Saturday, October 23, 2010

Does it matter if a bird is killed by oil or by a wind turbine? The question may be more political than you realize...

I am not being facetious when I ask for a logical counter-response to this passage (I suggest you read the whole article), specifically as it relates to the bird kill numbers, but you don't have to confine it to only that. I can think of at least one, but will save it to see if anyone addresses it. THANKS! (HT: Carpe Diem)
"Affect heuristic'" is a fancy name for a pretty obvious concept, namely that we discount the drawbacks of things we are emotionally in favor of. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill certainly killed about 1,300 birds, maybe a few more. Wind turbines in America kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds every year, generally of rarer species, such as eagles. Yet wind companies receive neither the enforcement, nor the opprobrium, that oil companies do."" from Matt Ridley in WSJ

This is what you COULD BE doing with your college degree---don't look if you really don't want to know...

What 17 Million Americans Got from a College Degree

""Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.
That's from this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, via Jon Bischke on Twitter. More:

Putting issues of student abilities aside, the growing disconnect between labor market realities and the propaganda of higher-education apologists is causing more and more people to graduate and take menial jobs or no job at all. This is even true at the doctoral and professional level—there are 5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees.

For hundreds of thousands of Americans, spending four years and untold amounts of money (and debt?) gets you a job as a waiter, parking lot attendant, or janitor. Yet everyone from Barack Obama to Bill Gates keep pushing a college education as the way to secure one's economic future. That is a view that should be heavily qualified.""

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gas prices getting you down? It could be worse---imagine filling your Hummer in Paris or Rome. And I don't mean those cities in Texas...

US gasoline prices relative to European gasoline prices.  Big difference, eh?  What accounts for a majority of the difference? Gas taxes across Europe are MUCH higher than the US. In Texas the state tax per gallon a is $.20 and the Federal tax per gallon  is $.194 (19.4 cents) for a total of $.39.4 cents assessed on each gallon you purchase.  Gas taxes in Europe range between $5.00 and $7.00.  The ACTUAL price per gallon is about the same, but taxes create the chasm.  Why do European countries assess such high taxes on gasoline?  Extra credit on the next test for good responses...

Source HERE

The underbelly, but stark reality, of aid to starving people...What to do???

Human Rights Watch issued this very aggressive report on the state of donor aid to Ethiopia.  It is sad that this creates a Catch-22 situation for humanitarian aid.  If you give aid some people will be helped but you contribute to the consolidation of an oppressive regime. If you don't give you starve the regime of a tool for repression  but you also starve the people of needed food aid....
""This 105-page report documents the ways in which the Ethiopian government uses donor-supported resources and aid as a tool to consolidate the power of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of development aid, more than US$3 billion in 2008 alone. The World Bank and donor nations provide direct support to district governments in Ethiopia for basic services such as health, education, agriculture, and water, and support a “food for work” program for some of the country’s poorest people. The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany are the largest bilateral donors.""
Ethiopia: Donor Aid Supports Repression

Quotes from the Report

"There are micro-loans, which everybody goes to take out, but it is very difficult for us, [opposition] members. They say, ‘This is not from your government, it is from the government you hate. Why do you expect something from the government that you hate?'"
- A farmer from southern Ethiopia

"Yesterday in fact the kebele [village] chairman said to me, ‘You are suffering so many problems, why don't you write a letter of regret and join the ruling party?'"
- A farmer with a starving child from southern Ethiopia, denied participation in the safety net food-for-work program

"The safety net is used to buy loyalty to the ruling party. That is money that comes from abroad. Democracy is being compromised by money that comes from abroad. Do those people who send the money know what it is being used for? Let them know that it is being used against democracy."
- A farmer from Amhara region

"It is clear that our money is being moved into political brainwashing."
- Consultant to a major donor, Addis Ababa

"Intimidation is all over, in every area. There is politicization of housing, business, education, agriculture. Many of the people are forced or compromised to join the party because of safety net and so on, many do not have a choice - it is imposed."
- Western donor official, Addis Ababa

"Every tool at their disposal - fertilizer, loans, safety net - is being used to crush the opposition. We know this."
- Senior Western donor official, Addis Ababa

"Which state are we building and how? It could be that we are building the capacity of the state to control and repress."
- World Bank staff member, Addis Ababa

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The signs are not good...No, really, the signs are NOT good...Can't you see that??

