Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hey Marty: Wanna Bet??

On Bloomberg News, Martin Feldstein said that 4th quarter GDP growth will be below 1% if not zero or negative (you can see the video here (hat tip to Tim Iacono).

I would be happy to take the other side (>= 1%) in a little wager.

How about one month of my salary vs. one month of yours Prof. Feldstein?

Fundman!! This Cat's 4 U


I love the weekends. Mungowitz is away and the cats are minding the KPC store.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Help the Governor with Law Enforcement

I had an op ed in today's Durham Herald. Not finding it on line there (I'll get the link, tho!)

Anyway, here is the article.

Help the Governor with Law Enforcement
Michael Munger
Duke University

There is an old metal sign on my office wall. It's dated 1928, and says, "Help the President with Law Enforcement. Repeal the 18th Amendment. For Prosperity." The sign had hung on a barn wall in eastern NC for more than 75 years. I bought it at an auction, and had it framed.
The sign is old, but the message is timeless. The only reason that lots of things are illegal is that they happen to be against the law. We can spend more, and give up more freedoms, for enforcement. Or we can get rid of the law. The 18th Amendment of 1919 prohibited the sale of alcohol. But Prohibition proved too expensive, too intrusive, and too difficult to enforce. So we helped the President with law enforcement: Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
"Law enforcement" has been the key issue in the last few weeks for North Carolina's community colleges. On November 7, the NC Community College System issued a mandate that read, in part: "To comply with the State Board's regulation requiring an open-door admission policy to 'all applicants'...colleges should immediately begin admitting undocumented individuals." What? Why should illegal aliens be able to attend community college?
Because that's our policy, and Governor Easley has rightly stood by that policy. But we could "help the Governor," just like my old sign says. The problem is not with community college admissions. The problem is the law that makes folks "illegal" in the first place.
Political scientists refer to the coalition that kept Prohibition in place as the "the Baptists and the Bootleggers." The Baptists for moral reasons, and Bootleggers for economic reasons, wanted states to crack down on "illegal" liquor sales. Strange bedfellows, I suppose, but Baptists got their morality, and the bootleggers got a protected monopoly.
Well, the Baptist and Bootlegger coalition has come back. Demagogues like Lou Dobbs are playing to a resurgent nativist sentiment widespread in our population. We are all immigrants, but the ones who got here first want to pull the ladder up. "I've got mine! You have to stay out!" So they play the moralistic loudmouth role.
And the Bootleggers? Well, that role has been taken on by the giant agriculture corporations, and the meatpackers, and other companies that depend on keeping immigration illegal. We don't block immigration; we block legal immigration. That's the way we keep labor costs low to unscrupulous employers. That's the economic part.
Employment, welfare, insurance, education, crime....all these issues are dumped on the Governor, as law enforcement problems. One way to address the problem is to spend more money, and divert more resources, to a hopeless attempt to enforce a useless law. But the other way, the sensible way, to solve the problem is to change the law itself.
Allowing illegal aliens access to community colleges, at out-of-state tuition rates, is the right policy, but it's a baby step. The real way to help the President, and the Governor, with law enforcement is to change the law. The solution is complicated, but I think it has three parts. Remember, as it stands, we don't block immigration. Millions of people have crossed our border in the last decade. No, we just use paper barriers to prevent people from coming here legally.
The first step, then, would be to gain control of borders, giving us confidence that we can keep criminals, repeat offenders, and terrorists out. Second, start a guest worker program. Make it possible for people to be legal, and go through a probation period. Law-abiding, hard-working immigrants shouldn't be deported. And, if we have control of the border, deportations of the law-breakers and the chiselers would stick, because we can use fingerprints and retinal scans for positive IDs.
Finally, full citizenship for guest workers who qualify, after five years. In America, if you want to be an American, you should get a chance to be here legally. Help the President with law enforcement. Change the law, to achieve a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem.

