Friday, August 10, 2007

Vote Swapping

A piece from yesterday's Sun-Sentinel, in the sunniest part of sunny Florida.

In which I say:

In the Electoral College where we choose presidents, only some states are "in play," or close enough to make votes matter a lot. If a state is in play, the system punishes people who vote for anyone outside the two "major" parties. The reason is that in most states the Electoral College is "winner-take-all," which means if you get the most popular votes, even less than a majority, you get all the electoral votes.

So a few votes can swing the entire outcome. Those 537 Republican votes in 2000 in Florida meant George W. Bush was credited with all 25 electoral votes and Al Gore got nothing. But there were 97,488 votes for Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000. That's not much, compared to the 2.9 million Bush and Gore collected.

But 97,488 is a lot more than the final margin of 537, and many of those Nader voters would have picked Gore over Bush.

So, Naderites "cost Gore the election" in Florida. And there have been other elections where independents changed the outcome. In 1992, Ross Perot got 19 percent of the popular vote, affecting the outcome in 15 or more states and possibly swinging the election to Bill Clinton.

What are voters to do? Suppose you love Indira, the independent candidate, but feel strongly that Rex the Republican would be better than Del the Democrat. You want Indira to have more votes nationally (she needs 5 percent to qualify for public funding of her next campaign). But you don't want to risk having Del beat Rex in your home state.

In the brightest red and darkest blue states the outcome won't be close, and you can vote your heart. In close states, though, you want to devise a "swap," so the candidate you like best gets an increased vote total nationally, but the candidate you like second still beats the candidate you hate.

So a Florida or Ohio voter might agree to vote for Rex, even though they like Indira best. A North Carolina or California voter who favors Rex might agree, in exchange, to vote for Indira.

There were several websites set up to accomplish these sorts of swaps. In 2000, there were and In 2004, we saw There are others, and likely will be more.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Don't Tell My Wife....

As for mungowitz.....

You Are 91% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).

You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

further proof that I AM indeed a 'Girly Man'

You Are 80% Feminist

You are certainly a feminist - whether you know it or not.

You believe in gender equality, at least most of the time. You also believe there are a few exceptions.

Try it for yourself here

Redefining Success

I know that if you fail 65% of the time you will make it to Cooperstown if you are a batter, but how does one define success when it comes to investment projects?

Well for the IFC (International Finance Corporation) the "private sector financing arm" of the World Bank, its apparently 50% or better. The NY times reports that "World Bank Agency finds its Africa Projects are lagging" with an African "success" rate of only 49% compared to the apparently acceptable 60% success rate in the rest of the world over the past decade.

The IFC has "invested" $4.6 billion in Africa over the last 15 years.

In a great CYA attempt , Toshiya Masuoka, the corporation’s director for strategy, noted in an interview that the evaluation focused on projects that were started five or more years ago and said that the corporation had in recent years given a higher priority to Africa and had clearly signaled to its staff that Africa postings were a good route to career advancement.

“It doesn’t reflect what’s been going on in the past couple of years,” he said. “And there we have a dramatic difference in what we’re doing in Africa.” Mr. Masuoka said better economic growth in Africa had presented the corporation with new opportunities. “The atmosphere is changing,” he said.

So in other words, there is another set of unreported, uncollected, statistics that would show everything is great. Ignore the report and trust me!

I personally find it amazing that the 60% rate in the rest of the world is apparently A-OK with the IFC. If 40% of your projects lose money does that really make you a good manager? Would your board and shareholders be keeping you, or would you be golden parachuting your way to an early retirement?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So THAT'S how he did it

No one can believe that Robin (a) actually married me and (b) after 13 years is still married to me. But now thanks to Yahoo News and top quality British research we know the secret: 'Girly Men' Best for Love!!!

Yea Baby!

Hello Kitty! And, This is NOT the Onion

I wunta believed it.

But, it is right there in "All the news that's fit to print, and some stuff we made up about Duke's lacrosse team that has no basis in fact."

