28 January 2011

Friday Fragments

A few scattered half ideas for a beautiful Friday morning:

* It is highly annoying that perfectly good cell phones can't be switched from one mobile carrier to another, even though both carriers offer the essentially the same phone made by the same manufacturer to customers. Cell phone portability would be a great cause for the Fair Trade Commission, which is charged with regulating anti-competitive conduct by businesses, or the FCC, which regulates telecommunications.

* It would also be interesting to have consumer finance regulations that required cell phone, cable TV and satellite TV contracts that include phones or equipment to break out the service provision, telephone purchase, and finance charge components separately, to require that the finance charge component comply with generally applicable consumer finance laws, and for the FCC or FTC to then limit cancellation fees to the unpaid principal balance for the telephone purchase plus some statutorily limited amount for cancellation of the service contract. Landline phone companies and casualty insurance companies somehow manage in a regime where cancellation charges aren't permitted at all - surely phone companies could do something similar - indeed, loyalty discounts for long term customers at cell phone providers that don't have long term contracts and casualty insurance companies achieve a similar objective.

* Some area convenience stores have petitions in favor of allowing them to sell beer stronger than 3.2 beer. I'm all for it.

* Walker Stapleton's moonlighting job pays more than his job as state treasurer, although it doesn't appear to pose nearly as much of a conflict of interest. I'd personally favor a bill to prohibit all compensated moonlighting for "full time" state and local elected officials in the state accompanied by a substantial increase in pay for those officials. We shouldn't have to worry about any public officials being influenced by an outside source of income.

* I'd also favor a bill to make the Colorado General Assembly officially full time, to have it in session all year rather than 120 days, and provide each state legislator with 3 FTE of staff, while prohibiting all compensated moonlighting for them. Term limits play a much larger role in keeping the Colorado General Assembly a "citizen legislature" than its "part-time" status, and practically speaking, it is a full time job during the legislative session and at least a half time job outside the legislative session anyway due to interim committees, constituent service, and time spent crafting bills for the next session. The compressed session seriously compromises the ability of the general public to monitor what the state legislature is doing, to comment on bills, and to participate in legislative hearings. The lack of legislative staff is one of the main factors that gives lobbyists more power. The low pay for the legislature makes almost every state legislator beholden to a private employer or private clients for their livelihood while addressing the state's business and makes legislators more succeptible to influence from petty niceties from lobbyists that aren't prohibited by the state's gift ban.

* House Republicans want to end the Presidential public campaign financing law that costs about $600 million a year and is authorized by tax return checkoffs that are down about 75% from their peak. I have to agree. While I think that public financing is a much better way to deal with corruption in campaign finance than the existing regulatory regime, this particular version of campaign finance is delivering very little value and isn't so essential that it can't be cut. The decline in tax return checkoffs also show that it is has lost public support.

* RTD is considering asking for a 0.2 percent sales tax hike to help pay for overbudget FasTracks, a move that would bridge the gap but still require delays in finishing the project. Area majors have pushed for a 0.3 to 0.4 percent sales tax hike instead to get the project done sooner. Some of the hike would be compensated for by the expiration of an existing sales tax hike for other purposes (the stadium, I think). I believe that RTD has the better argument, as I don't think that voters have the stomach for a larger tax increase. Area mayors would be better off using their local government budgets to speed up construction in their areas than increasing sales taxes even more.

* It would be interesting to look at which countries have the best land use results and then to see what kind of land use regulation approaches they use.

A new democracy barometer from the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) shows the development of the thirty best democracies in the world. Denmark, Finland and Belgium have the highest quality of democracy, whereas Great Britain, France, Poland, South Africa and Costa Rica the lowest.

Hello! What are these people smoking? Belgium is on the verge of disintegrating into two nations because its regions are utterly incapable of finding common cause. Deep distrust and lack of communications between the regions has reached the point where fake news stories about the other regions are taken seriously. It went months without a government because Walloons and Flemish parties couldn't agree on a governing coalition. Belgium is a basket case of democracy that is at the top of the list of countries where democracy is not working well

Right behind Belgium on the list, in fourth place, was Iceland whose national government just went bankrupt. Again, what were they thinking?

At the middle of the list, are Ireland at #15 and Spain at #17. Both have wildly unpopular regimes that are eliciting mass street protests and are fiscal basket cases that are en route to imposing unpopular austerity programs and are effectively as beholden to the bond markets as they are to their own people.

Great Britain, in contrast, ranked near the bottom of the list at #26, while it has its problems, seems to be getting along tolerably well and does not deserve such a low rating. It just successfully found a solution to a situation where no one party could command a majority in parliament with a palatable compromise. It is in the process of proposing electoral reforms to be more fair to third parties. It is tightening its fiscal belt in a manner far more sensible than either the austerity plans proposed by nations like Greece and Ireland that have been shoved down their throats by bondholders, or the ideologically driven cuts proposed by Tea Party Republicans in the United States. It has had its share of public discontent (particularly over increases in higher education charges) but has far less public discontent than many of the other countries on the list.

In short, the democracy index is profoundly and fundamentally flawed. Whatever it is measuring, it certainly isn't a sensible measure of democracy.

The press release from the source in German also provides link to a more detailed report. This explains that the index has three components: Freedom (individual liberty, rule of law, public sphere), Control (Competition, Mutual Constraints, Govern. Capability), and Equality (Transparency, Participation, Representation).

The basic problem is that it lets arbitrarily weighted components of democratic virtues overweigh things that are obvioius in the big picture, and focuses too much on process and too little on results.


Maju said...

Definitively Spain is overvalued. And so is Denmark IMO. Sweden is not anymore what it used to be either and in Canada they can send you to jail for criticizing Israel.

But well, the USA is way too high considering it has a 9-year long state of emergency going on, elections have been rigged 2/3 of the time in this century and the media does not reflect the problems of the people nor there are effective labor unions.

Looks like a junk pool to me: propaganda for the Empire, nothing less.

Dave Barnes said...

Good luck getting the voters to approve a tax INCREASE anytime soon.
Did you check the unemployment rate numbers?