Translate, 翻译, 翻譯, 翻訳する, 번역, übersetzen, traduire, переводить, dịch, ترجم, זעץ, לתרגם

Mises.Org Quotes

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reducing Our Dependance on Petrol, One Whale at a Time

What was old is new again . . .
Japanese whalers with a minke whale carcass.
Put a whale in your tank.
'Big Bad Oil' had a grand run, but the tide seems to be a turnin'.  It seems some industrious seamen are creating 'biodiesel' from natural, organic, renewable whale oil.  For some reason, regular diesel does not count as "bio", perhaps because of age, so some fresh bio needs to be added to comply with marketing rules, or some such.

Back a decade or so ago, folks thought I was joking, or just plain mean (depending where on the envirowacko scale they were) when I suggested using whale oil to help end America's petrol addiction.  Well, here you go, fresh from The Guardian:
Whale oil to fuel whaling ships is a gruesome and surreal proposition
It is a fantastically surreal propostion. An Icelandic whaler, Kristján Loftsson, is powering his whaling ships using "biofuel" composed of 80% diesel – and 20% whale oil. Loftsson claims the oil is additionally friendly to the environment as it is rendered out of whale blubber using heat from Iceland's volcanic vents.
It is even more organic than first blush, with the geothermal aspect added in.

You see, back in the old days people used whale oil for their lanterns, hurricane lamps, and the like.  Then, before you could say Moby-Dick, Big Bad Oil came rolling in with their drilling rigs and started selling kerosine much cheaper than whale oil.  It was a slow process, those Big Bad Oil types are sneaky that way.  They disguised their original business as brine drilling operations.  They complained about running into oil by accident and called it undesirable.  Then, when nobody was looking, they put most of the whaling ships out of business with their predatory kerosine pricing.
1902 Electric
In the above article, I say go whale all the way, by golly!  Whales are renewable.  They sequester carbon, so when they breed and multiply they gather more carbon, which can then be burnt in the whaling ships or any other ships that wish to cozy up alongside and fill-up with a healthy dose of freshly rendered biofuel.  Whales are the switch-grass of the sea.

It does not have to stop there.  Back when The Rough Rider was riding around in an electric car, not much different than the cars the environmentalists want every to be riding in now, the seagoing industry was using other forms of biofuel.  More from the article:
It's not the first time animal fat has been used to feed the whale hunt: 20th-century whaling operations in the Southern Ocean made similar use of penguins, throwing the oil-rich animals on fires as living kindling.
Imagine one of these running on whale oil!
Of course, polar bears, sea lions, and seals could be used for the same thing.  Me thinks these folks are just not thinking outside of the box enough.  Perhaps the B. Hussein Obama administration needs a spiffy report on these ideas so some federal funding could kick-start this lost art of environmental stewardship, for the good of mankind.

It does not have to stop at the shoreline either!  In the old days, trains ran on wood, then coal, and finally diesel fuel.  For some reason, Big Bad Oil beat the whalers to the train fuel market.

With the proper breeding and harvesting, every piece of heavy equipment on the planet could be running on clean, renewable, organic whale oil in a decade.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Gypsy Cab Armada of the DC Beltway

Yes, you read the subject line correctly.  In the meat-locker of our nation's rationality, some rationality exists and it is actually encouraged by government.  Well, not really.  The same bureaucrats that regulated the active ingredients out of your dishwasher detergent, ruined your toilet (don't believe the statist crap at that link), destroyed your old reliable car engine, are zipping about the area in a distributed, unlicensed, unregulated taxi system.  The locals call it slugging.

Here is the pretty version via Slug-Lines.Com:
Slugging is a term used to describe a unique form of commuting found in the Washington, DC area sometimes referred to as "Instant Carpooling" or "Casual Carpooling". It's unique because people commuting into the city stop to pickup other passengers even though they are total strangers! However, slugging is a very organized system with its own set of rules, proper etiquette, and specific pickup and drop-off locations. It has thousands of vehicles at its disposal, moves thousands of commuters daily, and the best part, it’s FREE! Not only is it free, but it gets people to and from work faster than the typical bus, metro, or train. I think you'll find that it is the most efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the nation.
The term apparently was coined by bus drivers who inadvertently stopped for cues of riders looking for car rides, who would waive off the buses, and the dedicated public servants deemed them counterfeit bus riders.

At first glance, one might think we are talking about hitchhiking here, but this is no free ride. More from Slug-Lines.Com:
The system of slugging is quite simple. A car needing additional passengers to meet the required 3- person high occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum pulls up to one of the known slug lines. The driver usually positions the car so that the slugs are on the passenger side. The driver either displays a sign with the destination or simply lowers the passenger window, to call out the destination, such as "Pentagon," "L’Enfant Plaza," or "14th & New York." The slugs first in line for that particular destination then hop into the car, normally confirming the destination, and off they go.
Well, no it is no free ride either.  All that HOV talk above comes with hefty fines if drivers do not follow all of the stupid commuting rules in the DC area.  I may cover the stupid inefficiency of HOV lanes in another post.  Anyway, about 35 years ago a system developed where some people picked up riders to get around the stupid rule.  The website continues to inform readers that no money is exchanged, which is not strictly true.  No cash is exchanged, but both driver and riders get an economic benefit.  In Northern Virginia, the benefit to drivers can be seen in the schedule of fines:
Northern Virginia HOV Lane Fines: First offense: $125
Second offense: $250 plus 3 points on your driving record
Third offense: $500 plus 3 points on your driving record
Fourth offense: $1,000 plus 3 points on your driving record
If you are an outsider who thinks this is something that is easy to get away with, therefore the risk of being fined is negligible, you have another think coming.  Every jurisdiction in the area that has an HOV lane passing through it, has a whole shift of cops standing by to ticket anything illegally moving in those lanes, as well as ticketing plenty of folks who were not doing anything illegal at all.

What does the rider get in the exchange?  A ride.  Not a free ride, of course.  The ride is worth the schedule above.  All of the participants are giving up privacy, safety, and security for a cheaper price of their trip.  Also, all of the participants get to zip along past the normal people who drive in their own personal, private cars.  Saves time for the sluggers and slug catchers while it makes the commute slower for everybody else.

How does the cab driver angle come into play?  Every single jurisdiction where these slug-catchers operate has a strict cab licensing regimen.  One cannot legally drive about picking up strangers and driving them to within a few blocks of their destination in exchange for their suit-coats, rings, watches, spectacles, sex, time, or cash.  At least not without a special permission slip and license plate.  Granted, the state of cab affairs there is not like New York City where the number of cabs is capped, for now.  In the DC area, anybody who wants to go through the licensing and registration hoops can get into the cab business.

Somehow, some way, this massive gypsy cab system is tolerated, encouraged even, by the local constabulary.  It would not even exist if the governments that be had not created the HOV system in the first place.  The Slug-Line.Com cites that in 1975 the HOV lanes were "opened to carpools and vanpools".  Odd choice of wording, since "High Occupancy Vehicle" sounds like it was created specifically for "carpools and vanpools."  In reality, those lanes were closed to everybody else except motorcycles, and now certain alternative fuel vehicles.  So, in the name of saving gas (that is why HOV lanes were created, believe it or not) the DC metropolitan area also created a massive barter cab system.

So why on earth does that area of the country license cabs to begin with?  Safety!  That's right, the government generated excuse for making sure cab drivers have a special license and their cars have special tags is safety of the passengers.  Passengers who, by the hundreds of thousands, got past the eight-lane beltway barrier in regular-old cars, driven by regular-old people, that they never met before.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blat > Stalin

Recall, just a few months ago, when the Leftoid universe was exhaustively comparing Tim Tebow unfavorably to, well, everything in the known universe?  They used a relational operator, I suppose to show their logical and mathematical prowess, the > symbol, the one that people of my generation learned in first grade or so.

As juvenile as the flood across social networks was, I still thought there was some originality to it.  Granted, it is difficult to be original on the Left since every idea must fit on a bumper sticker.  Such are the rigorous requirements on which slave states are built.

