Monday, February 27, 2012

The Boy Who Created a Star

A pretty amazing story of a young scientific genius.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Virtues of Competition

Car shoppers today are less likely to end up with a lemon.
In the past five years, global competition has forced automakers to improve the quality and reliability of their vehicles — everything from inexpensive mini-cars to decked-out luxury SUVs.
The newfound emphasis on quality means fewer problems for owners. It also means more options for buyers, who can buy a car from Detroit or South Korea and know it will hold up like a vehicle from Japan.
With few exceptions, cars are so close on reliability that it's getting harder for companies to charge a premium. So automakers are trying to set themselves apart with sleek, cutting-edge exterior designs and more features such as luxurious interiors, multiple air bags, dashboard computers and touch-screen controls.
"It's a great time to be a consumer," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for the auto pricing website. "You can't really screw up too badly in terms of your vehicle choice."
Read the whole article, and imagine what competition might make possible if we'd throw off the regulatory handcuffs in such fields as medicine, aviation and education. (Remembering too that the automotive industry is very far from free.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Avoiding Risk Rather than Achieving Values

I often bookmark or print out articles of interest, particularly on subjects which I might write about in the future. Here's an article from 2010 that I just read which makes some interesting points regarding regulation and the mindset it foments. (I don't agree with the whole article or all its conclusions, but I think there are valuable observations within it.) These paragraphs in particular help illustrate the error of shifting focus from achieving a positive to (at best) avoiding a negative:
Critics of Big Oil have criticised the companies for making unnecessary references to walruses. But it would be wrong to interpret the inclusion of walruses in an emergency-response plan for the Gulf of Mexico as just a stupid mistake. Rather, the documents refer to these animals because their real objective is to cultivate a public-friendly and environment-friendly image for the oil companies concerned. This is probably the most disturbing revelation to come out of the Washington hearings: that oil companies now devote far greater time and energy to managing how they appear in the eyes of the public than they do developing an effective emergency-response plan. So we learned that ExxonMobil’s emergency-response plan has 40 pages on dealing with the media but only nine on dealing with an oil spill. The plan seems more preoccupied with the science of drafting press releases than with the science of taking practical steps in an emergency.

It is important to point out that this performance of ‘protecting walruses’ and appearing concerned is not confined to a handful of oil companies. There is now a widespread culture of deception – often self-deception – in the West’s confused relationship with risk, and it is widely codified and institutionalised throughout society. As I have argued before, risk is no longer regarded as an opportunity but as a hazard to be avoided. As a result, risk-taking is now culturally stigmatised. People who take risks are frequently denounced for being, by definition, irresponsible. Parents who let their children roam in the outdoors are told off for ‘taking a risk with your child’. Scientists and businesses engaged in experimentation or technological innovation are often treated as pariahs for ‘putting communities at risk’. In contrast, risk aversion, the act of avoiding risk, is increasingly held up as a positive value.


Such rule-book focused management encourages the juridification of organisational life. Red tape and bureaucratisation thrive, and what really matters is not what someone achieves, but whether or not they adhered to the ‘right processes’. So when oil companies submit a fantasy emergency-response plan, they are ticking the right boxes, and that is really what counts in the contemporary climate of risk-performance. This focus on process is dangerous: it encourages a flight from judgment and a culture of defensiveness. Too often, people are discouraged from acting on the basis of their professional judgment in case they deviate from the predictable path set out by process. In such an environment, people adopt the kind of qualities normally associated with bureaucrats. They follow, or rather perform, the rules.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Reducing State Income Taxes

The WSJ has an interesting article suggesting that many states are moving towards no, or reduced, state income taxes. The story includes this graphic as well as this commentary:

The tax burden isn't the only factor that determines investment flows and growth. But it is a major signal about how a state treats business, investment and risk-taking. States like New York, California, Illinois and Maryland that have high and rising tax rates also tend to be those that have growing welfare states, heavy regulation, dominant public unions, and budgets that are subject to boom and bust because they rely so heavily on a relatively few rich taxpayers.

The tax competition in America's heartland is an encouraging sign that at least some U.S. politicians understand that they can't take prosperity for granted. It must be nurtured with good policy, as they compete for jobs and investment with other states and the rest of the world.

"Our goal is for our economy to look more like Texas, and a lot less like California," says Mr. Brownback, the Kansas Governor. It's the right goal.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Unions vs Jobs

Canada's National Post has a good article emphasizing the role of force in typical union "negotiations". I think they're correct in pointing out that, to the extent that free trade exists across the globe, the less viable such a model is even in the short term. In the long term it can't work, with Detroit being the paragon case.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Time for Emergency Freedom

Somehow I missed PJ Media publishing an article of mine in December, so here it is under the rubric of better late than never.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The AMA, Medicare and Monopolies

The Washington Times has an informative article on the AMA's gradual selling out to its government masters. Here's an excerpt, but it's worth reading the whole thing:
You see, the once-proud AMA of the 1960s, the organization that fought a battle against Medicare in its current form, the one whose president, Dr. Edward Annis, famously predicted the problems we face today, sold its soul to the government in 1983.

Dr. Annis spoke to an empty Madison Square Garden in May 1962 because the media would not televise his direct response to President Kennedy’s speech pushing for the creation of Medicare, then called the King-Anderson Bill.

Dr. Annis predicted the top-down government controls; the rules and regulations; the giant bureaucracy, and even the fiscal insolvency that looms large today. But the train left the station in 1965 with the passage of Medicare, and in 1983, the AMA jumped on board - for money and the promise of control.

The government was looking for a way to standardize medical billing for Medicare, and the AMA had just the thing. We call it Current Procedural Terminology. The AMA owns it, and the organization signed an exclusive agreement with the government in 1983 that made it the coding system for all Medicare billing.

Gradually, the terminology became the standard for all medical billing - private insurance and government plans. The AMA has a government-granted monopoly, and it enjoys a lucrative stream of income as a result.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pelosi: Do Whatever, Taxpayers will Pay For It