Monday, January 31, 2005

A quickie 

Students at the University of Central Oklahoma want to hold a "Straight Pride Week."

"The general gist is that if you are a straight student on campus be proud, be loud, this is your time to shine," said college Republican Kyle Houts.

The group has posted fliers on campus that read, "we're here, we're conservative,
we're out."

Members of the Gay Alliance for Tolerance and Equality say they consider the College Republican's celebration an attack on gay and lesbian students.

"What is there to say about it, 'I'm proud, and I'm straight and I guess white,' I don't know?" said GATE member Jennifer Rodriguez. "I think they definitely are being discriminatory because there's probably a lot of gay Republicans out there."

Italics added. (H/T: Political Correctness Watch.)

Intolerent of even moderates 

I read the student paper too, and this letter really hacked me off.

In the article "Professor predicts a 'bumpy ride,'" Chad Eldred tries to predict what the next four years might be like. On one hand, Eldred quotes Professor Greaves who says things may go one way or another depending on how various events play out. On the issue of social security "reform," Eldred chose to speak with Professor Gleisner.

Gleisner clearly stands extremely to the right on this issue, as his remarks about taxation, social security and the deficit indicate. Perhaps Eldred needs to learn a thing or two about balanced coverage. It is extremely irresponsible of the Chronicle to print such a one-sided view of what might be the most important decision to be made in the next four years.

Sarnath Ramnath
Computer Science

Prof. Gleisner works in my department and I consider him a friend as well as a colleague. I don't think of him as an extreme right-winger particularly on fiscal issues, but I did not see his comments in the article online so I had to track them down. Here's what Prof. Ramnath thinks is "extremely to the right" on Social Security.
Another agenda item is the reformation of the Social Security system. President Bush is proposing to privatize the system and Richard Gleisner, an economice professor at SCSU, said that he believes privatizing Social Security is the best option. Gleisner also said that no matter what, the system needs to change.

"Americans are very suspicious of the privatizing of Social Security, but something has to be done with our current program," Gleisner said. "Tax revenues, in the not too distant future, will be insufficient to cover benefits and that will only intensify as the baby boomers retire."

The current deficit has also been a hot topic through the country and Gleisner said that there is really no consensus about how the deficit will affect the economy.

"There is disagreement among economists about what the deficit does to the economy," Gleisner said. "Hoever, there is no evidence that the large deficit is slowing the economy right now, and interest rates are very low despite the deficit." (From the 1/27/05 edition, p. 6, not available online.)

Now I might quibble around the edges of what Dick has been quoted here. And Dick will certainly say that the writer left out many of the caveats in his answers to these questions. (Answering questions about economics to reporters is a bit of an art; few reporters get your analytical points and numbers make their eyes glaze over.) But to characterize those views as extreme right-wing is patently absurd and part of the intolerance with which our Bolshevik faculty treat anything that disagrees with their worldview.

Dick also said,
By 2030, there will be twice as many elderly as there are today, with only two people working for every person drawing Social Security. After 2032, contributions from payroll taxes will only cover 75 cents on the dollar of current benefits. So we must act, and act now, to save Social Security.

Oh wait, sorry. That wasn't Dick. That was Bill Clinton.

Reviewing student newspapers in pajamas 

Still in my P.J.'s, this morning I checked out SCSU's student newspaper on line. Featured was an article entitled "Free speech under debate," written by an aspiring young MSM wanna-be.

In the article the student reporter reviewed the thoughts delivered in a public forum by a representative of St. Cloud State University President Roy Saigo, and concluded with these unquestioned thoughts:

�When asked what she thought was the greatest threat to free speech on campus and in general, Zemek de Dominguez expressed her sentiments. 'Speaking for myself, and not for the University,� Zemek de Dominguez said, �I believe it's the current political situation and our president.� �
Sheesh, where should we begin? Let's assume for starters that F. Anne Zemek de Dominguez was referring here to President Bush, rather than to President Saigo.

Regardless, to insure free speech here on our campus, is it not incumbent on all of us, especially on future members of the �fourth estate,� to question the assertions made by all, regardless of whether or not we may agree with their political persuasions? For example, would not the reporter have done a more credible reporting job by including in this article answers to the following two most obvious questions that should have been posed to F. Anne Zemek de Dominguez?

�Why do you hold such a belief?�

�Can you cite for our readers specific policies endorsed by President Bush that threaten free speech on campus?�

Gulp, let's hope that CBS News is not recruiting for Dan Rather's replacement here at SCSU.

Even rich guys do dumb stuff 

So what are we supposed to make of both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett betting against the U.S. dollar? I'm with HedgeFundGuy:
Gates and Buffet need to know that 1) the dollar is already undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis vis-a-vis Europe and close with the Yen (see the latest Big Mac Index) and 2) only revisions to current deficit projections will hurt the dollar. Instead, they look at the current deficits (in the upturn of a business cycle), and see disequilibrium that can only be fixed by a falling dollar, neglecting the existing knowledge and foresight of the FX speculators.
The word is 'hubris'. Hopefully these two didn't bet the farm.

al-Qloushi discussion moved 

I moved the discussion of the al-Qloushi interview to the NARN site, as it pertains to the interview we did with him on Saturday. I would prefer further discussion to go there for the benefit of our audience, thank you.

The Yushchenkos on 60 Minutes: "To die is not very original" 

Christiane Amanpour did a piece on 60 Minutes last night on Viktor Yushchenko's election and poisoning in Ukraine. It was nice to see both Viktor and Kathy on screen, and he looked like he was much more relaxed than the earlier videos I'd seen of him during the days on the Maidan. An emailed transcript from the Action Ukraine Report indicates that Yushchenko still thinks it possible the Russians did it.

The attempt to eliminate Yushchenko is as Byzantine as Kiev�s skyline, filled with plots and potential villains. One theory is that he was poisoned by Ukraine�s security services, the old KGB, because just before he fell so gravely ill, he had been invited to dinner by the security chiefs. Yushchenko and his hosts shared crayfish, salad and a few beers, and ironically they had been meeting to discuss the death threats against him.

Ukraine�s security services deny they had anything to do with the poisoning. Their director had in fact been helping the Yushchenko camp.

Does Yushchenko know who did this to him? "I have no doubts this was by my opponents in the government, that's who would benefit the most from my death," says Yushchenko.

But there is still the question of how it was done. One way to solve it is to trace the poison. And some people in Yushchenko's camp think that it came from a Russian chemical weapons lab.

"Dioxin like this is produced in four or five military labs in Russia, America, and a few other countries," says Yushchenko. "Our security services have informed me how this material got into Ukraine, but that evidence is now with our general prosecutor, who eventually must answer this question."

They must also examine another plot on Yushchenko�s life. Ukraine�s security services say a powerful car bomb, targeting Yushchenko�s headquarters, was discovered during the presidential campaign. Two Russian nationals are being interrogated.

Spokesmen for the Russian security services would not comment on either case, but President Vladimir Putin�s role during the election remains controversial. He openly backed the handpicked successor of the previous regime, coming to Kiev twice to lend his support.

"President Putin supported your opponent during the election. How do you reconcile with him," asks Amanpour.

"I'll give him my hand, and I say, 'Vladimir Vladimirovich, let�s forget the past and think of the future,'" says Yushchenko.

This week he did just that, greeting Putin on his first trip abroad after his inauguration.

"Everyone now understands only Ukrainians have the right to choose Ukraine�s president," says Yushchenko. "Our president is not elected in Moscow, or anywhere else."

Those of us who've known him for awhile know that Viktor speaks with great rhetorical flourish. Because I do not speak Ukrainian (and just a little Russian) I often miss these flourishes, but the translator didn't with the end of the piece.

"A lot of people asked me, 'How did you deal with it,' and my answer was always my husband�s alive. My children are alive, I'm alive," says Yushchenko's wife, Katherine. "It was such a small episode in a huge revolution. Generations of Ukrainians, you could say centuries of Ukrainians, have dreamed and have fought, and have died for a chance to be right where we are right now."

"When I heard that millions were praying for me, it went straight to my heart," says
Yushchenko. "But I also felt an obligation to live. To die is not very original, but to live and carry on -- that�s special."

OK then. Carpe diem.

UPDATE: This article from Transitions Online sounds as if Yushchenko hasn't exactly buried the shaska just yet.
Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled Russian tycoon and would-be nemesis of Vladimir Putin, announced on 28 January that he plans to settle in Ukraine within a matter of months. Speaking to the Russian news website, he said he was confident the new Ukrainian leadership would not extradite him to Russia, where he is wanted on charges of fraud.

Wanna bet Berezovsky has a little information to share with Yushchenko? Boris better be careful where he eats.

Looks like we made it 

And yes, I'm hearing that stupid song in my head, after I saw that the news of the St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report's new relationship with the St. Cloud Times had made the paper's editorial page yesterday. We will be front and center of a new publication called "ROI Central Minnesota".

Several pages of the ROI � Return on Investment � will be familiar to many local managers: The St. Cloud Area Quarterly Business Report, researched and written by St. Cloud State University economics professors King Banaian and Richard MacDonald. We'll handle production of the report and deliver it in a timely manner.

The material will continue to be the quality index and economic forecast produced quarterly by SCSU St. Cloud State in conjunction with the St. Cloud Area Economic Development Partnership.

Since 1996, the QBR has been the only comprehensive report providing insight into Central Minnesota's economic future. It's shaped by your voice in the form of local survey results.

There was also a 3/4 page ad in the front section of the paper for it. So consider this full disclosure: I write something that the Times prints and sells. We have been told, however, that we alone will decide the content of what goes in the QBR portion of ROI.

And yes, Francophones, we get the joke on my name.

This has been in the works for a few months but we only got the commitment to it earlier this month. I'm pleased because moving the production side of QBR to the Times frees Rich and I to do more things with it. We should have a new one out in early April.

Did Moyers crib his editorial? 

MOBsters are kinda cranky about Bill Moyers' screed in the STrib yesterday, and Nihilist in Golf Pants is calling a fiskwa. From an unexpected source, Liz at Blonde Moment has posted that perhaps Mr. Moyers has lifted whole sentences from another source without appropriate attribution. Not exactly a fisking, but it's a start.

Liz and her husband are spending more time together right now, but she should come out and blog more.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Slight change 

You will note that I've moved some stuff around on the right column. The archives move up, and a separate hard-code of the Minnesota Organization of Blogs (list stolen from Fraters) comes next. I think I cleaned out all the dupes in the Blogrolling list. I'd be delighted to set up a MOB alliance blogroll that could easily transfer to everyone's blog as they see fit, if only I knew how to do that.

If you've missed the MOB list and should be on, please let me know and I'll change the list. If there's a test for whether you get on the list, I have no idea. Certainly attendance of at least one MOB function is prima facie evidence of membership. A Thursday night Keegan's trivia sheet will do just fine as well. Thanks to all of you for making MOB events so much fun.

Friday, January 28, 2005

On bended knee 

To bed I go, praying for Ed's First Mate to get her pancreas transplant. Please join me.

I thank God for listening to our prayers. I ask God that His will be done and to look kindly over the Morrisseys, that their prayers are answered as they await a transplant. I pray that if it is Your will, that the donor's pancreas is a match, and I pray for the donor's family in their time of grief, Amen.

UPDATE: His will was to have them wait for another donor.

Exploded systems 

Before bed, let me post this quote from Adam Smith:
The greater part of universities have not even been very forward to adopt those improvements after they were made; and several of those learned societies have chosen to remain, for a long time, the sanctuaries in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices found shelter and protection after they had been hunted out of every other corner of the world. In general, the richest and best endowed universities have been the slowest in adopting those improvements, and the most averse to permit any considerable change in the established plan of education.
(The Wealth of Nations, V.1.162)
This quote was part of a statement by Dartmouth economist Meir Kohn in introducing Daniel Pipes, calling it a great day for intellectual diversity.

Sadly, little has changed. In our generation, the "exploded system" is marxism. And our universities are indeed its last sanctuary. Neo-marxist notions set the parameters of "political correctness" on campus-- the evils of capitalism and colonialism and the sins of America and Israel.

H/T: Instapundit.

A stopped tenure is wrong twice a career? 

I agree with Craig Newmark: This story just gets weirder by the moment. We reported twice on Prof. Steven Roberds last month, when his denial of tenure at Southern Utah University sparked a student protest. David Tufte has uncovered that it's deja vu all over again.

The student protest website says it all: Only in Utah - that reddest of red states - can a popular liberal professor be fired. And only in Utah - a state viewed as a theocracy by much of the country - can "they" get away with this.

But here's the scoop. This has happened before - different university, different year, same professor, and a similar pattern of protest by students.

Yes, you read that correctly. Seven years ago, Stephen Roberds was let go by the University of North Alabama in the midst of his tenure process, and student protests broke out to support him without visible support from other faculty.
Tufte uses the campus paper at UNA to show the similarities, which are remarkable. I think Tufte has been very careful and exhaustive with the documentation, and while he doesn't draw a strong conclusion he does say
I'm going to make the claim that this list of similarities is long enough that it did not occur by chance. Read what you like into that.
I said when the story broke that we didn't have the whole story. Tufte has gotten us closer.

On NARN tomorrow... 

Tomorrow on NARN we get a chance to visit with Ahmad al-Qloushi, who was a student at Foothill College in San Jose, CA, who wrote an essay the result of which was his professor telling him to seek psychiatric consulting. Here's the essay he wrote. The story has been carried by FrontPage and just yesterday at ChronWatch. You'll note that the FrontPage story has been written by a liberal student at Foothill; I covered that letter here when it was written. Ahmad will be on at 1pm CT.

At 1:30 we will have a discussion of the recent proposals for a smoking ban, the Freedom to Breathe Act in Minnesota, with Ryan Pacyga, an opponent. Craig Westover has been a one-stop shop for coverage of the Minnesota Legislature on this. Just scroll away.

Click here to get a link for the streaming show if your radio is too far for our hamsters.

GDP report: Sucking in capital, or just sucking? 

The headlines say it all:

American economic growth slows
2004's economy was the best in five years

I saw this glass half-full/half-empty thing this morning having two TVs at the bagel shop, one on Fox and other on CNN. You can guess which played which.

Here are two graphs that tell us useful things. First, the main story of that people will cover is the impact of the trade deficit. They will report to you that the deficit shaved 1.7% from GDP growth, which might make you think that we could have had 4.8% growth rather than the 3.1% we did. But the trade deficit has been growing for quite some time.

Now some people will want to point to this as a sign of trouble resulting from the budget deficit (the old "twin deficits" story) but this isn't so. The deterioration in the trade deficit began in 1998, while the budget deficit only became a problem after 9/11.

The second story worth understanding is that unlike the previous recession of 1991, this past recession has been characterized by a large downswing in investment in 2000-02 and a commensurate recovery in 2003-04.

Source (for WSJ subscribers only.) What this means really is that there has been a large sucking sound from businesses who are seeking to increase investment. Your basic principles student is taught that this should lead to an increase in interest rates, but that hasn't happened because of large capital inflows. Foreign investors, continuing to see opportunities here in America, are seeking dollars to invest here. The natural way to acquire them is to sell us imports: Thus do we have a large trade deficit.

This is an important point: We all know that the current account deficit -- a broader measure that includes the trade deficit, remittances from the U.S. abroad for things from servicing debt to sending Tia Maria a few dollars down in Guatemala -- has to be paid for by a capital account surplus. But one doesn't necessarily cause the other and not vice versa. It is entirely possible that a desire to send capital to the U.S. leads to an increase in our trade deficit. So while some are going to argue that the trade deficit represents something horrible, that we are living beyond our means, it could instead mean that the demand for U.S. assets (relative to foreign ones) has increased.

