Archive for June, 2008

The Reign Draws To A Close

There are many things I would like to have posted in the last few days, but limited internet access and a bevy of other things on my mind—like the 2.5 week vacation on which I am about to embark—have been demanding my attention as of late.

It seems so premature already to be signing off from Germany, but barring a moment of willingness and ability before mid-July, that is what the function of this post will be.

I remain unsure as to what the future of this blog will be, but in any case at least a few posts will undoubtedly be written upon my return to America.

Nonetheless, if you would like to submit effusive praise for the 180 quality posts that preceded this one, now would be an opportune time.

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For 6-10, click here. For the first five, click here.

11. I am sooner deliberate than spontaneous
12. Bread, cheese, and cold cuts are a dietary staple
13. Approachable is something I am often not
14. In some particular areas, I am risk-averse
15. Being punctual is a matter of personal honor

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Train Up A Child

Many parents buy certain toys for their little tykes in the hopes of influencing them down a certain career path, and now it appears that large German companies think parents might be on to something:

Germany’s shortage of engineers has become so acute that some of its leading companies are turning to nursery schools to guarantee future supplies.
Industrial giants such as Siemens and Bosch are among hundreds of companies giving materials and money to kindergartens to try to interest children as young as three in technology and science.

What puzzles me is that since demand for engineers outstrips supply so greatly, wages for new engineers would presumably be soaring at the moment and encouraging many an indifferent German college student to speed up his studies or even switch majors. Even though an eager response to a wage-premium might take a few years to fill the gap, it would still be faster than waiting twenty years for preschoolers to get all growed up.

The answer seems to be that the scarcity is artificial:

The chairman of one large German industrial group said: “The loser here will be Germany, not the companies. We can always go to Asia to find our engineers. So everything we can do here – even something like going into kindergartens – helps.”

Companies like Siemens are virtually like institutions in Germany, so there’s a certain obligation that their workforce be made of the sort of industrious German that flatters the country’s self-image. The irony is that this not-so implicit requirement makes these companies less competitive and thus may be perversely encouraging their speedy decline.

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Just kidding—that would of course be ridiculous.

No, the wonder of prices will do the job just fine, thank you very much:

The latest figures from the Department of Transportation show that in March, when fuel was a far more modest $3.22 a gallon, Americans drove 11 billion miles (17.7 billion km) fewer in comparison with a year earlier. The decrease compared with the previous year, of 4.3%, is the first since 1979, and the sharpest since 1942.

As I enter the final stages of finding a suitable abode in the US, the prospect of $4.00/gallon gas is one I view ambivalently. In the short-term, I will remain earning a low income, and since I will be living in a place where substitutes to driving are not feasible, I do not relish the extra expense (especially since it will comprise a much larger part of my budget than the typical 5 percent). However, I see relatively high gas prices as the best way of precluding further illiterate, incoherent and counterproductive energy policies enacted in the name of energy independence and/or combating climate change.

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Changing The Score

Standing in a crowded marketplace and watching Germany lose pitifully to Croatia in the Eurocup, I began thinking about two things:

  1. Given that a few early wins by Germany in the 2006 World Cup triggered a surprising surge of national pride and patriotism, would it be possible that a World Cup victory in 2010 would so stir German self-confidence that a shift to a more aggressive, American style of foreign policy might occur?
  2. It is amazing to what extent footballers determine male fashion trends in Europe.

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Free the Lisbon Seven!

A writer for The Economist is puzzled:

YOUR humble correspondent is not sure how many Irish people speak German, but that didn’t stop a ragtag bunch of young Germans from setting up shop today on O’Connell Street, a major commercial drag in central Dublin. They had big banners in German denouncing nuclear weapons and other ills that they associate with the Lisbon treaty.

The Germans, Socialists and a smattering of other, mostly young members of the “No” camp were spread out on the pavement at one end of the General Post Office (GPO, to the locals), an imposing, columned building that is one of the most famous in town. Every Dubliner associates the GPO with the 1916 Easter uprising against the British (one chap helpfully pointed out shell marks on the columns). Today the “No” forces had bullhorns and were blasting everything from big corporations to America. I found the German presence a bit puzzling, given that one argument voiced by some who oppose the treaty is that Ireland’s voice will be diminished in the EU while Germany’s voice (and France’s too) will be amplified.

I think the fact that these protestors were waving signs that no one could read is further evidence of the claim that protesting isn’t about, well, protesting but rather giving individuals an outlet for signaling affiliation and identity.

A concert without the music, you might say.

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Apparently letting the mob handle waste disposal was not a good move for the people of Campania, the region around Naples, Italy. The landfills are filled, and many people prefer huge piles of waste in their streets rather than let incinerators, which could conceivably emit noxious fumes, reduce the trash to ash.

Dank sei Gott, then, that the good people of Germany are willing to provide “emergency aid” to the Italians:

For months, mountains of rotting trash have grown in the streets of southern Italy because the region has run out of places to put it. So for the time being — 11 weeks, actually — a 56-car train will arrive in Hamburg every day after a 44-hour journey, each bearing 700 tons of Neapolitan refuse.

The article goes on to note that while some countries like Germany seem to be on a pristine pathway toward ever more effective waste disposal strategies, many countries are on a Roman road still rife with rubbish, and governments from the local to the supranational level are scrambling to find ways of cleaning things up by, among other things, requiring recycling, restricting the use of landfills, and even taxing residents based on the size of their waste bins.

At the risk of sounding dim, the notion motivating all these policies seems to be that there’s too much trash. My immediate reaction is to wonder according to whom and by what measure it is presumed there is too much trash, but even granting the notion as fact, a basic first step would be to ask why that is.

To an economist, saying that there is too much of Activity T is virtually synonymous to saying that Activity T is being done too cheaply. Thus, if there is indeed too much trash, the economist will say that being trashy (if you will) is too cheap. The reason trashiness is cheap might have to do with the following two factors:

  • Most landfills are not private, for-profit enterprises but are instead usually either public or private-public partnerships. Because they are subsidized, the consumer is not forced to pay the market price for waste removal.
  • Even if a market price is charged, it may not be taking into account negative externalities like air and water pollution. In this case, the price would be too low.

Completely privatizing waste management and then using appropriate taxes to correct for externalities would be the most efficient way of getting the price right. And when the price is right, individuals then have an incentive to reduce their trashiness in the most cost-effective way they can, leaving government bureaucrats free to pursue other ends, like, say, taking down the mob.

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