Quick Hits – The Curmudgeon Edition

The City Council is off this week on the odd fifth Tuesday month.  So, I present some of my quick hits backlog below.  This edition has a bit of a contrary, dare I say, negative bent at times.  Perhaps that is because Sunday, January 29 was National Curmudgeon Day.  So, if the shoe fits….

Ground Level on MPR

I encourage anyone with interest in Minnesota local government to visit Minnesota Public Radio’s Ground Level Project, especially its Forced to Choose subject focusing specifically on cities, counties, and townships.  There are many stories related to cities faced with difficult decisions in the wake of tight budgets, loss of state aids, etc.  But, there are also solid stories on local government’s more strategic responses to the current economic climate.  One recent example is coverage of a series of government redesign meetings and a final report by the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, and the Minnesota School Boards Association.  One can find the final report in several locations, including here.

Tax evasion costs more than war

Motley Fool contributor Morgan Housel reports three economic developments you may have missed.  All are rather startling.  The US is a net exporter for the first time since 1949.  Also, growth in health care spending is near a record low.  To be fair, if costs are already high, one would hope that the rate of growth above current levels would eventually slow.  And, the biggest surprise, at least to me: the amount of federal tax revenue lost to tax evasion is “probably somewhere between $3 trillion and $5 trillion.” That’s trillion – with a “t“.  Housel adds:

Put that money in perspective. Tax evasion in the last decade cost an amount roughly equivalent to the Bush tax cuts, the Obama stimulus, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… combined. It’s amazing more people aren’t outraged about this stuff. Rather, they likely would be if they knew about it.

Comparison of Snow Maintenance Resources

It took some time even here in Northwest Minnesota, but winter arrived.  The Atlantic Cities recently compared snow removal resources by city, including the ratio of snow plows to square miles of a city.  The results were interesting, but I could not draw many conclusions.  Buffalo, New York, which receives a staggering average of 93.6 inches of snowfall annually, had 1.68 snow plows per square mile.  New York City was on the high end of ratio with 7.37 plows per square mile.  Our nearest neighbor in the survey, Fargo, North Dakota, had 0.79 snowplows per square mile.  The only constant that I can see in this data set is that it is very difficult to draw a standard for snow plowing.  There are many variables including average snowfall, overall climate, politics, city density, and geographic location just to name a few.  For example, one may wonder if New York’s figure increased after last year’s snow storm difficulties that gained worldwide attention.  One must also note that New York is a very dense city, especially by American standards.   Think about the number of streets and cars per square mile in New York compared to Fargo, not to mention the propensity for snowfall.

In a similar vein, the Atlantic Cities also showed How we plowed before snow plows were invented.   Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are with technological advancements even in the last 10 years, much less the last 100-150 years.

Nice Guys Finish Last – Again

The Freakonomics blog recently showed a study that indicated that levels of high agreeableness in persons was correlated with lower credit scores.  Here, one should insert the standard caveat that correlation does necessarily mean causation.  A few months ago the same Freakonomics blog reported that higher levels of altruism (read: nice) in leaders also lead to perceptions of less dominance from their peers and subordinates.  It has not been a good quarter for nice people.

Quote of the Day

So, after seeing the above, one may have more of a glass-is-half-empty perspective. Hopefully, this is temporary.  But, Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury and arguably the father of today’s American economic system did not find bad news to be short-lived.

“Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture,” – Alexander Hamilton

As a firm Jeffersonian at heart, I hope Mr. Hamilton was very, very wrong.