Division of Labour: October 2006 Archives
October 31, 2006
Working Poor, Once More
I mentioned Charles Murray's excellent paper "In Search of the Working Poor" earlier. This is a good paper and a wise one. The author has granted me permission to post that article. It is here. I offer a few excerpts below.
Here I summarize one of the main results of that inquiry, half hopeful and half disturbing. The hopeful half is that poverty in America is seldom the result of uncontrollable events involving the economic system. I will argue that the old wisdom—that anyone who is willing to work hard can make a decent living—has much more truth to it than has recently been acknowledged. The disturbing half is that our current popular understanding of the poverty population may be very wide of the reality. I conclude with a proposal for clarifying the situation.
Potpourri/An Incentives Matter Lollapalooza
Some things catching my eye over the past few days:
1. A hopeful sign--a CNN poll finds:
Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country's problems.
2. Greg Mankiw's Pigou Club WSJ op-ed generated several letters in response. I'm skeptical of the Pigouvian approach (here) but I thought a few of the letters were unfair to Mankiw (see his response here). For example, a few writers wondered if Mankiw had noticed less congestion on the road. Perhaps it is difficult to notice less congestion, but there were gobs of stories on the web and in major media publications documenting people's move to mass transit (examples here and here), more fuel efficient vehicles, etc. Moreover, the effects should get larger over time.
3. Incentives apparently matter to uninsured drivers (I wonder if this will reduce Craig's insurance premiums for uninsured drivers):
Arlington recently adopted a towing policy for uninsured drivers.
Arlington police wrote 38,592 citations for uninsured motorists last year alone.
Police say compliance is growing. They're now finding fewer uninsured motorists, perhaps because through August of this year, more than 4,200 vehicles of uninsured drivers were towed in Arlington.
To reclaim a vehicle towed for lack of insurance, a driver has to prove that liability insurance has been purchased, plus pay a $412 fine for no insurance, a $135 tow fee and a $20-a-day storage fee.
4. Also from the incentives matter department:
---David Figlio and Lawrence Kenny on teacher incentives and student performance
---Naci H. Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings on the death penalty
5. In an editorial on a proposed prohibition of nighttime garbage pickup, the Rome News-Tribune channels Ronald Coase:
Which came first, the business that needs garbage pickup on a daily basis or the nearby resident? For example, in a downtown now filling up with condo, loft and apartment dwellers practically every commercial enterprise came first. They didn’t cause the resulting problem. The arrival of their new neighbors did.
Pee Wee at the Grand Canyon
I've been meaning to post a photo of our father-son fall break in Arizona. We're already planning a trip for spring break (his breaks coincide with mine because he attends Berry's elementary school).
Re: Cardinal Red October
I hope Larry watched his back and kept a firm grip on his wallet while celebrating the Cardinals' World Series victory--recent news reports indicate that St. Louis is the most dangerous city in America.
Like Larry, I also attended the Hillsdale conference, but I wasn't on the program. In addition to Larry's talk, I enjoyed the offerings from Richard Epstein, P.J. Hill, Jim Couch, and Lawrence Reed. Another highlight was meeting Mark Steckbeck of The Liberal Order.
Courts and ballots c. 1906
File this in the "things never change" drawer. From the Oct. 31, 1906 NYT:
There is doubt in the minds of the members of the Election Board whether ballots for Tuesday's election can be printed in time. Never before has so short a time been allowed the printers to get out the enormous amount of work before them, and it was admitted early this morning, when the decision of the Court of Appeals was received, that only by the exertion of every energy could the ballots be in the voting places when the polls open on Tuesday morning...
October 30, 2006
Adam Smith, free banker, to appear on £20 note of the UK’s central bank
The Bank of England’s Governor Mervyn King announced in a speech on Sunday that the image of Adam Smith will appear on new £20 BOE banknotes to be introduced into circulation next Spring. (Hat tip: Felix Salmon of RGE Monitor, who provides a picture of the new design. ADDENDUM: More on King's speech here from Gavin Kennedy, who was in the audience.) Without apparent awareness of the irony that Smith was a critic of monopoly privileges like those of the Bank of England, King said:
As the central bank for the United Kingdom, the Bank of England is in a privileged position to acknowledge the enduring contribution of its most talented citizens over their lifetime to the advancement of society. Our choice of Adam Smith reflects the keen importance we attach to that position and the place of the notes themselves as a record of Britain’s heritage.
On the Bank of England’s website, a “brief background” on Adam Smith says nothing about Smith’s views on banking, which included the view that competition is better than monopoly in the issue of banknotes. Let me fill the gap by extracting the concluding paragraph of Smith’s discussion of banking in The Wealth of Nations [Book II, chapter ii, para. 106]:
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If bankers are restrained from issuing any circulating bank notes, or notes payable to the bearer, for less than a certain sum, and if they are subjected to the obligation of an immediate and unconditional payment of such bank notes as soon as presented, their trade may, with safety to the public, be rendered in all other respects perfectly free. The late multiplication of banking companies in both parts of the United Kingdom, an event by which many people have been much alarmed, instead of diminishing, increases the security of the public. It obliges all of them to be more circumspect in their conduct, and, by not extending their currency beyond its due proportion to their cash, to guard themselves against those malicious runs which the rivalship of so many competitors is always ready to bring upon them. It restrains the circulation of each particular company within a narrower circle, and reduces their circulating notes to a smaller number. By dividing the whole circulation into a greater number of parts, the failure of any one company, an accident which, in the course of things, must sometimes happen, becomes of less consequence to the public. This free competition, too, obliges all bankers to be more liberal in their dealings with their customers, lest their rivals should carry them away. In general, if any branch of trade, or any division of labour, be advantageous to the public, the freer and more general the competition, it will always be the more so.
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Former student writes about law school
There are days when there's no better word than "adventure" to describe law school!
Cardinal Red October
All hail the world champion St. Louis Cardinals, who optimally distributed their wins. As the Chicago Sun-Times observed, the Cardinals were only five games above .500 (83 wins, 78 losses) in the regular season, but six games above .500 (11 wins, 5 losses) in the postseason.
On Friday I flew from St. Louis to Detroit on a plane filled with sad Tigers fans. (The previous night the Tigers had lost game 4 of the World Series in St. Louis.) I was on my way to Hillsdale College in Michigan to give a talk at a conference (more on which below). Friday night at the reception I brazenly wore a name tag that said “St. Louis, MO” while I watched Game 5 in the company of local Tigers fans. I tried not to gloat too much.
On Sunday I returned to the Detroit airport, where Tigers apparel was now 25% off. I flew back to St. Louis, and while taking the train from the airport back to campus (where I’d left my car) I discovered that the Cardinal’s victory parade would be starting downtown in half an hour. What the heck – I put my bags in the back of my car and got back on the next jam-packed train (reminiscent of my days commuting to NYU from Brooklyn) headed downtown. I become one of some 500,000 folks dressed in red lining Market Street in downtown St. Louis. Pujols, Edmonds, Carpenter, Eckstein, et al., rode in pickup trucks past crowds twenty deep.
Back to the Hillsdale conference: I was part of a panel on monetary policy Saturday after lunch. First up on the panel was Ned Gramlich, ex- of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, talking about the history and mission of the Fed. Second up was Robert Barro, talking about the macroeconomic outlook. I was up third, talking about “The Free Banking Alternative”. In Q&A I got interested-but-skeptical questions from Barro and from Richard Epstein (in the audience; he’d been the lunchtime speaker). People later told me that Gramlich looked rather dyspeptic during my talk. The papers will become available on a Hillsdale website in a few weeks; when I have the URL I’ll post it here.
Revealed preference in the arms trade?
From this Yahoo! story:
The United States has ceded to Russia and France last year its role of the top arms supplier to the developing world as it failed to take full advantage of emerging markets and opportunities created by booming oil prices, according to a new congressional study.
APEE--2007 YOUNG SCHOLARS PROGRAM
APEE has received a grant to help young faculty and graduate students attend our annual meeting April 8-10, 2007 in Cancun , Mexico . These funds are designed to encourage younger scholars to consider the advantages of APEE membership.
Successful applicants will have their registration fees reduced to $75 (normally $363) and be eligible for a stipend of up to $595 toward travel expenses. To apply applicants must supply us with the following: (1) a short essay (250-300 words) explaining why the applicant wishes to attend the meeting; (2) a short letter of reference, preferably from an APEE member or someone known to APEE indicating why support should be provided to the nominee, and (3) a brief letter from the applicant's department chair or graduate director indicating the level of departmental support that the applicant can expect for this trip. Some of the applicants may be on the program and preference will be given to these applications. The deadline for applying is January 16th. Those selected will be notified within two weeks of that date. Successful applicants will be required to register for the conference (at the reduced rate of $75) by February 19.
Please send applications to Giancarlo Ibárgüen at email@example.com. If you have questions, you may email him or call him at (502) 2338-7813.
Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:33 AM
October 28, 2006
The Gentle Cynic c. 1906
From the Oct. 28, 1906 NYT:
October 27, 2006
The value of a finger c. 1906
From the Oct. 27, 1906 NYT:
LONDON - Thomas Henry Morris has been fined 2£ 10s by a Chester magistrate for squeezing a woman's hand so that her little finger was broken. The woman had lost her husband, and the man had called to offer condolences. It was as he was leaving her that he broke her finger. He put altogether too much muscle into his sympathetic handshake.EH.net suggests that the fine is equivalent to £179.07 using the retail price index. At today's exchange rate, that would be about $340.
The Working Poor
"Supersize Them" cites the work of anthropologist Katherine S. Newman, who has done the sort of research that Charles Murray called for 20 years ago. She followed a sample of young hamburger flippers, to see how they have fared over the roughly 10-year period over which she has chronicled their lives. A couple of discoveries:
Charles Murray conducted a similar study based on a much larger sample in his excellent "In Search of the Working Poor," (Public Interest, 1987, and nowhere on the web as far as I can determine). From the abstract of that paper (available at ProQuest).
An examination of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a longitudinal database that began with a sample of some 5,000 families in 1968, indicates that poverty in the US is seldom the result of uncontrollable events involving the economic system. It may be true that anyone who is willing to work hard can make a decent living. A large portion of people listed as being "below the poverty line" are not living in poverty. The precipitous ups and downs are frequently statistical, rather than a reflection of real changes in quality of life. Only 2.7% of working-aged adults can be classified as living in "working poor households." Many people below the poverty line are living lives they have chosen to live. Social scientists and politicians need to understand that poverty often has little to do with income.
If anyone wants to read this article, contact me, and I'll send it as a Word file. Not only does it contain useful analysis, but it also provides an excellent discussion of the sort of research that is (still) needed.
Can the Van Morrison banknote be far behind?
The last three provinces on earth where commercial banks are still allowed to issue notes are Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Hong Kong. Last year the Royal Bank of Scotland produced a limited-issue banknote to honor Jack Nicklaus on the occasion of his last British Open. On Thursday Northern Ireland's Ulster Bank announced that it would be issuing a new note (limited to 1 million pieces!) to commemorate native soccer legend George Best, who died one year ago. This is the bank’s first commemorative banknote.
October 26, 2006
Over at National Review Online, Jerry Bowyer shoots himself on his own macroeconomic foot. He begins reasonably enough, lauding the Prize to Ned Phelps for “his successful rebuttal of one of the central tenets of modern Keynesianism: the Phillips curve.” He ridicules Keynesian policy-makers with their “Phillips-curve perspective” because “attempts to stimulate growth and employment by way of loose money inevitably fail. …Variables such as levels of growth, capital accumulation, and flexibility in labor markets — and not artificial stimulation through the printing press — are what decide whether or not people are given an opportunity to work.” The best employment policy is “sound money and price stability”. A little fuzzy on whether we’re talking about long run or short run, but so far, so good. Then Bowyer begins firing wildly with the following complaint:
Alan Greenspan, despite his better training, basically governed the central bank as a Keynesian: Too loose in the late ’80s; too tight in the early ’90s (helping cost George H.W. Bush the election); too tight in the late ’90s in the cause of stopping “irrational exuberance”; and too loose in 2003 because he didn’t believe in the efficacy of the Bush tax cuts.
Hold on: Greenspan was too tight? If you value price stability and there's no Phillips tradeoff, isn’t any inflation rate above zero (as in the early and late 1990s) evidence of money being too loose? (That's what I'd say, as a long-run proposition.) If you think there is no Phillips tradeoff (loose money can’t reduce the unemployment rate), how could “tight” monetary policy have caused a recession? (Is the Phillips tradeoff effective only in one direction?) If his rejection of the Phillips Curve perspective applies only to the long run, then Bowyer – every bit as much as Greenspan, and despite himself – really believes in the short-run Phillips Curve.
Bowyer's perspective, which we might call "supply-side inflationism," seems to be: any period of rapid expansion is due to tax cuts and can go on indefinitely. Any period of contraction is due to tight money. I like tax cuts, too, but for long-run reasons. I don't think cyclical expansion depends on them. I dislike recessions, too, but I think the way to lessen their severity them is to avoid the unsustainable boom by pursuing consistently "tight" money.
What if Greenspan hadn’t destroyed the telecomm sector in the late ’90s with his tight-money policy? What would the cumulative effects have been of “letting the horses run”? Our thirteen trillion dollar economy would be what today — 15, 18, 20 trillion? How many people who are now poor would instead be middle class? How many people who are now middle class would be affluent? How much global poverty would have been alleviated if the U.S. economy had been even more powerful in recent decades, able to drag that much more of the globe out of the muck and into prosperity?
Moving the middle class to a permanently higher level of affluence is a real, long-run phenomenon. It requires real long-run growth, and real long-run growth derives from stuff like “capital accumulation, and flexibility in labor markets,” not at all from a monetary policy looser than Greenspan’s.
Priorities alignment c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the Oct. 26, 1906 NYT:
Our citizens should not lose sight of other public matters of interest just because we are to have an election next month, i.e., pushcarts are just as much a nuisance as ever and should be driven off the streets. Likewise stands on all sidewalks and in the public parks, at the Brooklyn bridges, under "L" stations should be removed and never permitted again.A platform for the ages.
Conspicuous consumption c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the Oct. 26, 1906 NYT:
I am sure that Grossmutter Knickerbocker would have held up her hands in amazement, as I did the other day when I saw three articles of lingerie in a new dry goods shop on Fifth Avenue that were market to cost $2,000.
In 2005, $2,000.00 from 1906 is worth:
Ice c. 1906
Not the block or cubed kind but the bribing of Broadway shows for special access to tickets for resell on a secondary market. From a letter to the editor in the Oct. 26, 1906 NYT:
After visiting five prominent theatres to-day trying to obtain tickets for Saturday of next week, nearly two weeks ahead, nothing but the last two rows could be secured. I then went to the hotels. I could procure tickets for the best seats in the house by paying an advance of 50 cents on each ticket, and what is most remarkable, they are not even in possession of the tickets, claiming they do not receive them until the beginning of the week for which they are issued. Is this not an outrage on the theatre-going public?
Testing the Alchian-Allen Theorem
I've got a new paper out (with a former undergraduate student of mine who is now a second year Ph.D. student at UNC) titlted, "Testing the Alchian-Allen Theorem: A Study of Consumer Behavior in the Gasoline Market".
Abstract: This paper uses a data set of daily sales at a single gasoline station over a seven year period to determine if consumers respond to relative price changes among the three grades of gasoline. Based on the reasoning of Alchian and Allen (1964) and Barzel (1976), market shares of higher quality gasoline should increase at the expense of regular grade gasoline when overall gasoline prices increase. The empirical results do not conform to this expectation. We find instead that the consumers in this sample responded to higher gasoline prices by switching to mid grade gasoline from premium grade gasoline leaving the market share of regular gasoline unchanged.
October 25, 2006
Do as I Say, Not as I Do ...
This article knocks Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and other celebrities for proclaiming to be eco-friendly while burning gobs of gas flying around the world on private jets. The article also points to Leonardo DiCaprio who applies his environmental principles consistently by flying commercial air in addition to driving a Prius. Just to be clear--I have no beef with folks who choose to fly in private jets; I just don't want them proclaiming their moral superiority for driving a Prius or other "green" car.
Along the same lines, here's a report on Al Gore's campaigning at Berkeley for California's Prop. 87 oil extraction tax:
``I'm here to change peoples' minds on the climate crisis and to support Prop 87,'' Gore called to a group of reporters after he emerged from the ``100 miles per gallon'' Toyota Prius that brought him to a noontime rally in a sun-drenched park behind Berkeley's City Hall.
His motorcade also included three motorcycles, two limousines and a Dodge Ram 1500 light duty truck.
Georgia Hiking Trip Report
Hiking in the Khevsureti region of Georgia near the Chechnya border.
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The weather was perfect for all three days. We drove 3.5 hours on rough roads to the "end of the road" literally. Erekle, the friend of a friend and my guide, and I first had to climb over a pass in the mountains. The pass was over 9000' elevation and they've had a lot of early snow so the 2000' foot climb was difficult. On the other side there was less snow thankfully.
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Posted by Robert Lawson at 07:18 AM
October 24, 2006
Fire hose prices c. 1906
From the Oct. 24, 1906 NYT:
Contracts for 63,200 feet of hose for the Fire Department were awarded by Purchasing Agent Burns yesterday to the Manhattan Rubber Company for $70,283. The prices ranged from 63 cents to $1.69 per foot, according to size.EH.net suggests that the 2005 CPI adjusted prices would be $14.11 to $37.85 per foot.
The first hit on a simple Google search of "fire hose prices" yielded this site with prices ranging from $1.42 to $3.48 per foot, depending on size (no idea of how quality differs, but is it safe to assume that today's fire hose is better than that of a hundred years ago?)
Grounds for divorce c. 1906
A story in the Oct. 24, 1906 NYT reports on the "Divorce Congress" which is in session to try to revamp divorce (and in the process marriage?):
[One] enactment prohibits the solicitation of a divorce case by advertisement, circular, or otherwise, and prescribes for such an offense a fine of not more than $1000 and imprisonment of not more than one year.Here in the DFW area, and I am sure elsewhere, different divorce lawyers advertise during different radio and television shows. During late night sports talk, one law firm advertises it's focus on the man's side of the divorce proceedings.
