Month: October 2012

In case there was any remaining doubt

The Supreme Court of Honduras ruled today that the Honduras legislation establishing charter or model cities was unconstitutional.  A ruling two weeks ago from the constitutional branch of the court established by a 4-1 vote that the law was unconstitutional. Because that decision was not unanimous, the entire Supreme Court had to consider and vote on the issue.

The full court voted 13-2 that decreto 283-2010 which reformed two constitutional articles to enable the model cities legislation violated the constitution.

There is a bit more here, including some information on one of the companies involved.

Does physical strength influence male political views?

From The Economist:

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer were investigating the idea that a person’s political opinions might be aligned with his physical characteristics. The opinion in question was whether resources should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The physical characteristic was strength.

…Dr. Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.

The paper is here.  Here is another paper by the authors (and two others), on attitudes toward welfare.  Sznycer has a useful page of research papers here.

How to improve state-level fiscal policy

Some states rely too much on income taxes for their revenue and others rely too much on sales taxes (see the paper’s map on p.26).  We could have better state-level automatic stabilizers.  Here is a paper from Nathan Seegert (pdf, currently on the job market from Michigan, by the way):

I find U.S. state tax revenue volatility increased by 500 percent in the 2000s relative to previous decades. State governments’ inability to smooth volatile revenue streams, due to self-imposed balanced budget restrictions, has caused this increased volatility to magnify U.S. state budget crises. The theoretical model demonstrates the cause of the increase in volatility is due to changes in tax rates, economic conditions, or tax base (e.g. what types of consumption are taxable). Despite ampli fied business cycles in the 2000s and important tax base changes such as the increase in e-commerce, I fi nd changes in tax rates explain 70 percent of the increase in tax revenue volatility in the 2000s. Motivated by this result I create a normative model of taxation and produce a condition for optimal taxation when tax-revenue volatility is considered (a volatility-adjusted Ramsey rule). I estimate the volatility-adjusted Ramsey rule and find thirty-six states in 2005 rely inefficiently on either the income or sales tax, up from twenty-six states in 1965. This increase in imbalance is due to an increased reliance on the income tax as fourteen states relied inefficiently on the income tax in 1965 compared to twenty-six states in 2005. This paper fi nds strong evidence the increase in tax-revenue volatility state governments recently experienced is due to changes in tax rates, causing states to expose their revenues to unnecessary levels of risk.

The idea of volatility-adjusted Ramsey rules is a good one.  Here is Nathan Seegert’s home page.

For the pointer I thank N.

*Boom and Bust Banking*

The editor is David Beckworth and the subtitle is The Causes and Cures of the Great Recession.  Contributors include Lawrence H. White, Scott Sumner, George Selgin, Jeff Rogers Hummel, Bill Woolsey, Nicholas Rowe, and Beckworth himself, with a strong representation from market monetarism.  My blurb reads: “David Beckworth rapidly has become one of the most influential writers in monetary economics and his wonderful book…offers some of the most important new ideas in the field.”

Esperanto vs. Volapük

Get this:

Volapük didn’t die out completely. It has a bit of life today; there are a few online lessons and discussion boards. There is even a Volapük Wikipedia with over 100,000 articles. And its name lives on in the Danish expression det er det rene volapyk – “It’s pure Volapük,” or, in other words “It’s Greek to me.”

The article is here, the pointer is from Bookslut.

Can you raise your kid as a conservative or liberal?

Here is a new study (caveat emptor all the way):

This new study, by a team led by psychologist R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, begins with new mothers describing their intentions and approach in 1991, and ends with a survey of their children 18 years later. In between, it features an assessment of the child’s temperament at age 4.

…“Parents who endorsed more authoritarian parenting attitudes when their children were one month old were more likely to have children who were conservative in their ideologies at age 18,” the researchers report. “Parents who endorsed more egalitarian parenting attitudes were more likely to have children who were liberal.”

Obviously genes are an alternative channel of influence.  And this is a stunner:

Also, the Illinois researchers did not gauge the parents’ political beliefs.

So I don’t believe the interpretations at all.  Still, it is interesting to see the extent of attitudinal persistence, and furthermore “…our results also showed that early childhood temperament predicted variation in conservative versus liberal ideologies.”  I suspect, however, that politics would turn out to be less susceptible to parental shaping than, say, religion or general temperamental approach to religion.

I consider this study radically incomplete, but still it is interesting to see the question tackled with a twenty-year time window and some ex ante planning.

For the pointer I thank

In which the Minnesotans call off the paddy wagon and leave us free

Pogemiller, according to the e-mail, said a 20-year-old statute requiring institutional registration clearly did not envision free online, not-for-credit offerings.

“When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances,” said Pogemiller. “Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings.”

Of course pursuing such an issue was not a political winner in the first place.

The link is here, and for the pointer I thank M.

Marginal Revolution University has been Banned in Minnesota!

Minnesota has banned MRUniversity and other online education services from providing content to Minnesota residents. This seems like a joke but it is not from The Onion. Coursera, one of the larger players in this field, has rewritten its terms of service to prohibit Minnesota residents from taking its courses:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

Tyler and I wish to be perfectly clear: unlike Coursera, we will not shut down MRU to the residents of Minnesota. We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!

Subsidies for virtual water

From Robert Glennon:

In 2012, the drought-stricken Western United States will ship more than 50 billion gallons of water to China. This water will leave the country embedded in alfalfa–most of it grown in California–and is destined to feed Chinese cows. The strange situation illustrates what is wrong about how we think, or rather don’t think, about water policy in the U.S.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank the estimable Chug.

Surnames and the laws of social mobility

Here is some new work by Gregory Clark (pdf):

What is the true rate of social mobility? Modern one-generation studies suggest considerable regression to the mean for all measures of status – wealth, income, occupation and education across a variety of societies. The β that links status across generations is in the order of 0.2-0.5. In that case inherited surnames will quickly lose any information about social status. Using surnames this paper looks at social mobility rates across many generations in England 1086-2011, Sweden, 1700-2011, the USA 1650-2011, India, 1870-2011, Japan, 1870-2011, and China and Taiwan 1700-2011. The underlying β for long-run social mobility is around 0.75, and is remarkably similar across societies and epochs. This implies that compete regression to the mean for elites takes 15 or more generations.

Here is NPR coverage:

“If I just know that you share a rare surname with someone who was wealthy in 1800, I can predict now that you’re nine times more likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge. You’re going to live two years longer than an average person in England. You’re going to have more wealth. You’re more likely to be a doctor. You’re more likely to be an attorney,” Clark says.

Dylan Matthews offers some charts.  For the pointer I thank Fred Rossoff.

What I’ve been reading

1. Among Others, by Jo Walton.  I loved this book.  It won a Nebula Award, but is more about the power of books than being a work of science fiction per se.

2. Frances Ashcroft, The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body.  One of the remaining popular science topics which has not been exhausted by popular books and so this volume is both instructive and entertaining and comes across as fresh.

3. James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, Meaningful Work and Play.  He really is an anarchist, left-wing at that, but I couldn’t quite find a central core here, much as I admire his other books.

4. Derek S. Hoff, The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in US History.  Good survey of early 20th century debates on population and birth rates and eugenics; these topics are making a comeback.

5. Roger Scruton, How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism.  I like Elinor Ostrom as much as the next guy, and this book is well-written, but I am not persuaded by the argument that environmental issues fundamentally can be handled on a local level.  At least a few important ones cannot.

Also of note are:

6. Political Arithmetic: Simon Kuznets and the Empirical Tradition in Economics, by Robert Fogel, Enid Fogel, Mark Guglielmo, and Nathaniel Grotte.

7. Gary B. Gorton, Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don’t See Them Coming.