Wed, 31 Oct 2007

USPTO Failure

The USPTO fails to protect US citizens against theft by unethical patentors of existing or obvious ideas.

People who don't like markets love to talk about "market failure". I wish they were as quick to recognize government failures. If the government isn't supposed to protect us from crooks, what are they supposed to do? In this case, the government is enabling crimes rather than preventing them. An absence of a patent system would be better than what we have now.

Posted [16:01] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] patents,government failure [digg this]

Tue, 30 Oct 2007

When Salt Was Money

Here's an interesting article found by my friend and railroad historian Richard Palmer, entitled When Salt Was A Substitute for Money. Of course, as I've written earlier, money isn't necessarily coins and bills. Money is always that commodity which people freely trade, knowing that other people will accept it in further trade. People will fluidly switch their idea of "money" from coins and bills to salt, or cigarettes, or stones, or beads, or whatever commodity is most widely accepted. So contrary to the title of the article, salt wasn't a substitute for money. Salt was, for a time, money.

Posted [16:41] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,currency,money [digg this]

Mon, 29 Oct 2007

Economics versus Finance and Business

Three people walk into a bar: a financier, a businessman and an economist. The businessman says that a minimum wage hike is bad because they couldn't afford to pay their workers any more and stay in business. The financier says that it distorts the market and causes them to move investments to socially-disoptimal areas. The economist disagrees with them both because they're arguing for their own interests. The economist says the hike is bad because a minimum wage only makes low-wage workers better-off if the demand curve is vertical -- as unlikely as a frictionless surface or a universal solvent.

No joke.

Posted [14:23] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,finance,business [digg this]

Sun, 28 Oct 2007


So on fairly short notice, I got invited to a WF360 event called the "360 Summit", held on the trading floor of the NYSE. I thought "hmmm... interesting people, interesting place, good food, how can you go wrong?" There was a bit of uncertainty over the security vetting ... something about being unexpectedly a person short. But all was settled and my invitation was approved.

So I drove down on Wednesday night and stayed with my buddy Eli Dow aka aim://judas0riley (a reference to a Smashing Pumpkins album) in Poughkeepsie, NY. That's significantly the northern end of Metro North, which has an hourly 97 minute run into New York City. Since I can sleep on Eli's floor for the stunning price of "free", the $25.50 fare into the city seems cheap by comparison.

The 360 Summit didn't start until 6PM (be there at 5:45 to get through security the infosheet said, but more on that later), so no hurry to get into the city. I went for a ride on the future Dutchess Rail Trail. It's the former Maybrook line, and connected to the bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie. Finished that about noon, missed the 12:10 train, got the 13:10 train and with a little delay got into the city by 3PM.

Wandered around Chinatown and up Canal Street to Broadway, then down Broadway to Wall Street. You know, Heere, at the Wall, right outside Trinity Church. Went down Wall Street to Broad Street, which is the actual location of the NYSE. At 5:30 they said I was a little early, but come back in 15 and I could get in. Went down to see the Charging Bull, which was moved from Wall Street to Broadway shortly after its unauthorized placement (but I wonder where is the sculpture of the Crashing Bear). Came back at 5:45 and was asked to wait with the others. We all waited, and waited and finally self-organized into an outdoor 360 Summit, chatting each other up. Why wait? So I met Thomas Carroll and Rich, of whose last name I do not remember. Thomas works for RR Donnelley, so I told him my father's RB Donnelly story.

Shortly we had our photo ids checked against the guest list, and we went through security. At least, most people sailed through security. I had brought my Chordite keyboard which looks a little homemade because it is homemade. Even Isabel got tired of waiting for me, and she's the one who arranged for my invitation! So I sent her on to the trading floor and the waiting cocktails.

Met Linda Bolliger, CEO of BoardroomBound, which does corporate board training. Also met Tom Guarriello, Chief Idea Officer of True Talk (a blogger like myself). He was wandering around eyeing all the screens with amazement, as was I. We ended up at the same table after being called to dinner.

My table, the Bon Mot Masters, consisted of myself, Candace Kendle, Tom Guarriello, Laura Scott, Joanna Lau, Lorraine Segil, Mark Morris, Hamed Al-Hamdan, and a woman whose name I failed to record. The tragedy of an event like this is "so many interesting people, so little time." I got to speak at length with Candace, Laura, and Joanna because they were seated close to me, but with Lorraine, Mark and Hamed I only shared a few words.

Candace was interested in why I blog. It's mostly to share interesting things, like my Chordite design, bicycling, railroads, and open source. I also vent about people's lack of understanding of economics. This isn't the economics about which economists disagree -- of which many jokes have been made. No, this is the economics on which economists agree strongly and yet the general population is ignorant of. Things like free trade, and minimum wages (there should be none).

Joanna was fascinated by the Chordite. We ended up passing it around the table so everyone could see how it works. It has the usual problem of really only fitting one person's hand well. It's a problem, but I'm going to try a new solution for the next two keyboards I make.

We listened to three presentations as we ate some excellent steak -- or in the case of the vegetarians, pasta. Afterwards it was chocolate cheesecake, and some parting gifts: a girl bear, some girly lotions, and Godiva chocolates fit for a queen (are you sensing a theme here?) My wife cleaned up, but then again, she had to do my chores while I was off gallivanting.

Took the train back to Poughkeepsie without incident, arriving at 1AM. On Friday, I rode on three more rail-trails on the way home, making a total of 68 miles between the two days. Stopped by my mother-in-law's in Glens Falls for dinner, and headed home.

