Division of Labour: October 2004 Archives
October 31, 2004
Why I'm Voting Libertarian -- if I get a chance

I'm a registered independent. The last time voted for a mainstream presidental candidate was in 1984 for Ronald Reagan. I don't regret that vote.

In 2004 I KNOW my vote won't matter. Any sane person knows that a vote for a third party has a marginal value of ZERO. But if I am going to vote, then I'll vote my conscience. See www.lp.org/issues/platform/ for what the Libertarian Party believes. First, let me say that I don't fully endorse this platform but it is a better starting place for a meaningful discussion of the role of the government in society and in the economy than the efforts made by the Republicans and Democrats, who are too busy competing for the hearts of the "undecided" voter to care about internally consistent policies.

Here is the cornerstone fo the Libertarian Platform (from their website)

"Freedom and Responsibility - Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make." The difference between Republicans (who advocate this) and Democrats (who might cringe here) is that Libertarians REALLY believe this. If that opinion marginalizes me so be it. I'm not too fond of the mainstream anyway.

Posted by at 04:49 PM  ·  TrackBack (126)

You go John!

In case you didn't read all of John's excellent post about why he's voting for W, I want to draw your attention to this zinger:

Finally, I shall vote for George W. Bush because I know how a Kerry victory will be interpreted. It will be a signal to George Soros and his various front groups that their billions can buy an election. It will be a signal that the American people care what Hollywood actors like Sean Penn and Ben Affleck have to say about politics. It will be a signal that Michael Moore’s paranoid fantasies are to be treated as serious documentaries. It will be a signal that Americans are so naïve as to accept whatever fraudulent stories the mainstream media will circulate about National Guard records, an imminent return of the draft, and missing Iraqi explosives.

Spot on, John!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:51 PM  ·  TrackBack (22)

I'm voting for...

It is with great reluctance that I've decided to vote for George W. Bush.

Even though I know my individual vote doesn't matter, I usually try to take voting seriously and vote for the person who is closest to my own views. (Please don't construe this as another "why you should vote" message. Read more here.)

I am proud to have voted for the Libertarian Party candidate in every election since 1988 (the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote). Although I'm a registered Republican, my views are libertarian. So I've always voted for the LP whenever possible. This year this is not an option. The LP candidate Michael Badnarik is a complete nutjob. For more on why read here and here. Although I have no illusions about the prospects for electoral success of the LP, I once had a hope that they could act as a respected third party of principle. Instead the LP is the political party equivalent of a Star Trek convention.

So this year the choice is between Kerry and W. W has been a huge, massive disappointment. But in every relevant respect John Kerry has promised to be worse.

Let me take stock of the candidates on this issues.

Fiscal Issues (Budget Deficit/Taxes). I think government is too large. Bush has made it larger and Kerry has criticized him for not making it even larger! I don't really care much about the deficit since the real cost of government is largely (though not entirely) independent of the method of finance. Bush is financing his spending binge with deficits and Kerry promises to finance his (even larger) promised spending binge with higher taxes. Advantage: Bush.

Foreign Policy. Screw the UN and the frogs. Seriously, I've come to conclude that we must meet the threat of Arab fundamentalism with strength and preferably on their turf not ours. The rhetoric of the left today is oh so reminiscent of the left during the Cold War. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Appeasement doesn't make the enemy go away. It emboldens them. Reagan knew that we could defeat the Soviets only from a position of strength and Bush knows that we can defeat the threat of Muslim fundamentalism only from a position of strength. While there is a legitimate debate about the prudence of the Iraq invasion as a tactic, I am fully supportive of the overall strategy to project American strength abroad as needed. Advantage: Bush.

War on Drugs. I think all drugs should be legal. Neither Bush nor Kerry will change the status quo and reduce this awful War on Drugs. Advantage: none.

Abortion. I think abortion is murder. Advantage: Bush.

Civil Liberties. The Patriot Act is not as big a threat (at the margin) as most people think. Much of the Patriot Act was already law and is supported by both parties/candidates. I'm not happy with this, but I don't think Kerry will be any better than Bush. Advantage: none.

Gay Marriage. I wish the government was out of the marriage business. I think people should be allowed to marry their goats if they want. Advantage: Kerry.

Foreign Trade/Labor Policy: If Kerry wins, he'll be in debt to the unions. Expect more protectionism than even Bush has given us. Advantage: Bush.

Environment: Environmental zealots are costing us millions. Let's drill in Alaska! Bush has added some sense of sanity to our insance environmental laws. Advantage: Bush.

Social Security: Bush favors some move away from government run retirement. Amazingly Kerry supports the status quo. Advantage: Bush.

Health Care: Bush will slow the long march toward socialized medicine (compared with Kerry). Advantage: Bush.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:44 PM  ·  TrackBack (24)

So Much Money, So Little Class

This apple didn't fall far from its mother's tree--Chris Heinz calls Bush a cokehead.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:57 PM  ·  TrackBack (277)

October 30, 2004
Free Speech For Me, A Kick For Thee

A professor at Fort Lewis College kicked a student for wearing a College Republicans sweatshirt; details here. (Hat tip to Wilson Mixon.)

I'd bet dollars to donuts that the offending prof has (perhaps correctly) bemoaned the loss of civil liberties under the PATRIOT Act, (again, perhaps correctly) waved the banner of "academic freedom," or both. If so, we'd have a case where free speech is only for the anointed.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of College Republicans, kudos to Ted Crouse and the rest of the Berry College Republicans who last week honored John Kerry by proclaiming "flip flop day" and trudging around campus in cheap sandals.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (310)

Quickies

1. UNC-Charlotte will offer a course on the tv program "American Idol." Rubbish.

2. Mike DeBow has some fun with Ralph Nader's charging admission to his campaign rallies.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:29 AM  ·  TrackBack (301)

Why I Shall Vote for George W. Bush

Bob Lawson has asked each of us to say for whom we will be voting on Tuesday, and why. Given how little I’ve contributed to this blog so far, I figured it’s the least I could do.

There’s no sense dancing around the issue—no classical liberal (let alone libertarian) is likely to look toward George W. Bush as a model president. The litany of sins, from massive increases in discretionary spending to new health care entitlements, is likely familiar to anyone reading this blog. And in any case, it is out of place in a statement that is intended to be an endorsement of the president’s reelection.

Read More »

Posted by at 10:09 AM in Politics  ·  TrackBack (172)

October 29, 2004
Unemployment, Religion, and Voting

Here Craig Depken plots the relationship between state unemployment rates and tradesports prediction prices. He finds a weak negative correlation (-0.09) between unemployment and price, implying that states with above average unemployment have a slight tendence toward Kerry.

So what else might be driving state-by-state voting patterns? An obvious possibility is social or religious issues. Hence I obtained data on the share of each state's population that attends religious services regularly and calculated the correlation with the tradesports prices. The result, 0.14, indicates that states with above average church attendance lean toward Bush.

One concern with this calculation is the religious attendance data. I've used data from the same source for an academic paper and have some concerns that the data are a bit noisy. (For example, the dataset shows church attendance rates greater than 100% for three Alabama counties used in my previous study.) A second issue is the likelihood that using overall church attendance rates obscures important differences across denominations. (I suspect that Southern Baptists are more important to the Bush vote than are Unitarians.)

A third concern is with the use of tradesports prices. On a hunch that the tendency of prices to tend toward the extremes (0 for states like MA that Kerry will carry and 100 for states like TX that Bush will carry), I obtained polling data from electoral-vote.com and recalculated the correlation coefficient. The resulting correlation of 0.20 between church attendance rates and Bush's standing in the polls is indeed larger thereby confirming my suspicion. Still, I would have expected a larger correlation and suspect that the religion data issues discussed in the previous paragraph are salient.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:41 PM  ·  TrackBack (141)

GDP and the "Jobless Recovery"

In the last major announcement of an economic indicator before Tuesday's election, the BEA announced that GDP in the third quarter (July to September) grew at a healthy 3.7% annual rate. The 3.7% rate is modest uptick from the 3.3% growth rate of the second quarter. (Of course the media like to play the glass-is-half-empty game by saying the economy failed to meet expectations. Maybe the problem is with the #$%! expectations not the economic growth.)

The politics of the announcement is easy to predict--Bushies will view it positively and Kerry will mutter something about a jobless recovery. I come down on Bush's side here as suggested by the word "healthy" in the previous paragraph.

It'll never happen of course, but the contrarian in me thinks Bush should go around trumpeting the jobless recovery. Why? Because producing more goods and services while using the same or less labor inputs is a sign of an increasing standard of living. Taking less work time to make more stuff means that we can enjoy more leisure. Wouldn't it be great to have one's current paycheck but work fewer hours to earn it?

