Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Emptying the Bottle: October '08 Links List

1) Go here if you're tired of talking to a machine.

2) In Chess Boxing you need brain and brawn.

3) Why the financial crisis is like the game Monopoly or an Antarctic expedition.

4) A college scholarship for blogging!

5) Commit yourself to voting, or anything for that matter.

6) You know the economy is in trouble when this blog is created.

7) Thanks for the shout out James.

8) Countries in order of freest or states in order of freest.

9) Cheaters Dating Service, is there a worse place to meet people online?

10) Ken Jennings, who more money than anyone in TV history on Jeopardy, has a blog.

*As always, you can see what I find interesting on a daily basis*

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hard Questions About Abortion

Inspired by a great post by Steve, I'm reminded that this issue is still relevant. But I also remember how controversial and sensitive it can be. Instead of giving you my two cents, I'd just like to pose a couple of tough questions:

1) If it is made illegal, will we really make these women criminals? If so, what will be their punishment?

2) Should the punishment fall only on the doctors, when the women are clearly instrumental?

3) Is it in the Republicans interest to legalize abortion? To put it more bluntly, would they benefit more from keeping it controversial or by succeeding in banning it?

4) Would the Democrats be better or worse if they turned this debate into a states' rights issue? Give the power to the states (I believe it would probably fall about 30 allow and 20 ban) and lure many pro-lifers to the party.

5) At its core this is an issue about rights. A woman's right vs. a child's right. All would agree that a woman's right to have a child or not does not extend indefinitely. So at what point after conception does the right of the child supersede the right of the woman? Conception? 1 month after? 6 months after? Birth? 6 hours after birth?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is Piracy Stealing?

This is a question I have wrestled with for a long time. Citizen Economists, a recent add to my blogroll, has a great post in defense of it:

First of all, the word “taken,” as it was originally used, was meant to imply that what you take is no longer there with the owner. In fact, the root of the word piracy itself betrays what it is supposed to mean. Pirates stormed ships forcibly, looted the occupants (not to mention murdered and God knows what else), and took away things that left the original owners without them.

This clearly doesn’t apply to piracy of music CD’s and software. If I download a song from a server, then the original copy is intact and nothing has been lost. To put a different spin on it, if I light a candle, and you (without my consent) light another candle from my flame and run away, can I charge you with having stolen my light? Is that piracy? I don’t think so.

not sure if I agree with this:

The overwhelming majority of people who illegally download software would never have bought it if they were unable to get if for free. So this argument falls flat.

and finally my favorite point:

It is never easy to download something illegally. You have to find a source, try and crack it, are in constant fear that updates will change something and render the software useless, etc. This is the reason why people pay money for software. They do it to avoid hassles. The very fact that people choose to buy software instead of trying to get it for free demonstrates this. The end result is this: People who would never have bought the software anyway are the ones who usually try and download music and software illegally. The others buy it to avoid the hassles of using non-genuine software.

The fact that people are still buying music and paying for software illustrates this principle. They pay for software even though they can get it for free. As long as companies make it as difficult as possible for their software to be copied illegally (it doesn’t have to be impossible), they will not lose sales since those to whom the software is worth the price will purchase it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

This Day in History

1861: The first transcontinental telegraph message was sent from California to President Abraham Lincoln.

1901: Daredevil Anna Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. She was 63 years old.

1929: In the U.S., investors dumped more than 13 million shares on the stock market. The day is known as "Black Thursday."

1945: The United Nations' charter officially took effect.

1992: The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 and became the first team outside the United States to win a World Series.

2008: James Harrison Brookie gets a full time job teaching history at Bunn High School.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics by John Stossel

Sometimes there is nothing more to add other than a strong encouragement to take some time this week and watch this special. Here is Part 1 about politicians and their promises:

Part 2: The Financial Crisis
Part 3: Rebuilding New Orleans
Part 4: Campaign Finance
Part 5: Farm Subsidies
Part 6: Conclusion

Monday, October 20, 2008

What is your most controversial belief?

Mine is that I don't support many seemingly innocent charitable causes. I'll give you three examples: cancer research, post-hurricane rebuilding, and faith based initiatives.

