Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Idle hands

Yowza. Doesn't anyone have a normal hobby like collecting stamps any more?

Hat tip: Mario Macis (who is not the anti-christ, even in Italian)

Honesty in out-of-the-office announcements

I received this today:
[Charming Friend] is out of the office on annual leave from 11 July until 31 July using up a backlog of holiday. She will check emails every now and again for important project issues and because it is an addictive habit. So there will be some delay to any response.
You can't ever really stop checking email. At least I can't. That's why I don't have a phone that lets me do it when I am not near a computer. I don't want to be like those sad crackberry addicts who think no one sees them when they check emails under the table at meetings and conferences. Surely there is a government program for this?

Rocket Man goes to Alaska

Can you ever have too much William Shatner?

Hat tip: Kim Ross

Monday, July 27, 2009

Assorted links

1. When the Germans go native (American)

2. Weird Al on Weird MJ

3. Top 10 party schools for 2009

4. Wells Fargo sues Wells Fargo

5. What Richard Nixon would have said if the Apollo 11 astronauts got stuck on the moon.

Hat tips: Austin Kelly and the Good S**t blog

Ross School #5

The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan is #5 in the latest Business Week ratings.


Hat tip: Mario Macis

The meaning of the Gates arrest

Radley Balko has an excellent piece on the deeper meaning of this still somewhat confused affair. Key bit:

In the wake of both Gates and Obama escalating the arrest into a national debate about race, too many conservatives took the instinctively authoritarian tack represented here by Washington Post staff writer Neely Tucker:

One of the common-sense rules of life can be summed up this way: Don't Mess With Cops.

It doesn't matter if you are right, wrong, at home or on the street, or if you are white, black, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim or whatever. When an armed law enforcement officer tells you to cease and desist, the wise person (a) ceases and (b) desists.

The End.

Perhaps on an individual level, this is sound advice. As a general rule, you ought not provoke someone carrying a gun, whether your criticism is justified or not. As a broader sentiment, however, it shows a dangerous level of deference to the government agents in whom we entrust a massive amount of power. And it comes awfully close to writing a blank check for police misconduct.

Speaking truth to power. Amen.

The Gates Affair

The battle continues for control of the narrative surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.

A rightish commentator asks to see all the evidence. This seems reasonable enough to me.

A leftish commentator suggests that the real issue is more one of class than of race, though the interaction term is lurking around too.

Many police officers likely do not assign college professors the same exalted status that professors tend to assign themselves. This is presumably why a lot of universities run their own police departments, which can then be focused on the goals of the university and whose officers can be tutored in the academic hierarchy.

I recall when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago that the undergraduates organized something called "Nancy Reagan Smoke Dope on Campus Day" on the central quadrangle. The university police duly surrounded the central quadrangle and did a fine job of ensuring that no one from "outside of the area" (as the U of C liked to say) wandered into the student protest, which was otherwise undisturbed by them. Class, indeed.

Minimum wage humor

Hat tip: Dan Black

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Assorted links

1. Ed Glaeser on high-speed rail.

2. A tasty sex scandal from Tennessee.

3. Cases like this one are what make law so interesting.

4. On faculty-student ratios in economics and political science (and you should read the underlying article by my friends Bill Johnson and Sarah Turner).

5. Awful album covers.

Daily Show on the "birthers"

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

The right seem bent on non-stop self-parody. That's too bad, because a serious opposition to the left could make a lot of headway just now, given that the left is in full pandering mode only six months into a new administration.

Minimum wages

Here is yesterday's NYT editorial on the minimum wage. Yesterday, as in 2009, not 1937.

You might think that a newspaper that poses as the newspaper "of record" would assign someone to write an editorial about the minimum wage who had (a) at some point encountered an economics class, (b) at some point had learned about the policy environment relevant to low-wage workers and (c) at some point actually read the literature around the minimum wage. I guess those folks were busy doing something else yesterday and so someone else was assigned to phone it in.

