Saturday, September 17, 2011

There's a program for that!

I am very happy to hear that all 1,100 employees of Solyndra have applied en masse for Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance. I really hope they get it. What's another $14 million amount to anyway?

Maybe congress can pass a "Federal Failure of Trade Adjustment Assistance Assistance" act to help these fine folks when their FTAA money runs out.

Hat Tip to Dip!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Problem of Marginal Value and Surveys

The pursuit of happiness can be lonely

Iris Mauss et al., Emotion, forthcoming

Abstract: Few things seem more natural and functional than wanting to be happy. We suggest that, counter to this intuition, valuing happiness may have some surprising negative consequences. Specifically, because striving for personal gains can damage connections with others and because happiness is usually defined in terms of personal positive feelings (a personal gain) in western contexts, striving for happiness might damage people's connections with others and make them lonely. In 2 studies, we provide support for this hypothesis. Study 1 suggests that the more people value happiness, the lonelier they feel on a daily basis (assessed over 2 weeks with diaries). Study 2 provides an experimental manipulation of valuing happiness and demonstrates that inducing people to value happiness leads to relatively greater loneliness, as measured by self-reports and a hormonal index (progesterone). In each study, key potential confounds, such as positive and negative affect, were ruled out. These findings suggest that wanting to be happy can make people lonely.

Um....if everyone valued "happiness" equally, but if happiness has diminishing marginal utility, among other goals, then the most lonely people would report the greatest marginal utility from increased happiness. People who already have quite a bit of happiness would value it much less, at the margin.

And that's all this survey is getting at: marginal utility of happiness. So, it's not true that people who value happiness are more lonely. Instead, lonely people have little happiness, and so at the margin value it more.


(nod to Kevin Lewis)

The Evolution of Overconfidence

The evolution of overconfidence

Dominic Johnson & James Fowler
Nature, 15 September 2011, Pages 317–320

Abstract: Confidence is an essential ingredient of success in a wide range of domains ranging from job performance and mental health to sports, business and combat. Some authors have suggested that not just confidence but overconfidence — believing you are better than you are in reality — is advantageous because it serves to increase ambition, morale, resolve, persistence or the credibility of bluffing, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which exaggerated confidence actually increases the probability of success. However, overconfidence also leads to faulty assessments, unrealistic expectations and hazardous decisions, so it remains a puzzle how such a false belief could evolve or remain stable in a population of competing strategies that include accurate, unbiased beliefs. Here we present an evolutionary model showing that, counterintuitively, overconfidence maximizes individual fitness and populations tend to become overconfident, as long as benefits from contested resources are sufficiently large compared with the cost of competition. In contrast, unbiased strategies are only stable under limited conditions. The fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable in a wide range of environments may help to explain why overconfidence remains prevalent today, even if it contributes to hubris, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and costly wars.

I don't see this as very counterintuitive. Being an alpha male is very stressful, and you die young. (I say "you" because I am an omega male). But you get crazy sex action in the meantime. bouncybouncybouncy. "Fitness" is not the same as "happiness," at all. Mr. Darwin didn't really care if animals were happy; that didn't play much of a role in the whole "nature red in tooth and claw" theory.

The problem is that our last two Presidents, first GWB and now BHO, are freakishly overconfident even by the standards of human males. Neither is capable of imagining that anyone actually disagrees with them, unless the disagreer is evil or a stone idiot.

(Nod to the Kevin Lewis)


There are 4 Fords in the Mungowitz driveway. If you wanted to know.


Nicholas Cage recounts his experience of waking up, and seeing a naked man at the foot of the bed, eating a fudgesicle.

This apropos his new movie Trespass Reviews are mixed. But the fudgesicle story is just fine.

Rugger Hugger

Just months after marrying Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, the captain of England’s rugby team, Mike Tindall, was allegedly caught kissing and groping another blonde at a dwarf-throwing contest in New Zealand. Tindall and his team were celebrating a victory over Argentina in a World Cup match when the boozy evening apparently turned adulterous. A spokesman for the Rugby Football Union tried to play down the incident, saying that the queen’s in-law was simply “relaxing after a tough match.” The manager of the bar in question defended the players, too: “They were great lads, not throwing the midgets,” he wrote on Facebook.
(News source)

If your standard for "great lads" is "not throwing the midgets," then your standards need some upward revision.

So, I wondered about the spurned wife, Zara Phillips. Here is a picture of her. Unfortunately she seems unaware that a truly enormous Luna moth has landed on her head.
So perhaps she won't learn of her hubby's grope-n-hope down in Kiwiland.

