Mr. Sarkozy, 63, was taken into custody in Nanterre, northwest of Paris, after answering a police summons, according to a French judicial official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, in line with department policy…

The suspicions behind this case first emerged in 2012, when the investigative news website Mediapart published a report suggesting that Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign had received up to 50 million euros, or nearly $62 million at current exchange rates, from the regime of Colonel Qaddafi, the longtime Libyan strongman who was killed in 2011. Such support would have violated France’s strict campaign finance laws, which cap spending and prohibit foreign funding.

Here is the NYT account.  Here is my earlier post on Gerhard Schröder.

Tuesday assorted links

by on March 20, 2018 at 12:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Sam Harris interviews Robin Hanson.

2. I still find the Cambridge Analytica story confusing.  This article is useful, but it heightens my confusion too.  Who exactly did what wrong?  And I don’t think I agree with the framing of this Michael Dougherty piece, but it does pose some useful questions.  Here is the Bershidsky take.

3. “Ask a child to draw a scientist, and she’s more likely than ever to draw a woman.

4. Megan is skeptical about the greater safety of driverless cars.

A sheriff in Alabama bought a house using money that was budgeted to feed jail inmates. When I saw this headlined a week ago I assumed that this was a run-of-the-mill story about white collar fraud and I ignored it. Yesterday, prodded by new developments, I investigated further. The truth is much worse than I had imagined. What the sheriff did was perfectly legal.

Alabama has a Depression-era law that allows sheriffs to “keep and retain” unspent money from jail food-provision accounts. Sheriffs across the state take excess money as personal income — and, in the event of a shortfall, are personally liable for covering the gap.

Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin told the News that he follows that practice of taking extra money from the fund, saying, “The law says it’s a personal account and that’s the way I’ve always done it.”

Sheriffs across the state do the same thing and have for decades. But the scale of the practice is not clear: “It is presently unknown how much money sheriffs across the state have taken because most do not report it as income on state financial disclosure forms,” the Southern Center for Human Rights wrote in January.

And if that isn’t bonkers enough. It gets worse. The primary source for the story, written by journalist Connor Sheets, was Sheriff Entrekin’s lawnmower, Matt Qualls. Qualls has since been arrested and is now in a jail overseen by Sheriff Entrekin.

Sheets’ initial story was published on Feb. 18. On Feb. 22, Qualls was arrested and charged with drug trafficking after an anonymous call complained of the smell of marijuana from an apartment.

Qualls, who had never been arrested before, faces six charges and is being held on a $55,000 bond, Sheets reports. He is detained in a jail that Entrekin oversees.

…The sheriff’s office denies involvement in Qualls’ case, noting that the landscaper was not arrested or charged by the sheriff’s office. The extra charges were added by the Drug Enforcement Unit, which consist of agents drawn from the sheriff’s department, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

Addendum: You may be reminded of the story that Tyler and I use to open our principles of economics textbook. Ship captains in the 18th century were paid to ship convicts to Australia according to a very similar procedure as used today (!!!) to fund prisoner food in Alabama–and the results were equally predictable.

The 2018 Public Choice Outreach Conference, a crash course in public choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy will held June 9-10 in Arlington VA. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences. Speakers include Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan, Shruti Rajagopolan and many others.

You can find an application and more information here. If you are a professor please invite your students to apply.

Here are some quotes from past attendees of the Outreach Conference:

It was so useful to hear such varied and intriguing aspects of public choice thought. The other members of the conference were fantastic to meet and now I’m sure we all have so many new paper ideas and updated perspectives on our original interests, thank you!

Clara Jace, Creighton University

 I found the conference insightful into many different topics. What I think was most unique about the conference was the diversity of ideas, theorems and most importantly, ideas for solutions to these prevalent problems. I think my favorite part of the econ conferences is how quick presenters are to say “I don’t know” to questions and proceed to give the analytical reasoning for both sides of the argument instead of giving a BS answer that may or may not be true. Overall, I have loved this conference.

 Jalee Blackwell, West Texas A & M, School of Business

 Wow, this conference was absolutely exceptional. It provided some of the most interesting and thought-provoking Econ lectures and conversations I have ever had the privilege of engaging in. The opportunity to have one on one discussions with some of the world’s leading minds in these fields was truly an eye opening, educational, and inspiring experience that I won’t soon forget.

 Daniel Corley, University of Texas School of Law

I am agnostic on this question, but Jay L. Zagorsky presents the case for no:

First of all, the Mint creates coins in response to demand, and demand for small-denomination coins is soaring. Over the past decade, the Mint roughly doubled the number of pennies and nickels it shipped. Both coins enjoy widespread popular support in opinion polls as well.

It’s true that it costs more to mint these two coins than they are worth. In 2017, it cost the U.S. Mint 1.8 cents to make each penny and 6.6 cents for each nickel. Overall, however, the Mint is a profit machine. In 2017, it earned almost $400 million in profits producing circulating coins. For every dollar’s worth of coins it shipped out, the Mint made 45 cents. That is a profit margin many business owners dream about.

So, think of pennies and nickels as the Mint’s loss leader. They help create demand for more profitable coins in the cash economy. Eliminating pennies and nickels could make people think coins overall aren’t useful. And if we stop using all coins, the Mint will lose $400 million of profit a year.

…Stores and other businesses bothered by small-denomination coins can set prices so the final cost ends up in round numbers that eliminate using pennies or nickels. Food trucks and restaurants have used this kind of flat pricing to speed up checking out.

At the WSJ link, Henry Aaron argues the other side of the issue.  I should note that I have acted privately to abolish pennies (and occasionally nickels) from my own life.  Think of it as unilateral privatization, quite literally an idea for the trash and gutter.

It seems far more likely that Facebook will be directly regulated than Google; arguably this is already the case in Europe with the GDPR. What is worth noting, though, is that regulations like the GDPR entrench incumbents: protecting users from Facebook will, in all likelihood, lock in Facebook’s competitive position.

This episode is a perfect example: an unintended casualty of this weekend’s firestorm is the idea of data portability: I have argued that social networks like Facebook should make it trivial to export your network; it seems far more likely that most social networks will respond to this Cambridge Analytica scandal by locking down data even further. That may be good for privacy, but it’s not so good for competition. Everything is a trade-off.

Here is the link to the longer piece, to get them regularly you have to pay, definitely recommended, now more than ever.

True sentences about SB 827

by on March 19, 2018 at 2:47 pm in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

California state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 827 — a sweeping approach to solve California’s housing crisis by having the state government preempt local zoning ordinances and allow for greater density near rapid transit stations and high-frequency bus stops — is one of the most important ideas in American politics today.

Here is more from Matt Yglesias.

Monday assorted links

by on March 19, 2018 at 12:24 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The Freedom Party wants to give Austrians (the people, not the economists) the freedom to smoke (NYT).

2. Facebook will now be more reluctant to share with social scientists.

3. The problem of Germany.

4. The Arnold Kling high school memoir.  More people should write pieces of this kind.

5. “You might see chairs thrown amid a torrent of f-bombs, freestyle rapping mid-game, and a never-ending barrage of trash talk. This is the new, online era of chess.”  Link here.

White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households…

Gaps persisted even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.

This is pathbreaking work by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, and Sonya R. Porter [full paper here].

The study, based on anonymous earnings and demographic data for virtually all Americans now in their late 30s, debunks a number of other widely held hypotheses about income inequality. Gaps persisted even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.

The disparities that remain also can’t be explained by differences in cognitive ability, an argument made by people who cite racial gaps in test scores that appear for both black boys and girls. If such inherent differences existed by race, “you’ve got to explain to me why these putative ability differences aren’t handicapping women,” said David Grusky, a Stanford sociologist who has reviewed the research.

A more likely possibility, the authors suggest, is that test scores don’t accurately measure the abilities of black children in the first place.

If this inequality can’t be explained by individual or household traits, much of what matters probably lies outside the home — in surrounding neighborhoods, in the economy and in a society that views black boys differently from white boys, and even from black girls.

“One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea”…

The NYT piece is by Emily Badger, Claire Cain Miller, Adam Pearce, and Kevin Quealy.  And from the paper itself:

Conditional on parent income, the black-white income gap is driven entirely by large differences in wages and employment rates between black and white men; there are no such differences between black and white women.

Tanzania fact of the day

by on March 19, 2018 at 2:14 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

Since coming to power in the country of 55m on the east coast of Africa in 2015, Mr Magufuli, nicknamed “the bulldozer” from his time as roads minister, has bashed foreign-owned businesses with impossible tax demands, ordered pregnant girls to be kicked out of school, shut down newspapers and locked up “immoral” musicians who criticise him. A journalist and opposition party members have disappeared, political rallies have been banned and mutilated bodies have washed up on the shores of Coco Beach in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital. Mr Magufuli is fast transforming Tanzania from a flawed democracy into one of Africa’s more brutal dictatorships. It is a lesson in how easily weak institutions can be hijacked and how quickly democratic progress can be undone.

…The main lesson of Tanzania is that constitutions which concentrate power in the presidency can quickly be subverted.

Here is more from The Economist.

According to no less an authority than Danny Baker, this story is absolutely true.

Harrods in the sixties employed someone to be sacked- surely the best job in the world.

Apparently  the employee was paid to sit among the boxes on Harrods top-floor smoking his pipe and reading the Sporting Life. From time to time a bell would ring and he would be summoned to a department where an irate customer was  being mollified by the Head of the Department.

Let us say today that Lady Ponsonby-Waffles has discovered one of the precious china teacups she recently purchased is chipped.

