Monday, June 30, 2014

Famous last words

We're reminded by Russ Roberts' conversation with Lars Peter Hansen today, of Leonid Kantorovich's ending to his Nobel Prize--the only Russian economist ever to win one--lecture in 1975;
The difficulties of modelling and data creation can be overcome like similar difficulties were overcome in the natural and technical sciences. My hope is based on the more and more intensive steam of research for new methods and algorithms in this field, on the fact of appearance of new theoretical approaches and problem statements, on a series of concrete studies of general and special problems concerning separate economic branches, on the fact that a whole army of talented young researchers work now in this field. A significant progress is now being made in the development of computer hard- and software and their mastering.
The mathematicians, economists and practical managers have achieved a better mutual understanding.
The favourable conditions for the work in this field were given by well-known important statements on control methods and their improvements which were made in last years by our authorities.
Note well that, 'by our authorities'. Kantorovich is praising Leonid Brezhnev, because...well, because he'd better if he knows what's good for him.

We were reminded of Kantorovich because, 1) Tjalling Koopmans--who shared the Nobel with Kantorovich in 1975--is mentioned in the Roberts-Hansen podcast, and 2) Hansen, who shared the 2013 Nobel Prize, gave as his acceptance a speech titled, Uncertainty Outside and Inside Economic Models.

Something that Kantorovich's masters didn't appreciate, and he was loathe to admit back in 1975. But four decades later it's clear just how Kantorovich's 'difficulties of modelling' weren't so easily 'overcome' as he predicted. Though he himself ought to have had an inkling if he'd only read his own speech;
The problem [for a centrally planned economy like the USSR's] is to construct a system of information, accounting, economic indices and stimuli which permit local decision-making organs to valuate the advantage of their decisions from the point of view of the whole economy. In other words to make profitable for them the decisions profitable for the system, give a possibility to check the validity of the work of local organs activity also from the point of view of the whole economy.
Which is followed in the body of the speech by excuse after excuse after excuse, like;
Some complex problems of economic control were generated by the contemporary development of the economy, by the so-called scientific-technical revolution. I mean the problems of prediction and control in conditions of large shifts in the weights of different branches, of the rapid changes in production and technology, national economy. The problems of estimating technical innovations and the general effect of technical progress. The problems of ecology connected with the deep changes of the natural environment under the influence of human activity, the prospects of exhausting the natural resources. The prediction of social changes and their influence on the economy. The changes in presence of contemporary computational technique, means of communication, managerial devices and so on.
Most of these problems arise also in countries with capitalist economy but in socialist economy they have their own difficulties and peculiarities.
There existed neither experience nor sufficient theoretical foundation for the solving of these hard problems.
Nor did solutions ever develop, despite the best intentions of Kantorovich and his colleagues in the Soviet Union. And there were secret police, labor camps, hidden microphones, even nuclear weapons available for the authorities he praises, to enforce their decisions.

So far, all the evidence is that the difficulties of economic modelling can't be overcome.

Meet the new landlords

They call themselves the Islamic Caliphate and they have a five year plan, which includes Andalus (Spain, currently);
ISIS has formally declared the establishment of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast stretches of the Middle East that have fallen under its control, and has outlined a vision to expand into Europe. 
The announcement was described as the 'most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11'.
Upon declaring a caliphate, the Sunni militants - whose brutality in attempting to establish control in Iraq and Syria has been branded too extreme even by Al Qaeda - demanded allegiance from Muslims around the world.
With brutal efficiency, ISIS has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state.
Bears a striking resemblance to the old landlords;

Just more ambitious. Too bad Barack Obama didn't think about this possibility before he declared the war ended.

We didn't do anything wrong, just ask me

The judge who presided over the George Zimmerman fiasco, decided not to recuse herself when Zimmerman--who, it emerged during the trial, under the nose of Judge Debra, was peacefully standing on a sidewalk waiting for a policeman to respond to his call--filed suit for defamation;
A Florida judge on Monday dismissed the defamation lawsuit filed by George Zimmerman against NBC and three reporters, saying the former neighborhood watch leader failed to show the network acted with malice.
Judge Debra Nelson said the malice standard was appropriate because Zimmerman became a public figure after he shot 17-year-oldTrayvon Martin in Sanford in February 2012, generating a national conversation about race and self-defense laws.
....Zimmerman "voluntarily injected his views into the public controversy surrounding race relations and public safety in Sanford and pursued a course of conduct that ultimately led to the death of Martin and the specific controversy surrounding it," said Nelson, who presided over Zimmerman's criminal trial last summer.
He 'pursued a course of conduct' by acting like a responsible citizen alerting the police to a possible law breaker in his neighborhood. He telephoned a non-emergency police dispatcher and asked for a policeman to be sent to investigate. While awaiting that police officer he was attacked by teen-ager Trayvon Martin, who, it emerged during testimony in Judge Debra's own courtroom, mistakenly thought George Zimmerman was a homosexual stalking him.

