Assorted links

by on September 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “Brent is a retired laboratory animal…”

2. Lin Ostrom was originally rejected from the UCLA economics Ph.d. program, and other points from the history of the tragedy of the commons idea.

3. Syrian discussion of where to seek asylum.

4. Robotic doorknob disinfector.

5. An Indian student’s impressions of America.

Alexei Sadeski September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

“Rich people are thin/ well maintained, poor people are fat. This stems from the fact that cheap food is fatty, rich people don’t eat cheap food — they tend to eat either home-cooked food which is expensive or eat at expensive / healthy places. Unfortunately, it is expensive to be healthy in America.”

Lay off the Kool-Aid, son!

Albigensian September 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm

My reaction was to give him a pass, as these are supposed to be “first reactions.”

Unfortunately, in this case I think his tabula rasa got contaminated- that he’s unknowingly passing along someone else’s expressed opinion as his own first impression.

In any case, it’s certainly not difficult to eat healthy food at home without spending much for it (certainly much less (per pound or portion) than one would pay for fast food). The catch is, it can take significant time to prepare.

And even expensive restaurant food is seldom healthy- rather, it’s presented so as to appear healthy. For better or worse, Darwin equipped us to appreciate fat, sugar and salt. Which is why that seemingly-healthy fish filet is loaded with butter (etc.).

Floccina September 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm

The catch is, it can take significant time to prepare.
Or you can buy food that is eaten raw like carrots, celery, oranges etc You can also buy already cooked supermarket foods like bread, peanut butter, hummas, yogurt, cold cuts, cheese. When I travel I eat a lot of trail mix. Cold cuts, cheese and trail mix are not cheap but they are cheaper than restaurant food, even fast food.

david September 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm

What amuses me about the Ycombinator discussion is the utter absence of the usual bitterness with which Ycomb’s inhabitants usually treat the specter of a migrant IT worker. Instead you get explicit advice: “no, no, don’t be a political refugee, go classify yourself as an economic migrant and work your way in through Latvia or Turkey. Best of luck!”.

I suppose it is hard to curse and swear at foreigners when the foreigners actually have a name and a background.

The Anti-Gnostic September 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Israel is closer. Why doesn’t he try there?

david September 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Probably for the sane reason that it’ll be extremely difficult to get in legally.

Careless September 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I liked
The typical Blue Card minimum required salary is €46,400/year, however, software development is an in-demand job (“Mangelberuf”), which lowers the minimum to €39,192/year

Ah, the tech job market and its intersections with politics and economics

JWatts September 1, 2013 at 2:36 pm

5. An Indian student’s impressions of America.

Nothing really that surprising to me other than the: “Because labor is cheap in India, there is always someone who will act as a “personal shopper” to assist you with holding your clothes, giving suggestions, etc.”

Hmm, maybe we should encourage unlimited migration from third world countries.

gregor September 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Interesting. I came to Madison in 1970, and I had similar impressions, but I would have thought that the new crops of Indian students are more affluent, arrogant and nationalistic and less likely to say good things about the USA.

The thing that surprised me most at the time was the number of foreigners in the university. In one graduate course in Mechanical Engineering, there were two Indians, two Chinese, one Egyptian, and one American students. And the professor was an Egyptian.

Beckland September 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm

“People take pride in their hard work and usually do not cheat. This is different from students from India and China as well as back home in India, where everyone collaborates to the extent that it can be categorized as cheating.”

Maybe this explains the cheating epidemic in the America of the past couple decades. We have imported it from China and India.

CD September 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Right. Everyone knows that native-born students never cheat.

Beckland September 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Cheating in academics is the new normal. Why?

CD September 1, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Right. Before ____ (fill in any date) hardly anyone cheated.

