Thursday, September 29, 2005

Porkbusters versus give back the tax

Two Cornell professors have equated pork with the tax cuts. That is nonsense. Indeed, some of the provisions of the tax cut could be seen as "expenditures" and some of them might even be subject to being delayed. But the fundamental principles of the Bush tax cut - including changes in rates, eliminiation of the death tax and better treatment of capital gains - are important for the economy. Building a bridge to nowhere in Alaska or subsidizing enthanol is not equivalent to lowering the cost of capital gains.

Dilemma of DeLay

The indictment of Tom DeLay brought the usual torrent of comments from the GOP and the dems - all utterly predictable. Either he is a saint being persecuted or the devil incarnate getting his just reward.

But over at The Moderate Voice Joe Gandelman makes a profound point -
In 21st century America actual facts are less important than — above all — winning a game of political domination (the whips and chains are news outlets and blogs).

But it's much more than that. The bottom line is that the partisans of each party have a world view and are convinced they are correct. There used to be a time when skilled politicos from both parties finessed these world views and tried to craft conventional wisdom — or consensus. In 21st century America (so far) it's a lost art.

Were this not a lost art we would not be saddled with monstrosities like the transportation bill. DeLay lives politics like it is an event or a series of events. That violates the third rule of legislative practice - namely the Scarlett O'Hara rule - "tomorrow is another day" - legislative bodies run on a process not as an event or series of events. When you consider political activity as an event - you are more willing to allow the indignities of adding in a bit more here and there - so we get multimillion bridges to nowhere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Higher Education from the Economist Perspective

Periodically the Economist prints a longer article that they call a survey. It is a thoughtfully constructed piece that deals with an issue area in depth. For example, before Micklethwait and Wooldridge published their excellent book on the challenges and promises of globalization the Economist published a survey. In the September 10 edition they published one of these ditties on Higher Education.

These things are always a mix of great stats and some interesting ideas. For example, the survey suggests that higher education, like almost no time in its history, is in a period of change. For an industry that celebrates in clothing derived mostly from the middle ages - that is a big statement. They offer four reasons for this. Massification - more people aspire to and are attending higher education. The Rise of the Knowledge Economy - in the last decade the role of knowledge based industries has shown itself in many ways. In my state of California - the leading industries are knowledge based - computers, biotechnology, entertainment, foreign trade and professional services. In OECD countries the percentage of GDP attributable to knowledge based industries has grown pretty quickly (from 51-59% in Germany in the last 15 years and from 45-51% in the UK). Third is globalization - what has transformed business will also transform universities. Finally there is competition - there are more choices and indeed more types of choices.

The most interesting conclusion of the survey is about future trends. They suggest that the reason that American higher education seems to lead the pack is because it is not a system. The state it turns out is not a reliable partner. They cite an index from Jiao Tong university that suggests that of the top 20 universities in the world (Based on a set of criteria that include things like Nobel winners and citations in referred journals) 17 are in the US (surprisingly 6 of those are in California). In the top 50 - 35 are US,in the top 100 - 53 are US based. The economist thinks that a good part of that is because of a limited role (no real ministry of education). But it also thinks that competition among private and public, proprietary and non - ultimately leads to good results. Finally there is something which seems obvious - American universities are not just places of learning but action - in their words it is "allright to be useful." They quote Henry Steele Commager - who said "education was his religion' provided that it "be practical and pay dividends." Actually a comment that Dickens made in his trip to America in the 1840s also hits the mark - "Whatever the defects of American Universities may be, they disseminate no prejudices; rear no bigots; dig up the buried ashes of no superstitions; never interpose between the people and their improvement; exclude no man because of his religious opinions; above all in their whole course of study and instruction recognize a world and a broad one too, lying beyond the college walls."

The survey does not suggest that American universities are granted this position in perpituity. With potential interventions by government, political correctness, a certain amount of isolation created after 9/11 and a number of other problems they could be challenged. But the Economist speculates that it will not come from the traditional European universities. Schroeder once commented that Germany had the distinction that it had the oldest graduates and the youngest retirees. There is a lot of promise in the developing world - at least in those countries where a ministry of education does not control the game.

Finally, they speculate that just as business now has to compete worldwide - with technology and travel - students and scholars have a much wider universe in which to compete. They conclude with four pithy points - first, a market oriented educational system is better able to combine "equity with excellence." At the same time the system produces a good mix of choices. With differing sources of financing and support the market model is more sustainable. Finally, serving many masters allows institutions to gain control over their own destiny.

