Are markets so inefficient that global warming isn’t being priced properly?

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During our two weeks in Ft. Lauderdale we learned that a beachfront house costs between $3 and $8 million. Most of these are approximately the same height above sea level as a crushproof cigarette pack. If the seas are rising up to swallow Florida, as the climate change doomsayers predict is imminent, why are these houses still worth so much? Here are some possible theories…

  • markets don’t believe that a serious sea level rise will happen for at least 50 years
  • Federal flood insurance keeps the market buoyant, so to speak (subsidized by taxpayers in the Midwest, of course!)
  • Florida beachfront house buyers are impulsive live-for-today types; anything that happens 10 or 15 years from now is irrelevant to them

Readers: How to explain the apparent paradox that (a) everyone intelligent supposedly believes that climate change will result in fairly imminent and fairly dramatic sea level rise, and (b) houses at sea level at crazy expensive?

Falling out of love with the Samsung Galaxy S7

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This week was time to return the Samsung Galaxy S7 to the Verizon store. It was fun on a Florida trip being able to use the phone in the pool, but back in the real world the party is over. (see initial review and then a post about battery life)

Trying to get out of Florida was challenging because the Uber app said that the device wasn’t supported. Back in Massachusetts I tried the Uber app again and it said that I had to reenter the credit card numbers, which I did and it still failed. The Uber app then said to contact  support at uber.com, which resulted in them suggesting gender reassignment. “Hi Philip, Sorry to hear about the trouble accessing your account, Danielle. … Keep safe and enjoy your day. Jaysel”.

Making phone calls in my Boston suburb was impossible with the Samsung whereas the iPhone 6 Plus had managed to be fairly reliable despite the fanatical opposition of the Millionaires for Obama to cell phone towers. I turned on WiFi calling and the phone/network wasn’t smart enough to use WiFi in our one-bar house. While driving in Florida (superb LTE coverage everywhere), the S7 lost all data coverage for about five minutes. My companion’s iPhone 5S, also on Verizon, worked perfectly during this period.

The best thing about the phone is the camera but a photographer’s workflow from the point of exposure onward on is inferior to the iPhone’s. I couldn’t find an easy way to send a reduced-size image from Gmail on the Samsung, for example, so my data plan was being consumed to send ridiculous 5MB photo attachments to people who didn’t want anything that large. Dropbox’s photo upload feature seemed to create duplicate images on my PC, as did the Google Photos app (but of course the images that were duplicated were different between Dropbox and Google Photos).

The true deal-killers for me were the lack of battery life and the poor performance in areas with weak coverage (i.e., the United States!). I was using all of the same apps in all of the same ways as on the iPhone 6 Plus and battery life was roughly halved.

New Yorker article on Carlyle and its political connections

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“The Billionaires’ Loophole” is a New Yorker article on how a rich guy doesn’t pay a high enough (in the writer’s opinion) tax rate. What I think is more interesting is just the texture of how this guy got rich:

In 1975, after graduating from Duke and then the University of Chicago law school, and spending two years at the corporate law firm Paul, Weiss, in New York, Rubenstein served as the counsel to Senator Birch Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, on the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments. A year later, at the age of twenty-six, he joined Jimmy Carter’s Presidential campaign as a policy aide and was subsequently hired as a deputy to Stuart Eizenstat, President Carter’s domestic-policy adviser. Rubenstein helped write memos for Carter, prepare him for press conferences, and draft State of the Union addresses. … “His vision was to combine capital with politically connected people whose phone calls are accepted around the world. We laughed at him, like, Yeah, right.”

In 1986, Stephen Norris, a lawyer for Marriott, learned of a change to the federal tax code recently initiated by Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska. It allowed Alaska Native corporations, created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, to sell their paper losses at a discount to companies that could use them to reduce their own taxes. Norris started a business that matched companies with Native Alaskans and persuaded Rubenstein to leave Shaw, Pittman and join him. In a single year, they brokered the transfer of a billion dollars in losses, earning at least ten million dollars in fees. In 1987, they were on the verge of another big transfer when the government closed that loophole. The episode became known in Washington business lore as the Great Eskimo Tax Scam.

