Month: January 2010

Haitian demographics and mortality

“Something like 40 to 50 percent of the population of Port-au-Prince is kids,” he said. “Kids are much more fragile – a 30-pound block of a wall that would only seriously injure an adult will kill a child. They die much more rapidly of dehydration, of loss of blood, of shock. An infection will cause explosive diarrhea, which can kill a trapped child. Everything about this is devastatingly worse for kids than for adults.”

That's Dr. Irwin Redlener from Columbia University and the full story is here.

Getting drunk as signaling behavior

Here is the abstract, I look forward to reading the paper:

It is argued that drug consumption, most commonly alcohol drinking, can be a technology to give up some control over one’s actions and words. It can be employed by trustworthy players to reveal their type. Similarly alcohol can function as a “social lubricant” and faciliate type revelation in conversations. It is shown that both separating and pooling equilibria can exist; as opposed to the classic results in the literature, a pooling equilibrium is still informative. Drugs which allow a gradual loss of control by appropriate doses and for which moderate consumption is not addictive are particularly suitable because the consumption can be easily observed and reciprocated and is unlikely to occur out of the social context. There is a trade-off between the efficiency gains due to the signaling effect and the loss of productivity associated with intoxication. Long run evolutionary equilibria of the type distribution are considered. If coordination on an exclusive technology is efficient, social norms or laws can raise efficiency by legalizing only one drug.

I thank Brian Dailey for the pointer.

How to help Haiti

…contact the White House and tell them that you support granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immediately.

TPS is a form of temporary humanitarian immigration relief given to nationals of countries that have suffered severe disasters, natural or man-made. (For example, El Salvador got TPS was after the country was hit by a terrible earthquake in 2001, Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1999, and Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia were designated because of ongoing armed conflicts.)

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can't be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you're trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn't otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

Designating Haiti for TPS status would provide an immediate, tremendously valuable benefit to Haitian immigrants in the United States. But, more importantly it would benefit their loved ones who remain in Haiti and are in desperate need of their assistance.

That's Amanda Taub.  Chris Blattman agrees.  Here is a relevant Michael Clemens talk.  Another idea is cancel Haiti's debt.

North Carolina teaching symposium, February 5

It's a symposium for teaching Principles of Economics, in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Alex and I are speaking, information and registration can be found here.  My talk is on how to teach the financial crisis using basic economic tools and Alex's talk is on "Seeing the Invisible Hand"; there will be other speakers as well.  If you are involved with the teaching of Principles, do come, we would like to meet you and also hear your thoughts on what we will present .  

The health care excise tax compromise

Megan McArdle reports:

And so it looks like they may have reached a deal sooner than otherwise expected: unions get a special two-year exclusion from the tax.

Presumably, the unions plan to go back and get their exclusion extended every few years. 

Here is more detail.  I suppose that would increase the rate of unionization…and increase union support for Democratic candidates, a win-win, no?

Zakaria on Incentive Design

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

From an excellent op-ed by Fareed Zakaria.  Hat tip to Jeff Miron.

Geopolitical speculations about Haiti

Haiti is about the size of Maryland and a big chunk of the population lives in or near Port-Au-Prince, maybe a third of the total, depending on what you count as a suburb.  So the collapse of Port-Au-Prince is a big, big deal for the country as a whole.  It's a dominant city for Haiti.  Plus Jacmel seems to be leveled.  From the reports I have seen, my tentative conclusion is that the country as a whole is currently below the subsistence level and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died, the U.N. Mission has collapsed, the government is not working (was it ever?), and hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people are living in the streets without reliable food or water supplies.  The hospitals and schools have collapsed.  The airport is shut down.  The port is very badly damaged.  The Haitian Penitentiary has collapsed and the inmates — tough guys most of them – are running free for the foreseeable future.  There is no viable police force or army.

In other words, it's not just a matter of offering extra food aid for two or three years.

Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more. 

In what sense does Haiti still have a government?  How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place?  How long will this governance last?  What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years?  What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?

Is there any scenario in which the survivors, twenty years from now, are better off, compared to the quake never having taken place?

How to boast without looking bad

…context is everything when it comes to boasting. If Avi's friend raised the topic of the exams, Avi received favourable ratings in terms of his boastfulness and likeability, regardless of whether he was actually asked what grade he got. By contrast, if Avi raised the topic of the exams, but failed to provoke a question, then his likeability suffered and he was seen as more of a boaster. In other words, to pull off a successful boast, you need it to be appropriate to the conversation. If your friend, colleague, or date raises the topic, you can go ahead and pull a relevant boast in safety. Alternatively, if you're forced to turn the conversation onto the required topic then you must succeed in provoking a question from your conversation partner. If there's no question and you raised the topic then any boast you make will leave you looking like a big-head.

There is more here.  Have you ever wondered, by the way, why I ask for topic requests so often?