Friday, October 18, 2013

Markets in everything: Indie skins edition

People, Kevin Fennell is selling his drumset.

But he's no run of the mill Kevin, and these are no run of the mill skins.

He's the drummer for Guided By Voices and he used this set when they recorded "Bee Thousand" (among other awesome classic albums)!

Of course, he's not asking a run of the mill price, either.

The minimum starting bid is $55,000.



Auction ends October 24th so bid early and bid often.

Hat tip to Pitchfork.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wow! They Just Made It Up!

The U.S. government found it could not mistreat Mexicans enough under the actual U.S. law.  So they used a provision of the "Mexican Constitution" to make it easier to abuse people under Mexican law.

But they. just. made. it. up.

I understand that our government has done this to Native Americans residents, Chinese immigrants, the waves of southern and eastern European immigrants, and of course (most egregiously) Africans who "immigrated" in chains.  But I thought we had made some progress, at least toward rule of law.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Sustainable" is the New "Smurfy"

You likely noticed how the Smurfs used the word "Smurf" as an all purpose fill-in, a shibboleth, and a way connecting and showing how cool they were.  Of course, it can also be used in other ways, as in when Grouchy yells, "Oh, good Lord.  Who SMURFED?  That smells terrible."  Or when Neil Patrick Harris actually sang, "So, I smurfed her just a little kiss, like this!" while pretending to play "Walk this Way" on guitar.

Managers in all sorts of firms have found the words, "transitioning our core competency" to have the same effect.

Now, "sustainable" is the coolest, most meanlingless word in English.  It's the new Smurfy!

What is the most ridiculous use of the "sustainable" that you have seen, readers?

The trend is ominous.  And, like must UNsustainable trends, some people have seen it coming.

Queen my Spam! (You know, to make it funny)

Just got the strangest email.

Dear Webmaster, 
 I am Bryce Mills and I’m contacting you on behalf of 

While reviewing my site’s links I noticed that you’ve linked to my website on your following pages,**********

 Link Type: Blog Comment 

I would be very grateful if you could remove the aforementioned links from your website. These links may have been either submitted by our previously hired professionals or by third party SEOs. However these are against our company’s current SEO policies and thereby needs to be removed from your WebPages. 

It would be great if you could inform me about the link removal via email. 

Kind Regards, 
Bryce Mills, Web Marketing Team, 
Website: - www. 

I checked those links, and what happened is that this spamming fake medical company put up spamming fake "comments" on those two posts, to increase their Google ranking.

And now they want ME to go to those pages, and delete their spam.  Oh, and I should confirm back to them when I have finished that chore.  It's like some graffiti punk sprayed paint on my car, but now demands that I get the car repainted because his graffiti no longer pleases him.

I sent back an email saying that I would not be doing that.  And that I hoped they would send some additional communication, some kind of threat or attempt at intimidation.  Because then we would all be famous.

Some Students, You Just Can't Teach...

Perhaps the most famous scene from Cool Hand Luke...the "failure to communicate"

Sometimes teaching is like that.  The other day, I handed out an optional problem set.  I have 120 students in my "Econ for Non-majors" class.  Met the class 40 minutes early, before class really starts.  I would guess that 80 of the students were there, because there is a midterm coming up. My main theme has been, "You cannot memorize this.  You have to learn to work the problems, and shift the curves, by your intuition about how prices work!"  I spent 30 minutes on the problem set, and tried to get them really to understand how taxes and subsidies shift supply curves.  I thought it went pretty well.

I have a friend, a junior, in the class (almost everyone else is a freshman).  He came up after class  laughing.  Apparently one of the 40 or so students who did not come early came in, sat down, and asked her neighbor what was the subject of the problem set. The person who had been there--and had listened to me say, "Don't memorize!  Learn!"--told the latecomer, "Oh, not much.  He said remember that subsidies shift supply curves up and to the left."

AAAAAARGH!  She told her two things:  1.  Here is a fact to memorize (which I told them not to do).  2.  That "fact" happens also to be WRONG (which is WHY I tell them not to memorize).

Some just can't teach.  But if this is how she wants it, that is how she is going to get it, come midterm time.  Sigh.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Senor Alcantara no se rie

Grand Game: LARB version

An article by James Harkin.  A delightful GG setting.  Extravagantly, profoundly, confused.  Confused in a way that makes you wonder how the poor author types, or is allowed to be near big shiny electrical things like toasters.

A discussion by Henry Farrell (himself not really a fanboy of Public Choice), at Crooked Timber, to get things started. I have to admit, Henry had me giggling and saying, "Oh, my goodness," or something like that.

With a nod to Kindred.

UPDATE:  Danny D catches the wave--Karl Marx is the new Dumbo Gets Mad, for hipsters.

Dickens Meets O. Henry Meets Stephen King?

