Month: February 2013

World music CDs of recent times/2012

I now realize that last year I neglected to cover “Best World Music CDs of the year.”  So here goes:

1. Bahamas: Goombay 1951-1959.  I listened to this CD last year more than any other.  It’s also some of the wittiest music I own, and it has plenty of economic themes.

2. Bwati Kono, by Lobi Traore, raw electric blues from Bamako, hypnotic, Jimi Hendrix of West Africa stuff.

3. Pete Seeger, The Complete Bowdoin College Concert 1960.  Some people think of Seeger as a “right place, right time” sort of guy, but that does him an injustice.  He was one of the most talented American musicians of his generation, and this live two-CD set shows him at his versatile peak, as a kind of walking human jukebox of American musical traditions, with lots of world music too.

For an honorable mention I would suggest Y’anbessaw Tezeta, by Getachew Mekuria and The Ex & Friends, Ethiopian saxophone.

Here are two free songs from Revue Noire a Tana, one of my favorite world music albums, years old but I am still listening to it regularly.  It’s not on Amazon, maybe you can find a copy somewhere in these links.

Krugman on the minimum wage

I am always happy to link to interesting new arguments which have not been considered on this blog before:

…the usual notion that minimum wages and the Earned Income Tax Credit are competing ways to help low-wage workers is wrong. On the contrary, raising the minimum wage is a way to make the EITC work better, ensuring that its benefits go to workers rather than getting shared with employers. This actually is Econ 101, but done right: given a second-best world in which you use imperfect tools to help deserving workers, two tools together can produce a better outcome than either one on its own.

He is drawing from this Rortybomb post.  For other, different arguments, here is Angus and here is David Henderson.

Assorted links

1. Reddit thread on queuing.

2. Addition by subtraction?, or more on the Patrick Ewing theory.

3. How Australia handles youth, disabilities, and minimum wages.  (Their “assessed capacity” metric seems screwy to me; who gets to decide and on what basis?)

4. Robert Cottrell on how to read the internet.

5. How are the details on the preschool plan developing?

6. The culture that is North Korea (music video, not Gangnam style, recommended nonetheless).

Are Government Spending Multipliers Greater During Periods of Slack?

The embarrassing result here is that no, it seems they are not:

A key question that has arisen during recent debates is whether government spending multipliers are larger during times when resources are idle. This paper seeks to shed light on this question by analyzing new quarterly historical data covering multiple large wars and depressions in the U.S. and Canada. Using an extension of Ramey’s (2011) military news series and Jordà’s (2005) method for estimating impulse responses, we find no evidence that multipliers are greater during periods of high unemployment in the U.S. In every case, the estimated multipliers are below unity. We do find some evidence of higher multipliers during periods of slack in Canada, with some multipliers above unity.

That is from a new paper by Michael T. Owyang, Valerie A. Ramey, and Sarah Zubairy.

I see a few views (among others) of the multiplier:

1. The crude form of Say’s Law is true and fiscal policy simply remixes funds with no real impact.

2. Say’s Law is not really true as stated, but why should we be so impressed with a one-time uptick in monetary velocity, also called fiscal policy, unless the supply-side effects are also really good?

3. Fiscal policy effectively targets and mobilizes unemployed resources.

4. Fiscal policy postpones adjustment issues (this can be from AD too, it doesn’t have to be a “structural” problem), and may usefully smooth consumption, but it doesn’t do a good job targeting and mobilizing unemployed resources.

5. The size of the multiplier is determined by the expected monetary policy accommodation, and not by the quantity of unemployed resources.

I would say this paper provides evidence against #1 and #3.

Quotations from China

“The genetic basis of intelligence has been ignored for a very long time,” says Mr. Zhao. “Our data will be ready in three months’ time.”

There is more here.  Here is some further explanation:

At the Hong Kong facility, more than 100 powerful gene-sequencing machines are deciphering about 2,200 DNA samples, reading off their 3.2 billion chemical base pairs one letter at a time. These are no ordinary DNA samples. Most come from some of America’s brightest people—extreme outliers in the intelligence sweepstakes.

Assorted links

John Darwin’s *Unfinished Empire*

The subtitle is The Global Expansion of Britain.  The book received strong reviews in the UK and these are justified.  Here is the bottom line: I started it Wednesday, have read parts of it every day, and I am still reading it.  There is interesting and fresh material on almost every page.  Think of it as a selective history of the building of the British empire.

So far it is my favorite non-fiction book of 2013.  Here is one good WSJ review.

High School Safety in Northern Virginia

Here is a letter I wrote to the principal of my son’s high school:

Dear Principal _____,

Thank you for requesting feedback about the installation of interior cameras at the high school. I am against the use of cameras. I visited the school recently to pick up my son and it was like visiting a prison. A police car often sits outside the school and upon entry a security guard directs visitors to the main office where the visitor’s drivers license is scanned and information including date of birth is collected (is this information checked against other records and kept in a database for future reference? It’s unclear). The visitor is then photographed and issued a photo pass. I found the experience oppressive. Adding cameras will only add to the prison-like atmosphere. The response, of course, will be that these measures are necessary for “safety.” As with security measures at the airports I doubt that these measures increase actual safety, instead they are security theater, a play that we put on that looks like security but really is not.

Moreover, the truth is that American children have never been safer than they are today. Overall youth mortality (ages 5-14) has fallen from 60 per 100,000 in 1950 to 13.1 per 100,000 today (CDC, Vital Statistics). Yet we hide in gated communities, homes and schools as never before.

When we surround our students with security we are implicitly telling them that the world is dangerous; we are whispering in their ear, ‘be afraid, do not venture out, take no risks.’ When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds? When my child leaves school how will the atmosphere of fear that he has grown up in affect his view of the world and the choices he will make as a citizen in our democracy? School teaches more than words in books.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Tabarrok

Would Hayek have favored Obamacare?

In this video Nick Gillespie interviews Erik Angner and Erik is (with qualifications) positively inclined.   A few points:

1. When Hayek wrote, health care costs were quite low as a percentage of gdp.  The same can be said of early Friedman writings (it is startling how little attention Capitalism and Freedom, dating from 1962, pays to “the problems of old people”).  It is not clear how views formed in that era should be extrapolated to the current day.

2. Angner-interpreting-Hayek draws a distinction between mandates — which are allowed — and price controls — which are verboten.  Yet it is hard to have major government involvement in health care without price controls, or should I write “price controls,” in some manner or another.  Third party payments cannot be made at any prices that suppliers might like.  Single payer systems have to bargain over price.  For that matter mandates have to put some limits on what suppliers can charge for the mandated good, including quality limits.  The results may not literally be the same as legally mandated price maximums but a) it is hard for a health care-subsidizing government to avoid interfering with the price mechanism, and b) when viewed in these terms, it is not obvious why interfering with the price mechanism is worse per se than mandates or redistribution.  Mandates and redistribution also interfere with the price mechanism, the former as shown by economic theorems about quantity-price duality and the latter once you think of an income as a price or the result of a set of prices.

3. To make it quite speculative, I believe Hayek — if fast-forwarded into the present — might favor a mix of forced savings into health savings accounts, cash transfers to the poor, and direct government provision of basic health care services for the very needy.  Whether or not I am right, Hayek is far from laissez-faire on health care.  But I doubt Hayek would have come close to supporting ACA.  Most of all, I think he would have been horrified by the lack of legal generality and universality in the different categories of treatment, coverage, prices, subsidies, reimbursement rates, and so on.  I think he would have seen this as a sign of our legal and philosophic barbarism, noting that I am not trying to put the predominance of blame on Obama here.

Here is Eric’s Politico piece on the same topic.

Interview with James Heckman

More than just the usual, this is a real interview, recommended.  Excerpt:

James Heckman:  Well, the reason why I’m skeptical is that the most salient work on Head Start is this new evaluation which came out last October. It actually came out later than I responded to Deming. I am skeptical for the following reason. It’s really heterogeneous, and I’m sure there are some very high quality programs and some very weak ones. The latest study showed very weak effects. That was a short-term followup. Head Start has never had a long-term followup.

I was surprised by the extent to which he defends Head Start, and to the extent he sees part of that program as Perry follow-ups.