Saturday, August 11, 2012

With the EYM in Santiago!

I made it.  My back was very sore (bulging/borderline herniated disc, it's not clear just what is going on).  But I made it.

Extremely long line in immigration/customs.  The Santiago airport has two peak load times, early morn and late evening.  The morning is bad.  Four or five large flights all arrive within 20 mins of each other.  And there are 8 functioning passport control stations.  We're talking about 1,000 plus people all waiting for some very calm and placid public officials here.  Took an hour to have immigration control person spend all of 20 seconds on my passport.  Ugh.

Then stood outside a door that was only about 50 meters from the door where my taxi driver was standing, with a sign with my name on it.  A bad equilibrium, for another 30 minutes.

Still, I made it, and now the EYM are going out for a coffee and pastry.  Then, 2 pm we are heading for Cafe Tiramisu for some very nice pizza.

Tomorrow, lunch with el Decano.

Be kind rewind

Chartist surrealism appears in online medical journals too! LeBron links to the following amazing chart of "excess health care spending growth".  The article in the New England Journal of Medicine defines "excess" growth as the difference between the growth of health care spending and the growth of potential GDP (no word if this is "real" potential or "nominal" potential GDP).


Just to summarize, they are taking a totally unobservable and made up variable and using it to define another unobservable and totally made up concept, that of "excess" health care spending.

Shouldn't excess spending be defined as wasteful spending, like unnecessary tests or surgeries or inefficient record keeping?

Doesn't health care have to be paid for out of actual GDP? Can you tell your doctor, look, the output gap is 13%, so I am only paying 87% of this bill.

How can anyone define the correct path of health care spending? Must it be a constant portion of GDP? Why? Why couldn't preventative care and lifestyle adjustment make health care shrink as a proportion of GDP? Or conversely, why couldn't some amazing but expensive breakthrough cause optimal health care spending to soar as a percentage of GDP?

Include Me Out? So, only 98% now?

Loyal reader AB sends the following email:

Was it something I said (or wrote)?  Think you'd enjoy...  After being "invited" by MoveOn to protest at Romney appearance here, I responded I would attend IN SUPPORT of Romney.

Withing minutes I received the following.....

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 4:56 PM
Subject: You've been removed from "We Are the 99%!" event
To: ******

The host of "We Are the 99%!" -- a We are the 99% -- has removed you from the list of attendees for this event.
--The Political Action Team

Friday, August 10, 2012

Robert Reich Haiku

Tim Worstall gives a nice paraphrase of Robert Reich's view of the world.

I was just disappointed that Tim didn't realize that he had very nearly written a Reich haiku.  So I finished it for him.  Enjoy, Tim!

RR Haiku

I like time off, see?
So millions must take time off
To be more like me

When people were shorter and lived by the water

Check out these amazing black and white photos from Buzzfeed.

Which shot of a little kid smoking do you prefer and why?

Or maybe those aren't little kids at all?? Maybe that's just a VERY BIG CHICKEN?

Macroeconomic Surrealism

Wow. I am old and have already seen too much in my career, but this morning I was treated to a Dali-esque display of Macro.

Witness this blogpost, which graphs two completely unobservable and totally made up variables against each other and uses their correlation to castigate the Fed.

The first variable is "Aggregate demand uncertainty" and it is none other than the newly constructed index that has so riled up the progressive blogosphere.

The second is "Potential Nominal GDP" minus actual Nominal GDP.  I have been on record elsewhere criticizing measures of potential real GDP  but this is even stranger.

Wouldn't potential nominal GDP always be infinite? Can't the Fed always raise the price level a little bit more?

Isn't this a fake variable that doesn't even make sense in theory?

Anyway, it turns out that these two constructed versions of unobservable variables are negatively correlated. Check it out:

If two fake variables explain each other in a graph, does it make a sound?

People, the author of the post in question didn't make up these stinky variables; Potential Nominal GDP is on FRED for Pete's sake! He just used them to go all Luis Brunel on us.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

German Miracle From No Copyrights?

Was Germany's phenomenal growth partly caused by an absence of copyrights and patents?

Der Spiegel thinks so.

I'd paste it here, but it's copyrighted!

