Sunday, February 26, 2006

Zimbabwe again

You may remember that I recently noted that the gov't of Zimbabwe has introduced a 50k bearer note because the money that they are printing is worthless....imagine showing up at the grocery store with 100,000 dollars to buy a gallon of milk---you had to have some pretty big bills in order to even walk in the door.

Well a couple weeks ago a loaf of bread was 60k. This week, it is 70k. A breeding cow is 15-20 million. Compared to 500-700$ in the US. Everything has collapsed into a black market barter economy, one cannot open an account at a bank or borrow money for business ventures or capital improvements or construction, because think about it: 1000% inflation means that the 10 million you borrow today to buy a cow will only buy a hundredth of a cow in a year.

But don't forget, our economy is in the tanks. Of course, in the US the biggest health risk to the poor is........obesity. That might be a world first.

How to fix? More capitalism, more free markets, less Mugabe, less government. The saddest part is that Zimbabwe was a country that used to actually produce enough food to feed it's people, and export goods to the world, now half the population faces starvation.


George Will writes that conservatives are happier than liberals because of their pessimism.

"Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. Conservatives think the Book of Job got it right ("Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward"), as did Adam Smith ("There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile — touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.
Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised — they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes — government — they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity — it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.
The right to pursue happiness is the essential right that government exists to protect. Liberals, taking their bearings, whether they know it or not, from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 State of the Union address, think the attainment of happiness itself, understood in terms of security and material well-being, is an entitlement that government has created and can deliver.
On Jan. 3, 1936, FDR announced that in 34 months his administration had established a "new relationship between government and people." Amity Shlaes, a keen student of FDR's departure from prior political premises, says, "The New Deal had a purpose beyond curing the Depression. It was to make people look to Washington for help at all times." Henceforth the federal government would be permanently committed to serving a large number of constituencies: "Occasional gifts to farmers or tariffs for business weren't enough." So, liberals: Smile — you've won.
Nevertheless, normal conservatives — never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry — are less angry than liberals. Liberals have made this the era of surly automobile bumpers, millions of them, still defiantly adorned with Kerry-Edwards and even Gore-Lieberman bumper stickers, faded and frayed like flags preserved as relics of failed crusades. To preserve these mementos of dashed dreams, many liberals may be forgoing the pleasures of buying new cars — another delight sacrificed on the altar of liberalism.
But, then, conscientious liberals cannot enjoy automobiles because there is global warming to worry about, and the perils of corporate-driven consumerism, which is the handmaiden of bourgeoisie materialism. And high-powered cars (how many liberals drive Corvettes?) are metaphors (for America's reckless foreign policy, for machismo rampant, etc.). And then there is — was — all that rustic beauty paved over for highways. (And for those giant parking lots at exurban mega-churches. The less said about them the better.) And automobiles discourage the egalitarian enjoyment of mass transit. And automobiles, by facilitating suburban sprawl, deny sprawl's victims — that word must make an appearance in liberal laments; and lament is what liberals do — the uplifting communitarian experience of high-density living. And automobiles . . .

It's all been done

J-Dub and I have been kicking around the idea of producing a podcast recording of discussions between he and I about the world as we perceive it. Like a point-counterpoint style format because he and I can consistently look at any situation and come to opposite conclusions.

At this point it is just a twinkle in our collective eyes, and I have to admit I have some reservations about even starting---there is a certain amount of egomania involved in believing that you are somehow qualified-by virtue of having strong opinions--to record your thoughts permanently in the public record and make it available for all to see/hear.

If we ever record something, I will let you know how to get to it, if we don't--fear not--because it's all been said and done anyway.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A blog is like a shark, if it stops moving it dies.

Steve writes a lot about blogging and it's importance for companies--that blogging is a conversation, that good companies will use good blogs and good bloggers etc...

Along the same lines, I stumbled onto this New York The Magazine article...titled "The Haves and Have-Nots of the blogging Boom." The writer explains basically three methods of monetizing this thing. He also touches on the A-list, B-list and C-list bloggers. When it's all said and done, it's pretty much like starting a magazine or newspaper, except there are no barriers to entry and no overhead costs. Of course the focus is more about blogs as a stand alone business, not as a complement to an existing business...but you get the point.

