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.