October 2005 Archives

SCOTUS Voting

If you haven't seen it yet, you really should take a look at this post over at Political Arithmetik. Fascinating display of median voter theory made somewhat tangible.

But how much is it [the Alito nomination] likely to matter for the alignment of the Court? Both sides will claim much but the evidence is not so much.

More important for those pundits making their paychecks pontificating on TV about the coming shift in the court, things might not be so easy to read:

If Roberts and Alito turn out to be near Thomas and Scalia, Kennedy will actually be closer to the liberal wing. As such, a stronger conservative wing of the court could drive the swing vote to the left.

Not being a student of the SCOTUS, I'm not too aware of the real power behind the Chief Justice role. I'd suggest that the agenda-setting power (primarily the role of presiding over the process that reviews which cases to hear) of the Roberts position might have some ability to consistently keep the conservative faction in control of the general path of the Court, but that could be entirely moot.

Recently on the Wal-Mart Blog...

In case you haven't been following the Wal-Mart news, you might want read about CEO H. Lee Scott's speech announcing all sorts of policy shifts including $11 a month health insurance, a leaked internal memo discussing how to balance soaring health insurance costs with PR, and some interesting papers from the Wal-Mart academic conference this Friday.

Social Nets in Virtual Worlds

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Recent work issues have kept me a bit slow on the posting. The folks over at Catallarchy caught something before I did.

Life With Alacrity posts on mapping social networks that arise in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Ultima Online. The post is a follow-on to a previous post about the issue of Dunbar's Number. For the source of the graphs presented at LWA, check out PlayOn.

According to the research, it looks as though guilds (read: online social groups) grow in cohesion until they number around 50 players. At that point cohesion tends to fall, indicating that it may simply be hard for those who are at the top of the guild to build and keep group interest when there are more than 50 players. I'd also hazard a guess that, in joining a group of that size, an individual may see less benefit in participating actively given that so many others are already present (that is, the marginal benefit to belonging is low compared to the cost of contributing to the group in whatever way). Perhaps interesting research on public choice theory is soon to come?

The Art of Running an Electricity Company

male_dense.jpgMale, the capital of Maldives has one of the highest densities of any city in the world; some 80,000 people live on an area slightly larger than 1 square mile.

In June 2005, newspapers
reported the following
:


State Electric Company or STELCO day before yesterday announced that it would reduce electricity charges during July. The company did not say by how much it will reduce fees but STELCO’s managing director Abdul Shakoor hinted that the price may reduce from 20 to 30 percent when he said that the changes would be made possible with the use of intermediate oil. About 60 percent of STELCO’s expenditures go to fuel, according to him. The change of electricity prices will not only be brought to the capital Male where around 100,000 people or about a third of population reside at any given time, but also in outer island communities.

Just recently newspapers reported the following:

State Electric Company (STELCO) has said that they are trying to raise the price of electricity to overcome the losses caused to the company.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Managing Director of the company Abdul Shukoor said that comparing the price of oil in the market and the price of electricity, the company will have a loss of Rf 50 million per year. He said that Rf 100 million is also not enough and that about Rf 140 million is required.

“For the coming year also subsidy Rf 50 million will be required. Otherwise we cannot manage,” Shukoor said

Well in three months if there is such a reversal of fortunes of a government owned company, it is left to one’s imagination what could happen to the resources of the state. Maybe Lynne Kiesling should make a visit to the Maldives to see how electricity companies are run in this part of the world.

Remembering Evan

enas1.jpg In September 2003, a young Maldivian was brutally tortured to death in the government prison island. The head of this government recently visited the United States; the photo with former President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative was on the president’s office website for over a week.


“ ….the NSS force took Evan in there and they must have shackled him. We heard the sound of metal restrainers being put on. Then they began to beat him. Evan was just the first prisoner they beat that night.

We heard Evan crying out with pain, 'Mother! Father!' he kept on calling out loudly. Then there was no sound. The NSS took Evan out and brought other prisoners in, and chained them together in a line…

The NSS officers handcuffed Evan's hands together above his head and wrapped a tarpaulin around his body. They lifted him up with a pulley so his feet just touched the ground. He was beaten and when he stopped making any sound, they threw water over him and resumed beating him again. They kept beating him with a measuring rod and police batons for a long time after he stopped making any sound.

