Month: December 2009

How the penalties will work

This has changed a number of times and I've been wondering where it was at.  Ezra Klein now reports:

If you don't have employer-based coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, or anything else, and premiums won't cost more than 8 percent of your monthly income, and you refuse to purchase insurance, at that point, you will be assessed a penalty of up to 2 percent of your annual income. In return for that, you get guaranteed treatment at hospitals and an insurance system that allows you to purchase full coverage the moment you decide you actually need it. In the current system, if you don't buy insurance, and then find you need it, you'll likely never be able to buy insurance again. There's a very good case to be made, in fact, that paying the 2 percent penalty is the best deal in the bill.

The racial politics of *Avatar*

Chris Hayes pointed me to this article, with this good passage:

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He's becoming alien and he can't go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he's hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a "cure" for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it's only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

I also enjoyed Ross Douthat's take.

How to limit filibusters

Requiring fifty rather than sixty votes is one obvious response, but let's say that either isn't possible or is for other reasons undesirable.  That is, you still might want a high threshold for new legislation, yet without so empowering the sixtieth legislator or for that matter the fiftieth legislator.

One (non-practical) option is to randomize the number of votes held by each Senator, with the number being revealed only after the vote is held.  That way Joe Lieberman wouldn't know in advance that he is the decisive Senator.  One problem of this is that to ensure passage of the now-riskier bill you might have to spread around pork more generally.

Another (non-practical) solution is to give more votes to Senators who precommit in advance to supporting (or opposing) whatever comes out of the process.  Of course that can also backfire, by making it harder for the non-Liebermans to threaten defection.

Then there is bribery and log-rolling and yet more pork.

What other options are there for limiting holdouts, either practical or purely theoretical?

Are Old Scientists Less Innovative?

Paul Romer is interviewed in From Poverty to Prosperity, an excellent new book from Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz.  When asked about threats to progress Romer says the following:

One factor that does worry me a little is the demographic changes. Young people, I think, tend to be more innovative, more willing to take risks, more willing to do things differently and they may be very important, disproportionately important, in this innovation and growth process.

And then he gives an example of his worry in practice:

…instead of young scientists getting grant funding to go off and do whatever they want in their twenties, they're working in a lab where somebody in his forties or fifties is the principal investigator in charge of the grant.  They're working as apprentices, almost, under the senior person.  If we're not careful, we could let our institutions, things like tenure and hierarchical structures and peer review, slowly morph over time so that old guys control more and more of what's going on and the young people have a harder and harder time doing something really different, and that would be would be a bad thing for these processes of growth and change.  I'd like to see us keep thinking about how we could tweak our institutions to give power and control and opportunity to young people. 

Here is a graph from Jason Hoyt showing how much the average age of NIH grant recipients has already increased.

Hat tip for the graph to Aleks at Statistical Modeling….  Data here.


With over 600 barrios, a definitive breakdown of Managua safety is a book in itself.  As a general rule, don't ever walk more than a few blocks anywhere in Managua.  There are almost no police during the night time and with no centre there are few places where the streets will be busy.  The Metrocentro area is safe, but it's still best not to walk alone.  The only place that lends itself to walking is the malec√≥n and central park area of old Managua, but do not walk here at night under any circumstances.  Even during the daytime take precautions, don't carry any more than you need and avoid walking alone.  Be careful when visiting the Catedral Nueva, which is next to a barrio with many thieves.  Having said all of this, in comparison with other Central American capitals Managua is safe for the visitor, although theft is common at bus stations and outside the more affluent neighborhoods

That's from my guidebook.  It seemed fine to me.

Critique of *The Phantom Menace*

Despite some moments in poor taste, I thought this was one of the funniest productions I've seen, ever.  It's the only 70-minute video I've ever watched through, if that gives you another measure.  That said, I don't think he actually understands the movie he is criticizing.  Nor does he see fit to mention which famous economist Palpatine most resembles. 

I thank Scott Cunningham for the pointer.

A very interesting paragraph

Andrade said more research is obviously needed to find out how doodling helps us maintain our attention. However, her theory is that by using up slightly more mental resources, doodling helps prevent the mind from wandering off the boring primary task into daydream land. This study is part of an emerging recognition in psychology that secondary tasks aren't always a distraction from primary tasks, but can sometimes actually be beneficial.

There is more information here.

Four important ideas from Russ Roberts

These are from Russ Roberts:

Over the last six years or so, since coming to George Mason and in the last three years since conducting a weekly podcast, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the following ideas:

1. Some orderly things are not intended by anyone.

2. The division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.

3. It is easy to fall prey to confirmation bias.

4. Politicians respond to incentives.

These are pretty simple ideas. When you give people the one sentence version or paragraph version they nod and tell you they agree with the essence of the idea. But I find these ideas to be quite deep. They are easy to understand but very difficult to absorb. The more I think about them, the deeper is my understanding.

Ezra Klein is happy

I hadn't heard of this before but it seems good:

Page 12:

Each hospital operating within the United States shall for each year establish (and update) and make public (in accordance with guidelines developed by the Secretary) a list of the hospital’s standard charges for items and services provided by the hospital, including for diagnosis-related groups.

Pricing transparency!

Here is Ezra on insurance transparency in the bill.

What about Card and Krueger?

Many of you have been asking this question.  Robert Waldmann reports:

…what about Card and Krueger. Empirical estimates of the effect of the minimum wage on employment suggest that the effect is very small. One famous study by Card and Krueger showed a positive effect of an increase in the minimum wage. The logic used by Card and Krueger to understand how this could happen suggests that things are different now.

Their logic is basically that firms can choose to pay a low wage and have a high quit rate and take a long time to fill vacancies or pay a high wage and have fewer quits and fill vacancies more quickly. If they are forced to pay the higher wage, their desired level of employment will be lower, but that level is the sum of employment plus vacant jobs. A binding minimum wage can reduce the number of vacant jobs by more than it reduces the sum of employment plus vacant jobs. Thus more employment.

I think this is not relevant to the current situation. There are very few vacant jobs. Quit rates are low. According to their logic, the effect of the minimum wage on employment depends on the unemployment rate. The evidence of a small effect is almost all from periods of unemployment far below 10%. I don't think it is relevant to the current situation.

Waldmann makes other excellent points in his post, which is on the minimum wage more generally.  I would add that there are many good critiques of the original study and the most plausible belief is still the traditional result, namely that minimum wage laws have a (slight) negative effect on employment.

My favorite things Nicaragua

1. Author and poet: Ruben Dario is a clear first pick and he is by far the most influential Nicaraguan figure in the history of ideas in Latin America.  It still reads quite well.  Here are Ruben Dario quotations.

2. Artist: Adele de y Gaza.  In general I like the naive painting from the Grenada area.  I've only seen pictures of her work in books and I can't even find her in Google.  If you're looking to sell one by her, let me know.  I am also a fan of Alejandro Arostegui, from Bluefield.

3. Bianca Jagger deserves a mention, if only because I don't know of many other Nicaraguans, but for what category?  Favorite Nicaraguan model?  Favorite Nicaraguan ex-wife of a Rolling Stone?

4. Album, about: The best third of The Clash's Sandinista is one of my favorite albums, period.

5. Film, set in: Men With Guns, by John Sayles.  I don't love this movie, but what am I to pick?  I found The Mosquito Coast to be excruciating.  Here are other options, none of which I've seen, none of which I want to see.

By the way, if you're wondering what happened to "My Favorite Things Alberta," all I could think of was Six.