Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Return of Hillarycare?

From Cato, a timely reminder of Hillary Clinton's previous take on healthcare. (Remember that she chaired a commission, along with Ira Magaziner, to remake the US healthcare system during her husband's first term?)

Here's the impartial Wikipedia description of the Clinton effort.

Cato reminds us that Hillary's plan was, in a word, communist, with firm state ownership of healthcare delivery (through comprehensive rules and price controls) and control over every aspect of care, to the point that patients could be fined for deviating from the plan.

At the time, the opposition said that the Clinton plan was akin to letting the Post Office deliver healthcare, but I think the Cato author is right - it's like putting FEMA in charge of health care delivery.

I hope that Clinton's health care ideas have moderated over time, but even if so, I would guess that this is more a factor of sagely centrist advisors than an old dog learning a new trick.
We'll see with the next Congress. In some ways, this could be a positive, as with Congress under the control of the Democrats, there's no reason not to submit the party's best health care reform ideas, thus exposing them prior to the '08 Presidential election.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Passion For Greatness

Great article reinforcing the notion that greatness in any area is driven by passion. Specifically, 5 recommendations are given to elevate your efforts:

1) Approach each critical task with an explicit goal of getting much better at it. The example, in golf, is not to just hit golf balls for an hour, but specifically focus on landing 80% of the balls within 20 feet of the pin with your 8 iron. This focused effort is what researchers call “Deliberate Practice”. Practicing with a specific goal of getting better leads to longer retention and a deeper interpretation.
2) As you do the task, focus on what’s happening and why you’re doing it the way you are. Be aware of what you are doing. When you tune out and execute on auto-pilot, your neural pathways don't form with the same energy or vigor as when you are focused and present.
3) After the task, get feedback on your performance from multiple sources/angles. Make changes in your behavior as necessary. Most people avoid criticism and don't seek feedback. Without direction and assessment, you “don’t get any better, and you stop caring.”
4) Continually build mental models of your situation – your industry, your company, your career. Enlarge the model to encompass more factors. Create pictures of “how the elements fit together and influence one another.” Grove, Gates, Rockefeller all had maps of their industries. Napoleon would identify and track the key elements from the battlefield in his mind.
5) Do those steps regularly, not sporadically. Occasional practice does not work. Consistent practice is key or entropy sets in. Hogan used to say that if he missed a day or two of range practice, he would be set back a week.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Ultimate Souvenir

Here's another article about picking up your car in Europe. (European Delivery Programs.)

I'm less than 2 weeks away from picking up a Saab in Sweden, and can confirm the savings represented in the article. (About 14% off sticker, after taxes, so the savings may be understated, and that doesn't include the $2,000 contribution by Saab to the cost of the trip, of which a small amount might stay in my pocket.)

The bonuses are that

-I'll also get to drive my car on the Autobahn, one of the things on my "100 things to do in life" list.
-I ordered a completely custom car - none of the "it's everything you want except the color" conondrums.
-I didn't have to negotiate off of sticker, which you typically have to do for a convertible, and would certainly have to do for a custom convertible.

Link to Saab European Delivery Program

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman has passed away....

"The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that's why it's so essential to preserving individual freedom." ~ Milton Friedman

"He was truly a revolutionary thinker. People do not realize how revolutionary because so many of his ideas that were thought to be crazy when he suggested them eventually came to be seen as obvious: school choice, a volunteer army, etc." -Steven Leavitt, author of Freakonomics

It's strange to realize that I'm a fan of an economist. I can't say that I'm fully cognizant on all of Friedman's points, but I truly understand, believe and agree with him on the ultimate importance and value of economic and political freedom. Friedman may be gone, but I hope his ideas live on and grow.

Investing + Moneyball + Interesting guy + W + L

I've always known that Bill Miller, manager of LMVTX, a mutual fund that has beaten the S&P500 for 15 straight years, is an interesting guy with a different and effective approach to investing. I didn't realize, though, that this alternate, eclectic, and perhaps aloof approach was pervasive among his group of managers and analysts.

Miller's results initially attracted me years ago, and I've happily automatically invested a few hundred dollars a month in LMVTX since then, but what has kept me has been Miller's discipline and principled investing viewpoint. He doesn't chase fads, but instead make bigs, long term bets on a few trends or opportunities that he believes are mispriced by the market.

Sticking to his guns (to the point of doubling down on dogs) and not following this week's hot money is very difficult to do in the investing world, but Miller has been and will continue to be an inspiration in this regard.

Miller also reinforced the notion of the value of low portfolio turnover. The average fund has 109% annual turnover, while LMVTX is about 13%. Less churning and more long term investments drive gains for investors.

Miller's group sounds very challenging and interesting. He'd be a fascinating guy to share a plane ride and a reading list with.

We've got a little bit in common: we both went to Washington and Lee and played on the baseball team (though Miller was decades ahead of me.) That's where the similarities end, though!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Detroit's inherent $2,400 per car profit deficit

A consulting group has analyzed the structural disadvantage US carmakers have competing against non-US production. (Let's ignore for a minute US-based plants of foreign companies.)

The deficit is broadly spread among labor, financing, and sales, and seems deep, indeed. It also doesn't seem like a gap that could change greatly any time soon, unless one or more of the Big 3 entered bankruptcy. (Think the UAW is going to give up 10 vacation days and break time?)

With numbers like these, why would anyone invest in a US automaker?

College sports: what a MESS!

According to this article, college athletics revenue was $4.2B, and growing at a 6% rate AND losing $3.6B a year doing it!

But the more important point raised by the article is why should college athletics benefit from the sponsoring institutions' non-profit status? Should donations for new arenas and coaches' salaries be tax deductible? Should profits from athletic departments be taxed (assuming any departments ARE making money.)

Taxing college sports makes tons of sense, but, as the article points out, it will never happen, as there are too many vested interests.

A good start, though, might be for college administrators to tax their own athletic departments. While a great many actually subsidize their athletic departments not just with student fees, but with regular operating support, this relationship should be turned on its' head - what if college administrators demanded 20% of revenues off the top, in return for use of the university name? Such a step, while Draconian, would surely get the economics of college athletics more in line, and likely properly re-orient priorities.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous