Friday, February 20, 2009

Strange advice from an excellent economist

"Encourage your wealthy neighbors to buy new Cadillacs."

-- Ed Glaeser, Harvard University

(you can read the whole thing here)

Our new....Commerce Secretary!

So, a Democrat who cheats on his taxes, but has no qualms about staying in office?

Don't waste him on a state office; this guy has US Commerce Secretary written all over him!

(Nod to Anonyman)

UPDATE: Anonyman points out that another Dem stalwart believes that "Spending your taxes is my name; paying taxes myself is just so LAME!!" Here

Communication, Threats, and Laughter

Homo Politicus and Argument (Nearly) All the Way Down: Persuasion in
Politics

Neta Crawford
Perspectives on Politics, March 2009, Pages 103-124

Abstract:
Much theorizing about world politics and many policy recommendations are predicated on a rather thin view of homo politicus, often assuming that humans are rational and self-interested strategic actors and that force is the ultima ratio of politics. This thin notion should be replaced by a richer understanding of homo politicus that includes the characteristic activities of political actors: we fight, we feel, we talk, and we build institutions. This understanding helps illuminate the scope and limits of strategic action, argument and persuasion in world politics in both empirical and normative senses. I describe the spectrum of political action that situates the role of argument and persuasion within the extremes of brute force on one side and mutual communication on the other. I also discuss barriers to argument and communication. Noting the role of argument in this spectrum of international and domestic political practice suggests that it is argument (nearly) all the way down and that the scope of argument can be and in some cases has increased over the longue durée. Coercion, by itself, has a limited role in world politics. The claim that there are distinctive logics of argumentation, strategic action, or appropriateness misses the point. Argument is the glue of politics — its characteristic practice. Understanding politics as argumentation has radical empirical and
normative implications for the study and practice of politics.

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The laughter of the 1962 Tanganyika ‘laughter epidemic’

Christian Hempelmann
Humor – International Journal of Humor Research, February 2007, Pages 49–71

Abstract:
The present article discusses the role of laughter in the much cited ‘laughter epidemic’ that occurred in Tanganyika in 1962. Despite its extraordinary nature, the veracity of the event is confirmed, crucially on
the basis of similar reports. But most current representations are flawed by their exaggeration and misinterpretation of the role of laughter in the event, relating it to a humorous stimulus, a virus or environmental contaminant, or identifying it as contagious laughter. It is argued that the event is a motor-variant case of mass psychogenic illness of which laughter is one common symptom. Therefore it cannot serve as support for other arguments in humor research.

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Essential conditions for evolution of communication within a species

Alexander Feigel
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 21 October 2008, Pages 768-774

Abstract:
A major obstacle in analyzing the evolution of information exchange and processing is our insufficient understanding of the underlying signaling and decision-making biological mechanisms. For instance, it is unclear why are humans unique in developing such extensive communication abilities. To treat this problem, a method based on the mutual information approach is developed that evaluates the information content of communication between interacting individuals through correlations of their behavior patterns (rather than calculating the information load of exchanged discrete signals, e.g. Shannon entropy). It predicts that correlated interactions of the indirect reciprocity type together with affective behavior and selection rules changing with time are necessary conditions for the emergence of significant information exchange. Population size variations accelerate this development. These results are supported by evidence of demographic bottlenecks, distinguishing human from other species’ (e.g. apes) evolution line. They indicate as well new pathways for evolution of information based phenomena, such as intelligence and complexity.
(ED: These conditions do not appear to have been met in the state of Rhode Island. Communication there is nearly impossible!)

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When Sweet Talk Sours: The Evil Eye in Rivalry

Tanya Menon & Oliver Sheldon
University of Chicago Working Paper, January 2008

Abstract:
Friendly gestures (e.g. flattery, positive affect, praise) typically earn good will. However, drawing from anthropological research on the “evil eye”, we suggest that people are wary of friendly gestures, especially when rivals initiate them. In Study 1, neither Botswanans nor Americans credited friendly rivals for their overtures. In Study 2, the more negotiators exhibited kindness to rivalry-primed counterparts, the less those
counterparts trusted them. In Study 3, friendly rivals provoked more superstitious learning (“jinx” attributions, avoidance, and contamination fears) than hostile rivals. We argue that friendly gestures backfire because they violate people’s predictable schemas about how rivalry should proceed. In Study 4, people reliant on schemas (those making fast judgments versus careful judgments) viewed rivals negatively regardless of the gestures they conveyed. Study 5 literally cast the “evil eye” upon participants by placing them in a room with photos of friendly or hostile eyes gazing at them. Schema-reliant people (those with high need for closure) were most likely to scapegoat friendly rivals.

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Avoiding the sharp tongue: Anticipated written messages promote fair
economic exchange

Erte Xiao & Daniel Houser
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming

Abstract:
Research in economics and psychology has established that informal non-monetary sanctions, particularly expressions of negative emotion or disapproval, can enforce fair economic exchange. However, scholars are only beginning to understand the reasons non-monetary sanctions affect economic outcomes. Here we provide evidence that a preference to avoid written expression of disapproval, or negative emotion, plays an important role in promoting fair decision making. We study one-shot Dictator games where one subject has the right to determine a division of an amount of money between herself and her receiver. In relation to the standard game, we find significantly fewer earning-maximizing decisions when receivers can react to
offers with ex post written messages. We further find that credible threats of monetary sanctions, while economically inefficient, are significantly more effective than written messages in deterring selfishness. Our data provide new perspectives on the role of communication in promoting economic efficiency in social environments, and support economic theories of decision incorporating psychological factors such as guilt, shame, and self-deception.



On the "1962 Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic": I have no way of knowing. But I bet the cause was the announcement that the Legislature was going to pass a "Stimulus Package." (Actually, the apparent cause was that some kid at a boarding school told a joke. My second bet: it involved flatulence. Everybody loves flatulence. And passing gas and passing a Stimulus Bill are very similar, and have similar effects. So, I stand vindicated!)

(Nod to Kevin L)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michael Smerconish, in Philly

Radio host and columnist Michael Smerconish, on the Porkulus.

Excerpt:

About 200 prominent economists, including a dozen Nobel laureates, signed a petition pledging support for the stimulus package. Paul Krugman, himself a Nobel economics winner, has called for an even bigger government footprint than the one the president signed. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner might have to run TurboTax on his computer, but he also ran the New York Fed. He's no dope.
So it should be easy to believe that Obama and his economic brain trust are poised to steer the country out of recession, right? Not necessarily.
ON THE OTHER side sits the conservative Cato Institute, which recently placed full-page ads in the country's major newspapers to express disagreement with the president's plan.
Among the 200-plus who signed that petition was Michael Munger, chairman of the political-science department at Duke.
Munger, who holds a doctorate in economics, told me the president had mischaracterized the nature of the objections. The issue isn't that the Cato petition signers are simply "philosophically" opposed to government intervention. It's that government intervention doesn't work.
"All we're doing is funding things that were already set up, that would have been done anyway by the state. So the point is not that I think the government has no business. The point is that what they're doing is going to do more harm than good. I find it outrageous that he would misrepresent the position of 400 professional Ph.D. economists," he said.

Like Summers, Krugman, Geithner and the hundreds of economists supporting the stimulus plan, Munger and his allies are impressive. And these competing views leave many Americans stuck in the middle of two opposing "expert" opinions.
When I raised that with Munger, he said stimulus supporters know that the statistical realities don't bear out their case.
"But they're desperate," he said. "They're hoping that by giving some sort of sense of confidence - the idea that someone is in charge - that they can reverse this by giving people a sense of confidence."
Which is starting to remind me of global warming. Loads of experts and a similar number of opinions. On one hand, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deemed it "unequivocal" and "very likely" that global warming, if it truly exists, is spurred by human activity.
Meanwhile, Weather Channel founder John Coleman has called it "the greatest scam in history." Once again, the rest of us are stuck somewhere in the middle, unsure of whom to believe.


My own view: There is a LOT more evidence that there is global warming than there is that Porkulus will work. Porkulus is just faith-based economics married to political entrepreneurship.

Each major party says the other is unfit to rule. Both are correct.

