Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Quick Hits - II
This is volume two of my newest feature—for which I'm still seeking a better name. I considered "Flash Friday," but am concerned about the possible lawsuit for trademark infringement. My brother suggested "F'em Friday," but I don't think that flows as well as the actual swear would—and while I've never censored my vulgarity on this blog, that doesn't mean I need to proclaim it in a headline. So I have no really good ideas yet... so submit some of your own!

And now we're off to the races:

"I just want to extract the bullets and live my life." Don't we all...

Maybe she had bibles in her skull?

I'm not sure I understand what "It works because it is dangerous" means, but it's an interesting idea.

A storm 5,000 miles across? Think we can convince some environmentalists to say that The Day After Tomorrow has come true?

How does a flight attendant confuse the two?

This is aching for a fisking, but I won't waste my time. That being said, it sounds like he's been called a lot of names. Let's add idiot to the list.

Should we really have expected anything different?

I thought the whole point of "road rage" is that it is uncontrollable rage that is instantaneous and has horrific consequences. So how is this concept even possible, unless the guys were sitting in an internet cafe next to each other?

Only in Connecticut.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A great light has gone out
I'm sad to say that Milton Friedman, a transformative economist and proponent of freedom, died today, at age 94.

Though he lived a long and successful life, the world is poorer without him.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and partner, Rose Friedman.

UPDATE [11/16/2006 - 15:35]: The Wall Street Journal is offering two audio files of conversations with Milton Friedman, explaining some of his economic theories. I highly recommend taking a listen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Raise the minimum wage? Only if you have minimum intelligence.
TNNBG had a simple, straightforward post yesterday about the minimum wage. I didn't think much of it at the time. I'm against raising the minimum wage. I'm against a minimum wage of any kind, in fact. I know (on a basic level) the arguments against it, so I didn't click through to the Wall Street Journal article TNNBG linked to until I got curious today.

Read it. Especially read it if you support a higher minimum wage.

In particular (for those of you too lazy to click through), there is a fantastic illustration of how a minimum wage hurts the very people it is intended to help:

Classical economics teaches that for a given job, there is a market-clearing price--the price at which both someone is willing to do it and someone else is willing to pay them to do it. If you raise the legal minimum above that price, you may get more people willing to perform the job, but you'll probably also get less people (employers) willing to pay the new, higher price to get the job done.

To picture how this works, think about the grocery bagger in the supermarket, a classic low-wage service job. Supermarkets hire grocery baggers for the minimum wage, or close to it, because it's a perk that makes their customers' experience a bit nicer and helps move the lines along, possibly requiring fewer cashiers, who cost more to hire than grocery baggers.

Now, if you pass a law saying everyone, including grocery baggers, has to be paid $10 an hour, what happens? The supermarket probably hires fewer baggers, or has them work fewer hours. Perhaps they decide they only need baggers between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you put the minimum wage up to $20 an hour, shoppers bag their own groceries. This is so clear that it's taken some time for the defenders of an ever-rising minimum wage to come up with an adequate theory to obscure it.
Take it a step further, now. Technological advances have created in recent years a new ability in stores of all kinds: self-checkout. These machines have cropped up everywhere of late. They began with credit card scanners being turned around on the customer, so that cashiers never handle the plastic. Now, more and more commonly, entire check-out aisles operate without a single cashier or bagger. Stores have implemented these systems sparingly thus far, and I can guess a few of the reasons.

First, they probably suffer a slight increase in theft, as it is easier to sneak products out without the watchful eyes of a cashier (or at least it seems easier, and therefore the dishonest are less likely to be deterred). This will likely never be fully overcome, as dishonest people will always try to take advantage of the system—though technology has also lent some advances in theft prevention as well.

Second, some people lack the technological sophistication to use the scanners, or disdain doing it themselves for one reason or another. This barrier is decreasing every day, as people become more and more technologically capable all the time.

Finally, there is a cost to replace functioning registers. I imagine, as well, that the self-checkout scanners are more expensive than the traditional models. The grocery store I frequent recently underwent a complete renovation, replacing all of the registers, and even with that, only about a quarter of them were converted into self-checkout aisles (probably for a combination of this last reason as well as the first two).

As I've said, reason one will always exist and reason two is taking care of itself—so only reason three remains as a true impediment to the new technology. With a raise in the minimum wage, however, the cost-benefit analysis involved changes significantly. As cashiers become more expensive, the benefits of having shoppers take care of that job themselves increase greatly over time. Now, instead of the cutback in cashier jobs that would stem naturally from the added expense for each, we're looking at the possibility of even more significant cuts because added savings can be realized. Where are unskilled workers and teenagers to find those low-wage jobs that are an underpinning of our economy?

