Thursday, September 29, 2011

Borders at the end

All the Borders stores are closed now. The one in the terminal at DCA has already re-opened under a new name. reports on the last Borders shoppers.

Washington 31, California 23

The scoreboard in the second picture says it all: Huskies Win!  We picked a great game to fly out for this year: exciting throughout and with a happy ending.

Mocking the enlightened

Hat tip: Lorri Coburn

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Movie: The Hedgehog

I saw this very fine French film over the weekend. I liked it a lot - it is surely one of my three or four favorites so far this year. It is very French, what with the precocious 11-year-old protagonist worried about the meaninglessness of life, a boatload of implicit class consciousness, and the postmodern business of the video camera within the film, but in this case these dimensions combine with fine acting and a clever story to produce a really warm, engaging and thoughtful film. The NYT liked it too.

Highly recommended.

Today's propensity score matching thought:

I type things like the following over and over again in comments, papers and referee reports without seeming to affect the broader research world in any particular way:
Matching is not a design or an identifying assumption. Rather, it is one of several estimators that can be use when assuming selection on observed variables or unconfoundedness (or ignorability, or conditional independence, or whatever else your particular discipline or sub-field happens to call it this week). The key to evaluating an analysis based on an assumption of selection on observed variables is a careful consideration of the set of conditioning variables used in the analysis to deal with the problem of non-random selection into treatment. Estimator choice, e.g. matching versus linear regression versus inverse propensity weighting, is not unimportant, and can be very important for specific data generating processes, but what really matters in general is the set of conditioning variables.
Still, I think it is the right thing to keep trying and thus to keep typing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interesting military history fact

The World War II Soviet operation to seize Romania in September 1944 ended up costing the Red Army 46,783 dead and 171,426 wounded, along with 2,200 tanks and 528 aircraft destroyed. As such it was the least costly of all the strategic operations launched by the Kremlin that year. In comparison, the forces of the British Commonwealth engaged in northwest Europe didn't sustain that number of casualties during the entire period from D-Day to V-E Day.
This fact, from a Strategy and Tactics magazine email (board wargames were one of my youthful hobbies) does a nice job of illustrating both cross-national differences in military effectiveness during WW2 but also, how successful the US has been at using capital goods to reduce casualties. For example, a site called lists US military fatalities for the entire Iraq war as 4794. While one would obviously prefer zero (and arguably, one might also prefer that the Iraq war had been skipped altogether in favor of just taking out Saddam and his sons with missiles or drones) casualties, the orders-of-magnitude change is worthy of note and, I think, insufficiently remarked upon.

On think tanks

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Onion on Libya

Enjoying the moment in Libya before we learn, as we usually do on these occasions, that The Who was on to something when they wrote "... Meet the new boss, same as the old boss ..." in the lyrics to "Won't Get Fooled Again".

University administrators gone wild

or, perhaps, some evidence that administrators at private universities have more fun.

Movie: Drive

A.O Scott in the NYT gets it exactly right when he says about Drive that
“Drive” is somber, slick and earnest, and also a prisoner of its own emptiness, substituting moods for emotions and borrowed style for real audacity.
I would disagree with him about only one thing, which is the innocence of the character played by Carey Mulligan. Her character is guilty through inaction. She is written and acted to have no agency of her own - she just responds to the actions of others - as well as a taste for rough guys. I'd say that's guilty enough.

The Atlantic is much less positive about whole enterprise, particularly Ryan Gosling, who plays the driver.

Recommended, especially for the style and for an amazing performance by Albert Brooks.
The Economist on how to raise taxes on high income people without being a populist idiot.

And even the Economist, sigh, uses "rich", which refers to wealth which is a stock, to describe a discussion about income, a flow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grader for ECON 675

For local gradual students: I am looking for a grader for ECON 675. Eligible candidates will have taken the course in the past but need not be economists.

Email me if interested.

Amazing Jenna

My hair stylist, the amazing Jenna, now has her own website and blog.

Go Jenna!

MacArthur Fellows

Congratulations to economist Roland Fryer, as well as three Michigan faculty members, on becoming MacArthur Fellows.

Large standard errors in practice

From an article on NASA's soon-to-return-to-earth falling satellite:
NASA says the satellite is likely to begin re-entry on September 23, 2011, give or take a day. Hurtling at five miles (eight kilometers) per second, they say it could land anywhere between 57 degrees N. latitude and 57 degrees S. latitude – basically, most of the populated world.
That's a really imprecise estimate!  As the article notes, it basically leaves out only Santa and penguins. I hope this prediction did not cost very much.

Hat tips: Frank Stafford and Charlie Brown.

The Devil's Development Dictionary

From Bill Easterly, a collection of telling definitions related to "Aidspeak".

The Wikipedia page for the original Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce is also of interest.

Hat tip: Todd Pugatch

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Michigan difference

One of the cool things about the University of Michigan is that it is so big that one is constantly running across new bits of it, even after six years.

Today I discovered, as a result of a friend of ours taking a job there, that we have something called the Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies.

From their web page:
More significant may be the introduction of practical strategies for cultivating creativity and consciousness within the classroom. The Contemplative Practice Fellowship program of the American Council of Learned Societies, launched in 1997, has supported coursework to integrate meditation and a range of contemplative modalities at over 80 institutions—including Amherst, Vassar, Brown, Smith, Wellesley, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Bryn Mawr, Michigan, UMass, and UC Berkeley—might be noted as a landmark development along these lines. Extending from this initiative is an expanded epistemological continuum that includes silent meditation, contemplative approaches to reading, writing, movement, nature awareness practices, and creativity in and beyond the arts. When integrated with community engagement, diversity studies, and rigorous intellectual engagement across a variety of fields, this continuum is unique in bridging interior and exterior engagement. Creativity and Consciousness Studies thus offers today’s students the best of both conventional pedagogical approaches and strategies at the cutting-edge of educational thought.
When it comes to expanded epistemological continuums (continuii?) I say: Go Blue!

The current state of the Obama administration

USA today fact checks Obama (and, by extension, Warren Buffett). The really troublesome thing about this is not that Obama got his facts wrong on the speech.  It is that he did it on purpose. Major economic speeches are vetted by any number of people in the administration including in particular people at the Council of Economic Advisers and the Treasury Department who would know that the claims in the speech are complete rubbish. Even Obama's political people, who also would have vetted the speech, should have known the claims were rubbish, given all the commentary on Buffett's op-ed piece in the blogosphere. But the speech went ahead anyway. Sad.

A fine, and not unrelated, column by David Brooks on the administration's decline into beltway politics as usual.

A not unrelated book excerpt, highlighted by Brad DeLong, illustrates the inner workings of Obama's economic team.

And, the cherry on top, reason makes the case that the wheels are coming off.

Banning bottled water at UM

The student government at Michigan is lobbying the university to ban bottled water from campus. You know, if the students just didn't buy any bottled water, it would disappear pretty quickly without any political action at all. Voting with dollars is better, in so many ways, than voting with ballots, not least because voting with dollars means that the outcome takes account of the views of those too busy, or too wise, to get involved in politics.

Yglesias on saving local businesses

My model of Matt Yglesias is sort of a Jekyll-and-Hyde model. Some days he is really insightful and compelling and useful in showing how thinking like an economist can further "progressive causes" and other days ... less so.

This is one of his good posts; the point is that if you want to save your local independent book store, what you should do (wait for it ....) is actually buy books there, rather than, say, jiggering local zoning rules to force the landlord to implicitly subsidize the store via a below-market rent or passing around petitions.

University administration fail

Really, you ought to cancel someone's course right off when you have learned that they've passed on.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Wald on selection bias

This is an excellent, and subtle, example of the importance of selection bias.

Hat tip: Ophira Vishkin

Monday, September 19, 2011

Too many redheads in Denmark

The Daily Mail (always on top of stories like this) reports on the decision of Cryos, a large Danish sperm bank, to turn away redheaded donors:
There are too many redheads in relation to demand,' [sperm bank director] Mr Schou told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. 'I do not think you chose a redhead, unless the partner - for example, the sterile male - has red hair, or because the lone woman has a preference for redheads.
'And that's perhaps not so many, especially in the latter case.'
As for me, I like redheads so much that I married one.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown (and not, perhaps surprisingly, Lars Skipper!)

Interpreting the recession

A nice column from David Warsh at Economic Principals on which past recessions provide the best analogue to the current one, and the implications of the choice for optimal policy responses.

Michigan 31 Eastern Michigan 3

This one looked like it was in danger of going the wrong way early on, and it might have if EMU had been able to take advantage of some of its good luck and good play in the first quarter, but in the end Michigan started to pay attention to the game and the expected outcome emerged.  Next up: San Diego State, fresh from their victory over the Pullman Pushovers. Full coverage of the game here.

