Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fist bump

I thought at first the subject line was a typo and it was "fist pump" that was intended, but no, apparently I have missed, until receiving an email from a colleague, the very important news that the Saint Obama and his charming wife have had a public fist bump. I actually had to do a google to find out a fist bump might be. Sad to be so out of touch.

According to the NY Daily News:

The affectionate 11-second exchange before Obama claimed victory as the democratic presidential nominee Tuesday emphasized Obama's youth and ability to transcend the stereotyped political gestures of campaigns past, experts said.

"I would imagine to a young voter, this was another sign that these people are one of us," said psychologist Drew Westen, author of "The Political Brain: The Role Of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation."
Am I the only one who finds this digital transendance just a bit sick-making?

Oh, and Mr. Westen ought to give his Ph.D. back and head to intellectual rehab.

Addendum: The article includes a picture of Al and Tipper making out. Best not to click through if you've just eaten.

Addednum 2: As I write this my high school friend Erik Oswald is on the TV telling me about research at ExxonMobil. Talk about odd.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

So it comes to this. Washington has not won a football game in over a year. They are soon to have their fifth coach in a decade. I am watching the Civil War and cheering for Oregon State over Oregon. A wins sends Oregon State to their first Rose Bowl since I was three years old.

If you had described this scenario to me back in college when Washington was regularly visiting the Rose Bowl and Oregon State was winning one or two games a year, I would have said you were reading science fiction.

When will our long national nightmare come to an end?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Helping people can be harder than it seems

Thai brothel workers list their reasons for not wanting to be "rescued" by outsiders seeking to do good.

Hat tip: Kerry Howley

On libertarian feminism (and broader related issues)

I had a discussion with Jim Heckman many years ago in which he described a disagreement he had had with Richard Epstein at Chicago about separating out state oppression of blacks from what might be called social oppression of blacks. In the post-bellum south, he had argued, the two were largely one in the same and thus both difficult to separate and perhaps also not that useful to separate.

Along those lines, I think it is a narrow view indeed to assume that the best society can be obtained simply by figuring out how to restrain the state to the provision of public goods combined with thoughtful redistribution. Surely this would help, but it would not be enough. A society with such a modest state could still be a distinctly illiberal state, depending on what was happening with its culture. Social actions can be oppressive just like the over-armed agents of the state; that this oppression takes somewhat different forms makes it no less real. This, to me, is part of the appeal of thinking of myself as a classical liberal rather than a libertarian, as classical liberal thought extends its purview well beyond just questions of governmental size and scope.

I was reminded of this line of thinking by reading this piece by Reason's Kerry Howley on the relationship between libertarianism and feminism. Here's a taste:
Libertarians spend an enormous amount of time telling people that they are, in fact, oppressed. We don’t call it “consciousness raising” when we explain why you ought to be able to shoot up while selling your kidney to a sex worker, but that’s what it is.
Hat tip: Julian Sanchez

A shocking doctrine?

A nice, quick all-you-need-to-know rebuttal of Naomi Klein and the Shock Doctrine here.

Atlas Shrugged humor

This Atlas Shrugged parody had me laughing out loud many times (which seemed to greatly puzzle little Elizabeth, who is the only other person at home right now).

She sat across the desk from him. She appeared casual but confident, a slim body with rounded shoulders like an exquisitely engineered truss. How he hated his debased need for her, he who loathed self-sacrifice but would give up everything he valued to get in her pants ... Did she know?

Pun intended. We are a bit pun-deprived here at Michigan with Jim Hines on leave this year.

Hat tip: marginal revolution

Monday, November 24, 2008

Burtless on the Bailing out the Big Three

Gary Burtless of Brookings offers his views here. He favors a bailout with tough conditions rather than some form of bankruptcy, whether guided or not. Some of the arguments are familiar and, I think, weak. These have to do with reductions in demand due to bankruptcy. These issues are, of course, empirical questions. It would be nice to see some evidence on them from either side of the debate. Absent that, it seems clear that auto companies can offer third-party warranties and that a parts market will continue to exist as long as willing buyers exist. In terms of the parts market, the situation is no different from someone buying a model that is being replaced just prior to its replacement. A simple analysis of, for example, the effect of the elimination of the Buick brand on the resale price of Buicks would add a lot of value here.