Reprints of the entire article are available from their website

The Dean of the Senate Strikes again to the tune of $1 billion

The GAO released a report this morning which suggests that the Byrd amendment, which offers US corporations a payment when they are supposedly undercut by "unfair" foreign trade, is taking a real toll on taxpayers. In the last three years more than $1 billion of your money has been spent on a small number of companies. $205 million to Timken (roller bearings), Torrington ($135 million), Candle Lite ($57 million), MPB ($55) and Zenith ($33 million). The risk of Byrd is twofold. First, the alleged hurt from these "unfair" practices are illusory at best. Second, under the WTO processes this yields us retaliatory tariffs from our trade partners. Is the candle industry so under pressure that they cannot compete with foreign manufacturers? Even if they were, is this so vital an industry that they should be protected from candle makers outside the country?

On Timken's site the chairman talks about "strong leadership, strong vision" - what a crock! If they really believed in that they would compete.

Unfortunately, in the current environment of Congress, the former Klansman's colleagues lack the integrity to simply wipe out this nonsense.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Role of Higher Education in Economic Development

In the second week in October I will be a participant in a celebration of 25 years of a university in Mexico City called Universidad AnĂ¡huac del Sur. I have been working with the university for a bit more than a decade. I first became acquainted with UAS on a couple of very early projects in Mexico. I taught there for seven years in a school of business that is rated as one of Latin America's best. I helped to organize three international conferences at the university.

The university is part of a larger network of universities in Mexico, Spain, Rome and Chile and now the US. Their motto is “Vince in Bono Malum” - Vanquish evil with good. They are a Catholic university with a good set of values. They encourage an entrepreneurial spirit among their students.

My topic for my presentation is the university role in economic development - how does a university involve itself in building the economy of its area? What are the appropriate roles in terms of knowledge expansion, venture capital relationships, incubator projects and broader societal relationships?

The dean of the school of business is a young man. He has built a fine program. I am looking forward to being a participant in the celebration. As luck would have it, the Economist did one of their periodic surveys - those projects are long and thoughtful treatments of an important issue relating to what the magazine cares about - in this case the survey was on higher education. I will write more about this subject soon - but for now the conclusion was that the American "system" of higher education consistently beats the European one for one reason - it is not really a system. Mexico is beginning to grow and expand its higher education programs - in both the public and private sector. I have also worked with a public university in Aguascalientes that is the first of a series of polytechnic universities across the country. The trip to Mexico City is one I really look forward to - but first I will have to go to Nashville and Mexicali.

Rhetoric - Reality

The Wall Street Journal presented a chart from Brookings on recission requests by presidents since Ford. A recission request is one made by an administration to reduce appropriated amounts (or budget authority) when, for whatever reason, the funds will not/should not be used.

The numbers speak for themselves.

President/ Total Recission requests (in millions)

FORD (1974-77) $7935
CARTER(1977-81) $4608
REAGAN(1981-89) $43,437
BUSH (1989-93) $13,193
CLINTON (1993-2001) $6628
BUSH-II (2001-05) $0

Doing what is right about Katrinarita

The blogosphere is excited about pork. In a wonderful post at Beltway Blogroll there is a pretty good summary of blog opinion about the proposed levels of spending to respond to the hurricanes. Unsurprisingly, both the left and the right are concerned. Both are using the events to press things they would otherwise suggest. The left can use this as a chance to comment about the Administration's other priorities ("can't have guns and butter" is a phrase I still expect to see) while the right is urging some restraint in the political class.

In order to think about this issue one needs to divide the question. There are several things going on at once. Obviously, we need to take care of the immediate health and safety needs of the people in the wake of the storm. At the same time we need to think about rebuilding the destroyed buildings and infrastructure caused by the storm. Finally, we need to at least think about whether this period of time can also be used to restore the area to a better position. The first order of business should be to do some careful thinking about who should do what. Are all of these tasks the job of the entire nation or could some be best handled by state and local authorities or private activity? How much responsibility should the American people bear for restoring a city that was in almost continual decline over the last century?