(nod to Gerardo)

(UPDATE: Gerardo notes that in fact "not throwing the midgets" is a good bright line rule, a one way test. He further points out that REAL friends can be counted on to take you out for a jar or two, if you are depressed, or sad, or dead.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Attn: West coast KPC fans

I, Angus will be giving a talk tomorrow at Claremont College.

Title is "Beyond Twin Peaks: Development and Polarization in the World Income Distribution".

The time is 10:30 - 12:00 the place is Kravis 367.

Be sure and say hi if you are a KPC reader.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gumby Fail

You have likely seen the Gumby Fail robbery. The news story.

But there is more. The cops said, "You are Gumby, dammit!" and arrested him.

Madcap Electoral College Hi-Jinks: Remember the Colorado

Them wascawwy Wepubwicans! Gonna take Penn proportional in the Electoral College! And the "fair and balanced" folks at NY Mag had this to say:

Pennsylvania, like every other state, is free to dole out its electoral votes however it wants. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature as well as the governorship, so if the GOP wants to switch over to a congressional-district apportionment system, all the Democrats can really do is whine. As Nick Baumann points out in Mother Jones today, the same thing could be repeated in other blue states across the country.

Democrats, meanwhile, don't have the ability to retaliate by splitting up the electoral votes of traditionally red states.

Democrats, Democrats, whatchagoando, whatchagoando when Cantor comes for you? Poor defenseless little things!

Except that our brave reporters didn't mention that the Dems have tried this same crap several times, most recently in Colorado. That paragon of virtue Kos was all excited, back then, in 2004. It was GREAT news, a brilliant strategy.

How come it's cheating if the Repubs do it? I agree it's a bad idea, but this seems like pretty selective reporting.

Germany's role in the PIIGS bailout in one easy collage

I think I'm in trouble

Here's an unbelievable story from San Francisco. A husband goes missing, the wife never reports it to the cops, then in February, the husband's body turns up buried underneath a new barbeque the wife built in the backyard (Jimmy Hoffa style). Today, it is announced that no charges will be filed against the wife!

I am now viewing Mrs. Angus's proposal for us to rebuild and extend our backyard deck in a whole new light.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oh Vladdy, is there ANYTHING you can't do?

Awesome photo essay on the Austin Powers of Dictators, Vladimir Putin.

Highly recommended.

A foolproof plan to balance the budget and stimulate the economy

As you may know, one of the ideas tossed around for dealing with the debt limit was to have the Treasury mint a trillion $ coin and then have the Fed "buy" it from them.

It is not well known, but totally true that Congress has already put the Fed on such a path since 2005 with an extra economic stimulus twist.

The Fed is mandated to buy new "presidential" dollar coins every year from the Treasury. It costs $0.30 to make them so Treasury is making bank. Plus, no one wants to use them so the Fed has to find/build storage facilities to house the unwanted coins.

Currently the Fed is holding over a billion of these coins in 28 different storage facilities.

People, all we need to do in these troubled times is double down on this excellent starter program. Make the Fed buy, say a trillion of these coins every year and store them.

That's $700 billion a year in new revenue and lots of construction jobs building new storage facilities. Plus those facilities will need managers, forklift operators, maintenance workers, security guards...

Hey, maybe the Treasury could make the coins even bigger!

I really don't see what could go wrong here.
Hat tip to 7im.

Hugo Chavez: doin' work

People, Hugo is getting it done down in Venezuela. It's only September (and he's taken some sick leave) but he's already "nationalized" 401 companies this year. Plus he's withdrawing from the World Bank's dispute settlement forum used to deal with claims by foreign investors.

He's also working to get Venezuelan assets in friendlier hands, transferring billions of dollars in deposits from US and Euro banks to banks in Russia, China, and Brazil (wow, Brazil, nice work to make Chavez associate you with Russia and China and not the "free world").

And of course there's his plan to airlift Venezuela's gold back to Caracas.

The idea is to make Venezuela's financial assets un-freezable.

I feel very sorry for the younger people of Venezuela. But the older ruling elites of the country brought Hurricane Hugo down on themselves and their descendants with their decades of incompetent, corrupt, short-sighted & elitist governance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Combo Meal! Not the Onion Meets the Grand Game!

This story is tremendous. It's not the Onion, and yet it could be.

Let's go with the Grand Game thing, though.

1. If there is ANY place that should have really big tables, it is White Castle.
2. "I'm not humongous..." Sir, if you weigh 290 lbs and you cannot wedge your giant ass into a table at a fast food restaurant, you are, in fact, humongous.
3. He is outraged because "the cheese was extra!"
4. He is so mad at White Castle that he is boycotting! By which he means... he sends his wife to go get the burgers! Nice boycott.

