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, July 09, 2005

The Eclectic Econoclast Is Now Listed with Seeking Alpha

Seeking Alpha, by David Jackson, contains a number of different "resource" blogs on various topics, including the stock market, venture capital, personal finance, and other related topics. He has recently included The Eclectic Econoclast on his list of economics blogs.

The Hearsay Exception

Cute; I don't know how accurate or helpful it is, but Ted Frank linked to it, so it can't be all bad.

The Toughest Word Game on the Internet

Tom Hanna pointed me in the direction of I'm not great with words, but I had three years of Latin back in high school 68 years ago, and I think that might have helped. I got an 8 out of 10.

If you do better, it's because you got easier questions [That's what my students say about the different exams in intro economics].

Friday, July 08, 2005

"I Don't Get Paid Enough to Defend France"

From Composite Drawlings:

After much O'Reilly badgering about whether or not we could expect Europe to finally understand what we are trying to do in this war on terror, and this man trying to say that Britain counted as Greater Europe, politically, and therefore Europe had been with us all along... the guy finally has the last word as the cameras are cutting to commercial: "I don't get paid enough to defend France."

AIDS, HIV, and Heterosexuals;
Is the Scare Just a Left-Wing Plot?

I don't know how much credence to place in this, but it seems believable:

Back in the early 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic was just starting to break out in the three gay communities (San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York), David Horowitz was one of the few individuals who stood up and publicly opposed gay leaders' efforts to subvert the public health system and conceal the nature of the epidemic.

Specifically, in the name of "gay liberation," gay leaders denied that sexually transmitted AIDS was almost exclusively caused by promiscuous anal sex, refused to close sexual "bathhouses" which were the breeding grounds of AIDS, opposed testing and contact tracing which were the traditional and proven public health methods for containing epidemics, and promoted the false idea that AIDS was an "equal opportunity virus" when in fact it was a virus threatening very specific communities -- gays and intravenous drug users. For speaking truth to gay power, he was widely condemned by radical activists who demonized him and caricatured his warnings as, among other things, homophobic prejudice.

As Horowitz has written in these pages, the success of the gay radicals resulted in a ballooning epidemic that has killed some 300,000 Americans, the majority of them young gay men. The AIDS catastrophe, as he wrote in “A Radical Holocaust,” a chapter in The Politics of Bad Faith, is “a metaphor for all the catastrophes that utopians have created.”

The discussion continues with the assertion that penal-vaginal intercourse does not transmit AIDS. If that is the case, much of the world-wide effort to prevent the spread of AIDS has been seriously misdirected. This conclusion is the one drawn by Michael Fumento in The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics.

Fumento's book has received some criticism, but most of the criticism appears to be of the nature, "How dare you!" rather than "Here's why you're wrong."

I honestly don't know what to think about the debate, but I'm too old for it to be relevant for my personal life; it is relevant, though, for many others I care about. [h/t to BenS]


The pain and agony felt by everyone when terrorist bombs kill and maim people make me sad and angry. Yesterday's bombings were horrific, and I can only begin to imagine the grief felt by friends and relatives of the vicitms. I highly recommend Normblog by Norman Geras for its tone and content. Also Silly Little Country by Alan Adamson. And there are many good insights at the Western Standard, including this by Kate McMillan.

I hope the nutcases don't blame the CIA.

I hope more people begin to understand the fear and stress felt by Israelis.

I hope gubmnts and voters recognize that, yes, Galloway and the Socialists, et al, are right that Spain and England were targeted for their support of the U.S. war in Iraq, but that the appropriate response is not to give in to terror.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Kirkland Project at Hamilton College

I am a little embarrassed that Hamilton College is located in a town named Clinton, even if it is Clinton, NY, and I live in Clinton, Ontario.

From The New Criterion, courtesy of BenS:

...we’ve reported before in this space on little Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. It has really outdone itself lately. In December, the college cleverly timed the announcement of their new capital campaign to coincide with an invitation to Susan Rosenberg, late of the Weather Underground, to teach a month-long seminar as an “artist/activist-in-residence.”

...Hamilton tried to brazen it out: “Free speech!” “Diversity!” “Women writers!”—the administration tried out all the usual mantras. Nevertheless, donations to the college dried up and Rosenberg “withdrew.”

The Rosenberg wheeze came to the world courtesy of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture, an outfit at Hamilton which is exactly what its name implies, a left-wing catchment where aging ’60s radicals pool to ferment and celebrate themselves. A list of the Kirkland Project’s activities reads like a parody of wacko academic radicalism (check out their programming online [Note from EclEco: this is the link]).

... Kirkland’s next trick was to invite Ward Churchill to campus. You remember Ward Churchill: he’s the make-believe Injun and tenured prof from the University of Colorado who thinks that the victims of Islamofascist terrorism are like Nazi bureaucrats.

... What to do? How about a faculty committee to “study” the problem? Hamilton duly convened such a beast and, lo, it has spoken. In its final report, dated April 26, the Kirkland Project Review Committee gives us—a total whitewash.

... To those who believe that the Kirkland Project is a tendentious, politically motivated institution that has no place at a liberal arts institution, the Committee responds that “We believe that it would be dangerously inappropriate for a liberal arts college to restrict the kinds of points of view expressible in the missions of established or broadly supported campus organizations.” Of course, the committee really believes no such thing. Hamilton College in general, and the Kirkland Project in particular, restricts all sorts of “points of view,” as anyone who asks “What conservative speakers/ programs/initiatives has the Kirkland Project sponsored?” will discover. The short answer to that question is None.

... Academic committee reports are not famous for their humor. But this one does contain an inadvertently droll moment. It comes at the very end. In matters of substance, the report concludes, Kirkland should remain very much what it has been. But because of “considerable disagreement” about its mission, the committee recommends that—can you guess? That the Kirkland Project be disbanded and its assets distributed to a new organization for the study of the American Founders? Not quite. The one concrete recommendation the committee makes is that the Kirkland Project —change its name.

It is little wonder that so many Hamilton College Alumni are trying to change the make-up of the college's Board of Directors. [be sure to check out the comment to that link, too!]

Until these events, Hamilton College had always held a special place in my heart as the setting for The Sterile Cuckoo, an entrancing and insightful 1969 film.

High Oil Prices Do NOT Mean There Will Be Line-ups at Gas Stations

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor attributes most of the oil price increases over the past two years to growth in demand.

The fact that the price of a barrel of light sweet crude has doubled from $30 to near $60 in less than two years is largely about demand, experts say.

Part of the increase can be attributed to a new batch of increasingly heavy fuel users, namely China and India. But perhaps most notable is that Americans seem to be thumbing their noses at the gas lines of the 1970s and saying - at least for the time being - they are not willing to cut their use as oil prices climb.
Unfortunately, the article goes on to imply that high oil prices will lead to shortages and lineups at the gas pumps.

Christina ... vividly remembers the "even- and odd-day" fill-ups during the oil embargo of the 1970s.

"Those were terrifying days," she says.

..."'s hard for people to get excited about it," says David Stewart, a professor of marketing and consumer psychology at the University of Southern California. "I, for one, am not going to go out of my way to save 10 cents a gallon."

That may change, however, if people are shown standing in line for fuel, as they were during the oil embargo.

"Right now, there is just not that sense of urgency," Professor Stewart says.

High oil prices do not mean there will be shortages and line-ups. The only thing that causes line-ups is a price set below the market-clearing price.

The shortages and line-ups of 1978-79 wouldn't have existed if gasoline prices had been allowed to increase to reflect changed supply and demand conditions. In that instance, the primary cause of the shortages and line-ups was the gubmnt restrictions on gasoline price increases.

And the only thing that will bring back the shortages and line-ups will be price controls. I hope the gubmnts responsible for those line-ups learned something from the experiences of the late 1970s and from the general economic failure of the soviet economies, where people were forced to waste hours each week, standing in line to purchase items for which the gubmnt set too low a price.

Cross-posted at The Western Standard.

Another Reason for Concern about Anti-Semitism

There was a recent incident in Germany involving Muslim and Jewish students.

Two groups of school students were travelling on a train, each under the supervision of a female teacher. One group was from a Jewish school, the others were Muslim. Trouble started when some of the Jewish students spoke to the Muslims in Russian (the majority of Jews in Berlin are of Russian origin). The Muslims responded by abusing the Jews with anti-Semitic hate slogans. Their teacher was unable to restrain them.