By asking for donations for cancer research, we are claiming that the price system is not sufficient. There are surely huge financial incentives to cure cancer (which I am told is a broad word for several different kinds of diseases). Even curing one kind of cancer would be extremely profitable. The market should be able to predict exactly how profitable, and put that much money into research every year. But remember, profit isn't the extra money greedy CEO's use to torture kittens. But they are an exact value that consumers place on a product. If you put more money into research than would come out in value, then you have done a disservice. That money could have been better spend elsewhere. Is there a valid reason to think that the market is undervaluing a cancer cure?

Another example is the large amount of resources being donated to help rebuild areas like New Orleans after huge hurricanes like Katrina. When money is given to these area, we are only subsidizing people to live dangerously below sea level. Why not do the same for houses near volcanoes or earthquakes (wait, we do that second one). That money would be better spent subsidizing their move to other, safer, parts of the country.

Barack Obama has stated that he favors these faith based initiatives. Here are his statements: "but they can also participate in federal programs as long as those are done in a way that is not encroaching on a separation of church and state, is open to the public and is not involved in proselytizing." I don't trust the government to produce many things, especially my religion. I strongly support the separation of church of state, for the benefit of the state and the church. A Christian charity that does not also preach the gospel of grace is hardly a Christian charity at all.

Now that I've confessed, what is your most controversial belief?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Clemson Econ Blog Talks Clemson Football

What better place to get an economist's opinion on Coach Bowden's buyout than from the head of Clemson's Economics department. On his blog The Sports Economist Skip Sauer makes an interesting point:
The fundamental point is that buyouts are not the key economic issue. The key issue is that coaches salaries, particularly in Tommy Bowden's case, are proxies for player talent. Bowden was paid $1.8 million per year in part because of his ability to stock the Tiger dressing room with loads of (largely uncompensated) talent.

The $3.5 million buyout is being paid out of a "rainy day" fund that has been built up specifically for this, or some similar purpose. The contract states that it will be paid out over six years, or about $600,000 per year. This is the right context: buyouts are a form of insurance in a high stakes game; tragedy triggers the "lump sum" buyout, but it is effectively an annual cost, part of the cost of doing business in major college football. Moreover, $600,000 is not a ton of money in today's college football world. And in the context of Bowden's salary and ten year's of coaching at Clemson, it's a decent reward for a pretty good job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Missionary Dating (Not what you think)

In honor of Blog Action Day 2008 I'd like to give you some thoughts on this years topic, poverty. There is undoubtedly an increasing gap between rich and poor in America. According to The Economist, "the gap in America is bigger than in any other advanced country." That's not to say the poor are poorer, but the rich are getting richer faster. The Economist goes on to say that "thanks to a jump in productivity growth after 1995, America's economy has outpaced other rich countries' for a decade. Its workers now produce over 30% more each hour they work than ten years ago." But inequality is still a major political issue. So what is something that average Americans can do to help the situation? I propose Missionary Dating (no, not that kind of missionary dating).

One of the main causes of income inequality in America, is a direct result of "assortative mating." This New York Times article explains that Americans are increasingly pairing off by education and income level. They report that "the odds of a high-school graduate marrying someone with a college degree declined by 43 percent between 1940 and the late 1970s." The cause of this is increased college attendance and mobility. It is simply easier to find someone like you. In fact, Arnold Kling seems to think the main purpose of higher education is not training or signaling, but is a place to meet a qualified spouse. Greg Mankiw humorously claims "that Harvard is the world's most elite dating agency."

A 2003 study by a Brookings Institution economist showed that "a rising correlation of husband-and-wife earnings accounted for 13 percent of the considerable growth in economic inequality between 1979 and 1996." He is less confident that assortative marriage is on the rise. He thinks that men have always married similar women, it's just that these women now have the opportunity to get high paying jobs like their husbands. Nonetheless, the rich marrying the rich is on the rise.

This is one solution to solving economic inequality, that is if you think it's a problem. Let's not forget about the Tradeoff of Socialism and Capitalism. Maybe we should all marry someone poorer or less educated. But our effect doesn't have to be through a marriage contract. Traci and I have seen the many perks that come with having a middle class community (almost everything we own was given to us: furniture, cars, dishes, kitchen table, computer, bed, etc). One way we can close the divide is to engage ourselves and our families geographically and relationally in the lives of those less fortunate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Best of the First 100

This being my 100th post, I'll celebrate by listing my favorite posts so far:
If you feel like I'm missing any of your favorites, put a link in the comments.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Trial of Charles Lynch

Thanks to Reason Magazine's (are you still not subscribed?) I learned about and was shocked at the outcome of the trial of Charlie Lynch. Shocked not only at the guilty decision, but at the lack of coverage in the main stream media. Thankfully, the internet enables such events to be heard.

Mr. Lynch ran a perfectly legal (by California state law) medical marijuana dispenser, but was recently convicted of five counts of violating federal drug laws and could spend the rest of his life behind bars. He was charged with "distributing marijuana, conspiring to distribute marijuana and providing marijuana to people under the age of 21" and "faces a minimum of five years in prison." Read the rest of the details from Reason Magazine.

Because of the 2005 decision in Gonzales vs. Raich, the federal government can use the "commerce clause" in the Constitution to regulate all commerce of the states. This allowed the prosecution to have jurors "dismissed for cause. They were basically dismissed because they believed or at least understood California State Laws regarding Medical Marijuana." Essentially they wanted jurors who didn't know about or understand the legality of Lynch's store under California law.

Dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas explains the folly of this decision; "if Congress can regulate (medical marijuana) under the commerce clause, then it can regulate virtually anything - and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers." The Tenth Amendment is clear: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Here is a video explaining the medical marijuana issue and Charlie's court case in more detail.

Lynch's sentencing is on November 24th.

Here is a website dedicated to supporting and assisting Charlie and his family:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mock Turtle Soup Alumni Wisdom

Now that my time at Clemson Univerisity is over, so goes my involvement with Mock Turtle Soup, Clemson University's comedy improv group. Thankfully, those who have come before me have created an alumni page. Below are some improv advice from previous members:

"You have to lose your Cool Card before you can have fun!" - Jenna Lappi

"My best advice is to let the funny happen in a scene and don’t try and force the scene to be funny. The scene will take care of itself. If you have to play an excited character then make them do cocaine or meth…it gets the crowd every time!" - Zach Burroughs

"Always try and use your 3rd idea from a suggestion." - Jason Underwood

"Learn to trust - trust the suggestion, trust your teammates, trust the audience, trust the scene, and most importantly, trust yourself. Sometimes, that can be all you have. But really, that is all you ever need." - Alumni site creator Cheryl Swit

"Funny is funny, don’t force jokes." - James Robilotta

"Respect and love each other (better than I did). Work to overcome fear (more than I did). Remember that improv is art, not necessarily fine art, but art nonetheless. In light of that, strive for excellence and quality. The end goal of improv is to entertain - it is not for us, it is for the audience, and what serves them best. At the end of the day, remember that this is just an improv student organization. Perspective is crucial - there's a lot of things that are more important than MTS. People are one of them. I guess that's about it." - Justin Scott

Don’t be satisfied with simply “college improv”. - Harrison Brookie

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Top 5 Surprising Statements

1) More people die from gun suicides than homicides.

2) Teens are waiting longer to have sex than in the past.

3) China now has the most internet users in the world.

4) OPEC has almost no effect on world oil prices.

5) The poor and minorities are not overrepresented in the military.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Paper: Reforming Campaign Finance Reform

With one of the presidential candidate's names on the most recent attempt to reform campaign finance and the other raising more money than any other candidate in history, this issue is more important than ever. Here is a research paper I wrote in April of this year about the topic. It's kind of lengthy, so I put the intro and conclusion below. The whole paper is attached.

American democracy was formed on the idea that politicians are supported or opposed by the people and the people show their requests by voting. The power that money has over the political process is seen as a historical and international problem. In this paper I will discuss what the American government has done in an attempt to hamper the influence of money over politics. I will then discuss the affects that the current campaign finance reform has over the process today. I will then briefly discuss the importance of money actually plays in politicians voting decisions and whether public financing will solve that problem. After that I will present the subject as it is framed in many debates, as expression vs. equality. Then I will briefly discuss why elected officials, from a self-interested model, would support and sometimes push these laws. Finally I will present my recommendations on what, if anything can and should be done to ensure American democracy is functional.

Since the 19th century the federal government has been trying to regulate and control the flow of money in and out of politics. Major legislation in 1925, 1971, and most recently in 2002 have all made small steps to completing that goal. However, no legislation has been able to solve the problem. Disclosure have been very beneficial in realizing just how much money is going through the process, but limiting special interest money from influencing candidates has yet to be seen.

Finally, the worry over the influence that donations have over elected officials could be looked at as just another form of political participation. Campaign donations, protesting, writing letters to representatives, and even voting are all different types of political involvement. Politicians trade votes, just like they trade money, for policy decisions and these policy decisions usually come at the expense of others. Is it possible that campaign donations should be applauded, as voting is, as just another form a political participation?

Here's the full paper.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"The Bright Light of Accountabilty"

When a bill has to be passed "to avoid economic catastrophe", there is clearly nothing you can't add to it. Democrat majority whip James Clyburn said: "We came together in a very strong, bipartisan way to deliver this decisive victory for the American people." Whether the bailout is a victory or not is still in question, but the $100 billion in pork added surely isn't. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejoiced that the "The bright light of accountability will protect the taxpayer." Accountability? From these people?

Taxpayers for Common Sense list the Top 10 Sweeteners in the Bill:
1. Sec. 503. Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children
2. Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility
3. Sec. 308. Increase in limit on cover over of rum excise tax to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
4. Sec. 301. Extension and modification of research credit
5. Sec. 504. Income averaging for amounts received in connection with the Exxon Valdez litigation
6. Sec. 601. Secure rural schools and community self-determination program.
7. Sec. 201. Deduction for state and local sales taxes
8. Sec 502. Provisions related to film and television productions
9. Sec. 325. Extension and modification of duty suspension on wool products; wool research fund; wool duty refunds
10. Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa
We must ask less of our government. Not that they perform more poorly, but that they just perform less often.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Reader Request: Government Regulation

Here is a question from my brother and Bottlenecked reader, Brad Jones:

What are the benefits of government regulating the market? Or why is everyone so pro-regulation? Any good reasons?

I believe regulation does and will always hamper economic growth. The free market allocates resources to their highest valued use and any government intervention with distort that process. That said, I believe there is a place for it. The only time that I support government regulation is when public money tied to that industry. For example, the FDIC's main roll is to be the lender of last resort to depositors. This means that no matter what happens to my bank my money is guaranteed, up to $100,000, by the federal government (although the new bailout plan could increase this). The purpose of this is to stop runs on the bank in times of panic (like in the Great Depression). Government regulation of the banking system makes sense because these banks have access to the public purse. If they fail, the taxpayers are partially responsible. As I've said before on the bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, you cannot privatize the profits and socialize the risk. Daniel Mitchell of the Cato Institute says it like this: "Capitalism without loses is like religion without hell."

Let me state the obvious for a second. Despite all the problems the credit industry is having right now, we are much better off for having complex lending system we have today. Our system allows you to save for emergencies, for your next house, or for your small business. It then takes that those savings and turns them into loans for other people's emergencies, for their next house, or for their small business.

However, just because there is government funds in an industry doesn't mean regulation is the solution. It shouldn't come as a surprise that government officials usually think the answer is more government. The first option should always be to remove the government funds. This is the question I always ask when government intervention is proposed: Why would the market not take care of this problem alone? It may not always have a "fair" result, but it almost always has the best possible result. As my wife said last night responding to calls for fairness from the VP candidates: "this isn't Mario Kart, you can't get all red shells when you're behind."

As always, I enjoy answering reader requests, so feel free to contact me with your own.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Bailout Still Looms

Tired of reading about the bailout? Then you can just sit back and watch. Take 5 minutes and consider that your representatives in government are still considering socializing the financial markets.

Update: This Wall Street bailout may be a complicated issue:

Yet predictions of a sea change towards more invasive government are premature. The Depression witnessed a pervasive expansion of the federal government into numerous walks of life, from trucking and railways to farming, out of a broadly shared belief that capitalism had failed utterly. If Mr Paulson and Mr Bernanke have prevented a Depression-like collapse in economic output with their actions these past two weeks, then they may also have prevented a Depression-like backlash against the free market.

The Senate's approval of a 25 billion dollar loan guarantee for the US auto industry sure isn't. It seems the best time to ask for a little government money is when someone else is about to get a lot of government money.