Monday, November 07, 2011

How not to write!

Dutch Boy sends a link, and a viewpoint.

The link....

The viewpoint: This 'piece' should be plastered on every school room wall with 'How not to write' written above it. Amazing. She's a PhD candidate at, not surprisingly, Harvard. I thought it might be a satirical piece,

But it's not I'm afraid. Pretty bloated and pretentious stuff, from top to bottom. See if you can read it all the way through. Go ahead, try.

Well, Dutch Boy: I did try. And I sort of did read it, all the way through. But I have no idea what it was trying to say. The impressive thing is that this is likely the third or fourth draft, at least. So it has been cleaned up and clarified considerably.

Fat People are Impatient and Time-Inconsistent

Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity

Charles Courtemanche, Garth Heutel & Patrick McAlvanah, NBER Working Paper, October 2011

Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between time preferences, economic incentives, and body mass index (BMI). Using data from the 2006 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we first show that greater impatience increases BMI and the likelihood of obesity even after controlling for demographic, human capital, occupational, and financial characteristics as well as risk preference. Next, we provide evidence of an interaction effect between time preference and food prices, with cheaper food leading to the largest weight gains among those exhibiting the most impatience. The interaction of changing economic incentives with heterogeneous discounting may help explain why increases in BMI have been concentrated amongst the right tail of the distribution, where the health consequences are especially severe. Lastly, we model time-inconsistent preferences by computing individuals' quasi-hyperbolic discounting parameters (beta and delta). Both long-run patience (delta) and present-bias (beta) predict BMI, suggesting obesity is partly attributable to rational intertemporal tradeoffs but also partly to time inconsistency.

Nod to Kevin Lewis

It was 1979

Dutch Boy sends this video. It was 1979. Pretty impressive.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tosser v. Wanker

Okay, so the above sounds like a legal case, perhaps where a sociologist is suing an English prof.

But it is a serious question of "dicktion." (Apologies; couldn't help meself)

Both names are insults, clearly, and both refer to Onanism. (I assume that women are never called tossers / wankers, yes?* I mean, they can technically do the analogous thing, but it's just not the same. Brits, or Tommy the Brit, feel free to join in here...)

My impression is that calling someone a wanker implies total dismissal, not just an insult but saying the person wanking is beneath contempt.

Tosser is in relative terms more jovial, less insulting. The tosser is perhaps a pompous and useless idiot, but a wanker is not serious, someone who is just fooling around. In short, then, Andrew Lansley is arguably a tosser, but Justin Bieber is clearly a wanker.

Of course, I probably have this wrong. Since I am going to London soon to visit Tommy the Brit, I need advice.

Wanker, or Tosser, for the well informed visitor looking for just that right holiday insult? Some other possibilities...

*I found some references that would claim that a female tosser is a "strummer." But that misses the point. The goal is not to find a word for a woman pleasing herself (as the '80s Franklin-Lennox anthem said, "Sisters are doing it for themselves!"). Rather, the question is what is the analogous INSULT. I also found "bean flicker." I wish I hadn't found that, but I did.

D-Boo Deals

I think D-Boo pretty much p'wns this guy. But to be fair the other guy appears to be an idiot.

Still, give credit where credit is due: Donald Boudreaux, we salute you! Grow on, you crazy China! I would like for all of us to be rich, NOT for the US to be dominant.

Main Dog Faces Difficult Choice

As many of you know, our main dog is Hobo (aka "The Wonder Dog.")  He'll also answer to Ho-dizzle, of course, if it's done respectfully.  (Tanzie, our safety back-up dog, is kept around in case the main dog goes down, as often happens.)

Yesterday Hobo faced the kind of difficult choice that only a Wonder Dog could hope to solve successfully.  It was quite cold, so I built a nice fire.  But the sun coming in the picture window has reached the angle where it is very warm also.  Well, you see the problem.

Not even a Wonder Dog can be in two places at once.  So Hobo divided his forces. He scooted his butt as close as he could get it to the fire, and then kept his front half in the sun.  This optimization problem was so tiring that he needed a nap.

