Month: April 2011

The Hayek Twitter game

From Greg Ransom:

The game: Take a sentence or two on Hayek’s clause and qualification ridden Germanic prose, and turn it into a 144 character twitter feed.

Example. Here’s a brief passage from Hayek 1976 essay “Socialism and Science” posted a few days ago in the comments by Richard Ebeling:

“A society in which everyone is organized as a member of some group to force government to help him get what he wants is self-destructive. There is no way from preventing some from feeling that they have been treated unjustly — that feeling is bound to be wide spread in any social order — but arrangements which enable groups of disgruntled people to extort satisfaction of their claims — or in the recognition of an ‘entitlement’, to use the new-fangled phrase — make any society unmanageable.”

And here it is as a 144 character twitter feed:

When everyone is organized to force government to get them what they want, many will be left feeling that they have been treated unjustly.

Ho hum!  I would have done “Rent-seeking groups lead to perceptions of unfairness.”

When did the big gains in agricultural productivity come?

I had the general and indeed correct impression that U.S. agricultural productivity has been rising for a long time.  It’s less commonly known how big was the productivity acceleration in agriculture in the 1940s. Between 1880 and 1940, agricultural productivity in this country rose at the rather modest rate of about one percent a year.  After World War II, the trend rate of growth jumps to 2.8 percent annually.  Multi-factor productivity in agriculture skyrockets in the mid-1930s, not earlier.

The information is from Bruce Gardner’s American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How it Flourished and What it Cost, pp.20-21, p.44.

Tips for book recommendations

Nicoli asks:

Any tips, other than reading this blog, on how to find a good book recommendation? I want something like a netflix for books, but feel that system wouldn’t work given the significantly greater time and attention requirement for reading versus let’s say, watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

1. Go to the public library and browse both the new books section and the “Books Returned” carts.

2. Read the archives of this blog, filed under “Books.”

3. Weight Amazon reviews by the intelligence of the writer, and the length of the review, not by whether it is positive or negative.

4. Every year read some of the classics on Harold Bloom’s list in The Western Canon.

5. The very best books in categories you think you cannot stand (“gardening,” “basketball,” whatever) will be superb.  It is not hard to find out what they are.

My favorite things South Africa

Torr writes to me:

Please will you consider doing a “favorite things South Africa” on Marginal Revolution. I’m also curious: have you ever visited South Africa?

I have yet to go, but here is what I admire so far:

1. Visual artist (you can’t quite call him a painter): William Kentridge.  He is one of the contemporary artists who is both a realist and has a lot of the emotional power of the classics.  His extraordinary body of work spans film, drawings, prints, and mixed media.  Here are some images.

2. Home design: I am an admirer of the Ndebele, some photos of their colorful homes are here.  They are better represented in picture books than on the web.

3. Movies: I don’t know many.  I enjoyed The Gods Must be Crazy, even though some might find it slightly offensive.  Nonetheless I hand the prize to District 9 for its interesting take on ethnic politics, its deconstruction and mock of Afrikaaner settler myths, and its commentary on how South Africans view Zimbabwean immigrants to their country.

4. Movie, set in: Zulu, 1964 with Michael Caine.

5. Novels: My favorite Coetzee is Disgrace, though I like most of them very much, including the early Life and Times of Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians and the later semi-autobiographical works.  Nadine Gordimer I find unreadable, call the fault mine.  Same with Alan Paton.  A dark horse pick is TrionfAgaat sits in my pile, waiting for the trip of the right length.

6. Music: Where to start?  Malanthini, for one.  As for mbqanga collections, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto series is consistently excellent.  Singing in an Open Space, Zulu Rhythm and Harmony 1962-1982 is a favorite.  Random gospel and jazz collections often repay the purchase price and in general random CD purchases in these areas bring high expected returns.

7. Economists: Ludwig Lachmann was an early teacher of mine and I owe him my interest in post Keynesianism and also financial fragility hypotheses.  G.F Thirlby remains underrated.  W.H. Hutt was one of the most perceptive critics of Keynes and his insights still are not absorbed into the Keynesian mainstream.  His book on the economics of the colour bar remains a liberal classic.  Who am I forgetting?

The bottom line: There’s a lot here.  Here are previous MR posts about South Africa.

WKRP and the Tragedy of the Anti-Commons

The tragedy of the commons occurs when no one has the right to exclude users of a resource and, as a result, the resource is overused. The tragedy of the anti-commons occurs when many people have the right exclude users of a resource and, as a result, the resource is under-used. Case in point:

From Amazon’s review of the DVD of WKRP in Cincinnati:

One of DVD’s most requested titles, WKRP in Cincinnati is a blast from the past and an absolutely golden oldie. But this first-season set is bound to cause static with fans who have eagerly anticipated its release. Because of pesky music rights, the songs don’t remain the same. “Hot Blooded” is not playing when mild-mannered newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) puts on a toupee in anticipation of an awards-dinner date with bombshell station receptionist Jennifer (Loni Anderson). It’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and not “Fly Me to the Moon” that chimes when Jennifer’s doorbell is sounded. Any number of generic songs have replaced the contemporary and classic rock so vital to WKRP, which is, after all, set at a radio station…

Wikipedia explains

Music licensing deals cut at the time of production were for a limited amount of time (approximately ten years). In addition, the show was videotaped rather than filmed because it was cheaper to get the rights to rock songs for a taped show. Once the licenses expired, later syndicated versions of the show did not feature the music as first broadcast, but rather generic “sound-alikes” by studio musicians to avoid paying additional royalties. In some cases (when the music was playing in the background of a dialogue scene), some of the characters’ lines had to be redubbed by sound-alike actors….

Notice that no one really gains here from the surfeit of copyright, not even the copyright holders. Is Foreigner really better off by excluding listeners from a few well-timed seconds of Hot Blooded?  On the contrary, a little youthful nostalgia adds to demand. But the copyright holders, each in their eagerness to profit, raise the transaction costs of producing the whole product so much that it either isn’t produced at all or is produced, as in this case, in a way which greatly reduces consumer value.

WKRP in Cincinnati is not that important in the grand scheme of things but it is an illustration of how copyright  and patent thickets can impede innovation.

Hat tip to Michael Heller’s excellent The Gridlock Economy.