Setting aside the grocery store analogy for a moment, let's consider the yard care market. Currently, nationwide (if anyone has a statistic handy, I'd love to cite it here), a significant portion of contracted yard work is handled by recent—and often illegal—immigrants. Some surely do better than minimum wage. A lot are definitely paid at that rate. Without a doubt, many make far less. So what will a minimum wage increase do to this market?

If it is enforced effectively (and what are the chances of that?), anyone making below the current minimum wage will be fired. Some portion of those at the current rate and below the new rate will be fired to cover the expense of raising wages for some of the others in this range. And those making above the new rate shouldn't expect raised wages any time soon.

Don't believe me? I pulled this off of Wikipedia:
For example, during the apartheid era in South Africa, white trade unions lobbied for the introduction of minimum wage laws so as to exclude black workers from the labor market. By preventing black workers from selling their labor for less than white workers, the black workers were prevented from competing for jobs held by whites.
So much for the altruism of paying a higher wage.

If it is not effectively enforced (the most likely scenario), then more workers will be hired under the table. Employers will be given a huge incentive to circumvent the wage laws by paying cheap labor off the books, as is already rampant in this industry nationwide. Those with scruples will be driven out of business, unable to compete with those who cheat the system, their jobs as well as those of their employees will effectively be lost to firms willing to break the law. Income taxes will certainly not be assessed on those paid under the table. Everybody loses.

Finally, this entire premise violates American ideals. At the debate between William Kristol and Katrina vanden Heuvel that I mentioned recently, the latter spoke in support of a higher minimum wage, and used a phrase that stuck with me. She said that "workers should be paid what they deserve."

Unfortunately, she contradicted herself. As described in the WSJ piece above, the market-clearing price is, by definition, what labor is worth—and therefore what workers deserve. By inflating wages above this number, we are violating the very principle she espouses. We are no longer paying workers what they deserve, but instead what some group of people (Congress) arbitrarily decides that they deserve.

The high school drop-out, too lazy to even get his GED, needs only to put in enough effort to find a dead-end job, and suddenly he deserves a minimum wage? While a hard-working individual from a poor background that precludes his attending college will have a significantly harder time finding that same dead-end job. If he does, his chances of advancing and getting periodic raises will have all but evaporated because, if he complains, his employer has that first guy to fall back on at the same rate.

Does that seem fair? Does that seem like the American system? I think not.

For one last point on this line of thinking, I turn again to the WSJ piece:
If you are a young black male, you are slightly more likely than the general population to be paid minimum wage, but you are almost 10 times more likely not to have a job at all. And if you're unemployed, raising the minimum wage not only doesn't help you find a job, it probably hurts.
In short, minimum wages restrict the ability for the lower classes to earn their way up the ladder and create for themselves and their children a better future.

Shame on Congress for even considering it. And shame on them for preparing to rubber stamp such a damaging idea.

For a lot more advanced economics on this than I can explain, click here.

And, by the way, the chart at the top of this post is a fairly simple illustration of the problem with a minimum wage. The center of the "X" is where supply and demand in the labor market meet at a natural equilibrium, on a graph of wage as a function of the number of workers. This is where we find the market-clearing price if the market is left alone. As you increase the wage, however, the demand for workers goes down, and excess supply (known as unemployment) is created.

It's very simple, really.

It's cold out here
But we'd better start getting used to the wilderness, because it looks like we're going to be there for a while.

Why? Because the Republicans are still being led by idiots.

The Dems are doing exactly what I suggested the Republicans do in their lame duck session (via InstaPundit):

Democrats aim to open the next Congress in January with a new rule that identifies lawmakers who use legislative "earmarks" to help special interests — a change Republicans promised but didn't implement.
And two years from now, when Republicans are trying to return to their roots by running for transparent, limited government, the Dems will stand there and say "but you had your chance and didn't learn your lesson—we did."

Whereas if Republicans had taken the opportunity presented by the lame duck session to pass this kind of legislation, they would have totally out-flanked that claim by the Dems.

A great move—that will never happen
Inspired by this post, I have just sent the following letter to Congressman Chris Shays, my Representative:

Congressman Shays,

You may remember that we spoke for a few minutes on the train platform and then the train on Wednesday morning of last week. I am a Republican RTM Representative from Fairfield.

I have just come across a very interesting idea that I think you, as a moderate member of our Party, have a good chance of making happen. I first saw the idea, proposed by a man named Rich Galen, here:

I think it is disgraceful the way Representative Pelosi is running rough-shod over her Party and circumventing Representative Hoyer's seniority in favor of a radically liberal Democratic leadership in the form of John Murtha.

So why not call a Republican caucus and convince the GOP members to support Representative Hoyer for the Speaker's chair? Assuming when all of the votes are counted, the GOP holds 203 seats in the House (which sounds about right) you would then only need to convince 15 moderate Democrats who don't support a partisan turn in Congress led by Ms. Pelosi to go along with your idea. That would hit the magic number of 218 and win the Speaker's chair for Representative Hoyer--a good man with a long history of serving his country.

As an added bonus, Republicans can then look the American people in the eye and say, quite honestly "we got the message on Election Day, and are open to a new level of bipartisanship. The Democrats have control of Congress, and we fully intend to work with them to reach reasoned, bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems." What better way to show that than by crossing the aisle to vote for a Democrat as Speaker of the House?

I look forward to your thoughts on this issue. This is the time for moderate, compassionate individuals like yourself to stand up and lead this country into a strong future. I think this would make a fantastic first step.

All the best,
I invite you to send something similar to any Republicans that may represent you in Congress. They'll never do it, but they should.

Monday, November 13, 2006

How does this work, exactly?
The Professor quotes Andrew Olmsted, who comments:

I see that the Democrats are now ready to start pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. While I suppose this is no surprise, I'm disappointed to see it. The Democrats have rightly pointed out that Republicans acted without gathering all appropriate data, leading to problems like Iraq. Yet now they're poised to do precisely the same thing.
My question is: how can they do that? My understanding is that the Constitution gives the right to conduct war to the President, and the right to declare war to the Congress. Presidents circumvented this (think Vietnam and Korea) by declaring "police actions" and the like, until the 1973 War Powers Resolution (commonly known as the War Powers Act, although an act requires a presidential signature, which the resolution lacks), which declares that a president can commit military forces for no more than 60 days (90 days following a request to Congress and military necessity) without a congressional declaration.

So here's the problem: Congress approved the action in Iraq. How can they withdraw troops short of cutting funding for the war?

To be clear: I do not intend this as a criticism of the Dems—you've had plenty of that from me. I just don't understand how Congress has the authority to determine conduct of the war except by cutting off the funding (which is politically not viable, as it would be too easy to spin as a lack of support for the troops).

Can anyone clear that up for me?

Also, I want to be clear on another point: I am not opposed to a staged withdrawl of American troops. I haven't decided in favor of it yet, but I'm also not strictly against it. I think that I could probably get behind a proposal like the one found on dcfb here and here.

A cut-and-run without the appropriate precautions and continued engagement of the enemy will not be met with support from this blog.

Shut up and sing
Elton John has announced that he would "ban religion completely." He explains in an interview that he believes organized religion fuels anti-gay discrimination and other forms of bias. I'm so glad we have Elton's rational, level-headed (see picture at right) logic to guide us.

Oh come off it. If that's what he really believes, then he's just as biased and discriminating as the people at which he's pointing the finger.

The solution to moronic, blind anti-gay discrimination is not to silence its proponents, but to show them why they are wrong. Being an intolerant boob accomplishes nothing. (Wearing a big, gawdy symbol of the very people you disdain, however, accomplishes a lot—you know, like inspiring the people who think you're insulting their religious icons to dislike you for doing so to make a fashion statement).

I am so sick of people who want to react to something they don't like by banning it. That's a nice policy to have when you're in control of the government, but someday somebody you don't like will seize the reins of power. And then you're screwed.

Instead of banning something, encourage its opposition. Defeat it through reason and intelligence, not openly hostile force. Remember the old Martin Neimoller poem?

First they came for the Communists,
  and I didn't speak up,
    because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
  and I didn't speak up,
    because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
  and I didn't speak up,
    because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
  and by that time there was no one
    left to speak up for me.
Well, this is no different. It's all well and good to go after those religious nuts, but what happens when they come after the singers? Hell, they're already after homosexuals—you'd think Elton might know better.

But he's too busy hating to see the ridiculousness of his statement.

And before you accuse me of being just another member of the Christian Right who hates gays and defends religion at all costs, I leave you with this quote from the recent episode of American Dad called "Lincoln Lover," which I find hilariously accurate:
The Log Cabin delegates didn't choose to be gay, but they did choose to be Republicans. Even though as Republicans we used bashing them as the backbone of our last presidential election, they're still sticking with us. By God, these people love America as much as they love brunch! You know what else is a choice? Being a Democrat. Democrats weren't born Democrats, they chose to be Democrats. I'm not telling you to stop hating, I just want you to hate where hate deserves. Hating gays is hate we could be using on the Democrats! We shouldn't discriminate against gays, we should get more of them to be Republicans. They're supporting the economy by buying high-end appliances and tea-cup poodles. Do you want manufacturers of super-tight t-shirts to go out of business?