Month: February 2017

Extra innings start with a runner on second base

Here is a description of the proposed rule change.  Felix Salmon asked:

I know nothing about baseball, but wouldn’t this give even more of an advantage to the team batting first?

I would expect the opposite (NB: I am not suggesting a weakness in Felix’s analytical abilities, only that British people don’t usually “get” baseball).  The team batting second in the inning always has more information than the team batting first, because the home team (which bats second) knows what the visitors scored in their half of the inning.

The closer you are to “runs,” the more valuable is this differential in information.  To see this, take those cases where the first-batting team fails to score in the top of the tenth inning.  The home team can then play for “only one run.”  If no one is on base, the strategies for “only one run” and “a bunch of runs” aren’t that different.  You’d like to start with some extra base hits, home runs, etc., in either case.  But with a man already on second (or on third, to see the point more clearly), you can consider some alternate strategies, such as just poking the ball to the opposite field.  You don’t need to swing for a home run so much, or try to stretch a single into a double, and so on.  You can play more conservatively in the offense, because you know that a single run suffices to win the game.

For the team that bats first, playing for “only one run” isn’t the sure-fire clincher, and so this helps the team that bats second in the inning, the home team.

Or so it seems to me.

Addendum: Via J.C. Bradbury, Cowen’s Second Law!

Why magic is overrated

A few days ago you all were speculating about which fictional objects you might wish to own.  I was struck by how the more extravagant answers seemed to fail, and partly because of what my early teacher Ludwig Lachmann called “the complementarity of capital.”

Say you had a time machine to visit the past.  Sounds like fun, right?  But consider the violence in earlier eras, trying to understand their languages, or avoiding nasty germs and infections.  How can you return to the current day without a risk of bringing back a plague that will kill many people?  Markets have not provided the complementary goods to make these trips work.

How about a pen that creates any object you might try to draw with it?  Expect a knock on the door from McLean, or if you are less lucky some polonium in your Product 19.  I wonder for how long you could keep such a device secret, and do you always know when there is CCTV?  I wonder for how long you could stay alive.

A transporter might kill you through the act of copying you, but that aside how would you know you are not putting yourself into moving traffic or a lake?  What kind of monitoring stations do you hope to make use of?  How many cultures would attack the arriving visitor for witchcraft?  Maybe there is a way to plop down in open fields only, but at that point you might wish to consider a business class ticket along with checked bag.

Even owning something as simple as the Mona Lisa would be problematic.  You would have to protect it and install climate control — who is going to pay for that?  How might they rezone your house?  Or would you never ever tell anyone, and thus keep all your friends at a distance?  For what gain, ultimately?

Having one extra thing is devilishly hard to make extremely valuable, even if you are allowed to invent something that doesn’t exist or violate the physical laws of our universe.  The real gains in this world are from cooperation and networks of support, and having something unique doesn’t much plug you into those.  In other words, trying to bypass market evolution isn’t nearly as powerful as you might think.

What do we know about the judicial contempt power?

Nicholas R. Parrillo of Yale Law School has a new paper on this topic.  I have not yet read it, but here is the abstract:

Scholars of administrative law focus overwhelmingly on lawsuits to review federal government action while assuming that, if plaintiffs win such lawsuits, the government will do what the court says. But in fact, the federal government’s compliance with court orders is imperfect and fraught, especially with orders compelling the government to act affirmatively. Such orders can strain a federal agency’s resources, interfere with its other legally-required tasks, and force it to make decisions on little information. An agency hit with such an order will often warn the judge that it badly needs more latitude and more time to comply. Judges relent, cutting slack and extending deadlines. The plaintiff who has “won” the suit finds that victory was merely the start of a tough negotiation that can drag on for years.

These compliance negotiations are little understood. Basic questions about them are unexplored, including the most fundamental: What is the endgame? That is, if the judge concludes that the agency has delayed too long and demanded too much, is there anything she can do, at long last, to make the agency comply?

What the judge can do, ultimately, is the same thing as for any disobedient litigant: find the agency (and its high officials) in contempt. But do judges actually make such contempt findings? If so, can judges couple those findings with the sanctions of fine and imprisonment that give contempt its potency against private parties? If not, what use is contempt? The literature is silent on these questions, and conventional research methods, confined to appellate case law, are hopeless for addressing it. There are no opinions of the Supreme Court on the subject, and while the courts of appeals have handled the problem many times, they have dealt with it in a manner calculated to avoid setting clear and general precedent.

