Division of Labour: August 2004 Archives
August 31, 2004
A Darwin Award in His Future?

This one is begs 2 questions: Just how drunk was the driver? And how did he manage to get home without hurting anyone else?

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:51 AM  ·  TrackBack (283)

Spontaneous Order blog

Check out this new blog by my friends at the Center for Civil Society in India.

This group is doing wonderful work to advance the cause of liberty in India. They have a tremendous battle on their hands there. India has been infected with the worst kind of western European welfare statist ideology--the only difference is that India doesn't have the productivity to back it up. (Come to think about it, pretty soon western Europe may not either!)

I'll add them to our blogroll later today.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:42 AM  ·  TrackBack (256)

August 30, 2004
To the right of Stalin?

I just took this political outlook quiz and here is the result.

ideology.jpg

I've never been accused of being all that "pragmatic" so I'm pretty confused by the result.

Hat tip to Professor Bainbridge.

If interested you might also check out the World's Smallest Political Quiz.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:44 PM  ·  TrackBack (308)

Service Learning or Brainwashing?

Some people at my univeristy are currently making a push to require some kind of "service learning" course in our general education program.

Here are some of the themes I see in this service learning concept:

1. They view communities as disfunctional groups in need of "fixing" by the annointed experts. Communities don't need to be "fixed". Real problems exist in all communities and some of these problems can be partially dealt with. Helping others with their problems is certainly a noble goal, but "fixing" them is not.

2. Only certain kinds of service will count under their concept. For example, any service that is done in a for-profit environment is not service in their eyes. So internships don't count. Similarly, any service that doesn't fit into their ideological framework will not count. I'm sure (despite protests to the contrary) that a student who wants to do say a gun education program in coordination with the NRA would be frowned upon. Meanwhile, working with Planned Parenthood no doubt would be "uplifting."

3. Their narrow conception of service is fundamentally anti-human. In their eyes, any service that is fun, exciting, profitable etc--in short any service that is also in the interest of the student--is wrong or if not wrong it isn't service. They essentially insist that the students learn through suffering. In fact, "Suffering Learning" would be a more accurate term. My take: Any concept that requires human suffering is just plain anti-human. We humans aren't built in a manner that allows us to voluntarily suffer. We can be forced to suffer yes, but we like to avoid suffering if possible. These ideologues are asking us to go against our very nature.


Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:07 AM  ·  TrackBack (4)

I've got the first day of school blues...

After a year's sabbatical, I'm less than thrilled at the prospect of returning to the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching, but I could love teaching a little less.

Anyway, here's my (unsolicited) advice to all our incoming freshmen (the PC people on campus now insist on calling them "first-year students"):

There are 3 basic ways to spend your time during your college years:

1. You can spend your time attending class and studying.
2. You can spend your time working at a job or a sport.
3. You can spend your time partying.

My advice: Pick only two of the above.

Time is scarce--meaning we have only a limited amount of it. 24 hours in a day is all there is. You can only be a successful college student if you choose (1) from the list above. And you can do either (2) or (3) but not both. (I've seen very few students who have the ability to manage all three.)

If you want to do (2) and (3) but not (1), then you should drop out now and save yourself and your parents and/or the taxpayers the cost of college.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:42 AM  ·  TrackBack (137)

August 28, 2004
Presidential Campaign Songs

Eugene Volokh mentions William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign song.

While I didn't hear the NPR show he was listening to, the expert he heard might have been either Oscar Brand or Anthony Seeger. They put together a CD called Presidential Campaign Songs, 1789-1996. More information on the recordings can be found here.

My favorite song is "Little Know Ye Who's Comin," which was the campaign song of John Quincy Adams. Here are the lyrics, as best as I can make out.

Little Know Ye Who's Comin'
Little Know Ye Who's Comin'
Little Know Ye Who's Comin'
If John Quincy Not Be Comin'!

Fire's Comin', swords is comin',
Pistols, guns and knives is comin',
Famine's comin', banning's comin',
If John Quincy not be comin'!

Slavery's comin', knavery's comin',
Wonder's comin;, plunder's comin',
Jobbin's comin;, robbing's comin'
If John Quincy not be comin'!

Tears are comin', fears are coming,
Plague and pestilence is comin',
Hatin's comin;, Satan's comin',
If John Quincy not be comin

Update: This site subsitutes John Kerry for John Quincy, for humorous effect.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 08:28 PM

August 27, 2004
"A" for Effort Revisited

Re Bob's post (linked to a post on Heavy Lifting) about the college in SC that now gives grades based on effort:

1. Even if one accepted effort as a legit grading criterion, would this not be impossible to implement? For example, it would seem to require that a prof monitor his students' activities 24/7 in order to record any effort they might exert. A prof. can't spend the night in, say, 30 different dorm rooms (and just imagine the other problems that would result if he did).

2. What about students who are naturally gifted and do A quality work with little effort? If the business about grading on the basis of effort were taken seriously, it would seem that these students ought to receive a grade of C. Somehow one doubts that the president or students of Benedict College would tolerate this outcome. (Hat tip: This thought came to me via a colleague who prefers to remain anonymous rather than receive the credit he is due.)

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:51 PM  ·  TrackBack (20)

August 26, 2004
Media Concentration II

In a previous post, I discounted the teeth gnashing about media concentration choking off public access to information. James O'Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, apparently agrees with me:

"There are too many places for people to get information," O'Shea said. "I don't think newspapers can be the gatekeepers anymore ..." Quote from James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:18 PM  ·  TrackBack (24)

Jobs Data

Attributing too much significance to month-to-month variation in the unemployment rate and job creation has always been a fool's errand. Of course, it's just the kind of thing that is right at home in an election year.

USA Today has a nice piece explaining the government's household and payroll surveys and why the two surveys can yield different pictures about labor market conditions.

Hat tip: Wilson Mixon.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:33 AM  ·  TrackBack (26)

Politics

My colleague Wilson Mixon called my attention to the Iowa Electronic Markets today. There appears to be a 5% swing toward Bush in the last day or so. Since the Swift Boat business has been around for awhile I'm not inclined to think it's the cause but there don't appear to be any big events (possible terrorist downings of 2 Russian planes?) to explain the somewhat sudden shift. Since the GOP convention starts in a few days, perhaps the Bush increase reflects an expected bounce from the convention. Any thoughts?

Regarding the Swift Boat kerfuffle, both Bush and Kerry are both getting some deserved heat. In the case of Kerry, a critical examination of his record is in order since his entire campaign is based on his 4 1/2 month hitch in Vietnam rather than the 3 1/2 decades since. As for Bush, the 527 coordination gotcha game is perfectly fitting for the president who signed the McCain-Feingold abomination into law. (While the 527 stuff is akin to nails on a chalkboard there is one silver lining: It has gotten Bob's Capital colleague turned FEC Commissioner Brad Smith some airtime on Brit Hume's Fox show.)

A couple of quick hits:
1. Max Cleland tries to deliver a letter to Bush's Texas ranch. What a pathetic publicity stunt.
2. Apparently John Kerry has something else SEARED into his memory:
I remember well April, 1968 - I was serving in Vietnam—a place of violence -- when the news reports brought home to me and my crewmates the violence back home - and the tragic news that one of the bullets flying that terrible spring took [MLK's] life.

Oh, Senator, you didn't go to Nam until November 1968. (This reminds me of Clinton's bogus memories of black church burnings during his childhood in Arkansas.)

