Monday, April 30, 2012

Silver linings

The Venezuelan government is on an unsustainable treadmill. They are running a sustained inflation rate of between 25-30% per year. People complain about higher prices, so they institute price controls and nationalize "offending" companies. Both actions tend to reduce supply, so customers then face shortages and long lines for the products. The NY Times has a good article on the situation.

But as they say, there's always a silver lining. Some citizens are getting healthier:

Waiting in line to buy chicken and other staples, Jenny Montero, 30, recalled how she could not find cooking oil last fall and had to switch from the fried food she prefers to soups and stews.

 “It was good for me,” she said drily, pushing her 14-month-old daughter in a stroller. “I lost several pounds.”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

HIgher Ed blues

Here's the redoubtable Josh Barro on the costs of higher education:

Structurally, the higher education sector looks a lot like the health care sector. It hasn’t seen the productivity gains enjoyed by sectors like manufacturing and retail, which have benefited extensively from automation and technological advances. Colleges still need to employ a lot of highly skilled workers, and college costs are tied to their wages, which rise faster than inflation. It’s no surprise, then, that the higher education inflation trend looks a lot like the alarming one we see in health care. 

 But colleges and universities have failed to mitigate this phenomenon. For example, over the last few decades, the typical public four-year college has seen a sharp expansion of its support and managerial staff — from 5.5 per 100 students in 1987 to 7.5 per 100 in 2007. Colleges have also been reducing student-to-faculty ratios, and increasing spending on fringe offerings like gyms and student centers. As a result, expenditures per student by public institutions of higher education rose 48 percent from 1985 to 2009, after adjusting for inflation. Can we really say that higher education has gotten anywhere close to 48 percent better over that period?

While I agree with Josh that college administrators capture and waste a larger portion of the rents and that the withdrawal of state support dramatically increased the economic load of higher ed for non-wealthy families, I cannot come anywhere close to agreeing with the last couple sentences of the quoted portion.

Let's break it down:

First consider expenditure growth. People, 1985 - 2009 is 25 years. 48% growth over 25 years is, at a first approximation, something like a 2% annual growth rate. That just doesn't seem so bad a rate of spending increase. It's clearly below the rate of growth of real GDP. Is that really the same as the health care case?

Second, it's pretty much of a no-brainer that higher education is "anywhere close to 48% better" in 2009 than it was in 1985, though "better" is not easily made precise in this context:

Think of all the new majors. Think of all the innovative uses of technology. As Josh himself notes, dorms are way nicer, food is way way better, and athletic and leisure facilities are way way way better.

But maybe we shouldn't define "better" as "cooler" or "more enjoyable".

Well, how about if we define "better" as "more valuable"?

According to Goldin & Katz, the college graduate wage premium was around 40% in 1980 and rose to about 65% in 2005 (and was climbing at that point where their data stop). That's a lot more than 48% (62.5% to be exact).

Final point: A much higher percent of new high school grads attend college now than they did in 1985. The enrollment rate of new high school grads into college was 51% in 1975, and it rose to 70% in 2009.

I don't think that's because the product has gotten worse!

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Feb 1981, that freak Angus dragged me to Graham Chapel (750 people!) on Wash U campus to see a completely unknown band.  They were from IRELAND, of all things. 

Concert was strange.  They didn't have many songs.  Most bizarrely, at least in my memory, they started with a song ("Ocean") which they later played again, as an encore.  As I said, they didn't have many songs.

But the concert was pretty great. I liked them enough that I went and bought their debut album, which hadn't been out long. The album was called "Boy," and I could only buy it because I had written down the cryptic name of the unknown band. It was called U2. Perhaps you have heard of them. Anyway, here is Bono, 30 years later, 2011, in Busch Stadium. He specifically recalls Graham Chapel. They got paid $750. I think that is what a ticket cost in Busch Stadium in 2011! Most gratifyingly, Bono confirms that they did in fact START OVER on the set list, for the encores, because they didn't know many songs. And he also confirms that being in a band is still a good way to meet girls.

One day too soon

If I'da waited another day before posting my pond pics, you would have gotten to see our water lily in bloom too.

Feast your eyes (and clic the pic for a more bucolic image):

In (limited) defense of the Bernank

Progressive social media is echoing with the theme that everything would be well with the American economy were it not for the willful obstructionism of Ben Bernanke.

Here is a tweet from Matt Y:

"the gaps get smaller with every month Bernanke lets our human and physical capital stock decay -- that's the problem!"

and another:

"I'm not sure I understand why it's my job to "understand" the man presiding over a total disaster."

And here's the usually excellent Interfluidity telling us that our current economic woes are a deliberate choice made by our policymakers:

"We are in a depression, but not because we don’t know how to remedy the problem. We are in a depression because it is our revealed preference, as a polity, not to remedy the problem. We are choosing continued depression because we prefer it to the alternatives."


First of all, we are not in a depression. Nor is the economy a "total disaster". We are in a disappointingly slow and painful recovery from a very deep recession.

Second, the Bernank actually helped to save our asses back in the darkest days of financial panic.

Third, these are the same folks who generally believe that wages are too low and workers don't earn enough compared to capital. Yet their solution to the low growth / high unemployment problem is for the Fed to lower wages?

Fourth, the Fed cannot automatically control the real interest rate. Do you think the Fed could set inflation or inflation expectations at 10% and simultaneously hold nominal rates at zero?

Fifth, NGDP targeting is not some magic bullet that would solve our current problems. It relies crucially on a particular path for expectations. If you think it's easy for an actor who can't easily make credible commitments to control expectations, you should read Svensson's work and ask yourself how likely it is that the Fed could ever follow Svensson's foolproof path.

I personally support having the Fed try some additional unorthodox policies in the short run. Even if there's only a .25 chance they significantly affect employment and growth, why not try? But I do not think the Fed is sitting on policies that will definitely cure our economic ills. The Fed is not close to omnipotent.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The irises are blooming in the pond, the fish survived our "winter", and all is well with the world. (clic the pics for images that are even more bucolic).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We Get Letters: Polls on I-95

From Jason S:

Dr. John Whitehead posted ”It is Hard to Stifle My Outrage When the Government Asks Those Who Benefit to Pay” regarding the wisdom of Tolling I-95.

 I thought that maybe I had something to add that could cut to the heart of the matter. Tolls and user fees are excellent instruments to create value, but this is unlikely to be such an occasion for this multi-billion dollar expenditure. 1. The Draft Environmental Assessment, Purpose and Need, Page 13, Table 1-5, Statewide Average shows that fewer people will use the facility if they have to pay the price(toll) for the facility compare to if they continue with the current maintenance plan.

If the project has less people using I-95, it would seem that the project has increased the overall cost to users based on the laws of supply and demand. 2. This can also be seen quite simply by looking at the need to provide 19 cents in benefit to the users to match the fee being collected. If the new project lets everyone drive at 70mph on the corridor, and in the year of opening people value their time on average at $20/hour, then driving at 70mph with 19 cent toll is equivalent to driving at 42mph without a toll. This is equivalent to Level of Service D that the planners are trying to avoid. I would add that low income users would feel even more disadvantaged with $10/hr value of time. It makes the toll chill[1] equal to 30 mph.[2] 3.

