Friday, January 01, 2010

Mrs. S writes 

About New Year's resolutions, mostly by interviewing me and a local triathlete. If you are still thinking about making a resolution, the triathlete says go for it, I say don't. Read and decide.

I resolve to wish everyone a Happy New Year!


Friday, December 04, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

A second column on health care. She says "the devil is in the details." She gets a lot of them into 650 or so words, working through an interview with state Rep. Steve Gottwalt. A couple people have said to me they really liked this one, so please check it out.

To see more devils, behold Canada, where the rate of increase of medical spending is growing faster than available revenues.
Provincial government health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 7.4% over the 10-year trend period examined in this report (1999/2000 to 2008/2009). At the same time, the average annual growth rate for total available provincial revenue has been only 6.5%. Provincial government health spending has also grown faster than provincial GDP, which grew at an average annual rate of only 6.4% over the same period.

...The most recent one-year growth in government health spending was 8.3% (on average across all provinces), while the growth in total available revenue was only 5.2%.
So how do you fix that? In Canada, they queue:
Unfortunately, provincial governments typically attempt to slow the growth of health spending by restricting or delaying access to publicly insured health care. For example, the most recent data show that wait times for access to medical services have increased in every province over the 10-year trend period (Esmail et al., 2008). In addition, provincial publicly funded drug programs are, to an increasing degree, covering only a small percentage of new medicines. Such policies have the effect of slowing growth in government health spending in the short term. However, the rationing of health goods and services cannot continue indefinitely without increasing medical risks for patients.
Link added.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

She describes the local TEA party in St. Cloud.
During the past 20 years it has seemed harder to get bipartisan agreements. When you lose an election, you feel like you lost everything. There may be something dangerous in that.

There is concern that voters are becoming more polarized � coastal elites versus heartland conservatives (TEA Parties) � and there is more homogeneity in both parties. Both parties are losing their �INOs� (Republicans/Democrat in name only) yet, as Gross observed, �common sense isn�t a partisan issue.�
The piece features my fellow St. Cloud bloggers Gary Gross and Leo Pusateri, without whose work the local gathering would not have been possible.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

This month she wanders into the debate about where the war protestors have gone. In St. Cloud they've become health care protestors.
No one seems to be protesting war anymore, so I became curious. Was this because of the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, the handling of each war�s goals and objectives, or the change in presidential administrations?

Remember, these people are not marching even though Obama this spring committed 21,000 troops to fight an invigorated Taliban; a report due soon may seek more. Meanwhile, the 45 U.S. casualties in August were the highest in the war�s eight years.

But on that corner Saturday health care overshadowed war.

Pax Christi and Alternatives for War marched in support of health care reform. Some other groups represented were Isaiah/GRIP and Service Employees International Union. Signs such as �Honk For a Public Option,� �Healthcare is a Human Right� or �Medicare is Socialized Medicine� evoked approval.
Read the whole thing, which tells you how at least these local groups justify their change in stance. Unions and anti-war protestors: is there anything wrong with this picture?

Meanwhile Cindy Sheehan keeps a lonely vigil...

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

This month, it's the topic we all love, Cash for Clunkers:
As a businessman, it's hard to be against all the traffic it has generated, but he hopes it is not a temporary fix. "It's like priming an engine with no gas in the tank. If it helps the economy, it's a good thing".

"The tax-payer, however, is the one who will eventually pay".

And perhaps they know it. According to a recent Rasmussen survey, a majority of Americans (54%) oppose more funding for this program. A similar share opposed it last year when the idea was floated in 2008.