The Muslim students came from a school which prides itself on being a “school without racism”. They were persuaded to apologize in writing. However, when a meeting between the two groups was arranged a month later, aggressive outbursts from the Muslims demonstrated that they still had no sense of having done anything wrong.
This incident is not an isolated example of that type of anti-Semitism.

... a new study of the attitudes of 9-14-year-olds from Arab and Turkish families confirms the extent of anti-Semitism:-‘The result: for most, “Jew” is a swearword. “If a Jew came to our school, he’d get beaten to a pulp”, says one boy. A 13-year-old thinks all Jews should get out of Palestine, and never mind where to, just so long as they don’t come back. An 18-year-old Turk hates Jews “because they’re murderers”. If he met one, he’d beat him up at once, he claims.’
Of equally great concern,

In December the Tagesspiegel reported on a survey of 3000 Germans which found that 50% believed the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinians was comparable with that of the Nazis towards the Jews.
The above quotations are from this source, but I came across them on a blog entitled "Christian Hate?", a blog concerned about the growing anti-Semitism in many nominally Christian organizations. [h/t to MA for the pointer]

Canada: a Country of Rugged Individualists.
Socialism is not part of our heritage.

The mainstream media of Canada, along with the interventionists of the country, would have us believe that socialism is at the heart of our unique Canadian identity.

They are wrong. Michel Kelly-Gagnon emphasizes in a recent column that Canada was much later than the U.S. was in adopting many "social reforms" and was fervently individualistic for most of its history. [Thanks to Jack for the link; $req'd]

Now, it is obviously a fact that in today’s Canada taxes are high, the unions are strong (especially in Quebec) and you have powerful interest groups who will fight any attempts at change. It is also undeniable that, under most indicators, governments in Canada (especially when you compare provincial governments with state governments) are bigger today than they are in the United States.

But what needs to be challenged is the claim that interventionist government, high taxes, protectionist policies and socialized medicine constitute the very fabric of our national identity. We should not accept any more the notion that anyone who believes that less government is economically beneficial as well as morally justifiable is, de facto, trying to Americanize Canada and, thus, would be some sort of traitor to the Canada nation. The reality is that this so-called “Canadian identity” based on government compassion (or socialism, to speak more clearly) was only invented in the 1960s and ’70s.
He concludes

... free-market ideas are part of our Canadian heritage and of our Canadian identity. It’s something to be proud of. And it’s about time we started explaining to our fellow citizens, with patience, passion and reason, that you can be a true Canadian while wanting to reduce government control over our lives.
For more on Canada's individualistic beginnings and its drift toward statism, see Globalization and the Meaning of Canadian Life by Bill Watson. Sadly, both Kelly-Gagnon and Watson go overboard, trying to make their point, and in doing so they needlessly open themselves up to picky criticism.

Note: I posted the above as my inaugural post at the blog for the Western Standard, where it sparked considerable discussion.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Arch of not-so-anonymous Losers

Recently parolled killer/rapist Karla Homolka announced that one of the first things she wanted to do was go to Tim Hortons for an iced cappuccino [$subscription required; thanks to Jack for the link].

The homespun chain did its best yesterday to deflect the endorsement.

“We have faith in our customers that they can make the distinction between what Tim Hortons stands for and that there is no relationship between ... a successful company and her comments,” said Greg Skinner, a company spokesman.

Marketing experts said the unprompted endorsement of Tim Hortons’ frothy summer coffee treat — which was introduced only in 1999, while Ms. Homolka was in prison — is a testament to the company’s ubiquitous status in the public consciousness. They recommended the company ignore the comment.

“I would imagine the Tim Hortons people will be running for cover on this one,” said Alan Middleton, a marketing professor with York University. “They should just ignore it, lie low. Hopefully it goes away.”

He doubted Ms. Homolka’s desire for a Tim Hortons drink would have any impact on sales. “Will it harm Tim Hortons? No. Will it help? God, I hope not.”
It would give new meaning to “L’ Arc des Perdants Anonymes” ["The Arch of Anonymous Losers"] . . . . . . except she's not very anonymous after having gone to court seeking protection from the media, and then granting an interview with the French CBC television network.