Anonyman muses:

If you controlled congress for 12 of the past 14 years, would you think it's a good move to go after the guy that's been in office for 1 month and accuse him of wasting taxpayer's $$$$ ?

The source of his (be)muse(ment)--

Remember, Anonyman is, or was until recently, a Republican.

Reminds me of the H.L. Mencken quote I used today on the radio:

In a democracy, the two major parties spend the majority of their time and energy trying to inform an ignorant electorate that the other party is unfit to rule. And both do that admirably. And both are right.

A pox on BOTH their Houses, and their Senates.

After you cough up $800 Billion, everything else is just chump change

The stimulus bill sure has accomplished one thing; it has raised the bar for what kind of expenditures are big enough to raise eyebrows. President O has followed it up with announcing $75 billion to "stem foreclosures" and serial corporate mendicants GM and Chrysler have asked for another $21 billion in aid.

But I guess we have reverse sticker shock; nobody seems to care about a few measly 10's of billions. That's now officially petty cash.

In fact the AP story linked above about the foreclosure plan repeatedly notes that it's not enough money to "save every home".

Yikes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

India: the fun just never stops

This just in from Reuters:

"BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – An infant boy was married off to his neighbours' dog in eastern India by villagers who said it will stop the groom from being killed by wild animals, officials and witnesses said Wednesday.

Around 150 tribes people performed the ritual recently in a hamlet in the state of Orissa's Jajpur district after the boy, who is under two years old, grew a tooth on his upper gum.

The Munda tribe see such a growth in young children as a bad omen and believe it makes them prone to attacks by tigers and another animals. The tribal god will bless the child and ward off evil spirits after the marriage.

"We performed the marriage because it will overcome any curse that might fall on the child as well on us," the boy's father, Sanarumala Munda, was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

The groom, Sagula, was carried by his family in procession to the village temple, where a priest solemnised the marriage between Sagula and his bride Jyoti by chanting Sanskrit hymns, a witness said.

The villagers then ate a feast with rich food and alcohol to celebrate.

The dog belongs to the groom's neighbours and was set free to roam around the area after the ceremony. No dowry was exchanged, the witness said, and the boy will still be able to marry a human bride in the future without filing for divorce."



The Onion: Disturbingly Prophetic

Wow. Wowie Wowie Wow.

The Tao of Abstracts

Writing a good title is easy ("Alliteration!" James Buchanan once told me). Writing a good abstract is hard. You need to get across the main points of your paper and make them sound interesting in a very compact space. You have to be disciplined and produce a paragraph with a very high signal to noise ratio.

In the negative example department, here is the abstract of a recent NBER working paper where the signal to noise ratio is ZERO!

"This paper uses the first three waves of the Gallup World Poll to investigate differences across countries, cultures and regions in the factors linked to life satisfaction, paying special attention to the social context. Our principal findings are: First, using the larger pooled sample, we find that answers to the satisfaction with life and Cantril ladder questions provide consistent views of what constitutes a good life, with an average of the two measures providing a clearer picture than either measure on its own. Second, we find strong evidence for the importance of both income and social context variables in explaining within-country and international differences in well-being. For most specifications tested, the combined effects of a few measures of the social and institutional context are as large as those of income in explaining both international and intra-national differences in life satisfaction. Third, the very significant influences of both income and social factors permit the calculation of compensating differentials for social factors. We find very large income-equivalent values for key measures of the social context. Fourth, the international similarity of the estimated equations suggests that the large international differences in average life evaluations are not due to different approaches to the meaning of a good life, but to differing social, institutional, and economic life circumstances."

Aaargh!! So long, yet so uninformative. I've heard of Cantrel's Raiders and Jacob's ladder, but Cantril ladder?? But the best part is how it continually and differentiably beats around the bush as to exactly what the relevant "social and institutional" variables are. It makes me want to yell at the authors much more than it makes me want to read the paper.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oh Noes!

Well it only took 50 games, but the Thunder now have a mascot. I guess that's good news.

The bad news is that it appears to be a Wookie, and not a very macho one at that.

