Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Netskool provides a fascinating market, with an interesting type of auction at work.

Students set a problem, a date by which they need a solution, and a price they are willing to pay. Gee, it sounds like William Shatner and Price-Line. Here is a link to their homepage. Note this:

We will look over the problem set and determine if we can help you. If an [sic] tutor is willing to assist you, payment instructions will be included in the e-mail.
Let's hope they don't tutor in English.

I wonder if the prices offered by students rise as the due date for an assignment draws near and desperation sets in.

I wonder how the students would react if they submitted a[n] request, and it was answered by their instructor. I know how I would react as an instructor if I were moonlighting this way and came across a request for help from one of my students!

I love the spelling in the company name, Netskool. I often refer to our university's Ivey School of Business as "the bizskool".

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mystery Weekend

I have done a little semi-professional acting over the past five or so years , most recently concentrating on mystery dinner theatres. These are shows that involve a number of short, scripted scenes intermingled with dinner and copious improv work and audience interaction; then someone is murdered, and the audience tries to solve the crime. The shows are loads of fun, and the pay almost covers my gas expenses. Here is a description of the acting group I usually work with.

Motto: We'll go anywhere to kill someone for you.

This weekend I will be doing my first Mystery Weekend. It is similar to the mystery dinner theatres, except there are more scenes, more characters, and the show stretches from Friday evening until Sunday noon at a rural golf and country club.

I may not have an internet connection while I'm there, but even if I do, "Blogging may be light" as a result of my non-stop involvement in the show.

My role: Jean Fortescu, marine biologist who develops intimate relationships with dolphins.
This photo comes into play at one point during the show.

We're Number 74!

And climbing!

When Craig Newmark first linked to this page, The Eclectic Econoclast was listed as 75th among all economics blogs. As of this writing, the blog is up to 74th.

I have no idea what the criteria are for this ranking of economics blogs.

Isn't all this blogtrospection amusing? It reminds me of all the article/page/character/citation count articles I did with Stan Liebowitz over twenty years ago.

Disgusting Anti-semitic Challenges to Intellectual Freedom

An academic group in the UK has voted to boycott two Israeli universities.

Members of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) decided to suspend all links with Haifa and Bar-Ilan universities.

They were complicit in a system of "apartheid" towards Palestinians, delegates at the AUT's council heard.

The votes, and lack of debate, have been condemned by pro-Israel groups.

I wonder what they have to say about universities in other countries....
e.g. in countries where the rights of women are considerably less than those of men.

At the same time, these clowns did this:

Delegates voted for more dialogue with Palestinian academics and unions.
Right. As if many Palestinians have never had "drive them into the sea" policies and attitudes toward Israel.

[thanks to Anonymous Jake for the link]

Update: More from Jake:

From the BBC article [linked above]:

At the AUT conference, in Eastbourne, Haifa University was accused of mistreating politics lecturer Ilan Pappe for defending a graduate student's research into controversial areas of Israeli history.
His job had been threatened and he had been victimised, delegates in Eastbourne heard.

But from the Jerusalem Post:

Indeed if British academics wished to experience real academic freedom they would be well advised to spend some time at the very campuses with which they wish to sever all ties. These are far from ideologically homogeneous institutions. Indeed many of the most outspoken critics of Israel's struggle to defend itself hail from Israel's own ivory towers...

The New Food Triangle

Nope, it is not a pyramid, and it doesn't include 12 or 22 or 77 food categories. This one is from Kip Esquire at A Stitch in Time:

Physicists have “superstring theory.” I guess this [the latest food pyramid] is “super-size theory.” The fact that you need a multi-page website to figure any of it out would suggest as much.But what difference does that make? The Politics of the Warm Fuzzy Feeling have been placated. The politicians and the bureaucrats “did something.” The fact that it’s something bizarre at best and moronic at worst is entirely irrelevant. Here’s my pyramid:

eat less, exercise more, avoid the garbage

Doesn’t look like a pyramid? Too bad — like Superstring Theory, it, um, works.

Works for me.... when I follow it.

Why I Use Purple Pens

George Will takes note of several different articles about the growing use of purple pens by teachers, instead of the traditional red pens or pencils, to grade tests and assignments.

Manufacturers of pens and markers report a surge in teachers' demands for purple ink pens. When marked in red, corrections of students' tests seem so awfully judgmental. At a Connecticut school, parents consider red markings "stressful." A Pittsburgh principal favors more "pleasant-feeling tones." An Alaska teacher says substituting purple for red is compassionate pedagogy, a shift from "Here's what you need to improve on" to "Here's what you have done right."
I like to think of myself as a compassionate, caring-sharing type of person, but my use of purple pens has nothing to do with useless mamby-pampyisms about feel-good pedagogy.

I began using purple pens to grade exams and term papers many years ago. The reason was simple: students often used red, blue, black, and even green ink to write their answers and especially to draw graphs (with copious multi-colour line shifts). I wanted a colour that was different from theirs, and none of them used purple [even though one of the slogans at my institution is "Purple and Proud"].

How long will my purple pens be distinctive if more teachers are using purple in grade school and high school?

A sure sign that purple is becoming more popular: Cross markets a purple refill (for their Ion pen), and other refills are also available in purple as well.

"It's My Horn"

The lead French horn player [Jason] in the Bayfield Winds is very good; I play second horn in the group, and it is a real thrill to play along side him.

At our last rehearsal, every time there was a break, Jason would take a huge gulp or two of Coke. This is something we were always taught was a serious no-no when I was growing up. The sugar from the Coke gets inside the horn and gunks it up to the point that eventually the horn has to be sent off for chemical cleaning.

So after about the third or fourth time Jason took a swig of Coke, I asked him about it. His response was to shrug and say in a what-the-hell tone of voice:

It's my horn...
It's a response he developed in high school when he was using his own horn instead of a rental horn. The high school band director would yell at him for drinking Coke and gunking up one of the school's French horns; he'd respond,
It's my horn.

I just love the economics of property rights.

Later, I started thinking some more about the alleged problems of drinking Coke and playing a brass instrument. You know all that stuff that brass players eject from their instruments through mis-named "spit valves"? It isn't spit. It is almost entirely condensation, with practically no spit in it at all. In fact, very little spit gets into a horn -- so little, that some manufacturers now refer to those little valves as "water valves".

And that means that very little sugar or whatever gets into the horn if you drink Coke and then play the horn.

btw, the Bayfield Winds are a very good band - it is quite a treat to play with them.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

This Is News?

"There are increasing signs that US motorists are changing their driving habits in the face of record prices at the fuel pumps."

Stop the presses! Demand curves are not vertical after all!
People do respond to incentives.

[h/t to BrianF for the link]

And here is some related non-news news:
Economists Uncertain Of Energy Costs' Impact

Well, yes.

Actually, the article itself is pretty decent -- the headline, however, does not do justice to the article.

Although economists agree that surging energy costs in March and early April dampened economic growth, they say it is unclear whether the U.S. economy has cooled only briefly or has begun a more serious slump.

The very fact that oil and gas prices have swung so much over the past year creates "added uncertainty" for businesses and consumers, who may then hunker down more than expected, said David Rosenberg, chief North American economist for Merrill Lynch & Co.

...Energy prices are complicating the Fed's job of setting interest rates to promote growth while keeping inflation low.

After their last policymaking meeting March 22, Fed officials issued a statement noting rising inflation pressures and a growing ability of businesses to raise prices. Some analysts took that as a warning that the Fed might raise interest rates more aggressively in coming months.

But other observers said that energy prices, by slowing growth, reduce pressure on the Fed to move rates up faster. That should enable the Fed to continue to raise its benchmark rate at a gradual, or "measured," pace, they said.

[link via The Knowledge Problem (be sure to read the comments there as well)]

My Favourite TV Ad

Back in December, I posted this:

My favourite ad on tv these days is the Fed Ex ad in which everyone hides from the ogre-boss. It is very well done. In our home, everything stops, and we all watch tv any time that ad appears. If you know of a link to it, please send it to me. Thanks.
Recently Peter Mork was discussing his favourite ads on his excellent blog, Economics with a Face. In one of his pieces, he posted a link to the very ad I like so much. It is still my favourite.

Thanks, Peter!

Are We Prepared for Avian Flu?

Tyler Cowen has expressed concern about avian flu in several postings at Marginal Revolution [see here and here, for example]. He even started a blog about it, where Sylvia Dochia writes:

Notable findings of epidemiological investigations of human H5N1 cases in Vietnam during 2005 have suggested transmission of H5N1 viruses to two persons through consumption of uncooked duck blood. Possible person-to-person transmission of H5N1 viruses is being investigated in several clusters of cases in Vietnam.
In addition, BenS has sent me this link [registration required, footnotes deleted], which says, in part,

The world faces a new influenza pandemic about 3 times each century. The 1918 pandemic killed at least 20 million people. We don't know when the next one will hit, but flu experts agree that we are now at high risk for a serious pandemic. H5N1 flu has become endemic in Asian birds, and at least 74 human cases, including 49 deaths and probable human-to-human transmission, have occurred since the beginning of 2004.