This isn't the view of everyone. For example, Stefan Karlsson argues the trade deficit is a "drag". Though he makes the interesting point that income accelerated somewhat due to the one-off dividend payment Microsoft made late last year, if the income wasn't spent on goods in the last four weeks of the quarter it had no effect. (Looking at the numbers from a couple of weeks ago, that appears to be right.) But largely the results have been ignored by the blogs and the media coverage has been various, as the headlines showed. Underneath, there may be great news. I see nothing in this report that causes me to revise my original 2005 forecast.

Get your red-hots! 

(BTTT 1/28)

I have never gone to the Patriot Forum because of the distance and timing, but a chance to see Hugh Hewitt and Peter Beinart debate is too good to pass up.

Thursday, Feb. 10, 7pm at the Hilton Minneapolis Downtown. You know, the place we had the debate gathering last October. Great digs. Got your tix? Get 'em.

My first question will be, What kind of razor do you use, Peter?

Back later 

Between class and a job search meeting I've been busy all afternoon. Back later with stories on the GDP report and a couple of incredible tales of academia. Thanks to everyone for great comments yesterday and today!

Economists love this kind of question 

Chumley wonder(bar)s:
Something that struck me as an interesting idea while I was having lunch today (Slim Fast and a salad, yeah!!!) was the following. If you take items off when ordering a food, why don't you get a discount? For instance, I got a salad today at Arby's, but I didn't want chicken or cheese. Since these would strike me as being two of the most expensive ingredients on the salad, shouldn't they offer me even a small discount?
The answer is "no". One possible reason is that the salad was already made with chicken and cheese, mass-produced at lower cost. The act of picking off the chicken and cheese is then an added cost. (Why then don't they charge for removal? -- ed.)

I think a second possible explanation is that bundling lettuce, tomato, chicken and cheese allows the owner to create more net revenues.

This is a variant on the question: Why can't you order your cable or satellite TV channels a la carte? Why do you buy them in bundles many of which you don't want? I buy a premium package for BBC America, Bloomburg and MSNBC. There are eight other channels in that package I do not want even at a zero price. Why do I buy the package? Because the value of the three I want is greater than the cost of the eleven I buy. Likewise, the value of the salad is greater than $5 to me, so inducing me to pay for the chicken and cheese when I don't want them transfers additional profits to Arby's that would not be gained if they allowed me to build a salad with a la carte pricing.

This is more likely with products which for which consumers are not responsive to price changes very much (relatively inelastic demand, an economist would say), and for which competitors can be found only at some cost. Chumley did not bang the counter and say "What? Pay for chicken you removed for me? Off to a Wendy's!" It wasn't worth the effort to him.

Other explanations? Comments!

Just a little off the top 

One of my students reads here and sends me a note asking about a speech by Jacques Chirac at Davos seeking an international tax on, say, airline tickets to support efforts to halt AIDS in Africa (and elsewhere, I suppose.) The Economist pooh-poohs the idea; neither is the Guardian much enthused; Le Sabot Post Moderne says

Run. Flee. Never look back.

I imagine Dracula told Lucy it would be a one-time nibble, too. Is anyone unspeakably foolish enough to believe that once the bureaucrats of the world discover a new revenue source they'll stop with just this one "noble cause?"

My student said that Bill Gates, Bono, and George Soros were in the audience. Looks like there are some candidates...

Chirac, it's reported, put this speech together rather hastily after Tony Blair waxed on about his plans for bringing peace in our time. Chirac is borrowing the idea of the Tobin tax, an idea embraced by the late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. But the incidence of this tax would be quite regressive, charging $3 on each plane ticket everywhere. Many in the developing world find their local airlines transport them for relatively small sums as long as they have domestic-issued passports. And the idea was raised by the UN in 1995 and nobody has jumped on the bandwagon. They won't now either.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Customer shirking 

A few of us, including some of my frequent commenters here at Scholars, have posited to the University that we should be able to drop students from classes when they don't show up in the first week. This would have really been helpful this year, where the scheduling gurus decided to start on a Thursday. Most students simply stayed out through the weekend and wandered up earlier this week.

The same debate is going on at Northern Kentucky University, where Prof. Jonathan T. Reynolds teaches and writes about the debate on Cliopatria. One student there is not amused.

I work 40 hours weekly, on top of being a full-time student, to be able to pay to come here, and even then I can just barely afford it.

To me, it's my choice whether I want to come to class or not. No member of the faculty on this campus, at least in my mind, has the right to tell me when I have to be here.

I can close my eyes and imagine that to be my son. If it was, I'd like him to have Prof. Reynolds as an instructor. He replies:

Education is an unusual commodity. It is the only investment where the customer wants as little in return for their money as possible. As such, there is something of a conspiracy between lazy students and lazy faculty. Students are all too happy when a class is cancelled: "Woohoo! I'm getting less education for my tuition dollar!"

The explanation for such economically irrational behavior comes from the fact that things are expected of students when they come to class.

It is demanding and frequently stressful work. But here too lies the logic behind expectations of attendance. Hiring a teacher isn't just hiring somebody to help you learn, it is also a process of hiring someone to make you learn. Think of us as very demanding personal "brain trainers." We are here to get your flabby cerebral cortex off the couch and whip it into a lean, mean, critical-thinking machine.

He's right: try searching for the phrase "customer shirking" in Google and you get no hits. Are there other examples? Please provide them in the comments. Perhaps that can give us ideas how to teach better.

UPDATE: Cold Spring Shops lays additional tracks. I took this question to my breakfast group this morning, and we realized that there are many examples of customer shirking: the doctor who tells me to lose weight; the financial planner who tells me to save more and spend less; the personal trainer ("if you can dodge a wrench...").

It counts 

The Chronicle of Higher Education leads today with a story of two researchers wondering why their study of Iraqi civilian casualties, which they rushed to print the week before the U.S. presidential elections, didn't get more attention. (The Chronicle wants you to read this so much that it's not subscriber protected like most of their stuff.)

Les F. Roberts, a research associate at Hopkins and the lead author of the paper, was shocked by the muted or dismissive reception. He had expected the public response to his paper to be "moral outrage."

On its merits, the study should have received more prominent play. Public-health professionals have uniformly praised the paper for its correct methods and notable results.

Note the part I italicized -- this is not an opinion piece but supposed to be straight news. The writer of this article seems to share Prof. Roberts' pique. And it's clear that the authors wanted to get the results out to influence U.S. opinion, but they wonder why people are skeptical.

"On the 25th of September my focus was about how to get out of the country," he recalls. "My second focus was to get this information out before the U.S. election." In little more than 30 days, the paper was published in The Lancet.

Mr. Roberts and his colleagues now believe that the speedy publication of that data created much of the public skepticism toward the study. He sent the manuscript to the medical journal on October 1, requesting that it be published that month. Mr. Roberts says the editors agreed to do so without asking him why.

Despite the sprint to publication, the paper did go through editing and peer review. In an accompanying editorial, Richard Horton, editor of the The Lancet, wrote that the paper "has been extensively peer-reviewed, revised, edited, and fast-tracked to publication because of its importance to the evolving security situation in Iraq."

While it was edited and peer-reviewed as a public health analysis, its understanding of the nature of sampling for war deaths may have been suspect, as the Economist pointed out in November.

Nan Laird, a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved with the study, says that she believes both the analysis and the data-gathering techniques used by Dr Roberts to be sound. She points out the possibility of �recall bias��people may have reported more deaths more recently because they did not recall earlier ones. However, because most people do not forget about the death of a family member, she thinks that this effect, if present, would be small. Arthur Dempster, also a professor of statistics at Harvard, though in a different department from Dr Laird, agrees that the methodology in both design and analysis is at the standard professional level. However, he raises the concern that because violence can be very localised, a sample of 33 clusters really might be too small to be representative.

This concern is highlighted by the case of one cluster which, as the luck of the draw had it, ended up being in the war-torn city of Fallujah. This cluster had many more deaths, and many more violent deaths, than any of the others. For this reason, the researchers omitted it from their analysis�the estimate of 98,000 was made without including the Fallujah data. If it had been included, that estimate would have been significantly higher.

The Fallujah data-point highlights how the variable distribution of deaths in a war can make it difficult to make estimates.

And the other problem is that we are counting both deaths among the insurgents and civilian/non-combatant casualties.

Of the increase in deaths (omitting Fallujah) reported by the study, roughly 60% is due directly to violence, while the rest is due to a slight increase in accidents, disease and infant mortality. However, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because the more detailed the data�on causes of death, for instance, rather than death as a whole�the less statistical significance can be ascribed to them.

So the discrepancy between the Lancet estimate and the aggregated press reports is not as large as it seems at first. The Lancet figure implies that 60,000 people have been killed by violence, including insurgents, while the aggregated press reports give a figure of 15,000, counting only civilians.

So it could be that 45,000 insurgents were killed, which would not be necessarily bad news. And while any deaths are a bad thing, it's worth remembering the increase in mortality in postwar Germany or Japan.

There were reasons for skepticism of the Roberts et al. study, therefore, and its appearance on page A16 in the Washington Post, for example, probably was a fair reading. Why is the Chronicle whining about its lack of placement on A1? Given the tone of the article, one can only conclude that its editors too are upset with the outcome of the 2004 elections.

The joy of Tullock 

I like Brad DeLong's professional work, but it seems difficult sometimes to find nice things to link to on his blog since we're kind of on different sides of the political spectrum. Tyler Cowen points out that DeLong said something nice about Gordon Tullock.
He is a genius, a madman, and always fascinating. It seemed to me at the time a great pity (and it seems to me now a great pity) that James Buchanan's "Public Choice" Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science was awarded to Buchanan alone, and not to James Buchanan + Gordon Tullock + Mancur Olson.

Flashback: when I was still in graduate school I went to the 1983 American Economics Association meetings in NYC to look for my first teaching post. My advisor, Tom Willett, was there as well and we'd agreed to go to dinner at a nearby diner late that night. In the lobby of the hotel Tom says we'll be joined by one more person. It was Tullock. I had interviewed with seven schools that day and was pretty tired, but the energy that came from that evening was infectious. When you're a new PhD you are always asked about your dissertation and you have a stock answer; Gordon got me off that answer within 45 seconds and into areas of the research I hadn't even explored yet. I remember as we walked back to the hotel Tullock turned to me and said "You're from New England. What do you know about volunteer fire departments?" "One of my best friends in high school is in one in Connecticut." That became a ten-minute discussion about voluntary provision of public goods (i.e., what explains volunteer fire departments? Who joins? How do they work?) "I'm collecting these stories," he concluded. It was a look inside the mind of a genius. It was one of those moments where you realize you are exactly where you want to be doing exactly what you want to do.

I've run into him at conferences since, even though as a monetary/macro policy researcher you'd think I have nothing in common with him. He worked in China during the Communist uprising and has a fascination for the stories of inflation at the time, and he continues to think about that issue. As you can tell from his festschrift, these stories abound.

Cowen notes that the Liberty Fund is releasing more of Tullock's writings as part of a ten-volume set. Those are going on my bookshelf soon. I will see if I can get us a radio interview with Gordon some day. DeLong's right: he's a genius and fascinating, and just a little mad.

The Mets would like to buy a vowel, please 

How the mighty hath fallen! Doug Mientkiewicz, the darling of Twins fans (particularly females it seemed) and member of the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox -- you know, that never gets old! -- has been traded to the New York Mets for a single minor league player. The minor leaguer is a prospect, but had his season cut short last year with a busted wrist.

The subplot revolves around Mientkiewicz's decision to retain ownership of the baseball with which he recorded the last out of the World Series. The Red Sox have asked for it to be given to them for historical purposes, since they've been waiting 86 years for it. Mientkiewicz has merely loaned it them for the year. It's unlikely he can keep the ball at any rate, and now he gets to play for Omar Minaya, the Mets general manager, whose spending this off season has given a new target for sailors on shore leave. Maybe they can give him Mo Vaughn's locker.

Bartolo Colon could not be reached for comment.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I wonder if we could do this? Could we trade our own Roy Saigo for a community college president and $2 million?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The opportunity costs of college 

I recall my parents sending me to summer school during my pre-teen years once to learn typing. I thought it was useful but with a high opportunity cost: I wanted to play golf instead. (The local muni course had junior memberships for the princely sum of $40 back in 1969.)

Chad the Elder writes about a marvelous essay in National Review Online called "Typing Alone".

People often ask why Minnesota seems to be such a hotbed of blogging. In addition to the Northern Alliance of Bloggers, there a number of other high-quality blogs based in the North Star State. Various theories have been offered to explain the phenomena.

Our own Saint Paul believes that it's due in large part to the mediocre writing talent (with a few notable exceptions) and overt political biases of the local media, in particular the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Others have claimed that it's because of the less-than-stellar weather, a theory similar to one often used to explain the number of successful rock bands that emerged from the Pacific Northwest during the heyday of grunge. The reasoning was that it was too crappy to do anything outside, so people were driven indoors where they honed their musical acumen.

That's an opportunity cost argument. If I could be back on the links with a $40 golf membership, there might be no Scholars. So too is Mark Oppenheimer's explanation for students who used to type novels out to learn touchtyping but don't anymore.
Fry's memory of teaching himself to type by working through Wodehouse is emblematic of one kind of college life lived, the one that Camille Paglia describes as her education alone in the stacks of Yale University's Sterling Library, the education that Philip Larkin got with his fellow poets in small literary clubs at Oxford University. It's an education made possible by free time, gotten by those students who go to class but otherwise do not clutter their lives with extracurricular activities. By contrast, what Grafton describes, the independent study or senior essay, is in some ways a small sampling of that education, one term or one year spent trying out the life of the mind, giving it a test run, perhaps to figure out if one is suited to graduate school, which offers the concentrated academic experience that busy undergraduates almost never have anymore.

On many campuses, including mine, students are engaged in many tasks. We can try to tell them they cannot be both full-time students and full-time employees at some retail box, but when the return to a college education is this high, people cut other time to make it work. At the same time, technology has made the value of leisure greater: I now use a device that allows me to record and timeshift not only television but internet radio; my news reading is aggregated to save time; my car's stereo not only has six CDs at one time but the ability to skip songs and program just what I want. All of which is to say: the monastic life is more expensive than it used to be.
Thus does the space for single-minded purposefulness � for typing over a Wodehouse novel, or reading the Wodehouse corpus, following a single interest until it is exhausted, and sacrificing other opportunities along the way � thus does that space shrink ever more. Born physicists are forced to master a bit of German, poets are required to study calculus � one never hears this ideal of well-roundedness questioned. It is gospel that we all must be minimally conversant with a dozen subjects, even as fewer and fewer students are deeply knowledgeable in, say, American history or Latin. We lament the decline of knowledge, but well-roundedness, often in the guise of the "liberal" education, is one culprit.

But at the same time, we can drill down to the parts that interest us more easily than before. Perhaps one of the reasons for well-roundedness in the past was that an hour spent studying calculus was more valuable to a poet when she could not scan the web for the verses of 15th century Persian writers, translated into English, with commentary. Again, it's a question of opportunity costs. If the technology of learning has improved, the returns to well-roundedness may have decreased.
I believe in a college life that, if it does not permit time to type out a Wodehouse novel, at least allows time to turn in the homework that Robert Stone deserves. I can make some suggestions toward that end: drastically curtail grade inflation, as students in danger of getting a C will drop their extraneous activities; give special scholarships to students excellent in one activity; increase funding for students' summer research; decrease funding for athletics and other student activities, and put the money into financial aid so that poor students don't need as much part-time work. None of these suggestions will go very far, however. Maybe we need better, braver teachers, who publish less, teach more, and are unafraid to offend � role models.

