November 26, 2005

Voting with Our Feet, Part 2: It’s the Taxes, Stupid

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:08 pm

NOTE: Though this post is specifically about the Greater Cincinnati area, I believe that similar posts could be written about population trends in other metro areas around the nation.

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted to and commented on a blogpost by Jeff Sinnard, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in Ohio’s 2nd District special election and lost to Paul Hackett, who ultimately lost to Republican Jean Schmidt.

Jeff is a reasonable guy, and had a reasonable post about how Hamilton County’s commissioners had “fired” (if this is properly using the word “fire”) all but one of the volunteer members of a Tax Levy Review Committee (TLRC), whose primary assigned task was to keep tabs on overall tax increase requests and make sure that in total they weren’t outpacing general inflation. The trouble, regardless of how you see the politics, is that they failed to do that:

The result: a 7.7 percent increase in 2005 property taxes.

Hamilton County has the third-highest tax bill when compared to Southwest Ohio and other large, urban Ohio counties, something that encourages people to leave, Heimlich and DeWine believe.

Jeff was wondering how members of an “independent” committee can get terminated, and it’s a legitimate concern, though I’ll point out that “independent” outside auditors like Ernst & Young or the unfairly-departed Arthur Andersen (read first item at post), who are considered “independent” even though they are paid by their client companies, often get fired by those same clients.

The much bigger question is whether high taxes “encourage people to leave.” Well, look at these total population statistics:

Hamilton County (000s) –
1970 – 924
1980 – 873
1990 – 866
July 1, 1994 – 873 (peak population year in the 1990s)
Apr. 1, 2000 – 845
July 1, 2004 – 815

Greater Cincinnati Metro Area (000s) –
(Metro Cincy including Northern Ky.; Hamilton-Middetown; Total)
1970 – 1,442; na; na
Apr. 1, 1980 – 1,467; 259; 1,726 (link is to a PDF, go to Page 72)
Apr. 1, 1990 – 1,526; 292; 1,818 (same PDF link as 1980)
July 1, 1997 – 1,607; 327; 1,934 (same PDF link as 1980)
2004 – na; na; 2,039

Hamilton County’s population declined steeply during the 1970s, stabilized during the next 14 years, and has declined dangerously (roughly 7%) since then. Meanwhile, during this entire period, the population of the whole region has moved inexorably upward.

Why is that? The usual culprits (as long as the areawide economy is stable or growing, which it generally has been) are crime, education, and taxes. Cincinnati (Hamilton County’s county seat) has had big problems with all three, but I don’t have any reason to think that crime or education have been big negatives in the rest of Hamilton County, at least until very recently. So all things being equal, you would expect those leaving Cincinnati (the subject of a future post) because of proximity alone to move elsewhere within Hamilton County.

But they haven’t. It’s difficult to reach a conclusion other than that people have in essence voted with their feet to leave Hamilton County for the one reason that remains: Taxes. The TLRC’s failure to do its job has hurt the county. The “firings” were justified. The tax-and-spend trend has to be reversed, or the exodus will continue.

Nov. 26 Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Other “vote with our feet” posts:
- Part 1: What Thanksgiving Is Partially About
- Part 3: Walking Away from Academic Excellence
- Part 4: Leaving Cincinnati (and Other Ohio Cities)
- Part 5: Willisms Looks at State Migration Patterns
- Part 6: Losing the Very Rich

Money Tip of the Day: Don’t Be an Early Tech Product Buyer If You’re Not a Techie

Filed under: Economy,Money Tip of the Day — Tom @ 1:49 pm

You know the old saying that you know who the pioneers are because they’re the ones with arrows in their backs?

A similar lesson applies with technology products: If you want to know that the tech product you’re buying will work without glitches, don’t buy it when it’s first released.

Latest example–The Xbox 360. I won’t attempt to get into what the problems are, just that they exist, and that they appear, despite Microsoft’s reassurances, to be more than minor, both in the number of machines affected and the degree of the problems involved.

More links if you want to know more:
- Seattle Times — Gamers report glitches
- Treowth — Xbox 360 = Crashbox?
- Selsine Tech — Xbox 360 Crash Updates

Also, HiWired Blog (“XBox 360 bloggers not thinking happy thoughts”) has an extensive collection of links, summary comments, and at least one unusual fix.

This Weekend’s Unanswered Question (112605)

Filed under: Economy,Money Tip of the Day,TWUQs — Tom @ 11:44 am

Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4, but this time just one) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration):

QUESTION: Is there a better name for the people who call themselves “freegans”?

First, a bit about who freegans are and what they do:

The Thanksgiving holiday is over and the frenzied Christmas shopping season has begun. This is bonanza time for the tribe of rummaging Americans known as “freegans.”

