Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pauline Kael syndrom

Mr. Overwater sends this interesting historical note, from Charles Murray's blog:

Those famous words of Pauline Kael, “How can Nixon have won? No one I knew voted for him” weren’t quite what she said. Prof. John Pitney at Claremont McKenna sent me the actual quote, from the New York Times of 28 December 1972: “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Sort of the same thing, I know, but then I got another email from someone who wrote, “Pauline was a good friend, and was the farthest thing from a smug, unself-aware adherent of dumb liberal cant as you could imagine . . . She undoubtedly viewed Nixon as a sick puppy. But she was no insular, snobbish Margaret Dumont.” I take his assessment at face value, and will henceforth strike “Pauline Kael Syndrome” from my rhetorical arsenal.

Charles is right. That's different enough. Thanks to Mr. Overwater, well played.

But I had the direct experience of what "Pauline Kael syndrome" is taken to mean, at UT-Austin, in 1988.

Look out Hillary, another hat has hit the ring

Apparently top-down development would work just fine if we only had the right leader at the World Bank, and Jeff Sachs has someone in mind.....

Jeff Sachs!

People, did you know that the WB's "central mission is to reduce global poverty and ensure that global development is environmentally sound and socially inclusive."

Shall we take a Python break?

"NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four* *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise...."

Don't get me wrong, Jeff has a good point that the US has not exactly covered itself in glory with the folks we've put in charge of the World Bank or with our use of the institution to promote cold war goals. But the "all we need are the right people in charge" argument is just so incredibly superficial and lame, whether applied to political systems or vast bureaucracies.

Jeff concludes by offering his vision of where the Bank would go under a Sachs-ocracy:

Its priorities should include agricultural productivity; mobilization of information technologies for sustainable development; deployment of low-carbon energy systems; and quality education for all, with greater reliance on new forms of communication to reach hundreds of millions of under-served students.

Oh, my.

With all due respect, can we not just put Barber Conable's ghost back in charge?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Promises, promises

As we know, the Fed has announced an inflation ceiling of 2% AND that it will keep short term rates close to zero at least until the later part of 2014.

I believe these two commitments are contradictory if we manage to achieve a decent economic recovery, and it is looking more and more like we are finally getting exactly that.

Here is a chart of the implied 2 year ahead level of inflation expectations derived using yields on inflation protected securities (TIPS):

The red line is the Fed's 2% ceiling.

People, can I get a YIKES?

The source for this chart is here, the hat tip goes to LeBron, and the source also argues that markets are strongly pricing in a Fed rate increase in 2013.

At this point, unless the recovery falters, I don't think the Fed will keep EITHER of its two promises

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Matt Y commits the infra-marginal fallacy

Man oh man. Can't anybody on these interwebs play this game?

People, the fact that the average wage in manufacturing is higher than the average wage in non-manufacturing is SIMPLY UNINFORMATIVE about whether new hires in manufacturing enjoy a wage premium vs. new hires in non-manufacturing.
Economic analysis is MARGINAL ANALYSIS.

We know that new hires in manufacturing nowadays often come with wages and benefits significantly below historical averages.

This is a basic economic point, but people just keep getting it wrong.

Venezuelan politics is so awesome

The president of the Venezuelan congress and likely replacement for Hugo Chavez if Hugo's health does not permit him to run is Diosdado Cabello!

Yes, you read that right and no, it's not a nickname. The man's first name is "God-given" and the man's last name is "hair".

"Mitt" Romney has to be kicking himself at this point, thinking "that should be MY name".

If Mitt is the real Diosdado Cabello (and he is, just look at Diosdado's actual cabello, it's pathetic), what are some good Spanish names for the rest of our politicians?

Tell me in the comments!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Expat Aid Workers like rebel militias

"When colleagues at the “Regional Conference on the Use of RCTs to Define and Shape Sustainable Mainstreaming of Successful Good Practice Related to Local Ownership and Crosscutting Holistic Gender Empowerment for Excluded Adolescent Girls based on Positive Deviance Methodology” think they are being all badass by casually dropping in news about their latest vacation in one dodgy place or another, as someone actually living there, it’s your EAW (expat aid worker) duty to trump them by reminding them that life in Militiaville is no cake walk, thus putting them in their place."

Full post is here. The entire blog is tremendous.

DSK part Deux

DSK offers a defense of his adventure.

A lawyer for Mr. Strauss-Kahn appeared to confirm that he had attended the events [orgies], saying that his client would not have been aware if the women who entertained him were prostitutes.

“He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” the lawyer, Henri Leclerc, told a French radio station, Europe 1, in December.

Research! DSK was doing research! "Hmmm....prostitute? Non, no cigarette stains on her fingers. It must be a woman who is so overcome by my beautiful pasty white 70 year old body that she just wants me! She didn't need to be paid!"

