Month: September 2008

Assorted links

1. Via Craig Newmark, a short class on behavioral economics (are the speakers or the audience more impressive?)

2. List of very good contemporary TV shows

3. Diasyrmus

4. The first Haitian opera (to buy it, right click on "shop" and then click on the Dutch phrase at the bottom of the page)

5. Nursing home reform I can favor.

6. Which three Senators receive the most Fannie Mae money?

Brazil fact of the day

In Brazil, they segregate their prisons according to gang membership.
No exceptions. Not even for individuals who in fact are not members of
any gang.

How does that work?  Easy.  Upon being admitted to the prison system, unaffiliated prisoners are required to join a gang.

Here is more, from Amanda Taub.  Here is her blog.  Here is another new economics blog, on models and agents.

The benefits of a winning sports team?

The consistently interesting Drake Bennett writes:

…a few scholars have started to suggest that there may indeed be another
kind of benefit from big-time sports. There’s a catch, though: the team
has to be good. In a forthcoming paper, economist Michael Davis and the
psychologist Christian End say that having a winning NFL football team
increases the incomes of the people who live and work in its hometown
by as much as $120 a year. And while the study doesn’t identify exactly
what causes the boost, the authors point to psychological literature
suggesting that winning fans are at once harder workers and bigger
spenders. In short, buoyed by the team’s success, we work longer hours,
take bigger risks, and shop more avidly, all of which helps the local

I have a simple hypothesis.  Winning sports team cause local fans to feel better and thus to spend more money.  Most importantly, consumption tends to be local and thus the spending shows up in the city of the winning sports team.  Saved funds, in contrast, are invested but banks and securitization make these funds mobile.  Savings will help the national or international economy but not the local economy so much.

Since more savings would be desirable, the best outcome is if no team wins, if a small city team wins, or if the victory is uninspiring.  Detroit vs. San Antonio, anybody?  That’s what the American economy needs.

Alternatively, you might think that the economic boost comes from greater confidence, higher labor supply, and other supply-side effects.  Then you should root for the teams from the largest cities (Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia) and most of all you should root against the Washington Wizards.

Anathem, by Neil Stephenson

Here are a few reviews and a few more and more.  Here is the Amazon listing.  A partial read and a browse put me in (temporary?) agreement with this Amazon review:

The story, when it gets going, is exciting and relatively fast-paced
and all that. But it takes some 600-700 pages to get there, during
which time you are immersed in the world of Arbre and its native
culture. The first few pages are chock-full of in-world jargon à la A
Clockwork Orange, and it will be difficult to read. (Not to worry–
there is a glossary, and selections from the Arbran dictionary appear
throughout the text)…Anathem takes eight thousand years of
fictional history and makes it as relevant and meaningful as anything
from the Cycle.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Cryptonomicon is the place to start.  It’s one of my favorite popular fictions from the last twenty years and you don’t even need to like "that sort of thing."

Insect politics

In case you had forgotten:

"Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I! Insects don’t
have politics…. they’re very brutal. No compassion…. no compromise.
We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first insect
politician. I’d like to, but…. I’m an insect…. who dreamed he was a
man, and loved it. But now the dream is over, and the insect is awake."

That’s from David Cronenberg’s The Fly.  I was reminded of the scene by this post.  Best of all, the YouTube of that scene is here.  I will genuinely be glad when this campaign is over.

Addendum: The new operatic version of The Fly is receiving negative reviews.

Why Libertarians Should Vote for Obama (1)

First, war.  War is the antithesis of the libertarian philosophy of
consent, voluntarism and trade.  With every war in American history
Leviathan has grown larger and our liberties have withered.  War is the
health of the state. And now, fulfilling the dreams of Big Brother, we are
in a perpetual war.

A country cannot long combine unlimited government abroad and limited
government at home. The Republican party
has become the party of war and thus the party of unlimited government.

With war has come FEAR, magnified many times over by the governing party. Fear is pulling Americans into the arms of
the state. If only we were better at
resisting. Alas, we Americans say that
we love liberty but we are fair-weather lovers.  Liberty will flourish only with peace. 

Have libertarians gained on other margins in the past eight years? Not at all. Under the Republicans we have been sailing due South-West on the Nolan
– fewer civil liberties and more government, including the largest new
government program in a generation, the Medicare prescription drug plan, and
the biggest nationalization since the Great Depression. Tax cuts, the summum bonum of Republican
economic policy, are a sham. The only
way to cut taxes is to cut spending and that has not happened.

The libertarian voice has not been listened to in Republican politics for a
long time. The Republicans take the libertarian wing of the party for granted
and with phony rhetoric and empty phrases have bought our support on the
cheap. Thus – since voice has failed – it is  time for exit.  Remember that if
a political party can count on you then you cannot count on it.

Exit is the right strategy because if there is any hope for reform it is by
casting the Republicans out of power and into the wilderness where they may
relearn virtue. Libertarians understand better
than anyone that power corrupts. The
Republican party illustrates. Lack of
power is no guarantee of virtue but Republicans are a far better – more libertarian –
party out-of-power than they are in power. When in the wilderness, Republicans turn naturally to a critique of
power and they ratchet up libertarian rhetoric about free trade, free
enterprise, abuse of government power and even the defense of civil liberties.  We can hope that new leaders will arise in
this libertarian milieu.

Sports figures favor Republicans

Or so it seems (original source here):

  • “Professional athletes and executives have given $445,334 to the
    two nominees – 55.8 percent to McCain and 44.2 percent to Obama,
    according to ESPN analysis of figures from the Center for Responsive
    Politics, a nonpartisan research group.”
  • “The difference this election is that pro sports donors are more
    divided. In the past two presidential elections, the Democratic nominee
    has struggled to muster at most 16 percent of pro sports donations.”…
  • “McCain has lots of friends in the dugout, but his biggest fans are
    in football. Six of McCain’s top 10 pro sports donors are with NFL
    teams, led by the San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Houston
  • “NBA staff topped Obama’s list of pro sports donors at $24,360.”

I can think of a few hypotheses to explain these results:

1. Sports figures don’t want high marginal tax rates for the upper income brackets.

2. Currently the disproportionate representation of African-Americans in sports is throwing more support to Obama than a Democratic candidate normally would receive.

3. Perhaps athletes are less likely to come from coastal elites, who are becoming increasingly Democratic.

4. Republicans have historically shown less interest in regulating professional sports than have Democrats.

5. The sport of football most embodies the ethic of martial virtue and so football players and executives are especially drawn to McCain.

Is there more?

Markets in everything, China edition

Stir Fried Wikipedia.

Or so the translation goes.  Here is the explanation (with photos):

It’s not entirely clear how this error came about but it seems likely that someone did a search for the Chinese word for a type of edible fungus and its translation into English. The most relevant and accurate page very well might have been an article on the fungus on Wikipedia.
Unfamiliar with Wikipedia, the user then confused the name of the article with the name of the website. There have been several distinct
of "wikipedia" on Chinese menus.

That’s from the Revealing Errors blog and I thank Kat for the pointer.  The blog is very good; here is an interesting post on "the Cupertino effect."

China incentive of the day

A handsome teacher in China is offering pupils autographed photos of himself to encourage them to work harder.

Ji Feng, also vice principal of Zhiyuan Foreign Language Elementary School, is so popular among students that a lot of them were asking him for pictures.

"I came up with the idea of giving them my signed pictures as a reward," he told the Nanjing Morning Post.

Students who put in exemplary work can now pose for a picture with Ji who then signs the printed photograph.

Ji added: "It absolutely is not narcissism, but a way of encouragement. And only the students who perform the best can get such a reward."

Here is the story, the pointer is from Allison Kasic.

The paradox of deleveraging

As Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor, put it in a recent essay titled “The Paradox of Deleveraging,” lately just about every financial institution has been trying to reduce its leverage – but the plunge in asset values has nonetheless left these institutions with more debt relative to their assets than before.

That’s from Paul Krugman, who cites Irving Fisher as well.  Arnold Kling asks for 20 percent down.  Here is Arnold’s exit strategy.  Here is John McCain, up to 48.5 on InTrade or is that just because of the recent Gallup poll?

Alaskan state politics, circa 1976

"You were against statehood?"

"Oh, sure.  Oh, sure.  Before then, three-quarters of the people here weren’t here.  Eight or nine hundred people ran the Territory.  Ten thousand now run the state.  Where it used to take one person to investigate you, it now takes two to four.  The state spends too much.  If a tree blows down, two guys from the state come with a chain saw.  The state has sold the state out.  To the unions.  To the oil companies.  The oil companies have more power than the legislature.  The capital move [away from Juneau] is a lot of talk.  That’s all it is, a lot of talk.  What we need is not a new capital but better legislators than we have.  I’d say leave the capital where it’s at.  The state can’t afford it.  There is no economy.  They’re dreaming about all this oil money.

That is from John McPhee’s excellent Coming into the Country, a study of Alaska recommended to me by several MR readers.  Here is a short 2002 piece on switching the capital of Alaska and the oddity of putting it in Juneau.  Here is a useful map.  Here is a picture of Juneau and from the air.  Googling "Juneau traffic report" does not in fact bring up any traffic reports.

The Fall Season

1. The new Pamuk novel, right now in German and Turkish only.

2. The new Miyazaki movie: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.  Trailer (sort of) here.  It’s at film festivals now, the full U.S. release date is 2009.

3. The next Malcolm Gladwell book.

4. Jose Saramago, Death at Intervals (the other title is Death With Interruptions).  I snagged an advance copy from the UK; sadly he is past his vital powers.

5. Here is a broader fall books preview.

6. The Clash Live at Shea Stadium, coming on disc.  I am lucky enough to have seen them at the Passaic Theatre before they became truly famous.

7. Ashes of Time Redux, due out October 10th.  Maybe the re-edited version of this classic (but in my view unwatchable) Wong Kar-Wai film will finally make sense.

What am I missing?

The median voter theorem

John A. Courson, chief operating officer of the Mortgage Bankers
Association, a trade group, also pointed with relief to the statement
by the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr. on Sunday morning that Fannie and Freddie would examine the fees they
charge banks for loan securitization services, “with an eye toward
mortgage affordability.”

Don’t they…um…"need the money"?  And:

“The government doesn’t have a great deal of interest in foreclosing on
a ton of homes,” said Kurt Eggert, a law professor at Chapman
University in Orange, Calif., and a former member of the Federal
Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council.


While it is not yet clear whether stockholders in Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac will be wiped out entirely, Mr. Paulson did say on Sunday
that the entities “will no longer be managed with a strategy to
maximize common shareholder returns.”

That’s some theorem.  Here is the article.