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2.22.2004
  Ralph for President!
Vote Nader for President!

Stop this nonesense talk of "electability". Ralph did NOT lose the election for Gore in 2000! Give me a real candidate. Give me Ralph!

There. That's as political as I get. I guess since Blair's not running, Ralph will be a good second choice
 
2.20.2004
  Ralph don't run?
I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. It was a protest vote. If Ralph wasn't in the race, I would NOT have voted for Gore or Bush.

Neither is an inspiring leader. Neither deserves to be president.

To say that Nader lost the election for Gore is an overstatement. It assumes things that can't be known. You can't count Nader votes as Gore votes if Nader didn't run. Assume Nader didn't run in 2000. How many Nader voters would have supported Gore? How many Nader voters would have supported Bush? Most importantly, how many Nader voters wouldn't have voted for either of these alternatives and how many wouldn't have voted at all?

The true issue is that neither party has produced a viable candidate for president. Not in the 2000 election and not in the 2004 election. If Gore was half the politician Clinton was, he would have won Florida. He would have won the election.

It angers me that people are so willing to be complacent about the quality of the candidates that the parties are producing. Instead, they insist on a dull form of democracy with its artificial bipolarity. Democrat, Republican, what's the difference?
 
2.18.2004
  Log diving
I'm looking through my site's access log. Somebody searched for american power "ascent or decline" and my site came up third!

Ack... blogging is ruining the google index.
 
2.16.2004
  Rough draft: statement of purpose take 3 (updated, again)
It was on the third iteration of the Excel model that I was creating for my boss when I realized what it was all about. My boss asked me to give him a recommendation regarding the staffing levels in the new department I was creating. Instead of pulling a number out of thin air, my first reaction was to analyze the problem and try to understand how to best answer his question. We collect tons of data in our accounting system that describes the tasks performed and the number of hours spent on each task. So all I needed was an export from the accounting system, Excel, and then I could dig in.

After two iterations of complex and convoluted staffing models that my boss rejected, I went back to the drawing board. My boss had asked for a recommendation, not a model. While I enjoyed analyzing the data and playing in Excel to create models, the purpose of the exercise was to guide staffing policy. The model's only purpose was to distill the complexities of reality. A good model would make it very clear what variables are important (cost of the staff and the expected profit margin) and what assumptions are made implicitly or explicitly (both senior, expensive engineers and junior, cheap engineers can accomplish the tasks required in the department).

During the construction of the third iteration of the staffing model, I realized what I want to do in my life. I want to help people make better decisions. Deciding how to allocate their resources are the most important decisions people make. Economics called to me in that moment.

Creating models is just story telling. One of my favorite books is "An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" by Gerald M. Weinberg. He teaches that all models are approximations of reality. A model's only purpose is to help shape the way we think about problems. If this is true, then theories and models in economics are no more than stories about the world that help to explain how it works. Of course, I get deep satisfaction out of the analytical aspect of creating models and understanding theory, but it's an interesting perspective.

I also enjoy the perspective given by what I call the long view. One of the many areas that I was interested in during my undergraduate years, and a good source for the long view, is Japanese history. I grew up in the idyllic yet parochial redwood forests of the north coast of California. Aesthetically, I enjoyed learning about such a different and "foreign" culture. What struck me most was that despite being almost completely isolated from Western culture for most of its history, Japan has developed into one of the great economic powers of the modern world. On the one hand, their history is an example of successful development that was very distinct from the sort of development seen in America and Europe. By comparing Western development with its Japanese counterpart, we have a sort of controlled experiment that lets us see what attributes of society (culture, institutions, etc) are necessary for successful economic development. On the other hand, Japan is an example of country that has successfully developed in the shadow of more advanced countries, a challenge developing countries face today. By analyzing Japan's interactions with the West during its development, lessons can be learned that can be used to help developing countries today.

In this respect, I'm interested in working with Dr. Wing Thye Woo, because of his views regarding Asian comparative economics. I'm also interested in Dr. Gregory Clark's views on using history to understand the true causes of economic growth, such as seen in the English industrial revolution. Also, I'm very interested in Dr. Alan M. Taylor's long view of globalization. Dr. Taylor has observed1 that contrary to popular impressions, globalization is an old issue, with a long history. In the past, how did institutions grow in concert with commerce to spread economic prosperity across geography? As an aside, there is a question that I'm very interested in answering... Do the anti-globalization folks have any point at all?

September 11th really focused my attention on the issue of globalization. The neoliberal agenda, which calls for the dismantling of trade barriers and supports institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, seems especially attractive in a world whose poorest parts are producing ideologies that are the most destructive and extreme. In his address to the U.S. Congress, Tony Blair said, "The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defense and our first line of attack." To what degree is economic prosperity linked with the spread of freedom? How to respond to Dr. J. Bradford DeLong’s recent misgivings2 regarding capital mobility? What can we learn from Asia? Will China prove to be an exception with its extraordinary economic growth, despite its lagging political freedom, or will its economic growth stagnate because of its backward politics?

I enjoy Lester Thurow's passionate writing in his book "Future of Capitalism", in which he makes the connection between freedom and economic prosperity. He explains how capitalism both requires democracy, as its foundation, and is diametrically opposed to it. He argues that capitalism's selfishness is destroying democracy. Democracy's downfall will cause the destruction of capitalism itself. By saying that there is no future for capitalism if it destroys democracy, he suggests a history of capitalism in which the institutions of democracy were necessary for capitalism to grow.

As I said before, I want to help people make better decisions. In this context, a discussion of globalization is primarily focused on an audience of policy makers. I admire authors, like Thurow, who expand the audience to the general public. Outside of economics, I've admired Carl Sagan for his ability to popularize astronomy and science, in general. He was able to explain profound and beautiful things using simple language that could be understood by the general public. Economics is in need of similar popularization. The recent controversy over "outsourcing" and the nightly outrage that is the Exporting America™ segment on Lou Dobbs, demonstrates one of the major failing of the economics profession. The profession, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to articulate the advantages of free trade to the lay audience. I am interested in helping to rectify this situation, and I hope to make some contribution to the popularization of economics.

In addition to policy makers and the general public, I want to help students become better decision makers. I want to become a good teacher. Students need good teachers to equip them with the tools they need to make good decisions in their lives. In school, I was very active with teaching my peers. I led a study group in an economics course, I graded finance quizzes and exams and for two semesters I led discussion sessions in a freshman computer science course. Even at this early age, I saw my peers able to look to me to give them guidance. At work, as you see from my letters of recommendation, I was proud to have been seen as a mentor and a teacher. Very quickly after starting my job, I learned the ins and outs of the company's software platform. Not soon after, I began to be seen as the system expert and only 12 months after starting, I was promoted to lead the System Architect team. This team's charter was to educate internal and external customers about the company's technology (while being actively involved in system implementation). I am very proud of our accomplishments and in our team's ability to spread knowledge of the workings of the company's technology.

As you can see, my primary motivation is to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be a credible source of advice and counsel to many audiences. I want to be a member of a faculty, contributing to the field, teaching undergraduates and having a direct and indirect impact on policy makers. To quote the President on the West Wing, "I'm a man that needs to be the one to get things done. You're the one that helps that man get things done." I'm that second man! To be credible in that role, I need to make real contributions to the field of economics and I need to get a degree from an esteemed university such as UC Davis.


1 Taylor, Alan M. 2002. "Globalization, Trade, And Development: Some Lessons From History" NBER Working Paper no. 9326.

2 DeLong, J. Bradford February 27, 2004; draft 2.0. "How Strong a Supporter of International Capital Mobility Can I Still Be?" (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000378.html)

 
  Rough draft: sop take 2
As a child, I had great contempt for subjects of human nature, English and social sciences. They seemed to me to be deeply narcissistic. Besides, I felt they had nothing to do with a greater pursuit of the truth. I remember arguing vehemently with my 8th grade literature teacher about whether or not "The bumblebee flew anyway" had a subtext. "If the author had some lesson for his readers to learn" I argued, "why didn't he just write the lesson out in plain English?!" Part of this bias can be explained by my growing up in the middle of the Redwood Forests of Northern California, conservative and largely unpopulated. Most of my experiences, playing in the creek or hunting tweety birds, were governed by the natural world rather than people.

However, when I went to school in Berkeley, I saw my world shift from being governed by nature to a near 100% saturation of human pursuits. Like a set of a play that is brought in to cover the bare rafters and structures that make up the stage, Berkeley covered all I knew about how the world worked with the constructs of modern human civilization. I was struck by the fact that each tree was placed by a human; every rule to follow was a human law rather than natural. I realized that people, especially large groups of them, had a logic of there own, perhaps distinct from nature. I began to ask myself, "What laws govern these people?" There were the obvious answers: government and politics, the police and power. These were brute force kinds of answers. Possibly true, but uninteresting. What struck me were more subtle issues that dealt with the layers of abstraction involved in everyday interactions of people. Buying apples at the store involves a tremendous amount of faith in these unsaid laws of human interaction. Why does money have value and why would the apple vendor take it in exchange for an apple (which by the away arrived to the vendor via a complex scheme of domestic and international trade)?

My years in industry have deepened this mystery. I've been involved in both the buying and selling of software. I've struggled with creating new products, setting prices, and trying to find buyers. I’ve created “value propositions.” Why do people buy things at the market price or any price for that matter? I've taken finance classes. Price is the NPV of net future cash flow. What happens in cases where future cash flows are uncertain or unknowable? Even without perfect information, the price is set, people still buy and people still sell. My experience in the real world, while sparking my interest in the theory of price setting, has shown me how important these decisions.

For such an important and regular activity, determining price and trying to place value on stuff is an extremely hard thing to do. Aesthetically and innately, I’m attracted to the prospect of understanding this problem better, to the science of setting price (determining value) and to the study of the environment that allows for such transactions to take place. Yet, what excites me most is the prospect of teaching people the tools of economics so that they can better make these decisions.


 
2.14.2004
  Intro, redux
My motivation to enter UC Davis' Economics PhD program is centered on my desire to make a lasting impact on the world. The methods of economists are very attractive to the scientist in me while the subject of economics (e.g. people) appeal to my humanistic side. As a creative outlet, the. The people that listen to economists are people like politicians, policy makers and business people. Economists have a strong influence on the workings of the world.

...

Hope is my motivation. Hope sustains me. Naive hope required me to have blind faith in our leaders. All else equal, they would always make the correct decisions, especially regarding the most important problems facing society. Naive hope required me to believe that teachers had the power to ensure there students left their classes being able to make the proper choices in life. Maturity and experience have proved how naive that type of hope is. For hope doesn't spring from society exogenously. Hope is in the system. As an agent in the machine, it is my duty to foster it. I have to help decision makers make better decisions. I have to be a teacher.

... well, i'm glad that's out of my system, ick.

 
2.09.2004
  Rough draft: statement of purpose
The primary motivation for me to enter UC Davis' Economics PhD program is my desire to make a lasting impact on the world. In Economics, I've found a subject that, I believe, I will love to practice and has the ability to have a great impact on the world. The methods of economists are very attractive to the scientist in me (I've been a regular reader of Scientific American since I was 10 years old). Meanwhile, the subjects that economics takes (e.g. people) appeal to my humanistic side. Most importantly, however, is the audience Economics has. The people that listen to economists are powerful people like politicians, policy makers and business people. Economists have a strong influence on the workings of the world.

I've come to Economics in a round-about fashion. Over the last decade, my own protracted optimization problem has been: given my priorities and world view, in what area I can make the most impact on the world. In school, I didn't fall in love with any the numerous subjects that I took classes in. I had toyed with the idea of majoring in several subjects including history, computer science, math and chemistry. None of these worked for me because they were either too esoteric or too unconcerned with the affairs of the 'real world'. I only became a business major because it was the last major I toyed with before I had to declare. Since graduating, experience in the business has shown me that its primary impact on the world has been its impact on the size of my wallet. Perhaps irrationally, this provides me with little utility. I have discovered that business' secondary impact, the one it has on world at large, is minimal. The good news is that my experience in business, which is just applied economics, showed me that Economics has a great appeal to me. I realized that it is a social science that can verifiably confirm what I see in the "real world"! I can't tell you how excited I was when I came to this realization.

What I know now is that in school I was looking for a discipline that combined the affairs of humans in the real world with the discipline and rigor of a science. My experience in business has brought me to that realization.

