Thursday, March 29, 2012

No pennies for your thoughts

Canada decides to abandon the penny. The US should too.

Jonathan Gruber

The NYT puff piece does not mention his furniture, or his clothes, but it does mention his birds and that he likes Van Halen (or, at least, that his son does, and he puts  up with it).

Further evidence, if any was needed, that economists are a pretty conventional lot.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Assorted links

1. Why we fight, Ann Arbor edition (obscure historical reference explained).

2. Justin and Betsey shine some sunlight on the tea party.

3. Charles Murray responds to his critics.

4. Posting about Uncle Bonsai got me thinking about other women I had crushes on back in my college days and that, of course, led right to the web page of Martha Quinn, one of the original MTV VJ's.

5. Partisan differentiation disorder: wine edition.

#2 via Greg Mankiw, #3 via marginal revolution, #5 via the Agitator.


Now this is useful! A list of all of Heckman's publications, with links to nearly every one, courtesy of the University of Chicago library.

Uncle Bonsai

My favorite folk group, Uncle Bonsai, played last night in Ann Arbor. I was quite remiss for not advertising it on here in advance, but it was a busy week, with many undergraduate draft term papers to read, a visitor from Europe and prospective student day. In lieu of the show, here is a video from last year's show at the Ark:

I thought this year's show was stronger than last year's, mainly because new band member Patrice O'Neill, who replaced the beloved Ashley (on whom I had a gigantic crush back in college), is now much more comfortable performing with the group.

Their show in Ann Arbor is part of a Midwest tour that includes stops in EvanstonNorthwest Indiana and Madison.

I have seen Uncle Bonsai perform around 25 times over a period of over 30 years. They are highly recommended.

Human Evolutionary Studies

Via Arthur Robson on Facebook

Movie: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home is great, light-hearted fun. I think I felt more sympathy than the NYT reviewer for the non-slacker brother Pat, who just wants to have some adventure in his life before completely settling down to domesticity. At the same time, his utter and complete cluelessness in how to deal with his longsuffering wife is brilliant. The ending was a bit too sweet for my taste, and it is not clear that one amazing deed should save a marriage, but still well worth watching.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Taking the SAT as an adult

A meditation on standardized testing based on participant observation. Warning: f-bombs.

As for me, I really liked standardized tests. I even took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery in high school even though I had zero interest in the military and, of course, no idea that I would be writing papers using the national longitudinal survey of youth 15 or 20 years later. Of course, the alternative was sitting in class, and I did not go to a very inspiring high school in grades 10 and 11.

Via: instapundit

Monday, March 19, 2012

Assorted links

1. Obama = Santorum on manufacturing. There is no good economic reason to favor manufacturing over other sectors of the economy. There is of course a bad reason, which is the one that is operative here. That reason is vote-buying. Note: yet another data point regarding partisan differentiation disorder.

2. Hear Ben Bernanke lecture live!

3. A fraternity will soon occupy the former Memorial Christian Church near Lorch Hall, home of the Michigan economics department. At least it won't be so noisy on Sunday mornings any more.

4. As is usually the case, whether privatization of government services is a good idea depends on the details of how it is done. Why am I not surprised that Chicago is the poster child for how not to privatize parking?

5. Low turnout at the Playboy tryouts at Michigan.

#2 via Greg Mankiw.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of drunken college students

UM students sent home from the bars early despite behaving much, much better than those rowdy Canadians up in London, Ontario.

Oh, and a note to the Daily Mail.  It is a two-hour drive from London, Ontario to Toronto, which makes "close" seem like a somewhat inapt description of the distance.

Hat tip on the misadventures in London: Charlie Brown.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Assorted links

1. John Cochrane on etiquette (and the stimulus).

2. I suspect the punishment would have been a lot worse than being sent home from the library if it had not been a student.

3. Maggie McNeill on Obama's record on civil liberties and partisan differentiation disorder, where PDD is the erroneous belief in systematic differences in smarts or behavior between the red team and the blue team

4. Greg Mankiw on progressivity.

5. If this guy really thought economics was sacred, he would have learned some more of it before writing his book and making this video.It is kind of fascinating in the nature of its errors though.

