Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration Reform

Dobber was correct in a comment that he made about my immigration post last week.  I should have been more specific about the problems with the current system and the necessary reforms.  

Broadly, governments should allow any activity that people want to pursue as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.  In the case of immigration, the activity that government is wrongly trying to prevent is moving to this country to contribute to the economy.  One may argue that the presence of immigrants lowers wages and increases unemployment for US natives, but this argument assumes a static economy, which is dubious in light of the empirical data.  

The reforms necessary to bring government policy in line with reality are: 1. Grant any citizen of a friendly country a temporary work permit upon request so that anyone who wishes can contribute to the US economy; 2. Grant some kind of temporary legal status to the 11 million undocumented workers currently in the US; 3. Allow temporary workers to earn permanent legal status and US citizenship.  

This is essentially the same immigration policy that the United States employed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This policy worked then to create the country that we know today and it will work in the future to continually reinvigorate our country’s fabric.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gmail Note to Self Feature

I just submitted the following suggestion to Gmail.  If you think it is a good idea please let them know.

It would be really great if I could take notes in Gmail and have them associated with a conversation.  Quite often I have additional information associated with a conversation that I need to keep for myself, but do not necessarily want to share with my email correspondents.  The feature that I envision would add an action or a button to take a note when viewing an email.  By clicking on this button, the editor window would open so that the user could type the notes.  The user could then save the note so that it would appear as a “Note to Self” immediately following the previous email in the conversation.  The user could in effect comment on each message received.  

Here is an example of how I would use this feature.  About a month and a half ago, some friends and I organized a ski trip.  The conversation view made it really easy to organize all the communications (so thanks for that).  My job was to make the hotel reservations.  By doing this, I had some information that I wanted to share, like the price, but some information that I didn’t want or need to share, like confirmation number, the sales person’s name and direct extension, and the credit card that I used.  What I actually did was to save all this information in a text file, which was ok, but it was completely unassociated with the rest of the context.  

Other applications could include noting that a user called the contact to discuss an email, summarizing poll/vote responses, and noting that a user plans to follow-up or take some action based on an email.  

Finally on the left hand menu there could be a “Notes” box that would show all current, or archived, or time dated (not sure what would be best here) notes.  

There are a couple of ways get some of this functionality currently in Gmail like creating a draft email or sending an email to oneself.  The problem with the drafts is that they show up in red in the drafts folder, which is a little confusing and not really what I want.  Sending an email to oneself works a little better, but the user can never go back to edit the note once sent and the message automatically goes to the end of the conversation.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wright Amendment?

Over the weekend, my friend Becca, who recently began her career as a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, brought the dispute over the Wright Amendment to my attention. The Wright Amendment is a federal law that limits flights departing from Dallas’ Love Field to a select number of states bordering or near Texas.

For those new to the debate, Dallas has two major airports, the older and smaller Love Field and the newer and larger Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Southwest is the primary airline operating out of Love Field, while American Airlines has the largest presences at DFW along with many other major airlines.

I am not sure about the details of how this whole situation came into being, but it seems that when Dallas decided to build DFW, they convinced the major airlines to go along with the relocation by telling them that the city would close Love Field. Unfortunately for that plan some of the smaller airlines wanted to keep Love Field open and a federal court agreed with them. In response to that, city and major airline interests lobbied for the Wright Amendment to limit competition from the airlines operating out of Love Field.

Below I briefly describe some of the principle stakeholders in this situation and their interests. Southwest wants to get rid of the Wright Amendment so that they can compete with American to destinations throughout the US. By operating at the larger DFW, American has to pay higher gate and landing fees than Southwest does at Love Field, so American is concerned about allowing Southwest to compete with a lower cost basis (I have not been able to find out how much higher the fees are at DFW than at Love Field). The Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, who together own DFW, are concerned because DFW apparently has lots of debt due to recent expansions so they want to make sure that DFW can continue to service its debt. The traveling public just wants convenient and inexpensive air transit to and from Dallas and not to have to pick up the tab on DFW’s debt.

