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Plastic Bottle Deposits – Still? July 15, 2019

Posted by David Bookstaber in Economic Policy, Energy, Regulation, Uncategorized.

It has been more than a decade since people began to realize that consumer recycling programs often consume more resources than they save. (Note the updates in the comments to that post.)

While recently passing through New York I bought a $3 case of bottled water and was surprised to see an additional $2 “container deposit fee” added to my bill. Sure enough: New York is one of ten states that still collect bottle deposits. Even as manufacturers have managed to shrink the plastic content of a half-liter bottle to less than 10 grams, New York charges a 5-cent-per-bottle “deposit” on each bottle in that case.

Advocates of “Bottle Bills” suggest that the deposit encourages responsible consumption of containers, recycling, and a reduction in litter. They skim over the fact that consumers only get the “deposit” back if they transport their empty bottles to a collection center and feed them one-by-one into a redemption machine. This consumer-end collection mechanism, even when utilized, is almost certainly a net energy loser.

What’s the real-world effect of bottle deposits in this era of curbside recyclable collection? Towns have to pass additional laws to prevent hobos from tearing through curbside trash trying to pick out containers with deposits. States get to feed the increasingly uncollected deposits into their general funds. So almost everyone is hoping that the deposits are not collected by consumers!

Container deposits are mostly a curious tax that reminds us that legislation is not the best way to enact good intentions.

Cheap HVAC Sensors Could Save Tons of Energy June 10, 2017

Posted by David Bookstaber in Energy, Regulation, Uncategorized.
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Years ago I noted that modern gasoline-powered cars operate inefficiently on gasoline with suboptimal octane, and their engine control units even detect when that is occurring. If they simply communicated this fact to their operators, they could be fueled with the right gasoline, saving money, energy, carbon, etc. But there are still no cars that do this! (I hate to invoke government, but if it took a government mandate to get automakers to put tire-pressure monitors on their cars, at a substantial cost, I wouldn’t chafe at government mandating an essentially free “low-octane” notification on the dash.)

Add to the list of things that are already measured, that affect vast amounts of consumer energy, but which are not communicated to users:

  1. HVAC filter pressure
  2. Heat-pump coil cleaning required

Central air handlers in residences have two points of maintenance that are notoriously neglected. The most common is the air filter: If it is allowed to get too clogged with dirt the energy required to run the blower will increase. In all but the most expensive systems (which can sense and adjust for airflow) the efficiency of the heating and cooling exchangers will also begin to drop. Most residents are told to change the filter at regular intervals, without regard to the dirt load on the filter. That’s unnecessarily wasteful too.

An extremely cheap sensor and controller can detect when the filter should be changed. (In fact, modern variable-speed systems already detect this, but don’t communicate it to users. And for any other system a piezo sensor on the filter flange that detects a rise in average filter pressure does the same job.)

The second fix requires the addition of a few electronic thermometers (at a cost of pennies) to the outlet of every heat pump’s heat-exchange coils: If those coils become dirty or damaged, they lose the ability to exchange heat, which again reduces efficiency, increasing energy consumption, carbon, etc. All the thermometers have to check is the temperature difference between the outgoing refrigerant and the ambient air with which it is being exchanged. If that difference begins to rise, the coils need to be cleaned. This is something that may never happen, but if it does it should be fixed right away. Hardly anybody proactively checks for this, but the HVAC systems that don’t have these sensors built-in could be retrofitted with them for a matter of a few dollars.

What’s in a Name? February 20, 2017

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.
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Academia has broken new ground in self-satire. After years of hand-wringing, U.S. schools are taking bold action against long-dead individuals who, upon close scrutiny, can be impugned by today’s enlightened standards of thought and behavior.

Yale is not alone in this, but the notoriety of its latest decision to rename its Calhoun residential college offers a fine illustration of the capriciousness of this renaming farce.

Governments in the U.K. have been far savvier in addressing this problem: A new guideline is to simply avoid naming things (like roads) after people at all.