Young Trayvon, according to his friend Rachel Jeantel (again, testifying right in front of this same judge) admitted that Trayvon was almost home, safe from whatever he thought Zimmerman was up to, but returned to where--approximately 70 yards away--Zimmerman was awaiting the police. At which admission this judge should have tossed the prosecution's politically motivated charge against Zimmerman.

Had Judge Debra ruled that Zimmerman has a legitimate defamation case against NBC--which did, unquestionably, alter Zimmerman's statement to make him look like a racist for responding to the dispatcher's question about the race of the 'perp', she would have been admitting to her own incompetence.

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz has called for the prosecutors in the Zimmerman case to be disbarred. We say, add the judge.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stick a fork in Piketty

He's done...after this demolition by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen;
Marc Andreessen:The funny thing about Piketty is that he has a lot more faith in returns on invested capital than any professional investor I've ever met. It's actually very interesting about his book. This is exactly what you'd expect form a French socialist economist. He assumes it's really easy to put money in the market for 40 years or 80 years or 100 years and have it compound at these amazing rates. He never explains how that's supposed to happen.
Every investment manager I know is sweating the opposite problem....
Piketty thinks it's really easy to compound capital at scale. There's just a lot of evidence that that's not true. The shining example of that is: where are all the big companies and the big families?
If you look at what's actually happening in the Forbes 400 and the Fortune 500, churn is accelerating. One year it's some real estate family, and then the next year it's like, "There's Larry Page, where did he come from?" Somehow Piketty looks through that to a world where all this change is going to just stop. [He has] this idea that normal is 18th-century feudal France, and we're going to go back to it.
He does this other dodge where the 20th century doesn't conform to his theory, but that's because of the wars and economic dislocations. And so it's like the 21st century is predicted to be much more peaceful and calm. I don't know about you but that's not what I see happening. I look around the world right now and I see exciting things happening that's causing a lot of changes.
... At what point is all of this progress and change and disruption going to stop to basically let rich people cement their gains and then earn these great returns in perpetuity. When is that supposed to start?
Maybe that's what happening in France, but it doesn't map to anything I see. What's happening in France is the opposite, which is that all the rich people are leaving, as a consequence of the government he's advising. The irony here is very deep. 
Another irony (which Andreessen doesn't mention in the interview) is that for a really perverse concentration of capital in an economy you couldn't do worse than the former Soviet Union in the 1950s and 60s. There the central planners of Gosplan deliberately starved its citizens of consumer goods in order to build up their capital base. Nothing like that has ever happened in a truly free market economy.

In the Soviet Union everyone was equal...except for the high level members of the Communist Party who ruled everyone else. Francis Spufford, in his Red Plenty related the story told by Leonid Brezhnev's tailor, Aleksandr Igmand, in his memoir, of how Brezhnev, after a visit to America, was so enamored of denim jackets he had one made for himself.

The big problem was that nowhere in the Soviet Union were there the right metal buttons. A special order was sent to a steel foundry for enough buttons to make one jacket...for the head honcho of the people.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What a little reading light can do for you

