Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Funny things you learn reading polls 

Do you wonder what the average response rate for polls is? I did, and I looked one up.

For the Sept. Humphrey institute poll it was 17.25%.

Mystery Pollster says normal is 22%. Hmmm.

Wonder what my colleagues will find.

Memeorandum and peer review 

I am sure I'm not the first person to mention this, but I am rather annoyed that Memeorandum is no longer picking up posts here; they were not too long ago. It turns out that their model is that posts are peer-reviewed and they trim you off the list rather regularly if you don't keep up your referrals. That is, if you aren't getting links to specific stories, you're not getting onto Memeorandum. I'd've thought a blog with as many linking blogrolls and readers as this one wouldn't need constant referrals but there you are.

I had believed that the blogosphere was to be about diversity of thought and original ideas; their model is encouraging a feedback loop that I do not believe is healthy. In order to be considered "relevant" you must write about things other people think are "relevant" in a way that you can be "relevant" to the "relevant" ... and get the requisite link.

This reminds me of how academics in elite institutions pump up the citation index counts of their friends in elite institutions (only). Peer review is a fine institution, and I do believe in it in academia, but the difference is that peer review in academia -- at least at the journals I hold in high regard -- are double-blind. The Memeorandum model would work if your meme-ing bloggers had to look at twenty non meme-ing posts a day. They won't because the incentives are in the other direction: Give links to get links.

I get a number of emails from people saying to look at this or that post and write about it. Their model is encouraging that kind of email. I write about what strikes me as news of the day, from a viewpoint I think is different, and I don't bother people often about what I wrote today. I may send Instapundit two emails a year and maybe once a month to other NARNians about specific pieces.

So goodbye, Memeorandum. I ain't singing your tune any more.

No better than pirates 

If Liberals as a whole truly believe that the central tenet of a religious belief is a bunch of absurd crap, then why wait until after the elections to say so? In naval warfare in the sailing age even pirates flew their true colors at the moment of engagement.
He should live up here, where we have alternatively people hiding their beliefs or deciding it matters so much that they're refighting the Reformation.* (Mitch takes up that cause today.)

We had Michele Bachmann on our show shortly after the taping of the debate in which Pat Kessler dropped the nativist question on her. Here's how she described it (about 20:40 mark on the podcast of the second hour of the Final Word on 10/28 from our Townhall podcast center):
I just completed a television debate that will be shown tonight at 10:30 on WCCO television tonight ... this morning in the Star Tribune on the editorial page there was a section from bloggers and it was printed as though it was fact that my church and myself believe that the Pope is the Antichrist. Now this is almost falling of the chair laughing it's so patently absurd it's just funny. But you know the StarTribune, they put this in as if it is just fact. well Guess what? Here wr are having a serious debate ... here's the bias of the media. Here's Pat Kessler, from WCCO TV, very first question out of the chute to State Senator Michele Bachmann, he says, "The StarTribune reported today that you and your church believe that you and your church believe that the Pope is the Antichrist. Could you please comment on the divisive nature of your political statements that are intertwined with religion. DO you think it's important for you to be speaking about religion and politics and your statements that the Pope is the Antichrist." This is the very first question out of his mouth.
Jeff Kouba relates this as well, who was on the air with us at the time (he transcribed from the broadcast of the debate, not Bachmann's recollection. And Bachmann tells us that Kessler asked the question of Wetterling, asking her to discuss it as if it was true.**

The biggest problem I have is the lack of seriousness with which religion is taken. The Reformation really did happen; the split between Luther and Rome was real and had serious consequences. (When you can breathe after the elections, watch Luther and see what he thought of the pope.) The Lutheran and Catholic churches have wrestled with its consequences ever since and will continue to do so; Kessler's question is jawdroppingly unserious in its failure to understand history.

Can one possibly ask that question without thinking that someone's religious belief is absurd crap? Let Kessler say so then, rather than sit on a set with Larry Jacobs afterwards wringing their hands wondering whether this will cost Bachmann the Catholic vote. Let the StarTribune say so then, rather than endorsing one candidate because she's not the "extremist". I mean, if you really cared about what Catholics think, would you so ignore them on social issues? Or is this reporting just another attempt to suppress values voters who might decide that Wetterling doesn't hold theirs?

Would that they had the courage of pirates, to say they are pirates! Instead they hide, for they can do no other.

*--I love the STrib finding some online group from Massachusetts called "Catholics for the Common Good" to come out demanding an apology from Bachmann for something she didn't say. The InquiSItion, let's begin...

** -- Listen to our whole broadcast, to hear how Wetterling stormed off the set of KSTP radio, where in an impromptu debate she made a rather embarrassing faux pas on property taxes and left abruptly during the following commercial break, breaking a set of studio headphones in the process. Jeff has details of this as well; I've heard the recording and it's accurate up to the point they go to commercial. According to my sources, Bachmann's description of Wetterling's departure underplays the tension of the moment and the interaction between Wetterling's handlers -- chiefly campaign manager Corey Day -- and the three candidates during the commercial break in which Wetterling departs. That's the story we were trying to get from Bachmann, before all this Reformation stuff broke out.

Motives and results 

I love many things British, but their newspapers are not one of them. For example, this Independent article on the decision of the Bank of England to put Adam Smith on the 20-pound note says that including Smith is controversial, and not just because he's a Scot.

Why has he enjoyed such a resurgence now?

For two main reasons. First, because he was seen as the first economic thinker to explain and advocate the free market. As such, he was one of a constellation of economists co-opted by the British political right in the Seventies when they were looking for alternatives to what they regarded as the bankruptcy of Socialism. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, the political right had the chance to put the theory into practice: lower taxes, smaller government and freer markets. Long dead, Adam Smith was resurrected as the economic guru for Thatcherism.

And for this he must suffer:

But he is quite a controversial figure today, isn't he?

Yes he is, and the association with Thatcherite economics is one of the main reasons. But it is not the only one. Tony Blair's New Labour accepted many of the free-market capitalist principles of the Thatcher years. But even New Labour found it hard to swallow the Thatcherite interpretation of Adam Smith whole, and it has looked for aspects of his thinking that fit more comfortably with New Labour. A global division of labour was fine, but selfishness was not - unless it was consciously understood to contribute to the common good.

This kind of thinking needs to meet the likes of Walter Williams, who explains in this wonderful interview at EconTalk the benefits to society that come from greed. He quotes the famous passage of Smith

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely. The charity of well-disposed people, indeed, supplies him with the whole fund of his subsistence. But though this principle ultimately provides him with all the necessaries of life which he has occasion for, it neither does nor can provide him with them as he has occasion for them. The greater part of his occasional wants are supplied in the same manner as those of other people, by treaty, by barter, and by purchase. With the money which one man gives him he purchases food. The old cloaths which another bestows upon him he exchanges for other old cloaths which suit him better, or for lodging, or for food, or for money, with which he can buy either food, cloaths, or lodging, as he has occasion.
As I pointed out to my class yesterday, relying on a section of Heyne's Economic Way of Thinking, the difference between the market and the government is the difference between persuasion and coercion. By serving others and ministering to their self-interest, you advance your the common good. Motives are irrelevant; what matters are results.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

Some people are getting too big for their britches 

Um Andy? You need to understand a couple of thing. First, it's SCBA, not SCAB. I realize you have some issues with us more ortographobic readers, but this isn't a spelling issue, it's a name. We are the St. Cloud Bloggers Association. Second, nobody is severing from the MOB; there's a separate NARN, so a separate SCBA is not to be seen as in any way a threat.

You get to hobnob at Keegans, using your mayoral powers to receive liquid tribute, and for what? You barely beat out an animal whose full name you couldn't spell if we spotted you the c, the h, the i, the m, the p, the a, the n, the z and the e. In order. Our representative Leo is forced to spend time away from his bride to attend these functions and end up on the next state senator's couch. What more do you expect.

We invite you to our own brewpub for refreshments, any time. Only has five letters; I'm sure you can do it.

No teacher left behind 

At least not in New York City:
In a ruling this week that could jeopardise the fledgling field of long distance education, the NYC Department of Education has said in effect that U.S companies cannot use tutors from India because they cannot comply with laws that require teachers to undergo background checks.

Under current rules, teachers are required to furnish social security numbers and be fingerprinted as part of background checks.

The ruling came after NYC reviewed a case involving an Indian-American owned company that had won a contract to tutor 2000 school children under a federal "No Child Left Behind" program.

The Texas-based company, Socratic Learning Inc, was found to be using 250 teachers based in India, although it claimed they were in Plano, Texas, NYC�s Department of Education said. The city has since cancelled Socratic�s contract worth more than $2 million a year.
The education department required Social Security numbers as well, effectively eliminating any outsourcing of tutoring to offshore providers. Indian tutors cost a fraction of the $40 per hour that American tutors charge ... and more now, given the creation of this trade barrier.

(h/t: Joanne Jacobs.)
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Be a student, be a blogger, make money 

A blog announces a scholarship for students who blog:

Our requirements are

  • Your blog must contain unique and interesting information about you and/or things you are passionate about. No spam bloggers please!!!
  • You must be enrolled in a college in the United States;
  • 3.0 minimum GPA;
  • Enrolled full-time in post-secondary education; and
  • If you win, you must be willing to allow us to list your name and blog on this page. We want to be able to say we knew you before you became a well educated, rich, and famous blogging legend.
Sounds legit to me, and a very nice prize if you can get it.

Tags: economics, gambling

Diversity and nation-building 

When people ask me now about the war in Iraq, I argue that the war itself was fine, it's the peace that sucks. Nation-building has at best been a mixed success everywhere it's been tried. One aspect of its failure is that it's almost impossible to do in countries that are ethnically diverse. Thomas Sowell points out today the problem. The analysis may not cheer conservatives, but the conclusions he draws will not give cheer to liberals either:

Free societies have prerequisites, and history has not given all peoples those prerequisites, which took centuries to evolve in the West.

However we got into Iraq, we cannot undo history--even recent history--by simply pulling out and leaving events to take their course in that strife-torn country. Whether or not we "stay the course," terrorists are certainly going to stay the course in Iraq and around the world.

Political spin may say that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror, but the terrorists themselves quite obviously believe otherwise, as they converge on that country with lethal and suicidal resolve.

Whether we want to or not, we cannot unilaterally end the war with international terrorists. Giving the terrorists an epoch-making victory in Iraq would only shift the location where we must face them or succumb to them.
Which is exactly the message Mark Kennedy is giving voters.

Polls as fantasy 

One of my good DFL friends brought this down to me this morning (it was Toles' Sunday cartoon in the WaPo.) "This is exactly how I feel," he said. "I feel like we're so close and I'm just waiting for something to go wrong."

I have tried for weeks to get some pollsters in Minnesota on our radio show, but to no avail so far. One has been busy assisting WCCO with its Bachmann smear campaign (I have to wonder which editorial genius came up with the let's-refight-the-Reformation strategy), and another is no doubt preparing the last poll for the StarTribune. My friends at the SCSU Survey haven't released their poll yet either, though it seems they've been in the field a long, long time judging by the buzz of phone calls I've heard there the last two-plus weeks.

I'm not a pollster; I am not trained in sampling theory. I do use statistics extensively in my work, though, and I'm a forecaster. So when I read the best story on polling written this year, by no less an eminence than Michael Barone, I have to pay attention.

In 2004, the electorate that went to the polls or voted absentee was, according to the adjusted NEP exit poll, 37 percent Democratic and 37 percent Republican. In party identification, it was the most Republican electorate since George Gallup conducted his first random sample poll in October 1935.

But most recent national polls show Democrats with an advantage in party identification in the vicinity of 5 percent to 12 percent. Party identification usually changes slowly. Historically, voters have switched from candidates of one party to candidates of the other more readily than they have changed their party identification.

I have noted before that local polls have been heavily leaning turnout towards Democrats and women. Now, to be sure, the pollsters will respond that they didn't do that, these are the results of screens they run to determine who is a likely voter. I accept that explanation only to a point. Surely they know what Barone says in this last paragraph; do they really believe this shift is real? And if so, is it because they want to believe it, just as much as Charlie Brown both knows Lucy's history and yet wants to believe that this time the voters won't pull the ball back at the last second?

In any forecasting exercise, one step after you "run the model" is to do a consistency check. I make students tell me a story for how all the things the model says will happen can happen at the same time. As I tell them, your client will forgive a bad forecast if you have a story for why it went wrong. But you have to then fix the model. If you keep giving the same bad forecast and keep telling the same story and yet your client doesn't fire you it's not your problem any more. Sometimes we just have stupid clients.

You have to wonder if that's the problem with the Democrats. Certainly they also know what Barone says here:

Serious pollsters concede that there are some problems with polling. Americans have fewer landline phones than they used to, and the random digit dialing most pollsters use does not include cell-phone numbers. Larger and larger percentages of those called are declining to be interviewed.

Interviewers can inject bias in the results. The late Warren Mitofsky, who conducted the 2004 NEP exit poll, went back and found that the greatest difference between actual results in exit poll precincts and the reports phoned in to NEP came where the interviewers were female graduate students -- and almost all the discrepancies favored the Democrats.

But if you know that, don't you fix the problem? No, if the polls keep allowing you to engage in a fantasy you can't resist -- that this time the Republicans have really gone too far, that this time the voters have seen through the lies, that this time you shall be delivered to the promised land of majority and speakership. And that's no less a fantasy, no less wish-fulfillment, than the guy who looks at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue each spring thinking this is the summer he will get a girl who looks like that. They don't study polls; they look at them as the dandy looks in the mirror in admiration and sure that this is the time all will recognize his beauty.

This behavior is part of what stands between America and a real two-party system of government.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


This weekend has been spent grading midterms exams. I have standards and high demands of my students. Yet, again, I am reminded of a trend I've noticed for several years.

My classes have been comprised of students who went through school after the "feel good" crowd implemented its system of lower standards and inflated grades. These students were shortchanged. They were not taught basic grammar; they were rewarded with high marks for mediocre work; they weren't pushed; and they weren't taught to think. Hence, it is more difficult for them than their predecessors to get "outside the box", to apply concepts to situations versus regurgitating an answer.

