I completely oppose US war in Syria

April 13th, 2018

It could not be any more clear than that.

why I don't join AARP

March 18th, 2018

Every so often I get another mailing from the AARP, enclosing a cheap cardboard card they want to entice my signing up, but this outcome is exceedingly unlikely.

The AARP represents one of many special interests the pursuit of which in politics is damaging the foundation of our civil society, setting in this case people of one age demographic against people of a different age demographic.  Since I am now part of the declared AARP demograhic I feel I can safely criticize them without falling prey to claims of personal benefit.  The irony is that my interests and that of old people in general would benefit from less use of the political process to achieve the important goals of our long term economic security.

two takes on housing

June 11th, 2017

Heidi Groover at The Stranger lays in to what looks like increasingly expensive real estate in Seattle ("To afford a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle ..."), sourced largely from a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, making the unsurprising assessment that increasing rents and housing costs in the Seattle area mean one must either earn more or devote more of one's earnings into housing.

Synchronously, I find this column linked from DBx at Cafe Hayek - Kevin Williamson at National Review, referring to the same NLIHC report, making a reasonable comparison to the priorities we make in other parts of our lives, dealing with unlimited ends and limited resources:

All of these so-called studies — they are not really “studies” in the true sense of the word — suffer from the same error: comparing a low wage to an average rent. ... The median cost of a new car in the United States is about $34,000, which is well out of reach for most minimum-wage earners. You know how minimum-wage earners get around that problem? They buy cars that cost a heck of a lot less than the median — or they buy used cars, share cars, take the bus, etc. Minimum-wage workers solve the problem of relatively high rents by choosing accommodations that are well under the 50th or 40th percentile — or by having roommates, living with their families, etc. The relationship between the minimum wage and the median or near-median rent is an entirely artificial problem cooked up by organizations that want more federal spending on low-income housing (NLIHA) or by politicians arguing for a higher minimum wage. The latter is especially popular during campaign season.

I oppose a Seattle soda tax, also

May 8th, 2017

For the record, since yet one more tax scheme is being contemplated in Seattle government offices, I oppose this one also ("... revised soda tax ...").

One argument being proposed for this is (of course) to save the children, where Mayor Murray bemoans how we are "Tolerating an education system that is failing students of color every day and leaving them without a future.", forgetting to point out that the Seattle Public Schools must be held primarily responsible for such failure.

If the unions who oppose this tax want some arguments in opposition, I suggest they refer to coverage of exeprience with such taxes in other communities (Philidelphia, for example)

I oppose a Seattle income tax

May 7th, 2017

Sure, I oppose an income tax for Seattle, and hope it goes down in flames (Seattle Times reporting: "... A Rotten Tax System ...", "... mayor proposes income tax...", "... how did we get here ...").  Hell, I oppose one for the United States, generally, and for much the same reasons.

One such reason is the damnable purposes to which we can rely on politicians to spend the money placed in their care, a horrendous example of which is what looks like yet one more tax-payer financed sports stadium.  They destroyed the King Dome before it had been paid off, then built two more stadiums for rich people to play football and baseball games in, and now want another one for a yet-to-be-named basketball team ("Three arena proposals ...", "...addressing the real question...")

'Cause those are priorities in council chambers.

housing supply and demand

May 6th, 2017

Dan Savage may have an angry way of saying it (Why does this house cost ...), but the implication is correct - zoning limits decrease the availability of housing to levels lower than the community would choose if left to their own devices. 

Lots of people want to live in Seattle, for many different reasons; fewer available spaces will tend to go to people who are more willing and able to pay higher prices for them.

To the extent that people are interested in housing prices in Seattle, policy that restricts supply results in higher prices for that which remains.

service to society

January 28th, 2017

I want to call attention to Leroy Hood, recipient of the 2017 National Academy of Sciences Award for Chemistry in Service to Society

Among his many accomplishments, Hood invented, commercialized, and developed multiple chemical tools that address biological complexity, including the automated DNA sequencer which spearheaded the Human Genome Project.

I want to especially note the NAS acknowledgement that commercialization is service to society, a connection that often goes unrecognized. 

I've been aware of Dr. Hood since around the time of his breakthroughs in gene sequencing in the 1980's.  More recently, Dr. Hood is co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle.  I'm pleased that his contributions are celebrated this year.

Legal Tender and ISIS

January 8th, 2017

Planet Money has a recap episode up recently that picks up a story that examined the budget for ISIS -which pointed out how US dollars were being used by ISIS fighters to purchase Western consumer goods. 

The new contribution (from around 10:55 to 13:25) makes a point about legal tender that I want to expand on.  It starts with an observation that ISIS tax collections have become more agressive; while ISIS members continue to use Syrian Pounds or US dollars for purchasing goods and services, ISIS has started to demand (under threat of death) that taxes be paid in a special currency that it mints.  According to the story, the ISIS currency is coinage made from Gold, Silver and Copper; the trick of the matter is that ISIS now compels jewelers to purchase these coins, which must then be purchased by other people for them to pay the ISIS taxes.

One can find numerous critiques of fiat money as applied to paper currency (e.g. Thorsten Polleit at mises.org, and in my assessment of Moslers Modern Monetary Theory), but I'm not aware of one that critiques a fiat of specie money such as ISIS may be imposing.   Whether ISIS is trying to dethrone the dollar, or just find another way to subjegate the local population, is in part a question of the rate of exchange for these currency units that it mints; the fact that people are forced into the exchange means that the market value of those metals is less than what the people would determine on their own, which means subjegation.

your next go at finding an apartment in Seattle might be thwarted

December 12th, 2016

... or so would be among the impacts of a proposed new Seattle ordinance, described in a story given a somewhat misleading headline by the Stranger:  "Your Next Landlord May Be Required to Offer You a Payment Plan for Deposits and Other Move-In Fees"

The story reports that advocates appear to think that by making such a law that there won't be consequences that subvert their objectives (links retained from source):

supporters have said it will make housing more accessible to vulnerable people as Seattle—particularly crucial as the city faces a homelessness and housing crisis. Survivors of domestic violence have testified that the high costs of moving into a new apartment kept them in dangerous situations, and a representative for the Seattle Education Association said it will help teachers afford to live in the city. In a report by the advocacy group Washington CAN, survey respondents cited high upfront costs as a barrier to moving that was particularly bad for people of color, older people, people with disabilities, and queer and trans people.

It's not clear how advocates expect to make housing more accessible in Seattle by taking steps that make it less available.

into the den

December 4th, 2016

Over the recent several years I have made a study in my continuing eduction of local politics, in the capacity of a GOP Precinct Committee Office for my neighborhood.  Approximately, the several PCOs constitute the Central Committee of the GOP in King County, which means they have a voting responsibility in some aspects of KCGOP operations, highlighted by the biennial organizing meeting.  The most recent instance for that meeting took place Saturday, 12/3/2016, about which I was sparked to cogitate by this post from Don Beaudreaux, which included the following passage:

Although the romance-encrusted mind denies it, the fact is that in all but the most local of elections in all but the smallest of burgs, no one person’s vote stands a meaningful chance of determining the outcome of any political election in the United States.  Regardless of whether your preferred candidate wins or loses the election, the “say” that is your vote no more affects the outcome of the election, or the stream of subsequent government actions, than does the “say” that is your cheering at a telecast of a game played by your favorite football team affect the outcome of that game.

There were three votes of interrelated note, but first a word about tedium.  There must be many reasons why most people don't care to participate in politics, but among them is likely to be the mind-numbing tedium that goes along with most business meetings beyond the precinct level.  Six hours of a Saturday is a lot to commit for people with family, friends, professional, and other recreational interests and obligations.  Anyone who raises the gumption to give it a try will find that time to be highly unproductive in comparison to those other pursuits, because those six hours distill into perhaps a third or smaller fraction of the time where business of apparent significance is in work.   There were 315 seated PCO delegates to this meeting; 280 was the minimum required for a quorum, which means the level of engagement even among the precinct level elected representatives (who have at least displayed some willingness to tolerate the tedium) is barely sufficient even for the GOP to conduct business.  I overheard that at least one person was told they could register at the door and immediately leave so as that the quorum requirement would be satisfied.

The first vote of note concerned selection of the chair/man/person/woman, ultimately leading to a close but unsuccessful vote to replace the current establishment.  In the run-up there were accusations of corruption specific to the handling party funds; lack of support, endorsement, and attention paid to certain candidates; and heavy handed control of legislative district representatives on the KCGOP executive committee.  The other two votes of note concerned different aspects of the organization bylaws that turned on these criticisms. 

In preparation for this meeting, the KCGOP chartered a by-laws committee to draft revisions for consideration by the body.   One set of changes concerned how funds are to be managed, with the removal of a requirement for independent annual CPA audits and substitution for a newly constituted Audit committee from the executive committee, proposed on the basis that this degree of independence and transparency is not worth a $15k annual expense.  This equates to ~1.25% when compared to the 2016 budget of around $1.2M, but a higher fraction in non-Presidential election years (maybe %5 when there are no elections, probably a smaller fraction on the other 2-year election cycle).  From my perspective, a regular formal audit would increase confidence in budgeting and spending, which was clearly a concern to a large fraction of the body as evidenced by the debate around the election of the chair.  However, notwithstanding a small change that was approved to the new wording, the major result was to remove a requirement for annual independent audit.

The other by-laws motion that saw attention concerned a change to how the Legislative District representatives are chosen for the executive committee.   The current, and ultimately continuing scheme, provides that the KCGOP chair makes selection, which can then be rejected by the PCO members in the several LDs.  The proposed change was that the PCOs in the LD make the selection directly.   The effect of the current rule is perceived to consolidate power in the hands of the KCGOP chair, which is consistent with the effect of the audit vote, since the new audit committee is comprised from members of the Executive committee.   Arguments in favor of the current (retained) system focused on the need for the committee to work together under the leadership of the chair, ignoring how this also subverts republican/representative governance.  Another bit of diverting cheerleading was a claim that their purpose is to "defeat Democrats", rather than to promote the ideas of limited government and personal responsibility - I should call that confusing means with ends, but suspect that many people have trouble recognizing the difference.

Aside from voting for the new chair, which was done by paper ballots, the votes are mostly through verbal call out of ayes and nays.  Procedural business generally goes without objection, but the noted by-laws votes had sufficiently large groups in opposition that a hand count was performed, the first of which was fraught with confusion as to who was standing to be counted, where and when.  My observation was that this simply sapped the energy of the opposition, leading to an easier time of it for reducing the prospects for change.  One speaker pointed out that the lack of anonymity in those vote counts expose you to potential backlash from the opposition; I have mixed feelings about the value of anonymous voting and will have to discuss that separately, but referring back to the chair election reveals there is the perception of an "in" and "out" crowd, where those in the "out" may not receive equal treatment, so that's not a fear to be discounted out of hand.

I remarked to a fried in the midst of all this, how we rarely have these problems in the economic realm - we all get to choose pretty much what we want among the offerings that other people are willing to make available to us, and it doesn't matter whether our neighbor chooses something different - we can each be satisfied.  In politics, even at this level of highly local and familiar people, the winner take all approach foments discord.