Thursday, September 19, 2013


I'm not really surprised, but I am disappointed.  Howard Schultz posted an open letter which basically says:

Please don't bring your guns to Starbucks.

It's not a ban, it's a request. I suspect it was really an attempt to get people to stop using Starbucks as a rallying point for their gun agenda (pro or anti). He states that part very clearly, and I agree completely.  Starbucks appreciation is one thing, slinging an AR across your shoulders to piss-off anti's wasn't useful, nor was it much appreciated by Starbucks - I suspect it wouldn't be appreciated by any business.  If you normally strap an AR to your back, well then - good for you.  But I've been around a few years, and I've NEVER seen it happen.  Around here, I'd have to say it' a rare thing.  Having the store full of people doing open carry as a planned even - also not useful.     

As such it's a good idea, the problem was the wording.  He specifically requested that we not bring guns to Starbucks, rather than reaching out to the gun community and asking them to please stop using his business as a political tool.  Which I suspect we'd have complied with, I would have done so happily -  Sadly, what it's going to do, is alienate gun owners, and it's not going to make the anti's any any happier at all.   The upside if there is one, will be for people in the middle, those who just wish we'd both go away.  The end result will be for a lot of gun rights activists to eventually find some other place to buy their coffee.

I am one of those. Not because I'm mad at Mr. Schultz, I'm not, just a bit disappointed.  I'll stop going there because he very politely asked me to. Given the choice of having to handle my gun in the parking lot, or finding another coffee shop, there's really only one sensible choice.

I've been a Starbucks customer for a long time, not particularly because I like their coffee, there's really only a couple blends I really like.   I'll be canceling my Starbucks card, hopefully I'll be able to get the cash back.  There are lots of other coffee's quite a few I think are noticeably better than Starbucks

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's loud outside

I'm having a lazy Sunday - my back and neck are messed up, my sinuses are in rebellion.  On the upside - We're having a thunderstorm.  I like thunderstorms.  For reasons I can't explain they always make the house feel warm and cozy.  It probably has to do with not being outside in the storm.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Let's Obama Syria

It's really kind of funny at this point.

Obama has always been an apologist.  Then he gets all fierce and says Assad has to go.  - let's see, that was what? two years ago?

Then he draws a line in the sand.   Which got crossed.  Apparently a disturbed look, and a head shake is Obama's best weapon against someone who crosses a line. 

Then he said - Ooooh nerve gas - bad Assad - did you really do that?  Let us spend months investigating.   Oh you Did?  Well damn I guess we'll have to fire a warning shot with a firm promise to drop the gun and run away as soon as we fire it.  That should do it right?  Good - now I'll just go to congress and put everything on hold while we let congress sort it out.  - Which, Oh yeah, probably should have been the case to begin with.  But since the NY Times told us we had to attack, well - NYT the ultimate authority, gotta do it.   So there we are - we fire and warning shot and then run away - that'll show em.  - It will, it'll show them what they already knew, that they have nothing to worry about from Obama.  Honestly, I don't thing Obama gives a crap what happens in Syria - if the NYT hadn't told him to do something, he's still be dancing around the topic.  Which I'd have found preferable to what we're doing now.

Ultimately we'll be coming to the aid of Terrorists and radical fundamentalists against a tyrant.  What exactly is the up side to this?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rents and Rent Seeking

Borepatch started a very interesting conversation about Rents - not the kind of rent most people think of when we use that word.  But the Economist and apparentl,y Historian meaning of the word.  To quote Borepatch:

Liberals like to say that "government is the things we do together". Libertarians like to say that government is the use of power to take money and privilege from unfavored groups to give to favored groups.

Historians call these transfers "rents" and the desire for them "rent seeking". Rents and rent seeking seem to have been with us since the very dawn of history.  -- Borepatch

I'm not a historian, I'm an economist (kinda sort of - it's one of my degrees, but not an occupation).

