by Tyler Cowen
on October 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm
in Uncategorized |
1. Jost reviews Jonathan Haidt.
2. Alex on how to improve the Presidential debates.
3. The culture that is Japan, and The Revolution that is Free Online Education.
4. Bitcoin gets a futures market.
5. Frakt, Goodman, and lots of comments.
6. Is unlimited growth a thing of the past?
How can unlimited growth be a thing of the past? It either is or never was.
How dare you bring logic into this religious discussion!
Well, the author brought religion into the issue:
“Lower taxes are not going to change this.”
Lower taxes resulting in unlimited growth is an article of faith just like unlimited growth and unlimited resources.
What baffles me is the lower growth that Tyler calls TGS has come since the religion of lower taxes has been put into practice.
I remember Milton Friedman arguing high tax rates were destructive economically because they created incentives for wasteful private sector spending which distorted the labor market. When 90% was the top rate, hiring an assistance meant that you only needed to earn slightly more than 10% more than the employee cost to make a profit because the government pays 90% of the employee cost. By cutting tax rates, this kind of wasteful employment is eliminated. Likewise, paying a worker 10% more when your marginal tax rate is 90% means you pay 1% of the wage increase and the government pays 9%. Cutting tax rates makes increasing pay to workers more expensive.
For a corporation, hiring a new worker to invest in growth when the tax rate on profits is 50% means the government pays half the wage after taxes. If the tax rate is only 15%, then hiring a new worker to produce future growth costs the company 85% of the wage after taxes.
To create jobs and higher wages, it seems higher tax rates are needed, and the higher tax rates will not result in higher revenue because more wasteful, or I guess marginally unproductive, workers will be hired to take advantage of the tax deductions which result in the government paying for the waste labor through tax spending.
I only half-joke: how much worse would our national debate be if “running for President” were a reality show instead of a mockery of talking points, “gaffes”, attack ads, and endless fundraising appeals?
Um, you answered your own question. It IS almost exactly a ‘reality show’ in the 2012 meaning of that term. Including the winner determined by audience vote.
Regarding Alex’s “spot the fraud” element of his alternative debate (trucker, scuba diver, or the economist): which one is the fraud?
Re: Unlimited Growth
Whether or not we are reaching the end of the last great burst of innovation, it behooves us to remember that economic growth has through history depended on more than a single factor. Yes, the Romans did invent the arch and concrete, but most of the growth in their world came from widespread use of slaves for labor. I suppose that this was an innovation in itself, of sorts, but arguably the source of growth lay then mostly in trade.
Growth in the Western world began to manifest in the wake of Alexandrian, trade-driven integration. In China, much as it was in Rome, it was vast supplies of labor driving wealth creation. In medieval Europe, too, it was trade that made Genoa and Venice and the northern commercial towns rich.
Industrial revolution allowed for the substitution of energy for labor, thus magnifying, in effect, the available units of work at an affordable cost. We seem to have worked through the available expansion offered by mechanization now — consider how many man-hours go into making our modern gadgets — and returned to human work units as the more cost-efficient alternative. Can we predict the source of the next wave of growth, or indeed, will there be one in our lifetimes? Only time can tell us for certain.
AI is getting better and better, but its causing prices on AI-goods to fall faster than the increase in productivity. The price for some goods is so low, that they have become effectively free.
By free I mean too cheap to meter. Basically, the overhead in the payment system is so large that the transaction doesn’t happen in currency units.
Every time you use a credit card, for example the payment system charges at-least a quarter. This means that a quarter is roughly the minimum payment on the internet using credit cards.
Regarding the presidential debates:
I just want to be the first to say that my candidate was the clear winner showing wisdom, forebearance, and wit while the other guy was exposed as the classless twit we always suspected him of being.
What? No! You’re a maroon. Your guy was an ignorant baffoon who can’t speak without drooling. My guy on the other hand was a Heroic Greek paragon of virtue and ability.
But there was clearly a candidate missing from the debates who was wrongfully excluded. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that your candidates agree on precisely those issues that my crusader calls into question. It is a conspiracy, I tell you.
Ralph Nader reference?
“I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that your candidates agree on precisely those issues that my crusader calls into question.”
Well if your candidate agrees with my candidate, then he’s truly an enlightened beacon of rectitude. On the other hand, if he agrees with my vile and mouth breathing opponent then he’s an ignoble Neanderthal.
Who needs that kind of flip flopper?
It is always an easy argument to make that growth will plateau. Growth models without innovation plateau, so what you are left with are predictions about innovation, which, if it exists, extends growth.
Unless you are a science fiction fanatacist, you have no inate ability to predict future innovation. You can try predict the path, direction or magnitude of innovation, and where it will occur, but your guess is no better than mine.
You should read Professor Gordon’s article. Wolf’s piece does not fully capture it. Professor Gordon does NOT assume there is no innovation. His assumption is that per capita GDP continues at at the 1.8% annual rate for 1987-2007. That rate in effect predicts that innovation continues at the 1987-2007 rate. He then identifies six “headwinds” that will depress the growth rate down to 0.2%. You can certainly dispute his assumptions and arguments, but his article is not vulnerable to brief refutation.
There is one other factor, which is demographics. The earth’s human population has always been increasing, at times very rapidly. It’s now slowing, and will stop and reverse. This could truly mean the end of ‘growth’ as we currently measure it.
This may not be a bad thing, as we could by then be measuring entirely different things, like per capita happiness or whatever.
Once the population stabilizes and begins shrinking, theoretically ‘growth’ is possible until everyone is adequately fed, housed, clothed, medically cared for, and entertained. There’s nothing left to ‘do’ after that, except I guess ever more entertaining entertainment.
Meant as reply to Bill above
Sorry, but how does falling population reduce per capita growth? Fewer gains from trade?
My bad, I meant aggregate growth. Per-capita may well keep increasing, although you are correct there will be less trading. Also, fewer people to feed, clothe, entertain. Less money in motion, kind of like the paradox of thrift.
If falling population means a decreasing ratio of labor force to population, which would often (usually?) be the case, then that puts a drag on per capita growth.
Are there genetic populations that reproduce more than others? Are any of them above replacement level? If so, they will replace everyone else quickly enough, right?
All populations reduce their birthrates as they become more affluent and childhood mortality decreases. This is happening right now even in the Muslim world and Africa. The population plateau is real, only the timing is unknown. I’ve read somewhere around 2050-2060 is when the world’s population stops growing.
All populations? I might believe it, but it’s a pretty strong claim.
What about religious subgroups? Do richer Mormons have fewer children than poorer ones?
There’s small subgroups that keep having lots of kids (Mormons, Hasidic Jews, etc) but not enough to move the needle. It strains credibility to think those groups wouldn’t follow the pattern of the rest of humanity if they became sufficiently large and diverse.
I’m just passing on what most demographers believe.
Becoming “sufficiently diverse” in the face of strong evolutionary pressure to not become diverse in that way seems unlikely, assuming there are a few humans out there with genes that lead to them breeding a lot at any level of affluence and birth control availability
People used to think that Catholics would outbreed everyone else in the U.S. Catholics no longer have a tendency to have more children than the rest of the country. Blacks still do, but their fertility is about at (or below) replacement. I suspect Mormons, on average, will end up at replacement soon enough (if they’re not there already), though with more variation, and more publicity to the large families. Groups like Hasidic Jews (outside Israel) will probably end up losing members through lapsing as fast as they gain from higher birthrates. Eventually, every Jew in the U.S. will have an ex-Hasidic grandparent, but there won’t be many more Jews than there are now.
Don’t be so sure the Hassids are going to slow down any time soon. There has already been a few articles on the massive shift in New York’s Jewish community – basically from Secular Leftists to Lubavitchers and Satmars.
It is a strong enough trend for it to be highly noticable in New York, not somewhere like Peoria.
The other most important thing is the demographic slow down also means an aging population. Innovation is usually the work of young males. They are society’s risk takers. Einstein is a great example – lots of good work while a nobody at a Swiss patent office, nothing much for decades at the Institute of Advanced Studies.
As we get older, we will innovate less. Which means less economic growth.
The speed-up of the industrial revolution was the substitution of human physical effort for machine physical effort. That process is hardly complete. There are still labor-intensive industries that can be automated.
Construction is a big one. The Broad Group (China) is only just now, a full century after Ford automated automobile construction, automating the process of building homes and commercial structures. They’re moving 95% of the effort to the factory, where inefficiencies can be removed from the process. Construction at the actual building site is merely bolting the parts together, and only takes a few days. The importance of this innovation alone cannot be understated for the global economy.
And of course many teachers will soon find themselves obsolete. (Thanks MRU!) Especially at the high school and college level, where the added value of “free daycare” is much reduced.
France is just now deploying the first generation of robots that can prune vineyards and pick grapes without any human oversight. This technology will quickly spread to other forms of berry, fruit and vegetable agriculture, freeing up a great deal of labor from the migratorial farm-worker pool. Expect fully automated super-farms for fruits and vegetables, just like we have for wheat and corn now.
Cheap, wearable sensors are becoming more common, which will automate the process of collecting and maintaining health information. Implantable versions are in the works too, which will obviate many blood tests. There will be sensors in your toilet that collect data from every flush. Expect a great number of the nurses and doctor’s assistants currently doing low-skill intake and testing to soon hit the labor force. (Surgeons are currently training robots to do routine surgery, but it will likely be a while before that’s ready for prime time)
Of course we know self-driving cars are coming. Taxi drivers and commercial truckers will soon be available to other work. UPS and FexEx drivers are probably safe for now, as long as packages need to be walked into a building and signed for.
Amazon’s warehouse robots will eventually (within 5 – 10 years, at most) make their way to every place where stuff needs to be moved from point A to point B. Expect FexEx and UPS’s central exchange points to go dark. Luggage handling at the airport is another safe bet for automation.
The one part of the economy that could (technologically) be a lot less labor intensive, but probably won’t be, is energy. If we moved to a nuclear-based power grid that used deep-burning of uranium and thorium for power generation, everyone currently digging up, processing, and distributing coal, gas, and oil could be available to work in other sectors. Nuclear power is 1000x more efficient from a labor-use point of view (especially since no mines are necessary – we already have enough depleted uranium stockpiled to power the world for 1,000 years (using systems like those being produced by Terrapower or Flibe Energy)). Sadly, politics will probably prevent this from happening.
I just did the math for TerraPower. Here’s the breakdown, for anyone who wants to double-check me:
A TerraPower canister uses 8 tons of nuclear “waste” and produces 25 TWh.
The USA currently has 700,000 tons of nuclear “waste” stockpiled.
USA energy usage (2010) is 28,714 TWh.
Refuel cycle of the canister is 40 years.
Based on the above, current stockpiles of nuclear “waste” could power the USA for ~3,000 years.
Stockpiles would run down faster if the whole world lived at American-level energy usage, but it’s hardly like the uranium mines are running low. Global production is 50,000 tons, which is more than enough to meet global energy needs entirely if everyone use technology like TerraPower.
I like your list and would like to add that bioengineering interventions against aging are within sight if not within reach.
Oh sure! There’s a number of “somewhat close” technologies that might boost growth significantly, but I didn’t mention them because they’re more speculative than self-driving cars or automated commercial construction (both of which already exist, at a small scale). Some thoughts on the biggest near-term boosts I see are:
1. Biofuel. Not from corn, but produced directly from monocelluar life in a continuous process. We will “farm” diesel on land that’s unsuitable for food. Just skim the ponds daily for “free oil”.
1.a. Biofood. That sounds weird, but the same technologies that allow us to create lifeforms for the purpose of spitting out diesel would also allow us to create versions that spit out starch, sugar, edible fats, all the amino acids, plus any vitamin or mineral you need. It would be monotonous eating, but a simple “meal replacement bar” would provide more nutrition than even Westerners get today. The value of this technology to places like India, the Middle East and Africa, where millions of children don’t develop well because of malnutrition, would be immense. It would be good even in the West too, as a supplement and guarantee of minimal food security.
2. Health extension. Some of the puzzles of the causes of ill health and aging are being unlocked. I don’t know when we will reach “demographic escape velocity” and people start living forever, but even a 50% increase in the human healthspan will produce a tremendous boost to human capital accumulation.