An update:
A friend gave me some good natured grief over my recent posting suggesting that Bush do less work not more in Washington. My friend points out, correctly, that rolling back bloated government requires work--perhaps even more work than expanding government. To Bush's credit, his administratin has slowed the growth of the regulatory state. If this were typical of Bush's work, I'd applaud wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, there's the work on Medicare prescription drugs, steel tariffs, increasing federal spending, ...

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:02 AM  ·  TrackBack (103)

August 25, 2004
An "A" for Effort?

Craig Depken is speechless. So am I.
Read this.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:05 PM  ·  TrackBack (29)

Red Pens v. Self Esteem

This article from today's Columbus Dispatch tells about how teachers are switching from red pens to purple pens to correct papers. Here's a short quote:

Corrections marked in purple ink, teachers theorize, are less jarring. Psychologically speaking, the teachers may be right.

Red traditionally has signified anger, passion and rage, while purple has connoted royalty or comfort, said Robert Kraft, a psychology professor at Otterbein College who has studied the use of color in photographs and film.

Last year the Columbus Public School System met a whopping 5 out of 18 state standards, and yet they are worried about what color pens they use?

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:02 PM  ·  TrackBack (110)

Red Barchetta

My favorite song by Rush is "Red Barchetta" (lyrics) from the Moving Pictures album. The song was inspired by a short story, "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster, which ran in the November 1973 issue of Road & Track.

The story is quite different from the song, but you can see the inspiration easily enough. Also, the story is a good way to see the problem of moral hazard with respect to safety devices on cars: the cars in the story are so safe that people drive like nuts and get in more accidents (even if injuries remain low).

UPDATE: This was our 100th blog post. Thanks to my co-bloggers for helping to get this off to a good start.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:57 AM  ·  TrackBack (110)

August 24, 2004
Capacity but no demand

http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2724461

Read the article from The Economist. The Segway was supposed to be the next big thing but they've only sold 6000 of them. Despite the hype, any transportation device that has a sweet spot of 4-7 miles and costs $4500 is going to have trouble gaining traction. Bicycles are cheaper for short trips and autos can get you there faster if you have to travel more than a few miles. All of which reminds me of the Coen Brother's film, The Man Who Wasn't There. In the film, an entrepreneur tries to raise venture capital to start up a dry cleaning business -- it is supposed to be the next big thing (bigger than the Model T). But, as you've already guessed, the market for dry cleaning is a lot like the market for the Segway. It exists but at current prices it is not EVER going to be something that will revolutionize the way people live. Now, if the Segway falls in price, the way most electronic devices eventually do, it could gain traction. $250 Segways would make an interesting alternative to bicycles and scooters.

Posted by at 10:16 PM  ·  TrackBack (36)

Hummer Sales Shrink

Sales are expected to fall 22% this year due to rising oil prices. This amounts to a startling turnaround for the Hummer which entered the US market full force two years ago when GM bought the rights to sell the vehicle in the States. At the time, dealers were charging prices substantially above sticker. This is just one small example of how the economy reacts to a supply shock. Noteably, in this case, the higher oil prices are not spurring inflation, but causing price reductions in other sectors of the economy.

Posted by at 09:54 PM  ·  TrackBack (32)

God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

Frank's post on why he's a libertarian reminded me of a bit from P.J. O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores. In my Republican days, I used to think this was pretty funny. (Notice that O'Rourke's God is an Old Testament version.)


God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well-being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world. God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God's heavenly country club.

Santa Claus is another matter. He's cute. He's nonthreatening. He's always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without thought of a quid pro quo. He works hard for charities, and he's famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:09 PM  ·  TrackBack (113)

On Marxism

Tyler Cowen answers Brad DeLong's challenge to find five valid points in Marxism. I have to admire Tyler's attempt to find the silver lining in the very, very dark cloud that is Marxism. However, at the risk of taking on my betters, I think a few comments are in order.

1. Capitalist systems, especially before reaching contemporary times, can produce less autonomy than small scale production. Standards of living do rise from industrialization. But I look at many of my rural Mexican friends. They could earn somewhat higher wages in factories, but they prefer to paint ceramics at home. It is more fun and they control their time to a large degree. At some point industrialization can undercut the cultures and networks of suppliers that makes such a choice possible. Marx directs our attention to a certain indivisibility of systems.

My take: Most of the Mexicans I've seen aren't romantically making ceramics in their houses; they're out in the world trying to eek out a living in that hopelessly corrupt economy. I just can't quite accept the notion that a Mexican peasant is any more "autonomous" than a factory worker.

2. Marxism promotes an alternative idea of freedom, namely freedom from the market. Anyone who has chosen life as a tenured university professor should not claim that such an idea is complete nonsense. Smith thought in terms of marginal tradeoffs. Marx, above all, focused on inframarginal and systematic effects.

My take: Indeed Marxism promotes a different kind of freedom. But is it the correct view of freedom? Remember, DeLong was looking for valid parts of Marxism. The Marxist notion of "freedom from want" is simply childish nonsense that has no validity in any world with scarcity. The pursuit of this pipe dream has led to immense suffering (that Tyler of course acknowledges).

Also, I'm not sure why tenured professors (like me) should be considered to be free from the market. On the contrary, we pay a big price in the market for this luxurious perq in the form of lower pay.

3. The benefits of industrialization take a long time to kick in. Reforming postcommunist economies took fifteen years or more. Poland did most things right and people there are still unhappy. So how long should it take to reform feudalism or other preindustrial structures? Forty years? I take seriously the idea that the industrial revolution did not make people better off right away, so did Marx.

My take: I challenge that the industrial revolution did not make people better off even right away. I'd ask better off compared to what? Which is worse: 10-12 hours a day in a stinking factory or 10-12 hour days on a stinking feudal farm? Hayek's edited book Capitalism and the Historians is a must-read on this question.

4. Being happy at work is one of the most important things in life. Marx saw the importance of this more clearly than did many of the classical economists. And he saw the importance of inframarginal systemic factors.

My take: Why all this talk of happiness? Classical Marxism like Classical Economics was fundamentally about material life. I agree with Tyler that being happy at work is one of the most important things in life, and I'm not necessarily against studying the makings of happiness per se, but I don't think Marxism had much to say on the subject.

5. A growing division of labor can make some people unhappier at their jobs.

My take: More talk of happiness? Sure Marx talked about "alienation" from your labour (note the spelling!) but he meant it in the literal sense that a worker doing minute, specialized tasks is far removed from understanding or appreciating was he is doing. That is, the final product being produced is quite alien to the worker in an economy with specialization. I don't believe Marx used the term "alienation" to mean unhappy though many people read it this way.

Even so, Smith appreciated this point at least as well as Marx.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:38 PM  ·  TrackBack (113)

August 23, 2004
Barbarian Invasions

If you haven't already seen last year's best foreign film Oscar winner, Les Invasions barbares (Barbarian Invasions) by Québécois filmmaker Denys Arcand, it is a must see film. The story centers on a dying leftist academic and his estranged son. The son attempts to deal with his own emotions while trying to make his father's last days more comfortable. In the process, the movie takes wonderful shots at unions, university leftists, socialized medicine, the war on drugs, etc. This movie will go down as a libertarian classic.

Last week a friend of mine from Montreal told me that he had a chance to meet Arcand and asked him if he really intended the movie to be so libertarian. (After all, we all have a tendency to read more into movies than the filmmaker intends.) Arcand said absolutely and relayed a story about his own father's dying days in a Montreal hospital. Apparently there was a cafeteria workers strike at the hospital and they were having trouble getting food service even to the patients. Arcand's brother attempted to bring some food in from the outside for his father but was stopped by the thugs on the picket line. Arcand swore then that he'd get even on his next movie.

