A lesson in capitalism from A Christmas Carol

He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer; ding, dong, bell! Bell, dong, ding; hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!

‘What’s to-day?’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

‘Eh?’ returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

‘What’s to-day, my fine fellow?’ said Scrooge.

‘To-day?’ replied the boy. ‘Why, Christmas Day.’

‘It’s Christmas Day!’ said Scrooge to himself. ‘I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!’

‘Hallo!’ returned the boy.

‘Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?’ Scrooge inquired.

‘I should hope I did,’ replied the lad.

‘An intelligent boy!’ said Scrooge. ‘A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?’

‘What, the one as big as me?’ returned the boy.

‘What a delightful boy!’ said Scrooge. ‘It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!’

‘It’s hanging there now,’ replied the boy.

‘Is it?’ said Scrooge. ‘Go and buy it.’

‘Walk-er!’ exclaimed the boy.

‘No, no,’ said Scrooge, ‘I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell them to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!’

After his redeeming night with the spirits, Scrooge remains a capitalist. He hires a little boy to do a job he could do himself, but his time is valuable. He still understands incentives: I’ll pay you for the job, but I’ll pay you more for the job if you do a good job. Nonetheless, the boy isn’t a mere tool to him; he’s a human being, a delightful boy, in fact.

So Scrooge remains a capitalist, but he’s not grasping, self-indulgent, quisling butthole out only for himself.

I wonder: is that really so hard?

What Charles Manson and HSR have in common…

I noted in my last post that the CalHSR’s proposal was to construct from Fresno to Corcoran. Corcoran has a population of about 26,000 people, but I forgot to point out that about half of those residents are guests of the state of California, and thus unlikely to ride the HSR: prisoners in the two penitentiaries. One of the largest industries in Corcoran is corrections, and it is home to the California State Prison and the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison.

Charles Manson currently lives at the California State Prison, Corcoran.

(If you value your sanity, don’t do the math on providing HSR to a place with 26,000 people, 13,000 of whom are not actually supposed to leave, ever. Conceivably, the station would also draw riders from the Madera region, which has about 150,000 people, which is still too few people to justify a station. )

Given that the new narrative around HSR is that it will prompt economic development in the Central Valley, these population figures rather got me thinking: it would probably be cheaper to send every man, woman, and child in Fresno, Madera, and Corcoran (not including prisoners) a check for $5K than it will be to build the HSR there. For a family of four, that’s $20K. If I were them, I’d hold out for that.

A sleeper of an HSR story: The Feds insist on Bakersfield

Ok, I am perhaps confused about what’s really going on–as there have been a lot of announcements about CalHSR here recently–but either I’m crazy, or this announcement from the Feds is a waaaaay bigger deal for California than anybody has noticed so far.

Here’s the story from Bakersfield.com: Feds Insist that the first leg of bullet train reach to Bakersfield. The additional $816 million is contingent on a commitment to get the train there.

So….my understanding of what the CalHSR promised to with the first leg was that it go from Fresno (population 505,000–HSR to Des Moines!) to Corcoran (population 25,600–no comment). Corcoran is located with the red arrow on the little Google map I’ve pasted together.

Now, Corcoran is about 50 or so miles away from Fresno. Bakersfield is about 100 miles.

Does that strike anybody as being…well, at lot farther? Why isn’t anybody besides me….concerned about the Feds holding out?

I kind of think this move puts California on the hook for a lot more money. Or a really pared down project. Or…?

100th letter of recommendation and whatprofessorsdo

One of my colleagues–honestly a research powerhouse and a veritable icon of his profession– charms the bejesus out of people by referring to himself as a schoolteacher. I don’t think for a second that this wasn’t a calculated bit of humility on his part–he is very famous in his field, and he’s far too sharp not to know it–but it is charming nonetheless, and like him, I would be quite proud to list myself among schoolteachers. Our jobs are different: they do more teaching than I do, and I do more research and writing than they do, but the heart of the matter is the same: we are trying to help people get where they are going.

Today I am penning the 100th letter of recommendation I have written in my three-year academic career at USC. That’s not counting the first three years’ of letters that I penned at Virginia Tech. That means I’ve written a little over 30 letters of recommendation a year, for various students. This year is still young.

Whenever parents or students are nasty to me about how “they pay my salary”–yes, they do, but I also pay their salary with all the goods I buy, and it doesn’t entitle me to act like a boorish boss or wronged when–gasp!–they are enjoying free time in the middle of the week–I think of all the letters of recommendation that I have written, one of the invisible tasks of my job. It isn’t onerous; it’s often a pleasure. But it’s a very real task, one that I take very seriously, because students need letters to get where they are going.

Today’s 100th: a graduate student from industrial engineering at Viterbi who wants to pursue her PhD.

NPR on falling gas prices

There is some pretty good news on American demand for gas, not entirely unpredicted. It’s going down, and energy economists believe that the trend will continue–from National Public Radio.

The great thing about the story: it nicely illustrates all the ways that drivers can substitute different behaviors and technologies to save money before they take the step onto public transit: by changing cars, by shortening trips, by rearranging trips, etc.

This is not to say that I think transit usage hasn’t made a different. Long-term trends towards urbanization promise to redistribute a greater share of the whole population into metro areas. Combined with natural increase in already urbanized areas, we should see more riders riding more over the long term.

Jonathan Chait on Big-Boy Babies in the Boardroom

Apparently, our neoliberal hysteria has gotten so strident that Obama is not even allowed to say things like “mistakes were made.” Jonathan Chait remarks in the TNR:

But business has fashioned a political correctness that stigmatizes the telling of even basic truths about it, lest feelings be hurt. Are the titans of American industry really so sensitive?

Take a look.

California’s Cap and Trade Round Up

Ok, I have to admit it: As the clock wound down on The Governator, I figured we were at least a year away from a cap and trade announcement in California. Kudos to Mary Nichols and the California Air Resources for proving me wrong. The program is up and running and CARB has a nice, user-friendly website to help people understand how it is going to work.

It’ll be interesting to see how the program affects fuel distributors–they aren’t up for the first round of implementation, but their compliance will be a nice reduction as they come online in the next years.

Here’s a round up from around the web:

The Wall Street Journal

The Gaurdian

The HuffPo

Econbrowser is worrying about oil prices, why you should, too

Go read.

I have nothing to add to the discussion, except to congratulate the commenters on the quality of the responses (except for the person who insists on calling people “gentlemen”; sheesh. Do I get to read the comments even though I am a girl? Or will you get girl cooties? Or is it just no fun unless you can pretend commenting on a blog in 2010 is like lecturing at Cambridge in 1900? I’m not that grouchy about inclusive language when you can’t avoid it or when being inclusive makes the prose ungainly or cluttered, but why make a point of being exclusionary in a forum where you don’t have to be?)

Pay particular attention to the discussion of pricing changeover technologies.

But also keep in mind that oil gets used for a lot of economic production that doesn’t involve personal automobiles.