Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shark Whisperer

A video from the shark whisperer.

Another Whale video

Here's some video I took of the whale wearing beer goggles!

Markets in everything: doppelganger edition

Who wouldn't want this? a doll that looks like you and spews out pre-recorded messages of your choice (in your voice) to your kid, so it's like you are always around them.

Now, I admit that I am not a parent and haven't been a kid for a long time, but this product appears moderately creepy to me; a good way to drum up future business for psychologists.

Aren't kids supposed to be away from their parents at points in childhood?

Aren't independence, self reliance and self confidence valuable traits?

Are modern parents really this paranoid, smothering, and neurotic?

I guess the proof will be in the sales figures.

One thing is for sure though: Kids couldn't "play" with dolls like these in the kitchens of the 1950s!

The culture that is France

There's a chess cheating scandal. Yes, somehow it's both possible to cheat at chess and there are people who find it worth their while to do so. French people:

"According to the French federation, while international grand master Sebastien Feller, 19, was involved in a game, Cyril Marzolo followed developments over the internet and used computer software to establish the best next move. The answer was then sent by means of a coded text message to the third member of the team, Arnaud Hauchard. The third member would then sit himself at a particular table in the competition hall. Each table represented an agreed square on the chess board."

Feller's prize for these intricate shennanigans? 5,000 Euro, according this report.

Well done, lads!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Monday's Child is full of links

(but lazy, so M'sC doesn't publish until Tuesday)

1. China's workforce stretched thin.

2. Cobra on the loose, may take "weeks" to find it.

3. From Anonyman: The chart indicates that nuclear is a small % of energy consumption, but nuclear is only used to generate electricity. So they should have a chart showing electricity production (or consumption) where nukes would be 20-25%. The trick here is that petroleum, which the chart indicates is 37% of energy consumption all goes in our cars. So getting rid of nuclear electricity production would only make our electricity "dirtier" as we would use more coal. He's talking about this article, which is dumb even for the NYTimes.

Gamifying for Fun, and Profit!

Gamifying the speed limit cameras.

(Nod to LP)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Andrew Lansley....Tosser

Interesting analysis of the rap and its meaning.

The kid did think about it.

As for "tosser," I got emails, wondering what that means. The technique...

(Nod to Tommy the Brit)

Jeep to Parts to Jeep Again, Four Minutes

Not just our S.O.B.

It turns out that the US government will have to get in line to give love to "reformer" Bashar Assad:

Turns out that Assad "is a humanist, doctor, educated in London, in no way an extremist; he is a man of great human sensitivity,"

--Hugo Chavez

Why do so many hereditary dictators in training like to add "educated in London" to their resumes??

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our S.0.B.?

So Hillary says what happened in Libya won't happen in Syria because our government believes Bashar Assad to be a "reformer".

Jeebus help us!

Nice to just rule out intervention or support for the opposition ex-ante. Nice to let Bashar know we've got his thuggish, brutal, back.

Look, I don't care anymore about our perceived "strategic interests" in the region, I want to see all the dictators there fall including the House of Saud!

Yes, things may get worse in the short run, but it's the only way things can ever get better in the long run.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wooden Shjips on the iPod, very free (and easy)

Wow! I am a dope. Wooden Shjips (and spinoff Moon Duo) are *awesome*. This is my music; droning, repetitive, edgy, and I've been missing out.

Here is a link to an incredible Shjips cover of LCD Soundsystem's "Drunk Girls", and here is a link to a Moon Duo track.

Here is a link to the Shjips' MySpace page; check out "Shrinking Moon for You"!


Obviously, I am not too great a videographer, but at least the subject matter is cool.

How not to do economics; another edition

People, if you are going to write a paper called "Global Liquidity Trap", the first line of your abstract probably should NOT read as follows:

"In this paper we consider a two-country New Open Economy Macroeconomics model, and analyze the optimal monetary policy when countries cooperate..."

Ah yes, future economists, count off after me; 1, infinity and we're done!

Friday, March 25, 2011

In order to save the budget we first have to destroy it

Christina Romer tells Ezra Klein that cutting spending now won't show people that it's going to be under control, but spending more now with promises to fix it later will!

People, I am not making this up:

If people do think we’re out of control of our budget, that surely can’t be good for investment. But how do we show we’re in control? House Republicans say it’s by cutting $61 billion out of this year’s budget. A more sensible view is that $61 billion won’t do anything, so why would anyone be reassured by that? The more sensible thing is we should have a package for short-term stimulus that also includes concrete policies that deal with the deficit, which means entitlements and taxes and defense spending and everything else.

Yeah, only a moron would think that cutting spending now would make people feel better about the budget. Just let us spend a little bit more now and we promise will fix EVERYTHING real soon!

Is there anyone who still buys this?

Lefty Brits can rap, too!

So, lefty Brits can rap, too. They apparently can't actually speak ENGLISH, however. Is it really that hard to pronounce "tosser"? Took me five minutes to figure out what "twahssah" was.

Interesting that the Aussies have so many words for vomiting. And the Brits have so many words for masturbation. In each case, elevating the core features of their respective cultures.

(If you don't know who Andrew Lansley is, then here. Perhaps Prez. Obama can give another of his condescending speeches about how "elections have consequences.")

(Nod to Tommy the Brit)

It was me & the whales, me & the whales, me me me & the whales

Thanks to one of the guides on our trip, I now have photos of me and the whales:

As always, you can clic the pics for more glorious images. And, if you are having trouble figuring out which are whales and which is me, I'm the one rockin' the shorty wetsuit and yellow weight belt.

Why Do People Have Two Hands

Why women have two hands:

Why men have two hands:

(Nod to the LMM)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cheating: They Do It At OMB, So Why Not Metro?

The people who "fix" the Metro aren't qualified. And everybody knows it. But you can buy certification for $300.

Isn't DC great?

(Nod to @Jeanne23)

Pole Dancing for Jesus

(Nod to Anonyman, who has promised to start going back to church if this spreads...)

How not to do economics; a continuing series

At a blog called Angry Bear, someone named Rebecca Wilder put up a post claiming that the "corporate savings glut" is what is causing unemployment. Since then, Mark Thoma has both linked to the post and later quoted it at length, so I decided to take a look.

Not good.

The first problem is treating accounting identities as causal mechanisms, as in "elevated excess private saving (firms and households) keeps the government deficit in the red." People, you can't do meaningful comparative statics on accounting identities! There is no causal chain in an accounting identity!

The second problem is that Wilder is making up variables on her own account namely private excess savings and corporate excess savings. She is somehow able to divine these clearly endogenous and unobservable variables from the Fed's flow of funds data (I believe by assuming that ALL saving is excess saving*)! Personally, I would say that by definition, from the point of view of the household, excess saving is always zero!

