A summer tutorial

The summer reading season is here. And there are plenty of classic economics books that should be on your list. Too heavy a lift for the livin’-is-easy season? Hardly.

While there are many books that fit the bill – anything by Frederic Bastiat and F.A. Hayek comes to mind – one, in particular, is a truly great read and quite accessible.

That is, while it offers timeless economic axioms of great import, it does so in a conversational and easy-to-understand manner. So easy, in fact, that even your favorite public policy maker should be able to understand it. Ahem.

That book is Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” from 1946. Hazlitt was a storied Wall Street Journal scribe with writing chops so adroit that he succeeded the legendary H.L. Mencken as editor of The American Mercury.

As Steve Forbes reminded in the foreword to the 1996 edition:

“Reading ‘Economic is One Lesson’ is sheer joy because, as Mencken said, Hazlitt could really write. In the clearest and most lucid terms, the author spills forth his arguments against every major tenet of conventional economic thinking.

“Wasting nothing, his attacks show why these tenets are wrong in practice and in principle. On the feel-good goal of full employment, he notes that we can’t have full production without it, but we surely can have full employment without having full production.

“Our focus must always be on growth and production. Labor-saving machines don’t cause unemployment but actually create more and better jobs.”

And as Hazlitt himself put it:

“The best way to raise wages, therefore, is to raise marginal labor productivity. This can be done by many methods: by an increase in capital accumulation – i.e., by an increase in the machines with which the workers are aided; by new inventions and improvements; by more efficient management on the part of employers; by more industriousness and efficiency on the part of workers; by better education and training.

“The more the individual worker produces, the more he increases the wealth of the whole community. The more he produces, the more his services are worth to consumers and, hence, to employers. And the more he is worth to employers, the more he will be paid. Real wages come out of production, not out of government decrees.”

Oh, how sad that so few contemporary public policy makers simply don’t get that.

The concluding chapter of “Economics in One Lesson” offers this phenomenal truism:

“Now few people recognize the necessary implications of the economic statements they are constantly making. When they say that the way to economic salvation is to increase credit, it is just as if they said that the way to economic salvation is to increase debt: these are different names for the same thing seen from opposite sides.

“When they say that the way to prosperity is to increase farm prices, it is like saying that the way to prosperity is to make food dearer for the city worker.

“When they say that the way to national wealth is to pay out governmental subsidies, they are in effect saying that the way to national wealth is to increase taxes.

“When they make it a main objective to increase exports, most of them do not realize that they necessarily make it a main objective ultimately to increase imports.

“When they say, under nearly all conditions, that the way to recovery is to increase wage rates, they have found only another way of saying that the way to recovery is to increase costs of production.”

Pardon the less-than-scholarly summation but this is good stuff. And at a slim 195 pages, it’s a summer tutorial well worth the time of thinking people.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org)

Minimum wage games

“(T)he Pennsylvania Legislature hasn’t given (private-sector) workers a raise in nine years,” Gov. Tom Wolf lamented in a tweet last week.

But it should not be the role of any government to set wage floors – a minimum wage — for those working in the private sector.

Wage rates must be set by productivity and supply and demand, not by government fiat.

And, simply put, when government raises the cost of labor, private employers react. As Fraser Institute scholar Yanick Labrie puts it:

“In reaction to the establishment of a minimum wage, or to the raising of a minimum wage, some workers will see their wages rise, it’s true. But some other workers will lose their jobs, as employers reduce the number of people they employ or decide not to create new jobs or create fewer jobs, perhaps automating or eliminating certain posts.”

Continues Labrie:

“Minimum wage increases lead to higher unemployment, especially among the youngest workers, who tend to be least skilled.”

And minority workers typically are the most affected in this subset.

Thus, young workers seeking entry-level jobs – jobs that help to teach new workers how to work – see that step on the employment ladder sawn away.

And here’s a great assessment from another economics scholar, Mark J. Perry, a University of Michigan economics professor:

“If you trust government officials and politicians to set a minimum wage for unskilled workers, you should logically trust those same bureaucrats and politicians to set all prices, wages and interest rates in the economy.

