Month: August 2008

Which states have the highest carbon dioxide emissions?

In millions of metric tons:

Texas: 688

California: 394

Pennsylvania: 275

Ohio: 262

Florida: 256

Illinois, Indiana, and New York come next.  I didn’t know that Texas would rank so high on the list.  And it’s interesting that #3, 4, and 5 are among the major swing states in many presidential elections.  That’s not good news for a lot of reform ideas.

This information is from the fun to browse The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009, a Colombia/SSRC book.

Seven Days in the Art World

Asher has no dealer; his work is not generally for sale.  When I ask the artist whether he resists the art market, he says dryly: "I don’t avoid commodity forms.  In 1966 I made these plastic bubbles.  They were shaped like paint blisters that came an inch off the wall.  I sold one of those."

That is from the very fun Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton.  Here is Felix Salmon on the book.  How about this part?:

The artist Keith Tyson admits that he had a gambling problem when he was a nominee in 2002.  "I had an intellectual interest in chance as well as a fantasy of beating the laws of mathematics," he said.  "The Turner Prize was my first opportunity to bet when I could have an effect.  My odds were seven to two.  In a four-horse race, that is an insult.  I had absolutely no choice.  I’m sure it is solely because of the bets I put on myself that I went from being the underdog to the favorite.  I won’t say how much I took home, but won more from betting than I did from winning what was then a twenty-thousand pound prize."

In other words, prizes, plus a betting market on the prize winner, create especially strong incentives.

Man on Wire

This movie is both a first-rate documentary and riveting social science.  It is excellent on how Frenchmen differ from Americans, how young men differ from old, what is art, why some people follow others, how we are led to folly by small steps, whether human behavior can be explained by signaling theory, and the motivations and roots of terrorism, among many other issues.  Here is one good review.

Regulation and Distrust

Brought to you by Aghion, Algan, Cahuc and Shleifer, this is one of the best papers so far this year.  It’s so good I’ll give you a longer than usual quotation from the opening pages:

In a cross-section of countries, government regulation is strongly negatively correlated with social capital. We document, and try to explain, this highly significant empirical correlation.  The correlation works for a range of measures of social capital, from trust in others to trust in corporations and political institutions, as well as for a range of measures of regulation, from product markets, to labor markets, to judicial procedures. 

We present a simple model explaining this correlation. The model turns on the idea that investment in social capital makes people both more productive and more civic (e.g., Coleman 1990). Compared to people who have invested in social capital, those who have not are both less productive and impose a negative externality on others when they produce (e.g., pollute).  The community (whether through voting or through some other political mechanism) regulates production when the expected negative externalities are large. But regulation itself must be implemented by government officials, who are corrupt if they have not invested in social capital. As a consequence, when production is restricted through regulation, investment in social capital may not pay off.  In this model, when people expect to live in a civil community, they expect low levels of regulation, and so invest in social capital. Their beliefs are justified, as lack of investment leads to incivility, high regulation, high corruption, and low production.  The model has two Pareto ranked equilibria.

…The model predicts, most immediately, that distrust influences not just regulation itself, but the demand for regulation…distrust fuels support for government control over the economy.  What is perhaps most interesting about this finding, and also consistent with the model’s predictions, is that distrust generates demand for regulation even when people realize that the government is corrupt and ineffective; they prefer state control to unbridled production by uncivil firms.

…We take evidence on the demand for regulation as supportive of causality running from distrust to regulation.  To test the reverse causality, we look at the experiment of transition from socialism, which we interpret as a radical reduction in government regulation in low trust societies.  Our model predicts that such a reduction should lead to 1) a reduction in output, 2) an increase in corruption, 3) an increase in demand for government control at a given level of trust, and 4) a reduction of trust in the short run.

Markets in everything

Decorator bandages

To Mr. Brown, 24, who works at Esquire magazine in New York, the
colorful strips are an important accessory, and he’s careful to
coordinate them with his Kris Van Assche sweater or his Balenciaga bag.
He generally wears one on his left hand or arm and balances it out with
two or three on his right leg.

He doesn’t put them on his face because, he said, “I don’t want people thinking, ‘What happened?’ “

Some call it creepy.

What’s the opposite of antitrust policy?

Georgia is a transit country. Through our territory went the Great Silk
Road. And we have confirmed our transit potential more than once.
Through our territory go the BTC, the Baku-Tbilisi- Erzurum, and the
Baku-Supsa pipelines. Not only liquid goods transit through Georgia,
but also dry goods by railroad. However, apart from the existing oil
and gas pipelines, there is a potential for new ones. But they will
only be considered if the oil producing companies themselves become
interested in them. With today’s price for crude oil, the
attractiveness and profitability of the BTC and the Baku-Supsa are
obvious. Therefore, with the growing production of hydrocarbons in
Central Asia, and in the Caspian region, new oil pipelines will
undoubtedly be profitable. Therefore I would like to emphasize that all
of the proposed projects are viable and have prospects.

