Posted on: November 2nd, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments
On Saturday, October 20, The Boulder Daily Camera published my answer to this question:
Am I better off financially? No. My income is lower, while living expenses have increased.
I’m not alone. For each state, the Washington Post graphed trends of inflation-adjusted median household income between 2007 and 2011. During this time, Colorado’s median household income decreased by 7.3 percent. Nationally, median household income dropped by 8.0 percent. And yes, the number of income earners per household was constant during this period, which the Post should have mentioned.
But those of us actually earning an income should be grateful to be employed. Last month’s BLS “official” unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, same rate as in January 2009 when Obama took office. But this is misleading, as it does not include the unemployed who have given up looking for jobs. Including these people, the unemployment rate has yet to fall to the level it was at when Obama took office.
Given the decrease in income and employment rates, it’s not surprising that Americans’ net worth has also decreased since the financial crisis preceding the 2008 election. In June the Washington Post summarized a study by the Federal Reserve: “Median net worth of families plunged by 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That puts Americans roughly on par with where they were in 1992. … Over a span of three years, Americans watched progress that took almost a generation to accumulate evaporate.”
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See also this Reason magazine article:
The Recovery That Wasn’t: Three and a half years later, White House officials are still making wildly optimistic comments about the economy they mismanaged.
What scares the Boulder City Council? That some Boulder businesses become secure in their right to sell legal products without asking permission from city authorities. Dear Council members: The permission to sell or serve alcohol is not rightfully yours to give. The purpose of government is to protect our rights to voluntary exchange, not violate them. But the Council acts like overlords who own the land within city limits. It has no such claim.
The Council also wants to target bars that it calls “bad operators.” City Council: This is not your business – literally. If an establishment wants a reputation for drunk, rowdy customers who vomit on other patrons, that’s the owner’s right. Alternatively, the owner can hire servers who stop serving drunken customers and trained bouncers who remove troublesome patrons.
Contrary to the Council, business owners are not responsible for keeping customers sober and well-behaved. Nor is government responsible. That’s each person’s responsibility.
Government should be involved only if an establishment violates someone’s rights or if patrons harm or endanger others. For example, assault or reckless driving.
Instead of using government force to address alcohol abuse, Council Members and concerned citizens should support non-profits like the Gordie Foundation. Dedicated to the memory of a CU student, it is committed to reducing “hazardous drinking and hazing and promot[ing] peer intervention among young adults.”
The Boulder City Council may soon vote to tax you for using disposable grocery bags — and possibly ban them outright. [Denver elected officials are also considering it.] But the city’s reasons for such restrictions collapse like a soggy paper bag. Better policies include education and innovation that promote bag recycling. Regardless, bag restrictions are immoral for punishing the innocent and violating our right to liberty.
One reason for bag restrictions, says a city webpage, is that retail plastic bags “contribute towards litter.” But litter audits in Florida, Toronto, and San Francisco found this amount to be less than one percent.
In the five years before San Francisco banned grocery and pharmacy plastic bags, retail plastic bags contributed just 0.60 percent of large litter. A year after the ban, this figure increased to 0.66 percent.
Even if bag restrictions reduced litter, they punish everyone for the misdeeds of the few. By this reasoning, Boulder could ban spray paint because of graffiti vandals. Such injustice is called collective punishment, usually practiced under martial law.
Restricting plastic grocery bag use will increase sales of thicker, more resource-intensive, plastic trash bin liners. Per capita, “Los Angeles residents reuse approximately 121 plastic carryout bags as trash bags each year,” concludes an analysis prepared for Pasadena, California. The South China Morning Post reported that after Hong Kong started taxing grocery bags, “use of garbage bags has increased by more than 60 percent.”
Bag restrictions will also increase sales of reusable bags, which themselves have drawbacks. Plastic bags had the lowest “environmental impact” concludes a British Environment Agency study. The impact is “dominated by resource use and production stages.” “End-of-life management” generally has a “minimal influence.”