I have a dispositive test, to answer the lawyer's challenge: any woman under 60 who willingly gets naked and gets in the same room with a naked DSK, MIGHT JUST be a prostitute. 'Cause ain't no woman gonna do that for free.

Question: why is that socialists are so convinced that they deserve such special treatment? Rich capitalists expect special treatment, but they pay for it. DSK wants other people to pay some poor woman to touch his winkie, and then he denies that she was paid, because he is so attractive that women WANT to touch his winkie, out of admiration.

Life imitates Art?

American wrestling fans will undoubtably remember Kamala the "Ugandan Giant"

(aka James Harris from Mississippi)

However, there is an amazing wrestling scene "next door" to Uganda in the Congo.

Check out this amazing photo essay of Congolese wrestlers. Just tremendous. Here is one example:

Hat tip to Roving Bandit!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Correlation is Causation?

Why are professors liberal?

Neil Gross & Ethan Fosse
Theory and Society, March 2012, Pages 127-168

Abstract: The political liberalism of professors - an important occupational group and anomaly according to traditional theories of class politics - has long puzzled sociologists. This article sheds new light on the subject by employing a two-step analytic procedure. In the first step, we assess the explanatory power of the main hypotheses proposed over the last half century
to account for professors' liberal views. To do so, we examine hypothesized predictors of the political gap between professors and other Americans using General Social Survey data pooled from 1974-2008. Results indicate that professors are more liberal than other Americans because a higher proportion possess advanced educational credentials, exhibit a disparity between their levels of education and income, identify as Jewish, non-religious, or non-theologically conservative Protestant, and express greater tolerance for controversial ideas. In the second step of our article, we develop a new theory of professors' politics on the basis of these findings (though not directly testable with our data) that we think holds more explanatory promise than existing approaches and that sets an agenda for future research.

Do you know what has long puzzled me? How someone can get a paper published simply by running a bunch of regressions of ideology on demographic characteristics, and then saying things like "Jewish causes liberal beliefs." This "two stage" thing described above...if the Onion published empirical papers, this might be a candidate.

Antitrust Paradox?

Look: It's simple. The job of government is protect large corporations. Not consumers, not new entrants into the marketplace. Existing large corporations.

I know, you can IMAGINE a government that does something else. I can imagine unicorns. Neither your fantasy nor mine actually exist.

Fortunately, for once Big Gov and the Boyz got their big sweaty hands slapped.

Aleynikov goes free--Posted By Felix Salmon On February 17, 2012 (10:27 pm).

Count me in, with Choire Sicha, as being very happy that Sergey Aleynikov is once again a free man. To cut a long story short, Aleynikov used to work in high-frequency trading for Goldman Sachs, earning $400,000 a year. He then got offered a job in Chicago, earning three times that amount. So he accepted the new job. On his last day at Goldman, he uploaded to an external server various bits of code that he had worked with at Goldman. He claimed that the code was benign open-source material; Goldman claimed that it could be used to “mani! pulate markets”.

Goldman’s claim backfired in one respect, in that it sparked a thousand semi-informed articles about high-frequency trading and how dangerous it is: articles which did Goldman’s reputation no good at all.

On the other hand, the claim did have its chief intended effect — it got U.S. authorities extremely excited, to the point at which they charged Aleynikov with criminal activity under the Economic Espionage Act.

Now the EEA was designed — and was initially used — to prosecute very different behavior, chiefly employees at defense contractors taking top-secret information and giving it straight to the Chinese government. The kind of thing which can absolutely be considered espionage.

The secrets at defense contractors, of course, are secret for reasons of national security. The secrets at investment banks and hedge funds, by contrast, are secret purely for reasons of profit: they reckon that if they have some clever algorithm which nobody else has, then that makes it easier for them to profit from it. Which is why it was always a stretch for the government to use the EEA to prosecute Aleynikov — indeed, it is why it was always a stretch for Aleynikov to be criminally prosecuted at all. Goldman could have brought a civil case against him, but instead they got their wholly-owned subsidiary, the U.S. government, to come down on him so hard that he ended up with an eight-year sentence. Violent felons frequently get less.

The forthcoming decision from the Second Circuit is likely to be a doozy; I’m told that the judges shredded the prosecutors during the oral hearing. And certainly their decision to enter a judgment of acquittal, rather than any kind of retrial, is a strong indication that they handed down this order with extreme prejudice against prosecutorial overreach.

Is it the government’s job to expend enormous prosecutorial resources protecting Goldman Sachs from competition? The Second Circuit certainly doesn’t seem to think so, and neither do I. Aleynikov’s actions were certainly stupid, and quite possibly illegal. But the way that Goldman managed to sic New York prosecutors on him bearing the sledgehammer of the EEA was far from edifying. And I’m glad that both Goldman and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney are surely feeling very chastened right now.

