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Hybrid airplane powerplant


An awesome idea from Spain: hybrid airplane powerplant. Airplanes need about 65 percent power for a reasonable cruise. Airplanes can certainly fly on 35 percent power. Thus having an electric motor that can be used for a boost on take-off and as a backup in case the reciprocating contraption comes apart comes with potential weight savings as well as some potential safety improvements (though not too many accidents are caused by power failure).

With typical regulatory certification challenges this might be ready in 10 years!

Government lets airlines merge and then complains about lack of competition…


“Airlines Under Justice Dept. Investigation Over Possible Collusion” is a New York Times article about the airline industry that the antitrust watchdogs in D.C. allowed to form:

roughly 80 percent of the nation’s air traffic is concentrated among four airlines — American, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

Now it seems that the same government that allowed this kind of concentration is investigating the oligopoly for obstructing competition… What did they actually expect to happen?


Black president = proof Americans are racist


Facebook friends say that the existence of American citizens who object to President Obama’s policies and proposals is proof that Americans are racist. Partly this is due to the number of people who oppose Obama’s plans and partly this is due to the perceived vehemence of the opposition. Suppose that Hillary Clinton wins the next election, as I would expect. There will presumably be quite a few people who oppose many of her proposals simply because most things that the government does make one group richer while making another group poorer. The same friends will presumably then say that this shows how Americans, who elected a female president, are even more sexist than before.

Could this continue if every future president is black and/or female? The Americans who select members of these groups as their leader will be considered ever more racist and sexist?

Best way to visit Burning Man: work for the government


Burning Man can be a challenging and uncomfortable place to visit. It turns out that the best way to attend is to work for or be friends with the federal government. For 2015 the Bureau of Land Management is requiring the Burning Man organization to building a $1 million VIP compound (USA Today) with “butter and margarine” (what about the government’s war on transfats?), 24-hour ice cream access, “a variety of dessert served with each dinner,” Chobani yogurt, etc. (Reno Gazette-Journal). They need washers and dryers because, apparently, packing a whole week of clothing is not something that VIPs can do (nor can they take their taxpayer-funded vehicles to the laundromat in nearby Gerlach, Nevada).

The state government doesn’t want to be left out. They’ve passed a law that takes effect in October 2015 to collect a 9 percent tax on festivals such as Burning Man (Forbes). The state, which doesn’t impose an income tax on its own individual or corporate citizens, thus manages to shift even more of the tax burden to visitors. (The state’s tax burden is already pretty low, 8% of income compared to a national average of 9.8% according to the Tax Foundation.) They’ll soon have a $5 billion Tesla battery factory in the Reno area. Perhaps this will become a tourist destination in its own right, leading to more tax revenues from hotel and restaurant purchases by visitors (and a state tax on factory tours?).

(Another peculiarity of Nevada is that they cap child support at a tax-free $13,000 per year (Real World Divorce). That’s double the limit in Germany, and still represents a profit over what typical American couples spend on their children, but Nevada is right next to California, which offers unlimited child support profits by formula to custody victors. If a VIP from Washington, D.C. (unlimited child support by judicial discretion) comes to the proposed “camp uber douche” and invites a young lady from California to come sample the salad bar, four types of milk, seven kinds of juice, etc., there is potential for litigation in three states regarding venue, with millions of tax-free dollars riding on the outcome.)


Does Greek exit from the Eurozone show the strength of the euro idea?


We’ve endured five years of hearing about Greece, whose population is about the same as the Chicago metropolitan area. Self-appointed experts have said that the exit of Greece would show the failure of the euro concept. Wikipedia, however, shows that there are 19 countries in the monetary union. One failure out of 19 over a 16-year period could also be characterized as “success,” no?

Fluoridated water: “Often in error, never in doubt”?


“Fluoridation May Not Prevent Cavities, Scientific Review Shows” is a Newsweek report on the extent to which fluoridating water is a good idea. During my childhood (1970s!), people who were against fluoridated water were considered extremists and scoffed at by the educated elite (i.e., they occupied the same position in society as climate change deniers do today).

Could this be yet another example of people calling themselves scientists who are “often in error, but never in doubt”?


How the general public perceives light aircraft reliability


I was down at SIMCOM for Pilatus PC-12 recurrent training and, for the benefit of my pilot friends, posted the following on Facebook:

The plane is not performing very well here in Orlando. We have suffered a hung start, a hot start, five engine failures shortly after takeoff, a trim runaway, one engine failure a few miles from the airport, etc.