Unless you're determined to ignore it--and you've already ignored the textbooks. It, being what João Paulo Pessoa and John Van Reenen of the LSE have found in the UK;
Based on the experience from past recessions, we would have expected unemployment to have soared into double digit territory. In fact, the labour market has held up surprisingly well. Unemployment peaked at 8.3%, which – although unacceptably high – is lower than the unemployment during the 1980s and 1990s recessions, even though these took less of a toll on output.
The flip-side of the unemployment picture is the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’. Labour productivity as measured by output per hour worked has collapsed: It is about 4% lower than it was pre-recession and according to the Bank of England, 16% below what would have been expected if past trends had continued ....
But it's not really a puzzle, it's just our old friends Supply and Demand;
Between the second quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2013, average hourly wages in the UK fell 8.5% in real terms....
Which neatly explains why, 'the labour market has held up surprisingly well.' At lower prices, all else equal, more quantity sold--or, at lower wages, more quantity of labour bought. That's what an economist--supposedly including Seattle's Kshama Sawant--would expect to happen. Back to the two LSE guys;
Lower real wages seem to have helped reduce lay-offs because they have made it cheaper for firms to hang on to their workers even in the face of falling demand. But low wages also made it relatively cheaper for firms to take on more workers rather than invest in new capital or technologies.
Wonder what enforcing a $15 per hour minimum wage for unskilled labor would do to this formula.
This trend is reinforced because the cost of investment has also increased for many firms.
That's an opportunity cost argument from the textbook.
Although the Bank of England has kept the base interest rate near zero, and has tried to get this passed on by printing money (quantitative easing), the actual cost of capital seems to have increased.
The Bank estimates that the cost of capital has increased by two percentage points (from 8%) for large firms, with the challenges even greater for smaller firms. This is at least partly a result of the tougher standards introduced to ensure that banks hold sufficient levels of capital to cover risky lending, which helps to explain why investment in the UK has fallen by about 25% from 2008 levels and remained low until the beginning of 2013....
Again, no surprises here for the Grunts in economics. Summing it up;
The upshot of this is that the price of labour (wages) has fallen and the price of capital has increased, so firms have had incentives to substitute cheaper workers for more expensive machinery and buildings. And while this means employment is much higher than we would have otherwise have expected, it means that productivity has been depressed as a result of less investment per worker.
No need for I Love Lucy Economics, but Milton Friedman knew all this.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sabía Hugo Chávez, Hugo Chávez era un amigo mío ....

The eternally serving planning minister, Jorge Giordani, who used to be Chávez’s intellectual mentor, issued a letter following his dismissal on June 17. The letter chided President Nicolás Maduro for failing to convey a sense of leadership, for giving people the feeling that there is a power vacuum in the country, and for making the wrong decisions on economic issues.
Nor was he the only disaffected Chavista;
...several former Chávez ministers took sides by expressing support for either Giordani or for his critics. Among these was Héctor Navarro, another early member of Chávez’s retinue who was summarily dismissed from the national leadership by Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Rafael Isea, a former finance minister, lamented PSUV’s treatment of former Chávez officials who have expressed criticism of Maduro’s administration. Speaking from his current residence in the United States, he called the goverment's attitude “an extremely serious mistake.”
Watch out for visitors with ice axes, boys;
The critics include several leading figures from the days of Hugo Chávez, giving the impression that Chavismo could be making way for Madurismo, a somewhat more pragmatic and revisionist take on the Bolivarian Revolution that is trying to take the leftist movement down a similar path as that followed by Deng Xiaoping when he opened up Communist China to business and trade.
But now that he can no longer conceal the internal rift, Nicolás Maduro is starting to sound more like Stalin. 
Or Castro.

Why don't you start your own company and see for yourself?

If diversity is all San Francisco claims it is;
Linking pay to diversity is not as audacious as it sounds. Verizon, Dell, Coca-Cola and Kraft base top managers' pay on diversity initiatives, as do several hospitals and nonprofits. According to a report last year by Calvert Investments, 42 percent of the companies in the Standard & Poor's 100 index link executive compensation to diversity goals.
"As compensation is the principal performance incentive at any company, its alignment with diversity objectives conveys the importance of inclusion to high-level managers and helps ensure a focus on advancing diverse employees," the Calvert report said.
Linking diversity to executive pay only makes sense if the company sincerely believes that recruiting more women and minorities is not just good social policy but sound business strategy. Frankly, it's surprising more media companies don't do it....
So if a diverse workforce is key to a company's financial success....

And if it isn't 'key to a company's financial success'?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nostalgia not what it used to be

The Grecian formula was;
The woman who died in a burning Athens bank still smiles at Giorgos Mastorakos on his way to the delicatessen he owns around the corner.
The wreaths and tributes no longer cascade onto the road to mark the spot where she and her two colleagues were killed in violence in May 2010 after the country’s unsustainable debts and ensuing financial decline resulted in the first depression since World War II. At the makeshift memorial that fewer people visit on the anniversary of the deaths, the photo of the woman’s face is framed by an anarchist sign and withering bouquets.
They've gotten beyond all that;
“You could almost say that Greece went through the five stages of grief,” said Andreas Koutras, an adviser at SteppenWolf Capital LLC, an investment company based in Switzerland. “Greeks passed through the initial phases of denial and anger and are now at the depression and acceptance of the inevitable.”Greece was re-designated an emerging market last year for investors, status it had shed when the country headed toward euro membership. Confidence has returned so strongly that during the past month investors favored Greece more than any peer, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Greek bonds returned 309 percent since March 2012, based on the Bloomberg Greece Sovereign Bond Index. Lottery operator Opap SA pays out about 67 percent of its revenue in winnings. As yields tumbled, so did the cost of insuring against the country reneging on its debts. Credit-default swaps, which paid out with the debt restructuring, are the cheapest since 2010.
About all that rioting; nevermind. Now we're North Dakota;
Investor interest in bidding for permits to explore for oil and natural gas off Greece is stronger than expected, Energy Minister Yiannis Maniatis said.
“More than 10 international petroleum companies have expressed interest in the Ionian Sea and south of Crete, which is better than we expected,” Maniatis said in an interview in Athens. “We now know for sure that there are hydrocarbons in Greece and that exploring for them makes economic sense.”

