The Civilized European Approach

January 11th, 2011

For those in this country who would like to see America move towards a more “civilized” European approach to governance:

A Swiss village has found a drastic way to compel dog holders to pay their pet’s annual tax: cough up, or the dog gets it.

Reconvilier — population 2,245 humans, 280 dogs — plans to put Fido on notice if its owner doesn’t pay the annual $50 tax.

Local official Pierre-Alain Nemitz says the move is part of an effort to reclaim hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

He says a law from 1904 allows the village to kill dogs if its owner does not pay the canine charge.

After all, people need to pay their fair share, right?

Political Blame Game is a Mistake

January 10th, 2011

The tragedy in Tucson was just that, a tragedy. A lone, mentally unbalanced  gunman goes on a rampage. It is not the first time it has happened, and unfortunately it is not going to be the last. Politicizing the action by blaming a third party for the criminal act of this individual is ludicrous. Worse it is just wrong. Of all the opinions I’ve read over the weekend, I think Howard Kurtz put it best:

And here we go again in Arizona, as people with political agendas unleash their attacks even before the victims of this senseless shooting have been buried. I find it depressing beyond belief.

This isn’t about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it’s about a lone nutjob who doesn’t value human life. It would be nice if we briefly put aside partisan differences and came together with sympathy and support for Gabby Giffords and the other victims, rather than opening rhetorical fire ourselves.

He’s got a good point. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have used incendiary political rhetoric to make a point since time immemorial. But, when a crazed individual can’t separate  rhetoric from reality, it doesn’t mean that we should blame the politicians. Remember how quickly we’ve given up our rights to travel freely in this country, and be wary of those who will be quick to advocate restricting our speech or access to elected leaders under the guise of a “safer” country for all.

Some People Just Don’t Get It

January 5th, 2011

Governor Martinez has thanked the Environmental Improvement Board for their service and shown them the door, and I say good riddance. In fact, I’d encourage her to just get rid of this appointed board in its entirety. Now, I did find this statement by outgoing member Gay Dillingham quite thought provoking:

“So as a citizen I would expect the same dedication be given to reviewing all the evidence before she commits to overturning or supporting it,” Dillingham said. “History has shown us there is a dynamic relationship between regulatory obligation and private sector innovation and we need enough time to give this process a chance to work for New Mexico.”

Yeah, it has. The regulatory obligation of the Prohibition gave us speakeasies and created great entrepreneurial opportunities for organized crime. The increasing regulatory obligation in the form of ever-increasing taxes has led to a vibrant and creative class of tax shelter planners. I’ll leave it to greater minds than mine to conjure up what sort of private sector “innovations” could be created by  Ms. Dillingham’s nonsensical cap and trade in a bubble regulation.

What a Stark Contrast

January 3rd, 2011

Outgoing Governor Bill Richardson devotes his final moments in office to a publicity stunt regarding the long deceased criminal Billy the Kid, and incoming Governor Susana Martinez “rolls up her sleeves” from Day One and issues executive orders to shine the light on the modern day criminality who have plagued New Mexico politics for far too long:

Within minutes of taking the oath of office, Gov. Susana Martinez signed executive orders early Saturday to enhance public access to state records and remove potential roadblocks for federal investigators.

State agencies will not be allowed to deny public record requests by citing “executive privilege,” or keep correspondence between a state executive and other officials secret when discussing possible public policy, except when explicitly approved by Martinez.

State agencies have been ordered by the new governor to comply with any requests from investigators for federal agencies, even when those agencies do not have a subpoena.

Now, some may argue that Governor Martinez needs to switch gears from prosecutor to Governor, but I think forcing government officials to act in the light of day is a step in the right direction and something that has been sorely missing for far too long. Plus, Governor Martinez coupled this move with an immediate 90 day moratorium on new regulations:

Martinez also created a small business task force to identify rules that are harmful to business growth and job creation. The task force, chaired by Secretary-designate of Economic Development, Jon Barela, will conduct its review over a 90-day period, during which all proposed and pending regulations will be frozen.

What a stark and welcomed contrast. The previous administration used regulatory and administrative strategies to make end runs around the democratically designed balance of powers, and Governor Martinez starts her administration by taking two strong steps to restoring that balance.

Solving Unemployment with Spoons

December 28th, 2010

The liberal assertion goes something like this, “If the government just increased taxes and spending, more people would be working, and everybody would be better off.” Of course, this misguided thinking is the result of a lack of understanding regarding how wealth is actually created. Consider this from Steven Horowitz:

Employing people to dig holes and fill them up again, or to build bombs that will blow up Iraqis, will certainly reduce unemployment and increase GDP, but it won’t increase wealth. The problem of economics is the problem of coordinating producers and consumers. This coordination happens when we produce what consumers want using the least valuable resources possible. That is why it is wealth-enhancing to dig a canal using earth-movers with a few drivers rather than millions of people using spoons, even though the latter would generate more jobs.

