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May 2008

Bloomberg San Francisco Bureau at Pier 3

Do we have wifi? Yes! We have wifi! Does it connect to the net? Yes!!

I am stunned and awed by the Bloomberg San Francisco bureau--they have been in it since February. It is amazing what you can do with an old cargo terminal/wearhouse built out over San Francisco Bay... with a few coats of paint... and some hardwood flooring... and more miles of gigabit ethernet cabling than I have ever seen in my life... and teh scuba divers to lay the foundations for the elevators...

Wow! I suppose that two-thirds of the time it must be either dark or foggy, but the remaining third it is absolutely glorious!

Here to do Tom Keene's show: http://www.bloomberg.com/tvradio/podcast/ontheeconomy.html

And to do a panel on exchange rates:

FX panel discussion on 5/20: "Dollar Weakness and Financial Crisis: A Bloomberg Panel": 4PM, Bloomberg San Francisco Bureau (Pier 3, SF, 94111): In this historic year, Bloomberg L.P. brings together two top, but different minds to discuss the interdependencies of the economy, credit and foreign exchange markets. Particular focus will be made on the imbalance of Pacific Rim and European capital flows. Moderated by Thomas Keene, host of Bloomberg on the Economy, the seminar will address recent dollar strength as LIBOR spreads...attempt to narrow.

Panelists: J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics, University of California at Berkeley; Robert Sinche, Head of Strategy: Global Rates, FX & Commodities, Bank of America


Keeping UC at the Top

David Warsh reports on the continuing struggle to keep the Unobersity of California's faculty not just high quality but the highest quality in the world. In general, maintaining a social democratic university in a neoliberal age--it's not for sissies. This is particularly true for UC which has spent every dollar it can scrape together and more over the past two generations in its wildly successful mammoth expansion plan while its private peers have taken the lavish gifts from alumni purchasing indulgences and focused them on increasing surplus to stakeholders.

It is particularly hard in economics. In other disciplined to leave your university because another offers to pay you more entails personal humiliation and status degradation to a not inconsiderable degree: you are supposed to value ideas and colleagues and students, not cash. In economics, however, the thrust of the discipline makes a failure to respond to market forces a moral fault in itself.

Yet somehow we continue to punch well above our fundamental financial weight--and it looks like we will do so again this year.

This year we have been aided to some degree by the fact that Harvard's administration has turned out to be more inept than anyone believed possible. Harvard public policy was trying to hire David and Harvard economics Christie Romer. Here at Berkeley they have adjoining offices, they raise children together, they write articles together, they teach together--yet Harvard president Drew Faust turned thumbs up for him and thumbs down for her. "Early onset Alzheimer's" is the kindest explanation I have heard from anyone currently in Cambridge. Other candidate explanations are crueller and less flattering.

One part of the story David Warsh does not have is that Harvard's business school tried to reduce the university's humiliation and put a job odder together over the weekend--thinking that whatever bizarre rationale Massachusetts Avenue had might not apply to them.


Graduate Macroeconomics @ Berkeley

Updated due to "unclarity":

The retirement of George Akerlof is tremendously distressing--as is Chad Jones's decision to go to visit Stanford next fall. (Memo to Chad: if you stay at The Farm, you (a) get $, but (b) you lose the best office view this side of Beta Lyrae, (c) you must teach mbas, and (d) you confirm the Stanford administration's belief that it was right to nuke you for tenure when you came up internally because you had already given them a call option. Your marginal utility of wealth can't be so high that (a) outweighs (b), (c), and (d), can it?)

Note: The real reason for Chad Jones to think about changing from Berkeley to Stanford is, of course, the presence of Pete Klenow and Paul Romer at The Farm. Add Chad Jones to that and you have the strongest endogenous growth group in economics.

At any event, we now have to figure out how to teach graduate macro with two holes ripped in our fabric...

There are seven slots in the curriculum--first come four eight-week slots that are taken by everybody in the Ph.D. program in their first year, and second come three sixteen-week slots that are taken in their second and third years by Ph.D. candidates especially interested in the field. As I understand macro, the slots are:

  • Moral hazard, near-rationality, and coordination failures
  • Neoclassical growth theory
  • Keynesian and new-Keynesian models
  • Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models
  • Monetary theory, policy, and history
  • Capital markets and macroeconomics
  • Endogenous growth theories

Plus there are all the "international finance" topics...

The question is: are these the right seven slots to teach, and is this the right ordering of them?


I'd Have a Very Hard Time Explaining This to My Last Ancestors Who Lived in Africa...

Yet more evidence the Singularity is not in our future but in our past:

Why was I late? Oreo cookies were all over - Rockford, IL - Rockford Register Star: Traffic is backed up in Morris after a trailer loaded with 14 tons of double-stuffed Oreos overturned, spilling boxes of cookies into the median and road.

Illinois State Police Sergeant Brian Mahoney says the truck’s driver was traveling on I-80 near Morris around 4 a.m. today when he fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into the median, spilling some of the 28,000 pounds of treats.

The crash about 50 miles southwest of Chicago remains under investigation.

Mahoney says no charges have been filed but both lanes of traffic remain closed while authorities remove the cookies.


A Spontaneous Order: Women and the Invisible Fist

RadGeek produces what I can only call the intellectual love child of Susan Brownmiller and Friedrich Hayek. Extremely well done:

Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-16 – Women and the Invisible Fist: All of this can happen quite naturally when a large enough minority of men choose to commit widespread, intense, random acts of violence against a large enough number of women. And it can happen quite naturally without the raping men, or the protecting men, or the women in the society ever intending for any particular large-scale social outcome to come about. But what will come about, quite naturally, is that women’s social being — how women appear and act, as women, in public — will be systematically and profoundly circumscribed by a diffuse, decentralized threat of violence. And, as a natural but unintended consequence of many small, self-interested actions, some vicious and violent (as in the case of men who rape women), some worthwhile in their origins but easily and quickly corrupted (as in the case of men who try to protect women from rape), and some entirely rational responses to an irrational and dangerous situation (as in the case of women who limit their action and seek protection from men), the existence and activities of the police-blotter rapist serve to constrain women’s behavior and to become dependent on some men — and thus dependent on keeping those men pleased and serving those men’s priorities — for physical protection from other men. That kind of dependence can just as easily become frustrating and confining for the woman, and that kind of power can just as easily become corrupting and exploitative for the man, as any other form of dependence and power. (Libertarians and anarchists who easily see this dynamic when it comes to government police and military protection of a disarmed populace, shouldn’t have any trouble seeing it, if they are willing to see it, when it comes to male protection of women)...


Growing Working Markets Is Hard

Megan McArdle knows a very valuable thing about economic institution design:

Megan McArdle: Markets are hard: After a little thought, I'm not sure that I made what I was thinking quite clear on my earlier post on McCain's healthcare plan: markets are hard. We used to think that, like Topsy, they "just growed". The experience of Russian shock therapy belies this. Once bad government regulation has screwed things up, fixing them is not always just a matter of removing the original bad law. Nor of simply willing, via legislative fiat, that a better one shall grow in its place.


Wedding Bells for George Takei

He played Lt. Sulu on Star Trek TOS:

George Takei: Our California dream is reality. Brad Altman and I can now marry. We are overjoyed! At long last, the barrier to full marriage rights for same-sex couples has been torn down. We are equal with all citizens of our state!

The California Supreme Court has ruled that all Californians have a fundamental right to marry the person he or she loves. Brad and I have shared our lives together for over 21 years. We've worked in partnership; he manages the business side of my career and I do the performing. We've traveled the world together from Europe to Asia to Australia. We've shared the good times as well as struggled through the bad. He helped me care for my ailing mother who lived with us for the last years of her life. He is my love and I can't imagine life without him. Now, we can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage. We embrace it all heartily.

The California Supreme Court further ruled that our Constitution provides for equal protection for all and that it cannot have marriage for one group and another form - domestic partnership - for another group. No more "separate but equal." No more second-class citizenship. Brad and I are going to be married as full citizens of our state.

As a Japanese American, I am keenly mindful of the subtle and not so subtle discrimination that the law can impose. During World War II, I grew up imprisoned behind the barbed wire fences of U.S. internment camps. Pearl Harbor had been bombed and Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Fear and war hysteria swept the nation. A Presidential Executive Order directed the internment of Japanese Americans as a matter of national security. Now, with the passage of time, we look back and see it as a shameful chapter of American history. President Gerald Ford rescinded the Executive Order that imprisoned us. President Ronald Reagan formally apologized for the unjust imprisonment. President George H.W. Bush signed the redress payment checks to the survivors. It was a tragic and dark taint on American history.

With time, I know the opposition to same sex marriage, too, will be seen as an antique and discreditable part of our history. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy remarked on same sex marriage, "Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper, in fact, serve only to oppress."

For now, Brad and I are enjoying the delicious dilemma of deciding where, when, and how we will be married. Marriage equality took a long time, but, like fine wine, its bouquet is simply exquisite.


Jeffrey Goldberg Talks About How AIPAC (and Richard Cheney, and the New Republic, etc.) Are Anti-Israel

It is a nice article:

Israel’s ‘American Problem’: WHEN the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, arrived at a Jerusalem ballroom in February to address the grandees of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations... he was pugnacious, as is customary, but he was also surprisingly defensive... scattered about the audience were Jewish leaders who considered him hopelessly spongy — and very nearly traitorous — on an issue they believed to be of cosmological importance: the sanctity of a “united” Jerusalem, under the sole sovereignty of Israel.

These Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine... places like Sur Baher, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis... that the Conference of Presidents could not find with a forked stick and Ari Ben Canaan as a guide. And yet many Jewish leaders believe that an Israeli compromise on the boundaries of greater Jerusalem — or on nearly any other point of disagreement — is an axiomatic invitation to catastrophe.

One leader, Joshua Katzen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, told me, “I think that Israelis don’t have the big view of global jihad that American Jews do, because Israelis are caught up in their daily emergencies.” When I asked him how his Israeli friends responded to this, he answered: “They say, ‘When your son has to fight, you can have an opinion.’ But I tell them that it is precisely because your son has to fight that you have a harder time seeing the larger picture.”

When I spoke to Mr. Olmert... he was expansive, and persuasive, on the Zionist need for a Palestinian state. Without a Palestine — a viable, territorially contiguous Palestine — Arabs under Israeli control will, in the not-distant future, outnumber the country’s Jews. “We now have the Palestinians running an Algeria-style campaign against Israel, but what I fear is that they will try to run a South Africa-type campaign against us.”... This is why he, and his mentor, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, turned so fiercely against the Jewish settlement movement, which has entangled Israel unnecessarily in the lives of West Bank Palestinians... today, the settlements are seen, properly... as the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy....

There are some Jews who would be made anxious by Mr. Obama even if he changed his first name to Baruch and had his bar mitzvah on Masada. But after speaking with him it struck me that, by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak.... This is an existentially unhealthy state of affairs... what Israel needs is an American president who... helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state.... And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project. The dismantling of settlements is the one step that would buttress the dwindling band of Palestinian moderates in their struggle against the fundamentalists of Hamas.

So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself... unthinking American support does hurt Israel.

The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel.... But this won’t happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.

Three quibbles:

  • First of all, Obama's first name is Baruch. To say "some Jews... would be made anxious by Mr. Obama even if he changed his first name to Baruch.." makes exactly as much sense as to say "some Welshmen... would be made anxious by Mr. Cameron even if he changed his first name to David..."
  • Second, the leaders of AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents are playing some psychological game by which they take steps that harm the long-run security of Israel just so that they can feel that they are good strugglers. They are not well meaning--except to the degree that people who are delusional and psychotic are "well meaning".
  • Third, the "leadership of the organized American Jewish community" has not "allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself." It has led the conflation. Sane American policy toward Israel will not happen until AIPAC and the current leadership of the American Jewish community are marginalized and replaced.

But Jeffrey Goldberg has revealed himself as a mensch.


Are There No Workhouses?

Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons? Are there no perl programmers?

Should I inform Liberty Fund Books that the Berkeley Economics Department does not have three different people surnamed "delong" working in it?


"Hitherto It Is Questionable If All the Mechanical Inventions Yet Made Have Lightened the Day's Toil of Any Human Being" Context Blogging

In the Ashley edition that has been standard since... 1909, I believe, the end of Book IV, Chapter 6, "Of the Stationary State" of John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy reads:

Of the Stationary State: Hitherto [1848] it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the conquests made from the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of scientific discoverers, become the common property of the species, and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot.

The "[1848]" in square brackets was added by W.J. Ashley in 1909 to indicate that that that first sentence, with its "Hitherto," had been in the book since its first 1848 edition. Mill's time references, Ashley explained, were:

occasionally a little bewildering: a "now" in his text may mean any time between 1848 and 1871. In every case where it seemed necessary to ascertain and to remind the reader of the time when a particular sentence was written, I have inserted the date in the text in square brackets...

Political Economy came out in seven editions: 1848, 1849, 1852, 1857, 1862, 1865, and 1871. In none of them did Mill himself think that it was worth changing "hitherto" to "formerly."


John Stuart Mill teh Malthusian Neocon!!

Dark Satanic Millian Liberalism from... John Stuart Mill!!

Here:

So long as mankind remained in a semi-barbarous state, with the indolence and the few wants of a savage... the pressure of physical want may have been a necessary stimulus, in that stage of the human mind, to the exertion of labour and ingenuity required for accomplishing that greatest of all past changes in human modes of existence, by which industrial life attained predominance over the hunting, the pastoral, and the military or predatory state...

And here:

Every one has a right to live.... But no one has a right to bring creatures into life, to be supported by other people. Whoever means to stand upon the first of these rights must renounce all pretension to the last. If a man cannot support even himself unless others help him, those others are entitled to say that they do not also undertake the support of any offspring which it is physically possible for him to summon into the world... the state... is bound in self-protection, and... for the sake of every purpose for which government exists, to provide that no person shall be born without its consent. If the ordinary and spontaneous motives to self-restraint are removed, others must be substituted.... [T]he guarantee of support could be freed from its injurious effects upon the minds and habits of the people, [only] if the relief, though ample in respect to necessaries, was accompanied with conditions which they disliked... some restraints on their freedom... privation of some indulgences... [their] condition... needs not be one of physical suffering, or the dread of it, but only of restricted indulgence, and enforced rigidity of discipline...


From his Principles of Political Economy:

The Principles of Political Economy: Book 2: Chapter 11: Of Wages: Wages, then, depend... the proportion between population and capital. By population is here meant the number only of... those who work for hire; and by capital only circulating capital... the part which is expended in the direct purchase of labour... [plus] all funds which, without forming a part of capital, are paid in exchange for labour, such as the wages of soldiers, domestic servants, and all other unproductive labourers... aggregate... wages-fund.... With these limitations of the terms, wages not only depend upon the relative amount of capital and population, but cannot, under the rule of competition, be affected by anything else. Wages (meaning, of course, the general rate) cannot rise, but by an increase of the aggregate funds employed in hiring labourers, or a diminution in the number of the competitors for hire.... The condition of the class can be bettered in no other way than by altering that proportion to their advantage; and every scheme for their benefit, which does not proceed on this as its foundation, is, for all permanent purposes, a delusion.

In countries like North America and the Australian colonies, where the knowledge and arts of civilized life, and a high effective desire of accumulation, co-exist with a boundless extent of unoccupied land, the growth of capital easily keeps pace with the utmost possible increase of population, and is chiefly retarded by the impracticability of obtaining labourers enough. All, therefore, who can possibly be born, can find employment without overstocking the market: every labouring family enjoys in abundance the necessaries, many of the comforts, and some of the luxuries of life; and, unless in case of individual misconduct, or actual inability to work, poverty does not, and dependence need not, exist. A similar advantage... is occasionally enjoyed by some special class of labourers in old countries, from an extraordinarily rapid growth... of the capital employed in a particular occupation. So gigantic has been the progress of the cotton manufacture since the inventions of Watt and Arkwright, that the capital engaged in it has probably quadrupled in the time which population requires for doubling... wages in the great seats of the manufacture are generally so high, that the collective earnings of a family amounts, on an average of years, to a very satisfactory sum; and there is, as yet, no sign of permanent decrease, while the effect has also been felt in raising the general standard of agricultural wages in the counties adjoining.

But... few are the countries presenting the needful union of conditions.... Except, therefore, in the very peculiar cases which I have just noticed... it is impossible that population should increase at its utmost rate without lowering wages. Nor will the fall be stopped at any point, short of that which either by its physical or its moral operation, checks the increase of population.... Either the whole number of births which nature admits of... do not take place; or if they do, a large proportion of those who are born, die. The retardation of increase results either from mortality or prudence; from Mr. Malthus's positive, or from his preventive check: and one or the other of these must and does exist, and very powerfully too.... Wherever population is not kept down by the prudence either of individuals or of the state, it is kept down by starvation or disease....

In the case... of the common [British] agricultural labourer, the checks to population may almost be considered as non-existent. If the growth of the towns, and of the capital there employed, by which the factory operatives are maintained at their present average rate of wages notwithstanding their rapid increase, did not also absorb a great part of the annual addition to the rural population, there seems no reason in the present habits of the people why they should not fall into as miserable a condition as the Irish previous to 1846; and if the market for our manufactures should, I do not say fall off, but even cease to expand at the rapid rate of the last fifty years, there is no certainty that this fate may not be reserved for us... the existing condition of the labourers of some of the most exclusively agricultural counties, Wiltshire, Somersetshire, Dorsetshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, is sufficiently painful to contemplate....

Unhappily, sentimentality rather than common sense usually presides over the discussion of these subjects; and while there is a growing sensitiveness to the hardships of the poor... there is an all but universal unwillingness to face the real difficulty of their position, or advert at all to the conditions which nature has made indispensable to the improvement of their physical lot.... [T]here is a tacit agreement to ignore totally the law of wages, or to dismiss it in a parenthesis, with such terms as "hardhearted Malthusianism;" as if it were not a thousand times more hardhearted to tell human beings that they may, than that they may not, call into existence swarms of creatures who are sure to he miserable, and most likely to be depraved; and forgetting that the conduct, which it is reckoned so cruel to disapprove, is a degrading slavery to a brute instinct in one of the persons concerned, and most commonly, in the other, helpless submission to a revolting abuse of power....

So long as mankind remained in a semi-barbarous state, with the indolence and the few wants of a savage... the pressure of physical want may have been a necessary stimulus, in that stage of the human mind, to the exertion of labour and ingenuity required for accomplishing that greatest of all past changes in human modes of existence, by which industrial life attained predominance over the hunting, the pastoral, and the military or predatory state. Want, in that age of the world, had its uses, as even slavery had; and there may be corners of the earth where those uses are not yet superseded, though they might easily be so were a helping hand held out by more civilized communities. But in Europe the time, if it ever existed, is long past, when a life of privation had the smallest tendency to make men either better workmen or more civilized beings....

[I]t was urged that... as civilization advances, the prudential check tends to become stronger, and population to slacken its rate of increase, relatively to subsistence; and that it is an error to maintain that population, in any improving community, tends to increase faster than, or even so fast as, subsistence....

Every one has a right to live.... But no one has a right to bring creatures into life, to be supported by other people. Whoever means to stand upon the first of these rights must renounce all pretension to the last. If a man cannot support even himself unless others help him, those others are entitled to say that they do not also undertake the support of any offspring which it is physically possible for him to summon into the world.... It would be possible for the state to guarantee employment at ample wages to all who are born. But if it does this, it is bound in self-protection, and for the sake of every purpose for which government exists, to provide that no person shall be born without its consent. If the ordinary and spontaneous motives to self-restraint are removed, others must be substituted.

On these grounds some writers have altogether condemned the English poor-law, and any system of relief to the able-bodied.... Mr. Malthus and others... at first have concluded against all poor-laws whatever. It required much experience, and careful examination of different modes of poor-law management, to give assurance that the admission of an absolute right to be supported at the cost of other people, could exist in law and in fact, without fatally relaxing the springs of industry and the restraints of prudence... it was shown that the guarantee of support could be freed from its injurious effects upon the minds and habits of the people, if the relief, though ample in respect to necessaries, was accompanied with conditions which they disliked, consisting of some restraints on their freedom, and the privation of some indulgences... the condition even of those who are unable to find their own support, needs not be one of physical suffering, or the dread of it, but only of restricted indulgence, and enforced rigidity of discipline...


Gains from Trade Once Again

Mark Thoma muses about relative income--that perhaps much of American unease about globalization is the fact that the ability to buy cheap goods at Walmart doesn't balance out the belief that somebody somewhere is unfairly becoming immensely rich as the result of the process:

Mark Thoma: If they deserved $25 but only received $10, they might object. Thus, while trade may have benefited lower income households by lowering prices on the goods they are likely to consume... that doesn't mean they won't be frustrated if they aren't receiving what they view as a fair share of the gains from globalization.... Couple that with the rise in inequality, loss of health care and retirement benefits, decreased job security, etc., and it's easy to see why workers might not feel as though they have been adequately compensated for the change in labor market conditions and economic security that they have endured...

He is commenting on James Surowiecki, who writes:

The Free-Trade Paradox, by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker: [The Democratic] primary race... has looked like a contest over who hates free trade more... The candidates are trying to win the favor of unions and blue-collar voters in states like Ohio and West Virginia, of course, but their positions also reflect a widespread belief that free trade with developing countries, and with China in particular, is a kind of scam perpetrated by the wealthy, who reap the benefits while ordinary Americans bear the cost.... [I]t’s safe to say that the main burden of trade-related job losses and wage declines has fallen on middle- and lower-income Americans. So standing up to China seems like a logical way to help ordinary Americans do better. But there’s a problem with this approach: the very people who suffer most from free trade are often, paradoxically, among its biggest beneficiaries... free trade with poorer countries has a huge positive impact on the buying power of middle- and lower-income consumers--a much bigger impact than it does on the buying power of wealthier consumers. The less you make, the bigger the percentage of your spending that goes to manufactured goods--clothes, shoes, and the like--whose prices are often directly affected by free trade. The wealthier you are, the more you tend to spend on services—education, leisure, and so on--that are less subject to competition from abroad.... [T]he reality is that if we toughen our trade relations with China the benefits will be enjoyed by a few, since only a small percentage of Americans now work for companies that compete directly with Chinese manufacturers, while average Americans will feel the pain--in the form of higher prices--far more quickly and more directly than rich Americans will...

We teach the 2 goods, 2 factors of production, 2 countries model because it is easy--but it has never been clear to me that the intuitions generated there transfer over to the more complicated real world at all.


Ezra Klein Calls for the Total and Immediate Removal of America's Mainstream Political News Media

Makes sense to me:

Ezra Klein: A campaign without the 'gotchas': Gore was seen, in 2000, as a condescending, exaggeration-prone prig. But in the ensuing years, he stepped out of campaign journalism. He began sending his speeches out directly over MoveOn.org's e-mail list, made a movie that asked people to sit down and listen to him for the better part of two hours, and did his rounds on interview shows on which he could have fairly lengthy conversations with hosts.

The result? A massive rehabilitation of his reputation, including in the eyes of the very political pundits who once spurned him.... Ask those pundits about the new Gore, of course, and they will sigh and search the heavens and moan that, oh, if he had only been this way when he was in politics, how different it all could have been. But he was.... He was a substantive global-warming obsessive with a penchant for long disquisitions on meaty topics.... [H]is pipeline to the public was a gaffe-hungry media looking for ways to humiliate him, that didn't turn out so well. When he was able to speak directly to the public, those traits were considerably more attractive....

The problems for the media are structural.... [T]he shows are really run as a type of soap opera. Campaigns become ongoing stories with a cast of characters and a history that can be referred back to. That requires the daily construction of a story line. Characters need definition and catchphrases and frailties... clips that can be easily and endlessly replayed to remind viewers of what they're watching and what happened in past episodes... the media hunger for out-of-character gaffes and missteps -- those moments are crucial to the business model.

But politicians increasingly have alternatives.... And now the campaigns of Obama and McCain are broaching the idea of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates -- a series of unmoderated debates that would leverage the public interest in the campaign to force the media to cover debates without imposing their own narrative or needs on the structure. It's campaigning as politicians, rather than the media, would have it. Weird as it sounds, that might be better for the process. And, for the candidates, it certainly sounds like more fun.

Not just the TV shows: the campaign coverage of the newspapers and magazines as well.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?


"Fundamental Weighting" and Indexing

Joseph Nocera reviews the bidding:

Passions Run High on Indexing: the Financial Analysts Journal... letters the magazine published in its March/April issue. André Perold, a finance professor at Harvard Business School, had written an article in a previous issue criticizing a new kind of financial product called fundamentally weighted indexes, which have been devised in large part by a man named Robert D. Arnott. Mr. Arnott is the chairman of Research Affiliates, a six-year-old company that markets and licenses such funds — and he’s also the former editor of The Financial Analysts Journal. “André Perold’s article in the November/December 2007 issue entitled ‘Fundamentally Flawed Indexing’ might have been better titled, ‘A Fundamentally Flawed Critique,’ ” steamed Mr. Arnott, in a letter jointly written with the Nobel laureate, Harry Markowitz, who is one of his consultants.

Mr. Perold quickly shot back (“This characterization is completely inaccurate.”), as did several other participants in the debate. It reminded me of the good old days at The New York Review of Books, when authors would spend issues on end cagily insulting each other in the letters page. There is nothing quite like an old-fashioned academic cat fight....

At its core, the fight is about whether fundamentally weighted indexes — which, unlike traditional index funds, don’t rely on market capitalization to “weight” a stock in an index — are superior to old-fashioned index funds, which allow investors to invest in such broad market indexes as the Standard & Poor’s 500 or the Russell 2000.

Obviously, Mr. Arnott thinks the answer is a resounding yes; so convinced is he that he is onto something big that he’s trying to patent his methodology. Mr. Schwab, Mr. Markowitz and Jeremy Siegel, the Wharton economist who serves as a consultant and spokesman for Mr. Arnott’s chief competitor, Wisdom Tree Investments, are all in this camp.... Critics include Mr. Bogle — who helped create the original index fund — Mr. Malkiel, Mr. Perold (who is a Vanguard director), and Clifford Asness, the co-founder of AQR, a big quantitative hedge fund.... I came away thinking they’ve both got a point....

A traditional index fund is a mirror of the market. The Vanguard 500 Index Fund, for instance, replicates the stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500... larger market capitalizations have a larger weighting in the index than stocks with smaller market caps. Investors who use index funds (and everyone should!) do so in part because their costs are so low... but also because they have learned the essential futility of trying to beat the market....

But that doesn’t mean the stock market is completely efficient.... On any given day, some stocks are overvalued while others are undervalued.... Thus, back in 1999, when Cisco Systems had, absurdly, the largest market capitalization in the world, it also had the biggest weighting in the Vanguard 500 Index Fund.... Indeed, it was the Internet bubble that really gave impetus to fundamental indexing. “I remember George Keane, the founder of the Commonfund, saying to me that there has to be a better way to index,” Mr. Arnott told me the other day. “We have people investing tens of billions of dollars in index funds and they are getting drawn into bubbles.” Mr. Arnott continued: “It was very clear what was wrong with the index was that the weight was linked to the price. If the price was wrong the weight was wrong.”...

When you talk to Mr. Arnott — as well as Mr. Siegel, speaking for Wisdom Tree — about why fundamental indexing seems to beat the market, at least on an historical basis, they offer several theories. One is that, by using a company’s fundamental measures to weight the stocks, their indexes are eliminating all the “noise” surrounding individual stocks that can cause them to become over or under valued.

Secondly... they are, in effect, tilting their weighting toward value stocks and away from growth stocks....

The real point of contention, however — and the reason this matters to investors — is that Mr. Arnott and Mr. Siegel make it sound as if their new indexing strategy is so far superior to traditional indexing that investors should abandon the latter for the former.... “It is not indexing,” insists Mr. Bogle. “It is a form of asset allocation, or active management strategy. It is being oversold as something it is not.”... According to Mr. Bogle, Mr. Arnott and the Wisdom Tree folks are trying to do what all active managers do: beat the market. And sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t. But they are not going to match the market because their funds are not, ultimately, trying to replicate the market the way a cap-weighted index fund does...

The argument for indexing is that the average investor will receive the average return. Divide investors into four groups: (i) passive investors, (ii) active investors who know more than the average active investor, (iii) active investors who know less than the average active investor but think they know more, and (iv) active investors who know less than the average active investor and think they know less. Group (i) should index: they will receive the average return on average--and indexing is the way to do this with the least risk. Group m(iv) should index as well: if they don't index, they are the fools in the market--and they know enough to know that they are the fools. Group (ii) profit from their knowledge, inasmuch as group (iii) and those of (iv) who don't act on their knowledge of their own ignorance are their lawful prey--but everybody who thinks that he or she is in group (ii) should ponder hard whether he or she is in fact in group (iii) instead.

"Fundamental indexing" is a form of (ii): those who engage in it are active investors, and their informational edge--the thing they know that the average active investor doesn't--is that there are enough noise traders of group (iii) out there in the market that book or earnings or other fundamental weighting factors provide an easy way to take on the role of the house in the casino that is the stock market.

This is, I think, true--until there comes a day when there are enough investors following fundamental-indexation strategies that they become part of the least-informed half of active investors.


Little Brothers: Panel on David Brin's "The Transparent Society": Thursday May 22 Omni New Haven 3-5 PM George A&B

Thursday afternoon in New Haven, CT, I am on a panel to talk about David Brin's decade-old book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? at the 2008 Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference: http://www.cfp2008.org/wiki/index.php/%22The_Transparent_Society:%22_Ten_Years_Later.

Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale
155 Temple Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06510
Phone: (203) 772-6664 or (800) 843-6664.
Fax: (203) 974-6777
Web site: http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/NewHavenYale/MeetingFacilities/CFP2008ComputersFreedomandPrivacyConference5.aspx

David Brin, Alan Davidson, J. Bradford DeLong, A. Michael Froomkin, Stephanie Perrin, Zephyr Teachout

Here are posts from the past, hoisted from the archives:


Lots of Little Brothers:

Not Just Big Brother, But Lots of Little Brothers Too...: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: My father is jolted by his new issue of Reason:

The latest issue of Reason magazine arrived in the mail, and the cover causes a jolt. It is an aerial photo of my neighborhood, with my house circled and the legend underneath: "James DeLong: They Know Where You Are!"

But then he calms down:

The accompanying story has a rather different spin, though. Written by Declan McCullagh, chief political correspondent for News.com and keeper of the well-known politech email list, it is entitled "Database Nation: The upside of 'zero privacy.'" The theme is that the increasing availability of data is excellent news for all of us in many ways, primarily because of the increases in efficiency and choice in the provision of goods and services that are enabled by information.

After all, if you think that a counterparty's possessing too much information about you is not to your benefit, you can always hide your identity in some way--undertake a transaction through intermediaries, establish cover identities via forgery and using them to set up PayPal accounts and anonymized email addresses, make sure to only use public-access computers out of the range of spycams, et cetera.

And he concludes:

As for the jolt of surprise -- my address has been in the telephone book forever, so anyone with a map and a crayon could always do what Reason did. My feeling of a loss of privacy is actually rather illusory.

I don't have settled (or especially informed) views on this, Dad. But I wonder if your first reaction might not have been more accurate. It takes 20 seconds to find and circle a house with a telephone book, a map, and a crayon--at $10 an hour total cost for low-wage labor, that's six cents an address. Very few people will have an incentive to organize and analyze their data on you at that cost. Those whom you want to send you magazines every month will, but how many others. I think we do have to worry about how governments--future Stasis--will use computers. And there are additional (but far lesser) potential vulnerabilities: weaknesses of the will at the personal or household level that might be exploited. One reason Ann Marie and I never let the kids watch Saturday morning cartoons was that we didn't want to be eroded by advertising-induced waves of pressure for X or Y. We hang up on all telephone solicitations immediately because we know our vulnerability to persuasion too well. And once enough people out there have figured out who we are, our internet wire transmits information both ways.

The way Larry Summers put it was that he wants everybody in the world to know that trying to sell him golf stuff is a waste of time, but that he might well bite if offered tennis stuff. But at the same time he's profoundly uneasy about negotiating with or interacting with somebody who knows and has had plenty of time to think about every detail about all of his purchases for the past twenty years.

Sometimes what look like quantitative changes--the falling cost of information processing--make qualitative differences. This may or may not be one of them. But it may be time to start thinking about how one would live in a world in which every conversation (even informal ones with close family members) may be broadcast around the world.

Useful Comments:

Isn't the kind of privacy we're concerned about losing here a very modern development? I spent a couple of years living in a village in a developing country, and everyone knew everything about everyone else. The universe of people local enough to be interesting was small enough that any tidbit of information: an unusual purchase, a change in routine... anything, was synthesized quickly into a coherent narrative that got passed around to everyone in the village. If you wanted to do something privately, you had to literally keep it a secret -- do it behind closed doors without in any way signalling publically that there was anything untoward going on. This certainly sounds annoying from a modern American point of view, but it really wasn't all that unlivable once you got used to it, and it's how people have lived since the dawn of history. The anonymity we're used to, being able to do things publically that we would prefer our acquaintances to remain unaware of by relying on the difficulty of compiling the huge amount of public information out there, is very new, probably post-WW II for most Americans. What are the ill effects we expect from losing it? Posted by: LizardBreath on May 16, 2004 08:23 AM

For those who missed it, medical privacy in the US is apparently at an end (see http://www.medicalprivacycoalition.org/). I have no idea whether the situation is similar here in Canada, though I should. "The Justice Department now states that patients "no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential," adding that federal law "does not recognize a physician-patient privilege."" Posted by: Tom Slee on May 16, 2004 08:24 AM

Suddenly, monitoring and information processing is cheap, and so, potentially, control is cheap. The "ethics" of a society/polity in which monitoring/information processing was expensive no longer apply. Listing your phone number in a phone directory no longer has the same implications. The penalty for, say, speeding on the freeway, which is appropriate, when the police can only observe and cite, say, one in 4,000 speeders, is not going to be appropriate when the police can cite one in 50, or one in 5. The ACLU approach, which is a reactionary attempt to prevent use of cheaper monitoring to do what corporations and governments will do, is hopeless and misguided. Misguided because it stands in the way of desirable increases in technical efficiency and productivity; hopeless because you cannot stop a force of nature. I suspect the solution is the "empowerment" of the individual by the same technology. Concealment of a kind is made cheaper by the same technology, which makes monitoring cheaper. by: Brian Wilder on May 16, 2004 09:43 AM

"In the greatest surveillance effort ever established, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has created a global spy system, codename ECHELON, which captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world. ECHELON is controlled by the NSA and is operated in conjunction with the Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) of England, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) of Canada, the Australian Defense Security Directorate (DSD), and the General Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand. These organizations are bound together under a secret 1948 agreement, UKUSA, whose terms and text remain under wraps even today." http://fly.hiwaay.net/~pspoole/echelon.html "An international surveillance network established by the National Security Agency and British intelligence services has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, as lawmakers in the United States question whether the network, known as Echelon, could be used to monitor American citizens. The House Committee on Intelligence requested that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency provide a detailed report to Congress explaining what legal standards they use to monitor the conversations, transmissions and activities of American citizens." http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/05/cyber/articles/27network.html Connect the dots: ECHELON --->BUSH --->ENEMY COMBATANT. We've got nothing to worry about though. Right? Right??? Posted by: Dubblblind on May 16, 2004 10:51 AM

"The biggest threat to our society, he warns, is that surveillance technology will be used by too few people not by too many." Brin does not strike me as someone who has a realistic view of human psychology. His claim is basically that with good enough surveillance tech, everyone has the potential to survey and monitor everyone else so might as well dump privacy to practically eliminate crime, government oppression, etc. As far as I can see this is quite a silly view. We will combine the worst aspects of small villages with the worst aspects of big societies. In a small village everyone knows what everyone else is doing. This produces community but also an often rather straitjacketed conformity. In a big city you lose some of that community but you can also more easily escape the busybodies who try to enforce conformity. In an urban surveillance society, on the other hand, you start to get some nasty social dynamics. Because while it may be easy to COLLECT certain forms of information, it is not so easy to ANALYZE and USE the masses of data that result. In interpersonal affairs this would be a victory for moralists and busybodies. There will be enough of them to immediately tie any "deviant" behavior to an individual and make it public. But the elimination of privacy would not magically bring tolerance for the nonconformists. You will get a "small town" conformity effect enforced not by community rumor but by a small minority of people driven by enough moralistic outrage to spend lots of their time observing others. This observation will be directed disproportionately at deviants. Unlike a real small town where people know about everyone, there will be relatively few people interested in processing the information about your typical average, boring person and then disseminating it where it can do the most damage. A similar thing applies to the government, but with a difference in technological expertise and capabilities. Frankly the internet and advancing personal surveillance tech do not and will not give citizens some magical capability to observe the government. You won't even be able to use your mini-cameras to catch cops beating people in jail if they use the simple expedient of removing such devices from suspects. It's not like you're going to be able to set up webcams in NSA headquarters either. I certainly don't see how it would do anything about the potential for intelligence abuses - collecting information on dissidents and threatening to use that against them. Indeed, they can sit back and relax while that information is collected for them and the public demands that something be done about the undesirables. We're a society that doesn't watch CSPAN or support real investigative reporting. How the heck would there be enough people to do the difficult and mostly-boring job of collecting lots of amateur intelligence about their own government? Hell no, we're far more interested in gossip about each other and in enforcing conformity, that's where virtually all of the energy will go. Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on May 16, 2004 12:16 PM

DeLong's aware of Brin's ideas on this subject. He reviewed Brin's "The Transparent Society" soon after its publication: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/Econ_Articles/Reviews/Transparent.html I'm moderately ashamed to say that I haven't read Transparent Society, despite having read most of Brin's fiction, and having been exposed to his basic thoughts on privacy and transparency in lite form there. Posted by: RT on May 16, 2004 02:30 PM

I had a recent experience that relates to the issue of privacy, albeit peripherally. Bear with me and go easy on the flames if you feel that this is irrelevant: "I got a call from someone at the Ford Motor Company Credit department concerning someone whose name I did not recognize. I assumed that this person (let's call him Joe Blow, although I forgot his real name) had listed me or someone whose name was similar to mine as a credit reference and FMC was calling to check up on him. I didn't want to screw the guy's chances of getting credit because a mistake was made, so I called FMC (during my workday, because the time difference necessitated it). It turns out this was not a credit check gone wrong, but instead Mr. Blow was my upstairs neighbor at the apartment complex I lived in, and the FMC representative started to ask me a number of questions about him. No, I had never met him. No, I had never seen a black Mustang in the garage where I park. And no, there is no way that I would relay a message to him. Actually, I regret saying no to that last one. I should have said yes, then asked how much I would be paid to work as a paid agent of the Ford Motor Company Credit Division, and whether they would insure me if Joe Blow took umbrage at the messenger of bad news and beat the shit out of me." I guess all this is to say that I think that private corporations will be as blithely unconcerned as the government about the privacy (and safety) of others, and will eagerly enlist unrelated parties to do their dirty work. Yes, what the government can do to you is generally worse than what corporations can do to you (at least here in the U.S.), but the experience was far creepier than any I have had with any governmental agent. Posted by: no name on May 16, 2004 03:21 PM

I spent Saturday afternoon with my eight year old son on a tour or Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena. I have a friend who works there (Cal (BS) '82 MIT (PhD) '85); it was the annual open house to the public and science exhibitions for children. He showed my son and his daughters around. The highlights were the kids lying down and having a six-wheeled robot truck drive over them; and, looking as the 42" flat panel screen hanging on the wall outside my friend's office and moving a mouse to zoom in on an image of the Western United States, then California, then Southern California, then Los Angeles County, then Jet Propulsion Labs, then over to my neighborhood, then to my street. I'm told they can get a lot closer with a lot better resolution. My friend is now mapping the rain forests to track deforestation using radar technology to make maps and pictures. Posted by: Cal on May 16, 2004 10:13 PM


Book Review:

David Brin (1998), The Transparent Society, (New York: Addison-Wesley: 020132802X): For perhaps two centuries people living in today's advanced industrial societies have had a modicum of privacy. Before two centuries ago, privacy was nearly unheard-of: you lived in a village where everyone knew everyone else and everyone else's business. Between two centuries ago and the present, people moved out of the village and out to a--relatively isolated--farm, or into a city where the sheer number of people made relative anonymity--and thus privacy--possible. But, at least according to David Brin, the future will be different. In the future privacy as we know it today will be nearly impossible to attain.

In the future privacy will be next to nonexistent because of the explosion of audiovisual, communications, and computer technologies. Cheap hard disks will allow people to collect massive information about transactions: who did what. Cheap cameras will allow people to collect massive amounts of information about locations: who was where. Cheap computer power will allow the sorting and searching of massive amounts of information in search of those nuggets of data relevant to any one particular person. And cheap computers will allow anyone--or anyone with access codes--to access what will essentially become the stored life history of anyone. From David Brin's perspective, this change is coming. The only question is who will have access to the information that will be contained in the great surveillance databases. Will the information be "secret" and "private"--in which case only governments which may turn thuggish will have access? Or will the information be "open" and "public"--in which case we will once again be back in the village, where nearly everything is done in public and everybody knows everybody else's business: truly a global village.

Brin makes a good case that the technology will bring us to one of these two outcomes. And he argues that the first outcome--in which we try to preserve our "privacy" by restricting access to the great surveillance databases--is a very dangerous outcome. It is a dangerous outcome because secret knowledge is power, and if the twentieth century has proven anything it is that governments cannot be trusted with secret knowledge. The great tyrannies of the twentieth century flourished because their surveillance gave them control and their secrecy kept enough citizens from realizing what they were up to fast enough. The advent of modern audiovisual, communications, and computing technologies greatly amplifies the power of surveillance, and greatly multiplies the danger if it is not countered by a greatly amplified power of the people to survey the government. And popular surveillance over the government carries as a side effect a potential loss of privacy. Anything that restricts popular access to information about other citizens restricts popular access to information about the government as well.

I believe that Brin's book is not necessarily an accurate forecast. The futures that he envisions will probably never come to pass. And the choice that he foresees may well never be posed in the stark form in which he poses it. Yet the book is useful: the future Brin envisions is clearly one of the possible futures that might come to pass, and the consequences of what he sees as the wrong choice in that possible future could turn the twenty-first century into an abattoir that would make the twentieth century look like a Sunday picnic.

If enough people read Brin's book, or are brushed by the currents of thought in represents, then it may turn into a self-negating prophecy: a warning of dystopia that by virtue of the horror it paints helps avoid that horror. That was the function of George Orwell's 1984. That is an honorable role for anyone's book.Book Review:

David Brin (1998), The Transparent Society, (New York: Addison-Wesley: 020132802X): For perhaps two centuries people living in today's advanced industrial societies have had a modicum of privacy. Before two centuries ago, privacy was nearly unheard-of: you lived in a village where everyone knew everyone else and everyone else's business. Between two centuries ago and the present, people moved out of the village and out to a--relatively isolated--farm, or into a city where the sheer number of people made relative anonymity--and thus privacy--possible. But, at least according to David Brin, the future will be different. In the future privacy as we know it today will be nearly impossible to attain.

In the future privacy will be next to nonexistent because of the explosion of audiovisual, communications, and computer technologies. Cheap hard disks will allow people to collect massive information about transactions: who did what. Cheap cameras will allow people to collect massive amounts of information about locations: who was where. Cheap computer power will allow the sorting and searching of massive amounts of information in search of those nuggets of data relevant to any one particular person. And cheap computers will allow anyone--or anyone with access codes--to access what will essentially become the stored life history of anyone. From David Brin's perspective, this change is coming. The only question is who will have access to the information that will be contained in the great surveillance databases. Will the information be "secret" and "private"--in which case only governments which may turn thuggish will have access? Or will the information be "open" and "public"--in which case we will once again be back in the village, where nearly everything is done in public and everybody knows everybody else's business: truly a global village.

Brin makes a good case that the technology will bring us to one of these two outcomes. And he argues that the first outcome--in which we try to preserve our "privacy" by restricting access to the great surveillance databases--is a very dangerous outcome. It is a dangerous outcome because secret knowledge is power, and if the twentieth century has proven anything it is that governments cannot be trusted with secret knowledge. The great tyrannies of the twentieth century flourished because their surveillance gave them control and their secrecy kept enough citizens from realizing what they were up to fast enough. The advent of modern audiovisual, communications, and computing technologies greatly amplifies the power of surveillance, and greatly multiplies the danger if it is not countered by a greatly amplified power of the people to survey the government. And popular surveillance over the government carries as a side effect a potential loss of privacy. Anything that restricts popular access to information about other citizens restricts popular access to information about the government as well.

I believe that Brin's book is not necessarily an accurate forecast. The futures that he envisions will probably never come to pass. And the choice that he foresees may well never be posed in the stark form in which he poses it. Yet the book is useful: the future Brin envisions is clearly one of the possible futures that might come to pass, and the consequences of what he sees as the wrong choice in that possible future could turn the twenty-first century into an abattoir that would make the twentieth century look like a Sunday picnic.

If enough people read Brin's book, or are brushed by the currents of thought in represents, then it may turn into a self-negating prophecy: a warning of dystopia that by virtue of the horror it paints helps avoid that horror. That was the function of George Orwell's 1984. That is an honorable role for anyone's book.


P.Z. Myers on the Platypus

P.Z. Myers says that the platypus is a fine animal--it has just been pushed around by different evolutionary pressures over the past 160 million years than have modern mammals, reptiles, and birds. I say that the platypus is an otter gone horribly wrong:

Pharyngula: The platypus genome: Every organism is going to be a mix of conserved, primitive characters and evolutionary novelties — a mouse is just as "weird" as a platypus from an evolutionary perspective, since each is the product of processes that promote divergence from a common ancestor, and each are equidistant from that ancestor.... [M]odern echidnas, elephants, and emus are all products of different evolutionary trajectories through history, and no one by itself is a representative of the ancestral condition. We derive the ancestral state by comparison of multiple lineages... [this] adds another lineage to the [genomic] data set, one that diverged from ours over 160 million years ago. It is a lens that helps us see what novelties arose in that 160 million year window....

So what are the details that we've learned from the platypus? One important message is the unity of life. The platypus has about 18,000 genes; humans have 18-20,000 genes. Roughly 82% of the platypus genes are shared between monotremes, marsupials, eutherians, birds, and reptiles....

An interesting specialization in the platypus is the evolution of venoms. The platypus has small, sharp spurs on its hindlimbs that it uses to inject defensive poisons into predators, a very unusual feature not found in other mammals. Where did these venoms come from? As it turns out, by duplication of genes that have other functions, with subsequent divergence, and many of these genes also come from the innate immune system. In particular, there are a set of proteins called the β-defensins... the bullets of the immune system; they can bind to viral coat proteins, they can punch holes in bacterial membranes.... The platypus has repurposed these genes, making copies that have been selected for more effective toxicity when injected into other animals.

One very cool observation is that these are also the same proteins used in venomous reptiles... two distant relatives, the lepidosaurs and the monotremes, all use β-defensin derived venoms. Does this imply that their last common ancestor also used these venoms? No, and this is where the details are important. Venomous snakes and the platypus have different duplications of the β-defensin genes... these are independently derived features, not primitive at all... convergent evolution....

One virtue of the platypus is that it provides a relatively closely related outgroup to help tie together, and give perspective on, the various mammalian genome projects. It's all part of the big picture in defining what a mammal is...


Philippe Sands on John Yoo's Torture Memo and Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley

Over here: http://delong.typepad.com/the_torture_memo/2008/05/philippe-sand-1.html.

Here is a taste of what Philippe Sands has to say. He is reassured that his conclusions "have not been challenged":

VF Daily: Guantanamo Update: A New York Times editorial described [John] Yoo’s continued employment at Berkeley as “inexplicable”, and this seems to have stung the Dean at that law school, Chris Edley, into explaining the limited options available to him.... I have less sympathy... for Dean Edley’s assertion that:

no argument about what [Yoo] did or didn’t facilitate, or about his special obligations as an attorney, makes his conduct morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank and place...

[L]awyers play a crucial role, as gatekeepers of legality.... When the lawyers bend... cross a line... ethics violations... criminal violations.... I was told that, under their rules of criminal law, “the lawyer has the same responsibility as the interrogator,” and that, when it comes to torture authorized by a lawyer, “the lawyer who gives such legal advice is not [treated] as an accomplice, it is as though he is the author"...


Hoisted from Comments: Political Economy Major "Concentrations" at Berkeley

The highly-intelligent and industrious David Guarino writes:

Hoisted from Comments: David Guarino: Berkeley Political Economy "Concentrations": A few practical constraints from an "on the ground" perspective worth noting:

  1. The fleeting accuracy of course names: While the content of Econ 100B will rarely fluctuate beyond the relative weight given to short/medium-term and long-term/growth models, this is exceedingly the exception in PEIS spectrum. Much to my (pleasant) surprise, "Rhetoric of Social Science" the semester I took it turned out to be more a genealogy of Marxist approaches to economics since the school's namesake than anything else. This means the average PEIS student can rarely predict what combination of Dept names and 3-digit numbers fit within his or her thematic constraints in a given semester. This is to say nothing of the regularity (or lack thereof) of the offered classes.

  2. The shadow of regimes past: The advising staff has traditionally not accepted geographic concentrations, and many of the examples you've given appear to me to be just that. Not to say that I disagree with the notion; indeed, it may be the best "narrowing" mechanism to eventually lead to a thesis topic. BUT, you must recognize this would represent an implicit regime shift among the advising staff and likely for many of the major's stakeholders (at the very least whoever pushed for geography being insufficient in the first place).

  3. The frantic irrationality of a first-week student: Let's admit it, the vast majority of undergrads choose classes based on a few main considerations: to what degree the major forces one to take it, one's first impression of a professor, what time it's at, and how interesting the material seems. In my experience, most also select in this order. It's a simple iterated optimization game for people, with the major imposing most of the constraints.

My major point (no pun) is that most students just improvise their way through it all, and to a large degree this is what PEIS is about: lower bureaucratic constraints so that intellectual utility might be more fully optimized; the flexibility to take that one Agricultural Econ class that won't ever be offered again and not have to stay a ninth semester because they let you work it into your concentration. The primary problem is this leads to thoroughly confused students - even exceedingly dedicated ones - come senior year.

All this is to say concentrations in PEIS really cannot be planned. They arise from the strange iterated game mentioned already. And that fact must be recognized, if not actively encouraged as the norm. The major should be an exploration, with each stage (lower div's, core methods, concentration, thesis) progressively narrowing in scope. Perhaps more focus ought to be given to how each stage really contributes to the student's own ability to further narrow, through increasing exposure to the methodologies he or she is interested in applying to a specific problem.

(End rant)

As a comment on my:

The "Concentration" requirement in Berkeley's Political Economy major is meant to give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the nature of the relationship between politics and economics as it relates to a particular issue. You are graduating with a Political Economy degree. That means you know a little about each of history, sociology, political science, economics, possibly philosophy, rhetoric, anthropology, geography or other disciplines as well. You should know a lot about something. the Concentration requirement forces you to define that something.

Each student chooses an existing or potential issue or problem in political economy, and takes four courses bearing on that issue or problem. The courses need to inform the student's study of the Concentration topic. In a better world than this, the Concentration requirement would also include a senior honors thesis on some aspect of the Concentration topic.

The key to the Concentration requirement is that it is your own: the Concentration is self-defined. You must develop a topic that is an existing or potential issue or problem in political economy. You then choose four courses to inform inform your view and increase your knowledge. Select courses from different departments. Note that courses listed in the PEIS Student Handbook will automatically be approved for appropriate concentration topics--but courses not listed in the handbook can be taken for the concentration: all you have to do is make the case that it is appropriate for the concentration. And, of course, no double dipping: courses taken for your concentration cannot be double-counted towards another major requirement.

Here are fifteen sample recent concentrations. Note that these are not the best possible courses offered at some Platonic Ideal of Berkeley for this concentration--these are real-world courses that students can actually get into and take...


New York Times Death Spiral Watch (Tom Friedman Edition)

It's plummeting fast something awful...

Abu Muqawama watches the approaching wreck:

abu muqawama: Future TV: Did Tom Friedman really just describe Future TV as "progressive"? Really? Progressive in, uh, what way? Because it has the word "future" in its name?

Abu Muqawama thought Hizbollah shutting the station down was just as cowardly and thuggish as anyone, but let's be honest -- Future TV and al-Mustaqbal newspaper are sectarian propaganda organs for March 14th and the Hariri family.

Friedman then went on to say that Hizbollah shut down Future TV so that its "propaganda machine could dominate the airwaves." Are you kidding me? Is that the way it works in Lebanon, Tom? Have you been back since 1984? There are only two news stations there now, huh? Did LBC fold up shop and emigrate to France? And are al-Arabiyya and al-Jazeera unavailable?

Stupid stuff like this in the first four paragraphs of a newspaper column is enough to make Abu Muqawama quit reading. So if Friedman said anything smart in the rest of the column, let us know.

Update: Charlie, here. For those of you who enjoy shooting Friedman fish in a barrel (always great sport), be sure to check out this classic review of The World is Flat.

His [Friedman's] description of the early 90s:

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been--but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.

How the f--- do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?

Four hundred and 73 pages of this, folks. Is there no God?


Robert Waldmann on E.J. Dionne (Washington Post Death Spiral Watch)

If the Washington Post is going to survive four more years, it is going to have to train its columnists to fact-check Republicans before they take their word. It's not hard. But it is not done.

Here is Robert Waldmann on E.J. Dionne:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: The excellent E.J. Dionne has a nice column about Republican panic. He notes, among other things, that the iron party discipline appears to be breaking. Mainly, he interviews Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn). Corker hints at something very important

And Corker said voters did not believe the Republicans were "solving the major problems," notably guaranteeing Americans health coverage. "We just haven't been responsible," Corker said. "We deserve to be where we are. I hope we right ourselves."

Oh my. That is a Republican senator who just said that he wants to guarantee Americans health coverage. Corker is saying that if the Democrats are looking for a few Republican votes for Cloture on health care reform in 2009, he is ready to deal.

However, I am going to focus on something very unimportant. Corker was the only Republican to win a close race for the Senate in 2006, so he is a natural person to ask what the other Republicans are doing wrong. However, Corker's version of the 2006 Tennessee senate race is totally false.

Yet the national party almost blew the race near the end, Corker said, by running an ad that many saw as racist. The commercial, aired without Corker's knowledge, included a young, blonde, white actress declaring that she had met Ford "at the Playboy party." It ended with her whispering the words: "Harold, call me."

Corker was furious, and not just because his six-point lead melted into a four-point deficit. The party eventually pulled the radioactive ad, and Corker won narrowly.

At the time, lefty bloggers argued that the ad would help Corker, then argued that it had helped Corker. I wasn't following it, but it seems that ABC news agreed with Corker's recent claim that the ad backfired

You can guess the rest.

Hard data, that is polls, show that lefty bloggers were right, that ABC news was clueless and that the excellent E.J. Dionne allowed Corker to lie mislead about recent history by cherry picking two polls, which, in contrast to the overall average of polls, suggest that his support fell when the ad aired.

The ad came out in late October 2006. In September and early October, the polls were almost exactly tied. At the time of the ad controversy, Corker pulled ahead. Then he won. I recall that, at the time, people argued that the shift occurred because Ford confronted Corker at a Corker campaign event and not because of the ad. No one dinied the shift and the coincidence in timing. Two years later an agreed fact has made it down the memory hole.

Here is the report with a graph of polls from Pollster.com

E.J. Dionne should know better than to leave a Republican's fact claim unchecked.


links for 2008-05-17


After the Examination All Professors Are Sad: A Dialogue About Teaching the Wrong Thing

Akhilleus: You look morose.

Glaukon: It's 99.9F degrees out.

Akhilleus: So you are thinking of Suzanne Vega?

Glaukon: No, the chocolate bar I keep in my backpack has melted all over my backup portable disk drive. But that's not why I am morose.

Akhilleus: So why are you morose then?

Glaukon: Because, looking back over my syllabus this semester, I realized that I spent five full weeks--one third of the semester--teaching them the Solow growth model...

Khelona: It's a fine model...

Glaukon: And yet when the rubber hits the road, it doesn't do us any good. It doesn't tell us anything first-order about the world--aside from post-WWII Japanese convergence from a bouncing-rubble B-29 testfield to a prosperous OECD economy.

Khelona: Actually, I don't think the Solow growth model explains that...

Glaukon: You don't?