By the way, my use of the term jobless recovery in the previous paragraphs is not meant to endorse the Kerry view. I'm increasingly coming around to the notion that the abnormal period of labor market behavior is not the modest sluggishness of the Bush period (the unemployment rate didn't get above 6.3%) but the go-go Clinton era. Put differently, the current 5.4% seems more "normal" than the 3.8% rate of April 2000.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:55 AM  ·  TrackBack (23)

October 28, 2004
Images of Inspector Clouseau

This oxymoronic headline brings to mind Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:34 AM  ·  TrackBack (2)

Letter to the Weekly Standard

A recent article in The Weekly Standard prompted me to revisit the first presidential debate (the source of the quotes below) and write the following letter to the editor:


To the editor:

Although Fred Barnes (“Debate Hangover” October 11) attempts the impossible—chronicling John Kerry’s debate contradictions in less than two pages of print—he misses Kerry’s most important inconsistency.

Sen. Kerry stated that Bush “avoided even the advice of [his] own general … [who] said you're going to need several hundred thousand troops.

He also asserted that

[Iraq’s] getting worse by the day. More soldiers killed in June than before. More in July than June. More in August than July. More in September than in August. And now we see beheadings. And we got weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every single day, and they're blowing people up. And we don't have enough troops there.

Yet, somehow the senator envisioned that “we could begin to draw the troops down in six months.”

To summarize, Sen. Kerry thinks that there were insufficient troops from the outset, that conditions have since deteriorated, but that it will soon be possible to begin withdrawing forces. Utterly incoherent.

E. Frank Stephenson

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:32 AM  ·  TrackBack (143)

Dispatches from the Fever Swamps

You'll just have to read this one for yourselves, but here's a teaser courtesy of Jon Sanders:

Americans trudging off to the polls next Tuesday will be facing more than a choice between Kerry and Bush or between a Democrat and a Republican. Once the curtain closes they will be facing a choice between freedom and fascism. ...

The Bush regime does not dare to relinquish power. They are guilty of far too many hanging crimes, ranging from mass murder on 9-11 to numerous war crimes. ...

Don't cry for the passage of the democratic government. Weep for the real patriots that will be swept away to the concentration camps or whose blood will cover the streets ...

UPDATE: Here's some background, though be warned much of it is difficult to stomach. I can't imagine that this bilge (Bush's America is somehow similar to Nazi Germany, get real!) would actually make someone more likely to vote for Kerry.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:22 AM  ·  TrackBack (2)

October Surprises

North Carolina's John Locke Foundation has a blog called The Locker Room. It's a good place for ex-pat Tarheels such as myself to keep up with NC politics and to read what's on the ever-excellent George Leef's mind. Currently, the Locke bloggers are having some fun with potential "October surprises."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:18 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

All the news that I see fit

I knew there was a reason I like red wine over white. UPDATE: Ok, upon reading more carefully this study looks to me to fall into the "junk science" file. But I still like red wine better!

Whew. My frequent flyer miles just might be safe on Delta afterall.

I hope you had a good view of last night's excellent lunar eclipse.

Can't you just hear the creationists squirming over this cool discovery? Meanwhile, J.R.R. Tolkien fans rejoice!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:12 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

October 27, 2004
Terrorism and Poverty

Yet another paper finds that terrorism is not significantly higher for poor countries. (Disclaimer: I have not read the entire paper so I cannot vouch for the methodology of the study.)

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:10 PM  ·  TrackBack (2)

DC Porkers

Cato has a new report out on the economic impact of a stadium for the DC Rent-Seekers. It's authored by well-known sports economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys and, like virtually every other respectable piece of research on the topic, finds that there is no economic development rationale to justify public funding of the stadium.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:03 PM  ·  TrackBack (282)

NY Subway Centennial

NPR reports that the NYC Subway celebrates its centennial today. (Audio of the story is here; scroll down the page.) I've heard that the system started as a private enterprise then was taken over by the greedy hand of government; not surprisingly there was no metion of private enterprise in the NPR report. I've been unable to locate a good background source; the best I found is here. I hope to find something better and update this post; suggestions are welcome.

UPDATE: Some information on the government takeover of the NYC Subway system in 1940 (hence the subway was privately owned and operated for it first 36 years) is contained in Henry Hazlitt's article "Socialism, US Style" in the September 1966 issue of The Freeman. The article is not on the web but is reprinted in Public Means, Private Ends: Voluntarism vs. Coercion edited by my colleague Wilson Mixon.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:56 PM  ·  TrackBack (26)

Probabilistic Voting Models

Yesterday's WSJ had an article (sorry subscription required) about eggheads who analyze the likelihood of various election outcomes using high-powered statistical techniques. Two of the sites are here and here.

Sorry to offer such brief explanations but I'm hurrying off to celebrate my wife's birthday.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the WSJ article.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:52 PM  ·  TrackBack (124)

None of the Above

So Bush is mediocre and Kerry is awful--wouldn't it be nice to have a "none of the above" option? The Detroit News sure thinks so. I'm betting such a choice would get at least 75% of the vote. Hat tip: Mini-Me.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:07 PM  ·  TrackBack (4)

Social Security for Dummies

Arnold Kling enlightens.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:49 PM  ·  TrackBack (276)

Kerry's Tax "Plan"

Richard Rahn has an article about Kerry's "Tax Hypocricy". Here's one quote:

Last year, Mr. Kerry and his wife paid only 13.4 percent of their declared $5.5 million income in federal taxes. President and Mrs. Bush, whose income was only 15 percent of the Kerrys', paid a tax rate more than twice as high, 27.7 percent. Despite all of the senator's bombast about the rich paying more, under his plan he and Mrs. Kerry would still pay a lower average rate than most middle-income Americans.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:04 AM  ·  TrackBack (28)

October 26, 2004
Kerry & The Price of College

John Kerry bemoans the recent increase in college prices. Ironically, reality is a bit more, ahem, nuanced. Jon Sanders explains.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (3)

Quote of the Day

Not since the O.J. trial had bloodstained socks caused such a stir.*

* Ian O'Connor, "Ex-Knicks star passes gamer title to Schilling," USA Today, 26 October 2004.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 06:49 PM  ·  TrackBack (109)

What I Learned in South Africa

(1) Cape Town is the most stunningly beautiful city I've ever seen in terms of natural beauty. I hiked around and up Table Mountain and the nearby wine farms are great.

(2) The good news: Many observers think the AIDS estimates for South Africa are grossly exaggerated. (If so many people have AIDS, and aren't getting treatment, why aren't they dead yet?) They think the numbers are incorrect extrapolations from a few subsets of the population and that the government doesn't care to correct the numbers because there's a lot of western aid riding on AIDS.

(3) The bad news: The Jewish population in Cape Town had declined to about 50-75,000 from 125-150,000. Canaries in the mine?

(4) The Afrikaans language is a form of low Dutch most similar to today's Flemish. It is a very simple language with no verb conjugation (I is, he is, we is, they is). Everyone who speaks English already knows some Afrikaans. "My hand is in warm water" is Afrikaans for "My hand is in warm water" in English. :-)

(5) White South Africa is as rich as Europe and black South Africa is as poor as anywhere in the world.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:10 PM  ·  TrackBack (32)

Cuban Dollars

Here's an article about the currency situation in Cuba. Money quote:

"The trick will be to force Cuban citizens to accept the Cuban convertible peso and be just as comfortable putting them in their mattress as their dollars," Kavulich said.

Well, good luck with that.

Hat tip: Russ Sobel

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:07 PM  ·  TrackBack (106)

Good Stuff on Voting

Two interesting papers on voting:

1. This Cato paper considers the issue of voter ignorance. I buy into the notion of rational ignorance but the level of ignorance among Americans makes me shudder when thinking about all the schemes such as early voting or Matthew Miller's notion of a national voter lottery that are intended to get more of these folks going to the polls. I suspect we'd get even more legalized theft like the pills for seniors program.

2. We can expect to hear lots of teeth gnashing about voting equipment on Nov. 2. Steve Knack and Martha Kropf looked at the usage of various types of voting equipment (punch card etc.) in the 2000 election; here's the abstract of their paper:

The American public became newly acquainted with the disadvantages of punch card ballots in the aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election. A widespread perception emerged that counties in Florida and elsewhere with a greater percentage of minorities and poor people were more likely to employ antiquated voting machinery that produces a disproportionate number of undervotes and invalid ballots. This study provides a systematic analysis of this question, combining county-level demographic data from the Census Bureau with county-level data on voting equipment collected by Election Data Services, Inc. We find little support for the view that resource constraints cause poorer counties with large minority populations to retain antiquated or inferior voting
equipment. In most states, it is whites, the non-poor and Republican voters who are more likely to reside in punch card counties rather than African Americans, the poor and Democratic voters. Moreover, counties with punch card systems tend to have higher incomes, higher tax revenues, and larger populations than do counties with modern voting equipment.

