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Today's Opinions

  • A tourist’s guide to the Roundhouse

    The state capitol is once again filled to the brim with legislators, lobbyists, state agency executives, legislative staff members and thousands of assorted visitors.
    If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a trip to see your representative democracy in action. With any luck, you’ll catch a hot debate or at least see a good show at the noon hour in the rotunda or a lively demonstration outside.
    The capitol is just a few blocks from the train station and an easy walk for the able-bodied if the weather is good. Parking is a problem, but drivers can sometimes find a parking spot in the new parking lot just west of the building. Hint: Some parking becomes available after the lunch hour when presentations in the rotunda are ended.
    Even on a dull day, you can enjoy the capitol’s art collection, which is spectacular. The art collection, managed by a foundation, has its own website, nmcapitolart.org, so you can read about it in advance.
    Part of the collection is in the new North Capitol annex and worth walking to see if you have spare time.
    Unless you call ahead, you might not see your representative or your senator, at least not up close. Legislators are very busy during the session.

  • Two kinds of income inequality

    Income inequality is back in the news, propelled by an Oxfam International report and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The question is whether government needs to do something about this — or whether government needs to undo many things.
    Measuring income inequality is no simple thing, which is one source of disagreement between those who think inequality is a problem and those who think it isn’t. But it is possible to cut through the underbrush and make some points clear.
    We can identify two kinds of economic inequality, and let’s keep this in mind as we contemplate what, if anything, government ought to do.
    The first kind we might call market inequality. Individuals differ in many ways, including energy, ambition and ingenuity. As a result, in a market-oriented economy some people will be better than others at satisfying consumers and will hence tend to make more money.
    The only way to prevent that is to interfere forcibly with the results of peaceful, positive-sum transactions in the marketplace. Since interference discourages the production of wealth, the equality fostered through violence will be an equality of impoverishment.

  • Working on a plastic bag ban

    When I was 4, we lived on a farm in Maryland. One day, in a weedy pasture where sunflowers grew higher than my head to hide the trash that the locals threw there, and through which ran a drain, that at the time seemed to me a stream, I found in that drain a discarded empty bottle of Halo shampoo out of which spewed bubbles.
    I thought those bubbles were beautiful as they caught, prismed and sparkly, in the weeds at the side of the seep. I called my dad. “Look! Look! See how pretty?” But he came and stopped me from picking up the bottle and told me it was trash and that people shouldn’t litter like that. It took only a moment of training to understand that what I thought was excellent was, when viewed through the maturity of right and wrong, a bad thing.
    It took decades to train us, and laws to forbid it, but nowadays most people know it’s bad to toss trash from the car window, or to casually drop a wrapper, bottle, or McDonald’s bag in the parking lot. Only arrogant kids or ignorant adults litter. Trashing is not something caring people do.

  • Job growth seen at 1.1 percent per year

    For economists, mid-speech applause is unusual.
    Jeffrey Mitchell got the treatment during his talk to the Economic Outlook Conference, presented by Albuquerque Business First, a weekly newspaper. Mitchell is the newish director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico and runs UNM’s forecasting model.
    I suspect that the applause reflected the frustration of the several hundred people in the audience, presumably business types, with the state of the New Mexico economy and the paucity of proposals for real action beyond tinkering at the margin.
    Audience approval came when Mitchell said, “It’s a matter of where we are uniquely strong and build on that.”
    In a post-conference email exchange with Mitchell, I said, “I believe we do not know and/or understand our various strengths and specialness. A detailed look at the state and its various economies might provide insight leading to policy actions that might move us.”
    Mitchell replied, “Perhaps you’re right that we’re not clear on makes the state special. But I strongly believe that any long-term improvement in the state’s economic situation must begin by addressing this question. And I think that people are beginning to recognize this.”

  • A no pets plea

    Recently, before the snow arrived in Los Alamos, we were visited by our grandchildren. On the sunny dry day we sent them to the Barranca Soccer Field to play a few goals.
    They returned back quite disappointed and our 8-year-old Simon sat down to write this note so somebody who is in charge of the soccer fields would read it.

    Sig and Andrea Gerstl
    (for Simon Braun)
    Los Alamos

  • Re-imposing food tax doesn’t add up

    The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • What it means to have a Republican majority

    It’s time for your lawmakers to get to work. There is much to do this year, and we’re ready for the challenge.
    There is a lot of excitement in Santa Fe — the result of last year’s election. For the first time in 60 years, the people of New Mexico have chosen Republicans to lead the House of Representatives. It is an honor that we do not take lightly, and we promise to fight every day to advance our state.
    A lot of people ask me, “What does it mean now that Republicans are in the majority?” No matter who I talk to, whether they are Democrat or Republican, my answer never changes: Our goal is to put New Mexico’s families first.
    After all, the voters have spoken — they want an end to the politics as usual in Santa Fe. They want their leaders to reject the political dysfunction and gridlock that has become the hallmark of Washington, D.C. In the end, political games hurt our families and derail progress.
    Some may we have a daunting task ahead of us — they say it’s impossible for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
    I disagree. I believe we can come together. And we can start by working on common ground and finding ways to create good jobs for all New Mexicans.

  • I will that I won’t

    René Descartes was a truly amazing person. He invented analytic geometry, giving us the standard notation we use today for avariables, and created the coordinate plane system, allowing us to graphically represent algebraic equations.
    He is known for having creating the “rule of signs,” a method for determining the number of positive and negative roots of an equation. He also invented exponential notation and figured out the principal of refraction, creating what today is known as Snell’s Law.
    In summary, he gave math teachers a plethora of ways to torture students.
    Perhaps even more amazing is that mathematics was only a hobby of Descartes. His primary focus in life was philosophy, employing his “method of doubt” in a passionate search for truth. With his establishment of using logic and reason to define the natural sciences, he is known as “the father of philosophy.”
    And as such, the one thing he is best known for is his famous philosophical declaration, “Je pense, donc je suis,” a statement of proof of being.
    You probably know it as, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”
    Whether or not one exists, philosophers and psychologists are still debating who exactly is the “we” who thinks?