Month: November 2009

A Fiscal Stimulus Turkey

From A Brief History of Black Friday:

In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week.

Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

Trying to increase spending by moving Thanksgiving up a week?  Dumb.  But really, is this so different than say cash for clunkers?  Hat tip: Boing Boing.

Best books of the year, with an eye toward Christmas gifts

This year my three favorite books were:

1. The new Gabriel García Márquez biography.

2. Chris Wickham's The Inheritance of Rome, and

3. Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence, read it slowly in small bits.

A very good gift book is Eric Siblin's new The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.  It signals the sophistication of both the giver and receiver and yet it is short and entertaining enough to actually read.  Package it with the recent Queyras recording of the Suites, if need be.

My favorite classical recording this year was Alexandre Tharaud playing Satie for piano.

Assorted links

Just-in-time search

The rhythm of the nation’s kitchens can also be parsed, on an hour-by-hour basis.

At Allrecipes.com, pie searches got the most action on Wednesday morning. But by 10 a.m., people began earnest hunts for sweet potato casserole and stuffing recipes. By noon, 100,000 people had searched for mashed potato recipes.

The real outlier is gravy. If this Thanksgiving Day is anything like last year’s, most searches will slow by 10 a.m. But not gravy. That vexing cook’s kryptonite should peak about 3 p.m.

Search data are also a way to track the Thanksgiving trends, which cycle through the years like hemlines. Curiosity about deep-fried turkey is growing faster than questions about brining, with Allrecipes.com reporting a 188 percent jump in people viewing information on the technique this year over 2008.

Here is much more information, interesting throughout.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Thanksgiving

Dubai World won't repay its debt on time and the government of Dubai won't pick up the bag, raising doubts about its credibility.  Who would bail out Dubai itself?  Maybe it will be an "interesting" weekend:

Banking stocks tumbled on concern about their potential exposure to
Dubai. Indeed, the cost of insuring against default by the emirate
jumped, with Reuters reporting the Dubai five-year credit default swap
being quoted as high as 500-550 basis points. This means it would cost
about $500,000 a year to insure $10m of Dubai’s debt. On Tuesday it
would have cost about $360,000.

Funds are surging into Germany and Japan, etc.  For purposes of comparison, Dubai CDS contracts now cost more than for Iceland.

If you're feeling a little down today, and looking for something to be thankful for, be thankful you have not lent money to Dubai.  Unless, of course, you have lent money to Dubai.

Ariely on Thanksgiving

Ezra Klein asked Dan Ariely for Thanksgiving advice:

"Move to chopsticks!" he exclaimed, making bites smaller and harder to take. If the chopsticks are a bit extreme, smaller plates and utensils might work the same way. Study after study shows that people eat more when they have more in front of them. It's one of our predictable irrationalities: We judge portions by how much is left rather than how full we feel. Smaller portions lead us to eat less, even if we can refill the plate.

Speaking of which, Ariely suggests placing the food "far away." In this case, serve from the kitchen rather than the table. If people have to get up to add another scoop of mashed potatoes, they're less likely to take their fifth serving than if they simply have to reach in front of them.

"Start with a soup course," he says. That is what economists refer to as a default: Rather than putting everything on the table for people to choose, you begin by making the choice for your guests. If the first course is relatively filling and relatively low in calories, everyone will eat less during the rest of the meal.

Indeed, it's not a bad idea to limit the total number of courses. Variety stimulates appetite. As evidence, Ariely brings up a study conducted on mice. A male mouse and a female mouse will soon tire of mating with each other. But put new partners into the cage, and it turns out they weren't tired at all. They were just bored. So, too, with food. "Imagine you only had one dish," he says. "How much could you eat?"

What you eat, of course, is also important. Studies show that people aren't very consistent in the amount of calories they eat each day, but they're very consistent in the volume of food they eat each day. Thanksgiving is an exception to that consistency, but probably not to the underlying rule. Satisfaction doesn't depend on caloric intake; low-calorie, high-fiber foods and foods high in water content are filling. Thus, the more broccoli rabe there is at the table, the better.

Markets in everything, Thanksgiving day edition

Get the dog involved in the festivities with Merrick Thanksgiving Day Dinner Dog Food! 12 cans for $21.99 on Amazon.
The description: "The house is filled with love and the wonderful
smells of Thanksgiving infiltrate the air. Could it get any better as
you fill your plate with juicy slices of turkey and all the trimmings?
We don't think Thanksgiving should come only once a year, so we created
this meal for your dog to enjoy all year round."