Will the philosophy behind �Clunk-fare� eventually be used on the housing market? Clothing market? Probably not, because the government has made this program with an eye towards increasing fuel efficiency. But the Associated Press reported this week that the amount of pollution reduced is equivalent to us not emitting any greenhouse gases for 57 minutes. The fuel economy savings equals the amount of gas we use in 4.5 hours.
In the research for her article, she sent along this piece, which includes a quote:
"As a carbon dioxide policy, this is a terribly wasteful thing to do," said Henry Jacoby, a professor of management and co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT. "The amount of carbon you are saving per federal expenditure is very, very small."
Now the program has another $2 billion in the kitty, another 400,000 or more cars going off the road. And is it stimulus? Maybe, maybe not:
Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC are weighing whether to increase output of vehicles beyond current plans, which would increase workers' hours and possibly add some jobs at their plants and those of hundreds of suppliers. But the auto makers have reason to be cautious. Big sales promotions are often followed by a slump in sales -- "payback," in industry jargon. Battered by losses in the past year, the big Detroit auto makers want to keep supply and demand in balance in order to boost profitability.
We may have just spent $3 billion to help automakers clear their inventory and created very few new jobs and little carbon reduction.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Checking out 

Gone the rest of the day to the Millard Fillmore blogger golf bash. Maybe you'll see some info via Twitter; supposedly we'll have Mitch doing commentary again.

If you're in St. Cloud and not able to take part in the MilF, maybe I could interest you in a free night of comedy, courtesy of GREAT Theater.

A Funny Thing Happend on the Way to the Forum

Outdoors at Lake George
Performs: July 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30
Bring your own chair or blanket

Featuring a community theatre cast of fantastic actors with a live orchestra, you won't want to miss this hilarious Broadway Musical "Under The Stars." Featuring bawdy slapstick comedy this production is recommended for ages eight and up.

Among those appearing is Mrs. S. I saw the show last night and it's absolutely hilarious. The cast has a great time and the audience does too. Crowd fills in around seven, so if you want to sit up close show up early. (I am a huge Zero Mostel fan, and this is one of my favorite movies. Particularly when it includes Phil Silvers.)

NARN is in studio tomorrow, so please be sure to listen in.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

Today it's about the local TEA party and whether we need another.
When laws are passed or implemented, it's difficult to remove them. We don't get rid of laws � we just keep adding. The number of pages in the Federal Register � which contains rules, proposals for new or changes to existing rules, and notices of meetings � was 2,620 pages when first issued in 1936. It has averaged over 75,000 pages in this decade. Economist Milton Friedman argued in 2004 that increases in the size of the Register corresponded with decreases in individual liberty. The burden of regulation may be greater than the burden of taxes.

...Like the Boston Tea Party that protested taxation without representation, TEA Parties are a reminder of the importance of economic freedom. The staggering national debt is our crucible and challenge, and the greatest obstacle to the future that we face.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Mrs. Scholar writes 

Before she wrote about it, I was unaware that the school district was contemplating issuing these bonds (OPEB) that incur a cost to taxpayers that the school district does not have to get a vote on. But here's our school district (ISD 742) listing a set of alternatives to close its budget deficit and the top of the list is to float $1.6 million in bonds "and levy to repay bonds". This of course allows them to take the money it would have used to pay health benefits to retirees, and use that money to do something else.

Barbara writes (links added):
Although school board members are elected to make decisions on behalf of the population, pecuniary decisions are best left to the people. This has been a guiding principle in our laws, as shown by the requirements that other excess levies require voter approval.

However, the Legislature is now moving further with rules that circumvent the ballot box. If a levy passed and opponents could get 15 percent of the school district�s voters to sign a petition, a school district could face a revocation of that levy.

The recall allows some mechanism to demand accountability from school districts. But the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division has now sent forward a bill that would kill the petition option.

And it�s not just at the school board. Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, introduced a bill to allow a county to raise sales taxes to �make up� for reductions in state aid. While some cities have made hard choices and found budget savings, Marquart�s bill would allow the others to avoid those choices and impose new taxes on a recessionary economy.
The conversation at the Times website today is animated on this subject. Check it out.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Mrs. Scholar writes 

This month it's about one of my favorite examples fair trade coffee.
The coffee market is volatile, and when the price goes up, the farmers are often the last to get paid more for their crop.

