Month: May 2013

Who is the worst philosopher?

That was one of the questions I was asked at my Jane St. Capital talk on Wednesday night.

My answer was Edmund Husserl, at least if we restrict the question to philosophers of renown.  I believe his work is a waste of time and I write that as someone who does not believe Heidegger is a (total) waste of time, especially in the essays.  As for Husserl, we can pull this bit off Wikipedia:

Therein, Husserl in 1931 refers to “Transcendental Subjectivity” being “a new field of experience” opened as a result of practicing phenomenological reduction, and giving rise to an a priori science not empirically based but somewhat similar to mathematics. By such practice the individual becomes the “transcendental Ego”, although Husserl acknowledges the problem of solipsism. Later he emphasizes “the necessary stressing of the difference between transcendental and psychological subjectivity, the repeated declaration that transcendental phenomenology is not in any sense psychology… ” but rather (in contrast to naturalistic psychology) by the phenomenological reduction “the life of the soul is made intelligible in its most intimate and originally intuitional essence” and whereby “objects of the most varied grades right up to the level of the objective world are there for the Ego… .” Ibid. at 5-7, 11-12, 18.

The Stanford Encyclopedia gives you more detail on his philosophy.  Here is Husserl presented on YouTube, in his own words as they say.

I suggested both Aristotle and Nietzsche as overrated philosophers, although clearly both are still great philosophers, worthy of major reputations.  But neither should be considered a real candidate for “greatest philosopher ever,” which is what you sometimes hear.  I’ll reserve that for Plato and Hume.

Acceleration chess (also known as Progressive chess)

White moves first, but then Black gets to move twice.  Then White gets to move three times in a row, then Black four times in a row, then White five times in a row, and so on, with continuing escalation as the game proceeds.  You cannot move your King through a check or play another move while your King is in check.  If, in the middle of your sequence, you give check, you lose any remaining moves in your sequence and your opponent moves and enjoys his full sequence.

Here are a few observations:

1. Games will end rather quickly.

2. 1.d4 appears to be a stronger opening move than 1.e4; can you see why?  For one thing, White is threatening to start his next threesome with Bg5, for another his King has some breathing space against some possible checks on f2.  (If Black plays d5 and Nf6 in turn, consider the counter of e4, e5, and Bb5+.  With the next “fivesome” of White he is threatening to advance pawns to e6 and g6 and take on f7.  Qd3 and then Qf5 is another possible threat sequence.)

3. It is often good to give check on the last move of your sequence, if only to tie the hands of your opponent for one move.

4. Sometimes a more exposed King gives you a stronger position, because then the approach toward your King creates a check and ends the sequence of your opponent.  This also means that pawn promotion should not always be to a Queen.

5. The Knight is often better on h3 rather than f3.

“Acceleration chess” is my phrase.  And for the dedicated foursome there is “accelerated Bughouse.”

I thank several individuals at Jane St. Capital for relevant observations on this game plus a bit of play.

The world’s longest interview

Defying the stereotype of the tight-lipped Scandinavian, popular Norwegian crime writer Hans Olav Lahlum set the world record for the longest interview on Thursday after spending more than 30 non-stop hours chatting in an online broadcast.

Lahlum, who rarely paused for more than a few seconds, discussed topics ranging from U.S. presidents to his fictional characters during the online show hosted by VG Nett, the online arm of Norwegian tabloid VG.

The new record awaits approval from Guinness World Records.

Fast-talking Lahlum, who is also a left-wing politician, historian and top chess player rarely stumbled during the gabfest, which also covered such scintillating topics as his preferences for mixing puddings and kebabs.

“I think I can safely say that tonight I might go to bed a little earlier than usual,” he said as he and interviewer Mads Andersen beat the old record of just over 26 hours.

Shortly after surpassing the previous record, Lahlum plunged into a weighty discussion on world literature in general and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in particular.

“Do you have a plan for how you will get Lahlum to stop talking when the interview ends?” one viewer asked VG on its online forum.

There is more here, and the article explains this is part of a broader Norwegian trend toward “slow TV”:

Norway, a pioneer in slow programming, has spawned several lengthy television hits in recent years, and public broadcaster NRK earlier this year aired a 12-hour show centered on a burning fireplace with experts discussing the intricacies of fire wood.

In 2011, it broadcast 134 hours non-stop of a cruise ship going up the Norwegian coast to the Arctic, bagging the world record for the longest continuous TV program along the way.

And an earlier broadcast of an eight hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen was so popular, NRK had to repeat it.

As I’ve mentioned before, so far the Norwegians are having an awesome century.

For the pointer I thank Øystein Hernæs.

Assorted links

We are not as wealthy as we thought we were (a continuing series)

From Ylan Q. Mui at The Washington Post:

American households have rebuilt less than half of the wealth lost during the recession, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve, hampering the country’s economic recovery.

