Monday, July 28, 2008

VP Market Snapshot

Romney is way out in front on the Republican side, with 35%. Pawlenty follows with 25%. I'm pretty disappointed Jindal slipped so far out of the running.

Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine lead the Dems, with 25% each. (Of interest to locals, Tim Kaine went to Rockhurst High School and MU).

(Intrade makes it really hard to link to individual pages, very frustrating.)

Randy Balko's Questions for Obama

There were some gems:

— You not only supported the latest federal farm bill, you commended it, stating that it "will provide America's hard-working farmers and ranchers with more support and more predictability." Critics have called that $307 billion monstrosity an orgy of earmarks, corporate welfare, and protectionism. It actually increases subsidies to huge agribusinesses in an era of record grain prices — subsidies that are already crushing farmers in the developing world. The New York Times called it "disgraceful." The Wall Street Journal called it a "scam." How does the "change" candidate justify supporting a bill larded with sweetheart deals for big agribusiness when just about everyone not getting a check from the bill opposed it?

Freakonomics recently had a guest Q&A beautifully titled The Illogic of Farm Subsidies and Other Agricultural Truths. Highly recommended, not just because I snuck in a question that made the cut.

Back to Obama, there were a couple questions I liked less:

— You've expressed support for the idea of a "no fly" zone over Darfur because of human rights abuses. What's happening in Sudan is certainly tragic and abhorrent. But what is our national security interest there? Should we send the U.S. military every time there are wide-scale human rights abuses happening anywhere on the globe? Should we send troops to Myanmar? Uzbekistan? Turkmenistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

Sovereignty died in WWII. When Hitler was killing the Jews, we didn't sit back and say, "Oh well. His country, his rules." (Well, we did for a while, and how embarassing is that?) Balko seems to be saying there are too many places to intervene at once, and I agree. But how is that really a critique of acting in one of those places? What, we can't stop one genocidal oppressor, because the others might get jealous? It's like, "you have far too many chores to finish today, so don't you dare start the laundry."

So the general picture Balko paints (libertarian that he is), is that Obama isn't an economic liberal. I'm with him on that, I think libertarians have a few policy positions that are needlessly overlooked by the modern politician. But my worries about Obama's commitment to economic liberalism don't phase me much, because I don't really think we're on the brink of that sort of change. Those libertarian policies that are overlooked are overlooked by every politician. We are on the brink of a few other changes, however. One, towards a pragmatism in foreign policy. Obama, with his eagerness to talk the world (rather than just kicking them out of the G8, say) seems like my candidate there. Also, and maybe I understate this because it seems so obvious, but the overwhelming allure of "first black president" really hasn't worn off for me yet.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Software Patents

I'm still working through this article on recent developments in patent law (focusing on how they impact Google). I might add some comments later, but thought I should put the link up right away.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Death of Old Media: HD TV Edition

Robert Cringely, a respected (if cranky) techologist with PBS, predicts the death of television, even hi-def television, in a short 7 years.

We've been seeing increasing pressure on newspapers as the internet has claimed more of that game. The tricky thing with technology, though, is that improvements in technology are always coming faster and faster. Computing power and the power of the internet, by any measurable factor, doesn't merely improve by some set amount each year, but progress in these areas actually doubles in efficiency every year or so. So far, newspapers have been an easy target for the Internet. Movement of text is easy, and the Internet can add animated ads, and help more people to cite those stories. Also, the barriers to publishing are dropped like a rock, so the traditional costs of the newspaper industry are eliminated in that forum. It won't be startling to point out that cost is a driving force in adoption of media, just as it is for food or sneakers or any other good. As for television, Cringely points out that it won't be long before the cost to send every show currently on television to each household through the internet will be far smaller than the cost to broadcast these shows over the cable infrastructure. At that point, why should we pay a premium so some local station manager can tell us what to watch and when to watch it?

So back to today. In a few months, as congress has mandated, broadcasts will switch to an all-digital system. The digital spectrum will only have a decade before it will become commercially antiquated. If the doubling rates of technology are correct, Congress will have to move faster and faster to reallocate the commons of these broadcast spectra. Pretty soon, all those historical commons issues will have very limited application, and it might be in the FCC's best interest to simply give up, and leave the broadcast commons to the pirate radio stations. Christian Slater will probably approve.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Economic Policies

Greg Mankiw lists several policies overwhelmingly favored by economists, though rarely supported by the electorate (or the candidates):

  • Support Free Trade
  • Oppose Farm Subsidies
  • Leave Oil Companies and Speculators Alone
  • Tax the Use of Energy
  • Raise the Retirement Age
  • Invite More Skilled Immigrants
  • Liberalize Drug Policy
  • Raise Funds for Economic Research
He left off "eliminate the minimum wage."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pickens' Plan Promotes Power Possibilities

T. Boone Pickens, a major booster at Oklahoma State University and a man built from oil revenues, announced his plan for lowering dependence on foreign oil. He wishes to start building wind farms in westerm Texas and continuing development north to the Dakotas. A corresponding system of solar farms could be built from western Texas to southern California.

For now, the plan consists of only wind farms, but at least one oil analyst has agreed with Pickens' assessment that such a system could reduce the dependence on foreign oil by one-third. He will supposedly work with the next president in the hopes to get the plan implemented, and said with a willing Congress the plan could be implemented within 10 years.