To solve this situation, the federal government should repeal the Wright Amendment and the Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth should privatize both Love Field and DFW. Privatization of Love Field and DFW would allow private sector airlines to negotiate the terms of their landing and gate fees with competing private sector airports. This would help equalize the fees at both airports as other low cost carriers, such as Jet Blue, have indicated that they would want to operate out of Love Field if the Wright Amendment was repealed thus bidding up fees. We saw recently in the Indiana Toll Road Deal that private companies are interested in owning infrastructure. So private capital can retire any DFW debt. Finally removing the political conflict of interest can allow market mechanisms and creativity to drive innovation at both DFW and Love Field, which will result in increased value for the consumers.

Other than the narrow interests of the involved politicians, why can’t this work?

For background information look here, here, here, and here.

Labor Shortage in China

Labor Shortage in China May Lead to Trade Shift - New York Times

I am not sure if this article represents a trend or an outlyer. If it is indeed a trend, we may see China represent less of a deflationary force in the world economy.

Thank You Immigrants!

Yesterday, I attended a rally for immigration policy reform in Boston. Similar rallies took place in over one hundred cities across the country in an effort to focus attention on our ridiculous immigration policy that has lead to up to eleven million undocumented people contributing their efforts to the economy outside the law.

I say thank you to the immigrants for having the courage to move to a new country to make a better life for themselves and their families. I also say thank you to the contributions that they have made to our economy by providing the manpower for many of the necessary functions in our economy – in many cases outside legal protection and in jeopardy of being deported by the government of what should be a grateful nation.

Most of all I say thank you to the immigrants for providing me with an opportunity to take part in this kind of rally. Unfortunately there are not very many rallies in support of the policies that I support such as lowering taxes, reducing the size and scope of the federal government, federalism, using American power to topple dictatorships, and reducing trade barriers and distortions. On immigration, I have finally found policy alignment with a group of people who have the desire an ability to hold this kind of rally. So, thank you for that!

I really enjoyed seeing all of the hardworking people rallying so that they can enjoy the freedom to just keep doing what they are doing. At one point, I struck up a conversation with an immigrant carpenter because I couldn’t remember what the chant “Si Se Puede” meant. At first he was a little confused because he thought that I looked Spanish. He really appreciated it when I told him that I am a forth, fifth, and sixth generation immigrant and that I supported their cause. This guy and millions like him are just here to make a buck like the rest of us. They deserve the chance. They contribute. This country needs them.

On a side note, here is an amusing anecdote: While I was listening to one of the speakers, who were generally pretty good the woman handing out the revolutionary communist newspaper did not even bother to ask me if I wanted one. She asked the woman to my left if she wanted a copy, looked at me for a moment, and then moved on to ask some other guy if he wanted a copy. I guess that I did not look enough like a member of the proletariat in my business attire. Unfortunately, I failed to realize quickly enough what was happening or I would have asked her why she was discriminating against me. I guess I had better watch my back when the revolution begins…

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ethanol in Brazil

Yesterday's New York Times reported on the increased use of ethanol in Brazil as a substitute for gasoline. Apparently the Brazilian are greatly increasing their use of ethanol and are nearly energy independent as a country. Good for them.

The key technology here is flex fuel vehicles, which allow the vehicle to operate on either gasoline, an ethanol blend, or some mixture of the two. From the picture in the article, it appears that the ethanol blend sells for approximately 30% less than gasoline, so obviously people are eager to use it. What I am not sure about in this situation is how much of this progress is attributable to private innovation in the presence of a monopoly and how much of this is attributable to government intervention. Brazil has been one of the leaders in "Latin American State Capitalism", so the later would not surprise me at all.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, we are not really doing a good job of following in Brazil's lead:
But Brazilian officials and business executives say the ethanol industry would develop even faster if the United States did not levy a tax of 54 cents a gallon on all imports of Brazilian cane-based ethanol.

The farm belt sees corn based ethanol as a new market to exploit, but only if they can protect it from lower cost imports. How is that good for the US consumer? What we really need to do is drop the tax on ethanol imports and let the market develop. Since Brazil will not be able to supply all of the demand in the near term or any term, there will be a place for corn based ethanol along side the cheaper imports. We need to get smarter about energy policy and by that I mean let the market figure it out.