Oddly, Michigan is now ranked in the Top 25, having defeated two directional schools and Notre Dame. Now, admittedly, the Notre Dame win looks better now that they have defeated MSU, but this still seems a bit ambitious to me given Michigan's level of play to date.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Have fun even after the apocalypse ...

... at the post-apocalyptic porn bunker.

I thought there wasn't enough money in porn any more to support this sort of extravagance?

Via the Agitator

Nebraska 51, Washington 38

"I think there was a handful of plays that could have swung this game in either direction, some of which were self-inflicted and some of which maybe I don't agree with the call." — UW coach Steve Sarkisian.
Exactly, and Sark is being very kind about the calls, both of which were blatantly wrong enough that the on-air announcers for ABC criticized them, which is unusual.

This game actually went better than I was expecting. Washington has a lot of really strong young players, some of whom are already putting their talents to good use on the field. Quarterback Keith Price comes immediately to mind but there are several others. I was also impressed with the way Washington fought back in the fourth quarter rather than giving up. So, perhaps oddly, I am more optimistic for the season now than I was a week ago. Seattle Times coverage here; AP game summary here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Automated copy editing?

The Angry Professor runs into automated copy editing that is not quite there yet at some unnamed academic journal.

My usual problems are with the typesetter, rather than the copy editor, though many journals would benefit from copy editors with heavier hands.

Jon Stewart on Solyndra

Via Greg Mankiw

Friday, September 16, 2011


David Giles helpfully posts the late Art Goldberger's entertaining textbook treatment of the pervasive ill of small sample sizes in applied econometric work.

Naughty in Niceville

Perhaps the most shocking bit about this tale of sacrilege from the Smoking Gun is that it takes place in Niceville, Florida.

The magic of the internet reveals that there is indeed a Niceville, Florida, and that it is the home of the Bogey Bayou Mullet Festival.

One can only imagine.

Movie: The Debt

The Debt was engaging and thought-provoking, as well as entertaining. I particularly liked the realization of 1960s East Berlin, which reminding me of my own brief visit there in the late 1970s.

A.O. Scott at the NYT liked it too, but thought it could have been even better.

There is something too that, but The Debt is still well worth seeing.

Heart attack at the UM versus Notre Dame game

This lucky Notre Dame fan survived a heart attack in the second quarter thanks in part to the help of the fans around him in the stands.  He watched the fourth quarter from a bed in the ICU at UM hospital.

This raises the important question:: was it really a good idea to let the guy watch the rest of the game? Suppose he had another heart attack in the fourth quarter, which would not be so surprising given how the last few minutes of the game played out. Could he then sue UM hospital for letting him watch the game in the ICU?

Hat tip: Dan Marcin

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Amish libertarians gone wild

These wild souls were arrested for refusing to put orange warning triangles on their buggies.

Surely the local police have something better to do?

Stacy McCain on Tim Pawlenty

I did not realize that Pawlenty had endorsed Romney, apparently in exchange for having his campaign debt paid off.

I particularly liked this bit:
This is the kind of stuff that makes people cynical about politics, but if you’re not cynical about politics, it’s only because you don’t actually know anything about politics.
What a dirty business. And yet many people hold up politicians as objects of admiration.

Via instapundit

Into the Big 10 [sic] and out of the AAU

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln is voted out of the Association of American Universities for not being, well, good enough any longer.

Among those voting them out is, apparently, University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, whose husband has a degree from Nebraska.


Hat tip: Frank Stafford

Robert Reich has a sense of humor?

Who knew? And this is pretty funny.

Addendum: I am informed by reader Nic that Reich was actually editor of the Dartmouth humor magazine when he was in college.  My opinion improves once more.

Cultural capital among economics students

I discovered yesterday in class to my shock and dismay that a surprisingly large fraction of both my undergraduate econometrics students and my graduate applied econometrics students had never heard what I think of as the fundamental joke about economists, namely the can opener joke. Here is one version, taken from this website, that attributes the joke to Paul Samuelson:
A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, "Lets smash the can open with a rock." The chemist says, "Lets build a fire and heat the can first." The economist says, "Lets assume that we have a can-opener..."
Seems like something every student of economics should know, if only because one sometimes hears references to it in economics talks and even in popular culture. And, of course, also because it makes a useful substantive point about economists.