While I have driven the corridor a decade ago and realize there are many large trucks the current traffic, according to Google Maps, is free flowing on Friday afternoon at 5:30pm typically the worst time for traffic. The proposed changes could mean very little if traffic volumes continue to hold steady as seen in the FHWA vehicle mile traveled (vmt) trends. (I looked at the NC data but there was a 2 billion vmt discrepancy going from 2010 to 2011 that makes a good estimate of the recent NC trends hard to enumerate.) I am a big supporter of no subsidies and user pays, but costumers still expect profits from their user fees that they pay. Users are smart enough to know there are intermediate solutions, phased solutions and new technology that can guide smarter investment in infrastructure.

Footnotes: [1] Toll Chill is meant to mean how it feels, in the same vain as Wind Chill.
[2] Safety and Bridge Rehab were not addressed these have only small changes to user benefits proposed.

The EU Banquet

A. Raoul suggests that, at the EU Banquet, lobster will be served.  Everyone will get their fair share.  Here is the German lobster:

And the Greek lobster.

Got mashed potatoes

but unlike Neil, We also got T-boned!

This is the second time in the last 5 years that I've gotten plowed into by a student pulling out from a stop sign while I was driving down a street that had no stop sign! This time Mrs. Angus was driving and I was sitting on the inside of the door shown in the photo.


All Greek to Me....

Apparently, my name in Greek is:  Μάικλ Μάνγκερ .  And here is an article in a Greek paper that has an interview about American politics. English version:

Q1.    What are the chances of Mitt Romney beating President Obama and under what circumstances could that happen?

The culture that is Austria

(clic the pic for an even more futile image).

I wonder what they'll think of next? An air-tight pet carrier?

the pithy essence of international relations

"Another  fairly  safe  prediction  pertains  to  international  coordination  for   policies  on  global  public  goods,  especially  precautionary  measures  to  reduce  the  risk   of  catastrophic  climate  change  and  mitigate  its  consequences.  Reaching  and   implementing  agreements  will  remain  problematic.  Only  the  Germans  and  the   Scandinavians  will  make  promises  in  good  faith  and  strive  to  fulfill  them.  Britain  will   try  to  emulate  them  but  will  not  succeed.  America  will  be  honest  about  its  domestic   political  difficulties,  and  therefore  promise  little  or  nothing,  drawing  criticism  from   countries  like  France  and  Italy,  which  will  sign  anything  and  then  do  nothing.  China   and  India  will  repeatedly  declare  good  intentions,  but  their  main  priority  will  be   economic  growth,  and  they  will  be  too  distracted  by  their  internal  problems  to  do   much  about  the  environmental  impact  of  their  growth."

~Avinash Dixit (Full article here)

Shine on you crazy Landsdomur

Ah, Iceland.  A special court that only existed in theory before now, tried the ex-prime minister for crimes he may have committed during their recent crisis and convicted him of NOT HAVING ENOUGH MEETINGS!!

In other words, they acquitted him of any serious charges.

Oh, and his punishment for not holding enough meetings?


And that, people, is pretty much the only sensible thing in the whole story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'd hate to see the unhappy one!

Transmissions from the satellite heart

The World Bank estimates that remittances to developing countries in 2011 exceeded $370 billion. Here's some context, from the "Migration & Development Brief":

It's interesting to see just how thoroughly remittances dominate ODA (official development assistance) as a source of funds in developing countries.  The chart also shows the explosion of FDI in the developing world over the last 10 years (interrupted by the financial crisis but recovering quickly).

Hat tip to the Roving Bandit!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tell me quick before I faint... he dead or is he ain't?

Quite uncharacteristically, Hugo Chavez has been silent for 9 days now (except for his twitter feed). Yes he's in Havana getting treatment, but that didn't silence him before.

For now the Chavez administration is practicing "government by Twitter" according to his opponent in the upcoming election, Henrique Capriles.

The incredibly named Diosdado Cabello dismissed rumors of Chavez's death saying the only dead thing he could see was Capriles' campaign!


Development links

World Bank says they are doing an excellent job.

More Lant Pritchett on schooling vs. education in developing countries.

Michael Clemens tries to reconcile the conflict between development goals and impact evaluation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Good Bye to Chile: Fooding it Up

Had a good-bye dinner with Eugenio and several faculty last night. Eugenio put his seven children to work on a production line making a kind of salsa with tomatoes, aji, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and cilantro. Everything chopped very fine. Wonderful on bread. Helped Eugenio make paella, which turned out well. Chicken, sausage, mussels, beef, bacon. Cooked it on the stove and then baked it. Rice was nice and light, all the meats were good. Had a lot of different kinds of red wine, and the saintly Asuncion made a marvelous blueberry dessert. More red wine, coffee, more red wine, cigars. My head felt rather large this morning.

Today the official goodbye luncheon with the distinguished Couyoumdjian Netle family. Went to Le Bistrot, a generically-named but anything but generic restaurant in La Providencia. To start, we had wine and "Queso de cabeza casero con su salsa ravigote." The "head cheese" is a boiled pig's head that cooks down to an aspic or terrine, with meat pieces, and covered (in this case) with a "sauce ravigote," which is a vinaigrette with sliced eggs, pickles, and spices. An odd dish, but delicious. A bunch of flavors and textures.

We also had a nice snails dish for our other appetizer: Caracoles en salsa de roquefort, champiñones y tocino. The snails were small and quite tender, and of course if you have a sauce of white wine, blue cheese, mushrooms and bacon it's hard to go wrong. Came with hot toast points, and I was sopping up the remants.


With thanks to BR:  A fun tax toy, very interesting.  You can fool around with different tax plans, or make up your own!

With thanks to D-Spar:  Golden Balls. (though not of scare quotes, perhaps).  I will certainly be using that episode in class.

Ted Nugent "visits" with the Secret Service.  Ends well, apparently.

The Land Eaters.  Disturbing. 

It's 4:20 somewhere

Happy smoke-day, people.

Op Ed in La Tercera

Here is a link to my article today in La Tercera. It's in Spanish, but then of course it would be. The English version (a bit longer, because when JP and I translated it we also had to shorten it by about 30%):

If Treated Like Adults, People Act Like Adults
Michael Munger, Department of Economics, and Political Science
Duke University

In the movie "Minority Report," a government agency becomes convinced it can see the future. Using telepathically gifted super-humans, the state tracks down "criminals" who have done nothing wrong.

On March 9, the Chilean government implemented a "zero tolerance" policy on alcohol consumption for drivers. This policy throws a shadow of dread into every restaurant meal, private party, or after-work party. But most of those who will be afraid, and even many of those who will be arrested, will have done nothing wrong.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thank you George Washington!