The Department Head greets our friend with “Lady Ponsonby-Waffles is a most valued customer, your failure to check the quality of her china cups has led to her current predicament, you sir are fired”

Despite Lady Ponsonby-Waffles pleas for mercy, the Head cannot be swayed. Our friend slopes disconsolately to the exit. Lady Ponsonby-Waffles drops her complaint convinced to the store’s determination to enforce the highest standards. Our friend, once passing the Department’s exit, slips back to his Sporting Life and his Pipe, to await the next occasion he would be called upon to be sacked.

Here is the link from Henry Tapper, via Steve Stuart-Williams.

Sunday assorted links

by on March 18, 2018 at 1:14 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Pop superstar Miley Cyrus now being sued for copyright infringement — with damages potentially hitting $300 million.  That is, for one lyric in her hit single, “We Can’t Stop”.  The song is from her fourth studio album, Bangerz, released in 2013.

The lawsuit is coming from Michael May, better known as Flourgon, a Jamaican dancehall artist.  Flourgon had several Jamaican hit singles in the late 1980s and 1990s, and remains an active performer today.

May alleges that Cyrus ripped off his catch-phase, ‘We Run Things,’ which is actually the name of a song written by May.  In “We Can’t Stop,” Cyrus repeats the lyric ‘we run things’ in the chorus.

“We run things/Things don’t run we” are the lyrics of Miley’s single.

In May’s track, the lyrics are: “We run things/Things no run we.”

Here is the full article, via Ted Gioia.

It’s early March, two weeks before Russia’s polling day, but the presidential election season is already in full swing in Chubulga, a reindeer-herding settlement in north-eastern Yakutia. It’s an hour’s flight to the nearest village, which is itself a further two hours from the nearest asphalt road and 5,000km east of Moscow.

With a population of just three, this district is unlikely to turn the electoral tide. But with election officials desperate to raise turnout and show support for current president Vladimir Putin, no expense has been spared.

So they sent a team of election officials by plane, plus some trudging through the snow.  And this:

Results differ across regions. Some areas allegedly concoct results to show their loyalty to the Kremlin: Putin regularly polls above 99 per cent in Chechnya. In major cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, Putin is so unpopular among the middle class that he wins less than half the vote, despite accusations of voter fraud. In Yakutia, Putin’s last election return of 69 per cent was typical for ­Russia’s far-flung provinces. But the region’s vastness means that the key is maintaining the 75 per cent turnout. As a result, officials have to go further than anywhere else to show democracy in action.

Here is the FT story by Max Seddon, via BaldingsWorld.

You may recall last week a spate of stories and tweets claiming that fake news spreads further and faster on Twitter.  For instance, there is Steve Lohr at the NYT, who doesn’t quite get it right:

And people, the study’s authors also say, prefer false news.

As a result, false news travels faster, farther and deeper through the social network than true news.

That struck me as off-base, and you can find other offenders, so I went back and read the original paper by Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral.  And what did I find?:

1. The data focus solely on “rumor cascades.”  The paper does not establish the relative ratio of fake news to real news, for instance.  The main questions take the form of “within the data set of rumor cascades, what can we say about those cascades?”

2. It still may (or may not) be the case that real news has its major effects through non-cascade mechanisms.  Most people are convinced of 2 + 2 = 4, but probably not because they heard it through a rumor cascade.

3. Within the universe of rumor cascades, this paper measures average effects.  It does not mean that at the margin fake news is more powerful.  For instance, the rumor “Hillary Clinton is Satan” may have been quite powerful, but that does not mean a particular new rumor can achieve the same force.  2 + 2 = 5 won’t get you nearly as far in terms of retweets, I suspect.

4. Overall the results of this paper remind me of another problem/data issue.  At least in the old days, children’s movies used to earn more than films for adults, as stressed by Michael Medved.  That doesn’t mean you have a quick money-making formula by simply making more movies for kids.  It could be a few major kid’s movies, driven perhaps by peer effects, suck up most of the oxygen in the room and dominate the market.  And then, within the universe of cascade-driven movies, kid’s movies will look really strong and indeed be really strong.  That also doesn’t have to mean the kid’s movies have more cultural influence overall, even if they look dominant in the cascade-driven category.  In this analogy, the kid’s movies are like the fake news.

5. I am not sure how much the authors of the paper themselves are at fault for the misunderstandings.  They can defend themselves on the grounds of not being literally incorrect in their statements in the paper.  Still, they do not seem to be going out of their way to correct possible and indeed fairly likely misinterpretations.

6. The strongest argument for the coverage of the authors’ paper is perhaps the coverage of the authors’ paper itself.  The incorrect interpretations of the result did indeed spread faster and further than the correct interpretations.  I even delayed the publication of this post by a few days, if only to make its content less likely to be true.