Markets in Everything: Tennis Pass Edition

Sharp-eyed reader DC sends this link.



A steep price increase for most permits required to play tennis on New York City's public courts has changed the game, pricing out thousands of players while creating shorter wait times for those who can afford to pay.

The Parks Department first served up higher fees for public tennis in 2011, doubling the prices paid by players between the ages of 18 and 61. Single-pay passes for an hour of court time jumped to $15 from $7, while season passes rose to $200 from $100.

Far fewer tennis permits have been sold under the new prices, according to data from the Parks Department. Sales of season passes for most players slipped by 40%, with 7,400 sold in 2011 as compared to 12,400 in 2010. (Only about 6,800 passes had been sold by the end of June 2012 to players purchasing unlimited court time for the year.)

Sales of single-play passes for this group of adults took a big hit as well, dropping by nearly a third from more than 40,000 for the 2010 season to about 27,000 last year.

Preliminary numbers through June show about 9,700 passes sold, though the Parks Department cautions that third-party vendors are still reporting sales and the number will rise.

Some longtime players say they made the decision that the cost is just not worth it. Christopher Farber, a freelance photographer living on the Upper East Side, no longer splurges on the season pass and has instead cut back his matches to about two a month, opting for single-use permits instead.

"I feel like $100 is a threshold," said Mr. Farber, who in the past played about 50 times a year at the courts in Riverside Park with partners he found through the website Craigslist. "I'm freelance and kind of get by every month, but even at $100 I can see myself buying a pass for the summer.'"

Interesting.   Tennis courts are most emphatically NOT a public good.  They are a club good, and can easily be provided as a club good (non-rival up to congestion point, but cheap to exclude).  Should the government even be in this business?  And if so, what is the "correct" price?

Iceland. Handball. Silver. Penises. For Dad.

It's hard to know how to describe this story.  There are just so many good parts.  And, no, I'm not making this up.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum ....was moved several years ago to immortalize the victorious handball players in an unusually raunchy sculpture called The Icelandic National Handball Team. The sculpture consists, basically, of a bunch of silver penises pointing at the ceiling in a kind of wild-mushrooms-waving-in-a-field effect.

1.  Okay, so there's an Iceland Phallological Museum, to start with.  It contains either actual penises, or representations of penises, of ALL the creatures found in Iceland. I did NOT know that.  I did not WANT to know that.  I expect to have nightmares about that.  ("Ah!  A butterfly penis!  Enlarged 10,000 times!")

2.  That statue is to honor the "handball" team.  A double entendre, or did the artist really see those heroes as just a bunch of dicks?

3.  And the artist, who is female, claims she didn't have any particular model for the highly idiosyncratic and anatomically correct peni.  She just  "made them from experience."

4.  Finally, the artist made this sculpture to honor her father.  What dad's heart doesn't glow at the thought of his daughter making a bunch of erect silver penises fashioned after an entire men's handball team?

With deep gratitude to reader M. Kaan, who knew that this link need to go to KPC, and NOT to .

Motherless Brooklyn

"It's amazing to me that we let humans drive cars."Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Well this will draw hellfire from LeBron, but I absolutely hate the idea of a driverless car.

To me, it's just one more intrusive regulation. One more freedom gone.

As a technological innovation, it's really weak beer isn't it?

We have seen the future and it's not flying cars or teleporters, it's people yoked together on a virtual leash.

The system will only really "work" (and by work I mean control us) if everybody is using it, so eventually it will become mandatory.

Google is a freakin' tool for big brother. Just look at the quote. Whatever happened to "don't be evil"?

Maybe the highway patrol unions and the makers of radar detectors can team up to fight this in court and get it squashed!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

McKayla is not impressed

more here

Markets =/ Crony Capitalism

That cutey, Steve Horwitz, has a nice video, new at Learn Liberty

Grand Game: Western Politcal Science Association

I actually thought this was a spoof.  No one could seriously mean this, as an invite to participate in a political science conference (the Westerns).  To be clear:  it's not a meeting of lefty nuts, it's a meeting of professional political scientologists.

