Month: November 2013

The literature on Iranian negotiation techniques

I found this 2004 piece (pdf) by Shmuel Bar.  It has numerous interesting and detailed points, though I do not think it can be considered objective.  Here is one excerpt:

Iranian negotiators are methodical and have demonstrated a high level of preparations and a detailed and legalistic attitude. On the other hand, their communication tends to be extremely high-context; ambiguous, allusive and indirect not only in the choice of words utilized, but in the dependence of the interpretation of the message on the context in which it is transmitted: non-verbal clues, staging and setting of the act of communication, and the choice of the bearer of the message. Procrastination is another key characteristic of Iranian negotiation techniques. This stands in sharp contrast to American style communication (Get to the point/Where’s the beef?/ time is money!) which places a high value on using lowest common denominator language in order to ensure maximum and effective mutual understanding of the respective intents of both sides. This tendency has been explained by an aversion to an assumption that the longer the negotiations last, the greater a chance that things can change in his favor and an intrinsic Shiite belief in the virtue of patience.

Dissimulation, high-level disinformation and manipulation are widely acceptable.

…one may paraphrase Marshall McLuhan in saying that in Iran frequently “the messenger is the message.”

…One of the characteristic traits of Iranian negotiation techniques is that the haggling goes on even after an agreement is struck.

I suppose we’ll see how it goes.

What are the political effects of increasing inequality?

Kevin Lewis reports some new research to us:

Economic Inequality and Democratic Support

Jonathan Krieckhaus et al.
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Does economic inequality influence citizens’ support for democracy? Political economy theory suggests that in a country with high inequality, the majority of the population will support democracy as a potential mechanism for redistribution. Much of the survey and area-studies literature, by contrast, suggests that inequality generates political disillusion and regime dissatisfaction. To clarify this disagreement, we distinguish between prospective versus retrospective evaluations as well as between egocentric versus sociotropic evaluations. We test the resulting hypotheses in a multilevel analysis conducted in 40 democracies. We find that citizens are retrospective and sociotropic, meaning that higher levels of economic inequality reduce support for democracy amongst all social classes. We also find a small prospective egocentric effect, in that the reduction in democratic support in highly unequal countries is slightly less severe amongst the poor, suggesting they believe that democracy might increase future redistribution.

I do not see an ungated copy, but the data for the paper are available here.

Assorted quotations

1. “Only a few authors have bothered to approach the disintegration of America in an innovative way.”

2. “They estimated that without antibiotics, one out of every six recipients of new hip joints would die.”

3. “The urban refugees come from all walks of life — businesspeople and artists, teachers and chefs — though there is no reliable estimate of their numbers. They have staked out greener lives in small enclaves, from central Anhui Province to remote Tibet. Many are Chinese bobos, or bourgeois bohemians, and they say that besides escaping pollution and filth, they want to be unshackled from the material drives of the cities — what Ms. Lin derided as a focus on “what you’re wearing, where you’re eating, comparing yourself with others.”  The link is here.

4. “It is the first time that the West has lost a soft power contest with Russia.”

5. “I do take painting seriously,” he said. “It’s changed my life.”

Best movies of 2013

This has been an excellent year for movies, in fact I can’t remember a period so good.  Here is what I liked, noting that foreign films are classified by “what year did I have a chance to see them?” and not by their initial years of release, which are usually pre-2013.  Here goes, more or less in the order I saw them:

Amour, by Michael Haneke.

The Chilean movie NO, which is an account of how, even in the strangest of circumstances, democracies filter policy outcomes, as indeed autocracies do too (in different ways).

Spring Breakers

The Gatekeepers, I taught that one in Law and Literature class last year.

Room 237, an excellent mock on Straussians, through the medium of the fandom cult for Kubrick’s The Shining.


Stories We Tell

Before Midnight, completes the trilogy realistically, with charm and bite.

In a World…, “a subtle and entertaining movie with much economics in it, most of all the economics of superstars in the “voiceover” sector.”

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceacescu, “is mesmerizing, like watching one of the great silent films of the past, and the scenes where the Chinese communists praise the Romanian communists are some of the best ever filmed.”

