Month: January 2010

One paragraph plus a sentence

Mr. Salinger was controlling and sexually manipulative, Ms. Maynard wrote, and a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for dinner). Ms. Salinger said that her father was pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other exotic enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.

But was he writing?

The rest of the Salinger obituary, interesting throughout, is here.

If he could get one idea peer-reviewed

If I could get one idea peer reviewed, it would probably be ‘What percentage of chewing gum sales are due to someone wanting change?’ All I need now is a couple of referees.

Here is the source blog.  What would you pick?  If I ask myself this question today, I wish for a serious study on how banning the burkha or veil would affect sexual mores and how it would alter the allocation of resources within the family, referring of course to families where such methods of dress are an issue.  If such a paper already exists, please let me know and I'll wish for something else.

Who are the biggest donors to Haiti?

Here is an interesting visual, which expresses pledged support to Haiti in per capita terms.  #1 is Canada, by a large margin, followed by some of the Nordic countries.

Per capita the U.S. doesn't do so well (NB: I don't think remittances are counted), with less than half of what Guyana supplies.  We're also behind Estonia, Switzerland, and United Arab Emirates, among other countries.  The visual is measuring earthquake aid pledged, not all foreign aid.

In absolute terms here is another visual; U.S. is #1.  I don't think this is using the same metric as above.

Here's another interesting visual.  Relative to per capita gdp, Ghana is the single most significant pledger of aid to Haiti.

For the pointer I thank Rahul Nabar.

My predictions about the iPad

Jason Kottke has some observations.  My theory is that Apple wants to capture a chunk of the revenue in this nation's enormous textbook market — high school, college, whatever.  Why lug all those books around?  The superior Apple graphics, colors, and fonts will support all of the textbook features which Kindle botches and destroys.  Apple takes a chunk of the market revenue, of course, plus they sell the iPads and some AT&T contracts.  There are lots of schoolkids in the world.

As Kottke says, it is a device you use sitting down.  And it fails to solve the "sunlight on your reading screen" problem/  Those both point to somewhat sedentary uses..  And it doesn't seem to have a camera.

In the longer run the iPad will compete with your university, or in some ways enhance your university.  It will offer homework services and instructional videos and courses, none of which can work well on the current iPhone or Kindle.  The device also seems to allow for collaborative use. 

Can you imagine one attached to every hospital bed or in the hands of every doctor and nurse?

It will take some business away from Kindle but that will not be the major impact.  The commercial book trade just isn't that big in terms of revenue and arguably that sector will shrink with digitalization, as recorded music has been doing. 

The story here is one of new markets, not cannibalization or even competition.

Most of the commentary I've read hasn't been very imaginative about what the content might be.

Addendum: Chris F. Masse, who sometimes reads my mind, sent me this article (before this post was up):

“The book will never die. But the textbook probably will,” says Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis. Inkling is working directly with textbook publishers. First, they’ll port their existing tomes onto Apple’s iPad as interactive, socialized objects. Then, they’ll create all-new learning modules – interactive, social, and mobile – that leave ink-on-paper textbooks in the dust.

Read the whole thing, it's the best piece I've seen on the iPad so far.

The incomes and professions of Haitian-Americans

The blog post is here.  It's a proposal for "diaspora bonds" (I fear that excess corruption is a problem).  I was more interested in this bit:

…nearly one-third of Haitian immigrants in the US belong to households that earned more than $60,000 in 2009. In comparison, less than 15% of the immigrants from Mexico, Dominican Republic and El Salvador in the US had that level of household income. A quarter of Haitian immigrants, especially women, are reportedly in the relatively higher paying health care and education sectors; only a small number of them are in the construction sector.

Hat tip goes to Whirled Citizen.

Jeff Ely on torture and commitment

Here is an easier-to-follow version of his argument on torture:

A big problem with torture in general is that its effectiveness is inherently limited by commitment problems.  If torture leads to quick concessions then it will cease quickly in the absence of a concession (but of course continue once a concession has revealed that the victim is informed ). But then there would be no concession. And as we wrote last week, raising the intensity of the torture only worsens this problem.

Why should the FDA ban drugs?

305 Economists Called to Smart Questionnaire on the FDA:

Daniel Klein, Jason Briggeman, and Kevin Rollins have designed a questionnaire about the economic rationale for the policy that makes new drugs and devices banned until individually permitted by the FDA. Klein and Briggeman present the questionnaire and the list of economists. Will anyone provide a sensible market-failure rationale for the policy?

The link is here, take a look.  I believe Congress should eliminate the "effective" part of the "safe and effective" clause, dating from 1962.  If the question is allowing people to experiment with all pharmaceutical products, I see a few possible arguments (I'm not necessarily endorsing them) against doing that:

1. There will be more successes but also a greater number of bad events.  This will possibly cause people to lose confidence in pharmaceuticals, just as many crazy theories circulate about vaccines and many people refuse them or refuse them for their children.

