Horse Burgers

1 12 2011

In 2006, the US congress effectively banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption by withholding funding for the legally necessary USDA inspection of horse meat. On November 18, that funding was restored when President Obama signed a spending bill. Now, I have a serious problem with de facto bans. If congress refuses to fund inspections that a law passed by the very same congress requires, the lack of funding should automatically cause the inspections to not be required. The government shutdown that nearly happened earlier this year would’ve apparently effectively banned the production of all meat and maybe produce too within the United States. I have to wonder what would’ve actually happened if all USDA inspections had stopped. Would slaughterhouses have let meat rot while waiting for inspectors to show up? My hope is that everyone involved would realize the absurdity in following the letter of the law and ignore it, when following it would lead to a massive food shortage and ultimately starvation. My wish is that this would become the legal precedent, that unfunded laws automatically become moot.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people weren’t even aware that horses where ever slaughtered for human consumption in the US. It has apparently been an ongoing practice throughout my life up until 2006, and even then I only have one distinct memory of the practice being mentioned by anyone. There was an Episode of All in the Family where Archie unknowingly ate horse meat, and I have some vague memory of it being an option for pathetic poor people who can’t afford “real” meat. It turns out that it’s pretty common in Mexico, France, and much of the rest of the world. Some animal rights groups are upset that the de facto ban is ending, but PETA isn’t. They’re actually looking at the real effect of the law:

In an interview with the Monitor, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk said the US should never have banned domestic horse slaughter – a stance that has put the organization at odds with other mainstream animal rights groups, like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

The reason he feels this way is that the ban on horse slaughter has led to the exportation of horses for slaughter, and from a horse’s point of view being shipped a thousand or so miles and then being slaughtered in Mexico is worse than being driven 80 miles away to be slaughtered in the same state.

While PETA says the optimal solution is to ban both consumption slaughter and export of horses, it supports reintroducing horse slaughterhouses in the US, especially if accompanied by a ban on exporting any horses at all to other countries.

Okay, that sounds more like the PETA I know. I don’t see how any combination of bans could ever be “optimal” in any sense, but I can appreciate the fact that they acknowledge that a ban on something they find distasteful has actually worsened the situation from their perspective. Other groups are reportedly outraged by the end of the ban.

The issue has galvanized the animal rights community, which contends that horses are too intelligent to be food animals, and that legal processing of horse meat will endanger wild horse populations and motivate Americans to raise horses specifically for human consumption.

That won’t happen, but what if it did? Horses are neat animals, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that they’re any more intelligent than the other tasty animals we eat. Horse meat will only become popular if people discover that they taste awesome, which is apparently the case. I’ve just read a few random internet people claim that it’s pretty good, much like beef with a slightly stronger taste. If these people were eating meat from retired work horses, and not from horses raised specifically for meat, we can speculate that food horses might be even tastier. Also, if horse meat wasn’t tasty, the French wouldn’t be eating it.

The totally predictable effects of the ban haven’t been awesome…

…more abandoned and neglected horses in the US are being sold and processed for meat anyway in countries that may not have the same standard of humane euthanasia that US law requires. Government statistics show that 138,000 American horses were sold and processed for meat in other countries in 2010 – a 660 percent increase from 2007, according to the GAO report.

…especially on horse owners, some of whom aren’t rich.

The poor economy has been tough on horse owners and the animals themselves, leading to what Representative Kingston calls an “unanticipated problem with horse neglect and abandonment.” InColorado alone, horse abandonment “increased 60 percent from 975 in 2005 to 1,588 in 2009,” the GAO report stated.

What’s more, The New York Times reports that the law forced many breeders and owners to go out of business because their inability to sell horses for meat “removed the floor” for prices while forcing owners to shoulder costs for euthanizing and disposing of unwanted horses. Before the ban, the horse slaughter business generated some $65 million in revenues a year.

I picture small time breeders have a much harder time shipping their horses to Mexico for slaughter than larger operations, so the now worthless horses are either euthanized or abandoned. Awesome.

Part of me hopes that the ridiculous fears of the animal rights folks that Americans will begin raising horses specifically for human consumption become true. After reading various reports, I’d really like to try some roast horse.

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Ask Me a Question

22 11 2009

I’ve been scolded for not posting anything fresh here in a while. I need some inspiration. If you’re reading this, please ask me a question and I shall do my best to answer it, provided it’s not immensely personal or incredibly stupid. I know a lot of shit. I did this several years ago and the best question was, “Why can’t anarchy work?” I answered it without rejecting the premise. Maybe I’ll just answer that again.





The broken window fallacy and an idiot

16 09 2009

The following is a word for word excerpt for Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson:

A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop.  The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone.  A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies.  After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection.  And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side.  It will make business for some glazier.  As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it.  How much does a new plate glass window cost?  Two hundred and fifty dollars?  That will be quite a sun.  After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business?  Then, of course, the thing is endless.  The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum.  The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles.  The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look.   The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion.  This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier.  The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death.  But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit.  Because he has had to replace the window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury).  Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window.  Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit.  If we think of him as part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business.  No new “employment” has been added.  The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier.  They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor.  They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene.  They will see the new window in the next day or two.  They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made.  They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.

The entire book is available here in plain text and PDF form.

It is one of my many totally unrealistic wishes that everyone in the world become familiar with this story and understand the implications for just about every government program in existence, especially the mother of all government programs – war. I bring this here because I recently read something absolutely horrible and idiotic on The Huffington Post. Thom Hartmann, who apparently has a nationally syndicated radio show, wrote a piece called Want to Stimulate the Economy? Lower the Retirement Age to 55 Now! Let’s get started:

One of the most powerful forms of stimulus we could apply to our economy right now would be to lower the current Social Security retirement age from the current 65-67 to 55, and increase the benefits back to where they were in inflation-adjusted 1960s dollars by raising them between 10 to 20 percent (so people could actually live, albeit modestly, on Social Security).

The right-wing reaction to this, of course, will be to say that with fewer people working and more people drawing benefits, it would bankrupt Social Security and destroy the economy. But history shows the exact reverse.

When I read drivel like this, I immediately think that anyone that isn’t too dumb to learn how to read will recognize instantly that the author is a moron who not only shouldn’t be listened to, but who really ought to be universally scorned for insulting the English-speaking world’s collective intelligence. Then I remember how much smarter I am than the average person. Fuck. Some people are pretty dumb. Some people are going to actually buy this horseshit. They might even like it so much that they begin to look forward to reading the next stinking turd this bonehead craps out. Bad ideas like this need to be destroyed before stupid people start believing them. I shall do my best. Tell all your friends.

The first thing to address is that the claim is beyond extraordinary and should be greeted with extreme skepticism. Then we must dismiss the man as a dipshit when he paints objection as right-wing, as if right-wing people are the only folks with at least a tiny bit of sense. Finally, he claims that history is on his side. Ridiculous. Let’s see how he supports his outlandish claims:

Instead, it would eliminate the problem of unemployment in the United States. All those Boomers retiring would make room in the labor market for all the recent high-school and college graduates who are now finding it so hard to find a job.

If enough Boomers left the job market, it would even flip the current dynamic of too-many-people-chasing-too-few-jobs upside down, and create a tight labor markets. Tight labor markets drive up wages.

And as wages go up, tax revenues — which are paying for Social Security (among other things) — would increase.

The first thing he completely ignores is productivity. Many of the most productive employees in out society are over 55. The young people who would replace them would not be nearly as capable of doing the same work. There are a handful of jobs that suit the young, but of course, these are not the jobs that would be opening up. Companies and entire industries with lots of people over 55 would be in a lot of trouble. Total wages would almost certainly fall along with productivity. It would almost always be stupid to pay a 22 year-old with no experience the same wage as someone with 30+ years experience. To put it another way, it’s foolish to presume that the wages of the newly employed would match the wages of the newly retired. It’s especially stupid to conclude that total wages would increase so much as to push up tax revenue high enough to cover massively increased cost of Social Security.

I wonder if this man has looked at the numbers he’s talking about? Does he have any idea how much this would increase the cost of Social Security? If I were to take a stab, I’d guess it’d be somewhere around double the current price tag which is nothing to sneeze at.

*googles*

Ah, I found state-by-state data here which show that in Arizona in 2000, there were 442,372 people aged from 55 to 64, and 465,062 were 65 and over, so the population of people eligible for Social Security retirement benefits would nearly double and increasing the benefits by just 10% would be more than enough to double the costs of the program. Now, Arizona might be an odd exception, but I seriously doubt it. Like Florida and Texas, we have more than our share of old people in this state. Can anyone take this idea seriously now? 2008 Social Security spending was $608 Billion and expected to rise rapidly in the next several years. Can anyone imagine how new tax revenues from newly employed young people could possible begin to cover this? It’s pretty much a mathematic impossibility. Yes, I understand that “tightening the labor market” would put upward pressure on wages, but that could never begin to have that great of an effect, and I further understand that a massive drop in productivity would limit the ability of many employers to pay higher wages. In fact, I would predict that several businesses would fail and we might not be much better off in terms of employment.

Moving on:

Additionally, these new-into-the-workforce people can then pay off student loans, buy new houses and cars, and otherwise drive the economy from the bottom up. Which will further increase tax revenues further strengthening the Social Security system.

Need I introduce Say’s law? Though it defies common nonsense, consumer spending does not drive an economy. It is only through production that we are able to maintain and improve our living standards, aka real income.

To further tighten the job market and drive up wages (and tax revenues), modify the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 — which tightened the labor market and reduced unemployment by establishing the 40-hour work week – to include all hours worked by a person. We could also, like in France, drop the 40-hour maximum-workweek threshold to 35 hours (used by the Mitterrand government to successfully lower unemployment and stimulate the French economy). A final step would be to emulate the rest of the developed world and require by law that every worker get at least two to four weeks a year of paid vacation — further tightening the labor market. (emphasis added)

I don’t understand what exactly the part in bold means. Anyway, I’m sure this is great news to employers and would-be employers. I would like to have a business of my own someday with employees, but the heavily restricted labor market scares me. I think I’d rather go to a country with more economic freedom. I can’t be alone in my thinking. France has been having labor issues for quite some time. Overall unemployment is a bit over %8, but unemployment among those under 25 has been more than 20% for the great majority of the last 15 years. France is a horrible model to emulate, but Thom gets even better:

In Uganda, Joseph Okwakoi gets it. He’s the president of the National Youth Council in that nation, a group that has considerable political power (and an affiliated Member of Parliament, the Central Youth Party’s Joseph Kasozi).

Earlier this month, Okwakoi called on Parliament and President Museveni to lower the age of retirement for government workers (the country’s largest employer) from the current 60 years of age to 55. This single act would instantly create about 15,000 job openings in the country, which could be filled by currently unemployed young people.

President Museveni replied that he’d consider it seriously, pointing out that, “The retirement age was actually 55 when we came but because of manpower shortage we put it at 60.” Now that the manpower shortage has eased, wages are falling, and unemployment is rising, he noted, “We shall study it.”

What Joseph Okwakoi understands is that there is a marketplace for labor. When the supply of labor exceeds demand, the price of labor (“wages”) falls. On the other hand, when the demand for labor is at or greater than the supply of labor, the price of labor – wages – increases.

Yes folks, we need to be more like Uganda where half the population earns less than $1.25 per day. Please pay special attention to the fact that the government is the largest employer.

I must admit that one of my dream jobs is to host a radio talk show and it’s severely annoying that idiots like this guy are the ones who actually have this job. I like the talk radio format, but I don’t actually know of a single host who’s currently on that I would actually like to listen to.

After Uganda, he starts talking about US labor history. I see nothing interesting until the end:

Then we can begin to bring our manufacturing jobs back home from China and the other important steps (Medicare For All and Card-Check for unionization) to restore the strength and integrity our nation and national economy once had. (emphasis added)

Once upon a time, US labor law was simply the First Amendment – free association. People were free to form and join unions as they wished or negotiate the terms of their employment on their own. Employers were free to fire workers for striking or joining unions and they were also free to make exclusive employment contracts with a single union or contract with multiple unions. Even without their modern legal privileges, unions in some industries were quite powerful. Currently, a union is formed when a majority of workers vote to create one by secret ballot and all workers are forced to join whether they want to or not. The vote is held when a certain threshold of workers sign a card indicating that they want the vote to happen. The card is not secret. There is move going on to change the law so that if a majority of workers sign a card, the union is automagically born. There is no secret ballot, meaning there is no privacy, meaning union thugs know who to blame when they don’t get the union they want. The history of organized labor in the US is filled with violence. Civilized people should be offended by this idea.

