Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Minimum Wage: Economists' Views

Greg Mankiw posts about Robert Whaples' survey of PhD members of the American Economic Association. On the minimum wage, it turns out that "37.7 percent want it increased, while 46.8 percent want it eliminated." It's interesting to compare this finding to the one that 87.5 percent agree that "the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade." Both trade barriers and the minimum wage have similar effects: More money to a select few, with most of the country paying a little bit more and efficiency diminished. Yet somehow a large number of economists are in favor of increasing the minimum wage, whereas only a handful would keep trade barriers.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pujols Needs to Tone it Down

Albert Pujols is one of my favorites. He's the best hitter in the game today, and could be one of the all-time greats. But this is not how players should be talking:

Albert Pujols thinks he was snubbed.

The St. Louis Cardinals' slugger is upset he lost out to Philadelphia's Ryan Howard for the National League MVP award, saying Wednesday the honor should go to someone on a playoff team.

"I see it this way: Someone who doesn't take his team to the playoffs doesn't deserve to win the MVP," Pujols said in Spanish at a news conference organized by the Dominican Republic's sports ministry.


Pujols, the 2005 NL MVP, said he has bigger dreams -- a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The BBWAA also votes for the Hall of Fame.

"It is still early but it is a dream I have," Pujols said. "My hope is that in good time I will have sufficient numbers to get to Cooperstown."

First, there's no need to whine about losing to Ryan Howard. Pujols makes a valid point (although I disagree with him on it), but while it's fine to say that kind of thing to your friends in private, he should keep it out of the media. Phillies fans are going to let him hear it when he plays in Philly next year.

Second, don't talk about how your goal is to be in the Hall of Fame. We know it is, but you don't say that to everybody. It's a bit unseemly. Just say you're going to play your best and see what happens.

UPDATE: Pujols seems to have apologized:

"I feel so bad because I love Ryan Howard," Pujols told USA TODAY. "I never said he didn't deserve the MVP. He is deserving of that award. He earned it. That's why he got it. I'm not trying to defend myself; I just want to tell him that I'm sorry for all of this because he earned the MVP. The last thing I want to do is spoil this for him."
I'm not quite sure how this reconciles with his earlier statements, but it's good to hear.

Mankiw Picks Romney

OK, the title of the post is a bid mis-leading, but Greg Mankiw has agreed to join Mitt Romney's PAC. For me, that's a big plus for Romney as I sort out who I want to vote for. If a free market guy like Mankiw is comfortable with Romney, then so am I. At least on economic policy. There are still the social issues to deal with, and I'll be curious to see what Romney has to say there.

Conservatives in Academia

Some students and professors at U. of Minn. Law School are protesting a decision to have one of the authors of the torture memo teach a class there. (The guy is currently an associate professor at a nearby shcool.) I can understand disagreeing (strongly) with the policy, but I don't think it reaches a level where the person should not be allowed to teach at your school. If he were out there promoting Nazism, I could understand, but this doesn't compare.

Federal Sex Guidelines for Adults

The federal government is now pushing for abstinence among adults:

The federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.


But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.


The revised guidelines specify that states seeking grants are "to identify groups ... most likely to bear children out-of-wedlock, targeting adolescents and/or adults within the 12- through 29-year-old age range." Previous guidelines didn't mention targeting of an age group.

"We wanted to remind states they could use these funds not only to target adolescents," Horn said. "It's a reminder."

We've got schools teaching kids how to have sex, and the federal government telling them not to. Something's gotta give here.

San Diego Bans Wal-Mart

San Diego's City Council has just acted to ban big box stores like Wal-Mart. According to the article:
Councilman Tony Young, who joined the 5-3 majority [banning Wal-Mart], countered, "I have a vision for San Diego and that vision is about walkable, livable communities, not big, mega-structures that inhibit people's lives."

I think that's fine for him to have a vision and promote it. Ultimately, it's up to the voters to choose a vision for their community. This kind of decision suggests to me that the supporters of Wal-Mart and similar stores need to do a better job making their arguments, the main ones being low prices and consumer choice.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Free Speech on Campus

Eugene Volokh reports:

Canadian University Womyn's Centre Trying To Exclude Pro-Life Groups from funding and space generally available to other student groups. The university student association vice-president for student services agrees; so does a student association vice-president at another Canadian school.

Anti-abortion speech, the theory goes, is "gender-discriminatory," and debate about abortion upsets some women because it "happen[s] in a space that they thought they were safe and protected, and that respected their rights and freedoms."

This is the kind of occurence that provides a useful reminder of how some campuses really do try to stifle free speech. It is easy to forget as college becomes a more distant memory, but this is a great real life example. Sure, there are some kinds of speech that should be prohibited -- hateful, personal insults, for instance. But choking off the abortion debate by excluding pro-life speech? Come on.

Abortion in International Law

At Opinio Juris, Peter Spiro writes:

Meanwhile, 74 House lawmakers have sent a letter to Amnesty International USA urging it to oppose a proposed AI policy deeming abortion to be a human right in limited circumstances. (That's an interesting turn of the table: legislators lobbying NGOs, rather than the other way around.) See the respectful acknowledgment by AIUSA here. The matter will be taken up at an AI summit this summer in Mexico City. Of course there are now also international NGOs (leaving the Vatican aside) pressing a pro-life agenda as well.

One could imagine that over the next twenty years or so there will emerge an international norm protecting a right to abortion in some cases, which is not of course to say that it will be an easy agenda to advance.

I suppose that last bit is possible if he is referring to a right to an abortion in the case of the mother's health. On the other hand, one could also imagine that over the next twenty years or so there will emerge an international norm protecting a right to life in certain cases. (Also, one could imagine that the concept of "international norm" would become important and relevant.)

Mass v. EPA Global Warming Case

Jonathan Adler points to a NY Times editorial that argues the Bush administration is in the wrong in the Mass. v. EPA case:

A group of 12 states, including New York and Massachusetts, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly do its job. These states, backed by environmental groups and scientists, say that the Clean Air Act requires the E.P.A. to impose limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by new cars. These gases are a major contributor to the “greenhouse effect” that is dangerously heating up the planet.

The Bush administration insists that the E.P.A. does not have the power to limit these gases. It argues that they are not “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Alternatively, it contends that the court should dismiss the case because the states do not have “standing,” since they cannot show that they will be specifically harmed by the agency’s failure to regulate greenhouse gases.

A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A. “shall” set standards for “any air pollutant” that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The word “welfare,” the law says, includes “climate” and “weather.” The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it “shall” do.

Their "plain reading" argument is hard to take seriously. Do they really believe that? Remember, the act refers to "clean air" not "warm air." And is "air pollution" really at issue in the global warming debate? I understand they are desperate for some action to be taken, but it seems to have affected their reading ability. Whatever your view on the appropriate result, the interpretive issues are certainly not "plain."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Quebec Breaks Free (A Little Bit)

Reuters reports:

Canada's Parliament recognized Quebecers as a nation within a united Canada on Monday, backing a controversial proposal that has already prompted one minister in the minority Conservative government to quit.
I've never understood people's concern about the possibility that a part of your country will break away. Why do people care so much? Is it just a fear of change from the status quo? A loss of certain resources? A diminishing of national power? I can't say that it would bother me much if a U.S. state decided to go it alone.

I Love Chain Stores!

Virginia Postrel writes in praise of chain stores in the Atlantic:

The contempt for chains represents a brand-obsessed view of place, as if store names were all that mattered to a city’s character. For many critics, the name on the store really is all that matters. The planning consultant Robert Gibbs works with cities that want to revive their downtowns, and he also helps developers find space for retailers. To his frustration, he finds that many cities actually turn away national chains, preferring a moribund downtown that seems authentically local. But, he says, the same local activists who oppose chains “want specialty retail that sells exactly what the chains sell—the same price, the same fit, the same qualities, the same sizes, the same brands, even.” You can show people pictures of a Pottery Barn with nothing but the name changed, he says, and they’ll love the store. So downtown stores stay empty, or sell low-value tourist items like candles and kites, while the chains open on the edge of town. In the name of urbanism, officials and activists in cities like Ann Arbor and Fort Collins, Colorado, are driving business to the suburbs. "If people like shopping at the Banana Republic or the Gap, if that’s your market—or Payless Shoes—why not?” says an exasperated Gibbs. “Why not sell the goods and services people want?”

That all sounds sensible to me.

Movie Ticket Prices

From Greg Mankiw, I thought this piece in the Washington Post was interesting:

Why will movie theaters charge the same $9.50 to see "Casino Royale" this Saturday night that they charged to see the disappointing remake of "All the King's Men" on a Wednesday night in the middle of September?

Once upon a time, theaters charged more for their blockbuster "event" movies. Wouldn't they sell more tickets and popcorn, and make more profit, if they increased the price when demand is high, and lowered it when demand is low?

Some suggested answers:

Among the factors cited most often by theater owners are the cost and hassle involved in charging different prices for different movies on different days. There's the complexity at the box office and the need for some mechanism to make sure that patrons who buy cheap tickets for one theater at the multiplex don't wind up at expensive movies. On the other hand, it's hard to believe there isn't some simple technology that could solve most of these problems.

A more plausible explanation is that consumers might consider variable pricing as somehow unfair. But the experience in other industries suggests that such objections can be overcome, particularly if theater owners would phase in the new prices by introducing discounts for slack periods before raising prices for hit movies on busy weekends.

My hunch is that these pricing arrangements between the studios and the theater chains, which have always been shrouded in secrecy, are the answer to our puzzle. It is the studios that want to maintain uniform pricing because it is the theater owners who would get the most benefit from variable pricing. And according to Orbach and Linav, when a few chains have tried to experiment with variable pricing, they often found that they lost access to the best movies or faced demands from distributors for higher per-head charges that discouraged them from offering discounts.

Now that the idea is out there, maybe some risk-taking theater owner will give it a try?

The Perils of Government Regulation

According to the AP:

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Philip Morris USA, refusing to disturb a court ruling that threw out a $10.1 billion verdict over the company's "light" cigarettes.

The court issued its order without comment.

Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the massive fraud judgment against Philip Morris, a unit of the Altria Group Inc., in a class-action lawsuit involving "light" cigarettes. Because the Federal Trade Commission allowed companies to characterize their cigarettes as "light" and "low tar," Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law even if the terms it used could be found false or misleading, the state court said.

So basically, because they had the government's endorsement for the product, they are not liable for false or misleading advertising. Perhaps it would have been better if the government had stayed out of the matter entirely.

Baseball Hall of Fame

McGwire, Gwynn and Ripken are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. I think Ripken should be a nearly unanimous choice, Gwynn should get in with a bit of room to spare, but McGwire needs to wait a year as punishment.

What the Democrats Should Do

Thomas Edsall writes the follwing in the NY Times:

To stay in the fight, Democratic leaders will have to acknowledge political realities affirmed by the electorate in 1994 and 2006. Many Democratic constituencies — organized labor, minority advocacy organizations, reproductive-and sexual-rights proponents — are reliving battles of a decade or more ago, not the more subtle disputes of today.

I think this is a key point. As an example, some civil rights group seem to treat the affirmative action debate as if it were of the same importance as the desegregation debate. But it's not. Segregation was a pretty clear issue: it was evil and racist. By contrast, affirmative action is a very close call, something which I think people on both sides of the debate should acknowledge. In my view, the Democrats would do much better if they toned down their rhetoric on some of these issues (the Republicans, too, of course, but the article was about the Democrats, so that's what I focused on).

Well Funded Terrorists

"The Times reported that groups responsible for insurgent and terrorist attacks raise $70 million to $200 million a year."

That is some pretty depressing news.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Supreme Court Takes on Global Warming

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a case that addresses the questions of:

"Whether the EPA Administrator has authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other air pollutants associated with climate change under [the Clean Air Act]"


"whether the EPA Administrator may decline to issue emission standards for motor vehicles based on policy considerations not enumerated in [the Clean Air Act]"

As I understand it, the basic issue is whether the 1970 Clean Air Act covers air pollution from carbon dioxide, which is thought to lead to global warming (and was clearly not in the minds of the legislators at the time because no one thought there was global warming back then). The Supreme Court has to determine whether carbon dioxide is covered by the terms of the statute.

To me, this seems like an awful way to make policy. The better way to determine whether Congress wants carbon dioxide covered is to have Congress legislate on the matter now. Don't ask the Supreme Court to apply legislation drafted in1970 to a 1990s issue. Sure, they can make up an answer, but it's going to be very unsatisfying reasoning whichever way it comes out.

A Minimum Wage Increase: Some Expert and Not-So-Expert Analysis

Becker and Posner offer their sophisticated criticisms of a proposed minimum wage increase. Here's my less sophisticated take on it.

If the minimum wage is increased by legislation, the costs faced by industries who employ minimum wage workers will increase (as may those of industries who employ other low wage workers whose wages increase through the "ripple effect"). These increased costs will have one or more of the following effects (it could be some combination thereof):

  1. The affected companies will increase prices to cover the increased costs
  2. The affected companies will accept lower profits
  3. The affected companies will reduce their costs by firing some workers or deciding not to hire some people they had previously planned to hire
Those who support the minimum wage increase may argue that #2 is the appropriate outcome. However, this possibility is somewhat deceptive. While it is possible that companies could choose to reduce their profits, the long term effect would be diminished investment in the industry due to lower profit rates. Thus, ultimately there would be job losses as a result.

