September 24th, 2015

NYT on the history of car maker cheating

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/24/business/international/volkswagen-test-rigging-follows-a-long-auto-industry-pattern.html

While the byline is Danny Hakim and Hiroko Tabuchi, Keith Bradsher, who ably covered the industry for more than a decade (and produced an excellent book on SUVs in the early 2000s) contributed as well.

Apparently, VW has been fined for defeat devices before -- albeit before millenials were born. I remember my father's cynicism about odometers; now I know it was justified. I graduated the year Chrysler got nailed for the execs drive cars then they are sold as new scandal, but while my husband (5 years older) recalls, I did not.

The whole thing is a reminder that if you are going to regulate and be effective, you really, really, really do have to test. _Especially_ as you increase regulations, because inertia will help you somewhat once people are mostly complying, but at the beginning, people find it much easier to cheat than to implement.

I will quote the final two paras in entirety, because I feel like it:

"Dan Becker, director of the safe climate campaign at the Center for Auto Safety, said that in 2011 he was among a group of environmental lawyers and engineers who traveled to Germany to hear automakers make a pitch for diesel cars. He said that while BMW and Daimler had taken the group’s concerns seriously, Volkswagen officials had not.

“They talked down to us,” he said of the company. “They would definitely win an Academy Award for most egregious automaker. And this is one of the companies that tried desperately to get Americans to buy diesel. I think they just sank that ship.”"

But it really isn't just VW. It is hard to pass regulations to make diesel cars equivalent in pollution produced as gasoline cars. But it turns out it is _much much harder_ to actually _make_ diesel cars equivalent in pollution produced as gasoline cars, even than it is to get those regulations through the political process. I don't want any of my comments here to be taken as opposition to biodiesel, which is an entirely different thing from a lifecycle perspective, and will never be The Car Of the Future, simply because there isn't enough biofuel around to make it viable (heck, even at the low current numbers, restaurants have to lock up their used fat because people steal it now). I just don't see diesel recovering from this particular scandal in time to regain its footing vs hybrids and pure electrics, especially not after living with my electric for a year -- and wishing I'd never bought the range extender option.

The Magical Country That Solved Capitalism Turns Out Not to Have Done So

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/business/international/norways-central-bank-cuts-interest-rate.html

Surprise interest rate cut from Norway's central bank. Because it turns out that Norway is just the Euro version of North Dakota? With a lot more Teslas and better housing.

This is what happens when your economy is so tightly bound to the price of oil. Sure, you look great while everyone else suffers from high fuel prices during the peak of the commodity cycle. But So So Sad when the wheel turns.

Wikipedia human stampede numbers

Today's news brings us a tragedy during the Hajj. But before you dismiss this as (a) a long way away involving (b) a bunch of people who are not co-religionists of yours, let's contextualize this a little. How does this event:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/24/middleeast/stampede-hajj-pilgrimage/

Compare to other crowd tragedies?

Wikipedia summary found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_stampedes

Today's incident is included at the end. Working our way back, we can find a worse incident here.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Al-Aaimmah_bridge_stampede

"these groups themselves often encourage high turn-outs at religious events to prove the relative strength of their sect."

If you are wondering (as I did) why that 2005 incident didn't register in your brain, that would be because we were all hyper-focused on Katrina at the time (and probably rightly so).

Rather than dismiss this all as Not My Monkeys, Not My Circus, let's stop a moment and consider the current visit to the US of the head of another very large monotheist, patriarchal religious group. A lot of people admire many of the statements of the current leader of this group, _even while he is busy canonizing a man who [feel free to offer a qualifier here] committed genocide_ (how anyone can justify a favorable opinion of someone who is moving Junipero Serra along the path to sainthood is beyond me, but the human brain is a flexible instrument, suited to an incredible variety of tasks). But you know? That dude is head of a large religious group.

Let's tone that all down.

I Love Janet Yellen

I was reading some of her remarks over at Calculated Risk:

http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2015/09/yellen-anticipates-raising-fed-funds.html

I was going to point to one sentence, because it made me chuckle, but then I realized the sentence right after it was _even better_.

"Beyond these considerations, a modest decline in the unemployment rate below its long-run level for a time would, by increasing resource utilization, also have the benefit of speeding the return to 2 percent inflation. Finally, albeit more speculatively, such an environment might help reverse some of the significant supply-side damage that appears to have occurred in recent years, thereby improving Americans' standard of living."

Hey, we can't seem to get off zero. Maybe if everyone had a job that would help and, ya know, a little inflation never killed anyone. Sing it!

I love the second sentence even more, tho. "Don't act like those depression era peeps. You need to consume more. Life is short. Enjoy it."

Right on all counts.

I am serious.

ETA: I can't help but wonder if Yellen is out loudly saying they will probably still do the first rate rise this calendar year in part because the markets reacted so negatively to the lack of a rise in September, on some sort of theory that, if the rate doesn't rise, then the world must truly be coming to an end! Which is a bullshit theory on the face of it, but whatev.