Saturday, October 24, 2009

because it wasn't available on on Edison cylinder

Got the new Mountain Goats! On a double album of purple vinyl. I am an old school, "I LIKE the tape hiss" fan of the Mountain Goats back catalog, but this record is good and sounds great.

Just another brick in the wall?

People: any ideas about WTF is going on here?

Friday, October 23, 2009


A new NBER working paper by Johnson, Larson, Papageorgiou, and Subramanian (ungated version available here, click on working papers and it's the first one) has a few bones to pick with the Penn World Tables:

This paper sheds light on two problems in the Penn World Table (PWT) GDP estimates. First, we show that these estimates vary substantially across different versions of the PWT despite being derived from very similar underlying data and using almost identical methodologies; that this variability is systematic; and that it is intrinsic to the methodology deployed by the PWT to estimate growth rates. Moreover, this variability matters for the cross-country growth literature.

While growth studies that use low frequency data remain robust to data revisions, studies that
use annual data are less robust. Second, the PWT methodology leads to GDP estimates that are not valued at purchasing power parity (PPP) prices. This is surprising because the raison d’être of the PWT is to adjust national estimates of GDP by valuing output at common international (purchasing power parity [PPP]) prices so that the resulting PPP-adjusted estimates of GDP are comparable across countries.

Wow, I hope 5 year averages count as "low frequency data"!

If only I was German, I could blame my parents for everything!

People, this may come as a shock to you, but my legal name isn't Angus; its Kevin.

And in Germany, Kevin apparently is a "non-traditional" name.

And in Germany, kids with non-traditional names are stereotyped as dumb and troublemakers by their schoolteachers!

I especially appreciated this line from the article:

The name Kevin was perceived as being linked to especially poor behaviour and performance, with one study participant even writing that, “Kevin is not a name – it’s a diagnosis!”

Hat tip to Freakonomics via TCap.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Promotion at Duke!

sweet concept, no?

Register Independent?

We get letters....

Mr. Munger, Your comments and suggestions would be a great help. I have sent out hundreds of emails and wonder if I am beating a dead horse.

"One thing our founding fathers could not foresee…was a nation governed by professional politicians who had a vested interest in getting reelected. They probably envisioned a fellow serving a couple of hitches and then looking…forward to getting back to the farm.” —Ronald Reagan (1973)

WHY SHOULD YOU REGiSTER INDEPENDENT? short answer: because you can optimize your voting rights

Politicians now enjoy a lifetime job with regular raises and great benefits. The only way we can expect any changes in the economy is to un-elect them! Why not attack their biggest fears? All politicians fear 1. not being re-elected 2. term limits 3. tax revolts and 4. loss of power. The best way to break the Democratic (Dems) party and the Republican (Rep) party stranglehold is to register Independent (Indies). When you register Indie you do not need to change your political views, be they liberal or conservative. Being an Indie gives you more choices to vote for the most qualified person to handle the job. Why not vote for one Dem and one Rep Senator to balance out the Senate and level the playing field? Bi-partisan politics no longer works. It doesn't matter if the Dems have the majority or the Reps. The results are the same. Heads they win, tails we lose...

Ok, so what do we do after registering Indie? Write, call or email your Senators and Representives. Tell them you have registered Indie because you no longer trust the government machine. This may or may not "freak out" the politicians. Politicians keep a very close eye on the number of Dems, Reps or Indies in their district. If they see a huge number of NEW registered Indies, you can be sure we are weakening their stranglehold.

"Democracy is dead ... lobbyists rule America"---THIS IS A MUST READ, YOU WILL BE SHOCKED!

“Of all the reforms the freshmen wanted to bring to Washington, I believed setting term limits was by far the most important. Nothing would change the culture, the policies, more than replacing career politicians with citizen legislators. Political careerism more than anything else had separated Washington from the people. Careerism perpetuated big government and was a constant corrupting force in the system.”
—Oklahoma’s Sen. Dr. Tom Coburn in his book, Breach of Trust

stay well, your comments & suggestions are welcomed--greycloud

I enjoyed many parts of this, of course. But my favorite part has to be the quotation from "Dr. Tom Coburn." Dr. Tom and Dr. Angus are TIGHT, aaight?

Economics Uber Alles

People, what other discipline can produce sterling and insightful analysis like this:

"career government economists within the Department of Health and Human Services dealt a blow to the House bill Wednesday, releasing a report concluding national health care spending would increase because newly insured people would seek care."

Only a highly trained and well seasoned economist could ever have sussed that one out!

Hat Tip to Chateau!

Going Galt? or A great idea!

