Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Munger Games

Lots of insider jokes on B-schools

I like where the girl is going to be smacked by the Wharton kids, and she says, "Don't hurt me!  I love Pittsburgh!"

Creepiest Card Trick

Orson Welles (creepy enough already) does a card trick with Angie Dickinson. When he asks her to "stroke the cards, very gently, that's it, yesssss...." I got a little creeped out.

Nod to Jacob Grier @jacobgrier

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Federalist Society Debate


I got to do a Federalist Society debate on Amendment One (I'm against).

Here is Amendment One, the "protect marriage amendment."

Here is the ad for the debate.

My notes (only notes, didn't retype it, but this was my opening statement).

Any political system must balance the rights of individuals and the power of the majority.  The US is not a democracy, if by democracy you mean “majority rule.”  Many parts of the US system are explicitly anti-majoritarian.  The Bill of Rights protects individuals against majority tyranny.  Not against “the government,” but rather against majorities.  James Madison in particular was very concerned about majority tyranny.

The power of the majority is most dangerous when the minority is small and isolated.  The greatest constitutional protections focus on conscience and property.  Suppose I want to build a house on my property.  But my five neighbors like it with trees.  They vote to take my property and make it a permanent park.  We vote, and I lose, five to one.

The ability to sign contracts is one of the key provisions protected by the Constitution.  And because the ability to sign and enforce contracts was restricted by state governments intent on using racial prejudice to apply the laws in discriminatory fashion, the 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War.
That 14th Amendment is perhaps the single most important change in the US Constitution regarding the ability of states to allow majorities to tyrannize over minorities. 

Section I has three majestic clauses, separated by semi-colons: 
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
No State shall make or enforce any law which
(a) shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor
(b) shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor
(c) deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


 Now, this is the U.S. Constitution, and we are amending the NC Constitution.  So what am I even talking about?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Stephen King should NOT be ALLOWED TO VOTE!

Check this genius quote:

"Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.”

So my man wants the government to both "fix global warming" and "lower the price of gasoline".

Nice work there, Steve. Your political economy is way scarier than your fiction.

I would like the government to make it never rain and have my lawn, plants and trees still stay green and vibrant. Can't do that with the rich man's charity either, right Mr. King?


We Get Letters: OKC Edition

SdM writes:
Dallas lost to OKC last night by 1 pt and I think it's bc they can't do math. Replay: 9 secs left: Nowitski gets a free throw and gives Dallas the lead. 1 secs left: Durant makes a 15 ft shot and gives OKC a 1pt lead. 0 secs left: Dallas is unable to get up the floor and shoot. Assume everyone on the floor makes 75% of their free throws and is 50% from the floor. If there's an OT, winner is determined by a coin toss. What do you do if you're Dallas at the 9 second mark?

SdM's answer: Dallas should have fouled, even though they had the lead, with 7 or 8 seconds left. That's obviously stupid, so I told SdM that was stupid. He pathetically tried to defend himself.

Four cases: 1. OKC misses both free throws. Dallas up 1 and has ball with ~8 secs left. 2. OKC makes 1 and misses 1. Unless OKC gets an offensive rebound off a free throw, Dallas has ~ 8 seconds to (2a) win the game on a last shot. If (2b) they miss, they go to OT and have a 50/50 chance. 3. OKC makes both, takes the lead by 1, but Dallas gets the last shot with ~8 secs left. Assuming teams make 50% of their field goals and 75% of free throws, ...

So, take those probabilities as right.

Here is what I came up with:
prob of case #1: .0625 (if two throws are independent)
prob of case #2: .375 (two ways to make one and miss one
prob of case #3: .5625 (again, independent)

case #4: what they actually did. If 50% from the floor is right, Dallas had a 50% chance of winning, with what they did, NOT fouling. No chance of overtime; they win, or lose, depending on whether Durant hits the shot with 1 second left.

If they fouled, Dallas has the following chances (assuming overtime is a coin flip):
A. Case #1, Dallas wins (assume OKC fouls, or not, but there's tool little time left for anything) p(DalWin)=.0625
B. Case #2, Dallas makes basket from floor p(DalWin)=.375*.5= .1875 Case #2, Dallas misses basket from floor, wins in overtime, p(DalWin)=0.09375 Case #2, Dallas misses basket from floor, loses in overtime
C. Case #3, Dallas .5 chance of taking last shot and winning, p(DalWin)=.5 If I have this right, and assuming OKC does not get off reb'd on it's foul shot, and assuming OKC does not foul Dallas, even in case #1, it looks to me like Dallas's chances of winning, if they foul, are .8375, whereas if they don't foul their chances of winning are 50-50.

