Wednesday, May 15, 2024

I broke an 'unspoken rule' while ordering at a café and now my wife won't speak to me

It is not clear where this happened but I suspect Britain. I have been eatng out for over 60 years and always order my drink and food together. And I have never heard of this "rule". But almost all my dining has been in Australia. I in fact usually order my food first and as soon as the server has taken that down, they ask: "and what do you want to drink?"

A husband has revealed the 'innocent' comment that got him in hot water with his wife - and she refused to speak to him for two days afterwards.

The couple went to a café for brunch but he never expected his request to order food and coffee at the same time would see him labelled 'arrogant' and 'selfish'.

'It wasn't an evening meal to sit back and enjoy the experience; it was a place to get some food, hang with my wife and catch up, then go to work. Nothing fancy,' he said on Reddit.

The man and his wife had already discussed what they wanted to eat, so he told the waitress they were ready to order food when she came up to them.

'The waitress hesitated and said that they were supposed to only take food orders after the drinks had been delivered. But I asked to order at the same time because I had to get to work and I knew what I wanted - I didn't even need a menu,' he said.

The waitress eventually took their orders and left, which caused the man to turn to his wife and share his thoughts on the bizarre policy.

'I always order both at the same time and wait until the food comes to sip my drink. It's also a shorter time from arrival to leaving as I order as soon as I get there rather than being made to wait ten extra minutes.'

However, his wife saw red.

'My wife called me arrogant for [ordering coffee and breakfast at the same time]. She's a waitress and said what I did meant I was jumping the queue and making others wait for their food longer,' he said.

'I said I wasn't jumping any queue as if there were others who hadn't ordered yet, they weren't in line. I didn't demand my food be made before everyone else. I just wanted to be in and out of the café as fast as possible to get to work.

'My wife was furious I didn't see it the same way. I think I'm ordering my food and waiting for it, but saving myself ten unnecessary minutes.'

Still, the couple couldn't see eye-to-eye on the matter.


California High-Speed Rail Celebrates Completing Bridge to Nowhere


If critics wanted proof California’s bullet train is a zombie project, they got it straight from California’s High-Speed Rail’s publicity department last week.

A zombie project occurs when government officials refuse to acknowledge that their ambitions have failed. Instead of killing the project because it has become a monstrous waste, they pump more and more money into it. They do that even though they know that throwing good money after bad is a sure recipe for fiscal disaster. They do it because they aren’t willing to admit their failures and because they personally benefit from the wasteful spending.

In the case of California’s zombie bullet train project, the state government’s central planners have been fighting reality itself. That makes California High-Speed Rail’s latest publicity effort to celebrate their “success” stand out. Here’s what they tweeted on X on May 1, 2024:

The pictured Fresno River Viaduct is an impressive concrete structure. It is indeed one of the zombie bullet train project’s first completed high-speed rail structures. A structure featured on Wikipedia, complete with photos of it “nearing completion” in 2017. California High-Speed Rail’s tweet is celebrating an over six-year old achievement.

Does that sound like a healthy construction project making lots of visible progress? Or does that sound like California High-Speed Rail is digging up old stories to make it seem like they are?

If you look closely at the photos, you’ll see some other tip-offs that things are going as well for it as they want it to appear. The viaduct doesn’t connect to anything on either of its ends, making it not a bridge to the future, but a bridge to nowhere. Nor is there any evidence of any current construction to connect it to anywhere in the photos.

Running Out of Taxpayer Money

It also doesn’t help that the project, already billions over budget and years behind schedule, is running out of taxpayer money—again.

California’s high speed rail authority’s business plans include requesting the state deploy its rainy day funds to plug an $8 to $10 billion funding gap. Due to population decline, ridership estimates declined over the past year for the main Los Angeles to San Francisco segment from 31.3 million per year to 28.4 million per year.

The San Francisco to Anaheim high speed rail plan, approved by voters in 2008 with a $9.95 billion bond, is expected to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes via high speed rail. The California High Speed Rail Authority estimates this project will cost between $89 and $128 billion and may be complete by 2040.

The initial Merced to Bakersfield 171 mile segment is estimated to cost between $30 and $33 billion and be completed between 2030 and 2033. $18 billion has already been spent on the total HSR project, including securing land and environmental approvals for the project—422 of 463 miles of the train between downtown San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles have already been cleared....

However, with a major funding gap, and a sunset of California’s cap-and-trade program in 2030—“the only means of ongoing state funding” for the project, the financial future of even the first operating segment is in jeopardy.

Does that sound like a well-managed state government project? Or does it sound more like the plot for a really bad movie featuring slow-moving zombies that won’t die?


Arizona Should Not Look to California for Housing Solutions

“Don’t California my Arizona”—these words can be found on everything from T-shirts to tire covers. The slogan speaks to the fear that the Californians fleeing to Arizona will bring with them the very policies that propelled their exodus.

