Being an extropian-flavored libertarian, I have a tendency to rant. Certain subjects set me off. If you bring these things up in my presence, I'm likely to start spewing. I ask only that you not do this in sport. The following may be expanded with their own pages, time permitting.

Privatize the DMV

A proposal to privatize the California DMV

Anthropogenic Global Warming.

I'm very skeptical of the AGW theory. In my opinion, the entire field of climate research is poisoned by politics. I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to get to the bottom of this. If you scratch beneath the surface of the debate that's 'over' you'll find a very young science. Wide error bars abound. Massive uncertainty. Very little reliable long-term data. Yet many researchers (and quasi-researchers) ring the Bell of the Apocalypse like there's no tomorrow. In any other field, great skepticism would be expected, and apocalyptic predictions would be laughed away. This field has been hijacked. If you don't believe me, read The Skeptical Environmentalist, then read about what Scientific American (and others) did to the author. It was shameful. I cancelled my subscription.

Why do people so readily believe that we're destroying the planet? There's a long history of guilt that comes with success. We've been very successful. Dizzying progress makes many think we must have done something wrong. We made a deal with the devil. We've been bad, and we'll be punished. It's a message that people want to hear. And delivering that message is a very lucrative business.

Nanny State Activism

A belief in limited government necessarily leads to a belief in greater individual responsibility. Organized activism can act as a powerful check on the misbehavior of governments and corporations (and thus capitalism itself). I've always considered consumer activist groups a critical part of the infrastructure of a free society.

Unfortunately, nearly every "consumer activist" organization has a "nanny state" agenda. They view their primary purpose as one of changing law or placing tighter regulation on industry. And damn, are they self-righteous about it.

One of the worst offenders is the Center for Science in the Public Interest . This group has made wild claims about foods and food ingredients for decades. Many people believe their claims, but most people don't. In an ideal world it would stop there. People who believed their dreck would eat a diet of fruits, celery and tofu. But it doesn't stop there. Rather than simply distributing their opinion and letting people make informed choices, they have pushed the government for many years to ban foods and additives they don't like. And they're very successful at it.

Public Education - Teacher's Unions vs. Voucher Programs.

Amazing amounts of money are thrown at public education in the United States. In California, 50% of the state budget is reserved for education - by law! The classic result ensues - more money followed by diminishing results.

Voucher programs are a simple way to let market forces help repair this broken system. Yet they are virulently opposed by the teacher's unions. Why? I think base self-interest plays a big role, but misunderstanding and fear of markets is another serious factor. It's true that some teachers will lose their jobs, but the vast majority will not. And the end result will be better teachers, better schools, and most importantly, an improved education for the children. What's not to like?

By the way, I'm an atheist. So no, I don't have a hidden agenda to dump public money into religious schools.

Health Care in the U.S.

Imagine a world where you didn't have to pay for the fuel you put in your car. At least directly. Let's say your employer fills your tank for you. "For free". Imagine the long-term consequences of such a system. Low mileage. Long unnecessary trips. Higher gas prices. Eventually the society itself will begin to change - grocery stores and schools might be distributed differently. Perhaps greater urban sprawl. You get the idea.

But the fuel isn't free. In fact, you're the one paying for it. It's coming out of your salary. Think about it. If your employer is willing to pay you X+Y dollars per year, where Y is the cost of fuel, then he'd just as happily pay you X+Y dollars without giving you free gas. So you're paying for it. You're just not shopping for it. And the result is a massive distortion in the market. A huge ripple effect - a wave of inefficiency that touches everything.

Well, this is exactly the scenario we have with employer-subsidized health care in the U.S. Another market-damaging aspect is that consumers almost never know the true cost of a procedure, test, or drug. If they do happen to notice the price attached to the mountain of paperwork, they'll whistle and mumble "I'm glad I'm not paying that...".

They have no incentive to shop around, or choose a cheaper test or procedure. [Depending on the insurance plan, these decisions are made by hospitals, HMO's, etc...] This disconnect between the price of something and the consumer completely breaks the chain of price information, which is absolutely necessary to have a functioning market. The result is not surprising at all - mind-blowing year-on-year increases in prices.

HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes.

The purpose of HOV lanes is to discourage the single-occupancy vehicle, i.e., single individuals driving cars - especially when commuting... The idea sounds good - by encouraging people to take public transport, society should get better value on the investment in roads and other transport infrastucture, there'll be less pollution, etc...

The problem with HOV lanes is that they don't work. They don't decrease congestion or pollution or improve throughput. And worse, they're dangerous. Here in California, we have HOV lanes that revert back to normal lanes outside of a large 'commuting time zone'. This is the perfect setup for an experiment.

I usually wait until I can drive outside these zones, because the congestion is lower and I get to work or home faster and safer. But sometimes I drive home just before the lanes revert, and the difference is amazing! There are sections of the road that I know will be flowing at 75+ mph in just 45 minutes, that are in stop-and-go mode. It's very, very dangerous, especially considering the difference in speed between the HOV lane and the non-HOV lanes.

An analysis of traffic data confirms my intuition. See HOV Lanes Increase Congestion.

(Here's the original paper, Effectiveness of HOV Lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area (Jaimyoung Kwon and Pravin Varaiya, 12/30/2005))

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Last modified: Wed Sep 9 18:07:07 PDT 2009