Division of Labour: March 2010 Archives
March 31, 2010
Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 08:53 PM

Palmer on the Broken Window Fallacy

Here's an excellent (and short) video of Tom Palmer discussing the Broken Window Fallacy (HT: Steve Horwitz). It's a venerable fallacy, but it's one from which I hope we might be recovering. A couple of quick Google searches couldn't turn up anyone saying that the recent earthquake in Haiti will be good for Haitian economic growth.

I had a Mises Daily a few years ago on the fallacy. Bastiat inspired Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, which I discuss here. Here's a series of interviews with economists on different parts of Economics in One Lesson.

Cross-Posted at the Mises Blog and the Beacon.

Posted by Art Carden at 12:05 PM in Economics

March 30, 2010
What I've Been Writing Lately: On Timothy Ferriss, The Four-Hour Workweek

In the latest issue of Productive!.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:12 PM in Misc.

Does anyone remember the recipe?

For bathtub gin, that is. One wonders what the behavioral response if this ballot initiative in California were to pass:

A measure that would raise the excise tax on a 750 ml bottle of wine from 4 cents to $5.11 has been cleared for circulation by the Secretary of State. Proponents can begin collecting the 433,971 signatures needed to put the initiative on the November ballot.

The measure would push the tax on a six-pack of beer from 11¢ to $6.08, and raise the total tax on a 750 ml bottle of distilled spirits from 65 cents to $17.57.

The additional excise taxes would boost state revenues of between $7 billion and $9 billion annually, with the proceeds going to support alcohol-related programs and services. The Secretary of State predicts that state and local revenues from existing excise and sales taxes on alcoholic will actually fall several hundred million dollars annually, due to a likely decline in consumption.

The official proponents for the measure are listed as Josie Whitney and Kent M. Whitney. They must collect signatures of 433,971 registered voters – the number equal to five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2006 gubernatorial election – in order to qualify it for the ballot. The proponents have 150 days to circulate petitions for this measure, meaning the signatures must be collected by August 23, 2010.

I love the (under)-statement "due to a likely decline in consumption." You think!?!? I would argue that the statement should read "due to a likely decline in taxable consumption."

I suppose the two proponents are part of a temperance movement, which is about the only rationale that can explain such massive tax hikes. If you live in California or work in the California wine industry or service industry you have to hope that such an initiative a) can't get the required signatures or b) can't get the necessary votes.

Story here

HT: Christian D.

Posted by Craig Depken at 02:14 PM in Economics  ·  Comments (1)

March Madness: I need a Bracket Bailout!

March Madness means, among other things, bracket picks, office pools, etc. Both of my brackets--the "real" bracket and my "which school has the highest-ranked econ department?" bracket--are completely underwater. It isn't my fault: the upsets at various stages sank my real bracket, and my hypothesized correlation between econ department ranking and probability of victory just didn't quite pan out. No one could have predicted that. Besides, I'm no expert--I don't really follow college basketball.

In the spirit of the times, I'm asking for a bailout. Please click on the button below to contribute $1 to Art Carden's Bracket Bailout. Alternatively, you can send me an email explaining not only why you aren't contributing, but why you shouldn't. I'll send my spare copy of Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk's Karl Marx and the Close of His System to whoever submits the best 500-word-ish answer by (say) midnight on Friday.

Posted by Art Carden at 12:51 PM in Economics

Price elasticity of beans c. 1910

From the March 30, 1910 NYT:

The price of Boston baked beans has increased over 33 1-3 per cent. during the past two years, and caused a decrease in the consumption of approximately 9 per cent. Two years ago beans retailed at 7 and 8 cents per quart, while they now cost 10 and 11 cents.

Boston's bean bill in 1909 was nearly $5,000,000, an increase of about $1,700,000 over the cost of beans in the previous year, notwithstanding the decrease in the amount used. In 1908 there were consumd (sic) in this city 589,919 bushels of beans. Last year this amount fell off to 536,863 bushels.

Salt pork, used in cooking beans, has also taken a decided jump in price since 1907. Three years ago pork sold for 11 cents a pound. To-day the same quality costs 18 cents a pound, an increase of about 63 per cent.


The arc-elasticity of demand for beans = -9%/33.3% = -0.27. To put this in some perspective, a 1996 meta-analysis of the price elasticity of demand for gasoline found that the short-run price elasticity of demand for gasoline is -0.26.

Perhaps people really, really, really liked their Boston baked beans in 1910?

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:39 AM in Economics

March 29, 2010
Incentives matter c. 1910

From the March 28, 1910 NYT (there wasn't anything interesting in the March 29, 1910 NYT):


The street car strike in Philadelphia has made begging an unproductive calling there, according to Charles Becowitz, a blind Russian beggar, who was picked up by the Capital [Washington] police while plying his vocation among the Easter day crowds attending St. Patrick's Church here today. Becowitz has been ordered to leave Washington. He told the police he had been able to make as much as $30 a week selling shoe laces and lead pencils in Philadelphia.

George Robin, a seventeen year old boy was arrested with Becowitz. He has been receiving $4 per week for assisting the blind man. He declares he will return to Philadelphia.

Posted by Craig Depken at 03:34 PM in Economics

A Time for Reflection: Thomas Sowell on Experts

As part of my haul from the Goodwill Book Store in Panama City last week, I picked up a copy of Paul Johnson's Intellectuals (here's a recent updated version; Johnson's portrait of Karl Marx is illuminating and disturbing, but I'll have more on that later). Here's Thomas Sowell discussing his new book Intellectuals and Society, which I plan to read soon. I've read that it's a sequel of sorts to Johnson.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:17 AM in Economics

Mike Lester on Obamacare

Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune has several good cartoons in response to the passage of Obamacare. One is below (source); other goodies are here and here.

Lester_Lotto_Freedom.jpg

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:52 AM

Maybe They Should Call It the Waxman Effect

The abstract of a new NBER WP by Lauren Cohen, Joshua D. Coval, Christopher Malloy:

This paper employs a new empirical approach for identifying the impact of government spending on the private sector. Our key innovation is to use changes in congressional committee chairmanship as a source of exogenous variation in state-level federal expenditures. In doing so, we show that fiscal spending shocks appear to significantly dampen corporate sector investment and employment activity. These corporate reactions follow both Senate and House committee chair changes, are present among large and small firms and within large and small states, are partially reversed when the congressman resigns, and are most pronounced among geographically-concentrated firms. The effects are economically meaningful and the mechanism - entirely distinct from the more traditional interest rate and tax channels - suggests new considerations in assessing the impact of government spending on private sector economic activity.
Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:43 AM in Economics

March 28, 2010
Farmers leave strawberries rotting in the fields after price drops

Some supply and demand from Florida:

Strawberry farmers in Florida are facing such a sharp collapse in prices for their berries that many are deciding to simply leave huge tracts of the berries to rot in the fields.

This only adds to a cold-induced disaster in Florida agriculture this year and spurs some bitter irony for homeowners who suffered sinkholes and water shortages as nearby farmers drained groundwater in hopes of staving off frost damage.

Matt Parke, for instance, looks out at his farm fields, full of strawberries, and just sighs.

"Our biggest block of 65 acres, we just had to drop and leave there," said Parke, a grower for Parkesdale Farms in Plant City. The market is already flooded with an abnormally huge wave of berries, pushing prices well below the break-even point for farmers.

All around Plant City, farmers are making the same decision.

"We still owe a lot of money on this year's crop, and we needed to pick fresh fruit at a profit, and that's not occurring right now," said Carl Grooms of Fancy Farms.

Every March, some small fraction of berries will stay in the field, Grooms said. This year, his volume is down 50 percent. Huge areas of his land will go dormant with berries on the plants. Blame the abnormally cold weather in Florida this spring.

Farmers try hard to prevent this kind of disaster. Normally, they plant berries at different times so berries ripen in phases through springtime.

However, the cold weather delayed growth of those early plantings, so all the berries turned ripe at the same time, flooding the market. Plus, berries from California are now coming on the market too, competing with Florida's crop.

Wholesale prices that were $17 to $19 for a flat of eight containers have now fallen to $5 to $6 a flat, Grooms and Parke said. Parke said some farmers have tried shipping berries to stands to sell on consignment, but if they only return $3 a flat on each shipment, they lose money on each deal.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:00 PM in Economics

On Twitter: 140-Character Microblogging

I joined Twitter a few months ago; you can follow me here. Here's an interesting article on the effective use of Twitter. I just made a note to myself to give Twitter assignments in my classes this Fall ("use exactly 140 characters to explain X"). Cross-posted at The Beacon.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:18 PM in Misc.

Baseball Card Bubble

Here's a Freakonomics entry on a new book about baseball cards. The mention the late 1980s/early 1990s baseball card bubble was especially interesting because that's when I was collecting. When I discovered Ebay in the early 2000s, I bought a bunch of unopened boxes of late 1980s/early 1990s cards. They're there for nostalgia and also to be used for in-class demonstrations.

