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3.30.2007
  OMG!!! Inequality is rising, big time! I'm outraged!!!
Round up the rich and rally the firing squad; inequality is on the rise!*Seriously, what are we going to do?!?! Call the President! Write your Senator! Storm your Congressman's office!!!





*These statistics are for baseball
 
  Money is just a commodity...
Slashdot reports on the gaining popularity of a virtual money in China:
It's the QQ coin — online play money created by marketers to sell such things as virtual flowers for instant-message buddies, cellphone ringtones and magical swords for online games. In recent weeks, the QQ coin's real-world value has risen as much as 70%. It's the most extreme case of a so-called virtual currency blurring the boundaries between the online and real worlds — and challenging legal limits.
Someone comments:
Currency is just an agreement on a medium to symbolize value.
Common misconception, but one which governments are happy to foster. Actually, currency is a commodity in exactly the same way as coffee, bread, oil, gold, pork bellies.You see if currency were really a medium which symbolised value, it wouldn't change much. Bread, coffee, gold etc would pretty much always cost the same, they would always have the same value throughout time. Instead what happens is that over time, everything becomes more expensive, inflation. What's happening is that the currency is losing it's value. It does that because there's more of it; supply and demand. When the government('s bankers) print money, all the existing money in circulation decreases in value because there is more of it around.

So, no, there's no fundamental difference between real and virtual money, just as there's no fundamental difference between real money and a kg of coffee.
Except one thing: we imagine the government is able, through controlling the money supply, to smooth short-run business cycles. If the government doesn't control the money supply, it can't do this. So so-called virtual currencies undermine the power of monetary policy.

Labor contracts in the U.S., for example, are usually cover a year, or more, and they're denominated in dollars. Some people believe the government's monetary power comes from the fact people write long-term contracts, like wage contracts, in the government controlled currency. So the government shouldn't start sweating about "virtual" currencies until it starts seeing long-term contracts written in currencies it doesn't control (...like stock options...).
 
  The Economist is soliciting ideas...
...for a new online venture to be launched in the summer.

Don't bother submitting any ideas, though. The best one has already been submitted; see this post.
 
3.28.2007
  Oh, google... you guys are too funny...
#33...
 
3.23.2007
  Bring the troops home?
It's true that what's happening in Iraq doesn't meet the ambitions of Iraqis or Americans and everyone admits that many mistakes were made. I agree that the Iraqi government should be pressed to speed up the effort to establish rule of law and achieve reconciliation. And I also agree that the American administration needs to revise the way it's been handling and planning for this critical war.

But abandoning this front or failing to recognize its priority is a terrible mistake that can lead to disastrous consequences to all of us.
-- Mohammed from ITM
 
3.20.2007
  The Lucas Critique and Climate Change
In Economics we have something called the Lucas Critique. Lucas' observation was that people change their behavior depending on the policy environment. Its dangerous to assume because we see a correlation between high level variables (e.g. output and inflation), those relationship will hold when when we change the policy (e.g. increase inflation). His critique was basically a call for economist to think about the deep structure of the relationships between high level variables. For us economists, this meant we should look at people's preferences and how people go about making decisions. (I know it sounds strange, but many macro economists didn't consider these 'micro foundations' before Lucas.)

Now there is the Dyson Critique of climate models:
Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
I don't know anything about climate models, but it sounds like he's making a Lucas-like critique of those models. Those models assume the correlation between CO2 and global warming (or other high level variables like cloud cover) will remain unchanged in the changing environment (e.g. higher CO2 levels). Without knowing the deep relationship between CO2 and these other climate variables it seems dangerous to try to predict their future relationships. He seems to be encouraging climate scientists, like Lucas encouraged economists, to understand the deep relationships between the variables they're studying.

(h/t Newmark's Door)
 
3.18.2007
  Civil war?
A UK based opinion poll company ran a survey in Iraq(PDF). They found:



The most interesting statistics are in the demographic section:


UPDATE: While it appears that Iraqi's are more in favor of the war than Americans are, its important to note that dead people can express their dissatisfaction with being dead.
 
3.17.2007
  UC Davis economics in the news
Prof. Peri talking up immigration (even the unskilled kind).

As of 2004, two thirds of workers without a high school degree in California were immigrants as well as almost half of the workers with a doctoral degree. Moreover U.S.-born Californians moved out of the state during the nineties and sometimes job competition from immigrants has been regarded as a key factor for this outflow. Certainly, if the inflow of immigrants crowded out the labor market options of U.S. natives, particularly the low skilled ones, such effect should have been particularly strong in California. But is it possible that immigrants lifted California’s wages, rather than harming them? After all immigrants have different skills and tend to work in different occupations then natives and hence they could make natives more productive and increase the demand for complementary production tasks performed by natives!

...

On the other hand the impact of immigration, in the 1960-2004 period has been negative on wages of previous immigrants and positive on wages of U.S. natives, revealing a good degree of complementarity between U.S. and foreign-born workers that contributes to benefit (rather then to harm) native workers’ productivity. One plausible interpretation of these complementarieties is the following. Manual tasks in most sectors of California economy are executed by immigrants; the larger availability of these skills has increased the demand for interactive-communication-coordination tasks, needed in production, and this second set of skills are more likely provided by natives even with low education.
 
3.14.2007
  The State knows...
... better than you. It would never do harm.
 
3.12.2007
  (x and y => z) does not contradict (!x => z)
Instead (x and y => z) implies (!z => !x OR !y). If you theorize that (!x => z) then (!z => !y). In this case, the Fed existence and increasing the money supply would lead, in theory, to a less severe Great Depression. Friedman also theorized that if the Fed didn't exist, other sources of liquidity would have appeared to mitigate the depression. Given the Great Depression was severe (ahem, its called the Great Depression), then, it must be the case the Fed fell down on its job. No contradiction here.

Lot's of people get logic wrong. I just wish Paul Krugman didn't.
 
3.10.2007
  Dangerous Ruling
An appeals court ruling would put cars back in D.C. garages - A Washington Post editorial
IN OVERTURNING the District of Columbia's long-standing ban on cars yesterday, a federal appeals court turned its back on nearly 70 years of Supreme Court precedent to give a new and dangerous meaning to the Second Amendment. If allowed to stand, this radical ruling will inevitably mean more people killed and wounded as keeping cars out of the city becomes harder. Moreover, if the legal principles used in the decision are applied nationally, every law banning cars on the books would be imperiled.

The 2 to 1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down sections of a 1976 law that bans city residents from having cars in their garages. The court also overturned the law's requirement that utility vehicles be stored disassembled or with ignition locks. The court grounded its unprecedented ruling in the finding that the Second Amendment right to bear arms extends beyond militias to individuals. The activities the Second Amendment protects, the judges wrote, "are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual's enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or continued intermittent enrollment in the militia."

Never before has a law been struck down on that basis. The Supreme Court, in its landmark 1939 decision United States v. Miller, stated that the Second Amendment was adopted "with obvious purpose" of protecting the ability of states to organize militias and "must be interpreted and applied with that end in view." Nearly every other federal court of appeals has concurred in that finding. The dissenting judge in yesterday's opinion, Karen LeCraft Henderson, a Republican appointee like the other two judges on the panel, rightly lambasted the majority for its willful disregard of Supreme Court precedent.

While the ruling caught observers off guard, it was not completely unexpected, given the unconscionable campaign, led by AAA and abetted by the Bush administration, to broadly reinterpret the Constitution so as to give individuals Second Amendment rights. Indeed, the D.C. lawsuit, by six residents assisted by the Cato Institute, was filed in 2003, just months after then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said car bans are unconstitutional.

The AAA predictably welcomed yesterday's ruling. According to its myth, only criminals have had cars in the city and now law-abiding citizens will be able to drive. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) counters that argument with the sad record of what results from a proliferation of cars. As he points out, more cars mean only more violent car crashes. It is important to note that the ban on cars will stay in effect while the city considers whether to appeal.

That is likely, Mr. Fenty announced. The risk here is that an appeal could lead to an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, and a legal principle that now applies only to the residents of the nation's capital would extend to the entire nation. Yet doing nothing wouldn't serve the best interests of the city and its public safety. Nor, for that matter, would it serve the nation's interest to leave this dangerous ruling unchallenged.


People don't kill people, cars do.
 
  moritheism
Apropos a conversation I was having with Gavin the other day about ID, Robin Hanson comments on Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion:
To my mind most discussion misses the key distinction between these two claims:

1. A great intelligent power influenced the structure of our universe.
2. Such a power intervenes in your life, e.g., answering your prayer.

Relevant experts do indeed consider the first claim to be within reason, but only a minority consider the second claim to be reasonable. Most academic debate is on the first claim, but the second claim is what interests most people. Maybe part of the problem is that we have a word, "atheist," for skeptics about the first claim, but no such moniker regarding the second claim. Suggestions?