The story goes on
Annulment of the marriage contract, as distinguished from divorce, will be made for the following causes: Impotency, consanguinity, existing former marriage, fraud, force or coercion, insanity, and illegal age.At least today's ED medication might solve the first problem.
Divorce, it is provided, shall be of two kinds - absolute, or divorce a vincule matrimonii, and divorce from bed and board, or divorce a mensa et thoro. Under the first classification the grounds shall be adultery, bigamy, conviction and sentence for crime followed by two years' continual imprisonment, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, and habitual drunkenness for two years. The same causes will prevail for the second class with the additional cause of "hopeless insanity of the husband."
Some articles and books that have caught my attention recently:
1. John Baden makes a "better to feel good than to do good" argument about ethanol; he includes data from and a link to a Consumer Reports study finding that ethanol lowers gas mileage.
2. The NYT had an article about crime's harmful effect on Latin American economies. Repeat after Doug North--institutions matter.
3. There's a new issue of the Independent Review. Among other articles, Robert Whaples takes on Jared Diamond and Dan Klein examines Donald Shoup's "The High Cost of Free Parking."
4. From the WaPo: "For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores." Unfortunately, much of the educrat establishment thinks it's more important for kids to feel good than to be numerate.
5. The Journal of Public Economics has an article about the effect of the estate (aka death) tax on family businesses.
6. Gary Libecap has a new NBER WP on property rights in the West. (Something I learned on my recent trip to AZ: It takes about 80 acres of grazing land per head of cattle.)
7. Bill Shughart and Taylor Stevenson examine the political economy of the tobacco settlement.
8. Eric Hanushek takes on adequate school funding litigation in "Courting Failure: How School Finance Lawsuits Exploit Judges' Good Intentions and Harm our Children."
9. Wilson previously posted on Steve Chapman's minimum wage article. It reminded me of my test for differentiating thoughtful redistributionists (probably an oxymoron) from political demagogues: the latter favor the minimum wage while the former favor the EITC.
Pre-election blues c. 1906
From the Oct. 24, 1906 NYT:
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Republican County Chairman of Ohio informed Chairman Dick of the State Executive Committee at a meeting Tuesday that they must have money to hire campaign workers if satisfactory results are to be expected. Apathy exists everywhere, the Chairman said when called upon to report after speeches had been made by Congressmen Burton and Kiefer. "For ten years the Republican workers have been fed on things material," he explained, "and it is now too late to feed them on promises." In other words, it takes money to make the political mare go fast enough to bring in votes. However, the Chairman reported that the chances for Republican success are constantly growing brighter.
On a related note, Barron's Magazine (sub req'd) predicts House and Senate races based on the amount of money each candidate raises. This sounds familiar, as my 1998 Economics Letters paper outlines the same basic approach, although I differentiate between individual, PAC, and party contributions. I found that PAC contributions delivered more votes per dollar, whereas party contributions correlated with fewer votes - my reasoning being that parties only give substantial money to losers in order to save face.
Did Barron's steal from me? I am not that egotistical, however it is nice to see "independent" confirmation of years-old research.
October 23, 2006
You don’t have to bank like a refugee
News out of El Paso del Norte, Texas:
Officials of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta were in El Paso on Tuesday to lead a seminar for local banks and credit unions about Directo a Mexico, a program that allows electronic transfers of funds to any Mexican bank, through Banco de Mexico, for only 67 cents a transaction. …
The Fed began the “Directo a Mexico” program two years ago, pursuant to the George Bush – Vincente Fox agreement on a package of cooperative measures. It’s a wholesale service to banks, enabling smaller banks to compete against Western Union and against larger banks for a share of the $20 billion (and growing) annual market in transmitting money to Mexico. The money sender has to open an account at a participating bank in the US (which typically charges a retail price of $5 per transfer); the receiver goes to a branch of the Mexican government-owned “development” bank Bansefi to collect the pesos.
The business about the ID card? Under “know your customer” rules, US banks normally can’t open an account for a customer without seeing official US identification (passport, driver’s license, social security card). Many of the folks remitting money to Mexico are, come se dice, undocumented. The idea that “The Federal Reserve Bank is attempting to aid lawbreakers in moving their cash around” naturally has the John Birch Society and other anti-illegal-immigrant groups in a tizzy. Since I'm in favor of financial privacy for everyone, that part doesn't bother me.
What bothers me is the question: Why should the US government's Federal Reserve System be in the international money remittance business, competing with private providers, at all? The Fed might say, hey, why not, if we’re an efficient provider because of our economies of scale? But it isn’t that easy to judge whether the Fed really is an efficient provider, because it isn’t that easy for the Fed itself to figure out its average and marginal costs. Presumbly there exists some internal Fed study estimating that 67 cents a transfer is the Fed’s average or marginal cost for the service, but I can’t find any such study online to examine its assumptions and methods. If the Fed's service turns out not to cover its costs, will we know?
We do know that ordinary commercial banks have a large enough scale to provide the service more cheaply than Western Union. Again from the El Paso Times:
In the increasingly competitive remittance market, some banks have come up with an unbeatable offer: money transfers to Mexico for free. This week, Chase Bank launched Rapid Cash, a program offering up to three free money transfers a month to its customers in El Paso only. … Bank of America is also offering free money transfers to its customers in a 2-year-old program called SafeSend. Rapid Cash is a partnership with Banorte in Mexico. SafeSend is a partnership with Santander, Bansefi, La Red de la Gente, Telecomm Telegrafos and soon Banorte. … Inter National Bank, which sold 70 percent of its shares to Banorte in January, has cross-border banking and … allows customers to transfer funds between banks for free, bank officials said.
So again: what’s the rationale for the Fed getting involved in this market?
October 22, 2006
What economists do
In "Wishful Thinking on the Minimum Wage," Steve Chapman offers the best single sentence I've seen recently about economics: "Economics was dubbed 'the dismal science' because it is constantly at war with one of life's most pleasant occupations -- wishful thinking."
This excellent overview of the issues concludes thusly: "It may be deeply unwelcome to hear that the government can't fix the price of anything without self-defeating side effects. But even dismal truths are true."
October 20, 2006
Microcredit by any other name
One week ago, the Nobel Prize committee honored the idea of microcredit with the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank. Four days later, the United States government moved to make our own version of microcredit, the payday loan, unavailable to military personnel:
President Bush signed the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act Tuesday. The Act includes an interest rate cap of 36% for payday loans made to military personnel.
Note that the “interest rate” capped by the Act includes all service or transaction fees. If the transaction fee to borrow $100 for a week is $10 (which is cheaper than bouncing a check or missing a credit card payment), that is computed as $520 per year, or as a “520%” addition to the “annual interest rate”.
Like payday loan companies, the Grameen Bank specializes in small loans, though typically for longer periods (six months or so, rather than one week). Here’s what its website says about high interest rates charged by “microfinance instutions”:
I’ve heard that MFIs charge a high rate of interest for the loans. Is that so?
Sounds reasonable to me, but evidently not to my US Senator.
Is 36% too low a ceiling to allow cost-covering payday loans? Yes. (Excercise to the reader: figure out how low the transaction cost on a $100 one week loan would have to be to fit under the 36% annual cap.) In response to the legislation, Advance America, the “largest provider of payday cash advance services with approximately 2,700 centers in 36 states” has announced it will stop providing payday loans to military personnel. Let’s hope that those personnel have other alternatives than our own version of local money lenders, also known as “loan sharks”. Or as Advance America’s CEO delicately called them, “more expensive and/or unregulated forms of credit."
With columnists calling for extending the 36% cap to all payday loan customers (effectively the outlawing of payday loans), the payday loan industry might want to consider hiring Muhammad Yunus as a consultant and spokesman.
Is the Club for Growth Going Soft?
I'm a huge fan of and small contributor to the Club for Growth. The Club has been a major donor to the few bright spots in Congress (e.g., Jeff Flake).
One of the Club's endorsements for this year is Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. However, a Kyl ad I saw while in Arizona makes me wonder if the Club has lowered its standards. The ad features a quadriplegic woman recounting how Sen. Kyl obtained medical benefits for her. (The ad is here; it is the one called "Heather.") Presumably the benefits are from a government program, but the ad isn't specific. Hence it strikes me as odd that the Club would support a candidate campaigning on how effective he is at spending tax dollars. Indeed, money being fungible, Club members might be effectively underwriting the ad. In fairness to the Club, Kyl might have other ads that tout his limited government positions. And one might even make a decent case that this woman's dire circumstance (her paralysis apparently resulted from an attacker sent by her ex-husband) is a legit function of government. Nonetheless I wonder if an ad of this sort, rather than an anti-tax ad, is a sign of panic by Kyl or the Club.
