New York City Street

Garbage – recycle, incinerate, synthesize

Many of us remember the saga of the garbage barge named the Mobro 4000. In 1987 it was loaded with garbage from the Islip landfill in New York City and set sail to deposit its load out of state. This was a common occurrence, as land was at a premium in the city. However, the owner of the Mobro 4000 failed to finalize the contract before embarking and was soon stuck at sea with nowhere to go. For six months, major news networks led their broadcast with images of this lonely garbage barge wandering up and down the coast, becoming the poster child for wasteful lifestyles and what activists claimed was a crisis of overflowing landfills. Transferring a city’s garbage out of state was a common practice, but the Mobro 4000’s sloppy paperwork problem led to a rallying cry for recycling.

Today, municipal recycling programs are fairly ubiquitous. Cities provide not only garbage pickup but also a separate garbage can for recyclables. Feeling like a responsible environmental steward has never been so easy – just throw all your paper, plastic and aluminum into a special garbage bin and roll it out to the curb each week where other good stewards collect, sort and recycle it.

But much has happened in the world of garbage since the Mobro 4000 was stranded at sea three decades ago. Recycling has always been predicated on our ability to efficiently reuse recycled material. Much of our recycled plastic goes to China, where it is used to make toothbrushes and carpet, and our shredded paper goes to Mexico, where it used to make things like toilet paper. The greatest deciding factor in what is recycled and what goes to the landfill is profitability. And profits from recycling can change – and are changing – based on various global factors. This means not everything you put in the special bin on your curb will actually be recycled. If the price isn’t right, it’ll end up in the landfill anyway.

Which maybe isn’t such a bad thing. For some time now landfills have been used to generate power.

On New York’s Staten Island sits a 2,000-acre landfill known as Fresh Kills. It operated for 50 years and was New York City’s largest landfill. Some of its largest mounds of garbage soared to 200 feet tall. Fresh Kills closed in 2001, but it’s still serving the city. All that garbage is decaying and producing gas, much of it methane, which can be processed and put into the natural gas pipeline. Methane gas recovery from the old Fresh Kills landfill produces enough energy every day to heat 30,000 homes and makes up to $5 million a year for the city.

Garbage is producing energy another way – landfill incinerators. The world’s best recyclers – Sweden and Norway – incinerate so much trash they are actually importing it from other countries. While bans on plastic bags are gathering momentum in many municipalities, including in Utah, Sweden has no such ban, incinerating many of the bags instead. Norway’s capital, Oslo, heats half the city and most of its schools by burning garbage. In fact, northern European trash-burning countries have their sights set on the U.S. garbage market to fuel its 700-million-ton incineration capacity. Today, rather than capturing the world’s attention as a symbol of environmental despair, the Mobro 4000 might be welcomed with open arms.

This article was originally posted on Utah Citizen Network. UCN is an interactive site meant to encourage, teach and empower citizens to become active participants. Join in and maybe you can become governor of Freedomville!

A useful, non-shaming guide for working with women

Riveters in WWIIDo men need a guide for how to work with women? Joanne Lipman, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has some suggestions, and they’re worth reading:

The point isn’t to blame men. In my view, there has been way too much man-shaming as it is. My aim instead is to demystify women.

The business case for this is compelling. Companies with more women in leadership posts simply perform better. Fortune 500 firms with the most female board members outperform those with the least by 26% on return on invested capital and 16% on return on sales, according to a 2011 Catalyst study.

Aside from some unfortunate stereotypes used by Lipman in her introductory paragraphs, the article has some great advice for men, particularly managers, who work with women. It goes beyond the “men’s and women’s brains are wired differently” and “men and women are socialized differently” concepts to offer some clear explanations and suggestions. Read it here.

That dastardly, poverty-relieving capitalism

Hard_LabourNot that we should give undue attention to actors who opine on economics and politics, but this article has a couple of great charts that show just how ridiculous Russell Brand’s rant against capitalism is.

Click here to read more at AEIdeas.

Here’s more, from The Economist, commenting on how free markets help pull people out of extreme poverty:

Many Westerners have reacted to recession by seeking to constrain markets and roll globalisation back in their own countries, and they want to export these ideas to the developing world, too. It does not need such advice. It is doing quite nicely, largely thanks to the same economic principles that helped the developed world grow rich and could pull the poorest of the poor out of destitution.

And from Utah Citizen Network, here’s an explanation of how free markets have reduced poverty more than any other institution.

Price-gouging, shortages and the free market

Don’t drink the water – or even bathe in it, the city of Eagle Mountain told its residents on the evening of Sept. 29, 2014. The city reported that someone had broken into one of its water storage tanks. There was no way to tell what, if anything, had been put into the city’s water supply, until state testing results came back the following day. The city advised residents not to drink, cook with, or bathe in the water. Not even boiling the water could guarantee it’d be safe to use.

The water advisory was given around 5:30 Monday evening. Two hours later this picture of the bottled water aisle at the nearest Walmart was posted online:


Empty. Some people started posting on social media in anger, yelling at others for hoarding water and not leaving any for the rest. The next day another picture was posted of another nearby Walmart, also with a barren water aisle.

What can we learn from this? First, “be prepared” ain’t just for Boy Scouts or doomsday preppers. The unexpected can happen to you. Store some extra food and water. It’s just smart.

But second, there’s an interesting economics lesson here.

Click here to read the rest of this article at Utah Citizen Network.

Video: Arthur Brooks, Sen. Mike Lee at Sutherland event

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

If you haven’t had a chance to watch our video of Sen. Mike Lee and AEI president Arthur Brooks sharing ideas for fighting poverty, now’s a good time! Click on the photo at left.

