Month: July 2007

Excessive Ovation Syndrome

There’s a malady sweeping the nation that’s highly contagious to concertgoers.  It doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call it Excessive Ovation Syndrome (EOS for short).  Those suffering from it stand and applaud at performances that aren’t good enough to deserve such enthusiasm. In extreme cases, they shout “Bravo!” during events that are best forgotten.

The more people pay for tickets, the more susceptible they are to EOS, because ovations confirm that their money was well spent.  Even those in bargain seats can easily catch it from their neighbors.  The urge to stand and cheer may be irresistible if everyone around you is doing it.

Here is more.  Is the fear that too much costly clapping goes on?  I believe most of these people enjoy the pretentious show of approval.  A more plausible worry is that audiences, if they approve all performances, can no longer signal quality to performers.  Given that other and arguably more accurate signals remain in place (critics, bloggers, the conductor, etc.), I am not sure we should be concerned by greater noise in the audience signal.  After all, the very complaint suggests that the audience cannot be trusted to judge quality, so why not neutralize them?

And if the excess clapping gives the less musically sophisticated attendees a better memory of the show, that is arguably a benefit.  Are we not, after all, committed egalitarians?

Against my better aesthetic judgment, I am on the verge of endorsing Excessive Ovation Syndrome.

Markets in Everything: Replacement Drivers

The NYTimes reports on Korean replacement drivers – they drive drunks home in the drunk’s own car.   

Their work has become such an essential part of life in Seoul and other
major cities of South Korea that the national statistical office last
year began monitoring the price of replacement driver services as an
element in calculating the benchmark consumer price index. An estimated
100,000 replacement drivers handle 700,000 customers a day across the
country, the number increasing by 30 percent on Fridays, according to
the Korea Service Driver Society, a lobby for replacement drivers.

This seems like a great idea and it’s obviously a huge success in Korea. Why not in the United States?

How is it I missed this book?

John Reader’s Africa: A Biography of a Continent.  Most of all it offers historical and geographic reasons why African development has proven so problematic.  The author very frequently thinks in terms of mechanism, so it will be congenial to most economically-oriented readers.  Have you wondered why slavery is so common in African history, or why African societies are so frequently conservative and obsessed with the veneration of elders?  Why parasites can feast on humans so easily in Africa?  Why Africa has been underpopulated?

This book, which came out in 1997, is old news to many of you.  But I just discovered it, and it made for excellent airplane reading to the extremely livable, very beautiful, and tasty city of Denver.  If you are interested in African development, or economic geography more generally, this book is a must.

But not all is bright.  I now worry that, since I missed this book for ten years, there is something deeply deficient in my book-finding algorithms.  I thank Karol Boudreaux, who pointed the book out to me while we were in Tanzania.

Haiti fact of the day

Even in hard times, Haitians go to the movies.  Now they’re also making them in record numbers – about 10 feature films a year – rivaling Cuba as the Caribbean’s biggest movie producer and often outselling better-financed imports.

Here is much more.  Here is part of the story:

The arrival of inexpensive digital video cameras and editing equipment opened the door to budding Haitian filmmakers, lowering production cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to about $40,000 – money that typically comes from private sponsors or local investors who receive a percentage of the film’s earnings.

Haitian immigrants to the U.S. support the market as well.  Here is the Haiti Internet Movie Database.

The Pirates’ Code

James Surowiecki writes:

…pirate ships limited the power of captains and guaranteed crew members a say in the ship’s affairs.  The surprising thing is that, even with this untraditional power structure, pirates were, in [Peter] Leeson’s words, among “the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.”

There is more:

Leeson is fascinated by pirates because they flourished outside the state–and, therefore, outside the law. They could not count on higher authorities to insure that people would live up to promises or obey rules. Unlike the Mafia, pirates were not bound by ethnic or family ties; crews were as remarkably diverse as in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Nor were they held together primarily by violence; while pirates did conscript some crew members, many volunteered. More strikingly, pirate ships were governed by what amounted to simple constitutions that, in greater or lesser detail, laid out the rights and duties of crewmen, rules for the handling of disputes, and incentive and insurance payments to insure that crewmen would act bravely in battle.

Read the whole thing.

Tyler on UFOs

Discover Your Inner Economist has lots of great insights.  But this one Tyler gets all wrong.

Small changes in incentives can make a big difference in our beliefs.  For instance, UFO sightings are down dramatically in the last decade…I think [one factor is] cell phones and cell phone cameras.

"The spaceship was in a no-call dead zone.  And you didn’t snap a picture?"

…The story is suddenly a little harder to swallow.  Most of all, it is harder to fool oneself, not just one’s spouse and friends.

I mean really.  Why jump to conclusions?  OBVIOUSLY the aliens know we have cell phone cameras now.

iPod music listening

Carrying around my iPhone, I listen more to an iPod than before and I’ve upgraded the music collection on my iPod.