If #1 occurred, it is likely that the increased prices would have a big impact on the poorest of the poor, as jobs that rely on minimum wage workers often disproportionately cater to them (e.g. fast food).

And finally there is #3. If #1 and #2 are not chosen, then the most likely result of the minimum wage increase will be job losses for those in low wage jobs.

So, anyway you slice it, a minimum wage increase will be bad for large numbers of poor people. Granted, those who keep their jobs at the higher wage will be better off (assuming prices don't rise too much). But it's a mistake to ignore the others who will be affected.

Oil Price Manipulation?

An AP study concludes that the oil companies are manipulating prices by limiting supplies:

_During the 1999-2006 price boom, the industry drilled an average of 7 percent fewer new ells monthly than in the seven preceding years of low, stable prices.
_The national supply of unrefined oil, including imports, grew an average of only 6 percent uring the high-priced years, down from 14 percent during the previous span.
_The gasoline supply expanded by only 10 percent from 1999 to 2006, down from 15 percent in he earlier period.

The findings support a conclusion already reached by many motorists. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe gas prices are high because oil companies manipulate them, a Pew Research Center poll found in October.

I would not be suprised if this were true. But proving that it's true, and taking action to remedy it, will probably be quite difficult.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

10 Months for Kiddie Porn

Stop the ACLU is outraged about a light sentence for someone convicted of child pornography:

Authorities say Andrew Douglas Reed, 53, who reported for an abbreviated jail term just a few weeks ago, had pleaded guilty to a page-long list of counts of 2nd-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

Court records in the Asheville, N.C., case said he admitted that he would “record, develop and duplicate material containing a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity.” That activity is defined by state law as including masturbation, intercourse and “touching – in apparent sexual stimulation or sexual abuse – of the genitals, pubic area or buttocks.”

However, instead of the 967 months in jail – nearly 81 years – for which he was liable, Judge Robert Lewis, another Democrat, gave him, in a plea bargain with the office of District Attorney Ron Moore, who was elected as a Democrat, a 10-12 month sentence.

And even that seemed regrettable, according to a number of letters of recommendation offered by other Democrat leaders of the community to the court on his behalf.

From what I've read at the links above, their outrage seems justified to me.

Torture: Who's Responsible?

According to a former U.S. General, Donald Rumsfeld signed off on various interrogation tactics personally:

Karpinski, who ran the prison until early 2004, said she saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods.

"The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same and writing in the margin was written: "Make sure this is accomplished,"" she told Saturday's El Pais.

"The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation ... playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably ... Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques."

The fact that he was aware of, and even encouraged, these tactics will probably come as a surprise to no one. What this means for legal claims against the U.S. and Rumsfeld himself is unclear, though.

More on Kramer's Racist Rant

The lawyer for the guys Michael Richards yelled racist taunts at says:

... Richards should meet McBride and Doss in front of a retired judge to acknowledge his behavior and to apologize to them" and allow the judge to decide on monetary compensation.

"It's not enough to say 'I'm sorry,'" she said.

She did not mention a specific figure, but pitched the idea as a way for the comic to avoid a lawsuit.

"Our clients were vulnerable," Allred said. "He went after them. He singled them out and he taunted them, and he did it in a closed room where they were captive."

A sincere apology is definitely in order. And Richards' career deserves to be ruined (or at least taken down quite a bit), which it very well may be. But money? I'm not so sure about that one.

Olympics Say No to Cricket

The IOC has said it will not be including cricket in the Olympics. Do any cricket fans care? I can't say I was particularly broken up about baseball being dropped.

Andrew Sullivan's Mormon Rants

Andrew Sullivan has a series of posts on Mormons (here, here, here and here) that seem to make several points:

  • Mormons wear funny underwear
  • Mormons made official statements that were racist more recently than most other religions made official statements that were racist
  • Mitt Romney is a Mormon and he better explain all this

My sense is that Sullivan does not know any Mormons, and thus feels comfortable treating them as an odd group of people who are not part of mainstream society. Which is kind of how some Mormons treat gay people, ironically.

UPDATE: In an article, Sullivan says: "Personally, I have no interest in someone’s private faith in his or her pursuit of public office. Romney, to my mind, should be judged on his public record." It's a fine line here: talking about Romney's Mormonism in terms of its relevance for the public debate versus talking about it as something you have a personal interest in. Sullivan does seem to be walking a fine line.

The BCS Mess: A Retro Solution

Today's a big day for the BCS. Will USC beat Notre Dame, and thus slip past Michigan? Does Florida have a shot at moving up with a couple big wins? Whatever happens, no doubt many people will be unhappy with the result, and we'll be reading about their unhappiness through the end of January.

The most common proposal offered to deal with the problems will be a playoff of some type. Everyone will agree that this is the only way and will heap criticism on the NCAA for blocking this obvious solution.

I agree that the BCS sucks, but I have a very different take. I'm going to go on record here with an alternative proposal: Let's go back to the old Bowl system. Here are my arguments for it:

  • Under the old system, January 1 was one of the best sports days of the year. There were five excellent college football games, and sometimes 3 or 4 of them would have implications for who would be national champion. Now, by contrast, there is only game that matters, and January 1 is fairly dull. And if the BCS championship game is a blowout, there are no good games at all.
  • The Bowls have character. It is something different from any other sport.
  • Do we have to take sports so seriously that we need to have a definitive champion?
  • The arguments over which team should be crowned national champion were actually quite fun.
It's rare that I argue things were better when I was growing up, but here's one instance where I think "progress" has not been kind to us, and more "progress" would be even worse.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ann Coulter and Generalizations

I've never known what to make of Ann Coulter. She's clearly very intelligent. But she also seems to be just having fun sometimes rather than making arguments she actually believes in. In her latest article, she says:

If only we could get Muslims to boycott all airlines, we could dispense with airport security altogether.


You want to really hurt a U.S. air carrier's business? Have Muslims announce that it's their favorite airline.

The first one implies that only Muslims are terrorists; the second that all Muslims are terrorists. Of course, she can't be serious, can she? After a while, it becomes very hard to tell.

Anyway, the point of this post was to complain about the absurdity of making these kinds of generalizations about particular groups. It should go without saying that it's important to focus on individuals rather than group stereotypes. But apparently it still needs to be said.

Wal-Mart and Gay Rights

Group drops plans to protest Wal-Mart:
A conservative group that had called on supporters to boycott Wal-Mart's post-Thanksgiving Day sales to protest the retailer's support of gay-rights groups withdrew its objections Tuesday.