I also committed an entrepreneurial error in 1997. I used about $150 to augment my already-enormous collection of cards featuring my favorite player: Mark McGwire. Had I sold out after he broke the home run record, I would have turned a tidy profit. I'm not sure what the cards are worth now.

Posted by Art Carden at 08:20 PM in Economics

March 27, 2010
Things I'm Glad Did Not Happen in Georgia
State police have charged a central Pennsylvania man with public drunkenness after he was seen giving mouth-to-mouth "resuscitation" to a long-dead opossum along a highway.

Source

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 11:00 PM

On Obamacare and High Deductible Health Insurance Policies

A former student's comments on his FB page:

My current health insurance is illegal under the Health Care Reform legislation just signed into law. My deductible is higher than the maximum $2000/individual deductible allowed under Section 1302(c)(2)(A)(i). Paying the first several thousand dollars of my health care each year encourages me to shop around and be price conscious in my health care spending. Why is the gov't discouraging this?

My health plan is neither bad nor irresponsible, and I am very happy with it. I pay very low premiums and self-insure with my own savings and by depositing a portion of my paycheck into a Health Savings Account which rolls over every year (and is quickly approaching the size of my annual deductible). I've found that I often get quoted a wide range of prices when I shop around, and am usually quoted a much lower rate when I tell them I am paying out of pocket.

This gets at the heart of why, unless it resorts to death panel style rationing, Obamacare won't "bend the cost curve." Instead of reducing the role of third party payments, the new law leads to even more third party payment.

ADDENDUM: Closing the "donut hole" in Medicare Part D is a similar mechanism that will raise rather than lower medical costs.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:51 PM in Economics

Pot Growers and Baptists

From the Washington Examiner:

The smell of pot hung heavy in the air as men with dreadlocks and gray beards contemplated a nightmarish possibility in this legendary region of outlaw marijuana growers: legal weed.

If California legalizes marijuana, they say, it will drive down the price of their crop and damage not just their livelihoods but the entire economy along the state's rugged northern coast.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 08:31 PM in Economics

ER Visits by the Uninsured

One of the frequently cited effects of having many uninsured folks is that they drive up medical costs by using the ER instead of going to a family doctor or other provider. A new NBER Working Paper by Michael Anderson, Carlos Dobkin, and Tal Gross suggests that this claim is (surprise, surprise) untrue. Here's part of the abstract:

[W]e exploit a sharp change in insurance coverage rates that results from young adults “aging out” of their parents’ insurance plans to estimate the effect of insurance coverage on the utilization of emergency department (ED) and inpatient services. Using the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and a census of emergency department records and hospital discharge records from seven states, we find that aging out results in an abrupt 5 to 8 percentage point reduction in the probability of having health insurance. We find that not having insurance leads to a 40 percent reduction in ED visits and a 61 percent reduction in inpatient hospital admissions.
Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:58 AM in Economics

March 26, 2010
Where's the U.S. sovereign debt ceiling?

I don't know, but the market seems to be saying that we're palpably moving closer.

“Everyone thought we would see rising rates due to higher inflation, but it appears the bond vigilantes are demanding a higher real rate due to concerns about Treasury issuance,” says George Goncalves, head of fixed income strategy at Nomura Securities.
“This appears as a credit shot across the Treasury market bow and concerns over the US fiscal spending could well move to the dollar and equities,” says Mr Goncalves.

And...

“The spotlight on Greece only helped to reveal that the US’s kitchen – with Federal and state budget balances – was itself full of cockroaches,” says William O’Donnell, strategist at RBS Securities.

The story is here. I'll admit it. I got the link from Drudge.

Posted by Noel Campbell at 10:45 PM

Why envy?

What is the evolutionary advantage of envy? I can hypothesize some advantage for nearly every virtue and nearly every vice, but envy has stumped me.

I do mean "envy," and not "jealousy." I'm talking about the type of envy wherein you resent someone for some perceived advantage he enjoys, even though you're aware it could never be yours; the resentment that leads you to do yourself injury if doing so could also injure the object of your envy, such as the desire to punish the "successful" even if it costs you to do so.

I'm convinced envy has some evolutionary component. Envy, to some degree, appears present in every human society, present or past. Envy also imposes serious costs on the envious and on their objects. Unless envy was selected for SOMETHING I doubt those two statements could be mutually true. But what was it selected for?

Please send your thoughts to noelecon@gmail.com


Posted by Noel Campbell at 10:35 PM

Samizdat: The Libertarian Alarm Clock

You might have read the story about the Socialist Alarm Clock. Here's one version. A friend who wishes to remain anonymous sent his libertarian version and asked me to post it (cross-posted at the Mises Blog and The Beacon):

"This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock built by the ingenuity of millions of individuals all working for their own gain, but whose efforts were coordinated by the prices for labor and materials and finished goods provided by the free market. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the shower head, pipes, and sanitation facilities whose construction also involved the efforts of thousands of people acting in their independent interest. After that, I turned on the TV to The Weather Channel, whose owners include one of the largest multi-national corporations and private equity companies, to see the week's forecast presented in a clear, informative (and even entertaining) manner. I watched this while eating breakfast of General Mills’ inspected food and taking drugs whose strong brand name gives me confidence in its safety.

At the time which millions of people coordinate their activities to take advantage of each other’s knowledge and skills, I leave for work. I get into my Japanese-designed, Mexican-supplied, Michigan-assembled automobile and set out to work on the roads built by construction contracting companies and named after corrupt politicians, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel that was shipped from the Middle East by an oil company at a per gallon cost many times lower than the price of having a letter delivered across the street by the government monopoly that loses millions of dollars each year. To make the purchase there is no need to leave the pump; I am able to slide a piece of plastic into a small slot and get credit extended to me by a bank who has never met me in person. On the way out the door, I put out the Fed-Ex envelope containing the documents I need to arrive across the country tomorrow morning and drop the kids off at the public school which is attended by only the best students, thanks to the high home prices in the area.

After work, I drive my Japanese-Latino-Midwestern car back home, to a house which has not burned down in my absence because of materials developed in the research and development departments of hundreds of corporations and which has not been plundered of all is valuables thanks to the lock on the door and a sign advertising the security company whose services I employ. My piece of mind was not interrupted by the thought of these events anyway, as I have both fire and homeowners insurance through privately held insurance company.

I then log on to the internet to watch and listen to artists who don't appeal to a broad enough audience to make it onto one of the few channels that a government monopoly allows to be broadcast. I then log onto the democraticunderground.com to post about how DEREGULATING the medical industry is BAD because low-cost, quality health care can never be provided by greedy, self-interested people."

Posted by Art Carden at 11:46 AM in Misc.

Libertarianism v. (American) Liberalism: Has the Market Spoken?

Last night, we went to the Goodwill bookstore in Panama City. It's a real gem of a place, and we bought a pretty good pile of stuff. Among our treasures were signed copies of two books by Jimmy Carter and a signed copy of Harry Browne's Why Government Doesn't Work. Interesting fact:

p(two signed books by Jimmy Carter) = 0.75*p(one signed book by Harry Browne)

Granted, Browne is deceased, but it's odd that the signature of the guy who ran for President on the Libertarian ticket in 1996 and 2000 is worth more than two signatures by someone who was actually President. Does this tell us something about liberty? Or does it just tell us something about Jimmy Carter?

Posted by Art Carden at 09:57 AM in Economics

March 25, 2010
Real HHS Spending

From Cato:

More over at Heavy Lifting

Posted by Craig Depken at 03:13 PM in Economics

Piracy business model

From page 99 of a UN report on Somalia via UN Dispatch:

A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this ‘contribution’, he receives a ‘class A’ share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

At least 12 other volunteers are recruited as militiamen to provide protection on land of a ship is hijacked, In addition, each member of the pirate team may bring a partner or relative to be part of this land-based force. Militiamen must possess their own weapon, and receive a ‘class B’ share — usually a fixed amount equivalent to approximately US$15,000.

If a ship is successfully hijacked and brought to anchor, the pirates and the militiamen require food, drink, qaad, fresh clothes, cell phones, air time, etc. The captured crew must also be cared for. In most cases, these services are provided by one or more suppliers, who advance the costs in anticipation of reimbursement, with a significant margin of profit, when ransom is eventually paid.

When ransom is received, fixed costs are the first to be paid out. These are typically:

• Reimbursement of supplier(s)

• Financier(s) and/or investor(s): 30% of the ransom

• Local elders: 5 to 10 %of the ransom (anchoring rights)

• Class B shares (approx. $15,000 each): militiamen, interpreters etc.

The remaining sum — the profit — is divided between class-A shareholders.


Interesting discussion fodder for a principles class?

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:18 AM in Economics

What I've Been Writing Lately: How Shall We Live?

With Paul Cleveland (and based on one of his lectures), in the new issue of The Freeman. Paul's book Unmasking the Sacred Lies is very interesting; I bought copies for family and friends for Christmas. Here's Paul discussing his book at the Austrian Scholars' Conference in 2009:

Posted by Art Carden at 09:09 AM in Economics

March 24, 2010
Baptists, Bootleggers & Vidalia Onions

From the Associated Press:

The smell of pot hung heavy in the air as men with dreadlocks and gray beards contemplated a nightmarish possibility in this legendary region of outlaw marijuana growers: legal weed.

If California legalizes marijuana, they say, it will drive down the price of their crop and damage not just their livelihoods but the entire economy along the state's rugged northern coast.
[. . .]
[P]ot farmers came together with officials in Humboldt County for a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night where civic leaders, activists and growers brainstormed ideas for dealing with the threat. Among the ideas: turning the vast pot gardens of Humboldt County into a destination for marijuana aficionados, with tours and tastings - a sort of Napa Valley of pot.

Many were also enthusiastic about promoting the Humboldt brand of pot. Some discussed forming a cooperative that would enforce high standards for marijuana and stamp the county's finest weed with an official Humboldt seal of approval.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 08:28 PM in Economics

New working paper

I have recently finished a new working paper focusing on the impact of NCAA tournament and NIT participation on home regular attendance. The paper has been accepted for inclusion in a collected volume so I will just post the abstract rather than the entire paper.

Is March Madness Contagious? Post Season Play and Attendance in NCAA Division I Basketball

Using data describing Division I men’s basketball from 1990-2009, this paper presents empirical evidence that participating in the NCAA tournament or the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) generates internal benefits in the form of increased future attendance to a team’s home games. These impacts are in addition to those generated by team winning percentage and other institutional characteristics. The evidence suggests that having more conference members in the NCAA tournament generates external benefits in the form of future attendance, although there do not appear to be similar impacts associated with the NIT. Finally, there appear to be no greater internal benefits but lower external benefits for Big Six conference members, relative to members of smaller conferences. Thus, if the NCAA tournament selection process is biased against smaller conferences then their members face two levels of costs: they receive lower distributions from the NCAA basketball revenue pool and also enjoy lower attendance than they otherwise would.

If you are interested in the paper, email me and I will forward you a copy (cadpi - at - yahoo - dot - com)

Posted by Craig Depken at 07:49 PM in Sports

How much spending is too much spending?

Referencing news of Berkeshire Hathaway outdoing Uncle Sam in the two-year bond market (which I first learned about on Monday from my colleague Warren Gibson), Greg Mankiw tells it like it is.

My own guess is that the United States will likely raise taxes substantially, and taxes as a percent of GDP will reach levels never seen in U.S. history (although common in Europe). The politics of that will be fascinating to watch. If the political process is stymied as our leaders debate the relative merits of tax hikes versus spending cuts, bond investors may get nervous, and we could witness either the Krugman inflation scenario or the much less likely default scenario.

Bravo Bush II, Obama and Congress.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 06:21 PM in Economics

Suits over Suites

From this story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Cowboys Stadium LP, an entity controlled by Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, has filed 17 lawsuits in Tarrant County, and the "largest one is against the Dallas Center for Cosmetic Dentistry." The suit indicated that the center "signed 20-year leases for six suites with an annual fee" of $2.1M. Cowboys Stadium LP is suing for $42M, "what the dental group would have paid over the course of the leases." The suit said that the group "paid only $210,000." The Cowboys are "suing for full payment of the 20-year leases," a total of $113.8M under current terms. Baker notes the team "collected $711,500 in down payments from those leaseholders, but they should have paid" $3.2M by now. Cowboys Stadium LP attorney Levi McCathern said that the lawsuits "affect only a fraction of the 300 suites that were leased." But McCathern added, "Signing up for multimillion-dollar luxury suites is big business; they knew what they're doing."

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:10 PM in Sports

New working paper

I have a new paper with co-authors Dennis Wilson and Jason Berkowitz investigating fan interest in NASCAR:


When Going in Circles is Going Backwards: Outcome Uncertainty and Fan Interest in Nascar

Using data from the 2007, 2008, and 2009 NASCAR seasons, this paper shows that the uncertainty of outcome hypothesis pertains to both race attendance and television audience, with the former only responding to race-level uncertainty and the latter responding to both race-level and season-level uncertainty. Of the other contributing influences, the price of gasoline and the unemployment rate were both unrelated to race attendance during the sample period, counter to conventional wisdom expressed during the declining attendance and ratings of the 2009 season. We also find that NASCAR broadcasts lose audience when competing against other big-interest sporting events and that declines in both television ratings and audience size during the NASCAR season were not unique to 2009, again contradicting conventional wisdom. Overall, the empirical evidence suggests that declining competitive balance might have been the common factor that reduced both television audiences and race attendance during this period.


Available at SSRN. Comments always welcome.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:08 PM in Sports

Unicorn parking in the back

A paragraph from this NY Times article:

"We think it's [the health care bill] a big step forward," said Bill Vaughan, a policy analyst at Consumers Union. "It's going to provide a peace of mind that many Americans who really want or need health insurance will always be able to get a quality product at a reasonable price regardless of their health or financial situation."

For their next trick, Congress will pass legislation that will make water run uphill.

How about this for partial-equilibrium analysis:

But there is no question that the legislation should benefit consumers in various ways. Beginning in 2014, for example, many employers — those with 50 or more workers — could face federal fines for not providing insurance coverage. Several of the other changes would take effect much sooner.
to what kind of "consumers" does the story refer? Is it the consumers of health care? Maybe prices of health services come down when more people have health insurance but we also know that prices might (probably) increase. Do the consumers of the products of the firms impacted by the referred to regulation benefit? My a priori bias suggests that,on net, probably not. However, it is possible that I am wrong.

Firms with 55 workers might fire six of them to get below the mandated threshold, thereby reducing service/quality on the margin while remaining at profit maximization (which unfortunately might be in negative-profit land). The increased costs might push some firms out of business, reducing the supply of the "widget" and potentially raising price. On the other hand, depending on the "widget" in focus we might see an increase in concentration in the "widget" industry which might reduce quality/quantity and increase price (the standard monopoly outcome) or might increase quantity and reduce price (the economies of scale/natural monopoly outcome).

More partial-equilibrium analysis, I know, but I don't specialize in the general equilibrium stuff.

I am not the only one skeptical that Congress, much less economists, lobbyists, and the average Joe, having a firm grasp on the general equilibrium repercussions of the various portions of the bill, much less for its entirety.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:57 PM in Economics

Will Europeans Pay our Medical Bills?

Arnold Kling points to a paper about European fiscal imbalances. Social Security in the US is a time bomb, but the situation is worse in Europe. It turns out that there are limits to the amount of capital that can be consumed.

What does this have to do with the recently-passed health care legislation? When European taxes start rising to pay for their social obligations, the US will look better and better for potential migrants. Further, European countries will probably start raising corporate taxes, as well, which will push capital out of Europe and into the US. Perhaps President Obama and others are counting on large infusions of capital (physical, human, and financial) from overseas as European welfare states self-destruct.

Update: Here's a post by Greg Mankiw on these issues. Is Berkshire Hathaway now the standard for the risk-free rate?

Posted by Art Carden at 10:13 AM in Economics

Amazing view behind the curtain

The Iron Curtain, that is. Several pages from the in-the-works memoir of sportswriter Paul Zimmerman before his recent stroke.

His descriptions of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow read like George Orwell's 1984.

Posted by Craig Depken at 10:02 AM in Sports

March Madness - Starting Salary Bracket

Payscale.com has created a bracket based on starting salaries

Duke, Cornell, Georgetown, and Vanderbilt comprise the final four.

Duke wins.

Posted by Craig Depken at 09:40 AM in Sports

March 23, 2010
New Book: The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery

Congratulations to my colleague Emily Chamlee-Wright on the publication of her new book The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery. Full information below the fold. Suggest your library order a copy today!

Read More »

Posted by Joshua Hall at 09:32 PM in Economics

What is this system designed to maximize?

I'm trying to comply with the law, but Arkansas surely doesn't make it easy.

N.B.: Conway city is in Faulkner County; Morrilton city is in Conway County. The counties border each other, and the cities are 20 miles apart.

On the first of January I moved fifteen miles from Faulkner County to Conway County.

This week I have tried to transfer my personal property (i.e., vehicles). (1) One trip to the state revenue office to renew my driver's license, but I wasn't allowed to transfer my cars because (2) I had not cleared the Conway County Tax Assessor's Office. A trip from Conway to Morrilton, and I finally had my assessment notice for personal property in Conway County. Then, I was required to go to (3) the Conway County Tax Collector's Office. Conway County Tax Collector's Office called the Faulkner County Tax Collector's Office. Faulkner County would not transfer my records until I paid my taxes owed to Faulkner County for 2009: $390. A trip back from Morrilton to Conway, to wait at the Faulkner County Tax Collector's Office. Upon calling my number, the tax clerk told me I needed to (4) go to the bank because she could only accept cash or money order, now that I lived outside of the county. After going across town to the bank, (5) I returned to the Faulkner County Tax Collector's Office and paid my vehicle taxes for 2009. Then (6) I returned to the state revenue office to transfer my registration from Faulkner to Conway.

(7) I returned home, where over a PBR (cans, of course) I pondered switching from cars to a mule.

Posted by Noel Campbell at 03:19 PM

Add Your Name to History

You can "co-sign" the health care bill (HT: Doctor J). Organizing for America will help you take credit for "this great achievement:"

Organizing for America will establish a permanent archive with all the signatures, so that generations to come will have a record of those who stood together in this moment and won this fight for our future.

If you're considering signing this, I urge you to consider what you're doing very, very carefully: if you want to take ownership of "this great achievement," you're also taking ownership of its unintended consequences. For just one example, Bryan Caplan identifies the enormous adverse selection problem the legislation creates. He's also trying to think of Ehrlich/Simon style bets based on the legislation. I am, too: I'm certain that this is going to cost a lot more and deliver a lot less than the bill's proponents seem to think.

Addendum: Mario Rizzo's discussion is worth reading. Chapters 38 and 39 of Mises's Human Action are, I think, essential for such a time as this. You can get the audiobook version here.

Addendum 2: I was looking for this earlier but couldn't find it and didn't want to say "I read somewhere that...". Here's Douglas Holtz-Eakin on the CBO's projections of the costs of health care (HT: Mike Sykuta). Holtz-Eakin calls it "fantasy in, fantasy out." Unfortunately, the "independent, nonpartisan" CBO apparently has its hands tied in terms of what it can and cannot question in the legislation it is supposed to analyze. Greg Mankiw points us to the CBO's caveats.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:19 AM in Economics

March 22, 2010
Mike Lester on Obamacare

LesterHealthcare_and_Colonoscopy.jpg

Source.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 04:24 PM in Politics

What kind of monetary institutions would be best for the Bahamas?

You can't tell from the banquet hall wall behind me, but here I am in the Bahamas ten days ago, thanks to the kind folks at the Nassau Institute. I'm talking about why having the Central Bank of The Bahamas weakly pegging the Bahamian dollar to the US dollar is dominated by having a currency board, which in turn is dominated by free banking on a US dollar standard. This is part 1 of 11.

Here I am at the College of The Bahamas, talking about the market theory of money and banking. Same day, same suit. This is part 1 of 6.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 01:41 PM in Economics

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Well, folks, the brand new world of free-lunch health care has arrived in the United States. Some have opined that passing this bill will usher in a blessed period of gridlock while the "change" is litigated. Others have opined that the stage is now well and truly set for a 1994-style GOP takeover, complete with a sense of mission. I agree that both are possible, but my most certain conviction is that the ratchet has turned. I'm also convinced that only litigation will "un-turn" the ratchet.

Relatedly, don't look to the stock market to predict "the market's" take on health care nationalization. Stock price event studies based on political events are notoriously difficult to undertake. The market has probably priced in most of the nationalization effect in dribs and drabs over many months.

Posted by Noel Campbell at 11:12 AM

Building Brand Equity: EFW Index lecture

An edited version of a recent talk I gave on the EFW index in Wichita, Kansas:

Posted by Robert Lawson at 08:47 AM in Economics

March 21, 2010
Compare and Contrast II

Paul Krugman:

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false.

A news report from The Sun (via Instapundit):

A patient was left infertile after doctors operating on his testicle removed the wrong one. The bungling medics' mistake has prompted an urgent overhaul of procedures at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

Previous installment here.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 07:25 PM

Mike Lester on "Free" Healthcare

Here (sorry for not uploading--some sort of tech gremlin).

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:29 PM

On Feminism and the Forbes Richest People List

Traditionally, one might expect feminists to tut-tut about women comprising less than 10% of the Forbes Richest People list.

Not Sarah Gilbert of AOL Daily Finance. She considers it a badge of honor. Instead, she considers membership on the list to be an "indictment" because “It is proof that, instead of working to better the lives of employees and consumers who are 'stakeholders' of your business enterprises, you have instead extracted vast wealth.” Can you say zero sum fallacy?

Thanks to Dan for the pointer.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:52 PM in Economics

March 20, 2010
Process Costs of Health Care

In his excellent A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell points out that people with the constrained vision tend to emphasize social processes while people with the unconstrained vision tend to emphasize social outcomes. Here, Steve Horwitz asks a good set of questions on process costs. In this video, Reason.tv discusses the process by which the government might increase its intervention in health care (HT: Cafe Hayek).

Posted by Art Carden at 01:05 PM in Economics

March 19, 2010
Stuff To Read While You Watch College Basketball

1. My new Forbes piece on immigration.

2. Seth Simonds' great Lifehack piece on using Twitter. A key selection:

3. Sidestep Stoner Syndrome

Every complex thought reduced to 140 characters will end up sounding like it was pulled from a hookah. That brilliant thought you had earlier today about how the world could learn a lot just by watching ducks swim? You didn’t seem smarter when you tweeted it. You sounded like you were really, really high. All those inspirational quotes about failure being nothing more than success wrapped in bacon? They make you sound high. This isn’t your fault. Not at all! You can blame it on Twitter’s 140-character limits and our common human tendency to say as many profound things each day as possible. If you focus on sharing your perspective on simpler ideas, you’ll seem insightful and perhaps even witty.

3. A 2002 article about Netscape suing Microsoft for "crushing" Netscape Navigator. Having just switched from Firefox to Chrome and having kept kind of an eye on the battle between MySpace and Facebook, the worries about a Microsoft browser monopoly seem kind of silly in retrospect. Here's are some links from 9/1/09 on natural monopoly.

4. Also, watch J.C. Bradbury on Stossel talking about stadium subsidies.

Posted by Art Carden at 05:43 PM in Misc.

Minnesota gets ready to walk the plank?

Having spent a lot of money on the new Target Field for the Twins and a new football stadium for the Minnesota Gophers, the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota seemed to have learned a lesson and publicly stated that there was no money for a new Vikings stadium and that they might have to make do with the Metrodome.

Indeed, a proposal was floated a few weeks ago to sell the Metrodome to the Vikings for a single dollar in order to give the team a millstone around their neck which would encourage them to stay in the city. The team wisely (from their point of view) turned down the offer.

Today, however, comes a story about the Vikings seeking some public money for a new artifical turf for the Metrodome and some remodeling of old Twins ticket boxes, etc.

That in-and-of-itself is not so surprising and probably not even a poor investment, although it seems the team doesn't want to pay. However, that's not really my point. The story contains the following short paragraph:

Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley said team officials have had "excellent discussions behind the scenes" with state leaders over a new stadium for the team. Bagley: "The governor has stepped up and is engaged with his staff on a solution." Bagley added that among the funding solutions being discussed are "using taxes generated by the Vikings and economic activity around the stadium, and creating a Vikings-branded state lottery"
So state leaders are having back-room negotiations with the team? That's what happened in Arlington (albeit the mayor did the secret negotiations). Bad precedent.

How about the funding options?

1. Taxes generated by the Vikings might be used to pay for a new stadium? Taxes on what? Tickets? Okay, but there is not enough money in ticket taxes to fund a new stadium.

2. Economic activity around the stadium? More and more research is finding that the economic activity in the area immediately around the stadium is relatively low and events at the stadium might actually decrease taxable activity throughout the host city.

3. A state lottery branded with the Vikings image/logo? This would set up a (albeit voluntary) tax on the entire state to pay for a stadium in one city. L

It is tough to see how these three funding sources would be enough to generate enough money to pay for a new stadium. Arlington's debt service on their $325 million contribution to Cowboy's Stadium is approximately $20 million per year for the next thirty years. Is it safe to predict a similar level of debt service being covered by a state lottery, local taxation and taxes on tickets?


Another story contains the following paragraph:

If the Vikings manage to insinuate themselves into this legislative session, it likely will be with a bill to build a new stadium on the current site of the Metrodome, the team said Thursday.

Beware secret negotiations between local/state/federal "leaders" and private business, and beware attempts by private companies to "insinuate themselves into the legislative" process. We know how this works out.

Posted by Craig Depken at 01:09 PM in Sports

March 18, 2010
Graph of the day

This site shows a useful piece of history regarding pollution.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 02:22 PM in Misc.

Timberlake on the gold standard

The latest Econ Journal Watch podcast, hosted by yours truly, is now available for listening. In it I talk with Richard H. Timberlake, my former colleague at the University of Georgia, about the historical record of the gold standard and central banks. In particular, Timberlake argues (contrary to Barry Eichengreen, Ben Bernanke, and Peter Temin) that the failures of the monetary system between the wars were due to central bank intervention and mismanagement, not to the gold standard. After all, the classical gold standard worked well before WWI. At that time central banks either didn't exist (as in the US) or let the gold standard do its thing to equilibrate money supply and demand. Toward the end we talk about Bernanke's views and current monetary policy.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 01:59 PM in Economics

Something is spinning under the altar of St. Peter's Basilica

This Yahoo News piece caught my eye: President Barack Obama's sweeping health care legislation won precious support from a longtime liberal holdout in the House on Wednesday and from a retired Catholic bishop and nuns representing dozens of religious orders...

Shortly after Kucinich's announcement, a letter was released from 60 leaders of women's religious orders urging lawmakers to vote for the legislation...a letter released by Network, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

So I did some snooping and found Network's Voting Record of the 111th Congress, First Session. Here are some summary stats of the score received by legislators voting with Network:

House Dems
Mean 0.947
Stan Err 0.007
Median 1.000
Mode 1.000
Stan Dev 0.113
Sampl Var 0.013
Range 0.670
Minimum 0.330
Maximum 1.000

House Repub
Mean 0.169
Stan Err 0.011
Median 0.160
Mode 0.160
Stan Dev 0.143
Sampl Var 0.020
Range 0.660
Minimum 0.000
Maximum 0.660

Senate Dems
Mean 0.961
Stan Err 0.008
Median 1.000
Mode 1.000
Stan Dev 0.061
Sampl Var 0.004
Range 0.230
Minimum 0.770
Maximum 1.000

Senate Repub
Mean 0.334
Stan Err 0.022
Median 0.330
Mode 0.330
Stan Dev 0.139
Sampl Var 0.019
Range 0.550
Minimum 0.110
Maximum 0.660

It's hard to argue, as the article does, that "The endorsements reflected a division within the church," as if a group that is so partisan in its rankings of legislators could be called a legitimate unbiased voice of Catholic opinion. The words "peace and justice" are splashed all over the site, which won't help shake the image of such groups being more concerned with economic issues than life issues or fidelity to the Church. Instead of quoting one retired Bishop who supports this bill (even with the inclusion of abortion funding), the article downplays the opposition to the bill (here & here) of the US Conference of (nonretired) Catholic Bishops.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 01:16 AM in Politics

March 17, 2010
NCAA Picks by Econ Dept Ranking

If Econ Department Rankings determined winners in the NCAA tournament, the Final Four would be Maryland, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and UC-Berkeley, with Berkeley beating Minnesota in the Finals.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:55 AM in Sports

March 16, 2010
Perks? What Perks?

From the Dallas Morning News comes a story about the pending destruction of Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. The Cowboys moved to their new stadium in Arlington last year and the old stadium is being imploded to make room for new development.

The story points out that to witness the event in one of the adjoining parking lots will cost $25 per car. That's one way for the city to make some coin on the end of the stadium's existence.

Years ago I suggested that the city of Irving should have auctioned off the right to push the detonation button (or perhaps auction it off to a number of people who might or might not push the actual button) - figuring that some NY Giants or Washington Redskins fan would pay a lot of money to push the final button on the stadium. Alas, my suggestion seems to have been ignored.

However, in an interesting twist of how politicians enjoy perks from their position when it comes to sports and publicly funded stadiums, the story has the following paragraph:

Under an exit agreement between the city and the team, those items can't be sold for 10 years. The proposed policy would allow Irving City Council members to give five pairs of seats and 15 turf memorabilia pieces to whomever they choose.
So, City Council members get to take five pairs of seats to hand out like lollipops? That's a perk I hadn't seen before.
Posted by Craig Depken at 04:38 PM in Sports

A Day-Brightener

The Ludwig von Mises Institutet i Sverige (HT: Jeff Tucker).

Posted by Art Carden at 04:08 PM in Misc.

The Process Demonstrates Hayek's Importance

You might have read some of the discussion of the (apparently controversial) decision to include Hayek among the people studied in Texas schools (here's Russ Roberts with comments and links). I think Hayek's importance is demonstrated in debate: it's perhaps ironic that he is being inserted into a curriculum through a very un-Hayekian process of central coordination.

Is Hayek important? Yes, and I would suggest that anyone in any department who has The Communist Manifesto on his or her syllabus should add Hayek's "The Use of Knowledge in Society," Mises's "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth," and possibly Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (hey, there's an idea for Econ 100...). For the state to assume it knows all and impose Hayek by fiat, though, is pretty un-Hayekian.

A quick word on standards: I would suppose that being a public school teacher in the face of such controversies is demoralizing because control of your classroom is in the hands of some far-off board or bureaucrat indulging the pretense of knowledge. Theirs is a fatal conceit for everyone involved: teachers' hands are tied, students' options are limited, and everybody loses. I know I would be demoralized if my syllabi were handed down from a College Board in Nashville or Washington, and I'm pretty sure our students would be demoralized if they couldn't take their business elsewhere.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:53 PM in Economics

We've got a map for that

... and it runs through Washington. This analysis from Harvard's Nieman Watchdog:

[G]iant telecoms and cable companies -- and the lobbyists, think tanks and astroturf groups they fund -- have so corrupted the debate over broadband that what may look like progress actually amounts to small steps toward antiquated standards that taxpayers have already paid for many times over.
[. . .]
The new national broadband policy is tailored to reward telcom behemoths AT&T and Verizon, the very same corporate interests that got us into this mess in the first place. Meanwhile, the hard questions that need to be asked are being ignored.

How badly off are we right now? Well, while you sit on the web reading this, the current average US broadband speed, according to speedmatters.org, is 5mbps down and 1mbps upload. That’s 1/20th the download speed you can get in, say, Hong Kong, or Japan or France, and 1/100th the upload speed. Today in Hong Kong 100mbps in both directions costs about $20 -- cheaper than US broadband by leaps and bounds.

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 01:55 PM in Economics

March 15, 2010
Free Banking for $0

I have an extra copy of Larry Sechrest's Free Banking: Theory, History, and a Laissez-Faire Model that I'll mail to the first person who claims it. Here's a $0 PDF.

Update: The book has been claimed and my estimate of the probability that markets are generally efficient has been revised upward.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:44 PM in Economics

Reposted: Boudreaux on Voting

In light of today's EconTalk discussion with Don Boudreaux on Public Choice and voting, I decided to repost this entry from November:

Here's Don Boudreaux on why he refuses to vote (HT Don Boudreaux). Perhaps non-voting can be an exercise in civic virtue: by abstaining, non-voters reduce congestion at the polls and make life easier for those who derive great satisfaction from voting. I've written on voting several times. Don's essay is well worth reading.

I find the emotionalism that surrounds voting truly perplexing. During the 2008 election, I had a number of discussions in which I claimed that even if we assume that you should vote, it doesn't follow that you should vote for one of the major-party candidates (see the links above for the arguments). I thought my claims were obvious and non-controversial: the probability that your vote will determine the election is practically zero, so if you're going to vote, you should find the candidate whose preferences and views most closely reflect yours. People still reacted negatively (and sometimes, somewhat harshly).

Posted by Art Carden at 11:25 AM in Economics

March 14, 2010
On Behavioral Economics, Ancient Refrigerators, and Landlord Incentives

In a WSJ article (gated) discussing the influence of behavioral economics on the Obama Adminstration's policies, Johnathan Weisman writes that "Landlords have no incentive to replace a 40-year-old refrigerator if the tenants are paying the utility bills." Well, how about the incentive of being able to rent the apartment? While it's true that landlords may not recoup the cost of energy saving appliances if their tenants pay the utility bills, the need to attract prospective tenants still gives landlords a strong incentive to furnish their apartments with relatively modern appliances. Circa-1970 refrigerators, which lacked features such ice makers and specialized compartments, would likely turnoff many would-be renters.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:40 PM in Economics

Emergent Order Sighting

From the WSJ (gated):

Hairdresser Yasmine Beaupin has found a new calling in the wake of the earthquake that ravaged this city: running the affairs of a teeming tent city.

The quake left nearly 1.3 million Haitians homeless, more than 750,000 of them in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, and paralyzed the government, reducing ministries to rubble. Nearly two months after the Jan. 12 tragedy, relief still hasn't reached many needy people.

Inside the many tent cities now home to hundreds of thousands of people, a rudimentary social order is beginning to emerge ...

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 02:32 PM

March 13, 2010
Markets in everything: shade edition

The Florida Marlins are going to charge an additional $5 for seats that are in the shade.

