Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Texas and Round Rock

Jerry Stratton, October 27, 2016

February 24, 2021: Rolling blackouts keep following me around

It’s a blues song. When I lived in San Diego, San Diego bore the brunt of California’s exchange-based rolling blackouts and high prices. Politicians and bureaucrats had the brilliant idea that if you bottleneck consumer energy purchases in a government exchange, they could get a lot more graft. It worked—witness Enron—but it also, like our more modern health exchange, precipitated massive price increases and shortages.

Now there are rolling blackouts in Texas, in the midst of the coldest weather we’ve had since I moved here—and apparently the coldest weather in half a century.1

There are some huge differences between this crisis and California’s back at the beginning of the century. Most importantly, these blackouts didn’t last for several weeks. And almost as important, Texas allowed energy sellers to make contracts. That means that (a) my costs have not skyrocketed like they did in San Diego2 and (b) my energy company let me know they were in no danger of going out of business.

But in one sense last week’s blackouts in Texas happened for the same reason as San Diego’s: really bad government policies. In this case, to get more of that sweet, sweet cash from federal subsidies, Texas included unreliable energy sources in its reserve forecasts. This allowed them to prioritize wind and solar to a higher proportion than they could have if they had only included reliable energy sources in reserve forecasts. “Reserve” here means “what do we have to cover emergency increases in power usage?”

We’ve got to the point where wind is nearly a quarter, 24%, of our energy production. It is exceeded only by natural gas at 44%. We’ve been both increasing subsidies of wind turbines, and drawing down coal.

It worked, barely, until last week. I don’t remember any problem with the last hard freeze a few years ago. But only barely. Organizations like the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been warning for years that the real reserve—the reserve of reliable energy—has been dropping awfully close to zero as Texas adds more and more unreliable energy and does not add reliable energy to make up for it. Texas has even been removing reliable, resilient energy, mainly coal.

January 30, 2019: Business prospect incentives discourage innovation
Round Rock Water Tower

Round Rock Texas: One of the top ten places to live the American Dream.

In a closed session last Thursday, the Round Rock city council had listed “deliberate the offer of a financial or other incentive to business prospects considering Round Rock as a location for new businesses that would bring economic development to the City.”

Because it was in a closed session I don’t know the specifics of the incentives offered or even the business it was offered to. That said, it is always important for progress that governments not try to pick winners and losers but rather let people in general do so by buying what products and services appeal to them.

So I decided to speak a short piece before the council. I’m reproducing it here as a blog post because I’m lazy.

January 24, 2019 City Council Meeting

Consider, rather than offering incentives to individual business prospects, changing the law so that all businesses, large and small, are incentivized equally to move here and, importantly, to start here. Offering incentives on a request basis means picking winners and losers. It favors those businesses that hire extra lawyers and bureaucratic navigators—that is, those larger businesses that account for a smaller number of jobs.

It is far better to provide such incentives through simpler laws and lower taxes, so that individuals not experienced with navigating bureaucracies are better able to start small businesses and move their small businesses here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics small businesses create two thirds of new jobs, with a third of those created by startups. Other statistics find a smaller advantage to small businesses, but still an advantage. Decreasing the bureaucracy event horizon1, making it easier for individuals to start new businesses without having to hire lawyers and navigators, makes more sense than incentivizing individual business prospects.

Reduce taxes for everyone, not a select few, and simplify what remains. That’s the way to attract the kind of ground-up businesses that don’t just create jobs in one facility but create entirely new industries of jobs.

August 30, 2017: Does Hurricane Harvey support socialism in Texas?
Hurricane Harvey socialism

Just before midnight on Sunday, while Hurricane Harvey was still raging through Texas and Louisiana, an acquaintance posted this on Facebook:

Everyone OK with using socialism to help clean up Harvey, or should we let the free market take care of it? Asking for a friend.

This is the essence of socialism: a protection racket on behalf of national-level socialist policies. Government takes resources from Peter and from Paul. Paul undergoes a disaster. The left asks, during a disaster, would Paul rather rely on his own resources and on whatever Peter can offer, or on the government? They ask this knowing that the government already has both Paul’s resources and Peter’s. The question is corrupt on its face. It reveals socialism as, literally, mafia-style government.

The non-corrupt formulation would be, would you rather we gave you and Peter all of your resources back, and let you keep them all in the future, and rely on voluntary assistance during this disaster? Or would you prefer that we provide assistance using whatever is left after we pay all the bureaucrats managing your assistance, after we buy things you don’t need because we don’t know your needs as well as you do, after we ignore corruption because it isn’t our money, after all, after we tell Peter to go away because he doesn’t have the right permits?

The free market is people working together without force. As a Texan1, I think it’d be a great idea to let Texans and anyone else who wants to provide assistance freely opt out of the federal taxes that pay for what the left is here calling socialism. Charity at the point of a gun is not charity. It is corruption to take taxes from people at the threat of prison and call it charity.

October 28, 2016: Round Rock extends dangerously low speed limits on Highway 79?
Highway 79 speed limits thumbnail

Texas Statewide Planning Map zoomed in on Highway 79 east of IH-35 and west of Red Bud Lane.

Last night, the Round Rock city council approved extending lower speed limit zones on Highway 79 within the city limits. I wasn’t planning on writing about this. I found out about the proposed reduction of speed limits on Highway 79 late in the game, and almost never use Highway 79 anyway. The City Council’s concerns mostly (and entirely, during the second reading) were that the state was going to go ahead and reduce these speed limits anyway, regardless of what Round Rock did, so they might as well do the same, to be nice to the state.

However, I learned afterward that another concern is that there are an inordinate number of accidents along Highway 79 within Round Rock. That makes speed limits important, because, as the the Federal Highway Administration’s Methods and Practices for Setting Speed Limits puts it:

Setting a speed limit based on the 85th percentile speed was originally based on safety. Specifically, research at the time had shown that traveling at or around one standard deviation above the mean operating speed (which is approximately the 85th percentile speed) yields the lowest crash risk for drivers. Furthermore, crash risk increases rapidly for drivers traveling two standard deviations or more above or below the mean operating speed. Therefore, the 85th percentile speed separates acceptable speed behavior from unsafe speed behavior that disproportionately contributes to crash risk.

The problem with reducing speed limits to address high accident rates along Highway 79 is that there is an alternative explanation for a higher accident rate that better fits the speed survey data performed by the Texas Department of Transportation: Round Rock’s speed limits along Highway 79 are already too low. They appear to be set significantly below the 85th percentile.

There also appears to be some sort of jurisdictional blame-shifting going on. Round Rock says the state is asking them to reduce the speed limits, but when I talked to the Texas Department of Transportation, their representative said that the speed surveys were performed entirely at the request of the city.1

  1. <- 2016 in photos
  2. 2017 in Photos ->