Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Strategic Pig Reserve

The New York Times Business section is a great substitute for the comics.

Their article titled "In China and U.S., the Fear of Inflation Is Having Fallout Effects" comes with the above photo and the following priceless gem:

The crisis over pork prices in China, like the jolt many Americans feel when gasoline prices jump, offers one example of how prices can suddenly soar. The Chinese government is struggling to cope — including deliberating whether to sell a snuffling, smelly strategic reserve of hundreds of thousands of live pigs kept at special subsidized farms for precisely the shortage the country is now facing.

Beside the bizarre and improbable idea that you can stockpile pigs, the article also implies that rising pork prices have caused Chinese exporting firms to raise their prices:

Steep increases for pork loins and bacon are the most tangible sign that after a decade in which prices have fluctuated but not moved significantly upward, inflation is creeping back into China. In response to this pressure at home, Chinese companies are starting to raise prices for exports, removing what has been a brake on inflation in the West.

As a final comic touch, the article also equates the recent economic performance of Mexico (which has been fairly disappointing) with that of India (which has been astonishing):

With the global economy expanding at a robust pace, and prices rising in fast-developing countries like India and Mexico, central bankers and investors are becoming concerned.

I am not making this stuff up. Who needs Dilbert, when you have the prose stylings of Keith Bradsher??

Where the sun don't shine??

From Yahoo News comes this headline:

"Putin Suggests New Site For US Missile Shield"

but alas my hopes were dashed when it actually turned out to be......

Azerbaijan!! (though Robin suggests that my title still applies!!)

PS: Can someone explain to me how exactly is Russia in the G-8? US, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, UK and Russia???

From the Penn World Tables here is GDP per capita in 2003 (given in 2000 dollars and adjusted for deviations from PPP. variable name RGDPL) for these countries

US-$34,875, Canada-$27,844, UK-$26,044, France-$25,663, Germany-$25,188, Japan-$24,036, Italy-$22,923 and Russia-$11,794. What gives?? There is enough room to drive a Mexican truck between #7 and #"8".

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tyler Cowen is Pure Evil

Maybe it's because I am up at GMU Law School to give some lectures, and being in the same building as Mercatus is annoying. All that freedom and creativity in the same building as a LAW SCHOOL. Problems.

But the real problem is hearing from Angus that Tyler is hatin' on the Cavs. This from a WASHINGTON basketball fan, mind you.

It struck me that Tyler is pure evil. I'm not talking about just the way Alex T describes the differences in their posts; I mean pure evil in the way that Amish described Glenn Reynolds, and I do thank Amish (and Fat Kid; RIP) for the idea of such a list.

10)He dresses as Santa Claus and pretends to have a heart attack in front of small groups of children. Screams, "This is the big one, Elizabeth!" Kids have no idea what that means, but cry because they don't want Santa to die.

9)Enjoys nothing better than a good game of dwarf tossing.

8)He's Lindsay Lohan's agent. And he hid her underwear.

7)He's the Man. You know ...the guy thats been keeping the poor folks down for the last 200 years. That's Tyler.

First 6)He has to kill hobos to get an "inspiration." Even then, it's iffy.

Second 6)He's currently helping O.J. look for the "real" killers. And he wants Mike Nifong to prosecute them, when they are found.

Third 6)Convinced someone in Hollywood that "Little Man" would be even funnier than "White Chicks." He now has the Wayans brothers' souls in a safe deposit box at a bank in Centreville, VA.

5)He once linked a blog in Reno, just to watch its server crash. (A "MarginLanche")

4)Told Dick Cheney it was casual friday at Auschwitz. Told William Jefferson that cops never look in the freezer. Told George Bush Iraq was a secular nation. Told Wolfowitz nobody would notice the raise for his girlfriend. I could go on. But you get the idea.

3)Told all of his guy friends that the Crying Game is a really good date movie.

2)Tyler can control weaker minds. That guy that tried to jump into the Popemobile? Tyler double-dog-dared-him. "I want that hat!", he said.

1)He told Britney Spears that hair, anywhere, is overrated.

I Want to Ax You About What You Said

My main man, the good Nokes, at Unlocked Word Hoard, links a very interesting story.


