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Archive - October 2006

Rhymes with Salsa

Automated Hotel Check-In

In Tune with Dean Martin

Ross Perot Redux Lite

Buck Wild in Phoenix

Minimum Wages as Fantasy

Friday, October 13, 2006

   Rhymes with Salsa - In yesterday's local paper was an essay/commentary by an NAU freshman named Katie Eubanks.  Based on this sample, it would seem she may well have a promising future in the writing business.  I can only lament that my students don't write half as clearly as Ms. Eubanks.  Still, what attracted my attention was the opening paragraph:

"Vote for Khalsa - Rhymes with Salsa!"  When I saw this sign sticking out of the ground, I laughed.  Were all local politicians as much fun as Khalsa?  I'd never seen campaign slogans like this, at least not where I came from.

     I chuckled when I read that, but not because it is funny.  Rather, it struck me as sadly ironic.  Avtar Khalsa's campaign for Justice of the Peace seemed rooted in racism, focused on the slogan that Ms. Eubanks remarked upon.  As one would surmise, he is not Hispanic.  Yet, his major argument for garnering votes was that his name sounded vaguely Spanish and, indeed, rhymed with a well known word.  Who the heck cares what his name rhymes with?  The subtext here is clear ... well, at least to anyone not a freshman in college - "Vote for me because I'm one of you!"  Political ideologies don't matter.  Issues don't matter.  Views about the proper role of the judiciary don't matter.  All that matters is that my name rhymes with salsa, and there are many Hispanic voters in our area, and there is no better basis upon which to base your vote.  Besides, it's fun!

     No, it is not fun.  It is brainless and it should be loathed.  When campaigns turn on snappy slogans that are nothing but a base appeal to ethnic identity, it should be clear to everyone that politics is rotten to the core.  I can't help but think, that, if Ms. Eubanks found this example "fun" whether she would really get the irony of this Mel Brooks' line from The Producers - "Don't be stupid, be a smarty / Come and join the Nazi Party!"  Maybe she would have written, "What a hoot!"

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

   Automated Hotel Check-In - This past weekend, my wife and I were off to Las Vegas for about 24 hours.  I was presenting a paper at a conference being held there - Round Two of the Canyon Forest Village Debate: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.   It is an interesting story of the abject failure of public sector decision making.  Well, I think it is an interesting story.  We arrived late Sunday afternoon, went to the play Mama Mia, and caught the last performance out in front of the Treasure Island (pictured to the right).  Right next door to our hotel (the so-called "New" Frontier) was the Trump International Tower, still under construction.  The photo, to the left, was from our room.  For the second time in a row, I have been to Las Vegas and haven't bet a single dime.  There just was too much to do to be able to include any playing of cards!  How's that for irony?

     The point of my story, however, is that we had to wait a long time in the registration line, even though we were only the fourth ones waiting, and there were two clerks.  What a waste of time.  This was especially so, because we didn't think that our check-in would take much time to process - we had paid in advance.

     So, we invented the automated hotel check-in machine, at least in our heads, while waiting.  Here's how it would work:
Kiosks with touch screen monitors.  Patterned after airport check-ins, you would stand at these kiosks, swipe a credit card to prove who you were and check-in.
Keep the menu options simple.  While the main purpose would be to check-in for an already confirmed room, there could be a limited menu of options that would accommodate a slightly more complicated transaction.
Keys can be encoded and dispensed at the kiosk.  The reason this automated check-in works is because all the keys, these days, are just electronically encoded to the rooms.  So, this can be done in the machine, on a blank set of keys, and, presto, you have your room keys.  A hotel map, on the screen, can direct you to your room.
Use these AHCs for check-out as well.  If a printer is included in the kiosk unit, you can check-out, deposit your keys, review your bill and get a printed receipt.
These machines can be dispersed throughout the hotel.  There is no longer a need for a centralized location for the check-in, so guests can check-in at the entrance near to wherever they park.  And, the convenience for check-out, is also enhanced by dispersed placement.  Unlike the airline model, where you need to drop off your bags, in the hotel there is no special need to have these kiosks centrally located.

     It all makes sense to me.  I don't really see a downside.  I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this very soon.  Do you think I'll make any money off of it?  Probably not - you can't patent ideas.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

   In Tune with Dean Martin - As part of a whirlwind trip around much of Arizona yesterday, State Treasurer candidate Dean Martin spoke to the College Republicans at Northern Arizona University.  He had traveled to Prescott for a breakfast meeting, then up to Bullhead City for a luncheon,  then over to Kingman to do a talk radio show, and, finally, to Flagstaff to speak to the CRs.  That meeting wrapped up at about 8:00 p.m., and he still had to make the long drive to Phoenix before his day was done.

     Mr. Martin is currently a state senator, and a favorite of the folks over at the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers.  [Surf on over to their site for an excellent analysis of the propositions on the Arizona ballot this November.]  He has been a tireless champion of the taxpayer and an articulate spokesman for using common sense in government (a much more difficult task than one might expect!).