Yeah, I’m basically anti-union. Educate yourself.





The Stupid Pope

9 07 2009

Yesterday, I read in the New York Times that the Vatican had just released a new encyclical, written by Pope Benedict XVI. The article’s title, Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good’ got my attention. The term “common good” bothers me, as does “New World Economic Order.” I know people listen to Pope’s, so I had to see what he’s trying to say.

Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called for a radical rethinking of the global economy, criticizing a growing divide between rich and poor and urging the establishment of a “true world political authority” to oversee the economy and work for the “common good.”

What crap. He’s calling for a sort of one-world government. I must wonder if he truly believes that a central authority can somehow improve the world economy or if he just pretends to think that way. Religious leaders have this magical authority to make economic policy recommendations without even implying that they have any understanding of economic theory.

In the encyclical, Benedict wrote that “financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”

I don’t expect an explanation of this genuinely ethical foundation, a term that can be interpreted in too many ways. I take this as a defense of modern state-empowered banking in general, fractional reserve lending and such.

In many ways, the document is a puzzling cross between an anti-globalization tract and a government white paper, another signal that the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left.

“There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That’s quite intentional,” Vincent J. Miller, a theologian at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in Ohio, said by telephone.

“He’ll wax poetically about the virtuous capitalist, but then he’ll give you this very clear analysis of the ways in which global capital and the shareholder system cause managers to focus on short-term good at the expense of the community, of workers, of the environment.”

Indeed, sometimes Benedict sounds like an old-school European socialist, lamenting the decline of the social welfare state and praising the “importance” of labor unions to protect workers. Without stable work, he noted, people lose hope and tend not to get married and have children.

But he also wrote, “The so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favor of the shareholders.” And he argued that it was “erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best.”

Oh, these seeming contradictions are so puzzling. He basically is an old-school socialist, a state-socialist – looking to the power of the state to solve all our problems. Actually, his thoughts resemble those of the angry centrist. Angry centrists decry the division between the left and right and seek a middle-ground where we can all get what we want, and we can all get along. They’re fools, ideologically bankrupt and politically illiterate. The whole point of politics is for some people to get something at the expense of other people. That’s what I really think this guy is.

The only thing I see in his writing that resembles Ayn Rand is that he’s long-winded. He goes on and on about nothing and the New York Times seems to have done a pretty good job of picking out the few noteworthy things in 144 pages of religious fluff.

Benedict also called for a reform of the United Nations so there could be a unified “global political body” that allowed the less powerful of the earth to have a voice, and he called on rich nations to help less fortunate ones.

“In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all,” he wrote.

I can’t imagine how the UN is supposed to give anyone a voice. The internet gives everyone who can access it a voice. Is the UN going to hook everyone up to the internet I suspect he means something else. Development aid is a wealth tranfer; it does not create any wealth at all, and transaction costs ensure that the net effect is less that zero.

John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.

[…]

Michael Novak, a philosopher and theologian at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, a conservative research organization, said he thought that the encyclical was stronger on principles than policy suggestions. He said he was particularly uncomfortable with the idea of a strong international institution to regulate the global economy.

“I like limited government. I would much prefer to have many limited governments than one overriding authority,” Mr. Novak said by telephone.

I’m uncomfortable with that too, though I’d prefer 10,000 city-states. It’s sad to me that because this man wears a big goofy hat, people automatically give weight to his opinions on matters in which he only demonstrates ignorance. I wonder if he’s ever heard of the socialist calculations debate or if he’s ever noticed that the most powerful centralized governments of the 20-th century are responsible for the great majority of violent death and destruction.

I’ve taken a look at the encyclical itself. It’s too long and far too boring to read in its entirety, but if you’re sufficiently awake and interested you could skim through it. In the introduction there’s a lot of fluff about love, Jesus, truth, and charity. It seems largely meaningless until…

Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.

The Pope is telling us that political “charity” is just as wonderful as actual private charity. Christians are being told not merely that it’s okay to give away other people’s wealth, but that they ought to do this. I do not know how this can square up with the Seventh Commandment (Catholic).

I may add more latter…