Risk adversity seems to be rather directly related to standard of living.  If you're just getting by, the reward for any given risk is better - or the risk for the same reward is lower depending on your point of view.  Some risks may be be unavailable to a lower standard of living.  Stocks for example - if your standard of living requires every penny you can earn just to get though the week, stocks are not going to be a risk you have the ability to take or benefit from.  Theft might how ever be a risk you deem worth taking - if you have little to lose, spending a few years in prison might be a minor risk for the reward.  If you're making 100K a year, a couple years in prison and a prison record could be very, very expensive.

As your standard of living increases, the rewards need to be bigger for the same risk in order to tempt us.  One of the ways we reduce risk is by spreading the consequences across a broader group - insurance works this way (well it's supposed to anyway). If you really want to benefit from your risk, you want to create one group that benefits from the risk and a different group that bears the cost.  We create the pool of consequence bearers using,  taxes, laws, regulations (laws created without over-site) - Rents in other words.

We are in essence a victim of our own success.  When life get's too easy for a large group of people, it gives them time to spend on new rent schemes, and the incentive to do it. 

The rise of Agriculture is probably the trigger point. A pre-agrarian society for the most part didn't have the concept of ownership.  You used what you needed, when it became scarce, you moved.  Eventually you learned that given enough time the scarcity would correct itself - you became migratory.  You didn't own land, you used it, and only as much as you needed at the time.  Taking more meant waste, waste meant scarcity, scarcity meant hardship.

With Agriculture came the idea of ownership.  "We claim this land because we've invested a lot into it and now our lives depend on it".  Once you go down that path it becomes obvious that more ownership means more security. Excess crops reduce risk and improve the standard of living. All of a sudden, we're worried about growth, and maintaining control over property - we now have the concept of wealth. Ownership and wealth lead to growth.  Growth requires specialization.  Specialization leads to productivity and more wealth.  Specialization leads to specialized interests - special interest groups.  Which in turn leads to rent seeking as a means of risk avoidance, and a desire to control the benefactors to a specialized group, rather than the whole and to push the consequences onto the group who doesn't benefit. - Maximize profit.   

The die is cast. 

Wealth leads a drive to obtain and retain wealth. It becomes a end in and of itself.  The drive to obtain and retain that wealth leads to rent seeking, and effective tool for both risk reduction and transfer of wealth.  Paradoxically, wealth is considered a form a freedom - which, in a desire to get more, you restrict with additional rents - around and around we go.  I suspect the wealthy pursue this path believing that their wealth will keep them outside the ever tightening circle of rents while reaping the benefits.  I think, in the long run, they won't like the result.

To control the proliferation of rents would require a constitution that made them extremely difficult and or painful.   e.g. every rent scheme has a 1 year twilight and requires an 80% vote. The obvious upside to this is that if you spend all your time trying to raise votes to get your rent scheme extended for another year - you don't have as much time to gather votes for a new one. 

When demand changes even a little bit, a vote will fail, a rent will twilight.  we're no longer stuck with an ever increasing burden of rents.

As things stand now, the creation of rent schemes is handled by lobbies for special interests. So congress get's to spend all of it's time voting for an ever increasing, never decreasing heap of rents. Congress does little more than bring a document created by a special interest to the floor, unchanged and I suspect in many cases unread or at best poorly understood. Then they bargain for votes.  Congress in essence has become nothing more than brokers for special interests groups, buying and selling votes.

There are other controls that would need to be put in place, and I doubt I've really done more than scratch the surface.   As long as risk adversity is a part of human nature, and wealth is a measure of success we will have rent seeking.   To remove wealth as a measure of success will require either a radical and global shift in how we think (good luck with that) I'm not talking about a petty little shift from capitalism to socialism or Communism, all of which are premised on ownership. I'm talking about a complete shift away from the idea of ownership.  The inability to benefit from using/taking more than you need.   In short - a utopia that is probably unobtainable.    The other possibility is something we may obtain even though the majority of peoples don't want it - the return to the hunter/gatherer life style preceded by a rather substantial reduction in population (say 97% or so).