This was essentially more serious problems than the total number experienced by the Wright Brothers (book review) during their decades as aviation pioneers. From a statistical perspective, this would have been bad luck even in a piston aircraft (this article shows that for the newest piston engines the in-flight shutdown rate (includes failures and precautionary shutdowns on twins) was just 0.6 per 100,000 flight hours and is never worse than 10 per 100,000 flight hours even for older designs (9 per 100,000 is what the airlines got from their DC-3s)). The PT6 turboprop gets shut down about once every 400,000 hours, which means one would expect the above number of failures after 2.4 million hours of flying (2400 years of being an airline pilot).

Here are the comments, some from people with high levels of education and success (MIT professors, dotcom-to-IPO founders, etc.):

  • That sounds awful!
  • maybe stay on the ground for a while
  • Sorry to hear!
  • too many people are depending on you — would feel better if you were to spend the day at Dolphin Cove at Seaworld or Animal Kingdom at Disney (not a theme park fan, but highly recommend those 2 destinations)
  • Yikes! Be careful Philip, don’t push your luck.
  • That’s more than enough evidence you should have a mechanic go over it before flying it again, isn’t it?
  • Please be careful!
  • Fly safe. To paraphrase Satchel Paige: “Never run for a plane; there will always be another one.”
  • Yuck
  • Sounds like a mechanical problem.
  • Be careful

It is no wonder that people are reluctant to go for a ride in a Cessna, Cirrus, or Robinson if this is what they think is a normal day in an aircraft that is not being operated Part 121 (airline).

Paid Maternity Leave: Employers or Taxpayers should Pay?


Hillary Clinton went on record on Mother’s Day advocating for paid maternity leave (video). Future President Clinton doesn’t explain who should write the checks to people who aren’t working, but the implication is that it should be employers. Let’s assume that if a professional politician is saying something it is a message that Americans are enthusiastic about hearing.

But if this is so important to the country, why shouldn’t taxpayers pay? If we make employers pay, won’t that discourage them from hiring women who either are or could become pregnant? Would you want to hire a woman with an 8-month belly knowing that, over the next five months you’ll pay for five months of work and get one month of productivity?

People who advocate for paid maternity leave justify the idea on the grounds that the U.S. needs more taxpayers to keep the various Ponzi schemes run by local, state, and federal governments going. Who will pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes if not the yet-to-be-born? Who will fill the canyons that we have cut through the pension funds of New Jersey, Illinois, and various cities if not the yet-to-be-born?

If that is truly the justification for subsidizing the fertile, why is it Walmart’s job yet again to do the subsidizing? If all of us benefit as citizens from having 500 million people in the U.S. rather than 320 million, shouldn’t we all pay?

Nobody seems to mention the potential citizen-to-citizen equity issue. Childless citizens are already paying for income tax credits, child care tax credits, and the world’s most expensive K-12 education system for which they have no personal use (plus free community college for other citizens’ children and subsidized state universities). Once the new requirements for employers are in place these childless citizens will have to work a little harder all year so that those who are blessed with children can have paid time off.

Let’s consider two single co-workers in Massachusetts, Jen and Sue. Both earn $100,000 per year, $68,000 after taxes. Jen is infertile. Sue goes to a bar and has sex with a dermatologist earning $500,000 per year. Sue is now entitled to 23 years of child support, which should work out to roughly $75,000 per year tax-free (see the Massachusetts chapter of Real World Divorce). As soon as the baby emerges, Sue can file as head of household and her take-home pay goes to $69,000 per year. She’ll also be entitled to a $3,000 per year tax credit for child care if she decides to continue working. Sue’s spending power now goes up to $147,000 per year, 2.16X her childless co-worker’s. At least for four years, until the child is eligible for the free pre-K programs that the government wants to offer, she’ll have about $20,000 per year in expenses but that should drop down closer to $5,000 per year once the child is in K-12 (see William Comanor’s analysis in previous posting). Even if we were to assume the $20,000 per year cost continued for all 23 years, and further assume that the father couldn’t be saddled with these costs on top of the child support (as is typical; see the Kosow v. Shuman case in the chapter), the worker who had sex with the dermatologist can out-spend the childless worker by 1.87:1. When they have identical skills and W2 incomes, can it be fair for the lonely childless person who can spend $68,000 per year to subsidize the co-worker who can spend $127,000 per year and is blessed with the company of a child?

Let’s look at what would happen in Wisconsin at a lower income level. Melissa and Brenda both earn $50,000 per year. Melissa is infertile. Brenda has sex with a married plumber earning $140,000 per year. Brenda is entitled to $23,800 per year (17 percent of the plumber’s income; see Wisconsin chapter) in tax-free child support. Melissa will take home $36,738 per year. Brenda will take home $37,763 per year, which gives her a total spending power of $61,563, a 1.68:1 ratio compared to Melissa. Day care costs about $10,000 per year in Wisconsin so, after adjusting for the $3,000 per year tax credit, Brenda will have to spend about $7,000 per year on day care for 4-5 years if she wants to keep her job. Suppose that Brenda finds it tough to make ends meet on $61,563 per year? She has sex with the school principal of her first child’s kindergarten. He earns $130,000 per year (Wisconsin State Journal), which means that the resulting child will generate tax-free revenue of $22,100 per year. Now Brenda will have a total spending power of $38,613 from wages (one more dependent) plus $45,900 from child support for a total of $84,513, very comfortably above the median Wisconsin household pre-tax income of $49,000 per year. When they have identical skills and jobs, is it fair that Melissa have to work harder to help out Brenda, whose spending power is 2.3X her own?

Let’s suppose that we do think it is fair for childless workers to subsidize workers with children, even when those children are yielding a substantial profit. And let’s suppose that the goal is to get Americans to have more children so that they can grow up to pay for public employee pensions and federal entitlements. Are we subsidizing Americans with children intelligently?

The child dependent tax credit is the same in Year 0 when a child can be expensive and hard to care for as it is in Year 17 when the child may have a job and actually be contributing to the family income. A typical American will also enjoy a higher income from wages when children are 17 than when children are born, simply due to normal career advances. Behavioral economists, such Daniel Kahneman, have found that people respond very weakly to incentives that are 18 years in the future. Wouldn’t it make sense to front-load some of the cash benefits that the childless give, filtered through the government, to those with children? K-12 schooling is the most expensive thing that the government does for Americans with children and it is back-loaded, without any benefit for the first five years of childhood. Why not take all of the tax credits and deductions that we currently give to American parents over 18 years and cram them into the first five? If a higher fertility rate is the goal, perhaps also eliminate public subsidies for college (most of which is pocketed by colleges through higher tuition) and spend the money during this 0-5 period? Young people, just starting out in their careers, should be a lot more motivated to have children if they know that nearly all of their pre-K expenses will be covered by the government. If the kids get a little more costly later…. well, they’ll deal with that when the time comes.

Thoughts from readers?

If Puerto Rico owes 70% of GDP, why is that a crisis?


“Puerto Rico Releases Report Calling For Concessions From Creditors” is a Wall Street Journal story that says “The U.S. commonwealth owes about $72 billion, nearly 70% of its economic output.” Puerto Ricans don’t have to pay federal tax so they aren’t responsible for federal debt. Thus the territory is less indebted, as a percentage of GDP, than the U.S. as a whole (chart for U.S.). If the U.S. debt isn’t a crisis, why is the Puerto Rican debt a crisis?


Perceived Housing Crisis Due to Shortage of American Communities Where Anyone Would Want to Live?


“Affordable Housing, Racial Isolation” is a New York Times editorial about how decades of government intervention in what had been a housing market (costing taxpayers $trillions) has resulted in more racial segregation than if the government hadn’t waded in. The Times, naturally, suggests that the remedy for this failed government program is more government programs (i.e., certainly don’t give poor people cash and let them buy whatever they think has the most value to them).

A lot of cities, including Boston and New York, have what folks who profess concern about lower socioeconomic classes characterize as a “housing crisis.” The solution thus far is to give a handful of fortunate people multi-million dollar apartments for free or a tiny fraction of the market rent. But that leaves out a lot of people who would like to live in a $3 million Manhattan or $2 million Cambridge apartment. I’m wondering if the real problem is that only a few parts of the U.S. are places where anyone would want to live. In how many neighborhoods can you (a) walk to everything you need, (b) not be visually  assaulted by hideously ugly buildings and concrete road infrastructure, and (c) enjoy a community/social experience without too much effort? For Latin Americans, as noted in my non-profit ideas page, the answer is “almost any colonial town or city.”

The typical neighborhood in the U.S. does not suffer from sky-high housing prices. The “housing crisis” might simply be that hardly anyone rational would want to live in the typical neighborhood in the U.S., which puts crazy pricing pressure on the few nice places.

Could we deploy the trillions of tax dollars that the central planners currently spend on housing for the worthy poor toward making more communities desirable instead? With a dramatic increase in supply the market price of an apartment in a neighborhood worth living in would fall all by itself.

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