The American Family Association, which had been asking supporters to stay away from Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday — two of the busiest shopping days of the year — said it was pleased that Wal-Mart had pledged in a statement to stay away from controversial causes.

Wal-Mart said it would make changes in the way it contributed to such groups, earmarking funds only for specific causes it supported, such as workplace equality, rather than giving unrestricted gifts.

Sometimes I feel bad for companies like Wal-Mart, Disney, etc, as they seem to be caught in the middle of the "culture wars." They must constantly worry whether they are being too friendly to gays or not friendly enough, etc, and how this will affect their image and sales. For me, unless a company is on the far fringes of an issue, I feel I should give it a bit of leeway in having its own views. For example, I'm pro-choice, but I never had a problem with Domino's just because its owner was active in anti-abortion causes.

Deep Sea Fishing Treaty

An effort to establish a UN treaty regulating deep sea fishing has been scuttled, and Greenpeace is hopping mad. The are particularly mad at Iceland: "The international community should be outraged that Iceland could almost single-handedly sink deep-sea protection and the food security of future generations," said Karen Sack of Greenpeace International." (Canada appears to be happy with the failure of the talks as well.)

I can see why some folks want the treaty, as they are concerned that the practice "can cause damage to extremely slow growing ecosystems, particularly coral reefs, and also depletes other marine life that is captured by the nets." But I wonder if the treaty approach is really the best way. You have a few countries, including Iceland, that have powerful fishing groups who want to maintain the practice. Is a treaty really going to be effective in these circumstances?

This situation reminds me somewhat of whaling, where there is a ban but nevertheless some countries are able to take advantage of exceptions to keep catching whales. Furthermore, these same countries continue to lobby to get rid of the ban, and

The Goal of Rangel's Draft Proposal

The goal of Congressman Rangel's proposal to reinstitute the draft appears to be to make politicians think harder before going to war because their own kids, and perhaps kids of other "elites", might have to serve:

Would reinstituting the military draft even things out, spreading the responsibility while influencing politicians to think twice before sending men and women into harm's way?

Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York thinks so.

But would that really be the result? It's hard to imagine it would have had much of an effect on the decision to invade Iraq. Would anyone in office have changed their view on that basis?

Regardless, of course, there's this counterargument, which I find pretty compelling:

A draft "contradicts the principles of a free society by coercing people to fight for freedom," says Ivan Eland, national security analyst at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. "Soldiers who want to be in the military do a better job than those who don't, and the military services know it."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Antitrust and Sports Leagues

I recently read a review of a book about Curt Flood's fight against baseball's old "reserve clause." (scroll down a bit for it). The Flood case dealt with a somewhat narrow issue, but it brings to mind an issue that has always bothered me: The consideration and treatment of team sports leagues under the antitrust laws.

It seems to me that many people have a misconception, under which they view individual teams as companies competing in the market. Thus, they seem to equate Red Sox-Yankees competition with Dell-HP competition. But to me this is not an appropriate comparison. The Red Sox-Yankees are to a great extent on the same team, that is, the Major League Baseball team. They both benefit when the league itself is doing well. Dell and HP, by contrast, are cutthroat competitors. The real competition for the Red Sox, Yankees and MLB is really the NFL, NBA, etc.

In essence, what you have with team sports leagues is an entity that is based on internal competition. The entity's success depends on the appeal of the internal competition model it creates.

As a result, it seems to me that the entity should be able to set up the internal competition structure however it wants to. It could have one owner who employs all the individual teams and players. Or it could have multiple owners, but with strict controls on movement of players between teams. Or it could have the teams act as individual competing entities, with no resrictions of any sort. But regardless of which model the league operates under, I'm not sure there should be any antitrust concerns (unless the league is trying to prevent other competing leagues from starting up (e.g. through predatory pricing).)

UPDATE: After writing this quickly off the top of my head, I thought it might be worth researching it a bit. I see there is a recent paper somewhat on point: I'm going to try to give it a read soon. Here's the abstract:

Professional sports leagues enjoy a unique justification in defending their seemingly anticompetitive practices under the antitrust laws: They allegedly need to maintain competitive balance. According to the argument, sports leagues need to do anticompetitive things to enhance their competitive standing vis-a-vis other sports leagues or other forms of entertainment. The argument is on the leading side of a circuit split, with only the D.C. Circuit rejecting it. Additionally, sports leagues have been adept at getting this argument into public discourse and legislative consideration. This Article argues that antitrust should reject the competitive balance argument on its face. The competitive balance argument makes the assumptions that there can only be one championship competition per sports league, that leagues can and will engineer balance in that unique competition, and that fan interest is directly related to that singular competition.

This Article draws on comparative data and recent economic research to conclude that each of these assumptions is wrong and that judicial endorsement of the competitive balance argument may simply be an aesthetic preference without empirical support. Instead, a solution lies in reconceiving the league competition envisioned by the competitive balance argument. In particular, a sports league can be subject to several different “competing competitions” among its constituent teams; it could thus maintain fan interest even in the absence of competitive balance. This view draws support from the experience of the decade-old English Premier League and also helps to illuminate Major League Baseball's litigation attempting to expand its intellectual property rights to limit fantasy baseball league operators.

UPDATE II: OK, I read (well, skimmed) the article and I'm glad I did. I kind of wish I had read it before doing the post, but what can you do? The authors' -- Temple Law professor Salil Mehra and Pepper Hamilton associate Joel Zuercher -- state that the main justification for not applying antitrust laws to sports league is the "competitive balance" argument. They explain:

the competitive balance argument can excuse restraints by reasoning that they are necessary to create the on-the-field competition that draws fans. Under this theory, competitive balance helps sports league compete with other forms of entertainment, including other sports leagues and “American Idol”- style reality television that may themselves provide “competing competitions.”

They then attack this argument on a number of grounds. For reasons to lengthy to go into (I'd have to write my own law review article to explain), I was not convinced. But what was most interesting to me was their mention of the "single entity" argument for not applying some antitrust rules to sports leagues. Under this arguement, they note,

horizontal agreements among competing teams in a sports league should receive completely unique treatment under the antitrust laws based on the proposition that leagues should be treated as a “single entity,” rather than being treated as a horizontal agreement among competitors. Such treatment would shift the analysis from Sherman Act Section One’s relatively strict prohibitions on horizontal restraints of trade to the more ambiguous strictures in Section Two’s restrictions of monopolization. Newer sports leagues, such as Major League Soccer, have attempted to structure themselves as single corporate entities with the constituent teams as subunits, in order to garner the relatively favorable antitrust treatment in the manner that the single-entity argument proposes.

This sounds a lot like what I was arguing. I'm happy to hear there is someone else who agrees! But alas, they also say: "However, the single entity argument has been largely rejected by courts."

Patents and Drug Imports

According to this article:

Members of the House and Senate are gearing up for a renewed push to change federal law and permit broader imports of prescription drugs from Canada and elsewhere, where certain medicines can cost less than two-thirds what they do in the United States. Their hope is the imports will drive down prices at home.

So, let me get this straight. The government grants 20 year patent monopolies to drug firms (and others, of course). Then, when the drug companies charge high prices, the government expresses shock, and takes action to undermine the monopolies they granted.

There has to be a better approach to this issue.

One thing that is not clear to me is why the foreign prices are lower. If it is because of price regulation in the foreign country, my sympathies lie with the drug companies, who are now seeing the effects of foreign regulation exported to the U.S. market. On the other hand, if the low prices are because the drug companies simply charge less abroad (e.g. if incomes in a particular country are lower), I'm not as sympathetic. I'm not convinced that governments should be acting to provide drug companies with separate markets in which they can price discriminate.

Gay Marriage in CT

A potentially interesting case in Connecticut. Civil unions have already been approved by the legislature, but some gay couples have gone to the courts to argue that this is not sufficient and they want full marriage rights. The Superior Court rejected the argument, saying they already have civil unions and that's enough. Now the gay couples are appealing to the CT Supreme Court. We'll see what the court does with it.

Teaching Kids about Thanksgiving

For many people, myself included, Thanksgiving is about turkey, football, family and friends, not necessarily in that order. But for some it seems to be another battleground for promoting certain views. A California teacher used the occasion as follows:
Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he "discovered" them. The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.

Not surprisingly, his approach caused some controversy. Here was one response:

"If you are going to teach, you need to keep it positive," he said. "They can learn about the truths when they grow up. Caring, sharing and giving — that is what was originally intended."

I think the latter sentiment makes a lot of sense. It's fine for high schoolers and college students to take a realistic look at the relations between settlers and native americans. But 3rd graders? Just have them learn about how to prepare the various Thanksgiving dishes, or something similarly innocuous.

Kramer Needs Help

Apparently, Michael Richards has hired "a public relations expert with deep contacts in the black community" to deal with the fallout from his racial tirade. Why on earth does he need PR help? What's wrong with people? Doesn't anybody know how to offer a sincere apology on their own?

Lego to Go

According to this NY Times article, Lego is moving much of its remaining production from Denmark to other locations:
It is not that Billund, a placid town of 30,000 people in the heart of Denmark, is in any crisis. The design, promotion and marketing of Lego’s colorful little plastic bricks will remain in Billund. But between now and 2009, virtually all the manufacturing will go to factories in the Czech Republic and Mexico. In the process, the number of jobs at Lego in Billund will drop to 1,600, from the current 2,500. Five years ago, Lego employed 4,000 people, who held roughly half of all the jobs in Billund.

What surprises me is not that they are moving, but that they still had any production at all in Denmark.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

BusinessWeek's Take on the Minimum Wage

BusinessWeek seems to come down largely on the side of a minimum wage increase. After much talk about the "ripple effect" that an increase will have on incomes more generally, they do note the rise in costs and job losses that may occur. However, they quickly go back to an economist who says there won't be many job losses. Overall, I count 5 paragraphs that are favorable to a minimum wage increase, and 2 that are unfavorable.

Gay Marriage in Rhode Island

A gay couple married in Massachusetts is seeking a divorce in Rhode Island, which may force the Rhode Island courts to confront the legality of gay marriage there. The courts could choose to address the issues in a narrow or broad way, so this could be a big deal or just a minor footnote.

The Death Penalty and Lethal Injection

Opponents of the death penalty are engaged in a multi-faceted attack on the practice. One aspect of their fight is an attempt to have certain methods of carrying out the death penalty declared unconstitutional as "cruel and unusual punishment." In Kentucky, a particular lethal injection method was challenged on the basis that the drug formula used "causes inmates to feel pain and is therefore cruel and unusual punishment." In a unanimous opinion, the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected the challenge. In doing so, it stated:

"It is not the role of this Court to investigate the political, moral, ethical, religious or personal views of those on each side of this issue. ... We are limited in deciding only whether the method defined by the Legislature and signed into law by the Executive, survives constitutional review," ...

The lawyers for the two men convicted say they will ask for a rehearing or will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I never know quite what to make of this kind of challenge. My assumption is that the claims are not based on a feeling that the particular death penalty method at issue is bad, but another one might be OK. Rather, it's just an attempt to get all methods declared unconstitutional. This seems a bit disingenuous, but I suppose it's a reasonable thing to do if you're on death row or if you think the death penalty should be abolished.

On the specific legal issue, I don't see how lethal injection could be considered either "cruel" or "unusual." It's certainly not cruel in comparison to the alternatives (electrocution, anyone?). And it's not unusual either.

As a result, I'm not convinced this is a productive approach for death penalty opponents. If they were to win, it would seem like they won on a technicality, and could create quite a backlash. I think their best bet is to try to undermine support for the death penalty among the populace more generally.

Giuliani is Running

It's official: Giuliani is running for President in 2008. OK, well, he has formed "a presidential exploratory committee" anyway:

The formal creation of the committee means Giuliani can now raise money and travel the country gauging support and preparing for a White House bid without formally declaring himself a candidate.

I'm really dying to see how Giulani approaches issues like abortion and gay rights.

Jeff Garcia

I'm sure Jeff Garcia is a great guy, so I apologize to him for this, but it's a little depressing to hear that he's the new Eagles QB. With Donovan, I always have hope the Eagles will pull out of a win. Now, though, I'm not expecting much.

What do the Iraqis Want?

A recent poll suggests that:
Most Shia Arabs living in Baghdad have shifted in recent months from preferring the open-ended deployment of foreign troops in Iraq to wanting a one-year timetable for withdrawal. Nonetheless, a growing majority of Shias in the conflict-ridden capital say that if U.S.-led forces leave within six months there could be an upsurge in inter-ethnic violence.

So, there are two points here: (1) Shia Arabs in Baghdad want the U.S. out pretty soon, and (2) they worry at the same time that this could lead to more violence. Shias outside of Iraq agreed on the first, but were more likely to think that violence would decline if the U.S. left.

I think there's a good argument that U.S. troops are a big cause of the current violence. It is risky, though, to pull out in order to test that hypothesis.

Wesley Snipes' Tax Problems

A few weeks ago, I read about the IRS going after actor Wesley Snipes for tax fraud. Here's the indictment. Briefly, the alleged fraud is based on someone's spurious argument that, in essence, income from domestic activities is not taxable. I've looked into these arguments before. Hey, you never know, I thought -- maybe I don't have to pay taxes after all! After reading over the web materials of some of the advocates, though, it all seemed quite silly.

At the time of the indictment, I thought I read that Snipes was very active in pushing the argument himself, and even trying to convince others. But I can't find any evidence of that now, so maybe i'm wrong about that.

