Category: Television

Markets in everything: Boxing Day edition

After years of petty arguments over who gets the prime position in front of the television, West Yorkshire grandmother Bev Stewart was so sick of the Boxing Day sibling squabbles and infighting among her 25 family members, that she auctioned the front-row seat on eBay.

She claimed on the ebay advert that the prime position in her Stockbridge home was “a very comfy and popular item” before opening the auction to all members of her fractious family.

…Nanna Stewart’s daughter-in-law Alexis won the auction with her £13.50, outbidding the 17 other family rivals. Alexis is likely to share the coveted couch with her 11-month-old son Mark for the whole day the Boxing Day.

Nanna Stewart said: "There is always arguing over who gets it, it’s the perfect seat. It is straight in front of the TV and has got the coffee table at the side for you to rest your drink on and the TV remote, so everybody wants to sit there.”

Here is more.  I thank Mark Chambers, a loyal MR reader, for the pointer.

Regulatory accountability

A handful of the agency’s [Office of Thrift Supervision] officials were always on the scene at an
A.I.G. Financial Products branch office in Connecticut, but it is
unclear whether they raised any red flags. Their reports are not made
public and a spokeswoman would not provide details.

Here is the story, interesting throughout.  One response to this anecdote is to think we simply needed more regulators on the scene and indeed on many other scenes as well.  A different response is to conclude that institutions of many different kinds work less well than we used to think.

And Now for Something Completely Different

  • Philosopher Saul Smilansky says his work is a cross between Kant and Monty Python. I’m not sure I’d go that far but I enjoyed hearing Smilansky and Will Wilkinson on blogginheadstv.  I discussed Smilansky’s paradox of retirement argument earlier.  He is now out with a book, Ten Moral Paradoxes.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles doesn’t get any respect but I thought the first season was great in an action-packed, edge-of-your seat, thrill-seeking sort of way.  The second season has just begun.  Summer Glau plays the Spock/Data learning-to-be-human cyborg that John Connor can’t admit he wants to interface with.

The median voter theorem

John A. Courson, chief operating officer of the Mortgage Bankers
Association, a trade group, also pointed with relief to the statement
by the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr. on Sunday morning that Fannie and Freddie would examine the fees they
charge banks for loan securitization services, “with an eye toward
mortgage affordability.”

Don’t they…um…"need the money"?  And:

“The government doesn’t have a great deal of interest in foreclosing on
a ton of homes,” said Kurt Eggert, a law professor at Chapman
University in Orange, Calif., and a former member of the Federal
Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council.

And:

While it is not yet clear whether stockholders in Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac will be wiped out entirely, Mr. Paulson did say on Sunday
that the entities “will no longer be managed with a strategy to
maximize common shareholder returns.”

That’s some theorem.  Here is the article.

Do economists think TV is good for you?

In a nutshell, yes:

The variation Mr. Gentzkow
and Mr. Shapiro exploited was the timing of the introduction of TV into
different cities. Television began taking off in the U.S. in 1946,
after a wartime ban on TV production was lifted. But the Federal
Communications Commission stopped granting new commercial television
licenses from September 1948 to April 1952 while it made changes in
allocating broadcast spectrum. There was a long lag between when some
cities got television and when others did.

The economists then
looked at results of a survey of 800 U.S. schools that administered
tests to 346,662 sixth-grade, ninth-grade and 12th-grade students in
1965. Their finding: Adjusting for differences in household income,
parents’ educational background and other factors, children who lived
in cities that gave them more exposure to television in early childhood
performed better on the tests than those with less exposure.

The
economists found that television was especially positive for children
in households where English wasn’t the primary language and parents’
education level was lower. "We don’t exactly know why that is, but a
plausible interpretation is that the effect of television on cognitive
development depends on what other kinds of activity television is
substituting for," says Mr. Shapiro, 28.

Here is much more.  And yes the "Mr. Shapiro" is in fact Wunderkind Jesse Shapiro, a familiar figure to MR readers everywhere.  You’ll find two versions of the paper here.

Addendum: Here is Alex’s excellent post on the topic.

Top Chef

This one is a request from a long time ago.  Wintercow20, a loyal MR reader, asked:

What do you think of Top Chef? I am an addict!

I am a fan of reality TV but mostly I have chosen blogging instead.  I’ve seen about a dozen Top Chef episodes, mostly through the urging of darling Yana.  Mark of excellence: the drama is so good that the commentary makes sense even though you can’t taste the food.  It’s a show about learning, excellence, and motivation.  The voice-over narratives are an object lesson in behavioral economics and self-deception.

