Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oped on Right to Work

I wrote an oped on the Right to Work laws that appeared in the Harrisburg Patriot News today.  Link here.

Here's the conclusion:

While I've laid out three key economic benefits of right-to-work, I think the issue goes beyond economic analysis. It is an issue of freedom.  We should recall what economist Walter Williams said about taxes and see how it applies to forced union membership. Slavery was forcing someone to work for somebody else’s benefit. Seizing somebody’s income against their will (whether by taxes or by forcing them to pay union dues) is different only in magnitude, not in kind.
Even if right-to-work were bad for the economy, I think it would be the right thing to do. With right-to-work, however, it is comforting to know that economic benefits will come from providing more freedom. I hope Pennsylvania lawmakers will do the right thing and pass right-to-work. 

What I've been reading

Most of my recent reading list has been non-economics, but instructive nonetheless.  Recently I've read:

* No Matter What, They'll Call this Book Racist." By Harry Stein.  A great book about race in the USA.  The quote that stuck with me from this book was one he had from Walter Williams.  "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do.  And that is to destroy the black family."  

* The Dark Side of Disney.  By Leonard Kinsey.  This book is quite interesting, if you're a Disney World fan.  It goes through many interesting ways this person (and other he interviewed) have exploited loopholes in or around Disney World.  I found the sections describing an adventure somebody took to a former Disney "park" on an island fascinating.   

* The Litigators.  By John Grisholm.  I enjoy Grisholm's books, even though his leftist activism sometimes creeps it's way into the books.  This was one of his better books, in my opinion.

* Priceless.  By John C. Goodman.  This book is amazing.  As an economist, the rules and regulations of the healthcare market seemed so difficult I used to struggle trying to dig into the topic.  This book is, by far, the best writing on health care in our country.  It goes through and systematically describes all the ways that the market system has been removed from healthcare in our country, and how we've suffered the consequences.  All members of Congress should be required to read this.

* The Unofficial Guide to Disneyworld/Disneyland.  We have an upcoming trip to DW ... Nothing more to say about this, except this book is quite good.

In the queue:

* In My Time.  By Dick Cheney.  I enjoy political biographies/autobiographies, and am looking forward to this one.

* The Fellowship of the Ring and 2nd/3rd books in the series.  I had these on the list last time, but have been stalled during the semester and with other books.  I'm halfway through the first of the trilogy.

* The Racketeer.  By John Grisholm.

My queue is shorter than normal, although it'll probably be replenished on Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Entitlement Monopoly Video


It's from Slate, so I assume they're trying to make fun of Republicans and Libertarians.  I still find it humorous. (Especially when the kids point and laugh when the Dad has to go to work.)

There are lots of things you could debate ...  E.g. do you equate the old-man who worked his whole life with the person who's suing because she slipped?  I don't, of course.

Even with the slight quibbles I have, this is funny and a good way to spend one minute of your life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two stories on gun control ...

The President, true to his administration's mantra, isn't going to let a crisis go to waste.  It appears he wants to exploit this tragedy for political gain.  I just wish he showed this type of rush in fixing the fiscal cliff issue in August or September.  (Or even now!)  

Related to this topic, here is one great article and one great blog post about guns, gun control, and gun-free zones:

Thomas Sowell writes yet another great article.   Here's a quote:
"The few counter-examples offered by gun control zealots do not stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps their strongest talking point is that Britain has stronger gun control laws than the United States and lower murder rates.

But, if you look back through history, you will find that Britain has had a lower murder rate than the United States for more than two centuries-- and, for most of that time, the British had no more stringent gun control laws than the United States. Indeed, neither country had stringent gun control for most of that time."

John R. Lott has had some good blog posts the past few days.  Here is one of them.  He makes a point I didn't know:
"And I'll give you a simple example from this year. I mean any of the ones you point to from this year or past years are going to follow that, but look at the Colorado shooting that the governor is going to be coming on to talk about. You had seven movie theaters showing the Batman movie within a 20-minute drive of the killer's apartment.

Only one of those seven movie theaters posted a ban on concealed handguns. The killer didn't go to the movie theater that was closest to his home. There was one that was only 1.3 miles away. He didn't go to the largest one. In fact, one advertises itself quite openly as having the largest auditorium in the state of Colorado.

And you'd think if you wanted to go to one that would kill a lot of people, he'd go to the largest one on premiere night for the Batman movie. Instead, the one he went to was the only one that banned concealed handguns. And that happens time after time."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More police presence in LA schools ...

Story here.  A quote:

""Somebody in a uniform is going to stop by everyday at these schools," Beck said in an interview.
The chief stressed that he and his aides were still drawing up the details of the plan, which he said will begin when students return from winter break next monthAny private or charter school that wants to be included will be, he added."

I had family in town on Friday, and didn't watch much of the coverage of the day's events.  I was horrified, naturally, but thankful I wasn't at home alone where I likely would have watched the TV coverage.  Reading the story off the Internet was terrible enough.

One problem after events like 9/11 or other major tragedies is the potential for rash decisions that aren't efficient.  One could debate several effects of 9/11, including the expanded TSA, and make a good argument that it is not wise.  (The TSA certainly costs far more per life saved than what's optimal.)

If police officers are going to schools that's less time they are devoting to other activities.  Given that schools are generally quite safe, this seems like a bad decision.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Right to work passes ...

I'm happy about it.  Video here:

Two notes:

1. The evidence is mixed on right-to-work's effect on the economy using statistical/econometric tools, but the most reliable evidence seems to show an overall positive effect.  (The AFL-CIO note in the story is just silly.)

2. The one lady said: "with a stroke of a pen, (they) take our rights away."  How silly.  Their rights?  They were forcing people to pay money they didn't want to pay to an organization they didn't want to support.

It must be tough for this lady and those who think like her.  These people were able to force citizens into doing something they didn't want to do, but then the government had to come along with a law that gave them their freedom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What offense get's you fired if you're a Michigan teacher?

If you are a Michigan teacher, not paying Union dues can get you fired (as of now).  Link here.

Apparently you won't get fired if you lie about being ill and call in sick.  Link here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Horrendously biased AP piece on right-to-work

This is one of the worst stories I've seen, at least as far as political bias:

It opens:

For generations, Michigan was the ultimate labor stronghold - a state built by factory workers for whom a high school diploma and a union card were the ticket to a middle-class life.
Yet it took only hours for Republicans to tear down a key part of that tradition, the requirement that all employees in a union workplace pay dues.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/12/07/3954789/michigan-republicans-end-part.html#storylink=cpy

This reminded me of the (excellent) book titled "The Armchair Economist" by Steven Landsburg.  That book has a section titled "How to Read the News".  It goes through examples of biased stories and how the exact same facts could be used to tell a different story.  For example, let's try rewriting the above story with the opposite slant:

"For generations, Michigan forced employees in a union workforce to pay union dues - whether they wanted to be part of the union or not.  A sizable portion of these dues, essentially a tax, funded political campaigns and large salaries for union bosses.

These restrictions were removed by Republicans in just hours, and if signed by the governor, Michigan workers will be taking more money home in their upcoming paychecks."

I like this version better, but I am libertarian leaning.  Of course I'm not attempting to write an objective story.  This version clearly has my opinion worked into the story, but I don't think it's any more biased than the quotes above.

The problem, of course, is that writers at the AP should be objective.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who is more closed-minded?

Paper here.

Discussed at Marginal Revolution and Freakonomics.

The study finds that liberals and conservatives don't seem to score different when tested for "closed-mindedness".  What I'd like to know is if this could be tested by profession.  Personally, I feel lucky that I'm at a place like Susquehanna University where most people are accepting of political differences.  That being said, it was explained to me once that the opposition to the president's policies on spending by the tea party was largely just fueled by racism.  I have also heard other left-leaning professors rant about close-minded (and racist) people who vote Republicans.

