What is love?

When you first fall in love, you are not experiencing an emotion, but a motivation or drive, new brain scanning studies have shown.

The early stages of a romantic relationship spark activity in dopamine-rich brain regions associated with motivation and reward. The more intense the relationship is, the greater the activity.

Here is the best part, or I suppose I should say the worst part:

Early on in a relationship, the images showed that the brain seems to be very focused on planning and pursuit of pleasurable reward, says Fisher, mediated by regions called the right caudate nucleus and right ventral tegmentum. The same regions become active when a person enjoys the pleasure of eating chocolate, she adds…There are also patterns that resemble aspects of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Here is the story from New Scientist, here is related research on the links between love and OCD. The research also suggests gender differences; male love has more to do with lust than does female love.

Deficit Disorder to get Attention?

Bruce Bartlett predicts that Howard Dean will run as a fiscal conservative on the Robert Rubin model. He quotes from Rubin’s new book

“The view over the next few years that fiscal discipline was being restored contributed to lower interest rates and increased confidence, and that led to more spending and investment, which in turn led to job creation, lower unemployment rates and increased productivity.”

and writes:

There I think you have the Democrats’ 2004 economic playbook. We are going to hear it over and over again. Howard Dean is already preparing to run as a fiscal conservative. With Rubin at his side, once he gets the Democratic nomination, he is going to get support from some of those ordinarily expected to support the Republican candidate.

The fact that Dean, the presumptive Democratic nominee, plans to forego matching funds means he will have to go to Wall Street and the business community for campaign contributions, which will reinforce the need for him to make fiscal responsibility a key issue. With his left-wing base secured by Iraq and Bush hatred, they will say nothing critical of Dean’s move to the right on fiscal policy.

The Colombian paradox

There is no logical paradox here, just a series of facts that I, upon reflection, find shocking.

Read this opening sentence from yesterday’s New York Times:

This strategically situated Andean country, with Latin America’s fifth-largest economy, had for years posted solid economic growth while controlling its foreign debt.

But not all is well in this economic paradise:

…heavy government spending in recent years, some of it for a military buildup encouraged by American officials, has led to serious economic problems that are worrying Wall Street and Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe. The economic difficulties, particularly a burdensome public debt, threaten one of Latin America’s few economic bright spots.

I don’t mean this as Times-bashing (a popular sport in the blogosphere), the description offered in this article in consistent with other sources I have read. Oddly, Colombia has flourished economically in spite of some minor difficulties in its recent past and present, namely the following:

1. “A 40-year insurgent campaign to overthrow the Colombian Government escalated during the 1990s.” From a CIA Factbook.

2. “…large swaths of the countryside are under guerrilla influence”, same source and link.

3. Colombia is the kidnapping capital of the world. I wrote the following in late October:

About 90 percent of all kidnappings take place in the ten riskiest countries…with Colombia a clear leader, reporting 10 kidnappings a day, more than half of the total. The police in Colombia admit that 1500 kidnapped hostages are held currently, the true number is likely much higher. Kidnapping is estimated to be a $200 million tax-free business in Colombia.

4. The Lonely Planet Guide, an adventurous source, hardly a bible for the Club Med set, describes the country as “off limits to all but the most foolhardy travelers.”

Get the picture? Yes, I am puzzled at how resilient the Colombian economy has been. And the reported statistics presumably do not include the illegal drug trade, and thus they underestimate how well the country has been doing.

Why don’t we have congestion pricing for roads?

Congestion pricing would limit traffic jams and increase efficiency, by virtually all standard economic accounts. So why is it such a political non-starter? After all, drivers would be the main beneficiaries.

I think Will Baude nails a good part of the answer. People don’t want to give government another revenue source, and they don’t trust government to give them the money back in the form of either a tax rebate or better services. I feel the same way. Sad, isn’t it?

Here is how Will puts it:

This [congestion pricing] is, in essence, like saying to all commuters “hey, why don’t you guys all subsidize the budget problem? Oh, but as a consolation for your lost money, we’ll solve your congestion problem.” Now, congestion is problematic, but so is losing money, as a group. Commuters are probably right to oppose congestion taxes, so long as there’s any serious risk of the money being used to “fix the state’s budget problems.”

Of course, mistrust of government is not the only problem. People seem to think that traveling on the road is a God-given right, and that a toll is a greater infringement of that right than is a traffic jam. But I can’t imagine this mental attitude lasting forever, just try a trip around the Capital Beltway at 5 p.m. on a rainy day.

You can’t always trust the dictionary

The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, published in June, defines a “McJob” as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”

Merriam-Webster’s announced yesterday, much to the chagrin of McDonald’s, that they would not revise this definition.

Here is a more balanced perspective:

McDonald’s is paying considerably higher than the minimum wage in most regions, and many franchises are now offering health and dental benefits. The average manager in a company-owned McDonald’s starts in the mid 30s. As for dead-end jobs, with one-eighth of the American work force having worked for a McDonald’s at some point, the company has rightly been called America’s best job-training program. Young people are taught cleanliness, punctuality, and basic business skills. Over half of the company’s middle and senior management started as hourly workers.

My take: Right now 12 million people work in the restaurant industry, many of them in the fast food sector. So many people work for McDonald’s because the company, adjusting for all relevant factors, offers them a higher wage than is available elsewhere.

The economic behavior of children

Yes, there is a whole web site about the economic behavior of children.

Here is one of the listed abstracts:

We study the development of bargaining behavior in children age 7 through 18, using ultimatum and dictator games. We find bargaining behavior changes substantially with age and that most of this change appears to be related to changes in preferences for fairness, rather than bargaining ability. Younger children make smaller dictator proposals than older children, and they also make and accept smaller ultimatum proposals. Even young children seem to be quite strategic in their behavior. Boys claim to be more aggressive bargainers than girls do, but they are not. We also find a relative height effect: within each experimental group, taller children make much smaller dictator offers. Since gender and height are correlated, height alone explains part of the gender effects. We argue that the existence of systematic differences in bargaining behavior across age supports the argument that culture is a determinant of economic behavior, and suggests that people acquire this culture during childhood. We argue that the height differences indicate that forces other than culture are also important.

In other words, we learn our sense of fairness, and unfairness, over time. And boys aren’t so tough after all, although they pretend to be. Here is the original paper. And thanks to Ben Muse for the pointer.

Another piece listed on the web site has the rather sinister title: “Economic Experiments You Can Perform at Home On Your Children”. Scary, no? They could have at least referred to experiments “with” your children.

And while we are on the topic, a hearty congratulations to Eugene Volokh, legal scholar and blogger extraordinaire, new father of a splendid baby boy, yes the link is a lovely photo.

This growth rate deserves publicity too

Confounding President Bush’s pledges to rein in government growth, federal discretionary spending expanded by 12.5 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, capping a two-year bulge that saw the government grow by more than 27 percent, according to preliminary spending figures from congressional budget panels.

And no, it is not just the war against terrorism:

Much of the increase was driven by war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as homeland security spending after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But spending has risen on domestic programs such as transportation and agriculture, as well. Total federal spending — including non-discretionary entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — reached $2.16 trillion in 2003, a 7.3 percent boost, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Here is the full and sad story. You would think that with a (quarterly) growth rate of 7.2 percent, the rate of growth of major spending categories would be lower than that figure, but alas not.

Henny Youngman once said:

“What good is happiness? It can’t buy money.”

Here is an insightful review of Gregg Easterbrook’s new The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Why is it that we are wealthier than ever before, but not much happier?

The reviewer, drawing on Easterbrook’s text, suggests a few answers. Bad news sells, and progress always brings new problems. People will always envy their neighbors and compare their lot in relative terms. The bottom line?:

“We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones,” evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright has written.

I’ll blog more about this book when my copy arrives.

A monocausal theory of the aggregate divorce rate?