I wonder who's kitsching her now

Deutsche Welle's Jane Paulick manages to overlook that it took secret police, landmines, barbed wire and concrete walls, and machine guns to keep East Germans there. By the time she arrived in East Berlin, it was so cute...if you were footloose and fancy free;
... it felt like a place that existed in a parallel universe, and given its complete transformation over the last two decades into the apogee of cool, looking back at those years is like trying to remember a dream. It wasn't in the least bit cool: You were about as likely to spot a tourist on Kastanienallee as a unicorn, and when you needed to wash your hair you went to a disused public swimming pool on Oderbergerstrasse and paid one Deutschmark to use the showers.
So it was with a mixture of nostalgia and disbelief that I flicked through the pages of "Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited, 1990-1996," a collection of photos recently published by Gestalten. As it says on its website, "It seems practically impossible that these photos were taken only 20 years ago."
Was it really so desolate? Did we really put up with stairwell toilets and coal ovens? And was it really as much fun as it looks? Yes, yes and yes. It took a lot of imagination to enjoy Berlin back then. But enjoy it we did.
Because it was nearly empty, with normal people having fled west. Where there were jobs, and merchandise in the stores. You know; what capitalism produces.

Soccer to me

Is borrrrring. It's a game for girls. French girls. Ann is in favor of real man's sports;
In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised. There's a reason perpetually alarmed women are called "soccer moms," not "football moms." 

Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in. That's when we're supposed to go wild. I'm already asleep. 
 .... I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's "Girls," light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is "catching on" is exceeded only by the ones pretending women's basketball is fascinating. 
I note that we don't have to be endlessly told how exciting football is. 
...It's foreign. In fact, that's the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not "catching on" at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.  
But the clincher comes from another woman with moxie;
....The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don't worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game. 
We'll always have driving them out of Paris.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Odd tale of two cites

The graphs are from Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz's blog. The one on top shows the deviations from trend inflation, while the bottom one shows the same for nominal GDP (NGDP). What we find odd, is the conclusion they draw from the two;
Looking at the data through the first quarter of 2014, we see that the price level  [top graph] is now 2.7 percentage points below the 2.1% pre-crisis trend.  By contrast, nominal GDP [bottom graph] is a whopping 15.6 percentage points below the 5.1% trend.
In practical terms, the top panel means that overshooting a 2% inflation target (or a 2.1% inflation target) to get back to the 1990-2007 price path would be relatively straightforward. It could be achieved by running inflation at 3% temporarily for three years and then returning to the 2.1% path. 
The bottom panel shows that getting back to the pre-crisis nominal GDP path is a completely different story. To return to the previous trend within three years, policymakers would need to aim at nominal GDP growth in excess of 10 percent annually. That’s a pace of growth that we haven’t seen since 1984, when the recent era of low inflation began.
We suppose that if your goal was 2.1% inflation, come hell or high water, then they have a point. But the goal ought to be to restore economic activity to its normal level. Which their two pictures seem to show won't happen by targeting the price level (by following a 'Taylor Rule').

After all The Fed has been targeting 2% inflation for years--along with an acceptable level of unemployment--more or less successfully, but that didn't prevent the huge drop in economic activity (NGDP) in 2008. The question seems to be, obviously; Had the Fed been targeting NGDP directly, what would have happened to NGDP?

What's this button for?

Curiosity killed the car, as the politician famous for being..., sat in it;
[Washington] D.C. Del[egate] Eleanor Holmes Norton was about to take a ride in a driverless vehicle when a technical difficulty temporarily sidelined it.
Other members of Congress and the Department of Transportation took a ride before her, but when Holmes Norton climbed into the GM SUV, she hit the kill switch.
The vehicle takes awhile to reboot, said an official.
It was running again Wednesday.
As politically instigated troubles go, the Carnegie Mellon designed auto's encounter with Ms Norton is trivial. She's made a career out of sticking her nose into others' business, as Stephen Colbert has noticed;

So Che

So warrior chic!
The sale of Western clothing - including T-shirts, hoodies and baseball caps - bearing the Islamist group's name and slogans is a worrying development in ISIS' growth as a global 'terror brand'.
The jihadist group - which has taken control of large areas of Syria and Iraq in a shockingly brutal campaign that has been condemned as too extreme even by Al Qaeda - has previously been described as 'social media savvy' thanks to its widespread use of Twitter to spread propaganda.
Know your enemy.

