Carpe Diem

More on the Pay Gap, From the U.K.

Like in the U.S., the pay gap is a controversial issue in the U.K. English Blogger Tim Worstall has a link to an interesting article in the U.K.’s Sunday Times that reports that Britain’s Minister for Women Harriet Harman is “pressing forward with the government’s commitment to reduce the pay gap between men and women,” currently 12.2%, up from 11.8% last year. From the article:

However, what is not recognised in this age-old debate is the fact that many women are happy to be paid less in order to work less and thus spend more time with their families.

Well, not “happy” necessarily, but “able to live with what is an essential compromise”. That sounds like an incredibly old-fashioned, borderline sexist thing to say, but it is in fact an entirely modern and realistic one.

The truth of the matter is that recent generations have produced an awful lot of women who crash through the glass ceiling only to stand triumphantly among the broken shards and think: “Hmm, you know what? I’d rather be home for the baby’s bathtime.”

Men are, with a handful of exceptions, unwilling to compromise an iota on the work/ family front: work comes first and will always come first.

Faced with the choice of their children having two spectacularly absent parents, most women compromise and cut their hours. Or work from home a day or two a week, or leave at 5.30 on the dot, no matter how much they’re needed at work.

Their salary takes a commensurate dip, as often does their popularity or what is perceived as their reliability. It’s not fair because if women didn’t do this then family life would be even more endangered and confused than it already is, but nobody said commerce and domesticity made great bed partners – and women are keener on their children finding them reliable than on being available to their boss at all hours.

MP: As the graph above shows for the U.S. using BLS data, the average weekly hours for women has been gradually increasing, but men still work almost 6 more hours per week, or 16% more hours on average. At least part of any observed pay gap in the U.S. can certainly be explained by a 16% difference in the “hours worked gap.” I don’t have UK data, but I’m assuming there is an “hours gap” as well in the U.K., and the article seems to support that assumption.

Like in the U.S., cases of unequal pay for equal work is illegal in the U.K., and can be prosecuted. However, we should always allow for the fact that some differences in pay are based on personal choices made voluntarily, reflecting the tradeoffs between work and family. The article does a nice job of pointing out these tradeoffs.

Carpe Diem

Green Guilt and The Selling of Eco-Indulgences

From the LA Times article last week “Can You Buy a Greener Conscience?”:

The race to save the planet from global warming has spawned a budding industry of middlemen selling environmental salvation at bargain prices.

The companies take millions of dollars collected from their customers and funnel them into carbon-cutting projects, such as tree farms in Ecuador, windmills in Minnesota and no-till fields in Iowa.

In return, customers get to claim the reductions, known as voluntary carbon offsets, as their own. For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free — at least on paper.

Driven by guilt, public relations or genuine concern over global warming, tens of thousands of people have purchased offsets to zero out their carbon impact on the planet.

Beneath the feel-good simplicity of buying your way to carbon neutrality is a growing concern that the idea is more hype than solution.

In this related commentary “Carbon Offsets: Eco-Extortion, Green Guilt, and the Selling of Indulgences,” Frank Pastore writes:

The selling of “voluntary carbon offsets”—eco-indulgences—is a $55 million per year industry, involving over three dozen companies worldwide. Total sales are anticipated to double both this year and next, and entrepreneurs are clamoring all over themselves for a piece of the action.

And it’s all a scam.

Yes, the money is very real, but the alleged benefits to the environment are fake.

Paying someone to plant a tree to “offset” the carbon footprint of your SUV is just plain silly. Yet there are thousands of people spending real money on these kind of indulgences every day.

Why? The answer is that it’s part green guilt, part eco-extortion, and part just plain novelty.

MP: Both articles point out this part of the scam: Native Energy and other companies selling eco-indulgences often contribute only 1% of the total cost of windmill projects and alternative energy plants, yet they claim and sell 100% of the carbon reductions.

Carpe Diem

Naive Enviornmentalism=Religous Fundamentalism

Excerpts below from a classic statement about why naive environmentalism is like religious fundamentalism, from economist Steven Landsburg in his book “Armchair Economics: Economics and Everyday Life:”

Like other coercive ideologies, environmentalism targets children specifically. The naive environmentalism of my daughter’s preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism.

In a letter to his daughter Cayley’s teacher, Landsburg writes:

Just as Cayley’s teachers in Colorado were honestly oblivious to the fact that there is diversity in religion, it may be that her teachers here have been honestly oblivious that there is diversity in politics.

Let me then make that diversity clear. We are not environmentalists. We ardently oppose environmentalists. We consider environmentalism a form of mass hysteria akin to Islamic fundamentalism or the War on Drugs. We do not recycle. We teach our daughter not to recycle. We teach her that people who try to convince her to recycle, or who try to force her to recycle, are intruding on her rights.

The entire program of environmentalism is as foreign to us as the doctrine of Christianity (Note: Landsburg is Jewish). We face no current threat of having Christianity imposed on us by petty tyrants; the same can not be said of environmentalism. My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin.