My anecdotal evidence indicates (as a libertarian leaning individual in academia) says is that within academia, those on the left are more likely to be closed-minded.  It makes sense, because they don't get exposed to intelligent thinking by their intellectual opponents in personal interactions as often.  If you're a leftist on a campus, your views simply won't get challenged too often.

Alternatively, perhaps I am just crafting a world view that makes me sound better.  That couldn't possibly be the case, could it?  :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Edward Conard on Buffett

Here is another story on Warren Buffett.  This one is by Edward Conard.

There are so many good points in this short article.  One paragraph worth highlighting:

"Comparing the growth of the U.S. with Europe’s since the early 1990s removes the effect of the Internet. Both economies had access to the same technology and similarly educated workforces to capitalize on the Web’s opportunities. Since then, the U.S. economy has grown 63 percent (in the period through the end of 2010); France and Germany’s together grew less than half as fast. U.S. productivity growth increased from 1.2 percent a year to 2 percent while France and Germany’s declined to less than 1.5 percent a year in the periods 1972-1995 versus 1995-2004. Without U.S. innovation, Europe’s growth would have been lower."

I teach Political Economic Thought next semester, and we will be using Mr. Conard's most recent book, Unintended Consequences.  (We also use books by Friedman, Krugman, Sowell, Stiglitz, and others.)

RWJF discusses state funding of anti-tobacco programs

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seems dismayed that only about 2% of the tobacco settlement money is going to prevent tobacco use.  (Link here.)

Are states behaving sub-optimally?  I have my doubts.  Tobacco rates have dropped in recent years, and anti-tobacco campaigns seem to have played a part.  But it's unrealistic to think that a campaign is going to instantaneously decrease rates to zero.  The question an economist would ask is if spending extra money on tobacco prevention would yield additional results.  (In the form of fewer smokers.)  If they would, is the cost per person that doesn't smoke based on these efforts worth it?

I don't know the answers to this, but I suspect the cost of getting smokers to quit is not cheap.  

Disclaimer: I have received grant funding from the RWJF in the past to study tobacco related issues.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Are these the same folks who think local foods taste better?

See related story at Freakonomics.

Edit: I have nothing against those who prefer to spend their own money on local foods.  I would question, however, whether they could universally distinguish the difference between local and non-local foods.

More Fiscal Cliff ... Why Doesn't Obama Get Blame ...

This is something I discussed during a radio appearance I made Tuesday morning (link here - but the discussion is well after the 30 minute mark).  Why doesn't Obama get blamed for not addressing the fiscal cliff issue sooner?  The American people hired Obama to be the president for four years.  He, however, seemed to completely neglect his presidential duty in this matter.  He should have been working on this issue in August, September, and October.  Instead, Obama choose to campaign.

The House of Representatives and Senate share a bit of blame too, but this wasn't going anywhere without Obama.  It is really quite sad that nobody seems to think there was anything wrong with this.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff

Americans will blame Republicans if deal isn't reached.  This doesn't seem like too big of a threat to them, however, as the next election is two years away, and any ill will will be long gone by the time the next election comes around.

I hope Republicans ignore this and do the right thing.  Republicans need to force spending cuts now, as otherwise it will be almost impossible to do later.  I think this should also involve some modest tax increases, but the better way to raise tax revenue, in my opinion, would be to cut out loopholes and deductions and leave tax rates the same. (Or only increase them slightly.)

Pat Toomey has a great op ed on this issue.  Link here.

My favorite part is the quote of Obama and Toomey's agreement:

"... The vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer not to have to do anything on entitlements, would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems. . . . And what I've tried to explain to them is, number one, if you look at the numbers, then Medicare, in particular, will run out of money, and we will not be able to sustain that program, no matter how much taxes go up. I mean, it's not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing."
- President Obama, July 11, 2011

I agree with President Obama. No matter how much we raise taxes, we cannot avoid a fiscal disaster unless we address the true drivers of our out-of-control deficits - namely, our entitlement programs.