Hat tip on #5 to Susan Major.

Movie: Puss In Boots

We watched Puss In Boots on pay per view with our daughter the other night.

It was better than I expected. It is not great cinema - the NYT review has the details and is right on target about the visuals and about Humpty Dumpty being the most interesting character - but Puss In Boots is well above average for movies aimed at the younger set.

Recommended for viewing with younger children

How much economics to learn in college?

Chris Blattman on economics as a martial art or, put differently, on the non-linear learning curve in undergraduate economics.

A longish excerpt:
My personal experience: economic theory courses are a little like karate.
After a course or two you might get your yellow belt, but basically you have just been going though the motions and learning some basics.
Anyways, with your yellow belt, you’re a little more flexible and you have a sense whether you like the art, but if someone jumped you in an alley you would probably be worse off than before you took the class.
Your karate classes will pay off slowly, with time and practice. You might get your green or brown belt eventually, and this will serve you well in life. For most of you. For others, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you will run around looking for a fight, sometimes clobbering an innocent, and basically simply miss the big picture.
Stick at it awhile longer, and you might get your black belt, some perspective and some discipline. It takes a while for this to pay off, however, and very soon diminishing returns set in, unless you happen to want to run your own dojo.
In case it’s not obvious, intro to microeconomics is the yellow belt, and intermediate micro is the green at best. An undergraduate degree in economics is a brown and an MA is arguably the black. And if you want your dojo or jedi master status then get a PhD or go into investment finance.
And of course the ass who runs around looking for a fight is the ideologically left or right jerk who manages to turn a conversation about the weather into a diatribe about free trade.
(In college I was actually just such an ideological ass–I won’t tell you what side of the spectrum but leave you to guess. Glad to say it was just a phase.)
I remember my own phase in college of being what I call an "Economics 101 libertarian". I am sure my college friends remember it too - probably less fondly than I do! It is dangerous, though amusing too, if you know what is going on. Basic micro has to be tempered both with all the caveats and exceptions that come from digging deeper within economics and with the insights provided by adjacent disciplines like sociology and psychology.

Having said that, of course, demand curves still slope down, and people still respond to incentives, and those two bits alone would do a lot to improve policy if systematically paid attention to.

Promotional regressions

Putting a regression with enogenous variables on both sides to use in marketing.

I think of regression the way economists do it, with the endogenous variables only on the left-hand side, as Haiku, and regression the way many other people do it, with the endogenous variables on both sides, as more like free verse.

Via David Giles

Economics moment of zen

"Dynamic programming is nice ... but it is also hard."
- Jeremy Fox

Play: Dead Man's Shoes at Performance Network

We saw Dead Man's Shoes at Performance Network last night. I really enjoyed it - more than the reviewer at It is at times bizarre, hilarious, touching and sad. There are kindly sheriffs, one-eyed bartenders, harlots with secrets and some actual Western history in the form of Wyoming governor John Eugene Osborne and "Big Nose" George. There is even, for those into such things, a female character from the Farrow Islands.

Dead Man's Shoes is not the best Performance Network show ever, but it is securely above the median, and well worth the time.


Ann Arbor Pure Michigan TV spot has the details.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Assorted links

1. East Germany, before and after.

2. Seems like Apple should be able to hoover this guy's bank account, and that he should be looking for a new line of work.

3.The Economist on vegan stripping (and no, that is not a new name for peeling vegetables).

4. Thank you sir, may I have another regulation.

5. Butt-dialing 911. The Daily Mail has the details.

Hat tip on #1 to Stephan Lauermann. #2 via instapundit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Congratulations to Judea Pearl

Judea Pearl, who writes on causality from a computer science perspective, has received the Turing Award from the (in retrospect oddly named) Association for Computing Machinery. Pearl gave a very fine talk on his work here at Michigan a couple of years ago.

Pearl is also the father of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US News economics graduate program rankings

Michigan is #12 overall, #6 in labor economics and #5 in public finance.

Go Blue!

More skit night

The humor here is not very deep, and it is just one joke, but I find it oddly compelling.

