Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Economics of Katrina (pt. 1) 

Very busy day with college and department meetings and signing up a couple of majors. I noticed $2.80 gas yesterday afternoon after it had hung in at $2.55 throughout most of Monday. I needed a quick lunch and ran down to the store for an energy bar and afternoon carrots (I'm trying that for the busy lunches) and saw my first $3 gas ($2.989 for regular, $3.089 for premium.) A blogger in Pelican Rapids took a picture of $3.10 gas, and someone reported on the St. Cloud Times gaswatch page that a station down near the highway is asking $3.199. Current price at the local bulk distributor is $3.28, says another Times article. Late afternoon the newspaper called and asked for "expert reaction". "Are we going to $4?" "Effect on retail sales?" "Recession?"

Oddly enough, I'd done a post-deadline edit on the upcoming QBR that I might want to edit again, because I thought we'd get to $3 but maybe over the weekend, not today. So I hedged myself somewhat talking with the paper, guessing we have perhaps another 10% up from here. And given the reaction of the financial markets (Asia's up this evening as I write, and for once I'm running past the 11pm hour with Bloomberg on my TV rather than Fox).

Speaking of Bloomberg, they have someone already speculating on $4 gas. But I do note that crude oil supplies are up over year-ago levels. Where we're tight is on refined gas (down 13 million barrels versus same level last year). And while that probably gets worse short term, one person in the Bloomberg article says the problem doesn't appear long-run.

"Once the refineries start making the product you have to transport it,'' said Mark Routt, a senior consultant at Energy Security Analysis, Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts. "The Northeast is less of an issue because we can get cargoes from Europe. Florida has a big problem because 60 to 70 percent of their gasoline is barged across the Gulf.''

Restoring power to the Gulf state refineries and pipelines is the biggest issue, said Chris Ovrebo, a broker with FC Stone LLC in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

"Most of these refineries didn't sustain heavy damage,'' he said. "It's not going to take them six months to get back on line.''

One problem is that we're seeing some rationing of supplies from the refineries to independent distributors. Jim Feneis, who runs the local First Fuel Bank here in St. Cloud, points out that the large price swings this summer have made distributors gun-shy about holding inventories. This of course is going to exacerbate price swings in the short run.

James Hamilton points out that the EPA has removed the clean-air mandates for gas through September 15.

Those who have followed my discussion of these fuel standards will know that I see this as one bit of welcome news. In addition to allowing a greater quantity of usable gasoline to be produced, the EPA measure will create a more integrated national market in which it will be easier to get the fuel to those communities where it is most needed. I was worried that the interaction between the refinery outages and the patchwork of isolated retail markets would produce a logistical nightmare.
In addition, the government is using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as we'd hope: to keep refiners with enough crude to stay operating. This should also ameliorate the price swings.

I'm still thinking $3.30 is the central tendency based on what I'm reading right now. $3.50 is possible but I just don't see $4 in the cards.

William Polley has a rundown of the recession talk. (He's also the source of the Park Rapids picture I linked at the top.) He says the talk is speculative and not well-formed opinion yet. I tend to think it's something you can model. I have one I use for training some of our masters students that I will have to play with. It has a linkage between interest rates and commodity prices. What caught my eye from Polley's post was this post from David Altig on softening of market sentiment for higher interest rates. I need to look more carefully at the oil price impact in the model, but I suspect markets (and Polley) are correct here. But with the 10-year bond hitting 4% today (4.03% right this second) you have to start thinking flattening yield curves. That used to be a predictor of recessions, but the relationship hasn't held as well over the last fifteen years or so.

The reason you'd cut interest rates (or more precisely, not raise them as fast) is because you expect retail sales to soften up. Retail stocks are getting beaten up this week, and that's because the pump prices are getting people to spend less in the stores. (And please, dear readers, beware the broken window.) So far, the news on consumer confidence has been good pre-Katrina. That might keep the hit to retail sales short-lived.

Note to my majors: Mark Thoma is trying to explain this in AD-AS analysis. Go read.

Fans from far away 

It is noted to me that Light Within, a blog from Pakistan, considers me and Tom Peters' site two blogs he reads daily. That's awfully nice company to be in. I note that I've had over 100 hits from Pakistani addresses, or about twenty times that from Armenia or Macedonia, two places I've posted from on this blog.


A Jim Rome-ish shoutout to The Eclectic Econoclast, who finds non-sequitur of the day. In HuffPo, quel surprise!

Dahl out at SCSU hockey coach 

Just in from the St. Cloud Times, SCSU hockey coach Craig Dahl has resigned.
�It�s been with a great deal of disappointment and anticipation that I�ve reached this decision,� Dahl said Wednesday afternoon. �I�ve decided to resign to go into private business. I feel recruiting is the lifeline of the program and, with all the rumors that have been going around for awhile now. It was time for a change.�
The rumor mill has certainly run around on this campus, led in my view by the reporter of this very article. The relationship between the newspaper and the coach deteriorated with the team's play, and there has been little in the way of support from the AD's office or the president in support.

I will add that he has always recruited good students to campus. Some of his players have been economics majors, including a few that have gone on the professional careers in hockey. I hope his successor can continue the tradition of student-athletes.

Convocation week busy 

This is the week before we open the university to students, when everyone is in meetings, including me. Back ASAP.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I feel so stupid 

I had a few people write over the weekend about the lawsuit filed by Big Tobacco against the state of Minnesota. I thought about it for a day and while thinking Andy at Residual Forces comes up with a humdinger of an explanation for why the Pawlenty Administration used the 'fee' language: It increased the take.

It is a fee and not a tax because if it were a tax, the casinos would not have to pay it. It was a goal for this last session was to get the tribal gaming casinos to make contributions to the state. Just like the 3o-some other states get. Had the fee been a tax, the casinos would have been able to sell tabacco at prices much cheaper than the public stores, creating another advantage or monopoly for them.

This was similar to the state sponsored casino proposal, another attempt at getting the tribes to cough up a little dough.

I got to tell you, when I heard this my thought was "how the hell did I miss that?" As best I can tell, so did everyone else (take for example this article when Pawlenty first proposed the fee.) He's right that it would, and now it puts both Pawlenty and Hatch in a sticky place. Assuming the tobacco lawyers are correct here -- and it certainly looks like a good case -- the way out that's offered is to call it a tax. Hatch knows this makes good political hay so he'd want to use the defense, and says so. But here's the catch: If he does too good a job, he might win the governorship but not the money to spend.

Andy carries on from there to chastise fiscal conservatives, and I think he means me too.

If you worry-warts think things are bad under Pawlenty, just wait until Hatch resides on Summit Ave. There will be no debate over calling what he will do. He is going to tax the living begeezers out of us.

...So, stay home if you like. Spend the next few months before November next year, attacking Pawlenty and the Republicans. But in the end, remember that things will be worse under the DFL. Higher taxes. Higher spending. More useless trains. Bye Bye Second Amendment. Bye Bye parental notification. To name a few.
As opposed to now? Apres lui, le deluge? Not a great campaign slogan there, sir. Try this one instead: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

We are not attacking Pawlenty. We are trying to help him find again the principles he showed us before. There's time for this to happen, but fall is here and the clock is ticking.

Your next MOB event begins in four days, 22 hours and thirty minutes 

Mitch, El-Dar and Saint Paul inform us that the next MOB gathering is scheduled for this Sunday, September 4 at 5pm, at Town Hall Brewery in the Seven Corners area of Minneapolis. Since the following day is Labor Day, no excuse exists for missing this on account of work.

Drop a note to one of those gentlemen and let them know if you'll be there.

The music of my senior year 

The problem with this meme (found via Mitch) is that the list we're told to use doesn't represent the hits we were listening to in 1975. I found this list far more compelling. I mean, there aren't many bad ones. See how few crossouts?

1 24 Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
2 62 Queen Bohemian Rhapsody
3 207 Bruce Springsteen Thunder Road
4 236 Aerosmith Walk This Way
5 252 Bob Dylan Tangled Up in Blue
6 279 Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers Roadrunner
7 296 Led Zeppelin Kashmir
8 351 Patti Smith Gloria
9 380 Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)
10 419 10 CC I'm Not in Love
11 425 Augustus Pablo King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
12 451 David Bowie Young Americans
13 489 Roxy Music Love Is the Drug
14 539 Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
15 702 David Bowie Fame
16 737 Parliament Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)
17 793 Kiss Rock'n'roll All Nite
18 843 The Eagles One of These Nights
19 847 Donna Summer Love to Love You Baby
20 947 Fleetwood Mac Rhiannon
21 978 Shirley and Co. Shame Shame Shame
22 1027 KC and The Sunshine Band That's the Way (I Like It)
23 1043 Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes Wake Up Everybody
24 1096 David Bowie Golden Years
25 1125 Bob Dylan Hurricane
26 1129 ABBA S.O.S.
27 1180 Paul Simon 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
28 1274 Loretta Lynn The Pill
29 1339 The O'Jays I Love Music
30 1448 Willie Nelson Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
31 1530 Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes Bad Luck
32 1550 War Low Rider
33 1576 Elton John Philadelphia Freedom
34 1582 Aerosmith Sweet Emotion
35 1632 Television Little Johnny Jewel
36 1717 Pink Floyd Shine on You Crazy Diamond

Compare it to this gawdawful list we were assigned.
1. Love Will Keep Us Together, The Captain and Tennille
2. Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell
3. Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John
4. Before The Next Teardrop Falls, Freddy Fender
5. My Eyes Adored You, Frankie Valli
6. Shining Star, Earth, Wind and Fire
7. Fame, David Bowie
8. Laughter In The Rain, Neil Sedaka
9. One Of These Nights, Eagles
10. Thank God I'm A Country Boy, John Denver
11. Jive Talkin', Bee Gees
12. Best Of My Love, Eagles
13. Lovin' You, Minnie Riperton
14. Kung Fu Fighting, Carl Douglas
15. Black Water, Doobie Brothers
16. Ballroom Blitz, Sweet

17. (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song, B.J. Thomas
18. He Don't Love You (Like I Love You), Tony Orlando and Dawn
19. At Seventeen, Janis Ian
20. Pick Up The Pieces, Average White Band
21. The Hustle, Van McCoy and The Soul City Symphony
22. Lady Marmalade, Labelle
23. Why Can't We Be Friends?, War
24. Love Wont Let Me Wait, Major Harris
25. Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stevie Wonder
26. Wasted Days And Wasted Nights, Freddy Fender
27. Fight The Power, Pt. 1, Isley Brothers
28. Angie Baby, Helen Reddy
29. Jackie Blue, Ozark Mountain Daredevils
30. Fire, Ohio Players
31. Magic, Pilot
32. Please Mr. Postman, Carpenters
33. Sister Golden Hair, America
34. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Elton John
35. Mandy, Barry Manilow
36. Have You Never Been Mellow, Olivia Newton-John
37. Could It Be Magic, Barry Manilow
38. Cat's In The Cradle, Harry Chapin
39. Wildfire Michael Murphy

40. I'm Not Lisa, Jessi Colter
41. Listen To What The Man Said, Paul Mccartney and Wings
42. I'm Not In Love, 10cc
43. I Can Help, Billy Swan
44. Fallin' In Love, Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds
45. Feelings, Morris Albert
46. Chevy Van, Sammy Johns
47. When Will I Be Loved, Linda Ronstadt
48. You're The First, The Last, My Everthing, Barry White
49. Please Mr Please, Olivia Newton-John
50. You're No Good, Linda Ronstadt
51. Dynomite, Bazuka
52. Walking In Rhythm, Blackbyrds
53. The Way We Were / Try To Remember, Gladys Knight and The Pips
54. Midnight Blue, Melissa Manchester
55. Don't Call Us, We'll Call You, Sugarloaf
56. Poetry Man, Phoebe Snow
57. How Long, Ace
58. Express, B.T. Express
59. That's The Way Of The World, Earth, Wind and Fire
60. Lady, Styx
61. Bad Time, Grand Funk
62. Only Women Bleed, Alice Cooper
63. Doctor's Orders, Carol Douglas
64. Get Down Tonight, K.C. and The Sunshine Band
65. You Are So Beautiful / It's A Sin When You Love Somebody, Joe Cocker
66. One Man Woman-One Woman Man, Paul Anka and Odia Coates
67. Feel Like Makin' Love, Bad Company
68. How Sweet It Is, James Taylor
69. Dance With Me, Orleans
70. Cut The Cake, Average White Band
71. Never Can Say Goodbye, Gloria Gaynor
72. I Don't Like To Sleep Alone, Paul Anka
73. Morning Side Of The Mountain, Donny and Marie Osmond
74. Some Kind Of Wonderful, Grand Funk
75. When Will I See You Again, Three Degrees
76. Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor), Joe Simon
77. I'm Sorry / Calypso, John Denver
Killer Queen, Queen
79. Shoeshine Boy, Eddie Kendricks
80. Do It (Til You're Satisfied), B.T. Express
81. Can't Get It Out Of My Head, Electric Light Orchestra
82. Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy), Al Green
83. Lonely People, America
84. You Got The Love, Rufus
85. The Rockford Files, Mike Post
86. It Only Takes A Minute, Tavares
87. No No Song / Snookeroo, Ringo Starr
88. Junior's Farm / Sally G, Paul McCartney and Wings
89. Bungle In The Jungle, Jethro Tull
90. Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance), Leo Sayer
91. Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Elton John
92. Misty, Ray Stevens
93. Bad Blood, Neil Sedaka
94. Only Yesterday, Carpenters
95. I'm On Fire, Dwight Twilley Band
96. Only You, Ringo Starr
97. Third Rate Romance, Amazing Rhythm Aces
98. You Aint Seen Nothin' Yet / Free Wheelin', Bachman-Turner Overdrive
99. Swearin' To God, Frankie Valli
100. Get Dancin', Disco Tex and The Sex-O-lettes

There's just no way that second list represents the music I listened to.

UPDATE (8/31): I'm glad I'm old. I could have had Foot's list. He's right. I left music radio in 1983 to finish the PhD and get on with my real life. I could not have left at a better time; there are very few good songs between 1982 and 1993.

A short analysis of rising tuitions 

Richard Vedder describes the problem in one paragraph, and the reasons in six. The problem:
This fall's probable average 8% increase at public universities, added onto double-digit hikes in the two previous years, means tuition at a typical state university is up 36% over 2002--at a time when consumer prices in general rose less than 9%. In inflation-adjusted terms, tuition today is roughly triple what it was when parents of today's college students attended school in the 1970s. Tuition charges are rising faster than family incomes, an unsustainable trend in the long run. This holds true even when scholarships and financial aid are considered. One consequence of rising costs is that college enrollments are no longer increasing as much as before. Price-sensitive groups like low-income students and minorities are missing out. A smaller proportion of Hispanics between 18 and 24 attend college today than in 1976. The U.S. is beginning to fall below some other industrial nations in population-adjusted college attendance.
The reasons are a combination of five factors: rising demand; lack of market discipline; de-emphasizing undergraduate instruction; price discrimination; stagnant productivity and rent-seeking behavior. Competition is the answer, he says.
State legislatures have sharply reduced their share of funding for public universities, forcing some schools to slash costs, reduce bureaucracies, increase teaching loads, get rid of costly underutilized graduate programs and more. Some schools are talking of using buildings more than eight or nine months a year, or are cutting down on the use of expensive tenured faculty. Colorado is shifting funds away from institutions and into student hands in the form of vouchers, reasoning that the student-customer, not the producer, should be sovereign as in nearly every other transaction.

The evangelist of supply side economics dies 

Jude Wanniski, former editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the Saint Paul of supply side economics and coiner of the term, has passed away at age 67. His website always provided a great alternative view of the world economy and its politics. His influence on spreading the Laffer curve into the language of economicscannot be underestimated. Hat tip: Don Luskin.

Monday, August 29, 2005

You had to be there 

On Sunday I took three short videos at the NARN booth. One was practice of Mitch with the Wacky Chicken people (quick aside: why did they wear leather footwear? Inquiring minds want to know.) , the second was Mitch coached by the Chicken couple to lay an egg (like he needs help with this?), and the third was the three-course eating contest. The last file is a 76 megabyte mpeg, so don't expect to see it around these parts. I need to learn streaming video. The eating contest video is also very Blair Witch-y because I'm laughing too hard to hold the camera still.

A few pictures will have to suffice:

Liz of A Blonde Moment and Josh stopped by Sunday. I want Josh or Liz to send me the link to Josh's brand new blog. (Here it is.) Josh is off to training as a forward observation specialist for the Minnesota National Guard, and then to Iraq in March. (We've mentioned this story before.) Prayers for them, please. It didn't dawn on me until later that this may be the last time I see them as a couple before he goes to training and perhaps to deployment in theater. Great of them to share some time with us, including a little air time. (Liz, I'll grab the recording and send it to you sometime soon, promise.)

Chad interviews "Ingy", whom I am told is a Soucheray regular. He basically performed a good caller. Maybe he can join Phil from New Brighton and Zimbabwe Quentin as regulars to NARN. Chad is usually a dry wit, so that kind of expression indicates how funny Ingy was.

There were many motley bloggers in attendance, including Doug from Bogus Gold and some KvM irregulars. (Andy's not in this picture, he's out psyching up for his cri de coeur against fiscal conservatives. Or maybe just checking out the action. But he was there, friends, believe me.) The lady on the bench is contemplating blogging as Lady versus Aging, or Bogus Social Security.

Seriously, there were many fine fun bloggers around, including Around the World in 80 Days and Blogizdat (love this Andrew W.K. kitty animation, Muzzy!) and (I think I met him) Solablogola (and sorry if I got that wrong.)

And of course, the irrepressible NARN gang. This was a great weekend, and today's blogging brought to you by the birthday boy, who missed (and messed up) some of the Yecke blogging because he was having dinner and a movie with Littlest in celebration while Missus starts rehearsal for her next play. To bed with me, and Convocation in the morning. Be nice, and maybe I'll live-blog that clusterfarg.

Meanwhile, if someone wants to teach me how to post and create streaming video, I've got some damning evidence against Mitch...

Cheri Yecke leaves the race, the state (updated) 

(Note update in middle of post on character of chancellor position) Cheri Yecke has accepted a position as Chancellor of K-12 education in Florida. I just received this release from Yecke twenty minutes ago.
Cheri Pierson Yecke today announced that Florida Governor Jeb Bush has invited her to play a lead role on his education team. Yecke will end her Sixth Congressional District bid to help implement Governor Bush�s reform agenda.

�I am honored to have been asked by Governor Jeb Bush to be such a significant part of his education team,� said Yecke. �It is therefore with deep regret that I announce that I will no longer be a candidate for Minnesota�s sixth district Congressional seat.�

�I will be forever grateful to the many people who have given me support in this
congressional race. The volunteers and delegates who have worked for me, and the donors who have sent financial support, have served to create a strong and dynamic campaign. However, the opportunity to work for Governor Jeb Bush on an issue for which I am so passionate is an honor I cannot pass up.�

I am a bit shocked, though her bid at the Congressional seat was probably against long odds with such a deep field of candidates. She certainly must have felt the same to have dropped out at this point for a position that appears to be less than another commissionership. UPDATE (10pm): I got a note indicating that the chancellor's position is in fact identical to the MN Commissioner's spot. Their commissioner of education oversees both K-12 and higher ed. I regret that mistake. This makes the move all the more understandable. Moreover, from her bio from her soon-to-be-defunct website,
Dennis and Cheri are proud of their daughters and their new son-in-law. Their oldest daughter, Anastasia (28,) is a marketing executive in Miami. Their youngest daughter, Tiffany (25), is a doctoral student who is married to a Marine Corps Captain, Aaron Brooks. Aaron is currently deployed overseas in the war on terror.
And I believe Tiffany's doctoral program is also in Florida.

I am saddened, too, on a personal level, as I have come to know Cheri as a delightful and energetic mind with both wit and grace and conviction. She is not bashful about what she believes, and her forcefulness probably pushed a few people who might have supported her into quiescence due to the force of the people who attacked her. I know a few lefty bloggers who will be happy to help her pack her bags, along with the leadership of Education Minne$ota. She has that effect on people. But the woman was not for turning, as Margaret Thatcher said. A little more steel and a little less compromising ... actually, Cheri stood for the things we argue Tim Pawlenty now needs.

Governor Bush is getting a good person. And it's not like she took just any state's education policy position. Jeb Bush has made education a top priority among his initiatives with the A+ Plan and Voluntary Pre-K programs. It's a good state to be an innovator for education.

Good luck and farewell, Cheri.

UPDATES: Original post was unclear on the position she took because it wasn't specified in Yecke's release. Update reflects release of Florida DOE.

Republican Minnesota appears to have had the story before the Yecke release.

Competing claims of teacher loyalty 

I thank Kathy Kersten for stopping by our booth at the Patriot Saturday -- she's been a good friend of the show since our inception. She mentioned on air that her column today would look at teachers and Wal-Mart, a topic we've visited quite a bit here. But she's gotten out more and found some good stories to tell. And it isn't just low prices for all the Melissas of the world to get their pens for school.

