Saturday, August 08, 2009

We just need a sugar daddy!

The most often made point I hear in the health care debate is the comparison with Western Europe. I find this point intriguing because, if you stop to think about it, the US really helped immensely to finance public health care in Europe.

For example, national health care started in France right after World War II. At that time and over the next 50 years, the US both helped to finance France's economy (via the Marshall plan), and provide a huge subsidy to France (and Germany and the UK) via our military umbrella.

Ironically, instead of using US taxpayer money to help finance universal health care in the US, our Government used US taxpayer money to help finance universal health care in Western Europe, by paying so much $$ for the defense of the region!

Nowadays we need to find us a sugar daddy to help finance our social programs, but the cupboard is looking mighty thin.

Maybe Venezuela??

Friday, August 07, 2009

Peak Nukes?

An issue you may not have heard of.

Currently there is a growing world wide shortage medical isotopes. The shortage is starting to have an impact on patient care. What is needed is more U.S. based nuclear
reactors that can be used for producing radioisotopes for nuclear medicine

There is also great need for research grants to develop new radioisotope production technologies that use low enriched uranium (LEU) rather than highly enriched uranium (HEU). Use of LEU would help decrease the potential for diversion of these nuclear materials for use by terrorists or rogue governments.

More story

Record of the year so far

People, it's gotta be "Bitte Orca" by the Dirty Projectors. So so so good. If I were to play the "sounds like" game, I'd say a mash up of The Blow, The Books, LCD Soundsystem and Led Zeppelin! Only the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

While to me this record is easy to listen too and truly beautiful, it has its fair share of fractured rhythms and dissonance. It is, I think, a very ambitious recording.  The writer (David Longstreth)  is clearly swinging for the fences and to me, consistently hitting it out. The only song of the 9 on the album that doesn't fully float my boat is "Two Doves". This is an essential recording.

If you get a chance, try listening to it on something other than computer speakers or an Ipod. The recording is pristine. On a decent home stereo, it throws out a huge soundstage and is crisp and clean with a wide dynamic range. Kudos!
Finally, if all this isn't enough to convince you, it has an image of Nietzsche on the back!


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Pie in the sky

Recycling is generally Mungowitz's department, but I found this NY Times editorial bizzare enough to take a shot.

Before I start in, let me say that I am not in favor of poverty. I have seen a bit of how garbage pickers live in developing countries and would very much like them to have a better life.

However, their advocate in the Times, Bharati Chaturvedi, seems a bit clueless.

He begins by pointing out that in a lot of places, trash pickers provide the only recycling services and that they "recycle waste much more cheaply and efficiently than governments or corporations can".

He then says they have been hurt badly by falling scrap prices in the global recession and proposes the following:

"A more efficient temporary solution would be for governments to buoy the buying price of scrap. To do this, they’d have to pay a small subsidy to waste dealers so they could purchase scrap from trash pickers at about 20 percent above the current price. This increase, if well advertised and broadly utilized, would bring recyclers back from the brink.

In the long run, though, these invisible workers will remain especially vulnerable to economic slowdowns unless they are integrated into the formal business sector, where they can have insurance and reliable wages.

This is not hard to accomplish. Informal junk shops should have to apply for licenses, and governments should create or expand doorstep waste collection programs to employ trash pickers. Instead of sorting through haphazard trash heaps and landfills, the pickers would have access to the cleaner scrap that comes straight from households and often brings a higher price. Employing the trash pickers at this step would ensure that recyclables wouldn’t have to be lugged to landfills in the first place.

Experienced trash pickers, once incorporated into the formal economy, would recycle as efficiently as they always have, but they’d gain access to information on global scrap prices and would be better able to bargain for fair compensation. Governments should charge households a service fee, which would also supplement the trash pickers’ income, and provide them with an extra measure of insurance against future crises."

In other words, poor country governments should create formal recycling programs and hire the current trash pickers, using a combination of subsidies and service fees to make sure they make a decent living.

Sounds great, no?

Well, maybe but, it's probably useful to recognize that this is something that just flat out isn't going to happen. Trash pickers don't have much political clout.

Secondly, India has hundreds of millions of desperately poor people, all of which do something to survive and all of which have been hurt by the global recession. By the same logic, governments should subsidize their activities in the short run and create a government program to employ them in the long run at a decent standard of living. People, I am pretty sure that this is impossible.

Wouldn't the best long run solution here from a public policy perspective (i.e. assuming that the government indeed should do something) be to expand educational opportunities for these, and indeed all, poor families with programs along the lines of Mexico's "Oportunidades" program, where poor mother's are paid for their children's school attendance?

If one was convince of the need for government action, wouldn't that make more sense than subsidizing and bureaucratizing a fairly unpleasant occupation, in an way locking these people into it?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

International economics book bleg

I teach a survey of international economics class to a group of international studies masters students who are not required to have any economics background. Mostly we read and discuss a lot of popular books, like Mallaby on the World Bank and Blustein on the IMF and the Argentine Crisis. I am looking for newer or better books like that, and also books on trade, the international financial system, and maybe even one on "globalization".

They need to be paperbacks, understandable to the target audience (not textbooks), well written, and contain a high ratio of stuff worth knowing or discussing to crap.

TIA for your suggestions.

In your face, Barack Obama

While our wimpy "leader of the free world" wears mom jeans and drinks Bud Light, Pootie does this:

And this:

Holy Crapski!

From the department of unnecessary advice

This just in: Russian soccer fans urged to drink hard liquor!

Russian soccer fans have been told to drink whisky on their trip to Wales for next month's World Cup qualifier to ward off the H1N1 swine flu virus, the head of the country's supporter association (VOB) said on Monday.

"We urge our fans to drink a lot of Welsh whisky as a form of disinfection," VOB head Alexander Shprygin told Reuters.

"That should cure all symptoms of the disease."

Russia's Health Ministry has issued a public warning against travelling to Britain because of the spread of the H1N1 virus but Shprygin said he expected at least several hundred fans would go to Wales for the September 9 qualifier in Cardiff.

"Health officials say this virus is very dangerous but being a fan myself I can tell you that for a real fan nothing is more important than the well-being of the team," said Shprygin, who also sits on the executive board of the Russian FA.

"Russian fans don't fear anything or anybody so this virus will not stand in our way of supporting our team."

In other swine flu news, German heavy metal music fans are advised not to touch each other.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bill sticks it to Hill (again)

So hot on the heels of the North Koreans calling out his wife, Bill Clinton heads over there to rescue two American journalists who were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. There were photo ops and North Korean press releases/propaganda. Pretty much a good time was had by all.

But I don't get it. We are on the outs with North Korea right? Hillary said we shouldn't give them any attention. But yet we did. I am happy for the two women and their families, but I have to say, if I were President I wouldn't have done this.

The White House says Bill went completely as a private citizen, the Northies say he carried a message from Obama. Either way, there is no way he went without the approval of the White House.

What about them firing missiles? What about the sanctions? Why are we giving the Dear Leader a global stage upon which to prance? Because conditions in North Korean jails are too harsh?

Even if the journalists didn't actually enter North Korea as they were alleged to have done, I believe that this circus is too high a price to pay for their release.

I wonder what we will have to do to "win" the release of the next group?

Heaven Knows, Anything Goes

In a very cool paper (ungated version here), Opp, Sonnenschein & Tombazos show that in the textbook Hecksher-Olin world (two goods, two factors of production, and two countries) it is possible to produce a "reverse Rybczynski" effect, simply by assuming that consumers in each country have a preference for the exportable good.

By "reverse Rybczynski", they mean a situation where increases in the supply of the factor of production used intensively in the production of a good produce a decline in the output of that good.

Or as they put it, "immizerizing factor growth".

After reading the piece I was left with two questions.

1. Is there any important proposition in Trade theory that can be proven in general?

2. What does this result mean for work based on the Rajan-Zingales index? Their classic piece and a host of follow up papers all assume that variations in output elasticities across industries are perfectly correlated with variations in input intensities across industries.

Monday, August 03, 2009

I was wrong.....

Okay, so I was pretty much wrong. For anyone familiar with my predictive powers, this is hardly a surprise.

But I fussed about the German "euros for junkers" program, the Abwrackprämie.

This program, as often reader (and Berliner) Florian pointed out, was singled out as being pretty impressive, as these programs go.

And, I have to admit that they are right. The Abwrackprämie is relatively inexpensive, it is NOT protectionist, and quite a few folks bought cars. I would stand by my claim that its environmental claims were exaggerated, and in fact simply false. But, as they programs go, it was only mildly nuts, not completely insane.

For completely insane, you have to go to the US program.

My favorite part: The House "leadership" is saying, "What? We ran out of money already?" I think we are going to be hearing that a LOT in the next few years.

Pretty good interview with Mike Pence.

The Culture that is Germany IX

Or, "Nutbush City Limits". This one could almost be an FML, "Today I was fired from my job as a garbage collector for collecting garbage. FML"

On Thursday, a labor court in the southwestern German city of Mannheim ruled that a garbage collector who took a child's travel bed home after finding it in the trash was unlawfully fired. He must now be reinstated. The court found that his dismissal without notice was unwarranted, despite the fact that he did not follow company policy on objects found in the garbage.

In its decision, the court found that: "In objective terms, taking the child's bed away did qualify as theft and, as such, provided ... a valid reason for the firing." But the court ultimately voted in favor of the plaintiff in the belief that the punishment did not fit the crime.

So you may think, well, that's not too bad, he did get his job back after all. Why are you calling Germany "Nutbush"? Well how  'bout this next case then folks?

It was national news in Germany this week when the Federal labour court announced it would revisit the case of Barbara E, known to the public as “Emmely”. For several months her story has had the tabloids and talk shows in an uproar. Last year, after 31 years as a supermarket cashier in Berlin, Emmely was fired by her employer, Kaiser’s, for allegedly taking €1.30 ($1.83, £1.11) worth of bottle-return coupons that a customer had lost, and cashing them for herself. There is a long line of cases in German law involving Bagatelldiebstahl – employees fired for stealing such items as fish sandwiches and pieces of cheesecake. A company is permitted to terminate an employment contract whenever the “relationship of trust” is broken. Airtight evidence is not necessary; credible suspicion of theft, no matter how small, will suffice. In February, the Berlin labour court upheld Emmely’s dismissal.

So stealing garbage is "technically" a valid cause for firing but the firing was reversed in one court, while allegedly cashing in $1.83 in lost bottle refunds is grounds for firing that is upheld in multiple courts.

You better watch out for the (labor) police, when you're workin' down in Nutbush!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The best video I've seen this year

Holy Crap!

Bearding the lions

I am a big fan of smack talk in sports (in anything really), and we've had some good efforts lately.

The first case is from women's tennis.  Marion Bartoli, when asked who she preferred to play in an upcoming match opted for former #1 in the world Jelena Jankovic because "I always beat her". At that point in timer Bartoli had a 4-3 advantage over JJ head to head. Needless to say, JJ didn't like it:

he talks like she’s just Serena Williams. Everybody had a right to say what she wants. I’m not really focused on Bartoli. She’s not like my biggest rival or someone I look up to or I’m scared of. She’s just one of the players on tour, not a big name, or someone who is making the big results or headlines in the game.

"Bartoli is going to get it tomorrow," Jankovic added with a smile.

Umm, Not so fast there JJ, In point of fact, Bartoli did indeed beat Jankovic the next day to move on.

Example 2 is from swimming and it involves another Serb, Miloford Cavic. This is the guy who lost to Phelps in the disputed 100 butterfly Olympic final. Cavic really let Phelps have it for allegedly complaining that his (Phelp's) Speedo suit was below the technological frontier:

"Speedo allowed its athletes to switch to another suit if they thought it would improve their chances in Rome. But Phelps, who has been sponsored by Speedo since he was a teenager and earns millions from the company, decided to stick with the LZR."

"If Mike wants an Arena, he just has to say it," Cavic said. "If he wants a Jaked and they don't want to give it to him free, I'll buy it for him. He has options. I think in the media it's been portrayed that he has no option, he has to swim for (Speedo). It's a complete lie."

Well, then they hit the pool and Phelps pretty much smoked him, and then:

"Phelps hopped on the rope that had separated him from Cavic - eyes searing, jaw jutting out. He pulled at both sides of his skintight LZR Racer swimsuit, letting his rival know that he heard about his offer to get Phelps one of those faster polyurethane suits so he wouldn't have any excuses if he lost in a Speedo."

I guess its back to smack-talk school for the Serbians.