Check this, in the NYTimes:

BANGKOK, Aug. 7 — It is the pink armband of shame for wayward police officers, as cute as can be with a Hello Kitty face and a pair of linked hearts.

No matter how many ribbons for valor a Thai officer may wear, if he parks in the wrong place, or shows up late for work, or is seen dropping a bit of litter on the sidewalk, he can be ordered to wear the insignia.

“Simple warnings no longer work,” said Pongpat Chayaphan, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, who instituted the new humiliation this week.

“This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor,” he said. “Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.”

Ten of the armbands have been prepared, but so far none have actually been issued, according to an officer who declined to give his name while discussing this sensitive topic.

“After this policy came out, the police are scared,” the officer said. “It will be very embarrassing to walk around with Hello Kitty on your arm.” It is a step down from the Crime Suppression Division’s official motto: “When you have no one to turn to, come to us.”

Not sure this is a good idea. Take a cop who is a bad cop, and make him wear "Hello, Kitty." Sounds like some kids are going to get shot for "resisting arrest."

Price Gouging

JQP on price-gouging. A subject I have whinged about before.

as a thought experiment, try to imagine any exchange in the form of barter that can be seen as anticompetitive. i wasn't able to, but i'm sure that bartering a ton of turnips for life-saving diabetes drugs would surely raise some hackles.

Interesting point. Usually, the person with the money is seen as having the upper hand. Developers, middlemen, etc. The person with the merchandise usually is the person we pity. So are anti-gouging laws supposed to protect sellers from immoral behavior, or to protect buyers from getting things they want, need, and are willing to pay for.

'Cause those are the only two possibilities....

Kids Really DO Prefer Cheese!

On the other hand, what did YOUR kids learn today?

Korean kids learned about economics.....with cheesy computer games.

The country's economy notably ranks among the highest worldwide with per capita income on its way to reach over $30,000. Strengthening the economy means stability and prosperity. The government and industry did not emphasize this enough until now when the nation fears being sandwiched between fast-rising China and highly-advanced Japan in Northeast Asia.

...However, children have often shun learning about money and savings at schools with thick textbooks and supplementary kits that contain lots of hard jargon to understand...

So organizations such as the Financial Quotient Counsel and the Economic Education Center at the Bank of Korea (BOK) are utilizing multimedia technologies to lure kids into learning about economics and finance.

Cho Deok-keun of the central bank's learning center for kids said showing flash animations and digital videos has proven to be very effective in making children feel that learning about spending and investing can be ``fun and entertaining.''

``Getting them involved through interactive media with teachers is the way to go especially in this digital age,'' said Cho. ``This helps them get more attached to the subject and eager to learn more.''

...For example, the center offers a racing game that is similar to playing the famous online game ``Kart Rider.'' But to boost the players' speed while on the racetracks, kids have to answer questions about supply and demand.

Another popular game by the BOK's education center lets kids become a world adventurer on a mission to experience the wonders of banking systems between nations.


World adventurers, indeed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The other shoe....

From the BBC: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has confirmed that he will try to change the law to allow him to remain in power indefinitely.

Just like Cardoso (Brazil), Fujimori (Peru) and Menem (Argentina) before him, Hugo has decided he's just too important to leave. Something tells me though that he will be around a lot longer than his Latin American constitution changing predecessors.

Oh and one more thing, is anyone besides me surprised that Putin hasn't done this?

Tasty Mashup

How about 1 part Jamaican dub and 1 part Sufi Qawwali?

More specifically, the sublime Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn posthumously remixed over dub beats from producer Gaudi entitled Dub Qawwali. You can read about this "collaboration" here (as always, please don't ask me how I know about this link!).
Nusrat doesn't really need any remixing to keep my attention though. If you are not familiar with his music, I'd suggest the two CD set Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party: The Supreme Collection, Volume One as a good starting point.

I'm on the Pavement, thinkin' 'bout the Government

In a fascinating post Dani Rodrik says there are two genres of economists: first besters and second besters.

From my understanding of his post, the first besters always trust the market and "their take on the issues of the day are driven by a straightforward, almost knee-jerk logic." Dani puts Gary Becker, Tyler Cowen, Greg Mankiw, and Brad De Long in this category.

The second besters, who include Joe Stiglitz, George Akerlof, Bob Shiller, Alan Blinder and Paul Krugman, argue that "that market outcomes can be improved by well-designed interventions", and eschew straightforward free-market prescriptions as hopelessly oversimplistic.

Tyler has now weighed in to say "I think of myself as a better-than-first-best economist" and that "An oversimplified version of my view is that anything good is underprovided at the margin."

I think that one could perhaps better frame this debate as how economists view the government. In this case the first besters would be those who tend to uncritically view the government as a benevolent externality corrector (or at least that it would be if we could just elect the right people). The second besters would be the Public Choicers (the Bob Tollisons, the Gordon Tullocks); people that view government agents as acting in their own interest and thus amenable to aiding narrow monied interests.

Me? I think that any real world market outcome could hypothetically be improved mainly for the reasons Tyler gives, but that starting from where we are now, the actual outcome of turning our government (further) loose on any given outcome would most likely make things worse.

We have made a bollix of the tax system, we are moving towards making more mistakes in our economic relationship with China, we are probably going to continue to give protection to domestic steel for no good reason, we just passed a truly disgusting farm bill, we continue our surrealistic approach to social security, the reform of earmarking lasted about 5 minutes, our alternative energy policy is being run by the corn lobby; its hard for me to see an area in economic policy where new government action is making things better.

What about education? Starting from where we are now, would you favor more government spending and regulation or more competition and market based experiments? I'd opt for the latter.

I'm not a no government guy, I don't favor private money or private law. I think our government has gotten many big things approximately right (anti-trust, rule of law, protection of individual rights, compulsory education). I just think the supposed naivety of the Rodrikian first besters about the market is only surpassed by the naivety of the those who assume the best when it comes to the government!

The relevant comparision has to be between the current market outcome and the most likely result of further government activity as predicted from a positive model of its behavior. We cannot simply assume that government will implement what we consider to be the optimal policy intervention.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Markets in Everything!

An interesting result, for the court case Porter v. Bowen (decision). At a minimum, state laws against political vote "trading," as opposed to outright selling or bartering for goods or services, are now questionable.

Excerpt from decision:

Whatever the wisdom of using vote-swapping agreements to communicate these positions, such agreements plainly differ from conventional (and illegal) vote buying, which conveys no message other than the parties' willingness to exchange votes for money (or some other form of private profit). The Supreme Court held in Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U.S. 45, 55 (1982), that vote buying may be banned "without trenching on any right of association protected by the First Amendment." Vote swapping, however, is more akin to the candidate's pledge in Brown to take a pay cut if elected, which the Court concluded was constitutionally protected, than to unprotected vote buying. Like the candidate's pledge, vote swapping involves a "promise to confer some ultimate benefit on the voter, qua...citizen[ ] or member of the general public"--i.e., another person's agreement to vote for a particular candidate. Id. at 58-59. And unlike vote buying, vote swapping is not an "illegal exchange for private profit" since the only benefit a vote swapper can receive is a marginally higher probability that his preferred electoral outcome will come to pass. Id. at 55 (emphasis added); cf. Marc Johnandazza, The Other Election Controversy of Y2K: Core First Amendment Values and High-Tech Political Coalitions, 82 Wash. U. L.Q. 143, 221 (2004) ("There can be no...serious assertion, that anyone entered into a vote-swap arrangement for private profit or any other form of enrichment.").

Both the websites' vote-swapping mechanisms and the communication and vote swaps that they enabled were therefore constitutionally protected. At their core, they amounted to efforts by politically engaged people to support their preferred candidates and to avoid election results that they feared would contravene the preferences of a majority of voters in closely contested states. Whether or not one agrees with these voters' tactics, such efforts, when conducted honestly and without money changing hands, are at the heart of the liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.