Of course, their findings won't stop opportunistic politicians from running around yelling disenfranchisement. (Maybe that would make a good election night drinking game.) For the full paper, click here.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:51 AM  ·  TrackBack (277)

Awesome Election Gizmo

GeekMedia has tinkered with the tradesports futures market to produce a state-by-state mapping of the presidential future market. Even neater--one can adjust the parameters for predicting a state will be a Bush state or a Kerry state and see what happens to the elector vote totals. Hat tip to James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today" email.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:08 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

October 24, 2004
Manny Ramirez

Q: What do Michael Jackson and Manny Ramirez have in common?

A: The both wear a glove on one hand for no apparent reason.


Yes, this is a painfully old joke but Ramirez's adventures in fielding made it seem appropriate.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:03 AM  ·  TrackBack (2)

October 22, 2004
"... where unions exercise a lot of control"

An excerpt from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on a police officer who robbed three banks:

Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Police Chiefs Association, was surprised that an officer with so many infractions was still on a police force.

"It seems like an inordinate amount'' of discipline, Rotondo said. "I've been in law enforcement 34 years, and I've never been disciplined."

In many police departments, especially in smaller towns, someone with so many violations would have been fired long ago, Rotondo said. But in Atlanta and other large cities and counties, it's harder to fire an officer, because of job protections afforded to government employees and because of the police union's influence, Rotondo said.

"The reality is you will see poor or marginal employees covered up more . . . where unions exercise a lot of control," he said.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:18 PM  ·  TrackBack (19)

Quick Hits

Dartmouth's Andrew Samwick has a couple of interesting posts on Vox Baby:

1. One of the alleged shortcomings of the Bush administration is a vast pool of workers who would just love to have jobs. The implication is that decreases in the unemployment rate are attributable to people dropping out of the labor force and no longer being counted as unemployed by the BLS. Samwick crunches some numbers.

2. For all the snooty folks who think Kerry is so overwhelmingly intellectually superior to the inarticulate president, Samwick posts on the candidates' debate vocabulary. It's not pretty--Bush scores at a 6th grade level and the genius Kerry comes in as a 7th grader.

And from Southern Appeal:

German archaeologists have discovered the lavatory on which Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses that launched the Protestant Reformation.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:09 AM  ·  TrackBack (31)

October 21, 2004
On Wild Cards and Beane Differences

In a 10/18 WSJ article Allen St. John attributes the success of the five “World Series wild cards” (WSWC) to the difference between their on-base percentage and the on-base percentage allowed by their pitchers. Labelling this statistic the “Beane Difference” in honor of Oakland GM Billy Beane, Mr. St. John writes that “It’s no surprise that WSWC squads have have positive … Beane Diffs.” Unfortunately for Mr. St. John’s hypothesis, 95% of all playoff teams in the wild card era (since 1995) have had positive Beane Diffs. Hence, the fact that the five WSWC teams had a positive Beane Diff really doesn’t get us very far in explaining why some wild card teams have been successful in reaching the World Series.

Moreover, none of the five WSWC whose success Mr. St. John attempts to explain had the highest Beane Diff among the four teams in their league vying for a World Series slot. The 2002 Giants and Angels had the second highest Beane Diffs among their competitors; the 2000 Mets, 1997 Marlins, and 2003 Marlins all had the third highest Beane Diff. Lest one is concerned that examining rankings can obscure small differences in magnitude; the WSWC Beane Diffs trailed the highest Beane Diff teams by 0.008 to 0.030.

Broadening the scope to include division winners, Beane Diff also appears to be a poor indicator of which team will advance to the World Series. In the wild card era, a team with the highest Beane Diff has advanced to the World Series 8 out of a possible 20 times (10 years x 2 teams per year). The second highest Beane Diff team has made the series 4 times, the third highest 7 times, and the lowest Beane Diff team has made the World Series once (1997 Indians). Thus, other than discounting the chances of the team with the lowest Beane Diff, the statistic does not have much predictive power as to which playoff team will advance to the World Series.

Mr. St. John can take some consolation. His article may have done a lousy job of explaining the success of the 5 WSWC teams prior to 2004; however, there is now a 6th WSWC team. And this year’s Red Sox just happen to have the highest Beane Diff among the American League playoff teams. Even broken watches …

So back to the main question of Mr. St. John’s article: What explains the 6 WSWC teams in the 10 years? I bet that, after making some allowances for injuries or the possibility that season-long Beane Diffs may not be a perfect indicator of a team come October, it is more or less random chance. If all teams entered the postseason equally talented (i.e., with an equal probability of winning) then the expected number of wildcards to have made the WS in the last 10 years is 5. And since it is entirely possible that a wild card team is the second best team in its league, it’s hardly surprising that there have been 6 WSWC. Indeed, the wild card team has had the second highest Beane Diff in its league 8 times in the past ten years; moreover, the wild card teams have had the highest Beane Diff as many times (4) as they have had the lowest or next to lowest Beane Diff.

UPDATE: I've now also looked at the World Series match-ups. Only 5 of the last 9 winners have had higher Beane Diffs so again we seem to have pretty low predictive power. (Note: A quick check of the mean Beane Diff by league finds similar means so I don't think the World Series comparison is skewed by the AL's DH rule. This makes sense since AL hitters would have higher on-base percentages and AL pitchers would have higher on-base percentages allowed.) For what (apparently little) it's worth, the Red Sox (0.042) have a higher Beane Diff than the Cardinals (0.031).

Thanks to ArmchairGM for a nice addition to my post:

The WSJ named this stat the “Beane Difference” in honor of Oakland GM Billy Beane. Beane, of course, is a proponent of on-base percentage (although hardly OBP in spite of everything else), but he is also a leading proponet of the theory that the playoffs are a crap shoot. In Moneyball, Beane is quoted as saying “[his system] doesn’t work in the playoffs . . . [his job] is to get us to the playoffs. Everything after that is [dumb] luck.”

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:41 PM  ·  TrackBack (57)

October 20, 2004
Catfight!

The presidential campaign has gotten ugly lately--January surprises for Social Security, secret plans for a draft, etc. Then Marie Antoinette Heinz Kerry unloaded on Laura Bush in USA Today:

Q: You'd be different from Laura Bush?

A: Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up. So her experience and her validation comes from important things, but different things. And I'm older, and my validation of what I do and what I believe and my experience is a little bit bigger — because I'm older, and I've had different experiences. And it's not a criticism of her. It's just, you know, what life is about.

Gosh--it must be hard work to be a billionairess, even harder than being a teacher and librarian as was Laura Bush. And how about the implication that being a fulltime mom isn't a "real job"? (I'd bet dollars to donuts that MAHK used nannies.) Disgraceful. We may have two mediocre candidates for president but there is a heck of a lot of difference between the would-be first ladies. Marie Antoinette's classless barrage even outdoes her husband's latest bit of elitist condescension:

"Can I get me a hunting license here?" Kerry asked store owners Paul and Debra McKnight.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 07:19 PM  ·  TrackBack (144)

October 19, 2004
Too Much Information

You just knew that old Arnold's Republican Convention speech wouldn't play well with his in-laws. Apparently his wife made him pay dearly.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:23 PM  ·  TrackBack (4)

Not a Proud Moment for Georgia

Home Fire Inspired By Movie, Beers, Man Says
'Day After Tomorrow,' Plus 9 Or 10 Beers, Led To Fire, Georgia Man Says

Full story here; some things just cannot be made up.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:16 PM  ·  TrackBack (141)

On Flu Vaccines

So there's a shortage of flu vaccines--Cafe Hayek's Russ Roberts gets to the heart of the matter here and here. Surprise, surprise, surprise--it has something to do with price controls.

UPDATE: Rich Lowry of National Review also has a good article. He fingers, among other things, the ClintonCare move to have the government as the predominant buyer of vaccines. This has reduced the price that vaccine makers receive and made it a less attractive line of business. Monopsony anyone?

One might want to keep this in mind next time John Kerry spouts off about how Bush's prescription drug plan does not let the government use its buying power to push down drug prices. The Bush version is bad enough, but Kerry would only make it worse.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:59 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

Economic Freedom=Happiness

Peter Gordon blogs on a recent WSJ article about international happiness rankings. The underlying idea, one that I don't necessarily buy into, is that it is better to measure people's satisfaction rather than their material well-being. Gordon doesn't entirely buy it either noting that 3.5% of Puerto Rico's population has moved to the lower ranked U.S.

Gordon's post reports happiness scores for 21 countries that were in the print version of the WSJ. The 21 are taken from a larger survey of 81 or so, but he could not find the scores for the other countries and I didn't have any better luck.

Hypothesizing that economic freedom makes people happy, I had my capable student assistant Michael Hulsey look up the economic freedom ratings for the countries. (Of the 21 countries only 15 were included in the EFW rankings; the ones without data include Puerto Rico, Northern Ireland, and some former Soviet republics.) I then calculated the simple correlation coefficient between the level of economic freedom and the level of happiness--a robust 0.79. I ranked the countries 1 to 15 on both happiness and freedom; the correlation between the rankings is 0.56. Of course, this is a small sample and the statistical analysis is rudimentary, but it appears that free people are happier people.

Hat tips to co-blogger Bob for his EFW handiwork and to my assistant Michael Hulsey.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:53 AM  ·  TrackBack (201)

Ohio: The Cradle of Innovation

From the Toledo Blade:

A Defiance County man has been arrested for allegedly filing more than 100 false voter registration forms in exchange for crack cocaine from a Toledo woman working on behalf of the NAACP’s voter registration drive.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:17 AM  ·  TrackBack (117)

October 18, 2004
Lawson in Columbus Dispatch

Letter to the Editor, Columbus Dispatch, 17 October 2004.

‘Structural deficit’ is irresponsible spending

In the recent Dispatch article about Ohio’s impending budget deficit, "Assembly may face $5 billion deficit", Lee Leonard wrote, "It’s called a structural deficit — the amount of revenue lacking just to fund existing program costs and obligations for another two years."

Ohio’s total general expenditures increased from $24 billion to more than $48 billion from 1992 to 2004. That’s a growth rate of 6 percent per year. Meanwhile from 1992 to 2002, personal income grew at an annual rate of 4.19 percent. Adjusting for inflation and population growth would require an increase of just 2.82 percent.

Had the state budget increased at only the rate of personal-income growth, thus assuring that the state would spend a constant share of people’s incomes, the budget today would be smaller by more than $9 billion. We’d have a surplus today, not a deficit.

Had the state budget increased at only the rate of growth of population and inflation, thus assuring the state would spend the same real amount per person, the budget today would be about $15 billion smaller. This would be enough to cover this deficit and completely abolish the Ohio income tax!

There’s nothing "structural" about this deficit. Runaway spending by a string of governors and legislatures is to blame.

BOB LAWSON
Professor of economics
Capital University
School of Management
Bexley

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:39 PM

Thaler vs. Fama

Today's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article detailing the debate about the efficient market hypothesis. (Jon E. Hilsenrath, "As Two Economists Debate Markets, The Tide Shifts," Wall Street Journal, 18 October 2004). The article is presented as a battle between Eugene Fama and Richard Thaler.

Without getting into the debate about the efficient markets hypothesis, however, one thing bothers me about the article. Here's the excerpt that got me thinking:

As a young assistant professor in Rochester in the mid 1970s, Mr. Thaler had his doubts about market efficiency. People, he suspected, were not nearly as rational as economists assumed.

Mr. Thaler started collecting evidence to demonstrate his point, which he published in a series of papers. One associate kept playing tennis even though he had a bad elbow because he didn't want to waste $300 on tennis club fees. Another wouldn't part with an expensive bottle of wine even though he wasn't an avid drinker. Mr. Thaler said he caught economists bingeing on cashews in his office and asking for the nuts to be taken away because they couldn't control their own appetites.

Mr. Thaler decided that people had systematic biases that weren't rational, such as a lack of self-control. Most economists dismissed his writings as a collection of quirky anecdotes, so Mr. Thaler decided the best approach was to debunk the most efficient market of them all - the stock market.

Perhaps this is a simplistic version of Mr. Thaler's work (which I'm not that familiar with). If so, then what I'm going to say might be a bit off. If so, please feel free to let me know.

It seems to me that Thaler is attacking a straw man - at least as I see it. The rationality assumption just assumes that, given their preferences and abilities, people pursue their ends the best they know how. This doesn't preclude them from being wrong.

If the rationality assumption meant that people made some *optimal* choice (whatever that is), Thaler might have a point. Clearly, that is not what economists mean, however, otherwise why would we have to teach our students not to take sunk costs into account.

[This is not to say that Thaler might not have a point about using people's biases in the design of programs. I'm agnostic on that point (at least for now).]

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:29 PM

Cowboy Economics

Craig Depken has several more excellent posts on the fleecing of the Arlington TX taxpayers for a football stadium. This one in particular is interesting because it features an editorial cartoon with the money line:

"Don't listen to those university economics guys. I figure those who can, do...those who can't teach economics."

Evidently the cartoonist has never heard of one (probably many) of the concepts that we university economics guys teach--moral hazard. Think about the incentives that the folks who do economic impact analyses face--if they don't come up with a large projected economic benefit they're not likely to get future contracts. By contrast, academic economists like Depken do not have the conflict of interest that people whose livelihoods depend on coming up with inflated numbers.

By the way, I bet the same newspaper that is so gung-ho on giving a multi-million dollar stadium subsidy to Jerry Jones editorializes out of the other side of its mouth about helping the poor etc.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:00 PM  ·  TrackBack (2)

Worthless Survey

The Economist surveyed 56 academic economists on Bush's policies and Kerry's agenda. Not surprisingly, the results are pro-Kerry. Although academic economists are not as leftist as, say, sociologists or English professors, my guess is that they run about 2-to-1 Commiecrat.

The survey is, however, surprisingly shoddy. For example, question 6 asks respondents to "Overall, please rate Mr Bush's economic plan." The problem is that there are multiple, contradictory, reasons why one might give the plan low ratings. John Kerry, for example, thinks Bush's prescription drug plan was insufficiently generous. Others, including your humble blogger, dislike Bush's creating yet another government entitlement.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:02 PM  ·  TrackBack (2)

Playing Doctor

Teresa Heinz Kerry (I just couldn't bring myself to bring up Marie Antoinette again) plays doctor. Her treatment for arthritis:

“You get some gin and get some white raisins — and only white raisins — and soak them in the gin for two weeks,” she said. “Then eat nine of the raisins a day.”

I wonder how she arrived at taking exactly nine--not eight, not ten--raisins.

Hat tip: James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today"

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:46 PM  ·  TrackBack (6)

October 17, 2004
Why My Listening Tastes Have Shifted

I grew up a hip-hop fan and still regularly listen to pre-1995 hip-hop. Over the last several years I have rediscovered country music. (I say rediscovered, because the first concert I ever attended was a Charlie Daniels Band concert when I was six.)

Read More »

Posted by Joshua Hall at 05:53 PM

October 15, 2004
Taxing Corporations

Ralph Nader, among others, wants to tax corporations more heavily. Of course, since it's really people who bear the burden of taxes, what Nader really means is taxing the (presumably wealthy) owners of corporations. Just one problem for Ralphie--corporations involve people beyond their shareholders, namely suppliers (including workers) and customers. And Chicago economist Casey Mulligan has a new paper finding that capital taxes are primarily passed on to workers and consumers. (Here's a non-technical summary; the full paper is available here for a $5 download fee.) Keep this in mind next time Saint Ralph extols his support for working people.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:01 PM  ·  TrackBack (3)

''Lawyers, not economists, designed the system.''

Virginia Postrel explains new research about the Texas "Robin Hood" school finance scheme. (Hat tip: Craig Newmark.)

ADDENDUM: Readers may recall the list of accomplished young economists in Josh's Nobel Prize post. I'd add Caroline Hoxby, one of the authors of the study on the Texas school finance redistribution plan.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:02 PM  ·  TrackBack (6)

Nonsense on Stilts

More media ignorance. Arnold Kling sorts out the mess emanating from the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:48 PM  ·  TrackBack (84)

Superman

John Edwards seems to think John Kerry is Superman. Charles Krauthammer is not amused. (N.B. For readers unfamiliar with Krauthammer, he is a parapalegic. I think the cause was motorcycle accident some 25 years ago.)

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:13 PM  ·  TrackBack (1)

Darn Foreigners

A loyal reader sends in a note about TellHim.No and writes, "I know it's probably happened in the past, but I don't ever recall other countries' citizens getting so involved in trying to influence *our* elections."

Good point. I wonder how the Norwegians would feel about a bunch of Americans taking out a full page ad in the Oslo Times just before their next election?