There's lots more. Enjoy.

(Nod to David Skarbek, who eats like a freakin' girl)

Congo Election Correction

In my earlier post about politics in the Congo, I may have said that there were 32 presidential candidates. That of course is ridiculous; there are only 12! 11 men, 1 woman, and two of the 11 men are the sons of previous dictators, one of which, incumbent Uncle Joe Kabila, is the likely winner.

Here are the 12:

Les candidats à l’élection présidentielle 2011:

Jean Andeka Djamba (ANCC)
Etienne Tshisekedi (UDPS)
François Joseph Nzanga Mobutu (Udemo)
Vital Kamerhe (UNC)
Kengo wa dondo (UFC)
Nicephore Kakese (URDC)
Joseph Kabila (Indépendant)
Oscar Kashala (UREC)
Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi (RCD-K/ML)
Adam Bombole (Indépendant)
Ngoy Mafuta (Indépendant)
Ismaël Kitenge (MRC-PTF)

Don't call me Shirley!

Unbelievable story out of Malaysia that "authorities" had to rescue an Orang from a provincial zoo at least partly because she'd become a heavy smoker.


Here's part of the AP story:

Government authorities seized the adult ape named Shirley from a state-run zoo in Malaysia's southern Johor state last week after she and several other animals there were deemed to be living in poor conditions.

Shirley is now being quarantined at another zoo in a neighboring state and is expected to be sent to a Malaysian wildlife center on Borneo island within weeks.

Melaka Zoo Director Ahmad Azhar Mohammed said Shirley is not being provided with any more cigarettes because "smoking is not normal behavior for orangutans."

Ya think?

I know there are serious arguments in favor of having zoos, but stuff like this really makes me question their existence.

I hope that the wildlife center on Borneo is Sepilok. Mrs. Angus and I have visited, and it's an amazing place.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wrong Day to Go For "Mile High" Club

Story out of Detroit:

Police detained three passengers at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport on Sunday after the crew of the Frontier Airlines flight from Denver reported suspicious activity on board and NORAD officials sent F-16 jets to shadow the flight until it landed safely, the airline and federal officials said.

Flight 623, with 116 passengers on board, landed without incident in Detroit after the crew reported that two people were spending an unusual amount of time in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said.

So, fine that two adults were in the bathroom at once. They were just there "an unusual amount of time." What is the USUAL amount of time for two people to be in an airplane bathroom that, frankly, barely contains one Mungowitz?  Who cares?  Why are you bothering these people?  Leave them alone!

And, THREE people were arrested? That bathroom must have looked like one of those clown cars in the circus: "All right come out, Jeez, pull your pants up. And you, too. Okay...WAIT, another one? Ewwww...."

I sure hope this is not the arrest photo.

Apparently Dilbert agrees with me (and not with my lovely wife)

Well, it's not exactly what I was saying about the future of work, but it's close!

Fixing Social Security: Opposite Day

Had a rather spirited discussion with a friend, with him taking the side that Gov. Perry was out of line calling Soc Sec a "Ponzi scheme." And with me being loudly incredulous that anyone could think Soc Sec is anything OTHER than a Ponzi scheme.

A-Tab is sensible, but confirms the thing is a Ponzi scheme.

Both of the St. Pauls (Samuelson and Krugman), dear to the left, call it a Ponzi scheme.

But, on reflection, I agree with the view here. Soc Sec is not a Ponzi scheme, because it is much, much worse than a Ponzi scheme. Even if you take the Mother Jones view on this (and I rarely quote from Mother Jones, for some reason), it 's pretty clear:

...the real problem with Dalmia's description is the notion that Social Security collects money from new investors and uses it to pay off previous investors. It's easy enough to see why people believe this: it was, basically, the way the program was initially sold. And politicians ever since have found it convenient to continue this fiction. Seniors today are all convinced that the money they paid into the program during their working years was somehow saved up for them and now they're getting it back.

But that's always been a lie. Social Security is actually a much simpler program than that. I'm going to put the rest of this paragraph in bold so you can't possibly miss it. Here's how Social Security works: every month we take in taxes from working people and every month we turn around and distribute those taxes to retirees. That's it. That's how it works, and everyone who actually knows anything about the program knows that's how it works. Taxes come in, benefits go out.
(Emphasis in bright blood letters mine, not in original; bold emphasis was in original)

Did you get that? Soc Sec is a lie, a fraud. And that's Mother Jones, well-known branch of Fox News. Not.