We are unprepared for a new pandemic. International health officials lack the resources to monitor avian flu in a human population of hundreds of millions in affected parts of Asia, including some countries with almost no public health systems. Asia needs a significant stockpile of the anti-influenza drug oseltamavir, on-site, to treat and stop transmission of the early cases that could give rise to a pandemic.

If a pandemic reached the United States today, we could manufacture only enough vaccine for perhaps a quarter of our population. Our planned domestic stockpile of oseltamavir would leave over 99% of the country unprotected. Proportionally, Great Britain's stockpile will be 25 times greater, and some authorities suggest that even that isn't enough. To make a dent in a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals will be needed in much greater quantities than current plans allow.

So why doesn't normal risk-taking entrepreneurship in the marketplace deal with this potential problem efficiently? Or does it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Franz Kafka Meets Monty Python in Australia

If I quote something you said, is that "hate speech"? Maybe....

It took place in an Australian court where two Christian pastors were found guilty of "religious vilification" of Muslims by lecturing to their flock on Islam -- a set-up that right away projects grimly satirical possibilities. At one point during the trial, defendant Daniel Scot began to read Quranic verses in his own defense. The Pakistani-born pastor hoped to prove to the judge that his discussion on the inferior status of women under Islam, for example, had a specific textual basis in the Quran.

As he began to read, a lawyer for the Islamic Council of Victoria, the plaintiff in the case, objected. Reading these verses aloud, she said, would in itself be vilification. Scot, ultimately convicted, put it best: "How can it be vilifying to Muslims when I am just reading from the Quran?"

The article continues, pointing out that recent capitulation by The National Review to CAIR might seem pretty similar.

[Thanks to AnneQ and BenS for the link]

Update: I see that JC at the Emirates Economist has a posting on hate speech today, too.

Good Question

I love Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart stores have great variety, a lot of brand-name merchandise at very low prices, and a generous returns policy.

I gather not everyone agrees with me.

Several friends will not shop at Wal-Mart, alleging that Wal-Mart exploits its workers. They point out the large numbers of Wal-Mart workers who receive no health insurance coverage from their employer. Kevin, at Always Low Prices, asks,

... why should employers be involved in the financing of their employees' healthcare at all? Private employers don't pay for employees' housing, education, food or recreation, so why healthcare?
very insightful.

Also, I expect that many Wal-Mart associates are covered by someone else's health insurance plan (spouse, partner, or parent).

On this same topic, if I were retired from General Motors, I might have preferred to be paid more and to choose my own health-care provider rather than be worried about whether my health care would be covered in the future. [h/t to BF for the GM link]

Would anyone like to make book on whether the U.S. gubmnt will bail out the GM workers' health care plan if necessary?

Update: The Emirates Economist has a good discussion of the General Motors situation here, near the end of the piece.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Great Food Items

Here are two great news items for members of the PLO [Philistine Liberation Organization]:

1. Twice in the past week, I have had the terrific Angus Steak sub from Subway. It is very good for sub-shop fare.

2. Also, in Canada at least, McDonald's is celebrating its 50th anniversary with specials on double burgers and double cheeseburgers. For the full grease effect, I recommend the double cheeseburger plain, which is how I used to eat them when I worked at a McDonald's during the summer of 1961.

I expect that some readers who saw the subject line of this piece wondered if I was going to refer to something by Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution. He has tastes a bit different from mine, however, running perhaps more to these:

1 The Fat Duck Bray, Berkshire, UK
2 El Bulli Montjoi Spain
3 The French Laundry Yountville California, US
4 Tetsuya's Sydney, Australia
5 Gordon Ramsay London, UK
6 Pierre Gagnaire Paris, France
7 Per Se New York, US
8 Tom Aikens London, UK
9 Jean Georges New York, US
10 St John London, UK

The Fat Duck, owned by Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal, also won the Best Restaurant in Europe category.

The eatery offers three menus including a £37.50 lunch menu boasting fig purée with red wine, pumpkin risotto with hazelnut and rosemary, braised belly of pork and poached halibut.

A three-course a la carte menu costs £67.50 and offers customers crab with roast foie gras, oyster ravioli with goats cheese and truffle, saddle of venison and best end of lamb.

But for £97.50, guests can enjoy snail porridge, sardine on toast sorbet and smoked bacon and egg ice-cream.

Snail porridge. Sardines. Yum.

And the snails are probably from Bosnia, of all places.

Those succulent, juicy snails you order might not have been plucked from the rolling hills of Tuscany or the Loire, but rather the valleys and mountains of Bosnia.

"These are healthy snails. No chemicals or pesticides. This is a perfect environment for them and probably why they are popular," says Mr Lucic. He proudly shows me some of his specimens, which have only recently emerged from winter hibernation.

But despite the physical attributes of the Bosnian snail, the cheap labour costs and the high unemployment situation are also key factors in the rise of Bosnian snail farming.
Well I'll be..... Relative factor prices and endowments play a role in determining comparative advantages --- again.

[thanks to Brian F for the two snail links]

A New DVD Format?

Just as I finally adjust to having DVDs instead of video tapes, Phil Miller tells us there is a battle brewing over a new and much better DVD format.

Similar to the battle between the VHS and Betamax videotape format that occured over 20 years ago, a similar battle is raging between competing digital video formats.

...The good thing is that the DVD's that I have now are supposedly going to be playable in the new players.
Well. That's a relief! I wouldn't want to have to buy yet another format of Three Days of the Condor.

British Drugs

Are British pharmaceutical firms doing less research in the UK?
If so, is it because of animal rights activists?
EVIDENCE that animal rights extremists are driving drug companies out of Britain emerged yesterday, with figures revealing a collapse in investment in new laboratories and the first fall in research spending in the UK for 15 years.
Or do globalization, comparative advantage, and foreign tax breaks have more to do with the decline in pharmaceutical research in the UK? (from the same article, but much farther down):
Mr Lawton said that growing rivalry from China, India and Eastern Europe and mounting red tape were also discouraging drug companies from investing in Britain.
[thanks to BrianF for the link]

China's Trade Surplus with the U.S.

Here is one reason that the U.S. trade deficit with China is more complex than appears at first blush: China has a trade deficit with many other Asian countries. Ben Muse says,

Over the last 20 years, other East Asian countries have been transferring many of their assembly operations to China. They still make the parts, but these are increasingly assembled in China and exported from there to the U.S. and Europe.
He goes on to quote Nicholas Lardy:

China's global pattern of trade - surpluses with the United States and Europe but deficits with most of its Asian neighbors - stems from China's rapidly increasing role in the global production chains of multinational corporations. China's openness to FDI, its trade policies, and its relatively abundant labor supply have made it the premier location for the assembly of manufactured goods for the global market.
What this means is that the massive U.S. Trade deficits are not just with China, but directly and indirectly with many other countries in Asia as well.

More on U.S. Social Security Reform

There are several articles in the most recent issue of Economists' Voice.

There are items in the journal from different perspectives, but given that the editors are Joe Stiglitz and Brad deLong, you pretty much know what to expect.

Google Ads, Clicks, and Fraud

Google, Yahoo and other providers of online ads said they are increasingly being targeted by online fraudsters, who exploit weaknesses in the Internet ad system to generate revenue or hurt their competitors. The Internet giants said they are working to combat the problem, but some advertisers accuse the companies of not moving aggressively enough because they also profit from the scams.

The tension comes as the click, click, click of the computer mouse steadily becomes the cyberspace equivalent of a cash register ringing up sales. These days, millions of computer users are clicking away on the small text ads set off from search engine results or other Web content, generating billions of dollars in fees paid annually by advertisers to Google and Yahoo and their Web partners.

...The single biggest difficulty, known in the industry as "click fraud," involves the repetitive ad clicking alleged by Google's lawsuit -- manually or automated -- by unscrupulous businesses trying to artificially inflate their own revenue or trying to hurt their competitors by driving up worthless ad spending.

"If there is anybody who says this is not a real problem, they are kidding you," said John Slade, a product manager with Yahoo.

Jessie Stricchiola, a click fraud expert who frequently represents advertisers seeking refunds from Google and Yahoo, estimates that click fraud accounts for as much as 20 percent of the clicks in some industry sectors. The president of, Stricchiola said tens of thousands of advertisers, who pay Google and Yahoo by credit card, are being overcharged daily...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Just What the World Does Not Need

What the world does not need now is another religious leader opposed to globalization (from the NYTimes, registration required):

In recent years, however, [papal contender] Cardinal Tettamanzi has began to sound off on issues of poverty and social justice. When protesters went to Genoa, Italy, for the Group of 8 summit meeting of industrialized nations in 2001, he spoke to the crowd on the evils of globalization.
Globalization has done more in two decades to alleviate poverty in developing countries than organized religions did in the previous two centuries. Why is it okay for the Catholic church to have expanded its influence around the world, and now argue that globalization is evil?

