Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Clear writing on the Paulson plan

This post by Greg Mankiw of an email he received from Rob Shimer at Chicago is the most cogent thing I have read about the current financial situation and about the Paulson plan.

It is so good that I forgive Shimer for not offering money to my star undergrad from Maryland when he doing graduate admissions at Chicago a few years ago.

New things to try: bank run edition

So I got to participate, perhaps, in a bank run this morning. Though we are planning to move (back) to Bank of America now that they have moved into Ann Arbor (via their purchase of LaSalle Bank a year or so ago) we are still with National City.

The market seems to think that National City and the oddly named "Fifth / Third" bank (and more here) are the next ones to go. So I moved money this morning from the uninsured money market account to the insured checking account. It was much less thrilling than standing in a long line outside the bank but also much quicker.

Banking follies

You know, I was thinking "what could the banking system use just now?" and, I guess because I am a labor economist, I did not come up with any really convincing answers.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, who is not an economist of any sort, thinks that the magic ingredient is yet more moral hazard in the form of a higher FDIC guarantee.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Stanford 35 Washington 28

It was not really as close as the score suggests and the score leaves out the losses of Jake Locker to a broken thumb and D'Andre Goodwin, the team's only experienced receiver, plus others.

Some thoughts from Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times here.

The two brights spots were the continued strong play of backup (now starting) quarterback Ronnie Fouch, who is a better passer than Locker but lacks his running skills, and freshman running back Daniel Freeman, who was also injured mid-game but apparently not severely.

Another bright spot was the crowd. More than 60,000 showed up for the 0-4 Huskies. It is that level of support that will help make the UW job attractive to the next new coach.

The darkest spot was the defense, which is on a pace to underperform even last year's worst defense in school history.

Ty, and the season, are both probably done. Given the defensive performance it is hard to see the Huskies beating anyone other than Washington State, which is experiencing a disaster year even by recent Washington standards.

Ty seemed resigned and confused in the post-game interview. At the same time, given that his status is probably pretty clear at this point, maybe he can relax a bit as he tries to make something of the rest of the year.


"Making Money is Making Money"

An update on leading hypocrite and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who shows no signs of having lost his self-righteous ego or of having changed his policy views to match his own behavior.

The bluntly cynical contemplation of doing charity work solely to help his image is illuminating as well.

The NYT is much kinder to him than I would have been.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Technology and age

I got an email from Amazon today advertising (among other things) this Seagate 1 terrabyte (!) USB drive for US$145.

When I bought my first computer in 1984, I had the option, which I did not take, of having it include a 10 megabyte harddrive for an extra US$1000.00.

1 terrabyte = 1000 gigabytes = 1,000,000 megabytes.

Pardon me while I feel old.

Oregon State 27, USC 21


It is a happy night.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When economists protest

John Cochrane still has energy after battling the forces at Chicago opposed to the Milton Friedman Institute. Now his website features this petition, which has gotten attention at some of the bigger political blogs, opposing the Paulson bailout plan.

My sense is that academic economists from many political viewpoints are opposing the plan; there are also pieces in oppostion at the typically center-left Economist's Voice website. Unlike cases when Demopublican politicians all agree on something, which indicate that you should grab your wallet, if economists of various stripes all agree on something (other than, say NSF funding for sociologists) it is probably good advice.

A readers asks the academic sociology question of how the names ended up on the petition. My scan of the list says it is people with a connection to Chicago finance or macro plus some of their friends. So I am guessing there was just an email chain that started with John Cochrane. It did not reach me. I think sometimes these things are more systematic. Various organizations maintain email lists of economists sympathetic to certain political views. As noted in an earlier, I got emailed twice to sign an "economists support McCain" petition but passed both times, given that I do not intend to vote for McCain. I also have gotten requests from various taxpayer organizations that I have also passed on. I did sign one petition a while ago that I think was about free trade. It all depends on how serious the group seems and how thoughtful the petition is.

Hat tip: Don Hacherl

Things that do not happen in the US

In Denmark, prostitutes protest government anti-prostitution propaganda and set up their own counter-webiste.

As with tobacco subsides and anti-smoking in the US, the Danish government also plays the other side of the street and subsidizes prostitutes for old people in nursing homes.

If we think of politicians as prostitutes, isn't this just competition?

Hat tip: Lars Skipper (not a consumer)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is McCain running a dirty campaign?

Thoughts from Steve Chapman here and from Stuart Taylor of the National Journal here.

I think the answer is a clear yes to the question in the title. I also think this answer is not surprising, though it appears to have surprised some of McCain's friends in the media. Bush's hardball campaign worked last time and McCain started the final leg of the race as the underdog. So, no surprises there.

Is McCain's campaign somehow extra bad by historical standards or relative to Obama. Here the blogosphere seems to be arguing by anecdote, which typically does not lead to clear conclusions unless the anecdotes are sufficiently large in number, and sufficiently systematic in their collection, to constitute data. Yes, McCain and Palin have run ads saying things that are false. Applying the standard of truth that applies to product ads would, of course, mean that nearly all political ads, other than the most sacchrine assembly of flags, moms, babies and patriotic songs, would be labeled false.

Some seem to make a distinction between sort of the usual political bombast and falsity - such as claims that one will provide health insurance for 40+ million people, not cut any programs other than a bomber or two and still cut taxes and balance the budget - from lies about actually verifiable facts, such as not having sex with that woman Monica Lewinsky. I see the distinction but I think the first type of lie is actually more dangerous and damaging to the polity than the narrow kind - something the dems used to argue back when Bill did indeed have his cigar out in the oval office.

In regard to the comparison with Obama, I heard a radio ad for Obama here in Michigan that implied that if McCain/Palin won the election, abortion would become illegal. This is, of course, false in several senses. First, it seems unlikely that even a more Republican supreme court would ever overturn Roe vs. Wade both for political reasons - it would crucify the Republicans in the following election - and because it would greatly weaken the prestige of the court. Second, even if Roe vs. Wade was overturned abortion would not become illegal in most states. What would happen is that abortion policymaking would go back to the states - in most if not all cases to the state legislature. While I am "pro-choice", and vexed by the current situation in which a truly wretched supreme court opinion supports the equilibrium I prefer, it seems odd for "democrats" to complain about an issue, essentially, being returned to the people to decide at a more decentralized level.

I have not made the serious large-n study that would really pin down an answer to the comparative question over time or vis-a-vis Obama/Biden, but I think the anecdotes at least suggest that in the current election, who is playing more hardball is not obvious.

Ty at U-Dub

I guess my own thoughts parallel those in the article here.

The program Ty inherited was a complete and utter disaster. It is not surprising that it would take a long time to rebuild. I think it is clear that Ty can do it; he had succcess at Stanford and at ND, and Charlie Weis did well with the players that Ty recruited and trained at ND. Unless there is a complete collapse, an extension seems resonable. I think a lot of fans make the same mistake about coaches that most Americans seem to make about presidents: that one magic man can instantly turn things around. I think that is false.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Working out my compulsions in HTML

For some reason, inserting a picture in blogger causes line breaks to go away. Thus, in the previous post, I did not get any paragraph. So I ventured, for the first time, into HTML programming and added some breaks by hand into the HTML code for the post. This is all sort of sad for someone who holds a computer science degree and at one time knew ten different programming languages. But at least the post looks good now.

How to dress for your proposal or thesis defense

This is not how defenses look at Michigan! It is a painting from 1840 by Johann Peter Hasenclever entitled "Hieronymus Jobs at His Exam" that is presently on display at the Neue Pinothek in Munich. The museum page for the painting is here.

Defenses at UWO were modestly formal in the sense that the student and some of the faculty would be dressed differently than usual in a relative sense if not necessarily well dressed in an absolute sense. Defenses at Maryland and Michigan are remarkably informal. I still remember one of the first defenses at Maryland where I showed up in a tie and the student showed up in sweat pants and a t-shirt. No more ties after that for me.

Given that the defenses at Michigan (in particular) are more like unusually important meetings I guess I am fine with the informality. Typically the two defenses are the only time that the student and his or her entire committee meet with the committee members all having just read the most recent versions of the various papers that comprise the dissertations. Also, defenses at Michigan typically never have any outsiders. Such meetings are very useful to the student, but it is far from the sort of public spectacle that happens at some European universities at the time of the final defense.

Hat tip: Anya Chung

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brian Jacob wins the Kershaw Prize and Award

I am told that Brian Jacob, my friend, co-author and colleague at Michigan has won the annual Kershaw Award and Prize presented by the Assocation for Public Policy and Management.

Congratulations to Brian, as it is well deserved!

Brian is the third (in a row!) of my co-authors and friends to win the award.

Addendum: a reader on the south side of Chicago notes a different pattern in the data. All of the last three winners have connections to the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago as two received their doctorates there and one is a current faculty member.

Clothes for Lawyers

This article on lawyerly dress is hilarious.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown (months ago)

Terrible Ted on Palin

This works on so many levels it is hard to count them all. Terrible Ted Nugent, hard rock star, man of "Cat Scratch Fever", turned radio disk jockey and gun rights advocate, writes a love letter to Sarah Palin in short, declarative sentences in the highbrow social conservative journal Human Events.

Take that - Fedzilla!


Hat tip: reason.com

Addendum: of course, now we all want to know who Kiss and Twisted Sister are backing. Is the Love Gun aimed at Sarah Palin instead of Beth? Are we not going to take Bush / Cheney any more?

Further addenda:

I had forgotten the Animal House references in "We're Not Going to Take It". The guy who plays the father in the video also played one of the guys from the evil fraternity who was also Flounder's ROTC commander.

Once "Love Gun" gets into your head, it does not leave very quickly.

Movie: Transsiberian

Most horror movies make me laugh. This did not. Of course, it is not really a horror movie. There are no hockey masks and no attractive women who happen to take showers just as the evil villian /creature /zombie drops by. Instead, the chills come from a very realistic portrayal of what happens when life goes off the rails (as it were) for a middle class American couple taking an exotic journal on the Transsiberian railway. Ben Kingsley amazes, this time as a corrupt Russian narcotics agent. Emily Mortimer shows a range I did not know she had as the wife who cannot quite let go over her wild past and completely embrace the stable path she has chosen for herself. Plus some amazing scenery from the most brutal and god-forsaken parts of the Russian far east.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palin as Nixonian fantasy

Interesting words from the economist as the election takes a turn back to the culture wars.

Business as usual: McCain edition

Mr. Straight Talk was in Grand Rapids yesterday looking to buy some votes.

How do these people sleep at night?


Public goods: What Works Clearinghouse

A couple of weeks ago I had the most enjoyable opportunity of serving on a panel whose task is to develop rating standards for the What Works Clearinghouse that is run by Mathematica Policy Research under contract to the Institute of Education Sciences of the US Department of Education. In particular, our group is tasked with assisting in the process of developing standards for studies that use regression discontinuity designs. Standards for randomized trials and for studies based on "selection on observed" variables (what statisticians awkwardly refer to as "unconfoundedness") have already been developed and I believe that there are plans to develop standards for studies using longitudinal methods and using instruments other than random assignment or a discontinuity.

I am pretty impressed with the group of which I am a member, which includes a goodly fraction of the people, both inside and outside of economics, who you would think of if you wanted to form a panel on RD designs. So in addition to being useful, the 1.5 days spent in Mathematica's DC offices were great intellectual fun. I got a chance to sneak in some questions related to a paper I am working on so there was a private intellectual payoff as well. I am also impressed by the quality of the staff that Mathematica has assigned to this effort. It is a real showpiece for them.

It seems to me that knowledge creation and diffusion are two of the few real public good that a federal Department of Education can create. In my ideal world, IES and the federal Department of Education would be close to co-extensive. The evaluations that IES funds contribute to knowledge creation; the WWC addresses the knowledge diffusion aspect.

The WWC performs three functions. First, it collects the literature on particular topics in one place. Second, it grades studies based on objective methodological criterion (with, of course, appropriate opportunities for appeal and further discussion). Third, it provides articles that summarize the graded evidence on particular topics. The inspiration for the WWC are the Cochrane Collaboration in medicine and the Campbell Collaboration in social science. The Cochrane collaboration in particular is widely viewed as being a great success both at making it easier to sort among papers by quality and also at raising quality levels in general.

Perfect? No. There is always a danger with having a single set of standards setters. If the process were somehow to get hijacked by advocates of a particular methodolgy then it could end up over-rating studies with that methodology. In this context, while there are some (as always) disagreements around the margin, there is broad consensus both inside and outside of economics on the general principals of what you want to do. So I am not as worried here about have a single set of standards than I might be in other contexts.

Honoring the honorable with honoraria

We've been implicitly having a discussion over email about when and when it does not makes sense to offer an honorarium to someone who comes to Michigan to give some sort of seminar or perhaps more than a seminar. I had never really thought about this systematically before so the discussion has been interesting as well as perhaps useful - though as we have come to no clear agreement in the case at hand perhaps it has lacked in practical usefulness.

Here are some thoughts based on my own experience:

1. Regular seminars at peer institutions at institutions in North America never include an honorarium but do include travel, lodging and meals. Usually the dinner is a nice one (where sometimes "nice" means the best local BBQ joint if it is a place in the south and I suggest that as an alternative to the local upscale continental cuisine place that duplicates what I can easily get in Ann Arbor.

2. Big picture / policy talks at universities and institutes do usually include some sort of honorarium, in addition to travel, lodging and meals. I think the idea here is to partly compensate for the labor of having to write a new talk, in contrast to a regular seminar, where I am also receiving, ideally, valuable comments on an existing paper.

3. If you come for visit that is longer than one day and do something more than just give a regular seminar, this typically includes an honorarium (unless the point of the visit is actually to hang out with your co-author friend in the department). UWO has a program for "short term visitors" that was exactly like this where the visitor was expected to be in residence for two or three days, to give one regular seminar and one subject area overview seminar aimed primarily at graduate students, to be available to meet with faculty and graduate students and to participate in meals. Here I think the honorarium is intended to compensate in part for the time and trouble of preparing the "subject area overview" talk, which one would not normally have sitting around ready to go, and in part for having more meetings with graduate students than in a typical one day seminar visit. Feedback on graduate student meetings with outside visitors can be really useful for the faculty for many reasons.

This all seems pretty reasonable. How should honoraria be thought of in terms of compensation? That may depend on the person receiving the honorarium. For junior people (or for theorists not working on marketable topics like auctions) the honorarium may actually come close to the relevant consulting rate in some cases. In others, it will be quite far from it. Yet honoraria typically vary by task and not by person, probably to avoid various moral hazard issues and also a lot of internal debate about whether or not some potential visitor is sort of famous or really famous or whatever. Of course, if everyone understands how the system works, no one gets offended.

At the margin, an honorarium may help to attract big names with busy schedules as well. Michigan has an endowed lecture series called the Woytinsky lecture. Jeremy Bulow of Stanford was just here last week and gave a very fine lecture on bidding strategies in spectrum auctions. He received the a nice honorarium (which came nowhere close, I am sure, to what he is paid for a day's work consulting on spectrum auctions) - I think the same honorarium that Woytinsky speakers always receive (which has, of course, been declining in real value over the years). This all seems very reasonable too.

Now, what do you offer if you invite someone to come for two days and give two regular seminars in different venues with differnet audiences? Is the rule the same as for one regular seminar, as the speaker is not doing any additional preparation and is receiving useful comments on two papers rather than one, or is it more like a short term visit? I lean towards the latter but it seems that people of goodwill may differ on this.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's in a name? Or, Chicago memories.

