Monday, October 31, 2005

Does inflation forecast targeting make you an inflation dove? 

There is continued carping from some quarters that Fed chairman nominee Ben Bernanke is an inflation dove. But a WSJ article by Greg Ip (subscribers only, but standby for some quotes) does a nice job of adding some nuance to what has been said. Here are the key grafs with my commentary.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many central bankers thought inflation did little harm and that reducing it was unacceptably painful. That breed of dove is now almost extinct. Today's hawks and doves are distinguished not by their philosophy, but by their forecast. Both believe in the wisdom of keeping inflation low. Doves are more confident it will stay there without wrenching increases in interest rates.

Judging by his public comments, Mr. Bernanke is an old-fashioned hawk but a modern dove. He expects inflation to remain low and, if that forecast proves correct, he probably will keep rates down. If that forecast proves wrong, he will raise them as far and as fast as Mr. Greenspan would have, and perhaps further.
As I pointed out last week, inflation targeting is really inflation forecast targeting. The confusion, I think, stems from one of its more famous expressions, in the rule that operates the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, to wit: if the inflation rate over some period is above 2% on an annual basis, the governor of RBNZ is sacked. That is NOT inflation targeting as Bernanke describes it. That is to say, the RBNZ could operate monetary policy using something other than an inflation target, and as long as the inflation rate stayed below 2% nothing would happen. The 2% limit isn't a target, it's a constraint.
Mr. Bernanke long has advocated setting inflation targets as a way of institutionalizing Mr. Volcker's and Mr. Greenspan's conquest of inflation. A target, he has said, would hold the central bank accountable. Over time, it would make the public more willing to believe low inflation will last, and that will make it easier for the Fed to cut rates when the economy softens without fueling inflation in the process.

He also has argued that inflation targets can prevent Japanese-style deflation. Maintaining "price stability," the mantra of modern central bankers, means being both an inflation hawk and deflation hawk, in the old sense of the term.
So, if inflation were to rise in a particular month because, say, a storm wiped out a significant part of the oil refining capacity of the Gulf Coast, and prices rose, the Fed would have to say what it views those events to mean for inflation six to nine months from now, and to act if the forecast was for higher inflation, and NOT to act if it did not. (This will come as no comfort to those who think inflation has not been at all tamed -- I will deal with those later when I answer a reader's question, "why not a zero target?")
As Mr. Bush's economist, Mr. Bernanke has predicted inflation will stay low. However, that is often the refrain of White House officials, who are supposed to sound optimistic. It isn't clear if he will have the same view at the Fed. After all, in recent months even previously dovish Fed officials have ratcheted up their anti-inflation rhetoric. One of them, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Janet Yellen, recently suggested rates have to go higher than she previously believed to reach neutral.
I think that point is vital -- we cannot assume we know Bernanke's forecast for inflation. And, following with the statements about what Supreme Court justices should and shouldn't say in confirmation hearings, here's one vote that Bernanke not offer a forecast for inflation in his confirmation hearings.
In principle, Mr. Bernanke favors pre-emption. "Policy makers achieve better results when they act in advance to forestall developing problems," he said in 2004. Mr. Sack wonders, will Mr. Bernanke "err on the side of restraint, considering that the transition to a new chairman might make the Fed's credibility more fragile?" Both Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Volcker raised rates after taking office.
I would bet that Mr. Bernanke follows suit. If you're still in the market for a loan or mortgage, you might not have much longer to act.

Saints preserve us 

A student government initiative to support a resolution opposing a definition-of-marriage amendment was voted down by student government after substantial opposition arose in hearings.

The resolution was voted down at Thursday's meeting, with six senators
voting yes, seven voting no and seven abstaining from the vote.

The resolution, Campus Affairs 001, states that the SCSU Student Government Association is a representative body for all students.

This is the statement that caused many to question the passing of the resolution.

Justin Braulick and Nicole Severson were two students that voiced their opinions during open gallery, concerned that if the resolution were to pass, not all students on campus may agree.

"There's no way that you can be representing all students," Severson said. "There's quite a number of students on campus who would like to see marriage defined as one woman and one man."

Severson, along with criminal justice professor Dick Andzenge, wrote an alternative resolution.

She distributed the proposal to members of student government as a means of showing her disapproval of CA 001.

The alternative resolution states: "We oppose the leaders of the association endorsing or opposing political legislative action that does not have any direct bearing on our position in society as students."

I think that makes the point quite well: What is a student government elected to do? Its main function has been to deliberate what is to be done with student activity fees, a function it has had some trouble with in the past. As I asked last spring, cui custodiet custodiens? But the issue here isn't even about money and thus even more divorced from the delegated powers of the student body.

The student government contemplated holding back this resolution pending a referendum. That strikes me as wrong, as it does for student writer Chris Wolf:
I understand that the intention of the resolution is to fight oppression, but taking a stand on such a sensitive issue is bound to oppress somebody.
That statement stands regardless of a referendum, and regardless of the issue at hand. Congratulations to the seven senators with the courage to stand up for the right of conscience for their fellow students.

Monday morning quarterback 

Or thoughts while shaving (which reminds me, I'm still thinking about this razor):

Friday, October 28, 2005

Prayer up 

Give a moment and your prayers to Captain Ed's first mate, who is returning to hospital this weekend.

GDP growth continues apace 

Today's report has third quarter GDP up 3.8% versus 3.3% in the second quarter. Kash, Tufte and Polley all pronounce the data good. There seems to be some surprise that the hurricanes on the Gulf Coast didn't show more of an effect. They do, though, in the personal income data:
Current-dollar personal income increased $71.8 billion (2.8 percent) in the third quarter, compared with an increase of $147.8 billion (6.0 percent) in the second. The slowdown in personal income partlyreflected the impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rental income and proprietors' income werereduced by the property damage caused by the hurricanes, and current transfer receipts were increasedby insurance settlements related to the hurricanes.

Remember, as the BEA points out, that destruction of existing capital does not have an immediate impact on GDP, since GDP counts only present production. We nevertheless feel poorer, and we can thus expect reinvestment, additional savings and work, and probably less consumption. A neoclassical view, therefore, would suggest perhaps a pickup in production over the next six months or so.

Oh yoohoo! Mister Foo-oot! Over heeeerrre! 

As promised Wednesday, I am creating a sidebar on the Footflash Football Follies, particularly with Flash busily thanking the special prosecutor for his single Hot Wheel. Vincent is invited to join in the festivities.

Bankroll $1000. Betting $11 to win $10 on each game. Lines via Sportsbook. Only playing spreads here. If you're stupid enough to actually put money based on what I wrote, please send email at

How bad are the Ravens? Bad enough to get this question-and-answer with Baltimore coach Brian Billick and the Pittsburgh press:
Have you thought at all about giving Kordell (Stewart) a shot?

No, we are anxious to get Kyle Boller back.

I think I broke a rib laughing. Let's have some of that. $55 on the Steelers, -10 on Monday night versus Baltimore.

Next, calling out LF on his pick of the Arizona-Dallas game. In case he hasn't noticed, which apparently he hasn't, Drew Bledsoe has put up OK numbers with fellow former Patriot Terry Glenn. Dallas at home is a very difficult team to beat, and I see the Cardinals laying a big egg without Kurt Warner yet back. $44 on the Cowboys, -9 versus the Cardinals.

We'll go lightly on the third game. Cincinnati, after being the trendy pick the first six weeks, gets dope-slapped to reality by the Steelers last week. They're home this weekend again agains the lowly Packers, before they go next week to Baltimore and then the bye. This could be a game they overlook, and they may feel a little underconfident. They've mostly won by getting massive turnovers from weak teams like ... the Vikings. I have a feeling this is the week Favre bears down and doesn't throw interceptions. I'm not saying the Packers win this name, but we'll put $22 on the Packers +9 at the Bengals.

Total wagered: $121. Left in bankroll: $879.

Why Mitch Berg will only 44% of elections 

Because handsome men have edge in election wins:
Handsome male candidates had a 56 percent chance of winning an election while their less dashing counterparts had a 44 percent chance, according Daniel Hamermesh, the study's author and an economics professor at the University of Texas.

Hamermesh studied the election of officers for the American Economic Association, a professional group, from 1996 through 2004.

However, he would be the most handsome economist. Here's his competition.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

South Dakota higher ed -- are they degouging? 

Enrollment at many schools, including SCSU, has been down this year, and the biggest explanation you hear from admissions and enrollment officials is demographics. Yet we continue to hear about rising tuitions, and Congressional action to control runaway college costs.

At least until one state university system has changed direction.

The South Dakota Board of Regents announced last week that, starting next fall, it was slashing tuition for all new out-of-state students by slightly more than half. The change affects prospective students mostly in the eastern half of the United States, since those from neighboring and western states have been paying the lower rate for several years.

The reason for the change is demographics. Like many Plains states, South Dakota faces a dwindling number of children and, thus, high school graduates.

A committee charged with surveying high school enrollment recently told the state's Board of Regents that high school graduation enrollments could drop by as much as 13 percent over the next decade. That, in turn, could reduce the number of South Dakotans entering the state's universities and other post-secondary institutions, which currently have 31,000 students enrolled.

Many public universities, alas, are addicted to tuition dollars. State aid to public higher ed in Minnesota has fallen in percentage terms, so that at SCSU less than half of our budget comes from state appropriations. Yet if the university wants to retain its status as the largest MnSCU school, it may be well advised to look into holding tuition increases below, say, that of the second largest school, whose enrollment is gaining on ours.

Economics question of the day: Could students have elastic demand, so that a cut in tuition rates may increase our budget?

Email from a White Sox fan 

A few years ago, as I was driving toward downtown Chicago from the SOUTHSIDE as I approach 35th Street I noticed a billboard advertisement for the Southtown Newspaper (formerly called the Southtown Economist Newspaper). The headline was:
Sox Win!
Cubs Lose!
Another Great Day in Chicago!
Enough said. I will enjoy the first (and privately gloat about the utter failure of the latter).

On behalf of the other Sox redeemed, congratulations to the White Sox.

UPDATE: Brother Palmer reminds me that during the World Series podcast last week he was the only one who picked the White Sox. Phil and I both said Astros in six.

UPDATE 2: Stephen's happy there's no Bartman in Houston. Let me just say that if Uribe had done this in Fenway, somebody'd've gone Gamboa on his ass.

Do over 

I was going to write something else about Miers and public choice, but today's withdrawal moots that thought. As Kash an Orin Kerr note, it appears that the Bush team took the Krauthammer option, to wit:
It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House - disclosures that would undermine a President's ability to receive candid counsel.

Not everyone gets a do-over, Mr. President, and damned few of us get two.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Your multicultural lesson for today 

An advertisement on our email list this PM from a HURL department member:
Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar
College of St Benedict Flagpole, St Joseph MN
Wednesday, October 26th, 9:00 PM

A coalition of campus organizations are sponsoring a candlelight vigil at 9p.m. on Wednesday, October 26 at the CSB flagpole. We will gather to mark the heartbreaking milestone of the 2000th U.S. soldier's death and to call attention to the appalling human and economic costs of the war in Iraq and to call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

For three points: What will be run up the flagpole?
a. the new Iraqi constitution?
b. the Sunni electoral slate for December?
c. the Mehlis report?
d. the white flag?

There will be one more death, even if we spend no more dollars. It just will be more Iraqis and fewer Americans, and this seems to be the wish of this faculty member who sends it, from the Department of the 3.7 GPA.

God bless Shelby Steele 

For this:

President Johnson's famous Howard University speech, which launched the Great Society in 1965, outlined this balance of power by explicitly spelling out white responsibility without a single reference to black responsibility. In the 40 years since that speech no American president has dared correct this oversight.

The problem here is obvious: The black shame of inferiority (the result of oppression, not genetics) cannot be overcome with anything less than a heroic assumption of responsibility on the part of black Americans. In fact, true equality--an actual parity of wealth and ability between the races--is now largely a black responsibility. This may not be fair, but historical fairness--of the sort that resolves history's injustices--is an idealism that now plagues black America by making black responsibility seem an injustice.

And yet, despite the fact that greater responsibility is the only transforming power that can take blacks to true equality, this is an idea that deeply threatens the 40-year balance of power between the races. Bill Cosby's recent demand that poor blacks hold up "their end of the bargain" and do a better job of raising their children was explosive because it threatened this balance. Mr. Cosby not only implied that black responsibility was the great transforming power; he also implied that there was a limit to what white responsibility could do. He said, in effect, that white responsibility cannot overcome black inferiority. This is a truth so obvious as to be mundane. Yet whites won't say it in the interest of their redemption and blacks won't say it in the interest of historical justice. It is left to hurricanes to make such


Two things Ukrainian 

Two positive things, in fact:

FootFlash Football Festival, Week 7 

Even though Flash appears hopelessly behind, I suppose we'd best continue with this event. You never know when the worm might turn. And regarding my observation Monday that Learned the Greek needs to step up to the big leagues and bet against me, well, his choice. Starting Friday, King's Kicks, a place for you to kick away your hard-earned money. $1000 to start, as if you're in Vegas, with vig assessed on each bet.

Meanwhile, here in the kiddy pool are this week's selections.

  1. Arizona @ Dallas (-9). OK, explain to me why you want either side of this bet. Josh McCown has hung onto the starting job because either a) he has a picture of Dennis Green in corpus flagrante with a goat on a boat on Lake Minnetonka or b) Mrs. Kurt Warner is lobbying to keep her husband home to take out the trash. Meanwhile, Tuna changes kickers and wonders if Quincy Carter would have thrown that duck at the end of the Seahawk game. People still think these teams are contenders. In the NFC, alas, they are.
  2. Miami "@" San AntonioNew Orleans (-2). I thought at first -2 was the over-under number for yards gained by Ricky Williams. New Orleans beat Buffalo at "home" well and now gets the Fish. Paul Prudhomme must be contemplating jambalaya with this group.
  3. Jacksonville (-2.5) @ St. Louis. Am I the only person who's going to miss Mike Martz calling timeouts on 2nd and 6 from the Ram 24 because he just had a great idea/brain fart? Psst, St. Louis: Fisher DeBerry might be available. Am I the only person who thinks Bryan Leftwich is football's answer to the Black Knight? Stop telling me to feel sorry for David Carr -- the Jags seem to enjoy watching Leftwich get smacked like Curly Howard. This game's fun for two reasons -- you really need to pay attention to the Ram injury report, and these teams have never played each other.
In other news, I'm shocked to find out a WNBA star is lesbian. Just shocked. Next thing you know, someone will tell me Bill Romanowski used steroids. Now wouldn't that just be the berries!?!

Hugh Hewitt, Harriet Miers and public choice 

I'm not speaking abouth whether I support or oppose Harriet Miers. I still don't know enough about her, and I have the hope that the confirmation hearings will give me enough insight to decide whether the president has made a good choice -- dashed in part by Captain Ed's pessimism over the nature of modern confirmation hearings (as expressed on NARN last Saturday). So requests of me from NZ Bear or Watchman's Words, frankly, to take a stand must be held in abeyance. Judgment is premature. If the question is "should Miers' name be withdrawn before the hearings?", my vote would be "no, we must give the president's candidate her chance, just as we've demanded for every judicial nominee in the past." But that's trust in the process, not the nominee.

Hugh Hewitt, in his vigorous defense of Miers, however, makes a statement about which I can say something. From a post yesterday:
Public choice theory holds that electeds do what is in their self-interest. It is not in the self-interest of any GOP senator to vote against Miers. I look forward to reading any post that argues the opposite.

Paul Musgrave tries to correct Hugh's brief description of public choice theory, an explanation which Hugh dismisses. But Musgrave is right and Hugh is wrong on this, and since unlike Musgrave I do work in public choice, let me take another try at getting the message to Hugh.

Public choice theory does not view elections as the goal of politicians but as a constraint on their behavior. What is in their self-interest may be simply power, or may be a desire to make certain legislation into law, or to spread government largesse on friends, or ... it's hard to enumerate all the items that are in one's self-interest, since that is unknowable. But the point is that election is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. Preserving status as "the party in power" is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Hugh's discussion of the public choice explanation for GOP unity on Miers is based on the senators having as a goal some monolith party structure. It is not. Each politician takes a party identification for the purpose of advertising her- or himself to voters.

Hugh couches everything in reference to election and party in power, for example here:

The upside of voting against Miers for a senator is so limited as to be almost non-existent in the real world of politics. The promises of glorious battles with the Dems and the break-up of the Gang of 14 means to them shattering their comfortable worlds and opening themselves up again to the enormous pressures that built throughout the spring. To those who, like Senators Graham and DeWine, took the most heat for the Gang of 14 deal, or like Senators Chafee and Snowe, facing re-election with restive conservative bases, or even stalwart Jon Kyl, facing a deep pockets opponent in Arizona, smashing up the president nominee just doesn't figure to be a good move. Try explaining to the Arizona Pro-life Network why Miers wasn't good enough.

And then there is the prospective trauma of losing, again as in 2001, the majority from which all their influence over legislation and hearings flow.

The italics are mine. Jon Kyl will view the lost pro-life voters as a constraint on his behavior, but only to be balanced both against the gained voters from those who oppose Miers and the value to Kyl of voting for his own principles. It strikes me odd that pro-life voters, who often launch quixotic campaigns in the name of preferring being right to winning, are now making a public choice case.

One preserves majority status by moving towards a center, by trimming one's own desires. That is the nature of the median-voter model that simple public choice theory says. But a more sophisticated view of congressional behavior (consider this paper I co-authored in 1991 for example, or just about anything Sam Peltzman ever wrote on the subject) says that not only constituent preference but the senators' ideologies count as well. What we have found in the Miers nomination is that the GOP Senate caucus has multiple ideologies, and that the Miers nomination cuts across these ideologies differently. Hugh may argue well that voting against Miers hurts the chances of a GOP majority in 2006; public choice theory teaches that the caucus is not monolith.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why didn't she call her husband? 

During the first year of marriage, Mrs. Scholar called me at the office one day to report a lizard in the back porch of our rented house next to campus in Claremont.

Well, it was more like this: King, there's a lizard in the porch!!!!! Come home now and get rid of it!!!!! Immediately!!!!!< click]

Never wanting to miss an opportunity to burnish my credentials as a man -- remember, I'm an academic economist, which does no burnishing around women, alas -- I ran down to the house and disposed of it. I don't think it was a lizard, really, just a damned big bug.

I can only imagine how JB Doubtless would have answered.

Didn't he just get married? And has anyone noticed he's blogging more now?


My colleague Dan Gallagher has been using this word around the department the last few days to refer to what's happened as gas prices have fallen.

Yet I hear today that Scott Adams is running a Weaseliest Behavior poll in which "gas price gouging" is listed as an option. So why not gas price degouging?

Out, out, you demons of stupidity!

(graph source)

You vill NOT exercise! 

(Crossposted at The Sports Economist)

I had breakfast this morning, as I do many mornings, with some people associated with our university's athletics department. This morning we were talking about the voluntary training sessions for our football players. We are a D-II program (a pretty good one, though last week's loss at Omaha hurt our chances for the playoffs), and we're amazed by the size of our players. One fellow said that this was because of year-round conditioning programs, all of which are voluntary. Quarterbacks organize skill player sessions to catch footballs and run routes in the spring; lifting and running are year-round, with some groups meeting in the morning and others in the afternoon. All of this NOT under the watchful eye of a coach, because that would be formal training.

That we can't have, because the NCAA says this is unfair. And so the University of Memphis was sanctioned on Friday for having too much formal training of its women's volleyball team.
In the volleyball case, the committee investigated reports in seasons from 2000 to 2003 that the women's team was required to participate in individual skill instruction during the spring. Only voluntary instruction is allowed under NCAA rules.

Under the probation, the volleyball program must reduce its number of practices and hours spent conditioning.
From the team's website:
The Tiger volleyball team was cited for a series of secondary violations that occurred over a three-year period that, when taken together, constitute a major violation. The violations were inadvertent but the coaching staff agreed with the NCAA that the staff had knowledge of legislation on playing and practice sessions and had a responsibility to ensure the volleyball program complied with the legislation limiting athletically related activities.

The volleyball program will receive two years probation, as well as a public reprimand and censure. The team will have its preseason practice opportunities shortened from 29 practices to 26 and spring conditioning will be reduced by one-week. The head coach is required to attend an NCAA Compliance Seminar at her own expense and will not attend one-week of spring conditioning. The coach will also have a letter of reprimand placed in her personnel file.
So who benefits from this? Obviously, the teams that compete against Memphis. Anyone care to guess who turned them in? What do you want to bet that the Tigers' volleyball team's success increased right around the 2000-03 seasons? Sure enough

1999 11-22
2000 13-20
2001 22-10
2002 19-15
2003 30-6
2004 27-10

Just as predicted years ago by Fleisher, Goff and Tollison, teams that suddenly become more successful are much more likely to face NCAA scrutiny. The story then was about money sports like football and basketball. Has it reached even women's volleyball now?

A few more thoughts on Bernanke 

First, my thanks to William Polley for the nice link this morning.

Second: I read this in the Wall Street Journal's editorial this morning on the Bernanke nomination.
The modern Fed Chairman is also in a sense the nation's chief economist, so Mr. Bernanke will be heard from on everything from fiscal policy to Fannie Mae.

If that is true, it certainly is something arising from Greenspan. I doubt many people thought of Volcker per se as an economist. And its history with Federal Reserve chairmen that were academic economists, most notably Arthur Burns, isn't that wonderful -- Burns, after all, gave us the inflation of the Nixon-Ford era. But in another sense this is true: The Federal Reserve keeps on staff, both in Washington and at the twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks, a highly skilled group of researchers. This is true in many central banks. When I work overseas and need economic insight from locals, the first place I stop is with the central bank's research department. The Bank of Italy, for example, long held the reputation of having a group of independent researchers able to give objective policy advice in a very partisan Rome.

That reputation in the U.S. has continued and prospered under Greenspan, who more than most previous chairmen engaged the Board staff in discussions of economic indicators and research into alternative monetary policy rules (including the inflation targeting as Bernanke has favored.) Donald Kohn, who was a short list candidate for the chairmanship himself, has been both on the staff, been its head, and is a governor. He spoke last year about the role of the Fed staff:
When the Federal Reserve started its operations in 1914, aggregate data for the United States were virtually non-existent. Early research efforts at the Federal Reserve included the pathbreaking compilation of statistical indexes that permitted policymakers, for the first time in the nation's history, to monitor macroeconomic developments with some degree of accuracy. Besides measures of credit and indexes of industrial production that the Federal Reserve still produces today, during those early years the Board staff developed and published various other indexes for such critical concepts as aggregate sales, employment, payrolls, and prices.

This is still true in the countries in transition that I visit today. (Some of the advice they receive from advisors like me relates to data quality and dissemination.) And one of the things Greenspan did, Kohn notes, is to get the people who did operational research -- if we buy $X million of bonds on the open market today, what happens to the Fed funds rate tomorrow -- together with the longer-range researchers. The result, Kohn says, is positive.
This move not only improved morale [by eliminating some jealousies], it also led to a cross-fertilization of ideas that improved the quality of both research and policy analysis. Researchers actively engaging in policy analysis and participating in Federal Open Market Committee preparations better understand the issues facing policymakers and can target their efforts. On occasion--rare, I suspect--research economists actually benefit from the ideas of the policymakers. They also come to appreciate that policymakers need to hear sensible stories in clear English about the concepts being presented so that the policymakers in turn can explain understandably to the public why they are following a particular strategy. Getting some researchers to write in English has proved daunting, and too often, the policymakers themselves have not lived up to their side of the bargain.

One of the reasons I thought Martin Feldstein would have made an excellent choice is that he strikes me as the guy whose experience as a policymaker, a research director (at NBER) and a principles teacher at Harvard would have allowed for more benefits of cross-fertilization than other candidates.

So the role of research at the Fed has evolved over time, but it should be stressed that Bernanke will not present simply his own views on economics. He represents an institution that has a large group of researchers and a Board staff that helps influence what comes out in the Fed's public statements.