The Corrections warden said Evan was faking and being tricky, so they put fire on various parts of Evan's exposed arms as they continued beating him. They also broke a chair against his head. Evan was probably already dead by this time.

While the NSS were killing Evan, the other prisoners whose names had been called were being tortured and beaten. The NSS took Evan's body away…”


Should people who order, tolerate, and perform such acts of barbarism be welcome in the great nation of United States of America? More pictures of this tyranny in paradise (warning; pictures are very disturbing) and a recent article in the Guardian
looks at the Maldives situation.

The Revolution Will Be Digitized

So, this isn't exactly what I was thinking about before, but it is interesting. Turns out a former revolutionary from Serbia is building a video game that will help train people in non-violent methods for political revolution.

"You have to worry about your organization," he continued. "Do you set up a hierarchal organization, or a cell-based one? Who is the best figurehead for the media? What kind of training do people need? And if you march on the capital without proper controls, things may turn violent, which will harm your cause. These are the things people can learn."

"You can have a 'what if' approach," Marovic said. "Play the same game several times, but try different things every time. You can't do that with books. This interaction makes a player spend more time with a game than with a movie. Weeks, instead of hours."

I wonder if you get to set things like tax rates and the opportunity cost of social unrest? This seems like a compelling first step. The skeptic in me, however, can't refrain from mentioning that the entire game is being built by one "side". First-hand experience gives them insight into the actual life of the oppressed, but I tend to think that the simulation would be a lot more useful if the other side of the equation (the ruling elite) were in fact played by actual people looking to keep hold of their power.

And if it comes to XBox Live, I'm immediately putting KD4r0nAc3m0glu on my friends list.

What is your blog worth?

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My blog is worth $63,228.48.
How much is your blog worth?

We will be sending you each a bill. Thank you.

This is a funny calculation done by the Business Opportunities Weblog using data from Technorati and certainlny does not represent the actual market value of every blog. They calculate the value using the ratio of Truck And Barter's traffic to Weblog, Inc.'s and assign that portion of the (up to) $40 million AOL paid for Weblogs, Inc. It comes out to about $3.00 per average monthly visitor.

Bobby Lounge

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Just bought a Bobby Lounge CD. Going back to his site from Paypal brings you here.

hopethatmade.jpg

Priceless.

Text 70932 to vote for...

The Swiss will soon be voting via SMS messages from their cell phones. The Swiss style of democracy involves a great deal more voting events than the US counter-part, so it seems natural that they would be among the pioneers for making voting easier for the masses.

Of course, my concerns about the fallibility of electronic voting still apply. The ease of hacking cell-phones has been proven in graphic detail. See: Paris Hilton, once again gaining infamy by being incredibly comfortable with recording devices. Indeed, the article linked to highlights a major problem: the "security" of computer networks isn't always the weakest point in the chain, so efforts to create bleeding-edge security algorithms may be largely pointless.

Plus, this technology still doesn't appear to have a paper trail. Which may not create too much worry in the Swiss cantons when the votes may be re-done with little effort and little loss of voters from frustration, but could be catastrophic in something like a presidential election. Since phones don't have printers on them (yet?), a mailing with a statement of who you voted for (a correctable record, in effect) might solve some issues.

Most importantly, though, is figuring out when "text" became a verb. In my class last night my frustrated professor requested that a fellow student "text your friends when I'm done talking; the clicking is maddening." Didn't he realize that he might have been disenfranchising the woman?

Like Minds

Having seen it first through a comment in a post below, I would heartily recommend the blog Awkward Utopia, not least because there seems to be some individuals with similar thoughts about the potential for studying virtual words through an economic lens (though that helps). It's a group project from the Universtiy Economics Society at the University of Florida. Fortunately for everyone else, they do talk about things not related to video games.

Game Theory in the Souk

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Jawad Anani asks some interesting questions in light of the recent Nobel Prize in economics award winners.

Do the Arab world and its different countries realize the importance of this theory [game theory] and its applications?

After some interesting examples of bargaining in souks in places such as Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo, he takes a shot at answering his own questions:

But alas, no one in the Arab world deeply understands this theory, its principles, and how it influences the constructive lasting stances. We have paid a huge price in modern history, just because we thought we were skilled negotiators and trained bargainers. But in fact, as the DNA tests have proven, we always lose our balance and equilibrium at the last crucial moment. Hence, we get defeated.

MSFT: Free Software For Africa; Or Not

I'm not sure what the deal is with Microsoft and Africa. In this article, technology centers throughout South Africa could get free copies of Windows right from Microsoft (government-backed centers, notably). But over here we see that the GM for Microsoft Nigeria is belittling the idea that free software is of any value.

"It's easy to focus on cost and say how much is a product, but at the end of the day it's the total impact that's important. You can give people free software or computers, but they won't have the expertise to use it," he said. "Microsoft is not a helicopter dropping relief materials; we're there in the field."

Anyone who needed to get a job out of undergrad will understand the flaw in that reasoning: if people only hire experienced workers, how do unexperienced people get experience in the first place. Of course, if you train people on a limited set of tools in an operating environment that all but demands future use of single-company products, you effectively guarantee yourself future customers.

Wharton Discovers Virtual Worlds

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Famed biz school Wharton has a great article about the structure and economies of virtual worlds. Among those quoted about it are Dan Hunter, a legal studies scholar at Wharton and a contributor to what is quickly becoming one of my must-read blogs, Terra Nova.

Some tidbits:

A large unresolved question about virtual worlds is whether mining and trading digital assets can be defined as real-world work. For instance, should the U.S. government track employment in these worlds? Hunter and Whitehouse both suggest that life in the virtual world is indeed work. After all, work is merely creating something tangible that is valued by others. "Economics is really just about choosing preferences," notes Hunter. "If I'm willing to spend $20 on a magic breast plate, that's tangible. Increasingly, these worlds are becoming workspaces."

For some highly-skilled players, it could actually be a significant source of income. If a player in Asia can acquire one power an hour by playing a game and then sell it for a profit to another player, he could make a living wage, accounting for exchange rates. Not surprisingly, such farming operations have been set up across the globe to facilitate these transactions. It has become "a cottage industry," says Castronova. "Individuals farm gold (virtual assets) for a company and then take a wage as independent contractors."

And, gee, this seems to sound familiar:

Experts such as Hunter argue that the burgeoning virtual asset market embedded in games like Second Life and World of Warcraft will create economic petri dishes to monitor consumer behavior, currency changes and productivity.

[...]

Worlds like Second Life can provide for micro-economic insights on the way people react to changes, adds Ondrejka. Linden Lab has already learned one lesson: Don't tax too much. In 2003, a group of players protested what they viewed as excessive taxation on players who built those properties that added the most value to society. The issue was resolved by introducing permanent structures to the game. Previously, a player's property left when he did, but was still taxed as if the property were there full time. Today, property and businesses can remain in the game -- and potentially generate revenue -- even when a player isn't online in Second Life. "This greatly simplified the system, allowing residents to forward invest," says Ondrejka.

As I mentioned in another of my always enjoyable lunches with T&B's owner, Kevin, a lot of the studies of gaming doesn't quite match my own interest in the subject. This article gets much closer to the heart of what fascinates me. The economies of places like Second Life are interesting, but I'd prefer to just see people evaluate these things as tools. Time and again, in readings on testing economic theory or game theoretic predictions, I was always left with a slightly...unsatisfied feeling reading about the structure of various experiments. At base, they often didn't seem to model the depth of emotional involvement that some people may feel in numerous situations (commons usage, willingness to pay questions, declared valuations on various aspects of life, etc.) . With the extent of involvement people feel for these virutal worlds, I think it might be worthwhile to ask if these things might not be a better test-bed for experimentation.