Through an examination of thousands of opinions (especially of district courts), docket sheets, briefs, and other filings, plus archival research and interviews, this Article provides the first general assessment of how federal courts handle the federal government’s disobedience. It makes four conclusions. First, the federal judiciary is willing to issue contempt findings against agencies and officials. Second, while several federal judges believe they can (and have tried to) attach sanctions to these findings, the higher courts have exhibited a virtually complete unwillingness to allow sanctions, at times swooping down at the eleventh hour to rescue an agency from incurring a budget-straining fine or its top official from being thrown in jail. Third, the higher courts, even as they unfailingly thwart sanctions in all but a few minor instances, have bent over backward to avoid making pronouncements that sanctions are categorically unavailable, deliberately keeping the sanctions issue in a state of low salience and at least nominal legal uncertainty. Fourth, even though contempt findings are practically devoid of sanctions, they have a shaming effect that gives them substantial if imperfect deterrent power.

The efficacy of litigation against agencies rests on a widespread perception that federal officials simply do not disobey court orders and a concomitant norm that identifies any violation as deviant. Contempt findings, regardless of sanctions, are a means of weaponizing that norm by designating the agency and official as violators and subjecting them to shame. But if judges make too many such findings, and especially if they impose (inevitably publicity-grabbing) sanctions, they may risk undermining the perception that officials always comply and thus the norm that they do so. The judiciary therefore may sometimes pull its punches to preserve the substantial yet limited norm-based power it has.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis, note the link to Kevin is Kevin survey some new and interesting papers on international trade.

In praise of Chelsea Clinton and Devi Sridhar

They have a new book out, namely Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?  It is to the point, clear, uses economic reasoning very well, and serves up the information you actually want to learn.  It is a look at some major public health organizations, specifically the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Gavi Alliance, the WHO, and the World Bank, and how they operate, from a public choice point of view.  It’s hard to think of many books I’ve looked at over the last year or two that so well understand the notion that readers want a “landscape” of sorts painted for them.  So if you have an interest in public health issues, or in either or both of the two authors, I can gladly recommend this to you.

Here is an earlier Chelsea Clinton memo on Haiti.

Wednesday assorted links

Is a strong dollar better than a weak dollar?

Yes, for Americans though not for the world as a whole.  For the relevant thought experiment, assume an exogenous shift in noise trading boosts the value of the dollar.  That increases the wealth of individuals and institutions that are long dollars, and presumably this is the case for this country overall.  If you owned lots of ponies, would you not want the price of ponies to go up?

A weak desire to substitute into imports could blunt this result somewhat.  Or in other words, American tourists will benefit to a disproportionate degree.

The down scenario is that a lot of emerging economies have too much dollar-denominated debt, and the second-order blowback from their potential insolvencies could hurt America too.

I am sorry this post did not come up at 3 a.m.

India Fact of the Day

In India it is illegal for the police to arrest a woman after dark. The law apparently stems from a case decades ago when a woman was arrested at night and raped by the police. The law doesn’t seem like the second-best way to prevent police rapes let alone the best way. But what should an enlightened court do? Rape is already illegal. The courts create law but the law doesn’t rule. Thus, instead of obliging the police to control themselves the law gives women the grounds to refuse arrest. Imperfect but perhaps easier to monitor.  In India the state is so weak that third and fourth best solutions may be the only ones possible.

Daily Mail Germany fact of the day but did they step on the grass?

The vast majority of left-wing protesters arrested on suspicion of politically-fuelled offences in Berlin are young men who live with their parents, a new report found.

The figures, which were published in daily newspaper Bild revealed that 873 suspects were investigated by authorities between 2003 and 2013.

Of these 84 per cent were men, and 72 per cent were aged between 18 and 29.

More than half of the arrests were made in the Berlin districts of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Mitte, mostly during demonstrations.

A third of them were unemployed, and 92 per cent still live with their parents.

The figures published in the Berlin newspaper said of the offences committed against a person, in four out of five cases the victims were police officers.

Here is the article, Eli Dourado was in some manner involved.

John Gray on Abigail Tucker’s cat book

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.

If there are people who can’t stand cats – and it seems there are many – one reason may be envy.

Gray, a renowned cultural and historical pessimist, also offers a critique of those thinkers who promote mass feline genocide, so at this point you may be wondering why he titled his book Straw Dogs.  Here is the review.  Here is Abigail Tucker’s very good cat book, The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.

Among its other improbabilities, 2016-2017 offers John Gray writing a positive review of Ross Douthat’s wife’s cat book.  What will be next?

A theory of how ordinary people can become trolls

In online communities, antisocial behavior such as trolling disrupts constructive discussion. While prior work suggests that trolling behavior is confined to a vocal and antisocial minority, we demonstrate that ordinary people can engage in such behavior as well. We propose two primary trigger mechanisms: the individual’s mood, and the surrounding context of a discussion (e.g., exposure to prior trolling behavior). Through an experiment simulating an online discussion, we find that both negative mood and seeing troll posts by others significantly increases the probability of a user trolling, and together double this probability. To support and extend these results, we study how these same mechanisms play out in the wild via a data-driven, longitudinal analysis of a large online news discussion community. This analysis reveals temporal mood effects, and explores long range patterns of repeated exposure to trolling. A predictive model of trolling behavior shows that mood and discussion context together can explain trolling behavior better than an individual’s history of trolling. These results combine to suggest that ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, behave like trolls.

That is from Cheng, Bernstein, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, and Leskovec (pdf), via the never-trolling Kevin Lewis.

What is the most underrated economy in the world right now?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, the proposed answer is Pakistan, here is the closing conclusion:

When I started pondering this “underrated” question about 15 years ago, it was mainly about guessing hidden strengths of various economies, based on esoteric knowledge of sectors and regions and histories. These days, it is most of all an exercise in gauging media overreactions. The underrated countries are places you read and hear lots about, not obscure locales you’ve barely heard of.

It’s a sad world where discarding “what you think you know that ain’t so” has so grown in importance.

Do read the whole thing.

What fictional object would you most like to own?

That is an emailed question from Cory M.

Yes, I’ve read Lord of the Rings, but no I don’t want to be corrupted.  I’m assuming that either “life extension pill” or “piles of money” are too trivial to be interesting answers.  I’m afraid that taking a Star Trek transporter trip would be akin to killing myself, plus the receiving stations would not exist.  Nor do I want an invisibility cloak.

One Reddit answer is “a key that can open any door” — nope.

A memory eraser?

How much would the Ark auction for?  Hamlet’s tunic?  How would Sotheby’s certify either one?

Varun says: “…whatever you draw with this pencil that particular thing or person becomes real…”

Let’s stick with the physical laws of this universe.  Proust’s madeleine would spoil, so how about Ahab’s harpoon?

VIX is down, again, or the show so far (again)

A few days ago Conor Sen tweeted:

It’s close right now, but today might be the lowest close for the VIX since February, 2007.

Here is the broader chart.  How can that be?  Not to mention a high Dow.

The consensus view is that the first two weeks for Trump have been an extreme disaster.  But is that true?  Protest has been robust, and so far checks and balances seem to be working.

He issued a bunch of executive orders that mostly cannot be carried through.  He still hasn’t filled most of the second-tier positions of import, and for the State Department he fired/induced to quit a whole bunch of senior figures.  That militates in favor of not much getting done.  Obamacare abolition and tax reform are being postponed until next year it seems, for better or worse.  The Wall is stupid but won’t matter much and may not even happen, given environmental review, Native American rights, and the preferences of Texas Republicans.

Trump also trampled on just about every sacred icon held by those who inhabit my Twitter feed, most of all by having Bannon insult the press by telling them to shut up for a while, and the steady stream of absurdities continues.  Yet the underlying story (NYT) seems to be about six guys in the White House who don’t know how to use the levers and pulleys of the Executive Branch.

Or consider the assessment of E. Richards:

As of now, however, events since January 20 support the conclusion that Donald Trump is not very sincere about actual, rather than verbal chaos and that his administration will mostly defend the world order status quo.

As for beating up on the marmite crowd, is there a better form of training wheels?

People, I do not favor this kind of experiment with governance or with rhetoric.  And the market is by no means always a correct forecast.  But right now it is worried less than many of you are.  I do understand that America is consuming some of its political and reputational capital.  Yet so far the best prediction is that the relatively manageable scenarios are coming to pass.

Addendum: Just think what kind of embedded embarrassment this is for the Democrats.  Whether you agree with Democratic economic policy or not, and whether you agree with the markets or not, the Democrats in effect cannot convince the markets that their presidential rule is better for capital values than is the…scenario of Trump.  The more stupidities you see, and the more you criticize him, the more painful that ouch should become.

The prophet Jonathan S. Hartley

In 2015, to make extra point plays after touchdowns more uncertain, the NFL moved the extra point distance from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line. Since the rule change, the expected points from an extra point attempt has fallen from 0.99 (averaging between the 2002 and 2014 NFL seasons) to 0.94 (averaging the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons) while the expected points from the two point conversion remains 0.95 (averaging between 2002 and 2016 NFL seasons). While the total number of two point conversion attempts per season has almost doubled, most coaches still rarely attempt 2 point conversions when it would be point maximizing (and win maximizing under risk neutral or risk seeking preferences). Using dynamic programming, this paper argues that this result is evidence of a conservative bias and that teams could improve expected wins by attempting more two point conversions.

Hartley is at the Wharton School, here is the link (pdf).