Saturday assorted links


1) I am embarrassed for the authors. Horrible questions and the separation between above average affluence and below average are almost meaningless.

6) CCTV, which all liberals said would do 'nothing' are the most important factor in the reduction of bank robberies. Amazing. I personally, would have figured it was the reduction in cash overall, but if the police say it is CCTV and they can back it up (as was done in the story) then more power to them.

I don't know if "all" liberals said that. I don't think "all" of any group completely agrees on any one subject. I will say that many people, on both sides of the political spectrum, don't like the idea of living in a state of constant surveillance, be it CCTV, or the monitoring of cell phones, texts, or emails. Or maybe we're coming from different places. Maybe I'm American and you're British and you're talking about a debate specific to places like London.

In general, I find that whichever group is not in power hates it when the group in power puts up surveillance system. If Liberals are charge, Conservatives scream about the loss of privacy. If Conservatives do it, Liberals will scream about the loss of privacy. People tend to be more OK with being watched when they're buddies are watching, and tend to be more scared when they're enemies are the ones pointing the camera and recording everything. I think that's just human nature. Even then, both sides will have a bloc that cherishes freedom more than security, and both will have a bloc with a "if you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear" attitude.

A friend of mine was a bank teller for several years, and she was robbed about five years ago. I don't think bank robberies are that uncommon. The same bank was robbed about a month ago, but she doesn't work there anymore, partly because she was pretty shaken up by the first one.

Both perpetrators were arrested, and both were pretty dumb people. Successful bank robberies may be on the decline, but I'm skeptical total bank robberies are in decline. On the other side of the ledger, it's pretty safe to rob a bank. Banks have policies on what to do in a robbery, and usually they explicitly exclude shooting the perpetrator. It's not like the old days, when there might be an armed guard there.

In university I worked part-time as a security guard. The day after my interview they called me up and asked if I could work that morning. I picked up the uniform and was placed in a bank that had recently been a target of robbers who hit multiple banks at a time. As I was standing behind the tellers daydreaming about a Uni beergarden or party, there was suddenly a frenzy of activity and fear while the manager ran up to me and asked me to stand at the front door. A bank up the road had just been robbed and everyone was freaking out.

Standing at that door with a three-hour-old security badge and a mountain of very misplaced trust in my abilities was pretty surreal - and undoubtedly one reason for the decline in bank robberies noted in the story.

It has recently been written that over 60% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and that over 70% are living from paycheck to paycheck. My tenants are these people, and they make terrible financial decisions. When it comes to big ticket items, they don't care how much the items cost, all they care about are the monthly payments. If one pays off a vehicle, he/she almost immediately goes out and finances a new vehicle, and obligates himself/herself to make payments that are higher, and are made over a longer period of time, than the payments that he/she had been making on the former vehicle. If my tenants take trips, have unexpected vet bills for their sick pets, have to make vehicle repairs, etc, I get my rents late, and many times I receive them in partial increments.

I have quite a few rentals, and most of my tenants make their financial decisions, impulsively, to satisfy their needs for immediate gratification. I have become a very soft landlord, and am probably an inadvertent enabler. I'm the last person they pay.

My tenants are addicted to debt. They make their financial decisions the way the US Defense Department makes financial decisions. In the U.S. where almost all big ticket items are financialized with other peoples money, whether it's the average debt serf buying a new forty thousand dollar pickup, or the Defense Department spending a trillion dollars on the F-35 Lightning, immediate gratification is the rule, not the exception.

As one guy I know put it, "Hey, I can either be broke and have no car, or be broke and have a new car." That is, if his options were between zero savings, zero debt, and zero car, or zero savings, debt, and a car, he'd prefer the latter. It may not be financially sound, but I think it's an expression of a feeling of financial hopelessness, and a grasp for something better that might make life a little bit more tolerable.

I'd also argue that plenty of people with money also make terrible financial decisions. Tons of people buy a $750,000 house when they really should've kept it under $500,000 (adjust home prices to your local market, but the point still stands). I dare say most everyone I know who has been approved for a mortgage has been approved for an amount above what is financially responsible for them to accept. Some people assume that if someone is willing to lend you a certain amount, it must be reasonable for you to borrow that amount. That's a problem that I've seen at all sorts of income levels, from the very poor to the quite rich.

This makes no sense. They can have a paid off car and no debt.

The choice they are making is new car with tons of debt or old car with no debt.

#5 - Tennis fix - I think the 538 article is wrong, in that it applies a so-called "Bonferroni correction" to the data, assuming a 'multiple-comparisons' problem, which is way too conservative. Specifically, the B-correction solves this problem, but note the caveat: (Wikipedia): "For example, one might declare that a coin was biased if in 10 flips it landed heads at least 9 times. Indeed, if one assumes as a null hypothesis that the coin is fair, then the probability that a fair coin would come up heads at least 9 out of 10 times is (10 + 1) × (1/2)10 = 0.0107. This is relatively unlikely, and under statistical criteria such as p-value < 0.05, one would declare that the null hypothesis should be rejected — i.e., the coin is unfair. A multiple-comparisons problem arises if one wanted to use this test (which is appropriate for testing the fairness of a single coin), to test the fairness of many coins. Imagine if one were to test 100 fair coins by this method. Given that the probability of a fair coin coming up 9 or 10 heads in 10 flips is 0.0107, one would expect that in flipping 100 fair coins ten times each, to see a particular (i.e., pre-selected) coin comes up heads 9 or 10 times would still be very unlikely, but seeing any coin behave that way, without concern for which one , would be more likely than not. Precisely, the likelihood that all 100 fair coins are identified as fair by this criterion is (1 − 0.0107)100 ≈ 0.34. Therefore, the application of our single-test coin-fairness criterion to multiple comparisons would be more likely to falsely identify at least one fair coin as unfair."

But in the tennis fixing database it's easy to determine "which one" of the players is a cheat, so it's not proper to apply a Bonferroni correction.

In short, the 538 analysis is too "player friendly" and "innocent until proven guilty", which is too much on the side of caution. After all, a core group (4 or more) people have been found to consistently lose matches where they are favorites but the odds are strangely in favor of their opponent. And the 538 analysis improperly used median odds not opening odds, which further skews the results in favor of "innocent until proven guilty".

Chess analogy: if one player--as has happened--consistently wins chess games against stronger players when in the immediate past he was a mediocre player, he is either: (1) a fast learner who is suddenly improving, or, (2) cheating. The 538 analysis "assumes" the former and sets a very high bar in an attempt to prove this hypothesis. More probable is that the player is cheating. That said, you should not ban the player unless you catch him: (1) making the very same moves a chess computer would make (which is very improbable for even the best human player over the course of a long game), or, (2) catch the cheater red handed with a chess playing pocket computer in his shoe or behind the water closet in the bathroom (as has happened).

And I speak as somebody who aced their "Stat 101" course in college.

1. Ridiculous article. About what you'd expect from the WaPo.

"Conservative experts on poverty often argue that it is a result of personal failings and bad choices, including financial choices, on the part of the poor. The liberal counterargument is typically that poverty itself causes intense stress that impairs sound decision-making." First clue that this study is phony.

If you're a poor person, there might be other options than an iPad. Maybe no iPad.

Rolling the dice? Just a confusing question that anybody could misinterpret.

Price of beer? The story actually negates hundreds of years of economic study.


The "rolling the dice" question was pretty dumb. People aren't going to take the first bet for the simple reason that they don't want to take advantage of someone. They will be more likely to take the second bet because it's "fairer."

There is an obvious explanation for the third question, people don't like getting ripped off. It's socially acceptable to pay a lot of money for beer at a resort, paying an excessive amount for beer at the gas station means you're a schmuck.

not only ripped off, they don't want to be in the social situation of having their friend be forced to come back empty handed because you were percieved as being cheap.

Right, an iPad is a crappy product and I would never spend my own money on one. If I did I would 1) know that almost any store will price match and 2) buy used. Any fiscally responsible person would be insulted enough at the notion of an Apple product to walk away from the survey.

As you point out the answer to the second question is wrong on so many levels. They don't specify the number of pips on the dice, it is quite possible the dice are constructed such that they always show a 7 or 12 when rolled together. Furthermore, it is easy enough to cheat at dice to skew the odds. Plus there is the cost of straining the friendship if you win, and the cost of getting caught violating gaming laws.