Over at MR, Alex T. bemoans the government's plan to slash executive wages at the 7 "most bailed out" companies. I respectfully disagree. These are State owned enterprises now and having an expert decide if the public is getting its moneys worth is entirely reasonable.

If fact, I think this is a trend well worth expanding in dealing with pay for people who are publicly funded.

I would be happy to serve as a "special master" to evaluate pay relative to performance at a lot of other publicly funded enterprises like say, Congress, the SEC, the Federal Reserve, Fannie and Freddie, the EPA, the Treasury and (just to be mean spirited) the office of the Vice President.

As to how I would rule in these cases, let's just say that Santa would be able to save on reindeer food because he wouldn't be coming to the DC area this year.

And yes, I do realize that I teach at a State University. Thanks in advance for reminding me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sustainability Day!

I just got this email, from Duke. Somebody please shoot me.

Celebrate Campus Sustainability Day! Visit our website to read more and get involved.

Duke Plans To Become ‘Climate Neutral’ By 2024--Duke University has released a plan to become climate neutral by 2024, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of James B. Duke signing the indenture of trust that established the institution. The university developed the plan as part of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which President Richard H. Brodhead signed in 2007. Earlier this month, Duke’s Board of Trustees reviewed and endorsed the goal of achieving climate neutrality. read more...

Campus Sustainability Day--October 21, 2009
Sustainable Duke invites students, staff, faculty and the community to celebrate Campus Sustainability Day on October 21st! We have a lot to celebrate as Duke recently released its Climate Action Plan, which will guide the University in achieving climate neutrality by 2024. We challenge you to take action today to lessen your environmental footprint and to help Duke lead the way toward a sustainable future. read more...

Bleed Blue. Live Green. I support a Sustainable Duke!

"We have a lot to celebrate, because Duke just released its climate action plan"? Omigohbees.

Sam Kinison: Immigration Advocate

Obesity: Public Health Problem or Basic Human Right?

We all know about the health issues that come with obesity. Increased risk of diabetes, cardiac issues, some cancers, liver and gall bladder problems among others.

What I did not know until today is that there is a publication called "The International Journal of Obesity", and it publishes articles about things like the problem of weight discrimination (of course it also publishes articles like "Effect of dairy and non-dairy calcium on fecal fat excretion in lactose digester and maldigester obese adults", but that doesn't get picked up by NPR)!

I certainly am not in favor of discrimination, but I guess I have enough Puritan/Calvinist DNA still running through me to worry about a slippery slope here.

On the public health side of things, we want to get out the message that obesity is bad, but we somehow still need to treat obese individuals with respect and fairness.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This captures the exact mindset of many people who I actually consider friends: It doesn't actually matter, at all, if what you do actually matters. What matters is that you do something.

How Can We Raise Awareness In Darfur Of How Much We're Doing For Them?

(Nod to Art Carden)

We Get Letters: High Speed Rail in Texas

From a pen pal, on the hearings on High Speed Rail between Dallas and Houston:

Thought you might find this interesting. I could not bear to listen to the complete hearing, but all the pieces focused solely on the pork and only made veiled comments about managing expectations (my translation is that it clearly is a losing economic proposal for the average citizen). I suggest that the economic comments made by Glaeser at Harvard and David Levinson at U of Minnesota will have no affect. Finding the hundreds of billions to put in after the first 8 billion goes up in studies will be the game changer. It is sometimes sad that economics is such a blunt instrument.
House hearing on HSR

Levinson's Nexus research center and
his blog.

Me? I have the same question I had in Germany. Why does anyone think this saves money? It seems inconceivable.

Tyler's thoughts, useful and quirky as always. (I stop at Thai Thai? Lordy)

Ecce Moron

Mort Zuckerman of US News & World Report is sick and tired of the free market as he tells us in his editorial "The free market is not up to the job of creating work".

I will have to get a ruling from Mungowitz, but I am pretty sure that the market creates wealth and not necessarily work.

But more importantly, and related to my post about the massive negativity on display in the MSM. Zuckerman takes the current employment situation and extrapolates it out for the forseeable future, basically claiming we will have "long term double digit unemployment", with no evidence given really except that jobs have been lost and we have high unemployment right now.

Here is the craziest sentence:

"Alas, the prospects for re-employment are diminished by the fact that many jobs may never come back, for example in finance and car manufacturing. This means growth alone will not fully employ America again."