Pieta, brutal Korean brutal tale involving money lenders and non-price compensation schemes.

Fill the Void

World War Z

In Another Country, Korean and French juxtaposed.

The Attack, possibly my favorite of the year, if I had to pick.  Lebanese and Israeli in its sources.

The Act of Killing, mostly set in Sumatra, brutal, has lots of social science.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, don’t tell Stevenson and Wolfers.  Directed by Werner Herzog.


Captain Phillips — treat the two embedded stories as implicit commentary on each other.

12 Years a Slave

Hollywood redeemed itself with those last three, after what was otherwise a dismal year for mainstream releases.

I loved the documentary In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey, although perhaps it is for fans only.

The crop of Christmas movies isn’t even out yet.

A future service sector job?

Jason Kottke suggests:

I could imagine Glass Concierge becoming a future job title, basically a personal assistant who looks in on your Google Glass video feed to make helpful suggestions and advice, basically a rally co-driver for your life.

Most of the post is about using Google Glass to cheat at poker.  In response to inquiries, I will review the product once I can get one.

A new RCT study of preschool

From Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst:

I see these findings as devastating for advocates of the expansion of state pre-k programs.  This is the first large scale randomized trial of a present-day state pre-k program.  Its methodology soundly trumps the quasi-experimental approaches that have heretofore been the only source of data on which to infer the impact of these programs.  And its results align almost perfectly with those of the Head Start Impact Study, the only other large randomized trial that examines the longitudinal effects of having attended a public pre-k program.  Based on what we have learned from these studies, the most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families.

There is much more at the link at the Brookings blog, including the major details of the Vanderbilt study, with some very useful pictures.  For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Noah Webster Defines Rent Seeking

My latest paper, Public Choice and Bloomington School Perspectives on Intellectual Property (pdf) written with Eli Dourado), gives capsule summaries of the Virginia school of public choice and the Ostrom’s Bloomington School and then applies some of these ideas to the political economy of intellectual property. Here is one bit on the early history of the copyright law illustrating that Disney’s rewriting of the copyright law to extend its rents is nothing new, rent seekers began to expand on the Constitutional clause almost from the day the ink was dry:

Almost immediately after the first session of Congress, writers began to petition Congress for protection for their works. The Copyright Act of 1790 was meant to fill in the administrative details of how copyright law would work. Importantly, the first draft of the new law appears to have been written not by a member of Congress, but by Noah Webster (Patry 1994)! Webster, cousin to Senator Daniel Webster, was the author of numerous textbooks and, of course, the famous dictionary that still bears his name. His draft of the copyright act, which was not adopted in full, would have extended copyright not just to authors, but also to booksellers and printers. As it was, the 1790 law covered not only books but also maps and charts (a rather broad reading of the Constitution’s writings). Webster was also instrumental in getting the 1831 act passed. The 1831 act doubled protections from 14 to 28 years. Writing to Eliza W. Jones, Webster noted,

[My] business in part was to use my influence to procure an extension of the law for securing copy-rights to authors. . . . By this bill the term of copy-right is secured for 28 years, with the right of renewal . . . for 14 years more. If this should become law, I shall be much benefited.

Webster to Eliza W. Jones, January 10, 1831.

Claims about France

From Henry Samuel, reporting some claims by Jean-Philippe Delsol:

More than half of the active French population is living off the state, according to figures in a new book by a tax lawyer seeking to explain why so many of his clients in private enterprise are leaving France.

With the country on the brink of nationwide tax revolt, Why I’m Going to Leave France, published this week, has thrown more fuel on the fire by suggesting that 14.5 million people out of the country’s 28 million-strong workforce are — one way or another— making a living off taxpayers’ money. To reach the figure, the author begins with France’s or civil servants, of which there are 5.2 million and whose number has increased by 36% since 1983. These represent 22% of the workforce compared with a European average of 15%, leading him to conclude that France has 1.5 million too many “fonctionnaires”.

