Month: June 2008

The power of “because”

Behavioral scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues decided to put the persuasive power of this word to the test.  In one study, Langer arranged for a stranger to approach someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply ask, "Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?"  Faced with the direct request to cut ahead in this line, 60 percent of the people were willing to agree to allow the stranger to go ahead of them.  However, when the stranger made the request with a reason ("May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?"), almost everyone (94 percent) complied…

Here’s where the study gets really interesting…This time, the stranger also used the word because but followed it with a completely meaningless reason.  Specifically, the stranger said "May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?"

The rate of compliance was 93 percent.

That is from Bob Cialdini’s Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive; here is my previous post on the book.  And here is why motivational posters don’t work.

Markets in everything, Japan edition (again)

You could devote an entire blog to this category:

Japanese toy company People has released a new age alarm clock
that supposedly helps kids wake up by turning them into Ultraman. It’s
called the Okiro! Asa Ichiban Taiyou Senshi – Charenjaa Kitto (Wake up!
First Sun Warrior of the Morning
– challenger kit) and was manufactured for the Japanese Ministry of
Education “early to bed early to rise” program. The $38 kit comes with
the extravagant eye shield and helmet; a series of talismans and
message cards (no doubt world-saving secret missions); and a 27-day
program that will involve your child taking orders from "the commander."

The commander wakes the child up at 6 a.m., and prompts players to put
on the helmet and hit a "roger" button to acknowledge their
wakefulness. Then, they are ordered to count to 10 in five different
languages: English, Japanese, German, Swahili and Malagasy. At that
point, the player is "allowed to take off the equipment and start the

Here is the full story (with illustrations) and thanks to Yana and Caleb for the pointer.  What if you can’t count to ten in Malagasy?  What happens to the rest of your day?  Keep this link in mind or maybe try How to Get a Date in Malagasy.

Is there anything new to say about Barack Obama?

I, for one, have nothing new to say about Barack Obama, even though I am exposed to more news about him than any other single person.  I wish I did, but I don’t.

Do you?  Does anyone?  Comments are open, the stipulation is that you must believe what you write about him genuinely represents new insight; it’s OK if it’s already appeared on your blog, provided it is not a major one, or you can link to the thoughts of others.  Please respect our usual standards of politeness.

Will anyone have anything to say?  Should I hope you do or don’t have anything new to say about him? 

The law and economics of surfing

When oh when will this be a Journal of Law and Economics piece?  Here is one excerpt:

The norms (for visitors) of mild localism include:

1) Don’t arrive in a large group[156]

2) Ease into the lineup (don’t compete aggressively too early)[157]

3) Let locals surf most of the best set waves[158]

4) Take extra caution to avoid violating any ordinary surf norms (i.e. don’t get in a local’s way!)

Together, these concrete norms can implement the abstract norm of ‘respect the locals’. Observing these norms demonstrates deference to the locals and helps mitigate the effects of crowding for the locals.

Here is the full treatment, the piece is interesting throughout though it starts off a bit slow with the familiar.  Thanks to Hugh for the pointer.

China/Syria Fact of the Day

I have been talking with GMU President Alan Merten, who is also in Kunming via Syria.  In Syria, Alan was surprised when he was asked to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.  Even more surprising, the President wanted to talk about entrepreneurship, GMU, and how Syria can benefit from better economics.

Later, talking with the Finance minister, Merten learned one of the key drivers of this new openness.  The Finance minister explained that he was meeting with a counterpart in the Chinese government.  "What can we do," the Syrian Finance minister asked, "to increase Chinese investment?"  "Well," the Chinese minister replied, "before we invest in Syria you most open your markets, cut your subsidies, and reduce regulation…"   

What if the shyness drug boosts confidence?

Under one scenario, the shy become more extroverted and everyone enjoys their new bon mots and witty asides.  Gains from trade increase all around.  Under another scenario, shyness and extroversion are part of a larger positional game.  Some people take the anti-shyness drug, but the previous extroverts, facing new competition for sex and friends, become even more extroverted, thus feeling more strain.  Many of them start taking the drug to stay ahead.  The previously shy exhibit more "juice," so to speak, but without much net result in terms of an improved life since they are still coming in second, so to speak.  And those who don’t take the anti-shyness drug are even worse off than before, given the new and higher standard for extroversion.

Some of the remaining shy, however, might in fact feel relieved.  If the new standard of extroversion rises so high that they can’t possibly meet it, they might, to some extent, withdraw from social competition.  The truly shy might even form social clubs and band together in the interests of promoting shyness.  If they can signal that they do not take the drug, their shyness might become more socially acceptable than before.

Kevin Hassett on whether NBA refs are crooked

In case you don’t know, Kevin is an economist at AEI.  Here is where things stand:

Hassett found no smoking gun.