Reflecting on our conversation while enjoying the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I wondered what would happen to the farmers if people quit drinking their lattes?

Fair trade coffee raises prices, which encourages people to stay in coffee production. But is this the best use of their labor?

Coffee prices rise and fall by large amounts, alternatively enriching and impoverishing these farmers. Would they be better off with fewer farms and farmers, but with more labor to produce other goods that generate value?

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Mrs. S writes... 

...about the question of where students vote:

...because levies are based on property value assessments, students � especially those living on campus � should not vote on property tax issues. It�s too easy to vote for something when one doesn�t pay for it.
She's not calling for students to not vote, but to vote where their permanent residences are, most often with their parents.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Mrs. Scholar's December column 

Barbara started off writing about a forum on guns on campus, but the focus seems to be her intro noting the relevance to what has happened in India. She concludes:
Gun control is part of �security theater,� in which we believe these measures make us safer without any compelling evidence (and with, quite possibly, good evidence to the contrary.) The contrary evidence is debated and vilified, but the surrender of Second Amendment rights is upheld as progressive and modern, while Mumbai mourns.
Consider the following picture and quote:

But what angered Mr D'Souza almost as much were the masses of armed police hiding in the area who simply refused to shoot back. "There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."

As the gunmen fired at policemen taking cover across the street, Mr D'Souza realised a train was pulling into the station unaware of the horror within. "I couldn't believe it. We rushed to the platform and told everyone to head towards the back of the station. Those who were older and couldn't run, we told them to stay put."

The militants returned inside the station and headed towards a rear exit towards Chowpatty Beach. Mr D'Souza added: "I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera."

But of course Mr. D'Souza could not have a gun under India's inherited laws. And a camera would be all a student would have on a college campus.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Mrs. Scholar's September column 

This time about housing.

As history shows, manias for certain assets at some point become collectively irrational, as people buy on the expectation that the item will keep going up in value.

Housing bubbles operate on this assumption, and although both political parties believe home ownership an unalloyed good, encouraging folks to assume a large amount of debt makes them vulnerable to vicissitudes of the market. For example, if a couple buys a home for $200,000 and puts 5 percent or $10,000 down, and the home value decreases to $170,000, it is easier to give the keys back to bank ...
I barely had time to read this before she sent it in, and yet she gets the basics pretty well.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Heaven is 9% off 

The morning paper here in Honolulu (whose website looks remarkably like the St. Cloud Times!) announces the grim news:

The median price of a single-family home on O'ahu tumbled 8.8 percent in June to $625,000 as dwindling demand convinced many sellers to take less than they probably could have gotten a year ago.

The drop, the largest this year, was due in part to the median price having set a record high of $685,000 in June 2007.

I have looked at the property values here and that median price covers a wide array of homes and there's quite a number here as monthly home sales fell 31% from last June. Condos go for half the price of homes.

I spent time talking to a waiter at the hotel I'm at (which is really great) and pointed to the headline. He said, so, do you want to buy? I told him of yesterday's post and Mrs S, and he just smiled, "she doesn't know what she's missing." Perhaps she's missing a coming bargain. Those of us my age see retirement in a decade coming and wonder where it will happen. A 9% discount is an opportunity for some who've put themselves in a position to take advantage.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Heaven is humid 

I am quite sure a fight will break out when I get back to St. Cloud. I have never been to a more lovely place than Hawaii (though Lake Como and Bali are in the discussion and I have not seen the French Riviera yet). Moving here is now a priority, a thought Mrs. S has squelched in the past. I will now fight harder. My only complaint was the humidity this morning as I walked from my lovely 1901-built hotel (you knew I'd like it, it has a tree with my name in the back around which I get breakfast on a veranda) to the convention hotel a block away. I did not realize how humid until I walked in and the air conditioning chilled me as much as the walk to my car in St. Cloud in January.

Two words: Kona coffee. This stuff will be coming back in the bags. I'm still debating the shirts.

Attendance appears to be good but not great. The first session I saw was on the Fed's handling of recent financial crises; even with several Fed economists in the room, nobody seemed to give it a good grade. This instrument seemed to come into the greatest criticism.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Mrs. S writes about SCCC 

This month's column is on the protest of the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. Her view:
The counter argument: If students are allowed to carry concealed weapons, their lack of emotional maturity might lead them to draw the weapons when provoked by something trivial. But this argument rests in the mistaken belief that guns are completely stopped by a law or a sign. There are no metal detectors. Students and staff are on their honor to obey the ordinances. Someone who wants to cause mayhem with a weapon is not going to be deterred by a sign.
Thanks, by the way, to the many generous offers to take me to a shooting range. We're working out details for a safety class and practice shooting soon.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Mrs. Scholar writes 

... whether the solution to the Desoto bridge could be the private sector. I will note that "privatization" means selling off a public asset more than it means a private agent building an asset and leasing or charging it to the public sector or for the public's benefit. Thus I don't think I would have used that title for the article, but you may think I'm splitting hairs. I'd prefer to say we are allowing competitive solutions to road transportation, just as we have for rail and air transportation. (Amtrak and state airlines are the rail and air analogs to a public road system.)

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Mrs. S writes 

...about per diems. I support her idea to pay more salary and reduce per diems, even if it costs more money.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Mrs. Scholar's January column 

I would have posted this Friday but the meetings took too much time. Anyway, here she is on whether we know that older textbooks or sharing textbooks in our local schools is harming student performance. It dawned on my this AM that we have many students in college who make the decision to share textbooks, or rent them, or buy older editions. Do those students do worse on exams than those who buy the 'right' copy and own it themselves? I'm not as sure.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Just get 'em to 50 

I was reading Bryan Caplan distinguishing his views on parenting from Steve Levitt's, and not finding myself really lining up on one side of the other. I'm not entirely sure it's necessary that my kids like me when they grow up, but I care about how they turn out, and I wouldn't mind it if they were willing to provide some support in my final days on the planet (if I turn out to die in a way that one could foretell by a few weeks or more.)

I have two children. Most readers know about Littlest, but Oldest (from my first marriage) is not often mentioned because he is older by a decade and does not live at home. We do not talk every day like some parents do with their twenty-somethings. He walks to work from his apartment here in town, and I see him some days and we wave. We both like to text. But get together? Maybe once a month. He's pretty independent and I want to respect that. A measure of my success or failure as a parent is not in my view how many times a month I see him.

In the comments to Caplan's post someone mentioned an article from last year by Orson Scott Card that says two very important things: "good is good enough", and take the long view:
What is the measure of happiness? I suppose everyone has their own idea, but species-wide, the prevailing notion might run something like this:

When your kids reach the age of 50:

1. They're married to somebody they like and trust.

2. They're supporting themselves.

3. Their own kids are growing up decently.

4. Everybody in the family is speaking to each other.

5. They're all good people -- contributing to society and living by the rules.

That's an achievable standard, isn't it? It doesn't look so hard.

Of course, your kids can make horrible choices that put the kibosh on some of these things. But if you teach them what's expected of a good person, and show it in your own life, you can't force them not to make bad choices. That happens, and it's sad, and all you can do then is help them work through the consequences of those choices and try to salvage happiness at the end of the road.

In fact, raising kids who are hardworking, self-supporting, reliable, kindly people who get along with each other is hard enough that I think any parents who achieve it have a right to be perfectly content with the job they did.

Why, then, do so many parents set impossible standards for themselves and their children, guaranteeing that they -- and their children -- will fail, and making everybody miserable in the process?
There are times where Mrs. S worries Littlest will be harmed in some way, that we cannot assure her safety. We worry about the choices our kids make, and perhaps that's wise if it turns out they are lousy risk-assessors. We would like to be sure they can MAKE IT TO 50! That seems worth worrying about, though understanding there are some risks you can't reduce to zero. But what your kids do for a living, whether they are the best they can be, may not be as important as just getting them to be self-sustaining people in families that care for each other when they hit the age you are. When someone says to me about my child "She's a good kid" or "He's a very nice young man" I sometimes hear a 'but' as in "but he could be ..." To which I would like to say, "yeah, so could we all. Your point is...?"

