Monday, September 28, 2009

The Insta-Editorial

I think my favorite aspect of reading news articles on-line is the reader comment section. I'll read an article, feel a little slighted by the author's spin on the news, and then I read the comments. Sometimes it's like road rage on the internet superhighway (sorry to use a worn out metaphor). I think I am getting skilled at distilling the comments into the general consensus of the readers. This involves toning down some of the "emotionally charged" words. For example:
  • "kool-aid drinker" - someone who isn't taking a balanced view.
  • "Dumb-o-crat" and "Retard-icans" - the people responsible for all our problems or who refuse to fix our problems or anyone who doesn't agree with the commenter.

Sometimes the story isn't so polarizing, yet the comments are still interesting.

For example, I found an article on the finite supply of willpower to be very interesting. Basically, our physical, mental and emotional efforts tax our energy resources. The comments included:
  • How to avoid the drudgery of boring jobs by wearing an IPOD.
  • How the Military trains you to push yourself even when you run out of energy.
  • A discussion on labor saving ideas
  • Eating candy to cope, but it makes you fat.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

First Class

I've flown First Class exactly four times in my life. It's amazing how after flying First Class, you actually feel entitled to it. You realize how inhumane flying coach is and somehow you justify that you deserve better.

The first time was on my honeymoon. My wife and I naively got to the airport only a few minutes before boarding. Frontier Airlines had gone out of business the day before and our airline, Continental, was trying to accommodate all of the Frontier customers. The man in front of us was quite belligerent to the person boarding passengers. He was irate that his party couldn't sit together. I feared that my new bride and I would be split up (we couldn't stand being apart). Our turn came and we meekly approached the desk. We were shocked when we were told "We have two seats in First Class. Will that be okay?" Of Course!!! As poor college students, we felt very pampered. I remember having the best airplane food I've ever had!

The next three trips were business trips. The second trip I was delivering a proposal and our company had a policy that if you flew round trip coast-to-coast, the return trip was First Class. I think I slept the whole trip (which was more comfortable since it was First Class).

The third trip was a fluke. Somehow the secretary booking my flight got a free upgrade. I was flying to a conference with coworkers. I was a little embarrassed as the more senior coworkers walked pass me on their way to coach.

The fourth trip was the most amazing. I had three trips to Europe planned. Our company had a policy of flying us Business class overseas. On the second trip, I started worrying when my traveling companion didn't show up at the terminal. I asked the boarding agent if he had checked in. It turns out that he had checked in and because he flew so often, he was a platinum/gold/diamond or whatever flier. This gives you the special privilege of waiting in the executive lounge (I never knew these lounges existed before this, though I was able to use them in Germany since the lowly Business Class fliers got to use them). The agent then mentioned that my friend was flying First Class and he noticed I was flying Business Class. He asked me if I would like to sit with my friend. I think I asked how much it would cost. Flying First Class from Los Angeles direct to Europe is wonderful! There was a fresh rose at every seat, the flight attendant was gracious, the food gourmet, the refreshments continuous (swiss chocolates). We each had our own entertainment unit (you pick the movie). They had a choice of light sweater, light blanket or heavy blanket. The seat converted to a bed - completely flat! Everyone deserves First Class like that!

I think that Congress should pass a law that ALL airlines must provide First Class seating for everyone. Everyone should be able to visit relatives, historical sites, etc. and not feel like cattle. We can call it Universal First Class -the Public Option.

By the way, my last trip to Europe I was able to bring my wife. I had a choice: pay about $3500 to fly her Business Class with me or pay $600 to fly her Coach. We chose the $600 Coach ticket. It didn't seem right to fly Business Class with her back in Coach so I downgraded to Coach (it was terrible). I pointed out to our travel department that I saved the company $2900 and was wondering if they would be willing to pay for my wife's ticket. They said no. I think most smarter companies would have.

Moral of the story: Everyone has a right to First Class as long as someone else is paying for it.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Russian Friend and Basic Economics

My last post was about hiking Mt. Whitney with my coworkers. The day before our hike we drove to Cottonwood Lakes to acclimate. I had the chance to have a conversation with a coworker from Russia (She's now a U.S. citizen). I found her journey to our country very interesting. I'll share one tidbit.

I almost never met her as she planned on living in New York. Thanks to laws in New York that were intended to protect young families with small children from being evicted (landlords are required to give one years notice), her family (husband and their young infant) were unable to find housing so they moved to the west coast. It turns out that no one wants to rent to young families as the law makes it too hard to get rid of them. Renting to good families is just not worth the risk of getting stuck with deadbeats for a whole year.

It's interesting that I just finished reading Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell and he pointed out that housing laws always have the opposite effect of their original intentions.

My friend also mentioned something about Vladimir Putin and high taxes. It was rather ominous. I'll ask her again to get the story straight.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hike, Camp, Economize

This past weekend, I climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States (14,500 feet tall) with 14 coworkers. We camped the night before at Whitney Portal, woke up early the next morning and made the 22 mile hike in one day. The whole experience was a lesson in economy.

1. With 15 people riding in three cars, there was a scarcity of storage space, which I didn't properly account for since my overstuffed duffel bag blocked the back window.

2. The small hammock that I brought proved popular as we rested in the afternoon, while my tent went unused as I slept under the stars.

3. Packing for the hike was more restrictive. What could I carry on my back to provide food and water for the day and protection from potential unknown weather conditions. Conflicting goals of a light weight pack yet sufficient supplies let me confused.

The result:
-2 liters of water with a filtration pump worked mostly well with the exception of the dry spell from the last fill spot to the summit and back.
-Two much food (trailmix, dried mangoes, granola bars, etc).
-Unused warmer clothes (long sleeve underamor, windbreaker, gloves). These would have served useful in more uncertain weather conditions.

Of course all this planning in no way accounts for the brutal experience had by your feet, legs, arms, lungs, heart, neck, etc.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Absolute vs. Comparative Advantage

Pres. Obama "opted" today to impose a tariff on tires imported from China [1]. It's funny that today I listened to the chapter in Thomas Sowell's book "Basic Economics" on why tariffs are a bad economic decision.

I also listened to the chapter explaining absolute economic advantage and relative economic advantage. An absolute advantage would be the case where a country can build products cheaper than another country. Dr. Sowell gave an interesting example to explain a relative advantage. Hang in there while I try to explain this (the result is surprising).

In his example, he considers two products: chairs and televisions. The countries are America and Canada. America has the absolute advantage since one American can produce 500 chairs per month while one Canadian can only produce 450. Also, an American can produce 200 television sets per month while a Canadian can only produce 100 (If you're Canadian, switch the numbers if it makes you feel better).

If there are 500 hundred American workers and 500 hundred Canadian workers, we could have 300 of each make chairs while 200 make televisions. I'll spare you the math, but the result is 190,000 chairs and 90,000 televisions.

If instead, all 500 Americans make televisions and all 500 Canadians make chairs, you end up with 225,000 chairs and 100,000 televisions. This is an increase in both numbers! The reason is "that Canada has a comparative advantage making chairs. That is, Canada loses fewer television sets by shifting resources to the production of chairs than the United States would lose by such a shift." This seemed counter-intuitive to me.

Back to tariffs. History shows that countries that reduce trade barriers prosper more (gain more jobs) than countries that impose tariffs. If this is true, why do Politicians support tariffs?

The answer is comparative advantage. For a politician that wants to get reelected, the workers (from our example, American chair makers) have the comparative advantage when voting, since they will be angry about losing their job and more likely to "vote the bum out". The rest of the voters will probably be split about the decision. The problem here is that the comparative advantage for voting is BAD for the whole economy, since this influences the politician to impose tariffs to save jobs. But what if China has a comparative advantage at making tires? Wouldn't it be better to have Americans making something that they are more productive at than making tires?

Many economists believe that the protectionist policies imposed in the 1930's are what lead us into a depression. If so, why do our politicians keep making stupid financial decisions? It's simple, they follow the economics of the vote, instead of the economics of prosperity.

What does the average citizen do about it? They attend Tea Parties and Town Hall meetings, talk to neighbors, forward emails, write on blogs, etc. Hopefully this will get the attention of politicians and result in a realignment the two economies.

Vote for prosperity!


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day Flags

I was driving from LA to San Diego today and noticed hundreds of American Flags posted along I-5 next to Camp Pendleton. I found this link to a news story. Here's a photo with my cell phone from my car. Seeing it in person is much more impressive as it stretches for miles.