Commentary from Rick Hasen here (he also produced the link for the decision, above)

Some background, from ELB:

Who says the 2000 election is over? Last Friday the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument (audio) in Porter v. McPherson (formerly Porter v. Jones and likely to be retitled Porter v. Bowen). At issue was the decision of then-Callifornia Secretary of State Bill Jones to threaten litigation to shut down websites that allowed individuals in different states to agree to "trade" votes. These sites were set up by people who wanted to make sure votes for Nader did not lead to a Bush victory in 2000. An example of the kind of exchange that the site would facilitate would be a Gore voter voting for Nader in California in exchange for a Nader voter in Florida voting for Gore. This would help give Gore Florida's electoral votes and give Nader his 5% of the popular vote to be entitled to public funding in the next presidential election.

Plaintiffs argue that barring the facilitation of discussions between voters in different states that could lead to exchanges violates the plaintiffs' (and their users) First Amendment rights of free speech and association. (They also have an interesting statutory interpretation argument---that the exchange of political benefits is not "vaulable consideration" under the California statute---and a dormant Commerce Clause argument that I don't really understand.)

The Ninth Circuit heard this case first in 2003 (opinion), which decided the district court erred in abstaining in the case. My earlier coverage is here. The case is now back before a new panel on the merits (Fisher, Clifton and District Court judge Martinez, sitting by designation).

The issue is a fascinating one, about whether the unenforceable exchange of political benefits may be prohibted by the state in the name of preventing vote buying.

(Nod to Chateau)
(And, acknowledgement to Tyler for the title)

Actual Text of Levitt Correction Letter

Here is the text of the Levitt "correction" letter.

(Nod to JL)

Multiple Choice on Housing

A multiple choice quiz:

Should you believe....
a. the results of surveys
b. the conclusions of Robert Frank
c. neither

Answer: c

When I See Garbage, I Think of You!

I recently opined, on EconLib, about recycling.

Got home from Santa Fe, and my lovely wife immediately went and got an article she had been saving, from the Raleigh paper. Turns out people are "recycling" a heck of a lot of iron, steel, and copper because they love the earth. NOT! It's because it has value. People are actually scouring the hinterlands for old tractor parts, radiators, and so on.

An excerpt:

An 80-year-old man with heart trouble spends his days bouncing over the Johnston County back roads, hunting for rusty farm equipment....

Blame the invisible hand of scrap metal economics, which drives a global hunger for recycled junk that stretches to bridge-building in India and apartment construction in China. The tiniest, rustiest bit of metal discarded or stolen in the Triangle is wrapped up in a powerful global market that connects junkmen, recyclers and thieves with a construction boom in east Asia.

This week, TT&E Iron & Metal in Garner will send four 50,000-pound loads of scrap metal to China. Last week, Raleigh Metals Processing got an e-mail message seeking up to 2,500 tons of scrap for construction projects in India, Dubai and Singapore.

The demand means that old copper pays about $2.85 a pound in the Triangle -- up from less than a dollar just five years ago.

"You used to see people bringing stuff to landfills; now they bring it here," said TT&E's Scott Thompson, who has seen daily customers rise from 150 a day to 250. "Right now, there doesn't seem to be any end to it."

...Sixty percent of the average car is recycled metal, said Chuck Carr, spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington.

Nationwide, the industry recycles 150 million tons of scrap each year, sending 25 percent overseas but keeping massive amounts for construction at home. It's cheaper and cleaner to recycle metal, and in China's case, there isn't much raw metal on hand.

"We're the Saudi Arabia of scrap," Carr said. "We produce far more than we can use."


No, there is "no end" to the incentive to reuse and recycle things, so long as you can make money by doing it. And, the fact that you can make money doing it means that you are saving resources. I love recycling! And I love my wife, for saving the article.

