It is interesting that progressives think citizens are much too stupid to make their own choices in the grocery store. But somehow, people get a lot smarter when they enter the voting booth. Um....no, they don't, actually.
The problem, as I argued in a recent paper about "self interest," is that people have pretty good incentives to learn about which apples taste good. But Santorum vs Perry? Ooooh, I like his tie. Here is an excerpt from my paper:
There are three parts to the Public Choice Theory “citizen as private actor” story. First, the citizen is motivated to seek his own self-interest. Second, the citizen has limited information. Third, political elites know this, and use advertising and simple slogans to attract votes.
The evidence that Lewin (1991) offers bears only on the first step. But if we change the motivational assumption to its most extreme form, “Citizens only want to act in the public interest,” the cost of information and the value of simple political messages as persuasion are unchanged. From Marx to Downs to Buchanan and Tullock, the costliness of information and of collective action has been a constant theme. Motivational assumptions are nearly inconsequential for the PCTist. What matters is the aggregate consequences of individual action.
Do voters have the information they need to make accurate decisions? The very literature to which Lewin refers provides a resounding “no” answer. Very few citizens are aware of even the most basic political facts, and they have only cursory knowledge of how government works (Page and Shapiro 1992, Table 1.2; Somin 1998). Less than half can name their congressional representative, much less identify her voting record or issue positions. Even fewer can give a coherent attribution of their own political ideology in terms of its specific policy implications (Converse 1964; Feldman and Conover 1986, 1984, 1982, and 1982). The rationally ignorant public-interest voter is essentially indistinguishable from the rationally ignorant self-interest voter. Rationality need not imply self-interest, but it clearly does, as an empirical matter, imply that voters have very little idea of how policy works and what candidates will do once they are in office.
For reasons I cannot understand, Lewin (1991, 107) denies this in terms that can only be called naïve:
While proponents of the self-interest hypothesis centre their hopes on setting satisfactory prices through market mechanisms, the representatives of the public-interest hypothesis believe in cooperation as a method to escape the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Both camps maintain that their particular world—the market and politics, respectively—is the more transparent, i.e. the one characterized by a minimum of unintended consequences. Although this may be true of the way the market functions ideally as a model, however, faulty information, limits on competition, and other imperfections are quite evident in real-life economies. Politics, by contrast, because of its combination of collective organizations and public debate, is probably easier to predict even in reality.
Yet Public Choice scholars have never claimed that politics is unpredictable. In fact, it is all too predictable, precisely because people can be counted upon to act in their self-interest. A legislative séance of the sort Prof. Lewin envisions for the public sector, groping toward some seraphic group wisdom, would indeed be unpredictable, and (by his lights) not transparent. But the Public Choice argument is that one can project the decisions of a group with high precision if one knows the goals of each individual and the decision rule that will be used by the group.
Lewin argues for the superior competitiveness and informational abundance of the public sector. The information problem I have already discussed: buying a car is a private good, and I have solid reasons to learn about cars. Voting for a candidate is a public good, and information about it will be underprovided by private action. The fact that voters have public-interest intentions at the first stage, the motivation stage, is essentially irrelevant, since they have private interest reasons to free ride and can thus be influenced by operatives whom Downs called “persuaders,” who have their own reasons to distort information.
As always, happy to send a PDF if you are interested. Just contact me at munger at duke dot edu
People, I don't believe that we receive the privilege of being Americans from our government. I believe that government officials receive the privilege of their jobs from us Americans. Nor am I a big fan of Tim Geithner and his curious inability to practice what he preaches.
However, Lawrence Lindsey really pulled a fast one on Geithner in the WSJ editorial page today.
Last week Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that the "most fortunate Americans" should pay more in taxes for the "privilege of being an American."
Here's what Geithner actually said:
"That’s the kind of balance you need," said Geithner. "Why is that the case? Because if you don't try to generate more revenues through tax reform, if you don't ask, you know, the most fortunate Americans to bear a slightly larger burden of the privilege of being an American, then you have to -- the only way to achieve fiscal sustainability is through unacceptably deep cuts in benefits for middle class seniors, or unacceptably deep cuts in national security."