     Mr. Martin spoke on some of the ballot propositions that he felt were important in the upcoming election.  This was especially true of Prop 101, which would prohibit counties from automatically raising property taxes during times of rising home valuations.  That is, if the rate stays constant, rising valuations will lead to larger tax bills and more tax revenue.  This proposition would require an explicit vote in order to raise tax revenues in this way.  Vote yes on Prop 101.

     Insofar as running for Treasurer, Martin argued that the state was doing a poor job of maximizing its return on taxpayer monies, as well as the earnings on state trust revenues (which are used, primarily, to fund education).  He also wants to be able to use that office to help generate public policy analysis on financial decisions that are constantly under consideration by the state.  He feels that this can be a great help in continuing his efforts to protect taxpayers from the ever-widening tentacles of government.

     It appears that Martin has a good chance of winning this election, and it may well be that he will be, effectively, the ranking Republican in a state office.  [Technically, the Secretary of State is probably ranked higher.]  Yes, that means Napolitano, and Goddard, will likely be re-elected.  So, for the next four years, it may well be that Dean Martin is the face of the state Republican party.  And, in four years . . . ?  Hmm; keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

   Ross Perot Redux Lite - This past Friday evening saw Flagstaff hosting the final debate between U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R) and challenger Jim Pederson (D).  The debate was held in the Communications Building on the campus of Northern Arizona University.  Showing up, to show their support for the incumbent, were students from the College Republicans.  [Also, there was a group there to support Pederson, but only a small fraction appeared to be NAU students.]  Signs were waved, cheers were made, and the local press took pictures.  The debate was not open to the public, so shortly before its start, everyone left to watch it on TV.

     I have seen Pederson only in his TV ads.  I can't say that I was impressed - his rhetoric is the usual hollow nonsense.  And, in an ad you hardly have a chance to say much, so I was interested to see how this forum would allow the candidates to convey their stands and beliefs.  I have seen, and met, Kyl before.  He has won my respect and admiration as a straight shooter - he tells you what he thinks and why he thinks it.

     And, what of Pederson?  Listening to him reminded me of another nut job - one H. Ross Perot.  Like the crazed businessman from Texas, Pederson seems to have little understanding of how the world works; or, perhaps more appropriately, thinks the world should work just like his business.  During the debate, these three episodes captured the lunacy of this candidate that makes him seem like a mini-me version of Perot:

If Defense Secretary Rumsfeld worked for him, he'd be fired.  Pathological in the extreme.  Rummy has more smarts in his little finger than Pederson has in his whole staff.  I find criticisms of the Def Sec to come mostly from the intellectually challenged, but Pederson assumes a fact not in evidence - would Rumsfeld ever have worked for such a nitwit as Jim Pederson?  I don't think so.

Pederson's shock that the vested parties in the Snowbowl controversy can't just work out their differences.  Well, lets change that from pathological to psychotic.  He must not know anything about this issue, which surprises me.  After all, he clearly doesn't know anything about national defense, about the war on terror, about immigration.  So, I figure that he must know something about some issue.  Maybe, but this one isn't it.  Senator Kyl went through the litany of meetings and hearings and, eventually, a court case to decide this issue.  And, guess what?  The opponents are still opposed!  And, Pederson thinks he can solve everything by just getting people into a room to hash out their differences.

He blamed Kyl for everything except global warming.  But, I am sure that is next!  Midway through the debate, Kyl just looked down at the desk, spread out his hands and lamented that every ill in the world, according to Pederson, was his personal fault.  Pederson treated Kyl as if he were the Supreme Ruler of all the Known Universe, instead of one politician among many.  I think we can file Pederson away in the folder labeled, "Deranged."

     The Pederson supporters outside the debate were chanting, "We want Pederson; we want change."  As best I can tell, that's about all he really offers.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

   Buck Wild in Phoenix - Last Thursday evening, Steve Slivinski was being hosted for an informal talk at the Goldwater Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona.  Steve is out and about promoting his new book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Steve used to be a policy analyst at the Goldwater Institute, and is now the Director of Budget Studies at the Cato Institute.

     The thesis of the book, and the subject of Slivinski's talk, is that this Republican Administration has been a disaster insofar as adhering to the principle of a limited government and a commitment to shrinking the size of government.  Even discounting funds used for the "war on terror," President Bush, and company, have managed to grow the government at about the same rate as did President Johnson, in the 1960s, and President Carter, in the 1970s.  In all three cases, we had a unified government - the same party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.  Slivinski suggested that it has been difficult for Bush to veto spending bills that are coming out of a Congress controlled by his party, but that he likely would have vetoed plenty of bills if the Dems had been in charge.

     Slivinski concluded that, for those that believe in a limited government, we are better served by a divided government.  "Gridlock works," Slivinski opined.  Consequently, it may be more fortuitous for conservatives if, indeed, the GOP loses control of the House of Representatives this fall, as many experts are forecasting.  At least then, not much will get done for the next two years.

