Month: August 2008

Go Mason!

U.S. News and World Report ranks George Mason the #1 up-and-coming National University.  The economics department and the law school are doing very well but so are many other innovative departments.  The report notes:

Established in 1972, Mason is a relatively young university. Not bound by tradition and old ways of thinking, the university and its
faculty embrace technology and new approaches to learning. Mason was
the first university in the country to offer doctoral programs in
conflict resolution, bioinformatics, computational social sciences, and
information technology; and the first to offer a graduate degree in

Library fines, part II

A US woman has been arrested and handcuffed for failing to pay fines for two overdue library books.

Heidi Dalibor, of Grafton, Wisconsin, is the first to admit that she ignored calls and letters from her local library.

She also admits that she ignored a notice to appear in municipal court or pay the fine, reports the News Graphic.

But the last thing she expected was a knock on her door by Grafton police.

Here is more.  Here is my previous post on library fines.  By the way, she paid the fine and kept the books.

Assorted links

1. Why don’t all peoples form neat, orderly lines?

2. Japan will label carbon footprints for many items

3. Charles Mann, on our eroding supply of dirt and the economics of soil.  I am a big fan of Mann (he wrote the superb 1491) and this is one of the best magazine pieces of this year if not the best.  On top of all the good economics in this piece, learn how the "black revolution" — putting carbon in the soil — may solve agricultural problems and alleviate global warming at the same time.  Hat tip to Kottke.

4. The latest: "Chile’s lower house of congress has suspended plans to boost a $1,626 gasoline subsidy for each of its members."

5. Vegan-libertarian debate and discussion

6. The new Neil Stephenson book

Do self-help books make us happier?

Ad Bergsma says yes:

Advice for a happier life is found in so-called ‘self-help books’, which are
widely sold in modern countries these days. These books popularize insights from psychological science and draw in particular on the newly developing ‘positive psychology’. An analysis of 57 best-selling psychology books in the Netherlands makes clear that the primary aim is not to alleviate the symptoms of psychological disorders, but to enhance personal strengths and functioning. Common themes are: personal growth, personal relations, coping with stress and identity. There is a lot of skepticism about these self-help books. Some claim that they provide false hope or even do harm. Yet there are also reasons to expect positive effects from reading such books. One reason is that the messages fit fairly well with observed conditions for happiness and another reason is that such books may encourage active coping. There is also evidence for the effectiveness of bibliotherapy in the treatment of psychological disorders. The positive and negative consequences of self-help are a neglected subject in academic psychology. This is regrettable, because self-help books may be the most important–although not the most reliable–channel through which psychological insights find their way to the general audience.

Here is the full issue, of the Journal of Happiness Research, and I thank whichever web site led me to this, sorry I forget.

I like that word: bibliotherapy.

Reexamining the benefits of free trade

I have yet to read this paper, by Antoni Estevadeordal and Alan M. Taylor, but it appears to be of considerable interest for recent debates on free trade.  The main argument is that trade really does raise growth rates by a noticeable amount:

According to the Washington Consensus, developing countries` growth would benefit from a reduction in tariffs and other barriers to trade. But a backlash against this view now suggests that trade policies have little or no impact on growth. If "getting policies right" is wrong or infeasible, this leaves only the more tenuous objective of "getting institutions right" (Easterly 2005, Rodrik 2006). However, the empirical basis for judging recent trade reforms is weak. Econometrics are mostly ad hoc; results are typically not judged against models; trade policies are poorly measured (or not measured at all, as when trade volumes are spuriously used); and the most influential studies in the literature are based on pre-1990 experience (which predates the "Great Liberalization" in developing countries which followed the GATT Uruguay Round). We address all of these concerns — by using a model-based analysis which highlights tariffs on capital and intermediate goods; by compiling new disaggregated tariff measures to empirically test the model; and by employing a treatment-and-control empirical analysis of pre- versus post-1990 performance of liberalizing and nonliberalizing countries. We find evidence that a specific treatment, liberalizing tariffs on imported capital and intermediate goods, did lead to faster GDP growth, and by a margin consistent with theory (about 1 percentage point per annum). Endogeneity problems are considered and other observations are consistent with the proposed mechanism: changes to other tariffs, e.g. on consumption goods, though collinear with general tariffs reforms, are more weakly correlated with growth outcomes; and the treatment and control groups display different behavior of investment prices and quantities, and capital flows.

Here is a non-gated version, though it is more than a year older.  If there is any piece that can get Dani Rodrik blogging again, this is it.

Addendum: New updated, ungated version.

The culture that is Dutch

Jean Marie, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

In the Dutch parliament there was commotion today because it happens to be the case that parents can apply for some EXTRA day-care allowances (state subsidized) when they want to go on holiday WITHOUT their children. As a matter of fact: the tax department explicitly draws their attention to this fact.

Here is a bit more information (in Dutch).

The Worst Idea I have Heard Today

One idea that might prevent a repeat of the turmoil: a commission that
would vet financial products before their release, akin [to] the Food and Drug Administration’s
evaluation of drugs before they’re released to the market. McFadden
suggested, “we may need a financial-instrument administration that
tests the robustness of financial instruments and approves only the
uses where they can do no harm.”

Nobel laureaute Daniel McFadden quoted at Real Time Economics.  Do tell what will be left when we approve only things "that can do no harm."? 

Might I also suggest that before calling for a financial FDA, Prof. McFadden should investigate what economists who have studied the matter have concluded about the safety and effectiveness of the real FDA.   

The Atacama desert

It’s the world’s driest desert.  We’ve seen flamingos, vicunas, llamas, and beautiful smaller birds.  The mountains are stunningTierra Atacama is arguably the best hotel experience I’ve had.  Cheese on seafood actually can taste good, even in the desert; that is the real Chilean miracle.  Bolivia is about twenty kilometers away.  I am told there are 100,000 active land mines around (all marked and thus safe); the only question is which neighbor is a bigger worry.  The town of San Pedro de Atacama remains in that rare sweet spot between under- and over-touristed.  Very good sweaters go for $26.  One restaurant advertises that the apples in its "Apple Pie a la Mode" come from the United States; Alex at least will get the joke.  A visit here is likely to convince you there is life on Mars.

Top economic misconceptions of the lay people you wish you could correct?

That was the first request.

Economic misconceptions interact with values to skew overall judgment, but the value judgments are usually the main problem.  Consider how "anti-foreign bias," to borrow Bryan Caplan’s term, often causes people to oppose free trade.  The main problem isn’t bad economic understanding, though that often is present.  Rather the person has an emotional commitment to whatever economics, and other positive arguments, make the protectionist position sound higher status and more justified

Consider an analogy with political scandals.  It’s not quite right to pinpoint "mistaken beliefs about John Kerry’s wartime record on Swift Boat matters" as the main problem, even though the beliefs are indeed mistaken. 

Better thinking may do us more good than "better economic understanding" per se.

Both Alex and I have blogged that nationality (or sometimes
ethnicity or regional background) is often the best predictor of a person’s economic views and yes that includes among economists.  Given the diversity of economists’ views across nations, we are part of the problem too, thereby again illustrating the essential unity of mankind.

Still, I do believe in right and wrong and that means that the viewpoints of some nations (grossly construed) are better than others.  So the top economic misconception out there in the world is "unjustified dislike of the United States," noting that there are also justifiable reasons to dislike many aspects of this country.

Eric Posner is now blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy

Eric is very, very smart and knows lots of economics.  Here is his first post; excerpt:

The busy international legal activity that occurred during the
post-Cold War era – the establishment of international courts, the
involvement of the Security Council, the advance of international trade
law – will slow down and perhaps even reenter the deep freeze into
which it was shunted during the Cold War. The irony is that liberal
internationalism could advance only as long as the United States was
the sole superpower and in the mood to advance it.

Markets in everything

A 16-year-old Saudi girl drank a bottle of bleach in an attempt to
commit suicide to escape a forced marriage to a 75-year-old man, press
reports revealed Sunday.

The girl identified only as, Shaikha, said her father was forcing her
to marry the old man so that he could marry his 13-year-old daughter in
an exchange deal, Bahrain’s Tribune reported.

Here is the full story.