A shopper must use a cotton bag at least 131 times before it has less global warming potential than high-density polyethylene plastic bags, the study concludes. This number increases when accounting for reuse of plastic bags, and the resources required to wash reusable bags.
Washing bags is important. Reusable bags “are seldom if ever washed” and “almost all” contain bacteria, says a Loma Linda University study. Recently one such bag spread “nasty … norovirus infections” to a soccer team, reports MSNBC.
The City also justifies bag restrictions because individual plastic bags clog recycling facility machinery. But responding with bag restrictions punishes innocent people who properly discard or recycle plastic bags.
The Council’s support of bag restrictions also reveals its low regard for those who elected them. The restrictions imply that even if voters knew the harms of plastic bags in recycling bins, they would not change their behavior.
But why would voters know? Beyond a small notice inside recycling bins, has Western Disposal made any effort to educate customers about plastic bag recycling? How about a large notice outside the bin? Better yet, Western Disposal can sell huge truck-side advertising to stores that recycle plastic bags: “Plastic bags jam our recycling sorters. Recycle them at King Soopers.”
Speaking of Texas, Texas Disposal Systems, Inc. (TDS) offers an innovative solution to this problem: include plastic bags in curbside recycling. [Video below.] As Austin Statesman editors describe, if customers stuffed individual plastic bags “inside a … durable plastic stuff bag, they would be easier to pull from the recycling stream and more manageable to store and bundle.” Even without such recycling, plastic bag recycling has increased by 50% since 2005, yielding durable plastic and lumber products, reports Moore Recycling Associates.
The city’s webpage also says restricting bag use “would address [city] council priorities like shifting away from a disposable culture.” While such a cultural change may be desirable, persuasion is the only moral means to justify this end. Instead of persuasion, bag restrictions jam government compulsion into peaceful voluntary exchanges. This is wrong. Retailers have a right to distribute bags to customers. Customers have a right to discard them so long as they respect people’s property rights.
Also, the restrictions also unjustly restrict the choices of innocent people who neither litter nor misplace plastic bags in recycling bins. And to what end? Plastic bag litter is trivial. Bans did not reduce it in San Francisco. And consumers respond by using bags that have larger environmental impacts.
Western Disposal should try harder to educate customers about plastic bag recycling. With Eco-Cycle, it should explore a curbside plastic bag recycling. Meanwhile, the City Council should constrain its actions to respecting people’s rights, rather than trashing them.
Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments
This originally appeared in the Boulder on Saturday, July 28, 2012.
Want safer theaters? Blogger Ari Armstrong suggests that theaters offer free tickets and popcorn to armed off-duty police officers, and publicize the policy.
Gun prohibitions won’t work. “At the very least, federal lawmakers ought to outlaw the high-capacity magazines,” argues a Denver Post editorial after the Aurora homicides.
After a mass shooting, England went well beyond “the very least” by effectively banning civilian gun ownership in 1998. Soon after, a Telegraph headline read “Gun crimes soaring despite ban” — a 40 percent increase. In the 2010 Cumbria shootings, a man killed twelve in northwest England.
Criminals ignore both gun bans and so-called “gun free” zones. Mass shootings have occurred in “gun free” zones such as schools and malls. And now movie theaters. The Aurora Cinemark theater “bans firearms on the premises,” reports the New York Times. Such “gun free” zones leave peaceful citizens defenseless against violent criminals. Hence the title of professor Dave Kopel’s law review article: “Pretend ‘Gun Free’ School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction.”
Kopel provides examples of heroic armed citizens stopping mass shootings. In 2007, a man opened fire in a Colorado Springs church parking lot and entered the crowded church. A volunteer security guard shot him, saving many lives. The Cato Institute’s “Tough Targets” study provides many instances of armed citizens thwarting criminals.
Regarding high-capacity magazines, Governor Hickenlooper is correct about the bomb-making Aurora killer: “If it was not one weapon, it would have been another.”
Posted on: July 15th, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments
This article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on July 14, 2012.