You would never know from the NYT editorial that:

1) The labor demand curve slopes down. I've posted before on the issues with the evidence on minimum wages, and reasonable people can certainly differ on the size of the short-run and long-run elasticities, but on the sign I think we are pretty clear.

2) The minimum wage is incredibly poorly targeted relative to other policy instruments designed to accomplish the same or similar ends. Put differently, the vast majority of minimum wage workers are not the primary earners in their households.

3) The EITC means that many minimum wage workers (and other low wage workers more generally) have incomes substantially above what one might think by just multiplying some number of hours by the minimum wage. More broadly, it is important to discuss the minimum wage in a broader policy context rather than in isolation.

4) The minimum wage serves to raise the relative price of non-union labor and of labor in low-wage parts of the country (i.e. the south). This fact has much to do with the patterns of political support for minimum wage increases.

5) There is reasonably good evidence that raising the minimum wage increases high school dropout, just as the simplest possible economic model would predict. You do not increase the accumulation of human capital by reducing the return to accumulating it.

6) Wages and product prices may be related through some mysterious mechanism.

So, to sum up, the NYT editorial is ignorant of the relevant literature, ignorant of the relevant policy environment and, as a result, misleading on the facts.

Remind me again why people take the NYT seriously?

Of course, the NYT piece is not quite as a off-planet as this bit from Znet where "the spirit of resistance lives." Apparently today they are resisting reading the relevant literature.

Comradely hat tip:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Canadian Border Follies

The fine young men at motorhome diaries attempt to visit our neighbor to the north.

Tasty bit:
The border bureaucrat #17225 noted that in her previous conversation with Jason she had been told that some friends of friends knew some people in Canadian government and that if and when Pete and Jason attempted to cross the border again it would help their chances to have an invitation from such people. Pete was also told that if he and Jason had a different image - “If you wore a tie” – they likely wouldn’t’ have been questioned/investigated so heavily.
In thinking about Canada, it is useful to recall that 225 years ago a separating equilibrium was generated in which all the people who liked government and hierarchy moved north while those who did not like them stayed south. Though that was a long time ago, it still explains a lot of observed variation - including the tie comment. The median voter in Canada trusts the Canadian government. The median voter in the US does not trust the US government. That matters for outcomes.

In my experience the danger with looking too professional at the border is that they will think you are on business and will try to make you buy an employment visa. In earlier years I tended to dress down rather than up for my border crossings when I am not with my family, and to indicate to the border agent that I was visiting friends (if the visit is long enough to make that plausible) rather than on a work trip. This had the virtue of being true but incomplete rather than false. This strategy usually worked well except for the time I was going to Ottawa for an HRSDC conference that ended up in the same hotel as the G-8 meetings. The combination of my reservation for the hotel hosting the G-8 meetings (which was at the time surrounded by a temporary fence, lots of government agents and a lot of young people milling about and hoping for some excitement), my claim to be visiting friends and my downscale attire sent my young female border agent into a bit of a tizzy, with the result that she searched my briefcase and called my dinner companion for the evening, a former honors student from Western Ontario working in Ottawa for the federal government, and asked her whether I deserved admission into Canada. Fortunately, my friend answered correctly and we were only an hour late for dinner.

Also in terms of what not to do at the border, I heard a story once from some Canadian friends about a high-powered US academic who got questioned a bit too much for his taste by the Canadian border agent and told him or her that "I make more in a month than you make in a year" (or something to that effect). According to the story, the high-powered academic spent the day at the border visiting with border agents and missed his conference.

I should note too, in fairness, that my general experience from quite a number of border crossings, and from hosting many foreign friends in both the US and Canada, is that Canadian border agents are, on average, less bureaucratic and less prone to the sort of petty power plays that afflicted the motorhome diary men than their US counterparts.