Nod to Joel R.

Rage against the machine

When moving pictures became "talkies", the practice of having a group of live musicians at theatres to play during the movie started to die out.

The movie-theatre musicians didn't like it.

So they started a fascinating but ultimately futile ad campaign against recorded music!

Talking pictures were described as a "monstrous offspring of modern industrialism

 Hat tip to Mrs. Angus

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Cheers for "Windfall"

New movie on wind power. It seems that the left has finally discovered that the alternative energy "industry" (sic) is "all about the money."

Folks, there IS no alternative energy industry. There is a rent-seeking, subsidy-sucking-down industry, and the people who work in that industry are smart, hard-working, and relentless. In 2007, they were mortgage loan originators. Now, they are windfarm contractors.

In this trailer for the movie (two cheers for the movie; not three cheers, but two cheers) you will see the problem documented.
They get a lot right, but the problem is that the problem has to be "it's all about the money." Um, no. The problem is that this was NEVER about the money, in the sense of real cost per KWHr. It's about the subsidies.

If it were about the money, the only reason we would have solar, or wind, or whatever, "alternative energy" is if those technologies actually produced power at competitive rates.

Instead, all of the "alternative energy" pirates were just after the subsidies. Everybody in the industry knows that the negative externalities of wind power, combined with its operating costs (at least twice, and ofter as much as FOUR times, the cost of electricity now generated through conventional means), make wind energy uneconomical. So the corporations that are acting this way are fooling people into accepting a pittance to put a turbine on their land, taking the enormous subsidy from Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid, and then skedaddling. There was never any hope of this being a viable energy source, at least not with existing technology. It's too expensive, dangerous, and noisy.

That's where "the money" comes in, or where it SHOULD come in. Suppose you have two technologies, C and W. C uses certain resources, produces certain externalities, and produces a certain amount of power. W uses quite different resources, produces externalities, and produces a certain amount of power. Which one is "better"?

For a command system, there is no way of knowing. The problem is that (1) there is no price information to help you know which system uses the fewest resources. (2) Given a decision to subsidize, that "price" swamps all the information that could have been inferred from people who actually know something about power generation technology.

Here's the thing. It's a theorem.

The system that costs least uses the fewest resources.

The only way, the ONLY way, to add up resources is to sum the opportunity costs that using them in one way precludes for other uses. The only way to sum opportunity costs is to use price. Now, it doesn't matter at all what UNITs the prices are stated in.  And it may be hard to account for externalities, because those often aren't priced. But if externalities are hard for markets to price, why do we think that governments, dominated by rent-seekers who want subsidies for useless crap like wind turbines, will do any better?  If anything governments are likely WORSE at pricing externalities accurately. There is no force on earth that can change the fact that the alternative that costs less uses fewer resources, or less valued resources, or produces more power.

The king of the tax / subsidy paradigm, A.C. Pigou, actually foresaw this in 1920. This is not Coase, or Stigler, or Tollison, mind you. This is PIGOU:
It is not sufficient to contrast the imperfect adjustments of unfettered enterprise with the best adjustment that economists in their studies can imagine. For we cannot expect that any State authority will attain, or even wholeheartedly seek, that ideal. Such authorities are liable alike to ignorance, to sectional pressure, and to personal corruption by private interest. A loud-voiced part of their constituents, if organized for votes, may easily outweigh the whole.

Why would you think that the government can get prices right for externalities? Why do you think the government WANTS to get prices right, given how much money there is to be made from campaign contributions from rent-seekers?

Beef! They Got BEEF!

No holds barred questions from the Redditians. I especially like the "why they got beef?" questions, with the LvMI playing the role of Fitty Cent, and the Reason/GMU gang playing the role of "Game." (In case you missed 50 v. Game)

And John Papola? Well, he does what John Papola does. He answers.

Economics In One Lesson

Not very nice. But bidding wars are likely when property rights are poorly specified. And that's why property rights need to be clearly specified. In countries without property rights, EVERYTHING gets exchanged this way.

With a nod to Raoul

Krugman almost backs down on US "austerity"


The whole article is big fun, but I got a meeting with the dean this morning (I'm in TROUBLE!!!!!) so let's just focus on one bit:

"Meanwhile, countries that didn’t jump on the austerity train — most notably, Japan and the United States — continue to have very low borrowing costs.... "

But then he said this:

"That’s true even in America, which has avoided full-fledged austerity at the federal level but has seen big spending and employment cuts at the state and local level."

So close, Paul, so close. Just take out "full-fledged" and "big" and add "over the last 18 months" at the end.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Germany Gives Up on Solar...

I have several times mentioned how crazy it is for Germany, a country with very little sunshine, ever, to go solar. When I was first there, I was struck by how much they had wasted on solar panels. Astonishing.