Ending grade inflation might change that, though they might just drop the classes or drop out. And financial aid changes one's income without changing opportunity costs, particularly for the Yalies and Princetonians.

And "better, braver teachers"? Role models? That would be nice, but around them they have students in ROTC, students who are already entrepreneurs, students who are raising families and going to school nights. Those are role models for most students. If they need role models to live the monastic academic life, they should go to monasteries.

"Who controls the benchmarks controls education" 

Professor Plum finds a case for school choice, or at least the choice to get the hell out of Newton, Massachusetts. He annotates this essay, in which we learn that the grade 1-8 benchmarks for math education in the Newton Public School System do not contain any mention of the four basic operations of mathematics but instead
Respect for Human Differences - students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors." It continues, "Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others...

Scores on Massachusetts' standardized tests there have fallen.

The joy of Sachs 

On your reading list today should be Claudia Rosett connecting Bush's doctrine of spreading freedom and democracy to fighting poverty.

Yet to whatever extent Mr. Bush's agenda plays out in practice, one of the main results would be a richer world for all--with the most dramatic benefits reaching those who are now among the poorest. One of the truths wrested at great cost from the grand social experiments of the 20th century was that the prerequisite for prosperity--if we are speaking of wealth for the many, not just for a ruling few--is freedom. It is not only by smothering free speech or jailing loyal opposition that dictators keep control. It is also by decreeing--in ways that suit the pleasures of the ruler, not the ruled--the rules and conditions under which people may seek work, earn money, own property and buy what they need to feed their families and otherwise pursue happiness. With every reasonable choice that gets cut off by dictatorial rule, with every payoff that must be made to authorities who exist for no other purpose than to please themselves and collect tolls, more human energy and talent and knowledge goes to waste.

To whatever extent Mr. Bush's vision of ending tyranny is realized, it will do more to end poverty than any amount of aid, including the $195 billion the United Nations now proposes to pour into development over the next decade, following the advice of a 3,000-word study put together by 265 experts (which works out to about 11 words, or $730 million in recommended spending, per expert). Donations, state plans and even the best-intentioned aid schemes cannot make up for the ability of individuals, in free societies, to choose most profitably how to wield their own knowledge and energy to support themselves.

That plan I believe is the plan offered by Jeff Sachs, described in this week's Economist, in which the plan is put at 3,000 pages rather than words. It's certainly more than 3000 words. But the Economist makes a good point about the overreach of the article and the conflict between Sachs' and Rosett's visions.

The report challenges this thinking in two ways. First, it insists that some of the world's poorest countries are in fact pretty well-governed: they are poor for other reasons, to do with geography, history, incidence of disease, and so forth. Identify the good governments, the thinking goes, and give them aid �at scale�.

...The report has a second way of dealing with lack of good governance: it argues that aid can be spent on remedying this. But that may be wishful thinking. The problem with aid to bad governments is that it can help to keep them in place. Donors have tried before to invest in improved governance. The record is not good.

The report has recommendations by the dozen on how aid should be patterned and delivered. It argues that the development needs of countries vary a great deal from case to case: strategies need to be carefully tailored, with policies designed and �owned� by the country itself. Well and good. But many would question the very idea of a top-down development strategy.

The difficulty for many aid donors is that the process of democratizing a country removes the "top" from which development dollars flow "down". If they try to invest in a winning candidate they can be seen as trying to control the election of the recipient country. If they invest across the board much of the money is dissipated in electoral campaigns, perhaps in vote-buying.

It would be hasty to toss aside all of Sachs' report. In a separate report, the Economist shows that there are some good ideas like reducing school fees and giving out mosquito nets with insecticides that do not rely on good governance. But Rosett's point is that the rules of how people earn a living is primary to Sachs' suggestions. She's right.

UPDATE: cf. the Diplomad. I confess to not reading the whole 3,000 pages. But there's a 90 page overview at least.

The wisdom of crowds in Vegas? 

It's fairly well known that the purpose of a betting line is to get an even amount of money bet on each team (the line being an inducement to put more money on the team perceived more likely to lose.) According to this article about the line for the Super Bowl, that comes from five guys sitting around a table.

The LVSC has five oddsmakers devoted strictly to developing odds for NFL games. Before Sunday's championship games even began, the group already had created lines for each of the four potential Super Bowl matchups.

As it became clear Sunday that New England and Philadelphia would meet Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, each of the oddsmakers independently came up with his final line based on statistical analysis, historical significance and, yes, gut feeling.

Dan O'Brien, one of the five deciding oddsmakers, picked New England to win by 6. White, the boss of the crew, chose the Patriots to win by 3. Another picked New England by 6, another chose 6� and the final oddsmaker was torn between 5� and 6.

White then considered all of the input to create a final number � Pats by 6 � which was distributed to the clients.

O'Brien said he decided to pick New England by 6 because he believed Philadelphia is a stronger team than Carolina, New England's opponent in last season's Super Bowl. New England was favored by 7 in that game but failed to cover.

I have been told that for other games, once the Las Vegas Sports Consultants set the line, the line is offered to a small group of professional gamblers, whose behavior is used to tweak the number. So 6 was the "virgin line" that came out of the books, but it quickly moved to 7, indicating more money has gone on New England than Philadelphia.

The question is whether line movement on a game that is so public, so much bet by amateurs, tells you the same thing as the movement in, say, Week 16's San Francisco-Washington match that nobody cares about? Is there a wisdom of amateur bettors, or should you bet against amateurs? Skip Sauer says bet against the movement. I say wait. If you get the extra half point, go Eagles.

Vox Blogoli 2.1 offering 

I don't have a subscription to The Atlantic, so I comment mostly on Hugh's quote from Jonathan Rauch and the conversation on his show yesterday. He's now posted the entire article (for which we should thank Rauch), and I have edited some of this after reading it and listening to the debate. But most of my points seem to still hold.
On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside.
Of course, there are other choices. One can choose to work quietly within the party to effect change slowly. One can run campaigns for ideas that lead to planks being built.
Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics.
Again, a false dichotomy. I think this is the sentence that offends: Either anti-abortion planks or violence. What on earth is the man thinking in writing this sentence? He now says he wasn't. But I think the slip is revelatory. Even if he believes that most religious conservatives would not be bombers, there are enough that it warrants mention. I'm sorry, but the mea culpa doesn't really suffice. As Hugh pointed out, Larry Summers will probably be pressed to hire more females for positions at Harvard, even if they are not the most qualified persons, to make amends for posing a reasonable point for critical discussion. What penance will Rauch serve? He'll probably argue "being on Hewitt's show." Not quite the same thing.
The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard.
I could not figure out the thought here when I read Hugh's excerpt. Is he actually justifying SDS and the Black Panthers and the SLA? Listening to Rauch (and thanks Steve for Replay Radio -- it's been a Godsend) I see where it might have come from now, but without the rest of the article this made no sense.
When Michael Moore receives a hero�s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around.
I take Rauch to mean by this that the political process is best served by an adversarial position. But this means that the debate between right and left is apocalyptic, like a battle between ethnic groups. What Rauch sees in the Christian right is the Other; he sees those who are unlike him, below him, not just on the wrong side but with black hearts. I get that: It's what religious conservatives on American campuses feel every day.

But just as trying to defeat the Right rather than debate the Right on American campuses has hurt them, so too will the attempt to create the Battle for Middle Earth out of Campaign '08 hurt the American political system.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Things that make me think all night 

While looking for something else for a student, I came across this from the Dallas Fed's annual report. The whole collection of these, featuring the work of economist Michael Cox and business reporter Richard Alm, are well worth your time. But this was one of those charts I thought was really creative.

What fascinated me was the focus on creativity and the absence of growth in the most recent economic expansion for people of analytical skills. We have known for quite some time that the returns to physical skills -- turning screws and lifting bales -- have fallen. But the middle two categories are the ones that will make me wonder all night: Why?

Got teens thinking about careers? Show them this.

Economics questions from MOB (and brought to class) 

While at MOB, I had three good questions thrown at me about economics, and I don't know that I answered any of them adequately.

Life imitates show prep 

Craig Westover is continuing the discussion of our show discussion on Saturday on school choice, including an exchange over magnet schools and a response from Liz Mische, who gets credit for being a very focused guest and easy interview. The show was so interesting that I left a couple of questions on my pad unanswered. One of them was
If public school choice was effective, why do we not see more competition between them? I'm told that there's a "gentleman's agreement" not to do this, which in the private sector goes by the name "collusion". Is there public school competition? Should we ask school districts to eschew this gentleman's agreement?

Turns out there's one that has done so, as reported in this morning's PioneerPress.

The Mounds View public school district has spent $15,000 to produce an infomercial to attract students to its schools.

Such marketing is not unusual among private schools, but it is a sign of changing times among public school districts with declining enrollments as they compete for students and the state money that follows them.

"If we can recruit three students, we have recovered the cost," said Colin Sokolowski, the district's public relations director.

Last year, the district spent about $10,000 to market its schools, an effort that helped attract 200 students. This year, district officials are ratcheting up with the video and $8,000 allotted to advertising.

If it takes that little to attract 200 students, that is suggestive that there is no competition out there. I note this in my own work frequently: Students who receive a letter from us encouraging them to be econ majors (after they've taken one of our classes and performed well) say nobody else does this.

My question remains: Why aren't more schools doing this?

Other districts, too, see the need to sell themselves, though their approaches can differ.

The West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school district recently hired communications consultant Colleen McCarty-Gould in part because so many students in the district attend nonpublic schools. Part of her job,
McCarty-Gould said, is to get the word out that the neighborhood schools are good.

In Roseville, an advisory committee recently suggested that the district consider some marketing efforts.

Rather than take Mounds View's approach, Roseville Superintendent John Thein said he prefers to "invest our resources in programming.'' Thein says the district has attracted about 550 out-of-district students with "word of mouth" and the "good vibes" given off by students attracted to a good and diverse education.

Hopkins also is turning to marketing this year, creating a PowerPoint sales pitch set to music, spending about $2,000 for ads and inviting prospective students to look around.

Any economist will tell you that collusive agreements contain the seeds of their own destruction. What will the education world look like when these school districts compete even more? As I asked first on the show Saturday, have we got enough choice already?

Matt Abe is asking the same questions.

Retirement as performance art? 

There is a story of two faculty members, husband and wife art professors at UCLA, who resigned from their posts because the university did not punish a student who used a handgun in a performance piece.

In the brief performance on Nov. 29, the student appeared to point a loaded handgun at his head and pull the trigger, a student and law enforcement officials told the Los Angeles Times.

The weapon didn't fire, but after the student left the room a noise that sounded like a gunshot was heard outside.

Police said no one was hurt and it wasn't known if the firearm was real. Prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence for charges, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

According to a separate report in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers):

Several students apparently were frightened, and believed he had killed himself or someone else. Mr. Deutch (the student -- kb) subsequently walked back into the classroom, his performance piece apparently concluded.

Robert J. Naples, dean of students at UCLA, said counselors and other university officials had talked to Mr. Deutch just after the incident and decided to continue allowing him to attend classes after determining that he was not dangerous to himself or others. Mr. Deutch turned in a fake gun to the dean's office and said it was the one he had used in the classroom, said Nancy Greenstein, a spokeswoman for the campus police.

The professor for this class had done performance art with guns as well back in the 1970s,

Mr. Burden's own well-known performance piece, "Shoot," was considered one of the most provocative and controversial of the 1970s. A friend shot Mr. Burden in the arm from 13 feet away. Mr. Burden pointed out that the performance had taken place in a private art gallery, not a classroom. And, he said, times have changed.

"That was 33 years ago," he said. "Columbine has happened, 9/11 has happened. There are restrictions." Mr. Burden, who now focuses on sculpture rather than shocking performance pieces, said, "I've moved forward. I've changed, too."

"If this young man wanted to go and rent a loft downtown and play Russian roulette, he in my mind could do that, and the art world would decide whether he was an interesting artist or not," he continued. "That's completely different than doing it in a classroom and terrorizing 27 people."

If this had happened to some young art professor I might have a little more sympathy for his or her pique at the performance, but given the fellow's own history, couldn't he have anticipated that someone might wish to riff his own work? Were there any restrictions on this in the class syllabus or assignment? Had there been a classroom discussion?

Eugene Volokh thinks these are just weird people. I think it's entirely possible that the retirement is part of some other performance, but to which audience?

And he's the yostest with the mostest 

Mark Yost has written a Minnesota blogosphere review piece in the PioneerPress which gives prominent billing to the Northern Alliance.
But Power Line is just the tip of the iceberg. Minnesota is replete with bloggers, including Fraters Libertas (, part of the Northern Alliance, which includes SCSU Scholars, Captain's Quarters, Shot in the Dark and others.
About 100 of these Minnesota bloggers gathered Saturday at Keegan's in North Minneapolis for their semi-annual confab. (Many can be found there on Thursday nights, too, for the pub's weekly trivia contest.) In attendance was the Nihilist in Golf Pants, Chad The Elder, Saint Paul, Captain Ed, Atomizer � to name a few. Some use screen names to guard their identity, but for most it's merely part of the online persona they've cultivated.
Which of course is a reference to the MOB gathering. I saw Yost there, and indeed it was the longest conversation I had with him, to the extent that the din allowed for conversation. (Apologies, by the way, to anyone I spoke to who thought I was out of touch. Years of playing bass guitar in 70s rock bands has left me a little hard of hearing. Ask Mitch about the volume in my headphones.) I guess I made a good impression.
Bloggers like the instantaneous feedback they get from their online posts. Over time, the good ones develop loyal followings. And their fans aren't merely cranks with far-out ideas and too much time on their hands. For instance, King Banaian (his real name), who blogs at, is the chair of the St. Cloud State Economics Department.
A group of us this morning reading Yost had a good laugh at "his real name", since it's highly unlikely that King Banaian could be an invention of anything at all. (Short story: my first name is my maternal grandmother's maiden family name. Follow that? There's a longer story, but that requires beer.) But there's a more telling point here about anonymity of bloggers. In my case, I don't need it and I don't want it. I don't need it because I'm tenured. Yes, I'm a department chair, but unlike many universities my position is elected by my department and not likely to be challenged because, frankly, nobody else wants the job. I'm unlikely to lose my job or any money from blogging here. As to friends, most liberals on campus knew of my views long before I started blogging as a result of the campus discuss email list. They are the most frequent objects of my online ire. I've got a couple of people still unwilling to say hello after this story in 2002; suffice to say I sleep well.

Second, I want to brand my name, not a screen name. How many people have heard of I would say it's a lot less than those who've heard of Instapundit. In some cases you might not want to brand your own name because your name has a brand already which is different than your blogging persona. I somewhat think that's the case for PowerLine: There may not be a synergy between them. For media people like Hewitt, writers like Sullivan, or academics like me, there's nothing to brand but me. (I've sent this post to Prof. Reynolds to see if he feels there's a brand in Instapundit that serves him as Prof. Reynolds.)

