Month: June 2008

The decay of gratitude

[Francis] Flynn asserts that immediately after one person performs a favor for another, the recipient of the favor places more value on the favor than does the favor-doer.  However, as time passes, the value of the favor decreases in the recipient’s eyes, whereas for the favor-doer, it actually increases.  Although there are several potential reasons for this discrepancy, one possibility is that, as time goes by, the memory of the favor-doing event gets distorted, and since people have the desire to see themselves in the best possible light, receivers may think they didn’t need all that much help at the time, while givers may think they really went out of their way for the receiver.

That is from Robert B. Cialdini’s fascinating Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.  Cialdini’s earlier Influence remains one of my favorite social science books.  Here is a link to Flynn’s paper and related work.

As goes New Zealand, so goes the world?

The land of the long white cloud has enjoyed a 10-year economic boom
driven by exports of milk, butter and cheese, a population riding a
housing market boom and tourists eager to sample the landscapes
depicted in Hollywood films such as The Lord of the Rings.

New Zealand is on the cusp of a downturn and risks seizing the dubious
honour from the US of becoming the world’s first developed nation to
sink into recession, as measured by two consecutive quarters of
negative gross domestic product growth.

GDP numbers for the January-March quarter due this month are forecast
to show a contraction of at least 0.3 per cent. TD Securities and other
economic forecasters are predicting a 0.2 per cent decline for the
April-June quarter.

Here is more information.  Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, one UK supplier is now charging $14-15 a gallon ($18 for a UK gallon) for gas, he wants to make sure his customers can always get the product.

What to read on a 28-hour plane trip

Chris Blattman gives his tips.  Most of all, read this blog post, which will tell you not to take a 28-hour plane trip.  If you must go, and can’t break it up by feasting on chili crab in Singapore, rethink at least one aspect of your life.  But if you are stuck the preferred advice is to start with a bunch of fun books you can finish quickly, move to a longer, more serious work than will command your full attention for quite a while and you won’t want to end, and then have some fun stuff left over for the end.  I wonder how general this is as an optimal pattern of intertemporal consumption.

Will 3-D movies succeed?

I say basically not:

There’s another potential glitch in Hollywood’s 3-D scheme: Theaters are losing their appeal. “3-D doesn’t address the core problem,” says George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen, who has written extensively about the economics of entertainment. He says that people don’t go to theaters because the screen is bigger or the image is in 3-D; they go because they want to go out. Theaters have suffered to a large degree because they fail to provide their customers with great going-out experiences: They have crummy seats, sell expensive and bad food, and don’t serve alcohol.

Here is much more, do any of you think I am wrong?

Who are the aggressive drivers?

Watch out for cars with bumper stickers.

That’s the surprising conclusion of a recent study by Colorado State University
social psychologist William Szlemko. Drivers of cars with bumper
stickers, window decals, personalized license plates and other
"territorial markers" not only get mad when someone cuts in their lane
or is slow to respond to a changed traffic light, but they are far more
likely than those who do not personalize their cars to use their
vehicles to express rage — by honking, tailgating and other aggressive

It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are
about peace and love — "Visualize World Peace," "My Kid Is an Honor
Student" — or angry and in your face — "Don’t Mess With Texas," "My
Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student."

…Drivers who do not personalize their cars get angry, too, Szlemko and
his colleagues concluded in a paper they recently published in the
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, but they don’t act out their
anger. They fume, mentally call the other driver a jerk, and move on.

"The more markers a car has, the more aggressively the person tends
to drive when provoked," Szlemko said. "Just the presence of territory
markers predicts the tendency to be an aggressive driver."

Here is much more, with some interesting theory in the article as well.  Apparently bumper stickers indicate that the driver has a particular, and potentially dangerous, sense of territoriality.


The author is Taras Grescoe and the subtitle is "How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood," buy it here.  Yes this is one of the best non-fiction books this year so far and yes I say that after having read (and mostly liked) the last five books on the exact same topic.  I hope it does well because this book is an object lesson in how to best your competitors and we’ll see whether or not that matters.

Did you know that the average cell membrane of an American is now only 20 percent omega-3-based fats?  In Japan it is 40 percent.

Or did you know that American sushi restaurants promising you "red snapper" are usually serving tilapia or perhaps sea bream.

The book has a superb explanation of how "frozen at sea" fish are now better, safer and tastier than "fresh fish," including for sushi.

English fish and chips was originated by Jewish merchants in Soho, drawing upon the same Portuguese traditions that led to tempura in Japan.

The Japanese are experimenting with acupuncture to keep fish alive and "relaxed" on their way from the ocean to being eaten.

Two of the practical takeaways from the book are a) if only for selfish reasons, do not eat most Asian-farmed shrimp, and b) eat more sardines.  They are, by the way, very good with butter on sourdough bread.

This is one of the best single topic food books of the last five years.  It is historical, practical, ethical, and philosophical, all at once.

The War with Mexico

The Mexicans made strong appeals to U.S. troops to switch sides, targeting immigrants and Catholics in particular.  Their broadsides emphasized the injustice of the invaders’ cause in the eyes of "civilized people" and stressed what North American Catholics had in common with Mexican Catholics.  Alluding to well-known riots by U.S. Protestant nativist mobs, a Mexican pamphlet asked, "Can you fight by the side of those who put fire to your temples in Boston and Philadelphia?"  Mexico also offered land grants to opposing soldiers who would desert and claim them: two hundred acres for a private, five hundred for a sergeant.  Together, the inducements and propaganda had an effect.  The first shots in the war were fired on April 4, 1846, not between Mexican and U.S. troops, but by American sentries at an immigrant deserters swimming across the Rio Grande to the Mexican side…Among three hundred U.S. deserters, the great majority of them Catholics and/or immigrants, joined the Mexican army.