Here is a wonderful post by Grant McCracken on reality TV; excerpt:

Reality programming is not just cheap TV, it is responsive TV. Surely,
one of the most sensible way for the programming executive to
get back in touch with contemporary culture is to turn the show offer
to untrained actors who have no choice but to live on screen, in the
process importing aspects of contemporary culture that would otherwise
have to be bagged and tagged and brought kicking and screaming into
the studio and prime time.  Reality programming is contemporary culture
on tap.  It is by no means a "raw feed."  That is YouTube’s job.  But
it is fresher than anything many executives could hope to manage by
their own efforts.  In effect, reality programming is "stealing
signals" from an ambient culture, helping TV remain in orbit.  (Mixed
metaphor alert.  Darn it, too late.)

Grant adds: "Reality programming also serves as a way for a divergent culture to
stay in touch."

Addendum: I don’t see why she married Salman Rushdie; books are reproducible after all.

Second addendum: Here is Matt Yglesias, on the new form of reality TV…markets indeed in truly everything.

Good sentences

The marriage between sport and broadcasters, though long and
successful, has been changing in a number of ways. First, the
fragmentation of audiences among hundreds of channels has given the
most popular sports enormous bargaining power. As the number of
channels has multiplied, large audiences have become much harder to
find, but sport has retained its ability to supply them.

Here is more.  Here are related articles on globalization and sports.

Google Street View is not popular in Japan

According to the morals of urban area residents in Japan, the assumption that “it is scenery [viewable] from public roads and therefore it must be public” is in fact incorrect. Quite the contrary, [these morals state that] “people walking along public roads must avert their glance from the living spaces right before their eyes."

…With this culture [of privacy], if you were to walk along a residential street in an urban area of Tokyo, every 10 meters surveying all 360 degrees of your surroundings, there’s no question that you would be reported to the police within 30 minutes. Even just filming the scenery from the street with camera in hand, there’s no question that if you tried to shoot the area not covered by Street View, you would be asked, after initial questioning, to come to either the Ikegami Police Station or the Den-en-Chofu Police Station.

Here is the full story, interesting throughout.  Keep also in mind that Japanese urban residents are more likely to urinate in public or use a love hotel than are, I think, most Americans. 

I thank Riemannzeta for the pointer.

Bad News, Good News

Yesterday, I was supposed to be on Street Signs with Erin Burnett to talk about the effect of the Iraq war on the state of the economy.  Sadly, they canceled me at the last minute.  Bummer.  Then when I got home, there it was, waiting, mocking, the Tivo recording of "my show."  I felt bad but… I had to watch.

Heh, they got Joe Stiglitz to replace me!  Well, anything less than a Nobel prize and I would have been insulted but I feel much better now!  Amusingly, Stiglitz and I are good substitutes on this issue.  In case you are wondering, we both think that at the present time the net effect of the Iraq war is (modestly) contractionary rather than stimulative due to higher oil prices, higher interest rates and less wealth.

The secrets of *Lost*, revealed

The Buddhist notion of "Dharma" refers to a state of affairs where people are liberated from the cycles of both birth and death.  Babies cannot be born on the island and it is an open question whether one can really die there so the island is an attempt to realize this ideal.  Of course the original project on the island is called The Dharma Initiative.  The Buddhist notion of Bardo involves reviewing the major events of one’s previous life, as represented by the show’s frequent flashbacks.  More generally the islanders are most likely experiencing a cycling of bardos and it is no accident that we are now peering into their futures.  Ben and Widmore represent two evil spirits of the Buddhist pantheon, dueling for the power to corrupt and to control life and death.  The numbers which reappear in various contexts, including 108, and the sequence of winning lottery numbers, are taken from Buddhist mythology (see the links).  Desmond’s retreat from the world, and his ability to foresee Charlie’s death, are both very Buddhist themes.  Claire’s baby is probably a reincarnation and John Locke is arguably a Tulku and he is explicitly tested as such in the last season.  The names Rousseau, Hume, and Locke are used because one theme is Western philosophy confronting the truths of the East.  Here is more and try this too though it is vague.  Here’s the single best page.  Aldous Huxley is an influence as well.  The Buddhist interpretation isn’t new, but no one quite seems to have said "This is it."  Toss in time travel, and a bunch of women who look like underwear models, and you can explain most of the apparent anomalies in the plot.

How to bargain with aliens

Let’s say you meet up with an alien race and you need to bargain with them by radio or some other method of signaling.  You don’t have any other information other than your knowledge of human beings.  What traits should you think are overrepresented in humans, relative to what a rerun of evolution can be expected to produce in an intelligent being?  Would you expect them to be more or less benevolent than humans?

Should it matter if they have demonstrated superior technology?  Should such achievement make you think they are more or less cooperative toward "outsiders"?

Let’s say the "alien beings" are designed robots, like Cylons.  How would that change your answer?  But unlike in BSG you know only that they were once designed.  What if you know the robots were designed not by evolved beings but by other designed robots?  Does it matter how many levels of robot design enter the picture?