 Say whatever bad stuff you like about the Bernank. At least he doesn't go around dressed like this:

That is a photo of Meryvn King, the Governor of the Bank of England.


Graduate Teaching Assistant or Grand Theft Auto

Hey, a pop song about a grad student! "When I write my Masters Thesis".

Very nice.


He claims he was nude, but not lewd, being butt nekkid in the TSA line.

On the inverse releation between economic performance and grad school apps. May not be a good thing.

American decline! We should all cower in fear. Idiot.

Physicist proves he MAY have stopped, but cop couldn't see it.

President Obama should perhaps just get an apartment in NC; he visits so often. Though, given how much his motorcade snarls traffic, he also may want to stay away.

(A grateful nod to the LMM)

All in the family

People! Further developments in the Okie drug-dealin' granny story. She was snitched out. By her own son! Who she had thrown out of her organization. Over meth!


Now THAT is the Oklahoma I know and love.

Santiago Recycling

I have expressed my views on recycling in the past, here for written, here for a podcast.

Nonetheless, we are avid recyclers chez Maison de Mungowitz, I was interested in how (if?) Chileans do it. The reason that question is interesting has to do with basic economics: if recycling saves money and resources, then the first people to recycle would be relatively poor. Poor people can't afford to throw valuable stuff away, right? Whereas rich folks can afford to be profligate. So if recycling saves money, you would expect poor countries to recycle first, and most, yes?

I could not immediately find a source on this, but here is what I did find. First, here are the "top 7 countries" according to the BBC:
On the other hand, Korea apparently recycles 50%, and Japan 40%, with more than 80% of glass being recycled in those countries. Not sure why they didn't make the list, unless they didn't fill out the proper forms to get apparatchiks at BBC to let them into the club.

Lowest recycling rates: Yemen. Pakistan. Basically all of Africa, outside of South Africa, which has a rate of 18%, and climbing.

Now, my mental regression line calculator is flawed, but I'm pretty sure that these rates do NOT indicate that poor countries recycle first, and more. To the contrary, rich countries recycle first. That means, friends, that recycling emphatically does NOT save money. Instead, recycling lets rich people feel good about themselves, and perhaps does some good for the environment, as a public good reducing pollution and use of landfill space. BUT. IT. DOES. NOT. SAVE. MONEY. (Hey, kids, it might be fun to collect the data and do an actual analysis of the relation between recycling rates and wealth! You could even do it just for US states, or cities!) (UPDATE: A commenter notes I naively reversed the causal arrow. Recycling CAUSES economic development. +1, commenter!)

Anyway, Chile (recycling rate 2%, with a goal of 10%) has a program (here is rather sad web site) for recycling. I'm not making this up. You have to drive (!) to the sites, and wait in line, with your car motor running (see line of cars, at least 200 meters long, out into street, at top left):

Here is a woman, with a baby. I watched. She waited in line, more than five minutes, car motor running, for a spot. She got out, put baby in pack. Went to trunk, got out TWO CARDBOARD BOXES, and put them into containter:

And then when one of the vats is full they pull it out:

And then they put all this valuable material on a truck:

So...why? If recycling does not save money, or resources, and in fact is a big net waste of resources....why?

It is worship, of the secular god Gaia, the Earth Mother. Like any sacrifice, it should be costly. It MUST be costly, in fact, to count as a sacrifice. That's not a recycling facility, it's a church. Once you understand that, it all makes sense.

I just someone would explain it to ME.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alternatives to Austerity

European austerity is not causing renewed growth and it may not even be lowering debt ratios. Other than that, I guess it's going pretty well.

It's fun to rail against the dummies who thought austerity would work, but really, what else could the affected countries do? They can't use monetary policy because they don't have a currency and further fiscal expansion would cause the bond vigilantes to draw and quarter them.

Paul Krugman presents a complicated scenario where the ECB creates higher inflation and Germany runs a budget deficit to compensate for the austerity in Spain and Italy.

But Spain and Italy do NOT run the ECB or the German finance ministry!

The only alternative to austerity that the PIIGS have, that they can actually implement is to exit the Euro, devalue like crazy and hope for the best.  They are choosing austerity over this step.  I truly don't understand why, unemployment in Spain is well over 20% and climbing. It's hard to see how a Euro exit could make things worse.

In the West, we have spent decades getting conservative central bankers to be seen as the only proper type of central bankers, taking the Rogoff solution to the "inflation bias" problem highlighted by Barro & Gordon. But now we pretend to be shocked when these conservative bankers won't produce higher inflation.

Of course they won't, that's why they got the jobs to begin with!! If there was any chance they'd run higher inflation they'd never have been appointed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Penguin hunt

La Penguina has started the process of nationalizing YPF, a Spanish owned energy company operating in Argentina and Spain is pissed! Its Industry Minister says there will be "consequences"!

People, you just know that Argentina will lowball the Spaniards on the price like they were some kind of foreign bond holders.

Perhaps after his surgery, they can send old Juan Carlos over there with his blunderbuss.

Maybe JC and Maggie Thatcher's ghost can tag-team to take down Kirchnerismo.

Wild, Wild Life

Strange things in the campo. You see Chinese tractors:
Do click for a more fruitful image. (That's el Patron, standing and facing the camera. A very fine gentleman, who moves with the pace of the land. Not fast, but sure.)

Then, the beautiful (but not very dangerous) Chilean rose tarantula.


Driving back from Chillan to the airport at Concepcion, we encountered a stampede: a LOT of cows, running hard, straight at us. They were hemmed in by the fences on both sides. Eugenio came pretty close, then backed up, and then backed up hard. Those cows would come up on the hood, because there was no room.

By the time I got the camera out, the vaquero had appeared, a big pissed off guy on a big pissed off horse. One vaquero for a LOT of vacas. He managed to get the gate open.
The vacas, who prefer grass and familiar surroundings, were very happy to go through the gate, except for one calf that simply would not go.  We left without knowing how that story ended.  Mr. Vaquero was almost ready to make some veal, I think, because the calf was not cooperating.   Note the big, flat Chilean vaquero hat (chupalla), straight flat brim, very wide.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A travesty of justice

Separated at Birth?

I had never noticed this before.
Of course, that's unfair, because Brendan Nyhan worries. Still, a striking resemblance.

The dignity of work

Oklahoma authorities have arrested Darlene Mayes, alleging that she is the criminal mastermind behind an organization that supplies almost half of the marijuana in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas & Missouri.

Now maybe 40% of the grass in those 4 states isn't very much (Mrs. Angus and I live out here and it's more meth and oxy country than anything else), because all the cops seized was 4 pounds of weed and $276,000 in cash which Ms. Mayes refereed to (probably correctly) as her retirement fund.

Behold the biggest druglord in Oklahoma:

The question foremost in my mind? Is there a prison anywhere that can hold her?

Vino de Fundo Santa Ana

Went down to Chillan, after flying to Concepcion, toward the south of Chile. You can't say "in the south," because the country is so tall. But Chillan is quite a bit south from Santiago.

