Thursday, June 25, 2009

Do the Well-to-Do Have a Better Shot at Organ Transplants?

Many of you may recall the furor about ten years ago when someone offered to sell a kidney through ebay.

Back then, as it is now, buying and selling human organs was illegal under US federal law. So the ebay posts were promptly removed.

Yet many economists for years have been suggesting that the blanket prohibition should be relaxed, arguing that high prices would achieve in limited markets for organs what they accomplish elsewhere: a greater quantity supplied--meaning that more people would make their organs available to others, in most cases upon the eventual death of the "seller."

NPR held a debate on this topic as part of its Intelligence Squared US series several years ago. And the advocates made the simple argument that a greater availability of organs would lead to a greater number of lives improved or saved.

For the time being, though, the ban continues because many think it either unseemly to sell something like a kindey, or unfair because then the price will determine who gets a kidney (rather than a waitlist), leading to only the rich getting transplants.

Yet Steve Jobs just received a new liver, and CNN reports that being wealthy can be really, really helpful in getting a liver sooner than others with more modest incomes--even though livers and other organs are not for sale. But not for the reasons you might first think . . .

What Shape Will the Recovery Take? V, W, U, L, or Something Else?

Watch Michael Mussa, Nouriel Roubini, Simon Johnson, and others slug it out over the shape of the recovery in this report from NewsHour. Then take my online poll at LinkedIn.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where Is Unemployment Increasing Fastest?

This graphic from the Economist shows where unemployment is growing fastest. Tough times in Spain, Russia, and the United States have allowed their unemployment rates to temporarily push past the traditional high-unemployment nations, such as Germany and France. The bars tell you how much unemployment has increased over the last year, while the latest unemployment rates are given in the left edge.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Acton University 2009

Acton University 2009 opens tomorrow evening, Tuesday, June 16, and I'm especially looking forward to this year's event. While I will again serve on the faculty--as in past years--as well as be at a book signing on Friday afternoon, this is the first year that I will also participate as a student for the entire week.

Here's my self-designed curriculum:

Tuesday, June 16

Thoughts on Human Dignity, Fr. Robert Sirico

Wednesday, June 17

Session 1:
Christian Anthropology, Samuel Gregg
Session 2:
Limited Government and the Rule of Law, Michael Miller
Session 3: The Economic Way of Thinking, Jennifer Roback Morse
Session 4:
Myths about the Market, Philip Booth
Dinner Lecture: The American Founding and Natural Law, Robbie George

Thursday, June 18

Session 5:
Introduction to Protestant Social Thought, Stephen Grabill
Session 6: Poverty in the Developing World, Michael Miller
Session 7: Why Keynesianism Failed, Victor V. Claar (Teaching)
Session 8: Social Gospel and Protestant Liberalism, Anthony Bradley
Dinner Lecture:
Brian Wesbury

Friday, June 19

Session 9:
Black Liberation Theology, Anthony Bradley
Session 10: Radical Orthodoxy, John Schneider
Session 11: Lutheran Social Thought, Jordan Ballor
Session 12: Faculty Panel Discussions
Dinner Lecture:
Piety and Technique, Fr. Robert Sirico

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Yes, I am a Proud Mini Netbook User

As a thoroughly satisfied user of an ASUS EeePC for about four months now--with an Intel Atom chip and running Windows XP--thought I'd pass along this new article from the Economist about how netbooks are influencing the reimagination of the portable computer.

And though I love my current machine, I do salivate when I think about moving up to this one from Samsung.

PS: Blogged this from McDonald's on my EeePC.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Economics in the Trenches: Sweeping My Neighbor's Walk

If you don't think negative externalities matter, here's a nice example from my morning today.

My next-door neighbor does an excellent job taking care of her home. In fact, last evening she had been doing some weeding and edging just before dusk fell. Because darkness came sooner than she had expected, and because she left early this morning for work, she did not have a chance to clean up after. As a result, she had left the weeds and cuttings from the edging strewn about her front walk.

Well, my house in Holland, Michigan, is currently for sale, and our agent had arranged for a potential buyer to come by for a showing today around 11 a.m. So around 10 o'clock this morning I was next door, carefully sweeping up all of my neighbor's weeds and cuttings so that my block would look a bit more presentable when the possible buyer pulled up to take a look at my house. Don't want anyone to get the mistaken impression that we have a bad block!

I hope my neighbor enjoys the nice thing I did for her this morning. At the same time, though, I sure hope my other neighbors don't read this and start brainstorming projects they could strategically begin and then leave unfinished, thinking I will stop by to tidy up the negative spillover they've left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Who Was Thomas Paine?

Cover story from the BBC magazine:

It's 200 years since the British-born "father of the American revolution" died. His words also helped shape modern Britain and France and yet few people know much about him at all.

Thomas Paine statue in Thetford

"Possibly the most influential writer in modern human history" - that's the billing Thomas Paine got from one of his biographers.

