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December 31, 2004

Countries' Generosity with Foreign Aid: Drezner Post

Professor Drezner has a thorough post on the per capita foreign aid of different countries.

Of course, the United States is also the biggest economy, so the raw dollar term doesn't mean that much. What about in per capita terms? Here's the ranking of contries by relief aid per capita per day (in cents, not dollars):

1. Norway 21.04
2. Sweden 11.81
3. Denmark 5.95
4. Switzerland 5.85
5. Netherlands 5.15
6. Belgium 2.94
7. United Kingdom 2.58
8. Finland 2.38
9. United States 2.34
10. France 2.17
11. Canada 2.10
12. Australia 1.93
13. Ireland 1.83
14. Austria 1.23
15. New Zealand 1.18
16. Spain 0.61
17. Germany 0.61
18. Italy 0.42
19. Greece 0.27
20. Japan 0.06
21. Portugal 0.03

...

Even if you factor in private giving, the United States ranks 19th out of 21 rich countries in terms of per capita expenditures, according to the 2004 Ranking the Rich exercise. Here's a link to the background paper for those curious about the methodology, which factors in the extent to which aid is "tied" (requiring recipients to spend it {inefficiently} on donor country goods) and whether the aid is going to governments that spend the money wisely. For what it includes, the methodology on this dimension is rock-solid.

This figure does not include remittances, but as I've argued previously, it's questionable whether this reflects the generosity of Americans -- or, more importantly, whether such an inclusion would dramatically alter the rankings.

This does not mean that the United States is particularly stingy on other dimensions of helping the poor. The Ranking the Rich exercise included aid as only one of seven components -- the others are trade, investment, migration, environment, technology, and security. When you aggregate the different components, the U.S. comes in at 7th out of the 21 countries (intriguingly, among the G-7, the Anglosphere countries -- Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. -- come in at 1-2-3). It turns out that the U.S. is comparatively more generous on other dimensions.

*A final note: Matthew Yglesias correctly points out that the comment triggering the whole debate was not aimed specifically at the United States:

What the UN official actually said was that rich countries including the US are stingy with aid money. ...

"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," the Norwegian-born U.N. official told reporters. "Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."

"There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more." (emphases added)

Posted by erasmuse at 07:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2004

Teaching Evolution in Schools: A Comment on Posner on Democracy

Here's a post that I've also put as a comment on Brian Leiter's website, whereJudge Posner raises the question, as a guest blogger,
"4. May a state ban the teaching of evolution, or require teaching of "creation science," in its public schools."
" the state is being asked to enact, in effect, a religious dogma", which he seems to think is bad (whether the Constitution really bans states from establishing religions or, as I think, *protects* those establishments is a question for another time).
Judge Posner also writes the following, the best paragraph of the post:
"Rawls and others have thought that religious beliefs shouldn’t be allowed to influence public policy, precisely because they are nondiscussable. But this view rests on a misunderstanding of democracy. Modern representative democracy isn’t about making law the outcome of discussion. It is not about modeling politics on the academic seminar. It is about forcing officials to stand for election at short intervals, and about letting ordinary people express their political preferences without having to defend them in debate with their intellectual superiors."
And in a later post he is sympathetic to the idea that ethical beliefs should not be disallowed merely because they are affected by religious beliefs.

I don't see that banning the teaching of evolution or requiring creationism to be taught because of religious beliefs is any different from making murder illegal because of religious beliefs. In all three cases, the voter's opinion is based on his religion, and other voters' opinions are based on their own background beliefs. Person A believes that the Bible is inerrant, and based on this believes that evolution is a mistaken theory. Persons B and C believe the Bible is errant, or that inerrancy does not imply that evolution is wrong. I don't see why B's opinion should be privileged over the others. From the point of view of A, B wants to teach a false theory, and exclude the teaching of competing theories. Shouldn't we be "lettng ordinary people express their political preferences"? Consider the following question:

4a. May a state ban the teaching of astrology, or require teaching of astrology in its public schools.
Surely both of these are in the power of the state, despite the lack of scientific support for astrology. But why should astrologers be privileged over Fundamentalists?

In general, we do not let experts overturn voter preferences. If voters want a minimum wage or sugar import quotas, we do not cite the mass of hostile expert opinion as a reason to thwart them. Legislatures do silly things all the time. If we let public schools teach that recycling helps the environment and saves resources, both clearly false, why should we not let them teach creationism?

Posted by erasmuse at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 29, 2004

Suppression of Free Speech in the Netherlands; Islam v. Christianity

The Nov 29, 2004 National Review tells us
On November 2, the day on which Americans gave their verdict on the president, the people of the Netherlands received, through the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a horrific reminder that no country anywhere can be truly be said to be immune from the threat posed by Islamic extremism. In Amsterdam that day, an assassin shot Van Gogh, stabbed him, and then butchered him like a sacrificial animal. By making the film Submission, a caustic attack on Muslim misogyny, Van Gogh had transgressed the code of the fanaticism that has, alas, made its home in Holland too. And for that he had to die. In the aftermath, there was tough talk from the Dutch government, but the best clue as to what will happen next comes, probably, from Rotterdam. There, a local artist reacted to the murder by painting a mural that included the words "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Fair comment, you might think. Apparently not. The head of a nearby mosque complained. The police showed up. City workers sandblasted the inconvenient text into oblivion. "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Erased, obliterated, unacceptable. Much like Theo van Gogh. R.I.P.
This reminds me of the people in Saskatchewan and Sweden who got into trouble with the law for quoting Scripture on the subject of homosexuality. Homosexuals and Moslems are both good at being pressure groups, using political heft, simple complaining, and the threat of court coercion. Moslems, in addition, have used the threat of violence effectively.