The third and most egregious problem is conflating correlation with causality. Wilder shows that the correlation between the "corporate savings glut" and unemployment is .71 and leaps to the conclusion that corporate savings is causing unemployment! Of course it is equally possible (given the analysis done there) that unemployment is causing corporate savings.

But the most likely situation is that some set of third factors are causing both unemployment and corporate saving. Both of these variables are clearly endogenous in any sort of general macro model, and a realistic analysis would need to be with something like a structural VAR based on a clear identification scheme.

Corporate cash balances are high. Unemployment is high. That doesn't mean that one is causing the other.

*here is Wilder's stated definition: The excess corporate saving rate is the residual of the Current Account (external saving) net of government and household excess saving.

I didn't see a definition of household "excess" saving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

All you need is a good press agent

Amazing headline from Reuters: "PUTIN FROLICS WITH SNOW LEOPARD"

Here's the lede:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin frolicked with the real-life mascot of the 2014 Winter Olympics over the weekend, an endangered snow leopard that had been injured in the valleys of central Siberia.

The cat is called "Mongol" by local scientists who rescued it after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of poachers.

Putin broke a business trip to Russia's Far East to visit it in the Khakassia region some 3,500 km (2,000 miles) east of Moscow.

Ummm, OK, so Vlade is a judo black belt, I guess he is well equipped to frolic with a full grown wild animal with a full set of teeth and claws. Maybe he will ride it? or carry it on his shoulders? or just snuggle with it?

Now here's a link to the video showing what passes for frolicking when you are the dictator of Russia and the international press LOVES you.

Apparently frolic actually means to pose crouching for the cameras 10 feet away from the perimeter of the cage holding the snow leopard!

Plenty of other memorable Putin moments in the video as well!!

Markets in everything / there is no stagnation

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I give you the The Breed'n Betsy bovine rectal simulator!

Oh you know it's real!

And, for an extra fee you can get the optional "water rectum" for a more realistic feel!

Hey Tyler: How many of these babies were in the kitchens of the 1950s?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Van the Man

Check out this interview where Van Morrison says he's written 300 songs better than brown-eyed girl and that there is zero new music that he likes.

Which is the Onion?

Which of the accounts below is the Onion? That is, three are real, one is...also real, but from the Onion.

1. U.S. court calls in Barry Bonds's associates to testify on the size of the equipment "down there" to determine if steroids may have had an impact. "Curious changes in Barry Bonds’ body -- including testimony that his head and feet grew while his testicles shrank -- will be detailed in federal court this week as the government seeks to prove that the Home Run King perjured himself by telling a grand jury that he never used steroids."

2. Woman sloppily eating spaghetti on subway challenges moral authority of critic, since critic is a "fat bitch."

3. CIA Dep. Dir. announces that use of FACEBOOK has produced significant intelligence results, particularly the app "Farmville." And the "Maps" app? They don't need to follow you, they can just check out your movements.

4. "Authorities say 27-year-old Karin Mackaliunas was detained last weekend following a crash. Scranton police say they found three bags of heroin in her jacket and after being taken to the police station she told investigators she had more hidden in her vagina...A doctor recovered 54 bags of heroin, 31 empty bags, prescription pills and $51.22."

(Nods to Anonyman and Scarback. And this follow up, just because I can.)

The biggest pair of beer goggles ever

The highlight of our trip was provided by a 40 foot female humpback whale who apparently fell in love with a 25 foot boat.


We were in the other boat, when we got an excited radio call to come join the first one because something amazing was happening. We scooted over and saw a whale near the surface and very close to the first boat.

The boss man, Gene Flipse, called us into the water. After getting a look at the situation, I flippered over and asked Gene what was up.

He very matter of factly replied "The female is ready to mate and she's taken quite a shine to our boat".

She just kept circling and circling the boats (by this time we'd tied them together), or passing underneath them. Sometimes right side up, sometimes, upside down. This lasted for about 90 minutes.

The whole time, there was a very interested male whale waiting patiently for our girl to come to her senses, and they finally did leave together.

Here are a couple shots from that experience:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mrs. Angus is a brave woman

That's her in the black gloves above the whale!!

Are Economists Bad People?

Selection or indoctrination: Why do economics students donate less than the rest?

Yoram Bauman & Elaina Rose
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming

Abstract: A substantial body of research suggests that economists are less generous than other professionals and that economics students are less generous than other students. Following Frey and Meier (2003), we address this question using administrative data on donations to social programs by students at the University of Washington. Our data set allows us to track student donations and microeconomics training over time in order to distinguish selection effects from indoctrination effects. We find that there is a selection effect for economics majors, who are less likely to donate than other students, and that there is an indoctrination effect for non-majors but not for majors. Women majors and non-majors are less likely to contribute than comparable men.

Just in case you thought I was kidding

when I said the whales were big, I really meant big!!

I took this on the morning of March 17, in the Silver Bank Marine Sanctuary while out for an innocent snorkel!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

He Crashed to the Earth, Crying in Rage

A sad story.

Strange in retrospect that we were afraid of them. The Soviets were really best at harming their own citizens.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

People! I leave you alone for a few days to go snorkeling with humpback whales and y'all start up *another* war? I guess I just can't go on vacation, eh?

Here's a quick pic; we have just started downloading photos and videos from the trip.

Yes, they actually let you get in the water and swim around with 40 foot long, 30-40 ton whales (and sometimes their 2 ton, 2 month old children)!

Here's the company's report on the week we spent with them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fat Kids, Unite

Angry Alex notes that, as a former fat kid, he has some sympathy for the wrong side. As a CURRENT fat kid, I may also.

Patrick blogs about a video. It's rather violent. Don't watch it, if you are going to get upset.

As a fat kid in a very poor school growing up, I was spat on, kicked, had my books thrown up in trees, etc. Pretty much every day.

Then one day I had my own "snapped" experience. Kid was spitting on his hand and wiping it on my shirt. I was quite strong and large, but wouldn't fight. But then I did. Drove a straight right into his stomach; since he wasn't looking and I caught him square, this was pretty tough for him. He dropped, started throwing up, and since he couldn't breathe choked on his own vomit a bit.

It happened one more time, but I didn't wait nearly as long before I punched him. He tried to duck, and I caught him on ear. Bright red, a little cut. He started crying.

And then nothing. Fat kids of the world, unite.

Cognitive Capitalism

Interesting study: thinking matters, so learning HOW to think matters. Conclusion: READ MORE KPC!