3. Automated e-learning. Human capital is so important. The ability for anyone, anywhere in the world, to get an Ivy-level education on any subject for free is simply so important that I cannot predict the consequences with any degree of confidence. Expect that geniuses will simply jump out of the woodwork all over the world (they will be most obvious in Africa simply because of the contrast). What sort of innovations they will release in turn are impossible to predict.
4. Nanocrystalline cellulose. This is a dark horse new material, but the potential consequences are so immense that you have to consider it. Basically it’s made from any source of cellulose (so bamboo and other quick-growing trees would work), works like polymer (injection molding or fibers), and has 8x the tensile of steel. It has the potential to replace the entire plastic industry, and much of the steel industry, with a renewable resource that’s easily farmed. Much less labor intensive than iron mining and steel production.
5. Space resources. I expect SpaceX will succeed in building a rapid-RLV from the current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy models. This should get launch costs down to the $10 – $100/lb level. At the higher end of that range, all sorts of commercial activity becomes a slam dunk business case. Planetary Resources will bring in stunning amounts of minerals and metals of all types, fully automated and with low labor usage. Mines all over the world will so quiet. (And if you know what labor conditions are like in African gold and platinum mines, you’d understand how that’s a really good thing) Satellites that aren’t commercially viable today will become so, opening up new business models.
At the lower end of that price range, space colonization becomes reasonable. A space resource that turned carbonaceous asteroids into Bishop Rings would create a new frontier the size of India or Argentina every time a new platform rolled off the factory floor. It would be a massive undertaking, but when was the last time a new continent was added to the global economy? Probably the only comparable example is the European settlement of the New World.
While the nuclear fuel cycle is inefficient, it strains credibility that 60 years of nuclear power would leave 3,000 years of nuclear fuel in its waste.
The place I’d check the math is the non-uniform quality of the nuclear waste being recycled. The canister uses 8 tons of used nuclear reactor fuel. Only a small minority of the USA’s nuclear waste is spent nuclear fuel.
Have you ever looked at the high school physics mention of how much mass is converted to energy in a fission reactor?
Current LWR reactors extract less than 1% of the energy in the fuel. More advanced designs can extract over 99%. 60 years at less than 1% plus 60 years of Cold War weapons production? The numbers aren’t really unreasonable.
Extracting more than 1% of the potential from LEU is more expensive than LWR which is more expensive than wind with the same problems meeting demand as wind – nuclear requires the demand match the constant LWR output for maximum ROIC, just like wind requires demand match wind power production, so both wind and LWR require natural gas cogen to do the load following because insufficient hydro is available to match demand everywhere. Coal can match loads, but not at high efficiency and not as rapidly as gas and hydro.
I think nuclear can be a lot cheaper, but only with huge investments in R&D, which the private sector has had three decades to do after government pulled out of picking nuclear as the winner with Reagan’s election – all efforts since have been halfhearted. Obama’s appointment for DOE signals that R&D with a bias to small nuclear reactors has long term potential, but this is a two decade program if sustained because the tens of billions per year in new tech R&D to deliver more quickly are impossible politically. But my guess is investment in nuclear will shrink after Obama leaves office, so nuclear has no future in the US, and the best hope is buying Chinese nuclear electric power plants which are covered by Chinese patents and manufactured in China in a way that cuts the cost in US labor to build the plant, ie., all prefab and pre-certified.
“That’s an amazing Mason experiment that can help us find a way forward,”
I knew The Knights Templar were somehow behind all this!!!
Is it a coincidence that George MASON was a slave owner? That Tyler Cowen is suspiciously similar to the mason term “Tyler Cowan” (Google this)? That George Washington was a mason? Not at all coincidences, but facts. Another fact: if we have a Great Stagnation, then by definition we’ll see the Pareto Optimum production possibilities frontier reached, which means (as Pareto himself taught) that all wages will compress to be the same. So a garbage collector, after all expenses and risk premiums are factored in, will make as much money as a brain surgeon, or as any other wage earner.
Jost’s review is quite snarky and silly:
“most (but not all) of the best philosophical minds over the last two millennia of Western civilization—prioritize values of “justice, rights, and welfare” (Turiel, 2006) over obedience to authority, ingroup loyalty, and the enforcement of purity standards–all three of which have produced disastrous consequences on many historical occasions (see Kelman & Hamilton, 1989; Milgram, 1974).”
It’s hard to go six words forward in the above quote without running into something objectionable– He cites a child psychology textbook which apparently contains a survey of philosophers to make claims about two millennia of Western philosophy. He ignores the fact that most of those “best philosophical minds” probably had authority/ingroup/and purity assumptions even if they ostensibly prioritized “justice, rights, and welfare.” He uses evidence that unconstrained obedience to authority can lead to bad results to argue that conservative values *are* bad. Basically, a typical writer for a scientific magazine these days.
It is even worse than that. The moron is criticizing Heidt on the basis of the liberal moral framework instead of impartially. And he is occassionally sneaking intellectual taboos of the day (like racism when he mentions interracial marriage) in order to make it seem as if he has a point.
A news for you – justifying liberal morality by refering to moral quasi – fundamentals (i.e. anti -racism) is stupid, illogical – and typically liberal.
I haven’t read Heidt’s book, but the review made me wonder what Heidt says about why morality changes over time. The history of morality seems like it has a lot to do with the extension of moral value and rights to a widening circle. I think we would be able to find a set of moral statements most people would agree with today (e.g. no slavery and it’s not OK to murder people outside your kin group), but which people in the distant past would have disagreed.
I think most people would see this as some kind of progress, not just random drift. If that’s the case, doesn’t that indicates there is some kind of objective standard by which we can judge a society’s morals, and it’s not just whatever bubbles up from our guts?
If anyone has read more of Heidt, I would be interested to hear his take. (Sorry if I’ve mischaracterized Heidt’s argument…)
The history of morality seems like it has a lot to do with the extension of moral value and rights to a widening circle.
Rights != morality.
The history of secular morality includes both the extension of “rights” and the ongoing diminishment of the content or morality (ie. fewer and fewer things are actually immoral as time goes on).
I’ve read Haidt’s book once and plan on reading it again. I believe Haidt argues that these six foundations of morality are built into humans and to a large extent are the foundations upon which we build civilizations. In the arena of politics, I believe, that Haidt argues that conservatives pay more attention to these foundations than liberals. I agree with that. Conservative argumentation goes to purity, loyalty and appeal to authority much more often than liberal argumentation. But that does not mean liberals are wrong, only that they should make their arguments respond to the moral foundations in the same way conservatives do. After all, even though conservatives make these ‘moral’ arguments there is no guarantee that they will actually govern using the same principles.
I think that Haidt’s arguments can be extended even further. I bet that war is another built-in foundation of human behavior. We do not often think of war as a moral act but when you think about how common war is, even the unending verbal war we call politics, there can be little doubt that it is built into our very souls.
Conservative argumentation goes to purity, loyalty and appeal to authority much more often than liberal argumentation.
That’s the Haidt argument, but I do wonder if he’s asking the right questions, because examples of purity, authority, and loyalty seem quite easy to find on the left. So, for example, the locavore movement and the passion for organic and ‘non-GMO’ foods, seem driven by the purity instinct. This was a great illustration:
The appeal to authority (consensus! peer-reviewed by experts!) seems central to the liberal argument for AGW. And as for loyalty — the tendency to cast heretics out of left-leaning online communities seems stronger than on the right. This may be explained in part by of one of Haidt’s findings — namely that conservatives comprehend liberal minds better than the other way around. In particular, conservatives understand that liberals object to cruelty to animals, but liberals don’t understand that about conservatives. Perhaps its not surprising that the in-group impulse is more pronounced among those who see the out-group as made up of people who enjoy pulling the wings off flies.
Compassion for the poor, sick, and elderly is a moral stance that you won’t find on the modern-day conservative plank.
Really? Why do conservatives give so much more to charity, then?
“Charity” of the sort I’m talking about and religious institutions aren’t the same thing.
Certainly no religious group in history has ever taken upon itself to care for the poor, sick, or elderly.
@ dead serious
Religious institutions like the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church give huge amounts of aid to truly poor people worldwide. And they are far more efficient than governments: more money goes to the needy, far less is diverted to rich interest groups like retirees and agricultural businesses. Defining “true charity” to exclude religion-based aid, and then arguing that conservatives aren’t charitable, is just stacking the deck in your favor.