Princess and the plea

Something the Borbóns can learn from, not forget;
A Palma de Mallorca court has confirmed that Princess Cristina, sister of King Felipe VI, remains an official suspect in a criminal investigation into graft and money laundering known as the “Nóos case.”
Judge José Castro now wants to put Princess Cristina on trial, although he will first have to hear any appeals.
The decision comes three years after Judge Castro began investigating the business dealings of Cristina de Borbón’s husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, a former Olympic handball player. 
It was nice business if you can get it, and you can get it if you're married to the royals;
Urdangarin and his business partner Diego Torres are thought to have siphoned off over €6 million in public money from the Valencia and Balearics regional governments between 2004 and 2006.
Through their Nóos Institute the partners won government contracts for sports and tourism events without making official bids, then channeled much of the money to privately owned companies and offshore tax havens, after overcharging for services that were sometimes nonexistent, according to the inquiry.
AKA, standard politics.

The girls and boys in Ipanema

We kick a touchdown! We kick a touchdown
The US fans are here [at the World Cup in Brazil], they are visible and so loud that they draw puzzled looks from locals and other tourists alike.
On non-game days, you will hear the American accents in restaurants up and down Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but when the US team plays, the streets are filled with stars-and-stripe Speedos, red and blue Mohicans and continuous chants of "U S A! U S A!"
In the viewing areas, when Spain or Netherlands play, the atmosphere is joyous and relaxed, but when Klinsmann's team kicks off, thousands of US fans fill the beach-side viewing party and it's more like a sold-out rock concert.
Blame it on the Samba.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Culpamos a los imperialistas

Fewer imports in 2014 have impacted tax collection in Venezuela.
....The numbers of the Integrated National Customs and Tax Administration Service (Seniat) show that in January-May 2014, funds on account of customs income amounted to USD 1.2 billion, or 10.4% below USD 1.4 billion the same term last year.
Recently, Rusvel Gutiérrez, the head of the Chamber of Customs and Industrial Agents in Vargas state (Caduainco), said that only in La Guaira port, "customs clearance related to private imports plunged almost 95%."
Damned almighty dollar!

Found: the Obamacare website designers!

Alive and not so well, and working in Spain(?);
Technical glitches put a damper on the inauguration of Madrid’s public rental bike service on Monday.
The BiciMad network has 1,560 electric bicycles scattered across 123 docking stations within the city center. Yet the only bikes that actually circulated through the streets of the capital were the 70 units that the city lent reporters, cycling associations and experts for the day.
Give them a break, they've only had five years to work on it.
The plan to bring public rental bikes to Madrid had been announced by former mayor (and current justice minister) Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón in 2009, but delays kept pushing it back. While the city has joined the game late, it is still aiming for a record: to be the first European capital with a system based on electric bikes.
Public rental bikes were “the missing piece of the puzzle” in Madrid’s urban mobility policy, according to Botella, who described the computerized registration system as “easy, intuitive and very easy to use.” 
So, it must be that Madrileños don't want the electric bikes?

Facebook time not quality time

Oops, they did it again;
"Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be," concludes Gallup Inc., which on Monday is releasing a report that examines the subject.
Gallup says 62% of the more than 18,000 U.S. consumers it polled said social media had no influence on their buying decisions. Another 30% said it had some influence. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2013, but Gallup says "consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content." (Gallup's survey was conducted via the Web and mail from December 2012 to January 2013. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.)
In a study last year, Nielsen Holdings NV found that global consumers trusted ads on television, print, radio, billboards and movie trailers more than social-media ads.
Impressive showing.

'Based on my extensive business experience....'

Having mastered Foreign Policy, Barack--'profits eat up overhead'--Obama, says, 'Do it my way.';
President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and offer paid leave for mothers of newborns.
"Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth — now that's a pretty low bar," Obama said at the White House Summit on Working Families. "That, we should be able to take care of."
The president is touting paid maternity in the midst of a midterm election campaign focused on women voters, without describing the details of how he would fund such a system. "If France can figure this out, we can figure this out," Obama said.
That would be the France that is currently ruing the day they elected Socialist Francois Hollande. The France that is ranked 70th(!) in economic freedom;
France’s economic freedom score is 63.5, making its economy the 70th freest in the 2014 Index. Its overall score has decreased by 0.7 point due to declines in monetary freedom, fiscal freedom, and business freedom. France is ranked 33rd out of 43 countries in the Europe region, and its overall score is slightly higher than the world average but below the regional average.
Over the 20-year history of the Index, France’s economic freedom has been stagnant, recording the fifth worst performance among advanced economies. 
There's just one thing for you to do. Give him (the American businessman) the ooh la la!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The hardiest perennial

A politician pandering to renters. It's also an art form in NYC;
Mayor Bill de Blasio called for a freeze in rent-stabilized rents Monday as the city's Rent Guidelines Board prepared to decide the matter Monday.
The board, with a majority of members appointed by Mr. de Blasio, will consider a range of options ....
"Landlords have not been asked for the kind of increases they should have, given what their actual costs were," Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. "Tenants have been asked to pay too much in recent years. For that reason, I am encouraging all of the members of the Rent Guidelines Board to vote for a freeze"
One of the reasons rents are so high in NYC, is, in fact, the existence--instituted as a temporary wartime emergency in the early 1940s--of a politically controlled (rent-stabilized) market in housing. Over the decades that has led to much less housing/apartments being built, than otherwise would have. The way housing supply was allowed to rise to meet increasing demand all over the rest of the USA.

Of course, it could worse. It could be San Francisco.

Nor are the poor safe from the depredations of politicians even if they move often;
Stemilt Hill [Yakima WA] cherry grower Robert Brown has allowed workers to camp at his orchard for many a season. But last year [1998], he kept the camp shut.
....Brown was licensed through 1998, but said he didn't end up opening the camp last season because he was not able to meet a new [state] requirement to provide a dust-free, covered food preparation area. He points out that there's dust everywhere, even in his house.
He considered it not worth the risk of opening the camp and being sued by farmworker advocates or fined by regulators. "The legal risks are so huge, we just said it's not worth it. We're not making enough on the cherry orchard to risk losing our small farm and personal house."
The government imposes onerous regulations on (temporary) housing...that housing gets taken off the market, or not built.

Who's out in the cold? Not the politicians and the regulators.

We'll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy

Summer journeys
To Niag'ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares.
We'll save our fares.
I've a cozy little flat
In what is known as old Manhattan.
We'll settle down
Right here in town.
If you can't afford the Hamptons, maybe soon there'll be a barge floating near you;
The project is expected to cost about $24 million and is the brainchild of New York creative entrepreneur Blayne Ross, who describes his vision as a park, community project and social space.
It would not include a swimming pool, but would simply bring a seaside atmosphere to the city.
Concept drawings show the barge floating on the riverfront with the New York City skyline rising above it, while dozens of beach goers relax on a massive mound of imported sand.
 But even in a socialist mayor's paradise, you need to raise the capital;
The project is currently at the crowdfunding stage, with the donations needed for the project's next stage matched to various rewards according to their size.
Donors can purchase a simple 'shout-out' on the project's website if they contribute $25, while the more generous can buy a private cocktail reception with Mr Ross and his team, opening night tickets, and full summer access for $5,000.
Otherwise, it's Mott Street in July.

Lado de la oferta en España

It'll warm the cockles of Art Laffer's heart;
Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro told Efe news agency that low-earning self-employed workers — those who make no more than €12,000 a year — will have to pay lower income tax starting in July. The withholding rate once the reform goes fully into effect next year could be around 15%, compared with the current 21%.
The tax breaks announced by the ruling Popular Party (PP) are perfectly compatible with European Union deficit targets, said Montoro. This is because tax receipts are growing at over 5% this year compared with 2013, and also because all forecasts point at an economic pick-up in Spain next year. The government is predicting growth of 1.8%, although other analysts are talking about even higher growth.
The greater the output, said Montoro, the more taxes are paid and the more jobs get created.
Jobs, jobs, jobs!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

We had to destroy the tent village in order to save it

We might call this from Ross Courtney of the Yakima Herald Republic The Cherry Orchard (and its economics);
“It’s comfortable,” said Salvador Sosa of Portervile, Calif., who is spending his fifth cherry harvest at Reddout Orchards, jokingly calling his time here like a “vacation.”
Sosa, 59, is one of roughly 100 temporary workers saving money by living in tents that orchardist Helen Reddout rents from the state each year.
Reddout is one of 13 growers in the state, but the only one in Yakima County [Washington state], to use the state’s rent-a-tent program, created nearly 15 years ago as a way to fill a critical housing need and help farmers attract a seasonal workforce to make sure this signature crop makes it off the trees.
Hip, hip, hooray for the government! Because;
The state’s tent program started around the year 2000 after years of widespread illegal camping throughout the orchards, forests, parks and riverbanks of Eastern Washington, which created health and safety issues. 
And therein lies a tale...a textbook one. If the textbook is from a class on Public Choice Economics, that is. Let's travel back to June 22, 1999, and read this from the Seattle Times;
Bureaucratic bickering leaves thousands of migrant workers homeless
 A fight between state and federal bureaucrats over how best to house migrant cherry pickers will leave about 7,000 workers homeless during the harvest that gets under way in earnest this week.
Migrant pickers huddling in misery in forests, on the riverbanks and in their cars is nothing new to Washington. But the crisis is worse than ever this year because even as the tree-fruit industry booms, one of the state's biggest programs to address the migrant-housing crisis has been shut down by the feds. 
A little further down in the article;
Mike Barnes, a cherry grower at View Orchards in Finley, Benton County, was disgusted by the last-minute bureaucratic train wreck that forced him to close his camp, licensed for 135 workers.
"What a bunch of idiots," he said of federal and state regulators. "I mean, don't they have telephones? They don't talk to each other? It seems a little silly to us." 
Silly, it is definitely not. It's merely an example of what happens when well focused special interests, looking to expand their political power, and caring not a whit who has to suffer, make their power play;
Temporary, on-farm tent camps paid for by the growers and licensed by the Department of Health for the cherry harvest have been tried since the summer of 1995. The camps provided a place to sleep with hot showers, toilets and cleandrinking water for about 2,000 workers.
But under pressure from union organizers and labor advocates the U.S. Department of Labor this year declared they would no longer tolerate the state-licensed camps because they don't meet the federal minimum standard.
Bold in the above by HSIB, of course.

So, it turns out that the state's rent-a-tent program is merely replacing what the private sector orchardists were doing--for over a hundred years--on their own volition. Because it made economic sense to make it easy for its labor force to get to the cherry trees that needed picking.

The cherry growers managed to get back to square one, the taxpayers of the state of Washington have spent over $40 million dollars, and union organizers and labor advocates got to self-promote. Seems there must be a better way.

Friday, June 20, 2014

¡Feliz cumpleaños!

Belatedly. Seems like yesterday, all those Cubans stood up against walls and shot on the orders of Che. But he had time to do other things too;
June 16 marked 55 years since the start of the first experiment - in Latin America and the Caribbean - of an international news agency [Prensa Latina] not manipulated by the United States.
On this date...Argentine journalist Jorge Ricardo Massetti and a small group of Latin American and Cuban reporters embarked upon a journey across the seas of information, committed to reporting with the strictest truthfulness and honesty.
....Renowned journalists and intellectuals from Cuba and Latin America immediately joined the struggle for press freedom. Gabriel García Márquez, Sergio Pineda, Jorge Timossi and many other exceptional figures of journalism and Latin American literature were part of the central news staff or worked as correspondents on this and other continents.
Cuban journalists, such as Pedro Martínez Pírez, Gabriel Molina and Manuel Yepe, also joined them. Ernesto Che Guevara was always well-informed on the agency’s work.
Oh, undoubtedly, he was.

It was amateurish, we agree

The highly paid head of the NCAA's testimony, that is;
National Collegiate Athletic Association PresidentMark Emmert testified Thursday that paying college athletes a share of the revenue from commercial use of their names and images, the goal of a lawsuit by former football and men's basketball players, would alienate fans, damage competition and ultimately harm the athletes.
"People come to watch college sports because they're college sports with student-athletes," Emmert told a federal judge in Oakland who is conducting a nonjury trial on the suit. 
Filthy, filthy lucre!
"To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor-league sports," with a much lower fan base, he said.
Schools would lose revenue, cut scholarships and drop sports programs, and athletes would flock to the colleges that offered the most money, Emmert said. 
The way the coaches, athletic directors, sports' information directors, peanut vendors, and groundskeepers do now.
Emmert painted a different picture of the student-athlete - "successful in the classroom" while learning "enormous lessons in life" from their coaches on subjects like teamwork, responsibility and leadership. He said NCAA rules limit organized practice time for athletes to 20 hours a week, but acknowledged that they're encouraged to do more on their own.
Without pay.
Disputing Emmert's claims, William Isaacson, a lawyer for the athletes, displayed a poster of basketball players promoting the recent NCAA tournament with logos of corporate sponsors Coca-Cola, AT&T and Capital One, and a photo of a football team entering a stadium with a banner bearing a Nike swoosh logo.
Isaacson also read a series of pronouncements by NCAA officials that said the influence of big money was blurring the line between college and professional sports - including Emmert's own warning, in a 2011 article, that "commercialism is overwhelming amateurism." 
That's different!