The argument Gary makes about the government having already bailed out AIG and other financial institutions is a complete red herring, as Gary, being quite a smart fellow in my experiences with him, surely knows. The industries are different, the problems with the firms are different and "equal treatment" is not a good basis for policy in this area.

Gary seems to assign a much higher probability to the Big Three firms disappearing under bankruptcy than I do. This is odd, because it suggests that he has a more negative view about the firms' long term economic viability than I do. If the firms are not viable, they should go under. I suspect they are viable with new labor contracts and with their pension obligations partly offloaded on the government and partly reduced through cuts. The necessary trimming seems to me more likely to occur in a bankruptcy court, which is not subject to lobbying, than in Congress where the setting of ostensibly tough conditions is likely to fall victim to lobbying by the firms themselves and their friends in the UAW. That is part of what the private jets are for, after all. The counterargument on this score is the Chrysler experience, where conditions were imposed that apparently aided firm viability. More empirical evidence on this score would be useful as well, to sort out the effects of the conditions applied as part of the bailout from general economic improvements.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Brand spanking

Your chance to spank your brand here.

Marketing is one of my counterfactual careers choices, along with architecture and IT.

Brad DeLong tries to adjust the thermostat

Brad DeLong opines on the thermostat model in his discussion of Felix Salmon's reaction to Bush's speech about markets. Here is the key bit:
Oh, come on. The problem with Frannie wasn't "government involvement in the market" -- it was government deliberately exempting Fannie and Freddie from the capital-adequacy rules which applied to everybody else, and thereby encouraging them to maximize the amount of leverage they took on -- all in the name of "encouraging homeownership". What we needed was precisely more government: a Frannie regulator with teeth, and a government which refused to let nominally-private corporations lever up to obviously-dangerous levels. The implicit government guarantee wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for the amount of leverage involved.
The question is: which one is "more government"? Is it the out of control Frannie and Freddie or is it the regulated Fannie and Freddie? Is it more government when the government sets up a stupid regulatory inconsistency (and one that just happens to generate a lot of perks for people in Congress) which can in some sense be viewed as "less" or is it more government when the government applies regulation consistently, which happens to be smart in the second-best sense that if you are going to have Fannie and Freddie (itself not so obviously a good idea) you should at least not exempt them from the same rules as other similar private entities? I think Brad's post does a good job of illustrating the general weakness of the thermostat model of government and its lack of value as an analytical tool. What you want is the right kind of government, something that a simplistic more or less view captures only at the crudest level.

Still more on the auto bailout

Lynne Kiesling offers her views here, and also cites this WSJ piece. Best bit from Lynne:
I hope we have the courage to take the bottle from Uncle Bob and tell him that we are doing it for his, and our, long-run health.
Dave Kusnet, a former Clinton speechwriter, offers some thoughts on private-jet-gate, the minor squall about the big three executives coming to DC to beg for money in their private jets rather than on commercial flights. I think Kusnet is correct to emphasize the importance of CEOs and other executives paying attention to the messages they send and, more broadly, to the corporate culture they create. Many executives are remarkably tone deaf on this score, to the detriment of their firms and shareholders. At the same time, it is important to recognize that there is a market for CEOs that spans industries; thus, it does not make a lot of sense to demand low CEO pay in the auto industry given that doing so would only mean that auto companies would be handicapped in the market for CEOs and so likely end up with low quality ones (keeping in mind, of course, that even with high salaries they have a long history of bad management).