I do push and by the end of the semester, the vast majority of my students are very appreciative. But I often wonder how much easier their lives would have been if they had not been shortchanged in their first 12 years of education. I know this statement will upset many teachers. However, I believe more educators need to set standards, demand excellence, and push students to do more than they think they can do. When we indirectly tell students they either are not as good as they can be or we are dishonest with them by telling them they are better than their work merits (note, not them, their work) we short change them.

Thus, some standard is better than none. Most students are quite capable of meeting standards but they must be taught. They must learn that "work" and "earn" are four letter words that mean success in life. For an education system to do less is unfair to the students, parents, taxpayers, and society. If we demand more - we will get it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

How bad is 1.6%? 

It's pretty bad. It's a rate that normally means unemployment will rise if labor force participation holds constant, as it has the last three years. I have been saying to anyone that will listen here in St. Cloud that housing was in trouble. (I notice I said two years ago that housing then was "on its last leg of a good run" -- damn! I should frame that one -- but a stopped clock is right twice a day.) The third quarter performance nationwide shaved 1.1% from the GDP estimate. And that's likely to continue into 2007. So yeah, housing is in pain.

But most of this was made up by good figures in consumption and business fixed investment. The other part of this GDP figure that should stand out at you is that inventories fell. That's right -- the run-up in consumption in the last quarter was not met by a concomitant increase in inventories. True, it was a small decrease, but nonetheless it indicates that firms generally are not holding on to more stocks than they planned on.

Indeed, I usually pay as much attention to final sales figures as the headline GDP, and final sales to domestic purchasers actually rose in the third quarter, as real dispoable personal income rose 3.7%. The money being spent is money from wages and salaries has kept final sales of domestic product at 3.5% year-over-year for the last two quarters. And durable goods production and orders are still moving smartly. And consumer confidence is rising.

So yes, it's pretty bad, and it might be bad news for the Republicans nationally. But I don't think it's nearly as bad as some people are going to make it out to be.
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Silos and Sexiness 

Yesterday I attended a program presented by IBM to a number of Fortune 500 companies located in the Twin Cities. Also in attendance were representatives from four universities, public and private. The purpose of the meeting was to address the shortage of large system (main frame) computer programmers for all functions of these systems. The average years of experience on this platform is 20+ years; for some companies, the average is closer to 30 years.

IBM has developed a program whereby they are working with interested universities to provide access to programs and systems for interested students. This session was to begin a dialogue between the universities and corporations.

What was disturbing to me were comments made by various university representatives. A sample of these comments follows.
  1. The professor from the research institution kept telling people that students were not interested in mainframes, the jobs were boring. Yet he knew nothing of the current job opportunities, future potential, and the incredible capabilities and flexibility of today's MF computers.
  2. A professor from a university that offers a number of computer related degrees stated that he reviews the papers to find jobs available to computer majors. There were no MF jobs listed so they didn't teach the topics. When another professor asked the companies where they searched for job candidates, they replied: through search companies and on-line sources. This showed a major disconnect between the university and the source of jobs in this market.
  3. Another representative from a major university, said practically nothing.
  4. One let the audience know that universities are to impart knowledge, not skills. They are to teach critical thinking, not job skills.

As a result, I have a few thoughts. There is an industry crying for talented people. Yet, the academic environment is oblivious to the need. Who loses? Students - I simply do not believe that there are no students who want to learn how to harness the capabilities of these powerful machines. Taxpayers - they believe universities are providing options for the future but in this high demand area, very, very little is being taught. This omission could have major impact at a national level. The universities - they have an opportunity to provide programs, experience, and futures to students in an area that will always be in demand, yet the are not teaching it.

When I asked about these jobs going overseas (a complaint of the left), the reason given was simply that companies cannot find enough people stateside who know of and/or can be trained to take up these careers.

What can be done? As with most things, those hurting (in this case, companies) will have to take the lead. They will need to go to universities, get on advisory boards, and continue to make their case. They may want to consider scholarships to encourage students to enter this field.

The academics are focused on their own silos and refuse to look at other possibilities because they are not sexy.

As someone who was in the field for close to 20 years, I can say it is NOT boring and the opportunity to make a difference within and without an organization exists. Not only can a student have a very rewarding career, he will make an excellent living. If someone reads this and would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

King adds: Funny enough, I've just finished reading Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. The application of these principles to academia are manifold and daunting (at least to one department chair.)

Welcome Janet! 

After her impressive tour reviewing an article in the New York Times about Michele Bachmann, Metro State professor Janet Beihoffer and I have decided that it is time for SCSU Scholars to have a co-blogger again. (Those of you who are longtime readers will know that this blog -- an offshoot of the SCSU Association of Scholars -- was a four-person group blog in 2002-03.) Please welcome Janet to the blog! She will be here indefinitely, and we hope for a long, long run.

Assume the position 

The chancellor of the University of Arkansas' flagship campus got down on his knees Wednesday and begged state legislators to fully fund his budget request and those of the other state colleges and universities.

The UA-Fayetteville campus would be $36 million short of its funding needs even under state higher education funding formula, and state higher education institutions will still need more money for capital improvements if voters approve a $250 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, UA Chancellor John White said.
My dad would refer to this as "begging Uncle Sugar." (h/t: The Chronicle of Higher Ed News Blog

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Do you Pigou? 

A small hornet's nest was stirred when Greg Mankiw posited in the WSJ that it was time for a gas tax of about $1 a gallon, citing seven reasons for it.
  1. It would be a way to internalize the externality of carbon emissions;
  2. It would be a way to internalize the externality of road congestion;
  3. It would serve as a substitute for regulations that have perverse consequences, like fuel efficiency standards and the SUVs they spawned;
  4. It would help balance the budget;
  5. It would be borne at least in part by the Saudis, the Venezuelans and other oil producers, whose incomes we do not particularly want to expand;
  6. It would be pro-growth to the extent that consumption taxes are better than income taxes in their drag on economic activity;
  7. It is a national security issue.
I am less persuaded that Professor Mankiw, in particular by the plan for phasing in the tax in ten cent increments over ten years. Some of it is figuring out what the right size of the tax is; John Palmer has done a nice job laying out those arguments.
But how does he arrive at this precise amount for the tax? The simple answer is we don't know for sure. We have to guess. One would hope the guess is well-informed and documented by people who know what they are doing. And this is the heart of the criticism of Mankiw's Pigou club: it is easy to draw these things on the chalkboard, but measuring and identifying the externalities (not to mention the general equilibrium effects) precisely is probably not possible with today's knowledge and technology.

Let's just say it's tricky.

We know that the short-run elasticity of fuel use is quite small; probably 0.25 is a median estimate. Let's guess the long-run elasticity is about 0.75. (I've not looked at every study, but the ones I've seen would have those as the midpoints of the ranges offered.)

Key to this as well is the elasticity of supply -- how responsive are suppliers to a change in the price they receive for gas brought to market? See Professor James Hamilton's elucidation. In order for points 5 and 7 to be true, you have to assume supply is highly inelastic. In the short-run, perhaps this is true. But how long does it take for refiners to stop producing gasoline out of crude and instead produce something that is not taxed? Given the rapidity of adjustment between gasoline and diesel I observe driving by gas stations, I'd say not long at all. Crude oil is still going to flow to alternative uses.

Thus the burden of the gas tax in the short run is borne by both an inelastic demander and an inelastic supplier, but if supply can adjust quicker than demand, it will be the American consumer who bears the brunt of it. In the short run, there isn't much change in the quantity of gas sold -- it will swell the government's coffers, but if that was your plan along with getting more growth in tax policy, would you argue for Fair Tax or a VAT over the income tax rather than using an ad valorem tax on gasoline?

Last, the phasing part of this assumes, I think, that you can borrow the long-run demand elasticity to encourage the reduction of gasoline to come faster. If we know prices will rise a dollar in the long run, wouldn't we start finding ways to conserve now? Yes, if and only if you expect the phase in to continue for ten years. How many people will believe that government can commit credibly to a ten-year tax plan? The caterwauling over the estate tax should be instructive: a tax rise or fall expected some years from now must be discounted by the rational investor or household for the possibility that the government will renege.

I agree with Palmer -- Pigou taxes are a chalkboard exercise; most of tax policy is blunt force applied to shove things in one direction or the other at the desire of those who have power and think they know better. The fact that you would phase in the increase, however, indicates to me some uncertainty about whether or not the tax is the right amount. As a matter of policy advising, I follow the Hippocratic Oath of economics: First do no harm to market signals.

UPDATE: Aplia Blog has a nice analysis of Prop 87 in CA, which taxes oil production there to pay for alternative fuel research and development. It's not Pigovian; the blog asks "Would a Pigovian tax on gasoline consumption be a better way to fund research on and development of alternative fuels?" You'd first need to answer the question, What are the social costs of not using alt fuels?
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Get out of Fargo 

The AAUP has released a report on faculty gender equity and finds that women are still a minority in tenured and tenure-track faculty, even though a majority of U.S. citizens who earn PhDs are female. It's a longish report and I am not terribly interested in disecting it, but the Chronicle of Higher Ed's report (subscriber link) indicates that the second-lowest ranking institution in terms of share of tenured faculty who are female is at North Dakota State.
At North Dakota State, R. Craig Schnell, the provost, said he did not have a good explanation for why so few of the university's tenured faculty members are women. But he said that "it seems as soon as somebody gets hired, they leave, not necessarily for higher salaries, but for family reasons." The university has applied for a federal grant to study why so many women leave North Dakota State after earning tenure.
You don't need a grant; just count up the number of MOB males that have left Fargo, and you can see that the smart women are following them down I-94.

Hey, dude! You got ENOUGH jobs already! 

Is there ever enough jobs, or enough of the "right kind" of jobs? If you read the New York Times, the answer is no. Discussing minimum wage laws and Social Security taxes, the author starts with this premise:
If the country cared only about creating jobs � rather than, say, lifting living standards � it would also be wise to get rid of Medicare and the payroll taxes that come with it. Workplace safety rules, with their costly requirements that workers not be injured on the job, should go, too.
As the old joke goes, who are you calling "the country", Kemosabe?

The country does not care about things; people do. People do not "care about" creating jobs; they care about hiring someone to help them produce something, or being hired to help someone else produce something. Nor does "the country care" about lifting living standards; people take up tasks, including employment, in order to better their own lives, not to raise median per capita GDP. They do this quite naturally, without need of direction from the New York Times.

People trying to further themselves by gaining experience in working may choose to accept lower wages now in return for higher wages later. Minor league baseball players do not lobby for higher wages even though their salaries may be more than ten times less than the major league minimum. Nor do they argue much over the residue of the old reserve clause that bound a player to a team from year to year (they are bound for six years, the latter three being at a salary that can be arbitrated.) Why do they accept this? In return for the opportunity to make more later.

It is not any great secret why the youth accept low-wage jobs. They have little experience and they want to gain it. They have not yet developed many job skills. Minimum wage laws, even if the worker manages to stay employed, discourage on-the-job training and the provision of other employee benefits. On net, raising the minimum wage may be a wash.

Felix Salmon
notes this as well, which makes this statement by the NYT even more curious:
The American economy has done so well at creating jobs in recent decades that almost anybody who wants work can find it. The problem is that too many jobs still don�t pay a decent living. So even if a minimum wage increase does eliminate a small number of jobs, that may be an acceptable price for improving the lot of millions of low-wage workers.
And yet we still have black teen unemployment over 30%, and 20% of black wage earners make the minimum wage. Is it an acceptable price to them? So not only is increasing the minimum wage an extremely expensive way of helping a very few people out of poverty, but the cost falls on those least able to afford it.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

He said it, not me 

A couple of unintentionally funny/scary lines in the email sent today from the union to encourage us to vote.
Minnesota has some of the easiest voting laws in the nation. See: Who is eligible to vote? . If you are not already registered to vote, you can register at the polls on Election Day--Tuesday, November 7, 2006.
From your mouth to John Fund's ear. Is "easiest voting laws" really something to be proud of?
...this is an election where faculty can influence the outcome!
And boy, do they ever!

Meanwhile, take a look at our union's review of the higher education proposals of the gubernatorial candidates. Do you think the coverage is even, and informative, or do you think the descriptions of the plans leans towards one or the other? And if so which?
The Pawlenty proposal would only affect about 16,000 of the approximately 250,000 students in higher education in Minnesota. Current students would not realize any benefit from the proposal, which would take effect starting fall of 2007. Even then, it would only apply to recent high school graduates and not benefit students previously enrolled or non-traditional students.

...Hatch proposes paying for his tuition roll-back by closing the foreign-owned corporate tax loophole created by a Supreme Court decision which allows corporations to shelter passive income from royalties, interest and dividends in overseas branches. Senate DFLers have proposed closing the loophole several times, and Pawlenty has vowed to veto it. The proposal would raise about $300 million per year.
Yup, looks really evenhanded to me. And note as well the fawning treatment of state legislators who bring home the pork. I'll repeat what I've said before -- we should be sending money back, asking for independence in setting tuition and graduation standards in return for taking fewer taxpayer dollars. We'd be better off, and so would the state of Minnesota.

Welcome to the club, Larry! 

It has long been that the St. Cloud Bloggers Association has been a three-man crew: Let Freedom Ring, Psycmeistr's Ice Palace, and the Scholars. During a recent gathering of the three of us, we decided to vote ourselves a new member.

SCBA is proud to extend a welcome to Larry Schumacher of the St. Cloud Times, whose blog we feel should be the model for those attempted at the StarTribune. We're not sure how this ranks with other awards Larry has received, but it's certainly putting him in elite company (the erstwhile Right Brothers of the PioneerPress, Mark Yost and Craig Westover, come closest to earning the distinction among MN journalist-and-bloggers.)

Different expectations to equate outcomes 

A troubling article in the City Journal (reprinted today in OpinionJournal) tells of a high school dean of boys.

More than 25 years ago, when I was dean of boys at a high school in northern Queens, we received a letter from a federal agency pointing out that we had suspended black students far out of proportion to their numbers in our student population. Though it carried no explicit or even implicit threats, the letter was enough to set the alarm bells ringing in all the first-floor administrative offices.

When my supervisor, the assistant principal, showed me the letter, she merely shook her head and looked downcast. She said nothing, but her body language told me that it was probably time to mend our errant ways.

...What this meant in practice was an unarticulated modification of our disciplinary standards. For example, obscenities directed at a teacher would mean, in cases involving minority students, a rebuke from the dean and a notation on the record or a letter home rather than a suspension. For cases in which white students had committed infractions, it meant zero tolerance. Unofficially, we began to enforce dual systems of justice. Inevitably, where the numbers ruled, some kids would wind up punished more severely than others for the same offense.

Welcome to the world of diminished expectations. Campuses keep records of admission and retention of students by protected class status. (Here are ours.) What is the message getting to faculty when these records are shown to them?

Can a social worker be conservative? 

If your answer is, why not?, you should guess again. I pointed out last year that there has been a longstanding effort of social work programs to impose ideological litmus tests on their students, an issue that has been on the SCSU campus for at least fifteen years. Today FIRE sends a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services pointing out that its requirement that social workers employed by HHS have degrees from accredited programs in essence creates an ideological test for public employment.
FIRE is deeply concerned that CSWE is promoting vague standards that facilitate and encourage discrimination against students on the basis of their political viewpoints. Certainly, the Department of Health and Human Services does not want to put its imprimatur on viewpoint discrimination.
Specifically, CSWE�s Educational Policy�compliance with which is a requirement of accreditation�effectively requires social work programs to impose ideological litmus tests on their students as a condition of accreditation. Educational Policy Section 3.0 requires that �graduates [of CSWE-accredited programs] demonstrate the ability to�understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice.� CSWE�s requirement that graduates from its programs work to �advance social and economic justice� raises serious concerns. Because no objective consensus on the �correct� meaning of such terminology can reasonably exist in a diverse democratic society, these vague evaluative criteria too often become vehicles for pressuring students to alter or abandon their core political, philosophical, or moral beliefs. As the twentieth century well demonstrates, one man�s idea of �social justice� may be another man�s idea of totalitarian tyranny.
A social work student at Rhode Island College had a problem with the school's promotion of Fahrenheit 9/11 and asked for more balance. His professor responded:
Social Work is a value-based profession that clearly articulates a socio-political ideology about how the world works and how the world should be�. [I]n this school, we have a mission devoted to the value of social and economic justice�. [I]f a student finds that they are consistently and regularly experiencing opposite views from what is being taught and espoused in the curriculum, or the professional �norms� that keep coming up in class and in field, then their fit with the profession will not get any more comfortable, and in fact will most likely become increasingly uncomfortable�.
For at least that faculty member, the answer to the question in the title of this post is 'no'.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You hurt my feelings 

An announcement from the campus' GLBT student services office told the campus this afternoon that a GLBT flag -- the rainbow flag -- was cut down from the university's flagpole over the weekend. The flag and part of the rope were taken. The flag was raised for GLBTA History and Awareness Month and had flown since October 10.

Shortly after that, a faculty member used the announce list (because she did not wish "to start a discussion" -- curious, isn't that?) to tell the campus that some students had started a Facebook group called "Remove the GLBT Flag". She quotes their Facebook group description (I have not verified this as I do not have a Facebook account):
I believe the flag that has been raised, by GLBT, in front of the Administrative building misrepresents the people of this campus. I believe the flag pole should not be used to represent any individual organization. The flag poles have the US flag, MN flag, and POW/MIA flag flying now, which do not represent anybody's personal beliefs.
I'm not sure I follow the logic of their position; are we to say that the flagpole cannot be used to represent a specific group? But, I also found the faculty member's response quite curious,
I appreciate the willingness of the administration to allow the pride flag to be flown during LGBT history month and would hope that others would recognize the importance of supporting all members of our campus community.
Can one be supportive of the GLBT community while thinking the flagpole reserved for very general items? Who owns the flagpole? Who decides which symbolic gestures it will be permitted to make, and which it won't? You can see where this is going: We will have to have some damn committee -- only to include UNION members! -- come up with a 'policy' on what can go on the flagpole. Next thing you know, they'll start policing bulletin boards.

The GLBT student services press release concludes by saying they will have a "Speak Out" on the Atwood Mall, no doubt to protest that someone had a "Speak Out" on Facebook. Only one of these Speak Outs will be considered insensitive.

The new game theory and CD5 

Every campaign gives you quotes that make you go "huh?", but this one from Keith Ellison is a doozy: "
Ellison said he wants imminent withdrawal from Iraq. 'The conflict is exacerbating terrorism, not diminishing it,' he said, adding that they key action is to decide to exit, then figure out how. 'It's a strategic position to put pressure on the Bush administration,' he said.
As opposed to putting pressure on Islamic terror?

And speaking of game theory, I am intrigued by the number of game theorists engaged in strategic voting by casting their lots with Independence Party candidate Tammy Lee. KvM's Gary and Jules have cast their lots; David Strom thinks it hard for GOP candidate Alan Fine to reach the 35% level needed to be able to get close to winning. If you want to play that game, guys, I would argue that Fine might be a Condorcet Loser: In a two-way race with either Lee or Ellison he would lose, but in a three-way race he could win because he only needs a plurality -- but only if he can hold his Republican base together.

I am puzzled that Fine has not understood this. In order to win as a Condorcet Loser -- a position I think he would agree with -- he should take positions as far away from Ellison and Lee as possible, while putting the two of them together in every ad possible as being two peas in a pod. (Lee, at least on the interview she had with David and Margaret, is trying hard for separation from Ellison on the issues spectra, as she should.) Instead he tacks towards them on the war against terror, leading Gary to declare him "dead to conservatives." And when you ask Fine about this, he says he is in the center of the district. In a two person race that is OK, but in a three person race where the other two would be pairwise winners, you have to get away from the other two to bring out your base voters.

As for Gary and Jules and David and Margaret, I offer a classic: Leonard Read, The Lesser of Two Evils.

Good advice 

Tyler Cowen with seven rules for being a referee of an academic article. I just had a book proposal reviewed by someone; I believe the proposal has been accepted, but the reviewer's comments made it a better book, thought about how someone would read the book rather than me thinking about how to write it.

That is less rare than those outside academia might guess. I have often wondered why busy people agree to referee journal articles for free. I suppose it could be some reciprocal agreement structure, but I suspect we do it to learn more. A paper we understand that is published gives us something to work with in our own writing; most bad referee reports are from people refereeing a manuscript they are not prepared to read or don't have time to read, rather than someone being malicious.

How to use your college experience 

While I'm not the book's biggest fan, Freakonomics co-author Steven Dubner sounds like a good academic advisor, as one of John Whitehead's students reports:
He began to go into his experience that took over at Appalachian State University as his years as a student. Basically, he never knew he would be a common friend to the men�s soccer team, he never knew he would make any foreign friends, he never knew he would join a band, he never knew he would sign to Arista Records, he never knew he would live in New York and write great books. He did all these things by staying open. Being open to all experiences and being okay with coming across new things, and to not be limited.
I think my biggest frustration with SCSU students is their limited worldview and unwillingness to take a chance. I don't consider myself risk-loving, yet I move across the country twice and worked overseas for a year in a country I never saw before taking the job once. A friend of mine once answered the cliche "nothing ventured, nothing gained" with "nothing endeavored, nothing lost." And my brother-in-law proudly displays an old poster in his house with the slogan "bloom where you are planted." Sorry, but I'm a man, not a flower.

Too often students think they have to get responsible, get jobs, get their acts together, long before they know life. So here's my rule: If you make a mistake before you're thirty and realize you made one, life gives you a do-over. ("Thank God," I say in my case.) So endeavor.

Monday, October 23, 2006

How I have longed to know 

...what to buy Lileks for Christmas.

Now I know!

Money. Or even better, the catalog of this money. Lileks with a Picks. Now that would be exciting to watch.

(I wonder if he knows what a B-Pengo is.)

What students read 

According to Phi Beta Cons, it's alternatively platitudinous, sappy, disgusting, shallow, geeky or Forsterian. I can't say it was much better in my time. My journeys into reading included anything by Hunter Thompson or Carlos Castenada, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Mark Vonnegut's Eden Express, which I thought for one month was the most brilliant thing ever written. So I read books in which drugs and psychosis were a big part of things. You want to say it's worse now?

Luckily for me, somewhere in that period I also read "Conscience of a Conservative" and Ayn Rand. I have no idea why.

Buy me out 

That appears to have been the decision between Professor Steven Jones and Brigham Young University. The physicist whose research into whether the two airliners flying into the World Trade Center on 9-11 really DID cause it to fall has taken early retirement to continue his research.

In an interview with The Chronicle on Sunday, Mr. Jones said he decided to leave the university because "I felt that I could do my research and speak out more freely this way." He said he was not pressured to leave and had already been offered a job at another institution, though he declined to identify it, saying nothing was definite yet.

He said, however, that his first priority would still be his research.

"I want to get to the bottom of this the best I can within the year," he said. "Whether I'm right or wrong, I think these issues on 9/11 need to be freely investigated."

He declined to comment on the details of his retirement package, saying only that he had been told that it was fairly standard.

It doesn't appear to be a force-out; the school says they were approached by Jones for the buyout last month. I find it interesting that BYU's reason for putting Jones on paid leave was that his research was not subject to professional peer review, so instead Jones places his article in a book which, according to the Chronicle was "reviewed before publication by two physicists and two other scholars." What are the chances the reviewers included any skeptics of Jones' claims?

It seems to me that if Jones fairly represents that he spoke for himself and not BYU, then his statements were protected under academic freedom. Rather than debating the merits of his charges, shouldn't Jones have had the right to speak for himself as long as he distanced BYU from his views whenever possible? If, on the other hand, he used his academic post as an appeal to authority, the university should have the right to sanction him ... but it shouldn't use the peer-review claim in this case.

"We hate that guy, vote for the other guy" 

I try not to pick on the St. Cloud Times editorial board, and particularly not their endorsement process. I know some of them -- Mrs. S has been the citizen rep on the board recently (though not now) -- and compared to the StarTribune (see Mitch's run of coverage of their endorsements, most particularly Mark Ritchie), the Times board is pretty good, albeit with a decidedly DFL bent. I should also note that I co-author a business report which is published in a magazine created by the Times.

But I can't let pass their endorsement in House 14A this morning. This is it in its entirety:

Voters in this district should support Beniek, a DFLer, over Republican incumbent Dan Severson.

Beniek is a moderate choice compared to Severson and his extremist mix of Christianity, politics and conservatism. Combined, those create a daunting vision of a state government intent on legislating morality, not championing equality and fairness.

Setting aside that he is chief author of the amendment to ban gay marriage � itself the most divisive political issue in decades � we cite his response when asked about special-education funding.

Severson said the state should consider "decoupling" from federal mandates. Sorry, but that sounds like he believes Minnesota should forego educating special-needs students because it's too expensive. Yikes.

As for Beniek, while she may be a little too focused on education, at least she's not touting solutions that will forever divide Minnesota voters or leave its most vulnerable children to fend for themselves.

I'm not sure how to read that in any other way than "toss out the Christian right wherever it is found." The second to last paragraph puts words in his mouth; decoupling could mean any number of things short of abandonment of special-needs education. And the best you can say about "too-focused" Beniek is that she's not Severson? I'd think you could find something better to say about a candidate you want to endorse, unless your express purpose is to go negative on Severson.

Combined with a rather vicious comment on another Christian right candidate at the end of yesterday's endorsement -- which, I am told by Mr. Johnson, is a misrepresentation of what he said at the Chamber of Commerce event -- gets a guy to wondering what the problem is with the Times board and candidates who espouse social conservatism based on their understanding of the Bible? Is the Times trying to endorse a particular view of religion? Which could that be?

The window 

"The window" is an expression I have for the period when I can drive on to campus without worrying about the herds of students crossing streets. The windows are quite small -- no more than ten minutes per hour, beginning five minutes after classes begin. I am sitting at a local coffee shop whiling my time right now waiting for the next window to open.

Why worry, you ask? Students are studious lately about only one thing -- do not make eye contact with a driver. This reminds me of the deer that cross roads this time of the year in Minnesota. The last look on a deer's face before it's hit by a car has that what is this thing coming towards me look that students share. Some of them, no doubt out of some environmental sensitivity course, tend to give me a dirty look for not riding a bicycle wearing hemp winter gear. I usually allow them some opportunity to get across the street, but the other day one stands in the street fishing his cellphone out of his waytootightpants, and I thought about tossing the car in neutral and hitting the accelerator just a little bit.

Mike Adams tells me what would happen in this situation.

The first story is of Ashley (not real name) � a girl I met the other day in the parking lot by the Cameron School of Business. When I first saw her, she was making out with her boyfriend in his Chevy Blazer right in front of the entrance to the parking lot. I waited until the line of cars behind me was eight deep before I even thought about tapping the horn lightly to let the young couple know they were holding up cars waiting to get in the rapidly filling lot.

Just before I hit the horn, she got out of the Blazer and started to walk away. After three steps, though, she decided to return to the Blazer for one last kiss. That�s when I tapped the horn as lightly as possible to let her know there were other people in the world besides her and her boyfriend.

But, apparently, Ashley didn�t like that little tap on the horn. After she slammed the door of the Blazer she shot me the middle finger and shouted �f�k you!� at the top of her lungs. But she wasn�t through. After taking a few steps, she stopped, turned around, and flipped me the bird again shouting �f�k you!� as loud as she could.

So, naturally, I did what any white heterosexual Christian male would do under the circumstances. I kept a close eye on her, parked as fast as possible, and chased her down before she got inside the Cameron School of Business. When I caught up to her, I thanked her for her contribution to diversity at UNCW. The cultural norms regarding consideration of others and use of profanity and crude hand gestures in public are all antiquated norms developed by an oppressive white Christian patriarchy. By rebelling against them, she was showing us that each individual must carve out her own way of doing things, regardless of the tradition of the dominant culture.

