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, May 28, 2005

A Cancer in the Middle East?
Racist Defamation

A cancer in the Middle East. That is how two reporters from Le Monde described Israeli-Palestinian relations in an article that rivals The Protocols of the Elders of Zion [a pure fabrication] for its anti-Semitism, but which is more subtle.

The article applies constant pressure on the theme that Israel, once under attack, has now become the aggressor.

The Jews of Israel, descended of an apartheid named the ghetto, are ghettoizing the Palestinians. The Jews, who were humiliated, despised, persecuted, are humiliating, despising and persecuting the Palestinians. The Jews, who were the victims of a pitiless order are imposing their pitiless order on the Palestinians. The Jewish victims of inhumanity are displaying a terrible inhumanity.
The authors and publishers have now been found guilty of racist defamation in a French court:

Two particular passages were cited for their racist character. The first reads, “One has trouble imagining that a nation of refugees, descendants of the people who have suffered the longest period of persecution in the history of humanity, who have suffered the worst possible scorn and humiliation, would be capable of transforming themselves, in two generations, into a dominating people, sure of themselves, and, with the exception of an admirable minority, into a scornful people finding satisfaction in humiliating others.”

The second incriminating citation reads, “The Jews, once subject to an unmerciful rule, now impose their unmerciful rule on the Palestinians.”
The punishment? a fine of one Euro.

Very disturbing: they will make more in increased sales as a result of the case.

What kind of deterrence is that?

Thanks to MA for the links.

What is the Paris Hilton Elasticity of Demand for Carl's Jr. burgers?

Would You Hire Paris Hilton To Sell Burgers?

Carl's Jr. did...

... using web-based videos clearly targeting a specific demographic group [click here for the basic video "Paris Hilton doing a really bad job of washing a Bentley and an ok job of washing herself" is how Daniel Drezner describes it ; click here for the extended video].

Read the entire article, "A very important post about..... Paris Hilton's food porn," by Daniel Drezner which also has a still photo from the ad campaign plus much more.

The ads seem to be generating considerable interest among people on the internet and among various self-appointed public watchdogs. But will this interest help sell a $6 spicy BBQ burger?
By how much would, say, an extra $10,000 spent on these ads increase Carl's Jr's net revenues?

My own take: the ad would have been much better if it had focused on Paris Hilton slowly, provocatively, eating the burger.

[h/t to John Chilton for the pointer to Drezner's posting]

Update: For more insightful and amusing comments, see what Dave Friedman has to say here.

I still doubt whether Paris Hilton knows anything about string theory.

"The battle was won, but the war is still being lost..."

That is how Melanie Phillips begins her latest diary entry, discussing the defeat of the AUT boycott of two Israeli universities. Her point is that the anti-boycott forces were successful in the name of academic freedom, but that the tone of even their arguments was decidedly anti-Semitic. [thanks to MA for the link]

The boycott was monstrous for an even more important reason -- that the viewpoint on which it was based was untrue, consisting of lies, libels and historical ignorance of the first order, racially prejudiced to a venomous degree and part of the campaign of hatred, delegitimisation and incitement against the Jews of Israel which is lending succour to those who wish to destroy them. The problem -- no, the obscenity -- is that many if not most of those academics voting against the boycott probably agree with these lies about Israel. They share the view that Israel is oppressing the Palestinians. They subscribe to the moral inversion which views genocidal aspirations more sympathetically than Israel's self-defence. They go along with the lie that this self-defence is actually unprovoked aggression. They parrot the fiction that the 'occupation' and the settlements are illegal. In short, these academics are the problem no less than the bocotters. They have helped foster the climate of hatred, bigotry and lies towards Israel that is now the default position on British campuses. They have created the swamp from which the pestilence of the boycott has sprung.

Currency Fluctuations and Oil Prices

Stephen Poloz, in his weekly commentary, argues that the Canuck buck has become a petro-currency, and that explains the big drop in the value of the Loonie relative to the U.S. dollar.

What happened in mid-March to turn things around? Oil prices began to falter. Oil inventories have been in a persistent uptrend. Combined with recent economic signals from around the world that economic activity may be moderating, oil prices have dropped by more than 10% from mid-March highs of just over $56. Rising oil prices can put quite a dent in economic growth in the oil-thirsty U.S., while other major economies are less vulnerable. Some, like Canada, actually stand to gain in the near term from high oil prices, so dropping oil prices mean a rising U.S. dollar, and weakness across many other currencies.
The implication is that the Canuck buck has lost value relative to the U.S. dollar over the past month or so because oil prices have fallen. It isn't really a new argument, but it is well-presented.

