Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Millionaires in your state

In need of a quick Econometrics paper? There's plenty to be done with this.

I think only Mississippi undercuts the Mountain State, but I only clicked on the light colored ones I could discern from the white background. (And why the avant-garde arrangement?) Also-- I wonder how much of an impact Wal-Mart has on Arkansas? Rate-wise, I think Hawaii is on top-- California, of course, dominates by sheer volume.

Edited: A classmate of mine from South Africa has informed me that The Perfect Substitute in Afrikaans is Die Perfekte Plaasvervanger. So, you know, TPS or DPP. Either way.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

My Skarbek-esque post: Federalist 11

So I did last night what so many other Americans do every Friday night-- read the Federalist Papers. #11 caught my eye-- as did Hamilton's description of tariffs, trade and politics. He starts with the following hypothetical: "Suppose...we had a government in America capable of excluding Great Britain...from all of our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics?" After stating that the arguments of the day posited little to no effect on Britain's policies, Hamilton lets fly this nugget:

"A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will justify a belief that the real disadvantages to Great Britain from such a state of things, conspiring with the prepossessions of a great part of the nation in favor of the American trade and with the importunities of the West India islands, would produce a relaxation in her present system and would let us into the enjoyment of privileges in the markets of those islands and elsewhere, from which our trade would derive the most substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government, and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see themselves altogether supplanted in our trade."
Now, I'm not an expert on this period of history, but after reading over this I would presume that Britain had some sort of existing trade policy against the United States at the time; nonetheless, it's intriguing that the path to remedying the situation (in Hamilton's eyes) is to hammer Britain with our own trade-impeding policies. I'm reading this as saying that if we can hurt Britain bad enough, then we can convince them to reduce their trade policies and everything will end up peachy in the end.

It begs the question: Is Hamilton the first hippy? Is there any reason to believe, especially given the recent history at the time between Britain and the U.S., that an aggressive trade policy is going to lead to a greater degree of openness in the long run between the two nations? It's not to say that this situation couldn't happen-- but how could this be put forth as the deductive outcome?

Some other choice lines from Federalist 11...

Hamilton on his hopes for America in the world's economy:

"By a steady adherence to the Union, we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate."

Hamilton on neutrality:

"The rights of neutrality will only be respected when they are defended by an adequate power. A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral."

(Wasn't Switzerland respected as neutral in World War II?)

Hamilton on the importance of military security:

"It would be in the power of the maritime nations, availing themselves of our universal impotence, to prescribe the conditions of our political existence; and as they have a common interest in being our carriers, and still more in preventing our being theirs, they would in all probability combine to embarrass our navigation in such a manner as would in effect destroy it and confine us to passive commerce."

Hamilton on the composition of foreign trade:

"The variety, not less than the value, of products for exportation contributes to the activity of foreign commerce. It can be conducted upon much better terms with a large number of materials of a given value than with a small number of materials of the same value, arising from the competitions of trade and from the fluctuations of markets."

An intriguing read.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


A classmate put forth this conundrum in my Public Choice class this morning:

Let's say you are in a three-way duel, and all three of you have a gun with an unlimited amount of bullets. Your two opponents hit with an accuracy of 90% and 80%, and you shoot with a success rate of 50%. Sequential shooting rules apply, and it's your turn. What do you do? He was convinced of a set course of action that would emerge in the short-run; I'm not entirely sold on the idea. I'm curious what everyone else thinks. I also think the far more interesting scenario is if everyone has to choose at once, instead of sequentially.

I then got to thinking about a more general scenario-- a three-way duel, and everyone in the group has one bullet. Accuracy rates would matter at the limit, but anything away from that and I think risk preference plays a bigger role. Even more so in a four-person duel with one bullet apiece-- accuracy matters at the limit, but now you've got risk preferences mixed in with group sanction effects, though group sanction exists only insofar as there is more than one period to make decisions (all-at-once decision making with the option of inaction).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The War on Drugs

Since every Wednesday is humor day at CNN.com, I figure to add in a thought or two concerning their chief comedian's column today concerning the War on Drugs. (It's capitalized now, because it's not a war unless you capitalize the name like you would for the title of an essay.)

One of my professors, Russell Sobel, has a great comment whenever this topic comes up: Couldn't you categorize a number of the "costs" of the War on Drugs (or any of a number of government social programs) as benefits? Dobbs notes that nearly 8,000 people are trying drugs every day-- that's a cost? Do you think the people trying them view it as a cost? It's like writing a piece on the tragedy of teenage driving deaths and saying that it's a cost that 5,000 new teenagers get a driver's license every day.

Dobbs also reports that illicit drug use costs the U.S. nearly $200 billion dollars per year. No word on the breakdown of that, but I'd bet a healthy share of it is due to the fact that the U.S. chooses to define certain drugs as illegal and needs to enforce that. Fair enough-- not that it's just, but it is a cost to the American taxpayer. But how come we never see estimates of the benefits of drugs? There is surplus in every black market deal, right? Despite the vast inefficiency and outright liberty-crushing War on Drugs, couldn't it be that drug use still generates a net gain to society? I know benefits estimates have been put forth, but I don't have links to any of them at the moment. Feel free to pass them along.

With regards to drugs and crime, yes, reducing drug use reduces crime because the government has defined drug use as a crime. If we defined wearing blue shirts as a crime, we'd have a lot of people committing that crime tomorrow. Once we started enforcing the law, people would substitute away from them. Yay-- we've reduced crime! People then point to crime indirectly related to drugs, such as assault, but there have been studies that have shown that the net impact of declaring drugs illegal has increased crime, not decreased it. After all, without a sound court system to enforce contract disputes in drug transactions, groups must provide their own enforcement.

And to give you a good sense of the excess burden of all of this: the War on Drugs Clock.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Your daily nonsense

From CNN:

"Even with exports growing, the deficit was a drag on the economy, as it meant that every man, woman and child spent an average of about $7,300 on imported goods and services during the year, turning to factories overseas rather than U.S. producers for the products they wanted."


Monday, February 12, 2007

Dictatorship rankings

It's time for Parade's dictatorship rankings again! The top two are the same from last year, though the third, Sayyid Ali Khamenei of Iran, jumped up to #3 from #9 only a year ago. New to the rankings: Choummaly Sayasone of Loas (at #16), Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (#18), Paul Biya of Cameroon (#19) and Vladimir Putin of Russia (at #20). The above link, if you scroll to the bottom of the page, has the previous rankings since they started them in 2003. There's certainly a paper to be had there.

As I pointed out last year, the U.S. has given money to nearly all of these rulers, which is interesting in that the U.S. likes to further the belief that they procure aid only in the support of democracy. Aid clearly doesn't work, but it's here to stay, so the question is how to improve upon the situation. Part of me thinks bribing dictators to incorporate good policies might work, but if the bribes get high enough, it could turn into a one-shot game that wouldn't lead to any sort of long-run well-being.