My friend also recommended La Grande Seduction as another French Canadian film with libertarian themes. As soon as I can see it, I'll let you know.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:58 AM  ·  TrackBack (116)

August 20, 2004
Why I am a libertarian

David Boaz explains on my behalf:

But liberals and conservatives have more in common than you might think.

Both believe in government magic. And they want you to believe in it too. They want you to believe the president can be Superman, Santa Claus and Mother Teresa all rolled into one and that he can cure poverty and racism, keep kids off drugs and keep families together. Magical thinking is cute among children. But adults should know that the world is complicated and that legislative actions often fail, or backfire, or have unintended consequences or disappear into bureaucratic sinkholes.

Boaz also has a fabulous description of liberals:

Liberals look at the 20th century's grand experiment of capitalism versus socialism — the United States versus the Soviet Union, Western Europe versus Eastern Europe, China versus Hong Kong — and somehow conclude that what the U.S. needs today is more socialism.

Hat tip to Cafe Hayek.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:33 PM  ·  TrackBack (170)

The Law of Supply Rocks!

So, I'm at this conference with some buddies and we got in the habit of going to a local bar every night after dinner. One of our group was a non-drinker and a couple people decided to try to get him to drink some beer. They pleaded and begged and even tried some semi-rational argumentation (at least it seemed semi-rational at the time).

Nothing doing. He just doesn't want to drink.

Finally one of the guys says, "Hey, I'll give you $100 if you drink two pints in 15 minutes." Without any hesitation, the non-drinker said, "Heck Yea." And he proceeded to drink the beers and was $100 richer.

I love economics.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:51 AM  ·  TrackBack (104)

August 19, 2004
High/Low Paying Jobs

The presidential candidates have been beating each other up over jobs--especially whether recent job creation has been disproportionately high paying or low paying. The Chicago Fed has an analysis. It's conclusion--the current recovery is fairly typical.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:15 PM  ·  TrackBack (76)

Ted Kennedy on No-Fly List

We've known for 30 years or so that driving with Ted Kennedy isn't a great idea. Apparently flying with him isn't such a good idea either--he's listed on an airline no-fly list.

Kudos to Todd Warnock for the heads up.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:10 PM  ·  TrackBack (26)

August 18, 2004
It's the Problem not the Solution

GWB in a speech yesterday:

So long as anybody wants to work and can't find a job, I know we've got more work to do in Washington, D.C.

He seems to have the problem and the solution confused. Thank you for the tax cut Mr. President (it is my money, after all), but I'd sleep better at night if you contemplated less "work" in Washington rather than more. Of course with Kerry we wouldn't even get the tax cut.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:04 PM  ·  TrackBack (31)

Charley-nomics

Just like the price gouging bunk, I should have also seen this one coming--we have Greg Fields of the Miami Herald arguing, via the broken window fallacy, that Charley will actually make southwest Florida better off. If destroying a city/town/county actually makes it better off then why don't people just get some TNT instead of waiting for hurricanes?

If it seems illogical to think hurricanes make people better off, Roy Cordato reports on Timothy Noah's making the same argument about the WTC attack. Cordato also discusses the origins of the broken window fallacy.

Paul Krugman, who is annoying but is a good enough economist that he should know better, also made the same mistake following 9/11: "Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack - like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression - could do some economic good." (This quote comes via Walter Williams; for his full article click here.)

There may be even worse news for Florida taxpayers than my previous posting on government disaster assistance. Apparently the state has more or less socialized hurricane losses via a scheme to reimburse insurance companies. Read more here. As bad as this is, at least the people of Idaho aren't footing the bill.

A big hat tip to Dan Alban for forwarding much of this posting to me.

UPDATES: Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux has a superb posting on price gouging and a link to some good economics from Paul Krugman.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:26 PM  ·  TrackBack (38)

Quote of the Day

As for redistributing material things, all societies do it. But mostly they keep it in the family. I've got one already, and one's enough. Anyway, a modern government is not a family, not even metaphorically. Imagine a family where the kids and the dogs could vote. What would the food be like? Depends on the number of dogs. *

* P. J. O'Rourke, Eat The Rich: A Treatise on Economics (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), 76.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 03:09 PM

Haircuts

Lloyd Grove reports that man-of-the-people John Kerry recently got a haircut. Grove also recounts Bill Clinton's tying up LAX in 1993 for a trim. Can you say limo libs?

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:12 AM  ·  TrackBack (145)

August 17, 2004
Price Gouging and Safety Fascists

Figuring that by now there would be some breathless tales of ruthless profiteering in the media, I logged on my computer tonight planning to update my price gouging post. To my great joy, Dirk and Chuck have done the heavy lifting for me. Thanks, guys.

ASIDE: Speaking of heavy lifting, we've added Craig Depken's heavy lifting blog to the blogroll. Highly recommended, especially his recent post on the plan to rip off Arlington TX taxpayers to build a new football stadium for the Cowboys.

Since Dirk and Chuck did yeoman work fleshing out my posting, I'll return the favor with Bob's Safety Nazi posting. This one goes way beyond dorky orange vests for crossing the street--Marginal Revolution has a post about a woman in Virginia who was sentenced to jail for smoking in front of her kids.

UPDATE: There's also a nice article on price gouging on the Mises blog. Hat tip to reader David Rossie.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:56 PM  ·  TrackBack (120)

From CNN on Gouging

http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/08/17/charley.gouging.charges/index.html

Just once it would be nice to hear the other side. Sure we understand that people are put out by having to pay more for things but this article is about hotels that raised their prices because of the spike in demand caused by Charley. This goes on in the lodging industry EVERY DAY. Here in Nittany Lion country all the hotels jack up their prices on game weekends. They all sell out anyway. No one complains. Somehow this is a good form of gouging, probably because we a soaking the out-of-towners. But when the locals have to pay more the government steps in.

The inconsistency in the rhetoric is what is truly alarming. By the same token, one might be able to twist this gouging logic to a useful extreme by arguing that the affected governments should not be able to raise taxes after a natural disaster to pay for the cleanup since that too would be unconscionable.

Posted by at 08:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (22)

"Unconscionable acts" in the sunny state of Florida:

I wanted to follow up on Frank’s earlier post regarding his fear that we would soon start hearing of “price gouging” in the literal wake of hurricanes Bonnie and Charley. First, I should note that Dwight Lee’s piece (which is linked to Frank’s earlier post) articulates the economics of “price gouging” very clearly … and for that reason, I will not try to “re-invent the wheel.” I would, though, like to relate a few observations of a very frustrated economist who just recently experienced both a near-miss of a hurricane based catastrophe and a direct hit of counter free-market “social engineering” related to a misplaced fear of “price gouging.”

Read More »

Posted by at 05:12 PM  ·  TrackBack (123)

Interesting Fact of the Day

Over a period of years, more than 40 percent of Harvey Mudd graduates went on to earn Ph.Ds - compared to 16 percent at Harvard.*

* Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 107.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 08:55 AM

You Now Know My Priorities

A friend from my undergraduate days sends me this article from the Princeton Review. Seems my alma mater,Ohio University, is the #5 "party school." Having spent a considerable amount of time in Athens this ranking wasn't suprising at all (although it seemed to be much worse during Bob's days there). What did surprise, however, was that my current institution - WVU - is ranked #4.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 08:10 AM

August 16, 2004
D'oh in D.C.

Gene Healy points out why Simpsons fans might find the D.C. Department of Health's logo amusing.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 10:33 PM  ·  TrackBack (49)

Monday Song Lyric?

Juan Non-Volokh over at the Volokh Conspiracy briefly discusses Pearl Jam's anti-Bush position during his posting of his weekly Sunday Song Lyric. As a longtime Pearl Jam fan, the increasing politicization of the band used to bother me. But then I thought, "Do I really want to give up one of my favorite bands because of their politics?" If I did that I'd be left listening to Rush and Gilbert & Sullivan.

As a treat, I'll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, that while not libertarian, is certainly anti-authoritarian.

Dissident, from Vs.

Read More »

Posted by Joshua Hall at 10:19 PM

Great Tom Paine Quote

Thomas Paine:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.*

* Quoted in Nina J. Easton, Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 104-105.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 10:01 PM

Is this something to be proud of?

I wasn't sure what to make of this vanity license plate. An accountant? In any case, I had to resist the urge to let the air out of her tires.

taxlady.jpg

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:36 PM  ·  TrackBack (212)

Safety nazis will be the death of us all

Seen outside my hotel in Salt Lake City...Can you imagine anything dorkier than crossing a street with an orange flag?


safetysign.jpg

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:31 PM  ·  TrackBack (25)

Ray Fair Interview

I've gotten several emails and seen several postings about the NYTimes interview with Yale economist Ray Fair. Fair uses econometrics--statistics--to analyze various phenomena such as presidential elections. His model predicts that Bush will win 57.5% of the two-party vote in this year's election. For what it's worth (probably not much), I think that strong a showing by Bush is highly unlikely and that comparing the actual results to the Fair model's prediction will give us a nice example of the hazards of out-of-sample forecasting.

But, as my colleague Wilson Mixon points out about the interview, "The questions are more interesting than the answers." Consider this doozy (comment in [ ] is mine):

Q. It saddens me that you teach this [econometric analysis] to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

Ask any student who has studied it--econometrics is complex. And, at least if well done, econometrics can be meaningful. It's hard to think of things that are more meaningful than questions about how factors such as economic growth and unemployment affect people's voting decisions. Here are some people who know firsthand how meaningful such factors can be: Presidents Reagan and Clinton (who were elected to second terms) or Presidents GHW Bush and Carter (who were not).

Apparently the interviewer doesn't think honest scholarship is possible even if it goes against one's personal preferences. Consider this exchange:

Q. I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.

A. Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.

Q. I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

What does this say about the corruption of the academy?

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:30 AM  ·  TrackBack (34)

August 14, 2004
Charley and "Price Gouging"

As sure as night follows day, it won't be long until we hear that "price gouging" is part of Charley's aftermath. Here, Dwight Lee explains why laws against so-called price gouging actually hinder the recovery from a disaster. The essence of his argument--supply curves slope upward.

At the risk of seeming insensitive (again!), I pose the following question: Why should people who live nowhere near Florida be taxed to assist people who voluntarily choose to live there (indeed, often migrating there from other states)?

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the brothers Bush recognize the politics of disaster assistance and have scrambled down to south Florida.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:05 PM  ·  TrackBack (131)

From Today's Rome-News Tribune

Who knew a sleepy Saturday edition of small-city paper could have so much good stuff in it?

1. Harley Davidson dies.

2. A Rome GA theater, MB's, has donated about $1,500 of its proceeds from showing "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the Bush-Cheney campaign. UPDATE: Here's a link to an AJC article about MB's donating the profits to the Bush campaign.

3. In another example of what President Bush means by the "soft bigotry of low expectations," syndicated political columnist Bill Shipp refers to Dylan Glenn as "articulate." Glenn, who is black, was defeated in a bid for the Republican nomination in GA's 8th Congressional District. He may well be articulate--as might Barack Obama (a Harvard grad running for Senate in Illinois) and Herman Cain (who lost a bid for the Senate from GA) who have also been described as articulate. (Click here for an example of Obama.) On the other hand, how many times does one see the same adjective applied to white candidates? It seems that whites are expected to be articulate and only get singled out if, like GWB, they are not well-spoken. For blacks it seems to be the reverse.

NOTE: I was unable find links for the Bill Shipp story (Rome News is apparently uneven in what it makes available via the web), but I hope to find and add it in the future. Also, regarding the Harley Davidson posting, my posting is intended as a chuckle about the similarity of child's name to the motorcycle brand (which the parents must have chosen deliberately) not the child's death. Since I consider the birth of my son to be the most special moment of my life, I genuinely feel sorry for the parents' grief.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:06 AM  ·  TrackBack (145)

August 12, 2004
Mont Pelerin, etc.

There will be light blogging from me for a week or so as I'll be attending the 2004 General Meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) in Salt Lake City. Wikipedia has a pretty good entry that describes what MPS is all about.

Of course, some people think MPS is part of the vast worldwide conspiracy running the world! (Warning: these people are insane.)

I also look forward to doing some mountain hiking and running while I'm in the Salt Lake area.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:56 PM  ·  TrackBack (4)

Hot Profs = Better Profs?

I decided to have some more fun with the ratings from RateMyProfessors.Com. See my previous post and Frank's previous post for background.

The students can, in addition to rating how good and easy a prof is, award a prof with a red hot chili pepper if they think he or she is "hot". So I reran the regression (again using the quadratic form) but added a dummy variable if a student thought the prof was hot.

On average, and after controlling for easiness (and easiness squared), hot profs had a quality rating 0.77 points higher than the non-hot profs.

Here's the regression output:

Overall Quality = - 0.659 + 2.34 Ease - 0.282 Ease^2 + 0.767 Hot

Predictor Coef StDev T P
Constant -0.6590 0.6809 -0.97 0.335
Ease 2.3436 0.4550 5.15 0.000
Ease^2 -0.28218 0.07227 -3.90 0.000
Hot 0.7669 0.2455 3.12 0.002

R-Sq(adj) = 37.4%

My confession: No chili pepper for me. (Yet.)

UPDATE: Frank wrote me While you’re tinkering with ratemyprof you might try to control for male/female.

Ok. Here is the regression with a female dummy added. Basically the results stand and (rest easy fellas) the female coefficient is positive but small (and statistically insignificant).

The regression equation is
Overall Quality = - 0.845 + 2.44 Ease - 0.301 Ease^2 + 0.738 Hot + 0.213 Female

Predictor Coef StDev T P
Constant -0.8453 0.6992 -1.21 0.229
Ease 2.4417 0.4624 5.28 0.000
Ease^2 -0.30062 0.07395 -4.06 0.000
Hot 0.7378 0.2465 2.99 0.003
Female 0.2132 0.1862 1.15 0.254

R-Sq(adj) = 37.6%

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:48 PM  ·  TrackBack (140)

Children should be seen but not heard.

I remember when I was an undergraduate at Ohio University that the university leftists would often drag their children out to protests and make them hold signs protesting this or that ("U.S. out of Nebraska!" or whatever). It made my stomach turn.

Dennis Prager writes about the Dems using a 12 year old girl at the convention and about the nasty responses he's gotten.

Among the things he wrote:

This girl has accomplished nothing compared to Dick Cheney. She has no wisdom, no humility and no knowledge beyond the leftist platitudes spoon-fed by her parents and schools. She is a mere child, more foolish than most, in that she actually thinks she has earned the right to publicly ridicule the vice president of the United States.

I think he's spot on!

Hat tip to Newmark's Door.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 11:41 AM  ·  TrackBack (24)

Game Theory Question II

Regarding my earlier post about the question from my friend, Neil, here is a summary of his early results.

This has been a fascinating study for us. I answered '1' to an economist who
asked me this question and he said "for sure", but then I asked my super
friend at Mensa and he said 22. I laughed, teased him, pointing out the
error of his ways, and he quietly said , "No", he had reasoned that people
were only bright enough to follow two iterations and therefore they would
submit 33. His answer would therefore be 22 and he sticks with it.