“Inevitable result: Soviet-style central planning, command-and-control, and economic chaos like in Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.

“If you agree that economy-wide central planning and price controls would be undesirable, then I think you should also agree that the minimum wage law, as an arbitrary, artificial, government-mandated price control, is undesirable.”

Then there’s this, from Ira Stoll, writing at Reason.com:

It’s a sneaky way to increase welfare spending and raise taxes. Raising taxes to spend more on welfare is a political loser. But raising the minimum wage puts money in the pockets of working poor people, at the expense of business owners (and of consumers who would pay in the form of higher prices).

“If politicians want to increase the earned income tax credit or other work-related welfare benefits, they should do the hard work of building political support for such policies, rather than choosing the roundabout approach of a minimum wage increase.”

Then there’s this legal question, as Stoll also detailed:

“It’s not clear that (government-set wage floors are) constitutional. The Supreme Court, in its opinion in the 1923 case Adkins v. Children’s Hospital of District of Columbia, made a strong argument that a minimum wage was a violation of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of contract embedded in the Fifth Amendment’s language about due process and the deprivation of liberty and property.

“’To the extent that the sum fixed exceeds the fair value of the services rendered, it amounts to a compulsory exaction from the employer for the support of a partially indigent person, for whose condition there rests upon him no peculiar responsibility, and therefore, in effect, arbitrarily shifts to his shoulders a burden which, if it belongs to anybody, belongs to society as a whole.”

The court later, in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), reversed itself,  5-4.

“But maybe the court was right the first time around,” Stoll posits

For Gov. Wolf, the “seen” is a higher wage for some. Sadly, what he fails to see is the damage such a move causes them – and others.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Moments on a porch

The bustle and the hustle of the afternoon rush hour finally has subsided on Catalpa Place Flats.

And from the broad front porch built nearly 30 years ago, the more important sights, sounds and smells of life are coming back to the forefront.

There’s the whir of the ceiling fan. It’s dissipating the late spring heat that summer will claim as its own in a few short days.

But it’s also helping to spread the sweet and striking Stratocaster guitar stylings of The Shadows, an old British band — just loud enough but not too loud — all along the winding-down street.

Then there’s that certain squeak with each back push of the glider. Some folks might run to apply a bit of graphite or oil to remedy what they’d consider an annoyance.

But that squeak will go unremedied. For, odd as it seems, it evokes memories of the smell of the old vinyl-covered cushions on a grandparents’ Ohio glider of 50 years ago.

And speaking of smells, a brief gust of wind just delivered the spittin’ image of Granny lifting the top off her pressure cooker and releasing the aroma of a just-finished pot of chicken and noodles.

Somebody in this neighborhood deserves the highest kudo for such “old-school” cooking.

A sudden scratching sound brings the reminiscer back to reality. Two squirrels are scurrying up the front-yard silver maple. They’re looking for the seed and nut block that used to hang from a sturdy hook.

But regular daylight raids by a far-too-friendly raccoon has ended that practice. The squirrels will have to look elsewhere for their snack.

In the distance, a rumble burgeons. It’s not a gathering storm but a short-line freight train entering the Castle Shannon Valley. As the rumble grows, there are a series of quick horn blasts, then two longer, as it approaches a crossing.

And from the Department of You Had to Be Here to Believe It, just as the echoes of the last blast fade, the first strains of The Shadows’ rendition of “Trains and Boats and Planes” begin to play.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

Better questions & sour milk

The Port Authority of Allegheny County this week began conducting the first of three “Voices of the Customers” in-person surveys.

The first, which bowed Monday, involves customer satisfaction. The topics of the other surveys reportedly have not been chosen.

