Wed, 27 Jul 2005

Competition as a commons

Hopefully everyone is familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons. In a sentence, the tragedy works like this: if you have a depletable resource in demand, and no person or institution can control its use, it will be entirely consumed. This principle applies to many things beyond the village grazing commons from which it was originally derived. Fish, clean water, clean air, and park benches suitable for homeless to sleep are all subject to the tragedy. A characteristic of a commons being depleted is an overinvestment in extractive resources, e.g. fishing boats.

The tragedy can also be applied to bad commons. That is, resources with a negative value, e.g. ignorance, greed, or excess profit margins. Just as we need to be careful to set property rights so that there are no unmanaged positive commons, we also need to make sure not to set property rights in such a way that we eliminate negative commons.

For example, the (typically) Nigerian 419 scammer relies on people's ignorance. In this scam, the scammer claims to have control over millions of dollars which they cannot receive themselves. Instead, they offer the victim a percentage in return for making the exchange seem to be an honest business deal. Once the victim realizes that it is a scam, no other version of the same scam will work. The ignorance is depleted. And gauging from the feverish activity of 419 spammers sending me offers, they are overinvesting in their scam.

Or for another example, free markets create a commons out of high profits. If someone invents a new way to make money (and no patent applies), anyone is free to enter the market and deplete the high profits. The purpose of the patent system is to create a manager for this commons.

Posted [00:45] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 25 Jul 2005

Ride starting Sun Jul 24 19:31:07 2005

24.40 km 80057.46 feet 15.16 mi 4778.00 seconds 79.63 minutes 1.33 hours 11.42 mi/hr

Rode around the big loop including Norwood Pond and the Rutland Trail. On the section of the trail that I rode today just before turning southwest, you can see the damage that ATVs cause. Basically, it works like this: first, you get little puddles as the ATVs kill the grass and compress the soil. The little puddles keep the soil soft and sticky. The ATV wheels go through the puddle and pick up a little bit of mud. That mud is then flung elsewhere on the trail. This makes the puddle deeper. This process, unfortunately, ends when ATVs find the mudhole so deep that they start going around the edge.

Lest ATV riders think I'm picking on them, hikers will find the above process familiar. Exactly the same process happens with hiking trails. There is only one solution: don't hike or ride through mud. Hikers have figured this out and put out alerts about wet trails. People are officially discouraged from hiking during times when a trail is wet, e.g. during mud season (the season between winter and spring).

Unfortunately, the Rutland Trail's drainage ditches are often clogged with debris. The puddles never drain and never dry out, so now there are some serious mudpits near Knapps Station, or as the map below calls it, "North Stockholm." The drainage ditches need to be cleared, and the puddle holes filled with some material which will drain.

Posted [02:00] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

I can blame authorities for trying...

"You can't blame authorities for trying [to stop terrorism using methods which are not constitutional]."

Yes, I can. They know that what they are doing is a senseless waste of taxpayer dollars. Being terrified by terrorism is exactly and precisely the goal of terrorism. It is clear to anybody with two brain cells to rub together that individuals have substantial ability to kill many other individuals. It is clear to anybody with three brain cells to rub together that if you stop them from doing one thing, they will move on to do another.

How do you stop terrorism?

By not being terrified. By not overreacting. By not giving up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety. By not wasting treasure on useless tactics.

We are a country which kills 20,000 of its own citizens yearly with guns, and we don't ban guns. We are a country which kill 50,000 of its own citizens yearly with cars, and we don't ban cars. Heck, 30,000 US citizens kill themselves each year on purpose.

If terrorists came to America and killed 1,000 people a year, it wouldn't even begin to show up on the causes of death. We can safely ignore terrorism. Rational public policy would have put the money spent combatting terrorism into something more sensible, like a billion for energy research, another billion for alternative energy subsidization, another billion for mixed-mode transportation.

The above was published on Dave Farber's IP list. I received several "attaboy"s and one comment saying "Anyone with a single brain cell would agree that we need to stop terror." I disagree. Do we need to stop earthquakes? Hurricanes? Tornados? Volcanos? Blizzards? Or do we need to survive them?

Posted [01:23] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 23 Jul 2005

Ride starting Sat Jul 23 19:56:49 2005

26.67 km 87487.55 feet 16.57 mi 5218.00 seconds 86.97 minutes 1.45 hours 11.43 mi/hr

Whoopsies! Started this ride way too late. Should have gone on a much shorter ride. Ended up coming home in the dark. Like "headlights on and invisible to cars" dark. Oh well. It was an excellent ride, including two very much back roads.

