Monday, January 12, 2015

Some thoughts on what it means to be "ripped off"

What follows is my Op-Ed in the January 10, 2015 edition of The Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy.  Or not...

Last week, I attended the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl with my 14-year old son. As fans of the Minnesota Gophers, we were excited to spend the day together in the newly renovated Citrus Bowl. Of course, as anyone who has attended an event there knows, the parking has not been renovated, so I braced my son for what could be a tough search.

As it turned out, it was a day for learning about the difference between free-market entrepreneurship and government inefficiency.

When we exited onto Tampa Avenue, within seconds a man came running alongside my vehicle telling us to follow him if we wanted to park. I had seen signs for $25, but as a typical economist, I think 25 cents for parking is worth haggling over; $25 is worth driving a few miles away.

I asked the man his price as he ran, sweat pouring from his face; $20 was his offer. I countered with $15, and he agreed and instructed me to follow him.

As I turned right onto a side street, I saw a police officer on a motorcycle who, with the aid of a loudspeaker, said, "Do not pay to park on the city streets! If you do, you are being ripped off!"

When the man who led me to a parking spot — on the city street — guided me in, I asked him if this was what the officer meant. Another officer came by proclaiming the same, and the fellow I agreed to give $15 to quickly left — with none of my money.

When I got closer to the stadium, I spotted him and gave him money anyway. The way I looked at it was simple: He and I reached an agreement through the spirit of mutual self-interest. I did not agree to pay $15 as long as the parking was not on the street. I agreed to pay $15 for help finding parking. His service was worth it to me: I did not have to keep driving, and he guided me to a great spot. The police officer had no business telling me I was being ripped off when I was fine with the arrangement.

Bear in mind, millions of dollars of taxpayer money went into the remodeling of the Citrus Bowl. That includes some dollars that could be used for city services. After these tax dollars are taken from us to make the stadium nicer, the city allows corporations to come in and charge $11 for a beer and $25 for cheaply-made T-shirts, to name only two items that folks could claim are priced at "rip-off" levels.

During the game, my son and I sat in a section in the upper deck. The section next to us was filled with beer-swilling Minnesota fans — most of whom looked much closer to 18 than the legal age of 21. By the third quarter, public drunkenness and profanity filled that section.

A few feet away, an Orlando police officer stood by. Near my section, not the Minnesota kids'. I walked over to him and asked him how often he finds himself thinking, "There is no way that person is 21."

He said he finds himself thinking that he missed his days in college — but he did not do anything about the possibility of underage drinking or drunkenness.

So I wonder, in which case was the city of Orlando served best — by the young man who ran alongside my truck to help me park on the taxpayers' streets, or the person paid by the taxpayers to maintain order?

Perhaps the phrase "ripped off" is appropriate after all.


Monday, November 10, 2014

An Unpopular Question for Veteran's Day

A few minutes ago I was on the first floor of the building where I work talking to a young man in charge of Valencia's Veteran's Day ceremony.
Valencia had a large display of photos of men and women from this college who had served in foreign wars since September 11th.    Valencia also had music playing.
I was about to give an exam in a room very close to where the speakers where located and was concerned that my students would be distracted while trying to take their exam. 
As I was politely and respectfully asking the coordinator if the music could be turned down a little a young man standing next to him bluntly and tersely said, "This music is for dead soldiers."
He proceeded to tell me that his grandfather and father had preceded him in service to our country and informed me that he had lost half his foot in battle.  I did not know if he was being truthful or not but he persisted in his contempt for my mere request that music be turned down.  At one point he said, "While you were in college, I was serving my country."   This was an interesting claim for two reasons.  First, he did not know anything about my past.  Second, given his age it is more likely that while I was in college, he was not even born.
Yet, his willingness to give me his biography of service in the military - and his claim that I was disrespectful to our veterans - reminds me of something that I have been bothered by for a long time. 
I seem to recall reading, on many occasions, that when veterans of World War II came home they simply got back to work, kept largely quiet and tried to re-establish their lives as civilians.
I do not believe there where any hats sold that read, "World War II Veteran" or constant reminders - by the veterans - that they had served.
My grandfather - several generations removed - served in the New Jersey militia during the Revolutionary War.  His grandson served in the army in New Orleans in 1803.  My father served in missile silos during the height of the Cold War.  My wife's uncle dropped into Normandy on D-Day.   I never served in the military but have spent 25 years teaching the principles our military stands for. 
Should I have a hat or shirt or jacket or bumper sticker made to mention any of this?
No disrespect intended, but when did our country lose its sense of doing ones duty without constantly reminding everyone that your duty had been done?
There have been untold numbers of Americans who have contributed with swords, guns and words (see Ronald Reagan, Thomas Jefferson & Thomas Paine to name a few) without succumbing to the temptation to constantly remind people what they had done.
This should be particularly useful to veterans of more modern wars.  None were drafted, all knew what was going on in the Middle East and no one has treated them like we treated Vietnam veterans upon their return.
If there is anything today's veterans should be pointing out to the rest of us it is this:
Our nation no longer stands for the principles of liberty that the Revolutionary War and World War II veterans fought for.  We have become a nation of characterless, welfare-seeking, selfie-taking people who do not know anything - and care even less - about what our veterans were fighting for.
That reality is worth a bumper sticker.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I am pretty sure my life is almost over....