Why Johnny Can't Read

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

Hat tip: David Figlio

Friday, July 24, 2009

That modeling feeling

This post by Andrew Gelman is the best blog post I have read in some time. It really captures something of what it feels like to be an empirical researcher who cares about getting the numbers right.

Not bad for someone who does not believe in utility functions, whatever that might mean. :)

Assorted links

1. Indirect effects of hard classes.

2. Slate summarizes a clever study on pay-day loans.

3. Error correction at the NYT. There really is a blog about everything; the one linked to in this case is entirely about error correction. If you scroll down a bit there is a funny video on fact checking that features Bill Murray.

4. The final days of the Bush II administration. Bush comes out looking a lot better than Cheney here.

5. Let them eat (Lenin) cake!

Health care: what is not the issue?

I've been thinking more about health care reform lately, enough to finally form some ideas. The debate is so confused and carried on with such astounding ignorance of data, institutions and economics that it has been remarkably difficult to get to that point, at least for me.

As a beginning, it is useful to focus on what the debate is not about:

Should non-poor people pay for the medical care of poor people?

This is the first thing the debate is not about, though you would not know it from either the right or the left. The left often cites figures regarding how many Americans do not have formal health insurance as evidence that there are large numbers of Americans without health care while the right complains of working people having to pay for the health care of the irresponsible and improvident.

In fact, the costs of health care for those who cannot provide it for themselves, whether through bad luck or bad choice, is already spread across the rest of the population. First, poor single mothers, all children in poor and near-poor families, all (legally) disabled people and all old people (poor or not) receive government health insurance.

Second, for those without government health insurance, hospitals are legally required to provide care to all who show up at their doors. Depending on what state you live in, the costs of this uncompensated care is spread across either the remaining patients via higher charges (and thus higher prices for health insurance) or across a combination of the government and the other patients. On top of this uncompensated care there are numerous public (and non-profit) hospitals and clinics of various sorts that provide free or highly subsidized health care to the poor. Thus, even though there are many individuals without either public or private health insurance, there are really no individuals without health care in the US. That care will not in some cases be the same quality as what paying customers receive but it is there and it represents a substantial amount of resources.

I can still recall very vividly when I learned about the laws regarding uncompensated care at hospitals. It was just a couple of years ago at a seminar in the School of Public Health here at Michigan. I was astounded - and really felt like I had been lied to by everyone who ever repeated the statistic about the fraction of the US population without formal health insurance as if it were the fraction without access to health care.

So, to those on the right: the question of whether those with incomes and assets will pay for the health care of those without has already been decided in favor of doing so. I personally am fine with that decision at a general level.

The relevant discussion is about how best to pay for and organize the provision of health care for those who cannot pay for it themselves. One can make a good case that the present set-up is not a very clever or efficient or honest way to do it. It is worth having a discussion about better ways to do this. This is one of the serious policy issues that underlies the present debate, which is unfortunately obfuscated by both misguided moral fervor (see the next item) and by interest groups trying to redistribute resources in their favor under the guise of systemic improvement.

Should health care be a "free market" or should we have "socialized medicine"?

This is the second thing the debate is not about, though again one could certainly be excused for thinking it was about this after reading much of the discussion on both sides. On the right, you would learn that the current debate is about preserving a free market in medicine versus socialized medicine. On the left you would read moving posts about how we need to get rid of capitalist medicine because health care (unlike, apparently, food and shelter) is too important to be left to private firms.

The truth of the matter is that we do not now have anything close to a free market in health care. Government health insurance covers a large fraction of the US population already, while subsidies, mandates and regulations distort (and in some cases improve) the choices of the rest. At the same time, even the (to the left) sainted Canadian system maintains large private elements, and what is being proposed by the administration in the US does not reach the level of the Canadian system in terms of government involvement. Put differently, the various proposals under consideration are not "socialized medicine" in any meaningful sense just as the status quo is not a "free market" in any meaningful sense.

This does not mean, of course, that many of the ideas currently under discussion are not bad ideas, they are. But framing the debate as some apocalyptic battle between market and state distorts the truth and turns what should be in many respects a relatively dull technical discussion involving such strange and remarkable features as thought and evidence into a morality play. Moral enthusiasm, whether for liberty or for helping the poor (or both!), is a scarce resource and should not be wasted on what are, in the present context, largely technical issues.

Movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This one is the best Harry Potter film yet in my estimation. Visually stunning, well acted, and a lively plot. One is left hanging at the end but satisfied as well. Much more "snogging" than previous chapters - the characters are definitely older. And the movie is a bit darker than some of the earlier ones as what will presumably be a climactic battle in the last installment comes nearer.

Recommended for summer fun.

On cults of personality

The economist on the cult of Obama and one branch of the cult itself.

This stuff makes my skin crawl. It is bad enough when people tie their hopes and dreams to musicians or actors, but politicians?

The president runs a large and important firm that happens to use a particularly odd method to choose its CEO and happens to have a legal monopoly on the provision of certain goods and services. Period. Yawn.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The AP gets a C for their coverage of a study on prenatal pollution exposure

The Associated Press reports on a study of the effects of localized pre-natal pollution on child IQ:
The results are in a study of 249 children of New York City women who wore backpack air monitors for 48 hours during the last few months of pregnancy. They lived in mostly low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They had varying levels of exposure to typical kinds of urban air pollution, mostly from car, bus and truck exhaust.

At age 5, before starting school, the children were given IQ tests. Those exposed to the most pollution before birth scored on average four to five points lower than children with less exposure.

The researchers studied pollutants that can cross the placenta and are known scientifically as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Main sources include vehicle exhaust and factory emissions. Tobacco smoke is another source, but mothers in the study were nonsmokers.

A total of 140 study children, 56%, were in the high exposure group. That means their mothers likely lived close to heavily congested streets, bus depots and other typical sources of city air pollution; the researchers are still examining data to confirm that, Perera said. The mothers were black or Dominican-American; the results likely apply to other groups, researchers said.

The researchers took into account other factors that could influence IQ, including secondhand smoke exposure, the home learning environment and air pollution exposure after birth, and still found a strong influence from prenatal exposure, Perera said.

Dr. Robert Geller, an Emory University pediatrician and toxicologist, said the study can't completely rule out that pollution exposure during early childhood might have contributed. He also noted fewer mothers in the high exposure group had graduated from high school. While that might also have contributed to the high-dose children's lower IQ scores, the study still provides compelling evidence implicating prenatal pollution exposure that should prompt additional studies, Geller said.
The good:

(1) The study is actually forthcoming in a peer reviewed journal.

(2) The article actually mentions some but not all of the conditioning variables and also quotes someone who notes a very important missing conditioning variable, though the article implicitly understates the importance of the issue.

The bad:

(1) The article does not provide a link to the study.

(2) The article does not describe how the sampling was done. Where did these women come from who are willing to wear pollution measuring equipment while already carrying around a soon-to-be-born baby?

(3) The overall tone should be more skeptical.

My take on the study:

(1) Bonus points for the cool measurement methodology.

(2) Given that the authors apparently did not control for either of the parents' IQ scores or their educational attainment, it seems quite unlikely that the selection-on-observed variables holds here. The likely direction of the bias is in the direction of the estimated impact.

(3) Bottom line: this study suggests that it might be worth it to fund a study of the same treatment with a better identification strategy. I don't think you can say much more.

Hat tip: Sue Dynarski

The economist does religion, poorly

The Economist's Democracy in America blog has a dyspeptic moment today and asks that the criticism that atheists can be fundamentalists too be dropped from acceptable discourse.

This is followed by two arguments. The first is that some fundamentalist religious people are terrorists and no atheists are terrorists, therefore atheists cannot be fundamentalists. A brief bout with a Venn diagram disposes of this one but this is left to the reader as an exercise.

The other argument starts by defining fundamentalists as those who do not change their beliefs in the face of evidence and then argues that because certain narrow types of evidence, evidence not even consist with some theistic models, have not been provided to certain atheists, that all atheists are not fundamentalists. Huh? How does the absence of certain types of evidence show that an entire group of people would change their beliefs in response to evidence, which is what is required to demonstrate that atheists could not be fundamentalists under this definition?

I have no brief for fundamentalists of the theistic, the atheistic or the political sort, but this post is just a tangled mess of poorly argued silliness. The economist can, and should, do better (or should reflect on the many benefits of the division of labor).

How newspapers do time series econometrics

The honeymoon is over

I was stunned by these polls showing Obama in a dead heat with Romney in 2012. Even more stunning is that Sarah Palin polls at 42 percent against Obama.

That was a fast honeymoon given the extent of the love-fest in January and on-going fawning from much of the mainstream press.

One explanation for the rapid dissipation is that Obama gave away too much political / moral capital with the stimulus bill. While there is no realistic scenario in which the bill would have had no pork, it could have had a lot less. The fact that it had so much was an early signal to the electorate that the Obama administration would be more about politics as usual and less about change to be believed in than even cynics like me expected.

Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics has a thoughtful related post.

Assorted links

1. WSJ rates the top 25 economics bloggers

2. Ron Paul singles website.

3. Cambridge, MA police make a very big mistake. I am surprised they did not send in the SWAT team and shoot up his pets. If you are going to mess up, why not go all the way?

4. Another casualty of the drug war.

5. Joint Russian / Nigerian branding blunder.

Movie: Summer Hours (L'Heure d'ete)

We saw Summer Hours last night at the State Theater in Ann Arbor. It is a fine French meditation on communication via art and on the meaning of objects across generations. The story centers around the passing of a family matriarch, Helene, who had devoted her life to the artistic reputation of her uncle. She leaves a houseful of art (fine and decorative) to her three children, one an economist in Paris, one an artist in New York and the other a businessman in China. Much of the movie centers on their decision about whether to sell or hold and on the working out of their relationships with their departed mother, with their childhood pasts and with the house and the art.

Recommended if you are in the mood for a thoughtful film.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Assorted links

1. 40th anniversary of Chappaquiddick. A good lesson in history, the reality of politics and "equality before the law".

2. Prison coaches for white collar criminals.

3. The weinermobile finds itself in a pickle.

4. Brad Pitt has an architecture foundation?

5. An interview with Bruce Bartlett. I can see going to a VAT if the quid pro quo is zeroing out the income tax, but otherwise I like the bright lines (and no fixed costs) at zero.

Various hat tips including Sue Dynarski, Jackie Smith, instapundit and marginal revolution.

Soft drinks in Danish restaurants

I know some readers have been sitting on the edge of their seats for an explanation of why the staff fill soft drinks, rather than the customers, at Danish fast food restaurants (or at least in my sample of one McDonald's in Aarhus).

Some candidates that turn out to be wrong:

1) Denmark does not have a low minimum wage as part of its "flexicurity" labor market scheme.

2) Denmark did not pass a law banning restaurants from having customers fill their own soft drinks, much as some US states do actually have laws that prevent motorists from pumping their own gas, so as to "create jobs".

The explanation suggested to me by frequent-hat-tip-recipient Lars Skipper, which seems quite plausible, is instead that Denmark has a very high tax on sugar (readers will be hitting their heads and shouting "of course" at this point) and so it is too costly to let customers take as much of sugary soft drinks as they want to.

Obama at six months

Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have a fine summary in the WaPo. Key bits:
The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame.
Bush learned the hard way that running government as a perpetual crisis machine leads to bad policy and public fatigue. Obama's insistence on taking advantage of a crisis to push through every item on the progressive checklist right now is threatening to complete that cycle within his first year.
But read the whole thing.

The problem is not that Obama is too good for his own good.

I have been pondering the question of to what extent what we have gotten so far differs from what we would have gotten under Hillary or even under McCain. I think the answer is very little, if at all, relative to Hillary and only modestly relative to McCain. All three would have produced giant pork-ridden stimulus bills, though the folks munching on the pork rinds would have differed a bit with Hillary and more so with McCain. McCain likely would not have backed off (in little teeny, tiny bits) from the drug war, Cuba and stem cells but Hillary might have done all of these, particularly the last two. I suspect all three would have failed, as Obama has, on the transparency front and on Gitmo (and torture issues more generally) as there is simply too much institutional force pressing in the other direction inside the beltway. Probably under McCain we get an IES director who looks more like a clone of Russ Whitehurst but fewer and lower quality economists elsewhere in government, not because there are not good non-democrat economists, but because a McCain administration would likely have been almost as non-intellectual as the Bush II administration. Doug Holtz-Eakin, bless his heart, was willing to tutor Sarah Palin in ECON 101, but I suspect the queue for that job is not a long one.

So this is too bad. It seems like Obama's honeymoon period could have been used to do one really good thing that went beyond politics as usual, say a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade bill so destroyed by the Congressional favor-selling machine that Dennis Kucinich voted against it, or budget-neutral health care reform that re-organized how we pay for health care for those who cannot afford it while also cleaning up other messes like Bush II's prescription drug plan, or a big move on drugs or Cuba or ... you get the idea.

So far, I would say that Obama has wasted his opportunity. And that's a shame.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Canada Day (belated)

The NYT offers thoughts from expat Canadians on Canada Day (July 1). Colby Cosh responds.

Canadians living in the US are very non-randomly selected, mostly from the top of the ability / achievement distribution. Economists should think about the Roy model where the US is the sector with the high variance.

My recollection of Canada Day in London, Ontario is that the London Free Press would always publish an editorial or an op-ed lamenting the fact that Canadians are not as patriotic as Americans. I was never clear on why this was a concern.

And, yes, Vancouver has amazing Chinese food.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Al Franken

Back in the funny days, when Al was at the Kennedy School.

The letter to Ashcroft is actually pretty funny - much funnier than I remember Franken being on SNL - but sending it out on Kennedy School letterhead was a boo-boo.

Update on Rhode Island prostitution

Rhode Island's legislature is now busy trying to define prostitution. Their description manages to make sex sound like not very much fun.

Thought question 1: Would the current wording rule out bride prices? How about dowries?

Thought question 2: Can one pay someone to "stimulate by hand" if the intention is only to be able get to sleep? How would the intention be determined?

Hat tip: volokh conspiracy

Book: Challenging the Performance Movement

Radin, Beryl. 2006. Challenging the Performance Movement. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

I have been meaning to read this for a while and took the opportunity of working on an old project on performance standards to finally do so. Beryl Radin is apparently a grand old person in the public management world. Public management is a different but overlapping intellectual community from public policy or economics.

The book is a critique of performance management, the bipartisan spawn of intellectual movements sometimes referred to as "Reinventing Government" or the "New Public Management". I am in print as being a critic of aspects of this endeavor as well: see my papers with Carolyn Heinrich and Jim Heckman or with Burt Barnow. Nonetheless, the book is a very different one than I would have written.

Much of the book is, at some level blindingly simple. If you are familiar at all with the literature on "personnel economics" or more broadly on what economists call principal-agent problems, then you will know that it is a bad idea to measure performance using statistics over which the agent whose performance is being evaluated has little control. Our neighbors to the north, for example, have considered using the national unemployment rate as a performance measure for Canada's version of the Department of Labor. This is silly because the fraction of the variance in the unemployment rate accounted for by the agency is approximately zero.

The analog to this situation in the US is performance measures for block grant programs. Block grant programs are programs where the feds simply hand money to the states in lump sums to be used for certain fairly general purposes. It makes little sense to make the federal bureaucrats responsible for what the states spend the money on when they essentially have no control over it.

Another commonplace from the principal-agent literature is that if you want your agent to do two things well, but measure and reward their performance based on only one, then ... well, the reader can probably figure out what happens.

The book also makes very clear that a one-size fits all performance management system, which is what we essentially have under the "Government Performance and Results Act" is a bad idea. Think, to use one of Radin's examples, about NSF grants and related programs. Here the impacts are very long term and very hard to measure. Compare this to, say, SSA, where one can have a quite useful set of simple performance measures based on the timeliness and accuracy with which social security payments are delivered.

The book is very much not an economics book. My sense is that Radin is largely innocent of the economics literature. When she raises the issues mentioned above she does not frame them as an economist would. Other things that economists like to emphasize, like the distinction between outcome levels and impacts on outcomes relative to a counterfactual, are missing here as well, to the detriment of the argument.

I also found the book tough going at times and it occasionally veers of into things, such as alternative theories of intelligence, that seemed to me extraneous. At the same time, it was a useful introduction to me how public management people think about the issues and it describes the basic problems with performance management as currently implemented in a way that non-economists, particularly non-economists who would not like economics if they learned about it, would find congenial.

Bottom line: recommended, but only for afficianados. General readers should turn to James Q. Wilson's classic Bureaucracy book.

The Joy of Paperwork

The NYT explains all about US government forms.


“Paradoxically, the ability to have the forms electronically has increased the number of forms and made them longer,” Ms. Furchtgott-Roth said, “because if you don’t have to print them, it’s a lot easier to require someone to do it.’’

Actually, it is not much of a paradox at all, it is just a downward sloping demand curve.

“As a Republican, I love it when the Dems run the White House and Congress,’’ said William A. Gindlesperger, a consultant to the commercial printing industry, “because they love to print.”

It's all about the jobs with those dems.

Oh, and I liked this from the comments:

The only government form worth anything is that one that mentions something about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The rest are mostly trying to get in the way of those things.

What *is* that form called? It sounds kind of familiar. I think they have it stored in some sort of special sealed box in DC so that it can't infect anyone.

Addendum: it is interesting that there is not even a sort of informal cost-benefit analysis as part of the paperwork approval process.

Hat tip: Brian Rowe

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama looks out for Brazil at the G-8 meetings

Much ado about this photo, which seems to show Obama engaging in a visual examination of selected aspects of the topography of a female delegate from Brazil at the G-8 meeting.

There is also a video you can watch. ABC News claims it shows that Obama was not doing anything amiss. I would disagree, but it does clearly show that Sarkozy was behaving much worse - though surely he gets some sort of handicap on his score for being French.

First thought: one wonders if this was a calculated move to make Obama seem like more of a regular guy and perhaps gin up some support among the bubba voters.

Second thought: think about how much someone must want power in order to put up with having their every move recorded and posted on youtube.

Third thought: does the fact that it is "news" make watching the video multiple times not politically incorrect?

Fourth thought: do we have this video and photo only because the news crews had their eyes focused on the same thing as Obama and Sarkozy?

Dr. Solon, call your office

One of my former colleague Gary Solon's pet peeves is the equation of "not statistically different from zero" with "equals zero". Inspired by him, I've added this to my list of pet peeves as well.

This recently-released report from the National Center for Education Statistics on the black-white test score gap includes the unfortunate formulation:
In Hawaii, the 7-point difference between the average scores for Black and White students was not statistically significant, and thus there was no Black-White gap for grade 8 reading in that state in 2007.
I should note that NCES is generally very good about these things, which makes the error all the more stark.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peggy on Palin

Peggy Noonan has a fine take-down of Sarah Palin in the WSJ. Here is a taster:
"Now she can prepare herself for higher office by studying up, reading in, boning up on the issues." Mrs. Palin's supporters have been ordering her to spend the next two years reflecting and pondering. But she is a ponder-free zone. She can memorize the names of the presidents of Pakistan, but she is not going to be able to know how to think about Pakistan. Why do her supporters not see this? Maybe they think "not thoughtful" is a working-class trope!
I do have two complaints:

1. The claim near the end that the world has never been a more dangerous place is complete rubbish. Other than the happy period between the end of the cold war and 9/11, the world is less dangerous than at any time since before WW1. Noonan knows that I am sure but was evidently being thoughtless, which is not what you want in a column wherein you complain about someone else not being thoughtful enough.

