Division of Labour: December 2004 Archives
December 31, 2004
Let's Go Boys!

My 2 1/2 year old has just started being interested in hockey. About three weeks ago my wife put on his NY Rangers jersey (a generous gift from a family friend) and he begged me to watch hockey.

At first I didn't know what to do since the NHL is on strike and women's college softball is on ESPN more than college hockey. Fortunately, I have a tape recapping the Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup run. My son and I have probably watched the video about fifteen times in the last three weeks.

He really wanted to watch real hockey though, so we took him to the alumni hockey game for my wife's alma mater (Bethel Park). The alumni team played a Pittsburgh area celebrity team which included Penguins GM Craig Patrick, Hall of Famer Joe Mullen, current Penguin Marc Recchi, and former Penguins Jay Caufield and Phil Bourque.

It was a really good game and while my son enjoyed the game, he was a bit confused because he thought we were going to see the Rangers. As we were leaving the arena he asked me, "We go see Rangers now?"

Today he's been batting a ball around the house with a plastic sword yelling "Go Rangers!" I've also taught him to say (with a Canadian accent) "Let's go, boys. Dump and chase! Dump and chase!"

Posted by Joshua Hall at 10:11 AM  ·  TrackBack (142)

December 30, 2004
Commencement Blues follow-up

A reader and parent of a former student e-mailed to take me to task about my Commencement Blues post. I won't give you the text of the reader's e-mail, but my reply is pasted below.

I am sorry that my comments disturbed you. I do not know Mr. Kridler personally and I’m sure he does good work as do many in the non-profit sector. I donate a fair amount of money to non-profits and I work for one myself as does my wife. It is one thing however to highlight the importance this sector and quite another to denigrate the for-profit sector, which is what he did. And I have always thought it wrong to deliver an overtly partisan political speech at a commencement. It is not the time or place. I have heard a number of satisfactory commencement addresses from so-called “do-gooders” that didn’t cross this line. For instance, Abigail Wexner gave a nice address a few years ago. I can tell you that I was not the only one among the faculty who thought Mr. Kridler crossed the line.

My intent with the blog post was not to deny the good work that non-profits do but rather to correct a common misconception about what profit and self interest are all about. It is all too common among people working in the non-profit sector to believe the for-profit sector is the actual cause of hunger and homelessness when in fact it is the profit motive that keeps just about all of us fed and housed. To be sure like all human institutions, the for-profit system is not perfect and it is important that we have civil society to fill in the gaps. You and others like you are a credit to our society in this regard. But to blame profit and self-interest for society’s problems is plainly incorrect.

Finally, your son is a fine student and was a pleasure to have in class. I hope to see him again in class. You may rest assured that I do not use the classroom as a forum to make political points or find converts. This is inappropriate in the classroom just as I think it is inappropriate at a commencement.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:03 PM  ·  TrackBack (43)

Chiroquacks at FSU?

Apparently, some profs at my alma mater are unhappy about a proposed chiropractic school. Gotta love this campus map that one of them made up:

chiromap.gif

[Hat tip: Dave Reed]

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:36 PM  ·  TrackBack (35)

Demand Elasticity?

A friend e-mailed me this question:

Do you believe that if it were possible to add it up, that demand elasticity on all products would average out at 1?

My answer is below. Am I right?

Yes…under certain assumptions. We can define GDP = PQ (GDP=Nominal Output, P=Prices, Q=Real Output). If you hold GDP constant, an increase of all prices (P) by say 1% must result in a reduction in Q of 1% in order to maintain the equation. This implies an aggregate price elasticity of (minus) 1. (I don’t think this is quite the same as saying that they all “average” out at 1 however…)

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:50 AM  ·  TrackBack (22)

December 28, 2004
Illarionov R.I.P.?

For a long time, the lone bright spot in Vladimir Putin's administration has been liberal (in correct sense) economist, Andrei Illarionov. (Full disclosure: Andrei is a long-time friend of mine.)

Illarionov was a leading opponent of Russia's signing the Kyoto Protocol. He lost that debate as Putin recently signed on to Kyoto.

And based on his recent criticisms of the Yukos confiscation/sale, I'm afraid Illarionov's tenure with Putin is likely nearing its end.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:18 PM  ·  TrackBack (69)

December 27, 2004
The Deadweight Loss of Christmas

Economists have long argued that gift-giving is potentially wasteful. The problem is that a gift that costs $100 may bring less than $100 worth of value to the recipient. In all cases, it would seem that giving a person $100 cash is at least as good as giving the gift itself--after all they can always buy for themselves the gift you would have bought with the $100. There is considerable academic debate however. The Economist summarizes the debate.

In my household, we minimize the problem by having my wife buy gifts for herself. She wraps them and labels them from me to her and opens them on Christmas morning. She gets what she wants and I am not bothered with shopping. We think it's a win-win all around.

This year I did get her James Lileks' two books (1 and 2) and she liked them a lot. He's one funny dude.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:20 PM  ·  TrackBack (204)

December 26, 2004
See You in 2005!

I'll be away for the next week or so visiting in-laws and letting Pee Wee play in the northern Michigan snow. As a thin-blooded Southerner, I plan to plant myself near my in-laws' fireplace and do some reading. Happy New Year to all co-bloggers and readers.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:56 PM  ·  TrackBack (130)

Property Rights

USA Today recently ran a piece about gun owners upset about private employers who don't allow concealed guns on their premises. These folks should get over it--the same Constitution that (imperfectly) protects private property is the one that protects the gun owners' 2nd Amendment rights. This isn't to say that I think property owners who ban concealed weapons are correct to do so, just that one should respect their right to do so.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:54 PM  ·  TrackBack (145)

Hypocrisy

Leftists' "Buy Blue" campaign is encouraging folks to shop at stores that support Commiecrat causes. Costco is on the list--but isn't this the same company that is being sued for sex discrimination? Now the suit might be bogus (and Wal-Mart is facing a similar suit), but it's the Commiecrats who (Bill Clinton's antics notwithstanding) proclaim fealty to "women's causes" and prefer courts to markets.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:48 PM  ·  TrackBack (31)

Life Imitates a Gross Arthouse Film

A real life version of "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover." Warning: This one is not for the easily traumatized.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:37 PM  ·  TrackBack (120)

December 25, 2004
Reason # 426 I need to get a job in the south...

Well I'm back... This is my front yard (see pic below) after the big storm hit us Wednesday night. The ice took two Washington Hawthorns to their graves but luckily they missed our house and the neighbor's. We had quite show as exploding transformers lit the sky for several hours. Our power was out for 22 hours, but we were lucky. The folks on the other side of the street were just restored today (after about 60 hours) and many in the neighborhood are still without power. Our cable tv (and internet) just returned tonight after 68 hours down. It looks like a warzone out there.

I talked to an AEP line crew today. We were giving them some coffee and Christmas cookies. One fellow flew up from Texas leaving his family on Christmas. I know they get paid for this, but they are doing God's work. The power of the market system to get complete strangers to do good things for each other is nothing short of a miracle.

snow2004.JPG

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:44 PM  ·  TrackBack (174)

December 23, 2004
Confederate Prom Dress Kerfuffle

Thankfully this story did not originate in Georgia.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:20 AM  ·  TrackBack (131)

Who--Other than Tyler Cowen--Knew?

Matisyahu is a Hasidic reggae superstar.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:18 AM  ·  TrackBack (129)

December 22, 2004
A Very Cool Story

Via Brad DeLong:


The Graphing Calculator Story
Pacific Tech's Graphing Calculator has a long history. I began the work in 1985 while in school. That became Milo, and later became part of FrameMaker. Over the last twenty years, many people have contributed to it. Graphing Calculator 1.0, which Apple bundled with the original PowerPC computers, originated under unique circumstances.

I used to be a contractor for Apple, working on a secret project. Unfortunately, the computer we were building never saw the light of day. The project was so plagued by politics and ego that when the engineers requested technical oversight, our manager hired a psychologist instead. In August 1993, the project was canceled. A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed.

I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple's doors, so I just kept showing up.

ATSRTWT.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:44 PM

Constructive Criticism

Michael Munger wrote a death's head on a referee report.

I think a sitcom based on the wit and wisdom of Michael Munger's would be great. (At the very least it would be better than most of that one based on Dave Barry's.)

But that's my opinion, which should be taken with a grain of salt because I spend my weekends playing vintage base ball and I like to listen to Gilbert & Sullivan and Prince Paul (although not at the same time). I also like my beer cheap and my scotch expensive.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:29 PM  ·  TrackBack (33)

EJW

The Econ Journal Watch has quickly become a must-read journal for me. Here I pass along some notes from EJW editor, Dan Klein:

Dan Johansson on the absence of entrepreneurship (and related concepts) and institutions (and related concepts like property rights and economic
freedom) from the leading PhD textbooks in micro, macro and IO. This paper is one of the most decisive proofs ever presented that core PhD training is like Hamlet without the Danish Prince.

Robert Nelson on scholasticism versus pietism.
A very original article. He distinguishes between the topical and structural nature of a discipline. That is, he distinguishes between economics being scholastic in the topical sense of dealing with irrelevancies, and being scholastic in the sense of have a hierarchical structure like a priesthood. Working with this distinction he develops the parallel ideas of a pietistic economics, in both topicality and in structure, best represented by people like Bastiat, Hazlitt, Mises, and Friedman, and in today's "pietistic" (market, competitive, adversarial) organizations like Cato and the IEA. Shows that leading economists writing the centennial issue of the EJ (1991) point to need for more pietism, often explicitly damning the profession for "scholasticism."
Killer analysis of Solow as one who upholds structural scholasticism.

Peter Minowitz on William Grampp (JPE) on Adam Smith:
Read especially the final pages pp. 409-411.

James Forder on Alan Blinder (AER) on "credibility":
The Figure on p. 418 conveys the nature of Forder's argument. A nice essay about keeping it real.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:33 AM  ·  TrackBack (48)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Big news around my household. The sixth installment in the Harry Potter series will be released on July 16.

I already put in my order with Amazon. Apparently, it has already topped the charts on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.Com.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:18 AM

December 21, 2004
Testing and Standards

Accountability via testing is the current rage in education policy. It's not necessarily bad; I'm all for holding someone accountable for turning out illiterate and innumerate graduates. There is, however, a downside--accountability is only as good as the standards that are set. And here in GA it looks like the standards aren't being set very high. For end of course exams, students can get as few as 30 of 75 questions correct and be considering passing. Yes, of course it is possible that the 75 questions were penned by Lucifer himself and that getting 30 correct is actually a decent achievement, but I'm dubious.

Details here; not surprisingly, the economics exam has the lowest pass rate.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:27 AM  ·  TrackBack (27)

No Virginia....

I consider it one of my (minor) parenting mistakes that we fostered the Santa myth on little bit when she was younger. I still remember the look of bitter disappointment I saw in her face when she discovered the truth. It was as if I'd failed her as a father. Still I felt a little better when she was forced to admit that she would have done the same thing with her kid.

One of my student bloggers has an interesting post about the whole thing. Notice the econ-nerd attempt to describe things in terms of income and substitution effects. I should warn him that talking like that is detrimental to your social life!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:17 AM  ·  TrackBack (36)

Bonehead Play of 2004

I turned on MNF last night just in time to see Tom Brady make one of the worst plays I can remember. Deep in his own territory and nursing a slim lead, Brady flings the ball to a Dolphin defender instead of taking a sack. If I were a Pats fan, it would have been difficult to sleep last night.

For fun, I've opened the comments section so readers can nominate their own candidates for Bonehead Play of 2004.