Oh, and another question: what do you think my chances would be of getting into a good PhD program by admitting I wanted to study, in part, video games? I'm getting visions of rejection letters with "Thanks, but we don't have a stipend large enough for what we believe your munchies-habit must be."

Municipal Wireless Catching On?

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The second part in Wired's 4-Part feature on Wireless techfocuses on the growth of city-wide wireless networks.

Unusual for Wired, this article is largely superficial and unenlightening, rehashing the arguments into a bland "wireless for EVERYbody!!!" vs. The Curmudgeons Who Always Say Bad Things sort of debate. The author clearly comes out on the side of those who see muni-wireless as a an unalloyed good, fulfilling the basic rights of people everywhere to be able to surf porn at their local coffee-houses on sleek hip-top portables:

That may be true, but many cities also see municipal Wi-Fi as a larger social program. For them, it's a chance to bridge the elusive "digital divide" -- the gulf between those with access to broadband services and those who either can't afford it or simply can't access it from their impoverished part of town.

Philadelphia's Neff said that the city disqualified many vendors early because they didn't share her social goals. "Some just saw it as building a network and missed the social aspects," she said.

Of course, it might have helped to ask if the digital divide is, indeed, due to a lack of connectivity. The image this raises is one of home-after-home in poor neighborhoods staring blankly at a computer screen, letting life slip by for the want of a faster download speed. It may be anecdotal in scope, but after having been part of the founding of a tech-education program in Chicago, I can assure you that the needs go much deeper than finding a decent hot-spot.

And instead of just quoting the one person saying "the economics are crazy", it might have been of some value for the article to delve into why. Just one quick problem: the usage has to be at damn-near optimal levels for the network built. If the usage is too low, the city wasted money on something that isn't useful. If it's too high, the network is overburdened, and you will either have people not using it and paying twice for service (once through taxes and once on a crontract). Of course, the city could try to keep updating it, but it's still tax money that will have to be funneled into upgrading the network at nearly the same pace that demand for bandwidth grows, lest it get outpaced and abandoned by most users. I'd be willing to put hard money down saying that any government's process for reviewing and approving potential upgrades would be slower than a private company's.

My favorite bit from the article, however, is this:

In September, Federal Trade Commission member Jon Leibowitz endorsed (.pdf) the concept of municipal broadband networks, comparing them to public schools and libraries. [Link in original.]

And, as we all know, the public school system -- especially for poor areas of major cities -- is always a favorable comparison.

Farmers Without Subsidies

In the world of massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games, "farmers" are those people who play the game specifically to make money off the business of trading virtual-world goods for real-world money.

Via Terra Nova comes this article on numerous aspects of the Farming Community. Incentives, property rights, work conditions, effects of economic activity; it's a fairly detailed piece with some fascinating tidbits. You'll have to slog through a bunch of game jargon, but its worth it for an inside-baseball perspective on the effects (both in the virtual world and the real one), of people working obsessively to turn gaming into real cash.

Economics is economics, right?

I guess it depends on where you learned it.

Economic texts in Korea are being reviewed for possible...oddities.

Examples include the view that dining out with the family is selfish and shows a lack of concern for the poor, or that it is impossible to overcome poverty under capitalism no matter how hard people work.

(...)

Among some 200 inaccurate statements the researchers found were clangers like “Wages go up when labor supply exceeds demand."

Of course, economic ignorance and illiteracy is alive and well all over the world. With better animation than the Korean texts (I'm willing to bet, anyway), JibJab.com proves the point in a very catchy way: "Big Box Mart" (sung to the tune "Oh, Susannah") .

"Oh, it starts with sweat-shop labor in a foreign factory..."

Eh, if they're not even getting supply and demand right, you can imagine how good the rest of it is. But hey, as long as it's a fun ditty to sing along with, right?

The Myth of Bush the Spender

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Reason blog writes that “George W. Bush outspent Lyndon Baines Johnson" in his first four and five budgets. But Reason is being misleading. They only look at, discretionary spending, a small part of the Federal Budget, do not adjust for GDP and do not include spending on homeland securety and veteran affairs.

Thus they write that the figures are

1. Bush: +35.2%
2. LBJ: +25.2%
3. Reagan: +11.9%
4. Nixon: -16.5%
5. Clinton: -8.2%

But if we look at a more relevant figure, Federal Non-defence spending as a share of GDP Bush does not look as bad.

1. Nixon: +2.5%
2. LBJ: +1.4%
3. Bush: +0.6%
4. Reagan: -0.8%
5. Clinton: -0.9%

In 2001 Federal non defense spending was 15.5% of GDP, and expected to be 16.1% of GDP in 2006. Note that this increase includes increased domestic anti-terror spending and other defense related spending of perhaps 0.2-0.3%% of GDP. (I use the latest revised estimates of spending and GDP in 2006 total federal spending 2.567 billion, defense spending 447.4 billion, GDP 13.142 billion. Historic figures here and here.)
I don’t think this way of measuring is perfect. You have inertia in politics, and Federal spending is sensitive to the business cycle. But Reasons way of counting is even more distorting. Why only focuse on a figure that represents less than 20% of Federal non-defense spending? In fact their statements are is even more deceptive.

Non-defense Discretionary spending expanded by 79.4 billion 2001-2006. (340 to 420 billion $, compared to total federal non-defense spending in 2006 of ca 2.200 billion $)

But this figure includes +15.3 billion $ in increased homeland defense spending post 9/11 and +8.9 billion in Veterans Affairs. Maybe Noam Chomsky is bothered by the increase of this type of spending, but few right-wingers are (I assume this is why Reason excludes defense spending to begin with). Excluding the non night-watcher state spending went from 305 billion $ to 360 billion $ 2001-2006.

Here is the most interesting part. If you measure as a percentage of GDP discretionary Spending under Bush has decreased! In 2001 the figure was 3.4% of GDP, compared to 3.2% of GDP in 2006. If we exclude Homeland Security and Veterans spending the decrease is even larger, 3.0% to 2.7%.

The two most idotic parts of spending are probably agriculture and spending on the Environmental Protection Agency. If the 2006 estimates hold Bush has managed to slash this by 24%. Adjusted for inflation and GDP Bush will also have cut spending on among others Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Transportation, Labor, Interior, Treasury, Health and Human Services .

Total discretionary spending has stood still 2001-2006 as a share of GDP, and as stated above decreased by some 10% if one excludes defense and Homeland Security. Instead of applauding the cuts Reason gives it's readers the impression that Bush expanded spending by over 30%.

So why is Federal non-defense spending increasing? The culprit is without a doubt Health spending and Medicare, the hungry beasts LBJ unleashed on the US society. These two alone stand for almost 1 percentage point of automatic federal spending increase the last 5 years. (Bush does deserved critism for the prescription drug bill, whosle horrible budgetary effects are not yet discernible but will be soon.)


Relevant Facts


The Federal deficit is expected to be 2.7% of GDP in 2005 and down to 1.7% in 2007. This is a substantial decrease, as the deficit was above 4% just a couple of years ago. Despite strong political pressure Bush achived this without raising any taxes.

The other cricial figure is how much the government in total taxes the country as a share of GDP (including indirect taxes). During his term Clinton increased this by +2.2% of GDP. During Bushs 5 first years the Federal confiscation rate went down, -2,9% of GDP. Reagan managed to cut total taxes by -1.2% after 8 years.

Fact are clear: Bush is NOT the big government spender the so called libertarians are accusing him of. He has rightly increased the Night Watchman state during a time of war, but cut the rest of discretionary spending by some 10% and cut axes by an historical of 400 billion $ per year.

Why the distortions?

But shouldn’t those who oppose big government exaggerate in order to put pressure on Bush? My answer is yes, but that many libertarians are doing this in the wrong way and I suspect for the wrong reasons.

The reason the Federal budget is slowly expanding is the Welfare Programs the Democrats initiated and expanded, especially on health (and soon on Social Security). If you oppose big government the greatest battle for the coming years besides the environmentalist quasi-religion is health care (and environmentalist fanaticism). Health spending has a income elasticity of 1.6, and is already financed by 45% by the taxpayers. Once you expand these programs it is almost impossible to cut or even restrain them, just look at the beating Bush took on Social Security.