In September of that year, Rubenstein founded the Carlyle Group … Carlyle struggled in its first several years, making an unsuccessful venture into airline food, with Caterair, and losing a bid for the restaurant chain Chi-Chi’s. In 1990, though, the focus on Washington paid off. … Two members of the George H. W. Bush Administration, Richard Darman, the budget director, and James Baker III, the Secretary of State, joined Carlyle when they left the government. In the late nineteen-nineties, the ex-President himself came on board and helped position the firm to win a bidding war for one of South Korea’s top banks.

In 2007, Carlyle’s twentieth anniversary, the firm managed seventy-five billion dollars in assets, and Rubenstein made his début on the Forbes 400 list. By 2009, Carlyle’s portfolio included $1.5 billion from the New York State pension fund. According to an investigation that year by Andrew Cuomo, then the state attorney general, the pension money had been obtained in part through improper payments to middlemen by a Carlyle affiliate. Though Carlyle was not accused of any wrongdoing, it agreed to pay twenty million dollars to resolve the matter.

Anyway, you get the idea. The article is worth reading if you’re interested in the structure of the current U.S. economy.

Movie: Eye in the Sky

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Who else has seen Eye in the Sky? The movie has a familiar starting point. Americans and Brits team up to fight against the international Jihad. But the Brits are portrayed as being paralyzed by bureaucracy, rules, and legal arguments. The American drone pilot and weapons/sensor assistant are paralyzed by their emotions and tenderness for a potential civilian casualty. The latter doesn’t square with my experience of US Air Force personnel. An F-15 weapons system officer said that his main concern, shared by many other officers involved with these fighter jets, was staying in the Air Force long enough to “join the check-of-the-month club”.

I’m wondering if the technology is portrayed accurately. The view from the drone, supposedly roughly 4 miles up at FL200 (20,000′), is crystal clear, as though someone had hung a high-def camera about 50′ above the ground. The people looking at the footage can easily identify individuals by their facial features. Is that practical with our current drone cameras? This YouTube video (fog of war) is more like what I would expect. The Hellfire missile takes about a minute to reach its target. Wikipedia says that it travels at Mach 1.3, which would mean just a few seconds to go 4 miles.

If you’re a fan of Helen Mirren (which I am) you’ll probably like the movie. Alan Rickman‘s final performance delighted my companion.

Exiting the American workforce with an airplane and some drug money

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Continuing the theme of “Just how do Americans manage to chalk up a lower labor force participation rate than other rich countries?” (see this WSJ chart for how we are next-to-last and falling while others are rising)

AOPA Pilot has an interesting article on a former pilot whom we taxpayers will presumably be supporting for the next 50+ years(?) with free housing, food stamps, and Medicaid:

This case involved a pilot who was criminally charged, among other charges, with transporting co-conspirators in a general aviation aircraft to various destinations in the Caribbean for the purpose of delivering the illegal proceeds of drug sales to be laundered. He defended that he never transported any drugs, nor acted as a pilot in command, nor was aboard an aircraft in any capacity that transported drugs. Nevertheless, after a jury trial, he was convicted of conspiracy to possess, with the intent to distribute, cocaine; conspiracy to import cocaine; and conspiracy to launder money. Based on these convictions, the FAA issued an order revoking his commercial pilot, mechanic, and ground instructor certificates. His appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board was unsuccessful. He then filed suit the United States District Court for the District of Columbia claiming that the lifetime revocation of his certificates was unlawful.

Did it work to fight the system?

The pilot claimed that the lifetime revocation of his certificates violated his rights under the fifth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, he claimed that the actions of the FAA and NTSB violated his “constitutionally protected interests in traveling (privately in general aviation aircraft) by air,” his “constitutional right to contract so as to earn a sufficient and adequate lawful living,” his “public right of transit through the navigable airspace” pursuant to [the Federal Aviation Act], and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. None of these challenges prevailed. The FAA moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court granted the FAA’s motion, denying all the constitutional challenges.