It takes real intellectual work to look at data and to consider arguments about which institutions in society are most effective at helping the needy. It’s so much easier to swallow the liberal shibboleth that conservatives are greedy and selfish, and then to pat yourself on the back for being oh-so morally superior. Or to tell yourself that conservatives are frivolous while you, on the other hand, are “dead serious.”
I never claimed that religious institutions aren’t in part a pass-through of charity for the poor.
“Do religions engage in charitable work that addresses the physical needs of the poor? Many do, but that is not their primary focus. Religions are quick to trumpet when they do charitable work—ironically for Christians, since the Bible explicitly says not to (Mathew 6:2). But they don’t do as much charitable work as a lot of people think, and they spend a relatively small percentage of their overall revenue on such work. For instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), which regularly trumpets its charitable donations, gave about $1 billion to charitable causes between 1985 and 2008. That may seem like a lot until you divide it by the twenty-three-year time span and realize this church is donating only about 0.7 percent of its annual income.2 Other religions are more charitable. For instance, the United Methodist Church allocated about 29 percent of its revenues to charitable causes in 2010 (about $62 million of $214 million received).3 One calculation of the resources expended by 271 U.S. congregations found that, on average, “operating expenses” totaled 71 percent of all the expenditures of religions, much of that going to pay ministers’ salaries.4 Financial contributions addressing the physical needs of the poor fall within the remaining 29 percent of expenditures. While these numbers may be higher as a percentage of income than typical charitable giving by corporations, they are not hugely higher (depending on the religion) and are substantially lower in absolute terms. Wal-Mart, for instance, gives about $1.75 billion in food aid to charities each year, or twenty-eight times all of the money allotted for charity by the United Methodist Church and almost double what the LDS Church has given in the last twenty-five years.5
We recognize that there is a lot of variation in how much religions engage in charitable work, and we don’t want to discourage religions from doing so. However, comparing their charitable giving to the performance of secular charities is informative. The American Red Cross spends 92.1 percent of its revenue directly addressing the physical needs of those it intends to help; only 7.9 percent is spent on “operating expenses.”6 If you use a generous 50 percent cutoff for indicating whether an institution is primarily a charitable organization or not (that is, they spend more than 50 percent of revenue on charitable work addressing physical needs), we doubt there is a single religion in the world that would actually qualify as a charitable organization.”
@dead serious: “Charity” of the sort I’m talking about and religious institutions aren’t the same thing.
Actually, conservatives give more EVEN when you exclude religious donations (e.g. they donate more blood than liberals do). Jon Haidt have been polishing his arguments for many years so that is very hard to blow up them with silly zingers.
#2 – “Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy.”
A game of Diplomacy? The game that is renowned for turning friends into bitter enemies. With Romney and Obama. And three impartial but vicious opponents.
That’s just an incredibly awesome idea.
I’d drop $30 to watch the 6 hour pay per view event for that in a heartbeat. I’d invite a large crowd over with plenty of snacks and beer and we’d watch the Rumble. And kudos it they allowed you to switch channels during the turn negotiation phase, to overhear what the different groups were plotting.
Don’t direct link to a PDF download, goober
A contrarian view on FT’s unlimited growth is dead piece:
I agree with the FT writer that the so-called “elites” prefer a non-growth society. This makes clear that the elites are nothing more than rent-seeking parasites.
Bootstrapping wealth in space:
I think the writer of the Financial Times article is wrong.
It is funny how I have read roughly the same stuff 15 to 20 years ago and none of it materialized…
You mean not yet. I also read stuff from 40 years ago about having all of Earth’s information stored electronically in a vast computer bank and you could go to any library, make obeisance to the Keepers of Knowledge, and access this vast repository of knowledge on a monochrome screen and print out your results on dot matrix paper.
Instead I’ve got this cell phone. Stupid iPhone. Where are my reams of paper?
Also, when do I get a computer that does what I want it to, instead of what I tell it to?
The Internet is awesome! Thanks so much for pointing out the Frakt/Goodman debate on the latter’s makes-you-want-to-smack-your-head-it’s-so-insightful book, “Priceless”. Read the book and read the debate between these 9-th level black belt health policy thinkers.
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