The photos are here and I thank Courtney Knapp for the pointer.

Detroit fact of the day markets in everything

Here's all you need to know about the real estate market in Michigan: The 80,000-seat enclosed Silverdome, built for $55.7 million in 1975 to house the Detroit Lions, has sold for $583,000.

And you thought your home had lost its value during this recession.

Think about it this way: $583,000 will get you a decent, but not terrific, house in a nice neighborhood in Northwest Washington.  [TC: will it?]

According to this story from the Detroit News, the Silverdome — which is a bubble dome, pictures of which you can see here and here — was hoped to fetch at least $1.3 million; maybe as much as $3 million. The dome comes with 27 acres.

The full story is here and I thank Greg Finley for the pointer.

Assorted links

1. Reprogramming predators, and maybe a pan-species welfare state too.

2. The six great fantasy novels?

3. Forum on the new Robert Pozen book on the financial crisis.

4. Do you wish to hear the other side?  Here is George Selgin's case for deflation, now on-line and free.

5. Ezra and Mark Bittman, the behavioral economics of Thanksgiving.  And here, with Dan Ariely.

6. Pollution is moving to Asia; good maps.

6. Future deficits are worrisome.  James Hamilton: "Is it possible that some time within the next five years, the U.S.
Treasury will run an auction in which there are not enough bids to roll
over the debt? My answer is yes."

Who buys cosmetic surgery?

Not just the rich:

…cosmetic surgery is now primarily consumed not by the rich, but by the
working and lower-middle classes, sometimes even by the poor. 
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS),
about 1/3 of cosmetic surgery is consumed by people who make less than
$30,000 a year.  About 70% of it is consumed by people who make less
than $60,000 a year. It is mostly women (90%) and mostly white,
middle-aged women (80% and between 35-55 years old).

Here is a more complete account.  In the Reid bill there is a tax on cosmetic surgery.  In my view cosmetic surgery is not just a zero-sum game but rather it leads to better matches, more matches, and more people who are happy with their looks or with the looks of their partner(s).  It also leads to higher levels of trust. And it's a sector that has, overall, lowered costs over time.

For the pointer I thank Coates Bateman.

The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Student Achievement

Preliminary results are in, and they suggest it has helped with math skills but not with reading achievement, as measured in the 4th and 8th grades.  Via Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob:

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act compelled states to design
school-accountability systems based on annual student assessments. The
effect of this Federal legislation on the distribution of student
achievement is a highly controversial but centrally important question.
This study presents evidence on whether NCLB has influenced student
achievement based on an analysis of state-level panel data on student
test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP). The impact of NCLB is identified using a comparative
interrupted time series analysis that relies on comparisons of the
test-score changes across states that already had school-accountability
policies in place prior to NCLB and those that did not. Our results
indicate that NCLB generated statistically significant increases in the
average math performance of 4th graders (effect size = 0.22 by 2007) as
well as improvements at the lower and top percentiles. There is also
evidence of improvements in 8th grade math achievement, particularly
among traditionally low-achieving groups and at the lower percentiles.
However, we find no evidence that NCLB increased reading achievement in
either 4th or 8th grade.

That is from an NBER paper, I do not yet see an ungated copy on-line.  To my skewed perspective, this is an intuitive result.  Math skills are more the result of drill, whereas you have to learn how to love to read and much of that happens within the family, not at school.  Math is therefore easier to "teach by central planning," so to speak.

Whale size, an interior solution

How is this for a sentence to ponder?:

It’s a lot of water, the scientists have found: in one lunge, a fin whale can momentarily double its weight.

The full article is here and I'll peg it as one of the very best short pieces I've read this year.  Here is another stunning excerpt:

In order to make lunge-feeding work, you have to have a really big
mouth to capture enough water in one gulp. But in order to have a big
mouth, you need a big body. And in order to keep that big body running,
you need to get a lot of food. And in the very act of getting that
food–diving deep, lunging open-mouthed, and then pushing a
school-bus-sized volume of water forwards–requires a lot of energy on
its own.

Goldbogen and his colleagues wondered what sort of trade-off
lunge-feeding whales faced between the costs and the benefits of eating
like a parachute. To find out, they took advantage of measurements
scientists made of hundreds of fin whales at whaling stations in the
1920s.

For the pointer I thank Carl Zimmer.  Herman Melville would have been proud.