Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Trump Money Drop

Perhaps more WWE fans will watch The Apprentice now.

But did the prices at the concession stands rise? And did those closest to the aisles secure the biggest benefit?

I wonder what percentage of the money was saved. Did local interest rates fall?

Someone should be tracking this.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Incentives Matter

One of my favorite examples of this basic economic concept is that drivers can be made more cautious by placing daggers in their steering wheels. It's a powerful example because everyone can relate. It also has symmetry, which allows one to draw out the implications for increasing safety in cars - namely that seat belts may actually lead to more accidents. (Economists Russ Sobel and Todd Nesbit have a great paper on Nascar that investigates this concept.)

This post is not intended to teach about incentives. I'm actually petitioning all of my loyal readers for their help. I originally heard this example attributed to Gordon Tullock, but I've seen other authors cited for this creative tale as well. I'm collecting a list of people who this example has been attributed to. So, if you know of any citations, please post them in the comments or email me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Don't tread on me!

This world could use a few more Ed Browns. Here he is in his own words.

In short, Ed Brown doesn't want to pay property taxes, so he went ahead and stopped paying them, and now the government wants his money. He's currently holed up in his evidently self-sufficient property, and what he doesn't have he gets from supporters who come and visit him every day. Both sides insist that this won't turn into another Waco, but I can't see this having any middle ground ending-- either a) the government leaves him be, or b) the government goes in a forcefully takes him. Cordial daily conversations can't be the long term solution. Sadly, I bet the second option will happen-- it sets too much of a precedent to let one person off the hook.

(Though at worst, I don't think it would end up being on the scale of what happened at Waco.)

A few thoughts:

- Though this a federal issue, the New Hampshire state motto is "Live free or die."

- Some people say "stuff your sorries in a sack," others say "social justice"-- this article contributes "Of course, any group of libertarians has a thousand different opinions." Guesses as to what this could be getting at are encouraged.

- Was Gandhi a libertarian? I've heard that he wasn't, but I don't have a solid hold on that one. If he wasn't, then the "Gandhi-admiring protesters" are really missing the boat. Nice of them to make some campfires, though.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Logical Global Warming Initiatives?

As I wallow in the pure, undriven West Virginia snow for the last few days, and likely for the foreseeable future, I wonder: Where have all the global warming alarmists gone?

Here they are! And what's this-- market-based solutions?! The group is USCAP, and their report is called A Call to Action, which focuses on, basically, creating tradeable pollution vouchers and encouraging exchange, "generating a price signal resulting in market incentives that stimulate investment and innovation in the technologies that will be necessary to achieve our environmental goal." No really-- people that care about the environment wrote this! Don't let the logical nature of it throw you off.

From a press release from USCAP: "USCAP consists of market leaders Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E, and PNM Resources, along with four leading non-governmental organizations -- Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and World Resources Institute."

Of interest in the CNN article from above-- all four companies listed were down about the same percentage in the market today.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Here’s an ironic line from Thomas Friedman’s 1989 book, From Beirut to Jerusalem:

"In my day, Abdul was the fixer for both Newsweek and UPI Television News, and he was the most delightful and lovable operator I have ever known. His long career as a fixer finally came to an abrupt close in 1985, when Newsweek and UPITN sent to Beirut some bureaucratic-minded reporters who did not understand that in Wild West Beirut one does not hold to the accounting standards of Arthur Andersen."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Anyone have a working definition of "Social Justice?"

When it comes to frustrating things in life, not much tops arguing with someone over economic policies and that "social justice" needs to be considered. Can someone tell me what the hell that means? To me, when I hear that, I think of the conversation between Jerry and George when George continues to use the phrase "You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!" and Jerry finally gives up trying to figure out what he's trying to express. I've yet to get the same definition of "social justice" twice, and I've gotten the most satisfying answers from people who don't support any explicit goal of "social justice" in economic policy making. As far as I'm concerned, unless anything changes, whenever anyone writes about "social justice," quotation marks should be mandatory.

Ultimately, I think people are confusing "social justice" as a preferred ends instead of a preferred means. By definition, equality in means will yield equitable results. The definition of "equality" and "equitable" can be as elusive as "social justice," but taking a snapshot of a social outcome and claiming a violation of "social justice" is completely missing the boat.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it. I love the first sentence: "Social justice refers to conceptions of justice applied to an entire society." Beautiful in its explanatory power, that's what that sentence is.

Turns out that there's a Centre for Social Justice, with the beautifully socialist tagline of "Narrowing the gap in income, wealth and power."

Here's a fun piece concerning Hayek and "social justice."

Here's a group of Social Justice Scholars.

And for what it's worth, I've been told that Milton Friedman "didn't do enough for 'social justice.'"

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quote of the day: Thomas Sowell

"The next time somebody says that the government is forced to intervene in the economy to protect the poor, ask why the government is forcing taxpayers to subsidize municipal golf courses, the ballet, opera and - the biggest subsidy of all - surrounding affluent communities with vast amounts of expensive 'open space.'"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cannon fodder

If you need some ammunition against your state, this is a good place to look, courtesy of Joab Corey.

I can't help but to get the feeling that some of these are fictitious; nonetheless, how is reading about laws against chickens laying eggs ever a bad thing?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Your state legislatures at work

New state laws!

Some of my favorites:

- Alaska moving to prevent bullying in schools. A victory in lunch money property rights!

- Nurses from other countries must pass an English language proficiency requirement to practice in South Carolina. (They also moved to stop harrassment and intimidation in schools.) A victory for American nurses AND lunch money property rights!

- Live music cover acts in Illinois must be clearly not representing themselves as the originals. (The pros and cons...) A victory for the Styx of the world!

And, of course, the typical minimum wage nonsense...

Country for sale!

Just when you think there's no place in this world to hedge out your own existence, there comes this gem of a story.

Here's the official Sealand website; here's the Wikipedia workup.

In a world of vast international waters, could an entrepreneur begin building micronations of all variations, size and institution, and then sell them off? It could be like Tiebout on a country-wide scale. I'm sure existing countries wouldn't prefer it (or at least not the fair traders, anyway...), but which one would take up the collective torch, incur the public relations nightmare to try and stop this from happening?

As a currency collector, I think a Sealand dollar may now top the list. I wonder if there are any plans for PayPal to add that currency to their collection in the near future...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Minority Report and the Hand Formula

Tom Cruise's sci-fi film Minority Report portrays a world where murders can be seen in advance and prevented. Thanks to the "pre-cogs" who make this possible, Washington D.C. of 2052 has not had a murder in six years. The only attempted murders to occur now are those taking place in the heat of passion, for intentional planning to murder is easily identified and stopped. Individuals are arrested by the Department of Pre-Crime and punished with many years in a comatose state.

It seems that the disturbing twist to this film is that individuals are punished for horrible crimes that they had yet to commit. Murder should be punished, but should people be punished who have yet to murder but surely would? The movie attempts to draw forth insights about free-will and punishment of people's thoughts rather than actions. The more I think about it, however, the more disturbing twist to the story is the failure to heed the Hand Formula.

The Hand Formula is a calculus of negligence:

"The Hand Formula finds negligence when the actor's burden (B) is less than the probability (p) of harm, multiplied by the degree of loss (L). B < pL ."

Thus the Hand Formula provides a guide for punishing crimes. To dissuade a particular crime, the legal system can manipulate either the punishment when apprehended or the probability of apprehension to set an appropriate price for committing the crime.

The basis of Minority Report is that that the probability of apprehension for murder is 100%. But if murders of passion are stopped before they occur 100% of the time, then the punishment should approach zero.

Perhaps what is disturbing about Minority Report are not the questions of free-will and cognition that it raises, but the deviation from rules of efficiency that the lengthy punishment respresents.

Imagine a world where "pre-cogs" stop murders 100% of the time and the "pre-criminals" are put in a "kill-tank" (similar to a drunk-tank) for the duration of a day. Is this disturbing? I think not. The rare instances in people's lives when they lose control are stopped before serious damage is done. Repeat offenders may be forced to attend therapy of some sort. Murder does not occur. This sounds like a nice society indeed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Correlation is not Causality

In their article "Economic Development and Reconstruction on the Gulf After Katrina", Waugh and Smith argue that:

The duration of closure is also negatively related to long-term recovery. The longer the business remains closed, the less likely it is to recover in the long term. This result suggests that businesses need to open as soon as possible after the disaster to have a better chance of recovery.
This conclusion may or may not be true, but it doesn't seem warranted. Couldn't there be a third factor that affects both the time to reopen and the long term success of a business? It seems likely that healthy businesses are able to rebound quicker. To implement a policy of encouraging all businesses to "open as soon as possible" will do little more than force weak businesses into the marketplace before they are ready. Correlation is not Causality.