CD September 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/opinion/the-long-legacy-of-cheating-at-harvard.html?_r=0

http://articles.latimes.com/1994-04-03/news/vw-41646_1_honor-code

Sue Carter Simmons, “Competing Notions of Authorship: A Historical Look at Students and Textbooks on Plagiarism and Cheating”, in Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in the Postmodern World ed. Lise Buranen and Alice M. Roy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 45

Floccina September 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm

My impression of foreign students back in the late 1970 was that they were much more likely to cheat than USA born students and that included students for Europe.

Marie September 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm

#2. Very interesting story, and the contrast in lives is pretty literary/dramatic, too.
I’m always amazed when people can earn their chops by giving birth to a theory pretty much whole out of their heads without ever really checking it against reality. I know we all do it all the time, and I’m particularly inclined to doing it myself. What knocks me out is when people become professionally successful in high profile scenarios where above average intelligence is supposed to be the norm. I guess smart people like a pretty-sounding theory that jives with their own biases and self-interest as much as dumb people do. . .

Jacob A. Geller September 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm

#5 I have been told by more than one Indian friend that wooden buildings are a strange thing about America.

RM September 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm

In Karachi, apartments are totally cinder blocks and poured concrete, including interior walls. The only explanation I could get from locals is “this is the way it is” and no one will ever buy anything containing sheetrock. My comments that blocks and concrete increased costs, including for massive supporting beams and columns, drew funny looks. Pakistanis are incredibly cost-conscious, but I could not get this particular point across. Maybe there is something about the economics of cinder blocks in this part of the world that I do not understand.

zbicyclist September 1, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Or maybe the economics of wood. Outside of the national forests, I didn’t see a lot of the type of tall trees that would be needed for a lumber industry. But I haven’t spent enough time in Indian to qualify as any sort of lumber expert.

Ape Man September 2, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Wood is not what RM is talking about. Nothing about Sheetrock requires wood. In American, we don’t use wood in commercial buildings anymore (all metal studs in my experience. I suppose somebody out there still uses wood).

Claude Emer September 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I don’t think it’s about India, Pakistan or wood economy. I know Nigerians who make the same comments. Wood houses are associated with poverty. Anyone who can builds brick houses. Sometimes it takes years to complete and people move in before the house is finished. Brick houses are more expensive to build but require a lot less maintenance whereas wood houses start rotting after a couple of years.

Miguel September 2, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Outside North America and some parts of Scandinavia virtually all houses are not made of wood. Only people that cannot afford otherwise would ever think building a house made of wood.

ChrisA September 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

#2 – I am not sure why Ostrom thinks that she disproved Hardin’s theory, by coming up with examples of where people have solved the “Tragedy of the Commons”. Sure people can resolve this by coming up with quasi government or regulated solutions. According to Harford, Hardin said there were two possible solutions; 1) privatize the commons or 2) put a government in charge. Now the definition of a Government can be flexible, but basically it is an entity that sets rules and enforces them. Ostrom’s point was to explore and define how regulated solutions came about but that doesn’t negate anything Hardin said. More widely, Ostrom’s optimism about people be able to resolve the TOTC by voluntary self regulations, is perhaps influenced by survivorship bias. Sure she can find examples in the world where people did come up with ways to regulate themselves, but how many TOTC situations did this? Do people do this naturally, or is it very rare and path dependent?

In summary, Hardin was correct that there exists a phenomenon called Tragedy of the Commons, and this can be solved either by enforced regulation or by privatization. We have examples of when the problem was not solved (deep sea fishing in general, litter in most developing cities), when it was solved by regulation (Swiss meadows) and when it was solved by privatization (enclosures in England), but we don’t know which of these is the most favored by humans in a general sense.

Marie September 1, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Enclosure is a great example of a solution to a problem that wasn’t a problem being not a solution. And we’ll not even get to the immoral part.

If you’re going to define government as any agreement among people enforceable in any way (even just enforced through peer pressure) you’re going to define your TOTC scenario into necessarily existing. Of course when people can’t agree on how to use common property together they will fail to use it properly together. Circular.

