Monday, December 17, 2007

Mark Steyn on Children

Here is Mark Steyn on those who see children as nothing more than polluters. See my post from a few days ago regarding whether you view humans as primarily consumers or producers.

Also: an addition to my Christmas Books List

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Primarily looks at random events in the markets, but also looks at the role random noise plays in other pursuits. Incredibly easy to read for a book that essentially deals with probability.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Books

Well the semester is finally over so Yippee! On the other hand, I'm a bit saddened by the fact that two of my four best students are graduating so next semester looks a little less bright.

With Christmas (not the Holidays, but Christmas) approaching I would like to provide a list of books I've enjoyed through the year that would make excellent gifts for the Misanthropic Economist on your list.
  • Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen. I wrote about it earlier this year. Simply a delightful and insightful book.
  • In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State by Charles Murray. Charles Murray is always worth a read. This book outlines his plan, however politically impossible, to replace all government transfer payments with a $10,000 per person grant for everyone over 21.
  • The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan. Great book on why bad economic policies persist and thrive.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. A classic in Christian apologetics and a literary classic.
  • Not a book, but a fantastic magazine: The American. Primarily business and economics related, but often ventures into fashion, food, sports, culture, and anything else.

Unfortunately, those are the only items that I remember reading this year that a general audience would really dig.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Basic Opportunity Costs

Here is a great lesson in opportunity costs. Economists refer to opportunity costs as the next highest valued use of a resource. It would warm my heart if the environmentalists fully understood the concept.

The environmentalists make constant calls for renewable energy such as wind and solar. A company wants to build a wind farm in Texas and environmental groups sue Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, principally over the fact that these turbines will kill a huge number of birds.

The opportunity cost in this case of reducing carbon emissions is the killing of birds. It runs back into the problem of scarcity: humans have unlimited wants and limited means to acquire them. If you want more birds, you're going to have accept some carbon emissions or nuclear waste. If want less carbon emitted by building wind farms, you're going to have to accept fewer birds. You can never have everything you want. Then again, maybe what some environmentalists want is less energy production.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Transportation Stuff

1) Here is a great article by the great John Tierney on smart cars. While it will take a while to work out all the bugs, I would really like to ride in a computerized car. Many people enjoy driving so I'm sure many will want to maintain control over their vehicle. However, if I can sit in a car with a computer guiding my path, keeping me a safe distance from other cars, and keeping traffic flowing that gives me more time to read and thereby relieving the boredom I find in driving.

2) John Semmens has a good article on the misallocation of resources in road maintenance and makes a brief case for privatization. Here is a good example from the article of some of the bad effects of government ownership of roads:

Consider: Everyone knows that heavy vehicles impose substantially larger costs for building and maintaining roads, yet studies consistently show that these vehicles are undercharged in relation to these costs. A well-organized trucking lobby has been successful in persuading state and federal legislators to shift costs to lighter vehicles and general taxpayers.
In effect, trucking operations are subsidized. The consequences include accelerated wear and tear on the roadways, diversion of freight traffic from rail, and increased roadway congestion. All of these consequences raise the cost of transportation and reduce the efficiency of the road system.
Taking the two articles together, I can't help but wonder if smart cars will become prevalent if roads remain under government ownership.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sean Taylor

Here is a great column by Jason Whitlock on the Sean Taylor tragedy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Gift Horse Has Left Town!

The RTLC plant won't be coming to Marlin. A story from The Marlin Democrat from a week before the one I cited last week indicates that the President of RTLC, Billy Terrell, will not be expanding his operation to Marlin.

I hope the residents of South Marlin realize what they've done. (You can read the petition South Marlin residents passed around here.) Other business owners will see this and be hesitant to explore the option of moving into Marlin. So not only did this gift horse get kicked in the mouth, but every other potential gift horse will think long and hard before even considering venturing into this bastion of inexplicable snobbery, short sightedness and disrespect for property rights.

There is a beauty to the economic process of wealth creation. (Here is a fine article on the blessings entrepreneurs, like Mr. Terrell, bring.) It is a true shame more people don't realize it.

Post Thanksgiving Reading

  1. A story on megachurches adding local economic activity to their missions. On one hand I see how this can give the churches greater outreach opportunities and provide a Christian friendly environment for businesses and consumers. On the other hand, these churches could get sidetracked from saving souls to making a profit.
  2. The EU is seeking a ban on the sale of genetically modified corn. I am skeptical on whether this is more of an environmental or a trade protectionist cause.
  3. Here are women who have had themselves sterilized to "protect the planet." To quote one woman: "Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet." These women obviously view humans as consumers rather than producers and every new baby as a liability. I take the opposite view. Genesis 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth!

Sometimes I wonder if some people really understand the ramifications of their words and actions. Marlin Texas is home to...em...uh... a chicken restaurant with a great lunch buffet and then uh...a Wal Mart and em...a couple of car dealers and em...a good feed store and...em...uh that's about it. You can't drink the water, most of the streets are terrible, the school system sucks (and that's being generous), and the city (and county for that matter) is bereft of economic activity.

Now someone, RTLC Piping Projects, wants to bring a business to town that is estimated to provide about 100 jobs. They want to place the plant on the south side of Marlin and some area residents don't want it there. Classic NIMBY. (I'm thinking about renaming the blog The Misanthropic Economist takes on NIMBY.) The president of the company says that he will not fight the residents on this and will look elsewhere for a plant location if the need should arise.

Listen up Marlinites: Marlin is an economic wasteland. If anyone wants to build anything in town whether it is a pipe fabricator, a power plant, or a maker of buttfores get the hell out of their way! Beggars cannot be choosers! As long as the company is not trying to use eminent domain to acquire land, welcome them with open arms and shut the hell up! Thank the good Lord above that someone is willing to invest in the damn town! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NIMBY Ethanol Plant!

I should have expected this, but I didn't. Residents in several towns home to proposed ethanol plants are fighting to keep them out. Much of it, there are some concerns about water usage, boils down to a classic case of NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. In fact one group opposed to a potential ethanol plant has printed up t-shirts reading "Good Idea. Bad Location."

Ethanol plants have to go somewhere and wherever they go, someone won't like it. A few things come to mind here.
  1. There is a failure of property rights in at least a couple of places here. If a firm acquires the land in an appropriately zoned area, they can build what they please on it. Provided of course that local government doesn't restrict their rights in some way which is a big if. The second failure comes in the form of negative externalities from the plant. If any form of pollution from the plant affects the property, including any one's person, of another then that constitutes an invasion and the polluter is liable for damages. This could include such things as runoff, air pollution, or the smell.
  2. There are going to be a few people who irregardless of the situation will raise complete and total hell when any proposal to build anything is talked about for reasons ranging from land use concerns to lack of "planning" to not wanting anything in their environment to change before they die.
  3. Apparently, I'm somewhat unique in actually liking the sight of economic activity, no matter where it is (although selling doves in the temple courtyard is a bit much). In most cases even the smells and sounds of productivity don't bother me. I'm more than compensated by the knowledge that entrepreneurial activity is taking place, work is being done and, hopefully, wealth is being created.

So hey ethanol producers: put the darn plant in my backyard. As long as you don't infringe on my property rights I wish you the best of luck!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Prospects for Biofuels

I will be first one to admit that I am extremely skeptical of the ability of ethanol, especially corn based ethanol, to have any meaningful impact on energy consumption. Other biofuels could be a different ball game. Here is a great article making the case that biofuels will play a major role in reshaping energy usage and energy markets.

Hat Tip (HT) to Arnold Kling.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Making a Difference"

Thomas Sowell has an especially good column today. The second sentence should cause us all to pause when we seek to "make a difference:"

"I would be scared to death to 'make a difference' in the way pilots fly airliners or brain surgeons operate. Any difference I might make could be fatal to many people."

Each and every one of our areas of expertise extends over an infinitesimal area of the great totality of knowledge. Better that we stick to and improve our own little corner of the cosmos than step into someone else's corner and screw it up.

Read the whole column. Well worth a five minute investment.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Thin Santa

The Brits are sending Santa to Boot Camp. Apparently jolly ol' Saint Nick is setting a bad example for the children by carrying around that extra weight. Santa's in some British malls are required to slim down in order to stay on the job.