What about similar cases?

An airman pleaded guilty to the crime of conspiracy to import a controlled substance. The conspiracy involved the use of an aircraft. The FAA issued an order revoking his airman certificate. The governor of Oklahoma sent a letter to the FAA administrator asking that the certificate not be revoked. The governor said the airman was from a family he knew and respected; the airman has been gainfully employed as a pilot for a medical flight service for the past three years; and the airman had no criminal record or public safety violations during the past three years. The governor would be grateful if the lifetime revocation requirement was waived, as allowed in the statute. The FAA administrator refused

[Note that I am not disagreeing with the FAA’s decision, just pointing out that when you combine (a) welfare of unlimited duration conditional on having a low income, and (b) the government prohibiting a U.S. resident from working, the result is that the “punished” person should be able to receive a lifetime of cash-equivalents from fellow citizens.]

Related:

Tax-avoider tours refugee camps in a Gulfstream G650…

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“Bono: Time to Think Bigger About the Refugee Crisis” is one reason that I love the New York Times. Here was my comment on the article (not sure if they will approve it):

The world is awash in capital. Interest rates have never been lower. Nearly every bad idea can find funding (check the app store from your smartphone!). Thus to the extent it is possible for capital to be productively deployed in the countries that Bono visited it is already happening (some of those places have better mobile network coverage than we do here in the Boston suburbs).

As others have noted, the analog to the Marshall Plan is inapt. Funding for a country such as France, which pioneered modern aviation, to re-industrialize is a different project than funding for a country that has never been industrialized. Educated labor was scarce post-WWII due to a smaller and less connected world. Combining Europe’s educated labor with some American capital was a fairly sure bet.

[Separately, I am grateful to have been exposed to the spectacle of a guy who has stashed all of his assets in a nearly tax-free offshore trust, as previously covered by the NYT, flying from refugee camp to refugee camp in a Gulfstream G650 filled up with 44,200 lbs. of dinosaur blood. This is modern “slumming”?]

What do readers think? Bono is presumably correct that it would be better if everyone could get a good job and build an American- or European-grade middle-class lifestyle regardless of location. But 70+ years of do-gooding by developed countries doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything, unless we want to take credit for the success of the Asian Tigers under the “success has many fathers” theory. Nor has cash helped that much, even when governments have been stable. As Malthus predicted, at least in most parts of the Earth human population has expanded so that the high-level picture from a resource infusion is “more people at the same standard of living” (for example see the population chart on this page about Saudi Arabia for what happens under a best-case scenario). Perhaps the flood of migrants into Europe doesn’t represent the failure of non-European countries but rather the success of Malthus?

Related:

  • NYT reader comment on the article: “The reason that no one wants to hear the opinion of people worth tens of millions and even billions of dollars is that we all know without any doubt that nothing about their lives will change if they have to pay higher taxes and nothing about their lives will change if we import another few million low skilled workers and nothing about their children’s lives will change if we import another few million non-English speaking students. They and their loved ones are completely immune to the consequences of their opinions and decisions, so they go with whatever makes them seem the most ‘generous’ and ‘enlightened’.”

Aviation news from Sun ‘n Fun

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The Sun ‘n Fun show just wrapped up in Lakeland, Florida (home to an entire campus of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings that, absent an engine failure and emergency landing on said campus, Sun ‘n Fun attendees are extremely unlikely to visit!)

What’s new?

Dynon, the market leader in glass cockpits for experimental aircraft, managed to certify a glass cockpit for basic Cessna and Piper airplanes. (Avweb) Considering that airworthy “steam gauge” examples of these airplanes can be purchased for $20,000 to $40,000, this may result in a huge reduction in the total cost to have a glass cockpit airplane. The Dynon stuff also would make a great back-up instrument for a more complex airplane.

Rotax is chugging along with a 135-horsepower engine that could turn the Icon A5 into a reasonable short-lake performer compared to the current 100 hp engine.

Avidyne has an interesting way to add synthetic vision (“the Microsoft Flight Simulator view”) to airplanes with older avionics: stuff it into the GPS.

We can hope for Oshkosh to find some real innovation in the small airplane world. For now it looks like the big dreams are all … big (e.g., a hybrid Airbus from Airbus).

Related:

  • NBAA 2015 wrap-up report
  • Aviation News from Oshkosh (2014)
  • Oshkosh Wrap-Up (2010)

Is the world running out of rich bastards?

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Politicians keep telling us that the world is plagued with rich bastards who are stealing all of the fruits of our labor and hoarding up treasure like Grendel’s mom in Beowulf.

Apparently contradicting this message is the fact that Gulfstream G650s are sitting on the used market in large numbers. (“Analyst Raises Alarm over Rising Used G650 Inventory”)

Readers: How can we explain this? Is it that rich douchebags are now so rich that they need a Boeing Business Jet or Airbus converted to executive configuration? And there are no “middle class rich bastards” who have $50 million to spare and want to travel with about 10 friends?

States ranked by tax as a percentage of personal income

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The Tax Foundation publishes data on state taxes as a percentage of personal income (example: Texas). WalletHub has released an alternative ranking that is mostly consistent but potentially interesting. One huge discrepancy in the two data sources is New Jersey, which Tax Foundation says is one of the least efficient states, consuming 12.3 percent of residents’ income, while WalletHub says that only 10.4 percent is siphoned off. It may be that different years are used in the calculations, but the discrepancy seems too large to be explained by that.

WalletHub shows the Vermont/New Hampshire border to be perhaps the most dramatic, with Vermont taking 11.13 percent and New Hampshire down at 6.88 percent.

I wonder if these data are accurate. New Hampshire is shown as collecting 1.41 percent of residents’ income via a “sales and gross receipts tax” yet the state doesn’t have a sales tax. Could this be fees?

It would also be worth adding in something about state services. Florida, for example, has low taxes but also low college tuition (collegeboard.org) and excellent public schools when adjusted for student demographics (nytimes). (Also, Florida is a wonderful place to be an alimony plaintiff, assuming that the governor vetoes a recently passed law.) Texas is not quite as great as it looks to start with if you’re going to send a bunch of kids to a four-year state college, though the same nytimes story indicates that the public schools are great (don’t move and subject yourself to Texas family law if you want to make money from child support (capped) or alimony (the polar opposite of Florida’s “permanent alimony” system)). New Hampshire has comparably low taxes to Florida but in-state tuition at a four-year state university is more than 2X what Florida charges. Vermont is off-the-charts bad if you consider the high taxes and also the crazy high college tuition (they are too busy admiring Bernie Sanders to watch how their own tax dollars are being spent?).

How are any of the transgender-locker room laws supposed to work in practice?

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I’ve been so busy displaying my virtue on Facebook by denouncing people who live in North Carolina and celebrating PayPal as an example of diversity (nothing says “diverse” like an all-white Board of Directors! (type their names into Google Image search)) that I haven’t had time to ponder the practical questions of gender and lock rooms.

Suppose that Person A walks through a door labeled “Women’s locker room”. Someone complains that Person A doesn’t fit a cisgender-normative concept of “woman.” The police are called? And then what? If there is a law saying that Person A has to use a locker room labeled consistent with Person A’s birth certificate gender, how can that be applied in practice? Person A is not required to carry a birth certificate, right? Some Americans don’t even have birth certificates and/or the authenticity of their birth certificates is questioned. Is Person A hauled off to jail until a birth certificate can be located? A medical examination conducted? A chromosome test run by Theranos?

What if we consider the situation without North Carolina’s hateful laws. Let’s say the above facts occurred in a progressive state such as California. Person A showers with a bunch of women who become upset that Person A lacks a body that meets cisgender-normative assumptions of “female.” Can Person A be arrested for having shown up in clothing from a store’s “men’s department”, using a name traditionally associated with so-called “men”, failing to wear a sign that says ‘I identify as a woman”? If Person A is arrested, what is the legal standard applied to determine whether or not Person A’s gender identification as a woman was legitimate on that particular day?

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