Friday, June 30, 2006

An opportunity missed many years ago. 

I grew up with muscle cars around the neighborhood -- I turned 16 in that time when OPEC just raised the price of a barrel of oil from $3 to $22, so everyone wanted a Beetle like my mom had, but which I hated. We also had a '63 black Buick LeSabre that Dad had just put a stick shift into for reasons I never learned. Maybe a midlife crisis. And there was the Ford Maverick, which was either Lime Gold (officially) or baby poop yellow (my term, though with a different slang for the object -- I try to avoid those words on this blog.)

Every kid my age had a car they yearned for, burned for. A Goat, or a Mustang -- particularly one of those Shelbys. For me? It was the Charger.

I grew up in Manchester NH, and north of town was a back road out to Candia and on towards my family's ancetral home in Dover (Dad) and Rollinsford (Mom, one town over). The road was seldom patroled so many of us knew you could open up the engine on that road. So one day I'm driving the road and on the left side, and there it is. A yellow (canary, not the color of baby offal) Charger. 1969, R/T 440. And it's for sale by owner. And it was near the end of summer and I was getting ready for college and had money in my pocket. I had more than half the price.

So I get Dad to come look with me. He takes one look and says "King, forget it. You can't afford the gas." "Who cares, Dad? I'd only drive it sometimes. It would be coolcoolcool to look at in the driveway." "We're not a car museum, King. Forget it. Let's go home." Crushed, I left.

Well, I'm sending this link to Dad tonight. What's number 2 on this list, Pops? Huh? Huh?

And a few years later, damned if Dad didn't buy a 74 Pontiac Grand Am SJ, which my brother drove. That really pissed me off. Oops.

(h/t: Newmark's Door)

Democracy babes march on Bolivia 

There is a general theory in the blogosphere that there is a strong positive correlation between the success of democracy movements in the developing world and the quality of its young female protestors. Now it's not a hundred percent correlation, but it's pretty good.

And good golly! democracy is coming to Bolivia! This is a country that was much more free five years ago, so the taste for freedom is still fresh.
A 2004 referendum partly re-nationalized Bolivia's hydrocarbon industries, but indigenous leaders like Movement Toward Socialism congressman Evo Morales are agitating for total state ownership. As a result, citizens in gas-producing districts like Santa Cruz and Tarija would like autonomy from the rest of Bolivia, whose government they view as irresponsible and responding to fear.
And in Santa Cruz, the vote for autonomy is this Sunday.

(h/t: Jay Reding)

Scotch? Cigars? 

I'm in. Now sexy is covered.

Many hands make light blogging 

I'm overwhelmed by the response to my request for guestbloggers -- both in quantity and quality! Thanks for your offers, everyone, and if you've already sent one please stand by for further information. I will get back to everyone who's offered -- even you, Lefty. I will need to find some way to reduce the list, and maybe we can make a contest out of this.

I will still take more offers at comments at this blog's name (as one word) dot com.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Internships and haughty academics 

I may have found something SCSU is "ahead of the curve" on. Most universities do not give college credit for internships, arguing that you only get academic credit for academic work (and by implication, academic work means stuff academics give you to do or read). But some firms are now refusing to take unpaid interns unless those students are receiving college credit, says the Wall Street Journal (subscriber link).
Employment lawyers say there has been a burst of lawsuits in recent years related to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates wages and overtime. The number of FLSA collective-action suits filed nationwide almost tripled to 1,076 in 2004, from 397 three years earlier, according to an analysis by Allan Weitzman, who heads the employment-law practice for Proskauer Rose LLP in Boca Raton, Fla. Such suits largely center on issues of overtime pay, he says. But the increase may be leading employers to be more careful in general about their work forces, including making sure their internships are clearly defined and not exploitive.

One of the factors the Labor Department uses to define an unpaid "trainee," or intern, is that the experience is for the benefit of the student. Receiving credit for the experience helps satisfy that requirement, says Mr. Weitzman.

We're different in two ways. There may be some departments at SCSU that do not want their interns to be paid, but it's a minority. Most of our interns are. Second, we have a university number that creates internship credits for any department that wants to run an internship program. Students pay, but since our credits are about $200 each including student activity fees, there's minimal squawking. Students and the internship director can set the number of credits where they like, as long as the student's willing to pay. There's guidance that relates credits to hours worked, so that you can't work five hours a week and get twelve internship credits, but you can work forty hours, paid, per week and pay for anywhere from one to twelve credits. Students are graded based on a journal and paper -- many times, directors in programs will call or even visit the internship site. My sister does this in her culinary program all the time, though that's much different than the internships we're discussing here. But her program for a two-year certificate isn't that different from what an intern in a university's social work program would look like.

Many schools are now moving to something like what we have. But others insist that the "credit" earned at the school does not count towards graduation -- even if the student pays for it. My question is this: Why would universities view work experience that applies to their major not count as "academic work"? Are we just being haughty?

Quarter for your thoughts 

The WSJ (subscribers link) parses the Federal Reserve's statement to suggest perhaps the Fed got a little more dovish. Notice the language that the economy is "cooler" and that May's "some further policy firming may yet be needed," they say. August Fed funds futures jumped 35 basis points, indicating all those who were betting on 5.5% in August aren't so sure now, so for a few weeks we'll keep guessing. The next big sign of which way we go should be the employment report a week from tomorrow. Everyone on Wall Street went long for the weekend, it appears. My reading is, they trust the Fed's statement on cooling economy and inflation. I expect more betting in that direction next week until the employment report and then the CPI/PPI numbers in mid-month.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A call for guests 

I will be in need of blogging assistance later this summer. If you are a younger blogger or a wannabe, and you might be able to contribute some material during the second half of July and early August, drop a line to comments at this blog's name dot com. Be it a few contributions or a daily jonesing, I'm interested in talking to you.


I mean, there's some stuff you just can't make up.
A St. Cloud man faces DWI charges after neighbors reported him riding a lawn mower up and down a city street and through people�s yards.

Karl Benjamin Thompson, 24, was passed out in his neighbor�s driveway when police arrived late Tuesday in the 6200 block of Cape East Court. His blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota, said Sgt. Joe Kraayenbrink.

Because Thompson has prior DWI convictions, police seized the lawn mower he was riding, Kraayenbrink said.

Neighbors reported a severely intoxicated man riding a lawn mower up and down the street and through several yards in the neighborhood at about 10:50 p.m. Tuesday, Kraayenbrink said. Police found Thompson passed out on the lawn mower when they arrived. He was taken to Stearns County Jail, where he faces possible charges of driving while intoxicated.
Are you thinking Alice's Restaurant right now? "Son, whatcha in for?" "Mowing while intoxicated." I want to be sure this is preserved so he can explain this to his children some day. Tell them he rehabilitated himself.

Hitting the merely affluent 

While these letter-writers from Growth and Justice may think they are nonpartisan, a cursory look at their list shows me only one Republican on their board of directors, Arlen Erdahl, who is probably still bitter about being turned out in Reagan's first midterm elections by Tim Penny. Obviously he's learned nothing from supply side economics, or if he did he's not sharing with the bunch of them. Just like the super-rich who are asking for the death tax to be extended (but not that it will apply to them), the rich of Minnesota can shift resources so that they don't have to pay state taxes. The merely affluent -- the two professionals working to earn about $120,000 a year -- would still get socked with an extra $2000 in taxes to pay for the super-rich's better Minnesota. The executive board of Growth and Justice has no intention of paying the tax -- if they did, they'd write checks to Pawlenty's request, not whine to the STrib when Kersten suggests the same thing. Governor, let us know if you get any.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, Mitch is running a blogswarm on the patricians.

A new fix for salary compression 

One aspect of teaching at SCSU is the faculty contract, which doesn't allow for merit pay and has rather paltry 2.4% steps for a year of experience. It's not unusual for new faculty to earn more than faculty with 8-12 years experience. What we need is a this deal wherea community college president retires for 30 days and gets his severance package, and then returns to work with a new contract. His severance? $893,000. They also gave him the Porsche Boxster they had leased for him before. The board says this president is indispensible, and that because his colege is so large that comparisons to other schools don't work.

(h/t: reader Pat Mattson.)

Pawlenty HOPEs free tuition helps 

"So," I'm asked this morning, "what do you think of Pawlenty free tuition plan?" "Feh. In the short run it's a middle class tax cut. In the long run, it's a disaster." "Wow, I thought you liked Pawlenty."

I do, but this is a bad plan. The STrib reporters make the link to Georgia's HOPE scholarship started in 1993. But researchers at the University of Georgia have not found the program to be very useful. Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution summarized these findings last year:
Predictably, high-school GPAs increased markedly after 1993 with a pronounced spike at B. SAT scores, however, did not increase so grade inflation, not academic improvement, appears to be the cause. Once in college students must maintain a B average to keep their scholarship - the program is rather lax on how many or what courses must be taken however. The result is that scholarship students take fewer classes, take easier classes and when the going gets tough they withdraw more often. Apparently HOPE comes at the expense of fortitude.

HOPE increases the number of students enrolled in GA colleges only modestly and the bulk of the increase comes from students who are induced by the cash to stay in GA, instead of going to school in another state, rather than from students who, without HOPE, would never have gone to college. What do the students do with the cash they save on tuition? Cornwell and Mustard (2002) find that car registrations increase significantly with county scholarships!
Here's the research of Cornwell and Mustard. I end up agreeing with David Strom (this happens quite often) that "we're just making a flat-out subsidy for kids who could go to college anyway and most of whom would be able to afford it." It also has had the effect of increasing tuitions at Georgia schools, so much that the state had to cap the tuition payments to remove the incentive. Like in Georgia, this will most likely make it harder for students to get into the University of Minnesota. Here's the plan Pawlenty has laid out.

It's at least only for two years -- unless you go into math and science, where you get all four years, but where it's much harder to get a B average. Cornwell and Mustard have a newer paper showing an increase in enrollments in colleges of education by HOPE scholarship recipients. On that one, Governor, you got it right.

He gets it, up to a point 

Despite the title the newspaper chose for the column, I think Jeff Bineham's column in today's local paper on grades and grade inflation in the university is quite sensible. Bineham says grades are assigned by faculty using three different purposes: how a student ranks versus the basic requirements of the course -- where just meeting them warrants a 'C'; how students performed relative to each other in the class (the best getting an 'A'); and how much of the work assigned is completed (completing all the work is an 'A'.) Many students, on the other hand...
assume they start with an A, and if they do things wrong the assessment moves down to a B, then a C, and so on. For me, the C indicates the student has done satisfactory work; for the student it is a sign of numerous deficiencies.
That matches my experience for a majority of my lower-division students. By the time they become juniors, most of my students understand that a 'C' is a standard that spans different classes in different years, and that we grade output, not input. Thus my students should be trained to Prof. Bineham's standard. And if they're not, that would be their problem.

Prof. Bineham then suggests that the answer to this may be the elimination of grades altogether.

Some colleges already employ this strategy. They believe grades are detrimental to learning and do not issue transcripts to students. The students become less concerned about high scores and more concerned about discussing interesting texts and writing excellent papers.

These responses share a goal: to change how students think about the meaning of grades.

When students themselves demand rigorous evaluation, inflated grades will be of little concern.

I'm not as convinced. Students want rigorous evaluation, but they also want clear signals to potential employers of their merit relative to others so that they can win the race for the good job. (Oh, but King! they are pursuing broader goals than career advancement in college! Sorry, not the ones I advise.) Students do seek prizes -- and that can be used to encourage additional learning, if one structures grades to provide incentives. For example, I've recently changed my gradesheets so that I don't tell students what share of the points already awarded they've received. Students would come in saying "I had a 'B' going into the final." That assumes they would earn a B on the final. Why assume that? I now say "here's how many points you have so far, and here's how many you need for these various grades. Study enough to get the letter grade you want." Give feedback early and often, and the level of whingeing about grades goes down.

First rule of economics, right? Incentives matter.

The other problem with the no-grade rule is the concern students will have to get more favor from the professor to get that better, now-more-subjective evaluation. What would this do to the student who takes views that are different from those the professor espouses? Would the elimination of grades increase or decrease the pressure on students to conform to the political stance of the instructor? "Oh, that sort of thing never happens." Really?

