Tuesday, February 24, 2009

American Dictators; Drug Policy; Govt. Water; Obama's Warning

Obama warns, "Here's your chance, now don't screw it up!"

Little Dictators

"The final version of the so-called stimulus bill, which will make economic news continue to sound like it was cribbed from Atlas Shrugged, clocks in at 1,071 pages long (up from 424 pages long when first written). This is just 121 pages shorter than that prophetic work. Rich irony was just a back-room deal away!Congress [was] admittedly poised to pass it without having read either tome. [The President pushed for quick passage without the 48 hours he guaranteed. Then he held it for twice that long before signing it.]

"Were I a conservative, I'd propose a law that Congress would not be allowed to vote for any bill during a "cooling-off" period of a length of time it would take an average person to read the bill. But I am not, and such a measure would be a mere band-aid. The way to fix this grotesquely wrong situation is for a substantial number of Americans to demand that the government do its actual job, which is protecting individual rights, and nothing else. If enough people read Atlas Shrugged, and began voting (and persuading other voters) accordingly, we wouldn't have to worry about what a bunch of little dictators are happily passing, unread." Gus Van Horn

Develop a Rational Drug Policy

"A New Scientist editorial poses this thought experiment:
IMAGINE you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

Correct answer:

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

All recreational drugs cause neurological changes - that's kind of the point of taking them. Long term downsides to ecstasy use may emerge, but so far its main effect has been, as the New Scientist editorial notes, "to drive politicians out of their minds." And to be used as an excuse to toss thousands of users into jail. The editorial ends with a plea:

We need a rational debate about the true damage caused by illegal drugs - which pales into insignificance compared with the havoc wreaked by legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Until then, we have no chance of developing a rational drug policy." Reason Hit and Run

The Water Wizards of Oz

"It is near impossible to imagine any private company not enjoying the "problem" of high demand for its products and services. Yet there are some products that are repeatedly reported as shortages. There is one thing these products have in common: government intervention, typically in the form of price controls.

This is especially the case with water in Melbourne, Australia, and has been for at least a decade. While supply of water is in many ways a complex issue, understanding economic shortages is not.

The government has blamed the shortage of water on drought and climate change. And while droughts may be created by a shortage of water, water shortages are created by an abundance of government rein. Despite almost
yearly decreases in water storages in Melbourne (see figure 1), real prices have not increased significantly. And currently the "Essential Services Commission" will be setting prices for the next five-year period. This means, regardless of supply or any number of variables and uncertainty, (real) prices will remain roughly the same for five years. In other words, expect continued shortages." Ludwig von Mises Institute

Obama Warns Mayors

Now that Obama has passed his $787 billion spending bill, the spotlight turns to the individual city mayors who will be instrumental in doling the money out. To them, Obama warns, "Here's your chance, now don't screw it up!" (NYT.com)

“I want to be clear about this: We cannot tolerate business as usual -- not in Washington, not in our state capitols, not in America’s cities and towns,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of the United States Conference of Mayors.

He said he was putting them “on notice” that if they propose a wasteful project, “I will call them out on it.”

There are an almost overwhelming number of presumptions made by Obama in this short, underwhelmingly self-assured speech:

  • Government spending projects are not inherently wasteful-- government spending projects could be either welfare-enhancing or welfare-diminishing.
  • Obama and his staff have the economic prescience and ability to predict the subjective future valuations of millions of individuals necessary to give him the capability to distinguish between a welfare-enhancing (non-wasteful) and welfare-diminishing (wasteful) spending project, given the near infinite number of alternative uses of the money spent.
  • Obama and his staff will provide the required oversight faithfully and without flaw." Degrees of Freedom

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