Next thing you know Santa will have to shave his beard because it promotes homelessness. Or he'll have to stop wearing so much red because it offends those you don't see colors well. Or instead of cookies and milk, you must leave Santa bottled water and a granola bar. Or Santa will have to buy carbon offsets for his factories on the North Pole, assuming the Russians haven't already nationalized his factories.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vocabulary Lesson

OK class here's today's vocabulary lesson. I want to know if the following two words are equivalent:
"witch" and "which"
It's been a few years since English 101 and 102 so I'm not quite sure anymore.
Any guess on where I encountered such a thing?

Potholes and Gased Up Schools

The Waco Trib advocates the passage of Proposition 12 which would allow the Texas Transportation Commission to issue $5 billion in general obligation bonds for highway improvement. Most of use who regularly drive Texas roads would agree that improvement are badly needed in many locations.

However, here is one of the state's filthiest little secrets: according to chapter 162, section 503 of the Texas Tax Code, one-fourth of the tax collected on gasoline "shall be deposited to the credit of the available school fund." So a quarter of gasoline taxes are going into the school system, primarily for the purpose of school buses.

The rational behind gasoline taxes is to fund roads. It tends to work fairly well (not great, but good enough although I have major questions about the system as a whole). You buy gas, you pay the tax which then goes to fund roads. So there is a direct connection between the amount of driving and the construction and maintenance of roads. It doesn't work half bad, until of course you sever part of that connection by diverting a substantial chunk of that tax revenue for other purposes, no matter how high minded the cause.

Recreating the connection between gas taxation and road funding would be a nice first step in improving Texas roads. If you want to increase school funding, look elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Up in Smoke

Given the wildfires in California, it is worthwhile to take a look at U.S. Forest Service Fire Policy. Here is a good summary of that policy. You can also access the complete paper there, which is well worth reading.

The U.S. Forest Service fire suppression policy is a one size fits all policy, but forests vary by regions. Some forests need to have vegetation burnt back in order to thrive and some trees will only release seeds when exposed to intense heat.

On top of that, disposing of the underbrush, either by burning or physical removal, creates an environment where fires are much easier to control.

The primary way to facilitate a more rational fire policy is to move toward more local control of forest lands. Then maybe policies that fit the particular forest will be adopted and more controlled burning will be allowed.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Utility Function

I had my Intro class write down their utility functions this morning. A utility function is a bundle of goods and/or services from which you derive satisfaction. It is written as U=f(A, B, C...) or Utility is a function of A,B,C, etc. The best utility function a student provided just for the sheer variety of products is:

U=f(whiskey, beer, snuff, cheddar cheese)

I keep picturing this person sitting around with a dip of snuff, a beer in one hand and a chunk of cheese in the other.

Friday, October 19, 2007

This Morning's Krugman

I'm never quite sure what to make of Paul Krugman. He's a bright man who used to do (maybe he still does) good economic research. I disagree with his political conclusions at least 80 percent of the time, but as an economist I don't see how he comes to some conclusions. Take this morning's column.

He discusses the downfall of the Republican Party and the flow of corporate donations away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats. I get the impression that he believes this is happening because Corporate America is tired of the Bush administration's "amateurishness." Has Krugman never heard of rent seeking? Businesses see that Democrats are in power and have the potential to increase their majorities in the House and Senate and win the White House. If you're rent seeking, seeking economic favors from those in a political position to grant such favors, why would you support a party that is out of power?

He ends the column by discussing a Hillary Clinton event sponsored by Monsanto and Krugman sees a potential conflict of interest here. He fears that the next Democratic president, instead of being another F.D.R., will be another Grover Cleveland. If only! I wish there was a serious Republican candidate like Cleveland. Here's a nice article on Cleveland.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sad News

Laissez Faire Books is going out of business. LFB may have been my favorite place to buy books. Unfortunately, a niche book seller such as LFB could no longer remain competitive.

Long live LFB! You will be missed.

The NFL and Hip-Hop Culture

Jason Whitlock has an excellent column everyone should check out. He points out that the Indianapolis Colts have a 47 percent non-black roster while the New England Patriots have a 43 percent non-black roster. He lays the blame on the infusion of hip-hop culture into the NFL.

Just contrast such gentlemen as Gale Sayers, Mike Singletary, Kellen Winslow, Warren Moon, and Walter Payton with numb skulls as T.O., Pacman Jones, Larry Johnson, Travis Henry, Ray Lewis, and Chad Johnson. Whitlock claims that the NFL owners are trying to distance themselves from such nonsense because it's hurting business. The Patriots and Colts don't put up with such garbage and they're the leagues best teams far and away.

Excellent and thought provoking column.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Absurdity in Waco

John Stossel has a column mentioning the 4 year old "sex offender" in Waco as well as other instances of the same nonsense. Chris Rock has it right: "If my father hadn't harassed my mother I wouldn't be here!"

At least no quasi-prominent Waco resident was busted for urinating on a bar. But wait, someone was!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Good Economic Developments in the Middle East

Finally, here's some good long term economic developments in the Middle East. Several countries are becoming less oil dependent and opening up their economies. As the article says, this is certainly not a cure all for any part of the Middle East, but it's nice to see.

Discover Your Inner Economist

Tyler Cowan's new book Discover Your Inner Economist is absolutely terrific. I don't understand why it has gotten such terrible reviews at Then again, if I like something most everyone else hates it (TV: Alias; Music: Dream Theater, Stuck Mojo; Comedy: Carlos Mencia).

This book is not about pure, theoretical economics. It is largely a work of applied economics focusing on such areas as how to become a cultural billionaire, tipping, charity, how and where to find great ethnic food restaurants, using incentives to get kids to wash the dishes, and many other topics most economists don't go near.

For a good look at some economic theory that is packaged in an easy to digest form, try Henry Hazlitt's classic Economics in One Lesson. A good economics course for the layman would be reading Hazlitt's book for theory and then Cowen's for fun and neat applications.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why? Why? Why?

I don't know what to think of this. Why would they give Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize? Ole Danbolt Mjoes, the head of the committee says "A peace prize is never a criticism of anything. A peace prize is a positive message and support to all those champions of peace in the world." Oh so Gore winning is not a criticism of Bush? Just like Jimmy Carter winning in 2002 wasn't a knock on Bush? Glad he cleared that up!

I'm not getting too worked up over this though. Ever since Yasser Arafat won the stupid thing back in 1994 the value of the Nobel Peace Prize has been going down faster than the potential of Britney Spears' children.

It's a shame that a prize that once went to the great Norman Borlaug has become such a disgrace.

On the plus side of things this morning, isn't it cool how I finally figured out how to embed links so I don't have those long website links exposed, making The Misanthropic Economist look like crap?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Late Morning Reading

1) David Brooks has a really nice column on the lifestyle patterns of today's 20-somethings. I see some of myself in it, but the reason I fit some of his descriptions differ from the reasons he gives. (You'll need a free log-in to The New York Times to access it.) Thanks to Arnold Kling.

I'm interested to see how Brooks' views compare to Robert Epstein's in his new book The Case Against Adolescence. I recently purchased the book and can't wait to read it. I would guess that Epstein would include parts of what Brooks calls the "Odyssey Years" in adolescence, but without reading the book I can't be sure.

2) A recap of the Cowboys' improbable win last night. What concerns me more than Romo's pics is Owens' hands. He dropped one hitch route by looking up field too soon, the 2 point conversion was ripped out of his hands, and he couldn't cradle the ball in with 13 seconds left in the game. None of these mistakes cost the Boys in the end, but any of them could have. I haven't seen a line on next week's game, but I would take New England as a 7 point favorite if for no other reason than Randy Moss has just killed the Cowboys.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Nuclear Option

Here is a good article my Waco economist Ray Perryman on nuclear power and the potential for a plant near Bay City.

To quote C. Montgomery Burns, nuclear power plant owner on The Simpsons, this article is "Excellent."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ethanol Networks

The boom in ethanol production has not been followed by a boom in transportation networks to move the stuff.

The energy bill of 2005 mandated that ethanol consumption double over the next 7 years and provided incentives (tax breaks and subsidies) to increase production. However, too few realized that specialized rail cars, pipelines and trailers are required to transport ethanol. So as ethanol production boomed, the development of an ethanol transportation network didn't develop along side it.