Back to Yost:
Blogs have had two important effects. They provide a gathering place for like-minded thinkers. Fraters Libertas has become a safe gathering place for conservatives who live in deep blue states like Minnesota and used to have to hide their (political) proclivities like a child molester.
That was certainly not the intent of SCSUScholars. We were told the discuss list was a bad place and we should be civil and limit debate. My goal was to create Scholars to provide those wanting to speak a place that would remain open to conservatives and liberals; the name SCSU Scholars was to reflect the goals of the SCSU Association of Scholars to create a place for reasoned discourse. If I wanted to have a personal blog, I'd've given it a different name. This, by the way, is my thesis for why I have fewer readers but lots of people linking in to this site. The conversation is occurring between blogs, not within Haloscan. I didn't foresee that, but I like it.
Blogs also have shown that column writing isn't rocket science. Indeed, the only difference between a post on Fraters and many newspaper columns is that the latter will get a second read from an editor.
I wouldn't go that far. A blog can be a diary of links -- "here's a cool thing I saw today" -- or simply throwing out a question, as I did Saturday for NARN. Few of the posts here are column length or even have a full thought within them. It's a place where I go to develop my thoughts, to write, and to get feedback. Thus having an editor's second read isn't that valuable to me. My readers are smart people who know about the specific topics I post: Not to stroke your egos too much, but your opinion has great value to me as a writer. I tell my students to write for "the reader looking over your shoulder." On a blog, that reader is a click away.

UPDATE: Reynolds emails,
I certainly wasn't thinking about "branding" when I started. I think InstaPundit has been somewhat helpful to my scholarly career, actually, though.

No doubt so.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Ukraine: It's Tymoshenko! 

This catches me a bit by surprise. Yulia was certainly the most charismatic figure of the Orange Revolution, and she did a bang-up job at the Energy Ministry during her time, and she has a clear idea of what she wants to do (and I assume has worked it out with Yushchenko.) On the other hand, her appointment to the premiership was probably the thing most feared by former president Leonid Kuchma, who didn't exactly endear himself to her by tossing her in the clink. She's got a dicey past and bound to be a lightening rod going forward.

Yushchenko has signaled he wants lots of changes right away and put in the one person who has shown a willingness to act forcefully. I'm now pretty sure this will be an eventful year in Ukrainian politics, which means I will have more to cover on Ukraine.

I'm sure as well Rocketman will cover her because -- how else to say this? -- she's a babe. And on that, who can be divisive?

Mediocre expectations yield mediocre results 

Must get ready for class, more after 4. Meanwhile, read this piece from Joanne Jacobs on how we approach high school dropouts. Should we aim low or high for them? Trying to give them small successes (to build up their self-esteem?) doesn't look like it's working.

With friends like that 

The student newspaper is back to printing and manages to report on a group of protestors of the Inauguration who marched to City Hall. (

As President George W. Bush was sworn in for his second term of office in Washington, D.C., a coalition of organizations gathered to form an inauguration day protest on campus.

CODEPINK and MoveOn St. Cloud organized the event and other groups including WEG (Women's Equality Group), CAASA (Campus Advocates Against Sexual Assault), PUP (People Uniting For Peace) and Alternatives to War co-sponsored the event.

The protest included an informational session in Atwood and a march through Division Street to the St. Cloud City Hall where an informal rally was conducted.

Why? The mayor hates Bush as much as our campus Bolsheviks.

I walked by when they were getting ready for their march, about 12:45pm. There were less than 20 people standing outside on a day when it was about 15 degrees outside. Yet this manages to get coverage in our campus paper. Lovely.

Mary Ballengee, a staff member at the Women's Center, participated in the march and brought her daughter along with her. Ballengee said she would carry a sign that read "No more education money for the war."

Why not use the money for war when you pull your kid out of school to march in a protest?

She said that while everyone participating in the march had different reasons for joining, most of them shared a common goal of ending the war in Iraq."The people are demonstrating for a call to peace and we are not going to consent to four more years of pre-emptive war-making, deception, corruption and blindness to environmental issues," Ballengee said.

None of these protests ever go on without some reference to "the environment", which indicates the anti-capitalist mentality of these protestors. I don't call them "watermelon Bolsheviks" lightly. They are common on our campus, and others.

Along with the march at SCSU, demonstrations were organized across the country and there was a call for students nationwide to walk out of class at noon to join in on the marches.

This is pretty common as well: Captain Ed reports this morning on the absurd situation at the University of Oregon, where even the ubiquitous "Support Our Troops" ribbons are being chucked from campus.

At least one of their rank seems to recognize the silliness of these protests.

I understand that people want to stand up for what they believe in. After all, I disagree with Bush's policies enough that I actually voted for a useless placeholder like Kerry. Nevertheless, I can see little useful purpose in protesting the legitimate election of a candidate months after his election.

So what were the protesters hoping to accomplish? It's not like the American public didn't know that half the voting population did not want Bush to be President. It is a pointless endeavor. Protesters are either "preaching to the choir" or being ridiculed by their opposition.

Despite what the participants may have thought, the protest was nothing more than an exercise in futility. Shakespeare's Macbeth comes to mind: "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

That was great -- the Macbeth quote makes me wonder if this student has had Scholar Jack for a prof -- but look at his suggestion for what they should do instead:

If you truly feel strongly about an issue, invest in it. Don't be half-hearted. Try civil disobedience. History has shown that it works pretty well.

If you don't want to risk spending time in jail, try becoming a teacher. Teachers not only have a captive audience, but their students are far more open to to different ideas than another adult who is already set in their ways.

That, my friends, is why I blog. Because you don't have to be a captive audience. You can engage in civil disobedience at your government school.


There are plenty of recapitulations of the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers gathering at Keegan's Saturday night (I think Chad the Elder is working on the definitive list), so I'll confine myself on a busy day to a couple of quick observations.

Friday, January 21, 2005





Pajamas? (I hope!?!)

He's got no pajamas

But you can
. See you at Keegans. 5-9 Saturday. Bring 'em.

Discuss school choice tomorrow, or, my show prep 

I am making an offer of this space to you to give questions for my discussion on the Northern Alliance Radio Network with Craig Westover, columnist for the PioneerPress, and Elizabeth Mische, executive director of Partnership for Choice in Education. The discussion will be during the second hour, at 1pm Central Time. You can listen in from here.

It's instructive to look at PCE's FAQ. I am especially interested in good, tough questions about school choice and vouchers. Let me briefly outline where I want to go with the discussion, and then ask you to put comments in the comment box for this post. I will read them on the air tomorrow as time allows. If you want your name on the air, let me know.

Here are my first three questions for tomorrow:
  1. As PCE says on its homepage, Minnesota already has a great tradition for choice in education -- public school open enrollment; charter schools; post-secondary education options (for HS students to get college classes instead of HS classes); and low income families can get tax credits and subsidized loans. Aren't these enough? What's the benefit of expanding school choice from here? (Follow-up questions are likely to come from the mediocre grade Minnesota's education tax credit program received the Friedman Foundation.)
  2. This appears to be an issue that crosses party lines. According to Craig, Elizabeth is a liberal Democrat who supports school choice. The Democratic Leadership Council (the New Democrats that started Bill Clinton's national career) says they too support at least public school choice. But they also say we "shouldn't support increased choice without corresponding increases in public accountability," which sounds an awful lot like the fear of some Republicans that vouchers could lead to a loss of control for private schools. Where are you on this issue? Do vouchers in fact invite the fox into the henhouse?
  3. Craig wrote early this month in the newspaper that
    A major rationale for school choice, and a requirement for its ultimate justification, is that rather than harm government schools, it creates an environment conducive to strengthening the public education subsystem. School choice offers an opportunity to break the monopoly that hinders improvement of government schools.
    Friday the Wall Street Journal editorialized (subscribers only) about a letter campaign by the American Federation of Teachers hurled at the Journal after they printed an editorial critical of teacher's unions by Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution. We certainly know of other places where teachers unions locally have held enormous power over political decisions. Do you think unions hold too much power over the public schol system? Do you think vouchers would reform teachers unions, or would they lead to the end of unionism in education?
I have a few more I'll keep under my hat; we can't let Craig and Elizabeth have too much of a heads up. I look forward to your questions as well.

Open source presidency? 

Viktor Yushchenko has branded his own website. I am sending a note to him to read Blog and consider putting one on his site. Imagine: the president of a country who blogged. One of the dangers he faces is restricted access to communications from people with specific knowledge (something I know we talked about when he ran the National Bank.) A blog, as Hugh Hewitt points out, opens those lines in a focused and unique way. And he can get that information in Ukrainian, Russian and English if he has someone translating between his sites.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Gotta get that book out of the bathroom 

I've been travelling some, so I don't see the basement of my house much lately. The basement bathroom is called the "men's crisis center" and tends to collect books of short essays and other books that are traditionally called "coffee table books" for reading. My son and I use that room. I have now pulled Interior Desecrations out of that room three times, and three times he's taken it back in.

So maybe Lileks made the big time today, but he's been number one in my most important room for quite some time. (This plug may be used for the paperback.)

Summers apologizes 

This is disappointing, but Harvard President Larry Summers has apparently been going out of his way to apologize to anyone who'll listen to him for his suggestion that there might be some natural causes for women to underperform men in mathematics. David Bernstein makes a good point:
I can see the argument that perhaps statistical generalizations will give aid and comfort to those who are inclined to begin with to discriminate against the group in question (even though logically they are given no quarter by the generalization: even if, for example, Jews are less likely than Gentiles to be tall enough to play professional basketball, you don't turn down Dolph Shayes when he shows up at training camp). But I think the outrage expressed goes beyond that. I find that people have difficulty understanding that broad statistical generalizations don't justify leaping to conclusions about individuals. I once heard of a professor who gave a faculty workshop at a major law school in which the speaker pointed out that adoptive and step-parents are far more likely to abuse their children than are natural parents. The speaker noted, of course, that the vast majority of adoptive and step-parents don't abuse their children, it's just that they are far more likely to compared with natural parents. Nevertheless, informed sources tell me that adoptive and stepparents in the audience were gravely and personally offended, and accused the speaker of promoting Nazi-like theories of biological merit. I simply can't understand this logic. How do you get from "the vast majority of adoptive parents don't abuse their children, but are more likely than biological parents to abuse their children" to "you, as an adoptive parent, are under suspicion" for abusing your child? And unlike the continuing nature/nurture debate with regard to women's career choices, my understanding is that the higher rate of abuse among non-natural parents is a documented fact, but that didn't stop the outrage.

I cannot tell you how much confusion I find over statistical statements made to people unprepared to receive them, even people very smart and mathematically exceptional. Co-Conspirator Todd Zywicki shows my point by wondering what would have happened to Summers had he said this instead:
"The distribution of natural endowments for math abilities for men show the same mean but greater variance than math abilities for women. Therefore, men will be disproportionately represented at the tails of the distribution relative to women. In other words, there are likely to be more men in society than women with unusually poor and below-average math skills."

I can predict what would have happened: Most everyone would have let it pass, but not because they were pleased that it put men down. They would have let it pass because it's too subtle for most people to understand.

It wouldn't even help for Steven Pinker to explain it to them.
Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is �offensive� even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don�t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.

No indoctrination going on here 

Reader Roger Lewis points out two letters in today's Arizona Wildcat wherein students reinforce the "professors is liberal cuz liberals is smarter" meme.

Rational thought makes professors liberal

In response to Jonathan Riches' opinion that college campuses are too liberal, I would like to offer an explanation. I do not disagree with Jonathan's assessment that a majority of college professors lean to the left. However, I have a more plausible explanation for this situation. His claim is that the vast majority of the diverse, independent faculty members at all universities just "chose sides." Jonathan then outlines a comical explanation of how this conspiracy is perpetuated: Only people with highly-partisan views are hired as faculty.

Universities are both highly-educated and extremely well-informed communities. You would not be here if you did not agree with that statement. In my humble opinion, the only thing that keeps a university cohesive is the common value ascribed to rational thought and knowledge. I fully believe that it is these common values that tend to lead people at a university toward the political left.

Ben McMorran
physics graduate student

College professors are brilliant, liberal

Mr. Riches claims that 90 percent of the country's most brilliant people - college professors - are liberals. Why does such a disparity exist? Because they're too educated to be conservative. I'll side with the smart people if I ever have to get off the middle road.

Chris Biagi
atmospheric sciences graduate student
Roger notes, "And to top it off, the liberal faculty down there are WARM smart bastards!" Grrrr.

Throw down for Dassel! 

At least one newspaper has a staff writer who frequents blogs, says Mitch. Prominent mention to Cathy in the Wright, who's location within Wright County is a mystery to the them. Well who knows? Maybe Cathy isn't even in Wright. Neither are we, but I think we're the biggest thing in Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties, and I think it's time to extend our empire. As a frequent driver through Dassel to Hutch and New Ulm and Mankato (which I believe is where Jay Reding is), I am declaring war for the biggest blogger of Wright County. Cathy, are you up to it?

Other bloggers in that area will be found at MOB at Keegan's on Saturday. Come and represent for your county.

Ukraine: It's official! 

The Ukrainian Supreme Court has rejected the last of Viktor Yanukovych's appeals, and the official newspapers have published the results of the re-vote of December 26th. That makes it official; Viktor Yushchenko will be sworn in as president of Ukraine on Sunday. The caretaker cabinet will then be dismissed and the 64,ooo hryvna question will be answered: Who gets to be the new premier? More on that question Monday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Graduation rates again 

The Education Trust now has a utility that allows you to look at six-year graduation rates for any institution, with comparative data. SCSU does not come out very well. We've gone from 41.6% to 40.8% from 1997 to 2003, while Minnesota State -- Mankato has gone from 40.4% to 49.2%. Same system, same funding. What explains why they became more successful and we didn't??

(H/T: Joanne Jacobs)

Another case of grade inflation 

This time it comes from Wisconsin Lutheran College where a professor is suing the school for wrongful termination as a tenured full professor due to "skewed grade distribution."
The lawsuit states Papenfuss, 59, once conducted a full-day workshop for the faculty on the topic of grade inflation - a controversial issue facing colleges across the country. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the grades Papenfuss has handed out were Cs or better, according to the complaint, and that an A was the most common grade he gave.

Sometime in or around 2001, Friske set forth a grading program for calculus courses taught by the college's math faculty that allowed "virtually no failing grades regardless of students' class performance," the complaint states. Papenfuss says this resulted in the passing of many unqualified students, especially in classes taught by Friske.

Papenfuss says he repeatedly complained to the administration about the grading tactic. Starting in mid-2003, Friske began to downgrade Papenfuss' job performance, undermining his standing with the university's administration and disparaging him in front of students, including once calling him "the ogre who will be your instructor next semester," the complaint states.

In January 2004, Papenfuss administered a Calculus 2 qualifying exam, and 10 of the 12 students who failed it were in Friske's Calculus 1 class the previous semester, the lawsuit states. On Feb. 25, 2004, in the middle of the week, Papenfuss was fired "not for cause" but due to "skewed grade distribution," according to the complaint.

Papenfuss claims his firing in mid-semester violates university guidelines, which stipulate terminations are effective at the end of an academic year. He also claims he did not receive fair warning prior to his dismissal, such as counseling or a written admonition by the college's vice president for academic affairs.
Papenfuss has been at the school 33 years. What is interesting to me is that nowhere does anyone say Papenfuss had tenure. I suppose perhaps they do not offer this at WLC? Or perhaps he was hired into a long-term position that does not allow for tenure. Neither the JS Online article quoted above nor the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription required) has any additional information.

Dead and too stupid to lie down 

The long-awaited inauguration of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine appeared to be coming as soon as Monday as the Supreme Court had paved the way for publication of the official vote report Thursday. Yanukovych's people are responding by putting up seven (!) tents in a city in the Symferopil. But late today, the Supreme Court reversed itself and has banned publication of the results. This has dragged on for two weeks. Who do they think they are, Ohio?

This might give Yushchenko a few more days to decide who his prime minister will be. My money is on Zinchenko, as I believe it allows Yushchenko to spread his power among several line ministries. That would fit his style.

