Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where are the raging moderates?

A few years back I was having dinner with some auctioneers at the state convention, and politics came up. We had earlier been treated to a right-wing rant by a guy who runs a real estate auction company during one of the meeting sessions. One of t people who knew I also teach Econ asked what I thought about his opinions (he was repeating the bullshit about the Community Investment Act being responsible for the whole financial system problem) and I tried to be polite and said I think he missed a lot of the problem. This led to some discussion of that caused me to ask "Where are the raging moderates?", a line that drew a good laugh around the table.

Well, if ever we need some raging moderates, it is now. So, enjoy this Economix blog post by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser about the need for radical centrists.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Maybe I'm an atheist because.....

I am watching game 7 of the Sabres-Flyers series as I write this, which reminds me of perhaps one reason that I have no god. Since th 70's, when the Flyers were the root of all evil in the NHL, they have played "God Bless America" (written by atheist Irving Berlin) before games. If there was a god he would have had nothing to do with that team, particularly the year they beat my Sabres in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Which brings up another question: How come atheists never knock on your door to spread the word? I am occasionally visited by some bible-toting fool who wants to enlighten me about his specific version of the Invisible Man in the Sky. But nobody has ever come around saying "Have you heard the good word? There is no God, so you are free to believe in logic and science. We are spreading the word so people will stop killing each other." I have a couple of weeks in May with not much to do. Anyone want to go door to door with me? And let's really make it fun and go to Colorado Springs.

And while I'm on the subject, if we can have a National Day of Prayer, how about a National Day of Thinking Rationally? A day where you are encouraged to put aside whatever you may believe and look at facts, reason and science to see if your beliefs have any bearing in reality. Congress in particular could use about a month of this!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Obamacare was not enough change, and the GOP is dead wrong about health care

Data speaks for itself, but the chart I wanted to show here doesn't embed properly. So, CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW US HEALTH CARE COSTS COMPARE TO THE WORLD.

Warning: We are NOT #1, except in cost!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Choices are Bad

Wow! Everyone is suddenly concerned about the budget deficit. Standard & Poors, (who, by the way, should no longer be in the bond rating business based on the fact they stamped AAA on a bunch of crap CDO's and helped fuel the housing mess) said they sorta, kinda might think about maybe downgrading US government debt in the future if we don't get our shit together. President Obama came out with a plan to reduce the deficit last week, after basically ignoring for almost a year the work of his own deficit commission. And Paul Ryan and the GOP have their own ideas, which, since they are Republicans and hate everyone who is not rich, includes lots more tax cuts for the rich, and a deep bow to the disproved "voodoo economics" of supply side theory.

First, let me say this is good, sort of. Not good in that I expect this problem to be solved be adults who have a logical discussion and then do what is best for the county. If I believed that, I might as well also believe that I actually am tall and thin. No, this is good because it means that at least people are talking about a problem than intelligent people have been yelling about for years, and politicians have been sweeping under the rug because it involves difficult choices. This raises the likelihood that we will avoid a Greece-like financial crisis from 0 to....oh, maybe 3%.

Reasonable people have been saying for years that we need a combination of spending cuts and tax increases in order to really deal with this problem. Based on that truth, President Obama puts forth a much more realistic program than Congressman Ryan. In fact, Princeton Economist and form FED Vice-Chairman Alan S. Blinder writes today in the WSJ that Ryan's plan would do little to decrease the deficit over the next 10 years, because most of the reductions in deficit spending he proposes would go to tax cuts (because, you know, taxes were lower in the 2000's than the 1990's, but the economy grew more in the 1990's, so clearly we need more tax cuts for the wealthy).

The GOP is now so far to the right, it appears they want to return the country to it's glory of 100 years ago, when the rich were rich, minorities were kept in their place, and if you didn't like it you could go fuck yourself. At least, that appears to be what the teabaggers want, and they are now driving the GOP bus, with the threat of taking the whole country off a cliff.

Since everyone is coming up with ideas to cut government spending, I have a few easy and sensible ones. They won't balance the budget by themselves, but we gotta start some where:
1) Stop wasting our tax money prosecuting athletes who do steroids. This is the problem of the their sport, not our government. Barry Bonds is an asshole and everyone knows it, but do we really have to waste $10 million proving it?

2) Stop wasting our money on the war on drugs in general.

3) Stop wasting our money prosecuting on-line poker sites. People want to play poker with their money, that's their problem. At least it is an intellectual exercise. It's not like they are blowing it on Kenny G concert tickets! And hey, if on-line poker were legal, that would increase tax revenues.

There. Problem solved. Your welcome. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Free Parking Destroyed the World

The school where I teach has had a surge in students in the past few years, and renovations are now being started to the campus. Combined, those 2 facts are causing a parking problem on campus. Students and faculty are charged a small fee for parking each year, whether or not they drive to school, and no matter how often they drive.

