Month: November 2012

Assorted links

1. We’re faking a marathon, and a new and different method for liberating books.

2. Acemoglu and Robinson respond to Sachs.  And on Twitter there has been excellent back and forth, including Sachs and Blattman and ViewfromtheCave, among others, presented here, a worthwhile debate for Thanksgiving especially.

3. Still lacking the right to vote, the langur nonetheless made an unannounced appearance at a political rally.

4. One view of why the 1950s were so strong economically.

5. How easy is it to simulate the brain?

6. Some simple reasons why Catalonian independence is a bad idea.

My favorite films of 2012

Hollywood continues to collapse into mediocre tent pole franchises, but overall it has been a splendid year for movies.  Here were some of my favorites, noting that I count by “the year I saw them” and especially for foreign films this will not correspond so well to “the year of release”:

A Separation

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (boring for most people, big screen only I suspect)

The Dictator

The Three Stooges

The Raid: Redemption (better Indonesian martial arts you will not see)

Your Sister’s Sister (Straussian)

Circo, Mexican circus movie

Take This Waltz

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry

Samsara (makes sense on a big screen only, I suspect)

Searching for Sugar Man

Day Night Day Night (from five years ago, but a real stunner, underrated and a wonderful study of Nudge of top of everything else)

Sentences to ponder

Stunningly, the postponement of marriage and parenting — the factors that shrink the birth rate — is the very best predictor of a person’s politics in the United States, over even income and education levels, a Belgian demographer named Ron Lesthaeghe has discovered. Larger family size in America correlates to early marriage and childbirth, lower women’s employment, and opposition to gay rights — all social factors that lead voters to see red.

That is Lauren Sandler.  Here is more, hat tip to Steve Sailer (and David Brooks).  And as Robin Hanson would say, “politics isn’t about policy.”

More on Online Education

At Cato Unbound I respond to some of the critics of my article Why Online Education Works. Here is one bit:

We do need more studies of offline, online, and blended education models, but the evidence that we do have is supportive of the online model. In 2009, The Department of Education conducted a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies and found:

  • Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.
  • Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.
  • Effect sizes were larger for studies in which the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed than in those studies where online learners worked independently.
  • The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types. Online learning appeared to be an effective option for both undergraduates (mean effect of +0.30, p < .001) and for graduate students and professionals (+0.10, p < .05) in a wide range of academic and professional studies.

Discrimination against shorter people, as reported by Andrew Solomon

One recent study observed that adults with achondroplasia have “lower self-esteem, less education, lower annual incomes, and are less likely to have a spouse.”  The income statistic bears witness to institutional discrimination against LPs; the study found that while three-quarters of the dwarfs’ family members, presumably demographically similar to them in most regards, made more than $50,000 per year, less than a third of the dwarfs made that amount.

That is from Andrew Solomon’s new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.

I pre-ordered this book eagerly, but overall I am having difficulty with it.  Too many sections throw too much at the proverbial wall and fail to sort out truth from fallacy.  I am not sure what is supposed to be insight and what is supposed to be a recording of different views.  I would have liked a more direct confrontation with the issue of parental narcissism.  This is still a good review of the book.  I longed for a page of Ross Douthat or Michael Bérubé.

The book, however, supplies excellent data for anyone wishing to study the utter hypocrisy of current understandings of diversity.

One Amazon reviewer raised a good question:

As a special ed teacher, my question is, does it make sense to include murderers in the same category with deaf people, dwarves, and people with physical disabilities? Perhaps he has a justification for it, in that parents might be disappointed and heartbroken in all these cases. But right off the bat that seems wrong to me, categorically different, moral deviance v. physical or intellectual.

Solomon is a very smart guy.  But overall this book leaves one with a sense of being tired of the value of the individual, written by an author overwhelmed by what comes across as, despite Solomon’s quest for nobility, a rogue’s gallery of misfits, baroque style, and without the writing itself coming to terms with the book’s own underlying emotional tenor.  Is it unfair to read this as still being, ultimately, a book about depression?

