Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An exercise in futility 

My office manager -- who is a reader here, so hi! -- has been trying for months to try to cut down on the number of junk faxes we receive. The university has encouraged staff to first website and fill in info and submit � noting confirmation number and file by name (although about half do not have known names) � FCC then send me a letter for each complaint I file � often time sealed with tape (which means who ever stuffs them does not like to lick the envelopes either ...

FCC emailed me one time about a company asking me for more info � responded telling them to look at what I submitted on website since that details everything (tells me they obviously do not check closely) ... no one ever called me or ever followed up on this one time.

Waste of my time, gov time, our paper (figure 2-3 reams a year � this is including the gov paper waste � not to mention envelopes, tape, and postage), fax film � am I missing anything?
Has anyone else used this service? Have you ever heard of the FCC taking action on these unwanted faxes? It seems to me that they are more interested in collecting numbers and names of marketers than they are in reducing the traffic of junk faxes.

And sometimes smoke is just smoke 

About a year ago I reported on a faculty member fired at Southern Utah, and the work David Tufte had done in getting the story straight on the nature of his dismissal. One year later, it appears Tufte is still right.
SUU administration asserted that this was a confidential personnel matter and revealed nothing. They still haven't. The scuttlebutt was that this was a case of extreme inability to get along with colleagues and students.

Roberds repeatedly threatened legal action. None was ever taken. Free speech advocacy groups reported that he was uncooperative. His supporters rallied a bit; this fizzled as the story took a bizarre twist.

This blog was instrumental in getting out the information - suppressed by the local and school papers - that Roberds had been fired from the University of North Alabama under almost identical circumstances several years before. Even worse, the same pattern of free student labor and student contributions (!!!) was used to smear the university. A few thousand hits later, and the issue was quickly and quietly removed from everyone's radar screen. The students website in support of Roberds stopped paying its bills several months ago, and was shut down.
Sounds like it was much ado about nothing. Tufte thinks Roberds should get another post somewhere, since "he's a really inspring professor that many students were deeply attached to, and from whom they learned a great deal." If this guy has had problems like this at two universities, I'm not sure I'd want to be the administrator that gives him a third chance.


You're paying to do business here 

The Tax Foundation has come out with a new listing of which states have the best business climate. Minnesota comes in at 38th overall, 41st in state business taxes. At least this is an improvement over its 41st overall ranking in 2004, but it's nothing to write home about (or for some incumbents to hang their hats on in the next election.) Other facts about Minnesota from the study:

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Plagiarism is hard to detect 

I'm trying to figure out the subtext of a story in The Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscriber link) in which a grad student appears to have discovered "a culture of cheating" in 44 theses that may have been plagiarized.
Thomas A. Matrka, who received his master's degree in mechanical engineering last summer and now works at a chemical plant, said he stumbled on several instances of plagiarism after his adviser told him initially that his thesis was unacceptable.

"I went to the library to see what he had approved and see why mine wasn't satisfactory," said Mr. Matrka on Monday. As he was looking through the theses, he noticed passages that were identical and were not cited. In one case, he said, more than 50 pages had been plagiarized from a previous Ohio University thesis. Mr. Matrka estimated that he spent 10 hours a week for four months looking for evidence of plagiarism.

Think about that. That's about 170 hours spent searching. I'm glad he did it, and I'm glad the school is now investigating the charges. Disciplinary action against the faculty who signed these theses is a possibility.

But let me also add that 170 hours is a LOT of time out of a faculty member's workplan, in return for which she or he has the headache of trying to prove the charge to an administration that may not want to hear it, and threatening to end a grad student's career. It's hard for me to imagine many faculty choosing that risk/return profile. It may be that the only people incented enough to take on the task are disgruntled grad students. I'm not sure that's a great enforcement mechanism, but I also wonder what other cost-enforcement mechanism we could use. Software?


Monday, February 27, 2006

Is the model generalizable? 

One way to evaluate whether some claim works or not is to ask whether you could do it elswhere. Take for example the peace studies class offered at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland. There, a very noted peace activist, the retired columnist Colman McCarthy, volunteers his time to teach the class from a book of essays he edited which the school system approved, while the high school uses some (presumably licensed) teacher to check attendance and issue grades. That's fine, and I can even manage to admire McCarthy's generosity of time.

Now let us imagine:
Would the fact that none of them are licensed teachers raise a fuss in that setting? But somehow McCarthy gets a pass by teaching under cover of some other school district employee.

As Bill Quick points out, the first agenda of public education isn't education.


Niche book stores 

I've been to City Lights; in fact, whenever in San Francisco I try to make a stop there because they have such unusual books and its layout is so conducive to grabbing something and reading. Most bookstores are owned by granola-and-sandals types, who for the most part love books as much as I do and we can have a great time talking about them even after they realize I do not share their political views. So I find this story really sad:

A friend of mine took his young daughter to visit the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, explaining to her that the place is important because years ago it sold books no other store would - even, perhaps especially, books whose ideas many people found offensive. So, although my friend is no fan of Ward Churchill, the faux Indian and discredited professor who notoriously called 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," he didn't really mind seeing piles of Churchill's books prominently displayed on a table as he walked in.

However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

Let's be clear that it's perfectly within City Light's rights to choose not to carry any title, for any reason. It's a private company. And it might be worthwhile for them to take this stance to develop loyalty among its leftist portion of its customer base. Perhaps it makes business sense to turn yourself into a niche book store given the glut of Barnes and Noble and Borders in the 'burbs, or the presence of Amazon. I have even noticed that B&Ns in smaller cities like St. Cloud often end up being meeting places and a public space in which discussion of ideas and love of books can occur.

That said, I still find B&Ns and Borders stores antiseptic. I don't feel any different reading a book in the Starbucks of the Borders in Richfield -- a frequent stop after NARN broadcasts -- any different than reading a book in the food court of Mall of America. Yeah, a little less noisy, but it has all the contrived charm of your out-of-the-box Olive Garden.* I don't find myself reading for an hour in there ever. The same for the local B&N. And when I say this to people who work there and they ask "what can we do to make it that kind of place?" what can I say? Go buy a funky house somewhere and make each room a section?

I have often thought I would open a restaurant after I quit academia. #1 son and I love to cook; Mrs. S and Littlest teach cooking classes for community ed here. But I'm beginning to think a niche book store for the rest of us, those willing to stock both Ward Churchill and Oriana Fallaci, rocking chairs and a pot of "just coffee" -- I'm not even sure I'd serve decaf, let alone latte -- might be profitable. At least, it'd be a place I felt welcome to sit in.

Search my blog and you'll find this is a periodic rant of mine.

*-speaking of contrived charm and completely off-point: What the hell is it about the shouts of "hot bread" or "hot bagels" at Panera? All my friends and I can think of when we hear this is "Pannekoekken"! And if you're going to do it, sound like you really are excited.

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South Dakota rejects intellectual diversity bill 

The South Dakota Senate rejected an intellectual diversity bill by a mere three votes. ACTA is getting good publicity for this, including a conference next month in Montana organized by the president of Montana State. That in and of itself is a good thing.


Minimum gas prices again 

Via Phil Miller, a pointer another enforcement of Minnesota's minimum gas price law.

The Minnesota Commerce Department on Thursday announced plans to fine a gas station chain $140,000 for repeatedly selling gas below the state's legal minimum price.

The fine against Midwest Oil of Minnesota is twice as large as any imposed on a company since 2001, when the state established a formula based on wholesale prices, fees and taxes to determine a daily floor for gas prices.

The fine is large because of the repeated violations (293 days worth), and "had not cooperated with the department on a penalty, and was accused by the department of using several delaying tactics before the matter could be resolved." But the fine works out to $477 per day, spread over at least three stations; last June, the fine was reportedly to be as much as $1.6 million. (I discussed that here.) From $1.6 million to $140,000 is quite a climbdown.

They are selling gas at, let's say, 5% below the minimum. Think: How many extra daily sales would Midwest have to make to get back $477?

(For the amateur economist: This is a question about elasticity, and you'd have to assume something about Midwest's costs versus the cost of mom & pop gas stations. Stations are required to charge 8 cents over cost. How many more cars drive in? How much do they put in the tank? The assumptions needed to make the $477/day worth paying aren't all that unreasonable.)

You'd be hard pressed to find an economist willing to give an economic rationale for this law, and we've heard complaints about it in the past, so its continued existence would seem to indicate somebody likes it. Who would that be? I noticed driving through Hutchinson, MN, over the weekend that three gas stations at the intersections of Hwys. 15 & 7 were closed. Were they mom and pop stations? It's worth noting that the south side of Hutchinson has an Evil Empire with its own gas station, but that's four miles away. Would people drive four miles to save a buck or two on a fill-up? And if WalMart did raise prices afterwards, how long before those three stations are reopened?

Minimum gas price laws raise prices for consumers. You sell products based not on what you paid for what's on the shelf but on what you will pay to replace the product sold off the shelf. By setting prices based on past cost, consumers are forced to pay higher prices for gas while wholesale prices are falling. (The converse does not apply, since you can always charge more than the 8 cents over wholesale cost. Not that gouging laws work, either.)

If the state wanted lower gas prices, it could cut its 20 cent per gallon tax. But instead, it thinks of raising it.


Thursday, February 23, 2006


He goes from baseball to curling??? Well, then NARN has got to do candlepin bowling. (And with a better theme song, too.) I hear there's this guy who just bought a bowling alley, too...

Link of the day 

Is there any way to get one guy's RSS feed to blink orange for me? Every time HedgeFundGuy posts, I love what I read. This is exemplary.
I was watching some show where the questioner prefaced his statement with the phrase "with all due respect," and then slammed the guy. I have never heard this phrase preface a statement that evinced any respect. I don�t see why people say it, because it�s such a clich� it doesn�t palliate anymore. There are words, called autoantonyms, that mean both themselves and their opposite, such as moot, which can mean debatable or irrelevant (others include: literally, weather, fine, fast). But then there are phrases that only mean their opposite.
He then offers a list of these. My favorite: "The fact is or History proves � I will assert without any empirical support." Reminds me of the list of common phrases in research literature and what they really mean.
  1. �It has long been known that ...� (I haven�t bothered to look up the references, but ...)
  2. �Of great theoretical and practical importance ...� (interesting to me)
  3. �While it has not been possible to provide definitive answers to these questions ...� (the experiment didn�t work out, but I figured I could at least get a publication)
  4. �Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study.� (the results of the others didn�t make any sense)
  5. �Typical results are shown.� (the best results are shown)
  6. It is suggested..., it is believed..., it may be that...� (I think)
  7. �It is generally believed that...� (a couple of other guys think so too)
  8. �Agreement with the predicted curve is�:
    • Excellent......................fair
    • Good............................poor
    • Satisfactory.................doubtful
    • Fair...............................imaginary
  9. �It is clear that much additional work will be re- quired before a complete understanding ...� (I don�t understand it)
  10. �Unfortunately, a qualitative theory to account for the results has not been formulated.� (no one else understands it either)
  11. �Correct within an order of magnitude.� (wrong)
  12. �It is clear ...� (it is not clear)
  13. �It is obvious ...� (I think that is the way it should be, but I can�t figure out why)
  14. �Thanks are due to Joe Glotz for his help, and John Doe for his insight.� (Glotz did all the work; Doe figured out what it meant)

A simple rejoinder 

To those who disagree with Minnesota Families United: The answer to free speech you don't like is more speech, not supression. These folks have been doing it for years.