Friday, May 27, 2005

If You Keep Doing That,
You'll Go Blind

Everyone in the blogosphere seems to be commenting on this article. I first saw it at the Globe & Mail, but Fark has the Yahoo link, and I'm sure others have the story, too.

This type of blindness is called NAION – non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. It can occur in men who are diabetic or have heart disease, the same conditions that can cause impotence and thus lead to Viagra use.

The FDA has 50 reports of the blindness. Viagra has been taken by more than 23 million men worldwide.

“We take this seriously,” Cruzan said.

The FDA is working with Viagra manufacturer Pfizer Inc. to determine what, if any, information about the condition should be added to the drug's label.

Given the large number of athletes who say they'd take steroids to improve their careers even if they knew for sure that the steroids would cause them to die within five years, I can readily imagine there are few men who would let this risk of blindness stop them from taking viagra.

After all, threats of blindness or hairy palms didn't stop us from that other activity.
  1. What is the risk?
  2. Who is the least-cost avoider of the risk?

Vido Musso

Vido Musso was often a great tenor sax player (other times he was just good). He recorded with many of the big bands in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and sometimes with his own group. Here is a brief biography:

He moved to Los Angeles in 1930, began an association with Stan Kenton and the two were sidemen in several of the same local bands. Musso and Kenton briefly had a big band in 1936 but then the tenor-saxophonist was discovered and became a bit of a name playing with Benny Goodman's Orchestra (1936-37). After a period with Gene Krupa's new band (1938), Musso rejoined Goodman a couple times (1939 and 1941-42). He also had stints with Harry James (1940-41), Woody Herman (1942-43) and Tommy Dorsey (1945) between attempts to lead his own big band (none of which succeeded). Vido Musso was at the peak of his fame during his two periods with Stan Kenton (1945-46 and 1947).
I mentioned my interest in Vido Musso a few months ago to Jack , who had never heard of him. I had had an LP of Vido Musso, which I wore out back in the 50s, and so I went to Amazon to see what I could find. Last week, I received this CD in the mail. What a nostalgic trip!

I mentioned it to "Pooh", who frequently comments here, and he has ordered a copy, too [though he now asserts that he bought it mainly for the album cover!]. The first 12 tracks are from the LP that I wore out in the late 1950s. The other 13 are from another LP and from some previously unreleased versions. It's big-band sound and style with a smaller group (including Maynard Ferguson on trumpet!), and sometimes not-so-great but other times terrific playing. My favourites as a kid were Jersey Bounce, Vido's Boogie, Russian Lullaby, but most of all, I loved the opening cut, "Sing, Sing, Sing," made famous, some argue, by Vido Musso himself.

In the college pep band at Carleton College, we did "Sing, Sing, Sing," and I insisted [as the drummer] that we have the tom-tom drum intro as I'd heard it on the Swingin'st Vido Musso.

Concert Ticket Prices
vs. CD prices

Does this make sense? [Quotation from Daniel Gross, of Slate]

Pop stars are charging higher prices because they're realizing less income from sales of CDs and other forms of recorded music.
At first blush, I assumed that either Daniel Gross or Alan Kreuger (whom Gross cites in his article) was incorrect or making some assumptions about non-maximizing behaviour. The latter seemed possible given the questioning of single-price ticketing at rock concerts.

Ticket pricing is an area in which market forces don't function very smoothly, the economists concluded. At a surprising number of concerts, all tickets are sold at the same price. If they did what baseball stadiums and even some Broadway producers do—charge more for the best seats and less for the not-so-good seats—rock stars could capture revenues that usually go to scalpers. And in some instances, this could add up to real money.

My understanding is that fans are reluctant to pay extra for "better" seats at many rock concerts because the fans from the cheap seats all rush the stage anyway. Good seats turn out to be no better than the cheap seats in these instances, and it is not always easy to predict which concerts will experience this.

But let's go back to the original quote. If the producers of these concerts are profit maximizers, wouldn't they raise the prices anyway? Why would it be more profitable to raise concert ticket prices just because CD sales are sagging?

Or has there been a shift in demand such that more people are preferring live concert music and spending less on CDs? The article vaguely implies this might be the case by discussing how it is members of older generations (who are also less likely to rush the stage) who are spending so much more on live concerts these days.

