Month: June 2006

Comments policy

In response to a few inquiries, here is a reminder about our comments policy.  Having "comments on" is neither a default nor a right for the reader.  Usually the quality of the comments is excellent; I read them with learning and real joy.  But some topics attract, or have attracted, poorly thought out or overly emotional comments.  Some topics fall into very predictable debates.  In other cases previous comments already have attracted significant and noteworthy discussion.  Paul Krugman, free will, religion, Iraq, and yes immigration are a few examples of these tendencies.  Once low-quality comments get started, they tend to feed upon themselves, sometimes for days at a time.  We know that good comments attract readers to this blog, so we wish to maximize the average quality of comments.  Sometimes this means no comments, but that is in the interests of good debate, stochastically speaking and properly construed over time. 

Don’t overanalyze this.  Other times comments are turned off simply because neither of us is available to monitor for spam.  There is also something to be said for randomization per se.  We also do not favor off-topic comments, which tend to be deleted.  "Comments off" is not an attempt to stifle debate; there are thousands and indeed millions of other outlets for your views and that is debate too. 

When should you show up to a party early?

I like to be early.  I don’t enjoy parties per se, but they are an opportunity to latch on to a very small number of interesting people and hear their thoughts.  Or just see what they look like.  The chance of succeeding in this endeavor is highest if you are there from the start or nearly so.

Why is early focal?  First, the host is early, by definition, and if the host (or hostess) is not interesting the party probably is in trouble.  Plus early arrival appears to be focal for most others who prefer small-number interactions.

The more clearly defined is your external public reputation, the less you need fear looking bad.  Some people, if they show up early, might be thought as "having nothing better to do."  Those who know me, or know of me, probably won’t think this, so I can appear when I please.  This post will make that all the easier.

Some people appear late so their arrival causes a scene.  The President of the United States is an extreme example of this phenomenon.  But I would not value such a scene, even in the unlikely event that I were capable of causing it.

I wonder how a person’s number of Google hits correlates with party time of arrival, of course controlling for total time spent at the party.

Blending in, moving up

Here is my Washington Post Op-Ed on Latino assimilation, with Daniel M. Rothschild.  Free registration may be required.  Excerpt:

The children of Latino immigrants do especially well at work. James
P. Smith of Rand Corp. has shown that the children and grandchildren of
Latino immigrants come very close to closing educational and income
gaps with native whites. This is the same as it has always been in
American immigration: Newcomers know what keeps them outside the
mainstream and work hard to make sure that their children do better.
Immigrant Latino men make about half of what native whites do; their
grandsons earn about 78 percent of the salaries of their native white

Studies such as Smith’s, because they track trends over
time, are better at discovering patterns of assimilation than studies
that compare immigrants in 2006 to natives. The latter present a
snapshot; they can’t demonstrate long-term trends.

It’s true that
recent immigrants have not been closing the wage gap as fast as earlier
immigrants. But David Card of the University of California at Berkeley,
John DiNardo of the University of Michigan and Eugena Estes of
Princeton attribute this to an increase in inequality nationwide.
Controlling for this, Latino immigrants are doing as well as immigrants
a century ago.

“In the unlikely event of a water landing…”

One might also call this "Airline Fact of the Day":

My friend Peter Thompson did some research on this. At least going back to 1970, which by my estimation encompasses over 150 million commercial airline flights, there has not been a single water landing! (Some planes explode and fall into the water, but he couldn’t find anything resembling a water landing where any of those instructions might help you.) So perhaps 15 billion customer trips have heard that 10-15 second set of instructions without it ever being useful to anyone.

That is from Steve Levitt.  Here is the official site of Unlikely.  Here are unlikely stories.

Addendum: Do read the comments, the "fact" appears to be wrong…

Economic education, a continuing series

1. Megan Non-McArdle explains what is a "separating equilibrium."  First sentence:

There are bad reasons why the girl doesn’t ask out the boy.

2. Tim Harford argues that stock price crashes can be rational.  Market trading reveals information by showing traders the slope of the demand curve.

3. Jason Kottke points us to the Coca-Cola index, which correlates the consumption of this beverage with freedom and prosperity.

4. Lott vs. Levitt update

Net neutrality, part II

Many readers have been asking me to clarify my stance on net neutrality.  Here are a few qiuck but key points:

1. I favor net neutrality in the current environment.  Without neutrality, Comcast and Verizon would use differential pricing schemes to extract more revenue and thus diminish some forms of Net output, including Google, Amazon, ebay, and possibly blogs.

2. If the cable and telecom companies had no legally-backed monopoly powers, I would not favor legally enforced net neutrality.  "Let the market decide" would be a good answer.

3. Those powers are eroding with time but still the market for high-speed connections is far from contestable.  Municipal wireless would matter a great deal but that is not a pure market solution either.

4. Ex ante, it is hard to predict what will "stick" on the Net.  I see positive and uninternalized social value in the level of experimentation which we currently enjoy.  Profit-maximizing pricing from Verizon and Comcast would choke this off to some degree.

5. Bandwidth might become so scarce that differential pricing is needed to give companies the incentive to create more of it.  Then net neutrality could be a bad idea, even in spite of #1-4.  But we are not there now and maybe we will never be.  Municipal wireless, or some related idea, probably will arrive first.  In the meantime stop watching those silly videos.

6. A related question is this: we all know that road pricing can make economic sense.  But should we favor differential and profit-maximizing pricing on non-contestable roads?  At low levels of congestion, probably not.  It is better to let people get to work.

Here is my previous post on net neutrality.  Here is one good summary of the issues.

The Work Vacation

I am toying with a new concept, namely The Work Vacation.  Pick some exotic locale and bring your laptop.  Write your book and blog as usual.  Go out every now and then to see some sights.  In essence seeing sights replaces the time at home you would spend doing chores and taking care of family.

I find the idea of The Work Vacation appealing.  I am convinced many people don’t find their vacations that much fun in the first place.  ("What are vacations for anyway?," I can imagine Robin Hanson’s voice echoing in my head.)  People are losing the feeling of flow, and of accomplishment, from their workplace.  Often they argue more with their spouses when together all day.  They feel stress at coping with regular decisions and unfamiliar languages (of these, only the loss of work and flow describes me, I might add, but that is significant).

Perhaps many people take vacations for social reasons, to accommodate their spouses, to signal what kind of person they are, for memories, or to check countries off a list.  A Work Vacation would accommodate (some of) these motives to considerable degree.

I love Indian cities, but if only for reasons of air pollution, I don’t want to spend most of the day outdoors running around.  And many interesting and worthwhile parts of India don’t have many tourist sites but are still worth a bit of time.

Natasha finds the concept of The Work Vacation deeply distressing.  First, it suggests I can leave home without abandoning work.  Second, it implies it is permissible to work on vacation.

Surely the Coase Theorem can solve these problems.

Markets in everything bleg

I’m looking for a good example or two of "Markets in Sloth," or markets in extremely slothful behavior.  For instance say there was an extremely lazy rich man who hired a servant to perform basic tasks such as flushing the toilet for him, etc.  Examples and a link, or other documentation, would be most welcome.  Of course comments are open, or email me.  I thank you all in advance…

Robin Hanson on Richard Florida

It starts off like this:

Economic growth is terribly important. Small differences in growth
rates eventually overwhelm most other considerations, so the clustering
and innovation externalities that create growth differences deserve far
more public attention. Unfortunately most people yawn at growth theory;
they prefer stories about conflict, status, moral fiber, heroes, and
epic changes.

Thank goodness Richard Florida has written a national bestseller on
economic growth, calling attention to the crucial externalities. But
curses, Florida has done this by telling people the kind of stories
they want to hear. Florida tells us that one side in today’s culture
wars is very right, while the other side is very wrong; our wealth, as
well as our morality, is at stake in the culture wars.

growth might once have come from boring stuff like raw materials,
trade, giant factories, distribution networks, and organizational
conformity, Florida says, an epic revolution over the last half century
has put growth in the hands of bohemians with diverse and unusual
dress, speech, hygiene, work hours, and sexual practices.

The changing allocation of time

…70 percent of the decline in hours worked [in the 20th century] has been offset by an increase in hours spent in school.

Here is the paper, which includes new and controversial claims about the evolution of leisure time, most notably that leisure time has not gone up since 1900 and that time spent in household production has increased slightly. 

Note two things.  First, many of the results stem from including the hours of children and the elderly in the calculations, contrary to standard practice.  (For instance, fewer children per family will raise the per capita leisure of adults, while total per capita leisure could fall, since children do not work much.)  Second, an hour is not always an hour; putting clothes into the washer is more fun than doing the entire laundry by hand. 

This is interesting work, but it should not be understood to buttress the popular claims that capitalism works people into the ground or that modernity is overrated.  Let’s start with the "quality" variable and ask whether the 20th century has put people on a higher indifference curve with respect to labor-leisure trade-offs.  The answer should be obvious.

I welcome the Ubermensch, pt. 2

My colleague Bryan Caplan does a great Magneto impersonation, "You are a god among insects.  Never let anyone tell you different,"  is one of his favorite lines.  You figure it out.

In anycase, Bryan and others may enjoy this cool article on implanting tiny magnets under your skin thereby creating the ability to sense electomagnetic fields. 

He sliced open my finger with a
standard scalpel, inserted a tool to make a gap for the magnet, and tried to
insert the magnet in one nonstop motion. The insertion didn’t work, and he
widened the cut and tried again. This time it worked, and he closed the cut with
a single suture. The suture was the most painful step — an indicator that the
cold "anesthetic" had worn off. The process took less than 10 minutes. My finger
was slightly swollen and sported a blue, knotted plastic thread.

When we were done we sat in Haworth’s living room. He brought out a magnet
and handed it to me. I brought it near my finger and felt the magnet move for
the first time up against the raw inside of my finger. I startled visibly, and
Haworth grinned. "Welcome to your new sense," he said.

Here is part one in the Ubermensch series.

Hat tip to Kottke.