So what do the Democrats want to do? Socialize health care. In the end I have no doubt they want to make it a completely nationalized industry, in the process expanding taxes and government by maybe one third. Once you have done this the US economy in effect becomes Canada. Not quite Sweden, but nowhere near as free as it is today. Of course the quality of health care will decline sharply, and taxes will have to increase by hundreds of billion.

Instead of using declaring all out war on this terrible agenda the free marketers are going for social acceptance. By inaccurately painting Bush as bad as the Democrats they make it much more likely for the left to take power.

Of course from a personal and social perspective of chattering class people it is much “cheaper” to attack Bush than to attack Democrats. Disliking Bush is better for the stake of social conformism. The way to avoid cognitive dissonance of being pro-market and wanting social acceptance is to make up an incoherent story that Bush is as bad or worse Statist as the Democrats. This is also what the Economist has been doing the last 4 years.

Bush has cut taxes, cut or mostly restrained spending, quashed Kyoto and expanded free trade. If he has not done more it is because of political and ideological pressure, not a part of his agenda. The Democrats dreams of turning the US economy into the French or Swedish sytem.

In my opinion true liberterains shoud recognize the enemies of freedom and fight the right battles. The argument is NOT that Bush should not be critized for Statiskt policy, but that we shouldn't exagerate his statism and underestimate that of the left with data manipulation.

Much, Much Higher

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The author of this article is completely oblivious to the requisite conditions for accurate survey sampling:

And whether they are strict scriptural literalists or not, a huge supermajority of Americans believe in—what else to call it?—magic: 61 percent think the world was created in six days, 70 to 78 percent say that hell and the Devil and angels exist, 81 to 85 percent believe in Heaven. If opinion polling had existed in the Middle Ages, it’s hard to imagine that the numbers would have been much higher.
Really? I think it's hard to imagine three out of ten peasants telling an unknown stranger asking questions with, to them obviously-correct answers, that devils aren't real. In fact, I gather that a man would have been mortified to clearly and openly state to a stranger that he did not believe in God. The numbers would indeed be much, much higher, for the same reason and with the same causes, that the popularity of autocrats is very, very high.

Farm vs Blue-Collar Wages in China

The latest radioeconomics podcast with Dr. Fan Gang contains this bit of information about Chinese workers (starting at about 17:00):

The labor costs remain low for quite a long time. Why? Because, although in the past 20 years, China has relocated 200 million rural labor force into the industries and the service sectors, there's still 200 to 300 [million] workers -- labor workers -- in the farming sector (in the agricultrual). Most of them are waiting to move out. Their wage is even lower. You know, in the blue-collar workers, in the industries now, can make $1000 US Dollar per year., but the rural farmer only make $400 or $500 US Dollars per year. So they are looking for the job too. They are competing in the job market who are already in the sector, in the industries.... They are waiting for more jobs... People are desperate for the jobs.

Also, starting at 31:45, he notes that China's large ownership of U.S. government securities is not, in itself, a problem:

Number 1. We need to think about the problem -- not of who buys the treasury bonds, but why you issue so much Treasury Bond. I think that is the fundamental Issue... whoever buys the bonds depends on how much you issue. America's fiscal deficit is the issue we need to worry -- all we need to worry. Not only America... America may not worry very much, but we need to worry very much. Because, this is, from my point of view, as a macroeconomicst, this is a fundamental reason why the U.S. Dollar keeps falling.... One of the fundmantal reasons is the fiscal deficit... I would say the real problem is not who buy... is the why you issue so much.

I don't think the Chinese will stop buying... If we have more foreign reserves, we need to... get the best revenue... from this resource... You need a portfolio... avoid most of the risk.