Other stories are in his article -- if you read this blog and are not a regular Mike Adams reader, you're missing the point. I notice he plans to speak at U. Minnesota -- Morris soon. Professor, the door remains wide open to you for a visit to our fair campus.

I'd write more, but the window just opened; if I don't leave now, I might hit Ashley.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Another survey finds faculty overwhelmingly liberal 

A new report from a group called the Institute for Jewish & Community Research (I have never heard of them before) has a survey of faculty attitudes. Like other such studies, it finds that faculty are overwhelmingly liberal, including real hostility towards capitalism. Business faculty are the most conservative (about a third self-identify as such) while social science and humanities faculties are about 60% liberal and 80% Democrat.

The recommendations are much more in line of what I believe. Rather than support "affirmative action for conservatives",
Any and all solutions to a dominant faculty political culture must focus on enforcing the tenets of higher education, not on purging any one group from the campus. Efforts to strengthen the university must be pro-active rather than reactive and should view any imbalance, whether to the right or left, as evidence of a fundamental breakdown in the higher education system as a whole.
Both public agencies and private philanthropies should be more cognizant of political agendas on campus and not allow their funds to be used to support them.

The greatest danger is self-censorship, which the survey reports:
[M]ost faculty say that, to one degree or another, that their colleagues are reluctant to speak out against what they consider dominant or popular opinions at their institutions. When asked �How often, if at all, do you perceive that faculty at your institutions are reluctant to express their views because they might be contrary to the dominant or �popular� position?� 25% said very/fairly often, and another 38% said occasionally, a total of 63%, in an institution where the answer should be zero, or as close to zero as possible. About 37% of business/management faculty said very/fairly often, compared to 22% of social science/humanities faculty. Younger faculty were also more likely to say very/fairly often, 32%, perhaps concerned about their promotion and tenure decisions. Conservatives, 32%, were more likely to say very/fairly often, compared to liberals, 22%. Minority faculty also feel more constrained: 36% say very/fairly often compared to 24% of white faculty.

Don't party with ALL your friends 

Many, many years ago I lived in a graduate dorm with a fellow working on a PhD in government. He was employed at an institute in Southern California, charged with drawing alternative state and Congressional district boundaries; i.e., he was a gerrymanderer. And in drawing boundaries the goal is always to make sure the safe Democrat seats had as many Democrats as possible, and the safe Republican seats still had a significant fraction of Democrats, to negate their effects on the election. (My roommate worked for a institute that was hired by the California GOP.) Doing so would naturally create more "safe" Republican districts, but they would be by design less "safe" than Democratic districts, since you want 75-80% Democrat shares in the safe blue districts and 60-65% Republican shares in the safe red ones.

Obviously both sides play this game -- this isn't rocket science. But the ability to enforce this kind of gerrymandering depends on which party controls the various state legislatures right after the decennial Census. In the 2000 election, the number of state legislatures that were controlled by Democrats fell from 19 to 16; the share of Republican state legislatures held constant, so that the three that the Democrats lost were lost because only one house changed. And the governor's mansions have been increasingly red, with 31 Republican governors in 2001-02.

The impact of this is that Republicans can spread their votes out in enough districts to create majorities in Congress and state legislatures without actually receiving 50% of the votes.
After their stunning loss of both houses of Congress in 1994, the Democrats have averaged over 50% of the vote in Congressional races in every year except 2002, yet they have not regained control of the House. The same is true with the Senate: in the last three elections (during which 100 senators were elected), Democratic candidates have earned three million more votes than Republican candidates, yet they are outnumbered by Republicans in the Senate as well. 2006 is looking better for the Democrats, but our calculations show that they need to average at least 52% of the vote (which is more than either party has received since 1992) to have an even chance of taking control of the House of Representatives.

Why are things so tough? Looking at the 2004 election, the Democrats won their victories with an average of 69% of the vote, while the Republicans averaged 65% in their contests, thus ``wasting'' fewer votes. The Republicans won 47 races with less than 60% of the vote; the Democrats only 28. Many Democrats are in districts where they win overwhelmingly, while many Republicans are winning the close races--with the benefit of incumbency and, in some cases, favorable redistricting.
This explains why, in a generally down year for the party in power -- Year 6 of a two-term President -- and with this kind of districting, Republicans look so perilously close to electoral disaster, yet seem to be heartened. The map plays exactly as the optimists (like Hugh) say: If you can really turn out Republican voters, you can win your safe districts and the Congress, but you have a smaller margin for error than the Democrats do. Democrats, knowing this, are wisely engaged in the politics of voter suppression -- their best road to victory isn't to turnout their own voters as much as it is to keep Republicans discouraged and at home on November 7th. And it's why the polls' assumptions on voter turnout matter so much and give you such different conclusions.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Censorship and nothingness 

This is the scene at Century College, where posting material on departmental bulletin boards without prior permission is now prohibited. (We discussed this case back in March.)

The board features nothing but a schedule of classes and the bulletin board policy, including:
Department bulletin boards are intended for the display of materials directly related to activities and events of the academic area(s).

Materials must be approved for posting by the chair or program director prior to posting to ensure the criterion stated in section 3 is met. If a department member disagrees with a decision made by the chair or program director, the member may ask for a review of the decision by the department. A 2/3 majority vote by department members is required to approve posting of the material.
Rather than be subject to censor, discussion on the suburban Minneapolis campus is thwarted.

FIRE is now dealing with another such case, this time at Marquette University. (KARnians, please try to contain yourselves, I beg you.)
Writer and humorist Dave Barry probably never expected that one of his jokes would spark a university free speech dispute. But in early September, a Marquette University administrator removed a Barry quote about the federal government from Ph.D. student Stuart Ditsler�s office door because the quote was �patently offensive.� Facing this arbitrary exercise of political censorship, Ditsler contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help....

In late August, Ditsler posted a quote by Dave Barry on his office door in the philosophy department. The quote read, �As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.� On September 5, Philosophy Department Chair James South sent Ditsler an e-mail stating that he had received several complaints and therefore removed the quote. He wrote, �While I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I�m afraid that hallways and office doors are not �free-speech zones.� If material is patently offensive and has no obvious academic import or university sanction, I have little choice but to take note.�

�This incident at Marquette is part of a truly disturbing trend,� [FIRE President Greg] Lukianoff said. �Administrators seem willing to ban speech across the board and to designate increasingly tiny �free speech zones� rather than risk any student or faculty member being offended.�
Professor South then proceeds to read out the Marquette University academic freedom policy statement. I don't know which is more 'patently offensive' -- Mr. Ditsler's Dave Barry quote, or this particular office door (not more than 200 feet from my own):

Or a couple years ago you could have gone downstairs to another faculty member's office door and found this:

(Forgive my Blair Witch Project photography, I was using my cellphone.)

Now ask yourself, "Self, where would I like to go to college more? A place where I learn to deal with people who think differently than I do, even faculty who do, and learn to stand up on my own two feet for what I believe in? Or do I go to the school where any time someone displays something that offends me I go screaming to the nearest authority and demand protection of my senses?"

If you choose the first, you will need this book to help you find a good college.

If you choose the second, good luck with your Marquette application.

Professor Runge enters the Hall of Shame 

Because you are not an economist but a member of the Hall of Shame.

C. Ford Runge, "Distinguished" Professor of Applied Economics and Law at the U, is bragging about being one of the signers of the foolish letter arguing an increase in the minimum wage would not hurt employment and would increase wages for the poor. He uses the letter to attack Michele Bachmann in an op-ed in the PiPress that is breathtaking in its economic stupidity.
The simple economics of the minimum wage are that the "equilibrium" or market-clearing wage � the place where the supply and demand curves for labor intersect � is already above $7.25. Therefore, raising the minimum wage to this level will have virtually no effect on average wages or employment.
If the market-clearing wage is above the wage floor, "Professor", then wages naturally rise to that level without any act of Congress. This is a question we give in first-year economics: "If the equilibrium price is above the price floor there will be a) a surplus; b) a shortage; c) neither a surplus nor a shortage." The correct answer is c.) Why? Because the price goes to equilibrium.

Of course, he didn't really mean that, you say. OK, I can buy that, if you mean instead that there are many, many different jobs and many, many different market-clearing wage rates for those jobs. Labor is not perfectly substitutable; everyone has different skills. But if that's true then some of the market-clearing wage rates for some job categories must be below $7.25. Some of them might be even less than $5.15. Look at food service occupations, for example, from this list of 800 occupations. (Want to look just at St. Cloud? Here you go.) Median wage for fast food cooks is $7.25, so over 300,000 cooks make less. Just scroll that page and find the other categories. Unless demand curves are vertical, those industries are going to see a decline in the number of people employed.

And thinking demand curves are vertical disqualifies you from the Society of Real Economists.

Reconsideration is possible after you read Alex Tabarrok, and a review of the arguments as Missouri debates a minimum wage initiative (maybe the best argument against initiative and referendum I have seen!) by David Neumark.

Filed in:

One school Littlest won't be going to 

I realize it's a little early to declare, but I'm pretty comfortable in announcing today that my daughter will not attend the University of Miami. After a fight on the field against a team that is a lesser opponent that lasted a very long time, the university has decided to give very light penalties to its players. (The other team, Florida International, has handed down much more severe penalties.) One sportswriter declares that at Miami "it's not the heat -- it's the stupidity." At least the school has graduated one of its players -- the announcer, Lamar Thomas, who appears ready for color commentary for professional wrestling.

I heard Donna Shalala, the president of the school (yes, that Donna Shalala), on Mike and Mike this morning and heard her story.
"This university will be firm and punish people who do bad things," Shalala said. "But we will not throw any student under the bus for instant restoration of our image or our reputation. I will not hang them in a public square. I will not eliminate their participation at the university. I will not take away their scholarships."
The faculty senate agrees, after first questioning Shalala's leniency. The report indicates that something said to the faculty senate by the administration that changed their minds.

At a meeting of Miami's faculty senate Wednesday, university president Donna Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee explained in detail the severity of the punishments to players involved in a brawl with Florida International. After the meeting, senate chairman Dr. Stephen Sapp said his group was "comfortable with" the explanations, which they found "acceptable," ESPN's Joe Schad reported.

Earlier in the day, Sapp had said that the punishments were "not adequate" and that there "should have been further thought given here."

"We're not going to vote on anything or recommend anything," Sapp said after the meeting. "After hearing some things that will not be made public about the disciplinary measures, we're satisfied."

Exactly what could have been said that would indicate the level of punishment is OK? I cannot believe this is the end of it. Skip Sauer says both the AD and the head coach should lose their jobs. Unless someone tells us what Shalala told the faculty senate, she should go too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

About politicians in church and praying 

It is outside my custom to talk religion on this blog. I am called to witness for Christ, but I do not think blogs are the mechanism through which I work best as a witness. Teaching from a blog, that's different. But I'm not a pastor (though this Sunday I am leading a worship, for the third time in my life. Maybe I'll write about this, too.)

But the story of the pastor in the Cities who apparently broke the law by announcing his support of Michele Bachmann's candidacy carries some darker aspects that have troubled me today. (I already spoke to the pastor's role today.) This film of the pastor is serendipitous to the filming of Bachmann herself by Dump Bachmann blogger Avidor, who then chose to post the video on YouTube under the title "I'm a Fool for Christ." This is how Bachmann chooses to describe herself, choosing to become a Congressional candidate and spending 22 months in pursuit of that goal after prayer with her family.

The video's title is meant to be snarky, I believe. It suggests, I think, that Bachmann is foolish, or maybe that evangelicals are foolish, or maybe all Christians are foolish, in the view of the photographer. I don't know what he meant, but given what else he's done in caricature of Bachmann it's unlikely he meant anything flattering.

And that got me to wondering: Why do you think people pray?

My pastor tells me he goes once a week to a prayer group of evangelical pastors in the area (I attend a soon-to-be-defunct ELCA Lutheran church; note to locals: I will be church-shopping shortly.) He certainly has other Lutheran pastors to pray with, so I asked him why he does this? His politics don't really conform to those pastors. He answers, it's interesting to pray with people who actually think their prayers are answered.

And it is. I've acted in Passion Play (I'm now officially typecasted as the Jewish priest) and most people who act in these will be evangelicals. They pray before each performance and will pray in the most dynamic, earnest and expectant ways. They believe something will happen.

Is it really that damning to the Avidors of the world that someone would think their God acts in the world to make things happen? Is it really too much to think that someone could pray and, upon listening, hear the answer? Are people who believe prayers are answered unfit for public office?

Now do I really know that God answered Michele and Marcus Bachmann's prayers? No, of course not. Is it possible that they only thought they heard Him answer 'yes', when in fact it is their own egos that were screaming it? Yes, that's possible. Each of us carries the original sin of wanting to be God rather than listen to Him, and it's a sin we never escape, only something we can try to check. Only He and Michele can know the source of the answer she received to her prayer, not you or me -- and it's possible she doesn't know either. But I do know that He could answer.

If you think that makes me a fool too... then I ask, do you know Him?

Remember my first rule of forecasting 

Never follow one-month trends. (Thankfully, it appears even Mike Hatch didn't go for the head fake.) Instead you should keep the long view in mind:
This is Minnesota non-farm employment, since 1998. Which way does the line trend to you?

If not here, then where? 

Jeff Jacoby argues against the totalitarian tilt towards free speech in discussing the French law on denial of the Armenian genocide and Orhan Pamuk:
The French legislation is meant to uphold the truth -- the Armenian genocide, like the Holocaust, is a fact of history -- while the point of the Turkish law is to debase it. Both, however, are intolerable assaults on liberty. Beliefs should not be criminalized, no matter how repugnant or absurd. As I wrote when David Irving was convicted of Holocaust denial in Austria earlier this year, free societies do not throw people in prison for giving offensive speeches or spouting historical lies.
Jacoby then traces through the entire history (of just the last month or so!) of attacks on free speech. He's right, enough is enough.

As you might tell from my last name, I'm Armenian. I have the stories my grandmother told on tape, the few bits of papers from the orphanage, etc. (here's a very small piece of it). I have the considered professional opinion of historians. If the Turkish government wants to behave foolishly about history, it is enough for me to point to the history. Much of my families past in Turkey is lost forever to destroyed homes and churches and civil records; no matter what they say, these cannot be returned. The damage is already done.

So there's no need for a law against denial. Public opinion takes care of some of this and the law can't fix the rest.

Assaults occur elsewhere. Pastors are told they cannot speak in their own churches about their faith and how it influences for whom they vote. This happens to both liberal Episcopalians and conservative evangelicals. All this because some former president decided he didn't like criticism and snuck a rider into a bill to make criticizing politicians from a church a crime. What is it about putting on a clerical collar that removes one's First Amendment rights? What is it about having an opinion that allows government to trample over the ban on the state establishment of a religion (by taxing those who speak out?)

And if it is to happen anywhere, it cannot be on university campuses, and yet it is, whether it is against Christians, Muslims, pro-immigrationists, or even those who want to make a small joke on a campus door. If you can't even speak on a college campus, none of the rest should surprise you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Baxter does not heart Bachmann, part 4 

This is the last in a series by Janet Beihoffer, a professor at Metro State, on an article written by Charles Baxter in the NYTimes three weeks ago.

As stated in earlier posts, Dr. Baxter showed his �hidden agenda� in many ways. First, he, a professor of creative writing, is asked to write a political opinion piece for the NYT. This collaboration between academia and the MSM left occurs fairly regularly. It also occurs without the author stating his bias.

Next, Dr. Baxter exploited the Orwellian tactic of redefining words.

Thirdly, he played his most blatant card by omitting key facts about Michele Bachmann�s background and showed his disdain for anyone with a Christian belief. He conveniently omitted Ms. Bachmann�s post doctorate degree in taxation from William and Mary � a major achievement in anyone�s education. Then he made sure everyone knew her support was from evangelical fundamentalists.

What can one conclude from this rather poorly written, change-of-topic-assigned article is that one must read main stream media articles with some skepticism. One needs to ask oneself the following questions on a regular basis:
  1. Is there a bias, a �hidden agenda� of the author and what is it?
  2. How is the author twisting the meaning of words?
  3. Where is the source of the information?
  4. What possible facts have been omitted that would make a critical impact on one�s assessment of the tone, substance and accuracy of the article?
I have enormous faith in the ability of the vast majority of Americans to make good decisions, if they have the facts. What Dr. Baxter�s article illuminates is that far too often, too many writers, particularly those on the left, write for their convenience, not to accurately communicate to the reader.

Depends on the pond you fish (or, 58-42 should raise a flag) 

Polling is all the rage, and a real problem with polls is getting the information you need to determine how realiable it is. DFLers are hooting it up over the new Minnesota Poll (via the StarTribune) which has Patty Wetterling up 48-40 over Michele Bachmann in the Sixth Congressional District Race. Jeff Kouba places the poll in perspective and argues the number for Wetterling is too high. Larry Schumacher notes:
Reporter Eric Black mentions in his story that the respondents to the poll broke down pretty evenly between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Now, that's not the 6th Congressional District that I know, at least not exactly. Historically the district has broken down about 40 percent Republican, 30 percent Democrat and 30 percent Independent this decade.
Well, through some investigation I have found the tabs that Larry and Jeff could use.
Republican 30%
Democrat 34%
Independent 23%
Other/None/DK/Refused 13%
When they pushed the Independent and other voters to identify leanings, you get 9% more Republican and 16% more Democrat. Now, as my friends at the SCSU Survey will remind me, party ID is meaningless, just a point-in-time identification. But in a district that voted 57-42 for George Bush in 2004, how likely is it that the district in two years moves that much? Ergo, the 33-33-33 split Jeff thought when he studied the race is actually 30-34-36. And when Larry wonders "are Republicans being undersampled or is there a shift going on that is chipping away at the Republican advantage in this district," I think you have to say at least some of it is undersampling. But read on, because I'm saving the best for last.

Some other information from the data I have:
The Minnesota poll is an outlier. Whether or not they did this intentionally is not the issue -- a poll that was so overweighted with female voters in a race with a notable gender gap should have raised a flag. They fished a pond that had too many of one kind of fish.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Be careful there, friend 

At last night's event, both Congressman Mark Kennedy and some bloggers were upset about Eric Black's latest "Is that a fact?" column, regarding a Kennedy ad about Amy Klobuchar wanting to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants. I've got a bone to pick with both sides of this issue.

First, to Eric Black, the word 'lie' is the nuclear weapon of ad watches, which makes the word 'false' what? Biological? Chemical? It seems to be handed out a bit more freely. Eric takes his cue from a statement Klobuchar made that she would have voted in favor of the Ensign Amendment, which most anti-immigration people (will Michelle Malkin do?) pointed to as a key amendment to the Senate bill that failed. But Klobuchar does indicate she would have voted for the whole bill anyway, even after the Ensign Amendment failed (by a single vote -- and notice that eleven Republicans voted to kill it, too.) So she is willing to say she would have voted against the Ensign Amendment -- but that once it failed, it wasn't enough to dissuade her from voting for S.2611, the Kennedy-McCain bill.

Question to Eric: Isn't 'false' a strong word to use for something with that much ambiguity? Particularly when you print it on a day where Ms. Klobuchar can use it in a nationally televised debate? Does the word unfairly tip the scales towards Ms. Klobuchar, just as you feared the word 'lie' would unduly tip the scales away from Ms. Wetterling? You have at other times said ads "omit a relevant fact" or even "omit a fact so relevant that it changes the nature of the charge". Those I would not have quibble with. But "false"? I don't possess this journalistic codebook you seem to use, but false is a very strong word in academia, and in many other circles as well.

So be careful, my friend -- you are supporting a view of your bias your opponents already hold.

Now to my KvM friends (and in the interest of full disclosure, not only are they friends but they've printed some of my commentary in the past): S.2611 is a very complicated bill, much more than the House bill Kennedy voted on, and it's a bill with so many conflicting provisions that to attach the worst of them to any vote on a whole bill opens up a set of claims and counterclaims that are dizzying, confusing, and eventually reduce the signal-to-noise ratio to zero. In this instance you are saying she supports amnesty because she supports credit for Social Security benefits to illegals based on their work history when they are illegal for those who eventually become legal by any means. You point to a CBO report that shows additional benefits and costs to Social Security from passage of S.2611. But the report isn't estimating costs and benefits of illegals; it is estimating costs and benefits of all immigrants, including guest workers, increased legal immigration, and the removal of caps on H1B and other visas for high-skilled workers. On page 7 of the report:
The Social Security Administration and CBO have both constructed computer models of Social Security�s finances, and when increases in immigration are simulated in the models, the program�s finances generally show improvement because additional revenues are collected before new benefit payments are made. The 2006 report of the Social Security trustees indicated that an increase of 400,000 people in annual net immigration would improve the actuarial balance of the program by 0.26 percent of taxable payroll, or about one-eighth of the program�s estimated 75-year shortfall. CBO�s simulations yielded similar results. The Social Security Administration�s Office of the Chief Actuary estimated that under S. 2611, the 75-year shortfall would be reduced by 0.13 percent of taxable payroll.
Now surely Cong. Kennedy's opposition to S.2611 doesn't mean he opposes improving actuarial balance of Social Security, does it? Of course not; it doesn't fit what we know about him. Klobuchar's support of S.2611 confirms one's suspicions that she's pro-amnesty if you already have those suspicions, but for those that do not have them, her stated position on the Ensign Amendment may be enough to allay any concerns. I am thus not very impressed with the efforts taken to deny Black's column, and wonder if it isn't in some way colored by your already less-than-flattering view of the man and the paper. Are you really serving Kennedy's best interests by playing gotcha with less-than-germane CBO reports?

So be careful, my friend -- you are supporting a view of your bias your opponents already hold.

UPDATE: Two wrongs don't make a right, friend, no matter how hard you try. You cannot evaluate anyone's position on the basis of a fictitious vote on a single bill. When she is given a direct question on the provision you wish to hang her with, what did we learn? We learned 1) she doesn't like the provision, but 2) it isn't enough to keep her from voting for the bill. You have made a point -- it doesn't seem to matter that much to her -- into she must support it. This is like my view of the Twins -- I am happy when they win, but not so much as to root for them over my Red Sox. And if the Klobuchar campaign is doing it to Kennedy, why not point out how simplistic that analysis is, rather than emulate their behavior?

So what's the top issue in the election? 

Last night I heard it was Iraq and the courts. Yet a survey in National Journal (reported by MSNBC) says it's the economy, still. A panel of 11 economists (NJ calls them non-aligned, and while they look more Keynesian than the profession as a whole, I think non-partisan would be fair) gives these grades (and there's no grade inflation here):
Short-Term Fiscal Policy: B-
Long-Term Fiscal Policy: D
Long-Term Growth And Competitiveness: C
International Economic Policy: C
Regulation: B-
Leadership: C
Comparison With Past Congresses: C
Hard to quarrel with those grades. If C is average, the only place where the Republicans have done worse than average is on long-term fiscal policy (and very little has been better than average). The problem according to this group of 11 was that the long-range plans for Social Security and Medicare are out of alignment with the long-term fiscal balance. I find it interesting that the failure to act on Social Security last year has not been a more significant feature of this election. Instead the battle has been over tax cuts. If the grades are accurate, then you can see why the debate really hasn't been over the economy.

After posting a story on Thursday, Gary Gross wrote me to ask how much lower the deficit can go. The answer to this is, quite a bit, if that's what you really care about. I don't. Here's the chart I care about.

This is a graph from about the beginning of the Bush administration of what happens in the long-run with revenues and outlays at the Federal level. This was what was expected to happen -- there was an avalanche of Social Security outlays coming at some point, which someone will have to deal with soon. These continue to be ignored, papered over, or -- my preferred hypothesis -- warred over between the two parties, each hoping to impose the costs of closing the gap post-2020 on the constituents of the other. Nothing is happening with this. The current Democrat strategy is to point to that bulge in 2000-2010 and say the Republicans have squandered that. They may have a point, but that problem is nothing compared to the demographic shift that is coming with the aging baby boom. And we are now on our third election where the only person to talk about it -- Bush, in 2004 -- has not only lost the debate to do something but now is cowed from saying anything about fixing it.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Most brilliant post of the day 

A campaign-following blog makes the best point about capitalism possible. That's it, entries for most brilliant post are now closed.

Note to local DFL party chair 

If you and your candidates don't want to show up at a forum or debate because you don't think you can attract votes at it, that's fine and your right to do so. (Gary can provide you a nice summary.) But you don't need to go all French knight on the event:

No DFL Party candidates attended. Some offered notice of prior commitments, but District 15 DFL Party Chairman Scott Wells was on hand to offer a news release from the DFL's District 14 and 15 organizing units decrying the forum as "a partisan event supporting Republican candidates."

"The forum is sponsored by an organization which has, sadly, become partisan in nature, the Minnesota Family Council," the news release stated.

Nobody prevented you from nominating pro-life candidates like El Tinklenberg. You made that choice. Nobody but your party chose not to permit the people to vote on the marriage amendent. Are you implying that a community of church-going people cannot lay out a set of positions and then hold an event to decide which candidates agree with them? Do people in a church community have lesser First Amendment rights? And if so, what differentiates this event from the one held a few weeks ago, where even the Great Sander showed up?

What does it matter if one of the candidates was a member of that church, or that another's daughter helped organize the event? Are none of your candidates members of the Chambers of Commerce at which they debate (or not)? How about the League of Woman Voters? Any of your candidates current or past members of LWV? Your argument is piffle, sir.

And while I have your attention, if you're going to come out to an event where it is announced that no taping is permitted, you could have helped discourage the young man who was sitting in the fifth row from the back trying to tape Senator Bachmann. Not to worry, we cleaned up that mess for you.

An even better economics prize 

Mohamed Yunus and his Grameen Bank have won the Nobel Peace Prize. The BBC reports:

Mr Yunus, an economist, founded the bank, which is one of the pioneers of micro-credit lending schemes for the poor in Bangladesh.

The bank is renowned for lending money to the least well-off, especially women, so that they can launch their own businesses.

Grameen uses a very clever scheme to assure repayment of uncollateralized loans: Potential borrowers are placed in groups of five, and loans are made to two of them. The others can receive loans only from the repayment of the initial two.

Here's the most important thing to know about this as you read about Yunus and Grameen: Much of the developing world's poor have no access to financial systems. Transactions are done by cash; savings is done by hoarding that cash, and thus a financial market where lender and borrower meet is missing. Yunus' model is not just about giving the poor the ability to get a loan to buy a cow or a village cell phone. It's about building an institution and an environment in which lenders and borrowers can connect with each other. For $200, you are jump-starting a market. Loaning to women wasn't about lifting women's rights -- it was because women were more likely to work together and to repay loans. (If it did advance women's rights in Bangladesh, all the better.)

Building the institutions of market capitalism include recognizing, as Grameem does, that access to credit for creating new goods or housing is something to be available to all, determined only by the creditworthiness of the project. Expanding the circle of those able to truck, barter and exchange improves lives for us all. That's a Peace Prize worth celebrating.

Worth reading: a recent AEI report on Grameen.


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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hundreds of 'economists' say... 

...that they don't understand economics. This will be explained to you by Russ Roberts and John Palmer, the latter of whom has this marvelous note:
One of the questions raised some years ago by someone teaching in the scionomology department was, "How can raising the minimum wage cut back on the number of our graduates who get jobs flipping burgers? You still need just as many burger flippers." [translation: isn't the demand curve for socionomologists burger flippers vertical?]

He was wrong, of course.

First, burger-flipping has become more automated at fast-food restaurants; burgers are partially cooked in advance and then microwaved to order.