A good time was had by all. Especially me.

Other people's impressions of the event: Don Dodge, Howard Greenstein, Tom Guarriello, Dorian Benkoil, Christina Kerley aka CK, and Tom Steinthal posted twice.

Posted [14:15] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] wf360,360+summit,wf360summit,Francois+Goisseaux,Susan+Bird,Isabel+Walcott+Hilborn [digg this]

Racism is Prejudice

Cast of Characters

Board our cast of characters in Poughkeepsie (all names are invented (except Poughkeepsie (nobody would invent that, even in a work of fiction))):

Act One

Flores and Juan strike up a conversation in Spanish. No problem with that, except that, Flores being by one window and Juan by the other, it's a pretty loud conversation. For me, it was moderately annoying because I only understand about half the words in the conversation because of my limited Spanish. Equally for me, it was something that I tolerated because of course there are jerks everywhere and you can't correct everybody's rudeness.

Obviously Adam didn't feel the same way. He stood up and loudly asked Flores and Juan "If you're going to keep talking, why don't you sit next to each other". Flores, who seems like a real loud-mouth no matter what, immediately instructed Adam to mind his own business. She loudly claimed that he was only objecting to their loud conversation because it was in Spanish. Then, in a fit of thoughtlessness, she accused Adam of being a racist. Heated words followed and she announced that she didn't want to talk to him anymore. Poor Juan followed her down the rathole, saying something like "You're only so mad because you only speak one language"

Act Two

The issue seemed to be settled, when Flores got to her stop. Obviously she felt she had to put Adam in his place, so she started things again as she was walking off. Adam pretty much didn't give a crap, until Chica, walking right behind Flores, spat at Adam. At that point he demanded a policeman. I don't know what happened to whom, but the upshot was that the doors of the train stayed shut for about ten minutes, and when we rolled away, Flores and Chica were still talking to the police.

The Denouement

So .... you now have all the evidence I have (or can remember; of course eyewitnesses often disagree on exactly what happened). I stewed about this for a while, and finally decided that the racist on the train was .... Flores. Adam didn't say anything to her and Juan, a hispanic pair, that he wouldn't have said to a pair of white people. It was simply counter-factual to accuse him of racism. It was prejudicial of her to interpret as racism his request, no matter how boldly and perhaps even rudely stated.

So what's a racist? A racist is somebody whose prejudice is based on race, just like a sexist is somebody whose prejudice is based on gender. Racism knows no racial bounds, because prejudice is prejudice no matter who is prejudiced against whom.

So what's the problem here? Is Flores only giving as good as she's gotten from white folks? Maybe she's bringing emotional baggage to this play in two acts? Maybe so, but that doesn't stop her from being wrong. Where she's most wrong is in imputing racism to non-racially motivated criticism. What she's effectively asking for is a racist world. One in which everybody stops to consider race before criticizing somebody. One where people only criticize people of their own race.

Which brings us to Carlita. When Flores launched into Adam again, Carlita jumped up and started to give Flores what-for. If f-bombs were paintballs, Flores would have been black and blue and green and red all over. "You're the reason why people don't like Mexicans." Etc. Criticism from somebody of her own race she got in spades.

Nope, Flores didn't want to hear criticism from somebody of her own race, either.

Posted [00:49] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] racism,prejudice,hispanic,spanish [digg this]

Tue, 16 Oct 2007

Power for Sale

The more influence politicans have to sell, the higher a price they are able to command.

The only solution to this problem is to take power away from politicians. The way you do that is to keep the federal government powerless so that everything not listed in the Constitution is done on the state level. People can pay more attention to more local government, and if it gets really bad, they have the option of switching to a different state's government (by moving).

Politicians will always try to sell their influence. You keep it down to a dull roar by keeping them as powerless as possible.

That means doing less through politics and more through markets. This is good for markets, too, because it forces corporations to look more to their customers and less to politicians.

Posted [00:02] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics [digg this]

Mon, 15 Oct 2007

Immigration vs. the Constitution.

Conservatives who are opposed to immigration need to think about why there is nothing in the Constitution which permits the Federal Government to keep foreigners out of the U.S.

Posted [02:25] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 11 Oct 2007

The Invisible Fist of the Market

Free markets avoid a whole world of hurt. The invisible fist of freedom does it for us. When you can't coerce people into buying your product, or selling you theirs, many bad outcomes simply never happen.

Isn't it great having a big invisible buddy on your side? Unfortunately, he's easily offended by well-meaning acts of coercion. If you're not careful, he can invisibly slip away and you won't realize he's gone until you need him. Just a cautionary note. Don't assume that free markets will protect you if you've allowed them to become state-controlled markets.

Posted [14:54] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,adamsmith,invisiblehand [digg this]

Fri, 05 Oct 2007


All these words, and not one mention of the fact that the Constitution doesn't authorize ANY federal medical funding. Not one dollar. This is a problem for the states to solve. Clearly the states want to solve it differently. Fine. Let them. They can tax their own citizens as they feel appropriate to pay for it.

That's how our government is supposed to work. It creates a free market in government. Don't like your government? There is no legal restriction on moving to another state, because you're a citizen of all of them. No state can stop you from moving in, no state can stop you from leaving. No franchise possible. Let the best state government compete for citizens.

Posted [02:56] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics [digg this]

Economics and Math

Economics needs math like a fish needs a bicycle. If you understand economics, you don't need math. If you don't understand economics, all the math in the world won't help you.

Example: you don't need a calculator, or calculus, to understand the economic calculation problem.

Posted [01:48] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics [digg this]