Holding to a philosophy of riding whenever the weather permits, I am learning something about myself. I really really enjoy the feeling of being out on the road pumping the pedals. The beautiful landscape, the physical challenge, the attention to breathing, all make me very happy. And yet, I find that I have a certain reluctance to get on the saddle. I don't think the word "laziness" describes it adequately, although it would be easy to use that word. I think it may be a desire to do all the other things that I could be doing, e.g. blogging, or reading, or surfing the web.

Posted [23:32] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Fri, 22 Jul 2005

Democrats have stupid ideas

Earl asked me why Democrats have stupid ideas. I've already blogged on these topics -- that's why I had links to the blog entries, but I'll write really really succinctly here why I think the Democrats are pursuing a losing cause.

The minimum wage does one of two things: it is either so low that it doesn't help much, or it is so high that it puts the worse-off workers (the ones you'd really prefer to help) out of a job. Anything in-between is a compromise between helping people insufficiently and putting only a few people out of a job.

Public schooling hands the education of our children over to the government. The government is not your friend. It is at best an enemy you can tolerate. Such toleration should not include allowing them to teach your children.

Medicare pursues the automotive maintenance model of health care. You're the car, the doctor is the mechanic, and the government is the owner who pays the bills and decides whether the car is worth fixing or not.

Labor unions are fine as voluntary organizations. Unfortunately, they have been granted a protected status under the law that causes them to be more concerned about their own existance than protecting worker interests. Since their only task is to protect their own member's jobs, they serve private parties, not a public benefit. There is no reason to give them special protection.

Posted [12:50] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 18 Jul 2005

Democrats have ideas

Apparently the idea is going around that Democrats have no ideas. That's silly. Of course Democrats have ideas. The trouble is that they have stupid ideas. For example, they keep pushing the minimum wage or labor unions or health care or public schooling.

Posted [02:03] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Wed, 13 Jul 2005

Consumer/Worker Protection

Many people think that the role of government is to protect "the little guy" from corporations. Free-market economists disagree. It is the role of competition to protect the little guy from corporations. The problem is one of information. How do you discern the proper amount of protection? After all, you can completely protect consumers by preventing corporations from selling anything, and workers by preventing corporations from employing anyone. Set the protection level high enough, and that's what you get even if that's not what you meant.

Free-market economists believe that government cannot ever set the protection level correctly. The information cannot flow to the government quickly enough to adapt to changing workers, economic conditions, technology, procedures, and the market for safety. People's desire for protection also changes over time and their life circumstances. There is no one correct level &emdash; any one level set by the government will be wrong for some people.

Does that leave "the little guy" screwed?

No. You see, it is corporations themselves that have the information necessary to set the protection level correctly for their market. They won't volunteer that information. Instead, they will reflect it in their prices. If they are not protecting the consumer, competition will force them to charge lower prices. If they protect the consumer more, competition will allow them to charge higher prices.

Does that mean that consumers have to have perfect information in Libertopia?

No. Probably only 10% of consumers take the time to compare prices, quality, etc. These people are admired, though, and less diligent consumers listen to them. Over time, their information distributes itself among the less concerned shoppers. If a company is charging too much for too little protection, it will have lowered sales.

Free-market economists aren't in favor of less consumer protection. They're in favor of a different kind of consumer protection -- one which they believe generates a greater diversity of results which better matches the needs of individuals.

Posted [21:26] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Ride starting Wed Jul 13 19:29:32 2005

15.43 km 50610.53 feet 9.59 mi 2984.00 seconds 49.73 minutes 0.83 hours 11.56 mi/hr

Stinking hot. Still 86 degrees and it's 8:24PM. Sweating like a pig. Oink, oink.

Posted [20:27] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Economics as opinion

It seems clear to me that many people interpret differences between economists as evidence that economics is solely in the realm of opinion. I disagree with this conclusion. Economists disagree on the things which are not yet decided. Economics is very much a live discipline at this time. The person who brought transaction costs (Ronald Coase) to our attention is still alive! The founders of the public choice school of thought are still alive.

Unfortunately, economists do not do a good job informing people of the things which are well decided, about which differing opinions are not valid. It's not news when a controversy is resolved. People don't read the news for agreement; they read it to find out about controversy.

Posted [00:18] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 10 Jul 2005

Nuangola Station

I visited the Wilkes-Barre and Hazelton Railway on Saturday night. By chance, the photo I took of the remains of the station was taken from very nearly the same point that a historic picture was taken:

2005 (Thumbnail) 1912 (Thumbnail)

Some people in the house just to the right of the modern photograph told me that yes, this was the trolley line heading underneath the mountain. They said that the tunnel was blocked about 1/4 of the way. Being a half-mile tunnel, that implies that you can still travel 1/8th of a mile under Penobscot Mountain. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to make the one-mile hike back to the tunnel portal to investigate.