We then agreed that the best way of testing this was empirically and so we
widened the net. We surveyed about 27 people and disaster! He was right.
Most people said about 33. No-one could make the leap that you did which is
to see that if they second-guess the '50', then don't they think they should
apply the principle again.

We then split the sample into Mensans and non-Mensans and found the average
dropped one notch to 22. That is, most Mensans submitted 22. Horrifying!

We are now involved in a debate about whether this says anything about the
possibility of better minds outguessing the irrational thinkings of the
masses in the market-place. It follows a conversation we were having about
random-walk theory in the stock-markets and the idea of rational agents. My
friend Garth suggests it puts into question the idea of random-walk. I
believe the opposite. With people that dumb out there, there's just no
saying what they're likely to do!!!!

It is an interesting question. Which is more irrational: to not follow the logic to its conclusion and say something besides 1, or to assume that people will follow the logic to its conclusion when in fact they do not?

Although I said 1 for my answer, I recognized how unlikely it would be for everyone to follow the logic all the way like me. So I knew my own answer was almost certainly wrong. Why did I say 1 then? I think it's because I'd rather be logical than right--at least when it's only a hypothetical $10,000 on the line.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:37 AM  ·  TrackBack (28)

Media Concentration

Bob's posting on artsy-fartsy lefty papers reminded me of a disagreement I had with some students at a seminar earlier this summer. I was asked if I was concerned about the increasing concentration of media ownership, lack of diversity among media outlets, and the supposed increase in censorship. I respectfully disagreed; here's why:

First, I suspect the censorship bit comes from Disney's declining to distribute Michael Moore's trash (see my previous post and a critique by NPR's Scott Simon here). That's not censorship--it's Disney's right as a private entity. Moreover, censorship is something done by governments not by private parties. Note also that Moore's garbage and other litter box goodies such as "Supersize Me" are playing in a theaters nationwide.

Second, while there may be some large media conglomerates (AOL/Time-Warner comes to mind), there is an incredible array of newspaper, radio, television, and internet sources available; I think there is more, not less, info available today. (One student, apparently not sensing the irony, complained about a lack of news sources then said she read French and German papers via the internet. Would this have even been possible 10 years ago?) Netflix is renowned for making indy films available and Monday's WSJ had an article on bands such as Anti-Flag that are popular for their anti-Bush songs.

Third, I think the students' concerns arose from two factors. One of those was actually an increase in diversity--Fox News--not a decrease in media diversity. The other is frustration over the war and a feeling that there should have been more hard questions about, say, WMDs asked before we invaded Iraq.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:22 AM  ·  TrackBack (19)

Free Riding on Southern Appeal

A few days ago, Josh posted on having a best woman at his wedding. A recent WSJ article discusses the issue; Southern Appeal has a link.

Southern Appeal also has a link to an excerpt of a forthcoming Tom Wolfe novel. In the excerpt, some of the "action" involves a governor and a college student. Hmmm--I wonder if that might have been inspired by an actual "encounter."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:54 AM  ·  TrackBack (115)

August 11, 2004
What is wealth anyway?

An old high school chum recently e-mailed me about the meaning of wealth. Without consulting anything, I whipped up the following answer. Now I wonder how I did? If anyone thinks I made any blunders let me know!

The simplest definition of wealth is that it is any lasting asset that is valued by people. Strictly speaking it might include intangible things (a sense of humor), but most often we think of wealth in terms of tangible assets like cars, houses, stocks, bonds, fine art, etc.

It is important to note that the value of a thing is highly subjective and depends on who is doing the evaluation and when and where the valuing is taking place. What is the value of the Mona Lisa? I don't know and short of holding an auction for it, there's no way to tell.

Some wealth, a factory for example, is used as a productive asset in that it is used to make other items of value. This type of wealth is called capital. Some wealth, a painting for example, is simply valued for its beauty (or as often for its resale value).

Notice that by my definition a person is wealth. Economists refer to people as "human capital" because people are clearly lasting assets of value that we use to make other items of value.

Finally, there is an important distinction between wealth and income that often confuses students. Income is the flow of value that comes from wealth. In practical terms, the corn that we grow from the land is "income" while the land itself is the "wealth". It gets complicated because we can convert income into wealth to create still more wealth. We can for example use some of the corn we grow to purchase a new house for the farm. And to complete the circle, the value of a piece of wealth is often determined by its ability to generate income.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:18 PM  ·  TrackBack (21)

Dan Savage on goth girls

Ok, I admit it. I sometimes read Dan Savage's "Savage Love" column that appears in one of our local artsy-fartsy "Bush is Evil" weekly newspapers. Aside from the fact that the sexual freaks who write in to his column make me feel good for being so damned normal by comparison, I've found his advice for these poor souls surprisingly sensible and his politics fairly libertarian.

This week's column had a line about the goth scene that struck me as really funny:

I've never actually seen an extremely beautiful goth girl myself--most of them seem to have weight problems, which has always struck me as strangely contradictory. From the neck up, the look cultivated by goth girls seems to say, "Oh, we despair of this world and long for the sweet embrace of death!" From the neck down, their look seems to say, "I'll take the bacon cheeseburger, two orders of fries, and a Diet Coke, please."

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (22)

Cowen on Bush's 2nd Term Agenda

Tyler Cowen posts a 12-point plan for what Bush's 2nd term vision should be. There's much to like in Cowen's vision but a couple of items warrant comment:

Cowen calls for negotiating bilateral trade agreements as quickly as possible, starting with Japan. This is a pretty good suggestion, especially because it ignores the WTO quagmire. Better still would be unilaterally eliminating our tariffs and quotas and putting the trade bureaucrats out to pasture for good.

In another point, Cowen calls for repealing the corporate income tax and the alternative minimum tax. On the former, I agree. At first blush, I also agree with the latter. There is, however, an another consideration. For those such as me who favor the Hall-Rabushka flat tax, the alternative minimum tax might be the best we can obtain out of the political system. More and more people are becoming subject to the alternative minimum tax--it limits deductions and taxes income at the rates of 26% and 28%. Thus, it is pretty close to being a single rate, limited deduction tax system a la the flat tax (though it doesn't integrate the corporate side). Given the sacred cow status of charitable and mortgage interest deductions, it is unlikely that Congress will do better than the current AMT.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:31 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

On Sports

1. So the Olympics are about to start--yawn. More interesting to me than the competition or the John Tesh commentary is Andrew Bernard's work predicting national medal counts.

2. What were the folks at OLN thinking when they didn't have a camera ready to cover Armstrong's crossing the finish line in 6th win in the Tour de France? Unbelievably bad programming. (By the way, I sure hope Armstrong will ride the Tour de Georgia again in 2005--he won the 2004 stage that ended in downtown Rome.)

3. It is often argued that one of the benefits of sports programming to television networks is its usefulness as an advertising platform or lead in for other shows. (A good example might be the lead in that NFL on CBS used to give to "60 Minutes.") I'm skeptical of the validity of the argument in general, and I'm particularly puzzled by TBS's plugging of "Sex and the City" reruns during Braves games. I just can't see much of the Braves audience being potential viewers for Sarah Jess and friends. Maybe I'm wrong ...

4. A week or two ago, the Weekend section of the WSJ carried an article purporting to evaluate baseball managers by comparing their teams' actual wins to their teams' projected wins based on the Pythagorean method. I have no qualms with the results per se--if I recall correctly, Bobby Cox received the highest rating with an average of about 2 wins per year above what would have been projected.