Of course, I believe our 1st Amendment protects everyone's speech in the U.S. including foreigners and they are free to influence us as they see fit. However, I doubt that if the shoe was on the other foot that they'd see it this way themselves.

Somewhat relatedly, a friend of mine in Germany sent me this link to an article by libertarian Doug Bandow trying to convince me not to vote for Bush. I told him I probably was going to vote for Bush, and he replied "There goes my attempt to influence the vote in a swing state...."

Hat tip: Andy.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:53 PM  ·  TrackBack (233)

Undergraduate research?

One of the latest fads running through universities is this notion of "undergraduate research." I confess to being skeptical a priori about this enterprise. At least in my discipline it doesn't seem at all feasible to expect publishable research from most undergraduates. Sure, you have one or two here and there that can do real research, but most simply can't, don't want, and shouldn't be encouraged to do research.

My suspicions were confirmed when I picked up a copy of the American Journal of Undergraduate Research in the hallway in our science building. This journal claims to be:

A refereed journal for undergraduate research in the pure and applied sciences, mathematics, engineering, technology, and related areas in education.

One article (not cited to protect the innocent) actually reported a simple regression based on 3 (count 'em 3!) observations. That's 1 degree of freedom for those of you still counting. The R-squared, incorrectly identified as the "correlation coefficient", was 0.998 though so I guess they have learned the almighty importance of finding a high R-squared!

I have only one question: Who exactly refereed this?

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:39 AM  ·  TrackBack (30)

Carson v. Stalin

A comment by a dinner companion last night:

Rachel Carson is responsible for more deaths than Stalin.

Right on!

UPDATE: A reader asked me to flesh this out some. Rachel Carson is resposible, more than any other, for popularizing the threat posed by DDT. This led to the eventual banning of DDT around the world. But since DDT is by far the most effective and cheapest way to kill mosquitos, the malaria rate has skyrocketed since DDT was banned. Roger Meiners and Andy Morriss have an article here about the whole thing.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:09 AM  ·  TrackBack (236)

Thanks, Tyler

I hosted Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution fame yesterday on campus. He talked Russian economic history with one class, met with honors students, and gave a fantastic public lecture on "The Economics of Music." (See pic below.)

Thanks Tyler for a job well done!

cowenlecture.jpg

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:04 AM  ·  TrackBack (29)

October 14, 2004
The Wisdom of Matt Stone and Foolishness of Sean Penn

South Park co-creator Matt Stone:

If you don't know what you’re talking about, there's no shame in not voting. They say if you don't vote, you can’t bitch. But you can bitch all you want. This is America.

To which Sean Penn said:

“I do mind when anybody who doesn’t have a child, doesn’t have a child at war, or isn’t or won’t be in harm’s way themselves, is encouraging that there’s ‘no shame in not voting if you don't know what you're talking about.’”

Read about the whole thing from Glen Whitman.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:52 PM  ·  TrackBack (109)

October 13, 2004
Open Letter

Co-blogger Frank and I signed on to the open letter below critical of John Kerry's economic plan.

For the complete list of signers go here.


Economists' Statement On John Kerry's Economic Agenda

To whom it may concern:

We, the undersigned, strongly oppose key aspects of the economic agenda that John Kerry has offered in his bid for the U.S. presidency.

John Kerry says he "is committed to balancing the budget," but he has proposed additional spending that some analysts have estimated could cost as much as $226.1 billion annually ($2.261 trillion over ten years).He promises to "end corporate welfare as we know it" by implementing the "McCain-Kerry commission on corporate welfare," but he also proposes to provide additional "tax credits and subsidies to manufacturers" that meet his criteria.

Entitlement reform is the most important fiscal challenge facing the country, yet Kerry's approach has been to deny that any fix is needed.Indeed, Kerry criticized the recent Medicare expansion for not being large enough.

John Kerry has proposed tax increases that threaten to sap the economy's vitality and reduce long-term growth.Specifically, Kerry proposes to "restore the top two [income] tax rates to their levels under President Clinton."He would also, among other things, "restore the capital gains and dividend rates for families making over $200,000 on income earned above $200,000 to their levels under President Clinton."Kerry's stated desire to balance the budget and to boost federal spending substantially would almost certainly require far higher and broader tax increases than he has proposed.

John Kerry boasts that his economic policies will lead to the creation of 10 million jobs in his first term as president.As Martin Sullivan wrote last April in the strictly non-partisan Tax Notes, no one "has presented any analysis to relate the Kerry plan to the creation of 1 million jobs, much less 10 million jobs."In fact, we believe Kerry's proposals would, over time, inhibit capital formation, depress productivity growth, and make the United States less competitive internationally.The end result would be lower U.S. employment and real wage growth.

John Kerry has expressed a general reluctance to reduce trade barriers. He has promised, if elected, to "review existing trade agreements."He vows not to "sign any new trade agreements until the review is complete and its recommendations [are] put in place."That's a prescription for political gridlock.Given the widespread benefits of unfettered trade, Kerry's trade policies would harm U.S. producers and consumers alike.

All in all, John Kerry favors economic policies that, if implemented, would lead to bigger and more intrusive government and a lower standard of living for the American people.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:24 PM  ·  TrackBack (47)

Mercenaries vs. Slaves

As usual, Milton Friedman had a special ability to cut to the heart of the matter, as he did in a hearing with General Westmoreland. David Henderson recounts the exchange in a 1999 essay:

One of [William] Meckling's favorite stories, which his widow, Becky, recalled in a recent interview, was of an exchange between Mr. Friedman and General William Westmoreland, then commander of all U.S. troops in Vietnam. In his testimony before the commission, Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Mr. Westmoreland replied, "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves." Mr. Friedman then retorted, "I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries. If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher."

As they say, read the whole thing. (Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution)

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:00 PM

So Much for a Free Press

Leftists howled censorship when Disney didn't want to release Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." The transcript below from Brit Hume's Fox program yesterday suggests they've changed their tune:

HUME: Right. Now, on Fox today, as you [an executive of Sinclair broadcasting] know, just after the interview that you participated in, we heard a little bit from the Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton earlier. I want to get your reaction to something else that Chad Clanton said, if we can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLANTON: I think they're going to regret doing this, and they better hope we don't win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Yep--that appears to be an explicit threat against an organization exercising its first amendment rights. Unlike the Disney case, a private entity that can air or produce what it likes, this would be true censorship.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:02 AM  ·  TrackBack (41)

October 12, 2004
Reimportation revisited

Roger Pilon has an article in yesterday's WSJ (link to Cato Institute version here) that does a much better job of explaining the drug reimportation question than I did in my previous post. His argument, though better informed and more complete, is basically the same. Here's a sample,

Modern "miracle drugs" don't come cheaply. Given onerous FDA safety and efficacy standards, it takes on average 12 to 15 years and $800 million before a company can bring a new drug to market. Before the first dollar of profit comes back, those R&D costs have to be recovered, of course. But a company looks at the world and sees essentially one free market, America. Socialized medical systems abroad impose price controls. Seeing that, companies charge market prices here (half the world market) and take what they're offered abroad. Foreigners are classic "free riders" as Americans pay most of the R&D costs.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 06:15 PM  ·  TrackBack (108)

Debate Tips from P.J. O'Rourke

Quite funny. Hat tip: Southern Appeal.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:46 PM  ·  TrackBack (22)

Nobel Laureate Prescott Calls for More Tax Cuts

Read it here. Hat tip: Southern Appeal.

Something tells me this will be the topic of a WSJ editorial tomorrow.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:41 PM  ·  TrackBack (25)

The Powerpoint Version of the Gettysburg Address

This one is self-explanatory--just click on the "next" button. Hat tip: Wilson Mixon.

Shamefully, this kind of garbage is now the norm for "effective teaching" or "teaching with technology."

Of course, there are lots of other fads such as group work. (Let's learn to free-ride while still in college!!) Jared Sandberg had a good column ("Some Ideas Are So Bad That Only Team Efforts Can Account for Them") in the Sept. 29 WSJ (subscription required); here's a good excerpt:

Unfortunately, despite plenty of research cautioning against the knee-jerk idolatry of teams in the workplace, these group efforts are still sacrosanct. Sure, no company could survive without teams, but many companies could prosper without some of them. Teamwork's underlying assumption is that two heads are better than one, with the math looking something like this: 1 head + 1 head = 2 heads. In reality, teamwork looks more like a multiplication function: 1 head x 1 head = 1 head. Worse, consider what happens in a team full of half-wits: half-wit x half-wit = one-quarter wit.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:51 AM  ·  TrackBack (120)

She's Back

Just when we were beginning to miss her "shove it" eruptions, Marie Antoinette Kerry has spouted off again. This time she says:

"John will never send a boy or girl in a uniform anywhere in the world because of our need and greed for oil," Teresa Heinz Kerry told about 1,200 supporters at the McAllen Civic Center.

