Monday, April 26, 2010

Matt Ridley: There are risks to avoiding the Eyjafjallajokull ash cloud too, you know!

In the occasional publication EDGE which taps dozens of the wise to comment on current events:

Several of the experts lauded the wisdom of the European bureaucracy that shut down air space during the Icelandic volcanic eruption, throwing the world economy into disarray -- the European ones patted themselves smugly on the back for intervening to prevent the Airlines, as one called them, making the decision themselves -- inanely taking for granted, for some mysterious reason, that the airlines were so greedy they'd fly into a destructive ash cloud with no consideration for the safety of their passengers -- yet would be so lacking in greed that they'd fail to consider the risk of losing multimillion-dollar aircraft, their safety reputations, their sanity reputations, and their shirts in court from the lawsuits that would inevitably follow should they act recklessly. Thank goodness for the Eurocrats, saving us from the bugaboo of Capitalism.

Yes, well, Matt Ridley was also there to add some balance and some sense to the discussion, herewith:

Science Writer; Founding chairman of the International Centre for Life; Author, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

The ash cloud reminds us of the risks of risk aversion. Shutting down Europe's airspace removed the risk of an ash-caused crash, but it also increased all sorts of other risks: the risk of death to a patient because an urgent medical operation might have to be postponed for lack of supplies, the risk of poverty to a Kenyan farm worker because roses could not be flown to European markets, the risk of a collision between ferries on extra night-time sailings in the English Channel. And so on. Risk decisions cannot be taken in isolation. The precautionary principle makes too little allowance for the risks that are run by avoiding risks — the innovations not made, the existing suffering not alleviated. The ash cloud, by reminding us of the risks of not being able to fly planes, is a timely reminder that the risks of global warming must be weighed against the risks of high energy costs — the risks of poverty (cheap energy creates jobs), of hunger (fertiliser costs depend on energy costs), of rainforest destruction and indoor air pollution (expensive electricity makes firewood seem cheaper), of orangutan extinction in subsidised biofuel palm oil plantations.

Oh, and remember the lessons of public choice theory: if you set up a body called the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, don't be surprised if it over-reacts the first time it gets a chance the demonstrate that it considers itself — as all public bodies always do — underfunded.

"1 in 3 San Francisco City Workers Make Over $100K"

When the City (like most) is rapidly going broke, here comes the annual report by the SF Chronicle that the city employees are earning, typically, far more than the taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

Highest paid -- a recently retired deputy police chief, who got $500K+ in his final year. He cashed in a lot of vacation days. Of course, in the normal world (that's the world where pay taxes instead of eat them), companies typically have policies specifically to prevent employees from piling up vacation days sky-high and then nailing the company for big payouts. This lets the company manage its revenues and cash flow sensibly. Not a consideration in city employment, obviously.

Another consideration in private companies: Vacation is supposed to allow employees to rest, relax, recuperate, recharge their batteries. Letting people pile up vacation days year after year unused means they are not doing their health any good -- and thus can't be performing optimally when on the job. So requiring you to use vacation days or lose them forces you to manage your workload to that end -- and also forces your bosses to figure out how to work around your vacation absence, instead of just working you to death.

Of course, city workers (and their unions) just argue that they are oh so overworked and suffering from such shortages -- like the rest of us aren't!

We are played as suckers once again. Fortunately, in recent months journalists, apparently discovering the memo that told them what job they were in, have started digging in and writing about the astonishing abuses of the taxpayer by city officials and city, state, etc. workers and their unions over the years. Now, of course, that it's too late.

Expect that when the first city father finds his backbone and tries to actually *negotiate* the next union contract -- instead of handing over the blank checkbook -- you will see such a storm of protest, strikes, wailing and whining, and the whole charade like you never saw before -- they will try everything to stop any attempt at reform in its tracks.

Expect them to win that battle.

Maybe we need some Isrealis on the SF Police Dept!

Compare Isreali police with SF police: 

*News item yesterday told of a nutcase in Jerusalem, a tourist running around with a knife. Isreali security shot him -- in the leg. He's in the hospital now. 

*Meanwhile, in San Francisco, police shot a guy who came at them with a knife -- and killed him. 

In SF, threatening police with a knife always results in a fatal shooting -- and no apologies. Police defend the practice of shooting to kill when threatened. Mind you, they don't say "He was right on top of me, I just shot at him as best I can" or "I tried to shoot him in the leg but I hit him in the heart by mistake." No, policy is, shoot to kill -- deadly force, period.

This isn't a problem because of sympathy for the attackers; this is a problem because so many of the attackers turn out to be troubled people, and so few incorrigible criminals. And so often somebody claims the dead guy doesn't have a knife on them after all. And sometimes it looks like they're right. And sometimes the City pays off the relatives of the now-victim (formerly criminal). 

If the police had a policy, instead, of at least trying to shoot to disable the attacker, where practical, wouldn't that be better?

Maybe we need to hire some Isreali cops, who know how to shoot more accurately.... 


Should the Feds regulate Wall Street and the Banks? You mean - they don't already??

Financial Reform’s Day of Reckoning Might Not Be - The Gaggle Blog - "But there is general agreement on Wall Street as a villain. In a Gallup poll last week, when people were asked if the federal government should regulate large financial institutions, 46 percent were in favor while 43 percent opposed. But when “large financial institutions' was replaced with “Wall Street banks,” the spread jumped to 50 to 36.

"Most lawmakers agree that Wall Street needs to be reigned in after its snafu in 2007 and 2008."