It avoids the possible occurrence of future information coming to light that may then taint that specific road name based on an individual and give rise to costly street rename procedures.

Dear Microsoft: I Hate You October 6, 2016

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.
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Dear Microsoft, Apple, Netflix, and all other tech companies that have worked so hard over the years to make decent software worse: Please stop.

Microsoft: Windows 10 told me I should restart my system.  I know security updates are important, and I install them when I can afford a restart.  But your latest operating system then announced it was going to restart and, even though I clicked Cancel, a few minutes later it just decided to go right ahead and restart anyway.  Do you know how long it takes me to login to my VPNs, open all my remote sessions, and start whatever development environments I happen to be working with?  Do you know how much unsaved work I have in applications – including many of yours – that don’t gracefully deal with unsolicited closures?  Evidently you do not, or you do not care how much time and work an unscheduled restart costs me.

Windows 7 was a decent operating system.  I can tell you put a lot of work into Windows 10, and I honestly wish you hadn’t.  It’s worse than Windows 7 in a million little ways.  And Office 365?  The Office suite peaked with your 2003 edition.  2007 was a step backwards.  2010 was like tripping the poor thing on its way down the hill.  Office 365 has beaten what’s left into a morass.  I’ve been using these newer versions of your software because they came “free” with my latest machine.  I guess the only reason I have not yet reverted to Windows 7 and Office 2003 on my primary workstation is the ongoing fascination – maybe it’s the same thing that keeps up the ratings of reality TV – the astonishment that professional software teams have chosen to discard perfectly adequate interfaces and cripple useful features in favor of half-baked new designs that have all of the intuitive grace I’d expect from a first-semester team project in CS 101.

Here’s an idea for you and your fellow misguided software companies: Instead of spending millions of developer hours building out those paradigm-breaking designs your overstaffed teams must come up with after too many open bars at too many off-sites, why not take a look at your ticket systems and just work on bugs and user feature requests?

And yes, Apple, that goes for you.  Was it OS10 you just nagged me into installing on my iPhone?  “Different?”  Yes.  Better?  Does anyone at Apple ever ask that question?  If not before you start work, at least before you decide that Now Everybody Must Accept It, because … I don’t know: you built it, and your testers and fanboys got used to it?

And Netflix: What happened?  You could have been the Amazon of media.  I used to religiously rate every movie I watched because your recommendations algorithm was worth it.  Now I don’t know where you hid all my rating data, or what – if anything – you’re doing with it.  These days I’m just relieved when I can find my queue or resume what I was watching most recently.  At least there are easy alternatives for you.

Pathological Altruism November 5, 2014

Posted by David Bookstaber in Government, Uncategorized.
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William Voegeli, summarizing his recent book:

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish. [T]he intended, beneficial consequences of social policies are routinely overwhelmed by the unintended, harmful consequences they trigger. It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Laser-corrected optics June 28, 2014

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.
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This is just cool:
Four Lasers over Mauna Kea

This article describes how the Keck Observatory uses 40W laser pulses to measure atmospheric disturbance, which can then be reduced by changing the shapes of segmented 10-meter telescope mirrors and post-processing the resulting images.

Of course you can’t just go firing 40W lasers willy-nilly into the sky — the FDA considers any visible laser with output greater than 5mW to be hazardous — so the observatory has some interesting safety measures in place:

Our Federal Aviation Administration–approved approach to aircraft safety is to have two spotters outside during all laser operations, with switches to shutter the laser. We also have an IR camera boresighted to the laser that will automatically shutter the laser in the event of aircraft detection.

Prior to each laser observing run, a list of targets and their observation times is faxed to the Laser Clearinghouse at the US Space Control Center. The Space Control Center faxes back a list of any required blackout periods, to avoid illuminating satellites.

