Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: January 2013


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 20 Jan 13

This week, Bruce Michael, and Dale discuss the media and the New Obama Administration.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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So lift those heavy eyelids

What if people could easily function with much less sleep?

Jon M at Sociological Speculation asked that question after observing that “new drugs such as Modafinil appear to vastly reduce the need for sleep without significant side effects (at least so far).” At extremes, as Jon M noted in a follow-up post, modafinil allows a reduction to 2.5 hours a night, but “the more common experiences seem to be people who reduce their sleep by a few hours habitually and people who use the drugs to stay up for extended periods once in a while without suffering the drastic cognitive declines insomnia normally entails.”  In fact, alertness is not the only reported cognitive benefit of the drug.

The US brand of modafinil, Provigil, did over $1.1 billion in US sales last year, but for the moment let’s dispense with the question of whether modafinil is everything it’s cracked up to be.  We’re speculating about the consequences of cheaply reducing or even eliminating the need for sleep for the masses.

If I can add to what’s already been said by several fine bloggers – Garett Jones at EconLog on the likely effect on wages, then Matt Yglesias at Slate sounding somewhat dour about the prospect, and Megan McArdle at the Daily Beast having fun with the speculation – the bottom line is that widely reducing the need for sleep would be a revolutionary good, as artificial light was.

For a sense of scale, there are about 252 million Americans age 15+, and on average they’re each awake about 5,585 hours a year.  Giving them each two extra hours a night for a year would be equivalent to adding the activity of 33 million people, without having to shelter, clothe, and feed 33 million more people.

Whatever objections critics have, sleeping less will be popular to the extent that people think the costs are low.  For all the billions of dollars spent trying to add years to their older lives, obviously people would spend more to add life to their younger years.  Who ever said, “If only I’d had less time!”?

Consider that the average employed parent usually sleeps 7.6 hours each workday.  He spends 8.8 of his remaining hours on work and related activities, 1.2 hours caring for others, and 2.5 hours on leisure and sports.

If he spends more time working productively (i.e. serving others), that’s good for both him and society.  The time and effort invested in birthing, educating, and sorting people for jobs is tremendous, so getting more out of people who are already born, educated, and sorted is just multiplying the return on sunk costs.

That’s a godsend for any society undergoing a demographic transition after the typical fall in birthrates, because aside from hoping for faster productivity growth, the specific ways to address having fewer workers per retiree – higher taxes, lower benefits, more immigration, or somehow spurring more people to invest in babies for decades – are unpleasant or difficult or both.

And if he uses extra hours to pursue happiness in other ways, that’s generally fine too.  A lot of people may simply get more out of their cable subscription. Others will finally have time for building and maintaining their families, reading, exercising, or learning a skill.

Yes, once a substantial number of people are enhancing their performance, others will likely have to follow suit if they want to compete.  But then, that’s also true of artificial light and many other technologies.  If people naturally slept only four hours a night and felt rested and alert, who would support a law forcing everyone to sleep twice as long, cutting a fifth of their waking hours so that everyone would slow down to the speed that some people prefer to live their lives?

I don’t think most people have such a strong presumption in favor of sleep.  We like feeling rested, or dreaming, but not sleeping as such; a substantial minority of Americans sleep less than advised despite the known costs, and so reveal their preference for waking life over oblivion.


Economic Statistics for 17 Jan 13

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

Housing starts in December rose a sharp 12.1%, to a pace of 0.954 million units, following Novembers -4.3% drop.

Initial Jobless Claims fell much more than expected, down 37,000 to 335,000. The 4-week average fell 6,750 to 359,250, but continuing claims rose 87,000 to 3.214 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell 1.1 points points to -35.5.

The Philadelphia Fed Survey fell back into negative territory again, coming in at -5.8.

~
Dale Franks
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Question of the day: how do you enforce “universal background checks?”

A part of the legislative gun control package and executive orders President Obama has set in motion includes this:

Mr. Obama would require background checks for private sales between individuals, including those at gun shows and via the Internet. Expanding the checks is the “single most important thing we can do,” a senior administration official said.

Sounds reasonable on the surface, right?

But then the deeper question – how would this have to be accomplished?

Well, let’s see – there’s no way to track how well this law is being followed unless you are able to identify all the guns that this requirement would cover.  And, of course, it would cover every existing gun out there now, right?  Isn’t that what “universal” means?

So what is required?

Ah, gun registration.  Every single, solitary gun that is legally held by the public would have to be registered so the Fed could then track sales and ensure that “proper background checks” were executed.  If not, then we have a new crime with which to prosecute citizens and populate our jails.

Oh, and the crimnals?  Yeah, they’ll play along, won’t they?