Umm, that's not all that close.
"Slightly larger burden of the privilege OF being an American" does NOT equate to Lindsay's paraphrase of "should pay more in taxes FOR the privilege of being an American.
I disagree with Geithner. But Lindsey's column is a hatchet job.
I actually like how Tim apparently inadvertently lays out a preferable alternative. Why are "middle class seniors" a protected benefit class? Why is the military a protected benefit class?
If we can attain fiscal sustainability by deep cuts to middle class seniors' benefits and the military, then let's do it!
Here's the video:
This post was updated to correct a spelling error.
Pascal Boyer & Michael Bang Petersen
Journal of Institutional Economics, March 2012, Pages 1-25
Abstract: Most standard social science accounts only offer limited explanations of institutional design, i.e. why institutions have common features observed in many different human groups. Here we suggest that these features are best explained as the outcome of evolved human cognition, in such domains as mating, moral judgment and social exchange. As empirical illustrations, we show how this evolved psychology makes marriage systems, legal norms and commons management systems intuitively obvious and compelling, thereby ensuring their occurrence and cultural stability. We extend this to propose under what conditions institutions can become ‘natural’, compelling and legitimate, and outline probable paths for institutional change given human cognitive dispositions. Explaining institutions in terms of these exogenous factors also suggests that a general theory of institutions as such is neither necessary nor in fact possible. What are required are domain-specific accounts of institutional design in different domains of evolved cognition.
Hmmm. That's not my first, or second, intuition. Why do steam engines all look the same? Because form follows function, and the rules of physics are universal, at least in the domain where steam engines are possible and useful. That's a kind of determinism, but it is an optimized determinism: the best form for a steam engine doesn't depend on who is designing it.
The thesis in this paper is that limits on human cognition shape institutions. No reason to expect ANY institutions, anywhere, to be optimal. No optimality in common law, no evolutionary process toward efficiency. Because our brains all have the same limits, and we all come up with the same screwed up institutions. In linear programming terms, the binding constraint is not functionality, but cognition. Hmmm....
As they point out, "Only about 50% of U.S. households invest in stocks, either directly or indirectly (via mutual funds in retirement and nonretirement accounts), and participation in Europe is even lower. Traditional models in financial economics, which prescribe universal participation, cannot easily explain these stylized facts, viewing them as a “participation puzzle.”"
But IQ is not solving this puzzle at all (at least in Finland)!
The two highest stanines of IQ in their sample have stock market participation rates of around 42% and 46% respectively. Sure, that is significantly higher than the lower IQ groups, but their research shows that, even among the most sophisticated citizens, stock market participation is very low.
The paper is very well done and highly recommended, but I was amazed that participation among even the elites was so low.
Nathan Nunn & Nancy Qian, NBER Working Paper, January 2012
Abstract: This paper examines the effect of U.S. food aid on conflict in recipient countries. To establish a causal relationship, we exploit time variation in food aid caused by fluctuations in U.S. wheat production together with cross-sectional variation in a country's tendency to receive any food aid from the United States. Our estimates show that an increase in U.S. food aid
increases the incidence, onset and duration of civil conflicts in recipient countries. Our results suggest that the effects are larger for smaller scale civil conflicts. No effect is found on interstate warfare.
I've had so many conversations with sensitive people where their entire argument is, "People are hurting. We should DO something.!"
The fact is that most things we can "do" make things worse. But that's okay. Because all that matters is that American leftists get to feel good about themselves, because they DID something.
Once you understand this, it makes a lot of other opinions of leftists easier to understand. For example, why not have market systems in developing countries, since those would actually have good consequences?
Because the left doesn't care at all about good consequences. "Open up markets" (including in the US, which would really help developing nations, like if we opened the US market to Caribbean sugar growers)? No, that's not a feel good, good intentions policy. All it would do is have really good consequences. And how does that help Albie Volvo, with his Chardonnay and NPR tote, feel better about himself? Better to change out some more light bulbs for CFs, and give food aid to the needy. Sure, it will start civil wars, but why would Albie Volvo care? There's no war in his neighborhood.