EMTs and Doctors: Do you have a go bag? February 21, 2014

Posted by David Bookstaber in Healthcare, Open Questions, Uncategorized.
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This winter’s severe weather reminds us that emergency infrastructure isn’t always available. Even in populated areas a severely injured person could be stranded for days. Fortunately, medical technicians and specialists live amongst us. Unfortunately, many I have talked to don’t take emergency preparedness as seriously as they could.

If you are a medical technician and you found yourself stranded with an injury you’re trained to treat, would you have the tools you need? Typical first aid kits do not contain the following essential tools any EMT can use to save lives and limbs:

  • Airway management devices (OPAs or NPAs)
  • IV catheters and solutions
  • Hypodermic syringes and injectable lidocaine and adrenaline
  • Sutures
  • Obstetric kits

What if you’re stranded for days and have to handle and stabilize emergencies from anyone within walking distance? If you have surgical training wouldn’t you rather have general anesthetics, chlorhexidine, scalpels, and hemostats than have to try to improvise them?

Think of your training, and then think of what you could store in small “go bags” kept in your house and vehicle that you might wish you had on hand when hospitals, stores, and ambulances are hours or days away.

New TV Series: Chicago PD – Win; Intelligence – Fail January 12, 2014

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.
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Not too long into the first episode of Chicago PD some police roll up on the apartment of a suspect, get out of their cars, and immediately take gunfire from a window. The sergeant on scene shouts, “Get the long guns,” so they holster their pistols and pop their trunks to grab their rifles before going into the building. Finally!

Contrast that with the pilot of Intelligence: America’s single most valuable intelligence asset, a soldier named Gabriel whose brain they’ve managed to meld with wifi and internet access, is also being sought by the Chinese who want to steal the technology and implant it in their own agents. No, this premise isn’t the bad part (and it worked well in the action comedy Chuck). The government wisely assigned a single Secret Service agent to protect Gabriel — the person, not the priceless technology, mind you — as he takes to the field to unravel the plot. Not long into the first episode he follows some leads to a Chinese gang compound connected with the plot. Even as he is told that a tactical team is minutes away, and even though there is no urgency whatsoever, he and his bodyguard decide to raid the compound. With handguns.

My wife is inclined to cut our losses when we see something start so poorly, but I couldn’t believe a major production company could bungle a full-budget series this badly and then have a major network pick it up as their midseason centerpiece. Apparently they can: Everything from casting to screenwriting was awfully amateurish and unredeemed by anything. So we slogged through the remainder of the episode with me intermittently exclaiming, “How does this make it through a script reading?” and, “Why do they spend money producing such crap?”

Chicago PD, on the other hand, showed all the makings of a top-shelf police drama. I guess when producers and actors pay attention to details like tactics it’s a sign they know what they’re doing?

Update: Chicago PD was something of a bait-and-switch. In all later episodes the stars use handguns almost exclusively. Even when heading into a confrontation with bad guys known to be wearing body armor.

I was recently talking to an experienced Hollywood armorer about this and he explained that directors don’t like to give the stars long guns because it’s harder to show their faces. And most viewers don’t care about the difference: A gun is a gun.

The Beauty of Bounties November 8, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Markets, Uncategorized.
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Bounties for solving big or hard problems are not new. But they should be more common.

I was impressed to discover a data company (SNL) that issues cash rewards to anyone who finds errors in their data. Based on my experience not many data vendors could afford to do that! So it serves the dual purposes of advertising their quality and ensuring it. (And yes it’s real: I recently collected on a handful of errors uncovered during some tedious work.)

Many major information technology vendors have publicized substantial “bug bounty” programs for researchers who reveal serious security flaws in a gracious manner. (I.e., instead of exploiting their discoveries to attack, blackmail, or humiliate the companies, as is a sometimes attractive alternative.)

Another interesting “error bounty” is Donald Knuth’s, begun in 1968 for errors in his publications. I assume he began the program because he realized he had authored the most important reference texts in Computer Science, and he wanted them to stand worthy of the role. Obviously the scientific community agrees, since the bounty check is minimal and rarely even cashed: Evidence of earning it is far more prestigious.