I'm interested in both the descriptive and prescriptive modes of Economics (positive and normative to use the parlance). It occurs to me that unlike most sciences, Economics describes systems while simultaneously helping to change the systems it studies. Image if this was true in Physics. By studying the laws of Physics, you would change them! I can imagine that this becomes a complicating factor in the study of Economics, but I tend to see the power that it gives the Economist. How jealous the physicist must be of the economist. What physicists wouldn't want to change reality to match their theory! Also, this post-modern aspect of economics also means that Economists gets to play two parts in their work. First is the scientist, objectively weighing and measuring the world using various models of how the world works. Second a sort of social engineer, imaging alternative realities and then prescribing policy to help us get to those more ideal realities.

In the descriptive mode, I'm most interested in the history of economics and comparative international economics. Specifically I'd like to return to my studies of Japanese history, that I began as an undergrad, but concentrate more on its modern economic history. From the point of view of an American trying to anticipate the near term economic future for this country, I'm interested to reason by analogy between other countries' experience and our own. Paul Krugman sees an Argentine-like future for the U.S, but I prefer to see the Japanese analogy. Low interest rates, aging demographics, a burst equity bubble all point to the ability for us to learn lessons from Japan’s most recent and protracted economic slump. In this area, I'm most excited to see Dr. Woo's work on East Asia. While his work concentrates on China and south-east Asia, it is my opinion that America's economic interests in all of Asia will depend largely on our relationship with Tokyo.

Once Economics has determined how the world looks and how we got to where we are, you have the context to begin understanding how to change it for the better (hopefully!). This is where the prescriptive mode of economics kicks in. Today's international environment, post 9/11, has really focused my thoughts on international development, trade liberalization, technology diffusion, the study of how labor markets compare across countries and income distribution within and across countries. The neo-liberal agenda seems especially attractive in a world whose poorest parts are producing ideologies that are the most destructive and extreme. That said, I want to understand the issues surrounding globalism and I want to understand its discontents. .

My assumption going into all my work in these areas will be that if we can decrease poverty (not necessarily by increasing equality) we can reduce extremism and therefore increase the security of the world. My contribution will be to analyze causes of poverty emanating from the rich/western world and from policy in the depressed areas themselves. What decisions have we (Americans) made to exacerbate poverty across the world? What can we do and what can we encourage the poorest areas in the world to do to decrease poverty?

As its core function, Economics informs policy making. There are three types of policy. Policy that preserves the status quo (generally, these are unstated policies). Policy that creates sub-optimal outcomes (relative to assumptions and goals). Policy that is optimal given the assumptions and goals society has chosen. First, I want to be an economist that exposes implicit policy which leads to the revisiting of the status quo. Second, I want to articulate an accurate description of the world in its sub-optimal state (while being non-partisan). Finally, I want to articulate theory simply such that decision makers can take appropriate action and not be confused by esoteric jargon. For example, it’s a major failing of Economics that it hasn't been able to articulate the advantages of trade to the lay person.

I look forward to beginning my study of economics at Davis. The methods for describing the world that I will learn there and the methods for generating and evaluating policy options will get me closer to my goal of having an impact on the world.
 
2.08.2004
  Statistics and anecdotes
I have no confidence in an argument when the person making the point quotes statistics without explaining how they were derived or at least cite the source. On the surface, statistics have an air of credibility. People believe that statistics are derived from a rigid, scientific process and therefore must be true. Of course, this isn’t always true. What’s the old joke… 90% of statistics are made up.

When statistics are unavailable, misunderstood or just plain don’t make sense, anecdotes can come to the rescue. While not having the force or scope of scientifically derived statistics, a good story goes a long way in the effort to exchange ideas. Isn’t that really the point of all of this anyway?

Unfortunately, anecdotes don’t come with a well-defined methodology. This makes people sloppy. I think a very basic rule should be: if you’re going to reason by anecdote, at least cite the anecdote. Rule 2 should be: conclusions drawn from anecdote can NEVER be as verifiable as conclusions drawn from statistics so don’t suggest as much.

From CT: "Anyone who's been following recent discussion of the US economy will be aware that the Bureau of Labor Statistics produces employment statistics from two different surveys, and that the results have diverged radically since 2001… While noting some reasons for the discrepancy, the BLS seems to be sticking with the payroll survey, noting that there are a lot of problems in estimating employment growth from the CPS, and that the payroll data is consistent with data on new claims for unemployment benefits... Allowing for the fact that non-employed people are divided between unemployed and those not in the labour force, the discrepancy could easily be a full percentage point, implying that unemployment is now higher than when the recovery (as measured by output) began. This seems consistent with anecdotal impressions." (emphasis added)

My question to the CT folks: what are these anecdotes that allow you to ascertain a one percent change in the aggregate unemployment rate? If your so in tune with such aggregate conditions of the economy, why do we need to measure unemployment at all?
 
  Applying to Davis?
I'm struggling with whether I should apply to UC Davis' Economics PhD program or not.

Of the programs I'm interested in (UCs Berkeley, Davis, LA, San Diego and Stanford), Davis is the only one that is still accepting applications.

The crux of the issue is timing. Can I put off this life-changing event for another year? Is it the right time to leave my job (which I very much like but I'm ready for a change)?

As I've mentioned before, my Berkeley undergrad degree in business didn't prepare me entirely for an Economics graduate degree. I only took one year of Calculus and my intermediate economics courses were not Math oriented (I don't think we did any Calculus in them). Also, I didn't take an upper division statistics course.

Besides that, its been almost 5 years since I graduated. I'm a little rusty.

Applying to Davis this winter is a great opportunity primarily because of the flexibility of the program. While they only let you apply to the PhD program, they offer a terminal Masters degree. This allows me to re-confirm that an Economics degree is really what I want to be doing and it gives me the freedom to look at the other programs while earning the Masters degree (possibly applying to the other schools in late Fall).

The Davis Masters will loosen up my school muscles while improving my Math/Econ skills. Plus, if I end up liking the program, I can stay and be satisfied that I'm in a good school.

There are two major downsides to going to Davis this fall. Both have to do with the fact that I would have to quit my job a year earlier than I had thought. First is the financial impact. Quitting my job a year earlier amounts to about $30k of savings forgone (not to mention the opportunity cost of lost wages). The second downside is that it won't be easy to leave my job on a personal level. I really like the people at work and its been a lot of fun over the last 5 years. Of course, I'm reminded of two cliches: all good things come to an end and its best to quit when your at your peek.

So what about the timing issue? Why not just wait a year? I explain below that the stars are lining up for an easy transition.

If I were to make a change, I would want to have as little impact on my company as possible. Smooth transitions are best for me and for the company. Luckily, the timing might be perfect to make this smooth transition happen. Over the last year, I've been making moves to transition out of my operations role (where I manage the systems architecture group) into a product management role. We've hired a manager who will be taking my position as I transition out of the team. Over the next 3 months or so, he would be shadowing me, learning the ropes and gradually taking more of a leadership position. Meanwhile, I've been doing some special projects for our chairman that are product management-like jobs (investigating new technologies, etc). The idea was that I would move into the Marketing department where I would do these special projects on a full-time basis. The only wrinkle has been that we've hired a new marketing VP and she has her own ideas of how her marketing team (including product management) should be formed. I'm in the early stages of talking to her about my role on her team. If I decided to go to school in the fall, I could back-off those discussions and concentrate on doing customer work in the systems architecture team.

So complicated! To make a long story short, I'm in the middle of a internal transition at work and I could just reorient that transition into one that takes me out of the company by the time school starts.
 
2.07.2004
 
'There are no atheists in foxholes' isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes.
- James Morrow
 
2.02.2004
  UC Davis placement
Rankings of UC Davis' economics faculty's alma maters... 10,11,6,4,20,1,4,4,3,4,51,6,21,12,4,17,7,1,16,4,4,80,3,3,1 and 1.

These rankings come from this page (methodology here) and for the faculty members who had their CV readily available from this page.

Davis is ranked 35. The average of the faculty alma maters is about 11.5.

From this page and this page, you can see where PhD students graduating from Davis are placed. These are mostly teaching jobs in state universities. There's a couple placements as lecturers at Berkeley and quite a few placements at the Fed, the World Bank and the IMF.
 
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