For what it's worth, I think Suppan's baserunning blunder in Game 3 of the World Series was worse than Brady's interception.

UPDATE: The best suggestion, as determined by me, will named the winner of the first (and perhaps only) Chris Webber Award in honor of Webber's not so Fab--Five--ulous timeout in the 1993 NCAA tourney.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:09 AM  ·  Comments (4)  ·  TrackBack (148)

December 20, 2004
Incentives Matter--Merit Pay for Teachers Edition

Thomas Dee (a creative young economist at Swarthmore) and Benjamin Keys find that "assignment to a teacher who [was participating in a Tennessee merit pay scheme] led to large and statistically significant increases in mathematics scores and sizable, though statistically insignificant, increases in reading scores."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:15 PM  ·  TrackBack (129)

"I am not a crook ..."

DC Mayor, and taxpayer fleecer (how's that for an inelegant expression?), Anthony Williams strikes a Nixonian pose:

WilliamsAsNixon.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:59 PM  ·  TrackBack (39)

Social Security Bull$#%t--II

I received a thoughtful comment regarding my previous post on the Social Security taxable earnings limit. One of Bob's Capital colleagues wonders if the AARP President might have been referring to adjusting the taxable earnings limit by wages rather than prices (recall that I used the CPI in my previous post). The sensible premise of his suggestion is that wages typically rise faster than prices.

To investigate this possibility, I repeated my analysis using two measures of wages: average gross hourly manufacturing earnings (obtained from Table 3.B3 of the 2003 Annual Statistical Supplement) and the average annual wage (obtained from Table 2.A9 of the same publication). There are a few warts in matching the data to the years I used previously, but the conclusion remains the same. The current taxable earnings limit is at least as high as in previous years; even making some generous assumptions about the mismatched wage data wouldn't get one close to having a previous year's limit now equivalent to $140k.

Year TaxableCap AdjforHourlyWages AdjforAnnualWages
1937 3,000 77,419 not avail
1950 3,000 33,333 37,101
1960 4,800 33,103 38,517
1970 7,800 37,143 40,543
1980 29,700 65,365 76,319
1990 51,300 75,789 78,447
2000 76,200 84,784 76,200
2003 87,000 87,000 not avail

I can think of one additional possibility: Perhaps Mr. Novelli has something like median family income in mind. It might have grown over time for reasons above and beyond inflation or real wage growth; an example would be an increasing share of two earner families. Note, however, using median family income to adjust the maximum taxable earnings cap would be something of an apples-oranges issue. That is, the earnings cap pertains to individual earnings--in two earner families each spouse's income is subject to taxation up to the taxable earnings cap regardless of total family earnings.


Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:57 AM  ·  TrackBack (36)

December 19, 2004
Commencement Blues

Unlike Frank, I didn't have the common sense to skip yesterday's commencement. The address by Douglas Kridler of the Columbus Foundation was the most nauseating speech I've ever heard. (And this is saying a lot as I've probably suffered through about 20 of these things.)

Aside from the usual platitudes about "doing well by doing good" blah blah blah that you expect from such talks, this guy's talk could have been scripted from the Democratic Party's latest talking points memo. "We" need to "do something" about [fill in liberal cause here--access to health care, housing, day care, etc etc etc ] but our leaders only seem to care about [fill in conservative cause here--gay marraige bans, concealed carry laws, lower taxes, etc.]. The finale came in the form of a screed against self-interest.

I don't recall any commencement address that I've attended by someone who made his name in the for-profit private sector. Ever year it's another holier than thou do-gooder from government, the non-profit sector, or the church. Just once I wish they'd produce someone who actually created something instead of all these self-righteous parasites who have nothing better to do than bite the hands that feed them.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:12 PM  ·  TrackBack (214)

Can You Not Tell The Difference in Management?

Linda Cohn's response (paraphrased from memory) to the Oakland Athletics trading of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson: "Oakland Athletics fans had better get used to their team being more like Kansas City."

I suspect that athletics, because of the zero-sum nature of the contest, produces this type of thinking. Instead of applauding the bold moves of Billy Beane (which could, in the end, be wrong), most people think of it as nothing but a step backward. Which it is in the short-term. But athletic leagues are one-shot games. The A's will not only play the 2005 season but the 2006 season, etc. This trade I think positions them to be successful long-term although I admit that success is by no means a sure thing.

Thinking only in the short-term gets you the New York Mets.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:29 AM  ·  TrackBack (132)

Boudreaux on Current Account Deficits

With all due respect to Craig Depken, I believe that Don Boudreaux is doing a lot of "heavy lifting" when it comes to economic ignorance. And in such clear and plain language.

This is but another fine example.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:12 AM  ·  TrackBack (138)

December 17, 2004
An Eminent Domain Abuse Thwarted

Hall County GA fails in its attempt to confiscate a widow's home.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:50 PM  ·  TrackBack (28)

Social Security Bull$#%t

Here's William Novelli of AARP discussing his preferred alternative to private accounts in Social Security on NPR ("Morning Edition" 12/16):

One thing you can do is raise the cap on the payroll tax. Right now when you go up to $88,000, then you stop paying Social Security taxes. If you bring it up to where it has been sort of traditionally, you'd raise it to about $140,000 or thereabouts, and that would solve a good percentage of the problem.