What’s on my DVR Update October 30, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.
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Update to What’s on my DVR:

The show I most look forward to now is Person of Interest. Of all current TV series it manages to sustain the most realistic action and tactics. Engaging characters and screenwriting more than make up where those fall short. Plus, this season they’re developing a sophisticated machine-as-god subplot.

Blue Bloods has jumped onto the list after I caught up on previous seasons over the summer. Each episode its family of protagonists — NYC police commissioner, detective, beat officer, and district attorney — tell synergistic stories, so there’s plenty of substance and resolution. And viewers are virtually guaranteed a comforting knockout of moral relativism by Tom Selleck’s principled character. (Though to many New Yorkers that may be discomforting ;)

Elementary is not far behind. It manages to keep its plots from seeming overly-contrived, and Sherlock Holmes supplies enough quirky wit to compensate for any other shortcomings.

The Blacklist must have blown its budget on James Spader’s character, who is so delicious it’s worth slogging through the rest of the show just to catch any scene with him. The protagonista is an inexperienced FBI field agent, but the writers apparently don’t have experience or budget for FBI fieldcraft either, so she bounces through international terror cases supported by what must be the most understaffed, isolated FBI a libertarian could dream for.

What’s on my DVR January 4, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Uncategorized.

Series I’ve set to record.  Remember I can’t stand shows with laugh tracks, so none of those get on my list. Many of these are better than most movies, and almost all are worth re-running if you haven’t seen them:


  • Burn Notice – Fun action dramedy about former spooks.  Realistic detail in action and tactics, though quality has declined in recent seasons.
  • Person of Interest – Darker drama about a former special operators, also with fun and above-average action and tactics. [Feb Update: This season it’s my favorite action series.]
  • The Unit – Exceptionally realistic show about an active spec-ops unit, but only ran for three seasons; perhaps because it was plagued by irritating dramatic detours involving the operators’ wives?
  • Revolution – Contrived plots are redeemed by its blatant pro-gun message and survivalist intrigue.
  • Chuck – Entertaining action farce.

Police/Crime/Law Drama

  • Suits – Brilliant and witty characters make this legal dramedy stand out.
  • The Chicago Code – Excellent fast-moving police drama with an enticing subplot about battling machine politics. Cancelled because it cut too close to reality?
  • Southland – Darker action-packed police drama. [Feb Update: This season is too disturbing for my taste.]
  • Elementary – Interesting adaptation of Sherlock Holmes; very good so far.


  • 30 Rock – Worth watching for the characters of Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey alone.
  • Better Off Ted – Why, oh why, do they so often cancel shows I so love?
  • Community – Usually great, occasionally brilliant, ensemble comedy.
  • Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 – Krysten Ritter anchors this with comedic energy.
  • The Mindy Project – Comedy centered on the plight of a single, overachieving woman.
  • Modern Family – Excellent structure and cast make this a consistent winner.
  • The Office – Took some time to get used to the awkwardness of the characters that drive this comedy, but well worth it.
  • Outsourced – As good as anything else in this list; not sure why it was cancelled.
  • Parks and Recreation – Another consistent performer.
  • Scrubs – A great series that lived a full life worth revisiting.
  • Suburgatory – Not top shelf, but mixes in some fun satire.

Factory Shows
Ever since Mister Rogers gave us glimpses of factory production lines I’ve wanted more extended views:

  • How It’s Made – Manufacturing processes shown in detail.
  • How Do They Do It? – Almost as good, but diverges into operations and events instead of sticking to factories.

Colbert Report – Hilariously witty political satire … if you can get past the fact that Stephen Colbert is pandering to a live New York audience (which is predictably and irritatingly Liberal).

