Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obamacare Just Made Americans Richer Without Anyone Noticing

That’s what the headline in the Huffington Post said.

If all we need to become richer is legislation from Washington D.C., why hasn’t this been done before and sooner? If mere laws can create wealth, our riches are limited only by our imagination. 

The sad and undeniable truth is that wealth is not created by legislation. Washington can only force the transfer of previously-created wealth from group A to group B, while skimming a little off the top for itself. Even my grade school children are wise to this fact.

Crimea = Iraq?

I  read today where the government of the United States is preparing to enact sanctions against Moscow for invading Crimea. Isn’t this just a little hypocritical? Did Russia, or any country for that matter, slap the United States with sanctions when we invaded Iraq ten years ago?

After 9/11, not only did we falsely claim that Saddam Hussein was preparing to unleash a torrent of WMDs against the United States, but we deployed our finest salesmen to convince a skeptical world that it was true. Now, we scorn another world power for doing what we did.
Maybe Putin is convinced Crimea has WMDs. His only miscalculation may have been failing to convince everyone else before invading.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lack of competition means higher prices

I was shopping at a large E-Mart store in Seoul the other day and decided to do a little sleuthing of their electronics department.  Korean E-Mart is equivalent to Target in terms of inventory selection, store ambience, and shopping experience.  It might compare to nicer, newer super Wal Mart stores, but from my experience, Target is a better comparison.

While perusing the TVs, I noticed that only two brands were offered for sale: LG and Samsung. I could find no other brand of television (or computer) throughout the whole store. No Sony, Panasonic, or Vizio.  Only Korean brands on sale here.  So, what does the lack of competition mean for the average Korean consumer? Higher prices and less selection, of course.

I randomly picked seven televisions for my analysis: 3 LGs and 4 Samsung’s.  I noted their price in Korean Won and converted it to dollars at a 1,060=$1 exchange rate.  I then searched and New Egg for the same model and noted the price.  In cases where Amazon and New Egg prices differed, I took the average.  I then calculated the percent increase that Koreans pay compared to US customers.  Have a look.

In one instance, Koreans paid one-and-half times the price Americans would pay for the same product. I suspect that if I were to analyze computer prices, I would find similar results.
Korean culture is fiercely nationalistic, and they pay handsomely for their country loyalty. I’m not exactly sure why non-Korean TVs aren’t sold at E-Mart – it could be a company decision (doubtful, but possible) or government restriction (more likely). However, one thing is clear: these two companies are looting their customers, most likely with the aid of the government. Without any competition from outside brands, LG and Samsung can charge artificially high prices, and the result is that Korean customers are made worse off. Competition would mean more selection and lower prices, something that I bet most Koreans would embrace given the chance.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What I Learned About Fitness From Watching My Dog

I have an English Bulldog and I enjoy watching him do his dog stuff. After getting more interested in ancestral (aka primal, paleo, etc.) health, I started to watch him for more than enjoyment. I noticed some lessons I can learn from him regarding exercise.

First, bulldogs are solid muscle. They are not naturally fat. A fat bulldog is a sign of an over-indulgent owner, and that's bad for the dog. But I digress. Bulldogs of all types are solid muscle, naturally. But they don't lift weights or do cardio on machines. They just do dog stuff. Oh, by the way, bulldogs do need a fair bit of exercise. The laziness is a myth. No, they aren't crazy runners like labs or border collies, but they do need a couple miles of walkies every day.

Now, if you take a dog to a big field, or you live on an acreage, you can leave them off the leash and observe their instinctual behavior. My dog likes to patrol. He walks the perimeter rather slowly. Every now and then, he sprints like crazy. Way faster than I can. Apparently bulldogs are natural sprinters. Now, given their weight, bulldogs really only need that walking/sprinting to maintain muscle tone. But they also like to play. He's big on tug-of-war and chewing, both of which are great for his neck and jaw muscles. So all of their activity is 'working out' in a way, because it's exercise, but ultimately it's just play.

So the first lesson I learned: make exercise more like play. Second lesson: walk a lot, but slowly. Spring occasionally. The third lesson comes from watching him jump his weighty butt onto a couch. And that is to lift heavy things occasionally. It's all about functional fitness, because he wasn't doing anything to look good. He's already pretty :).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unemployment insurance, but for how long?

If you were the parent of an unemployed child (not referring to age here), how many weeks of unemployment benefits would you continue to dole out to your kid before you realized that those cash payments were becoming a disincentive to work?  At what point do you say enough is enough?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Whole Foods Love

A new Whole Foods opened up on my walking route between work and home. I can only say they are going to get a large portion of my paycheck. I was wandering through there today, picked up some nice beef bones for stock (I prefer a good butcher for this, but good butchers are longer than walking distance for me), and a beautiful chuck roast. I also found some Larabars, which are great paleo/primal-friendly snack bars. The main ingredient is chopped dates instead of cereal, so while they have a fair amount of natural sugar, I think they're fine in moderation.

The new find, which I really enjoyed, was an Epic beef bar. It's made from grass-fed beef, with dried cherries and habanero. It was quite delicious and gave me a lot of energy during my trudge (lots of snow overnight) home. Definitely will be stocking up on those bad boys! I love the paleo/primal food movement - it has led to some really excellent developments in all aspects of the food supply chain.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Living off the Grid - An Exercise in Logic

I admit to being attracted to the notion of living off the grid - separated from the utility networks, living off the land (sort of), and being more secluded than typical city dwellers. Personally I like seclusion, so that's the biggest draw for me. But as I've looked into it, I've noticed a few arguments for living off the grid that sound good at first, but after some thinking may not be altogether accurate.

The first argument is that it is more environmentally friendly to live off the grid. If you are not on the power 'net, then of course the power generation goes down by whatever you consumed. But is the reduction in power usage due to one household going to make an appreciable difference? Frankly I doubt it, especially if the power plant is designed to provide power to, say, 50,000 households. In fact, the power plant will not reduce the amount of energy it produces. What will happen is, if the plant makes more than is needed, the power will be sold to other companies that don't produce enough power (I'm looking at you, California). So the marginal change in power usage is very small. But not zero, and the amount of reduction would become quite meaningful if, say, 1,000 households left the greed. I'll come back to that point in a minute.

Now, what about generating your own power off the grid? This is done through a combination of wind and solar power, neither of which generate carbon as part of the energy generation process. However, the rigs to transfer energy from solar panels & windmills to batteries look pretty complex, and those have to be manufactured. So certainly there is some pollution resulting from the manufacturing of these products. Furthermore, such power generating rigs take up more space per household than do commercial power plants.

So I would argue the environmental impact per household is small, but I don't know in which direction it goes. That would take a fair bit of research and would be based on individual households power usage & how it is supplied. I'm just raising the point that it's not a clear-cut reduction. It could go either way on an individual basis.

On a large-scale basis, I think the story changes and it's because of efficiency & space arguments. If thousands of households go off the grid, they are all going to need individual power stations which will take up space. This is very inefficient, and producing all these power rigs may well generate more pollution than the marginal reduction in power generation, although it would be more concentrated rather than spread out over time.

In this post, I simply wanted to raise a concern about the environmental impact of living off the grid. In my next post, I'll be thinking about off-grid living on a large-scale basis especially as it impacts the amount of space required per person. I plan to show, logically, that off-grid living for a large number of people would necessitate a significant reduction in population. That is to say, the only way the world can support 7+ billion people is through technological efficiency, i.e. on-grid living.