I must admit there were not many young people at the concerts I attended on a recent weekend. And you could just about count on the one hand the number of real teeth among the patrons in the front row at the last Stompin' Tom Connors concert I saw.

New Cure for Aids:
Raw Garlic and Lemon Rind

I should probably just post this without comment, but I cannot stop myself from adding, "What a jerk!"

Campaigners yesterday [actually several weeks ago, now] condemned remarks by South Africa's health minister, who made clear her preference for the health-giving properties of garlic, lemon, olive oil and beetroot over the drugs that the World Health Organisation wants provided to save lives in the population worst-hit by Aids in the world.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told a news conference in Cape Town that the government would not be pressured into meeting targets set by the WHO and UNAIDS, the joint UN programme on the disease. Far too little was known about the side effects, she said, echoing comments some years ago by President Thabo Mbeki, who doubted whether HIV caused Aids.

...Only 700,000 people in developing countries are so far on treatment. The WHO has identified South Africa as one of the countries that could derail the programme. It has the highest number of people with the virus in the world - 5.3 million - and between 600 and 1,000 people die of Aids every day.

Yesterday Ms Tshabalala-Msimang said that 42,000 people were now getting drugs in the public sector, but the minister, sometimes called Dr Garlic by critics, extolled nutrition over drugs.

"Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon - not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease," she said, adding that beetroot was also a vital ingredient in any diet. Aids drugs held risks, she said.
I find it disconcerting that a representative democracy elects people like her and appoints them to offices they are clearly incompetent to deal with. [h/t to BrianF of A Canadian Econoview for the link]

Elect incompetents? Appoint them to office? I guess it happens in Canada, too. 8-(

Thursday, May 26, 2005

AUT Boycott Rescinded by Large Margin

The decidedly biased BBC reports that the British AUT's attempt to boycott two Israeli universities has been rescinded. It does not report (as I learned in an e-mail from Joy Wolfe to members of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom) that the vote against the boycott was an overwhelming two-to-one against the boycott.

What is appalling about the BBC coverage is that, while it might superficially appear to present both sides of the debate, it presents none of the reasons that so many people were so opposed to the boycott. Essentially, all it does is quote AUT executive members who are claiming moral victory [seems more immoral than moral to me] and who claim to be pleased to have opened up the debate.

Professor Steven Rose, from the Open University, had supported the boycott. He said: "The crucial thing is that the issue is on the agenda and the debate is going to go on and on in every campus up and down the country.
Let me assure Professor Rose that in any unstacked debate, the pro-boycott proponents will lose, unless they are debating before a crowd of anti-Semites.

For more on the Bent Broadcasting Corporation [aka the BBC], read what Melanie Phillips has to say in her diary. [thanks to MA for the link]

Nude Sushi

Phil Miller at Market Power has at least one posting about sushi bars in China serving sushi on prone, unclothed women. He asks,
So what's wrong with voluntarily insulting one's moral quality?

Barriers to Trade:
No Wine from India in Ontario

I had never even heard of wine from India until I read this piece at A Canadian Econoview. And I still have not tasted it. I probably never will, unless I get a chance to try it the next time I visit Alberta, because it is not allowed at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario [LCBO]. Here is Brian's concluding paragraph:

Is there really any good reason (as opposed to a bureaucratic reason or sheer inertia) the LCBO shouldn't bring some of Mr. Grover's wines into Ontario and let Ontario wine drinkers try it for themselves? If it's as bad as the LCBO says it is, most Ontarions will twig to the fact pretty quickly. As for the taxpayer bearing the burden of inefficiency (an odd way to look at it - surely it would be the burden of bad buying decisions) the only reason that's the case is because the LCBO is a state-owned monopoly. The solution to that problem's simple: deregulate the industry and let importers take their chances. That way the burden of bad buying decision falls on the private individuals who take a risk on trying to establish a market. People customarily referred to as entrepreneurs. It'll be interesting to see how Mr. Grover does in free-market Alberta.
There is a very good reason that the LCBO is making it difficult for Mr. Grover to import wine from India -- protection of Ontario wine producers. That is the same reason it is so hard for us to get much choice of American wines in Ontario, too. One of the apparent goals of the LCBO is to encourage/support Ontario producers, and they do so by limiting competition.

A Reasoned Desertion from the Left:
Keith Thompson's Odyssey

Keith Thompson has become disillusioned with America's Left. His disenchantment began long ago, he writes, but the break became clean after over 60% of the eligible Iraqi voters turned out to vote in January. He describes the process in "Leaving the Left: Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see." I would love to quote the entire article, but here is a good selection.

I’m leaving the left – more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together.

... Every anomaly that didn’t fit my perceptual set is suddenly back, all the more glaring for so long ignored. The insistent inner voice I learned to suppress now has my rapt attention. “Something strange – something approaching pathological – something entirely of its own making – has the left in its grip,” the voice whispers. “How did this happen?” The Iraqi election is my tipping point. The time has come to walk in a different direction ...

In the sixties, America correctly focused on bringing down walls that prevented equal access and due process. It was time to walk the Founders’ talk – and we did. With barriers to opportunity no longer written into law, today the body politic is crying for different remedies. America must now focus on creating healthy, self-actualizing individuals committed to taking responsibility for their lives, developing their talents, honing their skills and intellects, fostering emotional and moral intelligence, all in all contributing to the advancement of the human condition.

One aspect of my politics hasn’t changed a bit. I became a liberal in the first place to break from the repressive group orthodoxies of my reactionary hometown. This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left’s entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.
[thanks to MA for the link]

Book Tag

Peter Mork [Economics with a Face] is playing book tag:

1. Total number of books I have owned.

I don't have a very good handle on this. My rough guess is somewhere between 3000 and 5000, but the confidence interval is really wide.

2. Last book I bought

The Making of Henry by Howard Jacobson. You have to be into British Jewish humour to appreciate it. I'm neither British nor Jewish, and it is slow going, despite Jacobson's great writing talent in many other areas.

3. Last book I read

Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion by Michael Cloud. This is in case I decide to run for Parliament on the Libertarian Party slate of candidates. 8-)

4. Five books that mean a lot to me

  1. The Economic Way of Thinking (Canadian Edition) by Paul Heyne and John Palmer. Paul's U.S. edition had a big impact on me. It was a real treat to do the Canadian adaptation.
  2. Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. It helped me understand economics better than a four-year undergrad degree did.
  3. Industrial Concentration: The New Learning by Goldschmid, Mann, and Weston. This book played a major role in converting me from the Bainsian paradigm to the Chicago/UCLA approach to industrial organization.
  4. One for the Money by Janet Evanovitch. A bit gruesome at times, but the humour makes the entire series worth reading. As the series progresses, the books become less gruesome but are just as funny, if not funnier.
  5. Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse. Introduced me to the hilarious writings of P.G. Wodehouse. Unfortunately, his books stopped being hilarious after about I had read about 40 of them... 8-)

5. Tag Five People and have them do this on their blogs.

Friends I've made and re-made through blogging:

  1. Alan Adamson (co-blogger at our Curling blog): Silly Little Country
  2. John Chilton (former colleague at UWO): The Emirates Economist
  3. Brian Ferguson (met while visiting Guelph long ago): A Canadian Econoview
  4. Tom Luongo (fascinating person, but where's his blog?): Being Thomas Luongo
  5. Phil Miller (co-blogger at The Sports Economist and co-researcher on a sports economics project): Market Power

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Astronomy Picture of the Day [APOD]

What a fabulous site. This is the photo for May 25th:

Toilets, Risk, and Economics

Imagine that the people cleaning the sanitary sewers in a town put so much pressure in the sewer lines that residents' toilet lids are blown open and the lavatory walls are sprayed with sewer contents. Here is the story, from Australia, courtesy of Brian Ferguson.

Householders in the city of Sale in Victoria's south-east area are being warned to batten down their toilet lids next week.

The local sewerage authority, Gippsland Water, has posted a colour brochure to homes warning people to keep their toilet lids closed and weighted down all next week.

The authority is cleaning the sewerage mains with high pressure jets.

During a similar operation about three years ago, the process caused raw sewage to explode out of a toilet at a house in King George Avenue coating the walls, floors and ceiling.
This process involves a known risk, especially now that the process is being used a second time. If it is cheaper to make households responsible for putting bricks on their toilet lids than it is to find an alternative method for cleaning the sewers, this makes sense.

For two more fun stories about toilets, check out Secret Dubai.

And if you are really interested in toilets, you will not want to pass up the opportunity to visit "Loo and Behold", the toilet museum.

What Happened to The Eclectic Econoclast?

This blog was one of several affected by a hardward problem at Blogger for the evening yesterday. But it appears to be working fine now.

No, it was not, as some have suggested, those photos of Elvis that led to the breakdown.

Droit de Suite, part II

How much would you be willing to pay today for a 1% chance of receiving $100,000 in 20 years [assume a relevant interest rate of 5% per year]?