Those who think the Fed has been too inflationary of late, agreeing with the rest of the WSJ editorial this morning, may also wish to read Frank Shostak this morning. Here's the nub of my disagreement with Shostak's view: We can agree that the inflation would be stopped by a cessation of printing money. I.e., stopping money creation is a necessary and sufficent condition for stopping inflation. But that does not mean that starting money creation is a necessary and sufficient condition for starting inflation.

I haven't written yet about the "global savings glut" issue that Bernanke is known for; I'll come to that tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Kiddy protests 

Having found their efforts flagging on campuses -- and facing the Solomon Amendment case in the Supreme Court -- the neverwuzzers are now taking their act to our high schools. Mitch has coverage. Examples from our university here and here, which includes this message from Scholar Jack.

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

None of this "we protest that you're upset we're protesting." It just shows you're not ready for prime time.

Bernanke, inflation and targeting 

Should we make any big deal of the fact that the bond market sold off today, with Ben Bernanke replacing Alan Greenspan at the Fed? No, because looking at the inflation-indexed bond market shows that both indexed and non-indexed bonds fell by roughly the same amount. Were the concern about Bernanke that he would be softer on inflation, the non-indexed bond should have fallen more than the indexed bond. That link also includes a reminder that the bond market sold off when Alan Greenspan replaced Paul Volcker in 1987.

There was similar nervousness in the early months of 1987, as investors, analysts and other market participants realized that Volcker's term as chairman would expire in August, [economist Stuart] Hoffman recalled. It was unknown early in the year whether Volcker wanted a third term or if President Reagan wanted him to stay. Volcker had been chairman since August 1979, and was credited with leading the Fed drive that ended double-digit inflation.

"There was talk in the markets" about whether Volcker would leave, and some apprehension at the thought that "this guy, who since '79 had guided them through a lot of turmoil, would be leaving and someone new would be coming in," Hoffman said.

Everyone wants things to stay as they are with monetary policy, and the market prices uncertainty by asking for a higher real yield. Thus today's bond market.

So what would a Bernanke presidency do? The economists discussing Bernanke on the WSJ public econoblogger are generally upbeat; Mark Thoma is concerned that Bernanke will not speak with as much authority as Greenspan about budget deficits. It's worth remembering that Greenspan didn't do much of that either through the Bush 41 presidency -- his deficit hawkishness was also made effective by his interaction with Bob Rubin in influencing the first Clinton presidency. Having heard Bernanke speak more than a few times (including a visit here to SCSU a couple of years ago) I believe he'll grow into that role just fine. Given that, I believe, he is taking the next Greenspan term, he'll have potentially fourteen years to grow.

Much is made about his views on inflation targeting, the strategy of operating monetary policy with direct reference to a goal for the inflation rate. On this, I think Nouriel Roubini makes an excellent point.
[Bernanke] will have to move carefully as any attempt to formally change the framework of US monetary policy towards "inflation targeting" may lead Congress to try to interfere and impose politically damaging conditions on monetary policy: for example, Congress may argue that, if we move to a formal inflation target, we should also have a formal "high GDP growth" target, a political interference that would undermine the appropriate conduct and flexibility of monetary policy. So, I am not sure that inflation targeting will ever be adopted by the Fed, even during a Bernanke Chairmanship, as such a move would be fraught with many congressional interference obstacles. More likely, the Fed, like it is doing now will make its inflation forecast - an implicit inflation target - even more explicit to the public as an indirect
signaling of an implicit - but not formally explicit - inflation target.

This indirect signal has been there for years. Marvin Goodfriend (NBER paper #9981 subscribers link -- I haven't found an unprotected version of this paper) reminded us a couple years ago that Alan Greenspan made a qualitative case for an inflation target as early as 1989, when he said to Congress he wanted an inflation rate such that "the expected rate of change of the general level of prices ceases to be a factor in individual and business decisionmaking." Whether that's zero, one, or two percent is a debate worth having, and it appears that the Fed has been debating it. Chicago Fed President Michael Moskow said a few weeks ago that the issue was as much to do with communication as anything. That is likely to be the thinking for awhile -- there isn't an exact number that works, there isn't agreement about which measure of inflation you use, there isn't an easy way to say which shocks you'd tolerate and which you wouldn't.

I'm working on a couple of papers on inflation targeting in transition economies right now, and I would add one more thing to this -- what typically is meant by inflation targeting, particularly when Bernanke discusses it, is really inflation forecast targeting. That is, you are not going to determine policy by what has happened in the past to some measure of inflation, but you are going to forecast inflation explicitly, compare it to some reference of what is a good rate, and then announce how policy moves you from the forecast rate towards the good rate if those aren't the same. (See, for example, the discussion on page two of this article by Ben McCallum, discussing Goodfriend.) And here is where Roubini's point is excellent -- can you imagine this discussion of inflation forecasts occurring during Humphrey-Hawkins testimony before the Senate Banking Committee? Econometrics and Chuck Schumer don't mix.

As Goodfriend argues, though, it's as if we've already had inflation targeting; it's hard to believe Greenspan could evoke a rule like that in 1989 without having the Fed aim at a rate like this. Was it the only Fed goal? Certainly not, but the "measured pace" language of Federal Reserve directives to its operations desk (which provides the guidance for daily operation of monetary policy) has contained sufficient reference to inflation to act as an informal guide. And some within the Fed, like William Poole, have been uncomfortable with even that amount of hand-tying, of which more would come with more formal rules. I suspect, in the final analysis, the discussion of inflation targeting in the U.S. will remain academic.

Annnnnnnnnnd, he's back 

Douglas Bass, I mean, back as Crossword Bebop. Missed you, buddy!

Happy blogiversary, Market Power 

Phil Miller's blog is one. I think we're the only two MnSCU economists blogging right now. Stop by and say hi to Phil, and then look around. It's quickly become an excellent economics blog.

Greenspan replacement coming today? 

The news services say so. This should be interesting; the boards have moved strongly to Bernanke, but I'm still thinking it could be Martin Feldstein. Chances are it won't be Harriet Miers.

UPDATE: 'Tis Bernanke.

UPDATE 2: They didn't ask me, but here are a number of other economist/bloggers' reactions to Bernanke's nomination. (I'll have a separate response late this afternoon.)

Random scholarizing 

One of those mornings with lots of little things on my mind.

Sightings over the weekend and this morning:
Other observations:
Administrivia darkens my afternoon. Bis spater.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Mrs. Scholar just came home from her opening night as a Pick-a-Little lady in the Music Man at the Paramount. I'm going twice, so it's at least worth one trip for you.

NARN is on the air tomorrow, and as Chad has been blogging all week we'll have Marcus Winter, contributor to Education Myths. If you are with Education Minnesota, please don't listen. Spontaneous combustion is possible.

UPDATE: Music Man was absolutely the best show G.R.E.A.T. has put on in a few years. The supporting cast was fantastic (even you, Powderpuff!) Another weekend to run, so if you're in the St. Cloud area, get to it!

(Full disclosure: Mrs and I are longtime supporters of G.R.E.A.T.)

There's more of them 

It's been pretty clear for awhile that more females were going to college, but now the gender gap is getting wider, leading some to wonder if there should be affirmative action to get more males onto campus.
In May, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education posted the inevitable culmination of a trend: Last year for the first time, women earned more than half the degrees granted statewide in every category, be it associate, bachelor, master, doctoral or professional.

Cause for celebration � or for concern?

Before you answer, consider the perspective of Jim McCorkell, founder of Admission Possible, a St. Paul program to help low-income high school kids prepare for college. Last year, 30% of the students were boys. This fall, that has inched up to 34%, but only because "we actually did a little affirmative action," McCorkell says. "If we had a tie (between a male and a female applicant), we gave it to a boy."
It's hardly a surprise that female students are more numerous, given the general observation from econometric studies that the rate of return on higher education for females is 2% higher than for males. (There's a summary table of research in this paper as Table 1.) But it is interesting to see how colleges are handling this problem. My curiosity -- do female students prefer to have gender balance or do they prefer a majority of female students around them?

Graph of the day 


Related news.

So maybe Social Security reform is by the boards right now, but this could be a big part of Congressional activity in 2006.

Longitude, latitude, management and tenure 

John Bruce, a blogchild of the Scholars and a frequent critic of the tenure system in academia, thinks he's found another chink in the armor of those like me who defend it. I have argued that tenure is compensation for an income differential. John looks at annual salaries of academics and of nonacademics in related fields and finds they are not that far apart, which he believes is a refutation of my compensation claim.
According to this site the average salary for a computer programmer in California is $65,352. Application systems analyst? $57,209. Systems and programming manager? $79,143. Information systems manager? $78,977. Director of information systems? (typically a corporate VP) $92,191. These are well within the range of salaries for tenure-track professor jobs I cited from AAUP statistics in my last post. So where is the hypothetical difference King Banaian cites, where a full prof makes 65K and needs tenure to keep from leaving for a 90K job? In California, anyhow, all these jobs pay about the same. In fact, if you�re a tenured prof at USC (let�s not even whisper about Cal Tech), you�d be taking a cut in pay to go to a 90K private sector job. Doesn�t this change King�s example? Given King's suggestion that tenure is there to overcome a pay differential, aren�t universities now overpaying their faculty if they�re throwing in tenure with this deal?
Tenure is more than just compensation for a pay differential -- I'll get to that in a minute -- but it is a compensation. The mistake John makes is looking at an annual salary and comparing across job categories. This cross-sectional or latitudinal analysis takes into account only a single year of income and treats all workers within a job class as having the same other characteristics. But cross-sectional analysis to be done right must be done under the assumption of ceteris paribus -- all other things held equal. There's no correction for age, for example, and there's a fair chance that full professors are on average older than most of the job classes cited here.

I could go on, but that misses the broader point about tenure: It's all about assuring a lifetime stream of income, not a one-year event. And it's also about assuring a return on a risky investment called graduate school. Consider a 22-year-old graduate of a good physics program, given the choice between going into academia and into the business world. Academics usually do not receive tenure until their mid- to late-thirties (I was 32 when I got tenure, and that was considered quite young by most of my academic friends.) Grad school is of course a lesson in penury; a physics major entering the engineering world will have bumps in the road as s/he must change jobs, but typically fares better. At the point the grad student gains his doctorate and a tenurable job, income begins to rise. Once achieving tenure, the expected stream of income is greater still because of a decreased probability of being out of work vis-a-vis the worker in the private sector. It looks a little like this graph you see on the left. Tenure is part of the mechanism that allows for area B to compensate for area A. What John has done is to take a point on each line and compare them. It's not informative. For some people, area B must be greater than area A to induce them into academia -- these people will probably be patient in earning income and saving wealth, and perhaps more risk averse (though I don't believe risk aversion is necessary to make the story work, it's certainly sufficient.) That area B, by the way, is the basis for the expectations damages paid by universities to tenured faculty that are fired. They get only B, not the whole lost income stream, since they are required to mitigate damages by finding work elsewhere, perhaps in the private sector.

While on this point, let me add something on the nature of tenure. Tenure has been found in law to create a property right in jobs to faculty, which of course creates some perverse incentives. Many writers have argued that if you simply paid the tenured faculty off and created a different incentive structure you could get better behavior in terms of continued research output and faculty governance. But Li and Ou-Yang show that tenure doesn't seem to lead to reduced research. And there's a new paper in Economic Inquiry by Antony Dnes and Nuno Garoupa that shows how tenure may provide the correct incentives for the faculty to hire and monitor the university. Hiring new faculty often leads to an increased attention to their research over the older faculty member's research. They fall out of favor. If you do not provide them with some guarantee against falling out of favor, will they continue to hire good new faculty? And who is in a better position to decide which new PhD has a chance to do something pathbreaking -- the faculty or the administration? In essence, they argue, tenure might be a means of compensating senior faculty to incentivize monitoring honestly the talent of potential new hires.

The important point to remember is that a property right doesn't mean necessarily that a faculty member has a job for life. It simply establishes a price to buy out a lifetime contract. Faculty that misbehave in either "becoming deadwood" or in sabotaging younger faculty research can always be put out to pasture. It's simply a matter of getting the price right.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

World Series economics podcast is up 

The Economics of the World Series podcast NARN, it's harder to do radio discussions over the phone than in person, but it worked pretty well. And yes, I predicted Astros in six, which will elate Skip Sauer. More on that tomorrow.

