Monthly Archives: October 2010

One way to spend $120,000

From the NYT:

Earlier, he had held up a warning: a local village chief who had squandered a $120,000 windfall.

A short drive away, Hamon Matipe, the septuagenarian chief of Kili, confirmed that he had received that sum four months earlier. In details corroborated by the local authorities, Mr. Matipe explained that the provincial government had paid him for village land alongside the Southern Highlands’ one major road, where the government planned to build a police barracks.

His face adorned with red and white paint, a pair of industrial safety glasses perched incongruously on a head ornament from which large leaves stuck out, Mr. Matipe said he had given most of the money to his 10 wives. But he had used about $20,000 to buy 48 pigs, which he used as a dowry to obtain a 15-year-old bride from a faraway village, paying well above the going rate of 30 pigs. He and some 30 village men then celebrated by buying 15 cases of beer, costing about $800.

“All the money is now gone,” Mr. Matipe said. “But I’m very happy about the company, ExxonMobil. Before, I had nothing. But because of the money, I was able to buy pigs and get married again.”

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Experimenting with an earnings tax

Imagine a 2 period wealth maximization game. In period one, consumers receive unitless  endowment N and can choose to use that endowment to consume, invest (at some interest rate i) or do nothing. In period 2, consumers choose to consume or do nothing, payoffs are made, and the game ends. We can introduce an exogenous income tax on investments, and an exogenous sales tax on consumption and utilize Monte Carlo simulations to do comparative analysis on different regime states to analyze the hypothesis that taxation of income retards stimulative investment and that a sales tax mechanism is preferable to maximize economic growth.

The basic design seems sound to me. . But flaws are not always obvious. Thoughts?

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Against the Columbia Police Department on Tasers

This past month I spoke to the Boone County Pachyderms, the local Republican organization, on the anti-taser ballot initiative facing Columbia voters, in a forum with Dwayne Carey, the Boone County Sheriff. Here are a few thoughts.

The “ban tasers in Columbia” ballot initiative was brought forth after the Columbia Police Department was involved in a series of highly publicized Taserings that resulted in lawsuits against the city and significant public outcry. Moreover, Columbia Police Department has been involved in numerous instances of civil rights violations and tends to deny wrongdoing in almost every instance where a complaint is lodged. There is a basic lack of respect for citizens by the police of Columbia, Missouri, and it shows in some rather ugly ways.

I don’t agree with the entirety of the “ban taser” ordinance. I think the ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad in banning defensive civilian use of Tasers, and I think that the real problem with Tasers in Columbia is that we have a bad police force, not because the Taser is a bad tool.

I do think that Tasers represent unpredictable force, because you can’t predict how different people will react to being Tasered, and you risk killing someone who has an unobservable heart defect or other health problem. Generally speaking, I think this means that Tasers are inappropriate for disciplinary uses, and represent excessive force in those scenarios. So while I don’t think law enforcement shouldn’t have Tasers, I do think that the Taser is a tool for very specific defensive situations, and you should never let someone who is poorly trained use a Taser in an official capacity.

The discussion in front of the Pachyderms crystallized around those two contentions. Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey was polite and well-reasoned in his discussion. Carey noted that his department has had Tasers for far longer than Columbia Police Dept; Boone County got Tasers in 2002 and CPD got Tasers in 2008. BCSD uses Tasers infrequently, and it appears in far more appropriate situations than CPD does. If one uses the simple metric of lawsuits per Taser usage, this is a defensible claim; I am unaware of any complaint or lawsuit filed against BCSD for Taser usages, whereas CPD has managed to generate several million dollars worth of lawsuits over the last 3 years (that taxpayers end up on the hook for).

The reporter from the Columbia Tribune posted this comment to his blog regarding the story:

Dan’s comment:  I thought this was a perfectly fair story.  The Sheriff on the one hand defending the use of Tasers by law enforcement, and the opponent, who is adamantly opposed to the CPD having Tasers, although he’s OK with the Sheriff’s Dept. having them.  I caught a lot of guff from the CPD for using him as a source because of his obvious bias, but the guy spoke in a public forum, and was invited to do so by the Pachyderm Club.  I had to cover his comments, and I had to ask him questions afterward.  It was my job and my assignment.  CPD didn’t see it that way.  The Sheriff, by the way, thought my story was fair and accurate.  – Dan

And of course this comment captures everything that I am saying about CPD perfectly. Of course I have a bias. But CPD won’t elaborate on what that bias is (I believe in the rights of individuals to be free from torture and police brutality). Nor are they making the argument that I am wrong or providing any warrant for why my comments are unfair. But when you have Eric Dearmont or the other hacks from the Columbia Police Officers Association commenting on any allegations against CPD, you have to understand that their first allegiance is to their paychecks and pensions, not justice or public service.

PS. I should thank Mike Zweifel and Tom Seagraves for their gracious invitation to speak to the Boone County Republicans and their commitment to open and vibrant debate.

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The economics of South Park

So I haven’t been writing much here because I’ve had a lot of other things on my plate, and because I haven’t really felt clever enough to write much. But I thought that I might start posting a series on the economics of South Park, the iconoclastic and terrifically profane cartoon syndicated by Comedy Central. In almost every episode there is some plot wrinkle that references, explains, or satirizes something that can be understood in an economic sense. And of course watching episodes is amusing and a great stress relief. So stay tuned.