Form of governmental regulation outside the owning group (even if it includes the group, also) is what is meant by regulation, there is a problem. Every time a commons “problem” gets solved by government regulation (more power to the government) or by privatization (more power to the most powerful individuals or corporation) you’re going to have a situation where the winners of that battle (government or new owners) have a strong interest in characterizing the previous system as problematic and the new situation as optimal.

The argument for TOTC is best served by those situations in which common use has failed, like overfishing. I think many of those situations can be noted as special circumstances. A great example would be the depletion of the bison, I think. You can look on that as the failure of common ownership, but in reality common ownership worked well until the group holding the property “in common” suddenly included wildly different and noncommunicating peoples, peoples often already antagonistic towards or disinterested in each other; in addition, there was suddenly a massive change in the circumstances under which the property was held, the technological changes of the horse, the gun, and the train.

In most times and places, common ownership works out more or less well but usually isn’t tragic. Most housing developments have common areas, water pumps, wells, etc. that might not be kept up as well as the individual homes but aren’t degrading into barbarian-controlled, polluted no man’s lands; community gardens; local pools; school playgrounds and soccer fields; cooperative preschools and home school groups; that sort of thing. An interesting study could be made of those times and places where it has been tragic. But to throw out there as a practical “given” that common use must almost always devolve into the tragic, that both contradicts reality and caters to predators who will use any excuse to steal control from locals. It’s suspect.

Cliff September 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

All your examples are terrible. School playgrounds? Owned by the schools. Home school groups? Not property, not a commons. Local pools? Run by the municipality or by the pool owner. Community gardens? Again, owned by somebody and having rules. Housing development common areas? Meticulously regulated by busybody HOAs.

Marie September 2, 2013 at 9:23 am

Well, it’s what we’ve been left with here and now, but if you were able to dig through the top of my comment my point was that if you call it government regulation any time the group collectively decides to make rules, you are left with calling “common property” only those things that people use together without ever agreeing upon a way to use them well. That’s just begging the question, and there’s not hardly anything out there like that. Ostrom’s point, as per the article, was not that people magically were able to use the common without ever talking to each other or agreeing on anything. Her point was that people naturally do talk to each other and make agreements, and so common use of property is normally a useful thing. and doesn’t naturally devolve into tragic misuse just because big government, big aristocracy, or big corporations don’t swoop in and save us from ourselves.

Schools are supposed to be locally owned and operated. That’s been perverted by the feds, but the locals own them, that’s what the property tax thing is about. Home school groups use resources cooperatively (with better and worse results). Pools less good since it’s almost always truly governmental — also, there is a tragic misuse of those pools at times! Community gardens are sometimes government owned or private owned, usually its 501C3 nonprofit stuff, which is in fact corporate run so I’ll give you that one, too. Common areas, though, are definitely held in common. I hate HOAs with a white hot rage, but they aren’t outside government regulatory bodies.

Common use has been under assault for centuries, so it’s hard to come up with clean examples now (when capitalist countries incorporate everything and communist countries call it common when it’s state owned). But historically, much property has been successfully commonly owned. Common grazing areas, common wild areas, common wells, common gleaning lands. The difficulty with common areas is not that they are hard to hold, but that they are hard to defend from takers, internal or external. But Hardin’s insistence that man’s nature means common holding with naturally turn tragic seems belief system based, not based on objective outside observation of real world situations. I kick at it so much because it is very much the justification others with his belief system use to take from those they want to take from. When I tell my kids “you’ll never be able to share that bag of candy the neighbor gave you fairly, I’ll just hold it for you” they know exactly what I’m up to. Same same.

anon September 2, 2013 at 3:27 am

#4 – This immediately reminded me of the phone sanitizers in Douglas Adams’ lore.

sanjiv September 2, 2013 at 11:50 am

I am Indian and am embarrassed by that incredibly dumb article.

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