California’s housing shortage tops the list of troubles that Arizonans wish to avoid. The cost of a home in Phoenix is still modest compared to, say, San Francisco or Los Angeles, but the lack of affordable housing is nonetheless a growing crisis in Arizona’s capital. If legislators are hoping to save Arizona from California’s failures, why are they trying to replicate its policies?

The Arizona House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 2815, affectionately nicknamed the “Yes In God’s Backyard” (YIGBY) bill. It replicates California’s SB 4, which seeks to make it easier to build affordable housing on lands owned by religious institutions.

Don’t get me wrong—both YIGBY bills would loosen zoning and eliminate discretionary permits for qualifying projects. Onerous zoning and permitting policies are the primary culprits behind California’s high housing costs, and they ought to be liberalized, if not eliminated.

When I wrote about California’s SB 4 for The Orange County Register, I argued that these provisions constitute a tacit admission that zoning and permitting reform are vital to solving the housing crisis. So why does the legislature limit these reforms to certain landholdings?

Put differently, we might ask why Arizona is following California’s practice of granting rights discriminately to privileged groups instead of extending equal rights to all citizens?

Even worse, Arizona’s YIGBY bill also seeks to impose some of California’s most counterproductive housing regulations by requiring every qualifying development to reserve at least 40% of units for low-income housing. This policy, known as “inclusionary zoning,” allows developers to build higher-density residential structures if they cap the rent on some of the units.

California cities began enthusiastically adopting inclusionary-zoning policies in the 1970s, and it has continued to double down on these requirements for the past half-century. Yet housing costs in California are higher than ever, and affordable units remain so scarce that college students sleep in their cars.

Economic research repeatedly finds that inclusionary zoning is not merely ineffective, but actually exacerbates the shortage of affordable housing. The studies show that the cost of affordability mandates outweighs the benefits of upzoning, leading to the construction of fewer affordable units than in areas that were upzoned without strings. The studies also reveal that even high-income housing developments make all housing more affordable by creating vacancies in the existing stock.

Arizona’s YIGBY bill, in short, reflects the irrational habit among lawmakers of addressing problems by duplicating the policies of states where those problems are most acute.

Arizona must instead start learning from those areas of the country where housing is more affordable, not less. Rather than modeling solutions on the recent reforms of failed states, we should follow the blueprint provided by the longstanding policies of places that have kept housing prices below the national average.

Houston is the perfect example to look to when crafting reforms. It has long been among the most affordable major cities for housing, despite rapid population growth, because it never adopted zoning and it issues by-right permits within 10 days of receiving an application.

If Arizona truly wants to solve its housing crisis, the legislature should require cities to dramatically liberalize their zoning and building regulations and provide a simple, transparent, and expeditious system of by-right permitting—for everybody, not just churches. It must also resist the temptation to burden these reforms with impractical affordability requirements that have long proven to do more harm than good. California should be an example to avoid, not imitate.


The (Other) Cost of Inflation

Across the world, people are struggling under the specter of inflation.

In Venezuela, the inflation rate is 360 percent. In Argentina, it’s 160 percent. In Turkey, inflation is about 50 percent, about 10 percent higher than its neighbor Iran.

In Europe, inflation of the euro has finally cooled to about 3 percent, down from more than 10 percent a year ago. Canada and the United States have witnessed a similar pattern.

Even if Europe and North American countries can continue to rein in inflation — and that’s a very big if — the consequences of governments’ inflationary policies have already been realized. The value of people’s earnings and savings has been severely (and likely permanently) eroded.

The depreciation of real income causes serious pain for consumers and families, particularly poorer families who spend a higher percentage of their income on food and housing, commodities that tend to be disproportionately impacted by inflation.

“Lower-income households experienced above-average inflation because of their higher proportional spending on food and housing, categories for which prices were rising more rapidly at the time (especially during 2020, with the onset of the pandemic),” a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded earlier this year.

While the pernicious effects of inflation have been exhaustively detailed in recent years, one effect of inflation has received little attention: its impact on morality.

‘During Every Great Inflation’

The idea that inflation could affect morality might sound strange to some readers; It certainly did to me when I first heard the hypothesis. Yet, one of the most famed economic writers in history saw a clear link between inflationary policy and corruption (both public and private).

“During every great inflation there is a striking decline in both public and private morality,” Henry Hazlitt, the author of Economics in One Lesson, once observed.

One of the authorities Hazlitt cites is the historian Andrew Dickson White (1832–1932), author of Fiat Money Inflation in France. White, an abolitionist and graduate of Yale University who cofounded Cornell University weeks after the conclusion of the Civil War, had a deep interest in monetary policy and French history.

During his European travels, which stretched back to before the American Civil War, he collected an impressive array of primary sources from Revolutionary France — “newspapers, reports, speeches, pamphlets, illustrative material of every sort, and, especially, specimens of nearly all the Revolutionary issues of paper money” — which he used to publish his book in 1912.

