Month: June 2011

The unwrapped saltine cracker

Every now and then I give informal talks on how the economics job market operates.  I tell the listeners that they are like an “unwrapped saltine cracker.”  They are wasting assets, to borrow a phrase from options pricing theory.  If a day goes by and they did not accomplish something important, they decline in value.  For most candidates, holding steady is not a viable strategy.  You need either publications or some stellar letters from credible writers, preferably both.  (At the very top level, publications at the job market stage are less important because it is expected they will come and the recommendations are trusted more.)

Unwrap a saltine cracker, let it sit for months, and then try to eat it.  Will you even try?

*Unnatural Selection*

The author is Mara Hvistendahl, and the subtitle is Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.  It will make my best books of 2011 list, excerpt:

A recent paper in the journal Reproductive Health Matters states, “For women attempting to have a son and experiencing pressure to fulfill their ‘womanly duty’ by having a male child, sex-selective abortion can be extremely empowering.”  The other, more tragic factor…is that women know best just how difficult it is to be female.

…Liao Li also tells me she prefers daughters.  “Girls are very good,” she says.  “They’re soft.  And they take care of you when you’re older.”  But she aborted two female fetuses, she intimates, because having a son is crucial to keeping up appearances: “If you don’t have a boy, you lose face.”

Women have become, in a sense, their own worst enemies.  Development, remember, was supposed to improve the lot of women — and in many areas it does.  But when it comes to reproduction, the opposite happens: women use their increased autonomy to select for sons.

Here is one good review.  I also learned from this book how prevalent the sex imbalance problem is becoming in some parts of the Balkans.

Who is impressed by a British accent?

From Christopher Shea:

The main significant effect found in this study was that people who’d lived at least three months outside the US rated the English accent significantly lower than people who’d only lived in the US. In fact, Americans who had not lived abroad considered the English-accented person to be much more intelligent than themselves, but the people who had lived abroad rated the standard American accent more intelligent than the standard English one.  My preferred way of interpreting this (a bit tongue-in-cheek) is that Americans are happy to rate the English as more intelligent than themselves up until they actually start meeting and talking to the English.

There is more here.


Sentences to ponder

A coming study by Mr. Krueger, using historical data on time use between 1991 and 2006, finds that unemployed Americans tend to sleep an hour longer than the employed, he said. In the U.S. T.V.-watching tends to consume almost a quarter of unemployed peoples’ waking hours.

There is more here, interesting throughout, and for the pointer I thank Brent Depperschmidt.

In praise of travel in middle-income countries

Mexico, Turkey, and Brazil stand between “the developed world” and “the underdeveloped world.”  They are all diverse regionally.  They are different enough to be exotic, and wealthy enough to be comfortable.  On your trip you can move between worlds with ease.  They all have superb food and world-class sights.  They are not finished works, but rather they are in the process of creating themselves.  The journey is full of suspense.  Two of the three (not Brazil) are cheap to travel in.  Two of the three are safe.

Ankara is splendid, yet it receives few words of praise.  Imagine that by visiting the current city you would be witnessing a world from centuries away.  How you would swoon!  The markets, the intact buildings, the exotic foodstuffs, the political monuments, the dynamism of the human spirit there, fill in the desired travel cliche.  Suddenly you wake up and realize that you are viewing the Ankara of your own time.  Why should all of that swoon go away?

Drop your bias against the temporally proximate; ruins are ruined, Ankara is not.

Garett Jones on The Hive Mind

A recent line of research demonstrates that cognitive skills—IQ scores, math skills, and the like—have only a modest influence on individual wages, but are strongly correlated with national outcomes. Is this largely due to human capital spillovers? This paper argues that the answer is yes. It presents four different channels through which intelligence may matter more for nations than for individuals: 1. Intelligence is associated with patience and hence higher savings rates; 2. Intelligence causes cooperation; 3. Higher group intelligence opens the door to using fragile, high-value production technologies, and 4. Intelligence is associated with supporting market-oriented policies. Abundant evidence from across the ADB region demonstrating that environmental improvements can raise cognitive skills is reviewed.

The paper is here and the slides are here.

Assorted links

1. The last few times Brad DeLong has criticized me, he has simply imagined I hold positions which I do not.  Again.  And here is the time before that.  Perhaps he too quickly slots my views into debates he has with other people, when he sees some overlapping of claims.  On the first link, my point was to raise a certain “tension” in when market prices are considered sufficient statistics for “trouble” or not; I did not claim the two borrowing situations were the same or that currency denomination of debt is irrelevant.  On the second link, I’ve long argued we are seeing a mix of interacting AD and structural problems; Brad tries to refute me by showing — correctly — that there must be an AD problem in the mix.  It might be a valid criticism to note that in both cases I was not explicit enough, but a) that is not a “simple error,” and b) I’ve been plenty explicit in past posts and I don’t feel like repeating myself all the time.  I feel no guilt in putting some burden on the reader.

There is nothing wrong with the economics in Brad’s two posts, but in both cases he has failed The Tyler Cowen Turing Test.  Admittedly, it may be a difficult test to pass, but actually I should hope that is the case.

2. Retail politics, Argentina style.

3. Pizza discipline.

4. The economics of payroll tax relief.

5. Former GMU econ Ph.d. student now is Prime Minister of Somalia.

6. Here is one of my old attempts at an ideological Turing test.

Greece fact of the day

Mr. Papandreou’s first task is to persuade his governing Socialist Party to pass a bill that would save or raise about $40 billion by 2015, equivalent to 12 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product, through wage cuts and tax increases, at a time when the economy is shrinking.

To put that in perspective, spending cuts and tax increases of a similar scale in the United States would amount to $1.75 trillion, considerably more sweeping than even the most far-reaching proposals for reducing the American federal budget deficit. And Greece has promised to generate another $72 billion by selling off prime state assets, which many Greeks consider a fire sale of national patrimony.

Here is more.

Stuff I failed to blog while traveling

The repatriation holiday for corporate profits is favored by neither the elasticities nor the macroeconomics; furthermore fiscal gimmicks are in general not a good idea.  Greece got worse and many Greeks are buying up gold.  “Enter democracy, stage right” is the next act in the play.  Paul Krugman tried to smack down John Goodman’s smack down, but didn’t quite succeed.  Krugman’s argument may well show “how the market does health care cost control” is unethical or unfair, but it does not show that the market fails at controlling costs, once we adjust for the relevant demographic variables.  And here is Austin Frakt.)  American health care cost inflation is best thought of as arising from the interaction of two dysfunctional systems, private and public, which are not so easily separable.  This debate failed, largely because of the rancor on both sides.  It is speculated that Andrew Sullivan’s new Daily Beast readers are less interested in clicking through to serious links.  IMF researchers felt pressure to align their conclusions with official IMF views.  The Mavericks played superb team defense without having many good individual defenders; Rick Carlisle apparently has read Keynes on paradoxes of aggregation.  The influence of the Tea Party seems on the decline.  I somehow fear that “music sent to the cloud” will screw me.  It will be necessary to fix (partial) middle class eligibility for Medicaid.  Ezra Klein’s budget deal reporting has put the competition to shame.  I decided I still believe that Nozick is a theorist of consilience, with different parts of the argument spread across various books and articles.  The Fed looks more and more like an unwrapped saltine cracker; Scott Sumner’s reputation will grow.  For one day in Turkey I missed no longer having a cat.  Magnus Carlsen recaptured #1 in the world chess rankings.  America failed to solve its long-run fiscal outlook.

I am still traveling.

Shimon Peres on Foreign Aid

Shimon Peres gave a press conference for a small group of bloggers. He was very impressive. When asked about foreign aid, specifically foreign aid to some Arab regimes he had this to say (again a paraphrase from my notes, the clever lines are his, the order may have changed somewhat and this is incomplete).

Look, the West can’t help everyone and the regimes would be insulted if we tried. But they don’t need our help. The greatest poverty in our time has been in China and India. Did these countries reduce poverty because of our help? No. They did it themselves.

Giving is problematic. We take money from poor people in rich countries and give it to rich people in poor countries. Aid sometimes creates corruption.

And suppose we gave people computers. Would computers help? No. There is no technology without civilization, civilization is the carriage of technology. It is a matter of institutions. If a country discriminates against women, for example, no computers will help. Do you know who are the greatest opponents of democracy in the Middle East? The husbands. As long as husbands discriminate against their wives the husbands will support the dictators.

Now, however, there is a young generation who are realizing that the glory is within. The glory [of civilization] it is within their power to grasp.

Peres was also great on science, a question I asked. More on that later.

In other news Dr. Ruth criticized social media, “I like to touch my friends.”