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.

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?