If you are risk-neutral, probably something less than or equal to $377, which is the approximate present expected value of a 1% chance of receiving $100,000 in 20 years at 5%.
Now suppose we tell you that instead of receiving $100,000 in 20 years, you will receive only $90,000, with $10,000 going to some amorphous form commonly referred to as "gubmnt". The present expected value of that purchase would be only $339.30. In other words, you would be willing to pay $37.70 less today if you thought you would receive $10,000 less in 20 years.

That is what Droit de Suite does by guaranteeing that original artists are able to collect some of the beneficial risk of capital gains but not contribute to the detrimental risk of capital losses in their art works. The only difference is that the payment would go to an original artist instead of to the gubmnt. And that difference may be important for the purchasers of art.

Here is something I wrote earlier about Droit de Suite. Be sure to read the second comment, quoting Sir Simon Rattle:

He also slammed the 'anything goes' attitude of British post-modernism and denounced leading Brit Art bratpack figures Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. In comments that have provoked an angry response from his targets, Rattle added: 'That is the problem with Brit Art, with artists like Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and the others. I believe that much of this English, very biographically-oriented art is bullshit.' "

Selections from Evaluations

A friend (to remain unnamed) recently pointed me to the evaluations of a to-be-left-unnamed professor in a to-be-left-unnamed department at a to-be-left-unnamed university. These things are on the internet, so they are public, and you can probably find the source without too much trouble, if you really want to. Here are some choice excerpts:

I hereby vehemently request the department of sociology to desist from any further acts of depicting McDonald's Corp. as synonymous with the apocryphal concept of "corporate evil", for the just and no less practical reason that they merit your gratitude rather than enmity for their magnanimous nature, for they are the principal employer of those unfortunate, nonetheless utterly useless individuals who possess a degree in sociology.
[This professor, along with three others mentioned by name] taught me what sociology is all about: It's about investing fortunes in a degree that tells others that you are useless to society.
I don't understand where comes all these criticisms of Professor [X, who] gave me a 95% for SOC 143 and an 87% for SOC 239. These marks allowed me to obtain my Sociology degree with an A overall average. I CAN NOW BE A MANAGER.....AT McDONALD'S!
I have several observations about these comments.

  1. I note with approval that none of these students has mentioned becoming an associate at my favourite store. I assume that means being a Wal-Mart associate has higher status than working at McDonalds.
  2. According to this study, which uses data from, it is likely this professor is neither sexy nor easy. [thanks to Newmark's Door for the pointer; link to the original also provided by The Emirates Economist].
  3. If, as the study mentioned above indicates, professors who are sexy or easy get higher evaluations, I must be an outlier. Of course there are reasonable concerns about omitted variables and simultaneity bias.
  4. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I am skeptical about the usefulness of student evaluations.
  5. The evaluations on are the result of biased, voluntary sampling; I have no idea how serious the bias is or what direction it takes.

Possible Exam Question:
Suppose that higher teaching evaluations, at the margin, can be expected to generate a somewhat (perhaps very small) increase in expected income for professors. Then, in the production function,
Evaluation = f(leniency, sexiness),
which is it better for an instructor to focus on at the margin? Which, input, at the margin, has the lowest marginal cost of production? [hint: what if you assume zero economies of scope with other activities, such as research or dating].

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

SAFS on the BAUT Boycott

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship [SAFS] has recently passed the following resolution:

On Friday, April 22, 2005, the executive of the British Association of University Teachers (BAUT) voted to boycott Haifa University and Bar Ilan University, and their professoriates, because of the BAUT’s view of the politics of the Israeli government.

The members of The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) condemn this boycott as violating the spirit and principles of academic freedom. Academic freedom means the right to engage in free inquiry – to conduct research, teach, and communicate the results of one's research without regard to prevailing doctrine. The hallmark of science and scholarship is reasoned debate, based on logic and evidence. Political boycotts of scholars are antithetical to truth seeking. They diminish the dignity of the individuals affected and debase the scholarly process.

We call on the British Association of University Teachers to rescind their boycott.
And if you think this BAUT boycott is not anti-Semitic, please read this!!: [hat tip to MA for the link] This paragraph below is just an excerpt from "Normblog: the weblog of Norman Geras".