UPDATE: Prof. Bineham kindly emails me to say he prefers his other solution, that each grade on the transcript would also contain information on the average grade for the course. He's right insofar as for the "philosophy of grading" he prefers, this makes the most sense.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Unseemly Complacency 

That's the description a federal Dept. of Education report called "very rough" first draft says about the state of higher education.
What we have learned over the last year makes clear that American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk-averse, frequently self-satisfied, and unduly expensive. It is an enterprise that has yet to address the fundamental issues of how academic programs and institutions must be transformed to serve the changing educational needs of a knowledge economy. It has yet to successfully confront the impact of globalization, rapidly evolving technologies, an increasingly diverse and aging population, and an evolving marketplace characterized by new needs and new paradigms.
Students now use a "cafeteria approach" to education, taking a little here and a little there in both time and place. The idea that one will shape students into "Huxley Men" through the general education program is increasingly an obsolete model. And increasingly more expensive.
We believe that affordability is directly affected by colleges� and universities� failure to seek institutional efficiencies and by their disregard for improving productivity, since the current system provides institutions with few incentives to do either. The problem is made worse by the confusing and complex nature of the nation�s financial aid system.
The thought that a university would confront its faculty senate with a program for seeking cost efficiencies would be laughable if it wasn't tragic. A business that raised its price 38% adjusted for inflation over ten years, while seeing its product quality slip in international competition, would normally be grasping for any efficiencies they can find, but not at your friendly neighborhood public university.

Editorialists don't understand multipliers 

Pointed out to me by the Elder, this morning's StarTribune argues that the national political conventions coming to the Twin Cities would be an economic win-win.
Hosting a national political convention would cost this region a projected $40 million to $45 million, in both public and private contributions. The return on that investment is estimated at more than twice that amount. Each of the 20,000-plus partisans in attendance is projected to spend $1,500, yielding about $30 million. Add, too, the millions spent on staging the convention and broadcasting it around the globe.

The intangible benefits would also be abundant. A national convention would bring journalists from all over the globe here to file stories with Minnesota datelines. Many of those stories would feature this place and its people. Growth in tourism and economic development are bound to result.
I don't have any problem with the conventions coming to Minneapolis, but arguing for economic benefits shouldn't be part of the story, for the same reasons we gave for the Super Bowl. Our friend Mark Yost is coming out with a book this fall on the business of the NFL, and in it he discusses the costs and benefits as well. The money in the hotels doesn't stay in Minneapolis (though the room tax money does -- leave it to the STrib to like benefits to government.) The Beacon Hill Institute estimates benefits in New York City as being much lower, and even they look at gross benefits rather than netting out the loss from all those who would NOT come to NYC because of the congestion, lack of hotel space, etc., during the convention period? Beacon Hill estimated these costs at $46 million for NYC. Do it during the Minnesota State Fair period, and those costs are higher for Minneapolis and Saint Paul. I do not think the STrib is taking those costs into account.

Also, I wonder what the net economic benefit would be of having protestors at the RNC convention?

Monday, June 26, 2006

I'll believe it when I see his bags or back 

THyere has been an announcment in the last hour or so that the University of Colorado has issued a letter of dismissal to Ward Churchill. According to PirateBallerina, Churchill now has ten days to appeal the recommendation to a faculty committee. I know, I know, another committee! But tenure is such that I prefer to see them work through the whole process. Hopefully the next committee continues to understand what the previous committee did -- regardless of your feelings over Churchill's "Little Eichmanns" statement and whether the university pursued him for this, academic fraud must be prosecuted and punished no matter what the motives of the prosecution.

I'll still be "surprised" if he's dismissed, but at least that's down from "shocked".

You get what you pay for, College of Education version 

A retired professor of education at the University of Minnesota at Duluth (it dosen't say so on the article but does at the university's website) penned an op-ed in the local paper there that argues we've gotten about as much as we can get from public education in high schools. We don't spend enough, he says. He tries the following parable:

I have an Uncle Al who always admired race cars and dreamed of the day he could own his own and race with the big boys and girls. So when he retired as a high school principal in 1995, he bought a brand new Toyota Camry, the best-selling family car in America, as his race car. He had read in Consumer Reports the Camry was the most dependable and practical car sold in America. Plus, even though the company was Japanese-owned, the car was designed in California and built in Ohio.

Uncle Al took his car to Brainerd, Minn., home of a genuine high-speed race track, and entered his car. In his first race he got whipped. But Uncle Al was not one to be discouraged. After all, he had been a high school principal for decades and knew how to deal with disappointment. He took his car to a mechanic and said, "I want you to tune this car so it runs perfectly." The mechanic did, and Al entered another race. He got whipped again.

Al brought the car back to the mechanic and complained he got beaten badly and wondered what happened. The mechanic replied, "Your car is great for doing average things, but it is no match for automobiles that are built to race. You paid about $25,000 for your car. People who buy race cars spend more than $200,000."

"Ah-ha," thought Uncle Al, "I can tune the heck out of my Camry, but it just never was designed to race." So he sold the Camry, mortgaged his home, and bought a Ferrari. Now when he goes to Brainerd he brings home trophies.

The parable of Uncle Al says it all when it comes to why American high schools can't race with the world's big boys and girls. The American high school was not built to race but to be just good enough to take the family to the grocery store and back. It was designed to be cheap and dependable.

High schools built for racing have 240 school days a year. American high schools have 180 school days a year. Racing high schools have class sizes of 15 students. American high schools have class sizes of 35 students. Racing high schools hire teachers with salaries that match those of doctors and lawyers. American high schools hire teachers with salaries that match those of social workers.

Racing high schools enroll only selected elite and gifted students. American high schools enroll anyone who walks in the door. Racing high schools cost about $20,000 a year per student. American public high schools cost about $8,000 a year per student.

Nice try, professor, except before you make such statements it might help to check the actual data. How is it that you can make this statement when Germany, Japan, and Korea -- three countries that blow us away on TIMSS or any other internationally comparable test you wish to name -- spend less as a share of GDP than we do on secondary education? And if you simply put it in dollar terms per student, we would rank second. If we were spending the money well, how would we be spending 53% of time in eighth-grade math reviewing previously taught concepts, while Japan spends 60% of that time introducing new concepts?

Oh, and on the price of that Ferrari?
Among the nations reporting data for 2001, the United States paid the second-highest average starting salary ($28,806) to public upper secondary school teachers with the minimum qualifications required (figure 1a). Only Germany reported a higher average starting salary ($43,100) for public upper secondary school teachers with the minimum qualifications.

Typical microeconomist bigotry 

Commenting on Greg Mankiw's ten principles, Craig Newmark says "note that seven are micro and only three are macro." True only if you think all of international trade theory is micro. And all ten pre-date Keynes except for the last, which is the one some of us still find controversial. We all bow before totems, after all.
Thus if a Micro-Econ is asked why the Micro do not intermarry with the Macro, he will answer: "They make a different modl," or "They do not know the Micro modl." (In this, moreover he would be perfectly correct, but then neither, of course, would he know the Macro modl.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NARN links on financing of terrorism 

From the show today, two pieces I should direct you to:

Counterterrorism blog (first article, second article)
Ha'aretz -- tracking terrorists using Western Union

Friday, June 23, 2006

What is a S.W.I.F.T. transaction? 

UPDATE: The three best words in blogging: Welcome Instapundit readers!

UPDATE 2: I was listening to Hewitt on this story and missed that the NYT story was picked up by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. The former was pointed out by a reader. While both those papers hold some blame for any fallout from the exposure of the program, it was not their original story, and I don't see how they could have published it without the NYT's publication.

I can't contribute too much to the outrage ongoing over the NYT/LAT exposure of the classified program US counterterrorism units use for surveillance of suspected terrorists' financial transactions. What I can talk a little about is the nature of SWIFT transactions generally. My knowledge comes both as a consumer when I worked overseas and as a researcher into the flow of workers' remittances around the world.

SWIFT is, in essence, a messaging service, processing about 11 million such messages each day. The messages may be for payments of cash, transfer of securities, trade credit or other messages. About three-fourths of the messages are for the first two types. The messages contain a numeric code of what type of transactions is contemplated; so, for example, transactions involving traveler's checks have their own code and are most likely to pass through surveillance uninspected. Then there are specific phrases that mean a specific type of transaction. By restricting one's purview to certain phrases under certain codes, the search grid probably can be controlled down to a fairly narrow range. As the link above points out, the record examined here looks very similar to the phone records said to have been examined:
A SWIFT consists of a one-page document containing the name and code of the originating bank, the date and time, the address and code of the receiving bank, the name and internal code of the officer initiating the transmission, the names and numbers of the accounts involved in the transfer, a description of the asset being transferred, the MT category of the transmission, and acceptable, standardized phrases as described above.
SWIFT transactions are typically large size because the cost of using the system is substantial. When I lived in Ukraine I only used SWIFT for receiving sums of about $10000, typically quarterly, for payment of expenses. The information on the slip that I would receive had codes for the banks, the accounts being transferred from and to (in both those cases, mine -- I could not get dollars without a Ukrainian bank account) and the amount to be transferred.

About 90% of the messages between banks are sent via SWIFT. If al Qaeda wanted to be sure to keep its activity private, it would want to use telex or phone messages -- older technologies pre-dating SWIFT. It can use a mail payment from bank to bank. Those are still possible and some banks use them, many in the developing world. But it slows down the transfer process; for example, the mail transfer gets caught up in two countries' postal systems.

Another way to conduct transfer that I saw a little of in Armenia is the hawala system. (Obviously they weren't called this and weren't instituted as a result of Islamic banking practices. But the principal form exists in many developing countries.) In short, someone takes money from someone in the sending country and makes a phone call to his friend in the receiving country with instructions on who to pay and how much. The hawalas will settle up later on with a settlement payment between them. I saw these most often as family-based. The sender and receiver of funds (as opposed to the two hawala operators) is very difficult to trace. Hawalas are already under investigation by counterterrorism experts. I notice that Counterterrorism Blog writes as if the SWIFT operation is over. I'm not as sure it would, because hawalas are vulnerable to surveillance -- any Muslim grocery store is going to be checked -- and telexes are really slow and just as possibly tapped by an NSA probe as a telephone call.

SWIFT has issued a statement about the NYT article.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, SWIFT responded to compulsory subpoenas for limited sets of data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury. Our fundamental principle has been to preserve the confidentiality of our users� data while complying with the lawful obligations in countries where we operate. Striking that balance has guided SWIFT through this process with the United States Department of the Treasury.

SWIFT negotiated with the U.S. Treasury over the scope and oversight of the subpoenas. Through this process, SWIFT received significant protections and assurances as to the purpose, confidentiality, oversight and control of the limited sets of data produced under the subpoenas. Independent audit controls provide additional assurance that these protections are fully complied with.
SWIFT is a co-operative of banks and makes profits that transfer back to the members. If many people switched away from SWIFT because of these actions it might cause some to ask the organization to stop sharing information. But I doubt this happens.

Quick note to the Elder 

What I think people forget when looking at your graph is that the US is more than 20% of the world economy. I showed my intermediate macro students this chart the other day (source). In 1913 we were about 60% of the GDP of western Europe. We caught up right after World War II and are now beginning to pull away.

The other thing that will strike people is how much of the economy is located in relatively small spaces in the Northeast. But for fun, play with this map. Everyone knows California has the largest state product. Who's second?


Paradoxically, the University of North Dakota's move to Division I sports announced earlier this week could neutralize the nickname issue.
Once UND becomes a full-time D-I school in 2008-09, it will not be able to compete in NCAA postseason events during a five-year transition period anyway, per the organization's reclassification rules.

The men's and women's hockey teams, which already are Division I, are the only two Sioux programs that will be able to compete in NCAA postseason events during that period, from fall 2008 to fall 2013.

But regional playoff sites in those sports already are determined for years in advance, and Grand Forks isn't scheduled to host.
It does influence the last two years of UND's play in D-II, and President Charles Kupchella still plans to pursue the lawsuit against the NCAA.

Government rerun, for a moment 

You could have easily forgotten about the elections in Ukraine from last March. I wouldn't blame you -- there has been not much news while four of the five factions that won seats wrestled with which coalition would be formed. In the end, it's the same coalition that started the Orange Revolution government in 2005. This has been a see-saw battle between former prime minister Yulya Tymoshenko, President Viktor Yushchenko, and presidential election loser Viktor Yanukovich, whose party won the most seats in the new parliament. At one point it appeared Yushchenko and Yanukovych would bury the horilka and create a unity government that would keep Tymoshenko in opposition. But I think in the end that thought was too horrible for Yushchenko, even though he still is stung by the collapse of the Tymoshenko government last summer and the bitter words she exchanged with him at the time.

Already back in the saddle, Tymoshenko says the stinky gas deal signed between the government and Russia's Gasprom will be reviewed. LEvko has details. Vladimir Socor notes that Turkmenistan's turning of the tables on that deal may in fact help scuttle the deal.

