Quick Roundup 349

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Privatizing Roadways

Steven Malanga has once again penned an interesting article that at once indicates that capitalism could save our roadways by making them profitable -- and indirectly brings up why mere advocacy of "privatization" of a few random industries can not and will not lead us to lasting prosperity.

Today's use -- including by Malanga -- of the term "privatization" in the context of transportation infrastructure does not mean that the government has become fully disentangled from said infrastructure as it ought to be. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that even the introduction of some elements of the free market into that sector of the economy has yielded great benefit.

Some 3,400 miles of toll highways linking cities in France have been built with money from private investors. The United Kingdom has used so-called build-to-operate agreements with private companies and capital for 20 years to finance new roads, tunnels and bridges. Developing countries as different as Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have followed suit to one degree or another. China is using private capital for a massive road building effort which involves linking its major cities with super highways.
This is good news, and in the very next paragraph, Malanga explains how this can occur.
One reason such efforts have been successful is that there is plenty of capital out there looking for the kind of solid, predictable long-term returns that this investing brings. Huge global pension funds with very long investing horizons have targeted this area, which is considerably less volatile than investing in equities (or mortgage-backed securities, it seems). In a typical deal, a bank or investment house managing pension money partners with a company that is experienced in operating roads or bridges, and the pair either build or take over an existing road with tolls on it, then contract to operate it for many years in exchange for the toll revenues. [bold added]
This sounds good -- except that governments are busily nationalizing other industries outright all over the place. This means that governments do not honor private property as a matter of principle, making the "predictability" of any long-term investment questionable. And that is how the article accidentally brings up the flaw in the prevailing notion of "privatization".

In sum, the privatization isn't really privatization. (You can get that from this article, too, but having discussed that already, I decided not to belabor it.) And, even if the companies really owned the roadways, the ability to plan long-term that comes from the government consistently respecting property rights isn't really there. The moment some statist sees roads as sweet, low-hanging fruit, they could be taken back -- for the "public good", of course!

Medical Innovation in Houston

How can one stop a virus that mutates, rendering the usual approach of vaccination useless?

By finding what part of the virus is invariant and creating a way to attack it!
[Sudhir] Paul and his team have zeroed in on a section of a key protein in HIV's structure that does not mutate.

"The virus needs at least one constant region, and that is the essence of calling it the Achilles heel," Paul said.

That Achilles heel is the doctors' way in. They take advantage of it with something called an abzyme. [link added]
This new therapy could prevent infection in those at risk and could more effectively control the disease in those who already have it.

Quiz Time!

Any past or present D&D aficionados should enjoy this one!

What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?

Via Armed and Dangerous, I learned that I am pretty much what I used to play back in college! (Well, actually, it was usually a Chaotic Neutral Magic User/Thief.) The part about alignment is predictably off, but still amusing.
I Am A: True Neutral Elf Wizard (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

  • Strength-13
  • Dexterity-13
  • Constitution-13
  • Intelligence-17
  • Wisdom-14
  • Charisma-14

True Neutral
A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.


are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.


are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is his spells, everything else is secondary. He learns new spells as he experiments and grows in experience, and he can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate his spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar - a small, magical, animal companion that serves him. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells. [grammatical corrections, added link to familiar]
In the quiz, fellow Objectivists will notice the usual allotment of false moral/practical type dichotomies and find themselves pinching their noses till they bleed while having to decide -- more than once, for Christ's sake! -- which religion they "prefer"! On balance, however, it was a pretty fun quiz.

Now, I've got to get my wife to take this some weekend. She used to play D&D as well, and she's somewhat hobbit-like -- except that I do joke that she must wax her feet! It would be cute if she came out as a hobbit!

-- CAV

This post was composed in advance and scheduled for publication at 5:00 A.M. on July 31, 2008.


5-22-09: Added hypertext anchors.

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