Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: Battery Sticks

In the course of attending charity dinners, you often collect small tokens. Most of mine are given straight to my young children and never used as intended. However, this year the hot new swag is portable battery sticks. These devices are small, yet powerful, and usually able to fully or nearly fully recharge a typical cell phone. I have two.

The first looks like this:

I had this one with me during my trip to Vegas for the WSOP. When Carlos final tabled one of the Aria daily tournaments, we were on the rail for twelve hours. My Galaxy S3 didn't last that long on one charge, given all the texting and tweetng of his updates. But this stick, which is small enough to fit in your pocket (it is the size of a classic Bic cigarette lighter), helped me get through the event. It easily plugged into my phone and restored an almost full charge. It will typically fully charge my phone if I charge while the phone is off or idle. It will provide mostly a full charge when I charge while using the phone.

My other charger, also a charity dinner gift, is more versatile.

This version charges faster, and has a greater capacity. We put it to work on the beach during a recent vacation. With the wife's iphone 4s synched to a bluetooth speaker, we were the annoying Americans playing our music on the beach (actually, we were quite discreet). When the phone dropped below 10%, we connected to this charger. We continued to play the music and run bluetooth, and the device provided a full charge. This has a larger shape, kind of like a small cell phone itself, but it is very light and thin. 

If you depend on your phone for just about everything when you travel, a cheap, portable batter stick is a great addition to your travel gear.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity

As a follow up to this post, here's more on Adam Smith and the wealth of nations. No mention of energy independence here, just specialization and comparative advantage.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A New Declaration of Independence?

Happy Independence Day!

Last week, in anticipation of Independence Day, the local paper printed this letter from a local educator. The letter reflects on the original Declaration of Independence and argues America today needs a declaration of energy independence. This, of course, is nonsense. Everything great about America flows from our openness to trade. It engages us with other people and cultures. It is directly linked to individual freedom, and it has made our nation tremendously rich. A movement to become energy independent would be a disaster for our liberty and our economy. Or so I tried to argue in this letter (so far, unpublished) called "Energy Independence Isn't Free":

Dear Editor,
Wednesday's MDJ included an impassioned plea from a life-long public servant for a new Declaration of Energy Independence. Retired Cobb elementary school teacher and Army Lieutenant Colonel Bob Lanzotti joins a long line of liberal environmentalists and conservative protectionists calling for America to return to the economic malaise of the 18th century.
Ironically, the American Declaration of Independence referenced by LTC Lanzotti was written the same year Adam Smith published his economic masterpiece, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith's fundamental insight was in regard to what separated wealthy and poor nations. Those nations which shunned imports and exports and tried to be "independent' were invariably the poorest. As economists have verified time and again over the following 238 years, self-sufficiency is a road to poverty, not prosperity. 
Luckily for us, America followed Smith's advice. Today the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on earth, yet remains dependent on others for many crucial goods and services. We are dependent on other nations, which are often controlled by bad people, for coffee, cocoa, televisions, and tee-shirts, to name a few. There is nothing special or important about our reliance on others for energy commodities, it is merely a result of our comparative advantage in other areas. If America were to dedicate more people and resources toward energy production, it would leave less available for our current endeavors. Diverting resources from the highly valuable areas of technology, pharmaceuticals, and finance to employ them in the relatively low value areas of energy production would reduce American wealth and competitiveness. (Wise parents encourage their children to be graphic designers and biochemists, not oil rig operators.)
LTC Lanzotti is concerned our dependence on foreign oil has lead us into a long war on terror with Arabs, but several facts cast doubt on his thesis. First, America's largest suppliers of foreign oil are Canada and Mexico. Second, China is much more dependent than America on foreign oil, and much of China's oil is supplied by the Middle East. Yet, the decade long war on terror is an American creation, with China a mere spectator. This suggests the war on terror LTC Lanzotti laments is more a result of poor American political leadership than the fact we import some energy from the Middle East.
LTC Lanzotti has served our nation as an Army officer and our community as an educator. We owe him much. I'd like to suggest he wander across the halls of Kennesaw State where he's an adjunct professor to the offices of J.C. Bradbury or any of the fine economics professors on that campus. I'm confident the time it takes to consume a cup of coffee would be sufficient to convince the colonel of the silliness of energy independence.
Russ Wood
Powder Springs, GA

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Where Would We Be...

After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we'd be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-weilding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn't administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.

The above is from a brief filed with the Supreme Court of the United States. You should read it, even if you were bored in social studies class.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Do Something Bias

In his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan lists several biases held by voters which impact the ability of democracies to produce optimal outcomes. He identifies one of them as the Make-Work Bias. 

Here's a short video of Caplan's idea:

His description is limited to the idea that jobs should be created or protected. In my view, the problem is broader, that the bias is really "to do something". When it comes to economic growth, it manifests as Caplan claims, calls for government to make work (or regulations favoring employment). Beyond that, I think it manifests in countless ways for government to do something. Safety regulation is a great example. It seems there are often cries that something must be done, without a lot of thought given to what should be done, whether it will succeed, and what costs or unintended consequences will be required.

For example, lots of school districts, like the one my children attend, are turning to cameras on school buses in order to punish drivers who drive pass a bus loading or unloading children (in violation of the law). To boost the impact of the program, the district has now also launched a mascot in the hopes of educating kids who will in turn educate the parents. This is silly, but the public goes along because "we must do something."

Dear Editor,
Saturday's MDJ brought news that Cobb and Marietta have unleashed Hawkeye the mascot on the problem of school bus stop-arm violators. Can the hashtag #stopforourbuses be far behind?
Of course, student safety is an important issue. Unfortunately, current policy seems focused on style over substance.  The article quoted Cobb Superintendent Ragsdale as supporting a goal of zero violations. Such zero tolerance initiatives often have good intentions but flawed reasoning. 
First, the current policy targets an improper goal. The goal should be for zero injuries to the public rather than zero instances of traffic violations. Consider the simple example of a technical glitch, whereby none of the photo evidence from the bus cameras is properly recorded. The goal of zero violations would be met without any reduction in the risk to the public.  Although the article reported recent reductions in the number of violations, there was no information on whether student safety had been improved. The key question left unanswered is whether bus camera tickets have reduced the number of student injuries (or even near misses).
Second, the current policy ignores the law of unintended consequences.  The policy assumes tickets and fines will cause drivers to alter their behavior for the better, but what if that behavior is altered for the worse? Perhaps some drivers, seeing a bus approaching a stop, opt to speed up in order to get ahead of the pending stop requirement. Similarly, other drivers may see the bus late, and decide to stop aggressively. Both situations increase the likelihood of vehicle accidents. While the policy intends to improve student safety, it likely unintentionally increases (or ignores) the safety of drivers.
Zero tolerance policies are popular among bureaucrats and politicians because they appeal to those who think "something must be done". Unfortunately, not enough people ask whether the right thing is being done, or whether it is making the situation better for everyone involved.

Russ Wood
Powder Springs, GA

As The Don has noted, "unconstrained thinkers either do not recognize, or refuse to come to grips with, the fact that not everything that is good is worth the cost of its achievement – and that not everything that is bad is worth the cost of its obliteration".