Month: November 2009

Unemployment Breakdown

The NYTimes has a nice interactive graphic on unemployment rates and changes over time by demographic characteristic.  I am in the category–white men ages 25-44 with a college degree– with almost the very lowest unemployment rate (3.9%).  Just to compare, as pointed out in the comments, black males 15-24 without a high school degree have an unemployment rate of 48.5%.  Check it out.

Hat tip to FlowingData.

Measuring the movie critics

If you want to get a sense of the zeitgeist but can only read one review, you might prefer Rene Rodriguez, whose low standard deviation from the mean review score makes him very nearly a living critical average. If you are interested in an alternative perspective, Mick LaSalle's high standard deviation places him further from the critical pack than any of these peers. Reviews from both Michael Wilmington and Marc Savlov are so regularly and respectively positive and negative that they should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

The source article, which contains much more information, is here.  You'll find a visual representation of the critics's stances here.  Hat tip goes to Eric Barker.

If you're wondering, I don't have a "favorite movie critic."  I judge movies by the preview, the director, and by mentally aggregating the first five reviews I happen to read.  This works well for me.  If I had to go by a single source, by far it would be Variety magazine, which offers separate assessments of a movie's goodness and of its popularity with various demographics, a luxury which non-insider publications do not always have.  

China claim of the day

If China remains culturally closed, the Chinese Century will never come to pass. Instead, the United States–a country that has struggled with race and racism for centuries, and in the process has become more culturally open and resilient–will dominate this century as it did the last.

That's from Reihan Salaam, who discusses how far the problem of Asian racism is from being solved.

Berlin memories

I first visited Berlin in 1985, while traveling with Randall Kroszner.  We drove to West Berlin by car and we were terrified for the few hours we were underway in East Germany.  Randy did not drive over the speed limit once.  I was hardly a communist sympathizer but still I was unprepared for the day trip to East Berlin.  I saw soldiers goose-stepping down one of the main streets.  In the stores old ladies yelled and swung their brooms at me.  Many buildings still had bullet marks or bomb damage from World War II.  In a restaurant we ate a rubber Wiener Schnitzel and shared a table with an East German family; they did not have enough trust in their government to speak a word to us.  I was unable to spend my mandatory thirty-mark conversion on anything useful; I carried back some Stendahl and Goethe but didn't want the Lenin.  This was in the capital city in the showcase of the communist world.   

My biggest impression was simply that I had never seen evil before.

In the summer of 1990 I stayed in a dorm in East Berlin.  Everyone seemed normal.  Cute girls smiled.  Yet there were few signs of modern German life as a Westerner might understand it; it was as if I had stepped into an alternative science fiction universe.  The Vietnamese ran the street markets and Russian still mattered.  

In 1999 I heard an emotional performance of Fidelio there and most of the audience cried.

I like spending time in Berlin.  But I am never sure I like Berlin itself, West or East.  Berlin is Germany being imperial.  Berlin is Germany looking toward the east.  Today Berlin is Germany pretending it is normal, while not yet having a new identity.  Here is Kurt Tucholsky (in German) on Berlin.  Here is a silly quotation about Berlin:

“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.”

Here is the Berlin Sony Center.  Here is the Reichstag.  Here is the Jewish Museum.  Here is Knut, from the Berlin Zoo.

How short a time horizon is needed to motivate catch-up growth?

A few centuries ago, the ratio between the per capita income of the richest country and poorest country was maybe five to one.  Today it is maybe one hundred to one.

The classic example of economic catch-up is given by East Asia in the mid-twentieth century, starting with Japan.  In those days it was possible to obtain near-parity with the West in about thirty to thirty-five years.  In other words, as a young man you could see near-parity before you retired and you could see near-parity for your grandchildren.  You could see your children making it halfway there, even before they are entering the workforce.

What if, in the future, for the remaining poor countries, the West (and East Asia) is so rich that catch-up takes seventy years?  One hundred years?  Will any poor country be bothered?  Won't it all seem too far off to be worth the trouble?  (Catch-up growth takes lots of hard work and savings and sacrifices of previous social norms.)  Or do you believe in a technology-transfer Solow model where the maximum possible rate of catch-up growth keeps on growing?  One hundred years from now, will it be plausible to imagine catch-up growth of twenty or thirty percent a year?

*The Art of Not Being Governed*

The subtitle is An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia and the author is James C. Scott of Yale University.  Here is a summary from the Preface:

…I argue that the [Southeast Asian] hill peoples are best understood as runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys — slavery, conscription taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare.  Most of the areas in which they reside may be aptly called shatter zones or zones of refuge.

Virtually everything about these people's livelihoods, social organizations, ideologies, and (more controversially) even their largely oral cultures, can be read as strategic positionings designed to keep the state at arm's length.  Their physical dispersion in rugged terrain, their mobility, their cropping practices, their kinship structure, their pliable ethnic identities, and their devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders effectively serve to avoid incorporations into states and to prevent states from springing up among them.  The particular state that most of them have been evading has been the precocious Han-Chinese state.