Paine was an international bestseller long before the days of Dan Brown or Jackie Collins and is the only Brit to have been quoted in Barack Obama's inauguration speech earlier this year. . . .

There are statues of him in Paris and New Jersey and a monument to him in New York . . . .

Yet no high-level commemorations of his death have been planned. His writings rarely appear . . . . And ask a man or woman in the average . . . street who he is, and they are likely to reply "Er…"

Just who was Thomas Paine?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Live Online Debate: The private sector and international aid

Does the private sector help the poor more than official aid?

Join the Economist's live online debate, or just "listen" in.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Turning Destruction into Creation

From the Economist:

Good news in a recession--In 1991, the Lumpkin family turned a buyout from IBM into a business. Now they're thriving in this Detroit success story. The struggle of creative destruction can be ugly and painful, but its survivors emerge stronger.

Watch their story:

CareerBuilder Gives Top 10 Worst Work Habits

From CNN, here are CareerBuilder's top 10 work habits you should break:

When two people fall in love, they only see sunshine and rainbows when they look into each other's eyes. If you asked, "What's the worst trait of your boyfriend or girlfriend?" they would answer, "Absolutely, positively nothing!"

Ask that same question a few years later when they're living together and have seen each other at their respective worst. You'll get a pretty good list:

"She cuts her toenails on the coffee table."

"He speaks in a cutesy voice on behalf of the dog."

"She kicks me in her sleep."

Hopefully none of these nuisances find their way into your work life, but other ones probably do. Everyone has some weaknesses in their work behavior that they need to work on, and they often extend beyond annoyances (such as eating a smelly lunch at your desk) and become problems for your career.

Here are 10 work habits that you should try to break:

1. Procrastination

A lot of people work best under pressure, or at least they say so. With everyone having a different personality, you can't say a strict schedule works best for all employees. Putting tasks off until the last minute, however, invites plenty of problems, even if you think the final result will be glorious.

When you leave yourself no wiggle room to complete a task, you run the risk of encountering an unexpected obstacle that makes you miss the deadline. Even if the situation's out of your hands, everyone will be left wondering why you didn't plan better and account for last-minute emergencies.

2. Being a sloppy e-mailer

E-mails are second nature to most people these days, and in informal communications they've become a digital Post-It note. We type out a message and send them without proofreading or double-checking the recipients. That's a recipe for disaster.

If you haven't learned your lesson by now, the day will soon come when you accidentally "Reply All" to an e-mail and a slew of unintended readers receive a silly note you only intended your co-worker to read.

3. Confusing informal with disrespectful . . .

Thursday, June 4, 2009

PETA a No-Show Last Night for City Council Meeting --Wants Lighthouses for "Fish Empathy"

After threatening to protest last evening's final vote on a local couple's proposal to offer horse-drawn carriage rides in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, PETA was a no-show at the City Council meeting.

The proposal passed unanimously.

In related news yesterday, PETA has proposed taking control of the lighthouses in Grand Haven--another scenic West Michigan town, just a few miles up US 31 from Holland.

They want the National Park Service to let them use the lighthouses for their "fish empathy" project national headquarters, reports the Grand Rapids Press:

GRAND HAVEN -- If PETA can't protect horses in Holland, the animal rights organization is going to try to hook the public on safeguarding fish in Grand Haven.

The national group on Wednesday asked the National Park Service if it could take control of the iconic Grand Haven lighthouses, where it would serve faux fish sticks in a cafe there and inform people about the alleged torment fish endure when hooked or netted.

Earlier this year, the park service declared the Grand Haven lights were available under the National Lighthouse Preservation Act, which allows the transfer of ownership to groups to preserve the beacons.

A representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the light would serve as the national headquarters for its fish empathy project . . . .

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Update: My Mayor Says Horse-Drawn Carriages a Go Tonight

Yesterday I reported that PETA intends to protest tonight's city council meeting in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, because the council will be deciding whether or not to grant a local couple permission to operate horse-drawn carriages in the city's downtown and adjacent historic district.

Mayor Al McGeehan says the proposed ordinance is a go. Watch his interview from downtown Holland, with WOOD-TV's Dee Morrison, that aired live this morning:

Follow the Reinvention of GM

Just like you can use the web to track the US economic recovery effort, you can use the web to stay up to date on the reinvention of General Motors. (Hat Tip: Jason Cash)

But Jeff Cornwall, professor of management and director of the center for entrepreneurship at Belmont University, is skeptical about the prospects of the new partnership between GM and the US taxpayers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

CFO Magazine Survey Reveals Best & Worst State Tax Climates for Doing Business

CFO magazine recently revealed the results of its 2009 State Tax Survey.

Currently perceived to be among the least hospitable to business: New York, Massachusetts, and California.

And thought to be some of the most welcoming: Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota.

You can read the full article here. You can also download an Excel sheet of the complete survey results.

