Monday, February 07, 2011

Roma Ladrona!

People, Rome has stolen the grand canal from Venice!

If it wasn't true, could Reuters report it?

A mob of his own

As protests continue, Hosni Fubarak invests in his own shock troops by announcing a 15% pay raise for all government employees.

That should help keep them out on the streets punching Anderson Cooper!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

As the blogosphere turns

Jeez. This is a weird mess. First, on Saturday, the NYTimes runs an article called "The lucky break of rent stabilization", which details the ups and downs of negotiations between tenants and developers over buyouts. Then N.G. Mankiw links to it for textbook promotion under essentially the same title, "The lucky break of rent control"

Here's NG's entire text:

For those instructors teaching about the economics of rent control (Chapter 6 of my favorite textbook) or the Coase Theorem (Chapter 10), this article about buyouts of rent stabilized tenants should generate a good class discussion.

Just your typical NG book plug, right? Nothing to see here.

But then, some blogger named Buce just goes off on NG with a post called "Mankiw's luck"

Here are some excerpts:

"Honestly, I sometimes wonder why this guy (i.e. NGM) gets taken seriously, but I suppose I know: he plays into every instinct for smug self-satisfaction that you would expect among cosseted, comfortable Harvard students--and that you would want a proper education to beat out of them."

Always good to start out with some non-germane mudslinging, Buce, please go on:

"Now strictly speaking, I am no great fan of rent control: I think it often does more (social) harm than good. But "luck"? Why is rent control more a "lucky break" than being born blond, beautiful, Norwegian and blessed with great ski-jumping skills? "

Umm, neither NG nor the NY Times article that he links to say anything like "rent control is the only form of luck that the human race can get". I think we can probably agree that since rent stabilized apartments aren't means tested or anything, it actually is lucky to be able to get one. but surely there's more to your complaint than NG didn't provide an exhaustive list of lucky things that can happen to humans:

Maybe I've got other friends who, say, bought apartments in the East 60s back in the Dinkins administration when those puppies were going for $65k a pop, tops. I suppose Mankiw might want me to think that those buyers (as distinct from those renters) were operating out of pluck and foresight and deserve every penny of the appreciation that they've enjoyed. I doubt it. I suspect that most of them were hard-working strivers who wanted to live in a nice place (considering) and got, well, lucky. Does Mankiw spend a class hour trying to delegitimatize their hold on good fortune, to figuring out ways of clawing it back from them?

Wow, WTF is this about? Again neither NG or the Times article says anything pro or con about price appreciation for homeowners! This guy/gal is basically unhinged.

NG must have taken a full Austin Powers right in the middle of Buce's cornflakes at some point.

Ok you say, that's amazingly bad, but hey, it's just some creepy corner of the interwebs, only NG fanboys like me (LOL) would ever find it.

Well actually I found it because Mark Thoma the king of econ blog links decided for some inscrutable reason to link to it! Why, Mark, why? Don't hate the Playa!

All Hail Keith Gaddie

Keith is professor of political science at OU, a publishing machine, an expert in southern politics, a sought after consultant in cases involving re-districting and voting rights, and a novelist!.

People, you should fire up the Facebook and beg Keith to friend you. He has the consistently best FB posts of anyone in my vast network (of 116) friends. Here is a koan-like gem from this morning:

"Anderson Cooper is the little miniature dog in America's designer handbag."

I don't think I've written a sentence that good in my whole life!

HerHonor The Mayor

The coolest lady, the best argument for not retiring, and the special category "Best wearing of a bike helmet during an interview" awards go to...this woman:

Oh, and by the way, the city has zero debt. None. And she's 88. What did YOU do today?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mubarak Out?

Members of leadership of Egypt's ruling party, including President Hosni Mubarak, submit resignations, state TV reports. CNN


UPDATE: No, CNN message was cryptic, at least to me. It just said "resigned," not "resigned as head of party." HN remaining as Prez, resigning as head of party. Laughable.

Fubarak's new Cabinet: A Photo Essay

Friday, February 04, 2011

Is this anyway to WTF?

It depends. If WTF means "win the future", then no. But if it has its more traditional meaning, then yes!

People, after all the speechifying, name calling, accusations, and general boo-sheet, the Obama administration has again declined to name China a currency manipulator!

Now personally, I don't think having a fixed exchange rate is currency manipulation, nor do I understand what makes us judge and jury on these issues, but my God, these guys really really really give new meaning to the phrase "cheap talk".

Dear Feds: if you are not going to do anything about it, then please just STFU!

No Quixotes! Munger v. Google Rejected by NC Supreme Court

Damn! Munger v. Google has such a nice ring to it. But it was rejected by the NC Supreme Court.