When you think of the inbuilt prejudices of a given media outlet, think of the above example: All coverage of the "finance reform bill" in 2010 revolves around "if the fed... should regulate large financial institutions" -- as if they are not already heavily regulated. And "Wall Street needs to be reigned in after its snafu..." as if they were unregulated, unmonitored, unwatched by our regulatory solons. ('reined' not 'reigned' ...)

This is one big reason why the path is always from problem to government law and regulation, to more problems, to more government regs, to more problems, to more government regs, and on and on endlessly -- unless the entity involved simply ceases operation. At NO POINT, EVER, are the efficacy of previous regulations considered; is the regulatory regime questioned; is the underlying conceit -- that bureaucratic government regulators are capable, over the long haul (or the intermediate haul) of achieving the results desired -- anything other than simply assumed. And at NO POINT, EVER, is the possibility even considered that there might be other approaches, alternatives to more of the same ineffectual laws and porn-watching bureaucrats, that might be more effective at achieving whatever your goal might be.

Which is why libertarians trying to be heard in the marketplace of ideas are so frustrated. It always goes without saying -- literally without saying -- that the question is "What laws and regulations can the government add to solve this problem?" -- The large question is never posed: "What arrangement of markets and laws and information might improve this situation, or lessen negative impacts, over the long run, and while minimally damaging the marketplace, our freedoms, and our prosperity?" We dive immediately down to the level of the government being the only "practical" solution to any problem you can name. Period.

And this despite government failure after government failure. Libertarians are widely believed to be entirely impractical in their ideas; the great irony of our age is that the practical people -- politically practical, of course, for that is all they mean by this -- are the ones proposing the blatantly impractical solutions -- again! and again!

As the old Washington joke goes: The only problem with pragmatism is -- it doesn't work.

The only thing impractical about Libertarian ideas is that, since they represent real reform, they are always resisted to the death by politicians, their bureaucrats, and the 'special interests' -- that is, those don't want to lose out on the benefits they get from things are they are. This is a serious issue -- the practical question of how you get past this powerful opposition is very difficult to answer. And government steadily increases the number of us who are in that "special interest" group -- we get tax breaks, rebates, refunds, special highway lanes, access to things, deductions, and outright payouts, as well as jobs, subsidies, and government projects. And medical care and retirement money. Anything you try to "reform" in reality (instead of merely politically) is going to arouse a fury among those who will lose out on something. Which is, as much as the politicians can possibly make it, everybody. This is deliberate, because it does make real reform opportunities "impractical" beyond the question of whether the reforms themselves would reform anything.

But when you get tired of being tricked and traduced and made a fool of again, Mr and Mrs Voter -- contact your nearest Libertarian. With luck you might find a few ideas that could offer ways out of the endless crises. Thought you';d have to rise above your own personal special interests in order to see it.

Or you could just do what you always do -- vote for the Lesser of Two Evils. Again. Now that's a practical solution!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Joke: "The Haircut"

(An Internet joke, author unknown to me.)

The Haircut
   One day a florist went to a barber for a haircut.

    After the cut, he asked about his bill,
and the barber replied, "I cannot accept money from you, I'm doing community service this week."

   The florist was pleased and left the shop. When the barber went to open his shop the
  next morning, there was a "thank you" card
and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

   Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replied, "I cannot accept money from you, I'm doing community service this week."

   The cop was happy and left the shop.
The next morning when the barber went to open up, there was a "thank you" card and a
dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.

   Then a Congressman came in for a haircut, and when he went to pay his bill, the barber again replied, "I cannot accept money from you, I'm doing community service this week."

   The Congressman was very happy and left the shop. The next morning, when the barber went to open up, there were a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

   And that, my friend, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and thepoliticians who run it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

George Will : The Thunder Roars in Trenton

"Saying "subtlety is not going to win this fight," Christie notes that New Jersey's police officers, the nation's highest paid, can retire after 25 years at 65 percent of their highest salary. In the state that has the nation's fourth-highest percentage (66) of public employees who are unionized, he has joined the struggle that will dominate the nation's domestic policymaking in this decade -- the struggle to break the ruinous collaboration between elected officials and unionized state and local workers whose affections the officials purchase with taxpayers' money."

Michelle Malkin : All the President's Goldman Sachs Men...

"While President Obama assails the culture of greed and recklessness practiced by the men of Goldman Sachs, his administration is infested with them. ...

"As the New York Post reported Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee immediately bought sponsored Internet ads on Google that direct web surfers who type in "Goldman Sachs SEC" to Obama's fundraising site...."

"While irony-challenged Democratic candidates like mob-linked banker Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois (who hopes to fill Obama's old Senate seat) call on Republicans to return their fat-cat Goldman Sachs donations, the Democrats are silent on the $994,795 in Goldman Sachs campaign cash that Obama bagged. The class-warfare Dems are also mum on all the president's Goldman Sachs men sitting in the catbird's seat: ... Goldman Sachs partner Gary Gensler is Obama's Commodity Futures Trading Commission head. .... Goldman Sachs kept White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on a $3,000 monthly retainer while he worked as Clinton's chief fundraiser.... Former Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson serves under Geithner as his top deputy and overseer of TARP bailout -- $10 billion of which went to Goldman Sachs. ..."

There is a whole lengthy list of more of them, but you get the idea. The Feds are going to 'clean up' Wall Street -- and newspapers don't have either the sense or the shame to put it in quotes....