2. One could make the argument that the cost of Sarah Palin is a small price to pay for SNL becoming funny again, at least when Tina Fey is doing her imitation. This argument should have been addressed in the column.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Assorted links

1. Plots disappear from porn movies: do you miss them? did you notice?

2. Smiling workers in Japan.

3. Another bungle for Britain's intelligence community.

4. World's worst tourists: not who you think.

5. Libertarians in Ann Arbor.

Danish economic puzzle of the day

In the US over the past couple of decades most fast food restaurants have moved their soft drink dispensers from behind the counter to in front of the counter. Presumably, this results from the fact that labor has become relatively more expensive over time while the syrup that underlies the soft drinks has remained quite inexpensive, so that there is little point to, for example, spending the time and effort to charge for refills.

The puzzle is: why has this not happened in Denmark.

I'll post a candidate answer tomorrow.

Peer review

Photo by Yyannu Cruz Aguayo

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wriight house for sale in LA

You can own the Innis House for only $15 million.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

And MSNBC headlines as reinterpreted by FOX

5> MSNBC: George Stephanopoulos and Barney Frank Speak at
Democratic Fundraiser

FOX: Dems Caught Using Midget, Homosexual in Moneymaking

4> MSNBC: Gov. Sanford Admits Affair with Argentinean

FOX: Gov. Sanford Brings International Affairs Expertise
to Presidential Race

3> MSNBC: President Swats Fly During Interview

FOX: Obama Savagely Murders Innocent Passerby

2> MSNBC: Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake Levels Hollywood

FOX: Existence of God Proven!

and's Number 1 MSNBC
Headline as Re-Interpreted by FOX News...

1> MSNBC: First Lady Takes Public Bus to Area Mall

FOX: Michelle Obama Uses Taxpayer-Funded 40-Passenger
Vehicle for Private Shopping Boondoggle

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Top 5 on FOX and MSNBC

The Top 5 FOX News Headlines as Re-Interpreted by MSNBC

FOX: New Study Reveals Media Bias
MSNBC: New Study Biased, Media Reveals

FOX: Heat Wave Hits Midwest
MSNBC: Global Warming! Climate Change! Run for Your Lives!!

FOX: Brave US Air Captain Saves Hundreds With Daring River Landing
MSNBC: Hidden Camera Report: Are Airlines Polluting Our Rivers???

FOX: Obama Exposes Self to Intern
MSNBC: President Unveils New Stimulus Package in Oval Office

FOX: Obama Delivers State of the Union Address
MSNBC: Keith Olbermann Tingles All Over, Weeps, Is Healed of Cancer as Obama Speaks


Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

“It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government”

– Thomas Paine

Hat tip: the agitator

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dark Omens in the Sky

I can't put it any better than my colleague Charlie Brown, who said:

"I think you'll agree that this paper eclipses all previous work on the efficient markets hypothesis."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Assorted links

1. World Digital Library.

2. America loves bacon - a view from the UK

3. Politicizing the Fed via mission creep.

4. Endangered malls. I can remember when going to the mall was the coolest thing. No more.

5. In case you were wondering what happened to the Leopold Brothers from Ann Arbor. Here is what they are up to now.

Hat tip on the last one: Alex Resch

More on Michael Jackson

1. How they plan to honor MJ in Iowa.

2. Courtesy of the Smoking Gun, you can read MJ's will.