My recollection of Chicago is that pretty much anything associated with the city had the mayor's name on it somewhere. Essentially, each and every mayor (there were three or four while I was there, ending with Daley Jr.) used city property to provide free campaign advertising at great cost to the taxpayers, who had to pay for repainting or replacing every sign in any city office every time a new mayor got elected. This was particularly noticeable for me, I think, because I grew up in Seattle, where this sort of thing pretty much never happened. Seattle's early settlers included a lot of progressive (in the late 1800s early 1900s sense) Scandanavians who did not put up with such foolishness and their views seem to have lingered on.

In light of this past experience, I was a bit surprised to read yesterday that the University of Michigan has named a directorship after its sitting president, Mary Sue Coleman. I doubt very much that this is something that Coleman herself suggested, but I think it is still a bit unseemly, particularly in a time of economic trouble for Michigan. We really do not want the voters to see us as being off in a bubble of self-congratulation as we ask them for more money for the university. Even the post office, that great and undying legacy of 18th century industrial organization, does not put US presidents on stamps until they die. I am not sure the university requires quite that strict a rule, but I think it should wait until someone has been out of office for a couple years before the naming starts. And while I do not think any direct harm will result from this particular case, I worry that it sets a bad precedent for future behavior. Such a rule would also ensure that the university will not have to regret or even undo a naming decision that turns out to be premature due to later changes in performance in office.

Sitemeter fallout

So far I am up to around 25 unique visitors since turning on sitemeter this morning. I am not sure that I really want to have this much knowledge about who drops by. For example, I learned that one person visited the blog but did not answer my email. Presumably the entertainment value of looking at the sitemeter listings will diminish after a day or two.

A reader in Denmark sent in this page, which ranks economics blogs. To my surprise, I had never even heard of four of the top 10! A couple of those are really more about finance, so perhaps that is not so surprising. Otherwise the list is about what I would have expected.

First sentence

I am going to bend the no baby stuff rule a bit again by noting that little Elizabeth said her first sentence this past Sunday. It was not a complex one - just "Hi Dada" - but it took me by surprise and made a real impression on me. I am still happy about it. To paraphrase something my friend Nat Wilcox once said about marriage "Parenting is powerful magic."


I finally got around to adding sitemeter to the blog page. In the last 90 minutes, there have been three hits. To be honest, this is more than I would have expected, though my prior over how many people actually read the blog is pretty flat. I know about 20 for sure among family, old friends from Seattle, local graduate students and colleagues at Michigan and economist friends away from Michigan but beyond that I have no idea. I was quite surprised when the blog was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education and when I received an email response from the realtor listing the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ann Arbor, whose postcard I described in a post.

Hot seats

The coaches of both of my teams - Washington and Michigan - make the top 10 on the "coaches hot seat" list this week.

Interesting comments there too about the cultural change for Rich Rodriguez coming from West Virginia to Ann Arbor.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Movie: Traitor

We saw this one last week. One of the ads said it is this year's "Bourne" movie, which is very misleading. This movie is actually much slower paced than the Bourne movies and also wants to tell a much more serious story about the tradeoff between small evils and large ones. I think I would have liked it more if I had not gone in expecting a rollicking thrill ride of a movie. The virtues here are the performances by the leads and what seemed to me a remarkably realistic portrayal of life as a terrorist. Marginally recommended.

College football this week

Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17

Six turnovers = loss. I think we knew that already and I think it is going to be a long year because I don't think ND is actually that good.

Oklahohma 55 + the Sonics, Washington 14

I missed most of this due to a senior recruiting dinner (which is about the only thing I will miss Husky games for). In this case, I did not miss much. If you are playing the #3 team you have to be perfect to be in it, and UW was far from perfect in terms of turnovers, missed field goals and all the rest. UW has four unranked teams in a row coming up after its bye week. They probably need to win all four to keep Ty at Montlake.

BYU 59, UCLA 0


This makes UW's one point loss to BYU look a lot better. On the other hand, Oregon nearly lost to Purdue at home - winning only in double overtime - which makes the loss to Oregon look even worse.

Best not to push too much on the transitivity in college football.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

My colleague Charlie Brown predicted this would be funny, and it is.

As economists are sometimes imagined to have a poor record of correct predictions, I think it is very important to note each instance when an economist predicts correctly.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Radley Balko and Bob Shrum

It is interesting to compare two very different columns on Palin / McCain, one from Radley Balko at Reason and one from political operator (and former debate coach!) Bob Shrum:

Radley's column is here.

Shrum's column is here.

I want to make two points. First, it is amazing how much more thoughtful, and how free of lightly veiled sexim and culture war cant, the Balko column is compared to the Shrum column. Second, given that, how is it that Shrum is the media bigshot while Balko labors in (relative) obscurity at Reason?

And is condescending elitism really the best way for the dems to sway marginal voters? Every column like this one makes McCain look more and more clever in his choice of running mate. She seems to have the same effect on lefties that Bill Clinton had on righties, sending them into spasms of unreflective upset and distracting them from their larger goals.

Politics in the 21st century

From the economist's weekly email on politics:

"Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, must resign for having breached the constitution by doing paid work as a television chef."

You can't make this stuff up.

Related economist article here, with the title "Where Cookery is Crookery".

Friday, September 12, 2008

Viral humor email - the Purina Diet

I got this in the email today and people seemed to like it, so I will post it here:

Since I'm retired, I have to think of things to do.....Yesterday I was at Wal-Mart <http://www.walmart.com/> buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my loyal pet Sheriff the Wonder Dog and was in the checkout line when woman behind me asked if I had a dog.

What did she think I had, an elephant? So since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry.The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story). Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me.

I told her no; I stepped off a curb to sniff an Irish Setter's butt and a car hit us both.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. Wal-Mart won't let me shop there anymore. Better watch what you ask retired people We have all the time in the world to think of crazy things to say.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who should libertarians vote for?

Some thoughts from Alex Tabbarok at marginalrevolution.com here.

I am sympathetic, but I think my conclusion from the evidence is to not vote for the major parties at all. Alex emphasizes, correctly, the importance of war as a destroyer of liberty, yet it is democrats and not republicans who were around at the start of most of the major American military adventures of the 20th century. In many if not most cases, the decision to participate was theirs; this is certainly true of WW1 and Vietnam, true indirectly of WW2 (which was arguably the result in part of Woodrow Wilson's collusion in the idiot treaties that ended WW1), and not so true of Korea.

Both parties say one thing and do another and seem undeserving of positive support. Given that my vote will not affect the outcome, I also see no reason to vote for the lesser of two evils or to spend a lot of CPU cycles trying to solve the problem of which party is less bad in a given election year. It is much more fun just to enjoy the show and marvel that despite all the lies, venality, petty cultural conflict, pure silliness (e.g. debates over the number of houses or whether the symbol looks like a presidential seal), pathetic hero worship, rampant hypocrisy, craven vote-buying disguised as policy and so on, America remains a relatively successful and moderately free country.

Addendum: should I give a hat tip for a pointer to a post I would have blogged about anyway but had not yet read? Hmmm .... if so, then credit Ken Troske.

Odd behavior by gradual students

Yesterday Stefan Bender of the IAB (the "German Bureau of Labor Statistics") stopped by Michigan to give a bonus seminar describing the amazing data available to international researchers. The seminar, organized by my tireless junior colleague Rudi Bachmann with a bit of cheerleading on the side from yours truly, was a great success with a very large turnout from economics, the biz school, ISR and other parts of the university.

The mysterious part is that we advertised, both at the start and at the end of the seminar, the opportunity to have drinks with Stefan later in the day at Ashley's. Implicitly we were offering free beer (paid for not by the university, which is of course illegal under Michigan law, but by after-tax dollars out of faculty pockets) to graduate students in addition to providing them with an opportunity to interact informally with both Stefan and various faculty members. Such opportunities are relatively infrequent at Michigan, not so much due to lack of desire but simply because the faculty are really, really busy. My model of graduate students says we should have netted a large fraction of those in attendance at the seminar. Instead, we had exactly one, whom we then had to cajole at length into having a free dinner afterwards. Odd behavior, indeed.

Possible explanations: (1) the "free" part was not obvious enough; (2) one or both of Rudi and I are too intimidating; (3) the students thought we would all speak German over drinks. I think (1) is wrong and (2) conflicts with my self-image though, I am told, not with the views of all of our students. Theory (3) cannot explain the fact that none of the handful of graduate students at the seminar who actually speak German showed up either; it is also inconsistent with the quality of my rather patchy German.

Odd, odd, odd.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My man Kermit

My friend Kermit Daniel has just been appointed Vice President for Financial Strategy, Budget at the University of Chicago. Kermit and I were in the same entering Ph.D. class in economics at Chicago and wrote some papers together on college quality back in Kermit's academic days.

Hard to believe that we used to sit at Jimmy's talking about the economics of zombies.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Palin and elitism

Palin rumor list here.

Megan McArdle on Palin here.

Both links emphasize the elitist / east coast versus non-elitist / rural west theme. I'll confess, I find elitist types tiring, though by most definitions other than my own, I am surely an elitist type myself. I rant about Cambridge Attitudinal Disorder (CAD) on occasion but my consumption patterns look, I am sure, much more like Obama's and Biden's than either McCain's or (especially) Palin's. In America, no one wants to be the elitist, and maybe that is not such a bad thing.

Hat tip (on the rumor list): Nat Wilcox

Saturday, September 6, 2008

BYU 28, Washington 27

This one was headed to overtime until the zebra called a bizarre excessive celebration penalty on Jake Locker of Washington with 0.08 left on the clock. Lest this sound like sour grapes, both announcers covering the game, as well as the FOX studio announcers, went on at length about the inappropriateness of the call. The call turned the PAT into (essentially) a medium length field goal, which BYU blocked.

Washington looked completely different from last week's 44-10 debacle at Oregon, particularly the offense. Some of it is likely just all the freshman getting past their first-game jitters. Some of it is that BYU is not as good as Oregon despite being ranked higher. Certainly their defense is not as good as Oregon's. Some of it is the home court advantage of Husky stadium. Some of it is the apparent emergence of freshman running back David Freeman, who provided some real spark where Chris Polk had not. Some of it is probably Locker's hamstring doing better. More identification will be provided by Oklahoma next week.

I'll predict UCLA > BYU next week in Provo, too.

Addendum: Jimmy Johnson calls the referee who called the celebration penalty an idiot, as reported in the Seattle Times Husky football blog.

Addendum: Terry Bowden on the call. Who knew Jake had so many friends?

Michigan 16, Miami of Ohio 6

If Miami of Ohio were as good as Applachian State, Michigan would have lost this one and it would not have been close.

As it was, despite a desultory, uninspired performance by Michigan, they simply have too much talent not to lose to a team like this.

ND is next.

Movie: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This is great big fun. Penelope Cruz is the standout as the crazed ex-girlfriend. Woody is wise in the writing and directing; no simple points here just some thought-provoking meditation on the choice between practicality and passion.

Plus lots of gorgeous Barcelona scenery. Plus Scarlett Johansson.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Still more on Palin

OK - I'll try to stop. This blog should not be all Palin all the time.

But this reason piece by Tim Cavanaugh is too good not to link to.

My favorite line:

"Every poor American thinks he's got a rich American inside, fighting to get out."

This line is so true and explains so much, including what is wrong with Kansas (i.e. why working class people often do not vote their narrow, short-run economic interests), why the US and Europe are so different and (relatedly) why many Europeans do not "get" the US.

More on Palin

Interesting thoughts on Palin (and McCain's choice of Palin) from the Economist here.

A discussion of Palin's version of "western" evangelical Christianity and how it differs from "southern" evangelical Christianity here. I had not noticed the distinction the author makes before but I think it is correct in terms of mean differences.

I find myself giving Palin bonus points for being from the "great pacific northwest" (as KOMO radio used to call it when I was growing up). I probably should not.

At a broader level, I have realized in pondering Palin that I think about the east coast in opposition to the west coast in the same way that the American founders (and many who came after them) thought about Europe in opposition to the New World, namely as a sort of old, decadent, corrupt, over-governed and less free place that should be avoided (if you do not start out there) and escaped from (if you do). This then leads to a tendency to prefer politicians from the western states to those from the east coast, all else equal. I haven't really thought about this habit in my thinking explicitly before so I will have to watch out for it in future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Official day of first walking

I have not posted much about my wonderful daughter Elizabeth on here, and do not intend to do so as this is not so much a personal blog, but I will note that Sunday was declared the day of first walking for Elizabeth.

One of the surprises of parenting for me is that events that are usually described as a binary transition are actually continuous transitions with a discretization imposed. At least, this has been the case with Elizabeth with both her "first word" and her walking. Her first word is officially "hi" - we are very friendly here at the Smith household - but it really was a gradual transition from a sound sort of like "hi" to a more recognizable word "hi". She did not just one day go from babbling to clearly saying "hi", which is what I had expected. Similarly with walking. First she would take one or two steps if someone was waiting to catch her, then three of four, then five or six. Sunday is the day of first walking officially because it was the first day she would proceed without anyone directly in her path and not too far away waiting to catch her.

The other main surprise of parenting has been the extent of technological progress in diapers. It is simply amazing how much liquid they can hold and still feel dry to the touch.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Admissions at selective public institutions

Admissions at UCLA are supposed to be race-blind according to state law. Here is the report that UCLA Political Science professor Tim Groseclose submitted upon resigning from the faculty committee overseeing admissions, which argues that UCLA is in violation of state law. I have not read it all but the parts I looked at are pretty blistering.

The fundamental problem at schools like UCLA, Berkeley and Michigan is that the preferences of the citizens for race-blind admissions, as expressed through citizen initiatives, do not coincide with those of the majority of faculty members and administrators at these schools. The resulting principal-agent problem means that the effect of passing such initiatives is that race goes from an explicit criterion to an implicit one, either through the means described in Tim's report, such as students reporting their race in their personal statements, or through the use of variables correlated with race, such as economic disadvantage, that can be justified on other grounds.

Although I think college quality matters, and have written papers (e.g. here and here) that provide empirical evidence that this is the case, even if you buy the larger estimates in the literature the amount of fire and brimstone (and money and faculty time and administrator time and media time etc.) devoted to this issue seems to me to be well in excess of the possible net costs and benefits times the number of students at issue. Minority students talented enough to get into Berkeley or UCLA or Michigan under affirmatative action but not under their current systems should, in general, get into very fine private schools and/or public universities of nearly equal stature in states still using affirmative action and/or marginally less selective public schools in their home states, such as the lower ranked UC schools in California or Michigan State in Michigan. The exact same point holds for white and Asian students on the admissions margin in states with affirmative action who get crowded out by students admitted under affirmative action. Each policy surely has winners and losers but, especially if mismatch is an issue for some students, the average treatment effects of either affirmative action or its absence seem to me to likely be quite small.

Of course, more research would be useful here; there is no serious cost-benefit analysis to point to in the literature that I am aware of, a fact that should be an embarrassment to both sides of the debate.

At present, I am tempted to argue that the world would be better off if everyone concerned spent the time they would have spent fighting about this issue doing consulting and then donated the resulting money to fund scholarships for talented kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the front

On the flight back from DC last week I got bumped up to the front and ended up sitting next to former Michigan governor John Engler, who is now apparently the chief of the National Association of Manufacturers.