Ever Shopped Around for a Good Price on an Office Visit? Perhaps Soon You May

Most of us rarely make a purchase without having some idea, in advance, of what the price is. But one obvious exception is medical care.

Have you ever shopped around for a good price on an office visit to a doctor? Or compared prices for your annual physical exam? I'm guessing that you haven't -- and if you have, I'd love to hear from you.

Even when medical care is not an emergency, most of us rarely give any thought to what the price is. And, for most of us, the reason is that someone else--our insurer--is picking up most or all of the tab. So regardless of what the actual amount of money is that the care giver will receive, we consider only the actual marginal cost we face.

For example, in my insurance group my out-of-pocket expense for an office visit is a mere 15 bucks. As a result, the only decision I make is whether or not it's worth $15 to me to go to the doctor. In fact, I have no idea what my doctor is actually charging when I see her!

Well, that may be changing. Today the Michigan Business Review reports that some health providers are beginning to make price information available to all.

PETA Objects to Local Couple's Proposal to Bring Horse-Drawn Carriages to My Town

An area couple wants to bring a horse-drawn carriage service to my lovely West Michigan hometown. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have other ideas, today's Grand Rapids Press reports:

HOLLAND -- Lori and Dave Smallegan want to offer horse-drawn carriage rides downtown two or three nights a week. . . .

But when Lori Smallegan heard People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought to block the proposal before the City Council, she was stunned.

"If they think a horse pulling a carriage is cruel, they have blinders on," said Smallegan, who along with Dave raises Clydesdale and Percheron horses on their farm.

"They're workhorses. They're bred to do this." . . .

But PETA is urging the council to nix the proposal, citing safety concerns and the effect pavement and exhaust fumes have on horses' welfare. . . .

Read more of the article here. There is also coverage in today's Holland Sentinel.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Not the Great Depression

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Keeping Things in Perspective (Source: Donald Maron, with a hat tip to Michael Kruse)

"Failed" Keynesianism Gets More Interesting Still: IMF Recommends African Nations Spend

As you may or may not know, I gave a lecture last summer at Acton University called, "Why Keynesianism Failed." And I have been invited back this summer to give a lecture with the same title.

Well, the geopolitical economic climate heading into my lecture later this month is considerably more interesting than it was a year ago. At the time, the Fed's ongoing attempts to kick-start the economy through monetary expansion, combined with the Bush administration's stimulus checks, made it seem like Keynesianism was alive and well as a policy prescription--despite its considerable shortcomings as a model of how economies actually work, and how economic agents (firms, consumers, politicians, etc.) act within them.

Of course, that was all before the subsequent crash of the financial markets, and the collapse of several large banking entities. In the wake of those events, we are now pursing Keynesian policies whenever possible, wherever possible, and at levels unimaginable last summer. In fact, it seems silly in retrospect to think that last summer I thought our government was following the ideas of Keynes when they sent us our tiny rebates and cut interest rates a little.

Of course we were indeed acting in a Keynesian manner last year, too, but today the comparison in terms of the relative flows of financial stimuli feels a bit like contrasting the flow of rain running out of my rain gutter -- even in a hard rain -- to the flows from Niagara Falls.

Today's latest evidence is the bankruptcy plan for General Motors, which makes us US citizens 60 percent owners of GM--regardless of how we each feel about it. Stated another way, since none of us thought GM was a sufficiently good bet to voluntarily invest our money in, our government has decided to forcibly make all of us investors in GM.

Now such policy actions are not surprising, even if Keynesianism really is a failed economic theory of how things work. First, the focus of Keynes's work, right or wrong, was always on the short term. In his Tract on Monetary Reform, Keynes reminded us that in the long run, "we are all dead." In Keynes's view, then, policy that might prove bad for the long-term could nevertheless be good policy in the short-term if it led to short-term improvements in the state of affairs.

Second, policymakers are not comfortable standing around doing nothing when bad stuff happens, even if doing nothing might be the very wisest idea for the longer term. For one thing, politicians like getting reelected, and a good way to make that happen is by taking action--any action--that will be perceived by voters as an attempt to make things better.

Further, remember Keynes's "we are all dead" line. Getting reelected is a short-term problem for politicians, and comes around just every four to six years. So if making voters feel good about you right now is the problem, then taking economic action to make voters feel better about you right now is a pretty clever strategy. They might not care for you in the long run, but the next election cycle is still a long ways off.

Now the US is a wealthy nation, so poorly chosen monetary and fiscal policy will not affect us much, relatively speaking. Even if the nation's GDP shrank by one third, we would still be one of the world's wealthiest countries.

But other nations have far less, and have economies that are far more fragile. So I find it distressing that the International Monetary Fund's latest recommendation for African nations is that they pursue additional fiscal stimulus spending.

If IMF policymakers are wrong in their Keynesian advice, then in the long run, African nations could be very dead indeed.