Even entrepreneurs get schooled 

The cover story of this week's Business Week describes the successess and failures of the Gates Foundation's attempts to fix public high schools. This is an interesting story because the Gates are not starry-eyed in their assessment of education's problems. They are real, and solutions are elusive and difficult to replicate. The keys pointed to in the article are visionary principals with tight control over whom gets hired, and that it's much easier to start a new school than rebuild one that is failing. It's not a surprise for us who read these stories of education time after time. It might help, though, to show that the "we're fine, just add money" notion of educational reform is not working, and unlikely to ever work. And closing some schools may be needed. many as 1,000 of the country's 20,000 public high schools are so hopeless that they should simply be closed. That may be so, but the real question is whether financially stretched educational systems can muster the leadership and expertise to come up with more effective replacements.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

dont use sue 

When I taught the sports econ class, the most interesting discussion took place after two students -- one of whom plays basketball -- discussed this ESPN story on the use of text messaging. Now the NCAA says it's going to limit the times of the day you can text message, but not how often you can contact a recruit via SMS. They are using these things to message high school freshman. What's next? Here's a possibility, sent to me by a friend.

There's another good interview with Univ. of North Dakota president Charles Kupchella at the US College Hockey Organization's Online's website. (Corrected to proper name 6/24 -- sorry for the confusion!) Here's a very interesting question asked of him:
USCHO: In denying UND's appeals, one of the reasons given by the NCAA is that the nickname and logo create a hostile and abusive atmosphere at other institutions the UND can't control. Is it reasonable for the NCAA to make UND responsible for potentially racist behavior by fans of other schools? Do you know of any recent examples of UND fans displaying hostile and abusive behavior toward American Indians at the university's athletic events?
So can people who want to keep UND from using the nickname do so by creating disturbances on other campuses? And does anyone else see the hand of SCSU on this action now? "UND COMNG STRT RIOT"

I know I will seem cruel 

The WWW Fest's end, I had hoped, would also kill off the Lemonade Art Fair. This event has always opened the festival, and it happens on our campus on a day when summer school is in session. When I'm teaching summers, this day usually involves a mad scramble for parking. There is nothing more disconcerting to me than seeing menopausal women driving trailers full of "crafts" that they spent all winter making, most of which you walk by and wonder how the hell anyone puts that crap in their house. And I can now hear some band playing loudly outside my office window. And it's impossible for me to drive off campus and return this afternoon, and I'm hungry. "Well they have food out there, King!" you say. Yes, but it's craft show food like kettle corn, horse bits on a stick or some such.

So when I heard WWW was ending, I thought it would be the end of this plague on our campus, but no.

Several individually funded events associated with WWWFest � the Lemonade Art Fair and Concert and the Liberty Savings Block Party � will continue on their own.

The Lemonade Art Fair and Concert is organized and paid for by St. Cloud State University. The popular event, featuring hundreds of artists and musicians, has been around longer than WWWFest.

Can anyone explain to me how this is a good use of taxpayer dollars?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why does the NCAA insist on singling out UND? 

That might have been the better question to ask, but Knows-Stuff Nick says he felt he just HAD to write about the UND story.
I have written about this many times over the years, always with the hope of never needing to mention it again. But the University of North Dakota, despite its big brains, is remarkably thick-skulled. Last year, the NCAA told UND it could no longer use its team nickname in post-season play. UND should have taken the deal.
Well then, Nick, maybe you could explain why Florida State didn't have to take the deal? What about the University of Utah? Why can't you get it through your thick skull that this rule is being applied contrary to NCAA rules, without a vote of the membership, and in a capricious fashion?

Anyone who's read all those many articles KSN has written knows that this is all about getting to use his Nazi trope against Ralph Engelstad.
The university used to call its teams "Flickertails," but that name never attracted interest from Las Vegas casino owners who collected Nazi memorabilia and brought out cakes with Swastika icing to observe the birthday of Adolf Hitler.
So off he goes, ignoring UND's history with North Dakota's Native Americans and leads him to this outlandish statement.
But UND can't help itself. It is like the guy with the mustache in "Brokeback Mountain" who says "I wish I could quit you," and then puts up the pup tent.
KAR-guys, you owe me a post about that line. Nihilist, you in?

And, confirming a rumor I had two weeks ago but thought I better keep quiet, UND is indeed going to Division I. This most likely spells the end of the North Central Conference as a premier D-II athletic conference, where we play and where UND's antagonist over the mascot issue will now have his luxury box at football games in a half-full stadium as we end up playing weaker and weaker opponents.

One bourbon, one scotch, one God 

A colleague and reader explained to me the other day the difference between Episcopalians and Lutherans. Luther liked beer, Episcopalians like cocktails. Lutheran pastors can have it but only out of sight. Episcopalian pastors are the only ones who can be seen at the liquor store without embarrassment. (I might have mangled that, but the gist was we Lutherans are a little more uptight about alcohol and drink a more pedestrian variety. I do not object; I like beer.)

This story was read on Special Report last night and I have to say I laughed quite heartily.

The divine Trinity - "Father, Son and Holy Spirit'' - could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb'' or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend'' at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly.

Delegates to the meeting voted to "receive'' a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them.

"This does not alter the church's theological position, but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership,'' legislative committee chair Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during Monday's debate on the Trinity.

...One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son "has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women,'' the panel said.

Besides "Mother, Child and Womb'' and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend,'' proposed Trinity options drawn from biblical material include:

- "Lover, Beloved, Love''

- "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier''

- "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love.''

Early in Monday's business session, the Presbyterian assembly sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow'' that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.

I'm sure we'll soon see, instead of "the body and blood of Christ" at Communion something like "the organic pita and crushed grapes that make us think of Redeeming Coupons at the Sanctified Whole Foods that I Love."

"The economy is a terrible experimental design" 

I call your attention to this Bogus Gold Editorial in which Doug Williams tries to tear a new one for the STrib in its rather ill-informed editorial in favor or a minimum wage increase. He is particularly incensed by this line from the STrib:
Does the minimum wage punish employers and reduce hiring? In theory yes, in reality no. After the last minimum-wage increase took effect, in 1997, the nation experienced the strongest jobs recovery in 30 years. During the last decade, states with high minimum wages have had better job creation than states with low minimum wages.
Of course the second two sentences are pure post hoc fallacious reasoning, and Doug gets off a good shot or two at this silliness. But I will come a little bit in the STrib's defense, insofar as the most cited work on the minimum wage in the last fifteen years does indeed say that we have relied too much on theory and not enough on the data. The book is almost always referred to when someone wants to make an argument for raising the minimum wage. "Just a little, it won't hurt," will be the refrain.

The problem is, the book is at least anomalous, if not just plain wrong. Russ Roberts reminds me of an old review of the Card and Krueger analysis -- the whole basis for the STribs claims about "reality" -- which is an attempt to generalize claims from an earlier paper by the same two economists that relied on a phone survey over eight months of New Jersey fast food workers. That's the "reality" on which the evidence is based. The review by John Kennan that Roberts links to (it's a subscriber link so most of you not on campuses won't get access to it) demonstrates that the "natural experiments" that Card and Krueger argue refutes theory have been done before and have shown opposite results. The other method more traditionally used -- using data over time from a full range of states, rather than looking for effects of one-off changes in minimum wages in a single state, still hold up the general theory that a 10% increase in the minimum wage reduce employment of teens by 1-3% (and more recent results put it at the lower end.) We economists are pretty sure the effect of increasing minimum wages isn't very negative, but we're pretty sure it isn't positive either. The problem is that you are trying to detect a relatively small signal of minimum wage effects in a whole lot of noise from teen wages (which fluctuate quite a bit.) One study finds a positive effect (maybe) for NJ teenage burger-turners and extrapolates to the whole of the country, while ignoring other studies using the same methodology that don't show the same results (Kennan demonstrates this for California retail salespeople.)

The point of all this is that, as the title of this post says (it's a quote of Nobel Laureate Robert Lucas that was in the Kennan article), natural experiments are seldom as clear cut as we make them to be. They are very seldom generalizable.

One more part of the STrib editorial that grates:
Granted, Congress needs to be careful when meddling with market forces. But it also needs to assure that the economy is delivering for all Americans, and today it plainly is not.
Sirs, please name me an economy that did, ever. All economies have diffusion of results. The boom years of the 1920s were a bad time for buggy-whip manufacturers; the 1990s saw losers to economic restructuring. Such pablum is an excuse for exactly the meddling you think should be done with care.

Odd teammates 

The Minneapolis Teachers Retirement Fund Association is merging with the state Teachers Retirement Association because the former was mismanaged so badly to be left holding $.45 for every $1 of pension liabilities it had. The fund is closing very soon, and took what appears to be an illegal step in trying to create a trust fund to cover the backsides of its managers (including a $330k golden parachute for executive director Karen Kliberg.) This would have the effect of withdrawing an extra $1.5 million of the $783 million in assets it has left. The difference between what is turned over and what is to be paid is coming from state taxpayers, to the tune of $18 million per year.

The state auditor's office went to the fund's office to get documents about the trust and were turned away.
[Attorney for the trust Tom] Heffelfinger said the trust money would pay only for obligations not otherwise covered in the transition, and any money left over would revert to the TRA. He noted that board members are not paid and couldn't be expected to serve unless protected from potential lawsuits.

Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, accused Anderson, a fellow Republican, of playing politics with the issue. He also said the Legislature sped up the merger at her urging, allowing barely a month to complete a complicated transition that had been expected to take 13 months.

Anderson said there is no need for a trust to withhold money to pay bills, including Kilberg's severance package, because the Teachers Retirement Association will be obligated to pay outstanding Minneapolis pension obligations. Anderson said the trust is diverting money that should be used to finance the merger and offset the Minneapolis association's nearly $1 billion in unfunded obligations to current and future retirees.
Interestingly, the attorney general's office is supporting Anderson in this food fight. Records have been subpoenaed, and the trust is fighting it in court. So it appears Hatch and Anderson, both running for political office for opposite parties, will be cooperating a little more than usual during the electoral seaosn.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Where next for ready-4-K? 

The failure of Proposition 82 in California -- the universal preschool initiative -- plants seeds for new ideas. Rather than Prop 82's one-size-fits-all approach to early childhood ed, there needs to be a variety of pre-school programs, various types of providers, and recognizing that some kids (predominantly children from poor families) need more intensive preschool than others.
Ironically, universal preschool's opponents have already helped lay some of the political groundwork to support incremental steps toward universal preschool access. During the campaign, many acknowledged that preschool benefits poor children, and said they supported publicly funded preschool for low-income youngsters, but opposed funding preschool for middle-class children. Now that the campaign is over, preschool advocates should hold these individuals accountable for their words and push for publicly funded preschool for all low-income children. Such investments would help provide funding to build the state's preschool infrastructure.
Equally ironic, then, is the pissiness of local Ready4K people over a veto from Governor Pawlenty of money to create a rating system for preschools and child care providers. Pawlenty's reasoning was that it was input driven, and did not test whether kids were actually getting ready for kindergarten. Looking at the goals of Ready4K I see "It is about having RESOURCES AND ACCOUNTABILITY to implement effective strategies and be accountable for results." So how does rating whether a preschool teacher has a college degree create that accountability, and how does it tie resources to successful programs?

Prop 82's death was timely, as was Pawlenty's veto. It focuses on local decisionmaking and assessment.

A school is not a substitute for a family 

A letter in the St. Cloud Times this morning praises Sen. Tarryl "Blue Dress" Clark for her work on "Character Education."
...such programs are under way in many schools, but there has been no funding to share the curricula and materials with communities who have not had the programs.

At a time when large numbers of children are getting less solid guidance at home or through churches and other community structures, schools are increasingly called upon to help in strengthening understanding in basic areas of character: honesty, work ethic, ethical values, friendship and caring skills, loyalty, etc. ...

While a small part of a large appropriation, Clark should be appreciated for her support for character education...
I have to agree with MN Politics on this -- parents do this for free, and should. Here's the bill (go to line 28.22 for the relevant section.) In the past there was concern that this money would be used for teaching "sensitivity" and "tolerance". Mn Dept. of Education has at least redefined it to include drug education, but it also includes links to "service learning" ("offers opportunities for moral action") and other such substitutions for family guidance.

Supply and demand for town festivals 

The WWW Fest (or Wheels, Wings and Water, as it was called for many years) will come to an end as St. Cloud's city festival after this year. The St. Cloud Times thinks this is a bad thing. Get the list of things we'll "miss".
There are no fireworks or laser light shows, no strongman competition, no youth-oriented events like those at Lake George in recent years, no water-based events, no Saturday outdoor concert or food festival, and no celebrations of Central Minnesota�s growing diversity.
Yes, I gave you a hint. What the hell is that doing in the list? It's just one more example of the many genuflections this paper, city and university due to the PC crowd in town.

Is it sad? The next paragraph gives you a clue why not.
The fact that WWWFest�s swan song comes the same year the city turns 150 years old only adds to the sense of melancholy � as does the fact that neighbors St. Joseph, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park all seem to have stable � if not thriving � community celebrations.
City festivals (I prefer that to "community celebrations", as the latter sounds like one of those mandatory Soviet rallies) are paid by volunteer efforts. People living in smaller cities gain more for their dollar contributed than those living in the larger places. And I've argued that much of south St. Cloud is becoming a bedroom community for the Twin Cities. There's less and less loyalty to the place.

