Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday March 23, 2011

Health information campaign. What happened to an all-star group that was to promote President Obama’s health care plan? Politico reports: “Democrats are under siege as they mark the first anniversary of health care reform Wednesday — and they won’t get much help from the star-studded, $125 million support group they were once promised. Wal-Mart Watch founder Andrew Grossman unveiled the Health Information Campaign with great fanfare last June. … But nine months later, the Health Information Campaign has all but disappeared.”

Eisenhower book author to speak in Wichita. At this Friday’s meeting (March 25) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, David A. Nichols, Ph.D. will speak on his new book Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis — Suez and the Brink of War . Nichols is formerly of Southwestern College in Winfield. Copies of the new book will be available for purchase at the meeting. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers include Derrick Sontag of Americans for Prosperity on April 1, Deputy Public Defender Jama Mitchell on April 8, Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on April 15, Friends University Associate Professor of Political Science Russell Arben Fox on April 22, and Wichita State University Political Scientist Ken Ciboski on April 29.

Kansas agencies mum on travel spending. From Kansas Policy Institute: “State agencies, boards and universities in Kansas claimed they did not have to disclose details on $21.4 million in spending on various forms of travel and entertainment in FY 2010, according to a Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) analysis of the state’s checkbook.” According to KPI president Dave Trabert: “$39 million is a lot to spend on travel in any year, and especially so when some agencies say they are being forced to cut services. Maybe the Kansas Bureau of Investigation needs some discretion when conducting investigations, but the breadth and volume of these confidentiality claims are incomprehensible.” While the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) has many categories of information that are exempt from disclosure, agencies have discretion as to which information to disclose. None of the exemptions mention travel. Says Trabert: “State checkbook records don’t indicate which exemption from disclosure is invoked on travel spending, but disclosing the names of hotels, airlines and restaurants that received taxpayer money would not be an unwarranted invasion of anyone’s personal privacy. It is, however, an unwarranted invasion of taxpayers’ right to not know how their money is being spent and state law should be changed to eliminate gaping loopholes in KORA.” … I’m really curious to learn more about this finding: “KPI’s review of state travel records also found many examples of the vendor being listed as the agency or university itself rather than the actual vendor that provided the service.” … KPI’s press release is at State Agencies Claim Confidentiality on Travel Spending.

Kansas wind energy jobs. Again we find that the promise of green energy projects being an economic development driver is overplayed. In “Goal of many more ‘green’ jobs is elusive” (February 14, 2011 Kansas City Star) we find the same skepticism that most now see justified regarding ethanol is applicable to wind power: “‘We need to temper our expectations on wind energy,’ said David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist known for deflating the ethanol industry’s job claims. Now, he says, the same ‘environment of hype’ is developing around wind power.” It’s been good for China, though: “… more than 80 percent of $1 billion in federal stimulus grants for wind projects went to foreign countries. One of the projects, a $1.5 billion wind farm in Texas, expected to collect $450 million in stimulus money — but use wind turbines made in China.” The counting of a job as “green” is highly suspect, as the article notes: “Kansas officials have trumpeted that the state already has 20,000 green jobs — and hopes for 10,000 more, many from manufacturing and assembly work for generating wind power. But so far, most of the jobs in that count by the state Department of Labor have been around for years, including carpenters installing energy-efficient windows and plumbers putting in toilets that don’t use much water. Even maids, if they use green products, are classified as green-collar workers.” … Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer promotes manufacturing of wind power machinery as good for Wichita’s economic development, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback supports renewable energy standards for Kansas.

The role of profits and losses. From Robert P. Murphy, Lessons for the Young Economist: Many naïve observers of the market economy dismiss concern with the “bottom line” as a purely arbitrary social convention. To these critics, it seems senseless that a factory producing, say, medicine or shoes for toddlers stops at the point when the owner decides that profit has been maximized. It would certainly be physically possible to produce more bottles of aspirin or more shoes in size 3T, yet the boss doesn’t allow it, because to do so would “lose money.” On the other hand, many apparently superfluous gadgets and unnecessary luxury items are produced every day in a market economy, because they are profitable. Observers who are outraged by this system may adopt the slogan: “Production for people, not profit!” … Such critics do not appreciate the indispensable service that the profit and-loss test provides to members of a market economy. Whatever the social system in place, the regrettable fact is that the material world is one of scarcity — there are not enough resources to produce all the goods and services that people desire. Because of scarcity, every economic decision involves tradeoffs. When scarce resources are devoted to producing more bottles of aspirin, for example, there are necessarily fewer resources available to produce everything else. It’s not enough to ask, “Would the world be a better place if there were more medicine?” The relevant question is, “Would the world be a better place if there were more medicine and less of the other goods and services that would have to be sacrificed to produce more medicine?” … Loosely speaking, the profit and loss system communicates the desires of consumers to the resource owners and entrepreneurs when they are deciding how many resources to send into each potential line of production. … In a market based on the institution of private property, profits occur when an entrepreneur takes resources of a certain market value and transforms them into finished goods (or services) of a higher market value. This is the important sense in which profitable entrepreneurs are providing a definite service to others in the economy.

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