Month: November 2008

The iPod Nano index

You’ll find it here.  It seems that Australia has the cheapest iPod, followed by Indonesia and Canada.  Argentina has the most expensive iPod, even though it is generally a very cheap country.  These figures are listed as from October 2008, but I wonder if Iceland still has the sixth most expensive iPod Nano?

I thank John De Palma for the pointer.

True or false?

If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to
influence students, “they’ve done a pretty bad job,” said A. Lee
Fritschler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and
an author of the new book “Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in
American Universities” (Brookings Institution Press).

notion that students are induced to move leftward “is a fantasy,” said
Jeremy D. Mayer, another of the book’s authors. When it comes to
shaping a young person’s political views, “it is really hard to change
the mind of anyone over 15,” said Mr. Mayer, who did extensive research
on faculty and students.

Here is the story.

Avoiding winner’s curse

Ben Casnocha has some suggestions for making good personal and career contacts:

How to find a hidden gem? Hints from my post on de-emphasizing popular filters: seek out introverts. Seek out people under age 30. Seek out people who are bad at marketing.

Recognize and discount the celebrity effect. Spend time with
people who also have time to spend with you. My bet is you’ll have a
more rewarding relationship.

This is the same Ben who went to a talk of mine in Zurich and introduced himself to me.  I’m not under 30.  In any case, I agree with his bottom line:

The only reason to try to meet with Mr. Busy and Rich for 10 minutes is
if you have a very specific request or need. If you’re just trying to
"network" or build a relationship, don’t waste your time.

The thought of Ezra Klein

Soencer Ackerman asks,
"Remember in 2003 and 2004, when there was all this talk about how the
Democrats were in danger of no longer being a national party?" I do
remember that. I also remember how Democrats had to get religion if
they ever wanted to be competitive again. I also remember how they had
to appeal to the white heartland by nominating candidates more
culturally recognizable to rural voters. Instead, they went in the
opposite direction, running a candidate who was recognizable to the
majority coalition Democrats hoped to have in 10 years. It seems to
have worked out pretty well. It’s almost as if pundits don’t really
know what they’re talking about.

Here is the link.

My simple thought on voting

Most of what you do is for expressive value anyway, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about voting, if indeed you vote.  The people who think they are being instrumentally rational by not voting are probably deceiving themselves more.  They are actually engaged in an even less transparent form of expressive behavior (protest against the voting system) and yet cloaking that behavior under the guise of instrumental rationality.  The best arguments against voting are simply if you either don’t like voting or if you don’t know which candidate is better.  High-status people hardly ever offer the latter justification, even though the split of opinions among high-status people suggests that not all high-status people can in fact know which candidate is better.

In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people.  I am glad that we have an entire day devoted to this very important concept.

New models of voting

This paper, "Attitude-Dependent Altruism, Turnout and Voting," is from Julio Rotemberg, one of my favorite economists:

This paper presents a goal-oriented model of political participation
based on two psychological assumptions. The first is that people are
more altruistic towards individuals that agree with them and the second
is that people’s well-being rises when other people share their
personal opinions. The act of voting is then a source of vicarious
utility because it raises the well-being of individuals that agree with
the voter. Substantial equilibrium turnout emerges with nontrivial
voting costs and modest altruism. The model can explain higher turnout
in close elections as well as votes for third-party candidates with no
prospect of victory. For certain parameters, these third party
candidates lose votes to more popular candidates, a phenomenon often
called strategic voting. For other parameters, the model predicts
"vote-stealing" where the addition of a third candidate robs a viable
major candidate of electoral support.

Here is an ungated version.

China tax of the day

Last year China banned the sale of virtual currency in an effort to
shut down "gold farmers" — businesses that hire young Chinese to play
video games all day and sell the proceeds (in the form of game currency
or magic items) on eBay (EBAY) or online.
The Chinese government did nothing to enforce its own ban, so it
remains to be seen whether Beijing follows up with its latest edict:
Gamers who sell virtual goods for a profit will be taxed at 20% of the
proceeds, the same rate applied to profits on real estate or other

In December 2005 the New York Times estimated 100,000 Chinese were employed full-time
in the gold farming industry, and consulting group iResearch says the
virtual currency trade is a $1.4 billion dollar industry growing at 15
to 20% a year.

Here is the story and thanks to Alex Rosen for the pointer.

China Worry of the Day

China’s economic difficulties are very worrying because in China an economic slowdown is not just an economic problem but a political problem.  Will the Chinese leadership turn to nationalism to divert attention from problems at home?  Interesting times. and this time that is a curse.

China needs to encourage domestic consumption and with a trillion dollars in reserves they have the funds.  Spending the rainy day fund would benefit the U.S. as well, stimulating our exports.  It may already be too late, however, to shift smoothly from export to domestic consumption which means that mass capital depreciation will occur as capital investments in export industries turn out to be worth less than first appeared.   

Is Google happy with its book-scanning deal?


Google’s concession has made it more difficult for anyone to invoke fair use for book searches. The settlement itself is proof that a company can pay licensing fees and still turn a profit. So now no one can convincingly argue that scanning a book requires no license. If Microsoft starts its own book search service and claims fair use, the courts will say, "Hey, Google manages to pay for this sort of thing. What makes you so special?"

By settling the case, Google has made it much more difficult for others to compete with its Book Search service. Of course, Google was already in a dominant position because few companies have the resources to scan all those millions of books. But even fewer have the additional funds needed to pay fees to all those copyright owners. The licenses are essentially a barrier to entry, and it’s possible that only Google will be able to surmount that barrier.

Sure, Google now has to share its profits with publishers. But when a company has no competitors, there are plenty of profits to share.

Voting Videos

Here’s a great little video from PBS (!) featuring Gordon Tullock on why he doesn’t vote and why you shouldn’t either.  (Andrew Gelman and Noah Kaplan beg to differ in this article, but their theory applies only to altruists – not to Gordon!).

And from The Teaching Company here is a free video on voting theory, i.e. Arrow’s theorem, the Borda count and all that other good stuff.