My suggestion: morietheism. Mori- means dead. You can play too! Here's a list of Latin elements.

UPDATE: Someone suggested 'deism'. What's the fun in inventing new words if old ones already do the job for you?

UPDATE 2: Meanwhile IDers and neoaths call each other "babbling idiots" and "goofballs", none seem to notice they're talking past each other. There is no contradiction between the idea of a non-intervening, all-powerful god and science. None. Evolution is the science of WHAT causes changes in species over a long span and God helps some people understand WHY. What and why, last I checked, are two distinct sorts of questions to ask. It is NOT logically necessary for the answer to the "why?" questions to preclude the answers to the "what?" questions. The same is true of the reverse.

UPDATE 3: A good comment at this post:
There is a nuance I think is involved with many if not most creationists. The distinction they see isn't between accident and purpose but between accident and intent. This article is particularly clear about it. To the author, "nature" is the same as "chance" and is to be contrasted with and is the opposite of "intelligence."

Mere purpose (in the generalized god-as-sustainer-of-nature concept of theistic evolution) is not sufficient. Life, particularly human life (and, ultimately, each individual human), must be the intended result of God's deliberate action.


UPDATE 4: How is it even remotely possible that the Church's views on this matter are the most reasonable? "There is a world of difference between believing that we are a product of evolution and that we are an accident of evolution!" and "The world today faces a crisis of meaning. Faith gives meaning. Evolution is perfectly acceptable and does not contradict faith. However, evolution is not an end in itself. In other words, it is not God!"
 
3.09.2007
  Sweet Jesus! I'm a member of a militia!
Holy Crap! Don't tread on me, man.

UPDATE: I'm suppose to gear up: "That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder. . . ."
 
  Why countries are a crappy way to divide people up: Maquiladoras edition
A former student writes:
Hi Will, I had a question for you since I remember you were very knowledgeable last quarter and we had some interesting conversations. I am writing a paper for a class now on the economy of Mexico and I wanted to focus specifically on transnational corporations (maquiladoras) in Mexico. My professor refuses to help at all and since I am just a baby economist I need some outside help. I wanted to look at the trend of the economy since some of the large corporations have moved to mexico, drawbacks and benifits etc. Maybe I should focus on one company in particular since it is only a short paper. Do you know of any websites that might help? Or can you perhaps point me in a good direction. Also I wanted to know what the benefits of EPZ's were to the host country, thank you!


I responded:
I don't know if I can give you any specific help, but maybe a couple pointers can get you going in the right direction.

Here's a general discussion on Mexico's economic troubles despite NAFTA and better governance. Read the comments and be sure to follow the link to Prof. Delong's discussion, too.

This (good) paper
talks about which Mexicans, by geography, end up emigrating. Surprisingly, or maybe not given you're studying maquiladoras, its not the folks closest to the border that emigrate. Any guesses on why this might be? :-)

And there's this Atlantic article (it requires a subscription, but you could probably pick up the magazine at Safeway or somewhere).

Good luck!

BTW, you should send me the resulting paper. I'd like to see what you come up with. I'm interested in this topic but I've never had time to research it.
 
3.06.2007
  Is American health care more expensive because its better...
... or because its less efficient?

Here's one piece of evidence that American health care is better, but The Economist warns:
This is a good illustration of why it is so very, very difficult to do cross-country comparisons of the effectiveness of health care systems. They are plagued by definitional differences in statistics (is a baby born at five months gestation a neo-nate, who goes into your infant mortality statistics when he dies a few hours later, or a stillbirth, which does not?) They are heavily affected by differences in lifestyle, and ethnicity—almost no one thinks that the Japanese live so long because they have the world's finest health care system. And, as this example illustrates, many variables are but ambiguous signals of quality. A country may have longer hospital visits and more acute care because the comparison country is letting its citizens die in the street; or because the comparison country is much better at treating disease, forestalling crises and long hospital stays; or because you are paying doctors and hospitals to treat crises and provide hospital beds, and they are responding to the signal.
 
3.05.2007
  Picasa experiment
bear river cabin
 
3.01.2007
  What is X?
Kantian ethics as it applies to humans:
(1) All humans have intrinsic value.
(2) All those who have intrinsic value have it equally.
(3) All and only those which have some relevant property, X, have intrinsic value.
(4) Any property, Y, which is not common to all humans is not X. (1, 3)
--- Jeff G

What is X?
 
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