Women Drivers: A Political Test

Women drivers make me nuts.  They are (as a central tendency, obviously with variance) timid and unwilling to drive effectively.  I have spent far too much of my life waiting behind a woman waiting to turn left.  As long as there is a car VISIBLE coming the other way, the lady waits.  If I blow my horn, nothing happens except she totally freezes up.  She may flip me off.  But she won't ever pull out.  (This is safer, in a sense, but it causes accidents all around this island of timid female tranquility)

The LMM agrees that all driving, from taxis to bus driving to personal driving, should be done by men.  We'd all be safer, and less frustrated.

PROVIDED that in exchange we agree that all political offices above, say, state Senate are held by only women.  And in particular those offices where decisions about going to war would be held by women.  Again, we'd all be safer.  The same impulse that makes men better drivers makes them worse decision makers on the whole war thing.

And Condi Rice and Maggie Thatcher don't count.  Give them a driving test.  Unless they DRIVE like women, they don't get to make war decisions.  

(And, yes, of course we jest.  When one controls for other factors, especially for whether the aggressive act is "prosocial," as in the case of war, women are experimentally indistinguishable from men.  And they are better drivers.  Still it was fun.)

Adam Kokesh

There is in fact a danger in supporting the Iraq War, either as a Krugmaniac growth strategy or as good foreign policy.  Not only will you be wrong, you will also sound like a moron.

Full disclosure:  I know Adam Kokesh pretty well.  It's quite true that he's an extremist.  In the sense that he says stuff that is clearly correct that most people have no idea how to respond to.

Paul Krugman: meet a libertarian

One thing that amazed me in Mungo's Krugmanectomy below is Paul saying, "Spend money on some useful goal, like the promotion of new energy sources, and people start screaming, 'Solyndra! Waste!' Spend money on a weapons system we don’t need, and those voices are silent, because nobody expects F-22s to be a good business proposition."

Let's ignore the loaded phrases like "useful goal" and "we don't need" as those are purely statement of preferences (i.e. unproven and unprovable), and concentrate on the claim that people who object to the Solyndra Subsidy are silent on big Pentagon programs.

Paul, meet me and my ilk. We are libertarians.

We are against out of control military spending and bogus business subsidies. Not just to "green" firms like Solyndra but to big corporations and big agriculture. We rail against Solyndra, perpetual wars, ethanol subsidies, $700 billion dollar defense budgets and all manner of policies that distort incentives and cause people to act in sub-optimal ways.

walking through a doorway increases chances of forgetting

Walking through a doorway increases the chances of forgetting what you were doing, or why you went into the room.

Okay, I went to the kitchen and got some coffee. Wait... why was I writing this?

(Nod to the Blonde)

P-Kroog's new prescription for growth: Whimsy-Cal!

Military spending does create jobs when the economy is depressed. Indeed, much of the evidence that Keynesian economics works comes from tracking the effects of past military buildups. Some liberals dislike this conclusion, but economics isn’t a morality play: spending on things you don’t like is still spending, and more spending would create more jobs. But why would anyone prefer spending on destruction to spending on construction, prefer building weapons to building bridges? John Maynard Keynes himself offered a partial answer 75 years ago, when he noted a curious 'preference for wholly ‘wasteful’ forms of loan expenditure rather than for partly wasteful forms, which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict ‘business’ principles.' Indeed. Spend money on some useful goal, like the promotion of new energy sources, and people start screaming, 'Solyndra! Waste!' Spend money on a weapons system we don’t need, and those voices are silent, because nobody expects F-22s to be a good business proposition. To deal with this preference, Keynes whimsically suggested burying bottles full of cash in disused mines and letting the private sector dig them back up. In the same vein, I recently suggested that a fake threat of alien invasion, requiring vast anti-alien spending, might be just the thing to get the economy moving again. NYTimes

So, all you lefty bedwetters who wanted to defend Krugman as being "not serious" about the alien invasion thing...what now? I guess you have a new answer: Krugman was NOT serious, but he had overdosed on that new Keynesian diet supplement: "Whimsy-Cal!"

The alternative is that we need GW Bush back in office. Right? Elective wars are good for the U.S. and good for the digestive system. Or was that madcap P-Kroog just being "Whimsy-Cal" again?

UPDATE: Some pretty good reasons why this "Whimsy-Cal" thing is pretty dangerous.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Stephen Fry on Speech and Being Offended

Since I am all excited about V for Vendetta, let me share some thoughts from Stephen Fry, who played the doomed talk show host.
Do be sure and click for a much more gloriously offensive image.