"They pulled up in the truck, rolled the window down, said a few words that weren't very polite to me, 'you want something come get it', all that and spun the tires started taking off," said Tordt,"I busted the passenger side window with the golf club, I admit that. They went up probably up past that pole, they both jumped out, one had an ax, it's an ax with a spike on the other end which is what he chopped me in the arm with."

Tordt added that he was tackled to the ground and in self-defense, used a knife to stab one of the alleged attackers.

"I know if he hits me in the head with this bat it's going to kill me so I stabbed the dude in the back," said Tordt, "I was hit with an ax on this arm. Then I was stabbed. While I was trying to defend myself I was clocked across the back several times with a ball bat and hit numerous times in the back of the neck."

Neighbors said Tordt was left bleeding in the street after the attack....Investigators are still trying to distinguish who were the suspects and who were the victims here.

Tordt said he's friends with the two men and believes the situation got out of hand.

Dr. Nokes makes the obvious point:

Interestingly enough, the first weapon to be used in the fight was a golf club, but the news reports did not refer to it as a "PGA brawl" -- demonstrating once again that Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch have a secret alliance against us.

I do think his objection has merit. The Turner-Murdoch axis, the old medieval axes, and the questions people aks us. Clearly related topics. Call Oliver Stone.

Say What??

I picked Suns - Cavs as the finals at the beginning of this season (ask Tyler if you don't believe me). David Stern rained on my parade a bit but I am very proud of Lebron and the Lebron-ettes. Tyler and Matt have been hatin' on my Cavs though, so for all you doubters I offer up this little ray of sunshine:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Honey, does this go with our couch??

The market for contemporary art is exploding. Here are the living painters whose work has sold for the most $$. Get out your checkbooks people!

1. Jasper Johns $80 million last year for "False Start", painted in 1959

2. Cy Twombly $20 million in 2002 for "Lepanto" painted in 2001

3. Robert Rauschenberg $12 million in 1999 for "Factum II" painted in 1957

These first three are all Americans.

4. Peter Doig $11.3 million for "White Canoe"

5. Lucian Freud $8.2 million for "Red Haired Man on a Chair"

6. Damien Hirst $7.4 million for "Lullaby Winter"

7. Gerhart Richter $6.2 million for "Abstraktes Bild"

8. Jeff Koons $5 million for "Michael Jackson and Bubbles"

My advice? Concentrate on Twombly, Richter and Koons. To my mind, Rauschenberg, Doig and Hirst are kind of hacks (of course I think Renoir and Rembrandt are hacks too) and Johns is just too darned expensive.

College: The Capital of Human Capital?

KL sends an email observation, with some interesting questions. First, the quote:

"The labor market is placing a greater emphasis on education, dispensing rapidly rising rewards to those who stay in school the longest...The growth in returns to college has generated a predictable response: as the education earnings gap increased, a larger fraction of high school graduates went on to college...Growth in the education level of the population has been a significant source of rising wages, productivity, and living standards over the past century...Higher rates of return on capital are a sign of greater productivity in the economy, and that inference is fully applica-ble to human capital as well as to physical capital. The initial impact of higher returns to human capital is wider inequality in earnings (the same as the initial effect of higher returns on physical capital), but that impact
becomes more muted and may be reversed over time as young men and women invest more in their human capital. We conclude that the forces raising earnings inequality in the United States are beneficial to the extent that they reflect higher returns to invest-ments in education and other human capital."

-- Gary Becker, Nobel laureate and professor at the University of Chicago, and Kevin Murphy, winner of the John Bates Clark Medal and professor at the University of Chicago

[KL's question/point: Although Becker and Murphy are top-tier scholars, they seem to be missing the forest through the trees here. While no one would dispute that there is a general correlation between one's level of education and one's labor market outcome, much of this correlation is spurious, in the sense that more fundamental factors, especially one's biological and family endowment, happen to explain both the education and outcome variables. To the extent that education "causes" outcomes, much of that is due to signaling effects (for which someone else, Michael Spence, won a Nobel Prize) that depend on selective admissions and comparative evaluation, and not the curriculum per se. To the extent that curriculum does play a role, it is there as a rite of passage to a common substrate of knowledge, with real-world apprenticeship and experience responsible for much, if not most, real-world productivity. All of this simply reinforces the point that there are inexorable distributional consequences to initial conditions and path
dependence, regardless of whether Becker and Murphy can get people to "invest more in their human capital."]