How now brown cow! 

Or, "if I had two dollars for every cow..."
The story of Europe's pampered cows is a familiar one but always worth retelling. Each head of cattle in Europe gets a subsidy from the taxpayer worth $2.20 a day at a time when half the world's population - 3 billion people in all - scrapes by on an income of less that that. Rightly, the comparison has been a cause of outrage, and is one of the reasons why the European Union has been under pressure in the current round of global trade talks to make deep inroads into its absurd protectionist regime for agriculture.

Well, here's the stop press: the cows have had a pay rise. Calculations by Oxfam's Duncan Green for 2003 show that the average cow in the Dordogne or Lower Saxony can expect to have $2.62 a day lavished on it. The latest figures for 2003 show that the number of cows is down by 2 million but the total support for producers is up by $1bn to almost $19bn (10.7bn pounds).

(h/t: PSD Blog)

"An atmospheric condition" 

The campus newspaper was not put on the web lately, but last week it reappeared (with no explanation for its disappearance.) I had not seen the articles its reporter Tia VanVeldhuizen says caused her to receive requests from her editor to not write so much about God, but she says she is being told that it's too much. Apparently, the newspaper is continuing a pattern on campus of compensating for a Judeo-Christian society. She writes:
SCSU student Kathy Brickey said she heard in an ethnic studies class that since Judeo-Christian beliefs are commonly understood in St. Cloud, other beliefs should be emphasized.

Was this a university policy? To find out, I visited Les Green, director of the cultural diversity office in the education building. He disagreed with censoring my columns, and confirmed what I suspected of the university.

'It's not a policy, in my understanding. It's an atmospheric condition,' he said. 'Since everybody is aware of this (Judeo-Christian beliefs), why don't we talk about others?'
It's worth noting that Dr. Green is a candidate for the local school board. Again, respect the box.

How ironic is it that a campus newspaper that declaims censorship from student government puts its own reporters in this position!

Leading indicators obscure good news 

The new Index of Leading Economic Indicators is out, and while the headline number will be a fall of 0.7% in September, the news isn't nearly as bad as it seems. The index is sharply influenced this month by two measurements: consumer confidence and weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance. We've already looked at the consumer confidence measurement, and there's not much evidence that these things matter for predicting a recession. As to unemployment insurance, there was a large jump in claims due to Katrina: for the week of Sept. 10, initial claims were up 49,665 in Louisiana, 5,177 in Mississippi, 3,506 in Texas and 2,719 in Alabama. The unemployment rate in Louisiana is now over 11%. Does this portend a recession? I think not. Nor is an expansion predicted by the one indicator offsetting about half of the decline in claims and confidence: Vendor performance (measured as slower deliveries received by shipping managers) was up a good bit, but that is too due to the strains on transportation from shipping relief supplies to the Gulf Coast. All told, the report is not much news.

A silver lining 

It is easy to caterwaul about the liberal bias on American campuses, brought forward by John Tierney. I could provide you with a hundred links on this site to examples of it, and of the condescension that liberal faculty treat the claim of bias (as exemplified by the list of reasons for the lack of conservatives on campus that Tierney distills from email from defensive leftists.) But the last two paragraphs of Tierney make a damn good point.

Conservatives complain about this imbalance in academia, but in some ways they've benefited from being outcasts. They've been toughened by confronting skeptics on campus and working at think tanks in Washington involved in the political fray. They've come up with ideas -- welfare reform, school vouchers, all kinds of privatization schemes -- that have been adopted around the country and the world. But how many big ideas from liberal academics are on anyone's agenda? Democratic politicians are desperately trying to find something newer than the New Deal to run on next year. They're glad to take campaign contributions from professors, but they're leery of ideas from intellectuals who've been talking to themselves for so long.
There are certainly several center-left think tanks out there, but few that seem to get the notice that places like AEI, Heritage or Cato get. And it has been my experience that conservative policy analysts get influence in government, and did so during the Clinton years. Larry Summers may be a Democrat but his views are quite mainstream among economists and would be considered conservative by noneconomists.

But more to the point of the rest of Tierney's op-ed: Conservatives find it necessary to read liberal articles in their scholarship in order to gain publication in mainstream journals. There are options for economists who simply wish to avoid it all -- I think of the strong Austrian types here -- but these are limited and have difficulty gaining traction.

If you want to gain influence in the world, you must form arguments that withstand the liberal academy's reviews for publication. That only makes a conservative's work stronger. Liberal faculty often attend conferences which brook no conservative participation. Within that echo chamber bad ideas perpetuate and indeed multiply.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A last reminder: The Economics of the World Series 

Be sure to come over to Phil Miller and John Palmer on the economics of the World Series. It's all baseball, all the time. You can get into how to break up the BosNY Axis of AL Domination.

FootFlash Football Festival, Week 6 

It's that time again.

Time for Foot to gloat.

Time for Flash to mope.

Time for me to pick some games that give Flash some hope.

Let's get to it.

Current records: Foot 13-2, Flash 4-11.
  1. Kansas City at Miami (-2). The line opened with KC a 2.5 favorite in some places, and moved quickly to Miami at 1.5. The Chefs whipped up on the Redskins last weekend with some trickery, but still allowed an anemic offense to score 21 points against them. The Fish now have Ricky Williams back to catch footballs rather than rays and doobies, but he only got 8 yards rushing. It's eh vs. eh in this one, but not nearly as much as...
  2. San Francisco at Washington (-12.5). Wasn't so long ago that nobody thought the Redskins could even score 12 points in a game. Now they're favored by 12.5 on the basis of a rejuvenated Mark Brunell and a highly underrated Santana Moss. The defense figures to pin their ears back and have at rookie QB Alex Smith, who now knows he won't get pulled for Tim Rattay. If Smith can find the two young receivers Battle and Lloyd twice in this game, can the Redskins score more than three touchdowns to cover this line? Let's ask the gents.
  3. Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-1). Now that Sargeant Slaughter has Tommy Maddox out of his system, can the Steelers get back to business with Rothliesbanaaaiaaaiaaaiiiian and the Bus? Time to find out how for real Carson Palmer really is, and if Chad Johnson will ever shut up.
What, you say? No Vikes/Pack? Well, somebody thought I couldn't resist that game; I think it will be utterly unwatchable. And Flash is in enough agony already.

Maybe this money won't be so badly spent 

I have already confessed my discomfiture over the size of governmenet spending on relief from Katrina. But it appears some in Congress are using this as an opportunity for some real experiments in conservative ideas. The House Education and Workforce Committee yesterday proposed direct payments of education relief money to families.
For one year, the proposal creates Family Education Reimbursement Accounts to allow families and schools to bypass existing bureaucracies and provide direct reimbursement to schools on behalf of children displaced by the storms.

�The hurricanes have put a strain on schools across the nation, yet public, private, and charter schools have all risen to the challenge, opening their doors and welcoming displaced students as their own,� said [committee chair John] Boehner (R-Ohio). �Our hurricane recovery efforts must be focused on empowering individuals, and that�s why this proposal provides direct aid to parents and families rather than simply writing a blank check to existing government bureaucracies.�
The accounts provide $6700 per child to an account set up over the Internet or an 800 number, and parents would direct the money to the school where the child was enrolled. Since most displaced children are already enrolled, this avoids the cost of re-enrollment at a school the education bureaucracy decided could have the money.

The teachers unions have all been lined up against the idea since it was offered in Bush's speech in New Orleans last month. They are trying to force Louisianans, many of whom were choosing private schools before Katrina, into government schools. Let's hope the Republicans in the House persist in this battle.

Reducing supply or demand? 

I believe there's a misunderstanding of economics in James Taranto's latest Best of the Web. In the third item he takes on the issue of "energy independence", by which he takes it people mean to stop importing oil from the Saudis.
...our understanding of the liberal conception of [energy independence] is as follows:
  • The government should establish policies aimed at reducing the use of oil (fuel-economy standards, higher gasoline taxes, incentives or coercive measures
    to encourage use of public transit, etc.).
  • This in turn is would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, helping to starve the Arabs and thus reduce terrorism.

For the sake of argument, let's take the first part of this argument--that the government could reduce oil consumption, effectively a reduction in demand--as a given. Basic economics tells us that a reduction in the demand for a commodity will lower the price.

What happens when the price of oil goes down? High-cost oil production becomes uneconomical, which means that low-cost producers end up accounting for a greater share of the market. The lowest-cost producer of all is our friends the Saudis. Thus "energy independence," if effective at all, would actually make America more dependent on "foreign" (Arab) oil.

Not every action taken to reduce use of oil is a reduction in demand, though. While CAFE standards and incentives to public transit might indeed reduce demand for oil from private autos, taxes typically work to reduce the quantity supplied. And CAFE standards do have the effect of reducing family income, though it doesn't appear to be a large cost. Coercing people out of their cars to public transit by its very nature, destroys wealth. If it was better to take public transit, people would have gotten out of their cars already.

There's a way in which we could in fact do exactly as the "energy independence" people wish, which would be to impose an import quota or tariff on oil. Of course, the problem with this is twofold: first, the oil that would be imported would be Saudi oil, since as Taranto claims the low-cost oil is still that from the Arabian peninsula. Increasing the price of oil increases profits to firms. The US left has been hostile to increasing oil profits. Second and relatedly, a tariff on oil diverts funds from oil companies for exploration to government. I am not sanguine that those funds would be used efficiently in research and development of alternative energy sources.

(Side note: I showed this interview between Neil Cavuto on Fox's Your Money show with Lee Raymond of ExxonMobil to my class yesterday. I thought it was one of the best interviews I'd seen in a long time. One can learn a great deal about the oil business from it, and Cavuto, though sympathetic to Raymond, was thorough in his questioning.)

People naturally are led by prices to choose the most efficient method of transportation. As prices rise for oil and gasoline, individuals and firms are led to find other means of transportation, or to create more efficient automobiles. (As pointed out here, firms are already looking into cars that burn hybrid fuels that are efficient when the price of gasoline reaches $4-5 per barrel.) But politicians fear the electoral consequences of rising prices for staple goods; telling others to wear a sweater sounds so much better.

Gagged on Ward 

There is a deliberate and malicious attempt of DePaul University to gag its campus' College Republicans from any protest of an appearance there by Ward Churchill. Andrew Marcus has been tracking the case and reports two distinct attacks on the CRs: a change in the rules on flyers which allowed its student life office to reject a set of questioning flyers to be posted around the campus; and a change by its Cultural Center to exclude the CRs from a separate meeting time for student groups with Churchill.

This is a brazen attempt to chill dissent on the DePaul campus to avoid any conflict over Churchill's visit to the campus. What kind of campus does one run when one invites controversial speakers and then attempts to squelch controversy? To understand the outrageousness of these acts, imagine if someone had banned, say, College Democrats at the University of Hawaii from a presentation by David Horowitz.

(h/t: PowerLine.)

Why pay smart kids to go to college? 

This morning's Chronicle of Higher Education contains an article (subscriber link) reporting on the College Board's 2005 editions of Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid. (Those reports are freely available.) One highlight of the latter report is the increasing use of merit-based student aid.

At the news conference, many higher-education officials criticized institutions that offer merit-based aid because, they said, the incentive tends to benefit students who would make it through college anyway.

By essentially paying smart students to attend a particular college, those institutions waste money that could be used to help students who really need it, said Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, agreed.

"We have reached an indefensible point where a low-income, high-ability student is no more likely to attend college than a low-ability, high-income student," he said. "Institutions need to get their houses in order."

Is there any reason to pay smart students to attend your college? Sure, since the revenue the school receives from a student continues through the alumni-university relationship. This matters in two ways. First, the parents of wealthy students become a source of contributions, either directly or indirectly through the student's inheritance. Secondly, there is evidence in the economics of education literature (for example, see Baade and Sundberg) that the quality of the institution matters for gaining donations from alums. So if you have attracted better students through a merit-based scholarship, you can advertise that to your alums to get more gifts.

