Sunday, March 26, 2006


Cue the Dashboard Confessional song...I've been vindicated. Last June, I expressed my support for pay-per-mile road financing schemes. Of course, there are obvious privacy concerns that other libertarians (someone actually left a comment!) have a knee-jerk reaction against. Fortunately, Alex Tabarrok agrees with me.

I wonder how many other regulatory agencies are completely useless...

Via this post, I discovered this post, which contains this:
My column barely mentions one important part of the story--the regulatory environment. At first, containerization grew through cracks in the rigid regulatory structure of the 1960s. But today's fully integrated systems became possible only after trucking and rail were deregulated in the 1970s and maritime rates were deregulated (to very little fanfare) in 1984. Assumptions about transportation regulation have changed so radically that reading about the bad old days seems like science fiction.
As Levinson said in our interview, "Nobody even remembers what the Interstate Commerce Commission used to do. But you’ve probably been in the old ICC building on Constitution Avenue in Washington. It had a choice spot in Washington. Important agency, important location, big building. This was a key federal agency. And it spent its time hearing arguments about whether this truck line ought to be able to carry cigarettes in the same trucks as it carried textiles or whether the rates that were being charged to carry pretzels were adequate. People have trouble remembering that today."
So back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the ICC had a bunch of people in suits deciding how trucking companies could operate, and they all felt important, like they were looking out for the American consumer. I wonder how many other similar regulatory agencies exist that, upon ceasing to exist, would result in a noticeable increase in liberty and prosperity. I'm guessing there are dozens, if not hundreds (especially if you go state-by-state!).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

That town in Florida the Dominos guy wants to build

I've heard worries from some of my liberal, Democrat-leaning friends about Ave Maria, the town in Florida that the founder of Domino's Pizza (Thomas S. Monaghan) wants to build. From a CNN article:
The town of Ave Maria is being constructed around Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years. Both are set to open next year about 25 miles east of Naples in southwestern Florida.
Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.
This is basically a large real estate development...not really a "town" in the way that I think a lot of people are assuming. There won't be any abortion or birth control in the "town," which means nothing since the development is only 25 miles away from Naples. There are numerous small towns around the country that are further than 25 miles away from abortion and birth control, so the fact that the development won't offer these things isn't anything to write home about.

But what really struck me when I first heard about this was how, if the developers really want to turn this whole thing into a town, it's not going to work. Why won't it work? It's too centrally planned. Central planning doesn't work. Ask the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, North Korea, etc.

The planned university will probably succeed, but the town won't end up being some American version of the Vatican, as alarmists in the media would want you to believe. If the developers are overly oppressive towards businesses locating within their "town," developers will simply build just outside of the town.

Drug Prices

I like this little rant by Ronald Bailey.
The economically ignorant Times notes, "[P]eople who analyze drug pricing say they see the Mustargen situation as emblematic of an industry trend of basing drug prices on something other than the underlying costs."
Ahem. Prices are not based on costs; they are based on what people are willing to pay for something. Think of it this way.Your parents probably paid less than $25,000 for their first house. Fortunately, let's say they bought in Chevy Chase, Maryland and stayed there all their lives. Now the average home price is $600,000. If one only took inflation from 1960 into account, the house would only be worth $160,000. Unfortunately, your parents were run over by a Presidential motorcade. As their heir, would you be willing to sell their house for the equivalent of what they paid for it? Would that be fair to you?
Of course, the response by many well-meaing people is something like "Drugs are different. Sick people need drugs; how dare someone profit off their misery!" However, there will be few new drugs if you take the profit out of discovering and producing them. Then sick people will simply suffer and die as they always have, but at least no one will have made a dime off of their misery. And while I'm thinking about it; how dare those grocers and homebuilders profit off of people's hunger and need for shelter!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Loser pays

I'm currently reading John Stossel's book "Give Me A Break." It's very easy to read, probably because I already know about and agree with almost everything Stossel discusses. But one thing I wasn't aware of was the idea of "loser pays." Here's an article by Stossel that hits the main points he covers in the book.

"Loser pays" would impose penalties on the plaintiff if they bring a case to court and lose. An example Stossel uses in his book is Instant Replay in the NFL. When it first debuted, there was no cost to making a challenge to a call and the system was abused, slowing down the game. Fans revolted and Instant Replay got thrown out. Of course, the system has been brought back, but now teams that challenge a ruling get charged a time out if they lose the challenge. Big surprise...this system works better now.