ALL CAPS? Not OK on road signs, federal government says

In a nod to the fading eyesight of the nation's growing number of aging Baby Boomers, the federal government is requiring communities around the USA to change street name signs from all capital letters to a combination of capital and lowercase letters. The government says that makes them easier to read.

Cash-starved localities also will have to dig deep for new, more reflective traffic signs to make them easier to see at night, especially by older drivers.
Under Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulations, communities have until 2015 to improve the nighttime visibility of roadside signs — such as stop, yield and railroad crossing signs. The issue is how well a sign redirects light from an automobile's headlights back toward the vehicle. Signs that fail to meet minimum standards must be replaced. Communities will be allowed to change the street name signs as they wear out.
The changes are called for in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, an 816-page (plus appendixes) behemoth that sets standards for traffic control devices — signs, signals and pavement markings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are the conditions ripe for Stagflation? The latest breaking news on "rare earth" minerals is dog piling on the cost of producing...

     Have we moved one step closer to Stagflation?  Stagflation a term used to describe the twin problems of stagnant GDP (hence increasing/high unemployment) and inflation.  We already have the high unemployment...This is the WORST thing that can happen to an economy in the short run because it is extremely difficult to get out of.  Traditional Aggregate Demand policies tend to exaccerbate the problem. 

     In the last week I have blogged about rising grain prices which affect many parts of the food supply, the depreciating dollar which increases the prices of globally traded commodities (oil, metals, minerals, agricultural products, etc) , and now this breaking news from China:

""China, which has been blocking shipments of crucial minerals to Japan for the last month, has now quietly halted shipments of those materials to the United States and Europe, three industry officials said on Tuesday.

 ""China mines 95 percent of the world’s rare earth elements, which have broad commercial and military applications, and are vital to the manufacture of products as diverse as cellphones, large wind turbines and guided missiles. Any curtailment of Chinese supplies of rare earths is likely to be greeted with alarm in Western capitals, particularly because Western companies are believed to keep much smaller stockpiles of rare earths than Japanese companies. ""

This will only serve to increase the price of these minerals for the producers of the goods that use these "rare earth minerals".   All these things mentioned above increase the cost of producing a wide variety of goods.  This tends to shift the short-run Aggregate Supply curve to the left, decreasing GDP, increasing unemployment and increasing the average price level of goods---Stagflation...This is what the textbook says may happen.  I certainly hope it does not, but...

Monday, October 18, 2010

I-Pad price in selected countries...Useful in comparing retail price differences across borders

The price of an I-Pad in various countries.  It is also a good illustration on the differences in sales taxes in said countries as well. The price is across the top on the graph in increments of $100.  I am a little curious as to why it is so costly in China.  The Big Mac Index shows we can get a hamburger for less dollars, why not the I-Pad. I honestly don't know the answer...Any ideas???
The Economist
From The Economist: ""IF YOU fly from Hong Kong to Frankfurt or Paris and look suspiciously like a gadget lover, chances are that you will be searched by customs officers: an iPad with Wi-Fi and 16 gigabytes of memory costs $200 less in the former British colony than in Germany and France. Given the risk of having to pay extra duty (and the price of the flight), potential iPad buyers in both countries ought to consider a trip to nearby Luxembourg, where Apple's popular device is $35 cheaper. The sales tax is only one reason for such differences in price. Consumers in Hong Kong also get a better deal because iPads are assembled in mainland China. Buyers in Switzerland have to pay more because there is less competition between retailers. In China and Mexico, the device may be cheaper because people are poorer. Incidentally, if income is taken into account, consumers in Luxembourg get the best deal: they only have to spend about 0.8% of the city-state's GDP per person on an iPad.""

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What do the following have in common: The i-Pad, Kids with Special Needs, Frederic Bastiat, and Adam Smith--More than you would think!

As a parent of a special needs child AND an economics teacher, this story from the WSJ: Using the iPad to Connect really inspired me.  The i-Pad is conferring "unseen" benefits on special needs children that even Steve Jobs admits he never saw coming:

""The rise of mainstream tablet computers is proving to have unforeseen benefits for children with speech and communication problems—and such use has the potential to disrupt a business where specialized devices can cost thousands of dollars.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in an interview that he hopes the easy-to-use design of the iPad has helped children with special needs take to the device more quickly, but that its use in therapy wasn't something Apple engineers could have foreseen.