Cognitive Capitalism: The impact of ability, mediated through science and
economic freedom, on wealth

Heiner Rindermann & James Thompson
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Abstract: Traditional theories of economic growth stress the relevance of political, institutional, economic, geographic and historical factors. In contrast, human capital theories claim that peoples’ competences are the deciding factor in achieving technological progress leading to wealth. Using large scale assessments (TIMSS, PISA, PIRLS) cognitive competence sums for N=90 countries were calculated for the mean and the upper and low level groups and compared for their influence on GDP. Cross-national analyses applied different statistical methods (path analyses, bootstrapping), measures developed by different research groups, for different country samples and historical periods. All results underscore the decisive relevance of cognitive ability, particularly of an upper ability group creating an intellectual class with high accomplishment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and which predicts the quality of economic and political institutions, resulting in economic affluence. Cognitive resources enable the evolution of capitalism and the rise of wealth.

Supporting this thesis, which I don't know much about.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Securities Trading of Concepts (STOC)

Securities Trading of Concepts (STOC)

Ely Dahan et al., Journal of Marketing Research, forthcoming

Abstract: Identifying winning new product concepts can be a challenging process that requires insight into private consumer preferences. In order to measure consumer preferences for new product concepts, we apply a securities-trading approach where new product concepts are traded as financial securities: Securities Trading of Concepts (STOC). We apply this method because market prices are well known to efficiently collect and aggregate private information regarding the economic value of goods, services, and firms, particularly when trading financial securities. Our research includes the first application of securities markets to test potential new product concepts, and is the first to compare such an approach against stated-choice, conjoint, constantsum and longitudinal revealed preference data. In our research, we place STOC in the context of existing methodologies, as well as prior research on prediction markets and experimental economics. We conduct a series of experiments in multiple product categories to test whether STOC: 1) is more cost-efficient than other methods; 2) passes validity tests; 3) measures expectations of others; and 4) reveals individual preferences, not just those of the crowd. All results are confirmed, with the notable exception that STOC, as tested, does not accurately predict actual product market shares and price sensitivity. Our results also show that traders exhibit bias based on self- preferences when trading. Ultimately, STOC offers two key advantages to traditional market research methods — cost efficiency and scalability. For new product development (NPD) teams deciding where to invest resources, this scalability may be especially important in the Web 2.0 world where customers are constantly interacting with firms and with each other in suggesting numerous product design possibilities that need to be screened.

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Europe Rising: American Economics Hegemony Threatened?

Is the hegemony of American economists in "top" journals being threatened by our European colleagues?

"Internationalisation has meant a growing voice for Europe within the economics literature...Some Americans pooh-pooh Europe’s rise. Many new journals have started up in recent years, and European papers are far more common in their pages. But this cannot fully explain the fall in North America’s market share. Controlling for new journals, the share of European papers still rose markedly...Americans need not panic. Economists affiliated to North American institutions contribute 76% of articles in the top journals. They receive a disproportionate number of citations." [The Economist]
(Credit: The Economist) Nod to Kevin Lewis

They Couldn't Understand What He Was Saying....

A BRITISH man had surgery to reattach his testicles after his girlfriend allegedly bit them off, the Daily Mirror has reported...

Douglas had to call emergency services himself after the incident, but was in so much pain operators could not understand what he was saying. He needed emergency surgery and had to spend several days in the hospital recovering from the attack.

Tommy the Brit notes: "And people wonder why I'm gay..." Not sure that is protection enough. Unless you think a man would not do this to another man, understanding the implication of the attack. I'm pretty sure the lady understood the implication of the attack pretty well.

Why the Pass for the Chosen One?

I often hear my righty friends complaining that the main-stream (drive-by) media gives Pres. Obama a pass, because he is the "Chosen One" and therefore above criticism. Well, yes, MSNBC may do that, but I think you have to see Rachel Maddow and co. as satirists, not actual news commentators. Because the fact is that some fine lefties are plenty critical of the Chosen One. Nat Hentoff, for example. (Yes, it's WND, but Nat is an honest lefty). My man Nat says:

Particularly telling – in view of President Obama's continuous contempt for constitutional limitations on executive powers – Alexis Agathocleous, a Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney involved in its lawsuit, Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al., tells me:

"Designation of a control unit within the federal prison system regularly comes with due process. This includes notice of the allegations against you, an opportunity to refute those allegations and an appeal. But prisoners sent to the CMU receive no such procedural protections.

"They are not told in any meaningful way why they have been designated to the CMU, nor do they have a chance to challenge that designation. Additionally, there is no meaningful review process that would allow them to earn their way out.

"CMU prisoners are therefore indefinitely subjected to harsh deprivations – such as a permanent blanket ban on contact visitation with family and loved ones (far more severe than at the Supermaxes) – without procedural protections guaranteed by the Constitution." President Obama agrees.

So I missed an historic event: When was Barack Obama coronated?

If you think THAT is "giving a pass," maybe it's because you righties actually AGREE with proliferation of unconstitutional denial of due process, and basic human, rights to prisoners.

How about this NPR story?
Not exactly cozying up to the administration. Here is Part 2 of that series.

What about The Nation? Hysterical lefties like that clearly are giving the Prez a pass, right? Not so much, actually.

Hentoff asks a good question: "There has been very little attention to these Guantanamo Norths in the press – print, radio, television (broadcast and cable), even the Internet. (Where are the websites of outrage? The Facebook pages of protest?)"

Well, my constitution-loving friends on the right... how about it? I'm thinking you only "love" the Constitution when it serves your narrow interests.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Education and Evidence

Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City
Public Schools

Roland Fryer, NBER Working Paper, March 2011

Abstract: Financial incentives for teachers to increase student performance is an
increasingly popular education policy around the world. This paper describes a school-based randomized trial in over two-hundred New York City public schools designed to better understand the impact of teacher incentives on student achievement. I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools. The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of theories that may explain these stark results.


The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Students, Teachers, and Schools

Thomas Dee & Brian Jacob
Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Fall 2010, Pages 149-194

Abstract: The controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) brought test-based school
accountability to scale across the United States. This study draws together results from multiple data sources to identify how the new accountability systems developed in response to NCLB have influenced student achievement, school-district finances, and measures of school and teacher practices. Our results indicate that NCLB brought about targeted gains in the mathematics achievement of younger students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, we find no evidence that NCLB improved student achievement in reading. School-district expenditure increased significantly in response to NCLB, and these increases were not matched by federal revenue. Our results suggest that NCLB led to increases in teacher compensation and the share of teachers with graduate degrees. We find evidence that NCLB shifted the allocation of instructional time toward math and reading, the subjects targeted by the new accountability systems.


Starting the Wrong Conversations: The Public School Crisis and “Waiting for

Katy Swalwell & Michael Apple, Educational Policy, March 2011, Pages 368-382

Abstract: The documentary “Waiting for Superman” has become one of those rare things,
a (supposed) documentary that generates a wider audience. It also is one of the more recent embodiments of what Nancy Fraser (1989) labels as the “politics of needs and needs discourses.” Dominant groups listen carefully to the language and issues that come from below. They then creatively appropriate the language and issues in such a way that very real problems expressed by multiple movements are reinterpreted through the use of powerful groups’ understandings of the social world and of how we are to solve “our” problems. This is exactly what is happening in education; and it is exactly what this film tries to accomplish. We critically examine the arguments and assumptions that the film makes, as well as how it makes them. In the process, we demonstrate how it elides crucial questions, contradicts many of its own claims, and acts to close off the kinds of substantive discussions that are essential for serious educational reforms.