Anway, they couldn't find Snipes for a while, but he is now talking finally (he's in Namibia, fimling a movie), and here's what he had to say:

"I know this has more to do with a few individuals with access to power, making moves (trying to move up!) and less with some alleged crime against the whole population of the United States of America. This reminds me of rape cases where the 'victim' is flipped, turned or converted into the role of victimizer, the 'architect conspirator,' " Snipes writes. "It appears I'm to be the scapegoat, because there's more public interest in 'celebrities gone bad' than 'rich people being taken advantage of.' "


"I've injured no one, I've violated no one's rights and (as far as I know) I owe no one," the actor writes. "If I have violated someone, than I'm prepared to seek forgiveness and make amends. One is an artist and scholar seeking truth through diligent study and spiritual practice. Perhaps people like that have now become the enemy of the State."

His defense seems to be that he's being targeted because he's a celebrity. If he wants to stay out of jail, I think he's going to have to do better than that.

UPDATE: This blog post appears to contain the full text of Snipes' email quoted above. He seems to think he has done nothing wrong. It will be interesting to see when both sides tell their stories in full.

Romney: Running to the Right

Mitt Romney has been playing up his "conservative-ness":

In an interview with The Examiner, Romney described himself as more conservative than Republican rivals McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on a variety of issues. “We’re in a different place on immigration; we’re in a different place on campaign reform; we’re in a different place on same–sex marriage; we’re in a different place on the president’s policy on interrogation of detainees,” Romney said.

“I’m a conservative Republican, there’s no question about that,” he said. “I’m at a different place than the other two.”

I'm always a bit skeptical when Republicans feel the need to declare themselves the most "conservative." I remember Steve Forbes doing something like this, and it rang a bit hollow. It seems to me that if you're the most conservative, people will recognize it without you needing to say it. Romney probably is one of the more conservative candidates, but I'm not sure it really helps him to keep saying it.

What is a "Sex Offender"?

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has a post about laws that prevent sex offenders from living near schools. In it, he notes:
And for those whose first thought is to roast sex offenders in hell it should be noted that the list includes "a 26-year-old woman who was caught engaging in oral sex when she was in high school, and a mother of five who was convicted of being a party to a crime of statutory rape because, her indictment alleged, she did not do enough to stop her 15-year-old daughter's sexual activity."

I think this is an important point. I've seen lists of sex offenders where it's not very clear at first what exactly the people have done, and with a little poking around it becomes apparent that some of the crimes were much worse than others. Perhaps we need some more precise terms to be applied here rather than just calling everyone a "sex offender."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Carbon Trading "Markets"

In this week's Economist, Charlemagne says the following about the EU's emissions trading scheme:

Yet at a time when policies on climate change are coming under scrutiny, the European Union's flagship programme, the emission-trading scheme, is in serious trouble. It was set up last year amid high hopes: it is the first international arrangement that uses markets to reduce soot and smoke. But unless reformed, it will go down as a good idea, badly executed.

The system works as follows. National governments decide how much carbon the five dirtiest heavy industries in their countries may spew forth (the industries are things like power generation, pulp and paper, and metal bashing). They then allocate “permits to pollute” to each company in that line of business. If a firm wants to go over its limit, it must buy “pollution permits” from cleaner firms or credits from developing countries that have set up special projects to lower emissions.

To me, there is a bit of a deception in the characterization of the scheme in the first paragraph above and the description in the second paragraph. In the first paragraph, it is stated that the arrangement "uses markets." But in the second, the detailed description makes clear that it is a government regulatory program. Based on the description, it is clear that the scheme bears little resemblance to the "free market." Now granted, the word used was "market," not "free market," so it is not as though the writer claimed this was a "free market" policy. But nevertheless, the statement that the arrangement "uses markets" seems to me an attempt to distract from the governmental nature of the plan. It's a regulatory program, plain and simple. Don't try to sugarcoat it by saying it "uses markets." Perhaps it does, but that doesn't mean it's not a regulatory program.

Of course, it might be said that it works in a way that is less interventionist than other regulatory programs, and thus the phrase "uses markets" is appropriate. But I'm not sure that it is less interventionist. I would judge regulation not by whether it incorporates elements of markets but by its simplicity and effectiveness. If the goal of a program is to reduce carbon emissions, the relevant questions are how and whether it does so. If a tax (or even a ban) does this better and more simply than a program with market elements, then I say go with what works.

It Takes the Government to Raise a Child?

In the UK, "[a] network of around 80 "super nannies" is being set up by the government to show parents how to control their unruly children." This seems like bad joke, but it's not:

Super nannies are to be despatched to estates in Norwich and Yarmouth to curb the bad behaviour of troublesome youngsters. Police and family support agencies in Norfolk have welcomed a £4m government plan to send experts into homes in 77 troubled areas of England to help families raise their children. Under the scheme, parents worried about their child's behaviour will be able to get help in the hope the youngster will be better behaved and have a happier childhood. Frontline staff tackling anti-social behaviour will call on experts to provide help to families with parenting classes or on a one-to-one basis.
Does anyone really think this is a good idea? Who are these "experts" and what will they be teaching? I'm a little afraid to find out.

UPDATE: I suppose this all could have been interpreted as an innocuous waste of the government's time. But apparently the people behind it are serious about it:

Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said. Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said. Their children's well-being is at risk 'unless we act', she declared. And Mrs Hughes said the state would train a new 'parenting workforce' to ensure parents who fail to do their duty with nursery rhymes are found and 'supported'.

I have a sense that the Brits are going to think twice about this once they see it in operation. It's just a matter of time before a government official does something outrageous, and maybe then the scheme will come crashing down.

The Legal Status of Polygamy

The Washington Post reports on efforts by polgyamists to change society's view of them, in order to increase acceptance:

Valerie and others among the estimated 40,000 men, women and children in polygamous communities are part of a new movement to decriminalize bigamy. Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom," according to Anne Wilde, director of community relations for Principle Voices, a pro-polygamy group based in Salt Lake.

I think this is the best strategy for them. I don't think it will have the same result, though. Polygamists are a much smaller minority than gays. Most people nowadays know someone who is gay, and this has lessened the prejudiced view of gays. But there are very few polygamists, and they tend to be isolated in certain areas. Without exposure to polygamists, I think people will continue to hold negative views about them.

It will be interesting to see if any polygamists decide to appeal to the courts for help, as did gay people with some success (albeit with a large backlash). If they do, courts which looked favorably on gay marriage and/or civil unions will have to do some nimble reasoning to avoid applying the same principles to polygamy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kramer's Rant

First Mel Gibson, now Michael Richards (aka Kramer). I really don't get it. Is it possible to go on racists rants like this but not have any racist feelings at all? I can't see how. It has to come from somewhere. Unless he was just so mad he was desperate to find any hateful thing to shoot back at the hecklers. So far, he hasn't explained himself. He may have to, though, if he wants to keep working.

UPDATE: OK, here's his explanation:

"I'm a performer. I push the envelope. I work in a very uncontrolled manner on stage. I do a lot of free association — it's spontaneous, I go into character. I don't know. In view of the situation and the act going the way it was going, I don't know. The rage did go all over the place it went to everybody in the room." Richards seemed baffled by his own reaction on stage. "I'm not a racist, that's what's so insane about this," he said.

I don't find that completely convincing, although I can see that's it's a possible explanation. He was trying to go into a character, and chose a completely inappropriate one. He was too deep into the character to realize what he was doing as he was doing it.

Obama's Plan for Iraq

Barrack Obama has some thoughts on what to do in Iraq:

Obama envisioned a flexible timetable for withdrawal linked to conditions on the ground in Iraq and based on the advice of U.S. commanders. He also called for intensified efforts to train Iraqi security forces, U.S. aid packages tied to Iraqi progress in reducing sectarian violence and new diplomacy with Syria and Iran.


He proposed redeploying troops to Northern Iraq and to other countries in the region. He recommended boosting troop strength in Afghanistan, "where our lack of focus and commitment of resources has led to an increasing deterioration of the security situation there."

"For only through this phase redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the United States is not going to hold together this country indefinitely — that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq," he said.

Obama rejected proposals to add more troops to Iraq, an idea advanced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., saying that without Iraqi cooperation "we would only be putting more of our soldiers in the crossfire of a civil war."

Well, it's a start. Training, aid packages, talks with neighboring countries. All of these could help.

Ryan Howard over Albert Pujols for MVP

Howard over Pujols for MVP was a tough call, but I'll go along with the decision. I watched a lot of the Phillies games in the stretch run, and opposing teams were terrified of Howard. I don't know how many intentional walks he got, but it was a lot.

It seems to me there is an unstated bias against previous award winners (MVP and Cy Young). To repeat, you can't just do what you did last year -- you have to do better. (Unless there is no one close to you). I think Greg Maddux lost a Cy Young because of that, and it probably hurt Pujols here.

Old People Driving

I remember the horrible case of the old guy who plowed into and killed a bunch of people. Normally I'm for tough punishments, but I'm not sure what the point would be here:
George Russell Weller's daughter has told a judge that her 89-year-old father is "dying before our eyes" and should receive probation for killing 10 people and wounding 73 when his car roared through an outdoor farmers market three years ago.

In my view, deterrence for acts of this type would best be accomplished through new laws testing the driving skills of people over a certain age. Let this guy go.

Iraq: These are Not Plans

"A Pentagon review of Iraq has come up with three options — injecting more troops into Iraq, shrinking the force but staying longer or pulling out ... ."

OK, I suppose those are three things that could be done. But I don't think any of those really qualifies as a "plan" to deal with current crisis.

Desalination of Water

I would guess that anyone contemplating the problem of a lack of clean drinking water for people around the world has, at some point, mentioned the ocean and said, "But why can't we use that water?" And then, inevitably, someone slightly more informed has said, "Because it's full of salt and it's very expensive to get the salt out." Well, thanks to some clever engineers, there may be a cheaper way to do it now:

Eikei Martinson and Brandon Moore, both Florida Atlantic University engineering students, spent nearly two years turning a Boca Raton inventor's sketch into a desalination machine that uses the vacuum created at the end of a 33-foot column of water to boil it at room temperature. The steam created from the boiling water is threaded into a condenser to create potable water.


The United States Geological Service estimates it costs $1,000 per acre-foot to desalinate seawater. Raviv said the students' machine will do it for one-tenth of that. It's cheaper partly because it can use wastewater from power plants to boil the water in the vacuum.

Power-plant wastewater is not hot enough to boil water under normal circumstances. But the vacuum the machine creates allows water to boil at a lower temperature, producing the steam that becomes drinking water.

I don't pretend to understand fully how it works, but if they can really do it, it could have a huge impact on public health around the world.

Gay Rights in South Africa

South Africa is going to offer a fascinating test of the future trend for tolerance of gays. The elites have spoken: The high court and the parliament have said gay marriage must be accepted. But will the people get on board? Or will they resist?

Gay Rights and Democracy

Mitt Romney is pushing for the Mass. legislature to vote on gay marriage:

A decision not to vote is a decision to usurp the Constitution, to abandon democracy and substitute a form of what this nation's founders called tyranny, that is, the imposition of the will of those in power, on the people," Romney said earlier. "The issue now before us is not whether same-sex couples should marry. The issue before us today is whether 109 legislators will follow the Constitution.

To some extent, this could be characterized as taking the "high road" on the issue. Instead of focusing on whether gay marriage is immoral, he is saying that the decision should be up to the people. That certainly plays better to a general audience than explaining why being gay is a sin. Now, if there is a vote, either in the legislature or by the people, he'll have to start talking about the sustance, which will be trickier.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Future of Iraq

My last post suggested a need for a strategy in Iraq. Here's what Henry Kissinger has to offer:

Kissinger ... called for an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council, Iraq's neighbors — including Iran — and regional powers like India and Pakistan to work out a way forward for the region.
I think that's probably a good start.

I was struck by his general pessimism about a "victory":
If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible.

I'm not quite as skeptical as he is perhaps, but that kind of "victory" is not looking likely right now.

Troops in Iraq: More, Less or the Same?

John McCain wants more troops in Iraq, whereas the Dems want less.

There seems to be three dominant plans for Iraq right now:

1. Pull out quickly and hope everyone stops shooting at each other. (The Dems)

2. Keep troop levels the same and hope the Iraqis stop shooting at each other and us. (The Bush Team)

3. Send in more troops and hope the Iraqis stop shooting at each other and us. (McCain and others)

To me, all three of these plans lack what I would call a, for lack of a better word, strategy. They're just kind of hoping for the best. But isn't there something beyond these "hope" plans? Partition, maybe? Try to get more military support from others in the region? Isn't there something to discuss? I'm definitely curious to see what would happen if we decreased or increased the troop levels. But I have no great hope that this will solve the problem of large numbers of (armed) Iraqis who hate the current Iraqi government and each other.

Are the Dems Really Pushing for a Draft?

Congressman Rangel says he will introduce legislation to bring back a military draft. I assume this is just to score political points (e.g., remind voters that many Republicans did not serve), and not something the Dems are taking seriously. It doesn't seem like it would have much support.

On the other hand, the linked article does note that "Rangel said his legislation on the draft would also offer the alternative of a couple of years of public service with educational benefits." Since it's not just about the military, they could spin it as a more general public service plan, which might help get some broader support.

For me, that last bit makes it even worse. I can see an argument for forced military service in an emergency, but forced public service sound like a colossal waste of time and a sure way to make people like their country less. But he wasn't really expecting my vote anyway.

UPDATE: The Democratic leadership has said this will not happen, which is a smart move on their part.

McNabb Done; So are the Eagles

McNabb's year has ended early again. I hate to see this happen to him. He's a great guy and a great quarterback. Not perfect, but great.

And that should do it for the Eagles this year. 5-5 with Jeff Garcia taking over. Not looking promising.

It has been quite a run of bad luck now for the Eagles. It would be nice to get some more help next year -- either a solid running back or a good defensive pick up.

Giuliani's Presidential Campaign

Ann Althouse quotes Paul Begala as giving Giuliani the following advice for 2008:
You can’t switch on everything. So surrender to the far right on one issue: abortion. But the only way to do it is whole hog. Use your trump card: 9/11. Tell them the death you saw that day gave you a greater appreciation for the sanctity of life. You’re Saul on the road to Damascus. Praise the Lord and pass the delegates.

I didn't know much about Paul Begala before seeing this, but after reading the quote I'm not impressed. Does he really think Giuliani could switch positions on abortion and get away with it? That would lose him most of the voters who like him because of his integrity, and gain him no pro-life voters.

Tiger Blows One!

Tiger Woods squandered a three-stroke lead with six holes left, then lost to Padraig Harington on the second hole of a playoff Sunday at the Dunlop Phoenix.

I'm disappointed to see that happen. I like to think of Tiger as invincible. But, of course, he is not. He is merely super-human (as evidenced by a 14-2 playoff record in official tournaments, among other accomplishments).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Republicans and the Miminum Wage

Democrats will seek Republican help to raise the minimum wage ... incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Saturday.

The way the Republicans, especially the 2008 Presidential hopefuls, approach the minimum wage debate is going to very interesting. I see the minimum wage issue as an excellent test of someone's views on free market economics. I'll be curious to see which Republicans support the Dems on this, which ones stay on the sidelines, and which, if any, stand up to oppose a minimum wage hike.

$450,000 for Playing Video Games

That's how much Tom Taylor has made since 2004. There's a lot of luck involved in this sort of thing. Growing up, there were any number of activities to choose from. It certainly didn't seem likely at the time that skateboarding and playing video games would be very lucrative. But the former took off long ago, and now gaming is coming along, too. At this point, it's kind of hard to criticize kids for goofing off, knowing that whatever frivolous activity they are engaging in might turn into a great career.

Abortion Ban in Nicaragua

South Dakotans recently rejected a strict abortion ban, but Nicaragua has now adopted one:

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos has signed into law a ban on all abortions, even in cases when a woman's life is judged to be at risk. Previous legislation from a century ago allowed an abortion if three doctors certified that the woman was in danger. Abortion was a central issue for November's presidential election in mainly Roman Catholic Nicaragua. President-elect Daniel Ortega once favoured abortion rights but changed stance after re-embracing Catholicism.


The former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was a defender of Nicaragua's limited abortion rights and a critic of the Catholic church when he led a left-wing Nicaraguan government in the 1980s. He has since been reconciled with the church and has become a strident opponent of abortion.

I thought the last bit about Ortega's views was interesting, given his general leftist position. It may have been a more practical change of thinking, rather than a principled one: It was a good way to pick up some more votes.

It's interesting to see how the abortion debate plays out in other countries, in comparison to what we see in the U.S. In this regard, the article also notes:

Public opinion in Nicaragua, which is estimated to be 85% Roman Catholic, appeared to be behind the bill. Similarly strict laws are in place in Chile and El Salvador. In many other Latin American countries, abortion is permitted if the woman's life is in danger. In May, abortion restrictions were partially eased in Colombia to permit terminations in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother or foetus is in danger.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What is a Free Market Economy

In a generally respectful, though critical, post about the death of Milton Friedman, Jeff Madrick says:

But there were relatively free market economies without political freedom. One close to Friedman's early experience was Nazi Germany.

Nazi Germany was a "relatively free market economy"?????!!!!! I'm not sure Madrick really understands the term "free market."

Gay Penguins in the School Library

The case of the gay penguin book in the school library intrigues me:

A picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin is getting a chilly reception among some parents who worry about the book‘s availability to children — and the reluctance of school administrators to restrict access to it.

Complaining about the book‘s homosexual undertones, some parents of Shiloh Elementary School students believe the book — available to be checked out of the school‘s library in this 11,000-resident town 20 miles east of St. Louis — tackles topics their children aren‘t ready to handle.

For now, "And Tango Makes Three" will stay put, said school district Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw, though a panel she appointed suggested the book be moved and require parental permission to be checked out. The district‘s attorney said moving it might be construed as censorship.

Here's the part I don't get. Presumably, the school was free to buy or not buy the book when it initially did so. Not buying the book would not be considered censorship, I don't think. So why is deciding to remove a book (or putting it in a separate section) considered censorship? It's as if school libraries have one chance to filter out what they deem to be unacceptable content. Once they buy it, they're stuck with it. Seems odd to me.

The Muslim Veil

Proposals to ban full-length Muslim veils strike me as going too far. It seems to me there are several issues here that need to be balanced:

  • religious freedom, i.e. the ability to follow the teachings of your religion (as you see them)
  • security, or at least some people's perception of what makes society secure
  • assimilation of immigrants or other cultures, religions, etc., and the benefits thereof

There may be others, but those are the main three that come to mind.

I don't think there is much of a security threat here. There may be one, but it's minimal. If it turns out that it becomes common to use the veil as a way to plot violent acts, I'll re-think this one. But for now, I'm not that concerned.

So, for me it's mostly about balancing the benefits of assimilation with those of religious freedom. While I think assimilation is a good thing, and I certainly encourage it, it is not uncommon for people to try to segregate themselves from society to an extent and maintain different customs (witness the Amish). So, generally speaking, I don't have a big problem with people who want to dress differently and hold themselves apart from society.

BUT, if these same people come back later and claim that society is discriminating against them because of their dress, I won't be very sympathetic.

So, my view is, don't ban it, but don't give it special protections either.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Minimum Wage and Employment

It seems inevitable now that the new Democratic Congress will raise the minimum wage by a decent amount. For those who are skeptical about the benefits of this kind of policy (as am I), there is some good news: It provides a great opportunity to study its impact. No doubt teams of economists will be lining up to gather data the moment any new law goes into effect. Of course, there will be contradictory conclusions. Those in favor of the increase will find it doesn't hurt employment; those against will find that it does. But it should be possible to parse through the studies to see which are more credible.