Saturday, August 24, 2013

From 1978?

This is from 1978, on BBC.

It is one of the most remarkably racist-without-being-hateful-but-just-dumb things I have ever seen.  "Black" men wearing sombreros ogling and grabbing at scantily clad white women.  Just makes one cringe.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Epic Modern Paintings

This summer I re-visited MOMA, the Hirschhorn, and the East wing of the National Gallery. Mostly it reminded me why I've turned to folk art and outsider art and tribal art for my pleasure, but there were 4 epic modern paintings I'd like to share with you.

First is from MOMA and it's an El-Anatsui:

The guy is just tremendous!

The second was in the Hirshhorn. A Richter:

I love the whole range of Richter's work but his abstract paintings are my favorites.

The last two were from the National Gallery East Wing:

The first is Lavender Mist. One of the greatest modern paintings ever.

The second is by Howard Hodgkin, another of my favorite painters.

The NG also had a good Anslem Kiefer out, but it didn't photograph very well.

All in all, the National Gallery is somehow getting worse over time. Fewer Jasper Johns, Fewer Rothkos, more dumb special exhibits, including one on the costumes of the Russian Ballet!!

We're number.......93?

Get your econ blog rankings right here people.

KPC is right in the middle of the pack halfway between Krugman at the top and Cassandra Does Tokyo at the bottom!

Mungo and I thank all our loyal readers. We've been doing this thing together for, what, 6 years now?

We will keep representing our tagline and shoot for the top 50 in 2014!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Perceptions of Toxic Exposure: Considering “White Male” and “Black Female” Effects 

Nnenia Campbell, Christine Bevc & Steven Picou 
Sociological Spectrum, July/August 2013, Pages 313-328 

Abstract: Research on risk perception suggests that social position produces identifiable patterns in the way that people evaluate potential risks, particularly in locally polluted environments. The present study builds upon this literature by examining perceived risk of exposure to environmental toxins among residents located on the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. Demographic information from a sample of residents was used to explore the concepts of the “white male effect” and the “black female effect,” discussed in recent research. In support of existing literature, we find that white males tend to be exceptionally risk accepting when asked about potential toxic exposure, whereas black females tend to be exceptionally risk averse compared to other groups. Our analysis suggests that awareness of differential vulnerability and long-standing conflicts over environmental contamination across the Gulf Coast region have left some residents with heightened sensitivity to the possibility of a locally polluted environment. 

Nod to Kevin Lewis

I always wonder about the confounding effects of average and marginal perceptions.  To the extent that white men are wealthier than black women, on average, they are likely to live in different neighborhoods and have different environments.  White men are much less likely to suffer daily exposure to toxic chemicals.  Thus, AT THE MARGIN, they are more tolerant.  But they would have to suffer a lot of exposure just to get to the point where black women start.

Now, that may not be true in this case, and the study may be fine.  But in general if you find  a difference in averages you should think about whether it comes from a difference in margins.

Hey Teacher! Leave those kids alone

Check this WAPO piece about the terrible distraction of laptops in the classroom.

So much fail here.

First off, the subjects were given a 45 minute lecture, "meant to simulate the sort of experience they would have in a college classroom".

So let's start with an environment that begs for distractions.

Then, the test group was given a list of 12 specific tasks to perform during the lecture!

With the following results:

It turns out that people sitting next to the "multitaskers" also did worse.

Most students with laptops are not trying to please an experimenter by completing a series of tasks on their machines.

Even the non-multitasker did fairly bad on the test.

In my undergrad classes students are required to bring a laptop or tablet or smartphone (if they don't have one, one will be provided) to class, and I give them something to do on it.

They receive questions on the course material. Some multiple choice, some graphical, some numerical, some essay, some opinion. They can send me individual messages about things they don't understand or needed clarifications.  They answer the questions, debate with their peers when answers differ, and often come to a much better understanding in the process.

Their web-enabled device becomes a core part of the class.

To put it bluntly people, the problem is not the laptop, the problem is the lecture.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


401K plans are screwing employees!

Interesting paper making this point by Curtis & Ayres.

A lot can go wrong in 401k plans. Investors can make bad choices and fail to diversify. But, the plan provider can also cause problems by giving investors a menu with lots of high fee options. Apparently this is common.

My University took us out of TIAA-CREF a couple years ago and sold us to Fidelity, who were only going to offer actively managed relatively high-fee funds. Faculty complained and some index funds and some TIAA-CREF grandfathering were allowed. But we constantly get bombarded with emails from Fidelity.

Anyway, Curtis and Ayres find in their sample that, "investors incur fees both at the plan and fund level. The combination of plan expenses, mutual fund fees, and menu limitations account for a loss of 10.2% of the optimal risk-premium." So the excess return is on average 10 percent lower because of high fees. They even show that the seeming overweighting of investors into their own company's stock in these plans is not necessarily irrational given the high expenses associated with a lot of the other options in many plans.

It's easy to say, we need regulation! But, this is already a fairly highly regulated industry, and more regulation is not always better.

As always, what would help is better financial education for average people, but this is not easy. Tyler and Alex's textbook has a chapter on investing, but I absolutely could not convince my students that they couldn't beat the market on average. Nor could I convince them that the high returns earned by some managers or funds were likely due to survivorship bias.

If A Clearly Causes B, and You don't like B, Don't pick A

If you say you want to solve the problem of B, you should, at a minimum, not do things that make B much worse.  And if it is known that A makes B worse, why choose A?  Here's the problem, as Freddy Bastiat put it:

"When under the pretext of fraternity, the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices. Now, is it the most unfortunate who gains from this struggle? Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating." (I talk about it here, #13)

ACA is a huge festering pile of opportunities to rip off the poor, the old, and the confused.  It hurts the people it was supposed to help.  Why did we do it?

So smart, rich liberals could feel good about themselves.  It has nothing to do with the actual effects.  All that matters is the intent.  Then, when it doesn't work out (as it clearly won't), they will blame greed, capitalism, phases of the moon, everything except the real cause:  an overly complex, impossibly over-directed, attempt at social planning.

And She Won't Back Down

Clark, at the indispensable Popehat, with a piece from four months back.

Some context for Dianne Feinstein's craven fascist-ification.   She says, "It's called 'Protecting America.'"  And she won't. back. down.  

It's not protecting America, ma'am, it's just theater.  And you know it.  You should be ashamed.  Trying to impose the "Cone of Silence;" it never worked right.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday's Child

1.  Some beautiful shots of New York, in (sad) honor of losing the EYM to NYU.

2.  Ground game may have perverse effects.  People mistrust political organizations, and activists.   Still, by and large, being contacted seems to help the side paying the partisans to mobilize contact.

3.  Not surprisingly, the campaign signs are being stolen.  They should sell them.

4.  First they came for my cold medicine, and I said nothing.  Then....seriously?

5.  Girls drink this?  Ewwww!  Cooties!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

What's Right?

Exposure to Moral Relativism Compromises Moral Behavior 

Tage Rai & Keith Holyoak
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
November 2013, Pages 995–1001

Abstract: Across two studies we investigated the relationship between moral relativism versus absolutism and moral behavior. In Experiment 1, we found that participants who read a relativist argument for tolerating female genital mutilation were more likely to cheat to win an incentivized raffle than participants who read an absolutist argument against female genital mutilation, or those in a control condition. In Experiment 2, participants who read a definition of morality phrased in absolutist terms expressed less willingness to engage in petty theft than those who read a definition of morality phrased in relativist terms, or those in a control condition. Experiment 2 also provided evidence that effects were not due to absolutist arguments signaling that fewer behaviors are morally permissible, nor to relativist arguments defending more disagreeable moral positions. Rather, the content of the philosophical positions themselves — the fact that relativism describes morality as subjective and culturally-historically contingent, whereas absolutism describes morality as objective and universal — makes individuals more likely to engage in immoral behaviors when exposed to moral relativism compared to moral absolutism.

Moral Cleansing and Moral Licenses: Experimental Evidence

Pablo Brañas-Garza et al.

Economics and Philosophy, July 2013, Pages 199-212

Abstract: Research on moral cleansing and moral self-licensing has introduced dynamic considerations in the theory of moral behaviour. Past bad actions trigger negative feelings that make people more likely to engage in future moral behaviour to offset them. Symmetrically, past good deeds favour a positive self-perception that creates licensing effects, leading people to engage in behaviour that is less likely to be moral. In short, a deviation from a ‘normal state of being’ is balanced with a subsequent action that compensates the prior behaviour. We model the decision of an individual trying to reach the optimal level of moral self-worth over time and show that under certain conditions the optimal sequence of actions follows a regular pattern which combines good and bad actions. To explore this phenomenon we conduct an economic experiment where subjects play a sequence of giving decisions (dictator games). We find that donations in the previous period affect present decisions and the sign is negative: participants' behaviour in every round is negatively correlated to what they did in the past. Hence donations over time seem to be the result of a regular pattern of self-regulation: moral licensing (being selfish after altruistic) and cleansing (altruistic after selfish).

Nod to Kevin Lewis