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Speed limits and traffic deaths June 9, 2008

Posted by Jeff in Economics, Politics.
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With the price of gas rising, there is increased murmuring about legislating a lower speed limit in order to conserve fuel.  I remarked to family this weekend that that seems to be an odd thing to attempt to legislate.  Here’s why:

In 1974, the federal government legislated a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour in response to the fuel crisis of 1973.  The rationale at the time was that fuel prices were high, oil was running out, and our only option was to start conserving what was left.  After the fuel crisis passed, the federal speed limit was kept in place because of safety reasons:  in the first few months of the federally mandated speed limit, traffic deaths actually dropped.  There are two problems with this public policy: the first is economic and the second is ability to deliver on promised results.

The first problem with the federally limited speed is that it is not an economically sound policy.  For example, while it was true that fuel prices were high and it was true that oil was running out, it was not true that oil was running out soon.  Fossil fuels are, and should be treated as, finite resources.  That said, there is so much oil available, that we Earthlings will not use up our supply for decades, if not centuries.  A more economically sound way of expressing the problem is that there’s only so much oil available at a certain price.  If oil costs $20/barrel, there will be less supply than if oil costs $200/barrel, because a the cheaper price restricts the amount of cost that can go into retrieving the oil.  If oil were to reach $200/barrel, it would become feasible to extract oil from places that are not financially feasible to extract from at $20/barrel.  Therefore, legislating a lower speed limit for the purposes of conserving a resource for which plenty of supply exists is bad public policy.  In fact, it turned out that the conservation initiative only resulted in saving about 1% of the oil that otherwise would have been consumed.  (Source:  http://www.heritage.org/Research/SmartGrowth/bg532.cfm)

The second problem with the federal speed limit is that its supposed benefits did not stand the test of time.  The drop in traffic deaths that was reported in the year following the mandated lower speed had actually vanished by 1978 and was really no more than a short term anomaly.  (Source:  http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1205)  Consider also that when the federal mandate was removed in 1995, the number of traffic deaths per mile travelled began to decline – as of 2006, the most recent year for which I can find data, the NHTSA reports that the number of traffic fatalities per vehicle mile travelled has decreased by 18.5% over their level in 1994, the year before the federally-mandated speed was lifted.  (Source:  http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx)

An interesting question that arises is “How many more deaths could be prevented if we raised speed limits even higher?”  In fact, what if we took the extreme position of having no speed limits altogether?  It turns out that we actually have data that proves that removing the speed limit altogether actually reduces traffic deaths.  When the federal speed limit was lifted in 1995, the state of Montana had effectively no speed limit, a regulation that was ultimately struck down for its “vagueness”.  Nevertheless, before it was struck down, Montana saw its traffic fatalities fall to record low levels.  When the statute was struck down and Montana reinstated numerical speed limits, the fatality rate immediately began to climb.  Similar data exists for the comparison between the German autobahn, where there is no speed limit, and American interstate highways, where there is.  (Source:  http://www.motorists.org/pressreleases/home/montana-no-speed-limit-safety-paradox/)

Legislating lower speed limits as a method of conserving fuel is public policy that endangers the public while not meaningfully reducing fuel consumption.  In order to reduce traffic fatalities, neither the federal government nor state and local governments should impose a maximum limit on highway speeds. 

A Curmudgeonly Perspective on Bond Elections and School Funding November 6, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education, Politics.
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Tonight, the election returns were coming in, and as usual, virtually all propositions were approved by voters.  The one that was the most interesting to me, though, was one that I did not have the opportunity to vote on – a $559 million bond election for the Leander ISD.  I watched a live, five minute segment on this particular bond on one of the local news channels.  During the segment, the reporter was at the site of the group that was supporting this bond.  When a sufficiently large enough number of precincts were reporting to guarantee that the bond would be approved, the segment showed the group popping a bottle of champaign and toasting their success.


Civics quiz September 20, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Economics, Education, Politics.
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Here is a great quiz on civics, history, and economics:  http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

 I made an 80% (48 / 60), and I was surprised at how much I didn’t know – the questions are not that complex or obscure.

This is the press release that describes what this organization is testing – effectiveness of universities in teaching civics.  http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/content/failing_america_9-18-07.pdf

 Not a single college surveyed (including Ivy League schools, and other public and private universities) had seniors that scored at least 70% on this test.  In other words, no university can claim that its students can pass a general civics test, even after 16 years of education.

Welfare Country Club July 9, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Drollery, Politics.
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On our fourth of July getaway, we unknowingly reserved a cabin that was mere minutes away from an establishment that I previously knew to exist only figuratively.

 I can guarantee this photo will surface on this blog again.


Hey, Boss, how about a raise? June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Economics, Politics.
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Today members of Congress gave themselves a $4,400 raise.

The last time I got a raise, it was because my employer was pleased with my job performance and because my company felt I was contributing value enough to warrant such a raise.

PollingReport.com shows the results of various “job approval” polls for congress, and the following chart graphs these numbers over the last 3 months.  Congress’s job approval rating, in the latest poll, is 25%, with a full 63% of you saying you explicitly disapprove of the job Congress is doing:

Congress Approval Rating

Would you get a raise if you had a 25% job approval rating?  When 63% of your bosses explicitly disapprove of your job performance, I don’t think a raise of any size is in order.  So, instead of a pay raise, what if we talk about a pay cut?

After the most recent raise, salaries will be almost $170,000 per year, which is more than enough to live on, even in the Washington, DC, area.  If we were to cut legislators’ pay by $70,000, leaving them with salaries of “only” $100,000 per year, would any of them quit because of low pay?

Being disagreeable June 28, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Politics, Work.
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One of the great freedoms we have – and often overlook – is our ability to disagree with one another, especially on political issues.  If I think the president is doing a terrific or lousy job, I can say so.  If I think a particular policy is good or bad, I can say so.  No one is obligated to listen to me, but I can still hold my own opinion and speak it openly.  You may hold an opinion different from mine, and you have the same freedom to express it that I do.  We can disagree with one another, discuss our differences, and choose whether or not we want to change our individual positions.

There are a few ground rules about disagreeing that would behoove many of us to adopt.  For example:

  • It’s ok to disagree, and words like ‘argument’, ‘position’ and ‘debate’ are not dirty words.  Consider discussing a disagreement with someone as a way to help you grow as a person and a way to build a deeper relationship with the other person.
  • You and I are sometimes wrong – discussing a disagreement with others can help us see why.
  • Remember how name calling didn’t solve any problems in third grade?  It still doesn’t in adulthood. 
  • Your argument is not correct just because:
    • You can surround yourself with people who agree with you.
    • More people agree with you than agree with the other person.
    • One or more famous people agree with you
    • You have a statistic that says you’re correct

Here are some suggestions for having a conversation with someone with whom you disagree.