Tuesday, 10 January 2012

(Not) achieving the impossible

Mike Munger catches the government doing what government does, rather oafishly: in this case, fining companies for their failure to use enough cellulose-based ethanol, a product that is not even commercially available. The mind boggles.

On the other hand, imagine the possibilities of such an “incentive” program. Fine Boeing a few billion dollars a year for their failure to achieve faster-than-light travel, and I’m sure that we’ll have warp speed in no time.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Doin' it wrong

A mildly bemusing job ad that came across the wire today:

The Department of Government and Sociology invites applications as Course Redesign Coordinator. This is a non-tenure track, limited term, faculty position with the rank of Lecturer. The term is for a period of two years subject to re-approval and budget in year two. The successful applicant will lead a pilot study to redesign the introductory course in Political Science which is a required course in the university’s core curriculum. The position is responsible for producing an initial design for offering the course to larger sections while remaining consistent with the university’s public liberal arts mission; teaching one large (150 minimum) section of POLS 1150, Politics and Society, each semester; collecting and analyzing comparative data on student satisfaction and performance in larger course settings; supervising a graduate assistant and undergraduate student mentors ; preparing recommendation s for final redesign and implementation; conducting a required Freshman Seminar for departmental majors.

To review: this institution prides itself on its “public liberal arts mission” and excellent classroom instruction. So it is going to hire a non-tenure-eligible faculty member (who may not even have a doctorate) to come in to figure out some way to cram 150 students into an introductory course without any loss of quality. And once they’ve done this favor for the existing faculty, since they aren’t on the tenure track, they will be summarily kicked to the curb.

Somehow I do not expect this experiment to end in a rousing success.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Spurious correlation watch

Andrew Sullivan takes a break from spelunking in Sarah Palin’s reproductive tract to provide us with highly superficial social scientific analysis:

Ezra Klein asks:

Is there any evidence that financing wars brings them to a quicker close? Any papers examining this question?

From Bruce Bartlett’s column last week:

History shows that wars financed heavily by higher taxes, such as the Korean War and the first Gulf War, end quickly, while those financed largely by deficits, such as the Vietnam War and current Middle East conflicts, tend to drag on indefinitely.

How about a more plausible explanation: Korea and Gulf War I were conflicts against state actors that fought using traditional military tactics, while Vietnam and the Middle Eastern conflicts (particularly in Afghanistan) were/are conflicts mostly involving indigenous, non-state resistance movements or terrorist cells with some degree of local popular support (the Viet Cong, Iraqi Shiite and Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda, respectively) that are engaged in unconventional warfare. The mode of funding would seem to have little to do with conflict length. Particularly since World Wars I and II were also funded by massive deficit spending, yet U.S. involvement in both conflicts was comparatively brief (although not on the order of Gulf War I).

Besides, the Johnson-Nixon era’s massive expansion of the deficit-financed American welfare state would be a serious conflating factor in attributing Vietnam’s success or failure to its funding approach, much as the effects of the Bush tax cuts likely dwarfed Iraq and Afghanistan spending as a source of the increased budget deficit over the past eight years and change; the liberal CBPP think-tank attributes the effects of one year (2004) of the Bush tax cuts as being $276 billion in reduced tax revenues (and thus increased debt), far more than the annualized cost to the Treasury of both conflicts combined even based on the most pessimistic estimates.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pedigree bias in academe

Tyler Cowen considers the question of ‘pedigree bias’ in economics and other fields; while he follows up with an article that suggests pedigree bias may not be as pronounced as he initially suspected, nonetheless there is a clear relationship. I would imagine the relationship found in the Klein article would be even stronger if it measured initial hiring decisions, though.

My thoughts on such matter, at least as they pertain to political science, have been blogged previously and repeatedly, so I won’t belabor those points here.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Your well-deserved-Nobel roundup

Congratulations to political scientist Lin Ostrom and economist Oliver Williamson on sharing this year’s Bank of Sweden prize in economics in memory of Alfred Nobel for their work on understanding non-governmental and non-market mechanisms for overcoming collective action problems; Ostrom has garnered the greater attention in my circles, due to her being a political scientist by training (the second to win the Nobel, following Herbert Simon), being one of the pioneering female scholars in the social sciences, and being associated with Indiana University (with which I have what Mark Granovetter might call “weak ties”).

Those with further praise and discussion of Ostrom and her work include Steven Taylor, James Hanley, Mike Munger (who also links a lecture by Ostrom on sustainable development), Ilya Somin, Dan Drezner, Virginia Postrel, Lynne Kiesling, Margaret Soltan, Julian Sanchez, and Alex Tabarrok. Not to neglect the economists, Tabarrok also discusses Williamson’s equally valuable contributions.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Life on Mars

Our esteemed governor apparently thinks there isn’t a recession in Texas. I’ll gladly concede that the economy here is doing significantly better than in many other states, but the idea that there’s no economic downturn here is either optimism run amok or crazy talk. Perhaps both.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Mission really bloody improbable

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: (re)watch Roger and Me and identify any content therein that would have averted General Motors’ current sorta-kinda bankruptcy, as its auteur claims it includes. I’m quite certain reopening all of GM’s mothballed plants in Flint and thereabouts—which I believe was Moore’s central demand of the film, although the whole business with the bunnies and the prison dinner party was a cute little sideshow—would have been comically ineffective in saving the company from its current travails, but what do I know?