In America, we're still operating under the old Instant Replay system. If a plaintiff loses a lawsuit, they rarely, if ever, get penalized. This makes it really easy for frivolous liability lawsuits to be brought. The practice of champerty (think venture capitalism funding of lawsuits) may even be used. As Stossel points out in his article, since the American system lacks "loser pays," determined lawyers can file an unlimited amount of lawsuits until they finally reach the desired outcome.
This is what happened with the lawsuits against the tobacco companies.
They just keep suing until they do; they lost 700 lawsuits before they started winning against the cigarette makers.
With deep pockets and a battery of lawyers hoping to cash-in on a mega settlement, it's easy to see why liability lawsuits are they're own little cottage industry in America.

Almost every other country (England, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, etc.) has "loser pays." And it helps deter frivolous lawsuits. As Walter Olson points out:
European courts also come down hard on the Yankee practice of blowing up routine injuries into whopping cash demands. The litigant who claims a million marks or francs in damages but proves only a hundred thousand is deemed to have lost at least in part, and some lump of fees will be deducted from his award. (Various rules deal with the special cases where damages cannot be precisely calculated.) England's "pay into court" rule serves a similar function: If a plaintiff turns down a settlement offer and does worse at trial, the plaintiff has by definition not prevailed for purposes of fees incurred after the offer.

Thus (a Swiss law professor explained to me) when a Zurich or Frankfurt accident victim walks into the office with a good case, the first order of business after establishing the case's merit is to figure out what is a reasonable amount of money to request, based on what the courts have given for similar injuries. Asking for more could risk a fee penalty. An American lawyer who handled a case that way would probably be sued for malpractice or disbarred on grounds of insanity.
America needs to institute "loser pays" now. Oh, and Stossel's awesome.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Is the New York City Council made up of, as Napolean Dynamite would say, "Iiidiots!?!"

Some entrepreneurial individuals from New York City have found a partial solution to the city's traffic problems (link):
Known as pedicabs, these vehicles look like giant tricycles with a passenger carriage in the back. Some tourists and New Yorkers see them as an affordable, pollution-free way to see the city and sail through gridlock.
Of course, as Alex Tabarrok points out, the almighty New York City Council (peace be upon them), in their omniscient way, have decided that to save the ignorant and stupid masses (particulary tourists), they must impose regulations on the innovative pedicab operators.
"It is disconcerting that New Yorkers and tourists are riding in these devices without oversight in place -- non-inspected devices that may not have proper safety equipment or insurance," said Iris Weinshall, New York's transportation commissioner. "We simply cannot wait for a tragic accident involving a pedicab to occur."
Yeah, I bet you're losing a lot of sleep over it, Iris. And your solution sounds like a great idea. Subject small business owners to so much red tape that they go out of busineess. Then the people that would have ridden in a pedicab--which so far has never been involved in a fatal accident--will instead ride in regular taxis. And of course, New York taxis never crash (PDF).

Image from here.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Vote for Sue Jeffers!

You have to be a Minnesota resident to vote for Sue Jeffers (running for governor under the Libertarian Party) this November, but you can vote for her online right now. Do it!

As of this post, she's in second place. Help move her into first!

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Meme for me...why not?

Wow, despite an approximately three month drought of posts (I've since picked things back up), someone memed me. I have no choice but to comply.

Four jobs I've had:

1.) Grocery bagger at 29 Super in Weston, WI - I was good.
2.) Surveyor's assistant - While only working there for 1 1/2 months, I learned how hard surveying is.
3.) "Consultative sales representative, technology" at Office Depot in downtown Minneapolis - I learned how much I don't want to work in a retail environment
4.) Independent distributor for Amp beverage promotion - I handed out free cans of Amp energy drink to drunk people in downtown Minneapolis when the bars closed...this was an awesome job.

Four movies I can watch over and over:

1.) Star Wars
2.) Ferris Bueller's Day Off
3.) The Bourne Identity
4.) Mission Impossible

Four places I've lived:

1.) Milwaukee, WI
2.) Brooklyn Park, MN
3.) Fairfield, IA
4.) Kronenwetter, WI

Four TV shows I love:

1.) The Office (British version and American version)
2.) Seinfeld
3.) 24
4.) Saturday Night Live

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven't seen much of:

1.) Arrested Development
2.) CSI: anything
3.) The Sopranos
4.) Everybody Hates Chris (I saw this on someone else's list, but it fits for me, too)

Four places I've vacationed:

1.) Lausanne, Switzerland
2.) Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
3.) Colorado (Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen - all on college ski trips)
4.) Milwaukee, WI (Brewers games and German Fest!)

Four of my favorite foods:

1.) Baby-back ribs
2.) Peel-and-eat shrimp
3.) Cajun mix from Office Depot and/or Rainbox Foods (the generic brand)
4.) Angel food cake with strawberries

Four sites I visit daily:

1.) The Agitator
2.) Hammer of Truth
3.) Marginal Revolution
4.) Google News

Four places I'd rather be right now:

1.) Europe (Germany, Switzerland, or France)
2.) Somewhere luxurious and tropical but not crowded
3.) A clean house
4.) Somewhere cool creating really good graffitti

Four new bloggers I'm tagging

1.) I'm so low on the internet food chain...everybody's already been tagged. Next time, next time.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

What a surprise...socialism doesn't work

This article at Reason discusses some California legislator's plan to force Canadian-style socialized medicine upon all Californians. It links to this New York Times article.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb. 23 — The Cambie Surgery Center, Canada's most prominent private hospital, may be considered a rogue enterprise.
Accepting money from patients for operations they would otherwise receive free of charge in a public hospital is technically prohibited in this country, even in cases where patients would wait months or even years before receiving treatment.
But no one is about to arrest Dr. Brian Day, who is president and medical director of the center, or any of the 120 doctors who work there. Public hospitals are sending him growing numbers of patients they are too busy to treat, and his center is advertising that patients do not have to wait to replace their aching knees.
One thing that wasn't mentioned in the Reason article is this bit from the New York Times story.
While proponents of private clinics say they will shorten waiting lists and quicken service at public institutions, critics warn that they will drain the public system of doctors and nurses. Canada has a national doctor shortage already, with 1.4 million people in the province of Ontario alone without the services of a family doctor.
If health care is a right, will Canada start forcing young people to go to medical school (and stay and work in the draconian Candadian system)?

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Hurry up...let's take their land before it's illegal

Minnetonka, MN wants to take land using eminent domain so that it can sell it to a developer. But they have to hurry, because Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform are working to ban such practices (the governmental powers resulting from the Kelo ruling were already explicitly legal in Minnesota). From this story:
Minnetonka will use a process called a "quick take" to seize the properties for the Glen Lake project. If it can get a judge to agree, it can take the land in about three months, before prices are set or legal appeals are completed.
The redevelopment plan for Glen Lake, one of Minnetonka's oldest neighborhoods, consists of about 180 condominiums and 20,000 square feet of retail space at Excelsior Boulevard and Woodhill Road. If the two lots are acquired, they would be turned over to developer Tom Wartman, the owner of the Glenhaven shopping center. He would reimburse the city for its costs.

Minnesota legislators have proposed laws sharply limiting cities' eminent domain powers. Minnetonka officials said they needed to act quickly to start proceedings now, before the Legislature goes into session, because changes to the law could be made retroactive to the beginning of the session March 1. They also want to have the property available for summer construction.
Maybe I'm being too harsh, though. Do the Minnetonka public officials have lofty goals?
The city cites three public purposes for its use of eminent domain: cleaning up blighted property and building affordable housing in the project as a whole, and building a public path on the Zachman property.
Whatever. Minnetonka is one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, especially the part west of Interstate 494. Does this look like a blighted area to you?

UPDATE: For comments, see the original post here.

Occupational licensing makes the rich richer

I don't like occupational licensing. Industries and trade groups should be free to limit the labor supply as much as they want, but they should not be able to use the force of government to do so. Using government to preserve a limited pool of labor in a given industry so that wages in that industry increase is nothing more than clever wealthfare.

It's not a tax if it's a private company

Boing Boing is wrong. In this story, the headline is, "AOL: Screw you, we're taxing email anyway."

Now, I know that what America Online is doing sounds like a tax, but it's not a tax because America Online is a private company. Unlike true taxes, which are imposed by governments and backed by the [if necessary, deadly] use of force, America Online's so-called "tax" is nothing more than a business decision.

I could see calling it a "tax" for practical reasons, even if it technically wasn't, if America Online had monopoly control over email. However, thisn is defiitely not the case. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, universities, ISPs, etc. all offer free email that is as good if not better than America Online's. Moreover, one could take their destiny into their own hands and get setup their own email service by starting their own website (for which the options are literally infinite). If America Online thinks this is a good business decision and it turns out not to be, they'll suffer the consequences and lose customers to their myriad competitors.

America Online cannot [legally] use force to make people comply with this new program. Therefore, this is not a tax. This guy agrees.