Straight to the dot-sig 

Dale Franks, writing about the Summers flap:
[H]ere's a general rule about life. By definition, anyone who prefaces his or her
remarks by declaiming a need to "speak truth to power" is an insufferable ass
. This is especially true if the person is a tenured professor who faces no prospect at all of any disciplinary action, or, indeed, any negative consequences whatsoever. In that case, "speaking truth to power" is little more than a consummate act of moral vanity.
My university is hip-deep in them. Maybe we should send them roses.

Complain, complain 

Quitcherbitchin. While in DC someone complained to me about how cold it was there -- it was 30 degrees. My car, at that moment, was sitting in a parking lot at 26 below. My old car. And it started.

14 above this morning, and I feel like dancin'.

I'll bet the house 

Tyler Cowen and Nouriel Roubini give two plausible arguments for why we could be headed to rougher times and higher interest rates. While flying back to St. Cloud last Sunday I ran into a group of local financial service professionals, and one asked about mortgage rates. Unlike Cowen and Roubini or Asha Bangalore at Northern Trust, I don't think long rates are going higher.
  1. How much greater does the gap between 10-year Treasuries and 10-year Eurosecurities need to be before we see a reversal in the exchange rate? I think that is already coming. When it comes, one reason for the Fed to lift short term rates disappears.
  2. Consumer credit, claimed to be the bugaboo that is causing all kinds of problems a couple of years ago, has in fact moderated.
  3. Last, if Roubini is correct in his analysis of the Fed, you would expect the Fed to in fact ease interest rates ahead to allow the housing bubble to dissipate more slowly. Like him, I can't tell you if there's a housing bubble or not (and no, I don't think a 35% rise in inflation-adjusted housing prices is evidence enough -- demographic shifts and quality adjustments may account for much of the rise) but so far the gloomier predictions have not held up.
So far, 10-years have held constant and so have mortgages. I am fairly confident that these rates will continue.

Can you even define it? 

Jenny D. has been running a great series of articles on multiculturalism in education, asking for a definition of what it means. She then follows up with a real-life example:

A HS English teacher in NYC had asked his students to write a brief composition. The next day, the students brought the writing to class, and the teacher told them he wanted several to read their work.

He called first on a girl, a Muslim girl wearing a hajab. She refused to read, and told the teacher she couldn't recite until a boy had gone first, according to her religion.

What should the teacher do? Or maybe I should say, what did the teacher do?

The answer is here. I think it's instructive for you to consider the problem before you click through.

Jenny is talking about elementary and secondary education, and I'm writing mostly from the experience of a state university. But her point would apply here as well.
Suppose that some parents came to a public school and said that their religion prohibited girls from learning math. The school should of course say no, because not learning math runs counter to the hallmarks of our civic society: it prohibits the liberty of the girls, and it cuts into equality of access to public goods. But the parents cry that the school is saying that their religion is no good, and send an intolerant message, etc. And the educator should say, no, our decision is neutral on your faith, but it is based on the beliefs of civic society, which are the most important values here.

Here's something else to consider: The US is one of the few nations that allows citizenry by choice. People decide to enter, become residents and citizens of the US. When they do so, the only obligation they have to is accept and foster our civic values.

When they become citizens, what in the Naturalization Oath requires this, exactly?
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Is supporting the equal education of mathematics for men and women "work of national importance"? If so, how elastic is the concept, and what are its limits?

I am quite certain, had I forced the female student to read her essay first, the full force of the multiculti bureaucracy of SCSU would fall on me for cultural insensitivity. And yet if I did not, would I have perpetuated sex inequality? It's a great question Jenny asks. Alas, it has no good answers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Another way econ is different 

Orin Kerr reports on Harvard Law adopting a seminar format for top faculty to present papers in progress to its students. I think many economics departments do this already. When I was at Claremont, students were encouraged to attend, and occasionally one of us would speak up, at seminars given by local and visiting faculty as well. Lunch-bag seminars for students were common, and faculty often attended. As I ask other faculty I know in economics, they tell me they had the same opportunities.

Special for me: I was a second-year grad student and told to help with setting up the refreshments. This included buying the wine -- the place I went to is still there, and whenever in Claremont I still go, as it was the place I learned to taste wine.

At least in one place, then, I was both economist and sommelier.

I miss my beard 

The Fraters are over the moon for a vibrating three-blade razor.

Last week at Target, whilst browsing for some cold medications I caught sight of the majestic Mach 3 Power Razor. After making sure that there wasn't another razor in the aisle that had already eclipsed the genius of the Mach 3 Power, I picked one up. What choice did I have? It vibrates!

And oh how it vibrates. The folks at Gillette truly have taken it to the next level with this little honey. The three blades trim your whiskers as effortlessly as an opposing quarterback slicing up the Vikings secondary, while the vibrating handle creates the sensation of a gentle massage. Shaving really doesn't get much better.

Geez, does your wife know?

For many years I had a full beard, as I'm told we professors are supposed to. Tired of finding bits of last night's burrito in there, I performed reductio ad mibeardem on it: Jawline fine, but for GOD'S SAKE MAN COVER THAT DOUBLE CHIN!! (Triple chin with all those burritos -- ed.) So the question was what to use for the rest?

This thing gets everything but email. I have held it. I have cherished it. Kicks ass over my Norelco 6.

I did not get it for Christmas. (I was too embarassed to ask for geeky shaveware.)

Damn you, Elder! I had repressed!

"It vibrates." I cannot wait for Hugh to quote this.

The cost of green when it's not your green 

SCSU departmental offices buy their paper from a central store run through its print shop. The shop manager sends an email today:
New 100% recycled paper for sale

Badger Envirographic 100, 20# 8.5�x11� 100% recycled 100% Post consumer
100% recycled White Bond Paper at $4.27/rm (500 sheets)

Great White MultiUse 20, 20# 8.5�x11� 50% recycled 30% Post consumer
50% recycled White Bond Paper at $2.73/rm (500 sheets)

So why do we have 100% recycled paper that costs 56% more than paper that is 50% recycled? Obviously the market has already determined that some recycling is optimal -- the Great White is the stock paper we use for everyday printing, and the price beats what I would pay at an OfficeMax or Office Depot. But at some point the marginal benefit of using more recycled paper is less than the marginal cost of using more recycled materials. Ergo the price goes up. (Your principles of micro question: Could it be price discimination for green consumers and the cost of the two types be the same? Or would competition elininate any differential?)

It should be evident that the impetus for this is a desire for "greening" the campus. In order for us to feel good about ourselves, we can say that we use only recycled materials. This would come for my one department (18 faculty) more than $60 for being able to buy a tag that says "we're green," where the green we spend is taxpayer green. If we all used paper on campus at about the same rate, the cost is more than $2500.

Flashlight moment 

Yesterday I said I couldn't find a webpage to illustrate this post. Today I found it. Res ipsa loquitur.

Tufte's at it again 

My coauthor at the conference last weekend said to me that our PowerPoint was "low-tech"; I countered that most hi-tech PPs are about as useful as, um, mammaries on male bovine. One person kept using a spin transition that, given the early hour and lack of sleep, was vertigo-inducing. Ours was on white background and does no fancy stuff, and I never did like the charts, but it was better than most anyone else's.

I am putting up today my poster by Edward Tufte, who has just posted a chapter to a new book called "Beautiful Evidence". As Craig Newmark notes, it's very instructive unless you're the poor schlub whose book he's skewered.

Summers breezes at lunchtime talk 

Hugh Hewitt had a field day last night with the story of economist-turned-Harvard-President Larry Summers offending female scientists with his comments that there may be innate differences in the sexes that could cause different outcomes in, say, employment choices.

In the era of instant commentary via the blogs, you can't make such statements and then go to ground as Summers has. Too bad he doesn't have a blog, as I recommended in my book. He'd have the ability to "revise and extend his remarks" before the MSM gets them into circulation tomorrow.

If the president of a Christian university made the statement that Summers made, or a Bush Cabinet secretary, how long would they last in their job? How long will Summers last?

The second is a decent point, but it's worth noting a couple more things. As Hugh and Tom Bevans from Real Clear Politics noted, the leftists have been after Summers for some time after l'affaire Cornel and the serious attempt that Summers is making at reforming the curriculum. At a university that doesn't take knowledge seriously any more, why wouldn't we find scientists aghast at scientific evidence that women and men might be wired differently? He's been in this battle almost since he arrived on campus, so the thought that he might be getting a lesson now is missing the history of Summers and the Harvard presidency.

Another issue, though, is that Summers was speaking at an NBER meeting. The National Bureau of Economic Research has long funded a Science and Engineering Workforce Project that has included a component on getting more women into the area. Summers is invited to give a lunch talk. The talk is at a conference where people are supposed to think about this topic:

Women and underrepresented minorities have increased their share of S&E degrees in the past two decades. What forces have facilitated/impeded this process? How has the labor market adjusted? What challenges do women and underrepresented groups face in the S&E job market and how can these be alleviated? What programs and policies can further the process of diversifying the science workforce?
Is it at least possible for someone to suggest that, perhaps, the distribution of scientists by sex is at an optimal rate right now? It would be an economist's predisposition to look at any market outcome and presume it to be equilibrium and optimal unless one finds facts to the contrary. The problem is that that predisposition is anathema to the dominant paradigm at American liberal arts institutions today.

Will anything happen to Summers as a result of this? I think not. The Board of Trustees should have known that Summers is someone who speaks his mind and is less guarded than the usual risk-averse alumni schmoozer. If they haven't pulled in his reins on reforming general ed at Harvard, it's highly unlikely this will be more than a tempest in a teapot.

UPDATE: HedgeFundGuy also notes:

It's great to see someone standing up to the political nonsense at the front lines, even though

"he kept saying things we had refuted in the first half of the day," said Denton, the outgoing dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington

So they already proved that all gender disparities are due to societal biases? Perhaps they made a math error. Supposedly Summers made Becker's classic point about discrimination, that if women were solely being excluded by environment factors (an irrational prejudice), a university could excel by scooping up underappreciated women, as many universities did with Jews when they were discriminated against in the mid and early 20th century. That doesn't appear to be happening, in spite of many universities going out of their way to target and promote women.

If that's the story (also the story for why the Red Sox couldn't win in the 50s because they wouldn't integrate), it's further evidence that economists shouldn't be Harvard University presidents -- they are predisposed to tell the truth.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I like to watch, Jane 

So which would you rather do
  1. watch a film and some people discuss blogs at a university campus, or
  2. come to Keegan's Saturday, 5-9pm, for a Minnesota Organization of Blogs gathering?
It'll be just like radio, only you can drink much further.

Crying wolf-ensohn 

Thinking about my first post today on my visit to the World Bank this weekend and Easterly's lunch talk, I happened upon this article by Ken Rogoff on the outgoing Bank president James Wolfensohn.

Wolfensohn's best call was to notice that with the end of the cold war there was no longer any reason for Western-sponsored aid agencies to slavishly fund corrupt Third World leaders. Only the most naive observer could fail to recognize that poor governance and weak institutions were at the root of the developing world's growth problems. Wolfensohn asked his staff: Why shouldn't the World Bank president just come clean on the pernicious effects of Third World corruption? And so he did. Why not direct the World Bank's top-notch economists to try to quantify the effects of corruption on growth so that they stared people in the face? He did that, too. Bravo.

Unfortunately, not all of Wolfensohn's calls were quite so successful. One mistake was to make the bank too beholden to development fads, from microfinance to faith-based development. Indeed, the bank has followed so many trends in so many circles that these days, nobody is quite sure what it stands for. One of Wolfensohn's signature reforms was to emphasize that developing-country governments know best what works in their own countries. That's a warm philosophy and politically correct. Unfortunately, however, it contradicts Wolfensohn's own observation that poor governance lies at the root of most poverty in the world today.

This was somewhat the point on which Easterly foundered too. Given that you've decided most places that are still poorly developed economically suffer from corruption, and since the Bank and the Fund are largely government-to-government businesses, what is the right strategy? If you do business with only non-corrupt governments, eventually all the international financial institutions have no more clients in need of expert advice. Neither Rogoff, a former chief economist for the IMF, nor Easterly seems to support that.

Interested? Read the Meltzer report. It recommends inter alia development banks do no business with countries with per capita GDP over $4000 per year or with countries with investment-grade bonds sold in international markets. Who would be left?

Details of crisis averted in Ukraine  

C.J. Chivers has a great article today fingering the Ukrainian intelligence service as the source of counterpressure against the Interior Ministry's movement to crush the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. (I originally reported some of this back in November; Scott Clark had more details.) The story is fascinating in its depth. I had wondered how Tymoshenko and Yushchenko kept knowing something was afoot -- it appears well-placed people tipped them.

Vouchers with strings 

Joanne Jacobs:
On West Wing, a Texas congressman is a longshot candidate for president, though we know he's got a chance since he's played by Jimmy Smits. He's supposed to be a good guy who's interested in policy, specifically education. He talks about accountability and firing bad teachers, while paying merit pay to good ones. So, how would he hold teachers and schools accountable across the country? Nationalize education. This is presented as the obviously good policy that anybody with courage would support. I offer this as a sign of what liberal Hollywood writers are thinking.

Dead cat bounce 

I hate to disagree with Mitch, in part because he's a lot bigger than me, but I'm not inclined to think so highly of the news of economic recovery in Iraq. Referring to a new IMF report on conditions there that predicted a 52% increase in GDP in Iraq in 2004, 17% this year and a 9% average for 2006-09, Mitch comments,

...there would be no way to project such a boom if the vast majority of Iraq weren't in relatively good shape.

Naturally, there are security issues; duh. But booms are not symptoms on nations where the majority of the workers and businesspeople are worried about getting blown up on the way to work in the morning.

Two points need to be made. First, even if the 52% number was hit for 2004 -- a figure over which there should be some skepticism -- it is a bounce off of a very low number. The war reduced GDP in Iraq by 35% according to the interim government's letter to the IMF (in which it sought aid), so hitting that number puts us at the end of 2004 at 98.8% of the level at the end of 2002. This in a country with a population growth rate of 3% and per capita GDP around $800/year, is not a good thing. The growth ahead depends largely on Iraq bouncing back to production levels around 3 million barrels per day, from the 1 mbpd after the war ended. So far, that doesn't appear to be happening.

And there has to be some sense that the people are sharing in the new wealth. Suppose we had an investment boom in Iraq in 2001 induced by Saddam building 10,000 new statues of his own likeness. Would the average Iraqi feel better? Certainly not. So there's an investment boom today, but where's the money coming from, and who is guiding its use in rebuilding the Iraqi economy -- workers and businesspeople? The interim government? The Americans? That's a key question, and not one for which we have a very good answer right now.

Most every successor state of the former Soviet Union put up strong growth figures for a few years after stabilization, and some of them would approximate the figures forecast for Iraq. But that doesn't mean all of those countries are healthy shining beacons of capitalism; it only means that the decline was so far that the recovery started from very low levels, giving nice-looking growth numbers: this is known in finance slang as a dead cat bounce. So too is the case in Iraq.

UPDATE: Mitch replies:
However, I have to ask; where does a Dead Cat Bounce end, and recovery begin? As
King himself notes, the story didn't answer a lot of the questions about the nature of the investment or the recovery; so while we don't know that the news is good, we also would be mistaken in insisting it's not.

In a technical sense I can answer his question. If we imagine the path Iraq was on if war had not been threatened, took place and the resulting insurgency had not arisen, we would argue that recovery is when we reach that line. Where would that be? I can only guess. But given the economy was already in decline in 2002 because of the vote for war in Congress in October that year, and that at end-2004 we're at 98.8% of the 2002 level, it's safe to say we're not there yet.