"We take no credit for this, and that's not our intention," Mr. Jobs said, adding that the emails he gets from parents resonate with him. "Our intention is to say something is going on here," and researchers should "take a look at this.""
Frederic Bastiat and Adam Smith commenting on the nature of why people work to produce a good, such as the i-Pad, and the residual benefits that society enjoys from that pursuit:
"By virtue of exchange, one man's prosperity is beneficial to all others."--Frederic Bastiat 
"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it...."--Adam Smith
This article is a great teaching tool as well---creative destruction, positive externalities, and competition come to mind first.  I highly recommend it to everyone to read....

The waste created from getting food from the field to the consumer--Wanna get rich? Figure out a way to eliminate it or at least minimize it...

Anyone who attempts to live the "economic way of thinking", waste and/or inefficiency is the bane of their existence.  I have been reading a thread from a blog by a terrific AP economics teacher, who also teaches a class on logistics.  He made a point that has stuck with me and when I saw the article below on the tremendous amount of food that is wasted from field-to-table, it brought it to life (paraphrased): "If you want to get rich, create a way to get goods from one place to another faster than it is being done now." Are you up to the challenge?  Extra credit if you can come up with a viable solution to this problem!! (Other than the solutions mentioned below, of course)

""From WSJ: The U.S. produces about 591 billion pounds of food each year, and up to half of it goes to waste, costing farmers, consumers and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.In his new book, "American Wasteland" (Da Capo Press, 2010), Jonathan Bloom examines the story of discarded food, from vegetables left to rot in the field to unsold hamburgers shovelled into restaurant trash bins. He also offers potential remedies, such as taxes on landfills, expanded composting programs and incentives for farmers to harvest all that they grow and to donate what they can't sell.
Below, a look at the cycle of food waste.

Food waste begins at farms. With lettuce, for example, the average harvest rate has been estimated at 85% to 90%. The rest of the lettuce—heads that don't look or feel perfect on quick inspection—are left in the field. One cucumber grower said that at least half of the cucumbers on his farms aren't harvested,mostly because they are too curved (making them hard to pack) or have white spots or small cracks. Farm losses are generally higher for hand-picked fruit and perishable vegetables than for machine-harvested commodity crops like corn and wheat; about 9% of commodity crops planted in the U.S. aren't harvested.

The average item in the produce section of your supermarket travels some 1,500 miles before arriving at its destination, either a wholesaler or a supermarket's regional distribution center. These journeys by truck, train, plane and ship bring more opportunities for lost food, as items decay or get damaged en route. In-transit losses reach 10% to 15% for some crops, with tomatoes, leafy greens and grapes among the most fragile.

U.S. supermarkets throw away an estimated 30 million pounds of food every day—damaged goods, expired products, dented boxes and the like. According to a recent study by the USDA, in 2006 supermarkets tossed out, on average, 8% of their fresh fruit, 8% of their fresh vegetables, 5% of their fresh meat and poultry and 9% of their fresh seafood. (Among the most frequently discarded items were mustard greens, at 61%, papaya, at 51%, and veal, at 28%.) Some of the unwanted food gets composted or donated, but most of it ends up in landfills. Researchers also estimate that American households waste 15% to 25% of the food that they buy, but the actual figure may be higher. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that British consumers throw away a third of the food that comes into their homes.

Commercial kitchens (in hospitals, schools and restaurants) throw away between 4% and 10% of the food that they purchase, for reasons like overproduction, spoilage, expiration, trimmings, burned items, catering leftovers and contamination. Up to 10% of the items at fast-food restaurants are discarded because they've sat too long after being prepared. The losses continue on the plate. A researcher from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found that diners leave an average of 17% of their meals uneaten, because of factors like large serving sizes or unwanted side dishes. And roughly 55% of major leftovers aren't taken home.

Food scraps are the second-largest component of the national waste stream, making up 19% of what we put into landfills. (Americans compost only about 2.5% of the food that they discard.) Food in landfill creates methane, a source of greenhouse gas. In addition, 2% of all U.S. energy consumption goes into producing food that is ultimately thrown out. Some cities and countries have taken action. Seattle and San Francisco made household composting mandatory in 2009, and last summer, Norway banned food and biodegradable waste from its landfills.""
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