I do, however, quibble with the methodology. The Pythagorean wins formula is based on a team's runs scored and runs allowed. (The projected win percentage is run scored^2/(runs scored^2 + runs allowed^2)--though some statheads have tinkered with other exponents.) This formula is not entirely based on things outside of a manager's control; stat geeks like to point out that poor managerial strategy such as overuse of bunting and base stealing can cost teams runs. Thus Pythagorean wins cannot be considered entirely exogenous to a manager's performance and used for comparison with teams' actual wins.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:55 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

Bengal Cats

My friend, Russ Sobel who teaches economics at West Virginia University has a page devoted to his beloved Bengal Cat, Simba.

What is a Bengal Cat you ask? It's a cross between an Asian Leopard Cat and a regular domestic short hair. The result is a cat that looks like an Asian Leopard Cat but is smaller (still it's about twice the size of a regular domestic cat) and has the disposition of a domestic cat. It is smarter and more trainable than a domestic cat though. In Russ's own words, "While most people are impressed with capitalism because it brings inventions such as automobiles and computers, I personally think that the creation of the Bengal Cat ranks pretty high on that list as well!"

Check out his page for some great pics.

In a related story, Forbes has a list of the most expensive pets (notice the Bengal Cat at #14):

1. White Lion Cubs - $138,000
2. Chimpanzee - $60,000 - $65,000
3. Lavender Albino Ball Python - $40,000
4. Striped Ball Python - $20,000
5. Reticulated Albino Type II Tiger Python - $15,000
6. DeBrazza's Monkey - $10,000
7. Tonka Monkey (Baby Female) - $10,000
8. Hyacinth Macaws - $6,500 - $12,000
9. Savannah Cat - $4,000 - $10,000
10. Mona Guenon - $6,000
11. Chinese Crested Hairless Puppy - $4,000 - $5,000
12. Squirrel Monkey - $4,000
13. Snow Macaque - $3,500
14. Bengal Cat - $800 - $3,000

Hat tips to Marginal Revolution and CommonKnowledge.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:33 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

August 10, 2004
Joltin' Joe's Record

Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in 1941 is one of baseball's most storied records. Baseball fans often debate whether it will ever be broken.

It turns out that it's impossible analytically to figure out the odds of someone hitting safely in 56 straight games.

Two new papers published in The Baseball Research Journal, No 32, one of SABR's publications (sorry not available online), have used simulated seasons (ain't computers grand!) to calculate the odds of this feat happening.

Joe D'Aniello ("DiMaggio's Hitting Streak: High 'Hit Average' the Key") simulated the exact 56 games of the streak using Joltin' Joe's "hit average" (hits divided by plate appearances) during the streak of .370. (Hit average differs from the more conventional batting average by using plate appearances in the denominator instead of at bats.) Out of 2 million runs of those 56 games, the simulated DiMaggio hit safely in all 56 just 31 times. Thus the odds are only .0000155.

Separately, Bob Brown and Peter Goodrich, Management professors at Providence College, simulated the likelihood that someone like DiMaggio would hit safely 56 or more times in a row at any time during a 139 game season ("Calculating the Odds: DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak). Using Joe's 1936-40 mean hit average of .314 and mean plate appearances per game of 4.5, they find that the odds of hitting safely in exactly 56 games in a row at some point during the season to be .000054 and hitting 56 or more in a row to be .000222.

So how impressive was it to hit 56 in a row? Over the course of the simulation, the average hitting streak was about 19 games long with a standard deviation of about 5 leading the authors to conclude that, "what happened in 1941 is the equivalent, more or less, of reaching into the adult American male population and pulling out someone 3' taller than 'Shaq'."

My take: Ain't nobody gonna break that record.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 05:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (113)

Follies of Central Planning

Micro evidence: Marietta GA squandered some $24 million of taxpayer money on a city-owned internet service provider. (Perhaps surprisingly since it was the heart of Newt "shut down the government" Gingrich's support, Marietta seems fond of government boondoggles. It has also has a city-owned conference center and resort that lost $5.3 million over its first seven years.)

Macro evidence: Profs. William Fox and Matthew Murray of the University of Tennessee find that "large firms fail to produce significant net benefits for their host communities, [thereby] calling into question the high-stakes bidding war over jobs and investment."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:58 PM  ·  TrackBack (123)

Wal-Mart Bashing

Wal-Mart is in the crosshairs and all sorts of silly attacks are being aimed at it. For example, the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorialized (June 1) against it because some 10,261 children of Wal-Mart employees are enrolled in Georgia's PeachCare program for kids.

I responded--and, surprisingly, the AJC printed--that such a number tells us nothing about how Wal-Mart treats its employees. After all, those kids parents might be unemployed if they were not working for Wal-Mart--would having unemployed parents make it less likely that the kids would be in a government medical program? I think not.

Moreover, one should not discount the possibility that the PeachCare program "crowds out" private insurance. That is, some parents who might have paid premiums to purchase insurance coverage for their kids might instead enroll the kids in PeachCare and save the premiums. The savings might amount to $1,800 per year (I base this estimate on what I pay for my son's coverage); this is not a neglible sum for low-income workers. (For evidence of this type of crowding out effect, see the Cutler and Gruber paper on the 1987-92 expansions of Medicaid.)

Michael Munger has a similar posting; it is also linked on Newmark's Door. Munger rebuts an anti-Wal-Mart "study" done in California; it is so similar to the GA attacks on Wal-Mart that I sniff a coordinated anti-Wal-Mart campaign.

By the way, I wonder if any AJC employees have kids enrolled in PeachCare?

UPDATE: Co-blogger Bob pointed me to a Wal-Mart blog. The site claims to present "the best and the worst about Wal-Mart." It certainly does seem to be of two minds--there is a favorable posting on Thomas Sowell but a link to a "boycott Wal-Mart" article by populist twit Jim Hightower.

ANOTHER UPDATE: George Leef has a nice take on the anti-Wal-Mart crusade.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:04 AM  ·  TrackBack (112)

Game Theory Question

My good friend, Neil Emerick in South Africa who runs Global Economic Software, sent me the following question. I pass it along to you here. If you'd like to add to his database of answers, e-mail him at
neilemerick[at]wol[dot]co[dot]za.

Imagine a company is running a competition for a prize of 10,000 dollars.
They challenge people to send in a number between 1 and 100. The prize will
go to the person(s) who picked the number that was 2/3rds of the average
number sent in.

What number would you send in?

I'll blog in a few days with a summary of his results. If you'd like to see my answer...

Read More »

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:44 AM  ·  TrackBack (26)

August 09, 2004
Is That a Meth Lab in Your Pants or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Truth is funnier than fiction--unless you are Daniel Doyle.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:19 PM

Incentives Matter: Aussie Births Edition

Story here.

Thanks to Dan Alban for the tip.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:12 PM  ·  TrackBack (116)

Rate Hike

The recent economic data has been less than sizzling. By most accounts the FED is prepared to raise rates tomorrow in order to keep the economy from growing too fast.....kind of a funny concept if you about it! Here is a background article on the chances of a rate increase. If the article is correct and the FED surprises the market by holding rates constant my best guess is that the markets will rally. I'm only an economist, not a financial guru, so don't run out in the morning and rebalance your portfolio on my account.

http://money.cnn.com/2004/08/09/news/economy/fed_nohike/index.htm

Read More »

Posted by at 09:01 PM  ·  TrackBack (114)

Pain Threshold

If watching Maureen Dowd for an hour on CSPAN suggests I'm a masochist, check out what Craig Depken does with his time.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:01 PM  ·  TrackBack (113)

Easy Profs=Better Profs? Again

Regarding Bob's posting on professor difficulty and quality ratings: I repeated his analysis using data on Berry College faculty members. The regression results are quite similar--

QUALITY = 0.902 + 1.5088EASE - 0.166EASESQ

The adjusted R2 is 0.23 and both coefficients are significant at 5% or better levels.

My confession--my 3.4 ease rating and 4.0 quality rating put me about 0.1 below the regression line.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:58 AM  ·  TrackBack (116)

Hong Kong and Singapore?

Every so often I am challenged by someone about our economic freedom index rankings for Hong Kong and Singapore. For at least the last two decades, we rank Hong Kong and Singapore 1 and 2 respectively as being the most economically free nations in the world.

Most of the challenges come from people who cannot or will not distinguish between economic and political freedom. While I would be the first to agree that the line between economic life and political life is fuzzy, I think we can draw a distinction between economic and political freedom. The former relates to the freedom to go about the everyday business of life without interference from meddling tax collectors and bureaucrats. The latter relates to the freedom to speak, write, and engage in the political process. Even though I think these countries do an exemplary job (in a comparative sense) in protecting economic freedom, both have real problems in the area of political freedom. Freedom House rates both nations as only "partly free" in its ratings of political freedom and civil liberties.

More rarely, someone will argue that Hong Kong and Singapore are not really free even economically. After our July release of the new EFW report, one such criticism appeared in South China Morning Post (July 20, 2004). Here's a partial quote:

Meanwhile, in Singapore the government funds a large proportion of its expenditures by taking 36 per cent of every worker's pay packet as a contribution to a low-yielding Central Provident Fund and none of this shows up as tax in the survey.

It also has outright ownership or control of all the major domestic industries, it directs domestic investment in detail and it maintains an iron clamp on the domestic financial system.

Hong Kong does not suffer from quite such a level of central planning but, once again, in the domestic rather than the externally orientated side of the economy you find a heavy government hand. It extends right through from the property market, with half the population living in public housing, to public investment in "knowledge-based" industries and a rapidly growing regulatory burden.

While all this is true, the fact remains that just about every other nation is guilty of these same sins and many many more! That Hong Kong and Singapore score the best in the world doesn't mean they are as free as we'd like them to be. We necessarily grade on the curve.

Ultimately, my best retort is an appeal to the evidence. In 2002, the per capita GDP (measured in ppp US$) was $26,892 in Hong Kong and $24,029 in Singapore. If the author of the article is right, then these represent the only known cases where central planning has led to prosperity.

While I'm on the topic of central planning, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has nice post about the central planning mentality of the 911 commission.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:04 AM  ·  TrackBack (131)

Random Musings

I've just returned from taking Pee Wee to visit his grandparents. A few random thoughts I've accumulated:

1. Thurday's WSJ had an interesting article "Outsiders Get Smarter About China's Tastes" (sorry, no link b/c subscription required) in which it chronicles efforts by KFC, McDonald's, and others to tailor their offerings to Chinese consumers' preferences. Who knew that McD's offers red-bean sundaes? So much for the ravings of the anti-globalization/cultural imperialism crowd. And, although I've only read reviews of his book, the article reminded me of Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction.

Speaking of Prof. Cowen, hat tip for the DOL mention on his Marginal Revolution blog.

2. Congratulations to co-blogger John Moser on his first batch of "Moserbrau." I've been brewing for about 7 years, primarily because I'm fond of beer styles (stout in the winter, hefeweizen in the summer) that are difficult to find commercially. Alas, my supply store, Marietta Homebrew, has gone out of business; it was never really the same after it's founder Dennis Smith died a couple of years ago.

3. Speaking of things alcoholic, I never really saw the point in the silly drinking games that some people play. After all, if one wants to consume large amounts of alcohol then why bother trying to bounce a quarter in a cup or listen for how many times John Kerry says Vietnam during a speech? Nonetheless, for those who enjoy such games, I offer up a new one. Replay Maureen Dowd's appearance on "Booknotes" last night, taking a swig any time she refers to anyone as "charming." (That seems to be Ms. Dowd's only adjective in response to Brian Lamb's questions about the last 3 presidents.) By the end of the hour, one should be besotted and find the seemingly rather unpleasant Ms. Dowd to be more tolerable.

4. The Iowa Electronic Markets show a small lead for President Bush. Looking back over the past few weeks, Kerry gained on and briefly overtook Bush by the beginning of the Democrat convention, but fell back after the first day or two of the convention. My hypothesis--the space suit photo is the culprit.


Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:59 AM  ·  TrackBack (29)

August 06, 2004
Easy Profs = Better Profs?

I've recently added a link to my homepage and online syllabi to the Rate My Professors website to encourage my students to rate me there. I have my doubts about this whole exercise, but I figure at least I oughta get a decent sample size.

The site allows students to rate professors based on overall quality and easiness.

Just to have some fun I obtained all the ratings for my colleagues at Capital University and ran a regression between the easiness ratings and the quality ratings. Both ratings are on a 1-5 scale with 5 being easiest or best depending. The result is found below. I used a quadratic functional form (purely based on the fact that it yielded a better fit).

No surprise here...Students tend to rate professors who are easy better--though the quadratic function peaks around an easiness rating of 4 so it's possible, even in the eyes of students, to be too easy.

For the record, I currently have a 3.5 quality rating and a 2.5 easiness rating which puts me just about right on the regression line.

UPDATE: I accidentally included some observations more than once, so I corrected the data set and reran the regression. Same findings. Also, fyi the final regression result was:
Y = -6.8E-01 + 2.41180X - 0.289392X**2
R-Sq = 0.339

ratemyprofessor.jpg

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:34 AM  ·  TrackBack (39)

August 05, 2004
Sound Advice

Ladies, take it from someone who had a "best woman" at his wedding - this advice from from Belle de Jour is quite sound.

If there's an etiquette to being the only XX at a traditionally XY party, it's this: don't complain, don't be the first or last to go home, and don't flirt outrageously (except with the strippers).

In fact, these rules could probably be expanded to life in general.

Hat tip: Crescat Sententia

Posted by Joshua Hall at 03:51 PM

Bill James on the "Worst Ideas of the 20th Century"

One of the reasons Bill James is such an interesting writer is that he doesn't limit himself to the game on the field. His entry on Steve Carlton in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is a great example. In the entry, he discusses the rift between sportswriters and players that began to emerge in the 1970s. (He chose Carlton's entry to discuss this because Carlton stopped speaking to reporters very early in his career).

After World War II newspapermen were caught by the fever of professionalism which was then gripping the nation. Cops became police officers, nurses became health care professionals, garbage men became sanitation workers. Newspapermen wer not longer content to be newspapermen; by the late 1960s they had become journalists.

At the same time, baseball players were getting unionized, and emerging as professional athletes. Now, I don't know where you stand on "professionalism," but I think professionalism ranks with socialism, psychology, and twice-baked potatoes as the worst ideas of the twentieth century.

...

Anyway, by the early 1970s sportswriters were no longer just guys who were crazy about sports; they were sports journalists, and they had the college degrees to provite it. *

* Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 855-856.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:45 AM

A Question I Have Often Asked

Lileks deconstructs an anti bar code website that among other things argues that both consumer and cashier "function in machine-like behaviors in accordance to the patterns of traditional consumption rituals."

His response:

You’re not buying milk. You are "engaging in a pattern of traditional consumption rituals."

What must it be like to live your day seeing everything through the prism of this tiresome horseshit? I’m SHOPPING FOR DINNER, fool, and I am not functioning in a machine-like behavior; I don’t know any machines that chat while they work, or offer to knock a buck off the flowers because they’re a day past their peak, or give my kid a sucker when it’s all done.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:23 AM

Self Righteous Anti-Gun Statement

My university recently put up stickers on the entrances to campus buildings (see pic) which read:

NO TRESPASSING

This building is private property
and any person trespassing,
thereupon or carrying a weapon
without permission or license
of the owner, shall be subject
to the penalties provided by the
Ohio Revised Code.

NO WEAPONS

CAPITAL UNIVERSITY
OWNER

gunsign.jpg


Goodness knows I support the right of my university or any private property owner to stop trespassers or regulate the behavior of people while on their property. But this makes it appear as if the university had some choice in the matter. In fact, the state legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has denied private universities (and churches for that matter) the right to decide if people may lawfully carry concealed weapons on their property. To be fair, this sign would also ban carrying unconcealed weapons which is up to the university. But the timing of these signs clearly indicates that it is the new concealed carry law that prompted them to be put up.

So given that the legislature has already banned concealed weapons on our campus, what purpose do these signs serve except to make a self righteous statement against guns?

For more info about the law visit the Ohioans for Concealed Carry website. And for my colleague David Mayer's take go here.


Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:52 AM  ·  TrackBack (42)

August 04, 2004
An oil boom in Tennessee?

I think this piece ...

http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/apmethods/apstory?urlfeed=D846NVE00.xml

will make an interesting (and timely) example of the differences between shifts along the supply curve and shifts in supply for my micro class. The mention of the concerns of the Sierra Club in the latter part of the article might also facilitate a classroom discussion of the concept of externalities. Maybe it is because my undergraduate degree is from the University of Memphis ... but I had to chuckle when I read it.

Read More »

Posted by at 03:26 PM  ·  TrackBack (108)

Cable TV Bundling

Today's Columbus Dispatch editorializes in favor of allowing cable tv customers to pick channels a la carte.

I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea actually. There are many good reasons for bundling services together and often the result is lower overall prices. I'm pretty sure my Subaru was cheaper buying the tires bundled together with the car than buying them separately. But I'll let others deal with this argument on the merits.

I want to highlight one paragraph in the editorial:

Despite few options, deregulation allowed cable providers to increase prices an astounding 56 percent since 1996, more than double the rate of inflation. Consumers who want cable, however, rarely can shop around, because 98 percent of Americans have only one cable provider in their area.

Did it ever occur to them that the second sentence explains the first? And would someone explain to me again how an industry that is dominated by local exclusive franchises is "deregulated"?

I guess I'll have to wait for the editorial blasting city governments like mine who refuse to allow a second cable provider into the city.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:10 AM  ·  TrackBack (32)

August 03, 2004
Cyber-Age Draft Dodging (or No More Need for Flat Feet)

This baby speaks for itself.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:45 PM  ·  TrackBack (142)

Michael Munger on Cuba

Interesting article by Michael Munger, chairman of the political science department at Duke University. He recounts his impressions from a junket he was fortunate to have been able to make to Cuba.

I traveled to Cuba recently, and got to form my own impressions. I went on an educational exchange program, exempting me from U.S. travel restrictions. With some other American academics, I gave a series of lectures at the Center for the Study of the United States, at the University of Havana. Our hosts were particularly impressed with my color overheads. Being well paid to make the trip, I paid for the overheads myself rather than bill them to Duke—they had cost me about $1.50 per page to produce. Our hosts were professors and were also well paid, earning in some cases more than $20 per month. The idea that someone would pay nearly $30 to make 18 overheads, on his own, amazed them. I later found out that many of the professors also drove taxis on nights and weekends, since they could make a month’s salary in tips in a couple of days.

Update: Also check out this article (and accompanying picture) he wrote about his days at Dartmouth. Munger also maintains a blog.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:26 PM

A Victory for Property Rights

The Michigan Supreme Court has overturned its awful 1981 Poletown case that opened the door to all sorts of abusive takings in the "public interest." Besides the wonderful implications of the ruling, I'm like a proud papa posting this good news because my former student Dan Alban wrote a brief in the case. See his take here. Dan also tells me the WSJ has an editorial on the Poletown case today, but, alas, an online subscription is required even for those of us who get the paper copy.

A correction: Apparently I need to read a bit more carefully; I'm now told by an authoritative source (Dan Alban, himself) that Dan did not do any work on the Poletown case. My apologies if I caused anyone any confusion.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:13 AM  ·  TrackBack (317)

Econ Journal Watch

I've just spent the better part of the morning pouring over the latest edition of Econ Journal Watch.

Thank goodness all the other econ journals aren't this good. Else I'd never get any work done!

In the August 2004 issue:

Read More »

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:59 AM  ·  TrackBack (31)

Number of Homeschoolers On The Rise

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that over 150,000 more children were homeschooled in 2003 versus 1999. This represents a 29 percent increase over the four year period.

Update: Michelle Malkin has thoughts.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 08:26 AM

August 02, 2004
At the margin or on average?

Economists love to lecture everyone about the importance of marginal thinking. Peter Leeson at Common Knowledge humorously encourages a little bit of "average" thinking here.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:23 PM  ·  TrackBack (27)

Blogs added to Blogroll

I've added South Appeal to our blogroll. Southern Appeal bills itself as "the random musings of a Southern Catholic Federalist and his co-conspirators," including my friend, Mike DeBow, a law professor at Samford University.

Also, I've added ProfessorBainbridge.com to the roll. Steve Bainbridge teaches law at UCLA. This is a great blog with a special emphasis on corporate law (and fine wine!).

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:27 AM  ·  TrackBack (27)

The Business of Baseball

Baseball Prospectus does some fantastic reporting on why some major league teams are now rushing to build their own ballparks. Money quote:

The Yankees currently pay a marginal revenue-sharing rate of about 39% of local revenue. (Low-revenue teams, interestingly, pay an even higher marginal rate, which may help explain why teams like the Twins are seemingly so disinterested in such aspects of the business as, oh, selling tickets.) Taking a deduction for $40 million a year in stadium bond payments would thus earn the Yankees a $15.6 million-a-year write-off on their annual revenue-sharing obligations. Over time, about $300 million of the House That George Built would be paid for by the other 29 teams.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:34 AM

August 01, 2004
Sorry, Rock, union rules

I was in a hotel room in Rochester, NY this weekend killing some time. Rocky II was on cable. It has been a long time since I'd seen it and I had forgotten completely about this scene. I'm sorry that this is a very rough paraphrase based on my memory-if anyone has the exact transcription please send it to me.

[Background: Rocky has fallen on some hard times after losing the fight to Apollo Creed in the original Rocky movie. He's being laid off from the meat packing plant.]

Foreman: Rocky, I'm sorry that I have to let you go. Go to the office to pick up your paycheck.

Rocky: Why, I'm working real hard here.

Foreman: Sure, but we're cutting back. It's economics. You don't have enough seniority.

Rocky: Hey, how 'bout I work for less?

Foreman: Sorry, Rock, union rules.

UPDATE: I got the DVD from the Library. My memory was pretty bad. Here's a correct transcription.

Foreman: I gotta let you go.

Rocky: How come? I'm workin' hard. I'm doin' good.

Foreman: Sorry but we gotta cut back on manpower and you don't got enough time in you know? Seniority.

Rocky: How 'bout if I take a cut in pay all right?

Foreman: Can't do it. Union rules.

Later on, Rocky explains to Adrian that he didn't do anything wrong to lose the job. It was just "economics".

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:44 PM  ·  TrackBack (144)

10 Consequences of Economic Freedom

Jim Gwartney and I have a new article out with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

It's not technical at all, but should give you some debate ammo.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:58 PM  ·  TrackBack (27)

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