But Mitch's point really isn't technical, nor was mine. The question is does Iraq now has a faster rate of economic development with the soon-to-be-elected government and its resulting economic policies than it did under Saddam, and how does that effect living standards for everyday Iraqis? The answer to that question, as I said, isn't as clear cut as I thought Mitch had implied in his first post. Autocrats like fast growth rates, so that they can collect more tax revenues to hand out to their supporters without angering the non-supporters enough to challenge the autocrat. (See most of East Asia in the 1970-97 period.) Shaky democracies sometimes lead to lower growth rates as nobody has an interest in making the economy perform well for the next government if they aren't sure they'll be part of it (sort of describes the Minnesota Legislature, but I'm more thinking Latin America.)

Who will be Iraq's Erhard? I'm more interested in that than who will be its Adenauer.

How long before they teach blogging? 

There is a course taught in our Women's Studies program called "Women and Computers". An ad for the course appears on a bulletin board in our building.
Can computers and the Internet be used by feminists to smash patriarchy?
Join WS445/545 to explore and discuss

  • Is the Internet based on androcentric norms?

  • How the intersection of race, class, geneder and sexual orientation affect people's use of computers and the Internet?

  • How feminist organize for social justice using computers and the Internet?

  • And improve your advocacy skills by learning how to
    • make Web sites

    • use Excel for statistical evidence

    • prepare attention-grabbing graphics and PowerPoint slide shows.
She also copies this picture to make her point. The course is required for the new Women's Studies majors. I think this course may be the type of evidence that Brainwashing is looking for, but students in that major probably have already gone 'round the bend. This course is about advocacy, pure and simple.

More interestingly, this course -- taught by a faculty member in semi-retirement -- is still using a very old model for how to reach people. How long before we start seeing our women's studies majors be required to create their own blogs? Maybe I should buy domain name rights to

Of course, I cannot find a website for this course, which is set to begin within a week.

Interesting moments from a conference 

I spent the weekend in DC at the Armenian International Policy Research Group third annual conference at the World Bank. The conference had far fewer academics than my normal conference schedule and more World Bank, IMF and government types. The quality of the paper was good. But there were some other moments that I found quite interesting:

What is the elasticity of demand for abortion? 

I'm just wondering, after reading this quote on Michael Munger's blog.
On the subway, Peter asked, 'Shouldn't we consider having triplets?' And I had this adverse reaction: 'This is why they say it's the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That's easy for you to say, but I'd have to give up my life.' Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It's not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it. -- Amy Richards, an abortion rights advocate, describes her decision to kill two of her babies, leaving her with a single baby, instead of having triplets

Here's one answer to the elasticity question.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Unfortunately, you might be in pictures 

Courtesy of Best of the Web: Evan Coyne Maloney is seeking more documetation of academic bias on college campuses. Here's what he suggests for students to do,
  1. When a professor voices his or her political views in class--but only when it does not pertain to the subject matter at hand--keep track of how much class time is spent on the political discussion, and to the best of your ability, record the comments made by the professor.
  2. Also, record the date of the discussion, the name of your professor, the name and course ID of the class, and the name and location (city and state) of your school.
  3. Lastly, you must be able to provide the name of at least one other student who was present at the time and who is willing to corroborate your report.
Send email to him at classtime (AT) academicbias (DOT) com. I would be delighted to hear of students at SCSU who have sent in email to AcademicBias, so if you do, copy me at comments (AT) scsuscholars (DOT) com. I don't have film, but I could certainly get your story told far and wide.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Can't figure why she called 

The St. Cloud Times article I mentioned yesterday is more about the Times' own chat area than about blogs. As often happens, I talk for about 25 minutes and get two innocuous quotes. (That's another reason you have a blog -- ed.) But there is a juicy tidbit in here. The chat area, you will recall, was part of a debate on campus surrounding the Homecoming Queen controversy.

Comments made online about St. Cloud State's male homecoming queen is why one
sociology professor asked the Times to prohibit anonymous postings.

"There were hateful things said about people of color, immigrants and gay and lesbian people," assistant professor Tracy Ore said. "They wouldn't normally express (that) if they had to reveal who they were. ... It's clear we have bigotry. I don't think we need to provide anonymity to express that. ... It doesn't make me want to live here."

Such perceptions of online communities are common, Hillygus said. In some cases, a free-for-all discussion doesn't necessarily teach anyone anything.

"The only people who are really going to be listening and absorbing is a very select portion. ... Some people just look online for postings that reinforce their own opinions."

But for every hateful posting, there's a recourse available, Yenne said.

"If you find it objectionable, then why aren't you on there stating your case?" he said. "You can ask someone, 'Why do you say that?' "

Yes, a newspaper person says the only answer to hateful speech is more speech. Cuppa coffee for Mr. Yenne, the Times online news director. But Ore seems to have this ass-backwards. Rather than finding people who hold hateful thoughts and let them express them, bring them in the open and address them, she would prefer to have those people keep their thoughts sub rosa. Which then allows her, I suppose, to believe everyone is racist/sexist/homophobic, and maybe that's her goal.

The other comment, by a Harvard professor named Sunshine Hillygus, that we're only looking for comments that support our own opinions? What does she think is happening on this campus?

More fun with cardinality 

Remember I was talking about the index of economic freedom last week and how I had issues with measurement? That's not nearly as offputting as these papers coming out at the American Economics Association meetings last weekend in which we made happiness a number (requires free subscription). Here's an example graph of the kind of thing we're talking about. (This one wasn't at the conference, but simply an exemplar of the work being done.)

The vertical axis is the result of two questions done in the World Values Surveys of 86 countries asking whether people were "happy" and whether they were satisfied with life. The horizontal scale is the standard of living in these countries as measured by per capita income.

Now the thing the researchers always point out is the decreasing slope of the line that describes that scatterplot -- adding much more to your GNP per capita doesn't add that much to your happiness. Of course, if you were to make the graph log-linear (log of (GNP/capita) vs. happiness) you might get back a straight line, indicating happiness increases with a percentage increase in your income. Not sure what the issue is there.

But the thing that bothers more is what the heck that vertical scale really measures? What does it mean to be 3-happy versus 4-happy? How can you compare happiness across different cultures?

Try this graph as well. Does happiness increase at an increasing rate with democracy? What does this graph mean?

So question is: why is it OK to use a cardinal scale to represent happiness?

More to universities than good biology departments 

Douglas Bass has uncovered a top 500 ranking of universities in the world from a Chinese institution. The U of M ranks 33rd; SCSU didn't make the list. Given the ranking criteria, it's no surprise. The emphasis is on research institutions in the natural sciences. I don't know as that would give you a very good ranking for places to send your children.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Idiots never sleep 

Walking around my office building lately I see flyers for a Department of Peace rally to coincide with the Presidential Inauguration. These Kucinich Bolsheviks (note: we cannot have Hewitt stealing this term for his campaign to get hearings about Rathergate. I want the term Bolshevik kept pure to represent a particularly vile form of leftist, thankee) wish to continue to run a campaign that attracted even fewer votes than the Libertarian Party. This idea attracted a little attention when Walter Cronkite went for it, but I thought it had died after Kucinich had lost his quixotic bid for the presidency.

I'm listening to Hugh now and he's absolutely right: This will be the spring of peace rallies. It's the one hammer they have left, and they will use it. They will not go to sleep. They will continue to pound away on Iraq, on Afghanistan, and elsewhere. And the campuses will work right along with them.

The rally coincides with the first day of classes here, and we can hope as well that the temperatures in Minnesocold continue to stay below zero.

Choosing my bank 

Look, this is really quite easy to understand:
  1. If you work for a newspaper and you attack an advertiser, the advertiser might wish to reconsider where to take his advertising dollars.
  2. If the advertiser makes a public point of pulling the ad dollars, those who support the newspaper journalist can certainly stop doing business with that advertiser.
  3. If the newspaper's editors don't really care, neither will the newspaper writer.
  4. $250k in ad revenue is probably more a problem to a newspaper than $77.03 in some blogger's checking account. The importance of the money to them is the size of the deposit times the interest margin, if anyone cares. Interest margin for a place like TCF is probably about 3%.
  5. This has nothing to do with the freedom of the press or free speech; it's called the sanctity of contracts and the market. And the principal-agent problem.
That said, TCF can expect me to open an account with them next week.

Mitch has more.

Too much of a good thing 

Hindrocket points out a sensible editorial in the Rocky Mountain News on the limits to diversity, which of course quotes John.
Diversity may be the single most commonly cited goal of American institutions these days. Nearly every organization - public or private, secular or religious, non-profit or buccaneer capitalist - seems to list internal diversity among its leading goals. And yet as John Hinderaker plausibly argues on in a postmortem on CBS News' Rathergate, "If there is a single overriding explanation for how a fake story, intended to influence a presidential election through the use of forged documents, could have been promulgated by 60 Minutes, it is the lack of diversity at CBS News."
John's post that RMN was quoting continued with words that should sound all too familiar to conservatives and libertarians teaching at American universities.

If there had been anyone in the organization who did not share Mary Mapes's politics, who was not desperate to counteract the Swift Boat Vets and deliver the election to the Democrats, then certain obvious questions would have been asked: Where, exactly, did these documents come from? What reason is there to think that they really originated in the "personal files" of a long-dead National Guard officer, if his family has no knowledge of them? How did such modern-looking memos come to be produced in the early 1970s? ... Isn't it a funny coincidence that these "newly discovered" memos are attributed to the one person in this story who is conveniently dead?

And so on, ad nearly infinitum. But, because virtually everyone in the CBS News organization shared Mary Mapes's politics and objective (i.e., the election of John Kerry), skeptical questions were not asked. If there is a single overriding explanation for how a fake story, intended to influence a Presidential election through the use of forged documents, could have been promulgated by 60 Minutes, it is the lack of diversity at CBS News.

For some years now, the party line of the mainstream media has been: of course we're pretty much all Democrats, but that doesn't influence our news coverage. If nothing else, Rathergate should put that defense to rest once and for all.

Imagine: If there was a committee of academics that had true intellectual diversity that heard curriculum proposals at a university, what might happen to proposals to forms Departments of Whatever Group Studies? "What are the central tenets of this field?" "What will majors look like who graduate from these programs?" "Where will they find jobs?" These questions do not get asked now, because nobody thinks to ask them, because all the people on the committees share an ideology, and the goals of these departments and courses include enlisting allies from the student body.

John says he's going to the Kennedy school for a debate that "about how bloggers can become more credible by adopting the standards of mainstream journalists." He argues that it's the blogosphere's system of checks and balances that may lead it to outperform the MSM. The same thing may happen in academia in the future only if good faculty stand up and ask those questions.

"Disaster shows discretion" 

I'm delighted that the Captain's Quarters World Relief Day event was able to raise over $33,000, with $6,000 kicked in on the last day yesterday. Thanks to all of you who contributed.

I confess to being frustrated by these stories when I read them. It's hard to fathom how in a world of plenty so many can die from a tsunami. But of course there is poverty still in the world, and the point of this

India Uncut may have written the best thoughts I've found on what happens when disaster strikes. Writing from Mumbai,
All through Tamil Nadu we have seen that it is the poor who have suffered most, a fact that has been so commented upon and so amply illustrated that I won�t bother to elaborate upon it. And from this we come to the simple conclusion: a fight to minimise the impact of a future tragedy is essentially a fight against poverty. This is a battle we are supposed to have been fighting for the last 50 years, but our forays have been so half-hearted that we haven�t come close to succeeding. Poverty is a formidable enemy, and you cannot win a war if you�re wondering what�s for breakfast.

So how do we defeat poverty? I have written about this before, and my answer remains the same: free markets, open economy, more accountable government.
That is a lesson driven home in so many ways. We know that the poor tend to end up in places prone to natural disasters, because those places will be cheaper. One reason why they're cheaper is that the property rights to the land are less secure. As Michael Lipton notes,

And if you have insecure property rights, you don't invest in protection against earthquake or flood or anything else because if you invest, your landlord might chuck you out and you don't have those property rights tomorrow.

What is the upshot of this? In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in the late 1980s, one-quarter of all the urban squatters had been driven to Dhaka by floods or cyclones, by natural disaster elsewhere (Shakur 1987).

I was in Andra Pradesh in 1977 during the cyclone, and work done there later on showed what happened to mortality in the villages by the coast near Bapatla which were worst hit by the cyclone. One-quarter of all the small and marginal farmers, landless, and fisherman's households died. This was a terrible event. But among large farmers and officials, only 1 to 3 percent died - about 2 percent.

By 1981, the large farmers had recovered from the cyclone and their income was at better levels than before it. But the small and marginal farmers and the landless were still worse off four years later than they had been before the cyclone. So natural disasters discriminate against the poor in a number of ways.

Mostly in respect to all these shocks, the poor face more exposure, greater vulnerability, and a greater penalty on normal productive activity because they have to protect themselves against the risk of these shocks.
The point is that if you wish to work to protect against future tsunamis, the best thing you can do is to fight poverty. And to fight poverty, you must build structures of private property, something badly lacking in many parts of Asia. As I pointed out last week, measures of economic freedom tend to be dominated by simpler measures of the spread and security of property rights. Indonesia ranks poorly in most areas of economic freedom in the Heritage survey, and particularly in the area of property rights. India does a little better in property rights but less well elsewhere.

How to keep an economist busy all day 

Just realized it was 3:30 and I hadn't posted yet today. I did talk to a reporter for the St. Cloud Times about bloggers for a half an hour. (I'll link that up tomorrow if they run it.) I tried to persuade her to come to the next MOBfest, which is a week from Saturday, Jan. 22, from 5 to 9 at Keegans. I got a note from Sean Hackbarth from The American Mind that he would be there, which would be very cool. Apparently the Wisconsin bloggers are thinking about radio too, so we'll be interested in hearing from him.

One hint, Sean: Get good advertising; it helps pay for dinner.

But actually much of the morning was stuck in a car dealership trying to get a brake mechanism repaired that was making very whiny sounds. It's about 5 below zero here and cars naturally have this resistance to performing, but this sound was out of hand. I tried to see if I could blog from my Treo, but I'd've had to do it by post-by-mail and I couldn't proof anything. And had I, I wouldn't have been getting ready for a talk Saturday in DC at the AIPRG conference. (It's from the project I did in August.) I had lunch with a friend and had to admit I had spent most of my morning reading compilation guides from the IMF's balance of payments than anything else, and in fact enjoying myself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Reminder: World Vision Day is TODAY! 

(BTTT) A reminder that the Captain's Quarters World Vision Day for tsunami relief is coming up tomorrow today. Our many donors have already raised $25,000; I am hopeful that a concerted push tomorrow today can double that number. Sounds absurd? Let's prove 'em wrong, shall we?

Maybe the dog ate his homework too 

As I had thought, the Central Election Commission in Ukraine waited until Monday -- after the Orthodox holidays -- to make Viktor Yushchenko's electoral victory official. And just as predictably, the loser, Viktor Yanukovych, is going to file an appeal with the Supreme Court -- except that he isn't ready quite yet.

"We will file the complaint within a few days," Taras Chornovyl, Yanukovych's
campaign manager, told reporters. Yanukovych's supporters had earlier said they
would file the complaints to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

"The documents are not ready yet," Chornovyl said. He added that the deadline for filing the complaints is next Tuesday.

Chornovyl announced that the appeal would consist of 621 volumes of documents and 240 videotapes that would prove election fraud on Dec. 26.

The final official vote count showed Yushchenko with 52 percent and Yanukovych with 44 percent. But the result must be approved by the Supreme Court and published in two official government newspapers before Yushchenko can be inaugurated, and the court said Tuesday it must first review Yanukovych's complaint.