The anti-capitalist freegans — the name combines “free” and “vegan” — are so appalled by the waste of the consumer society that they try to live on the leftovers, scavenging for food in supermarket dustbins.

“It’s fun. It’s a thrill. It’s more fun and more satisfying than just going to the store and saying, ‘I wanted some bread and I got it’. It’s the surprise — and the prize,” said Janet Kalish, a New York high school teacher who describes herself as “60 per cent freegan”.

…… The freegan philosophy of “ethical eating” argues that capitalism and mass production exploit workers, animals and the environment.

Adam Weissman, a freegan activist and sometime security guard in New Jersey, says freeganism grew out of the radical 1960s “yippie” movement but also has affinities with the hobos of the Great Depression who travelled around the country by stealing rides on the railways.

“I have pity for people who have not figured out this lifestyle,” he said. “I am able to take long vacations from work, I have all kinds of consumer goods, and I eat a really healthy diet of really wonderful food: white asparagus and cactus fruit, three different kinds of mushrooms and four different kinds of pre-cut salad. And I’m just thinking of what is in my refrigerator right now.

“Essentially, the sky’s the limit. We found flat-screen TVs, working boom-boxes and stereos. I have put together most of my wardrobe. Last year’s designer clothing in perfect shape is discarded because it’s no longer fashionable, so I wear a lot of designer labels.”

Freegans often go “dumpster diving” in packs, delving into skips at supermarkets and restaurants.

On one level, I can see how you might have a bit of admiration for freegans, in the sense that they’re willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep their own personal costs down. They’ve made an economic judgment that it’s worth enduring the muck and the “yuck” to get what they want.

But that’s as far as it goes, because it’s hard to avoid the fact that what they are doing is surely considered trespassing in most, if not all, jurisdictions. (I also wonder who they would sue if they got hurt while dumpster diving.)

Mr. Weissman’s statements also indicate that it’s not really about idealism. The fact is that the people who freegans consider “exploited” who participate in this “exploitative” capitalist system produce exponentially more food than any other system yet devised by man, even after subtracting the 27% waste factor claimed in the article (which appears to be valid, and which we as consumers ought to seek to minimize for our own good).

So if there is a lot of waste food, the problem is really how to get it safely to those who can’t afford it (y’know, “casualties of capitalism,” or whatever). Not surprisingly, these “so appalled” pseudo-idealists express no concern about this problem.

I’ve always thought that getting leftover food into needy mouths was impossible because of laws about food safety and concerns about legal liability if a recipient got ill. Well, in three minutes of Googling, I found out not only that I am wrong, but I learned of an organization in one city has been doing all they can to solve this problem for almost 17 years:

Every day, one quarter of the food produced in restaurants, businesses, and our own homes is left to go to waste. And yet, in DC alone, thousands of men and women go without food every day. DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) believes that waste is wrong–be it food, money, or the potential for productive human lives. That’s why we started the Food Recycling program: to combat waste and hunger.

DCCK drivers, trained in food sanitation and DCCK’s established policies on acceptable donations, use health-code approved transportation and sanitized containers to rescue prepared and perishable surplus food from hundreds of restaurants, hotels, university cafeterias, caterers, and other concerned businesses in the D.C. area. Between one and two tons of food are recovered every day.

Our 10,000 square foot kitchen includes dry storage space, five walk-in refrigerator/freezers, and modern kitchen equipment. It is in this kitchen that our chefs, Culinary Arts Job Training program participants and volunteers transform donated food into balanced, nutritious meals. Currently, approximately 4,000 meals are prepared daily and distributed to more than 100 non-profit agencies throughout the District, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia each year.

….. In 2004, DC Central Kitchen reclaimed 1,458,177 pounds of food, and distributed approximately 1,450,000 million meals to its partner agencies in the DC Metropolitan area.

Additionally, DC Central Kitchen’s overview page notes that it began operations on January 20, 1989, and that it “serves as a resource for more than 60 community kitchens operating throughout the United States and, through the Campus Kitchens Project, has itself become a national program operating in several states and the DC metropolitan area.”

So if the freegans’ goal is really to reduce waste and not merely to reduce their own personal expenses, why aren’t they doing more to encourage the hotels, restaurants, and other companies generating these wastes to get in touch with an organization like DC Central Kitchen near them (or for that matter, starting one of their own)? And if they’re not, as appears to be the case, shouldn’t they really be called something else? My suggestions: “scavengers,” “hypocrites,” and “freeloaders.”

UPDATE: Ace recommends the appellations “garbage hippies” or “dumpster hippies.”

UPDATE 2, Jan. 27, 2006: More free publicity for freegans (“garbage gourmets”).

Positivity: Man Rescued with Help of Wireless Phone as His Vehicle Hung Over a Dam

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:11 am

I thought this only happened in movies: