Tragedy of the tragedy of the commons

Garrett Hardin and his wife recently passed away, it is rumored to have been a double suicide. Hardin was a well-known environmentalist, most prominently he coined the phrase “tragedy of the commons”. He spent the latter part of his career opposing immigration and favoring population control, he was even embraced by some eugenecists.

Addendum: The Hardins were survived by their four children, thanks to Nicky Tynan for the pointer.

Elephants all the way down

I just learned that there is a blog concerned solely with news about blogging, www.blogroots.com.

Of course that is just the beginning. Blogdex tracks popular links, see also Daypop.com. Technorati tells you who is linking to the URL of your choice. Blogstreet.com lists the most influential and widely-read blogs. Number one is Scripting News, Instapundit is number three, the rankings are based on the metric of how often a blog is blogrolled by others. If you weight blogrolling by the influence of who is blogrolling, Instapundit is number one and Andrew Sullivan is number two.

Amateur reviewers are conformists

Let’s say you just saw a movie and now you review it for a web site. Many reviewers will be influenced, albeit subconsciously in many cases, by the ratings already available for viewing. If a movie has many high ratings, you will be less likely to pan it, and vice versa. This occurs even when you see only the number of stars assigned by other people, and have no access to concrete information about the opinions of others, as you might get from a written review. Overall people end up losing trust in peer-driven reviewing systems, and it is plausible to assume that this applies to Amazon.com reviews as well. Thanks to Randall Parker for the original pointer to the research. Cass Sunstein’s new Why Societies Need Dissent explores the pressures for conformity in more detail. Here is a link to the relevant economics research.

Will those annoying calls go away?

Perhaps you have put your name on the “do not call” list. Don’t think that your troubles are over. One estimate suggests that unsolicited calls will go down by no more than 25 percent. The wording is ambiguous but from the context the figure seems to be for people who have put their name on the list, obviously it will be worse for the population as a whole. One loophole is that anyone with a “previously existing commercial relationship” can call you, so can non-profits, pollers, and radio and TV providers, not to mention politicians. The group Private Citizen is leading the fight against such cold calls, and is the original source of the estimate. Thanks to TechiePundit for the original pointers to the links.

Where do people marry close relatives?

Check out this map, which is dominated by the Muslim world.

Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution has argued that such intermarriage patterns make liberal democracy harder:

In the modern Middle East, networks of kin are still the foundation of wealth, security, and personal happiness. That, in a sense, is the problem. As we’ve seen in Afghanistan, loyalty to kin and tribe cuts against the authority of the state. And the corrupt dictatorships that rule much of the Muslim Middle East often function themselves more like self-interested kin groups than as rulers who take the interests of the nation as a whole as their own. That, in turn, gives the populace little reason to turn from the proven support of kin and tribe, and trust instead in the state.

An intriguing idea, but I find it very hard to establish the appropriate causal connections. Still, better that we ponder the question than stick our heads in the sand. Parapundit offers a very useful overview of the debate, sympathetic to Kurtz’s point of view. Please note, as always, that use of a link does not constitute endorsement of all of that link’s contents or subsequent links.

Google the Revolution!

By popular demand we have added a search box to the left sidebar. Should, for example, you want to find all posts by your favorite Revolutionary, just search for Tabarrok! Now that we are getting lots of hits and a fair number of links, Google has a pretty good archive of MR. But you can help by putting a link to www.MarginalRevolution.com on your homepage – this will further draw the attention of the great Google spider! Thanks. You can, of course, also find content by category and date in the Archives.

Stalin, Shakespeare, and Tarzan

Dmitri Shostakovich noted that Stalin was forced to ban Shakespeare, as he understood all too well the political implications of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

We also learn:

Dmitri Shostakovich recalled that ‘Stalin loved films and he saw The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, many times, dozens of times…Stalin also liked Tarzan films, he saw all the episodes.”

Tarzan was popular with Soviet citizens as well, which led to a “cult of youth” in the image of the Tarzan hero. Soviet leaders apparently were comfortable with the political implications of The King of the Jungle, raised by beasts.

From the recent book The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War, by David Caute.

Will Bush back away from steel tariffs?

President Bush has received two mid-term reports, critical of his decision to implement steel tariffs, here is a relevant International Trade Commission link. The tariffs are not only bad economics, but it seems, bad politics as well. Steel price increases appear to have cut out some jobs in the potential swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. And most of Bush’s economic advisors opposed the tariffs from the beginning. The Washington Post account (see the above link) suggests that the Bush Administration is likely to nix the tariffs:

“The only reason they won’t do it is if they’re unwilling to admit they made a mistake,” said a Republican strategist who works closely with the White House.

An alternative account from The New York Times (registration required) implies that the matter is less settled. Even the Post notes that giving up on the tariffs would be a significant loss of face for Karl Rove, their initial backer. Either way, this issue is likely to prove an embarrassment to the Bush reelection campaign.

NY Times Wrong on Iraqi Gun Ownership

In March, Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times asserted that guns were easy and legal to obtain in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The NRA has long argued that guns are a bulwark against the police state so Slate’s Timothy Noah challenged the NRA to explain “how Iraq got to be, and remains, one of the world’s most repressive police states when just about everyone is packing heat.” Noah later rejected reader explanations of this apparent paradox, including the possibility that MacFarquhar was wrong, and “reluctantly” concluded that private gun ownership is not a bulwark against a police state.

Today, however, John Tierney of the New York Times reports that “Mr. Hussein, never one to tolerate competition, forbade private citizens to carry weapons, effectively outlawing the security industry.”

Clearly, the New York Times is wrong. But where does the truth lie?

Class size doesn’t matter much

A new OECD study suggests that smaller classes contribute little to learning, education blogger Joanne Jacobs offers her comments. The study, led by J. Douglas Willms looked at a dozen countries, and confirmed earlier results that class size was not a significant variable, see also this survey and this short note. My suspicion, in the American context, is that pushing for smaller classes will involve hiring inferior teachers, a classic example of unintended secondary consequences.

If we want to improve education, more effective factors include:

…improving relations between teachers and students, hiring literacy specialists, intervening earlier than Grade 2 when a child is having trouble learning to read, teaching educators better classroom management, encouraging parents to read to their children in the evenings, and offering early childhood education programs.

Jacobs suggests that small classes are most important for kindergarten and first grade, especially for disadvantaged students.

Will life extension increase risk aversion?

Scientist Tom Johnson says that humans someday might live to 350 years old. Aubrey De Grey argues that as our lifespans become longer, we might stop taking high-speed automobile trips. Why risk losing so much, and after all, what would the hurry be?

FuturePundit suggests that perhaps our level of risk-taking behavior is regulated by our biology and hormonal systems. So if driving a car doesn’t “feel too risky” now, living to 350 won’t change this, perhaps we were never making an intertemporal calculation in the first place. Furthermore, it is young males who take the most risks, and they have large numbers of years left to lose. So giving us more years might not change our behavior that much. FuturePundit then wonders how drugs and neuroscience engineering might change this conclusion. What if you could take drugs that would make you more averse to risky behavior? Might you then, sitting alone in your room, ponder your remaining 320 years and decide to clutch on to them?

Early Amazon civilization discovered

Researchers have now found hard evidence that the Amazon had a sophisticated and populous civilization, before the arrival of Columbus.

The finds lay to rest the notion that the region was pristine forest when the explorer landed in 1492…Although there was probably some untouched forest in the region, Heckenberger [the researcher] reckons that most was managed by the inhabitants and kept for cultural and symbolic, rather than economic, reasons. “It was probably very important to them just as Central Park is important to New Yorkers,” he says.

Here is the original link from Nature. Many individuals have been attached to “crankier” versions of this theory, suggesting that “prehistory” in the Americas was quite advanced, see here for a more skeptical take.

You can always resell it

Why not just give gifts of money? Prudence of Slate tells us that norms are changing, and that more people are finding cash gifts for weddings acceptable. The couple that posed the initial question put it as follows:

So they think it’s “tacky” to ask for money? Well, we think it’s worse to make people spend precious time getting gifts we don’t need or want.

Amen, says this economist, whose best wedding presents from this last May often were the gift certificates. I might add that co-blogger Alex and his wife gave us a very useful gift certificate for a framing shop.

One economic estimate suggested that Christmas gifts alone involve a “deadweight loss” of $4 billion. I’ve never been convinced by this number, gifts help people sort out how well their friends and loved ones understand them, and create new lines of communication, surely this is an offsetting benefit. And sometimes a surprise or show of affection, as embodied in a gift, is simply more fun. Nonetheless gifts are a form of signalling, and very often people invest too much effort in the signal, just to be higher in the pecking order. I hope Prudence is right about the change in norms.

Addendum: I read the following in the Weekend Financial Times: “In 1979, Karen Davis started a hickory-baked ham company in Marieta, Georgia, and on opening day her parents gave her a porcelain pig for good luck. Over the next two decades, she estimates that she got 400-500 pig gifts. “Pigs aren’t my thing,” she says, though she did warm to the piggy banks.” See the article for other examples of dubious gifts.