Sunday, August 31, 2008

More on Palin

Some positive words about Palin from the Denver Post.

I agree with Tyler Cowen that the most amazing fact about Palin is that she had a child with Down's syndrome rather than an abortion. I can't imagine doing that, but it does indeed show that she sticks to her principles even when it is very costly to do so.

I also agree with Tyler that this is not necessarily an ideal quality in a politician, but there is no danger of Washington being overwhelmed by such people even should she and McCain be elected so I am less worried about it than he seems to be.

One thing McCain has accomplished with this pick is to put Obama off the front burner of public discussion for the first time in months.

Africa and development economics

I particularly like the second map, which rather sums up the state of things.

I should be reading Chris Blattman's blog more regularly.

There is a stark and brutal reality to development economics, particularly in Africa, that just does not inhere any other part of economics. Put differently, many parts of economics are a lot like working at a think tank in DC or in the research department of a bank. Development economics is more like working in the emergency room.

Oregon 44, Washington 10

So I stayed up late (even though I am enjoying a cold this weekend) to watch Washington and Oregon on FSN.

Here is the game story from the Seattle Times. Some thoughts:

1. The new kids were really nervous at the start, and spotted Oregon 14 points early on that were hard to deal with later.

2. Locker looked fed up with the whole thing. I think there really is some danger that he will take off for the NFL at the end of this year if things do not improve.

3. The schedule really is crazy. What was the AD thinking? Next week, Michigan gets to rally against Miami of Ohio while Washington has to deal with BYU, which is ranked higher than Oregon.

4. Locker did not seem 100 percent and his connection with the receivers really seemed to have suffered from his sitting out so many practices.

5. Ronnie Fouch, the backup QB, looked pretty good, and seemed better connected to the young receivers. Of course, he was getting all the snaps with the first team that Locker did not get while he was sitting out.

6. Washington will be pretty lucky to be 2-3 after the first five games. Sigh.

Utah 25 Michigan 23

Here is the game story from the Ann Arbor News. It indirectly illustrates a lot of the differences in the football culture between Michigan and Washington. Even in UW's heydey in the 80s and early 90s, things never got like they are here in terms of expectations.

Lisa and I went to the game. Here are some notes:

1. It was really hot.

2. Each time I go to the Big House I have more sympathy for the people who want to get rid of the track surrounding the field at Husky stadium.

3. The game was not really as close as the score suggests. Utah went very conservative earlier than they should have and also helped Michigan stay in the game with a lot of foolish penalties.

4. Threet and not Sheridan should be the starting QB.

5. The Utah folks sitting next to us were treated quite nicely by the Michigan fans.

6. I had never sat in this particular part of a football stadium before. We were right in the end zone about 16 rows up. So we were very close to the action when it was at our end and had what seemed more like a "player's-eye" view of the field. That was pretty neat, but I found myself watching the jumbotron when play was at the other end, which is less neat.

7. A student outside the stadium on our way in had a sign that said "Change We Can Believe In" with a big picture of Rich Rodriguez.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bob Solow on Kevin Phillips

A thoughtful spanking here.

Hat tip: reason.com

Glamour

Former reason editor Virginia Postrel has a new website relating to her forthcoming book on glamour. Having read and enjoyed her earlier book The Substance of Style I expect the glamour book will be a fun and interesting read.

Craig's List as Data Source

I saw a paper recently that used the "erotic services" part of Craig's List to measure the amount of prostitution enforcement across cities. The basic idea was that escort ads per capita provide a crude inverse metric of the amount of enforcement.

Here is cnet using the the "casual encounters" section of Craig's List to study the impact of the DNC in Denver on the barter market for sex.

Social science becomes voyeurism systematized.

And don't democrats require some sort of prior regulatory approval for this sort of behavior?

Hat tip: reason.com

Friday, August 29, 2008

Alaska is different

At the Anchorage Daily News website as I write this:

1st headline: "Alaska Gov. Palin is McCain's Running Mate"

2nd headline: "Grizzly attacks woman in tent"

Sarah Palin and creationism

This bit about Sarah Palin and creationism is not as bad as it first appears.

Certainly discussion is good. Having creationism as part of the curriculum seems like a bad idea but that does not appear to be something Palin advocates.

Of course, much of the debate could be avoided by having the government finance but not provide K-12 education, something for which there is no reason to think it has a comparative advantage.

I'll have to do a longer post on this debate at some point. Both sides of the evolution debate frustrate me at times, though for different reasons.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Sarah Palin

Interesting; I had been assuming it would be the Mitt-man.

At first blush, this seems a lot more clever than Obama's choice of Biden, though you certainly do not pick someone from Alaska because you want Alaska's electoral votes. Picking a complete outsider - you can't get much farther away from DC either literally or figuratively than Alaska - helps negate the "Bush III" line that the Obama campaign is pushing. Picking a woman helps negate the "historic event" aspect of Obama's candidacy; now you get an historic event with either ticket. I don't think McCain will get many disappointed Hilary supporters to switch their votes (as Geraldine Ferraro suggests in the article) given Palin's strong pro-life credentials but maybe more of them will stay home on election day.

I will be curious to see how this plays out.

Hat tip: the marginal revolutionaries

Addendum: I wonder how long it took the reason folks to find this picture, apparently from Palin's days as a beauty contest participant.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Movies: Tropic Thunder, Clone Wars and Elegy

Lots of movie-going the past two weeks:

Tropic Thunder

I broke my rule of never going near anything involving Ben Stiller. I still think it is a pretty good rule but this movie is the exception to the rule. I had quite low expectations for the movie but in fact it was quite funny. Unlike a lot of Hollywood comedies, which are aimed at the humor level of a 12 year old not-very-smart boy, this movie is aimed square at 40 year old guys who are engaged enough to get a lot of cultural references from the past three decades along with pointed satire of the business side of Hollywood. One way to think about this movie is as a movie about movies, with special reference to the genre of jungle rescue movies. But there is a lot more than that, including a brief appearance by William Shatner in the original Star Trek that is both perfectly timed and perfectly chosen to work on several different levels. Finally, Tom Cruise steals the show as perfectly nasty Hollywood producer Les Grossman. This is well worth seeing, but should be avoided by the easily offended.

Clone Wars

This would be above average fare on Saturday morning but I am not sure I am happy to have paid $20 for Lisa and I to see it at the (remarkably dowdy) AMC multiplex in Downtown Disney in Florida. Recommended only for hard core Star Wars types.

Elegy

This is a quite serious movie about fear, age, commitment and much more staring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Kingsley is amazing, as always, and Cruz is a much better actress than I have seen her be in the past. The cinematography is gorgeous, the writing rich and the soundtrack luxurious. I'll be thinking about the issues raised in the movie for days. Plus Kingsley's character is a professor. What more can one ask for? Highly recommended.

Visitors from afar


Two weeks ago I entertained three visitors to Ann Arbor who are working on projects related to innovative health interventions in developing countries. These projects are funded by the Gates Foundation via the Global Development Network and I am a formal methodological advisor for them (along with one otherproject in Iran). The visitors are from Kenya - Jacob and Anne - and from Thailand - Worawan. The Kenyans have spent a lot of time in Europe but this was their first visit to the US. Worawan did her Ph.D. in Canada so the U.S. was nothing very new.

The visit was great fun and productive as well. I just wish I could better see this place through their eyes.

Some particularly entertaining bits from the visit:

1. The audible gasp from Anne at the portion size of her meal at Grizzley peak.

2. My colleague David Lam having the Kenyan census data on his laptop and so being able to check on the fine points of its design in real time at the seminar.

3. As predicted by my friend Rebecca Thornton, the visitors were much more interested in spending their free time on shopping than on seeing the Henry Ford museum.



Demopublican covention

Lies, lies, lies

[applause]

Lies, lies, lies

[applause]

Lies, lies, lies

[applause]

etc.

It is a great mystery to me why anyone watches these things other as some sort of theatre of the absurd.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

BBC reports on beauty pageant for nuns

This is probably just another sign of the impending end times.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Is this why they start hockey games with a face-off?

According to the study described here, men (but not women) with wide faces are more aggressive.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Sunday, August 24, 2008

AP Preseason Poll

Amazingly, someone has given Washington exactly 1 vote, which is one more than I would have expected. Michigan, on the other hand, has 36 votes, less than I would have expected. The full poll is here.

Next Saturday will be interesting. Utah should, on paper, be better than Appalachian State, and Michigan ... well ... we shall see. There are a lot of new players and a new coach who brought with him a lot of distractions.

Washington plays Oregon at Oregon in a west coast night game that is on at 10 PM back here. Oregon will be tough indeed. Hopefully the Huskies will keep it close enough to keep me awake until 1 AM.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden?

Wow ... so much for change of any kind, let alone the kind you can believe in. I am stunned at the awfulness of it.

I would have thought that his record of plagiarism (and here) would be enough to keep Biden off of any ticket.

Who is in charge over there at the Obama campaign? Without the message of change he is just an inexperienced senator from Illinois with little to distinguish him other than demographics, and that is not enough to win. This seems like a really bad move to me. Obama is what he is and it is that somewhat unique persona that has gotten him this far; he will not be very good at being a regular pol.

Addendum: a fine old reason pasting of Biden from 2006.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Slick Rick

Bud Withers of the Seattle Times offers some thoughts on Rick Neuheisel at UCLA here.

I think he is a bit kind to Rick and a bit optimistic about his prospects at UCLA. At both Colorado and Washington Neuheisel did well with the talent he inherited from the previous coaches but poorly once his own recruits came on line. I think the talent pool he is inheriting at UCLA is weaker than at U-Dub or Colorado. I predict a bumpy start and a short tenure.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Russia and Georgia

A thoughtful Atlantic article on the conflict between Russia and (the other) Georgia is here.

My thoughts:

1. Russia still has a long way to go to be a modern country, but we already knew that.

2. Should the US be worried about Russia? Not so much. They never really were a real superpower even during the cold war. The US wildly over-estimated their economic capactity at the time (for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post but have much to do with large military budgets), in a way that was obvious even to me as a high school student visiting Moscow and Leningrad in 1979. Russia was and is (sadly) just a heavily armed tinpot dicatorship. China will soon overshadow them both economically and militarily. While potentially problematic in its own right given China's excess of nationalistic fervor, China's ascension will provide both a helpful distraction to the Russians and an example of rapid post-communist economic development. Moreover, the likely ever-increasing difference in economic success between Russia proper and the former sattelite states should eventually put pressure on the Russian government to focus on economic reform rather than on nationalist territorial fantasies.

3. Surely Georgia is high on the list of places where our foreign policy should consist entirely of good wishes for growth and freedom, economic and cultural exchanges and nothing else?

Addendum: Dan Drezner has a number of interesting posts about Russia / Georgia on his blog, as well as his own take on the Krugman piece. I remain puzzled that Dan did not get tenure at Chicago.

Book: neuromancer

I finally read William Gibson's book Neuromancer a couple of weeks ago. I've owned for about 20 years but have not read much science fiction during that time until the past year or two. This book won all the major awards when it came out, and spawned a whole new subgenre of science fiction called "cyberpunk". It is also the first book in a trilogy all set in the same future world of the "sprawl".

I was impressed with it, though there are already bits that seem dated. The noisy printers in particular stood out, but noisy printers is what there were in 1984 when the book was first published. The mood of the book and the vision of the future, as well as its envisioning of a sort of immersion into the internet (which was not around in the way that we think of it now in 1984 either) make it both a lively read and quite prescient. The envisioning of the three-dimensional graphical representation of information within a spatial layout will stay with me, as will the fine description of the main character's life on the technological and legal edge. As with most all science fiction, the characters are the weakest link in Neuromancer, but as with the best science fiction, of which this is one example, the other facets are good enough that you are happy reader anyway.

Michigan difference

A nice piece from the Detroit Free Press on Malcolm Tulip who, among other things, is on the faculty of Michigan's theatre department.

I saw the productions of "I Am My Own Wife" and "Amadeus" mentioned in the article. The first was one of the two best pieces of theatre I have seen in my life.

I am looking forward to Tulip's upcoming show at Performance Network, where Lisa and I have season tickets and where I have been quite impressed with the quality of the productions. I went through a period of seeing a lot of theatre in Chicago when I was in graduate school and Performance Network is consistently at the level of the better productions in Chicago.

Things I never expected to say

Paul Krugman has an excellent column here.

Though Krugman does not make the connection, what could be more important during the Olympic frenzy, when dull and obscure sports suddenly become interesting by being wrapped in flags and summed into medal counts, than a column making the point that nationalism is indeed the enemy of both economic growth and individual freedom.

Krugman's column also illustrates the value of knowing some history.

Hat tip: the marginal revolutionaries

Addendum: despite the good column, if we had an actual social planner, she would take away the column and put Krugman back to work doing trade theory.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reality television

This clip, which is from the British television show "Yes, Prime Minister" is really, really funny and a lot more real ("spot on" as one would say in the mother country) than most reality programs.

Hat tip: Scott Wood

NYT in need of Dr. Hines

The NYT makes a truly astounding error in reporting on this week's GAO study on corporate taxes.

Being a generalist, which is what most journalists of necessity must be, is a rough road, and people who know how the tax system works, like my colleague Jim Hines who, based on his seminar remarks, seems to have memorized the entirety of the US tax code, cost a lot to hire. And so the NYT suffers with embarrassing corrects.

On the other hand, Michigan suffers with Carl Levin, one of the two senators who requested the GAO study, causing the government to spend a lot of money - GAO researchers are not cheap and have better things they could be doing - in order to allow him a couple of misleading sound bites on the evening news.

Hat tip: Scott Wood

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wise words from David Meltzer

It is tough to find reasonable remarks on health insurance, but here are some from my graduate school colleague David Meltzer. They build on joint work he did with my friend and Michigan colleague Helen Levy.

Wise words from Don James

This Seattle Times story is full of wise words from former Husky coach Don James. For readers not in Seattle, Don was the coach during the glory days of Washington football, a period that included my undergraduate years from 1980-1985, a national championship and multiple Rose Bowl victories over Michigan.

I would emphasize two points. First, the non-league schedules are crazy. There should not be three top 20 non-league teams on anyone's schedule. I would also not go completely the other way, which is what Michigan does other than its annual game with Notre Dame (which was an easy win last year but usually is not), and schedule only very weak times like Eastern Michigan. One really tough team and a couple of teams that are good enough to provide a real challenge but not in the top 20, say Purdue or Maryland, seems optimal to me.

Second, I think Don is right that Ty is a good coach with good assistants and some great young talent. His head should not be on the chopping block this year if he only gets five wins, given the schedule and the youth on the team at a lot of positions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Making of an Economist Redux

The Hammer's (that would be Dan Hamermesh) review of David Colander's new book "The Making of an Economist: Redux" is here (but you will only get the abstract if you are not accessing this from an institution that subscribes to the Journal of Economic Literature). Both this book (which I have yet to read) and its predecessor (which I have read and was also interviewed for) report the findings from a series of semi-structured interviews on (highly) selected samples of graduate students at the top programs. The results of these interviews are interesting in their own right, and Colander then builds on them to comment on the state of the profession and the state of training of its future members. As with many books of this type the most interesting bits, at least in the first book, are the verbatim interview comments. The funny bit about the first book is that the happiest students are at Chicago, which is completely at odds with the prior of Colander (and his co-author on that book Arjo Klamer) . Apparently, though these interviews are not presented in the book, students at George Mason were also very happy.
I think that the sociology of economics, which is one way to code the general subject area of this book, is much understudied. Economics has been remarkably successful in both scholarly terms and in terms of gaining real world power relative to competing social sciences like sociology and political science. Why that is so is an interesting and important question in general, both for those who view the power of economists as a good thing and those (on both the left and right) who view it as a bad thing. How to continue that dominance is a subject of interest, of course, to the economists who enjoy and benefit from it.