Is this right? That's not even close, Dallas should foul. Maybe SdM is not so pathetic after all.

And what matters is just that Dallas' chances of winning if they don't foul are only 50-50, and if they do foul their chances are 50-50 to win, EVEN IF OKC makes both free throws, the worst case scenario. But is it really .8375 if you foul, compared to .50 if you don't? I must have missed something.

La reconquista continues apace

Inspired by La Penguina, Evo Morales chose a Spanish-owned electricity distribution company to nationalize on May Day.

"long live the first of May and long live nationalization", quoth Morales.

Since he nationalized natural gas production on May 1, 2006 and electricity production on May 1, 2010, perhaps the Spanish firm should have known what was coming?



Tuesday, May 01, 2012

And sometimes a picture is pure gold




Sometimes a picture isn't worth spit

Take this one in today's WSJ for example. A scatterplot of countries average growth rate over the 41 years from 1960-2000 against their average math test scores in the same period.



And, yes, of course the authors take the graph as causal explaining how that if we could just get our math performance up to the level of Canda's, we would all become way richer (yes I know the graph shows us growing faster than Canada already. The authors certainly could have picked a better example to tout their "theory").

I agree with the authors that K-12 education in America is failing an unacceptably large number of students and I favor reforms and experiments to search for better solutions. But let's not kid ourselves that the graph presented provides us a "menu" where we pick the growth rate we want by achieving the requisite test scores.




Monday, April 30, 2012

Silver linings

The Venezuelan government is on an unsustainable treadmill. They are running a sustained inflation rate of between 25-30% per year. People complain about higher prices, so they institute price controls and nationalize "offending" companies. Both actions tend to reduce supply, so customers then face shortages and long lines for the products. The NY Times has a good article on the situation.

But as they say, there's always a silver lining. Some citizens are getting healthier:

Waiting in line to buy chicken and other staples, Jenny Montero, 30, recalled how she could not find cooking oil last fall and had to switch from the fried food she prefers to soups and stews.


 “It was good for me,” she said drily, pushing her 14-month-old daughter in a stroller. “I lost several pounds.”


Sunday, April 29, 2012

HIgher Ed blues

Here's the redoubtable Josh Barro on the costs of higher education:

Structurally, the higher education sector looks a lot like the health care sector. It hasn’t seen the productivity gains enjoyed by sectors like manufacturing and retail, which have benefited extensively from automation and technological advances. Colleges still need to employ a lot of highly skilled workers, and college costs are tied to their wages, which rise faster than inflation. It’s no surprise, then, that the higher education inflation trend looks a lot like the alarming one we see in health care. 


 But colleges and universities have failed to mitigate this phenomenon. For example, over the last few decades, the typical public four-year college has seen a sharp expansion of its support and managerial staff — from 5.5 per 100 students in 1987 to 7.5 per 100 in 2007. Colleges have also been reducing student-to-faculty ratios, and increasing spending on fringe offerings like gyms and student centers. As a result, expenditures per student by public institutions of higher education rose 48 percent from 1985 to 2009, after adjusting for inflation. Can we really say that higher education has gotten anywhere close to 48 percent better over that period?


While I agree with Josh that college administrators capture and waste a larger portion of the rents and that the withdrawal of state support dramatically increased the economic load of higher ed for non-wealthy families, I cannot come anywhere close to agreeing with the last couple sentences of the quoted portion.

Let's break it down:

First consider expenditure growth. People, 1985 - 2009 is 25 years. 48% growth over 25 years is, at a first approximation, something like a 2% annual growth rate. That just doesn't seem so bad a rate of spending increase. It's clearly below the rate of growth of real GDP. Is that really the same as the health care case?

Second, it's pretty much of a no-brainer that higher education is "anywhere close to 48% better" in 2009 than it was in 1985, though "better" is not easily made precise in this context:

Think of all the new majors. Think of all the innovative uses of technology. As Josh himself notes, dorms are way nicer, food is way way better, and athletic and leisure facilities are way way way better.

But maybe we shouldn't define "better" as "cooler" or "more enjoyable".

Well, how about if we define "better" as "more valuable"?

According to Goldin & Katz, the college graduate wage premium was around 40% in 1980 and rose to about 65% in 2005 (and was climbing at that point where their data stop). That's a lot more than 48% (62.5% to be exact).


Final point: A much higher percent of new high school grads attend college now than they did in 1985. The enrollment rate of new high school grads into college was 51% in 1975, and it rose to 70% in 2009.

I don't think that's because the product has gotten worse!