End of Abundance

KPC friend and water economics uber-mensch David Zetland has a newversion of his book out. Very cool and refreshing, if you can get it. Like clean water, actually.

ODC Food Tent

Anonyman sends this photo with the caption "food tent" from the Self-Obsessed DC protest.

Several of you have asked, "Who is Anonyman?" I can only answer by quoting from V for Vendetta: "I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is..." But, okay, here is a picture of Anonyman, hanging with his peeps in the street at Occupy DC.

The entire V speech, if you want it. And you KNOW you want it.

Hot Chicks of OWS

Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street from Steven Greenstreet on Vimeo.

Thanks to the Bishop, whose interests are of course entirely anthropological.

First they came for the puppeteers.....

Man oh man oh man. Liberals are so funny. Check out this article from The Nation.

Here's the awesome beginning:

"A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand, he went looking for work at his old school. The intervening years had been brutal to the city’s school budgets—down about 14 percent on average since 2007. A virtual hiring freeze has been in place since 2009 in most subject areas, arts included, and spending on art supplies in elementary schools crashed by 73 percent between 2006 and 2009. So even though Joe’s old principal was excited to have him back, she just couldn’t afford to hire a new full-time teacher. Instead, he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”; he writes his own curriculum, holds regular classes and does everything a normal teacher does. “But sub pay is about 50 percent of a full-time salaried position,” he says, “so I’m working for half as much as I did four years ago, before grad school, and I don’t have health insurance…. It’s the best-paying job I could find.”Like a lot of the young protesters who have flocked to Occupy Wall Street, Joe had thought that hard work and education would bring, if not class mobility, at least a measure of security (indeed, a master’s degree can boost a New York City teacher’s salary by $10,000 or more). But the past decade of stagnant wages for the 99 percent and million-dollar bonuses for the 1 percent has awakened the kids of the middle class to a national nightmare: the dream that coaxed their parents to meet the demands of work, school, mortgage payments and tuition bills is shattered. Down is the new up."

Yikes! Where to begin. First of all, Joe started the story as "a full time drama teacher" in an NYC elementary school. How can that be a job that taxpayers are paying for? Jeebus help us all. Then Joe, or as I like to call him, the luckiest man in the world, turned into Joe the stupidest man in the world by SPENDING 3 YEARS AND BORROWING $35,0000 TO GET A MASTERS DEGREE IN $%#$$ PUPPETRY!!!!

Now he seems stunned to find out that he has a much much worse job than before.

And the magazine is using his case as it's opening wedge to indict the American economic system.

People, I say the system was failing when this guy was an elementary school drama teacher. Right now the system is working exactly as it should. You take 3 years out of your career path to get an MFA in puppets, you become basically unemployable.

Obviously there are real people with real problems unemployed and struggling due to no fault or error of their own. A 9% unemployment rate with our current social safety net is just not acceptable.

But I have no sympathy for the folks who borrowed a lot of money to go and earn a dumb-ass graduate degree and now find they can't make big money.

If you decide to "pursue your passion" in an un-economic area, don't be surprised when the economic system doesn't value you highly, and don't think that the problem is the system; the problem is you.

Friday, November 04, 2011

A little knowledge is....the BBC!

This is one of the best stats teachable moments I think I have seen in a long time.

An article was published, listing cancer rates of an admittedly dangerous disease.

The BooBC weighs in, noting that the variation is three times as large for some parts of this nationwide sample.

Dr. Goldacre, perhaps a trifle gleefully, points out that these are SEPARATE local samples, and they have associated variance that comes from the sample size. He writes a nice piece, with a fine funnel graph, and notes that the internet is a groovy, groovy thing, because it enables people like this to check things stated as fact by experts like the BooBC.

The BBC "stands by its story." They failed, utterly, to understand the very basic mistake they had made in looking at the information. (Of course, in journalism indoctrination school, they never had to learn any of those nasty stats stuff!)

As Dr. Goldacre put it in a tweet: "Dear sir, I have completely failed to understand a simple criticism of our work, please tell everyone, yours, BBCnews"

My own favorite bit is that in the BBC rebuttal, there are two parts:
1. We did not make a mistake.
2. Why are you picking on us? Lots of people made the same mistake!

