It sounds like folks inside the Obama administration and Congress are thinking about a VAT to make up for all of the additional revenue they’re going to need to cover their massive increases in spending. This would be a terrible, horrible, no-good idea for anybody who likes growth rates higher than in Europe. The one benefit to a VAT is that you don’t have to calculate sales taxes after the fact, so when the sticker says $10, it’s really $10 and not $10.68 or whatever state or local sales taxes apply. This, however, is also the huge negative: in the US, you can see quickly how much sales tax you have to pay, right at the register. You pick up a $100 device, you see the $6.75 (in central Ohio) sales tax immediately. If you’re like me, you usually mumble a curse under your breath when you see that, too. In Germany, however, there is no such feeling of disdain. Sure, it prints out on the receipt how much you had to pay in taxes, but many people don’t pay as much attention to that. This is part of how the VAT in Germany has jumped to 19%, whereas sales taxes remain relatively low in the US. Imagining that on top of all of the other taxes that we have to pay, our tax burden will quickly jump up to German or French levels, and we would likely get the worst end of it both ways: a federal VAT, as well as state sales taxes on top of that, so we still have to mentally calculate how much that $49.95 product will end up costing you…except now you’re starting out at $59.95…
May 31, 2009
May 30, 2009
Here is a great lecture given by Murray Rothbard on the early history of the Federal Reserve. It’s interesting listening to how closely inter-related so many of the actors were in this event: Treasury Secretaries who were close allies of Rockefeller and Morgan (who were both in favor of a monetary/banking cartel), Senators making mysteriously large sums of money over their careers, etc.
Also of note is the early portion of the talk, in which Rothbard describes how so much of the “Progressive” legisltation came about: big business leaders want to form cartels, but because these don’t hold up so well in free markets, they assume the guise of “enlightened” businessmen and propose legislation to regulate their own industries “for the common good.” Populist politicians jump on the bandwagon (the old bootleggers and Baptists problem, if you wish to be charitable toward the populists) and the end result is cartelization. Particularly interesting is the ICC forcing prices up. I remember in my high school history books reading about how these big businesses would offer lower rates to their friends, and the ICC was going to stop that. What they don’t describe is that they forced the rates up, not down, and worked in the best interest of large, existing firms and at the expense of consumers, smaller businesses, and businesses which were not yet formed. In other words, organizations like the ICC limited competition by erecting barriers to entry and setting price floors, thereby giving larger businesses an opportunity to cartelize successfully, making us all worse off in the process.
May 29, 2009
Preliminary CO2 emissions estimates are now available, and in the US, apparently, there was a 2.8% drop in CO2 output. Steven Heyward notes that the bulk of this is estimated to have come from energy efficiency rather than an economic downturn. Looking at the chart, 3 of the 4 years with drops happened to occur in recessions, so I’m not quite so sure. However, if we suppose a) that Heyward’s interpretation and the DoE estimates are true, and b) that carbon dioxide production is a factor in anthropogenic global warming (and c) that this is a bad thing overall), it would appear that we could be seeing a market-based shift without the major changes in regulation that people on the left desire.
May 28, 2009
Here are a few DBA notes while I’m still in Germany. I’ve finally had a chance to clear out my mailbox, and these came up in the clearing process.
- David McKinney has an ingenious method for using a CTE to fake a linked-list in SQL Server. I will probably use this many a time now, especially for data warehousing and reporting purposes.
- A while back, I had to import Excel data into SQL Server. It turns out that there’s a Powershell script that can do that. “There’s a Powershell script that can do that” is something I’m saying more and more often, and I really want to learn Powershell because it sounds like it would make my life significantly easier.
- Here are a few more important queries for performance and maintenance purposes. I figure I’ll add a couple of them into my DBA toolkit (as I have some similar ones).
- Want to set up Database Mail without going through the GUI (for example, if you have to do it on multiple servers)? Dan Guzman has you covered.
May 27, 2009
A fellow I took a couple of accounting courses with regularly criticizes lack of accessibility as a problem with websites. By doing a few relatively simple things (not using graphics for your text, using appropriate headers and markup, tagging your images, etc.), you can make an Internet experience significantly easier for somebody who is, say, blind.
Similarly, sometimes a keyboard just doesn’t cut it. That’s why Dasher exists. Dasher is an interface tool that takes a few minutes to learn, but is an entirely different paradigm for data entry. Sure, it’s not going to be as fast as a good touch typist (they say that experienced users will enter data at about 40 WPM), but for somebody who cannot use a keyboard due to physical disability, that’s still awesome. It turns out that I have this installed on my computer, so I was playing around with it, trying to understand how it works. You can also try a version in your browser, without having to download the program.
May 26, 2009
Obama continues to show why he’s so much better than that insufferable cowboy when it comes to foreign affairs: this time, he’s played bait-and-switch on the Japanese, sending as their ambassador a fund-raiser after saying that he would send a well-respected political scientist. Not such a smart idea, and after appointing a good ambassador to China, this is a slap in the face to the Japanese. But hey, all the foreigners swoon for his bass and pizzazz, right?
May 25, 2009
I disagree with Arnold Kling and agree with Bryan Caplan. I’m not so big on the “ethnic voting bloc” idea when it comes to long-term political trends. Ideas matter in these things, as well as cycles. This is different than local politics, where one-party politics can spring up. There is significantly more information on the national level, and the differences between candidates is greater on a practical basis (in other words, the difference between a “conservative” city council member and a “liberal” city council member will, for most of us, be pretty much irrelevant). And given all elections between now and 2017, I would also take the $100 bet. Considering that the Republican party looked like a rump party in 1976 and Democrats did in 2002, things can change very quickly in party politics.
May 24, 2009
Mark Steyn has a brilliant article on what kind of jobs the “stimulus” package is “saving or creating.” A sample line: By the way, these jobs aren’t for everyone. ‘Knowledge of ARRA’ is required. So if, say, you’re the average United States senator who voted for ARRA without bothering to read it, you’re not qualified for a job as an ARRA Grantwriter.”
Bob Murphy has done us all a favor and hosted the first in a series of essays regarding a Marine’s experience in Iraq. In this essay, the Marine describes how his group was able to help a village to thrive: by providing security and allowing people to get back to doing what they really want to do (make money and provide a safe future for their children), the Marines were able to gain the support of villagers, with positive benefits recouped by the Marines themselves.
I hope that Edward Gonzalez keeps writing these essays, as I shall continue to read them.
May 23, 2009
There’s been some gloating and heartbreak (depending on which side you are) about the Republican party being finished as a national party. Considering that six year ago, the shoe was on the other foot (the Emerging Republican Majority and whatnot), I think we can chalk a lot of that up to exuberence and a desire a) to say something risky, while b) staying completely within the mainstream. Republicans are hurting right now, but a big part of that is that the American public had forgotten what Democratic government was like. In fact, after just a few months of it, we’re already seeing trends shifting significantly toward Republicans. Republicans need better spokesmen and innovative ideas, but things aren’t nearly as bad as you might think.
On the other hand, you have people coming up with ridiculous ideas like how Republicans are responsible for bureaucratic failure. Yeah, sure, forget about regulatory capture (which will happen regardless of pay—X + Y > X for every value of X and Y > 0), the economic knowledge problem, regulatory inefficiencies, and the fact that the guys on the other side of the fence will always be more motivated to stretch the regulations than the regulators will be in maintaining them (the stretchers, after all, receive payment for this, whereas the regulators generally do not have any way of continually rewarding people who develop good regulations). Nope, this is all Republicans’ faults…
- Another reason to look up is that cap-and-trade looks like it’s going down. Once the recession hit, people stopped caring about the potential of anthropogenic global warming, and the idea of raising prices even further while people are trying to make ends meet is political suicide. Furthermore, once the economy recovers, the lie of “we’re all going to die due to rising temperatures!” will have even more evidence against it, given temperature trends the last couple of years. Now, if only they could take stupid ethanol policies down, too…
- Yet another reason why I am somewhat optimistic is that Democrats can’t keep from doing stupid things. We have yet another tax scandal—seriously, is this the reason why Democrats like higher taxes? It’s getting to the point where the core Democratic constituencies don’t pay taxes at all, either because they don’t make enough money or they’re self-entitled bureaucrats who are too important for taxes. And the Obama administration, in the middle of the recession, is making sure that the important issues get solved: starting with calling Cheerios a drug. It’s about time that government solved the problem of Big Cereal tricking us with their health claims!
- Finally, on the state levels, there are some good notes. Minnesota is looking up, with Tim Pawlenty keeping Democrats in the state congress from screwing up that state, and basically giving Pawlenty a free hand at the budget. I would like to see a few more of these cases, but Republicans will get back into the game by building back up some candidates at the state levels, and Pawlenty is one of those guys who has a chance to move onto the national scene.