Kusnets reference to Boeing is insightful in a way he does not note. Boeing can get away with having strong unions covering basically all its workers because it is essentially a monopolist. It's only real competitor is in France, which faces even more onerous labor market restrictions than a strong US union can provide. It is the rise of competition in the decades after WW2 that made strong unions untenable for the Big Three US auto makers, which enjoyed a comfortable oligopoly after the WW2 destroyed the capital stock in pretty much every other developed country.

As an aside, Lynne Kiesling played a role in pushing me into blogging by offering me a guest spot on Knowledge Problem when we met at a mutual friend's wedding. I didn't take up the offer because I didn't feel like I would fit that well with the usual topics at KP, but the offer lingered in my mind and helped push me to create this blog.

UK prostitution law changes

The UK is revising its prostitution laws to make it a crime to purchase sex from a woman who has been "trafficked" with lack of knowledge of the woman's status not a defense. It is important to know as background to this that some forms of prostitution are legal in the UK, with the framework similar, but not the same as, that in Canada.

In thinking about the likely effects of the new law, my mind turned to laws against buying stolen property. Presumably there is some standard here that protects innocent consumers while not shielding knowing ones. Here is one legal website - probably not the best one. It suggests something like a reasonable person test. If you buy something at Macy's, you should be able to rely on it not being stolen. If you buy it from a guy in a truck by the side of the road who keeps looking suspiciously at every passing car, and you pay about 10 percent of the market price, you do not have a reasonable expectation that the good is not stolen.

The article suggests that the Brits do not intend to have such a reasonable person test, though one suspects that is how the law will evolve in any case. The article notes that there have not been any prosecutions in Finland, which has a similar law. At the same time, the law should be a boon to native British sellers of sex and a bane to those who, without being trafficked, come from lower income places within the EU to make some money. Perhaps it will be challenged under the EU's rules prohibiting trade restraints against other EU members?

It is interesting and somewhat surprising that the "English Collective of Prostitutes" (imagine those meetings) oppose the new rules to indirectly limit their competition. The new rules should raise market prices generally, which should reduce the quantity demanded of paid sex and increase the quantity demanded of substitutes, such as sex with unpaid female companions found in bars and on places like As such, the net public health effect may be a negative one, to the extent that prostitutes are more likely to use protection.

Rhetoric and realization

And so it goes from "Change You Can Believe In" to "We're All Eight Years Older Now".

Putting aside Eric Holder, who has a weak record on drugs, guns and other civil liberties, I am pleasantly surprised so far and pleased with Larry Summers getting an important role.

Share the joy with National Review (and it worries me that they are happy too - it suggests I should be less happy about Obama's defense picks) or share the sorrow with the Progressive.

The power of symbols

The Economist details a fascinating study on how symbols affect more choices. Key bit:
Physical purification, in other words, produces a more relaxed attitude to morality. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Pontius Pilate is portrayed in the Bible as washing his hands of the decision to crucify Jesus. Something to think about for those who feel that purification rituals bring them closer to God.
Whole thing here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

As low as it goes

Ohio State 42 Michigan 7

Michigan stayed in the game until the third quarter and then collapsed.

Washington State 16, Washington 13 (2OT)

Washington outplayed WSU in regulation but missed two field goals, and then missed another in the second overtime.

Seattle Times coverage here.

I'm glad this season is over for Michigan and one loss away for UW.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Movie: Quantum of Solace

We saw the new Bond movie Quantum of Solace last night. I liked it quite a lot, Lisa liked it but not quite as much. It is, even more than the last one, a very different sort of Bond movie: angry and tough without the light touches that have always characterized the series. Bond makes exactly one sarcastic retort that I caught. Q is completely absent. Bond's relation to women is different too. While he beds one slightly ditzy British consulate worker in Bolivia, he never beds the female co-star; instead, they just, dare I say it, bond a lot because they both have scores to settle.

So do not go in expecting the usual Bond movie and you will probably like it. Expect a reprise of Bond movies past and you will be disappointed.

Economics 101 cultural experience

As part of the review process for our non-tenure-track lecturers, tenure track faculty sit in on a couple of lectures and write a report about their experience. Yesterday, I sat in on a lecture in Economics 101, given in the Lorch Hall auditorium to about 250 students.

It struck me as I sat there that this may have been the first time I had ever been in an economics lecture class with more than 75 students, either as a student or a professor. I managed to avoid such classes in my undergraduate days at Washington by hiding out in the honors program and I have never had to teach one as I teach mainly graduate courses, undergraduate regression (around 70 students both at Michigan and Maryland) and various honors seminars. So yesterday was a real cultural experience for me.

I sat in back with the slackers. The fellow to my left had his sullen face wrapped in one of those hoodies; he looked like someone who would figure in the opening scene of a Law and Order episode. To my right was someone playing games on his mobile phone while ahead of him another fellow improved his solitaire skills on his laptop. I use the first instance of behavior like this in my econometrics class - this year it was a female student reading the newspaper during a lecture - to announce that I would prefer that students either pay attention or stay home. Saying it once seems to have the desired effect. The rest of the kids around me in Economics 101 were actually paying attention in one way or another.

At the end of class, the students were astoundingly rude, both to the instructor and to their fellow students. The noise level rose noticeably about five minutes before the end of the lecture and continued at a high level as the instructor raised her voice to overcome the suffling and packing.

One student asked for an example of a firm that engages in price discrimination during the corresponding part of the lecture. To my surprise, the instructor did not give what would seem the most obvious and salient answer - namely the University of Michigan - but instead gave an obscure answer about some business services company. Maybe giving the obvious answer would be a bit too much honesty for the Economics 101 students.

The class featured a display of technology I had heard about but not seen. The students had remotes that they could use to answer a question in real time during the lecture. This allowed the instructor to determine how well the students were grasping the material. About 2/3 of the students got the correct answer to a very simple question about two-part pricing. I can imagine using this technology in a class but I wonder how they keep the students from losing the remotes or from forgetting to bring them to class.

Rodriguez honeymoon still on

Official Michigan puff piece - it turns out losing eight (soon to be nine) games is a lot like growing up poor in West Virginia - here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will Wilkinson on the Big Three Bailout

Lots of good stuff here, with links to more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reuters and response rates

Yahoo! is presently featuring this piece on a study by something called the Physicians' Foundation. The key bits are

The Physicians' Foundation, founded in 2003 as part of a settlement in an anti-racketeering lawsuit among physicians, medical societies, and insurer Aetna, Inc., mailed surveys to 270,000 primary care doctors and 50,000 practicing specialists.

The 12,000 answers are considered representative of doctors as a whole, the group said, with a margin of error of about 1 percent. It found that 78 percent of those who answered believe there is a shortage of primary care doctors.

A brief bout of division indicates that the Physicians' Foundation achieved a glorious response rate of 12,000 / 320,000 or 3.75 percent. This is quite low even by the low standards of direct mail surveys.

Put differently, this study is completely meaningless. What seems pretty clearly to have happened is that very unhappy physicians responded, but no one else did.

Reuters reports this straight up, and even suggests that the 3.75 percent of those responding are "representative" of all physicians. Why would one possibly think that? Moreover, in this context, reporting the "margin of error" due to sampling is misleading in the extreme, given its relative unimportance compared to selective non-response.


Mandatory collegiality in Denmark

Details here. Thankfully,

'The greeting requirement will only affect pedestrians. We obviously prefer that cyclists and motorists concentrate on the traffic over greeting someone.'

I hope no one tells the administration at Michigan about this idea.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Monday, November 17, 2008

Parliamentarians and prostitutes

A story here about Danish prostitutes taking issue with the EU not allowing members of the European Parliament (that is what MEP stands for in the story) to stay in hotels that have contact with prostitutes.

Surely the European Parliament has something more important to do than this?

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Advice for Obama from Greg Mankiw

Advice here; it is wise and moderate in the usual Mankiw style.

