Not just "foreign-branded, but made in Indiana" but foreign-made. Free trade is a wonderful thing, and protectionist measures are generally bad in the long run. Even so, attempts to justify this program as "good for America" are proving more and more specious --unless you work for a dealership.

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Unintended Consequences, Part III

A Minimum Wage Equals Minimum Jobs: The unseen costs of minimum wage laws - Reason Magazine. Here's the money quote

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again. Well, let me correct that. For some minimum-wage advocates, the bad consequences are not quite unintended. Consider the support for the minimum wage from large companies like Wal-Mart and organized labor. Why do they want the minimum raised? Economist Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University answers, "[T]hese employers will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage because it will raise the costs of their rivals. This is why unions have typically been in favor of the minimum wage even when their own workers make much more than the minimum."

I make a huge point of this in teaching both the Progressive Era and the New Deal. Government regulation often has the unintended consequence of reducing competition by raising costs disproportionately for small producers and driving them from the market. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906, ostensibly designed to foster public safety in the wake of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, put enormous pressure on small meat packers. The NRA Blue Eagle Codes drove small business men under, and opened them up to prosecution if they flaunted the law --just ask the Schecter brothers (Schecter v. U.S. --which overturned the heart of the First New Deal). It was/is fashionable for New Left historians to bash FDR for being too pro-business; I think they missed the real point: government interference in business is always going to be exploitable by big fish. And I haven't even mentioned the housing and banking crises!

More unintended consequences: rises in the minimum wage mean more jobs going off-the-books. And I'm not just talking about unauthorized immigrant labor (many of whom won't work for sub-minimum wages, just ask any construction manager.)

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Uncle Mojo???

I am pleased to announce that the Wee One will be acquiring a baby cousin in January, courtesy of the Cap'n and Tantan. Now he, too, can enjoy the wonders of 3AM feedings, toys under foot constantly, and silly music played around the house. Oh wait...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Yay! More Fan Mail!

Always good to hear from former students.


I just wanted to let you know that I was accepted to Texas A&M!  I moved up to College Station on Saturday.  Since I was one of the last to be accepted I have to register last so I will have a poor choice of classes for this Fall but I'm excited regardless.  I just wanted to thank you again for everything.  I enjoyed your classes a lot and I'm sorry I won't get to be in any of your classes anymore.  Thanks again.

Things are busy right now, so posting has been on the light side.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"But...but...Wal-Mart is supposed to be evil! What gives?!"

Wal-Mart's Eco-Index : discussing Wal-Mart's green initiative. You may be tempted to think of this exclusively in terms of "going green." That's not why I want you to read this. I want you instead to read it and consider the awesome job Wal-Mart did in coordinating its efforts around the time of Hurricane Katrina (and Rita and Ike). Wal-Mart did all of that without government interference. While the writing may be on the wall, in this case Wal-Mart is moving of its own volition. How much you want to wager they'll do a far better job on their own than other companies who wait until the federal government takes control of the effort?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why History Gets Rewritten --And Why Journalists Can't Always Be Trusted

I'm going to do something I don't like to do: I'm going to give a shout-out to someone that I don't like and who doesn't (didn't) like me back. Years ago in grad school, I took (more than) one class from noted historian Dr. Joan Hoff. A bit of a dissonance there, to be sure, and our last conversation was ...sub-optimal. And goodness knows she was far from conservative (oh come on, the "Broccoli" bumper sticker on the office door was a wee bit of a giveaway...). But she knew her stuff (and yes, she can be forgiven for not knowing the first woman U.S. governor, as Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was by no means a feminist pioneer), especially about Richard Nixon, a man she hated Back In The Day and still disliked but yet one could not help but note a certain respect in her tone hearing her discuss him.

Some folks thought it a wee bit odd when, in her Nixon course, she assigned Colodny and Getlin's Silent Coup, discussing an alternate version of the "standard heroic narrative" of Misters Woodward and Bernstein. John Dean figured prominently in their plot. She argued --and this was back in the early 90s, mind you-- that the full version of Watergate had yet to come out and would probably be substantially different from the one we all knew. Who knew how prescient she ended up being? Although the part about the composite "Deep Throat" has at least partially been discredited, the main thrust of the book is starting to look more and more attractive.

The whole thing does not pass the smell test: if Dean is clean, why is he still making such efforts to control his image? It's all so very... Nixonian. And now this: Watergate Figure John Dean Threatens to Sue Historian Over Damaging Tape Recordings. It makes me sad that a professor at Texas A&M would bow to this sort of thing: the Aggie Honor Code states that an Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerates those who do. Professor Nichter, while not bound as a student, should nevertheless set a good example and fight the good fight over this. (Hell, man, would Terry Anderson put up with this BS?! No!!!)

It also is a good lesson in not putting too much trust in journalists. Not only do they frequently have agendas which they deliberately hide (I may not like Eric Alterman, for instance, but I respect him for wearing it on his sleeve), but their first-drafts of history have a bad habit of being way off (All The President's Men, anyone? [No, not written by them, but done with their blessing]).

(And if for some unfathomable reason you are reading this, Dr. J., I'll use the passive whenever I want --though not as much as I once did. And by damn if you weren't right about a thing or two! For those things, at least, thanks. Oh, and I'm a hell of a lot better instructor than writer, as it turns out. And yes, I'm still watching for signs, just like you are --not there yet, but getting disturbingly closer.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Is This Still Radical And Subversive?

  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  • That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

  • That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

And we are unanimous in that...

Ah well, I knew she was getting up there in years: Actress Mollie Sugden dies at 86: best known as Mrs. Slocombe on "Are You Being Served?" An excellent commentary on her impact may be found here.

Hurricane Preparedness: The Oddball Bits

[NB I was going to post this a few weeks ago but it's been so quiet until recently that I forgot about it. ]

Today's discussion centers around evacuation procedures. We're not talking about which route to take or when to get --that's for another time. This is the oddball "dang I shoulda thought of that!" discussion.

  1. Gas in the vehicle really isn't about being ready to evacuate pre-storm, it's about being ready post-storm. Unless you live in N'awlins or Galveston or a similar low area, you generally don't consider evacuation unless 120+ winds are going to be coming to your immediate neighborhood. Well and good, you get to do triage to your property and get your pics for the adjuster (aside: wonder if you can pre-schedule one ahead of a storm...?), but if the power is out for a few days --or worse, the water pressure goes out and there's no drinking water --you're going to think about leaving, and then it hits you: you can't get gas because the stations are closed in your area. Or the refineries won't start deliveries for a few days. Whatever. Same problem: you don't have gas. Helpful hint: you have a boat that doesn't make you pre-mix the oil into the gas? Then you have a back-up gas source! Just make sure you have some kind of siphon hose and don't swallow!

  2. Obviously the preferable option is to evacuate well in advance of a coming storm, but if you choose to ride it out (and can do so safely), you need to have your game plan laid out for post-storm evacuation. I can guarantee that every hotel, motel, guest lodge and bed/breakfast within 300 miles is going to be booked up solid. Make nice-nice with in-laws, old college roomies or third cousins (this may mean reciprocity agreements and/or barbeque dinners) and have your options all laid out.

  3. Your animals are not going to evacuate themselves, nor do they know how to operate a can-opener if you are not present. Any evacuation plans should include dealing with family pets. I will point out (as a custodian of 30+ years experience) that cats with outdoors experience and access to an ant-free dry food dispenser and a large water supply may be left alone for a few days or even a week, but that's in extremis, and certainly you should never leave a cat behind to face a storm alone, even if they have indoor/outdoor capability (pet door). Dogs can't be trusted to conserve food, they will gorge on dry food until it runs out and then they will go hungry. The best option is to evacuate cats and dogs along with everyone else. Birds, too! Aquarium fish, alas, are generally out of luck.

  4. Before you leave, make sure you're not setting up nasty surprises for yourself upon return. Shut off the electricity, or leave only the breaker for the refrigerator and the freezer. Ditto the natural gas, and if you don't know where your cut-off valve is, shame on you. Secure your outside --there have been lawsuits involving wind-blown items crashing into someone else's house from someone else's property (think "reasonable expectations" and you have the basis of a tort). Board or tape windows, and secure doors. Locate ahead of time the neighborhood diehard who will not evacuate unless the storm surge is over 15' in the immediate vicinity, and bring him (or her) beer, hard liquor and/or ammunition and make nice-nice. This is the person who will be standing tall until you get back.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Olderlescence (an Essay by Roy, with a further amendment by Yours Truly)

The following is an original essay by Roy, sent to his brother, Del, to mark his 40th birthday, July 2. There is wisdom herein...

Dear Del,

Happy Birthday!

Being older and ostensibly wiser than you, I would like to offer you a few insights into the age you are entering. While the change from being 29 to being 30 is significant only in a wow-it's-a-new-digit-in-the-tens-place way, turning 40 is a real milestone. It's like entering puberty: the body is rapidly changing to make you a very different person. I call it olderlescence. You enter adolescence a child and come out a young adult. You enter olderlescence a pretty-much-still-young adult, but you're going to come out of it an old guy.

In adolescence, you start sprouting hair in places you didn't used to have it. Same thing happens in olderlescence, only the locations are more arbitrary and pointless. Don't need hair on your earlobes? Well, you're going to get it. It's just one of the characteristics that says "old guy".

The hair on your scalp, which so far has probably just entertained a few gray or white fellows in the name of diversity, will suddenly decide that these newcomers have the right idea. Mass conversions. It's an unstoppable craze among follicles. If they don't just shut down entirely, that is.

Up to now, your body has been pretty cooperative about turning food into muscle and energy. Soon, it will get tired of that and want to try something different: turning it into a gut. When adolescence ended, your ability to eat quite so much and stay trim was reduced. There is another quantum drop coming. On the plus side, it saves on food bills. Just try to enjoy every bite, because six is a meal.

Your eyes, which have worked pretty much the same since you were two, are going to retire. They'll still function, but they're not going to work at it. Change focus? Not anymore, I'm retired! You want something in-focus, you move it.

The encouraging news is that you don't have to have an "old guy" brain. You know, the curmudgeonly types that complain about everything new, different, or fashionable. You can stay "hip" and "with-it" as long as you like, although God knows why you'd want to, with all the stupid things young people are wearing these days. And Twittering and Facebook! What kind of time-wasting, TMI nonsense is that? I swear, if that's the future of this country, it couldn't get more depressing. When we were their age, we knew how to dress, and how to treat people with respect!

And while that was quite complete, I felt that Roy had managed to leave out a rather important point, which I emailed thusly:

One other rather significant thing that you will very definitely notice is an alteration in libidinous intentions. (This is in no way related to female menopause, and even mentioning this in the presence of a woman within your age cohort can have disastrous consequences... ) Quite simply, you are going to start slowing down. You've had your fun (presumably), and now your higher-order brain has decided to start finally exerting control over the more deeply-rooted areas of your cerebellum and medulla oblongata. Fixing faulty appliances will begin to have more appeal than watching, say, Baywatch or Spike TV. Driving past coeds on campus wearing short skirts will no longer cause unnecessary deviation in vehicle speed and/or direction. Very significantly, you are now of an age such that someone who is not a teenager may well fit the statement, "Oh, for crying out loud, she's young enough to be your daughter!" and a certain amount of decorum kicks in. You are not, repeat, not dead; it's that on a certain level you realize that Something has had his own way for a good portion of your life since the age of thirteen or so, and that maybe other body parts would like a turn in the driver's seat for a change.