As an example of the availability of substitutes, I note only that demand for my time in parades (for the church float, Littlest's school float, and for various political candidates) is at an all-time high. One of these events had to go.

At least the current city government hasn't decided to step in and use taxpayer dollars to substitute. Good bye, Wheels Wings and Water.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Who runs this fleet? 

This has to be seen to be believed. A state university system chancellor asks his board for a vote saying he's in charge of the univerity presidents ... and loses.
...the board defeated, on a 5-3 vote, a motion to reaffirm Potts' authority as the system's chief executive officer. It was offered by board member Bruce Christianson, who said the system "cannot afford to lose Robert as chancellor."
North Dakota State president Joseph Chapman is said by Chancellor Potts to "thumb his nose" at the chancellor's office. Apparently President Chapman uses his position as the leading school in the state system to press for extra money for his campus, which the other schools undoubtedly dislike. But Chapman has apparently enough other friends on the board that he may win this battle with Potts.

What can governors do about the state economy? 

Not much, says Ed Lotterman. He thinks there isn't that big a difference in the economic policies of Tim Pawlenty and Mike Hatch:
Decisions at the national level affect inflation, unemployment and growth. States cannot coin money or pump up the national debt. Much ballyhooed state business subsidies have little overall effect. And governors generally possess less power than legislatures. Who next occupies our governor's office will have little effect on whether the next four years here are prosperous or not.
Really? Take a look at this chart, and see where the freer economies are. Now if you'd like to argue that Hatch and Pawlenty have the same policies I would listen, but Lotterman doesn't say that.
Republicans from Teddy Roosevelt to former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson stood for prudent finance and balanced budgets. They wanted fiscal discipline but if costs could not be cut, taxes had to cover outlays. Republicans generally favored letting markets alone whenever possible and avoided trying to micromanage economic activity.

Pawlenty places priority on tax reductions, regardless of what happens to state finances. He adores ad hoc micromanagement, especially when it can be cast in the guise of tax reductions such as his JOBZ program. He scorns the counsel of Republican Party think tanks on the best ways to tackle environmental and resource conservation problems. If Pawlenty is mainline GOP, this ain't your father's Grand Old Party. In many ways, Hatch's opportunistic populism represents an old tradition among Democrats. Hatch is not a pragmatic pro-business centrist like Bill Clinton or Harry Truman. But he is honest in that he does not even give lip service to letting markets function.

At his worst, Hatch is a pale Minnesota version of populists like Argentine dictator Juan Peron. Such leaders believe in championing truth and justice against the dark forces of business. They think they are the only ones who fully understand just what truth and justice are. Moreover, they insist prosperity will flourish once they can call the shots.
Pawlenty, in other words, is more a Kemp/Forbes Republican than a Dole/Rudman Republican. You might recall how well Bob Dole ran in general elections? Unfortunately Lotterman hasn't kept up with the news -- TPaw was a Kemp/Forbes Republican, but couldn't bring himself to insist on the spending cuts needed over the last two years, and now signs on for taxes for stadiums and state parks. (I cannot wait to see what Strommie says about this article. I bet he has a coffee-tinged laptop.)

Lotterman's comparison of Hatch to Peron, however, is like a knife. What did Peron do to the Argentine economy? He helped kill it, according to Mauricio Rojas:
The policy which Per�n resolutely introduced had the following main outlines: a radical redistribution of incomes in favour of the workers, an equally radical attack on the resources of the agricultural sector, heavy investment in industrial development, an extensive policy of nationalisation and, ultimately, an attempt to build up a state-corporatist society on clear fascist lines.
As a result, exports in the post-war period fell by more than 40%. Do we really think tort reform -- where Minnesota is currently in the middle of the fifty states -- is going to be improved by a Governor Hatch?

While Mitch and I might argue about whether Pawlenty should get much credit for the jobs report or not (we never got to this on Saturday, though it was in the stack of stuff we wanted to cover), it is really quite a different thing to say that state law has no effects on state economic growth.
In 2005, per capita personal income grew 31% faster in the 15 most economically free states than it did in the 15 states at the bottom of the list. And employment growth was a staggering 216% higher in the most free states. It hasn't been a "jobless recovery" in states that have adopted pro-growth tax and regulatory policies.
I'm pretty sure a guy who draws comparisons to Juan Peron isn't going to get us back to that top 15. The question really is, what about the guy who can't decide if he's a younger Jack Kemp or a nicer Bob Dole?

Prices of substitutes 

You have to give credit where credit is due. But you wonder how heavy-handed this was:
The ethanol industry appears to be abiding by the law of supply and demand, not breaking state law when E85 prices rise, the Minnesota Attorney General says.

An eight-month investigation produced no proof of illegal pricing of ethanol-based E85 fuel.

�I don�t believe there is price fixing,� Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch said Wednesday. �What I see is the law of supply and demand.�

Producers, distributors and retailers can charge whatever they want for E85 or other products, as long as they don�t conspire with others to set the price, Hatch said. After serving subpoenas and conducting other forms of investigation, Hatch said, no conspiracy was found.
The heavy hand of government has come down time and again on Minnesota businesses in an attempt to manipulate markets. It does not take a great amount of imagination to believe that markets can figure out how to get cheaper E-85 to consumers that desire it. E-85 already gets over sixty cents per gallon in tax incentives, which is at least a relatively more efficient way of deciding who consumers ethanol. More efficient still would be to remove the tariff wall that blocks the importation of Brazilian biofuels created from sugar. How many more protections for an "infant industry" will ethanol need? And who would be willing to carry it if they could not respond to rising gas prices by using the price to ration ethanol??

Friday, June 16, 2006

OK you two 

Knock it off . One of us will be too busy next October to pay attention to the Gophers' next march to the Independence Bowl.

In case you thought I knew anything 

...about pay for surgeons, I don't. The writer of the article is someone I know and work with at the SC Times, and we worked on this data for a quarter hour. And somehow it makes an AP wire. Jeez. Of all things, this may be the time I'm quoted knowing the least.

Expensive stinking 

Phil Miller shows how economics can help sports teams, by recognizing that the player under the expensive contract who is playing badly shouldn't be kept because of the size of the contract. Keith Law (a former Blue Jay executive and a one-time member of a rotisserie league of which I was and still am commissioner) makes the same point.
Recognizing the difference between "eating" a contract and releasing a player whose salary is sunk already is a critical skill for any GM. It should be a question on the GMAT (General Manager Aptitude Test), right after the question about when employing Tony Womack would be a good idea. (The correct answer is D, "Never.")

So no, the Diamondbacks aren't going to "eat" Ortiz's contract with this procedural move. You could argue now that they're swallowing it, or merely trying to pass it like a kidney stone. Trust me -- it'll feel better once it's gone.
Ouch, hit me where I live!

Rondell White, start packing!

Don't people at the Economist learn some economics? 

Reader (and fellow MAS member) Tim Slade points out this absurdity in another article on the WalMart-goes-organic story I discussed last week.

There are also supply problems. At some Whole Foods stores, up to 60% of the produce is organic in the summer�but that number dips in the winter because �natural� food has to respect the seasons. There is also a shortage of organic farms. �The sheer number of stores [offering organic products] has stressed the system,� says George Siemon, chief executive of the Organic Valley co-operative. The fertilisers and hormones that make mass agriculture easier are banned in the organic business.

Then there are pricing pressures brought on by large retailers. Organic Valley withdrew from supplying milk direct to Wal-Mart a few years ago after being undercut by a �significant� amount in price by its rival, Horizon Organic. But, says Mr Siemon, demand still exceeds supply�and with his co-operative growing 15-20%, there may soon not be enough organic milk to go around.

This is just silly. If Horizon can't provide the quantity of milk demanded at the price negotiated with WalMart, it either must raise the price to ration the available milk, or it defaults on the contract and pays damages to WMT. If in doing so it drives Horizon out of business, Organic Valley can step back in at the higher price.

Prices ration the available supply. It's Econ 101. And if prices rise, more farmers will be induced to switch from "mass agriculture" to organic farming. If you want the world to be more organic, what's not to like about that?

Down to the last feather 

The NCAA's hunt for inappropriate logos and mascots has reached the College of William and Mary.
An NCAA staff committee ruled that William and Mary�s �Tribe� nickname was neither hostile nor abusive, but it censured the College�s athletic logo. If the NCAA decision stands, William and Mary may be prohibited from hosting NCAA-sponsored post-season games and from using the image in NCAA-sanctioned post-season play.
As you can see through this link, the logo for the W&M Tribe includes two feathers. Gene Nichol, the university's president, writes to the NCAA:
Present NCAA determinations of mascot policy�what is allowed and what is forbidden�are neither comprehensible nor capable of being sensibly defended. I�m guessing that members of the committee may realize this is so. An interpretation that penalizes the College of William & Mary while embracing the depiction of a brave on horseback, in war paint, plunging a flaming spear into the turf at midfield, to the delight of 85,000 chanting, tomahawking fans, is, at best, enigmatic.

There are costs associated with leaving logic behind when enforcing important standards. The first, perhaps, is cynicism. Having now spoken to many hundreds about the NCAA�s position, I can report that it is beyond difficult to find any who believe the organization is being serious and transparent in applying its guidelines. That cannot be good for collegiate athletics.

Beyond that, when rules are made to stand upon their heads, it apparently becomes permissible to contemplate levying heavy sanctions against a university that, according to your own Academic Performance standards, ranks fifth in the nation in scholastic attainment and graduates 95% of its scholarship athletes and 100% of its football team. Few will understand why the College�where athletes regularly don Phi Beta Kappa keys at commencement, gain admission to competitive graduate and professional programs in unusually high numbers, and avoid the corrupting misconduct that too often mars university sports programs elsewhere�has made it to the top of the NCAA�s regulatory agenda.
The appeal makes an interesting point that the NCAA admits using a "rebuttable presumption that the use of Native American mascots, names and/or imagery� will be found to create a hostile or abusive environment. Moreover, the only defense that has worked to date has been approval by an affiliated tribe for a specific name of that tribe (Seminole, Ute, or Chippewa). Thus there's no defense for a generic reference to 'brave' or 'tribe'.

College graduates for change, but can't give it 

Living in a town with a big college means you often find students working in the restaurants, retail shops and convenience stores. If you're like me -- a guy reaching fifty who occasionally looks at a slide rule and tries to remember how he used it -- you get a little perturbed with store clerks who look lost when the cash register can't tell them how much change to give. The whole ability to do the subtraction in their heads is lost. I usually will tell them what to return me in change (once the young man said I was wrong and I asked what he thought the answer was; he said "I don't know, but it feels like too much." "Math is not a feeling," I replied. I'm such a jerk.)

Such kids turn around and on the back of their t-shirts are quotes mouthed by liberal professors like Gandhi's "Live the change you want to see in the world."

I just want my change.

But it's little wonder. Many schools, it turns out, do not require their students to take math as a core subject to graduate from college. But most schools are recognizing that particular lacuna in general education and are beefing up their curricula. In a post reacting to Smith College's recent announcement that it was putting math back in its general education, ACTA issued a press release with this interesting paragraph.
...ACTA surveyed the Big 10, Big 12, Ivy League, Seven Sisters (including Smith), and several other major institutions and found that students could graduate without taking core subjects such as math, science, composition, literature, economics, American history or government. The schools were graded on the basis of their course requirements; Smith received an "F" since students currently can graduate without taking mathematics, literature, language, American government or history, economics, or science. For example, only 38 percent of the institutions surveyed required students to take a mathematics course, and not one required a course in economics.
Of course that last point caught my eye. I recently asked the research people in our administration for information on students who take our principles classes. We graduate about 600 students (of about 2200) who take principles. The course is required of business majors and naturally of economics majors (we're not in the business school here but rather in the College of Social Sciences.) But between the b-school and us were only about 400 graduates. You can take principles here for distribution credit in general education, but it isn't required. I find myself wondering what our contribution is to those students who took economics and didn't go into business or economics. I think it helps fulfill what Ben Rogge wrote in "The Promise of the College."
...a good college can say this: "We stand ready to confront you with a good faculty and a good group of fellow students. If you work at it (an important if) you will leave this place knowing more than when you entered it." That's it; that's all there is.
You'll be able to make change, know the difference between broccoli and spinach (a joke at the end of Rogge's address, which is my favorite commencement speech ever), and realize that none of us know enough to seize the Ring. Economics certainly can help with all three of those.

Never mind the study 

The story of the Northern Arizona reverse discrimination case (some background) reached the WSJ today, and contains an interesting piece of information. It turns out the initial study used to create the pay equity arrangement at NAU didn't show very much pay inequity, a fact that administrators of the school chose to ignore.
In 1993, the university's then-president, Eugene M. Hughes, assumed there had been discrimination, based partly on a study he'd commissioned. The study used salaries at other schools to help determine a theoretical median wage that should prevail at Northern Arizona. A lot of white males there fell below the median, but the significant finding for President Hughes was the one that showed minorities and women under a "predicted" par.

As Judge Broomfield noted in 2004, the initial study ignored factors such as whether people held doctorates. At any rate, the study's own figures indicated that white faculty were earning only about $87 a year more than minorities, and men were making about $751 more than women. Mr. Hughes's solution: raises of up to $3,000 for minorities and $2,400 for women. White men got nada.

So here's Lesson Two and the winning issue in this case: If you want to pay "catch up" wages to some employees, don't overcompensate to the point where they draw ahead for no reason other than their race or gender.
These types of studies are common, including at least two I've seen here at SCSU. They are seldom done by economists, who know a thing or two about labor markets. They are usually done with an eye towards the particular conclusion brought. In one salary equity settlement here, one white male in my department received a small raise, much to the resentment of the minority and women faculty who had pursued the study and settlement.

Worth noting -- the NAU case began in 1993. Justice delayed...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shifting sands 

The University of North Dakota got permission from its board of higher education to sue the NCAA over the mascot issue.

[North Dakota Attorney General Wayne] Stenehjem described the decision as an edict delivered by an NCAA committee that used constantly changing standards in deciding which colleges could continue using nicknames of American Indian origin, and which could not.

An NCAA executive committee "decided, more or less by fiat, that some institutions were going to be subject to this rule, and some institutions, for reasons that are not understandable, were exempted," Stenehjem said.

The NCAA's constitution requires that major decisions be approved by two-thirds of its college membership, and no vote was ever taken, Stenehjem said. He said the NCAA's action violated its contract with its members.

"This was done, not by policy, not by established process, but mostly by press release, and by press releases that were constantly shifting sand, so nobody knew what was expected of them," the attorney general said.

The article indicates that the lawsuit will be paid for by private donations. I bet this raises a good bit of money for the university. Did the NCAA realize the cause celebre it was handing the school? As to whether it voted or not on the issue, the timeline I was working from said it got recommendations from a subcommittee and then "the executive committee" made the statement. As far as I can see, it relied on a feeling that this was not a "major decision". Todd Zywicki noted last year that Florida State was going to try for the lawsuit based on breach of contract before it was granted exemption -- it appears that UND will try the same thing.

(h/t: Fraters.)

What does blogging do for a resume? 

Sean Hackbarth is going to find out. The proprietor of The American Mind since 1999 and a bookseller at Barnes & Noble since 1998, he has decided to look for a new line of work.
My biggest strength is my ability to take all the stuff I happen to remember and synthesize, to take disparate ideas and smash them together to come up with a (hopefully) useful solution. That is demonstrated everyday on my weblog where I try to publish insight rather than a regurgitation of what I found on a news web site. At Barnes & Noble that means if the customer provides a vague description of what book she is looking for I can make and educated guess or find alternative titles that would be useful.
Click the link above to get to the rest of the story, particularly if you're an employer in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How elastic is the market for coyotes? 

I wondered about this last months ago, and an AP article today gets me wondering again.
Smugglers in sunglasses and muscle shirts reclined on withering patches of grass in a tree-covered plaza, blending into clusters of migrants and offering them "safe" trips into the United States.

But on this sweltering day, there were no takers. None of the Mexicans hoping to reach the United States could pay the $3,000 the smugglers demanded to hide them in a car and drive them across the border, a trip that just weeks ago cost $2,000.

The sharp increase in smugglers' fees is due to the arrival of National Guard troops at the border and plans by Washington for even greater border security, all of which will make the sometimes deadly trip into the United States even more difficult and dangerous. The higher fees have convinced some to cancel plans to sneak into the United States, while others have decided to go it alone.

Smugglers' fees jumped in 1994 after the U.S. sent more agents to what were then the busiest illegal crossing points along the Texas and California borders. The measures funneled migrants into the hostile Arizona desert, making smugglers even more valuable and transforming them from an underground network to a booming illegal industry.

In the past 12 years, the average price for helping migrants move north through the Arizona desert increased sixfold, from $300 in 1994 to $1,800.

Suddenly, smugglers are charging as much as $4,000, migrant rights activists say.

Deaths also have skyrocketed.

Despite all the risks, Andres Flores, a 29-year-old construction worker who was deported to Tijuana from Los Angeles a week ago, planned to cross by himself through the desert near San Luis, Ariz.

Sitting in the central plaza in San Luis Rio Colorado, Flores said smugglers offered to guide him through the hills near San Diego for $2,000, a trek that previously cost about $1,200.
Note what I said before -- if the more elastic is coyote demand, the more likely border enforcement will be effective.

Unemployment and GSP in Minnesota 

I got to thinking about this when Craig Westover dropped me a note on a recent Republican press release on the low May reading on state unemployment. He asked whether the full-employment unemployment rate was 4% like he remembered from college. As I teach students, you begin your answer with "It depends!" and then sketch out what your argument says it depends on. For Minnesota, the demographics are such that we'll have a lower full-employment unemployment rate than the nation as a whole.

But that wasn't what caught me. What did was when I also saw a link posted by a commenter at Residual Forces, which shows a preliminary estimate of gross state product (GSP -- like GDP except at the state level) with Minnesota growing 1.3% in 2005. That would be well below the national rate of 3.5% and ranks 44th out of the 50 states. And frankly that number presents a conundrum to me. Here's why:

A basic element of "growth accounting" is that we can measure the growth of an economy's output by a weighted average of the two inputs -- capital and labor -- plus changes in what we call "multifactor productivity". I can write this as an equation:

growth in output = growth in MFP + a*growth in capital + (1-a)*growth in labor

We can't measure multifactor productivity (MFP) independently. What we do is get information on capital, labor and output, make a guess at the value of the parameter 'a' (which most economists agree for the US to be 0.3), and get that number as a result. For the US as a whole, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates MFP to have grown 2.9% in 2003 and 2.8% in 2004.

The unemployment rate that I started this with is calculated as the number of people estimated to be unemployed -- we don't count them, we use a survey -- and divide it by the number of people in the labor force. Unemployment rates can fall because the number of people unemployed went down, either because they found jobs or they are no longer in the labor force. The Minnesota data shows that the number of people unemployed fell 10,243 workers between May 2005 and May 2006, but that the labor force fell by 16,152 workers. That means that while the unemployment rate went down, there are fewer jobs in Minnesota now than a year ago.

This might help explain that 1.3% GSP figure, but only in small part. The annual average for employment in Minnesota was 2,828,547 in 2005 and 2,807,428 in 2004, a growth rate a touch over 1%. Using the a = 0.3 estimate, that means 0.7% of the 1.3% change in GSP was due to an increase in Minnesota employment. We don't have a figure for MFP for 2005 yet, but it's unlikely much lower than 2%. If it was that, then capital would have to have fallen 4.67% in 2005 in Minnesota. (It grew 6.1% for the nation.) That would mean almost no investment going on in the state economy. That would be bad news, and not something you want to crow about in a Pawlenty press release. One might want to argue that taxes are driving capital out of the state; some thought this going into the 2006 Legislative calendar.

Or maybe MFP growth might be very different than 2%. It may be closer to zero -- if it was, then capital would have grown about 2% rather than falling near 5%. But why would some states have wildly different growth in productivity than others. For comparison, look at New Hampshire, a state that had only 0.7% labor growth in 2005 but 4.4% output growth. Why would productivity in NH grow so much more than in MN? Wouldn't technology and good management practices spill over state boundaries? Does NH just make better use of its resources? I doubt that, but it could be possible. And those MFP figures could be different due to differences in government treatment of profits, for example.

This may be a one-off phenomenon. Employment in Minnesota grew about 0.7% in 2003 and 0.8% in 2004, when real GSP grew 3.7% and 4.6%. And we should be careful to not say that just because 2005 marked the change in the Pawlenty administration from no-new-taxes to just-a-fee-please that this is what caused this. But I think the combination of a declining labor force generally and a slowing of GSP should at least give one pause before celebrating the decline in the unemployment.

Good game if not good loss 

I hated losing the game last night, but it's one of those for which you save the scoresheet for a very long time (I have about thirty such games recorded and put away -- I own no tapes or DVDs, just scoresheets.) Tavarez has been brutal this season and pitched that way, but you can't spoil a great game like that.

After a performance like this, they should go back and change the rules to give Santana the win.

One step down the plank 

The Standing Committee on Research Misconduct of the University of Colorado has voted 6-3 to recommend dismissal of Ward Churchill. PirateBallerina has definitive coverage, as always. It's now in the hands of the administration to decide if they've got the stomach for the certain lawsuit from Churchill that comes the minute after they push him off the plank.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"...careless, irrational, arbitrary, capricious, and ultimately harmful ..." 

Just swamped with things today, so perhaps another few paragraph of the Kupchella letter to appease your appetites?
Arrogance may not be a criminal offense or cause for civil action, but it smells bad and it may be a cause for litigation when it leads to careless, irrational, arbitrary, capricious, and ultimately harmful behavior.

�Arrogance� may be harsh, but I could not come up with a better word. When you say, as you did in announcing your most recent exemption � this time Catawba Indians:

Although the NCAA executive committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong, it recognizes that a Native American Tribe is a distinct political community . . . therefore, respects the authority of the tribe to permit universities and colleges to use its name and imagery.
The arrogance of this statement is appalling. It is as if to say, �American Indians may think it is OK, but the NCAA knows better,� or perhaps, �If these tribes (now at least six in number) are not astute enough to recognize that they are the objects of hostility and abuse, let them wallow in it.� Further, if a Native American tribe is a �distinct political community,� why is it that the continuing resolution by the Spirit Lake Nation that allows UND to use the Sioux name is � in the NCAA�s words � �not persuasive?�

Instead of the logical conclusion that if American Indians, themselves, think Indian nicknames are OK, perhaps they really are OK, we get the latest in a long series of non-Natives deciding what�s best for American Indians.

It does get one to wonder why North Dakota and Illinois, and Florida State.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Look who's driving. 

Via El Chad and Hugh Hewitt, a blistering letter to the NCAA from North Dakota president Charles Kupchella that says "we're going to the mattresses" over the mascot issue. In its second paragraph:
Despite some of the hard-edged language I have had to use in this letter, I bear no animosity toward any of the NCAA committee members or staff, who, I am certain, are all good people. I suspect that a few people were the driving force and that the issue took on an organizational life of its own. I�m sure that those doing the pushing were motivated by personal conviction. What ever the origin, what emerged was, unfortunately, a kind of organizational self-righteousness. [emphasis added]
Here's one of the few people driving that bus. Our university president, Roy Saigo, has been adamant about removing the mascot, making it a point of his administration since its start in 2000. And in case there's any mistake, here's another indicating continued pride over his role. He provides the whole timeline (or more accurately, uses an organ of the university's affirmative action office to do so.) Shortened up:

March 15, 2001 -- Draft proposal for resolution of support for the elimination of American Indian mascots, nicknames and logos by members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association sent from St. Cloud State University President Roy H. Saigo to Patricia P. Cormier, chair, Division II Presidents Council, NCAA, urging consideration of the issue for the purpose of developing constructive methods of bringing about change.

January 28, 2002 -- President Saigo makes presentation on the use of American Indian mascots to the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee.

October 2002 -- NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee presents its report on the use of American Indian Mascots in Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA Executive Committee Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues.

December 2003 -- SCSU President Roy Saigo is elected to serve on the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee.

Aug-Oct. 2004-- NCAA national office staff develops materials for self-study. NCAA engages in process to establish criteria for NCAA championships sites, venues, institutions participating in championships and references to American Indian mascots. Schools and conferences notified of the need for self-analysis.

November 2004 -- Thirty-three schools asked to submit self evaluations to NCAA to determine the extent, if any, of the use of Native American imagery or references on their campuses.

June 2005 -- MOIC develops recommendation to the Executive Committee Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity Issues.

August 5, 2005 -- Executive Committee issues guidelines for use of Native American mascots at NCAA championship events and approved recommended best practices for schools who continue to use Native American mascots, nicknames and imagery in their intercollegiate athletic programs. Eighteen colleges and universities continue to use Native American imagery or references and are subject to new policies.
That the beginning of the timeline points to some letter sent by a previous president in 1993 is meaningless, since there were two other presidents between that fellow and Saigo.

Our campus has long had protests whenever UND comes to town, for any of the major sporting events (I doubt they picket gymnastics and wrestling, but I've never looked.) Other schools have of course signed on to this, but it has to be clear that it has been a few guys starting this, and at the head of that pack has been the president of a competing school in UND's athletic conference.

Local tour 

On June 5th, a comment:
I'd like to talk sometime about how abused I feel as a reporter by these fly-around press conference/photo ops. I don't think they do much in the way of enlightening readers.
DFL-endorsed candidates for governor (Mike Hatch), US Senate (Amy Klobuchar), AG (Matt Entenza), Secretary of State (Mark Ritchie) and State Auditor (Rebecca Otto) will be flying in to St. Cloud Regional Airport Tuesday for a press conference.

