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Stoll in USA Today on Minimum Wage

October 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm

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USA Today invited me to write a brief "opposing view" article responding to their editorial about the minimum wage, and I took them up on the offer. The piece I wrote is here.

A column I wrote back in March gives further background on the issue; it's been shared 8,700 times on Facebook and is the reason the USA Today editors turned to me for this topic.

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Ben Bradlee

October 23, 2014 at 6:42 pm

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David Remnick's remembrance, in the New Yorker, of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee includes this account:

I was summoned to see Bradlee. His office had an aquarium-like aspect, with a glass wall facing the newsroom, the better for everyone there to study his every move. I came into his office, warily, and approached the great orca. His feet were on the desk and he was leaning way back in his chair, practically parallel to the floor. I had a great view of the soles of his loafers. He put down a copy of the Times. It was a slow news day. He had been doing the crossword puzzle.

The anecdote made me chuckle, because I remember that 20 or 25 years ago, when I used to sometimes see Bradlee strutting through Harvard Square (he was there to prepare for his 50th reunion, or at his 50th reunion, or to speak at the Kennedy School, or something like that), the newspaper that he always had tucked under his arm was not the Post, but the Times.

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Another Dot-Gov Fail

October 22, 2014 at 11:53 am

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Further evidence to back up my column from last week about how the government is really bad at consumer-facing websites — worse than the private sector is — comes from this New York Times article on the front of the business section:

A link from the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that lets owners look up their car by vehicle identification number did not respond all day. Calls to an operator on the agency's hotline — 1-888-327-4236 — were routinely put on hold....

The agency's balky website was set up to be a nationwide clearinghouse for recall information on vehicles registered in the United States. On Tuesday, most functions meant to serve consumers, including looking up the recall information and alerting the agency to potential problems, were unavailable.

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Technology and Capitalism as Remedy for Racism

October 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

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"Many people of color are embracing" smartphone-based ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft "as a way to avoid discrimination from traditional taxicab drivers," NPR reports.

One way to remedy the evil of racism is to pass a law prohibiting taxi companies from racially discriminating against passengers, and then to send out undercover government testers to enforce the law. Another way, which seems in this case to be more effective, is to allow the free market and technology to work and solve the problem. The incentive of a reward — the Uber founder and investors' shares of the company's reported $18.2 billion valuation — can be stronger than the inventive of the $500 fines imposed by the District of Columbia Taxi Commission on drivers who refuse to pick up black or disabled passengers.

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The Yellin McDonald's Dollar Menu

October 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

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Some recent information has caused me to wonder whether my concerns about inflation are overwrought and whether I really should be more concerned about the risk of deflation. But then along comes an article like this one from Bloomberg, about prices at McDonald's:

McDonald's said its prices were up about 3 percent through the end of June compared with 12 months earlier...McDonald's famous Dollar Menu now includes items that cost more than $1, and other items are creeping above $5. At some McDonald's locations in Chicago's Loop, a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and a drink totals about $7.50. Chicken Club sandwiches are $4.45, $4.99 and $5.19 at different Chicago McDonald's restaurants, without sides or a beverage....Restaurants are being pressured into boosting prices because of rising beef, cheese and pork prices, as well as minimum-wage increases. Minnesota, California and Michigan have recently hiked minimum pay levels.

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Rattner Versus the Megarich on AIG, Fannie Mae

October 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

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Steven Rattner's New York Times article about lawsuits brought by AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac shareholders is the subject of my column this week. My column features references to Leviticus, the Talmud, and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's memoir, which is a rare combination, so please be sure to check it out at the New York Sun (here), Reason (here), and Newsmax (here).

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Cruz Priorities

October 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm

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Senator Ted Cruz has a USA Today op-ed about "ten critical priorities for the 2015 Congress."

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The Illusion of Health Insurance

October 20, 2014 at 11:26 am

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While the Obama administration is patting itself on the back over the expansion of health insurance coverage owing to ObamaCare, journalism is making clear that "health insurance coverage" is not the same thing as "access to health care."

