Month: December 2012

Just how bad is corruption in China?

In a new paper, my colleague Carlos Ramirez has the scoop:

This paper compares corruption in China over the past 15 years with corruption in the U.S. between 1870 and 1930, periods that are roughly comparable in terms of real income per capita. Corruption indicators for both countries and both periods are constructed by tracking corruption news in prominent U.S. newspapers. Several robustness checks confirm the reliability of the constructed corruption indices for both countries. The comparison indicates that corruption in the U.S. in the early 1870s — when it’s real income per capita was about $2,800 (in 2005 dollars) — was 7 to 9 times higher than China’s corruption level in 1996, the corresponding year in terms of income per capita. By the time the U.S. reached $7,500 in 1928 — approximately equivalent to China’s real income per capita in 2009 — corruption was similar in both countries. The findings imply that, while corruption in China is an issue that merits attention, it is not at alarmingly high levels, compared to the U.S. historical experience. The paper further argues that the corruption and development experiences of both the U.S. and China appear to be consistent with the “life-cycle” theory of corruption — rising at the early stages of development, and declining after modernization has taken place. Hence, as China continues its development process, corruption will likely decline.

New Health Care Taxes

Robert Pear at the NYTimes has a good piece on the high-income taxes already scheduled to begin in January:

For more than a year, politicians have been fighting over whether to raise taxes on high-income people. They rarely mention that affluent Americans will soon be hit with new taxes adopted as part of the 2010 health care law.

The new levies, which take effect in January, include an increase in the payroll tax on wages and a tax on investment income, including interest, dividends and capital gains. The Obama administration proposed rules to enforce both last week.

Affluent people are much more likely than low-income people to have health insurance, and now they will, in effect, help pay for coverage for many lower-income families. Among the most affluent fifth of households, those affected will see tax increases averaging $6,000 next year, economists estimate.

Tripolitanian cuisine in Tel Aviv

Libya is an artificial country, so they don’t call it Libyan food, even though the restaurant is run by “Libyan” Jews.

Odelia, Ben Yehuda 89, Tel Aviv.  The “Hrime” is pieces of snapper in an excellent red pepper sauce, very spicy and tasty.  Eggplant Mafrom, with root vegetables, is recommended too.  It’s also an excellent neighborhood for walking.

There are a number of Tripolitanian places in Tel Aviv.

Why are so few educated Asian women marrying?

Here is the job market paper from Jisoo Hwang, on the market this year from Harvard University.  The title is “Housewife, “Gold Miss,” and Equal: The Evolution of Educated Women’s Role in Asia and the U.S. ” and here is the abstract:

Abstract: The fraction of U.S. college graduate women who ever marry has increased relative to less educated women since the mid-1970s. In contrast, college graduate women in developed Asian countries have had decreased rates of marriage, so much so that the term “Gold Misses” has been coined to describe them. This paper argues that the interaction of rapid economic growth in Asia combined with the intergenerational transmission of gender attitudes causes the “Gold Miss” phenomenon. Economic growth has increased the supply of college graduate women, but men’s preference for their wives’ household services has diminished less rapidly and is slowed by women’s role in their mothers’ generation. Using a dynamic model, I show that a large positive wage shock produces a greater mismatch between educated women and men in the marriage market than would gradual wage growth. I test the implications of the model using three data sets: the Japanese General Social Survey, the American Time Use Survey, and the U.S. Census and American Community Survey. Using the Japanese data, I find a positive relationship between a mother’s education (and employment) and her son’s gender attitudes. In the U.S., time spent on household chores among Asian women is inversely related to the female labor force participation rate in husband’s country of origin. Lastly, college graduate Korean and Japanese women in the U.S. have greater options in the marriage market. They are more likely to marry Americans than Korean and Japanese men do, and this gender gap is larger among the foreign born than the U.S. born.

Robots for parrots

African grey parrot, Pepper, perched atop his special robot, the “Bird Buggy”, designed by his human companion, Andrew Gray.

Proving that robots aren’t just for people any longer, African grey parrot, Pepper, has learned to drive a robot that was specially designed for him. Pepper, whose wings are clipped to preventing him from flying around his humans’ house and destroying their things, now manipulates the joystick on his riding robot to guide it to where ever he wishes to go.

This robotic “bird buggy” was the brainchild of his human companion, Andrew Gray, a 29-year-old electrical and computer engineering graduate student at the University of Florida. It was inspired by Pepper’s growing frustration with his human family’s rude behaviours.

Here is much more, with videos, and I like the subtitle of the article: “Now, for the first time ever, a parrot has successfully trained a human to design and build robots specifically for the parrot’s use and entertainment.”

For the pointer I thank Vic Sarjoo.

*The Measure of Civilization*

The author is Ian Morris and the subtitle is How Social Development Decides the Fate of Nations.  I don’t like the subtitle of this book, which I feel should include the word “energy.”  While a number of topics are covered, the core parts of the book concern the importance of energy sources for early economic development.

This strikes me as an important work.  I will report back on it once I have the chance to give it further study (which won’t be right away).  In the meantime I am simply reporting that it will come out this January and that it is worthy of your attention.

Why did the Senate refuse to ratify the disabilities Convention?

Many people are criticizing the Senate for failing to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, background here.  The text of the Convention is here.  In terms of enforceability, it is the usual “shall undertake to do” approach, with nothing in the way of actual teeth.

Erik Voeten seems upset that the United States did not ratify and seems to regard ratification as a no-brainer.  Keep in mind that many of the good aspects of the Convention are already law in the United States and indeed often stem from American precedents.

If you would like one starting point for thinking about this issue, here is a simple exercise: imagine yourself a specialist in international law advising the U.S. government.  Here is a Wikipedia summary of one part of the Convention:

In accordance with international law, to ensure that law protecting intellectual property rights do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by persons with disabilities to cultural materials.

What do you advise?  Consider that the United States, when writing bilateral trade treaties, tries to enforce or even redefine IP law to the hilt.  (NB: I don’t at all favor this, but it is a fact of life and will very likely remain so, for obvious public choice reasons.)  You are the most powerful country on earth, so why should you ratify a Convention which will make this IP policy harder to see through and which will in fact create an entire series of loopholes, or at least rhetorical moves, many of which could end up involving weaker IP enforcement against the non-disabled?  Imagine a nation, negotiating with the U.S., insisting that derivative works with subtitles for the hearing-impaired receive weaker IP protection, and citing the U.S. ratification of this Convention.  (Personally, I probably would favor this by the way.)  All of a sudden the U.S. would have to spend some political capital whacking this back down.

Very often UN Conventions are fights over the rhetoric which will be allowed and recognized in (binding) negotiations elsewhere.  It is thus weaker nations which favor the increased ability to use such rhetoric, and stronger nations which wish to limit such rhetoric.  Guess where that puts the United States?

I do not personally have any problem with the United States ratifying this Convention.  But I recognize that a failure to ratify is simply “business as usual,” reflecting longstanding and rather deeply rooted priorities, rather than some strange Senatorial or Republican intransigence against the disabled.

More generally, the U.S. will be most interested in ratifying Conventions only if they bind other nations in a useful way to the United States.  The WTO (although not legally a “Convention”) is a good example of that, but such examples are not that frequent.

This entire debate could use a closer look at the differences between being a states party to a Convention, signing, and ratifying.

I’ve read a bunch of articles on this Convention, from various media outlets, and not one of them is setting out the basic principles here with much accuracy.

The Palestinian Emirates?

From Barry Shaw:, this is also known as the “eight-state solution”:

Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University, a Middle East expert…calls his alternative “the Palestinian Emirates.”

He visualizes eight emirate-type city states with designated borders that will incorporate the Arabs within them. The rest of the land can be populated by the inhabitants, whether they be Jews or Arabs, living and behaving with respect and deference to the inhabitants of the various city-states. The states shall be granted sovereignty. They shall be granted surrounding land for expansion and development. Road systems in vacant lands shall be developed for transport of people and commerce, both Jewish and Arab.

If Palestinians could “vote with their feet” across these various Emirates, it would be interesting to see what kind of policies would evolve, relative to what is produced by currently existing forms of political participation.

Here is a web site devoted to the concept, with one more detailed account here.  I should add that there are versions of this idea which do not add all of the “baggage” found on this web site.

In presenting this material, I am not seeking to have MR commentators reprise all of the usual debates on the broader topic of Middle East peace or lack thereof.  Nonetheless I had never heard this idea before, and so I am passing it along.

*My Struggle: Book One*, by Karl Knausgaard

Imagine a Norwegian Proust, albeit more concrete and with less repetition.  The Amazon link is here, and you will notice that all nine Amazon reviews give it five stars.  Here is a James Wood review from The New Yorker.  Here is Wikipedia on the author.  Here is a good blog review.  Note this is only one out of six volumes, from Norway.

I would put this among the greatest Continental novels of the last fifty years and not at the bottom of that tier.  It is not often that one discovers such books.

How much do charter schools really matter?

I’ve seen so many people discuss this topic, but Yusuke Jinnai seems to be making progress on the question.  Here is part of his abstract:

In this paper, I propose a new empirical approach to identify the impact of charter schools on local traditional schools. Specifically, I define direct impact as the effect of introducing charter schools on traditional-school students in grades that overlap with charter schools’ grades, while indirect impact is defined as the effect on students in non-overlapping grades. Unlike prior research work, which estimates the effects of charter school entry at the school level, I examine the impact at the grade level by exploiting the variation in gaps between grades offered by charter schools and grades at nearby traditional schools.

Using student-level panel data from North Carolina, this paper shows that the introduction of charter schools does not induce any significant indirect impact but generates a positive and significant direct impact on student achievement. Distinguishing between the two distinct impacts and taking into consideration both traditional-school and charter-school students, my study finds overall positive effects of introducing charter schools on student achievement. I also demonstrate that such overall effects would have been underestimated by 85% in the literature, since previous work identifies the impact of charter school entry at a moment when the direct and indirect impacts are likely to be mixed.

Finally, I argue that the direct impact consists of student sorting effects and competitive effects and, by controlling for unobserved peer characteristics, demonstrate one-quarter of the positive direct impact is driven by the former while three-quarters result from the latter.

The paper is here, and Yusuke is on the job market from Rochester this year.  His entire portfolio of papers on education appears to be quite interesting.

Here is a related post on school choice in Sweden, from Modeled Behavior.