I would add:

1) Appoint an economist or close substitute to run the Institute of Education Sciences, not an old-school ed-school person who will reverse its focus on research that clearly identifies the causal effects of policy relevant interventions.

2) Create an analog to the Institute for Education Sciences in the Department of Labor to guide a research program built around the estimation of clearly identified causal effects of policy relevant interventions.

3) Appoint a real chief economist to the Department of Labor. Clinton had Larry Katz, Alan Krueger, Lisa Lynch, Harry Holzer and Ed Montgomery. Bush treated this as a public relations office and appointed people with no stature within academic economics.

4) Appoint a Secretary of Labor who is sympathetic to labor but not a toady of the AFL-CIO. The aforementioned Ed Montgomery, my colleague and then my dean at Maryland after returning from a stint in the Clinton-era Department of Labor, would make a most excellent choice.

Addendum: Ed Montgomery made it onto the labor/education part of the transition team, which is listed here. No other names I recognice though, in either the labor/education or the HHS parts of the list.

Addendum 2: Sigh.

Bailing out the Big Three

What to do about the big three automakers? I am old enough to recall the last time they were surprised by rising oil prices. It is not very clever of them to be surprised again, though the leader to this article suggests it was not really a surprise, just an inability to act.

Their most recent labor contracts are getting down into a range where the wages can at least shout to the marginal products, which is good, but the legacy of past contracts where the two could not even see each other through the telescope linger on, as do decades of poor management and an adversarial corporate culture poorly suited to the times.

My thought is that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is just what the firms need. I think two of the arguments that have been against this are silly, the third is sensible but one that I cannot really evaluate. The silly ones are that customers will not buy from the big three because of concerns over warranties or spare parts. The first of these is easily solved by the auto companies, which can package their cars with third party warranties. The second is easily solved by recalling that parts firms like to make money and if there is a market for parts, someone will produce them. The more sensible argument is that there will not be credit available to finance the big three while they are in Chapter 11. I suspect that clear signals by the firms, the unions and the politicians that cost structures will be changed in ways ensure firm persistence would take care of this one as well but I do not know enough about the credit market for firms in Chapter 11 to rely solely on my own views.

More thoughts and links here from MR this morning. They quote Bruce Bartlett to the effect that Obama needs to use this occasion to show that he can't be "rolled" or it will be a long (and expensive) next four (eight?) years.

Full disclosure: a bailout would probably have a positive direct effect on me by helping out the budget of the state of Michigan, which provides about a quarter of the funding for the university, with the remainder coming from our endowment, tuition and research overhead.

Addendum: a positive case from Jeff Sachs and a negative case from Gary Becker. Sachs adds an additional argument about resale value being an issue under Chapter 11. Presumably this is an empirical question that one can address by looking at brands that have disappeared in the recent past, such as AMC. Hat tip to Greg Mankiw on these.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

UMMA: The Infinite Landscape

We were out walking little E today in the (light) snow and stopped off for a warm 45 minutes at the remote site of the University of Michigan Museum of Art to see their current exhibit of landscape photographs from their collection. You can actually see many of the images on-line by following the link, but will miss the fun of watching E eat crackers while you view the art. The images range widely in age and location and provided a wonderfully quiet interlude of contemplation this afternoon.

For readers not in A2, UMMA has a remote site because their main building on the central campus is being remodeled and expanded, a project that will reach completion early in 2009. For readers in A2, UMMA is well worth a visit every month or two.

Nanny corporations: Craig's List and prostitution

Craig's List has taken measures to reduce the amount of spam in the parts of its on-line advertisements related to "casual encounters" and "erotic services" but at the same time apparently feels the need to lecture its users about prostitution and to try to reduce the number of voluntary transactions taking place via its websites. I suppose part of this is necessary to avoid the attention of rogue (is there some other kind?) state attorney generals looking for newspaper coverage in advance of running for governor or senator but it is a shame to see corporations taking the lead in implicitly supporting illiberal laws. Ebay did much the same thing a few years ago when it ramped up regulation of the adult part of its auction site.

