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Journal Journal: On government regulation and lobbying 2

I posted this here: and decided I liked it so much, I wanted to save it, and point to it every time someone starts saying that we shouldn't have regulation of blah blah blah.


In a TRULY free market, the government wouldn't have power to establish currency, protect ownership, extend licensure... all sorts of things that the economy depends on.

The "hypothetical free market" requires perfect information, perfect competition, and perfect mobility. As none of these are feasible to attain, government regulation is required to simulate them or compensate for their lack. For example, legal definitions of what "organic" produce is, and establishment of certifying bodies (which are private enterprises, but have some sort of charter or something from the government that establishes their certification as adequate for usage of the term "organic") help compensate for the lack of perfect information about farming practices. Without them, someone could say "Yeah, my produce is organic!" after spraying it with tons of pesticides, and you wouldn't really have any way of verifying that unless you traveled out to their farm yourself and watched them for a while... or brought your own lab kit to the market.

So, markets that work on the scale we expect them to will always require SOME amount of regulation, and insofar as there is such regulation, there will be disagreements about how that regulation should be put in place. Some methods would favor the producer or the consumer. Hence, there's a business interest in attempting to shape the regulatory process.

I'm all for making lobbying illegal... but that, some say, is over-regulating the market.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ways to identify aliens attempting to infiltrate Earth 2

1) They have perfectly ordinary and reasonable first names, but last names that appear to be semi-random assemblages of letters in a vaguely pronounceable order. (These are probably approximate transliterations of their true alien names.)

2) Dislike for pizza and ice cream, but strange affection for haggis.

3) Internet presence appears to date back to 1997, but hits only reference memes from 2005 or later.

When I find out more, I'll let you know.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Putting one's money where their OS is. 7

Recently, as I was rebuilding my computer after some sort of horrific malfunction, I found myself looking for Windows XP cracks. Our Windows 2000 burned CD doesn't work properly, and I didn't want to burn an authentication tick on my laptop WinXP disc. So I searched, and came up with nothing particularly useful. I ended up installing an Ubuntu bundle, and so far so good. Good thing we quit playing WoW again.

But as I browsed, I came across a message board discussing how to crack XP, with several people posting "Gah thieves! Just buy it already!" I found myself wanting to post back (though I refrained, having insufficient desire to create a new account on a random message board and bump a thread that's been dead for months). I wanted to say, "You know, I don't want to crack XP because I'm cheap. I want to crack it because I'm BOYCOTTING MICROSOFT."

So then I was thinking, how could I prove it? I mean, I'm morally opposed to giving MS any money, but how does one tell that this is truly my motivation, and not simply an excuse to make me feel better about "stealing" software? And then I hit upon the solution: donate the cover price of the pirated software to an Open Source project of my choice!

So, when I get PowerPoint back up and running somewhere, I'll find out how much it's "supposed" to cost, and donate that money to... something. Mozilla, probably, or Ubuntu (it's very shiny!). And I encourage all 1.5 of the people who read this to do the same, for any pirated MS software they are running.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I'm a man 15

It's time to tell the truth. I am a 55 year-old man. My name is Andy Kaufman, and I live in New York City.

I am sincerely sorry to everyone for all my lies.


User Journal

Journal Journal: My .sig, since folks keep asking...

Just curious: do you have a citation for that quote?

Yep... Joel Stein in the April 18, 2003 issue of Entertainment Weekly.

The full quote is:

"I found the most convincing part to be the working stiffs," said Valenti of the PSA, "the guys who have a modest home and kids who go to public schools. They make $75,000 to $100,000 a year. That's not much to live on. I don't have to tell you that," he said, vastly overestimating the U.S. poverty level and what I get paid for this column.

Funny part is, when they started actually showing the PSAs before movies, apparently they dropped the ones starring Ben Affleck, and only went with the "working stiffs."

User Journal

Journal Journal: Slashdot History: Hurrah for the ZEROES! 7

A few irrefutable facts about humans:
  1. They see faces everywhere.
  2. They are biodegradable.
  3. Base 10 zeroes excite them.

Here's a little something to excite you:

  1. 1 Million - Congrats to Archie Binnie!
  2. 2 Million - Congrats to Anonymous Coward!
  3. 3 Million - Congrats to ronc_LAemigre!
  4. 4 Million - Congrats to Anonymous Coward!
  5. 5 Million - Congrats to jefu!
  6. 6 Million - Congrats to The Bungi!
  7. 7 Million - Congrats to nytmare!
  8. 8 Million - Congrats to Anonymous Coward!
  9. 9 Million - To be announced soon
  10. 10 Million - To be announced soon

Thanks to India for inventing the base 10 zero. Where would we be without it?

User Journal

Journal Journal: The problem with how we teach people technology 7

When you learned to drive a car, you probably knew a little about it. There's an engine, it burns gas, that causes the wheels to go around. The gas pedal must have something to do with that burn rate. The brake makes the wheels stop.

