Thursday, September 29, 2011

What is Economics?

Jacob Viner is rumored to have said that "Economics is what economists do." This paragraph from the Economist suggests Viner is right now more than ever.
Economics has fragmented in the past 15-20 years, both in subject and technique. No aspect of human behaviour is off-limits and a miscellany of methods are in vogue, adding laboratory experiments, randomised trials and computer simulations to the traditionalist’s blackboard and chalk. Many of the brightest stars in economics parade their scepticism, insisting on how little economists really know (or indeed how little real economics they know). The discipline is more exciting, ingenious and intrepid as a result. But it is also unruly and untidy. Some economists are still patiently adding to a cairn of knowledge. Many are throwing rocks.
What do you think? Is there a core of economics that has remained largely undisturbed over the last 15-20 years? Is the miscellany of methods as widely accepted as the above paragraph suggests? And, if so, is it a passing fad or a paradigm shift?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011 Gus Rankings: Week 4

Here are this week's Gus Rankings. Not a surprise: LSU leading the pack at 6 points. Definitely a surprise: South Florida right there with LSU at 6 points as well!

And a new challenger has emerged for the last position-- Justin Ross' Indiana Hoosiers! They are in sole possession of the last spot in this week's Gus rankings, securing -6 points for themselves thus far. Then again, losing to Ball State, North Texas and Virginia will do that to a team.

And, as we head fully into conference play, the conferences themselves rank as follows (average team ranking provided):

1. Big 12: 2.3
2. SEC: 1.5
3. Pac-12: 1
4. Big East: 0.63
5. ACC: 0.42
6. Big 10: 0
6. Mountain West: 0
8. Sun Belt: -1
9. Conference USA: -1.08
10. MAC: -1.58
11. WAC: -2.5

Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 Gus Rankings: Week 3

This week's Gus Rankings are here; Texas retains the top spot and is joined by USC. Memphis again claims the bottom spot all by its lonesome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blockquoting X

X = Lawrence H. White on the Euro zone:
By constraining himself against temptation, Odysseus achieves a better outcome than if he had left himself with moment-by-moment discretion. In light of recent news, it is ironic that the man who knew to bind himself against short-sighted behavior was Greek.

Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 Gus Rankings: Week 2

After only two weeks of games, Gus has put its flag in the sand and stoically proclaimed both the best and worst team in the nation. Our first rankings of the season can be found here.

Texas claims the top spot as the only team with a perfect Gus Ranking. Texas slipped by BYU this weekend after defeating Rice to open the year. In their other games, BYU defeated Ole Miss and Rice defeated Purdue-- thereby earning Texas the top spot.

Memphis finds itself on the other end of perfection-- the only team with the worst possible score. Memphis lost to Mississippi State and Arkansas State, and Mississippi State themselves lost to Auburn and Arkansas State fell to Illinois.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Win projections and regression to the mean

I get a kick out of win projections regardless of sport; not to pick on Peter King, but this is just the most recent in a long, long, long-standing tradition.

King picks no team in the NFL to have a record better than 12-4 and no team to have a record worse record than 3-13. At face value that may not seem like anything bizarre, but that would be a truly historic level of parity. Not since 2003 have either of those predictions come true-- no team finished below 3-13 during that season-- and the last time both of those conditions were met was in 1993. Basically, he's predicting a level of parity not seen in professional football in about twenty years.

When computer models run these things, you tend to find most likely outcomes. The problem is, when you've got 30+ samples of teams, something fairly unlikely is probably going to happen to somebody. There was a projection for baseball wins a few years back that predicted something like 8 teams to have exactly .500 records. Not only had that never happened (or even close), but the total number of exactly .500 teams was something around 8 over the previous 10 years.

I can understand why someone would predict this-- someone's more likely to remember a significant error (you picked my team to go 1-15 and they made the playoffs!) than a pretty-close prediction (boy, they sure showed you-- 11-5 instead of 9-7!). Nonetheless, I'd love to see someone step out on a limb-- and I'd have no problem with them trumpeting their prediction at the end of the season if it ended up correct.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Blockquoting X

X = Charles Goodhart.
In some countries which have suffered hyperinflation, ‘dollarisation’ has occurred, as in Argentina, Peru and--to some extent--Russia, and similarly with respect to the Deutschmark in Yugoslavia [...] What is remarkable in these cases is how high the inflation tax rate on domestic currencies has to climb before the public switches to an alternative foreign currency--although once such a switch has occurred, it does not reverse easily or quickly, and when the public does decide to abandon the inflating domestic paper currency, the alternative, privately chosen, good money can virtually drive out the ‘bad’ official money.
I've written a little on the network nature of money. In the future, expect to see many more posts on spontaneous switching between currencies.

2011 Gus Rankings: Version 3.0

The good folks here at The Perfect Substitute will be generating the Gus Rankings for a third time during the 2011 college football season. For the uninitiated, the original methodology is here. Basically, we generate an objective ranking of all FBS teams based solely on wins and losses.

By virtue of the calculations, a ranking cannot be generated until after the second week of games, as any team with a victory this week necessarily gained it over a team that does have any victories (all 1-0 teams defeated an 0-1 team), so there are no points to add for victories (nor points to remove for losses). There will be a lot of clustering for the first few weeks, but watch how your favorite team separates itself from the rest throughout the season!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Liberty Dollars Subject to Seizure

As many of you know, Bernard von NotHaus, the founder of Liberty Services, was arrested, charged, and convicted for his role in offering minted coins, gold and silver certificates, and electronic account balances intended to circulate as money. Specifically, he was found in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 485 (coining metal), Title 18 U.S.C. § 486 (passing coins as current money), and Title 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US). NotHaus currently awaits sentencing and faces up to 15 years in jail, a $250,000 fine, and the possible forfeiture of $7 million worth of minted coins and precious metals seized in an FBI/secret service raid on his offices in November 2007.

Up until now, the focus has been on NotHaus and others immediately connected to Liberty Services--the operative phrase being "until now." As Coin World reports, Liberty Dollars held by others may be considered contraband and, as such, subject to seizure.
[Assistant special agent Glen] Kessler could not provide a blanket position the Secret Service would take toward those owning Liberty Dollars, whether one piece or significantly more.

He said if a Secret Service agent witnessed something considered to be contraband, such as Liberty Dollars, they would be duty-bound to confiscate it.
What a shame.

See also: White, Lawrence H. 2000. "A Competitor for the Fed? Alternative Currencies Face Difficulties in Achieving Critical Mass." The Freeman.

Litter in Space: Free-Rider Problem of the Future?

From the AP:

Space junk has made such a mess of Earth's orbit that experts say we may need to finally think about cleaning it up.

That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology - cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a new report on the problem Thursday.

The immediate question which comes to mind is who should pay. One possibility is the original litter bugs. The AP story suggests that half of that is China. Another possibility is those who value a clean orbit in the future. After all, Earth's gravitational will presumably cause most of the litter to burn-up in the atmosphere, eventually. It seems like many of the industries dependent on satellites would be among the candidates willing to pay for a cleaner orbit in the nearer future, but the temptation to free ride would seem extraordinary. In time, it may prove more cost effective to produce satellites capable of deflecting the debris.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.