And the transit of fossil fuels through Georgia endangers the profit of which country?  You have three guesses.  If you don’t know the word "Transneft" you will soon.  Here is more.  See also Marshall Goldman’s new book Petrostate on the Georgia-Russia relationship and the economic factors involved.  In my view today’s series of events is very, very bad news.  Not only are the events bad, but it is a bad signal of type about the new (is it new?) Russian government.

The Pledge of Allegiance

Barack Obama was heckled by a crazy bystander for not beginning a speech with the pledge of allegiance.  He handled the event gracefully (video here along with cogent commentary by Matt Welch.)  As I’ve written before, I think the pledge is creepy.

Cato’s Gene Healy says it well:

From its inception, in 1892, the Pledge has been a slavish
ritual of devotion to the state, wholly inappropriate for a free
people. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist pushed
out of his post as a Baptist minister for delivering pulpit-pounding
sermons on such topics as "Jesus the Socialist." Bellamy was devoted to
the ideas of his more-famous cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the 1888
utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward describes the future
United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has
equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s "industrial army"
at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the
state…Bellamy’s book inspired a movement of "Nationalist Clubs,"
whose members campaigned for a government takeover of the economy. A
few years before he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy
became a founding member of Boston’s first Nationalist Club….

Bellamy’s ritual for honoring the flag was right in step with those other National Socialists.  Here’s a picture illustrating the recommended salute (which later was to became politically incorrect).


The salute may be gone but the message remains.

Google Street View is not popular in Japan

According to the morals of urban area residents in Japan, the assumption that “it is scenery [viewable] from public roads and therefore it must be public” is in fact incorrect. Quite the contrary, [these morals state that] “people walking along public roads must avert their glance from the living spaces right before their eyes."

…With this culture [of privacy], if you were to walk along a residential street in an urban area of Tokyo, every 10 meters surveying all 360 degrees of your surroundings, there’s no question that you would be reported to the police within 30 minutes. Even just filming the scenery from the street with camera in hand, there’s no question that if you tried to shoot the area not covered by Street View, you would be asked, after initial questioning, to come to either the Ikegami Police Station or the Den-en-Chofu Police Station.

Here is the full story, interesting throughout.  Keep also in mind that Japanese urban residents are more likely to urinate in public or use a love hotel than are, I think, most Americans. 

I thank Riemannzeta for the pointer.

Celebrity and politics

Many of the supposed "heroes" of the past were liars, frauds, and butchers to varying degrees.  The association of fame with entertainers, for all its flaws, departs from earlier concepts of heroic brutality and martial virtue.  Most of today’s famous people have had to persuade consumers to offer their allegiance and their dollars.  Nowadays fame is attained through a high-stakes game of pursuit and seduction, rather than a heroic contest or a show of force in battle.  The shift in fame to entertainers is a modern extension of the Enlightenment doux commerce thesis that the wealth of the market civilizes morals and manners and supports an ethic of bourgeois virtue.

…Modern politics emphasizes images, rumor, negative campaigning, and a circus-like, mass media atmosphere.  Leaders lose their stature and become another set of celebrities.  We talk about them and use them for entertainment.  Yet contrary to the views of many critics, these developments are by no means wholly negative.

Commercial society has brought the taming of fame to politics…

That is from my 2000 book What Price Fame?

Trade is good: settle your lawsuit

Note to victims of accidents, medical malpractice, broken contracts and the like: When you sue, make a deal.

is the clear lesson of a soon-to-be-released study of civil lawsuits
that has found that most of the plaintiffs who decided to pass up a
settlement offer and went to trial ended up getting less money than if
they had taken that offer.

…Defendants made the wrong decision by proceeding to trial far less
often, in 24 percent of cases, according to the study; plaintiffs were
wrong in 61 percent of cases. In just 15 percent of cases, both sides
were right to go to trial – meaning that the defendant paid less than
the plaintiff had wanted but the plaintiff got more than the defendant
had offered.   

Here is the story.  The good news is that 80 to 92 percent of cases do in fact settle.  The bad news is that, over time, poor decisions to go to trial have become more rather than less frequent.

Why are some countries free and others not?

I am to speak on this topic in Buenos Aires (details here) and I was considering the following threads:

1. The Catholic capitalism of the Italian Renaissance and to what extent does it refute Max Weber?

2. Facundo and Martin Fierro, or where Domingo Sarmiento and Steve Sailer go wrong.

3. Why didn’t either the gauchos or the conquest of Siberia lead to the Turner thesis?

4. Why the old buildings in Oamaru, New Zealand remind me of Chile and what that means for the current Latin economic pecking order.

5. What does the pre-war Japanese growth miracle tell us about the postwar Japanese growth miracle?

6. "Betting on refrigerated transport" as a theme in Argentine history.

Or maybe I’ll do something else altogether.

They tell me that dress for the event is "elegant casual."  Yikes!  This, of course, leads to classic cycling in the sense outlined by William Riker.  Since I cannot be elegant (certainly not by B.A. standards), I cannot be casual either.

The talk should eventually show up in print, although possibly only in Spanish in Argentina.  I’ll get you a link if there ever is one.