This is a pretty strange story.  Forget "Tiger Mom," this is "Scrooge Mom." (and of course it may all be fictional...) The story.  The excerpt:

A Chinese woman lied to her daughter for over a decade and told her that she was not her real mother - in an effort to cultivate the girl’s independent spirit.  A woman surnamed Shen, a resident of China’s Shenyang city, married a wealthy man and had a young daughter named Cheng Cheng, Shenyang Evening News reported. Their family was well-off, and about 13 years ago, Shen began to fear her daughter was becoming spoiled and arrogant. 

To stop this behaviour and force her child to be independent, Shen adopted a particularly unorthodox parenting tactic. “Your real mother died a long time ago,” Shen told Cheng Cheng, who was about to enter fourth grade at the time. “I’m not your real mother. I’m just providing for your education up until you finish university. After that, don’t count on my help anymore." 

Cheng Cheng did not believe her mother’s words at first, but after Shen remained adamant in her claims, the young girl became shocked and confused. This confusion was only temporary. Soon after learning her “real mother” had died and Shen would not be around to provide for her forever, Cheng Cheng began studying harder, and her academic performance improved. Her arrogant traits also began to disappear, and the girl became “sensible and obedient,” the Shenyang Evening News reported. 

Eventually, Cheng Cheng chose to attend a boarding school for her secondary education, telling her mother she “wanted to live independently on campus.” This independent nature continued throughout high school, and after passing her university entrance examinations with high marks, Cheng Cheng was accepted into Dalian Jiaotong University with multiple scholarships. 

After graduating, her high grades earned her a spot at a software company in Shanghai. Only then did Shen reveal the truth to her daughter. After hearing that her “real mother” had not died and Shen was her biological mother all along, Cheng Cheng was once again baffled. She demanded to know why her mother had lied to her for so long.

 Imagine if Darth Vader had tried this!  Luke would have turned out WAY better.  "Luke....(whoooooooosh!)....I am NOT your are spoiled, arrogant and a terrible actor...(whoooooooosh!)...though not as bad as that guy who played me in the second and third movies....Anyway, I am not your real father...(whoooooooosh!).....Stop waving that arm stump at me, and grow a pair, you little pussweiler." 

Nod to Kevin Lewis.


I reproduce here, verbatim and without comment, an email I received through the Duke System of Public Adamance and Diversionary Environmental Symbolism.

Dear Faculty and Staff in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, I recently engaged in a friendly debate with my fellow deans at Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering about which of our schools is the most engaged on the issue of sustainability. 

As you might suspect, I was adamant that we have the most committed and motivated faculty and staff when it comes to sustainability. My colleagues thought otherwise, so we agreed to settle it the old fashioned way -- through a competitive match up called Certified Sustainable: Battle of the Schools. I'm writing to ask for your help. The school that completes the most new sustainable certifications this semester will emerge the winner. From October 9 to December 4, we'll earn points for several sustainability certifications. Please select and complete the certification that applies to you from this list below.
  • Staff - Green Workplace Certification ­ Collaborate with coworkers to certify your workplace The first step is to register now for a staff sustainability workshop on either Oct. 14 or Nov. 11 
  • Staff & Faculty - Green Lab Certification ­ Collaborate with coworkers to certify your lab 
  • Faculty - Green Classroom Certification ­ Certify your Spring 2014 courses 

The school with that has completed the highest percentage of new certifications for which they are eligible will win $500 towards a celebratory event. Other prizes include Men's Basketball tickets, produce from the Duke Campus Farm, and more. These certifications are within reach for all of us, but they do take a bit of time and effort to complete. Let's get a head start now so we can earn our bragging rights once and for all. 

 Let's go Trinity College of Arts & Sciences! Many thanks! 
Laurie Patton 

Laurie L. Patton Dean of Arts & Sciences 
Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion 
Professor of Cultural Anthropology 

UPDATE:   A sharp-eyed reader noted that what Dean Patton may have intended was to assert that she was "Adam Ant."  To the extent that the contest is desperate, but not serious, I think this is likely true.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Less Government! (NOT)

Man, I really do dislike our Republican congress.

Democrats say they will take money from some people who earn it, and use it to bribe some other people to vote Democrat.  And then they do exactly that.  Honesty.  Sure, it's theft, but it's good honest theft, Chicago-style.

Republicans constantly whine about big government, and letting "the market" work.  But when they say "the market," they mean, "large corporations that pay us to protect them from competition."

This is one of the most egregious examples I have seen...since noon or so.  Wow.  Excerpt:

“By allowing more foreign sugar into the United States, we create unnecessary and hurtful competition.” What left-wing hater of business and free markets could have said such a thing on the House floor Friday? 

It was Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who over his nine-year career in Congress has accumulated a 93 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. On Friday, he was thundering absurdly about the danger “of becoming dependent on foreign countries for what we eat.” 

 In mid-September, Poe became one of the early co-sponsors of a bill that would have funded regular government operations on the condition that all funding for Obamacare was cut off. He proudly posted on Facebook his vote to defund Obamacare. In that fight, where Republicans lacked the votes to win or even move the ball, Poe talked the conservative talk and helped mire Congress in a lengthy shutdown that at least one poll suggests is already hurting the conservative movement's Image and helping Obamacare's popularity rebound. 