The three questions (immediate health and safety, restoration and improvement) each have the opportunity for politicians to get in on rent seeking (on expanding what should be a normal response to something designed to aid the politician in other goals) - but as you move from the first to the third the potential for rent seeking increases exponentially. Part of the problem faced by New Orleans at this point is that past projects designed to rebuild or improve from prior storms have been used for pure pork. If some of the prior authorized funding for levee building was used on bike path construction should we as a nation be willing to supply more - at least without some substantial restraints? Can any political decision be protected against rent seeking?

Then there is the quasi political class and their ruminations. We've seen a lot of idle speculation by the proponents of global warming that these storms are a result of global warming. An MIT climatologist says there is not a causitive link. In Technology Review (the MIT Journal on Technology Topics that is absolutely first rate) that the link is not there. But as you would expect a scientist to do, his view on the linkages is nuanced. The article is at Technology Review (Subscription Required but you should get one if you are at all interested in technology issues!)

What was interesting about his comments was not what he said about the linkage but about how people used his data. At the end of the article there is the following quote -
"My experience is that most of the people who call me up, really want to know about the science, what do I really mean," says Emanuel. "Most people, if they have a political agenda, they are good at keeping it hidden."
But then there's the ever-growing commentariat, which answers to no one.
"The people who are politicizing it are doing it behind my back -- pundits writing on blogs or editorials whom I don't actually talk to," says Emanuel. "They don't want to know the truth. They want to use something somebody wrote to advance their agenda."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Some interesting numbers on Katrina

The Insurance Information Institute did a briefing on Hurricane Katrina which had some very interesting numbers. Here are some of them. 70% of the losses will come from Louisiana and about half of those are from homeowners. (As opposed to auto or commercial or offshore energy covered losses.) In the case of catastrophic losses tropical cyclones account for about a third of the covered losses, tornadoes account for about another third and earthquakes account for about the same percentage of losses as terrorism (at least 1984-2004). Five of the ten most expensive hurricanes in history have occured in the last thirteen months (Katrina and the four in 2004 mostly in Florida). Six of the ten most expensive disasters occured in the past four years. And five of the eleven most expensive disasters in world history have affected the US in the past four years. Those are all remarkable statistics. One other stat that is useful - for each of the 500,000 families displaced in the storm, the proposed level of support would offer about $400,000 per family.

There is a lot of knashing of political teeth on this set of issues. Most policies limit coverage for things like water and fungus damage. Supplemental coverages may be available and the federal government does a flood policy - whose record is sort of mixed. It has an 85% retention rate - which is very low for the property/casualty industry. But some politicians have tried to claim that they can abrogate the contracts by fiat - simply by redefining the covered exposures after the fact. Along with the many other politicians who have put an oar in on this - that grandstanding is down right silly.

Stuck on Stupid on Photo Ids

Some public policy types are proposing that we require voters to show a photo id to vote. Yet the loons in the ACLU and other occult groups like that suggest that this is akin to policy blasphemy. Let me see, you need a photo id to cash a check or fly on a US carrier or actually, mostly to get into the country (you have to use a passport which is a photo id except for trips to Mexico with a birth certificate). Does that mean the ACLU thinks those things are less important than voting? They seem to be stuck on stupid. But that is not a new place for them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Greed by any other name

Steve Jobs came out today and called the record labels greedy. He is right. They want to screw up the simple pricing system that iTunes has had - 99¢ per song for some cockamamie multitier pricing system that only an airline could love. The odd thing about their stupid quest is that it will drive people to buy fewer songs from them. Embrace the simple and make lots of dough.

Honoring Service

The new general in New Orleans is a breath of fresh air. He is a bit bombastic for my tastes but maybe with the Mayor and the Governor at his side - that is what is needed. I listened to a press conference he did where he told a reporter that his job was to report the news not to "get stuck on stupid" - General Honore seems to have the right take on the situation down there and the malicious role that some members of the media have. He repeatedly said our job right now is to solve the problems we are dealing with (the new storm) not think about what happened before. BRAVO!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

An answer to the malaisathon

Instapundit has a post tonight about an interesting project to suggest to Members of Congress direct ways to cut the pork. The idea is to list projects in your district which can be dropped, at least until the Gulf Coast is back to some level of normalcy. The list is at Truth Laid Bear - the site also has some handy suggestions for searching out pork.

Let's see if the blogosphere can hunt these things out.

A note - California is 49th in the country with about $6 per capita - but that does not mean we should not search out our own bridge to nowhere.

Why can't the media understand both sides of the ledger?