The research from the St. Louis Fed shows that households had accumulated net worth totaling $66 trillion at the end of last year. After adjusting for inflation and population growth, the bank found that meant families on average have only made up 45 percent of the decline in their net worth since the peak of the boom in 2007.

In addition, most of the improvement was due to gains in the stock market, according to the report, primarily benefiting wealthy families. That means the recovery for most households was even weaker.

“A conclusion that the financial damage of the crisis and recession largely has been repaired is not justified,” the report stated.

The economics of mobile money in Kenya

And some mobile money account holders report avoiding their phone altogether. From some people, no call comes without a request for money. “Nowhere to hide,” the authors heard, and “it is a curse more than a blessing.” This is a familiar problem to any parent with a child in college; every society has some level of ritual and social expectation around cash. But actual experience with mobile money in Kenya, where the service is most widespread, leaves hopeful development economists with a problem. There can be no mobile economy until cash loses some of its ritual social meaning. This happens with economic opportunity—the economic opportunity that mobile money is supposed to help provide.

That is from Brendan Greeley, here is more.  And from The Economist, here is more on Kenyan mobile money.

Assorted links

The economics of Indian cows and globalized cow patronage

The cow’s status as a sacred being in Hinduism is increasingly being threatened as more wealthy Indians, even Hindus, are turning carnivorous, as Gardiner Harris of The New York Times recently reported. Meanwhile, the increasing demand for beef is driving gangs to steal cows that are wandering around Delhi so that the animals can be sold to slaughterhouses.

Still, cows have plenty of protectors in India, and even beyond its borders. Thousands of miles away, Indian citizens living in the United States regularly send money to cow shelters in India like Mataji Gaushala, located in Barsana, near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.

Mataji Gaushala is one of the biggest cow shelters in northern India, spread over 42 acres. It houses 20,000 cows, most of them old and no longer providing milk. Brijinder Sharma, manager of Mataji Gaushala, said the shelter’s objective is to let the animals live a natural life and die from natural causes.

Subhash Puri, 69, a civil engineer who retired from the American government in 2011, lives in Laurel, Maryland, but sends money, after collecting it from other Indian patrons, and visits Mataji Gaushala often, spending four to six months out of the year.

“The cow is our mother,” he said. “It is our duty to give them a dignified life. We try to save them from the slaughterhouses.”

Mr. Puri said Indians in the United States who support the shelter include doctors, engineers and IT professionals. “They give new ideas to run the place,” he said.

The article is here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Outsourcing markets in everything

If you live in India, you can now get a job staring at a monitor that displays images of American doctors entering hospital rooms thousands of miles away. Your task is to sound an alarm if the doctor fails to wash his hands.

This may sound disturbingly similar to being an auditor for the telephone handset sanitizers guild, but in practice it turns out to be very effective. It also turns out that this Big Brotherish technology has gotten a big boost from the passage of Obamacare.

That is from Kevin Drum.

Markets in Everything: AER Publication

From EJMR:

I have a new paper that I consider my best work. For a variety of reasons, the marginal return professionally for this paper is very small for me. But I think it has an excellent shot a top
journal, I would estimate 1/3 at the AER (I have published there before). So I am offering it for sale. Here are the details:

1. This paper is not yet posted on my website. It has not been circulated and I have not yet presented it.

2. The paper is applied micro although I will sell it to anyone.

3. Email bids to Use a fake account and make sure to send no revealing information.

4. Your bid is for an AER or QJE. If it ends in Restud, you pay 65%. If it ends in the Journal of Labor Economics, Journal of Public Economics, or EJ, you pay 35%. Other journals are negotiable. You can choose the submission path as long as it starts with one of the top journals.

5. I will contact the winning bid (or highest real bid) to arrange an in person meeting in Philly at the meetings. We will never leave a paper trail.

6. Half of payment is due with a revise and resubmit. I will also make the needed changes. The final half is due with final acceptance.

7. Spare me any discussion of the ethics here. I am dead serious and I will not be commenting further on this thread.

The whole thing could be a troll or an experiment but let’s assume it’s real. An AER could easily be worth 50k, especially for someone early in their career but that’s for one you wrote yourself. An AER written by someone else has a significantly lower expected value since, if revealed, it may end your career. Moreover, suppose the buyer, as unlikely as it seems, takes advantage of the big push and makes it big on their own. Is the buyer not then vulnerable to blackmail from the seller who already has signaled their ethics? I can see this appealing, however, to the scion of some dictator who could afford to pay well over 50k and also afford to make the seller pay if the secret is revealed. Caveat emptor and also caveat venditor. True, there are not many econ PhDs among the dictator set but there are a few and sadly this kind of thing does have precedents.

P.S. I did like the discounting by journal, a nice, accurate touch.

Do anonymous donors signal higher status?