Now, imagine that we all treated that "under the hood" as a black box, and that typical people commonly confused the engine with the carburetor. Some cars would even come with holographic stickers closing the hood shut, so you couldn't open it without voiding the warranty. When someone teaches you to drive a car, they say:

"Turn that key. Now, press in this button and move this lever until it clicks four times. Turn the wheel about 60 degrees, and slowly press on the right pedal. Turn the wheel back 60 degrees, but slowly... SLOWLY! See, you almost ran into that car! Now give it a little more gas... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fall into jargon. Press harder on that right pedal. Use the big one on the left when we get to that white line on the pavement up there."

This is how people are taught to use computers. Click this, press that, drag here, type there. Meanwhile, when the computer tells them it's running out of memory, they start deleting stuff from their hard drive to free up space, because they don't know the difference between RAM and the C: drive.

If we (meaning, those of us who know this stuff) all took a different tack, instead of teaching people procedurally how to get through a particular function or application, we might have a much easier time educating folks about not running trojans. But as long as we (again, speaking to the community that has the knowledge) keep acting like people can't and shouldn't be taught this stuff in the way that we learn EVERYTHING ELSE, we'll keep having this problem.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Another new non-profit OS support idea

So I came up with an idea to fiscalize the dispersed demand for open source alternatives to proprietary software packages. (That's economist-speak for a way for folks to put their money where their mouth is.)

The idea is this: create a bounty program for particular projects. The best way would be to tack this onto an existing, respected OS organization, such as OSDN, but could be a free-standing non-profit entity. People would be able to:

- Create a bounty for production of a particular OS project
- Contribute to bounty funds for existing projects
- Place specific restrictions on their bounty contribution (i.e. must support a particular platform, needs to be distributed under a particular license, etc.)
- Suggest and vote on criteria for evaluating applications submitted for bounty consideration
- Review and vote on whether a particular package meets criteria and will be awarded the bounty

Funds would be collected from contributors at the time they decide to contribute. Lower bounds on contributions would be set by transaction costs; upper bounds don't seem necessary. Funds would be collected into a semi-liquid investment account (like a money market account) so that the money would accrue interest while the bounty is out. Costs to run the program would be collected from interest earnings on accounts, and the remainder of interest would be proportionally divided among the various projects.

Built from the ground up to be a flexible, communal framework, it would be possible to have fairly complicated reward schema. For example, if a particular submission met many of the criteria but not all (for example, had a great engine and lots of good features, but a lousy UI) the contributors to the bounty could elect to award a percentage to the project, and reserve the remainder for necessary improvements.

Since contributors have already put their money in the pot, there's less incentive to "hold back" awards if a good project comes along. If contributors merely pledge, but don't actually cough up the money until they've got the project in hand, they can say "Well, nah, this doesn't really qualify" and keep their money, while using the product.

Contributors and submitters could be any entity, including individuals, groups of people, academic institutions, or private companies.

So far I'm not seeing a drawback to this solution. People who want to see an OS port of a particular application could put up however much it's worth to them, and the projects that have the greatest demand and value to the community would get the most attention. OS developers would receive some financial reward for contributing their time and code. Small developers might decide to release a product as OS just because of the publicity they'd get from garnering the bounty, especially if they're trying to compete directly with an established proprietary product.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Merry Christmas -- $$$$$exyGal

It's not the new year yet, but it seems like a good time to give thanks.

Long story short, I've had a good year. Great job, short commute, and dating again. I've become focused, but with great flexibility. I'm not sweating the big stuff, or the small stuff. The good stuff is in the middle.

May your holidays be commercial-free,



comments disabled

User Journal

Journal Journal: The problem with health insurance 4

Not that this has anything to do with technology, but whatever.

So the health insurance thing has been nagging me a bit lately, as I walk 1.5 miles to connect from the Santa Monica bus to the LA Department of Transportation DASH service, which are both unaffected by the transit strike, and also as I pay 20% more for the same products at Gelson's that I would normally buy from Von's. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that people get good health care? Why is the cost of health insurance skyrocketing? What can be done to stabilize the situation?

Well, it's obvious that health care is in several ways a market failure. It's an industry with a very distorted demand curve, because the demand for health, for *life*, is extremely inelastic. People will pay what it costs, to the extent that they have the money. This means that the price at which total revenue starts to decrease due to drop in demand is much higher than for other types of goods.

Further distorting the demand curve is the disconnect between prices and consumers created by the insurance industry. I was on a particular medication for a year and a half before I learned that the $10 I paid every other month for my bottle was less than 1/50th of the cost to my provider. I found this out entirely by accident; one day, a computer glitch left me without coverage, and I happened to go refill my perscription that day. When I got to the counter and they said "That'll be $558" I nearly had a heart attack.

If I had had to pay for that medication out of pocket, would I still have gone on it? It's hard to say. At the time I started on it, I probably could have afforded it, if I lived in a cheaper apartment and cut other expenses. Would I have stayed on it as long? I don't know. But what is certain is that the price never entered into my decision as a consumer, because I didn't have to pay for it.