(Nod to Kevin Lewis, for the article, certainly not the interpretation)
Those famous words of Pauline Kael, “How can Nixon have won? No one I knew voted for him” weren’t quite what she said. Prof. John Pitney at Claremont McKenna sent me the actual quote, from the New York Times of 28 December 1972: “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Sort of the same thing, I know, but then I got another email from someone who wrote, “Pauline was a good friend, and was the farthest thing from a smug, unself-aware adherent of dumb liberal cant as you could imagine . . . She undoubtedly viewed Nixon as a sick puppy. But she was no insular, snobbish Margaret Dumont.” I take his assessment at face value, and will henceforth strike “Pauline Kael Syndrome” from my rhetorical arsenal.
Charles is right. That's different enough. Thanks to Mr. Overwater, well played.
"NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise...."
Don't get me wrong, Jeff has a good point that the US has not exactly covered itself in glory with the folks we've put in charge of the World Bank or with our use of the institution to promote cold war goals. But the "all we need are the right people in charge" argument is just so incredibly superficial and lame, whether applied to political systems or vast bureaucracies.
Jeff concludes by offering his vision of where the Bank would go under a Sachs-ocracy:
Its priorities should include agricultural productivity; mobilization of information technologies for sustainable development; deployment of low-carbon energy systems; and quality education for all, with greater reliance on new forms of communication to reach hundreds of millions of under-served students.
With all due respect, can we not just put Barber Conable's ghost back in charge?
People, the fact that the average wage in manufacturing is higher than the average wage in non-manufacturing is SIMPLY UNINFORMATIVE about whether new hires in manufacturing enjoy a wage premium vs. new hires in non-manufacturing.
Economic analysis is MARGINAL ANALYSIS.
We know that new hires in manufacturing nowadays often come with wages and benefits significantly below historical averages.
"When colleagues at the “Regional Conference on the Use of RCTs to Define and Shape Sustainable Mainstreaming of Successful Good Practice Related to Local Ownership and Crosscutting Holistic Gender Empowerment for Excluded Adolescent Girls based on Positive Deviance Methodology” think they are being all badass by casually dropping in news about their latest vacation in one dodgy place or another, as someone actually living there, it’s your EAW (expat aid worker) duty to trump them by reminding them that life in Militiaville is no cake walk, thus putting them in their place."
A lawyer for Mr. Strauss-Kahn appeared to confirm that he had attended the events [orgies], saying that his client would not have been aware if the women who entertained him were prostitutes.
“He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” the lawyer, Henri Leclerc, told a French radio station, Europe 1, in December.
Research! DSK was doing research! "Hmmm....prostitute? Non, no cigarette stains on her fingers. It must be a woman who is so overcome by my beautiful pasty white 70 year old body that she just wants me! She didn't need to be paid!"
I have a dispositive test, to answer the lawyer's challenge: any woman under 60 who willingly gets naked and gets in the same room with a naked DSK, MIGHT JUST be a prostitute. 'Cause ain't no woman gonna do that for free.
Question: why is that socialists are so convinced that they deserve such special treatment? Rich capitalists expect special treatment, but they pay for it. DSK wants other people to pay some poor woman to touch his winkie, and then he denies that she was paid, because he is so attractive that women WANT to touch his winkie, out of admiration.
Neil Gross & Ethan Fosse
Theory and Society, March 2012, Pages 127-168
Abstract: The political liberalism of professors - an important occupational group and anomaly according to traditional theories of class politics - has long puzzled sociologists. This article sheds new light on the subject by employing a two-step analytic procedure. In the first step, we assess the explanatory power of the main hypotheses proposed over the last half century
to account for professors' liberal views. To do so, we examine hypothesized predictors of the political gap between professors and other Americans using General Social Survey data pooled from 1974-2008. Results indicate that professors are more liberal than other Americans because a higher proportion possess advanced educational credentials, exhibit a disparity between their levels of education and income, identify as Jewish, non-religious, or non-theologically conservative Protestant, and express greater tolerance for controversial ideas. In the second step of our article, we develop a new theory of professors' politics on the basis of these findings (though not directly testable with our data) that we think holds more explanatory promise than existing approaches and that sets an agenda for future research.