While there are reasonable, even persuasive to many folks, arguments against war with Iraq, the "it's about oil" bit isn't one of them. Simply dropping what was left of the porous sanctions (as well as the oil-for-dictators/cash for corrupt UN bureaucrats program) would have done the deed for cheap oil without any need for invasion.

And, by the way, look what's happened to the price of oil--it's gone up, not down. Yes, events besides Iraq are partly responsible, but the outcome doesn't suggest that invasion is a good strategy for obtaining cheap oil.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:20 AM  ·  TrackBack (282)

Tragedy of the Commons

In August, Purdue University started a "Gold Bike" program in which 24 bicycles were put out on campus for common use. The bicycles, painted bright gold and carrying orange license plates, were supposed to ease traffic congestion and reduce bicycle thefts. The project seems dubious on both counts: Getting 24 people out of cars and onto bikes would have a neglible effect on traffic at a school as large as Purdue and it seems that putting a bunch of unlocked bikes out on campus would increase, rather than decrease, theft.

In any event, the outcome was predictable. Less than two months later, 20 of the 25 bikes cannot be found or are not in working order. (Details here; the news stories are conflicting about whether there were 24 or 25 bicycles.) This attrition rate is nearly identical to that experienced when my campus started the Berry Bike program in 1998; former student Dan Alban and I documented the program's failure in The Freeman.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:00 AM  ·  TrackBack (30)

On Bush's Spending

Alex Tabarrok of MR takes issue with George Bush's claim in the second debate:

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control.

Like Tabarrok, I've also been disappointed by the increase in government spending under Bush. Yet I think Tabarrok's evidence is a bit sloppy. First, citing figures from Kevin Drum, he reports that the growth rate of non-defense discretionary spending is higher under Bush than under any presidency since Nixon/Ford. But read the Bush quote again--he says non-homeland non-defense discretionary spending. Yes, this does seem like quibbling over, say, the meaning of "sexual relations" or "is." And, yes, homeland security spending may be nebulously defined to include lots of pork, but Tabarrok drops a modifier that presumably is important to Bush's conclusion. Second, examining Tabarrok's nifty chart (reproduced from the CBO) shows that the rate of growth of non-defense spending (the red line) did not change when we went from Clinton to G.W. Bush and actually decreased about two years into the Bush 43 administration. Hence, even dropping Bush's non-homeland modifier as Tabarrok does, one could conclude that spending growth on non-defense items did not increase. Of course, I'd be much happier if not only the rate of spending growth but also the actual level of spending decreased.

By the way, a good way for the president to show some principled, small-government leadership would be for him to veto the special interest Christmas tree of a tax bill that both houses recently passed.


Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:40 AM  ·  TrackBack (3)

William Sjostrom on Time Inconsistency

Sjostrom:

The Nobel prize in economics came out, and it went to Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott for work on dealing with children. Okay, not exactly. The announcement mentions their important work on time consistency. It works like this. You tell your teenage kid to mow the lawn, and promise you will drive him to the mall if he does. But you do not want to drive him to the mall, because you are tired and do not feel like driving. So, when he finishes the lawn, you renege on your promise. A good deal, no? Except that your kid can figure out that it is in your best interests to renege on the deal, so he does not believe your promise and does not mow the lawn.

This example reminds me of a friend from OU who was obsessed with credibly committing to certain punishments when he became a parent. As any parent knows, it doesn't help to make idle threats because after a while kids realize that you haven't credibly committed to the punishment.

For example, telling your kids "If you don't quiet down, I'm turning this car around" is usually not a credible threat because your kids know you're not turning the car around and heading home. Anyway, my friend and his wife agreed that, just once, they would turn the car around and head home, in order to make that threat credible.

My take: I could never get over why he just didn't use another threat - one that he could make credible and that didn't entail an enormous time investment. That being said, I've often thought of doing this myself in the future, if only to see the look on my son's face as he realizes that I'm serious about going home.

Hat Tip: Michael Munger

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:08 AM

French 101

A major department store ad in Sunday's paper read,

30% off Joseph A. knit tops with faux* fur trim for misses.

Then at the bottom it gives this footnote:

*Faux is a French word meaning fake.

No kidding. At first, I figured this was a nod to an increasingly illiterate society. But my wife (hat tip to her btw) said it was probably because animal rights nuts would think "faux" meant "fox".

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:26 AM  ·  TrackBack (266)

October 11, 2004
Why?

Trailing 4-2 entering the 7th inning, Bobby Cox brings in the ineffectual Chris Reitsma and his 5.56 September ERA. Four runs later, Reitsma leaves and the equally awful Tom Martin comes in and allows another run. (I sure hope these guys contracts' are up this year--I'll take my chances next year with prospects like Jose Capellan and Dan Meyer.) Cox deserves much credit (perhaps even the manager of the year award) for managing a low-expectations, injury-plagued team to a first place finish, but the choice of Reitsma over Juan Cruz was awful. Is Cox paying Garner back for his boneheaded moves in Game 4? Oh the joys of October in Atlanta ...

UPDATE: Now a helping of humble pie for this armchair manager--Cruz was lousy in the 8th. I'd still have chosen him over Reitsma.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:54 PM  ·  TrackBack (35)

An Open Letter to Charles Rangel

(What follows is an open letter, never published, that John Coleman, a student of mine, and I composed when Charles Rangel floated the idea of reinstating the draft.)


Dear Representative Rangel:

We noticed that you recently proposed that the draft be reinstated so that all races and income groups in society bear the military burden of defending our country.

Your proposal has been criticized on several fronts. Both USA Today and The Wall Street Journal questioned your underlying premise that blacks, Hispanics, and low-income whites are all present in larger percentages in the current all-voluntary military than they are in the population as a whole.

Criticism of your proposal has also come from those economists and others who recognize that the draft is essentially an “inequitable and arbitrary” tax on those individuals who are unfortunate enough to be drafted. This perspective, dating at least from Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (the source of the above quotation), also incorporates the loss to society that arises from distorting workers’ choices between the military and civilian sectors.

Yet another attack on your proposal has come from those who consider the performance of our all volunteer military of the last quarter century to be superior to the conscription-based military we relied on prior to that time. Witness Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s recent remark that the draft added “no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time.”

While all of these criticisms have merit, we write to draw your attention to a more promising application of your shared sacrifice principle: extending the income tax to all adult members of society (except perhaps the severely disabled) so they better understand the cost of new federal programs.

Although it is certainly true that everyone does pay taxes either explicitly (e.g., the Social Security payroll tax) or implicitly (e.g., the increased price of gasoline resulting from the gas tax), the top 50% of income earners pay some 95% of income taxes. Consequently, the increasing concentration of income tax liability on high income taxpayers leads a significant and growing share of our population to regard new government programs (e.g., a prescription drug benefit for the aged) as a “free lunch.”

Enacting a nominal income tax of, say, $25 per person (and requiring that it be increased any time that anyone’s income taxes are increased), would make it clearer that the resources to fund new government programs must come from taxpayers. Such a levy would not require a significant reduction in the progressivity of the income tax or an elimination of the assorted welfare programs and social engineering schemes (i.e., “tax credits”) that are currently part of the tax code. But the increased awareness that government programs are not funded by manna from Heaven should make both your colleagues in the Congress and our fellow citizens think more carefully about the merits of proposed increases in government spending. In this respect, our proposal is entirely consistent with your idea of reinstating the draft to make politicians less inclined to use the military.

What about the increased burden on the IRS and possibility of people simply ignoring the $25 tax? We think the former would be minimal because there would be no complicated forms to process. As for the latter, we don’t envision the IRS actively prosecuting deadbeats. Instead, we’d simply link the eligibility for future government goodies (e.g., Social Security) to the payment of one’s taxes just as eligibility for benefits such as Pell Grants is linked to Selective Service registration.

Rep. Rangel, you are uniquely positioned to champion our proposal. Not only have you advocated the notion of shared sacrifice in your call for reinstating the draft, but you are also a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. We hope you have enough faith in your principle to call for its consistent application to such an obvious facet of government policy.

Sincerely,


John W. Coleman
E. Frank Stephenson

UPDATE: HeavyLifting has a nifty graph depicting the average income tax rate of the bottom 50% of earners.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:11 PM  ·  TrackBack (182)

Frightening

What a fabulous weekend--I went to the chili cook off sponsored by the Coosa Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. (Kudos to guys of Redneck Chili for a tasty treat.) I then spent two enjoyable hours mountain biking on Berry's 27,000 acre campus.

