Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Context, Context, Context

Wow. Some folks over at Daily Kos have themselves all upset. They quote me, from a debate in 2009.

“The United States is not a democracy and shouldn’t be,” said Michael Munger, Duke University’s Political Science Department chairman and a 2008 Libertarian gubernatorial candidate attacking it at a League of Women Voters forum. “There is NO moral force in the majority. It is just what most people happen to think.”
The Corporatists/Christianists/CU have NOW spoken what and why many of us 99% are fighting against. They said that we, the 99% Have NO MORAL (christian values???) force. We don't know how to pick and choose between good and bad LEADERS?

Um....some context, folks.

1. It was a DEBATE. The League of Women Voters wanted a debate, with one side arguing FOR the Electoral College and one arguing AGAINST. I drew "for" the EC, and argued it. I could just as easily have argued "against." I am actually agnostic on the question of the Electoral College. But for the sake of a debate, I was willing to argue the case for the Electoral College. That's not a policy paper I did, it's a DEBATE. Quoting those claims and attributing them to me is pretty dumb, even by the standards of Daily Kos.  It would be just as wrong to have attributed to me the claims I would have made if I had drawn the "against" position.  IT. WAS. A. DEBATE.

2. I do stand by the "majority does not define morality" point. Two examples:
  • First Amendment to the US Constitution. Just because the majority happens to be Christian doesn't mean that the majority gets to impose Christian prayers in schools. Morality has to stay separate from Majority.
  • Second example: Roe v. Wade. Suppose a state has a majority that wants to outlaw abortion. Roe v. Wade says they don't get to. Roe v. Wade says, "No democracy on this question. It is an individual rights question."  There are lots of other examples.  But presumably the Daily Kosoids actually agree in those two instances that majorities should be prevented from forcing their will on the rest of us.  That's the American system.  We are NOT a democracy, because of the Bill of Rights.  Majorities cannot trample the rights of individuals.
So....it was a DEBATE.  I don't care much one way or the other about Electoral College, but as an intellectual assigned to a debate position I am capable of arguing either side, to help the audience make up their own minds.  That's the tradition of debate.  And the idea that majorities are not always right is enshrined in the 1st Amendment, and in the Roe v. Wade decision.

Let's just assume this was a simple misunderstanding....

Why Are Our Prisons Overcrowded?

Why are our prisons overcrowded?

a. Too many criminals
b. Too many laws
c. Not enough prisons

If you answered "b", you are CORRECT, sir!

Lots of background and graphics.

burying the lede

People, I don't care if it has over 1,000 calories or 54 grams of fat.

The only thing you really need to know about Jack-in-the-Box's "bacon" milkshake is this:


Come on, regulatory leviathan. Do your damn job.

People, if you want a real bacon dessert, for now you'll have to go to Denny's:

Monday, February 06, 2012

Praise the Lord & pass the ammunition!

Gisele made the switch from prayer to carpet-bombing pretty smoothly:

You [have] to catch the ball when you're supposed to catch the ball," she snapped back. "My husband cannot [expletive] throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time. I can't believe they dropped the ball so many times."

Court Gives Half a Loaf: NC Primary Still On

I have no idea what is going to happen in May.

There was supposed to be a set of primaries.

But the Repubs did what good partisan piggies do (and Democ partisan piggies did, and did again this year in Maryland), and redrew the district boundaries.

Here's the hilarious part. The contention of the Democs, and apparently with a straight face, is that the districts are (gasp!) racially gerrymandered! The court decisions let the primaries go forward, but allow the litigation that would invalidate the primaries to go forward, also. Really?

Here is a picture of the NC 12th District. It was explicitly created to draw a fence around all the black people in sight, to ensure a majority minority district. Some places it is no wider than I-85 (hint: no one lives in I-85, so this is just to achieve technical contiguity, without adding any actual people).

That's not a picture of a river, folks. That's a congressional district. Drawn by the Democs in the NCGA, and endorsed by your Dept of Justiciability.

Okay, fair enough: racial gerrymandering is clearly okay. That "map" is drawn to pick up every African-American neighborhood from Durham to Charlotte, a distance of more than 100 miles.

But then why is it okay for the Democs to do egregious racial gerrymandering, and not okay for Repubs to do some political gerrymandering? The reason the Repubs did this is not racial, it's just good ol' partisanship. Blacks tend to vote Democ. If you are going to create Democ districts, it will likely look like racial gerrymandering.

And if you think that racial gerrymandering is bad, you have to start by breaking up the 12th district. If you don't break up the 12th, you are just a partisan demagogue, and you should STFU.

End game for Greece?

The "Troika" (EC, ECB, IMF) is laying the smackdown on poor little Greece with demands of immediate public sector wage cuts, the closing of unprofitable publicly owned firms, and other spending cuts in exchange for the next "bailout" payment.

Supposedly, the "technocratic" (meaning unelected and troika-friendly) Greek PM can't get political buy-in, and without the "bailout" Greece could default quite soon.

While all this may just be weird Euro-posturing, I think that Germany and the EU is trying to show Greece the door.

I guess they think that the ECB's massive lending to banks has put them in a position to survive the default, but if I were them I'd be a bit more worried about what will happen in Portugal if Greece defaults and what might happen in Spain or Italy when Portugal defaults.

I think that if the Troika wants to keep the Eurozone intact, they should be putting much fewer conditions and burdens on Greece, not adding them.

Property and Disputes Over Property

Trial by Battle

Peter Leeson
Journal of Legal Analysis, Spring 2011, Pages 341-375

Abstract: For over a century England's judicial system decided land disputes by ordering disputants' legal representatives to bludgeon one another before an arena of spectating citizens. The victor won the property right for his principal. The vanquished lost his cause and, if he were unlucky, his life. People called these combats trials by battle. This paper investigates the law and economics of trial by battle. In a feudal world where high transaction costs confounded the Coase theorem, I argue that trial by battle allocated disputed property rights efficiently. It did this by allocating contested property to the higher bidder in an all-pay auction. Trial by battle's "auctions" permitted rent seeking. But they encouraged less rent
seeking than the obvious alternative: a first-price ascending-bid auction.


The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic
History of Whalers' Rules of Capture

Bart Wilson et al.
Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, forthcoming

Abstract: This article uses a laboratory experiment to probe the proposition that property emerges anarchically out of social custom. We test the hypothesis that whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries developed rules of conduct that minimized the sum of the transaction and production costs of capturing their prey, the primary implication being that different ecological conditions led to different rules of capture. Ceteris paribus, we find that simply imposing two different types of prey is insufficient to observe two different rules of capture. Another factor is essential, namely, as Samuel Pufendorf theorized over 300 years ago, that the members of the community are civil minded.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Fixie Index: The Hipsterest Places in America

The Fixie Index. Is YOUR town hip?

I can't imagine riding a bike like that. Literally cannot imagine doing it, or wanting to. I mean, just read this. Or this, a fixie in action (though, if he didn't see her, not sure why the lack of brakes is a problem...)

Not for me. Proving (as if proof were required) that I am NOT a hipster. This is not exactly a "stop the presses" announcement, I realize.

Of Course Economists Cannot Predict. Why Would You Think They Could?

Ha, ha, the funny stupid economists, can't predict anything.

But one of the conclusions of economics is that prediction is literally impossible.  At least public prediction.  If I publicly announce a policy of inflation, to increase growth, and people believe me, then the inflation is anticipated and the real growth effects are just about zero. Note that it doesn't matter whether the "announcement" is made by the Fed-o'-the-One-Bullet (as Angus has pointed out repeatedly) or by an economist who "knows" what the Fed is going to do.

Economic forecasts would only be made, or listened to, by people who don't know any economics.  So, sure, this sort of study confirms that.  But the conclusion is not that economists are bad at predicting.  It's that prediction is literally impossible, because of strategic reaction.

Suppose I publicly predict you are going to throw "rock" in an RPS game, and your opponent believes me. If you WERE going to throw rock, you would know that your opponent would be throwing paper. So you would switch to scissors.

It's worse than Heisenberg.  It's worse than Hawthorne.  In terms of the observer/predictor affecting the phenomenon being studied.  It's economics!  You can't possibly predict things.  Now, if someone pays me, I'll come up with a "prediction."  But I won't believe it.

Who should you be laughing at?  The morons who pay economists to come up with predictions.  You might as well hire meteorologists.

It's just me and Christy, me and Christy, me, me, me & Christy!

Last week, I begged to differ with a guy claiming that manufacturing was indeed special because people earned a wage premium simply by entering the sector, or as he put it, that there were "labor market rents" associated with getting a manufacturing job.

Turns out Christina Romer has my back!

She points out that (a) on the low skill end, manufacturing pay premia have shrunk and likely will continue to shrink, and (b) increased technical sophistication in manufacturing has created more jobs that require higher skills. She points out that the number of manufacturing workers with some college education has more than doubled.  Thus, subsidizing manufacturing is NOT likely to reduce income inequality in the US.

Romer attributes the shrinking premium to low skill workers to increased international competition, while I attributed it to both that factor and the decline of union strength. She doesn't point out that there is an upside to increased international competition, namely lower priced goods for American consumers.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The culture that is Japan

or, high art in low places.

People, we have a long way to go to catch up with the Japanese. Feast your eyes:

many more great ones here.

It's Hilarious to be an Idiot

It's an anti-intellectual wave, sweeping America.

Urope.  I liked that one.


Kevin Durant was amazing last night. His line, 36 points (on 24 shots), 10 boards, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals, was impressive. But his repeated clutch plays at the end of the game were eye-popping. A three to give the Thunder the lead for good. A leaning jumper as the shot clock expired to extend the lead. Clutch free throws. A shot block and a key rebound.

He did all of this despite being exhausted (he logged 44 minutes and playing the entire second half).

Durant and James Harden owned the 4th quarter and the Thunder won a game in which they were clearly outplayed in the first 36 minutes.

Not sure what KD will have in the tank for tonight's game in San Antonio, but Mrs. Angus and I really enjoyed watching him play last night.

By the way, have you seen Durant's latest commercial?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Whatever you do, don't be yourself!

Great essay in Inside Higher Ed on how "just be yourself" is horrible advice for academics going out on the job market.

Immortal line: "Sorry Academics; you suck at interviewing".

Mrs. Angus and I very very much emphasize to our students that they absolutely should NOT be themselves and spend a month or two before the job market working with them to project a professional persona. We run them through multiple rounds of practice interviews and practice job talks.

We were lucky this year to each have an excellent student on the market, each of whom had a full dance card at the AEAs and now have multiple campus visits. In fact, both are out on campus interviews right now.

Hat tip to RKG.

poco a poco

243,000 net new jobs in January (including 50,000 in manufacturing), November & December of 2011 figures revised up by 60,000, unemployment rate down to 8.3%. Details are here.

Not too shabby.

Net new jobs in the private sector were 257,000 so not only is employment rising but its composition is slowly shifting away from government and toward the private sector. In the last 12 months there has been a net job loss in the government sector of around 275,000 jobs

The net jobs figures for the last three months, after revisions, stand at 157,000 203,000 and now 243,000.

It will be interesting to see how the "austerity is killing us" people will spin this.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

If Public, ALWAYS Public?

Once something is public domain, is it always public domain?

Not if the Supreme Court says it's not.

Argument for decision:  reciprocity.  Presumably, easier to get other countries to recognize our copyrights if we recognize theirs.

Argument against:  WTF?  The only reason to grant a monopoly is to encourage new works.  These are all old works, by definition.

(Nod to BC, who has sharp eyes for a cool issue)

Romeo was restless

"Romeo was restless, he was ready to kill. He jumped out the window cause he couldn't sit still. Juliet was waiting with a safety net. He said "Don't bury me cause I'm not dead yet"."

Replace "Romeo" with "Cassanova", "the window" with "of Clemson University", "sit still" with "eat Chiklfil-a", "Juliet", with "Auburn University" and suddenly Elvis Costello becomes relevant again!

You know, now that I think about it, "Mystery Dance" is a pretty apt title for the recruiting process in college athletics.

Hat tip to Mrs. Angus.

Mac McCorkle has a little fun with Chronicle Reporter

My good friend Pope “Mac” McCorkle is having a little fun with the reporter from the Chronicle.  Here are the money quotes, from me and then his “refutation.”

“They don’t want a candidate who is going to hold [President Barack Obama] back,” Munger said. “Bev Perdue is a clown—she should have never been governor. The only reason she won was the tsunami of Obama’s campaign in North Carolina.”
But the unpopularity of an incumbent governor would not likely affect an incumbent president, said Pope McCorkle, visiting lecturer at the Sanford School of Public Policy, who worked as a consultant with Perdue’s 2008 campaign.  “[Perdue] had a better shot of winning than is commonly assumed,” McCorkle said. “She got more votes than Obama in 2008. The idea that her victory is solely attributable to Obama doesn’t hold water.”

Now, Mac is a smart guy, and knows full well that that is nonsense.  I laughed out loud when I read what he said.  There is just no necessary relationship, none at all, between the vote totals and whether Perdue would have won without Obama’s coattails.  The reason is straight ticket voting.  At least 2% of the folks who went to vote for Obama ended up voting for Perdue straight ticket, but did not vote for Obama at all because of the quirky NC rules.

  • Democrats: 46 % of all registered voters, but 58.76% of the straight ticket votes cast went to the Dems (1,283,486 total straight ticket votes) 
  • Republicans:  32% percent of registered voters,  40.4%  of straight-party votes (881,856) 
Democrats from the national party (not the Perdue campaign) organized the straight ticket get out the vote campaign.  They handed out cards, and told people (as they were getting off busses paid for by George Soros and his Wall Street pals, Obama fans all) how to vote straight ticket Democrat. (In NC, it takes two votes to vote straight ticket. If you just vote straight ticket, you cast a vote for Gov, but not for Prez.  That's not what you meant, but that's what you did).

I watched this happen, dozens of times, at different polling sites.  Those folks getting off the bus had NEVER HEARD of Bev Perdue.  They were there to vote for Obama, and when some Dem functionary handed them a card explaining how they should vote, straight ticket D, they did it.

Those numbers, 58% of straight ticket votes, and 1.28 million straight ticket votes cast, are by far the largest ever in NC history.

Now, consider just how lame Mac’s “refutation” is.  If I’m right, and the straight ticket votes from the Obama turnout machine were the difference in the race, then it would be IMPOSSIBLE for Bev to get fewer votes than Obama.  Make it simple:  suppose every Obama voter voted straight ticket.  And a few others voted for Bev.  Then Bev got all those straight ticket votes, and a few more.

That’s basically what happened.  Bev “beat” Obama by four thousand votes.  Statistically a tie.  But without Obama and the straight ticket votes, Bev would have gotten wiped out by Pat McCrory.  On election day, when far fewer people voted straight ticket, Pat “won” easily.  On election day, the votes looked like this:
  • McCrory 952,000
  • Perdue 783,000
But on the early, mostly straight ticket voting, with all those busses paid for by Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup pulling up to the early polling places, here is how it came out:
  • McCrory 1,038,000
  • Perdue 1,351,000
In other words, Perdue built up an early lead of 300,000 because of all that straight ticket turnout for Obama.  In a normal year, with average turnout and average straight ticket voting rates, Bev would only have gotten 1,000,000 early votes, and would have lost the election by 250,000 votes or more.

The only way for me to be wrong is if the reason for all that historic straight ticket voting, and higher turnout, had NOTHING to do with Obama.  And that doesn’t pass the laugh test.  Consider this headline in the HuffPo:  "EarlyVoting Numbers Climb in NC, Mostly the Work of ObamaVolunteers."  That darned right wing HuffPo...

Obama volunteers. Not Perdue volunteers.  And Perdue only won because of early voting.  Perdue couldn't possibly have gotten fewer votes than Obama, because all those early votes were for BOTH.  Perdue loses, without Obama.  And my friend Mac is laughing at that reporter, for not asking better questions.  Good one, Mac.

Low voltage

Obama motors is having trouble with their signature product.  Chevy sold 603 Volts in January. Their sales target for 2012 (45,000) has been dropped. Last year they sold around 8,000 Volts.

More info is here, and the hat tip goes to Mark P.

Has the $7,500 tax credit for buying one of these bad boys expired? Or has America run out of Volt-less rich people?

Or maybe people don't want their cars to double as fireplaces?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

We Get Letters: Campaign Finance

Chateau writes:

Here's something to chew on:  When Obama set a precedent for campaign funding by breaking his promise in 2008 to accept public funding for the general election he may have done more than Congress or “reformers” ever could to reduce the impact of SuperPACs in the 2012 general elections. 

The public funding option in 2012 would constrain a campaign to roughly $90 million in total spending, a tiny fraction of the $1 billion the president hopes to raise privately for his campaign.  If the Obama campaign could only spend $90 million we can only imagine how much money would flow into SuperPACs to make up the difference.  Don’t for a minute think that there will be no SuperPACs supporting Obama, but it is the case that we will hear relatively far more directly from the campaign than from 3rd parties this fall (a good thing for our democracy, I believe, to hear more from candidates directly).  The same goes for the GOP, whose candidate I cannot imagine agreeing to public  funding. 

Bottom line:  If you don't like what SuperPACs are doing to election messaging then (have yet one more reason to) be happy that the public funding system has collapsed…

Great Little Economics Story for Class

From Tommy the Tenured Brit, an example.  I have adapted it for teachers of Econ 101: This is a fine little problem to give in class, complete with video. The essentials:

  • Bridge revenue is tax-free, by law
  • Bridge toll is 80 pence, for multiple passages per day
  • Bridge revenue is 2,000 pounds per week in the busy summer, less in winter. About 80,000 pounds per year
  • Owner is responsible for upkeep and repairs on bridge and toll machinery, cost 15,000 pounds per year
  • Bridge "comes with" cottage, land, and fishing rights
  • The bridge just traded hands at a price of 400,000 pounds.  

1.  What is the implied discount rate (assuming that the bridge (with repairs), the tolls, and the tax break are all perpetual)
2.  Now assume that tax break is eliminated, the discount rate is the same as for #1, and that the effective average tax rate on the owners is 40%.  What would be the predicted change in price, or the capital loss the owners would be stuck with?
3.  Are the owners making a supernormal return because of the tax break?

Unless I have got me sums wrong, the answers are:

1.  16.25%
2.  New price would be 243,750 pounds.  So the tax break is worth 156,250 pounds
3.  Of course not!  The tax break is the reason that the bridge was worth 400k instead of 243k pounds.  But the implied rate of return is the same, because the tax rate is capitalized into the value.

Now, then, let's talk about capital gains taxes on investments in new plant and equipment, SHALL we?

Alejandro & the Idea Machine

Check out this amazing video of one of my favorite artists (Souther Salazar) setting up one of his pieces for a show:

more work from Souther can be seen here.