Got to stay at the winery/home of the in-laws of Eugenio. All the estates there are "Fundo BLANK BLANK," where the blanks are the names of the wife of the estate owner; in the case of Fundo Santa Ana, that was Ana. Amazing to watch the grapes being taken in, and the wine being made. There are VERY few concessions to the 20th century here, except for the use of gasoline powered engines on the tractors and the grinders. Everything else is escuela vieja.

The view of the big house from the vineyard:
The field, with the wagon and boxes of grapes:
A short video of the delivery of the grapes to the grinder. A centrifuge separates the stems, which still have a lot of sugar in them. These are used for compost and animal feed. The noise is the grinder.
The press. This could have been from 1600. Absolutely no mechanization of any kind. Here they are removing the pressed skins, which still have quite a bit of sugar in them, to use for one more pressing and fermentation.
The sunrise, looking out over the vineyards from the big house.  Fire on the mountain.  Amazing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Politics and RCTs

Justin Sandefur and longtime KPC friend Mwangi Kimenyi along with Tessa Bold, Germano Mwabu & Alice Ng’ang’a  have written a remarkable paper about the non-uniform results of an educational intervention in Kenya. The paper is well-deserving of discussion, but so is the story of its evolution.

The paper studies an intervention that adds "contract teachers" to schools. Contract teachers are meant to be teachers outside of the main educational bureaucracy who in some way have close ties and more accountability to the local community than the "regular" teachers. In the study, some of the intervention was run by the government, and some was run by an NGO (Worldvision). Test scores in math and reading went up by 0.2 standard deviations compared to the control schools when the intervention was run by the NGO and this increase was statistically significant. However, the intervention had no effect on test scores when it was administered by the government.

This result alone points out the difficulties involved in scaling up education intervention that have been tested by RCTs run by NGOs. Size means government and government might not work.

But people, there is so much more to the story!

The concept of contract teachers initially involved remedial teaching. Banerjee, Cole, Duflo and Linden (QJE 2007) study an NGO-run program in India where the contract teachers tutored remedial students (which raised test scores 0.28 standard deviations). Duflo, Duplass, & Kremer study a contract teacher RCT in Kenya that included the concept of "tracking" where contract teachers were added to a specific class. In some cases the class was randomly split into two groups; in others it was split into low and high scorers on an initial test. This split into more homogeneous classes produced the biggest positive results in the trial.

In an email exchange, Justin told me that while Duflo encouraged him to include a tracking component in his study, she said that it was very unpopular and hard to administer. It is also hard to imagine a government run program that would allow such a component. Think about the USA. What would parents do if they found that classes were being segregated by test scores and their kid was in the "dumb" group?

Because they were explicitly interested in the idea of scaling up a program that could be run by the government, Sandefur et. al. did not include any idea of tracking in their study. In other words, they judged a key element of the success of contract teachers in previous RCTs to be politically unviable ex-ante.

But there's more!

The Sandefur study was part of a pilot program in Kenya. However, things didn't go according to plan:

the Ministry opted to scale-up the contract teacher program before the pilot was completed. Thus the randomized pilot program analyzed here was launched in June 2010, and in October 2010 the Ministry hired 18,000 contract teachers nationwide, nearly equivalent to one per school. These 18,000 teachers were initially hired on two-year, non-renewable contracts, at salary levels of roughly $135 per month, somewhat higher than the highest tier for the pilot phase. In 2011 the Ministry succumbed to political pressure and agreed to allow the contract teachers to unionize and subsequently to hire all 18,000 contract teachers into the civil service at the end of their contracts.

In other words, 18,000 supposed "intervention" teachers became "control" teachers! In plainer terms, they switched from being part of the solution to being part of the problem. Although maybe not, because as Sandefur et. al showed, the government administered contract teachers had no positive impact on outcomes.

In sum, the Sandefur et. al paper shows that while small scale contract teacher RCTs produced modest but positive results, it is not likely those results will survive scaling and government administration.

So what to do? Well Justin & Mwangi along with Tessa Bold and Germano Mwabu have another paper that points to what I believe is the solution at least in the short and medium term. They show that in Kenya, being in a private school raises test scores by one full standard deviation relative to public schools, other relevant factors held constant (this is not an RCT but rather uses "observational" data).

So on the one hand we have these interventions in public schools that raise outcomes by a couple tenths of a standard deviation when implemented on a small scale by NGOs and that may will have no effect when scaled up and implemented by governments.

On the other hand we have an institution (private schools) that raises test scores dramatically more by effectively solving the teacher accountability problems that seem to be behind the outcome problems in public schools in Kenya and other developing countries.

Let me channel Milton Friedman and James Tooley and suggest expanded private schooling with a public voucher program as potentially the greatest pay-off educational intervention available in such situations.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The economics of labor and capital

Recently, the Economist argued that China's astoundingly high investment rate makes some sense because China is a capital scarce country with a very low level of capital per worker compared to the US.

This may well be true. It is certainly the case that it makes sense that China's investment rate is higher than that of a very capital abundant country like the US.

However, the article concludes with some amazing errors, both factual and economic:

the evidence suggests that China has not seriously overinvested. That does not mean rebalancing is unnecessary. Under China’s capital-heavy model of growth, owners of capital have been getting much richer than workers. The main reason for shifting from capital-intensive production to the more labour-intensive, consumer-friendly sort is not to sustain economic growth, but to reduce inequality. Workers could then enjoy more of the rewards of China’s past investment.

Where to begin?

First, as the graph in the article showed, relative to rich countries China is NOT engaged in "capital- intensive production" because they have very little capital per worker. I thought that was the whole point of the first part of the article.  They are decidedly engaged as a simple matter of fact in labor intensive production compared to countries like the US.

Second, if China stops accumulating capital, the owners of capital will continue to make a lot of money and worker salaries will continue to lag. Owners of capital are getting rich because its relative scarcity makes its rental rate high. If capital is paid its marginal product and marginal product diminishes, capital owners make a greater return when the capital stock is relatively small.

In order to raise worker salaries, workers need to become more productive. Part of this can come from workers' own investments in human capital, but a big part comes from the amount of capital per worker in the economy.

If China wants to reduce inequality between the earnings of capital owners and laborers, then they decidedly should NOT "re-balance" away from investment. Of course they should try and make sure that the investments undertaken actually raise worker productivity and are not state led vanity projects or boondoggles.

The greater amount of capital per worker, the higher is worker productivity, the higher will be wages and the lower will be the return to capital. That is the way to diminish the gap.

Raising China's capital per worker is crucial to raising the living standards of Chinese workers.

What do Anthony Davis and I have in common?

A unibrow?

No, not yet at least.

A desire to get as far away from Coach Cal as possible?

Hmmm, maybe

That we serve as unpaid labor for a cartel that makes many millions every year?

Ding ding ding! We have a winner.

Anthony of course was a prisoner of the NBA rule that players cannot enter the League until a year after their high school class graduates. He spent the last year making millions for the University of Kentucky, ESPN, and the NCAA in return for room & board.

I of course am an idiot! As the Economist points out:

In 2011 Elsevier, the biggest academic-journal publisher, made a profit of £768m ($1.2 billion) on revenues of £2.1 billion. Such margins (37%, up from 36% in 2010) are possible because the journals’ content is largely provided free by researchers, and the academics who peer-review their papers are usually unpaid volunteers.

I have published in several Elsevier journals (Journal of Monetary Economics, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Journal of International Money & Finance, European Journal of Political Economy) and referee frequently for them and many other Elsevier outlets.

In my defense, I do macro and development. the JME and the JDE are the top outlets for my work.

At least Elsevier could hold some kind of tournament and let the winning researchers wear giant t-shirts and cut down the nets!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Que Pasa article on primaries

Chile is considering moving to primaries. I wrote a piece for Que Pasa, a weekly here in Santiago, saying that may not be such a good idea.

If you want the Spanish (edited down to a very short version), it's here.  The slightly longer, English version is here:

Primary elections: Who Needs Them? Michael Munger, Duke University

There are debates in Chile about reforming the process by which parties choose candidates. As a political science professor, frequent expert witness in court, and former candidate myself, I can report on a century of US experience. The short answer is that primaries are little more than poorly designed lotteries. Primaries reward extremism, reduce the accountability of parties, and devalue the brand name that parties depend on to represent the voting public.

For most of US history, the parties were entirely responsible for choosing their own candidates. Since these candidates then had to face each other, and the electorate, in the general election, the parties were obliged to try to balance their own ideological goals with genuine leadership ability and experience in administration. The result was true competition among the party's best, a system that gave us great Presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Of course, the system also often chose weaker leaders, but the point is that the party organization, those who cared about the party, chose the party's standard bearer for the election.

In a primary system, all power is taken out of the hands of the party leadership, and placed into the hands of a fragmented, disorganized group called "the party in the electorate." In most primary elections, turnout is 15% or less, with some votes seeing less than 10% of the eligible electorate. These tend to be the most extreme, most ideological voters, because centrist voters are not interested in primaries. Furthermore, because primary votes often choose between 3, or 5 or even 7 candidates, the results simply reflect random chance. The candidate who happens to be more extreme, or by himself ideologically, will win because all the centrist candidates split the centrist vote. The US system has become increasingly polarized, as extremist voters with ideological motivations have come to dominate the party professionals who are also concerned about electability and leadership.

In one famous example, American Nazi Party leader David Duke decided to run as a Republican in Lousiana. In order to run as a Republican, Mr. Duke needed only to sign a piece of paper. He did not need the permission of "his" party, and in fact the Republicans had no way of stopping him from soiling their party's reputation. Mr. Duke, who routinely wore a full Nazi SS uniform and celebrated the birthday of Adolph Hitler, "won" the 1988 primary for a Louisiana House seat with just 33% of the vote. Many Republicans were forced to work against him supporting other candidates, because they had no control over their own party's candidate.

In a perfect world, a primary system would seem to bring candidate selection and the political process closer to the people. What could be wrong with that? The problem is that, in politics, there are two things that economists call "public good." The first is information: voters don't know much about candidates. The job of parties is to recruit, train, and then put forward the best candidates, the most BLANK leaders. In a primary system, a candidate who is excellent but unknown will never be selected.

The second public good is collective action: the ability to excite voters about the coherent message, and legislative program, of the party. But if the party cannot choose its own candidates, then it cannot possibly present a coherent, attractive program to voters. The party will not even be able to agree among itself, because its own members will represent a confused and incoherent random sample of opinions.

In my work in federal courts in California, Washington, Texas, and Florida, I have written and argued for the position that parties must be able to present a candidate of their choice, and to pursue a legislative program of their choice. Some political scientists go so far as to say that, without responsible parties, democracy itself is impossible. If that is right, and I believe that it is, then a primary system that weakens parties also weakens democracy.

Debt Reckoning: Euro Problems are symptoms, not causes

KPC BFF Amar Bhide has an op ed that raises some important questions about the real problem in Europe.

And, of course, if we have the real problem wrong, we are unlikely to be working on a real solution.

The Grand Game: Inequality Division

The gap between the way I would characterize the events of the last five decades, and how this person characterizes the events of the last five decades.... amazing.

He oscillates between making up facts, misinterpreting facts, and simply ignoring facts altogether. Enjoy.

"A Short History of NeoLiberalism"

Fear....the FROG!

IRB should have turned this down; it involves deception.

So, froggy took a hand.

(Nod to the Blonde)

Mortgage market facts and theories of the financial crisis

A fascinating new paper on the causes (and non causes) of the financial crisis lays out 12 "facts about the mortgage market" that its authors consider crucial for determining the causes of the crisis.

The paper is not overly technical and I highly recommend reading it. It presents a strong case both against the "Inside Job" and the "the government did it" views of the crisis.

It also points out how little we know about the causes of asset price bubbles.

Hat tip to Mark Thoma.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Big Day

Great day here yesterday. Got some good work done with JP, had a great lunch at an asian restaurant, cold spicy noodles. Worked some more.

Then JP thought we might go out for coffee. So, we did. Except he took me to a kind of place that is uniquely Chilean. A little video for you (NSFW):

The video cafe is more glamorous than the one we went to. Instead of "Cafe Con Piernas," the one we dropped in on was more "Cafe con culos como camiones." What makes a 75 kilo young woman decide, "I'd like to be a stripper in a place that serves nothing but terrible coffee!" The poor things, they were a whole lot bigger than their skimpy outfits could possible contain. But, there, now I have been to a "Cafe con piernas" place, and that will be plenty.

Went to dinner with Eugenio, Carlos, and Ricardo. Comida Peruana place called "Puerto Peru." Much more reasonable on price, but still just fine food. I had the anticuchos de corazon again, and a papas with sauce dish. Also "causa," which I had not seen before. Corazones were completely different, but once again very good. Really fun dinner, laughed so much we couldn't breath. Stories about coauthors. (I'll say no more, except to admit I did have some stories of my own).

Then, it was midnight. Of course, not even leaving to go to dinner until 9:15, and then getting lost, does tend to make it late. Still, Ricardo had enough energy to hit a truly amzing high note when Eugenio turned the wrong way down a one way street and came a hair's breadth from ramming a police car with lights flashing. Since the police car was PARKED, this would have been quite embarrassing. Eugenio managed to extricate the car from this predicament, without a ticket or a scratch.

Tomorrow: I fly to Concepcion, and then we head out into the campo. We'll be verdadera campesinos surenas.

Santiago Street Dogs

Very common for dogs, even packs of dogs, to roam the streets of Santiago.

Sometimes they get hit by cars, and someone will just toss them over against the wall on the sidewalk. I took a picture of this poor guy.

Poor thing, legs all up in the air, just tossed like garbage. Except I noticed he was breathing. So I rubbed his belly. Dog was momentarily startled, but then stretched out his front legs and did that loud "mmmmmmmm" that dogs to do react to belly rubs, and he went back to sleep. Not a very comfy position, but then he's a dog. Living the dog's life, not hit at all, just laying around.

For Those Cold UNC Football Games...

For those extra supplies you'll need at that late season UNC football game.

The police will just think that you are drinking your own urine in the stands, which is not a problem if you wait until after half-time. This will look a little strange for people who appear to be women, but those UNC fans are VERY inclusive.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lengua vacuna

Went to Fuente Chilena, right by the apartment, for dinner last night. Not much of a web site...

But, a very fine cow tongue, lengua vacuna. Fortunately, it did not look like this. Doubt if I could have eaten that.
I got the chacarero platter version, which came with tomatoes, sliced chilis, and a big helping of green beans. Tongue was thin sliced, and both tender and nicely spiced. Aji sauce on top of the green beans....yum.

And, of course, Kross. Lots more Kross.

Quite inexpensive, and a nice setting. Fuente Chilena is a win.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


It's a tough call, but I'm going to say my favorite musician is Spencer Krug and, as Moonface, he's putting out a new record with some Finnish folks. You can stream the whole album here, and here's a video for one of the songs:

Spencer is coming to Dallas in June, and I'll be there!

Mugabe, the gift that keeps on giving

I thought this awesome "Zanu PF" twitter feed was a satire, but now I'm not so sure, as government ministers are denying Mugabe's illness in more traditional news outlets.

Word is that the 88 year old is finally on his way out, but has a poison pill in place to ensure that he can continue to torment Zimbabweans from beyond the grave.

Yes, he's hand-picked a successor,  and it's "The Crocodile"; aka Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Allegedly, the plan is to keep Mugabe alive for one more election later this year. Then after he wins, he hands power over to the Croc, who is widely credited with orchestrating the violence and chaos that let Mugabe hang on to power after the debacle of the 2008 elections (Mnangagwa has a long and distinguished resume of violence and intimidation, read the article).

In related news, it seems like Bobby M is a Florida State fan:

Monday, April 09, 2012

Ari Kohen: Well-meaning but naive apologist for state brutality

So, my good friend A. Kohen concedes there is a problem.

But the problem is not with the state (because how could there be a problem with the secular God you worship?). The problem has to be with the acolytes, who are confused and not in touch with the true spirit of the loving God-state that, really, deep down, cherishes us all. Dr. Kohen is opposed to capital punishment, which majorities love. But that's just a mistake. Dr. Kohen is opposed to amendments against gay marriage, which majorities love. But that's just a mistake, too. All the rest of the time we should be forced to obey the majority, at gunpoint*. At least, when the majority agrees with Dr. Kohen (because, being a political theorist with absolutely no political experience, he has a special connection to the truth.)

[*"Gunpoint" means the guns held by the state. Dr. Kohen does not believe the rest of us are smart or responsible enough to have guns. Fortunately, as soon as you take a job with the state, Dr. Kohen believes that you become much, much smarter!]

So, let's try it again. It's not like the random strip search of innocent citizens is rare, or anything. The events I have in mind:

1. Little girl draws picture of her dad with a gun. Not shooting the gun. Not a picture of a child with a gun. A picture of an adult man with a gun, drawn in crayon.

2. Teacher goes nuts. Calls the police. Police interrogate 4 year old girl. Police say, "Kid seemed scared." They conclude that the home was unsafe. Alternative proposed explanation: 4 year old girl being interrogated by strange, scary men with uniforms would be enough to explain "Kid seemed scared." That would certainly explain, "Mungowitz seemed scared."

3. Because child was able to describe gun (meaning, presumably, she had seen it?), police arrest father when he comes to pick up daughter. Police STRIP SEARCH the father, arrest him, and jail him. Their "probable cause"? Daughter had drawn a picture of the gun, and could describe it in detail.

4. Police break into house, search house, find gun. It is a clear plastic toy. TRANSPARENTLY fake, if you will. Not remotely resembling a real gun.

5. Even if it were a real gun, there is no reason to believe that it was loaded or handled unsafely. Again, the picture was of the DAD holding the gun. The little girl admired her dad, so she drew a picture of him. Said that her daddy was going to shoot the "bad guys and monsters."

Now, the point. You state lovers will, as always, say that you fall out only with the abuses. And you will likely point to the fact that guns are in fact misused.

But the more constant misuse, the daily, immanent misuse, is the state's misuse of power over its citizens. Dr. Kohen wants to argue that the problems are minor compared to the many advantages of the state forcing everyone to do what Dr. Kohen and his "liberal theory" has decided is good for us.

That separation is an illusion. It is intrinsic to the state to be abusive. And it is the nature of the majority to sanction that abuse, to abet it, even to foment it. I was a little surprised (no, that's a lie, I'm not at all surprised) to learn that school officials defended the arrest/strip search/home invasion without probable cause on the grounds that "you can't be too careful."

No, in fact, you must be too careful. The 4th amendment used to tell us so. Canada, where the events above transpired, doesn't have a 4th amendment, of course. But neither does the US, because we have come to worship the state and its infallibility.

When the dad was released, the little girl was crying and crying. "Are you mad at me, Daddy? What did I do wrong?"

Nothing, child. You just had the misfortune to be born in a modern democracy. I'd say "police state," but that would be redundant.

UPDATE: A lot of the comments here are amazing. Interesting to see how Dr. Kohen's peeps think.

"You can't cook rice with just big talk"

Amazingly, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" played OKC last weekend and Mrs. Angus and I took it in. LeBron has already written about the film (of course), but something struck me that LeBron failed to mention:

Jiro gets special treatment!

One reason why his diner gets 3 Michelin stars might be because suppliers both save special quality fish and shrimp for him (actually his benighted son). Another might be that his rice supplier refuses to sell the kind of rice he sells Jiro to "outsiders" because "they don't know how to cook it"!

I recommend the movie. It's 1/3 food porn, 1/3 very funny, and 1/3 an exploration of the culture that is Japan.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sangucheria Fresia en Bella Vista

Sandwiches are very BIG in Chile. Both in terms of size and popularity.

Yesterday it was 31, unbelievably bright sunshine, the kind of light and blue sky that makes everything just sparkle. My cell phone camera can't really capture it, but here is a view I noticed walking down the street (I was walking; the view was stationary).
Bright red flowers, bright red chimney, bright blue sky. And warm, warm, warm, with no humidity.

JP and I worked on the problem of entrepreneurship and mistakes from 11 until 1 pm, drinking espresso and eating torta chocolate (remarkable torta, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, though JP, who in this regard could be an honorary female, kept whining, "It could use more chocolate...")

So, exhausted from our labor, we went in search of sanguches. (Sandwich and sanguche are used interchangeably, sometimes on the same menu.) Went to three different places, but all were closed because of Easter weekend.

Then, JP had a brilliant idea: Bella Vista! Lots of tourists there, so all will be open. And, he was right. Bella Vista is an odd comuna/barrio, old houses and awful things like "Hollywood Hamburger" and souvenir shops that sell t-shirts with pictures of Allende, Subcomandante Marcos, Che, and other evil half-wits so lefty Americans can get their tacky souvenir lefty t-shirt and brag back home that they sampled local culture.

But the restaurants, outside of the tourist kennels, are just fine. We went to Fresia, a sangucheria Chilena. The way you order sandwiches is to pick a bread, a meat, and a style of preparation. (Here's the menu, click on the sandwich)

I had had the good sense not to blunt the edge of a noble hunger on torta, and of course it was lunchtime in Chile which means 2:30. Asi, tuve HAMBRE. I ordered the "frica" bread (panes, at the bottom of the menu), and the "mechada" meat (carnes, at the top center of the menu). Frica is a huge, plate-size split roll, and mechada is grandma-style roast beef, the kind she cooked for six hours with carrots and onions in the oven or crock pot.

So, that left style of presentation to choose. Solo (why?), completo, Italiano... but for me the only choice was "a lo pobre." Sandwich with a little mayo, meat, onions... a fried egg and a pile of french fries. Chilean health food, squirted liberally with fiery aji rojo.
A meal that size clearly cries out for cerveza, so I had three. A very nice Kross 500 ml each time, schop (on tap). Kross is one of my new favorite beers. Astonishing. I had no idea. (Side note: In Chile, if you order pale ale, which Kross is NOT, but I'm just saying, ask for "pah-lay ah-lay," and then be amused for an hour, just quietly and by yourself).

Inside, the Colo-Colos were getting hammered, 4-2, by JP's favorite team, Union Espanola. The screams of the Colo-Colinos were very musical, and entertaining. The reason I enjoy the screams of Colo-Colinos is that they are exactly like Yankee fans, except that....actually, that's it. They are exactly like Yankee fans. That's enough. Last time, we had to listen to their horrible songs. This was better.

Had to have a nap at 4 pm. An exhausting Saturday in the southern hemisphere. But I do recommend Sangucheria Fresia, in Bella Vista, as a very fine afternoon outing. You might try the "plateada" as an alternative for the carne. Plateada is a slow-cooked "rib cap," a cut of meat that doesn't exist in the US (it's the part of rib eye steak furthest from the bone, but cut with the grain rather than across it). Plateada and mechada appear, to me anyway, to have very similar preparations, but are different cuts of beef.

I bean you, he beans him, we'll call it baseball

Revenge without responsibility? Judgments about collective punishment in baseball

Fiery Cushman, A.J. Durwin & Chaz Lively
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Abstract: Many cultures practice collective punishment; that is, they will punish one person for another's transgression, based solely on shared group membership. This practice is difficult to reconcile with the theories of moral responsibility that dominate in contemporary Western psychology, philosophy and law. Yet, we demonstrate a context in which many American participants do endorse collective punishment: retaliatory “beaning” in baseball. Notably, individuals who endorse this form of collective punishment tend not to hold the target of retaliation to be morally responsible. In other words, the psychological mechanisms underlying such “vicarious” forms of collective punishment appear to be distinct from the evaluation of moral responsibility. Consequently, the observation of collective punishment in non-Western cultures may not indicate the operation of fundamentally different conceptions of moral responsibility.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis)

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Weinersmith Hour

Very cool conversation with Zach Weiner (of SMBC note) and partner Kelly, together the "Weinersmiths." Had an hour of talk and discussion of economics. Zach sounded like he had terminal pneumonia, but it was fun nonetheless.

A great headline

Here's the headline (sent in by Angry Alex):

Gravy-wrestling model suffers horrific facial injuries after being hit with monkey wrench when she interrupted a friend having sex!

There is a story, too. But after you read the headline, there's not really much more to tell...

Friday, April 06, 2012


So, Eugenio took JP and me out to the Tip Y Tap, a distinctly Chilean place. (Okay, a distinctly Chilean place that specializes in hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries, but...well, trust me, it's distinctly Chilean. Paltas on EVERYTHING).

We were food explorers in search of "crudo." The particular version of crudo I sought was "tartaro": .75 kilos of raw ground beef, with a big raw egg on top. Just so you get the idea:

You add a lot of lemon juice, aji, cebollas, and perejil, and stir (plus, you stir in the egg). Then you eat, with beer. It's pretty darned good. The EYM had it, last time we were here (2010). Once you get used to the idea that you are eating totally raw meat, and lots of it, it tastes great!

The employment situation

The March jobs report is out from BLS and it's not good.  After job growth averaged over 225,000 per month the last three months, the current number is 120,000. "Expectations" were for 205,000.

We are not out of the woods yet, people.

Bhagwati dishes:

Dr. B. is not a fan of the Obama administration's pick of Jim Kim for World Bank President.

He's also not a fan of an exclusively micro approach to development:

But perhaps the most compelling factor in Obama’s choice seems to have been a fundamental misunderstanding of what “development” requires. Micro-level policies such as health care, which the Obama administration seems to believe is what “development” policy ought to be, can only go so far. But macro-level policies, such as liberalization of trade and investment, privatization, and so forth, are powerful engines of poverty reduction; indeed, they are among the key components of the reforms that countries like India and China embraced in the mid-1980’s and early 1990’s. Such reforms turned these countries from stagnation to stellar growth. 

The anti-reform lobbies reacted by arguing that poverty and inequality had worsened. But new empirical studies show otherwise: growing economies benefit the poor not because wealth “trickles down,” but because growth “pulls up” those at the bottom. In fact, it is the rapid acceleration of economic growth in the major emerging countries that has reduced poverty, not only directly, through jobs and higher incomes, but also by generating the revenues governments need to undertake the public-health, education, and other programs that sustain poverty reduction – and growth – in the long term. India followed this path...

The problem with Kim, and presumably with the Obama administration’s development experts, is that they do not understand that successful development requires big-payoff pro-reform, pro-growth policies, not just small-payoff micro-level policies. Bangladesh has gone down that road, substituting such policies for macro-level reforms, and is developing at a far slower pace than India, where macro-level reforms came first.

I have to say that while I don't think it really matters who becomes president of the WB, I am quite sympathetic to Bhagwati's point of view about what really matters for development.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Coming Back Like a Bad Penny

Actually, maybe ALL pennies are bad.

Canada has decided to get rid of them.

US is considering same. What do you think, folks?


My latest piece with LeBron is up at

In it we tackle the problem of asymmetric information when purchasing sports experiences. The idea for the piece came from a very nice paper by J. Zinman and E. Zitzewitz at Dartmouth, for which we thank them.