He then adds the 3.2 million unemployed people in France relying on state benefits, another 1.3 million taking low-income handouts, a further two million in the “parapublic” sector — majority state-owned companies — and more than a million people in state-funded associations such as charities. Under the current Socialist government, there are 750,000 state-subsidized jobs and the author includes a million people in the agricultural sector who rely largely on contributions from European Common Agricultural Policy subsidies.

He said that the figures in his book were only logical. “When you consider that public spending in France now accounts for 57% of gross domestic product, it’s only natural that more than half of the active workforce are paid with public money,” Mr Delsol told The Daily Telegraph.

A simple theoretical first cut at these numbers suggests they bring greater cyclical stability in the short run, inferior growth over time.

For the pointer I thank the excellent MacroDigest.

Assorted links to close the day

1. On the partial end of the filibuster, Ezra Klein has a rundown on nine different ways it will matter.  Here is political scientist Gregory Koger on what it means.  Here are past posts from Monkey Cage.

2. Joe Weisenthal calls Magnus Carlsen the “first post-modern” world chess champion.  Yet I think Carlsen’s style is less boring than Weisenthal lets on — finding complexity in apparently dull positions is a skill of its own.  If Carlsen is so boring and one-dimensional as a player, why does he induce his opponents to make so many mistakes?  And how is it that Carlsen has ended up having better opening prep than Anand?

3. Larry Summers has a website.

4. Daniel Davies on demand-driven secular stagnation.  This is the version of the hypothesis which makes the most sense.

My visit to IBM Watson

I very much enjoyed my visit to their excellent Saarinen-designed building, up in Westchester County somewhere.  No office has a window but every path you might take from one part of the building to another gives you beautiful full-window views of the surrounding countryside.

I wish to thank all the people who took the time to show me and explain to me what they are up to.  Their program suggested that more dairy (milk, not coconut milk) can be blended into Thai recipes with greater gain than you otherwise might think.

I had as a personal guide the man who is the voice of Watson and I told him to go see In a World…

Their cafeteria is excellent and the people in charge understand which recipes transfer well to institutional settings and which do not.  Their vegetarian food is delicious and looks delicious, rendering the “nudge” unnecessary.  From the rest of the menu, the turkey chili is of special commendation.  Google take note, you are falling behind in the culinary department…

Cosmos and Taxis

Cosmos and Taxis: Studies in Emergent Order and Organization is a new journal that looks to be of interest.  The editor, David Emanuel Andersson, writes in the introduction:

It is our belief that Hayek and Polanyi’s contributions constitute the foundation for a new research program in the social sciences. Spontaneous-order theory has the potential for clearing up a great deal of confusion about the workings of market, democracies and the global scientific community….But spontaneous orders are only a subset of a wider class of emergent orders. As diZerega explains, emergent orders are unplanned and exhibit orderly development trajectories, but only some of them are spontaneous orders in the sense of providing easily interpreted feedback to order participants. Examples of emergent orders that are not spontaneous in the sense of Hayek or Polanyi are civil society, the ecosystem, and human cultures. Thus emergent orders in this more general sense are relevant not only to [economics, political science and the philosophy of science] but also to sociology and biology. It is our intent that Cosmos+Taxis will become an arena for multidisciplinary conversations that engage scholars across all five disciplines.

The first issue can be found here (pdf) and it contains the following pieces:

  1. Introduction – David Emanuel Andersson
  2. Outlining a New Paradigm – Gus diZerega
  3. Spontaneous Orders and the Emergence of Economically Powerful Cities – Johanna Palmberg
  4. Rules of Spontaneous Order – Jason Potts
  5. Computable Cosmos – Eric M. Scheffel
  6. Comments on Palmberg, Potts, and Scheffel – Gus diZerega

Assorted links

1. Caroline Hoxby wins a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award.

2. The decline in the Medicare hospital readmission rate.

3. David Leonhardt and Justin Wolfers team up, with others too.

4. Is there a researcher purge at the Minneapolis Fed?

5. How to achieve cultural immersion.

6. El Universal commentary on Average is Over and the new service sector jobs (in Spanish).

7. How “Big Data” is (are?) changing hiring and firing.