Sunday, October 30, 2005

Government Officials Looking Out For Us

A person was checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, "Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge? To which the person replied, "If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?" The employee smiled knowingly and nodded, "That's why we ask."
Happened in Birmingham, Ala.

The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it's safe to cross the street. Two people were crossing when one asked what the buzzer was for. The other explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, the first one responded, "What on earth are blind people doing driving?!" She was a probation officer in Wichita, KS

Then there is the individual who plugged her power strip back into itself and for the life of her couldn't understand why her system would not turn on. A deputy with the Dallas County Sheriff's office no less.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Schools: Educational Choice or Coercion

One by one, the alleged needs and benefits of public education are being exposed as false by ever-growing evidence of the superiority of free choice. It has been claimed that public schools are necessary to ensure integration, toleration of minorities, and fostering social concern and interest in public issues—but private schools have proven superior in all of these. And it is claimed that school voucher programs, which allow people to choose the schools to which they will send their children, will lure the most easily educated children from poor public schools and worsen the plight of the disadvantaged, mostly black students, remaining in the poorer schools. But John Brandl, a professor at the University of Minnesota and St. John’s University, writes: “Recent research is finding that when choice enables some children to leave a public school, the academic performance of those left behind actually picks up. (Apparently the existence of competition nudges the schools to improve.)

“On average, private schools, almost all of which are religious, are better integrated by race than are public schools. Children attending private schools are more apt to tolerate anti-religious activities, more willing to favor members of their least-liked group being permitted to participate in public affairs, more inclined to speak and write on public issues, more involved in volunteer work. This is accomplished at not much more than half the cost—not just tuition but full cost—of the public schools.”

Consumer satisfaction is what drives decisions in economic markets. It also drives improvement in the quality of goods and services. When government tries to replace consumer choice with its own views of what consumers should receive, it must come up with some other yardstick than consumer satisfaction for judging performance. So statistical measurements abound. There include measures of increased government spending for education, mandatory testing of student performance, increasing teacher qualifications, and reducing class sizes. These are all poor substitutes for consumer satisfaction with the quality of the educational product—and would be unnecessary if consumers were allowed full free choice in the educational marketplace. The substitutes have done little to improve education. For example, on the issue of class size, the student-to-teacher ratio dropped from 22.3 in 1970 to 16.1 in 2002; yet during these thirty-two years there was no improvement in student achievement at the national level. Massive increases in government spending, and other measures too, have failed to produce improvement. Yet we still hear more about such things as the necessity of reducing class size in order to improve education than about the role of customer satisfaction and marketplace competition for improving educational quality.

Friday, October 07, 2005

E = HGP (Environmentalism=higher gas prices)

As noted in a previous posting, environmental lobbyists obstructed measures that would have minimized environmental damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the environmental efforts also had another unwanted effect: higher gasoline prices.

No new refineries have been built in the United States for 29 years, due largely to regulatory barriers promoted by environmentalists. In 1981 the U.S. had 325 refineries with a capacity of 18.6 million barrels per day. Today we have 148, with a capacity of 17 mb/d—despite a demand that is 20 percent greater than in 1981. So when a major portion of our refining capacity becomes a hurricane casualty, it is unavoidable that prices of petroleum products will escalate.

Existing refineries have had to pay more than $47 billion over the last 12 years to comply with, among others, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. Naturally, the cost of complying with these regulations must be passed on to the consumers in the form of higher prices. And from 2006 to 2012, fourteen new major environmental programs will force additional costs on refineries.

One company, Arizona Clean Fuels, has been trying to build a refinery for sixteen years. It needs several federal and state permits. An environmental group headed by Steve Brittle has been fighting the project since 1992. Brittle figures if he can prolong the process for another 18 months, the permit from the state environmental agency will expire, and the company will have to start all over again.

Why was 47 percent of our refining capacity concentrated in such a geographically risky area as the Gulf of Mexico, particularly around New Orleans? Because federal policies effectively prohibited it from being anywhere else. “Government policies have largely limited offshore exploration and development to the Central and Western Gulf…. Unfortunately, offshore oil and gas development has been barred elsewhere—including the eastern half of the Gulf and the entire Atlantic and Pacific Coasts,” says Red Cavaney, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. He might also have mentioned the prohibition on drilling in the ANWAR area of Alaska.

In the same way that environmental lobbyists prevented the construction of new oil refineries for 29 years, they also prevented the construction of nuclear power plants for a quarter of a century. During this time, France built 58 new nuclear plants—with complete safety—which now provide a whopping 79 percent of the nation’s energy needs. Had we built nuclear plants as the French did, our usage of fossil fuels would have been reduced, resulting in a better supply-demand balance for petroleum and lower prices at the gas pump.

Lastly, consider the federal requirement for a “boutique” variety of gasoline blends to meet a variety of emission standards in various parts of the country. It has little air-quality benefit yet imposes still another cost on refineries that is passed along to consumers. In addition, gasoline formulated for one area of the country can’t be transported for use in another. Thus areas of the country where gasoline shortages occur, such as from Katrina, cannot benefit from available supplies elsewhere.