I suspect that iPods encourage musical nuggets which are short, to the point, and complementary to adrenalin.  I’ve heard the ? and the Mysterians song "99 Teardrops" more often in the last week than in the preceding last year.

The iPod means we listen more on the go, and with background noise, so the music should have energy.  iPod listening also brings more frequent interruptions, which discriminates against longer pieces.  Unlike with a CD player there is no particular reason to listen to a whole album straight through and what’s an album anymore anyway?

The curmudgeonly side of me worries a little.  What about slowly enfolding, architectonically subtle musical structures?  I love LaMonte Young, Pandit Kumar, and Andrew Violette, but thery’re not on my iPod.  I also resent that now my brain is more likely to expect music to be fun, though often I would rather hear music that is good for me.

I’ve read that classical music is more popular on iTunes than in music stores; I wonder if the preference is for arias and energetic movements of snappy symphonies, or if the iTunes purchase doesn’t end up very active on the iPod.

A loyal MR reader asked for mbaqanga recommendations for iPod; start with The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Mahlathini (best without the Mahotella Queens), and Township Jazz n’ Jive; the last is not exactly mbqanga but you will love it anyway.

Who should control the IMF?

Here is a typical smart person’s thought about the IMF; the intro to the article reads:

When the IMF was a monitor of borrowers’ policies, dominance of the IMF
Board by creditor countries was natural, but an institution whose main
role is to facilitate global consultations and arbitrate currency
disputes needs a more balanced shareholder structure.

I again find myself drawn into a "public choice" response rather than an "optimization" response.  I read the above sentence as stating the problem the IMF faces, not stating a solution.  The U.S., Western Europe, and Japan support the IMF in large part because they control it.  For the U.S. in particular the IMF has been a relatively good deal.  You don’t have to think the IMF is especially effective (I don’t), but the institution allows for pre-arranged contributions to bailouts and pre-arranged coordination.  Having a dominant hand in a multilateral institution works better for U.S. policymakers than having to assemble consortia on the spot, or explaining to some countries on a nation-to-nation basis that they won’t get any help. 

If China and India had a significant voice in the IMF, what would they want?  It’s not clear, and that is part of the problem.  The U.S. isn’t about to stop paying its "country club dues," but when new upgraded members might someday form a blocking coalition, I’m not sure America will step up its contribution either.   

Worse than Viruses

Public computer surfaces are reservoirs for methicillin-resistant staphylococci.

The role of computer keyboards used by students of a metropolitan
university as reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci was
determined. Putative methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant staphylococci
isolates were identified from keyboard swabs following a combination of
biochemical and genetic analyses. Of 24 keyboards surveyed, 17 were
contaminated with staphylococci that grew in the presence of oxacillin
(2 mg l-1). Methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), –S. epidermidis (MRSE) and –S. hominis
(MRSH) were present on two, five and two keyboards, respectively, while
all three staphylococci co-contaminated one keyboard. Furthermore,
these were found to be part of a greater community of
oxacillin-resistant bacteria. Combined with the broad user base common
to public computers, the presence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci
on keyboard surfaces might impact the transmission and prevalence of
pathogens throughout the community.

Thanks to Monique van Hoek for the pointer.

Markets in everything, telekinesis edition

If you’ve ever wanted to remotely access the files on your mac’s hard
drive through the Safari application on your iPhone (and who hasn’t?)
then you’ll want to download Telekinesis from the genius mind behind Quicksilver.

Here is more.  I haven’t tried the download but from appearances it even seems to be one of those free markets with a dollar price of zero…

Why doesn’t capitalism flow to poor countries?

Why isn’t 30 percent of the economics profession working on this problem?  Di Tella and MacCulloch tell us the following:

We find anecdotal evidence suggesting that governments in poor
countries have a more left wing rhetoric than those in OECD countries. 
Thus, it appears that capitalist rhetoric doesn’t flow to poor
countries.  A possible explanation is that corruption, which is more
widespread in poor countries, reduces more the electoral appeal of
capitalism than that of socialism.  The empirical pattern of beliefs
within countries is consistent with this explanation: people who
perceive corruption to be high in their country are also more likely to
lean left ideologically (and to declare support for a more intrusive
government in economic matters).  Finally, we present a model explaining
the corruption-left connection.  It exploits the fact that an act of
corruption is more revealing about the fairness type of a rich
capitalist than of a poor bureaucrat.  After observing corruption,
voters who care about fairness react by increasing taxes and moving
left.  There is a negative ideological externality since the existence
of corrupt entrepreneurs hurts good entrepreneurs by reducing the
electoral appeal of capitalism.

Here is the paper.  Here are non-gated versions.