A woman loading packs of ballpoint pens into her cart caught my eye. No, she didn't have 120 children. She was Karla Keller Torp, executive director of the Caring Tree in Bloomington, a nonprofit organization that partners with social service agencies such as the Boys and Girls Clubs to get school supplies to low-income kids across Minnesota.

Torp told me that 121,000 Minnesota kids live at or below the poverty level. Last year, Caring Tree outfitted 17,000 of them for school. Yes, she knew about the teachers' union boycott, but wasn't deterred.

"At the Caring Tree, we're trying to squeeze every dollar we have for the sake of the kids. Wal-Mart helps us leverage and maximize our dollars."

Torp pointed to the pile of blue backpacks stuffed into her cart. "We've determined that the starting price point for backpacks is around $9.98. At Wal-Mart, we've found great quality at a great price -- these are only $4.47."

Torp added that Wal-Mart supports the Caring Tree with discounts that reduce prices even more. "Wal-Mart's been a good partner for us for years," she concluded.

And for their employees?
I asked Abdikafi Ahmed, 22, a Wal-Mart employee stacking goods, what it's like to work at Wal-Mart. A native of Somalia, he's worked part time for four years while attending the University of Minnesota. "Wal-Mart is flexible and convenient," he said. "It's the perfect job for me." Ahmed pointed out that Wal-Mart has a policy of promoting from within. (According to a Wal-Mart spokesman, the CEO of the company's Sam's Club division, Doug McMillon, started out unloading trucks at Wal-Mart.)

Down the aisle, I met a full-time employee, Tom Walch, 55, who's worked at Wal-Mart only two weeks. He's satisfied with the pay, and joined partly for the benefits. Walch comes from a union family. "I figure it's your choice whether you want to work for a unionized company or not," he says. He prefers Wal-Mart's Open Door policy, which encourages him to call managers up the chain if he has a problem.
Your choice whether to work, and your choice where to shop. We have many claims on our time and talent and resources to fulfill what we want. Do we really want to take some of that to remove the choices these people are making? Do we really want to use them to help the teachers' unions squelch another supporter of school choice? Sometimes, apparently, not even teachers can justify that choice.

Your complaints are my fuel 

KC Johnson has at this Pittsburgh refutation of the notion of political bias in academia with more detail than I gave it. He documents the many scandalous refutations by the left (while in fact offering a couple that would not be scandalous but would warrant some research, such as conservative parents not pushing their children to pursue academia as a career choice.) By fanning the flames with their comments that "we're just f-ing smarter" or "we can never have too many" leftists, radicals and Marxists or whinging that they've had no effect on the three branches of government ergo the claim is false, they are allowing the issue to stay on the front burner.

To all of them, thank you. You help keep this blog in business.

UPDATE: Todd Zywicki has a comment on the Pittsburgh paper that works through the evidence. They should have asked him (or KC) on as a co-author.

Once again into the breach 

My former colleague Kevin McGrew notes that Charles Murray, laying low for years after the beating taken by the politically correct elites for The Bell Curve, has come out with a new article in Commentary in which he re-addresses the role of intelligence in shaping America's class structure. Influenced by the attack on Larry Summers after his comments on male-female differences were turned into an attack on him and eventually greenmail for feminist causes, he's decided to come back to the discussion.
The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media�s fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public�s misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.

One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.

When the outcomes that these policies are supposed to produce fail to occur, with one group falling short, the fault for the discrepancy has been assigned to society. It continues to be assumed that better programs, better regulations, or the right court decisions can make the differences go away. That assumption is also wrong.
Doing away with these assumptions, which Murray takes a good deal of time and documentation to work through, would bring about better research and better policy.
Thus my modest recommendation, requiring no change in laws or regulations, just a little more gumption. Let us start talking about group differences openly�all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and non-poor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

Even to begin listing the topics that could be enriched by an inquiry into the nature of group differences is to reveal how stifled today�s conversation is. Besides liberating that conversation, an open and undefensive discussion would puncture the irrational fear of the male-female and black-white differences I have surveyed here. We would be free to talk about other sexual and racial differences as well, many of which favor women and blacks, and none of which is large enough to frighten anyone who looks at them dispassionately.

Talking about group differences does not require any of us to change our politics. For every implication that the Right might seize upon (affirmative-action quotas are ill-conceived), another gives fodder to the Left (innate group differences help rationalize compensatory redistribution by the state). But if we do not need to change our politics, talking about group differences obligates all of us to renew our commitment to the ideal of equality that Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Steven Pinker put that ideal in today�s language in The Blank Slate, writing that �Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.�
I agree with Kevin, who calls this "an important article that should be on the scholarly dialouge screen of most univerisities."

Costs of gas disruption 

It's worth spending some time this morning thinking about disruptions in oil and gas supply resulting from Hurricane Katrina.
``There is a long list of production and refineries out because of the hurricane,'' said Tom Bentz, an oil broker at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures Inc. in New York. ``The course is similar to what we saw with Ivan last year, which hit production for a long time.''
The markets today are rather holding their breath in wait. Hugh is concerned about $4 gas, but I don't think that will materialize.

Thinking about Ivan sent me back to the Energy Information Agency's "This Week in Petroleum" newsletter for the latter half of Sept. 2004. Here's the one from Sept. 22 and this from Sept. 29. What I learned from this was that the size of the spike in gas prices from Ivan was about 12%; 45 million barrels were lost overall over the six months after Ivan. There is much writing about inventories being so much lower now than then, but EIA reports inventories being up since the end of July, so we might expect about the same here. That would make gas check in around $3 a gallon, likely by the end of the week. (This morning's drive down Division Street here in St. Cloud showed prices at $2.519 for unleaded regular.)

Reuters reports (bottom item) that the Saudis will pump another 0.5 million bpd starting in September to try to make up the loss, but the crude they pump is difficult (and ergo costly) to distill to gasoline. And James Hamilton reports that oil is being imported already by a greater amount than was being refined, so there are stockpiles of oil on hand to send to the refineries, if they can operate.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Suggestions for a weekend trip to the Fair 

Are you going? We've already heard from Chumley that spaghetti and meatballs on a stick is a flop. And I'm sure you've heard the NARN will be there, as will the Strom Man and Woman. Food and fun and frivolity. Who could ask for more?

Me. I have a request. The Fair, alas, does not allow pets in the premises, and I'm travelling this weekend again with Missus and Littlest and Buttercup, the Scholar spokesdog. None of them have ever been to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, because they can't get together there with this no-pet deal. We need suggestions for getting BC looked after or brought into the Fair. Put them in the comment box, please, and we'll see if we can't get Missus off the schneid.

I'll be there, regardless, 12-3 tomorrow and Sunday. See you there.

Specialize, specialize, specialize 

Phil Miller follows up on my post yesterday about being yourself on the job. He and I share the job history of scatter-shooting the entire Job Openings for Economists looking for that first post. The problem is that you often end up in a job you don't necessarily fit well. Some people can sell themselves into positions they have no business being in. (Turns out his first post was as a forecaster, which happens to be what I was initially trained to do.)

Phil found that his comparative advantage was in part his willingness to work in the geography of the Midwest. My first break in international consulting was simply a willingness to work in Ukraine and be able to teach through a translator and get a message for researchers across to them. It was remarkably easy for me, just as Phil seems unfazed by high humidity.

I'm fortunate that SCSU was my first post because I found a good fit. I had absolutely no idea what my research interests were outside of macro and public choice. I even wandered a couple of years into sports economics, getting so far as a job offer from a Big 10 school as a sports finance guy. ("How did you turn that down?" you ask. Money ostensibly, but more just something in my head screaming "mistake!!!" God bless that voice; it has saved me more often than I care to admit. It remained silent when I agreed to go overseas.)

The advice I got from a dean long ago was "be known as THE expert in something, no matter how small. If you keep publishing, academia and the public will eventually find you." That ex-dean, who still lives near me, has a cigar out of my humidor any time he wants.

Find your comparative advantage -- that which you do better than you do anything else -- and specialize, specialize, specialize. You can trade for whatever else you need. It's not just the advice I give for international trade; it's an organizing principle for your own affairs.

Everyone has a niche. What's yours?

The union agrees to rationalize pay? 

Reader jw, a fellow MnSCU faculty, points out this salary study that was recently completed by a joint taskforce of MnSCU and the faculty organization. On its last page it has eight recommendations, the last three of which are fascinating.

6. explore the possibility of modifying the periodic salary equity studies conducted pursuantto the Master Agreement so that those studies consider external salary data in addition to the attributes of current faculty members, and;

7. consider creation of an additional process to allow for review-based salary increases at regular intervals under a process similar to that used for promotion in rank;

8. recognize that base salaries for new hires vary by discipline and use external salary data as a guide in establishing the initial salaries of new hires at or above the national average for the discipline, where appropriate.

That looks like market adjustment, merit pay, and recognition of markets in initial hiring. We barely have the third one in our contract now, and we do not have the first two. Are they serious? Back to dropping my head on the keyboard.

Keyboard impressions on my forehead 

I haven't posted today because I read this editorial in the StarTribune and fainted.

Contrary to the old chant about "sticks and stones," words can hurt quite a lot. Protecting American Indians -- and the larger public -- from abusive names and images seemed the noble intent of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's proposed sanctions against 18 schools that retain Indian nicknames for their sports teams.

Trouble is, the NCAA used a bludgeon rather than a scalpel. It proposed to ban the schools from using Indian names and images in postseason play or hosting postseason tournaments unless the offending names and images were covered up. It gave the schools until February to change their ways. NCAA President Myles Brand proclaimed this "a teachable moment."

Perhaps. As he suggested, most Americans underappreciate the tragic side of European settlement and the lingering harm to native people. His intent seemed to be to push Florida State, Illinois, Utah, North Dakota and the other institutions to regret not following the lead of Stanford, Dartmouth and other universities that dropped Indian nicknames a generation ago.

But teachable moments run both ways, as the NCAA has now discovered. Its mistake was to presume that all Indian-related nicknames are "hostile" and "abusive" to native people. That's not necessarily so. It's how the names are used that's most important.

OK, so it's patronizing insofar as thinking Native Americans need "protection" from a mascot. And it isn't necessarily true that Brand's motive was to punish those schools that did not submit to his jawboning. But to think that words actually matter, and that context matters -- this is a major victory in getting someone at the STrib to actually think. And it gets better.

Some names are plainly insulting (Redmen, Savages), and should have been scrapped long ago. Others -- Seminoles, Illini, Utes and Sioux -- are best viewed in context. Florida State's war chant and tomahawk chop seem to many to be in terrible taste. And to outfit a student in war paint as "Chief Osceola" astride an Appaloosa on the football sidelines is historically incorrect. But the Seminole Tribe of Florida has insisted that the school's traditions be kept, and the NCAA has now relented.

Other appeals are pending, based largely on permission given by local tribes. Illinois' tradition of dressing a student dancer in buckskins as "Chief Illiniwek" might not pass muster. But the school's nickname -- Illini -- comes not directly from an old tribal confederation but from the name of a river and state. Surely the NCAA is not suggesting the renaming of every river and the 27 states that carry Indian names.

Including North Dakota. It seems the STrib is trying hard to keep its chastising tone with its admonition of FSU's sideline practices, but finds itself estopped by its acceptance and support from the very people it is trying to protect. And contrary to the singleminded attack on North Dakota sports benefactor Ralph Englestad by NonMonkey, the STrib takes a more balanced approach.

The university has taken many conciliatory steps over the years to keep its prized Sioux nickname. Cheerleaders no longer wear buckskin costumes. Images of tomahawks have been removed from hockey jerseys. The school has had no Indian
mascot. Its logo is a handsome Indianhead designed by a noted Native American

Still, many Indians and others resent that a wealthy benefactor successfully used a lavish new hockey arena to blackmail the university into keeping its nickname and logo. The state's two Sioux tribes disagree over the university's sensitivity on these matters.

Again, trying to split the difference. At least they are wrestling with the issue. Our own university president has said nothing more about the latest events; the university's discussion list, which had PC hustler after hustler trumpeting the decision, has been silent since the FSU decision.

Female bassists 

I had lunch with a friend who enjoys music and favors female musicians. Since I played bass in a couple of bands while in college -- I was a guitarist but fell into the bass like I fell into the viola, because there weren't many and I could get into better bands -- he and I always have a discussion of great female bassists. His choice is Melissa auf der Maur, formerly of Hole (after Kristina Pfaff's death). She's quite good, but I was trying to devise a top five in my head and she didn't make it.

Tina Weymouth -- probably because Talking Heads '77 was out about the time I was playing the most.
Kim Gordon -- I'm so glad Sonic Youth got back together.
Carol Kaye -- and, oddly enough, mostly for her session work with the Beach Boys, which is not a band this professor listens to very much. Somebody sat me down and had me listen to Cabinnescence once, though, and that was it. Played for about everyone, which is a great reference.
MeShell Ndege'Ocello -- The Wild Night with John Cougar Mellencamp woman. Her solo stuff is terrific. Glad to see her back.
Rhonda Smith -- not necessarily for her work with Prince. Look at her solo stuff. There's a six-string fretless bass being used that I have no idea how I would play.

Honorable mention -- D'Arcy Wretsky (#1 Son will be upset she didn't make the list); auf der Maur; Suzi Quatro; Aimee Mann. I think my problem is that my references to bass are all 70s -- Entwhistle, Levin and Lake, Clarke. If that's the filter, you'll kick out the auf der Maurs of the world (and I'm sure I'm skipping some others of that genre) for the jazzier types. And none of these women are going to break a bassist top 20, not even Kaye who's usually considered the best female.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Perspective on Churchill 

Jim Paine at Pirate Ballerina has made Ward Churchill coverage his only goal, and stepping back today he offers a devastating critique of the Denver Post's coverage of the recent news of the University of Colorado's preliminary finding that seven of nine charges against Churchill should be referred to a second committee for adjudication and recommendation for action against him.
Our outrage centers not on Churchill's spin of the story�which ignores the remaining seven allegations (mostly of plagiarism and historical fabrication), and instead highlights the dropping of the ethnic fraud charge�but rather the media's willing acceptance of that spin. No corporate flack, no sticky-fingered politician, no university president could ever expect from the media that kind of unquestioning acceptance of their version of the story. Yet this same media hands Churchill the first PR victory he has had since this story broke back in January.

Readers of PirateBallerina are already aware of the Denver Post's series of mash notes to Churchill..., and it should come as no surprise that the Post's coverage of the inquiry results followed the Churchill spin so faithfully that Churchill's attorney David Lane should have gotten a byline (with the actual content, of course, ghost-written by Churchill).

But that's no surprise; we've come to expect slavering adulation of Churchill from the Post. It's the Associated Press' equally-gullible coverage of the inquiry results that is far more troubling, if for no other reason than the AP story was picked up by at least a hundred newspapers and TV/radio stations. It was the AP version that most people have read or heard. Talk about a lie getting 'round the world before the truth gets its boots pulled on.
Jim is in no mood to link to the Post, so I have. (Ironically, its home page advertises is as "Voted best Colorado website by the Associated Press." Smoochie boochies for you!) The article's headline is "Tentative 'Victory' for Prof". The AP story runs in Newsday with the headline "School Drops Probe of Professor's Ethnicity." It take eight paragraphs to get a single sentence referring to the other seven charges going forward. The same story appears in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jim continues:
Even the most humble small-town newspaper reporter knows that he can't uncritically accept a newsmaker's version of a story. It's necessary to find opposing views and perspectives, and when facts contrary to the politician's assertions are discovered, they must be dutifully reported. The same applies whenever someone says anything "newsworthy."

It's safe to say that the Denver Post is no small-town newspaper. Nor is the Associated Press.

It's worth reminding our readers of the "uncritical" nature of the AP. John Hinderaker at PowerLine has covered this story for years regarding Iraq, the economy, and President Bush. This is just one more example for John's thesis that the Associated Press "is the nation's worst source of media bias."

Push technology that helps a researcher 

Economists don't have arxiv, which Henry at Crooked Timber postulates is the Next Big Thing in academic blogging. But there is something there in Economics Research Network, a clearinghouse of preprints and working papers in economics, and EconPapers, which is one of my first stops for researching relatively new (to me) topics. IDEAS uses EconPapers' database to link one paper to others that cite it. But what I like about arxiv is the possibility of getting delivery of these papers by rss feeds. I now use rss to hook up to the release data from the NBER. To get research papers that way too would be such a boon to my day.

OK, IDEAS guys, can you deliver this?

Be thou open 

In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today (I think this one is open to all readers), "Andy Jackson" publishes his struggle with creating a CV for an academic job without saying too much about his religious background. Concerned that some English departments would look askance at this working with Christian organizations, he tried a variety of strategies to express the work he'd done and the passion with which he had done it without revealing its religious nature. It's turned out not to have worked out well.
In hindsight, it seems that the various strategies I pondered to avoid bigotry were unnecessary and spiritually unwise. My two years on the market have convinced me that, at the application stage, the fear of bigotry is worse than the bigotry itself. After all, you never really know why a search committee rejects you at the initial stage.

At any rate, I couldn't see myself happy at an institution where colleagues secretly or openly believed that religious convictions made someone a less interesting and capable human being.

So where did that leave me? My reasons for going on the market had more to do with a sense of calling than anything else -- in this case, a calling to work at an institution with a graduate program. Furthermore, the surest way to know that you have conquered a fear is to face it head on, and for me, that meant trying the market one last time. That quest paid off: This fall, I will be an assistant professor of English at a public institution in the West.
His advisors told him to be open, and indeed he was successful when he finally was. It's sound advice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Here's your Class of 2009 

Or 2011 or 2012, given graduation rates these days. Still, incoming students who are 18 or 19 have a different mindset, as pointed out in this annual list from Beloit College. For students born in 1987,

  1. Boston has been working on the "The Big Dig" all their lives.
  2. Pay-Per-View television has always been an option.
  3. Pixar has always existed.
  4. American Motors has never existed.
  5. They never saw Pat Sajak or Arsenio Hall host a late night television show. (Thank God!)
...which is a nice, relatively innocuous list. But Beloit has decided to venture into social commentary with the list this year, to wit:
31. There has never been a "fairness doctrine" at the FCC.

Judicial appointments routinely have been "Borked."

37. They have grown up in a single superpower world.

53. They do not remember "a kinder and gentler nation."

70. Jimmy Carter has always been an elder statesman.

75. They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

Looking at previous lists I think I could find one or two like that (two years ago their last one was "Don Imus has always been offending someone in his national audience", which might be true), but they simply seem more common this time.

They don't want tolerance, they want power 

I love Wendy McElroy's columns, but I think she missed something intoday's entry on speech codes on campuses. She talks about speech codes and the new view of what constitutes tolerance on campus.
Parents may also be puzzled about why some universities oppose free speech instead of championing it.

One approach to an explanation is to view the phenomenon as part of a general societal trend that has pitted freedom of speech against tolerance as though they were enemies. This trend claims that expressing my dislike or criticism of the gender, race or lifestyle of others is tantamount to violating their civil rights.

The trend rests on a specific definition of "tolerance." For many, that means being broadminded. It means acknowledging the legal right of others to a dissenting opinion, religious belief or peaceful lifestyle such as homosexuality.

The foregoing definition of tolerance does not require stifling your own opinions or preferences, which have an equal legal status. It does not require you to personally accept what you tolerate. Defending people's right to be different doesn't involve taking them out to dinner and a movie.

The current campus definition of tolerance inverts the more traditional meaning and demands personal acceptance. Tolerance becomes the active celebration of "diversity" and toleration requires the suppression of the speech, views or peaceful behavior that supposedly hinder diversity by making "diverse others" uncomfortable. The others are usually members of a group that has been historically oppressed, such as women and are deemed to now deserve special legal protection.
But that's not tolerance. And they find tolerance a dirty word. Here's an example from testimony about gay marriage before the Canadian government last month by the head of a religious studies program.
All churches involved in this debate agree that gay and lesbian individuals have human rights and ought to be accorded tolerance � but tolerance can be given grudgingly. One tolerates because one has to in a civil society.

Equal marriage is about more than tolerance. In our society, marriage is an important, socially approved relationship.
Emphasis mine. They find separate marital institutionsthat confer the same rights as traditional marriage demeaning. Why? The anti-racism movement at its base has the goal of gaining power, of control of a majority which the "enlightened" find to be with illegitimate power. Tolerance does not transfer power, so they must pursue something more than that.

How long is your syllabus? 

Sorry to be late today, but we're beginning the period where more faculty are around, syllabi are being prepared, meetings are occuring, and in general summer is ending. (Sorry Tiger Lilly.) We have a limited budget, so we try to watch how many pages get printed. At some schools, we learn, printed syllabi are discouraged. I find putting the piece of paper in someone's hands vital. A syllabus is suppoed to be a course description and a contract between student and the professor. And, as Erin O'Connor notes, there's more.
Syllabi can be very revealing documents, and online syllabi that are expressly charged with replacing paper--and which must therefore be particularly detailed about assignments and so on--will be exceptionally so. As public concern about what really happens in college classrooms increases, online syllabi stand to become key documents in a debate that is hindered by an overall lack of documentation about how college teachers actually use their classrooms.
As an example, University Diaries discusses as well lengthy syllabi. My mentor used to give very long ones in graduate school but only a fourth of those articles listed were actually required, and truth be told, I didn't read even all of those. The recommendeds came in handy, though, when it was time to prepare for qualifying exams for the doctorate.