Actually, his conclusion may be even funnier:

"Only massive programmes are equal to the challenge of restoring stable growth to our economy. One such programme would be to establish a National Infrastructure Bank, advocated by prominent Democrat Felix Rohatyn, to which the government would assign the $65bn (£40bn, €45bn) annually allocated to support infrastructure construction nationally. The bank would have the capacity to borrow, with federal guarantees, an additional $200bn. This programme would ensure a rational rather than a political investment in infrastructure, and provide long-term infrastructure development on a major scale with a maximum multiplier effect on the economy."

Of course a government funded bank would not have any political component to allocating the funds. Plus if it is a bank, then it must give loans, right? How would they be repaid? By only building toll roads and bridges?

What a dope!

Why Rent-Seeking is a Problem

Wow. My man, Alexander Hoffelder, shared a quote from Bastiat that I had never seen before. And that quote is the single best indictment of the rent-seeking society that I have ever seen. It's all there....the rent, the seeking, the damage, and the moral decay.

"When under the pretext of fraternity, the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices. Now, is it the most unfortunate who gains from this struggle? Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating." - Bastiat, Justice and Fraternity

Frederic Bastiat: the Robert Tollison of the 1850s.

UPDATE: Another pretty good quote, from Joe Stiglitz, before he went all Krugman on us:

Public actions, however, are also subject to constraints and limitations, so that the essential problem of public regulatory policy is to determine when government action improves market performance and when, in contrast, private action can take better advantage of information and incentives within the marketplace” (Stiglitz, WHITHER SOCIALISM, 1994, 36)

Court finds against us, split decision.

Owie. We lost. We got a split panel of judges, but we lost. Here is the decision...

Mitch Kokai has an article on the decision here, a quick hitter.

Judge Ann Marie Calabria dissented from the majority opinion, writing:

North Carolina’s 2% statewide requirements for both ballot access and ballot retention place too onerous a burden on the fundamental rights of members of third parties under the State Constitution. The State, by permitting ballot access under far less burdensome requirements for unaffiliated candidates, has proven that it can accomplish its compelling interest in ballot regulation in a less restrictive fashion. It is ultimately the role of the Legislature, rather than this Court, to determine a precise method of ballot access and/or retention that is permissible under the State Constitution. ... However, the ballot access statutes must, at the very least, allow both political parties and unaffiliated candidates equal access to the ballot.

It is a difficult problem, for the judges. There is a VERY substantial presumption of deference to legislative will, when it comes to the regulation of "time, place, and manner" of local and state elections. And rightly so, since the US Constitution is perfectly clear about this.

I have not read the majority opinion yet....

Podcast! Vaccines, Transplants, etc.

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We Get Letters

This from R.L., on the recent article in the New Yorker...., by Malcolm Gladwell.

Build a better helmet, reduce the number of concussions? Or do it like rugby and drop the helmet all together?

Excerpt from article: "But if C.T.E. is really about lots of little hits, what can be done about it? Turley says that it’s impossible for an offensive lineman to do his job without “using his head.” The position calls for the player to begin in a crouch and then collide with the opposing lineman when the ball is snapped. Helmet-to-helmet contact is inevitable. Nowinski, who played football for Harvard, says that “proper” tackling technique is supposed to involve a player driving into his opponent with his shoulder. “The problem,” he says, “is that, if you’re a defender and you’re trying to tackle someone and you decide to pick a side, you’re giving the other guy a way to go—and people will start running around you.” Would better helmets help? Perhaps. And there have been better models introduced that absorb more of the shock from a hit. But, Nowinski says, the better helmets have become—and the more invulnerable they have made the player seem—the more athletes have been inclined to play recklessly."

Read on and a UNC researcher Gladwell cites suggests eliminating kickoffs because a disproportionate number of head injuries occur during kickoffs.

Even better is the discussion of "gameness" in fighting dogs... And football players- and the culture of never missing practice.

That does remind me of the "Tullock air bag." Gordon famously suggested that the way to make cars safer was to put a retractable dagger in the steering column. The dagger shoots out and locks in the case of an accident. Same reasoning, with an empirical basis, for Peltzman.
(Bob Lawson found that cartoon, bless him)
Russ Sobel showed it worked for NASCAR; why not for NFL? Get rid of the helmets.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why so glum, chums?

I have been noticing that bloggers who post anything positive about the economic situation are often bombarded with negative and apocalyptic comments. See here and here for examples. The MSM is not exactly cheery either.

Some things are really truly good. For example, output in general and manufacturing in particular are growing again in a lot of economies. It is true that unemployment is quite high and may well rise even higher, but historically, unemployment is a lagging indicator.

The dollar is falling, but in an orderly manner, and its fall appears to be stimulating exports which is good. Interest rates are low and fears of further rounds of mortgage defaults when ARMS are reset to higher rates appear perhaps to be overblown.