Here is a summary of some recent work by Mike Peacey and Michael Sanders:

New research that studied why people choose to make large donations to charity anonymously has found that it may act as a signal to other donors of the charity’s quality. The findings, published today, also show that anonymous gifts rather than public ones induce larger donations from subsequent donors.
…the researchers indicate that the reason why a person may choose to show the amount they have donated but conceal their identity is because it may act as a signal informing others looking to donate of the charity’s quality and worthiness. Knowing this to be the case, a who wishes to see the charity succeed may intentionally choose to keep their identity private.
But why the anonymous donation serves as such a signal remains unexplained.   Is it “this venture is so well-known I know my identity will be discovered anyway and then I will look all the more noble?”  Or is it “this venture is so high quality I value it for intrinsic reasons and do not require the publicity of affiliation”?
I find this result not surprising:

The findings also reveal that early donations are more likely to be anonymous than later ones, particularly for the first to a fundraising page.

If an anonymous donor gives early, there is a feeling of having “birthed” something.  Someone giving at the end may be more likely to expect a direct reputational benefit from the gift.
The paper itself is here, and do note that this result may be context-specific and it should not be taken to have any direct bearing on the more recent political disputes about anonymous donations.  For the pointer I thank William Benzon.

From the comments

This is from Mark A. Sadowski, who makes some other good comments in the same thread:

Marcus Nunes’ post caused me to reread E. Cary Brown’s “Fiscal Policy in the “Thirties: A Reappraisal” (American Economic Review, Vol. 46, No. 5, December 1956, pp. 857–879) and Larry Peppers’ “Full Employment Surplus Analysis and Structural Changes” (Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 10, Winter 1973, pp. 197–210), both of which are mentioned in the Douglas A. Irwin’s paper on gold sterilization and the recession of 1937-38 which Marcus discusses in his excellent post.

Peppers’ paper shows how to calculate cyclically adjusted budget balances from Brown’s paper. By my arithmetic, according to Brown’s data the cyclically adjusted general government balance increased by 3.0% of potential GDP in calendar year 1937. Peppers only looks at the federal budget, and he finds that the cyclically adjusted federal government balance increased by 3.5% of potential GDP in calendar year 1937 and another 0.1% in 1938 for a total of 3.6% of potential GDP.

According to the April 2013 IMF World Economic Outlook (WEO) the U.S. general government structural (cyclically adjusted) balance will increase by 3.9% of potential GDP between calendar years 2010 and 2013. And the March 2013 CBO estimates of the cyclically adjusted federal budget balance show it will rise by 4.6% of potential GDP between fiscal years 2009 and 2013.

So apparently we have repeated the fiscal mistakes of 1937 with approximately a 30% bonus and yet the economy has not plunged into a renewed depression.

We know what Scott Sumner would say.  Furthermore he would be right.  It’s called “monetary offset.”

Still looking in vain for that darned liquidity trap Krugman keeps talking about!

Very good sentences

This raises an interesting, tangentially related question. Liberals fulminate constantly against outrageous conservative obstruction, yet often seem nevertheless surprised by its effectiveness. Why is that? My guess is that liberals are sometimes deceived by assumptions about the scope of liberalising moral progress. Modern history is a series of conservative disappointments, and the trend of social change does have a generally liberal cast. The surprisingly rapid acceptance of legal gay marriage is a good example. Liberals are therefore accustomed to a giddy sense of riding at the vanguard of history, routed reactionaries choking in their dust. But all of us, whatever our colours, overestimate the moral and intellectual coherence of our political convictions. We’re inclined to see meaningful internal connections between our opinions—between our views on abortion and regulatory policy, say—when often there’s no connection deeper than the contingent expediencies of coalition politics. For liberals, this sometimes plays out as a tendency to see resistance to all liberal policy as an inevitably losing battle against the inexorable tide of history. This occasionally leads, in turn, to a slightly naive sense of surprise when a hard-won political victory isn’t consolidated by a decisive, validating shift in public opinion, but instead begins to be ratcheted back.

That is from Will Wilkinson.

Claims about Sony

A new report from the investment banking firm Jefferies delivered a harsh assessment of Sony’s electronics business. “Electronics is its Achilles’ heel and, in our view, it is worth zero,” wrote Atul Goyal, consumer technology analyst for Jefferies, in the report, released this week.

Here is more.  And oh, there is this:

…Sony’s most successful business is selling insurance. While it doesn’t run this business in the United States or Europe, Sony makes a lot of money writing life, auto and medical policies in Japan.

Its financial arm accounts for 63 percent of Sony’s total operating profit last year. Life insurance has been its biggest moneymaker over the last decade, earning the company 933 billion yen ($9.07 billion) in operating profit in the 10 years that ended in March.

Assorted links

1. Appreciation of John Dunkley.

2. Confidence pays off for pundits.

3. What to do if you find a hedgehog (non-ironic, and indeed it is from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Furthermore the results apply even if you have not “found” a hedgehog but rather are “concerned” about one, the site recognizing appropriately that perhaps he or she has found you).

4. Chris Hughes and Google are giving away cash directly to the poor.

5. Should we weaken the employer mandate?

6. Academic disputes over “genius babies.”