Month: March 2006

Octavia Butler, the Outsider Who Changed Science Fiction

Here is my piece from today.  Excerpt:

…her work went far beyond simply mourning the victim. She showed us why repulsion cannot be avoided, why we often resemble what we hate, and why it is sometimes our best qualities that prevent us from accepting the differences of others. Her ability to both understand the outsider perspective better than others and then to invert it, places Butler above her science-fiction-writing peers. She is a disturbing and important writer who transcends the usual genre categories.

Do we need occupational licensing?

Alan Krueger writes:

In a new book, "Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting
Competition?" (Upjohn Institute, 2006), Morris M. Kleiner, an economist
at the University of Minnesota, questions whether occupational
licensing has gone too far. He provides much evidence that the balance
of occupational licensing has shifted away from protecting consumers
and toward limiting the supply of workers in various professions. A
result is that services provided by licensed workers are more expensive
than necessary and that quality is not noticeably affected.

Read more here.  I can’t yet find this listed on, any pointers?  Here is a pdf of part of the book.  Here is a home page for the book.

Rwandan killers speak

During that killing season we rose earlier than usual to eat lots of meat, and we went up to the soccer field at around nine or ten o’clock.  The leaders would grumble about latecomers, and we would go off on the attack.  Rule number one was to kill.  There was no rule number two.  It was an organization without complications.

That is from Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak.  I will post more about this remarkable book soon.  Here is one good review of the book.

Interview with Tyler Cowen

From the Richmond Fed, here it is, on the path of my career, how macro has changed, avian flu, blogging, the arts, and of course cuisine, among other topics.  Excerpt:

My prediction is that, in general, welfare states will increase in size in most places around the world.  We can expect most areas of the world to become wealthier because of globalization as well as other reasons.  And if you look at countries that are wealthy, they tend to have very generous welfare states.  Also, I believe that the human desire for security is extremely strong, even when it is not efficient or rational.  So as long as we experience economic growth, I think we can expect welfare states to grow.

The best sentence I read today

And – expected utility theory notwithstanding – people adapt more
easily to 100% certain bad events than to 95% certain bad events.

Here is more.

Further thoughts: I can see how the possibility of fertility treatments might make a couple worse off, if those treatments don’t work.  But is it better to feel "I will never have sex again," or would you rather hold on to the five percent chance?  What exactly makes these two cases different?

Baltimore pit beef barbecue

Baltimore, of all places, has its own barbecue tradition, called "pit beef."  Imagine slow cooking directed toward the end of a perfect thinly-sliced roast beef sandwich.  It is an artisanal version of Roy Rogers, with excellent french fries to boot.  It is best served rare with [sic] horseradish. ("Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.")  Chaps is one place to try; Big Al’s is another.  Both are first-rate for people-watching.  Did I mention that the entire tradition appears to have started on a dilapidated industrial highway, set among whorehouses and sex shops?  The style can be traced by to 1987, and it has spread to Camden Yards as well. 

Markets in Everything: Politicians

Prosecutors call it a corruption case with no parallel in the long
history of the U.S. Congress. And it keeps getting worse. Convicted
Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham actually priced the illegal services he

Prices came in the form of a "bribe menu" that detailed how much it
would cost contractors to essentially order multimillion-dollar
government contracts…the California Republican’s "bribery menu"… shows an escalating scale for bribes,
starting at $140,000 and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense
Department contract. Each additional $1 million in contract value
required a $50,000 bribe.

The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.

What’s most disturbing about this is how low the prices were, $50,000 for $1 million in contract value.  Now let’s remember Econ 101, what makes prices low?  That’s right, competition.  So who was Cunningham competing with?


My colleagues in GMUs school of law can be justly proud of how quickly their program has risen in the rankings.  TaxProfBlog excerpts from a National Review article:

Mason vaulted from 71st place in 1995 to 41st in 2005 — an
impressive achievement given that these rankings tend to remain static
from year to year…

To use a baseball metaphor, Manne was a scout who specialized in the
minor leagues. Whereas his competitors were obsessed with signing
big-name free agents in hot fields such as feminist legal theory, Manne
quietly assembled a team of undervalued unknowns. "If the market
discriminates against conservatives, then there should be good
opportunities for hiring conservatives," says Polsby. This is exactly
the sort of observation one would expect a market-savvy
law-and-economics scholar to make… "Have you read Moneyball?" asks Todd
Zywicki, another one of Mason’s bright young profs, in reference to the
best-selling book by Michael Lewis on how the Oakland Athletics
franchise assembled playoff-caliber teams on a limited budget. "We’re
the Oakland A’s of the law-school world."

Especially interesting is that GMU is probably undervalued relative to its academic achievement.

[GMU] probably would do even better but for the particular ways U.S.
News calculates worth: Forty percent of a school’s ranking is based on
reputation, as determined by judges and lawyers (15 percent) and law
professors (25 percent). "If we had Dartmouth or Princeton’s name,"
says Polsby, picking two well-regarded schools that don’t have law
programs, "we’d be a top-20 school overnight." …

Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Texas, has created
several ranking systems that rely entirely on objective criteria. It
might be said, for instance, that a school is only as good as its
students. The 75th-percentile LSAT score of Mason’s entering class in
the fall of 2005 was 166 — enough to tie it for 22nd best (with seven
other schools). It might also be said that a school is only as good as
its professors. To measure this, Leiter has created a "scholarly
impact" rating based on faculty per capita citations in scholarly
journals and books. On this scale, Mason ties for 23rd (with four other
schools). Then there’s the Social Science Research Network, which
counts the number of times faculty papers are downloaded from the
Internet; over the last twelve months, Mason professors rank

Poll of the greatest 20th century economists

Given the source, expect a left-wing, anti-neoclassical perspective.  Here are the tallies, with a much longer list at the link:

1. John Maynard Keynes 3,253 

2. Joseph Alois Schumpeter 1,080 

3. John Kenneth Galbraith 904 

4. Amartya Sen 708

5. Joan Robinson 607

6. Thorstein Veblen 591

7. Michal Kalecki 481

8. Friedrich Hayek 469

9. Karl Polanyi 456

10. Piero Sraffa 383

11. Joseph Stiglitz 333

12. Kenneth Arrow 320 

13. Milton Friedman 319

13. Paul Samuelson 319

15. Paul Sweezy 268

16. Herman Daly 267 

17. Herbert Simon 250 

18. Ronald Coase 246

19. Gunnar Myrdal 216 

20. Alfred Marshall 211

At least Milton Friedman beat out Herman Daly.  Poor John Hicks.  And further down the list, does Pierangelo Garegnani, an obscure neo-Ricardian obsessed with commodity own-rates of return, deserve to place ahead of Franco Modigliani?

Thanks to for the pointer.