Some definitions: A Ponzi scheme
(1) depends on a constantly increasing membership to pay benefits or validate excessive returns to the older member, and
(2) is unsustainable at some point, in the sense that payments exceed revenues by increasing amounts, meaning that new members are needed, and
(3) those new members have to be recruited either through fraud or force, since informed and autonomous new members know that they have little hope of being paid back.

This could be
(A) because the older members get greedy, and take larger and larger amounts out of the system, or
(B) because the number of new members entering the system is not sufficient to pay the benefits already promised.

Some points:
* Mitchell Zuckoff, quoted here, claims “Ponzi schemes are, by definition, fraud.” He may be wrong about other things, too, but he is clearly wrong about this. First of all, Soc Sec is in fact a fraud, as our Mother Jones correspondent ably exegeted. Second, even if people KNOW that the system is unsustainable, the system is Ponzi, because it is an intentionally created bubble. All that is necessary is conditions (1) and (2), NOT fraud. People trade in bubbles long after they know the underlying assets have no real value, as Charles Plott and Vernon Smith have showed. Third, even if the bubble has burst, fraud is not required as long as force is an option. And force is worse than fraud, unless you are a leftist and think you are just forcing other idiots to be free. I have to ask: Does Mr. Zuckoff seriously believe that young people would voluntarily sign up for Soc Sec, if they had an option? Look, fraud means you get screwed unexpectedly. Force means we all tell you young folks you are going to get screwed, and then we screw you, good and hard. At least it's not fraud, right? (Here, again, Mr. Zuckoff asserts Ponzi schemes have to be fraudulent. My claim is that he's wrong; all they have to be is involuntary. Either fraud or choice under duress, which have equal standing as violation of common law contract agreements, are enough to make a scheme Ponzi.)

* And the "It's not a Ponzi, because it can be fixed" argument? It can only be fixed if we kidnap, and then take more money at gunpoint from, "investors." Charles Ponzi's scheme failed because he didn't have tanks. Our President has tanks, and can force new "investors" to pony up. If THAT is your defense of why Soc Sec is not Ponzi, you need to go rethink some basic assumptions about "investement." Being forced to invest at gunpoint is theft. And that's worse than anything Mr. Ponzi could have done. The only reason that Soc Sec is not fraud is that people have no choice about contributing. If it were voluntary, then fraud would be required to get them to sign up. Sure, we can fix this, but only by using force.

* Finally, my friend told me, "Soc Sec is not a Ponzi scheme, because it has served millions of people with income." Dude! Any successful Ponzi scheme, by definition, serves the people who get in early. In fact, most Ponzi schemes serve the first movers much BETTER than Soc Sec has served retirees. The problem with Ponzis is not what happens to the first in, but rather the raping received by the last in. The only reason Soc Sec is working is that Soc Sec REQUIRES young people to become new investors. Again, if Charles Ponzi had been able to recruit by garnishing wages with "payroll taxes," that first Ponzi scheme might still be running along just fine.

Stepping back: I admit that originally, Soc Sec was not a Ponzi scheme, by my definition. But then Congress realized that there was a huge Baby Boom bubble, and created the Trust Fund. And THEN Congress realized that while one could not get reelected by doing the right thing and leaving the Trust Fund alone, one certainly COULD get reelected by looting the Trust Fund now and giving much larger benefits, especially in the Disability and Supplemental categories. (As Coach Duke said, "The pension fund was just sitting there!")

So, when the Baby Boom bulge in retirements happened, Soc Sec became a Ponzi scheme. The benefits were much too large, the Trust Fund was actually debt, not assets, in a period of large deficits. And we don't have nearly enough new people entering the system to keep you fat ass 'Boomers in scones and lattes.

Now, our President, who seems to think every day is "Opposite Day," proposes to solve the Soc Sec problem and the unemployment problem by... by... (I can't say it)... cutting the taxes that finance Soc Sec. Not, mind you, as part of an overall plan with offsetting cuts to make Soc Sec NOT a Ponzi scheme.

Now it will be a Ponzi scheme on stilts, with gold plating.

Except, as SD at Reason notes, this Ponzi scheme will not collapse. Instead, men with guns will find some way to finance it. Deficits are future taxes.

A photo of our plan to fix Soc Sec (it's a metaphor; a "deep" metaphor)

Social Security is WORSE than a Ponzi scheme

Alex T., in a brilliant smackdown, noted that even Paul Samuelson called SS a Ponzi scheme.

But I'm here to say that SS is actually worse than that.

In garden variety Ponzi schemes, if you don't want to put your money in, you don't have to!

You can "opt out" of any private investment scheme that doesn't pass your smell test.

Good luck opting out of SS; it's a Ponzi scheme on steroids where the scammers have guns and judges and jails.