It's scheduled for 4:15 p.m., probably at the general aviation terminal (it doesn't say on the release) and will include DFL state party chairman Brian Melendez.
Now Larry notes he will not cover this in the name of fairness, which I appreciate. But the best part is this:
I realize this is a fly-around of statewide DFL-endorsed candidates, but does it seem as though someone might be missing from this list who could reasonably be expected to be there, at least for this stop?
Well, he'd've known that her opponent wasn't at the GOP tour stop either if the "dog hadn't ate his press release". Still, Bachmann would have had to come all the way across the district.

In related news, Steve Gottwalt announced he was in for the HD 15A endorsement, and has an endorsement challenge from SD 15 chair Roger Knauss. I guess I'll have to go watch that one.

Wear the damn helmet! 

I mean, Captain Ed has enough problems not to be worrying about you, Ben. What's this? "I'll see your Winslow and raise you one"?

Shut up, Hugh, or we put you in this trebuchet. I've watched this baby, and you can feel the pumpkin.

Topping and lagging 

I've read enough about Cleveland Federal Reserve President Sandra Pianalto's remarks on monetary policy that I had to read the actual speech she gave. They are consistent with some of the ideas I wrote last week, in my view, and not at all troubling. I've seen most of the quotes from her talk working practically backward. Grab any source on the story and see if you agree.
What about our objective of price stability? Inflation rates can be affected by all kinds of unusual events in the short term, especially large swings in energy prices. Of course, all of us are painfully aware of the huge increases we have seen in energy prices. We feel it every time we fill up our gas tanks. Americans are complaining that the energy-price increases have hit them hard - and they're right. The price of a barrel of oil has gone from about $20 in 2002 to roughly $70 today.

Price pressures are also being felt across an array of other commodities, goods and services. As a result, the core rate of inflation has also been edging up lately. The Consumer Price Index has increased by 3.5 percent during the past year. The so-called core rate - that is, the CPI excluding food and energy - hasn't risen as much: It rose slightly more than 2 percent during the past year. But the core CPI has increased at an annualized rate of more than 3 percent during the past three months. This inflation picture, if sustained, exceeds my comfort level.

Fortunately, the public is, for the most part, looking at this disappointing inflation news as a transitory development. Measures of long-term inflation expectations have been mixed lately, but, on the whole, I regard them as remaining contained. The FOMC's challenge is to make sure that they stay contained.

The recent news on inflation troubles me, but the news has not come as a complete surprise. Last year I began to anticipate that we might confront some disappointing inflation data in the first half of this year, although I was not expecting quite as much inflation as we have seen. Still, I have been expecting price pressures to diminish.

This juncture in the policymaking process is the most difficult. There is, after all, a time lag between monetary-policy actions and their ultimate effect on inflation. That is, even though the recently reported inflation numbers have been edging upward, I think that the current 5 percent level of the federal funds rate is near a point that is consistent with a gradual improvement in the inflation outlook.
This might help illustrate the problem David Altig pointed out last week. Pianalto says inflation expectations are still good, and declares it is "[t]he FOMC's challenge is to make sure that they stay contained." She then appeals to the lag between enacting monetary policy and seeing changes in the economy. But the view that what is targeted is inflation forecasts and not the rate itself should mean that, if she's serious that she sees inflation expectations as "remaining contained", then as long as one does not disappoint the markets regarding rate increases all should be well. And apparently the market thinks the quarter-point rise is coming. The pause, if it is to be, comes in August.

Give 'em hell 

Anne Neal shoots back at the AAUP survey:
It is not the public's job to intuit the special worth of colleges and universities. The AAUP poll shows that, far from affirming higher education, the American people are saying 'Enough.' Unless our colleges and universities take immediate steps to become publicly accountable, and unless they renew their commitment to rigorous academic standards and academic freedom for all, they risk losing the public support and special protections that they now take as a given.
Meanwhile, Stephen Karlson thinks the professoriate resists the market test to avoid having to share the secret handshake.

Soon to be in a novel near you 

A female professor files sexual harassment charges against a male professor: Not unusual. Male professor puts out a contract on her? Unusual.
In court records and testimony at a bond hearing Friday, according to reports in The Virginian-Pilot and other local newspapers, prosecutors and the Virginia State Police laid out what appeared to be a well-documented scheme to kill Kimberly Perez, who also teaches information systems technology at Tidewater�s Norfolk campus. According to the college�s Web site, the two have collaborated on courses on how to use Blackboard,among other things.

As described by prosecutors, Glosser feared that the sexual harassment complaint could damage his career. �Because he was concerned for his job, he was going to have her killed,� The Virginian-Pilot quoted the prosecutor, David Laird, as saying in court on Friday.

According to police officials, Glosser asked a friend and former neighbor, Raymond Groves, for help in trying to either persuade Perez to drop the complaint or to �take her out.� Glosser allegedly offered Groves as much as $4,000 if the complaint disappeared and up to $15,000 if Perez did, according to the testimony of police officials.
Mr. Groves is alleged to have hired a third person to go to Perez to either offer her money to drop the charge or to kill her. This third person was apprehended, and then used for wiretaps of Groves and Glosser. Prof. Glosser was denied bail and awaits trial in jail.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Some people will bet on anything 

Learned Foot requests our assistance in recording his betting on World Cup. He has a method. He is betting that the games don't turn into the new and improved NHL.

UPDATE From the weekend: He wins three of his first four bets, but the fourth bet he had double money on. He's up $100 as the USA/Czech Republic match is about to begin.

Hardly a vote of confidence 

Some people are trying to sugarcoat a report by AAUP on confidence in institutions of higher education. But the report says concerns about liberal bias on American campuses are more than a tempest in a teapot.

Here's the key result the sugarcoaters are pointing to:

When asked to name the biggest problem facing American higher education today, 42.8 percent of respondents � the single biggest category � say �the high cost of college tuition.� ...17 percent say �binge drinking by students� is the biggest problem, 10.2 percent say �low educational standards,� 8.2 percent �political bias in the classroom,� 6.5 percent �crime on campus,� and about 5 percent each say the biggest issue is �incompetent professors,� �too much focus on college athletics,� or �lack of support for a diverse student population.�
What a surprise. Most parents, and particularly those getting ready to send kids to college, probably have as their primary concern how to pay the bill. The binge drinking answer is likely influenced by the Duke lacrosse story. And the surveyors split out concerns about faculty performance into three categories -- standards, bias, and incompetence -- to hide the concern in the American public over the quality of higher education. When asked which problems were very serious, of course four in five thought tuition was a very serious problem. But 48.9% thought low educational standards were, 37.5% said so for political bias, and a third thought incompetent professors were a serious problem.

They also read them a definition of tenure (since only 55% said they knew what it was) and then asked whether they liked the idea of tenure. Of course most did. But listen to the definition:
�Let me give you a definition of tenure. In most American colleges and universities, professors are eligible for permanent or continuous appointments after a probationary period of about seven years. These appointments are called tenure, and once tenure is granted, professors usually can be dismissed only for serious misconduct or incompetence.�
Now you've just asked them what the serious problems are, and a third say incompetence is. Do they understand how few tenured faculty are dismissed for incompetence?

This is a very cynical report to be read at the AAUP convention this weekend. But I doubt any one will notice.

"We all pay the estate tax" 

The Senate failed to pass permanent repeal of the estate tax. And of course it's passed off as making sure the superrich pay their fair share, which is nonsense. Those who can afford tax planning buy it and avoid estate taxes. So who pays it? We all do, according to a new study by Steven Entin.
People can increase their productivity and labor by acquiring skills and training (human capital), by buying or inheriting physical capital to use with their labor, or by seeking employment that will let them work with other people�s physical capital. By discouraging capital formation, the estate tax makes it harder to combine labor with capital, which reduces the demand for labor and reduces opportunities for on-the-job training. It keeps the poor poor, and it keeps start-up businesses from growing to compete with older and bigger firms.

One of the worst features of the estate and gift tax is that the smallest and newest businesses, those with the least cash, are the least able to survive the tax. These include a large share of the businesses created by minorities. The estate tax makes it harder for successful minority business owners to pass the business on to the next generation.
Worth noting: this was to extend the estate tax phaseout that we are currently in, which leads to no estate tax in 2010 ... and a 55% top rate on estates over $4 million for a married couple ($2m unmarried) in 2011. But Harry Reid had to play the class warfare card, according to the Times.
A repeal, he said, would benefit a wealthy few "at the expense of every other American born and yet to be born for decades to come."

Mr. Reid called the fight over the estate tax a distraction and likened it to Republican efforts at passing a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriages.

No organics for Crunchys! 

Free markets help tear down some barriers. In the WSJ this morning we find out that WalMart is going to offer organic food. The real agenda of many organic farming advocates is to make feeding yourself harder, it turns out, and they don't like the new "industrial organic".
Primatologist Jane Goodall recently published a manifesto called "Harvest for Hope" in which she laments that "we have been hypnotized into believing that it is perfectly reasonable to walk into a supermarket and find any kind of food, from anywhere, anytime of the year." She would prefer us to "think about meals the way our ancestors did," to "preserve the local harvest by freezing fresh fruits and vegetables and leftovers," to "better endure the lean months of winter and early spring."

These purists, who apparently think "lean months" build character or something like that, blame Wal-Mart (and Whole Foods and small organic farmers who sold out to big conglomerates) for defining organic down while giving customers a false impression of what organic really means. The happy leaping cow on the label of a gallon of Horizon Organic milk, they say, is no longer representative of the real lives Horizon's cows are leading.

In fact, much of the blame rests with the federal government. When the USDA released revised labeling guidelines for organic foods in 2000, a bare minimum was established. And it turned out that what Uncle Sam wanted farmers to do to earn an organic label (and thus garner a 50% premium, on average, over conventional foods) wasn't all that difficult. Additives like xanthan gum are permissible in processed foods, and many spray-on pesticides with organic precursors are completely kosher. Cows needn't be allowed to wander over photogenic green pastures; dumping organic corn into the feed trough is just as legit. By regulating organics fairly loosely, government stepped into the middle of a contentious moment in the movement's history--and wound up picking winners.
But if organic food is healthier (Mrs. S insists so) and tastes better to many people (I happen to think so, which is why I went nuts for Trader Joe's arrival in Minneapolis, and in which I'm a little sheeping about wearing my Patriot shirt in a parking lot full of Wellstone! bumperstickers), why wouldn't markets fulfill those needs too? Of course they will. Goodall wants to withhold food from those not interested in signing up for the "organic lifestyle," like the Crunchy Cons. Organic TV dinners? How dare they!

What's worse, Goodall's food bigotry favors withholding organic food from the poor.
"We don't think you should have to have a lot of money to feed your family organic foods," Wal-Mart's CEO has said. To some, this sounds like a threat--especially to the ethical eating elites who will have to find new ways of distinguishing themselves from the hoi polloi--but for most of us it sounds like good news about better food.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The second moment 

While I don't have much to say about Zarqawi, and not like you'll care at this particular moment, I do have something to say about the dissatisfaction expressed towards Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. Apparently he either says too little or too much. He's scaring not only the US but investors around the world (how dare he!) What is going on?

My answer from a few months ago: It's just a hard time to figure out where to go after the May rate increase. And there's nothing since then that has made it easier, which has led Bernanke to try to digest each wiggle individually, and sometimes in public. We who watch the Fed would almost instinctively inserted the word "unfortunately" in front of "sometimes" in the last sentence, but Catherine Yang thinks Bernanke has a method to his madness.
Bernanke seems to have adopted the central banker's version of Regulation FD, for "fair disclosure," the securities rule requiring public companies to reveal material information to all investors simultaneously. While his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, often signaled his intended message through winks and nods in off-the-record interviews with the press, the new Fed chief is offering little whispered guidance. Such a shift to public discussion, rather than private hints, is consistent with Bernanke's emphasis on transparency.

... In the short run, Bernanke's reluctance to telegraph his thinking privately may increase market volatility. That's a big reason why stocks moved so sharply on June 5 and 6, since Bernanke hadn't prepared investors for the depth of his inflation fears.

Nevertheless, the experience with Reg FD over the past six years suggests that volatility may ease once the markets get adjusted to Bernanke's style. Remember that before Reg FD went into effect in 2000, companies would typically hold private meetings with stock market analysts, feeding Wall Street nuggets of information about whether the company was doing better or worse than expected. Such private meetings, ahead of official earnings announcements, were justified as a way of letting good news -- or bad -- trickle out into the market slowly.

...There's a clear analogy in today's situation. Bernanke wants investors, rather than hanging on his every word, to do their own work on forecasting economic growth and inflation to anticipate the Fed's next move. That should help them think like the Fed, which is basing interest-rate policy on the economy's future course. The quarterback "has to throw where the receiver is going to be, not where he is at the current moment," he said on June 5.

