Saturday, October 02, 2010

People unclear on the subject

Was out on the Mall in DC today with Tyler, museum hopping and people watching. No really big protest crowds anywhere, but a lot of small, weird, hanger-on type protesters. You know your protest is failing when you and your 3 friends are the whole group, carrying the 150 signs you had printed up.

Some people really really really don't know how to protest though.

We saw one group with the sign "Socialism is the Alternative", and I said to them, "yes you are exactly right, thanks for reminding me that things could be worse". The sign is like an inkblot test. You can read it however you want.

Another strange one was, "Private Armies are Dangerous" to which Tyler observed "they better be"!

I really don't get this one; it's like printing A=A on a sign. Why walk around in the heat waving a tautology?


UPDATE: I guess we left too soon to go for a late lunch, because I see on the TV that there are a good amount of folks out on the mall now.

What really happened in Ecuador?

A coup, sez Correa (people, what the heck do they teach folks in Illiniois' econ PhD program?)!

A US backed coup, sez Hugo and Evo (still waiting to hear from Oliver Stone on this).

But it actually doesn't appear to have been anything so grand. Correa and his congress passed a law cutting police bonuses. He then went to a police barracks to "address" them. Apparently he taunted some of them saying stuff along the lines of "Kill me if you're so brave". They didn't kill him but they did tear gas him and "pelt him with water" (people, does this mean shoot him with a water cannon? or just dump a bottle of Perrier on his person?), and then hold him hostage in a hospital for a while.

No evidence of a pre-meditated plot, no evidence of a plotter who planned to take over post coup. Just a hot-headed econ PhD president and a shockingly undisciplined, unprofessional, and disrespectful group of cops.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Jon Stewart nails it

Jon Stewart comes up big....

We came. We saw. We sucked.

(nod to Angry Alex)

We are all criminals

From the comments on the Freedom Update post:

"Saying illegal immigrants have less freedom is like saying people in jail have less freedom. Of course they do, they're criminals for cryin' out loud!"

People, we are all criminals! All of us have broken the speed limit or maybe smoked a reefer, or hired a worker that we didn't pay taxes for, or bought something on the internet without forwarding a sales tax payment to our state of residence, or brought Cuban cigars back from Europe, or didn't declare everything we bought abroad on our customs form.

Saying someone is a criminal is kind of meaningless. There is a big difference between being a criminal and actively doing harm to others.

Sorry for this rant, but I get really tired of this selective labeling and at times demonizing of groups that some people don't like. I am not accusing the commenter of demonizing, but many people do, with a label that could just as well be applied to themselves.

So maybe we should all look in the miror and say, "Hi, my name is (state your name), and I am a criminal".

Economics vs. Political Science

I was a guest panelist in a grad polysci class Thursday afternoon on the topic what do Economists and Historians think of Political Science, and I got to talking about the differences I perceive between Econ and PolySci:

1. In virtually all Econ grad programs, the first year students all take the exact same set of classes and comprehensive exams. This happens in very few PolySci programs, to my knowledge. The result is that different sub-fields of Econ share a common language and socialization and communication that I don't see so much in PolySci.

2. PolySci works more to place research in context; more examples, more citations, longer reference lists. Econ is a bit more autistic in that regard.

3. Many political scientists seem to view conference papers as a final goal, where in Econ, they are at best a means to an end. There is little professional reward or recognition in Econ for work that does not get further than conference paper.

4. PolySci is more polite. People speak at length without interruption. Comments at conferences are vague and pleasant. Econ seminars are rude free for alls and comments can be very direct.

5. Polysci is more socially aware. They boycott conference locations due to state or local laws or the presence of non-union labor. I cannot imagine anything like this even being considered in Econ.

6. Econ journal editors are more decisive and autonomous that Polysci journal editors. Polysci usually uses more referees per paper, and it seems to me that editors have a bit less discretion than in Econ.

It may be presumptuous of me, an economist, to write this list, but I've published in Polysci journals, presented and commented at Polysci conferences, even spent a year visiting in a high quality Polysci department (Duke) and another visiting at Caltech which has economists, political scientists and historians all under one divisional roof (or at least they did when I was there).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Several Amazing Things, But I Won't Get My Hopes Up

Several amazing things about this post by John H.