(Looking back at my previous posts, I see that I have one on Canada generally too and that the prominent pro-homosexual politician in this debate, Svend Robinson, is the same man who in 2004 resigned after being caught stealing a valuable diamond ring. )

Posted by erasmuse at 08:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

French Policy: A French-Arab Alliance?

"Mass-Hysteria Time Following Black Tuesday --Nov. 2--Europe goes nuts" by David Pryce-Jones, from the November 29 print National Review says
A long-term policy is coming to a head. When the Soviet Union began to fail 20 years ago, France saw an opportunity to replace it in the Middle East. Supposedly the Europeans and the Arabs were to come together in a bloc, a superpower to counter the United States. As a means to this end, Chirac was always glad to give unconditional support to Saddam Hussein.
This theory fits all the facts. Has it been overtly stated by French politicians or intellectuals?

Posted by erasmuse at 09:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 27, 2004

Sharing Genes with Brothers and Strangers


Suppose a person has X genes. He will share, on average X/2 of those with his
brother. He will share exactly X/2 with his father. There is a 50% chance he
will share less than X/2 with his brother. There is a tiny chance, even, that he
shares 0 genes with his brother, because his brother got the complementary X/2
from their father and the complementary X/2 from their mother.

How many genes will our person share with the average person in the population?
Not zero, but maybe a fraction of 1. It depends on how big X is, and how many
people are in the population. What is interesting is the probability that
there is someone out there in the population who shares X/2 genes with our
person. And what is the probability there is someone with all X genes? It is not
zero.

If the population is big enough, N', there is over a 50% chance that someone
exists with X/2 genes in common with him. The size of N' depends on X. We will
assume an even distribution of genes-- no matching of male and female by genes.

Posted by erasmuse at 12:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

Arming Pilots: The Dept. of Transportation Fights Congress

Human Events tells us of a good example of bureaucratic blockage of the will of the voters and Congress. I'd like to know more; usually the bureaucracy can't succeed in such obvious disobedence. Probably Secretary Mineta was on telling it what to do.


 


Members of Congress are becoming frustrated with bureaucrats who have put roadblocks in the way of a program to arm airline pilots that Congress first authorized months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Three years later, only an estimated 4,000 of the more than 95,000 commercial pilots have participated in the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. But this lack of participation does not indicate a lack of pilot interest, proponents say. They claim the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has intentionally stymied the program.

A soon-to-be-released poll from the pro-gun Airline Pilots Security Alliance indicates upwards of 50,000 commercial pilots would like to become FFDOs, but are reluctant to participate because, as the program has been implemented by TSA, they can only train at a remote desert facility in Artesia, N.M., and they aren't allowed to carry their firearm in a holster outside the cockpit of their plane. Instead, they must carry it around in a bulky 6-pound lockbox.

The program has faced an uphill battle from the start. Anti-gun Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, the lone Democrat in the Bush Cabinet, refused to establish the program after Congress authorized it in November 2001. It took additional congressional action a year later, in December 2002, to force TSA to act. Problems remain, however, that lawmakers say TSA has refused to fix....

Even though lawmakers and pilots have complained about the lockboxes, TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan said they're not going away. "The way in which the legislation was written originally said that the area of jurisdiction for federal flight deck officers is the cockpit," she said. (Earlier this year, however, TSA took the liberty of changing its practice of requiring the lockboxes to be stowed with checked luggage. After several firearms were reported missing, pilots were told to carry the lockbox at all times.)

Posted by erasmuse at 03:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Why Doesn't the City Shovel my Sidewalk?

We've had 16 inches of snow over the past couple of days. My wife asked me a good question yesterday:

Why doesn't the City shovel our sidewalk when it snows?

The City wants the sidewalks cleared of snow; Bloomington just strengthened its ordinance requiring property owners to shovel their walks. The fine is $75 now, I think. Why do cities generally (always?) require citizens to shovel the sidewalks rather than taxing them and having it done my machinery?

Note that cities do not require citizens to plow the streets in front of their property.

One reason is that shovelling the sidewalk is not too onerous for the property owner. He has his driveway and front steps to shovel anyway, so he has a shovel or a snowblower (as appropriate to his property and latitude) already.

But there would still be economies of scale in having the city do it.

I bet in some subdivisions the neighborhood association hires someone to plow the walks, just as in some of them the lawns are mowed for the owners (who pay a sort of tax for it).

In most cities any ordinance the city has requiring shovelling is not enforced. Maybe the result is that people only plow if it is efficient to do so, because of traffic in front of their home and their own desire for a cleared sidewalk. If the city did it, the city, with less information, might plow everywhere, including places where it does not matter.

But that answer does not satisfy me.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 22, 2004

A Bayes Rule Classroom Game: Killers in the Bar

Your instructor has wandered into a dangerous bar in Jersey City. There are six people in there. Based on past experience, he estimates that three are cold-blooded killer and three are cowardly bullies. He also knows that 2/3 of killers are aggressive and 1/3 reasonable; but 1/3 of cowards are aggressive and 2/3 are reasonable. Unfortuntely, your instructor then spills his drink on a mean- looking rascal who responds with an aggressive remark.