Cartoon Comedies

  • Archer – This no-limits comedy “for mature audiences” absolutely nails my sense of humor. I wish there were more like this.
  • The Simpsons – This wide-ranging satire has had varying quality over the years, but the total weight of comedic gold makes it worth mining its 500+ episodes.
  • Futurama – for when you’ve run out of episodes of The Simpsons.
  • South Park – typically each episode is built around a single joke, and frequently littered with unnecessary scatological humor. But the show hits it out of the park often enough to keep it in the queue.
  • Robot Chicken – Stop-action satiric comedy for generation X that sets new lows in obscenity.

Holiday Tipping Etiquette December 14, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Markets, Uncategorized.
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This has become the time of year when all sorts of service employees become very interested in you knowing their names and addresses (often post office boxes!). Notes and envelopes appear from garbagemen, mailmen, paperboys — people you may never see. And it’s no subtle mystery why: They want holiday tips.

In many cases this has become a soft extortion racket: Pay up and you’ll get your paper on your doorstep. Come up short and look forward to picking through bushes for your paper.

Too cynical? Maybe some of these servicemen assume that of course you’re thinking of them during the holidays, and they just want to save you the trouble of waiting outside early in the morning to hand them a bonus check and wish them a Happy New Year.

But isn’t this a recent phenomenon? I don’t remember getting these sorts of holiday notices ten or twenty years ago. I do remember when I ran a paper route as a boy being surprised at the extra cash appearing in my collection envelopes during December.

I guess it was inevitable that spontaneous generosity would evolve into a custom and finally an entitlement. I have been surprised in recent years to read etiquette experts enumerating all sorts of people you should tip — as if money trees sprout in December and every gainfully employed person deserves a windfall.

There may still be some who feel moved by the holiday spirit to share their good fortune with others, but it should be neither expected nor solicited. We are plagued by an entitlement culture, and to cure that I like a suggestion Alex Tabarrok made several years ago: If you would like to express some seasonal generosity remit your tip anonymously. That will foil those who are using the holidays as an excuse for extortion, since they won’t know for sure who “paid up” and who didn’t.

Meanwhile, we need to re-normalize expectations. Here’s my tip: If you have a job now be grateful if you get to keep it in the New Year.

Politics in the Workplace December 12, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Social Politics, Uncategorized.
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Years ago, ending one of my first summer internships at a somewhat Liberal company, I was told that it was not a good idea to advertise my Conservative leanings in the workplace. As politics became more polarized an awkward dynamic evolved in the professional world: Liberals became self-righteously and overtly intolerant of Conservatives. Espousing Conservative ideas in the wrong company could actually end your career. In contrast, Conservatives remained disinclined to hold someone’s politics against them if it did not bear on their job performance. So Conservatives learned to hide in the closet unless sure they were among like-minded or tolerant coworkers. Liberals, on the other hand, wore their leanings as a badge of pride. Some apparently forgot that Conservatives even exist: One finance company aggressively recruiting me proudly mentioned that the partners were all big Democrat activists, as if that was another selling point. (Yes, they were based in NYC.)

Now that politics have really started to hit businesses I’ve seen many Conservatives come out of the closet. Right after the reelection of Obama one small business owner said, “This is going to hurt business. I won’t be able to hire as many people as I had planned. Therefore, I think it’s only fair that I give preference to those who didn’t support these policies.” I.e., when it comes to layoffs, let Democrats go first into the arms of the welfare state they asked for.

Sometimes ‘Nothing’ Is Better Than ‘Something’ – Part II October 26, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Government, Uncategorized.
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One might use the title of this post as “the moral of government.”

Inspired by Michael Boskin’s essay today, which expounds on the argument:

Government failures are as pervasive as market failures…. The potential for such failures grows as government grows.

Emergency Medical Supplies September 25, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Healthcare, Open Questions, Uncategorized.