Perhaps the incentives are to blame. The price signals regarding ethanol are artificially inflated by government action. Because ethanol production is subsidized, that's what people do. Since the subsidy may not be there tomorrow, you'd better produce while the gettings good. This is classic short term thinking.

Whereas an ethanol producer who is in it for the long run will make sure that specialized factors of production (transportation networks in this case) required in distribution are there, the short run incentives created by the subsidies puts such concerns on the back burner. Consequently, there is a glut of ethanol on the market and the price has dropped. This is a perfect example of the often perverse incentives created by government intervention.

Where is Henry Hazlitt when we need him?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hot for Teacher

Research has shown that having a crush on the teacher can result in better academic performance.

Most of my students are not very good, so I guess I don't have to concern myself to much with unwanted attention.

The only situation involving me as teacher was last year when a young man proposed to me in class. It didn't help him though; I dropped his grade a letter!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Water Your Lawn or Else!

An elderly woman in Utah was arrested for not watering her lawn then resisting arrest.

There are different ways to look at this. If you desire to live surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns, there are ways to ensure it. One way is to pay your neighbors to maintain their lawn or maintain their lawns for them. Another is through planned communities. The deed can state that certain colors of paint must used on the homes' exterior, certain trees planted, and certain lawn conditions maintained among other conditions. However this can all be handled by a private developer. There is NO reason the local government should concern itself in such affairs. A majority vote doesn't morally justify harassing an elderly woman over the condition of her lawn.

If this poor lady lived in such a privately planned community with directives on lawn care written into the deed, she is liable to be fined. I see no morally justifiable reason why she should have been arrested.

I for one would never want to live in any community that had directives on lawn care, exterior house color, or landscaping or that was zoned. (Perhaps I'll blog on my views of zoning sometime.) If other people want to live in such a way, more power to them! Either move into a privately planned community with such restrictions or buy up a large portion of land, build homes on it, and write lawn care directives into the deeds. Violators can then be fined and removed from the community if conditions warrant. Whatever type of community, cosmetically planned or cosmetic free choice, you desire to live in' there is no reason government has to play the role of enforcer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kling's Order and Disorder

If you go to Tech Central Station (sorry but I couldn't get a direct link to the article) you should check out Order and Disorder by Arnold Kling.

It's a good article that provides some Hayekian insights.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sports and Character (or lack thereof)

Here's a good article by Anthony Bradley of the Acton Institute on why he thinks sports do not build character.

The whole problem falls back, in large part, to having a short time horizon. When it's all about winning right now, the incentives to account for future effects is diminished. So the New England Patriots stole signals; they've got 3 Super Bowl titles (who's to say they wouldn't have them anyway?). Now the Pats will pay a fairly steep price. Jason Giambi took steroids and got a huge contract from the Yankees out of it. Then his body started breaking down. There was a complete and total lack of long term thinking in both situations. It is the same basic ailment that causes people not to save enough for their retirement.

Then you have situations like Travis Henry. Henry has nine children by nine women because the only time period he obviously thinks about is right now. (Incidentally, how about sending him over to Russia. He's already repopulated several NFL cities. He could really do some good for humanity in Russia.)

Maybe the problem isn't entirely one of time horizons. These folks obviously thought long term sometime otherwise they wouldn't have worked hard enough to get to the professional level. Maybe they are just too stupid to realize all the consequences of their actions. Either way, the short time horizon plays a role in the sports cheating incidents and many other social phenomenon, especially on college campuses. And I have no idea what could be done about it.

What the.....?

I started reading the Waco Tribune Herald online again and was reminded this morning of why I stopped.

I'm not sure whether this letter to the editor is a joke or if this young lady is serious. Wherever she is being educated should be ashamed of the flawed logic if nothing else.

Here's the link and you'll have to sign up if you want to get into much of anything on the Trib website now:

Green and mean

"If I had to think of one phrase to describe myself, it would be environmentally concerned. Because I do not believe in harming anything pertaining to Mother Nature, I do not own a house. I live in a tree.
I encourage others to do so. It does not matter if it is on my property or someone else’s. Although trespassing is a crime, the real criminal is the person who wants to chop down that beautiful, 200-year-old, rotting, termite-infested tree. Of course, I am the only one aware of this, seeing as the truth would not agree with my agenda."

First of all, yes there it really does matter if the tree is on my property. If anyone is in a tree on my property without my consent, the tree being chopped down should be the least of the person's worries! The last sentence of the second paragraph has me stumped (pun intended). I can't out figure what the heck she's saying. I'm not sure she knows either.

"If someone did decide to chop down the tree, I would do my best at making him feel guilty for ending the lives of the tree and the termites. They have rights, too."

FYI, if the tree is rotting, it doesn't have life in it.

"When I move, it doesn’t matter where, as long as there is an organic grocery store within a five-mile radius. I do not believe in cars, or anything else for that matter. Cars cause global warming; it is too hot already.
I wonder how many more lies we will be told in order to convince us that global warming does not exist.
And even though I may be totally off, completely wrong, and practice bad personal hygiene, I will eventually come out on top, knowing I have done my part and made a difference."

Katie Samples
10th Grade

Somehow I believe her when she says "I don't believe in cars, or anything else for that matter." Especially the anything else part.

I'm not sure who should be more ashamed; the school where she was educated (or not) or the Trib for printing such nonsense. Can't they find a better article advocating a green lifestyle than that?

P.J. O'Rourke had it exactly right. I can't remember where he said or wrote it, but it applies to high school students as well: "College students will do anything for the environment except take classes and learn about it."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Football Fans Are Nuts!

A friend sent me this story and I can't stopping asking myself Why? Why?,2933,296466,00.html

Here's the summary: University of Texas football fan walks into an Oklahoma bar with UT shirt on. UT fan becomes the center of trash talk from OU fans. It is alleged that one OU fan grabbed the UT fan by the testicles and almost castrated him.

I take some flak for my views on sports fan: when a team you like wins, YOU didn't win unless YOU are on the team (see my previous post on this topic). I don't care if you went to the school, the team won, YOU didn't. Consequently, I never get worked up over whether teams I like win or lose. I like it when teams I support win (its been a lot easier to be a Rangers fan lately), but watching sports with a certain detachment makes the games that much more interesting. The game itself becomes more enjoyable, not just your team's play.

Granted, the above incident is an extreme example and the vast, vast majority of sports fans would never think of doing something so stupid. But for fans who will go to such lengths, what does it say about the meaninglessness of their lives that they will get worked into such a frenzy over a sport or a particular team? And what does it say about such fans grasp of reality?

With that in mind, I propose the following Constitutional amendment: "If an individual in any of the several states has ever gotten into a physical altercation over sports, their right to vote in Federal elections shall be abolished." I would encourage the states to pass similar amendments.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thomas Sowell's Random Thoughts

Always worth the read:
Two particularly good ones:

"Despite people who speak glibly of "earlier and simpler times," all that makes earlier times seem simpler is our ignorance of their complexities." Amen!


"I can't get as fiercely involved as some other people do in controversies about the origins of human life on earth. I wasn't there." Preach on Brother Sowell!

I can think of many other more prosperous ways to spend ones time. How about instead of trying to find out how we're here, what about contemplating why we're here?

I'll try to blog more regularly this month. I'm back to work now so I have plenty of free time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Newewt Hero

Ever since Joe Camel was tossed to the curb, I've been looking for a smoking hero. Well I've found her:

My only wish is that she would emigrate to the United States for her final years so we can learn from someone with a don't tread on me attitude.

Also, I really wish Camel (or whomever owns him now) would license the rights to use Joe Camel to me. If he was SO powerful he made children start smoking, maybe I can use him to get my students to learn economics.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It Never Fails!

This is purely misanthropic with little economic relevance, but I don't care. Why do people drive out the in gate in a parking garage when they can see someone trying to come in? Better yet, why is there always one idiot driving ass backward through a parking lot? I experienced both in about a 5 minute time span. Maybe speed bumps that will slash your tires if you hit them from the opposite side would cure this little annoyance.

My shack in the woods days are getting closer.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Rush and South Park

I didn't know this until I found the video on YouTube, but the guys from South Park did a bit for Canadian rock trio Rush to use before the song Tom Sawyer. Even if you're not a Rush fan, check out the video. I've been laughing all day thinking about it. I'm thinking about showing it to my classes this fall just to see how many of them get the joke.

Spurrier and other Smart Guys

1) I really hate to break this to Steve Spurrier, as if the Old Ball Coach will ever hear of this, but he is not the center of the universe. Spurrier is upset because two of his recruits at South Carolina were denied academic entry to the university.

All I can say is OUTSTANDING! I wasn't sure lots of the major universities still had admission standards (I know the lower level state universities don't), especially for athletes. Maybe, just maybe, but probably not, a few universities will start enforcing admissions standards. Ted Kennedy will probably pass a field sobriety test before that happens.

2) This clown who caught A-Rod's 500th home run ball. (Sorry, but I couldn't find a link to the story. Saw it on Mike and Mike this afternoon). This guy was recently unemployed. He had to empty out his savings to buy Yankees season tickets. Now he has A-Rod's 500th home run ball and want to cash it on it. The economist in me is all for this. It is his money and he can spend it how he wishes. And any ball that goes into the stands becomes the fan's property and he can dispose of the ball as he chooses.

Taking off my economist hat now, I hope A-Rod doesn't give the joker a red cent! If you are unemployed and clear out your savings to buy baseball season tickets, you really should check your priorities. One way or the other this guy will cash in because someone will pay a few thousand dollars for the ball. Good for him. But otherwise, what a doofus!

Sowell, Bridges and Incentives

Great column by Thomas Sowell on the Minnesota bridge disaster and the incentives facing politicians in general:

Nice column from the Mises Institute on the same topic as well:

Monday, July 30, 2007

What a Day!

It happens very rarely, but occasionally something happens to make me a little less misanthropic for few hours. I had 2 such occurrences today, so this week has reached its high point.

First, here's Mark Steyn's column on the two Oregon seventh graders who find themselves charged with sexual abuse after slapping girls on the butt. Incidentally this makes pretty much everyone I was a graduate assistant with a sex offender.
The second paragraph made my day:
Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like "a handshake we do," as one female student put it. On "Slap Butt Fridays," boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

And then there was this:
a story on a camp in Russia where the young are encouraged to procreate for the motherland. Quite frankly Russia needs fresh blood big time. The camp sounds pretty cool to me aside from the fact that apparently it is run by Putin for the purposes of strengthening his own grip on power.

Maybe the Kremlin should start the process of increasing Russia's birthrate by encouraging women not to get abortions. The last data I saw, and I'm sure it hasn't changed, is that there are more abortions in Russia than live births. If that is not a microcosm of Russia's state of affairs I don't know what is.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter

Apparently I'm the only one in the blogosphere, including the economics blogs, who didn't spend all weekend reading the final installment of the Harry Potter series. I have no desire to read any of the books, but I have seen one of the movies and wasn't terribly impressed. I guess I'm even more uncool than I thought. I guess there is some redeeming social value to Potter, given that the books have gotten some kids to read.

I have threatened on several occasions though to write my own anti-Potter series. The first book will be called Henry Pothead and the Lost Roach Clip. The second book will be Henry Pothead and the Cracked Water Bong.

Correction: I claimed previously that I hadn't read a novel in about 6 years. I actually read In His Steps by Charles Sheldon in the last year. It is a novel that sparked the What Would Jesus Do? movement.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Things to Unlearn from School

Here's a nice post and response on 3 Things to Unlearn from School:
1) The importance of opinion.
2) The importance of solving given problems.
3) The importance of earning the approval of others.
And from the response:
4) Parroting back something even though you don't understand it.

I agree fairly well, especially with 1 and 3. Your opinion matters much less than what the consequences would be if your opinion were widely adopted or implemented. To determine the consequences, you need to have factual and empirical backing, not just an "I feel..." statement. Most of the opinions on a college campus are of the "I feel..." variety whether the speaker knows it or not. I addition, what you think is much less important than what is.

Something else that bothers me in that vein is confusing opinions with policy prescriptions. If I say that I don't like to hunt, it does not necessarily follow that I want to ban hunting, I just don't like to hunt.

As regards 3, seeking the approval of others can lead you into repeating the company line as opposed to offering new ideas or rocking the boat when the boat needs to be rocked. I'm not sure how you combat that one without fundamentally altering the way grading is done and most people don't develop a taste for being the devil's advocate or for being hated.

Original post:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Novel Reading Material

For the first time in the last 6 years, I read a novel. It's the first novel I've read in probably 10 years or more that I read on my own. (The last novel I read was The Killer Angels by Shaara for a history class my freshman year in college.)

I finished Boomsday by Christopher Buckley several days ago. The main plot surrounds a blogger who advocates that baby boomers kill themselves at age 70 (know as voluntary transitioning in the book) to cure the solvency problems facing Social Security. This proposal is picked up by an opportunistic U.S. Senator who's running for president and all sorts of fun happens around this.

Overall I don't regret reading the novel. Chris Buckley is a good writer of political fiction (his Thank You for Smoking was made into a movie a year or so ago) and Boomsday was clever in spots and kept my attention. However, after finishing it I didn't feel nearly as satisfied as I am after reading some empirical study of Social Security solvency. I somewhat enjoyed the novel, I just didn't feel intellectually enriched for having read it.

I think I'll stick to non fiction. However, I will one day read some of Ayn Rand's fiction.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lack of Activity

The Misanthropic Economist is still alive and fairly well. I'm just really busy with classes right now. Don't give up on me; I'll start posting more frequently in mid-July.

For any of you who happen to be in college or will soon be in college: be very, very careful about what types and how many classes you take in the summer. Unless you're a mathematical genius, two upper level math courses crammed into 5 weeks is probably not the smartest thing to undertake.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Distorting Turkey Waste

Here's an article in The New York Times on burning turkey litter to produce electricity:

A couple of issues have come up with using turkey litter to produce energy. One is that turkey litter is really useful as an organic fertilizer. Therefore many environmentalists and organic enthusiasts don't want turkey litter to be burnt for electricity. This would be a simple problem to solve if not for issue number two.

Electricity produced this way is expensive. Here is how it is made economically viable: "The plant was built by Fibrowatt, a Philadelphia-based company, with financial incentives from the State of Minnesota." So Minnesota subsidizes this plant.

This subsidy makes using turkey litter as an energy source more attractive than alternative uses, such as an organic fertilizer. Without the subsidy, the organic gardeners and farmers would have an easier time bidding the litter away from energy usage and the turkey litter would be much more likely to flow to its most highly valued use. Burning the stuff for electricity may be the most highly valued use for turkey litter, but the with subsidy who knows? Economic calculation has been distorted and society is almost certainly poorer for it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Understanding Broken English

On a college campus, this can be a major problem. Even if the speaker speaks English fairly well, an accent can cause problems.

This occurred to me while listening to a 3 hour lecture from an instructor that someone else claimed to not have been able to understand. I see 4 very broad possibilities why I could understand him while my associate could not.
1) I can hear better than my associate. Not very likely.
2) I've spent more time around foreigners and immigrants of various language backgrounds (including watching lots of British sitcoms) and I've become fairly decent at filling in the blanks and determining what the speaker means to say. In one class, our Nigerian professor had me translate the somewhat rough English of the Indian students into language he could understand!
3) I read a lot more than my associate. Therefore, I have a better command of the English language (although that's not always obvious from reading this blog!) and I can figure out what other people, especially foreigners or immigrants, are trying to say. Or
4) My associate is from east Texas and well, let's just say Jeff Foxworthy would occasionally need a translator here!

I'm sure someone has done some research on whether reading is correlated with the ability to understand what those with accents or who speak in broken English are trying to communicate. It'd interesting to see.

One more fun thing about many immigrants and foreigners is that they don't initially realize what is and what is not appropriate casual conversation in America, therefore they will occasionally say something to you that would result in an American being punched!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Immigration, Megadeth, and Fingers!

Sorry I haven't posted anything recently, but here's a start in making up for it.

1) Since immigration is all the rage right now, I'll weigh in. I don't have strong views on immigration one way or the other. I do support immigration if for no other reason than that is a check on government tyranny. If you can move, government has less control over you. As for new legislation, maybe existing legislation should be enforced first? As for new immigration restrictions, they could be helpful for Mexico if fewer Mexicans can go to U.S. thereby forcing Mexico to institute economic and institutional reforms to encourage economic growth, property rights and stability. However, restrictions would reduce the number of immigrants and industrious people will be excluded from the U.S. I want just as many industrious people in this country as we can get! As always, Thomas Sowell has a good column on immigration:
His Migrations and Culture is also well worth the read and applicable to immigration.

2) For those of you care about such things, the new Megadeth album United Abominations came out last Tuesday and it is great! Dave Mustaine is one of the most intelligent guys in heavy metal and his lyrics reflect this. The title track of the album is highly critical of the United Nations. He calls out Kojo Anan in the first verse. Here's the chorus:

The UN is right; you can't be any more "un"
Than you are right now, the UN is undone
Another mushroom cloud, another smoking gun
The threat is real, the Locust King has come
Don't tell me the truth: I don't like what they've done
Its payback time at the United Abominations

The music is also much better than it has been on any Megadeth album in the last 15 years or so. Well worth the price!

3) I found this on MSN this evening. According to the book Digit Ratio, if your ring finger is longer than your index finger, it is an indication that you were exposed to higher than average amounts of testosterone in the womb. This correlates with a personality that tends to be logical, decisive, and ambitious. Not sure how valid that is, but it gives me one more reason to stare at people and they tend to get creeped out by me enough as it is!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Picture Worth 1000 Words!

Kudos to Division of Labour for this photo. A new book on West Virginia's poor economy uses the following satellite image you can view at:
If you don't view it soon, you may have to go into the May Archives to find it, but it's well worth it.

The image shows the Kentucky-West Virginia border. The contrast is absolutely breath taking! Well worth your time!

The book doesn't sound too shabby either.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Wild Spending on Wildfire

If you go to and listen to the May 7, 2007 Podcast, you'll hear a great discussion of how the Forest Service has an incentive to stop all forest fires, even beneficial ones, and overspend on fire fighting due to the way Congress structured the enabling legislation back in 1908.

I can't help but think that the exact same incentives probably confront state and local forest and natural resource officials in regards to forest fires.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Virginia Tech and Fertility

I know its a little late to comment on the Virginia Tech tragedy, but a post at another blog made me think of something. Go to Voluntary Exchange for the post that got me going:

There are stories of some people trying to fight back, but not nearly enough people creating a diversion, hitting the guy with books, a chair, anything. It is as if lots of these folks didn't value life itself, or even their own life, to try and stop this psycho from killing. The most likely reason for this that I've seen is the complete and total pacification these students have been exposed to their entire lives: "If there is a problem, just talk it out. We can all come to an understanding. There's no need for shouting or violence."

So, you don't fight back. I see a connection to fertility in that if you don't value your own live, much less the lives of others, enough to try and stop someone from taking it away, is it really any surprise that fertility rates are falling? If you don't value your own life, why would you create another one?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


1) If you visit one California hotel, you will not find the Gideon Bible in the nightstand, but you will find a copy of An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. This hotel also has waterless urinals (I call that going outdoors) and recycled paper (I don't want to know what kind of paper. Hopefully they haven't been coordinating with Sheryl Crow on that one).

2) Check out John Stossel's column today and ask yourself whether schooling is necessary for children to develop proper social skills. Stossel also has a 20/20 special on Friday.

3) This story itself is certainly not absurd, but one line in it may be. It is about the rise of religious life on college campuses around the nation. Professor Peter Gomes of Harvard, the university preacher, “There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years.” Certainly an interesting and potentially welcome development.

The absurd part, or at least a part I don't completely buy, is from the first few lines of the article. "To be seen as religious often meant being dismissed as not very bright, he (Gomes) said. No longer." As someone who is on a college campus, although it is certainly one where religious belief is not under attack, there are still many, many professors who belittle those students and fellow professors who openly express religious beliefs, especially at elite institutions. So to sum up, I think Gomes is a little too optimistic.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Wordly Philosophers and Great Jokes

Maybe the two go together. At The Misanthropic Economist they do!

1) Mark Skousen, a great economist, finance expert, and writer, puts out a great weekly column called The Worldly Philosophers. Each week features a profile of someone who offered great wisdom on finance, investing, economics and life in general. Previous profiles have been of Aristotle, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, and Jesus Christ.

You can sign up for the column at:

2) I've attempted to tell the following joke twice in the last few days on campus and have gotten nothing, but confused looks. I stole it from Steven Wright.
"I had a horrible day. I went to the store to buy a map and they got all mad at me. They didn't have any maps that weren't an aerial view."
Someone out there, please tell me that that is as funny as I think it is!
One person responded to the joke with: "There's a place a Tyler that's got all kind of maps; try them!"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Consequences of Ethanol and Biofuels

Here's an article that brings up a couple of serious drawbacks to biofuels.

As the government subsidy induced demand for ethanol increases the demand for corn in the U.S., and other types of crops the world over, increasing pressure will build to convert more land to agricultural uses. This threatens biodiversity and several endangered species and increases the amount of poor land in agricultural production.

As more land is devoted to growing crops for biofuels, the cost of food will go up. This has already happened with the Mexican tortilla situation earlier in the year and food prices going up 10 and 6 percent in Indian and China respectively in the last year. This threatens to increase hunger and malnutrition around the globe.

The last paragraph of the article is worth quoting in full:
"As long as global warming is hyped as the world's most important environmental problem - as many politicians and environmental pressure groups claim - it will be virtually impossible to rationally evaluate other options in dealing with climate change, or confront the unintended consequences unleashed by global warming hysteria."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stupid Sentence

I found this in the 2006 Annual Report of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. Referencing changes in the industry since the Foundation was founded in 1967, Dan Durheim writes:
"Almost 40 years later, agriculture is more modern than many of our forefathers could ever had imagined."

Agriculture has always been modern in that practices reflected the best available and economically feasible methods and information. Agriculture today is certainly more technologically advanced than our forefathers could have imagined, but it is not more modern.

Not a horribly stupid sentence. It's partly just a matter of semantics, but enough to annoy me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sheryl Crow Needs to Keep Her Nose Out of My Business! Literally!

On Sheryl Crow's Biodiesel Bus Blog she advocates the use of less toilet paper.
Here's a sample:
"I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required."

An even greater amount of conservation would occur if we did any of the following:
a) Don't wipe
b) Wipe with a sock which we then wash out
c) Wipe with our hands and then wash them
d) Use newspaper. The Waco Trib works great
e) Use the liner notes from Sheryl Crow albums
f) Use leaves (FYI: pines cones DON'T work well at all!)
g) Eat lots of cheese so the problem solves itself
h) Ban prunes and prune juice (I feel sorry for you older readers, but it's for a good cause)
i) Finally, establish the Association of Sanitary Statistics (ASS for short) and a network of monitors to track toilet paper usage and administer fines to offenders

The first ASS monitor who shows up while I'm on the can to try and tell me how many squares of TP to use will leave covered in...

Student improvement and Religion

Here's a story in the Waco Trib about a study which shows that minority and low income students' academic performance is positively influenced by the religiousness of the student's family and their presence in a private, religious school.

The study's author said that the academic success of these students at private schools has to do with parental involvement, the school culture, and the encouragement of religious commitment. The majority of private school in the study's data set where Christian. So just maybe Christianity doesn't result in complete and total backwardness in its faithful.

The study also found that private schools have greater racial harmony. Now one reason for this could very well be that private schools have a more homogeneous racial complexion, but many public schools are homogeneous as well. I think a better reason for this finding is that all students are at the school voluntarily and (more importantly) they share some common cultural characteristics. So what is seen in many public schools may not be racially based conflict, but instead a conflict of cultures or maybe even a conflict of visions in one sense.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Congestion Pricing in New York City

I don't have the energy to look for a link to the story, but Michael Bloomberg will propose an $8 congestion fee for vehicles entering Manhattan at some point in the city. So maybe congestion pricing is starting to make an impact in the policy arena.

I had a post about congestion pricing a few months ago. Again I highly, highly recommend taking a look at Street Smarts if you're interested in the concept. The Reason Foundation also has lot of stuff online about it at

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Exams, Classes, and Students

Sorry, no good vocabulary words from exams today. I'll just say that the class average would make for a batting average any major leaguer would gladly brag about during retirement.

Once again, I firmly believe that the majority of students (if you can call them that) should be in technical/trade programs and/or working instead of in universities. Maybe one day employers will wisen up and see just how worthless a university degree has become and stop requiring one for jobs in which a BS or BA is not needed.