Backyard oasis

This exhibition of swimming pool photography from Southern California at the Palm Springs Museum of Art was ... wait for it ... deeper than I expected.

Assorted links

1. Michigan Book and Supply closing in downtown Ann Arbor

2. How to fool the TSA body scanner.

3. Chicago symphony rougher than Chicago seminars.

4. It's not just me - lots of people in Ann Arbor are happy.

5. Jagdish Bahgwati on trade.

Hat tip on #3 to Charlie Brown.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Great paper titles

I should be writing more papers with titles like "An Exploration of Luxury Hotels in Tanzania".

This reminds me of a joke I wrote for a skit about NORC back in my graduate student days at Chicago. In the skit, NORC was NORG, the National Organization for the Recipiency of Grants. At one point in the skit, a delivery person arrived at the door with a "box of money for Prof. Mroz" from the NIH. The title of the grant: "Is the utility function bounded from above? A personal exploration."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Assorted links

1. If this study were true, it would have important implications for the relative progress of different subfields within economics.

2. Stimulus money put to good use in Detroit.

3. On the relative linguistic importance of scheisse.

4. A bizarre tale of, perhaps, mass hysteria in a small town in New York.

5. This course looks like great fun but I infer from the $850 per person price tag that Michael Lechner and I have been charging much too little for our course on the same topic.

#3 via marginal revolution, #4 via instapundit

Kermit and Ellen

This is kinda cute.

First ever hat tip to Elizabeth Smith

Book: The Road to Mars, by Eric Idle

Idle, Eric. 1999. The Road to Mars. New York: Vintage.

I ran across this science fiction novel by Eric Idle of Monty Python at the bookshop in Laguna Beach when I was there for a conference a couple of weeks ago. Though it was published over a decade ago, this is the first time I had heard about it.

Road to Mars gets mixed reviews on amazon and in the newspapers, but the San Francisco Chronicle liked it. I liked it too. The portrayals of the show business characters - the two comedians who are the main focus of the book and the diva Brenda Woolley - are entertaining and well done, as is the book's lone academic, who functions as a sort of meta-narrator. I enjoyed the meditations on comedy as well. But don't expect to be blown away by the plot or deeply impressed with the coherent future universe.

In short fine bedtime / summer reading.

Recommended for Python fans.

It gets better

From Michigan Economics skit night, which was on Friday.

Assorted links

1. Theory joke from Justin Wolfers.

2. Bizarre historical Ron Paul video. The bit where the audience starts chanting "Just Say No" is a useful reminder regarding the idiocy and narrow-mindedness of crowds.

3. Choose your destructor t-shirts!

4. Girls of the Big Ten comes to Ann Arbor. Shouldn't that be Women of the Big Ten?

5. Turkey stalking.

#1 via Cheap Talk, #3 via reason, #5 via the Agitator

Saturday, March 10, 2012

NLSY update

Some movement from BLS in response, I suspect, to the outcry from the research community I detailed in an earlier post.

Full text of the BLS announcement:
UPDATE: March 2, 2012
On March 2, 2012, the BLS temporarily suspended plans to elongate the fielding schedules of the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) of Youth as described below. Funding through the remainder of FY 2012 has been found for biennial fielding of both cohorts. The BLS will continue to evaluate longer-term options.
I hope the long-term options include keeping the quality level of the NLSY data where it is, if not improving it.


Strange goings-on with the CATO institute and the Koch Brothers.

1. Coverage in the NYT Economix blog, with a rather strained tie to the new book by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

2. Former CATOite Brink Lindsey with a guest post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

3. CATO's own page on the issue, which includes relevant legal documents.

I am not qualified to speak to the legal issues, and my connections, such as they are, are all with the Reason Foundation rather than CATO, but I would certainly prefer that CATO stay independent and libertarian rather than being swallowed up in the social conservative policy borg.

Hat tip on item 1: Ken Troske

Addendum: Will Wilkinson, working out some residual irritation.

Teachers in their spare time

It seems to me that government employees should not be punished for things that are legal and which they do in their spare time. To arrange it otherwise allows too much opportunity for politicians and government managers to abuse their power, as in the case of a middle school teacher in beautiful Oxnard, California, who makes some money performing in adult videos in her spare time.  Smoking Gun has the details here and a follow-up here.