Rent vs. Buy: An Example

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The house shown in the photos below is in Northern Virginia's explosive real estate market. It is for sale or rent, but either way, it is way out of my price range. While I could almost afford to rent the place, I cannot afford the payments of a 30 year mortgage needed to buy the place. Sill, the divergence between the listed rental price ($3,600 a month) and sale price ($975,5000) is too large, in my opinion, but I'm not the one with a million dollars sitting around to invest.


shut_sale.jpg


shut_rent.jpg

If you were to pay cash for the listed price of the house, and rent it at the listed price, you would be earning a paltry 4.4% annual return. Subtract the $8,000 in annual taxes and you're down to a 3.6% return on your investment. That's lower than a 1-year CD, which is now earning around 3.75%. And that's assuming that no depreciation has occured because of the renters, and that there are no other expenses.

Hence, these prices must really reflect an investor's belief that the price of this house will increase by several percent for the next year. Nobody is expecting double-digit increases, and some are expecting a slight downturn.

Delphi is Collapsing

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Delphi, the major auto parts supplier, is demanding wage cuts of up to 50% from the UAW, and billions in bailouts from GM, or it will file for bankruptcy:

DETROIT -- Delphi Corp., one of West Michigan's largest employers, wants United Auto Workers members to accept wage cuts of more than 50 percent and eliminate layoff pay to help the auto supplier effort to stave off bankruptcy, according to UAW leaders at an Indiana plant.

Delphi, with plants in Coopersville and Wyoming, seeks to slash wages from an average $27 an hour to $10-$12 an hour and eliminate a jobs bank that gives full pay to 4,000 laid-off workers, officials from UAW Local 292 said in a letter, which was posted Thursday on a union Web site.

That would mean a $35,360 cut for a worker currently earning more than $56,000 a year. At $10 an hour, it drops to $20,800.

Local workers contacted by The Press today said they are shocked by such a drastic cut that would put their pay below many of the nonunion plants in the area.

I don't know what's more incredible, that wages will be cut so drastically, or that union power managed to make them so much higher than those received by non-union workers:
S&P said Delphi suffers from an uncompetitive business structure because of the wages and benefits of its U.S. hourly workers, which were set by GM before it spun off Delphi. Delphi's hourly wages are twice that of competing auto suppliers, S&P said.
Of course, the stock is plunging:
Delphi's stock, which has traded above $9 during the last 12 months, fell 95 cents to $1.25 on the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier it fell as low as $1.03.
Meanwhile, shareholders and former executives are suing because of alleged sham transactions, and economists note that losing Delphi could cripple local government budgets.

Of course, the top 21 executives have been well taken care of so they don't jump ship... One presumes many rank-and-file employees facing the big cuts have already tried to retire or leave...

Also, the comments at autoblog are worth a look.

Hey, I had that idea second!

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Well, I don't know if I should be glad that I'm not the only one to think video gaming environments could be interesting test beds, or sad that I wasn't a visionary pione...heh. Yeah. I could barely type it with a straight face, let alone read it.

Anyway, from a fascinating Marketplace story, I heard about attempts to train emergency responders with video game technology. A brief mention is also made to "massive multiplayer" environments. The Christian Science Monitor had a similar story a few months ago. The Serious Games Initiative is sponsoring the Games for Change conference, and has some interesting references on its site. (I find the subject fascinating, even though I tend to cringe at things that say they are explicitly working for "social change". Society tends to change pretty well on its own; earnest proponents of further change usually imply that the change happen in ways they prefer, whereas I would prefer the change come up more spontaneously. This page urges us to join to help foster "positive social change". Positive, eh? Perhaps I'm too skeptical, but...)

Of course, the Army has been using simulation technology for years, and have even released games that are little more/less than the tools they use for training. The important differnce, and the one I think is key to this whole issue of MMO environments is that both sides of an interaction are being controlled by a human. That is to say, both the affected and the emergency response team could see online representation of reactions that bear striking resemblance to those we might see in the real world. Or, at least, closer to true than the programmed versions might ever get.

Why not get those training in emergency response help deal with those people who currently experienced a rapidly spreading plague?

UPDATE: Now it's even on NPR! If you didn't get a chance, this is a decent story on the World of Warcraft plague, including a chat with someone who works on modeling infection disease outbreaks.

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