California Dreamin’

Government is often a problem but rarely evil.  This is different:

The Governor [Brown of California] this week struck a deal with Democratic lawmakers and union leaders to raise the minimum wage every year for six years until the state reaches $15 an hour.

We are not sure if this is a roundabout way to deal with illegal aliens, trying to help unions, or just a method to expand government.  Either way it is going to be a disaster and they can’t be stupid enough to think it won’t hurt.  This is doing wrong on purpose.  Evil is the correct description.

As the WSJ notes, it will be a bigger disaster in places like Merced and Fresno and less of a problem in San Francisco.  Soon we will be hearing that we are not doing enough for the poor or some group in the outstate.  Government intervention is one area where failure becomes success.

Cover An Honor With An Honor

Cover an honor with an honor is one of the aphorisms of bridge.  Last night we had two examples of why it generally true but it isn’t always true.

Hand one: trump has been cleared.  Dummy (south) has four hearts to the queen, West has four hearts king little.  A small heart is lead from the dummy and declarer plays the jack which holds while East follows.  Declarer crosses to the dummy and advances the queen.  West should not cover because if declarer has four hearts then he is in a losing position.  If declarer has some other number of hearts (declarer would be unlikely to risk it with two so it is almost certainly three) then West prevents a discard on the promoted heart.

Dealer passes and I’m next holding five hearts (AJ), five diamonds to the ten and nine, and three clubs A,Q, X with a void in spades.  I open a heart, partner responds a spade, I respond two diamonds and partner picks four hearts and everyone passes.  The ace of diamonds is led by West and partner (North) produces three hearts (Q,T,X), three diamonds (K,J,X), three ugly clubs, four spades (A,Q,J,X).  Spades are a poor choice so west continues with a club.  At first I do an internal happy dance.  I have two club winners and the third goes on the ace of spades.  I have two finesses but I don’t care if either of them work.  I gotta make four and I could make six.  Then my happiness recedes.  West’s ace of diamonds was almost surely a singleton.  If I lead a diamond it will be ruffed.  The good news is that west did not lead a heart so the king of hearts might be there because I don’t want east on the lead.  I lead the ace of hearts and a little heart so if west has two hearts he will be out.  Semi bad news: West has the king but he has four of the five missing hearts.  He exits with a heart won in the dummy.  I take the ace of spades discarding a club from my hand and lead a club winning in the hand and take out west’s last trump.  I lead a little diamond and west shows out as expected.  I win in the dummy with the king and lead the jack of diamond.  Here is east’s chance to be a hero.  I have made all the right inferences but if east plays low I’m in big trouble because the four-one trump split has left me short of entries to my hand.  My plan is a ruffing finesse if East plays low.  East produces the queen and I ruff the black card that is led and table the two diamonds.  Four of the six were set.  We think they led a diamond at trick three.

So covering an honor is generally a good idea but it wasn’t at the first table last night.  You still need to think at the table.

Paying College Athletes

Howard Chudacoff says Let’s Not Pay College Athletes at the WSJ.  He has an interesting argument that they are already treated like royalty.  They have special food, tutors, and almost everything that money can buy except money because cash payments to athletes are forbidden by the NCAA.  For example, at Oregon:

The center furnishes each student athlete with a laptop encased, like the auditorium seats, in Maserati leather.

Chudacoff is making the envy argument.  We envy the athletes for their food, rooms, and Maserati leather so we shouldn’t care if they are exploited.  It is the argument from 50 years ago about baseball players: some were making more than $100,000 a year and all are making good money for playing a game.  Therefore (?) they don’t deserve their freedom.  We don’t find the envy argument convincing in either case but the relationship between players and schools Division One college athletics is an over regulated hornet’s nest that makes rational analysis more difficult than it was in baseball.

Let’s consider three issues related to paying Division One college athletes (CA): what each CA is worth, the effect of the current regulations, and what to do.  First, if we were to pay CA what they are worth, there would be massive income inequality among CA.  Many sports generate little or no revenue while basketball and football generate almost all of the revenue.  If we applied economics and each player earned his marginal revenue product, then, roughly, basketball players might earn X, football players X/5 (many more football players than basketball players), and everyone else zero.  Would women’s basketball exceed zero or would all women’s sports earn zero?  We have a difficult time believing that seven figures for a few athletes and zero for most of them will be the solution.  If there is payments to CA then it will be some kind of a union solution with relatively small payments to all CA.

Regulation by the NCAA and the federal government make it difficult to find a market solution for CA.  The inability to pay CA means that the money has to go somewhere.  Much of it goes to the coaches and other folks that the university can pay.  In most states the highest paid state employee is a coach.  Since CA cannot be paid, they can receive laptops in Maserati leather.  We might suspect that they (the CA) would prefer cash.  The regulations mean that the coaches, athletic directors, and such get lots of cash while the players get everything but.