Highly recommended, this is a book Gordon Tullock would love.  So far it has received surprisingly little publicity but it strikes me as essential reading about Afghanistan as well.  Here is a much earlier Crooked Timber post on Scott.

Assorted links

1. The vote to defund political science: how it went.

2. Jason Kottke doesn't read books anymore.

3. "Food rewards obsessiveness," the best eater in the United States.  The full article is gated (the link offers only an excerpt), so buy the 9 November New Yorker.  I don't usually link to gated material of this kind, but this was one of the three or four best magazine pieces I'll read in a year.

4. Why Buffett bought that railroad.

5. Weird stuff McDonald's sells around the world.  In the Philippines it is "spaghetti soaked in sugar."

6. Fruitless endeavors, or not?: translating works of literature into games of chess against each other, using a computer program.

7. Were the Neanderthals just unlucky?

8. Françoise Sagan: an appreciation.

Why it’s harder than before to get into your favorite college

Caroline Hoxby reports:

This paper shows that although the top ten percent of colleges are
substantially more selective now than they were 5 decades ago, most
colleges are not more selective. Moreover, at least 50 percent of
colleges are substantially less selective now than they were then. This
paper demonstrates that competition for space–the number of students
who wish to attend college growing faster than the number of spaces
available–does not explain changing selectivity. The explanation is,
instead, that the elasticity of a student's preference for a college
with respect to its proximity to his home has fallen substantially over
time and there has been a corresponding increase in the elasticity of
his preference for a college with respect to its resources and peers.
In other words, students used to attend a local college regardless of
their abilities and its characteristics. Now, their choices are driven
far less by distance and far more by a college's resources and student
body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that
has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges
while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges. I show that
the integration of the market for college education has had profound
implications on the peers whom college students experience, the
resources invested in their education, the tuition they pay, and the
subsidies they enjoy. An important finding is that, even though tuition
has been rising rapidly at the most selective schools, the deal
students get there has arguably improved greatly. The result is that
the "stakes" associated with admission to these colleges are much
higher now than in the past.

Here is one summary of the paper.  The ungated version is here.  Note that the incomplete nature of globalization for higher ed means this process still has a long way to run.

By the way, does this logic also apply to romance?  To really good sporting events?  To meeting and befriending celebrities?  Is this a more general prediction in a superstars model?

How to run a successful blog

…They understand that public opinion matters…they understand that it’s a little harder to criticize someone after you’ve met him and he’s given you free cookies…they couldn't possibly have expected to change anybody’s mind, they understand that it’s better to talk to your critics than to avoid them. Waldman talks about some of the techniques used to make the attendees [readers] feel like they were being treated as special guests.

Whoops!  That's not advice for running a successful blog.  Those are James Kwak's comments on how Treasury tries to trick visiting bloggers.  We bloggers should know.  We give away lots of free stuff too, more than cookies even if it is sometimes sour rather than sweet.

Talks at TEDx Midatlantic

The talks are here, including one by yours truly on the limits of story-based thinking.  I was happy to meet Sonja Sohn.  One thing I learned from this experience is that if you follow professional entertainers, the "status rub-off" effect dominates the "suffer by comparison" effect.  The audience is primed to be sympathetic to you and many of them do not actually know which of the speakers are truly the high status people.  Perhaps the talk has to meet some minimum quality standard, or involve some minimum level of self-confidence, for the rub-off effect to hold.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.

Impressions from Treasury

I will enumerate a few (you can trace other accounts here):

1. Tim Geithner is very smart and he was conceptually stronger than one might have expected.

2. I believe that the long, L-shaped hallways encourage "visits to offices" rather than hallway conversations; this is a speculation and perhaps some reader can confirm or deny it.

3. The quality of the painted portraits of Treasury Secretaries declines as time passes.

4. The free cookies were good and fresh, with a warm, fluid chocolate interior.  There was water to drink, but no mineral water.

5. For all their talk about outreach, etc. I believe at least a few of them wanted to hear from an outside source whether we think they are totally ****ed or not.  They heard. 

6. I worry less than did some of the other bloggers about the Treasury awareness of major economic problems going forward.  As governmental institutions go, Treasury has a real incentive to a) worry about the fiscal future, and b) worry about worst-case scenarios, including for financial institutions.  Their daily interaction with the bond market gives them a longer time horizon and a more economics-friendly perspective than most of their bureaucratic counterparts.  The problem is Congress.  For instance if someone at Treasury had a Yves Smith view of the banking system, they could not much act on it.

7. "You guys are a welcome change of pace," or something like that, remarked one senior Treasury official.  Although this was flattery, I believe it was meant sincerely.  They were also a welcome change of pace.

8. I asked one senior Treasury official which book, thinker, or economic theorist had most shaped his thinking about the financial crisis.  In the ensuing discussion the book Lords of Finance was recommended, though I could not say whether it was intended as a totally direct answer to the question as stated.