This book may interest many of you, and its publication can be seen as an event of sorts, but I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it.

Ghana “fact” of the day

Two years ago Ghana’s statistical service announced it was revising its GDP estimates upwards by over 60%, suggesting that in the previous estimates about US$13bn worth’s of economic activity had been missed. As a result, Ghana was suddenly upgraded from a low to lower-middle-income country. In response, Todd Moss, the development scholar and blogger at the Center of Global Development in Washington DC, exclaimed: “Boy, we really don’t know anything!”

Here is more, by Morten Jerven. Here is another good paragraph from that article:

Let us be conservative and assume that the GDP in Nigeria merely doubles following the revision. This alone will mean that the GDP for the whole region increases by more than 15%. The value of the increase amounts to nothing less than 40 economies roughly the size of Malawi’s. The knowledge that currently there are 40 “Malawis” unaccounted for in the Nigerian economy should raise a few eyebrows.

I have just pre-ordered his forthcoming book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It.

Mexico facts of the day

Six years ago, Mexico was the world’s ninth largest exporter of cars. Today the country is ranked fourth—behind Germany, Japan and South Korea—with exports expected to total more than 2.14 million vehicles this year.

One in 10 cars sold last year in the U.S. was made in Mexico. Next year, every new taxi in New York’s fleet—made by Nissan Motor Co.  —will carry the “Hecho en Mexico” label. Mexico is now exporting vehicles to China, and even helped Japan keep up with orders after last year’s tsunami.

Mexico’s Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari boasted that a batch of new factories planned by car makers will help Mexico surpass South Korea in a few years.

Here is more.

David Brooks on the conservative future

It is an excellent column and here is one good bit:

Soft Libertarians. Some of the most influential bloggers on the right, like Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok and Megan McArdle, start from broadly libertarian premises but do not apply them in a doctrinaire way.

Many of these market-oriented writers emphasize that being pro-market is not the same as being pro-business. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago published an influential book, “A Capitalism for the People,” that took aim at crony capitalism. Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner does muckraking reporting on corporate-federal collusion. Rising star Derek Khanna wrote a heralded paper on intellectual property rights for the House Republican Study Committee that was withdrawn by higher-ups in the party, presumably because it differed from the usual lobbyist-driven position.

There are additional shout outs to many other writers I admire (and like).  And this:

Most important, they matured intellectually within a far-reaching Web-based conversation. In contrast to many members of the conservative political-entertainment complex, they are data-driven, empirical and low-key in tone.

But do read the whole thing.

Addendum: Paul Krugman comments.

The High Price of False Security

Charles Kenny has an excellent piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek about security:

The attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is considerably out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. That’s especially true when it comes to Islamic-extremist terror. Of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. Since 2000, the chance that a resident of the U.S. would die in a terrorist attack was one in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller and Mark Stewart of Ohio State and the University of Newcastle, respectively. In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 deaths worldwide outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the same number, Mueller noted in a 2011 report (PDF), as die in bathtubs in the U.S. alone each year.

…According to one estimate of direct and indirect costs borne by the U.S. as a result of 9/11, the New York Times suggested the attacks themselves caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage,” while the economic impact was $123 billion. But costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion.

Matt Yglesias adds a good point:

Something that I would love to see the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI, the CIA, and whoever else do is pull together an estimate of how many airplanes they think would have been blown up by terrorists if there was no passenger or baggage screening whatsoever. One way of thinking about it is this. If commercial airplanes were no more secure than your average city bus, planes would be blown up as frequently as city buses—which is to say never. I’ve heard some people postulate that terrorists have a special affection for blowing up planes, but I’m not sure that’s right. In the not-too-distant past, Israel had a substantial terrorists-blowing-up-buses problem and had to take countervailing security measures. But unlike Israel, we’re not doing anything to secure our buses. It’s at least possible that nobody blows up American buses because nobody is trying to blow anything up.

