Monday, December 21, 2009

Power: The Currency of Washington

The New York Times published this letter of mine on Thursday:

To the Editor:

David Segal writes that “at bottom, Washington’s social economy is based on a currency all its own: power and the proximity to power.”

He’s only partly right. Washington’s social scene is indeed based on power, but one achieves that power by the ability and willingness to spend other people’s money.

In short, the currency of Washington is backed by the currency taken from taxpayers.

Billy Hankins, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Unfortunately, they published it in the fashion section. I do not read the fashion section, I swear. The article I responded to showed up on my RSS feed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Tree Fell...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

They're Men, Not Children.

Back in October, we all had the privilege of watching Congress haul members of the NFL up to Capitol Hill so they could grandstand and take up for the poor, helpless, grown men who make millions of dollars voluntarily playing a sport they know is violent. The congressmen were addressing the prevalence of head injuries, specifically concussions, in the sport of football. Commissioner Roger Goodell was treated as the Bernie Madoff of professional sports.

Well, today we get this interesting story.

Thirty of 160 NFL players surveyed by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion.

Why would these players do such a thing? For one, there is a lot of money involved. Admitting to a concussion means you have to sit out for at least a game, maybe longer. For some players, if they are replaced by a better player, that could mean the end of their career. Also, football players are intensely competitive people. They don't want to appear weak and they don't want to let their teammates down.

Also according to the article:

About half of the surveyed players said they've been paying attention to recent news about NFL head injuries.

Players know the risks. Especially this guy:
"Players are bigger, faster, stronger," Baltimore's [Matt] Birk said, echoing other athletes. "It's simple physics: Force equals mass times acceleration. It is a violent game, and there are inherent risks to the game itself. ... Collisions are becoming more intense."

Players may not understand the deep long-term neurological consequences, but they are smart enough to know that playing a violent sport dominated by men in peak physical condition has potential risks. But they continue to play and dreamers continue to endure almost anything for the chance to play. Congress should realize this and move on to more important issues. Now lets play some FOOTBALL!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Leaving Out a Few Details Doesn't Strengthen Your Case

Below is a letter I sent to The New York Times:

Discussing job losses, Paul Krugman writes that the United States, where “employment has fallen more than 5 percent, and the unemployment rate has more than doubled” has something to learn from Germany, where “employment has fallen only half a percent, and unemployment is only slightly higher than it was before the crisis (“Free To Lose,” November 13, Opinion)."

However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that from German unification in 1990 through the end of 2008, the United States’ employment-to-population ratio was higher in every single year. Furthermore, the data also show that during the same time period, with the exception of the years 1990-1992, the unemployment rate in the United States was significantly lower than that of Germany.

Dr. Krugman may be correct when he claims that we have something to learn from how Germany has coped with its recession but I think they have something to learn from us as well.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Neal Boortz's Irrational Religious Profiling

We'll certainly have some discussion on this today. Suffice it to say for these notes ... when I went to bed last night (after a particularly fun party) I didn't know the name of the [Fort Hood] shooter. I told my wife that it was my guess the shooter would turn out to be a Muslim. Well .. this morning we're treated to the name ... the shooter was Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Doesn't sound like a Deacon in the local Baptist church to me. It seems that Major Hasan had some problems with American foreign policy. So ... let's just shoot up some soldiers. According to a fellow soldier this Muslim (I'm guessing) goon said that Muslims had a right to rise up attack America. Word is that he is actually a convert to Islam. More news expected today.

Waking up to the wonderful, peaceful, serene, peaceful religion of Islam.

The paragraph above was published today on the website of Neal Boortz, a nationally syndicated radio host based in the Atlanta-area. My question is what would make Boortz say such a thing? Has he done research on past shootings at military bases? Is there a disproportionately large number of American Muslims who regularly shoot-up U.S. military bases? Not as far as I can tell. A simple Google search revealed that.

According to Boortz, a good Christian white male would never do such a thing. I guess he doesn't know about this guy, or the hundreds of other soldiers who have committed murder on American military bases. Very few of them are Muslim.

Boortz's comments stem from his hatred of Islam. He has allowed the violent actions of people who claim to be Muslims to characterize his views of Islamic doctrine. I wonder why he doesn't do the same for Christianity, a religion whose wars have killed far more than any Islamic fundamentalist could ever fathom? Or for Judaism, whose national homeland has made life as unbearable for Palestinians as Palestinian terrorists have for Israelis?

I am disappointed in what Neal Boortz has become. It was his radio show that first got me interested in libertarianism as a teenager. Now he has become nothing more than a hateful right-wing zealot.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interesting Ultimatum

Via Greg Mankiw's Blog, Ed Glaeser presents an interesting challenge to the Democrats: If you are really worried about global warming then you should not extend the life of the first time home-buyers tax credit and you should support ending the mortgage interest deduction.

According to Glaeser, the credit and deduction encourages families to buy less energy efficient homes and the resulting sprawl increases the amount of gasoline consumption.

