Month: February 2005

DeLong on the Civil War

Brad DeLong has an arresting post on the costs of the civil war.

  • Cost of Civil War to North: $140 per capita (including only economic damages for dead and wounded)
  • Cost of Civil War to South: $340 per capita (including only economic damages for dead and wounded)
  • "Indirect" additional cost of Civil War to South: $450 per capita.

Cost to buy and free all the slaves?  $90 per capita.

Gas prices around the world

The price of gas varies around the world, due to the vagaries of exchange rates but mostly because of taxes and subsidies.  Assuming your car gets 35 miles per gallon, here is how far $20 of gas will take you in various countries around the world:

Germany: 127 miles

Japan: 147 miles

United States: 342 miles

China: 385 miles

Saudi Arabia: 771 miles

Venezuela: 4,624 miles

The data are from Foreign Policy, March/April 2005, p.18.  Here is a related data set.

Bad Rap

In his Washington Post column Eugene Robinson viciously attacks Larry Summers for his recent comments.

First, is there a pattern here? When Summers arrived at Harvard, one
of his first acts was to dress down one of the university’s best-known
black scholars, Cornel West, for spending too much time on outside
projects and not enough on research. Offended, West decamped to
Princeton University. But Harvard is lousy with peripatetic rock-star
professors. One of Summers’s most vocal defenders is Harvard law school
professor Alan Dershowitz, who found time amid his busy academic
schedule to serve on the O.J. Simpson defense team, for heaven’s sake.
Why start with West? Was he doing anything his white colleagues don’t

Oh, this one is just too easy.  Why yes, Cornel West’s colleagues were not cutting rap albums with Derek "DOA" Allen and Killa Mike.  (“In all modesty, this project constitutes a watershed moment in musical history”).  Nor were they appearing in the movies as wise Councilor West of the last free human city of Zion, or leading a leading a political committee for Al Sharpton’s presidential campaign.  (Sharpton helpfully threatened to sue over the Summers-West donnybrook.)

I’m open to the argument that West is practicing an unorthodox but compelling form of pedagogy.  At the very least he isn’t resting on his laurels but however you slice it the comparison with Dershowitz is bizarre.  Dershowtiz teaches criminal law.  For him to be involved in the "trial of the century" is directly relevant to his work and redounds to Harvard’s advantage.  Who wouldn’t want to study defense law from a master?

Robinson may be offended by Summers’ remarks but his insinuations are unfair and irresponsible.

Why Do Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts?

Given the recent brouhaha over Larry Summers, I have posted my 1996 essay "Why Women Succeed, and Fail, in the Arts."  Here is one brief excerpt:

Eleanor Tufts (1974), in her highly regarded book on women artists, presented biographies of 22 of the most prominent female artists in Western history.  Biographical research reveals that of the first 14 painters surveyed, 12 had artist fathers.

Women with artists in the family had opportunities to receive training, critical feedback, artistic materials, and studio space.  Without strong family connections, women had few means of painting at all…Male artists, who had superior resources and superior access to outside training, were not generally sons of artists…most prominent male artists received formal instruction from an art school or a private teacher.  If the development of male artists had been restricted to those who had learned from their families, the artistic record of males would be far poorer than what we observe.

The likelihood of having an artist father, however, declines precisely when training opportunities open up; women then achieve greater success in the nineteenth century art world.  The paper also finds that women have achieved much greater representation in "Naive art," (which does not require formal training), watercolors (which involve lower capital costs), and that women have done far better in painting and photography than in sculpture or architecture (the latter two involve higher capital costs and require more cooperation from other people).  Leading female painters tend to have been childless, although the remarkable Rachel Ruysch had ten kids.  In the textile arts, which are often complements to child-rearing, women have a superior record to that of men.

Read the whole thing; I am arguing that remediable external obstacles have prevented women from achieving close to their maximum potential.  I am not trying to argue there are no intrinsic differences between the sexes.

Maoist Video Game Reviews

The website of the Maoist International Movement (MIM) has posted video game reviews from a Maoist point of view.  Here are some comments from the review of Sim 3000.

"Sim City" has completely bourgeois assumptions, which is why it is not MIM’s
favorite economic strategy game. The mayor has the power to set tax rates and
this influences the level of development. There is no option to nationalize
factories…. People who believe the mayor set taxes too high may leave the city. [Interesting that Maoist’s would comment on this so openly! AT]…

The Sim City economy may go through cycles including crises which reduce the
population and destroy city government revenue, but the explanation for that is
not Marx’s labor theory of value. What class struggle appears is actually within
the government, with police, fire and mass transit workers occasionally going on
strike…[That wouldn’t happen in a Maoist society!]

In actual fact in the capitalist
world, having more or fewer police stations does not affect the crime rate, but
in "Sim City 3000," police hiring levels affect the crime rate and thus property
values. This is an example why it is important for Maoists also to write
computer games. Propaganda and conventional wisdom say that police exist to
reduce crime instead of perpetrating it. The truth that there is no effect of
police hiring or budget levels on crime is difficult for the public to swallow.
[I guess the MIM has not read my paper on this issue.]

MIM does make a good point about Rise of Nations but naturally I draw the opposite conclusion:

…RoN cuts through the dense fog of bourgeois
economics which focuses on consumer choices, markets and profits….

The RoN economy does not depend on individual choices, sales or profits. The
marketplace does exist but it plays no directing role. It is the player who
directs the economy and if for no other reason, that is why MIM has to recommend

Thanks to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing Blog for the link.

(Spot) markets in everything

[a] woman thinks she has found a niche by turning canine fur into
fashion, spinning hairballs into accessories that can cost $200.

Read more here, noting that the most "sumptuous hair" is from the underbelly. And did you know that other yarns are made of wire, paper, and possum hair?  For the pointer I thank Ennis of the Indian-flavored, one of my favorite blogs.

What’s your P?

Readers of this blog will be familiar with Tyler’s insistent question, what’s your P?  As in what probability do you put on this event or belief?  (Examples here, here and my favorite here).

Unfortunately this type of thinking is all Greek (I am tempted to say all Arabic, but that would be cruel) to our intelligence services.  Writing in the Washington Post Michael Schrage argues:

It’s time to require national security analysts to assign numerical
probabilities to their professional estimates and assessments as both a
matter of rigor and of record. Policymakers can’t weigh the risks
associated with their decisions if they can’t see how confident
analysts are in the evidence and conclusions used to justify those

[T]he CIA, Defense Intelligence
Agency, FBI and the federal government’s other analytic agencies have
shied away from simple mathematical tools that would let them better
weigh conflicting evidence and data. That bureaucratic shortsightedness
undermines our ability to even see the dots, let alone connect them.

Consider the National Intelligence Estimates, the
Presidential Daily Briefings or many of the critical classified and
unclassified analyses flowing through Washington’s national security
establishment. Key estimates and analytic insights rarely come with
explicit probabilities attached. The nation’s most knowledgeable
experts on the Middle East, counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation,
etc., are seldom asked to quantify, in writing, precisely how much
confidence they have in their evidence or their conclusions.

personal financial planner does a better job, on average, of
quantitative risk assessment for your investments than the typical
intelligence analyst does for our national security.

All true.  I would add only that one virtue of information markets, like the short-lived Policy Analysis Market, is precisely that they produce such probabilities as a matter of course.

(Black) Markets in Everything

Students at a high school in Austin, Texas gave their teachers a lesson in the economics of prohibition.

When Austin High School administrators removed candy from campus vending
machines last year, the move was hailed as a step toward fighting
obesity. What happened next shows how hard it can be for schools to
control what students eat on campus.

The candy removal plan, according to students at Austin High, was
thwarted by classmates who created an underground candy market, turning
the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca….

"It’s all about supply and demand," said Austin junior Scott Roudebush.
"We’ve got some entrepreneurs around here."

Thanks to Sean Brown, a student at another Austin high school, for the pointer.

Losing status makes you less productive

“We speculate that high testosterone individuals are comfortable in
a high status position, and able to concentrate on the task at hand,”
Newman said. “In a low status position, however, they appear to be
distracted by their low status, and thus presumably less able to
concentrate on the task at hand.

“They were more impaired
by low status than they were helped by high status,” Newman added. “If
you’re a high testosterone person, it is a really big deal to lose
status, where as to get a high status position is more expected.

Here is the full story.  And thanks to Eloise for the pointer.

Life at the top

In the past months we have learned that the prescription drug
benefit passed last year is not going to cost $400 billion over 10
years. The projections now, over a slightly different period, are that
it’s going to cost over $700 billion. And these cost estimates are
coming before the program is even operating. They are only going to go

That means we’re going to be spending the next few months
bleeding over budget restraints that might produce savings in the
millions, while the new prescription drug benefit will produce spending
in the billions.

In Congress, some are taking a look at these new cost projections
and figuring that maybe it’s time to readjust the program. In the House
there are Republicans like Mike Pence and Jeff Flake (whose predictions
of this program’s actual cost have been entirely vindicated by events).
In the Senate there are people like Judd Gregg and Lindsey Graham.
These fiscal conservatives want to make the program sustainable.

Perhaps the benefits should be limited to those earning up to 200
percent of the level at the poverty line. Perhaps the costs should be
capped at $400 billion through other benefit adjustments. These ideas
are akin to what the candidate George Bush proposed in 2000.

But the White House is threatening to veto anything they do! President
Bush, who hasn’t vetoed a single thing during his presidency, now
threatens to veto something – and it’s something that might actually
restrain the growth of government. He threatens to use his first veto
against an idea he himself originally proposed!

Here is David Brooks’s entire opinion piece.

Where are Asia’s “Missing Women”?

In Business Week Robert Barro writes:

In 1990 my Harvard colleague Amartya Sen caused a stir by observing…that excess female mortality in China, India, and other Asian countries meant that there were 100 million women fewer in the world than there should be.  The presumption was that the excess mortality came from discrimination against women by men and governments…[this] shockingly large number became a symbol of discrimination against women in developing countries.  Many people think the reason is abortion and the killing of newborn girls.  But new research suggests another reason.  Harvard economist Emily Oster, in her PhD thesis "Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women" suggests that biology explains a good deal of the missing-women puzzle…

Oster argues that this calculation overlooked something crucial — unusually high male-female birth ratios in Asia years before abortion became widespread…Oster sees the high incidence of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) as a major culprit. There is much evidence that parents infected by HBV are more likely to have male children.

In fact carriers of hepatitis B can have boy-girl ratios as high as 1.55. Oster argues that this factor explains 75% percent of the gender gap in China, albeit only 17% in India.  For Asia as a whole, 46% of the gap can be explained.

Here is Oster’s home page.  Here is the paper.