Personal savings rates in the USA have risen appreciably.

We do have a very large and growing deficit and we have some policy proposals floating around that may well increase the problem. As Chairman Ben said today, a fiscal exit strategy is going to be important and in my view, the fiscal exit will be much more problematic than the monetary exit.

So I am not claiming we live in Shangie-La or anything, but we were supposedly standing on the brink staring into the void a few short months ago and in actuality things are turning out much better than many feared. So why all the hyper-negativity?

GARCH: It's not just for Finance anymore

I just found this paper by Jim Hamilton called "Macroeconomics and ARCH". I guess he used ARCH instead of GARCH because the paper was for a festschrift for Rob Engle and not one for Tim Bollerslev!

Anyway, Jim makes two great points in the paper that are not widely appreciated by empirical macro people.

(1) OLS standard errors can be stupendously bad when the error terms are conditionally heteroskedastic, and White or Newey West standard errors are not always "good enough" either.

(2) Even if one only cares about inferences regarding the conditional mean, the efficiency gains from estimating GARCH effects via MLE vs. ignoring them via OLS can be extremely large.

Shout it from the rooftops!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ruler of the Waves

Knut the great was just kidding when he commanded the tide not to come in (or maybe he was just quick witted enough to save face?), but Yury Luzhkov apparently did not get the memo that only the man upstairs can control the weather.

Fresh from his ill starred attempt to reverse the flow of a Siberian river for "irrigation purposes", the Mayor of Moscow has guaranteed that it will not snow in Moscow this winter.

His plan is to have the Russian airforce chemically seed the snow clouds causing them to dump their load outside the city limits. All winter long.

Besides the intrinsic gut feeling of not-a-good-idea-ness, there are other objections to the plan:

"So far the main objection to the plan has come from Moscow's suburbs, which will likely be inundated with snow if the plan goes forward."

Maybe the airforce can just open the whole thing up for bids.

Live Blogging Head of Charles Regatta

First, the bad news: 39 degrees F, windy, raining hard and steady. Ick.

Then, the worse news: the YYM is quite sick, fever, very bad headache, dizzy. He is a scratch from the youth Men's 4 race, which is scheduled for 10:12, but won't go off until 10:20 at earliest. In anyt case, though, the YYM is upstairs in his bed, trying to rest but not really succeeding.

But, the coach found a substitute rower, so at least everyone else can still row. After all, we drove a truck, with boats and people, from North Carolina up here to Boston. And 25 people flew up here, also. A shame if we didn't even race.

I extended the hotel for another night. Not sure we can make the flight (6 pm out of Logan) but at least this way the YYM can rest for most of the day.

(Listening to the race on internet as I type. Just heard that one of the teams is called "Distant Objects in Your Mirror." Always good to have a sense of proportion about these things, don't you think?)

UPDATE (10:20 am): You men's quads delayed a bit. Another ten minutes, at least.

UPDATE: If you want to watch live, more or less, click on the webcast...

UPDATE (10:31 am): Youth men's quads going by now. Triangle Rowing is one of 76 different crews in this race. They will have a little trouble without Brian, because they have all trained together, but we we'll see.

UPDATE (10:46 am): And here are the lads! (Lagging badly on internet, so my screen capture is rather fractured. Graphics froze on the stuff on top. Still, there they are!)

UPDATE (11:30 am): Result....
58th Wake Rowing (Karthik Sundaram, c'n)
Splits--Riverside Weld Cambridge
Riverside Bridge 04:40.148
Weld Bridge 11:14.624
Cambridge Bridge 16:33.358
Finish: 19:42.676 (Winning time was 17:19:500, St. Catharine's, Canada)
Start Position: 62

UPDATE (11:42 am): Results for the Raleigh Charter Ladies.....
65th Raleigh Charter High School (Sydney Evans) 22:31.918 (Winning time was 19:35:135, which beat our men)

UPDATE (11:53 am): Wind picking up unbelievably. I'm glad our events were in the morning. This is pretty scary. Even if the YYM is feeling well enough to fly this evening, we are going to have major excitement getting airborne. Logan is one exposed place, and there are supposed to be 40+ mph gusts.

UPDATE (1:53 pm): Son is not well. Shivering. H1N1? Hard to know. for all sorts of reasons, I think we will have to stay here and try to fly back tomorrow. Poor guy. Just laying in bed shivering, with terrible headache. Keeps asking me to turn up the heat in the room, even though it's like a sauna. It had been six hours since he had Alleve, so he took two more. Can't take any more, though. He doesn't like aspirin, for some reason. I have some aspirin, and I will get him to take that. We have to control the fever.