Month: February 2006

More economics of curling!

From Wired:

UK researchers spent $89,000 developing a sensor-laden broom in the
hopes of optimizing curlers’ strokes. Strain gauges measure how hard a
brush is being pushed, while accelerometers provide velocity info and a
thermocouple in the head monitors ice temperature. "Do you want to be
sweeping your heart out and not know what you’re doing?" asks Mike Hay,
the UK’s Olympic coach. "It’s really been smoke and mirrors until now."
The women’s team used an early iteration of the brush prior to winning
the gold in 2002. Now the men, too, are tapping the smart sweeper to
try to ice the competition in Turin, Italy.

Do competitive House seats make for ideologues?

James Q. Wilson says yes:

It has been suggested that congressional polarization is exacerbated by new districting arrangements that make each House seat safe for either a Democratic or a Republican incumbent. If only these seats were truly competitive, it is said, more centrist legislators would be elected. That seems plausible, but David C. King of Harvard has shown that it is wrong: in the House, the more competitive the district, the more extreme the views of the winner. This odd finding is apparently the consequence of a nomination process dominated by party activists. In primary races, where turnout is low (and seems to be getting lower), the ideologically motivated tend to exercise a preponderance of influence.

Thanks to Eric Rasmusen for the pointer, comments are open.  The implication, of course, is that electoral competition is overrated.  If we think of more moderate outcomes as better on average (debatable, admittedly), we can view the problem of politics in a new way.  Do aggregation mechanisms produce better decisions when individuals feel that less is on the line?  Is this the opposite of everything we learned from Anthony Downs?

One piece of evidence for Blink

“We found that when the choice was for something simple, such as purchasing oven gloves or shampoo, people made better decisions – ones that they remained happy with – if they consciously deliberated over the information,” says Dijksterhuis.

“But once the decision was more complex such as for a house, too much thinking about it led people to make the wrong choice. Whereas, if their conscious mind was fully occupied on solving puzzles, their unconscious could freely consider all the information and they reached better decisions.”

Here is the link.

When is it bad to disclose good news?

Rick Harbaugh and Theodore To offer an abstract:

Is it always wise to disclose good news?  We find that the worst sender with good news has the most incentive to disclose it, so reporting good news can paradoxically make the sender look bad.  If the good news is attainable by sufficiently mediocre types, or if the sender is already expected to be of a relatively high type, withholding good news is an equilibrium.  Since the sender has a legitimate fear of looking to anxious to reveal good news, having a third party disclose the news, or mandating that the sender disclose the news, can help the sender.  The predictions are tested by examining when economics faculty at different institutions use titles such as "Dr" and "Professor" in voicemail greetings and course syllabi.

Here is the paperHarbaugh’s home page has many interesting papers, most of all "Too Cool for School," which concerns the underexplored topic of "countersignaling."  He also has a paper on why the favorites save up their effort for the final round, and why status can make you risk-averse in gains but risk-loving in losses.  He is an underappreciated economist, and I thank Robin Hanson for the pointer to his work.

The bottom line: When it comes to titles, if the book lists "Ph.d." after the author’s name, run the other way.  Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions is one notable exception to this rule.


Lt. General William Odom (Ret.), former Director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, shocked the crowd yesterday when he called for unilateral withdrawal from Iraq.  Odom was speaking at Innovative Solutions for Iraq, the inaugural event for the Independent Institute‘s Washington office (I am director of research for the Independent Institute).   Odom was then seconded by Lawrence Korb, former Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan.

Withdrawal may seem like a radical suggestion, but this time around the push for withdrawal isn’t coming from radicals but from seasoned, well-respected, establishment figures.

During the event Odom and others referred to Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the lessons we should have learned from that war.  It was really stunning, therefore, when during question period a man stood up to praise Odom for speaking out in a way that no figure of his stature had done during the Vietnam war.  The speaker was Daniel Ellsberg.

CSPAN will air the event in about a week.

No two are alike

In 1998, a kindly grandmother living in New Jersey wrote a book
about child-rearing that created quite a stir. In "The Nurture
Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do," Judith Rich Harris
had the temerity to suggest that the most important influences on
children were not their parents but genes and peers. This was heresy,
and critics immediately attacked the book in reviews with titles such
as "Parents Don’t Count!"

Nonetheless, Mrs. Harris had made a very convincing argument, and
she stuck to her guns. Now, with "No Two Alike" (W.W. Norton &
Company, 352 pages, $26.95), she has expanded her thesis and has
attempted to formulate a new theory of personality formation – the
first, in fact, since Sigmund Freud. More specifically, she has
attempted to solve the mystery of why people are different…

Basically, Mrs. Harris believes there are three "perpetrators" at
work in the formation of the human personality, each associated with an
aspect of a modular brain. One is the "relationship system," designed
to maintain favorable relationships in society. Another is the
"Socialization System," where the goal is to be a member of a group.
The third is the "Status System," where we compete with our peers for

The interplay among these systems accounts for the emergence of
differences between individuals. So it is that even identical twins
develop different personalities because the members of their community
see them as unique individuals and treat them differently. Their
individual striving for status propels them into different modes of
competing, which in turn differentiates their personalities.

Here is more information, I am excited.  See also Alex’s related posts here and here.  Have you noticed the absence of book reviews on MR lately?  It is about time for the publishing industry to awake from its seasonal business cycles slumber…

The tennis ball problem

Natasha often says we should open more cans of tennis balls.  Last night we were playing with eight balls and she wanted to play with twelve.  Of course once all eight have been plowed into the net, you have to go collect at least some of them.

How many tennis balls should you play with?

Let’s say you had many, many balls and you could open the cans for free and never run out.  Opening a new can every four points (four balls fit in a can) would lead to a massive clean-up and carry problem at the end.  Furthermore how much help is it having more balls?  Once they hit the net you still have to deal with getting another ball into play.  In other words, the real trick is to manage your stock well (read: aim for good volleys), not to just to speed up the flow of balls into the court.

Just one ball is not efficient, because when it falls out of play it is probably far from you.  The greater the number of balls, the more likely at least one will be close.

Many problems in life, including those of dating, the number of children you should have, and optimal inventory management, resemble the tennis ball problem. 

I do not know how to solve the tennis ball problem, but I feel that twelve balls is too many.

The economics of curling

Google often forces you to ponder the multiple meanings of words:

It is a profile bust showing rather handsome features, full forehead, prominent eyeballs, well curved eyebrows, slightly aquiline nose, and firm mouth and chin, and it is inscribed, "Adam Smith in his 64th year, 1787. Tassie F." In this medallion Smith wears a wig, but Tassie executed another, Mr. J. M. Gray tells us, in what he called "the antique manner," without the wig, and with neck and breast bare. "This work," says Mr. Gray, "has the advantage of showing the rounded form of the head, covered with rather curling [emphasis added] hair and curving upwards from the brow to a point above the large ear, which is hidden in the other version."


The text is from John Rae, biographer of Adam Smith.  Here is the link.  Here are details on the medallion.  Here is a post on whether the sport of curling is a province of the rich.  It seems not to be.  This does not surprise me.  It is not income that holds me back.  Here are facts about curling, sometimes called "chess on ice."  Curling is the provincial sport of Sasketchewan.  Here is on how curling explains the world.

Here is a Canadian study on the strongly positive economic impact of curling.  The study confuses gross and net benefits, regional and national benefits, and nominal expenditures with real resource production, as such economic impact studies usually do.  Commit them to the flames.

What is the most conservative love story ever told?

Here is a symposium, courtesy of National Review.  Do they understand any of these books, most of all the extreme perversity of Tolstoy?  Jane Austen is praised for not having a kiss in the entire book.  Maybe the Song of Solomon works as a pickFree to Choose wasn’t a bad selection either, or try their Two Lucky People.  Don’t they know that Rick sets up Ilsa at the end of Casablanca, just so her can reject her as an act of spite and malice?  How about Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe?  Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea?  Make your other selections in the comments, but the rapes in Atlas Shrugged rule that one out.  Thanks to for the pointer.

Economic Report of the President

1. The staff which writes these reports is excellent in quality, and has been so throughout the Bush Administration.

2. What exactly is the function of the report?  To persuade the media?  Congress?  To subtlety redefine the position of the White House, and push it in a more market-oriented direction, perhaps without the White House itself noticing?  Lay out markers for future policy initiatives?  This is a critical question for evaluating the report.

3. The report is heavy on Health Savings Accounts and the Global Savings Glut.  I would have preferred a more forward-looking approach, less tied up in the politics of the day.

4. I am a market-oriented economist who believes that capital income, ideally, should not be taxed.  If I am not persuaded that HSAs are the major way to go for health policy reform, something is wrong.  Furthermore other health care reforms should be considered, such as improving the performance of insurance companies, whether through regulatory or deregulatory means.

5. There is no serious talk of a gas tax, economic preparations for a pandemic, global warming, or research and development.

6. The chapter on copyright reads like someone is tiptoeing around, afraid to offend anybody by speaking the truth and afraid to offend God by writing any falsehood.

Here are Setser and Roubini on the report. Arnold Kling has several posts on the health care section.  DeLong and Sawicky snort and guffaw.