I raised the subject of survival stockpiling earlier.  Here I’d like to build a list of the drugs and medical supplies that would be most useful during an extended disaster.  Ideally one would be prepared to deal not only with traumatic injuries but also with the sorts of medical problems that tend to emerge during prolonged stress and in the absence of first-world infrastructure and sanitation. (Ref also the truth about drug expiration dates.)

Beginning the list are “first aid” supplies that should be accessible to everyone:

  1. Antiseptic swabs and ointments
  2. Adhesive bandages
  3. Sterile gauze rolls, pads, and tape
  4. Sterile saline solution
  5. Hemostatic powder/pad (Zeolite, QuikClot)
  6. Thermometer
  7. Tweezers
  8. Scissors
  9. Anti-diarrheals: loperamide (Imodium), bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
  10. Rehydration powder
  11. Aspirin, ibuprofen, (analgesic, antipyretic, NSAID)
  12. Acetaminophen (analgesic)
  13. Antihistimines: diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  14. Decongestants: pseudoephedrine
  15. Expectorants: guaifenesin
  16. Stimulants: caffeine
  17. Laxatives
  18. Antacids
  19. Emetic: ipacec
  20. Ointments:
    • anesthetics (lidocaine, benzocaine)
    • antibiotics (permethrin, malathion)
    • antifungals (ketoconazole, miconazole, tolnaftate)
    • antihistamines (Caladryl)
    • antivirals (acyclovir)
    • steroids (hydrocortisone)
  21. Cold packs (note: also usable for improvised explosives)
  22. Heat packs
  23. Smelling salts
  24. Breathing barrier with valve
  25. Latex gloves
  26. Condoms
  27. Contraceptives: levonogestrel (Plan B)

Anyone with emergency medical training will also want

  1. Manual aspirator or suction unit
  2. Sphygmometer
  3. Stethoscope
  4. Epinephrine auto-injector (Epipen)
  5. Epinephrine inhaler
  6. Hypodermic syringes and injectable lidocaine and adrenaline
  7. Sutures
  8. Airway management devices (OPAs or NPAs)
  9. IV catheters and solutions
  10. Obstetric kit
  11. Antiseptic scrub (chlorhexidine)

During disasters that might involve extended disruptions of pharmaceutical supplies, a stockpile should also include the following drugs:

  • antibiotics: levofloxacin (Levaquin), doxycycline
  • antibiotic, amebicide, and antiprotozoal: metronidazole (Flagil)
  • antifungals: itraconazole, ketoconazole, griseofulvin
  • anthilmentic: pyrantel
  • oral antiseptic: chlorhexidine (PeriDex)
  • anxiolytics, sedatives, hypnotics, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants: benzodiazepines and barbiturates
  • narcotics: morphine, oxycodone
  • stimulants: amphetamines, modafinil
  • steroids: hydrocortisone, prednisone
  • vasodilators: nitroglycerin
  • bronchodilators: theophylline
  • urinary anti-infective: methenamine
  • general anesthetic: propofol

Little Brother: Towards a Civil, Free Society March 30, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Open Questions, Uncategorized.
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Dystopian fantasies often revolve around a “Big Brother:” An authoritative regime with excessive powers of observation and punishment that are invariably abused by its leaders. After all, as James Madison said, men are not angels, and so we cannot trust men with unchecked power. Benjamin Franklin concurs: If we surrender our liberty in exchange for security — or any other moral good — we are bound to end up with neither. In some incarnations the Big Brother dystopia is instead a machine which, though incorruptible, is blind to the nuances of the human condition. Though it does not abuse its power it applies it mercilessly. Such dystopian fiction warns that human nature is incompatible with Big Brother authorities.

But as an information age libertarian I wonder if we couldn’t benefit from a “Little Brother:” A social medium for establishing positive norms and nudging individuals away from less harmonious behavior. I envision a non-authoritative “Little Brother” social network: a database where anyone can report and comment on behavior, positive or negative. People are free to use Little Brother as they see fit. As with all social networks norms will evolve for its use. Will an open and non-authoritative Little Brother be a positive social force, or can it somehow be twisted or abused to anti-social ends?