Go, Alan, go! 

Alan Dershowitz wrote a scathing column in the Boston Globe on the resignation of Larry Summers, and then followed it up with an interview with Hugh Hewitt last night which had me frozen in my chair. Dershowitz was calling out faculty:
Hewitt:...You wrote a magnificent column in the Boston Globe today that I think summarizes what is going to be the reaction of 90% of alumns, students, faculty. Am I overshooting that estimate?

AD: I don't think so. I think certainly, you're right about alum, and students, probably it'll be 70-75%. Faculty? I would say it's probably half and half in the faculty of arts and sciences, and probably 90-10, or 80-20 in the graduate school faculty. Certainly, the law school was generally very supportive of Larry Summers, and it was incredible chutzpah for the arts and sciences faculty, merely a plurality of them, to engineer this coup. And let me tell you who engineered it. It was engineered by particularly an anthropology professor, a guy named Randy Matory, who teaches Afro-American and Afro-South American studies. And basically, what he said in his resolution that he first proposed, was Summers has to go because number one, he's too patriotic. He's trying to tell us to be more patriotic. And that, by Matory, is regarded as the great sin, that he's teaching patriotism...

HH: Let's pause on that, professor. Did he actually make that statement in a faculty meeting, or reduce it to writing somewhere?

AD: Yeah, he said it on a television show last night, and I can, I think, find it and read you his exact quote, because it is just remarkable that a person would say this. He says, "He (Summers) was telling us we should be more patriotic," and that's among the list of things that he says he should be fired for. He said, "He was also telling us that people who insist that Palestinians have rights should be quiet, because they're being anti-Semitic." Now that second one is just an out and out lie.
Dershowitz goes on to say nobody outside the Arts and Sciences faculty were consulted, and just beats Prof. Matory like a drum for almost a half-hour. Radioblogger has the sound as well as the transcript, and there is pleasure in the listening.

Thomas Sowell provides a good summary of the problems Summers had.
His fatal flaws were honesty and a desire to do the right thing. That has ruined more than one academic career.
That and the opinion of many that Summers does not suffer fools gladly. Summers is not a conservative. He worked in the Clinton Treasury department through two administrations, the last three years as the secretary. He is a very practical Democrat, though -- see for example his discussion of NAFTA and convincing Democrats to embrace it -- and debate, bruising though it may be at times, is part of his style. Anne Neal is absolutely right in pointing to Summers' public questioning of the divide between the Harvard faculty and the public as being the broader context that lead to his resignation (e.g., his statements on military recruiting.) He was unable to get the Arts and Science faculty to do much with a curriculum review that had the promise of bringing back some understanding of the Western canon.

In some sense his resignation makes sense: The things that mattered most to him were dead in the water; his was a spent force. But the force was spent by continued attacks from an entrenched, radical faculty that leaves Alan Dershowitz seeming like a right-wing ideologue. One must wonder why the governing Harvard Corporation would tolerate such lunatics taking over their asylum.


Aren't you the slightest bit curious? 

I would be eager to know who it is this student is writing about.
I am in one of these such classes right now where the professor is giving his opinion just as much as he is giving us fact. He continuously is saying that Bush should be impeached and that all right wing people have an IQ of about 30.

...I tried once to speak out about this but I was told that in his class we had to raise our hands if we wanted to speak so he ignored me and went on to someone else who didn't raise their hand either but was agreeing with him.
A question for my readers: Should the university contact this student to investigate the statements made in this letter? I sincerely doubt they will, or this one from last week.

UPDATE: Reader David thinks it's the student's responsibility to report this to the university. That is indeed current practice. But at Columbia we found that students were intimidated by the process and unwilling to initiate a complaint. I have had several students talk to me personally about these issues but when I explain I cannot talk to the faculty member on their behalf without a formal complaint they do not go further. Sometimes all they want to do is have someone hear them and express understanding or even sympathy. But others say "it's too big a hassle" or "I want to graduate some day".


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Derived demand 

Via voracious reader jw we learn that business schools are having a hard time hiring faculty.
The schools have been competing for students for years as the number of master in business administration programs at universities has soared. Now the schools also are competing for a dwindling supply of doctoral business faculty to teach those students.

Major accrediting groups and business school officials say the diminishing supply of people with doctorates in business and the rapidly increasing demand for their services globally have pushed doctoral salaries through the roof. It's also forced business schools to devise ways to effectively compete for doctoral faculty and find alternatives for filling vacant faculty positions.

Many years ago a large university advertised a position for a sports economist. I thought that was interesting and, since I was doing more research in the area at the time, thought I might try to apply for it. Given it's a prestigious school I thought it a lark that might at least get me to talk to some people there. They not only flew me to campus, they offered the job. But the salary was less than I made in a college of social sciences here, and the money was soft money. I was perplexed at their penurious offer, and inquired why. "Well, if we wanted to pay you that much we would have hired someone in finance, since that's what we really wanted." Amazingly, they thought they could buy an economist on the cheap. As much as I liked the school, I declined.

We're seeing this now with salaries in economics for new PhD's, particularly for those who have some interest or background in finance. This is the natural course of markets, and the article here tells us how rising prices lead to substitution.
Other solutions to the shortage problem include hiring people with doctoral degrees in related areas such as statistics, math and social sciences to teach in business schools. They would then take business courses to help the transition.

Business schools also are hiring more part-time instructors from the private sector who have MBA degrees combined with real-life business experience.


Live blog: Andrew Zimbalist: Economics of sports stadia 

9am. I am sitting in Ritsche Auditorium at SCSU at the 44th Annual Economic Education Winter Institute and listening to Andrew Zimbalist present on sports economics. These will be raw notes until late this afternoon. I have now updated these with a few links made by me rather than him, and with a comment by me added at the bottom.

At the time of Kelo, this is an interesting time to be studying sports stadia. A backlash has arisen, so that the FLA legislature has told the Florida Marlins are not geting a rebate of the sales tax they pay. At the same time, the Yankees and Mets are asking for public money to build new stadia, and the Twins can opt out of their lease at the Metrodome, Zygi Wilf, etc.

Fiscal situation in 2006 is more dire. There has been a movement from DC to decentralize, to put more responsibilities on state and local governments. Sales tax revenue is harder to come by. Higher interest rates are causing debt service costs to rise. So cities and states don't have as much to spend on teams and ballparks.

Coalitions form to make a "stadium drive". They hire consultants to do an economic impact stadia. The studies use faulty techniques -- input-output analysis -- that are giving wrong advice. Data are too aggregated, they use old coefficients that make no sense now. They neglect to differentiate between gross and net spending. Example: $1 billion to build Yankee stadium proposal, on the west side of Manhattan, to create 440 jobs, which comes out to more than $2 million per job.

All economists agree: You cannot expect that a new stadium will raise the level of economic development in your city. What is the basis of this conclusion?
  1. Although an immense presence, the team is a small enterprise economically. 75-100 work permanently, maybe another 200-300 part time jobs. Yankees contribute less than 1/20 of 1% of the economic value created by NYC.
  2. Substitution effect. What you spend at the ballpark isn't spent elsewhere; much of that money would have been spent elsewhere in the city (probably on entertainment.) Some dollars are new, but not that many, and even those people travelling from outside the area might travel here anyway.
  3. Leakages. Contrast dollar spent at restauarant and dollar spent at ballpark. 60% of the revenue generated by sports teams goes to players. Most players don't live in the cities they play in. Much of their money is spent elsewhere. And they save a great deal of the money. So too with owners. Local restauranteur lives in town, spends in town, hires local labor, etc. So constructing the ballpark might cause some money to leave the economy more than otherwise.
  4. Budgetary. The government has to put out more money to service the debt, for security around the ballpark, sanitation, infrastructure, operating costs and improvements to the park (depending on the lease). If you compare the outflows and inflows of money to the municipal budget, the net effect is usually negative. This inhibits the ability of the city to spend elsewhere, or it causes taxes to rise; each lowers the level of economic activity in the local economy. All of this depends on the lease terms. But the point is that stadiums are NOT free goods. Tourist taxes (hotels, rental cars) don't cover the costs. Tourists not only don't come for ballgames, they don't come for other things either. Conventions looking at where to go look at the higher taxes and hold that against the cities who raise them. If raising taxes wouldn't effect these decisions, why didn't the city raise those rates already? (Those are already set at revenue-maximizing rates.).
  5. Possibility of cost overruns. When plans are made, the first plan is for a barebones stadium. Cost is small, they get approval. Then they add bells and whistles. When the initial plans were to renovate Yankee Stadium, the cost was $23 million; it ended up $110 million. Milwaukee Brewers $230 million --> $400 million and climbing. The new Washington DC park, $535 million to now $670 million plus another $80 million to buy the land. Etc.
Is the construction process good for the economy? If all that was needed to help the local economy was to borrow $300 million and hire construction workers, why build a park? Why not just hire them to dig a big hole, and then fill it in? (Or bury pounds in the park and give out shovels?)

Things change when you have substantial private investment and a good deal of non-sports development with it (like the Wilf proposal.) Wilf says he will put $1 billion into a $1.5 billion project. His money is new. But even here you have to be aware that the local construction industry might already be fully employed. All Wilf does then is put a new project in the queue, which raises construction prices, generating local inflation.

What about the success stories (Cleveland, Denver) -- wasn't there a positive impact there? As a general proposition, Coors Field was built in an area that was going to develop anyway. It's growing fast anyway; what did Coors Field displace in private investment? Did the stadium create the development, or would it have happened naturally? Parking lots help capture fans to spend only on things that give the sports owner revenue. Cleveland had growth for awhile, but it's not as apparent now.

A more positive argument. Quality of life. Having a sports stadium creates something that brings local people together. Cheering for the home team creates a bond that isn't usually there in our individuated society. Following the local team creates a benefit even if they don't go to the game. And the fans at the park are getting quite a deal. Should the local government pay for these things? This is totally subjective. Some people don't get the benefit. The problem with this argument is that the sports leagues are monopolists. Scarcity is artificial; with fewer franchises you get cities competing with each other, offering higher and higher subsidies. The quality of life argument then leads to overpayment.

