Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cracking the Education Monopoly

Congratulations to those parents and students in the Los Angeles Unified School District who fought for school choice and charter schools. May all boats be lifted by a little competition.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kill Oil with Natural Gas and Electricity

Peter Huber discusses why we need to reduce our dependence on oil for energy. He suggests that we start using natural gas to fuel automobiles.

I couldn't agree more. The answer is so simple and obvious the politicians will never support it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Peter Schiff Speech to Mortage Bankers from Nov. 13th 2006

Amazingly accurate....

Chart from Carpe Diem

Julian Robertson on the Current State of the Economy

Some Teachable Moments with Brazil's President Lula

Excepts from a Newsweek interview:

NW: You often criticize the privatization process. But thanks to the sale of state companies even the poorest Brazilians have cell phones, and former public companies like Vale have become world-beaters under private ownership.

Lula: But the state could have done the same things.

NW: Except that it didn't.

Lula: It didn't because the Brazilian elite used public companies for their own ends. When you do that , any company will go broke, anywhere in the world. I think the privatizations were a mistake.

The interview continues......

NW: The Mercosul trading bloc, which Brazil leads, only allows full democracies that respect human rights as members. Does Venezuela qualify?

Lula: Give me one example of how Venezuela is undemocratic.

NW: Thirty-four radio stations closed by the government in one weekend. Repression of independent trade unions and government persecution of political rivals. Gangs linked to the government of Hugo Chávez vandalizing the only independent television broadcaster.

Lula: That's not the government's version.

NW: Is there any doubt?

Lula: Let's be frank on one thing. First, each country establishes the democratic regime that suits its people. It's a sovereign decision of every nation.

Hat Tip (Kids Prefer Cheese)

Should the Newspapers be Bailed Out

With technology (the Internet) and demographics working against them, much like with the copper wire telephone business, should the US government bailout the nation's newspapers?  Or would we just be throwing money down a rat hole?  And what about the "independence" of the press?  Should market forces be allowed to run their course?  The statistics below from Mint.com point out the difficult state of the newspaper business today.

Oh, the Irony in This Photo

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A McDonalds Near You

The above map from Stephen Von Worley shows pictorially the distribution of McDonalds across the continental US.  Now that's what I call impressive market penetration.  South Dakota holds the distinction of having the area furthest from a McDonalds, 107 miles as the crow flies.

The National Debt Road Trip

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2.8% Of Oklahoma High School Students Pass Citizenship Test-- The Time for School Choice is Now

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a study aimed at determining the basic civics knowledge of of Oklahoma High School students. They took ten questions randomly selected from the one hundred used by US Citizenship and Immigration Services to test applicants for citizenship. To become citizens, applicants have to get six out of ten correct. Here are the questions and results.

Question                                                         Percentage of Correct Answers

1. What is the supreme law of the land?                           28%

2. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? 26%

3. What are the two parts of the US Congress?                27%

4. How many justices are there on the Supreme Court?   10%

5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?               14%

6. What ocean is on the east coast of the United States?   61%

7. What are the two major political parities in the United States? 43%

8. We elect a US senator for how many years?                  11%

9. Who was the first President of the United States?          23%

10. Who is in charge of the executive branch?                    29%

When this test is given to applicants for citizenship, 92% score high enough to pass, while only 2.8% of Oklahoma high school students make the grade.  To be fair, the immigrants had a chance to study for the test while it was assumed that the high school students would absorb this knowledge from living all their lives in the US as well as civics class in school.  What the study points out is the alarming ignorance of these high school kids over the basic operation and purpose of government. I'm sure if this test were given to kids in each state similar results would be seen.

Of course, this begs the question just what the heck are both the schools and parents teaching our kids or failing to teach our kids.

Since 1970, inflation adjusted public school spending has more than doubled while barely budging test scores, according to the Department of Education's own long term National Assessment of Educational Progress.  During this time high school graduation rates have declined by 4 to 5%.  A reasonable person might ask what has this increased spending on public school education gotten us other than higher taxes?  And if choice and competition is the answer to control costs and improve quality in the health care debate, why is it not being proposed to address our nationwide education shortcomings?

Peter Schiff on G20 Hypocrisy 9/22/2009

Whether or not you agree with Schiff, he has a strong and consistent opinion on the financial downturn and what ails the country.

Monday, September 21, 2009

U.S. Ranked 5th in the World in Economic Freedom

The recently published Economic Freedom of the World report measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of a country support economic freedom.  The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and security of privately owned property. Forty-two data points are used to construct a summary index and to measure the degree of economic freedom in five broad areas:
  1. Size of Government: Expenditures, Taxes, and Enterprises;
  2. Legal Structure and Security of Property Rights;
  3. Access to Sound Money;
  4. Freedom to Trade Internationally;
  5. Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business.
  • In this year’s index, Hong Kong retains the highest rating for economic freedom, 8.97 out of 10. The other top 10 nations are: Singapore (8.66), New Zealand (8.30), Switzerland (8.19), Chile (8.14), the United States (8.06), Ireland (7.98), Canada (7.91), Australia (7.89), and the United Kingdom (7.89)
  • The rankings of other large economies are Germany, 27 (7.50), Japan 30 (7.46), France 33 (7.43), Italy 61 (6.95), Mexico 68 (6.85), Russia 83 (6.50), China 82 (6.54), India 86 (6.45), and Brazil 111 (6.00)
  • 12 nations increased their score by more than 2.50 points since 1980, though most started from a very low base. With the increase noted in parentheses, they are: Ghana (3.69), Uganda (3.31), Israel (3.24), Jamaica (2.80), Peru (2.78), Hungary (2.66), El Salvador (2.54), Mauritius (2.52), Nigeria (2.52), Iran (2.51), Nicaragua (2.51), and Chile (2.50)
  • Only three nations decreased their score by more than one point, Zimbabwe (−2.33), Venezuela (−2.26), and Myanmar (−1.58)
  • Eight of the nations in the bottom 10 are African. The other two nations are Venezuela and Myanmar. The ten nations are: Zimbabwe (2.89), Myanmar (3.69), Angola (4.04), Venezuela (4.33), Republic of the Congo (4.44), Central African Republic (4.79), Guinea-Bissau (4.84), Democratic Republic of the Congo (5.00), Chad (5.09), and Niger (5.11)

1984, The Full Length Movie

Least we forget the evils of government and the impacts of repressing voices of dissent.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Liberty and Economics, Ludwig von Mises

As applicable now as in any time in history. My favorite quote from the film:

There's a three word lexicon that explains the tax economy: Need, Greed, and Compassion. Need means wanting someone else's money, Greed means wanting to keep your own money, and Compassion is the sentiment of the politicians that want to arrange the transfer.

LA Grafitti Artists Hard at Work While the Main Stream Media Snoozes

Come guys, this is embarrassing.  Even Jon Stewart is giving you crap.


IBD Poll: 45% of Doctors to Consider Retiring if Health Care "Reform" Inacted

In a poll conducted by Investor's Business Daily, doctors do not appear to have as rosy a view of healthcare reform as the AMA indicates.  65% of surveyed doctors oppose health care reform altogether, while 71% do not believe the government's claim that it will save money and provide better quality of service.  If these stats weren't enough to give one pause, there's the even more shocking number that 45% would consider retiring or moving to another line of work.  The prospect of "free" health care for a significant number of people will only drive up the demand for those services, and if the supply shrinks Econ 101 tells you what will happen, and it will be apparent for all to see that costs are going higher with the taxpayer on the hook for even more money.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Global Debt Comparison

For an interactive chart go to http://buttonwood.economist.com/content/gdc.

EPA to Mandate 35.5 MPG by 2016. What Does the Future Car Look Like?

The EPA is moving aggressively to the MPG mandate for automakers to 35.5 MPG by 2016. This will mean smaller, lighter cars with less horsepower for consumers, but these cars will produce fewer emissions than today's models. At the 2009 Frankfort auto show, the electric Peugot BB1, half scooter, half car, may be a preview of the future with its innovative glass front window and roof.



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kudlow's Green Shoots, 9/15/2009

Eternal optimist and permabull, Larry Kudlow, reads the economic tea leaves and sees green shoots everywhere. How is the economy in your neighborhood?

Cap and Trade Equvilent to a 15% Tax Hike, to Cost Average Family Additional $1,761 a Year

According to the Taking Liberties blog on the CBS News Website, the Obama administration has concluded that enacting cap and trade legislation will be the equivalent of a 15% tax hike on the average American, increasing the average American family's energy bill by an additional $1,761 a year, or approximately $200 billion for the economy as a whole. Other estimates of energy bill increases have ranged from as high as $3,500 a year to as low as $800. Averaging these estimates will probably provide a more realistic number. Regardless of the number, Cap & Trade means Americans will have a lower standard of living in exchange for the hope of lowering global temperatures.

Bjorn Lomborg & Copenhagen Consensus Center believes Cap & Trade to be the least efficient and least effective way to deal with Global Warming. For his alternative ideas watch the video below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mike Wallace Interview with Ayn Rand

Part 1.

Part 2

Part 3

Whether you agree with Rand or not, you don't see many interviews this penetrating on TV anymore.

Monday, September 14, 2009

John Stossel on Health Care

Do you agree with Stossel's point of view?

Tarriffs Placed on Low-Cost Chinese Tires


A new duty of 35% was imposed on Chinese tire imports to protect US jobs and punish the low-cost producers of these tires.  However, the costs of these tariffs will be born by low-income consumers in the US who purchase these products, and may cause shortages of tires in this market segment as retailers scramble to find news suppliers. These tariffs will also impact the two remaining domestic manufacturers Goodyear and Cooper since they make tires in China for import to the US.  Cooper was on track to import 2.5 million tires this year, with a target of 4 million next year.

In addition, this tariff threatens a full blown trade war between the US and China.  At a time when the world-wide economy is so weak and mutually cooperation so key to recovery is the the right action to take?  Why would risk ticking off the Chinese now when earlier in the year we were practically begging them to keep buying our government debt?

ACORN Caught on Tape Again & Again & Again

Just where have all the investigative reporters from the major news organizations been hiding?  If I understand the situation correctly, the US taxpayer is funding ACORN to assist low income and under-privileged people in obtaining loans to buy houses and then ACORN is conspiring with some of these applicants to defraud the US taxpayers. Are these just examples of a few bad apples, or is this symptomatic of a larger, system-wide problem? What do you think? Over the weekend the Census Bureau cut the cord with ACORN, is it time for other government agencies to do the same?  Should ACORN continue to receive taxpayer dollars?

San Diego

San Bernardino

New York

Washington, D.C.

Government Spending & the Tea Parties

For those concerned about about the amount of debt being racked up by the federal government, there are always websites like http://usdebtclock.org/ to watch the action in real time.

For those who prefer to take direct action to try to slow down excessive government spending, there are always tea parties, such as the one in Washington D.C. this past weekend where hundreds of thousands of people, or according to the British press close to 2 million (though the real number was probably somewhere between 800K-1.5M), gathered to voice their displeasure.

Penn & Teller on Norman Borlaug and his contributions to genetically engineered food (Strong Language)

Some call Norman E. Borlaug, the plant scientist, the greatest human being you never heard of because he helped teach the world how to feed itself and saved hundreds of millions of lives. He passed away Saturday night at the age of 95 in Dallas.

This New York Times article documents his life and accomplishments.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Dinosaurs Speak

This is just too entertaining to pass up. The main stream media has become less and less relevant and more out of touch with average Americans. They are routinely being out-scooped and out-reported by the insurgents and usurpers. Listen to them whine and bloviate. Even that great "visionary" Thomas Friedman (whose brain seems to have gone hot, flat and crowded) comes off sounding like an 8th grader. Don't these guys get it? The Internet is the great equalizer. The news has been democratized. The elite can no longer control the message and opinions. Their monopoly is ending. The world is turning elsewhere to get the truth. They have been voted out.

Killer Chic

Least we forget in our attempts to be chic.

When Santa Clause Came to Washington

Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
--Will Rogers

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.
-- James Madison in The Federalist

Obama's address to a joint session of Congress in support of health care was a strange mix of lofty rhetoric, questionable claims, and thinly disguised partisan attacks while calling for “civility” from those who disagree with him. But four items came through loud and clear in speech: 1) no one knows exactly what “the plan” is, 2) no one knows what “the plan” will cost, 3) no one knows how “the plan” will be paid for, but 4) “the plan” will cost the taxpayers nothing and only a fool would turn down something for nothing.

For those who still haven't caught on, let me summarize the main argument: the government run Medicare program, the nation's main budget problem and forecast to eventually absorb all the government's resources, is fraught with fraud and abuse and ever escalating costs so to fix this problem we need an even bigger, more comprehensive, more complex government run health care program that will cover millions more people, compete against for-profit insurance companies on a zero-profit basis, and eliminate the fraud, waste and abuse and slow down the cost increases of the smaller, more focused Medicare program. Huh? Am I the only one struggling with the paradoxes of that argument? It begs the joke this new bureaucracy is sure to have the compassion of the IRS, the speed of the post office, and the efficiency of the emergency response to Katrina. But I'm not writing to make that argument. I'm writing to say the claims for cost savings, elimination of fraud and waste, and efficiency gains are blatantly false, and the claim that over 30 million more people (or whatever the number du jour is) can be insured by the government at no additional cost to the taxpayers is delusional. This health care plan will end up costing significantly more than what we are being promised to the point of bankrupting the country, and our politicians already know this.

How can I make these claims when the health care plan is just vaporware at this point? Don't I trust politicians? Don't I want to believe in hope and change? I let history do the talking for me. In 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion, at which time the politicians estimated the 1990 costs to be $12 billion. By 1990, Medicare cost topped out at $107 billion, only 9 times more than predicted by the best and the brightest. Today's Medicare tab is rapidly approaching $500 billion. The only sure thing is that the cost of the proposed health care plan will be significantly more than what was promised Tuesday night, and could very well endanger the financial health of the country.

Instead of creating the world's biggest bureaucracy to manage US health care, let's try the easy, low-risk things first, like making health insurance tax deductible for individuals, allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines, allowing individuals to use tax deductible health savings accounts, expanding use of retail clinics (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1919754,00.html) and nurse managed centers, and putting price point decisions back into consumer's hands instead of third parties. I'm growing tired of all these solutions that require solutions that require solutions that require solutions, etc. How about some real reform for a change?

Is 50 Cent the Greatest Investor of All Time?

Well, maybe not yet. But hip-hop artist Curtis Jackson is off to one heck of a start with Forbes ranking his net worth at $150 million. In this CNBC video he discusses his investing style and promotes his new book. I'm impressed.

What You'll Never Hear from the Global Warmers: 2009 Summer Average Temperature Below the 20th Century Average

This just in from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration):
  • For the 2009 summer, the average temperature of 71.7 degrees F was 0.4 degree F below the 20th Century average. The 2008 average summer temperature was 72.7 degrees F.
  • A recurring upper level trough held the June-August temperatures down in the central states, where Michigan experienced its fifth, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota their seventh, Nebraska its eighth, and Iowa its ninth coolest summer. By contrast, Florida had its fourth warmest summer, while Washington and Texas experienced their eighth and ninth warmest, respectively.
  • The Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota region experienced its sixth coolest summer on record. Only the Northwest averaged above normal temperatures.

Source: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090910_summerstats.html

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ben Stein on Intelligent Design, Darwinism & Eugenics

(FULL MOVIE)"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"

A thought provoking film narrated by Ben Stein on Intelligent Design, Darwinism, & Eugenics. Something to offend everyone. But very thought provoking. Eugenics was practiced in my hometown mid last century with the sterilization of retarded people, a very disturbing practice.

Do Tax Rates Matter? The Highest Corporate Tax Rates in the World

While corporations struggle with earnings and growth, are corporate tax rates around the world coming under increased scrutiny?  Given the global nature of capital these days, will corporations increasingly make domicile decisions based on the relative tax friendliness of countries?

According the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the highest tax rates for its 30 members countries that include both national and local taxes are:

1. Japan     39.54%
2. US     39.25%
3. France     34.42%
4. Belguim     33.99%
5. Canada      33.50%
6. Luxembourg     30.38%
7. Germany     30.18%
8. (tie) Australia     30%
8. (tie) Spain     30%
8. (tie) New Zealand     30%

The lowest rates for OECD member countries are Ireland at 12.5% and Iceland at 15%.  Granted, there are many factors that go into these decisions, such as regulation and government stability, but it is not much of a stretch to predict that capital, and thereby hiring, will flow to where it is treated the best.

For examples of competition for business between states within the US, look no further than California and Nevada.

The Wings and Essential Meanings

The Anticrat web site provides some food for thought with this interesting depiction of political spectrums in the US.  There is probably something on this diagram to offend everyone.  I would argue that the Radical Left Democrats are not as far left as this diagram indicates, and that the all the Republican categories should be shifted to the left, with the arrow for moderate Republicans close to "The Great Society."  But I'd say libertarians are about in the right place.  I'm sure there are plenty who will disagree with me.

What is the GDP Per Capita for Every Country?

Anyone interested in comparing their standard of living to others in the world look no further than http://snippets.com/what-is-the-gdp-per-capita-for-every-country.htm

This website provides a comprehensive, searchable list for most countries in the world. 

The above chart, taken from the Carpe Diem web site, displays GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita in 2008 using data from the CIA World Factbook (data available here).  Interesting to see how to US stacks up with the other major world economies, and that the poorest state in the US, Mississippi, still has a higher per capita GDP than everyone on the list except the U.K.  Explain to me again why some want to make the US more like Europe.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I park where I yike

The latest in green gadgets coming onto the market is the yike bike. This electric motorized bike is designed for urban commuters who don't want to use a car, and it is quite nifty. The feature I really like is the way it folds up into a size somewhat equivalent to a large briefcase for carrying onto a commuter train or subway, or storing underneath a desk at work. This bike is scheduled for release in 2010 to a number of European countries and New Zealand. However it carries a hefty price tag of $4,500 - $5,500. Hopefully, the price will decrease as more units are sold.  The companies website can be found at: http://www.yikebike.com/


Sunday, September 6, 2009

How to capture and record streaming audio using Linux.... or how to create your own podcast from streaming Internet radio

For this exercise, lame, sox and mplayer will be used to capture audio from the streaming internet feed of Washington, DC based radio station WMAL. First, save the following script into whatever bin directory you feel comfortable with under a name such as record.sh:

# record.sh
# Use mplayer to capture the stream
# at $STREAM to the file $FILE
# example: record.sh my_radio_show 60 mms://someserver.com/stream

DIR=/home/jim/Music/PodCasts #directory where to save the file

# Don't edit anything below this line
DATE=`date +%Y-%m-%d` # Save the date as YYYY-MM-DD
YEAR=`date +%Y` # Save just the year as YYYY
DURATION=$2 # enough to catch the show, plus a bit
FILE=$DIR/$NAME-$DATE # Where to save it

# Capture Stream
mkfifo $TEMPFILE.wav
mkfifo $TEMPFILE-silenced.wav

# The lame settings below are optimized for voice encoding
# The sox command below strips out any silent portions
lame -S -a -m m --ty "$YEAR" --vbr-new -V 9 --lowpass 13.4 --athaa-sensitivity 1 \
--resample 32 $TEMPFILE-silenced.wav $FILE.mp3 >/dev/null &
sox $TEMPFILE.wav -c 1 $TEMPFILE-silenced.wav \
silence 1 0.2 0.5% -1 0.2 0.5% >/dev/null&
/usr/bin/mplayer -really-quiet -cache 500 \
-ao pcm:file="$TEMPFILE.wav" -vc dummy -vo null \
-noframedrop $STREAM >/dev/null&

sleep 5
# get the pid of all processes started in this script.
PIDS=`ps auxww | grep $TEMPFILE | awk '{print $2}'`

# the & turns the capture into a background job
sleep `echo ${DURATION}*60 | bc` # wait for the show to be over
kill $PIDS >/dev/null # kill the stream capture
rm $TEMPFILE.wav
rm $TEMPFILE-silenced.wav

I wish I could claim this nifty little script as my own creation, but I found it somewhere on the internet and modified it to suit my own needs.

This script can be invoked using the command:

/home/jim/bin/record.sh Ric_Edelman 120 http://citadelcc-WMAL-AM.wm.llnwd.net/citadelcc_WMAL_AM

where the first parameter is the name of the radio show, the second the number of minutes to record and the third the URL of your favorite radio stream.

After testing to ensure everything works properly, it is time to set up the crontab entries for recording your shows. I use gnome-scheduler so I don't miss a show no matter what I'm doing:

The details of how one recording is set up:

Hope this proves useful. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

How to Make Hummingbird Food

After several years of buying hummingbird food from stores (shame on me), I decided to do some research on making my own.  Talk about easy..... the basic mixture is one part sugar, four parts water.  Boil the water first, then stir in the sugar, let cool.... that's all there is to it.  Make sure the sugar is pure white cane sugar, don't use honey or molasses.  No dyes are necessary.  Unlike the store versions which are usually red, this nectar is clear.  But the hummingbirds seem to love it.  We now have four battling over the feeder.  They seem to be very territorial.  No more than one will drink from the feeder at a time, and will jealously chase off any hummingbirds that approach the feeder.

Walter E. Williams on Social Security

Walter E. Williams, one of my favorite economists, is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.   Don't be put off by his unusual pronunciation of Madoff/Mad-off, this guy has something to say worth listening to, whether you agree with him or not.

Gifts to the United States Government

There have been rumblings in the media and in certain political circles that not all Americans are paying their fair share of taxes even though we have a progressive tax system in this country. For those who feel undertaxed (and you know who you are) or extremely patriotic, there is a way to remedy this situation. The IRS has provided a means to gift your hard-earned dollars to the government (yes, I am serious). Please send your check or money order at any time to the address below:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782

And if you feel so inclined, you can make the US Government the sole beneficiary of your will or trust so you don't have to worry about the impact of estate taxes on your heirs.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Globalization. a film by Johan Norberg

A brief description: The world is an unequal and unjust place, in which some are born into wealth and some into hunger and misery. To explore why, in this controversial Channel Four documentary the young Swedish writer Johan Norberg takes the viewers on a journey to Taiwan, Vietnam, Kenya and Brussels to see the impact of globalisation, and the consequences of its absence. It makes the case that the problem in the world is not too much capitalism, globalisation and multinationals, but too little.

Can a Global Warming Skeptic Still be Green?

Let’s get the politically controversial stuff out of the way first. I’m a global warming skeptic. I don’t buy into the science or the conclusion. It’s just my nature to question what everyone blindly accepts as the truth. When global warming evangelicals like Al Gore and Thomas Friedman live in houses that emit more carbon in a month than my house does in a year, I have to wonder if they are truly serious, or if they think the causes of global warming don't apply to them. I also think Cap and Trade is less about controlling carbon emissions than it is about enriching Wall Street with another trading market (didn’t Enron pioneer carbon trading?), and another way for politicians to control people’s behavior and extract more money from them without calling it a tax. But who am I? I’m just Joe Everyman trying to make my way in the world, provide for my family, teach them good habits like staying out of debt, and save something for retirement. I’m a very frugal guy. I want to stretch my dollar as far as possible. But I also want to be good steward of the all resources at my disposal and leave this world a better place than I found it. And here’s where I think pinching pennies and being green intersect. The economic choices made by the cheapskate trying to save a buck might also be green choices.