Linkage and Lunkage

Some links:

1. The crack government of France reacts to nuclear problems... by arguing about parking. (Nod to L. Smith)

2. The NC Supreme C's decision on ballot access. Some thoughts in response to the NC Supreme C's decision. Article in the N&O.

3. Charter school's $125K experiment on 60 Minutes

4. Ed Glaeser is a very smart man. On whether the Tea Party should become A Fool for the City.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting Faculty to Retire

(Very) Senior faculty: How will we miss you if you won't go away?

It seems to me that tenure contracts should end at age 70. After age 70, you would revert to renewable five year fixed term contracts.

Because I hear that it is really hard to get some faculty to retire. (This is not a problem at Duke of course. All our faculty are highly valued, and welcome to stay as long as they want...)

An article from the VC

(Nod to Angry Alex)


Angry Alex sends this link.

A t-shirt: "If I had a dollar for every time Capitalism got blamed for the problems caused by Government, I'd be a fat filmmaker with a baseball cap."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No More Drunk Drinking

Ed Cone notes that drunk drinking can be fun, but you gotta watch it.

And North Carolina officials warn against it.

Silicone Killed the Snake TV Star

I'm not sure what to say. Video.

It's a classic Hollywood story. Girl meets snake. Snake bites boob. Snake dies. Some commentary.

Not sure I buy the story. I'm betting she squeezed the bejezus out of the snake. Silicone is just not that poisonous. Also, if all the silicone leaked out, Ms. Fox is going to look somewhat...lopsided. Was this some kind of Garden of Eden thing, except it was the snake who bit the (apple)? And then the snake died? Tough justice.

(nod to Anonyman, who said it was too gross to watch, so he watched ten times)

(Just as I thought: Snake did not die.)

Republicans Should be Embarrassed....

I am a "plain meaning" fan, for the Constitution. Sure, the words have to be interpreted, and there is a large body of midrash to go with the Constitutional Torah.

But this is a problem with any contract, and judges are good at interpreting contracts when there is a dispute over meaning. That is ALL Constitutional law should be about: the meaning of the contract. And you can only change the contract with unanimous consent. As Rousseau put it:

There is but one law which, from its nature, needs unanimous consent. This is the social compact; for civil association is the most voluntary of all acts. Every man being born free and his own master, no one, under any pretext whatsoever, can make any man subject without his consent. To decide that the son of a slave is born a slave is to decide that he is not born a man.

Unanimous consent in a large nation is awfully tough. And so we have a process for deciding how to change the Constitution. Unless you change it, though, you are stuck with the original language, to which you have to attach meaning.

So, on the 2nd Amendment: These words clearly establish an individual right to bear arms. They also allow that aspects of this right can be regulated. Gun rights are subject to a lot more legitimate government regulation than speech rights. "Congress shall make no law" is much more forceful than "well-regulated." We have to argue about just how these two things interact. But the two clauses have plain meaning.

My friend Sandy Levinson wrote a great piece on the 2nd Amendment, calling it embarrassing. What he meant by "embarrassing" is that lefties try to ignore its plain meaning. If you don't like the 2nd Amd, you have to change it, pumpkin! (Sandy is no conservative, mind you. He is just honest and careful. A plain meaning guy, in other words.)

The "originalist" interpretation seems similar to plain meaning, but it is different. The orginalists want to argue that the Constitution implies not what the words say but what the Founders MEANT. From this distance, and with the problem of anachronism, it seems to me that originalism is impractical and bordering on absurd.

Worse, the Repubs want to have it both ways. Nice piece in New Republic from back in January, by Eric Posner:

The problem with originalism is that, however useful it may be as a form of criticism, it cannot support a positive program. During the 2010 election, Americans may have expressed anxiety about the size of government, but in general Americans adore big government and do not want to see it repudiated in the name of some abstract idea. Every political challenge to the New Deal administrative state has gone down in flames, and today Americans look to the federal government to protect them from terrorists, financial scams, economic downturns, environmental degradation, educational failure, poverty and sickness in old age, natural disasters, and foreign competition. As a governing doctrine, the small-government ethos of originalism does not have a constituency. And the public may soon realize that originalism is unlikely to end the politicization of the judiciary. As the Heller case showed, originalism just displaces political disputes among judges into a different idiom. Even as discussion about the original meaning of the Constitution becomes more common on the Court, the left/right division between Supreme Court justices will be plain as ever. This is especially so because originalism unsettles precedent, permitting both liberal and conservative justices to disregard earlier decisions that rub them the wrong way. In addition, as Republicans gain more power, their commitment to originalism will look ever more inconsistent. Institutional commitments in politics don’t run very deep. Republicans already championed federal marriage legislation, even though the Constitution gives Congress no power to regulate family relations; and during the Bush administration, constitutional constraints on executive power were forgotten. This will surely happen again the next time the Republicans take control of the government, and they can only hope that their earlier blandishments about the original understanding of the Constitution will have been forgotten.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Very Interesting Description of Japanese Nuclear Problems

Great article. Very interesting and informative. Original source.

And the comments are fascinating, too.

(Nod to Mr. Overwater)

UPDATE: Interesting, but wrong, or so it appears. Updates from people who know what they are talking about (or else an elaborate hoax. I can't tell.)

Wow, nothing

Can anyone explain this? Zip, nada, bupkes.

This trial is actually a pretty big deal. Regardless of what you think of the Liberty Dollar (you might be a fan, or you might not), there should be SOME coverage.

Environmentalists are BAD for the Environment

John Tierney: The Man

“Efficiency advocates try to distract attention from the rebound effect by saying that nobody will vacuum more because their vacuum cleaner is more efficient,” Mr. Shellenberger said. “But this misses the picture at the macro and global level, particularly when you consider all the energy that is used in manufacturing products and producing usable energy like electricity and gasoline from coal and oil. When you increase the efficiency of a steel plant in China, you’ll likely see more steel production and thus more energy consumption.”

Consider what’s happened with lighting over the past three centuries. As people have switched from candles to oil-powered lamps to incandescent bulbs and beyond, the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of light has plummeted. Yet people have found so many new places to light that today we spend the same proportion of our income on light as our much poorer ancestors did in 1700, according to an analysis published last year in The Journal of Physics by researchers led by Jeff Tsao of Sandia National Laboratories.

“The implications of this research are important for those who care about global warming,” said Harry Saunders, a co-author of the article. “Many have come to believe that new, highly-efficient solid-state lighting — generally LED technology, like that used on the displays of stereo consoles, microwaves and digital clocks — will result in reduced energy consumption. We find the opposite is true.”