The Obama Doctrine: Get out while the getting's good

The United Nations refugee commission (UNHCR) assesses the five (and counting years) of Barack Obama's foreign policy;
Not since World War II have there been so many refugees around the globe as there are now. 
A post WWII record!  Sorta like the the anemic recovery from the 2008-09 recession being the slowest on record.
The figures in the UNHCR "Global Trends" report paint a desperate picture. Published to coincide with World Refugee Day, the document reveals that more than 51 million people worldwide had been forced from their homes as a result of conflict, persecution, violence or human rights violations since the end of 2013. 
That's less than six months.
"We are not facing an increasing trend, we are really facing a quantum leap, an enormous increase of forced displacement in our world," Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, said on publication of the report Friday.... 
"This acceleration comes from the fact that we live in a world where conflicts are multiplying in an unpredictable way and at the same time old conflicts seem never to die,” Guterres told reporters, adding that the international community is limited in its capacity to prevent and solve conflict in a timely fashion. 
Now that it's being led by President Barack Obama, he forgot to add.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Boris and Natasha? They're baaack!

Russia has dusted off the old playbook, says NATO's head;
Speaking at the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank in London, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia was mounting a sophisticated disinformation campaign aimed at undermining attempts to exploit alternative energy sources such as shale gas.
He said: "I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations - environmental organisations working against shale gas - to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas. That is my interpretation."
Mr Rasmussen did not say what form the Russians' engagement with the environmentalists took or whether groups concerned were aware that they were dealing with Moscow's agents.
Maybe the Nuclear Freezers should have a reunion.
Over the last two years [1981-83], the Danish and Swiss governments have exposed attempts by ostensible Soviet diplomats, actually K.G.B. officers, to influence or buy their way into groups trying to block deployment of new medium-range missiles in Western Europe. The cases are the best evidence offered by Western counterintelligence officers who believe that the Soviet espionage agency's highest priorities in Western Europe include attempts to exploit the disarmament movement.
Which was later confirmed by files in KGB archives shared with western scholars.

Everyone's a critic

In Pakistan they're deadly;
Peshawar's artistic community is reeling from the killing of a popular local singer, the latest attack against a female artist in Pakistan's deeply conservative northwest.  Gul Naz, who sang in Pashto and used the stage name Muskan, was shot dead at her home in Peshawar on June 18. "Several people entered her house at around 10:00 am," local police officer Sibghatullah told RFE/RL. "After exchanging harsh words, they opened fire on her."
Life insurance must be expensive;
Violence against artists is sadly common in Pakistan's restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a Taliban stronghold where the performing arts are widely considered to be un-Islamic – particularly if the artist is a woman. Several female artists have been slain in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after defying the Taliban's decree against singing and dancing.
Now there's a real war against women.

Bye, bye blackbirds

Because there's no such thing as a freeloader forever lunch;
The dairy farms of the Central Valley have proven good nesting sites for California's tricolored blackbird. Grains grown to feed the cows resemble the lost tules and cattails that the picturesque songbirds once called home, providing the flocks new sanctuary to raise their young.
That is, until harvest time.
Scientists say the blades that pluck the feed crops are also mowing down thousands of baby blackbirds and eggs - one reason the bird is in rapid decline. 
The dairy farms giveth...and then taketh. Stupid birds.

Salem which trial

You know you're a redneck if you're not welcome in Salem, NY, for the 4th of July parade;
Steven Saunders, the third assistant chief of the Salem Fire Department who is in charge of publicity for the parade, said the term is not offensive.
“A redneck is a hillbilly, and a lot of people could fit into that,” he said, adding the term also has a connection to farming. “I think it’s comical that people are upset, but it’s really only a few people.”
According to Webster’s College Dictionary, the term is derived “from the characteristic sunburned neck acquired in the fields by farm laborers.”
The dictionary goes on to define the word as slang for “a poor, white, rural Southerner, often specifically one regarded as ignorant, bigoted, violent, etc.; often a derogatory term.”
Putting aside the information that the Village of Salem in upstate New York (near the Vermont border) has at least three assistant Fire Chiefs, it is in fact located in a valley surrounded by hills, and agriculture seems to be the main industry (according to the town's website);
Agriculture continues to dominate the rural setting, but modern farming and related agribusinesses now dot the countryside in addition to dairy, potato and sheep farming. Farm stands selling sweetcorn, raspberries, blueberries, maple syrup, dried flowers, wool and angora spinning materials, offer local products to Salem visitors.
Would the yeoman farmers' parade suffice?