I have talked to KL about this, and disagree. He is not ENTIRELY wrong, but "inexorable" is just claiming too much. People who try, who make an effort to receive an education, can improve their social and economic status rather markedly. The signalling argument is correct, but works just as well for highly motivatd people from poor backgrounds.

By making college, and "human capital" generally, more open to all we really are inceasing social mobility. The "substrate of knowledge," the set of analogies and allusions an educated person knows, are important keys to entry into the middle class.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Same as it ever was

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has been suspended for 4 games for trying to bury an umpire alive. (link to video here). I've been a Lou-natic ever since I read Ball Four by Jim Bouton (a good friend of KPC by the way). In 1969 an end of the line Bouton was on the expansion Seattle Pilots with then rookie Lou Piniella and had this to say about sweet Lou:

Lou Piniella has the red ass. He doesn’t think he’s playing enough. Piniella is a case... He complains a lot about the coaches and ignores them when he feels like it, and to top it off he’s sensitive as hell...

Aside from getting to put "red ass" in a post, I am hoping to point out that people by and large don't change.

good job, bad job, no job??

Here's a very provocative new NBER working paper by Don Davis and James Harrigan titled "Good Jobs, Bad Jobs & Trade Liberalization" (Here is an ungated version)

In it they combine efficiency wage macro theory with Melitz's 2003 Econometrica piece on trade and industry efficiency.

Their bottom line?

"Trade in our model has a strong tendency to increase variety, lower prices, and shift production toward more efficient firms. However, it also has a strong tendency to threaten what workers consider "good jobs" and could contribute to a rise in structural unemployment."

I've always been a big fan of efficiency wages and find them underutilized in current model building, so this paper is intriguing to me.

Hehheh, Heh, Heh: He said "Minsky"

TC invokes my old friend (really, Angus' old friend is more accurate) Hyman Minsky. (Hy and I had the same birthday, by the way).

The heterodox, orthodox, boat-ran-into-the-docks, thing has me a little loopy.

Look, if it is published in a journal, it is safe and traditional, almost certainly. There are two sorts of things that get turned down in journals:

(a) Things that are wrong, not well thought out, incomplete, just not very good.
(b) Things that threaten the status quo. The SQ has defense mechanisms. That is why it IS the status quo.

People who get stuff turned down ALWAYS think it is because their paper is in class (b). At best, it is probably an element of BOTH class (a) and class (b) (they are hardly disjoint sets). But most people who see themselves as heterodox are just undisciplined and shallow. Still, it is true that anything revolutionary will NOT, almost be definition, be published (at least not published FIRST) in refereed journals.

All that said, notice that I am in Political Science. The straitjacket of economic techniques, and the restrictions on questions you are allowed to ask....not good for me.

Finally, let me note that the Perestroikan movement in Poli Sci has been a disaster for the 'Stroikans themselves. Before, they could say that the APSR didn't publish their work out of APSR bias. Now, it is clear that most people don't publish in APSR because their papers suck.

Something About You Scares Me

"Behind Rudy Giuliani's impressive lead in the polls is one fact that puzzles the pundits: Many cultural conservatives are backing a pro-choice, pro-gun control candidate. But what should be equally surprising is the strong support Giuliani is finding among libertarian-leaning Republicans, who also make up a big slice of the GOP base....

Here's why: Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani's authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President's power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has 'the inherent authority to support the troops' even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani's view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty. In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it 'the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power.'

George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it."

-- David Boaz, CATO exec. v.p. of the Cato Institute


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ron Paul Revolution

Angus voted for Ed Clark in 1980. And I'm pretty sure that's the last time he voted. And he MAY have been fibbing about that.

Still, some people are interested in the maverick candidacy of Ron Paul.

A song, by....a band. Check the comments on that youtube site. Wow.

(Nod to Nonie)

You Aren't Seeing Things

Okay, you are seeing things.