Yet Another Reason to Take Supplements:
Prevention of Fractures

Jack sent me this [no link available, subscription only] from a Canadian Medical Association mailing list:

Calcium/vitamin D effective for prevention of first fracture

Clinical question: Does supplementation with vitamin D and calcium prevent a first hip fracture or nonvertebral fracture in older people?

Bottom line:
Supplementation with calcium 1000 mg and vitamin D3 800 IU daily decreases the likelihood that older people will experience a first hip fracture or other nonvertebral fracture.

Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Willett WC, Wong JB, Giovannucci E, Dietrich T, Dawson-Hughes B. Fracture prevention with vitamin D supplementation. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA 2005; 293:2257-64.
From the synopsis:

The researchers found heterogeneity among the trial results, which was resolved when they separated the studies by dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D 400 IU per day did not prevent fractures. Vitamin D doses of 700 IU to 800 IU per day resulted in a significant decrease in hip fractures (5.8% vs 7.7%), translating into 1 fewer hip fracture for every 50 patients treated for 2 years (number needed to treat = 50; 95% CI, 34-109). Similarly, the nonvertebral fracture rate was decreased only by the higher dose, with a number needed to treat of 28 (19-49) for at least 1 year.

Recommendations for Improving Graduate Training in Economics

Some time ago, Tyler Cowen posted his recommendations for improving graduate education in economics. I have been thinking about them and would like to offer some comments.
1. Make everyone take a real class in history of economic thought and also in economic history. These are vanishing as prerequisites.
I took a course on the history of economic thought. Once. Well, twice, now that I think about it. Some of my best friends teach this stuff. I've never much cared for the field, and I don't see any reason to require it. Economic History, on the other hand, provides a great background and a great learning tool for grad students. I, personally, would never have taken a course in Economic History if I hadn't backed into one by accident, taught by Robert Fogel. It was one of the most exciting courses I have ever taken.

2. Make all U.S.-born students spend a month in a rural third world village, preferably one without a shower.
Does Northern Canada qualify? What about working in a mission in the inner city? I understand the point, I think. We have a wonderful, rich life in North America; students probably need to do more than just read about what it is like to live elsewhere.
3. Make all third world-born students take two full classes of education in the Western tradition, most of all The Enlightenment. Make them read Adam Smith, The Federalist Papers, and if possible convert them into Freemasons.
I presume Tyler is not completely serious here. Again, though, it would probably be helpful to them to have a better idea about the background of the material we cover in our courses.
4. Make sure everyone could pass a Chicago school-style oral exam from Aaron Director or a Turing-equivalent. It is amazing how many current Ph.d. candidates have not learned basic price theory.
How strongly can I agree with this one? I have had graduate students fail my intro exams; I've had others tell my students, very forcefully, that the wrong answer is correct. Please, Please, can we require more than math machismo in graduate programmes?

One of the regular readers of The Eclectic Econoclast sent me the following e-mail message last week [reproduced, with edits, with permission]:
I recently had a rather disturbing discussion/argument with a student who was just accepted into the graduate program in Economics at a major university. It turns out that his undergraduate work is in computer science and mathematics. He admitted to having done almost no reading in macroeconomics (whether macro is legitimate is another issue). Among his amazing claims was that he didn't know how to describe comparative advantage without using mathematics symbols (in fact, he didn't know who Ricardo was!), and he flatly denied that comparative advantage implies that all nations should have a free trade policy. He claimed that it's not uncommon for people like himself, who don't have a bachelor's in economics to be accepted into grad programs. I gave him a link to Ricardo's own natural language exposition on comparative advantage and he called it drivel.

I find it amazing that such a person, who would make such gross errors in logic and who hasn't even heard of Ricardo to be accepted into a grad program, and at a major university at that. So, my questions are: is this indeed common? Why the obsession with mathematization? Is it possible that this obsession has somehow obstructed students like him and ultimately professors that they would become from comprehending natural language arguments? Considering the complexity of subjective human valuations and preferences it seems obvious to me that using math to describe basic economic principles is inappropriate. What's going on with economics in academia these days?
What he said!
Tyler concludes:
My recipe for George Mason, my own school, is different. Most of the graduate students simply need to work harder.
I suspect Tyler is playfully prodding his own students here. The grad students I have known, in general, work very hard. They don't always work efficiently, though, and not many of them have a real zeal for learning.

I Have (Almost) Always Hated Power Point Presentations

from Craig Newmark, and his blog, Newmark's Door, I eventually came to this. I strongly/highly recommend the whole thing. It is very persuasive.

In my own speeches I try to avoid the boring PowerPoints with
the bullets. I either put up pictures of really hot actors (by which
I mean, hot-looking: Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, etc.), or puppies,
or jokes, and I think I have the whole bullet thing isolated to one
slide with three bullet points. Of course, when I’m so busy telling
jokes and showing pictures of hot actors it’s hard to find time to get
to the bullets.

In 2003 Edward R. Tufte, famous for his brilliant and beautiful
books on the visual display of information, decided he had had just
about enough PowerPoint for a lifetime, and launched a campaign
to rid the world of this scourge. “Alas,” Tufte wrote, “slideware
often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular,
the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually
weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt
statistical analysis.”
I hated prepared overheads when I was a student because I never knew whether to try to copy down what was on the overheads or to listen to the professor and take notes. My experience in the past 54 years has been that profs who used prepared overheads either read too much from them, making them boring, or don't read enough from them, making them confusing.

Now, with prepared PowerPoint lectures, the only way I know of that they even come close to working is the way one of my former students uses them --- he does partial slides and sells booklets made up of them. Then he expects the students to follow along and fill in the blanks and graphs and tables.

I find that a bit rigid and confining, myself, but I can see that it at least avoids most of the major pitfalls of PowerPoint and prepared overhead presentations.

I actually gave a PowerPoint presentation once. I had little idea what I was doing, but the folks who had organized the conference insisted I do it, and they had things very well prepared. It went okay, I guess. But it was mostly graphs and data, and I talked around them.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Obesity and Paul Krugman:
Medical Externalities?

In "Girth of a Nation" [July 4, NYTimes; reg. req. (nice title, btw)], Paul Krugman attacks the food lobby for questioning studies about health, weight, and obesity. He says:

I've been looking into the issues surrounding obesity because it plays an important role in health care costs.

... obesity clearly increases the risks of heart disease, diabetes, back problems and more. And the cost of treating these weight-related diseases is an important factor in rising health care spending.

... as officials from the C.D.C. have pointed out, mortality isn't the only measure of health. There's no question that obesity plays an important role in many diseases that diminish the quality of life and, crucially, require expensive treatment.

Once again we see a problem with major gubmnt intervention in the health system. When we let the gubmnt provide a really high health safety net, we do two things:

  1. We create serious moral hazard problems. People do not have to bear the costs of risks they take. People can overeat, incur health costs, and not bear those costs themselves. If people had to buy risk-rated health insurance, you can bet that insurance companies would be looking into the health risks due to obesity and charging premiums accordingly. If obesity causes increased health risks, obese people would pay more. Food companies would be lobbying insurance companies, not the gubmnt. And if insurance companies lost money by listening to the food lobby, they'd stop listening; we wouldn't need gubmnt intervention.
    What if group health insurance charged a premium for obese members of the group? for smokers? and refused to pay for people who weren't wearing seatbelts when in an auto accident? What if skinny people could form their own group to buy cheap health insurance? The point is that market solutions work well in cases like these.

  2. More problematic is that gubmnt health care is used as a justification for intervention in all sorts of other areas of our lives.
    (a) wear your seatbelt because if you don't you'll impose costs on the health care system.
    (b) don't smoke because of the costs you might impose on the health care system.
    (c) watch your weight because of the costs you might impose on the health care system.
    (d) you must exercise because if you don't you will impose costs on the health care system.
    (e) you must get counseling to avoid being a "Type A" personality and risking heart disease that would impose costs on the health care system. Etc.

If people want to be obese and want to bear the costs, where's the problem?
The only "externality" arises because of non-risk-rated, gubmnt-provided health plans.

Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush

My friend, Jack, e-sent me off to our local liquor-store monopoly last week to buy a wine he recommended. In our small town, it was no surprise that they didn't have the one he recommended. But they did have this (for more information, click here):

From this site:

Of recent times some wine critics have been trying to top each other with poetic descriptions. TV's luscious Jilly Goolden described the experience of drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc as being like 'diving into a gooseberry bush', but I believe it could have been her colleague Oz Clarke who coined 'cats pee on a gooseberry bush'. This classic description was chosen as the name for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which has been one of the biggest selling wine in Britain.