Second, when fast food prices go up, we tend to buy more frozen food at the grocery store and microwave it ourselves. And that food is produced under much more capital-intensive conditions.
Vertical demand curves are mythical beasts, no more real than a unicorn. So wrote Paul Heyne in his most excellent The Economic Way of Thinking. Which is more inelastic, the demand for labor at McDonalds or the demand for insulin to a diabetic? But is its demand curve perfectly inelastic? Heyne answers:
Well, we already recognized that a better diet and holistic health are are considered substitutes, and we could, if we like, perhaps add prayer, the power of positive thinking, a slew of others to the list. But suppose you're still skeptical. Let's assume -- temporarily -- that diabetics do not consider any of these as potential substitutes. If we assume the demand for insulin is completely vertical, what are the implications? Diabteics would fulfill their prescriptions (again, on doctor's orders) regardless of the price they themselves have to pay for insulin. If their prescription costs 3 dollars a week, they'll do it. If the same prescription costs 30 dollars a week, they'll do it. If it costs 300 dollars a week, they'll do it. Or will they? The economic way of thinking suggests, instead, that prayer would look like an increasingly attractive alternative as the price of insulin rose.

Suppose instead that the price of insulin is 30 dollars a week, and then drops substantially to only a dollar a week. Would more diabetics use insulin now? Yes. But what does that imply? Diabetics are more likely to fill their prescriptions when their out-of-pocket cost is lower. The quantity demanded increases as the price they pay decreases. Of course, this means that the demand for insulin is downward-sloping...

Most purchasers will respond at least a little to changes in the cost to them, and all purchasers will respond to a sufficiently large change. If this seems too obvious to bother mentioning, consult your daily newspaper for evidence that it is by no means obvious to everyone.
Or consult "hundreds of economists".

Hey, it was for research! 

A former dean at U. Wisconsin-Whitewater was fired last April and now is being asked to Justify or Repay Nearly $114,000 in credit card charges he made on the university's account. (Permanent link for Chronicle subscribers.)
In a letter last month to Howard L. Ross, who was dean of the College of Letters and Sciences from 1993 until last April, university officials asked Mr. Ross to provide either reimbursement or additional justification for expenditures over a six-year period. The expenses include charges for travel, movie rentals, computer equipment purchases, and a subscription to an online dating service.

A Nobel statement 

That market I wrote about last week turns out to be a good predictor. The market got Edmund Phelps right in economics on Monday, and today Orhan Pamuk wins the Nobel prize in literature. Pamuk has been prosecuted by the Turkish state for mentioning the death of Kurds in the country as well as the Armenian genocide. Those charges were dropped. Tyler Cowen and I agree that Snow, his latest, is also his best, but for me it was a very difficult read. The area around Kars is the ancestral home of many Armenians. (My grandfather's family was from the Malatya region, closer to the Kurds and a few hundred miles to the southwest of Kars, both in historical Armenia.)

To understand the significance of Pamuk's statement about the death of Armenians, consider the row brewing between France and Turkey over France's lower house passing a law making Armenian genocide denial a crime. The strain within the EU over Turkey's potential admission to the union will increase with this vote, and with the Turkish foreign ministry's response:
Relations between Turkey and France, which have been based on a long history and carefully developed through the centuries, have been dealt a heavy blow as a result of the irresponsible behavior of a group of French politicians who are incapable of comprehending the results of their policies.
You might think I want you to read Snow for loyalty of Pamuk to the genocide, but that really doesn't play a major role in the book. Many times Turkey will deny how many Armenians lived and still live in its east. Pamuk generously refers to homes being Armenian, and even to old buildings having been Armenian churches (something official Turkey will deny to this day.)

But Snow is also a very important book for understanding Islamism's hold on young minds in conditions of economic poverty, the appeal of a radical concept in a world rooted in centuries of hopelessness. For that reason I feel the book is an important work to be read by all.

NPR has some coverage of Pamuk's recent troubles with Turkey, and about his book. his Nobel bibliography recounts his other novels.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bow before your leader 

The College of William and Mary would rather switch than fight.
The College of William and Mary has notified the National Collegiate Athletic Association that during the next academic year the College will phase out the two feathers that are currently a part of its athletic logo.

The decision comes in response to a recent NCAA ruling regarding William and Mary�s athletic logo. While the Association stipulated that the nickname �Tribe� was not problematic, the College was forced to change its logo or face sanctions that would restrict its opportunities in NCAA postseason play.

�It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing intercollegiate athletics the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order,� said William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol. �Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, we have determined that we are unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims.�
The comments over at Inside Higher Ed are hilarious.

Tenure is a contract that can be broken 

If I ever became a university president, and I had this guy working for me, I'd just find out how much money he wants to go away, and pay it.
Kevin Barrett, the University of Wisconsin at Madison instructor who came under fire this past summer for his 9/11 conspiracy theories, is back in the spotlight. This week, a local television station, WKOW, reported that a textbook required for a course Mr. Barrett is teaching this fall includes an essay by him that compares President Bush to Adolf Hitler.
What are the requirements for calling something a "textbook", by the way?

Seriously. Let's suppose it costs a million dollars to send Barrett off to some private school that can sell him as some kind of academic exhibit, like the bearded lady in the side show at the circus. (Not to worry -- the private school is entitled to use whomever they like, and besides which, he might turn his students more conservative.) Half of this is paid by the state of Wisconsin, the other half by students in higher tuition, which for a campus that size is under $20 a head. (I'd charge the faculty who hired him a healthy fee too, but I'm not their president.) You're telling me this isn't Pareto-optimal?

UPDATE: My God, he's an adjunct? As the price of decency falls, you'd expect the University of Wisconsin to purchase more.

What if you just paid a bounty? 

The Washington Post reports that the FBI is stil having problems hiring agents with Arabic language skills. They have hired many Arabic linguists, instead. Why? My guess is that the latter are cheaper. It also turns out that the cost of hiring those who have had contact with Arab immigrant communities in the US -- the people you might want to have an FBI agent with Arabic language skills familiar with -- is increased by the need for a more complete background check ... because they hang around other Arab immigrants.

We can decry the lack of Arabic-language specialists coming out of our universities, if we want. But if a good is in scarce supply, markets normally work to allocate them by raising their price. The higher price should be a signal to students with the ability to learn foreign languages that there's more to be made if they specialize in Arabic rather than French. And if you said you paid a WHOLE LOT extra for someone who has learned Arabic and studied in criminal justice, who knows how the supply of language-learners might react? That would strike me as a better plan, and probably cheaper than creating a new academy system.

Another forum 

Gary Gross reminds me that there will be a candidate forum sponsored by the Minnesota Family Institute at Joy Christian Center tomorrow night, October 12, at 6:30pm. Most candidates will attend, though I am told by one source (not confirmed) that state Senator Tarryl Clark and state congressional candidate Patty Wetterling have declined.

I'm sure someone will make a big deal out of that, but isn't it the right of a candidate to decide which fora to attend and which not to? I am reminded by Mrs. S that there was a gathering of candidates to a GRIP forum a couple of weeks ago. They made a big deal about a few candidates who did not attend. I say, it's up to them, and then up to the supporters of each group to decide what it means when the invited candidates decline. For example, one question I will ask the Wetterling campaign if they ever decide to have someone on our show is "How many fora or debates held by local chambers of commerce has Mrs. Wetterling participated in?"

It is also worth noting (as done in this letter over the weekend) that Sauk Rapids state representative Dan Severson not only was willing to attend GRIP's session but to challenge the assumptions of its organizers. Good for you, sir. Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Wetterling, care to follow that lead?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jobs, jobs, and McDonalds 

MPR has been running a set of pieces on the state gubernatorial race's issues, and today's covers jobs.
"If you put these numbers in context, on a July-to-July basis, this is the most jobs added in the state of Minnesota, we believe, ever," Pawlenty said.

While the numbers were impressive, they weren't anywhere close to a state record, either in raw numbers or on a percentage basis.
Well, that's true when you put it in that context -- the Department of Employment and Economic Development has the data and you can play with it as you wish. Bob Collins interviews Steve Hine, the head of labor market information (and an acquaintance of mine, a very good economist) who shows that a good bit of the claims Pawlenty makes are rather myopic: True about the 2000s but not compared to the go-go 1990s. I have made several presentations around the St Cloud area to the same effect. Minnesota downshifted in 2000-01 to a lower growth rate for employment and we have only this year on a statewide basis (and not in St. Cloud, btw) returned to that level now.

That's not to say the economy is in poor shape. It's not; in fact, it is much better now than at the time of the previous election, so one can understand Pawlenty's cheery view.

Mike Hatch argues that the jobs are bad -- a fast-food economy -- and wages are depressed. The wages paid in covered industries (taken from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages) indicates that since Pawlenty came to office in 2002, nominal weekly wages rose from $720 to $785. In real terms, that increase was only $2.60 per week.

I had thought that was due to rotation out of manufacturing jobs in much of Minnesota, but not so -- those wages have only risen $11 per week in real terms, even after laying off many workers and supposedly streamlining more. So while one can say Pawlenty has oversold the economic numbers, I do not know what else could have been done.

Not sure I believe this, but... 

Art Brooks says not to worry if your college age child is stuck in a school with liberal professors (which would be damned near all of them):
Most studies of the subject have indicated that, indeed, upward of 90% of college professors at many universities hold liberal political views. In some schools and departments, faculties are virtually 100% left-wing. It is one thing to lament this ideological lopsidedness in the academy. But it is quite another to assume that professors actually bend the little minds in their care toward a liberal point of view, or even a radical one. Imagine a student with God-fearing Republican parents exposed to the depredations of an English professor aiming to use his class as a Bolshevik training camp. Will the professor succeed in turning the kid into a Red? The evidence says, probably not: When it comes to politics, people from conservative families follow their parents, not their professors.

The most recent evidence on this subject comes from the mid-1990s, in the University of Michigan's National Election Studies. These survey data uncover two facts. First, people who go to college are more likely to vote Republican than those who don't go to college. Adults 25 and under from Republican homes are, for example, 11 percentage points more likely to vote Republican if they attended college than if they didn't. And young adults from Democratic households are 11 percentage points less likely to vote Democrat if they've gone to college than if not.

Second, nearly everybody grows more likely to vote Republican as they age--but especially college graduates. It is no shock that the vast majority of people of all educational backgrounds from Republican homes vote Republican by age 40. It may come as more of a surprise that 40-year-olds with Democrat parents are far less likely to vote Democrat if they've gone to college than if they haven't. In fact, while three-quarters of the uneducated group still vote Democrat, the odds are only about 50-50 that the college graduates vote this way. And they've not all become skeptical political independents: Fully a third are registered Republicans.

In short, Brooks argues that income drives voting more than parentage or college experience. One can only hope...

And if you want more 

Several bloggers join me in recommending today's article from new Nobelist Edmund Phelps. Mises.org has a critical review of Phelps' contributions to understanding inflationary expectations. I would add a recommendation, particularly if you like the OpinionJournal editorial: See if you can find a copy of Political Economy: An Introductory Text (Norton, 1985). I was just finishing my PhD when this was published and lucked into a desk copy. (The book was intended to be a textbook, a function to which it was ill-suited.) I think I still have it at home; I read about 45 minutes of it each night, cover to cover, and gained as much from it as any book in the field, then or now. The book covers meta-economics in a sense -- it's about the choice of economic systems more than the functioning of the capitalist system. Phelps is not an unabashed supporter of the free market. Today's editorial is in that same vein. If you liked Virginia Postrel's The Future and its Enemies, you owe it to yourself to read both the editorial and the book.

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Diversely alone 

One of the great benefits touted by diversiphiles -- those who love diversity and promote it everywhere they can -- is that having a diverse student body, for example, would teach each group to respect and understand the others. But in a new study Robert Putnam finds that "in the presence of diversity, we hunker down".
We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us.
Is there such a thing as "cultural convergence"? Interestingly, four years ago Putnam was saying something different. I am not sure why we find this surprising; even in his relatively famous "Bowling Alone", Putnam found that a high degree of homogeneity is needed to form "social capital" -- a term I have never used with great comfort.

This really isn't that unusual a conclusion. Economists for some time (one example) have understood that group formation is lower when groups are more heterogeneous. I noted this because of a paper I read a few years ago for a conference in which the writer found that racially heterogeneous counties answered the mailed form of the Census at lower rates than those more homogeneous. That is to say, the efforts of diversiphiles in admissions offices has to extend well beyond simply bringing the students together and singing "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

Monday, October 09, 2006

Apples and oranges 

A colleague and I are scratching our heads at this line in a piece on housing costs in the St. Cloud area.

Median monthly ownership costs in St. Cloud � which include monthly bills such as mortgages, insurance, utilities and association fees � rose 13.01 percent when adjusted for inflation from 2000 to 2005, according to Census Bureau data.

Yet median household income fell 7.23 percent, when adjusted for inflation during that time.

I assume this story is from the latest release of the American Community Survey of housing. The data for St. Cloud, which came out the morning the Times article was released, is here. Nowhere in this report does it say anything about median household income. And as I discussed here last month, there are dangers in mixing data from various samples. So, I did deeper. Here's the chart that ran with the graph, and it cites not one but four sources for the data. OK, I'm already a tad suspicious, because the comparison is between 2000 and 2005, and ACS did not survey the St. Cloud MSA before 2004.

The reporter was away last week but returned this morning and answered some questions for me about the data. Indeed she has compared two different surveys, which are not longitudinal. That is, the two samples are not measuring the income or housing of the same people.

I've checked the inflation adjustments, and the article she wrote has some other data that she uses to back up the idea that housing is a bigger share of budgets in St. Cloud than five years ago. As to median income falling, what she doesn't pick up is that the margin of error (roughly, the 90% confidence interval around the estimate) is $5,102. This is large enough to say that there has not been a statistically significant difference in the city of St. Cloud. This Word document explains how to do the test.

That's not to say the data aren't telling. What they confirm for me, along with all the other data I look at for this area, is that the families moving from St. Cloud city to the suburban areas (mostly, Sartell and Sauk Rapids, though a number have gone out to St. Joseph) are of higher income levels than the new families moving into the area. This is what happens from drawing on two different surveys to make comparisons.

Tim the D'Oh!Boy 

One of my students sent me this, and I cannot believe five months have passed without me seeing it before now.

I get this look on the Secretary's face sometime with students. Having seen it, I should stop myself from doing that again.

