Saturday, March 07, 2009

Viva Las Vagrants

Angus and I are both in the land of the "What the F***?", for the Public Choice Society meetings.

Not just the usual bad suits and autism. You can see those at ANY academic conference.

No, I mean Vegas itself.

When you see this.....
Yes, that is a Denny's, right between Madame Tusaud's and Harrah's. Breakfast for the masses.

And this:

That's Bill Shughart, Ed in Chief of Public Choice, and Nick Philipson, Springer Senior Editor for Business and Economics. In front of a store called "Theory." WTF? (though, es verdad, Shoogie necesita mas teoria, ahora mismo). Note the mannequin. I think she has had PLENTY of theory.

Tonight: The Angus - Mungowitz summit dinner, at Chinois, then off to see Ray Romano's and Kevin James' comedic stylings. I predict: fun. Also always nice to see the lovely and charming Ms. Angus. Angus made the arrangements. And though we disagree on some things, I am happy to be in his capable hands on scheduling. He is psychotic about getting things right, and in terms of taste, I must admit that he is a recreational genius. It took me a while to admit this, since many people who CALL themselves "recreational genius" are just rank poseurs. But Angus is the real deal.

Another WTF treat: Giant flying saucer building with nothing under it. In the picture it looks pretty big, but in person it looks much bigger, and even more pointless.

Finally, a WTF lagniappe: when you walk on the strip, right between the Venetian and Ceasar's Palace, there is a long line of Latino men and women, wearing matching t-shirts that say, "GIRLS! Direct to you! 20 minutes to your room."

They are snapping little pornographic cards and trying to give them to everyone who walks by. There are 20 or so people, standing shoulder to shoulder, trying to sell "girls." And the ground is littered, at both ends of the line, with all the little cards. Printed on the cards are some pretty remarkably tasteless poses of women wearing...well, nothing. The strangest sales campaign I have ever seen. But, presumably, they get enough customers to make it pay. Ick.

Hangin' with the Inbreds

The highlight of our Friday at the PC meetings was going to see George Lopez at the Hilton. He was awesome. He hit the stage running as his first 10 minutes were probably the funniest minutes I'd ever experienced on this planet (the rest of the show was great too).

It was especially funny to us that Lopez shares our view (fully elaborated in the previous post) that the Imperial Palace is, shall we say, less than stellar. In his opening, he was riffing on Roy's return to the Las Vegas stage with the tiger that had mauled him.

Lopez claimed that white tigers were "inbred" and that Roy had provoked the tiger by hitting him on the nose with a microphone. He then asked "do you know what happens when you hit an inbred creature on the nose? Well go down to the Imperial Palace, where they all stay, and try it out!"

Hmmm, I wonder if George knew the PC meetings were in town?????

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Live from the Public Choice Meetings

This is your correspondent Angus reporting from the PC meetings in Las Vegas. Let me break it down for you so far into three groups: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

First the good. We had dinner tonight at Spago. Very very nice. Mrs. A had two kinds of handmade pasta, I had a baby beet and goat cheese salad and fresh halibut with seafood risotto and some awesome "chocolate monkey" tea for dessert.

Now the bad: it was 85 today in Norman and only about 60 here in Vegas.

Now the ugly: the conference hotel is the hideously mis-named Imperial Palace. It is loud, smoky, tacky, ugly, and frankly a little bit scary. We have a mirror on the ceiling over the bed and the carpets in the elevators have large dark stains all over them.

So much action and the conference doesn't even start until Friday morning. Stay tuned for more.

Another one bites the dust

Now that President O has (1) stimulated the economy, (2) raised taxes to re-balance the budget, (3) launched a program to solve the "foreclosure crisis", and (4) caved on eliminating earmarks, it's finally time to reform health care!

Yes, the secretary of Health and Human Services has not been confirmed yet, but hey we gotta wrap this all up in 100 days people, at which time we will enter the new golden age where all "problems" will have been solved by our government.

I love this quote from the above linked article:

"Our healthcare costs are exploding our economy," said Melody Barnes, Obama's senior domestic policy adviser.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I wonder what happens when He says "no"?

The Turner Hypothesis in Comparative Perspective

A neat new NBER working paper by García-Jimeno and Robinson, somewhat misleadingly titled "The Myth of the Frontier" provides an empirical test of the "Turner Hypothesis" that the frontier was crucial in the development of American democracy and prosperity.

(Here is the NBER link. I cannot find an ungated link. Can anyone provide one?)

Here is what Turner said:

"These free lands promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise,
democracy " Fredrick Jackson Turner

The paper takes 21 countries in the Americas, measures their frontier land share in 1850 and shows that both this variable and the number of constraints on the Executive in 1850 are both positive and significantly partially correlated with per capita income in 2007 and with the average democracy score (from Polity IV) from 1900-2007.

They then go on to add the product of the two variables to the specification, finding that the original two variables become insignificant while their interaction is positive and significant (and the r-squared rises). This is treated as evidence in favor of a "conditional frontier" thesis, where the frontier only helps if you have good institutions in place.

I must confess that I find interaction terms where one of the variables is not a dummy variable fairly bewildering (which is driving which? what about the induced colinearity?). So, I like the straightforward evidence (that the two variables are both significant in a multiple regression) a lot more than the interacted version, but the paper overall is well done and well worth reading, with a lot of historical information and examples of how the frontier was allocated across the Americas.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

From toxic asset to productive capital

People, you know I'm talking about Stephon Marbury.

Check out this article about how we should forget about the Swedish model and buy into the Marbury model.

Let's just hope that 6 cents on the dollar doesn't become the average market price for disposing of troubled assets.

Maybe Steph could title his autobiography: "From Toxic Asset to Productive Capital"

Hat tip to LeBron.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Predicting Elections is Child's Play!

"Predicting Elections: Child's Play!"

John Antonakis & Olaf Dalgas

In two experiments, children and adults rated pairs of faces from election races. Naïve adults judged a pair on competence; after playing a game, children chose who they would prefer to be captain of their boat. Children's (as well as adults') preferences accurately predicted actual election outcomes.

(Nod to KL)

News of the Day

1. Tough times among the failed right in DC. Look, people, you CAUSED this. A little humility might be in order.

I understand that the Obamarama is painful, as it is for us all. But you had the keys to the halls of power, and all you did for 8 years was run up the deficit and lick your own private parts in public.

2. Wearing fishnets well is the best revenge. Shopowner in Old Town wants to expand. Old Town says "no." Shopowner leases to "adult products" shop. Old Town says "Oh, no."

(Nods to Anonyman)

Is this good news or bad news?

A posthumous release of an unfinished novel is a tricky business at best, but I am intrigued by the announcement that the late David Foster Wallace had an unfinished work that will be published next year. It has a cool name, "The Pale King" (no it's not about David Bowie!) and is set in an IRS office in Illinois. We will definitely be reading it here at Chez Angus.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

By Guaranteeing Against Risk, Government MAXIMIZES Deaths and Injuries

Had a little piece in the News and Observer today. The prompt was the AM2PAT debacle, where dirty and contaminated syringes continued to be sold long after several people had gotten sick, or even died.

They (N&O) edited it quite a bit. (Fair enough, have to make it fit, no complaints.)

But this is the slightly longer version, with more explanation:

At present, we have the worst health, safety, and drug regulation system that I can imagine. We spend a great deal of money, consumers are not safe, and the system of inspections and regulations burden business unnecessarily.

Imagine that there were NO regulations, of any kind, on drugs or food. (This was true for much of human history, of course, and is true now in many countries). Would production and trade in these goods cease? No, what would happen is that people would rely on brand name, reputation, and repeat business. We would buy from a local butcher we trusted, and buy a brand name drug company. Private certification commitments, like those made by Consumer Reports or Underwriters Laboratory, would become very important. Within two years or so, the system would be SAFER than it is now.

Or, imagine that we had a real system of inspections, with an FDA that was incentivized to conduct real investigations, and to protect public safety. That might work, too.

What we have, instead, is a system with three features. These features interact to create a serious public health danger. Unless something changes, we are going to face injuries and deaths in the thousands, not just the dozens like with AM2PAT.

Feature 1: Government promises perfect safety and zero risk. This means that people stop buying brand name products, and buy the cheapest, often imported, product that they can find.

Feature 2: The government promise of perfect safety crowds out the responsible brand names. Frivolous and intrusive regulations raise the cost of doing business honestly, so that the firms that would actually try to supply high quality products are crowded out of the market by low cost competitors. Surviving firms cut corners, and produce dangerous and adulterated products. Consumers ignore brand name, and quality considerations, because they think that the government is doing all the work of taking risk out of the process.

Feature 3: It is impossible for government to carry out its promise of zero risk, even in the best of circumstances. There are too many producers, and products.
It makes no sense for consumers to think that brand names don't matter, and that quality can be ignored. Worse, our government under the Bush administration actually seemed intent on making the "government is incompetent" prediction even more true than it has to be. Our system of inspecting drugs and food is rotten, full of incompetence, corruption, and bureaucratic inertia.

The result is that neither markets nor government can solve the problem. But the root of the problem is the false promise of zero risk. Consumers have to recognize that they have some responsibility to make good choices, to inspect labels, and to buy brand name products.

Governments cannot protect us against all risks, even if they perform perfectly. And they don't perform perfectly.

There are GOOD Reasons not to "Friend" Your Dad On Facebook

There are many good reasons not to "friend" your dad on Facebook.

But one of the biggest reasons just HAS to be the possibility that, if you DO, your dad will use the photo evidence against you.

Suppose, for example, that my son Kevin was going to do vodka Jello shots out of a big bowl. It might look like this.....

Sorry, ladies, he's taken. No, really. But we are VERY, very proud.

pictures of the week

There is just something that is just fundamentally wrong about these two current photos:

Ya know what? I'd really like to see Stalin in a sombrero!

Good Sunday reading

Happy March, people.

1. Brett and Jemaine give their plan for our deficit problem (it comes at the end of the piece).

2. Tyler Cowen pees in all our cornflakes.

3. Steven Pinker on human progress.