--The contents. We spent a ton of money, for no value, except a whole bunch of goofballs with worthless M.A.s in "Education Policy" sucking down groceries in bureaucratic jobs.

--The reference. A gen-you-eine conservative like Hindraker citing the CATO Institute.

Wow. Maybe there is hope for some of you half-wit Republicans actually finding a way to cut specific programs. Because by and large, you have failed. If you are starting to feel hopeful, read this. 'Cause I still think the Republicans only care about winning, and will never actually try to cut anything, except taxes, which is moronic.

The Way Bureaucrats SHOULD Think of Government

This video reveals two things: Why Angus and I cannot hold appointed office....

and why nonetheless we should. This poor guy is trying to read new imported cured meat handling regulations. He can't get through it, not even in German, the ideal language for faceless automatons.

(Nod to the Blond, who knows when to laugh)

Words of wisdom from Matt Taibbi

"In the Tea Party narrative, victory at the polls means a new American revolution, one that will "take our country back" from everyone they disapprove of. But what they don't realize is, there's a catch: This is America, and we have an entrenched oligarchical system in place that insulates us all from any meaningful political change. The Tea Party today is being pitched in the media as this great threat to the GOP; in reality, the Tea Party is the GOP. What few elements of the movement aren't yet under the control of the Republican Party soon will be, and even if a few genuine Tea Party candidates sneak through, it's only a matter of time before the uprising as a whole gets castrated, just like every grass-roots movement does in this country. Its leaders will be bought off and sucked into the two-party bureaucracy, where its platform will be whittled down until the only things left are those that the GOP's campaign contributors want anyway: top-bracket tax breaks, free trade and financial deregulation."

Full and excellent article is here.

Freedom update

Will W. nicely defends himself here and expands on the issue of inequality and freedom.

Plus, I have some further thoughts on freedom. There certainly are groups of people in the US who are less free than others. Gays and illegal immigrants come to mind. In the past, African-Americans and women had less freedom. I don't see any of those freedom issues as being related to income/wealth.

Paint By Number Science "Article"

Cute. Very cute. Article on articles about scientific articles.

(Nod to Angry Alex)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Find the cost of freedom

As part of a fascinating debate about measuring inequality, the generally excellent Interfluidity made the following remark that simply threw me for a loop:

In my view, freedom, not consumption, is the central distinction between rich and poor. It is odd that I should argue this point with libertarian Wilkinson.

I guess that I am somehow missing his point or else fundamentally misunderstanding what the word freedom means.

In the United States at least, we are all free to vote, speak, practice (or not practice) our religion, etc. etc. We are not all free to send our kids to expensive schools, but that's consumption. We are not all free to travel to other countries, but that's consumption.

Interfluidity only gives one concrete example, which throws me for another loop:

Indebtedness also entails a cost in freedom that we miss if we focus on consumption.

I think that, if anything, this is backwards. Having little to no collateral, the poor are not "free" to borrow money. The ability to take on debt is liberating. However, I would still argue that this shows up mainly in consumption.

I guess I could agree with a statement like "the poor are not free to smooth their consumption stream", but I'd still be quite conflicted about how exactly that is freedom.

I was bothering Mrs. Angus about this (she thinks I'm at least partly wrong, which means I probably am, but I honestly can't see it), and she brought up differences in life expectancy across identifiable groups, but again to me, that is an exceedingly tenuous use of the concept of freedom. Men are not free to live as long as women? (NB: that was NOT the example that Mrs. Angus used).

In Hansonian terms, I must recognize that Interfluidity, Mrs. Angus and Sen are all smart people, so I'm probably somehow wrong, but to me, freedom is nowhere near the central difference between the rich and the poor, at least not in the USA.

I have to go with Hemingway here people: The main difference between the rich and poor is that the rich have more money!

Does anyone want to go Kristofferson here: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

Cards Suck

10 Games that dropped the STL into the land of the suckatatious.

The Cards had three key problems: 3rd base, shortstop, and bullpen. Bullpen takes a little bit of luck, I admit, but the other two problems?

Let's examine the years had by some Cards "alumni":

Scott Rolen (3b): All star, anchored hot corner for division winner Cincinnati, ave .290, ops .870

David Eckstein (SS): Switched to 2nd base, but batted .270 and plays for division winner San Diego Padres.

Cards got rid of these guys....why? Rolen they traded for Troy Glaus, and Eckstein was not signed as a free agent. Now, Glaus was , and played in MLB since 1998. His lifetime is .255. Rolen's lifetime is .285.

Glaus was 32 at the time of the trade, and not surprisingly he came up lame. Sure, Rolen was 33 at the time of the trade, but Glaus was not much younger. And .030 on a lifetime average is a lot of hits over the course of a season. And Rolen is a much better defender than Glaus.

Rolen was traded because Tony decided he didn't like him. And Eck was let go because of money.

And now the Cards suck. Can you even name the current third baseman? I can name a parade of five clowns, but their aggregate batting average is (seriously) .224. And that's actually better than shortstop Brendan Ryan's truly remarkable .221. These schmoes are automatic outs.

It's not that hard. The Cards suck because their 3b and SS players suck.

(not so) Pro-Bono

The Guardian absolutely eviscerates The Edge's sidekick:

Bono's ONE campaign had blitzed the New York media with fancy gift boxes. These contained several items, from designer water bottles to $15 bags of Starbucks coffee, as well as information explaining that poverty-stricken African children live on less than $1.25 a day – "about the cost of the cookie in this box".

To which the only reasonable rejoinder would seem to be: "Then stop spending your money on biscuits for journalists."

But let's not be facetious. Naturally, naturally, the business of activism is more complicated than that, and indeed, ONE has since been forced to remind confused civilians that it is an advocacy organisation and not a grant-making organisation. This became necessary after the New York Post revealed that in 2008, the most recent year for which tax records are available, ONE took $14,993,873 in donations from philanthropists, of which a thrifty $184,732 was distributed to charity. More than $8m was spent on executive and employee salaries.

But wait, there's more:

Bono is adept at holding two contradictory positions in his own mind. Do consider his endless lobbying of the Irish government to earmark more cash for said MDGs, despite having shifted part of U2's tax affairs to the Netherlands to avoid paying even the ludicrously reduced rates Ireland affords to artists. Has he not heard that the money in the Irish exchequer's coffers comes from taxes, paid by the sublebrity likes of nurses and teachers and bricklayers and so on?

And I thought the English and the Irish were getting along now.

Fear of Commitment

Pacifying monogamy

Nils-Petter Lagerlöf
Journal of Economic Growth, September 2010, Pages 235-262

Abstract: This paper proposes a theory of institutionally imposed monogamy. In a society where many women are allocated to the elite, there are high returns for the non-elite men to rebel. Monogamy, or “constrained” polygyny, can pacify non-elite men, and thus serve the elite’s reproductive interests. The more unequal is the society, the stricter constraints the elite want to impose on themselves. This suggests how monogamy might have arisen in response to rising class cleavages, e.g., in the wake of the introduction of agriculture. Another result is that, if the elite can write a law that commits not only themselves but also any group that would come to replace them in a rebellion, then polygyny will be more constrained than if they cannot. We speculate that the Church in Europe may have facilitated the imposition of such binding constraints.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You know what's fun?

Blowing stuff up!

You know who's good at it?


Check here for more great photos and an interesting take on the phenomenon.

More Guns, Less Crime?

Chateau writes in an email about this incident, about which I had not heard.

Apparently Austin SWAT did a "body search" of Chateau himself. Lucky guy; in Vegas you have to pay extra for that sort of thing.

And then there's this, on the SAME DAY: John Lott was to be in the HOUSE.

Uh, will any of this be on like, the final?

Did I Miss Anything?

Tom Wayman
From: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here

"We Won! Now, I need Porn!"