Steve Levitt on adopting a Chinese daughter

This talk by Steve Levitt about Chinese adoption is pretty moving indeed.

As some readers know, my wife and I have a daughter from China as well. Our experience was much less emotional than Steve's.  We decided to have a child and this seemed like a nice way to do it. We chose China in large part because their adoption system is much more organized than those of other countries like Guatemala or Russia. There is a very well defined process and (essentially) a fixed posted price. The time cost is low in a relative sense; basically there is a lot of prep time, as with any source country, that is spent on various documents, then, in our case, a couple of years of waiting, then the two week trip to China. I was dreading the trip just as Steve was but it turned out to be not so bad, in large part because we took along my mother-in-law, who actually knew what to do with an eight-month-old. There is lots of down time when you are just in a hotel room with your sleeping daughter; fortunately I had brought along work to do! Exploring Nanning, the relatively poor provincial capital of Guangxi province and the city where we spent the first week, was completely fascinating, especially the Wal-Mart that was a block from our hotel. Having real Chinese food was fun too.

I also enjoyed Steve's remarks about former U of Chicago economics professor D. Gale Johnson. I read, and highly recommend, his daughter Kay Johnson's book on Chinese adoption.

I watched the whole thing (in part just because it was interesting to see Steve in such a different role).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rob McKenna misbehaving

C'mon Rob.  You can do better than this.

Here is a rebuttal from Maggie McNeill.

Bar tricks

However did they lose the empire?

 Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Allocating hotels for the AEA meetings

Jeff Ely at Cheap Talk lays out the theory on why the American Economic Association is not optimally allocating hotel suites for interviews at its annual conference.

Morning puns

From my inbox:

Back in the 1800's the Tate's Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products, and since they already made the cases for watches, they used them to produce compasses. The new compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California . This, of course, is the origin of the expression -- "He who has a Tate's is lost!"

A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the toilets and urinals, leaving no clues. A spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Bruno Frey, one of the better known economists in the German speaking world, has apparently published quite similar papers in different journals on multiple occasions, all without cross-citation.

This is bad behavior, though I think there are some nuances that the blog post at the link does not touch on. I would argue, for example, that if one uses the same data set in multiple papers, there is no harm in using the same data description, and without any cross-citations. I think the harm comes when it is the results that are being recycled, rather than just boilerplate about data or treatments or estimators or whatever. I can also imagine cases where the world is a better place if similar papers appear in, say, an economics journal and a statistics journal, so long as there is cross-citation and the papers are appropriately targeted to their respective audiences. Getting people to read across disciplinary lines is tough, and a bit of documented repetition (and, in the short run, a few extra dead trees) may be worth it to get them to do so.

Rule change at DOL

I am informed by outgoing Department of Labor Chief Economist Betsey Stevenson that the rules have been clarified so that the American Economic Association does not have to produce paper copies of its Job Openings for Economists publication just to satisfy an obscure part of the laws relating to foreign workers.

My sense is that Betsey bears much of the responsibility for this happy outcome, so I say well done!

Costs and benefits of homeland security

The economist's Gulliver blog summarizes a recent paper on the costs of homeland security measures since 9/11. It is hard to imagine that more than a modest fraction of them (e.g. hardening the cockpit doors on airplanes) come within shouting distance of passing a cost-benefit test. But, as with the FDA and drug approvals, politicians face an asymmetric loss functions and so exploit the limitations that the principal (the voters) have over them in their role as our agents to minimize their own probability of job loss by adopting measures that may reduce security, but not enough to justify their costs.

This is my job: two views

Donald Sutherland in Animal House:

Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show:

Most days, indeed almost every day, I'm with Craig.

Papers are like Cinnabon

The Angry Professor provides tasty advice on paper-writing to her gradual students.

Advice to undergrads

My former UWO colleague John Palmer updates his open letter to students for the new academic year.

I particularly liked this one:
If you are failing this course, do not make sly little suggestions about what you might do to earn a passing grade. You are failing the course — why should I think your performance would be better in any other areas? Besides, I'm too old to care.
Though, to be honest, I think this type of sly offer never actually happens. Or maybe it is just that I always taught the honors students at UWO, and never the general students.

Elk gone wild

Too many ripe apples and suddenly you're stuck in a tree in a Swedish town.

Mankiw on investment

Greg hits the right notes in his NYT column this week. It is important to note that our current state is a result of bipartisan ball-dropping. The red team should have shown some leadership with the tea party and grabbed the "grand bargain" while the blue team seems to remain unaware that investors are actually forward looking.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meanwhile at the Miss Universe Pageant ...

... Miss Colombia has been informed that she is required to keep her knickers on, or else!

Find your keys yet?

A fine rant about functional form assumptions from non-parametric econometrician Jeff Racine at McMaster.


I still very vividly remember driving from Bethesda to College Park for one of my first days at the University of Maryland back in fall 2001. I had been listening to the CD and but decided to listen to the radio for a while. At that point, only one plane had struck and there was a great deal of confusion about what was going on. Not surprisingly given the strike on the Pentagon, people inside the beltway went into total freakout mode in the following days and months. I suppose in some sense they've never left that state of mind.

It is good to commemorate the deaths of the innocent who died that day.

It is even better to draw the right lessons from the events of that day and that is something I fear we have not done. The lesson is not, as some on the right would have it, that we have to start some sort of new crusade against Islam, which is somehow, in their view, especially violent among religions. I am old enough to remember Protestants and Catholics shooting and blowing each other up in Northern Ireland and, if one goes back further, and not all that far, to find organized Christianity being waist-deep in violence. At the same time, I do not agree with those who wring their hands and worry that somehow 9/11 was a penalty for our not being nice enough or not celebrating diversity enough here at home. Mark Steyn pillories this view.

I am in fact very sympathetic to Radley Balko's view that by spending our lives and treasure on pointless wars of choice, as well as trading in so many of our domestic liberties, we have let the enemies of modernism and freedom win an undeserved victory.

Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

Wow ... the Husky game was lively and exciting. The Michigan game, at least the last few minutes, was simply wild, and well worth staying up for. It is hard to say that Michigan outplayed ND, because they really didn't, other than some flashes here and there, but as with the Huskies, 2-0 is hard to argue with. And, unlike Washington, Michigan has an easy one scheduled for Week 3. coverage here, with a very pretty picture of the Big House at night. Whining from the South Bend Tribue here. I agree with the South Benders (?) that 10 turnovers in two games is problematic indeed.

Hat tip on the whining from South Bend: Joel Slemrod, the first UM economics department chair to get a hat tip, and after only two months in office.

Washington 40, Hawaii 32

This one was not on video so I settled for the radio, but I will be watching the replay tomorrow night. I feel much better about the Huskies than I did after last week's game. Keith Price showed himself to have real potential as a replacement for Jake Locker and the defense tightened up at least a bit relative to the previous week. And the special teams looked reasonably good, but for one errant punt. Will all this improvement be enough for Nebraska (again!) next week? Maybe not. But if they can play like they did this week every week, they should have a good enough season. To quote Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer "they came closer to resembling a good football team." And a 2-0 start makes the rest of the season much easier. Full Seattle Times coverage here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cherokee expel slave descendants from tribe

I did not know any of this history - that some individual Cherokee had owned slaves nor that the tribe sided with the Confederacy in the civil war.  I am shocked that they would try to expel the slave descendants now; this seems like a case just waiting to be lost in federal court after great expenditures of money by both sides.


Via: instapundit

Disciplinary differences in differences in differences

Ben Goldacre at the Guardian on a new paper in Nature Neuroscience that shows that academic psychologists publishing in leading neuroscience journals do not correctly compute the standard errors when doing "difference-in-differences", which is to say, when comparing changes in some outcome in response to treatment for two different groups.

Economics has many problems, but thankfully this is not one of them. Perhaps we are saved here by the fact that we shoehorn all empirical analyses into the context of linear regression, where the difference-in-differences estimand corresponds to the coefficient on an interaction term and the regression package automatically deals with the standard error issues that apparently bedevil the psychologists.

Hat tip: Julia Lane

Movie: The Guard

This movie about a quirky, foul-mouthed Irish cop in a sleepy town is tremendous fun, though you will have to listen intently to sort the through the thick Irish accents. The NYT liked it too.


Gaps in the literature

I was poking around for something for one of my classes and was reminded of this humorous bit on "gaps in the literature" from econometrician Roger Koenker at Illinois.

Men in blue

Fighting crime, one female red-light-runner at a time.

Economist on Krueger

The Economist opines on Alan's appointment to the Council of Economic Advisors.

I wish a picture like that was even in my production possibility frontier.


Berlusconi is one of those politicians who remind me of Mencken's quip that "Democracy is the theory that the common people get what they deserve, good and hard."

The latest: lap dancers dressed as nuns at a "bunga bunga" party.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

New journal on causality

The Berkeley Electronic Press has started the Journal of Causal Inference for papers related to causality in the social science.

The editors include Judea Pearl, whose book looms large in the field, though larger outside economics than inside it, and Jas Sekhon, the Berkeley political science professor whose work on "genetic matching" I have blogged about in the past.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do. Much of the discussion on these issues proceeds on separate tracks in different disciplines. A very good outcome for this journal would be to facilitate the transmission of knowledge across fields. To that end, it is too bad that they did not include an economist among the editors.

Measuring internet porn

A Forbes interview on the surprisingly challenging topic of measuring how much of the internet is devoted to pornography.

Paul Samuelson and Rick Perry

Mankiw passes along an old - i.e. when I was five years old - Newsweek column from Paul Samuelson that praises social security for being actuarially unsound and, dare we even repeat it, a Ponzi scheme. Put differently, he makes the same point I made yesterday though more elegantly: calling it a Ponzi scheme is being honest, and there is nothing wrong with pay-as-you go pension schemes if you've got the economic and/or population growth to support them. Trouble is, we don't.

Step 1 is admitting you have a problem. That requires honesty about the design of our institutions.

Blog ghost writer (well, okay, guest poster) spam

Andrew Gelman receives an offer he can refuse.

What a tangled web we weave ...

... when we operate semi-pro athletic teams at universities.

Gentleman's C on the directions that fictional university LSU provides to its faculty season ticket holders:
I have received a missive from some LSU official informing me that, as a holder of LSU football season tickets, I am considered an athletic booster. One of the many things I am forbidden to do as an athletic booster is to provide to any enrolled student athlete any academic assistance, including tutoring, editing of papers, assistance in completing coursework, or the use of a computer.
Though the Angry Professor disagrees, I'll stand by my view in the comments that the university wants faculty to help its "student athletes" but wants to be sure that the legal liability for such actions falls on individual faculty members and not on the central administration of the athletic department.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rugby vs. American football

From the BBC and via my former UWO colleague Arthur Robson

NPR economics

I happened to catch a few minutes of Marketplace on NPR yesterday in between dropping off my charming daughter at the YMCA and arriving at the luxury dentist office (recommended, by the way, and not just for the over-the-top website) for a teeth cleaning. The NPR folks were analyzing the red team debates from the night before.

The first topic addressed by "personal finance guru" Chris Ferrall was the minimum wage. Would lowering the minimum wage increase employment? After summarizing the position advanced by some of the debaters, which centered on the controversial theme that demand curves slope down, Ferrall explained that, in fact, it is clear that employers would not respond to a reduction in the price of low skill workers because right now, at the current price, they are not hiring very many of them.  Think hard about that now: the level provides evidence on the slope.  That's good stuff, regardless of your actual view on the likely employment effects of short-run decreases in the minimum wage (which I think are probably small, as there is no reason for employers to think the wage will not go right back up again once the recession is over, making any sort of capital investments that complement unskilled labor unlikely to be undertaken and, thus, demand unlikely to be much increased).

The second topic addressed by Ferrall was Rick Perry's comments about social security, the pay-as-you-go US federal public pension scheme, being a Ponzi scheme. Ferrall reassured NPR listeners that it is not a Ponzi scheme, though without offering any sort of empirical or theoretical argument as to why this rather obvious characteristic of the system should be overlooked. In fact it is a Ponzi scheme, and there would be nothing wrong with that if it were supported by long-run trends in US demography, but it is not. Much as one would like to tar the FDR administration as rank idiots and white collar criminals for saddling us with a pay-as-you-go defined benefit system in place of a more sensible forced savings defined contribution plan, there is no particular reason that people at the time should have been able to foresee what would happen with birth rates and life expectancy 50 or 70 years in the future. Less innocently, the New Dealers were presumably also keen on the much higher short-run vote-buying potential of a pay-as-you-go system. In Ferrall's defense, he did state that social security might need some minor modifications despite not, in his view, being a Ponzi scheme.

So, 0-2 for NPR yesterday in my small sample yesterday. Good thing the government subsidizes the creation of all this high level, unbiased, evidence-based, serious journalism.

The Tea Party on the march ... in Ithaca?

Despite the hype on this blog post, a Tea Party mayor in Ithaca seems pretty darn unlikely. Still, it is entertaining to contemplate the chaos that would result.

Thought question for the day: who will Mike vote for?

Via: instapundit

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Borders No. 1

Borders No. 1 in Ann Arbor closes for good this coming Monday. I was in there yesterday and can testify that there is not very much merchandise left to pick over.

Meanwhile, publishes a tease regarding a possible new tenant for the space.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New developments in fame

From my inbox:
Sultan Al Qassemi, scholar, columnist, and influential Twitter commentator
A 2011 Josh Rosenthal Education Fund Lecture from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Annenberg Auditorium
735 S. State Street
1120 Weill Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Free and open to the public.
Reception to follow.
Join the conversation on Twitter: #2011rosenthal
Influential twitter commentator? Really? What does that even mean?

Monday, September 5, 2011


Freakonomics offers up some parting words from Justin Wolfers as he leaves DC to head off to Princeton for a year. His piece is full of praise for both the intellectual life at Brookings and the broader experience of life inside the beltway.

I beg to differ, at least in part.  I am no expert on Brookings, but it is pretty easy to find people around who lament that organization's move from emphasizing serious policy-relevant research to emphasizing serious policy analysis. These are not the same, and I have some sympathy with these lamentations.

In terms of the city, it is certainly true that taxpayers outside the beltway provide a wealth of subsidized leisure time activities for upper-middle class residents, from parks to museums to stadia. It is also true that there are many excellent restaurants, and a truly amazing range of low and middle-brow ethnic places (see Tyler Cowen's dining guide for a description). I do miss my favorite places in Chinatown (though the area itself has lost its decaying charm and now feels more like a suburban mall with too many Chinese restaurants) as well as the Capital Q. But many of the high-end places think they are better than they are, and have servers with attitudinal disorders that render the dining experience less pleasant.

More broadly, DC is a company town and that company is the federal government. The main local product is, to put it bluntly, lies. This is true regardless of whether the red gang or the blue gang is ruling the local streets, though DC is nonetheless chock full of people who quite implausibly imagine that there is some important substantive difference between the two gangs in terms of their devotion to science, or good policy, or sound economics, or sex scandals, or whatever. Indeed, I suspect that being able to handle intense cognitive dissonance on this very point is the key to a happy and successful life inside the beltway. On the other hand, the rarest of things inside the beltway is an actual liberal, someone who thinks that government should limit itself to activities related to actual public goods and that government has not more, but rather less, moral status than private sector firms and non-profits precisely because its customers pay for its products not voluntarily but under threat of force. And, at least in my experience, even the most strident of red and blue partisans outside the beltway have a helpful tempering of reality and good manners that makes them ever so much more pleasant to be around than their beltway-bound counterparts.

DC is the only place I am aware of where personals ads often list party affiliations. It's singles scene is, in the memorable words of the original Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox,  "the special olympics of sex". It is also a city chock full of people full of pride at their devotion to "public service" and love of "community" who pass up most or all of the chances they have to actually be nice to other people. This is particularly the case while they are driving, presumably in the belief that getting to their alphabet soup agency three minutes earlier so that they can begin their important work of making the pie smaller trumps any concerns with civility or safety on the road.

So, if you like good restaurants mixed in with lots of sanctimony, subsidized high quality leisure activities mixed in with the bizarre view that the daily battle of talking points and misleading statistics actually matters, as well as wretched traffic and bad schools, DC is the place for you. As for me, I'll take Ann Arbor anytime.

Kinesiology professors gone wild

A sad story of too much exercise, or at least too much talking and writing about exercise, leading to gang membership and meth production for a Kinesiology professor at Cal State San Bernadino. There is also a New York Times version of the story.

Our Kinesiology professors at Michigan are nowhere near this exciting, but likely have better research records.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

A notable rejection letter

Sub Pop records lays it on the line.

More accolades for Michigan

The website has ranked Michigan number two, right after UT Austin and right before Harvard, on its list of most sex-friendly colleges. There's a video report from some sort of on-line student news service linked to on Damn Arbor.

In contrast, Michigan's football opponent this coming Saturday, Notre Dame, makes it onto's list of top five sexually most conservative campuses. Does this mean that their players will be more frustrated and distracted, or more focused on football? We'll see next week.