Khelona: Post-WWII Japan converged to the OECD norm. And the Solow growth model has some convergence in it--if you start out really poor because your economy's capital stock has been turned into rubble or worse by B-29 strikes, you will grow fast because a low capital stock gives you a high social marginal product of investment and depreciation cannot be a drag on growth if there is no capital to depreciate. But these have always struck me as second- or third-order mechanisms in the story of post-WWII economic growth. Trade. Technology transfer. Institutional reform. The survival of the economic-mobilization components of the fascist Tojo dictatorship. The destruction of the other components of the fascist Tojo dictatorship. The ability of large firms to strike high-productivity bargain with their core workforces by shifting risks onto small-scale producer-suppliers and secondary-sector workers. The neocolonial origins of comparative development--that for Cold War-fighting reasons the U.S. was willing to cut Japan an enormous amount of slack in terms of market access that it was not willing to cut Mexico or Argentina or anyone else outside NATO. You know the story. You know the story better than I do.

Glaukon: Great! So now you've depressed me further--you have gotten me down from one example of the model at work telling us something interesting down to zero.

Zeno: I wouldn't be so depressed. It may be a small step, but it is a step, and steps add up...

Akhilleus: You are the wrong person to say that small steps add up!

Zeno: I have learned how to do limits properly in the past 2400 years...

Khelona: But it does provide a useful service: it is a tractable model that teaches students this mode of thought, and when you apply it to the world it teaches you that--with some caveats--capital accumulation is not the most important thing to study when you focus on growth...

Glaukon: So then why did I spend five weeks on it?

Akhilleus: Ummm... What did you teach, exactly?

Glaukon: This:

  • The Solow growth model: setup, balanced-growth equilibirum, convergence
  • Raw materials and natural resource scarcity in the Solow model
  • Endogenous population growth and the Malthusian equilibrium
  • Transition to modern economic growth: the invention of invention and innovation via the industrial research lab
  • Modes of organizing research and development:
    • State--distributing the R&D for free, and having a central bureaucratic process make the decision about what to work on
    • Nonprofits--distributing the R&D for free, and having a decentralized desire to win the tenure game make the decisions about what to work on
    • Private companies--intellectual property protection and selling the products of R&D, and having profit-seeking companies decide to work on what they can sell
  • The Great Divergence of the world economy from 1850-1975: western Europe and Pacific Asia but not much else have converged, U.S. now 30 times richer than Kenya
  • DeLong and Summers: equipment investment, high marginal product of investment as a reality or as a statistical illusion
  • Post-1975: China and India stand up; Africa falls behind
  • The golden rule and the "optimal" national savings rate
  • From the Solow model to the Ramsey model: more sophisticated takes at optimal savings rates

Khelona: Sounds like a smashing success to me...

Glaukon: But the bottom line is that we don't have good explanations at any deep level for why the U.S. today is and stays 30 times richer than Kenya.

Akhilleus: Or, rather, that we have good explanations but they are historians', political scientists', and sociologists' explanations--not explanations in which a facility with the differential calculus is terribly helpful and thus not explanations instrumentally useful to a sect of academics who want to use their facility with the differential calculus to impose a form of hegemonic domination over social science in general.

Glaukon: And we can say that you will grow fast if you have lots of research and deveiopment--both your own and also do a good job of transferring technology in from outside. But we can't say how much is optimal. Or how it should be organized. Or what legal system should underpin it. We have to decide whether R&D is going to be done by centralized government bureaucracies and freely distributed, by guildmasters working at nonprofits on projects they think of as intellectually interesting and then freely distributed, or by profit-seeking companies with some degree of intellectual property protection giving them monopoly power. But we can't say anything coherent and convincing about what the mix should beand what the degree of intellectual property protection should be.

Akhilleus: But surely there is value in being confused about the issue at a higher and more sophisticated level...

Khelona: I agree: too arrive at the point where you can say that these are the most important issues to think about is a very important achievement...

Thrasymakhos: Especially if it leads immediately to higher funding levels for universities...


James Fallows vs. Vista

James Fallows continues his war against bad hardware and software:

My three computers (MacBook Air saga, cont..):

  1. The sublime elegance of VMWare Fusion... once it was installed, it let me run PC programs and Mac programs side by side, in normal screen windows from which you can cut and paste text back and forth. My cherished PC program Zoot is there in a window right alongside the Mac's Scrivener or DevonThink Pro. And so are Microsoft Outlook and Word 2007. I have learned to be skeptical of the assurance that something "just works." But for me, over three months, Fusion has just worked.... Of course... under Fusion they are actually running on Windows XP, not Vista as on this ThinkPad.... This leads us to the second point for the day:

  2. The bottomless villainy of Vista. I am sure I would not be in the middle of switching platforms now if I hadn't bought a Vista-equipped laptop 15 months ago.... [N]early a year and a half after it went on the market, Vista is still an unbelievable dog (as many senior Microsoft officials knew before it was released.)... 99% of the problem turns on slowness... slow to start up, slow to shut down, slow to detect and connect to wireless networks, slow to get programs like Outlook up and running.... It has taken my Vista/ThinkPad at least eight minutes to come fully to life, to recognize the local wifi network, to become responsive with Outlook, to stop its disk churning.... The MBAair was ready to go in well under one minute....

  3. The willful inelegance of the Mac keyboard.... Whether or not the Mac layout is objectively better or worse than the PC's, it's different, which requires countless small adjustments....

Sooner or later, three more points (including about MBA's battery, operating temperature, and so on)...


Dean Scrimgeour: Monetary Policy Shocks and Commodity Prices...

Macro lunch...

"Is this for or against Jeff Frankel?" "How about orthogonal? As orthogonal as possible..."

  • Barsky and Killian (2001)
  • Barsky and Killian (2004)
  • Frankel (2006)
  • Scrimgeour (2008)
  • Cook and Hahn (1989)
  • Bernanke and Kuttner
  • Kuttner (2001) -- fed funds futures shock...

  • Volatility

  • Recent elevated commodity prices
  • Dornbusch overshooting model--commodity prices as asset prices

Ross Douthat Writes a Truly Terrifying Horror Story

It's about people doing to George W. Bush in the future what others have in the past done to the foreign policy of Teddy Roosevelt:

The Atlantic Online | June 2008 | Redeeming Dubya | Ross Douthat: The national memory often confuses hubris with greatness. That’s good news for George W. Bush: The idea that history might rehabilitate George W. Bush seems too ludicrous to be seriously entertained. His approval ratings have been so low for so long, it’s hard to remember that he was ever popular. The Iraq War, his signal endeavor, has lasted for more years than America’s involvement in the Second World War and seems likely to last longer; a fragile truce in a wrecked, misgoverned country is the best the next president can hope for.

Even many of the president’s ideological allies consider him a failure... a false conservative who betrayed the Reagan legacy... a blunderer... [whp] couldn’t follow through. His liberal foes, whose bill of indictments has swollen to the size of Gravity’s Rainbow, while away the hours until January 2009 by arguing over just how terrible a president he’s been. The worst since Nixon? Since Hoover? Since James Buchanan?...

[N]early every presidential reputation, however tarnished, eventually finds someone willing to defend it.... But something more than partisan apologetics will be needed for his presidency to be remembered as something other than a failure.... George W. Bush will have to win over not only centrists but at least some liberals.... Imagining that these liberals, and others, might be won over again requires two big assumptions. First, assume that the years immediately after Bush leaves office pass without domestic calamity.... The harder assumption... America’s intervention in Iraq eventually needs to come out looking like a success story rather than a folly.

This seems improbable, to put it mildly. But the crucial word here is eventually. The Bush administration has often seemed bent on vindicating, in the short run and by force of arms, Francis Fukuyama’s famous long-term prediction that liberal democracy will ultimately triumph... if the Iraq of 2038 or so is stable, democratic, and at peace with its neighbors, and if American troops have maintained a constant presence in the country--no one should be surprised to hear hawkish liberals as well as conservatives taking up the idea that George W. Bush deserves a great deal of the credit.

I do not mean to suggest that this is a likely outcome, or that it would be a just one. The cost of the Iraq War, in lives and dollars and squandered opportunities, ought to far outweigh the possibility that a long-term American presence might push the Middle East in a direction it was headed anyway.... [W]e’ve forgiven Teddy Roosevelt his role in the bloody and disgraceful occupation of the Philippines.... Despite our crimes, the Philippines turned out well enough in the long run... these well-respected presidents have benefited, as well, from the American tendency to overvalue activist leaders....

[A] too-keen awareness of the American tendency to associate great leadership with world-historical ambition has wrecked the presidency of George W. Bush. But the enthusiasm for Barack Obama and John McCain suggests that the yearning, on the left and right alike, for presidents who will pursue greatness has only been enhanced by the debacle in Iraq. This is good news for Bush.... But it’s dangerous news for America. Those who rehabilitate the follies of the past are condemned to repeat them.


Selective Colleges as Tito-Era Yugoslavian Firms Once Again

In an email message this morning, paraphrased:

I think the diversity" reason for selective college admissions is weak from a moral point of view. It suggests admissions is about creating an interesting experience for students. Most Americans, by contrast, think of selective college admissions as a ticket to the American Dream: they want the kids who are most deserving to get in. Americans reject all sorts of preferences. The one exception is class: they support... giving a leg up to hard working and talented low income students who have overcome obstacles because they think such students deserve to get in...

I cannot help but feel that there is something totally wrong here. Admission to a good college should not be like a tournament--it should not be a valuable prize that makes its recipients especially better off awarded to those most deserving, with those slightly below the cutoff turned into social losers in some important way. Admission to a good college should be like a matching market--if society would benefit the most from having student X attend an CalTech-like and CalTech-caliber place, there should be enough places at CalTech-like institutions so that all of those students get to go. And similarly all the way on down the line.

The simplest model I can think of of how to match a number of students with different levels of preparation--say, evenly distributed over the interval [0,1] to n different colleges each of which has level of rigor Ri--is to say that the value of education to society V for a student with particular preparation P attending college i is:

V = V* - (P - Ri)2 + gP*i

That is, students benefit from going to college (V*), and they benefit less from going to a college where the level of instruction is not calibrated to their preparation--they lose if the college is either too advanced or too elementary--- ((P - Ri)2), but they benefit more from being around better students (gP*i, where g is a constant and P*i is the average preparation level of the students at their college).

In this framework, with a small finite number of colleges, admissions decisions matter: in the best equilibrium the colleges' rigor levels are evenly spread over the range from zero to one (with four colleges at 1/8, 3/8, 5/8, and 7/8) and the student whose test scores indicate a preparation level of 400001/800000 and so gets to go to alma mater 5/8 is significantly better off in some sense than the student whose test scores indicate a preparation level of 399999/800000 and so is sent to alma mater 3/8. These effects are to some degree a small-numbers problem: as the number of colleges grows large they diminish. And these effects are to some degree a mismatch problem: those who are through matching error admitted to an institution attended by the better prepared are better off for it (and their roommates are worse off for it), and those who are through matching error sent to an institution attended for the worse prepared are worse off for it (and their roommates are better off for it)


Jeebus! This Is Humiliating!

First time I have been late to an exam in thirty years in this business.

Fortunately, I was only ten minutes late.

Unfortunately, I was the one giving the exam...


Rising Economic Insecurity

If you are in DC the week after next on May 29, this looks very useful:

Economic Policy Institute forum.... Breakfast & Registration: 10:00 - 10:30 AM. Presentations & Discussion: 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM. Book signing: 12:30 - 1:00 PM

Moderator: Louis Uchitelle, The New York Times...

Panelists:

Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science, Yale University, Institution for Social and Policy Studies; Elisabeth Jacobs: Fellow, Harvard University, Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality & Social Policy. Hacker and Jacobs will present and discuss their new study: "The Rising Instability of American Family Incomes, 1969-2004."

Peter Gosselin, Los Angeles Times. Gosselin will discuss his new book, High Wire. The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (Basic Books, June 2, 2008) (available for purchase and signing at event).