Probably because globalization means "markets" and individuals choosing for themselves, which tends to threaten and erode any authoritarian power.

How Rich Are Norwegians?

Norway has become fabulously wealthy, largely as a result of the North Sea oil developments over the past two decades. Or so many would have your believe:

An April 2 article in Dagsavisen, a major Oslo daily, asked: How is it that "in the world's richest country we're tearing down social services that were built up when Norway was much poorer?"
But considerable evidence tells a different story [h/t to BF for the link]

Contrasting "the American dream" with "the European daydream," [Swedish economics writer] Mr. Norberg described the difference: "Economic growth in the last 25 years has been 3 percent per annum in the U.S., compared to 2.2 percent in the E.U. That means that the American economy has almost doubled, whereas the E.U. economy has grown by slightly more than half.

The purchasing power in the U.S. is $36,100 per capita, and in the E.U. $26,000 - and the gap is constantly widening."

The writer goes on to cite one more study:

While the private-consumption figure for the United States was $32,900 per person, the countries of Western Europe (again excepting Luxembourg, at $29,450) ranged between $13,850 and $23,500, with Norway at $18,350.
The reason people think Norway is so rich? Because it is, in comparison with its pre-oil standard of living.

We're Number Two!

Canadians are always looking for something to be proud of. How about this? [link via Newmark's Door]

Dominion of Canada
Canada is a subunit of the British Commonwealth and, as an independent state, the second largest on earth at this time.
And what country, you might ask, is number one? Russia.

Even in its reduced state, it is still by far the largest single state on the planet.

Somehow I get the feeling Mark Steyn [registration required] would find meaning in that ranking [thanks to London Fog for the pointer].

In a one-party state, the one party in power attracts not those interested in the party, but those interested in power. “Philosophy” hardly enters into it. For all the Grits’ invocation of “da Canadian values,” their most obvious feature is that there’s nothing especially Canadian about them: government health care, gun control, shrivelled defence budgets, radical secularism . . .

Rogue Trader to Manage Irish Football Club

Not a "real" manager; a commercial manager:

Rogue trader" Nick Leeson is to become the commercial manager of a football club in western Ireland.

Mr Leeson, who was jailed over £860m losses which led to the collapse of the UK's oldest merchant bank, Barings, starts at Galway United this week.

The 38-year-old, who lives in Ireland with his wife and children, said he was "looking forward to the challenge".

Club chairman John Fallon said: "Life has moved on for everyone since the happenings of 10 years ago."

Mr Leeson has been hunting for a steady job for the past year and replied to a job advertisement to secure his new position.

"I am a very keen football fan and am looking forward to working with Galway United," he said.

Mr Leeson, originally from Watford, Hertfordshire, spent four years in a Singaporean jail over dealings which led to the 233-year-old bank's collapse in 1995.

As BrianF said, when he sent me this story [click on the title, above],

I hope these guys have got really good auditors. On site.
One hint. If he says he's got this great idea about investing the team's funds in currency derivatives, don't listen.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Space Technology and the Classics

Satellite imaging technology has allowed scholars to read previously unreadable papyri from the Greek and ancient world [h/t to BF for this link]:

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

I wonder how many classics scholars opposed the space missions and the devotion of so many scarce resources to space technology.

I also wonder how future courses in the classics and religion will be affected. This is pretty exciting stuff!

God Doesn't Play Dice with the Universe

Or so said Albert Einstein.

Oh yeah? [from Slate]

Another Epiphany?
A Flash of Light on the Garden State?

Episcopalian Priest leaves church to join the Druids.

An Episcopal priest has renounced his ordination to lead a Druid order.
...W. William Melnyk, former rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Downingtown, called his decision to become a Druid priest "a joyous occasion." Melnyk has formed the Llynhydd Grove of the Druid Order of the Yew, which he will lead under his Druid name, OakWyse.

...Bob Bruhin, development director of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network, described modern Druidism as a New Age religion whose followers worship the sun, nature and trees and explore traditional Celtic beliefs.
I wonder how many stones are put into the collection plate.
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