Saturday, November 24, 2012

Looks Just Like Me!

Interesting.  Men fool themselves, because it's adaptive.  And it's not like the woman is going to say anything... "Yes, honey, he has your nose! And so did the mailman!"

Fathers See Stronger Family Resemblances than Non-Fathers in Unrelated Children’s Faces

Paola Bressan & Stefania Dal Pos
Archives of Sexual Behavior, December 2012, Pages 1423-1430

Abstract: Even after they have taken all reasonable measures to decrease the probability that their spouses cheat on them, men still face paternal uncertainty. Such uncertainty can lead to paternal disinvestment, which reduces the children’s probability to survive and reproduce, and thus the reproductive success of the fathers themselves. A theoretical model shows that, other things being equal, men who feel confident that they have fathered their spouses’ offspring tend to enjoy greater fitness (i.e., leave a larger number of surviving progeny) than men who do not. This implies that fathers should benefit from exaggerating paternal resemblance. We argue that the self-deceiving component of this bias could be concealed by generalizing this resemblance estimation boost to (1) family pairs other than father-child and (2) strangers. Here, we tested the prediction that fathers may see, in unrelated children’s faces, stronger family resemblances than non-fathers. In Study 1, 70 men and 70 women estimated facial resemblances between children paired, at three different ages (as infants, children, and adolescents), either to themselves or to their parents. In Study 2, 70 men and 70 women guessed the true parents of the same children among a set of adults. Men who were fathers reported stronger similarities between faces than non-fathers, mothers, and non-mothers did, but were no better at identifying childrens’ real parents. We suggest that, in fathers, processing of facial resemblances is biased in a manner that reflects their (adaptive) wishful thinking that fathers and children are related.

Nod to Kevin Lewis


1.  When motorboating turns deadly.  On the other hand, not such a bad way to go...

2.  Nail house.  Even I think this is a simple case of eminent domain, folks.  If we are going to ask the state to build roads, it has to be able to take property at gunpoint.  It's the nature of state provision.  If you don't want violence, don't choose the state.

3.  Twitter obits for Larry Hagman.

4.  Hector "Macho" Camacho died.

5.  Surprisingly honest whining from Gallup.  We all know that pollsters need to be able to lie and say the race is too close to call.  It's good for pollsters, 'cause they get paid.  And, it's good for democracy, because the lie increases turnout.  When rat bastards like Nate Silver break the gentleman's agreement and actually tell the truth, it's bad for business and bad for the country.  In short, analysts who tell the truth are "overfishing the commons," and need to be stopped.  Wow.

6.  Paul Cantor on the Elizabethan surveillance state.

7.  Peter Suderman's "17 Theses" on WalMart critics, storified by @lachlan .  Me gusta ...

Nod to Angry Alex, Chris A, and the EYM

The culture that is Japan

Ah Japan, the land where adult diaper sales now outpace baby diaper sales!

Hat tip to John Aziz.

Friday, November 23, 2012

But, Wait...

Human mortality improvement in evolutionary context

Oskar Burger, Annette Baudisch & James Vaupel
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 30 October 2012, Pages 18210-18214

Abstract:  Life expectancy is increasing in most countries and has exceeded 80 in several, as low-mortality nations continue to make progress in averting deaths. The health and economic implications of mortality reduction have been given substantial attention, but the observed malleability of human mortality has not been placed in a broad evolutionary context. We quantify the rate and amount of mortality reduction by comparing a variety of human populations to the evolved human mortality profile, here estimated as the average mortality pattern for ethnographically observed hunter-gatherers. We show that human mortality has decreased so substantially that the difference between hunter-gatherers and today’s lowest mortality populations is greater than the difference between hunter-gatherers and wild chimpanzees. The bulk of this mortality reduction has occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the roughly 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. Moreover, mortality improvement in humans is on par with or greater than the reductions in mortality in other species achieved by laboratory selection experiments and endocrine pathway mutations. This observed plasticity in age-specific risk of death is at odds with conventional theories of aging.

I'm trying to think why age at mortality has anything to do with evolution.  Evoluntion involves mutations for variance, and then natural selection to "choose" among variants.  But, wait.... the only variations that matter are those that are relevant for the number, health, and fecundity of offspring.  How old (or how happy) you are when you die doesn't matter much.  And it doesn't matter at all if you if it doesn't increase the number of offspring (do 65 year old men really have children?  I know they could, but...), or the health of your offspring (do 80 year old women take care of great grandchildren?)  (more  after the jump...)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How to ensure a happy thanksgiving

WKRP Turkey Drop

A remembrance of the WKRP "Turkeys Away" episode.  For T-giving, from KPC!

With thanks to @radleybalko ...

A youtube excerpt, about 13 mins.  A bit jumpy, but a great show.  And you get the punchline at the end:

Apparently some basis in reality, from Yellville, AR.  Also home of the "Miss Drumsticks" Beauty Pageant.

Create inclusive institutions and call me in a century!

Daron Acemoglu may well be the pre-eminent economist of our time.  Acemoglu and Johnson (along with other coauthors) have written massively cited and highly influential journal articles.

But their overarching theory in "Why Nations Fail" just won't wash, at least for prediction and policy.

Full disclosure: I have not read the entire book (give me a break here people, "reading the book" is a very over-rated strategy)!

But, I have read and taught their papers and followed the review and counterattack cycle that reached its peak this week with their diatribe against Jeff Sachs.

There are two basic problems for the relevance of their theory:

1. Mrs. Angus and I show that across countries from 1960 - 2000, "institutions" are converging, while output is diverging.

2. Institutions move slowly while in most of the world growth, even in the medium term, is volatile. See "The anatomy of start-stop growth" or "growth accelerations".

So, "inclusive institutions are necessary (and sufficient?) to sustain long run growth"is just not a very relevant or helpful statement for poor countries or policymakers over a 5 - 25 year horizon.

"Create some inclusive institutions and call me in a century", is not going to get you appointed as chief economist at any IFI anytime soon. Nor will it get you elected in a developing country.

Nor should it.

60 knots.... in a SAILboat

About 70mph, powered only by wind.

If you think it looks like it's can actually fly.  That's not so good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Regulating Lobbyists? Maybe Not...

You Owe Me

Ulrike Malmendier, Klaus Schmidt

NBER Working Paper No. 18543
Issued in November 2012
NBER Program(s):   HC   HE   LS
In many cultures and industries gifts are given in order to influence the recipient, often at the expense of a third party. Examples include business gifts of firms and lobbyists. In a series of experiments, we show that, even without incentive or informational effects, small gifts strongly influence the recipient’s behavior in favor of the gift giver, in particular when a third party bears the cost. Subjects are well aware that the gift is given to influence their behavior but reciprocate nevertheless. Withholding the gift triggers a strong negative response. These findings are inconsistent with the most prominent models of social preferences. We propose an extension of existing theories to capture the observed behavior by endogenizing the “reference group” to whom social preferences are applied. We also show that disclosure and size limits are not effective in reducing the effect of gifts, consistent with our model. Financial incentives ameliorate the effect of the gift but backfire when available but not provided. 

Bret Stephens

I don't always agree with Bret Stephens.  But he nails so many things in this post...well, it's good.  That's what I'm sayin', it's good.  Excerpt:

Can we, as the GOP base, demand an IQ exam as well as a test of basic knowledge from our congressional and presidential candidates? This is not a flippant suggestion: There were at least five Senate seats in this election cycle that might have been occupied by a Republican come January had not the invincible stupidity of the candidate stood in the way.
On the subject of idiocy, can someone explain where’s the political gold in demonizing Latin American immigrants? California’s Prop 187, passed in 1994, helped destroy the GOP in a once-reliable state. Yet Republicans have been trying to replicate that fiasco on a national scale ever since.
If the argument is that illegal immigrants are overtaxing the welfare state, then that’s an argument for paring back the welfare state, not deporting 12 million people. If the argument is that these immigrants “steal” jobs, then that’s an argument by someone who either doesn’t understand the free market or aspires for his children to become busboys and chambermaids.
And if the argument is that these immigrants don’t share our values, then religiosity, hard work, personal stoicism and the sense of family obligation expressed through billions of dollars in remittances aren’t American values.

Why is there CORN in my Coke?

The lovely and talented Dr. Diana Thomas shares some extremely valuable info on sugar, and why there is corn in your co-cola.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Africa for Norway

We noted before that there were some problems in Norway.  The whole butter was terrible.

Now, though, help is on the way.  Via the EYM....Africa for Norway!  As the young man says, "Have you SEEN what is going on there?"  Pasty white herring eaters need our help!  Can't you give?

Endogeneity & Furiousity

This morning, Tim Harford tweeted me over to this post by Owen Barder, along with the message that it,  "should make me furious".

It didn't.