But you aren't imagining things, and you aren't in the wrong place.

The new, improved version of the content of the blog (meaning, having Angus on board) required a new, improved version of the appearance of the blog.

And, a new name.

Kids prefer dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs prefer cheese.
There: Kids prefer cheese.

What do the heterodox want?

There has been a huge controversy about mainstream vs. heterodox economics and economists boiling on the web. But one thing I've not seen is a statement of what the heterodox actually want. Quotas? Sympathy? The abolition of journal rankings and the social science citation index? Jobs given out by lottery?

I know WHEN they want what they want (right about NOW, funk soul brother), but am just not sure WHAT is is they actually want.

Now I should say that I actually have some heterodox bones of my own and I understand the frustration of not getting one's work fully recognized. One line of my research attempts to show that political changes affect monetary policy in the US (clearly a heterodox proposition). An essay to that effect from my dissertation was published in the Journal of Monetary Economics in 1991. However, the paper was written in 1983 and rejected by at least 6 top journals in economics and political science (including an early rejection by the JME) before getting "in". I just kept cursing and revising and polishing the argument. Even after that "success" I couldn't get any follow ups published until Tony Caporale and I got a piece in the JLE in 1998. That seemed to open the door as we have also gotten such work in the JMCB and Political Analysis since.

So my homies from a heterodox planet, what shall we do?

Can I get a Witness??

What a fun series this was. LeBron found a lil friend and Cleveland are the lovable, improbable Eastern Conference Champs.

Man, Detroit is done. Webber? Done. Sheedy? Done. Flip? I gotta believe he's fired at this point.

Mike Brown probably should be fired for not having his team prepared for a basic zone trap, but he gets a pass for this year at least.

Now we'll get to see how Lebron does with Bruce Bowen humping his leg all night instead of Lindsay Hunter (who's also done!) One thing we know for sure: if it was played on clay, Spurs would sweep.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Thank god there was no youtube when we were kids

Because if there had been, there would have been tons more videos like this only about Cedarville Ohio and Gotha FL instead of Vermont.

The video, titled "802", has been viewed over 70,000 times on YouTube, and was produced by Kevin Hartmann (center in the photo above) who (I am not making this up) calls himself "Dr. K".

About Vermonters, Kevin says , “We’re small, we might be a little boring, but we can have fun."

Which is exactly how we think of ourselves around here at ME.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Paintball Man

This is so great. For the last month, an Iraqi born artist, Wafaa Bilal, has been holed up in a room in a Chicago Art Gallery letting people shoot paint-ball pellets at him via the internet. Really. It lasts for two more days.

I heard a story about it on NPR (don't ask me why I was listening to NPR) this evening driving home from the casino and then googled him upon my arrival at chez Angus.

Bilal teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here is another example of his work, but this extended performance piece is amazing.

Nicely done sir, kudos to you.

And then there was one.....

After the third round of the French Open, Serena Williams is the only American left in either the men's or women's singles. She next plays Marat Safin's sister with defending champion (and little ratty cheater)Justine Henin waiting in the wings. Congratulations Serena!

Now an open letter to the rest of American tennis: Can you not find any clay in the USA? I live in Oklahomie and we got plenty of it. Come on out and practice here next year maybe???


Are You Really a Poseur If You Can't Spell "Poseur"?

From JJ in NOLA:

In yet another sign that the apocalypse is nearly upon us, i read the following exchange at :
Guy : You ever try Kopi Luwak?
Girl: No, who is he?
Guy: It's not a he, it's the world's most expensive coffee.
Girl: That's not the coffee that's made from cat shit, is it?
Guy : It's not made from cat shit.
Girl: They pick the beans out of the cat shit.
Guy: Sort of.
Girl: So that posers like you can drink it.
Guy: You don't understand the concept of gourmet.
Girl: Maybe not, but I understand the concept of eating shit.

--Starbucks, Court St, Brooklyn

so I wikied it (is wiki now a verb too?):

"Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee cherries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus ). The animals gorge on the ripe berries, and excrete partially-digested beans in their feces, which are then harvested for sale. This process takes place on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, in the Philippines (where the product is called Kape Alamid), in the country of Vietnam, and the coffee estates of south India.

Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for up to $600 USD per pound, and is sold mainly in Japan and United States, but it is increasingly becoming available elsewhere, though supplies are limited.

So, I ask you, how could you all be so unhip that you haven't told me about this wonderful new and most reasonably priced commodity.

Obviously I need new friends.

I must point out, to the anonymous speakers at the Starbucks, that a "poser" is a difficult problem. A "poseur", by contrast, drinks hot beverages brewed from civet dung.

No, no, don't thank me.

(And, to JJ: any friends you had would be new. I'm just sayin')

Train Wreck: What Women Don't Want

Carpooling to work, with my good friend B. B just moved into a house
quite close to us in Raleigh, and is starting as a Research Prof at Duke soon.

Anyway, the house is beautiful on the outside, fantastic deck, overlooking a small lake. House sits on a hill, on a point that pokes gently out into the lake, so you have water views of about 140 degrees from the deck.

Inside, the house needs work. B's wife S has very impressive artistic sensibilities, and things (colors, textures, contrasts) that I wouldn't notice make her physically uncomfortable. So, they are working on the inside of the house, and there will be a lot of work to do. But S is really being a good sport about it, even though it will be months before the house is even close to right from her perspective.

Anyway, driving to work, B's cell phone rings. It's S, calling from KC, at a conference. They talk for a minute, then I clearly hear her say, "So, are you thinking about the living room?"

And I can suddenly see the future. There is going to be a trainwreck. B has been married more than 120 years, but he is going to blow this. There are many correct answers: "It's hard to picture without the furniture. But I was measuring the wall without windows, and thinking what art work to put up there." or "I am having trouble imagining how big the room will look, if we paint the walls with some nice colors. What do YOU think?" or any of a dozen other answers.

Married women, when they ask if their husband is thinking about {blank}, are saying (a) "I care about {blank}. Is it important to you, too?" and (b) "After you have acknowledged and validated my concern, then I can tell you what I wanted to do in the first place." Women just have conversations differently, and any man who has been married for more than a MONTH knows this.

And, to be fair, S is clearly going to do most of the work, most of the design, most of the worrying. She just wants a sounding board, a way of talking this out, of making it feel manageable. It's a big job, she's willing to do it, she just wants to feel like she is not doing it alone.

What does B say? He gives the Yogi Berra answer. Mickey Mantle asked Yogi, "What time is it?" Yogi said, "You mean right now?"

S asked, "Are you thinking about the living room?" An important room, the center of the house, the common area, where families gather. B says, "You mean right now?"

B finds this answer much funnier than S does. And I watch the train go off the tracks, the cars pile on top of each other, the dust rising.

The problem is we actually know how to talk to women. But we are seduced by our comedic talents. And we pay the price.

His Interest Was Compounded

A fine joke, from my good old friend Charles Statman.

Here's the lead-off....

On their wedding night, the young bride approached her new husband and asked for $20.00 for their first lovemaking encounter. In his highly aroused state, her husband readily agreed.

This scenario was repeated each time they made love, for more than 30 years, with him thinking that it was a cute way for her to afford new clothes and other incidentals that she needed.

(finish the joke)

Uncle Sam is the wind beneath my wings

From today's NYT comes a story : Where Now, for the Wind?

After talking glowingly about the increases in wind farms and wind produced energy the article turns dark:

"But the wind turbines rest on shaky financial foundations. And the industry faces a challenge in the marketplace, one that may well be crucial for the nation’s ability to wean itself from fossil fuels and deal with global warming"

Oh no!! That's awful, what is the problem?

"The problem is that the staying power of these companies is ultimately dependent on tax benefits from the capricious hands of lawmakers in Congress. A critical test comes at the end of next year, when the tax provisions fueling the initial wind power boomlet are due to lapse."

What you talking about Willis??

More than half the value in a typical wind project comes from tax incentives, so executives at the FPL Group concede that their program would again be halted if the tax credits lapse at the end of 2008.

Oh. Awesome. This makes ethanol look GOOD. This is the industry's "challenge in the marketplace"? That they are utterly dependent on my tax dollars to even exist? Bless their hearts.