Changes in Pornography-Seeking Behaviors following Political Elections: An Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis

Patrick Markey & Charlotte Markey
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

Abstract: The current study examined whether or not individuals who vicariously win a competition seek out pornography relatively more often than individuals who vicariously lose a competition. By examining a portion of Google keyword searches during the 2004, 2006 and 2008 US election cycles, the relative popularity of online pornography keywords searches was computed for each state and the District of Columbia the week before and the week after each election. Consistent with the Challenge Hypothesis, following all three election cycles, individuals located in states voting for the winning political party tended to search for pornography keywords relatively more often than individuals residing in states voting for the losing political party.


“I believe it is wrong but I still do it”: A comparison of religious young men who do versus do not use pornography

Larry Nelson, Laura Padilla-Walker & Jason Carroll
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, August 2010, Pages 136-147

Abstract: While researchers have found a negative association between religiosity and pornography use, little, if any, research has examined the specific aspects of religiosity that might be related to the use of pornography. Therefore, the purpose of this study of religious young men was to compare those who view pornography with those who do not on indices of (a) family relationships, (b) religiosity (i.e., beliefs, past/present personal religious practices, and past family religious practices), and (c) personal characteristics (identity development, depression, self-esteem, and drug use). Participants were 192 emerging-adult men ages 18–27 (M age = 21.00, SD = 3.00) attending a religious university in the Western United States. While they all believed pornography to be unacceptable, those who did not use pornography (compared to those who did) reported (a) higher levels of past and recent individual religious practices, (b) past family religious practices, (c) higher levels of self-worth and identity development regarding dating and family, and (d) lower levels of depression.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Phone call for King Pyrrhus!

When is a win not a win? Well how about when you win between 48-52% of the popular vote in a legislative election, but only get around 39% of the seats!

Which is exactly what appears to be happening in the wonderland that is Venezuelan politics.

I know that seats and votes are not one to one anywhere in the world, and other parties have pulled this off in the past, but this is a pretty big gap.

Boz offers some analysis here.

Actually, I am not sure what is more amazing: that Chavez's party lost the popular vote or that the loss was straightforwardly announced.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Final Frontier, and the Border

UN caters to illegal aliens...

(Nod to Angry Alex)


The unbelievably delayed NRC rankings will be released tomorrow, Tuesday, 1 pm EDT.

If you care about stuff like this, you MAY be a wienie. I mean, these are 2005 data....

And I have to admit that I care....

Truthiness now!

Robin Hanson lists some "Signs that your opinions function more to signal loyalty and ability than to estimate truth", so I thought I'd check myself out:

You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.

Guilty. Way way way guilty.

You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.

No. In fact the opposite is true

Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.

Guilty. Extremely guilty.

You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You care far more about current nearby events than similar distant or past/future events.

I don't even understand this fully, but I don't think it's true of me

You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.


You are reluctant to change your publicly stated positions in response to new info.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.


You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.


You care more about consistency between your beliefs than about belief accuracy.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You go easy on sloppy arguments by folks on “your side.”

No. In fact the opposite is true

You have little interest in practical concrete implications of commonly argued topics.

No. In fact the opposite is true

Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You are especially eager to drop names when explaining positions and arguments.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You find it hard to list weak points and counter-arguments on your positions.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You feel passionately about a topic, but haven’t sought out much evidence.

No. In fact the opposite is true

You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.

No. In fact the opposite is true

So that makes me what, 75% truth seeker and 25% signaler? That's pretty good for me, I would have said in advance of seeing the questions that I'd come out 50/50.

Somehow though, I would bet that Robin H. thinks this entire post is some kind of anti-truth signal!

Hat tip to LeBron


Great graph from NY Times on the correlation between payroll and wins in MLB over the last decade. NFL and NBA are capped, but baseball is not (click on the pic for a more glorious image).

Biggest overachievers are Oakland and Minnesota, biggest underachiever (in terms of vertical distance from the regression line is Baltimore.

My two teams are the Tigers and the Cardinals. Pretty big difference in bang for buck between them. Cards are spending just north of $100 million for just north of 90 wins while Tigers are just south of $100 million for just south of 75 wins.
Mets and Cubs are the worst performing big spenders.

people who need people to the back of the bus!

People, this has got to be the scariest Haiku ever:

"Men's disposable panties
We're just a heart beat away
One touch could make it happen"

Either that or it's the motto of the American Society of Prostate Surgeons (ASPS).