Here are a few pertinent questions that should be included in those future surveys:

  1. Are you satisfied, dissatisfied or neutral that, out of 28 metropolitan areas, the Port Authority was, in 2016, second only to New York’s transit agency for total operating expenses per revenue hour for buses?
  2. Are you satisfied, dissatisfied or neutral that the Port Authority’s cost per passenger for 2016 of $5.82 was the highest of nine peer agencies?
  3. Are you satisfied, dissatisfied or neutral that the Port Authority’s practice of buying labor peace has come at a steep cost, placed upward pressure on fares and the need for ever more state funding?
  4. Are you satisfied, dissatisfied or neutral that the state Legislature’s decision to allow unionized transit workers to strike — and the unwillingness of Port Authority management to stand up to unions threatening to strike — has resulted in a cost structure that is far outside the norm?
  5. Are you satisfied, dissatisfied or neutral that Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman rationalizes that it’s OK that passengers pay only 24 percent of the cost of their rides at the fare box because they are paying for the rest of it through state and federal taxes?

Again, these are just a few of the questions that should be put to Port Authority riders in subsequent surveys.

Pennsylvania dairy farmers are struggling, of course. And one of the reasons is that there’s a glut of milk on the market at a time when demand is falling.

Price floors designed to “save” dairy farmers are to blame in no small measure by encouraging over-production. But, as The Daily Caller notes, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program to market milk appears to have done more harm than good.

As the online news site details it, one Pennsylvania dairy farmer who is forced to pay $4,000 annually into the program thinks it is doing a lousy job.

As The Caller reports:

“The nonprofit that receives the largest share of dairy checkoff dollars has used the funds to finance ineffective promotion campaigns and has diverted millions of dollars toward lofty compensation packages for its top executives.”

Citing the Government Accountability Office, it says U.S. dairy farmers paid $332 million into the program in 2016 alone – and $1.21 billion between 2008 and 2016.

And referencing USDA data, the news site even notes that the supposedly iconic “Got Milk” campaign that ran for more than two decades was a bust – per capita fluid milk consumption dropped 24 percent between 1993 and 2014.

Too much milk. Too many dairy farmers. Too much government interventionism. And too many greedy hands in the dairy farmers’ pockets.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

 

State- & locally run ‘rackets’

Pennsylvania taxpayers will pony up more than $9.6 million to help a wholesale distributor of pharmaceuticals to consolidate two offices into one in eastern Pennsylvania.

Why?

Well, the state says the “investment” in AmerisourceBergen is expected to retain 1,902 jobs across the commonwealth and create 550 jobs over the next five years.

The involuntary taxpayer contribution comes in the form of a $1.6 million job-creation tax credit from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and an $8 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program that, according to the state, will “assist with facility development and construction costs.”

The company will combine two of its offices – in Conshohocken and Chesterbrook – into one new headquarters building.

But why should taxpayers underwrite such a thing? “The State,” of course, argues that the “investment” will retain jobs, create new jobs and “is also expected to spur further redevelopment and job creation.”

But the proper role of government is not to subsidize private business – in fact, Article VIII, Section 8, of the Pennsylvania Constitution expressly bars such activity – but to facilitate economic growth through the least onerous and odoriferous regimen of taxes and regulations possible.

For all – not just those “The State” deems to be a “winner.”

“But, but but…,” counter the purveyors of turning taxpayers into venture capitalists to cover capital costs that should be borne solely by these private enterprises, if not for this public “investment,” there would be no retention, no expansion and no growth.

Really?

In an environment of reasonable taxation and regulation, the private investment no doubt still would be made and, in this case, the public kitty would be richer by, oh, say, $9.6 million.

An annual report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators says that many of the state’s 500 school districts expect to hike taxes next year because of, as the Tribune-Review puts it, a “grim” financial outlook.

Forty-eight percent of the responding districts say they expect their 2018-19 financial condition to be worse than the just concluding school year. And 77 percent of the districts say they expect to include tax hikes in their 2018-19 budgets.

But then there’s this:

A Commonwealth Foundation study found that statewide school district reserves for the 2016-17 school year increased by $139 million – to $4.5 billion.

