Posts Tagged ‘free market’

Making Work for ATT

December 29, 2010

At work, we had a phone line through ATT that we didn’t use anymore. We also had a DSL line that we use for our phone system tied to that account. We wanted to cancel the phone line, but keep the DSL line. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Let’s just say it ended up being a lesson in the power of the International Communications Workers Union. When we canceled the phone line, they told us we would have a new account number. Nobody thought anything of it.

Then, the next morning, our phones were dead. I checked the DSL modem, to see if it was that or the phone system itself. The lights on the modem were all dead. Definitely a DSL problem. After calling ATT, we figured out that our new account number meant we had a completely new account. They couldn’t just cancel the phone line and keep the DSL line active. Perhaps this was a quirk in ATT’s system.

They told us that they would be able to turn it on for us in a few hours.   Then we got a call back from another rep saying that since we were in California, they couldn’t just turn it back on.  They had to send someone out to install the line.

We told them that we already had the modem, everything was hooked up, and we just needed the line switched. The answer was no. We had to have someone come out. So we scheduled it between 8 am and noon in a few days.

This was during a time when our office was closed for the Holidays, but I had some work to do so I came in with our IT guy. That morning at 9:30, we got an automated call from ATT saying that our line was now ready to use and we needed to register our account.   So now I came in to wait for an install that wasn’t even going to happen? They also were kind enough to tell us if we were having trouble, they could send someone out for $150.

I was mad, so I got on chat support with ATT. We got the modem activated and were up and running. I asked them why they told us someone had to come out. They said that on their records, no one was ever scheduled. I was dumbfounded.

After all this, an ATT truck pulls up in front of our office. The guy sits there for a minute, then comes in and asks “So you’re all up and running?”

We said that we set it up ourselves. We suspected that there had to be some sort of subcontractor or union agreement behind his visit, so we asked him if he was part of a union. That’s when he told us he was part of the ICW. We asked what he was going to do, and he said “say hi and leave.”

This was one of my first direct experiences with a union “make work” program. There was no need for him to come to our office at all, but the State of California requires him to do so. The union lobbied for these regulations not to ensure that our connection was up and running, but to make sure this person had a job.

Makes you realize why we’re so uncompetitive here in CA and in the US in general…

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My View of a Green America

July 8, 2009

With all the talk of “cap and trade” and the new green industries, I thought it was time to really look at a vision of a truly “green” America, not one manufactured by political parties and big business.

First, just think about how we get electricity.  It is produced by a coal power plant, transmitted hundreds of miles, and then to our homes.  It has been this way for a century.  Most of the power we generate is wasted though, because we have no efficient way to store the excess electricity.  Is this a product of a lack of science?  No.  It is because of a lack of innovation because utilities are politically insulated companies, granted monopoly rights by our governments.

You would think, by now, every home would be fitted with solar panels that could generate more than enough electricity for the house.  You would also believe that each house would be equipped with some sort of device, be it a flywheel or another invention, that could store power generated during the day to be used at night.

Then, we could all drive plug-in hybrid cars, cutting our gas consumption to a small fraction, and using the power generated by our homes to charge the cars.

Why haven’t we gotten to this point yet?  Because as consumers, we have no choice.  We have to buy our power from our local utility.  If you even mention power deregulation, everyone always brings up the California fiasco.  However, the reason it failed is because they deregulated everything except the end user.  We were still stuck buying power from the monopolies, no matter how much they manipulated the price.  And who can blame them?  If you had a captive audience, wouldn’t you charge as much as you could?

Imagine if there was competition for supplying power.  You could buy from a solar provider, hydroelectric, nuclear, or if you wanted to save a few bucks, coal.  If we had the choice, I think a lot of people would sacrifice a few dollars a month to buy from a cleaner source.  Rather than having the government subsidize the coal plants, we would put them out of business because we want a cleaner solution.  This would cause for innovation from the coal companies to find a better way to burn the fuel.

Government restrictions and a horrible cap and trade policy cannot and will not help the environment one bit.  It will just generate revenues for the government and their partner utility companies, while charging the consumer more, and allowing the utilities to keep polluting.

In India, companies claim that they can capture carbon in huge underground tunnels.  They can then print out carbon certificates at will, and sell them on the cap and trade market.  Utility companies can buy these certificates and not have to change their ways at all, while this bogus company makes millions.

We need to be able to hold companies accountable, and if it is proven that a utility’s pollution is harming people, they need to be held accountable.  We can have the Supreme Court giving them a free pass to pollute all they want.  That’s not helping anyone.

It’s not about global warming or climate change either.  It is about creating the most efficient and cost effective source of power we can make, while polluting and wasting less.  We need innovation in the way we produce power and the only way that will happen is ending government/utility partnerships, allowing consumer choice, and letting the markets work.  Cap and Trade or any other government sponsored method will only hurt the environment and the consumers, while making the utility companies and the government itself handsome profits.