Many teams seek public funding for a stadium with a retractable roof. In the case of the Marlins why go through the hassle of building a roof when you can price discriminate based upon sun tolerance.

I predict a class action lawsuit against the Marlins as the additional $5 might price some folks out of the market for shaded seats and into the sun, with increased probability of contracting skin cancer, etc.

HT: Chris J.

Posted by Craig Depken at 02:49 PM in Sports

Southern Civilization Bleg

I'm revising my Oxford Handbook of Southern Politics paper on Southern economic history, and this has led me into a sideline inquiry. As I understand it, a major part of the Southern cultural heritage is the idea that there was a distinct and different "Southern Civilization" that developed apart from the industrial civilization of the North. I'm finishing I'll Take My Stand now and have read Clement Eaton's The Civilization of the Old South. If you have any additional reading suggestions, please let me know.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:15 PM in Economics

March 12, 2010
Cat out of the bag?

In today's Sports Business Daily (gated) is an interview with Jerry Jones, Jr. of the Dallas Cowboys:


Q: You won't really know the answer to this for a year, but I'm wondering if hosting a Super Bowl helps sales overall, or if it's more of an intangible benefit?

Jones: Does having a Super Bowl commitment help you in building a new stadium and getting it financed? Unquestionably, yes. It's a flagship event, and knowing it was going to be played in our building's second season was and is certainly impactful and helpful as far as getting commitments for sponsorships and suites. Otherwise, I think it is more of an intangible. It creates excitement in the community and for our fans.


Hosting the Super Bowl helps to secure (partial) public funding for the stadium? Check.

Hosting the Super Bowl helps the team to secure commitments for naming rights, advertising and so forth? Check.

Hosting the Super Bowl is an intangible for the host community? Ch...Wait, what!?!

That's not the normal tune sung by team owners and event promoters. Hosting premier events like the Super Bowl are supposed to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy (says the NFL) or tens of millions of dollars, if any at all, (say the economists). Now we hear from the Dallas Cowboys that hosting the Super Bowl helps them make money but generates "excitement" for the local community?

Is the level of excitement in Arlington worth $325m in stadium construction costs?

Amazing.

Posted by Craig Depken at 12:40 PM in Sports

Who is helping whom?

A forthcoming article with Darren Grant is posted at the early-view section of Economic Inquiry (gated, unfortunately). However, in the list of articles, ours comes immediately behind a tounge-in-cheek article by Nobel winner Paul Krugman.








I wonder how many more people will take a look at our article after finding his (and vice-versa).

Posted by Craig Depken at 09:31 AM in Economics

March 11, 2010
I, Pencil

From Tyler's MR post on alternative burial methods:

Pencils made from the carbon of human cremains. 240 pencils can be made from an average body of ash - a lifetime supply of pencils for those left behind.

Each pencil is foil stamped with the name of the person.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 07:37 PM

The Slippery Slope is Greased with Trans Fats

Quoth a Facebook friend, in linking this piece about a proposed ban on salt in New York restaurants:

"Just when I thought people protesting the trans fat ban using a slippery slope argument were being ridiculous, some jackass goes & proves them right.

Art Carden, enjoy the sweet salty taste of vindication."

I assume this was in reference to my last Forbes piece, which considered bans on trans fats. I think the people who are really vindicated here are Mario Rizzo and Glen Whitman, who have pointed out that the new paternalism leads us down a slippery slope. Here's the last of Glen Whitman's blog posts summarizing the points in the paper.

Posted by Art Carden at 01:35 PM in Economics

Mr. Smith Returns to Washington to Discuss Citizens United

Yesterday I was back in Washington to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As these things go, it was a pretty lively event, as Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive Politics describes below the fold.

Read More »

Posted by Brad Smith at 10:05 AM in Politics

March 10, 2010
The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

That's the title of a new book by Bridgewater College history prof Jason Vuic. Yesterday, Prof. Vuic gave a lively talk at Berry about his book. The book is reviewed in the WSJ and The Economist. BTW, he doesn't think the Yugo was actually the worst car in history. The communist bloc offered up several other gems.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:44 PM in Culture

Casey Mulligan on the Minimum Wage and Job Losses

His latest post is here; an earlier one is here.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:36 PM in Economics

Otteson on Smith and Marx

James Otteson speaks to the FEE 2010 Homeschool Debate Tournament. You can get his Powerpoint here (HT: James Otteson).

The Classical Liberal Tradition: Marx v. Smith from FEE on Vimeo.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:39 PM in Economics

More Student Opportunities

Eric Daniel emailed me some additional opportunities for students which (I think) I forgot to post.

1. The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism three-day conference, which includes room, board, tuition, books, and travel money.

2. The Fund for American Studies offers summer internships.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:19 AM in Misc.

Socialism is inefficient? Is the Pope Catholic?

Most Catholic social thought seems to disappointingly bend communitarian, so I always enjoy reading from my former boss Fr. Sirico: "The Great Lie: Pope Benedict XVI On Socialism."

History is strewn with intellectuals who imagined that they could save the world -- and created hell on earth as a result. The pope counts the socialists among them, and Karl Marx in particular. Here was an intellectual who imagined that salvation could occur without God, and that something approximating the Kingdom of God on earth could be created by adjusting the material conditions of man.

Of course, free-market types (like myself) are often guilty of imagining the same thing: "if you protect private property, keep gov't spending and taxes low, etc., you'll achieve material heaven on earth." I think there is a fundamental difference: socialists claim their vision of proper institutions will guarantee a utopia; classical liberals claim their vision of proper institutions will maximize our potential to get as close to utopia as possible, while it will always be unattainable. "The poor you will always have with you." For socialists, abolition of private property is sufficient; for liberals, protection of private property is necessary but not sufficient.

Quoting Sirico quoting Benedict:

[Marx] thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.

My favorite line: the moral problem with socialism is more profound: It exalts theft as an ethic and overlooks the human right of freedom.

Of course, the comments are always good for a laugh.

Posted by Tim Shaughnessy at 11:12 AM in Economics

Quote of the Morning

"Many mistakes really are hard to see until you actually make them. But socialism wasn't one of them." That's Bryan Caplan on the "New Socialist Man" argument.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:25 AM in Economics

March 09, 2010
Three cheers for Adam Smith!

The first edition of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was published on this date in 1776.

Posted by Mike DeBow at 06:37 PM in Economics

The Good Morning Burger is a Reality

Scott Beaulier eplains. San Francisco is one of the culinary capitals of the world; I'm now really intrigued by SF McDonald's restaurants offering the Mc10:35. Here's Jeff Tucker on competition between McDonald's and Burger King. Art Diamond has been blogging about creative destruction based on Ray Kroc's Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's and emphasizing the role of franchisees in innovation.

Posted by Art Carden at 05:18 PM in Economics

Sweatshops and Development in China

The Oregonian offers an interesting and informative look at increasing prosperity among workers in Chinese "sweatshops." HT: Steve Horwitz. Politicians and self-styled humanitarians have been trying to repeal the law of comparative advantage forever. They have been unsuccessful.

Here's the very important chapter 14 of Gregory Clark's excellent A Farewell to Alms. The entire chapter isn't part of the Google Books preview, but some of the key information is there. This passage sums it up:

"Marx and Engels, trumpeting their gloomy prognostications in The Communist Manifesto in 1848, could not have been more wrong about the fate of unskilled workers." (Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms, p. 272).

Posted by Art Carden at 11:53 AM in Economics

The Kids are Alright

Jacob and I were out for a stroll yesterday and had an interesting conversation with some of the kids from the neighborhood. Two had disappeared beside a neighbor's house, another appeared to be directing from the street.

Me (trying to strike up a conversation): What are you up to?

Neighborhood Kid 1: Nothing. We're just trying to do...something.

Me (prepared to learn that they're planting explosives or something): Well, what kind of 'something' are you trying to do?

I learn that they are doing some filming based on A Book With No Words.

Me: Interesting. Is this for a school project?

Neighborhood Kid 2: No, we have our own production company. We're making TV shows and movies.

Me (impressed): Wow, that's pretty impressive.

Neighborhood Kid 2: Yeah, you can find all of our stuff at www.aandmore.com.

So not only do they have a production company, they have a website from which you can buy episodes of the show they're working on via Paypal.

We then talked about books I enjoyed when I was younger (William Sleator). One of my favorite Sleator books was Interstellar Pig; I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of these burgeoning movie-makers has it. I came away with a downwardly-revised estimate of the probability that western civilization is doomed.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:46 AM

March 08, 2010
New paper on exclusivity in wireless telecomm

By Everett Erlich, Jefferey Eisenach, and Wayne Leighton. Paper here. Abstract below.


Proposals to increase regulation of mobile wireless services, for example, by applying “net neutrality" regulation, are often based on claims that such regulation would enhance innovation and increase consumer choice. In fact, they would have the opposite effect. The business practices that would be banned by such regulation are efficient mechanisms for spreading and reducing risk, lowering transactions costs, and enhancing marketing activities, all of which contribute to innovation and choice. Moreover, product differentiation increases competition and thus contributes both directly and indirectly to consumer choice. While some types of exclusive agreements and other “discriminatory" practices can theoretically harm competition, the precondition for such harm to occur – i.e., market power in one or more of the affected markets – generally is not present in wireless markets. Hence, the proposed regulations cannot be justified on grounds of market failure. Rather than increasing innovation and consumer choice, as promised, they would severely disrupt the wireless sector's highly successful business model and significantly reduce innovation and consumer choice.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 08:53 PM in Economics

Catching Up With the Internet

1. The podcast of my lecture on Walmart from St. Lawrence University.

2. More wisdom on aid from William Easterly. How much do aid agencies waste trying to be all things to all people?

3. Mises Dailies in Spanish (HT: Manuel Lora).

4. Today's EconTalk is essential: Katherine Newman discusses low-wage labor.

5. Here's Emily Schaeffer on Toyota. This is a classic example of why markets work and governments don't. Market processes don't mean we won't have problems or that people won't make mistakes. Market processes do mean that when problems occur and when mistakes are made (or when fraud is committed), they will be identified as such.

Posted by Art Carden at 04:32 PM in Misc.

Capitalism and Socialism Bleg

I'm giving a lecture at the end of April on "Common Objections to Capitalism" and wanted to collect answers to a few questions. Your contributions will be acknowledged; please email me your answers to the following questions:

How do you define "capitalism?" Do you find it objectionable? If so, why? How do you define "socialism?" Do you find it objectionable? If so, why?

Posted by Art Carden at 02:20 PM in Economics

March 07, 2010
Cavalcade of Miscellany: Race and Rational Voters

1. I was thinking about something like this earlier today (HT: Steve Haptonstahl). As people get more mobile and as lines dividing ethnic groups keep blurring, "where are you from?" will take on new meanings.

2. Here's Bryan Caplan on voting and the prospects of meaningful reform for Medicare and Social Security. Here's where I think there's an important aspect of wisdom in the Tea Party movement: our current pattern of government spending is unsustainable, and a lot of what has been proposed and implemented in the last several years is only making it less sustainable. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the Tea Partiers are most exercised about areas of government spending (like foreign aid and welfare) that are very, very small relative to, say, what we're spending on the military.

Posted by Art Carden at 04:25 PM in Misc.

March 06, 2010
Folks, the joke was about Eric Holder

I always find it amazing how we can honestly and legitimately misconstrue what others mean. In my post here, I linked to a Washignton Independent story that detailed how the DC shooter apparently had a Mises Institute-related email address.

I did not mean to associate the Mises Institute with the DC shooter.

The Mises Institute fights the endless fight for personal liberty at a time when fewer seem willing to listen. More than anything, the story reminded me of the (sarcasm) great benefit (/sarcasm) Grand Wizard David Duke did for the Republican Party when he began to run for public office as a Republican. Just as David Duke undid years of GOP outreach to minorities, this sociopath could undo years of effort by the Mises Institute. And, of course, this sociopath was as closely related to the Mises Institute as Duke was to the mainstream GOP.

Of course, even the Washington Independent pointed out that the shooter's expressed views were incompatible with classical liberalism.

The other point I wanted to make was to highlight the disturbing trend of recent & current administrations to label anyone opposed to creeping statism as dangerous domestic terrorists, on even the flimsiest of pretexts; hence, the Eric Holder remark.

I thought writing it all out as I've just done would seem dour. So, I tried for "snarky black humor." Apparently, I failed. I should have stuck with dour.

Posted by Noel Campbell at 11:13 PM

March 05, 2010
DC shooter a Mises fan?

Alas, the Mises Institute! With psycho nutjob friends like these....

I'm making book on how long it'll be before Eric Holder puts the Mises Institute on a domestic terror list.

HT: Reverend Ed

Posted by Noel Campbell at 08:14 PM

Memphis Music

Local radio station WEVL is having it's annual Spring Concert at the Hi-Tone at 10:00 PM on Saturday night. Family responsibilities will prevent me from attending, but the lineup sounds pretty good based on what I heard on the drive home yesterday (Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Mouserocket, and The New Mary Jane). In taking a break a minute ago I looked to see if The New Mary Jane has an album I could buy solely on the strength of their song "Murder is Easy." I couldn't find an album, but you can listen to them at their Myspace Music Page. Here's are the Myspace Music Pages for Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers (European readers, they're coming your way in May and June) and Mouserocket. I can't find anywhere to buy any of their music online, so a trip to Goner Records might be in order this weekend.

Posted by Art Carden at 11:50 AM in Culture

Out of Context c. 2010

Okay - I can't help but laugh at the out-of-context clip of Sen. Reid on the Senate Floor discussing how 36,000 people lost their jobs and that is "good:"

Perhaps Harry Reid will be unseated this fall, perhaps not. However, the following clip is ready-made for his political opponent, whomever it might be: Just roll tape, rewind, repeat.

Link from Drudge - but funny nonetheless.

Posted by Craig Depken at 11:27 AM in Funny Stuff

Minimum Wages and the Economic Way of Thinking

Steve Horwitz offers a short discussion of the changing employment situation. There are some interesting comments. I've written a lot about the minimum wage, and I have a draft of an article I'm going to finish at some point making the case for why economists care so much about it even though the employment and efficiency effects might be relatively small. In short, the debate over the minimum wage is probably the most vivid example of the conflict between the economic and the anti-economic way of thinking--or between truth and truthiness.

A few months ago, Price Fishback made extensive comments on my survey of Southern economic history (which I'm now revising) and kindly directed me to his 1998 Journal of Economic Literature survey paper on the operation of American labor markets at the beginning of the twentieth century. It's definitely going on my syllabus the next time I teach economic history, and it might even go on my intro syllabus. There are a couple of key takeaway points: markets usually worked the way we would expect them to, company towns/sharecropping/company unions were rational responses to transaction costs rather than purely exploitative arrangements, safety regulations often codified existing practices, and people could (and did) use the state to satisfy their tastes for discrimination (cf. Jennifer Roback's papers on Jim Crow labor law and segregated streetcars).

Posted by Art Carden at 09:42 AM in Economics

March 04, 2010
This for that

Not a bad introduction to how money can naturally emerge from the barter economy:

I wonder what Prof. White has to say about this video?

Posted by Craig Depken at 09:35 PM in Economics

Tyrannosaurus Debt

A little dated but still funny and germane:

Posted by Craig Depken at 09:30 PM in Funny Stuff

Caplan on Crony Capitalism

In a series of posts, Bryan Caplan has been discussing why free markets are unpopular (1, 2, 3). Bryan has probably thought more about this issue than anyone I know, so when he speaks (writes), I listen (read).

I think he's basically right. The objections to free markets are objections to free markets per se, not objections to cronyism that is mistakenly conflated with free markets. My casual observation is that people generally see government corrupted by money rather than money corrupted by government. To better understand this and to prep for my Spring class on Classical & Marxian Political Economy, I'm going to be reading a lot of Karl Marx over the rest of the year. I'm beginning with David Harvey's online course on volume I of Capital. Here's Doctor J on unscrambling The Bearded One.

There's an entire suite of Caplania out there at a variety of prices. You can buy his book in hardcover, paperback, or for Kindle, read a condensed version from the Cato Institute, or listen to podcasts in which he talks about voter preferences and labor market discrimination.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:45 AM in Economics

March 03, 2010
Bogus Bidding for Oil and Gas Leases

That's the topic of an article my student Shawn Regan had published by PERC.

Shawn also has a nice piece forthcoming in Regulation.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:56 PM

Mises Wins!

Josh Hall, Pete Calcagno and I have a new paper. The abstract:

The terms objective and subjective are considered antonyms, and yet “objectivists”, associated with the ideas of Ayn Rand, and “subjectivists”, associated with the ideas of Ludwig von Mises, are both associated with the same political philosophy: classical liberalism. There are however important apparent differences between the “objectivist” approach of Rand and the “subjectivist” approach of Mises. Who is right? And which intellectual has the greater place in the classical liberal tradition? We propose to test these questions using data from a unique housing development in Charleston, South Carolina. We find objective evidence in favor of Mises’s subjectivism.

Before you Randroids start sending us e-mails, please take note of where we submitted the paper.

Posted by Robert Lawson at 03:00 PM in Economics ~ in Funny Stuff

Building Brand Equity: Trans Fats and The Substance of Style

1. At Forbes.com, why should we stop at trans fats? Here are Chidem Kurdas's thoughts. Along similar lines, Glen Whitman and Mario Rizzo are doing the Lord's work by taking apart arguments for the New Paternalism.