Sure, it was actually "Munger, et al. v. State of North Carolina." But it was Google that took all that cash and built a "server farm." (That's basically an insulated warehouse with some extra HVAC, btw)

We had brought suit, and I was lead lead plaintiff. (Robert Orr did all the work, of course. I was just eye candy. Or maybe BOB was Quixote, and I was Sancho Panza. That's more like it.)

But the NC Supreme Court today smashed all my dreams. Went so far as to say that the very idea of reviewing the review of the appeals decision was "improvidently granted." Oh, that hurts. Improvidently granted? "Sorry, nothing to see here folks. Just an everyday violation of the NC Constitution. Move along, citizens, move along. Because there is NO STANDING! NO STANDING."

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Not Making This Up: Activist Accused of Being Too Smart

I would have thought the oppressive apparatus of the state could no longer surprise me with its never-ending creativity. But...I am surprised, by this.

The NC DOT did an engineering study of a local road widening project, and concluded that no new signals were required at two intersections. A citizen, David Cox, had the gall to disagree. He did some research, and put the research in the form of an organized argument.

The state could have responded by ignoring the request. Or the state could have pointed out the errors in the study. (I myself have no position on the merits; haven't studied it, don't know the issues).

But the state engineer instead threatened the citizen with legal action... for... being smart! They investigated, saying Cox was "practicing engineering without a license." Yes, really. The state DOT head engineer, Kevin Lacy, did not dispute the facts, the analysis, or the conclusions of the report. All he did was try to get the report dismissed because it was "engineering quality work." Read that again: the citizen made a petition to government for redress of a grievance, and the state wants to prosecute the citizen because the quality of the analysis is too high. (If the petition, redress, etc. thing sounds familiar that's because it is a right guaranteed in the 1st Amendment).

Now, the citizen had NEVER claimed to be an engineer, and had simply signed his name to the report. And he had organized the report in a way that made sense to him, presenting information that he thought was important for the question of whether the intersections needed traffic signals.

The cool thing is that the state is going to say, "We never ACTUALLY brought charges!" Just like the Mafia thugs say, "Nice restaurant. It wud be a shame if sumpin wud to happen to it, like youknowafireorsumpin, capisce?" The fact is that the state can exert an enormously chilling effect simply by suggesting that citizens should be investigated.

But the idea that a citizen can be investigated for being smart and making an effective counter-argument.... wow, I did not expect the state to be willing to be that thuggish.

Finally, I should note that this may all be self-serving for the KPC staff. Because if being really smart, persuasive, and disagreeable is a crime now...well, Angus and I should just assume the position.

Grand Game: Government Investment Edition

It's been a while, for the Grand Game. That's where I put up a link, and you bright and good-looking KPC readers look for unintentional hilarity. Today's edition: Government investment in science!

I'll go first! My favorite part is where the government shill "proves" that these are worthwhile investments....

Success is probably 10 to 20 years away, said Arun Mujamdar, director of the program, which is called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

But the private investment is “a good sign, an endorsement of some sort,” he said. “The best thing the government can do is to catalyze investment.”

While 31 projects have not yet attracted outside help, all are continuing, according to the department. Josh Lerner, a professor at the Harvard Business School and an expert on venture capital, said he would have been surprised if most of the projects had attracted private financing quickly.

If all the projects had quickly drawn private money, it would have suggested that the projects would have happened without government intervention, Mr. Lerner said.

With a track record of six of 37 being picked up, “it’s hard not to feel it’s a reasonable indicator that they’re doing something right,” he said.

So, to cut to the chase, there are three possible outcomes:

1. These are silly wasteful boondoggles. Nonetheless, private capital might be attracted because the research is backed up with huge artificial subsidies, as is the case with ethanol. The only reason ethanol is a fuel additive is that we spend $1.50 per gallon in subsidies. Still, it's true you can "profit" in this industry, because govt policy is distorting price.

2. These are good projects, but would have been invested in by private capital, precisely because they are good projects.

3. These are good projects, but because of imperfect capital markets or basic public goods problems in research no private firm would have invested in them.

I say they are mostly #1. Sure, by dumb luck some of them would have been useful anyway, but then they are category #2.

Note the genius move of the description in the article: We know that some are not #1, because a few have attracted some private investment. And we know that the rest are not #2 because...MOST OF THEM HAVE NO PRIVATE INVESTEMENT!

He actually claims "If all the projects had quickly drawn private money, it would have suggested that the projects would have happened without government intervention."

Brilliant. The lack of private investment PROVES that the public investment is justified, and in fact foresighted and even visionary. Unfortunately, nowhere is it explained why the fact that there is no private investment doesn't imply that these are blue sky bullshit pork projects.

Now, your turn, folks!

(nod to Anonyman)

Two Catholic Jokes

Apropos of pretty much nothing, two Catholic jokes:

There once was a religious young woman who went to Confession. Upon entering the confessional, she said, 'Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.'
The priest said, 'Confess your sins and be forgiven.'