One reason medical care costs so much because patients pay so little for it directly. Most Americans’ health coverage is not real insurance, which covers large unexpected expenses. It’s really prepaid medicine that also covers small predictable expenses. The tax code is the main culprit. It punishes cash payment for medical care and rewards payment through insurance. Medicaid and Medicare are also prepaid medical plans.
Costs soar because patients are consumers, but not paying customers. Like business travelers dining on their employers’ expense accounts, patients are largely insulated from medical costs, and hence pay scant attention to price. For example, if a doctor recommends a high-end treatment, a patient has little incentive to inquire about its necessity or the availability of lower cost alternatives.
Costs stay low when patients pay, rather than when insurers or government health plans pay. For example, The Guttmacher Institute reports that 57% of abortion patients pay out-of-pocket, while abortion prices have been fairly constant for decades.
Real health insurance can save money – for example – high-deductible insurance combined with Health Savings Accounts for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Such “plans can produce significant (even substantial) savings without adversely affecting member health status,” reported the American Academy of Actuaries. The RAND Health Insurance Experiment reached similar conclusions.
A recent controversy at the Boulder Public Library concerns choosing architects for a multi-million dollar redesign. Regardless of how this resolves, Boulder’s cash-strapped libraries can preserve funding for improvements by doing what several public library systems have done: outsourcing library operations to a private company.
In 1997, Riverside, California outsourced “the management of day-to-day library operations” to Library Systems & Services, Inc. (LSSI), says a Riverside County report. “LSSI offered employment to all existing library staff,” while preserving base salaries and vacation time.
In the first year, operating costs decreased by more than a million dollars while patrons enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, increased materials budgets, library hours, and community programming. Since 1997 the library tax rate has remained flat.
Patrons in nearby Santa Clarita have a similar experience with LSSI. As the city’s mayor writes, patrons benefit from “increased hours of operation, the addition of $900,000 in new materials and providing for a $300,000 annual increase in the book and media budget.”
In Redding, California, another LSSI customer, the city’s community services director says residents enjoy “better service, more convenient hours, new technology, clean facilities, courteous staff, and programs designed by and for their communities.”
Indeed, the Boulder Library Commission has considered outsourcing library operations – but to a new government entity “that would raise property taxes,” reported the Camera in 2010. Given LSSI’s record of using tax dollars efficiently, the Commission should instead give private firms a chance and taxpayers a break.*
* Of course, the best way to give taxpayers a break is to privatize not just the library operations, but the funding. Libraries should be funded with voluntary donations rather than forced donations through taxes.
Posted on: May 25th, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments
A version of this article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 19, 2012.
By Boulder’s standard of “zero waste,” the City Council’s plan to restrict plastic bag use is garbage. Regardless, such restrictions are foul rubbish. They empower bag bullies to self-righteously trash our liberties.
Plastic bags contribute just 0.4 percent of Boulder County’s municipal solid waste, says a recent Waste Composition Study. By weight, there’s more than ten times as much recyclable plastic, “clean dimensional lumber,” and items accepted at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials. Instead of shaking down shoppers, bag banners should wade through dumps to extract these items for reuse or recycling.
Bag restrictions stifle reuse and recycling trends. Consumers reuse plastic grocery bags at home, and restrictions increase sales of thicker, single-use plastic bags. Plastic bag recycling has increased by 50% since 2005, yielding durable plastic and lumber products,reports Moore Recycling Associates. RecycleYourPlasticBag.com lists local places to recycle bags. The City Council should add its meetings to this list.
Meanwhile, durable bags meant for reuse “are seldom if ever washed” and “almost all” contain bacteria, concludes a Loma Linda University study. Just last week MSNBC reported that one such bag spread “nasty … norovirus infections” to a youth soccer team.
Regardless of which bag is best, retailers have a right to distribute bags, and customers have a right to discard them through voluntary means. Boulder City Council, stop your bag bullying.