2. At Lifehack.org, thoughts on Virginia Postrel's excellent The Substance of Style. I'm waist-deep in a revisions on a paper featuring lots of growth regressions, and I'm less and less convinced that correlates-to-growth exercises like this are a good guide to policy. Postrel highlights some of the reasons why.

Posted by Art Carden at 02:49 PM in Economics

Does the U.S. Need More College Graduates?

That was the topic of a debate featuring DOL friends George Leef and Rich Vedder on the negative side and Margaret Spellings and Michael Lomax on the affirmative side. Leef's recap of the event is here. I come down on the enough or too many already side, which is one reason why I'm not much bothered by the possibility that Georgia's public colleges are likely to take large budget cuts this year. Another reason, of course, is that Berry is private.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:22 PM

The American Dream

"I give you the American Dream: a billionaire using public funds to build a private playground for the rich and powerful."--C. Montgomery Burns

Here's Reason.TV on the Atlantic Yards Project in Brooklyn (HT: Nick Gillespie):

Posted by Art Carden at 10:39 AM in Economics

Seventy-Nine Years Ago Today ...

... President Herbert Hoover, a radical proponent of laissez-faire [/sarcasm], signed legislation designating "The Stars-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem.

As for our (sort of) daily update on nonsense about Hoover, today brings two helpings (here and here).

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 09:18 AM

Justices Set to Make Gun Ownership a Right?

You've gotta love the LA Times, which has a big banner headline today, "Justices signal they're ready to make gun ownership a national right." Well, there is that Second Amendment thing...

Posted by Brad Smith at 08:46 AM in Politics

March 02, 2010
Building Brand Equity: Foreign Aid & Growth, Entrepreneurs in Memphis

I just found out that my paper "Economic Progress and Entrepreneurial Innovation: Case Studies from Memphis" was accepted by the Southern Journal of Entrepreneurship. The revised version is here.

Also, the editors were kind enough to allow me to post the published version (as it appeared in the journal) of my paper "Can't Buy Me Growth: On Foreign Aid and Economic Change," which appeared in the Journal of Private Enterprise at the end of 2009. The published version is here.

Cross-posted at the Beacon and the Mises Blog.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:13 PM in Economics

Food Production and Delivery As a Rent-Seeking Society

Here's Jamie Oliver's TED Talk on food (HT: Teresa Beckham Gramm). I certainly agree with his identification of the problems, but I'm skeptical of his proposed solutions (see my post below on rent-seeking and public choice).

Posted by Art Carden at 04:20 PM in Economics

On Larry Summers and Unemployment

Summers: Winter storms to distort US jobless figures

Unemployment data are normally seasonally adjusted, but maybe this February was worse than usual.

In any case, this cartoon poking fun at Summers's warning about the weather increcreaing unemployment is definitely worth a click.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 01:05 PM in Economics

Foreign Aid as a Rent-Seeking Society

Distilled by William Easterly.

How important are public choice issues and rent-seeking? Policy advocacy based on the assumption that there is a group of moral and intellectual elites that can rise above their own interests AND solve the intractable knowledge problems that come with central planning reminds me of a cartoon you've probably seen: two scientists are standing at a chalkboard filled with math. "AND THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS" is written in the middle of the board. I think that's roughly what we're doing when we're talking about policy without taking rent-seeking and public choice issues seriously.

Along these lines, here's James Otteson at Forbes.com on Adam Smith and the great mind fallacy. Here's his paper "Adam Smith and the Great Mind Fallacy" in Social Philosophy and Policy.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:29 AM in Economics

Building Brand Equity: Carden and Hall 2010

Carden, Art and Josh Hall. 2010. Why Are Some Places Rich While Others are Poor? The Institutional Necessity of Economic Freedom. Economic Affairs 30(1):48-54.

Posted by Art Carden at 09:16 AM in Economics

March 01, 2010
To recover or not recover?

Reuters sums up the atmosphere of pervasive uncertainty in this nifty piece:

The U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan both meet in the coming week, but far from unwinding the easy money policies embedded over the past few years to ignite economic growth both are likely to admit implicitly that the job is far from done.

That in itself should give investors pause for thought.

Does the extension of loose money allow for current investment patterns to continue, with money pouring out of cash into higher-yielding assets?

Or does it mean, as some are beginning to believe, that markets have been floating on artificial liquidity and that the underlying global economy is not in true recovery mode after all?

Precisely on point.

Posted by Noel Campbell at 09:14 PM

Creative Destruction in Action: Legal Opinions on Google Scholar

The business of publishing legal opinions is an old one. The technology of publishing them has taken a recent turn, with to Google's foray into case law last fall. I have not done my homework on how Lexis and Westlaw have responded. But I found an interesting statement by the founders of AltLaw, a startup of sorts that seems to have acquiesced entirely to Google's comparative advantage:

Everything we have done or planned to do with AltLaw, Google has does [sic] better. What else would you expect? Search is their core business; they have hundreds of brilliant engineers, a vast computing infrastructure, and billions of dollars invested in it.

While we could see this as the 800-pound gorilla stomping on our pet project, the truth is that we -- a small academic group within Columbia Law School -- were never really equipped to handle the challenges of building and maintaining a state-of-the-art search engine. When we started out, three years ago, our goal was to make primary legal research freely available to the public. In that, we have succeeded: primary legal research is freely available to the public, not only from Google, but from several start-ups and non-profits.

Therefore, we are happy to announce that Project AltLaw (Phase One) is complete. We will continue to maintain the web site and search service for a few months, but we will not be adding new features or new content. AltLaw.org, in its current form, will shut down in early 2010.

You can almost feel the sense of relief in these words. As if this "small academic group" says, finally now we can go and just be academics and focus on what we do best. There is an underappreciated economic lesson here: while the downside of innovation is usually thought of as "destruction" of the old ways of doing things, it is also simply freeing up resources to be used in better ways. Some instances of creative destruction illustrate this better than others. I thought this was one of them.

Posted by Edward J. Lopez at 06:11 PM in Economics

With a straight face ...

(or so I presume), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, according to The Hill, “No one likes raising revenue, and understandably so."

Posted by Wilson Mixon at 05:02 PM in Funny Stuff

Stimulus package simile of the week

Kevin A. Hassett on Bloomberg.com:

The truth is, economic stimulus is like a very expensive box of chocolates. You get a sugar high, and a caffeine rush, but when the chocolates are gone, you have nothing but fat to show for it. You are worse off than you were before and still need to find real nutrition.
Posted by Lawrence H. White at 04:08 PM in Economics

Who You Callin' Greedy, Willis?

From Mark Steyn:

We hard-hearted small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the Greek protests make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the socially equitable communitarianism of big government: Once a chap’s enjoying the fruits of government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement, and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the general societal interest; he’s got his, and to hell with everyone else.
Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 03:48 PM

What Executives Should Say When They're Hauled in Front of Congress

I caught parts of the Toyota hearings at the airport a few days ago. To learn the implications for our economic future, Google "regime uncertainty" and read Robert Higgs's 1997 article very carefully. At Reason.com, Steve Chapman discusses how small the risks associated with Toyota's troubles are relative to (say) drunk driving and other driver errors. That said, here's an exchange I would like to see during a Congressional hearing:

Q (from Politician or Regulator): "Why are you putting profits before people by making unsafe cars?"

A (from Executive): "If you think our cars are so unsafe and if you think we're willing to sacrifice our reputation and our company's future in order to save a few dollars in the short run, then why are you here asking me questions instead of using your superior knowledge to earn enormous profits by producing better, safer cars at the same price?"

Posted by Art Carden at 10:54 AM in Economics

Quote of the Morning

Here's co-blogger Mike Munger on a ruling by a Memphis immigration judge granting asylum to German homeschoolers:

My point is that "broadly accepted" is irrelevant to "right thing to do." Broadly accepted can't be the standard, in a civilized nation, of the set of the things citizens can be forced to do at gunpoint.

Therein lies one of the fundamental differences between libertarianism/classical liberalism and statist ideologies like progressivism and conservatism, and it's a Smithian/Hayekian point that Thomas Sowell has made repeatedly in books like Knowledge and Decisions, A Conflict of Visions, The Vision of the Anointed, The Quest for Cosmic Justice: when you're talking about what "the state" should do or the policies "the state" should implement or "the kind of society we want to build," you're fundamentally talking about when, where and how one person should force his or her will on another person at gunpoint.

In this case, whether you agree or disagree with the homeschoolers' values or whether you think cultural diversity is good or bad is precisely irrelevant to the question of whether you have the right to threaten them with violence if they do not allow you to substitute your judgment for theirs. If you're willing to ignore (or even support) those who come for the homeschoolers, don't be surprised when they come for you.

Posted by Art Carden at 10:02 AM in Misc.

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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