The divorce rate is almost perfectly predictable from the proportion of men to women in the population. In 1920, when the annual divorce rate was eight per one thousand married women, there were 104 males for every female. By 1980 the tables had turned, and there were only ninety-five males for every one hundred females, and the divorce rate had risen to twenty-three per one thousand married women. The sex ratio has remained virtually unchanged for the past thirty years and is paralleled by a steadily high divorce rate. The correlation betwee the population sex ratio (or number of males per one hundred females) and the divorce rate at four-year intervals between 1896 and 1992 was -.91, indicating that changes in the number of men relative to women accounts for 83 percent of the changes in divorce rate.

From Nigel Barber’s The Science of Romance who, on this claim, cites his own Why Parents Matter.

Can this be true? If it is such a neat fact, why have I never heard it before?

A good bit of web searching yielded surprisingly little enlightenment. One Amazon reviewer writes:

On page 150, Barber refers to a 1983 book purporting that the increasing divorce rate was due to a shortage of marriagable men. That was true in 1983. Barber fails to note that by 1987 the marriageable male/female ratio reversed, and we’re now in a “women shortage” era.

Point well taken, we should consider the sex ratio of marriageable people, not the overall sex ratio. More significantly, the general rate of American divorce is rising over time. The sex ratio has been moving in favor of more women as well, at least until recently, perhaps because survival out of childhood depends less on parental discretionary investments, noting that many parents prefer boys to girls. So the correlation may be spurious, rather than representing causality.

The fact is intriguing, but so far it is not a good monocausal theory of the divorce rate.

Game I, man vs. machine

It is a draw, here is one account, here is a link to the moves and other background. Kasparov had a clear edge, in my view, but was unable to convert his position into victory. The computer played its typical perfect defense and Kasparov’s advantage slipped away entirely. They then settled for a draw by perpetual check.

Bottom line: This has to be heartening to the computer fans. Kasparov can’t expect many better chances to win. Three more games to go, and now the computer has white.

Addendum: Here is an easier link to the moves, with quality analysis. I would have played 21. Q x c6, more resilient than it looks, instead of Kasparov’s 21. Ng3.

Man vs Machine II

Regarding this week’s man vs machine chess match. Tyler writes:

I was surprised to see Kasparov favored. Once he lost to Deep Blue, the last big match (Kramnik vs. Deep Fritz) was a draw. I know it is not as simple as Moore’s Law, but hey, don’t these machines improve their game more rapidly than the human players do?

Indeed, they do. Deep Blue was a very expensive, very fast computer specialized for chess and capable of examining some 200 million positions per second. Fritz is no slouch but it is being run on a more or less ordinary four processor Xeon computer capable of analyzing 3 million moves a second. Fritz is thus about 70 times less powerful than Deep Blue. Yet because of improvements in algorithms, Fritz is almost certainly the better player. So the computer players have improved tremendously over the past 6 years – so much so that the computer side is no longer bothering to field its best against the weak humans!

Addendum: Here’s a graph, from Jeff Sonas, of the top computer player ratings versus the top human player. Although, it is true, as Sonas argues, that the best programs do not beat the very best human players but only draw consistently it may simply be inherent in chess that it is impossible or near impossible to beat someone who is playing at the very highest level (similarly it’s impossible for even a mediocre human player to lose in tic-tac-toe.) We should not conclude from this that the computers aren’t improving. Thanks to Nathan Stocker for the link.


Who are the big nationalizers?

From 1960 to 1992, which countries nationalized the most industries? (N.B.: Data are not available for every country, the source is a new book about multinationals, called GlobalInc.)

The winners are Chile, Algeria, and Tanzania, which all lie in the “31-50” range. Chile, of course, has undone most of its earlier mischief, and has grown rapidly and moved to democracy. Algeria is wracked by a disastrous civil war and economic collapse. Tanzania has privatized more than 380 of 400 state-owned companies, read here, which is one reason why their growth rates have been exceeding five percent, despite miserable infrastructure.