There are also some pretty cool features about how most of the top blogs interconnect and link to each other, like some sort of "cool kids" party in high school.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Anecdotal Economics

One of my pet peeves is when commentators use their own anecdotal evidence to project/predict/pontificate about the state of the world’s economy or the state of the US economy. This is frequently true when I get into debates/discussions with people that I might disagree with politically. If we were doing a personal therapy session we might call it “transference” or “projection”—or "if it happens to me, then it must be happening to everyone."

Let me give you some examples: (real life examples of things people have said to me in the past few weeks) “My electric bills have almost doubled, inflation is out of control.” or “The cost of living has doubled in the past few years, look at gas prices” or “my buddy lost his job and he has been unemployed for 6 months, nobody is hiring…” how about this one…”if companies like Ford and GM are struggling, then we are in serious trouble.”

While there may be a kernel of truth to each of these anecdotes and the corresponding conclusions, they are all grossly over-simplified and factually inaccurate.

It would be just as accurate (or inaccurate) to say, “the company I work for has doubled in the past year, the economy must be growing at an amazing rate!” Or to say, “Wow, my laptop was less than 1k, PC’s have gotten really inexpensive!” or how about this one---“I got a big bonus this year, Americans are making more than ever before!”

There are objective statistical measurements that we can use to comparatively analyze the current state of the economy as a whole. Of course objective statistical measurements are boring and they don't make headlines. Plus it's hard to feel that personal connection with a rise in GDP, or slight increase in CPI, or an overall unemployment rate of 4.7%.

On the other hand, there is a visceral response to hearing that Ford, one of America's greatest companies is having to eliminate jobs. Sure, there were over 2 million new jobs created last year, and the jobs that Ford is eiliminating probably should be eliminated but that's not the point because I knew this one guy that worked at a factory for Ford and.....

ultra high frequency cuteness

Much like a dog whistle is so high frequency that it is inaudible to the human ear---my daughter is so cute that she is occasionally invisible to the naked eye.
I lost her three times tonight, thankfully she is loud enough that I can normally echo-locate her like a proud papa bat.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Happy couple

Don't believe the pessimists

When you hear a Democratic pol or pundit talking about how terrible the Bush economy is or read about the "jobless recovery" or the "tax cuts for the rich" or "deficits for as far as the eye can see" try to remember a couple of economic facts.

Unemployment is 4.7%. Significantly less than it was in the roaring 90's. Home ownership is up. Home values are up. Inflation is negligible. Productivity is up.

And then look at Zimbabwe. Inflation in Zimbabwe is estimated at around 1000%.

They have now introduced a "bearer cheque" worth about 50,000 zimbabwe dollars or equivalent to about a half dollar US, and enough to buy a loaf of bread. What's worse? A loaf of bread will cost 100,000 Zim in a few weeks...

market vs. central planning

America has the best health care system on the planet, but there are some aspects that desperaely need reform. With costs rising faster than inflation, healthcare insurance premiums causing real wage decreases for workers, and quality of care has not improved appreciably, some people are calling for a government takeover of healthcare. Many doctors are retiring early or not practicing at all because the costs associated with malpractice insurance are too great a risk.

All of those undesirable outcomes are a reflection of the “third party payer” system, where Americans are not faced with market forces; we pay out of pocket a tiny percentage of the real costs and are therefore completely insulated from real pressures to make rational market decisions based on price and quality. There are no pressures to limit costs by hospitals because they will be paid by insurance companies or government programs regardless of the costs.

Now think about two areas of healthcare where market forces are allowed to work…elective surgeries like cosmetic surgery and Lasik eye surgeries.

Unlike other healthcare options---consumers actually pay for these services out of their own pockets. They research who is the “best” doctor, who is the most affordable, and weigh other concerns like location and reputation and post operative care. Not surprisingly, the quality of these services has improved while prices have gone down.

I predict if we don’t get some real reform in healthcare my children will see the greatest healthcare system on the planet be split into two distinct systems. One will be a nationally socialized system for the poor, complete with communist style rationing and waiting lines, poor quality of care, and insane government involvement in the doctor-patient relationship.

Those who can afford to will have a completely separate healthcare system: a pay as you go system where the wealthy and upper class pay for the best quality care that they can afford out of pocket and shun the “government hospitals” in favor of better amenities and better quality.