Anyway, the beauty of long online syllabi is finding nuggets like John Rosenberg does in this course from DeAnza College in Cupertino, CA. You can actually see assignments like this:

Week 8 Race and Higher Education

What should be done to level the racial playing field in higher education? There is an organization at UC Berkeley called BAMN (the Committee to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary). A link to the BAMN website is here. On March 3 (Thursday) they are holding an all day teach in on affirmative action. Either go to this teach in, or read their website carefully to find out their position on affirmative action, what they think it means, why they believe it is important. (If you DO go to their teach-in, etc. for the day, you will get an extra 30 points of credit here.) After informing yourself on these issues, write a letter to the Governor explaining what YOU think should be done to deal with the issues of racial imbalance within the UC system.

And Governor's address and phone and fax numbers are provided for good measure. So this week we have faculty on campus preparing similar syllabi. One of our sociology professors was a member of a workshop several years ago that had this description:
The goal of this workshop is to share and discuss specific exercises, techniques, and resources which may assist us in integrating multicultural and global awareness into the sociology classroom. We will focus on classroom tactics designed to overcome student resistance to multicultural issues, the use of games/exercises in understanding the intersections of oppression/identity, the emphasis of privilege when teaching multicultural/global issues to dominant group members, and using the Internet and WWW as tools for multicultural/global education.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

First and seventeen 

The NCAA has relented and will permit Florida State to keep the Seminole nickname.
"The N.C.A.A. executive committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong," Bernard Franklin, the association's senior vice president for governance and membership, said in a statement. "However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor."

"The N.C.A.A. recognizes the many different points of view on this matter, particularly within the Native American community," Franklin added. "The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree."
So the NCAA has decided that there is a tribal veto: If you name your team after a tribe you must get agreement from the tribe. This doesn't help the University of Illinois because there's no tribe called Illini. (It also happens to be the state's name, but the NCAA isn't making the university change that yet.) The University of North Dakota has one tribe supporting and one opposing.

Peter Wood thinks the smaller schools will eventually be losers.

Indictment is victory! 

Ward Churchill's lawyere is a moron.
A faculty group has sent the investigation of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill to the next level.

Seven complaints of alleged plagiarism, historical fabrication and other research misconduct by Churchill have been recommended for a deeper investigation, while two other complaints that were part of the original inquiry were dropped, his lawyer said. The report from the faculty subcommittee that had spent about four months looking into the allegations was delivered Monday, said David Lane, who represents Churchill.

The subcommittee made its recommendation to the faculty's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct. The next step is for that committee to decide whether to conduct a full investigation. CU rules call for the faculty group to study the recommendations and receive more input from Churchill before deciding.


"This is really a victory for professor Churchill," Lane said.

He pointed out that two complaints were dropped. And he claimed that the subcommittee members felt unqualified to pass judgment on the others.

The subcommittee, however, wasn't meant to make a final ruling on the merits of the allegations, according to the university's rules. Its job was to pass along its recommendation.

Still, Lane said, they felt out of their element.
Jim Paine politely calls this spin. I don't have to be that nice, and I won't. You went before a grand jury, who has kicked the case forward for trial. I'm not a lawyer, but that sounds to me like YOU LOST. And you're being tried on the things for which faculty are supposed to get fired, like plagiarism and research misconduct, rather than whether or not he "qualifies" as an Indian. And ignore the shabby little man from AAUP; he's paid to say those things.

The next step will take a few more months, but the case all in all is progressing nicely.

This is so not fair 

There ought to be a law that bans using cute kid pictures with economic analysis.

Lucky for you, there's not. Another economist blog that will pass me on some stupid ranking page somewhere soon. Pointed out by Bryan Caplan, dang it.

Singing for my gas tank 

I'm getting ready to write my part of the next Quarterly Business Report, and I was thinking about gas prices -- of course. I read William Polley's description of John Tierney's Simonesque bet, and I wondered what the price of oil is like when the numeraire good is labor rather than prices (remembering again Craig Depken's complaint about using real prices.) Here's what I got. The more surprising part of the story to me was the lefthand side of the graph rather than the right. That mid-1960s period is thought of as one for big cars, lots of energy consumption, cheap gas from Saudi Arabia, etc. Guess not.

The numerator comes from the Energy Information Agency, switching from leaded to unleaded gas at the last moment (when EIA doesn't report leaded any more.) The denominator is average hourly earnings of private production workers; it's the broadest measure. I didn't want an argument over using a generous numeraire by using compensation per hour, which includes nonwage benefits like health. I think the latter measure would make the story more favorable to saying energy prices aren't that high.

That's not to say people aren't spending more on gas. But this may be an increased demand for vacations along with the increased hassle of using airplanes, or it may be that families are demanding larger, heavier cars. But there's little doubt in my mind that it's foolish for us to continue to believe that current prices are an aberration.

And if you want to keep energy coming, you should like these prices. (h/t: Don Boudreaux.)

UPDATE: But you shouldn't do this. Courtesy Mises blog, where Pierre Lemieux has some similar thoughts.

Non-Monkey as petard 

I don't have to tell you that Scott Johnson's a brilliant guy, nor that he has a great understanding of criminal justice issues in Minneapolis. But to be able to use a Nick Coleman column as evidence for what is wrong with Minneapolis these days, ...that, my friends, is pure genius. Scott hoists the StarTribune with dispatch:
One might think that a column like Coleman's would prompt an immediate demand for the restoration of routine law enforcement in north Minneapolis. Today's Star Tribune, however, suggests that the city's biggest law enforcement problem is too many white officers...
Understand what Scott is saying about this article. The STrib is accusing white officers of allowing minority neighborhoods' windows to be broken, its corners to be filled with drug peddlers and purveyors of sex, because white officers don't care about those neighborhoods -- or worse, that those are the neighborhoods minorities deserve. Local NAACP leaders aren't asking whether the new cops will do the job that Coleman reports isn't getting done; they are turning it instead into both a jobs program and another attempt to accuse white cops of racism. But city leadership can't win: If they enforce the law they are preying on minorities; if they don't enforce they are ghettoizing them. Scott concludes:
Minneapolis badly needs a mayor sufficiently committed to "diversity" that he will take the political heat that is generated when law enforcement provides protection even to the city's poorest minority citizens.

The return of middlebrow art 

The most interesting thing in Terry Teachout's discussion of Costco offering art for sale on its website is that it was done before, in the 1960s, and the spokesman for Sears in its attempt to sell art in its catalog was Vincent Price.
Vincent Price is now best remembered for his supporting role in the classic 1944 film noir "Laura," but in the '60s he was a full-fledged movie star, albeit one who never got the girl--at least not while she was still alive. An elegantly campy gent who in his later years specialized in playing pardon-me-sir-while-I-cut-off-your-head psychopaths, Price was also one of Hollywood's most passionate art collectors, a former student at the Courtauld Institute of Art who had been well on his way to becoming an art historian when he abruptly changed course, went on the London and Broadway stages and became an overnight success.
I still will put down the remote late at night when I happen to land on a Vincent Price movie. He was doing Elvira before Elvira was cool (though not so much to look at); The Abominable Dr. Phibes is perhaps my favorite of the run of those movies to which Teachout refers.

But. In an era where a grad student's portraits of Alan Greenspan fetch thousands, why wouldn't we see art in middle class homes? If one is selling tickets to an opera, you certainly offer some tickets at high prices to some and at lower prices to others (maybe through a discount service, or rush tickets, or by some coupon.) There is also the matter of the prestige that comes from buying art in a gallery. I once bought rugs in an Egypt carpet factory outside Giza. It was an afternoon affair, with tea, a tour, and a personal display the likes of which I've never experienced since. I most assuredly paid more for these carpets than I would have walking through the Khan al-Khalili, but what I purchased was the experience. (You do wonder, don't you, when did we know I was going to buy, and why didn't I do the tea, tour, etc., and then head off to Carpets 'R' Us? Complex answer, probably having to do with custom, 'face', etc. But there was certainly a point where we both knew I was buying, and the question before us was how much would they extract from my bank account.)

We purchase life experiences when we buy art. Buying art from Costco is a different experience, to be enjoyed who will hang their art and remark "wasn't that much, bought it at Costco." You know these people, the women who compare how little they paid for their clothes versus those who compare how much. (Men do this too; it often gets tied into "Napoleon complex" or "compensation for small you-knows".) As discretionary income expands with an aging baby boom generation that has empty nests and no more pictures of kids in soccer and baseball on the walls, this is to be expected.

Qui custodiet magistri ludi? 

Here's a very skeptical article from on whether the teacher quality measures legislated into NCLB are actually being enforced. It certainly isn't enforced consistently from state to state (to do so would have required federal oversight that even NCLB's strongest proponents wouldn't support, I think.)

Teachers can prove they know their content by passing a test or having a major in each subject they handle. But many teachers find those options unrealistic or demeaning.

So veteran teachers often qualify under a third option not available to new teachers � meeting a state standard of quality.

Many states use point systems to grade whether teachers are experts, giving credit for conferences attended or committees served on. Other factors include years in the classroom, teaching awards and job evaluations. Some states use gains in test scores by a teacher�s students; other say having a state license is simply good enough.

To teachers, the process is often confusing, burdensome and ill-focused. The law aims to make sure a math teacher knows math. But it does not measure a teacher�s devotion or ability to connect with students.
I agree with this, but to assess devotion and "ability to connect" requires some kind of review process. The question is always who is in the best position to perform the assessment?

My answer: Parents.

(h/t: Reader jw.)

Monday, August 22, 2005


Student complaints are rising in Britain, and faculty don't like it, says the Times (UK) Education Supplement.
Universities have been swamped by more than 20,000 complaints and exam appeals in the past three years as students assert their consumer rights in increasing numbers, figures released to The Times Higher reveal.

Hundreds of complaints were made about erroneous exam papers, inadequate facilities and cancelled classes. More unusual grievances include a formal complaint about a "dog in a classroom", concerns about an increase in the price of a cappuccino at a cafe, and accusations that an allegedly drunken drama tutor awarded higher marks to performances that included "sexual content".

Government officials and student leaders welcomed the findings as a sign that tuition fee-paying students were standing up for their rights.

But lecturers' union Natfhe warned that an unwelcome "commodification" of higher education was leading to a complaints culture that was diverting time and resources away from teaching and research while putting intolerable pressure on lecturers faced with often spurious allegations.

About a third of these appeals are found to have merit. Most of them are over grades. One concern expressed is that administrators are encouraging them. I got this link from an administrator here, who indicated she found the documentation "interesting". I think that the reason faculty don't like this "customer" model of students is that it paints them as service-providers and not the great fonts of genius they see themselves as. For example,
Kat Fletcher, the president of the National Union of Students, said: "With a funding system that increasingly views a degree as a commodity, it is hardly surprising that students are starting to view themselves as consumers."
I don't quite get the connection to the funding system, but there's little question that the consumer mentality and the decline in status of the professoriate are related. And given the faculty's desire to make education "more democratic", I don't understand why they're complaining.

Academic phrases and meanings 

One of my students sent this variation of an old chestnut. These used to be passed around by mimeos in the old days; my copy on my office wall came to me twenty years ago when I started at SCSU. I haven't seen one for a couple of years, and offer it as a service to new academics:

"It has long been known"... I didn't look up the original reference.

"A definite trend is evident"... These data are practically meaningless.

"While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to the questions"... An unsuccessful experiment, but I still hope to get it published.

"Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study"... The other results didn't make any sense.

"Typical results are shown"... This is the prettiest graph.

"These results will be in a subsequent report"... I might get around to this sometime, if pushed/funded.

"In my experience"... once

"In case after case"... twice

"In a series of cases"... thrice

"It is believed that"... I think.

"It is generally believed that"... A couple of others think so, too.

"Correct within an order of magnitude"... Wrong, wrong wrong.

"According to statistical analysis"... Rumor has it.

"A statistically oriented projection of the significance of these findings"... A wild guess.

"A careful analysis of obtainable data"... Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of pop.

"It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding of this phenomenon occurs"... I don't understand it.

"After additional study by my colleagues"... They don't understand it either.

"Thanks are due to Joe Blotz for assistance with the experiment and to Cindy Adams for valuable discussions"... Mr. Blotz did the work and Ms. Adams explained to me what it meant.

"A highly significant area for exploratory study"... A totally useless topic selected by my committee.

"It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation in this field"... I quit.

How universities handle public relations nightmares 

If you've read around the blogosphere last week you might have hear the story of Carl Basham. He was a Texas native and resident until he went to serve two tours of duty in Iraq with the Marines. He came home to Texas and wanted to enroll at Austin Community College. Alas, the school told him, he no longer qualified as a resident of Texas because he hadn't maintained a domicile in the state. World Net Daily ran a story, Drudge picked it up, and bloggers were off to the races.

Undoubtedly, a public relations nightmare for the school, which found its way out by "getting new information".
We think this will resolve this situation,' said ACC President Steve Kinslow. 'We think this brings a nice resolution in that Carl is being treated well and ACC is also, of course, in compliance with state law. That's what everybody has been working for all along.'

Kinslow also announced plans for an ACC scholarship aimed at helping returning soldiers attend the college.
My NY Giants' secondary could use a few guys that backpedal that well.

Another college guide 

I'm a little perplexed by the new Washington Monthly College Guide. I certainly understand the criticisms of the US News rankings of colleges, and in fact agree with the idea that they are perverting some college decisionmaking (that universities undertake some decisions with an eye towards improving their place in the rankings.) But what I want to know is why parents would choose colleges for their kids based on these criteria? Examine their methodology.
We determined the Community Service score by measuring each school's performance in three different areas: the percentage of their students enrolled in the Army or Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps; the percentage of their students who are currently serving in the Peace Corps; and the percentage of their federal work-study grants devoted to community service projects. A school's Research score is based on two measurements: the total amount of an institution's research spending, and the number of Ph.Ds awarded by the university in the sciences and engineering. For both Community Service and Research, we weighted each component equally to determine a school's final score in the category.
They then add in a Social Mobility score that is based on Pell Grant use by students, adjusted for graduation rates. Someone who wants to root around in that scoring method may find something perverse in there, but I can't be sure.

At any rate, such a rating method seems to give a lot of credit to schools who send their graduates to the Peace Corps or the military. Thus a number of small southern liberal arts colleges -- Fisk, Wofford, Spelman and Presbyterian -- all fare very well in this ranking system relative to those in USNWR. Carleton, ranked #5 in USNWR for national liberal arts, goes to 30, behind both Macalester (16) and Grinnell (25). What I find odd is the idea that when parents are shopping for schools they should look at ROTC and Peace Corps as indicators of quality, or the number of PhDs in the natural sciences only. The guide appears to be much more elitist in outlook of what some liberals in DC think schools should do rather than what parents would want. Parents might wish to use instead ISI's Choosing the Right College.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Can't you people read? 

Bless me if the Deborah Rybak Caufield column we talked about on air didn't get picked up by Memeorandum. (It appears AP carried it on the wire. Why?) But they didn't seem to read the article; it focuses mostly on one station's listeners tuning out and one other station -- the sports talk station -- gaining. (Reminder: post hoc ergo propter hoc is a modus operandi at the STrib.) So forget waiting for PowerLine to answer this, Jesse. The two partisan stations in town are maintaining market share just fine, as you quoted but didn't recognize for what it was.

It isn't just a matter of politics, said Carol Grothem, broadcast manager for the Campbell Mithun ad agency. She suggested listeners may be turning more toward local talent and issues, and away from syndicated shows.

... The ratings shift hasn't affected partisan radio stations such as WWTC (1280 AM), known as the Patriot, or KTNF (950 AM), home to Air America programming, ...
Howdy! And note, the amateur station is minus one local non-monkey. Which reminds me...

Northwest strike: Settle in, it's going to be a bumpy month (or two) 

Since I'm already blogging on a Saturday -- regular readers know this is unusual -- I may as well put up a post on the Northwest strike. I was going to do this story on NARN today but Captain Ed has been running two excellent stories on Able Danger and Air Scamerica and we didn't have him last week, so we ran out of time. Stories that we have rather exclusively to the Alliance, in my opinion, should take precedence.

Besides, we're going to have lots of time on this one in my view. This strike will not end soon, and here's why.

The airline has been leading up to this strike for at least two years, and last night posted a press release saying they would run on time with replacement workers. Despite their best efforts, the local paper finds one traveler with a canceled flight and can't even make a connection to the strike. The AP report suggests things are going smoothly. Northwest had already planned to cut back flights and switched to its lighter fall schedule this morning.

These replacement workers have been lined up for a good while; many of them are mechanics with other airlines that are allied with Northwest, such as KLM. That's an important angle to the story, as outsourcing is probably at the base of this fight.

USA Today has a terrific piece outlining the run-up to the strike: The replacement of the original union with AMFA in 1997; the fat contract they got in 2001 just months before the 9/11 attacks; the 15% pay cut extracted from the pilots' union last year. One thing to add to it is that other airlines who have gotten concessions, such as American, are suddenly showing signs of profitability even in a world of high fuel costs.

Much of this is done by outsourcing. In this article I learned something quite interesting.
Most airlines send heavy maintenance (engines, airframes etc) work to the original equipment manufacturers, notable here being GE and Boeing, whose core competence lies in specialized repairs and checks. This way the airlines not only get their multi-million dollar fleet looked after by specialists but they also don't need to maintain a specialized technical staff through their peak and non-peak repair periods that develop during the maintenance schedule.

Quality can be assured because regardless of the work carried out by a third-party vendor or the airlines, all maintenance work is subject to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audits. In fact, FAA claims to now be doing surprise checks on such centers. But at the end of the day no matter who provided the maintenance, the airlines is held responsible for it.
Now contemplate what that means. A major problem in outsourcing is monitoring your agents' work. If I hire someone in Thailand to make shirts for me to sell in America, I might wait until they get here to inspect them, but then I may have paid for shipping shoddily-made shirts. I may therefore have to send someone there to keep an eye on it. Expensive. But for airlines, nobody has to be sent, as the FAA is going out and doing it for them. That merely increases the benefits of outsourcing mechanics -- something you can't do as well with baggage handlers, gate agents or pilots.

Add to this those transnational alliances that give you ground staff around the world -- including places that don't pay their mechanics $70,000 a year -- and the incentives to outsource grow even more.

Facing this, why doesn't the union give in? I see two reasons. First, the history of AMFA at Northwest is turbulent; it came into the company after a bitter fight to replace the IAM
and probably feels it needs to protect as much as possible the gains it made in the 2001 negotiations. Second, it's an old local. Its strike release states its membership averages 20 years of service. These are people who may make only half their old salaries if they move onto new jobs. No wonder they have had the slogan "Full Pay to the Last Day".

One striking mechanic I know worries that the airline will go into bankruptcy if they strike. Northwest might even if the mechanics settle, since this still will not settle a $3.8 billion pension shortfall. There's so much at stake for both sides, and so much time for each to prepare, that this strike figures to be a war of attrition.

Adopt a box initiative: Box 24, Part 2 

Duane at Radioblogger assigned me this box of the John Roberts document dump from the Reagan Library. The box contains only the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v Leon (1984). There is no evidence I can find that John Roberts had made any statement regarding this law while an associate counsel to Reagan, nor anything afterwards. I decided to look in the other part of Box 24 to get some perspective. (Joe Carter is assigned that box, and I apologize if I'm stealing his thunder.) Leon's inclusion appears to stem from a memo he wrote in January 1983 to T. Kenneth Cribb in which he included an Los Angeles Herald Examiner page 1 article from sometime in late 1982 (I see ***mber, 18, 1982, so it could be any of three months) that discussed a study showing 32.5% of drug arrests in LA County in 1981 were thrown out on initial review because of violations of search and seizure laws. "This study should be highly useful in the campaign to amend or abolish the exclusionary rule."

Leon is a victory in amending the exclusionary rule, then, in the eyes of Justice Roberts From The Oyez Project:
The exclusionary rule requires that evidence illegally seized must be excluded from criminal trials. Leon was the target of police surveillance based on an anonymous informant's tip. The police applied to a judge for a search warrant of Leon's home based on the evidence from their surveillance. A judge issued the warrant and the police recovered large quantities of illegal drugs. Leon was indicted for violating federal drug laws. A judge concluded that the affadavit for the search warrant was insufficient; it did not establish the probable cause necessary to issue the warrant. Thus, the evidence obtained under the warrant could not be introduced at Leon's trial.