The adaptation is new but the idea is not, not even in the slightest.  It goes way, way, way back to the days when Stalin ruled the Soviet intellectual utopia: Blat is higher than Stalin (corruption is greater than Stalin).

I "discovered" this gem in a 2010 Socialism lecture by the great Professor Peter Boettke (the Ted Nugent of Econ), shortly after the 1:00:00 point:
The idea hers is that the grand Soviet plans never worked out the way they were planned.  In the Army we used to say "no plan ever survives contact with the enemy," and both are the same basic concept.  For the Soviets, the way their society actually functioned was through an underlying market economy.  Here, let me repeat myself, the way their society actually functioned was through an underlying market economy.

Even in our own military this activity is in play.  During Operation Desert Storm, US Army Aviation Officers of the aviation maintenance community, would meet weekly, if I recall correctly, and trade parts to keep their aircraft flying.  This probably happened in other fields too.  In the US version of a Soviet Master Plan, the repair parts system was notoriously inefficient.  The managers who needed the parts knew what they needed and swapped accordingly.

No, in neither case am I talking about a Free Market economy, the Soviets had one of the farthest things away from that ever devised and the US government tries to replicate that monument to bureaucracy whenever they can.  However, a market economy is what was actually making things run in spite of all of the roadblocks arrayed against it.  In the West, we call it a black market.  In Soviet Russia, it was called blat.
The Crisis in Soviet Economic Planning
GARY NORTH  (from page 54)
The almost incredible bureaucratization of Soviet planning is evidenced by two frequently encountered examples. In one case, a plan for the production of ball bearings had to go through so many agencies for approval that a staggering (literally) total of 430 pounds of documents was generated.22 In another instance, one “autonomous” Republic, the Tatar ASSR, had its investment plan changed almost five hundred times in 1961.23 Under these conditions, the task of enterprise management would be impossible if it were not for some ingenious (and often illegal) solutions worked out by factory managers.

The basic solution has been the creation of a vast network of “independent” supplies - a black market. This is the phenomenon known informally as “blat.” Joseph S. Berliner, in his valuable study, Factory and Manager in the USSR (1957), has described this process. Since supply channels are often exasperatingly slow and frequently deliver the wrong or inferior goods, managers must turn to alternative sources of inputs if their production quotas are to be met (and their bonuses and promotions received). For example, a plant may have a surplus in any given year; this, in turn, is probably due to the fact that the manager overstated his supply needs and understated his plant’s productive capacity in the previous year, when the central plans were drawn up. These additional goods may be traded to some other firm for some future service or present luxury from that firm. This aids not only those smaller firms that are on a lower priority list for supplies, but it also helps the high priority industries. during periods of crisis?24 Certain “middlemen” with informal connections are employed, usually under a bogus administrative title, as the agents for the blat operations. They are “pushers” whose activities. coordinate the underground facilities of supply and demand. They are called tolkatchi. Some firms employ only part-time tolkatchi, especially the smaller ones. In recent years, the government has wisely removed the criminal sanctions that were once imposed upon such activities of unauthorized exchange or resale of supplies. In addition to this softening, the procedures for obtaining official authorization to purchase extra supplies have been eased?’25 The state planners have, in effect, recognized the necessity of these “capitalistic” practices. Production goals are sometimes more important than official ideology. These practices go on as long as the conditions of inefficient production and distribution remain. As Berliner says, “The tolkatch thrives in an economic soil watered by shortages and fertilized by unrealistic targets."26

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ed and Bob to the Rescue! Hot Pharmaceuticals

Ed Brantley, General Manager WNOX
I was having a bit of trouble with the section of Super Duper Socialism relating to the drug trade.  Since "street" drugs have not seen any price pressure from the massive prohibition efforts, at least none that I could find, I decided to call some veteran entertainers and find out their thoughts.  Ed and Bob were quite helpful and brought up the now lucrative pharmaceutical black market.

So, why are these "factory drugs" so expensive now?  My first observation goes to an artificial scarcity as an intended result of regulation.  Does anybody doubt that these products would no longer command a premium from buyers if they were over-the-counter purchases?

We have seen a reverse effect in formerly over-the-counter medications, like the Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®, and other products) restrictions used to "combat" methamphetamine production.  It is likely those restrictions result in higher prices for legal users, like me, since a pharmacist must be involved in the sale, rather than just the cashier.  Also, the government added a a database or two, administered by the bureaucracy and paid for by you and me.  So, before the product is out of the store, one is paying a government-inflated price for the product.
Bob Thomas, Professional Actor and WNOX entertainer
What increases the "street" price of prescription, or pseudo-prescription drugs like Pseudoephedrine, is the added layer of sales involved.  If I were so inclined to purchase Pseudoephedrine and resell it, I would probably not sell it to the lowest bidder.  I could, of course, or I could even give it away for whatever charitable reason I could muster.  That is no guarantee that the next person who possesses that Pseudoephedrine will not seek a profit and find a buyer willing to pay a premium.

To get to the heart of why this works at all, one must wade into the mire of human behavior.  In the case of street drugs vs. pharmaceuticals, we have two separate law enforcement systems and two separate distribution systems.  Okay, there are some exceptions, like pharmaceutical cocaine, but we are talking the generalities here.

In the case of street drugs, we have an array of prohibition laws with billions of dollars in enforcement behind them with no measurable positive result.  As previously posted, the price of heroin is lower than a pack of cigarettes, yet we do not have a massive "addict problem" with heroin.  What we do have is thousands of people in jail over heroin, with no increase in price and no known increase in usage.

In the case of Oxycontin® and other drugs, we have controlled production and distribution, with very little direct law enforcement involvement.  I say not direct, since everybody involved in the production and distribution of those drugs has been deputized in one manner or another, including the drug store customer.

The deputies include: the businesses (factories) making the drugs, the people transporting the drugs, the people stocking the drugs in warehouses, as well as the people handling and dispensing the drugs at your local Apothecary establishment.  In the USA, all of these businesses must be licensed.  Indeed the individuals selling the drugs to prescription holders must be licensed too.  They face great risk, great penalties, for failing to follow the control guidelines set by the government.

Even the consumer is restricted by heavy penalties if he does not use his drugs (property) as intended.  For example, if I had a prescription for Oxycontin® and did not use all of it, am I free to sell the unused portion?  No, I cannot even return it to the chemist for a partial refund either, at least I am unaware of any who would engage in that folly.  If I keep my unused Oxycontin® and a family member is prescribed the exact amount that I have remaining, am I "allowed" to give or sell it to them?  No, that would be committing a host of felonies that I would rather avoid, from dispensing without a license to who knows what else.

However, the thing that "prevents" me from committing dastardly deeds like giving away my property to someone who needs it more is not my sense of conscience, it is the government threat to my liberty, even though the likelihood is undeniably low.  For an example of conscience, I would not give or sell one of my guns to someone I even slightly suspect would not own them in a responsible manner.

Other people do not follow my attitude about risks to liberty, as is their right as people, so we have a situation where as soon as certain people obtain pharmaceuticals they are looking to resell them.  The array of "protective" measures, from the doctor protecting her license whilst writing the script, to the pharmacist protecting his whilst filling the order, creates an expensive production and distribution chain while, at the same time, creates an artificial scarcity resulting in a price jump between the chemist's window and the parking lot of the store.

What to make of this?  For one thing, if the government wants to impose a prohibition a great deal of effort, to the point of deputizing all of the actors involved, is required to have any price inflation effect on the product.

Does this mass deputization prevent anybody from obtaining contraband if they want it?  It still does not appear to be the case.  Yes, the price is higher for those who wish to intoxicate themselves with these particular chemicals, but they are hardly scarce enough to say that anybody is prevented from obtaining them.