Lucky for us that no one told the Pilgrims to "go home and get in line"

Great article on immigration by Michael Kinsley. Here's my favorite part:

The suspicion naturally arises that the illegality is not what bothers you. What bothers you is the immigration. There is an easy way to test this. Reducing illegal immigration is hard, but increasing legal immigration would be easy. If your view is that legal immigration is good and illegal immigration is bad, how about increasing legal immigration? How about doubling it? Any takers? So in the end, this is not really a debate about illegal immigration. This is a debate about immigration.

Hogfoot, Here in NC

A story from my beloved News and Observer.

Remember the hubbub over Hogzilla, the mammoth Georgia porker killed in 2004?

That hybrid hog (part wild boar, part Hampshire) first was said to weigh 1,000 pounds and measure 12 feet long. The folks at National Geographic later dug up the carcass and estimated the weight at 800 pounds and length at about 8 feet.

Those are just about the dimensions of a feral pig Donald Strickland of Whitakers killed in Nash County on Nov. 19.

Let's call it Pigfoot.

Strickland, 31, a heavy equipment operator with the N.C. Division of Forest Resources and an avid deer hunter, had just finished a morning hunt when the pig business started...

...The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission doesn't keep records on feral pigs, but it just might be the heaviest wild pig ever killed in North Carolina. Neither Mark Jones, former bear and boar biologist with the commission, nor Evin Stanford, deer biologist, was aware of a bigger pig.

"It's the largest we've ever heard of," Stanford said. "It's very rare for a free-ranging hog to get that big.

"It's possible that it might have been in captivity once."

Outside of a six-county area in the mountains, feral pigs have no closed season or bag limit.

"They're not a game species," Stanford said. "From our perspective, we kind of wished they weren't around. They are an undesirable species."

Strickland buried the carcass but kept the head to make a skull, or European, mount.

He doesn't plan to give up deer hunting for chasing pigs, but he did find the experience interesting.

Several good things about this story:

1. Notice that the weight was without the "oysters." Pig that big had some fine oysters. Maybe 20 pounds or more.
2. Did he end up using the meat? Or was it too stinky?
3. The guy is planning of having a taxidemermist fix him up a "European" mount for the den. I think that the idea of having the mounted heads of Europeans in American dens is highly original, and one I fully support. When is the season, though? And how do you catch French people? They run SO FAST in the opposite direction at the sound of gunfire.

(Nod to Anonyman)

Maybe Chicks Just Dig Uniforms; Mirrored Sunglasses are HOT!

All in the family: why non-democratic leaders have more children

Dustin Beckett & Gregory Hess
Economics of Governance, January 2008, Pages 65-85

Economists have come to learn that politics matters. But survival matters the most to those involved in politics. We provide a theory whereby non-benevolent, non-democratic leaders increase their expected family size to raise the likelihood that a child will be a match at continuing the regime's survival. As a consequence, having a larger family size raises the non-democratic leader's expected rents that they can exploit from the citizenry. In contrast, democratic leaders have a lower desire to appropriate rents from the citizenry, and therefore have a diminished desire to have additional children for these purposes. We construct a data set of the number of children of country leaders as of August 31, 2005. We find that in a sample of 221 country leaders, fully non-democratic leaders have approximately 1.5-2.5 more actual children as compared to if they are fully democratic. This empirical relationship is established controlling for a full array of country specific as well as individual specific variables. Our finding also continues to hold when using alternative measures of family size.

(Nod to KL)

The Rape of the Beermakers

A tale of subsidy and horror.

(Nod to Tommy the Wannabe Beer Drinker.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My Dinner with Rick II

Had dinner with Rick Santorum, and then the ex-Senator gave a speech in Griffith Film Theater on the Duke campus. (Dinner sponsored by the program I run with Michael Gillespie, on American Values and Institutions)

The Senator was late, because of ice in Philadelphia. But had a nice dinner with the students of the Duke Conservative Union. And then when the Senator did come, he was very warm and welcoming to all, though he must have been stressed and exhausted.

The Duke Chronicle story on his talk, which went well.

In fact, I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that THIS TALK REALLY DID GO WELL. (There has been some disagreement about a similar claim on the Karl Rove talk, on Monday).

Long Live the Internet

An interesting comparison.

Read this stream of comments, responding to a rather tepid claim I made about Rove's right to speak, and an audience's right to hear.

Then, read this post, and the comments that follow it. Then this follow-up, and comments.

Some thoughts:

1. The internet has become a place where a lot of people are sure they know things that they don't know.
2. Then they feel entitled, even obliged, to act on that knowledge.

None of this discourse is very enlightening. But to see such a weak, everyday argument (people should get to listen, interruptions aren't that big a problem) attacked with such vitriol from both sides.... Interesting.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Reaction to the podcast, from one who knows....

From a reader/listener, regarding the podcast:

Excellent podcast this week....Thought you'd like this story:

After Katrina, FEMA decided to help those displaced with free housing. FEMA went to the Veteran's Administration (VA) for help. The VA had a plethora of homes available, as they guarantee the VA loans. When the veterans default on their mortgages, the VA ends up with them. FEMA and the VA came to an agreement. Essentially, the VA would supply the Katrina victims with the best homes available in Texas, as the VA and FEMA did not want the negative press of supplying the bad homes to victims. In return, the VA would charge a little money to compensate for the opportunity cost of not selling those homes on the open market. They decided on $400 a month. The victims would sign 1-year leases for the homes at $400 per month, FEMA would give the victims $400 per month, and the VA would get the homes back when the leases terminated.

So, the victims, who were living in glorified boxes in New Orleans, were now fighting with each other over "who got the homes with Jacuzzis." Because they were guaranteed a beautiful home (for free), they were very picky over what was acceptable. The incentives were also there for for arbitrage. Multiple families decided to live in a single home, since it was still a much better life than what they were used to in new Orleans, and they rented out "their" nice homes for $1,200 a month. This was lower than the market price for a nice home in Texas, which allowed them to be picky as to retners. The victims cared very little about the quality of the renters. So, the renters ended up being the kind of people not very well liked in nice communities with home owners associations....but they paid cash. Of course, the homes were completed trashed when they came back to the VA.

So, let's think about it. I'll commend the victims for their entrepreneurial savvy, but who are the victims?

-The neighbors in the HOA.
-The taxpayers for guaranteeing the loans, but not having the "ability" to sell inventory on the market
-The other people trying to rent property in Texas that had to compete with $1,200 a month leases
-FEMA recognized the problem, but couldn't do anything about it for fear of "attacking" hurricane victims

So, FEMA decided to try to avoid this problem. When the leases expired, the victims naturally asked for extensions. FEMA decided to put trailers on the land in New Orleans, instead. Then, formaldehyde was found in the trailers, and the victims are suing the federal government. FEMA's response? They called the VA to get the victims back in the best homes again. This was 2 weeks ago.

I'm an asset manager for a company that is subcontracted to sell the VA's foreclosed homes. That's how I know this story. You can also add me to the list of victims above, as my job is to fix up and sell the homes on the market. The VA ordered the best homes be given up for the cause. Those homes were the most likely to sell quickly, and they were (in many cases) the ones we asset managers invested the most time, energy, and money fixing up.

My Dinner with Rick

Tonight....Dinner with Rick Santorum.

And then a talk.

I'll report tomorrow. People didn't bother Rove much.

Santorum may be another story.

Can't anybody here play this game?

In the latest economic news, productivity growth is revised upward (to 6.3%), new jobs were created at a rate triple what economists forecast (189,000 in November according to ADP employer services, the official government number comes out Friday), and factory orders "unexpectedly" rose in October.

Beside calling into question the skilz of my forecasting brethren (I guess they've been drinking a bit too much of the Roubini Koolaid), I'd also like to say the following to Fed Chairman Bernanke:


You have to take back control of monetary policy from these guys:

Wednesday's advance was fed by investors betting that the Fed might be generous and cut rates a half percentage point, or, in market lingo, 50 basis points.

"I do believe the market wants 50, that the Fed needs to do a lot more work, and that a quarter is not going to do it," said Greg Church, chief investment officer of Church Capital Management.

Behold the power of.... CHUCK??

Forget Oprah and Babs, the real power-endorser in this election is the low-flyin'-fake- fightin'-toup-wearin' Norris! Search engines don't lie people:

The actor who kicked copious butt on "
Walker, Texas Ranger" is now attempting to bench press a presidential candidate from obscurity to front-runner with his endorsement of Mike Huckabee. Searches on Norris are up 10% over the past week, but more importantly, lookups on "mike huckabee chuck norris" are up a whopping 457%.

As for Huckabee, the GOP candidate has seen his searches double over the past week. Is it the Norris effect? We looked at searches on two prominent endorsements on the Democratic side to see how celeb buzz is affecting candidates.

Oprah Winfrey has thrown her behemoth buzz behind Barack Obama. We know that Oprah is the largest offline influencer of buzz. Her support has lifted searches on books, cars, and even Dr. Oz. She's hitting the campaign trail with Obama and searches on the senator from Illinois are up 24% this week. Queries on the daytime queen are up 10% as pollsters and pundits watch to see if her powers extend to the political realm.

Singer Barbra Streisand cast her lot with Hillary Clinton and backed the New York senator in her presidential bid. Searches on Babs jumped 31% and Clinton searches sang a happy tune, up 38% this week.

But when it comes to political muscle thus far, no celeb endorsement can measure up to the power of Chuck. His backing of Huckabee helped lift the former governor of Arkansas past his more prominent rivals in buzz.

Oh yeah, and thanks to Chuck, Huck is now polling at #1 in the torture party's (John McCain is honorably excluded from that last statement) Iowa primary race.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Worst Guitar Solo--All Time

Whacking Day is moved by the Van Halen incident to reminisce.

Stairway to Nowhere: Check it out.

As Tex notes, the fact that the keyboard was NOT EVEN CONNECTED
to the TV feed didn't help. But the guitar solo. What was he doing?

Angus. can. play.
better. than. that.

A Fait Accomplicity

S. Karlson shares on campus politics.

Relatedly, Donald Downs on U of Delawhere.

The "Worst of Kos"

Wow. The "Worst of Kos" is pretty bad.

This is only #8, and it''s....well, read it.

"I know I’m a Jewish lesbian and (Ahmadinejad would) probably have me killed. But still, the guy speaks some blunt truths about the Bush Administration that make me swoon...

Okay, I admit it. Part of it is that he just looks cuddly. Possibly cuddly enough to turn me straight. I think he kind of looks like Kermit the Frog. Sort of. With smaller eyes. But that’s not all...

I want to be very clear. There are certainly many things about Ahmadinejad that I abhor — locking up dissidents, executing of gay folks, denying the fact of the Holocaust, potentially adding another dangerous nuclear power to the world and, in general, stifling democracy. Even still, I can’t help but be turned on by his frank rhetoric calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration and, for that matter, generations of US foreign policy preceding."

She's a LESBIAN, ready to turn BI, for Ahmadinejad. As I said, wow.

(Nod to Betsy)

Podcast on Trade Agreement and Free Trade Coffee

For you podcastrians out there: fresh and hot.

My Dinner with Karl II

So, we had the Karl Rove talk, and the dinner afterward. My lovely wife even got to sit beside the man himself, which was pretty cool.

Raleigh N&O story

Duke Chronicle story

Duke Chromicle editorial

Best part of dinner: Karl described his reaction to the Correspondents' Dinner "MC Rove" roast. (If you didn't see it....)

Now, this dinner was off the record, and I am not claiming these are quotes. But Karl's basic description was that he was pissed off to be dragged up there (look at his face, on the clip!). But he asked himself, "Do I want to let them make a fool of me, or do I want to come off as a jerk?"

He went the fool route, and it makes me laugh. But he was right, it also makes people think more of him. Pretty funny.