The other aspect of this discussion is that benefits accrue to middle- and higher-income families through the tax system (for education tax credits and deductions, and the tax-preferred status of 529 plans) because they pay the taxes. I find it highly unlikely that universities want these tax preferences ended; they simply want more of the federal budget thrown into Pell grants and other federal need-based aid, which allows them to increase headline tuition prices further.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I'm a he 

A job candidate for a position in ethnic studies at a university gets an education:

Earlier that evening, I had met with undergraduates in the humanities program sponsoring the fellowship. My faculty guide led me into a comfortable room in the Multicultural/LGBT Student Center, where about 12 students were gathered around open boxes of pizza and bottles of soda on a coffee table. A few looked up and smiled at me, and my faculty escort called one of them over and introduced her.

"Leslie, this is Dr. Haladay from the University of California. I'll leave her to speak with all of you until around 7:30, then I'll come and take her over to the job talk."

"OK," said Leslie, a pale young woman with short black hair and Buddy Holly glasses. "Nice to meet you, Dr. Haladay. Should we start off by introducing ourselves?"

Leslie asked the students to assemble in a circle and told them what was happening. "OK, we're starting with introductions, everybody, so why don't we all say our name, our year in school, our major, and our pronoun. I'll start."

Emphasis added. The writer -- who is a she -- goes on to describe the bathroom.

After meeting with the students, I had a short break before my job talk. I asked Leslie, "Is there a restroom I might use?" She pointed me around the corner. There was only one door so I knew it had to be the bathroom. But there was no universal icon of a male with two stick legs or a female with a triangle dress demarcating the water closet here. No words announcing "Men," "Women," "Unisex," "Other," or "All of the Above." Nothing as simple, even, as the words "Restroom," "Toilet," "Facilities," or "Loo."

Instead, there was a plaque inscribed with a block of prose in rather small writing explaining the gendered politics of the public toilet. I wish I had written down the exact wording, although that might have looked a little strange. It said something about antiquated iconography, dialectical challenges embedded in the politics of public spaces, and the matrix of gay, lesbian, trans- and cross-gendered, intersex, and otherly abled identities. It also said something about washing your hands thoroughly and limiting your use of paper towels.

And as a he, I'd've simply walked outside and looked for a shrub.

Knowing your weakness 

Yesterday's First Person column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a younger faculty member who wonders if he wants too much to indoctrinate his students.
Most of the time, there is nothing wrong with using our power to influence students' judgments -- after all, we need to get students to learn the truth. But we all know that this power gets abused. There is a continuum that runs from cultivating in students a healthy desire to know, through instilling certain cultural and intellectual tastes, to taking advantage of their openmindedness by feeding them the ideological catchphrases that rest like foam atop our considered opinions. It's easy to slide along that continuum, as the line separating education from indoctrination is poorly defined.

But we should learn to recognize indoctrination when we see it. In graduate school, I once overheard one teaching assistant tell another that she wanted to try to make her students into liberals before it was too late. Now, I think that having a few more liberals around, especially if they were strategically placed in swing states, would be a great thing for the republic. So in one sense, I sympathize with that TA. But I also know that to make students into liberals is an essentially illiberal act.
It is hard to get students to read current affairs; I have for years assigned my students daily reading of financial papers. Because of the editorial page slant of the WSJ I don't force that choice on students -- though it has the best coverage and a good educational discount price -- and I do put current event questions on exams that probably come from WSJ because that's what I read. What part of that is "influencing students' judgment"?

Recognizing that making students into liberals or conservatives is an illiberal act is the first step in recognizing the obligation that comes with the opportunity to "influence students' judgments". I don't see that obligation taken seriously very often.

People clueless on the concept 

We have parking permits on campus. You would think that means you have a right to park in your designated parking spot, especially when it's busy around here. I guess not. From today's campus email:
In order to accommodate the many prospective students and their families who will be visiting our campus on Thursday, October 20th and Friday, October 21st, Public Safety will not enforce parking on these two days.

We've had "Year of the Student" and I guess now it's "Year of the Parents Who Can Afford A Day Off to Drive to Campus and Give Us Tuition Money." I can't wait until the university declares "Year of the Employee".

UPDATE: A couple of loyal readers think giving away parking spaces paid for by employees is part of customer service. The university notoriously has done a lousy job providing parking to visitors. But the fee for students, faculty and staff, at $200+, is supposed to pay completely for parking lot maintenance and improvement, per MnSCU regulation (see here, for example). So the university, at its discretion, is putting a cost of its student recruitment program onto present students and employees. Does your boss ask you to help pay for advertising?

Monday, October 17, 2005

It could be worse 

We hear from the newspaper, but not from our union until later in the day, that our faculty union and the state have agreed to the contract. If we could just find out what the hell they agreed to. I saw a dean with a markup copy this afternoon before I went to the doctor, but I was in no mood or condition to ask for a peek.

It could be worse: You could be a mechanic for Northwest. The American Mechanics Fraternal Association may insist it's not a sellout, but as Monty's Bluff notes, they've gone from saving 2300 jobs and paying 32 weeks of severance to the ones who are let go, to saving 1200 jobs and 16 weeks severance to now 500 jobs and four weeks.

The AMFA: Dead, and too stupid to lie down.

Sick day 

The thing I thought was flu turns out to be a sinus infection and the last forty-eight hours have been just miserable. Included in this was an injudicious trip to Litchfield and the Nelson Farm and Pumpkin Patch. The only thing that made the trip worthwhile was giggling at my cellphone reporting the Vikings loss and watching the trebuchet launch a good-sized pumpkin about 150 feet into the air and about 200 yards away. The thud was quite incredible.

So, I've taken the afternoon off. Meanwhile, go start the series of posts Chad the Elder is offering to describe eighteen myths about public education. You should follow them all week. I'll need to hope the antibiotics permit me to the mythbuster on NARN Saturday.

That's just uncanny 

Foot blasts Flash 3-0, again!

Meanwhile, yours truly cashed the Bear-Panther parlay.

Let's play two 

(Crossposted at The Sports Economist.)

The podcast last week was so much fun that we're doing it again. There will be a Radioeconomics Live Podcast on The Economics of the World Series at 10/20/2005 9AM EDT. Phil and John and I will be at it again, for about an hour. Go here to the meeting room around the time of the show to join in a chat and ask us questions while we're on.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Maybe the trade deficit wasn't that bad? 

Brad Setser has a very interesting point to make about our trade deficit. After you factor in oil prices, the news looks quite good.

Year to date, non-oil imports are up by 10.4%, that is, non-oil imports through august 2005 are 10.4% higher than imports through august in 2005. But all that growth reflects a surge in imports (a huge surge) at the end of last year.

Non-oil goods and services imports in January: $144.2 billion

Non-oil goods and services imports in August: $144.6 billion

If only the US petroleum import bill (seasonally adjusted) had not increased from $16.6 to $22.6 during the same period ...

August exports were over 12% higher than August exports a year ago, and August non-oil imports were only 7% higher than a year ago. If that is sustained, such a differential would be enough to at least stabilize the non-oil trade deficit.

Which means as well that as oil prices stabilize from here, the trade deficit should begin to shrink. And China's trade surplus is beginning to shrink?

Are you sure this isn't The Onion? 

And I thought our celebration of Columbus Day was bad. From the University of New Hampshire's student newspaper, a commentary:
The holiday has been celebrated on various dates throughout the world, but here it will be observed on Monday.

In one second-grade classroom in Springfield, Penn., for example, Judith Bloomfield teaches one of her favorite lessons, the story of Columbus' discovery of the New World.

"Did you know Columbus is personally responsible for the oppression and misery of thousands of natives of the Caribbean?" asked the teacher. The students, all energetic young children roughly seven or eight years old, ooh and ahh in amazement. The class was similarly impressed and delighted to learn that, in addition to "Sailing the Ocean Blue" in 1492, Columbus also "Murdered By the Score" in Fourteen-Hundred Ninety-Four.

"I want to be an explorer when I grow up! Maybe there are Martians I could put into forced-labor settlements and cow with my superior technology and ruthlessness?" one student said while discussing Columbus' many merits.
(h/t: reader Roger Lewis.)


While I'm not a big fan of surveys of consumer sentiment in predicting recessions, today's University of Michigan Survey paints a pretty bleak picture. The sentiment index will undoubtedly move the index of leading economic indicators negative. The paragraph that caught my eye, however, was that on inflation:
Consumers expected an inflation rate of 4.3% during the year ahead in September, a substantial jump from the 3.1% recorded in August, and the highest inflation rate expected since 1990. More than one-third of all consumers reported that their financial situation had worsened, with one-in-four households citing higher prices as the prime reason. More importantly, in the September survey consumers held the least favorable financial prospects for the year ahead in more than a decade. "Just one-third of all consumers in the September survey expected their financial situation to improve during the year ahead," noted Curtin.
There is no way to varnish that into good news.

Post of the week 

If you want to understand the contributions of Nobel laureates Schelling and Aumann, you can read a summary of several posts from Bill Polley. There are parts of game theory in many subfields in economics -- in my own area, fiscal and monetary policy coordination and government-union interactions are well described with game theoretic notions. But does it get us to the real work of economics, to provide for explanation and prediction?

I'm a little more optimistic of game theory than many of those in Bill's post. Remember, the story of free-market economics is that institutions form that allow us to expand the circle of potential transactors. People find ways to "do business" with others in a way that is cooperative. Cooperative games are a neat way to illustrate how the circle expands. Will it generate "testable hypotheses"? I don't know, but it can give us some powerful metaphors.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

We won't get fooled again 

It's Homecoming Week here at SCSU and after last year's festivities nobody is going to screw up Homecoming this year. New rules have been laid down: you don't vote for King or Queen anymore, you vote for Royalty. And they will crown the top four finishers. To further dilute the chances of odd voting, the University Programming Board has created an online voting system, so that 2600 votes are cast rather than the 750 last year. (We have about 16,000 students by headcount.)

So we're down to worrying only about the usual drinking and noise ordinance arrests on the South Side.
This weekend, campus officers will be coordinating their efforts with St. Cloud police officers.

St. Cloud State has a code of conduct that dictates university penalties for violations committed on campus.

Depending on the severity of the act, a student can be penalized for off-campus violations, as well.

Walking down the street with a beer won't put a student in front of the campus judicial affairs officer. Fighting with a police officer, selling or distributing alcohol to minors, burglary and offenses on that level will, said BernaDette Wilson, associate vice president of student life and development.

"We have to start prioritizing because we only have one person hearing cases," she said.
Which sounds to me like a license to walk down the street with a beer. The local forecast has little rain in it and highs Saturday in the 60s. Should be a hot time in the old town tomorrow night.

Quick question 

Why does Nevada have no private colleges or universities? I noticed this in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscriber link). (Though I think Sierra Nevada College is on the Nevada side of the line on Lake Tahoe.)

Podcasting NOW!!! 

Go here to visit Radioeconomics for an interview of me with Phil Miller and John Palmer.

UPDATE: Just got off; you can hear the Breeze broadcast here to replay what happened. There's a screen for chat there that I didn't watch while I was on, that appears to display the chat in sync with the audio.

UPDATE2: Click here then the title of the post to get the MP3.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No Fair Tax 

It's interesting to me that the government has rejected the idea of a national sales tax or "fair tax" by use of an apples-to-oranges comparison. As Andrew Chamberlain notes from the report,
Using Treasury Department data, panel member Ed Lazear, a Stanford University professor and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, estimated that a national sales-tax rate would need to range between 64% and 87% in order to replace revenues from the corporate and personal income tax while preserving exemptions on drugs, food, clothing and other goods and services typically excluded from state sales taxes.
But Fair Tax proponents have explicitly stated that they would not exclude those from taxation, providing instead a rebate equivalent to essential purchases. The proponents have figured the rate at 23%; I recall other estimates running in the 33-40% range, but again I think those would have allowed some deductibility for

The tax panel is instead looking to cap deductibility of employer-paid benefits and of home mortgage interest. Chamberlain notes that this would "allow dramatic across-the-board reductions in [tax] rates". So they would rather broaden the base on the income tax, and by comparison Lazear narrows the base for the sales tax to make his point. Hardly a fair comparison.

(h/t: my student John Lorenzini, who is blogging himself for SCSU's Investment Club)

Writing is rewriting 

The Cranky Professor finds few takers on his offers to rewrite papers.
I'm finishing up marking rewrites of a paper for one of my classes; out of the 12 folks who chose to submit a rewrite only 2 significantly rewrote their papers. The rest corrected marked errors (sometimes introducing new errors!). One tires of explicitness. A rewrite involves a new writing of the paper, not responding to proofreading remarks.

That last sentence needs to go into my syllabus for teaching the senior capstone. Students in that class are required to rewrite. I'm thinking of changing the labels to the class. I've thought about the structure of this class every time I teach it -- I'm due again next academic year -- and I too get little "new writing of the paper" between the two drafts. I have found that using a template for what I want helps some, but, be it senior-itis or laziness or incomprehension, the final draft and the penultimate draft look quite similar, down to seeing the same exact page in both drafts in half the projects.

I can't remember where I learned this trick, but I tried it once: Take a paper you've written with which you feel some vague dissatisfaction. Remove every other word. Set aside for 48 hours, and then repair. That paper got a lot better. Indeed, it got published.

Another one I do with students whose papers I don't like is ask them to read their papers aloud to me. "Do you think that sounds like you?" "What do you think you just said? Here's what I heard." (I'm sure English professors do this all the time -- I can assure you few economics profs do.) I don't do this often because students feel humiliated by the experience, but sometimes there's no other way to get through to the student that what they've written is incomprehensible.

Whatever it is you do after graduation, I tell them, you will write and you will rewrite. Learn both skills, and you'll do well.

Taking my show on the road 

Thanks to Skip Sauer and Phil Miller, I've been invited to post at The Sports Economist. All the good names in the economics of sports field are there, and you can come read my first post over there, about TwinDomes. (h/t: Eva.)

We like money, we don't like the military 

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has weighed in on Rumsfeld v. FAIR, a case about to be heard before the Supreme Court. They argue that it's hypocritical to take millions of federal dollars and bar recruiters from campuses. Rumsfeld v Fair is a case about the Solomon Amendment, which requires the recruiters to be on campus as long as the school gets federal aid. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Solomon unconstitutional. Harvard has already relented and permitted recruiters, pending the results of this case. As I noted earlier, if these schools have a real strong reason to oppose the military, all they need to do is send back the money.

Another bias study 

Applying a technique we've seen in other studies, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture has studied nine elite law schools and nine elite journalism schools and finds that on average, the ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans is about 7:1.
Two schools we surveyed, Columbia Journalism School and Stanford Law School, maintain only a single registered Republican on their faculties. Berkeley Journalism School does not employ a single one. In a survey of 18 elite Journalism and Law schools we found 74 Republicans and 494 Democrats. ...

The facts suggest that some applications of the term �conservative� to law schools in particular is not based in any empirical evidence. Among faculty whose party affiliation we were able to identify, the supposedly �liberal� Harvard University Law School counts 45 Democrats and only 7 Republicans for a ratio of roughly 6.5 to 1. On the other hand, the supposedly �conservative� University of Chicago Law School has 55 Democrats to 8 Republicans for a ratio of roughly 6.9 to 1.
It should be noted that there were only registrations for little more than half of the faculty surveyed. This study is not as scholarly as the Rothman study, but given that it corroborates two other studies as well as the Rothman study, it adds to the robustness of these studies.

FootFlash Football Festival, Week 5 

The plot thickens. I have now selected 12 games, and Learned Foot has picked ten correctly. Anoka Flash, unfortunately, has only chosen four winners. As I understand this Festival, that puts Flash six "beers" behind Foot, or about twenty minutes of consumption based on my knowledge of LF.

I've got a short board to work with as two games carry no lines due to injured quarterbacks (and, oh ye fantasy football gods, why the two QBs I have on my fantasy football teams?!?). But I can create a theme week here because there are good division games. Let's get to them.
  1. NYJets @ Buffalo (-3). Speaking of fantasy QBs, which one of you drafted Kelly Holcomb and Vinny Testaverde? It's a division that everyone is still in for now, and the Jets rebounded from the loss of Chad Pennington by taking the ageless Testaverde to a tough win against the Bucs last week. Buffalo has been terrible on the road but pretty darn good at home. The FG indicates the teams are probably about even.
  2. San Diego (-2) @ Oakland. The Bolts lose a tough game against the Steelers on Monday night and now have to go up the coast to play a team coming off the bye. (Indeed, they get a bunch of teams off byes on their schedule. Can I still get $10 on the under for the Bolts' season wins? Oakland needs this game to have any hope of contending this year, and a loss might push Norv Turner ahead of Mike Tice in the First Off the Plank Party. Speaking of Tice...
  3. Minnesota @ Chicago (-3). Oh c'mon, if we can put any Viking game on the schedule, this is the one. With a week off for practicing pillaging, the Vikings come in with a 1-3 record, good enough to be only one back in the NFC Worthless. The Bears sport the same record, and their defense looked only so-so against the Browns. Bears have won three of last four at home vs. the Vikings, but they haven't covered the number the last two weeks.
Let's see if the Foot can continue his dominance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Is this the Minnesota we've come to? 

In 1974 I toured Romania as a high school chorus member. I went to buy some beautiful sheet music for violin from a music store in Bucharest. I went to one station to find the number of the music, a second station to determine whether they had the music in stock and receive an invoice, a third to pay the invoice, and a fourth to buy the music. In the States I bought music by picking out what I wanted and paying for it. This, I thought, was due to socialism.

In 1996, living in Ukraine, I went to a state store to buy cheese. I could walk right up and see the cheese. I got an invoice, went to a second line to pay for it, and then came to a third station where someone sliced and packaged my cheese. Three stations rather than four. This, I thought, was due to economic transition from socialism.

Today, suffering from a pretty bad head cold, I went to my local Walgreens to buy DayQuil. For five minutes I look at the cold remedies. Plenty of shelves of NyQuil, but no DayQuil. Nearby I see a tagboard with the names of a variety of cold meds, including DayQuil. I take a tag with DayQuil on it, and it says go to the pharmacist. I do, and hand them my tag. They page someone to help find DayQuil in back; they have not yet adjusted to the new law and don't have shelf space for all the medications they must now store behind the counter. They hand me my DayQuil, which I take up front and purchase.

This is capitalism?

A couple of interesting economists, and me 

I've been invited to participate in a live audio discussion on the economics of education and economic education with John Palmer and Phil Miller. Festivities start at 8am CT this Thursday and should run for about an hour. This is the first time we've had a podcast go live. The details are at Radio Economics. Our thanks to Jim Reese for making this possible; he is also setting up an online meeting room using Breeze, and by this we can answer questions listeners have. Click the Radio Economics link for all the details.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Columbus Day from SCSU 

(Updated with photos and re-timestamped.)

Unlike many schools, we do not celebrate Columbus Day. Indeed, it's considered in poor form to even mention it. Unless, of course, you mean to protest it.

About an hour ago Scholar Jack called me and said he saw a small flyer in his office/classroom building that was advertising a rally against Columbus Day. I met Jack and a student on the mall and they showed me a flyer that had a picture of two nooses hanging off a crossbeam. Another poster read "Come see how Columbus Day should be celebrated and come to the SCSU American Indian Center parking lot at 12:00, Oct 10th and march with us to Atwood Mall where this murder [sic] will be... Executed!" The smaller poster -- which I no longer have, as we passed it on to a member of the administration for investigation -- suggested the use of pinatas and effigies. I am unsure who sponsored the event, though one of the flyers mentions the "Pagan Alliance" and has an email address. (I'm not going to give it out.) On the mall, we find a sign that says

Christopher Columbus to be strung up and beat [sic] with a stick until dead

This looks like fun, I think, so Jack and the student and I agree to wait for the festivities.

Sure enough, about 12:15 we see a group of 10-15 people, some in hoods and bandannas making them unidentifiable, pulling a wagon where a figure was tied up.

They came to the mall and, after much trouble, managed to put up a rope over a lamppost arm. They then read something, which nobody could hear as the Homecoming activities this week were going on at the time and the music drowned out the unamplified "rebel". They hang the effigy of what was to be Columbus (and if you didn't get the flyers or stand real close to the kid, you had no idea what they were doing),

and they let a kid beat the pinata with a stick multiple times. The mother is standing to the side, urging her child to swing again, harder. The kid tires, and the older sister takes over. Eventually some kind of candy comes out. Cheering from the gaggle, a mild scramble for whatever fell out -- which didn't seem like much more than hard candies and lots of paper -- and they are done within fifteen minutes.

I'd like to have a word with that mom about parenting. Ma'am, the object of childrearing is to teach your children to react to things they find objectionable by some means short of swinging a stick. Your kids had a great time today, and I'm pleased you're able to get them to school to join you (I assume they're off for the holiday?) but I do hope you haven't just passed a message to them that violence is OK. If you think that's over the top, I bet you can't wait for public executions to be shown on Court TV. Pass the popcorn.

The protest to me looked like a feel-good exercise for the people who organized it. It had almost no attendance (besides me, there were three other people taking pictures either for a photo-j class or the UTVS camerapeople), the only way to know what was happening was to line up around the poster, which was difficult to do while kids are swinging sticks. It was puerile, futile, and ineffective. But at least you got to celebrate Columbus Day. The kids in classrooms did not.

So what do you think of this Miers pick, King? 

My answer: I have no idea. I guess I'm supposed to have one, but I don't. I find compelling arguments from both the Chillin' and the Illin'. But one thought that did strike me was that it made this Economist story look pretty prescient, written a few days before the Miers pick. It describes tensions in the conservative movement, including "conservatives of faith v conservatives of doubt", "insurgent v. establishment" conservatives and "business v religious" conservatives. What I think we're finding is that Miers isn't necessarily a standard-bearer for the faith, insurgent, religious conservatives but that these groups are seen by the other side as having the upper hand for so long, and those are the groups that are defending her. Chances are as well that few of them show up at events like those that Robert Novak or John Fund are invited to.

The rebuttal to those critics is usually that the religious/insurgent/faith groups are what elected Bush and thus they are owed these selections. Assuming that in a second term Bush is able to cater to his own preferences, and if he is to be considered as on those sides of the divides, the Miers nomination and the administration's intransigence towards its critics seems to fit.


The lede of this story on the possibility of Mesaba airlines going into bankruptcy is that Mesaba put too many eggs in one basket.
The first three weeks of the Northwest bankruptcy have not been kind to Pinnacle and Mesaba Airlines, the "regional carriers" that operate under the "Northwest Airlink" banner. Memphis-based Pinnacle and Mesaba are independent companies with a highly dependent business plan: Their schedule, revenue, and aircraft come from one place -- Northwest Airlines.
The schedule now is being pinched, and newer planes scheduled for delivery from NWA (a/k/a Norwegians With Attitude) are now being postponed. And NWA owes Mesaba's parent company Mair Holdings $28 million, on which its payment is late.

There are many flights that spread through the rest of Minnesota and the upper Midwest through these independent airlines, and many places are investing time and money to improve their regional airports to take more traffic. I seldom drive to MSP any more as the price of the round-trip addition to come up to St. Cloud is $70. As well, there is a large problem for these airlines when they have a monopolist airline able to jack around the schedule, as has happened already in Aberdeen.

You do have to wonder about a strategy where you put all your eggs in one basket, but given the difficulty of getting competition into regional airports, you may have little choice. If Mesaba does file bankruptcy, regional air travellers may have even less.

Schelling and Aumann win Nobel 

Tyler Cowen presents an excellent review of Thomas Schelling's work which won him a Nobel Prize this morning along with Robert Aumann. I remember having to read Micromotives and Macrobehavior as a student and enjoying it greatly. Cowen points out that Schelling has done much more than game theory, but that book is what I remember best.

I admit I never have heard of Robert Aumann before because, I guess, I don't work much in game theory. Here's a recent interview.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A few notes from the road 

I note that both Flash and Foot have made their picks of my games, and there are two games that can potentially swing. So it could be we wake up Monday and find LF with a slim two game lead, or that Flash will be picking some real upsets to overcome a six-game bulge. One note: it was 2002 when the Patriots last lost two games in a row.

Strom needs to sue LF for trademark infringement. That picture with the cigar has to be the new campaign picture, right?

The hardest thing today was trying to watch the game with the sound off, and keeping my mouth shut through three freakin popups with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. From then on I paid more attention to the workshop. I will be here tomorrow cheering the Angels in a local bar, as I still have one team to root for: whoever is playing the Yankees.

Sat to dinner with four of the smartest people I know. Only one of us really knew all of the other four; two of them were near strangers to me, but moved to the head of the smart list in a damned hurry. Debates over the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression, student visa policy, and what country has the most corrupt cops were three topics (another friend joined in the latter two).

And someone else paid the bill. Life gets no better than that.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Gone conferencing 

I'm listening to papers at a fascinating conference today, so interesting that I'm not in the mood to blog today. And it's 80 degrees! I'll write later if I feel like it and have a connection.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Gray, drippy, crappy 

No, not another post about Non-Monkey. (Go see the non-monkey on your right if you don't get that.) Just describing the fact that I had to skip over my Red Sox pullover and grab the quilted Celtics jacket. 38 degrees and blustery and gray. Actually pretty normal for us, Stephen. Mrs. S is pulling in the tomatoes today. Lucky for me, I've a plane ticket out tonight. See you tomorrow from someplace warmer.

What do you mean by "computers in the classroom"? 

I don't find this at all surprising:
"There have been no advances over the past decade that can be confidently attributed to broader access to computers," said Stanford University professor of education Larry Cuban in 2001, summarizing the existing research on educational computing. "The link between test-score improvements and computer availability and use is even more contested." Part of the problem, Cuban pointed out, is that many computers simply go unused in the classroom. But more recent research, including a University of Munich study of 174,000 students in thirty-one countries, indicates that students who frequently use computers perform worse academically than those who use them rarely or not at all.
Output requires not only inputs but their employment in proper combinations. That requires entrepreneurs interested in maximizing economic efficiency. Computers in a classroom require teachers skilled in their use for education; computers used at home are often used for playing games or chatting. Making a child work in front of Encarta or Britannica Online are passe; Littlest Scholar does her "computer schoolwork" using Google. I see no reason to believe that is somehow going to enhance her performance in the classroom.

My teacher-readers -- please comment on this. LS's school is in need of computers, but when I asked why, the request was for replacing worn-out CD drives. Now that struck me as interesting; the Internet isn't the issue. What kinds of software are used? I wonder if the tests discussed in the quote were done separately for those for whom computer use=Internet search and those for whom computer use=teaching software, we might get a different result. But I really don't know.

Thoughts for a former student 

Liz, we pray for your comfort in lonely times. When you need something, just write.

FootFlash Football Festival, Week 4 

I guess I better get this up; somebody's impatient to lose.

The boys both went 2-1 last week after picking the Pats, Colts and Packers. The Patriots gassed, the Colts romped. This puts Learned Foot at 7-2 through three weeks of picking -- a record good enough for a 1-900 phone number to sell advice for $25 a pick to obsessive losers (non-stalking division) -- while Flash is 3-6, a prognostication record as good as those Ivy League lawyers picking Supreme Court justices.

We'll lay off the huge number in the schedule this week (the Niners are a 15 point home dog) and try for intrigue. This week, no intriguing lines. This week, it's all about the defense.
  1. Chicago at Cleveland (-3) -- A week after proclaiming them the favorites in the NFC Worthless, the Bears are back to earth and getting a FG from the Browns. Browns have beaten the Packers in Green Bay, which no longer has any cachet, but they also have Trent Dilfer and the cast of unknowns. A game where the QBs are Dilfer and Kyle Orton. Somewhere Pete Rozelle is lighting up another heater.
  2. Baltimore at Detroit (-1) -- So Mooch gets Jeff Garcia, who has been as useful as Jerry with his injury, and so he's stuck with Joey Harrington. It could be worse: You could have Kyle Boller. The total on this game is 33; don't let your kids watch this one. But we'll make Foot and Flash deal with the carnage.
  3. New England at Atlanta (-3) -- Here's the game everyone will watch. Minnesotans watched Atlanta run all over the Vikings, but the Vikes played like a team that thought the bye had already started. (Thanks Vikes -- I made $40 off you Sunday.) Everyone is saying how banged up the defense was, how LaDainian Tomlinson ran roughshod through them. BTW, the next time someone calls him LT, I'm going Theisman on their legs. Is this the end of the Patriots' run, or is Atlanta about to be the other side of the trap game of the week?
Enjoy those, boys!

Students ask the darnedest things 

Every faculty member has a list like this of questions students ask of professors. Read the comments for more offerings from other professors. I retell a story the chair of the department when I was hired. He tells of a young woman who broke her leg and was unable to even use crutches during finals week. He had a policy of no makeups and was unsympathetic on the phone. On the day of the final, she is carried in by a strapping male student and placed at her desk. She takes the exam, calls for the student, and he comes in and carries her away.

That's the reputation I'd like to have.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

That 70's Energy Policy 

I just love the banner. Features today a piece by Glenn Reynolds that covers some of the topics covered here and here on gas gouger taxes and supply curves.
Unfortunately, while high gas prices bring back memories of the 1970s, the policy solutions that some people are bringing forth seem about as dated as shag carpets and leisure suits.

Maybe not such a good idea 

FIRE has decided to protest a section of a freshman comp class at Arizona State that is for Native Americans only.
A flyer addressed to �Native American Students� states that they �are invited to enroll in special Native American sections of ENG 101 and 102.� It also discusses some of the differences between the special sections and the �standard First Year Composition classes,� making it clear that the special sections offer a different educational experience.

�These sections don�t allow non-Native American students to be part of the unique learning experience they provide,� remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE�s director of legal and public advocacy. �If ASU believes that some Native Americans may benefit from a different kind of writing course, surely the same goes for students of other backgrounds.�
ASU previously had a Navajo history course that was similarly restricted. The history case was pretty clear -- there's no pedagogical reason for teaching the course differently between Native American and white students -- but is there one for freshman composition? If Native American students were to come out of schools that taught English differently, you might think of these special sections as being like an ESL course. (Can I say that?)

Responsibility yes, authority no 

Reader Tim Slade thinks more should be made of Peggy Noonan's column last week. I agree, it should be required reading to understand the difference between arguing who has controlling authority in case of, say, a hurricane and who is responsible. Money quote:
Last week I quoted Gerald Ford: "The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." I was talking about money. But it applies also to personal freedom, to the rights of the individual, including his right to do something stupid as long as it's legal, like swimming.

Government has real duties in disaster. Maintaining the peace is a primary one. But if we demand that our government protect us from all the weather all the time, if we demand that it protect us from rain and hail, if we make government and politicians pay a terrible price for not getting us out of every flood zone and rescuing us from every wave, we're going to lose a lot more than we gain. If we give government all authority then we are giving them all power.

And we will not only lose the right to be crazy, we'll lose the right to be sane.

...It is hard for governments to be responsible, and take responsibility. It takes real talent, and guts. But authority? That's easier. Pass the law and get the cuffs.
She also discusses the media coverage. Also noted at the Acton Institute's Power blog.

SC Times to lose its editor 

The local paper today announced (quietly, buried in the business page) that Susan Ihne, its executive editor, is leaving for an editorship in Asheville, NC. Her husband, who has given the Times a Web presence, is also going to the Asheville Citizen-Times to create a similar online presence. I've met them both and liked them, and wish them well in their new positions. It will be interesting to see who replaces them at the Times.

A new SCSU blogger 

This blog has existed three years and I've long waited for someone else on campus to get into the game. At last, Frankie Condon, who directs our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has created Table, Hearth, and Commons. She's pretty far apart from me on the political spectrum, as you can see even with her first two posts, but her disagreements are always offered with grace. I'll end up looking like the grumpy Gus.

Good luck, Frankie!

UPDATE: Some members of our Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science and Earth Sciences department are also blogging. (Fixed the name of the department -- no Earth Science there, though they do mention Bob's weather forecast.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Old tax in new oil drums 

I thank Gary Miller and all at KvM for the opportunity to post on their site, and hope to be invited to write more some day as a very important election in Minnesota will likely turn on economic ideas. What's below is a cross-post of what was posted there.

Back in my college days, one of my first brushes with government policy was hearing President Jimmy Carter talk about the "moral equivalent of war". Energy was running out, and we needed to conserve. Over the following three years Carter returned over and over to the theme that we needed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It culminated, in 1979, with his "Crisis of Confidence" speech, in which he sought to use massive amounts of tax dollars to finding alternative energy sources.
To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this effort to replace 2-1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation I will issue up to $5 billion in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be in small denominations so that average Americans can invest directly in America's energy security.

Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.

These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans. These funds will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.

Sound familiar? Yes, nowadays you even hear calls for gasohol -- ethanol, biomass -- from our Republican friends. But the windfall profits tax was instituted by the Democratic Congress and signed by Carter in 1980, and stayed in place until 1987. As James Glassman notes, a 1990 Congressional Research Service report told us that economic theory works: If you tax profits earned by firms from higher oil prices, they have fewer incentives to explore for more oil.
"The WPT reduced domestic oil production between 3 and 6 percent, and increased oil imports from between 8 and 16 percent," says the report. "This made the U.S. more dependent upon imported oil."
Fast forward to 2005. Gas prices are rising dramatically and the increases are causing people to reduce consumption on other goods. And politicians respond to economic pain by promising that the consequences of the market can be avoided. For example, our own senatorial candidate Amy Klobuchar:
It�s bad enough that the big oil companies have the audacity to gouge consumers when the chips are down. But higher gas prices ripple through the economy in a way that affects us all. When the cost of energy goes up, families have less money to meet mortgage or college payments. Businesses cannot invest in creating new jobs. And for seniors scraping by on a fixed income, it can mean having to make terrible choices between necessities like food and medicine.

I'm for free enterprise, but I am not for price gouging. That�s why I�m proposing to create a �Gas Gougers Penalty.� Under my plan, any oil company that gouges customers, whether from a natural disaster or under any other circumstance, will have to pay a substantial penalty into a national trust fund. We can then use that trust fund to help our citizens meet the cost of high energy bills and to wean our nation from foreign oil by investing in renewable energy sources like wind, ethanol, and other forms of biomass.
Looks familiar? Looks Carteresque? The similarities are striking. She's not the only one, of course -- there is already legislation proposed by Senator Bryan Dorgan of North Dakota for a tax on windfall profits, defined as any earnings over $40 a barrel. At least Dorgan is willing to send the money back to taxpayers. Klobuchar wants to use it for an industrial policy to pursue green energy alternatives.

As I noted yesterday, markets are mechanisms which allocate resources to their highest-valued use, and seek lowest-cost alternatives to providing goods and services to consumers. Klobuchar not only wants to tax oil companies out of exploration for new sources of oil and gas, but she thinks she can pick the right technologies among the many alternative technologies available. A key to understanding how the market system works, as I noted last summer, is that ours is a profit-and-loss system. Losses are needed to discourage the development of inefficient technologies. There is nothing that will assure us that tax revenues Klobuchar's tax would generate would go to the efficient technologies -- indeed, we do not know if there are any efficient green technologies not already developed. (I'd say there aren't any, but energy policy is full of so many subsidies and excise taxes that we can't be sure what would be efficient if all those were removed.)

What we do know is that these taxes gain a good bit of popular support. (Note that the second poll is for Kudlow and Co., a show with a center-right viewership.) It always sounds good to tax someone else, and to call it a "windfall" or a tax on "gougers" gives it a patina of equity. But such taxes have been tried in the past and found wanting. Klobuchar's gas gougers tax is an old idea whose time came and should have went quietly. We should not make the mistake again.

Uneconomic additive 

I consider it the duty of the Scholars to correct MOBsters who perform bad economic analysis. It is rare that I must exercise this duty, but recently Republican Minnesota (not currently a MOBster but may request membership at some time) showed a need to revisit his principles class. He first poses the problem:
By the 2006 elections, our party will have had control of the House, Senate, and White House for four solid years with some success. During the same time we�ve seen Bush�s approvals tank, record oil prices and the big I-word looming on the horizon. Not exactly the ideal environment for reelection.
OK, and I guess the I-word is inflation, though I'm not sure. It's not clear that higher oil prices will lead to greater inflation -- they needn't, if the Fed continues to pursue its aggressive monetary policy -- but let's assume it will. It will not matter much in off-year elections, as there is little evidence that inflation affects Congressional voting. So while inflation isn't an ideal environment, it shouldn't matter much.