Can’t wait to watch the gang-bangers in Chicago line up to register their guns and do background checks before selling them.

Absurd.  And useless.

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 16 Dec 13

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The MBA reports Purchase Applications rose 15.2% in the latest week, with purchases up 13.0% and re-fis up 15.0%.

Lower energy costs kept the Consumer Price Index restrained with a 0% rise for December. The core rate, ex-food and energy, rose 0.1%.

The Treasury reports foreign demand for long-term US securities rose a net $52.3 billion in November.

The Fed’s reading on Industrial Production rose 0.3% in December, while Capacity Utilization rose 0.4% to 78.8%.

The Housing Market Index is unchanged this month at 47, still below the break-even point of 50.

The Fed’s Beige Book is reporting that all 12 Federal Reserve Districts saw "modest or moderate" economic growth since the last report.

~
Dale Franks
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Just in cased you missed it, our problem STILL isn’t revenue

I continue to be stunned by the apparent willingness of all involved on the left to whistle past the graveyard when it comes to understanding what our fiscal governmental problem is and how to fix it.  Here … let’s try a picture:

Oh, look … it’s spending.  Specifically, spending on entitlements and interest on the money we’ve borrowed to do so.  And what are we talking about cutting?  The military, of course.  Because, you know, it is in the blue slice of the pie.  Make sense?

Pac Man’s revenge.  By 2050, he will have swallowed all of the blue.

But, hey, it’s “absurd” to argue about raising the debt limit. By the way, does anyone remember when Sen. Obama declared that raising the debt limit signaled a failure in leadership?

Ahem …

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 15 Jan 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

In weekly retail sales, ICSC-Goldman Store Sales fell another -0.6% for the week, and only up 3.3% from last year. Redbook also reports a weak 1.9% year-on-year sale growth rate.

Business inventories rose 0.3% in November, vice a 1.0 percent rise for sales. The inventory-to-sales ratio rounds out to 1.28, the lowest ratio since May.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey fell more than a point to -8.10, indicating a deepening contraction in manufacturing.

The Commerce Department reports rose 0.5% in December. Sales ex-autos rose 0.3%, while sales ex-autos and gas rose 0.6%.

The Producer Price Index fell -0.2% in December, while the core rate rose 0.1%. On a year-over-year basis, the PPI rose 1.3%, while the core rate rose 2.0%.

~
Dale Franks
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The reason for the mess in Mali?

One word: Libya. Seriously…   many of the armaments and fighters came from Libya and their fight there to overthrow the government. All, of course, aided and abetted by the Obama administration and their brilliant foreign policy.

Over the last four years, the United States has spent between $520 million and $600 million in a sweeping effort to combat Islamist militancy in the region without fighting the kind of wars it has waged in the Middle East. The program stretched from Morocco to Nigeria, and American officials heralded the Malian military as an exemplary partner. American Special Forces trained its troops in marksmanship, border patrol, ambush drills and other counterterrorism skills.

Then:

But all that deliberate planning collapsed swiftly when heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya. They teamed up with jihadists like Ansar Dine, routed poorly equipped Malian forces and demoralized them so thoroughly that it set off a mutiny against the government in the capital, Bamako.

A confidential internal review completed last July by the Pentagon’s Africa Command concluded that the coup had unfolded too quickly for American commanders or intelligence analysts to detect any clear warning signs.

And finally:

Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against.

Now, in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, the French have entered the war themselves.

Exceptionally well done, no? /sarc

That’s what leading from behind brings you — oh, that and “Arab spring”.

Can you imagine what will happen when Syria finally collapses?

~McQ


Debt ceiling: Orwell just missed it by a few decades

The more I see politics of today the more I think George Orwell simply listed by about 30 years. Imagine a politician a few decades ago trying to make this argument and then calling the other guy’s argument “absurd”.

“While I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficit, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress over how to pay the bills they’ve already racked up,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House at what aides have billed as the final news conference of his first term. “To even entertain the idea of this happening, of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd.”

But the problem is, thanks to both Congress and this administration, we are not paying our bills. We’re borrowing money that we don’t have and have been spending it. I find it ironic, that the president who has run up the largest deficit in history is talking about being irresponsible.

And then, there’s this:

“They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy,” Obama said. “The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.”

But that is precisely what Obama is doing, using the credit rating of America as a bargaining chip – to justify more spending on credit. No irony there. Interesting that Obama is suddenly concerned about “not crashing the American economy” when his  profligacy has put us in a position we are in today.

“The issue here is whether America pays its bills,” Obama said. “We are not a deadbeat nation.”

Yes we are. He just doesn’t know it yet, or at least won’t admit it.   And much of the cause rests with him as signified by his absurd argument.

~McQ