Assorted Links (4/28/2012)

Here’s a list of articles that I have been reading lately:

Freshman Class President

“The Wall Street Journal argues that President Obama rocks the youth vote by socking taxpayers.”  This is an important part of the news that President Obama didn’t slowjam the other night on the Jimmy Fallon show (see for the YouTube slowjam video for context)…

Congress Finally Takes on the Fed

“In The Wall Street Journal, George Melloan writes that the Federal Reserve’s near-zero interest rate policy has punished savers without producing a strong recovery. Two bills in Congress would rein in the central bank.”

How the Swiss ‘Debt Brake’ Tamed Government

“In The Wall Street Journal, Daniel J. Mitchell notes government spending in Switzerland can’t increase by more than trendline tax revenue, and as a result government debt levels have fallen in the last half decade.”

The Age of Indiscretion

“Daniel Henninger on GSA partiers in Vegas and Secret Service revelers in Cartagena make it clear that discretion is dead.”

Why Women Make Less Than Men

“In The Wall Street Journal Kay Hymowitz writes that in studies from the U.S. to Sweden In studies from the U.S. to Sweden, pay discrimination can’t explain the earnings gap between women and men. Women earn less because they work fewer hours.”

Gasoline-Futures Prices Tumble 16 Cents in Last Week, Due to Market Forces

“The price of gasoline is actually being determined by market forces, specifically an increase in the supply of oil, and not by speculators.”

A Black Box in Your Car?

Quoting from this article, “The Senate passed a bill in March that calls for “mandatory event data recorders” (or black boxes) to be installed in all new passenger motor vehicles, starting with the 2015 models… The bill… has a privacy provision but gives the government the authority to access the black box in a number of circumstances, including court order, consent of the owner, an investigation or inspection, or to determine the need for emergency responses.”


“We offer courses from the top universities, for free. Learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students.”  Coursera has a pretty impressive array of university courses available from places like Princeton, Stanford, University of California (Berkeley), University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania, on topics such as computer science, economics, finance, history, humanities, life sciences, statistics, and so forth. They’re all available for free – the only “cost” is the time required to actually sit through a course! :-)…

Obama’s Budget Means a Tax Increase on Everyone

“In The Wall Street Journal, Glenn Hubbard writes that maintaining the president’s higher spending levels will require raising taxes for all Americans, including an 11% increase on those earning less than $200,000.”

America’s Syria Abdication

“In The Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami writes that a no-fly, no-drive zone on the border with Turkey would critically alter the terms of engagement. Everyone is waiting on Washington’s leadership.”

Wal-Mart Innocents Abroad

“In The Wall Street Journal, Business World columnist Holman Jenkins writes about the allegations that Wal-Mart paid bribes to local bureaucrats to get permission to expand rapidly in Mexico, noting that multinationals in an unfamiliar market face a choice: Play by the local rules or change the rules…”  Coincidentally, a couple weeks ago Texas A&M finance professor Scott Lee presented a very interesting empirical paper at Baylor entitled “The Impact of Anti-Bribery Enforcement Actions on Targeted Firms” (see; Professor Lee and his coauthors find that firms prosecuted for foreign bribery under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (which is the law that is in play in the case of Walmart) experience significant costs in terms of declines in share values.

Obama’s College Tour

“The students and professors may be cheering on campus, but there are plenty of people in the private sector who are getting tired of paying for them.”

America’s entitlement spending problem (part 1)

Interesting and informative exegesis of the Reports of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees (see, from Stanford University’s Keith Hennessey…

Solyndra, Inc. and the United States Department of Energy

“Congratulations to this erstwhile “public-private partnership” for showing the rest of us how to isolate energy waste… then supersize it!”

xkcd: Approximations

Nerd alert: A table of “slightly wrong” equations and identities useful for approximations from the good folks at; I particularly like the algorithm for estimating the world population…

The amazing stock-picking robot

“It’s amazing the Securities and Exchange Commission would have to waste its time shutting down such an obviously fraudulent pitch like this.”

Rural kids, parents angry about Labor Dept. rule banning farm chores

According to this article, the US Department of Labor apparently wants to ban farm kids from doing farm chores. I am glad that these “rules” weren’t in place when my father grew up on a family farm, since the experience was very formative for him and helped instill a remarkably strong work ethic which subsequently set the stage for a wonderful set of educational and work opportunities that my entire family has since enjoyed.

The Inequality Obsession

“In The Wall Street Journal, Business World columnist Holman Jenkins asks: Why is it in America’s interest to persuade the rich to report less income?”

Natural and Forced Inequality

“A country’s decline begins only when initiative and excellence are no longer valued by society. The US middle class is not exploited by the free market but by the rhetoric of redistribution and fairness that has taken hold in America.” Cato’s Roger Pilon opines on the nature and consequences of “natural” and “forced” (or coerced) inequalities…

A 50-State Tax Lesson for the President

“In The Wall Street Journal’s Cross Country column, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore write that over the past decade, states without an income levy have seen much higher growth than the national average. Which state will be next to abolish theirs?”

The Great California Exodus

Quoting from this article, “Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states… most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families… the state is run for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees.”

The Tragedy of Argentina

“In The Wall Street Journal, Pierpaolo Barbieri writes that commentators on Greece are drawing all the wrong lessons from his homeland’s tragic default.”

City of Austin studying whether to end outsourcing, despite higher costs

“Austin is taking a hard look at whether the city should curtail outsourcing of municipal jobs and appears poised to go the opposite way of communities elsewhere that have turned jobs over to contractors to cut costs.” For a cautionary tale concerning unintended consequences of public policy (in this case, the possible implementation of a “living wage” policy by the Austin City Council) be sure to watch for a compelling story concerning how a similar initiative in our nation’s capital worked out (in this case, “insourcing” the job of escalator repair). Tip of the hat to my good friend Spencer Case for pointing this remarkable video out to me.

Gas Futures Point to Pump Relief

“After a sizzling start to the year, gasoline futures prices are sliding, easing pressures on drivers and the U.S. economy and raising the prospect that prices at the pump could be headed lower still.” Horrors, the “speculators” who were called out recently by various and sundry politicians for driving gas prices higher apparently have changed their minds and now want gas prices to be lower! All cynicism aside, this article notes that the reason WHY gasoline futures prices have fallen 6.3% from their high for the year (reached on March 26) has everything to do with “fundamentals” in the “spot” market for oil and gas. Specifically, “… the price of crude oil that gets refined into gasoline has dropped a similar amount amid easing tension over Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer.”

Why I Donated a Kidney

“In The Wall Street Journal, Jim Sollisch writes most of us are walking around with a spare part that 90,000 people need.”  This is an inspiring story; perhaps stories like this may raise greater public awareness and interest in alleviating critical organ shortages and improving patient welfare within the constraints of the current social and legal environment; e.g., see Roth et al., “Kidney Exchange” 2004 Quarterly Journal of Economics (available from…

Obama’s Seinfeld Strategy

“The Wall Street Journal on the President’s call to hang the evil oil speculators, if anyone can find them.”

It’s 1936 All Over Again

“In The Wall Street Journal, Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger writes that the Obama 2012 campaign is channeling the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Depression.”

Cracking Down on Oil Market Manipulation

“President Obama announces a new series of steps to strengthen oversight over the energy markets.” 

Last Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the creation by the Obama administration of the “Financial Fraud Enforcement Working Group” (see the MSNBC article from 4/21/2011 entitled “Obama says new task force will examine gas prices”, available on the web at The article referenced above (entitled “Cracking Down on Oil Market Manipulation”) is from the White House blog and is dated 4/17/2012.

While the notion that “high” gas prices result from “price gouging” by a cadre of unsavory and greedy oil companies, energy traders, and speculators makes for a provocative political narrative, it’s really bad economics. As canards go, this one is particularly favored by politicians; indeed (as you can see from the time-date stamps of the April 2011 MSNBC and April 2012 White House blog articles), you can almost set your watch on these kinds of things.

I wrote a blog posting about the economics of “high” gas prices on April 23, 2011 (source:, and many, if not most of the points I raised in that article are as applicable today as they were then (now the geopolitical risk du jour is Iran; back then it was Libya)…

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