Curious about Piketty’s colossal 'Capital'? Try Goldberg’s concise review

French economist Thomas Piketty at the reading for his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, on 18 April 2014 at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

French economist Thomas Piketty at a reading of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” in April 2014, at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass.

Here’s my blog-sized review of Jonah Goldberg’s 14-page review of Thomas Piketty’s 600-page review of capitalism: Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

If you follow Goldberg, you know that he has a class clown’s delivery furtively driven by an enormous brain that’s packed tighter than a Whole Foods recycling bin. His talent is in making historically and philosophically intractable topics enjoyable.

In his review of Piketty, Goldberg covers a century and a half of economic and social philosophy, provides handy data points and counter-arguments to progressivism’s latest income inequality meme, tosses in a smattering of current cultural references, adds a dose of cynicism, and presents a thorough takedown of the notion that punishing wealth will do anything to decrease income equality or, more importantly, to raise living standards or happiness across the board.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got since I can add nothing of value to the review except to say you should read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Even things forbidden will be compulsory

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips, Colorado baker

The state of Colorado has put out a welcome mat for recreational marijuana use but is decidedly cool to private business owners who want to act on their faith as they conduct business. Last week, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered a bakery owner to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages and to “submit quarterly reports for two years that show how he has worked to change discriminatory practices by altering company policies and training employees” and “disclose the names of any clients who are turned away.”

One irony of this is that Colorado law, approved by voters in 2006, provides that the state will not recognize same-sex marriages. So, what the state is forbidden to do, private business owners are required to do.

It would be well to remember this in the debates over discrimination laws in Utah. It’s clear that even having a law protecting marriage as the union of a husband and wife would not necessarily prevent these kinds of results here. A law protecting individual religious expression will be necessary, period, however Utah defines marriage.

Detroit asks: Who is John Galt?

A woman reads "Atlas Shrugged." (Photo: Seth Tisue)

A woman reads “Atlas Shrugged.” (Photo: Seth Tisue)

Detroit once had the highest per-capita income of any city in the world. Yet today it stands bankrupt and abandoned. What happened to the once-great city? While there were many factors in its decline, some of the major influences are ripped straight from the pages of Ayn Rand’s seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged.

In the book, Rand paints a picture of an economy where some people use their talents and hard work to produce valuable goods and services, thereby enriching themselves and the economy as a whole, while others use the political system to eliminate competition, enriching themselves at the expense of the economy as a whole.

The protagonist in Rand’s story, John Galt, foresees the rise and inevitable collapse of the “Takers” group and decides to speed up the process by convincing the “Producers” to abandon the world so that there would be nothing left from which to mooch. The phrase “Going Galt” has entered the modern lexicon as the term for when government manipulation of free enterprise drives out productivity and restricts economic growth.

Click here to read more about Detroit’s decline, and many other topics, at Utah Citizen Network.

Fast food strike = economic ignorance

MoneypileSometimes I just have to marvel at the total lack of common sense and disregard for basic economic principles often shown by people in the grievance industry when they throw their little hissy fits. The latest example was the union-organized nationwide strike at fast food restaurants around the country.

It’s basic economics, and also just common sense, that if you increase the price of something people will buy less of it. That applies to labor as much as it does to, oh, I don’t know, let’s say oranges. Except that since most oranges are interchangeable, the decreased sales that inevitably follow a price increase applies to all of them equally. Not so with the minimum wage. People at the lower end of the wage scale are predominantly young, less educated, unskilled, and minority. If you arbitrarily raise the cost of hiring them, it’s just simple logic that fewer will be hired, since not all of them can add as much value to a product or service as the minimum wage that’s set. Or, someone or something else can be substituted for their labor at a lower cost than the minimum wage.

Low-skill jobs are especially susceptible to being replaced by technology or outsourcing. If a fast food restaurant can take orders at a rate of pennies per order from a self-serve touch screen versus dollars per order from a young and/or low-skilled employee, which option is better for the restaurant and for the consumers who ultimately pay the bill? The question answers itself.

So how does that translate into real people with real challenges?

Read more

Dwight Howard, the Lakers, the Rockets and state tax policy

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (Licensed AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (Licensed AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Wall Street Journal highlights yet another example of how state policy (in this case, tax policy) has real implications. Los Angeles Laker big man Dwight Howard is the NBA’s most prominent free agent this off season and is being courted by five teams, with most prognosticators narrowing that list down to the Houston Rockets and the Lakers.

While Howard can certainly find pros and cons for joining each team, one significant factor could be each state’s tax policy. Texas has no state income tax; California’s is tops in the country. Also, cost of living is second-lowest in Texas and fourth-highest in California.

How does this all shake out for Howard’s bottom line? Even considering NBA labor agreements which allow the Lakers to offer $117 million over five years but limits the Rockets to $88 million over four years, Howard is better off financially heading to the Lone Star State. A lot better off. Like $8 million better off. From Harry Graver’s Wall Street Journal article:

[A]s Tony Nitti has noted in Forbes, this picture looks a lot different once the tax man cometh: “Howard would pay nearly $12 million in California tax over the four years if he signs with the Lakers, but only $600,000 in state tax should he sign with Houston. This means that a four-year deal with Houston would actually yield an additional $8 million in after-tax income.”

While Utah’s business policies are lacking in some areas (see yesterday’s blog post), Utahns are fortunate to live in a state with overall sane personal and business income tax rates and policies. Now if the Jazz could only find a premiere center looking to leave a high-tax state for a low-tax state….