Archive for February, 2007


Trends in the U S farm situation

February 28, 2007

Googling around, I found a nice summary of 20th-century changes in farm size, productivity, land values. From the National Agricultural Statistics Service.


Casual dress encourages exercise

February 24, 2007

I’d always thought that wearing suits and ties was a bad idea, and now I’m glad to find some scientific support.

After analyzing the data, researchers found that workday physical activity levels increased when casual clothing was worn. In particular, study participants took an average of 491 (or 8 percent) more steps on Jeans Day than on days they wore normal business attire.


February 14, 2007

New report from the Sightline Institute on how Measure 37 has made life difficult for Oregon property owners. Thanks to Eric Bruun for passing it along.

I guess the main point here is that the main purpose of thoughtful land use regulation is to increase land values or land rents.  In the absence of such regulation, individuals may be able to claim windfalls, but it will be at the expense of their fellow owners.

Of course thoughtless land use regulation may have a different result.


A Commonwealth of Thieves

February 11, 2007

Fine book by Thomas Keneally, whom I hadn’t heard of but is a prolific Australian author (dozens of books including Schindler’s List and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith).

I had wanted a history of Australia, which this really isn’t. It just covers the initial European settlement, 1788-1792, with quite a bit of before & after context. I knew that Australia was initially settled by convicts sentenced to “transportation,” generally an alternative to the death penalty but also a way of solving prison overcrowding in Britain. The overcrowding was largely due to the enclosures, which created a mass of poor landless many of whom turned to crime. Initially, prisoners were “transported” to the American Colonies, where they became indentured servants (and, if they had affluent friends, could buy the freedom immediately).

After the American Revolution, there were attempts to send prisoners to Canada, and eventually most were just put on hulks in British harbors, where conditions were terrible. Australia having been discovered just a few years earlier, it was decided to transport prisoners there. Of course ship crews and military had to go along. Once landed, they had to deal with the existing population of aboriginal people.

Apparently most of the convicts had been found guilty of either of minor crimes (such as might lead to probation today), or crimes due to their poverty.

Separation of prisoners from the nonprisoners was of course much less than in England (or probably anywhere else). In fact, when it was eventually found necessary ot have a “night patrol”, (the closest thing to a police force at that time), it was staffed by prisoners. And when a locksmith was required, it was a prisoner who had the needed skill.

Arthur Phillip, a Navy Captain, was Governor General and seems to have done a superb job under the circumstances, working in virtually complete isolation from his government in Britain. (When the initial fleet of ships departed back to Britain, they took the sentencing records, so among Phillip’s difficulties was that he had to rely on the convicts to tell him when their sentences expired.)

I am not going to write a proper review of this book, but I recommend it for those interested in the subject. As for learning about the history of Australia, I am turning to a very different work, John C. Weaver’s The Great Land Rush & the Making of the Modern World. Australia is just one of the case studies Weaver uses. I’ve just started and shall plow thru it (unfortunately it’s in an academic style that would benefit from Drake-i-zation) but it’s a serious analysis of an important topic. Thanks to Bill Batt for recommending it.


Deepwater Aquaculture

February 9, 2007

Business 2.0 reports that Kona Blue raises their “Kona Kampachi” fish in underwater cages off Hawaii.  Apparently this space is free for the claiming.  No report on whether they can hold the space without using it.


Increasing value of taxi medallions

February 8, 2007

Today’s Tribune asserts that Chicago taxi medallions — a requirement if you want to operate a taxicab in the City– now cost $77,000 each (“Chicago hails two driven cabbies” Tribune, 2/8/07) . That’s up from “over $40,000” in 2004 (“City says cab agent misused $100,000, Tribune, 4/25/04) and $28,000 in 1991 (“Metro Briefings”, Sun-Times, 7/17/91),

Of course, fares were raised 11.7% in 2005 (“Cab riders turned off by rooftop ‘not for hire’ light: Survey finds most favor old off-on signal”, Sun-Times, 12/9/05; “Increased taxi fares quietly take effect,” Tribune, 5/12/05), 16% in 2000 (“FOR TAXI DRIVERS, FARE HIKE IS NOT WITHOUT A PRICE,”Tribune 12/1/00), about 15% in 1997 (“Taxi fares get a boost”, Sun-Times, 1/14/97), and about 9% in 1994 (“City Cab Fares Go Up Today, Sun-Times, 1/18/94).

Let’s do a little math here. Looks like since 1991, fares are up 48%, and the price of a medallion is up 175%. So medallion owners seem to be taking an increased share of revenue produced by the cabbies. For reference, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says consumer prices rose 48% between 1991 and 2006.

Meanwhile, in New York, medallions are going for over half a million dollars and there has been an effort to set up a working medallion exchange, where medallions can be traded on margin.