Discussant: Brink Lindsey, Cato Institute. Author of The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture. (Collins)

Economic Policy Institute
1333 H Street, NW
East Tower, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20005


Matthew Yglesias: Why Are We in Iraq?

he quotes Spencer Ackerman:

Matthew Yglesias: Traffic Stop: Spencer Ackerman:

Geoffrey Millard, a soldier with the New York National Guard, was a general's assistant in Iraq. He related a story he attended a briefing his boss about: a soldier at a traffic control point, faced with a speeding, oncoming car, "made a split-second decision" to fire "more than 200 rounds into the vehicle," killing its inhabitants. "He then watched as the mother, father and two children were carried from that car.

"That evening, as it was briefed to the general -- and I flipped the slides for that briefing -- Col. [William] Rochelle, from the 42nd Infantry Division, DISCOM [Division Support Command] commander -- and I have to apologize for a little vulgarity here, but I feel it's intricate for my testimony -- he turned in his chair to an entire division-level staff, and he said, and I quote, 'If these fucking Hajjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen.'"

To me, in a sense, it's these checkpoints incidents, more than anything else, that exposes the fundamental folly of occupation.

If you're an American, it's just not going to be tolerable to have a bunch of foreigners who only speak Arabic manning traffic stops while heavily armed and ultimately accountable only to an all-foreign chain of command. Nobody would put up with that -- it's absurd. And of course if an American cop had put 200 rounds into a car and killed a whole civilian family over a traffic violation there would have been a shitstorm about it in local politics and the legal system. Even if the shooter evaded any criminal sanction, there would be consequences -- you couldn't possibly just brush it off and put the guy back out there directing traffic!

And conversely, suppose you were asked to finish up your basic training and then go to a foreign country where you don't speak the language but there is a domestic insurgency that forms one part of a complicated patchwork of oft-violent political machinations that you have no way of understanding. You've got a gun, some of your colleagues have been blown up, and here's car speeding right toward you. How am I going to blame you for opening fire? And can you imagine orders going down the chain of command asking U.S. soldiers to radically increase their chances of getting killed in order to somewhat reduce the odds of Iraqis being killed in good faith mistakes? Or putting your life in the hands of your fellow soldiers and then turning around and ratting them out if their errors led to loss of civilian life?

The whole thing is maddeningly impossible. I can't at all imagine the right way to handle these situations. Shrugging it off with an "If these fucking Hajjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen" clearly isn't the right answer, but is there one? I say, no there isn't -- there's just no good way to be a long-term occupying power. American soldiers are (rightly) accountable to American politicians who are (rightly) accountable to American voters but that means they can't be the ultimate source of authority in Iraq in any kind of reasonable way.


Crime and Punishment

Felix Salmon:

How Unleaded Gasoline Slashed the Violent Crime Rate - Finance Blog - Felix Salmon - Market Movers - Portfolio.com: The paper, from the NBER, is 70 pages long, but the conclusion, from Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, is simple, and stunning:

The main result of the paper is that changes in childhood lead exposure are responsible for a 56% drop in violent crime in the 1990s.

What are those "changes in childhood lead exposure"? Primarily the move to unleaded gasoline, which happened in the US between 1975 and 1985.

This result is not entirely surprising: I blogged a similar finding, by Rick Nevin, last summer. Nevin's paper is more international in scope: it covers the USA, Britain,Canada, France, Australia, Finland, Italy, West Germany, and New Zealand. But it also uses a less rich dataset: the new paper really nails this finding down.

What I learn from this paper is that sometimes the Law of Unintended Consequences can mean unintended positive consequences: the 1970 Clean Air Act had a much more beneficial effect on America than anybody guessed it would at the time. (Today, of course, we're living in a country where the federal government is suing California not to impose stricter emissions standards on automobiles, which is depressing.)

And as Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post noted when writing about Nevin last year, these findings make politicians' claims to have reduced crime much less compelling, especially when you combine them with Steve Levitt's findings about the effect of abortion on crime. Here's Wolpaw Reyes:

The elasticity of violent crime with respect to childhood lead exposure is estimated to be approximately 0.8. This implies that, between 1992 and 2002, the phase-out of lead from gasoline was responsible for approximately a 56% decline in violent crime... The effect of legalized abortion reported by Donohue and Levitt [2001] is largely unaffected, so that abortion accounts for a 29% decline in violent crime (elasticity 0.23), and similar declines in murder and property crime. Overall, the phase-out of lead and the legalization of abortion appear to have been responsible for significant reductions in violent crime rates.

Significant? I'll say. 56% plus 29% is 85%, which means that the overwhelming majority of the reduction in crime can be attributed to exogenous factors for which local politicians can take no credit. Not unless they were involved in the Clean Air Act or Roe vs Wade, anyway.


Mawwidge, A Dweam within a Dweam

Marty Olney down the hall is very happy. Now I have to think about wedding presents: I suspect I will have to buy lots for lots of friends:

California's top court overturns gay marriage ban: In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that paves the way for allowing same-sex couples in the nation's biggest state to tie the knot. Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3 in an opinion. Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as news spread of the decision. Jeanie Rizzo, one of the plaintiffs, has been with her partner Pali Cooper for 19 years. Rizzo called Cooper, who is traveling in Italy, on her cell phone and asked her "Pali, will you marry me?" "This is a very historic day. This is just such freedom for us," Rizzo said. "This is a message that says all of us are entitled to human dignity."

In the Castro, historically a center of the gay community in San Francisco, Tim Oviatt started crying while watching the news on television. "I've been waiting for this all my life. This is a life-affirming moment," he said. The cases were brought by the city of San Francisco, two dozen gay and lesbian couples, Equality California and another gay rights group in March 2004 after the court halted San Francisco's monthlong same-sex wedding march that took place at Mayor Gavin Newsom's direction...


Some Political Economy "Concentrations": DRAFT

The Concentration requirement in Berkeley's Political Economy major is meant to give students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the nature of the relationship between politics and economics as it relates to a particular issue. You are graduating with a Political Economy degree. That means you know a little about each of history, sociology, political science, economics, possibly philosophy, rhetoric, anthropology, geography or other disciplines as well. You should know a lot about something. the Concentration requirement forces you to define that something.

Each student chooses an existing or potential issue or problem in international political economy, and takes four courses bearing on that issue or problem. The courses need to inform the student's study of the Concentration topic. In a better world than this, the Concentration requirement would also include a senior honors thesis on some aspect of the Concentration topic.

The key to the Concentration requirement is that it is your own: the Concentration is self-defined. You must develop a topic that is an existing or potential issue or problem in international political economy. You then choose four courses to inform inform your view and increase your knowledge. Select courses from different departments. Note that courses listed in the PEIS Student Handbook will automatically be approved for appropriate concentration topics--but courses not listed in the handbook can be taken for the concentration: all you have to do is make the case that it is appropriate for the concentration. And, of course, no double dipping: courses taken for your concentration cannot be double-counted towards another major requirement.

Here are fifteen sample recent concentrations. Note that these are not the best possible courses offered at some Platonic Ideal of Berkeley for this concentration--these are real-world courses that students can actually get into and take for their respective concentrations:


Democracy, Globalization, and China

  • Mass Comm 102: Effects of Mass Media
  • Soc 172: Development and Globalization
  • Soc 183: Contemporary Chinese Society
  • Poli Sci 143C: Chinese Politics
  • Poli Sci 143D: Democracy and China

The Euro

  • Econ 161: International Trade
  • Hist 158C: Modern Europe, 1914-Present
  • Poli Sci 147H: The Domestic Politics of Postwar Western Europe
  • Soc 122: Comparative Perspectives: US and Europoe
  • Hist 160: The International Economy of the Twentieth Century

The European Union: Rhetoric and Reality

  • Rhet 150: Rhetoric of Contemporary Politics
  • Rhet 172: Rhetoric of Social Theory
  • Poli Sci 147: Western European Politics
  • Hist 158C: Modern Europe: 1914-Present

Economic Development and Human Rights

  • Econ 171: Economic Development
  • PS 139B: Politics of Development
  • PACS: Human Rights
  • Poli Sci 146AB: African Politics

Sustainable Development

  • IAS 115: Global Poverty
  • ESPM 161: Environmental Philosophy and Ethics
  • ESPM 167: Environmental Health and Development
  • Geo 130: Natural Resources and Populations
  • EEP 153: Population, Environment, and Development

International Power: Economic, Political, and Military

  • Poli Sci 124A: War
  • Poli Sci 124C: Justice in International Affairs
  • Econ 181: International Trade
  • Poli Sci 138B: Market Economics
  • EEP 152: Development and International Trade

Political Economy of Northeast Asia

  • Poli Sci 1230A: International Relations
  • History 113B: Modern Korean History
  • Poli Sci 128: Chinese Foreign Policy
  • UGBA 118: International Trade
  • Hist 118C: Japan: The Late Nineteenth Century to the Present

Development in the Information Age

  • IFS 100D: Introduction to Technology, Society, and Culture
  • DS 100: Development in Theory and History
  • Info 190: Technology and Poverty
  • Am Stud 134: Information Technology and Society
  • Poli Sci 138D: Governance of the E-conomy

Barriers to the Delivery of health Care Services in the United States

PH 150D: Intro to Health Policy and Management ESPM 162: Bioethics and Society Econ 157: Health Economics GWS 150: Gender and Health


Decolonization and the Political and Economic Development of the Middle East

  • Hist 109C: History of the Middle East
  • MES 130: Jews and Muslims
  • Poli Sci 124A: Middle Eastern Politics
  • Soc 172: Development and Globalization

Behavioral Economics and Economic Planning

  • Env Des 100: The City
  • EEP C151: Economic Development
  • Pub Pol 101: Intro to Policy Analysis
  • Econ C175: Economic Demography
  • CRP 118AC: Community and Economic Development

Cosmopolitanism and International Development

  • IAS 150: Cosmopolitanism
  • Poli Sci 138B: The Politics of Market Economies
  • UGBA 118: International Trade
  • UGBA 178: Introduction to International Business
  • Econ : Game Theory

American Political and Economic Imperialism in Latin America

  • LAS 150: Latin American Development and World Markets
  • PACS 149: Global Change and World Order
  • Anthro 139: Controlling Processes
  • Hist : Latin American History

Law, Politics, and Development in the Middle East

  • Phil 115: Political Philosophy
  • Leg Stud 145: Law and Economics
  • Poli Sci 149C: Modernization in Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan
  • Poli Sci 139B: Development Politics

Immigration Law and Policy

  • Soc 111: Sociology of the Family
  • Poli Sci 198A: Latin American Politics
  • Leg Stud 176: American Legal History
  • Chic Stud 159: Mexican Immigration

Joe Klein Is Shrill!

It's teh Republicans that have done it to him:

Hamas Hysteria - TIME: You've got to wonder what sort of anti-Israel, soft-on-terrorism nutjob said this after the elections that brought Hamas to power in 2006:

So the Palestinians had another election yesterday, and the results of which remind me about the power of democracy ... Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services ... And so the elections should open the eyes of the Old Guard there in the Palestinian territories ... There's something healthy about a system that does that...

Wait a minute. That wasn't some pro- terrorist nutjob. It was George W. Bush.... Bush had a stake in the Palestinian elections. His Administration had demanded them, over the quiet objections of the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority -- both of which suspected that the service-providing terrorists of Hamas might win. And very soon after that initial, gracious statement, Bush changed course... refused to deal with the Hamas government unless it recognized Israel. The message to democracy activists in the region was crystal clear: We want elections unless we don't like the results of those elections. It stands as Exhibit A of the incoherence of the Bush foreign policy.

