Assorted Links (6/11/2012)

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

Obama vs. Romney on Public School Jobs

The president wants to hire more public school teachers. Governor Romney thinks we have too many already. Rather than theorize about who’s right, let’s look at the numbers…


Quoting from this article, “… (public school) enrollment is only up 8.5% since 1970, whereas (public school) employment is up 96.2%. In other words, the public school workforce has grown 11 times faster than enrollment over the past 40 years.”

Debt to the Penny (Daily History Search Application)

To find the total public debt outstanding on a specific day or days, simply select a single date or date range and click on the ‘Find History’ button.


Earlier today, I had an exchange with my friend Jonathan Warren about the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis. I opined that an important reason why the European sovereign debt crisis has been going on for such a long period of time (several years now) is due to the political class’s preference (was well as incentives) for applying triage by implementing half-measures; such triage enables policymakers to kick the can far enough down the road so that the European sovereign debt crisis becomes someone else’s problem.

After thinking about a bit further about this, we Americans obviously similar governance problems as the Europeans which, quite tragically, have similarly put the US on an unsound and completely unsustainable fiscal footing. Debt owed by the US federal government now stands at more than $15.7 trillion. Putting this number into perspective, US federal government debt stood at $5.7 trillion on the day that George W. Bush was first inaugurated (January 20, 2001), and grew by $4.9 trillion (to $10.6 trillion) by the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. In just three years and five months, US federal government debt has grown by an additional $5.1 trillion, to $15.7 trillion (you can verify these numbers by using the “Debt to the Penny” app located on the website (see So Bush 43 accounts for 31.2%, Obama accounts for 32.5%, and the previous 42 presidents cumulatively account for 36.3% of total US federal government debt.

As bad the US federal government debt problem is, we have a far worse entitlement problem which no one (other than perhaps Paul Ryan (R, Wisconsin) and Ron Wyden (D, Oregon)) are even talking about these days. According to an authoritative (but dated) source located at (see Figure 10 on page 30 of that document), in January 2009 the present value of Social Security and Medicare promises stood at $45.8 trillion; $7.7 trillion of this total was due to Social Security, and the remaining $38.1 trillion was attributable to Medicare. According to the recently published (April 2012) Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, the present value of unfunded Social Security obligations now stands at $8.6 trillion, which represents an 11.7% increase over the January 2009 amount. Since I haven’t been able to locate a current estimate of the present value of unfunded Medicare promises, I’ll assume for the time being that the present value of unfunded Medicare promises has also grown 11.7% since January 2009. Thus, the January 2012 present value of Social Security and Medicare promises probably now stand at or around $45.8 trillion x 1.117 = $51.2 trillion. (If anyone knows of an authoritative, up-to-date source for the present value of Medicare promises, please let me know! :-)).

This means that as a country, our total indebtedness now stands at roughly $15.7 trillion plus $51.2 trillion, or $66.9 trillion. Since there are (according to the US Census Bureau) 117,538,000 households in America, if you do the arithmetic this works out a per household debt of (gulp) $569,178.

Eugenics, Past and Future

Will yesterday’s pseudoscience become tomorrow’s temptation?


Europe’s Latest Bailout

“The Wall Street Journal Europe writes about Greece, Ireland, Portugal and now Spanish banks.” Let’s see – the Spanish government was having difficulty selling bonds in the financial markets so it turned to the Spanish banks and had them sell bonds to fund loans to the Spanish government. However, since the Spanish banks have now loaned too much money to the Spanish government, they have enlisted the “help” of the Spanish government which has now turned to the EU for a bailout which the Spanish government will use in order to recapitalize Spanish banks which are capital impaired because they have loaned too much money to the Spanish government.

High finance can sure be confusing at times! Obviously this is one huge Ponzi scheme – barring an imminent and dramatic recovery in the Spanish real estate market in particular and the Eurozone economy in general, kicking the can further down the road in this fashion is only going to make the final resolution of the sovereign debt crisis much more painful for all parties involved… As this WSJ article notes, “Far better to clean up the mess once and for all, including the discipline of letting failing banks fail, erasing shareholder capital, and firing the managers.”



Thomas Hoenig: No More Welfare for Banks

In The Wall Street Journal, FDIC Director Thomas M. Hoenig writes that the FDIC and the taxpayer are the underwriters of too much private risk taking.


O’Grady: Castro Endorses Obama –

Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes that the Cuban dictator’s daughter gets a visa to make speeches here while the Castro regime continues to hold an American hostage.


