Saturday, February 23, 2013

IHS Art of Teaching Workship

A PSA for grad students. And, yes, I'll be at this party!


Attn: Graduate students, if you’re interested in honing your research and teaching skills this summer, IHS has some great opportunities:
· The Symposia on Scholarship & a Free Society bring graduate students together with leading classical liberal scholars from a range of disciplines for a weekend of discussion and research presentations. All applicants are invited to submit an optional proposal for a paper presentation. Applications to attend this summer must be received by March 15th. Additional details:

· The Liberty & the Art of Teaching Workshop taking place June 28-30 at Towson University in Towson, MD welcomes teachers, both new and experienced, to discuss and experiment with best practices for the university classroom. IHS provides full funding, including meals, accommodations, and program costs. Participants are responsible for travel (limited scholarships are available to cover travel expenses). For additional details on faculty presenters, topics, schedule, and feedback from past participants, visit

. Application deadline: April 15th.

Grand Game

Wow.  Just, wow.  Ed of MSNBC makes some macroeconomic claims that are pretty darned strong.  If Ed were right (and yes I got this from Angus), Zimbabwe would have the highest GDP/cap on earth.  Please do feel free to share your thoughts in comments, folks!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Nod to the ever-vigilant WH, who had this response here

It is nice that Ed took time to talk about my own little home state.  But it would be okay with me if he directs his genius elsewhere from now on.

Painfully Sweet: Blind Stray Dog Rescued from Trash Pile

So cute it hurts.

Friday, February 22, 2013

défenestrer le sequester?

The NYT is on the sequester rampage this morning:

 Here's an unsigned editorial:

 Democrats and Republicans remain at odds on how to avoid a round of budget cuts so deep and arbitrary that to allow them now could push the economy back into recession. The cuts, known as a sequester, will kick in March 1 unless Republicans agree to President Obama’s demand to a legislative package that combines spending reductions and tax increases. 

And here's the inevitable Krugman chiming in with his bosses:

 the “sequester,” one of the worst policy ideas in our nation’s history... a fiscal doomsday machine that would inflict gratuitous damage on the nation.

 People, the sequester only lowers spending relative to baseline growth.

That is to say, it doesn't actually cut spending in the sense a regular normal person would view it.

Over the full 10 years of "deep" cuts, after the "doomsday machine" ravages us, Federal spending will be higher than it is now.

I am not making this up!

Federal spending is over 3 trillion dollars. We are talking about cutting 85 billion from its growth.

That's like a pimple on your pimple.

Calling this "one of the worst policy ideas in our nation's history" is just amazing hackery.

Slavery was one of our nation's policies.

Interning Japanese Americans with no cause in WWII was one of our nation's policies.

The war on drugs is one of our nation's policies.

Extra-legal drone killings of Americans (and non-americans) is one of our nation's policies.

I'd say that the sequester is actually an above average policy for our nation.

If we can't cut 85 billion from our planned spending growth four years after the recession ended, we are pretty much doomed.

Decline in Crime

Interesting to think about explanations for declines in crime.  Gun violence generally has collapsed, just fallen off the charts, outside of turf wars for drug gangs.  As the WSJ puts it,

"Bank holdups have been nearly cut in half over the past decade — to 5.1 robberies per 100 U.S. banks in 2011. Though the nationwide crime rate is dropping, the decline in bank robberies far exceeds the decline in other crimes, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data...Bank-security experts and former FBI agents attribute the decline to stepped-up security and tougher sentencing for bank robbers. Many also say that more recently, sophisticated criminals are recognizing bank robbery as a high-risk, low-reward crime and are migrating online." [WSJ]

 As I do think that there is an extra explanation we are missing.  Many of the most ruthless criminals were able to sell mortgages to government agencies Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac during the housing bubble, so that diverted them from bank robberies.  The Fan/Fred combo didn't care about cost, and so it was too easy.