In the USA the second word in the name is spelled 'Phee'.

Needless to say, even though it is white wine and for that reason, Ian Klymchuk (and other members of the PLO) definitely would not approve, I had to buy it for the name alone.

When we opened it, we discovered that the "cork" is neon green plastic, with a black cat printed on one side; on the other side, it says "Fully House Trained!!" The wine itself is a more-than-acceptable Sauv-blanc.

On second thought, I imagine cat-lovers Alan and Rondi , both paid-up lifetime members of the PLO, would approve.

Dan Brown, da Vinci, The Vatican, The CBC;
all trashed in one pithy piece

Brian Ferguson, who writes A Canadian Econoview, has one of the most amusing spoof-ish put-downs of the whole lot. Be sure to read the whole thing because his last sentence, quoted below and amusing by itself, makes a whole lot more sense if you do.

We don't yet know all of the details of that newly discovered Leonardo but my bet is that, when all is revealed, it will involve a talking lamp.

Monday, July 04, 2005

"And It Is Not Opera"

There has been a discussion at The Sports Economist on whether NASCAR qualifies as "sport". Skip Sauer, the founder of The Sports Economist (where I am now a rare co-blogger) writes:

Regardless of what any of us might think, there are facts:
a) car racing is covered in the sports section of newspapers & in magazines like SI;
b) articles on motor sports appear in academic journals devoted to issues in "sport;"
c) spectators in large numbers pay big bucks to attend a motor race, legions watch it in beer soaked t-shirts in front of their TVs, and it is not opera;
d) car racing is an intense competition, requiring physical and mental endurance, coupled with the ability to listen to the radio and turn left.

So we can talk about the economics of Nascar here, especially since it is not opera.
Anyone who writes something as good as this belongs in the Philistine Liberation Organization!!

The Yield Curve Conundrum

Why is the yield curve flattening out so much?

Here is a portion of Ben Carliner's discussion of recent Fed policy

Inasmuch as speculators interested in flipping properties are much more likely than long term buyers to use ARMs [adjustable rate mortgages] and interest-only mortgages to finance their borrowings, continued monetary tightening could take some of the pressure off the unsustainable rise in real estate values. Of course, this assumes that home buyers aren’t already so pressed by high prices that they are using ARMs simply because they couldn’t afford their monthly payments at the higher 30 year fixed rate. Either way, a new wave of mortgage refinancings is now likely, which will continue to drive consumer spending and domestic economic growth. Recent research from Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein shows that the amount of equity taken out and not reinvested into real estate rose by $202 billion in the past year ending in March.

As for the yield curve conundrum, it shows no sign of abating. The chart below speaks for itself.

One possible explanation is that continued tightening by the Fed has reduced long-term inflationary expectations, thus lowering long-term nominal rates via the Fisher equation:

nominal rate = real rate + expected rate of inflation

What is in a Name?

Barclays Bank in the UK has found that among their clients, some names are more prevalent among the lists of people who are high earners. [thanks to JennyZ for the link]

... professionals called Susan or David are more likely to earn over £100,000 a year, as opposed to those with other monickers, according to new research by Barclays.
Those called Elizabeth, Sarah, John or Michael are also likely to be high earners and also command a six-figure salary.

Which way do you think the causation might run, if there is any causal link here at all?

... But some experts yesterday argued that the list might be influenced by parents' choice of names in different social classes.

A spokesman for Barclays admitted: "Names such as Darren and Wayne are noticeably absent from the list so in some way this could just be a reflection of social backgrounds as much as luck or financial acumen.

"If you think back to the 1950s and 1960s - when most middle-aged high-earners were born - then names for children such as David and Paul were quite common."

Rich list



I'm curious as to whether the data include all income or just labour income. If they include all income, we might expect to see names such as "Chastity" or "Dweezle" on the list. Note, too, that these are based on one bank in the UK. I can readily imagine that the first names of top earners at some southern US banks are not on this list.

Why on earth did Barclays collect these data? If you were a stockholder in Barclays would you care that they did? Would the value of the publicity justify the cost and time?

What's Wrong with Leaders' Serving More Than Two Terms

Last week, Jack sent me this piece, announcing that Russia's Duma had failed by a wide margin to approve a constitutional change that would allow Vladimir Putin to serve an additional term in office.

A proposed amendment to the Russian Constitution [text in English] that would have allowed President Vladimir Putin [official website] to serve a third term [JURIST report] fell far short of approval by the State Duma on Wednesday. Only 32 members of Russia's lower house voted for it, with 99 voting against. The measure needed 226 votes to pass. Putin's term expires in 2008...
Even though I was raised to believe that term limitations on presidents are a good thing, I am increasingly unconvinced that they are. What is wrong with having a president serve more than two consecutive terms? What is wrong with a lengthy dynasty? Was the United States harmed by having FDR in office for nearly 4 terms?

I don't see anything wrong with it, with two exceptions:
  1. Possibly the incumbent has too great an advantage over a challenger. The advantage might be "unfair" control over the access to publicity or over the voting mechanism, or it might simply be brand recognition. Getting rid of political contribution limitations would help deal with this problem.
  2. If it's some friggin' elitist interventionist, I'd shudder at the thought that the people might elect the person for a third term.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

You Gotta Know When to Fold 'Em

From Slate's Today's Papers:

Perhaps crowns and cockroaches just don't mix: Unable to compete with the pageantry of reality television, after 48 years, the Junior Miss Pageant (whose winners include Diane Sawyer) held its last national final. The competition, which began in 1957, prided itself on honoring innocence and wholesomeness. After a failed shot at a reality TV program (not enough backstabbing), the pageant is calling it quits. "We didn't want our girls eating bugs or taking their clothes off," said the pageant's executive director. "We decided to draw a line in the sand."
"When expected total revenue is less than expected variable costs, the profit-maximizing firm will shut down."

What about the Effect on his Self Esteem?

Sam just won the ugly dog contest for the third year in a row:

He's so ugly even the judges recoiled when he was placed on the judging table, said his proud owner, Susie Lockheed, of Santa Barbara.

"People are always horrified when I kiss him. He may turn into a prince yet. He's definitely a toad," she said. "I always thought he'd be great on greeting cards or on a commercial for Rogaine."

Sam, who's pushing 15, has something of a cult following after winning the contest — and fans' hearts — for three years running. Last year, huge crowds gathered around Sam and Lockheed at a local parade and Lockheed said she received letters and calls about her pup for weeks.

Michael Jackson, Type I, and Type II Errors

The standard of proof in criminal cases is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" because society has decided we would rather make more of what statisticologists call type II errors (free the guilty) if required to do so as a trade-off to reduce the number of type I errors (convict the innocent). Here, the null hypothesis is that the defendant is not guilty.

Presumably, based on media accounts, at least some of the jurors thought that Michael Jackson was a paedophile but that the prosecution had not made the case beyond a reasonable doubt that he had engaged in any criminal behaviour.

The opposite happened in Scotland recently [h/t to Brian Ferguson].

A MAN who slit his neighbour's throat and set fire to his flat in the mistaken belief that he was a paedophile was jailed for life yesterday and ordered to serve at least eight years.

Angus Mackinnon, 53, "snapped" and killed Derek Gourley, 60, after being invited to watch what he thought were child pornography videos. ...

Police later established the tapes did not show children.
Talk about big-time Type I errors!

I know of several people who would like to turn Mr. Mackinnon loose on some other members of society.

Mathematics Education Doesn't Add Up

About a year and a half ago, I was a visitor in a 9th grade mathematics classroom in Houston, Texas. I was shocked to see one student use his calculator to add 8 seven times because, not only did he not know the multiplication tables, he didn't even know how to multiply on his calculator. This incident highlights the problems with mathematics education in the U.S.

From Malcolm Kline:

In international comparisons, American high school students ranked 24th out of a 29-country survey compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The OECD results raise a question: What math are students learning? In many high schools the answer is, very little.

...Students today may know less mathematics than the pupils of any previous generation but they do feel better about it. Unfortunately, it is hard to build a bridge with high self-esteem.

For another take on Math deficiencies in U.S. education, see pages 17 and 18 of this Dallas Fed Report [Note: it is a large pdf file and takes awhile to download; thanks to SCSU Scholars for the link].
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