If you say government authorities can justly restrict voluntary exchange of a plastic bag, then you’re conceding that can justly restrict any other type of voluntary exchange. You can no longer you can no longer oppose any government action by arguing that it violates people’s right to liberty.
[A] proposed test program was tentatively approved for Chautauqua, which would have time-limited parking for areas within the landmark, but outside of the parking lot near the green. The test program will run in June, July and August. What do you think? What do you think about parking and parking restrictions in Boulder?
Since demand for “free” parking spaces near Chautauqua exceeds supply during popular hiking months, clearly the monetary price to park is too low. With “free” parking, the monetary price is zero, but non-monetary prices become costly: time, inconvenience, and frustration. Many Chautauqua hikers would happily pay some money to avoid such hassles – if the price is right. Hence, the City should certainly find a way to charge for parking.
Of the approaches described in the City Council’s April 17 agenda packet, a combination of parking permits and time-limited parking sounds best. However, this proposal limits permit sales to only Chautauqua guests, Boulder residents, and those who work in Boulder. Why not sell permits to any willing buyer? The City could discount permits to Chautauqua guests, residents, and local employees to roughly account for taxes they pay.
Also, how about earmarking the Chautauqua revenues for trail maintenance?
For per-hour parking, in Chautauqua or elsewhere, the City should consider pay-by-phone methods, which would allow hikers to extend their meter time via text message or smartphone app. CU-Boulder uses ParkMobile, while San Francisco’s SFpark project uses PayByPhone.com.
The City Council should also consider leasing its parking lots and curbside parking areas to for-profit or non-profit operators. Several cities have made such arrangements, as discussed in the Reason Foundation’s recent Annual Privatization Reports [2010, 2011]. Such leases bring cash-strapped cities significant non-tax revenue while freeing them from financial risk and maintenance costs. Cities have also retained the power to approve or reject leasers’ proposed rate increases.
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In the video above, UCLA professor Donald Shoup explains Pasadena revitalized a shopping district by charging for curb-side parking.
Thanks to Harris Kenny at the Reason Foundation for pointers to the Reason reports & suggestion on how to use fee revenue at Chautauqua.
Are tax-funded student loans and grants financial “aid” or financial harm? ”Harm,” political scientist Gary Wolfram would say. Tax-funded financial aid “results in increased tuition, leading to political pressure to further increase aid. This in turn leads to higher tuitions,” he writes.
Basic economics predicts that subsidizing the purchase of a product increases demand for it, and hence increases the price. For example, in four-year public schools, a one dollar increase in student loans was associated with a 93-cent increase in average tuition students paid, writes Dr. Andrew Gillen in his study “Financial Aid in Theory and Practice.”
Dr. Gillen shows that since 1986, the federal government’s financial “aid” has nearly tripled. During this time per-student fees and tuition have almost doubled, Gillen shows. Student debt “has generally outpaced inflation” and family incomes, reports US News and World Report.
Educational opportunity hasn’t faired well, either. In 1972, students in the top income quartile were six times more likely to earning a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than those in the bottom quartile. Today, upper income students are eight times more likely, notes economist Richard Vedder, author of Going Broke by Degree.
Politicians win points for being “pro education.” But politically-driven financial “aid” for college is truly harmful. Low graduation rates show that “aid” distorts people’s career choices by encouraging them to attend college, even though learning valuable skills in an unsubsidized apprenticeship might be wiser. They drop out after realizing they’ve wasted time learning unmarketable skills. Then they must pay off debt, if they can find a job in today’s “stimulated” economy.
Posted on: April 3rd, 2012 by Brian T. Schwartz No Comments
This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Boulder Daily Camera on March 31, 2012.
The Colorado Trust is a statewide grant-making foundation with assets exceeding $400 million. It claims to be “dedicated to achieving access to health for all Coloradans.” The Trust and its grantees use shifty arguments to support ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase a politically-approved health plan. With the Supreme Court’s hearings on the mandate’s Constitutionality just completed, it’s time to reveal the flaws and deceptions behind the Trust’s advocacy.