Besides the NCAA, college athletics is also regulated by the federal government and, in particular, Title IX.  Title IX has led to mostly reductions in men’s sports as well as some expansion in women’s sports.  The economics are simple.  To make the bureaucrats happy it is cheaper to kill some non-revenue sports for men rather than add non-revenue sports for women.  A related way to solve the problem is to reduce the size large men’s sports.  This almost always means the football team.

We prefer market solutions but the relationship between players and teams in Division One college athletics is as far from a market solution as any system can be.  Creating a market solution would require a systematic change.  We would have lukewarm support for a small fixed (all teams and all schools) stipend for all Division One athletes paid by the NCAA so schools would not have an incentive to eliminate non-revenue sports.  It is far from a market solution that we would prefer but the current set of regulations make that difficult to get to quickly.

Leadership

Daniel Henninger has an interesting article at the WSJ on post-Obama anti-terrorism.  He identifies the lack of Western unity now that there was during the Cold War and, in particular, the lack of leadership during the Obama era:

… [T]he holder of the office Mr. Obama occupies now was called “the leader of the free world.” As he departs office, President Obama is the leader of . . . what?

We think it is simple: Obama is not a leader.  Then he connects it to the current presidential race:

Imagine Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich [we are not sure why Henninger includes Kasich and excludes The Bernie.  We would go the other way.] or Hillary Clinton persuading these [Europe and elsewhere] national leaders to follow the U.S.’s lead. Which one of these four are they likely to believe and follow? This is one vote the U.S. electorate had better get right.

We don’t see it that way for three reasons.  First, it is possible that one more feckless foreign policy president may do us all in but it is just possible.  We are close to surviving Obama’s second term.  Another term of fecklessness might arouse the electorate.  Second, leaders need help.  Reagan would not have been Reagan without help from Poland, the Vatican, and elsewhere.  Perhaps the recent events in Europe will provide the help.  Third, the electorate has a real challenge to vote based on foreign policy.  Reagan, the candidate with the most connection to foreign policy, was not a shoo-in on that basis.  It was his good fortune to run against Jimmy Carter.  Obama was reelected, in part, on his alleged foreign policy successes.

The electorate has a good idea of a candidate’s intentions on domestic policy but knows little about foreign policy because that is where the unexpected happens.  We don’t know which of the five currently under consideration will find their inner W and effectively lead the war.  Some President soon needs to lead the war against Radical Islam but that person needs to find support in the US and Europe as part of leadership.  We hope the one elected this year can do it but we are unconvinced that any of the candidates have it in them.  We did not know that about W when he was elected so we think it will happen soon and perhaps this year.

Restaurant Kiosks

We had our second interaction with restaurant kiosks at Friendly’s earlier this week.  Friendly’s uses kiosks from Ziosk.  Ziosk claims 300 million customers served.  Andy Puzder at the WSJ has them on his mind too.  We agree with his start up and history:

Consumer preferences, reduced technology costs and government policies that increase labor costs are driving a trend toward automation in the restaurant business. If you make something more convenient and less expensive, it tends to catch on.

As recently as the 1960s, gas-station employees would rush to fill your car’s tank, wash the windows, check the oil and put air in the tires. Telephone operators made your long-distance calls and bank tellers cashed your checks. Those jobs now are either gone or greatly diminished.

Sidebar: you sign for a credit card with your finger.  From where we were sitting it was natural to sign it with our left pointer.  It is consistent with our style of handball that we had one name finished before we figured it out.  End sidebar.

At Friendly’s, only appetizers and bill paying were electronic.  There were also games to play.  For us, the bill paying by kiosk was a nice feature.  If you are in a hurry (we were) you can finish it quickly and if you want to chat you can do that too.  Restaurants would like them because they have the opportunity of higher turnover at busy times.  We don’t know if kiosks will be the solution that becomes popular but it seems highly likely that the pressure of government policies and the ubiquity of technology will lead to alternative methods of ordering and paying for meals at low and mid-price restaurants.  Delivery seems more of a challenge to automate.

Energy Nonsense

We’ve included this in the Press Bias category because the reporters were not incredulous enough when reporting this (OK, it was in The Guardian):

The Rockefeller Family Fund, a charity set up in 1967 by descendants of John D Rockefeller, said on Wednesday that it would divest from all fossil fuel holdings “as quickly as possible”….“There is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons,”

The proper reaction comes from Steven Hayward at PowerLine who gave them the Green Weenie of the Century (obviously and deservedly, he is awarding it early):

Power Line thinks ridding themselves of the very company from which the entire family’s fortune originated more than a century ago is the least the Rockefellers can do. Since John D. Rockefeller was the original robber baron [strike through did not copy] climate criminal, every Rockefeller should immediately disgorge all of their assets and redistribute them to the victims of climate change everywhere. I’m sure Kenneth Feinberg is available to organize the redistribution.

Remember that Hayward has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.  One a more serious note, such nonsense has grave implications for everyone but especially the developing  world.  When we take away their economic freedom then the opportunities to progress or even survive is restricted.   It is stupid and cruel but it seems to make some rich people feel better about themselves.  Hydrocarbons will be our main source of energy for the next century.  To not seek them is beyond foolish.