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OpenMarket: Eli Lehrer

  • Credit Unions and Payday Lending

    October 15, 2007
    Wayne told me about an NPR story about credit unions getting into the payday loan alternative business. My only comment is: Why didn't they do this sooner?

    If one looks at the history of credit unions, it is clear that most early credit union loans provided exactly the sort of quick cash that payday loans do today. (My ancestors relied on credit union loans to finance vacations.) As credit scoring replaced personal networks as the means of enforcing debt repayment for credit unions, credit unions developed business practices that made them far more similar to banks. This new trend represents a welcome and positive return to the roots of the credit union movement.
  • Eeek! More Banks

    October 15, 2007
    Today's Washington Post carries a story decrying the growth of bank branches in the District of Columbia. Reporter Paul Schwartzman writes:
    District officials initiated a campaign this year to lure A-list retail to Washington, places that would keep residents from trekking to the suburbs to splurge. But their vision of a shopper's paradise is running headlong into a reality that has emerged at cosmopolitan corners across the country: a proliferation of bank branches.

    So why is this bad? Obviously some people like having bank branches and the banks are simply meeting demand. And while a bank might not do as much to make a neighborhood "cool," it's likely to get use from a lot more people than a so-trendy-it-hurts cafe. The bank, unlike the...
  • Good and Bad Nobels: Where does Al Gore fit in?

    October 12, 2007
    I'll leave it to others who have thought far more about Al Gore's work than I have but it's worth noting that Nobel Peace Prize winners are a mixed page. I'd divide them into four categories:

    Good people and organizations that did great things. While all have flaws, people like Martin Luther King , Elie Wiesel, Norman Borlaug, Nelson Mandela, George Marshall, and the International Committee of the Red Cross acted with good intentions and accomplished great things.

    Good people with good intentions that didn't work out as planned. Journalist Carl von Ossietzky, for example, was a greater writer who warned about the danger of German rearmament and spoke out against Hitler even after it became dangerous to do so. But, obviously, World War II and the Holocaust both happened anyway. Even U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellog--who initiated the Kellog-Briand...
  • First SF Nobel?

    October 11, 2007
    Dorris Lessing won the Nobel prize in literature today. I've never been a fan of her work myself. I don't think I ever finished reading The Golden Notebook and I literally found Shikasta unreadable. (I may have gotten to page 5.)

    Although plenty of other Nobel laureates have written speculative or fantastical fiction -- Garcia-Marquez, Paz, Mann, Milosz, Lewis, and Saramango come to mind -- I'm pretty sure that Lessing is the first self-described "science fiction" author to win the world's top literary award. I'm also pretty sure that she's the first Nobel laureate to write about space aliens at any length. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this.)
  • In the Zone

    October 9, 2007
    The Washington Post carries a story this morning about proposals to change the D.C. taxicab system by requiring meters on all cabs.
    As the Post story notes, D.C. is one of the only cities in the country where it's still possible to make it as an independent taxi driver. The current system, in fact, is in almost perfect balance: it provides a decent income for taxi drivers, lower fares for Congress and staffs--who can go from the Hill to K street on while still paying the lowest fare--and reasonable fares for people who live in outlying neighborhoods. All this happens because of the "zone system." Instead of paying based on strict distance traveled, one pays for taxi trips based on imaginary dividing lines throughout the city. In a few cases, this produces silly results--the...
  • Other Ways to Fix Elections

    October 4, 2007
    As a Chicago native, I'm quite used to crooked elections. As a result, I got a huge kick out of this story from Reuters:

    Nigerian police have arrested a witchdoctor employed by a politician to perform rituals at an election tribunal, local media reported on Thursday.

    Officers caught Oluwole Abiodun on Wednesday at the court building in south-western Ondo state with charms and copies of the Bible and Koran in a black plastic bag.

    A pot containing a rabbit, seven eggs, cowrie shells and palm oil was found nearby, the state News Agency of Nigeria said.

    My one question: does it work?
  • Shaking up Insurance

    October 3, 2007
    The House Capital Markets Subcommittee is currently conducting the first in what I hope will be a series of hearings to discuss reform of insurance markets. It's my hope that the idea of Optional Federal Chartering is going to take center stage and the testimony I've seen indicates that it will. While OFC isn't a perfect proposal, it's a good way to shake up an over-regulated insurance sector. I've done a FAQ about it for the House which is found here.

    The central fact is this: our current system doesn't allow innovation and we need radical regulatory reform of one sort or another to open things up.
  • CFLs Rule...But we Still Don't Need a Mandate

    October 1, 2007

    I disagree with your comments about compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs). They used to make you ugly but, well, they don't anymore. Thanks to a number of improvements, CFLs have gotten far, far better in recent years. Newer CFLs actually give better light than typical incandescent light bulbs. Various new models also work with dimmer switches and come in enough shapes that they look pretty good in almost any fixture.

    At least in my case, furthermore, CFLs have more than paid for themselves over time: in my old house, my electric bill went down nearly a quarter when I swapped them into almost every fixture.
    But, obviously, they're not for every need in every place. They have much higher up-front costs, are bad in areas like closets where you want light quickly but briefly, and will...
  • Things the First Amendment Doesn't Say

    September 28, 2007
    The Washington Post carries a story about a minor dust-up between Naral Pro-Choice America and Verizon. Naral wanted to use Verizon's mobile network to distribute a series of pro-choice text messages and Verizon said no to the group's request before reversing itself. Personally, I think that Verizon was awfully silly to deny any group the use of its network: more users equal more money. (And, of course, given how controversial abortion is, I can't imagine that any large private company does well to take a strong position on it either way.) So, on the initial dispute, I tend to think that Naral was right and Verizon wrong. What I find interesting is what Naral president Nancy Keenan said about the whole issue: "This is where you have a corporation that is censoring free speech....
  • Private isn't Always Better (I'll Explain)

    September 24, 2007
    The Washington Post reports today that Unisys Corporation is under investigation for its failures to detect intrusions into government networks. I'm not surprised.

    Prior to my stint in the Senate, I worked for Unisys. While there were lots of good people at Unisys, it isn't that well run. In every way -- and I say this without apology -- the federal government just works better than Unisys. (I knew things were bad when every internal business plan I saw sighted Unisys's own culture as a major risk to the venture in question.)

    But I've argued in the past that we are often better off seeing how the private sector can handle security--often it will be better than the government. Clearly, Unisys fell down in...


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