Inspired by Angus at KPC.

Monday, 24 November 2008

The bailout is overdetermined

Steve Verdon partially answers why Citibank is getting bailed out:

Simple: the executives and large stake shareholders in Citigroup have the personal phone numbers of most politicians in their roll-a-dex. They are probably on a first name basis with Senator Harry Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary Henry Paulson, and Senator Mitch McConnell.

Voters on the other hand do not have these numbers. Voters are a large and diverse group. Voters are hard to organize and can be a fractious group at best. So when it comes to supporting large scale donors, possible future employers, over screwing the voter it is a no-brainer. Any attempt to look for additional logic/reasons in this is futile. We have here an extremely blatant case of rent-seeking.

There is certainly a diffuse-versus-concentrated interests issue at stake here, as well as an issue of asymmetrical expertise, an issue of the incestuous relationships between the financial sector and beltway insiders, and a healthy dollop of “Do Somethingism”—politicians, aka single-minded seekers of reelection and/or higher office, must be seen to be Taking Action to Avert Crisis even if said Action does not ultimately Avert said Crisis. In part, Citibank isn’t too big to fail; it’s too politically connected for its patrons to allow it to fail.

More on the broader economic nonsense afoot, including cautionary notes on using Depression-era policies to “fix” what’s going on now, from Megan McArdle.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

QotD, Tversky found exceptions to the rule edition

A commenter at Kids Prefer Cheese demonstrates the application of heuristics to Internet dialogue:

You know how people use cognitive short-cuts to make sense of the world? For example, I could go read Ransom’s entire blog, probably do a bunch of background reading on Austrian business cycles, and then figure out whether he’s right about Cowen. Or I could use a simplifying heuristic which goes like this: people who post in all caps in blog comments are usually wingnuts. Sorry, Ransom, maybe you’re right, but in my book you’ve already lost on style points.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Going the full Krugman

The Economist says Larry Bartels’ recent effort to claim Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans is “a political case masquerading as economic analysis.”

Update: Meanwhile, “Michael Walzer would be happier with foreign policy if Obama were president, which is fine, but the article is not as objective as he wants to make it out to be.” Fellow political scientists: there’s only 13 shopping days left to prostitute your reputation forever in the service of a guy who’s going to be elected anyway!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

It can't be this easy

So does this news mean I can kiss two of my credit card bills goodbye? (Sadly, no.) WaMu, we hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Stealing my joke

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

QotD, whisky-and-car-keys-and-teenage-boys edition

Megan McArdle on the profound ignorance of 100 University of Chicago faculty members:

I haven’t heard such transparently wishful claptrap since my fifteen-year-old boyfriend tried to convince me that sex provided unparalleled aerobic exercise.

Then again, profound ignorance is hardly a new problem for the institution.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

A very narrow definition of "policy"

Wired blogger Alexis Madrigal posts a map of gasoline prices nationwide and comments:

Note how similar gas prices are within individual states and how much they vary between states. Using just gas price data, you could practically draw the state lines, if they weren’t already inked in for you. Look at that Illinois-Missouri border!

This county-by-county highlights the importance of energy policy at the state level in driving prices, at least at the relatively small variations in price they are mapping here.

I know this is an amazing concept, but individual states set this thing called the “gasoline tax” at different levels. (A few states, including Missouri, also mandate a 10% ethanol blend to subsidize already overpaid and oversubsidized farmers kill most drivers’ gas mileage, thus actually increasing the quantity demanded of gasoline reduce our dependence on foreign oil.) Gasoline is essentially an easily-transportable commodity, and while there are some regional variations in formulation the marginal cost of those variations is rather low.

On a related note, acting Federal Highway Administration, er, administrator Jim Ray says it is time to decouple highway financing from the various motor fuels taxes levied by states and the federal government. Good luck with that.

Via Sully, who links without comment.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Pimp my insurer

Nick Troester extolls the virtues of renter’s insurance in light of his recent run-in with Durham’s criminal element. I’ve always maintained renter’s insurance myself (excluding the six years I co-owned a house, when I had home insurance coverage), along with a supplemental policy for my laptop and additional liability insurance, and while it hasn’t paid off more than I’ve put in it over the years it has saved my butt a few times, most notably with my policy’s refrigerator/freezer power-loss coverage which I’ve had to use a couple of times.

