Friday, November 28, 2008

Two Consequences of the Recession

Two stories about Black Friday from the NYT. Good news for consumers:
Such crazy prices are a sign of the times, and analysts expect many more such deals during one of the toughest holiday seasons in decades.
At least for those who can survive the stampede:
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said.

"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

This is for those of you who have to suffer through TSA this week. Hilarious and frightening.

The Myth of Declining Economic Well-Being

A recent study by Christian Broda and David E. Weinstein finds what I have long suspected: the CPI has has not been taking into account increases in technological innovation over the last 25 years.

From AEI's intro to the study:
The consumer price index used to compute official measures of real wages and poverty ignores two key sources of increased prosperity: the introduction of new and better products and consumers' ability to substitute between goods. Deflating nominal wages by a cost-of-living index that adjusts for these previously unconsidered factors of prosperity suggests that the real wages of the poor have actually risen by 30 percent since the late 1970s--and that the poverty rate in America has fallen dramatically over the last forty years.

How can we account for the discrepancy between standard measures of economic well-being--which suggest a trend of increased poverty--and alternative measures that indicate an upswing in prosperity? As Broda and Weinstein argue, product innovation has long been a key source of prosperity for American households. New and better household appliances, cellular phones, vehicle air bags, medicines, and computers are among the many product improvements that have benefited Americans, including the poor, over the last few decades. Yet current official price statistics capture only a portion of the benefits that these improved goods provide to American households. Broda and Weinstein conclude that adjusting poverty measures to fully account for the benefits of product improvements reveals that Americans in every income group are substantially better off economically than they were a quarter century ago.
The "fact" that economic well-being has been declining is a favorite talking point of op-ed columnists and politicians. What they conveniently ignore is that more people can now afford better goods than their counterparts could 25 years ago. We have all become significantly richer.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bubble and Squeak and Other Ridiculously Named Dishes

The Washingtonian recently published a "first look" review of CommonWealth in Columbia Heights. Seriously, guys? The place opened in early August. Tardiness aside, the review is spot-on. I'm glad the place exists, especially in Columbia Heights. There aren't many gatropubs in DC, and few restaurants match CommonWealth's atmosphere: it's cozy and boisterous. I've only eaten there once, so it's hard for me to judge the food (which was good, not great). The menu features some wonderfully named British fare, like frog in a puff and bubble and sqeak, and a ton of pressed meats.

As the Washingtonian review notes, the prices are a bit high for a restaurant that feigns to cater to the "people." Our dinner for two (with two beers) came out to $120, before tip (and no dessert). Yikes.

That said, I'll be back soon: it's hard to stay mad at a restaurant that has roasted bone marrow on the menu.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

GWB: The Dems' Best Friend

It's no secret that the George W Bush's failed presidency was a huge election-time boon for Obama and the Democrats. But as The Atlantic's Robert D. Kaplan shows, GWB's abhorrent legacy may also help Obama's approval ratings once he takes office:
Obama and Clinton are buying into a bottomed-out market vis-à-vis America’s position in the world. It is as if they will be buying stock after the market has crashed, and just at the point when a number of factors are already set in motion for a recovery. For President George W. Bush did not just damage America’s position in the world, he has also, over the past two years, quietly repositioned himself as a realist in foreign policy, and that, coupled with a bold new strategy in Iraq, known as the “surge,” has poised America for a diplomatic rebound, which the next administration will get the credit for carrying out.
Ok, Dems: You still have a month and a half to send your singing "thank you" telegram to:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

R.I.P Saturday Morning Cartoons

From the NY Times:

After terminating a deal with 4Kids, an independent producer of children’s programming, the Fox network closed down its Saturday morningblock of cartoons on Monday, and became the first major broadcast network to agree to sell a part of its schedule to producers of infomercials.

Fox executives said that children’s programming was simply no longer viable on network television — mainly because of competition from cable channels.
Somewhere, an Animaniac is crying seltzer water tears.

Tara Smith at the National Press Club

Dr. Tara Smith, Objectivist scholar and professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, will be speaking about pragmatism on December 8, at the National Press Club. If you are a fan of Ayn Rand's philosophy, or just serious about ideas, I highly encourage you to go. I've had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Smith speak on a few occasions. This is a free talk, so if you're a DC local, this is a no-brainer. (Har.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

To 2009! The Year One!

This is an especially irritating time to be in the Federal City. Nearly all of DC is swooning over the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama. This was most dramatically evidenced on Election Night when, after he was declared the victor, the Left gleefully took to the streets, champagne bottles in hand.

In fact, the DC Fire and Emergency Service is currently stockpiling smelling salts as a safety measure for the big day. Rightly so: the expected crowd of 4 million may come down with a collective case of the vapors on January 20. Pillows and hand fans are being deployed to the National Mall as I write this. Ah do declare.

Slow down, folks. Obama's presidency is still in the political womb, yet the Left is already talking about the rebirth of FDR. The Right, on the other hand, thinks Rosemary is about to give birth on the steps of the US Capitol. (That would make for some interesting television.)

Far be it for me to deny the Left its moment to gloat, or the Right its time to wallow in its loss. At some point both sides will realize that while Obama will almost certainly have a more successful presidency than George W Bush, he is not the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.