So as we gain new technologies that allow us to live longer, healthier lives, and to survive or completely avoid an increasing array of diseases (my kids will be vaccinated against chicken pox... seems like they're missing out on a rite of passage), the insurance system leaves those who are covered feeling entitled to the best medical care money can buy... so long as it's not *their* money. So why is this?

We come to our second big problem... the value of life. Though civil courts every day put dollar figures on the lives of children and parents and community leaders and gang members, we all admit that life, generally speaking, is priceless. When I insure a house, two things go into calculating the premium: risk, and value. A $1 million house in the same environment as a $500k house will have a higher premium, because it will cost more to replace. A $500k house in a wildfire zone will cost more to insure than the same house in a boring urban area.

But when it comes to insuring our health, only risk can be taken into account, because there is no replacement for health. If we could value lives in the same manner as other goods, we might take into account the number of years the person can normally expect to live, the amount of education and natural talent they have, the number of people who depend on them, and so on. This would mean that my mother, a retired 60-year-old breast-cancer survivor and former smoker (38 years), with only one 29-year-old daughter, is less "valuable" than myself, a relatively healthy youngish person who will, if all goes well, have a master's degree and a heck of a career in transportation planning, along with a very young child in the next year or so. Yet it costs *more* to insure people who, in the most callous sense, are "less valuable," because the very things that make one valuable lower their risk of disease.

There is no simple resolution to the issue, as far as I can tell. We will not suddenly start "valuing" people's lives differently, nor will individuals stop demanding the best health care available at a price they can afford. But we can recognize that health care *is* a market failure, and regulate prices in new ways. Perscription drugs are a good place to start. It's true that it costs a great deal of money to develop these drugs, and there is a certain amount of risk involved. But how much of the resulting price does it take to repay that investment, with appropriate interest? Drug companies should be accountable for their pricing. Part of the FDA screening process should include an accounting of what the company's costs to develop the drug were, and a pricing system based on expected demand, production costs, initial investment, and appropriate profit should be devised. Sure, they should make money, even good money. But there should be a limit to how much they can make. The market won't limit it naturally, so this limit has to be imposed.

This model could potentially be extended to doctor's fees, lab tests, and many other areas, but in all cases would require careful analysis to ensure that the prices still yield quality coverage with low potential for fraud.

It's not enough to say that people should have access to good health care. Something has to be done to actually ensure that access. While 60,000 low-income children are wait-listed for health insurance in Florida, 700 retired MTA mechanics hold the entire transit system hostage with a strike that doesn't affect them, so that they can retain their practically free health coverage. The cheapest and potentially most rewarding people to keep healthy are left by the wayside over those who are the most expensive and offer the lowest return on investment. It's clear that something has failed, and we need to fix this soon.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Teach me economics: Why are tech jobs going to India? 19

American companies are moving tech jobs overseas to India [more info]. Why? Simple, it's all about money. But how is that so? The article says that Indian programmers make 1/10th that of American programmers. Why do they make so much less?

I'm not an economist, but here's a some possible reasons:

  1. There is a larger supply of programmers in India than the demand for those programmers. That makes the price of programmers low. But only 10% of what American programmers make? That can't be the only answer.
  2. The cost of living in India is 1/10th the cost of living in the US. Is that true? If I moved to India, would I have 10 times my current buying power (assuming I was able to continue making my American salary) ?
  3. Normal economic rules do not apply to India because a) people don't use money there, they are communists; b) programmers do not need money, because non-programmers revere them and supply the programmers with all their wants; c) all programmers in India funnel a tiny fraction of every American banking transaction into their own Indian bank accounts (ala Office Space).
  4. Indian programmers are super-smart and only need to program 4 hours a week. The rest of the week, they work as back-breaking rice farmers.

My guess is #2 is the main reason why. Any thoughts? Also, how long can #2 last? Eventually, won't the cost of Indian programmers rise to near American proportions? If an Indian wanted to live an American lifestyle (DVD players, big houses, eating out every night, watching movies on the big screen, multiple computers, TV dinners, big automobiles, Starbucks, DSL, etc etc etc), wouldn't she need to make more money than $6,000 ? How long will it take for this inflation to take place? Globalization is a two-way street, right?

User Journal

Journal Journal: More masturbation, meat, and a little NADD. 17

I'm going to write another one of those "private thoughts" entries soon, but here's some followups to some of my previous entries!

Never has masturbation been so newsworthy. Now it seems that chronic male masturbators are less likely to develop prostate cancer. Perhaps this is yet another reason why males masturbate excessively? Could evolution have had something to do with this? Perhaps, but this is pushing it. Maybe the non-chronic masturbators of the far-past were much more likely to die of prostate cancer. As a result, maybe those prostate cancer sufferers were less-able to support the tribe?

More labels on your meat? Some people say yes, and others say no. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Put the freaking country of origin on the packaging! That is such a baby-step, but a step in the right direction. You meat-eaters should know what you're putting in your belly. Those who say this will add to the cost of meat are living in some fantasy world :). This will not add to the price of meat. How could it?

One last unrelated link I found in the blog-universe. Do you have N.A.D.D. ? Many on Slashdot do, including one of the current contestants.

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