Sweet Nobel 

While I thought Dale Jorgenson was more deserving, I am quite pleased that Edmund Phelps has won the Nobel in economics this year. For those who have held that the Phillips Curve tradeoff between inflation and unemployment was a chimera, Milton Friedman and Phelps stand side-by-side as the first to point out the fallacy.

In his research, Phelps suggested that inflation was not a cause of unemployment but argued that there was a base level of unemployment which helped keep prices steady.

The academy said the theoretical framework Phelps developed in the late 1960s helped economists understand the root of soaring prices and unemployment in the 1970s and the limitations of policies to deal with these problems.

His framework helped central banks shift their focus toward using inflation expectations to set monetary policy rather than concentrating on money supply and demand.

As a monetary policy researcher, Phelps and Friedman's works laid the framework for much of the work on inflation targeting that now dominates central bank policy research. It's only one of his many accomplishments, but it's vitally linked to my own work, so in some ways I should have preferred Phelps to Jorgenson. But both are richly rewarding; let's hope Jorgenson gets his next year.

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The Teflon stalking horse 

The continued discussion over the weekend of the Wetterling ad (for example, Bachmann v Wetterling's coverage of the CNN appearance of the two candidates, or Mitch Berg's analysis) meant our show was dominated by the issue despite all our efforts not to. (Here's hour 1 with many bloggers, hour 2 with John Binkowski and Bachmann. Hey, why not subscribe to all six hours of the NARN, and get some Strommie too?) During the second hour I had a second thought about this issue of the ad.

In short, my thesis is that Patty Wetterling has become a vehicle through which the Democratic Party is playing the Foley scandal for political advantage. She comes with a number of advantages, most notably her own tragedy. It's an issue that John Binkowski (the Independence Party candidate) said "was one of the few issues [Patty] can hit out of the park." But she also comes with a set of definitions for 'molestation' and 'cover-up' and 'admitted' that are so outside the usual use of those words that mainstream media are calling it at least 'false' and 'misleading'.

Because of her history, the MSM are reluctant to go so far as to call this a 'lie'. This is, after all, Saint Patty we're talking about. And that makes her the perfect vehicle for the Democrats, a Teflon stalking horse with which they can portray the Republicans as doing things far more wicked than the facts currently in evidence suggest. (And worth noting, again, is that the ad was released last Tuesday before Rep. Reynolds, the Foley chief of staff, Roy Blount and the others started tossing Denny Hastert under the bus.)

The sad spectacle of the House leadership falling over each other to charge the microphones and blame someone else is doing the one thing that can damage the party's chances more than anything else. My fellow St. Cloud blogger Gary Gross pointed out last week the importance of GOTV and demographics. At one point this summer it was believe that over 95% of the Republican base voter was either "almost certain" or "very likely" to vote; Gary and I have talked over the summer about how hard it would be for Democrats to overcome that. Thus the Wetterling ad: The effect of Foley isn't so much to swing voters to the Democratic column but to discourage Republican base turnout. Thus articles like this will be common, and every fingerpointing from Republicans will make page one above of the fold in the MSM. Bachmann said to us Saturday that her contributions and hits of her website were up almost tenfold (no doubt helped in part by Hugh's lionization of her campaign), but nobody else is going to get this kind of help unless there is a real change in how Washington Republicans handle this mess.

The saddest part? The overriding issue of Wetterling's 2004 campaign was that she could not broaden her focus beyond child safety issues. It is still the issue. Using her as a mouthpiece for the Foley affair is retrograde to her own campaign's best interest. It would be ironic for the Democrats to win the House in November, but for Wetterling to lose to Bachmann. But if the election were to be held today, I think that is the most likely outcome.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Listening to Hugh's interview of Eric Black, I recalled his debate with Scott Johnson at the U of M's law school last February. Peg was there and took some good notes about Eric's presentation on "confirmation bias":
Still, though I may be misreading Eric's beliefs, it appeared to me that Eric contends that "professional journalists" are able to "rise above" confirmation bias, while the muck of the blogosphere is stuck in it, and thus not anywhere as reliable as the MSM.

This, I would contend, is false. We all succumb, to some degree, to confirmation bias. We all see the world according to our own belief structure, virtually by definition. Doesn't matter if we've been journalists for 30 years or we're a lowly blogger sitting in front of the laptop; each and every one of us has our biases and our beliefs, and it is impossible to divorce them from how we observe.

We can strive to minimize our bias as much as possible. I do think that Eric does a better job than many other journalists in his writing in this regard. He attempts to get perspectives from various viewpoints, which is a big step in and of itself.

I doubt Hugh is agreeing with this right now. Eric's commenters seem to be giving him only so-so marks so far. But I could have predicted it based on his answer to Peg's question later:

I asked Eric if he thought that "confirmation bias" applies to journalists, and his answer seemed to be that yes, it does, but the journalists, trained and seasoned, are able to "rise above it." My answer to that would be that good bloggers are able to "rise above" to the same degree as any competent journalist.

I would add, however, that Eric and the MSM needs to think about an earlier point that Eric made in his presentation. The vast majority of the MSM is liberal; Eric stated that studies of it over and over prove this to be true. If that is indeed the case (and I believe it is so), then virtually by definition, the bias of reporters will be to the left. Though I do agree that responsible journalists try to "rise above" their bias, one can only do so much. None of us can completely divorce our observation from our underlying belief structure, irrespective of our leanings to the left or the right. And, if this is so, then - might not the answer be that really responsible news organizations should strive to add more conservative voices to their payrolls? Answer: yes. News organizations appreciate that they must have "diversity" in the news room: people of various backgrounds to observe and report. Why then do they think that diversity of left or right should be ignored - particularly when it is virtually impossible for us to rid ourselves of underlying bias and belief?

And this I believe is the problem with Eric's non-answer to the question of his politics, which he says is "the ethic of his profession" today. Just as we argue that universities would be improved by having viewpoint diversity as much as it is to have cultural diversity so too would newsrooms. But if you can't even talk about it on the air, how can you address it in your hiring practices?

If I had a nickel for every time... 

Gary reads the latest report of the always-shrinking deficit and asks the eternal question:
Indulge me as I vent on a pet peeve of mine: How do these forecasters stay employed if they�re seemingly always underforecasting revenues? If I had a dollar for each time I read the term �better-than-expected� in articles about the various economic reports, I�d be rich and then some.
Well indulge me as a vent on a pet peeve of mine -- that forecasters are always misunderstood. I speak as one of the forecasters. People who stand outside the forecasting millieu and carp about budget forecasts are missing the many slips twixt the cup and the lip of budget forecasting. There needs to be not only a forecast of the economy and of the relationship between the growth of the economy and growth of the various bases on which tax is paid, but also a forecast of changes in future spending and taxes perpetrated by capricious legislators. Moreover, firms who engage in rent-seeking behavior are making investments in anticipation of tax and spending changes, and some of these investments become resource-wasting when the investors' expectations are not realized. And part of the problem is that revenues have become much more volatile since 1990.

"And still you forecast," you say, dear reader. "Why?" Because decisionmakers need a context for their decisions, and forecasts are meant to provide that, and so I make a few dollars. When you are forecasting, you make mistakes almost every time. You aren't trying to minimize the error so much as you are trying to minimize the cost of the expected error to the decisionmaker. If you are forecasting a budget deficit for the legislature or the executive of any government, the costs of underestimating and overestimating are different, not symmetric. If I forecast a larger deficit than what happens, I have restricted spending and led to a rather pleasant surprise to the government. The additional spending not done is bad for those who would have received the benefits, but good for everyone else because national savings is higher and interest rates thus lower. The good will make the morning paper; the forgotten If I underestimate the deficit, the costs on everyone from higher interest rates is noticed, and the rising deficit is a cudgel brought down on politicians. Since the politician is my client, I'm incented to prefer overestimating budget deficits to underestimating.


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His freedom was merely academic 

Captain Ed and Eliana Johnson have already written about the Columbia University aborted appearance by Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project. Gilchrist never got to speak as protestors stormed the stage to silence him, one saying afterwards "had no right to be able to speak here." The Columbia Spectator's report includes some video of the proceedings.

And now we learn that students participating in the protest bragged on their FaceBook sights, and now are shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that the university is looking at these sites and taking names. David French writes:
Facebook, Myspace, and other similar sites harness the power of the internet to the unrestrained personal lives of millions of students (and young adults). This leads to strange outcomes as twenty-somethings live private lives in public, but without mentally abandoning the notion that this very public information is still somehow �theirs.� I can remember once surfing through Myspace to see if any employees that I supervised had sites and were saying anything about work that I would find interesting or concerning. Sure enough, I found somebody talking about how they were going through �serious problems� with their boss (not me, thankfully). When I asked about the problems, she reacted as if I had just eavesdropped on a cell phone conversation.

Memo to college students: Public information on the internet is, well, public. Give some thought to how the information currently on the web might look to an employer, a parent, or � given the current Foley mess � perhaps even a Congressional panel. I think we�re less than ten years away from having a presidential nomination or a serious run for House or Senate derailed by an ill-considered Facebook entry.
You cannot brag of misdeeds in curbing someone's academic freedom without expecting some repercussions. Scott Johnson writes:
Public discourse at Columbia is for now in the hands of intellectual savages. Does the university have the wherewithal to restore the conditions of freedom?
I'd suggest a webpage of screenshots of the perps' Facebooks would be a good start.

What to make of the jobs report? 

It depends on what you read. If you read the news reports, you'd think things were in bad shape.
"I think the number was surprisingly low," says Roy Krause, CEO of staffing company Spherion, "but our business has been pretty stable. "We're seeing employment expand at a moderate rate rather than the explosive growth you see during boom-bust periods."
..."This pace of jobs growth is consistent with a soft landing for the economy with second-half growth in the range of 3 percent," writes University of Maryland business Prof. Peter Morici in an analytical note.
But the part of the report that is most remarkable, but if mentioned at all only as an afterthought, is that the Current Employment Survey employment number has been adjusted upward by 0.6% or 810,000 jobs.
Each year, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey data are benchmarked to comprehensive counts of employment for the month of March derived from state unemployment insurance (UI) tax records that nearly all employers are required to file. For national CES series, the annual benchmark revisions over the last 10 years have averaged plus or minus two-tenths of one percent. The preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision for March 2006 is +810,000 (0.6 percent).
We don't apparently have yet the entire run of data to observe yet, so I think that this graph from Calculated Risk showing growth of employment over the 2nd Bush administration (with its promise of 6 to 10 million jobs created in the second term) will need an upward revision.

While I don't necessarily agree with Russ Roberts that the payroll survey has somehow caught up with the household survey, a revision that large would indicate that inflationary concerns are still a real possibilty. Concerns that job losses are concentrated in tough swing districts in the industrial Mideast may be overblown.


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I needed a funny 

Bloody long day needed something to make me smile, and this bit of satire from the Onion certainly works:
Budget cuts and unfulfilled requests for federal funding have left Philadelphia's East Central High School without the vital resources needed to determine how many students per teacher the school currently supports. "Our staff of 54 teachers is aware that 1,578 students are in attendance," principal Ian Victor said Monday. "We always hear that suburban schools have a 16-to-1 ratio�we just want to know how we stack up." East Central's original budget request of $120,000 was intended to purchase new equipment, replace outdated textbooks, and to figure out exactly how long it would take a school bus traveling at 35 mph to arrive at the school from Milburne, if it left at 7:35 a.m.
(h/t: Joanne Jacobs.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A bettor way to forecast 

The National Association of Business Economists has a new means of generating forecasts. By using an auction mechanism, they are estimating private employment to get a better feel for the dispersion of opinion around a forecast.
The experiment involved a type of �pari-mutuel� betting process in which participants spend a limited budget of �house money� to purchase and place tickets on a range of possible outcomes�in this case, job gains in September 2006. In describing the experiment, former NABE board member and president of Macroeconomic Advisers Chris Varvares said that the �overall objective is to get a consensus view from the NABE Outlook panel of the entire probability distribution of possible outcomes rather than just an average of forecast modes.� The chart on the next page shows the distribution of �bets� generated by today�s exercise.

�We believe that this experimental approach to forecasting is potentially a useful and valuable addition to the NABE Outlook Survey, a quarterly consensus macroeconomic forecast of 50 NABE members,� said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, NABE vice president and chief economist at Ford Motor Company.

Participants in today�s experiment revealed that they believe that a private payroll gain in September of 100,000 to 124,000 is the most likely outcome, with roughly a 25% probability. The average expected gain was also within this range at 121,000. This compared with an average gain so far this year of 127,000, and an average increase over the last four months of just 102,000. The distribution of expected outcomes implies that the participants believe there is roughly a 75% chance that the employment change in September will be between 75,000 and 174,000. By way of contrast, consensus estimates available through Bloomberg project total job gains in the range of 90,000 to 125,000. Over the past year, governments have added an average of 11,000 jobs per month. Subtracting this from the Bloomberg consensus range would put it at roughly 80,000 to 115,000 for private payroll employment gains.
Winners get real cash, which means NABE will have to find some money to fund this further. Such markets have occurred in many other places (Robin Hanson at George Mason has a good description of these), and in other places like elections these have been pretty good predictors.


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I have a cunning plan 

If the Democrats do win in November, I'm going Polish.
Police in Poland have launched a nationwide hunt for a man who farted loudly when asked what he thought of the president.

Hubert Hoffman, 45, was charged with "contempt for the office of the head of state" for his actions after he was stopped by police in a routine check at a Warsaw railway station.

He complained that under President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, the country was returning to a Communist style dictatorship.

When told to show more respect for the country's rulers, he farted loudly and was promptly arrested.

Hoffmann was arrested and released on bail but failed to turn up at a Warsaw court early this week to be tried, and the judge in the case rejected an appeal by defence lawyers to throw the charges out.

A court spokesman said: "Such a case of disrespect is taken very seriously."

Instead the court ordered the police to start a nationwide hunt for the man, and interpol have been alerted.
Which begs the question: Sniffer dogs?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

So what DO you call it? 