These new lights, though, produce lots of other benefits, just as many other improvements in energy efficiency contribute to overall welfare by lowering costs and spurring economic growth. In the long run, that economic growth may spur innovative new technologies for reducing greenhouse emissions and lowering levels of carbon dioxide.

But if your immediate goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions, then it seems risky to count on reaching it by improving energy efficiency. To economists worried about rebound effects, it makes more sense to look for new carbon-free sources of energy, or to impose a direct penalty for emissions, like a tax on energy generated from fossil fuels. Whereas people respond to more fuel-efficient cars by driving more and buying other products, they respond to a gasoline tax simply by driving less.

A visible tax, of course, is not popular, which is one reason that politicians prefer to stress energy efficiency. The costs and other trade-offs of energy efficiency are often conveniently hidden from view, and the prospect of using less energy appeals to the thrifty instincts of consumers as well as to the moral sensibilities of environmentalists.

(Nod to Anonyman and his candy-ass Prius)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tsunami: Just awful

Remarkable, terrible pictures. Cleverly set up, so you can mouse over and see before/ after. (Thanks to the Blonde for the link).

Given how little warning they had, the government likely did the best that could have been done. That was a huge earthquake.

Amazingly, we now have "Tsunami warnings" here in NC, on the coast. Not really very helpful. "If you see a wall of water moving extremely fast, please try to run, even the land here is perfectly flat for about 15 miles." I guess there is the water receding, and the roar. But still, 5 minutes? There's one bridge off the island.

A bonus: you can buy a plagiarized paper, if you want.

Not a real warning. Just a sign that says that if there IS a tsunami, you need to run away. As this page notes there has been...only one tsunami in the Atlantic. Okay, there have been at least ten, but only one that caused actual damage. And that one was the 1755 Lisbon earthquake tsunami, which was admittedly a real son of a b***h: Voltaire thought of it as a metaphysical event, raising questions about God himself. An excerpt from Voltaire's poem responding to the Lisbon earthquake (and anticipating Pat Robertson being an idiot), straight out of Pangloss's playbook.

What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.
Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellent dance of death,
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.

Old Ben Barber loves him some Saif!

An amazing interview is here. Ben sure does not like anyone to think that he may be wrong about anything. Also, he has some very strange views about what a Ph.D. dissertation is. Here he is responding to plagiarism charges against his homie Saif:

It's a dissertation; I have read it. There are about 600 books quoted at length or paraphrased -- it's a doctoral dissertation; you're supposed to cite people! You're not allowed to have your own views

600 books quoted at length? Not allowed to have your own views?


oh and by the way, check the second link. Home-boy plagiarized in a big big way!

Barber is a joke.

Fake ID Ownership in College

Fake ID Ownership in a US Sample of Incoming First-Year College Students

Norma Nguyen et al.
Addictive Behaviors, forthcoming

Objective: One way that underage drinkers procure alcohol is by using a fake ID. This study examined demographic characteristics and alcohol-related problems associated with fake ID ownership among incoming first-year college students.

Method: We examined baseline data collected as part of a web-based alcohol education program that had been completed by a large, cross-sectional sample of incoming college freshmen from across the US.

Results: Only 7.7% of incoming freshmen reported owning a fake ID. Multiple logistic regression indicated that the odds of owning a fake ID were significantly increased by intent to join or current membership in a fraternity or sorority (OR = 2.00; 95% CI = 1.64,2.44; p < 0.0001), having taken the survey after the start of fall classes (OR = 1.27; 95% CI = 1.01, 1.59; p = 0.04), reporting 1 heavy drinking episode in the past two weeks (OR = 1.28; 95% CI = 0.97,1.68; p = 0.01), reporting 2 or more such episodes (OR = 2.78; 95% CI = 2.10,3.66; p < 0.0001), experiencing external harms related to alcohol use (OR = 1.28, 95% CI = 1.01,1.61; p = 0.01), and drinking and driving (OR = 1.34; 95% CI = 1.03,1.75; p = 0.03).

Conclusions: Fake ID ownership was associated with intent to join or current membership in a fraternity/sorority and with reports of heavy drinking episodes, alcohol-related problems, and drinking and driving. Fake ID owners and incoming college students seeking fraternity or sorority membership should be targeted for multiple interventions to reduce alcohol-related harms.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Most Excellent

What a tremendous premise! Axel Leijonhufvud interviews Friedrich Hayek. The incomprehensible takes on the increasingly obscure. Who wins? Judge for yourself.

Best part was where FAH insisted that Axel call him "Slash." (Okay, that didn't really happen). (But it would have been cool.)

Grand Game: Bullet Train Edition

Amazing article in the NYTimes, on bullet trains. (Nod to Anonyman).

Worthy of the Grand Game. Pick your favorite part.

Anonyman went first: Best part is the last sentence in the article...

Now, with the collapse of the Florida route, it looks as if the nation’s first segment of true high-speed rail will be in an even unlikelier place — linking Fresno and Bakersfield, in California’s Central Valley, and scheduled to end construction in 2017.

I can see wanting to take a fast train OUT of either of those places, but not if your only option is to go to the OTHER of those places.

My favorite part: The "Mad Men" commercial they paraphrase, which I had not heard about.

My favorite line: "“I read a piece that said that in 40 years, gas is going to cost almost a dollar a gallon,” one says." That was 1965, when gas was $0.31 per gallon. Now, this is not a commercial about inflation, folks. This is about GASOLINE. So, what is the current price of gasoline (I figured $3.60 per gallon nominal) in terms of 1965 prices? The answer is... $0.58! Still nowhere close to a dollar. I can never tell if US PIRG is a bunch of idiots, or liars. But those are the only possibilities, for them to make an ad like this.

Anyway, your turn! What's the coolest part of the article? Don't hold back, there's plenty of fun for everybody!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Music update

Two things, people.

First Air Waves' album is out (or more accurately, I finally realized it was out) and it's terrific! Available from Underwater Peoples.

Here's the video for their song "Knockout".

Second, Kurt Vile's new album is out and it's amazing. It's called "Smoke Rings for my Halo".

Here's a video of Kurt playing "Jeus Fever" out in the freezing cold:

My Blackberry is Frozen

I have to admit, this made me think of frequent reader Shirley...

UPDATE: Just got an email from Shirley saying power was out and she had no internet connection. Made me spit tea all over my keyboard. Either it was a miraculous email, or perhaps the power and internet are working after all. (No, she does not have an internet enabled phone).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You can't make this stuff up

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum reacts to Tyler's list of mistakes left wing economists often make, by making almost all of the mistakes!!!


1. Suggesting that money matters in politics far more than the peer-reviewed evidence indicates.

I think the peer-reviewed evidence is wrong. It simply isn't able to capture all the dynamics of money in politics.

The comments are equally excellent until they start scrumming over social security. Here's an example:

His list of 10 mistakes made by conservative economists is much better.

Ahh, life is so sweet sometimes!

Jalen Rose: "Uncle Toms" at Duke

Jalen Rose said he felt like all the black players at Duke were "Uncle Toms." (His words, folks).

The interview.

My response, on the radio yesterday.

By the way, some facts:

Duke tuition + room/board: $52,000 6,400 Undergrads
African-American 10.3%
Basketball team graduation rate: 90%

Michigan tuition + room/board: out of state $49,000 (in state: $21,000)
51,000 Undergrads
African American 5.8%
Basketball team graduation rate: 44%

SNAP! Duke has far more African-American students, as a proportion of the student body. Tuition/costs are roughly the same. And Duke recruits students who have some chance of graduating. Michigan recruits some guys like Jalen Rose, who left early and had a fine NBA career. But they also recruit a lot of guys who take fake classes and are simply exploited as basketball cannon fodder. So, yes, it may be true that Duke recruits a different sort of player, the sort who has a chance of graduating with a degree. But I think it's more likely that Duke players are told they MUST focus on graduating, and that they have to work. Michigan players can just hope to have a career shooting off their Jalen Rose.

I think Duke wins... AGAIN. Gosh it sucks to be you, Jalen!

(To be fair, the fab Five were equal opportunity losers. UNC kicked their ass for the 1993 championship, after Chris Webber did some sort of "travelling / call time out we don't have" dance move at mid-court. So it wasn't like the Fab Five only lost to Duke. Some video, to help you remember.)

Public Choice Memorial for Mel Hinich

The Public Choice Society meetings are this weekend, in San Antonio, TX.

I can't travel, because of my eye. But I got Neanderbill to read a statement in my stead. Here is that statement. (Also there is the Public Choice memoriam, written by four of us.)

For the Session on Mel Hinich for Public Choice
San Antonio, Texas
March 12, 2011

I first met Melvin at the Public Choice meetings at the Hilton in Pheonix, Arizona, in 1984, in a hallway at the hotel. He was talking to Peter Ordeshook (who was smoking), and the two of them acted as they always did: artlessly impatient. Did you have something interesting to say? If so, take your shot. But the weather or baseball scores didn’t get you far. Mel always wanted to talk about the work, what he had been working on or what he would be working on. Mel talked more than anyone else I ever met in academics.
But he could also listen. After I moved to UT in the fall of 1986, I realized that I had the chance to start a second “graduate school.” My background in public choice and spatial theory was shallow, and Mel set out to improve me. We went for long walks, often at noon or 1 pm, in the Austin heat, and would come back drenched in sweat. Then Mel would scribble on his blackboard for half an hour, with me taking notes, and then I would go try type things up.
I often got back to my office, and realized that Mel had made a mistake. The model didn’t work the way he said it did. So the next morning I would go to show him the mistake.
But often it wasn’t a mistake at all. Mel had simply skipped three or four steps that seemed obvious to him. Once he filled in the argument so I could see what he was doing, I went back to writing.
Sometimes in the last few years people come up to me at conferences and ask, “Has Mel ever written anything, or did you write it all?” Then they snicker, “In fact, has Mel ever READ any of your joint work?!!”
The truth is that Mel did not much like to write. And even less did he like to edit. Sometimes, it was frustrating, because I would give him a finished chapter for comments, and his entire response the next day was, “That was good! Now, let’s talk about submarines…” (Or Russia. Or Shakespeare. Or…)
But what is “writing,” exactly? In many ways, I was Mel’s typist, his Boswell. True, Mel said things and I wrote them down, and later typed them. But the order of our names, Hinich and Munger, on our three books and many articles, accurately reflects the contributions we made. Mel was, and is, first.
If I had not met Mel, I would have missed out on the excitement of discovery, and the sense of eager mental searching. Without his tutelage, I would never have become President of the Public Choice Society or editor of the journal. I wouldn’t be at Duke, and I might never have gotten tenure.
And without his friendship I would have missed out on the grandest times, biggest laughs, and deepest talks in my life. Mel had two great loves, particularly in his 50s before he had a number of illnesses. These loves were talking and eating. If you ever had a meal with him, you know that there was a sense of excitement, since you can’t really eat and talk at the same time. Would the winner be the unstoppable force, or the immovable object?
Well, the premise of the question turned out to be false. Mel could in fact eat and talk at the same time. And he could eat a lot, for hours in fact. He preferred eating at someone’s house, rather than going to a restaurant. This was partly because he didn’t like to waste money. But it was also because he would likely have kept the restaurant open past closing time. His appetites, capacities, and abilities were simply larger than life. I’m not sure we will see his like again.
The Sunday before he died, Mel called me at home to discuss the introductory chapter we were working on for the second edition of Analytical Politics, our Cambridge book. The first edition has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Russian. I have now made very substantial progress on that book, and hope to finish it by May.
On that new edition Mel’s name will still be first, where it belongs, even though once again he didn’t write that much of it. I will always miss him.

College Applications

The Jacket (wearing a black t-shirt and a black shirt, but no jacket) interviews Andrew Ferguson about college applications.

(Nod to Biz of Life)

Funny guys, the dad and son.

"You know that scene at the end of 'Titanic'? All the motionless bodies lying face down? That was my son."

Obama's cabinet has not lost the capacity to surprise me

It's quite a group.

First there's Timmy G., Secretary of the Treasury AND tax cheater!

Second, we got to know Janet Napolitano, who excelled at closing her eyes and sticking her fingers in her ears while screaming "the system worked" when everyone could see that it didn't.

Third comes in aptly named Ray LaHood, who crucified Toyota in the press and didn't have the onions or the decency to even pretend to apologize when the rocket scientists basically cleared the company.

Finally and most recently, we now can celebrate the stupidity of Tom Vilsack! Yes, farm subsidies are inefficient but they're essential for the self esteem of "rural folk"?

Que bola de pendejos, no? And I haven't even mentioned Eric Holder!

None of them anticipated the dramatic price hike

So, there was this system that worked pretty well. Women got the drug Makena quite cheaply, and it was available from a number of different sources. $20 per dose, tops.

Then the government decided to "help."
Who knew about conditions, safety? There needs to be a process, here. Let's regulate.

And now the price is $1,500 per dose. Many women won't be able to afford it. Here's the cool part: people are surprised.

More on the story:
KV Pharmaceutical of suburban St.Louis won government approval to exclusively sell the drug, known as Makena (Mah-KEE'-Nah). The March of Dimes and many obstetricians supported that because it means quality will be more consistent and it will be easier to get.

None of them anticipated the dramatic price hike, though — especially since most of the cost for development and research was shouldered by others in the past.

"That's a huge increase for something that can't be costing them that much to make. For crying out loud, this is about making money," said Dr. Roger Snow, deputy medical director for Massachusetts' Medicaid program.

"I've never seen anything as outrageous as this," said Dr. Arnold Cohen, an obstetrician at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

"I'm breathless," said Dr. Joanne Armstrong, the head of women's health for Aetna, the Hartford-based national health insurer.

Doctors say the price hike may deter low-income women from getting the drug, leading to more premature births. And it will certainly be a huge financial burden for health insurance companies and government programs that have been paying for it.

The cost is justified to avoid the mental and physical disabilities that can come with very premature births, said KV Pharmaceutical chief executive Gregory J. Divis Jr. The cost of care for a preemie is estimated at $51,000 in the first year alone.

That's wonderful. Here's another example of that kind of reasoning: Dying of thirst is painful, and it involves...well... dying. So it's worth $250 per cup of water to avoid that. So give me a monopoly and let me charge $250 per cup of water. I'll have a slogan: "Water: It's Worth It!"

Folks: it's simple. Regulation is by and large designed, implemented, and continued because it benefits a few large corporations. The idea that regulation is supposed to help citizens is laughable. I'm surprised anyone is still surprised.

Why would anyone think that THIS TIME, this time it will be different?

Sounds like a description of Obamacare: "None of them anticipated the dramatic price hike"

(Nod to BJH)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Maurtius: Paradise Not

Every time I wonder to myself, "Could Joe Stiglitz sell out his considerable talents as an economist any more than he has?", Joe goes and shows that, YES HE CAN.

Mauritius--Paradise. What can the US learn from this tiny island nations?

We can learn that capital is berry, berry good ting to hov, mon. (No, Mauritius is not in the Carribean, sue me). But, when the Mauritianians want a big night out, they go to...Madagascar.

Also, the reason the Mauritius doesn't have American problems is that they don't have the American government. I say we give them Joe Biden, and throw in Fanny and Freddie for a player to be named never.

Anonyman writes: "Having been there, I can say that it's nice, for a 3rd world country. But it's still basic, and basic infrastructure is - well - basic. When you arrive and go through customs you wait in line and a guy behind a tiny desk looks at your passport, and then stamps it. That's all, no computer, no questions, nothing. When I remarked how primitive it was they guy next to me said, in all seriousness, that it's much more modern since they got A/C in the airport.

The best part was that there is a highway across the island, but no overpasses. So every time there is an intersection you go through a traffic circle at 60 mph. It was terrifying, but not in a good way. I was about to vomit after the first one, sort of like when you at the amusement park.

So nirvana? Not really. But a great excuse to visit there as an "economist talking guy." "

Happiness is a Warm...Republican?

Two maps. You draw your own conclusion.

First, happy. Darker orange is happier, lighter is sad.

Then, Congressional districts that elected a Republican in 2010 (red is Repub, of course):

The happiest man in the US, in terms of statistical prediction. The scoop:

The New York Times asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America, based on the characteristics that most closely correlated with happiness in 2010. Men, for example, tend to be happier than women, older people are happier than middle-aged people, and so on.

Gallup’s answer: he’s a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year. A few phone calls later and ...

Meet Alvin Wong. He is a 5-foot-10, 69-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. He runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.

That man is clearly a Republican.

(Nod to Anonyman, who once thought he was a Republican, but decided he hated being happy...)

Whole Foods!

The new North Raleigh Whole Foods opens March 16!

4.96 miles
from the Rancho d'Munger.

Poor Angus.

But, help is on the way! It's the "Wrath of Grapes," or the Grapes of Wrath backwards, sort of.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Three silly things. Before you click: which one is the Onion?

1. Burglar showers, homeowner returns, burglar calls cops. Says he was afraid homeowner had gun! "I'm in the shower! There's a man with a gun in the hallway...what? No, it's his house, I'm robbing it. What? R-o-b-b-i-n-g, yes...Well, I needed a shower!"

2. Naked therapist. Says the therapist: "There's something about a naked woman that helps a man to really focus."

3. Tomato shaped like a duck. I like how they put a yellow duckie in the picture, just in case you don't know a "shaped like a duck" actually means.

Answer: I lied. They are all three real, if you can call them real.

Not What Metal, But What Factors

US Mint is soliciting public comment...sort of.

What new metals should we use in minting coins?

Except that they don't really want to know about metals. They want to know what factors we should use in deciding what metals.

The United States Mint is not soliciting suggestions or recommendations on specific metallic coinage materials, and any such suggestions or recommendations will not be considered at this time. The United States Mint seeks public comment only on the factors to be considered in the research and evaluation of potential new metallic coinage materials.

Welfare or Insurance?

Bob Samuelson and Mark Thoma are at it again. Samuelson claims that Social Security is welfare, while Thoma says that it's just plain old insurance. He repeatedly compares it to fire insurance.

Let's start with a list of "Why Social Security is NOT like fire insurance":

1. It pays off the same amount whether you need it or not.

2. The "premia" are not risk based in any meaningful way.

3. If you don't "buy" it, you go to jail.

4. There is only one company that "sells" it.

5. The "insurer" can unilaterally change the terms of both the premia and the payouts with no recourse for the "insured".

Ok, so it's not really insurance. Then what is it?

Well it's two distinct components. The first is the payroll tax, the second is the retirement benefits. The payroll tax falls on the relatively young, and the benefits are paid to the relatively old.

The confounding problem is that many people believe the payroll taxes they pay go to fund the benefits they will receive, which is completely untrue. The payroll taxes go to pay current expenses of the US government. They are just a tax on labor. The government is spending every penny of those payroll taxes to pay for current expenditures. There is no meaningful economic sense in which the current payroll taxes can even be said to be exclusively funding the current retirement benefit payouts!

Going back to the (bad) insurance analogy, the insurer is free to use your premia to buy fighter jets and space shuttles!!

So, is Social Security welfare then? Well the payroll tax component certainly isn't. The retirement benefits part certainly is.

But I will say this; it's a type of welfare that I think we should have! Not in it's current form, but as a means-tested safety net, and without the strange fiction that it's financed by the payroll tax.

Keep a modified (for the poor only) safety net, drop the payroll tax.

Replace the revenue by cutting spending elsewhere (you're on your own President Karzai!!).

A 12.4% tax on labor is a dumb tax in an era where we are worried about employment and middle class incomes and sending social security checks to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is, if anything, even dumber!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sweet Home Mississippi?

All hail to the State, with Patriotism so great, that less than 20% of its residents even have passports!

I was very proud to see that roughly 1/3 of my fellow Okies have passports.


Hat tip to LeBron, who grew up in New Jersey, that cesspool of disloyalty!

Wow! The Stuff Matt Y Knows!

The "Knowledge Problem" is a famous one in economics. Even a famous blog to go with it.

But there is NO KNOWLEDGE PROBLEM for Matt Yglesias. He knows all. Ay, marry now, unmuzzle your wisdom, sirrah!

Two tweets from this morning:

"I want to call it the rentier's fallacy: "If you don't let me overcharge, GDP will fall!" "


"Pharma frowns as consumers get access to useful medicine at close to market price: LINK"

In both instances, there is a correct price (Matt modestly calls it the "market price," but in fact it is the Yglesias Price, the price of God). Greedy, terrible people want to charge something other than the Yglesias Price.

But we must smite them! Price controls on rents, and force pharma companies to sell at marginal cost!

What, a shortage? Smite them again, for being greedy!

That's a lot of smiting, when it is the conceit that regulators (or bloggers!) think they know the correct prices that's causing the problem.

(I recognize that Michael G cringes, but my point is that I don't know the correct price, and neither does Matt Y. If you want to make an argument for rent control, it can't be about "overcharging." It just can't).

Should movies be subsidized?

Michael Kinsley says no. Interfluidity says yes.

Interfluidity is quite right that subsidies will increase the supply of movies, and seems to consider that a good thing.

I have to differ. The motion picture industry is a huge rent seeking contest that is socially inefficient, just like professional sports. A large number of people dedicate themselves to trying to get a desirable position and the vast majority of them will (a) fail, and (b) be quite unprepared to do something else.

Increasing the number of movies, just like expanding a professional sports league will most likely draw many more people into the rent seeking contest than it will provide positions for, thus making matters worse.

Los Angeles and New York are already teeming with waitress / cab-driver / hobo "actors" and "screenwriters" who are smart, talented individuals, well prepared for jobs they'll never get and generating large social losses by not having gotten a more general preparation and more productive jobs. Do we really want to encourage these kinds of wasteful outcomes in New Mexico and Michigan as well?

Occupations that generate rent seeking contests should be taxed, not subsidized!

We should be nudging people OUT not in to the motion picture industry.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Some Visionaries Fail, But Not All Failures are Visionaries

Had a conversation in Germany once, with a quite sensible man. We discussed the large number of solar panels on nearby homes. Germany, as I have written, has a climate where the sun is visible for about 90 minutes, some time in late July. That's it for the year.

I said it was not rational to force people to invest in solar panels.

He crowed, triumphantly, that it WAS rational, because of the enormous subsidies from the EU and the German government.

I stared at him, and tried (gently) to point out that he was ASSUMING it was rational. The fact that an activity is subsidized just means that the state takes your money at gunpoint, and agrees to give part of it back if you agree to do something you otherwise would not do.

In this case, only an idiot would put solar panels on houses in dark, snowy, cold Germany. Unless "the government" pays you to do it. But the government is bribing you with your own money, to do something that no sensible person would do. Yes, subsidies change the incentives. So does slavery.

My friend actually laughed, and said, "You economists. You never want to take anything on faith!" As if faith and religion were a big part of the lives of the German people. Or as if faith meant that installing solar panels at a cost per kw/hr that is triple the generation costs of other available technologies actually made sense, instead of being a boondoggle for the "Green Industry" pirates who run the EU like a whipped dog.

Anyway, a great story (shared by the Blonde) about faith-based energy policy in California. Just so many excellent little nuggets in this story. Glad to see that Californians can be just as ridiculously faithful as Germans can.

Game Theory: Nuts?

John Nash, Game Theory, and the Schizophrenic Brain

Donald Capps, Journal of Religion and Health, March 2011, Pages 145-162

Abstract: This article focuses on John Nash, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994, and subject of the Award winning 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1958 at the age of 29. After presenting an account of the emergence, course, and eventual remission of his illness, the article argues for the relevance of his contribution to game theory, known as the Nash equilibrium, for which he received the Nobel Prize, to research studies of the schizophrenic brain and how it deviates from the normal brain. The case is made that the Nash equilibrium is descriptive of the normal brain, whereas the game theory formulated by John van Neumann, which Nash’s theory challenges, is descriptive of the schizophrenic brain. The fact that Nash and his colleagues in mathematics did not make the association between his contributions to mathematics and his mental breakdown and that his later recovery exemplified the validity of this contribution are noted and discussed. Religious themes in his delusional system, including his view of himself as a secret messianic figure and the biblical Esau, are interpreted in light of these competing game theories and the dysfunctions of the schizophrenic brain. His recognition that his return to normalcy came at the price of his sense of being in relation to the cosmos is also noted.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)


Dr. Laing and Game Theory

(From which I conclude: (1) it is possible to misuse game theory for fun and profit; (2) British psychiatrists have appallingly bad hair; and (3) American psychiatrists have no hair at all)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Which is the Onion?

One, and ONLY one, of the following stories is from the Onion. The other two are actual "stories." That is, they were reported as true.

Try to guess before you click or mouse-over. See if you get it right: which one of these is the Onion?

1. New health study: staring at woman's breasts is excellent for heart health.

"Five-hundred men participated in the German study. Half were told to refrain from looking at breasts for five years, the other half were told to ogle them daily.

The study found the men who stared at breasts more often showed lower rates of heart problems, a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure.

The authors of the study recommend that men stare at breasts for 10 minutes a day."

2. Glad you are out of Libya. But what were you thinking?

State Department officials charged with evacuating nearly 200 Americans from Tripoli last week shepherded the U.S. citizens aboard a ferry, assessed their need for medical attention, and then asked them what the hell they were doing in Libya in the first place.

"We are pleased these Americans are now out of harm's way, but, really, why would anyone want to go to Libya?" a U.S. official told reporters, offering a list of more than 20 countries that are safer, more fun, and "just seem like more logical places to take a vacation" than the repressive North African country.

3. NC Zoo adopts "Snotty the Snot Otter" as their official mascot.

"It made sense when the organizers of a North Carolina festival suggested that the state zoo here adopt a mascot to promote clean rivers.

Except that the creature in question is the snot otter. Formally known as hellbenders, which is not much better from a public-relations standpoint, snot otters are giant, slimy salamanders that lurk under big rocks...

Already up and wriggling is the mascot, Snotty, a big-tailed lizard look-alike with brown skin, beady eyes and stubby teeth.

He made his debut—with mixed results—at the New River Celebration in Laurel Springs, N.C., this past summer.

"There was really just one kid that was kind of scared of me," says Ben Stanley, 20, a student at Randolph Community College here who helped create the Snotty costume and wore it at the festival. "Most of the kids were just running all around me; one actually tried to pull my finger off."
(Ed's Note: at the Munger house, the whole "pull my finger" thing is a bad idea)

(nod to Angry Alex)

(UPDATE: Pablo is right, of course, in comments. A hoax. Not even the Onion, just an everyday garden variety urban legend. I should have known. But since a newspaper carried it...anyway, ONE of the above is real, and TWO are hoaxes)