In crafting his response in the two seconds he has to think, your instructor would like to know the probability he has offended a killer. Give him your estimate. Your instructor has wandered into a dangerous bar in Jersey City. There are six people in there. Based on past experience, he estimates that three are cold-blooded killer and three are cowardly bullies. He also knows that 2/3 of killers are aggressive and 1/3 reasonable; but 1/3 of cowards are aggressive and 2/3 are reasonable. Unfortuntely, your instructor then spills his drink on a mean- looking rascal who responds with an aggressive remark. In crafting his response in the two seconds he has to think, your instructor would like to know the probability he has offended a killer. Give him your estimate.

After writing the estimates and discussion, the story continues. A friend of the wet rascal comes in the door and discovers what has happened. He, too, turns aggressive. We know that the friend is just like the first rascal-- a killer if the first one was a killer, a coward otherwise. Does this extra trouble change your estimate that the two of them are killers?

This game is a descendant of the games in Holt, Charles A., \& Lisa R. Anderson. ``Classroom Games: Understanding Bayes’ Rule,'' {\it Journal of Economic Perspectives}, 10: 179-187 (Spring 1996), but I use a different heuristic for the rule, and a barroom story instead of urns. Psychologists have found that people can solve logical puzzles better if the puzzles are associated with a story involving people's identities. (See Dawes, Machiavellian intelligence theory).

I have the instructors' notes, which explain the answers in detail, at http://www.rasmusen.org/GI/probs/2bayesgame.pdf

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December 21, 2004

Iraqi Gasoline Shortages and Opportunity Cost

From The Economist, , via Marginal Revolution, we learn why there are gasoline shortages in oil-rich countries.
THE queue of angry motorists stretches for miles. Baghdad's petrol stations are drier this month than they have been since just after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some drivers wait for as much as 24 hours, sleeping in their vehicles. When told that there is no petrol, some have lost their tempers and started shooting. How, asks a furious driver, can an oil-producing country run out of fuel?

Ask an insurgent, and he will assure you that the American army steals the oil for its tanks. Others might blame the lack of capacity at Iraqi oil refineries or the fact that the insurgents keep blowing up the pipelines. But the most important reason is that the government has fixed the price of petrol at approximately zero--barely one American cent a litre.

ShortageOfficials and petrol-station owners with access to subsidised petrol have a choice. They can do the proper, legal thing and give the stuff away. Or they can let it leak onto the black market, where prices are between ten and 100 times higher. Or they can smuggle it out of the country where, global oil prices being rather steep at the moment, it sells for a tidy sum. ...

In ten minutes, a guerrilla can scrape back a few inches of dirt, uncover some pipe, attach a bomb made from one of the country's abundant abandoned artillery shells, and thereby wreak havoc in Baghdad. Between August and October this year, pipe-raiding by terrorists (and oil thieves) cost the country $7 billion in lost revenues, says the petroleum ministry.

Subsidised petrol in Iraq is a hangover from the Saddam era, but two changes have made the system unworkable. One is that more Iraqis now seem to have cars than under Saddam. The other is that the country is more lawless....

Saddam's regime used to pay tribes to protect the pipes on their land. American and Iraqi officials have followed suit, but sometimes find that if they pay one tribe, a rival blows up the line and then claims to be more deserving of the protection money.

In an oil-rich country, people expect gasoline to be cheaper, even though its value is just as high as in an oil-poor country. This is a good example of the idea of opportunity cost. If Iraq could not export oil, gasoline would be very cheap there. But it can, so gasoline should be priced at the world level. The opportunity cost of burning up a gallon of gasoline in your car in Iraq is that that gallon can't be sold on the world market.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Countries to which the U.S. Exports Beef

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture tells us that the top countries for U.S. beef and veal exports in 2003, in millions of dollars, were
 Japan 1166
 Korea 749
Mexico 604
 Canada 321
 Taiwan 70

I came across this kind of number in a student paper and was surprised by Korea's high position. I was struck in my short visit there, though, at how much meat was sold by street vendors and in restaurants compared to in Japan.

That Japan is so high is no surprise. Mexico and Canada are close and trade is free. Europe might show up on the list if it allowed free trade in agricultural goods.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 19, 2004

The Unarmoured Vehicles in Iraq Question: Based on a Lie?

A National Guardsman was prompted by a reporter a week or so ago to ask Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld the embarassing question of why his unit had to drive with unarmoured trucks. People have been calling on Rumsfeld to resign over this.

I don't think it was so bad that the reporter suggested a question to a soldier, except that now it appears that the premise was a lie. That soldier's unit doesn't have any unarmoured vehicles. Via Instapundit, I find that Powerline reports on a press conference in which it comes out that 810 of 830 vehicles in that soldier's unit were already armoured, and the other 20 were scheduled to be armoured the next day.

Q At the time of the question -- summarize this, now -- that unit that the kid was complaining about was mostly armored?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked.

Q If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. This was already an existing program.
Of course, it might be that General Speakes is lying. But he is very specific, and any lie is easily checked.