In his work, White discusses how money printing in France led to not just monetary decay, but moral decay, and explains how it happened:

Out of the inflation of prices grew a speculating class; and, in the complete uncertainty as to the future, all business be­came a game of chance, and all businessmen, gamblers. In city centers came a quick growth of stockjobbers and speculators; and these set a debasing fashion in business which spread to the re­motest parts of the country….In this mania for yielding to present enjoyment rather than providing for future comfort were the seeds of new growths of wretchedness: luxury, senseless and extravagant, set in. This, too, spread as a fashion. To feed it, there came cheatery in the nation at large and corruption among officials and persons hold­ing trusts. While men set such fashions in private and official business, women set fashions of extravagance in dress and living that added to the incentives to cor­ruption…

Harvard Researchers: ‘A Positive Relationship Between Corruption and Inflation’

White’s book, which is freely available online courtesy of Project Gutenberg, is worth reading for anyone interested in history or monetary policy. While I find his thesis persuasive — White offers copious examples to show how loose money creates loose behavior — many readers will argue there’s an obvious problem: It’s unfalsifiable.

In one sense, they have a point.

While there’s no shortage of academics who argue morality can be measured — see Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory and the Schwartz Value Survey — I’m skeptical that humans can agree on a universal moral code, let alone accurately quantify morality in human populations.

Still, like just about anything, morality can be studied, and empirical evidence can be gathered. And there’s persuasive evidence that supports the idea that inflation corrupts.

For example, a prominent 2004 study conducted by Harvard researchers Miguel Braun and Rafael Di Tella found that higher levels of inflation variability tend to lead to more government corruption (and less capital investment).

“We document a positive relationship between corruption and inflation variability in a sample of 75 countries,” the authors wrote.

‘A Nursery of Tyranny, Corruption, and Delusion’
Corruption is just one way to measure public morality, of course. Crime levels are another.

The hyperinflation Weimar Germany (1918–33) experienced during the early 1920s is well known. Less well known is the surge in crime during the inflationary period, though it’s something Hazlitt discussed.

“It is no coincidence that crime rose sharply during the German inflation,” he wrote. “On the basis of 1882=100, the crime rate, which stood at an index number of 117 in 1913, rose to 136 in 1921 and 170 in 1923. It declined again in 1925, when the inflation was over, to 122.”

The rise in crime, however, was just one example of a much broader collapse in virtue and stability during the Weimar period. The historian Richard Evans touched on this topic in his 2005 book The Coming Third Reich:

Money, income, financial solidarity, regularity, economic order, and predictability had been at the heart of the bourgeois values and bourgeois existence before the war. A widespread cynicism began to make itself apparent in Weimar culture… It was not least as a consequence of the inflation that Weimar culture developed its fascination with criminals, embezzlers, gamblers, manipulators, thieves and crooks of all kinds. Life seemed to be a game of chance, survival a matter of the arbitrary impact of incomprehensible economic forces.

Evans’s description of the consequences of inflationary policy is but a longer, more artful version of that offered by the esteemed French statesman Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau, who at the dawn of the French Revolution warned, in a private letter, that inflationary policy was “a nursery of tyranny, corruption, and delusion.”

Mirabeau was right, but this didn’t stop him from pushing paper notes to finance public works while a Member of the Constituent Assembly, a policy that no doubt contributed to France’s descent into tyranny.

Mirabeau died of pericarditis early in 1791 at just 42 years of age, not long after yielding to pressure to pass a paper-money scheme. He never witnessed the full tyranny he predicted (and his own policies helped bring about): the Reign of Terror.

‘Developed in Obedience to Natural Laws’
White’s point is that the tyranny in France did not come about accidentally. It stemmed directly from its monetary policy.

Figures from the French Revolution are hard to come by (especially if you don’t read French), but a new paper published in European Economic Review described France’s monetary policy as “an explosion of paper money called the assignat,” which resulted in a hyperinflation Europe would not experience again until the twentieth century.

White goes so far as to suggest that the horrors of the French Revolution were an unavoidable consequence of France’s inflationary policies.

“Thus was the history of France logically developed in obedience to natural laws,” he writes.

This is similar to Hazlitt’s thesis that bad money will inevitably result in bad behavior. This might be a tough thesis to swallow — particularly for those who live in the age of fiat money — but other historical examples are easily found. Henry VIII’s lavish lifestyle and many wars were enabled by expansionary monetary policy — what historians refer to as The Great Debasement. Even the Bible hints at a link between inflation and moral decay.

“Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water,” the Prophet Isaiah chided (1:22).

Isaiah was preaching at a time during which the people of Israel, particularly its leaders, were morally wretched, or so we’re led to believe.

I’ll leave it an open question for readers to decide whether the United States’ own expansion of the money supply has resulted in a collapse of private and public morality. Though I’ll point out that Hazlitt, writing during the Carter administration, argued that the rise of public immorality was already well underway, and that it stemmed directly from its debauched currency.

I also suspect that White, if the great scholar was alive today, would look at American society — its endless wars, public corruption, and questionable taxpayer-funded initiatives — and simply say, “I told you so.”




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