 2. Our courts are not up to handling a greater number of liability suits, whether in terms of the quality of those courts or their ability to handle the case load.  See Andrei Shleifer's recent paper on regulation as a substitute for an imperfect court system.

3. I am a fan of Robin Hanson's paper "Warning Labels as Cheap Talk: Why Regulators Ban Products."   This was the piece Robin presented when we hired him, and it later appeared in JPubEc.  The main point is that a verbal governmental warning: "We're really not sure this is safe, caveat emptor!" is not usually credible and people will regard the product as safe, thinking the government would not have otherwise let it come to market.

4. Parents cannot be trusted with their children.

Still, I think there is a good case for greater freedom for choice when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

An introduction to Haitian music

Here are my picks:

1. The best song to start with: Buy Wyclef Jean's Welcome to Haiti.  "Ou Marye" (track 8) is my single favorite song these days, sadly I cannot find it on YouTube but you can download it.  Start there.  This one also has strong Haitian influence.  This is a kind of Haitian rap, with a good video.  Here's a super-fun mix of ragga and compas, with Buju Banton and T-Vice.

2. Three groups which are best seen live: Ram, Boukmans Eksperyans, and Tropicana.  Tabou Combo is another.

3. The best Haitian collection: the Konbit! CD.  The voodoo-linked Rhythms of Rapture is quite good, as is the more acoustic Haitian Troubadours.

4. The best recent Haitian group and recording: Ti-Coca.  I like all their CDs but my favorite is a blue and orange one I bought in Paris which I don't see on Amazon.  I think they're better on disc than live.

5. Best Haitian musical star to dance to: Sweet Mickey.  For a while he was selling cell phone cards, but he has returned to the world of music.

6. The classic father-figure of Haitian music: Nemours Jean-Baptiste.  Try this song on YouTube.

7. The most comprehensive historic collection: Alan Lomax in Haiti, 9 CDs, of highly varying quality but always interesting.  

8. Best-known Haitian songstress: Emeline Michel, sometimes called the Joni Mitchell of Haiti.  Here she is doing "Many Rivers to Cross."

9. Best Haitian rara collection: That's the noisy. discordant music they play leading up to Carnival.  This would be my pick.  Overall it's a vibrant genre.

10. What else?: Haitian children's songs are often quite good, Haitian rap I barely know, and Haitian gospel is a vital area, though hard to capture on disc.  Here is the Wikipedia entry on Haitian music

11. Non-Haitian contributors: The group Simbi, a mizak rasin band founded in 1987, is made up of Swedes, who play an exact copy of Haitian voodoo rock.

12. Leading Haitian contributor to German rap scene: Torch.  Here is Torch, rapping in German.

Some of you may recall the third and fourth sentences in my book Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World's Cultures (now on Kindle by the way):

"The founder of Kassav, the leading Antillean group in the funky style of zouk, stated: "It's this Haitian imperialism [i.e., the popularity of the groups] that we were rising against when we began Kassav."  Governments responded with protective measures to limit the number of Haitian bands in the country."

Not From The Onion

The 9,000-student K-8 district this week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."

The decision was made without consultation with the district's school board and has raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents.

Other parents and Menifee residents, though, have praised the district's decision, saying a collegiate-level dictionary is inappropriate for younger children.

Words fail me and now apparently also the students in Menifee.

The rise of the capitalist kibbutz

This isn't new news, but it's a nice comprehensive discussion of the power of commercial forces:

Today, Ms Ozeri brandishes a business card that identifies her as the "global sales coordinator" of Aran Packaging, a company that produces liquids packaging for the food industry. Located on the kibbutz, and owned by its members, the business boasts sales of almost $40m (€28m, £25m) a year and ships its goods to 35 countries across the world. Ms Ozeri receives a salary which she is not only entitled to keep, but that is also considerably higher than the pay awarded to farmhands and workers on the assembly line. She says Aran's pay scale is broadly similar to other private sector companies.

Equality, once at the core of the kibbutz ideology, has been breached in other ways, too. Tasks that used to be performed by kibbutzniks regardless of their education and background – such as washing the dishes – are today largely the preserve of hired workers from outside the community.

Attitudes towards business have also changed radically. As recently as the 1980s, Nachshon members voted down a plan to open a petrol station on a nearby highway, because it would force the proud kibbutzniks to "serve" motorists.

Today, many kibbutzim not only have thriving businesses – including in the tourism industry – that operate exactly like other private enterprises, but some have even decided to embrace the capital market: 22 kibbutz companies are currently listed on stock exchanges in Tel Aviv, New York and London. With annual sales worth Shk37bn ($10bn, €7bn, £6bn), the kibbutz companies account for about 10 per cent of Israel's industrial production.

The full story is here.

I was surprised this number was such a big one

Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years.

I meant to blog this the day I read it but somehow I forgot to; here is one source.  I haven't seen it receive much discussion in the econ blogosphere.  For one thing, it's a sign that the union wage premium isn't so stable.