     Following his 20-30 minute talk, the floor was opened for Q&A.  The questions posed were smart and well articulated by the guests in the crowd.  One questioner wondered what it really means to be a Republican.  Slivinski answered that about all it means is that "you're not the other guy."  He did suggest that the Reagan Revolution, in the eyes of some, was really an anomaly.  That is, plenty of Republicans before Reagan, and since, have extended and expanded the role of big government.  While another questioner asked, "Are we really just arguing about how quickly, or slowly, we will become socialists?" Slivinski wasn't quite prepared to throw in the towel, yet.  There are  still plenty of elected Republicans that will do more than give lip service to the tenets of limited government, including Arizona Congressmen Jeff Flake and John Shadegg.

Monday, October 30, 2006

   Minimum Wages as Fantasy - The Sunday edition of the Arizona Daily Sun ran an editorial I penned on the minimum wage, which will rise if proposition 202 passes next week.  The editor paired it up with an editorial in favor of the this proposition.  I was gratified that the editor found the issue of enough interest to run it in the Sunday paper.  The printed editorial appears to be unchanged from the version I sent, which I have printed below.

The Minimum Wage Ė A Dangerous Fantasy
Dennis Foster

Proposition 202 seeks to raise the minimum wage in Arizona, and to keep raising it automatically with cost of living adjustments.  Proponents generally argue that working full time, at the minimum wage, makes it impossible to support a family above the poverty line.  Certainly, that is true.  However, that is not the circumstance faced by most minimum wage workers.

Are minimum wage workers working full time?  No, most work part time.  Seventy-five percent work less than 35 hours a week, with nearly a third of these workers putting in between 20 to 24 hours a week.

Are minimum wage workers supporting a family?  No.  Nearly seventy percent of these workers have never been married.  Almost sixty percent of these workers are between the ages of 16 and 24, with nearly two-thirds of these workers under twenty years old.

Why do minimum wage workers have such low earning power?  Since most are young, they likely have little experience and few developed skills.  Also, these workers tend to have less education than other, higher earning, workers.  Over 44 percent of minimum wage workers donít have a high school diploma, while an additional 27 percent have such a diploma, but no college education.

Will these workers be forever stuck in minimum wage jobs?  Of course not.  Even with educational shortfalls, they will, over time, gain experience and skills.  They will find that the value of their labor is rising over time, and so, too, will their earnings.  The circumstances of a minimum wage job are not endemic for the vast majority of these workers.

So, one problem with raising the minimum wage is that it is an extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient way to address the problems of just a small faction of these workers.  A second problem is that it creates barriers to those that we most want to enter into the labor force.

Since 1982, the proportion of all paid workers that earned just the minimum wage has fallen from about 5 percent to about 0.4 percent.  As long as that isnít due to further distortions of labor markets, that is a good thing.  Why?  Because, it means that the minimum wage is less and less relevant as market wages rise over time, lessening the distortions it creates in certain labor markets.

However, raising the minimum wage will lead to rising unemployment in sectors of our economy where this is higher than the otherwise, freely-determined, market wage.  And, who will suffer from these unemployment consequences?  Those who are poor and unskilled, with little experience and education, those who are young, and those who are minorities.  Consider that the unemployment rate among black teens, 16 to 19 years old, peaked at over 50 percent in 1982.  As the minimum wage has become less and less relevant, this unemployment rate has fallen to about 30 percent.  A travesty still, to be sure, but what do you think will happen if the minimum wage rises?  This unemployment rate will rise along with it.

Raising minimum wages doesnít affect the skilled, the experienced, or the educated.  It raises the bar to those trying to get their start in life, making it all the more difficult for them to succeed.  Some say that this is a moral issue.  I couldnít agree more.  The government canít tell you what to read, how to think, nor to whom to pray.  Neither should the government proscribe oneís willingness to offer, and anotherís willingness to accept, any wage rate.  To hold otherwise is to deny life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Saturday paper had a story about the minimum wage proposition and it touched on a point that I wasn't able to make in my editorial, due to space constraints.  The story was about some NAU students and how they might fare under the new, higher minimum wage.  There really aren't many minimum wage workers in Flagstaff.  The local Taco Bell actually has a large banner, periodically posted in their window, that proclaims "Jobs starting at $7/hour."  Likewise, I recently noticed a sign, posted at the drive-thru of a local Burger King, that also was soliciting workers at $7 per hour.  These are exactly the kinds of jobs we associate with minimum wages (35% of all minimum wage workers are classified as employed in "food preparation and serving").  Yet, local market conditions have raised this wage well above the minimum.

     My suspicion is that most local minimum wage workers are students at NAU, working for the university in a wide variety of jobs.  I "employ" a grader for my classes, for only 3+ hours a week, and that is at the minimum wage.  The money for these jobs is tightly budgeted through the college and the university.  If the minimum wage goes up, I seriously doubt that the university will get more money to pay these student-workers.  Instead, we'll just have to hire fewer of them, for fewer hours.  I'll likely have to do more grading myself (of the type that isn't subjective), which probably means I'll have fewer graded assignments.  Somehow, I am not under the impression that these are the kinds of results that most voters would consider when casting their ballots next week.

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