Feast your eyes on some Okie folly, people:


Thundercats are Go!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Thunder have traded Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith to the Hornets for Tyson F. Chandler.

Wow.

Hornets get expiring contracts and we get an honest to God center. Fantastic! Chandler has been hurt and less effective so far this year but I'da traded Wilcox and Smith for a pack of gum!

I think this also make the locally popular idea of drafting Blake Griffin if the Thunder get the number one pick make more basketball sense (i.e. Thunder really needed a center, Griffin is not really a center but now they have Chandler).

Big ups to Sam Presti.

Teamwork: yer doin' it wrong!

another modest proposal

When I lived in Northern Virginia, the DC folks were always complaining about their lack of Federal representation. They had no Senators and only a single non-voting delegate to the House (maybe the delegate gets to vote now though?).

I actually think this set up should apply to more states rather than fewer. Take Illinois as a semi -random example. Wouldn't we all be a lot happier if they had no Senators and a single non-voting House delegate?

I have an additional suggestion for Illinois politics: just have your governors report directly to the nearest Federal penitentiary on inauguration day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Analysis of Texas Roads: Multipliagra

This is truly remarkable.

Here you will find the "Texas 2030" report on the benefits of road-building in the "On Loan to Keynes State."

How do I know they changed the name, the old "Lone Star State"?

In the report, they make a first pass in which they do not model ANY benefits to increased capacity, at all. So the report claims that the first $70 billion spent does not reduce congestion ONE BIT....

...But the project still yields a 3.4 Benefit to Cost ratio because of (WAIT FOR IT!!!) construction spending multipliers. NO. ROAD. JUST THE CONSTRUCTION SPENDING CREATES A POSITIVE MULTIPLIER OVER THREE.

If you do account for the reduced congestion, according to these rent-seeking bandits, you get a cost of $213 billion, and an economic benefit of $1.4 trillion. That's a "multiplier" of more than *6*! Now, you should all know that "Priapobamaism," or a multiplierection lasting more than four hours, is not normal. You should stop taking Multipliagra, and seek medical attention.

No matter how you slice it: Deficit spending is its own reward! The new voodoo ecnomics....

Just as tax cuts were supposed to increase total revenue (if you are a Republican), the idea here is that deficit spending more than pays for itself, and increases tax revenues, to boot!

I am awestruck by the sheer brazen brass of it! No economist could be that stupid; it has to be a bald-faced lie. It take juevos of pure orichalcus to make this work. Brav-o!

As I believe Angus has pointed out before, by this logic Zimbabwe should have the largest GDP on earth. Robby Mugabe should get the Nobel Prize for his innovative Keynesian policies. (I shouldn't joke; the second part may happen, come October.)

(Nod to Jason Scheppers, P.E., who also posed this excellent question:

When you go to the store and buy a loaf of bread you likely pay a market price. The bread provider likely provides jobs to wheat farmers, truckers, grocers, bakers and those folks in the supply chain likely spend the money that they earn from their services. Given those factors buying a loaf of bread creates a multiplier affect just as claimed for the transportation construction activity in the 2030 report. I see no evidence presented that the multiplier on "buy a loaf of bread," or any other product, is materially different than the multiplier applied to construction activity. )

Jason continues, in his comment to the Authority:

I suggest that the optimal infrastructure improvement is when the incremental cost is equal to the incremental benefit or the incremental B/C ratio equals 1. With the report’s assumed value of economic activity for each dollar of construction there are no amounts of improvements that have a benefit cost ratio lower than 1. It is nonsensical to think that there are no levels of infrastructure spending that go too far and waste resources. I challenge the committee and their technical experts to enumerate the funding level that sets incremental cost benefit ratio equal to 1.

See!? Mugabe is CORRECT! As the deficit heads to negative infinity, GDP heads to positive infinity, FASTER, because of Mulipliagra, Daddy's Little Helper.

So let me get this straight

Suns management/ownership is tired of Mike D'Antoni's 7 seconds or less and lets him go. Brings in Terry Porter as coach. Porter wants them to walk the ball up and D up. Lots of Suns complain. Management then gets rid of multiple players that Porter doesn't like. And now, at the all-star break, the metaphorical, if not actual, midpoint of the season, Suns management FIRES Terry Porter.