I think my general rule from now on if anyone asks me about going to a university is that if you don't have a desire to know something just for the sake of knowing it and if you're not willing to put in at least 8 to 10 hours a day EVERYDAY on class work and study, don't go. This nonsense is only making instructors and professors angry and could lead to some sort of revolt in the near future. Perhaps actually enforcing admission standards or actually kicking people out when they will not do the work would help.

The worst part of it is that college classrooms are turning into high school classrooms. Students actually have to be told to sit down and shut up. The ones in the back spend their time text messaging or chatting quietly instead of paying attention to the lecture.

In my classes, I practically spoon feed them. Twenty percent of the class is just showing up and paying attention. I tell them EXACTLY what material the exams will cover and they still don't bother to study. I will be proud if some people don't graduate college because of me.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus Vs. Duke Lacrosse Case

Head over to to read a nice contrasting of the Imus and Duke lacrosse cases.

The Don Imus Affair

This qualifies as my fellow man's folly so it's a go for this blog. For the record, I find the whole controversy completely and totally stupid. Imus is more or less a shock jock. That's how he makes his money. I haven't watched or listened to his show in several years, but saying off the wall and offensive stuff is what he does. If you don't like it, don't watch or listen to him.

As far as his nappy ho's comment or whatever his comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team was that got everyone's underwear in a bunch, who cares? The Rutgers women's basketball team is supposed to be a group of grown women who I would hope wouldn't get their feelings hurt by such a frivolous affair (which was an attempted joke), but that's obviously not the case. There is a whole class of people in this country, and the world for that matter, just looking to be a victim and another class that profits off the victims. If I reacted like these folks everytime I heard someone say or write something stupid, my department would probably be half the size it is and I would probably be in some sort of correctional facility.

There comes a time when you have to grow up and learn to tolerate the stupid comments of others. I would think college students could do this, but obviously they can't.

Here is a great column on this whole mess.

Proven Right Again

If you go to Overcoming Bias (, which by the way is a great blog, read the entry under Just a Smile? An article in The New Scientist has seemed to validate one of my views.

I know that Ashley and Monica have heard my theory on how geeky guys and nerds respond to female attention. Well that article seems to prove me right.
"(R)esearch indicates that men typically overestimate the sexual interest conveyed by a woman's smile or laughter."
And what really proves my point:
"He found that the the higher the IQ, the more likely they were to think that women would be interested."

It's amazing how someone else had to spend a decent amount of resources to conduct a study whose conclusion was what I said over lunch 2 years ago.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Great News for Cowboys Fans

After an incredibly long year of listening to Cowboys' radio broadcasts last season, this season promises to be much better. Charlie Waters is leaving the booth to be replaced by Babe Laufenberg, who spent the 10 previous seasons in the booth with Brad Sham before Waters took over last season. Waters was a great player a good coach. However, he was a horrible radio analyst. Some of those games last season where just awful to listen to. Laufenberg is really good in the booth. At least one part of the Cowboys will be better this season.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Summing Up Europe

Here a nice story from The New York Times which sums up the situation in Europe:
In a northern town in Britain, the muncipal authorities voted to allow a former Methodist church to become a Mosque.

Two things about this:

1) Why in the world do the municipal authorities in Britain or anywhere else in the Western world have anything at all to do with where a religious structure is located? If the Methodists, or in this case the church was being used as a factory, want to sell the church to Muslims what business is it of the municipality? Or if a group of Muslims decides to build a mosque somewhere, why is it the town's concern? Does anyone ever stop to wonder why the Catholics and Protestants generally get along quite well in American while Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq don't get along quite so well? Maybe it has a little something to do with the fact that the state in America more or less leaves the Catholics and Protestants to themselves whereas in Iraq the Shiites and Sunnis tend to get into "little" conflicts over who controls what. In the U.S., aside from the Baptists doing stupid things occasionally, Christians tend to get along pretty well.

(As a side note, the Methodists never do anything stupid. Unless of course you count giving out awards to controversial local newsletter publishers.)

2) This story is indicative of the decline and fall of Christianity in Europe and the rise of Islam. A church being turned into a mosque is the perfect analogy for where Europe is heading. Once again, I highly recommend Mark Steyn's treatment of this in America Alone.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Future of Books

For those of you who are avid readers or have librarian leanings, here is an interesting article from The Economist on The Future of Books
The biggest advantage I see to digitizing books is that it could make nonfiction, technical books much shorter by, as the article says, actually making a book that should be 50 pages 50 pages instead of 250 in order to make the book marketable. Then again I have a soft spot for long books, so that make not be such as good thing.


That acronym often comes up in discussions of energy and the environment. It stands for:
Not In My Back Yard
A classic example of this is the case of Barbara Streisand fencing off a portion of a public beach behind her house. Apparently she likes public property, just Not In My Back Yard.
This acronym is coming up quite often with regards to energy lately. McLennan County residents are screaming NIMBY regarding coal fire plants, many advocates of wind power are all for the giant windmills, just NIMBY, and I saw a story a few days ago about how some communities are screaming NIMBY to ethanol plants due to heavy truck traffic and other industrial characteristics. (I believe that story was from the Wall Street Journal, but I can't remember.)
First of all, energy has to come from somewhere. There is going to be a plant or generator somewhere in somebody's backyard. So anyone who comments on high energy prices needs to think twice before saying NIMBY to new power sources! Secondly, you have a natural right to property, but you do not have a natural right to control how others use their property. So if person B decides to build a power plant on land that's next to land owned by person A, person A is naturally entitled to compensation from B if the plant damages A's property (pollution, smoke, perhaps even noise and these costs could cause B to not build the plant), but A cannot morally force B not to build his power plant. (A may have a legislative right to stop B from building a plant, but I'm talking about natural, not legislative rights).
(Here's a couple of links for stuff on natural rights and property:
There are many more articles and books on these topics, espcially at
So if property rights are enforced and legislatures do not trump natural rights, NIMBY begins to lose its force.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Teachers, Adminsitrators, Trouble Makers and Incentives

What incentives do teachers, and more specifically school administrators, face when dealing with rowdy, disruptive or violent students?

Let's say that an administrator expels a student for being overly disruptive to the learning environment in some way such as asking loaded questions, having independent thoughts, being bored with dumbed down material, etc. Seriously, lets say that a student is expelled for violence. The costs of this action will be borne by the expelled students and his or her parents. The benefits will be received by the student body and teaching staff as a whole who do not have to deal with the unruly student.

The costs in this case are highly concentrated (all on the expelled student and parent(s)). The benefits are widely dispersed across many students, teachers and administrators. The parents of the expelled student will come to school to plead their case. This could result in the parent agreeing with the administrator or disagreeing with the administrator. If the parent disagrees, this could result in the parent simply pleading their case more passionately or, in the most extreme case, suing the school. This is where the incentives start to show up.

Because costs are concentrated while benefits are widely dispersed, an administrator will be less likely than otherwise to expel unruly students. Just the threat of a lawsuit will cause administrators to think twice about expelling an unruly student, regardless of whether the benefits of this student being gone exceed the costs to the student. Because the costs are so heavily concentrated, those facing the costs will expend significant resources to avoid facing the costs (the parent raising hell or suing to avoid expulsion). Because the benefits are so dispersed across a wider population, those receiving the benefits will each expend few resources to capture those benefits (few parents will attend school board meeting encouraging them to expel our unruly student).

These incentives will result in unruly students not being expelled as often as they should because costs are so concentrated and benefits are so widely dispersed. This scenario certainly applies to administrators at the macro or school level, but also to teachers at the micro or classroom level. Why expel a student and have a parent come chew you out when there are not compensating benefits? Perhaps some people in schools have the nerve to expel such students and some parents fight to keep unruly students out, but my experience, and the incentives faced, tells me that too few are actually expelled.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Today's Vocabulary Lesson

As part of an answer on an exam I just gave, a student (COLLEGE STUDENT!; A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE!!!) used the following "word:"

mirch in dice

I have neither added spaces nor modified the "word." On top of that, the "word" had absolutely nothing to do with the correct answer to the question.

If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, then go back and read the "word" again!

The only conclusion I can come to is that state and local authorities are not doing a good job of stopping women from using crack while pregnant.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What's Wrong with School Vouchers

Here's a piece from the Waco Trib on school vouchers. I like the Trib; it's very soft against the buttocks. (Once again I truly dislike the paper greatly, but can't stop glancing at the website.)

I want to address a few of the writer's points.

"Instead of allowing school vouchers, if we could give public schools the same freedoms that private schools have, the cry for vouchers would be silenced."
As long as there is state or federal money going into local school districts, there will be strings attached to that money. An argument often used against school vouchers is that there is no control on how private schools use the voucher funds. Giving state or federal money to school districts with no strings attached would result in the exact same issue of control.

"I suspect these bills were less about fairness than ploys to gradually grant all private school families tuition breaks."
I can't see how this is a motivation behind school choice legislation. Teachers unions are much stronger politically than private school parents, so even if the purpose of a voucher bill is to eventually grant tuition breaks to private school families, it would never happen politically.

"All citizens must support public education, either through property taxes or through higher rents imposed by property owners. People who don’t have children in the system still pay for public education through their tax dollars."
Whether the writer admits it or not, this is a problem. Costs are widely dispersed and benefits are concentrated. This leads first to spending levels that are higher than socially optimal levels. If someone else is paying for your lunch, why not buy the most expensive thing on the menu? Secondly, there is a problem of people footing the bill that have no say in what happens in a particular school district.

Lets say for instance that I own property in, but don't live in the school district. Because I own property in the district I'm helping to fund the school through my tax payments. However, I don't live in the district so I don't get a vote in school board elections. Even though I'm helping foot the bill, I have no say in what goes on in the school. If I try to walk into the school to investigate teaching methods or student behavior, I'll be ignored at the least and removed by force at worst. (A nice reform might be giving all property owners in a school district voting right in school board elections.)

This disconnect between who makes decisions and who funds the school results in inefficiency. Just imagine what would happen if you paid someone to purchase art work for you but there was no feedback mechanism. The art buyer could purchase pieces of art that you found repulsive, but you would have no way of telling him to stop buying that garbage. It's the exact same situation with school finance. Even though I pay part of the costs, I have absolutely no say in how the school operates unless I happen to live in the district. If I think the school should teach more economics (and force students to read The Misanthropic Economist) and teach less art there is absolutely no way I can make that preference known to the relevant decision making unit. Because the people who fund the school are the not same group that receives benefits from the school, there is little incentive to effectively monitor expenditures and the incentive to provide quality instruction is diminished because the majority of parents can't afford (or won't pay the cost, I'm not sure which is more accurate) to pay for private schooling, the public school doesn't face the prospective of losing revenue if the student leaves.

The writer also brings up No Child Left Behind as a cause of public school underperformance, but that act wasn't present 6 or 7 years ago and the problems were exactly the same.

Once again I'm not saying that school vouchers are a good idea. You would probably have some of the same incentive problems in terms of who funds the schools and who makes the decisions. All I'm trying to point out is that incentives matter. Any amount of wishful thinking or dedication on the part of teachers will not change that.

More Ethanol Stuff

Here's a link to a story from The New Scientist on ethanol. It addresses some of the downsides of ethanol such as the trade off among ethanol, food, and forest as well as the environmental impact of ethanol.

In addition to that story, another reason I don't see ethanol as a viable long term energy alternative, as technology currently stands and the fact that the U.S. can't grow sugar cane like Brazil, is the issue of water. Major growth cities are already worried about the the availability of water in the future. Ethanol would draw more water usage into agricultural uses, diverting it from direct human consumption. The EPA puts the percentage of U.S. water consumption in irrigation at 81%. If water for residential or industrial uses is going to come from anywhere, it's going to come from irrigation. Now whenever someone finds a relatively lower cost method of desalinization, and it will happen eventually, the water issue may not be a problem.

Or the development of water markets and enhanced private property rights in water would also be extremely helpful. If water had a market price it could be directed to its most valued use. See Terry L. Anderson's Water Crisis: Ending the Policy Drought (which you can get online for $2.00).

Monday, March 5, 2007

Smoke If You Got Em (While you Still Can!)

I'm not sure what to make of this, but there is a bill in the Texas House to make throwing a lit cigarette, cigar, or match out of a motor vehicle a Class A misdemeanor, meaning fines of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail.
There is also a bill to make smoking illegal during Holy Communion (OK I made that one up, but it's a great visual).

On the one hand I support the bill because smokers aren't harassed nearly enough, even though these benevolent people are so generous as to support a huge chunk of the Texas school system (I wish I could figure out to indicate sarcasm in print). Also it is a property issue. If the driver throws anything out of his vehicle onto someone else's property, it's a trespass, whether it's a cigarette butt, gum wrapper, or political advertisement. (By the way, I do support a bill to ban political advertising on public and private property under the reasoning that I don't like seeing political advertising, therefore it should be illegal).

On the other hand, how do you enforce a law banning throwing a lit object from a vehicle? Short of everyone dialing 911 every time they see someone's window go down and a set of fingers flick something, what do you do? Part of the rational behind it is to prevent wildfires, but once again if you can't enforce the law what good is it? If preventing wildfires is the goal, wouldn't banning matches, lighters, lightning (that's right the stuff that cracks down from the clouds), the internal combustion engine (the exhaust system gets awfully hot), and the use of shiny objects during daylight hours be more effective?

Overall, I find this proposed law quite stupid, despite whatever noble and high minded ideals might be behind it. As Charles Murray observed:
"(S)ociety is weakened every time a law is passed that large numbers of reasonable, responsible citizens think is stupid. Such laws invite good citizens to choose knowingly to break the law, confident that they are doing nothing morally wrong."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why do people who shouldn't be in college go to college?

Or to universities at least. A sizable fraction of students at most regional and even state universities, I'm going to guess about a third, should be in trade, technical, or community colleges getting very specific training. (There is probably another fifth or so that be better of financially from attaining technical training.) This group has neither the desire nor the ability to attain an education with a sizable liberal arts component or to contemplate the great questions of life such as Why am I here?, What constitutes the good society?, and Is Britney Spears ever going to make it through rehab?

The only conclusion I can reach is that this group of students only goes to college to increase their future earning power, and there may be some social considerations as well such as attaining status or finding a mate. However if this was the case, then they would take actions that would actually increase their earning power like reading and studying.

If employers use a university degree as an indicator of ability, are they looking for the effects of the degree or what caused the degree to be obtained in the first place such a minimum of intelligence, work ethic, and dedication? If a degree acts as an indicator of ability, it would be much cheaper from a social perspective for employers to just hire kids straight from high school at very low wages with short time commitments to determine if they have the necessary attributes instead of society wasting 5 years paying for huge chunk of their college degree.

Or maybe this group of people just goes to college for 4 to 6 years to prolong adolescence.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Energy, Al Gore, and Audioslave

1) Lynne Kiesling over at wonders why there is no talk of dynamic pricing or offering customers differentiated products that would reduce the need for increased generation and distributional capacity in the TXU deal. This would include such things as variable pricing. It costs the most to generate electricity when the plant is running at or near capacity. By offering variable pricing arrangements (similar to congestion tolls), electricity users could consume power when it costs less, such as at night during the summer, and consume less when is costs the most, such as the middle of summer days. This would more efficiently use electricity generation and distribution resources, reducing the need for additional plants and wires.

Why am I skeptical about the possibility of this happening? Because the public is woefully ignorant about economics and practically now elected official or bureaucrat knows jack about economics.

2) Apparently Al Gore doesn't practice what he preaches:
Gore's mansion consumes more electricity in one month that the average American household does in one year. Then again I forget that Al Gore is a member of the Anointed and the moral standards the rest of us are subject to don't apply to him. (See Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions or The Vision of the Anointed for more on the Anointed.)

3) Audioslave was a fairly popular rock band that I actually liked. You can check out their songs for free at if you're interested. They broke up recently. Three of the members were in Rage Against the Machine prior to forming Audioslave. Rage was a socialist (communist is probably closer to the mark) band and proud of it. They were and are (they've regrettably gotten back together) a socialist band as opposed to a band that is socialist. According to a friend of his, the singer of Audioslave Chris Cornell apparently quit the band because he was tired of writing all the music and splitting the revenue from the publishing rights four ways.