Indeed, some reserves are prudent. But the same analysis concludes that the commonwealth’s public school districts hold enough in reserves to cut every student a check for $2,860.

The state Auditor General’s Office says school district reserves should not exceed 20 percent of total spending. But nearly half of Pennsylvania’s district exceed that amount.

And as Eric Heyl notes at Patch.com, Pittsburgh Public Schools’ surplus of $187 million for the 2016-17 school year was more than thrice its total spending.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Baer has been railing against this surplus mania for years. Why do these aggregate surpluses continue to rise?

“Well, most districts are happy to have reserves,” he wrote in May 2015, “most lawmakers don’t want their districts unhappy and many lawmakers enjoy lots of campaign contributions from education-related donors.”

But as Baer reminds, “districts can amass money in three accounts, one of which is ‘unassigned,’ a/k/a sitting there.”

“Accounts are interchangeable in ways that allow districts to also raise local taxes to get more money,” he says.

What a racket, eh? And with so many of this commonwealth’s 500 districts saying they expect to raise taxes in the next school year, it looks like the racket will continue, unabated.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Cheers for ‘Fireball’

JONES MOUNTAIN, W.Va.

“Fireball” has been returned to the mountain.

Named for the cinnamon whiskey that a certain family has adopted for toasts at gatherings, the new tractor spent a month-plus in the shop to replace a damaged rear power takeoff (PTO).

The PTO was jammed up, a snap ring was wrenched off and seals were obliterated as the 600-pound tiller was getting its first workout on a test patch of forthcoming garden in an old farm field left fallow for decades.

Whether it was a set-up, operator or design error that led to the failure never really received a thorough airing. But that little workout should not have resulted in that kind of mechanical mayhem.

Alas, some new procedures and plenty of new hardware, including a drive shaft, should go a long way in preventing a repeat of a scenario not detailed in the operations manual.

That said, and despite the extended repair period, thank goodness for warranties and a dealer who honors them, services what it sells and keeps the owner in the loop during that process.

So, now, it’s a matter of getting back on plan.

A hefty truckload of steaming-hot mushroom manure is cooling its heels in that first new garden patch. Fireball’s front loader made it a breeze to move and spread. The manure soon will be tilled in with plenty of other organic matter.

Then there will be a test solar-powered fence to ward off critters.

All of this, mind you, for the first of many garden plots that will be prepared this year but left fallow this growing season. Well, mostly. After all, garlic does have to be panted this fall, right?

The mettle of that fixed tiller will be tested as, over the course of the summer and into fall, long terraces are cut into the mountainside for even more gardens of produce, flowers and other plantings.

And, yes, there’s still that wood to start rejuvenating. Heavy logging chains attached to Fireball will help drag out scores of fallen trees to either be cut for firewood or, rotted, sent to the burn pile.

Then, slowly but surely, the diseased and dead standing timber will start to be harvested for firewood and the replanting of a far more diverse wood can commence.

So, ahhhhh, it sure is nice having “ol’” Fireball back. And, who knows, in honor of his return, there might just have to be a little toast with his namesake libation.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

 

Meanwhile, back at the Port Authority …

It is written that the first step to solving any problem is to shed the denial that there is a problem. By that axiom, perhaps the Port Authority of Allegheny County at long last is ready to tackle a variety of chronic problems.

“Perhaps,” of course, is the operative word.

A new report by the mass-transit agency, billed in media accounts as “the third year of the agency’s annual service report,” is frank about many of its deficiencies – failings documented regularly and recently by the Allegheny Institute.

Take, for instance, according to the agency’s self-analysis, the fact that the Port Authority’s cost per passenger for 2016 (the most recent year available) of $5.82 is the highest of nine peer agencies.

While new authority CEO Katharine Kelleman concedes per-passenger costs are high, she rationalizes that it’s balanced by the fact that fares cover about 24 percent of that cost. Given, she adds, that the industry average is 20 to 30 percent, well, all is A-OK, at least for now.