Epic Fail. So now you don't have D'Antoni or Porter or the players that Porter didn't like. You do have Jason Richardson though. Sweet!

And you have Alvin Gentry who said the following at his press conference: “We are who we are and I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we’ve had in the past.”

Only they are NOT what they were. Not anymore.

What a bunch of dolts. If you look up FUBAR in the dictionary I bet there will be a picture of the Suns front office.

"I'm fine with a tuition increase...."

My son Kevin, on the tuition hike at UNC-Chapel Hill:

"I'm fine with a tuition increase. I'm surprised it wasn't more."
(Link to the video) (Kevin's voice, and then picture, starts at about 1:25 on the video).

It is interesting that UNC, where taxpayers pay at least $3 for every dollar paid in tuition, for each student, gets depicted as screwing over the students, rather than the taxpayers.

There is a big difference between artificially low tuition, where taxpayers subsidize college education for an elite few with the grades and SATs to get in, and financial aid, which ensures that lack of wealth is no barrier to entry.

Still, to my son Kevin, who is "fine with a tuition increase": Your mother and I are "fine with you getting a job this summer."

UPDATE: In comments, an anonymous commenter bravely confronts my hypocrisy in sending my son to a public school. Dude! Suppose bandits broke into my house while I was away, and stole everything in it. If they offered me my television back, would I take it? YES! That doesn't mean I approve the original theft. But you takes back what youse can gets.

Confirmation: I Took More Votes From Perdue....

Interesting....more analysis of the Gov race. PPP concludes, again, that I took many more votes from Perdue than from McCrory.

The problem is.....I didn't take nearly enough.

One other interesting finding from our analysis. We pointed out several times last fall that our data showed Michael Munger was pulling more votes from Perdue than McCrory, contrary to the conventional wisdom that Libertarians take from Republican candidates. The county where he ended up doing best? Deep blue Orange, where he pulled 5% of the vote.

ATSRTWT

A modest proposal

Obama seems to patterning himself after FDR. Between the election and inauguration FDR went on a Caribbean cruise while the depression raged. Obama went Hawaii. FDR had a very active 100 days, Obama has his mega-bill.

I would like to encourage Obama to emulate one other FDR move. At the beginning of his term FDR managed to find the time to get Congress to legalize beer. So please Barack, take another page out of the FDR playbook and legalize weed!! What better way to help us look past our ruined retirement accounts and impending doom?

Legalize it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A brutal business in Buffalo

Buffalo-area man accused of beheading his wife

Associated Press - February 13, 2009 7:15 PM ET

"ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - A Buffalo-area man who runs an American-Islamic television station is accused of beheading his wife.

Orchard Park police say 44-year-old Muzzammil Hassan told police Thursday evening that his wife was dead at his office. That's where police found the body of 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan.

Hassan is now charged with second-degree murder and police believe the killing occurred sometime late Thursday afternoon. Authorities say his wife had recently filed for divorce and had an order of protection that had him out of the home as of February 6th.

Hassan is the founder and chief executive of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004 in hopes of portraying Muslims in a better light.

Police didn't know Friday if Hassan had an attorney."


Wow, this is a serious and horrible story but I have two comments and they are the same as Janet's at SCSU scholars. (1) How can cutting off someone's head be only second degree murder? (2) Did Mr. Hassan think this would help the stated mission of Bridges TV?

Get ready for another serving of Hugo

From the informative blog Caracas Chronicles:

Sí wins : 54% to 45%

Quico says: With 80% of the votes tallied, reliable sources are confident, Sí will win by a wide margin.

Thunder REPRESENT

Kevin Durant has come up about as big as you can on all-star weekend without actually being on the all star team. First in the Sophomore - Rookie game on Friday, he cut loose for 46 points and 7 rebounds. Then in the H-O-R-S-E contest on Saturday, He got behind early but then came back for the win basically by bombing in 30 footers.

I think this is the last year that KD won't be in the Sunday game. He has improved a lot over last year and is going to be a big star. We in Okie-land are happy Portland drafted Oden.