...The justices held that evidence seized on the basis of a mistakenly issued search warrant could be introduced at trial. The exclusionary rule, argued the majority, is not a right but a remedy justified by its ability to deter illegal police conduct. In Leon, the costs of the exclusionary rule outweighed the benefits.
That seems fairly reasonable. The police acting in good faith on a search warrant should be allowed to gather evidence even if it turns out the judge signing the warrant acted incorrectly in signing it. The exclusionary rule was meant to restrain police abuse, not to let off the guilty. Allowing the police to use evidence gained from a warrant incorrectly issued still provides the deterrent to police overreach. Leon is exactly the kind of case Roberts foresaw in his 2003 memo, and the ruling went his way. The rule was applied in a companion case, Massachusetts v Sheppard where an officer got a warrant signed but on the wrong form -- the Court reversed the Mass. Supreme Court's exclusion of the evidence in a murder case.

Not to say this won't come up in confirmation. The LA Times has flagged Roberts memo (as has the WaPo), while conservatives will point to it as further evidence of his law-and-order credentials. The discussion of the exclusionary rule at Patterico, for example, shows interest in the blogosphere. Leon was a topic of a question asked by Senator Thurmond of Clarence Thomas during the latter's confirmation. But since Thomas two cases have affirmed Leon as best I can tell trying to read quickly some criminal law texts. See US v Gantt (1998) and Arizona v Evans (1995). Thus the good faith exception is part of accepted law, and should Democrats attack Roberts on the basis of this box, they would be arguing against court precedent.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Ruh-roh Roy 

Noted in the latest USNews and World Report rankings for midwestern masters-level schools:

64 Winona State
73 Bemidji State
87 Minnesota State -- Mankato
95 Minnesota State -- Moorhead
101 St. Cloud State

I can't wait for Convocation.

I might or might not be on NARN tomorrow -- I'd like the day off but we may be shorthanded with the Fraters wrecking northern Wisconsin. Be sure to listen to the show, though, as Michael Yon will give us a report from Iraq. You'll be sorry to miss this one! See you there.

Not comparable worth again?!? 

Hugh Hewitt mentions a Washington Post article on John Roberts' advice to the Reagan administration to oppose comparable worth measures, which the Post headline calls "anti-woman". See also Captain Ed, who calls Roberts views correct. It's worth remembering what the debate was, and worth discussing from Minnesota since we were at one time ground zero in the debate.

The comparable worth debate arose because we discovered that men and women like jobs in different occupations. The gender gap no doubt exists, but this study done by the Clinton Administration in 1998 argues that, based on the evidence economists have gathered, job choice differences between men and women -- including decisions to work full-time, occupation and education, account for a little more than half the gap of about 28 cents (that women earn $.72 for each dollar a man earns on a job). The unexplained portion, some will argue, is discrimination. That's one possible explanation, and no doubt some of it does happen. But, for example, the previous post describes how some pay discrimination comes from customers rather than employers. Are you supposed to legislate for that? Do I require bars to hire fat men to serve drinks to compensate for customers preferring thin females?

The comparable worth story argues that because women choose different jobs and suffer discrimination, we need to have some way to equalize pay between female-dominated and male-dominated jobs. The State of Minnesota requires public employees to be paid comparably. Here's an explanation of the system.
A policy to establish pay equity usually means: 1) that all jobs will be evaluated and given points according to the level of knowledge and responsibility required to do the job; and 2) that salary adjustments will be made if it is discovered that women are consistently paid less then men for jobs with similar points.
The result of this has been to keep state employee wages high, and I would argue has kept wages in state jobs in outstate Minnesota near Twin Cities levels (the differential is under five percent for state jobs versus about 20% for private sector jobs.) Nobody's wage ever goes down in comparable worth, just up. As a result, turnover in state jobs is much lower -- you get many more lifers in the system.

For a prosperous country, fluid labor markets are needed, lest we become Europe. Comparable worth makes labor markets more rigid. And to think that you can assign points to decide salaries is equally wrongheaded (and rather Euro, too.) What determines your value to a firm is the value of what you produce, not your points.

Drama?!?!? There's no drama in basketball!!! 

Phil Miller tells of a new study that finds female athletes prefer male coaches. From a report on the study in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning,
"This is one of the few professions where women's participation has declined," says Robert W. Drago, a professor of labor studies and women's studies who is one of the report's five authors. "What will make it difficult to turn around is the fact that so many women athletes seem to prefer male coaches."

The report's authors found that most of the 41 female athletes they interviewed in three different focus groups thought male coaches were better at commanding respect and that female coaches tended to create more "drama." One woman said that "there's just something more credible about male coaches." The 41 women included participants from all three divisions in the National Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Phil's worried he'll be the next Larry Summers. Many have a problem distinguishing employer or employee discrimination (the latter being that your workers don't want to work with workers from another ethnic group -- think Ty Cobb) from customer discrimination. Are female athletes the "customers" of coaching services? "Yes, Coach is a drama queen, but she's your drama queen so you better get used to her. And you need to work with her for the good of women everywhere."

It's cool to get into paperback 

And Cheri Yecke has done so, with her book The War Against Excellence. If you've got kids the age of our Littlest Scholar, heading soon to middle school or junior high, you will want to read this book to understand what she will face there. We are electing to keep LS in a K-8 Lutheran school, and middle school is one major reason why. Yecke, watching what was happening with her own children, investigated and uncovered the movement away from ability grouping for academic excellence and towards using junior high as a means of enacting social reforms. Her book getting into paperback is going to make her message much more accessible to parents who need this information. (Her site indicates that if you buy online from the publisher, you'll get this at a 15% discount, too.)

UPDATE: Mark Steckbeck notes: Maybe it's because schools spend so much time doing this that we end with with this.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Another economics lesson 

Yesterday I got my weekly email from the Center for the American Experiment, which includes this tidbit by Britt Haugland and Chris Tiedeman, on the freshman reading assigned at St. Olaf (of which both are alums):
A few years ago, St. Olaf was embroiled in controversy for refusing to present diverse points of view during a �peace conference.� Administration officials even refused to allow attorney, author, and American Experiment Board Member Scott Johnson to make a presentation on peace through strength.

Despite the substantial backlash over that incident, administration officials failed to learn their lesson and are now requiring freshmen students to read their environmental essay and take a survey to �gauge their environmental values and ecological literacy.� Officials have done so because they have declared �sustainability� to be the �theme� for the 2005-2006 school year.

According to a St. Olaf news release, the sustainability theme will be promoted through lectures by environmentalists and other campus activities � including communal campus bicycles and a picnic that �will serve locally grown food, including vegetables grown by the student-run St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW), served on biodegradable tableware.�

Incoming students will also be asked to read "The Nature of College," which includes ponderous passages such as this �In this century, earth�s people must learn how to harmonize our lives with the teeming life of a blue-green planet.
I went rooting around, as it were, and found that STOGROW has its own blog, in which its story is told. The story is mainly some kid does an internship on an organic farm, gets the student government to use some of its budget surplus to fund STOGROW. The effort so far, according to the blog, has delivered 15.5 pounds of salad mix, complete with one caterpillar as testament that it's really organic.

But it's the pomposity of the "essay" that students are reading that drives you around the bend. Just try the first paragraph:
You�re coming to college at a good time for imagination and creativity. The 21st century will be the age of the ecological transition, a period when people re-invent their relationships to the world around them. Like the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the ecological revolution will fundamentally change how people understand nature, human nature, and the relationship between them. In this century, earth�s people must learn how to harmonize our lives with the teeming life of a blue-green planet. We must harmonize our �buy-o-sphere� with the biosphere, nesting human economies gently within fragile natural economies. Any college�and especially one that prepares young people for lives of worth and service in a global community�needs to be mindful of this change. And any student who�s thinking of children or grandchildren needs to be a part of it.
My emphasis. Consumption is bad to these people. Two of the three students in STOGROW are off to India and Russia, according to their blog. I want to watch them mouth this inanity in a Russian or Indian village. If they're lucky, the impoverished people there will smile politely.

Do economies "nest gently" in a biosphere? They do when there are sufficient ownership rights given to humans. David Henderson, reviewing a book that I'm surprised isn't on St. Olaf's required reading for its students, makes the point.
If people owned nature, we wouldn't treat it nearly as badly as we sometimes do now. If I owned the water off Pacific Grove, California, to take a recent controversy in my town, I would never let the local government spill sewage into it the way they do now, or at least I would charge the government enough to compensate for the damage. Economists at the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, and other environmentally conscious "conventional capitalists" have written hundreds of articles and books extending these insights.
Chances are, Ole freshmen won't be reading anything from PERC, either. If they did, they might worry that they're being turned by a bad curriculum into eco-chumps.

Two good lessons in economics 

As students get ready for fall semester, I begin again looking for good stories in the news to illustrate basic economic principles. I prefer to find new ones each year -- the blogosphere and search engines have made this much easier.

Two have emerged for me this week for use in the first month of principles of economics. First, what happens when you don't let price ration a good? In Virginia, government surplus four-year-old Mac notebooks were sold at $50 by the county that owned them. Whoops! Price too low, so there's excess demand, and a rush at the gate of the fairgrounds where the sale was to happen. Bad things ensue. Could this have been prevented? Easily enough, answers Phil Miller.

The lesson: All scarce goods -- meaning any good for which some effort must be made to acquire it -- are rationed. If the rationing mechanism is not price, then what?

Second, great piece this morning at the Mises Institute by a grad student, writing about subsidies for ethanol. By subsidizing its production, you incur additional production of corn, which also means production of tractors, steel, etc. A market system creates profits and losses that balance the energy that goes into making the capital goods necessary to produce ethanol with the revenues gained from its sale. If ethanol was truly energy efficient, it would not have needed continued (and increasing!) subsidies since 1978.

In the end, the federal government�s subsidization of ethanol through various energy bills created the current debate over the efficiency of ethanol production. In an unregulated and unsubsidized economy, the market pricing system for ethanol consumption and the capital goods required in its production will soon signify if ethanol production represents an efficient and viable investment. Hence, the continual need for an ethanol subsidy implies that the latter criterions are not met in ethanol production.

If ethanol production were truly profitable it would not need subsidization because consumers would purchase ethanol-enhanced fuel at a price that would provide a reasonable rate of return to producers. This in turn means that the producers of capital goods essential to ethanol production would also receive a rate of return on their investment that would allow them to profitably continue producing capital goods essential to ethanol production.

The lesson: Prices will allocate goods efficiently, accounting for the alternative value of all the resources used in production. The author takes an interesting tack using Mises' calculation hypothesis that is well worth reading.

Some stories get a happy ending 

The story of Yektan Turkyilmaz, the Turkish doctoral student from Duke who was arrested for trying to take old books out of the country, has a happy ending. He has a suspended sentence and will be allowed to leave the country. Unfortunately he won't get the books back, but the CDs with his research were ordered to be returned to him. The verdict won't be official for two weeks, during which time he intends to keep working on the dissertation. Good for him, he seems not in the least embittered by his experience.

As Katy at Blogrel notes, the pulling together of folks all over the world -- Armenians and Turks, Americans and Kurds -- is probably the best thing that could happen. Alas, she also notes that the Turkish press is playing this up as evidence the Armenians have something to hide, with sinister implications, regarding the Genocide. I suspect that will blow over soon.

cf. Inside Higher Ed.

When monopolists encroach! The NCAA and mascots 

Much has already been said about University of North Dakota president Charles Kupchella's statement regarding the mascot issue, his interview with Hugh Hewitt, and these comments from Mitch. (I'm skipping the whole Coleman thing here -- Nick has had it out for Englestad for a long time because of the Nazi memorabilia thing. Nick wants to turn Englestad into another Marge Schott. I don't deal with derivative journalism, if Nick's writing can be called journalism.)

It's worth noting as well that there's at least one misrepresentation in this story, that the Oklahoma tribe of Seminoles (which, if I remember my history, descends from those forced out of Florida during the Seminole War) did not, in fact, object to the use of their tribal name by Florida State University, as the NCAA alleges. And, correcting something I wrote before, I learned from an interview on ESPN Radio with FSU president T.K. Wetherell: This was not voted on by the entire NCAA, meaning the university presidents. According to the interview, the schools sanctioned had no hearing before the NCAA's Equity Committee, and the Executive Committee did not give them the language they voted on beforehand. This decision came down from the executive board itself, making it seem more and more like a personal crusade taken up by NCAA president Miles Brand. The lack of due process, to be asked to pay dues to an organization that takes actions against you without a venue to have your position heard, is quite appalling, regardless of one's position on the mascot issue.

That accounts, in my view, for the tone of President Kupchella's open letter, which deserves a full reading. Mitch has cut out some excerpts, but here's one that bears some real significance.

Concerning tournaments already scheduled: Is the NCAA taking the position that it can actually unilaterally modify a contract already made? Perhaps the charge (sometimes heard) that the NCAA exhibits too much of the arrogance that comes from its status as a monopoly � apart from the question of whether it�s an effective organization � does indeed have a basis.

If the NCAA has all this power, why not use it to restore intercollegiate athletics to the ideal of sportsmanship by decoupling intercollegiate athletics from its corruption by big budgets? Why not use the power to put a halt to the out-of-control financial arms race that threatens to corrupt even higher education itself?

Yes, I know that in theory the NCAA is actually an association, and that UND is a member of it, and therefore it�s really we who are doing all of these things to ourselves, or failing to do all of these things ourselves. But is the NCAA really a democratic organization? Why did we not put these issues to a vote by all member schools??

The NCAA is already, in Robert Barro's words, the best little monopoly in America.

The NCAA is impressive partly because its limitations on scholarships and other payments to athletes boost the profitability of college sports programs. But even more impressive is the NCAA's ability to maintain the moral high ground. For example, many college basketball players come from poor families and are not sufficiently talented to make it to the National Basketball Assn. Absent the NCAA, such a student would be able to amass significant cash during a college career. With the NCAA in charge, this student remains poor. Nevertheless, the athletic association has managed to convince most people that the evildoers are the schools that violate the rules by attempting to pay athletes rather than the cartel enforcers who keep the student-athletes from getting paid.
And it's that type of moral posturing in evidence today with the mascot ruling. Given power in one area -- one that, despite their protestations now, has profited the institutions of Presidents Kupchella and Wetherell -- the NCAA like any government extends its influence into more and more areas. Just another step on the road to serfdom...

The road to mediocrity 

Reader jw points out that the new round of contract negotiations between MnSCU and IFO have brought out some tendencies of our union to engage in class warfare. From the IFO's latest newsletter, we find president Nancy Black fighting performance pay:
We have had an exchange of proposals on language items already, and it appears this will be a very tough round of negotiations. MnSCU is proposing to eliminate the early separation incentive in the contract, to make the career steps subject to employer review, and to move toward performance pay. And of course, we have to fight these proposals. We are pushing for more competitive salaries and reduced workloads. A union is only as strong as the support and commitment of its members; we need to stick together through this round of negotiations and not allow one group of faculty members to be pitted against another.
Yes "of course": We couldn't possibly have people be rewarded for being more productive than others on campus, because that would be pitting one group against another. Instead we want higher salaries and less work. That's imaginative leadership there, folks.

MnSCU is proposing as well to have faculty teaching loads taught over 12 months rather than nine. This is considered by them a means to alleviate workload issues during the school year. But the union would hear nothing of it. I for one see nothing wrong with faculty shifting some of their load to summer if they and the university chose to do so. That would, however, show plainly that the union isn't interested in redistributing the work faculty do but rather reducing teaching loads while maintaining the sanctity of the summer.

Of course, MnSCU has only itself to blame by insisting on this language of a 168 day contract. That tells faculty they don't work the other 197 days. Most universities define the contract in months (typically 9 or 12) which provides much more flexibility. 168 is the number of days we're expected to be on campus, which almost exactly matches the number of teaching days (there are some days for "grading" and a week of convocation activities.) The signal MnSCU gives is that all we do is teach. Their proposal, in this way, makes sense.

Both sides, therefore, are behaving like university faculty are no different than secondary school teachers in their preparation, study, and teaching as disseminating knowledge. Faculty that never do research are seldom more than mediocre, and MnSCU will be that until it embraces the concept of faculty creating knowledge and provides incentives for them to do so.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Economists "the least irreligious"? 

In a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only), a survey by the Association for the Sociology of Religion finds that scholars in the natural sciences are more likely to identify themselves as nonreligious than those in the social sciences.
The finding, which is based on a recent survey of 1,646 scholars at 21 top-tier research universities, stands in counterpoint to several well-known studies from the mid-20th century, all of which found that social scientists were the least religious group on campus.

The new study covers scholars in three natural-science fields (physics, chemistry, and biology) and four social sciences (sociology, economics, political science, and psychology). Among the natural scientists, 55.4 percent of the respondents identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Only 47.5 percent of the social scientists said the same.

The single most irreligious field covered in the study is biology, at 63.4 percent. The least irreligious is economics, at 45.1.
The association's press release is here. Only one in four respondents overall agreed with the statement that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."

Where to house chronic inebriates? 

Psycmeister relates an experience he had in working here in Stearns County on a possible home for chronic inebriates (a zoning variance for such a place was just turned down by the city):
I had encountered this issue several years ago as a member of the Stearns County Human Services Advisory Committee, where I vehemently voiced opposition to such a facility. As it was presented, the facility would house chronic inebriates, and would in fact, be a "wet house" where chronic inebriates would be allowed to continue to consume alcohol while in its environs. Janet Reigstad, Community Supports Division Director, envisioned a facility whereby the "...sewer grates would be enlarged" so as to be able to better accommodate the vomitus that would likely result from the alcohol consumed by residents. She also stated that the plans were to allow the chronic inebriate a safe place to go, as well as to give each resident an $80 per week stipend to spend as he or she wishes, including to buy more booze. She went on to paint what could only be termed as a romanticized version of such a facility in the Twin Cities region, where she described same as a "spiritual place," where many chronic inebriates were allowed, in effect, to drink themselves to death. When asked about a treatment component, she replied that there was no treatment component (shades of this post by the Night Writer), since the residents, by definition, would be beyond hope of saving. In effect, it would be "Kervorkian Light", allowing drunks to commit suicide by allowing them to continue to consume their "poison of choice."
It's worth noting that the city council did not say we shouldn't have such a place; the decision was a NIMBY vote for a piece of land too close to an adjacent city. Mayor Ellenbecker was reported to have been "visibly upset" and that the law presumes the home can be built "unless they could demonstrate a negative effect to the neighborhood that will be its home". But until someone demonstrates to me that the home has a provision that it is "dry", there is a negative effect on any neighborhood in which this is built. This is a city, for criminy sakes, that heavily regulates where bars can go because of possible disturbances from drunks. But a home to house drunks can't have its location regulated?

I'm tempted to side with the family that wants to build the wet house as a believer in property rights, but what do these mean in this case in the post-Kelo world? It seems that the city has sufficient police power to stop the building if it wished to; any lawyer worth his retainer can find enough "negative effects to the neighborhood" to stop this if the political will is there.

Good work if you can get it redux 

Pirate Ballerina, Ward Churchill's shadow, has found out that the professor has a nice teaching schedule -- only one course, handpicked students, for the fall, and nothing this spring. I may need to try out this Eichmann thing...

Teachers dislike WalMart, but it's not about globalization 

It's about self-preservation.

I've gotten a few notes about this article that appeared in the STrib on teacher union pressure on WalMart. They say they're about asking for higher wages and to permit unionization.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is considering whether to stop reimbursing members for school supplies bought at Wal-Mart.

"This is the beginning of a much more in-depth education program, in which we tell our members why and what Wal-Mart does - not just to small towns, but to workers,'' said Louise Sundin, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

The Minneapolis union and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, which together represent about 9,500 teachers and other school workers, are following the same line as two national teachers unions. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers held rallies in 30 cities last week to demand higher wages and better benefits for Wal-Mart workers.

But the anti-Wal-Mart movement hasn't extended into greater Minnesota, where there are fewer stores to choose from. Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union with 75,000 members, isn't expected to discuss any action against the nation's largest retailer until its next board meeting in late September, when back-to-school shopping is largely over.

"We encourage our members to shop at places that are treating their workers well,'' said Judy Schaubach, president of Education Minnesota. "But that's going to be more difficult in some areas of the state than others.''

Cheri Yecke of the Center for the American Experiment and a candidate for Congress, is peeved.

Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers union officials, who are calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart, are suffering from a serious case of misplaced priorities.

Last year, only 53 percent of Minneapolis public school students graduated on time. And St. Paul�s graduation rate was also well below the state average.

Instead of engaging in politically-motivated protests against Wal-Mart, which have nothing to do with improving the education of children, union officials should focus more of their time and energy on supporting reforms that will close the achievement gap in their districts.
But according to Joanne Jacobs last week, this has nothing to do with the teachers' unions trying to encourage Quoting this article from the San Jose Mercury News,
Don Dawson, a math teacher at Silver Creek High School in San Jose, said the Walton Family Foundation -- run by the heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart -- has spent about $250 million in the past six years promoting the school-voucher movement and lobbying for tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools.
In other words, exactly the thing you'd expect of a government monopolist -- try to bully the competition out of existence. The effort comes now that John Walton, who ran the family foundation, has passed away. Jacobs reports:
Howard Fuller of Black Alliance for Educational Options said in his eulogy:
I once asked John why he supported this movement. He said that poor children were getting a raw deal and he wanted to do something about it and he was in a position to do so.
Just today, I interviewed parents at East Palo Alto Charter School, which was started by low-income minority parents with the help of a Walton-funded group, School Futures. One of the founding parents, told me she'd dropped out in eighth grade to have her first child; her charter-educated children, now in high school, are on track for college. She also said, with pride, that she'd worked for Wal-Mart.
But she's a threat to teacher union profits, so Cities schoolteachers want to sell her kids down the river. (How's that for irony-challenged?)

UPDATE: Should have known to check Craig's blog too. See also Doug at Bogus Gold.

Why do cigars taste better at the lake? 

I have no idea. But last night's, before a good storm blew through Lake Osakis, was particularly tasty. We had a nice stay at Idlewilde, a resort run for the last five years by a couple that decided to get out of the city. Great people, and a very nice resort for fishermen and, like me, a guy that wants to smoke cigars, drink wine and relax with an internet connection (they have wireless run through a DSL line, worked very nicely for me at about 70 yards from the router). Good golf was had as well.

We'll be back to town shortly (we're only fifty miles away). Please stand by.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What rations food? Prices or government? 

Many people know the Sam Kinnison bit about food not growing in a desert, but I recall a related bit where he pretends to be filming starving children in Africa. Posing the kid for a picture sure to help Sally Struthers haul in bucketloads of cash, he shouts at his producer, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DON'T GIVE HIM A SANDWICH!!! I NEED THIS PICTURE FIRST!!!" (This is the PG version.)

I'm reminded of this reading this article about the plight of Niger. (h/t: Don Boudreaux)
To the aid workers charged with saving the dying, the immediate challenge is to raise relief money and get supplies to the stricken areas. They leave it to the economists and politicians to come up with a lasting remedy. One such economist is James Shikwati. He blames foreign aid.

"When aid money keeps coming, all our policy-makers do is strategize on how to get more," said the Kenya-based director of the Inter Region Economic Network, an African think tank."They forget about getting their own people working to solve these very basic problems. In Africa, we look to outsiders to solve our problems, making the victim not take responsibility to change."

The logic I used on the air this weekend to say "we'll never run out of oil" also applies to food. We don't run out. We have shortages because we don't want to accept the market as a rationing device. Tim Harford suggests that Niger needs more market orientation and doesn't have it. Harford lets them off too easily in my view.

Famine makes for great pictures, and tugs at the heart and pursestrings. Politicians know this and use food as a weapon against their own people and as a lever for foreign aid. While not a scholarly study, P.J. O'Rourke's All The Trouble in the World is a good start to a set of case studies. If you insist on being more serious, read Robert Conquest.

Bob Subrick notes a pattern here, in Mali and Zimbabwe.

Another reason for high oil prices 

Russia's taxing the heck out of it.
Ian Woolen, chief Russia analyst for Edinburgh-based Wood McKenzie, made the remarks in the wake of an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that cut supply forecasts for Russia and other non-OPEC countries. The news placed further strain on supplies from the producer group, already under threat from terrorism and instability in Saudi Arabia.

"Despite the fact that the oil prices are going up, with the year-on-year tightening of the tax regime, oil companies are feeling they don't have sufficient disposable income to throw into investment," Said Woolen.

He also blamed production problems in key drilling sites, including Exxon Mobile's Sakhalin 1 and Shell's Sakhalin 2 for the decline.

...Reduced upstream investment, higher export taxes and a heightened sense of regulatory uncertainty, combined with a drop in production by beleaguered Yukos, underlie the decline in Russian output, said the IEA.
About 20% of non-OPEC oil production is from Russia.

2-year colleges offering 4-year courses 

Glorioud day up here yesterday, so finally got an afternoon walking around town, sitting on a dock with a cigar and this wine (the 1999 Zin, in fact -- as rich a Zin as I've ever had), barbequeing corn and dogs (meatless for me, thanks) and generally decompressing. If it weren't for LS kicking my tail in cribbage, it'd been perfect.

Where I work is part of the MnSCU system of both two and four-year colleges, and I'm sure they passed around this article from yesterday's STrib on the increasing use of the technical and community colleges to offer four-year programs.

Carrie Anderson is a wife, a busy mom who carts her boys around to summer hockey practices, an aspiring teacher and a statistic.

She graduated from high school. But at age 32, she doesn't have a four-year college degree.

That makes the Zimmerman resident like many others in Anoka, Chisago, Sherburne and Wright counties on the Twin Cities' northern edge. According to the 2000 census, they are the state's only counties where residents are more likely to have a high school diploma, but less likely to have at least a bachelor's degree.

Why? From Anoka, it's a half-hour drive to the University of Minnesota and less than an hour to St. Cloud State University. Over the years, people have cited everything from lack of a good bridge over the Mississippi River to fear of big campuses to a blue-collar attitude that led people to stick close to home.

If residents can't or won't leave home to get a four-year degree, why not take the degree to them? That's exactly what the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU) has done by bringing state university faculty members to two-year campuses.

In 50 different programs around the state, MnSCU faculty will teach university courses at two-year colleges, allowing students to earn a four-year degree without ever leaving the community or technical college campus.
This has been going on for awhile, and it is the direct aim of MnSCU to "integrate the system" so that students can get the entire range of MnSCU curricula without leaving their own locations. It's also worth understanding that state university faculty, who would seem to be cut out of the loop, are often teaching those classes. Each university (as distinguished from a tech or community college) has a continuing studies program, like ours. Their mission in part is to get out and sell programs to the techs and CCs.
Anoka-Ramsey Community College sits smack in the middle of those educationally underachieving counties. When it announced via a community mailing a couple of weeks ago that courses linked to four-year degree programs from St. Cloud and Metropolitan state universities would be offered on campus starting this fall, school officials had to draft additional people to handle hundreds of phone calls.
Why take there? The drive, and that "people are exhausted" after work. Also noted by one student:
While she likes St. Cloud, she thinks the university is focused more on serving 18-year-olds than people like her. She said she gets mail all the time that is addressed, "To the parents of Carrie Anderson," and she was irritated that when she enrolled, she was required to attend a Saturday lecture on drinking and drugs.

"For crying out loud, I've got a family here and we don't drink and do drugs," Anderson said. "I can see it for those young kids. ... That was a bummer, wasting the day."

And let's not forget ORIE 020, SCSU's own version of freshman orientation. Students now are being run through that course. (Note to any freshmen reading this: Scholars seeks a recording or journal of the event. Inquire to comments at scsuscholars dot com.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Lasso Pete 

I don't think there's a connection between the Native American mascot story and this, but the timing does make one wonder.

New Mexico State University's mascot, Pistol Pete, is being disarmed.

University officials have also stripped the word "Pistol" from Pete's name. The new logo shows Pete twirling a lasso. The old Pete toted a pistol.

The changes are part of a marketing plan to remake the university's image on the
national stage. Officials have been working on a redesign of Pistol Pete for months.
Athletics director McKinley Boston said the university plans to unveil the new Pete later this month.

The decision to remove the pistol had more to do with a consensus when picking from several designs of the new logo, rather than any push for the mascot to stop brandishing a weapon, Boston said.

Yup, that McKinley Boston. Of course, they're Aggies and not Cowboys, which makes the lasso a little more strange. The gun has nothing to do with cowboys and Indians, either.
New Mexico State�s mascot, known as Pistol Pete, roams the sidelines at Aggie games. But the name Pistol Pete comes from a real western gunman in the late 1800�s named Frank Eaton. As a child, Eaton�s father was killed by the four Campsey brothers and the two Ferber brothers, all members of the Regulators. By the age of 15, Eaton had become a quickdraw and a marksman, but went to Fort Gibson, a cavalry fort in the northeast part of Indian Territory, to improve his shooting skills. It was at the fort where he gained the nickname Pistol Pete. In a fair gunfight in 1881 in Albuquerque, Pistol Pete killed the last of the six men responsible for his father�s murder.
So it's not historically accurate, but hopefully the new design will help them rope in more sales of sweatshirts.

A wall that holds back understanding 

John Hinderaker has written an excellent review of the ELCA's regrettable denial of Palestinian responsibility for Middle East unrest, laying blame instead on Israel's protective wall. Two quick points I would add: First, the World Council of Churches tends to be the instigator of these resolutions. I recall the one time I was unable to participate in a service one Sunday was due to a text the pastor chose to use from the National Council just before the election last year that was a thinly veiled denunciation of George Bush. (Scroll down that last link to "church bulletin inserts" to see the kinds of things NCC/WCC wants included in your Sunday service.)

Second, I don't find this imbalance at all surprising. In my congregation, actions of the Palestinians are seen to have a religious basis, but Israeli actions are seen as political. Since we cannot bring ourselves to a moral clarity that understands the blasphemy of Palestinian violence against Islam, largely because we don't understand it, neither can my fellow parishioners understand the humanizing, ethical value of Israeli democracy and the desire to protect it. One wonderful thing our church (like John, I'm an ELCA Lutheran) has done is to use Bible study time to understand other world religions. I wish we'd do more, but it's a start. I don't know what John does to bring that discussion into the ELCA; I'm busy trying to get them to understand market economics.

Assets seek their highest return 

Residual Forces has an excellent story of how the Shooting Star Casino is going to go off the property tax rolls soon. The White Earth Band is going to put it into an Indian land trust and instead negotiate an in lieu payment to the county.

Why is this a surprise? All resources seek their highest possible after-tax return; any asset that can be moved to a lower-tax environment has incentives to do so. Accountants are in the business of advising asset owners to do so.

County officials think the band will give them money in return for county services. The question they need to ask is whether tribal leaders could provide those services cheaper to themselves.

A holiday 

In the modern world nothing surprises. I at sitting in a cabin at a lake in western Minnesota, and the resort owners have installed wireless access points at each end. I can sit looking at a rather remote lake and still post. But, I also intend to rest and throw baseballs and sit around a fire ring with family for a couple more nights. So expect light posting for the first half of the week.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bye-ku for Coleman 

Nick not simian
Jokes sell no ads for Robert
Hiatus for good.

(with apologies to Taranto.)

A set of smart posts 

To which I could only add a sentence or two.

Tyler Cowen thinks hard about animal welfare. I've noted before my work on animal welfare, and I think Cowen is right to say we need "a moral theory which is neither strictly lexical nor strictly additive in terms of how it treats value" of human and non-human animals. Whomever does this will be a great moral philosopher.

First Ringer has an outstanding post on conditions in Kosovo six years after the U.N. stepped in. My talks with analysts and consultants to Kosovo -- mostly when I was in Macedonia -- confirm his take. The UN has made a hash of it.

William Polley teases the data to explain why you should know the difference between gross and net jobs created, and why Paul Krugman doesn't. Lots 'o' graphs.

And if you're not reading Captain Ed's latest big story, that of Able Danger and the sudden loss of credibility of the 9/11 Commission, here's the guide, here's your hat, what's your hurry?

It was almost Mankiwish 

At Division of Labour, Craig Depken finds an embarrassing quote from Bush's chief economic advisor
From the August 9 press conference that Al Hubbard and Ben Bernanke held in Crawford Texas comes this quote:

CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: Well, I mean, I'm an economist, I talk in statistics.
I winced when I read that statement and I am an emprical economist. We should, as a field, be talking more economics and less statistics - especially when the average person is listening.
It's not going to draw press attention like Greg Mankiw's infamous outsourcing comments, but Craig's right that it does cause one to wince. Economics speaks in theory -- elegant applications of a relatively simple logic. Statistics, as the old saying goes, are like lampposts, for support rather than illumination.

The paper I grew up with 

Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth is impressed by the Manchester (NH) Union Leader. My love and learning from the Union Leader dates back to childhood. I grew up there, and delivered the paper in north Manchester throughout high school. Later I drove a truck delivering to carriers in the Concord and Laconia areas, and then to the morning routes in Manchester. (In those days the paper had both morning and afternoon editions.) My first father-in-law was a lifer at the UL; they were as loyal to him as he was to them. My first wedding reception was in the press bar next to the paper's loading dock.

It's never been a big paper, with circulation now under 70,000 and Sunday around a hundred thousand. The Boston Globe and Boston Herald are about fifty miles away and have NH editions for the southern half of the state. But neither paper is anywhere near the Leader for editorial stance.

Its hard-hitting, libertarian-leaning editorials began with William Loeb. Bill Loeb is probably best known as the man that made Edmund Muskie cry, but he also defined two Republican presidents as Tricky Dick and Dopey Dwight. His legacy was carried on by his wife Nackey, and for the last five years after her death continued in the same tradition by publisher Joe McQuaid, who went to the same high school I went to eight years later. The paper has the tradition of running the publisher's editorial on page one, and Joe's this morning on the transportation bill is exemplary of what the UL has always been.
Thanks to President Bush and his overspending buddies in Congress, Dean can admit his party's reckless past and suffer no political consequences. While Republicans are laying claim to Lyndon Johnson's legacy, Howard Dean is squirming out from under it. To be sure, the Democrats still want to load the federal government with new social programs and additional spending. But now that Republicans do too, Democrats can claim with a straight face that they will do it more responsibly.
The older I get, the more I realize I'm a child of that paper and its viewpoint. If Gov. Pawlenty had the Union Leader in St. Paul, I wonder if he would have decided we needed health impact fees.

No candidate for president escapes the glare of the UL. As we gear up for the 2008 election, you'd do well to keep an eye on the little paper. Its editorial page editor, Andrew Cline, has his own blog that's worth a click. Now if they'd just get an RSS feed...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Smell the fear 

Someone on campus posted to our announce list yesterday
s STrib story about FACT
that PowerLine mentioned last night. "Consider ourselves forewarned," the poster cried.

Forewarned of what? The article intones at the start, "Liberal professors, gird for battle."

FACT is offering a site called Intellectual Takeout, that will give students access to arguments on both sides of the issue. Its intent was to equip students with access to research materials, organized by subject, with which they could prepare for classroom discussions on things from economics to history to philosophy. Here's an example, discussing minimum wages. It's written as something for students who are center-right or hard right to use as rebuttal of talking points for supporters of the minimum wage.

And that, somehow, worries the academy.

Getting and not getting cost-benefit analysis 

Getting it: Using technology to recycle astronaut urine and reduce the cost of sending water up to the International Space Station.

Not getting it: An eight-mile light rail in St. Cloud to reduce congestion on Division Street (State Highway 23). Cost would be about $500 million (assuming costs similar to the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis). How many cars would get off Division? Given that Northstar Ridership is projected to be 9600/day and MTC (bus) ridership is far less than that, it's not unreasonable to think we could spend more than half a million per car removed.

A good question 

FIRE's Robert Shibley wonders whether the new "speech code" imposed against eighteen schools by the rest of the NCAA will sensitize those universities' presidents to the use of speech codes elsewhere on campuses.
This is no different from hundreds of FIRE cases in which students who run afoul of administrative speech restrictions are threatened with severe punishment�and are given no recourse except an appeal to the public or a lawsuit. It�s a very uncomfortable position in which to find oneself. If nothing else comes of this controversy, we can at least hope that being subjected to a vaguely defined and therefore unreasonable speech code will give college administrators some sympathy for the students they regularly torment with similar policies.
And sue they will.

The local paper seeks further censorship on those campuses.
Yet equally frustrating about the new policy is its limited reach. It only applies to NCAA-sponsored postseason play. If the NCAA is serious about removing offensive symbols and actions, it should demand member conferences adopt similar measures during regular-season play.
The irony of placing a plug of "Day XX: The First Amendment Held Hostage" (marking Judith Miller's continued refusal to name a source in response to a subpoena) and this call for encroaching on universities' First Amendment rights is probably lost on the editorial writers at the St. Cloud Times.

No, go downstream 

Hugh is having bad thoughts during his vacation.
If the GOP does not deliver on new oil exploration ina time of $60 a barrel oil, it will provide ammuntion to every cynic who believes that the Congress is incapable of acting on any issue that is remotely difficult. After the war, the courts, and the defense of marriage, energy exploration was the hot button in the past three elections, and not just because of the cost of gas, but also because it represents the defeat of environmentalist posing by clear-eyed science and the belief in progress.

I'm not sure Hugh realizes that if you started drilling in ANWR tomorrow, it would still take about seven years for the flow of oil to show up here. I'm as in favor of drilling as he is, but can you imagine three years from now, when Hillary runs for president, giving her a platform that says "we're degrading the environment in Alaska and we're still paying $2.50 for a gallon gas"?

Next time the boat pulls into port, Hugh should read The Capital Spectator from this morning. The U.S. has oil inventories, but capacity around the world is hitting a wall. Moreover,

Bumping up against a wall is also the story when it comes to manufacturing gasoline in America, where new refinery development has remained the stuff of dreams for two decades. In the U.S., refineries operated at 95% capacity last week, the EIA reports. Meanwhile, gasoline demand keeps rising, the agency notes. For the week ending August 5, gasoline demand was 9.483 million barrels per day, up slightly from 9.472 million barrels a day a year earlier.

It's also true that gasoline inventories fell last week for the sixth week in a row. That lends momentum to the fact that this is the peak season for gasoline demand, courtesy of summer driving, a fact that hasn't been lost on traders. In fact, gasoline, measured by the near-term futures contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, has run up more than oil. Gasoline prices climbed more than 60% this year through yesterday vs. 53% for oil.

The incentives for elevating oil inventories further, in short, remain high. But that's where oil and gasoline part company. Crude oil is an unrefined product that's pumped from the ground; gasoline is manufactured and therefore subject to the constraints of refinery capacity, of which a thin 5% spare capacity exists in the U.S.

If Republicans want to win a battle with environmentalists that would count now, in time for the 2008 elections, it must deal with the restraints on building gasoline refineries. Here's a classic post from Useful Idiots on environmentalism run amok in another remote corner of the U.S. that would have started building a refinery two years ago. See also Cato's Jerry Taylor, in testimony to Congress a few years back.

UPDATE: And Craig Depken.

UPDATE 2 (a bit longer): Dafydd thinks Hugh's saying that the markets have lost confidence in Iraq. I don't think that's what Hugh's saying at all, but rather than have me guess, let's hope Hugh posts something more.

But there's something more to Dafydd's commentary that bears criticism. The market for oil and gas contains a large number of players with many little bits of information. Some read blogs, some don't; some read political op-eds, others read Bloomberg screens. And they're geographically diverse. The price in the market is not the reflection of any one of these people. It is the interaction of them. Markets move when either a) there's new information that changes many expectations, or b) some group or another becomes more convinced that their price forecast is correct, opening new positions, or incorrect, closing their positions out.

And much of the information that's important to the market price isn't something gathered in general news. It's local information, held by market participants, and communicated to other participants by the act of buying and selling.

I don't think this is what Hugh is worried about, because he's concerned about political consequences of reaction of the public to the rise in the price of something they value -- which is gas, not oil, as my original post argued.

But we can't give you the recipe 

An advantage of fixed exchange rates is their transparency. You know what the central bank of a country is planning, and by simply looking at a newspaper you know if they're good on their word. Whether or not it had bad effects on the U.S., China's fixed exchange rate at least gave us a fairly clear idea what they were doing with monetary policy.

We now have a situation where we're told they are not pegging to the dollar but referring to a basket of currencies. Only yesterday did we learn what's in the basket.
Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China (PBoC), China's central bank, said for the first time on August 10 that the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and South Korean won are the primary constituents of the basket of currencies that will act as a reference for the yuan exchange rate. ...

"The countries and regions and their currencies that take a comparatively major position in China's foreign economic activities concerning foreign trade, foreign debt and foreign direct investment will be taken into account when the central bank adjusts the exchange rate of the Chinese yuan," Zhou said. "They will constitute the basket of currencies and be weighted accordingly ... The United States, European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea are China's most important trade partners, so their currencies naturally [became] the main currencies in the basket," he said. Singapore, Britain, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, Thailand and Canada also have important roles in China's foreign trade, so their currencies are important for the yuan exchange rate as well.
Hong Kong and Taiwan are not mentioned, but since they are pegged exchange rates -- Hong Kong having a currency board arrangement that provides a hard peg to the dollar -- they're covered by the dollar in the basket.

An editorial note in this Asian Times article suggests that the reason the shares of the various currencies in the basket are kept secret is to discourage speculators. Xinhua reports...
Some experts believe it is wise for the country not to publicize all the currencies in the basket as well as their shares, which will help the central bank better regulate and manage the exchange rate.
...but that tosses aside the transparency of central bank policy.

A further lack of responsibility is pointed out by former IMF director of research Ken Rogoff in last Monday's Bangkok Post.
Perhaps the speculative-inflow scenario will play out, but in slow motion. After all, China is not a country where investors can just take their money in a heartbeat. It can hold the fort because it maintains one of the world's strictest regimes of exchange and capital controls. Violating capital controls in China is virtually a capital offence.

But, over the past fifty years, when many other countries implemented draconian controls, the result was always the same, eventually, the private sector adapted and eroded the controls effectiveness. Whether by misreporting imports and exports or exploiting corrupt government officials (which China has in ample supply), private capital eventually starts finding its way around the controls if the incentives are strong enough.

Thus, even if the Chinese authorities can somehow keep their capital controls from haemorrhaging as the country's financial system becomes more sophisticated and decentralised, they will not be able to stop the controls from dying a death of a thousand cuts. After that, China will be able to keep its exchange rate pegged only by slavishly following US interest-rate policy, which makes no sense for such a large and diverse region.
I agree that it's far too soon to tell if this new regime for China is working.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Opportunity costs of the NARN 

Saint Paul computes the relative prices of Nothern Alliance hosts in live speaking engagements.
I speak of John Hinderaker from Power Line, now available for your bar mitzvah or Gap grand opening for a mere $5,000. Some have questioned the value of Time Magazine's Blogger of the Year award. Now we have an answer: $2,000, the marginal rate of increase over Captain Ed's fee.
And as noted, both are available for free on NARN (check your local listings for an internet listening post near you!). RTWT; it's hysterical.

Me? Give me a hummus and cucumber sandwich and an iced tea, and I'll talk about cost curves until your ears fall off. Just like this guy. Who's also available from Premiere.

Inheriting college success 

The National Center for Education Statistics has published a report on the success of first-generation college attendees (i.e., those whose parents did not go to college). A summary of their findings:
The results indicate that first-generation students were at a disadvantage in terms of their access to, persistence through, and completion of postsecondary education. Once in college, their relative disadvantage continued with respect to coursetaking and academic performance. First-generation status was significantly and negatively associated with lower bachelor's degree completion rates even after controlling for a wide range of interrelated factors, including students' demographic backgrounds, academic preparation, enrollment characteristics, postsecondary coursetaking, and academic performance. This report also demonstrates that more credits and higher grades in the first year and fewer withdrawn or repeated courses were strongly related to the chances of students (regardless of generation status) persisting in postsecondary education and earning a bachelor's degree.
As well, students had trouble deciding on a major, had poorer credit-earning histories and got lower grades.

As I mentioned in the previous post, all the talk in our campus and many other places is how do we keep students here, get them through programs, and graduated? It should be fairly obvious that retention and graduation rates will fall as we attempt to expand access to higher education. If you think of what the difference between first-gen and second or higher-gen students are, it comes down to having parental experience with how to get a degree. That in turn suggests that we could target first-gen students with an additional layer of advising, or with first-year experiences -- these are the new fad on our campus -- that may compensate for the lack of parental knowledge of higher ed.

Who's in a kindergartener's bookbag? 

I saw this story originally at Michelle Malkin's blog, but I haven't run with it in part because I can't figure out the parents' angle. But I find myself convinced by Wendy McElroy that the parents are in the right here.

The conflict began on Jan. 17, when Parker's then-5-year-old son brought home a Diversity Bookbag from kindergarten. Included was Robert Skutch's "Who's In a Family?" that depicts families headed by same-sex couples. Parker had wanted to decide for himself the timing and manner in which his son was introduced to the subject of homosexuality.

(The Bookbag is supposed to be a voluntary program but the Parkers knew nothing about it in advance.)

Parker immediately e-mailed the Estabrook school principal, Joni Jay. Parker expressed his belief that gay parents did not constitute "a spiritually healthy family"; he did not wish his son to be taught that a gay family is "a morally equal alternative to other family constructs."

Which, when I saw it, led me to ask "why should the government instruct otherwise?" That's not the government's business to decide morals. It's the parents'.

But the problem is larger than that. The law of Massachusetts states requires parental notification of instruction in sexuality, meaning that parents by law retain the right to instruct their children on sexual issues. The government has not seized away that right. Yet the Lexington school district said "We don't view telling a child that there is a family out there with two mommies as teaching about homosexuality," and "� that discussion of differing families, including gay-headed families, is not included in the parental notification policy."

I think where one comes down on this particular case depends on whether you think the parents' request -- notification in advance if same-sex issues are discussed, and removal of the child if conversation occurs spontaneously -- places such a high burden on the school district that it ends up reducing the speech rights of others. That is to say, I see it as a cost-benefit analysis and little more. If it infringes greatly on the rights of others, one has to tell the Parkers that the service cannot be provided and they should send the child to private school.

But then again, they won't get out of paying taxes to the district that left them behind.

(h/t: Reader jw.)

Going to grandma's house 

Our office received a phone call this afternoon. A woman asks to get a message to her grandson, who is in one of our classes. Student records are supposed to be confidential, so we don't know how she knows the student is in one of our classes, and she can't identify the course the student is in. But she knows it's one of ours because someone in the administration building had told her and gave her the number to our office.

In an emergency, rules be hanged, we'll track down the student. So my office manager asks what the message is.

"Please tell my grandson to come to breakfast at 7:00 rather than 8:00 tomorrow."

Flabbergasted, my office manager says she said "OK" and ended the conversation.

Did anybody think to ask grandma what the message was before giving out student data that is supposed to be private?

We did deliver the message, since we are so worried about student retention.

Truth or dare 

It turns out this kid did jumps off the third deck at Yankee Stadium onto the backstop netting on a dare.

The game was delayed for four minutes in the eighth inning after 18-year-old Scott Harper of Armonk, N.Y., plummeted about 40 feet onto the large net.

Harper told three friends he was sitting with that he was going to test whether the net would hold his weight - and then he jumped, police said.

"The next thing you know, you don't see him anymore. You saw him on the net," said 18-year-old Mike Spadafino, one of Harper's friends.

Obviously scared and shaken after he landed, Harper sat with his head in his hands for a few moments before climbing on the net back up to the middle level of seats as players watched and the crowd roared.

"That was the only exciting thing that happened today," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said after Chicago's 2-1 victory.

Harper then was hoisted over the railing and led away by security.

"People think we threw him off, but we're all best friends, so I don't think that would ever happen," said 20-year-old Giusseppe Tripi, another one of Harper's friends.

"They claimed we were saying, 'Sit or jump, sit or jump,"' Spadafino said. "It was everyone in there, in the basic area."

Comments reader Roger Lewis, whom we thank for the link: "Funny, I thought they fell on their heads before they became Yankees fans."

At least this guy didn't hit anyone. Especially not Sheffield.

Nick's Greatest Hits 

Upon hearing that Mr. Coleman has exited the radio stage, at least for awhile, we Scholars feel a little retrospective is necessary. Frankly, if you could get past the grating sarcastic disdain with which he held everyone to the right of Al Franken, he had a certain style that needs to be preserved for all time.

We're not list types. I had a hard time deciding how to do this, for written words cannot quite express the genius that is Nick Coleman. What we needed was a medium that could capture his essence. And so I thought, what would be better than a mix of Nick?

Voila! Taking advantage of my amazing collection of Euro-dance going back to Gary Numan, I present Nick's Love Triangle. (1.7 mB mp3, download s.v.p.) Special guest appearance by Cartman.

Enjoy it, and be glad for the times we shared.

Theory and knowledge 

Martin Kramer exposes the cheapness of academia in the attack by Juan Cole on the memory of Steven Vincent. Professor Cole, who of course "knows stuff" about Iraqi sensibilities by dint of his research in Middle Eastern studies, attacks Vincent for being a novice who "did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface". Cole has never been to Iraq.

It's worth remembering from the interview NARN had with Vincent that he did not travel at the expense of some Muslim prince, as Cole will soon to Beirut. I have lived in foreign countries for months at a time, including one in Egypt and two in Indonesia. I would not dare to say I had serious knowledge of Islamic culture from those experiences -- I don't know nearly enough about Ukrainian culture after living there for a year. That's because I worked as an advisor, lived in either a secure apartment or a hotel room, and had enough money to simply keep away from any "serious" places when I did not want to be exposed to culture as it is. Cole's guests in Beirut, a country that has seen fit to remove its more fundamentalist masters from Syria, will control his movements. Even if they did not, his haughtiness would be the scales covering his eyes while he seeks confirmation of theories he developed in his armchair.

One of the lessons I learn in my work is that there is no substitute for local knowledge. The difficult part is how to acquire it, and how to fit it with one's hypotheses of how the world works. The world needs both the Steve Vincents and the Juan Coles. For one to assume that the other has nothing to offer, or that one cannot process local knowledge without a theory of, say, post-colonialism firmly rooted in one's mind, is nonsense. And taking pot shots at someone killed trying to gain that knowledge is much worse.

(h/t: Michael Totten guesting at Instapundit)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Caption me! 

Everyone else does this, so why not? This was posted on a bulletin board outside a classroom in my building, along a main hallway. It first appeared in my memory around the start of second summer session. The classroom it is by has been used for only two courses this summer, both in the Women's Studies department, and it would appear to be from there, given the last sentence.

What is Activism?
  • being active in producing change
  • forming coalitions
  • globalizing(?) people
  • changing systems of oppression

What are some activist practices?
  • meetings
  • rallies
  • sit-ins
  • strikes
  • peaceful demonstrations
  • marches
  • lobbying
  • community education

Any more Q's?
  • What other classes does the university? (seems to miss a verb)
  • What can one do with a degree in women's studies?

I'd've liked to have heard the answer to that last Q.

Erasing the batters box 

Watching the Twins-Sox series this weekend, one thing I noticed was on Sunday, when Tony Graffanino was leading off for Boston. Most every lead-off batter starts the game by kicking away the chalk that defines the batters box. They want to step back an extra six inches so that they can have a split-second longer to look at the pitch before swinging or not. Technically, it's illegal to bat outside the box, and it should be illegal as well to kick away the chalk. But everyone does it. (The reason Graffanino didn't was either because he isn't usually a leadoff hitter so he didn't have the habit, or because he wanted the Twins closer to the pitchers mound with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield pitching. I can't tell you which explanation is true.)

I'm reminded of this hearing more and more about how people do not want to vote for Rafael Palmeiro for the Hall of Fame because he now has a positive steroid test, or because he may have perjured himself before Congress. To me, this is trying to rechalk the batters box in the seventh inning. They're part of the game; "greenies" have long been part of the game.

Let me put this differently: It's 2003. Suppose I know the Yankees are using steroids. It's not being policed by MLB. I run the Red Sox. Will I go out of my way to discourage the use of steroids? Will I ask questions about, say, Todd Walker if he shows up with 30 extra pounds and 'ripped'? No, and if he does this and hits 35 home runs will I give him a smaller contract because I suspect he got muscles from a bottle? Did any baseball writer not vote for Bret Boone for MVP in 2001 because of the suspicion he had juiced up?

As Jayson Stark points out, nobody kept Gaylord Perry out. Did he "cheat the game"? Yes; what he did was illegal at the time he did it. But there's a difference between suspecting Gaylord doctored baseballs and knowing it.

If you keep Palmeiro out, isn't that ex post facto? Your comments, sanctimonious or not, welcome.

Baseball is infectious 

A personal note on the Red Sox weekend. Regardless of what happened to the team, I believe a success is to be claimed. Last night around 11:15 I find Littlest -- who came with me to the Friday night Twins blowout -- in front of the TV watching the Seattle-Minnesota game. It's the bottom of the eighth, and she tells me how the Twins failed to score in the top of the eighth, with excellent details. We sit together and watch Jesse Crain walk in the winning run.

She turns off the set almost before "Ball Four" is called, turns and says with disgust, "That's it. I'm going to play piano," something she is usually loathe to practice.

That's my daughter.

Challenge me before I play more GameBoy 

Reader jw refers me to an article saying high school students want to be challenged more. The report, written for the Horatio Alger Foundation by Peter Hart, polls a wide number of students and finds they would do more challenging work in school if only it were provided. This concurs with another Hart poll of American generally who think schoolwork needs to be toughened, and more access to high-expectation programs like AP or IB should be provided.

I always have a problem with these polls, because they never ask the key question: Would you be willing to pay for it? At least for the students, the question is moot, so that what they are reflecting is that either they or their friends feel they would benefit from the experience. The poll also doesn't ask the student "Would you take such coursework?"

Another finding I found interesting was that 42% of high school students said at least half the students they know have cheated on academic work in high school.

Oooh, catty 

The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber link) reports a slanging match between four faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and the authors of this article that I wrote about a few months back (along with a slew of other academics -- follow that link to their pieces as well.) The critique (available here with free registration) argues some of the points I made as well, that there's a potential self-selection bias in the estimates. They argue three points for why conservatives tend to teach at lower-ranking institutions: that conservatives don't like living in cities; that conservative academics prefer to work in the South, where fewer elite universities exist (don't tell Duke!); and that conservatives don't like academia. The last point is made a little too forcefully for my taste. (edited to remove references and one quote)

Third, many conservatives may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method. As a great deal of scholarship has demonstrated, party identification and voting behavior are now driven much more by religio-cultural predispositions than by fiscal attitudes or orientations toward the New Deal. Furthermore, cultural conservatism, as revealed in antipathy toward gay rights, the women�s movement, and abortion rights (among other things), has been shown to stem in large part from an embrace of Christian fundamentalism as a dominant worldview. Fundamentalism, by definition, is an absolutist, "faith-based" allegiance to a particular dogma, the veracity of which is considered beyond question or argument. Such worldviews are (again, by definition)
antithetical to the philosophy of science, which promotes reason and evidence as the determinants of truth. Challenging entrenched dogma is the essence of science. Indeed, many scholars consider this distinction � between "faith-based" reasoning and "scientific reasoning" � to be the essential dichotomy underlying the so-called "culture war" between "red" and "blue" Americans in the 21st century. ... In other words, the faith-based reasoning of Christian fundamentalism (and by extension, of most socio-cultural conservatives) is essentially incompatible with the mission of contemporary research universities.6 So, in sum, we are suggesting that the relationships RLN identify might be a spurious function of self-selection based on a fundamentalist antipathy toward the scientific method and other approaches to revealed "truth" � precisely the business of "top-tier" research universities. We suspect that because of this, many fundamentalist academics (who also happen to identify as conservatives and "practicing Christians") prefer to work in institutions emphasizing teaching or research less reliant on the scientific method.
And as if that wasn't enough to be sure you got the point, they included this footnote 6:
It should be noted that we are not suggesting that fundamentalist Christians have less intellectual acumen than non-fundamentalist Christians or non-Christians. We merely note that fundamentalism is, by definition, anti-intellectual in the scientific sense.
No wonder they title their article "Hide the Republicans, the Christians and the Women." That sounds like a request rather than a command.

The critique pulls some other stunts, for example arguing that Rothman, Lichter and Nevitte should have shown that conservative articles were being denied publication by top journals, since that would be how conservatives would try to advance. There's no consideration of how the heck you could measure that. They also try to argue that one doesn't know the political views of new PhDs, so that there can be no discrimination. The latter critique is rubbish, as RLN make clear in their reply.
If we try to surmount the difficulty of imagining how a candidate�s ideology can sometimes be discerned, we might examine her CV, her publications, the reputations of her advisors, references, and granting agencies. Increasingly, personal information can also be gleaned by examining her blog or personal web sites and by Googling her to pick up any stray comment that wandered into the Internet. There are also "lifestyle" cues that are associated with liberal cosmopolitans, on one hand, and cultural conservatives, on the other, down to the make of car one drives, the clothing one wears, and one�s use of language. Such factors often lead to inferences about attitudes and behavior.
To give one personal example: I titled my dissertation "Three Essays in the Political Economy of Inflation." This was in the early 1980s, when use of the words "political economy" often connoted a socialist framework of analysis. Sure enough, I was interviewed by schools that had faculty with that mindset. (The program I came from was small enough that the fact that there were no socialist economists on campus went unnoticed.) Being a conservative vegetarian also creates some confusion. So signals aren't perfect -- but it's difficult to imagine people aren't looking for signals, like this fellow.

One major problem for the critique is that the original authors did not release their data, since they are still using it for analysis. That seems fair, since they invested in its creation and are entitled to the fruits of their efforts. The Forum, an online publication of Berkeley Electronic Press, is designed to sit midway between Harper's and the American Political Science Review. At some publications data used is required to be posted for replication and experimentation. That RLN did not publish in one of those places pretty much takes away the complaint that the Pitt authors have. And much of their criticism is of the type of "well, it could be that this result is wrong, or that result is inconclusive." They have nothing but questions and a predisposition not to accept that academic bias exists.

As to the critique of self-selection, I'm willing to withhold any firmer judgment on this paper until I see a paper where selection bias is more systematically tested. But it's not so much the criticism itself that is troubling but the language. In the Chronicle article, Prof. Rothman says to the reporter:
The whole critique is based on a lot of nasty statements. I thought they did themselves dirty by calling us names, being sarcastic, and making snide remarks.
That's a pretty harsh statement, but the paragraph and footnote I cited is simply an example of the condescencion with which conservatives are treated by the Pittsburgh authors.

UPDATE (8/10): Linda Seebach emails me to say she made some similar points a couple of weeks ago. I particularly like this paragraph.

Look, I lived in Northfield, Minn., home of St. Olaf and Carleton colleges for 27 years. I knew scores of faculty members there, and I never met anybody who objected to "the scientific method," not even in church. St. Olaf in particular is among the nation's leading producers of Ph.D.s in mathematics and science.

In their rebuttal, RLN also point out that nowadays, objections to the scientific method are far more likely to be found on the left, not the right.


Monday, August 08, 2005

"Moron mail" 

This gig seems to work so well for KAR that I think I'll try it.

The third letter to The Toledo Blade last Friday:
Dennis is standing on a lower wall of the ruins while lassoing a higher portion. His mother states, 'We should be thankful they were in ruins before he got here.' Despite clearly being aware of their child's destructive intent, Dennis' parents totally disregard his outrageous (and illegal) behavior and the serious physical damage he can cause to ancient and irreplaceable Native American sites - a legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.

This cartoon, so disrespectful of Native Americans and their rich heritage, has no rightful place in our multicultural society.
The author is an associate professor of geography at Bowling Green State. So what got him upset? And who is this menace who is lassoing Native American ruins?

Here he is.

Looks like someone's trying out for a job as an NCAA compliance officer. Or a university president.

(H/T: Tongue Tied.)

Health impact fee holiday? 

Lots of states, like New Mexico, offer a sales tax holiday on a weekend, often to coincide with back-to-school buying. The Tax Foundation is against them, as John LaPlante points out. John's for them. Undoubtedly they are distortionary taxes (what the Tax Foundation calls "non-neutral".) What isn't pointed out in either place is that stores will gain more revenue, as they are less likely to offer sales on goods when demand is higher during the holiday.

And you could simply have no sales tax, like New Hampshire, and have 365 sales tax holidays.

Meanwhile, Iowa's doing a booming business in cigarettes.

The implication of unlimited wants that you never run out of work. Arnold Kling explains:

The basic economic analysis of productivity growth goes like this:

  1. As long as human wants are unlimited, there is no constraint on the demand for labor to satisfy those wants. As long as markets are permitted to operate, with workers and firms free to choose wages and other contract terms, productivity growth will not cause unemployment.
  2. Productivity growth will make people richer, and as people get richer they tend to prefer leisure. They may choose shorter work weeks. They do not need government regulation to make such a choice.
  3. If "mass labor" disappears, that does not mean long unemployment lines. It means that people will continue the shift toward services.
My students will be seeing this insight in some form next month.


Scholar's Notebook shows how liars sure can figure.
...per capita spending is a fallacious way to measure education spending, unless you're desperate to spin an increase into a decrease.
Which of course the Borg is, with assistance from the StarTribune. As Matt notes, when divided by the number of students to be educated, the amount of spending in real dollars per student has gone up.

Fudging with denominators is pretty darn common with reporters and particularly editorial boards. For another example, take this offering from the New York Times.
Because the demand for workers has been subpar for some four years now, wages have suffered. Average hourly wages rose a surprising 0.4 percent in July, the strongest monthly surge in a year. But they're up only 2.7 percent over the past year, hardly keeping up with inflation. Asked about that yesterday, Secretary Chao replied that overall compensation - which includes employer-provided health care and other benefits - was rising faster than the cost of living. That's correct, but somewhat disingenuous. The fact that workers' raises are, in effect, being diverted to cover the exploding cost of benefits is hardly a positive development.
"Hardly keeping up with inflation?" That depends on how you measure it. Is it CPI? The GDP deflator? The deflator on personal consumption expenditures? Which denominator you use to get to real wage increases matters. David Altig has a nice review of newer data on how to measure inflation. And as Captain Ed points out, you're not comparing apples to apples:
Twenty years ago, health insurance didn't come as an expectation. Now, most employers not only offer that as a given, but also provide dental, vision, and in some cases legal insurance. Many offer mental-health services for employees and their families. If the cost of these health-care premiums concerns the Times, perhaps they would care to support capping malpractice awards and legal fees in order to help keep the cost of providing these services down.
Fat chance of that.

The NCAA descends into silliness 

Our illustrious university presidents have voted to ban the use of Native American mascots at NCAA tournaments. They may still be used elsewhere, though the football bowls are looking at banning them in their games too. Scrappleface heads down reductio road.

The NCAA is abjectly silly. If the names were offensive, why would this be true?
Not all schools with Indian-related nicknames are on that list. NCAA officials said some schools using the Warrior nickname do not use Indian symbols and would not be affected.