The Pigou Club and the Double Dividend Hypothesis
A paper by leading public finance economists Don Fullerton and Gilbert Metcalf raises a different objection; the abstract:
The double-dividend hypothesis' suggests that increased taxes on polluting activities can provide two kinds of benefits. The first is an improvement in the environment, and the second is an improvement in economic efficiency from the use of environmental tax revenues to reduce other taxes such as income taxes that distort labor supply and saving decisions. In this paper, we make four main points. First, the validity of the double-dividend hypothesis cannot logically be settled as a general matter. Second, the focus on revenue in this literature is misplaced. We demonstrate that three policies have equivalent impacts on the environment and on labor supply. One of those policies raises revenue from the environmental component of the reform, another loses revenue, and a third has no revenue associated with it. Third, what matters is the creation of privately-held scarcity rents. Policies that raise product prices through some restriction on behavior may create scarcity rents. Unless those rents are captured by the government, such policies are less efficient at ameliorating an environmental problem than are policies that do not create rents. Finally, we distinguish between two types of command and control regulations on the basis of whether they create scarcity rents.
Dumb and Dumber
Jeff Daniels, of the funny (yes, I admit it) film "Dumb and Dumber", has been popping up on my tv lately as a pitchman for "economic development" in Michigan (he's a native and resident of the state). I suspected garden variety mercantilism, albeit using a celebrity rather than a pol. It turns out, though, that the absence of a pol in the commercials doesn't mean there isn't a political angle--the ads are part of Michigan Governor Granholm's effort to buy enough votes for re-election. From the WSJ:
LANSING, Mich. -- Economic anxiety hangs heavy over the midterm elections in this cradle of the American auto industry.
That has meant trouble for the re-election campaign of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Her response: flexing the power of incumbency and mounting a minibailout of the Big Three, along with other companies in the state, as Washington stands by.
As economic policy, the value of Ms. Granholm's corporate largess is questionable. The state aid is minuscule compared with losses the auto makers face. GM says the breaks are unlikely to swell its payroll. And even with the $151 million on offer, Ford appears bent on reducing its global work force by 40% within three years -- a move Ms. Granholm's critics say could wipe out 7,000 Michigan jobs.
But as a political move, the drumbeat of business-subsidy announcements looks to be working for the 47-year-old incumbent. She recently took a 50-45 poll lead against an opponent she trailed in July.
ADDENDUM: Andrew Roth of The Club for Growth Blog also picked up on the dumb and dumber theme.
Incentives Matter: Estonian Baby Edition
Excerpted from the WSJ (sub req):
TALLINN, Estonia -- Pia Kurro sat cross-legged on her bed in a drab, Soviet-era maternity ward that smelled of detergent and old linoleum and breast-fed her two-day-old daughter, Syria, who owes her existence to state subsidies.
In return for having the child, Ms. Kurro will receive the equivalent of $1,560 a month from her government for over a year, a lot of money in a country where the average monthly salary is $650.
"I would not have had a baby without the support," said the 39-year-old business consultant.
In an attempt to stop that downward spiral, Estonia took a bold step: In 2004 it began paying women to have babies. Working women who take time off after giving birth get their entire monthly income for up to 15 months, up to a ceiling of $1,560. Non-wage-earners get $200 a month.
Now, two years into the program, the government is seeing some of the first tentative results. Since the adoption of the new benefits, Estonia's fertility rate has improved to 1.5. That's still below the 2.1 children needed to stop the population from shrinking (one child to replace each parent, plus some room to allow for child mortality). And it will take years to see the full impact of the mother's salary. But the apparent early success has inspired the government to look at other ways of getting people to have more children -- everything from subsidies for nannies to linking pension payments to the number of children one has.
HT: Ted Crouse
Two Cool Space Photos
With the Reuters descriptions:
This Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters. (NASA, ESA/Hubble, and B. Whitmore - Space Telescope Science Institute/Handout/Reuters)
The Andromeda spiral galaxy is shown in this infrared image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and released by on October 18, 2006. Astronomers have new evidence that the Andromeda spiral galaxy was involved in a violent head-on collision with the neighboring dwarf galaxy Messier 32 (M32) more than 200 million years ago. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/D. Block - Anglo American Cosmic Dust Lab, SA/Handout/Reuters)
October 19, 2006
According to a report on NPR, "in a major disaster the government can spend $10-15 per gallon of water." (Link leads to a summary and an audio; LexisNexis has the transcript.)
Couldn't much of this water could be delivered at a fraction of this cost if price gougers were given free rein? Of course, the NPR report is hawking a gee-whiz technical fix, administered by FEMA, not a sensible market response.
I'm leaving tomorrow for Tblisi, Georgia to attend and give two talks at the Cato Institute's conference on "Freedom, Commerce, and Peace: A Regional Agenda". This will be my second trip to Tblisi, and it will be interesting to see if there's been any improvement.
Before the conference itself, I'm going to spend a few days hiking in the Khevsureti region of Georgia up near the Chechnya border (sshh: don't tell my wife!). This is a beautiful area with medieval fortresses and stunning mountains.
I do hope, however, the Russian tanks don't come rushing across the border. Russia and Georgia are, you see, having a bit of a spat at present. In fact, I just spent two hours standing at the ticket counter at the airport changing my flights around because all flights between the two countries are currently shut down (and naturally I was flying through Moscow on the way home.)
October 18, 2006
And They Thought Jim Harrick Would Be an Improvement?
From the AJC (via a colleague who is a UGA alum):
Athens —Former University of Georgia basketball coach Ron Jirsa benched a player after he refused to change his major when his class schedule conflicted with practice, former UGA center Robb Dryden said this week.
"He sat down with me, Ron Jirsa did, and this is straight from his mouth, he said, literally, verbatim, 'You need to get your priorities right; you need to change your major,' " Dryden said in an interview, recalling the exchange he had with his former coach in December 1998. "Then the bottom fell out."
Dryden, now 30 and living in Panama City, Fla., said when he declined Jirsa's suggestion to change his engineering major to child and family development, he was dismissed from the team. And even though he was reinstated after meeting with Georgia senior associate athletics director Dick Bestwick, Dryden was benched as a starter and played only sparingly the rest of the season. The 7-footer had scored 22 points in a game against Texas a week earlier.
Bestwick confirmed Dryden's account Tuesday.
Dryden did not graduate within the six years allotted by the NCAA. However, he was only one semester short of graduation when he left. He returned to UGA in 2004 and graduated that May with a degree in agricultural engineering.
Jirsa, who coached UGA from 1997-99 and now coaches Marshall University, on Tuesday did not deny encouraging Dryden to change his major.
He said his request that Dryden switch majors had more to do with trying to help him reach his stated goal of becoming a better basketball player who hoped to one day play professionally while still attaining a college degree.
Bestwick, now retired from UGA but still living in Athens, said of Dryden's benching: "That was Jirsa being vindictive.
"One thing you can't do [as an administrator] is tell coaches how to coach. But I did tell Robb to forget what Coach Jirsa said and continue to go to his classes."
Current UGA administrators say Jirsa's actions would not have been tolerated then, nor would they be today. UGA President Michael Adams would not confirm Dryden's assertion that the handling of his situation contributed to Jirsa's firing at the end of that season.
Even worse than what this episode says about UGA athletics is what it implies about UGA's child and family development program.
Markets in Everything: MLB Coffins Editon
Hmmm ... to put this one in the economics category or the sports category:
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Baseball fanatics won't have to leave behind their beloved teams when they finally go to that big stadium in the sky. Instead, they'll soon be able to rest in peace inside a coffin with team colors and insignia.
Major League Baseball has a marketing deal with a company called Eternal Image. It'll put team logos on caskets and urns. The effort begins next season with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Cubs and Dodgers. It could eventually include all 30 teams.
Each urn will be stamped with a message saying Major League Baseball officially recognizes the deceased as a lifelong fan of that team.
After starting with baseball, Eternal Image hopes to branch out by making similar deals with the NFL, the NHL and NASCAR.
Somewhere there's a sports marketing geek who's proud of himself. HT to MR for the Markets in Everything concept.
Underpaid Yalies c. 1906
From the Oct. 18, 1906 NYT:
NEW HAVEN -- Salaries of Yale full professors have been raised to $4,000 in the case of thirty-five members of the faculty. The figure heretofore has been between $3,000 and $3,500.EH.net suggests that $4,000 in 1906 is approximately $92,779.10 2005 CPI adjusted. Not too shaby, but how does it compare to today. And what's up with Yale paying so much less than Chicago and Harvard?
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the following salaries for Yale, Harvard, and Chicago
Associate professors today are paid, in real terms, what full professors were paid 100 years ago. Now, here is an interesting dissertation topic. What explains the increased value of the full professor to these three schools?
Here's how Yale's average salaries compare to the other two schools today:
Yale's doing better, but hasn't quite caught up. Why is Yale consistently paying less? Is this the result of supply-side or demand-side (or both) influences?
The average American: 1967 and today at Forbes.com
October 17, 2006
Appealing to the Median Voter
The median voter theorem was expounded to me in grad school by Randy Holcombe (who we referred to as "The Great One") and I found the 5,735th news story to support it.
It seems Democrats want to shoot for the middle by claiming they will seek the "common good," while Marx and Engels exchange high-fives.