How to deal with groups like Hamas should be an important debate in the coming U.S. election, but it won't be. It was taken off the table... John McCain allowed his campaign to spread the word that Barack Obama had been "endorsed" by a leader of Hamas. That will be one of McCain's main lines of attack: Obama is soft on terrorism. He wants to negotiate with Iran. He has advisers like Zbigniew Brzezinski who have been "anti-Israel" in the past.... Obama responded quickly and definitively to McCain's attack. He told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, "I've repeatedly condemned [Hamas]. I've repeatedly said ... since [Hamas] is a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and abide by previous agreements."... [G]iven Obama's oft-stated position that we should be talking to all parties in the region, the Illinois Senator's position on Hamas can only be considered a sad abandonment of principles. And McCain's predilection for bluster marks him as a leader potentially less flexible than even Bush....

Meanwhile, the unofficial contacts that people like Malley have with Hamas are extremely valuable.... In Iraq, the U.S. military has had quiet talks with everyone from the Sunni insurgents in Fallujah in 2004 to the "special groups" in Sadr City today.... Why should it be easier for an Israeli politician to favor talks with Hamas than it is for an American?

"If you're not talking to everyone, you're going to be Chalabied every time," says Daniel Levy, an Israeli who has negotiated extensively with Palestinians, referring to Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi who helped mislead the U.S. into war with Iraq. Indeed, the next President will be negligent if he doesn't include someone like Malley in his circle of Middle East advisers. There is a need to keep all channels open in that insanely complicated region. It is tragic that both McCain and Obama seem poised to fail this essential test of leadership.


Falling Industrial Output

Rex Nutting:

Industrial output plunges 0.7% in April: WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Industrial output of the nation's factories, mines and utilities dropped 0.7% in April in a broad-based decline led by falling production of motor vehicles, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. Output of factories fell 0.8%, the biggest decline since September 2005, when Hurricane Katrina disrupted the economy. Industrial production has risen 0.2% in the past year, and is down 1.2% since January. The decline in output was worse than the 0.6% drop expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch.... Capacity utilization -- a key gauge of inflationary pressures -- fell from 80.4% to 79.7%, the lowest since September 2005 and 1.3 percentage points below the long-run average. Slack capacity typically leads to slower inflation, as producers underbid each other to get work. Capacity utilization in manufacturing dropped to 77.5%, the lowest since November 2004...


Sitting the 生員 (Shēngyuán) Exam

I just dropped the Fifteen-Year-Old off at her Local Public High School for her practice 生員 (shēngyuán) exam, her net step in qualifying for the imperial bureaucracy so necessary to give her options to choose a life that she really wants to live in our society. She won't necessarily ace this particular exam--unlike her brother, who was a shoe-in for 案首 status...

Excuse me. Wrong branch of the multiverse. Let me retune my set and focus in on this reality...

Ah. There we are...

Ahem...

I just dropped the Fifteen-Year-Old off at her Local Public High School for her practice standardized test, her next step in attaining the "meritocracy" so necessary to give her the options to choose a life that she really wants to live in our society. She won't necessarily ace this particular exam--AP World History--unlike her brother, who was a shoe-in for a 5. Her turn will come next year with AP Calculus AB--she has more of a pattern-seeing while he has more of an applicable-fact-nugget recalling mind. But both of them are, if I may boast as a father, very kind and thoughtful teenagers and scary-smart in their respective ways--and I say this as somebody who was once the best high school math student in all of Washington DC. (Which may not be saying that much: I learned the next year in my corner of the Weld dormitory that the best high school math student in all of Washington DC was about equal to someone who had been "undistinguished" in math at Moscow Science-Mathematics High School #2--who said his best subject was English. And then there were the stars of Math 55... people like Seth Lloyd... who can only be described as "transhuman"... intelligences vast, warm, and sympathetic... but I digress...)

She is not a shoe-in for a 5 because (a) her world history class was not an AP class, and (b) she does not have the single-minded focus on history, politics, and current events in her outside reading necessary to ensure a 5 in the absence of having covered the AP syllabus in her course. But she has a good shot. And, most important, practice makes perfect. To have done this before when it comes time to take a standardized test where it really counts is an important edge--one of the rules that is not written down anywhere. (One of the rules, moreover, that Princeton has done its best to hide via false fake propaganda for generations about how some of its tests are not achievement but instead "aptitude" tests.)

We economists have been staring in stupefaction and horror over the past generation as the college-high school wage premium in America has risen from 30% to 90% with little if any visible increase in college attendance rates. Incentives do not appear to be having the result in terms of increasing the supply of the educationally-skilled that we economists believe the natural order demands that they must have. There are four potential explanations:

  • Myopia--the (growing) up front, cash costs of college and the resulting debt incurred loom much larger in individuals' calculations than they should.
  • Aptitude--the ability to reap the economic gains we economists attribute to a modern American college education is in fact much more narrowly concentrated than we economists believe, because of how people's brains grew when they were young. Thus the marginal college student reaps no long-run surplus from attendance.
  • Fear--individuals falsely fear that the ability to reap the economic gains we economists attribute to a modern American college education is in fact much more narrowly concentrated than we economists believe, because of how people's brains grew when they were young. Thus the marginal college student falsely fears that he or she reaps no long-run surplus from attendance.
  • People don't know the rules.

I'm not sure what I mean by the last. But here is a first cut:

Back in imperial China, if your parents could afford it, and if you were male, you found a tutor to teach you by studying the Confucian classics. You learned the six arts--music, math, writing, ceremony, equitation and archery--the five studies--strategy, law, geography, agriculture, and taxation--and learned how to write your eight-legged-essays. You passed through 生員 (shēngyuán), 舉人 (jǔrén), and then 進士 (jìnshì). At the end you became part of the landlord-bureaucrat-literary intellectual class that ruled China: collecting taxes, collecting rents, advising the emperor, commanding armies, dispensing justice. Those were the rules.

What do today's Americans--the parents of those who are choosing not to go or not to make a great effort at college--think the rules are today? Back in the 1980s Bruce Springsteen in his concerts used to claim that his parents were still following him around the country, telling him that he could still go to college and become (from his father) a lawyer or (from his mother) an author. They understood the rules--the career strategy of trying to live the life you love by becoming a global rock star is not a realistic one, but there are lots of people to be sued and lots of books, manuals, and pamphlets to be written. How many of the parents of today's American fifteen-year-olds are going to do the same?

Lots of people are going to go see the "Sex and the City" movie this spring. How much does it teach anybody about what these people actually do for a living? They look decorative. They suffer from emotional angst. But Miranda has status and options not because she is decorative and perky with red hair and suffers from emotional angst but because of a nonhuman ability to deal with mind-numbing trivia and an iron butt. Samantha has status and options not because she is decorative, flirty, and... well, actually yes, but also because she has a mind for organizational detail and an ability to instantly direct what needs to be done to solve minor crisis of the day #376. Carrie has status and options not because she is decorative--none of her readers can see her, remember, except on the side of a bus--and suffers from emotional angst but because she is very good at putting the fabric of her life into prose on deadline in a way New York readers find interesting. Charlotte has status and options not because she is decorative and suffers from emotional angst but because she has the right manners, the right connections, and a very good eye for visually interesting art. John James Preston--well, it is never clear what he does at all, is it? He likes jazz. He smokes cigars. Cash is not a constraint at all.


Emergency Culinary Hazard Warning!

The shaker next to the cinnamon shaker in the Berkeley business school cafeteria is not, repeat not vanilla, but instead garlic powder.

After that, I definitely don't need the caffeine--the am-I-poisoned?-flight-or-fight adrenaline rush was enough all by itself, thank you.

That is all.


LizardBreath Grants a Plenary Indulgence to Hillary Rodham Clinton

She puts it very well, for someone with her dental hygiene:

Unfogged: Lead Us Not Into Temptation: I've been kind of bothered by all the focus on how awful Clinton has been on race issues. (Which she has been, don't get me wrong.) One of the reasons I wish people would just let her burn herself out... is that... I can empathize thoroughly with what led her there. Five months ago, before any of the primaries had happened, I was rooting for the white guy... for good solid progressive policy-based reasons.... Where I do feel self-conscious, and start sympathizing with Hillary, is in the tactical thinking I was doing about whether Edwards was likely to win.

It seemed likely to me, and probably to most other people thinking about it, that Edwards would do better, through no fault of his own, the more racist and sexist the Democratic electorate was.... Which left me in the disturbing position of really strongly hoping something would happen, an Edwards victory, which would likely mean that Democratic voters were really messed up on racial and gender issues. I don't think I slipped over the line into actually hoping that the racist/sexist vote would come out strongly in the Iowa caucuses, but I was very aware of the possibility of falling into that way of thinking. And I can't vouch for how I would have felt if Edwards had hung on for a five-month nailbiter of a campaign where he was always behind but in striking distance.

Hillary's been in that spot all spring - through (initially) no fault of her own, one of the major forces that could have helped her win would have been an electorate that was too racist to elect a black man. And it's not unlikely that that should have been the case - I've been surprised and proud at how little racism has actually seemed to hurt Obama with the voters. Given what she's got riding on this election, the temptation first to hope that voters would be racist, then to engage in wishful thinking about how racist the voters actually were, and finally to encourage it, must have been overwhelming.

She was tempted... it does make me want to avert my eyes, thinking "Under the same pressures, that could have been me," rather than wallow in what a terrible person she is...

I agree.


Theodicy and the Rapture for Nerds

Charlie Stross provides us with a short course in modern theology:

Charlie's Diary: The Fermi Paradox revisited; random despatches from the front line: The Fermi Paradox.... We exist, therefore intelligent life in this universe is possible. The universe is big.... So where is everybody? Why can't we hear their radio transmissions or see gross physical evidence of all the galactic empires out there?... [I]t's a fascinating philosophical conundrum — and an important one: because it raises questions such as "how common are technological civilizations" and "how long do they survive", and that latter one strikes too close to home for comfort.... Anyway, here are a couple of interesting papers... the 21st century rationalist version of those old-time mediaeval arguments about angels, pin-heads, and the fire limit for the dance hall built thereon:

First off the block is Nick Bostrom.... "The Great Filter must therefore be sufficiently powerful--which is to say, passing the critical points must be sufficiently improbable--that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals. At least, none that we can detect in our neck of the woods." The nature of the Great Filter is somewhat important. If it exists at all, there are two possibilities; it could lie in our past, or in our future. If it's in our past, if it's something like (for example) the evolution of multicellular life — that is, if unicellular organisms are ubiquitous but the leap to multicellularity is vanishingly rare — then we're past it.... But if the Great Filter lies between the development of language and tool using creatures and the development of interstellar communication technology, then... we're going to run into it, and then ... we won't be around to worry any more.

But the Great Filter argument isn't the only answer.... Milan M. Ćirković... criticizes the empire-state model of posthuman civilization that is implicit in many Fermi Paradox treatments... for a civilization to be visible at interstellar distances it needs to be expanding and utilizing resources in certain ways.... Ćirković explores... non-empire advanced civilizations... such localized civilizations would actually be very difficult to detect....

Finally... here's John Smart pinning a singularitarian twist on the donkey's tail... our posthuman descendants bootstrapping themselves all the way into "'intelligent' cosmological developmental singularities, highly compressed structures, censored from universal observation, which are very likely distantly related to the quasars and black holes."... [I]t's down the rabbit hole that we're heading, which fits neatly with the city-state model that Ćirković explores....

Finally... John Baez on the end of the universe... Boltzmann brains...