Hamermesh is one of the most entertaining writers in economics; the advice pieces, for graduate students, and for junior and senior faculty, are all well worth reading. I don't agree with every word but they at least provide a baseline for a lot of important professional behaviors that we teach, at best, by example.

In looking for an ungated copy of the review I found that Dan also has a sort of economics blog here.

Movie: WALL-E

We saw WALL-E last night. It is great fun: original, creative, with amazing animation and lots of references to movies past. The (musical) references to 2001: A Space Odyssey actually got me to laugh out loud. One way to think about WALL-E is as a Disney / Pixar remake of the great 70s dystopia Silent Running with Bruce Dern. There is a lot going on and the reviewer I read who said this is an adult movie disguised as a children's movie was right on. The politics is actually not heavy-handed enough to be annoying, contrary to a different review that I read. After all, how can you be annoyed with Fred Willard? The exception is the closing credits, which you can skip by leaving right when the movie ends.

In short, recommended.

The children in front of us were curious, and constantly asking questions of their parents. The children behind us were simply not disciplined. Hopefully E turns out like the first set, something that is surely at least partly endogenous.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Economist / Gulliver

I have to say that I am quite amazed but the blunt honesty of the travel guidelines that the Economist puts on its Gulliver web page. The ones for Canada were referenced in an earlier post; today brought the ones for Belgium.

Here is the last one on their list: "Belgian officialdom is notoriously lazy and bureaucratic. Try to avoid it. The Belgians have a rather southern European attitude to regulations in any case: witness the country’s huge black economy."

Ouch!

Washington State history

Most Europeans would laugh at the notion in the subject line as Washington State is too new in a larger sense to have much history. At the same time, this website based on tourist guide compiled by WPA workers during the New Deal era does provide a glimpse of a fine time gone by.

I should note too that despite its lack of longevity, Washington State may be the only one to have some of its history "documented" in a popular television series, namely Here Come the Brides, based on the arrival of a ship full of, well, brides, for some of the early settlers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New Social Work Dean at UMich

The official university news email brings word that Laura Lein will become the new Dean of the School of Social Work.

I do not know Laura but have read one of her many books, called Making Ends Meet and co-authored with Kathryn Edin. The book is (mainly) an ethnographic study of single mothers on welfare. It of interest in (at least) two ways: the first is the interesting network sampling scheme used by the authors and, of greater import, their clever decision to first ask their subjects to detail their monthly consumption behavior and then, only after that was complete, to ask about where the got the income to pay for it. This interview strategy, combined with the fact that welfare payment levels are largely the result of a simple formula led many subjects to reveal sources of income they might not otherwise have revealed in order to not appear like liars about their consumption. The variety of strategies that the subjects used to obtain income (that was not reported to the welfare authorities so that it could be taxed away at a very high rate) was astounding, as was the near universality of the use of such strategies. One can interpret this finding in several ways. The authors argue that it shows that benefit levels are too low, and there is something to that, particularly in some low benefit states. Alternatively, one can interpret it is positive evidence of skills and hustle that were going unused (and which would be relied upon when welfare reform came along after the book was written).

The book is well worth reading even though it is now well over a decade old. Ignore the regression bits toward the end and focus on the ethnography, which is the book's strong suit.

So, an advance welcome to Laura Lein who will make a fine addition to the rich (pun intended, of course) group of poverty scholars here at Michigan.

Singing Revolution

The movie the Singing Revolution about Estonia's escape from communism is now showing in Royal Oak. I saw a preview of the movie and got to talk with one of the producers a few months ago when his evening at reason's DC office happened to coincide with one of my IES consulting gigs. The bits I saw were both very moving and also fascinating history. They illustrated the important role that nationalism (something I am normally not a very big fan of) played in Estonia's liberation. They also illustrated how different things are in small countries, where all the movers and shakers know each other, than in large countries where they do not. This knowing sometimes allows trust, which in turn allows good outcomes that could not occur as easily in larger states.

Do secret ballots suck?

The current legislative initiative by organized labor seeks to allow union certification without secret ballots elections. If enough workers sign the cards after helpful guidance from their big, burly colleagues who support certification, then certification would take place.