Democrats always seem willing to sacrifice economic gain for the environment but I wonder if they are willing to do this when voters would see it as stifling economic recovery? Also, voters may ask why they bailed out Wall Street but took away something that was giving the little guys relief. I guess the environment is worth saving only as long as it doesn't harm your reelection.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stolen Valor

What this man did is certainly objectionable but should it really be a crime? As far as I can tell he never stole anything and never physically harmed anyone. He simply lied about who he was and embarrassed and infuriated quite a few people. But if this is a crime, shouldn't this be a crime?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Economics of Nature

When I took my Econ courses in college (WAR EAGLE!!!) and in high school (GO TREES!!!), I enjoyed them thoroughly, but now that I teach Econ (GO HOUNDS!!!) I notice it in all sorts of things. I recently finished the book Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne. As the title would suggest, the book gives evidence that helps to prove evolution. In one section, Coyne explains that reproduction is the true engine of evolution. If a new trait or mutation is deadly in the long run, but allows species to produce more offspring in the short run then the new trait will spread and eventually become a part of the species. An example of this in humans would be the prostate which gives males a better chance of spreading their seed, but may be harmful because it can become enlarged and the source of cancer later in life. This creates a sort of Theory of Production for evolution where some traits will become more amplified over time as the marginal return continues to be positive. Of course there will be a time when a species meets negative returns and natural selection will not allow it to continue. The trait and the adaptation will find a point where marginal costs of the trait equal the marginal returns of the trait. An example would be the male peacock and its colorful feathers. The feathers could be even more over the top than they are now, but this would cause the males to be killed by predators before they are able to reproduce.

It is Not From The Benevolence of Google or IBM...

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

This is one of the most famous passages in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Smith was pointing out that individuals (people or firms) act in their own self-interest and we benefit from this.

A story in today's New York Times illustrates this principle. A few years ago, researchers at Google and IBM noticed that American students were having a tough time comprehending and managing the ever increasing influx of data that new computing technology was making available. So:

I.B.M. and Google set out to change the mindset at universities by giving students broad access to some of the largest computers on the planet. The companies then outfitted the computers with software that Internet companies use to tackle their toughest data analysis jobs. And, rather than building a big computer at each university, the companies created a system that let students and researchers tap into giant computers over the Internet.

But, is management at Google and IBM being altruistic? Is it their desire to see American students learn that is the reason they are making their resources available to students, free of charge? Not exactly:

Of course, it’s not all good will backing these gestures. I.B.M. is looking for big data experts who can complement its consulting in areas like health care and financial services. It has already started working with customers to put together analytics systems built on top of Hadoop. Meanwhile, Google promotes just about anything that creates more information to index and search. Nonetheless, the universities and the government benefit from I.B.M. and Google providing access to big data sets for experiments, simpler software and their computing wares.

It is not from the benevolence of Google or IBM that we receive data sets and simpler software, but from regard to their own self-interest.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Those Darn Spend-Thrift Politicians!

Here is a letter I sent to The New York Times in response to Paul Krugman's op-ed from today:

Paul Krugman laments that “for the past 30 years our political scene has been dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars” and chastises the “penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for ‘fiscal responsibility’ in Washington (“The Uneducated American,” Opinion, October 9).”

Is Dr. Krugman referring to the same Washington, DC where George Bush and his fellow Republicans were allowed to embark on a reckless eight year spending spree? Is he referring to the same Washington that earlier in the year projected record budget deficits?

There is an infinite amount of criticism that could be hurled at the politicians in Washington but fiscal prudence certainly isn’t one of them.

Billy Hankins
Tuscaloosa, AL

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is It The Community Service or The Studying That Only Takes Two Weeks Out Of The Year?

While I was listening to the radio today I heard a commercial involving two female college roommates. One roommate busts into the other's room and begins pleading with her to forget the studying for a few hours and have some fun. "C'mon, it's game day," she says. The other student replies that she has to keep up the studying in order to get a good job, otherwise she will have a hard time paying back her student loans.

The partying roommate then reminds her roommate that she is in the National Guard and has secured full tuition support, so she doesn't have to worry about repaying any loans. The diligent student then replies, in an annoyed tone, "I know. You've reminded me about a thousand times."

Now, the point of the commercial is obviously to use the promise of scholarships to entice current and potential college students into joining the National Guard. I heard something a bit different though. To me, it sounded like the person who was receiving a government subsidy wasn't putting forth as much effort as the person who was liable for 100% or their educational expenses.

Certainly, there is work involved when one joins the National Guard. But this wasn't mentioned by anyone in the commercial. All you get from the commercial is this: if you join the National Guard, your education is paid for and you have time to party; if you attempt to finance your education on your own or through loans, you won't have as much fun.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

If We Call It "Trade Enforcement" Then It Really Isn't Protectionism

I sent this letter to The New York Times today:

Senator Sherrod Brown, (D-OH), claims that “legitimate government actions, like trade enforcement, are not acts of protectionism (“Global Economic Forum to Expand Permenantly," September 25).”

Trade, as most people understand it, is a mutually beneficial exchange between a buyer and a seller. This is true no matter if the trade is between two people in the same city or between millions of buyers and sellers from different countries. So if parties to trade both expect to benefit, why does such a thing need to be enforced?

What Sen. Brown really means by “trade enforcement” is the forced prevention of mutually beneficial exchange between Americans and people from other countries. To me, that is the very essence of protectionism.

Billy Hankins

Tuscaloosa, AL

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kennedys Still Pull the Strings

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has tapped Paul G. Kirk, Jr., a long-time aide and adviser to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, to replace Kennedy in the U.S. Senate. According to The New York Times:

Mr. Kirk said he was grateful the family chose him “to be a voice and a vote” for the late senator’s causes.

I guess it's still politics as usual in the Bay State.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Screwed Up Priorities

Max Baucus, D-Montana:

“Affordability — that, I think, is the primary concern,” Mr. Baucus said. “We want to make sure that if Americans have to buy insurance, it’s affordable.”

Why not:

America: A country where if you don't want to buy insurance, you don't have to.