Disney’s private airspace gets some press coverage


The Los Angeles Times has  November 10, 2014 article “No-fly zones over Disney parks face new scrutiny” on the private airspace that the U.S. Congress granted to Disney. My favorite quotes are

Richard W. Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., said although the no-fly zones were “certainly not foolproof,” they “definitely have a deterring value” as one of many layers of security designed to protect American airspace.

“No building or wall protects bare flesh from the impact of even a small plane. No window or duct tape protects lungs from the invasion of airborne chemicals or germs,” wrote two federal attorneys, one from the Justice Department in Washington and the other an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida. Disney’s place in the American psyche, they argued, warranted the three-mile protective space.

A federal judge threw out the Family Policy Network’s arguments, writing that combating terrorism required “unquestioning adherence” to Congress’ action.

(I.e., all of these folks are asserting or assuming that a would-be terrorist is going to be deterred by a regulation on an FAA Web site. If so, maybe the FAA should also publish some regulations against ISIS taking over Syria and Iraq and against Iran putting nuclear weapons into aircraft or missiles.)

Does it make sense for a country with a second-rate school system to absorb immigrants?


The economist Tyler Cowen has published “A Strategy for Rich Countries: Absorb More Immigrants” in the New York Times. The assumption behind the article is that a larger GDP is essential even if most of the growth is due to population growth. Let’s assume that Americans do want to share the country with 640 million people instead of 320 million, with associated intensified traffic jams, higher real estate prices, and longer waits in line for everything. Given our second-rate school system, does the idea of prosperity through immigration still make sense?  It seems safe to assume that an adult immigrant, on average, cannot earn as much as a native-born American, if only due to the fact that the immigrant is not a native speaker of English, an important skill for most jobs (data from Pew confirms this). Thus the only way to get a long-term boost in per-capita GDP from immigration is if our school systems are really good at educating immigrants. But based on the book The Smartest Kids in the World (see my summaries of the America section and the Finland material), American schools are not good at educating students and public school employees have particularly low expectations for immigrants (and use those expectations as an excuse for not having taught them very much).

So maybe Finland could realize some long-term economic benefit from immigration but how could the U.S.? It only seems possible if native-born Americans are, on average, remarkably lazy. Data from Pew Research seems to indicate that we native-born folks are actually pathetic. The children of immigrants earn just as much as we do. They graduate from college at a higher rate. They are less likely to have an income below the poverty line.

Note that the grumpy folks at the Heritage Foundation have a different point of view in their 2006 report “Importing Poverty: Immigration and Poverty in the United States: A Book of Charts”: “In recent years, these factors have produced an inflow of some ten and a half million immigrants who lack a high school education. In terms of increased poverty and expanded government expenditure, this importation of poorly educated immigrants has had roughly the same effect as the addition of ten and a half million native-born high school drop-outs.”

Regardless of whether Pew or Heritage is correct, I think that it makes sense for a country to look at the quality of its school system, especially the schools’ success at educating immigrants, before looking to immigration for a boost in per-capita GDP.

[Note that I am not making an anti- or pro-immigration argument. There might be other reasons to want to boost immigration, or to discourage immigration. I'm just saying that I didn't think Cowen's main assumption, that immigration can make us, on average, wealthier, was obvious.]

My friend’s new job with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts


A friend proudly showed me his new business card. He is a now a full-time senior official with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A few minutes later his wife told me about the painful cost of buying health insurance through COBRA. The state tells employers with more than 11 workers that they must provide employees with health insurance, so surely they would be providing it to their own employees? “It’s not a permanent position so they don’t provide it,” explained the wife.

Haiti After the Earthquake


I’m just about done listening to Haiti After the Earthquake as a book on tape. One thing that Americans could take away from this book is how much we over-invest in central government and housing. As noted in my previous posting, the earthquake had little long-term effect on Haiti’s GDP despite the fact that Haiti’s central government was mostly destroyed (ministry buildings in the capital city flattened; civil servants killed while at their desks) and approximately 1.5 million were rendered homeless. What have Americans invested in during the last few decades? A bigger central government (state governments count too, since a lot of states are roughly comparable to Haiti in population (10 million)) and fancy houses. Haiti’s GDP didn’t shrink; should we be surprised that the US GDP is growing only slowly?

Farmer is not a believer in the old saying “If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have.” He wants governments in rich countries all over the world to raise taxes so that more money can be given to Haiti’s government (not spent directly by NGOs in the country). At the same time he decries traditional Big Government policies such as agricultural subsidies that render Haitian agriculture uncompetitive (thus requiring more people in Haiti to live on hand-outs from the countries that are providing hand-outs to their domestic farmers). Farmer doesn’t explain how governments can be as big as he wants them to be and at the same time immune from lobbying by farmers and other competing domestic groups looking for hand-outs. The U.S. provides a good example here. When Congress raised taxes on American workers and investors, it spent the money to subsidize the U.S. health care industry (“Obamacare”) rather than to help poor people around the world get better health care, clean water, etc.

Who has something heavy on top of a new-generation Steelcase file cabinet?