Then again, maybe we ought to listen to those advocating for the launch of a Spoon Renaissance.

Moving Education Forward

December 22nd, 2010

The approach to fixing public education in New Mexico under the now exiting administration boiled down to nothing more than a money dump. After years of ever-increasing funding of education, the only result was a further decline in student performance. So, it is promising that Governor-elect Martinez has indeed taken a “bold” step in selecting as education secretary nominee someone with a track record of increased student performance:

Hanna Skandera “served as the deputy commissioner of education under (Florida) Governor Jeb Bush, where she promoted and implemented middle and high school reforms that instituted greater accountability, incentives for high performance and the end of social promotion,” a news release from Martinez’s transition team states.

“As a result of the education reforms put in place in Florida, reading scores improved dramatically across ethnic groups, with Hispanic students outperforming all students in 31 other states,” the release states.

It’s obvious this choice is making the status quo standard bearers nervous as their preferred mouthpiece for disseminating disinformation is already trying to limit the scope of change:

What the new secretary doesn’t need to do is drag moderate New Mexico into a needless, divisive and ultimately losing battle to impose school vouchers–or as they are euphemistically known–”school choice.”

We already went through that in the Guv campaign when Martinez was caught on video supporting vouchers, but later backtracked. As an outsider, Skandera is positioned to unite the education community. It would be a shame if she allowed ideological rigidness to derail that opportunity.

We don’t think she is going to go there, but we put the flag in the window–just in case.

C’mon Joe, stop trying to keep New Mexican kids down. Give parents and their children a choice when it comes to education. Public education was never supposed to be like a trip to the airport – a grin and bear it type of experience. Now, as full disclaimer, my kids are being educated in the public school system, and I’ve taken advantage of school choice. They’ve never gone to the schools they are “supposed” to attend by some arbitrary geographic determination. As involved parents we did our research and put them in schools that we thought best met their needs. Right now, that means they are both in a charter school. Why shouldn’t every other parent be allowed the same opportunity of choice that I have?

Before someone makes the comment that they do have the same opportunity, please note that’s not true. Many charter schools have waiting lists or lottery systems because there are only a limited number of seats. Do we really feel that the best way to determine which kids receive a quality education be determined by your place in line or the luck of a draw. Why are some people so eager to take choice off the table, or at the very least make it only an option for those with personal wealth, or good luck? Parental involvement is nearly universally agreed upon as one of the key foundations for education success of children. What’s more involving than parents taking an active role in choosing where their children go to school?

With New Mexico at the bottom of all education lists that measure performance, you’ve got to wonder what motivates anyone to fight for “moderation” as an approach to educational improvement? Thankfully, Governor-elect Martinez does not appear to share this view, and although it’s too early to tell what her education legacy will be, it’s great to see that this first step appears to be a departure from the status quo, and I for one say the more radical departure the better.

Unintended Consequences of Government Actions

December 21st, 2010

Unions Take Note

December 20th, 2010

As the legislative session quickly approaches, everyone in state government might want to take a look at this 60 minutes article and video. Pay particular attention to what Governor Christie of New Jersey has to say:

Asked if he wants the public employee unions to share the pain, Christie told Kroft, “You bet. I want them to share in the sacrifice. And this is what I say to public sector unions: ‘Listen you can boo me now, but I’m the first governor who has walked into this room in ten years and told you the truth. And here is the truth. If you don’t partner with me to get this done in ten years you won’t have a pension.’ And that’s the truth.”

The truth may not be pretty, but running a government on the assumption that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is going to solve all of our problems is just a couple of more months away is ridiculous. Worse, it’s potentially even more economically devastating than the decisions that led to our current predicament. We should especially be wary of those that advocate raiding the permanent fund by arguing semantics and proposing “creative” financial schemes:

That is not to suggest that assets be sold or diminished. Rather, leveraging assets to produce additional revenue, such as selling bonds against the permanent fund, needs to be fully explored.

We got here by living beyond our means through a spending addiction, and like a break from any addiction, there are going to be withdrawal pains, but ultimately, we’ll be better off.

200 Years of Global Growth in 4 Minutes

December 19th, 2010

The Road Most Recently Traveled

December 13th, 2010

An interesting question:

Does a one-parent family of three, making the minimum wage of $14,500 a year, have more disposable income than a family earning $60,000 a year?

That’s the provocative claim made by pseudonymous blogger Tyler Durden at the popular finance blog Zero Hedge. Durden produces a chart that compares inputs like income, payroll and federal income taxes, child care costs, and welfare benefits from programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for theoretical families of various income levels in Mississippi.

The calculation yields an “economic benefit” of $37,777 a year for the family making minimum wage but only $34,366 for the family making $60,000 a year. The analysis also indicates that a family provider working only one week per month at minimum wage will make 92 percent as much as the provider earning $60,000 a year as a result of savings on child care and Medicaid’s low deductibles and copays.

Some questions are raised about the origins of the analysis on which this is premised, but this does seem to be the general direction in which the country has been heading.