And today thugs can sell subsidized solar panels to religious zealots who worship Gaia and don't care about cost.

Who needs to rob banks, when the government will actually pay you to steal, legally?

Nod to Kevin Lewis for the WSJ piece; I doubt he endorses my interpretation.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The leopard cannot change his spots

Did you hear the one about the modern central banker who was able to credibly promise to be irresponsible?

Me neither.

Release of recent FOMC minutes reveal that all is not well on the QE bus:

However, many participants also expressed some concerns about potential costs and risks arising from further asset purchases. Several participants discussed the possible complications that additional purchases could cause for the eventual withdrawal of policy accommodation, a few mentioned the prospect of inflationary risks, and some noted that further asset purchases could foster market behavior that could undermine financial stability. Several participants noted that a very large portfolio of long-duration assets would, under certain circumstances, expose the Federal Reserve to significant capital losses when these holdings were unwound, but others pointed to offsetting factors and one noted that losses would not impede the effective operation of monetary policy. A few also raised concerns about the potential effects of further asset purchases on the functioning of particular financial markets, although a couple of other participants noted that there had been little evidence to date of such effects....  

...Several participants emphasized that the Committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases, either in response to changes in the economic outlook or as its evaluation of the efficacy and costs of such purchases evolved. For example, one participant argued that purchases should vary incrementally from meeting to meeting in response to incoming information about the economy. A number of participants stated that an ongoing evaluation of the efficacy, costs, and risks of asset purchases might well lead the Committee to taper or end its purchases before it judged that a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market had occurred.

(Quote from Tim Duy. more here)

To fight inflation, modern democracies have given the keys to the bus to conservative central bankers over the last 30 years. They worry about inflation when there is no inflation. They couch all expansionary policy statements with weasel words and out clauses that scream "we don't really mean it".  They cannot change their spots. Which is why they can pump trillions into the economy without generating much in the way of increased inflation expectations. Everyone knows they are not serious.

The single most effective tool to raise inflation expectations in the US would be to appoint Paul Krugman as the new Fed chair and let Matt Yglesias be his deputy.

Just when you think you have heard it all... turns out that Pete Domenici has fathered enough children to have his own baseball team, from the Domenician Republic.  (Thanks to a commenter on the original article for that one).

One with the then-24-year-old daughter of a fellow senator.  Wow.

Nod to Anonyman.

Why The World Needs Economists

Fact:  Productivity (output per person/hour) is much (MUCH) higher on smaller plots of land.* 

Resolved:  That this proves that "smallholders can feed the world."  More important, large farms are wasteful, and should be broken up.

Now, my good friend Marc Bellamare is no right wing, free market fundamentalist.  But he puts the hammer down on this argument.   In fact, he puts three different hammers down on it.  Bang, bang Bellamare's silver hammer made sure it was dead. 

The point is that even if you are a lefty, being trained in economics puts a pretty tight limit on how much stupid crap you can say.  We need more economists.

*This is a fact, unless it's measurement error.  Then it's not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

higher ed indeed

The online revolution is hitting a few bumps.

Dick McKenzie walks away from his micro economics MOOC in mid mooc, citing the abysmal performance of a large majority of the 37,000 students.

The NYT even managed to produce an anti online class editorial.  They claim that online students generally do worse than brick and mortar students, especially in community college settings.

I don't mean to suggest that traditional higher ed is the bizzle though. Consider the case of Sharon Sweet, an associate professor of mathematics, who is about to be fired from her job in Florida for pressuring students to vote for Obama (and a straight Democratic ticket).

If this is truly found to be a generally fireable offense, I believe that there will be an incredible number of new job openings in higher ed in the coming years.

This semester, I've been working on "flipping" one of my classes. Before each class, the students are assigned videos to watch or a reading assignment to complete and they take an online quiz over the material. The last question on the quiz solicits their feedback about what is causing them problems.