The AUT website has a separate page on the Israel-Palestine conflict. On it we are told about Israeli forces killing and injuring Palestinian academics, students and trade unionists; there's a call for a moratorium on EU funding for Israeli cultural and research institutions; support is offered to Palestinian colleagues and to the Trade Union Friends of Palestine; local AUT branches are urged to form links with Palestinian universities and to support them against Israeli oppression. What's striking about all this is not so much what's present but what's absent. There is absolutely no mention of anything at all on the other side. For all the AUT says here, you'd never know that a single bomb had gone off in Israel, nor that there had been bombs intended to kill, and which had succeeded in killing, university students, for example on the Jerusalem campus - a matter of some significance to the AUT, one might have thought. Nor, more broadly, would one ever know anything about the establishment of Israel by UN resolution following the genocide against the Jews of Europe, or about how the surrounding Arab states immediately declared war on Israel; nor about the ongoing threats to eliminate it; nor about the venomous anti-Semitism, targeting not just Israelis but Jews worldwide, prevalent in Palestinian and other Arab cultural and educational institutions; nor about the recurrent murder of Israeli civilians. These are just as much a part of the tragic story of that land as are Israel's failures, but they receive no mention from the AUT.

"I Went to Mexico and All I Got Was
This Lousy Boob Job"

That is what a t-shirt says in an a picture that appeared in the National Post the same time as this article pointed out to me by Jack. [sorry, I couldn't find the url for the photo so I could link to it].

Diana Burns took the trip of a lifetime to South Africa last fall. She thrilled to the sight of lions and elephants in the wild, took a vineyard tour around scenic Capetown -- and had a few small procedures performed. "I booked a tummy tuck and liposuction, and once I got there I decided to have my eyes done as well," says the Calgary woman. "Then I added two veneers for my front teeth." Burns went home feeling like a new woman.
And it isn't just India or Mexico or South Africa any more.

Countries that are finding a niche in the world of medical tourism include Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, India (regarded as a leader in eye surgery) and a number of Eastern European nations.

... Some 600,000 foreign tourists travelled to Thailand for medical treatment last year, generating about 20-billion baht, or approximately $635-million. There, private hospitals can be as luxurious as hotels, and most have an ISO 900x certification, says Dr. Ivos Vander Vegt of Medical Thailand (, which specializes in arranging surgery vacations. Many doctors are trained and educated in Europe or the United States, and have international designations for plastic surgery training.

Vander Vegt contends that plastic surgery procedures in Thailand cost about half what they would cost in Canada. Lasik surgery on two eyes, for example, ranges from US$1,300 to US$1,900; a breast lift will set you back US$1,800 to US$2,300. Medical Thailand has a range of rates for accommodation, from US$10 a night in a guest house, to US$165 a night for a five-star hotel.
Medical tourism is a response to two important forces:

  1. Comparative advantage. It is possible that some medical procedures can, even in the absence of myriad regulations and restrictions in North America, be more efficiently performed in other places.
  2. Restrictions and regulations. Especially in Canada, we have too few physicians emerging from medical schools, and patients are not allowed to pay more to attract additional resources into the medical profession. So they do so elsewhere. It is not at all surprising.

Update: For more on medical economics, see this recent piece by Brian Ferguson.

Elvis Knock-off

In a mystery dinner theatre show I'm doing this Thursday night, I get to play Ellis Priestly, a knock-off of Elvis Presley. The beard will have to go again. Here are some photos from the last time I played this role.

Open Letter from a Former Haifa University Student

A former student from Haifa University, now a grad student at the LSE, writes to the UK's Association of University Teachers. You can read the entire letter here.

Haifa is a university in which one of every five students is Arab; in which loud but civilised political debates take place regularly; and one in which nobody was ever denied his/her freedom of expression. In my opinion, it is a hotbed of peace and dialogue that should be studied as a model for coexistence and not the opposite. Nevertheless, misled by a frustrated lecturer, you decided to boycott this amazing and diverse institute.
Also see this posting about trying to find the sarcasm centre of Sue Blackwell's brain.

For more about the boycott, and why it still concerns so many of us, see this [thanks to MA for the link]

Monday, May 23, 2005

Lord Nelson, Red Ships and Blue Ships

Brian Ferguson at A Canadian Econoview posted about this. It is truly amazing.

Britain is celebrating the bicentennial of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar over a combined French and Spanish fleet in June, kind of. It appears that the objective is to hold the festivities while trying to avoid mentioning what is being commemorated.

According to this piece from the Sunday Times organizers of the commemoration have decided that the re-enactment they're planning isn't really a re-enactment:

Organisers of a re-enactment to mark the bicentenary of the battle next month have decided it should be between “a Red Fleet and a Blue Fleet” not British and French/Spanish forces. Otherwise they fear visiting dignitaries, particularly the French, would be embarrassed at seeing their side routed.

There is much more at his site, which is very interesting.

His conclusion:

Presumably the re-enactment of “an early 19th-century sea battle” between the Red and Blue fleets (bitter rivals at the time - look it up) will not be followed by a performance of Henry V by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

May Two-Four Weekend
Victoria Day in Canada

From 1845 until 1952, Canada celebrated Queen Victoria's birthday on May 24th, the actual day of her birth. But in the interest of efficiency, and with the extremely important goal of making sure Canadians have a real 3-day weekend, the date for the celebration was changed in 1952. Nowadays, the first Monday preceding May 25th, is the day we in Canada celebrate Victoria Day.

Victoria Day weekend is when many people open their cottages; others go camping; others picnic and barbecue. Two important components of any Victoria Day celebration are:

  1. Fireworks
  2. Beer

The holiday is still referred to as the May two-four weekend, even if Victoria Day doesn't occur on May 24th, because beer in Ontario is often/usually bought in cases of 24, referred to as "a two-four" of Blue or whatever brand one is drinking.

Some little known facts about Queen Victoria are that she was far from Victorian in her sexual tastes with her various acknowledged and unacknowledged partners. She became "Victorian" only considerably later in her life. [source: pp. 248 - 250 of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into History, a gift several years ago from my nephew, BQ].

The Flight to Smaller Communities

When people retire, they sometimes have a little less set aside than they had hoped to have available for their retirement. Also, in the future, many retirees will almost surely receive less in the form of gubmnt pensions than they have been led to expect. And, in a probablistic sense, some retirees on defined benefits plans [airlines? GM? other companies?] will receive smaller pensions than they had been expecting.

Other retirees may have earlier faced sufficiently serious life-threatening health problems that they decided to spend their money then and retire poor if they lived long enough to retire (which increasing numbers appear to be doing).

One way to increase the amount available for retirement is to downsize. Sell the big house in the high-demand area and move into something smaller. This appears to have been the current trend as northerners retired to Lakeland, Florida, though housing prices are rising there, now, too.
Elderly northerners are selling their houses for huge profits, buying comparable or smaller homes around Lakeland with cash, then coming for advice with perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in their pockets.

But with home prices escalating fast in Lakeland, [the trend] is not likely to last here much longer.
To get even more funds, some people will surely choose to sell the big house in an expensive location and retire to a dying community, such as a smaller rural town. As Tyler Cowen points out,

Positive shocks increase population more than housing (there is an option value to not building right away).
...meaning that housing prices in desirable areas grow rapidly, in the short run. Potential retirees with homes in these areas can often cash in on sizable capital gains.

Negative shocks decrease housing prices more than population (housing supply cannot contract readily).
Small towns, ghost towns, dying towns are all like this. Houses in many such places are very inexpensive.
The core intuition is that increases in housing demand boost supply [after a lag], but supply is durable so declines in demand show up mainly in price.
In Ontario, we see that many people with large, expensive homes in the Toronto metropolitan area find it worthwhile to consider retiring to, say, Stratford, where the level of amenities is high with theatre and music in abundance and housing prices considerably lower than they are in Trahnah.

By comparison with other communities, however, houses in Stratford are pretty expensive. People who cannot afford to retire to Stratford often choose small rural towns near hospitals for their retirement. The pace of life is slower than in the larger cities, the spirit of community satisfies nostalgic yearnings, and the savings in housing costs can be substantial.

The Market for Dentists:
Canada vs. the UK

One of the points often made about the disastrous decline in the quality of the Canadian health care system is that we never have to wait to see a dentist, and we have excellent dental care available for those who are willing and able to pay for it.

Actually, that's not quite right. If we want a regular check-up with a dentist, we often have to make an appointment several months in advance, so it is not as if there's a massive excess quantity supplied of dental services at current prices.

Nevertheless, the market for dental services seems to work a whole lot better in Canada than the market for health care services. The reason is that, aside from private insurance and serious entry restrictions, for the most part the market for dental services is fairly competitive. The major distortions occur because of private insurance and because of contrived shortages created by limits on enrolment in dental schools.

The contrast between dental and medical services in Canada stands out in comparison with the lack of contrast between the two in the UK, where both are under the national health system. From Stephen Ayer at A Disinterested Party.

Valerie Holsworth, 65, who confronted the Prime Minister during a live television broadcast with a graphic account of how she had pulled out seven of her teeth - some with her husband’s pliers - spoke out after it emerged that only one of four dentists recruited to work in North Yorkshire, a black spot for NHS dental treatment, had been given a full-time position. The remaining three spent two months on “gardening leave”, during which time they were paid their full £48,000-a-year salaries, before being given limited work.

Holsworth lives in Scarborough, where last year 300 people lined up at dawn to register when a new National Health Service dental practice opened for business.

Socialized medicine and socialize dental care: two bad ideas that lead to reduced quality and increased waiting periods. What's worse is that the uniform standard of care means that even the poor are worse off than they would be if the market were allowed to work.

As I was corresponding with Stephen Ayer about this topic, I was reminded, fondly, of the the song "Montana" by Frank Zappa in the classic album, Overnight Sensation, which I acknowledged in print as having been very helpful in one of my early publications.

Well I might be movin' to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of dental floss.
Raising it up; waxing it down.
In a little white box that I can sell uptown.
By myself, I wouldn't have no boss,
But I'd be raising my lonely dental floss.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wal-Mart Basketball

Yesterday I was engaged in one of my very most favourite activities, shopping at Wal-Mart.

As I walked down one aisle, I was blown away by a display of basketballs. A huge cage of yellow, smiley-faced, Mr. Rollback Mascot basketballs. They were under $5, so I bought one. I love it.

I'm sure I have another basketball somewhere in the garage; I don't care. I love this one because it stands for Wal-Mart and its consistent ability to provide me, in a pretty rural area, with great products at low prices.

When I first moved to Canada, about 68 years ago, I bought a basketball for, I think, about $5 then, which would be the equivalent of about $50 today. Being able to buy a really nice basketball today for one-tenth the price of one back then just amazes me.

I hadn't shot any baskets for several years, not since playing h-o-r-s-e at a party, where I beat the other team by making a hook shot over and from behind the backboard. Today my FG% on practice shots, with no opposition, was about 2%. I'm no Steve Nash [see "Trying to Solve the Nash Equation"]

Update: Kevin, of Always Low Prices, asked for a photo, and so here it is:

Petition to the AUT to End the Boycott

It is still not too late to sign the petition that I earlier urged people to sign.

The AUT boycott is wrong. It is anti-Semitic, and it is a flagrant attack on academic integrity. Please, go sign the petition.

Here is a disturbingly good reason to do so (from an e-mail sent to members of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom):

[T]he following statement [is] from the NUT (the National Union of Teachers - another UK trade union) in an email from Sue Blackwell (of the AUT)

"NUT congratulates the AUT Council in their decision to boycott particular Israeli Universities because of their discrimination against Palestinians. We deplore certain sections of the media for their allegations of anti Semitism and blatant distortion of the Union’s motives. We further deplore the personalized attack on and the harassment of Birmingham AUT member, Sue Blackwell, who moved the motion, and offer our support to her and all members and employees of Birmingham University AUT and employees of Birmingham AUT Regional Office."

Libertarian Party of Canada:
Phoenix Rising from the Ashes?

The Libertarian Party of Canada was de-registered as an official party back in 1997. It was re-registered prior to the 2004 election, in which it fielded a slate of 8 candidates (there are 308 possible races in which to field candidates). The annual convention being held this weekend is an attempt by the organization to rebuild itself and develop more support for the next election, whenever that might be [most likely sometime between this June and next April].

One reason rarely mentioned for the decline of the Libertarian Party in the 1990s was the success of the Reform Party, which had many members with Libertarian inclinations. As it gained strength and actually elected Members of Parliament, people who tended toward Libertarian views drifted into the Reform Party, grimacing and trying to ignore the participation in the Reform Party by the religious right.

But then a couple of years ago, the Reform Party merged with the Progressive Conservative Party, essentially taking on the Conservative Party name. Since the merger, the party has become much more centrist and much more interventionist, to the point that many MPs, beside Belinda Stronach, should probably be switching parties; i.e., in many ways the Liberals and Conservatives are indistinguishable.
As a result, there is renewed interest in the Libertarian Party by those of us with Libertarian tendencies.

The "national convention" had 25 people in attendance at its Saturday sessions, including the speakers. The party faces a tough road ahead.

But contrary to my earlier concerns, before attending Saturday's session, wackos were not in evidence. I wish the party good fortune for the future. I'm now a member.
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