Straight Talk from One Armed Economists!

(1) Esther Duflo on Immigration

(2) Don Boudreaux on the Dollar

(3) Clive Crook on American Trade Politics

Plus the best sentence I've read this week:

"I am suspicious of long chains of reasoning, or for that matter medium-long chains of reasoning, which imply that an apparently OK state of affairs must end in ruin."

Well said Tyler!!

Monday, December 03, 2007

My Dinner With Karl

Tonight, Karl Christian Rove (yes, that is his middle name!) will speak at Duke, in Page Auditorium. It's sold out, so no way to get seats at this point.

Then, a dinner with a few Duke folks, a few spouses, and Karl. Donna and I will be there.

It appears there may be arrests. (At the talk, not the dinner.) Should be interesting.

Some background.

Karl Rove

Protest planning, and some excellent Mungowitz bashing! Some of these folks have been sipping that Haterade for too long....

Duke Chronicle article today

Chavez: Winning by Losing?

As all the wire services are reporting this morning, Hugo's constitutional reforms were voted down 51%-49% in a low turn out referendum. Mr. Chavez, refusing to take a page from the Manuel Bartlett PRI playbook, is accepting the defeat quite humbly, even going so far as to say that he wouldn't have wanted to have just scraped by with a narrow victory for such far reaching changes.

I'd say he's playing it pretty well:

Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday's balloting had taught him that "Venezuelan democracy is maturing." His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democratic leader.

"From this moment on, let's be calm," he proposed, asking for no more street violence like the clashes that marred pre-vote protests. "There is no dictatorship here."

Look at it this way, he's been President since 1999; now 2012 will mark the end of his "reign". In other words after 8 years in power, he loses a big election but is still looking at another 4+ years (minimum, another reform vote could be taken between now and then). Also, he's not exactly hurting for power now under the current rules. It is not clear to me how the implementation of his vision so far has been crippled by the old constitution (after all, he largely wrote that one as well). And the big plus is, now he has some serious democratic street cred. How can you call him a dictator now? How can you rant about his authoritarianism?

Geez, maybe he WANTED to lose??

Ron Paul Speech.

You have probably seen this.

But it is quite a speech.

Somalia: Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me...

Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse

Peter Leeson
Journal of Comparative Economics, December 2007, Pages 689-710

Could anarchy be good for Somalia's development? If state predation goes
unchecked government may not only fail to add to social welfare, but can
actually reduce welfare below its level under statelessness. Such was the
case with Somalia's government, which did more harm to its citizens than
good. The government's collapse and subsequent emergence of statelessness
opened the opportunity for Somali progress. This paper investigates the
impact of anarchy on Somali development. The data suggest that while the
state of this development remains low, on nearly all of 18 key indicators
that allow pre- and post-stateless welfare comparisons, Somalis are better
off under anarchy than they were under government. Renewed vibrancy in
critical sectors of Somalia's economy and public goods in the absence of a
predatory state are responsible for this improvement.

KPC has talked about this several times. Certainly there EXISTS a structure of government, in my mind at least, that would be better than the current situation. But it is quite possible, as Pete shows, that the ACTUAL government on the ground was in fact worse.

And that's a big problem. Many of my statist friends object to Libertarian claims. Their objections always come down to this: "If the government would do what *I* want, the world would be better, in my opinion, than things are now."

Well, I'm not sure that's true. But even if it is, that doesn't mean that the actual government won't look, like the government we have right now. We aren't Somalia, by any means. But we aren't the America outlined in the Constitution.

(Nod to KL)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vote me like your back ain't got no bones!

A straw poll.

Can ya HELP a brother?

Vote here....

Iceland is redhot!

Besides ranking #1 on the latest Human Development Index (yawn), Iceland is also home to Seabear, a very cool, low key groop. They sound a tiny bit like EARLY Iron & Wine (a good thing) and make terrific quirky videos like this:

This is actually an even better video, but the song is not as strong. Check it out.