Then in class, we try to deal with the problems, work some examples, and fine tune their understanding. I still probably lecture more than I should, but it's a start and the students seem to be either enjoying or at least be OK with the format, though I'll have to wait for course evaluations to see what they really think about it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mentors and Giants

Chris Alcantara is doing a series of "interviews" he calls "Mentors and Giants."

I am, at best, a mentor.  But Chris was kind enough to post the interview on his blog...

Which is here.

Grand Game: Hellman's Ad

This  Feel free to share your reactions.

Hellmann's short film (Eat Real. Eat Local) from Yoho Yue on Vimeo.

With thanks to O., who sent the thing (I had not seen it).  O. writes:   

I'm a Canadian economics student at the ***********... I've seen this video pop up a couple of times on Facebook, and I've been very disappointed with how gullible people around me seem to be about it, despite my best efforts. It's a campaign ad by Hellman's (owned by Unilever) full of mostly senseless arguments for you to eat local Canadian food. What do you think? What's your tactic when you see this kind of thing? Sometimes, when I try to explain that trade isn't a zero-sum game, I feel like I'm showing a dog card tricks.

Well, O., you could...start a blog!  In the meantime, though, keep showing those dogs those card tricks.  That's a new label category now, so thanks for that!

Maybe Lou Reed was wrong about Robert Christgau?

Here is a great Christgau piece on the Moldy Peaches from back in the day.

You should consider following Kimya Dawson on Twitter. She's a NSFW force of nature.

 And of course the Peaches' back catalog is a must.

Context for the title of this post can be found here (also NSFW).

Big Brother is Us

From KPC pal Chris A:  A story on Pat Metheny.  Here's the key passage from the news story.  I thought it was very perceptive of Metheny:

The impact of YouTube on a touring musician
"It's an unexpected turn of events for me. When you play that crappy gig in Germany in 1983, it's like, 'OK, we got through that one, and it's behind us.' Then it gets regurgitated 20 years later. The main thing is the way it limits the possibilities now. I used to love going and playing jam sessions, doing things spontaneously. I can't do that anymore. Everything you do is documented, nothing is casual anymore. You can't even have a conversation with someone after the gig, because there's somebody filming it. It turns out the Big Brother thing that was predicted, it's us."

In his blog, Chris suggests:  Metheny needs to go all Taylor Swift on youtube and smartphones! 

Or, maybe not.


Is cognitive ability a liability? A critique and future research agenda on skilled performance

Margaret Beier & Frederick Oswald
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, December 2012, Pages 331-345

Over a century of psychological research provides strong and consistent support for the idea that cognitive ability correlates positively with success in tasks that people face in employment, education, and everyday life. Recent experimental research, however, has converged on a different and provocative conclusion, namely that lower-ability people can actually be more effective performers within special environments characterized by features such as time pressure, social evaluation, and unpredictable task change. If this conclusion is true, it has extensive implications for practices such as personnel selection, training design, and teaching methods. The current article reexamines and reinterprets this research within the context of well-established resource theories of cognitive processing and skill acquisition leading to a less provocative conclusion that serves to reiterate the benefits of cognitive ability for task performance. Following this reexamination, we conclude by providing a research agenda for examining the determinants of skilled performance in dynamic task environments, including the following: (a) broadening the range of abilities and task difficulties examined, (b) considering the role of nonability traits and goals in skilled performance (e.g., personality, learning, and performance goals), (c) investigating the processes (e.g., problem solving strategies) that people use in complex environments, (d) developing research designs and analytic strategies for examining adaptive performance, and (e) investigating how best to train for adaptive performance.


Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking

David Sanbonmatsu et al.
PLoS ONE, January 2013

The present study examined the relationship between personality and individual differences in multi-tasking ability. Participants enrolled at the University of Utah completed measures of multi-tasking activity, perceived multi-tasking ability, impulsivity, and sensation seeking. In addition, they performed the Operation Span in order to assess their executive control and actual multi-tasking ability. The findings indicate that the persons who are most capable of multi-tasking effectively are not the persons who are most likely to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously. To the contrary, multi-tasking activity as measured by the Media Multitasking Inventory and self-reported cell phone usage while driving were negatively correlated with actual multi-tasking ability. Multi-tasking was positively correlated with participants’ perceived ability to multi-task ability which was found to be significantly inflated. Participants with a strong approach orientation and a weak avoidance orientation – high levels of impulsivity and sensation seeking – reported greater multi-tasking behavior. Finally, the findings suggest that people often engage in multi-tasking because they are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task. Participants with less executive control - low scorers on the Operation Span task and persons high in impulsivity - tended to report higher levels of multi-tasking activity.

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Monday, February 18, 2013

ain't nobody here but us chickens

This is amazing.

I have lived in ignorance for 50+ years.

 Here's a teaser:

(clic the pic for an even more tasty image)

Hat tip to Mrs. Angus

They Didn't Call It "Smile Club"

Michael Kraus & Teh-Way David Chen
Emotion, forthcoming

Abstract: The smile is perhaps the most widely studied facial expression of emotion, and in this article we examine its status as a sign of physical dominance. We reason, on the basis of prior research, that prior to a physical confrontation, smiles are a nonverbal sign of reduced hostility and aggression, and thereby unintentionally communicate reduced physical dominance. Two studies provide evidence in support of this prediction: Study 1 found that professional fighters who smiled more in a prefight photograph taken facing their opponent performed more poorly during the fight in relation to their less intensely smiling counterparts. In Study 2, untrained observers judged a fighter as less hostile and aggressive, and thereby less physically dominant when the fighters' facial expression was manipulated to show a smiling expression in relation to the same fighter displaying a neutral expression. Discussion focused on the reasons why smiles are associated with decreased physical dominance.

Nod to Kevin Lewis

In other news, the sun rose in the east....again

So, it turns out that insuring lots of additional people who have pre-existing conditions and no money to pay premiums actually costs a LOT more than before.

This in spite of the claim that ACA would actually SAVE money.

Now, it may be possible to argue that "we" (whoever that is) are saving money overall, because the costs of untreated health problems are externalities imposed on all of us in the form of lost productivity and desperate families.  And it may be that universal coverage is a good thing, just in terms of basic fairness.

But that was not the argument.  The argument was that ACA would straight up save money, and make insurance cheaper.  There was never any chance that this was actually true, and its' not true.  I love the way the craven, hypocritical WaPo puts:  Funds run low...  Well, yeah, that's what "giant budget-busting spending" does.  I guess Ms. Pelosi should have said, "Let's pass this bill and later we can figure out [how to pay for] what's in it."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Green Energy Chronicles

This would be funny, if it weren't so not at all funny.

In particular:

 A website of the U.S. Department of Energy, Wind Powering America, describes how schools can receive taxpayer funding for wind projects.  The site provides links to wind-friendly educational materials from Canada, California, Idaho, the Dakotas, Montana, and Arizona.
Wind companies and their trade groups are also involved. In Ontario, my province, teachers are asked how they feel about corporate logos in schools in exchange for such “benefits” as free computers. The response is often negative, but industrial-wind propaganda abounds in textbooks, learning materials, and kid-friendly websites.
It's true.  The jerks who were opening mortgage origination shops in strip malls in 2006 are all now "working" in the the green energy industry.  And wind power may be the biggest rip-off of all.  Solar power is just expensive and inefficient, but at least it produces some small amount of power.  Wind power is actually a complete fraud.

Commentary on Rebel Defenses

Commentary on Rebel Alliance defense strategy on Hoth.  In short:  not good.  Comments are better than the article.

I'm not sure that this is quite fair, though.  After all, the writers were not able to defend even themselves against some of the most insipid dialogue ever seen in movies in Episodes I-III.  Asking them to defend a planet against a mechanized intergallactic force of combined air and land units is a bit much.

Nod to Angry Alex.