Month: March 2006

An underlying tension in libertarianism

On the one hand, [Charles] Murray says he wants to liberate citizens
from the welfare state so they can live life however they choose.
On the other hand, by liberating citizens from the welfare state,
he hopes to force them back into lives of traditional bourgeois

Read more here.  Many Swedes, of course, consider themselves highly individualistic, precisely for this reason.

Thanks to for the pointer.

The limitations of welfare economics

Here is yours truly again, from his latest book.  I tried to condense the limits of welfare economics into a few simple sentences; here is what I came up with:

On the negative side, the economic approach considers only a limited range of values, namely those embodied in individual preferences and expressed in terms of willingness to pay. This postulate is self-evident to many economists, but it fails to command wider assent. It wishes to erect “satisfying a preference” as an independent ethical value, but is unwilling to consider any possible competing values, apart from preferences. It is hard to see why non-preference values should not be admitted to a broader decision calculus.

Typically economists retreat to their intuition that satisfying preferences is somehow "real," and that pursuing non-preference values is religious, mystical, or paternalistic. The rest of the world, however, has not found this distinction persuasive. They do not see why satisfying preferences should be a value of special and sole importance, especially when those same preferences may be ill-informed, inconsistent, malicious, or spiteful. The decisions to count all preferences, to use money as the measuring rod, and to weight all market demands equally must themselves rely on external ethical judgments. For that reason, the economist has no a priori means of dismissing non-preference values from the overall policy evaluation.

Strategies for breaking droughts

The still under-valued Megan (non-McArdle) writes:

Moving on, Sean asked me how I flirt with the guys I like. “Well, you
know how I am usually friendly and smiley and I talk about dorky
things? Just like that, only more.” “So if you saw a guy you liked…” “I
would probably give him a hug like everyone else, and then tell him
about the things I’ve been thinking about recently. Like right now I’m
super into Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog, so I would be all ‘hah, hah, hah, and then, he makes fun of John Gower, hah hah’.”    “And you still don’t score?” said Sean.  “Remarkable.”

Here is the full and articulate post.  Here are the writer’s two (false) premonitions.  Here is some background on the competition.  Here is the author.  Please restrict your thoughts to the polite, and apply game theory if at all possible.

Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial

My new book, Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial is now out.  Click on the ad at right for more information.  Written with Eric Helland, Judge and Jury brings together in a popular format much of my research from the past few years on the effect on tort awards of elected judges, jury composition and contingency fees as well as other topics.

Here are some early comments on the book:

"In their pioneering book, Judge and Jury, Helland and Tabarrok are
relentless in their pursuit of hard data to explain the behavior of the
American jury. On a topic on which it is easy to become hyperbolic,
their dispassionate analysis of the effects of race and poverty on jury
behavior is a model for all intelligent discussion of legal reform. The
authors are to be commended for the way in which they confirm some
deep-seated perceptions of runaway juries while debunking other claims
that do not survive their rigorous empirical scrutiny."
  –Richard A. Epstein,
James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School

"All too often, the proponents of tort reform have relied upon
anecdote rather than analysis or empirical study to support their
claims. In contrast, Judge and Jury offers solid economic analysis and
empirical study of some very important issues.] Helland and Tabarrok
show that the resolution of a tort claim can importantly depend upon
where the claim is filed, due to differences in jury composition and
whether judges are elected or appointed. They also make a convincing
case that the root of all evils does not lie in contingency fees for
plaintiffs’ lawyers, as many reformers insist. The book should be of
great interest to anyone interest in the U.S. tort system."
  –Mark Geistfeld, Crystal Eastman Professor of Law,
New York University School of Law

"Clear, forcefully argued and highly accessible, Judge and Jury makes the perfect introduction to the work of two of today’s most provocative and talked-about empirical legal scholars."
–Walter K. Olson, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Are You Boring Me?

Frankly, I could give a few of these out as Christmas presents. 

MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people
determine if they’re boring or annoying the person they’re talking to. The
"emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on
eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition
software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn’t seem to be engaged,
the device vibrates to alert the wearer.

From David Pescowitz at Boing Boing Blog.

Government jobs as arts subsidy

Often governments support the arts best when they are intent on some other purpose:

The very existence of government jobs subsidizes the arts. Even in the best of times, most writers find it difficult to make a living from book sales alone. Many accept government jobs, hoping they will have time to pursue their own projects. Bureaucracy, despite its deadening effects, stimulates creativity by creating a realm of personal freedom for many employees.

William Faulkner worked for a time as postmaster at the University of Mississippi postal station. He called his section of the post office the "reading room." Nathaniel Hawthorne worked in a customs house, after failing to get a postmaster job. Walt Whitman revised his Leaves of Grass while working for the Department of the Interior, although his superior fired him because he regarded the book as immoral. Herman Melville worked in a customs house as well, although not at the time of his greatest literary productivity. William Charvat estimated that between 1800 and 1875, 60 to 75 percent of American male writers "who even approached professionalism either held public office or tried to get it." 

The role of government jobs is no less prominent in the history of literature more generally. Chaucer was a career public servant, Dante pursued politics, Goethe was a bureaucrat for much of his life, and Anthony Trollope held a job in the postal service, during which time he wrote most of his sixty novels. William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe, and the Roman poet Horace worked as tax collectors. Jonathan Swift was clergy in a tax-supported church. Stendahl worked in the Napoleonic bureaucracy. In the social sciences, Adam Smith worked in the customs house and Edward Gibbon was a member of Parliament and lord of trade.

It is a moot point whether we should count prison as a government "job," but many notable literary works have been written in enforced confinement, most notably Cervantes’s Don Quixote and de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Prison literature has been a growing genre in the United States since at least the 1960s. A longer list of incarcerated writers includes Boethius, Villon, Thomas More, Campanella, Walter Raleigh, Donne, Richard Lovelace, Bunyan, Defoe, Voltaire, Diderot, Thoreau, Melville, Leigh Hunt, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, Maxim Gorky, Genet, O. Henry, Robert Lowell, Brendan Behan, Chernyeshevsky, Dostoyevsky, and Solzhenitsyn.

I don’t have to tell you whose book that is from.  I wrote it, of course, while working for a state university.

Regulating the next Bach

…under a rule to curb hazardous substances in electrical products, Europe is about to restrict the centuries-old business of building pipe organs for churches, concert halls and other institutions.

The reason? Organ pipes contain large amounts of lead, and the wind that blows through them is generated by electricity (rather than the older method of people pumping bellows behind the organ). The new directive, to come into force in July, limits the proportion of hazardous substances like lead, mercury or cadmium to 0.1 percent of a finished product that works on electricity.

Here is the full story.  And how is this for a bureaucratic runaround?

The Department of Trade and Industry, the government office responsible for the issue, insists it is the organ builders themselves who "must apply for an exemption directly" to the European Union, said a spokeswoman for the department, who insisted on anonymity in accordance with government rules for departmental spokespeople.


Gilles Trehin is an autistic [TC: Asperger’s?] 28-year-old. Since the age of 12, he has been designing an imaginary city called Urville, named after the “Dumont d’Urville,” a French scientific base in Antarctica. He has created detailed historical, geographical, cultural, and economic descriptions of the city, as well as an absolutely extraordinary set of drawings. His Guidebook to Urville will be published later this year.

Here is the link, with images and video.  Here is more on Gilles, who I might add is cosmopolitan in his philosophical inclinations. 

World population 1500, and other maps

Here is a population-weighted map of the world, circa 1500:


Here is the projected world population map, circa 2050:


Here are other neat maps.  Here are maps of tourism, emigration, and refugees.  Here is my favorite, a map of the flow of net immigration.  Or try this map of aircraft departures, watch Africa disappear.  Here is the strange geography of fruit exports.  Here is how to make South America look really big, or reallly small (can you guess?).