Michael McConnell: Citizens United and the Wisconsin Vote

Stanford professor Michael W. McConnell notes that Scott Walker’s opponent in the recall election, Tom Barrett, got millions in support from unions, whose contributions were legitimized by the Supreme Court.


Notable & Quotable

“Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, June 5, on the relationship between individual initiative and poverty.” Dr. Haskins’ recommendations for poverty are 1) complete at least a high school education, 2) work full time, and 3) wait until age 21 and get married before having a baby. Quoting further from this article, “Based on an analysis of Census data, people who followed all three of these rules had only a 2% chance of being in poverty and a 72% chance of joining the middle class (defined as above $55,000 in 2010). These numbers were almost precisely reversed for people who violated all three rules, elevating their chance of being poor to 77% and reducing their chance of making the middle class to 4%.”




Obama’s Green Jobs: What’s In A Name?

“What is a “green” job?” See related Forbes article at



The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (Helix Books)

I love this quote from Richard Feynman’s book entitled “Pleasure of Finding Things Out” (cf. “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Actually, I don’t think science is unique in this regard – I think it is a problem that we all need to be aware of whenever we take in and process new information, concepts, and ideas. Confirmation bias – i.e., the tendency to favor information which confirms our own pre-conceived beliefs or hypotheses – is dangerously lurking everywhere we go…


Peter Robinson: Four Words That Moved the World: ‘Tear Down This Wall’

“In The Wall Street Journal, Peter Robinson writes: This may sound odd coming from a Reagan speechwriter, but for 25 years I have wondered—did that Berlin address really matter?” I am looking forward to the upcoming (June 13) luncheon at Austin’s Steven F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel featuring Peter Robinson who was the writer of Ronald Reagan’s famous, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech which was delivered by Ronald Regan at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987. See for an edited excerpt of this historic speech at…



For Greater Glory

“What price would you pay for freedom? An impassioned group of men and women each make the decision to risk it all for family, faith and the very future of their country.” This is a fantastic movie; I was not aware of the history behind it prior to seeing it (i.e., the so-called Cristero War of 1926-1929); see the Wikipedia article located at for context…



Hitler finds out that Scott Walker won the Wisconsin recall election

Hilarious Hitler Parody about last Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall election…

Obama, Drones and Thomas Aquinas

In The Wall Street Journal, former Justice Department official John Yoo writes that Obama has avoided vexing detention issues simply by depriving terrorists of all of their rights—by killing them.


Noonan: What’s Changed After Wisconsin

The Obama administration suddenly looks like a house of cards.


Why delay austerity decisions? | Keith Hennessey

“We meet Lefty and Righty, who are discussing stimulus and austerity.” Interesting thought experiment by Stanford professor Keith Hennessey…



What Wisconsin means

Here’s the latest missive from Charles Krauthammer. Quoting from this article, “The unions’ defeat marks a historical inflection point. They set out to make an example of Walker. He succeeded in making an example of them as a classic case of reactionary liberalism.”


‘Eliminate Dengue’ Team Has A Deep (Lab) Bench : NPR

“Australian researcher Scott O’Neill is leading a charge to rid the world of dengue fever. And it’s a real team sport, he says: “We don’t work in isolation in any projects in science these days. The days of having someone beavering away by themselves in the backroom have long gone.””



11 Public Universities with the Worst Graduation Rates

“With just 56 percent of college students completing four-year degrees within six years, here are 11 public universities with the worst graduation rates.” Southern University at New Orleans has the worst record of this group of 11 public universities, clocking in only 4 percent of its students completing four-year degrees within six years…



Luigi Zingales:Crony Capitalism and the Crisis of the West

“In The Wall Street Journal, Luigi Zingales writes that in Italy and Greece, the most talented don’t get ahead—and that’s also increasingly true in the United States.” Excellent essay about crony capitalism in the USA by Luigi Zingales, who in addition to his day job as University of Chicago finance professor is also the author of “A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity” (cf.…


Henninger: ‘Stick It to Mitt’ Won’t Work –

In The Wall Street Journal, Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger writes that Bain Capital and Mitt in Massachusetts are not what’s on voters’ minds in 2012.


Crop Insurance Proposal Could Cost U.S. Billions

“A possible expansion of a federal insurance program comes as high crop prices are prompting farmers to expand into millions of acres of land once considered unsuitable for farming.” One of the “unintended consequences” of overly generous crop insurance premium subsidies (where taxpayers pay 2/3 of the cost of the insurance) is that this policy, in conjunction with high crop prices, is motivating overinvestment in (marginal) farmland and also fueling a speculative bubble in prices.


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