Month: October 2005

The Idea Trap lasts a long time

Here is the latest by Alberto Alesina and Nicola Scheundeln:

Preferences for redistribution, as well as the generosities of welfare
states, differ significantly across countries. In this paper, we test
whether there exists a feedback process of the economic regime on
individual preferences. We exploit the "experiment" of German
separation and reunification to establish exogeneity of the economic
system. From 1945 to 1990, East Germans lived under a Communist regime
with heavy state intervention and extensive redistribution. We find
that, after German reunification, East Germans are more in favor of
redistribution and state intervention than West Germans, even after
controlling for economic incentives. This effect is especially strong
for older cohorts, who lived under Communism for a longer time period.
We further find that East Germans’ preferences converge towards those
of West Germans. We calculate that it will take one to two generations
for preferences to converge completely.

Here is Bryan Caplan on The Idea Trap, one of his best pieces.

Who are the leading public intellectuals?

Remember that poll from a month or so ago?  Here are the winners, ugh to number one.  Here is the full list and vote tally; having a non-European, hard to spell or pronounce last name virtually guarantees you sink to the bottom.  Milton Friedman was the number one write-in candidate.  France had one name in the top forty.  Thanks to for the pointer. 


Domino2_1The Undercover Economist invited me to chat about bounty-hunters after a screening of Domino, the new film "about" Domino Harvey, upper-crust British fashion model turned LA bounty hunter.  Alas, I never met Domino although I did once meet her bail-bondsman boss.

Unfortunately, Domino is only nominally about Domino Harvey – we get the message early on when Domino throws a knife half-way through a car’s front windshield (nfw imo) and then does a lap-dance to get out of a Mexican standoff.  By the time Tom Waits shows up as an angel we are long aware that this ain’t no biopic.

Thus if you are searching for information on the real thing read my paper or watch Dog: The Bounty Hunter which at least is "reality television."  (By the way, long-time readers will know that my research on bounty hunters has gone beyond the armchair.  Nevertheless, I cannot hold a candle to the bravery of the Undercover Economist.)

I won’t complain about the movie too much, however, as Domino does have plenty of violence, rock and roll, and sex served up with verve and hyperkinetic style.  And any movie with Keira Knightley will not fail to hold my interest at least some of the time.

Schelling and Kubrick

Director Stanley Kubrick, working on a movie in England, saw the review
when it was reprinted in a London Sunday newspaper, The Observer. He
contacted George, asking him to write a screenplay based on his book.

Kubrick and George got in touch with Schelling. Along with fellow
nuclear theorists Morton Halperin and William Kaufman, they sat around
for an afternoon and evening dealing with a quandary – Red Alert had
been written in 1958, before intercontinental ballistic missiles became
the primary delivery system for nuclear weapons, which changed the
plausibility of its scenario based on bombers.

"We had a hell of a time getting that damn war started," Schelling
says. "We finally decided that it couldn’t happen unless there was
somebody crazy in the Air Force. That’s when Kubrick and Peter George
decided they would have to do it as what they called a nightmare

Schelling had been hoping for a serious movie. "The book was a
very serious study; there was nothing funny in it at all," he says.
But, like generations of moviegoers, he was not disappointed in the
result that came out in 1964.

"I was a little sorry they couldn’t do it without making it a black comedy, but I think it got the point across," he says.

Here is the full article (brief registration required), thanks to Paul Jeanne for the pointer.  And if you have nothing better to do, try to imagine how the works of other Nobel Laureates might have given rise to movies.

Should we confiscate Tamiflu property rights?

Tamiflu can combat avian flu, but the Swiss company Roche can’t get us more Tamiflu for well over a year.  They won’t (can’t?) set up a U.S. manufacturing plant for almost two years.  (Face it, in a pinch neither the Swiss nor anyone else will export much Tamiflu, no matter what the previous agreement.)  Roche holds a patent on Tamiflu but India will go ahead and produce a generic version; Taiwan has been making similar noises.  What should we do?  Here is one argument for producing generic tamiflu.  Andrew Sullivan concurs.