This just didn't smell right to me--my impression is that the upper limit of earnings subject to the payroll tax has been increasing over time rather than deceasing. So I went back to Harvey Rosen's public economics text (p. 198) and found the tax threshold for several years and obtained CPI data from the web to calculate inflation adjusted earnings thresholds:

Year Taxable Earnings Cap CPI Adjusted Earnings Cap
1937 3000 15.7 35,053
1950 3000 23.7 23,336
1960 4800 29.1 30,351
1970 7800 38.8 36,990
1980 29700 82.4 66,320
1990 51300 130.7 72,220
2000 76200 172.2 81,422
2003 87000 184 87,000

My instincts were indeed correct--even adjusting for inflation, the taxable earnings cap is now higher than in any of the previous years in the table (and presumably all other previous years). (Sorry for the difficult to read formatting--the first number in each row is the year, the second is the nominal earnings cap for that year, the third is that year's value of the CPI, and the fourth is the inflation adjusted earnings cap. For example, in 1990 the taxable earnings limit was 51,300, the CPI was 130.7, and the inflation adjusted taxable earnings limit was 72,220.)

It is this kind of outright misinformation that makes me skeptical about the prospects for meaningful Social Security reform of any kind.

ADDENDUM: Here's a previous post on Social Security. Andrew Samwick's VoxBaby is also a good source; here's a recent post.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:18 PM  ·  TrackBack (107)

Dispatches from George

Now that the semester has ended and I've put some other obligations behind me, I have a chance to catch up on some reading. My first destination--the latest missives from the sharp-penned (is that even a word?) George Leef:

1. Here George deflates the pompous gasbag Bill Moyers.

2. On the NAS Online Forum, George takes on the "American Degree Mania." His piece is a nice complement to my recent rant about "well trained" law professors.

3. Never one to go easy on sacred cows, George isn't fond of the G.I. Bill. The economist in me was particularly pleased at George's use of the "what is seen and unseen" line of reasoning.


Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:19 PM  ·  TrackBack (21)

Service Learning Rant II

I have already made one rant on "service learning" which is presently being pushed by my university's administration.

Don Boudreaux has an excellent essay at Cafe Hayek "On Self-Interestedness" pointing out the hypocrisy of many people when thinking about self-interest. Read the whole thing.

He wonders why some self-interested behaviors--diet and exercise for example--are extolled as virtues while other self-interested behaviors--say running a profitable business--are considered at best a necessary evil and at worst an unnecessary evil.

This is exactly my problem with this "service learning" ideology. To the service learning ideologue, service is defined exclusively as service of a particular type--helping the poor through some volunteer program for example. They actually defend such efforts as being in the interest of the volunteer as well as the people being "served". They say students learn something and become better people. Ok, I don't disagree. But tell me why service of any other type--helping the poor by providing them with goods and services in the market place--is deemed unworthy of the holy word "service"?

I have little doubt that more good for rich and poor alike would come from a promising accounting student doing an accounting internship with PriceWaterhouseCoopers than handing out blankets at the homeless shelter.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:46 AM  ·  TrackBack (111)

December 16, 2004
Reps enjoy sex more than Dems?!

This was put together by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I can't vouch for all the data but the friend is quite reliable. It's long so I'm putting it below the fold as it were. Enjoy.

Read More »

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:51 PM  ·  TrackBack (33)

ECKonomics or EEKonomics?

So how do you pronounce it? I typically say economics with the initial 'e' sound as a short 'e' as in pet -- ECKonomics. But others pronounce it with the intitial 'e' sound as a long 'e' as in Pete -- EEKonomics.

This dictionary and this one have both but put the short 'e' pronounciation first.

But this one has the long 'e' version first and appears to claim that the short 'e' version is a US variant. The OED puts the long 'e' version first too.

To confuse matters, it is clear that almost everyone uses the long 'e' when saying 'economist', 'economy' or the shorthand 'econ' (as in ECON 101).

I remember a little old lady who came up to me after I gave a public lecture. She thanked me for saying it the "proper way" -- with the short 'e' sound.

On the other hand [insert economist joke here], a Greek colleague of mine says that it would be the long 'e' sound in the original Greek. The Greek root word is "oikos" which he says is pronounced EEKOS.

If anyone has an opinion, I've opened up the comments on this one. Probably there's no right or wrong, I'm just curious if this has bothered anyone else.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:44 PM  ·  Comments (3)  ·  TrackBack (133)

Nutcracker News

My daughter is in BalletMet Columbus' Nutcracker. She's a "page" and the show got a nice opening night review here.

Much thought and innovation have been lavished on the choreography and interpretation of Act 2, a letdown in many productions. This starts with the sleepy Pages at the beginning, who reappear in grander style in an adorable variation.

But enough parental bragging...

This is a pretty funny story about a local columnist's participation in the show as a large rat.

This explains the reviewer's comment, "Last night’s cast (casts alternate) looked well-prepared and confident (except for one large stumbling rat)."

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:01 AM  ·  TrackBack (28)

Solich to Ohio University

I was going to write a post about how Ohio should inquire whether Solich was available, but I thought it was too crazy. Guess I was wrong.

I just have 4 words for Solich: Bring back the option! If OU can have rush the ball for 60+ times a game and attempt less than 7 passes a game, we'll be back on our way to the relative success of the Jim Grobe era.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:55 AM  ·  TrackBack (24)

December 15, 2004
Sour Grapes

Peter Gammons whines about Pedro Martinez's "mercenary decision" to sign with the New York Mets. Don't hold your breath waiting for him to similarly moan and groan about Edgar Renteria's mercenary decision to sign with Gammons's beloved Red Sox.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:58 PM  ·  TrackBack (79)

There oughta be a law...

I cannot begin to know the kind of grief of this father whose child died in the care of a negligent day-care provider. But I can imagine it.

Still, I can't see how more regulations of in-home day care operations will help matters. The fact is the persons guilty of this crime were cited many times for violating existing regulations and were in violation of the rules (for having too many children in the home) on the very day of the tragedy. It's hard to imagine that tighter regulations, which won't be enforced any more than the old ones, will do any good. The real blame goes to the operators of this day care operation and they are in prison now where they belong.

But grieving parents and politicians are a dangerous combination. Tomorrow I look forward to a newpaper article about how working people struggle to find affordable day care.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:40 PM  ·  TrackBack (126)

Data Mining 101

Assymetric Information challenges the scale on one of Robert Shiller's graphs. How easy it is to torture data to get any answer you want.

Here's his graph:

shiller1.gif

Here's the same graph with the right scale altered so that the maximum value is 100. [Probably, the best thing to do is to scale the right axis to a maximum of 160 so that it's proportional to the 1600 scale on the left, but I liked the "look" of this one better just as I'm sure Shiller liked the "look" of his better.]

shiller2.gif

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:41 AM  ·  TrackBack (21)

Commencement Economics II

There is also a law and economics dimension to my cutting graduation last Saturday. Since Gary Becker's seminal 1968 JPE paper, we've known that crime is more likely if there is a low probability of apprehension and a low penalty for committing the offense. The combination of low probability of detection and low penalty of the offense accurately describes my cutting graduation. There is no roll taken of faculty attending graduation and, since Berry has some 150 faculty members, a few missing people are rarely noticed. (I have a colleague who is well-known for saying that we can "look for him in the back of the line." Note that he doesn't say we can find him at tthe back of the line.) Moreover, even if someone noticed that I had not attended, the most severe punishment is likely to be a "don't do that again" email from the provost. So, being the rational criminal that I am, I spent Saturday afternoon grading in lieu of another "you are the future" speech.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:01 AM  ·  TrackBack (58)

"Well Trained" Law Professors

Craig Depken posts on some questionable research from a "well trained" (more accurately, well credentialed) law professor.

Here's another instance of gibberish published by a law professor with a good pedigree (degrees from Harvard and Stanford). His paper's title is "THE ROTH IRA CUTS FEDERAL REVENUES, WITH NO BENEFIT TO TAXPAYERS" and here's a money quote:

Although the Roth IRA was enacted in part to increase federal
revenues, the Roth IRA will increase federal revenues only in the short-run:
in the long run, it is a disaster. And yet, oddly enough, in losing substantial
amounts of federal income tax revenue, the Roth does not increase individual
after-tax wealth.

Since the relationship between taxpayers and the government is zero-sum (actually worse once one considers how government squanders the funds), anything that reduces revenue for the government should increase individual after-tax wealth. Yet, our brilliant law professor patted himself on the back for offering up a "devastating critique of the Roth" IRA. There was a silver lining--a colleague and I got a rebuttal article published.

Click here and here for two previous posts on nonsense from law professors. No doubt these two are "well trained" also.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:49 AM  ·  TrackBack (128)

December 14, 2004
Advanced Placement Kerfuffle

Many colleges (including my own) are tightening their requirements for accepting Advanced Placement credit. This Washington Post piece has details--and sides with AP.

Although I'm skeptical (especially for highly-selective colleges), Jay Mathews may well be right that AP courses provide as good a preparation for upper-level college courses as introductory college courses. However, I take issue with this paragraph:

That was one small study. I found another selective college has done another small study that reaches a different conclusion. At Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., students who skipped introductory calculus by getting a grade of 4 or 5 in AP calculus AB or BC had an average grade of 11 out of 12 points in its follow-up calculus course. This was better than the average grade of 9.51 for all students in that follow-up course. The same thing happened in Spanish. Students who skipped the equivalent course at Claremont McKenna by scoring 4 or 5 in AP Spanish had an average grade of 11.29 in the college's follow-up course, which was higher than the average grade of 10.68 for all students in that course.

One of the things that Mr. Mathews might have learned in one of my introductory college courses is the notion of selection bias. It is possible--I'd say probable--that the Claremont students who took AP courses would have also done better in upper-level classes even if they'd taken introductory college classes instead of AP.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:35 PM  ·  TrackBack (150)

Commencement Economics

Saturday was Berry College's December commencement. As with most other graduations, I rented the obligatory faculty graduation regalia. Having plunked down some $45 you'd think I would actually attend graduation. Well--don't tell the provost--I didn't go. Why not? Because I was up to me ears grading the overly-long final exams that I inflicted on my poor students (and myself!). (Ask one of them--I'm sure he'll agree.) But what about the graduation monkey suit? It's a SUNK COST; no matter how I chose to allocate my Saturday afternoon, I couldn't get back the $45. So when 2:00 Saturday rolled around I had to decide how to best allocate the next two hours of my life; to my students chagrin I chose to grade exams.

There is another economic dimension to this discussion--the rent buy/decision for the graduation regalia. Here, I deserve an F. Paying $45 two times a year to rent will cost me more, even after accounting for the time value of money, than forking over $400 or so to buy a get-up of my own.

Tip to student readers: The two paragraphs above would make nice test or hw problems next semester.

ADDENDUM: Here's Neal Boortz's commencement address; I suspect it will remain undelivered for quite awhile.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:48 AM  ·  TrackBack (138)

Let them read books

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday told a group of schoolgirls in one of Latin America's poorer countries they should read Victor Hugo's classic novel "Les Miserables" to understand poverty. [Article]

In 1960, per capita GDP in Venezuela was 28% of per capita GDP in the U.S. ($3,721 versus $13,155 measured in 1995 US$). In 2002, that ratio was down to 9% ($2,979 versus $31,891). In the 42 year period, annual economic growth in Venezuela was -0.5% compared with 2.1% in the U.S.

I don't think the people of Venezuela need to read any damn books to understand poverty, Chavez.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:36 AM  ·  TrackBack (126)

Donkey Pollution

An Italian town is setting donkeys to work mowing the grass on the side of its highways in an effort to save money and reduce pollution. [Article]

It seems to me that we're merely substituting one kind of pollution for another!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:21 AM  ·  TrackBack (138)

On Capital Punishment

So slimeball Scott's jury recommends that he be put to death. Inevitably there will be lots of teeth gnashing about deterrence and the morality of the death penalty.

On deterrence, there is strong evidence that the death penalty deters murder. Ehrlich's 1975 AER paper has been reinforced by more recent research by Dezhbakhsh, Rubin, and Shepherd.

Nonetheless, I consider the death penalty to be a moral issue. Deciding capital punishment on the basis of saving future lives seems a bit too utilitarian to me. (A perhaps flawed analogy: Should we kill people for their organs if two or more lives would be saved/extended?) This isn't to disparage the work of Ehrlich and subsequent authors (indeed, Paul Rubin gave his paper for my law and econ class a year ago), but to me it's largely a sideshow. Either capital punishment is a fitting punishment for certain heinous crimes or it is state-sanctioned murder that degrades society.

ADDENDUM: If you're having withdrawals from the Peterson hysteria, you might find this case to be a suitably sordid combination of marital infidelity and murder. I'm surprised (and relieved) that it hasn't garnered national attention.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:33 AM  ·  TrackBack (32)

Democrats' Segregationist Conspiracies

Fritz Hollings--good riddance of this lousy senator--admits state and national Democrats conspired against Southern blacks:

"We’ll go along with all your programs if you’ll go along with our segregation."

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:06 AM  ·  TrackBack (2)

Get This Child a Voucher!

Government schools abuse another child--this time for bringing scissors to school. (Hat tip: "Best of the Web Today")

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:55 AM  ·  TrackBack (148)

December 13, 2004
Malaria Politics

Bill Gates gives $42.6 million for malaria research based on some ancient Chinese remedy.

Meanwhile DDT is still illegal and millions continue to die needlessly [post].

Posted by Robert Lawson at 05:25 PM  ·  TrackBack (131)

Bootleggers and Baptists

Many readers are familiar with Bruce Yandle's "bootleggers and Baptists" article in which he argues that regulation often results from the combined efforts of the high-minded ("Baptists") and the self-interested ("bootleggers"). The imagery comes from bootleggers' and Baptists' shared opposition to legal alcohol sales.

Yandle's work came to mind when I read the "Kyoto's 'Capitalists'" editorial in today's WSJ (sorry, subscription required). It turns out that electric utilities such as Cinergy and AEP have gotten on the Kyoto bandwagon in order to make a buck out of the regulatory regime.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:55 PM  ·  TrackBack (25)

Goliath meet David

Ok, this upset isn't exactly worthy of a biblical metaphor, but it has been five years since Div. III football power Mount Union College has lost a game at home.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:43 AM  ·  TrackBack (142)

December 11, 2004
New Landsburg Column

A teaser:

Who exactly gets those goods? That depends on how you save. Put a dollar in the bank and you'll bid down the interest rate by just enough so someone somewhere can afford an extra dollar's worth of vacation or home improvement. Put a dollar in your mattress and (by effectively reducing the money supply) you'll drive down prices by just enough so someone somewhere can have an extra dollar's worth of coffee with his dinner. Scrooge, no doubt a canny investor, lent his money at interest. His less conventional namesake Scrooge McDuck filled a vault with dollar bills to roll around in. No matter. Ebenezer Scrooge lowered interest rates. Scrooge McDuck lowered prices. Each Scrooge enriched his neighbors as much as any Lord Mayor who invited the town in for a Christmas meal.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:41 AM  ·  TrackBack (2)

December 10, 2004
Freezing Your B@#$s Off?

This item appeared in yesterday's "Best of the Web Today":

A news story that's been making the rounds has it that laptop computers are dangerous for male fertility, because actually holding a computer on your lap can change the temperature of the genitals, diminishing sperm production. The WebMD.com account of this problem caught our attention:

Is the increase enough to impair male fertility? The researchers can't say for sure. However, they note that another study showed that sperm concentration dropped by 40% when median daytime scrotal temperature rose to about 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius).

Thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit? If your family jewels were only 2 degrees above freezing, you'd have trouble reproducing too! Obviously the problem here is the metric system, and that explains why Europeans have such low birthrates. The French, who invented the metric system, even have a word that explains why it is a dead end. But then surely you've heard of a cold-de-sac.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:37 AM  ·  TrackBack (270)

December 09, 2004
Still more on bias in the academy

For comparison purposes (see previous post), here are the exam questions I gave today to my public finance students. Joe Stiglitz himself could've given this freakin' test. And yet I sometimes get accused of being biased?


When an economist says “all taxes are paid by people,” what does he mean?

What is meant by the concept of excess burden? Using an indifference curve model, carefully illustrate and explain the concept of excess burden from a tax. In this context, how is it possible that there is still excess burden even if a person consumes the same amount of the good after it’s taxed as before it is taxed?

What is the logic behind the Ramsey Rule for efficient commodity taxation? Why is the Ramsey Rule not followed in practice?

Carefully define and explain the Haig-Simons definition of income. In what ways does the personal income tax base differ from the HS definition?

“As a matter of pure theory, we cannot predict how the income tax will impact an individual’s willingness to work.” True or False? Explain.

In what ways are broad-based consumption taxes (e.g., sales or value-added) similar to income taxes? In what ways are they potentially different?

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:26 PM  ·  TrackBack (1)

More on bias in the academy

This one is going into my horror file. What follows is an exact transcription of a paper assignment recently given in a political science course on "The American Presidency."

In a five-page, double spaced paper in a 12-point font, write a memo to President Bush on how to assure that in his second term he become known as a persident who unites rather than divides the American people. In your memo you should concentrate particularly on the models past presidents provide for success as uniters. You might also point out the mistakes made by past presidents that President Bush ought to avoid.

OR

Write a memo on the actions President George W. Bush ought to take in the first one hundred days of his second term to deliver on the promises he made during the election AND to build a strong legacy for his presidency overall.

In your essay you should be mindful of the following observations made by seasoned pundits David Gergen and William Schneider:

"[The Bush Administration] has already shown ominous signs of 'group-think' in its handling of Iraq and tha nation's finances. By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his team have a perfect track record, that they know best, and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights. He has every right to take this course, but as he knows from his Bible, pride goeth before..." (David Gergen, "The Power of One," The New York Times, Nov. 19, 2004).

"Rallying his conservative base paid off for Bush. But he did it by running on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and a ban on late-term abortions. His strategy will make it harder to heal the painful divisions created by the 2004 campaign. Just wait for Bush's first Supreme Court nomination." (William Schneider, "Exploiting the Rifts, " National Journal, Nov. 6, 2004).

"The post-election Times/CBS News poll asked whether, in the next four years, Bush's presidency will bring Americans together or divide them. The results were closely divided but tilted toward pessimism: 48 percent said Bush will divide the country, while 40 percent predicted that he will bring America together. In other words, the country remains divided-even over whether Bush will continue to divide the country." (William Schneider, "Divided We Stand," National Journal, Dec. 4, 2004.)

My comments: WTF? Sheesh! GRRRRRRR!!!

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:20 PM  ·  TrackBack (44)

Bias in the academy

It's great to see Dan Klein's research on the political party affiliation of American academics getting so much press. See previous post and recent Economist article.

This prompted me to do some thinking about my university. In the business school where I'm housed I count 12 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 4 unknowns. That's a 2 to 1 ratio of Dems to Reps and that's pretty good by university standards. In the law school a colleague tells me that there are just 3 or maybe 4 Republicans on the faculty for a ratio of 10-13 to 1. In the the College of Arts & Sciences, Music Conservatory and Nursing School, I can count only about 5 Republican faculty members out of about I'm guessing 150. I figure a ratio of 20 to 1 easy. In the administration it's just as bad. I know of just 2 Republicans there.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:02 PM  ·  TrackBack (148)

December 08, 2004
MRI Bankers' Guide to Foreign Currency

Looking for a stocking stuffer for that economist in your life? Consider the MRI Bankers' Guide to Foreign Currency. This quarterly publication ($68 for a single copy) has color photos of all the currency notes in circulation in the entire world.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 02:13 PM  ·  TrackBack (28)

Cat Gets MBA for Life Experience

Read about it here. Hat tip: The Lockerroom.

Of course, the piffle that constitutes some MBA curricula may actually be less rigorous than the cat's eating, sleeping, and washing itself.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:08 AM  ·  TrackBack (280)

I Must Have Heard Him Incorrectly ...

This is a week of light blogging for me because of final exams for my students and because I spent the last two days in Memphis attending an AACSB seminar. I spent two scintillating days learning about assessment, but Monday night's dinner with my friend Marshall was a silver lining.

Yesterday morning I had CNN on in the hotel room. Miles O'Brien was discussing the burning of 10 new houses in Maryland, and I thought I heard him refer to it as an act of "eco-tourism." I must have been distracted by my shoes or tie because the Lex-Nex transcript of the show says "eco-terrorism." Or maybe the transcript has been sanitized ...

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:01 AM  ·  TrackBack (132)

December 07, 2004
This Blows My Mind

Posner's 2003-04 research output. And I thought Walter Block was prolific.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 11:32 AM  ·  TrackBack (30)

December 06, 2004
Gary Huckabay on Bonds, Giambi, et al.

Sorry, it's premium content, but Gary Huckabay (of Baseball Prospectus fame) has a great column on Bonds, Giambi and the whole steriods affair.

A teaser:

The headlines are about Bonds and Giambi, but I'm struck by two other things that strike me as much more important and headline-worthy:

A member of federal law enforcement appears to have broken federal law by leaking grand jury testimony. And to what end? To create a PR event, and magically summon athletes' attorneys to ESPNews? On the scale of despicable crimes, I find that considerably worse than an athlete taking drugs, and hence risking their own health, to perhaps hit a little better.

We have federal agents hanging out at in Burlingame trying to track down people like Bill Romanowski and other athletes for acquiring or using drugs that really only represent a threat to themselves? Are you f***ing kidding me? Did we catch Osama Bin Laden over the weekend? Have these agents already finished working with the chemical and energy industries to harden soft terrorist targets like refineries and chemical plants? My tax dollars are being spent to go after people like Victor Conte, rather than building new schools or paying down the debt? Again, I'm forced to ask, are you f%^&ing kidding me?

This whole phenomenon has become a Rorschach test for everyone concerned. If you didn't like someone before, you'll use this as further evidence to support your position as logical and righteous. If you're a selective enforcer of morals, like most of us, you can scream from the rooftops that athletes are setting a bad example for our kids by using these drugs, which of course have been available and prevalent in high school at least since I graduated back in '83, before the press covered anyone in MLB using them. If you're one of the sepia-toned fans, you can cling to your illusions that today's players aren't as talented/tough/dedicated as players were in the past.

There's a lot of ugliness in our collective hearts and minds that gets reinforced and hardened by this, and the boys at ESPN have continued to move away from actual sport and towards melodrama in their coverage of it. Reality check: This is a story about a few athletes who may or may not have used drugs to improve their performance, at the risk of their own health. The drugs may or may not have been effective, but what's certain is that your tax dollars have been chasing a guy who gave a ballplayer a cream that may have resulted in a few extra hits, instead of enforcing other federal laws that actually make a positive difference in our lives.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 02:49 PM  ·  TrackBack (323)

Why I Am Glad We Don't Allow Comments

Who wants to clutter up their blog with inflammatory anonymous comments like on this Agoraphalia post? Let them post it on their own blog, I say.

Kudos to Glen for his fine responses, though.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 12:00 PM  ·  TrackBack (21)

Diamonds are forever, even if you aren't

In the category of "Markets for Everything" (ala Marginal Revolution), this company will turn your cremated remains into diamonds. (Story via Columbus Dispatch).

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:26 AM  ·  TrackBack (146)

Impractical Thoughts on Notre Dame

I have been a Golden Dome football fan for some time, yet unlike most ND fans I wouldn't consider a "die hard" fan. As such I think I have a very different opinion about what would be best for the Notre Dame football program going forward.

There exists a big mismatch between the opinion of Notre Dame football among supporters and where it actually is in terms of quality. This seems to be the consensus.

Read More »

Posted by Joshua Hall at 07:05 AM  ·  TrackBack (37)

December 05, 2004
W wins the 'burbs

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Bush won 97 out of the fastest growing 100 counties in the U.S. This can't be good for the Dems.
Story here ($).

dispatchbush.gif

Posted by Robert Lawson at 04:13 PM  ·  TrackBack (22)

December 03, 2004
Thinking about safety

Each term, I assign an extra credit homework question to my students asking them to comment on this statement, "In the absense of government safety regulations on lawnmowers, lawnmowers would be unsafe."

The all-too-typical (and wrong) answer is: "This is true, we must have government safety regulations or else companies would make unsafe products."

The better (and mostly right) answer is: "Even if we didn't have government safety regulations, companies still have an incentive to provide safe lawnmowers because if they didn't they would lose business to competitors who do produce safe lawnmowers and could face lawsuits from harmed consumers."

The problem is that both answers (and indeed the question itself) present the problem as an either/or situation. Lawnmowers are either safe or unsafe. Of course, this is not true. In real life, we can get marginally more or less safe in degrees. Don Boudreaux has an excellent post at Cafe Hayek on this issue. ATSRTWT

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:03 AM  ·  TrackBack (26)

December 02, 2004
OINK, OINK!!

This bit of piggishness on British television makes Janet Jackson's Super Bowl antics seem downright tame. Warning--read this one at your own risk because it's rather gross. Hat tip--James Taranto's Best of the Web Today. (Maybe he should rename it Grossest of the Web Today.)

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:20 AM  ·  TrackBack (28)

Competing with Wal-Mart

Yesterday's WSJ (sorry, subscription required) reported that Wal-Mart's Christmas sales are off to a slow start because of COMPETITION from Target, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Bravo--rather than bashing Wal-Mart and trying to get government to do their bidding, these companies are finding better and cheaper ways to satisfy consumers.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:41 AM  ·  TrackBack (119)

December 01, 2004
The democratic sword cuts both ways

At lunch today a colleague of mine was lamenting the result of Issue 1 in Ohio (our much-talked about anti-gay-marriage amendment). He said there should be some way to strike this down. The state he says shouldn't have the right to tell people who they can and can't marry.

I agree, but I decided to play a little devil's advocate. I asked him if he thought people should be allowed to be plumbers or barbers without the state being involved. He said "no," because there is some "rational basis" for those state regulations. I asked why gays have a right to marry but people don't have the right to cut hair to make a living. He said that's just different. Hmmmm.

Anyway, I also argued that 65% of the people in Ohio apparently think there IS some "rational basis" for prohibiting gay marriage. He said no there isn't and we need some group of experts (i.e., courts) to determine which laws have a rational basis (i.e., ones he agrees with) and which laws don't (i.e., ones he disagrees with). Plato would love him.

This is the big problem for modern liberals. They have used the power of the democratic state to interfere in the rights of people so much for the past hundred years that they no longer have any credibility to make rights-based arguments. That same democracy that has given them their beloved minimum wages (and a whole host of other left wing laws) now gives them these hated gay marriage bans. I'm sorry folks it's too late to cry foul now. You are reaping what you sowed.

My bottom line: if you think two gays should be allowed to marry without state interference, then you should also think it's ok for someone to cut your hair without a barber's license. If you think the democratic process should control who cuts your hair, then you should not be too upset when it also determines who you marry.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:06 PM  ·  TrackBack (24)

Another Victim of the IRS

This poor chap wouldn't have lost on "Jeopardy" if the tax code were not so convoluted that it required an enormous tax preparation business for people to pay their taxes. According to the troublesome question, H&R Block alone employs some 70,000 tax prep people.

Of course, the poor guy also owes $1 million or so in income taxes on his winnings. Talk about adding insult to injury!

For more on the tax code montrosity, Craig Depken has a nifty chart on the number of pages in the tax code.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:37 PM  ·  TrackBack (40)

"Investing" in Education

Good stuff from the ever-excellent George Leef. As an economist, I'm particularly pleased by his "thinking at the margin" to reveal the fallacy in the argument that "college grads make higher salaries so we need more college grads." One can often find the same mistake being made in discussions of "good jobs"--especially manufacturing jobs.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:13 PM  ·  TrackBack (30)

This Will Be a Disability Soon

Apparently studies find that some women have an infidelity gene.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:07 PM  ·  TrackBack (149)

Bulldog Flambe

There seems to be an alcohol theme going today. Alas, I can't confess to having Scotch with my cornflakes. Not to be left out, I offer the following:

A Georgia student burns himself while playing a drinking game. Perhaps he should have tried the tamer Maureen Dowd drinking game instead.

And, by the way, I apologize in advance if my--ahem--incendiary title for this post causes offense.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:05 PM  ·  TrackBack (145)

Speaking of Scotch...

Some random thoughts on Scotch Whisky (a.k.a. the breakfast of champions):

(1) Having drunk the other half of that bottle of Dewars with Josh (also after a day of drinking beer), I'd like to echo his sentiments . That was quite a phone call we made!

(2) Did you know that Dewars says you have to be of legal drinking age to view their website. Go figure. I sure was disappointed that there weren't naked women giving out free samples on the site.

(3) Recently a friend from Scotland (living in South Africa) recommended the Freedom and Whisky Blog. Check it out.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:35 PM  ·  TrackBack (270)

No More Drunk Dialing

I could have used this product at times in the past, especially that time when I decided to follow a day of beer drinking by drinking half a bottle of Dewars.

Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution.

Posted by Joshua Hall at 08:36 AM  ·  TrackBack (28)

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