Month: October 2012

Andreu Mas-Collel calls for Catalonian secession

The article, in Spanish, is here.  He refers to staying in Spain as “el camino de la decadencia.”  By the way, he is now the finance minister of Catalonia.

He taught me Ph.d Micro I at Harvard, so it’s too bad he wants to wreck both Spain and Europe, and for so little in return.  Didn’t one of his theorems suggest this was a bad idea?  It’s not as if Catalonia is treated like Tibet.  (Haven’t I spent a few nice days walking around Barcelona in my time?  Didn’t Air Genius Gary Leff get a decent meal at El Bulli?  Didn’t they once make a young people’s movie about the place in which no one has to do any work?)  Don’t we have bigger problems to worry about?  How easily does he think negotiations for separation can go, especially with entire eurozone deals at stake and a Spanish history of sending in troops?  He mentions that the territory is subjected to «humillación constante» de España.  Maybe he’s been misquoted, but from what I see I take this as a paradigm example of how a really smart person can be taken in by rather primitive tribal arguments.

The only way to defend this move is a kind of Leninist “things must get worse before they get better” approach to the eurozone.  Even if that is true, this hardly seems like the smoothest way of traversing that path.

For the pointer I thank @AlexFont.

Sentences to ponder

Natasha later said she saw nothing strange in a musician’s ability to express emotions she has not experienced. “Had I experienced them, that wouldn’t necessarily help me to express them better in my music. I’m an actress, not a character; my job is to represent something, not to live it. Chopin wrote a mazurka, Person X in the audience wants to hear the mazurka and so I have to decipher the score and make it apprehensible to Person X, and it’s really hard to do. But it has nothing to do with my life experience.”

Here is more, from Andrew Solomon, mostly about prodigies, interesting throughout.  I also like this bit:

…Marc sat on a phone book on the piano bench so his hands would be high enough to play comfortably and launched into Chopin’s “Fantasie-Impromptu,” which he imbued with a quality of nuanced yearning that seemed almost inconceivable in someone with a shelf of Cookie Monster videos.

Assorted links

1. ECB document on virtual currency schemes (pdf).

2. Is this the most brilliant computer vs. computer chess game ever?  It is so brilliant you might not even be thrilled by it.  That’s your fault.

3. China lawsuit of the day.

4. How dangerous is dental floss?  Waxed or unwaxed?  And, as Peter Thiel suggests, have we lost the ability to solve big problems?

5. Subramanian reviews Acemoglu and Robinson.

6. Is it my imagination, or is Mitt getting in a few Straussian pokes at Catholicism here?  And Wonkblog does up a Romney tax calculator.

Price flexibility

If you think Chinatown normally has an unpleasant odor, imagine what it smells like 24 hours following no refrigeration. Street vendors were trying to unload perishables at bargain prices. I saw a fish weighing roughly 20 pounds and spanning 3 feet from head to tail go to a buyer for $1 dollar. $1 dollar!!!!!

Here is more, sad and tragic and informative throughout.  Hat tip goes to David Wessel and @lisang.

Texting while Driving

Take this story with a grain of salt but it’s useful to keep complexities in mind when regulating:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that 3 of every 4 states that have enacted a ban on texting while driving have seen crashes actually go up rather than down.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why this is the case, but experts believe it is a result of people trying to avoid getting caught in states with stiff penalties. Folks trying to keep their phones out of view will often hold the phone much lower, below the wheel perhaps, in order to keep it out of view. That means the driver’s eyes are looking down and away from the road.

Very appropriate hat tip: Offsetting Behavior.

Does (constant #days) year-round schooling matter?

Some new research says no.  Steven C. McMullen and Kathryn E. Rouse, from their piece “The Impact of Year-Round Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Mandatory School Calendar Conversions,” in The American Economic Journal, report:

In 2007, 22 Wake County, North Carolina traditional calendar schools were switched to year-round calendars, spreading the 180 instructional days evenly across the year. This paper presents a human capital model to illustrate the conditions under which these calendars might affect achievement. We then exploit the natural experiment to evaluate the impact of year-round schooling on student achievement using a multi-level fixed effects model. Results suggest that year-round schooling has essentially no impact on academic achievement of the average student. Moreover, when the data are broken out by race, we find no evidence that any racial subgroup benefits from year-round schooling.

There is an ungated version here.

The french fry culture that is Japan

The supposed employee added that other customers had complained. The issue seems to have been that the French fry eating went on for three hours, with the group eating sixty orders of French fries. It looks like one table was used for the feeding frenzy, while the adjacent walkway was packed with their friends who watched. Basically, the supposed employee seemed most upset about the lack of courtesy on their part.

What’s more the supposed employee pointed out that sixty orders of French fries the roughly the equivalent of one home crate of frozen fries.

“Plus, during our restaurant’s busiest period, 11am to 2pm, there was no prior notice about such a large order [from you], and this impacted what food and what tables we could offer to other customers.” The supposed employee asked them to be aware of the time. Though, this McDonald’s really should have been more aware of what would happen when a group of kids order sixty large fries.

That’s not even the main point of the story, good photos too.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

The EconLog team winning strategy

Pretend Arnold Kling has departed, get under the salary cap, take on Garett Jones and Luigi Zingales (sixth man), keep Bryan and David in the starting line-up, and then get Arnold back again.  Here is Arnold’s very important post on NYC recovery.  I don’t myself have any particular prediction, but I will say this is a real test of how well this country can these days do infrastructure.

Price gouging and the elasticity of supply

Jeff writes:

…in fact it is quite typical for the consumer surplus maximizing solution to be a rationing system with a price below market clearing. I devoted a series of posts to this point last year. The basic idea is that the efficiency gains you get from separating the high-values from the low-values can be more than offset by the high prices necessary to achieve that and the corresponding loss of consumer surplus.

Why would we only care about consumers’ surplus and not also the surplus that goes to producers? We normally we care about producer’s surplus because that’s what gives producers an incentive to produce in the first place.  But remember that a natural disaster has occurred. It wasn’t expected. Production already happened. Whatever we decide to do when that unexpected event occurs will have no effect on production decisions. We get a freebie chance to maximize consumer’s surplus without negative incentive effects on producers.

This is a very clever post and it provides much to think about.  But I don’t accept the main premise that supply is inelastic.  Last night most stores were closed!  At higher prices more of them might have opened, and in fact in most places it was logistically possible to have a store open in Fairfax.  There might also be effects from mechanisms such as “should I leave these flashlights out for sale, or take the extra home to the family?”  Furthermore the periodic demand for batteries, flashlights, bottled water, etc. around here has become (sadly) a regular event, where longer-run “option ready” supply arguably is linked to precedents from previous experience.

Are Americans losing their perspective?

Being a member of the opposite party often beats religious difference, unattractiveness, and low educational and professional attainment on Ms. Adler’s clients’ list of turnoffs…

“People now say ‘I don’t even want to meet anybody who’s from the other party,’ even if it’s someone who’s perfect in every other way,” Ms. Adler says. In past election years, about a quarter of her clients wouldn’t date a member of the opposite party. Now it is three-quarters, Ms. Adler says.

Here is more.

Visualization data for world development

From Damian Clarke:

I am a PhD student in economics at the University of Oxford, and a fan of your blog.  Much of my work focuses on the microeconomics of development (principally fertility and education), however I am also working on the use of open data in economic development – quite an exciting area.  I write you with regards to this open data work.  Recently I have written a module for Stata which allows anyone to automatically import any of the over 5000 indicators maintained by the World Bank, and produces both a geographic and time series representation of the data (I provide a png attachment of this graph here if you are interested in seeing it)…

Whilst this program may be useful for researchers, I think its prinicipal benefit is in pedagogy – perhaps even users of MRUniversity would be interested in visualising for example fertility, GDP, current account balances, etc in a simple command.  The syntax really is very easy: “worldstat Africa, stat(GDP)”.

I provide at the end of this email a brief description, and more details are available on my site:

…worldstat is a module which allows for the current state of world development to be visualised in a computationally simple way. worldstat presents both the geographic and temporal variation in a wide range of statistics which represent the state of national development. While worldstat includes a number of “in-built” statistics such as GDP, maternal mortality and years of schooling, it is extremely flexible, and can (thanks to the World Bank’s module wbopendata) easily incorporate over 5,000 other indicators housed in World Bank Open Databases.

…it is automatically available from Stata’s command line by typing: “ssc install worldstat”