It is that time of year folks - the tests my students have taken are on my desk, my red pen is in my hand and I get to dive into the minds of people who have spent 13 years in America's government schools.

Reading exams literally causes my chest to tighten, my left arm to go somewhat numb and words to form in my mind (and sometimes mouth) that would make Chris Rock blush.

For example.

Question six on my recent midterm exam reads:  Graphically illustrate and fully explain how falling gasoline prices could impact the market for large pickup trucks.  Then, graphically illustrate and explain how rising health care costs could impact consumer prices. 

Here is an answer I just finished reading.  As always, these are unedited.

"If gas prices fell.  That would mean our trucks could pay less and go further.  Our wal-mart trucks could rapidly supply thing in case of emergency disaster.  If this happened we could pay our drivers more which in turn make them value their jobs & take them seriously no falling asleep at the wheel.  The rising in health care cost is crazy.  If this is a forever thing our economy will be shot.  If we have to pay more for health care we have less money for the medication we need.  As well will the consumers levels for the meds.  Our hard studied pharmacist will have to get cut hours & pay this will lead to their familys suffering they will need a second job & will have less time with kids or any loved ones."

Yes, you read this correctly.  This is not uncommon, either.

People ask me all the time, "How is work?" 

My answer always hinges on whether I have had any tests to grade at the time they ask the question. 

I love teaching.

I hate reading much of the musings that are rolling around in the minds of my students.

Back to work.  Pray my wife doesn't find my remains slumped over a pile of papers...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Should People be Forced to Serve?

What follows is my Op-Ed in the October 31, 2014 Orlando Sentinel.  I hope you find it useful.

At the height of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon appointed two economists — Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan — to examine the efficacy of maintaining America's long tradition of compulsory military service. During one particularly contentious conversation with Gen. William Westmoreland, Friedman compared a military made up of drafted men to slavery. Westmoreland countered with the argument that he would not want "mercenaries" under his command. By mercenaries, Westmoreland of course meant people who volunteered to join the military out of self-interest, rather than the "public good" of serving his fellow man.
Since that time, the U.S. military — made up of an all-volunteer force — has maintained a level of productivity, strength and dedication to service that would seem unlikely to people who believe that only through compulsion can we maintain a fighting force of men and women who would be willing to die for their country.

The same is true in other organizations that require putting the interests of strangers ahead of the love of self.

In America today, millions of people devote countless hours to religious and secular charities. From missionary work of Christian organizations all over the world to the Peace Corp, the Salvation Army, Goodwill and innumerable other charities, we have seen the power of voluntary association continue to grow. This was a predictable outgrowth of the system of liberty formulated by our Founding Fathers.
In the early 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville spent nine months traveling throughout Canada and the United States, recording his observations in what would become the basis of his classic writing, "Democracy in America." One of his many comments on the character of the American people is as follows: "I must say that I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another."

What de Tocqueville recognized was the fact that in a society where voluntary association is viewed as a right to the human existence, charity and mutual cooperation will always take place.

Adam Smith taught us in 1776 that human beings are driven by their self-interest to serve their fellow man. For Smith — and eventually the Founders who codified our rights to "pursue happiness" — human beings recognize that in order to gain what we desire, we must serve our fellow man. In business this means that serving others creates profit. But when it comes to altruism (which is also a natural human emotion), our self-interest is promoted by helping others who are in need of everything from protection from foreign enemies to protection from hunger and disease.

No one has had to force Bill and Melinda Gates to give away billions of dollars. No one coerces those who work for Habitat for Humanity. No one needed to force former National Football League star Pat Tillman to leave his life of prosperity to join the Army Rangers in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
As long as we are a nation of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, people will freely choose to assist in the protection of these rights for total strangers. By respecting our right to serve, or not serve, we maintain a system where many productive people self-select military or charitable service while other people — who believe they would best serve as entrepreneurs or college students — pursue those goals.

Forcing people to serve in areas where they have little desire not only leads to less effective "public service" organizations, and a weaker military, but also an economically inefficient redistribution of talent away from where it would be best placed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Must our Sons dress like girls to cure Breast Cancer?