A key to the inflation-targeting approach that Bernanke favors is to have inflation expectations under control as well as actual inflation. He says so himself in 2003:
The maintenance of price stability--and equally important, the development by the central bank of a strong reputation for and commitment to it--also serves to anchor the private sector's expectations of future inflation. Well-anchored inflation expectations (by which I mean that the public continues to expect low and stable inflation even if actual inflation temporarily deviates from its expected level) not only make price stability much easier to achieve in the long term but also increase the central bank's ability to stabilize output and employment in the short run.
Now expectations are more than a number -- they are both a mean and a variance. The variance represents the degree of uncertainty about inflation expectations. Bernanke seems to say that variance of expectations is holding back the market -- thus the high degree of volatility that Isidore cites -- but that in this period there is not much the Fed can do about that. It can't do much about China or Iraq. It may make more sense for market participants to do their own calculations.

One response to this viewpoint would be that the Fed could fix things by adhering to a better anchor for price stability (like a gold standard.) But I find it hard to think fixed exchange rates or a fixed growth rate of the money supply would provide any help at this time. These are real supply shocks we face, not your run-of-the-mill demand displacements. Another response is that true inflation targeting countries rely on some information: there is an inflation report that inflation-targeting countries give to the public that contains the inflation forecast for the upcoming year. (See this description of the Bank of England's experience, for example.) Yes, Bernanke might reply, but firms need a proper framework with which to digest the information.

Thus the infamous comments to Bartiromo make a great deal of sense. And where Daniel Gross thinks the Fed is "flying by the seat of its pants", one might say instead that investors are working without a model, and it isn't Bernanke's job to remove any incentive for them to build one. Much better than the Greenspan world in which the numbers meant nothing until Alan told you what they meant.


Nothing I can say other than "good". But I'm sure some will find it a distraction.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Increase your impact 

I write a number of professional papers with co-authors. This helps me learn about economics and about publishing. One story in the latter camp happened when I worked with someone who notoriously footnotes like crazy and always has very long bibliographies. I was writing a paper with him and another guy, and the second fellow wanted to cite a particular paper as a source. "Oh no," the first guy answered. "We've given him enough cites already." I have never counted who I cite.

Another time I got an angry phone call from a relatively famous economist for failing to cite his paper in my bibliography. "But your paper is at best tangential to the point I was making," I said. "Tangential is close enough. You should have cited me." Academics in the social sciences count their SSCI points to see how they're doing. One fellow was depressed that because he shared a last name with a very prolific economist, he would never be able to get noticed.

Bloggers, no doubt, understand this in checking their Technorati and TTLB rankings. The Unknown Professor of Financial Rounds writes that journals are now in on the game by trying to manipulate their impact factors. The WSJ reports (subscriber link):
Conceived 40 years ago, impact factors are essentially a grading system of how important the papers a journal publishes are. "Importance" is measured by how many other papers cite it, indicating that the discoveries, methodologies or insights it describes are advancing science.
It matters financially, because higher-ranked journals can command much more money from research library subscriptions (which can cost $10000 a pop.) So, the Unknown Professor reports, editors of these journals will suggest additional articles to go into the bibliography which just happen to be in the same journal. He tells other stories about how this manipulation occurs.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Northwest updates 

So I have two long trips this summer depending on Northwest continuing to fly, and what do I read today? First the airline is threatening Congress:
Northwest Airlines said on Tuesday it would attempt to terminate its employee pensions in bankruptcy if Congress did not approve legislation giving airlines more time to finance those plans.

In a letter to House of Representatives Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, the carrier said delay in the pension bill on Capitol Hill threatened the progress of restructuring and that action was needed to save pensions.

Northwest previously said it was counting on the additional time of up to 20 years included in proposed pension legislation to help balance its pension accounts and avoid turning them over to federal pension insurers like US Airways and United Airlines did in bankruptcy.
Give me my workout of the pension deal -- which in the meantime leaves these pensions underfunded -- or we toss out 70,000 retirement plans for you to deal with. That should help get me better service. Particularly from the flight attendants.
Northwest Airlines flight attendants soundly rejected a contract agreement Tuesday that would have slashed their base pay by 21 percent and increased their work hours.
Supposedly this won't lead to a strike, at least not until I need that plane overseas.


Does anyone know a way in Blogger blogs to automatically update the file? This is why I haven't put tags on my pieces lately -- it saves me no steps and very few links come off them. MC > MB, if you know what I mean.

I will update some feeds manually now.

I like my economics crunchy 

This post might not work, but it's an attempt to tie a few scattered thoughts together.

This was triggered by a scathing review of Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons by Jeff Tucker at the Mises Blog. I haven't read the book yet, but I heard Dreher interviewed on NARN by the Fraters (I thought there might be a podcast of this, but I don't think John was there), and after the interview as I walked into the studio past Chad the Elder, he noted that I looked like a crunchy con.

I suppose I do. I am wearing my Birkenstocks right now, in fact. I am a longtime vegetarian who shops at a co-op that is most definitely anti-free market. I eat free-range eggs and organic vegetables frequently, though that choice may be more Mrs. S's than mine. My music choices are seldom part of mainstream culture. (Here's my favorite Internet radio station; I await JB Doubtless' ire.)

But the choices I make are because there are free markets. It is exactly because I am free that I can choose to shop in a co-op or a WalMart. When David and Margaret put on their blog "Live Like a Liberal, Vote Like a Conservative", it is because they are free to do so. And free to go between the two spaces. I eschew WalMart not because it's evil but because I usually want the service I get from the corner Ace Hardware or the local nursery. I support local businesses and pay more because those local connections are valuable to me.

Thus I am not at all disturbed by Dreher's hypothesis that we should adopt certain cultural values. Those provide him with satisfaction. I like sandals and organic leafy greens. If Tucker wants to shop at the big box, I will not use force to stop him. But using persuasion to ask for the support of more bucolic or 'crunchy' values bothers me not a bit. We cannot presume to tell others what's best for them, so that saying these are the best of times doesn't cut it with Dreher, nor with this editorial last week by Charles Morriss. So we get lovely things like happiness research , which might in turn lead Dreher and Morriss to become officers in the happiness police. I'd rather live without them than without my Birkenstocks. It is unnerving to find someone doing happiness research and then saying that the research helps make public policy choices. That's what worries Tucker, and it should.

We know that some things matter more than others in making us happier. The desparate purchases of the recently divorced tells us, without resort to surveys or much else, that a good marriage makes us much happier than doubling our salary. Observing people as they age reveals they get happier as they understand the limits of their abilities to produce and consume; as they become more comfortable with who they are and what is possible. We also know that the "distributivism" that Dreher is said to support (by Tucker) only helps to make the poor a little happier, and only for awhile.

We don't always act to maximize wealth. We act to maximize satisfaction. This is what is taught in your standard neoclassical principles of micro course, and it's right.

Is satisfaction the same as happiness? I don't think so, but that's another post.

A Clintonite returns home 

Reader Peter Lorenzi (at Loyola University of Maryland) sent me an article reviewing Laura Tyson, former Clinton head of the Council of Economic Advisors who's finishing a stint as the dean of the London Business School. While the article calls her "renowned economist", I would say she was much less well-known at the time of her appointment even within the profession than others chosen to the post. Still, she's parlayed that position into a good career and done some good. Perhaps she's now leaving LBS to go to work on another presidential campaign, given this comment:
'In the long term, I think our economy is in a bad condition. For the past 30 years we've seen major productivity gains but the only people who have gained are the top 10 per cent. Those in the middle aren't going anywhere - they're mortgaged up to the wazoo and their savings are now next to nothing - while the gap between top and bottom is now wider than it has been at any time since the Twenties.'

Warming to what is effectively an attack on the Bush policy of tax breaks for the equity-owning rich, she continues: 'We're told we're a shareholding society. Do you know what the median shareholding is in the United States? Zero. The average amount of those who do own stock is about $25,000, but most people only hold around $6-7k worth.'

Tyson was enlisted as a consultant to the unsuccessful Kerry-Edwards Democrat presidential ticket in 2004, but is sceptical about what difference her contribution could have made: 'That election wasn't about the economy. It was about terrorism, security and values.'
I think that quote is slightly off. Direct shareholding, certainly, is down. Most of us hold shares through our retirement plans a little more indirectly. Several years ago James Glassman estimated it was about half, and a year later a Congressional Joint Economic Committee report said 48.8% -- I would think it more now. So the median number of "zero" says that we haven't gone over fifty percent. Perhaps Tyson's been in London too long.

But she's right that the last election was about "terrorism, security and values." So will be this one.

Justice Alito and the hands of time 

A portent of the kingdom to come?
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether skin color can be considered in assigning children to public schools, reopening the issue of affirmative action. The announcement puts a contentious social topic on the national landscape in an election year, and tests the conservatism of President Bush's two new justices.
Source. James Taranto thinks this might mark the beginning of the undoing of Grutter more than dealing with busing, as the two school integration programs under scrutiny use "numerical targets for minority enrollment."
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the majority opinion in Grutter, has now ridden off into the sunset. One suspects the man who took her place, Justice Samuel Alito, will be a little stricter in his scrutiny--which may help move up that 2028 deadline.
Psycmeistr also thinks this is big.


The Chronicle of Higher Ed (temp link; subscriber link) would make it sound so.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education won a key endorsement on Monday in its quest for continued federal approval of its accrediting power after announcing that it would drop controversial language relating to "social justice" from its accrediting standards for teacher-preparation programs.

...On Monday, at a hearing of the U.S. Department of Education's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, Arthur E. Wise, president of Ncate, called the criticisms of the standards "unwarranted" but announced that the organization would drop "social justice" from the guidelines, "lest there be any misunderstanding about our intentions."

Mr. Wise emphasized that the phrase "social justice" was merely an example of criteria institutions may adopt when assessing candidates' dispositions, and was never intended as an accreditation requirement. Each institution, he said, was free to choose its own disposition evaluation criteria.

"The allegation that Ncate requires thought control is simply wrong," he said.
Candace de Russy calls this "grand news." They've thus avoided the reasons that groups like FIRE, NAS, and ACTA have raised for removing NCATE's authority to accredit teaching programs. There is additional coverage at Inside Higher Ed.

Anne Neal of ACTA is reported to have said that changing a few words changes nothing. The definition of professional dispositions now says that teaching candidates are expected "to demonstrate classroom behaviors that are consistent with the ideas of fairness and the belief that all students can learn." But it will also allow schools to impose additional dispositions. Perhaps Neal is right. Any thought that this is the death knell of dispositions theory is quite premature.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Clarification on "Bloggers 3, MSM 0" 

In comments, Larry Schumacher says he didn't get an email from the GOP until Saturday morning, and he forwarded the email. The note indicated an earlier message, and Larry indicates there was a voice message Friday but he was not in. I didn't get either; I got the information from a press release emailed to me by the MN GOP office. The Times, WJON and KNSI probably got those too, but given the volume they receive it's quite possible nobody paid attention to it. There was a story that the flyaround would happen on the AP wire Thursday, but it was buried in an article.

Apparently Mankato and Rochester (but not Moorhead that I can find) got the message. One GOP official told me on Saturday that St. Cloud was the only stop where there was no press attendance.

Gottwalt to run in HD 15A? 

So says St. Cloud Times reporter Larry Schumacher.
Gottwalt, who's been on the city council since 1998, said he's cleared it with his family and has met with House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.
There isn't a whole lot of difference between Gottwalt and retiring incumbent Jim Knoblach. The DFL endorsed Diana Murphy-Podawiltz last weekend, and in comments on that Times web page her opponent in the endorsement battle this weekend -- Anne Nolan, who lost the race to Knoblach last time -- said there wasn't an issue that divided them. There is a pretty substantial difference between Gottwalt and Murphy-Podawiltz, and if it comes to that it would be fun race to watch.

Larry dug up a number of other names for the 15A nomination. I doubt any run against Gottwalt if Steve chooses to run. I have heard no names for 15B on the GOP side (to run against incumbent Larry Haws) yet either except for Sue Ek, who was unable to run last time due to residency issues. But the latest skinny is that, while residency has been met, she is not inclined to run again.

UPDATE (6/6): Nolan says she is misrepresented to say there is no issue that divides her and Murphy-Podawiltz, just none that were listed in the article. When I asked her to identify it, she declined, ending the discussion with a rather coy "it's obvious". Yes, I knew she was pro-life, and if asking her to state that she was pro-life and Murphy-Podawiltz (I assume -- she has no issues page yet, but there's no other possible answer I can see) is not is "baiting", then one must ask why? Can't pro-life Democrats run for office anymore (see Tinklenberg, Elwyn)? Can't pro-choice Republicans? It seems that both parties have a problem with allowing for meaningful differences within their ranks. If not, why was Nolan reluctant to point to it?

You also need to ask why the Times didn't report the difference.

A last thought or five on the convention 

Just a few, because I'm worn out from it still and need to think about other things.
  1. I think Jeff Kouba calls the signs of the Gingrich win in the straw poll correctly:
    The fact Newt Gingrich won the straw poll with about 40% of the vote was not, in my opinion, a strong call for Newt to run, but rather it was the expression of a desire for the kind of conservative Newt once was, especially the 1994 Newt.
    We want Minority Leader Newt, Platform Newt, Contract with America Newt. We don't want Speaker Newt. Speaker Newt ended up blinking in a staredown with Clinton -- not necessarily terrible, since many others did too, but not the leadership we sought. I agree with Jeff that this is about ideals and vision, not necessarily who Republicans want to lead them in 2008.
  2. Was my open letter satisfied by Pawlenty's speech? Somewhat. He was speaking to people like me by acknowledging disagreements. But give your critics enough credit to know we'll disagree with you a little more often than your wife does. And when talking about cutting taxes, it didn't help to say cutting would be done strategically and practically. Cut. Control. There are no adverbs permitted here. I feel better about Pawlenty now than I did last week, but not by as much as he might have hoped.
  3. I just missed all the fun with Franken, because I ended up standing too much and getting a bad cramp in a thigh muscle. (Me no sexy beast.) I was standing all that time because I got to hear a pitch to the faithful in a private reception with Senator Norm Coleman. Coleman was already rallying people to his cause, and wondered with me why the good news of the economy isn't better reported. (Of course, he does this on the day the lower-than-average jobs number comes out.)
  4. Speaking of sexy beasts, Chad and I got to see a very dapper "Quentin from Zimmerman" at the convention. Quentin is a legendary caller. He was asking for two additional planks in the platform. Later that night when we turned up the sound from the floor on the show, Quentin was at a mic offering one of his planks.
  5. It was hard for me to hear the debate over the rules Thursday night, but reports were that some were dissatisfied that not only could not nominate candidates for endorsement from the floor but also did not get enough time to debate the rules that said so. Mark Yost tells me that on his show Saturday, Sue Jeffers announced she would run in the primary anyway. Are you sure this was better than giving her thirty minutes at the convention? But it did make for a better managed convention. Which is why I found it strange for the bloggers and other observers to kvetch about the absence of a full house: People come to debate and vote, but organizers want a polished presentation for the media. It's like going to see Jay Leno but knowing all the jokes in advance and knowing the taping takes nine hours. Would you show up?

NCATE under pressure 

FIRE is pressing the Department of Education to investigate the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for its reliance on 'dispositions' criteria for teaching candidates.
NCATE maintains a set of official standards on the basis of which it decides whether or not to accredit an education program. The standards require that candidates in an education program �demonstrate the content, pedagogical, and professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn.� NCATE�s standards state that dispositions �are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice.� The standards also require students and faculty in an education program to demonstrate a commitment to �diversity.�

��Social justice� and �diversity� are vague and politically loaded terms that mean different things to different people,� Lukianoff stated. �NCATE�s suggestion that it is appropriate to judge prospective teachers based on their commitment to these nebulous ideals is an invitation to discriminate against teacher candidates with dissenting views.�
The National Association of Scholars has joined in the argument:
By giving them the government's imprimatur, departmental recognition of NCATE standards turns these abuses into impermissible First Amendment violations. Only two remedies are available to remove the resultant constitutional exposure. Either NCATE must eliminate "social justice" from its evaluation protocols, or the Department of Education must withdraw recognition from NCATE.
We've reported on dispositions theory here and here.

Can't have it both ways 

If we really are going to depoliticize academic classrooms, let's not do this. I haven't followed the Juan Cole to Yale or not Yale story closely and not posted on it because it is mostly just mudslinging. Ralph Luker is correct -- there's no more joy to be taken in Borking a liberal prof than there is a conservative one. Sorry, Trunk.

That doughnut's gonna cost you 

For want of 4.5 pounds, the fight was lost, and there are plenty of losers:

After failing to qualify for Saturday's scheduled lightweight title fight when he came in overweight Friday, Jose Luis Castillo now faces the scales of justice.Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, was expected to issue a complaint today or Tuesday against the former two-time World Boxing Council lightweight champion.

Castillo, who weighed in at 139 1/2 pounds for the 135-pound fight against Diego Corrales, causing the cancellation of the match, will have 20 days to respond.

..."The facts about what happened are certainly not in dispute," said Kizer, referring to Castillo. "We had a conversation with him May 8 in which we warned him about coming in over the weight limit and he assured us there was no problem, that he was on target. He said there would be no weight issue come June.

"I was shocked by his weight. You would figure he would have told someone in advance."

Castillo's promoter, Bob Arum, has accused Castillo's handlers of lying to him about the fighter's weight in the days leading up to the weigh-in.

Ultimately, it was Gary Shaw, Corrales' promoter, with the approval of Corrales' manager, James Prince, and his trainer, Joe Goossen, who called off the fight.

They could have gone ahead with the match, as they did in October when Castillo came in at 138 1/2 pounds. That match was staged as a nontitle fight and Corrales was knocked out in the fourth round.

Shaw and Arum are responsible for splitting the $135,000 rental fee for the Thomas & Mack Center, site of the fight. With an estimated crowd of 2,000 to 2,500 on hand for Saturday's show minus Castillo-Corrales and a 75% discount on most tickets, Shaw figures the live gate at $30,000. Adding in expenses, Shaw estimated he lost about $250,000. Corrales lost his $1.2-million purse and Goossen wound up training Corrales for nearly two months without receiving any money."

Nobody believed me when I said we would pull the plug on the fight," Shaw said. "Now maybe next time, fighters will know we are serious about their obligation to make weight. Maybe they'll realize they can't always negotiate their way out of this kind of situation with money. Maybe they will think twice before doing this."

It seems rather clear that if both sides could agree to some damages paid for not making weight -- and thus making it a nontitle fight -- the fight would have proceeded and there likely would have been no complaints filed to the state boxing commission. But it would have made a farce of the boxing world, whereby you don't know when you buy fight tickets whether or not it is a title fight. How do you sell tickets to this event with that uncertainty?

Corrales was placed in the position of fighting up in weight or cancelling the fight. Citing safety concerns, he chose the latter. Good choice, and someone should cover his costs. Someone also owes ShowTime $175,000 for the cancellation of their Saturday broadcast as well.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

GOP Post-Convention Tour in St. Cloud: Bloggers 3, MSM 0 

I raced back from the studio to arrive two minutes after the plane that brought Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kennedy, State Auditor Pat Anderson, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and state Attorney General candidate (not to be confused with SD 15 Senate candidate) Jeff Johnson to the St. Cloud airport (we were two for two in Jeff Johnsons). About 25 supporters greeted the plane.

Kennedy introduced each of the candidates, who spoke briefly of their candidacies and plans for the fall election. Anderson and Kiffmeyer emphasized their accomplishments and Johnson talked about getting the attorney general's office off the backs of Minnesota businesses and to stop its use for pursuing partisan ends. We were also greeted by Mayor Dave Kleis. Questions were taken from the audience. Kennedy fielded some questions on alternative energy started by Psycmeistr's asking how we can increase supply in these tight times for energy. Noting that the US is producing much more without consuming much more energy than 25 years ago (see this graph for some evidence and some data here), a discussion of alternative fuels, hybrid cars and renewable energy ensued. The range of Kennedy's knowledge on the subject was impressive.

None of the radio stations covered this event (including the news talk KNSI), nor did the St. Cloud Times. This occured even though there was a media advisory sent Friday (received by this blog at 12:15pm.) Indeed, at the time of my writing this, you would not even know a convention took place this week from reading the Times, though reports of the DFL's settling on a local House endorsement, and another DFL House candidate's picnic do appear.

The absence of MSM was noted by Kennedy, who recognized the role of bloggers in helping get out the word about this campaign. Gary Gross and Psycmeistr were both in attendance.

UPDATE: You don't need the newspapers -- here are Gary's and Psyc's posts on the day's events. Gary has gone so far to dub us the St. Cloud Bloggers Association. It's not exclusive -- if you're a local area blogger, please drop a line to comments -at- scsuscholars -dot- com.

NARN poll -- it's Allen running away 

Allen received 11 of 28 votes in the NARN straw poll, held during the second hour of today's show. Nobody else registered more than four.

The "what have you done for me lately" crowd 

I find the exercise of discussing each jot and jiggle of economic indicators rather tedious, and probably why I prefer academics to working in the business community as a forecaster. While I do forecast, it's rather nice that I don't have much local information to work with for the St. Cloud economy, it's not released with much fanfare, and not many people read it with any interest. I can take three or even six months between reports, digest and look for longer trends. Working to produce a weekly or monthly forecast just gives you too many opportunities to be fooled by the last zig-zag. (And there are always those people who will check your record and note your failures more than your successes.)

So while newspapers caterwaul (is that a word?) about yesterday's employment report, and the usual dismal scientists get dismal, perhaps the pictures that actually appear on the report itself would provide you a little perspective. Now, what exactly is the problem again? Oh yes, each individual number has to be judged against a yardstick. 75,000 ain't 200,000, so we're doomed! Doomed! I tell you!

Spare me. Or at least, give me three months of under 100,000 before going Cassandra. Kash isn't there yet, but he's toeing the line.

Now, Barry's graph is interesting and worth explaining: Why has each successive expansion generated fewer jobs than the previous one since 1975? But that's far, far different a discussion than the doom and gloomers.

FInally rested 

After nine hours of convention coverage (plus a fun ten minutes with Jeff and Lee, where I can get a little more personal than I do on NARN), I decided I would be too tired to do today's show if I drove up to the Cloud. So seven hours sleep at a Bloomington hotel, and I feel quite rested. (Seven for me is damned rare -- I'm usually a five hour sleeper, though lately I've been edging towards 5.5.) All that conventioning and talking made me feel like I was subjected to three Vulcan mind melds yesterday -- tune in at 1pm and see if I've got anything left in the tank. If I don't, not to worry because Captain Ed is smoking hot right now.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Results of Presidential straw poll here at GOP convention 

Results as I just received ten minutes ago.

Mccain 55
Romney 29
Allen 79
Gingrich 210
Guiliana 19
Geb bush 32
C Rice 28
Tom Tancredo 13
Brownback 9

And, we're back 

Online right now with Mitch and Chad. More as I can.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

More a vigorous shake than a shrug 

And I thought Hinderaker disliked the book: You haven't read a right-winger pan Atlas Shrugged like Whittaker Chambers did in 1957.
The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could not possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: "Excruciatingly awful." I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous. It reports the final stages of a final conflict (locale: chiefly the United States, some indefinite years hence) between the harried ranks of free enterprise and the "looters." These are proponents of proscriptive taxes, government ownership, labor, etc., etc. The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality.
Most libertarians I know dismiss him as a former Communist. Maybe we could get Alec Baldwin to play him. I'm going to guess Rocket and Trunk don't go to the movie.

(h/t: Sally Jo Sorensen.)

Here at the MN GOP convention 

And, we're in.

The convention starts in about three hours, and I'm seated in the press pit watching the MPR folks set up their command post. I'm trying to send them positive vibes, though I doubt it helps. Just behind me is Michael MDE Brodkorb, and we're waiting for the Patriot people to return to get us ready for airtime at 5pm. I'm often this early to events -- a nervous traveller.

Aside the ceilings of balloons and the stage trimming of stars and bars, there isn't all that much to see just yet. Having worked setting up and taking down a small mission church every Sunday, you don't see too much different here so far. Whoa, wait! Someone just road in on an electric cherry-picker, which bobbed the driver up and down. Looked like a Camp Snoopy reject. (I tried to get a picture of it, but not much to look at.)

The convention schedule is up. We tentatively plan to visit with Hugh Hewitt at 5:34, Rep. Gil Gutknecht some time after 6:30, and we'll have Mark Kennedy's speech to the convention at 7. More as I find time and inspiration -- tune in from here.

UPDATE (4pm): Just watched some of the warm-ups, and sound checks, including the introduction for one candidate that had our jaws just drop back here. And yes, it included the Baja Men.

UPDATE (5 pm): Kennedy speech will be closer to 8pm.

NARN at the Convention 

Sorry not to post more today, but I will post later from the Minnesota Republican Convention, which NARN will broadcast on the Patriot2, AM1570 (note the difference in stations.) We're on tonight 5-9pm, and tomorrow 12-3 and 6-9. The regular NARN show on Saturday will be split between the convention with the Volume I guys, and then Mitch, Ed and myself back at the mother ship. If you're a delegate, alternate or just a convention groupie, be sure to stop by and wave hello at the Patriot broadcast booth in the main auditorium. Not nearby? Then tune in, and yes we'll have streaming.