But in the fight over America's agri-socialist sugar program – a fight conservatives could have actually won with considerable bipartisan support if they'd stuck together – Poe was helping lead the charge on the wrong side. 

The Repubs call ACA socialism...when it isn't.  Then they vote FOR socialism, as soon as they get a chance, supporting our state-owned agriculture system.  

Nobel Shout Out

So, the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2013" prize has been awarded.  The Bloomberg version.

I have met Hansen, don't know Shiller personally, and know Gene Fama pretty well.   And I am (as they say here in the South) tickled at this result.  In the early 1980s, I discovered Fama's work, and spent about five years reading it all.  I have kept up a little bit since, and I think the combination of insight, elegance, and empirical connection is just unparalleled.

Here, for example, Gene has a series of papers that completely changed the way I thought (and think) about non-profits.  Non-profits are NOT "non-profit," they just happen not to be equity-financed.  That has implications for the way they behave, what their goals are, etc.  But it does not make them immune from incentives.  Check it out:
  • Eugene Fama, "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy (April 1980). 
  • Eugene Fama and Michael Jensen. "Separation of Ownership and Control", Journal of Law and Economics (June 1983). 
  • Eugene Fama and Michael Jensen. "Agency Problems and Residual Claims", Journal of Law and Economics (June 1983).  
(you may want to tack on Michael C. Jensen and William H. Meckling (1976). “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs, and Ownership Structure.” Journal of Financial Economics , to be fair).
Now, this is not a representative sample, by any means.  It is just where I came in, a self-contained little set of insights.  If you read those four papers, you will be a lot smarter.

I should add, I suppose, that Gene has been quite helpful in pointing out errors when he encounters them.  Pretty often, after I do an "EconTalk" episode, Gene will send an email that lists errors, factual or logical, that I have committed.  And he is, so far at least, always correct.

Congrats to Gene!

Monday's Child

1.  Domo arigato, grocery roboto.

2.  Antonin S is "glad I'm not raising kids today."  I agree.  I'm glad Tony is not raising kids.  It's a blessing for us all.

3.  Even by Nazi standards, this is pretty strange.

4.  Can racism be amusing?  In this case, yes.

5.  Dictators looking pretty good right now.  I wish the US had a better one, though.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

That Woman Who Walked by Must Have Been Quite Attractive

The LMM takes two photos in quick succession on a warm day on the Battery, southern tip of Manhattan.  Busted...

Unicorns, Rainbows, and the ACA

People, the rubber biscuits are out on the table. The Chicago Tribune is incensed that ACA plans with the lowest monthly premiums have the highest deductibles.

Really, they seem amazed that the world isn't made out of unicorns and rainbows, and they go looking for a scalp to put on the wall,

Plans with the least expensive monthly premiums — highlighted by state and federal officials as proof the new law will keep costs low for consumers — have deductibles as high as $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families, the highest levels allowed under the law. 

 Insurers say the price and cost hikes result from new benefit mandates, additional taxes levied as part of the law and a requirement that they can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. 

 The vast majority of insurance plans for 2014 must include a list of 10 essential health benefits, some of which, like maternity care, weren't necessarily included in all health plans a year ago. The law also includes mandatory coverage of mental health and substance-abuse treatment, prescription drugs and rehabilitative care. All preventive care, including annual physicals and routine immunizations like flu shots, must be covered at no cost. 

 Further, insurers are required to take all applicants, regardless of whether they have pre-existing medical issues that may have locked them out of coverage in the past. And they're prohibited from charging their oldest, sickest members any more than three times as much as their youngest, healthiest members, causing premium prices to rise for many younger people. Costs associated with those mandates are passed along to all members of a health plan. 

Considering those factors, "the rates are actually quite reasonable," said Kelly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Illinois health insurance marketplace.

People, not even President Obama can defeat common sense and basic economics. If you increase demand (the mandate and subsidies) and expand the scope of the product (more required benefits), and disallow discrimination, then prices will rise. And if you squeeze the monthly payment down to make it look good, the deductible must rise.

I'm not saying any of the above actions are bad, I'm just saying it's nuts to think they'd be accompanied by lower prices.

I favor mandatory, high-deductible, insurance for everyone. Say a $10,000 deductible plan that covers major injury, illness, etc., just like we have for car insurance. I am less sure, but I think I'd even favor letting each state set the standard of what this bare bones coverage looks like inside its borders, just like we do for car insurance. You'd have to show proof of insurance to get a license, receive benefits, etc.

But instead of subsidizing the policies, I'd prefer to use the EITC or a basic income grant to deal with affordability issues.

Chevy: Losers wanted

Well Average is Over and Chevy has reacted appropriately.

If you are ugly, broke, unemployed, and hen-pecked, then the new Chevy Malibu may be just for you.

I am not making this up. They are flat out telling you: