May 31

Photo by Ira Block

[This essay was originally entitled “Lessons from Grand Central Station”, until several readers pointed out that the correct name is Grand Central Terminal.  It was an error that I could not let stand.  The permalink (URL) reflects the original title so as to not break existing references. — Author/Admin]

Every weekday morning, trainloads of people are dumped into New York’s Grand Central Terminal and sent on their way.  Thousands per hour traverse the huge main room as they make their way to their desired subway stations, taxi stands and exits in all directions.  Arteries of traffic spontaneously form and disperse — you can join one that’s going in your general direction, get swept along its path and then step out at your stop.   The human pathways will intersect each other with the precision of a champion marching band.   Collisions between any two people amongst the throngs are rare, even amongst those who clearly don’t know where they’re going.

Photo by Ira Block

What’s most remarkable about the above is that no one manages this process.   There are no human traffic cops in white gloves waving some people on and telling others to stop.  There are no ropes herding commuters one way or another.    There are no rules dictating which path you must take to get from point A to point B.   The room manages itself, based on essentially one unwritten rule:  common courtesy. That is to say, you can’t charge through the crowd like a running back, stiff arming people as you go.   What might initially appear as chaos is instead a model of simplicity and efficiency.

Continue reading »

May 16

Talk with a typical liberal-leaning voter and soon enough you’ll find that reducing income-inequality ranks as one of their most vaunted public policy goals:  just about any legislation can be justified as righteous if it claims to hit that mark.

In discussing income inequality, the liberal commentariat will invariably point to some kind of statistic showing that the gap between the people at either end of the earnings bell curve “has never been wider”.   Or put differently, “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer”.    What these people miss, as economists like Thomas Sowell and Alan Reynolds have repeatedly demonstrated, is that the people at any given percentile of the curve change over time.   As Sowell says when talking about supposedly stagnant household incomes:

“The problem is you’re talking about households, rather than flesh and blood human beings.   One of the real fallacies that runs through a lot of talk about income is confusing statistical categories with actual flesh and blood people.”

Income Inequality Sowell vs. Krugman

Essentially then, static comments made about a dynamic curve are meaningless.   By contrast, longitudinal studies following particular people over the course of their earning careers tend to show upward trends.

It turns out that one group of people, tracked longitudinally, have been on a particularly nice up-slope: public sector employees.   Continue reading »

May 03

Perhaps you also caught CNBC’s Erin Burnett and Mark Haines interviewing AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka last Thursday morning in front of the New York Stock Exchange, prior to a labor union rally near Wall Street later in the day.  Talk about shock and awe!

Shock at the blatant hypocrisy.   Awe at the depth and breadth of economic illiteracy.   This was populist demagoguery at it’s finest, and one could write a book on the distortions, fallacies and misinformation in just this one seven minute interview.    Let’s take a look at some highlights:

Haines:   What do you want?  What are you trying to prove or point out today?

Trumka:  Well there’s three things that we want to say.   These guys destroyed eleven million jobs.  They wrecked the economy.   They got bailout money.   And they haven’t learned a lesson.   So we want them to do three things.   We want them to pay their fair share, to create the jobs that they destroyed.   Two, we want them to stop fighting Wall Street reform, because they send a legion of lobbyists to D.C. to stop it from happening.   Three, we want them to start lending to small and mid-size banks so they can create jobs.

Have we entered the Twilight Zone? Continue reading »

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