Since the passage of the Taft Hartley Act in 1947, the US has seen steady erosion in [protections for workers]. Workers in the US and Europe bear a greater and greater burden for the social goods provided by their society and receive fewer and fewer benefits while those who have benefitted most from the triumph of capitalism have begun to knock down the reforms achieved in the 20th Century. Hopes of spreading the improved human condition to the global south have foundered on a reconstructed mercantilist and neo-colonial international trade regime that has resulted in exploitation of workers in lesser-developed nations and vast environmental degradation.

Is democracy up to this challenge? Can the free-market global economy again be brought into line with the goals of improving the conditions of humanity? Are our institutions, nation-states, international compacts, and ways of thinking up to this challenge, or will the latter part of the 21st Century more closely resemble the late 19th than the late 20th? While the WPSA welcomes proposals on all political and governmental questions of interest to the discipline, in 2013, we would like to pay particular attention to domestic and international inequality, its causes and its consequences, and whether democratic institutions are up to the task of addressing either.

But it appears to be serious.  Wow. 


With a nod to the Bishop.

Mars Schmarz

Maybe I'm the only one, but I do not give a #^#$% about the latest Mars rover.

Well, actually I do.  I dislike it and wish we'd stop wasting money on crap like this.

People, have we not been getting photos of Mars from rovers since 2004? Is this not old hat? Will we ever find Mars' "good side" and get the photo we've been looking for?

This latest photo shoot cost $2.5 billion (about a billion over budget). Apparently we want to find out if life ever existed there.

Of course life existed on Mars. Has NASA never watched Bugs Bunny?

Why is the JPL the lucky recipient of a seemingly permanent, federally funded, high wage, full employment program? They've been on the gravy train long enough!

And they say that political science research is useless and should be defunded! While that may be true, it's way way way better than the NASA-JPL cabal.

Up His Nose!

It's the classic story, almost trite because you hear it so often.  Boy meets Lego Tire.  Boy shoves Lego Tire up his nose.  Lego Tire stays there three years, in his sinus cavity.  Lego Tire is covered with mold, causes near constant illness.  Doctor removes Lego Tire.  Dad says "gross!" but secretly thinks, "cool!"

Boy and Lego Tire are reunited.

Everyone is happy.  Three years?  Yikes.  Mom and Dad are a little embarrassed.  But I'm sure Dad really is secretly proud.  I would be!

Reminds me of Cheech and Chong's "Up His Nose..."

"We can't go out on the street without the yunkies and schvartzes....Keep the change!" Sure, yes, offensive. It was the '70s.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

7,000 extra page views per day, 4 days?

Anybody have any idea what could have caused this?  We got 7k+ extra page views per day, for four days, and then it stopped.

Extremely lame denial of service attack?  Bots looking for emails to harvest?  Some readers with extremely short attention spans?

Angus and I have no clue.  Very odd.  Never seen anything like it.

Beliefs and Actions

Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates

Azim Shariff & Mijke Rhemtulla
PLoS ONE, June 2012

Though religion has been shown to have generally positive effects on normative ‘prosocial’ behavior, recent laboratory research suggests that these effects may be driven primarily by supernatural punishment. Supernatural benevolence, on the other hand, may actually be associated with less prosocial behavior. Here, we investigate these effects at the societal level, showing that the proportion of people who believe in hell negatively predicts national crime rates whereas belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates. These effects remain after accounting for a host of covariates, and ultimately prove stronger predictors of national crime rates than economic variables such as GDP and income inequality. Expanding on laboratory research on religious prosociality, this is the first study to tie religious beliefs to large-scale cross-national trends in pro- and anti-social behavior.


Support for Redistribution in Western Europe: Assessing the role of religion

Daniel Stegmueller et al.
European Sociological Review, August 2012, Pages 482-497

Previous sociological studies have paid little attention to religion as a central determinant of individual preferences for redistribution. In this article we argue that religious individuals, living in increasingly secular societies, differ in political preferences from their secular counterparts. Based on the theory of religious cleavages, we expect that religious individuals will oppose income redistribution by the state. Furthermore, in contexts where the polarization between religious and secular individuals is large, preferences for redistribution will be lower. In the empirical analysis we test our predictions in a multilevel framework, using data from the European Social Survey 2002–2006 for 16 Western European countries. After controlling for a wide range of individual socio-economic factors and for welfare-state policies, religion plays and important explanatory role. We find that both Catholics and Protestants strongly oppose income redistribution by the state. The cleavage between religious and secular individuals is far more important than the difference between denominations. Using a refined measure of religious polarization, we also find that in more polarized context the overall level of support for redistribution is lower.


Nod to Kevin Lewis for the references

Monday, August 06, 2012

Optimistic Predictions are Garbage

I'm not a bear.  I would like for things to get better.  Really.

But, this is not good.  Garbage is falling off very fast, just like export orders.  It could be that this means the recycle-topians are actually doing good work, but what it really means is that the economy is in the dump, because we are not buying stuff.

Click for a more trashy image.

How to make $$$ selling drugs!

With thanks to Angry Alex, who passes on this gem pointed out by Radley Balko.

On the other hand....drugs in Russia.  Pretty bad, depressing story.  I guess in (ex)Soviet Russia, drugs do YOU.

Lagniappe:  Imagine what Michael Phelps could have accomplished if he had not done those bowls!

Who needs economic freedom? After all, you can VOTE!

Wake Up! It's a Truck!

Would I have done this?  Yes.
Would the repurcussions have been worse.  Yes.
Would it have been worth it?  YES.

Amusingly, this was done I-40, just west of the RDU airport.  So it would work pretty well, only a few miles away.  And the LMM always sleeps in the car...

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Gimme back my bullets

The Fed fired its bullet. The bear wasn't scared. And the bullets may be blanks, anyway. But the point is that there is no secret gun. Or so says Sy Harding...

My dinner with Raoul, in trendy Ballard

So, had a great time visiting Raoul.  (Also known as "Mr. Joy."  Pictured before here at KPC).

We visited the Ballard Locks, and salmon run ladders.  Amazing.

Drove at least half an hour looking for a coffee shop.  Now, remember, this is Seattle.  There are more than two coffee shops.  Per block.  But Raoul has standards.  I have to admit the coffee was pretty fine.  Notice that the word "Starbucks" is not coming up here, as an alternative.

Then to the brew pub, the Jolly Roger Taproom.  Beers were very fine.  Get the onion rings, called "Smokers."  Top three onion rings all time, for me.  Smashing.

Then to dinner.  I was going to describe the place, The Walrus and Carpenter.  But that wouldn't really capture the ambiance as well as this NYTimes review.  On the other hand, the food was really, really great, not expensive, and the servers were so hip they almost weren't hip, just naturally cool.  Since the restaurant is in Ballard, you have to be pretty hip just to get in.  I would never have made it, but Raoul talked to the staff and they let it slide.

I had six really remarkable oysters, from the al la carte menu.  It's printed daily, in case the oyster-nazi doesn't "like the look" of anything, and says, "You!  Can't have these oysters!"  Our visit, there were seven types of oysters, ranging from Samish Bay Sweets (mild) to Baywater Sweets (strong and briny, from Thorndyke Bay).  The other five were sorted in order of less mild to more briny, in between.  Except the oyster-nazi had apparently said, "No!  No Baywater Sweets! I don't like the look of them!"  The waitron actually told us this, then took a marker and marked through the Baywaters so that even idiots like us would understand that the oysters were not available.  (I'm not making fun of the server, btw.  Anyone who sees Raoul and me out on the town will NOT think, "There go some geniuses!")

The W&C is quite careful about its food, as the Times article notes.  My favorite part was the notice on the menu (remember, this is an oyster and seafood restaurant) that "Oysters and other shellfish are prepared in our kitchen."  Can't be too careful, I suppose.

Anyway, I had the Hammersleys, from nearby (!) Hammersley Inlet.  Very nice.  Extraordinary, in fact.  Came with a very mild shaved fresh horseradish, and an acidy citrus topping, on the side.  I used them.  Yum.

We basically did the tapas thing, ordering bread and butter, toasted almonds (a huge, spicy portion, still warm), simple sliced tomatoes with salt and olive oil (tremendous).  Excellent bread, as it should be, but it was.

Talked about our families.  Many college faculty have "interesting" families, I think.  Raoul and I are no exceptions.

A great night.  Raoul took me to the airport, to get ready for my 11:50 pm redeye.  Thanks, Seattle, that was great.