Farm Subsidies Plumb New Depths May 21, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Economic Policy, Government Spending, Markets, Special Interests, Uncategorized.
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Commodity farmers are a tenacious special interest, and the federal government seems to have no shame in pandering to them.

The Obama administration would rather subsidize foreign farmers than reduce domestic subsidies that violate our trade agreements:

Rather than reduce the U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers that are the cause of the trade fight, the Administration is proposing that U.S. taxpayers also compensate Brazilian cotton farmers for the harm done by the U.S. subsidies. Thus the absurd U.S. cotton program would dip into the Commodity Credit Corporation to pay what is a bribe to Brazil so it won’t retaliate.

Currency Arbitrage – Update May 13, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Finance, Uncategorized.
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Updating a topic of longstanding bemusement, the WSJ reports:

It costs the federal government up to nine cents to mint a nickel and almost two cents to make a penny.

Coinflation.com tracks the intrinsic (“melt”) value of metal coins.

A letter several years ago noted:

When the half-cent was abolished in 1857 it was worth more than eight cents in today’s currency. People then had no problem living in the following decades, during which the smallest unit of currency was worth more than our dime today. In fact, they persevered through that transition without the luxury of the many cashless means of electronic transaction we enjoy today (which, even after penny abolition, can preserve prices to the cent).

It’s silly that the U.S. continues to mint pennies and nickels. Just as silly is the fact that American businesses and consumers continue to carry them around for regular use in cash commerce.

Are Government and Union Employees Overpaid? May 12, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Government Spending, Human Markets, Special Interests, Uncategorized, Unions.
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In a free market the concept of an “overpaid employee” is not a serious concern: If employment contracts are voluntary, and employers pay wages from their own resources, then it is hard to argue that any employee is overpaid, since evidently his employer believes he is worth his cost.

Union and government employees break this link. Unionized government employees seem to be a double-whammy! Updating a trend that has been increasingly evident, Gary Shilling explains:

Years ago, there was an informal “social contract”—public employees generally received lower wages than private-sector workers, and in return they got earlier retirement and generous pensions, allowing them to catch up. That arrangement has long since gone by the boards. The result is a remarkable trend. State and local government employees for years have received pay increases in excess of inflation, and BLS figures show they now have wages that are 34% higher on average than in the private sector.

Of course, unions vociferously deny any such assessments. But I don’t think we need to get into comparative statistical arguments to prove that union employees are overpaid. The labor market itself gives us two simple tests:

  • Do union employees voluntarily quit their jobs at rates significantly lower than similar non-union employees?
  • Are there significantly more qualified applicants for new union jobs than for similar private-sector jobs?

If the answer to either or these questions is yes (and it does appear to be so), then the market has spoken: Union employees are relatively overcompensated. Their excess rents come at the expense of employers, customers, and labor market competitors.

What’s the Justification for the Prompt Global Strike Program? April 27, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Government Spending, Open Questions, Uncategorized.
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The White House requested $250MM for research next year into hypersonic engines that could support a “Prompt Global Strike” (PGS) weapon system later this decade. Air Force General Chilton explains the need for PGS as follows:

Today we can present some conventional options to the president to strike a target anywhere on the globe that range from 96 hours to maybe four, five, six hours. If the president wants to act faster than that, the only thing we have that goes faster is a nuclear response.

Now I think hypersonic engines are as cool as the next geek, but PGS is going to consume many billions of dollars to produce a capability that we have had for half a century: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can reach any point on earth in under an hour. Yes, today they may all be tipped with nuclear warheads. But it would be a lot cheaper to recommission ICBMs with precision conventional warheads than to build a maneuvering hypersonic cruise missile. And the proposed PGS doesn’t solve any of the strategic problems posed by conventional ICBMs: Russia and China are already protesting that PGS is as destabilizing as our strategic nuclear arsenal.