It also appears that the regular patient who is prescribed pain killers, or what-have you, is not the major source of re-resale pills.  The re-resellers themselves go to great lengths to forge prescriptions, or even establish licensed businesses, nicknamed pill mills (link is to a Florida, USA definition), to engage in these profitable crimes.  Indeed, some "illegal" sellers have every credential required for legally dispensing controlled substances.  Indeed, this is nothing new.  Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in 1989, led a raid on pharmacies in the Harlem borough of New York city.  Well, it was more like a caravan of news cameras feeding the Representative's need for publicity, but raids on pharmacies it was just the same.

Is collusion a factor?  Of course it is.  Profession after profession has joined with government for licensing with the intent of limiting the number of people who practice that profession.  Doctors and pharmacists are no different and this is a Nationalized Socialism of sorts.

So, what we have here is more government of good intentions that produces none of the good intended results that they promise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dr. Walter E. Williams and Dennis Hopper Explain the Cocaine Craze

The book Easy Riders Raging Bulls, the author quotes Dennis Hopper thus:
The cocaine problem in the United States is really because of me. There was no cocaine before Easy Rider on the street. After Easy Rider it was everywhere.
Sadly, I cannot find the television interview where he combines that statement with what he said on Inside The Actor's Studio (skip to 27:14):
In the interview I was thinking about, Hopper said that the original idea Peter Fonda had for Easy Rider involved a marijuana sale.  Hopper thought the pot too bulky for a couple of guys on motorcycles.  He thought of and rejected heroin, because he did not want to promote that drug.  So he went with cocaine because it was expensive in small quantities.

The Dennis Hopper interview was the first thing I thought of when I read this passage in Dr. Walter E. Williams' essay Drugs, Economics, and Liberty.
Which is easier to conceal and transport—a million dollars’ worth of marijuana or a million dollars’ worth of cocaine? Obviously, it’s cocaine because there is far less bulk per dollar of value. Thus one effect of prohibition is the tendency toward increased sales and use of more-concentrated forms of drugs that can include products such as crack cocaine, ice, and meth.

Read more:
Well, in the case of illicit drugs, the more things change, the more things change.  Particularly the price.  In 1969, when Easy Rider was released, cocaine was apparently a very pricey powder which did become more popular from that point forward.  In the early 1980s, the typical price I heard from people I knew who knew about this stuff (usually bragging to others about how financially flush they were) spoke of "$1,200 coke", which I am pretty sure they must have been talking grams.  If it were ounces, that comes out to only $42.33/gram and does not sound like a sum to brag about.

Michael Corbin reported in his story Cocaine Economics in July, 2012 this price regression:
I recently asked a group of ex-offenders who had served time for drug possession or drug distribution about historical trends in the price of cocaine in Baltimore. Those who had sold drugs in the early 1990s agreed that, depending on purity, you could get (or have to pay) as much as $300-$500 for a gram of cocaine.

When I talked to and observed some street level dealers for an Urbanite story last year, it was not uncommon to hear of a gram being sold for $75-$100. There was no way to know about levels of adulteration of the product, which is common, but the price trend was clear nonetheless.
He also quotes a New York Times article:
If there is one number that embodies the seemingly intractable challenge imposed by the illegal drug trade on the relationship between the United States and Mexico, it is $177.26. That is the retail price, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data, of one gram of pure cocaine from your typical local pusher. That is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago.
As I have written about in the previous two posts, the prices of marijuana, and heroin, especially heroin, have been dropping like a car from Marina Towers into the Chicago River since the 1970s.  Now I discover, the same thing has been going on with cocaine.
If government prohibition enforcement efforts are doing anything at all to the price of these prohibited products, I would like to see where that affect shows up.

If the common sense, perfectly logical, theory that prohibition enforcement elevates prices, then without it heroin would be free, or cheaper.  Perhaps given away with every gram of cocaine and both would be thrown in with every pound of high-grade marijuana.

William F. Buckley, Jr. was right about this in one way: The only measurable result of the drug war, as of this writing, is a big bill and thousands of very special people in jail.  The price has been too great.  I disagree with him about the freedom aspect (he did not believe that people were free to put whatever they like into their bodies), but any way, his, mine, or a combination, this drug war has proven to be a fool's errand.