As Kelleman tells the Post-Gazette:

“I’m not panicking (about the high cost) when I see a 20-30 percent recovery rate that’s about the middle of the pack. And that doesn’t mean riders are only paying for 24 percent of the cost of their ride. They are paying for the rest of it through the state and federal taxes they pay.”

Feel better?

Kelleman says she’s also quite concerned about the system’s light rail cost per passenger, the highest among its peer group. “We definitely are an outlier on the cost of rail service,” she told the newspaper.

To that end, Kelleman plans to consult experts from other northeast transit agencies. Perhaps the Port Authority’s high costs are due to older facilities or Pittsburgh’s hills, she muses.

What, no other rail transit agencies have hills? Hasn’t the Port Authority been up (and down) this hill thing before?

But nowhere in the P-G story does Kelleman directly address the elephant in the room – an outrageous wage cost structure.

As the Allegheny Institute noted in May (in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 18), a white paper addressing the agency’s “inexcusably costly” bus service. Driver  wages of more than $25 an hour were, in 2016, 32 percent above the 10-system average of $18.98. Total operator wages expended per revenue hour to deliver bus service were 30 percent higher than the average.

Among non-drivers, the Port Authority’s wages were 61 percent higher than the 10 comparison agencies. Fringe benefits, calculated on an expense per revenue hour basis, for all authority bus service employees were 100 percent higher than the average of the 10 peer agencies’ costs.

As think tank president Jake Haulk put it last month:

“Consider that if the Port Authority of Allegheny County had the same cost structure as the 10 similar size agencies, it would have cost $114.8 million less than the $301 million the Port Authority actually spent for the 2016 level of service.”

Kelleman insists that “We have the bones of a great system here.”

But unless overall exorbitant labor costs, fueled by years of contract negotiators attempting to buy labor peace, can be corralled, those bones will be rendered to nothing more than dust.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

 

 

More airline subsidies (& more nonsense)

The command marketeers at the Allegheny County Airport Authority are at it again, throwing more public money at yet another airline to reduce its start-up risks. Sound economics and/or good public policy this is not.

China Eastern Airlines will offer two nonstop flights this year – Aug. 3 and Aug. 11 — from Pittsburgh International Airport to Shanghai, China. And like so many highly touted examples of faux progress before it, these flights will be heavily subsidized by public agencies.

To wit, the Airport Authority will pay up to $560,000 (that’s half-a-million dollars plus $60,000). But wait, the purveyors of the involuntary public investment in a business have put up even more: VisitPittsburgh, the region’s publicly funded tourism promotion agency, will pay an additional $300,000.

That’s $860,000. That’s more than three-quarters of a million dollars. That’s just $140,000 shy of a million bucks. To a carrier controlled by the Chinese government, mind you.

Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis calls this latest example of airline corporate wealthfare “a huge step forward for the future.”

“We are the first U.S. market to tap into China’s fast-growing tourism market with this type of business model,” she said of the “charter-to-scheduled service model” being employed.

Maybe there’s a reason for that?

These flights originally were to begin last October. They were delayed to allow a tour operator to sell more tickets. That should have been a red flag.

And, if it’s such a “fast-growing tourism market,” why are subsidies required?

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald even plays the Amazon card in rationalizing this deal, saying it could help the region land Amazon’s “HQ2.”

And he notes that UPMC, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University all have ties to China. Well, if he’s implying there’s also a business market demand for these flights, let these entities buy the tickets to cover the costs.

Class, here’s how this is supposed to work. Why, yes – a business studies a market, concludes there is a potential to turn a profit, then it risks its own capital in pursuit of that profit.

The oxymoron of government-created “markets” is a recipe for failure. Can you say ObamaCare?

Other airlines are into the Airport Authority – the public kitty — to the tune of about $2.5 million or more. And one of those deals – with Qatar Airways – incomprehensibly incentivizes the cargo carrier to fail.

Yet, time and time again, we are told “this is how business is done.”

But where does it all end?

When the real marketplace is so perverted that no airline will fly into Pittsburgh without subsidies?

When the real marketplace collapses under the hubris of governments and public authorities mistaking paid “progress” for demand progress?

It was a year ago last Friday that President Donald Trump invoked Pittsburgh as he pulled the United States out of the highly dubious Paris Climate Agreement.

The president reminded that he was elected to represent “the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

To which Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, an avowed climatist, took great umbrage.

And on Friday’s anniversary, the Post-Gazette went back to the mayor for an update. His words are instructive, and not in a constructive way.

Peduto, who’s administration says it will continue to adhere to the Paris accord, claims Trump’s remarks galvanized America’s mayors to act on climate change. And he cited Pittsburgh’s own “Climate Action Plan Version 3.0.”

That would be a plan heavy on divesting, operationally and financially, away from fossil fuels but a plan largely bereft of any meaningful cost-benefit analysis.

Peduto also told the P-G that the president’s year-ago comments were rooted in the Erstwhile Steel City’s past as a leader in fossil fuels while he and his climatist brethren are concentrating on the future and renewable fuels.

Never mind how it is that fossil fuel past that created such great and beneficent philanthropic institutions, those that such “enlightened” contemporary leaders continue to lean on and tap.

There’s word out of Harrisburg that the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) has created a “wholly new economic development program” as part of Pennsylvania’s bid to entice Amazon to build its second headquarters outside Seattle in the Keystone State.

Just don’t ask for any details. For, as per usual, a public agency using public dollars to grant public incentives to a giant and very profitable company wants to keep “investors” – taxpayers – in the dark.

There has been much speculation that the commonwealth has offered Amazon $1 billion in some form or another. But nobody’s giving up the ghost; DCED claims its incentive plan is confidential proprietary information.

Actually, it’s public information.

Greater Pittsburgh’s offer also is being kept hush-hush. And despite a state Office of Open Records ruling that such an offer also is public information, those behind it are using even more taxpayer dollars to fight the ruling in court.

This is bad governance and horrid public policy prosecuted by those who treat their bosses – taxpayers – as annoyances.

And there’s word from Grant Street that People’s Natural Gas — which not long ago approached Pittsburgh about some form of cooperation to help fix the city’s long in the tooth water and sewer system but was rebuffed – now is considering building a new water plant to serve the city.

Whether its intent is to build a separate, parallel and private water-delivery system or is to leverage the city into cooperating is unknown. But the Post-Gazette says the utility has had conversations with members of City Council and it was Mayor Peduto who revealed People’s continuing interest to the P-G.

All that said, the mayor and an activist group appear to be adamant that Pittsburgh’s water and sewer system remain publicly owned. The latter has taken to demeaning the People’s entreating, even going as far as raising a red flag about profit-siphoning.

Really? As if the train wreck and political machinations of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) were an asset serving the public interest? Given the near-collapse of the system and the state Legislature forcing the PWSA to fall under state Public Utility Commission oversight, it is the definition of a public liability.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: A pine in a pear tree

The ornamental pear tree that has grown far in excess of its touted 40-foot top-out height is hosting an unusual scion for the second straight summer.

And while it has become the talk of the block and passers-by, it might be indicative of a tree not long for this world – or a tree given a new lease on life.

Years ago, a larger branch hanging too low over the Catalpa Flats sidewalk was removed. And over the subsequent years, it became clear that the pruning job more resembled a hatchet job.

That is, the sloppy cut collected snow and rain. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks loved the small watering hole. But that began a slow-rot process which, in turn, created the perfect growing medium for that guest – a volunteer pine tree.

Somehow from somewhere a white pine seed became lodged in that cut. It emerged last spring, though barely visible. But as this spring heads to summer, it has exploded into a full-fledged seedling pushing 6 inches with its robust new growth.

“Is that real?” one neighbor asked. Walkers now regularly stop to inspect the oddity, some rising on their tippy toes to inspect it, hesitant to touch it. Then, no longer able to resist, they do touch it and walk away, smiling and shaking their heads over the anomaly.

Though not common, one species of tree growing out of another species does happen from time to time. One of the more famous examples comes from Italy’s Piemonte, or Piedmont, region, bordering France and Switzerland.

Between the cities of Grana and Casorzo stands what is known as the Bialbero de Casorzo, or the “Double Tree of Casorzo.” Amazingly, a full-sized cherry tree has been growing atop a mulberry tree for decades.

It’s believed that a bird dropped a cherry seed into a void in its host. The cherry roots have worked their way through mulberry trunk and into the ground.

What the future holds for the Pine in a Pear Tree of Mt. Lebanon remains unknown. Who knows, allowed to mature, it might help to stabilize a tree not necessarily known for its wherewithal to begin with but now rotting to boot.

But for now, this Mother Nature-provided conversation piece is providing lots of double-takes and lots of smiles. And such simple pleasures, the best pleasures in life, usually are best left to please, undisturbed and for as long as possible.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

Pittsburgh’s ‘Climate Action Plan’ bingo

The City of Pittsburgh’s latest “Climate Action Plan” is out. Dubbed as “Version 3.0,” it vows to slash energy and water use. City Council adopted the plan 8-0 (with one abstention) last week.

As the Post-Gazette reports it, “the city government will attempt to rely on 100 percent renewable energy, switch to a vehicle fleet of fossil fuel and divest from fossil-fuel companies,” among other things.

The 101-page report is filled with the expected “progressive” jargon of the “climate change” alarmists, led off by the hardly settled assertion that “climate change is a major threat” that has and will continue to wreak havoc on our weather, our health and our food supplies unless government acts.

Of course, silliness abounds in the report. To wit, livestock production is high on the plan’s overview list of contributory causes to “climate change.” Then there’s reliance on a dubious American Lung Association assessment of particulate pollution. (More on that coming Thursday in Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 21.)

Equally troubling is a proposal that appears to allow government to lord over residential energy and water use that more than whispers “Orwellian.”

Then there’s talk of a need for “education” of the populace. Why is it that when “education” is juxtaposed with “climate change” that the word “indoctrination” comes to mind?

Now, to be fair, there are a number of commonsense recommendations that promote self-reliance. Think of growing one’s own garden, for example. Think, too, of conservation measures that don’t require the ruse of “climate change” to be practiced.

But all this said, while there’s much talk of employing new policies that will promote conservation of natural resources and talk of savings, there’s virtually no cost-benefit analysis of doing so.

From the report:

“Protecting and improving the urban ecosystem in the City of Pittsburgh will provide many benefits to its residents, businesses and communities beyond reducing the impact of climate change.

“Natural ecosystems can not only provide climate benefits but also make our city healthy and more livable. Creating a resilient urban ecosystem will benefit the environment and property owners as well as local and regional communities and economies.

“A successful process will respect and enhance the relationship between nature and the built environment.”

But this assessment asks us to accept as an article of faith that, first, the touted benefits outpace the costs – costs that, second, are not necessarily detailed.

Page 90 of “Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0,” one dedicated to, by city ordinance and effective June 1, “benchmarking” the energy and water consumption of larger nonresidential buildings, recounts the adage that “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

By the same sentiment, thinking people rightfully will be suspect of such proposals and adjudge them as pigs in a poke when, as this report does, fails to measure any benefits against the costs.

Proposing public policies based on a dubious premise – “climate change” – then heralding all the benefits of spending scarce economic resources – private and public dollars – with no real cost-benefit analysis is anathema to sound public policy.

That little to none is found in Pittsburgh’s latest “climate action plan” suggests the costs would be prohibitive and the “benefits” largely illusory. Why else would the report be so filled with the latter but so bereft of the former?

This all reminds a certain scrivener of a grandmother who, on occasion, would call her daughter to boast of her winnings at bingo. Only when Grandma was forced to admit that she spent nearly twice the amount on cards than she recouped in winnings could a proper assessment be made.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).