What do I mean by this? Let’s look at some real world examples:

  • electricity consumption – my thermostat is turned down to the upper 60s in the winter and the upper 70s in the summer. I heat with natural gas, and cut the AC off in summer whenever we can live with the windows open. I dry my clothes outside as much as possible and run the dryer very little. My major electronic devices are all on surge protectors that we flip off when not in use so they don’t suck electric when idle. I user compact florescent light bulbs in all my lamps. I’d be willing to buy solar panels or a small wind turbine to generate my own electricity if the payback period were significantly less than today’s 7-8 years. Nothing would make me happier than to see the electric meter spinning backwards as we feed power out onto the electric grid.
  • gasoline consumption – I buy cars that get at least 28 mpg or more to save on the cost of refills. I drive as little as possible, telecommute at least 2 to 3 times a week, group errands into one trip. I’d be happy to buy any car that gets 100+ miles per gallon if one existed and could pass a crash test. I’d also be willing to buy a natural gas powered car if the prices were comparable to gas powered cars to keep energy dollars in the US.
  • recycling – I try to recycle as much as possible because I don’t believe in wasting resources. But I tune my buying habits to eschew soft drinks and bottled water, convenience foods, anything that comes in small plastic packages. My goal is to reduce the need to recycle by buying items in packing that uses fewer raw materials.
  • gardening – I grow vegetables in a small garden to save money at the grocery store and because I think they taste better. I compost instead of using commercial fertilizers.
Do these actions mean I’m green even if I don’t buy into the green agenda? My decisions are motivated purely by economic self-interest, not self-sacrifice for the common good. I haven’t drunk anyone’s kool-aid. I’m just trying to maximize the value of the dollars I’ve earned. If the green economy is to make inroads with the average person, it must offer a better value than the traditional economy and thereby creatively destroy that economy. Schemes like Cap and Trade are efforts by governments to manipulate markets by artificially raising the price of carbon based energy to the point where green alternatives become cheaper for consumers. Why impose these extras costs on consumers? Instead, let’s spend our time, energy and money perfecting green alternatives until they are the most economical choice on an even playing field. As the saying goes, “if you build a better mousetrap, the people will come.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cash for Clunkers Recharges US Auto Sales; Does Hangover Await?

Automakers received a boost in August sales fueled by the Cash for Clunkers program. Hyundai (+47%) and Ford (+17%) led the pack, while GM stalled out with a decline of 20%. The net impact of the program was to accelerate future demand into the current quarter, while increasing consumer debt. No question this was a sweet deal for those looking to purchase a car, but how detrimental will this be to sales in succeeding quarters?

For the $3B of taxpayer money spent on this program, the year over year sales comparisons are:

Hyundai: +47%
Ford: +17%
Honda: +10%
Toyota: +6%
Chrysler: -15%
GM: -20%

Interestingly enough, the two largely government owned enterprises performed the worst.

Now let's watch some perfectly good vehicles being destroyed:

Chevy Truck



Painful to watch, isn't it? I don't think this is what Schumpeter meant by "creative destruction."

John Templeton and Louis Rukeyser

If you want to have a better performance than the crowd, you must do things differently from the crowd.... When people are desperately trying to sell, help them and buy. When people are enthusiastically trying to buy, help them and sell.
-- John Templeton

I grew up watching Louis Rukeyser on Wall Street Week. I wasn't a religious watcher of the show, but I always tried to catch episodes with greats like John Templeton and Peter Lynch. Occasionally, I like watch an old episode just to amuse myself, give me some long-term market perspective during rough stretches, and pick up a little bit of investment wisdom. I miss Rukeyser's sly wit, and the intelligence and common sense of Sir John.