I used to love October.
Now I kind of hate, or put in another way, dread
 this month.
It is not because I live in Florida where it will be 90 degrees and muggy today (although that does not help).
It is because today my youngest son has a middle school football game, followed by my oldest son playing varsity football on Friday.  In between we plan on watching the Packers-Vikings game tonight.
What should be a fun couple of days will instead be accompanied by the site of young men and grown men dressing in the traditionally female color of pink.
I understand that breast cancer is a terrible thing.  I have a mom (believe  it or not), a wife and a daughter.  I don't want any of them to ever have this life-threatening ailment.
But that does not mean that I feel compelled to dress, or have my sons dress, in pink all month as a show of "awareness" or a show of support or as an implicit demand that more money be spent to cure this disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2012 more money was spent on breast cancer research ($602.7 million) than on prostate ($265.1 million), lung and thyroid cancer research combined.
There are a lot of men that get prostate cancer.  Why don't we put social pressure on women and girls to wear blue and not shave for an entire month? 
If the National Football League and other corporations who are making a killing selling pink sportswear for men would instead just donate stadium, television and other revenue to breast cancer research it might mean more money towards this cure while keeping our sons from being further feminized by a culture that seems determined to strip all signs of "male" from males.

Happy October.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Debate on Income Inequality

The following is the Youtube video of the debate I participated in concerning the topic of income inequality.  As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thank you, President Obama for helping us come in 32nd.


What follows is from the September 15, 2014 Wall Street Journal
Any day now the White House and Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) will attempt to raise taxes on business, while making the U.S. tax code even more complex. The Obama and Schumer plans to punish businesses for moving their legal domicile overseas will arrive even as a new international ranking shows that the U.S. tax burden on business is close to the worst in the industrialized world. Way to go, Washington.

On Monday the Tax Foundation, which manages the widely followed State Business Tax Climate Index, will launch a new global benchmark, the International Tax Competitiveness Index. According to the foundation, the new index measures "the extent to which a country's tax system adheres to two important principles of tax policy: competitiveness and neutrality."

A competitive tax code is one that limits the taxation of businesses and investment. Since capital is mobile and businesses can choose where to invest, tax rates that are too high "drive investment elsewhere, leading to slower economic growth," as the Tax Foundation puts it.
By neutrality the foundation means "a tax code that seeks to raise the most revenue with the fewest economic distortions. This means that it doesn't favor consumption over saving, as happens with capital gains and dividends taxes, estate taxes, and high progressive income taxes. This also means no targeted tax breaks for businesses for specific business activities." Crony capitalism that rewards the likes of green energy with lower tax bills while imposing higher bills on other firms is political arbitrage that misallocates capital and reduces economic growth.
The index takes into account more than 40 tax policy variables. And the inaugural ranking puts the U.S. at 32nd out of 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
With the developed world's highest corporate tax rate at over 39% including state levies, plus a rare demand that money earned overseas should be taxed as if it were earned domestically, the U.S. is almost in a class by itself. It ranks just behind Spain and Italy, of all economic humiliations. America did beat Portugal and France, which is currently run by an avowed socialist.
The Tax Foundation benchmark compares developed economies with large and expensive governments, but the U.S. would do even worse if it were measured against the world's roughly 190 countries. The accounting firm KPMG maintains a corporate tax table that includes more than 130 countries and only one has a higher overall corporate tax rate than the U.S. The United Arab Emirates' 55% rate is an exception, however, because it usually applies only to foreign oil companies.
The new ranking is especially timely coming amid the campaign led by Messrs. Obama and Schumer to punish companies that move their legal domicile overseas to be able to reinvest future profits in the U.S. without paying the punitive American tax rate. If they succeed, the U.S. could fall to dead last on next year's ranking. Now there's a second-term legacy project for the President.
The new index also suggests taxation is a greater burden on business in the U.S. than in countries that American liberals have long praised as models of enlightened big government. Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden, with their large social safety nets, all finish in the top 20 on the new ranking. The United Kingdom manages to fund socialized medicine while finishing 11 spots ahead of the U.S.
The new champion of tax competitiveness is Estonia, where—liberals may be astonished to learn—people enjoy the rule of law and even paved roads, despite reasonable tax rates. (See the list nearby.)
Liberals argue that U.S. tax rates don't need to come down because they are already well below the level when Ronald Reagan came into office. But unlike the U.S., the world hasn't stood still. Reagan's tax-cutting example ignited a worldwide revolution that has seen waves of corporate tax-rate reductions. The U.S. last reduced the top marginal corporate income tax rate in 1986. But the Tax Foundation reports that other countries have reduced "the OECD average corporate tax rate from 47.5 percent in the early 1980s to around 25 percent today."
This is also a message to self-styled conservative "reformers" who lecture that today's economic challenges aren't the same as they were under Reagan but propose to do nothing about the destructive U.S. corporate tax code. They're missing what could be the single biggest tax boost to economic growth and worker incomes. Abundant economic research, by Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur among others, has shown that higher corporate taxes lead to lower wages.
Rather than erecting an iron tax curtain that keeps U.S. companies from escaping, the White House and Congress should enact reform that invites more businesses to stay or move to the U.S.