That is from the excellent What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by Daniel Walker Howe.  The rate of desertion in the Mexican-American War was the highest in American history and twice that of Vietnam.

Google bidding games — markets in everything?

What would happen if MicroSoft or Yahoo or a MicroHoo went to the 5 top
results for the top 25k searches and paid them to leave the Google

A theoretical maximum of 125k sites, but with overlap, probably closer to 100k or less, times how much per site on average?

math starts to get interesting. At $1,000 per site average times 100k
sites, thats only $1 Billion Dollars. The distribution would obviously
favor the larger sites, so of that billion dollars, would the top 1k
sites take 500k each and the remaining 99k split the rest?

the stakes, why stop at $1 Billion Dollars ? Would the top 1k most
visited sites take a cool $1mm each, plus a commitment from Microsoft
or Yahoo to drive traffic through their search engines to more than
make up for the lost Google Traffic. After all, once consumers realized
that Google no longer had valid search results for the top 25k searchs,
that traffic would most likely go to Microsoft and Yahoo…

What would it cost to get that number of sites to turn Google off and
stay off, and would the traffic created as users switch from Google
more than compensate for the cost?

Or would Google recognize the risk and jump in and offer more to websites to stay?

That’s Mark Cuban, but I say no.  Is there any precedent for successfully undermining a popular "monopoly" (in this case a free one) by paying the input suppliers to go take a hike?  If bidding ever did get underway (unlikely), those suppliers are worth more to the relatively efficient company, which is probably Google and they are certainly less liquidity constrained than just about anybody else. 

Yes, Google does reap profit from the free content supplied to the web, but the chance of content suppliers colluding to keep reap more of those gains are small.  If anything the relevant externality is that Google could pay for gated content to be accessible to search engines but I wouldn’t bet on that happening either.

Irish thoughts

Henry writes:

In particular, German parliamentarian Axel Schäfer’s comment that “With
all respect for the Irish vote, we cannot allow the huge majority of
Europe to be duped by a minority of a minority of a minority,” would
have a bit more credibility if, you know, the majority of the majority
of the majority had been given a chance to vote on the Treaty

I can imagine a few other lessons:

1. Give people a referendum on a big question and they will use it as a chance to voice their general displeasure with many other matters.  New Zealand made that mistake on electoral reform.  The Irish vote was strongly divided among rich-poor lines.

2. According to polls, the Irish are not especially Euroskeptical.  I guess that is "Eurosceptical".  In any case multilateralism has limits.

3. The option under consideration *was* Plan B.  There is no obvious Plan C.

4. It worked last time (2002) to ask them to vote again.  Few people think that gambit can be played a second time.

5. One Irishman opined: ""We’re told we can vote no, that the system requires unanimity. But
when (a `no’ vote) actually happens, every time, the EU tells us: You
really only have a right to vote yes," said Dublin travel agent Paul
Brady, who voted against the treaty.

6. Some deluded soul in the EU read a copy of John Calhoun instead of Buchanan and Tullock’s Calculus of Consent.  Hadn’t they remembered the history of 17th and 18th century Poland and decided that a unanimity rule is a bad idea?

7. If European nations demand a unanimity rule (which I can well imagine), is that not a sign that they have a free trade area but nothing close to a real political union?


Roland, a loyal MR reader, sends me this quotation from Max Weber:

The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize ‘inconvenient’ facts – I mean facts that are inconvenient for their party opinions. And for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for my own opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacher accomplishes more than a mere intellectual task if he compels his audience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts. I would be so immodest as even to apply the expression ‘moral achievement’, though perhaps that may sound too grandiose for something that should go without saying.

My talk in Boston

This was the keynote address to the Association of Cultural Economists International (a very good group, sadly not enough Americans attend); the very able Michael Rushton summarizes some parts of it.  His end take:

Will these innovations kill the live performing arts? He doesn’t think
so: doing lots of stuff on the web probably cuts into the time we might
have spent passively in front of the TV, but at the end of the day we
want to go out and about. Museum visits are rising, not falling.

Life among the liquidity constrained

This paper tests the hypothesis that the timing of welfare payments
affects criminal activity. Analysis of daily reported incidents of
major crimes in twelve U.S. cities reveals an increase in crime over
the course of monthly welfare payment cycles. This increase reflects an
increase in crimes that are likely to have a direct financial
motivation like burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and
robbery, as opposed to other kinds of crime like arson, assault,
homicide, and rape. Temporal patterns in crime are observed in
jurisdictions in which disbursements are focused at the beginning of
monthly welfare payment cycles and not in jurisdictions in which
disbursements are relatively more staggered.

Here is the link, here are non-gated versions.

Popcorn fact of the day

[Richard] McKenzie did a fair amount of real-world research on the popcorn front,
and his most important finding (as far as I’m concerned) is that if
you’re in a cinema which gives you a choice between buying a medium bag
of popcorn and a large tub of popcorn, there’s a greater-than-50%
chance that the medium bag will actually contain more popcorn than the large tub.

That’s from Felix Salmon.

What I’ve been reading

1. The Book of Love: The Story of the Kama Sutra, by James McConnachie.  A serious book about…another serious book.  It’s good.

2. Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, by Elizabeth Royte.  This is a subtler than expected treatment of the economics of bottled water.

3. Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture, by Grant McCracken, our leading practitioner of anthropology and marketing; he is always interesting so far I am just browsing this one.

4. Paul A. Offit, Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.  This superb book details how pseudo-science can attain such a grip on the human mind.  It is a level better than the other books on the same topic and it is one of my favorite non-fiction books so far this year.