"We believe in the Ukrainian (Supreme) Court ... we have other possibilities to protect our rights but we hope we will not have to use them," said Nestor Shufrich, Yanukovych's representative in the Central Election Commission.

That last paragraph can mean many things, and none of them are very pleasant. Le Sabot suggests it will be forming committees -- maybe Yanukovych thinks he's fighting for presidency of a faculty union? The thought of Yanukovych appealing to the European Court of Human Rights -- now that's ironic!

I need to know what Lileks scores 

My dad was the guy that locked up the plant where he worked for thirty years and handed the key to the bank. He then went to selling antiques full-time and hasn't looked back for the last eighteen years. I'm sending him this quiz on pricing antiques.

I wonder what the difference is in prices between the U.S. and the U.K. for collectibles? In antique dealing, individual knowledge is important, but so too is location. Antiques in MN sell for much more than in ME or MA, I've found.

So far, no Hummels seen on the quiz.

(H/T: Mahalanobis.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

College shopping wisely 

Commenting on a couple of cases of professorial intimidation at Foothill College, Brainstorming's DC says,
What kind of children do we have for college professors these days? And parents pay for this crap? Not me, baby. Not going to happen. I've told my kids that Mom and Dad will not be paying for any college with an agenda of political indoctrination. I urge all parents to get with the program.
The question is, DC, how do they get on the program? She suggests the Academic Bill of Rights, which I continue to argue is overkill and a stalking horse for other reforms that David Horowitz and the Students for Academic Freedom seek. I suggest, as the season for high school seniors to decide on colleges heats up, that parents can "get with the program" by reading ISI's Choosing the Right College.

ISI makes clear that the important stuff to know about isn't whether the school is upholding some equilibrium of leftist and rightist cant but how they go about getting a liberal arts education. I would give my children money, and lots of it, to learn at a school where you could choose your own core curriculum as this book does. Unfortunately it covers only 125 institutions in America, but even if your junior or senior isn't going to one of these you owe it him or her to educate yourself on what to seek in core curricula. You can get more information at their College Guide sub-site including asking the right questions.

I suggest that parents not seek simple markers like ABOR as substitutes for asking good questions and taking control of their college education.

A realistic socialist dies 

Robert Heilbroner died last week. He wrote The Worldly Philosophers, which during my generation in undergraduate economics programs was fairly required of all econ majors. As I've mentioned, through most of my undergraduate program I waffled between business/economics and philosophy as majors, ending up with a minor in the latter. I have to say I liked Heilbroner's book, even though it was far too praising of command and control economic policies. It was an exposure to how much economics touched political philosophy and vice versa. That book came to me at the same time I was taking history of economic thought, and tying together Smith, Ricardo and Marx was part of what tipped me towards economics as a field later.

Heilbroner's statements after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are why I call him "realistic". While I can't find the articles online, I remember them well, thinking "If Heilbroner thinks the argument between capitalism and socialism is over, then I guess it is." Heilbroner later wrote an entry about socialism for the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics that starts:
Socialism�defined as a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production�was the tragic failure of the twentieth century. Born of a commitment to remedy the economic and moral defects of capitalism, it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty. Yet the idea and the ideal of socialism linger on. Whether socialism in some form will eventually return as a major organizing force in human affairs is unknown, but no one can accurately appraise its prospects who has not taken into account the dramatic story of its rise and fall.

He was never forgiven by the Left for his realism.

What's in King George's wallet? 

After my ecstatic Red Sox October, you might think I'd be despondent now with the rumblings of George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. I'm actually not, for reasons Stan McNeal explains. Richard Sandomir (who, btw, is the best "business of baseball" reporter in the country and needs to be on more radio shows) argues that the Yankees are losing money but that it's all about the winning. John Palmer wonders about King George's motivations.
Another possibility might be that it is a good consumption purchase by a team owner who is willing to sacrifice profits in order to purchase the utility of winning games -- an owner who might rather sniff the jocks of winners than losers.

I'm not buying that one, Doc, not after watching Tom Yawkey in baseball gear on the field year after year and still coming up short.

John's first instinct is still the best: player salaries depend on the additional revenue a player brings to a team (what economists call "marginal revenue product" or MRP), and the extra revenue a player brings to the Yankees is higher than almost anywhere else. The Mets, getting their own TV contract, could conceivably make as much, which is how they justify getting Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran.

It's also worth noting that, for a while, the fact that the Yankees have NOT won the title makes the MRP for them higher, as their fans both expect a title and will pay through the nose to watch it happen. In contrast, some of the MRP for the Red Sox might have left with the weight (or wait) of 1918.

Neither fish nor fowl 

Academic searches are naturally tricky things. Departments that have conflict will battle over gaining a new ally or new enemy; departments that have good chemistry will do everything in their power to avoid upsetting it. When hires have more than one dimension, such as hiring an outside department chair as well as a new faculty member, they are even trickier to manage.

One example is this story from the economics department at the University of Nebraska, where they have been trying to hire someone to run the Nebraska Council on Economic Education who could also be a department member. Since I know (at least by reputation, and a few on a first-name basis) many of the principals to the story I am going to be a little circumspect here. But the problem is that what could be required to run a council for economic education might not fit with what it takes to be a faculty member at a research institution. The job ad asks for mainly administrative experience, yet the fellow could end up losing the job and retreating into the faculty.
The candidate should have experience in education, business, government, or with a nonprofit organization. The individual selected must have a demonstrated record of administering programs, motivating people, and securing grant and other funding. Work in economic education is highly preferred but all suitable applicants will be considered.

Oftentimes good administrators have sacrificed research interests -- I know being a department chairman has cut into my research time, and what I get done is largely in the evening. Good departments will be resistant to that dilution of their standards. This is why I found it funny that the article notes that the department focused on the lack of administrative experience of the finalists. That's not the issue they would be concerned about. The council's contributors, on the other hand, should be. There's no indication that they would have been acceptable to that council's board of directors. And that's the problem with these types of positions -- the department and the center or council often have different preferences; outside academic chairs (who usually get a tenured appointment) face two sets of preference from the department and the dean and provost, and a department that can't agree to an internal candidate for chair raises a red flag.

One suspects there's more to the story. I honestly don't know if there is or not.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Still no Hewitt broadcast archives 

Sadly enough, this note from the webmaster for KRLA.

We are no longer offering extended listening options on our web site for the Bill Bennett, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt shows, due to the increasing demand and costs of streaming the archived broadcasts.

We are currently concentrating our streaming efforts on continuing the "live feed" which streams all of our programming in real time. However we are working with the Salem Web Network on a new web site that will hopefully be able to incorporate the archives soon.

Once again tonight, I have child duties until 7pm, so no Hewitt for me, just as last week.

Guess I'll listen to NARN's own archives instead.

Get serious about the World Bank 

Via this post from Nouriel Roubini -- with whom I agree that Israel has done well to get Stan Fischer to head its central bank -- I get a good news/bad news moment about the World Bank. The good news is that James Wolfensohn is leaving and Robert Zoellick is no longer tapped to be his successor. This is good news because Wolfensohn is seen as very heavy-handed, prickly, and distrustful of people who try to tell him how to change World Bank policy for the better. Zoellick might have been more receptive, but the position is not about trade and nothing else in Zoellick's resume would indicate that he was ready to deal with the Bank's issues.

But the bad news is that the Bush Administration is seriously considering letting John Taylor take the post. Taylor is an academic economist who went over to Treasury to take the high-visibility post of undersecretary for international affairs. See the WSJ article in the comments on Roubini's post to see how underwhelming he has been -- my contacts indicate a similar performance while he was on the Council of Economic Advisors.

What would be good for the World Bank? In his testimony to Congress after authoring a report on reforms at the Bank and the IMF, Allen Meltzer makes it quite clear:

The central issue about the World Bank with its many programs is: It spends or lends about $20 billion a year but neither we nor they know which programs are effective and warrant expansion or retention, and which are ineffective and inefficient and should be abandoned. The monitoring that Congress insisted upon for part of IDA should be extended to the entire bank and its affiliates.

There are two ways to gain the needed information. One is an independent performance audit by an outside agency. Another is development of an independent, internal group similar to the GAO or the IMF�s Independent Evaluation Office. The current arrangement does not meet this standard.

An example will bring out the problem. We have considerable evidence that poverty has declined dramatically measured by the number of people living on $1 per day or less. The decline is most striking in Asia especially in China and India. Market opening, private investment, protection of property rights, and the like contributed much to the improvement. Where these spurs to growth and development are largely absent, as in Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty has increased. Did World Bank programs contribute to the reduction of poverty in Asia? Did these programs ameliorate worsening prospects in Africa? The Congress should require answers to these questions.

Further, the Bank should concentrate on the hard cases, the impoverished countries. The Bank should have an explicit program for graduation. Countries that can borrow in the capital markets with investment grade ratings should not receive subsidized loans. Those loans can be better used to provide potable water, sanitary sewers, disease control in the poorest countries and to encourage countries to adopt institutional reforms that have been effective in spurring development. These include the rule of law, open trading arrangements, and protection of property rights and individual rights.

It is quite unlikely that any of the candidates that the Bush Administration is considering have the intellectual wherewithal and the determination to make this happen. If Bush is serious about making the spread of democracy a cornerstone of his foreign policy, getting serious about the World Bank should be a priority.

The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data' 

In an article (available for subscribers only to The Chronicle of Higher Ed) on a lecture given by Richard Sander, whose study has been outlined at the Volokh Conspiracy (see the links at the bottom of that post to the rest of the story), there are some really annoying misunderstandings of statistical studies like Prof. Sander's. Two examples suffice. First,

Richard O. Lempert, a law professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who is one of four authors of a paper challenging the Sander study, called it "effective rhetoric but poor science."

"If I believed all of Rick's results, I would change my position on affirmative action," he said. "Who wants to send more blacks to law school to have them get poor grades or fail the bar?"

He argued that while it is indisputable and troubling that black students who enter law school are less likely to graduate and more likely to fail the bar, that pattern does not result from affirmative action. Financial difficulties and other circumstances may also be significant factors.

Well, if you take time to read the study, you find that Sander did look at family income as a determinant to graduation rates and passing the bar (pp. 439-40), and it has "a marginal but measurable role." Even correcting for that, affirmative action still plays a role. At least Prof. Lempert is trying to write a competing study; we'll see what that finds in time I guess. Perhaps he has a better way of measuring financial difficulties. But the point is that Sander's study already holds family income constant. Prof. Lempert, by the way, is not a newcomer to this study: His results in a 2000 study, showing that black University of Michigan Law School students succeeded as often as white students, was entered in evidence in Grutter. The results of the Lempert, et al., study should be out in May.

The other is just the usual ignorant comments about statistics:

Vernellia R. Randall, a professor of law at the University of Dayton, said she found his conclusions patronizing.

"It's all about statistics -- it's not about people," said Ms. Randall, who is black. "How does he know what's bad for me if he's never even talked to me?"

See the title to this post, Prof. Randall.

Prayers for an alumnus 

Yesterday I received a letter from Bill Johnson. Bill was an econ major who graduated from us a couple of years ago. Sometimes your favorite students are the ones you help get C+'s rather than A's, kids for whom the material doesn't come easy but who succeed through hard work. I would not call Bill my brightest student -- and I don't think Bill would mind my saying that -- but he was a very pleasant and polite young man who wanted to complete school to pursue a career in the military. Most of my students leave and don't write again; I've been able to keep in some contact with him as he's moved into the Marines. He writes:
I am a 2ndLt in the USMC. I have gone through Officers' Candidate School, The Basic School, and The Infantry Officer Course. I now face my biggest challenge, Fallujah. I am the second platoon commander of India Company, Third Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment. I have 34 outstanding Marines in my command. I would like to personally ask my family and friends one thing:

As we leave into combat tomorrow, say a prayer for my Marines. As long as I bring them all back safely, I have done my job. We have brave men and women in many services in harm's way protecting our freedom. No matter what we think politically, no matter what religion we adopt, and no matter what our beliefs are, they are protecting us. ...

Thank all for the support you have given me in my life, and now it is my turn to return the favor to all.

I'm proud to post this note, and I ask my readers to join me in saying a prayer for Bill and India Co.

A measly bunch 

From frequent reader and contributer Roger Lewis:

From some show on Wednesday night

If I wanted to exercise, I never would have become an economist.

(Could just as easily been "become an accountant")
The gaggle at the American Economics Association meetings (and here are the papers, online for the first time, wonderful Web!) somewhat put that to the test. My brother came to visit me at the meetings; he has lifted weights for about 25 years and has the body to prove it. We went to a great restaurant with a few economists, and the difference was striking.

Reminds me of a true story:
I'm riding up the elevator at the Boston ASSA meetings a few years back. In the car with me is a woman who works in the hotel. I ask her if economists are really as dull a bunch as they're made out to be. She responds that she used to be stationed at the NYC branch of the chain when the meetings were held there and that even the hookers had taken the week off.
I wish I had seen more of the meetings, but like Alex Tabarrok I got stuck in a hotel room for two straight days -- then my brother showed up and economics wasn't so damned important. Sounds like I missed a good meeting, given what David Warsh reports.

Too high to blog 

The hotel at the conference said it was internet-ready and had wireless. This involved phone lines (I kicked aside all my landline internet access 18 months ago) and the wireless was in the lobby, which was packed with economists (not a pretty sight!) It certainly was not accessible from my room on the 25th floor. Since I was interviewing 25 people in two days for a position here, there was no way to get to blog -- and I'm too cheap to blog for $10 from the Starbucks across the street yesterday.

I've got a load of post-conference things to do today plus a flooded basement bathroom at home. Back this PM.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Economic freedom more than just adding up 

I'm on my way to the AEA meeting I mentioned below, and am stuck waiting for a plane. Maybe I can get to this post I meant to do last night.

There has been ample discussion of the new Index of Economic Freedom that was written up earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal. (See this discussion at the Fire Ant Gazette, including a correction noted by Brett Schaefer at Heritage in the comments infra. My questions about this index have long dealt with methodology; this post might be dry for a paragraph or two, and if you want to skip the gory details just slide down to the end para.

The methodology this index uses is a methodology that many such studies use. They take a set of factors that they think represent economic freedom. In Heritage's case, that's fifty. They get sorted into ten categories:

The ten factors are scored individually for each country using some of those fifty factors, then the scores in each of the ten are averaged.

One of my problems is that there's no reason for each of those factors to be equally weighted. The authors call this a common-sense approach. But it appears to me that some of these factors are prior to others, and property rights would appear to be prior to all of them. You can have on paper the best regulatory system on the planet, but with insecure property rights what does it matter? Most of the others fall in that category as well. My colleagues and I are working on a paper now which shows that if you take the things that economic freedom is supposed to help -- like per capita GDP -- and check correlations between each individual component, the one that dominates is property rights. It does not appear that most of the others contribute any explanation to why standards of living differ across countries.

The other problem is a problem about how you rank within each category. These are not cardinal measures we are using in each category but ordinal rankings. (In some cases, like inflation or tariff rates, you are using a cardinal number to create an ordinal rank.) The problem there is that you are assuming you've got the ranks right, and that the contribution of each step to economic freedom is equal. That's not necessarily true. In some work I did on central bank independence measures -- done in a similar way to the Heritage measure -- we found that many times the steps were not equidistant.

Why does this matter? In the central bank case, we found that when we had measures that had too much simplification you got the anomalous result that central banks that were not subject to political pressure had no greater effectiveness in reducing inflation that those that were subject to political pressure. That result would contradict a good bit of macroeconomic policy literature. We took our finding to support the traditional view that inflation is often the result of political bias towards paying for government goods with newly printed money. But it now dawns on me that the problem we found is a broader problem for political economy, oversimplification as a result of wanting more quantitative results.