Do you know what has long puzzled me? How someone can get a paper published simply by running a bunch of regressions of ideology on demographic characteristics, and then saying things like "Jewish causes liberal beliefs." This "two stage" thing described above...if the Onion published empirical papers, this might be a candidate.
Aleynikov goes free--Posted By Felix Salmon On February 17, 2012 (10:27 pm).
Count me in, with Choire Sicha, as being very happy that Sergey Aleynikov is once again a free man. To cut a long story short, Aleynikov used to work in high-frequency trading for Goldman Sachs, earning $400,000 a year. He then got offered a job in Chicago, earning three times that amount. So he accepted the new job. On his last day at Goldman, he uploaded to an external server various bits of code that he had worked with at Goldman. He claimed that the code was benign open-source material; Goldman claimed that it could be used to “mani! pulate markets”.
Goldman’s claim backfired in one respect, in that it sparked a thousand semi-informed articles about high-frequency trading and how dangerous it is: articles which did Goldman’s reputation no good at all.
On the other hand, the claim did have its chief intended effect — it got U.S. authorities extremely excited, to the point at which they charged Aleynikov with criminal activity under the Economic Espionage Act.
Now the EEA was designed — and was initially used — to prosecute very different behavior, chiefly employees at defense contractors taking top-secret information and giving it straight to the Chinese government. The kind of thing which can absolutely be considered espionage.
The secrets at defense contractors, of course, are secret for reasons of national security. The secrets at investment banks and hedge funds, by contrast, are secret purely for reasons of profit: they reckon that if they have some clever algorithm which nobody else has, then that makes it easier for them to profit from it. Which is why it was always a stretch for the government to use the EEA to prosecute Aleynikov — indeed, it is why it was always a stretch for Aleynikov to be criminally prosecuted at all. Goldman could have brought a civil case against him, but instead they got their wholly-owned subsidiary, the U.S. government, to come down on him so hard that he ended up with an eight-year sentence. Violent felons frequently get less.
The forthcoming decision from the Second Circuit is likely to be a doozy; I’m told that the judges shredded the prosecutors during the oral hearing. And certainly their decision to enter a judgment of acquittal, rather than any kind of retrial, is a strong indication that they handed down this order with extreme prejudice against prosecutorial overreach.
Is it the government’s job to expend enormous prosecutorial resources protecting Goldman Sachs from competition? The Second Circuit certainly doesn’t seem to think so, and neither do I. Aleynikov’s actions were certainly stupid, and quite possibly illegal. But the way that Goldman managed to sic New York prosecutors on him bearing the sledgehammer of the EEA was far from edifying. And I’m glad that both Goldman and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney are surely feeling very chastened right now.
New movie on wind power. It seems that the left has finally discovered that the alternative energy "industry" (sic) is "all about the money."
Folks, there IS no alternative energy industry. There is a rent-seeking, subsidy-sucking-down industry, and the people who work in that industry are smart, hard-working, and relentless. In 2007, they were mortgage loan originators. Now, they are windfarm contractors.
In this trailer for the movie (two cheers for the movie; not three cheers, but two cheers) you will see the problem documented.
They get a lot right, but the problem is that the problem has to be "it's all about the money." Um, no. The problem is that this was NEVER about the money, in the sense of real cost per KWHr. It's about the subsidies.
If it were about the money, the only reason we would have solar, or wind, or whatever, "alternative energy" is if those technologies actually produced power at competitive rates.
Instead, all of the "alternative energy" pirates were just after the subsidies. Everybody in the industry knows that the negative externalities of wind power, combined with its operating costs (at least twice, and ofter as much as FOUR times, the cost of electricity now generated through conventional means), make wind energy uneconomical. So the corporations that are acting this way are fooling people into accepting a pittance to put a turbine on their land, taking the enormous subsidy from Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid, and then skedaddling. There was never any hope of this being a viable energy source, at least not with existing technology. It's too expensive, dangerous, and noisy.
That's where "the money" comes in, or where it SHOULD come in. Suppose you have two technologies, C and W. C uses certain resources, produces certain externalities, and produces a certain amount of power. W uses quite different resources, produces externalities, and produces a certain amount of power. Which one is "better"?
For a command system, there is no way of knowing. The problem is that (1) there is no price information to help you know which system uses the fewest resources. (2) Given a decision to subsidize, that "price" swamps all the information that could have been inferred from people who actually know something about power generation technology.
Here's the thing. It's a theorem.
The system that costs least uses the fewest resources.
The only way, the ONLY way, to add up resources is to sum the opportunity costs that using them in one way precludes for other uses. The only way to sum opportunity costs is to use price. Now, it doesn't matter at all what UNITs the prices are stated in. And it may be hard to account for externalities, because those often aren't priced. But if externalities are hard for markets to price, why do we think that governments, dominated by rent-seekers who want subsidies for useless crap like wind turbines, will do any better? If anything governments are likely WORSE at pricing externalities accurately. There is no force on earth that can change the fact that the alternative that costs less uses fewer resources, or less valued resources, or produces more power.
The king of the tax / subsidy paradigm, A.C. Pigou, actually foresaw this in 1920. This is not Coase, or Stigler, or Tollison, mind you. This is PIGOU: It is not sufficient to contrast the imperfect adjustments of unfettered enterprise with the best adjustment that economists in their studies can imagine. For we cannot expect that any State authority will attain, or even wholeheartedly seek, that ideal. Such authorities are liable alike to ignorance, to sectional pressure, and to personal corruption by private interest. A loud-voiced part of their constituents, if organized for votes, may easily outweigh the whole.
Why would you think that the government can get prices right for externalities? Why do you think the government WANTS to get prices right, given how much money there is to be made from campaign contributions from rent-seekers?
Not very nice. But bidding wars are likely when property rights are poorly specified. And that's why property rights need to be clearly specified. In countries without property rights, EVERYTHING gets exchanged this way.
It was never an attempt to save resources. It was a costly signal of how much the German left loves Gaia, the Earth Mother. On the BEST, sunniest day, Germany gets 0.3 percent of its power from solar energy. And it pays the highest costs for electricity in all of Europe, save for Denmark, which (I'm trying not to laugh) decided to "compete" by specializing in wind power.
But at some point even the German left has to admit that solar power is inefficient, expensive, impractical, and (this is my favorite part) actually quite dangerous to the environment because of the enormous amount of dangerous chemical waste that results from making, and later decommissioning, solar panels.
I didn't make Angus' list, though. Chopped liver, am I.
The paper might interest readers. I go so far as to argue that basic income is a LIBERTARIAN solution, because it would be (a) cheaper and (b) more consistent with individual autonomy and freedom than the current dog-vomit-after-eating-a-crayon-box mish-mash of programs, transfers, and subsidies. The core of my argument is that such a "guaranteed income" program is NOT consistent with the "destination libertarians" who want zero government. But it is quite consistent with the "directional libertarians" who will accept Pareto improvements, provided those moves ALSO improve liberty.
Happy to send a PDF to anyone who wants to read more.... email me at munger AT duke DOT edu, and I'll be happy to send it out. You might be able to get to the original through other library connections, but I don't think BIS is on JSTOR.
First, here's Tyson arguing that manufacturing jobs should be prioritized:
"...on average manufacturing jobs are high-productivity, high value-added jobs with good pay and benefits. Even though the premium on manufacturing wages has been declining over time, it remains significant. Between 2005 and 2010, average weekly earnings in manufacturing were about 21 percent higher than average weekly private non-agricultural earnings. In 2009, the average manufacturing worker earned $74,447 in annual pay and benefits compared with $63,122 for the average non-manufacturing worker."
As I've pointed out pointedly in the past, this is simply logically incorrect. You cannot use averages to represent what is happening on the margin. If the premium is falling, that clearly means that the marginal wage for new jobs is significantly lower than the average pay for all existing jobs. The correct comparison is between wages for new jobs across sectors (marginal analysis), NOT average wages for all jobs across sectors (infra-marginal garbage).
Even if we didn’t have to compete with lower-wage workers overseas, we’d still have fewer factory jobs because the old assembly line has been replaced by numerically-controlled machine tools and robotics. Manufacturing is going high-tech.