In one of my offices I have two Steelcase 42″ lateral filing cabinets, purchased back in the 1990s, supporting a 120-gallon aquarium (rule of thumb is that an acrylic aquarium weighs 10 lbs. per gallon, including the tank and gravel):

2014-11-05 16.12.22

I’m setting up a new office and thought it would be nice to replicate the set-up. I contacted Red Thread, the Steelcase retailer in Massachusetts, and the saleswoman, Jessica Andrews, responded with “… that will not work.  That is far too heavy for these lateral files, we don’t recommend it.” I replied with the photo above. She answered with “The particular file you have under that tank currently, is a work horse.  Unfortunately, Steelcase no longer has that series.  Their files have come a long way over the years, they are more environmentally friendly…less metal.  Therefore, we cannot say that these files will support that tank.”

So I asked how much the new cabinets weighed. The answer was over 300 lbs. each. Given that a 96 lb. wooden cabinet can support a 220-gallon tank, was it really the case that 600 lbs. of steel couldn’t support a 120-gallon tank? I’m asking the Steelcase cabinets to handle 1/11th of the load per lb. of stand. I asked her if she could repeat the test that I did before placing a heavy aquarium on these cabinets: Have three 6′-tall guys sit on them and see if the drawers still function normally. She responded “we are not going to have employee’s sit on a lateral file” and then Frank Tenaglia, VP of Sales for Red Thread, added in a separate email “As Jess stated earlier, our 3 drawer lateral files are not intended to hold 120 gallon fish tanks. We want no part of this.”

Do any readers work in an office with a 42″-wide Steelcase lateral file (2- or 3-drawers high) of recent vintage? Have a trio of 200-lb. guys available and willing to sit on top for a test? If so, please let me know what you find! Alternatively, if you have some of these newer, supposedly wimpier cabinets from Steelcase and something heavy on top, please let me know how it has worked out.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Proof that being straight and gay are not treated the same in the world of business


Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, wrote “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Could it be that the positive business press coverage is proof that straights and gays are treated differently in the business world?

Imagine if Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, had written “I’m proud to be straight, and I consider being straight among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Comforting Words for Democrats


This being Massachusetts, some friends are very upset that the rest of the U.S. doesn’t see the need for a Congress controlled by Democrats. Here’s what I wrote to comfort them: “Don’t be too worried about the Republicans. Remember that they are politicians and seldom what they promise. Also once they get to D.C. they tend to become fans of big government and continuing whatever the government has been doing. On the grounds that the federal government ran no schools or universities, Reagan promised to kill the recently created Department of Education and their budget has grown every year since…”

What do folks think that Congress might do now? I would like to see them freeze the tax code for five years so that regular business people have time to read it before it changes again. Of all the stuff in my November 2008 Economic Recovery Plan I think the simplest to implement would be flexible capital expense depreciation. Currently the situation is a mess. Section 179 deduction limits were $500,000 for 2013. They are $25,000 in 2014. It makes the tax code seem arbitrary if there are huge swings like this from year to year.

I can’t see Congress wading back into the Obamacare swamp since nobody in Washington (or anywhere?) can understand the American health insurance or health care system. Most of the spending is entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare. Then add pensions and our war machine that even a Nobel Peace laureate could not scale back. So what could Congress actually do that would make a difference to an ordinary American?

New York City viral catcall video


A friend showed me a video of professional actress Shoshana Roberts walking around New York City. The two-minute film was edited down from 10 hours of being out on the sidewalk, both day and night. My reaction was “Back in the 1970s if you said that you’d walked around New York for 10 hours, in various neighborhoods and at night as well as during the day, people would ask ‘How many times were you mugged?’”

60 percent of Massachusetts voters agree that Massachusetts voters deserve higher pay


The results are in and 60 percent of Massachusetts voters agreed that Massachusetts voters should be paid for up to 80 hours of extra time each year if the voter or someone in the voter’s family is sick (see Question 4). It seems almost too easy. Ask people to vote on whether or not they should get paid more. I’m sort of surprised that we haven’t seen (and passed) ballot questions on giving ourselves 8 weeks of paid vacation annually, a company car, and other executive-level perks.

Who among us does not believe that he or she deserves a 10-percent raise?

[Separately, can sick leave as mandated by this new law function just as well as vacation days due to the fact that the employee can say "my parent was sick"? How could an employer ever verify that? After a certain amount of sick time an employer can usually ask for a doctor's note, right? But can an employer ask for a doctor's note regarding a relative of the employee?]

Mexico Pelagico: Crazy People Underwater


I attended a screening of Mexico Pelagico this evening at Harvard. The one-hour documentary features a group of passionate Mexico City dwellers who spend their weekends over a three-year period seeing what is to be seen in the open ocean near Mexico’s coastline and islands. They are sufficiently passionate about sharks that they snorkel down to some sizable sharks that have been hooked by fishermen with buoys and free them. Essentially this is underwater dentistry where the patient is big and strong enough to kill the dentist and the dentist also can’t take a breath (no SCUBA gear for these folks most of the time).

The film is a mixture of underwater footage that you might find in an IMAX movie and interviews with the shark/ocean enthusiasts.

Recommended. (Should be available via Netflix eventually.)

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