And what about this:
Stacie Halas, a 31-year-old science teacher at Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, was removed from the classroom Monday, three days after pupils reported spotting her in a series of X-rated clips. [italics added]
Haydock (website, performance measures - the individual teacher web pages are down, or were never up) is a two-year school providing 7th and 8th grade instruction and home of the Jaguars. Should perhaps more attention at Haydock be devoted to the parents of the children who are locating porn videos featuring their teachers than on the teachers themselves?

Addendum: apparently not just the teachers at Haydock like making steamy videos.

Bonus question: Just who is Richard B. Haydock?

Performance management in NYC

A performance management scandal in NYC as a non-profit (!) city contractor reports hundreds of fraudulent job placements to boost its performance measures.

When you put high powered incentives on agents who do not know how to improve their actual performance on the measure of interest, they will find other ways to improve their measured performance.

Hat tip: Doug Besharov

Mencken thought of the day

"Say what you will about the ten commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them."

H. L. Mencken

Via Maggie McNeill

Friday, March 9, 2012

Institute for Humane Studies Summer Seminars

The summer seminars runs by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) are well worth doing for liberty-minded undergraduates.

My post on them from two years ago is here.

You can learn more about this year's seminars here.

They are total fun.

Sustaining sustainability

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ann Arbor and well-being

According to Gallup, Ann Arbor is in the top five among US cities in well-being and at the very top in "life evaluation".

Makes you wonder how we could be 1-6 on junior offers so far, doesn't it?

Hat tip: Justin Wolfers on Facebook

NYT on college tuition

One of the NYT Economix columnists notes that tuition is going up at state universities while state subsidies are going down.

Some thoughts:

1. The article would benefit from a distinction between posted prices, actual prices (net of scholarships and grants) and costs. The social costs of providing undergraduate education remain substantially higher than the prices charged to in-state students. Despite the tuition increases, these students continue to receive a large subsidy.

2. The graph is presumably posted prices rather than actual prices. That should have been noted and the distinction discussed. Many students, even at public universities, do not pay the posted price.

3. Government subsidies to higher education are more transfer than investment. Government subsidies to higher education solve a market failure in two cases: one is credit constrained students, who might not attend without a combination of subsidized tuition and loans; the second, to the extent one believes in externalities from higher education, for which there is only modest evidence, is non-credit-constrained students who would not attend given their private price and benefits but who would attend with a subsidy whose social cost does not exceed the value of the externalities produced.

4. Many of the transfers implicit in higher education are unattractive. Setting tuition levels low subsidizes the middle class along with the poor, thus likely moving resources up rather than down the income distribution. Much better, in my view, to have the middle class kids take out loans to cover a tuition level that bears a closer resemblance to social costs and just subsidize the poor but able via grants.

5. Why is it a good idea to have governments run universities? I am missing the comparative advantage that states have in this regard relative to non-profits. Note that, as with elementary and secondary education, who provides the service is a distinct question from who pays for it.

Hat tip: Lones Smith on Facebook

Cinnamon is the new crack

Ann Arbor teens go wild raiding the spice rack.

Hat tip: Sue Dynarski on Facebook

Saturday, March 3, 2012

James Q. Wilson, RIP

Tyler has many links about Wilson at Marginal Revolution.

As those who have heard me talk about performance management know, Wilson's book Bureaucracy, which I read in graduate school, had a big effect on my thinking about government. It remains well worth reading.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Assorted links

1. Postal service death rattle: lefty paranoia edition. One might have thought that the Humanist, which purports to be a "magazine of critical inquiry" might actually demand a modicum of evidence from its writers. Apparently not.

2. The story of the McRib.

3. Film of a college football game from 1903.

4. Rick Santorum is lousy in so many different ways. Here Dan Drezner mocks his ignorance of modern manufacturing.

5. Why jury duty sucks.

#1 via Hat tip on #2 to Dann Millimet. #3 via Cheap Talk and #5 via instapundit.