Gongol.com Archives: May 2012
Brian Gongol

May 27, 2012

Business and Finance Do we require too many licenses, and are they too hard to get?
A rather wide swath of jobs require some sort of professional licensure or certification from the government. Some of those are for good reason -- but others are nothing more than relics of a guild system. That is, sometimes people who are already in an occupation try to keep other people from joining that same occupation and do so by raising barriers like licensure requirements. ■ There can be legitimate arguments made for licensure -- especially where the health and safety of others are involved. But licensure isn't the only way to ensure the protection of others. The private sector does it: The Michelin guides are renowned for giving people insight about hotels and restaurants -- which can be invaluable information for someone from out of town. Consumer Reports is another prime example. ■ Insurance companies and banks also perform this role, though they do so without most consumers noticing. Insurance companies (if they're smart) invest in active risk management, seeking to limit their losses on policy claims. And banks that do their due diligence when lending money aren't going to hand over cash to borrowers if they expect those borrowers to run a shoddy operation. Nor will they usually lend money for real estate without requiring an inspection for health and safety. ■ When government intervention is required, it can often be done just as well through reactive enforcement as by imposing preemptive licensure requirements. Most Americans handle their taxes quite well on the honor system, knowing that the consequences of crossing the IRS are pretty grave. Besides, preemptive licensure can give people a false sense of security: Just because someone has been licensed to practice medicine is no guarantee that they're actually a good doctor. ■ Licenses, of course, can make sense. But it's important to weigh whether we require too many or whether their requirements are needlessly burdensome -- because a lot of jobs that could offer people a good opportunity to earn a living in a skilled occupation can also require burdensome costs and efforts to obtain licensure. That can artificially allow people already in the occupation to become rent seekers (in the economic sense), keeping potential competitors from gaining entry into a market where they could make money for themselves and provide a competitive price for consumers.

Computers and the Internet Your computer should know why you're smiling
The MIT Media Lab has been working on a project to make computers more responsive to the emotions of their users -- and one of the discoveries they've made is that 90% of people smile (briefly) when they're frustrated. But it's not the same smile as the one we give when watching a funny movie. So they're learning how to program the computers to know the difference, so that someday in the not-so-distant future, Siri won't think you're laughing along with her when in fact you're getting ready to chuck her against a wall. ■ But don't try using Siri if you're working at IBM, where management has decided that Siri and Apple's dictation features are to be turned off...because Apple isn't very clear about what it does with the information it captures from voice queries and transcriptions. IBM, being reasonably cautious, figures that it probably does't want people leaving a trail of IBM research and internal details on the servers of a potential rival.

News Illinois House of Representatives votes for $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase
The plan is to use the money to fund health-care expenses for the poor. The hazard is that such a large increase will give incentives to tobacco bootleggers.

Threats and Hazards Counterfeit parts found 1800 times in US military aircraft
And the total number of parts was over a million. 70% of the fakes came from China. The world has to start getting a grip on counterfeit products coming from China. The problem is huge and growing.

Business and Finance Worst headline of the day: "The week ahead: Should you be buying or selling?"
It's an example of a widespread but painful error in thinking within the financial universe. Nobody should be making decisions to buy or sell on a week-ot-week basis. There are really only two legitimate things to do in the market over time: Either just patiently invest on a dollar-cost-average basis using market index funds (and then withdraw those same funds slowly upon retirement), or invest very deliberately in a very concentrated way with a handful of companies which you take the time to understand well. If people think the stock market is to be "bought" and "sold" from week to week depending upon the sentiments of millions of other people, then they should really step away from the market altogether -- for their own safety.

Business and Finance Today's extremely low-return investing environment

Computers and the Internet Words that will get you flagged by the Department of Homeland Security

Health Shawn Johnson talks about having a healthy body image

Iowa This is what passes for crime news in Iowa
Why a man would have taken his zebra and macaw into a bar, nobody will likely ever know

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 26, 2012

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