NFL team profits are huge. There's extensive revenue sharing. TV money is all national, all equally shared. Gate revenue shared 66/34 (including premium seats.) None of the luxury suites, catering, concession, naming and scoreboard revenues, etc. Only new stadiums generate this last part of the revenue, so it helps. NFL G3 program, loans to local owners which are actually grants. $50-$100 million by city size. This is part of Zygi's share. In baseball, 2/3-3/4 teams are profitable. Revenue sharing has started, based on net local revenue. Twins got $22 million from revenue sharing last year. If they paid $200 million towards a $500 million stadium, they get to take some of that and count it against its net local revenue and increase their take of revenue sharing money. probably about $90 million of the $200 million.

NFL salary cap, most teams about at it. So if you spend more money to help the team build a new stadium, it doesn't change how the team plays on the field. Without salary cap in baseball, new stadiums lead teams to spend more on payroll, and performance improves.

You hear threats of relocation or contraction. Very unlikely this will happen. NFL teams could be populated in many other places. The problem for Wilf is that the league would be mad that a large TV market would be abandoned. The NFL can use the G3 money as a stick to keep him in place. It can also charge a relocation fee. For baseball, no revenue sharing, but you need to fill the stadium 81 games a year, but none are in a position right now to build them a new stadium. DC bid against itself for the Expos. They've got no place viable to go to. Contraction requires a whole year's notice, and the industry is growing. Not likely to happen. Strong demand means that they want to grow. (Lights went out here, and Zimbalist jokes he's talked too long. Now back on.) Also the threat of losing the antitrust exemption.

Economics are clear, quality of life is an issue, but it gets used against them. Twins and Vikes have no good leverage, so local authorities should bargain hard for a good deal for local taxpayers.

My comments: One frequent comment I heard after this encyclopedic presentation was that Zimbalist saw some merit in the Vikings proposal insofar as it promises private money. Of course, sometimes these promises are broken, as it is probably impossible to get the Wilf money escrowed somewhere. It's not all his -- the private development around the Blaine proposal is to come from a variety of sources. But I do think his point is valid.

The other thing that struck us was his optimism that the Vikings really have no leverage here. I fully agree. Part of the mythology up here is that the Pohlads are greedy, that Red McCombs is greedy. Wilf has yet to be tarred with that brush, but I suspect at some point he will. Everyone acts on the leverage at their disposal. Another person who is from the San Antonio area laughed that Red sold Zygi a bill of goods -- it's worth remembering that the Blaine proposal existed prior to Zygi's purchase of the team and was developed in large part with Red's active participation. "Red's a car dealer, and he never leaves a dollar on the table," said this observer. I think as Zygi realizes that the NFL will make it difficult for him to move the Vikings, he will have the same problem Red had -- pressuring Minnesota voters and politicians who will react by calling a business owner greedy.

I had a blast driving Zimbalist to the airport after, the first time I have ever talked to him. He's a fan of the Red Sox like me, familiar with the team's operations, and we shared an interest in Eastern Europe as well. We went in our careers in opposite directions -- me from sports to comparative economics, him from comparative to sports. But we still have interests in both. Damned fun.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Appearance at Outlook today, Winter Institute tomorrow 

I will be a little bit busy today and tomorrow as SCSU and its Center for Economic Education produces the 12th annual Economic Outlook and 44th annual Economic Education Winter Institute. Dan Laufenberg of Ameriprise, Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson and I will be speaking on the national, state and local economies at the Outlook; the program begins at 5pm at the Kelly Inn in St. Cloud (map). Admission to the talk is free.

If you are thinking about sports stadiums or conventions centers, the Winter Institute is the place for you on Wednesday morning, beginning at 8:30am at Ritsche Auditorium on the SCSU campus. Andrew Zimbalist, who I think qualifies as the premier "baseball economist", will talk about sports stadiums. After reading up on Zygi's pitch to Blaine last week, I think some people in the Cities will want to come up to hear whether these things are ever worth it. His talk begins around 9. An hour later Heywood Sanders will talk about convention centers. I remember twenty years or so ago there was a guy who would write the local paper each month saying we didn't need one in St. Cloud and would refer to it simply as "the white elephant". He never used the word 'civic center'. Well, we have one, and from what we hear we need another or at least a bigger one. Or not. Sanders will tell us why or why not that's a good idea.

This message will stay atop the blog for today. I may try to liveblog the Zimbalist talk Weds. for either here or the Sports Economist.

You can't do science without math 

In this discussion about math, we may add another wrinkle. A Harvard study concludes that taking AP courses in science do not lead to better grades in college for those students than those who never took AP. According to a press release on the event,
Mathematical fluency is the single best predictor of college performance in biology, chemistry, and physics, giving a strong advantage to students whose high school science courses integrate mathematics. "Draining the math out of high school coursework does students a disservice," Sadler says. "Much of college biology, chemistry, and physics are taught using the language of math, so students without fluency quickly become lost."


Sowing no oats 

My loyal reader jw sent a link to me of a Newsweek story on the lack of successful businesswomen in Europe.

According to a paper published by the International Labor Organization this past June, women account for 45 percent of high-level decision makers in America, including legislators, senior officials and managers across all types of businesses. In the U.K., women hold 33 percent of those jobs. In Sweden�supposedly the very model of global gender equality�they hold 29 percent.

Germany comes in at just under 27 percent, and Italian women hold a pathetic 18 percent of power jobs.

It does seem odd. Mark Steckbeck points out that this is an unintended consequence of the welfare state. Odder still is the story's conclusion of what to do: more welfare.
This past December, France passed a law mandating pay equity between men and women within five years. Over the past two years the French business school HEC has launched a major campaign to recruit more female M.B.A.s, raising the percentage of women in the program from 16 to 32. Norway recently decreed that all corporate boards must be 40 percent female within two years, or face being shut down, while the European Commission for Employment and Social Affairs will soon begin a yearlong study to determine whether discrimination laws in Europe are being properly enforced. Meanwhile, the EU has set aside funds for the creation of a gender-equality institute in 2007.
Steckbeck points out this increases cost to businesses and would cause more firms to flee Europe, a continent with stagnant economies already. But think what else this would do? Europe is already a continent of declining populations, with whole areas of Eastern Europe soon to be depopulated. Do we really want to bribe women in Europe into career tracks?

Think about this again, reading from the article:
By offering women extremely long work leaves after children, then pushing them to take the full complement via tax policies that discourage a second income, coupled with subsidies that serve to keep them at home, Europe is essentially squandering its female talent. Not only do women get off track for long periods, many simply never get back on. Nor have European corporations adapted to changing times. Few offer the flextime that makes it easier for women to both work and manage their families. Instead, women tend to get shuffled into part-time work, which is less respected and poorly paid. Those who want to fight discrimination find themselves hamstrung by laws favoring employers.

Among Europe's myriad problems, this one is huge�with ramifications way beyond gender relations. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Europe's future hinges on it. "We have got to get more women into the labor market," says Vladi mir Spidla, the EU commissioner of Employment and Social Affairs. Declining birthrates and aging populations threaten the financial stability of almost all European nations, he explains. With a massive skills gap and pension crisis looming, the Continent must bring in more high-level workers. Immigration�the main solution thus far�presents obvious cultural challenges. Taking better advantage of existing female populations is an obvious answer.
So, in order to not use immigrant labor to supply high-level workers, the EU wants to use the current seed corn that could alternatively provide future high-level workers? How would this solve the demographic problem facing Europe?


Monday, February 20, 2006

Smallest city 

St. Cloud has a water problem, with an e. coli outbreak found in the city water supply sometime this afternoon. What I like about St. Cloud is that I not only got this message, but when I called Mrs. S she already knew, and that my email and cellphone voicemail had four messages to this effect within two hours. Connectivity in the 21st Century. Can't beat it.

So too did Psycmeistr.

Accent grave, problem 

I am amazed by how many comments my article on English skills continues to receive. In the campus paper, a student points out a big pronunciation problem.
I'm not one who is fresh from the farm, whose only exposure to another culture is the interaction with the person running the local convenience store. In my world travels, I've worked projects with a wide variety of ethnic groups and diverse societies so I have heard "the mother tongue" with numerous dialects. This has given me an ear for extracting the basic information. The breakdown comes when technical jargon is added to the presentations. This is where articulate speech is crucial to the learning process. Believe me, I always enjoy the occasional misuse of expressions. Recently a professor described e-commerce online stock traders as "jacking-off the price." (I think the intended word is "jacking-up".)
That's not technical jargon, that's slang, either way. I have a few younger, internationally born professors who have mistakenly used a slang term that causes titters in the room (for instance, one thought 'hot' meant simply 'cute' rather than implying a desire for intimacy.) I'm still unimpressed by the claim that these faculty are especially odious, and I will continue to assert that if state university students expect low tuition, they would be wise not to limit the pool of potential faculty from which we can draw their teachers.


A short Ukrainian note 

The First Ring pointed out this NR column about the possibility that the forces defeated in the Orange Revolution -- particularly, the thuggish Viktor Yanukovych, who damn near turned out the army against the mass protests -- taking control of the parliament in Ukraine in elections next month. Forgive me for yawning. Polls in Ukraine are notoriously unreliable, as LEvko points out. And that contains its own danger:
The disparity in the OPs devalues the reliability of them all, which may be quite important because opinion polls during the 2004 Presidential elections persuaded some Yushchenko supporters that the elections had been rigged - helping spark off the O.R.
It's also worth noting that party alignments in the Rada shift rather frequently, so whatever the lineup of parliamentarians elected on March 26, we won't know the effect on the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko for a few months yet. He is proposing new constitutional changes, and it would be fun to see if he does the one thing really needed for reform there -- pull complete immunity away from parliamentarians.

Yushchenko's biggest worry continues to be the economy and that bad gas deal.


Heavy artillery 

The St. Cloud Times reported over the weekend that $350,000 was spent on the two special elections here last December. That's a lot of cabbage (as my uncle would have said) on a job that lasts one year.

The Minnesota DFL and its related legislative caucuses spent about $113,000 on Rep. Larry Haws' successful House 15B race and about $100,000 on Sen. Tarryl Clark's successful Senate 15 campaign, according to Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board annual reports filed at the end of January.

The Republican Party of Minnesota and its legislative caucuses put up about $80,000 for the unsuccessful Senate 15 campaign of Dan "Ox" Ochsner and about $60,000 on the abbreviated House 15B candidacy of Sue Ek, according to their required annual reports


The combined candidacies of Ek and her mother, Kay Ek, who replaced her daughter in a write-in campaign after the Minnesota Supreme Court removed Sue Ek from the race, raised almost $25,800 and spent almost $18,900 on the race.

The Haws campaign, by comparison, raised almost $23,700 and spent about $10,200 during the race.

Clark's campaign raised almost $17,900 and spent about $7,400 during the campaign, according to the documents.

But Clark said those numbers were from a report she filed in mid-November, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty set the special election date, and that her total was closer to the $65,000 limit set by the state.

And that doesn't count the third party spending. It's unlikely that would have offset the DFL advantage in direct spending. I like Clark's comment in the end: "I can raise the cash" she's saying, mostly to whomever steps up next.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Then again, about those accents 

After reading the comments on my post about English skills of non-native speakers, I thought this ad was appropriate.

Algebra is not negotiable 

I had wanted to write something about the discussion Bill Polley is having on the uses of math and students distaste and disrespect for it. He cites a CNN report saying that both parents and teachers don't think math and science are all that important, and that there's little clamor for the types of reforms many are proposing. Bill comments,
Calculus is negotiable. Basic math and science competency is not. Ability to do estimation and mental arithmetic is not negotiable.

He sees the problem as people "thinking math is arithmetic." In a followup he writes:
Basic competency in math and science is now, and will continue to be, necessary for people who want to be flexible enough to survive in an ever changing job market.

Asking students what skills they need is rather silly, because they haven't yet reached a level of knowledge about the world to make informed judgments. (I say the same thing about general education requirements in college, by the way -- which some people will take as elitist. I answer that I'm a professional hired to make those decisions in concert with 700 other faculty.)

I would write more about this, but my attention is averted by Richard Cohen in this morning's WaPo, in an early contender for stupidest column of the year. (Non-Monkey, you have work to do.) Writing about the Los Angeles' school requirement of algebra (we discussed it here), Cohen says it would be better to keep kids in school and skip algebra.
You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know -- never mind want to know -- how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later -- or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

PZ Myers gives Cohen a great and good dose of Thomas Jefferson, and notes:
Algebra is not about calculating the answer to basic word problems: it's about symbolic reasoning, the ability to manipulate values by a set of logical rules. It's basic stuff�I know many students struggle with it, but it's a minimal foundation for understanding mathematics and everything in science. Even more plainly, it's a basic requirement for getting into a good college...

Now, we in economics have debates over how much math students should know. And we do negotiate over calculus. But "the ability to manipulate values by a set of logical rules" is not negotiable. If we wish to have a workforce that can compete globally, we must have workers who can think about values and symbols and perform some analysis on them. Cohen, alas, I think actually does this without knowing how it is he learned the skill. Somewhere, there's an algebra teacher he hasn't thanked yet.


Quote of the day 

Joanne Jacobs:
Good teachers don't like to work with bad teachers. But I've noticed many
don't trust their principal to tell the difference.
Word. Same is true with higher ed.


All readings optional 

I wish they had had this when I had to read Hemingway. (Link for Chronicle of Higher Ed subscribers only, sorry.)
College students in Arizona may be able to opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive, under a bill approved on Wednesday by the State Senate's Higher Education Committee. The measure would allow students to decline assignments that 'conflict with the student's beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion.'
"That old man is so MEAN to the fish!"

UDPATE: Eugene Volokh eviscerates the bill.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

About 15 years ago 

Answers Mitch's question:
When did Spencer's turn into a one-stop novelty shop for a**holes?
Spencer's Gifts used to be the place I got all my black light posters and those cool filament lights. I still have a Lava Lamp from the one at the Mall of New Hampshire (which I still prefer to Mall of America). My High School Girl Friend (tm) and I would go in there at least once a week to dream about buying a painted mirror for the place we would get some day, and giggle over the sex joke gifts. (Which, Mitch, were right there for all to see. Remember?)

But yeah, when I walk out of the place now, I think I need a bath.

I think I was listening to Dennis Prager the other day when I heard this line (very paraphrased), "Used to be I would go to the ball game and nobody would swear and everyone would smoke. Now there's no smoking at the ball park, but lots of bad language."

That's what happened to Spencer's.

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In a more honorable world 

Let me stray a little from the normal remit of this blog and say something about Dick Cheney and the shooting of his friend. I'll probably regret this.

Virginia Postrel's post just rang a chord with me.
It's not a crime (not paying a $7 quail-hunting stamp fee is less serious than speeding), but it's an embarrassment: to the office, the administration, and the United States. The vice president should be more careful with guns. I can't make a rational policy case for it, but my gut says he should resign.

In an update, Postrel elaborates, "Guns aren't the issue. Life-threatening mistakes are. Mistakes have consequences, including professional ones."

I am not a hunter; I haven't handled a rifle or shotgun since my Boy Scout days. There's no strong reason for this except for living mostly in cities and not being inclined to go to the woods. My vegetarianism at one time was due to concern for animals (now it's mostly that I can't stand the smell of meat -- Hell would be strapped to the exhaust vent at a Bonanza.) But for me this isn't a gut reaction, and I'm glad Postrel elaborated.

Mistakes have consequences. Honorable men and women accept those, even when they are not to blame for these mistakes. I spent time this morning talking with sportsmen, including one who hosts a TV show on hunting. I had it all explained to me about hunting lines, the order in which people get out to shoot, the protocol for who gets out of the wagon and where they stand, etc. As I say, it's all Greek to me. They explained how Whittington might have erred in straying from the line and not announcing himself. But there was no question that it was a mistake for Cheney to fire (and perhaps more so after hearing during the Brit Hume interview that the sun was in his eyes.)
All I could see was the upper part of his body � but I didn't see it at the time I shot, until after I fired. And the sun was directly behind him there, affected the vision too, I'm sure.

If it affected your vision, how can you pull the trigger? I asked my friends. No, that would not be a good thing to do, they answered.

The timeline of events afterwards, frankly, doesn't interest me. If he had called David Gregory personally from the scene, it wouldn't matter. In a more honorable world, he'd accept the consequences of his mistake.

That the world isn't so honorable is not his fault either, and I'm not going to say he should resign. Nor do I think Peggy Noonan is at all correct for thinking the Bush White House would like to move on from him. You create more problems than you solve by trying to usher Cheney out the door.

I'm not faulting Cheney for anything. If I had had to put up with the treatment he gets from the press, I might have chosen the same actions he took in notifying the world of the events. I would have had the same concerns that night, the same chagrin four days later, and the same resolve to not let the bastards get me. Perfectly understandable, perfectly reasonable, and probably right to wait this thing out.

All I'm saying is that I wish we had a world where events like this would allow Cheney to do the honorable thing, and for the world to treat that act with the respect it deserves. Instead we will have to watch a disgusting spectacle played out. How did we arrive at this place?


English required? 

One of the questions I get from many people who learn I am a department chair is what do we do about hiring faculty who are non-native English speakers. Most of them are students or alumni -- such as this student -- who have had a bad experience in a class because they had difficulty understanding lectures due to a "thick accent". I confess to being not very sympathetic to their plight. I have learned over the years to quickly tune my ear to accents others have. Working overseas certainly helped with this, but I'm not sure it's necessary to have immersion. It's a survival skill in a world increasingly interconnected. Will employees go to their supervisors and ask that Mahmoud be moved to another department because they cannot understand him? (And how will you tell that complaint apart from one where the employees just don't like Mahmoud because he works hard, or worse, because of his skin color?)


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Watching the great man 

Back from the forum with Scott Johnson and Eric Black, a few observations:
  1. Having a cold while moderating isn't too big a problem. In fact it's good because I just didn't want to talk very much with my shredded voice. But it might have made me timid in dealing with one rude member of the audience who thought it OK to blurt out his uninvited question.
  2. Scott did a great job getting his point out in the 20 minutes we had allotted him, covering the 61st Minute and the Swift Boat stories. The one thing I learn from being around Scott and John Hinderaker is that lawyers think about things differently than social scientists do. Not better always, but sometimes better and always different. Even though I've heard the story several times now, the manner in which Scott builds up evidence is a beautiful to watch. I don't quite understand fully the beauty of legal argument, but I believe it exists. I saw this as well when the first question was about one of PowerLine's posts on the "Terri Schiavo talking points memo" without managing to read the entire thread of posts on Schiavo. Scott neatly put it back in context.
  3. Eric Black looked worse by comparison, though I think most of us would versus Scott. For about twenty minutes I thought he had done well enough giving a positive outlook for the MSM. He did suggest that newspaper profits were up, and that the biggest issue for them was to find a model that derives revenue from the many eyeballs that get their news from the newspaper's website. I think that's whistling past the graveyard. The New York Times reports how newspapers are spending large amounts of cash trying to drive ad revenue back from direct and online marketing. While bloggers aren't capturing lots of those dollars, they certainly are not helping newspapers maintain market share.
  4. Black's last ten minutes were spent, however, in a tawdry descent into Bush hatemongering. I saw Scott taking notes and I fully expect him to have something more to say. But Black's repeated use of "confirmation bias" was little more than calling the blogosphere an echo chamber and calling bloggers hypocrites. I thought it spoiled the rest of his lecture, and it unfortunately invited more of the questions to be about press coverage of Bush than about blogs and journalism, which was supposed to be the point.
Douglas from Crossword Bebop was there and was liveblogging, and hopes to have a cleaned up transcript of the event soon over at MOBANGE. There's an unedited set of notes there now.

UPDATE: Douglas now has pictures! We should note the presence of eminent bloggers Craig, Peg, and Eva, who sat side by side, and here's a shoutout to Peace in our Time -- get blogging again, sir! And Douglas' picture reminds me to thank that last blog's owner (IIRC) for a copy of the inaugural issue of the Minnesota Republic, "The U of M's Conservative Voice." It takes over for the Minnesota Patriot. No website yet, but a nice-looking magazine complete with Cox and Forkum cartoons.

Appearance today 

Just a reminder that today there is a discussion with Powerline's Scott Johnson and the Star Tribune's Eric Black from 12:00 to 1:30, about the blogosphere and the future of journalism. The event is at the University of Minnesota Law School, in room 25. I'll moderate the discussion, and best of all, free pizza will be provided. The event is free and open to the public.

Which way to Harare? 

I find hyperinflations fascinating. I collect currency from them. I research their central bank histories. I try to visit countries that have had them recently.

Looks like I have Zimbabwe in my future.
The governor of Zimbabwe's reserve bank last week admitted that his country is in the grip of hyperinflation, with some economists predicting an inflation rate of 1,000% within two months.

This week saw the introduction of a so-called "bearer cheque" worth 50,000 Zimbabwean dollars - 50 times the highest available banknote - but actually worth around half a US dollar and only enough to buy a loaf of bread.
It's part of a pattern with hyperinflations, to introduce new currencies with higher denominations. It isn't much of a currency to look at, but I'll have to grab one of these:
Looking at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe we can see that money supply is growing more than 400% per year. If prices are heading to 1000% inflation (and inflation was 613% year-on-year to January 2006) the Zim-$ is going out of circulation. While looking for material I saw this interesting article of someone going golfing in Zimbabwe a few years ago. He talks about how the US$ was king even in 2001:
It was a bit painful to realize that the 2,500 Zim I had withdrawn from the bank a few days earlier had cost me about $40. At 120/1 I got 4,800 Zim for $40 � and I hadn�t even bargained. Over the next few days the rate increased daily. From 120/1 to 130/1 and then to 135/1. In a country gripped by hyperinflation the strategy is always to exchange on the curb (counting the money carefully to look for counterfeit bills) and pay in local currency. Two bedroom cottages in the municipal campsite cost $7US per person � or 350 Zim. It doesn�t take long to do that math, at the curb rate you are actually paying only $3!
And the exchange rate now is about 100,000/1! That pictured bill, worth 50 cents on the street right now, is selling for about $3.75. (Three pieces of the common currency in much smaller denominations would probably cost $1.) The country has used these bearer cheques in the past, but the highest one before was Z$20,000.

One thing worth pointing out here: Countries with hyperinflation seldom reform without a major change in government. Those who hope Zimbabwe can be delivered from the misrule of Robert Mugabe should take heart as the inflation begins to spiral upward.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Law no bar to diversity 

You should follow this debate going on about diversity requirements in law schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning (temp link) notes its passage. David Bernstein wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (temp link) about it. Bernstein's argument, in short:
If passed, the new written standards will only embolden the accreditation bureaucracy, composed mainly of far-left law professors, to demand explicit racial preferences and implicit racial quotas -- all in brazen defiance of the law.
The Chronicle article quotes someone from the American Bar Association saying it is not a requirement. But, the Chronicle continues,

If they do not, however, they must demonstrate specific steps they are taking to achieve the goal of diversity, such as recruiting at historically black colleges, offering scholarships to minority or disadvantaged students, or holding summer programs to help potential applicants prepare for law school.

The policy says that law schools must demonstrate, "by concrete action, a commitment to providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups, particularly racial and ethnic minorities," and that the schools must commit "to having a student body that is diverse with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity."

It also says: "Consistent with sound educational policy and the standards, a law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to having a faculty and staff that are diverse with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity."

The revised standard also clarifies that "the mere fact that you may be in a state that has a statutorial provision prohibiting the consideration of race in the admissions process does not relieve you" of that obligation, Mr. Sebert said.

That last line is a killer, says Bernstein -- the bar is going to require law schools to find a way to circumvent the results of Grutter.

Bernstein quotes a statistic saying 42% of black students entering law school never become lawyers. What are the numbers for other ethnic groupings? I don't see them easily through Google.

Mail that gal a check 

Swiftee has a story about Nicholle Birch, a student with high promise and modest means, who seeks funds to go to the National Young Leaders Conference. Those types of conferences aren't cheap. If you can help out, there's an address at the bottom of Swiftee's post for you to send donations.

I like summer camp 

I think Arnold Kling and Robert Lawson are on to something: Universities are like summer camp. Lawson:
Ultimately I've concluded that colleges are all about selling an experience. Football in the fall; basektball in the winter; frats and sororities; bad food in the cafeteria, and even boring professors, are all part the image that people find appealing. Basically, they're buying idea of a college education. It's an identity thing. They want to say "I went to college at _______."
I can see that for a bigger school with a bigger name, but SCSU? Kling:
I think that the "summer camp" model explains why colleges have done more in recent years to improve their amenities than to improve education. It may explain grade inflation, since you want to keep the campers happy. It may explain why rural small colleges have fallen out of favor, while universities with top-ranked basketball teams have become more popular.
Someone noted in comments the new commercials SCSU is airing on cable and (I believe) some Twin Cities TV markets. We offer a number of videos about the school to prospective students. What are these selling? The university is spending a great deal of money trying to figure out how to sell itself better.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Publishing without reading 

Thomas Benton:
'No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,' said Samuel Johnson. And I think most professors should accept the truth of that observation, at least in our present time.

You have probably heard the saying, 'Promotion committees don't read books. They weigh them.' As a result, too many of the books published by university presses serve no purpose besides credentialing professors. But for at least 30 years, since the academic job market collapsed in the early 1970s, the relentless drumbeat of the profession has been 'publish, publish, publish,' as if we were rowing a Roman trireme. Never mind whether anyone is willing to plunk down cold, hard cash for your mandatory brilliance.

It doesn't surprise me that editors at university presses rarely respond to e-mail messages. The average inquiry from an aspiring academic author probably merits little more respect than the daily spam e-mails pushing cheap Viagra. And yet the unsolicited proposals keep coming, even as the university press budgets shrink to microscopic proportions of their former selves until they vanish out of the known universe into the world of -- I don't know -- anti-matter publishing. It surprises me that we don't hear about academic editors going postal from time to time.

As Lindsey Waters, an editor of Harvard University Press, has long argued, the current system of faculty promotion -- basically outsourcing evaluation to university press editors -- can no longer support itself without big infusions of cash that are not forthcoming, probably ever.

It's time for most us -- and I am thinking in particular of younger academics -- to abandon the genteel pose of being aloof from the sordid marketplace. We should stop acting as if we were monks, destined for a lifetime of cloistered self--denial. Or romantic poets who die penniless and forgotten in their own time, but whose genius and poignant suffering will, one day, move the world to tears.

If we are going to avoid being blockheads, we are going to have to start writing books that more people will want to buy as something besides remainders.

Source. H/T: reader jw, and thanks, because I've got a brutal head cold that makes looking at this screen quite painful right now.

Wednesday appearance 

You're invited to a discussion with Powerline's Scott Johnson and the Star Tribune's Eric Black on Wednesday, February 15th, from 12:15 to 1:30, about the blogosphere and the future of journalism. The event is at the University of Minnesota Law School, in room 25. Yours truly will be moderating. Free pizza will be provided. The event is free and open to the public. It's being sponsored by The Tocqueville Center for the Study of Liberty and Free Institutions, the Institute for New Media Studies, and the Federalist Society.

Wow! I could have had an E-comp! 

Remember Q-Comp? That was the plan the state legislature gave us for improving teacher performance in Minnesota. Craig Westover has covered this issue in depth. Q-Comp allows school districts to define for themselves what constitutes professioinal development of teachers, and Craig reported last December that there were some real doozies in the definition:
Some districts went as high as 80 percent teacher evaluation with only 10 percent of performance pay based on standardized testing. One plan identified 73 individual criteria of teacher performance. "Safety and Arrangement of Furniture" in the classroom and the teacher's handwriting carried the same weight as "Knowledge of Content."
Craig credits the Minnesota Department of Education for trying to revise the more egregious plans from the districts, but the language of the enabling legislation permits too much latitude nevertheless because negotiation is between district and state, not district and parents.

Last week, Florida's Department of Education revealed a new plan called E-Comp. It is quite simple, according to the AP's definition:
The top 10 percent of elementary, middle and high school teachers across Florida, as determined by gains their students have made on FCAT reading and math tests, would receive 5 percent bonuses.
Of course, it's not quite as simple as the AP wants you to think. What the Department's site says is that if you teach reading and math or something else tested in a standardized format, that's how you are assessed. If you teach art, however, what is required is some form of external assessment. FDE has a chart comparing E-Comp and Q-Comp, along with the plans in Denver and Houston.

So, as long as gain on FCAT scores are what parents would seek from teachers -- Craig's objection to Q-Comp should be met in E-Comp. I'll be interested in seeing whether he agrees.

Unsurprisingly, the teacher monolith has launched an attack on the plan, as the AP story describes. The AP previously ran a story using a poll of high school principals to attack the use of FCAT scores. Well, of course they do! What does the use of external assessment do to the power of principals vis-a-vis teachers and parents? And in the later AP story we find this nugget:
The Florida Education Association quickly filed an administrative challenge arguing that state law does not permit such a plan and denouncing it as an arbitrary, vague and incomplete way to determine which teachers are the best.

...The Florida School Boards Association will urge that approval be delayed so state officials can try to work out problems with teachers, local officials and others, said Wayne Blanton, the association's executive director.

"Logistically, this thing's a nightmare," Blanton said.

He said he told Winn it would also be a public relations disaster to run approximately 180,000 teachers through a state ranking system, noting 23 districts currently would not have a single teacher qualify for the statewide part of the pay plan.

Note that the plan doesn't take score levels, but score gains, so those districts with students that are at lower educational levels generally would not have to get students to the same levels as districts with academically more advanced students. Maybe they are hoping to get the exam curved?

The connection between the Florida and Minnesota plans, in case you haven't figured it out yet, is quite obvious. This could have been Minnesota's plan. Ask your legislator, why isn't it? Make it part of your caucus' platform proposals.


Friday, February 10, 2006

No comment 

Res ipse loquitur:
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) announced Thursday it would postpone a conference on academic boycotts scheduled to begin next week in Bellagio, Italy.

The conference, which was originally sponsored by the Ford, Rockefeller and Nathan Cummings Foundations, came under attack due to the fact that more than 8 of the 21 academics invited to participate in the conference publicly support boycotts of Israeli universities. Another decisive revelation that led to the postponement of the conference was that material distributed prior to the conference included an anti-Semitic paper by a Holocaust denier.


Market segments 

Cranky Prof is cranky about publishers giving different prices for the same book. Mightn't it be true that Harvard Univ. Press' mailing to professors about books is appealing to a market with more inelastic demand than a book on Amazon? Different channels entirely.

UPDATE: And sometimes you have two channels in the same building!


More reject codes 

After discussing this yesterday, John, Phil and myself were bandying some of the codes we use. This morning in the jobs section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed we find translations of what administrative candidates say when you ask them "Why do you want this job?"
  • What the candidate said: I have aspired to, and worked hard to prepare myself, for a position like this. What the committee heard: I don't want you; I only want a job at this level.

  • What the candidate said: This is a great time in my career to make a move like this. What the committee heard: I am looking to get out of my current job.

  • What the candidate said: It is time for me to assume the mantle of leadership. What the committee heard: I am sick of working for others and want others to get sick of working for me.

  • What the candidate said: I don't resonate with the leadership of my department. What the committee heard: They don't like me.

  • What the candidate said: I want to run my own shop. What the committee heard: I am a control freak.
&c. Looking over our own nonselect codes, I found a couple of dandies:


Cheaters seldom win 

As a department chair I have noticed an increased number of complaints by my faculty about students cheating. Sometimes it's so obvious that you have to do something just to discourage those at the margin that would cheat if they thought it was easy to get away with it. But like Alex Tabarrok, I seldom find anyone ever got a good grade from cheating.
Almost invariably the cheaters get abysmally low grades even without penalty. Some people I know get annoyed when students without evident handicap ask for and receive special treatment such as extra time on exams. I comply without rancor as the extra time never seems to help. Over the years I have had a number of students ask for incompletes. None have ever become completes.

I call this the law of below averages.
You still need a credible threat of enforcement (Alex suggests that the Lucas critique applies here), but you may be able to create this at relatively small cost. And having had the student in the room who denies it even when the faculty member has prima facie evidence (and administrative reluctance to pursue these cases), you do not want to have to play the punishment card too often. Sounds like another place for game theory.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

A new place for strategizing 

Like game theory? You might want to look at a game theoretic approach to the toilet seat problem .Mrs. S. and I maintain separate bathing facilities, but Remarks 2, 4 and 6 therein apply.

Would this be a non-cooperative equilibrium?

(h/t: The Corner.)

Reject codes 

Doc Palmer, on the costs of searching for faculty (we are in the midst of hiring three positions, which is one reason posting has been a little lighter lately.)

I gather from friends at other places, being on the hiring committee isn't always fun. The reason: paperwork nonsense.

Suppose, for example, you teach economics at a small undergraduate school that is not highly ranked (three profs in the department, no graduate programme, 12-hour teaching load, sub-normal pay). I'm not making this up: some places like this make the hiring committee complete forms on all the people they chose not to interview and why. I can just see the implementation of this policy:

We chose not to interview the number one graduate from [a top grad school] with four major publications and excellent teaching ratings because

  • They refused to return our phone calls
  • They weren't a good fit for the direction we would like for the department
  • Their salary expectations were not in line with what we could offer.
Do you think it acceptable to say that the expected benefits of pursuing such candidates were outweighed by the opportunity costs involved?
Oh hell no. Remember, you have to explain this on the modern university campus to your dean, your provost or president, and your affirmative action officer. At our school, any of these people can shoot down your search. And while we're a larger department (19 on staff), we have a "flow chart" wherein we must input "non-select codes". (Even I would have balked at "reject codes".)
And then, once the decision is made and an offer is made, the department must justify/explain why the other candidates were not offered the job. Again, I am not making this up.

Here are some of my suggested answers:
  • The candidate suffered from halitosis
  • Bad manners at meals - refused to pay his/her share
  • Poor attire: stripes, checks, and plaids do not go together
  • This candidate is just plain stupid
  • Didn't offer us enough money
  • Forgot to wear clean underwear for the job trip
  • Likes the wrong brand of beer.
I would add: Yankee fan.


Cliff Notes before publication 

I'm shocked that 22 people have already reviewed David Horowitz' new book "The Professors", on Amazon.com when its official release date isn't until Monday. Apparently, so is Horowitz, who accuses Michael Berube of using a "Readers Digest version".
Of course the fact he is only reading a fund-raising letter (avoiding therein the stress of reading a 112,000 word book) doesn't prevent Berube from prouncing The Professors an "outrage." I consider that an medal of honor Michael. Now why don't you try actually reading the book Herr literature professor and writing a real response. If you have intellectual fortitude to do this, I'll post it and answer you.
Watching this sparring this spring should be more fun than the book itself.


Intellectual diversity bill passes South Dakota House 

The South Dakota House of Representatives passed an intellectual diversity bill yesterday on a 42-26 vote. The bill is a reporting requirement only, to wit:

The Board of Regents shall require each institution under its control to annually report to the Legislature detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas. For purposes of this chapter, intellectual diversity is defined as the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, and other perspectives.

It then asks for information on steps taken "to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom". The claim of South Dakota academicians is that political bias on campuses is a problem elsewhere, but not South Dakota. One legislator, Joel Dykstra, responded:

Here in South Dakota, we may be able to avoid the national trend, but our academic community should not be afraid of intellectual diversity. We should recognize it as an introduction of alternative ideas.

Excellent point. What are they afraid of? I think mostly that they don't want to be the first state that has it. From the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning (subscribers link):

"Unfortunately, it sends the message to the higher-education community that there are problems in South Dakota that need political intrusion to solve," said Robert T. (Tad) Perry, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."

The South Dakota Senate should vote later this month on the bill. Passage seems likely. If the Board of Regents wishes to avoid HB 1222 becoming law, it could follow Colorado's example of voluntarily adopting the Student Bill of Rights into its student handbooks and provide for their enforcement. They could then report this to the Legislature once, in return for which you could void the law.

South Dakota Politics has followed the story, and also reports on an action at the University of Iowa. Its president, David Skorton, has recently accepted the presidency of Cornell University, and his first mention of diversity in his acceptance speech was intellectual diversity. I will see what more I can learn about the Iowa story.

See also ACTA.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ginning it up 

A Hennepin County judge ruled Monday that the Minnesota Twins can leave the Metrodome in 2007 if they want to.
The ruling came the same day legislative leaders and team officials emerged from a meeting at the governor's residence with no progress toward a new stadium proposal.

While the commission's lawyers said they have not given up their court fight, legislators said the ruling lent urgency to finding a new home for the team.

"I won't say this is a surprise, but it is kind of a big deal," said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. "This only adds to the importance of addressing this now. This issue needs to be on the 2006 [legislative] agenda."
So the heat is turned up on the state government to create a new facility that would placate the Twins. My view continues to be that they have no place to go, as Paul White also argues in Sports Weekly.
Only in the last couple of years has the quality of the game caught up with the two expansions of the 1990s.

Just as important, though, we haven't had contraction either. That notion, raised for all the wrong reasons leading up to the 2002 labor negotiations, went away. But the same kinds of threats could play a role in the next talks.

Don't count baseball's stability in its number of teams as any kind of lesson learned. Contraction remains a useful negotiation ploy.
And that threat is far less viable while MLB continues to own the Washington Nationals and not find an owner, which seems unlikely when they can't even get their act together on building the stadium. (I am trying to find details of the deal the DC council passed late last night.) Would they try Charlotte again? Portland and Las Vegas are offered but the former is simply too small to support an MLB franchise and the latter is too attractive to Pete Rose, if you know what I mean. You have to wonder why the Minnesota legislature is in such a hurry to disenfranchise area voters and taxpayers. Yet there they go:

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said the ruling "should serve to remind people that there's one less reason for the team to stay here. They don't have a lease. They don't have a commitment for a new ballpark. So I think it would be hard to fault them for looking around."

Opat was an architect of a $478 million county-Twins proposal to build a stadium in Minneapolis' Warehouse District with a countywide sales tax. The county needs legislative authorization for the sales tax, but the Legislature hasn't voted on it. The estimated cost of the proposal has since increased $30 million.

Brian McClung, a spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, "What we've been saying all along is it's clear the Twins are not going to stay in the Metrodome, and this obviously reinforces that."

McClung added, "If the public believes the Twins are an amenity that should be kept, then action is going to have to be taken."

...Asked whether the Twins might shell out more to accommodate the rising cost of a new stadium, Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell said, "Probably not."

So we have a sports franchise suing to get out of a lease, increasing pressure on the government to pass a bill that disenfranchises citizens who will pay higher sales taxes, and Bell says he won't pay for cost overruns either? Coming on top of the Vikings' push for a new facility, this legislative session could get very, very expensive.

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Learned Foot discovers Peace Studies 

And the results, as usual, are hilarious (if a tad PG-13, you are warned.) I liked this best:

Ah yes, the Social Change Wheel. That of course is the corollary of the well-known Physical Fitness Triangle, The Octagon of Conflict, and the Wellness Parallelogram.

Anyway, just by reading this brief introduction, I can tell how useless this program is. For cryin' out loud, the four stages of didacticism outlined here as the "Circle of Praxis" (which is, I believe, a band of warriors from ancient Visigoth mythology who did battle against the evil Trapezoid of Blothar) is nothing that your average college student already experiences.

Or maybe that's just the cleanest part. Anyway, be sure to drain your mouth of coffee before sallying forth.


Not sure I get this 

David Tufte writes about an example from Thomas Sowell on the minimum wage's ability to create more discrimination.
He points out that a minimum wage actually makes it cheaper to discriminate. I've used the argument for a long time that price floors generally cause discrimination, but I've never heard it made this way.

Suppose you have two workers who can do $3 and $4 worth of work each hour, and you must employ at least one of them. With voluntary exchange and arbitrage they will end up getting paid $3 and $4, and the employer will by happy to hire one or both of them. However, if we institute a $5 minimum wage, the employer will discriminate and hire only the worker with the higher productivity. The employer is out a dollar, but they now have $2 to spend on capital to make their single employee more productive.
I checked this with some of my colleagues, and I want to specifically thank Eric Hampton for confirming what I thought. If you HAVE to employ at least one, you hire the first worker voluntarily only if you can pay him $4. If both will work for $3 or less, you hire both. You would never hire one at $4 and the second at $3 unless you could discriminate between them.

Sowell's passage that I think David is quoting is this (from the first edition, p. 158 -- my copy of the second is out on loan):
...surplus labor resulting from minimum wage laws makes it cheaper to discriminate against minority workers than it would be in a free market, where there is no chronic excess supply of labor. Passing up qualified minority workers in a free market means having to hire other workers to take the jobs they were denied, and that in turn usually means either having to raise the pay to attract additional workers or lower the job qualifications at the existing pay level...
What that means is that minimum wage laws give us some excess supply of white labor, which we can then use to fill the gap of employees left by discriminating against non-whites. That's a far different explanation than what David offers.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Words mattered in 1990 

I am reading Captain Ed, my NARN co-host and ecstatic Steelers fan, who today took on E. J. Dionne's claim that tax cuts crippled the budget process and faults Dionne with amnesia of the 1990 tax hikes under Bush41 and their leading to the recession of 1990. Kevin Drum, along with commenters on Ed's blog, argue that the tax increases came after the start of the recession, and that tax increases were responsible for pulling the U.S. out of the 1990 recession. Drum and Dionne are wrong on both counts; here's why.

First, the passage of the bill in November isn't the pivotal event for economic agents deciding how to save, work and invest. Expectations matter. Bush had given his famous "read my lips" pledge in the 1988 campaign and rode his position as keeper of the Reagan legacy to electoral victory. Given its prominent place, it is probable that in 1989 and early 1990, workers and investors had depended upon the pledge. The key would be when did GHWB renounce his pledge? The answer is Tuesday, May 8, 1990. Via Lexis-Nexis, this report by Ann Devroy of Dionne's own paper appeared on page A1.

HEADLINE: Bush Opens Door To Tax-Hike Talks;'No Preconditions' for Budget Session

BODY:President Bush wants budget negotiations "unfettered with conclusions about positions taken in the past," the White House announced yesterday, opening the door to tax increase discussions that have been banned since Bush took office.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, under a barrage of questions on whether Bush was abandoning his "read-my-lips" campaign pledge of no new taxes, said the president had proposed a new round of high-level budget negotiations with Congress whose guiding principle would be "no pre-conditions."

Asked a half-dozen ways whether Bush might now approve of a tax increase, Fitzwater said answering such a question "is not helpful, not useful, does not further the progress of the talks in any way." But he did not dispute statements by congressional leaders who met with Bush Sunday and reported he was opening the door to talks that include taxes. ...

Note again, that's in Mr. Dionne's own newspaper. James Pinkerton recalls the period well.
I have known Larry Lindsey since the days when he was a staffer for Ronald Reagans Council of Economic Advisers; during the Bush 41 administration, we sat next to each other in the Old Executive Office Building. Needless to say, we were both dismayed to see President Bush break his read my lips, no new taxes pledge in the spring of 1990. But Lindsey soldiered on, as the negotiations dragged onand dragged 41s presidency down. For months during that bleak summer of 90, the budget-deal negotiations were being held at Andrews Air Force Base. Every day, the White House worthies would travel out to lock horns with Congressional Democrats; yet the Bushmen, having begun the fiscal bidding with a base-destroying, promise-breaking concession on the tax issue, had no good cards to play. So every afternoon, the Democrats would leak the Republican position to The Washington Post, complete with their Bush-bashing, class-warfaring spin. And the next morning, every morning, the Post would gleefully report that the Bush plan, whatever its particulars, would enrich the rich and harm the poor. Where was the Republican counter-spin? There wasnt any, because the White House had decided not to fight back, lest the Democrats get mad and walk away from the deal, and Dick Darman's chance to be Time magazines Man of the Year.
There is no way one can represent the tax increase as coming in November. On June 25, Bush came out of a meeting with Congressional leaders and says "tax revenue increases" are needed. By the 27th, an article from Paul Taylor and Maralee Schwartz, also of the WP, reports:

Four days after George Bush won a presidential campaign in which the phrase, "read my lips: no new taxes," was his most memorable slogan, The Washington Post polled voters across the nation to see if they believed him.

Sixty-seven percent said they did not.

Such deep public skepticism usually poses a problem for a politician, but yesterday Bush's political advisers were counting on it to shield the president from what they acknowledged will be "24 hours of political hell" following his statement opening the door to new taxes.

The Washington Times proclaimed that Bush had broken his pledge that same day. Words matter; economic agents could no longer rely on stable tax rates.

Bush negotiated thorugh the summer to try to keep his other major pledge on taxes -- a cut in the capital gains tax (sound familiar?) -- but by September Newt Gingrich was mad enough not to show up at a Rose Garden function. The effect of the tax increase did not start in November.

A quick detour on recession dating. The recession of 1990-91 was dated to have started in July 1990 and ended in April 1991. It took until after the 1992 election (12/22/92) for NBER to announce the date of the end of the recession. (Bush41 supporters probably just ground their teeth.) The reason for the difficulty in dating was given by the dating committee thus:
The committee had waited to make the determination of the trough date [the end of the recession] until it was confident that any future downturn in the economy would be considered a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in July 1990. The committee noted that the broadest measure of economic activity -- gross domestic product in constant dollars -- had finally surpassed its previous peak by the third quarter of 1992. Only by December did the overall pattern of economic activity appear to be strong enough to warrant the determination of the trough date.
So, if the tax increases were really going to lead to the recovery and growth of the economy, why did the resulting expansion take so long to take hold that 21 months had to pass before the recession's end was found?

And they did nothing for revenues either. Indeed, at the beginning of the Andrews AFB negotiations of summer 1990, the projected FY 1992 budget deficit was $101 billion. By the time of Bush's 1991 SOTU speech, it was $318 billion. (Source.) If tax increases were to stimulate the economy, how could they have been so anemic both to economic growth and to tax revenues?

Lastly, there is nothing to be gained from viewing the Clinton 1993 tax increase differently. Jude Wanniski explains:

Clinton was persuaded by his Cabinet that the bond market was more important than speculative stocks. The final tax bill, which passed without a single Republican vote, raised the top marginal income-tax rate to 39% from 33%, but it left alone the 28% capital gains tax. At the time it passed, we told our clients that it would not do much damage to the economy. ...

There was no technical recession following the Clinton tax increase, but that is only because the recession that ended the Bush administration was not followed by rising expectations of rapid economic growth. When the economy dips below a projected expansion path for two successive quarters, we term this a recession. When it recovers from this dip, we say the recession is over even before the economy returns to the growth path from which it dipped. The administration�s support of Greenspan�s monetary policy was enough to offset the dampening effects of the tax increase. Between the end of 1992 when the recession ended and the fall of 1996, the economy grew at a glacial pace.

This wasn't Ed's point at all, but call this a marker in case Drum, Dionne, et al., wish to use the Clinton tax increase instead. But of course, Democrats would love for Bush43 to emulate the Clinton 1993 tax increase. After all, look at what it did for Clinton's party in the 1994 elections?

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There's a search helicopter that just passed my window over the Mississippi looking for SCSU missing student Scot Radel. Footsteps were found near the river last night. The city's webpage has information on Radel. Two points of note: First, he was pretty lost, as the bar he reportedly left was to the west of the place he wanted to go, but he called two blocks in the opposite direction he said, and sniffer dogs found a scent of him five blocks to the west of the bar he was leaving to go east. Second, Scot's father says the shoeprint found wasn't the same as Scot's (he was reported to be wearing Doc Martens, but that doesn't exactly narrow down the search all that much.) One of the chatters on the Times site has similar concerns and is worth reading (look for "AI" on this chat -- I believe he's an area psychologist.)

UPDATE (2/7) and bumped: Shoot, still nothing. The University has an info page.

Looking in the mirror, darkly 

Young Nathanael Blake is amused by leftists who worry for the success of conservative student groups.
University liberals are chagrined to have found themselves the Galactic Empire battling against the Rebel Alliance. Campuses are saturated with the extreme blue end of the political spectrum, and the massive imbalance in the officially sanctioned views on universities creates an opening conservatives have exploited. We get to be the edgy, countercultural iconoclasts fighting The Man, which, in the words of the great William F. Buckley, Jr. "leaves us just about the hottest thing in town."

For every right-wing speaker brought to a campus, dozens or even hundreds of left-wing diatribes are delivered during lectures. Subjected to such an assault, outspoken conservative students quickly join forces and become hardened veterans of political warfare. In contrast, liberal students, who can go years without having their views challenged by a professor, become intellectually flabby; their dominance breeds complacency. When a school spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on a Queer Pride Center, how much is really left for student radicals to do?

Seriously. Take a look at our university's home page. What's being advertised?
Not a Buckley in the bunch. And they worry about the appearance of conservative student groups? Why?


Planned economies and graduate students 

Watching the SOTU speech last week, as it does every time I watch it, always produces a few groans. More during Clinton than Bush, more during Bush than Reagan, but even for the Great Communicator there will be one or two proposals that will lead to eyerolling and an Omigosh (or worse.) I admit, however, that I probably didn't do this during the SOTU at a point where I should have, and Lew Rockwell corrects me.
Once in every second-term presidency, the chief executive lectures the country about the impending disaster of a shortage of mathematicians and scientists. People think: oh no, we'd better get on the stick and create some in a hurry!
OK, Bush didn't exactly say that. What he said was that we are short of math teachers that are good enough to get our test scores up to levels that compare with those in other industrialized economies. But Bush's solution to this is to create more demand for math and science majors by training 70,000 teachers and encouraging scientists to come to the classroom. But, Rockwell points out, don't markets determine whether we have enough scientists?

Let's say the president made a huge stink about the shortage of teeth cleaners, web designers, dancers, or piano tuners. We might more clearly recognize the error. Professions are things chosen by individuals as they follow market signals. If there is a shortage, the wages of the people with these specializations would go up, thereby drawing more people into the profession. People would rush to study teeth cleaning and the like. This influx of new labor would push wages down again. When the wages get too low, people leave these professions and find others.

Thus does the market for labor specializations work rather well, here, there, and everywhere. Wages aren't the only consideration for why people go into some fields and not others, but it is a major factor. The market provides a helpful signaling mechanism to assist people in the development of certain skills. Shortages and surpluses resolve themselves.

Rockwell continues by pointing out the wages for these majors are quite high enough so that there are no shortages in the field. There's no evidence that the price system isn't working, so why used a planned economy solution?

A point that Rockwell misses, though, is that there's no evidence putting more money in science and math education will help unless something is done to reduce the use of licensing as a barrier to entry in teaching. Alternative licensure rules have always rubbed the teacher unions wrong, and the Bush Administration needs some credit for seeking to overcome barriers to getting those rules relaxed. But there is a chokehold on these rules in state legislatures that continue to dance to the tune of the public education establishment. Even if there was a shortage -- which Rockwell doubts -- there's no assurance the increased scientists supplied would reach the classroom.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Your antennae have to rise... 

{Crossposted at The Sports Economist.}

...whenever you hear about business people and government officials getting together to discuss money. So word yesterday that Zygi Wilf and Governor Pawlenty were planning to meet had me up with the tricorder right away.

The plans came out of a meeting between Wilf, Pawlenty and other staffers Thursday. Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said the sides will conduct a "financial workshop" to hash out details of Wilf's $675 million proposal to build a stadium in Blaine. That meeting could happen within the next week.

According to the framework financing plan, Wilf and the NFL would contribute $280 million to the project. Anoka County would raise $280 million through a 0.75 percent countywide sales tax; the state would be asked to speed up $115 million in infrastructure projects and also bypass a law requiring local referendums for tax increases.

"We're happy that the governor seems to want to get engaged in this," Bagley said.

I have said before that the benefits of these things are dubious, and it's doubly so when you don't let voters even decide in a referendum whether they will be taxed to pay for it. (by the way, wasn't it Pawlenty who said initiative & referendum was one of his four items he needed in the last term to pass the budget? hmmm.) The story carried a Detroit by-line, as Wilf was no doubt collecting evidence of how Detroit got Super Bowl XL as a sop for building $420 million Ford Field (of which the public paid $260 million, including about $40 in cost overruns.) Numerous sports economists, including me, are quoted in the St. Paul PioneerPress editorial today discouraging the governor from pursuing this initiative.
Regardless of who won Sunday's Super Bowl, we hope everyone will remember the economics � not the score � of the game. Especially when Vikings owner Zygi Wilf comes calling again to ask the good taxpayers of Minnesota to pony up for a new stadium. Surely the Super Bowl and the economic riches it allegedly offers will
be one of the baubles he'll dangle in front of legislative committees and community forums. Don't buy it.

(h/t for news piece: Gary Gross.)

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If I had a nickel for every time... 

...I read economic illiteracy in the newspaper, I'd ... well, I'd be a much richer man.

Robert Murphy rips to shreds yet another article which mistakes price controls for shortages, and the plight of being an economist generally. On the latter first,
It's not easy being an economist. To get your degree nowadays, you have to first become a (second rate) mathematician. Then you start teaching and half of your students require artificial stimulants during the lecture on price elasticity. Even at social gatherings, the burden follows you: The moment your occupation becomes known, someone inevitably asks for a stock tip, even if your specialty is 19th-century capital theory.
All of this is true. One of the nice things about the NARN show is that nobody asks me for stock tips, maybe because the station has Jerry Wade running opposite us on Pat2. I can tell you it's a relief -- I don't know more than most people about investing.

But I do know a price control when I see one, and so does Murphy.
...this isn't some controversial point in theoretical economics. The failure of price controls has been documented (literally) for a period of thousands of years. For an anecdotal bit of evidence, my colleague (who worked at a gas station in the 1970s) said that the gas lines disappeared within one week of the abandonment of price controls. And when I asked what took so long, he said that the owner didn't immediately raise prices because of feared public backlash.
Nobody likes rising prices, and there's always a desire for someone to blame for them. But we're all to blame. Prices represent the coordination of thousands or millions of individual bids and offers, processing disparate bits of information from far-flung places. That's the beauty of what markets do, as Hayek taught us 60 years ago. Reporters in general are woefully ignorant of this basic insight.

One needn't be a "right-wing zealot" to recognize the connection between gas lines and price controls. I don't even expect a news story to take a stand one way or the other. But it would be nice if this story had contained a quotation from an economist. Can you imagine if the news coverage of, say, an accident at a nuclear power plant only interviewed concerned residents, and didn't even allude to the opinions of physicists or other relevant scientists?

I understand that (bad) economists are largely to blame for the public perception that their discipline isn't really objective and is ultimately a
matter of politics. Nonetheless the public perception is wrong. There are objective laws in economics, including the law that says price ceilings cause shortages. One can't interpret the world very well without a knowledge of such basic principles, and one certainly shouldn't write a story concerning gas lines while suffering from such ignorance.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yoohoo, Professor Miller! 

SCSU 67, MSU Mankato 53. Hello first place.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

St. Cloud State Student Missing 

Authorities are looking for this student, Scot Baek Radel, who's gone missing since late Thursday. The police do not believe there is foul play involved, as he was walking down the main street of downtown St. Cloud and talking on a cellphone when last heard from. But this marks the second student taken under odd circumstances (the first was Joshua Guimond in Nov. 2002, who is still missing.) Call the St. Cloud police at 320-251-1200 with details.

Friday, February 03, 2006

How NOT to draw cost curves 

I notice a headline that the Iraq war is costing $100,000 per minute. Suppose we asked how much per minute Microsoft spends? The answer would be north of $50,000. So, what would it mean if the headline said "Iraq war costs less than twice as much to operate per day as Microsoft"?

Probably means a massive takeover of the MSM by people who can do math.

This week on the Northern Alliance Radio Network 

I don't know why I don't mention these more often. This week we will have on Michael Ledeen of National Review Online, to talk about Iran, Hamas, and the Middle East more generally. Don't forget we've expanded to 11am-3pm now ... and thanks to The Patriot for having some nice promos running during the week now! Can't hear us on your radio? Go here...

Andy's slagging Patty 

And I mean hard. Just scroll. And then read between the lines of this quote. (Typos corrected.)

This district is a conservative Republican district. Republicans do not need to select a moderate candidate to appease a larger DFL/leftist electorate. The district is Republican. ...

Government is already big enough. The last thing I want is someone to go down to DC just to get stuff done. Everyone goes to DC to get stuff done. Do you know what that really means? To spend more bleeping money.

The last thing the Republicans need right now is to pick a moderate candidate to run against Wetterling.

Um, Andy, don't you think that's what the DFL wants? They're not trying to pull you to the center.

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Didn't cover? 

The employment report for January registers a solid gain, but so did the previous five months, adding 151,000 new jobs not previously reported in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual data revision. So while some want to say 193k new jobs is less than the 250k expected, the upward revisions more than cover the difference. James Picerno notes the broad base of the expansion, even with an upbeat manufacturing sector.

Remember when Truman said he wished for a one-armed economist? That's what reading the reports on this is like. Try CNN, for instance:

The drop in unemployment was the latest sign of a tightening labor market, which
could put upward pressure on wages and prices in the months ahead.

On Wall Street, stocks fell and Treasury bond prices dipped, raising long-term yields, on the expectation that the report makes further interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve more likely.

That's also a reaction to yesterday's productivity report, which showed a decrease in the fourth quarter. Remember, though, when people were complaining that all that productivity increase was costing the US jobs, and that it was lining the pockets of the rich? Now that productivity is falling and employment and wages rising, what are they saying?
Unemployment fell to 4.7%, largely because adults continued to quit the job market. In January the labor force shrunk just as it did in November, and the growing number of discouraged workers is a major public policy problem. The adult labor force participation has fallen significantly since George Bush took over stewardship of the economy. If adults were participating in the job market at 2000 levels, unemployment would exceed 6%.-- Peter Morici, University of Maryland

Maybe some people like leisure? I never thought the purpose of a healthy economy was to create more work; I thought play was part of a higher standard of living. (It's worth noting that long-term unemployment -- the number of workers who've looked for work more than six months -- constituted 16.3% of the unemployed versus 21% a year ago. The discouraged workers count is down as well.)

Or this, from the AP: "Despite good news on some economic matters, Americans still feel anxious about the economy, polls indicate." This is based on the second reading of the University of Michigan survey, but The Conference Board reported higher levels. Just because a sentiment reading falls 0.3 points does not translate to "feeling anxious", sorry.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

I thought this was what syllabi do 

At Oxford, there is a proposal to enforce student study contracts that require attendance and reading in return for their education.
The contracts ... will require a new breed of fee-paying "student consumers" - who are demanding ever higher standards from universities - to do a reasonable amount of work, including attending lectures and completing essays.

According to the agreement, students must "pursue such studies as are required of you by any tutor, fellow or lecturer, or other qualified person assigned by the college to teach you".

Oxford hopes the move will give the university some legal protection from disgruntled students who fail to get their expected examination results.
The problem seems to be much more simple: Students think grades depend on input. They do not. I fear this proposal makes that expectation more likely, and for that reason I would not use them. My students learn what I expect of them and what they can expect from me in a syllabus. Of course they lose them, and don't read them, even when I place them on the web. Do you really think this proposed contract will improve on that?

Noted in passing: Rate Your Students, a blog in response to the professor rating services. I guess it's creating a row, but I see nothing on RYS that wasn't already being said in faculty lounges a generation ago. Still, it is not the point of this blog to complain about particular students (even those held anonymous) and when I do not show restraint you are invited to link back to this post to remind me of my manners.


Here's how it would get funner 

You will forgive my demurral, but I just don't think Patty Wetterling getting back into the CD-6 race is that big a deal. It's not as if the party faithful had actually lined up behind Tinklenberg.

But here's how it would get to be fun: She wins the endorsement, and he goes on to the primary against her, moving more centrist that he is now. That would be a food fight worth watching. The people who would push Wetterling absolutely hated Janet Robert when she ran against Mark Kennedy because she was pro-life and moderately pro-Second Amendment ... pretty much where Tinklenberg is now. That's why the draft Patty campaign has taken off. But the rank-and-file DFL in the counties up Highway 10 -- Sherburne and Anoka and Stearns -- may not be as attracted to her as to Tinklenberg.

And given Patty's supposed to have broken her word, nobody will blame Ev for a primary run.

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I had no idea 

...that gift card purchases during the Christmas season only count in retail sales when purchases are made with them. This was noted before the holiday season by the Purdue Retail Institute.
The issue for retail sales surrounding gift cards is that a very small percentage of them are redeemed during the traditional holiday selling season (Thanksgiving to Christmas). Since retailers cannot claim the sales of cards as sales made (until they are redeemed), retailers who have a large number of gift card sales have to wait until after New Year 's to reap the benefit of these sales. So as gift cards increase in popularity, retailers will be benefiting in their first quarter of the new year rather than the holiday season. So some of the expected good holiday retail sales season is actually part of a better first quarter and not the holiday quarter (usually the fourth quarter for retailers).
So I wonder whether we are seasonally adjusting the fourth quarter GDP data too much, and if this increased use of gift cards accounts for some of the inventory buildup in the data? If the inventory is being held in anticipation of January card redemptions, then at least one troubling sign in the fourth quarter GDP data isn't so troubling after all.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It's the reason for the season 

Spotted on a whiteboard in a grad assistant office for one of those departments: A drawing of a decorated pine tree with the words

Merry Winter Season!

I suppose that its remaining on the whiteboard to February means it's sincere.

And take Littlest with ya! 

I don't need to recap the State of the Union, but I do wish to stop nominations for most humorous analysis. We have a winner:
[T]here were the Democrats, clapping joyously at the news that they'd voted down Social Security reform. They looked like adolescents mocking authority. Memo to Dems: if the American voter wanted sullen, rebellious adolescents in Congress, they would have sent their own, if for no other reason than to get them out of the basement.
Found via Vox Baby, who probably groaned as loudly as I did at the umpteenth commission on fixing Social Security. Didn't the guy who did the first big one just retire?

Kiddy price controls 

MnSCU's organization of student governments has made part of its platform to "support programs to lower student textbook costs including, but not limited to, textbook rental." That's great! So how are they proposing to do this? Today the campus receives an announcement:
I am working with MSUSA and St. Cloud State Student Senate to create a Minnesota Textbook Commission at the Minnesota State Legislature to investigate the practices of textbook publishing companies and why the prices are so high. As part of this initiative, we are asking for input from individual students. We are requesting about 5-10 minutes to explain the initiative and get some feedback from your classes. If you are willing to help us out with this, please respond to [...] with class times, dates and room numbers of classes.
I can only imagine what the answers will be. Let me save them the bother. There are studies available that will tell you the data. There are articles. What the purpose of this commission is, is to extort rents from textbook providers. When one of the studies says flatly that used textbooks "should" cost no more than 75% of new, that would be a price ceiling.


601 Dalmatians 

Mrs. S alerted me a week ago to this story of the puppy mill in Morrison County, and since then has been trying to get me to write something about it. I said if she wrote a letter to the editors of the local paper, I would link it.

So there.

A couple of thoughts: We have a dog that had been with a breeder (though I can't tell you how many dogs that breeder had, and I assume the perjorative "puppy mill" has to do with size -- the breeder in question has proposed a farm with 600 dogs.) Buttercup -- you've seen her here before -- is very skittish of men and still distrustful of me after eighteen months, even though she is a cuddly dog and smarter than our previous Boston. There is some evidence that dogs used for breeding in puppy mills are anti-social. Luckily Buttercup is better than most, but those stories do make me wonder what her life was like before now.

Second, the arguments over the Morrison County story and whether government should do something about this breeder are approaching some economics, asking about the externalities associated with 600 dogs (waste and noise would be the two largest I can think of; the breeder is mitigating this by breeding small dogs and "debarking" them.) Mrs. S argues those should be sufficient to shut down the facility, leaving aside the inhumane treatment of dogs in these mills. I don't think that argument is sufficient. But while I would like to think the market takes care of these issues -- zoning laws would put these in places where noise and waste impose lower external costs, mills would be right-sized by market signals of price -- I wonder if the ability to "dump inventory" to research labs or simple abandonment violates some basic economic assumptions. I'll let more microeconomically-inclined colleagues explain whether that's right or wrong.