I suggest a different approach.  Let’s offer Roche a large prize for speeding up the construction of the U.S. plant.  This can include legal and regulatory waivers (Bush already has suggested this idea).  We also make it clear upfront that if a pandemic comes, the U.S. government will purchase Tamiflu doses at a relatively high price.  This latter round of payments can be made upfront, with a refund to the government if no pandemic arrives.  Ex post, the government distributes the doses for free, with medical workers and key individuals in the supply chain (food, transportation, Typepad) given priority.

Note how avian flu differs from AIDS.  AIDS is a relatively slow acting condition and the possibility of disease hangs around for decades.  Avian flu, if it becomes a pandemic, will likely come and go in a few waves of a few months each, spread out over a year or two.  That makes the case for abrogating property rights weaker.  The key question is not price but whether you have a stockpile at all.

We should not focus on avian flu to the exclusion of other emergencies, including bioterrorism.  Avian flu is just one possible pandemic of many.  If we confiscate property rights this time around, there won’t be a Tamiflu, or its equivalent, next time.  We also need to stop taxing our vaccine-producing infrastructure through liability law.

Respecting Tamiflu property rights would supply an international public good as well.  Many other countries will confiscate Tamiflu property rights.  If the U.S. holds the line, we are subsidizing global R&D and doing a greater service for the world than our critics are willing to admit.

Addendum: The worthier-than-ever Daniel Drezner notes that no country is well prepared for avian flu.  Comments, by the way, are open, please stick to the subject at hand.

The hum of status

Matt Yglesias quotes Franz de Waal’s new book:

They [people conversing] settle on a single hum, and it is always the lower status person who does the adjusting. This was first demonstrated in an analysis of the Larry King Live television show. The host, Larry King, would adjust his timbre to that of high-ranking guests, like Mike Wallace or Elizabeth Taylor. Low-ranking guests, on the other hand, would adjust their timbre to that of King. The clearest adjustment to King’s voice, indicating lack of confidence, came from former Vice President Dan Quayle.

The same spectral analysis has been applied to televised debates between U.S. presidential candidates. In all eight elections between 1960 and 2000 the popular vote matched the voice analysis: the majority of people voted for the candidate who held his own timbre rather than the one who adjusted.

On another note, Matt wonders whether he has a new worry.

New economist blog

Art DeVany, a former colleague of mine at UC Irvine.  Art was into the "caveman diet" (don’t eat anything a caveman could not) before it was fashionable.  His blog covers economics, sports, and diet, among other topics.  Here is his post arguing that steroids have not increased home run hitting in baseball.  Here is a related post.  Art, by the way, once played minor league ball.

Art favors fast, short sprints to keep in shape.  Here are his ten reasons not to run marathons; I can think of an eleventh and possibly a twelfth as well.

Thanks to Craig Newmark for the pointer.

Markets in everything — Omar Shamshoon

An Arabized "Simpsons" — called "Al Shamshoon" — made its debut in the Arab world earlier this month, in time for Ramadan, a time of high TV viewership.  It uses the original "Simpsons" animation, but the voices are dubbed into Arabic and the scripts have been adapted to make the show more accessible, and acceptable, to Arab audiences.

Homer, by the way, has given up beer and bacon.  For more detail, see The Wall Street Journal, Marketplace section, 14 October.  Here is one negative review, apparently by an Arab.  He is still angry.

The future of classical music?

Via ArtsJournal, a good piece by Marc Shulgold on classical downloading. Shulgold writes: "Naturally, we’re not talking huge volume here: According to [Naxos’s Mark] Berry, classical downloads account for only about 6 percent of the total of all music downloaded on the Internet." But note: classical music has had 3 percent of the CD market in recent years. So it’s twice as popular on the Internet, and growing. The death of the death of classical music continues. By the way, Naxos’s $19.95 offer – which gives you Internet access to their entire catalogue for a year – is quite a deal.

Here is the link, from my favorite music blog, (here is his Rameau review). The obvious prediction, of course, is that classical composers will start writing — will have to start writing — more very short pieces. 

But what price will markets sustain?  Classical music performances are, to most listeners, interchangeable.  When will they offer the Beethoven symphonies again for free?  Music companies were not happy.