Here's a lovely bit:

The biggest issue is that our own desire for thrills often works against our better judgment. As a species, we derive pleasure from thinking about what will come — how nice that powdery snow on the slopes is going to be. So we turn off our critical faculties at the worst possible moment in hopes of maximizing the value of the anticipation and getting a bigger buzz. This is particularly bad when it comes to sports experiences, which are rife with "asymmetric information" — when the seller knows something you don't. Your best defense, of course, is to be aware of your vulnerability and maximize your information, as any smart shopper does when in the market for a used car. But when it comes to shopping for experiences, emotions all too often rule. 


Lucky, sure, but....

So, hitting from sharply downhill lie on lip of water, he skips the ball across the water, and then.... well, you'll see.

Someone Else's Money on A Service for Someone Else

Milton Friedman famously noted that we should think about care in spending cash as a two-by-two box (all important theories are two-by-two boxes, in fact, so why would this be different?)

Here is my version of Uncle Milty's theory:

So, if you spend your money on yourself, you will spend what you think it is worth, but check to see if you get high quality.

If you spend someone else's money on yourself, you don't care much about price, but you will check to make sure the quality is good.

If you spend your money on someone else (not a family member, someone you don't know and will never meet, call them a "welfare recipient") you will underpay and care little about quality, so the service will be terrible.

Finally, if you spend someone else's money on a service for someone else, you will pay more than $700 million in unauthorized overtime for crappy, abusive service.

EVERYTHING the state does, by definition, is spending someone else's money on a service for someone you don't care about. What could possibly go wrong with THAT brilliant scheme?

Oh to be in England?

People, everything is relative I guess.  Check this awesome twitter stream: #samanthabrickfacts and then check out the cause of the commotion.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A little more of the interview....

The interview with El Merc reporter C. Alvarez was too long, so I cut part of it.

But, @donaldtaylorjr rightly points out that the omission is important. So, here is another snippet:

—With Romney as the clear favorite of the competition: Is this the confirmation of a more centrist GOP?

I think it is more an indication of the weakness of the field. Santorum is a very weak candidate, and Perry and Gingrich are very close to being clowns. I know Santorum personally, and my experience in talking to him is not very impressive. He just does not strike you as being a leader. So, Romney is a weak leader of an even weaker field. In many ways, Romney is the Republican version of John Kerry, who lost to President Bush in 2004. Kerry was a fine man, with accomplishments. But there was nothing about him that made you trust him, or want to go out to work for him. Romney is like that. His campaign slogan should be "Romney: He's not so bad."

So....yes. The big difference is that Clinton and Obama were better candidates, MUCH better candidates.

Interview con la bonita Carolina del Mercurio

My friend Carolina Alvarez sent an email asking about the Republican primary follies in the US. I replied that, since I was in Santiago, we should meet for coffee. But no time today, and her deadline for El Mercurio is tomorrow. So, today the "interview" and tomorrow the coffee. Here were her questions, and my answers, a KPC "Read it before you can buy it on the street!" special!

—Even though Romney still needs almost the double of delegates he now has, last night primaries allowed him to sustain a momentum he is carrying since March. Do you think this was check-mate, or a turning point?

The US primary system for choosing presidents is a war of attrition, not a battle. It is a war of logistics, and planning ahead.

It is important to remember that in 2008 the Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton was not decided until May. Romney is in a better position now, April 5th, 2012, than Obama was on April 5, 2008. I did an analysis of the delegate counts, based on this information. For the Democratic candidates in 2008. On April 5, 2008:

Obama--52% of delegates up to that point

Same date, 2012

Romney--58% of delegates up to this point

It's not even close! Romney is FAR ahead of Obama at the same date. One difference is the super delegates, and timing. By this time, Obama had 70% of the delegates he needed for the nomination, while Romney has only 56% of the delegates he needs. That's because the Republican primaries have decided only about half the delegate totals, while by this time the Democrats had held more primaries, and so had determined 70% of the total.

Let's put it in futbol terms. On April 5 2008, Obama led Clinton by a score of 3-2 with ten minutes left in regulation time.

On April 5 2012, Romney leads Santorum 3-1, at halftime. So, Romney has a bigger lead, but there is more game left. Still, a 3-1 lead is a very big lead. Romney can just hang back and play defense at this point, and can continue to run out the clock. All he needs to do is split the remaining primaries 50-50, and he will win.

—Rick Santorum vows to stay in the race. How important is for him to compete in his home state (next 24th), and what does he win staying longer in the race?

Santorum is not popular in Pennsylvania. It is not assured he will win. The polls say he is ahead, but Romney will spend money on ads in Pennsyslvania. And Santorum lost his own Senate seat there. If Santorum loses in Pennsylvania, it will hurt him, but it will not kill him. Santorum will in any case stay on until Texas, May 29,whether he wins or loses in Pennsylvania. The Texas primary has LOTS of delegates, and Texas is very conservative, a good place for Santorum. If Santorum wins Texas, he can claim that he is still viable. If Santorum loses Pennsylvania AND Texas, then he might think about quitting.

—Finally: Republicans changed the rules to have longer primaries, in part to excite voters —thinking perhaps in a contest like the one Democrats had in ’08. But many have pointed out that in the end this prolonged competition did more damage than good to the party, since President Obama is already campaigning. How much is the damage caused to the potential Republican nominee by “friendly fire” and how much has the President won?

Wait, "prolonged competition"? As I noted above, Obama was not selected until the end of May, six full weeks from now. Romney is FAR ahead of Obama, in terms of competition. The Democratic Party actually benefitted from the excitement and interest generated by the contested primary. It helped the Democrats to have a race that ran through the end of May.

So, this will likely help the Republicans, too. One difference, which was a product of the court system, is the very late Texas primary. The federal court system forced Texas to move its primary to the end of May, because the court rejected the Texas redistricting plan. That is a problem, because Texas has so many delegates (155, more than 13% of the TOTAL required to win) and it's so late. The Republican choice may not be made until June, for that reason. But that's only a week or so later than the Democrats in 2008, and the long competition helped the Democrats, so it may help the Republicans.

If the long competition does NOT help the Republicans, I think that will be because the candidates are weak, not because the competition was strong. As Clinton-Obama showed in 2008, a strong competition between good candidates is actually helpful.

Hit me with your memory stick

In a meeting with parents in a Catholic school in Northern Ireland held to prep them on what happens with their kids during their first communion, Father Martin McVeigh stuck his memory stick into the school's computer and out popped 16 "indecent images" of men.

The Father yanked his memory stick out of the computer and fled the room, only to return 20 minutes later and ask that the children consider giving some of their first communion loot to the Church.

The parents were unhappy and complained, but McVeigh's Bishop said everything was fine because the police told him "no crime had been committed".

Indeed, I would think that was a fairly accurate briefing on what kids can expect in their interactions with the Church!

He'd save children (but not the British children)

In the ultimate test of Bryan Caplan's theory, Paul McCartney's son wants to get a kid from each of the other Beatles and.....put on a rock show!

What could possibly go wrong?

So far, the only thing standing between us and musical armageddon is... Zak Starr?

God bless you sir.