Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
It’s always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who’s also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he’s been awarded a column at the New York Times).
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
As a scholar, Te Velde was a frequent visitor to East and West Germany. While the wall was up, the differences between the two countries were considerable. “At first, the wall was built with cinder blocks and mortar. Then it was concrete blocks. There was a no man’s land with dogs and mine fields between the countries,” Te Velde said.Russia controlled East Berlin, and West Berlin was the British, French and American zone after World War II. “East Berliners wouldn’t talk to tourists,” Te Velde said. “You felt the presence very much of the firm grip of the government.” Its higher profile citizens were the frequent target of surveillance by the East German Ministry for State Security or Stasi, he said. A good filmed representation of life under surveillance in East Germany can be seen in “The Lives of Others,” he said.“West Berliners were a special breed. It was a place of escape for youth to be exempt from military service,” Te Velde said. It offered a western-style shopping zone, nightlife, bars and clubs, he said, adding, “West Berlin was always a great theater city.”With the first signs across Europe that the Berlin Wall might fall, Te Velde said, “I was flabbergasted ... Within a week it was obvious the wall was coming down. There would be no jail, no reprisals.”To Te Velde, the wall represents the unchecked strength of a government with a powerful military. After World War II, Germany was on its knees and couldn’t resist the Soviet takeover. That weakness manifested a dangerous power balance, said Te Velde. If there is collusion of political and military power ... and there is no response from the people to stand against solidification,” he said, there is a situation rife for military divide. “There are some tendencies in this country that we could develop into the same as then but the conditions are not the same. We are not helpless and on our knees. There is power of the people. The only danger is if people don’t recognize their power to stand up to restrictions of power or the military.”
Thursday, November 5, 2009
It used to be commonly said that “Until Robinson Crusoe is joined by Friday there is no need for ethics on a desert island.” Rand replied that it was on a desert island that ethics was most needed because on a desert island you cannot free ride on the virtues of others; if you are to survive you must yourself exercise the virtues of rationality, independence, and productiveness.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Now I happen to agree with Professor Dawkins that God is unnecessary, but I think he’s got the reason precisely backward. God is unnecessary not because complex things require simple antecedents but because they don’t.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
- Oklahoma has the 5th highest share of divorced men, and 4th highest share of divorced women.
- Oklahoma is number 2 for youngest median age of men getting married, and number 4 for youngest median age of women (26 and 24 respectively).
- But I save the best for last... Oklahoma has the highest share of women who have been married 3 or more times, and 2nd highest share of men (a startling high 10 and 9 percent respectively. Now that's depressing.)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
If A equals B and B equals C, then A must be equal C. The Transitive Theory. We've all seen it. It makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, the sports world tends to abuse the general concept behind it.
Take the 2009 Denver Broncos. As we all know, during the off-season, the Broncos left everyone feeling that new coach Josh McDaniels was in over his head. The biggest factor leading to that common conclusion was the trade that sent Jay Cutler to Chicago.
So, using the transitive theory, you would conclude that the Cutler trade was a good idea. The Broncos traded Jay Cutler. The Broncos are better than anyone expected. Therefore, the Jay Cutler trade was a good idea.However there are some other good statistical football sites I've discovered recently. AdvancedNFLStats in particular. In just the last week they've addressed onside kicks, resilience of particular statistics to QB changes, and irrational punt vs field goal play calling. Tons of good stuff.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
One thing that does always strike me about Rand, however, is that there strikes me as something particularly odd about the Randian tendency to assume that the business executive class generally constitutes the most intelligent segment of society. As if an Albert Einstein is just a kind of middleweight hack but the VP for Marketing at Federal Express is one of ubermenschen.
One thing that always strikes me about people who have issues with Rand, is that they are so hung up on this particular choice of main character occupations in Atlas Shrugged (they are neglecting Fountainhead or We the Living or Anthem, although I'm actually ok with limiting attention to the former since it is a hundred times better and a hundred times less flawed than the others.) I'm also struck by the fact that the many other (minor, yes, but there) "good guy" characters who are musicians or scientists or mothers or teachers are completely ignored in order to cast the book this way as something written to soothe the egos only of business executives. In fact, it should appeal to anyone who takes pride in what they do.