It was never an attempt to save resources. It was a costly signal of how much the German left loves Gaia, the Earth Mother. On the BEST, sunniest day, Germany gets 0.3 percent of its power from solar energy. And it pays the highest costs for electricity in all of Europe, save for Denmark, which (I'm trying not to laugh) decided to "compete" by specializing in wind power.

But at some point even the German left has to admit that solar power is inefficient, expensive, impractical, and (this is my favorite part) actually quite dangerous to the environment because of the enormous amount of dangerous chemical waste that results from making, and later decommissioning, solar panels.

(A nice piece, with a lot more details, from Mary Theroux...)

Extremely disturbing stuff

Wow. Some really cool things have come out lately, for the those interested in disturbing coolness.

First, from my student Bill English (with whom I am well pleased!), a paper with Evan Charney on geneti-nonsense. I predict LeBron / A-Tab will like it.

Second, a swashing and martial outside, from EconTalk. William Black--the best way to rob a bank is to own one. Outstanding.

Third, California once again leads the way in idiocy. The only way to save money is to spend MUCH more money than you save. All last night sat on the levee and moaned, Thinkin' about me baby and my happy home. ...

Fourth, and scarily: Frontline on meth. An 18 minute "Chapter 1" from that Frontline.

Watch The Meth Epidemic on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

(A nod to Kevin Lewis)

Guaranteed Income: Mungowitz is Called "Chopped Liver"

wow, Angus, that stings.

Your list of people who favor a guaranteed income (also called "basic income" or "negative income tax") includes "Herbert Simon, Freddy Hayek, Bob Solow AND Milton Friedman."

I would add at least two others:

Charles Murray.

Michael Munger.

I didn't make Angus' list, though. Chopped liver, am I.

The paper might interest readers. I go so far as to argue that basic income is a LIBERTARIAN solution, because it would be (a) cheaper and (b) more consistent with individual autonomy and freedom than the current dog-vomit-after-eating-a-crayon-box mish-mash of programs, transfers, and subsidies. The core of my argument is that such a "guaranteed income" program is NOT consistent with the "destination libertarians" who want zero government. But it is quite consistent with the "directional libertarians" who will accept Pareto improvements, provided those moves ALSO improve liberty.

Happy to send a PDF to anyone who wants to read more.... email me at munger AT duke DOT edu, and I'll be happy to send it out. You might be able to get to the original through other library connections, but I don't think BIS is on JSTOR.

More on manufacturing (don't forget the "e")

People, I give you Robert Reich vs. Laura Tyson.

First, here's Tyson arguing that manufacturing jobs should be prioritized:

"...on average manufacturing jobs are high-productivity, high value-added jobs with good pay and benefits. Even though the premium on manufacturing wages has been declining over time, it remains significant. Between 2005 and 2010, average weekly earnings in manufacturing were about 21 percent higher than average weekly private non-agricultural earnings. In 2009, the average manufacturing worker earned $74,447 in annual pay and benefits compared with $63,122 for the average non-manufacturing worker." 

 As I've pointed out pointedly in the past, this is simply logically incorrect. You cannot use averages to represent what is happening on the margin. If the premium is falling, that clearly means that the marginal wage for new jobs is significantly lower than the average pay for all existing jobs. The correct comparison is between wages for new jobs across sectors (marginal analysis), NOT average wages for all jobs across sectors (infra-marginal garbage).

This point is magnificently made by Reich:

Even if we didn’t have to compete with lower-wage workers overseas, we’d still have fewer factory jobs because the old assembly line has been replaced by numerically-controlled machine tools and robotics. Manufacturing is going high-tech. Bringing back American manufacturing isn’t the real challenge, anyway. It’s creating good jobs for the majority of Americans who lack four-year college degrees. Manufacturing used to supply lots of these kind of jobs, but that was only because factory workers were represented by unions powerful enough to get high wages. That’s no longer the case. Even the once-mighty United Auto Workers has been forced to accept pay packages for new hires at the Big Three that provide half what new hires got a decade ago. At $14 an hour, new auto workers earn about the same as most of America’s service-sector workers. 

 Bravo, Roberto!

 Marginal wages in manufacturing are much lower than average wages, and many new jobs are ones that require a high degree of skills/education.

 Reich's solution to create jobs and raise wages for non-college Americans is to re-empower unions! This would certainly raise wages, but would in all likelihood not be a big boon for increasing the number of jobs.

 I think this issue of what to do about living standards of "unskilled" workers in America is going to continue to worsen and the only feasible long run solution is going to be a type of guaranteed basic income policy.

Hey if Herbert Simon, Freddy Hayek, Bob Solow AND Milton Friedman all agree on it, it must be worth considering, right?