MP: I’m not sure, but I don’t think Landsburg is an environmentalist.

Carpe Diem

Free MRIs? Sure, If You Can Wait Until Next Spring

In a previous post, the long waiting times for MRI in Canada were outlined: 4.5 months for Ontario and 6.5 months for Newfoundland, vs. the typical 1-2 days in the U.S. To put 4.5 months and 6.5 months in perspective, consider this:

1. If you visited a doctor on Monday in Toronto, and it was determined you needed an MRI, you would likely be waiting until around Febuary 1, 2008.

2. If you visited a doctor on Monday in St. John’s, and you scheduled an MRI, it would be almost April 1, 2008 before you could get your MRI.

That’s the bad news. The good news? It’s “free.”

Carpe Diem

U.S. Leads the World in WTO Trade Complaints

WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has asked the World Trade Organization to rule in a complaint against China over the piracy of copyrighted movies, music, software and books, escalating a dispute that has roiled commercial relations.

We hear a lot about China violating World Trade Organization rules, like the example above involving piracy. In America, one could easily get the impression that the U.S. always follows WTO rules and it’s always other countries China that are the bad guys. Statistics available on the WTO website tell a much different story.

Since the WTO started in 1995, the U.S. has been a respondent in almost 100 cases, and 43 of those complaints have been filed since 2002, when China was admitted to the WTO. In contrast, only 8 complaints have been filed against China; so the U.S. has received more than 5 times the number of complaints as China (see chart above). Many (or most) countries have received no complaints.
Carpe Diem

Employment: It’s Not All Bad News Everywhere

1. In contrast to today’s BLS report of an employment decline in August, the Monster Employment Index (released yesterday) “rose 3 points in August, reflecting a slight rebound in online job availability across a majority of industries, occupations and geographical regions following the traditionally slower summer months of June and July. The Monster Employment Index is based on a real-time review of millions of employer job opportunities culled from more than 1,500 different Web sites, including Monster.”

2. First Trust Advisors is “taking today’s report of a 4,000 drop in payrolls in stride. Overreaction by financial journalists and some investors is the real news.”

3. India’s IT sector is expected to create 400,000 new jobs this year, a 25% increase from 1.6 million jobs last year to 2 million this year. Just like it’s always 5 p.m. somewhere in the world, there’s always job growth somewhere…….

Carpe Diem

Can and Bottle Arbitrage

Newman drinking pop so he can return empty bottles to Michigan.
Kramer and Newman en route to Michigan, to return bottles.

Seinfeld had a two-segment episode on “The Bottle Deposit,” which aired in 1996, where Kramer and Newman try to take advantage of Michigan’s 10 cent per bottle deposit, by driving Newman’s mail truck to Saginaw, Michigan filled with empty bottles. Unfortunately, they never it made all the way to Michigan during Part 2, you can read details here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

However, about $10 million worth of empty bottles and cans do get smuggled into Michigan from Ohio and Indiana by people who cash in on Michigan’s 10-cent deposit refund. Ohio and Indiana do not require a deposit on beverage containers, and returning those out-of-state bottles and cans in Michigan can turn in a small profit.

Michigan lawmakers now want to stop the smuggling by requiring beverage manufacturers to put a code on all bottles and cans that are sold in Michigan, and require that automated bottle return machines be programmed to read the Michigan-only code so they accept only containers sold in Michigan.

Read more here in the Detroit News.

Carpe Diem

Perfect Storm for Real Estate Agents

“It’s a perfect storm for real estate agents,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, an online brokerage in Seattle. “Not only have unprecedented numbers flocked to the profession, but at the same time you have the mortgage meltdown, the housing bubble bursting, and online competitors attacking the commission structure.”

Traditional real estate agents, who depend entirely on commissions, “are beset on all sides,” Mr. Kelman said.

The number of people taking the real estate sales exam in California soared from a little more than 2,000 a month in the late 1990s to a peak of nearly 20,000 in April 2005, according to the California Department of Real Estate. But by July 2007, the number had dropped to 8,000 (see chart above). Similar patterns are seen in other states.

Continue reading the NY Times article As Housing Market Cools, Far Fewer Become Agents….

Carpe Diem

More On City Slickers and Farm Subsidies

From Environmental Working Group (EWG): “You may envision your farm subsidy dollars going to hardworking farmers on picturesque farms, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Every year absentee landowners, corporations and other “farmers” collect hundreds of millions of dollars in farm subsidies, all while living smack in the middle of some of America’s wealthiest metropolitan areas (see map above of “farmers” in Minneapolis-St. Paul receving farm subsidies). All you need to qualify for farm subsidy payments is a stake in qualifying farmland (and a good lawyer to help you wade through the paperwork). Last time we checked there were no farms on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, but somehow people are getting big bucks to “farm” there anyway.”

EWG has prepared a short video presentation making fun of “City Slickers and Farm Subsidies,” you can watch it here at EWG or here on YouTube.