My car insurance, on the other hand, has done relatively little for me over the years; I don’t think I’ve ever collected on a claim.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Money money, yeah yeah

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling that the Department of the Treasury is required to make U.S. paper currency accessible to the blind; although the most recent changes to the higher-denomination bills have made various denominations of currency more distinguishable by people with limited vision, all the bills remain the same size and have no tactile features that distinguish the bank note denominations.

I’ll agree with the basic proposition that making major changes to the bills yet again would probably be a bit of a pain, but surely the Bureau of Engraving and Printing could punch some little holes or make some raised dots on the existing bill designs without compromising their usability in existing vending machines.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Obama continuing to win the economic literacy debate

As noted previously on these shores, Barack Obama has—contrary to his reputation as the “most liberal senator” ginned up by the National Journal—generally made proposals that make economic sense. His opposition to the hare-brained “gas tax holiday” scheme is another point in his—or at least his economic advisors’—favor.

That said, I will quibble with Dan Drezner’s half-suggestion that Obama run with the “it’ll only save you $30” talking point. My general feeling is that when politicians have belittled dollar figures in the past—most notably when the first $300 tax rebate was being proposed way-back-when (2002?)—voters outside the beltway bubble generally seem to think that they have better ideas about how to spend the money than folks in Washington do, especially when they're not making a six-figure government salary. That said, I think the talking point works better when it’s a relatively non-transparent tax like the 18.4¢/gal federal gasoline excise tax that generally isn’t broken out on receipts rather than a check that shows up in the mail.

Monday, 28 April 2008

You getting to keep your money = government spending

Ezra Klein reinvents government accounting today:

McCain’s tax cuts—which include the extension of the Bush tax cut and the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, neither of which are included on CAP‘s cool McCain thermometer—dwarf the spending plans of the Democrats before you even look into his programs (or his war agenda). But that’s rarely mentioned, because the media doesn’t really view tax cuts as spending in the way they view new social programs as spending. [emphasis added]

I’ll hazard a guess that outside Klein’s brain, nobody views tax cuts in general as government spending. I suppose a refundable tax credit, like the earned income tax credit, would be a form of government spending—but that’s not a “tax cut” in the same sense that reducing one’s tax liability (say, by repealing the AMT) is a tax cut.

I propose a very simple criterion for government spending: if the government cuts you a check for more money than you paid in tax withholding and estimated tax contributions, that excess is government spending. The rest… well, that’s taxes.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Old wine in new bottles

Josh Patashnik of The New Republic discovers that Republicans and Democrats have divergent beliefs about the state of the national economy (þ: JustOneMinute). Clearly he doesn’t have a subscription to the American Journal of Political Science, where my dissertation chair and two co-authors showed this to be the case seven years ago based on 1990s data, well before George W. Bush set up camp in the Oval Office (see also Duch and Palmer 2001, which demonstrates the same effect among Hungarian voters).

The moral of the story: those who do not read the political science literature are condemned to reinvent it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Carbonized opinion

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Talking French (elections)

Paul Gronke and Free Exchange both address how the use of a majority-runoff system in French presidential elections has produced in 2007 a runoff without the presumptive Condorcet winner on the ballot; neither is inaccessible enough to bring the good Marquis in by name, but Free Exchange mentions Ken Arrow and Paul Gronke discusses Gary Cox, which are certainly good starts in that direction.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Jim Cramer on violating securities laws for fun and profit

Via Democracy in America, I present to you Jim Cramer:

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Economists 1, political scientsts 0

Arnold Kling takes apart the book The Logic of Political Survival by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita et al. A taste of the critique:

In my opinion, the authors of The Logic of Political Survival should not be criticized for mishandling data.

They should be arrested. Imprisoned. Only released back into the community with warnings to neighbors to protect your children. ...

[I]t is only interesting to tests constraints on the data that are imposed by theory. In this case, the constraints are being imposed by simple incompetence.

The Logic of Political Survival is a stimulating and provocative book. I was impressed by the authors’ use of historical examples, particularly the use of King Leopold’s different approaches to governing Belgium and the Congo as a “natural experiment” demonstrating that institutional characteristics matter more than the leader’s personality. However, in my view, the attempts to introduce formal game theory and econometrics did more harm than good. Rather than bridge the gulf between political scientists and economists, they widened it—as far as I am concerned—by their shameful and unseemly conduct with the data.

þ: Dirk, via email, who by virtue of his educational background represents the winning side in this argument.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

When unions are good (or, at least, not bad)

The Free Exchange blog at The Economist considers the conditions under which unions might increase productivity. Given the conditions identified, this is not the article you want to take to your dean to defend your efforts to start a faculty union (or, even worse, a grad student union).

Friday, 26 January 2007

Free data

Newmark’s Door links federal income tax liability data by county and congressional district. A map would be nice too… perhaps I can dig out the code I used for the census maps I made in R a few years back and use that.