Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Mandatory sentencing

In Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Provisions Under Federal Law Erik Luna documents some of the issues with mandatory minimum sentencing.

The world's richest 85 people have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population

Oxfam has released a report on inequality titled Working for the few: Political capture and economic inequality. In the report they point out the following:
  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
  • The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
  • In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.
They also have the following graph:

Australia's housing unaffordability caused by restrictive land use policies

In Unrealised fringe benefits in the housing market Leith van Onselen looks at the 10th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey which again "ranks Australia as having one of the most expensive housing markets out of the countries surveyed".
At the national level, Hong Kong has by far the most unaffordable housing, with a median multiple of 14.9. Australia and New Zealand are tied for second most unaffordable market out of the nations surveyed (both 5.5), followed by Singapore (5.1), United Kingdom (4.9), Japan (4.0), Canada (3.9), United States (3.4), and Ireland (2.8).

All of Australia's 39 markets captured in the survey are ranked as either "Seriously Unaffordable" (14) or "Severely Unaffordable" (25). Australia currently has no housing markets ranked as "Affordable" or "Moderately Unaffordable". The result represents a slight improvement on last year's survey, where 30 markets were ranked as "Severely Unaffordable".

Looking at the major metropolitan areas only - i.e., those with more than 1 million inhabitants - Australia ranks as third most expensive after Hong Kong and New Zealand (Auckland).

Overall, Australia has moved down the league tables, registering 5 out of the 20 most expensive housing markets identified in the Survey, versus eight in last year's survey.
So why are Australian house prices so expensive. The report puts it down to high land prices, which in turn is due to Australia's restrictive land use policies. It's no surprise that locations with more liberal land use regimes have lower prices:
By contrast, affordable housing markets, like Texas and Georgia in the United States, utilise open market-based land use structures whereby plentiful new housing supply is able to be built quickly and cheaply on the urban fringe, thereby preventing rapid house price escalation.
The report claims that less restrictive land use policies also have other benefits:
In addition to lower costly housing costs relative to incomes, lower population densities in liberal markets are associated with less intense traffic congestion and shorter average work trip journey times.
Leith van Onselen concludes with:
So under an open market-based model (provided there are not also substantial physical barriers to housing supply), increased demand, such as from reduced lending standards and easier availability of credit, quickly leads to the building of additional low priced housing on the urban fringe, which helps keep house prices in check and reduces the likelihood of speculative housing bubbles developing. Further, highly leveraged speculators are less likely to be encouraged into open land markets, since there is little prospect of achieving strong capital gains. Investing in open land markets is, instead, more about rental yield.

I will add that restrictive urban planning structures should not be viewed as a one-way bet for house prices, with unresponsive land supply also more likely to result in higher levels of house price volatility and boom/bust price cycles - a fact also acknowledged by Demographia. Why? Because strict land-use policies (planning) steepens the supply curve, which makes house prices more sensitive to changes in demand, increasing the likelihood of the housing market experiencing boom/bust price cycles as demand rises/falls.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Why global warming is causing cold weather

In Why the Arctic Is Drunk Right Now Chris Mooney explains how the warming of the Arctic is impacting on the jet stream. This in turn is bringing spells of extreme hot and cold weather to parts of the northern hemisphere.
In other words, we're experiencing record-breaking cold temperatures because a wavy and elongated jet stream has allowed frigid Arctic air to travel much farther south than usual.
The article has an embedded  flash video by Jennifer Francis explaining the issue. The article also has a link to A Rough Guide to the Jet Stream: what it is, how it works and how it is responding to enhanced Arctic warming by James Mason.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

America's inefficient health care system

In The Myth of Health Care's Free Market David Cay Johnston looks at the US health care system and makes some interesting points.
  • The health care system in the US has all the hallmarks of an inefficient market.
  • It's the most expensive in the developed world.
  • Medicare, the US Government run single payer system for the elderly is much cheaper and more efficient than the system for those under 65. To quote the article: "If everyone in the U.S. was on Medicare, the savings would move the federal budget from deficit to surplus."
  • The US spends 17.6% of its economy on health care compared to 11.5% in Canada, France and Germany.
  • 48 million Americans had no health insurance in 2012. Another 30 million were only covered for part of the year.

Vaccinate your kids for their sake

Amy Parker in Growing Up Unvaccinated discusses all the childhood illnesses she suffered through because she was not vaccinated by her parents. She makes some great points:
Anecdotal evidence is nothing to base decisions on. But when facts and evidence-based science aren’t good enough to sway someone’s opinion, then this is where I come from. After all, anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporter’s way. Well, this is my personal experience. And my personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself. I got the flu vaccine recently, and I am getting the whooping cough booster to protect my unborn baby. My natural immunity from having whooping cough at age 5 will not protect him once he’s born.

I understand, to a point, where the anti-vaccine parents are coming from. Back in the 90s when I was a concerned, 19-year-old mother, frightened by the world I was bringing my child into, I was studying homeopathy, herbalism and aromatherapy; I believed in angels, witchcraft, clairvoyants, crop circles, aliens at Nazca, giant ginger mariners spreading their knowledge to the Aztecs, the Incas and the Egyptians and that I was somehow personally blessed by the Holy Spirit with healing abilities. I was having my aura read at a hefty price and filtering the fluoride out of my water. I was choosing to have past life regressions instead of taking anti-depressants. I was taking my daily advice from tarot cards. I grew all my own veg and made my own herbal remedies. I was so freaking crunchy that I literally crumbled. It was only when I took control of those paranoid thoughts and fears about the world around me and became an objective critical thinker that I got well. It was when I stopped taking sugar pills for everything and started seeing medical professionals that I began to thrive physically and mentally.

If you think your child’s immune system is strong enough to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases, then it’s strong enough to fight off the tiny amounts of dead or weakened pathogens present in any of the vaccines.