North Carolina-Pembroke, which uses the nickname Braves, will not face sanctions. NCAA president Myles Brand explained said the school's student body has historically admitted a high percentage of American Indians and more than 20% of the students are American Indians.

That warrior ruling will really upset Learned Foot. And how can it matter that UNC-Pembroke has high Native American student enrollments and not face sanctions, while an agreement with the Seminole tribe does not indemnify Florida State?

Florida State has received permission from the Seminole tribe in Florida to use the nickname. The NCAA, however, made its decision based on a different standard.

"Other Seminole tribes are not supportive," said Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Florida State is looking into legal action. It should, because this is a highly inconsistent decision. Either ban them everywhere and always -- and compensate the schools for your taking of their millions invested in their brand names -- or butt out.

The leader of this silliness is none other than our university president, Roy Saigo.

On Jan. 28, 2002, Saigo spoke to the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and urged it to curb the use of American Indian mascots and logos.

"Our society has phased out many other discriminatory customs and laws that once were considered acceptable but now are considered shameful. I believe this evolution will and should continue," Saigo said.

After his speech the NCAA commissioned a study of the issue and has made various reports and recommendations since.

The speech he gave is here. Not coincidentally, the North Dakota logo and nickname (they have no mascot at sporting events) is for a team in direct competition with St. Cloud State. Thankfully the chatters on that story on the Times website get the idea.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The fiesta of the Crimson Hose this weekend. I'm watching all three games with a variety of baseball fans, none better than Littlest who will hop in the car with me in half an hour. See you on NARN tomorrow, where Austin Bay will be our special guest interview during the second hour. Noon to three on the Patriot. See you Monday; go Sox!!!

Update (12:15am 8/6): That sucked. Having Littlest along to rub salt in the wound was pretty funny, though. Will change shirts.

Any chance we could get Nick to teach a course? 

There are sportswriters who are quite smart, but many of them don't come off to well, like Dayn Perry on Hugh's show a few weeks back. Here's another story of an incredibly dumb thing a sportswriter did. Michael Gee, a pretty well-known writer for the Boston Herald, Village Voice, etc., starts reading and writing on a bulletin board called He also teaches a summer course on sports journalism at Boston University. He posts a note about his first day of class in which he exudes about "an incredibly hot" female student in the class.

The student finds out, is righteously indignant, and Gee gets canned from the teaching gig. (UPDATE: Chris notes that the student quit the class. Can't say as I blame her, once the post becomes known.)

The story's detailed coverage is here at Scott's Shots (if you're into Boston sports journalism, this is a wonderful site.) Hat tip: Eclectic Econoclast.

Attention, Twin Cities schools. There's a non-monkey that needs additional scratch for his new mouth to feed. He's known for his acts of prestidigitation. Writes at a newspaper. Got some journo students who want to know how he does it? Hire him. And get a camera.

Harvard forks over 

The Harvard Crimson Online reports details of the settlement in the case of Harvard's Institute for International Development, economics professor Andrei Shleifer and the U.S. government.
Harvard will pay $26.5 million to the U.S. government to settle a five-year-old lawsuit that implicated two University employees, including its star economics professor, Andrei Shleifer '82, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Shleifer, who is Jones professor of economics, emerged far less scathed in the settlement, agreeing to pay just $2 million. He had faced damages of up to $104 million for conspiring to defraud the government while advising a U.S.-funded program to privatize the Russian economy in the 1990s.

Shleifer has mortgaged his home to pay the first installment of $600,000. USAID has also disbarred them from working on aid projects for two years. There is no admission of liability on the part of any of the defendants, as part of this deal.

The liability in this case, including treble damages for violation of the False Claims Act, could have been $120 million against both Shleifer and his colleague Jonathan Hay. That each got away for $2 million (and maybe less for Hay, depending on what he earns over the next ten years), and that Harvard picked up $26.5 million in turn (their max liability was only $35 million), suggests that Harvard was eager to get this out of the way. Shleifer and President Larry Summers are colleagues who have known each other for a long time and are reported to be friends.

UPDATE: (8/8): As I expected, David Warsh has a great essay tying this up, and he thinks Summers is the bigger loser here.

A somewhat more intriguing figure than Shleifer in the Russia Project is economist Lawrence Summers, Shleifer's mentor and old friend, who taught him as an undergraduate; sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to train; took him to Lithuania to practice country-doctoring; brought him back from the University of Chicago to teach at Harvard; helped put him in the Russia job; oversaw, as an increasingly senior Treasury Department official, Shleifer's efforts in Moscow; and, once he returned to Harvard as president, defended his prot�g�.

Friendship explains much of Summers' role. A combination of patriotism, arrogance, marital hard times and plain bad judgment explains the rest. The Harvard president is in a world of woe. The likelihood that justice will be meted out to him on any separable basis is not great. The Bad-News Train is bearing down on Larry Summers at 40 miles per hour.

Further proof that Europe is going to hell 

Who needs Kyoto when you've got the EU? Now they're taking much of the fun out of beer gardens.
Bavarians are hot under the collar over an EU directive that will force their barmaids to cover up, supposedly to protect them from the sun.

Brewery owners, politicians and most of the women themselves have condemned the legislation as absurd, claiming the "tan ban", as it has been nicknamed, will destroy a centuries-old tradition.

Bavarian barmaids typically dress in a costume known as a "dirndl", a dress and apron with a tight, low-cut top whose figure-hugging effect is enhanced by a short white blouse.

Under the EU's Optical Radiation Directive, employers of staff who work outdoors, including those in Bavaria's beer gardens, must ensure they cover up against the risk of sunburn.
Mahalanobis demonstrates the deleterious effects of the ban.

Perceptions and self-reliance 

The news on the economy today is good, which leads Rocketman to wonder:
The oddest thing about the strong economic growth that has taken place over the last several years is how stubbornly many people refuse to recognize it. Polls continue to suggest that most Americans are unaware of the economy's excellent performance. Can that really be true? No doubt inadequate news coverage is a factor, but I can't believe that a majority of Americans really have no idea how the economy is performing. I suspect that when asked about the economy in opinion surveys, many people focus on what they perceive to be negative at the time--budget deficits, the price of gasoline--either because that's what's in the news, or because they hope to influence the government by voicing dissatisfaction.
True enough, looking at this Pew survey of economic perceptions. Remarking on the poll, they sound quite the same as John.

No single factor explains this cautious outlook. Instead, the public's economic unease appears to reflect a variety of concerns, both personal and national in scope. There is a broad consensus that gas prices are a significant problem for the nation, and the federal budget deficit also looms as a major source of anxiety.

Yet the polling identifies several other sources of financial worry. Public perceptions of local job availability remain highly negative, despite recent improvements in the national employment picture. While people with low household incomes are most troubled by financial problems of all types, including job shortages, about half of those with annual incomes above $75,000 say that jobs are scarce in their community.

Having thought a good deal about this topic twenty years ago when I wrote my dissertation on political business cycles, I have some ideas for why this is happening.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ain't nuthin' the matter 

There's a discussion whether something's the matter with economics, and Craig Newmark has a view worth considering.
...what have you got that's better? Show me a social science that yields more insight, predicts better, and has more influence, and I'll take broad criticisms of economics more seriously.
The point of the economic way of thinking, as Keynes said long ago, is "a technique of thinking which helps its possessor to draw correct conclusions." That is, economics is a toolkit, not a set of theorems (and dear God not Theory), that explains how the world works. Take a problem, any problem, and use the techniques with the insight of Adam Smith, as Kevin Brancato argues. As Craig puts it, economics is the worst social science, except for all the others.

For non-economist bloggers and debaters, here's a simple primer on how to use economics in speech and writing. Chances are, you haven't got anything better.

Oh, never mind the name, it's still quality 

Alice Seagren gets served by Craig Westover.
A pool of money has been designated to provide additional compensation for teachers, but only in a collaborative environment and in a manner agreed to by the union -- not all that different than collective bargaining. Is that the reform?

The criteria for additional compensation is so vague, it can hardly be called reform.

And finally, the real question -- is this plan going to attract the best and the brightest into the teaching profession? Is it going to retain the best and the brightest?

The price tag on this program is $78 million; could anyone in the business world submit this bill to their company management and ask for $78 million to implement it and not get laughed out of the office, if not justly removed from any budgetary activity. Even �Dilbert management� would balk at this vague a plan with a $78 million price tag.

Seagren is right in one sense -- this is a plan that Minnesotans should get excited about. Excited and damned upset. To pass it off as reform taxes credibility more than a �health impact fee.�

Why oh why can't we have more Emporia States? 

Should education schools be like medical schools, working student-teachers for long hours between pedagogy and subject matter? In the New York Times we learn that Emporia State outside of Kansas City has been cracking the whip:

"Teacher education on this campus is one of the more rigorous majors," says Teresa Mehring, dean of the teachers' college, pulling out the ACT scores of entering students to prove a point that most education deans would be hard-pressed to make and defend.

A visit to classes suggests that raw material is not the only difference. The Emporia State curriculum is heavy on traditional courses like "Using Children's Literature in the Elementary Classroom" and "Reading for the Elementary Teacher." The college's plain-spoken mission statement: "To develop the professional: critical thinker, creative planner and effective practitioner."

If Emporia State is a throwback to an earlier time, when preparing teachers for the classroom was a high calling, it is also a reminder of how many teachers' colleges have strayed from the central mission of the normal school. For decades, education schools have gravitated from the practical side of teaching, seduced by large ideas like "building a caring learning community and culture" and "advocating for social justice," to borrow from the literature of the Hunter College School of Education, part of the City University of New York. With the ambition of producing educators rather than technicians, in the words of Hunter's acting dean, Shirley Cohen, schools have embraced a theoretical approach. But critics say that ill prepares teachers to function effectively in the classroom.

The SCSU College of Education has a conceptual framework which must be good, because I can't understand what it says. But I'm told that it's based on "The Educator as Transformative Professional." It has seven "knowledge arenas", of which subject matter is only one (at least it's first). The College's Teacher Development department says:

Our Statement of Philosophy commits us to principles which guide a democratic community and emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and the importance of students becoming active participants in their own professional development.
Meanwhile, students at Emporia are being drilled to learn whether or not they are cut out as teachers, facing the statistic that one in seven teachers leave the field after their first year teaching.

At Emporia State, undergraduates spend their entire senior year in surrounding school districts, including Olathe, Topeka and Kansas City. They are assigned to observe or teach classes during regular school hours. They take college classes after hours in the districts they are assigned to, not on campus. By the second semester, they are expected to function as head teachers. Supervising professors know the curriculum of those districts as well as any district employee. "I know Olathe's program inside out," says Tara Azwell, a professor who until recently supervised students there. "I could step into any classroom and teach it."

Ms. Azwell says medical training is a good analogy for what Emporia State interns go through. "They get no sleep," she says. "They're working 24 hours a day. There are those who have no money because they can't work a job, so they're not eating. They're in a classroom 8 to 4 every day. They really think they're going to die.

The NYT article makes clear that SCSU is the norm, and Emporia is the exception. a report published last year that put many educators on the defensive, researchers found that top education schools were not equipping their students to deal with the standards movement - nor giving them an understanding, going back to classical sources like Plato and Aristotle, of what constitutes an educated person.

David M. Steiner, co-author of the report, is director of arts education at the National Endowment for the Arts and on leave as department chairman in educational administration, training and policy studies at Boston University. With his associate Susan D. Rozen, he reviewed the curriculums of 16 teachers' colleges, 14 of them among the nation's best, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Since there is little data on which educational approach translates into effective teaching, they looked for a balance in material. Instead, they found little effort to present opposing schools of thought.

The general posture of education schools, they concluded, was countercultural, instilling mistrust of the system that teachers work in. Among the texts most often assigned were Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities," an indictment of schooling in poor urban neighborhoods, and writings by Paulo Freire, who advocates education to achieve political liberation. Theories of how children learn, like the multiple learning styles advocated by Howard Gardner of Harvard, were more likely to be taught than what children should learn, like the Core Knowledge curriculum advanced by E. D. Hirsch, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

prospective teachers were not being taught methods that would help their students do well on standardized tests. Most texts used to teach reading had been written by proponents of whole language methods, and there was only fleeting exposure to the kinds of scripted, phonics-based curriculums, like Open Court, that are increasingly being adopted in the nation's schools.

"There is a vision here," Dr. Steiner said in an interview, "and it's all just one vision. It is a synthesis of what we call the progressivist vision and the constructivist vision" - that is, the theory that it is better for children to construct knowledge than to receive it.

But, he added, "The counterview has an equal and much longer tradition - the responsibility to engage the student, but to engage the student as the authority." To suggestions that his report was itself ideological, and conservative, Dr. Steiner says he's actually an old-fashioned liberal.

Bless him, Dr. Steiner is about to become dean of the ed school at Hunter College. Hope he gets them on the path.

Relatedly, James Seaton in OpinionJournal today attacks effectively the focus in literary studies on Theory. The language of Theory is not just confusing like our college's conceptual framework: It's just blather.

Homi Bhaba, a major theorist, refers to "the desperate effort to 'normalize' formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality." (Whatever that may mean.) The theorist Luce Irigaray asks more clearly, though not more cogently: "Is E=MC� a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possibly sexed nature of the equation is not directly its use by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest."
Don't laugh too hard. The people who write this drivel are teaching your kids' English teachers,when they're not learning "An exploration and critical analysis of education as a political endeavor within particular historical and sociological contexts." or "An exploration of the social, political and economic context - television, internet, film, day care, community, graffito, advertising and schools - within which reading and writing develop."

Vincent interview 

I have dug out our interview of Steven Vincent from 23 April 2005, which according to the interview was two days before he left to Iraq and Basra. In light of the tragedy of Steven's murder, I found listening to it again poignant.

Please download the file before playing it, as this is hosted on my private site currently and probably not up for massive bandwidth use. It is a rather large file (18:24, 16.8 mb), but I wanted to keep the sound quality. It's an 18:24 recording at 40 kbps, 5.4 MB. We'll move it to a better server when we find one.

I found it ironic that Steven decided on Basra in part because he thought it safer than going to Baghdad or the Sunni triangle, and that his wife was less worried this time. His descriptions of lack of British effort in educating for democracy, and of the corrupt connections between the gangs in Basra and the religious parties, all have sharper images now.

I wish I had sounded better in this interview, but it sounded more like one of my conversations at a dinner table or a bar than a formal interview, and rather than edit it up I decided to preserve it as is. Steven and I had more agreement on the economic issues of development in Basra and elsewhere than I expected, given his pre-9/11 liberal orientation. (Democrats who "get" 9/11 often don't convert to free market ideals. Steven did, from the sounds of this interview.)

We also learned at the end that he was, like me, half-Armenian. I am reminded in hearing this at the end of the night last night of Hovhannes Tumanian's poem for the Armenian homeland. I think it fits what Steven saw as the mission for Iraq as well.

But still you live, standing erect in spite of all your wounds
on the mysterious journey of time, past and present,
still standing, wise and pensive, and sad, with your God ...

And the dawn of life�s happiness will come,
its light at last in thousands upon thousands of souls;
and on the sacred slopes of your Mount Ararat
will shine forth at last the flame of the time to come.
Then, with the dawn, new songs and new poems
will be on the lips of the poets.
And your words, too, Steven. Farewell.

The impact of a health impact fee 

If you smoked and quit, what did you do? For many of you, you ate. And ate. And ate.

Daniel Gross
notes that women smoke much more in France, and they're thinner. Looking at a study like this, he notes that there might be a connection.
Nicotine is a stimulant, which means that smokers burn calories faster. And it's an appetite suppressant, which means that smokers eat less. Consider "French Women Don't Get Fat," the best selling book. Some critics said that the real reason chic Parisian women stayed trim while gorging themselves on croissants was that they smoked more than their American counterparts.

Indeed, conventional wisdom, soundly rooted in the personal experience of millions of former smokers and in several studies, has long held that short-term weight gain is the price to be paid for quitting smoking. But economists are increasingly applying their tools to measure the way monetary incentives, or disincentives, affect all sorts of human behavior - and hence the ability of government policy to alter it. And they've been wondering whether high cigarette taxes, which are intended to encourage people to quit smoking, may have the unintended effect of redirecting them from one form of unhealthy behavior to another.

And on top of all that, the nervous eating that results from people quitting cigarettes could lead to lower wages, as employers pay less to compensate for the higher costs of insuring their hefty employees.

Some impact. Will the health impact fee be extended to kettle chips?

Remember who to thank for those extra ten pounds.

Andrew Chamberlain shows the logic of this position of using the tax code to improve health and makes a point I've made here already:

The old Pigovian logic of using simple excise taxes to "correct" externalities from things like smoking and over-eating�an idea subjected to a thorough refutation more than 40 years ago by economist Ronald Coase�has probably led to more bad policy than any other single idea in economics.

Once we accept the logic that the tax code can legitimately be used to tax and subsidize any behavior in society that emits externalities�however small or speculative in nature�we've given license to tax and subsidize essentially every action in the social world.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Reports of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated 

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Always in control, you are a great leader, deligator, and diplomat. These qualities attract people to you, and this sometimes annoys you.

Aloof,introspective, and philosophical; you enjoy quiet time in solitude.

Take the Star Trek Quiz

I for one am not surprised. H/T: Sandy.

And in the long run we're all dead 

In a survey of 416 Scottish octogenarians, reserachers found that being smart doesn't make you happier.
�Neither childhood IQ, IQ at 80 or any change in IQ over a lifetime appear to have any bearing on how satisfied you are with how your life has turned out,� Gow adds. �Maybe all that is necessary is that you have the ability to carry out your daily tasks."

The researchers plan to continue studying the group of pensioners to examine what effect changes in cognitive function - over shorter timescales - may have on happiness in increasing old age.
HedgeFundGuy thinks this is because "the benefit of solving problems is balanced by the greater awareness of one's various suboptimalities." But is it really about how happy I am when I'm old? By the time I'm 80, I suppose carrying out daily tasks is quite primary -- given my experience with seniors' obsession with 'regularity', that seems plausible. But my ability to do things now matters greatly too. Put differently: How much 'happiness' will I sacrifice now to assure greater happiness at age 80? It seems to me there should be discounting.

Good work if you can get it 

I don't much care for the whole idea of university administration, but it seems some presidents get some nice perks. Too nice, according to the trustees at American University.

American University's governing body is investigating allegations that school President Benjamin Ladner inappropriately charged the university for personal and travel expenses, a source with firsthand knowledge of the probe said yesterday.

University officials said last week that the Board of Trustees was investigating the school's finances. But on Monday, the board released a statement in an internal newsletter saying that the probe focused on "certain expenses in one department of the university" and that it was launched after several board members received an anonymous letter.

That letter was identified by the source yesterday as similar to one received last week by The Washington Post alleging broad expense account violations by Ladner and his wife, Nancy Bullard Ladner. The source said he could not be identified because it could compromise his role in the probe.

According to the letter received by The Post, the Ladners charged the university over the past five years for their son's engagement party, presents for their children, a personal French chef, vacations in Europe, maintenance of their personal residence in Maryland "including garbage bags," and wine up to $100 a bottle for lunch and dinner.

It appears that Mr. Ladner was bringing home the bacon, but making some sandwiches for himself.

Ladner came to the 10,000-student university in Northwest Washington in 1994 after a period of turmoil at American, which had five leaders in less than five years. He has been credited with improving academic standards and increasing fundraising at the 85-acre campus but came under early criticism for hiring a personal chef and other spending issues.

According to Internal Revenue Service records, Ladner's base salary was $633,000 for 2003-04. Ladner's compensation does not include campus housing; he has lived on campus in a house purchased for him by the trustees. He also spent more than $200,000 for drainage work and landscaping.

Damn, the guy doing my yard better not hear about this.

Steven Vincent 

Unless you don't read any other blogs, you probably know that Steven Vincent, author of In the Red Zone and twice a guest on NARN, has been killed by kidnappers in Basra while researching a new book on the city in post-Saddam Iraq. Saint Paul and Captain Ed have the details. I am working on digging out the recording from his second appearance, because I believe we asked him specifically about the dangers of working outside the security apparatus in Iraq. I'll append that to the post when I get it later today from a backup. Belmont Club notes that it would be ironic if the reason for his death wasn't because he was an American, but because he was too close to a story on the internecine battles between Shi'a and Sunni Arab factions. Saint Paul too says it may be an example of murdering journalists who expose corruption, something Ukraine and Russia will be familiar with.

I'm glad they didn't trade him 

People who read this blog know my love of the Red Sox, and my weekend of bliss is coming when the Olde Towne Team comes to the Metrodome. (My wife is a widow this weekend, as I'm seeing all three games.)

I don't care if the deal was sensible economically, I did not want to see my Sox trade Manny Ramirez. You don't trade Hall of Famers.

Let Manny be Manny, as Boston manager Terry Francona has already figured out. Get him time off when he needs it, figure there will be a couple of flare-ups, and Manny will produce. Even if at the end of his contract he's no longer generating positive cash flow, he's going to have numbers that leave him a fixture in the lineup producing runs. And for his fielding troubles, it's worth remembering that left field in Fenway is more often about playing caroms off the Wall and holding guys to a single than circus catches.