Later, I gave her the silver necklace, with turquoise and lapis lazuli, I had purchased for her at the Santa Fe street market. It was made by Frank Chee and his wife, in Vanderwagon (They are Dine Navajo).

And I said, "Dear, when I see jewelry, I think of you!"

Her response was, "Dear, when I see an article about garbage, I think of YOU!"

For some reason, this appeared to amuse her considerably. But the necklace had the desired effect on her, so I have no complaints.

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Stanley Fish has a problem. He thinks the problem is that he has to stir his own coffee. I think it is that he last lost his mind. Yes, the Stanley Fish, the literary theorist, the "Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor" at Florida International University, formerly at Berkeley and Duke, author of 10 books has been to Starbucks and DIDN'T LIKE IT!!! But why don't I let him tell you his own self?

It turns out to be hard. First you have to get in line, and you may have one or two people in front of you who are ordering a drink with more parts than an internal combustion engine, something about “double shot,” “skinny,” “breve,” “grande,” “au lait” and a lot of other words that never pass my lips. If you are patient and stay in line (no bathroom breaks), you get to put in your order, but then you have to find a place to stand while you wait for it. There is no such place. So you shift your body, first here and then there, trying not to get in the way of those you can’t help get in the way of.

Finally, the coffee arrives.

But then your real problems begin when you turn, holding your prize, and make your way to where the accessories — things you put in, on and around your coffee — are to be found. There is a staggering array of them, and the order of their placement seems random in relation to the order of your needs. There is no “right” place to start, so you lunge after one thing and then after another with awkward reaches.

Unfortunately, two or three other people are doing the same thing, and each is doing it in a different sequence. So there is an endless round of “excuse me,” “no, excuse me,” as if you were in an old Steve Martin routine.

But no amount of politeness and care is enough. After all, there are so many items to reach for — lids, cup jackets, straws, napkins, stirrers, milk, half and half, water, sugar, Splenda, the wastepaper basket, spoons. You and your companions may strive for a ballet of courtesy, but what you end up performing is more like bumper cars. It’s just a question of what will happen first — getting what you want or spilling the coffee you are trying to balance in one hand on the guy reaching over you.

Stanley: pay attention. This is for your own good. Just stay home, have an Ovaltine, and stop boring the crap out of us.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

No Child Left Behind!

Students at the University of Oklahoma are super stoic. They accept their fate with little whining and soldier on. When I taught at Tulane, it was not so. Many had the "my dad is rich so I'm gonna pass no matter what" attitude. I had a student threaten to accuse me of harassment if I didn't change her failing grade to a pass. I declined to change it, but rather than going after me she had her father get the grade changed administratively somewhere way up above my pay grade as they say.

All this is by way of introduction to the lovely story in the NY times of the girl who couldn't (wouldn't) do algebra.

Indira Fernandez "missed one-third of the classes, arrived late for 20 sessions, turned in half the required homework assignments, failed 11 of 14 tests and quizzes, and never took the final exam" in her intermediate algebra class at the High School of Arts & Technology in Manhattan

She then produced a Doctors note that covered her absences up until March 15 (the final was June 12th), and she and her mother convinced the principal to let her re-take the final. The principal was so moved by the tragic story that she had a different math teacher tutor Indira for two days before the retake. She still failed, and when the original teacher (who had refused to allow the retake and has since quit his job and left the state) re-gave her a failing grade the principal, Ms. Anne Geiger, simply changed it to a passing one.

"Colleagues of his (the original teacher) from the school — a counselor, a programmer, several fellow teachers — corroborated key elements of his version of events. They also describe a principal worried that the 2006 graduation rate of 72.5 percent would fall closer to 50 or 60 percent unless teachers came up with ways to pass more students."

Gee I wonder if anyone named Fernandez is remotely embarrassed by this unseemly turn of events?

Samantha Fernandez, Indira’s mother, spoke on her behalf. “My daughter earned everything she got,” she said. Of Mr. Lampros (the teacher who quit) she said, “He needs to grow up and be a man.”

C'mon Karma, do ur stuff!!!