Thursday, February 28, 2008

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

The survey was released on Monday. Here is a link to the story where more detailed info is available.

Here are some highlights (or low lights):
  • People increasingly change denominations or abandon their affiliation all together.
  • 51.3 percent call themselves Protestants, but one third of Protestants either could not or would not describe their denomination.
  • 25 percent of adults under 30 have no affiliation.
  • Those who are "secular unaffiliated" are greater a percentage of Americans than Methodists (6.3 versus 6.2 percent).
  • Oregon has the greatest percentage of population with no affiliation (27 percent).

Rural Texas Land Values

Here is a summary from the Dallas Fed. If you live in North Central or Central Texas and own land, you're sitting pretty!

What shocks me to no end is that ranch land values in several regions, including North Central and Central Texas, are actually higher than crop land values. I would bet that's due to a combination of livestock prices and residential/lifestyle farmers moving into the area. If you look at the chart on the bottom of the page you can see that dry land and ranch land values for the region briefly converged in about the second quarter of 2006 before commodity prices really took off. I wouldn't bet against crop land values overtaking ranch land values again should grain prices stay high.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stupidest Thing I've Read So Far Today

Forrest Laws from the Delta Farm Press has this to say:
If you report more than $200,000 on the adjusted gross income line of your tax return, the Bush administration doesn’t think you should receive a commodity program payment.
If you do, that puts you in the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, and you’re too affluent to be participating in commodity programs, said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, speaking at the National Cotton Council’s annual meeting.
Schafer’s comments started me thinking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney receive more than $200,000 a year in salary and benefits. Both probably continue to receive earnings from oil and gas company investments.
Apples and oranges Forrest. Commodity program payments are not the product of investments. They are provided at the pleasure of the government. So if the government decides to eliminate all program payments tomorrow, or double them tomorrow, there is nothing you can do about it other that cry or celebrate. An investment implies that you own the right to receive income from the asset. Those receiving commodity program payments do not own that right. (Although they may feel entitled to it.) It can be expanded or contracted at the will of the government.
Also, how about not making the case for continued commodity program payments on the basis of envy? "Bush and Cheney have this, so I should to!" Moral bankruptcy at its finest!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Basic Economics: Car Wash Edition

I am approached by an 11 year old kid at church yesterday morning offering to sell me a car wash ticket for $3. I hand him $5. He looks at that five dollar bill like he expected operating instructions. (I considered yelling at him to give me back $2, but then his Mom would have yelled at me and I'm not sure she could have figured out this daunting puzzle either. But I digress.) So I pay $5 for a car wash. This is a fixed (or sunk) cost. It no longer figures into my analysis of whether or not to go to the car wash.

So what are the variable costs of going to the car wash?
  1. The car wash is 25 miles away so the round trip will take me 2 gallons of gas at $3.10 per gallon for a total of $6.20.
  2. It will take a half hour to drive one way to the car wash. I will probably spend half an hour waiting for my truck to be washed. So it will cost me one and a half hours. Assuming the opportunity cost of my labor is $6 per hour (what I could earn moving dirt), the total opportunity cost of my time is $9.00.
  3. There is a high probability that the car wash will not be to my satisfaction. While they will wash off the top layer of grim, I doubt that will shine my wheels and tires, scrub the bugs off the grill, and wash my windows properly. Therefore, I will have to wash my truck again when I get home. Assume it takes an hour (at an opportunity cost of $6 per hour) and I use $1 worth of supplies to wash my truck for a total of $7.00.

So the total variable costs of going to this car wash is $6.20+$9.00+$7.00 for a total of $22.20. I would be willing to pay $10 to have my truck spotless.

Needless to say, I won't be going to this car wash.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Energy Substitution

The price of oil has gone up. Therefore, people are using more wood to heat their homes. People have substituted one energy source for a relatively cheaper energy source. Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cult of Personality?

Why have at least six Obama supporters fainted at his rallies? I guess some of them just couldn't "Stand for Change!"

I can understand fainting at the sight of Chuck Norris or Dennis Kucinich's wife (as in "How did he get her?"), but Obama? Is it an encouraging sign when people, even a few, are soo overcome by a candidate's look and personality that they faint?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Waco Trib gets it Close to Right

It is rare that I agree with the Trib on much of anything. I used to take their voting guides and do just the opposite of what they recommended. However, this morning they get it close to right.

The editors argue that gas taxes should not be diverted to non highway construction uses. Yes! But then they don't go far enough. They don't even question whether or not gas taxes should be used to fund school buses.

Once again: you pay for state roads via taxes whenever you pull up to the pump. When that tax revenue is diverted to other uses (schools, retirement benefits, whatever) you break that linkage between the funding source (gas taxes) and their intended use (road construction and maintenance). Bad consequences (horrible and insufficient roads) follow. If you want to increase school funding, retirement benefits, or build a 65 foot statue of a Baptist hugging a bear, get the money from somewhere besides gas taxes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Christian Ramadan

Dutch Catholics have decided to rename Lent "Christian Ramadan" in order to appeal to young people who are more likely to be familiar with Islam than Christianity.

Two things on this story.
1) It is a fairly clear indication of where Europe is heading.
2) It is official that the Catholic Church in The Netherlands has completely sold out. They no longer have the conviction necessary to carry forward the message of Christ. They are now just trying to win a popularity contest and get on the good side of the future majority faith.

Forget sending missionaries to Asia or Africa. The Church needs to start sending missionaries to Western Europe!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The World is Flat and Getting Older

I just finished reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. It is quite insightful and looks at globalization, outsourcing, global supply chains and the impacts this flattening process is having and will have in the future. As the fellow who recommended this book to me said, twenty percent of what Friedman says is wrong. I believe he overestimates what government is capable of doing effectively and he overestimates just how flat the world will become. Some things are just so localized that they can't be flattened (ie it's hard to outsource your house cleaning or lawn care to India). He also introduces too many people as "my friend." I have no doubt that Thomas Friedman has lots of friends, but you don't have to name drop. If you took a shot of whiskey everytime Friedman writes "my friend" you would be too drunk to finish the book. Nonetheless, The World is Flat is well worth the price.

One idea that's been running through my mind the last few months is how aging populations will impact the economy. Friedman doesn't get into this (he focuses on backward looking cultures, not age groups), but he does ask a question relevant to my concern: "Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?"

I've often wondered what will happen as the U.S. gets older. Will an aging population that has more years behind it than in front of it erect barriers or push for policies that will stymie economic growth in exchange for increased present comforts? Will a fear of change drive older Americans to restrict innovation or long term investments? Here is part of a great paragraph by Friedman:

In societies that have more memories than dreams, too many people are spending too many days looking backward. They see dignity, affirmation, and self worth not by mining the present but by chewing on the past. And even that is usually not a real past but an imagined and adorned past. Indeed, such societies focus all their imagination on making that ingrained past even more beautiful than it ever was, and then they cling to it like a rosary or a strand of worry beads, rather than imagining a better future and acting on that. It is dangerous enough when other countries go down that route; it would be disastrous for America to lose its bearing and move it that direction.
As the population ages, and as I hear about the "Good Old Days" more and more, I wonder whether or not America will move in this direction. I read an interview with the late management guru Peter Drucker where he said that the largest age group dominates the culture. As retirees come to dominate the culture, I fear that innovation and economic freedom could be restricted. I'm not so sure that Western Europe isn't already moving in that direction. So you could have a situation where the younger countries get flatter while the older countries start to unflatten. Time will tell.

Outpatient Surgery

I heard someone yesterday, and I've overheard many people before, complain about outpatient surgery. The criticisms surround insufficient care by the hospital. In other words, they perform a procedure then ship you back home to fend for yourself.

While some people would no doubt get some risk reduction, greater peace of mind and extra care from staying in a hospital for a day or two, there are costs involved. There is obviously the financial cost of keeping a patient in the hospital. There is a cost to the patient in terms of comfort. I've yet to hear anyone actually want to go to the hospital when nothing was wrong with them (aside from Grandpa Simpson on one episode of The Simpsons) and I've never heard anyone say how comfortable hospital beds are. There is also increased stress from being away from home.

In my mind, the greatest benefit of outpatient surgery is that it gets you out of the hospital. Hospitals are full of sick people. The sooner you can get out of there, the better. For anyone who has ever worked with fresh from the sale barn feeder cattle, you know the worst place fresh cattle can be is confined in pens at your barn. If one gets sick, the entire bunch is at risk. The sooner you get them out and away from that environment, the better. If you can recover at home, I find it hard to imagine why anyone would want to stay in an uncomfortable environment surrounded by sick people.

This may be a cultural element from the days when you were kept in the hospital a few days for most any condition. I'd be interested to see if the attitudes toward outpatient surgery are different for people in their 20s and 30s versus senior citizens.

Cox and Alm on Consumption

Here is a great column by Michael Cox and Richard Alm on why spending is a better measure of poverty than income. While the richest fifth of Americans spend less than 50 percent of their income on consumption, the poorest fifth spend nearly twice their income on consumption. The poor have unreported income, sell things not subject to capital gains taxes, redeem insurance policies, and draw down bank accounts. So when you compare the different consumption levels of the income classes, their well being relative to each other is much closer than income statistics would lead one to believe.

Cox and Alm wrote a great book several years ago called Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Matt's Requirements to Run for Office in Falls County

Here are my requirements to run for office in Falls County, Texas in no particular order.

  1. You must have lived outside of the county for at least 15 years of your adult life. Furthermore, living in any county that borders Falls County does not count (McLennan, Bell, Robertson, Limestone, and Milam). You must have lived far enough away from the county to not remember the way things have always been done.
  2. You must average reading at least one nonfiction book a week. Falls County officials need some "intelligence of knowledge" (not my term, but great regardless) so ingesting vast quantities of information is required. Preferably stuff on public policy applicable to the county.
  3. You must not have the patience to put up with nonsense. When a county resident starts spewing garbage and BS from every pore, just tell them they're full of it and move on.
  4. You must never have been an employee of Falls County prior to running for office. Fresh blood is a requirement.
  5. You must promise, if in a relevant position, to never, ever pave another foot of Falls County roads. The current paved roads cannot be maintained much less new ones. Promising to make some paved roads gravel roads and some gravel roads dirt roads would also be a nice touch.
  6. You must never, without significant study, dismiss a policy alternative for Falls County. Even if this policy has never been tried, if it looks promising, try it. You can't screw the county up much more, so try something new.
  7. The words "historic preservation" should never leave your lips. Historically, the county has been poor. I'm not interested in preserving that.

And before anyone says anything, I disqualify myself because quite frankly, I'm smart enough not to run for office in Falls County.

Waco and Marlin News

  • Since Waco isn't going to have a 65 foot statue of a Texas Ranger by the Brazos and I-35, how about they build a 65 foot statue of a tourist? Considering that increasing tourism seems to be the primary economic growth strategy Waco has, it seems fitting.
  • I'm always shocked when something non grandiose and actually beneficial (ie not something that is done to make Waco look better than it is) happens in the Waco economy. Tractor Supply is doubling the size of their Waco distribution center. Good for Tractor Supply and Waco. Maybe something like that will happen in Marlin one day. Sigh.... One can dream.
  • Speaking of Marlin, the Falls County Commissioners have issued a burn ban and disaster declaration for Falls County. I'll agree that Falls County is a disaster area, but it has nothing to do with lack of rain, wind and dry forage.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A basketball game beating the Super Bowl?

In all likelihood, yes.

The Rockets versus Bucks matchup Saturday was estimated to have been viewed by 200 million worldwide. This game featured Yao Ming of the Rockets versus Yi Jianlian of the Bucks, therefore it drew a huge Chinese audience. Even though the Super Bowl was the highest rated ever, it drew an American audience of 97.5 million, it is extremely likely that the Rockets-Bucks was watched by more people worldwide because the rest of the world doesn't share our love for American football.

A great article in The American looks at how basketball could soon outpace soccer as the world's most popular sport. What surprised me is that Tracy McGrady sells more jerseys in China than Yao does. Considering the number of foreign born and raised players in the NBA and the league's popularity overseas, it wouldn't be surprising if the NBA is a world entertainment and mirch in dice (sorry merchandise) power in the not to distant future. The NFL will probably reign supreme in the U.S., but the NBA is the league to bank on worldwide.