Oil prices? Yes, I suppose voters could punish incumbents for that, and maybe Republicans more than Democrats. I'll stipulate to the point: What do you think we should do about it?
Sadly, most Republicans treat the potential energy crisis as the elephant in the room (pun intended).
What "potential energy crisis"? Two hurricanes? Maybe you'd like to spend that money on a storm-killing device. Let me say this slo-o-o-owly. Rising prices for a product in short supply after a natural disaster isn't an energy crisis. It's solving an energy crisis by letting prices allocate goods and services.
The one Republican tackling energy head on is Gov. Pawlenty. He has been a strong advocate for ethanol-based fuels since being elected Governor. In fact, earlier this week, Pawlenty hosted the Governor�s Ethanol Coalition meeting here in Minnesota.
From the link you learn that Minnesota is one of only three states with a minimum ethanol requirement -- the others are Hawaii and Montana -- and the only one where it is currently in force. Why do you suppose that is? Because it's highly unlikely that ethanol is economically efficient. There has been much debate over technical efficiency (this article explains it well), but that isn't what I'm talking about.

Of course, 17% of ethanol produced in the country is made here in Minnesota, and the benefit to corngrowers is large. RPPI estimates that in 2002 714 million bushels of corn were fermented into ethanol; this was subsidized by the federal government to the tune of $956 million ($.54 subsidy per gallon of ethanol, 2.5 gallons of ethanol per bushel). 17% of that is $162.5 million. No wonder Pawlenty wants to have the ethanol share in reformulated gas in Minnesota raised to 20%.
Our nation, and our state, only stands to benefit from widespread ethanol use.
No, because the subsidy is encouraging resources that would have gone to produce something else into the production of corn for ethanol. We are paying $956 million because without that money the resources devoted to corn-for-ethanol would be producing something else. They produce something else because the profits there are higher than in corn production for other uses. (Indeed, the RPPI estimate shows that at the margin, additional corn production loses money -- the subsidy more than pays for this.) Because you are producing ethanol, you are forgoing whatever crops are not grown on that land, and the value those crops create for consumers and producers.
Besides strengthening our rural economies, it would reduce our dependency on foreign oil, which would do as much for national security as tightening our borders.
We are not "strengthening our rural economies"; we are transferring money to them from taxpayers to buy a crop the market indicates it does not want. And if ethanol did in fact hold prices down, we would retard the exploration of other energy sources and continue to use foreign oil. There's no certainty that the barrels ethanol replace all come from the Arabian Peninsula. If you really wanted to not buy Saudi gas, embargo them.
Don�t forget that we�d need to find jobs to replace the one�s we�ve shipped to China and India.
This is nonsequitur. How many jobs would more ethanol production create? A few more refineries? Really? Where would they be built? In cities where jobs are needed?

There is a price for unreformulated gas -- more correctly, a relative price between corn and gasoline -- for which ethanol makes sense. We don't know what that price is, in large part because ethanol is subsidized. But that part of principles of economics that RM does not get is that the market makes these decisions itself, "as if guided by an invisible hand". Sadly, the party of Reagan seems to forget this.

Another dean, another charge 

I have known about this story for two weeks but wanted to see if it went public. Sure enough, it did.

St. Cloud State University will investigate its College of Education regarding recent anti-Semitic and derogatory remarks made about the school's administration, the college's former dean and other faculty members.

The comments stem from a June 23 report evaluating the performance of Joane McKay, dean of the College of Education. The report was based on results from a survey given to faculty members.

Anonymous responses to the survey and its questions were later widely distributed unedited by McKay to College of Education staff members.

...McKay resigned from her post as dean and from St. Cloud State on Friday to take a post in private enterprise, said Michael Spitzer, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the university.

Before her resignation, McKay issued an apology to the College of Education faculty and staff via e-mail for distributing the unedited report.

There will of course be an investigation to see who wrote those comments; given that the survey was anonymous, we may not know who did. What will happen? Probably more sensitivity training.

A couple of points. People want to know what was written. As I'm no longer on Faculty Senate I haven't received the comments in question, but according to two people who have read them, one comment regarded the job performance of another faculty member who is Jewish but not identified as such in the comment (indeed, only using the first name and the first initial of his or her last name.) The other one does refer to someone else as being Jewish but does not name them explicity; the comment was that that faculty member should be quiet. I'm deliberately understating that comment, and for that matter I quite disagree with it -- I have a guess to which faculty member the comment refers, and if I'm right it's someone I'd hope would keep talking. (My guess also is that this faculty member does read this blog occasionally.) If any readers who are faculty senators would like to give me exact quotes, I will reprint them here.

Second, it will seem to readers of this article that Dean McKay was pressured to leave over this incident. Provost Spitzer says no, and I believe him. With her departure we have all but one academic dean turned over since the current higher administration came to SCSU. She is simply the latest casualty among the Middles (as those below the provost's office and above the faculty are referred to around here.) Indeed, to most of us it's amazing she was here so long.

UPDATE (1pm): Someone dropped me a copy of the report which was included in the packages of all faculty senators. I was wrong on the second statement; it is much more sweeping than I initially thought.
There is a huge problem with particular Jewish faculty and their strong connection with the Provost in an attempt to minimize the Dean!

Hooboy. That is worse than I thought, and it most assuredly does not apply to the person I thought was mentioned above (who does not have a strong connection to the Provost). Who writes something like that?

There are numerous references in the report to disappointment in the provost and president. I'm sure that did nothing to ingratiate the dean with her bosses.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Learning by writing 

Should students learn through writing? I've always thought so, and so does Robert Frank. He is co-author with Ben Bernanke of an economics textbook that uses writing assignments called "economic naturalist" assignments.

The specific assignment is "to use a principle, or principles, discussed in the course to pose and answer an interesting question about some pattern of events or behavior that you personally have observed."

"Your space limit is 500 words," the assignment continues. "Many excellent papers are significantly shorter than that. Please do not lard your essay with complex terminology. Imagine yourself talking to a relative who has never had a course in economics. The best papers are ones that would be clearly intelligible to such a person, and typically these papers do not use any algebra or graphs."

He reports great results. Over at Liberal Order, a commenter notes that maybe Frank's idea doesn't work for everyone.
Peter Drucker, in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, suggested that some people are writers, others talkers, and to have a successful career a person needs to figure out which they are, hopefully while they are still somewhat young. Some people learn by writing, others learn by talking.

But as Frank explains,
Learning economics is like learning a language. Real progress in both cases comes only from speaking. The economic-naturalist papers induce students to search out interesting economic stories in the world around them. When they find one, their first impulse is to tell others about it. They are also quick to recount interesting economic stories they hear from classmates. And with each retelling, they become more fluent in the underlying ideas.

So it is more like speaking. It would be fine to say these things, but in speaking you do not get the editing that is needed. Learning economics involves a lot of erasing, a great deal of hacking out chunks of stuff you do not need with Occam's razor. I watched a fellow parishioner yesterday give a sermon while our pastor was out running the Twin Cities Marathon. Her message was fine, but it was overlong because she had not used the razor, and this even after she had written out her notes. In talking many of us add things as we respond to an audience's body language or questions. If what you want is to teach students to use the razor, to learn how to apply ceteris paribus, I think writing is far superior to talking.

Ready or not, here we come 

The Public Choice Society, of which I am a member, has decided to keep its annual meeting in New Orleans.
The next Public Choice Society Meeting will be held at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans, March 30 � April 2, 2006, the same venue as last year's meeting (registration beginning on Thursday and concluding with the last plenary session Sunday morning). There are several reasons for affirming this earlier choice, including
  • our contractual obligation to the Intercontinental;
  • other Intercontinental hotels we could have switched to would have been considerably more expensive
  • the New Orleans Intercontinental expects to be fully operating soon; and
  • New Orleans deserves our support after the disaster it suffered.
If not back to normal, we expect New Orleans to be an attractive location six months from now�and hope as many of you as possible will participate in the 2006 Meeting.
Contractual obligations are sunk costs -- the question is whether we should pay to find a different location. It is hard to believe a hotel would choose to hold captive a conference it has served in the past (and well). If the leadership of an organization believes a conference hotel in New Orleans will be ready on time, fine, say so. But the last item -- "New Orleans deserves our support" -- is b.s. Your conference deserves the best possible site, which before Katrina was New Orleans. If conditions have changed, you need to change venue if costs are less than the benefits of the change.

Somewhere Norm Crosby smiles 

Mrs. Scholar, yesterday:
he went for it line, sink, and hooker.
Not sure why that cracked me up.

Don't think you're all so such and much 

A colleague sends me a note: in my [name of upper-division undergraduate course omitted], I mentioned blogs. Not a single one of the 13 students had ever read a blog, and they didn�t really know what they were. A couple students did say they�d heard about blogs but still didn�t know what they were. This is a class where all 13 students own cell phones.

...I�m not surprised by the overall awareness rate of blogs by the general public, it�s always interesting to me when an old geezer like me knows something more cutting edge than my cable TV-internet-cell phone savvy students.

I'm not surprised; the national data confirm that a minority of Americans read blogs, and some may read them without being aware that the page they're reading is a blog. And yet a nice student in my class told me last week, while turning in her assignment, that her father reads this blog and listens to the show. At the margin, perhaps, I've attracted another student to economics? Now that would be swell.

Supply is a schedule 

I like the low-hanging fruit principle that Phil Miller evinces talking about oil.
Assuming all apples on a tree are of equal quality, when someone picks an apple, she picks an apple that requires the least amount of effort (has the lowest cost). Subsequent apples "cost" more to acquire. To give firms and incentive to produce more, they must receive additional compensation.

The principle works with oil too. John Palmer and John Chilton point us to this Fortune Magazine article about the Tar Sands of Alberta.
Everyone says to be an economist you only need to teach a parrot to say "supply and demand", but few understand what lies behind each. They are schedules, indicating at each price how much producers will supply or how much consumers will demand. You typically draw them as smooth upward or downward sloping curves, but they may look much more like this staircase. At each step, you've exhausted the apples on the branch, or the oil under pressure. As the price rises, more expensive forms of extraction become profitable. If the price rises over $100 a barrel for oil, maybe solar panels for your home heating become viable. At $120, battery-powered cars that can do 70 mph on the highway are feasible, feasibility meaning not just technically possible, but economically efficient -- someone can be compensated fully for the costs of production.

The area under any supply curve represents the opportunity cost of production to a producer. Costs are always costs to someone. The reason we pick the low-hanging fruit is because it's economical.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Ante up for Chelsea 

Captain Ed is advertising for a worthy cause.
One of my son's friends, Charles Decker, died recently in a traffic accident at the age of 23. Charles left behind a little girl, Chelsea, who will have to grow up without her dad. Charles' friends, including my son David, have arranged for a benefit Texas Hold 'Em tournament on October 8th at the Clarion Hotel in Bloomington. Clarion has donated the use of one of its ballrooms for the event and will have free beer and snacks for those who enter the tournament. The buy-in is only $20, and all proceeds will go into a trust fund for Chelsea.

RSVP at 651-293-1626. Regrettably I'm out of town this coming weekend; a chance to watch Ed and Mitch demonstrate a complete lack of poker skills shouldn't be missed.

You have no idea 

Hugh has the audacity to say,
The Tribe can't lose six of their last seven, right?
Oh yes they can. And it's because you dared to toy with the baseball gods.

I think that their is no more cursed sports fans over the past forty years than a Cleveland fan. The Drive. The Shot. The Fumble. Jose Mesa. Mediocrity punctuated by awful loss.
You're kidding, right? You have to at least get to sniff the prize. We had BFD and Mookie Wilson and Aaron Boone and Julian Javier and... You have to get close to the prize. Jose Mesa is as close as you got, but there's tons of those stories. Ask this fellow about Mitch Williams. Heard from Steve Bartman lately?

Whining gets you nowhere, friend. Take a number, get in line.

And enjoy the playoffs.