Posted by erasmuse at 02:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Islamic Marriage in Europe

A National Review article from last year brings up the subject of allowng Islamic marriages in Italy.
In Italy, mainstream Muslim groups have asked for the introduction of Islamic marriages with no legal effects under Italian law, a de facto subtraction of the wedlock from the control of authorities. This request is aimed at creating a situation where two different legal systems regulate the lives of two different groups of citizens within the same state. In European legal history, it would represent a jump back to the Middle Ages, when different laws applied to different ethnicities. In practical terms, it would mean that Italian citizens of Muslim faith would be subtracted from the guarantees that the Italian legal system provides to its citizens. Therefore, while Christian Italian women would have the same rights as Italian men, Muslim Italian women would have very few rights. While a Christian woman would have the right to obtain a divorce simply by filing papers, a Muslim woman would have to go to great lengths to prove ill treatment at the hands of her husband.
I think the introduction of Islamic marriages is a good idea, depending on how it is done. It should not be simply that if you are Moslem, you must have an Islamic marriage. Rather, it should be structured to allow choice. Anyone--Moslem or not- would be allowed to enter into a Moslem-style marriage, indicating so at the time of the marriage. People who did not so indicate should probably be assumed to want an ordinary marriage, but it might be a good idea to assume that if you are Moslem, married in an Islamic service, you want a Moslem marriage. This would not be a dimunition of rights, but an increase-- by allowing people to enter into a more traditional kind of marriage than the Italian state currently allows. When someone enters into a contract, he imposes obligations on himself, but that does not mean that allowing people to make contracts hurts them.

Of course, Italy should go further and allow Christian marriages too, which I bet it does not now. Roman Catholics, for example, should be allowed to enter into marriages that do not allow divorce. For more discussion, see my 1998 paper with Jeffrey Stake, "Lifting the Veil of Ignorance: Personalizing the Marriage Contract."

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December 18, 2004

A Christmas Tree Photo

Photos enliven a blog, and this one seems appropriate.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Classroom Bias at Yale: The Yale Free Press Survey

When I was at Yale from 1976 to 1980, I don't remember the kind of unseemly classroom bias reported by the The Yale Free Press, of which these quotes are sample:

"My teacher came into class the day after the election proclaiming, ‘That’s it. This is the death of America.’ The rest of the class was eager to agree, and twenty minutes of Bush-bashing ensued. At one point, one student asked our teacher whether she should be so vocal, lest any students be conservatives. She then asked us whether any of us were Republicans. Naturally, no one volunteered that information, whereupon our teacher turned to the inquisitive student and said, ‘See? No one in here would be stupid enough to vote for Bush.’ "

"Last year, my Spanish teacher only presented readings against Bush’s trade policy in Latin America. My Economics professor this year mocked Bush. My Spanish teacher also actively silenced people who disagreed with her. I could list many more occasions, but I have to run to class."

"In my German class, the teacher was expressing her political views and said, ‘They [people who vote for Bush] are sheep! They’re blind sheep!’ When someone protested her comment, she said in front of the class, ‘How could you vote for him?! He’s so scary!’ The following assignments were translating German articles that bashed G.W. I’ve had other experiences in my chem class as well."

I could well believe that political correctness has gotten much worse over the past 25 years. One part of it may be the increased use of non-tenure-track faculty. I can imagine this kind of behavior much more from my foreign language teachers-- often part-timers hired and fired casually-- than from professors.

Classroom bias must be looked at carefully. These examples seem to be ones in which it is unrelated to what is being taught. What is less of a problem, even if the bias is as extreme, is when the bias is integral to what is taught. We want to have faculty teaching subjects on which they are experts, and they will have opinions on the right and wrong way to think about those subjects, and even about policy conclusions. Thus, I don't mind the Marxist teaching sociology as much as the Marxist who lets his politics come into his engineering class.

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December 17, 2004

Economagic Charts: The Inflation Rate

I am browsing through data sites for next semester. Free stock and macro data is well represented on the Web, but business data is a little harder to come by, except in the fee-based services to which my university subscribes.

One good site for macro data is Economagic, which allows easy construction of Gif charts like the inflation one I've put here.

It's interesting how the monthly rate zigs and zags. Is this measurement error-- that when one month is high due to positive measurement error, the next is low due to negative error? Or, perhaps, Fed corrections? This is the sort of things time-series econometricians study, and they no doubt have answers.

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December 16, 2004

The 12th Day of Christmas: The Incredibles, Christmas List

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here. You can get to the whole list a here and to all my lists since 1988 here.

12. The Incredibles, 2004. An aristocratic and bourgeois animation movie combining Toy Story with James Bond, about a family of superheroes. It teaches elitism and devotion to honor against the whines of the mediocre, yet the family is perceptively 1950's American.

The aristocratic element is the stress on heroism and the special talents of a minority who are obligated to use those talents for the community. The superheroes are proud of themselves, but in a fitting way, and their pride is not combined with any need or desire for recognition from the masses. Buddy, the villain, only has the talent of high intelligence and creativity, and he burns with envy. What he wants above all is recognition from others. He has an inferiority complex, and he is indeed inferior, morally if not in terms of his overall power. Nothing he does can overcome that. What he ought to have done was to accept his place in the world, because we do not create ourselves. When you are born without superhero powers, you cannot make yourself a superhero, any more than a man can become a wife or a dog a man.

Yet these are American aristocrats. That is one reason they feel duty to the community, which is perhaps not strictly speaking a universal aristocratic trait. They work for a living; they have secret identities; they like blending in; they behave the same way as the rest of us most of the time, and it is a bourgeois lifestyle. They are not looking for gigantic challenges; they just want to do good, a even a mere fire or mugging is enough of a bad to call forth their effort.

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The Barnes Case: Overturning a Will's Restriction on an Art Museum

Indiana Prof. L. Lenkowski has an op-ed in the WSJ on violating the will of someone who left paintings to set up an art museum.
This week's decision by Judge Stanley Ott of Montgomery County Orphans' Court to approve a request by the trustees of the Barnes Foundation to relocate its multibillion-dollar collection of artworks to downtown Philadelphia from suburban Merion, Pa., would seem to put an end to a decadelong legal battle over the organization's future. But the repercussions may continue to be felt for some time to come.

The court proceedings involved a challenge to the will of the foundation's benefactor, the pharmaceutical magnate Albert C. Barnes, which stipulated that the collection's arrangement embody Barnes's own, unconventional ideas about how art should be viewed. In fact, Barnes looked upon the foundation as more of a school for teaching about art than a museum, and he limited access to it accordingly. But longstanding financial problems, coupled with poor management, endangered its survival.

That is why its trustees, backed by the Pennsylvania attorney general (who is responsible for overseeing charities in the state), sought to move the foundation from the suburbs to become part of a new museum that would be more accessible to ticket-buying visitors. Three Philadelphia foundations also pledged $150 million to help erect a new building and create an endowment for its masterpieces, if the Barnes were allowed to move.

Like the increasingly frequent cases of cities using their power of eminent domain to force sale of property by one private landowner to another, the Barnes case seems to pit efficiency against property rights. I feel unhappy about not being able to come down solidly for one or the other-- as an economist, I should be able to advise people about precisely this sort of hard case. Whatever the legal arguments may be, the essence of the Barnes case is that people think Barnes imposed inefficient restrictions on the museum he set up, and they want to get rid of them. This is not too far different from someone doing silly things with his property while he is alive, and we taking it away from him as a result. I suppose that forcing the takers to go through a formal public process helps a lot to make sure that the takings are desirable. But some of the eminent domain cases I've heard about do not seem to present clear efficiency gains, and smell more of government failure.

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December 15, 2004

Weblog Comment Problems

My apologies to anybody whose comments do not show up on this weblog or whose comments I seem to have ignored. I just discovered an entry that said "Comments (0)" but nonetheless had a comment. I don't know what is going on with that, but be aware of the possibility of glitches. Also, if you comment on entries older than a week or so, the anti-spam software requires that I approve your comment before it appears, and I might not see that right away.

Social sanctions don't work with spam, since there is no way to show disapproval to the spammer. That makes the case for government laws much stronger.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Movable Type 3: Pros and Cons

Somebody was asking me about moving from Movable Type 2.6 to Movable Type 3. I think it was worth it, but it took some time, and a number of things still don't work right.

Benefits:
1. Comments are easier to view and delete.
2. There is a good search engine that comes with it.
3. MT-Blacklist, the standard plug-in for dealing with spam comments, has important features that work only with MT 3.

Costs:
1. I had to re-do my customizations, and didn't get all of them to work.
2. I couldn't get the Upgrade to work, and had to do a completely new installation.
3. Extended entries-- where the reader sees only the first part and clicks fo more-- don't work.
4. For some reason, not all comments get listed where I can see them, and some entries with comments still say "Comments (0)".
5.The Notifierplug-in that lets people know about comment threads doesn't really work with MT 3. 6. Since the new, good, search engine doesn't pick up my pre-movable type entries, I need to have a separate search engine for those.

Overall, I recommend moving, I think. I am spending less time on blogging now, though, which is one reason I haven't fixed up the problems with the new installation. It's probably worthwhile having the MT people do your installation for you, too, or even using Typepad (though then you are at their web address).

Posted by erasmuse at 09:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

The Long Tail: Book Sales of Hits vs. Low-Volume Titles

From a Wired article on internet sales and how titles that are not hits are still profitable, "The Long Tail":
...The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are...
Demand is being diverted from the most popular titles to this "long tail". Is that good? The economist's answer is "yes". If people are given to fads, it is even better. The only cause for discomfort is that if it is the "maximum" of creative output that is the most valuable for a society, our maxima, in terms of popular appeal, are going to be less rewarded.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

Literature Searches: Scholar.google.com

Rick Harbaugh told me about the new Google site, scholar.google.com, which limits searches to academia. It looks to be extremely useful. You can do a search for someone's articles, and it will return not just the articles but also tell you which other articles cite it. Immediately, I have found some papers I ought to have cited for my international trade paper, "A Reputation Model of Quality in North-South Trade." And I found Charles Holt's Markets, Games, and Strategic Behavior: Recipes for Interactive Learning, a book draft of classroom games for teaching game theory that will be useful for me.

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The 11th Day of Christmas: Fridge Phonics

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

11. Fridge Phonics alphabet toy. When a child puts a letter in a box and presses it, the box says the letter's sound. $18.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

Bayly on Kinsey; When is Good Scholarship a Bad Action?

Pastor Tim Bayly has a good webpost and December 3 Herald-Times op-ed on Kinsey's sex research. It raises questions I've avoided, I realize. The usual charge nowadays against Kinsey is that his research was rubbish, with a hidden agenda, sloppy methods, and deliberate avoidance of sound statistical sampling. Indeed, back in the 1950's there was an issue of the Journal of the American Statistical Association that contained a number of article by top statisticians (I think Tukey was one) that criticized his statistics. At the time, the pretence was that Kinsey himself was a disinterested, straitlaced scientist; we now know that he and his associates were involved in the practices they studied.