Obama’s “New Foundation”

April 14, 2009

Today, President Obama gave a speech entitled “New Foundation” which gave an update on the economy and all of the government policies that are currently underway.

His opening portion of the speech ended with this remark:

And most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America’s future – a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, reckless speculation, and fleeing profit, but is instead built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century. That is the America I see. That is the future I know we can have.

The funny thing is that most of what he says makes sense and I totally agree with.  We do need an economy based on production and savings and not debt and spending.  This is the fundamental problem with our current economic system.  He goes on to blame our current crisis on “greed” and “instant gratification” but those arguments don’t hold any water.  We’ve always had greedy people who want things now.  If that were the case, we’d be in a permanent depression.

The problem is that Obama thinks that only the government can implement policies and programs that will accomplish these goals.  I believe that government is the worst possible agent to try and lead us into the future, and that they are only making matters worse.

From a purely economics standpoint, the government is taking resources away that the private sector would be using, or they are undertaking tasks that are not being done by private sources because they are unproductive and inefficient.  Look at the auto bailout, for example.  Imagine what a startup like Tesla or some other company could do with one billion dollars, a fraction of what the Big Three have gotten so far.  We could have a brand new, competitive auto industry for the amount of money that has been wasted propping up dead bankrupt companies.  I do not believe in bailouts and handouts, but if we are going to give money away, it should go to new production, not financial means.

Other examples of Obama’s “stimulus” are building roads, weatherizing homes, and building green energy sources.  If these were profitable endeavours, don’t you think the private industry would already be doing these things?  The reason they aren’t is because there is not any money or benefit to gained at this point in time.  By directing resources to these projects, we are taking money that could be used for other, more profitable forms of production, and putting it to unproductive uses.

To make matters worse, we are funding these projects and bailouts with printed money.  When you think about how a bank works, you realize that they need to have people depositing and saving money in order to make new loans.  The more money saved, the more money that can be loaned out.  The same should be true for the government, except Bush and Obama have been running trillion dollar deficits.  We aren’t funding our “stimulus” with saved resources.  We are just piling on more debt and creating money out of thin air.  In the long run, this misguided form of “stimulus” will hurt our economy more than help it.

Obama has the right intentions, and he keeps talking about fiscal responsibility.  However, his actions to spend more, inflate more, and expand the central government will only dig us deeper into a depression.  We need to stop printing money trying to reinflate our spending bubble, and let the markets work.  Right now, Obama needs to resist the urge to intervene and let the economy readjust and liquidate all of the malinvestment.  How can a small group in Washington know more than an economy of 700 million?  Stop trying to play hero and get out of the way, that’s what he should have said today.

The 401k Problem

April 9, 2009

I read an interesting point in Tom Woods’ book, Meltdown, last night regarding our retirement savings.  His basic premise was that we should not have to worry about 401k’s and other retirement plans.  We should be able to put our cash in a savings account or put our money in gold coins, and be able to rely on that money when we are ready to retire.

However, this is impossible because of our inflationary monitary policy.  You have to invest in the stock market and risky instruments because you have to try and stay ahead of inflation.  You need to build a bigger nest egg because every dollar you save loses tremendous value over time.

The government only helps feed the need to risk our retirement money by giving us a tax break when we invest in a 401k.  If we did not have this incentive, most people would put their money in accounts where they would have more control of their money.

I hate the fact that I need to put money in mutual funds.  The managers of these funds are looking for short term returns, not sustainable gains over 30 years.  I’d rather have an account that had no gains for 29 years and then went up 10 times in one year, rather than riding the rollercoaster of big gains and even bigger losses.

But back to inflation and our need to invest to outpace it.  You would think that in this day and age, prices of everything would be dropping.  We have so much technology in every single sector that we should be able to pay less for everything we buy.  If prices were allowed to fall like they should, we could just sit on our money and not have to worry about higher prices in the future.

Everyone is outraged that Wall Street greed stole their 401ks.  They have the right to be mad, but they should be mad out our inflationary monetary policy and the government’s encouragement to invest in 401ks.  If greed was the problem, we’d have been dust years ago.  The problem is the government’s central economic planning and encouragement for malinvestment.

The Fallacy of Obama’s Foreclosure Plan

February 23, 2009

I am adamantly against President Obama’s new $275 billion foreclosure prevention plan.  The idea of helping people stay in their homes is a noble one, however government is ill-equipped to take on such a task.

The main argument I’ve heard is that foreclosures are bad for everyone because they lower the value of homes in your neighborhood.  Therefore, we have to help people avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

My question to anyone who supports this plan is simple:  How will helping a person across the country avoid foreclosure help my property value?

If we wanted to help our neighborhood home values so much, why wouldn’t we all pool our money together and get $10 from each household to go to a fund to help pay our neighbor’s mortgage?  That would do more good than Obama’s massive spending plan.  Wouldn’t we, as a neighborhood know who to help and who to let fail?  Wouldn’t we be able to see what homes are worth saving?  How is a government bureaucracy going to know better?