But he did find some weird stuff in elimination games, when calls seemed to favor extending the series more than in other games.

He also found that home court advantage was much more important in the playoffs than in the regular season, which is a bit odd.

findings are consistent with what you’d find if you wanted to have as
many money-making playoff games as possible. Basically, if every series
ended in a sweep, there’d by very little opportunity to make money.
However, if every series gets to Game 7 — which happens when home
teams win every game — the teams and the League have not only three
more chances to make money, but the three most exciting games of the

Here is further explanation.  Here is the Hassett piece.  Note that fouls called on a team are often a measure of how tired that team is or how sloppy it is on defense.  So if teams play better with their back to the wall, at home, or if stamina matters more toward the end of the year, these correlations could potentially arise through natural means.

Markets in everything, Ukrainian restaurant edition

Perhaps taking a page from the Pringles inventor who was recently buried
in a can of said dehydrated chips, a Ukrainian restaurant is shaped like
a coffin on the outside, and boasts a coffin theme inside.

Here is a photo and further explanation.  Many or perhaps all of the entries have themes of death.  Perhaps they should do an economic impact study:

The undertakers hope that their restaurant will be confirmed as the
world’s biggest coffin, attracting tourists to a region best known for
its mineral-rich bathing waters.

Here are even more photos of interest.

Why do lefties dominate Presidential politics?

Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Gore, and now Obama and McCain are all left-handed.  Call it chance or availability bias, but I’m still wondering.  Read more here, and thanks to Martin Weil for the pointer.  Here’s one on-line discussion.  Here is a brief survey on Wikipedia.  It is my general view that left-handers have higher genetic variance in a number of dimensions, so they should be over-represented in many different kinds of extreme situations, including the Presidency. 

Katrina lessons for Iowa

Dan Rothschild, a co-worker of mine at GMU, writes:

The lesson of Katrina that matters the most is that the promise of federal assistance that will likely never materialize can be as destructive as the initial disaster…

What residents need in this maw of confusion is certainty. They need to know which roads will be rebuilt, and when the power and water will come back online. They need to know that the rule of law will be enforced. In short, they need to know what economists call the "rules of the game" for rebuilding.

These rules are critical to the myriad private-sector decisions that follow and signal whether and how a community will rebuild. Decisions about insurance coverage, when and where grocery stores, banks and numerous other businesses will reopen, and where children will play are vital private-sector decisions that require clear, credible commitments from the public sector to be made efficiently…

What residents of disaster-stricken areas don’t need are vague promises from officials that add to the confusion and force residents to delay the millions of decisions, small and large, they need to make to re-create a viable community. And they don’t need government leaders to make promises that are unlikely to be kept.

The dirty secret of government disaster response is that what’s promised immediately after a disaster seldom comes to fruition. Just ask the 75,000 Louisiana homeowners who are still waiting for their Road Home rebuilding checks, or the Floridians living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew.

Tyler Cowen on

Tyler to Will:

No you can’t agree with me because its absurd.  I can agree with your absurd view, but you can’t agree with mine.   

That is from my Bloggingheads debut; Robin Hanson reproduces one critical and entertaining part of the transcript, in which I explain which is my most absurd belief.

Here is the link to the show, I am sorry that I cannot embed it.  The chat covers many topics, including whether capitalism will triumph, whether you should have more kids, and which country is most likely to be hit by the next nuclear weapon attack.  Can you guess my pick?  Hint: It’s not the U.S. or even Saudi Arabia or Israel.

I conclude with this:

If no one agrees with you, you should be quite worried.  If only a small number of people agree with you, you still should be quite worried.  I don’t think it’s a numbers game, but I think whatever view you end up with, it doesn’t have to be a majority point of view, that reasons have weight, not just adding up whoever agrees with you.  But you still ought to say at the end of the day, look all those other people are against me, maybe I think I’m right probability 57 to 43, but on any truly controversial question among intelligent people, you should never think it’s 95 to 5 in your favor. 

Addendum: Ann Althouse embeds the parenting discussion.

How much has globalization helped U.S. wine drinkers?

More than I had thought:

For instance, the
real price (in 1988 prices) for the basket of the entire Top 100 list [for the U.S.] was
$4,313 in 1988; $3,132 in 1993; $2,533 in 1999; and $2,421 in 2004. That is nearly a 44% decrease in prices
from 1988 to 2004. At the same time,
there was no significant change in the quality of the wines on the Top 100

Here is much more information, from Karl Storchmann.

China Fact of the Day

I was just speaking with an expert on the Chinese banking and finance system and I asked him what were the major problems with the Chinese banking system.  He replied, "Well, housing prices are falling and many banks have bad loans and if prices fall much further the borrowers won’t have the money to pay the loans back."  I kid you not. 

Also, contra the U.S. the Chinese Central Bank is reducing the growth in the money supply to combat inflation.  Interesting times.