George McGovern (!) summarizes the case against from the left here.

It seems to me that if this is the best that organized labor can come up with as a policy initiative, they are in a sorry state indeed. It is ripe for parody and not very subtle in the way it tilts the field in favor of the unions.

The study of trade unions has largely disappeared from labor economics as unions have faded out (in the private sector anyway) in the US and Canada. Even European labor economists do not write about them much anymore. This seems to me too bad in a couple of senses. First, I think there is a lot of interesting research to be done, both theoretical and empirical, on public sector unions, which continue to flourish. Second, I think there is work to be done thinking about the role of unions (or the lack thereof) in the decay of the U.S. auto and steel industries and in the remarkably long transition period to a new equilibrium in the airline industry following deregulation. I suspect that both equilibrium models that incorporated unions and behavioral economic models in this area would yield new and useful insights.

The One

There has been a lot of chit chat on various blogs about the new McCain commercial called "the One". One line of thought, exemplified by Virginia Postrel's post here (which includes a link to the ad) emphasizes that the ad provides evidence of a sense of humor that has not previously been in evidence and which does a nice job of making McCain seem less old.

The other line of discussion concerns whether the ad doubles as a coded message to that subset of the Christian right who, apparently seriously, thinks that Obama is the anti-christ. It is hard for me to even type that without smirking but you can read more from the folks at Time magazine here. And you can read people making fun of the Time story here, here and here.

Unlike most people, or at least what most people say in public, I like negative campaign ads. First, they tend to be much more fun to watch than smary positive ads, which have too many flags and no substance. Second, unlike positive campaign ads, negative campaign ads have a positive externality, to the extent that they make viewers more cynical about the political class as a whole.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Thank you, National Enquirer!

I never would have imagined that the National Enquirer would break and follow an important political story that was basically ignored for months by the major media, but they did in regard to the John Edward's affair.

Here is some Enquirer coverage.

Here is Kausfiles on why the story is worth paying attention to.

Here is the Seattle Times story (today) covering Edward's admission of the affair.

Old lesson: people who are particularly good at lying through their teeth sort into politics

Other old lesson: what matters is whether something is true, not who said it

Addendum: the Economist is perfect, as always.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A vote for Paris Hilton?

Say what you will about Paris, at least she has the self-knowledge not to take herself too seriously.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Addenda:

Here is the (hilarious) Paris campaign video

Here are Paris campaign t-shirts

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Elasticity of demand for soft drinks on planes

The economist remarks on the new US Airways policy of charging for water and soft drinks in coach. I learned about the policy on Friday night when I flew back from DCA on US Airways. The mid-sized plane was full. I think they sold 4-5 soft drinks. This seems like useful information for the airlines.

Back in my UWO days I did a lot of flying on Southwest from DTW to MDW. One time after an especially long delay the pilot offered free drinks (including liquor) for all. That is a very good way to improve passenger morale.

Monday, August 4, 2008

NBER Summer Institute

Two weeks ago I went to the NBER Summer Institute in Boston. I took in three of the five days, which past experience dictates (correctly) is when burn-out sets in. The days I took in included one day of the labor studies program, one day of the education program (joint with labor) and one day of the crime program (partly joint with labor). All of the session are held in parallel (along with the aging program, the children program and a couple of others) so that shopping is possible, but seemed to be discouraged this year by having the starting times for sessions in different programs staggered a bit.

I've resolved to be as postive as possible when I discuss conferences on here, so I will not talk about the couple of papers that seemed only so-so or the presenter I found irritating due to a lack of interest in getting the applied econometrics right. Instead, I'll remark on the papers that I liked and have stuck with me over the ensuing couple of weeks.

My favorite is this paper by Alan Krueger and and Andreas Mueller entitled "The Lot of the Unemployed: A Time Use Perspective". It uses time use data from a number of countries to look at what the unemployed do and, in a small sample suggestive sort of way tries to link the time use patterns to the institutions surrounding unemployment in different countries. The fun cocktail party fact is that unemployed Americans engage in job search related activities about 30 minutes a day while, for example, unemployed Belgians spend about six minutes a day and unemployed Swedes only about five minutes a day. The question I found myself pondering in regard to the figure for the US was: is 30 minutes a lot or a little? I am still pondering this as it is not so obvious. Clearly it should vary a lot by education and skill level. For workers with only limited general skills, there are many possible jobs and, at least in urban areas, one could presumably spend all day every day trying to track them down. In highly skilled labor markets, say for aeronautical engineers, there may be only a few really relevant employers, so that one applies to them and then waits. More research along these lines would be useful.

My friend and colleague John DiNardo presented - the crime group had the discussants present the papers when not meeting jointly with labor - this paper by Ethan Cohen-Cole, Steve Durlauf, Jeffrey Fagan and Dan Nagin entitled "Model Uncertainty and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment". The paper attempts a quantitative summary of the literature on the deterrent effect of capital punishment. It does so not with meta-analysis, which is the classical statistics way of doing such things, but with a variant of what is called Bayesian model averaging. The discussion, as discussions of papers using Bayesian methods often do, ran up against the boundary of philosophy, which made it extra fun, as did the presence of several refugees from the labor group including David Card and Steve Pischke.

Finally, I also quite enjoyed the paper entitled "Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation" by Tom Kane and Doug Staiger but they are not circulating their paper yet so I will leave it at that. Suffice it to say that if the results hold up they will get a zillion cites.

Frank Lloyd Wright house for sale in Ann Arbor

On the front page of the Ann Arbor news today is a story about the lone FLW house in Ann Arbor going on the market for only (and I mean that seriously) 1.5 million. I will confess to some housing lust as I am a big fan of FLW and have greatly enjoyed visits to Taliesin and Falling Water as well as his home in Oak Park, near Chicago.

Another picture of the Palmer House is here.

Our snail mail for today included a postcard from the local realtor (amazingly, not Nancy Bishop, the seemingly omnipresent seller of all expensive homes around here) selected to sell the Palmer house, with the following request:

"... if you are outside [why not inside?] and approached by someone who asks you for directions to the home, please tell them you have no idea where hte house is located."

Far be it from me to subject anyone, including the Palmers (whose descendants are selling the house), to architecturally inclined pests. So, don't send me an email asking where the house is!

Ed Glaeser on energy prices

Ed Glaeser, who started at Chicago two years after I did and finished well before, offers up some reasonable thoughts on high energy prices.

I was going to post a link to the famous Harvard economics recruiting video featuring Ed as an amusing counterpoint but only one of the parodies (our students did one too) is on youtube and not the video itself.

Actually, maybe I can post it directly .... yes I can:

video

Hat tip (on the editorial): Ken Troske

WaPo profile of McCain

This Washington Post profile of McCain has some interesting material. Some of it is very positive; unlike certain other recent Republican presidents one might name, McCain enjoys reading, learning and debate and has been known to change his mind in light of evidence.

Some of it is more mixed. Having an emotional temperament like a fighter pilot may be useful in tense crisis situations but may lead to a lot of frustration with policy more generally, where driving the ship of state is more like driving a vast oil tanker than a jet.

And some of it is decidedly negative, as with this:

"McCain has acknowledged that modern conservatives have been more hostile to government than he. "Many contemporary conservatives have let their healthy skepticism about government sink into something unhealthy, an embittered loathing of the federal government," McCain and Salter wrote in "Worth the Fighting For." A good government "must not shrink from its duty to be the highest expression of the national will and the last bulwark against all assaults on our founding ideals," which include liberty and opportunity."

I would argue that the very idea of a "national will" is fundamentally opposed to the founding ideals of this country. Our founders were (in the main) individualists and it is individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that this country is (or should be) all about. The "national will" is usually, in practice, a cover for the transfer of resources to particular groups under the guise of national solidarity. Campaigns to give life to the national will often end in wars. Belief in a national will is one thing that separates both the left and the right from genuine liberals, who view the real expression of a nation is its culture and economic life, not its military or the animated hairpieces that populate its legislatures.