I am not meaning to denigrate the broad work done by Heritage in gathering information on economic freedom. It is excellent data. The problem comes when one tries to reduce the dimensions of economic freedom into a single number that can be put in a table or a map. Not everything adds up the same way, and not every dimension matters in the same amount. We need much more information about these measurements than we have now. If you want to work with that series, map just the property rights sub-index and see what difference it might make compared to the map in the Heritage report.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Helpful hints for reference letter writers 

I am leaving tomorrow for the ASSA meetings (of which the main part is the American Economic Association annual meetings); it also serves as the academic economist's job market, and we're hiring again. (You'll remember I did this last year, and I had some advice here. People visiting me this weekend are expected to have read this.) So I have to read an endless stream of applications and research papers, teaching evaluations and reference letters. This is why I didn't blog until now. Of all the information I get, the most reliable and simultaneously the most frustrating are the letters.

Academics, in particular, are tone-deaf in what they write about their Ph.D. candidates who are new entrants to the academic market. Herewith a few hints:
So you might want to know what I would like you to say. Here:

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

2005 economic forecast 

It's the season for forecasts, and as I mentioned yesterday that I was working on some. That means I ran some models I use on the St. Cloud Macro Forecasting Project when I teach forecasting here, which unfortunately I have not had time to teach for awhile. I run the models twice a year to be sure they are still performing adequately and to inform my thoughts on the local economy for the St. Cloud Quarterly Business Report.

This process is always edifying. One of the lessons I teach students is that models will help you hang numbers onto a story but they can never replace a story. That is, if you just write down the results of a model and can't explain why they occur, you will never be a good forecaster. That's because a good forecaster will be wrong often, and needs to explain the reasons for error. Take a look (if you have a subscription) at the number of people who forecasted the U.S. economy last year and how many that got it wrong. You have to be able to explain yourself to keep your job.

I'm not far from the average for GDP growth in 2005. I'm about a half-percent higher in GDP growth than the forecasters in the WSJ. I will say GDP grows 3.75% to 4.5% in 2005, whereas their average was 3.5%. I show unemployment falling a bit more than they do, with a December 2005 reading of 4.7%. My estimate for CPI inflation is a bit higher than theirs, with about 3% increase in prices. This is based on a guess that the Fed will stay a little on the loose side with monetary policy, so that the Fed funds target will not get above 3.25% before the end of 2005.

Why would I say that?

This gets to the rest of the story. I mentioned yesterday Arthur Laffer's editorial on the dollar and the trade deficit. I jumped to read it first yesterday morning -- even skipping over ForecasterFest '05, which takes some doing -- not just because Laffer is one of my favorite economists but also because he was writing about something I was thinking about with my forecast. Here's part of the rest of what he said,

The dollar under current circumstances can't go to zero or infinity. Without a corresponding rise in domestic dollar prices, U.S. goods and assets become relatively more attractive to foreigners and Americans alike when there is a fall in the foreign-exchange value of the dollar. Sooner or later the dollar would be such a bargain that there would be more buyers than sellers, therefore limiting the dollar's fall. Today, the dollar's value in the foreign exchanges fits nicely within its historical range.

On Jan. 1, 1999, the euro was born and was worth $1.17. In fact, if we look at the synthetic euro prior to 1999, the dollar's low was in 1992 when each euro could buy $1.47. The large dollar appreciation from 1992 to early 2002 saw the dollar peak at 83 cents per euro and our capital surplus (the trade deficit) go from less than 1% of GDP to almost 4% of GDP (and continue on to today's 5.6%). Well, the global economic environment is changing once again as are investors' perceptions of relative attractiveness.

There have been times in the past when the dollar depreciation of the magnitude we've experienced over the last two-plus years would have been a clear harbinger of much higher inflation and interest rates. But such is not the case today. It is true that products which are freely traded in global markets will experience dollar price increases relative to foreign prices by the percentage depreciation of the dollar. But to have these exchange-rate induced price increases lead to higher U.S. inflation would require the Fed to accommodate the higher inflation with faster monetary-base growth. The Fed has not accommodated any higher inflation and as a result
markets do not anticipate higher inflation. Nor should they.

I fairly gasped when I read those lines I italicized, because it fit. I do not see another economy stepping in and attracting all that quicksilver capital that is seeking high returns on the market. If it comes here, not only must our assets hold their value, so too must the dollar. Part of my hesitation is that The Economist is saying almost exactly the opposite of this forecast, but I've decided they are wrong this year. That has led me to the following set of predictions:
I close with this thought: As an academic, I do not forecast for a particular company, or for a portfolio, or for anything other than the sheer fun of the exercise. Not having something riding on a forecast gives me some ability to step out relative to those who forecast for investment houses and banks. Going against the grain is a benefit in this case so as to be noticed. So if this thing seems outlandish to you, remember I have no money riding on the outcome; neither should you based only on what you read here.

I get by with a little help from my friends 

Jeff addresses my Jesus deficit. With friends like that...

He's also changed the name of his blog, as is also reflected now in the blogroll. Good on ya, mate!

Bumming by the stream 

My evening routine often involves leaving work around 5:30 or 6pm, and some nights that will be followed with an errand or three. As a result I often have to miss good parts of Hugh Hewitt's show. The Patriot's signal is too weak to reach St. Cloud so I'm dependent entirely on the Internet stream of his show.

Many nights I get home around 7pm. That's not been a problem because KRLA provided replays of Hewitt's show. I simply flip it on at 8pm and listen until 11, while I work on this computer. Until last night, when all the shows were pulled off and KRLA reverted to the live feed. No Lileks, no Captain Ed.

Now, I'm still waiting for my copy of Blog to come from Amazon and so I can't know what he wrote, but surely some of it has to be about convergence of blogs and talk radio. Being able to refer a reader from a blog to, say, my discussion of Indonesia on NARN last week (second half of first hour) is a synergy.* So too would be Mitch linking to Stefan Sharkansky's interview during our second hour. Now I've not seen Hugh do this on his blog -- he usually transcribes the important interviews -- but it's certainly possible. Why would we not want these two media to cross-pollinate further?

If KRLA won't go the expense of archiving Hugh's shows, I would suggest that Salem do so, and in a way that encourages bloggers to link to audio. Someone is likely to tell me that this violates some FCC rule, but that would be simply one more example of the law lagging reality.

*--Links directly to the stream; we're on at 12 and 6 Central Time, AM and PM, M-F. If that link didn't pop up for you, try from here.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Magnet economy 

I've been reading a few articles today about 2005 market predictions (I'll post mine tomorrow after I finish an estimation update tonight) but the articles that have caught my eye have been the cover of today's Barrons and Arthur Laffer's editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. Both links require subscriptions to WSJ, but Michelle Malkin has considerable excerpts from the Barrons piece. Malkin is concerned about the number of illegal immigrants in America and thinks the Barrons article describes the "devastating consequences of the failure to enforce our immigration laws." I have a different view of this, though, and it comes to play in Laffer's piece.

The only way the U.S. can have a trade deficit amounting to 5.6% of GDP is if foreigners invest that amount of their capital in the U.S. It's a matter of simple accounting. But once you realize that the trade deficit is, in fact, the capital surplus you would clearly rather have capital lined up on our borders trying to get into our country than trying to get out. Growth countries, like growth companies, borrow money, and the U.S. is the only growth country of all the developed countries. As a result, we're a capital magnet.

Take a look around. Germany hasn't had a growth spurt since the 1960s when Ludwig Erhard was Bundeskanzler. France still has a mandated maximum workweek of 35 hours, a maximum income tax rate of 58%, a 1.8% annual wealth tax and government spending as a share of GDP greater than 50%. Finland, for goodness sakes, fines speeders a percentage of the speeder's income. Sweden, Denmark and Germany also fine speeders a percentage of their income, only with caps. Japan has had a stock market down by over 70% from its high in 1989 and both company and government unfunded liabilities in Japan are out of sight. Canada's economic policies are kooky and investments in Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia and Africa are about as safe as running drunk blindfolded across the "I-5" freeway at rush hour.

So what's not to like about the U.S.? Whether you're an American or a foreigner the U.S. is the choice destination for capital. That's why we have such a large trade deficit.

When we last had a trade deficit this large was during the Reagan years, and rather than a burden then it was symbolic of a boom. In an age where transportation is more readily available than ever, and at lower prices, it is not only physical capital that moves like quicksilver. People can move as well; it should come as no surprise that the U.S. economy is a magnet for human capital too, since it is most likely to have a high rate of return here.

Human capital travels with people attached to it; some of the people attracted may in fact seek government services for awhile and those costs can be large. But why the U.S. has an interest in denying that capital is beyond me. During its first 100 years the U.S. ran large trade deficits and had widespread immigration. It also grew.

The problem with the studies describe by Jim McTague in Barrons is that they are static studies. That is, they estimate current costs and benefits of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Static analysis is rather bound to find that immigration has net costs to the recipient economy. When one allows for a lifetime of observation on an immigrating family and its assimilation into the economy, the effects are ambiguous.

If you want to drive down illegal immigration you would need to drive down the after-tax real wage differential between the U.S. and the developing world. (See, for example, this article at NBER.) Ironically, that differential is beginning to reduce between us and Europe, as Laffer discusses:
As of late, foreign economic policies have improved. France is a lot better today than it was three years ago. And -- shock of shocks! -- Germany is even considering a real tax cut. Jean- Claude Trichet has shown himself to be a world-class governor of the European Central Bank, following on the heels of the incompetent Wim Duisenberg. Five new entrants to the EU -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia -- have low-rate flat taxes. Junichiro Koizumi of Japan is a lot better than the former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori. Investors on the margin should look more favorably to investments abroad.

As will immigrants. There are many things to commend one to McTague's article -- I found the thought on how we're overstating productivity gains because we don't count illegal immigrant labor input fascinating -- but as an argument against the Bush amnesty plan it fails to persuade.

Postscript: Hans Sennholz wrote a few years ago:
The foes of globalization, unfortunately, are missing an important effect of the rising volume of world trade: the improvement of living conditions in poor countries. Globalization actually reduces the pressures of migration to the United States. It especially reduces the flow of migrants from less-developed countries where the population comprises many different races and ethnic groups and where the migration pressure is greatest. It is ironic that the anti-globalists, wherever they are successful, effect the very opposite of what they mean to accomplish.

I encourage readers to also view this article by Jagdish Bhagwati, which borrows heavily from his chapter on this topic in his In Defense of Globalization.

Wake up 

I've decided this term to teach macro theory at 3pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while one of my colleagues taught last year at 8am. Whose attendance will be better, if this story is true?

We all know that teenagers hate to get up in the morning. But are they really just lazy, or is there a biological cause?

A European survey of the sleeping habits of 25,000 people now provides powerful evidence that biology is indeed to blame. Whereas children sleep later and later as they get older, we undergo an abrupt shift at age 20, after which we start sleeping earlier again.

Of course, since SCSU has many commuters, the attractiveness of the 3pm Friday class is pretty low. Still, I have a full class and my colleague still has two seats for his 5pm Monday course this term.

The kid in the picture looks remarkably like my son. (H/T: Newmark's Door.)

How many bloggers are there? How many readers? 

Hindrocket points out the latest Pew Internet Project survey on blogging.

According to the Pew survey, around 120 million American adults "use the internet." Of that number, 7%, or 8 million people, say they have set up blogs. That seems like a very high number to me.

In Pew's survey, 27% of internet users said they read blogs, and 9% said they read political blogs. That would be nearly 11 million political blog readers, which seems high to me, based on what I know of our traffic and other sites' traffic. Four percent said they read political blogs "regularly." If I understand the numbers correctly, that means there are around 4.8 million self-described "regular" readers of political blogs--again, a higher number than I would expect, based on reported traffic.

There have been other surveys suggesting a high number of bloggers. Jeff Jarvis notes that Technorati is covering about 5.5. million. According to a survey by Perseus there were 4.12 million blogs created by 2003 -- but 2/3 of those had been abandoned. Over a million were one-day wonders and only 50,000 were updated daily. That level of detail does not appear in the Pew report. And some report multiple blogs (I've written on at least five, two of which have been abandoned.) I think that explains a good bit of the air in the 8 million blogs number.

It's also worth remembering the time of this study (23-30 November 2004) which comes at the end of a presidential campaign. The 4.8 million regular readers then are probably half that after the election.

And most of this is based on a report with 537 internet users and has an error band of +/-4%, so the numbers could really be any old place.

If you're using quotas, you should at least be able to count 

There is a lawsuit now filed against the government by the College Sports Council to get them to correct a report written by the GAO on gender equity in college sports.

Letters between CSC and Comptroller General Walker establish that he has known since October 2003 that GAO reports did not correctly account for the decreases in men's teams under the controversial Title IX enforcement policy challenged by CSC.

In its filing, CSC charges collusion between GAO and the Clinton-era Department of Education. Evidence for this charge can be found in a 1999 letter to Dr. Shaul, in which former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Norma Cantu candidly acknowledges her desire to rebut the widely held view that Title IX is responsible for the decline in the number of men's sports opportunities. The correspondence between Assistant Secretary Cantu and Dr. Shaul show that the GAO simply reproduced the Department of Education's misinformation in its entirety.

... The GAO report also fails to discuss the budgetary impact of "capping," a common Title IX compliance strategy in which school administrators create a sports quota by enforcing squad-size limits only for men's teams in order to comply with the Department of Education's proportionality requirement.

As best I can tell, the suit does not ask for anything other than a correction of the report. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today (link for subscribers only) indicates that in Division I the average number of men's teams over the last twenty years reported (up to 2000-01) fell from 10.2 to 9.0 , while women's teams increased from 7.3 to 9.8. Most of the sports dropped are in wrestling, swimming and cross-country, where the number of men involved would be high and revenues would be low.

If the charges are correct, it's hard to imagine why GAO would not revise their report. The Chronicle article suggests that good numbers on teams is "notoriously difficult to reconcile" but fails to say why.

Jesus, he's dumb 

I had no idea this would be an issue, but Captain Ed and Mitch both point out that Mark Giselson has found this site to be remarkably light on Christianity:
Giving the St. Cloud profs the benefit of the doubt, I clicked just about every one of their blogroll links to make sure I wasn�t missing a Christian connection. ... Could it be that conservative college professors are just as nonreligious as liberal ones? Horrors!

As Mitch notes, ours is not a site that discusses religious issues, so it's not surprising to me that we'd have few references to Jesus. More on this in the last paragraph. But Giselson can't even run a Google search right (which should make him a good fit for a job at the StarTribune, but I digress...) He ran this search:

Now that slash is important, as I believe it means it will only search the index page. If you search the site without that slash you get this. Admittedly only four posts that I can find that include the word Jesus in them. But I just posted this Friday; his filter misses it because I didn't use the word Jesus within it. If you try God instead, you get more posts including that one.

If you are going to try to paint us as somehow non-religious, wouldn't you want to use something a little more sophisticated than such a simple filter.

And you'd think Giselson could at least recognize a picture of one of his fellow travellers, wouldn't you?

The larger point, however, isn't this but Giselson's contention that we are somehow deficient in witnessing our faith. I don't expect he would understand the point, but I treat evangelism and education both as retail products, the result of one-on-one ministry. The story in Matthew 13 tells that the farmer seeks good soil for his seeds -- in our church we often sing the hymn "Lord Let My Heart Be Good Soil". NARN is a political and culture talk radio program and unlikely to be good soil. Just as I do not spend my classroom hours discussing sabermetrics, nor do I use this blog as an evangelism tool because it's not the right place for that.