Bringing back American manufacturing isn’t the real challenge, anyway. It’s creating good jobs for the majority of Americans who lack four-year college degrees.
Manufacturing used to supply lots of these kind of jobs, but that was only because factory workers were represented by unions powerful enough to get high wages.
That’s no longer the case. Even the once-mighty United Auto Workers has been forced to accept pay packages for new hires at the Big Three that provide half what new hires got a decade ago. At $14 an hour, new auto workers earn about the same as most of America’s service-sector workers.
Marginal wages in manufacturing are much lower than average wages, and many new jobs are ones that require a high degree of skills/education.
Reich's solution to create jobs and raise wages for non-college Americans is to re-empower unions! This would certainly raise wages, but would in all likelihood not be a big boon for increasing the number of jobs.
I think this issue of what to do about living standards of "unskilled" workers in America is going to continue to worsen and the only feasible long run solution is going to be a type of guaranteed basic income policy.
Hey if Herbert Simon, Freddy Hayek, Bob Solow AND Milton Friedman all agree on it, it must be worth considering, right?
Steve Sapra, Laura Beavin & Paul Zak
PLoS ONE, January 2012, e30844
Abstract: What determines success on Wall Street? This study examined if genes affecting dopamine levels of professional traders were associated with their career tenure. Sixty professional Wall Street traders were genotyped and compared to a control group who did not trade stocks. We found that distinct alleles of the dopamine receptor 4 promoter (DRD4P) and catecholamine-O-methyltransferase (COMT) that affect synaptic dopamine were predominant in traders. These alleles are associated with moderate, rather than very high or very low, levels of synaptic dopamine. The activity of these alleles correlated positively with years spent trading stocks on Wall Street. Differences in personality and trading behavior were also correlated with allelic variants. This evidence suggests there may be a genetic basis for the traits that make one a successful trader.
Duke has some admittedly questionable rules on suppressing free expression. But by and large we do pretty well. (I would credit our Provost, Peter Lange. He has very solid common sense on what a university is supposed to be, and he actually likes the idea of free expression and due process. May other universities have such academic officials, 'cause there aren't enough like Dr. Lange. If you have forgotten, check this video, starting at about 1:05. Peter faced a mob, alone.).
UNC on the other hand.... Well, UNC sucks. I say that as a UNC fan, as someone whose older son (the EYM) is graduating from UNC. UNC, stop it. What are you afraid of?
In my seminar on Growth & Development today we discussed a paper where the sample size was fairly small, around 75 observations. The authors said due to the small sample size, they couldn't estimate models with a lot of regressors in them because of degrees of freedom issues.
Then they proceeded to investigate upwards of 30 variables, by using them one at a time! To "save" degrees of freedom!
First off, excluding relevant variables in the analysis biases results unless the variables are somehow orthogonal to each other, which is EXTREMELY unlikely.
Second, estimating 30 small regressions on the same sample does not actually save ANY degrees of freedom over estimating one big regression on the sample.
Sure you can say it does and use the nominal critical values in each case, but you are kidding yourself and misleading your readers.
Degrees of freedom are like cigarettes. Once you use them, they are gone. They can't be re-used over and over again.
Overall the paper reported well over 100 estimated coefficients. On 75 data points. In a ton of different regressions all with the same dependent variable. Used the nominal critical values in every case.
What is the critical value for a "t-stat" with negative 34 degrees of freedom?
Frau Merkel has announced that Germany is going to phase out nuclear power, simply because of the Japanese tsunami. Well, that is like basing water-collection policies in Rhineland-Westphalia on the monsoon cycle of Borneo. As I was saying last week, the Germans have a powerfully emotional attachment to everything that is "green", and an energy policy based on renewables will usually win German hearts. But it will not protect the owners of those hearts from frostbite and death due to exposure, for wind can often be not so much a Renewable as an Unusable, and also an Unpredictable, an Unstorable, and -- normally when it's very cold -- an Unmovable.
Their diagnosis makes sense: government uses force to pay off corporations. Their prescription, however, is bizarre: much more of the disease. I don't get it. The state is violence, force, and the misuse of power. Sometimes there's no other way. But in general we want less, not more.