Hat tip: Washington Court Hotel, who put the WaPo outside the door to my room.

Marriage advice and causation

This Yahoo! column lists ten keys to avoiding divorce. It also inadvertantly illustrates common confusions about the difference between correlation and causation.

Take the first one: a two-year courtship. I am sure it is true that courtships around this length have the lowest probablity of divorce. I am also sure that this relationship is not causal in general. Going from a very short courtship up to two years likely has some causal effect via the extensive margin - that is, by leading poorly matched couples to forgo their marriage plans. It may also have some positive causal effect on the intensive margin by allowing for greater discussion and agreement on the rules of the marriage before it starts. But simply taking two people who think it is a great idea to get drunk, drive to Vegas and get married and having them simply delay their drunken nuptials for a while seems unlikely to accomplish much. Similarly, very long courtships may be a sign of one partner being pushed into marriage, something the list itself suggests is a bad idea in point 10. This part of the relationship between courtship length and divorce probability seems likely to be all selection. An interesting thought question concerns where one might go looking for some exogenous variation in courtship length to use to sort all of this out empirically.

A similar point holds in regard to the living together issue in the second item. There is a literature on this. The literature, well, at least some of it, recognizes the difficulty in sorting out correlation from causation. The lack of exogenous variation on this front is a problem here too. Some sources of variation that might seem plausible, such as religion, are likely to affect divorce probabilities in ways other than through their effect on the probability of living together.

I will support the idea of talking about the big issues before you marry. Lisa and I did this and it had a very large payoff. We have recontracted away from some of the deals we made, but the pre-marriage deals gave us a starting point for the renegotiation that was very helpful. Popular culture emphasizes the romantic aspects of marriage, which are very nice indeed, but it is also an economic arrangement that involves team production of some goods like children and sex (not necessarily in that order), division of labor in the production of other things and so on. Making concrete decisions about these practical aspects makes the transition to marriage easier and also provides a lot of valuable information about your prospective partner.

My advice: negotiate seriously and bluntly before marriage and also be careful about advice columns.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fannie and Freddie - time to go?

A fine editorial by William Poole in the NYT.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Life Extension: Danish style

News from Denmark's "Prevention Commission".

Bottom line (literally as well as figuratively) "We can't remove personal responsibility totally" says the spokesman of the (in this case correctly named) liberal party.

One more time: how long is it until someone decides that people too stupid, or too muddled by the worst cognitive failures of homo behaviorus, to make the socially preferred choices regarding eating, exercise and smoking are simply not well suited to playing a role in selecting their own leaders and so should be excluded from doing so (for their own good, of course).

A more narrow concern: what is the welfare economics that underlies the prevention commisssion?

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Update on Beijing's Spiritual Civilization Construction Commission

The update on Beijing's "long march" toward civility from the Globe and Mail (Canada's NYT analogue in ways both good and not so good) is here.

My favorite bit is that Chinese people are still allowed to use "comrade" with visitors from socialist countries. Does that mean France? It also raises the question of whether socialists from other countries should refer to someone from China as "comrade". China is socialist in the sense that the one party in the one party state is called the "communist" party, but you would be hard pressed to find a place anywhere on earth where more people will try to sell you more things more enthusiastically than in China.

Hat tip: Christine Gribowski

Friday, August 1, 2008

Restaurant: Acadiana in DC

Last night I dined at Acadiana in DC with two of Michigan's star undergrads, now working at jobs inside the beltway. Acadiana is run by the same folks who run several other DC restaurants, including DC Coast, which I have enjoyed in the past. It has a New Orleans theme.

Perhaps oddly, I was attracted to it both by my love of New Orleans food and by this snarky review from the Washingtonian. The review is maddeningly pompous: basically the reviewer complains about the fact that the food at Acadiana is designed to appeal to customers, rather than challenging them. The reviewer is correct; the food is delicious. The service was excellent as well. Sometimes in DC one gets servers who have attitude issues along the lines of those embodied in the Washingtonian review; that was not the case here (and is something I am glad to be rid of in Ann Arbor).

Highly recommended. I will be back.