Archive for February, 2009

High Speed

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Cato is off again on high-speed rail systems.

Over the past two decades, U.S. cities have wasted close to $200 billion on high-cost, low-performance rail transit projects. But that will nothing compared to the plans rail nuts have for high-speed intercity rail.

Last November, 52 percent of California voters approved $9 billion in funding for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed rail plan. The total cost of the plan is expected to exceed $45 billion, and California expects Uncle Sam to pick up at least half the tab. If it does, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and a few dozen other states will all want federal funding for their own high-speed rail plans.

Based on the projected costs of California’s system and the length of high-speed rail proposals in the rest of the U.S., I estimate that a national high-speed rail network will cost the U.S. well over $500 billion. By comparison, the Interstate Highway System, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars, cost $450 billion.

What will high-speed rail do? As my Cato policy analysis reveals, studies in California and real-life examples in Europe shows that its main effect will be to put profitable airlines out of business. It will only take about 3 or 4 percent of cars of the roads in rail corridors. Though costing more than interstate highways, a national high-speed rail network will never carry even a fifth as many people as the interstates, and virtually 0 percent of the freight. High-speed rail operations might save a little energy, but the energy cost of construction will more than wipe out any long-term operational savings.

I’m sure there are other studies that claim the opposite. I happen to think the issue is not that simple. A high-speed rail system in the Northeast might make sense. But then again, if it did, private contractors would be all over it, no?

I do know that Austin was exploring light rail while I was there, which was insane. No one is going to use light rail in Austin except a handful of University people. In Austin, I could get to the airport in 15 minutes. There was no way I would ever take light rail.

Friday Nights Linksorama

Friday, February 13th, 2009
  • Nice. Now it’s our fault again.
  • I expect lawsuits over this. Virginia wants to strip the auto bailout money for their own car dealers. Crap like this is why the auto-bailers need to go the bankruptcy route.
  • A rule: always believe the opposite of whatever Naomi Klein thinks. If there’s anyone who has used the “shock doctrine”, it’s the socialists. See R, FD.
  • The cowardice that Britain and the Netherlands are showing on the Wilders issue is truly stunning.
  • Just to re-iterate, because the point never seems to be taken. Our schools are not underfunded, no matter what anyone says.
  • Funy Psot

    Friday, February 13th, 2009

    Yeah, right. We all know how lucrative the counterfeit trash bag industry is.

    But that leaves aside the big issue — what the sam hell is a city doing forcing its residents to buy “official” garbage bags?

    SciAm on Steroids

    Friday, February 13th, 2009

    Scientific American continues to go down the tubes. Today, they ran an insipid interview on the Alex Rodriguez steroid issue that contain little fact, no analysis and a whole steaming load of bullshit. But it comes from a steroid user!

    During Rodriguez’s confessed era of doping, his homerun average jumped to a super-slugging 52 per season, compared with 36 during his first four seasons in the league and about 42 since. His runs-batted-in (RBI) statistics and total games played also peaked. Even so, his batting average has dipped over his career, from .315 to .305 during his steroid days to .303 over the past five seasons.

    Those were also his age 25, 26 and 27 seasons — typically the peak of any player’s performance. Those were also the years he was in one of the best hitter’s park in baseball.

    His slugging percentage in those years was .615. Since then, his performance has dropped a bit but he did hit 54 homers with a career-high .645 SLG in 2005. There is little statistical evidence that 2001-2003 was anomalous.

    The key benefit with anabolic steroids is that they can help you be consistent over an entire baseball season. That’s the reason you’re seeing those higher statistics for Rodriguez from 2001 to 2003. If you take a look at good power hitters in April and May (early in the baseball season that runs from April to September, excluding the playoffs), their numbers are going to be pretty good. But these guys aren’t able to maintain that in August and September. Take the New York Mets: If that team was on anabolic steroids the way they were in 2000, they probably would have made the playoffs the past two years instead of running out of gas late in the season. It makes a big difference when having that little extra.

    None of this is true. A-Rod’s stats in 2001-3 were marginally, but not dramatically higher. Power hitters sometimes catch fire late in the season. There’s a selection effect for us to notice guys who start hot and cool off rather than guys who start cold and get hot in the end of the season. Carl Yastrzemski, in 1967, had one of the greatest Septembers of all time. Guess he must have been taking steroids because we all know power hitters fade in September. There is no objective evidence that power hitters, as a group, fade over the season.

    And how do we know that last year’s Mets weren’t on steroids? Is he implying that the Phillies were? Would the Phillies of 1964 have won the pennant with steroids? Were the Giants of 1951 juicing? Teams collapse. Teams surge. It happens. It has always happened. It always will happen — steroids or no steroids.

    So the big question people may be asking is if Alex is taking something else. His homerun numbers have declined, but they’re still pretty damn good.

    So he must still be juicing. ‘Cuz without the juice, this #1 draft pick who tore up the minors and slugged from the very first day he stepped on a diamond would be hitting .220 with 3 HR.

    For example, maybe his [lucrative] contract could allow him to buy a designer steroid that’s undetectable

    As opposed to his former contract, which had him on a starvation wage.

    Scientific American should be ashamed of themselves. This is nothing but someone talking out of their ass. I know he’s a physiologist who took steroids. He’s still talking out of his ass, making wild speculations mixed with post hoc propter hoc logic about who’s using and who isn’t.

    What a disgrace.

    PS – For a real analysis of whether the stats show A-Rod juiced, try this. At least he’s aware of the limits of the data.

    Let’s Try Rationing Again, Too!

    Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

    Only in New York would the state pump life into one of the dumbest economic ideas of the last century — rent control. Take it away, Megan:

    In times like this, it’s easy to believe that if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion. But here’s one of the things that basically everyone, left to right, agrees on: rent control is the surest way to destroy a city’s housing stock short of aerial bombing, and one of the major culprits behind New York’s painfully low vacancy rate. Rent control allows some people to stay in artificially cheap apartments, but only by forcing the people who would have rented them into some other, less desireable place. Those people bid up the price of the uncontrolled housing, so that you essentially end up with two housing markets, one with rents above the natural market price, and one with rents below it. There is no way to ensure that the deserving middle class folks you want to see stay in the city end up in the latter, and indeed, many of the owners of rent stabilized apartments were notorious for finding the richest tenants they could. Rich tenants rarely get behind on the rent, and move sooner than people who can just barely afford their below-market place.

    Meanwhile, the stabilized stock deteriorates, because, especially in inflationary times, it does not pay the landlords to maintain them beyond the barest minimum required by law. And no one wants to build any new housing except luxury units which will not be controlled.

    Then everyone wonders how come there are no houses for middle income people in the city.

    Trying to repeal the law of supply and demand is like trying to repeal the law of gravity. If you artificially try to lower prices — on housing, on healthcare or on gas — the supply of it will dry up. This isn’t some fancy-shmancy economic model that only three guys understand. This isn’t some esoteric libertarian intellectual cul-de-sac. This is Econ 101. It’s something so basic that I bet even Paul Krugman would acknowledge it.

    On the other site, I blogged about a poll showing that 2/3 of Americans think they could manage the economy better than Congress. I bet 100% could manage it better than the New York Assembly.

    Presser

    Monday, February 9th, 2009

    You know, I disagree with Obama about a lot. I’ve been posting a series of article at Right Thinking opposing aspect of the stimulus package. But I am still relieved to see a press conference involve a President who can complete a coherent sentence. When George Bush started answering a question, you had no idea where he was going to end up.

    Another thought: I have every respect for Helen Thomas, but she needs to be retired, not asking questions of the President. She’s borderline incoherent. “So-called terrorists?” “Who has nukes?” WTF?

    ARoid

    Monday, February 9th, 2009

    By far, the best reaction to the news that Alex Rodriguez did steroid is from Joe Sheehan:

    Knowing Alex Rodriguez used PEDs, in the context of those names, isn’t information that changes anything. A great baseball player did bad things with the implicit approval—hell, arguably explicit approval—of his peers and his employers. It’s cheating, yes, which would be a problem if we hadn’t been celebrating cheating in baseball since the days when guys would go first to third over the pitcher’s mound. You can argue that it’s different in degree, though the widely accepted use of PEDs by peers and superiors, and the use of amphetamines before them, is a strong point against that case. What is clear is that it’s not different enough, in degree, to warrant the kind of histrionics we’re reading and hearing over this. It’s not different enough to turn Alex Rodriguez into a piñata.

    Of course, the screaming is about the screamers. The loudest voices on the evils of steroids in baseball are in the media, and there’s probably a dissertation in that notion, because for all that we have to hear about how greedy, evil players have ruined baseball by taking these substances (and then playing well, according to this selective interpretation; no one’s ripping Chris Donnels these days), the reason we’re talking about this in 2009 is that so many “reporters”—scare quotes earned—went ostrich in 1999. We hear every year around awards time that the people closest to the game know the game better than anyone, because they’re in the clubhouse every day, and they talk to everyone, and they have a perspective that outsiders can’t possibly understand. For those same people to do a collective Captain Renault, which they’ve been doing since beating up players for this transgression became acceptable, is shameful. Take your pick: they missed the story, or they were too chicken-shit to report it. In either case, the piling-on now is disgusting.

    I have little to add. As far as the media is concerned, A-Rod has been a certified jerk since he signed that evil 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers that he forced them to write out with his jedi mind tricks. This just give them a chance to combine their A-Rod hatred with their steroid grandstanding. I refuse to participate.

    Read the whole thing.

    Stimulus Linkorama

    Friday, February 6th, 2009

    Some great commentary on the stimulus package today:

  • Alternative proposals from Miron and Mankiw sound better to me than a raft of spending.
  • Those millions of jobs we’re supposed to get? They’re estimated from a simple rule of thumb. We all know how good rules of thumb work, right?
  • I’m curious if anyone has an example of a stimulus package working. Massive spending cuts after World War II failed to create a recession. And Japan’s stimulus didn’t seem to help.

    In the end, say economists, it was not public works but an expensive cleanup of the debt-ridden banking system, combined with growing exports to China and the United States, that brought a close to Japan’s Lost Decade. This has led many to conclude that spending did little more than sink Japan deeply into debt, leaving an enormous tax burden for future generations.

  • Popular Mechanics points out that the reason projects are shovel-ready is because they weren’t worth doing in the first place.
  • I’m opposed to the current stimulus, but my conservative streak has lots of misgivings. I’m not sure I’m right and the stakes seem awfully big. The downside risk of not acting — a prolonged recession — seems better the downside risk of acting — inflation and a lost decade. But that’s just me.

    I also refuse, on principle, to join with the science blogs in protesting the elimination of NSF budget hikes. I can’t be opposed to runaway spending in principle but support it for my specific bailiwick.

    Thursday Night Linkorama

    Friday, February 6th, 2009
  • I wouldn’t link to Obama’s utterly content-free op-ed in the Post except for one thing: I love that the post, in the byline, reminds us of who writer is. I mean, just in case we’d already forgotten or something. Matt Welch fires back.
  • Are college loans the next big bubble? He sites an extreme case. It still seems to me that $20k in debt is not unreasonable for a college education.
  • One cow. Two cows.
  • Sweet-sweet justice for class action lawyers.
  • RFK, Jr. Phew, what a looney.
  • Should cheerleading count toward Title IX requirements? That sounds stupid … until you realized how athletic and dangerous modern routines are and that cheerleader get injured more often than some varsity athletes.
  • Just when you think the anti-sex zealots can’t get weirder.
  • Closing Tube

    Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

    It seems like the entire internet is shutting down these days. I guess it’s a result of the recession — people don’t have time to write blogs. But several sites I’ve enjoyed — Baseball Toaster, Top Five, Fire Joe Morgan, Pajamas Media, Stephen Bainbridge, Culture 11 — are shut down or about to be.

    I guess it’s the inevitable consolidation that was due for the blogosphere. For now, I’m still here.

    Phelpsi

    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    South Carolina authorities are thinking of pressing charges against Michael Phelps for taking a bong hit. For some reason, I don’t think a nation filled with drunk, obese, cigarette-smoking fast food addicts has any business getting its boxers in a bunch over a 23-year-old taking a bong hit. Half of Americans have done what Phelps did, including the current and past Presidents.

    Don’t Save Darfur

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    A look into what the Save Darfur movement doesn’t understand. I am constantly astonished by the number of people who think that complex and difficult problems can be solved just by choosing to care about them.

    Phelps

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    Radley Balko fires back on the stupid controversy about a 23-year-old kid smoking pot. I agree with every word.

    WTF

    Sunday, February 1st, 2009

    This is enough to make some a feminist. But it would be thoughtless, insensitive and evil of me to point out the pressure to engage in insane fashion trends comes mostly from other women. I have yet to meet a man who thinks anorexia or foot-binding is hot. Quite the contrary in fact — most men like women with some curve and non-gangrenous feet.

    And men aren’t exempt from evil fashion stupidity. I’m still convinced that neckties shorten one’s lifespan.