But that is not the subject of Pastor Bayly's webpost. Here is some of what he says:

Kinsey spent the rest of his academic career conducting these interviews and disseminating the data. He was convinced that publicizing peoples' private sexual lives would usher in a more peaceful age devoid of shame and inhibition.

But his efforts did not bring the dawn of Aquarian freedom...

So today, instead of community pressure being brought to bear against adulterers and sodomites, it's brought to bear against those condemning such crimes. Freedom is shrinking as IU's diversity advocates and the Bloomington City Council's Human Rights Commission use shame as a disciplinary tool against innocent souls caught in the act of expressing disapproval of sexual perversion.

Pity the poor widow who conscientiously declines to rent her upstairs apartment to an unmarried couple. She will soon learn what G. K. Chesterton warned of: "When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws."....

Since Kinsey first began to expose men's secrets, incest, domestic violence, divorce, the poverty rate of women and children, and deaths due to sexually transmitted diseases have all increased dramatically. But no one seems to notice.

We cannot of course attribute the sexual revolution to Kinsey. He contributed to it, but he was part of a big movement, and not an indispensable part. The question I've avoided, though, is whether a true scholar who had researched the same subject as Kinsey should be criticized. What if someone had collected data on sexual behavior in a reasonably accurate way, doing good and unbiased scholarship-- but with results pernicious to society?

It may be that publishing news of widespread immorality is not pernicious to society, but for the sake of argument, suppose that it is. I think, then, that a scholar who so publishes ought to be criticized. It is as if some scientist were to come up with a formula for a cheap homemade bomb, and published it. The scientific discovery might be worthy of the Nobel Prize, but we should not admire him. There are various kinds of criminal behavior that are much more common than people realize. Would it be good to teach teenagers the truth about it, and how low criminal penalties really are? I think one of the problems of the inner city is that people there have a better idea of how limited is the reach of the police. When more people know more things, that does not always make our life better.

There is a danger in such thinking, I realize. Research on race and sex differences is dangerous because so many people think that to demonstrate even true differences is pernicious. Others think that to deny differences is what is pernicious. In the same way, many people think the results of the sexual revolution are good, and that Kinsey's work had a good effect even if its scholarly quality was dubious. In the end, I suppose I would encourage the discovery and dissemination that corrects misbelief. Partly this would be for lack of trust in whoever would judge which discoveries were pernicious, and partly because knowing the truth would help us correct bad situations. If sexual or criminal immorality is rampant, maybe it is better we should all know that, so even if existing social norms weaken, laws or new norms may arise.

The discovery of cheap bombs (or ways to cheat on taxes safely, for another example) is different. In such cases, almost everyone would agree as to the bad consequences of the good scholarship, and the usefulness for progress is much smaller.

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December 11, 2004

The Tenth Day of Christmas: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Yelena Polyanskaya, and Art in Our Time

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

10. Tennessee Ernie Ford's wonderfully rich voice, especially in his gospel songs. We have a CD of those that are good for our children to listen to as they go to sleep. His rich, deep voice is quite soothing. My two-year-old boy will ask for "the man singing" music when he goes to bed.

A couple of times recently the question has come up of whether art is flourishing now or not. Only a few days ago I recommended Charles Murray's excellent 2003 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. He tries to get numerical measures of how well different times and places have done in artistic and scientific creation. He stops in 1950 since it is hard to evaluate recent work. Ordinarily the problem is that we overestimate recent work, but in music and painting, many people think that recent work is worse than work from earlier periods. Does that mean it is even worse than it looks?

This would be perverse. Murray finds a downward trend in artistic creation per capita, especially adjusting for increased wealth, but the 1900-1950 era has so much greater population and wealth that the picture in absolute productivity is not so bad. Beyond 1950, the amount of art has exploded. Could it be that in painting and other graphic arts, at least, the amount of good work is great, but it is lost in the mass of mediocrity? Today I visited an exhibit of the very good paintings of Yelena Polyanskaya. I can't find a painting website for her, but she also does photography and piano performance and composition (she has a doctorate in piano). They looked good enough to me to be in a museum. But she is completely unknown, and likely will stay that way. Similarly, the stores are filled with wonderful vases, furniture, and crockery, but it is for a mass market (even if luxurious) and so we do not think to compare it with museum pieces.

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December 10, 2004

The Ninth Day of Christmas: Duffer's Drift

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

9. The Defense of Duffer's Drift, by Captain E.D. Swinton, 1905. Six dreams of Boer War Lieutenant Backsight Forethought, left with 50 men to hold Duffer's Drift. In each dream, he makes plans to hold it, remembering in the next dream the lessons from his defeat in the previous one.

This is quite short, and you can print it out after you download it from the Net. It is a well-written, gripping story, and also nicely scientific, because it looks at the same situation over and over with different strategies. I don't think what I learn about how to wage war will be of practical use, but I do like seeing this format used, and it is good entertainment.

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December 09, 2004

Gross State Product Statistics

I happened across a table of Gross state products from the BEA, Dept. of Commerce. Here are a few, from 2001, in millions of dollars (so US GNP is about 10 trillion, and Vermont is 19 billion)
US 	 	        10,137,190
 
 Alaska 	 	    28,581
 California 	         1,359,265
 Florida 	 	   491,488
 Illinois 	 	   475,541
 Indiana 	 	   189,919
 New York 	 	   826,488
 Texas 	 	           763,874
 Vermont 	            19,149
 Wyoming 	     	    20,418

 
California is 13% of American GDP, which makes it more important than most countries.

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December 08, 2004

What is Law? The Holmesian "Bad Man"

Orin Kerr writes
First, the law. No one actually knows what kind of U.S. constitutional rights the detainees at Guantanamo have, or, to the extent that there may be other sources of rights for them such as the Geneva Convention, whether those rights are binding in federal court. We know from the Supreme Court's decision last summer in Rasul v. Bush that the federal courts have jurisdiction to consider the question, but we just don't know what the answer is. Why is that? It's because there are surprisingly few opinions on the constitutional rights of non-citizen detainees outside the United States as a general matter, and those opinions that shed any light at all on the issue here--cases that plausibly might include United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, Reid v. Covert, and Johnson v. Eisentrager --- are generally too splintered, unsatisfying, factually different, and (in some cases) too dated to tell us a lot. No one really knows how the courts (and the Court) are going to answer these questions. If you take the Holmesian view that law consists of "prophecies of what the courts will do in fact", right now this area of law is a big question mark.
A law professor would say that the Holmesian "bad man" view of the law is the question of the law is as a prediction of what courts would do if they judged the case. I haven't looked back at Holmes's essay, but whatever he says, the logical extension of his idea is that the law is what will happen to the bad man who takes the action. If nobody will prosecute, the action is legal. If the executive branch would ignore whatever the courts say anyway, its actions are legal.

Still, Professor Kerr's approach is a useful one. There are three questions that are all worth answering:
1. What does the law say?
2. What will the courts do when confronted with a case (which can be different because of honest disagreements, corruption, or judicial arrogance)
3. What can a person do and not get punished for under this law? (because courts, prosecutors, or police won't go after him)

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The Eighth Day of Christmas: Murray's "Human Accomplishment"

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

8. Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, Charles Murray, 2003. Murray picks up where Diamond leaves off. Two stupendous tasks: 1. To measure the accomplishments of genius numerically, comparing times and places; and 2. To figure out why the numbers are different.

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December 07, 2004

The Seventh Day of Christmas: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

7. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, 1996. Better would be: "Wheat, Yams, and Pigs: Why Civilization Arose Where It Did". The Middle East is not only truly he middle of the world, it has the best wild grasses and the most domesticatable animals.

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December 06, 2004

Telemarketing: The National Do Not Call Registry

I recommend to anyone who does not like getting telemarketing calls (that is to everyone) that they sign up for the national do-not-call registry here. It is very easy to do so-- only about three lines of information. The email the site sent me after I registered says
Once you have registered, your phone number registration will be effective for 5 years. It will be illegal for most telemarketers to call you, and you will be able to file a complaint if a telemarketer does call you. The website www.donotcall.gov provides information about filing a complaint.
There is an interesting negative externality from signing up, though not necessarily an inefficient one: the telemarketers will call somebody else instead. This is like the externality from visibly protecting your home against burglars with obvious alarms or signs, which diverts the burglars to other homes instead. If the people who are most bothered by telemarketers are the ones who sign up, though, the diversion could be efficient, its value exceeding the cost of running the do-not-call registry.

I don't understand why action against telemarketers and spammers has not been a prominent political issue. Surely many people would be grateful to a politician who cracked down on this very common annoyance. The registry was finally created, but why didn't Bush take more credit for it? Perhaps because most people haven't signed up yet, and would blame him for not doing more. Or, more likely, because he, like many politicians, uses telemarketing for fundraising. We need an outsider like Howard Dean to make this into an issue.

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The Sixth Day of Christmas: Alexander Pope

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

6. Essay on Man, Alexander Pope, 1744. Philosophy in poetry. Man is "Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled: The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!"

I've been quoting Pope for some time. See "Man's Moral Predicament: Pope's Essay on Man, Posner on Liberal Education" and"For this plain reason, man is not a fly"; Pope and Brains and "Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?" and "Knowing about God"

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December 05, 2004

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Jonathan Edwards by Perry Miller

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

5. Jonathan Edwards by Perry Miller, 1949. The subject's ideas are the focus and events weave in and out to illustrate them. Edwards's project was to combine the new philosophy of Locke with the data of the Bible and human behavior to find the truth and apply it to daily life.

I've written a number of webposts inspired by this book, including "A History of the Work of Redemption" and "Jonathan Edwards on True Virtue" and " Edwards on Perceiving God's Excellency" and "Perry Miller on Jonathan Edwards; Making God in Our Own Image; God's Morality versus Ours; The Mystery of Suffering and Predestination". I'll quote a passage from page 66 of Miller's book that is on the subject of "perceiving God's excellency":

Locke constructed mankind out of sensations in order to rebuke the passions of zealots... his frontier disciple [Edwards] remodeled the Lockean man into a being radically passionate in religion, and then made him available to the democracy: "persons with but an ordinary degree of knowledge, are capable, without a long and subtile train of reasoning, to see the divine excellency of the things of religion." All a man needs is his senses, which no one in Northampton was lacking; then perforce he perceives, and perception depends not on social status or a Harvard degree, it "depends on the sense of the heart."
I am intellectually persuaded of the truth of Christianity, but I keenly feel a lack of the sense of the heart. I have it to some degree, I suppose-- or I would not be a Christian, since the intellectual arguments do not convince everyone, but others perceive much better than I do even with my eyeglasses of the intellect. That, perhaps, is God's way of keeping me humble.

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December 04, 2004

The Fourth Day of Christmas: The One-Gig Thumbdrive

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

4. One Gigabyte Sandisk Thumbdrives. They store more than a CD, are more durable, are smaller, and connect faster. $90. They connect via USB ports. From what I hear, these might replace hard disks some day, because they don't have moving parts, and so are faster and less prone to breakdown, as well as being more portable.

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December 03, 2004

Refereeing and U.S. Trade Embargoes

This 2003 Treasury letter saying that an American editing a book for an Iranian author is a violation of the U.S. ban on trade with Iran has been causing quite a fuss. The ban explicitly exempts "information and informational materials", but that leaves open the question of helping Iranians create information. The Treasury ruling says that it woule be OK to publish an Iranian book, but not to alter or enhance it, or provide "marketing and business consulting services".

The issue comes up for professors because some people fear that this rules out refereeing and editing articles for scholarly journals, even though there is no payment to authors for those articles. But this fear was unfounded, and the policy has been clarified. An April 16, 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education article ($) says,

The U.S. Treasury Department has ended months of confusion among scholarly publishers by ruling that an engineering society may edit, without restriction, articles written by authors in countries under trade embargoes.

The apparent reversal of government policy, which previously had forbidden editing without a special license, should also allow other scholarly publishers to edit articles written by authors from countries such as Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Sudan, according to a Treasury official....

In 1988 Congress exempted "information or informational materials" from trade embargoes, but the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as OFAC, took a narrower view, exempting only those materials that had been "fully created" by people in the embargoed countries and that had not been significantly altered in the United States....

OFAC ruled last fall that "the reordering of sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons, prior to publication, may result in a substantively altered or enhanced product, and is therefore prohibited." At the same time, the office ruled that peer review does not alter or enhance a manuscript, and therefore is not restricted by trade embargoes....

The Treasury official stressed that the new ruling came as a result of OFAC's understanding the editing process better and, with that understanding, being able to conclude that editing does not significantly alter the manuscripts.

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The Third Day of Christmas: Leafblowers

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

3. Leafblowers, and the Electric, Sears Craftsman ones in particular. $35. I think I paid more for mine, but the device would be cheap at $80. It is not unduly noisy, and makes a nice change from raking. Plus, you can use it to clean leaves out of the garage.

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December 02, 2004

The Second Day of Christmas-- Ishiguro Novels

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

2. An Artist of the Floating World 1988, and The Remains of the Day, 1989, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Gripping, though-provoking novels of character, about the sadness of old age when one realizes one's idealism has been spent on bad causes-- Japanese militarism and English appeasement. A warning to us all. See my earlier posts on An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day.

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December 01, 2004

The Banana War Continues-- Protectionism in the EU

I'm teaching about the Banana War today-- a trade conflict between the EU on the one side and the US and Latin American countries on the other. As this 2001 article says,
On 11 April, the US Government and the European Commission reached an agreement to resolve their long-standing dispute over bananas. Under the accord, the EC will abandon its contentious first come - first served (FCFS) import system of bananas in favour of a new regime that will provide a transition to a tariff-only system by 2006. Washington argued that the FCFS favoured banana growers in former European colonies over Latin American producers and US marketing companies such as Chiquita Brands International. Until 2006, bananas will be imported into the EU market through import licenses distributed on the basis of past trade as pushed for previously by the US (see BRIDGES Weekly, 10 April 2001). In return, the US will suspend sanctions it imposed on US$191 million worth of EU exports following a WTO ruling that declared the EC banana import policy in violation with world trade rules.
The dispute began in 1994 with an obviously illegal quota system introduced by the EU to benefit former colonies and--less noticed-- European banana companies, at the expense of European consumers (especially German ones), American banana companies, and Latin American banana growers. The Latin Americans brought a GATT complaint and won; the US had a Section 301 complaint, then there was a WTO complaint... At every stage, the EU lost, but kept the quotas until 2001. Even now, it has the quotas till 2006, and I've read it has recently proposed new tariffs that would be even more protectionist than the quotas were! As Senator Grassley writes,
... I am extremely troubled by the announcement on October 27, 2004, that as of January 1, 2006, the European Union will impose a tariff of 230 euros per metric ton on banana imports that do not originate in African, Caribbean, and Pacific ("ACP") countries.... Now, you don't have to be a trade lawyer or an economist to see that increasing the MFN duty on bananas by over 200 percent will not serve to maintain total market access for MFN banana suppliers. In fact, it will have exactly the opposite effect. One study estimates that a 230 euro tariff will reduce banana exports from Latin American suppliers by over one-third, resulting in lost income of about $400 million per year and over 75,000 job losses. That is not the outcome envisioned by the United States when we agreed to the Understanding and when we consented to the WTO waiver.
As with the US steel tariffs, the lesson is that even with the WTO, if countries want to break the rules, they'll break the rules. The US broke them for steel for a couple of years; the EU has for bananas for 10 years now.

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The First Day of Christmas

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

1. The Companion Bible, a study Bible by E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913). Scholarly and opinionated, with lots on the Masorah and acrostics. Sometimes wrong, but always clear. The 198 appendices, essays on topics such as "the genitive case" or "words for repent" are up on the web, as is a sample page.

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