I would also add to the monetary costs the price of lost civil liberties and a populace that has sadly grown accustomed to government surveilling, scanning, and groping. As I said some years ago when visiting Independence Hall, the price of eternal vigilance is liberty.

Which James Bond villain plan made the most economic sense?

I suspect Tim Harford knew I would blog this when he tweeted this piece.  It starts with this:

We looked through their schemes, and asked Jean-Jacques Dethier [TC: link is mine], a development economist at the World Bank (and a lifelong Bond fan), what he thought.

And then:

Plot: Gold tycoon Auric Goldfinger’s (Gert Frobe) plan is quite simple: He wants to attack the U.S. Bullion Depository in Fort Knox and detonate an atomic bomb, thus irradiating the gold stored there, rendering it worthless for decades. This will in turn increase the value of Goldfinger’s own gold and cause economic chaos in the Western world.

Plausibility: “This looks plausible to me,” says Dethier…

I must disagree.  First, it requires an upward-sloping marginal cost curve for gold production, including the flow out of commodity uses.  That’s actually plausible, but should death-risking criminal schemes rely on that?  Second, if you are going to blow up some gold, don’t blow up the gold held as an endowment, blow up some gold which might go on the market.  Third, couldn’t governments in response simply increase the capital gains rate on gold sales?  In any case just setting off a dirty bomb probably would spike the gold price more than blowing up some gold.  Or how about this criminal strategy?: hold on to the gold and perhaps in due time it will go up from $35 to the unthinkable level of $200 or $300 an ounce.

And there is yet another complication.  At that time the U.S. was (sort of) on a gold standard!  Admittedly ability to redeem was quite limited and held by foreigners who were themselves having their arms twisted not to redeem.  Still, what if the price of gold doesn’t go up (denominated in terms of what?  most of the major currencies are then fixed not floating) but the U.S. price level goes down?  Why use bombs to try to manipulate the price which is about the hardest to budge in the direction which is hardest to get it to budge in?  What if only quantities adjust?  And so on.  Wouldn’t an inflationary scheme have been easier to implement?  I am not convinced Gert Frobe was a stellar macroeconomist.

I see this alternative scheme as potentially more effective, and Dethier seems to go along with it as well:

Casino Royale
Plot: Before Bond foils him (and forces him into a high-stakes underground poker game), Le Schiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is shorting airline stocks, while simultaneously planning to destroy a prototype luxury jetliner on its maiden voyage. That will then drive airline stocks down, allowing him to make millions.

If your productivity is especially high today, go over to Twitter and try #KrugmanBondFilms.

Comprar una casa obtener una visa

It appears that the “buy a house, get a visa” program that I have long advocated will soon been implemented…in Spain.

Spain has between 700,000 and 1.1 million unsold new homes following the collapse of its real estate market in 2008 with an estimated third of them being designed as holiday homes in coastal tourist areas

…Spain plans to offer foreigners residency permits if they buy houses worth more than 160,000 euros, in a desperate attempt to reduce the nation’s glut of unsold property.

…The scheme would also allow foreign buyers to move around the 25-nation Schengen zone freely, as the agreement allows holders of a residency permit of one country in the area to travel to – though not work in – any other.

160,000 euros is the national average price of a property in Spain and that is only $200,000. Spain has some beautiful coastal property and a nice apartment in Barcelona can be had for a bit more. The time to buy could be soon.

Gaolbalization offshoring markets in everything the culture that is Dutch (Belgian)

Belgium and the Netherlands have an interesting arrangement, an example of economics and incentives working clearly in the public law field. Belgium has more convicts than it can accommodate in its prisons. Neighboring Netherlands has the opposite problem: not enough prisoners. Several years ago, it was facing having to shutter some facilities. But then the two countries made a deal: Belgium rents space for its inmates in Dutch jails, patrolled by Dutch corrections guards. (Perhaps the Flemish hope they can be “transferred” to Dutch custody as well, or at least out of Belgium.)

Here is more, from Eugene Kontorovich, pointer from the estimable Chug.