Carpe Diem

Assorted Links

Thomas Sowell: Venezuela is currently giving us a lesson on the consequences of price controls. The government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has imposed price controls — and seems to be surprised that lower prices have lead to reduced supplies, even though price controls have led to reduced supplies in countries around the world and for thousands of years.

Walter Williams: The worst thing the West can do to Africa is to give more foreign aid. For the most part, foreign aid is government to government. As such, it provides the financial resources that enable Africa’s grossly corrupt and incompetent regimes to buy military equipment, pay off cronies and continue to oppress their people. It also provides resources for the leaders to live lavishly and set up “retirement” accounts in foreign banks.

The worst thing the West can do to Africa is to give more foreign aid. For the most part, foreign aid is government to government. As such, it provides the financial resources that enable Africa’s grossly corrupt and incompetent regimes to buy military equipment, pay off cronies and continue to oppress their people. It also provides resources for the leaders to live lavishly and set up “retirement” accounts in foreign banks.

John Stossel: How many shootings at schools or malls will it take before we understand that people who intend to kill are not deterred by gun laws? Last I checked, murder is against the law everywhere. No one intent on murder will be stopped by the prospect of committing a lesser crime like illegal possession of a firearm. The intellectuals and politicians who make pious declarations about controlling guns should explain how their gunless utopia is to be realized.

Carpe Diem

Wal-Mart Puzzle: Why Is It Thriving?

According to Daniel Gross at, Wal-Mart’s stock is at a 2-year high (see chart above) because:

1. Wal-Mart sells necessities, not discretionary items. The overwhelming majority of its sales are not impulse buys. Even in a recession, most people don’t drastically reduce their spending on staple groceries, light bulbs, or diapers.

2. In a pinched economy, consumers are embracing their inner skinflint. And Wal-Mart is a penny pincher’s paradise.

3. The economic-stimulus package President Bush signed earlier this month seems to have been designed to help Wal-Mart. It funnels cash to individuals making less than $75,000 or to families making less than $150,000, many of whom might shop at Wal-Mart. $300 really isn’t enough to put a dent in a payment for a new car or to pay off a mortgage, but it might be enough to spur a shopper to throw a few extra goodies into the Wal-Mart shopping cart.

4. As the U.S. economy idles, the rest of the world is still growing quite rapidly. And Wal-Mart finally has meaningful international sales to report. In 2003, international sales were just 16.7% of overall revenues. But thanks to aggressive expansion in Mexico, China, and elsewhere, Wal-Mart has become an increasingly multinational corporation. In the 12 months that ended in January 2008, international sales rose 17.5% and constituted 24.2% of overall sales.

Carpe Diem

Markets in Everything: Rent Out Your Driveway II

Last July, I had a CD post about, a U.K. company which “enables property-owners to rent out their empty driveways and garages to drivers needing somewhere to park.”

After its success in London and the U.K., the company recently launched its service in the U.S.:

Press Release:, a successful British-based website designed to connect drivers with open parking spaces, announced today that it will launch the service in the United States. The site is run by Anthony Eskinazi, a 24-year old entrepreneur from London, England (pictured above), whose modern innovation has changed the way people find parking.
By connecting people who want to rent out or sell their under utilized parking spaces with those who are looking for convenient and cheap parking, offers a modern, high tech response to what is typically thought of as a low tech challenge.

From an email I received from Anthony: “With the credit crunch hitting hard at this moment in time, we feel that for those who live in areas where the demand for parking is high, our service will offer homeowners a great opportunity to make an additional income from their property.”

See the first listings for
parking spaces in Boston.
Carpe Diem

Smoking Bans Can Be Hazardous to Your Health?

From “Economics: Public and Private Choice” by Gwartney, Stoup, Sobel and Macpherson:

Guidepost #6 to Economic Thinking: “Economic actions generate secondary effects in addition to immediate effects.”

Pitfall #2 to Avoid in Economic Thinking: “Good intentions do not guarantee desirable outcomes.”

Application/Case Study:

Boston Globe article: “Smoking Bans Can Be Hazardous to Some People’s Health:”

A rigorous statistical examination has found that smoking bans increase drunken-driving fatalities. One might expect that a ban on smoking in bars would deter some people from showing up, thereby reducing the number of people driving home drunk. But jurisdictions with smoking bans often border jurisdictions without bans, and some bars may skirt the ban, so that smokers can bypass the ban with extra driving. There is also a large overlap between the smoker and alcoholic populations, which would exacerbate the danger from extra driving. The authors estimate that smoking bans increase fatal drunken-driving accidents by about 13%, or about 2.5 such accidents per year for a typical county. Assuming a smoking ban is still worth it, the results suggest the need for a more aggressive approach to drunken driving – or a nationwide smoking ban.

Adams, S. and Cotti, C., “Drunk driving after the passage of smoking bans in bars,” Journal of Public Economics (forthcoming).

Article Abstract: Using geographic variation in local and state smoke-free bar laws in the US, we observe an increase in fatal accidents involving alcohol following bans on smoking in bars that is not observed in places without bans. Although an increased accident risk might seem surprising at first, two strands of literature on consumer behavior suggest potential explanations — smokers driving longer distances to a bordering jurisdiction that allows smoking in bars and smokers driving longer distances within their jurisdiction to bars that still allow smoking, perhaps through non-compliance or outdoor seating. We find evidence consistent with both explanations. The increased miles driven by drivers wishing to smoke and drink offsets any reduction in driving from smokers choosing to stay home following a ban, resulting in increased alcohol-related accidents.

Carpe Diem

Fastest Global Diffusion in History: The Cell Phone

From today’s Washington Post:

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

From essentially zero, we’ve passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history — faster even than the polio vaccine (see related chart above from The Economist).

And cellphones are the first telecommunications technology in history to have more users in the developing world — almost 60% — than in the West. Cellphone usage in Africa has been growing close to 50% annually — faster than any other region. More than 30 African nations have more cellphones than land lines.
Carpe Diem

Top 10 Reasons $280B Farm Bill is Bad Legislation

According to the NY Times:

1. The House and Senate bills, each costing about $280 billion over five years, are way over budget and include an array of gimmicky tax increases to make up the shortfall.

2. Even worse, the bills perpetuate an unfair, wasteful program of price supports and direct payments.

3. Half the subsidies would go to farmers in just seven states producing a handful of crops — corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat.

4. Two-thirds of the nation’s farmers would not benefit at all.

5. Subsidies will flow to farm families making as much as $2 million a year.

6. What makes these subsidies even more outrageous is that just when the rest of the country is sliding into recession, commodity prices are booming and big farmers are rolling in clover.

According to the Orlando Sentinel:

7. The largest commercial farmers reap the bulk of the subsidies, while most growers get little or nothing.

8. Subsidies spur overproduction, wasting resources and harming the environment.

9. They impede efforts to open more foreign markets to U.S. products.

10. Subsidies are especially uncalled for now, when biofuel demand has sent farmland values and crop prices soaring.

Carpe Diem

Remote Robotic Surgery:Outsourced to Bangalore?

Thanks to an anonymous CD reader for this comment:

“As remote controlled robots are utilized more and more to do operations it is conceivable that one day a surgeon in Bangalore, India will perform operations on patients located in a Walmart surgical clinic in Mobile, Alabama. The technology has been here for a relatively long time.”

For example, in 2001, surgeons in the U.S. Performed an Operation in France Via Robot.

More recently:

Northeast Georgia residents needing cardiac surgery will have an innovative new treatment option next year in the region. Officials with Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville said they have received a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor to purchase a da Vinci Surgical System, which can be operated remotely.

The physician actually sits in a different location and operates through a screen, a robot, that can actually enter the chest cavity or the abdominal area, depending on whether they are doing an abdominal area or doing a heart.”

And what about remote robotic surgery for the U.S. soldiers in combat?

WAIKOLOA, Hawaii — “Robotic surgery, which could be performed on patients in remote locations such as Iraq while the surgeon is in another location, is feasible despite needing significant mechanical improvements, a surgeon said here.”