McCain and Palin's silly attack on "socialism"

I am not usually an enthusiastic reader of George Will (or, indeed, any other sort of reader of George Will) but the column I read today over lunch in the Ann Arbor News struck me as right on target. The McCain/Palin push about "socialism" was silly and completely hypocritical given the Republican's performance under Bush II.

Here are some good bits:
... falsely shouting "socialism!" in a crowded theater such as Washington causes an epidemic of yawning. This is the only major industrial society that has never had a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth. This is partly because Americans are an aspirational, not an envious, people. It is also because the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g., sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking -- bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

Read the whole thing. I cannot recall ever reading Will sounding so (classical) liberal.

Northwestern 21 Michigan 14

Michigan was in it more or less all the way but seemed pretty uninspired about it. The weather was miserable (though oddly there seemed to be a lot more snow at the Big House than at our house, 10 blocks away).

Michigan thus obtained its first eight-loss season in the history of the school. Yowza!

I'm guessing that they do not win in Columbus next week, so they can set a record for the number of losses that will likely (hopefully?) stand for quite a while.

UCLA 27 UW 7

Washington fell to UCLA 27-7 yesterday and as a result lost all of its home games for the first time since 1894. Neither team played very well but in the end UCLA played less badly. Attendance was down to about 40,000 despite the opportunity to hurl boos at slick Rick Neuheisel upon his return to Husky stadium.

As a bit of icing on the cake, the UW basketball team was upset in their opener against Portland State.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Change you can believe in

"If some of them happen to also be involved in fundraising, that’s simply a coincidence."

Agitator post and link to underlying USA Today article on the fundraising prowess of Obama's transition team here.

World War One color photographs

Der Spiegel, the German equivalent of Time magazine publishes a set of color photographs from WW1. The set of photos included with the article includes pictures by both a French and a German photographer. After the war, both of them ended up working for National Geographic.

Hat tip: the Agitator

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is feminism all wet?

Second wave and third wave feminism do battle in a Danish municipal pool. The gist:

After a successful campaign by the Socialist People's Party to allow women to go topless at city swimming halls, employees at the facilities report that they have not seen a single bare-breasted female in their pools.

Full report here. Seems like somehow the Danes are having more fun than the rest of us.

I bet the socialist workers would get more votes here in the US if they put more emphasis on their policy on topless pools and less emphasis on their views about freeing Mumia and nationalizing the means of production.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Regulating the sex industry

The economist has some thoughts here. My sense is that the New Zealand model has worked pretty well. The Canadian model, which I observed while living in Canada, also seems to work well. It bans streetwalking, which avoids negative externalities, and tries to set up an environment in which sex workers are sole proprietors. Unlike some European countries, which have adopted a sort of full-time occupational model, complete with social insurance and the like for sex work, the Canadian model comports easily with occasional and part-time particpation, which presumably allows sex work to play a consumption-smoothing role for women with low or uncertain incomes from their regular work.

To my surprise, San Francisco's Proposition K, which would have decriminalized sex work (just in time for all the economists who will roll into town in January) was defeated in last Tuesday's election by a margin of 58 percent to 42. The "yes" website, which reports the results, is here.

Finally, a view on the Danish model in the form of this report from Denmark about a disabled man who is suing his local government to have it pay the cost of having a prostitute visit him in his home. Teaser:

Mr Hansen started seeing a prostitute after attending a course at a social centre.

There, he and other disabled people were taught that if they had needs, they "could do something about it".

Hat tip (on the Danish news): Lars Skipper

Friday, November 7, 2008

GSB sells itself at last

I really thought that GSB, the Graduate School of Business at Chicago, would never sell its naming rights. But it has, to someone called Booth, for $300 million.

An hedonic analysis of how much it costs to buy a business school name would make a nice undergraduate paper.

McCain could have won with this

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports on the mysterious absence of the BCS from the just-concluded (halleleujah!) election campaign.

Same as the old boss

How to think about the upcoming Obama presidency? Nick Gillespie of Reason offers three predictions here. They can be summed up as: more of the same with different branding.

In fact, I will make explicit the hypothesis that Nick leaves implicit: you can make a very strong argument that Obama is really out third democrat president in a row. Other than stem cells, abortion and, maybe (or maybe not, the more I think about it), aggrandizing the executive, everything he did is standard issue democrat presidential behavior: profligate domestic spending (he channels LBJ - is it something about Texas?), moralistic foreign wars (channeling Woodrow Wilson, JFK and LBJ - WMD are the Gulf of Tonkin of the 21st century), moral scolding (channeling JFK on what you can do for your country and Tipper Gore on popular culture), more drug war insanity (channeling the Clintons and also, of course, for the children) and federalizing government primary and secondary education (channeling every president at least since LBJ).

Indeed, and quite seriously, it has always puzzled me why the democrats disliked Bush so much when all he did was expand government size and power, just as they would have done but with a different color of paint. I recognize that there are segments of the democrat coalition who do not like individual aspects of this policy portfolio, but they are minority segments, soon to be very disappointed when, as Nick predicts, Obama does just what the generals tell him to do in Iraq, just what the FBI tells him to do on domestic surveillance and so on.

Addendum: In response to the last paragraph, a reader writes "Envy: people always resent those who show them up by doing a better job than they can at their self regarded specialty."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama supporter stereotypes

If you look up "on target" in the dictionary, you get to this Onion video.

Hat tip: Don Hacherl

Addendum: the Onion is also right about this.

Disciplinary stereotypes

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Larry, Vindicated

Greg Mankiw links to a post by Mark Perry on disciplinary differences in GRE scores.

You can find a longer and older discussion of this in my one of the my favorite articles in the Journal of Labor Economics by Paglin and Rufolo. A gated version is here.

These disciplinary differences are very real and leads to a number of thoughts:

First, it is important to remember that these are means. There are plenty of people in sociology and political science with very high GRE scores. This becomes very apparent at a place like Michigan that has top departments (higher ranked in their respective disciplines than economics is) in both fields.

Second, at schools outside the top 30 in economics interdisciplinary work is often difficult because the quality of economics departments falls off much less rapidly than the quality of political science and sociology departments.

Third, these patterns in scores across fields result in part from the types of work done in various fields. Students who are not good at math select into fields where formal theoretical work and high tech econometrics / statistics play a smaller role. Even within economics, there is clear sorting into subfields such as highbrow theory and theoretical econometrics based on math skills.

Fourth, economics benefits in many ways, as a field, from the decision to be quite technical. First, the technical requirements sort a lot of ideologues into other fields. Second, we do not spend a lot of disciplinary energy fighting over the relative importance of qualitative and quantitative work within economics. Such fighting in sociology and political science wastes huge amounts of time and intellectual energy. There are also costs, though, in things like the marginalizing of economic history in the profession.

Theories of voting

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution is in full curmudgeon mode with this bit, but I think he is completely correct. I think economists really underestimate the extent to which "expressive" motives explain behavior.

Why did I vote for the first time since college? A combination of things I think: some peer pressure, a lower cost as noted in an earlier post, and the opportunity to actually vote yes on something I care about - in this case the two initiatives on stem cells and medical marijuana. I did not end up collecting any free stuff for voting though there was plenty on offer in Ann Arbor.

Voting at Angell School in Ann Arbor with all my professor / lawyer / doctor neighbors also has a different feel to it than voting at the local middle school in Renton Washington where my parents lived and being in line with stoner chicks wearing Ozzy Osbourne t-shirts. On the other hand, the miracle that anything works at all is more obvious in Renton.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How did the LP do?