Monday's Child is full of links

Some links:

KPC friend Mark "I'll stay in for a QUADDIE!" Crain brings the smart stuff in a WSJ article about regulation

CATO has a nice article about the costs of "regulating" illegal drugs

Jacob "Coffee Boy" Grier (not an Angusian relative, as far as I know) sends this link, illustrating that fun and profit are very different things. If people argued that recycling were simply a (wasteful) consumption activity they happen to enjoy, I'd be okay with that. But making it mandatory for all of us, and ignoring even the rudiments of opportunity costs...I'm NOT okay with that.

Angry Alex sends a link to Gov. Christie's greatest hits. Heh. Heh heh.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


In an article ostensibly about Connecticut politics and Linda McMahon, Matt Bai writes the following:

But as David Stockman, who was Reagan’s first budget director, argued in a Times Op-Ed essay in July, supply-siders during the Reagan and second Bush eras proved far more adept at cutting taxes than they did at scaling back federal spending, which is the main reason we have trillion-dollar budgets deficits.

First and trivially, the last clause of the sentence is from Matt and not Stockman, though it's written very unclearly.

Second and more importantly, Ronald Reagan caused the Obama Deficits?? WTF??

There are two main reasons we have trillion dollar budget deficits right now. First is the aftermath of the recession which has pushed down tax revenues. Second is the explosion of spending from the Pelosi-Reid-Obama government over the last two years.

You can argue that the Republicans had a lot to do with the overall size of the public debt (which was Stockman's point; I wonder if Matt bothered to actually read the essay he cites), but not the current, "trillion dollar deficits".

Look, we didn't have "trillion dollar deficits" or deficits of an equal size relative to GDP in those "supply side" eras. How exactly are they causing today's deficits?

I understand people don't like Bush. I understand that people like Obama. I understand that the NY Times is liberal. And now, I understand that Matt Bai is a hack.

People, I am not a Republican, nor do I believe that tax cuts "pay for themselves". Mrs. Angus and I actually subscribe to the NY Times.

But sometimes I get really tired of this crap.

*FMB = Fire Matt Bai

Costly Signals

An article from Weekly Standard on our silly airline "regulation."

The BEST explanation, as I claim on the second page of the story, is that this might be explained by the idea of "costly signals": If we are doing all this idiotic sh*t, just think of all the smart stuff that we did first. That is, we have pushed the margin way out into diminishing returns.

That's not true, of course. In fact, any guy who wants to set his shoes or underwear on fire can just walk on the plane, even if his dad calls the authorities and says don't let him on. Our solution has been to "interview after the flight."

I'm afraid the reason that TSA makes us so miserable is simply because it can

Markets in Everything: Democratic Prices Edition

There's a big election today in Venezuela, one that has prompted Hugo Chávez to get into the restaurant business!


Tucked into a corner on Plaza Bolívar is Café Venezuela, part of a chain of open-air restaurants established by the government this year. The cafe serves Venezuela-grown coffee and Venezuelan snacks like cassava bread at so-called solidarity prices, half or less than what customers would pay elsewhere.

Ideology is also on the menu. The cafes were created by Comerso, a state holding company for socialist enterprises, which also manages stores that sell everything from subsidized arepas, the crispy corn cakes that are the staple of the Venezuelan diet, to inexpensive Chinese cars. The branch in Plaza Bolívar replaced a clothing store that once occupied the same spot and was expropriated live on television by Mr. Chávez.

The planners behind the cafes have multiple objectives: to provide food and conviviality at democratic prices, to serve as commercial linchpins to renew some of the city’s most run-down districts and, not incidentally, to remind satisfied patrons of the government’s populist program in an election year.

Note that it is the Times reporter, and not a Chavista (at least not a Venezuelan Chavista) who coins the phrase "democratic prices"!

The absolute best part of the story was this though:

Doris, 20, said she still planned to vote for Mr. Chávez and his list of congressional candidates. “Supporting Chávez is the best way to get a job,” she said. She is studying petroleum production and hopes the correct political views can help her land a job at the national oil company.

Good luck Doris, you're going to need it.

Boom! Roasted

Jerry Seinfeld batters and fries Larry King: