Division of Labour: April 2007 Archives
April 30, 2007
Division of Labor in comic book production

Bryan Caplan – who apparently as a teenager never noticed the list of credits at the front of any Marvel Comics book – admires (I almost said “marvels at”) the division of labor among writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, and cover artist.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 02:12 PM in Economics

Crime of passion c. 1907

The April 30, 1907 NYT reports the following:

PHILADELPHIA - Miss Martha Korais, a Prussian girl, was killed here to-day by Franz Endrukat, who then mortally wounded himself.

Endrukat followed the girl to this country from Pomerania, Rhenish Prussia, where four years ago he attempted to kill her by beating her over the head with a hatchet because she would not marry him. He then cut his throat, and, after lying for four months in a hospital, was sentenced to one year and eight months' imprisonment.

Endrukat to-day met Miss Korais and followed here from the home of her employer to a near-by bakery, and again pressed his suit. The girl told him she would sooner die than marry him, whereupon he drew a pistol and sent to bullets into her head. He then turned the weapon on himself and sent a bullet into his head, falling unconscious across the body of the girl. Endrukat is 33 years of age, and his victim was 22.

Amazing. The term "crime of passion" has come to mean a crime commited in the heat of the moment and one that, implicitly, the offending party regrets. Yet the more sinister "crime of passion" would seem to be the kind Mr. Endrukat undertook.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:30 PM in Culture

The End of National Currency

Benn Steil, Director of International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, thoughtfully contemplates “The End of National Currency” in the May/June 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. Here’s a taste:

In order to globalize safely, countries should abandon monetary nationalism and abolish unwanted currencies, the source of much of today's instability.

… As for the United States, it needs to perpetuate the sound money policies of former Federal Reserve Chairs Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan and return to long-term fiscal discipline. … It is the market that made the dollar into global money -- and what the market giveth, the market can taketh away. If … the dollar fails, the market may privatize money on its own.

Hear, hear. The essay – like the talk Steil gave at the Cato monetary conference in November – even favorably cites Hayek’s Monetary Nationalism and International Stability (1937).

I guess the CFR has become more market-friendly, if it can provide a home for Steil and visiting fellow Amity Schlaes.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:30 AM in Economics

April 28, 2007
The gentle cynic c. 1907

From the April 28, 1907 NYT:

  • Some people don't believe all they hear, even when their conscience tells it to them.
  • A peck of trouble is easier to get into than a pint of happiness.
  • When a man boasts that he never did anything he is ashamed of, it may merely indicate that he is lacking in a sense of shame.
  • Our sins also have an uncomfortable habit of finding us in.
  • A lot of sympathy is wasted on the under dog and the old maid.
  • Of course the bachelor should be taxed, it's worth it.
  • Posted by Craig Depken at 04:31 PM in Culture

    New Book on Wal-Mart

    Michael Hicks, an associate professor of economics at Air Force Institute of Technology, has a new book on Wal-Mart out this week from Cambria Press titled The Local Economic Impact of Wal-Mart. I have not read the book yet, but the table of contents looks interesting and quite balanced. I should be receiving a copy in the mail shortly and hope to post a review when I have an opportunity.

    For those of you who have read Unleashing Capitalism, you'll remember Mike as an author of a chapter on civil litigation and a co-author of another chapter (with Bill Shughart) on business subsidies.

    Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:39 AM in Economics

    April 27, 2007
    Justices on McCain-Feingold

    From the AP, Supreme Court eyes McCain-Feingold limits on ads.

    The case before the court Wednesday involved advertisements that Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, was prevented from broadcasting during the 2004 campaign. The ads asked voters to contact the state's two senators, Democrats Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record) and Herb Kohl, and urge them not to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees.

    Three interesting, perhaps telling, remarks:

    Sam Alito (questioning defense): "What do you make of the fact that there are so many advocacy groups that say this is really impractical?"

    Antonin Scalia: "This is the First Amendment," Scalia said. "We don't make people guess whether their speech is going to be allowed by Big Brother or not."

    John Roberts: asked whether the burden should be "on the challenger to prove that they're allowed to speak, as opposed to the government to prove — to carry the burden that they can censor the speech?"

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:16 PM in Law

    Congrats to UTA's Paul Dorasil

    One of my undergraduate econometrics students from last fall, Paul Dorasil, won the undergraduate paper of the year award from the Department of Economics at UTA.

    Last night we attended the annual awards meeting of the Dallas chapter of the National Association of Business Economists where a shortened version of Paul's paper investigating Texas Lotteries won first place amongst five finalists from eleven North Texas universities in the DABE's Arther A. Smith Outstanding Student Award. ( Longer (co-authored) working paper here)

    Shameless plug: Paul has a blog called Writing in the Margins

    The guest speaker at the DABE meeting was Carol Anderson-Guthrie of the Government Accountability Office. Her discussion focused on the long-term fiscal position of the United States and had two general conclusions:

    1. The long-term fiscal stance of the Federal Government is much worse than advertised.
    2. One way to have a reasoned debate about the problems and possible solutions is to tackle fiscal illiteracy amongst the U.S. population.

    The majority of the PP presentation is available here. The unfunded liabilities of medicare, medicaid, and social security are absolutely staggering. GAO simulates that without significant reform the unfunded liabilities can be covered if federal taxes increase 250%. Ouch.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:12 PM in Economics

    This will get me on Booknotes with Brian Lamb for sure

    Now available from University of Chicago Press:

    Hayek, F. A. The Pure Theory of Capital. Edited by Lawrence H. White. Foreword by Bruce Caldwell. Introduction by Lawrence H. White. 464 p., 34 line drawings, 1 table. 6 x 9 2007 Series: (CWFAH) The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek

    Cloth $60.00spec ISBN: 978-0-226-32099-1 (ISBN-10: 0-226-32099-5)

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:35 AM in Economics

    April 26, 2007
    Baggy Pants/Imus

    A news item from Florida:

    A controversial Central Florida senator wants to pass a law that would punish teens who show off their underwear.

    If the "Pull Up Your Britches" bill somehow passes, students could be suspended up to 10 days for showing their underwear.

    The bill's sponsor is state Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando. He was convicted of grand theft for paying his office staff with state money while he worked on his re-election campaign.

    Baggy pants look foolish, but there's no need for a law. (Indeed, baggy pants may help enforce existing laws--here's a story of a robber whose baggy pants made him stumble and get caught by police.) Is there no end for the nanny staters?

    On a different topic, I think this paragraph helps explain why the networks devoted so much coverage to braying a$$ Imus's idiotic remarks:

    CNN could have taken a page from that recipe in hopes of growing a program that averaged just 376,000 viewers last month, down from 510,000 in August, as MSNBC's increasingly popular rival Imus in the Morning crept closer with 354,000 viewers and Fox News' Fox & Friends continued to win the cable time slot with 692,000 viewers.

    I didn't watch Imus and am not sorry he's gone; however, I also suspect the self-interest of competing networks led them to hype the story.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:03 AM in Misc.

    April 25, 2007
    World's worst metaphor?

    I think the best writing in newspapers is often found on the sports pages, but this line from Saturday's Columbus Dispatch by writer Jim Massie was a real groaner:

    CINCINNATI --With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Reds looked more uncomfortable lost than a polar bear up to its white, furry haunches in a Sahara Desert sand dune."

    I hope Jim was drinking when he came up with that one!

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:39 PM in Sports

    How green is ethanol?

    According to this article in Environmental Science and Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society:

    E85 (85% ethanol fuel, 15% gasoline) may increase ozone-related mortality, hospitalization, and asthma by about 9% in Los Angeles and 4% in the United States as a whole relative to 100% gasoline. Ozone increases in Los Angeles and the northeast were partially offset by decreases in the southeast. E85 also increased peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN) in the U.S. but was estimated to cause little change in cancer risk. Due to its ozone effects, future E85 may be a greater overall public health risk than gasoline. However, because of the uncertainty in future emission regulations, it can be concluded with confidence only that E85 is unlikely to improve air quality over future gasoline vehicles. Unburned ethanol emissions from E85 may result in a global-scale source of acetaldehyde larger than that of direct emissions.
    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:45 PM in Science

    Grab bag

    Klein and Stern respond to critics of their research on the political ideology and party affiliation of college faculty.

    Congrats to DoLer Tim Shaughnessy who just received word that he's being promoted to Associate Professor and granted tenure. Congrats Tim!

    There's a nice discussion from all angles of the research on "happiness" over at Cato Unbound edited by Will Wilkinson.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:06 AM in Economics

    Friedman and Boudreaux on Africa

    Tom Friedman had a column on African poverty in the April 20 NYT (somehow it slipped under the radar of the blogosphere--the Times Select firewall perhaps). Karol Boudreaux follows it up with a letter in today's NYT.

    From Friedman:

    Africa needs many things, but most of all it needs capitalists who can start and run legal companies. More Bill Gates, fewer foundations. People grow out of poverty when they create small businesses that employ their neighbors. Nothing else lasts.

    Whenever you read about capital flowing into Africa, though, it tends to be from big lenders like the World Bank, which have very strict criteria and work on big projects, or from microfinanciers, giving out $50 to a woman to buy a sewing machine. Microfinance has a role, but many people don't want the pressure of being an entrepreneur. They want the stability and prosperity of a job created by capitalist risk-takers and innovators. See India.

    In some ways what Africa needs most today is more "patient" capital to spur its would-be capitalists. Patient capital has all the discipline of venture capital - demanding a return, and therefore rigor in how it is deployed - but expecting a return that is more in the 5 to 10 percent range, rather than the 35 percent that venture capitalists look for, and with a longer payback period.

    A good example of what happens when you combine patient capital, talent and innovation in Africa is the Kenyan company Advanced Bio-Extracts (ABE), headed by Patrick Henfrey. He and his partners put together a fascinating group of both white and black African farmers and scientists to build the first company in Africa to cultivate the green leafy plant artemisia, often called sweet wormwood, and transform it into pharmaceutical grade artemisinin - a botanical extract that is the key ingredient in the new generation of low-cost, effective malaria treatments commonly known as artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). Malaria still kills nearly 1 million people in Africa every year, more than HIV-AIDS.

    From Boudreaux (via Cafe Hayek):

    Africa's leaders have the power to encourage patient capitalism (where returns are 5 to 10 percent and payback is over a longer period of time) by reducing barriers to businesses, by improving tenure security for both men and women, and by respecting indigenous institutions and customs.

    Policies that push entrepreneurs into the informal sector, promote tenure insecurity, limit women's property rights and are based on central planning rather than decentralized experimentation will only stymie progress.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:39 AM in Economics

    April 24, 2007

    The March issue of the Harvard Law Review marks the 25th anniversary of Richard Posner's appointment to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The issue (available in full-text online, here) contains a brief intro by Dean Kagan and short essays on thirteen of Judge Posner's judicial opinions, written by Harvard Law professors. Well worth a look.

    Just a reminder: All of Judge Posner's opinions are collected online (and searchable!) at Project Posner.

    Posted by Mike DeBow at 12:24 PM in Law

    April 23, 2007
    Bizarre weather c. 1907

    The April 23, 1907 NYT reports on some strange events in upstate New York:

    NIAGRA, N.Y. - The American falls went dry to-day in sections owing to the immense ice fields forced down from Lake Erie by a tremendous gale. Where the full sweep of water usually plunges over there were four separate falls, presenting a very peculiar sight.

    A massive ice bridge has formed in the gorge.

    Don't you know the global-warming alarmists of today would love to have some freak incident like this. Alas, all they in these parts this weekend were never-before-heard-of spring tornadoes in Texas.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 12:56 PM in Science

    April 19, 2007
    Oldest continuous family business - Kaput

    An interesting story from Business Week:

    The world's oldest continuously operating family business ended its impressive run last year. Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, in operation under the founders' descendants since 578, succumbed to excess debt and an unfavorable business climate in 2006.

    How do you make a family business last for 14 centuries? Kongo Gumi's case suggests that it's a good idea to operate in a stable industry. Few industries could be less flighty than Buddhist temple construction. The belief system has survived for thousands of years and has many millions of adherents. With this firm foundation, Kongo had survived some tumultuous times, notably the 19th century Meiji restoration when it lost government subsidies and began building commercial buildings for the first time. But temple construction had until recently been a reliable mainstay, contributing 80% of Kongo Gumi's $67.6 million in 2004 revenues.

    More here

    Posted by Craig Depken at 05:10 PM in Economics

    On revenues vs. freedom c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    Thousands of Americans will give attention to Mr. Cortelyou's inquiry into the present barbarous method of conducting the customs examination of passengers' baggage, and if he should order sensible reforms their gratitude will be his reward.

    The present method is senseless, outrageous, and indecent. It makes the Government seem to assume that every citizen of this Republic returning from abroad is a cheat and a liar. Lest some might forbear to lie intentionally arrangements are made to betray them into lying by inadvertence. The exacting of a declaration aboard the ship and the enforcing of a further examination on the dock constitute a method that would be most offensive against criminals or the public enemy. The resulting benefit to the revenues is insignificant, the annoyance to everybody is serious enough to constitute a public abuse.

    We are glad that the Secretary of the Treasury is thinking about the matter.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:29 AM in Politics

    On cigarettes c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The House to-day passed the Young anti-cigarette bill making unlawful the selling of cigarettes or cigarette papers in Illinois. The bill now goes to the Senate.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:24 AM in Politics

    On terrorism c. 1907

    From the April 19, 1907 NYT:

    ST. PETERSBURG - To-morrow will witness a stormy debate in the Lower House of Parliament that has been in preparation for a fortnight past.

    The Conservatives will introduce a motion that the House disapproves of Terrorism. A resolution of the Constitutional Democrats, the Poles, and the Mohammedans, expresses horror at the great wave of Terrorism, but says that it is an outgrowth of the absence of a constitutional regime. A resolution to be introduced by the members of the Group of Toil and the Social Democrats will set forth that Terrorism is necessary to break the grip of Despotism.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:18 AM in Politics

    The Ultimate Resource

    I'm passing along this note from Bob Chitester, the producer of the Free to Choose videos in the 80s and January's biography of Milton Friedman that aired on PBS. I saw a preview of this video at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Guatemala and highly recommend it. There's a trailer available on the website.

    I'm writing to alert you to some very good news: the upcoming high definition, prime time broadcast of the most recent one hour documentary from Free to Choose Media on HDNet. The first broadcast will be Tuesday, April 24 at 10pm, with frequent repeats thereafter.

    I think you will find that "The Ultimate Resource" is a stunningly beautiful and dramatic program that demonstrates in pictures and words the amazing things that can happen when ordinary people are given the tools of freedom to improve their lives. When this happens, according to the noted economist Julian Simon on whose ideas this new program is based, they profit not only themselves but the rest of us as well.

    "The Ultimate Resource" was shot on location by a Free to Choose Media Team headed by Kathy Anderson with Jim Taylor and Barbara Potter. Tom Skinner and I shared the role of Executive Producer. The program documents the success of private schools in Ghana, the impact of the awarding of property rights to rural farmers in Peru, the amazing effect of microfinance on the poor of Bangladesh, and the amazing impact of free markets and entrepreneurship in Estonia and China.

    The program features James Tooley, Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto and Johan Norberg. You will want to see each of them in action on location in this beautifully produced film. I believe that this is a superb example of how Free to Choose Media is going about its mission of "using easily understood and entertaining popular media to reach inquisitive minds regarding the value and interrelationship of personal, economic and political freedom sustained by the rule of law."

    For more information and for a video preview, go to www.freetochoosemedia.org For more information about HDNet, go to: www.hd.net


    Bob Chitester
    Free to Choose Media

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:14 AM in Economics

    April 18, 2007
    My 2 cents on the Wolfowitz scandal

    My advice: privatize the World Bank, and let the new shareholders fire Wolfowitz. Details in my column at Free Market News Network.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 06:25 PM in Economics

    A Lollapalooza of Congratulations

    Several folks with Berry connections have notable recent achievements:

    My former student John Coleman has been accepted to Harvard Business School.

    2006 graduate Sam Bulow landed a job with Princeton's investment company.

    December graduate Nancy Vogh is the inaugural winner of the J. Wilson Mixon Jr. (where have I heard that name before?) Outstanding Senior in Economics Award. Nancy's headed for Clemson's doctoral program in economics.

    Current student Erin Wendt has been selected a Richards Scholar; the program provides students with a generous stipend for an academic activity outside of the normal curriculum. Erin plans to intern and/or do fieldwork with an NGO specializing in African economic development. (Bleg--I'd appreciate readers' suggestions for contacts/experiences that would help Erin design a fieldwork program in Africa.)

    Our new hire Melissa Yeoh is now Dr. Yeoh; she successfully defended her dissertation earlier today.

    Kudos to all--it's quality folks like you that make Berry a great place to teach.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:54 PM in Misc.

    Boston recap

    Thanks to everyone for your e-mails about the marathon. I had three goals going in:

    (1) Requalify for Boston with a 3:20.
    (2) Beat my bib number (6252)
    (3) Have fun!

    I ran a 3:29:20 so I failed to requalify, but I did beat my bib number coming in 5363 out of 20038, and I also had lots of fun. The fans in Boston are simply the best (a special nod to the gals at Wellesley College!). As Meatloaf said, two out of three ain't bad. Oh yea, the weather wasn't nearly as bad as the media made it sound. We had light rain in the beginning and only occasional gusts of wind and it got better throughout the day.

    Split times (unofficial) are below the fold for you running geeks.

    Read More »

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 09:44 AM in Sports

    Brentwood Academy vs. Tennessee

    In a ten year old dispute, Brentwood Academy and the Tennessee Secondary State Athletic Association are gonna tangle in the Supreme Court......for the second time! AP story here.

    WASHINGTON - A long-running dispute over recruiting high school athletes has reached the Supreme Court, where justices are being asked to decide whether a Tennessee school's free-speech rights outweigh rules limiting contacts with student athletes.

    The case involves Brentwood Academy, a wealthy private school south of Nashville, and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state.

    Brentwood Academy sent a letter inviting 12 eighth-graders to attend spring football practice in 1997. The students' parents already had signed contracts and paid deposits to attend the high school.

    The athletic association said the letter violated rules against recruiting high school players, and it hit the school with a $3,000 fine and four years' probation. School officials unsuccessfully appealed twice before suing.

    Arguments scheduled for Wednesday will be the second the Supreme Court has heard in the Brentwood Academy case. In 2001, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of Brentwood, saying the athletic association acted in a quasi-governmental capacity and could be sued.

    That could make for some awkward awards banquets. Which there'd be plenty of for Brentwood, with sixteen state championships the past decade!!!

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 04:20 AM in Law

    April 17, 2007
    Sports heroes c. 1907

    The April 17, 1907 NYT reports the following:

    Max Spitzner, who won the National gymnastic championship in several events in the contests at the Madison Square Garden last year, to-day lost his left arm.

    It was torn away by machinery in a camera factory in which he was employed. Spitzner was the champion gymnast of Connecticut.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 07:43 PM in Sports

    Feeling good while doing good?

    Reader Jerry Whitmarsh took me to task for passing along the CNW Marketing Research study on energy costs of various cars without due statements of concern over the methodology. He kindly provided me with this site. The criticisms seem to fall into three categories.

    First, the energy cost imputed for production and recycling are too large: 'NW's figures, for example, show that the Civic Hybrid can cost nearly $165,000 more over its lifetime, "dust to dust," than the standard Civic, which is a difficult figure to swallow, even considering the extra development, materials, and disposal of the Hybrid variant. Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system is a mild hybrid system and many engineers have admired its elegant and simple design and function, considering the efficiency gains.'
    Second, CNW understates the expected life of hybrids: 'For instance, according to the study the average Prius is expected to go 109,000 miles over its lifetime, while a Hummer H1 would go 379,000 miles. CNW says about hybrids: "…these are generally secondary vehicles in a household OR they are driven in restricted or short range environments such as college campuses or retirement neighborhoods." '
    Third, CNW does not distribute the research and development costs over enough units: 'One other area of the study that some critics have found to be misleading is that CNW only included the so-called design and development cost of models sold so far, not on the potential volume of that technology in the long run.'

    Similarly, an earlier study relating to CO2 emissions rather than energy use reports that hybrids score better on average than gasoline-engine cars.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 06:47 PM in Economics

    Eminent domain roundup

    ADDENDUM: sorry for earlier formatting problems.

    Courtesy of my google news feed.

    1. Virginia has passed new eminent domain legislation that on first glance seems to have real teeth:

    The new law, among other things, requires that the process known as eminent domain be used only to take properties for public uses, not for resale to developers. And it specifies that the property itself must be blighted and not merely in a blighted area, as was previously allowed.

    The legislation also raises the bar on what is considered blight, from "dilapidated or deteriorated" to "beyond repair" or "unfit for human occupancy or use."

    Norfolk has long used these powers to either conserve areas - which makes them candidates for programs such as renovation grants - or perform wholesale redevelopment, in which entire blocks are razed and rebuilt from the ground up.

    The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has two redevelopment areas and 11 conservation areas for which it may need to acquire more land.

    "This new legislation affects all of that," said the agency's Jim Gehman, adding that it "eliminates the idea of redevelopment areas. We have to focus on individual houses. It changes the definition of blight and makes it much harder to get a property declared blighted."

    2. In NJ, the NFIB assures that eminent domain is not a dead issue in that state.

    3. In Brooklyn, NY, more futile resistance to the mammoth Atlantic Yards project.

    4. New Mexico has passed (I think on April 6) what looks to be a weak law. Bill text here. Last year Gov. Richardson vetoed a much stronger bill. A rough guide to how weak the enacted bill is to last year's vetoed bill: this year's is 28 pages compared to last year's 1/2 page. Lots of exemptions and enumerated powers are to blame.

    Have a great day!

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 03:01 PM in Economics

    April 16, 2007
    A Bad Combination/Quote Bleg

    Here's a bad combination--more than half the population received government transfers while tax liability is concentrated.

    From the Christian Science Monitor:

    Slightly over half of all Americans – 52.6 percent – now receive significant income from government programs, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That's up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass 55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President's Reagan's move to scale back the size of government.

    Meanwhile, Ari Fleischer writes in today's WSJ (sub req) that the top 1% of income earners pay 37% of total income taxes, the top 10% of income earners pay 71% of total income taxes, and the top 40% of income earners pay 99% of total income taxes.

    There's a famous quote--not Batiat's "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." but similar--about having a majority of people voting to receive benefits from a taxpaying minority. The quote escapes me--I've opened comments if any reader can think of it--but it seems prescient.

    UPDATE: Here's the quote, albeit not quite as I remembered it:

    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

    It's attributed to Sir Alex Fraser Tytler, but, as explained here, there is some dispute about the author. HT to Jon and Mark for offline comments.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:47 PM in Economics  ·  Comments (2)

    Thoughts on "Harrison Bergeron"

    Kurt Vonnegut passed away last week. I am no Vonnegut expert, although I've read some of the novels and found much of it disturbingly delicious and deliciously confounding. DOL readers are probably familiar with the short story, "Harrison Bergeron" (text here), which I first read as an undergrad in Eric Schansberg's poverty and inequality class at Texas A&M. An futuristic dystopia, the story rivals Anthem and 1984 in its overtly favorable comparison of liberalism (respect for the individual) over radical egalitarianism (reverence for the collective) as political philosophies.

    The opening paragraph sets the tone:

    The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

    How was this equality achieved? Hilariously, by the use of mental and physical handicapping equipment that people were forced to wear. In the first scene, we go to the living room of George and Hazel Bergeron (parents of the protagonist) to witness the mundane existence of a perfectly average couple. George is naturally smarter and stronger than average, so the Handicapper-General has fitted George with a 47-pound bag of bird shot to hang around his neck, plus an ear implant set to blare thought-disrupting noises at the moment George thinks above average thoughts. The more profound the thought, the louder the burst.

    This is the kind of world into which Vonnegut brings us. In this world, there is no individuality, no excellence, no merit. None of the things that libertarians believe to be inherent rights and predicates to prosperity. The ethical backwardness shown to us in this world, and the story's tragic and dreadful conclusion, suggest a negative commentary on egalitarianism. Hence the story is seen as a libertarian favorite, even among libertarians critical of Vonnegut more broadly (like this Cato blog entry).

    A few observations that make me think the story is more than its appearance:

    1. Of what use is the story to libertarians?

    a. Expresses a logical-conclusion critique of egalitarianism. It's not just folly (weighing down better than average ballerinas) but a trampling of individual rights that is anathema (seizing one's thoughts) to the classical liberalism ideals that gird the American founding.
    b. Highlights utilitarian costs of central planning. Much of the technology in the story (set in 2081) is 19th century technology. In the wake of the story's climax, the Handicapper General executes the offenders with.....a shotgun (HT Schansberg for that one).
    c. For the hard core: constitutions fail to restrain the state from infringing on rights.
    d. There are doubtless others that do not occur to me at the moment.

    But the point of my post is that "Harrison Bergeron" is more than it seems, especially with regard to the libertarian theme. A few more observations on this.

    2. In other aspects the technology is remarkable and subtle. For example, with the ear buzzing implants the state can literally read minds, in real time, and almost in anticipation of the individual's thoughts. The state can also apparently control the weather, having taken "springtime" out of the month of April. (That sure beats our capitalist society's control over the climate!) Vonnegut doesn't mention the technology required to accomplish this degree of control. It's left to back story in this incredibly lean tale. But it's there.

    3. I've always wondered why Vonnegut framed the setting, story, characters and dialogue in such blatant terms. It is a plain, almost in-your-face story, as though Vonnegut donned himself with creative weights to use language "as good as anybody else" could. By comparison, I've found his other works (Hocus Pocus, e.g.) to be cryptic, though perhaps no darker. Extending this point of comparison to Rand, her style in Anthem is more poetically subtle than in her other novels.

    4. Vonnegut's protagonist/hero is no libertarian. Unlike Anthem's protagonist, who dreamed of becoming a scholar, Harrison Bergeron wants to be emperor. When he breaks out of prison, he violently storms into the television studio (maximum exposure) with the following:

    “I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook. “Even as I stand here –” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

    In a peek of how he might rule, Harrison bribes the musicians to play their best, promising royal favors

    “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

    The secondary characters also have aspirations, though not of the individualist sort. Harrison's mother, for example, says she wants to be Handicapper General.

    “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

    “Good as anybody else,” said George.

    “Who knows better’n I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

    These characters aren't independent achievers, they're meddling tyrants.

    In all I have always found Vonnegut to be a dazzler, his tales a seeming refuge for readers with various types of self-deception in tow but with deep counter currents. In Vonnegut the profound is wrapped in the mundane. It's genius. But I don't think it's at all libertarian.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 03:39 PM in Culture

    Exam Grading/Bob's Run in Boston

    As a service to other instructors, I pass along this technique for grading exams. Thanks to Doug for the pointer.

    Co-blogger Bob seems to be doing fairly well slogging through the Boston Marathon's awful conditions. At the 30k mark, he's on a 3:15 pace, less than 5 minutes off his qualifying time. Updates are here. (NB--if my link doesn't pull up Bob's progress just enter his bib number (6252).)

    UPDATE: Bob hit the 35k mark 25 seconds off the 3:20 pace required for him to qualify for next year's race. Looks like he'll have a close call. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE 2: Bob finished in 3:29.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 12:54 PM in Misc.

    April 15, 2007
    Parisian barbers c. 1907

    The April 15, 1907 NYT reports on abolishing barbers' tips in Paris:

    By a decision of the Syndical Chamber of the Master Hairdressers of Paris and of the Department of the Seine, in compliance with the wishes of the barbers' employees regarding the suppression of tips, these will be abolished on and after April 1, 1907, and the following will be in vogue:

    Hair cut..........1 fr
    Shave............50 cen.
    Beard trim......50 cen.
    Shampoo........1 fr 50 cen.

    Patrons are requested to abstain from April 1, 1907, onward from giving pourboires to the employes, as the latter's salaries will thereafter be paid entirely by the employers.

    Were the barbers taking a pay cut but ensuring a more steady income? Did the prices of the barber services increase by, say, 15% (or whatever the standard tip was at the time)? One wonders about the quality of service, especially the shave, after tips were abandoned.

    Perhaps it was an April Fools joke?

    Posted by Craig Depken at 04:31 PM in Economics

    April 14, 2007
    Dyspeptic Philosophy c. 1907

    From the April 14, 1907 NYT:

  • There is no rest for the wicked - or the gas meter.
  • The man who puts up a good front often does it to compensate for his lack of backing.
  • One-half the world, suffering from the pangs of hunger, doesn't know how the other half suffers from indigestion.
  • "The trouble with taking one drink is that it gets miserable in a man's stomach," says a bibulous friend of mine, "and you know how misery loves company."
  • Posted by Craig Depken at 06:47 PM in Culture

    On authors and star value c. 1907

    The April 14, 1907 NYT has a rather long story concerning the distribution of money in the New York theater industry. The estimate is that nearly $7.5 million is spent each year on dramatic and comedic theater in New York, with theater owners and house managers taking $4 million, producers take about $1 m, and actors and actresses take about $1.5 million. This leaves about $1 million to be distributed to advertising, insurance, sets and props, and the author (more on this below).

    The story indicates something about "star" value in 1907:

    The actors and actresses require at least $1,500,000, including with them not only the stage management, but every "super" who gets half a dollar for walking on and off, up to the "star," who may run to $500, even in some cases $1,000 a week - and get it.

    EH.net indicates nominal per-capita income was about $390 in 1907. If an actor had a 40 week work schedule, the actor would have a nominal income approximately 50 times greater than the average Joe. The "star" getting $1000 per week would have an income roughly 100 times the per-capita average. This would be comparable to today's average Major League Baseball player: Average MLB salary is approximately $4m and per-capita income is close to $40,000. Coincidence?

    The NYT article goes on to point out that France has legislation requiring 10% of the theater industry's gross revenue goes to the authors (who are alive) but in the U.S. authors fend for themselves and receive a little less than 5% of theater revenues overall. However, there is considerable variance in the amount of money each author receives (just like today). The article points out that there "must be an author for each play but not necessarily an author on the payroll." This would create the incentive for managers to use the "classics" because they wouldn't have to pay the author or his/her estate.

    Alas, much like today, "these praiseworthy ancients do not fill the bill for a public as eager after novelty as ours. The demand is for novelty in form if not always in substance, for new turns to old dramatic tricks, and if originality can strike hands with what is uppermost in men's and women's minds and within the conventions, the reward is golden indeed."

    This seems very much like today's movie industry in which it seems very few original ideas are produced. Instead we are provided with deep movies that retell the Taming of the Shrew or the like.

    However, much like the authors (at least authors like me) and musicians of today, most authors in 1907 didn't get paid much:

    In a year's dramatic business there are a great many of him [authors] to share this possible fund. Sometimes it is shared with the manager. It is bitten into by agents. It disappears in fool contracts; it withers under small receipts. Now and again it blossoms for him into grand totals.

    The article goes on to point out that there are several playwrights who are making considerable royalties from the blockbusters of their day, such as "Shenandoah," "The Lion and the Mouse," and "Arizona". These authors, the story claims, were receiving up to $100,000 per year in royalties.

    The theater industry of 1907 seemed to have a Tournament-like reward system, just like the movie, television, music, and theater(?) industry of today. Today, authors, directors, actors, and musicians struggle for years for the chance to "hit it big" some day. Authors and actors of yesterday evidently did the same. The tournament structure might be encourage the greatest diversity of creativity and, ultimately, the most well received creative endeavors - be they theater, television, movies, or music. Same today as it was then.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 04:10 PM in Economics

    Holy #$*@!
    Weather Advisory - 2007 Boston Marathon:

    The most up-to-date weather forecast calls for a predicted Spring storm on Monday, including heavy rains (potentially 3 to 5 inches), with the start temperatures in the mid to upper 30's. Wind will likely be East (in the face of the participants for most of the race) in the 20 to 25 mile per hour range, with gusts to as much as 50 miles per hour. This will produce a wind chill index of 25 to 30-degrees Fahrenheit.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:10 AM in Sports

    April 13, 2007
    Boston Marathon

    Tomorrow I'm off to run Monday's Boston Marathon. Alas, it looks like a Nor'easter will bring heavy rain, high headwinds, and temps in the high 30s/low 40s. So much for a good time (in either sense)!

    My bib number is 6252 (out of 22,500). If you want to follow along, the website will post 5k splits in (almost) real time. The race begins at 10 a.m. and is broadcast by the Versus tv network.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:24 PM in Sports

    Creating on/off the hooch

    From this CNN story, Ozzy's forthcoming new album has an unprecedented twist:

    NEW YORK (Billboard) -- Ozzy Osbourne's first new studio album in almost six years is also the first he has ever recorded sober.

    "I thought I'd never write again without any stimulation," the recovering drugs aficionado told Billboard. "But you know what? Instead of picking of the bottle I just got honest and said, 'I don't want life to go (to pieces).' "

    Tobias Wolff's 2003 novel, Old School, has become one of my enduring favorites. In a relevant scene, Ernest Hemingway has just judged the school boy protagonist's short story as the best of the 1961 class, and writes with advice about writing:

    Advice... Don't take advice, I never did. And don't get swell-headed. Writers are just like everyone else, only worse. Did he [the school boy] rewrite the story forty times? He could throw away some stuff, I've thrown away enough in my time. The kid knows what he's writing about and that's good, now he should go out and know some other things to write about.

    But I don't mean wars, not the way you probably think I mean. You don't go to war as a tourist. War'll get you killed and dead men don't write books. Same with hunting. Same with the sauce. Take Joyce. A rummy. Chained to his desk. Liked to read his work out loud, pretty tenor voice. Blind as a bat. You know what his wife told me? Said he ought to go lion hunting, that it would be good for his work and I should take him lion hunting. Can you imagine that? James Joyce lion hunting, with those eyes? Maybe I should have, come to think of it.

    Watch the sauce. The sauce kills more writers than war, just takes longer. If you're going up against the giant killer, you'd better be damned sure you can win. Some of us can, some can't. Scott never had a chance, poor soft [-----]. Mouth like a girl's. Between the rum and that pretty mouth and that wife of his he never had a chance. But he didn't write drunk, not like Bill Faulkner. With Bill
    Faulkner you can tell, right in the middle of a sentence, where the mash kicked in. Called me a coward once. A coward. I had to have Buck Lanham set him straight.

    The amazing fictional tirade goes on, but for now Hemingway via Wolff has made his point. BTW, the censored [----] is in the novel and becomes a sticking point between characters.

    Side note: Ozzy was once banned from my hometown, San Antonio, for giving in to micturating on the Alamo. I wonder what Papa would do if the Ozz called him a coward....

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 01:06 PM in Culture

    When adaptive expectations goes wrong

    Remember how horrible the 2005 hurricane season was? And, since none of you stopped driving your SUVs, the 2006 season was supposed to be worse. So, FEMA stockpiled tons of food to be ready. Of course, there were maybe two hurricanes during 2006, and now all that FEMA food has spoiled.

    In late August 2006, I was listening to NPR report on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina while also warning of the coming Hurricane Ernesto. I guess the editors of NPR didn't realize that they wouldn't be successful in drumming up fear of the '06 season when we were only in the E's while the year before we were already in the K's.

    If you're looking for something to do early next week, check out the FairTax rallies. If any DOL readers happen to be in the Shreveport area, you can join Doug and I Tuesday evening and hear us discuss it on Tom Pace's radio show Monday starting at 4pm. For those unfamiliar with the FairTax, learn more here.

    Hope APEE went well. My fiancee joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil last saturday, so I had to skip. I also sponsored one of my former students who joined as well.

    Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 12:39 PM in Politics

    Old Wine

    The two biggest ideas pushed early in the Bill Clinton's administration were centrally planned health care and National Performance Review ("let's make government run like a business with no profit motive!"). Already in her presidential run, Hillary Clinton has promised universal health care (confusing health care with insurance coverage, cost sharing with cost reduction). Today HRC advocates coming in and cleaning up government.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton said the government needed to become more consumer-friendly, cost-efficient and transparent in the way it does business. "We have to bring the government into the 21st century," she said. "We expect to be able to go to an ATM machine, stick a card in and get money, but we can't figure out how to get medical records from the Department of Defense over to the VA. It makes no sense."

    Meanwhile John Edwards spends a day as a health care worker.

    Not a lot of new ideas.

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 12:09 PM in Politics

    April 12, 2007
    Madeleine Albright Lecture

    I've just returned from hearing Madeleine Albright deliver Berry's Shatto Lecture; the event is part of this week's inauguration of Berry's new president. (Side note: Fed Chair William McChesney Martin is one of Berry's past presidents.)

    I have a mixed review of Albright's talk. One the positive hand, she criticized Europe's lack of support for bringing an end to the Iraq mess and (in response to a student question) she rightly characterized the thuggish regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe as corrupt.

    On the negative hand, Albright criticized the U.S. for being the second worst donor, in percent of GDP, of foreign aid among developed countries. That figure is, in one sense, correct (source here--scroll down to Chart 1 (p.14)), but it refers only to official or governmental development assistance. Since only 20% of foreign aid is governmental (same link as before; scroll down to Table 1), the U.S.'s aid to other countries is 5 times the amount of official development assistance. Of course, the argument for aid presupposes that foreign aid is actually useful in alleviating poverty--the evidence supporting this assumption is weak at best.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:20 PM in Politics

    Better to feel good than to do good: Prius Edition

    George Will points out some of the peculiar math involved with improving the environment by driving hybrids. He cites work by CNW Marketing Research, which estimates "dust-to-dust" costs of operating various vehicles. Some summary info from their site:

    Budget class cars (Aveo, Echo, Accent, and Rio) average $0.821 spent on energy per mile operated during the average car's lifetime. Economy cars (Corolla, Cavalier, et al.) come in at $0.802. Skipping a couple of categories, Full-size pickups (Ford F Series, Silverado, Ram, et al.) cost $2.496 per mile for energy.

    Hybrids average $3.180 per mile, with the highest-cost one being the Prius. This compares to $2.756 for the Town Car and $1.873 for Premium mid-range cars (LaCrosse, Magnum, Maxima, et al.) Prius's per-mile energy cost is almost identical to the Land Cruiser's ($3.249 for Prius vs. $3.184 for the Land Cruiser). Even the old land yachts do better (Crown Vic: $1.418).

    Of course, you can spend more. Among the Ultra-luxury cars, the Bentley runs $10.555. Even in this class, though, bargains can be found: the Ferrari costs a mere $3.962, not that much more than a Prius, and Aston Martin is a penny-pinching $3.028.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:03 PM in Economics

    Randy Barnett Lecture in Columbus tomorrow

    The 28th Annual John E. Sullivan Lecture
    Friday, April 13, 2007 at 2:30 pm
    Columbus Museum of Art Auditorium
    480 E. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio

    Professor Randy Barnett
    Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory, Georgetown University Law Center

    The People or the State?: Chisholm v. Georgia and Popular Sovereignty”

    Click here to register online.

    Professor Barnett will be delivering the lecture, “The People or the State?: Chisholm v. Georgia and Popular Sovereignty,” on Friday, April 13, 2007, at the Columbus Museum of Art Auditorium, 480 E. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio. The lecture will run from 2:30 – 4:30 pm and a reception will follow at the Museum.

    As a legal practitioner, Professor Barnett has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit to argue the medical cannabis case of Gonzales v. Raich, and he coauthored an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. Professor Barnett has published more than 80 articles and reviews and seven books. His book, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty, was awarded the Lysander Spooner Book Award for the best book on liberty for 2004. Professor Barnett also has appeared on television and radio programs such as the CBS evening news, The News Hour on PBS, Talk of the Nation on NPR, and the Ricki Lake Show.

    This year’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Capital University Law Review and The George H. Moor Chair at Capital University.

    For more information, contact: Jessica Poprocki, Director of Communications & Special Projects, at (614) 236-6377, or vie e-mail at jpoprocki@law.capital.edu

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:55 PM in Law

    Manipulating inflation numbers

    Sri Lanka’s business news portal, Lanka Business Online, has a remarkably perceptive columnist who goes by the moniker Fuss-Budget. His latest column, “How Sri Lanka is trying to manipulate inflation numbers,” discusses the political pressures – both in Sri Lanka and in developed countries like the US -- to “adjust” price indexes to get more favorable inflation reports. In the midst of it appears this lovely lesson from Argentina’s experience:

    Argentina is a typical badly managed Latin American country with high inflation …

    One brainwave of the current Kirshner government was to restrict meat exports to prevent beef prices from going up and put price controls. Farmers then switched from beef to soybean production and now beef prices are even higher and there are less export earnings as well. …

    The government in Argentina has been complaining just like ours and any other money printing state in monetary history, that their index overstates inflation.
    In February 2007 inflation in Argentina was uncomfortably high. President Kirshner's answer? Replace Graciela Bevacqua, the lady who was in charge of price indices at Indec, Argentina's national statistics office!

    ADDENDUM: Here is a Bloomberg news story that backs Fuss-Budget's account of Argentinian events.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 12:47 PM in Economics

    Opening day c. 1907

    The April 12, 1907 NYT reports on opening day in professional baseball:

    The largest crowd that ever witnessed an athletic event in this city saw New York win the opening game of the American League season here to-day by the score of 3 to 2. There were 12,902 paid admissions...
    The Yankees in 2007 will have something like 60,000 paid admissions for their opening day.

    Opening day attendance is therefore up approximately five-fold. And while nominal ticket prices [for the Yankees] have increased from $0.50 to somewhere around $50, in real terms this is also about a five-fold increase: from about $10 to about $50.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:09 AM in Sports

    Congrats (and Go 'Noles)

    Just back from the APEE meeting in Cancun with fellow DoLers, Frank, Josh, Ed and Mike D. (Where were the rest of you guys!?)

    A big congratulations to former DoL blogger and fellow FSU graduate G. Dirk Mateer for winning $10000 in APEE's Economics Communicators Contest!!! (The other finalists were Howard Baetjer and Ken Schoolland, winning $5000 and $2500 respectively).

    Also FSU grad Russ Sobel was awarded APEE's Distinguished Scholar Award. Well deserved Russ!

    Humility prevents me from mentioning another FSU grad who won the Best Educational Note Award for his paper on "Teaching Economics Principles with Comics."

    Special note to Pete Boettke: That's 3 awards for FSU grads and 0 for GMU grads. :-)

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 10:10 AM in Economics

    The AMT Club?

    Kudos to MR's Alex Tabarrok for the following comments:

    We shouldn't get rid of the AMT we should expand it. The AMT is a flat tax, it's broad-based (few loopholes), it doesn't allow for deduction of state and local taxes (which only increases the incentive of states and localities to raise taxes) and it's simple. The AMT should be reformed along the edges e.g. by indexing it to inflation (after more people are covered!) but overall it's a much better tax than the current income tax.

    I've expressed similar thoughts here and here. I wonder if--a la Mankiw's Pigou Club--we can start the AMT club.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:18 AM in Economics

    Should Taxpayers Buy Me a Printing Press or a TV Network?

    From CNN:

    TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN Wednesday he supports public funding for some abortions, a position he advocated as mayor and one that will likely put the GOP presidential candidate at odds with social conservatives in his party.

    "Ultimately, it's a constitutional right, and therefore if it's a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected," Giuliani said in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash in Florida's capital city.

    A video clip of the then-mayoral candidate issuing a similar declaration in 1989 in a speech to the "Women's Coalition" appeared recently on the Internet.

    "There must be public funding for abortions for poor women," Giuliani says in the speech that is posted on the video sharing site YouTube. "We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decisions about abortion."

    When asked directly Wednesday if he still supported the use of public funding for abortions, Giuliani said "Yes."

    "If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right," he explained, "If that's the status of the law, yes."

    Rudy doesn't seem to know the difference between positive rights and negative rights. If he thinks a constitutional right to abortion means that they must be taxpayer subsidized, then he should be for taxpayers providing me with a printing press or tv network to exercise my First Amendment rights. I wouldn't have voted for him in any case, but Rudy has now made it clear that he is incapable of fulfilling the presidential oath to protect and defend the constitution.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:54 AM in Politics

    April 11, 2007

    Robert Samuelson relates this bit of satire:

    Cassandra Devine knows how to solve the coming "entitlements'' crisis, preordained when the 77 million baby boomers begin hitting 65 in 2011: Pay retirees to kill themselves, a program she calls "transitioning.'' Volunteers could receive a lavish vacation beforehand ("a farewell honeymoon''), courtesy of the government, and their heirs would be spared the estate tax. If only 20 percent of boomers select suicide before the age of 70, she says, "Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid will be solvent. End of crisis.''

    OK, Devine is a 29-year-old fictional blogger in Christopher Buckley's satirical novel "Boomsday.'' Infuriated at the injustices awaiting her generation, she becomes an instant media celebrity with a gift for incendiary rhetoric. "Someone my age will have to spend their entire life paying unfair taxes, just so the Boomers can hit the golf course at sixty-two and drink gin and tonics until they're ninety,'' she tells one TV reporter.

    Her plan, once in cyberspace, incites spontaneous uprisings. In Florida, "several hundred people in their twenties stormed the gates of a retirement community. ... Residents were assaulted as they played golf.''

    And this does not even acknowledge the inevitable racial overtones that will accompany the rise of a real Cassandra Devine.

    Joe Antos suggests that, surprisingly, Part D might point to a way to moderate the pressure on Medicare:

    When Congress created Part D, the delivery of prescription benefits was left to private insurance plans which must compete for a share of the market. Competition puts pressure on the plans to negotiate hard for low drug prices, to encourage the use of more cost-effective pharmaceuticals, and to offer affordable premiums.

    Despite initial skepticism from political opponents, the competition strategy has succeeded beyond all expectation. The average Medicare beneficiary has more than 50 different Part D plan choices. More importantly, seniors and taxpayers are saving money. Premiums averaged just $24 a month in 2006, one-third lower than experts had predicted.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 03:07 PM in Economics

    Official licensing in everything: Major league baseball logo caskets and urns
    Thanks to a licensing agreement between Major League Baseball and Eternal Image, a Michigan company that designs and manufactures caskets and urns, superfans have a new way to prove their undying fealty to their favorite teams. Since opening day of the baseball season, caskets and urns decorated in team colors and emblazoned with official logos have been available at funeral homes in cities near eight teams. …

    Each urn will sit atop a base shaped like home plate and come stamped with a message saying, "Major League Baseball officially recognizes (deceased's name) as a lifelong fan of (team name)."

    Story here. You can see the MLB products on the Eternal Image website here.

    ADDENDUM: Co-blogger Frank S. was on top of this story back in October. Consider the above an update.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:40 AM in Economics

    The broadband jukebox

    Apparently this device has been around for a couple of years, but reading about it this morning was news to me (I guess I haven’t been hanging around in the right bars, and I let my subscription to Wired lapse). It’s the broadband-enabled jukebox, able to play any of hundreds of thousands of requested songs within a few minutes. Just think:

    Now you can dial up some obscure Frank Zappa song from 1982 that nobody else in the room has ever heard before except you.

    Another cool feature: the bar owner can program the jukebox so that it won’t play the wrong music, e.g. the Village People’s “YMCA” in a country-western bar. Or vice-versa.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 11:27 AM in Culture

    Detroit and gloom c. 1907

    The April 11, 1907 NYT reports on opening day in Major League Baseball. Much like this season, many teams are faced with the "odd" occurrence of snow on the ground in April. Take Detroit:

    Detroit has Gloomy Outlook

    Gloomy are the baseball fans whose appetites have been whetted since Hugh Jennigs became Manager of the team. It has snowed off an on for three days, and this morning broke with two inches of the white mantle on earth. Some moderation gave hopes but the weather man gives little hope. Secretary Navin says the game will be played if the snow isn't too deep, but the outlook is a cold, uncomfortable day. The advance sale equalled the park's capacity. The team is on edge and has shown well.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:03 AM in Sports

    Dennis Miller's radio show

    Comedian and libertarian-ish neo-conservative Dennis Miller now has a talk radio show. Check your local listings; here in St. Louis it runs 10am - 1pm. To give you the flavor of the show, today's guests are Christopher Horner (Competitive Enterprise Institute), John McEnroe, Irshad Manji ("The Trouble with Islam Today"), and Gloria Allred.

    Miller's enthusiasm for the Iraq war may be as delusional as Dwight Schrute's enthusiasm for superheroes (note Milleresque zany pop-culture reference!) but he's always perceptive, and he's always good for a chuckle. Bonus: the show uses cool bumper music (e.g. Dick Dale's "Misirlou"; John Barry's James Bond themes).

    My favorite line from Miller's interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning:

    Al Gore -- At some point, he'll come riding over the hill like he's the cavalry. But it won't take long for everyone to figure out he's not Forrest Tucker. He's Larry Storch, and he's got his hat on sideways.
    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 10:55 AM in Politics

    April 10, 2007
    If It's Good, Can It Be News?

    So, I'm a little sick of the whole "we hate Duke!" movement in the U.S. Fact is, the big D is a WHOLE lot more open to alternative viewpoints, and real education, than we get credit for. The fact that most faculty are unwilling to take public positions, or to pretend to represent the university, on matters of pending litigation does not make us complicit in the activities of a clinically insane legal system. But it seems that Duke has become a lightning rod for anger about universities and their intellectual insularity and ideological monochromaticity.

    It was nice, therefore, to see this report come out from the Pope Center in Raleigh.

    Excerpt below the fold....But the entire report is worth reading. The author, Russ Nieli, did a remarkable job in setting the context of the decline, and partial rise, of intellectual pursuit in American universities. A terrific piece of work.

    Read More »

    Posted by Michael Munger at 08:29 PM in Culture

    Economic forecasting c. 1907

    From a letter to the editor in the April 10, 1907 NYT:

    During the Presidential campaign of 1896 Gov. Altgeld in his Music Hall speech at Chicago said: "Prices will continue to go down, down, never to rise again as long as the gold standard exists."

    I made the statement to a friend that "Mr. Altgeld is mistaken, and that the tide will begin to turn in 1898, and by 1900 everybody will see it, and by 1903 an era of high prices will be attained, and that the building business will be good after that time, and remain good until the next panic, which is due to occur in 1913; that this will occur whether McKinley or Bryan is elected President."

    The crest of the wave was passed more than a year ago but the volume of business does not yet indicate it.

    These conclusions are not guessed, but are scientifically arrived at. No flurry in Wall Street can bring on a commercial depression until the conditions are ripe for it. If all the stocks and bonds and all the speculators who deal in them were blotted out it could not affect the volume of business appreciably. The cause of the ebb and flow of the tide of business lies wholly in the labor question proper. The volume of money, or its kind in use, has practically nothing to do with it.


    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:50 AM in Economics

    April 09, 2007
    What's the impact on M2?

    The Penny Pyramid Project: Picture of completed version: 289,318 pennies.

    It's from April 2006 but still cool.

    Funny and interesting comments at digg.com

    Posted by Craig Depken at 01:23 PM in Funny Stuff

    Adapting to Warming

    Newsweek has a remarkable series of articles on global warming. The articles try to identify gainers as well as losers, and they paint a much less gloomy picture than most of the mainstream media. This article by Richard S. Lindzen probably should be read as the theme article. (Links to other articles are at this site.) Its opening sentences:

    Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true.

    What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:08 PM in Politics

    Global warming c. 1907

    On Saturday it snowed in Arlington, TX. Granted, it didn't snow enough to stick to the roads or the grass, but it snowed enough so that our two year old recognized the precipitation as snow. How crazy is that?

    Around the Southeast it was rather cold over the past weekend, and I am sure many were like me: either wondering where the global warming was when we needed it or thanking our stars for global warming (otherwise the cold would have been that much worse). For our good friends north of, say, Nashville, I hear your chuckles, but one reason I stick close to home (at least in terms of latitude) is the cold - more specifically the relative lack thereof.

    Notwithstanding the past weekend's freakish weather, the statists qua global warming advocates will not be dissuaded. One hypothesis, which if true would be the end of the endless stream of "protocols," is that contemporaneous weather patterns are reflective of a "100 year cycle." With about as much scientific method as most (non-scientist) advocates of global warming put forth, I mention this story from the April 9, 1907 NYT:

    Ballston [New York], April 8 - This vicinity to-day...had a snowstorm which almost assumed the proportions of a blizzard. More than eight inches of snow have fallen.
    Can we draw robust inference from one observation? No more than those on the other side of the debate. However, I enjoy anecdotes that our problems are not necessarily new problems.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:17 AM in Science

    April 07, 2007
    I was there: Bruce Bartlett vs. Paul Krugman on Keynesian economics of the 1970s

    In a recollection of his involvement the early days of supply-side economics, Bruce Bartlett in the New York Times characterizes the mainstream view the supply-siders were up against as follows:

    It’s important to remember that at the time supply-side economics came into being, Keynesian economics dominated macroeconomic thinking and economic policy in Washington. Among the beliefs held by the Keynesians of that era were these: budget deficits stimulate economic growth; the means by which the government raises revenue is essentially irrelevant economically; government spending and tax cuts affect the economy in exactly the same way through their impact on aggregate spending; personal savings is bad for economic growth; monetary policy is impotent; and inflation is caused by low unemployment, among other things.

    In a comment on Mark Thoma’s blog, Paul Krugman claims that Bartlett’s Keynesianism is a straw man:

    Wow. You see, I was a grad student at MIT - the great Keynesian stronghold - in the 1970s, and this bears no resemblance to what was being taught.

    Really? Not even to undergraduates? Just a few blocks up Massachusetts Avenue, I was a freshman taking Economics 10 at Harvard in 1973-74. The course was led by Otto Eckstein; my section was taught by Chip Case; our textbook was Lipsey and Steiner. Based on my experience, I find Bartlett's characterization of the Keynesian macroeconomics of time quite accurate.

    "Budget deficits stimulate economic growth": We didn’t hear much about growth, but we were certainly taught that deficits raise the level of income, via the balanced-budget multiplier.

    "The means by which the government raises revenue is essentially irrelevant economically": Well, in the macro half of the course, yes.

    "Government spending and tax cuts affect the economy in exactly the same way through their impact on aggregate spending": Yes.

    "Personal savings is bad for economic growth": Certainly bad for the level of income, due to the paradox of thrift.

    "Monetary policy is impotent; and inflation is caused by low unemployment, among other things." Yep. We were never taught MV=Py. We actually did hear that the bad anchovy harvest was a cause of inflation. I recall that an Ec 10 teaching assistant named Roger Brinner wrote an article about the causes of inflation for the Harvard Independent (an undergrad newspaper) in which he made not one mention of the word "money", much less any reference to growth in the supply of money. I remember it well because I wrote a reply for the Independent which became my first published writing on economics.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 12:12 PM in Economics

    The scientific method c. 1907

    The April 7, 1907 NYT reports on French scientists who are trying to market tobacco that has been purged of nicotine ostensibly for health reasons:

    The Government, which has a monopoly of the manufacture and sale of tobacco, put on the market this week a variety of caporal, a common form of pipe and cigarette tobacco, which had been freed of nicotine.

    This step was taken as a result of experiments on rabbits. An infusion of ordinary caporal tobacco was injected into the veins of a rabbit, which died five weeks later. A post mortem examination showed that the aorta was covered with large spots due to arteriosclerosis. Another rabbit was subjected to a similar test with nicotineless caporal. This rabbit lived two months and was then put to death. The aorta was found perfectly healthy.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 11:30 AM in Science

    April 06, 2007
    On Pins and Needles

    An extended version of the discussion of the pin industry, with more references. My DoL colleague Dr. W. Mixon suggested more background was needed.

    And we are always happy to please, at DoL.

    Read More »

    Posted by Michael Munger at 12:58 PM in Economics

    Restore Freedom of Speech

    Most recent reports about the money-raising success of candidates are all about the horse race. Few have suggested the fairly obvious point that McCain-Feingold has not been effective. This editorial gets it pretty much right:

    But corruption has, if anything, surged. Confidence in government remains low. Nasty, attack-ad politics are as prevalent as ever. And, of course, corporations, unions and billionaires quickly found a new vehicle for their soft-money influence-peddling – the so-called “527” groups.

    The predictions that arguably did come to pass did so for reasons having little to do with McCain-Feingold. Does anyone really think that grass-roots groups are thriving because of the law and not because of the unprecedented networking power offered by the Internet? Does anyone really think the fact that 28 Republican incumbents (but no Democratic incumbents) lost their House and Senate races last year was because of the law and not because of the GOP's vast, poll-confirmed plunge in popularity?

    The failure of McCain-Feingold, however, does not mean that all attempts at campaign reform are futile. Instead, it's time for a new approach – one that has transparency as its primary goal, not unworkable and at times legally dubious attempts to restrict political speech and campaign spending.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:51 AM in Politics

    Better to feel good than to do good: Biofuels

    It's better that the greens feel good than that they do good for the poor. According to this article in Foreign Affairs:

    The World Bank has estimated that in 2001, 2.7 billion people in the world were living on the equivalent of less than $2 a day; to them, even marginal increases in the cost of staple grains could be devastating. Filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn -- which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year. By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world. Biofuels have tied oil and food prices together in ways that could profoundly upset the relationships between food producers, consumers, and nations in the years ahead, with potentially devastating implications for both global poverty and food security.

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:07 AM in Economics

    April 05, 2007
    Private Virtual Currency in China: the QQ coin

    My attempt to unravel the mystery of the QQ coin virtual currency --which the Chinese government takes seriously enough to crack down on -- is now up on Free Market News Network.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 01:34 PM in Economics

    Anti-scalping laws c. 1907

    In the January 2007 issue of Public Choice I have a paper investigating anti-scalping laws and their potential impact on ticket window prices. I come up with the counter-intuitive result that allowing ticket scalping might actually reduce ticket prices (at the window). I do not investigate what happens on the street corner when scalping is banned - the results there are completely ambiguous. Nevertheless, politicians and consumer activists commonly advocate for reductions in the ability to buy and resell tickets. Usually the arguments focus on the "unfairness" of the secondary market - some people are able to make a profit on an artificially scarce product. Why we don't see the same arguments about those who sold AOL at $200 per share or who flipped their beach side bungalow in California for a cool 1000% return, I am not sure.

    As I have often pointed out in my reading of the paper from 100 years ago, our problems are not necessarily new, but they are our problems. For instance, in the April 5, 1907 NYT are two articles concerning ticket scalping (what at the time is more moderately called ticket speculation):

    A hearing was held yesterday by the Committee on Laws and Legislation of the Board of Aldermen on the proposed ordinance abolishing sidewalk ticket speculators and prohibiting the sale of tickets anywhere at prices above those printed on the face. The committee was addressed by all degrees of speculators from those who have come to be known as the "bank-roll brigade" to the "piker' just in from Chicago.

    David Marks, President of the "New York Ticket Speculators' Association, Incorporated," told the committee it was wrong to wipe out the speculator.

    "Why, you can't wipe me out," he said defiantly. "If you take away my speculator's license I'll get a peddler's license and sell a man a pair of shoe strings for $5 and throw in the theater tickets. You can't stop me selling shoe laces or giving away tickets. It's the managers who are to blame for all the trouble. They are not honest with the people..."

    George J. Duncan, who declared that he had the rooms of his home papered with unsold tickets and that he engaged in the papering business almost every night, when he got home from work, said most of the speculators were too old to do any other kind of work. He is forty-six.

    The last paragraph is a little-recognized aspect of ticket scalping. Outside of a few big events at which all tickets on the secondary market will sell, many times scalpers are left with tickets that go unsold and have very low residual value to the scalper. This, in turn, reduces the willingness to pay on the part of the scalper, which in turn can put downward pressure on window prices (if there are enough scalpers in the market for tickets).

    The threat to bundle tickets with other products is interesting and has been tried in recent times as well. I don't have the specific reference, but during the lead-up to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, after Atlanta passed an anti-scalping law, an individual was arrested for selling matchbooks with tickets thrown in for free. The original law didn't make bundling illegal and thus the individual was found not to be in violation of the law - however the law was quickly changed to accommodate the bundling gimmick.

    A second article in the April 5, 1907 NYT reports on those in favor of the anti-speculator bill pending in Albany (NY). Consistent with my paper, event promoters were in favor of banning ticket scalpers. A qui bono argument would suggest that event promoters were in favor of banning ticket scalping so that they could make a greater profit:

    A letter...was read. In it Mr Hammerstein wrote to Vice President Down was read. In it Mr. Hammerstein said that because of the sidewalk speculator the managers were compelled to place tickets on sale in the hotels. He said that if the sidewalk speculator was abolished, the "equally obnoxious hotel ticket office" would also be abolished.
    If theater managers closed hotel box offices this would represent an reduction in "competition" and with less competition we would expect the face value of ticket prices to increase.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:41 AM in Economics

    Capitalism's Infantilist Ethos

    The Marxoid (term due to Deirdre McCloskey, I think) notion of underconsumption just won't go away. Benjamin Barber opines, "Capitalism's success, however, has meant that core wants in the developed world are now mostly met and that too many goods are now chasing too few needs."

    It appears that capitalism is postponing the day of reckoning by making tastes more infantile (and I had thought that giving people the power to make their own choices and requiring that they be responsible for the effects of those choices would have the opposite effect):

    Capitalism is stymied, courting long-term disaster. We still work hard, but only so that we can pay and play. In order to turn reluctant consumers with few unsatisfied core needs into permanent shoppers, producers must dumb down consumers, shape their wants, take over their life worlds, encourage impulse buying, cultivate shopoholism and invent new needs. At the same time, they empower kids as shoppers by legitimizing their unformed tastes and mercurial wants and detaching them from their gatekeeper mothers and fathers and teachers and pastors. The kids include toddlers who recognize brand logos before they can talk and commodity-minded baby Einsteins who learn to shop before they can walk.

    It couldn't be simply that a rich society has enough money to buy things that teachers and pastors and others of Barber's ilk consider to be of lesser value. It must be omenous:

    Consumerism needs this infantilist ethos because it favors laxity and leisure over discipline and denial, values childish impetuosity and juvenile narcissism over adult order and enlightened self-interest, and prefers consumption-directed play to spontaneous recreation. The ethos feeds a private-market logic ("What I want is what society needs!") and combats the public logic fashioned by democracy ("What society needs is what I want to want!").

    And, of course, we must change people rather than changing institutions so that secure property rights provide the right incentives:

    To serve such needs, however, capitalism must once again learn to defer profits and empower the needy as customers. Entrepreneurs wanted! With micro-credit, villagers can construct hand pumps and water filters from the clay under their feet.

    And, finally and without any surprise, government must take the lead:

    To do this, we will require the assistance of democratic institutions and an adult ethos. Public citizens must be restored to their proper place as masters of their private choices.

    I don't know who these "public citizens" might be or whether, once they are "restored to their proper place as masters," exactly whose private choices will be redirected, and how (though Road to Serfdom, Chapter 10 provides some hints).

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:31 AM in Economics

    Yes, Virginia, Demand Curves are Downward Sloping

    From the AJC:

    A free-admission promotion at Six Flags Over Georgia on Atlanta's west side snarled morning rush hour traffic and frustrated youngsters turned away when the park hit capacity by 6 a.m.

    The amusement park staged the free admission promotion as a season kickoff.

    Some youngsters got out of cars and began walking down I-20 to get to the park, but Six Flags' officials turned them away, saying people had to arrive in cars to take advantage of the offer.

    Cars began lining up as early as 3:30 a.m. for the offer, which had been scheduled to run from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

    The free day includes free rides, breakfast and season pass specials. Normal one-day admission to the park is $50 for adults and $30 for children.

    Dana Davis, 31, drove from nearby Douglasville with her two children and five nephews for a day of fun. The fun never started. She and the children got up at 3 a.m. and sat in traffic on I-20 from 3:30 to 4:50 a.m.

    She got close to the park but was turned away.

    "It seems like a hoax, instead of a free day at Six Flags," she said.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:10 AM in Economics

    Worst First Pitch EVER!

    In case you missed it, check out the Mayor of Cincinnati's opening day first pitch. I really like the puzzled look on former Red Eric Davis' face.

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:51 AM in Politics

    April 04, 2007
    Demand for Government Services ...

    ...by those who should know.

    Looking at the link from Frank's recent post, I found this little tidbit from the BBC"
    Nearly two thirds of health staff would not be happy to be a patient in their own NHS trust, a survey shows."

    This reminded me of a similar factoid regarding government schools in the US (courtesy OutOfControl): "Nationwide, public school teachers are almost twice as likely as other parents to choose private schools for their own children, the study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found. More than 1 in 5 public school teachers said their children attend private schools."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 07:06 PM in Economics

    Single Payer Dreaming

    That's the title of a post on Panda Bear, MD. An excerpt:

    Before the United States can have anything approaching the obvious perfection of European-style universal health care, our people are going to have to learn some good manners. While I am a fierce patriot and love America before all other countries, I cannot help but to admire the urbanity and the insouciance with which Europeans obligingly die before they can become a burden to their nanny states.

    In truth, I am ashamed to report that where Americans, in a typically boorish fashion, will insist on hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical care to preserve their shameless lives beyond the point where it would be convenient for society, in Europe not only are many procedures and medications unavailable to patients over a certain age but some of those elegant continentals have even hit on the money-saving idea of offering a couple of hundred guilders worth of euthanasia drugs to politely eliminate those who might otherwise become a burden.

    The problem with offering universal access to health care, which should be obvious to anyone with good manners, is that there is an almost inexhaustible demand for it. Maybe you, oh loyal and patient reader, don’t think about this as you are no doubt a veritable Hector or Andromache, in the prime of your life and about to conquer the medical world, but the old and the infirm, with stunning bad manners, do want their hips replaced, their coronary arteries vigorously scrubbed, and their expensive sojourns in the intensive care unit. Sadly, there is no end to their demands as they clamour for more and more precious health care, grimly hanging on just for spite until at around 90, eighty if we’re lucky, their bad manners finally catch up to them like their mothers from the turn of the last century said they would.

    It’s shameful. The demand may be inexhaustible but the supply cannot possible keep pace. Certainly not now where, with typical American insensivity, we structure our society around merit and allocate services to those who earn them and certainly not under a single payer system where there is no restraint on demand whatsoever…except that it is to be hoped we learn some European style-good manners.

    HT: A former student who was a pre-med economics major

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:53 PM in Economics

    Better to Feel Good than Do Good: Belgian Barbequing Edition

    A news item:

    The government of Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia, which has a population of about 4 million, has approved a tax on barbequing, local media reported.

    Experts said that between 50 and 100 grams of CO2, a so-called greenhouse gas, is emitted during barbequing. Beginning June 2007, residents of Wallonia will have to pay 20 euros for a grilling session.

    The local authorities plan to monitor compliance with the new tax legislation from helicopters, whose thermal sensors will detect burning grills.

    Now about the CO2 emissions from the helicopters...

    HT: WSJ's "Best of the Web Today" email

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 05:39 PM in Misc.

    April 03, 2007
    Forecasting: Weather and Economy

    Ivan Pongracic, Sr. (my grad school buddy's father), who is a long time teacher of Austrian economics, likes to quip that you could take all the weather forecasters, switch them with all the economics forecasters, and no one would ever be the wiser. With that in mind, weather forecasters are predicting nine Atlantic hurricanes in 2007. Reuters via Yahoo! news reports:

    MIAMI (Reuters) - The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season will be far more active than usual with nine hurricanes, and the United States has an above-average chance of being hit by a major storm, a closely watched forecasting team said on Tuesday.

    In an updated outlook, the Colorado State University forecasters led by pioneer researcher William Gray said the June. 1-November 30 season will produce 17 tropical storms. Of the nine hurricanes forecast, five will be major ones of Category 3 or higher with winds over 110 mph (177 kph).

    London-based forecaster Tropical Storm Risk also updated its forecast on Tuesday. It calls for 17 tropical storms and nine hurricanes.

    Meanwhile, the Phillipines is "running out of weather forecasters"
    Martin Rellin, the director of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said that its pool of weather forecasters had fallen to dangerously low levels.

    Of 20 forecasters eight years ago, only 12 now remain -- and half of those are applying for jobs abroad, he said.

    Hmm. Running out ...... AT WHAT PRICE?

    Some other questions that occur to me out of curiosity or skepticism:
    -What's the optimal number of forecast revisions? Too few and you're too off target. Too many and you don't get the media coverage behind each revisions.
    -Why are we forecasting hurricanes from Colorado?
    -How do these groups coordinate the dates of their forecast revisions?
    -Why don't tornado seasons get forecast in the same manner? Or do they?
    -The only weather economist I know is Dan Sutter. What would Dan do?

    Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 06:02 PM in Economics

    Better to Feel Good than Do Good: SF Baggie Edition

    From USA Today:

    Now, the city of San Francisco has come up with an answer. The city's Board of Supervisors voted last week to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets and chain pharmacies. The stores are encouraged to use bags made of recyclable paper, which can biodegrade in about a month, or compostable bags made of corn or potato starch, which have not yet been widely studied. It is a unique response well suited to a city that prizes its special nature — one that already has curbside pickup for recycling foodstuffs in compostable bags. But as other cities weigh San Francisco's choice, they might want to consider some of the consequences.

    Plastic bags cost about a penny each, paper costs about a nickel and compostable bags can run as high as 10 cents each. The California Grocers Association, which lobbied against the ban, doubts this new industry can produce enough of the compostable bags quickly. The bags also must be segregated from regular plastic, making recycling efforts more difficult.

    Paper bags, meanwhile, generate 70% more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is because four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them. Paper takes up nine times as much space in landfills and doesn't break down there at a substantially faster rate than plastic does.

    On a related note, here's the abstract of a new paper in the Journal of Public Economics:

    Interest in religious organizations as providers of social services has increased dramatically in recent years. Churches in the U.S. were a crucial provider of social services through the early part of the twentieth century, but their role shrank dramatically with the expansion in government spending under the New Deal. In this paper, we investigate the extent to which the New Deal crowded-out church charitable spending in the 1930s. We do so using a new nationwide data set of charitable spending for six large Christian denominations, matched to data on local New Deal spending. We instrument for New Deal spending using measures of the political strength of a state's congressional delegation, and confirm our findings using a different instrument based on institutional constraints on state relief spending. With both instruments we find that higher government spending leads to lower church charitable activity. Crowd-out was small as a share of total New Deal spending (3%), but large as a share of church spending: our estimates suggest that benevolent church spending fell by 30% in response to the New Deal, and that government relief spending can explain virtually all of the decline in charitable church activity observed between 1933 and 1939.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:57 PM in Economics

    From ABBA to Zeppelin, Led: Using Music to Teach Economics


    Josh Hall, G. Dirk Mateer and I have created "From ABBA to Zeppelin, Led", a weblog that offers a variety of song lyrics that instructors may find useful in teaching economics. Each post includes a selection from the song's lyrics and a brief assignment for students.

    Check it out!

    Posted by Robert Lawson at 01:33 PM in Economics

    Breeder Reaction?

    Not of the nuclear sort. This is about eating the seed corn. Or maybe it's about the well-known tendency of government to look to the future as opposed to private-sector myopia.

    Anyway, this from DER SPIEGEL: "The fate of 12 German giant rabbits delivered to North Korea is in doubt. The breeder who sent them suspects they have been eaten by top officials rather than used to set up a bunny farm."

    Posted by Wilson Mixon at 10:50 AM in Misc.

    Innovative taxation c. 1906

    The April 3, 1906 NYT reports on an as-yet untouched source of tax revenue, but it is hard to determine if it is a joke or not:

    TRENTON, N.J. - Assemblyman Cornish of Essex introduced in the House today a bill which provides a tax for wearing the hair on the face as follows, to be paid to the tax collector yearly:

    Ordinary whiskers, $5; side whiskers, $8; Van Dyke beard, $10; mutton chops, $15; "billygoat," $50; red whiskers, 20 per cent. extra. The tax collector is to receive 25 per cent. for collecting the tax. Speaker Pro Tem. Elvins sent the bill to the Committee on Fish and Game.

    In 2005 dollars:

    Whiskers - $107
    Side Whiskers - $171.50
    Van Dyke - $214
    Mutton chops - $321
    Billygoat - $1072

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:22 AM in Economics


    An essay on EconLib, on Division of Labor and the Pin Factory.

    An accomanying podcast, one of the most enjoyable I have done.

    Some points, and disclaimers:

    1. Nothing in the essay is remotely original. It has been said before, and better, in many cases by my fellow bloggers on this very site. This is an attempt at humor, and popularizing concepts many people find difficult. And the essay runs all the attendant risks of trying to simplify complex matters. Some things are just complex, and that is all there is to it.

    2. The U.S. is losing job in some areas, and gaining them in others. Some of this really is due to "globalization." But China is losing jobs to "globalization" also. Globalization is, first and foremost, the attempt of manufacturers to realize the cost savings in division of labor from expandng the extent of their markets.

    3. China is losing manufacturing jobs, in many industries, as division of labor and mechanization increases productivity. By and large, "we" are losing jobs to productivity gains. If the U.S. chooses policies that restrict productivity gains (regulations, taxes, requirements on retaining workers and paying for their health care), then we will lose that industry entirely. But the "jobs" are not shipped to some other country, one for one. Other countries are not competing on cheap labor. They are competing on higher, and increasing, productivity.

    4. Many of the people who whine about increasing regulations, raising taxes, and forcing employers to pay health care are the same ones who bemoan "job loss." Do you have to have a lobotomy to be an anchor on CNN (yes, that was about YOU, Lou Dobbs!).

    Posted by Michael Munger at 09:29 AM in Economics

    April 02, 2007
    Bollywood fact of the day

    Business of Cinema reports:

    2006 was a record-breaking year for Hindi films at the US box office, with seven of the 14 foreign language films that grossed over $2 million, being Hindi films.

    The Bollywood box-office authority, ibos.com, lists six 2006 Bollywood films each with a >$2m US gross:

    Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, $3.1m – another Karan Johar weepie
    Dhoom 2, $2.6m – sequel to the motorcycle caper flick
    Don, $2.2m – SRK remake of the AB classic from the ‘70s
    Lage Raho Munnabhai, $2.2m – sequel to the comedy Munnabhai MBBS
    Rang De Basanti, $2.2m – Aamir Khan starrer
    Fanaa, $2.1m – Ditto

    In seventh place was Krrish, at $1.4m – Hrithik Roshan superhero flick, sequel to Koi Mil Gaya.

    By either measure, a record-breaking year indeed. Also a year of remakes and sequels -- which may have helped the overseas box office. Of these seven I’ve only seen Don (which was pretty good), but I’m planning to rent Dhoom 2.

    Posted by Lawrence H. White at 12:40 PM in Culture

    Which Team Should I Cheer For?

    Time for a bit of DOL frivolity. Thanks to a colleague who has an extra ticket, I'm going to tonight's NCAA Championship game in Atlanta. I have no connections to either Florida or Ohio State so I'm wondering which team I should cheer for. I've opened comments until I leave about 3:30 this afternoon. Arguments based on economics (or the economics departments at the two schools) will be most convincing.

    Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:08 AM in Sports  ·  Comments (3)

    April 01, 2007
    On speeding c. 1907

    The April 1, 1907 NYT reports on a day's worth of arresting automobile drivers who were "caught" speeding on Manhattan Island. The story sounds much like This November (1906) story concerning the arrests of drivers in Peekskill, NY. However, the price of a speeding ticket in New York City was considerably higher:

    Bicycle Policeman Gibney took Waler C. Martin of 344 West Seventy-seventh Street to the 157th Street Station. He had been timed as going at the rate of twenty-four miles an hour on Broadway...He was released on $100 cash bail. Frederick Lauterback...had been timed as going at the rate of twenty-five miles an hour on Broadway...he was compelled to deposit $100 cash bail before he could proceed.

    William Erhardt ...was taken to the 125th street station by Policeman Mara, who timed the car at twenty miles an hour on Broadway. Erhardt gave $100 cash bail.

    The story goes on to mention others caught for speeding at 18 mph, 18mph, and 20mph. This might imply a speed limit of 15 mph, but I haven't been able to confirm that.

    In November, 1906, a fine for speeding in Peekskill was $10-$25 or $225-$575 in 2005 dollars. The bails in NYC were around $2,100 in 2005 dollars - plus you were embarrassed with the NYT perp walk, which seems eerily similar to the rehab, divorce-court, murder-trial perp walks today's Who's Who endures.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:58 AM in Culture

    Socialism vs. Individualism c. 1907

    The April 1, 1907 NYT reports on a speech given by Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler at the University of California a few days earlier. In the article is the following quote of Dr. Butler:

    At bottom, and without special reference to immediate concrete proposals, Socialism would substitute for individual initiative collective and corporate responsibility in matters relating to property and production, in the hope thereby of correcting and overcoming the evils which attach to an individualism run wild. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the corporate or collective responsibility which it would substitute for individual initiative is only such corporate or collective responsibility as a group of these very same individuals could exercise. Therefore Socialism is primarily an attempt to overcome man's individual imperfections by adding them together, in the hope that they will cancel each other. This is not only bad mathematics, but worse psychology.
    Unfortunately for about 100 million people during the twentieth century, Dr. Butler's words were not (I think) intended as an April Fools joke. Adding up human imperfections in the manner Dr. Murray describes seems to have led to tsunami of suffering and misery perpetrated by the very people and against the very people the system was supposed to "save" from the avarices of capitalism and capitalists.

    Posted by Craig Depken at 10:44 AM in Politics

    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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