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Fri, 08 Jul 2005

Ride starting Fri Jul 8 09:43:01 2005

19.51 km 63998.70 feet 12.12 mi 6450.00 seconds 107.50 minutes 1.79 hours 6.77 mi/hr

The final ride, out and back on the Huckleberry trail. We sent the long ride down the hill to Ellet and back up again. The happy crew:

The Happy Crew (Thumbnail)

Posted [09:43] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 07 Jul 2005

Ride starting Thu Jul 7 15:39:30 2005

0.19 km 627.70 feet 0.12 mi 388.00 seconds 6.47 minutes 0.11 hours 1.10 mi/hr

Not a ride, but instead a record of me finding the geocache along the Huckleberry Trail.

Posted [15:39] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Wed, 06 Jul 2005

Ride starting Wed Jul 6 14:36:14 2005

83.22 km 273040.22 feet 51.71 mi 18998.00 seconds 316.63 minutes 5.28 hours 9.80 mi/hr

Rode the New River Trail. It's a former Norfolk Southern railbed from Pulaski to Galax and Fries. We rode the longer section from Galax to Pulaski. The line to Fries is only five miles long, so we didn't ride any portion of it. We (David Boynton and I) rode nearly 52 miles. The intrepid bicyclists before setting out:

David Boynton and I (Thumbnail)

The first tunnel is along the Chestnut River. You can see that Dave is swallowed up by the tunnel entrance:

Dave (Thumbnail)

It appears as if the tunnel continues on forever in the pitch-black. However, before you run out of light from the entrance, the tunnel curves enough to let you see the exit:

The exit from the entrance (Thumbnail)

I really like this picture of Dave riding out of the tunnel:

The exit from the entrance (Thumbnail)

Dave took a picture of me exiting the tunnel:

Me at the exit (Thumbnail)

We took a break at Fries Junction:

Fries Junction (Thumbnail)

You can get a sense of how pretty the trail is from this picture:

Pretty trail (Thumbnail)

The second tunnel, along the New River:

Second tunnel (Thumbnail)

It started to rain after that, and I had to stop taking pictures. The ride was downhill to the point where it left the New River to connect to the north-south line through Pulaski. All in all a very pleasant, but tiring ride.

Posted [14:36] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Ride starting Wed Jul 6 09:31:42 2005

18.64 km 61141.86 feet 11.58 mi 6719.00 seconds 111.98 minutes 1.87 hours 6.20 mi/hr

Rode to Merrimac and joined up with the Huckleberry Trail. Very pretty ride once you get off Prices Fork Road.

Posted [09:31] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 05 Jul 2005

Ride starting Tue Jul 5 09:34:34 2005

16.40 km 53811.52 feet 10.19 mi 6769.00 seconds 112.82 minutes 1.88 hours 5.42 mi/hr

On Tuesday we went out on the ride I did on Saturday. One difference is that we went down Country Club Lane to the Huckleberry Trail instead of riding on 460 Business.

Posted [09:34] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 04 Jul 2005

Ride starting Mon Jul 4 09:47:32 2005

19.07 km 62564.77 feet 11.85 mi 4670.00 seconds 77.83 minutes 1.30 hours 9.13 mi/hr

Monday's ride went out Glade Road to Tom's Creek and then back through Prices Fork. Exactly where the route turns in Prices Fork somebody has a cute sign reading "Weeds Have Rights Too" at the edge of his abbreviated lawn. The steepest part of this ride was coming up from Tom's Creek. Otherwise the hills were merely rolling, not killer.

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Sun, 03 Jul 2005

Ride starting Sun Jul 3 11:12:01 2005

9.35 km 30667.58 feet 5.81 mi 3428.00 seconds 57.13 minutes 0.95 hours 6.10 mi/hr

The first workshop day of the Gathering doesn't start until after the Gathering-wide worship on First-day, so we didn't have much time to ride. I took them out the Huckleberry Trail until half the time had elapsed and then we turned around. I rode with the short ride all week. The long riders got as far as the bridge over the existing rail line.

Posted [11:12] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 02 Jul 2005

Ride starting Sat Jul 2 09:07:56 2005

16.10 km 52816.36 feet 10.00 mi 4560.00 seconds 76.00 minutes 1.27 hours 7.90 mi/hr

Just got back from the Quaker Gathering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. I led the Meeting for Bicycling workshop there. The next 8 posts will cover the rides I led.

This ride, although not long, went down 700 feet into the valley.

And back up again, of course. I did this ride before the first workshop to make sure that the less-experienced riders would be able to walk the steepest sections. This is the steepest ride that we did all week.

Posted [09:07] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]