Please note that my opinions are my own, and the opinions of the anyone or any institution quoted are theirs. The opinions expressed herein do not reflect the opinion of North Carolina State University, its board of directors, the College of Management or any other college, Student Media Authority, or WKNC Raleigh.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This Blog Has Moved!

Keeping with the pace of changing times, and owing to my desire to create a more professional identity for myself, my blog has moved to Failure to Refrain. Failure to Refrain is the title of a new radio show I'm hosting on WKNC 88.1 FM. Check my cohost and me out at http://www.failuretorefrain.com.

It's still very much a work in progress, but stop on over if you have a chance to participate in the discussion. Please update your bookmarks and update your subscriptions by clicking this link. Thanks!

Monday, July 30, 2007

WWMD: What Would Malthus Do?

An article in this week's Economist discusses recent history and current trends in world population.

If you'll recall the "Logistic Equation" from precalculus or calculus, you know that certain things, such as population growth and predator-prey relationships, can be shown with a nifty formula, involving an ugly thing called the natural number "e." When graphed, this renders an s-shaped curve, or what looks like a sideways graph of tangent.

Basically, it means that populations tend to grow slowly at first, then reach a critical number that sends the species population soaring through reproduction, until environmental effects (shortage of food, disease, predators, or crowding) force members of the population out, or dead. The curve levels out and maintains what would appear to be a long-term stable number, ceteris paribus.

Numbers are still growing; but recently—it is impossible to know exactly when—an inflection point seems to have been reached. The rate of population increase began to slow. In more and more countries, women started having fewer children than the number required to keep populations stable. Four out of nine people already live in countries in which the fertility rate has dipped below the replacement rate. Last year the United Nations said it thought the world's average fertility would fall below replacement by 2025. Demographers expect the global population to peak at around 10 billion (it is now 6.5 billion) by mid-century.

I would wager this recent inflection point has something to do with the signals we are receiving from our environment. Increased income, wealth, and abundance of materials has given rise to a shift in attitudes among young professionals, whom would rather use disposable income to enjoy themselves than save for a child's college, especially when costs are rising as rapidly as their are in the knowledge economy.
Think of twentysomethings as a single workforce, the best educated there is. In Japan (see article), that workforce will shrink by a fifth in the next decade—a considerable loss of knowledge and skills... In Japan, rural areas have borne the brunt of population decline, which is so bad that one village wants to give up and turn itself into an industrial-waste dump.

Well, hardly a poor use of resources if its a choice willingly made. But it begs the question: how much does the "labor" or "human capital" part of the production function really affect the makeup of an economy?
States should not be in the business of pushing people to have babies. If women decide to spend their 20s clubbing rather than child-rearing, and their cash on handbags rather than nappies, that's up to them.

Really? That's interesting, because an article from Medical News Today discusses some of the incentives Estonia is using to entice its young females to have multiple children. From that article:
Estonia provides employed women who have children with their monthly salary, up to $1,560 monthly, over a 15-month period and unemployed women with $200 monthly.

Whatever the measures, governments tend to protect their investments in capital and infrastructure and have been known to wage war, from time to time, over resources. So why not protect human capital as well?

more people + better education = economic growth

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Which Mayor Makes the Better President?

A one Mr. Rudolph Giuliani?

Or perhaps, a Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

The similarities are obvious from this article from the Economist describing Mr. Ahmadinejad's rise to power:

And in 2005 presidential elections produced an unexpected victory for Mr Ahmadinejad, then a little-known former mayor of Tehran.


Public Viewing of Cadavers: A "Vein" Hope for Immortality

Just what exactly is our obsession with viewing preserved dead bodies? Whether its animals or humans, it seems that those with no tangential interest in anatomy take extreme interest in the display of a bare-bones (or muscle-wrapped, or anything in between) cadaver. The only thing odd may be that I haven't seen yet an advertisement that included a cadaver with the skin intact. Maybe because skin is just too personal... and creepy when its dead.

A recent exhibition in Raleigh piqued my girlfriend's own interest. I understood her curiousity, and felt a bit myself. But how would I take it, having lost both parents and countless influential people in my short life? I put it off.

Then an exhibit at Charlotte's Discovery Place caught her attention and interest, as well as a few of my other friends and family in the area. So far, it looks to be of less quality (and more affordable) than the Raleigh exhibit. I don't have a way to dodge this yet, but luckily the pressure has been low.

And a few weeks ago, an article about pharmaceutical pioneer Sir Wellcome's odd medical collection stated:

The permanent exhibitions contain quite a few human specimens... Next to the chairs stands a head-to-toe slice of a human corpse. Londoners, though, seem cavalier about viewing body parts as art. A diamond-encrusted cast of a skull by Damien Hirst, recently on show in a Mayfair gallery, was noticed far more for its over-the-top bling than for any connection with the human brain.

It seems to me that this obsession with human cadavers is no more than man's fascination with his own mortality. To see what I'm talking about, look at any local bar for a gent with tattoos, and I'll bet you'll find most of them have tatoos of skulls or skeletons. Even the most docile of us wonder about The Great Beyond and Eternity. Perhaps the prospect of having one's body displayed to the world, or the prospect of having it preserved, is our own attempt tricking the mind into accepting death by serving its egoistic tendencies.

It's quite interesting though, that this behavior serves no evolutionary purpose, insofar as I can tell, as most humans stop reproducing far before they expect to die, and far after their children have left the nest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oil Ref-Irony: A Minor Observation

Global warming threatens to thaw the world's arctic climate, which is exactly where the Bush administration talked about drilling a few years ago in Alaska.

The irony is rich: if we drill in Alaska, we threaten wildlife there; if we don't global warming will eventually kill them off (if global warming is even a significant trend).

Even more ironic is a recent note I heard about oil taxes floating a few indigenous tribes in the arctic, who would have been forced to assimilate a long time ago if not for oil revenues, but whose way of life (e.g. hunting seals, polar bears) is threatened by the "global warming trend." There has to be a cliché to describe this predicament...

On Enabling Poverty

Yesterday, I yelled at a bum. And I felt like a complete jerk. I was on the phone with customer service, trying to get an RMA for something I had to return, when the guy walks up to the bus stop on the university-side of the street (which they nearly never do) and asks the guy next to me to buy one of his ball caps.

I was looking for a sheet of paper to write down what the customer service rep was saying, when the guy started his spiel on me. I let him have it: "Sir, I'm on the phone, you're going to have to take that somewhere else." I think he muttered some curses and went off.

There I sat, realizing I wasn't practicing good Christian ethic, and feeling like a general scumbag. There that guy was, obviously trying to do some good. I mean, he went through the effort to find (or steal) those hats. He wasn't asking for a hand-out (per se). But I treated him just like dirt.

It occurred to me, as I was reading an article posted yesterday over at City Journal, titled "In the Heart of Freedom, in Chains" by Myron Magnet (thanks to Betsy's Page for alerting me to this), this poor black man might have given up trying to get a "real job." He probably felt like the white man was keeping him down. But that's just it. Too many black Americans feel that way, whether or not its the truth. Its a cop out, a way of living a lifestyle that's been glorified by popular culture.

Well, I refuse to keep any black man down. Its just not right. So what am I going to do next time one asks for for change, or tries to sell me a hot item?

I'll hand 'em a business card with the following on it, and repeat aloud, while maintaining good eye contact:

"I refuse to keep you down. By giving you something for nothing, I take away your dignity. You are an important, dignified person. You are valuable to society. You were created with a purpose. The only thing keeping you down is lost direction. You can succeed. I know it."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

YouTube: Pachelbel Rant

"A comedian rants about how much it sucks to play Pachelbel's Canon in D on a cello. Recorded live at Penn State, this piece by comedian/musician Rob Paravonian has been a favorite on the Dr. Demento Show."