Complete results here. Getting under 500K votes and coming in fourth after the majors and Ralph Nader (is he still alive?) is a real disappointment for the Libertarian party, which had visions of a million votes given it was running well-known former Republican congressperson Bob Barr as its candidate.

Hat tip to Nick Gillespie at reason for finding this link; I still have not figured out how to get to it from the main CNN election page.

Innovation in sports

Cool story here about a high school football coach who read the rules and developed a clever new formation with two quarterbacks and lots of eligible receivers.

Hat tip: the agitator

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Michigan ballot initiatives

I voted (for the first time since I was in college) mainly because the cost was lower and because of the two initiatives on the ballot in Michigan. I walk past my polling place every day on my way to work and I walked back to it in the mid-afternoon to vote and had no line at all.

The ballot initiatives seek to allow medical marijuana and to roll back some additional restrictions on stem cell research in Michigan beyond those imposed by the federal government. CNN has just called the medical marijuana initiative for the "yes" side; to my surprise it is about 10 points ahead of the stem cell initiative. There must be a lot of pro-life stoners out that there that I was unaware of. The stem cell initiative is leading too, but only 53-47 and so remains too close to call at this point.

Addendum: the stem cell initiative passed too.


I agree with the fellow on Fox News who said that, regardless of what you think of his policies, for an African-American to win a presidential election is indeed "America at its grandest".

Let's hope he does not waste this on ideological crap like card check and the fairness doctrine.

Addendum: McCain gave a very classy concession speech. His audience was a bit less classy.

Addendum 2: Here is reason's take on the concession speech from Matt Welch, who is no fan of McCain.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Should you vote?

Things seem remarkably calm today, given that the Second Coming is tomorrow.

Here is an argument in favor of voting from the Economist's Voice; there is related discussion on here.

The argument hinges criticially on the idea that you, the reader, knows that one candidate rather than another will lead to a large increase in the size of the pie. It also seems to hinge on one not caring about how the pie is distributed either in the sense of equality of outcomes or in the sense of fairness and efficiency of process. I am not surprised I suppose that the authors think they know of a candidate who would increase the size of the pie enough to justify voting without assigning utility from warm glow. However, I think their intellectual hubris in this regard is unjustified. There are way too many variables and the disconnect between what candidates say before an election and what they do afterwards is just too large. Think about FDR, who ran as a budget-balancer, or Bush II and his promised "humble" foreign policy.

I may vote tomorrow because I will get a warm glow from voting in favor of stem cell research (which also will pragmatically help UM get more grant money and attract good researchers) and in favor of loosening the restrictions on medical marijuana.

Legal caveat: Though UM President Mary Sue Coleman's email to the entire university came perilously close to urging a "no" vote on Prop. 2, in our capacity as university employees we are forbidden from using university resources to support or hinder particular ballot propositions or candidates. This posting is being done on my home computer (which is not owned by the university) and on my own time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

USC 56 Washington 0

I think Washington has only beaten the spread twice this year in eight games.

Not pretty at all, though they played pretty even against the second team.

This is the fourth-worst loss in Washington history.

Wonder who the new coach will be.

Purdue 48 Michigan 42

This one was great fun to watch - especially the fake punt and lateral-after-the-pass trick plays by Purdue - but it was not exactly a brilliant defensive show by Michigan.

I am guessing this will be another 0-2 day for me.

Addendum: ND loses in quadruple overtime to Pitt after trying some hocus-pocus with the automatic sprinklers, so the day may not be a total loss.

News flash: price, quantity related

NYT discovers downward sloping demand curves.

Surely the end times are upon us.


Some thoughts on Tyrone Willingham from the LA Times.

I share the view that Tyrone's performance at Washington does not excuse his firing at Notre Dame. That firing has to be judged in light of the information available at the time the decision was made.

Washington is a 46 point (!!) underdog to USC today, which appears to be both the largest line ever against UW in the history of the team and also the largest line ever between two PAC-10 teams.