Matt Duffy makes an important comment this morning about the media bias on how to report the story on spending/taxes for hurricane relief (and ultimately the Iraq war). The media is ready to make any comment possible about Bush's resistence to tax increases but are not ready to make the same comment about possibilities of spending cuts. In the case of the Iraq war they decry the effort and wonder how we can pay for it without new taxes. In the case of Katrina, an event mostly outside of mortal control, they simply cajole the President to raise taxes.

As a professor at HBS once said "accounting is about the whereget and the wheregone" - indeed the constant harrangue from most of the media is about the whereget - taxes. Were this emergency in a family, the first thing most families would look at would be the wheregone side of the equation. My wife has complained about the increasing price of gas (a minor emergency) but has she gone out and tried to increase her income to solve the problem of $50 tanks? No, she has begun to use fuel more carefully, has found a carpooling buddy to work and other things. If she can understand that - why can't the media?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fly Fishing and other unnatural acts

The Big One in Wyoming, originally uploaded by drtaxsacto.

As noted in the earlier post, I have been in Wyoming for the past week beginning to learn how to fly fish. It is something I have been encouraged to do by a couple of friends who are very much into it. On the first day I was there I caught what turned out to be the second biggest fish of the week. But that is really a back story not worth telling. (OK 22 1/2", a twenty minute battle of finesse, yada yada, yada - one of the benefits of technology is that you can now be sure to document your fish stories!)

As noted I was a rookie among the group that I went with, so the rest of the week, I looked and listened. What intrigues me about the sport is its mix of at least three elements - it seems to take some physical skill, some intellectual mastery and a willingness to be in absolutely beautiful surroundings. (The last one is not that tough to take.) A lot of the physical part of the game requires concentration and patience - nothing is rushed. A good many of the moves seem counterintuitive when they are first presented. But by the end of the week, I was beginning to see why skills were done the way they were and even beginning to incorporate the right technique into the delivery. That does not mean I have mastered them but at least I think I see what I am doing wrong and am beginning to have a sense of what it feels like to do it right.

I had the fortune of having a guide (or actually a set of guides) with me on each outing. They really add to the experience. They know where the fish are. They can coach your technique. On Thursday morning I went with one who spent part of the morning showing me a lot about what to look for (and there is a lot). We spent about an hour looking at the water, talking about the life cycle of the bugs that trout eat (which is remarkably short), about water conditions in a river or a stream, about how the water is oxygenated, about how sunlight and temperature affects the interest of the fish to eat, about spawning and a raft of other things.

Of the four guides that I had the opportunity to go with each had a slightly different approach. The guide in this picture is a famous one named Bob Lamm. He is a great coach - very patient. But he is also subtle - he keeps adding new twists in manageable steps. Another had an enthusiasm that was contagious. The morning I went with him, he showed his true love for his profession - although we also talked about his off season where he does something completely different. A third had a slight edge to his style but also imparted a lot of knowledge to the couple of hours I spent with him. The fourth pushed even a bit more but again at the end of the day, I think I progressed.

In the end the four days were a mix of great experiences, good conversation and a couple of times of downright thrill.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rent seeking for politicians and Malaiseathons for voters

For the past week I have been in Wyoming fishing (more on that later) with a group of people I serve on a corporate board with. This morning a group of us had a discussion about priorities - in government. We disagree pretty strongly about whether the current effort in Iraq is a good policy or whether we should be spending $200 billion of federal money to rebuild in New Orleans and also about whether the push to keep the death tax from reviving is a good idea. But everyone in the group agreed that the current political environment is not serving us well. We spend a lot of time yakking about silly stuff and not much substantive time in thinking about the key issues where government could actually have a positive effect. But when it comes to spending politicians seem to think our taxes are their private accounts to help them get reelected. On that front there was a general malaise bordering on anger in all three of the early morning discussants.

There are opportunities for the President to change the game here. For example, he could suggest that a good part of the financing for the restoration of New Orleans come from the pork in the energy, highway and agriculture bills. (There might well be close to half the total money there if it were done correctly.) What was intriguiging about the President's speech was his adherence to principles that he has suggested elsewhere - home ownership, enterprise zones and the like. But the real test will be whether he can stick to those principles. If the relief effort becomes a clone of the most recent three bills (add some here and add some there on both sides of the aisle) then we get the worst side of both parties. The sum of rent seeking by politicians and the additional malaise by voters is not a healthy combination. In the Wealth of Nations Adam Smith has an analogy that I have always liked about taxes - "pluck the goose when it has feathers" - at some point if they keep making these self serving decisions the goose may well bite back.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I was one of the first to purchase an an iPod Nano The size is amazing. The functionality is all you would expect. It combines the ability to have a photo album that you can almost slip in your wallet with tons of tunes. The screen is bright. On a trip this morning I have listened to it from about 6 AM to now and it is still going strong. It is an insanely great product. When I bought mine at the end of the first day it was announced the Apple Store in Sacramento had sold more than four cartons (150 each) out of that store.

Questions of Wonder

The news this weekend had a couple of stories that, IMHO, were incongruous. On the one hand a couple of news outlets carried major stories on how Bush's friends were getting the clean up booty from Katrina. On the other there was a story about the CEO of one of those companies, the Shaw Group, who happens to be the Chair of the Democrat Party in Louisiana. The Louisiana Democratic Party Website lists James Bernhard as its chair and also as the CEO of Shaw. Before one made charges like this wouldn't it be better to do at least a little reporting.

It seems that many of the media are more interested in spreading what seems to be in the streets of New Orleans rather than trying to cover the news. Just how many firms in the nation can handle the size of the jobs that the federal government has designated to help the city recover? Why should everything always be a conspiracy?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The end of a pretty good season

Tonight the Rivercats lost to the Tacoma Raniers for the Pacific Division Championship. Like last night's game - they should have won it. Tonight they had 14 hits but only were able to generate 2 runs. Tacoma scored 5 on eight hits. They had plenty of chances, like they did last night. But they just could not finish the job. For this series every game was won by the away team. We went eleven innings tonight and ten last night - so we certainly got our money's worth. Gone were some of the power hitters of last year's team.

This was a fun season nonetheless. Our section, 107, developed a camaraderie that made the games more interesting. There are a couple in the group that really know the ins and outs of baseball and then the rest of us that simply enjoy the relaxing nature of the game. As you could see from the earlier posts there were several funny times. A couple of games we woulda, coulda, shoulda. There were some disappointing seasons and also some that really shined.

Tacoma goes on to play Nashville for the Championship and we go back to a more normal life - no baseball for several months but Opera next weekend (Barber of Seville) and lots of travel in the fall. Even a chance for the section to get together in October.

We will never forget


Saturday, September 10, 2005

10 Innings but one game left

Tonight's game with the Tacoma Raniers was an uneven one. They had some monumental defensive plays - in the 5th and 7th - unbelievable catches. We had scoring opportunities in the 2,3,4,5,6,7 and were not able to capitalize on them. In each of the first four games of the series the home team lost. Garcia was in only for a short time tonight and did not look as sharp as he had in the two previous appearances in Tacoma. Mabeus showed up tonight. They offered up seven pitchers. But now we come down to the key game of the season - if we win we go on to the PCL championship against either Nashville or Oklahoma. If we lose - we are done for the season.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A respite

One image from Xochomilcho

Here is a shot from Mexico. I like it a lot.

Where's Carly

CNET posted today that Carly Fiorinna, still living on her fat severence for running HP into the ground has signed on to Revolution Health Group's board. She is a part of an august group that includes Steve Case - the wizard who combined AOL and Time Warner only to have the company fleeced from him (all the while destroying shareholder equity) and Franklin Raines who left Fannie Mae after some substantial criticism about accounting manipulations. Sounds like a good group.

There are some good people on the board but with these three, the prospects for growth don't seem rosy.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

2-0 in two good games

The Rivercats started the Pacific Conference championship series in both games behind. But in each game they went on to win and are now two games up on a five game series. In both games Jairo Garcia pitched some pretty good innings. So did Flores and even Mabeus.

Now on to Sacramento for game three. The Nashville and Oklahoma teams have split the first two.

An odd footnote

The Mudville Gazette has an interesting post this morning they said -

In a bold and potentially risky move, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin crossed party lines Monday to endorse Republican Bobby Jindal, who is locked in a tight governor's race with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic standard bearer in the Nov. 15 runoff.
In recent days, Nagin said he faced considerable pressure from the state Democratic power structure to go with Blanco, citing U.S. Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu in particular.
Without naming names, Nagin said Blanco supporters attached words like "risk" and "consequences" and "repercussions" to the prospect of his backing Jindal.

"They talked about this not being in the best interests of the city of New Orleans and that they would let people know that," Nagin said.

Using what he described as the "hip hop vernacular" favored by his teenage sons, Nagin hinted that Blanco's backers issued threats, indicating that "if we get in we're going to basically ice you out."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Politics as underware

The recent events in the Gulf Coast have reminded me how much politics are like underware. There are some obvious and base analogies here but I am thinking at a higher plane.

Underware is something we all need. Ditto for politics. In a democracy, politicians are also a necessary part of the mix. Some people think they can get along without underware - but they like those who think we can get along without politics are fundamentally mistaken. But unlike how some people think about underware, it is normally not a dominant part of our clothing. Politics can be. But I cannot think of many times when it should be.

Hayek talked about the fundamental benefits of market order in society. He said that the real benefit of any efficient system is the reduction of transaction costs. We don't think about the color of one's underware. Nor should we have to think about whether the hot dog we are purchasing is safe or not. In both cases there are many ways to get the benefit but the ultimate benefit of great politics is a reduction in costs. Conversely, if we make the wrong choices in either underware or politics the costs rise significantly. There are times when we think about underware and times when we do not (mostly the latter), occasionally the political system becomes too important for itself - it tends to ride up - and we are the losers for that. Either issues do not get solved or they get over hyped or both.

Underware gets pretty funky if you wear it too long. So do politicians. The errors of rent seeking politicians that Anne Kreuger and others have written so clearly about become more pronounced when the political class is too well ensconced in their jobs. The recent energy bill and its attendant long list of set asides of various causes is a good suggestion that the current majority in congress may have been there too long. We don't need three undershirts at once- only one.

But there may also be another conclusion here. It is unclear whether if the minority party were to go back into power that it would do things significantly differently. Is our attention to politics so pronounced that we look to it first to solve our problems? Would the change into majority status simply pay off a different group of pleaders?

This little mind experiment made me think about many recent issues, where the political class overstepped its function - by either claiming too much expertise (the Schaivo case comes to mind), or being indolent (think the mayor of NO and the Louisana governor) or by being too trendy (many examples) or just plain stupid. (many more examples). But the average American, were he to be able to think about politics like underware, might be a lot better off. Come to think of it, so would our political system.

Comparing Disaster Relief in Miss and LA

There is a great post at Chrenkoff which explains in detail the differences I mentioned yesterday between Mississippi and Louisiana in their response to the hurricane. It puts the blovating that Mayor Nagin and others have done in perspective.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Blame Game and Katrina

I was in Los Angeles today for a funeral of a good friend's wife. But before I went over I had the opportunity to have breakfast with my daughter and her boyfriend. I was asked what I thought about the response to Hurricane Katrina. I really had not crystalized my thoughts before then. I gave a couple of answers but as I thought about it today I came up with a set of responses that are a bit better thought out.

#1 - Coming home from the airport tonight I listened to Air America and one of their people (named Laura something) who said the results in Louisana were the result of conservatives making government out to be the problem. That is nonsense. The City of New Orleans has three boats for its police department - three. In a city that is underwater. The idiot who is mayor should be indicted for incompetence. He knew the storm was coming and yet he dilly dallied until after. Ditto for the Governor. Why did they not use the busses parked in the lot and visible on Google maps? Why did they not deploy the marines who are in the Port of New Orleans? Government's ability to respond to major emergencies is not very good. In the Northridge earthquake, Californians got back because FEMA was pretty good but more importantly, the Governor (Pete Wilson) cut through the normal BS and let a lot of contracts for repair with private companies. On the Air America site - the first thing you see is FEMA approved relief agencies - as if FEMA would have any competency in judging who could do well. There is a role for government but Laura and her ilk think it is primary - it may not be.

#2 - This morning my daughter's friend thought there should be some equity assistance - we are all in this together. I gave him a response which was not entirely reflective of my beliefs. Indeed we are all in this together. But we should not be forced to bear the responsibility for stupidity. A private insurer who had a house built in a storm zone might insure a place once but would raise rates for people who rebuilt in the same area - when storms or other perils were present. From the picture we get now neither the federal or state governments were sufficiently cognizant of their role in maintaining and improving the levees that keep New Orleans from the soup. The other consideration I think we need to work with here is who should provide the equity assistance - in my mind the first role of equity in society should be the private sector through charity. Government charity is not often very well done. But there are times when government can do things best. It should not be an either or - but it seems to me that a lot of people view government in the first role here and that may not be appropriate.

#3 - The media does not seem to recognize some things that are apparent to me. First, the political leadership in Mississippi and Alabama seem a lot better prepared than in Louisana - all three places suffered from a Category 5 hurricane but only Louisiana got hit (after the storm) with the massive break in the levee. Second, the federal government seems a bit slow in its response - the Governor of New Mexico (a democrat) offered assistance in advance of the storm - but the feds had to get their paperwork right. That delay is silly and inexcusable.

#4 - I am bothered that some are trying to make this into a political situation. Jesse Jackson is nuts - this is not about race. The mayor is a bigot and an idiot. This is not about global warming - I heard a national forecaster explain that hurricanes come in multi-decadal cycles and we just happen to be in a high cycle. The dems have jumped on Bush for this - and while some of that might be justified - it may not work in the way that they want it to. There are plenty of guard troops so this is not an Iraq thing. But the federal officials were a bit slow in ramping up - then so were the state people.

#5 - Where are the recovery models? New Orleans is an amusement park for sick people. It was, even before the flood (not the 1927 but this one) a city in decline. Compared to a hundred years ago, it is a wreck economically. It should be an economic powerhouse. But it is a ten week a year festival and then a couple of seedy conventions. At one time the city was a financial center of the South - it could be again with some vision. But the legacy of Louisiana politics will hold the city down. In 1906 San Francisco suffered a similar catastrophe - yet in a very short period of time it changed itself from a baudyhouse to a financial center of the West. How did they do that? With a lot of energy. With a great governor in Sacramento (Governor Pardee ran the relief effort from Sacramento) and with some civic energy. It is pretty clear that if New Orleans thinks that FEMA will serve all those functions that the city will continue on a slow death. Restaurants, Mardi Gras and Casinos and the Superbowl do not a city make.

#6 "There is always a little heaven in a disaster zone" - a quote from Woodstock. But in this case it is true. For the last couple of days I have watched colleges across the country think about how to accommodate the displaced students from the universities in New Orleans. Small colleges have made big offers. The higher education community in Washington is putting together a Craig's list equivalent to match students and institutions. A couple of religious denominations have begun an adopt a parish drive - one parish helping another. Radio stations in our area have done food, money and blood drives. Schools have done the same. The religious community of Houston is figuring out how to raise $9 million to feed the refugees in their city for a couple of months. That level of community - which is so often forgotten in our current times - is really inspiring.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Season in Two Games

This was the last home stand for the Rivercats. If they play like they did the last two nights for the playoffs they will do just fine. They lost a bunch of people today to the show - Matt Watson - who deserved to be up there. Cruz - who whined his way back and probably deserved to be there. Freddie Bynum. They have four more games in the regular season - against Tacoma and then to the playoffs probably against Tacoma - but if the Cats do well - against Salt Lake. The Stingers have been on a tear winning their last five games. But before that they had lost five. We are on a 7-3 for the last 10 games.

This has been a pretty good season.

Last night I bought Ron Flores' Jersey - he is a good reliever and deserves to be back up. This was a fund raiser for Independence Field. Ron was pretty consistent this season. He has pitched 60 innings and allowed 45 hits. His ERA is a scootch over Cruz.

Hey Jude

On Monday Jude Wanniski died. Most papers did not cover that. Winniski headed a firm called Polyconomics. Oddly, one of the places that covered his passing was Al Jazeera. Wanniski published the Way the World Works when I was in the middle of my doctoral program. It was a fun volume. He talked about politics in terms of choosing wine - each of us thinks our intelligence on almost anything is better than the group we are with. But he also talked about the fundamentally destructive effects of imposing confiscatory tax rates. He commented that only when capital is maximized can welfare be maximized (he discussed both physical and intellectual capital). Capital, when treated correctly, is not used up in consumption. It becomes the gift that keeps on giving. His discussion of the behavior of crowds anticipated the recent book by James Surowiecki. He called himself a political economist because he understood inherently the linkages of politics and economics.

But there was another side of this guy (*from UCLA by the way). He did not lack in confidence, either in himself or in the wisdom of common decisions. In the second instance that confidence was well placed. In the first however, at times his speech or thoughts far exceeded his grasp. Even with that overstep his contributions to the notions of the effects of tax rates on behavior and the wisdom of the general population should not be forgotten.