So this the first Christmas season in which I am over 50, and I'd like to congratulate my parents on going five-for-five with me (assuming I'm capable of judging #3 and #5). If I'm lucky, I'll live long enough to see if I did as well.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Mrs. Scholar's December column 

Is on electoral fraud, and included an interview with Rep. Keith Ellison. I could not resist one comment. Gary obviously was posting the same piece at the same time -- pretty funny!

One comment from former St. Cloud mayor (and Scholars lover) John Ellenbecker:
Thousands of non-citizens in Minnesota have Minnesota Drivers Licenses - do they get to vote if they show up at the polls and show their DL?
If it has their current address, and if they do not truthfully reveal their citizenship, either someone has to challenge them or the electoral judge has to somehow determine citizenship. If they do so after the vote is taken, there is no provisional balloting provision that allows the electoral judges to remove that vote. Now most temporary legal immigrants have a mark of "Status Check" on their licenses, which may trigger someone to question whether someone can vote, but that can be an ugly scene. Suppressing voter challenges is as much a part of the electoral process as challenging voter eligibility.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Mrs. Scholar's November column 

This month it's about surveillance, the Patriot Act, and privacy. It turned out she never had read 1984 until getting ready for this column. We don't agree on the Patriot Act, I think, but her use of the Stasi example at the end is from a conversation we had. I am moved by it to finally watch The Lives of Others, and so it goes top of the Netflix queue. Hope she'll watch it with me!


Friday, September 07, 2007

Mrs. Scholar's latest column 

Today on Chinese toys and free trade. Yes, she talked this one through with me, and it's nice to be able to agree with one's spouse on economics. (We're still yapping about the train piece.) I was floored by the things she showed me about Amy Klobuchar's push to regulate every damn toy that comes from China.

Menzie Chinn argues this week that the Bush administration's "dismantling" of the regulatory agencies has left us susceptible to more protectionist impulses. That's not a bad point, but regulation is not likely, in my view to make our toys any safer. Chinn's argument implies that the American public cannot understand how the market has incentives to protect them that are stonger than the government's incentives; I say the public is smarter than that. And it's nice that Mrs. S agrees.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Speaking of cost-benefit... 

Mrs. S has penned her latest, arguing that the cost-benefit analysis for Northstar may have changed enough with shifting demographics to justify its build-out to St. Cloud. I do not necessarily agree with her about this, but the push for another CBA has been made around here recently and will likely come to pass shortly.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Mrs. Scholar's latest column 

On the newly passed smoking ban is up. As one would have predicted, the supporters of the ban are in high dudgeon. My short answer: Treat the ban as a regulatory taking, pay off the bars for the loss of their property rights. If that's too expensive for you, then there's proof that the ban is inefficient.

UPDATE: A discussion broke out over whether one could sue for a regulatory taking. I don't pretend to understand the law that well, but from what I see there hasn't been a case put that looks quite like the Minnesota law yet. There was an Ohio case heard in 2005, D.A.B.E. v City of Toledo, but the 6th Circuit held only that the level of restriction was not enough to meet the requirements of a regulatory taking. Ohio allows a separate room for smokers to bring in their own food and drink (no employees allowed), and while that adds costs to businesses it wasn't in that court's view preventing "beneficial use" of the bar owner's property. The Minnesota law doesn't allow that possibility and thus might be considered closer to meeting the facial test for a regulatory taking. I have not seen a case in California, which has a law closer to the Minnesota law. I wonder if climate matters, so that a complete ban in Minnesota is more a taking than, say, one in Florida.

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