I guess Chris is not a socialist and couldn't stomach the other guys making money off his labor. Perhaps America trading Rage Against the Machine to France for Johnny Hallyday (see my post from a few days ago) will make all parties happy. Maybe this will make the rest of the guys rethink their socialist mentality, but I doubt it. If the rest of band had just respected property rights and the division of laobr a little more, Audioslave might still be around. Thanks to for the story. They're always a great source for under the radar music news.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Energy, Energy, Energy

I'm not sure at this point what to make of the TXU buy out deal.
If the company taking them over does indeed abandon the plan to build 8 of the 11 proposed coal fired plants it will probably be beneficial environmentally in the short and possibly long run. Higher electricity prices could result as well. There are ways to produce electricity with fewer negative externalities (nuclear anyone?).

On the other hand, the prospective new company appears to be heavily influenced by environmentalists promoting renewable energy and conservation. The renewable side of things offers some interesting possibilities, but I don't buy this conservation stuff. The primary reason I don't is because "(o)nly 2% of the energy that starts out in an oil pool under the Gulf of Mexico ends up propelling 200 pounds of mom and the kids-the ultimate payload-2 miles to the game." It takes massive amounts of energy to turn raw energy into usable forms. It takes energy to make energy. Because of this I don't believe that conservation alone, or very much at all for that matter, is the answer to future energy needs, if economic growth is to continue. Here's the link to the article I pulled the quote above from. It's written by Peter Huber, no relation as far as I know. He has also coauthored a really interesting book titled The Bottomless Well.

On a related note, here's an article on the land use costs of biofuels.,05532.cfm
There is a trade off between using land to produce ethanol crops and using land to produce food or forest. The author estimates that it might require clearing an additional 50 million acres of forest to produce economically significant amounts of ethanol. This also goes against the historical trend of energy requiring a smaller and smaller footprint over time (a great insight from The Bottomless Well).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tax Competition

Apparently rock lengend (although I can't remember ever hearing of him) Johnny Hallyday plans to move to Switzerland to escape French tax rates (ahh, he's French; no wonder I've never heard of him).

Some French politicians are letting Hallyday have it for being a bad citizen who seeks to avoid his taxes by moving. Other French politicians sort of get it: people will gravitate to the lowest tax area, everything else being equal. That's the argument for having multiple taxing authorities. If you don't like the one you live under, you're free to move to another one. We've seen this happening with Californians moving to other states. This forces the taxing authorities to use their tax monies efficiently and keeps tax rates lower than the authority might like to.

One more point from this story I can't pass up:

Ségolène Royal, the Socialist party's presidential candidate, criticised the rock legend at her party's conference on Saturday, saying: "When you earn lots and lots of money, you must set an example and pay your taxes in France, the country that has welcomed you and made you a success."

Listen madam, I know nothing of Mr. Hallyday's career, but I seriously doubt that the nation of France did anything for him. Millions of French citizens obviously bought his records and went to his shows, thereby creating his success. By all means let's give credit for someone's success to people or entities that had nothing to do with it. (See my post on Chilton winning state.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Various Stuff

1) In today's New York Times there is an article about Korean men using brokers to find wives in countries such as Vietnam. The same thing is happening in India and other Asian countries. One factor is the rising social status of women in Asia which has made them more discriminating, but another is the preference for male children and China's one child policy. Asian and Indian men thus face a smaller pool of women from which to choose a mate. It's amazing the kinds of innovations entrepreneurs come up with to compensate for misguided social preferences (in favor of male children) and wrong headed government policies (the one child policy).

My questions is if you attain a wife through a broker, do you get some sort of money back guarantee?

2) There's a good discussion over at EconLog about the fact that lots of people truly hate school. This is just as obvious for those of us looking at college students as those of you looking at primary and secondary school students. Maybe one day the educational system as a whole will start to shift to a more efficient structure that is more technical and skill based in nature and is responsive to consumer desires, but I'm not holding my breath.

3) Maybe my favorite Homer Simpson quote of all time:
"Son, a woman is a lot like...a refrigerator! They're about 6 feet tall, 300 pounds. They make ice, wait a minute! A woman is more like a beer."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Priceless Politics

As always, Thomas Sowell has a great column.
In this column he addresses how the poor are used as a means to maintain and expand the welfare state. The amount of money it would take to raise every poor person above the poverty line would be much less than the government spends on welfare.

Sowell then takes on politicians for using the poor as an excuse to do such things as maintain municipal golf courses, which poor people don't regularly utilize. Like Sowell, I fail to see how golf courses fall under the banner of the public interest. The last two paragraphs of the column are outstanding:
"The great allure of government programs in general for many people is that these programs allow decisions to be made without having to worry about the constraints of prices, which confront people at every turn in a free market.
They see prices as just obstacles or nuisances, instead of seeing them as messages conveying underlying realities that are there, whether or not prices are allowed to function. What prices are telling San Francisco is that municipal golf courses cost more than they are worth -- not in my opinion, but in the actions of people who are spending their own hard-earned money."

This is a classic example of rent seeking and free riding. In this case golfers rent seek in the form of voting for politicians who will subsidize golf courses and thus free ride in the sense that the golfers themselves get the benefits of the course without having to pay all the costs the course incurs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

School Finance and Vouchers

On the Waco Trib's editorial there is an editorial on school choice. The article says that one of the drawbacks of school vouchers would be that they would reduce the funding of public schools. Really?

According to the Texas Education Agency, the average per pupil spending in Texas public schools in 2004-05 was $9,269. House Bill 18, which is a bill that would create school vouchers for certain children states that the voucher value would be "equal to the total average per student funding amount in the school district the child would otherwise attend during the preceding school year for maintenance and operations, including state and local funding, but excluding money from the available school fund." Now if this bill were to pass, the revenue question would be a wash for schools. They would lose 1 student and the funding associated with that student. The school district and system as a whole would be no better or worse off financially.

Most voucher proposals call for a voucher amount that is less than the average per pupil spending in public schools. In this case, the public school system would actually be better off financially from the voucher program. They would lose one student, but the revenue decrease would be less than the per pupil spending. There would actually be more money in the public system, assuming the voucher holding student goes to a private school, under a a voucher system in which the voucher amount is less than per pupil spending.

Whether or not school vouchers will be beneficial or are a good idea is a seperate question. However, the idea that school vouchers will reduce available public school revenue as a whole is a myth.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Congestion Tolls

If you go over to Knowledge Problem ( there is a nice summary of a New York Times article on congestion pricing, which is essentially charging drivers variable road user fees (tolls) depending on the amount of traffic at a given time. Basically congestion tolls would spread traffic out over the course of a days or days and make road usage more efficient in terms of speed travelled and the number of traffic delays.

Here's a link to a site with all sorts of nice information on congestion tolls:

For those brave few who really want to sink their teeth into transportation issues I highly recommend Street Smarts, edited by Gabriel Roth.

Sowell on Global Warming

Thomas Sowell is always worth the read. Today his column is on global warming.

He has one especially great observation:
"There are all kinds of scientists, from chemists to nuclear physicists to people who study insects, volcanoes, and endocrine glands -- none of whom is an expert on weather or climate, but all of whom can be listed as scientists, to impress people who don't scrutinize the list any further."

This is quite common: scientists, economists, etc. lending their names to documents proclaiming something or other on which they have little, if any, expertise. Meanwhile those who do have expertise in a subfield, but don't adhere to the chosen view are marginalized. This is the reason you will very rarely if ever see me making grand proclaimtions on macroeconomics. I am not a macroeconomist and God willing I never will be. Therefore, I don't say a lot about the national economy, especially the finer points of it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Walter E Williams for President!

The great Dr. Walter E Williams was recently encouraged to run for President by Mallard Fillmore, cartoon news duck. Here's a story on the surrounding mania for Walter:

However, I fear Walter will not be running. "The biggest obstacle to his own candidacy, Mr. Williams said, is his wife of 47 years, Conchetta. 'She said that if I ever thought about it seriously, she'd assassinate me,' he said." Walter does recommend Ron Paul, who like Walter has about as much chance of winning in the current intellectual climate as Michael Moore winning a beauty contest.

Walter does give some tips for long life:
While his age (he'll turn 71 next month) might seem a problem to a presidential run, Mr. Williams says he is in excellent health, thanks to a regimen that includes a personal trainer, bicycling, two glasses of wine each day -- and smoking half a pack of cigarettes daily. "My grandfather smoked a pack of Camels a day, drank almost a half-pint of Old Grandad every day and died when he was 94," he said