Thought everyone would enjoy this little piece. Great connections to other pieces of music.

The Market for Body Odor

I read this comic strip the other day. I found it to be humorous, and could relate to the experience. Walking out of Subway today, I noticed the polite man holding the door for me smelled like tacos. Interesting, you might say, considering Subway doesn't sell tacos.

Then it hit me... that taco smell was plain, ol' funky body odor. The classic BO.

Which got me to thinking, maybe deodorant is an under-provided good. You know, there's a positive externality in using the stuff, everyone benefits from your refreshing floral smell. Don't get me started on the enormous cultural differences that make it difficult to sit next to an international student in the movie theater...

Maybe the government should subsidize its production, tax "polluters" and make them pay to stink, or just sign it into law as mandatory to wear. Heck, this is one situation I could stand for a little statism!

Maybe similar effects exist for halitosis. Who knows?

Debunking the Obvious

In an article on the WSJ's Economics Blog, it is reported that frat boys drink more. Now this seems obvious at first glance, but being a member of a fraternity, I feel that I should voice my own opinion.

The academic chicken-or-egg question at hand is whether frat membership causes drinking, or whether frats just attract drinkers who would behave the same way without frats. The circumstantial data is telling: Surveys suggest that 64% of frat members were drunk in the past 30 days and 42% of nonmembers. “Undoubtedly, students choose to join fraternities in part because of pre-existing preferences towards behaviors that membership facilitates,” he writes.”

And, appearantly, fraternities are bad for campuses:
And the higher the fraction of college students who belong to a frat on a campus, the more heavy drinking among students who aren’t frat members.

Aside from disliking the word "frat" and all its (not so) subtle connotations, this news doesn't bode well for already falling enrollment in men's organizations all across the country. I don't believe we foster that kind of atmosphere in Delta Upsilon, but I definitely have noticed a year-to-year struggle between academics and "socializing."

To those of us who pride ourselves on diversity and tolerance, any statistical paper showing a "general trend" seems to promote sometimes-harmful and self-perpetuating stereotyping.

And as for spillover effects, I suspect the results to be quite foggy, though I haven't read the actual paper.

It is refreshing to see the experts take a moment to be rational about all this:
“It would be erroneous to assume that these unconditional… differences accurately portray direct effects of fraternities.

To any parents out there: I suggest getting to know your son, his interests, hobbies, and habits as well as the ones any organization he wishes to join foster. This should be fairly easy to discern among all the polite BS during recruitment season. But of course, why should I be giving you advice? You're all intelligent people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Moved to Feedburner

I've switched to feedburner for syndication. Subscribe using the new button in the sidebar, or update your readers with the following feed:

You can also now subscribe using e-mail. Just put your address in the sidebar and hit subscribe!

The Best in American Idiocy: Neocon Quotes from AlterNet

An article dated yesterday from AlterNet discussesalarming trends in conservative American thinking.

The following made my short list of favorite quotes:

"Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

"Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get."

Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with… not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it."

Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

In other words: Latinos suck.

"The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

"Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey - that's a great idea!"

If this is the direction conservative thought is going in this country, I might as well apply for my British visa today. So much for our country being a bastion of tolerance, acceptance, and moderation. I believe the Founding Fathers would be ashamed.

Nod to BoingBoing for alerting us all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Altadis to be purchased by Imperial Tobacco

The Wall Street Journal just reported on its website that Altadis has agreed to be purchased by Imperial Tobacco.

This especially affects our European friends, where Imperial Tobacco will be a tobacco "giant with leading market shares in the U.K., France, Spain, Germany, &c...

Will this decrease the quality of tobaccos that just seemed to get a revival under new blenders? How do you suspect this will affect prices for tobacco in Europe and America?

The long drawn-out battle for Altadis marks perhaps the last big deal in a series of acquisitions consolidating the industry in Europe. As cigarette sales slowly decline and smokers in the major Western European markets kick the habit and younger generations avoid the products, multinational cigarette makers have bee buying one another to cut costs through economies of scale.

The author of the article seems to think it will decrease prices, if in fact, there are economies of scale still to be exploited in such a large industry.

Since Altadis also holds a 49% stake in JR Outlets (a big online seller of cigars, bigger still in North Carolina), what will this do for cigar retail, which is arguably far more sensitive to industry changes than pipes and pipe tobacco?

Let's hear your thoughts!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Interesting Article on "Radical" Atheism

According to an article in today's Wall Street, new atheism á la Dawkins, et al., fails to hold water when compared to the "purer" forms of Epicurian atheism.

Such questions -- toward which the mind naturally wanders, though it is susceptible to ambush by the crude scientism of which Mr. Hitchens occasionally avails himself -- include: Where did the universe come from, and is it governed by purpose?

Instead of announcing their faithful disbelief in a higher order as a way of obtaining reason, they fitfully attack institutions, touting hyperboles about what religion actually teaches, and falling back to their beloved when the arguments get too philosophical.
In making his case that reason must regard faith as an enemy to be wiped out, Mr. Hitchens declares Socrates's teaching that knowledge consists in knowing one's ignorance to be "the definition of an educated person." And yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.

I can say it not better than Mr. Berkowitz (George Mason University). You owe it to yourself to ponder his article and form your own opinion.

Friday, July 13, 2007

North Korea Statism as Organized Crime

Today's article from the Informed Reader Blog over at the Wall Street Journal discusses N. Korea's statism. The first paragraph is quite good and spurred my thoughts.

The North Korean government’s stake in criminal enterprises is large enough that it will prolong the rogue state’s clash with the West, whether or not Pyongyang halts its nuclear-weapons program. Through interviews with defectors and policy makers, Time’s Bill Powell and Adam Zagorin describe the mechanics of how government dealings in Pyongyang translate into counterfeit money in New Jersey and heroin in Russia.
I'd love to hear a libertarian's thoughts on the first sentence in particular. It's a shame most libertarians live in advanced western culture, where their philosophical ideas, no matter how odd or unproven, are allowed to flourish.

State Criminal Activity
The idea of the State engaging in criminal enterprises is quite alarming to me. My libertarian friends might say that the State is already an organized crime unit by their own definition. In any case, its clear N. Korea's interests are not in promoting the welfare of its citizens through its "comparative advantage in violence."

Illegal activities bring $1 billion a year to Pyongyang, a State Department official tells Time. That compares with $1.7 billion in legitimate exports in 2005, based on estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency.
In addition to constituting more than half of N. Korea's trade income, counterfeiting has been cited as a means of modern warfare. Debase the quality of a country's products, commodities, or currencies, and you've got people worried. Call it "economic terrorism." We've even engaged in it ourselves.

Our libertarian friends would be more apt to quit their Rothbard-inspired gold buggery and focus on the dangers presented by counterfeiting paper currency by other governments, not our own. Don't get me started on commodity-based currency, but foreign counterfeiting could pose a serious threat to the strong currencies of the world.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Moment of Enlightenment

It just occurred to me what "Little Richard's" proper nickname would be.

Comedy Central's piping of "Little Rascals" into presidential satire, "Lil' Bush," has a lackey character named "Lil' Cheney." Subsitute a first name, or nick name, and you see where this is going...

Externalities in a Nutshell: Part 2

More correspondence with a student in an introductory class. I think I somehow view this dialog or parlay as "brain candy" (hat tip to JurisNaturalist for term), and that's why I enjoy it so much. I've got to stop blogging and get some work done... anyway, here it is:

Consider this example - say I want to contribute to a particular cause with my church which I consider worth my time and money. Say you also have a cause which you consider worth while to which you donate your time, money, and effort. Finally, say that we each consider the other person's cause to not be the best way to spend time or money - not that either are bad, simply they are not how we would each choose to use our resources. Would it be morally acceptable for either of us to force the other to contribute to our cause?

Consider then that this is what government can do in programs such as education, welfare, and other such public works. If you do not pay your taxes, then you are subject to legal penalties - thus, whether or not you approve of a particular program, you must support it or face penalties.

The idea rolling around in my head to fix that issue is simply this - let consumer taxes be raised to fund those programs which are necessary for the entire country to function - arguably, those which are non-excludable, such as roads, national defense, police - these can be divided between federal and state as each are more capable to accomplish (largely state - if Montana has less roads to maintain than New York, it can have a lower tax to support them). Beyond such necessities (setting aside determining what they would be for now), let additional programs be supported by taxes of choice - if you desire the benefits of a program, then you can pay a proportion of your income to support it. Thus, the amount of revenue, and thus the degree to which a program can grow, is determined by the demand for its service. For example - if I want to homeschool my children, I don't pay the proportion of tax set aside for that purpose, and spend it on educational materials instead.

Observations, comments, improvements?

  1. If you get "happy" from doing something, we call this gaining utility and you are said to have "gained utils." If something you do is enjoyable, whether or not you get a monetary reward, you should engage in that activity.
  2. Its never OK to force someone to engage in a particular activity. It unethical and uneconomic. If you think someone else should be doing something, and they aren't, the reason they aren't is twofold: a) they don't have the same tastes and preferences as you and/or b) they don't get anything out of the activity. Forcing them to do something would never increase total social welfare because they themselves would experience "disutility" from engaging in that activity, which can be viewed as a cost (instead of reward) and hence would lead to decreased total social welfare.
  3. Taxes and education get tricky. In the above example, I said the person would receive disutility, and hence its a cost to that person. Taxes are also a cost to individuals, and those that pay them may not like it, but they must pay taxes. Are we forcing them to do something? Yes. Is it unethical? Maybe. Is it uneconomic? No. We have a could reason to tax these individuals due to the nature of education--it provides positive spillover benefits to everyone. I hardly think forcing someone to do community service against their will helps anyone, but in any case the persons receiving the benefit and bearing the cost are two different individuals. Therefore, with education, everyone should pay for the benefits they receive. No free lunch and all that.
  4. Our government has actually accomplished much of what you state in the first part of your last paragraph. Most states do have different tax rates for highways, for instance. Check your gas pump next time you fill up, there should be a sticker with the tax rates of most of the south east on it. Some are low. Ours are not, but we have six major metropolitan areas in our state, and more roads. Go figure.
  5. Finally, the problem is that "taxes of choice" are analogous to charitable donations in the private sector. Charity is "under-provided" meaning that more people could be helped, but aren't, because costs and benefits aren't aligned to the correct people. Basically, like in point 3 above, the same people should bear costs and receive benefits, otherwise there is the classic "free rider problem." With charity, it may be that the beneficiaries are "free riders" themselves, they receive an external benefit from the donors decision to give (the donor bears all costs and receives some benefit to the transaction, if he didn't it wouldn't take place). The beneficiaries of the donation pay no costs associated with the transaction, and are not forced to "pay-it-forward." Similarly, "elective taxes" would pose the same problem without a corresponding enforcement scheme. Assuming we could accurately forecast demand/tax rates, whose to say that wouldn't be more costly than the current system?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

'Passive Citizenship' and the Role of Judicial Review

During a lecture last January, a thought occurred to me: perhaps judicial review is a major contributor to passive citizenship.

By establishing Judicial Review, the US Supreme Court effectively took the job of monitoring legislation from irritated citizens and gave it to learned lawyers. In and of itself, this may be a more efficient way of reviewing legislation, striking bad law, and keeping legislators in line.

However, "passive citizenship" is a common problem in America, which I personally categorize as a general disinterest in politics, issues "beneath" learned citizens, and debates. The latter may cause a drop in participation if one fears confrontation, offending someone, or failing to make a point (or simply making an ass of one's self).

In a country where the government takes over this role, what incentives do citizens have in participating in the political process if their vector of preferences includes risk-averse behaviors noted above.

Then does a multiparty system actually encourage debate? More views expressed publicly by politicians or celebrities may make more people feel comfortable with expressing their own views, writing their congressman, or by participating in a local peaceful protest. Power to the people.

Rational Gay Union Policy

I'm not attempting to steal JurisNaturalist's thunder, but our recent discussion of the rationality of gay union is even more important to post because we're both fairly conservative Christian men.

JN sent me an e-mail this morning about a possible paper topic. A general outline of our discussion (he might contest it was one-sided pontificating) is below.


  1. Heterosexual unions (hereafter referred to as "marriages") are good for society. They promote procreation, family values, sexual and mental health, and general happiness.
  2. Heterosexual couples choose to enter into marriage for these reasons, and according to individual sets of tastes and preferences (often, individuals are said to display a "vector" of preferences, tradition being one common example).
  3. Marriage is a private contract and subject to analogs of common contract law. Divorces, alimony, custody and more have analogs in breech of contract, reparations, and property ownership, respectively (forgive the coldness).
  4. Individuals enter into contracts only when it is beneficial to both parties.
  5. It has not been widely shown by credible sources that homosexual unions (hereafter referred to as "gay unions") are not afforded the same quality of life improvements set forth in step 1.
  6. It follows that all couples, regardless of sexuality, benefit from union (steps 1 and 4 with 5).
  7. As long as individuals benefit, society's welfare increases.
  8. It is in the best interest of governments to sanction unions for all couples.
  1. Some members of society may receive disutility from the existence of gay unions. One might imagine an extreme conservative Christian to be extremely irked by his state's passage of such a law. In this case, social welfare decreases.
  2. Some members of the gay community receive disutility from the ban or non-recognition of gay unions. One might imagine an extreme leftist progressive becoming irate over a state ban of gay marriage. In this case, social welfare also decreases.
We are left with no decision. Either banning or allowing gay union will decrease social welfare. We much measure the total welfare effect of each and compare three worlds:
  1. Where gay union is allowed
  2. Where gay union is banned
  3. Where those receiving disutility from the permission of gay union do not exist
In the first two worlds, both containing the individual that receive disutility from permission, social welfare is not optimal. When that common factor is removed, in world 3, social welfare is optimized based on the above assumptions (thought process).

We see, then, that the market for gay union has a positive externality in that it increases total social welfare, but costs of offending idealogues are included in any individual policy decision. Following general theory of market failures and government intervention from any basic resource economics course, one sees that gay unions are underprovided. This is much in the same way that education is thought to be underprovided in Externalities in a Nutshell; however, in that article, higher than normal costs are borne by buyers but in gay unions, these costs are borne by other individuals.

It occurs to me that, by my last statement, this means the market for gay unions contains a negative externality, not a positive one. This means that the market over-provides the number of unions. However, I believe this discrepancy lies in whom one place initial rights (see Property Law or Google for some more information on "initial allocation". If anyone can find a hole in my logic, please leave a comment. If a negative externality is actually the case, the following analysis is perfectly incorrect.

The common solution, then, is that government intervene to create an environment conducive to more gay unions, either silencing or removal of the offended, or in some other way encouraging couples to enter this contract. If this means subsidizing the union, then I see potential laws being similar to current marriage laws, including tax breaks for the union, for raising children, etc.

It seems more likely, however, that the first step be allowing the unions to take place at all.

House Coalitions: A form of multi-party government?

My thoughts on the value of a multi-party system are in the post immediately preceding this one. However, an interesting question remains...

Can coalitions be thought of functioning as a "third party?"

For some information on coalitions, check yellow dog democrat history, including some humorous descriptions of different flavors of dems, as well as the Blue Dog Coalition official page and wiki article. It might be fun to check out a direct comparison as well.

I think the simplest answer to my question is "no, because coalitions are too small and too unknown to have the required effects." Coalitions don't seem to receive much special media attention, nor do citizens generally describe themselves in terms of coalitions.

Well, I will. I think I could, maybe, be a considered a sort-of-blue-dog-dem. How's that for straddling the fence?

Anyone know of similar republican coalitions?

Paper Idea: The Benefits of a U.S. Multiparty System

Any well-connected reader might have noticed third-party candidate news during the last election, and I'm sure it will come up again. With movies like Man of the Year becoming more popular, the ideas of third parties and general political change are enjoyed by most of the public.

Train of thought:

  1. Third parties create political dialog through special interest proposals
  2. Third parties reduce polarization through increased choice (it's tough to be "in the middle" of three diverse groups)
  3. Legislative debate and dialog produce ideas
  4. More ideas are better than less ideas (due to increased choice)
  5. Third parties encourage public debate (in homes and/or media)
  6. Public opinion influences elected official behavior (perhaps principal-agent connection)
  7. Ideas will be "purchased" in the market through policy
  8. Only quality policy will pass the rigorous debate phase
  9. Quality policy increases voter happiness, participation
  1. Quality of policy after established third party participation increases.
  2. Quality policy increases voter participation.

  1. Quality policy has spillover effects: decreasing bureaucracy or its costs, increasing satisfaction, decreasing domestic unrest or terrorism, increased unemployment, efficient taxing, &c.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Carbon Neutral vs Carbon Optimal

We can learn two things from Prince Charles' fancy new Carbon Neutral lifestyle:

  • Hippy trends are still hip, even for squares.
  • It takes the wealth of a king to achieve that lifestyle
Most of us don't have the resources required to be completely carbon neutral. Perhaps carbon optimality (The Undercover Economist, Tim Harford) is a better choice? Think about it like an economist... you should only abate your own carbon usage to the point where the marginal cost of abatement is more than total marginal benefit.

Since it can be assumed that one person's abatement has a small market presence, we can assume to the total amount of abatement needed by society is greater than the individual can achieve. Therefore, stated simply:

One should abate carbon usage until they can no longer afford additional abatement. Whether subject to time or budget constraints, this is how the rational eco-minded individual will and should act.

As always, everything in moderation.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

What is a supply-demand imbalance, anyway?

This article from the Instutional Economics blog is intriguing. I generally like the argument against gold bugs that any commodity could just as easily serve as a comparison, and therefore gold is nothing special when compared to paper notes. What is interesting is the following statement:

"Commodities are becoming more expensive in terms of a broad-range of currencies because of supply-demand imbalances in the global markets where commodity prices are determined."

Fair enough. But what exactly is an "imbalance?" Furthermore, why is it that we only complain about supply-demand imbalances when things are going bad. Who is to say that the problem wasn't with the decades-long depression in the price of gold/other commodities?

An All-too-typical Assault on IP

A classic assault on law, using flawed logic and hoity-toity assertions. I'm beginning to grow tired of thinking-games and baseless declarations; perhaps I'll adopt a more scientific approach in my own philosophy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A short update...

So I've not been writing as much recently as I would have liked, but no more lame promises to blog more. I'll write when I can. And I have news to share!

Aside from generally trying to be more productive, which I hope to write about soon, I took a big step forward in changing my life tonight.

My girlfriend and best friend of 3 years and 8 months, said "Yes!" after about two minutes of freaking out when I asked her to marry me! I asked her while we were in Wilmington, on a river boat cruise, under the Independence Day fireworks.

Of course, I ruined an uncharacteristically romantic moment by misjudging the finale of the show, so I asked Emma in the middle. She missed the rest of the fireworks. :-)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why Gun Control via the Insurance Vehicle Isn't So Easy

This morning, I submitted my thoughts below to the author of this article. Please read over his proposal that increased personal liability insurance coverage could serve as a better gun "control."

I enjoyed a good idea as much as the next person. this article on insuring firearm owners strikes me as a method of controlling both the number of citizens owning guns and the number of "accidents," or at the least "accidents" without compensation that occur each year.

I wonder though, how such a policy would prevent violent crime in the nations most notorious crime areas (New York, Atlanta, and Chicago). I feel that any kind of gun control policy will always fall short of reducing violent crime outside the deterrent effect that widespread proliferation insures. If you don't know who has a gun on the subway, you are less likely to pull yours out in the commission of a violent crime. Unfortunately, forcing insurance coverage seems more likely to increase the cost of owning (and operating) a weapon and decrease the numbers of gun owners in particularly high-risk areas. This all but eliminates the deterrent effect.

For my thoughts on gun control, a game theory analysis that affects my reasoning for widespread proliferation, and opinion of forced insurance coverage, see these posts:

Game Theory and VT Shootings

Healthcare is Messier Than You Think

Comments are welcome and encouraged.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quote for the Day, and my Political Affiliation

According to Political Compass I am truly a fence straddler.

But first, a pause for my quote of the day:
"Evolution explains changes in life, creation explains its origin." -- Some lackluster presidential "candidate," himself straddling the fence.

Not only am I reassuringly only slightly right (as an economist should be) but I'm nestled snugly between libertarianism and fascism. Now that's what I call rational!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Health Care is Messier than You Think

I was reading this article, from today's New York Times, wondering why the heck skyrocketing health care costs are blamed on insurance. Is it the lack of insurance? Is it the overhead? Is there some kind of incentive problem I'm missing?

The article suggests that rising health care costs are caused by an expansion of insurance coverage, not the usually cited lack of coverage. It seems to me that the costs of treating those without insurance (and those that will not pay) is more palatable to the public, but less of a problem than expanded insurance coverage.

Why? Increasing insurance coverage increases incentives for hospitals to do risky, costly (but highly profitable) procedures. The lumbar fusion cited in this story is an excellent example. The problem is, I think, that we've hit some kind of inelasticity... that is, as coverage becomes (slowly) more available, costs increase disproportianately so that those still without insurance "can't afford treatment," and hence our current dilemma.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Follow Up: Have I Found the Liberal Economists

Wall Street also posted today in their "Informed Reader" section a short blurb about heterodox economists.

"The so-called heterodox economists question some of Adam Smith's conclusions that "markets, private property and minimal government will achieve maximum welfare," says heterodox economist David Ruccio of the University of Notre Dame. Beyond that, heterodox economists have a wide variety of positions, ranging from those who question whether humans are as rational as neoclassical economists assume to those who argue that an unequal distribution of power affects how markets work."

The article goes on to describe how their research is ignored, their ideas are gaining momentum, social mores are changing, &c. which leads me to believe that these are, in fact, the missing link--liberal economists.

But, does this logic force conservatism into the mainstream?

The Conservative Mind

Quite an interesting article today from the WSJ (click on title to view article for seven days). From the article:

"Kirk identified six elements that make the conservative mind: belief in a transcendent order that "rules society as well as conscience"; attachment to "the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence" as against the routinizing and leveling forces of modern society; the assumption that "civilized society requires orders and classes"; the conviction that "freedom and property are closely linked"; faith in custom and convention and consequently a "distrust of the 'sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs"; and a wariness of innovation coupled with a recognition that "prudent innovation is the means of social preservation." The leading role in this mix that Kirk attaches to religion marks him as a social conservative; his insistence that religion provides the indispensable ground for individual liberty marks him as a modern conservative."

  1. Belief in transcendent order to society and conscience. Check!
  2. Civilized society requires order and classes. Do I herald elitism? Check!
  3. Freedom and property are closely linked. Unsold.
  4. Faith in custom and convention. Heck no. But its odd that this is included, because most economists are conservative, yet according to this are inherently counter-custom. Odd.
  5. Wariness in innovation. Double heck no.
  6. Try as I might, I can only count five.
According to this, I'm only 40% conservative. Far more than I'd have guessed two years ago. But look at the last sentence. When taking that into account, I can check item 4 if taken as a belief in natural order, structure beyond my own comprehension or design. Once in a while, I may be wary of innovation, if it affect my bottom line, but generally I'm in favor of it (search posts for "change" or "growth"). And the freedom and property thing... I dunno. I can be free without property (cue Buddhist mantra).

Update: And listening to Janis Joplin on 100.7 this morning, I'm reminded that "freedom is just another word for 'nothing left to lose.'"

So I'm only 40%-50% conservative. Prime range for accurately calling myself a conservative Democrat!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't Eat That! Daring Food Blog

A quote from the pickled pork rinds article, linked in the title of my blog post:

"I almost want to say it was like a freshly douched pork chop. But I won't. Why? Because I'm a [flipping] gentleman.

As I attempted to fish out a "good one," I couldn't help notice the alarming skin texture. For all those times I wondered what it would be like to gnaw on my grandmother's thigh, I was about to find out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Unchecked College Liberalism: Two Sides of the Spectrum

Aside from being checkered with vulgarity and generally littered with poorly-thought-out punditry, I felt the recent article in my college newspaper needed a rational response.

Click on the title of this post to view "The Strobino File" by Tanner Kroeger.

My response to the editor:

Dear Sirs:

Moderate points of view are not sexy enough for local media, and they’re not sexy enough for a college paper.

Your article printed Friday on Mr. Dante Strobino prompted me to respond, not because its necessarily controversial, but because it embodies so much of what I think has gone wrong with college liberals in the past 30 years. Firstly, hats off to Mr. Strobino for having an opinion. That’s more than you’ll get out of most students here. Also, I’d like to point out that we can agree on more than one point, though I doubt that will earn me any points as a less evil “white man.”

People like Mr. Strobino serially disregard rational thought. The average citizen does not spit shibboleths nor espouse catchy hippy slogans. However, democracy is paramount only when we produce active, informed citizens. We fail on both counts and our governments run unchecked by citizens. Think about before you complain about the courts.

Remember, “the cops, the courts, and the banks” have built the society and institutions you so freely use to your own advantage. That is inherently where any counter-cultural movement falls apart. Those truly committed end up playing fiddle on the street and giving the finger to the “white man.” The others get married, have kids, suck it up and make a career. And they live far more comfortably that way.

In any case, Mr. Strobino, your opinion matters most to me because I don’t agree with it. You generate controversy and good social dialog arises from controversy. Through the opposite ends of the spectrum, heated, active political debate can bring to light the sobriety and virtue of the moderate point of view. Let’s have lunch and it; I’m sure we’ll both be enlightened.

Sincere thanks:
Jeff Horn
Senior, Economics

Game Theory and the VT Shootings

A one-round, two player game:

Let's say you and I have the option to carry. Either we both carry, one of us carries, or neither of us carries.

The Nash equilibrium in this case is that we both carry, because when one of us carries and the other doesn't, the one that doesn't feels unsafe. Independently picking our strategies, we both decide to carry.

Unfortunate effects of restricted-carry areas:
We end up in an unstable situation when we're prevented from carrying because the people that wish us ill will always find a way to carry a gun.

The same situation follows when no one is allowed to carry guns--law abiding citizens do not carry and criminals do not care, leaving good citizens at a serious threat.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Halt! Hammerzeit!

Two MC Hammer jokes I stumbled across on the Internet. I don't know why these are funnier than most other jokes I see on the net, but they had me laughing for a while.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Random Question for the Day

Where do all the bums get Sharpies? And with what money!?

And where did he get the money if he didn't already have a sign?

Which came first, the bum or his sign?

Externalities in a Nutshell (Are Shells a Negative Externality?)

A recent exchange, which proves that economists answer questions with at least twice as many words as necessary.

A question from a friend:

Positive externalities, such as education or advances in technology - do they precipitate government intervention in order for the market to reach equilibrium? It seems a bit counter-intuitive that advances in technology would produce a surplus rather than a shift in the supply curve. (pardon me if I manage to mince my terms - I'm in only my first econ course)

My response:

Yes, it does seem counterintuitive. Let me explain negative externalities first, without a graph, if it's possible!

Let's say pollution is a negative externality. It is an externality because its total cost to society is not realized by the producers (i.e. they don't have to pay to pollute). In fact, the people that often pay for pollution are the people that breathe the polluted air or those that have to treat the polluted water. This makes the plant's profits artificially high, so they produce too much (at least more than they would if they had to pay for pollution).

Now think about positive externalities. Both education and advances in technology produce positive side effects. Because people often can't say how much better off they are because you are smarter, they don't realize the benefits. That is to say, if you are smarter or have a good technology, most people won't even realize that you are improving their life, much less quantify how much they'd be willing to pay for you to use that tech/knowledge (this is how we determine how much the benefit is worth). Since people don't realize how much they benefit, and remembering that a negative externality causes overproduction, it should be easy to see that in the case of education, people will not allocate enough money/resources to achieve optimal education for the society.

So yes, governments can intervene to help the market reach what we call "social equilibrium." In the case of pollution, they can tax the plant for CO2 emissions or create a tradeable permit scheme (which has benefits we'll discuss another time). In the case of education, the government can subsidize public education to make it more widely available. In one case, the government taxes, in the other, it pays out. If we were all smart enough (i.e. omniscient) we could effectively allocate all resources, and government taxing and spending would be a wash.

To you last point, yes, technology and education do shift the supply curve to the right--everyone gets to consume more at a lower price! But because they are positive externalities, we don't all benefit as much as we could if we had more tech or knowledge. Very fascinating stuff. If you still wanna chat about it, let me know!

Monday, April 02, 2007

So I Lied... Final Final Thought

From David Plotz' Blogging the Bible:

"Job says these terrible things about God, yet they don't seem to count as curses for the purposes of God's bet with Satan. Why? Perhaps we are to conclude that even though Job is angry at God, he still accepts His authority. Job still appeals to God, still assumes that God can act to make it right. Truly cursing God would be abandoning him. Job never gives up: He begs, berates, insists, and screams that God do better. But he always accepts that God is the decider."


Last Thought for the Evening

CS Lewis writes in "Mere Christianity" his thoughts and rationales for growing in his faith after being a proclaimed atheist. My understanding of his writings:

As humans we judge what is right-or-wrong based on our morals. Morals vary widely individually but from culture to culture, "moral threads" or "truths" constantly reoccur. So we judge, with our rational mind, consequences and morality or a decision. And those without faith still label that which is right, right and that which is wrong, wrong. But those with faith find a reason why they do that.

By what standard does man judge something moral? Something that must be above morality, something that must be above right-and-wrong, a universal truth. Something super-real. The apple is not judged red because red is an inherent property of the apple. Red is a, albeit arbitrary, fact, and exists outside the realm of the apple.

Something judged as (im)moral must be judged by something outside its own realm.

Brain Damage Rationalizes Morals?

A short excerpt:

"Philosophers have a name for this calculating logic: utilitarianism. They've been debating it for 200 years. Some says it's sensible; others say it's ruthless. Lately, however, the debate has been overrun by neuroscience. According to the neuroscientists, philosophers on both sides are wrong, because morality doesn't come from God or transcendent reason. It comes from the brain.

Three years ago in the journal Neuron, the neuroscientists illustrated their point. Using brain scans, they showed that utilitarian decisions involved "increased activity in brain regions associated with cognitive control." From this and other data, they surmised that the moral debate "reflects an underlying tension between competing subsystems in the brain." On one side are "the social-emotional responses that we've inherited from our primate ancestors." On the other side is a utilitarian calculus "made possible by the more recently evolved structures in the frontal lobes." The war of ideas is a war of neurons."

Whirlwind synopsis:

A social-emotional being has everything needed, then chooses rationality as a substitute for providence, leading to the evolution of a utilitarian part of our brain that removes moral considerations from decisions. Normal people have both... people like Paul, who struggled. Why would something evolve unless it was need for survival; if we weren't created with a rational organ, we didn't need it; something in our environment changed. A Fallen World creates a socio-economic system whereby those that are dumb (lack common sense) but emotionally and morally sound die. Natural selection a la brain. Those that can think rationally flourish. Rationality is the byproduct of a Fallen World where pure morality is a liability (see post on science). Rationality is the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as opposed to experiencing the former by default.

A long-winded, arrogant and smarter-than-thou rant:
So morality doesn't come from God? And we inherited social-emotional responses from distant ancestors, compared with more recently-evolved utilitarian frontal lobes? So taking that to be true, as I've never been one to dispute good science I know nothing about...

As my faith leads me to believe, our distant ancestors lived in harmony with God. They needed nothing more than their providence, and sought nothing more than God... eeeeeexcept for that whole fall thing.

Jive-check to this point: Social-emotional beings? Check. Reasoning? Not yet.

So the creation is fallen... its made imperfect by the presence of a being antithetical to the perfect nature of God. Our earliest ancestors buy into this... they decide God's providence isn't enough, so they seek knowledge (read: rationality). God? He's pissed. Revokes providence. Now humans form societies because they can't do as well on their own. They rebuild wealth, enjoying the fruits of their own success (read: they become secular humanists).

Jive-check: Social-emotional? Check. Reasoning? It appears so.

Flash forward thousands of years into the future. Now they don't know if God exists. But where does moral behavior come from? The brain! Aha, so moral behavior is a vestige of ancient ancestors more closely connected with God. Uh-oh... that means we must have been that way by default.

If One More Person Uses Nazi as a Suffix...

My head will pop. Why isn't anyone asking how horrible the Japanese were? How about killing twice as many Chinese as the Germans did Jews? Raping and torturing thousands of Dutch East Indians?

Why did the US ignore the slaughter of thousands of troops in the Pacific Rim? Where were the reinforcements?

Why did we ignore it? What was our incentive? Why isn't it in our history books, or the books of Japanese school children? Who benefits from its covering-up?

YouTube's "Blasphemy Challenge"

I can't collect my thoughts at the moment, they're coming in fragments. Free speech is good. I'm glad some don't believe in God, because they're exercising a choice that makes my belief more precious. Those that use religion to kill are doing more harm than good, driving good people away from an institution that promotes the reflection of things greater than one's self. Haha, in one segment a fifteen year old girl starts with "I'm a self-proclaimed atheist..." then one minute later says "I've decided to be a Buddhist." After realizing her mistake, she claims she won't worship Buddha. Obviously, this worship thing troubles her a bit... but no Buddhist I know has ever had to disclaim worshiping anything. Paranoid much? A quote comes to mind "those most interested in sharing their religious beliefs with you are most uninterested when you share yours." I only share with those that ask, whether it be economics, my faith, or my politics. And I don't ask for yours.

Isn't the Internet a fine macrocosm of microculture?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Science-Religion Redux

Romans 1:22 - "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools"

Also, I should note my distaste for the term "religion." In any case, its use served my point previously in showing that religion could become something other than spiritual, given man has the time to work reason into it, or imagination out of it.

But what I'm driving at isn't really imagination, its something higher than that. Its a divine organ which transcends the planes.

My spirit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Thinking of Aristotle... and Darwin?

Listening to NPR and at the moment an interview with the author of The God Delusion. He makes good points, but fails to recognize the value of philosophy on western thought. In fact, I'm not sure what philosophy he subscribes too.

He makes the following comment (paraphrased) "The only answer up until this point was that everything was so elaborate and magnificent that it must have been designed by some Creator."

Aristotle came to this conclusion as well, he as a man of science for his times. By studying the order of things in nature, particularly details such as the order of teeth in a lions mouth, he reasoned that since everything is the way it is, it is that way because it cannot be what it is not.

Simply put, the lion whose teeth are out of order will die of malnutrition. This may seem to support Darwinism at first...


What right do Darwinians have in claiming that the lion's teeth were wrong in the first place, and then evolved into their correct order? To put it another way, what right does anyone have to say that nature is inherently chaotic?

The fact that it favors chaos tells me that anything appearing with natural order must have received that ordered form independently. Whether its a Designer, Prime Mover, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, or your God, science simply cannot "disprove" that which scientists themselves marvel at.

In the way of "Indexed"... A mathematical musing on faith

Thanks to the indexed blog for the inspiration.

Walking through campus the other day, I spotted the following message chalked all over our brickyard:


This was followed by some pitch-line to attend a lecture or debate of some sort.

The real scary part about it is how quickly I came up with a retort. I've been so deep in theory for the past few weeks my mind started to work in notation, and before you know it, I had imagined the following answer:

Because SCIENCE ∈ ℝ and RELIGION ∈ ℂ and are therefore not directly comparable. Also, note that ℝ ⊆ ℂ. As such, ℝ ⋚ ℂ ⇔ any number z in ℂ has form α + βi where β = 0.

Simply stated, the two cannot be compared as they are in different sets. However, SCIENCE is contained in the subspace of RELIGION and the two are comparable iff the imaginary part is removed. Therefore, SCIENCE is a rational RELIGION that ignores the complex case presented by our own imagination.

After all, one has to imagine how imaginary numbers operate, it isn't intuitive. Ergo cognito et sum. My belief is based on faith. I visualize God and man in much the same way scientists imagine the real-complex plane. That is, a unit circle that is incomplete in the absence of i but that makes magical things happen when i is utilized.

Have some faith. Use your imagination, and realize you'll never fully understand with reason alone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

From Epiphany to Paradox

We're a social animal. That means we more or less operate in societies. It increases our wealth and well-being, diversity of diet and thought, exchange of ideas. Societies facilitate the most tremendous gift we have, when viewed secularly--communication.

Yet we toil against one another. Our greed hides in social interaction only to remanifest itself in national identities. Nations, economically speaking, are macroed micros. Its a collective, in a mild sense, and acts as one.

Our cooperative societies form anti-cooperative nations.

We are simultaneously the most cooperative and self-destructive animal on the planet.

Ode to Newt

A poem by REH, whose insights are refreshingly liberal and always well-thought-out. Rational opinions, if you will.


There once was a loudmouth called Newt,
who treated his wife like a brute.
When cancer her struck,
he passed on the buck,
to laymen at church, ain't it cute!


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Your Risk Free Trial

No, this isn't spam. Clicking on the title will take you to Economist.com, where you may receive a message similar to the following:

"Try The Economist for 4-weeks, risk-free!"

The magazine is called The Economist. They should know better than to advertise something as risk free.

By subscribing, I run the risk of forgetting to unsubscribe, in which case I'm charged for a full year. And I'm risk averse.

Because I'm rational.

And because I already have a subscription. That is all.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Reviews of Jesus Camp: A Call for Moderation

Heard about a new movie Jesus Camp and anyone can view clips of the movie on YouTube &c. Read the article, watch the clips, to get the gist of what people are saying about the movie.

I have not seen the movie, nor do I plan to. But as a rational believer, I would like to state my opinion. The children portrayed in the movie have been indoctrinated, brainwashed or "abused" as some critics would suggest. They spout evangelical nonsense and an irrational fear of science. These kids are turned off to learning in order to be turned on for the Lord.

No, that isn't right.

But atheists indoctrinate their kids, too. And not in the way this movie portrays... I seriously doubt there is an Antichrist Camp in the making. EVERYONE indoctrinates their child. It's called EDUCATION!

Every person is brainwashed. You believe things. Any thing. Things that make sense, things that don't. You comprehend what happened on this rock before you began your luxurious stay. That's called history. You explain reality through trial and error. That's called science. You explain epistemology by way of philosophy.

And I bet you teach it to your kids, too. I know I will, and I can't wait.

You see as humans, I bet we're not only willing and interested in furthering our lineage, but our knowledge and world view as well. The victors write history, after all. And, I would just bet that if rationality and the desire to continue our thoughts and opinions are big concerns to us, there is a natural reason for it.

Pride. Narcissism. Hell, the only reason I'm posting this is in the vain hope that someone will join my side. We're selfish. And we're manipulative. I'll spare you the Fall Speech.

If you walk away with nothing else, then think this: How is it that philosophy is heralded even after modern advances in science, and religion is smeared yet, as proven by the commenters on the linked article?

The reason is simple, and it applies to every world religion: radicalism. Radicalism is never good, and never carries a good context. However, moderation is to be heralded by society.

That is why I will be fervent in my love of my Lord in private and with selected friends, and you will be unsure if I am a believer or not in public, unless the subject comes up. Moderation is a virtue. Properly define any spectrum of opposites and you will find humans are happiest, or most willing to work together, when we exhibit the traits in the middle of the spectrum... when we're average.

When we're average, we're non-threatening. Hence, non-average is threatening. I leave the rest of my proof to current events.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Income Tax

This time of year my mind always wanders to the income tax. I just want to collect a few short thoughts, and comments are welcome.

A flat tax disproportionately burdens the poor. Yes, the percentages are the same, but who can more afford the flat 10 or 15 percent? The person making six figures, not the one below the poverty line. The distinguishing factor here is how we define subsistence.

That's why our income tax is called a progressive tax.

And it's a pain to file. But without withholding, the people put most at risk of defaulting on their tax bill, otherwise productive members of society if by meager means, would be thrown into debtor's prison. Or jail, I guess we don't have debtors prison anymore. Without withholdings, the poorest members of society would not receive an injection of "unexpected income" and people of modest means would be hit with an "unexpected debt" that may be hard to pay.

Don't mess with something if it ain't broke.

An Open Question

Why is it that narcissistic secular hedonist feel the need to mock the Holy Bible? I ask this not out of frustration, but out of sheer sadness.

Are they really that ignorant? Do they mock the works of Plato, Aristotle, and (what we know of) Socrates? Or is it just contemporary transcendental contemplation they make their target?

There is something to be gained from the contemplation of that beyond ourselves. Some of the aforementioned ignoramuses may, in fact, find themselves terribly clever and witty. It's a shame the greatest gift of intelligence should go to such a waste.

"I should've been a philosopher..."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Another Linguistic Musing

Since I'm taking elementary German and Spanish, I've been trying to figure out how to word things I say in normal conversation. Bad thing about that is (as if that is translatable), my grammar and vocabulary are too limited to express my thoughts completely.

Thinking about the ambiguous meaning of present tense in both languages, I pondered on a few English words I've found terribly interesting recently.

Since the past tense, in English, of "have" is "had" and sometimes I use "had" in place of "ought," is there another English verb with "had" as a correct conjugate, in any tense? Furthermore, in English I use the following words interchangably:

"could" with "can" or "able", "would" with "will", "should" with "ought"

So are they equivalent? What is the etymolgy of could/would/should and are they all related? In a foreign language, how do I express "could" except with "able?" &c.


And it's embarassing. "Would" is actually a past participle of "will," "could" of "can," and "should" of "shall." Simple enough, and to note "ought" is but a synonym to "shall" (as an interrogative only, or with intended action? Is "intended action" what we call a "subjunctive?")


since I'm in a pondering mood, how do I digram:

"I have had..." or furthermore "I should/would/could have had..."

in returning to my original thought?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Etymological Moment


Hypothesis: manu-facture; manu coming from manual, or hand and facture coming from factor (or inputs).

Econ-spin: labor (manu) + capital (factors) = product

Actual etymology: from Latin manus or "hand" and Latin facere or "to make"

To make with one's hands.

Monday, January 22, 2007

An Extension of Unions

So, Nathan was nice enough to point out that all the great economists say that unions are OK. That's fine, I don't care. In my current area of study, unions depress pay and fundamentally stifle the quality of the supply of labor. (Don't be verbose...)

For instance, in education, unions serve to create across-the-board equally scheduled pay based on tenure. Simultaneously, they advocate iron-clad job security, and even in states that do not have unions, the State does a good job of securing even pay and iron-clad security. This prevents us from paying people for their merit and firing the ones not worth paying.

The abolition of unions would increase wages for those better-suited for teaching and put some not-as-well-suited out of a job (but they don't need to be teaching our kids anyway). In other words (and this is important):

It would more-efficiently allocate wages.

As the science of economics seeks study the maximization of wealth through the efficient allocation of resources, this seems like a good step for policy-makers to take.

The extension of the argument, as suggested by Nathan: "The existence of unions, though beneficial in the short run, is ultimately detrimental to the individual." Brilliant! And almost Keynsian. But I won't tell any of your libby friends. Hush, hush.

My extension to his: "Yes, and unions are ultimately detrimental to society. As it is unfair to the individual, it is unfair to all collectively: the ones working for a depressed wage may be better suited for and earn more in another position, or at the very least will consume less of our resources; the ones not working in whatever position (teacher in my above example) may now have another option that replaces their first or even second choice of a career, changing the whole set of opportunity costs the individual weighs in the efficient allocation of his own fiscal or human capital."

A Note on Unions

If I dislike unions so much (and I do), would I join one? Hell, yes! Elaborate, you say... Fine, but I'm going to do what an economist does best and assume (and forgive the following jargon):

A1) Institutionalized collective bargaining does not increase efficiency in a labor market that can be treated as a commodity market. That is to say more elaborately, for quality-undifferentiated labor or unskilled labor, the labor may be assumed to be readily available and treatable as a classic commodity--only efficiently allocated when fully exposed to the the functions of a free market (given constant transportation costs).

A2) Unions exist and I can only talk about not-having-them in my theoretical econ-world.

The existence of unions works against labor market efficiencies and causes a total loss to society. However, it would be unwise for me not to exploit the system for personal gain. Therefore, a fallacy of composition occurs and Smith's invisible hand slaps us around a little bit.

Now for my crack-pot pet theory for the day (see previous post): labor unions are a byproduct of market failures and themselves failures of the organized labor market. Therefore, governments should protect me, nay all of society, from myself by banning unions. This will increase welfare, or at least keep me from hurting others due to my inability to comprehend the consequences of my actions of the inability to make the best decision for society as a whole due to imperfect information.

Note on Economic Fame

What does it take to make a good economist? Or at least a famous one?

Great economic insight, sometimes at par with contemporaries, sometimes exceptional ability... and one crack-pot theory to set yourself apart from the pack.

Seriously, Rothbard has a knack for explaining things with exquisite analogies. But his stance on currency? *Gag*

And Friedman, so wise, so omniscient in the field. Heralder and harbinger of the greatest truths of 20th century economics, and all at least 10 years before we all started believing him. But his stance on the Fed? I mean, he had to have read SOMETHING good about it!

Keynes gave me reason to participate in the electoral process. He showed that governments do matter, as the largest consumer in an economy. But I just can't touch EVERY market failure as a justification of his theories. There is a natural limit to how much government one can stand. Someone ask Pinochet... oh, never mind.

Oh, and Nash? Well, I guess you can be right about EVERYTHING. But not everyone has his unique grasp on reality.

Cheating: Jobs and Relationships

Without going into too much detail, please take the following scenario:

  1. Policemen need to be honest.
  2. The nature of their work exposes them to bribes: opportunities to "cheat."
  3. Their decision to cheat relies partly on the probability of getting caught, the amount of the bribe, and some sense of satisfaction (with themselves, their ethics, their job, etc.).
  4. Many less will cheat with a higher salary, but bribes may just become bigger to compensate.
  5. So, they may be kept from cheating by keeping a significant portion of their compensation out of their pockets until their entire career can be "certified" clean; that is, give a good pension to the deserving, good cop.
Now, it may not seem natural at first, but taking the scenario of a spouse, or commited one into account:

  1. Spouses need to be honest. Love one another. Be trustworthy. All that jazz.
  2. The nature of being a social animal exposes them to plenty of opportunities to "cheat." Define that however you wish.
  3. Their decision to cheat relies partly on the probability of getting caught, the reward for cheating (the attractiveness of the individual, their attentiveness, their gifts, etc.), and some sense of satisfaction (with themselves, their ethics, their relationship, etc.).
  4. Many less will cheat with a better looking mate, a higher combined income, better emotional security... but barring it all they may just cheat with an even further attractive mate. In the end, its all about morals. Why else would super-celebs cheat?
  5. So, then, what keeps one from cheating? A significant portion of compensation must be kept until after a clean record can be proven. Since gifts, income, and even beauty don't make much sense here, I am left an appearantly logical conclusion: give good couples a great reward. God will give us good "pensions" for displaying His love and commitment in our human endeavours on Earth.

A Note on Currency

It's really quite simple.

You can't eat gold... and you can't burn it. If the conservative conspiracy theorists and certain libertarian economists are right, and "the system" DOES fall apart, holding on to gold won't save you.

You see, its all about what the other guy has that you want. In that situation, he may not accept gold for food, because then he has to find someone that will take gold for the water he needs. So basically, in the absence of "money" in any form--a complete collapse of "the system," the transactions costs savings over the barter system are made irrelevant by the inconvenience of money in a time of crisis.

To put it another way: the other guy has you over his knee in a complete economic collapse. You are at his mercy. Take your gold and chew on it... or eat your oil. I don't care.

The Agency Problem in Public Education

My first attempt to publish this article ended in me writing a 12-page discussion of the topic as a whole. If anyone wishes to see the work-in-progress, e-mail me. Otherwise, here is about as concise as I could get it for lay readers.


I wish to expose the broken system of public education currently putting America at risk for a long, hard fall from super-powerdom. If selected to continue my research in this project, I will produce a detailed analysis of the agency problem in public education and its effect on the quality of our nation’s education.

I will start by taking a look at how to define the "agency problem" from corporate governance theory. Next, I will form an analogous definition for the problem in education, noting caveats and elaborating on my choices for analogies. I will then discuss the reasons our current system fails to solve these problems. Finally, I will propose hypotheses for research and possible methods.

The agency problem may be defined like this: a principal (
analogous to an employer) employs an agent to act in the principal's stead, that is, to make decisions in the absence of the principal; a conflict of interest arises in that the agent performs and makes decisions in his best interest, which can not be the same interests (though they may produce parallel decisions) when the agent is not also the principal. The agency problem, then, is the conflict of interests that arise from differing personalities (tastes, preferences, valuations, etc) of the principle and agent.

The table below is a brief summary of the agency problem applied to corporations and public education.


Public Education




Respective Interests




Board of Directors

School Administration

Home Consumption



Job Consumption




d(perks)/d(profit) is neg

d(doctrine)/d(knw) is neg4

Agency Problem

Above optimal perks

Above optimal doctrine


  1. If a CEO is in charge of maximizing profit, the agent who is directly charged with maximizing knowledge is the teacher. The school, then, as an institution, never enters the picture and can be thought of as the institutional "market" for knowledge transfer, where the principal’s role is as Grasso’s was to the NYSE.

  2. Just as a manager is in charge of maximizing profits, a teacher is charged with maximizing knowledge. Likewise, as a manager is in charge of maximizing firm value, a teacher is charged with maximizing the net-present-value of that child's future earnings (which will vary considerably across individuals and time).

  3. Whether it is to correct some past injustice or to ensure the survival of an epistemology, a teacher derives clear utility from this practice of indoctrination. These teachers value indoctrination in a way managers value their perks consumed.

  4. As knowledge is product of classroom activity, the marginal benefit to the student is increased analytical thinking skills. These skills make a pupil more competitive in labor markets and more productive as a worker, thus increasing his potential future earnings. “Affective teaching” (Sowell), or indoctrination reduces the development of independent thought and analytical skills, as consumption of perks decreases profit in a corporation.

The agency problem can be solved, or eased, in numerous ways by changing the agent's incentive structure directly, rewarding (or punishing) good (or bad) performance, and external incentives. Whereas an optimal combination of all these solutions can align the owners’ and manager’s interests, An optimal combination cannot be reached in public education. Direct incentives are only possible if the teacher teaches only her own children, becoming strictly a parent-teacher, and hence eliminating the agent problem. Performance-based incentives are currently restricted by teacher unions. External incentives are not implemented, save external constraint of behavior through curricula.

Why does the agency problem continue to plague our public schools? I propose two main reasons for the continuance of the status quo, the quality of educators and the unionization of teaching, and I argue that these two factors must necessarily change before methods of solving the agency problem may be applied.

I propose two main hypotheses. Due to the inability to build standard direct and performance-based incentives, the only option left is to restrict the agent's behavior; the imposition of curricula, standardized tests, and teacher accountability occur in the public sector, where the other solutions to the agency problem are restricted.

  1. I argue that the private sector, where performance-based pay and real threat of dismissal, will provide a higher quality education or at least deflate salaries whilst maintaining status quo, freeing up resources for more efficient (or profitable) uses.

  2. I argue that the constraint of teacher behavior in the public sector improves education, but not to the same degree that performance-based pay and dismissal incentive would--that is to say, the alternate method of constricting behavior does not fully compensate for the lack of standard solutions to the agency problem. I expect to observe this result because the constraint of behavior prevents other methods of compensation and incentive-building to be chosen optimally, given they could be chosen.

A simple means comparison between a control group and experimental group may reveal the most information. The closest to a natural experiment we find in education is the marked differences between public schools (unionized, bureaucratic, and monopolistic) and private schools (competitive labor market, competitive market for students).

I wish to test the differences between historically “indoctrinable” subjects and “pure” subjects both in public and private schools. I expect the stringency of curricula in history, literature, and philosophy, for example, to be higher than that in curricula in mathematics and science in the public schools. I also expect the constraints on teacher behavior to be absolutely smaller in private schools in all subjects.

Further research would allow me to develop more robust methods for testing my hypothesis, and may allow me to develop a theme more consistent and relevant to competition and choice in education.