Meanwhile, the latest attempt to get a bus pass program for employees of the school recently went bust. The RTD, the regional transit company here in the Denver metro area, has a program called Eco Pass that businesses can enroll in, but we could not get all employees to agree to kick in.

Does anyone see the problem here?

Many economists will tell you that cheap parking causes incentives that make our world dirtier, our traffic worse, and help push up the price of gas. Here in America, we expect to drive everywhere, and are pissed off when we have to pay to park. So, when we build most anything, we include acres of free parking, with the exception of highly congested areas, and events like concerts and sports. My school, just like most other businesses in the area, provides cheap parking because that is what the customers and employees have come to expect.

As a result of so much free parking, we have built a society where we live a long way apart and drive too much. We believe we have the right to drive our own cars, alone, to work, play and shop, and extremely cheaply. Anyone who has traveled abroad knows what a joke public transportation is in this country. Why? Because we have free parking!

How would an economist solve the parking problem at my school, while at the same time making the environment cleaner? Easy. Change the incentives. Charge daily for parking, raising the marginal cost of driving your car to school. Then, use the money to make sure that students and staff all get bus passes at a very reasonable cost. Finally, the people who made this brilliant decision would need ear plugs to avoid all the whining from people who think their God-given right to drive around and pollute the earth at the lowest cost in the developed world. Imagine, being forced to ride public transportation! The indignity!

Think I could run for Congress on the "No Free Parking" ticket?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why don't they alter the prices?

There are several team, including the NY Yankees, that are experiencing ve bad attendance in the early days of the baseball season. There are a lot of reasons for this, and certainly this does not mean that the country has lost interest in baseball. In much of the country the weather in April does not exactly inspire fans to head to the ballpark. Personally, while I love the game, I want to sit in the park on a nice warm afternoon an enjoy a cold beer, not a freezing evening with a hot chocolate keeping me from freezing.

To an econ teacher, this raises this question: Why don't ticket prices vary more game by game? While the supply of seats in a stadium is perfectly inelastic no matter who the opponent ( in English: same number of seats to sell against popular team in July v bad team in April), clearly the demand for each games varies by opponent, time of year, pitching matchup, and day of the week. So, why don't teams realize this and vary the prices more?

Many teams now have different levels of game prices based on opponent. Here in CO, when the Yanks, Bosox or Cubs come to town, the price goes up as those teams have enough fans in the area to fill the park. Still, it does not vary enough. If the Rockies are playing the Pirates on a Tuesday night in early May, the price of those tickets should be.....well, probably free plus parking. And it is likely they don't maximize revenue when the Yankees come to town, as tickets sell out fast even at the higher than normal prices.

Yes, we do see special deals on tickets on less possible games as way to deal with reduced demand. And I remember reading last year that the Giants were testing a system that would calculate the variables in demand and reprice tickets. I've not heard any more about this, but it sure makes sense.

Friday, April 1, 2011


It's opening day here in CO, and it's sunny and in the 70's. Almost enough to make you believe in God.....except for all the times it has snowed on this most sacred of holidays!

Sorry I haven't written in a while. Not much going on in the world, of course, other than the middle east uprisings, bombing Libya, the nuclear contamination in Japan (and resulting panic by idiots on the west coast of the US), and rising gas price. All of these things are Obama's fault, of course!

So, what am I going to write about? How about the AT&T buy T-Mobile.

Any idiot knows that competition will bring better products at lower prices, which is why the folks in big companies hate it. So, instead of innovating and doing a better job, AT&T has decided to buy a rival, so that it and Verizon will have a duopoly on cell service. We have anti-trust laws to prevent this type of non-competitive behavior, and we consumers had better hope the the Obama administration hikes up their pants and says no to this deal.

How important is competition? Check out the speed and cost of internet service in the rest of the developed world. An example is France, where providers are forced to share their infrastructure, and therefore there is far more competition than the 2 choices we have here in my neighborhood. So, they get 28M speed service for less than $40/month, with digital TV often thrown in. Here in the US, our politicians have happily let the telecom industry line their pockets in exchange for laws that block this kind of competition. I just switched to Comcast, where I will pay much more for service that is less than half that fast. Throw in the TV, and were talking $130 a month. Monopolist bastards!!

So, if you want your phone service to get worse, then buy the argument that I am sure you will hear from some idiots that to block the merger would be to interfere in "free markets". These are the people who want to turn back the clock 100 years in this country, to the days when a monopolist could do whatever he liked, as long as he kicked back enough to the pols. You know, when there was no income tax, so the country had to be better off. Yeah, right!