And he's not a liar.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Is this what I have to look forward to? 

Time magazine this week has a set of stories about kids being thirteen (Littlest is fast approaching her teen years, and acting the part). One of the things they face is middle school, and our local expert/Congressional candidate Cheri Yecke makes an appearance:

Coming after a period of youth unrest, when juvenile crime and drug use were rising, middle school proponents argued that old-fashioned junior highs, which usually served Grades 7 and 8 and sometimes 9, were not meeting kids' social and developmental needs. Instead, they were providing a watered-down version of high school, literally a junior high. Reformers proposed that schools for this age group needed to educate "the whole child," addressing social and emotional issues as well as building academic skills. Sixth grade became the usual entry point for new middle schools, both because of crowding at grammar schools and because puberty was occurring earlier.

Among the key tenets of the middle school movement are these: fostering a close relationship between teacher and child so that every student has an adult advocate, having teachers work across disciplines in teams (example: students read Johnny Tremain in English while studying the Revolutionary War in social studies), creating small learning communities within larger schools and stressing learning by doing. "Young adolescents learn through discovery and getting involved," explains Sue Swaim, executive director of the Ohio-based National Middle School Association. "They're not meant to be lectured to the whole day."

Some critics contend that the whole movement was soft in the head. It "had as its ideological antecedent the notion that academics should take a back seat to self-exploration, socialization and working in groups," writes Cheri Pierson Yecke, a former education commissioner in Minnesota, in a forthcoming report for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation titled Mayhem in the Middle: How Middle Schools Failed America and How to Make Them Work. "A disproportionate regard for student self-esteem and identity development," Yecke argues, yielded a "precipitous decline" in academic achievement.

But many educators believe that ideology was not the problem. "There were some very good middle schools out there, but middle school reform never got fully implemented," says Jacquelynne Eccles, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a member of a task force that issued Turning Points, a landmark 1989 report on middle schools funded by the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation. Many districts created big warehouse-like middle schools to address crowding and court-ordered busing but without embracing the pedagogy of the movement. "They ended up looking very much like the junior high schools they were designed to replace," says Eccles.

That's classic: We never really tried socialism, we never really tried bullpen-by-committee, we never tried middle school reforms. LS is in a K-8 private school -- indeed, 4-8 are all in one room -- and the 12-13 year old kids there are the best behaved kids I've ever seen for that age.
But educators on both sides of the debate tend to agree that how the grades are packaged ultimately matters less than what's happening inside the school. "The exact configuration is a distraction," says Anthony Jackson, a middle school expert and co-author of the Turning Points report. What counts, he says, is good instruction and caring relationships. "You can make that happen in a stand-alone middle school or a K-8 school," Jackson adds...

Good instruction, yes. Caring relationships means what?


Liz dropped me another note in which she asks why there may be a missing market for disability insurance (I assume she means "catastrophic" disability) that does not have an act of war clause. She says National Guardsmen do not receive coverage from the government. That seems really odd. I am pretty sure that I had coverage when I worked as a contractor in Ukraine, but I would not have been holding a gun and thus a legitimate target. (Here's an example of such a policy.)

Googling found this from the National Guard Association of the US for technicians. What about the others?

Troubles, sacrifice and faith 

My former student Liz is talking about sacrifice.
Josh has been called to go to Iraq fairly soon. He has not received the official orders, but they are expected any day. So, for all practical purposes, he�s going. And here is what is called our crisis of faith. Am I willing to give up my husband at the command of the state or country? Am I willing to trust that God is in control? Are my faith in God and my love for my husband enough to carry me through these next months? I only hope and pray so.

As a society, we have lost the value of sacrifice. We value our right to say whatever we want where ever we want to say it. We demand more and more money and more and more material goods. We want service now. We want the right of way. We don�t want to work for something. We want everything for nothing.
I've been honored to exchange email with Liz while she and Josh were thinking about this, and they've been in our family prayers for a couple of weeks now, and where they'll remain until Josh comes home or he's placed on a different path of service. When Josh rejoined the Guard, they made a family decision to fully accept the commitment they made. Their behavior should be an example, and I'm pleased to at least be able to link to their story.

Question and answer 

Here's the question, from Russell Roberts' The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance:
'I know,' Sam said. 'First day of class, senior year of high school, and already a quiz. Don't worry. It's easy.'
He went to the board and wrote down two numbers: 531,000,000,000 and 16,500,000,000.
'The first number, 531 billion, is the amount of crude oil, measured in barrels, that's still under the ground. They're called reserves. The second number is the world's annual consumption of crude oil. Here's the quiz: when will the world run out of oil? You have one minute.' "
You can either read the rest of the chapter for the answer, or read Phil Miller. My suggestion would be to read both, over and over, until you get it.

But I won't beat you as often as the other guy 

Both First Ringer and KvM are arguing that the entry of Mike Hatch into the governor's race would do for Tim Pawlenty's relationship with fiscal conservatives what fee-calling couldn't. FR makes the point.
Few conservatives enraged by Pawlenty�s taxing decision would hold their grudge long when presented with the prospect of Mike Hatch occupying the Governor�s office. Although Pawlenty needs more than the support of his base to get anywhere near the 56% approval rating of earlier in the year, increased conservative/Republican support alone could get Pawlenty back to the mid to high 40s and practically out of reach in a three-way contest.

Isn't this the problem, though? Doesn't anyone else think that this enters into the Pawlenty camp's calculus: "I may abuse our relationship, but I'm your guy, and if you don't support me you'll be stuck with someone far worse."??? That's certainly the message I heard loud and clear on Saturday from NARN brother John sitting to my left on the show.

Government has a bias towards spending more; this is a proposition that I believe conservatives and Republicans embrace. The bias works not because of the dark hearts of Democrats but because interest groups organize to gain from government what they cannot from the market, and the majority who would not pay for this are unable to organize effectively to block interest group or corporate rentseeking. (This is the lesson of Mancur Olson's early book The Logic of Collective Action, which was required reading in my grad school days and would be still for my students if I taught public policy.) Nobody is ascribing bad motives to Pawlenty -- though I have some questions on tactics, such as timing and the fee/tax dodge -- but the simple pressure of dealing with interest groups and the pressure they can bring through the Democratic state Senate. Those pressures might materialize in different ways, they might represent different interest groups, but the pressures will nevertheless remain.

What is needed for the fiscal conservative is an option, a pressure that countervails the power of the lobbyists, that has credibility as an alternative to Pawlenty. It does not bolster Pawlenty as a fiscal conservative for former party chairs to chastise those groups trying to help Pawlenty stay to the right. Calling him "the most conservative governor Minnesota has had" simply gives him license to continue to placate the interest groups and expand government. That may be the desire of the Republican special interest groups (you think they don't have any?), but it's not for the betterment of Minnesota taxpayers.

That presents two alternatives -- either run a primary challenge to Pawlenty, or let Pawlenty know that we aren't as scared of a Governor Hatch as we are of continued drift from this governor's mansion. Otherwise we'll continue to feel left behind every May, like somebody's monkey.

Mining college students, creating old counties 

One article I meant to write up last week was from Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subscriber link) on college students from the Iron Range getting summer jobs in the mines now. The reason is China.
For generations, summer mining jobs have helped young men and women buy their first cars, make down payments on houses, and start their careers as miners.

But though the mines are blasting away this summer, rattling windows and lifting spirits, this year's students aren't like their parents or grandparents. Many don't plan to stick around past summer. Instead, they're putting their earnings toward college tuition so they can leave the northern Minnesota region known as the Iron Range.

"I never really considered this for a career. That's why I'm going to college," says Nikki McLellan, 23 years old, who's toiling in the mines now but plans to return for her senior year at the University of Wisconsin in Superior come Labor Day.

Their parents, for the most part, are happy about it. "I think the fathers are telling their sons to run for it," says Todd Frey, a miner, whose 19-year-old son Bryan also has a summer job in the mines.

The problem is similar to that facing many rural communities: Young men and women are moving to the cities and suburbs in search of high-paying jobs, leaving their small hometowns smaller. What makes the Iron Range so striking is that youths here have a viable choice -- yet they're choosing to get out anyway.

The current boom here is genuine, brought on by China's voracious appetite for steel, whose main ingredient is iron ore. Mining companies have not only reopened for business, they're also investing heavily in expensive new equipment that makes their operations more efficient. Dozens of small companies that contract with the mines to provide maintenance and supplies are cashing in, too.

Yet even the most optimistic don't expect the prosperity to continue for more than three or four years. Chinese demand could slip, they say, or Brazilian mines might start sending iron ore to the U.S. at prices low enough to compete with the Iron Range's taconite. Steel prices have fallen about 50% in the past nine months for the most common product, hot-rolled coils used for everything from appliances to cars.
So meanwhile the kids get the best-paying summer jobs around. My father talks of working on a railroad line while in high school because it paid well. Now it's mining, an area where there used to be many jobs that lasted a lifetime.
Following in his own father's path, Galen Holewa, 45, has worked in the mines since he was 18, a career fraught with uncertainty. So many miners were unemployed in the mid-1980s that Mr. Holewa had to start off as a carpenter in his church. When the mines reopened, he got a job, only to get laid off and rehired again.

Nathan, a senior in engineering at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, still remembers when his father was laid off from the mines. "I remember drinking powdered milk a lot."

"Best powdered milk there was," says his dad.

In case they haven't learned from his own experience, Mr. Holewa says he repeatedly tells his children not to work in the mines. "I love my children," he says, "but there's no future for them here."

Nathan agrees. With one year of school left, the aspiring engineer, who lives on campus with his wife and daughter, plans to use the $12,000 he expects to earn this summer to pay off credit-card debt. After college, he plans to move his family where he can find a job, but probably not in the mines.

A generation ago, 23-year-olds like Nathan and his peers would have been rooted by now in the local work force. They would have been paying rent and buying cars and starting families.

"Actually, I want to be a doctor," says 18-year-old Dana Hilde as she walks in the door of her parents' house after a day of work. Her face is covered in black dust, her shoulders as limp as the loose strands of orange hair framing her face. She slumps in a chair and opens a can of soda.

Her father, 51-year-old Lynn Hilde, who has worked the mines for 29 years, is pushing his daughter to work Saturdays and take all the overtime she can get, but only so she makes enough money to pay for next year's tuition at Concordia College in Moorehead, Minn. "It's not bad," Dana Hilde says of the work, "but it's not what I want to do."

The departure of young people is palpable across the Iron Range.

"You go to the Rotary and Elks clubs and the young kids are 50 years old," says Bill Spang, 54, the president and chief executive of First National Bank in Buehl and Mountain Iron.
If you look at the median age of Minnesota counties between the 1990 and 2000 census, the biggest increases have been all up north (Lake of the Woods, Koochiching, Cook, Itasca.) Oldest counties include Cook and Aitkin, both in that area. Youngest counties include the three counties of the St. Cloud area (Benton, Sherburne and Stearns.)

Monday, August 01, 2005

I'll probably fail this assignment 

Another request received this morning, from spelling challenged Learned Foot, asking me for a treatment of Paul Krugman's latest. Oy.

It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

O.K., I'm oversimplifying a bit. There are several reasons why the French put in fewer hours of work per capita than we do. One is that some of the French would like to work, but can't: France's unemployment rate, which tends to run about four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate, is a real problem. Another is that many French citizens retire early. But the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice.

This argument isn't actually new: Olivier Blanchard has been making these same points that Krugman makes for some time now.

The entire point of French labor policy has been to legislate shorter workweeks. I'm sure Krugman knows that, he's just "oversimplifying a bit". And it's not a choice, it's the law, which as Don Luskin points out has been recently been changed to allow people to work more overtime. Since 1998, there has been a law that mandated a 35-hour work week and prohibition on overtime in excess of 13 hours, presumably to permit work to be spread over more workers. Luskin links to a newer paper by Alesina, Glaeser and Sacerdote which is supposed to refute the Blanchard-Krugman hypothesis. If it was a choice made, then we would see reports that people were more satisfied with life now in Europe with shorter working hours than they were before. It turns out, however, that they are. (Luskin offers this poll as an alternative.) It is certainly possible, therefore, that Europeans prefer that tradeoff, even though it appears to move one to a suboptimal level of employment.

Part two of my assignment from LFoot is a Lori Sturdevant piece in this morning's STrib, citing Art Rolnick of the Minneapolis Fed saying the size of Minnesota government is "just about right". Well, he didn't really say that. He said that if the economy is still growing faster than the national average, then high taxes must not be hurting us too much. What he didn't say was whether they were dragging us down to where we might be in the absence of those taxes. Rolnick thinks the key is to look at population growth:

Rolnick says the indicator to watch is population growth. If it starts lagging projections, that would be a sign that people no longer think Minnesota's government is providing enough of the public goods and services needed for a high quality of life.
Now, think about these two pieces. If the French are having a ball with more leisure on their hands, wouldn't they want to have more kids? But France has had declining marriages, an increasing share of births coming from parents born outside of France, and a median age for marriage that is now 28.5 years from 23 years old in 1980. (Source.) Meanwhile, in Minnesota the size of households is falling.

Choice? Or response to the price of government?

UPDATE: Tim's right, I should not have the however in that sentence.

Essay: What generates wealth? How is it measured? 

I got a note last week from longtime reader and friendly antagonist Michael Boucher. He wrote:

You may have seen the StarTribune Opinion section today. It has a lot of very interesting articles that I may use in a future class (perhaps sociology). I assume you disagree with the Commentary "Peter Sammond: Concerned about distorted wealth distribution"

If so, I would like a favor.

I would like a 750-1000 word response, in the blog or not, in common language, on what is it about his reasoning and/or data that you find incorrect.

I will use it alongside the Sammond article if I have the opportunity to do so.

I'd be quite pleased to learn that Boucher used the below. I refrained from a point-by-point response or some sort of "fisking" so that it can be in the language that would fit a classroom such as Boucher's. Here is my answer to his request (a copy has been emailed to him as well.)

We live in an age of great transformation, from an age of producing goods to producing information. The rewards to education have never been higher. Capitalism is a system of economic change, though, and it handles the changes we are experiencing by rewarding those who move to areas of higher production. And during those periods of change, inequality will tend to increase.

This is of great concern to those who advocate for the poor, such as
Mr. Sammond. Yet Sammond makes three fundamental mistakes in his analysis. First, by focusing on a single point in time he ignores the progress in income inequality made over time in America, and the causes for occasional rises in it. Second, relying on the simple census data is causing him to overstate the size of the inequality. And last, he does not understand what causes income.

First, it is worth noting that income inequality has improved greatly over time. In the period before the Great Depression, a time in which we went through great change, the top 1% of income earners held between 35-40% of wealth. (
Source.) This is part of the famous U of economic development given to us by Simon Kuznets. If we are undergoing a new revolution of income generation in America, a rise in inequality would be expected. It has little to do with government policy.

Second, government policy already has done much to reduce poverty, and yet people citing inequality statistics continue to use only cash income to measure income distribution. Robert Rector and Rea Hederman
performed a set of corrections for the redistribution of income back to poorer families from richer, so that post-tax rather than pre-tax income is examined. They also correct for the fact that for every person in the household in the bottom quintile, 1.7 persons are in the top quintile. Correcting for this leads to a finding that the top 20% of the income distribution have less than 40% of national income, not the 50% often claimed.

It�s worth noting as well that Sammond keeps citing statistics about the amount of tax cuts going to the rich. Well, how much tax does the top 1% pay?
About a third, the same as they received in the last set of tax cuts which Sammond declaims.

Third, Sammond cites corporate behavior as being the culprit for American income inequality. Yet that misses the point of how income is created. We gain income by persuading someone else to give it to us, by offering them something they value more than the money (or in-kind payment) they offer back to us. As ever, the way we can offer someone more is to increase our knowledge and become more creative. Education and entrepreneurship have always been the means by which the poor have lifted themselves from poverty. The returns to education are as high as recent memory �
as high as they were around WWI � and the ability and desire for self-employment is equally high. And this may drive the belief by many that they can become millionaires, because for many self-employment is seen as a way to the top, even in the rural economy.

If you look at the top 1% of the wealth distribution for families headed by someone age 65, only 10% of them earned their income by being a CEO or president of a corporation owned by someone else. 10% were doctors and lawyers,5% were salespeople, and maybe 1% of them were entertainers or pro athletes. 74% of them got their money from owning their own business and running them. (See
The Millionaire Next Door.) Only 20% of wealth is inherited, according to one Nobel economist. Sammond spends time worrying about big corporations and worries not a whit about the effect of the taxes which his group wishes to maintain for redistribution on small companies. Perhaps that�s because they think higher taxes will discourage the formation of competition.

In a period of great transformation, where there are new technologies waiting to be implemented for the betterment of our world, the last thing we would want is a decrease in competiton.

UPDATE: This poll won't make Mr. Sammond happy either.

Wealth is not pie 

Prof. Peter Lorenzi, a longtime regular reader of the Scholars, sends me this article on the push for a referendum to raise the minimum wage in Michigan. We don't have initiative and referendum in Minnesota -- that's one of the things Governor Pawlenty didn't get for his pledge abdication -- but we did get a $1 raise in the minimum wage from today. I just called my friend at a restaurant; he hadn't realized it started today, and so my message was "up a buck, when do the layoffs begin?"

Some guy called the NARN show Saturday ranting about how this is increases tax revenues. I had a hard time telling what his point was, but my guess is that for restauranteurs and other businesses using minimum wage workers, there will be an increase in the amount of money they send to social security and medicare payments. The better way to say what this is explained in a comment to a nice case study at Coyote Blog.
In the final analysis, a minimum wage is a transfer of wealth from businesses and consumers to low-skilled workers. In most cases, such a transfer is now funded from general tax revenues, where society takes care of the less fortunate in as fair a way as possible with a high degree of transparency. The minimum wage tax, however, applies only to those who employ the lowest paid workers, and is imposed with little transparency or accountability.
Thus too with living wage proposals like that for St. Cloud -- it's an attempt to take more of the money government confiscates and turn it into a wealth transfer, simply targeting a different set of businesses. This is what happens when people think wealth is pie.

UPDATE (8/2): Reader and columnist Linda Seebach sends an oldie but a goodie: "Poverty is the problem. Not inequality."

Standing in the fire 

Indyjonz is quite upset to find this student's account of a philosophy course, taught by an openly gay professor who uses coarse language and challenges students who profess to be conservative and Christian. At the end of the term the student was able to get the faculty member suspended, but the student, wishing to give the professor a second chance, did not follow through with a formal complaint. Given what happened after, he regrets the decision. As Indy observes:
How many students feel the need to keep their mouths shut on what are supposed to be open campuses? I'd say the majority! Better to just get through college with good grades then to open yourself up to the hate and vitriol of the left.
There is something to that. Some students, I observe, will sit through classes with professors who are difficult because they can't get another class or because the course is required. Seeing a department chair is often a step taken, but the next step, filing the formal complaint, is bypassed as often the student simply wants to hear that they are in fact right that the professor is acting unprofessionally. There is little a chair or dean can do, though, without the formal complaint. And filing the complaint, and the publicity it engenders, will cause the student to wonder if s/he will be a victim of retaliation from another like-minded prof somewhere else. (Here's a recent example from SCSU.)

My observation, from advising students like this, is that students somehow think that sitting through a class like this is important as a matter of pride, and as a way to reach the other students in the course. I guess that's an admirable impulse, but frankly I'd prefer to see offenders brought to task within the formal complaint process when a simple "please stop" request to the professor fails.

Scholar arrested for taking books 

There's an interesting story from Armenia of a Kurdish-Turkish scholar, doing doctoral research at the Armenian National Archives (the first fellow to do so) that was arrested attempting to leave the country with old books. According to Katy at Blogrel -- an outstanding blog in Armenia, btw, which I read daily -- the books dated back to the 17th century, were purchased legally, and only required a special permit to take out of the country. In my travels to Armenia I have had to obtain such permits -- they are time-consuming but not difficult to obtain. This is particularly true for art and rugs, and happens in every country in the xUSSR I've visited. The biggest problem is that you don't know you need one unless you ask. It appears that the student, Yektan Turkyilmaz, did not know he needed such permits when he bought the books from an open-air bazaar in Yerevan (probably the Vernissage, where I've seen many used book sellers.) Turkyilmaz is a bibliophile and speaks six languages, including both common dialects of Armenian.

Katy also has the text of an open letter sent by 200 scholars to Armenian President Robert Kocharian and includes some additional factual information:
The effort is being made to publicize this news and hopefully pressure the government to let Turkyilmaz go free and continue his research. Stories are out in the academic community at SSRC and the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber link.) He is a doctoral student at Duke University, and his dissertation advisor is traveling to assist him.

The actions of the government to seize the backup CDs indicate that the government is interested in burying Turkyilmaz' research. I can find no reports to suggest he is in any way harming the Armenian side of the story about the genocide, which the Turkish government still denies. As I write this I am bothered by the possibility that there's something here I do not know about Turkyilmaz, but based on all reports his detention is an act of injustice. If the country wants to brag about its economic freedom it should also account for its political freedom.