The young woman said, 'Last night my boyfriend made wild passionate love to me seven times.'

The priest thought long and hard and then said, 'Squeeze seven lemons into a glass and then drink the juice.'

The young woman asked, 'Will this cleanse me of my sins?'

The priest said, 'No, but it will wipe that big grin off of your face.'

Muldoon lived alone in the Irish countryside with only a pet dog for company.. One day the dog died, and Muldoon went to the parish priest and asked, 'Father, me dog is dead... Could ya' be saying' a mass for the poor madadh?'

Father Patrick sniffed, 'I'm afraid not; we cannoa be havin' sairvices for animals in the chairch.... But there's a pack o' Baptists down the lane, un there's no tellin' what strange things they believe. Maybe they'll honor yer poor creature.'

Muldoon said, 'Aye, that's a good idear. I'll go right away Father. Do ya' think 5,000 punt is a big enough donation?'

Father Patrick exclaimed, 'Sweet Mahry, Mother of Chay-sus! Why din' ya tell me the blessed dog wahr Catholic?

(nod to the LMM)

Is the economy (finally) picking up steam?

I'm going to answer this question with a firm "I think so"!

The PMI manufacturing index for January came in very strong (good analysis of how strong is here).

Even though the fourth quarter growth estimate was an unspectacular 3.2%, real final sales last quarter grew by over 7%.

The stock market had its best January in over decade.

The ADP jobs report from yesterday came in at 187,000 new private, non-farm jobs.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Women Are Better

Women are better at financial planning than men.


Dan was a single guy living at home with his father and working in the family business. When he found out he was going to inherit a fortune when his sickly father died, he decided he needed a wife with which to share his life and his new fortune.

One evening at an investment meeting he spotted the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her natural beauty took his breath away.'I may look like just an ordinary man,' he said to her, but in just a few years, my father will die, and I'll inherit $650 million.'

Impressed, the woman obtained his business card and three days later, she became his stepmother.

(Nod to the LMM. Unfortunately, that disproves the thesis. I married WAY better than she did)

All Hail Robert Kagan

This to me, really nails it:

"There’s no way for us to go through the long evolution of history without allowing Islamists to participate in democratic society."

“What are we going to do — support dictators for the rest of eternity because we don’t want Islamists taking their share of some political system in the Middle East? We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is."

“Obviously, Islam needs to make its peace with modernity and democracy. But the only way this is going to happen is when people speaking for Islam take part in the system."

Some Links!

I'm from your government lottery monopoly, and I'm here to be an idiot. Plus, the guy who discovered this goes all Canadian on us. Nice! (Nod to @mbellemare )

Zero tolerance laws are intolerable. (Nod to Anonyman)

Only those of us who have no interests are pure... (Nod to K-Wine)

Danny Drez drops some truth bombs... (Nod to K-Wine, who is en fuego)

Prof. Barnett, on the Vinson ruling on O-Care

A battle for the scientific soul of anthropology. Me, I suspect the forces of post-modern superstition and anti-science are too deeply entrenched. It's not like they can get jobs in English departments anymore. Those Cult Ant doofuses are stuck for the duration.


The Wisdom of Kobe Bean Bryant

Referring to his teammate Pau Gasol:

"Even when he was in Memphis and he was the go-to guy, he was always very nice. Very white swan. I need him to be black swan."

Not sure if this is a Nassim Taleb reference or a Darren Aranofsky reference, but well done KBB!!

serial double dippers

Ah Peru, is there anything you won't do? Fresh on the heels electing Alan Garcia (perhaps the worst ex-president who got to return to his country ever!) in 2005, comes word that the front-runner in this year's presidential election is Alejandro Toledo??

The latest poll results have Toledo leading the field at 30.7%. Yes, this is the same Toledo who left office in 05 with a single digit approval rating despite solid economic growth rates.

The Peruvians are a wily bunch though. If Toledo falters (and how can he not?), they still have Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed ex-strongman Alberto in the race, currently polling at 20.3%, waiting in the wings.

talk like a Egyptian

Via Salon, here's a truly excellent post about how NOT to talk about events in Egypt.

My favorite faux pas: "I loved Sadat".

(Sadat WAS Mubarek with a worse hairdo)

Relatedly, Bill Easterly describes the double standard for democracy that seems to be operating.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Thomas Friedman gives us his philosophy of life

He sums it up for you at the very end and it's well worth watching the whole thing!

A Texan in Paris

The ambulatory ICU

Fantastic article in the New Yorker about applying crime mapping and policing the "hot spots" to medical care. In a lot of situations, a small fraction of the relevant population is responsible for an outsized fraction of medical costs (this is NOT including catastrophic events like organ transplants). The article outlines some currently small programs where lavishing attention and money on these "hot spots" increases the quality of care and produces better outcomes while actually saving money. It's long, but it's a fascinating article.

Note that Megan McArdle is not a believer.