I'm still surprised that people will actually pay money for beer; I would need to be paid a lot, and would only do it if they could certify the supply chain. There are a lot of reasons not to want to violate state liquor laws or through an uncertified supply chain. The other questions are so stupid I could see someone trying to interpret the question such that they would go to the hotel, since the question doesn't entirely prohibit that (in which case your friend would stand in line while you were at the hotel table).

Tyler, please contact Mr. Bezos and have the editor responsible for the article fired.

#1 is just odd and seems to willfully ignore how people think.

"Is it a bet?" is 1. confusing because it's not a bet as you literally have nothing to loose. you're not gambling you're accepting free money (my initial thoughts) 2. this seems to be a question of what people consider to be implicit in the question. Are you dumber for thinking reciprocal costs for the bet than if you realize the question is intentionally a stupid question?

3 ignores the relative value of the 5 or 6 dollars is going to be different for different people and that there is a real social cost to having the person run to the store and run back without buying the stuff for you. Similarly people are recorded as preferring not to be scammed by prices (or perceived to be scammed) thus cap their purchases. Essentially they aren't actually telling the person the maximum price they are willing to buy a beer they are just telling them the max price they are willing to have the other person buy in the specific social situation.


mental error 50$
best example yet there still are implicit problems. you build into your suggestions
the problem is all this stuff was relevant to this question.

#3...I'm a big fan of Forrest McDonald having read almost all of his books, and I vividly remember the C-Span interview. Now, maybe I'm dense this way, but I've never found his writings particularly ideological. I remember trying to figure out if he was a Federalist or Jeffersonian while reading one book. Bottom line...Whatever he called himself, his books are valuable for everyone...Regardless of creed...well, you know.

2. Monetarists fixated on gold is not altogether different from Keynesians fixated on the 1930s; in case the Keynesians haven't noticed, the Fed didn't respond in 2008 in the way the Fed respond in 1929. As for the monetarists, there's always gold.

That article on rich vs. poor decision-making is awful. All of those questions permit a lot of nuanced thought, and the author (presumably Shah, too, but I don't know for sure) shows zero. How about I'd be more likely to believe the clerk if the iPad costs $1000? How about the first version of the bet is so unclear that I wasn't sure if I'd owe $9 if I lose the bet? How about a nice store is less likely to sell skunked beer? And so on.

1) Not believing that a company will adequately fund its pension and be able to pay them from it.

#1) One implication here is that consumer financial protection laws direct taxpayer dollars towards activities that help upper income people more than lower income people, who don't need the help as much due to their better financial decision making. Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is an instrument of inequality.

1) The study in the article wasn't that interesting, but here is one obvious answer to the question in the link: Poor people are less likely to waste their money on new cars, and they are much less likely to lease (

4. Amanda Hess Slate piece (serious, safe for work) on VR porn.

Is it just me or did Slate really want to hire a new Science editor? I am not sure why persistently informing the people reading about Virtual Porn is a good idea. Unless, I suppose, they want more of those sort of stories.

6. Are bank heists a thing of the past?

German police say that some former members of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, that is, the Red Army Fraction, have left their DNA all over a botched heist in Germany. It is nice to see old age pensioners getting out and about. Perhaps, though, they have been in prison so long they did not get the memo?

The IRA is supposed to have taken a bank down in order to fund its pensions. Terrorists don't have, I suppose, a lot of other transferable skills.

And it reinforces a basic belief of mine - prison works, letting people out doesn't.

#1: Well, it's pretty obvious that what separates rich and poor is not how carefully they make decisions with their income. It's what their income actually is. There's some separation on this trait of financial sense, but generally the rich are people with high incomes who spend foolishly while the poor are people with lower incomes who spend foolishly. There aren't really conscientious well off, who are well off purely because they're very careful with money, despite a very low income, are there? The rich tend and well off have marketable skills, high ambitions (they don't "make do" with a little when they can get a lot) and few significant health problems that impede work, not any particularly great degree of financial self responsibility.

"6. Are bank heists a thing of the past?"

They're definitely not a business for the future. Inside 20 years, most miles driven in the U.S. will be by fully autonomous automobiles owned by fleet owners (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Hertz, etc.). Those vehicles will very likely have cameras inside. But even if they don't, the fleet owners (and therefore police) will easily know where the cars came from and where they went. So any escape from banks will have to be on foot. Tough way to make a buck.

#1 I don't think these experiments at all capture what conservatives mean when they say that the poor are "financially irresponsible." Terrible article.

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