The amount of faith we are placing in the Federal Government baffles me more and more every day.  We continue to think that politicians in Washington who have never been to your neighborhood are smarter than experts that work there every day.  If I really wanted to pay for my neighbor’s mortgage, I would.  What I really don’t want to have is my tax dollars used to pay off someone all the way across the country.  The program makes absolutely no sense.

It is the constant meddling of government in the markets that is dragging our economy into a deeper hole.  Until we let the market work, we are going to keep delaying the inevitable.  Even if the government reduced the interest rate to ZERO on 40% of the homes facing foreclosure, the people still wouldn’t be able to make the payments.  Why waste our tax dollars on supporting something that is bound to fail?

Staving off foreclosures sounds like a great idea, but in reality, Obama’s plan is just spreading the wealth all over the country, taking your tax dollars and giving to someone across the country who made bad decisions.

Already Tired of Obama’s Changes

January 21, 2009

Yesterday was a very important day in American history, don’t get me wrong.  Having a black president is amazing, and it happened a lot sooner than anyone thought it would.  This should be an event that is celebrated as an example of American diversity and open-mindedness.

However, Obama ran on a platform of “change” and so far, it all sounds like a lot more of the same.  The changes he wants to make is just to add to existing programs that already aren’t working.

His speech yesterday called for developing sources of alternative energy, lowering the cost of healthcare, and bettering our education system.

While these are great goals for the country, I wonder why we all believe that the Federal Government is best suited to fix all that ails us.  We can all agree that the current systems are horribly inefficient and do not accomplish what they are supposed to do.  Why should we trust that bureaucrats tweaking the current models is the best way to go?  Who made politicians experts in these fields overnight?

First, if we are to truly to explore forms of alternative energy, we need the government and lobbyists to get out of the way and let the market take over.  There is no reason every new home built should not have solar panels or that new electric car companies should not be emerging.  However, the regulations in place stifle competition and the innovation that made America the great manufacturer it once was.

The big oil and car makers have created a competitive advantage to keep the same cars on the road.  How have we not innovated the basic gas engine in 90 years?  Finally, solar and wind power are gaining ground, but because we are demanding it, not because government is pushing for it.  Let market forces and demands of consumers dictate our energy policy, not lobbyists for companies that stand to profit from one specific alternative energy source.

Second, the only way we are going to bring down the cost of healthcare is to start paying for it ourselves.  I’m not talking about co-pays and premiums, I’m talking about doctor visits, prescriptions, and other routine health services.  We also need to turn health coverage back into health insurance, just as Ron Paul has suggested.  Insurance is for disasters, not going to the doctor for a cold.

Currently, the government or big healthcare corporations pay for doctors, drugs and treatments.  We only pay into the system, but we do not make any direct payments.  This completely distorts the costs because a third party is making the payments.  They have no sense of value and “bang for their buck.”  They have set up payment structures and just collect money.  They do not try to control costs for the patients as long as they make money.

Think about what happens when  you go to a body shop for your car.  The first question they ask is if it’s going through insurance or not.  If it is, they crank up the price, and if you aren’t, they usually have a lower price.  Why can’t we see the same thing is happening with our healthcare?

In order to provide “universal healthcare” we need to make it affordable to everyone, not having government foot the bill for the current cost of care.  Insurance could be purchased based on your needs which would be for catastrophes.  The rest could be set aside in pre-tax health savings accounts.

Also, you should be able to purchase malpractice insurance before you undergo any procedure.  That way, everyone is not paying for someone else’s malpractice suit.  You only pay if you are undergoing surgery or another treatment.  It makes more sense than raising everyone’s cost for one case.

The system would be put back in the hands of doctors and patients, not big corporations, accountants and lawyers.

Finally, the same needs to be done for our Department of Education.  We need to get rid of it.  How does an office of bureaucrats in Washington know what’s best for the education of children in your neighborhood?  Why do we pay taxes for education into a huge pot and not know what projects it is going to?  Why do we teach our students to be good test takers and not free thinkers?

People think of education in this country as a right, and not the priviledge it really is.  Also, it’s not free.  We pay taxes that go towards education.  However, those taxes go to pay Department of Education employees and other expenses that have nothing to do with teaching kids.  Why not pay those taxes as fees to your local school?  Wouldn’t the money go directly to the school your children are attending?  It would also be much more efficient because there wouldn’t be so many layers.

We need to get rid of state mandated tests as well.  The No Child Left Behind Act sounded like a good idea, but the entire year is built in preparation of a standardized test.  Rather than raising “thinkers,” we develop good test takers.  How are we supposed to compete in the global economy if they are just learning test questions and not the fundamental subjects behind them?

Obama might have great intentions, but his efforts are destined to fail.  Central planning has not and will not work.  I know he won’t, but he needs to impart on a real path of change, one where the government gets out of the way and lets the market work.  If this is the change we all voted for, it’s not going to change anything.  Instead, we’re going to need a revolution.