Although I spent most of weekend on recreation and with some visiting family, I did watch most of Friday's debate. I agree with the common perception that President Bush did much better. However, in answering a question about prescription drug reimportation, he also uttered one of the scariest lines I've ever heard from a politician:

I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you.

Of course, there are good arguments against using reimportation as a backdoor imposition of price controls (Bob has a nice one here), but Bush's is Orwellian. (Insomniacs can click here for a debate transcript.)

On the other hand, Kerry's nuisance comment suggests he's incapable of protecting us from something that is a legitimate role for government--an external attack.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:50 AM  ·  TrackBack (295)

Kydland and Prescott win

Finn E. Kydland and Edward C. Prescott won today's Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2004:

"for their contributions to dynamic macroeconomics: the time consistency of economic policy and the driving forces behind business cycles"

Posted by Robert Lawson at 07:36 AM  ·  TrackBack (116)

October 10, 2004
Marathon Result

I ran my very first marathon today. It was the Towpath Marathon which runs along the Ohio & Erie Canal and Cuyahoga River from northern Akron to Cleveland. The weather was ideal (for running if not for the spectators) and the fall color was awesome.

My time was about 3:35:30--about an 8:13/mile pace. This is just about what I was going for so I'm pleased. I started out a tad too fast (common rookie mistake) and suffered big time in the last 10k. But I finished without walking and without puking so it was a great day!

UPDATE: Wahoo! My final time was a bit better than I'd thought -- 3:34:37 -- according to the official results. I was 86th out of a field of 425.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 06:24 PM  ·  TrackBack (155)

October 08, 2004
Nobel Prize in Economics--My Turn

The Nobel futures market shows Ed Prescott leading, Robert Barro second, Paul Krugman third, and Williamson, Fama, and Phelps bunched closely together in 4th-6th. That sounds like a fairly reasonable prediction to me; I'm not one who is inclined to discount the information provided by markt prices. Nonetheless, a few thoughts:

1. I think Barro's price/rank is too high; he's unlikely to be chosen in the current political environment.

2. The selection of Krugman would be a travesty. Appallingly, he thought 9/11 would make us economically better off. More generally, his academic work is in internation trade yet his choice to curtail his academic work in favor of being a hack columnist (like we needed another Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower) indicates a poor grasp of the trade concept comparative advantage. I hope his current price reflects undue optimism on the part of Bush-haters rather than his true prospects of winning.

3. Like Bob, I'd be pleased to see Gordon Tullock or Sam Peltzman win. Alas, it seems unlikely.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:24 PM  ·  TrackBack (29)

On Kerry's Plans, the Media, and Jimmy Carter

1. A follow-up to Bob's recent post on Kerry's plans: In the last day or two Kerry has been moaning and groaning about not knowing what conditions he'll find in Iraq if he becomes president next January 20. Specifically, he has expressed concern that Iraq might turn into "another Lebanon." At the same time Kerry has reminded us that he has a plan. I don't get it--how can Kerry have any meaningful plan if there is such great uncertainty over the conditions that the plan would address? Actually I do get it--the whole bit about plans is a crock of #$@!.

2. I'm not the only grumpy one--check out Bill Anderson's take on the media. (Hat tip: Wilson Mixon.)

3. It seems that Jimmy Carter has more than lust in his heart. From James Taranto's October 4 "Best of the Web Today" email:

Meanwhile, the Times of London offers this quote from "The Hornet's Nest," a new novel by Jimmy Carter (yes, that Jimmy Carter): "He was overwhelmed with a feeling of tenderness, and was also aroused sexually, which his tight trousers made obvious to both of them." Sounds like a real page-turner.


Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:54 PM  ·  TrackBack (131)

October 06, 2004
Free Speech on Campus or Not

Michael Munger has some nice posts about free speech (or the lack thereof) on campus here and here.

My university recently rejected one faculty member's request to bring Michael Moore (or better yet go here) to campus. I've heard that the stated reason was the cost of providing security. But he was told the real reason was that they didn't want to upset donors as we gear up for a big capital campaign.

Geez.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:59 PM  ·  TrackBack (26)

Korea then and now

I'm reading a little book by Bob Hope about his various USO travels. Here's his description of South Korea in the mid-1950s.

Korea is a bleak, unyielding country saddled with grinding poverty. The destructiveness of the war is everywhere in evidence. And yet the uneasy truce, although bringing an end to the hostilities, is hardly less cruel, since it separates the predominantly industrial North from the barely subsisting agricultrual South. People live in caves and mud huts, gathering scraps of wood to get through the night. Trees are a rare luxury.

Today, South Korea's per capita income is $17,800 compared with North Korea's $1,300 per person. (Source: CIA World Factbook).


Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:45 PM  ·  TrackBack (146)

Ain't Technology Grand?

My alma mater just won a prize for this little gizmo. Ok it's not the X Prize, but this I could acutally use.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:10 PM  ·  TrackBack (6)

Quote of the Day

A critic of David Friedman: Much popular libertarian rhetoric is a subtle revolutionary call to arms.

David Friedman's response: Much liberal rhetoric is, in the same sense, a subtle justification for poor people mugging rich people. In both cases, the fact that the rhetoric can be used that way tells us very little about whether the underlying arguments are true or false.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:20 PM  ·  TrackBack (41)

I couldn't help but laugh...

When asked for examples of substitutes and complements, a group of my students submitted the following:

Substitutes: blondes and brunettes
Complements: blondes and condoms

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:38 PM  ·  TrackBack (27)

On Cleveland

Below is part of a Gwen Ifill question in last night's vice presidential debate:

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, the Census Bureau ranked Cleveland as the biggest poor city in the country, 31 percent jobless rate.

This (and a couple of subsequent comments about poverty in Cleveland) struck me as interesting because Cleveland is often held out as a stadium-driven economic development success story. (In the last decade or so, Cleveland has build new football and baseball stadia; I think there is also a new basketball arena. The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame is also often lumped in the tale of success.) Ifill's question suggests that maybe this strategy hasn't been successful; this would hardly be surprising since--developers' claims and Cowboys propaganda notwithstanding--there's a strong body of research showing that stadia don't boost local economies. (For an example, click here.)

ADDENDUM: The proposed DC stadium for the Expos turned Gridlocks (or Porkers, or ...) is drawing some opposition. Kudos to the folks protesting this taxpayer fleecing.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:33 PM  ·  TrackBack (34)

October 05, 2004
Some Quick Hits

Class prep awaits, but a few quick thoughts:

1. James Miller has an EXCELLENT piece on TechCentralStation about Social Security transition costs. (If only the media would spend more time explaining Miller's point than on, say, what Elton John thinks about Madonna's singing.) Hat tip: Newmark's Door.

2. Here's an innovation that the world can do without. Such unappealing concoctions almost make it possible to buy into the "too many choices" notion.

3. The baseball playoffs start today and the wild card Astros and RedSox seem to be popular choices to make the World Series. This forecast reminds me of something that's been on my mind for awhile--I think there should be more of a disadvantage for being the wild card team in the playoff. Perhaps having to always play the team with the best record regardless of division. Perhaps having a bigger homefield disadvantage (maybe even having to play all games on the road). Perhaps something else; my point is that having a nearly level playing field for the wild card team devalues the regular season.

UPDATE: Trent McBride has a lengthy discussion of, and a provocative suggestion for, playoff structure. (He also has several other interesting posts, including this one on how marijuana busts earn Chicago cops lots of overtime pay.)

4. Re the Braves and the playoffs: I don't buy the sentiment that somehow this year, seemingly out of nowhere, the Braves will break their habit of playoff disappointment. I hope I'm wrong.

5. This article makes wonder what my Ohio-based co-bloggers have been up to. (Hat tip: John Lott). All kidding aside, I think election is fraud is a big problem and one that is likely exacerbated by early voting, easier registration, and lax standards for checking identification. (Yesterday, NPR had a scary story about New Mexico's unwillingness to require voters to show identification.) John Fund has a new book on the topic; read the introduction here.

6. In an earlier post, Bob touted his wife's movie knowledge. My turn, though not about movies. My wife saw the chart depicting a 50%+ decrease in real airfares since airline deregulation on the front page of today's WSJ and said "that's what you get from competition." My wife, a medical professional who's never even taken a single course in economics, then proceeded to think out loud about how competition might reduce the price of medical services. (The WSJ article is only available to subscribers but the Air Transport Association data on which the chart is based are available here.)

