What liberal media?

Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media? attempted to rebut charges that American mass media have a left-leaning bias. Conservative pundits dominate talk radio, many liberal outlets carry conservative commentators, market-oriented ideas are ascendant in the think tank world, and, I might add, many bloggers have a libertarian orientation. So Alterman’s response has some punch. Anna Schwarz offers a good review of the book, in Jeffrey Friedman’s on-line The Dissident, you might know Jeff from his editorship of and writings in Critical Review, he is an impressive intellectual polyglot.

Schwarz concedes many of Alterman’s points, but does not believe that Alterman has dismissed the charge of liberal media bias. She writes:

Alterman never comes to grips with the fact that the people who cover the news are overwhelmingly liberal. In 1992, an astonishing 89 percent of Washington correspondents and editors voted for Bill Clinton…Alterman acknowledges midway through the book that there might be some merit to his opponents’ arguments: “the overall flavor of the elite media reporting favors gun control, campaign finance reform, gay rights and the environmental movement,” he writes…These are distinctly liberal stances and this admission, by itself, pokes a gaping hole into Alterman’s argument…

My (partial) take: TV broadcasters need a good story, which leads to an emphasis on visible victims who can be interviewed. Media will neglect unseen opportunity costs. This bias often supports a “left-wing” perspective, but not always out of design. The bias also gives extra attention to crime victims. Members of the public often think crime is worse than it truly is, arguably a “right-wing” bias, crime victims get on the news because they make for good stories. We should not forget that media output is demand-driven, and people do not always want their media to reflect their politics.

My question: It is not obvious that reporters have been especially left-wing throughout the history of the American republic. When and how did this start to change?

See also an excellent earlier post by co-blogger Alex.

Recall Scheduled for Oct. 7

The LA Times reports that the full 9th circuit court has ordered that the California recall occur as planned. In their decision, the court says that the potential damage to the plaintiffs does not outweigh the costs already invested in the election, which presumably might include thousands of votes already cast. The decision states that courts should only intervene in elections in exceptional circumstances and, while vote counting errors are a serious concern, the potential miscount is not so strong a possibility that the election will with certainty be damaged.

Tom Peters where are you?

Remember Tom Peters? The 1996 Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the world’s most highly paid management consultant. His In Search of Excellence was one of the earliest mega-hits among management books, you might recall that he flirted with various Hayekian ideas about the market as a discovery mechanism. Today’s Financial Times looks at Peters today and asks, quite literally, whether he has lost his mind. It describes a Tom Peters seminar as “a combination of Billy Graham and Sid Vicious.” Peters admits to being proud of the inconsistencies in his thoughts, but to my mind the FT evinces no evidence of real craziness. Several years ago Fortune magazine raised the same issue, I cannot find an on-line copy but again I am waiting for the smoking gun.

Make up your own mind, visit Tom’s web site. Be warned that not all of it is rigorous, consider the following:

An Aussie reporter asked me recently about the origins of “Re-imagine.” I answered in terms of war & peace & commercial effectiveness alike. The following leapt from my lips, and I was intrigued by what I’d said. Dangerous, I well know; and it may wear off. But herewith, not a bad rationale, at the highest level of abstraction, for what we’re about and the possible importance thereof…

Tom admits that he was overoptimistic about Silicon Valley — at least he will admit he was wrong — and says that the increased difficulty of valuing intangible assets is behind the recent corporate scandals.

Race, Crime and Job Discrimination

Devah Pager’s article in the latest American Journal of Sociology demonstrates an important relationship between race, criminal record and employment. She sent out pairs of black and white young men to apply for entry level jobs, gave them similar records except that one was randomly selected to have a criminal background. She then analyzed who was called back for an interview and got some interesting results:

1. Unsurprisingly, for both blacks and whites, reporting a criminal record drastically reduced the chances of a call back.

2. Black men *without* the criminal history were less likely to be called back than white men *with* criminal records.

3. Having a criminal record is more damaging for black applicants than for white applicants.

This, I think, is a nice challenge to the whole statistical discrimination thesis, where employers use race as a proxy for other unmeasured variables. The Pager study shows that even when employers have full information on their applicants, they often prefer a white ex-convict than a similar black man without a criminal record.

Update: Dmitri Masterov writes to tell me about point #2 – Pager showed that the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.

File sharing helps some music labels

No, I am not one of those people who thinks you can fund an entire music industry through the sale of T-shirts. But file-sharing appears to have been a boon for some indepedent labels, which otherwise have a hard time getting their music to customers. Here is a money quote:

Today he [Mr. Egan] says – seemingly counterintuitively – his label simply would not exist without file-sharing services like Napster and its successors KaZaA and Morpheus.

Even as the major labels of the music industry pursue file traders for copyright infringement through lawsuits and the court of public opinion, Vagrant and many other independent label owners cheer them on. File sharing, these owners say, helps their small companies compete against conglomerates with deeper pockets for advertising and greater access to radio programmers.

“Our music, by and large, when kids listen to it, they share it with their friends,” Mr. Egan said. “Then they go buy the record; they take ownership of it.”

The New York Times offers the full account (registration required).

Smuggling amongst the Amish

“A smuggling ring operated for several months in Ohio’s largest Amish community, transporting hundreds of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, investigators said.” So notes Cnn.com. It says something about the power of good institutions that it still makes economic sense to smuggle workers into a community that limits its use of modern technology.

One man’s vice…

Here is a new blog devoted to the economics of public policy for the vices, namely the regulation of drugs, gambling, and prostitution, see vicesquad.blogspot.com. I am reading a bit in here, but overall the perspective rings sympathetic toward various methods of legalization or decriminalization. Click here if you wish to read about the attempt of Los Angeles to ban lap dancing.

Here is the blogmeister’s self-description: “My name is Jim Leitzel and I am an economist and co-chair of the public policy concentration in the undergraduate college at the University of Chicago. For the past five years I have taught a course on vice policy, and I have recently started to write a secondary text for the class.”

Thanks for Peter Boettke for the pointer.

The new Robert Putnam book

Robert Putnam has a new book out, with Lewis Feldstein, Better Together: Restoring the American Community. I started writing a short review of it, which ended up morphing into a look at Putnam’s oeuvre more generally, most of all his renowned Bowling Alone. The bottom line: I admire the quality of Putnam’s work, but am not convinced by his arguments that “bowling alone” is a growing problem. Click here to read my piece.

Herd behavior and dominant strategies for mice

Mice, taken collectively, are not very good at escaping from a crowded room. They act pretty much as humans do, namely they all crowd toward the door and few get out very quickly. Each individual mouse appears to make a rational calculation of a sort. The mice do best, and adopt some form of queuing behavior, when the door is large enough to let only one mouse through at a time. Researchers suggest that humans may exit a crowded more quickly, the smaller the door, which limits the crush toward the exit. For more information read this article from New Scientist.

Presidential Voices and Electoral Victory

A nice article in the Sept. 2002 Social Psychology Quarterly documents an interesting fact: the presidential candidate who has the right tone of voice tends to win the election.

According to “communication accommodation theory,” low status people change their voices to accommodate high status people. The presidential candidate who more frequently changes the “F_0” range of his voice (which is a very low hum) during a debate signals that he is in the low-status position. The authors believe that voters respond strongly to this non-verbal, but strongly emotional, cue. The authors note that George W. Bush may have “won” the 2000 debate with Gore because he signaled his dominance in this fashion, although Gore was perceived by journalists to have won through superior rhetoric. The results of voice analysis correlate well with electoral outcomes and polls.

Is love predictable?

The advent of Internet dating has led rapidly to a search for better matching results, as detailed by a recent story. After all, reductionists may wonder just how many dimensions the problem can have. Consider the following:

[Researchers] decided to employ computer technology to find a few “simple, logical rules” that make up, well, the recipe for love. For help on the technical side, they turned to Michael Georgeff, director of the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute. During his work on a NASA project at Stanford Research Institute, Georgeff had developed a methodology to teach Space Shuttle Discovery computers how to anticipate unexpected problems. Working with Thompson and Hutchinson, he applied the same principles to the design of dating software, employing many of the statistical methods common to social science research. “Say you score a 3 on the introvert scale, and a 6 on touchy-feely. Will you tend to like somebody who’s practical?” Using Georgeff’s software, Thompson and Hutchinson then developed an online quiz. Match.com, the highly popular online dating site, began using weAttract.com’s software this year to give users a rough sense of what proportion of the dating population might be attracted to their particular array of personality traits.

The new algorithms are designed to measure not only initial attraction, but also how well the would-be couple can live in harmony. Ten thousand people a day are signing up for eharmony.com, which also tries to do some simple lie-detecting. According to some accounts 30 percent of on-line daters are in fact married, and often lying about that fact.

Meredith Hanrahan, at Matchmaker.com, invokes a market metaphor:

If you want to buy a car, you get a lot of information before you even test-drive,” she says. “There hasn’t been a way to do that with relationships.”

Perhaps one web-dating entrepreneur put it best:

“Everyone is high maintenance. The trick is finding the precise sort of maintenance you need.”

Why executives should be paid more than they deserve

If workers are paid their marginal product its difficult to understand why some CEOs are paid such high wages. But think of the CEO’s wage as a prize. Valuable prizes make everyone else work hard in order to become the CEO. With this model, the tournament model (JSTOR) of Lazear and Rosen, it may even make sense that CEO wages go up as profits go down. After all, shouldn’t prizes be set highest when motivation is most required? No doubt, some will see this argument as more proof that economists are just shills for the capitalist class.

Is Larry Summers reshaping Harvard?

Yes, say many observers. His pro-science, back to the basics stance may make him one of Harvard’s most influential Presidents. And he is not backing down when faced with faculty opposition. Read this article from The Boston Globe, thanks to Instapundit for the link. Read here and here for my two previous blog posts on Larry at Harvard, with links to other commentary.

Addendum: Here is a recent (and brief) address by Summers on economics and morality, he stresses the ability of markets to conserve on altruism. Thanks to Doug Irwin for the pointer.

Sleep and Personality

Sleep research is great fun. Sleep is tied to so much in our lives, yet we know so little and there are always surprises. Consider the latest finding: the position you sleep in is highly correlated to your social personality. Being a log-sleeper (on the side, hugging the pillow) correlates with being outgoing and social, while fetal position sleepers are shy. Sleeping position is not the only correlate of personality. Your handwriting, your job satisfaction and a whole bunch of other things tend to be linked to personality.