Month: May 2015
The new issue of Econ Journal Watch is online at http://econjwatch.org.
In this issue:
Evolution, moral sentiments, and the welfare state: Many now maintain that multilevel selection created a sympathetic species with yearnings for social solidarity. Several evolutionary authors on the political left suggest that collectivist politics is an appropriate way to meet that yearning. Harrison Searles agrees on evolution and human nature, but faults them for neglecting Hayek’s charge of atavism: The modern polity and the ancestral band are worlds apart, rendering collectivist politics inappropriate and misguided. David Sloan Wilson, Robert Kadar, and Steve Roth respond, suggesting that new evolutionary paradigms promise to transcend old ideological categories.
Evidence of no problem, or a problem of no evidence? In 2009, Laura Langbein and Mark Yost published an empirical study of the relationship between same-sex marriage and social outcomes. Here Douglas Allen and Joseph Price replicate their investigation, insisting that conceptual problems and a lack of empirical power undermine any claim of evidence on outcomes. Langbein and Yost reply.
The progress of replication in economics: Maren Duvendack, Richard W. Palmer-Jones, and W. Robert Reed investigate all Web of Science-indexed economics journals with regard to matters concerning replication of research, including provision of the data and code necessary to make articles replicable and editorial openness to publishing replication studies. They explain the value of replication as well as the challenges, describe its history in economics, and report the results of their investigation, which included corresponding with journal editors.
A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading: Arthur Melzer describes techniques and devices used in esoteric writing.
Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country (Part I): Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to profession economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.
Classical Liberalism in Australian Economics
Fernando Hernández Fradejas:
Liberal Economics in Spain
Liberal Economics in Poland
The Endangered Classical Liberal Tradition in Lebanon: A General Description and Survey Results
Miroslav Prokopijević and Slaviša Tasić:
Classical Liberal Economics in the Ex-Yugoslav Nations
Josef Šíma and Tomáš Nikodým:
Classical Liberalism in the Czech Republic
EJW Audio: W. Robert Reed on Replication in Economics
A resident of Mountain View writes about their interactions with self-driving cars (from the Emerging Technologies Blog):
I see no less than 5 self-driving cars every day. 99% of the time they’re the Google Lexuses, but I’ve also seen a few other unidentified ones (and one that said BOSCH on the side). I have never seen one of the new “Google-bugs” on the road, although I’ve heard they’re coming soon. I also don’t have a good way to tell if the cars were under human control or autonomous control during the stories I’m going to relate.
Anyway, here we go: Other drivers don’t even blink when they see one. Neither do pedestrians – there’s no “fear” from the general public about crashing or getting run over, at least not as far as I can tell.
Google cars drive like your grandma – they’re never the first off the line at a stop light, they don’t accelerate quickly, they don’t speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
…Google cars are very polite to pedestrians. They leave plenty of space. A Google car would never do that rude thing where a driver inches impatiently into a crosswalk while people are crossing because he/she wants to make a right turn. However, this can also lead to some annoyance to drivers behind, as the Google car seems to wait for the pedestrian to be completely clear. On one occasion, I saw a pedestrian cross into a row of human-thickness trees and this seemed to throw the car for a loop for a few seconds. The person was a good 10 feet out of the crosswalk before the car made the turn.…Once, I [on motorcycle, AT] got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too… The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don’t think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are “easy targets” in traffic.
Overall, I would say that I’m impressed with how these things operate. I actually do feel safer around a self-driving car than most other California drivers.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman.
Does that blog post header meet the standards of Buzzfeed? Not long ago I was asked this question in connection with a talk, but I didn’t have time to answer it:
Suppose you had a time machine you that you solely wanted to use for financial gain. You can bring one item from the present back to any point in the past to exchange for another item that people of that time would consider of equal value, then bring that new item back to the present. To what time period would you go, and what items would you choose to maximize your time-travel arbitrage?
The obvious answer encounters some difficulties upon reflection. Let’s say I brought gold back in time and walked into the studio of Velazquez, or some other famous painter, and tried to buy a picture for later resale in the present. At least some painters would recognize and accept the gold, and gold is highly valuable and easy enough to carry around. Some painters might want the gold weighed and assayed, but even there the deal would go fine.
The problem is establishing clear title to the painting, once you got back home. It wouldn’t turn up on any register as stolen, but still you would spend a lot of time talking to the FBI and Interpol. The IRS would want to know whether this was a long-term or short-term capital gain, and you couldn’t just cite Einstein back to them. They also would think you must have had a lot of unreported back income.
So here are a few options:
1. Find an artwork which can be marketed through the right private dealer, who will not ask too many questions. Of course that means it will sell for much less, without reliable provenance, even if it appears to be fully real and indeed is fully real. Furthermore depositing the check still will raise a lot of questions and invite a lot of scrutiny.
2. Find an artwork you might have some plausible path for owning, yet without paper record. Would that mean visiting de Kooning and, upon your return to the present, claiming that Papa gave it to you right before he passed on? That is still inviting lots of scrutiny and perhaps a polygraph as well. Plus other people, still alive, knew Papa and know he didn’t have contact with de Kooning, and wasn’t holding “Excavation” up in the attic.
3. Search out a class of artworks for which provenance is a more or less meaningless concept. But even then, you still need some story for how you came upon the work and how you could afford it.
OK, given all of this, what should you do? I do not, of course, recommend hiring someone to forge the provenance papers.
Agreement has been reached on the controversial wage agreement for members of four Icelandic unions. This means that major strike action will be called off.
The Icelandic Union of Commercial and Office Workers (VR), the Commercial Federation of Iceland (LÍV), Flóabandalagið and Stéttarfélag Vesturlands have agreed to a final version of the agreement and the characteristic aroma of waffles has filled the negotiation venue.
Making waffles is a traditional Icelandic way of marking and celebrating the successful conclusion of negotiation of this type.
The story is here, good photo of political leadership. Note that some of the unions were asking for fifty percent pay hikes and threatening strikes, I believe they did not get everything they were asking for. Yet not all is well and one can only hope that more waffling is in order:
Wage disputes remain ongoing with the Icelandic Nurse’s Association, the Icelandic Association of Academics (BHM) and the Icelandic Professional Trade Association (SGS) and strike action planned by members of these unions remains on the timetable.
For the pointer I thank Peter Kobulnicky.
1. The sports culture that is Texas. Which is also an argument for a Pigouvian approach.
The still-underrated Todd Kliman interviews her:
I’ve been given special powers, and I appoint you czar (funny, isn’t it, how we have so many appointed czars in this unaristocratic country) of food in the US. What is your first order of business? What sorts of laws do you push for? What public statements do you make? What is your 5-year plan? Your 10?
Me? A czar? My first order of business would be to go to the bathroom and throw up in sheer terror. I’m not a fan of appointed czars or of five-year plans. I am a fan of incremental changes. Look what’s happened in the 15 years since I wrote the article. Walmart’s become a major player, so has Monsanto, celebrity chefs, sustainability, and locavore have become household words, fats and sweeteners have been vilified and un-vilified, and now Taco Bell is removing artificial flavoring and coloring, corporations are scrambling to make their products appealing to those who want healthful and organic foods, and McDonald’s is in trouble. No one could have predicted or managed these changes. And many have happened through the power of the word. So I’d turn down the offer. The pen is mightier than the czar!
Some of the faux companies even hold strikes — a common occurrence in France. Axisco, a virtual payment processing center in Val d’Oise, recently staged a fake protest, with slogans and painted banners, to teach workers’ rights and to train human resources staff members to calm tensions.
The article, by Liz Alderman in the NYT, is about imaginary companies in Europe, most of all France:
More than 100 Potemkin companies like Candelia are operating today in France, and there are thousands more across Europe. In Seine-St.-Denis, outside Paris, a pet business called Animal Kingdom sells products like dog food and frogs. ArtLim, a company in Limoges, peddles fine porcelain. Prestige Cosmetique in Orleans deals in perfumes. All these companies’ wares are imaginary.
The thing is, these imaginary companies come attached to some very real benefits for workers, and, it seems, some of the capitalists too.
For the pointers I thank Rian Watt and Samir Varma.
6. Can nostalgia boost creativity? (speculative)
Most indie films and documentaries don’t get to most markets. It’s hard for a theatre to know which of the many indie films audiences really want to see and without the scale of a NYC it doesn’t make sense for theatres to gamble on a screening that might not make audience.
With Tugg, a user chooses a film and the date, time and the theatre where he or she would like it to be shown. If the theatre approves the request, Tugg creates a personalized event page for the user through which tickets can be sold. If sales meet a set threshold goal before the set deadline, then the screening is on; if not, it’s cancelled and those who bought tickets are refunded their money. As a bonus that provides ample incentive to promote screenings, users who organize events get to keep 5 percent of the gate.
…Essentially, what Tugg offers is what is known in game theory circles as an assurance contract. (That’s ASsurance, not INsurance.) As my old colleague Alex Tabarrok, who has done some pioneering work on the subject, explains:
In an assurance contract, people pledge to fund a public good if and only if enough others pledge to fund the public good. Assurance contracts were not well-known when I began to write on this topic but have now become common due to organizations like Groupon and Kickstarter, which work on this principle (indeed, I have been credited with the ideas behind Groupon, although sadly for my bank account, I don’t think that claim would stand in a court of law). Since no money is paid unless the total pledges are high enough to fund the public good, assurance contracts remove the fear that your contribution will be wasted if other people fail to contribute.
In essence, Tugg handles the logistics of creating a movie event and the assurance contract assures that the event will be profitable.
The book itself has not yet come to my pile, though perhaps it still will. This one is self-recommending, so here is the basic information, it is due out June 2:
Nearly half of the biggest US metropolitan areas have yet to recoup all the lost jobs from the Great Recession and almost a third have failed to return to previous levels of output, according to analysis that underscores the fragmenting urban fortunes beneath the surface of America’s recovery.
Research on 100 urban areas from the Brookings think-tank, reveals an economic patchwork in which the legacy of boom and bust hangs heavily over cities in Florida and inland California, while at the other end of the spectrum, technology and bioscience-focused cities such as Austin, Texas, San Francisco, and Raleigh, North Carolina have comfortably surpassed their previous peaks.
“This may be the norm now — extreme variation,” said Mark Muro, policy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Washington-based Brookings.
A memorial dedicated to the 32 Basque whalers who were killed in the West Fjords in 1615 in what’s known as Iceland’s only mass murder was unveiled in Hólmavík, the West Fjords, on April 22, the last day of winter. At the occasion, West Fjords district commissioner Jónas Guðmundsson revoked the order that Basques could be killed on sight in the region.
“Of course it’s more for fun; there are laws in this country which prohibit the killing of Basques,” Jónas told mbl.is. When asked whether he’s noticed an increase of Basque tourists since the order was revoked, he responded, “at least it’s safe for them to come here now.”
President of Gipuzkoa Martin Garitano spoke at the ceremony, as did Icelandic Minister of Education and Culture Illugi Gunnarsson, strandabyggd.is reports. The speeches were followed by musical performances and a moment of prayer.
The program included Xabier Irujo, descendant of one of the murdered Basque whale hunters, and Magnús Rafnsson, descendant of one of the murderers, taking part in a symbolic reconciliation, as it says on etxepare.eus.
There is more here, via Peter Kobulnicky.
The Essential Hayek, by Don Boudreaux. I cannot (yet?) find an Amazon listing.
Adrian Wooldridge, The Great Disruption: How Business is Coping with Turbulent Times.
Steven J. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, When to Rob a Bank…and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants.
Brendan O’Flaherty, The Economics of Race in the United States.
Right now there is lots in the pile, but I thought I should let you know about those right away.
Ants — most are teeny creatures with brains smaller than pinheads — engineer traffic better than humans do. Ants never run into stop-and-go-traffic or gridlock on the trail. In fact, the more ants of one species there are on the road, the faster they go, according to new research.
Researchers from two German institutions — the University of Potsdam and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg — found a nest of black meadow ants (Formica pratensis) in the woods of Saxony. The nest had four trunk trails leading to foraging areas, some of them 60 feet long. The researchers set up a camera that took time-lapse photography, and recorded the ants’ comings and goings.
…Oddly, the heavier the traffic, the faster the ants marched. Unlike humans driving cars, their velocity increased as their numbers did, and the trail widened as the ants spread out.
In essence ants vary the number of open lanes, but they have another trick as well:
“Ant vision is not that great, so I suspect that most of the information comes from tactile senses (antennas, legs). This means they are actually aware of not only the ant in front, but the ant behind as well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That reduces the instability found in automobile highways, where drivers only know about the car in front.”
Driverless vehicles can of course in this regard be more like ants than humans.