Month: March 2006

Pound discrimination

A hotel in Germany has started charging its guests by the pound for an overnight stay, according to a Local 6 News report.

The hotel owner in the town of Norden, Juergen Heckrodt, said he was continually getting overweight guests, so he decided to make them step on the scales to determine room costs.

The hotel requires guests to pay half a euro or 61 cents per 2.2 pounds, according to a Reuters report.The report said that the move appears to be working with returning guests. "Much to (Heckrodt’s) surprise, the guests were thinner on their next visit," according to the report.  Heckrodt said he hopes his initiative will inspire others to lose weight too and live longer.  The hotel does not turn anyone away who refuses to step on the scales.  If they do refuse, they are charged a regular room rate — without a discount.

Here is the link, and thanks to Bill Griffiths for the pointer.  This makes sense as price discrimination if either heavier people are wealthier, or less able to choose across hotels.

Bribery at the UN

The United Nation’s Security Council has 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members, the latter are elected from regional groups and serve two year terms.  Yesterday Eric Werker presented a fun paper at GMU showing that US foreign aid increases dramatically to countries elected to the Security Council.

    The result isn’t that surprising but Werker did a good job of ruling out explanations other than bribery.  Foreign aid, for example, increases just as a country joins the council and drops just at it leaves.  Foreign aid also increases especially dramatically in important years, as measured by the number of New York Times stories involving the council.  Perhaps most interestingly, although US foreign aid is larger for democracies than for autocracies on average, autocracies get bigger increases in aid when they join the council.  The result makes a lot of sense.  Autocracts can sell their votes more easily than democratically elected leaders (no domestic constituencies to worry about) and transactions costs are lower – the aid goes directly to the vote seller.

AI, Consciousness and Robot Outsourcing

One of my "absurd views" is that the first computer to become conscious was Deep Blue playing against Gary Kasparov in 1997.  It only happened for a moment but in one spectacular move Deep Blue performed like no computer ever had before.  After the game, Kasparov said he felt a presence behind the machine.  He looked frightened.

Ken Rogoff, a top-flight economist and chess prodigy, wonders whether we don’t all have a little something to fear.

But the level that computers have reached already is scary enough.

What’s next? I certainly don’t feel safe as an economics professor!  I have no doubt that sometime later this century, one will be able to
buy pocket professors – perhaps with holographic images – as easily as
one can buy a pocket Kasparov chess computer today.

Rogoff thinks that the upheavals caused by cheap AI will be far more important than those caused by low-wage labor from India and China.

artificial intelligence replace the mantra of outsourcing and
manufacturing migration? Chess players already know the answer.

Libertarian red meat

Last month, police in Fairfax, Va., conducted a SWAT raid on Sal Culosi Jr., an optometrist suspected of running a sports gambling pool with some friends. As the SWAT team surrounded him, one officer’s gun discharged, struck Culosi in the chest and killed him.  In the fiscal year before the raid that killed Culosi, Virginia spent about $20 million marketing and promoting its state lottery.

Here is the Cato link, and thanks to Chris Masse for the pointer.


According to a new report released by the Census Bureau, Hispanic-owned businesses now comprise one of the fastest-growing segments the U.S. economy. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of businesses owned by Hispanics grew by 31 percent – three times the national average for all businesses – hitting 1.6 million in 2002 and generating some $222 billion in revenue.

Here is the link, here is another story.  Have I mentioned that both the U.S. and Europe are, unwittingly, building new civilizations?  Which one would you bet on?

The absurd propositions you all believe

1. Many more of the propositions increased your perceived self-importance than decreased it.  Very long life or immortality was an especially popular notion.  No one expected to die tomorrow, or suggested that they might be more of a rat-faced git than the rest of us.

2. I was surprised how long it took for non-human animals to be mentioned.

3. Frankly I found most of your ideas pretty absurd. 

4. That being said, I too thought Ishtar was a good movie.

5. Only in the blogosphere might it be considered "absurd" to call space elevators "a dead end."

6. My favorite absurd idea was from Megan (not McArdle, at least I think not): "I believe that if you go to the beach, but you do not give the ocean a
chance to taste you, she will come take her taste when she chooses."

7. I also like am’s notion that: "beliefs are they are defined do not exist in any meaningful sense. We
use the word only to provide a sense of narrative continuity to our
decisions and actions."

8. After reading other people’s absurd ideas, how many of you have begun to view your own idea as not only absurd but downright wrong?  If so, please enter and explain your recent epistemic revelation in the comments.

Economic boom, coronary bust

Panel data econometric methods are used to investigate how the risk of death from acute myocardial infarction (AMI) varies with macroeconomic conditions after controlling for demographic factors, fixed state characteristics, general time effects and state-specific time trends. The sample includes residents of the 20 largest states over the 1979 to 1998 period. A one percentage point reduction in unemployment is predicted to raise AMI mortality by 1.3 percent, with a larger increase in relative risk for 20-44 year olds than older adults, particularly if the economic upturn is sustained. Nevertheless, the much higher absolute AMI fatality rate of senior citizens implies that they account for most of the additional deaths. This suggests the importance of factors like air pollution and traffic congestion that increase with economic activity, are linked to coronary heart disease and may have particularly strong effects on vulnerable segments of the population, such as the frail elderly. AMI mortality risk quickly rises when the economy strengthens and increases further if the favorable economic conditions persist. This is consistent with strong effects of other short-term factors on heart attack risk and with health being a durable capital stock that is affected by flows of lifestyle behaviors and environmental conditions whose effects accumulate over time.

Here is the paper.

Red Dawn

Brad just doesn’t know right-wing agitprop.  My friends walked out, but I exited the theater, pumped my fist in the air and shouted, Wolverines!  (That’s when I first knew I was a rather odd Canadian – perhaps this was destiny.)

Comments are open if you have any idea what I am talking about – this will provide a test of Ben Domenech’s thesis.  My apologies if you are utterly mystified.

We don’t want old people on our teams

John List again looks to field data:

This study examines data drawn from the game show Friend or Foe?, which is similar to the classic prisoner’s dilemma tale: partnerships are endogenously determined, players work together to earn money, after which, they play a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma game over large stakes: varying from $200 to (potentially) more than $22,000. If one were to conduct such an experiment in the laboratory, the cost to gather the data would be well over $350,000. The data reveal several interesting insights; perhaps most provocatively, they suggest that even though the game is played in front of an audience of millions of viewers, there is some evidence consistent with a model of discrimination. The observed patterns of social discrimination are unanticipated, however. For example, there is evidence consistent with the notion that certain populations have a general “distaste” for older participants.

More specifically, players are less likely to select old people for their teams, even taking into account differences in expected returns from the differing strategies of the elderly.  In general, whites, old people, and women cooperate more in the game.  Mixed racial teams cooperate more than do all-white teams.  Perhaps most surprisingly, even with these very high stakes, players cooperate far more than economic theory would predict.  They cooperate about as much as they do in the games with lower stakes.

Here is the paper.  Here is John’s home page.  Here is my previous post on John.