The post complains that, "we (the US) waste our food aid budget". It shows that, in 2010, We sent $5 million in official food aid to Cambodia, but $3.5 million of that was actually paid out to US shippers.

The implication is that we have a fixed food aid budget that is exogenous, and if we could just stop wasting it on shipping (by sourcing the food closer to Cambodia, for example) the aid would be more effective.

Another way to look at the situation though, is to realize that the food aid budget is actually endogenously created in the sausage factory that is Congress.

US shippers and farmers aren't going to lobby for a food aid budget if they don't benefit from it. If shippers and farmers don't lobby and give contributions then the food aid budget will be smaller.

How much smaller? That of course is an empirical question, but given that Cambodians don't vote or lobby (as far as I know at least), zero is not a crazy guess as to the size of the food aid budget without the support of US shippers and farmers.

After all, when you ask the American people where to cut the budget, their first instinctive thought is "foreign aid", which many on them imagine is a large chunk of US expenditures instead of the pittance that it is.

Why does the OECD allow these freight costs to be counted as "aid"? That is a separate question, but in the elaborate kabuki dance of special interest money, it appears to be necessary that money flows not be plainly labeled.

A budget item simply giving money to shippers and farmers is perceived as unlikely to survive, so we call it aid and our pals go along with it. Either because other countries are doing the same thing, or because the OECD knows that calling a spade a spade might end up reducing, rather than increasing the actual amount of aid that is delivered.

We all know that the most effective use of $5 million in aid money is to simply give the money to the people who need the aid. The best our political system can do is, from the $5 million, get $1.5 million in in-kind aid delivered. And then of course the political system of the receiving country takes over, so the amount that actually gets to the intended recipients is going to be a fraction of that measly $1.5 million.

Yet we as a people continue to demand that our political system run more and more of our economy.

Corporations and Politics

Corporate Politics, Governance, and Value Before and After Citizens United

John Coates
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, December 2012, Pages 657–696

How did corporate politics, governance, and value relate to each other in the S&P 500 before and after Citizens United? In regulated and government-dependent industries, politics is nearly universal, and uncorrelated with shareholder power, agency costs, or value. However, 11 percent of CEOs in 2000 who retired by 2011 obtained political positions after retiring and, in most industries, political activity correlates negatively with measures of shareholder power, positively with signs of agency costs, and negatively with shareholder value. The politics-value relationship interacts with capital expenditures, and is stronger in regressions with firm and time fixed effects, which absorb many omitted variables. After the shock of Citizens United, corporate lobbying and PAC activity jumped, in both frequency and amount, and firms politically active in 2008 had lower value in 2010 than other firms, consistent with politics at least partly causing and not merely correlating with lower value. Overall, the results are inconsistent with politics generally serving shareholder interests, and support proposals to require disclosure of political activity to shareholders.


Corporate Policies of Republican Managers

Irena Hutton, Danling Jiang & Alok Kumar
University of Miami Working Paper, December 2011

This paper examines the relation between the personal political orientation of firm managers and corporate policies. Motivated by the theory of behavioral consistency, we conjecture that Republican managers who are more likely to follow conservative personal ideologies would choose more conservative corporate policies. Consistent with our conjecture, we find that firms with Republican managers have lower levels of corporate debt, lower capital and R&D expenditures, less risky investments, but higher levels of dividend payouts, higher retained earnings, and higher profitability. Republican managers are matched with firms that have conservative political environments, but even among those firms, higher levels of managerial conservatism are associated with more conservative policies. Further, around managerial turnover including CEO deaths, corporate policies become more conservative as managerial conservatism increases. In addition, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, corporate policies of Republican managers become more conservative as aggregate uncertainty increases. Overall, we show that Republican managers maintain and implement less risky and more profitable policies but the choice of lower R&D expenditures may dampen innovation.


Nod to Kevin Lewis

Joel Slemrod Roast

Joel Slemrod is a famous economist.  And he got roasted pretty effectively, for winning the Holland Award.

With a nod to Bob S.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to live without irony

I guess we are having a little "How to live without [FILL IN BLANK]" meme here at KPC.  This morning, it was how to live without pain (and the claim that you need it).

Because the EYM just linked to a truly fantastic piece in NYT on "How to Live Without Irony," on hipsterism.  (Spoiler alert:  doing without irony may be even harder than doing without pain...)

The EYM's own connection to hipsterdom is conflicted:  he understands things I miss, but he has a custom sticker for his computer that says "No Factories, No MacBook Pros!"  (If you have to ask, go ask a hipster, in a coffee shop, about the sticker on his MacBook Pro that says, "No Farms, No Food!")

An excerpt.  But it's all good.  I'm not sure how much of it is ironic.  Which is of course precisely why it is good.

Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.


UPDATE:  I should note, for context, that to calibrate hipsterhood you need only look to Kindred or Garrett (neither of whom use their actual first names).  Of course, each would deny his hipster credentials.  Proving he IS a hipster, because that's what they do.

Tofe, on the other hand:  Actually NOT a hipster.  But he can hang with them, a sort of "hipster hag" deal.

Ease Her Pain... Not

Hard to imagine living without pain.  Many people think they would prefer it.

But suppose you had never felt pain, and didn't understand the concept.

This young woman has a genetic mutation that prevents her from feeling pain, though she can feel warmth or coolness.  The problem is that boiling hot things only feel warm, not painfully burning hot.


The girl who feels no pain was in the kitchen, stirring ramen noodles, when the spoon slipped from her hand and dropped into the pot of boiling water. It was a school night; the TV was on in the living room, and her mother was folding clothes on the couch. Without thinking, Ashlyn Blocker reached her right hand in to retrieve the spoon, then took her hand out of the water and stood looking at it under the oven light. She walked a few steps to the sink and ran cold water over all her faded white scars, then called to her mother, “I just put my fingers in!” Her mother, Tara Blocker, dropped the clothes and rushed to her daughter’s side. “Oh, my lord!” she said — after 13 years, that same old fear — and then she got some ice and gently pressed it against her daughter’s hand, relieved that the burn wasn’t worse.       

Her last name is "Blocker."  Wow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Morons on Parade! Rolling Jubilee....

I wanted to wait a bit, before posting this.  It's obviously funny, but I wanted to see if it was INTENTIONALLY funny.  Apparently not.  These folks are as serious as debt.

With thanks to S. Wilson...  

Are Roads Public Goods?

Economists tend to think of the role of government as (1) enforcing contracts, adjudicating disputes as a neutral referee, and providing an infrastructure in which the transactions costs of exchange are low, and (2) acting to correct "market failure" through regulation or direct provision in the case of public goods.

A "public good," as Angus has pointed out a number of times, has two features (or, from a pure market perspective, "bugs").  These are (a) non-rivalness in consumption and (b) costly exclusion.

"Non-rivalness" means that the good is not subject to consumption or being "used up."  If I turn on my radio, that does not reduce the amount of radio waves available for you to listen to.  If the radio signal is broadcast, everyone in the range of the broadcast can listen.  It does not cost more to broadcast radio signals in a city compared to the country, because consumption is non-rival.

"Costly exclusion" means that much of, all of, or even more than the price that could be charged for the good or service would be dissipated by trying to collect the charges.  Radio seems like a "costly exclusion" good, though it is possible to encrypt the signal so that only someone with decoder can listen.  (By and large, commercial radio "solves" this problem by inverting the market:  listeners are the "product" and advertisers pay for access to eardrums.  One ad crowds out another, and it is easy to exclude would-be advertisers who don't pay.  The other model, of quasi-public goods and no commercials, may be solved with voluntary provision, as I argued in this NPR "Planet Money" segment.  Tote bags and coffee mugs for all you good contributors!)

Now:  the question, since we have the setup.... Are roads public goods?  The answer is quite difficult, and there is no one-size-fits-all correct response.  (More after the jump...)

Grand Game: Road Kill Time!

A disclaimer at the outset:  This is "satire."  It's WV, so it could be real.  On the other hand, I had no idea that it was illegal to eat stuff you ran over in the first place.  Yes, you can't take deer that way (though I've been tempted!), but if you hit a squirrel and want ya some stew, what's the problem?  It's fresh, and already tenderized, so you can put away that mallet.

But apparently the legislature of WV wanted to make honest women (and men) out of its citizens, and validate the already widespread (?) practice of taking those little delicacies home to the fam.

This is a KPC GG opportunity, though, because of the description, and quotes.  They attached "ryders"?  Really?  Big rental trucks, to make sure no wildlife survives that frantic scurry or waddle across the highway?  Wow.

Special bonus (LMM:  Do not watch this):  A roadkill cartoon.

UPDATE:  Is VA reacting to WV?  By using this "don't tread on me!" metaphor?  So, something like "don't run me over and then put me in the trunk to eat later?"  Why else would VA rip off this South Carolina symbol?