23 June 2010

Kids & Toys & Food

An organization called the Center for Science in the Public Interest is trying to get McDonald's and other fast-food companies to stop putting toys in their kid's meals and marketing to youngsters, saying that this is leading to the obesity epidemic in children.

I'm busy, so I'll skip the contrived impudence and cut to the chase.

A much more reasonable argument could be made that government farm subsidies and poorly designed federal nutrition standards are far more culpable for any obesity epidemic, in youths or adults.

Further, the kids can't buy the stuff themselves. If it were up to my older daughter, she'd get a happy meal every night. If she's well-behaved she may get one once a month. It is a treat.

Also, you can buy the toys alone, usually for about two bucks. If I see a toy I think she might like, I'll swing by the restaurant and get one for her. And hold onto it until she earns it through doing well in school, not beating her sister, helping around the house, that kind of thing. She gets the toy, which is what she really wants, and none of us that garbage.

15 June 2010

Price Gouging?

Let's imagine that you're in a far away place called "North Carolina." It is early September.

Say there's a hurricane. Perhaps it's a nasty hurricane that cuts power to a good many people for a few days. Suppose people affected by this outage realize that they will need ice, whether to keep their refrigerated goods from spoiling, icing down their favorite beverage or keeping their medication stable. Further, let's imagine that a bag of ice typically goes for $1.50 (or so). Also, lots of trees are down, so some roads are impassable.

As stated, there is a hurricane, there is no electricity and no idea when power will be restored. After a few days, what would you pay for a bag of ice?

Let's look at this another way. Say you live a few miles from a town that was just hit with a hurricane, but your town is just fine. Electricity is humming and the town, though hurricane season, is brimming with ice. You know where you can rent a few refrigerated trucks. You have some cash. You have some friends. You smell an opportunity. You rent the refrigerated trucks, you buy a couple hundred bags of ice. You load up your friends and some chainsaws (clear the roads) and you head over to the town that needs what you have. What would you charge for a bag of ice?

Of course there is government involvement here. Not in providing people who need it with ice, not at all. The government has laws "protecting" people from "price gouging." One cannot charge "excessive" or "exorbitant" prices for a good or service--never saying exactly what "excessive" or "exorbitant" might be. Now if you live in the town without power, you might think of price gouging a certain way. And if you lived a few towns over, got an idea, spent some money, cleared some roads and brought necessary goods to people in need, you might have quite another idea of what price gouging actually is.

The government got involved a little further in our little story, because all of this actually happened on or about 06 September 1996 around Raleigh, North Caroline when the big, brutish Hurricane Fran hit land. And some young ruffians brought some ice to those they thought might want or need it. They offered to sell ice to people willing and able to buy it. All exchanges were entirely voluntary, no one was forced to buy anything from anyone. And the bastards were arrested. The people cheered. The trucks were impounded (and turned off). The ice did what it was supposed to do in North Carolina in the summer and it melted, keeping no one's perishables, cooling no one's gin and tonic, preserving no one's insulin.

The whole thing is discussed by Russ Roberts and Mike Munger here. There are links to related items on the page. Very good stuff.

The Washington Monument Strategy

A great post by Veronique de Rugy at National Review. I had never heard the phrase "Washington Monument Syndrome" before, though I have seen it in practice.

Make That SUPERintendent

I heard this piece on Marketplace on my way home yesterday that discussed the ersatz economic impact of Arizona's new law regarding illegal aliens. I was struck by a few things. First there's this:

"In the last five weeks, we're down about almost 100 students," said Jeffrey Smith, superintendent of the Balsz Elementary School District.
He says the state reimburses the district about $5,000 per child.
"The hundred students that we've lost translate into, I believe, a half-a-million dollars," he said.

So Mr. Smith gets an A in rudimentary arithmetic. But then there's:

The school year ended last Friday. During the summer break, more students are expected to leave town. If the district loses too much funding, it could be forced to cut teachers.

Yes, that is how it goes. If there are fewer students, there needn't be as many teachers. This little point particularly gets my goat as I am an advocate for school choice. One of the counter-arguments I hear is that "the public schools will lose funding." One, if students are going to different schools, the public school won't need as much money. Two, it's not their money, so they can't really lose it, can they? If they need more funds, they can get creative, just like private and parochial schools have done for generations.

Another point is that teachers can always be paid less, especially if there is less work to do. Politicians usually paint the scenario thus, that the teacher positions must be eliminated. What about reducing the overall cost of each position marginally? Well, ask the teachers (and I mean the teachers, not the teacher's "association") if they'd rather less money (considering a recession and almost zero inflation (for the past year, anyway)), or termination. I have a guess where most reasonable people would line up.

Pardon the digression, back to Marketplace. Then Superintendent Smith says:

"It can blight a community," the superintendent said. "So you have apartments that are less and less full. Businesses close down. So we're very concerned about what effect this will have on the economy in this area."

Well, blight is a possibility in this scenario. But it's only one of a few; a rather drastic one that usually takes years to manifest. What we know for a fact is that if there is a decrease in the demand for apartments, then land and labor currently used towards apartments now would be directed to other, more efficient ends. Businesses that, for whatever reason, are no longer viable go away and are replaced by businesses that are (or try to be). If the entire town eventually gets abandoned then...so what? Labor and capital that were there go elsewhere (the land stays until its needed again). Nothing is "destroyed."

Finally there's this:

Judy Gans studies the economics of immigration at the University of Arizona. She says the state doesn't have a surplus of young, low-skilled workers. So, if Arizona kicks out all the illegal immigrants, and replaces them with Americans from other states, taxpayers will still have to subside the low-skilled workers.
"Any low-skilled worker generally is going to pay less in taxes than they consume in social services," Gans said.

Well, yes, but this raises two points. First, illegal immigrants tend to be paid under the table, so taxes aren't collected. They also tend to use fewer social services because they get to keep the money they earn and use it their own utility and not have it used for them by the state for their own benefit. Second, in line with what I wrote above about teachers, if the cost of the social services gets too high, perhaps fewer services should be offered. You know, keep expenses in line with revenues.

I'm inclined to say that there is an obvious demand for more immigrant workers, but that's tough to grasp with unemployment at 10% (with a natural rate of around 4%). Costs to employers and consumers would undoubtedly go up if every job currently performed by an illegal immigrant were to be done by a legal worker. But that's because it costs more to employ someone legally. The employee takes home less money and it costs the employer more money than merely the wage paid to the employee due to payroll taxes. There is tremendous incentive for employers to employ illegals, and there is just as much incentive for some would-be low-income workers not to work at all, and thus enjoy the social services that the state provides which are rolled back as income increases.

Helen Thomas

So an 89 year-old woman loses her job for saying idiotic things extemporaneously. I don't really care. What is odd, though, was that I realized that, considering the regard Helen Thomas was held in, the years she put in at her job and all that...I have never read a single article she has written.
I don't even remember ever seeing her name or byline. I know she spent most of her career working for UPI, but other than silly questions, what has this woman produced? Why did I know her name? Even before she killed her career?
David Frum has an interesting take.

02 June 2010

Robin Hood

So I thought the new Robin Hood movie was going to suck because it was a Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe joint, and they would do to that great story what they did to Roman culture in Gladiator.

Well, it appears that the movie is getting negative reviews, but not because of its Prince of Thieves-like awfulness. Nope, it turns out that Robin and his Merrie band resemble the Tea Party movement-types for thinking wistfully about declasse notions of "liberty" and finding taxes distasteful.

David Boaz has a recap here.