I've been visiting with people on the St. Cloud Times chat, and one question I put to people discussing the Mark Foley affair is how one describes the dirty deeds he did. A few thought that pedophilia is not the right word, as it implies physical sexual contact with a child. There was no contact as far as we know at this time. But the roots of the word imply love of a child; that love is sexual, but it does not necessarily mean physical contact has occurred. Yet I found few challenged the question that pedophilia has to include some physical acting out of the fantasy, and nobody used the word molestation. Nor did anyone really want to go into whether the preference towards 16-year-olds was somehow less pedophilic than it might be towards a 12-year-old or 8-year-old. I find that rather peculiar, since sexual activity in 16 year olds generally isn't considered unusual in American society (though count me as one who finds it undesirable), but activity in a 12-year-old would be considered unusual and generally frowned on.

I looked at the American Psychiatric Association's fact sheet on pedophilia, including the DSM-IV criteria. It clearly states
A person need not have actual sexual contact with a child to be diagnosed with pedophilia. A person who is preoccupied with sexual urges and fantasies that disturb his functioning (that is, negatively affect his relations with others or impair his ability to work effectively) could also be diagnosed as having pedophilia, even without ever engaging in a sex act with a child.
I'm obviously not a psychologist, but it looks to me like Foley fits except that the first criteria says Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 or younger). Does the age matter here? Or is it that, like the Monica Lewinsky affair, Foley's crime comes in no small part from abusing his position of authority to gain access to young men with whom he could engage in cybersex? And in particular, a position of authority granted him as a public trust?

One can be a pedophile and never act on the urge. One can also commit child sexual abuse and not be a pedophile (for example, due to drug or alcohol abuse, which is what Foley claims.) And what is an what isn't abuse is both a legal description and a matter of what shocks the conscience. See this thoight=provoking article by Thomas Szasz. Clearly, most of us are using the term pedophile to refer to a behavior we find repugnant, not as a legal term.

A broader category into which Foley's behavior belongs is paraphilia, which loosely means sexual gratification by atypical means. Cybersex is still atypical. So's a lot of different things, some illegal (frottage, for example) and some not (most fetishism). Where do you draw that line?

Why go through this? I was thinking about the issue last night but it became real when we learned of the Patty Wetterling ad which describes this behavior as 'molestation'. Dean Barnett, Jim Gegharty and Andy Aplikowski are having cows over this. So let me pretend to be rewrite for the Wetterling campaign:
�It shocks the conscience. Congressional leaders have admitted to covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used the internet for pedophilic purposes.�
Is that really going to make you feel better? Or is your argument that no pedophilia happened here? And if not, what are you wanting to call what he did? I would rather see the ad written this way:
�It shocks the conscience. Congressional leaders have admitted to covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used the internet for immoral purposes.�
Morality is the compass that allows one to look at Foley's behavior and say "what a creep" without needing a focus group or 700 words. But that requires Mrs. Wetterling to make a moral judgment, which is exactly what Michele Bachmann's opponents consider to be her failing. In the process of painting herself as a saint and her opponent as moralistic, can Mrs. Wetterling rise to say simply that some behaviors are just wrong, and then define those wrong behaviors differently than Mrs. Bachmann? Or has she ended up without a moral basis on which to judge Foley? If so, she will end up hounded by the conservative critics reserving the word molestation to physical acts, and unable to speak her soul's repugnance.

UPDATE: Barnett makes a reference to Mrs. Wetterling having "absolute moral authority". That's quite different from having a moral structure to your own life. If you have it, this doesn't happen:
One can almost picture Wettering asserting that her absolute moral authority gives her the right to redefine molestation to include things that happen in a virtual realm, and defying anyone to fight her on that ground. And once Wettering defines what happened as �molestation,� the rest of the party will surely follow.
I remind you that words mean something without anyone planning it. Symptomatic of the liberal urge is to ignore the spontaneous order of language and make words mean what you want them to. Conservatives should beware as well.

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Can I get a peace of the action? 

There is a book, Centrebet in Australia, taking wagers for the Nobel Peace Prize, due to be awarded 10/13. The leader, at 5-4, is Maarti Ahtisaari and the Crisis Management Initiative. Indonesian President Susil Bambang Yudhoyono is second at 5-2. Cindy Sheehan is 17-1, Bono 33-1, and George Bush is 1000-1.

Ladbrokes has a pool for the Nobel in literature, and Orhan Pamuk is favored there. I read Snow given to me as a Christmas gift by Littlest, and I can see why he deserves one. In economics, Edmund Phelps is favored by the bettors at 4-1. Avinash Dixit, Paul Romer, Peter Diamond and Robert Barro are all 7-1, Paul Krugman 8-1 and Dale Jorgensen (I assume, they say Mortensen, who I don't know from a hole in the ground) is 9-1. I really prefer Jorgensen, but I wouldn't be upset with any of the choices on the list except Bob Rubin (who isn't an economist) and Ernst Fehr, who just isn't on the same level with the others.

Conversations not for thee 

David Downing writes that the new superintendant of St. Paul schools is having "community conversations" for the parents of 72% of the population of its schools. Any guesses which 28% is left out?

This will prove interesting 

As we discussed earlier this summer, there has been a debate over a payment of $1.5 million out of the Minneapolis Teachers Retirement Fund to a trust to supposedly cover for any legal liabilities for its directors after it was merged into the state Teachers Retirement Association. Now state auditor Pat Anderson is seeking criminal investigation of the transfer. The move is being called political by representatives of the trust. It should be remembered that a fair amount of that $1.5 million was for golden parachutes for the director of the MTRF, who managed the fund to a position of having 45 cents for every dollar of liabilities.

So who gets to investigate whether a crime has been committed? The Hennepin County Attorney's office, whose head is a little occupied right now. This might be one of the W.W.A.D. moments.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who are we fooling? Who are we helping? 

You need to take a little time to read Stephen Karlson's post on college ranking systems. The money graf:
It strikes me as exceedingly cumbersome to lay off on a newsmagazine what might more logically be charged to the failure of the common schools to do their work in the first place, or to the failure of the access-assessment-remediation-retention culture in the academy to say Enough to those common schools.
Stephen writes forcefully that it's time for us to deal with the problem by having academia state for itself and for its audience -- parents, employers, legislators (for Stephen's and my institutions, both public) -- what is meant by quality. When Stephen asks "what's wrong with bolstering retention by screening out individuals who are more likely a priori not to make it through?" the answer is, to whom is it wrong?

That thought comes through to me after reading a Conference Board report yesterday that says that college graduates have better job prospects not because the colleges are doing better jobs, but that the high schools are failing to provide key job skills. I was invited this morning to talk to a luncheon for Junior Achievement, which uses volunteers to get education about personal finance, economics and entrepreneurship into K-12 classrooms. As I read the Conference Board report, it occurred to me what JA is doing is to provide those skills which the Board report says are lacking in our high school graduates.
In fact, the findings indicate that applied skills on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills, such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics. In other words, while the �three Rs� are still fundamental to any new workforce entrant�s ability to do the job, employers emphasize that applied skills like Teamwork/Collaboration and Critical Thinking are �very important� to success at work.
As someone said to me after lunch, what kids are missing is the fourth R: the real world. And what employers seem to be doing is hiring college graduates with hopes that they've received that fourth R. And in the real world, one thing you can't have is inflated grading. When we do this, we are kicking down the road the problem with a lack of professionalism and work ethic that's lacking in the high school graduate. While a "coreless curriculum," as Stephen puts it, is a real problem, what we really want in these students is that work ethic along with the ability to work together, to speak clearly, and to be able to solve problems and think critically.

If there's some other way to deliver that than a classical curriculum centered on the Great Books, I'm fine with that. But good luck finding one.

Baxter does not heart Bachmann, part 3 

This is the third part of a four-part series of articles by Professor Janet Beihoffer of Metro State on an article written by Dr. Charles Baxter in the New York Times ten days ago. Part 1 and Part 2 can be viewed before reading this if you wish.

The author is a successful writer of novels and teaches creative writing. We have reviewed his talent at manipulating the meanings of words. However, there is another, classic leftist trait exhibited in his article - the omission of key facts.

If one goes to Dr. Baxter website, one will find a listing of his degrees, where he attained them, and his work history. Yet, he decided to focus only on Michele�s law degree from Oral Roberts University (yes, it is a conservative college) but chose to omit Michele Bachmann�s post graduate degree in tax law from William and Mary College in Virginia.

Why would Dr. Baxter ignore this critical fact? Perhaps Dr. Baxter agrees with most of academia and the mainstream media (MSM) that people don�t need religion. By refusing to write of Michele�s other educational achievements, Dr. Baxter insinuates that she is too religious for public office. It is unfortunate that academia and the MSM are sorely lacking representatives who practice religion on a regular basis, hence they cannot grasp why others do. Many professors often believe they are �enlightened�, �reasonable� people who have no need for religion. So does Dr. Baxter make a point of telling his readers (most likely the east coast crowd) that Michele Bachmann had an advanced degree from a very respected university? No, he says she �draws her support largely from evangelicals�. Does he disapprove of religion? Does he think a Christian faith is irrelevant?

There are a number of surveys covering belief in God, church attendance, etc. Let�s examine the following comparison between regular churchgoers and attendance at NFL games.

population age 20+ (2004) 210,000,000weekly attendance at church services:

Minimum weekly attendance at religious services: 42,000,000

Total religious service attendance over a 16 week NFL season: 672,000,000

Total NFL paid season attendance 2005: 21,800,000

The weekly church attendance is almost double the entire paid season NFL attendance.

A breakdown of the largest religious groups in the USA. It does not begin to show the plethora of churches within each subgroup.

Protestant 52%, Roman Catholic 24%, Mormon 2%, Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%, other 10%, none 10% (2002 est.) (Source.)

Why make these points? Today we hear so much that is negative about the Christian religion � especially from the MSM. For Dr. Baxter to write snide comments about Michele Bachmann�s Christianity, to ignore her education, to imply that religion is detriment when he appears to have no factual frame of reference is irresponsible journalism.

So, in addition to his word redefinitions, it seems that Dr. Baxter just cannot handle someone with a faith. However, if Dr. Baxter knew his American history, he would realize that in spite of all current attempts to ignore historical fact, our American Founders were a religious lot, especially by today�s standards. So, let�s get off the anti-religion soap box and look at today�s and tomorrow�s problems and propose solutions � which are exactly what Michele Bachmann is doing.

Almost too pat(ty) 

One part of the Mark Foley affair that has played here in Minnesota is the boost the Democrats are trying to give Patty Wetterling with it. The New York Times runs an article from Congressional Quarterly that plays up the affair for her, which got run out to the papers awfully fast if you ask me.

We knew Wetterling was for children's issues. We know she works with this abducted and exploited children's caucus already. And we had to have known that if she was elected she would join this caucus as surely as the sun rises tomorrow. And we know there are pedophiles in the world; it is not shocking in a world full of sinners to find one in Congress. There is nothing new learned from the Foley affair that makes one more or less inclined to vote for Wetterling or Bachmann or Binkowski.

If child safety issues mattered to you before, you were more inclined to vote for Wetterling before Foley and more inclined to vote for her after Foley. If pro-life issues mattered to you before, you were more inclined to vote for Bachmann before Foley and more inclined to vote for Bachmann after Foley. Foley changes nothing in this race, except for the amount of advertising given Wetterling for free by the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Wetterling only talks about Foley, not about her other issues. I'm not her campaign manager, but if I was I'd tell her not to stand pat on her children's safety background in this election.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't bet on my business 

I cannot tell you how annoying I find the news that Congress managed to sneak in a provision in the Safe Ports Act to prevent any U.S. bank from transferring money to an offshore online betting company. President Bush is expected to sign it.

Do I gamble online? Yes I do. Is this going to stop me from playing on sports books? No, not really; I can acquire a credit card online from Canada, the UK, or Europe and transfer money that way, or use an offshore wire transfer facility. I can send cash; or I can stop at a bank when I travel to Europe if I need to fund my account further. But the US has dominated this business to the point where banks make a large amount of money from it, and this gives US security officials an easy point from which to check on transfers of money, as they have in the past. This strikes me as another example of how the Republicans have become a party that hands out favors to constituencies at election time without regard for the principles violated. Do not gamble with my loyalties, friends.

Tags: economics, gambling

Why not Stassen too? 

Hypothesis: The more a candidate for political office thinks s/he will fare worse in a debate with an opponent, the more likely s/he will ask for third and fourth-party candidates to be included. Increasing the number of candidates on the stage redcues the number of questions asked and increases the possibility of getting help knocking down the opponent.

Corrolary: The same will apply to supporters of that candidate.


Why do I eat so much? 

I am using Undercover Economist with my general education class, which I love, and now I'm reading all of Tim Harford's FT columns. The one this weekend asks why are Americans and the world more generally so much heavier than a century ago? He cites evidence that even a second wage earner working 10 hours a week makes raises the chances of childhood obesity by 1.3%. But that won't explain my own waistline. He offers two explanations:

First, the cost of exercise has risen: most of us used to be paid to burn off calories in physically demanding jobs, after all. It is hard to undercut a form of exercise that pays you, and modern fitness clubs haven�t tried.

Second, food technology has tipped the balance in favour of more snacking. Think of the humble potato, once consumed in bland form, boiled or in stews - it was messy and time-consuming to make chips. But industrial processing, freezing and vacuum packing now makes crisps and chips easy to enjoy at home or in a fast-food joint. It is not just that crisps are more calorific than boiled spuds, but that they can be conveniently eaten at any time of day. Despite the attention devoted to �supersize� portions, the calories consumed at main meals have actually declined.

If the marginal cost of snacking has declined, it makes sense that there would be more snacking. And God knows how many times I have driven past the gym saying "I should go there, but I have to (fill-in-the-blank)" first. It's in fact logical that as I work harder and take on more at home, I've done less exercising -- damned near none since I became a department chair. Maybe I would eat more fruits and don the track shoes if I wasn't chair?

New place for undergrad econ majors 

Here's something really neat from the American Economics Association: A website for undergrad econ students. It covers everything from what is the field and where are the research materials to study it to graduate school and career advice. Check it out.