Off to class prep.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:52 PM  ·  TrackBack (16)

You just keep thinkin', Butch.

John Kerry's "I have a plan" commercials seriously turn my stomach. I wonder if I'm unusual in reacting so negatively to the word "plan"?

I don't want to live by anyone else's damn plan! Kerry, tell me how you're going to make MY life plan easier to achieve; don't tell me about yours. (I'm pretty sure if he gave any details about his "plan" which he doesn't btw, I'd think HIS plan will make MY plan more difficult to implement not easier, but that's another story.)

My wife's reaction to Kerry's talk of his "plan" was to recall Sundance's (Robert Redford's) great line to Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the movie, "You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at." Love that movie.

UPDATE: Frank writes As for the last sentence “Love that Movie”—your wife’s excellent movie reference suggests you should have written “Love that woman.”

He's right. And I do.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:44 AM  ·  TrackBack (31)

October 04, 2004
My Nobel Predictions

Following in Josh's footsteps regarding the upcoming Nobel Prize in economics, let me add my predictions and wish list to the mix.

Who I think will win:
Oliver Williamson
William Baumol
Thomas Schelling
Eugene Fama
Robert Barro

Who I'd like to see win:
Hernando DeSoto
Sam Peltzman
Walter Oi
Deirdre McCloskey
Gordon Tullock

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:59 AM  ·  TrackBack (135)

October 03, 2004
An Open Letter to OU's College of Arts and Sciences

To Whom It May Concern:

I don't mind being called at home on Sunday.

I don't mind having to listen to an OU student struggle through a (poorly) scripted phone solicitation.

I don't mind being being asked to donate an amount equal to one-fifteenth of my yearly salary as a research assistant to the College of Arts and Sciences. I politely told your solicitor that I would like to give but that's about what I bring home every three weeks.

I do mind, however, having to hang up on your solicitor after she responded to my polite rebuff of her solicitation by saying that while she "understands my situation" I should realize that my donation is "needed now more than ever given declining state support for higher education."

If money is an issue, perhaps you shouldn't have promoted to full professor so many people who 1) publish an article every decade and 2) whose classes are woefully undersubscribed.

Sincerely,

Joshua Hall, M.A. '99

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:10 PM

George Will on Ohio

George Will had a column in the Sunday Columbus Dispatch about the infighting among Ohio Republicans. His punch line:

As the nation navigates a dangerous epoch, its choice of the next president, who might have to deal with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and North Korea selling them, might turn on a sales tax increase in Ohio. Good grief.

My take: After 2 two-term Republican governors (first Voinovich and now Taft) who managed to spend and regulate more than the Democrats could ever have dreamed, who can blame the few remaining Republicans with principles for turning against them?

Posted by Robert Lawson at 07:36 PM  ·  TrackBack (143)

Media Ignorance

I recently covered the topic of elasticity of demand in my econ principles course. Part of my discussion is centered around a January 3, 2003 Chicago Tribune article "Airlines Cry Poor but Offer Fare Cuts" by Lorene Yue. Ms. Yue's first paragraph:

"U.S. airlines, desperate for travelers and their dollars, have launched 2003 with fare sales, leaving many to wonder just how an industry begging for financial help can afford to sell tickets at a discount."

Ms. Yue earns an F; she evidently has not encountered the notion that if demand is elastic then price cuts increase total revenue by leading to a larger percentage increase in quantity demanded than the decrease in price.

Note: I couldn't find a link to the article but its for sale in the Tribune's archives.

Question for discussion (Arnold Kling-style): Continuing a trend that started in 1997, the Atlanta Braves have just finished another successful season on the field but have experienced a decline in attendance. Since average per game attendance was only a bit above 50% of Turner Field's capacity, why doesn't the team lower ticket prices to increase attendance? (The Braves actually have made a few minor price cuts so perhaps the question should ask why they haven't made more sweeping cuts.)

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:33 PM  ·  TrackBack (143)

Ig Nobel Prizes

MR has a post about the Ig Nobel prize in economics.

As someone who is not a fan of country music, I applauded the selection of this paper for the Ig Nobel in medicine.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:06 PM  ·  TrackBack (26)

October 02, 2004
Bush/Kerry Debate

I watched most of the debate Thursday night. Like many, I thought Kerry came across as more articulate (of course, the surprise would have been if he had NOT seemed more articulate) but that he made the one significant gaffe of the evening (the bit about passing a global test for military action). I suspect that style is a bigger influence than substance for the typical (rationally) ignorant voter, so I would have expected the race to tighten a bit. The Iowa Markets support my conjecture.

Something I can't figure out: Since Kerry thinks Bush has been too unilateral in Iraq, why does he criticize Bush for the multilateral (six-party) approach to North Korea? My guess--there's no grand underlying principle of international relations at work here. Instead (and not surprisingly), the operative principle seems to be that Kerry thinks Bush can do nothing right--internal contridictions be damned! (Of course, one might argue that Bush is guilty of a symmetric opportunism; Bush, of course, would deny that his Iraq policy has been unilateral.)

UPDATE: MR's Tyler Cowen had a post on the Iowa Markets' immediate post debate reaction. There was little change, even a slight trend toward Bush. Hence, it appears that the strong trend toward Kerry in the last two days is more attributable to post debate "spin" and media "analysis" than to people's actual response to the debate.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:26 PM  ·  TrackBack (104)

Dispatches from the Anointed

The Oct. 4 issue of Fortune has an Amory Lovins "brainstorm" (that's a big clue that some central planning scheme is forthcoming) outlining a plan for a 50% reduction in U.S. oil consumption that he and his"team of scientists, engineers, economists, and consultants a Rocky Mountain Institute" concocted.

Lovins writes, "Our report, ..., charts practical policies--market-oriented without taxes, .... The most imporant innovation is 'feebates' for new cars and light trucks. Feebates combine fees on inefficient vehicles with rebates on efficient ones, to influence consumer choice."

Hmm--walks like a duck, quacks like a duck--yep, it's a tax!

For good measure, Lovins also calls for "[t]emporary loan guarantees [to] encourage automakers to retool and airlines to buy efficient airplanes." The road to you-know-where is paved with temporary government programs (e.g., the telephone tax used to finance the Spanish-American War) and post-9/11 loan guarantees to United and USAir now have the government on the threshold of owning a chunk of two sickly airlines.

The full scheme is available here, but it seems like something only a masochist like Craig Depken would read.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:12 PM  ·  TrackBack (24)

Upcoming Nobel Prize

Provided without comment... (except one).

Top Five Likely to Get It This Year:
1. Edward Prescott
2. Edmund Phelps
3. Eugene Fama
4. Robert Barro
5. Gordon Tullock

Top Five I'd Like To See Get It
1. Gordon Tullock
2. Robert Barro
3. William Baumol
4. Dierdre McCloskey
5. Someone young and energetic, rather than someone "due." My top three in this category would be (1) Steven Levitt, (2) Andrei Shleifer, and (3) Kevin Murphy.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 03:47 PM

Buchanan on "Owing the Debt to Ourselves"

To argue, as Abba P. Lerner (see Buchanan, Public Principles, 12) did, that "for national debt which is owed by the nation to citizens of the same nation...[there] is no external creditor ... We owe it to ourselves ..." is to blur the fundamental distinction between the organized unit "state" and the "society" or "the economy." If by "nation" Lerner meant the state, and by "we" all the citizens in their capacity as members of the state, then for what is called "national debt" there is an "external creditor," namely, citizens in their private capacity, i.e, with those of their resources that remain outside the state's domain, and the statement "We owe it to ourselves" is simply misleading. The imputed collectivity "we" ("the society," "the economy") simply does not exist as a "unit of account." Only in the limiting case of a perfectly totalitarian system would the proposition "We owe it to ourselves" make sense.*

*James Buchanan, "Organization Theory and Fiscal Economics: Society, State, and Public Debt," in The Collected Works of James Buchanan, Volume 14 (Indianapolis, IN: 2000): 435, footnote 7.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 03:32 PM

Free-Market Health Care?

From Arnold Kling:

I attended this Cato forum on health care reform options. Speakers were Sally Pipes, John Goodman, Jeff Lemieux, and Robert Kuttner. A few notes:

Best one-liner belonged to Kuttner: "The hardest job for a liberal is to defend the D.C. public school system. The hardest job for a conservative is to defend free-market health care."

One sure hopes Kuttner isn't thinking of the current health care system in the U.S., for our system is not even close to being a free market. Let me count the ways: tax credits, deductions, and other distortions, Medicare, state insurance coverage mandates ...

If we actually had anything close to free market health care, I'd happily defend it.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:28 PM  ·  TrackBack (289)

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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