The industrial world setting in Atlas Shrugged was appropriate to the times and the obvious choice for a writer from the Soviet Union whose parents' business was confiscated and the obvious choice for that plotline in general. That doesn't mean these are automatically supposed to be the only heroic or smart people in society. What analogy can you think of that would work for academic physicists? A lowly unaccomplished scientist sues the Nobel committee for recognition for a discovery he had nothing to do with on the grounds that scientific prestige should be distributed equally? Yeah right...
Sunday, October 4, 2009
You have 2 cows. You give one to your neighbor.
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you.
You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away…
You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.
You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.
AN AMERICAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.
ENRON VENTURE CAPITALISM:
You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull.
A FRENCH CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You go on strike, organize a riot and block the roads because you want three cows.
A JAPANESE CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘Cowkimon’ and market it worldwide.
A GERMAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.
AN ITALIAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.
A RUSSIAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.
A SWISS CORPORATION:
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.
A CHINESE CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.
AN INDIAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows. You worship them.
A BRITISH CORPORATION:
You have two cows. Both are mad.
AN IRAQI CORPORATION:
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of Democracy….
AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION:
You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.
A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows. The one on the left looks very attractive.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
And then stop giving me such a hard time about being
Sunday, September 27, 2009
"‘People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.' ... And it’s not because writing helps me to organize my ideas or reveals how I feel about something, but because it actually creates thought or, at least supplies a Petri dish for its genesis." How true. Even the nibble-sized bits of pseudointellectualism that end up on this blog are only ghosts of thoughts until I actually have fingers on the keyboard and the details and organization spontaneously pop into existence.
Friday, September 25, 2009
(Did I mention I love David Brooks? Although, I would go farther and insist that the trend he speaks of is a sign of cultural decline.)
Monday, September 21, 2009
Matthew Rabin in class last week made an off-hand comment that, as expected, richer people turn out to be happier when you measure happiness correctly. I'm curious as to the details of these measurements because I would reject both the accuracy (or at least the robustness) of that trend (based on my own observations) and the assertion that that's what we should expect to see. But, I'm not surprised that this is the common wisdom.
First of all, here's why I disagree with the overall claim (note that I am referring to day-to-day happiness, not a long-term sense of fulfillment or long-run discontentment): Wall Street Investors: rich and unhappy. Parents with lots of kids to support: A little poor, medium happy. Destitute and dysfunctional Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn residents: poor and fairly happy. Average Oklahomans: a little poor, a little happy. Average Manhattanite: a little rich, a little unhappy. Enough examples, you see my point...
And, to a large extent, this still holds when you take long-term happiness into account. Not many single moms with boyfriends in prison in section 8 housing living on food stamps in Brooklyn expect life to be any different or better. They won't be disappointed. Meanwhile, doctors expect to heroically fix the world's problems and retire millionaires with loving families comfortably taken care of. They will be.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt a priori that more money makes you happier:
- Ambition is a result of perpetual discontentment: people who are never happy will tend to get farther because they're always trying to get to the next level where magically they will finally have enough money to be happy.
- Ambition is also a mix of a reaction to actual desires and societal expectations: and when you're doing something just because you think you have to, it won't make you very happy.
- Ambition is also a result of putting high standards on yourself: and when you do that, you're frustrated or disappointed whenever you inevitably and probably perpetually don't live up to those expectations completely.
- Material comforts are like candy: there can be too much of a good thing. Everyone wants the option to afford a car to drive to work and to live in a climate controlled environment and to have other people cook for you, and when you have that option, you almost always take it. But exercise, fresh air, and manual labor is still needed to avoid falling into a metaphorical sugar coma (ie the perptual depressive nature of suburbanites) and to appreciate the material comforts when you use them.
Of course it's not impossible to have your cake and eat it too. Figure out what you love and do it for a living. If you're lucky you happen to love something that pays the bills. (And this is why academics are so happy.)
And of course it makes sense that the common wisdom is that, nonetheless, richer people are happier. We all think we would be happier with more money. After all, how can having more options make you less happy? But we fail to take into account that having more options leaves you more prone to self-destructively hedonistic behavior, and that if you had more money, you would be a different type of person entirely, so it's not a valid comparison (outside of universal lotteries and unexpected inheritances...)
And yet, I wouldn't know how to go about proving my theory. I bet if you ask all those Brooklyn teenage single moms if they're happy, they will say no. And it's mindboggling to me to think that they could be, in that situation. Yet I've never seen a population of people who spends such a high fraction of time hanging around laughing and dancing to music and having fun with friends and family. They're evidentally usually in a very good mood despite the impossible situation, I assume just because they've gotten so used to that standard of living, but the impossible situation is what they refer to when asked if they're happy.
Actually, I bet they'd admit to being happy to their peers. Maybe that's the way to do it. Being asked by an anonymous third party triggers a comparison to the overall average standard of living, which doesn't have anything to do with what mood you're usually in. Or, specifically ask about moods in short timespans: "how happy were you at 8am, 9am, 10am..."
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
These observations are so fascinating and far enough from common knowledge, sometimes even counterintuitive, that it points out a broader need for better football statistics. Baseball sure is boring to watch but it's a statistic lover's paradise - why can't football follow suit? There's a much richer realm of subtle patterns there than in baseball to start with and I want to hear about it.
(And as I was typing that, I noticed that the tagline for the website that the above article's author normal writes for, Football Outsiders, is "Innovative statistics, intelligent analysis". *grin* I will soon be assessing the legitimacy of that claim...)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
- Taxes to price in negative externalities: Also known as Pigou taxes. If driving your car to work costs you five dollars, and costs society 3 dollars in pollution and road congestion, you should be taxed by 3 dollars in order to correct the market failure that will result. This shifts the equilibrium from one in which too many people drive to work back to one in which the socially optimal number of people drive to work. Practical issues of calculation and enforcement can be complicated but I'm all in favor of these types of taxes when they can be done well.
- Taxes to punish "bad" behavior. For example, a tax on soda or fast food or SUVs. If you just want to slap people on the wrist for doing something, whether or not they keep doing it, it doesn't matter what the target is. But if you really want to curb consumption, you need demand to be very elastic. A tax on soda may cause a lot of people to switch to juice or water, but a tax on heroine is not going to get anyone to break the habit and stop shooting up. These types of taxes are paternalistic bullcrap.
- Taxes to raise revenue. This can be levied on anything you want, but it needs to be something with very inelastic demand, so you won't just kill the market and fail to collect any tax revenues. These types of taxes are a necessarily evil but can be done in very good or very bad ways. Bad, mostly by failing to remember the "inelastic demand" qualification, but also by having undesirable implications on wealth distribution. This leads to:
- Taxes to redistribute wealth. This would be a secondary goal along with #3. If you can raise as much money by taxing private jets as by taxing bread, clearly the former is much better at transferring money from the rich to the poor. That's sometimes a good goal and sometimes not, but if it is the goal, that's what you should do. Note that this is very different from taxing "conspicuous consumption" or something like that. That falls under #2. Inelastic demand is again important for these taxes. If you want equality, you want rich people to spend their money so it gets transferred back to poorer people, and it doesn't much matter what they spend it on (and a tax on luxury goods with very elastic demand could just make them hoard it in their bank account or stick it in a trust fund to create more rich people, exactly the opposite of spreading the wealth.)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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Sunday, August 23, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Edward Glaeser (over at the Economix blog) and I have been writing about high-speed rail (HSR) over the past couple of weeks; he just finished his cost-benefit analysis of a hypothetical Dallas-Houston line with a look at land-use impacts. His overall conclusion, even making some very generous assumptions in favor of rail, is that the line would be a net cost to society of at least $375 million per year. This includes HSR’s potential environmental benefits as well as the direct gains to riders.