With the rise of materialism, greed and corruption in American society, people want a return to a better sense of community — sort of a shared sacrifice, a return to the ethic of service and duty.
How come no one ever tries to court the materialists? The greedy? Don't their voices deserve to be heard in our democracy too? Actually, the median voter theorem sheds light again; if American society is greedy and corrupt, then I couldn't think of a better group to represent us than the current crop of politicians.
Of course, underlying all this is the conceit that politicians know what "good" is common to society, and that attaining this good is possible only through political means. You cannot remain materialistic, greedy, or corrupt if there are government programs fighting such things, just like you can't buy or use drugs since drugs are illegal.
The hacks keep claiming that this is the "most important election of our time" (just like the last one); but I would tend to agree to one extent. This seems to be one of the most important recent elections where the contrast is so stark between big government types (D and R) and libertarians.
Repubs define common good as "use government to promote religion or international democracy;" Dems define common good as "use government to promote socialism." I don't know about common good, but the common thread to both of those thoughts is easy enough to see.
I know I plug them a lot, but the folks at the Acton Institute have the best balance between libertarian ideals and promoting the common good.
Cooperative means zero profit?
The romantic cooperative has a great feel. People working together for mutual benefit, all of whom are joint owners and share in the proceeds and the daily operation of the establishment. Everyone is a chief at the same time they are an Indian.
But Yale is full of smart, intellectually honest people. Surely Yale could run a successful cooperative. Right?
From the Oct. 17, 1906 NYT:
The attempt to form a chain of co-operative college stores throughout the country has failed...The association [Intercollegiate Mercantile Association] was incorporated at the last session of the Legislature. It is capitalized at $50,000 a majority of the stock being held by Yale alumni and undergraduates. The company supplies college goods of all kinds to college men [but not women?], and has branches at Richmond College...William and Mary College...Butler College...Hamilton College...and Dickinson College.To be completely honest, the story indicates that the Yale cooperative store is separate from the nationwide string of cooperatives. This suggests that Yale could run its own cooperative, for the sake of Yale, but ran into difficulties when trying to extend the joint-ownership to a larger geographic area with more members.
On public corruption c. 1906
From the October 17, 1906 NYT editorial page:
It is reported from Washington that in the mind of that queer community there is some sort of sympathy for ex-Senator Burton of Kansas, who...will have to go to jail. He was convicted of having accepted a fee for representing a client before the departments while he was a Senator. The ground of the sympathy, it seems, is that other Senators and Representatives have sinned in the same way and escaped. Yet it is plain in any other latitude than that of Washington that the offense was one essentially impossible for a man with a decent sense of his duty as a Senator. It is highly necessary that it should be punished and abolished and all the more so if there be many offenders. To accomplish this some one must be the first victim of justice. In this case the victim was unquestionably guilty, and exhausted all the resources of technical defense to evade the penalty due. Sympathy would seem to be misplaced in his case. (emphasis added)I don't like the term "victim of justice," as the bribery undermined the public trust and the proper role of a limited government (ironically, bribes might be part of the proper role of an unlimited government). The victim in this case was the constituents who didn't have elite access.
All of this sounds familiar, I understand, but in the current environment it seems useful to remind ourselves that there was never a time when politicians weren't on the take but there was a time when we punished at least one grafter with something beyond an "ethics censure."
In a similar vein, since when does revising your ethics report indicate that you have revised your ethics?
Ohio Voting 101
I voted by absentee ballot yesterday because I'll be out of the country on election day. How did I vote?
Read More »
Governor. This one was weird. I actually know, on a first-name basis, both major party candidates. Ken Blackwell, the Republican, and I have worked on various projects over the years included medicaid reform and the tax-expenditures limitation. I am not thrilled with his run to the religious right, but understand that he felt that was necessary to get elected in the primary given the mainstream GOPs hositility to him. Democrat Ted Strikland, or Red Ted as I like to call him, and I worked together at Shawnee State University. We were in the same department (Social Sciences) even and his office was just a few doors away. He taught psychology. After a year and a half he went off to Congress. I also know Bill Pierce, the Libertarian candidate who is a professor of economics at Case Western.
Sorry, Ken, I voted for Bill.
I basically skipped all the other races as I couldn't vote for either candidate. As for the issues:
State Issue 1 Referendum on Am. Sub. SB 7 - Workers’ Compensation: The unions want a worker's comp reform overturned (yes to overturn the reforms). My enemy's enemy is my friend: NO.
State Issue 2 Proposed Constitutional Amendment - Minimum Wage: Duh! NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!
State Issue 3 Proposed Constitutional Amendment - Gambling and college scholarships - Learn & Earn: This is a tough one. On first principles I think gambling should be legal and I'm normally an incrementalist about these things willing to take what I can get. But legalizing just some types of gambling to satisfy a few special interests, and then tying the government's huge take to higher education scholarships? Sorry, guys, NO.
On the basis of first principles, I think private property owners should determine smoking policies for themselves. (Smoking is banned in my house for example, but I'm willing to let you decide this at your house or place of business.) Issue 4 would on the one hand ban smoking in a lot of places, while excepting others like bars, bowling alleys and a lot of restaurants (so long as they had separate sections). But it would also overturn local smoking bans that are broader, so it would make smoking easier in these places (Columbus e.g.). Issue 5 would basically be a statewide ban in all public places.
I voted NO on both of them.
I don't like Issue 5 obviously as I don't think the state has the right (though obviously they have the power) to tell private owners what to allow or not allow on their property. Issue 4 would ban smoking (at the margin) in some places while re-legalizing it in others. What to do? If we're going to have smoking bans at all, I'd prefer at least that they be locally passed. This way some communities can decide to allow smoking, and competition between the communities may check the more extreme anti-smoking zealots.
« Close It
A Nobel for WalMart?
John Tierney asks rhetorically, "I don’t want to begrudge the Nobel Peace Prize won last week by the Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus. But has he done more good than Sam Walton?" (The article is "TimesSelect" so it is not free of charge.
Tierney refers to this article on TCS, which begins with the following:
Between 1990 and 2002 more than 174 million people escaped poverty in China, about 1.2 million per month. With an estimated $23 billion in Chinese exports in 2005 (out of a total of $713 billion in manufacturing exports), Wal-Mart might well be single-handedly responsible for bringing about 38,000 people out of poverty in China each month, about 460,000 per year.
Even without considering the $263 billion in consumer savings that Wal-Mart provides for low-income Americans, or the millions lifted out of poverty by Wal-Mart in other developing nations, it is unlikely that there is any single organization on the planet that alleviates poverty so effectively for so many people.
Moreover, most of the sweatshops workers in Japan in the 1950s and 60s, as well as the most of the sweatshop workers in Taiwan and South Korea in the 1970s and 80s, are now middle class retirees in developed nations. Likewise most of the "underpaid" Chinese workers of today will retire in a state of comfort and luxury unimaginable to them in their rural youth, as average Chinese wages will gradually rise just as they have risen in every other nation that has experienced long-term economic growth.
And, echoing Hayek's observations regarding 19th century English factories:
An unreflective passion for social justice may be one of the biggest obstacles to creating peace and prosperity in the 21st century. While there are most certainly factory owners in China whom we would rightly regard as criminal in their treatment of their workers, it is very important not to confuse these incidents with the phenomenon of globalization. It is a good thing that Wal-Mart is encouraging more humane standards in its supplier's factories.
October 16, 2006
Curious headlines c. 1906
The ProQuest NYT archive reports headlines as follows:
In the case of letters to the editor, multiple letters are filed under the heading of the first letter published. However, the archive lists the letters in reverse order.
Anyway, the October 16, 1906 NYT has the following series of headlines:
Again, the RMWU warning is associated with the first letter which warns against overconfidence against the Democrat Hearst. However, the irony of the other headlines in the archive attracted my eye.
Save the Elephants: Don't Buy Ivory Soap
I live in the Chicago suburbs, where the nearest wild area is the ice-cream place after a T-ball game. Still, exposing my kids to nature is high on my to-do list. We check under rocks for bugs, maintain a bird feeder, take lunch to the nearest forest preserve and go camping twice a year. I've been fortunate enough to be able to turn my love of nature into a career; I'm an educator at a zoo.
[HT: the wife.]
When are 650 economists fewer than meets the eye?
The Employment Policy Institute released an “economists’ statement” earlier this month supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. Headline: “Hundreds of Economists Say: Raise the Minimum Wage”. The wishful content of the statement has been critically scrutinized by other econo-bloggers.
Given the long-standing free-market orientation of the UCLA economics department (my graduate alma mater), I was surprised to see that six signatories listed a UCLA affiliation. Wow, have the economists at UCLA changed that much? (I had dinner with Harold Mulherin last night, and he hasn’t abandoned the UCLA way of thinking.) A little Googling reveals that there’s less here than meets the eye. None of the six UCLA “economists” listed teaches in the economics department. Three are in Geography or Urban Planning (Paul Ong, Allen J. Scott, Michael Storper; Scott and Storper have Geography and not Economics Ph.Ds), two are professors of management in the Graduate School of Management (Sanford M. Jacoby, Daniel J. B. Mitchell), and one (Susan L. Ettner) is in the Med School.
It makes me wonder how many of the 650 "economists" actually teach in economics departments.
Time Inconsistency Problems in Coaching Football
From the ESPN story, Lane helps Aggies pin first loss on No. 19 Mizzou
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) -- Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione knew it was risky to tell his players they were going to beat No. 19 Missouri.
He did it anyway, and the Aggies did just what they were told.
"I wanted them to know I was confident in them," Franchione said. "You know, you can't do that week in and week out. You've got to pick your times to convey that message when it matters the most.
"I just think they needed to hear that."
October 15, 2006
On the World Series c. 1906
The October 15, 1906 NYT reports on the Chicago White Sox beating the Chicago Cubs in the first intra-city world series, describing how the "Hitless Wonders" somehow took down Goliath; the 1906 Chicago Cubs went 116-36, for a .894 winning percentage (more here).
The article reports that total attendance during the six game series was 99,845 with total "receipts" being $105,540. Thus, the average ticket to the 1906 World Series was approximately $1 or about twice the regular season admission price.
The folks at EH.net suggest that
In 2005, $1.00 from 1906 is worth:
From the Detroit Tigers website we learn that the face value of Tigers tickets for the regular season ranged from $5 to $60. These same tickets during the World Series will range from $75 to $250.
On media bias c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the October 15, 1906 NYT:
Born to irresponsibility "with a silver spoon in his mouth," he [William Randolf Hearst] was amply qualified to establish an "American" newspaper, first as a plaything, then as a perverter of morals and a destroyer of principles essential to the continuance of the true American commonwealth.
October 12, 2006
Kudos to my former student Dan Alban for passing the bar exam.
October 11, 2006
Can't stand the heat? Ban thermometers!
Watching Zimbabwe's government ruin the country is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. In August, the one-month inflation rate hit 211%.
When Zimbabweans who work abroad send money home via the government’s own transfer service, called Homelink, the recipients get only the official exchange rate of Z$250 per US$1 sent. If the money is sent via informal (“black market”) transfer services, the relatives get the market rate, currently about Z$1200 per US$1 and rising. Banks and other private money transfer agencies (e.g. Western Union) are caught in the middle: they’re supposed to pay out at the official exchange rate, but competition obliges them to pay the market rate.
Paying about one-fifth of the market rate, the government’s Homelink system is naturally having trouble attracting any transfer business. The government’s solution? Not to abolish the official exchange rate that renders Homelink uncompetitive, of course. Instead, it has moved to abolish the competing private transfer agencies. The BBC reports:
Zimbabwe has banned 16 money transfer agencies from operating in the country, accusing them of abusing their licences by doing deals on the black market.
I’m glad I don’t have Mr. Gono’s job. It must be difficult for him to read his lines with a straight face.
Hat tip: WEG
Good Data Archive
From the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. I believe that papers put out by the St. Louis Fed are required to have their data deposited here.
Where are all the free market economists?
People often ask me if all economists are free-marketers like me. I say no, but now I have data to back that up thanks to this new paper:
Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House? The Policy Views of American Economic Association Members by Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern
Abstract: People often suppose or imply that free-market economists constitute a significant portion of all economists. We surveyed American Economic Association members and asked their views on 18 specific forms of government activism. We find that about 8 percent of AEA members can be considered supporters of free-market principles, and that less than 3 percent may be called strong supporters. The data is broken down by voting behavior (Democratic or Republican). Even the average Republican AEA member is middle-of-the-road not free-market. We offer several possible explanations of the apparent difference between actual and attributed views.
Human life is priceless, right? Unmeasurable, incalculable, impossible to assign a dollar value.
Well, apparently not. Though economists generally know this by observing rational behavior of insurance purchases, funding personal or home protection (e.g., my monthly kung fu check), or even cutting people off in traffic, the layman always says the value of life cannot be calculated.
If you're a dude who likes sports, though, the value of your life apparently fluctuates depending on what's on the tube. A study from the University of Maryland shows that jock wanna-be's forgo medical care until the game is over. The study finds a 30% drop in the number of men checking in to hospitals while a game is on, and a jump in visits after the game is over.
The sample used time periods when NFL, MLB, and University of Maryland football and basketball where televised. Of course, countries have been known to stop entire wars for World Cup games, but I can understand it when it's a respectable sport.
Sixes are Sevens: Observation #1467
Residents of the small town of Balykchi proposed to replace the monument to Vladimir Lenin remaining from the Soviet times with a statue of the local crime boss...Replacing the statue of one crime boss with the statue of another crime boss makes complete sense.
One of my favorite websites is summitpost which has fantastic amounts of information about mountain hiking/climbing. It's a "wiki" style site where users host and edit individual pages about mountains, routes, etc.
In the wilderness c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the October 11, 1906 NYT:
Being a Democrat and wishing to take part in the present campaign, I would like to know how I stand, that is, whether I am forced to support the Republican or Independence League candidate, there being no Democrat in the field.The letter writer refers to the nomination of William Randolph Hearst as Democrat candidate for the governor of New York, yet many "small l" democrats might ask the same question today in many parts of the country.
From another letter to the editor in the same edition:
Any man or set of men who would set class against class in this Republic, whatever his label, is not and cannot be a follower of Jefferson and a Democrat. Any men who will endeavor for his own purposes to foment and capitalize the latent unrest of humanity is a foe to every form of law and government.The letter writer in this case refers to insurance scandals that required investigations and indictments earlier in the year, of which Hearst was lead dog. Nevertheless, the language seems equally pertinent today.
Vote Buying Pols: NY State Senator Edition
From the Chronicle of Higher Ed's blog:
At least a dozen state senators in New York have been getting free election-year publicity from the state’s private colleges after using taxpayer dollars to publish college guidebooks, each with one of the lawmakers’ photographs on the cover.
The Times Union, a newspaper in Albany, N.Y., first reported that Republican lawmakers had diverted tens of thousands of dollars from a special-projects fund—known as the General Legislative Operations Programs, or GLOP, account—to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. The private-college association then used the money to print special editions of a guide to New York’s private colleges featuring the sponsoring senator’s photograph and to distribute the books to high schools, community colleges, and libraries in the senator’s home district.
One more data point for the public choice view of politicians over fantasy that pols are selfless public servants.
Another 9/11 Moonbat
MILWAUKEE — A university instructor who came under scrutiny for arguing that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks likens President Bush to Adolf Hitler in an essay his students are being required to buy for his course.
The essay by Kevin Barrett, "Interpreting the Unspeakable: The Myth of 9/11," is part of a $20 book of essays by 15 authors, according to an unedited copy first obtained by WKOW-TV in Madison and later by The Associated Press.
The book's title is "9/11 and American Empire: Muslims, Jews, and Christians Speak Out." It is on the syllabus for Barrett's course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Islam: Religion and Culture," but only three of the essays are required reading, not including Barrett's essay.
Barrett, a part-time instructor who holds a doctorate in African languages and literature and folklore from UW-Madison, is active in a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth. The group's members say U.S. officials, not al-Qaida terrorists, were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Like Bush and the neocons, Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies," he wrote.
Previous post here. Beyond the moral offensiveness of equating Bush and Hitler, part of what amazes me about the conspiracy theory crowd is how they could possibly think an administration that has made such a hash of Iraq could have orchestrated an elaborate 9/11 conspiracy.
October 10, 2006
Should cab drivers be allowed to refuse fares that violate their religious norms?
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune reported last month:
About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are Somalis, many of them Muslim. About three times daily, would-be customers are refused taxi service when a driver sees they're carrying alcohol. … Now the airports commission has a solution: color-coding the lights on the taxi roofs to indicate whether a driver will accept a booze-toting fare.
In Melbourne, Australia, some cabbies have gone one step farther:
Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry blind passengers with their guide dogs or anyone carrying alcohol.
The Qur’an reportedly proscribes contact with alcohol or dogs.
How about two lines? One says, "MUSLIM DRIVERS. Please do not get in this line if you have: A dog. Alcohol. […] Any other thing unacceptable to Islam. We reserve the right to add to this list at any time. The other line says, "All others." And then let capitalism work.
To which I would add: allow free entry into the taxi business so that capitalism is completely free to work. Only then will passengers in the second line get as much service as they’re willing to pay mutually agreeable prices for. Let drivers discriminate to their hearts’ content, but don’t make passengers suffer.
Seriously, I would not legally compel any taxi driver to carry any passenger with alcohol or a guide dog, or any other characteristic, whether the discrimination is grounded in religion or any other reason, stupid or intelligible. Let that be the driver’s call. But to give equal respect to the rights of passengers, I would dismantle legal restrictions on the entry of non-discriminatory taxi drivers. Passengers should be equally free to discriminate against cabs whose rules they don’t like, which requires that discriminatory drivers not have a monopoly. (Free entry would incidentally would assure that the driver fully bears the costs of his discrimination.) I personally wouldn’t choose a cab that refuses to serve blind passengers with guide dogs.
I realize that an airport may need to set taxicab queueing rules for its own curbs, and that when an airport is government-owned its rules are a matter of public policy. You might guess what my free-market suggestion is for mitigating that bottleneck.
The most blatant restriction on entry in many cities is an outright limit on the number of taxis allowed. More subtle are high fees, and licensing requirements that go beyond ability to drive and ordinary vehicle safety. Let market branding by taxi fleets certify quality drivers and pleasant cabs. SuperShuttle does a pretty good job at that.
Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity
The Cato Institute is pleased to announce the launch of a Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. The mission of the Center is to promote policies that protect human rights, extend the range of personal choice, and support the central role of economic freedom in ending world poverty. As part of this expanded mission, Andrei Illarionov, former chief economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be joining the Center as a Senior Fellow. Illarionov was a Kremlin adviser from 2000 to December 2005, when he resigned in protest at government policies. He is one of Russia's most forceful and articulate advocates of an open society and democratic capitalism.
October 09, 2006
I have spent a few minutes at the site and it is neat. A great resource for Law and Economics classes. Heck, you could teach a two-semester sequence on Posnernomics and still have material left over.
Apologies if this has been linked to before.
Journalism 101: Got No Story? Make one up.
The local fishwrapper headline read, "Outside of Columbus few Central Ohio black coaches can be found."
Of course it would have been just as accurate to write "Outside of Columbus few Central Ohio black people can be found."
Help Wanted Dept: Tenure Track at Berry
Following Ed's lead, my dept is also hiring for a tenure track slot. JOE ad here; interviews at the AEA's in Chicago.
SJSU Tenure Track
Reminder in case you had not seen it. San Jose State Department of Economics has a tenure track opening for Fall 2007. JOE ad here. More on our web site here. Interviews at the SEA meetings in Charleston. Cheers,
Redevelopment without Eminent Domain
Bernard Luggage in Hollywood, CA, is perhaps the most notorious post-Kelo instance of eminent domain for economic development. As Matt Welch described in an L.A. Times oped last year:
In May , the Los Angeles City Council approved a $325-million [now $500m] project at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, including a fancy new 296-room W Hotel. "Glitz, glamour, jobs and housing — this project has it all," 13th District Councilman Eric Garcetti gushed two years ago. But he left out two other relevant elements: Taxpayer financing and the threat of eminent domain.
Under California law, local governments cannot condemn properties unless they're blighted. But it's the local governments that determine blight. And at Hollywood and Vine, they pulled out some sketchy reasons, including lack of sufficient parking or air conditioning. LA’s redevelopment agency said developing the area was impossible without eminent domain.
But in yesterday's L.A. Times we learn:
Shopkeeper Robert Blue fought back by blasting the city's use of eminent domain with a mocking billboard atop his Bernard Luggage store near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
Developers agreed to leave the building intact and build around it on three sides. (Full article here. It's a good read because preservation/conservation issues dovetail with enforcement of property rights.)
In January I'm getting married at this San Antonio church, which in the late 1940s was also commercially developed around on three sides. Developers are now beginning a major upgrade to this shopping district, and St. Joseph's will stay there happily surrounded on three sides.
Eminent domain, Shmeminent domain.
Everybody is wrong?
This in my email box from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
EDMUND S. PHELPS, a professor of political economy at Columbia University, will receive this year's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science for his insights about how long-term expectations shape national economic conditions, the Nobel Foundation announced this morning.
October 08, 2006
At the Pinitos Learning Center in Boca Raton, disaster workers dressed as "Windy Biggie" and "Sunny" teach 30 preschoolers a song about how the wind is good, even during a hurricane.
"Windy Biggie is our friend.
"Windy Biggie is strong wind.
"She turns, turns, turns, turns around.
"She's knocking things to the ground."
This is FEMA tax money at work. It's also paying for Hurricane Bingo, puppet shows, "salsa for seniors," and yoga on the beach.
My Nobel Prediction
My hope: Tullock.
My (worth every penny you paid for it) prediction: Thaler.
And on the Nobel, I saw this clever line in the comments to a Mankiw post:
One imagines, though, that the timing of the prize is immaterial to Barro. I suspect he's already smoothing his prize money over his lifecycle.
ADDENDUM: Expect little or no blogging for the next 10 days; I have several pressing projects this week and then Pee Wee and I are off to Vegas and northern Arizona for 5 days.
October 07, 2006
San Francisco recovery c. 1906
From an October 7, 1906 letter to the editor of the NYT:
As to San Francisco upbuilding, I give you a few facts; you may draw your own conclusions.
Why libertarians shouldn't attempt to build a home addition: Week 1 Edition
Exhibit A: 5 day delay (Friday to Wednesday) to get the building permits because one of the two (one of the two!?) city architects was "on vacation". "Oh that's ok, I'll just take my business elsewhere," I think, "Oh #$%^@, there isn't any elsewhere."
Exhibit B: After the digging for the foundation began (Wednesday), they smelled gas. Call the gas company to shut off gas. 15 minutes later, gas is shut off. Whew. Call plumber. Lots of leaks. #$%&*. 2 days later, he's done at 6pm on Friday after working until 9pm the night before. Call the gas company to turn gas back on. They say, "Sorry we don't do that on weekends, you'll have to wait until Monday." "Oh that's ok, I'll just take my business elsewhere," I think, "Oh #$%^@, there isn't any elsewhere."
Be sure to come back next week for Why libertarians shouldn't attempt to build a home addition: Week 2 Edition
October 06, 2006
Economic Freedom data
I have received a number of requests for the data from the Economic Freedom of the World Report. Usually, I direct people to the Excel file available on our website. But Neil Emerick in South Africa has created a nifty little software program the allows you to extract the data easily. You can find it here: www.nightsbridge.com/efw.zip. Unlike previous years, Neil is giving it away this year.
Oklahoma vs. Texas
In Norman, OK, home of the University of Oklahoma, half the cars -- and more than half of the pickup trucks -- feature an upside-down longhorn sticker on the back, as a sign of disrespect for the University of Texas. In Austin, TX, home of UT, they return the favor with a new brand of beer.
My prediction (the only 100%, guaranteed, cold-lead-pipe-lock pick concerning the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2006):
It won't be me.
Campaign finance reform c. 1906
The Oct. 6, 1906 NYT lists various legislative limits on campaign financing with a big one at the end. I provide the bullet-list form:
Then comes the hammer, which I quote:
No corporation or joint-stock association doing business in this State, except a corporation or association organized or maintained for political purposes only, shall directly or indirectly pay or use or offer, consent or agree to pay or use any money or property for or in aid of any political party, committee, or organization, or for, or in aid of, any corporation, joint-stock or other association organized or maintained for political purposes, or for, or in aid of, any candidate for political office, or for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the reimbursement or indemnification of any person for moneys or property so used. Any officer, Director, stockholder, attorney, or agent of any corporation or joint-stock association which violates any of the provisions of this section, who participates in, aids, abets, or advises or consents to any such violation, and any person who solicits or knowingly receives any money or property in violation of this section, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary or county jail for not more than one year and a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.
Ticket prices c. 1906
The October 6, 1906 NYT advertises the Fordham-Rensselaer Polytechnic football game to take place at 3pm at Fordham Field. Ticket price: $0.50 ($10.81 2005 CPI adjusted).
I went to the Fordham Athletics website to find the ticket prices for this season's games:
Loge (reserved, mid-field) $15.00
Wow, the general admission price to Fordham games has barely changed in real terms over 100 years. What gives?
I grabbed the historical records of Fordham Football (the school's football program has a bit of a checkered past - many years it did not field a team, etc. - but Fordham has been playing in the Patriot League as of late). Over the past 100 years, the school has played 766 football games with a record of 382-349-35 (through the 2005 season) for a winning percentage of 0.498.
Fair-to-middlin' football is worth about the same today as it was 100 years ago?
October 05, 2006
My Nobel Prize Prediction
Bhagwati, Dixit, and Krugman - for international trade theory
I would have liked to see Krugman win solo for his excellent economic geography work, but I don't see that happening since I think the committee would prefer to have him share the award.
My preferences (not necessarily realistic):
Tullock and Krueger - for rent-seeking
Annual Nobel Prize prediction
It's time for the annual DoL Economics Nobel Prize predictions.
Ok guys, give it up. How about a single name this year?
My prediction is below the fold:
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Craig asks about DoL's stats.
DoL had 20,214 unique visitors in September.
Mass diagnosis c. 1906
From the October 5, 1906 NYT:
LONDON - The delightful forecast of the world gone made is held up to us by Dr. Forbes Winslow.Indeed, good doctor, indeed.
Walmart v. My Space
And the winner is? One guess.
During the past week it has become abundantly clear that the culture and innovation on the web is progressing far faster than folks over, say, 25 years of age can maintain. When folks in Congress, the media, and on the street can't or won't distinguish between email, text messages, and instant messages, one fears that whatever legislation being written concerning the net is mis-informed.
Rant ends. We return to regularly scheduled blogging...
Evidently Walmart initiated a myspace-type system aimed at teens. Why Walmart would think this is a good idea seems a bit strained, but nevertheless Walmart invested some scarce resources in a failed experiment. Advertising Age reports that Walmart pulled the plug after three months.
That seems like a short amount of time for an Internet startup nowadays - how long did Amazon make "negative" profits? On the other hand, give credit to Walmart that it recognized its mistake.
The article provides some insight as to why teens would not flock to Walmart's version of myspace:
"The Hub" was designed by Wal-Mart to allow teens to "express their individuality" but it screened all the content, informed parents when their children joined and forbade users to e-mail one another.Let's see. Express your individuality as far as I will let you, I will inform your mom and dad about you are saying and seeing on the Wally-world network and no, Virginia, there are no emails. Yep, that sounds like a winner. In fact, it sounds exactly like the responsible type of social networking parents and congress people would applaud.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the target audience said "Nyet!."
Anti Walmart folks might sleep better tonight knowing that, at least in one instance, Walmart did not have "lower" prices and lost a battle in convincing fashion. How convincing? The article goes on to say:
In August, the site attracted 91,000 unique visitors, according to ComScore Networks. Social-networking giant MySpace.com garnered 55.8 million unique visitors the same monthOuch!! Granted, 91,000 hits is more than I get at my personal blog, but I wonder how much more than DoL?
"What's the problem with Airbus?" asks the Guardian. Excerpts from their answer:
It's difficult to know where to start. Probably with the wiring on Airbus's 555-seater A380.... Each A380 has 312 miles of electrical wiring, threaded through the plane in bundles as thick as a human leg. The problem is, engineers at Airbus plants in France and Germany didn't update each other on changes they made as they went along, so when sections of fuselage were shipped to Toulouse for assembly, they didn't fit.
50 Hottest Profs
Craig Newmark points to this list of the 50 hottest profs, apparently derived in some manner from the instructors' ratings on ratemyprofessor.com. As the co-author of this paper (sub req) finding that hot instructors get better ratings on ratemyprofessor.com, it came as no surprise to me that 49 of the 50 hottest profs had ratemyprofessor evaluations warranting a smiley face. Some background in this post from co-author and co-blogger Bob.
October 04, 2006
Chinese organ "donors"
Unanticipated consequence of banning markets in organ donation?
This article focuses mostly on the Falun Gong:
As many as 41,500 healthy people who practice Falun Gong became involuntary victims of organ transplants and murdered between 2002 and 2005, according to a report that was presented before the U.S. Congress on September 29th.
Quote of the day
It’s a big pity that it was just a big utopia together with all other ideals of communism. It could be a better society though there is a one good lesson from this great Soviet experiment worth of three generations of human lives and 70 years in length – great results cannot be achieved with the help of violence. You can’t make people happy by depriving them with what you think is bad for them and issuing commands on what they should like. And that’s a lesson which should not be forgotten by modern day activists for Better Future of Humanity.Amen, brother.
October 03, 2006
Public Policy and Entrepreneurship
Russ Sobel and I have a new policy study providing an overview of the role that public policy plays in fostering or inhibiting entrepreneurship. The study, published by the Kansas Center for Applied Economics, can be downloaded in Adobe .pdf here.
Why not change the name of the bank?
New Kazakh bills have been printed with a typographical error, mispelling the national bank's name. Rather than reprint the bills, the Kazakh government allowed the bills to circulate. I wonder what that means.
What examples of misprints would solve problems in the United States?
Washington Libertarian candidate "hocks" his way into TV debate
Television station KING/5 in Seattle is hosting a debate on October 17 among U. S. Senate candidates. Everyone expected the debate to include only Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican Mike McGavick. But the station’s guidelines for admission to the debate, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, allow any candidate who has raised
at least 10 percent of the funds raised by the winner of the previous Senate election. The station used the 2004 third-quarter fundraising report filed by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who had raised $12.1 million.
To meet the $1.21 million test, the Libertarian Party candidate, Bruce Guthrie, has now lent his own campaign $1.18 million (he had already raised $31,062). Pretty clever, given that he doesn’t actually have to spend it:
[Guthrie] admitted he might not spend much of it, saying: "This is a loan, and I do intend to get most of it back. If the fundraising doesn't go well, I might not spend most of it. If the fundraising does go well, I might spend most of it."
He needs it back, because he’s not a rich man:
Guthrie, 43, a former part-time college instructor, said he mortgaged his Bellingham house and depleted his savings to raise the money.
Will Guthrie’s participation affect the race? It might. Republican Sen. Slade Gorton lost to Cantwell in 2000 by a mere 2,229 votes; the Libertarian that year got 64,734 votes.
Prediction: Next time around, the TV station has a new set of qualifications.
She is so hot; I'm voting for her!
by Niclas Berggren, Ratio Institute, Stockholm; Henrik Jordahl
ABSTRACT: We study the role of beauty in politics. For the first time, focus is put on differences in how women and men evaluate female and male candidates and how different candidate traits relate to success in real and hypothetical elections. We have collected 16,218 assessments by 2,772 respondents of photos of 1,929 Finnish political candidates. Evaluations of beauty explain success in real elections better than evaluations of competence, intelligence, likability, or trustworthiness. The beauty premium is larger for female candidates, in contrast to findings in previous labor-market studies.
APEE Essay Contest
Bad News for Homebrewers
Federal investigators were set Tuesday to begin an investigation into a fire that ruined about 4 percent of America's yield of hops, used as flavoring in the brewing of beer and ale.
The fire started shortly before noon Monday in a 40,000-square-foot (3,600-square-meter) warehouse operated by S.S. Steiner Inc., one of the four largest hop buyers in the Yakima Valley of central Washington. By mid-afternoon flames engulfed most of the building, sending up plumes of smoke and a pungent aroma.
The fire destroyed or ruined about 10,000 bales, each weighing about 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and likely worth $1.75 to $2 a pound, Ann George, administrator of the Washington Hops Commission in nearby Moxee, told the Herald-Republic.
Boots on the ground c. 1906
Over the past two months or so in 1906, Cuba has experienced a revolution of sorts. The United States is mobilizing naval and marine forces to be sent to the island nation - we will be there until January 1909 - but it is not clear that our intervention made things better.
The October 3, 1906 NYT provides a brief quote by a Major General Shafter (Ret.):
"A hundred soldiers would be sufficient to seize and hold Cuba at the present time...The Cubans themselves realize this and will make no effort to offer resistance to the army of occupation. There are, however, some very wily natives among the contending Cuban forces, and they may be expected to hold out and be an uncertain quantity until assured that the American occupation is an occupation in fact.Hmmm....sounds all too familiar.
An Essay and A Podcast
Do we expect innovations to come from government, or private industry?
I know what I expect....and if you are interested you can check out this excerpt on a REAL innovation: an airline where EVERYBODY packs heat. The motto of Glock Air is: "We just flew in Cleveland, and boy are our arms locked and loaded!"
You can find the entire essay here.
Or, you can listen to the rollicking podcast ("I laughed, I cried....It was BETTER than CATS!") here....
October 02, 2006
An overly common medium of exchange
Health experts in the UK are warning the public that snorting cocaine through a rolled-up banknote poses a serious health risk. Not from the cocaine -- from the banknote, which can harbor droplets of blood and thereby pass Hepatitis C from snorter to snorter.
More on Farm Subsidies from the AJC
This installment takes on farmers who set up dummy companies and otherwise game the system to circumvent the cap on subsidy payments. Story here; don't read unless you have some anti-depressants handy.
For a fistful of gold bugs
Here's a video clip of Ennio Morricone himself conducting "The Ectsasy of Gold," the best piece of music ever written about the yellow metal.
Post storm recovery c. 1906
The aftermath of the hurricane that hit Pensacola and Mobile contrasts with Katrina. From the Oct. 2, 1906 NYT:
A feeling of cheerfulness prevailed in Pensacola today, and the citizens faced the situation with vim. It is known that the destroyed portions of the city, wharves, and mills will be rebuilt on a larger scale. The morning broke badly, a downpour of rain drenching the thousands of workers who are employed in clearing away the wreckage, but the work went on...One word definitely not associated with Katrina/Rita was "vim"
ATTN: Columbus Readers. Ben Powell to speak at Capital today
Third World Sweatshops: Are the Jobs Worth the Sweat? (Public Lecture)
All Moor Chair events are free and open to the public. For more information contact: Robert A. Lawson, Professor of Economics and George H. Moor Chair, Capital University, firstname.lastname@example.org, 614-236-6138
Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:17 AM
North American Economic Freedom
The new Fraser Institute/National Center for Policy Analysis Economic Freedom of North America: 2006 Report was released last week. And
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2003 Overall Ranks: Federal, State/Provincial and Local Level
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October 01, 2006
Voter ignorance is the problem
At least that's the view of Jim Boren, editor of the Fresno Bee's editorial page. To wit:
The special interests usually have their way when the public doesn't pay attention to policy decisions on issues that seem arcane to most taxpayers. Quite simply, the ones paying the bills get ripped off because government bores them.
Cultural comparisons c. 1906
From a letter to the editor in the October 1, 1906 NYT:
We have reached a time in the history of this country where every department of our social, financial, and political life is rotten to the core, and even more so than Rome was in the last days of the empire. We desire a change before it is too late, and the people who are going to bring it about are the solid rank and file, the pride and backbone of every progressive country.
The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith
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