Fantastic stuff. A Lagniappe: they are holding a "Bowel Cancer Comedy Night." No way even the Onion could get away with that.

Best Political Ads in Bizarro Terms

Which one would Angus prefer? Close call, but the content of the bald son of Nippon would win, I think....

Most humble thanks to Erik V at Monkey Cage

Grand Game: Madison Wisconsin ID Edition

I actually can't believe this is true. Which calls out for the Grand Game.

Bars are not allowed to demand valid ID in deciding whether you are of drinking age in Madision, WI.

This is not like voting rights. Even there, I'm not sure that asking for ID is wrong. But at least that is some kind of fundamental right.

There is NOT a fundamental right to drink in a private bar. And the idea that bars would try to discriminate to keep paying customers out, in WISCONSIN, is pretty nuts.

Nod to the Blonde, who at this point is desperately hoping someone will card her...

Election--Calc U Later!

Interesting little calculator. You make assumptions, it predicts results.

It may not predict results very well, but these models are surprisingly accurate.

Nod to Anonyman, who is enjoying this circus way too much.

More on the NBA lockout

After Tyler linked to our inaugural Grantland piece, many of the commenters at Tyler's site were complaining that the situation regarding losses is symmetric for each side, and thus the owners have just as much to lose as the players.

But people, it is NOT symmetric.

First, the owners are losing net revenues, the players their gross revenues. Do we really think operating profits are >= labor costs?

Second and more important, owners are sacrificing short run net revenues for long run benefits. If they can shift the cost curve, then the present value of the long run savings should get capitalized into their franchise values. The current owners can capture the long run benefits from "winning".

By contrast, the current players have no capture-able long run economic gains to motivate short run pain. They only gain what ever revenue increases they get over their playing days. They don't have a long run claim on the revenue stream they are sacrificing to try and protect.

It doesn't get much more asymmetric than that.

You're Gonna Have to Face It, You're Addicted to Coke

Coca Cola, that is.

This boy named "Sue" is suing to claim that the evil capitalist conspirators intentionally caused him to become addicted to a sugary drink.

Hey, I Know You!

Somebody versus nobody: An exploration of the role of celebrity status in an election

Lara Zwarun & Angela Torrey, Social Science Journal, forthcoming

Abstract: This study examines the role celebrity status may play in potential voters’ evaluation of a political candidate presented in a newspaper article. Participants indicated greater intention to vote for a candidate who was a recognizable Hollywood actor than an unknown candidate in a political race, regardless of how substantive the political information provided about the candidate was. This suggests that familiarity with a celebrity can act as a heuristic in peripheral processing. Younger people were more likely to vote for a celebrity candidate than older voters, but how liberal or conservative participants are was not a significant factor in the decision to vote for the celebrity. Nor did participants’ need for cognition or level of political involvement predict intention to vote for the celebrity, suggesting that celebrity status is meaningful to motivated and thoughtful voters as well as those who are less motivated and informed. The possibility is raised that this could be an indication of celebrity status being used as a component of deliberate political decision-making, and future research in this direction is suggested.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


RL in Toronto sends this article, and notes that someone should explain moral hazard to the researchers.

As KPC hero Gordon Tullock suggested, if you wanted to increase auto safety, you might do this:  

In other words, if players were safer, they would play more aggressively, and the net effect (that's a hockey goal joke!) would be close to zero. People choose their own level of risk. Safer equipment, more risk = no change injuries.

(pic credit to EconoBonus, even though he attributes the idea to Peltzman. EconoBonus's "Fact 2" is not a fact at all, I should say: deaths and injuries per mile have fallen, not risen. It's just an example, though. It's true Peltzman did good research on the subject...)

To be fair, both death rates and injury rates have actually fallen sharply for cars. The effect on pedestrians is ambiguous. I think the most you can say about the Peltzman effect is that the improvements in health that result from improvements in safety may be less than you expect. They do NOT appear to wash out completely. Safer cars and safer roads really do appear to have reduced injuries, by quite a bit.

Your Eurozone deathwatch update

1. The Greek government has replaced all the heads of their military branches with officers considered more friendly to the regime.

Wow! Given Greece's history, that is a stunner. The left fears a coup? This might get even uglier that I had imagined.

2. Italian bond yields are up to 6.4% and Berlusconi is coming to the G-20 Summit empty handed.

Italy's public debt is on the cusp of explosive dynamics, where the higher interest rate on new debt combined with a low economic growth rate causes the debt to GDP ratio to continually rise even if the Italian budget is in primary balance (spending net of interest payments = revenues).

People, the Euro as we know it is over. I say it's a coin flip to last until Christmas and maybe 15% to last until spring break.

Germany and France are asking Greece, "do you want to stay in or not?" and Greece is saying "what, are you guys deaf?".

I am not sure what Germany and France are up to. If Greece goes, Italy definitely goes and that's game, set & match.
If they want to keep the Euro together they need to take on Greek debt as their own and settle in for a long hard slog dealing with Italy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"They are hoping that China will want to buy Europe"

I'd do anything for love but I won't do that

KPC friend David Tufte reports that his university (Southern Utah) is looking for faculty members willing to let students stay at their house for the rest of the semester!

I am not making this up.

Are there no navigable bodies of water nearby where the kids could stay on cruise ships for the semester like they are doing at St. Mary's college in Maryland?

Academics out there: what's the weirdest thing your university has asked you to do?

Marriage Proposal

<a href=';from=en-us_msnhp&amp;rel=msn&amp;cpkey=aab32b49-f0d1-48f1-8c9a-3282321b447d%7cviral+videos%7cmsn%7c%7c&amp;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Insane Marriage Proposal'>Video: Insane Marriage Proposal</a>

Note the size of the rock on the ring at the end.  The LMM's reaction:  "If you had given me a ring like that, you could jumped off the roof, too."

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cheap Sex as a Collective Action Failure

I had Laura Sessions Step, author of UNHOOKED, in at Duke to give a talk a few years ago.  Her question, simplifying a bit, is why do young women make themselves so available, unmarried, to young men in hopes of making themselves, the young women happy?  (This clearly makes the young men happy, but that's beside the point).

Pileus has a simpler and cleaner explanation.

This downward spiral that women have been caught in—the dwindling supply of available men induces women to make themselves even more sexually available than the next women in order to compete, thereby further dampening the supply of potential mates—seems impossible to break out of. At the heart of the problem is a classic, Olsonian collective action failure. All women would benefit if, collectively, women were to require more of men they had sex with. But every woman knows that her behavior, by itself, will not cause market prices to change, so she cheats—and by “cheats” I mean she cheats the female collective. The problem with this free riding behavior is that everyone faces the same incentives and there is not an effective punishment for cheating. The result: men get more sex and women can’t find mates. Such are the fruits of feminism.
Maybe the old (some would say sexist) adage that “good girls don’t” had something going for it after all.

Los Repartimientos

Did Media Frenzy Contribute to Stock Collapse of Fiancial Institutions?

The Role of Media in the Credit Crunch: The Case of the Banking Sector

Tomasz Piotr Wisniewski & Brendan Lambe, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming

Abstract: Using a Vector Autoregression framework, this paper investigates the dynamic relationship between the intensity of negative media speculation and the market performance of financial institutions. Evidence is provided that over the sub-prime crisis period pessimistic coverage Granger-caused the returns on banking indices, while causality in the opposite direction proved weaker. These findings may imply that journalists not only report on the state of economic reality, but also play an active role in creating it. Investors acting upon sentiment implicit in media reports would have been able to improve their investment performance, as measured by Sharpe ratios and Jensen's alphas.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

The Golden Rule

Tyler and I wrote a piece for on the NBA labor situation. The link is here.

Bill Simmons approached Tyler and he magnanimously cut me in on the deal.

Simmons also asked us to write an introductory paragraph about ourselves and our connection to basketball. This is what we wrote:

Tyler and Kevin are academic economists who share a love of basketball. For years they held Washington Bullets season tickets, trekking from suburban Virginia to the Cap Centre. Their all-time favorite Bullet is Rex Chapman. Now cruelly separated by geography, Kevin is an OKC Thunder ticket-holder, while Tyler anxiously awaits the return of a professional basketball franchise to the DC area.

Sadly, what ended up appearing in the article was this:

Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier are both economists. They are also both basketball fans. Here's their take on the NBA lockout.

Sorry Rex!!!!