The New York Times has an article pointing out that many of those who got coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are, after paying premiums, "still on the hook for deductibles that can top $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for families." As a result, some of them are choosing not to go get medical care that they may really need. Some conservatives may like this because it will help to control overall health care costs, but for those with the $10,000 in medical bills after paying $20,000 or so in insurance premiums, it may not exactly feel like the "affordable" care promised by the president.

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Why Dot-Com Works Better Than Dot-Gov

October 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

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Why do government web sites not work, or work much worse than private sector web sites, while costing more to build? The answer may have something to do with the extensive regulations that apply to government contractors. It's all the subject of my column this week. Please check it out at Reason (here) or Newsmax (here).

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review of How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life

October 9, 2014 at 8:07 am

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Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, is best known for his 1776 book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. But it is Adam Smith's "other book," The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that is the subject of How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, a new book by Russ Roberts.

Mr. Roberts, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, has been an economics professor, is a co-creator of the Hayek-Keynes rap video, and is the host of the EconTalk podcast. Yet, like Adam Smith himself, he seems to sense that economics alone, in the absence of some sort of moral keel or system, is an insufficient guide for human behavior or happiness.

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What a GOP Senate Would Do

October 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm

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What would happen if the Republicans take control of the Senate in November's election? That is the topic of my column this week. Please check it out at the New York Sun (here), Newsmax (here), and Reason (here).

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Another Immigrant Nobel

October 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

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Add another name to the list of immigrants to America who are Nobel laureates. The Nobel in physics went to "Japanese-born U.S. citizen Shuji Nakamura," a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Reuters reports.

To those who say that the current political debate about immigration is not about Japanese physicists but about poor Mexicans and Guatemalans, and who emphasize that Mr. Nakamura was a legal immigrant not an illegal alien, I'd reply first that it's quite possible that some children or grandchildren of the poor Mexican immigrants will become Nobel laureate scientists, and second that if the opportunities to enter America legally were easier and greater in number, there'd be much less need for anyone to arrive illegally.

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Obama's False Deficit Victory

October 6, 2014 at 12:01 pm

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The editorial page editor of the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, has a post detailing what he calls President Obama's "astounding" "flip-flop on entitlement reform." Mr. Hiatt advises: "he should at least return to speaking honestly, which might make it a bit easier for the next round of (hopefully) more responsible leaders to make politically difficult decisions."

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New Yorker on Steven Cohen

October 6, 2014 at 11:40 am

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The New Yorker has a long account of the federal pursuit of money manager Steven Cohen that includes these details about the FBI's treatment of Mr. Cohen's former colleague, Mathew Martoma:

When Martoma regained consciousness, Agent Kang told him that the F.B.I. knew about "the trade in 2008." Both Rosemary and Mathew immediately understood what he meant. The other agent, Matt Callahan, hung back, but Kang was aggressive. "Your whole life is going to be turned upside down," he said. "You're going to lose all your friends, and your children are going to grow up hating you, because you're going to live your years in a jail cell." According to Rosemary, Kang said that the government would "crush" Martoma unless he coöperated. "We want Steve Cohen," Kang said....

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The Latest Insider Trading Stretch

October 1, 2014 at 4:08 pm

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Bronte Capital's John Hempton has a post and another here in defense of the Pershing Square analyst, the analyst's roommate, and the analyst's roommate's friend. The roommate and the friend are in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission for trading in Herbalife options after learning from the analyst that Pershing's Bill Ackman planned to announce a negative view of Herbalife. Mr. Hempton calls it "a bad case of SEC over-reach" and says "it is not a case which should involve the SEC. It is not insider trading." He adds: "Bill Ackman's presentation was as far as I know sourced entirely from public information. ...All the room mate knew is that Bill Ackman was going to publicize public information and his analysis of it. It is a stretch of insider trading rules to deem as insider trading the future publication of already public information."

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