Saturday, December 29, 2007

What is a lawful killing?

From the BBC:

"The death follows the unlawful killing of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson who was killed by her uncle's dog in St Helen's on New Year's Day 200 [...]"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Who killed Bhutto?

Or is that even the important question?

Instead, who is it best to blame? As always, our old friends.

I am extremely curious to see what happens in the next few weeks. Musharraf seems to be hoping that by blaming al Qaeda he will be able to minimize the unrest from Bhutto supporters. Perhaps even solidify his rule and/or extend emergency powers so as to deal with the now (as he would like it to seem) obvious danger of Islamist extremists in Pakistan's nether regions.

Will Pakistan believe it? For myself, as little as I know, I can't imagine that Musharraf would have had her killed. It would invite massive amounts of risk and would especially alienate the more conservative, staid and very powerful elements in the army who seem to value stability above all.

What happens if Pakistan believes it? Do they support Musharraf and view his attempts to maintain power more leniently? Does the election continue?

What happens if they don't believe it? Chaos. Obviously. But how much? Enough to stop the election? Some opposition parties have already announced that they will boycott the elections.
What happens if the elections break down? Does everything go? And what will emerge from it?

Update

Interesting viewing from al Jazeera.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finally.

Well. They're over. Now I wait for my professors to get off of their lazy corduroy-clad butts and put in my grades.

Saw the movie Juno. Over-written and under-developed, but still charming. Definitely not worth going to more than once.

Now for one of my favorite parts of the year! Organizing and/or discarding all of my papers from the semester is endlessly satisfying. One day I will be as organized as I would like.

And on that day I will rule the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finals...

Thursday: Theory of Statistics

Friday: Differential Equations and Linear Algebra

Saturday: Macroeconomic Policy

Sunday: ELISHE COMES HOME!!!

Tuesday: C++

Wednesday: Public Policy

Then...life.

Monday, December 3, 2007

phew....

And now, maybe...sanity?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Difficult to pronounce, great to read

Maverecon. Odd name. I get where he's going, but I'm not sure he gets there...

This gent is quickly becoming one of my favorite bloggers. This post on trade theoretic trade policy provides a nice intro to how one should think about policy in a globalizing (ed?) world (as well as a deserved rap on the knuckles for Hillary).

Here he provides a fantastic and spirited exposition of why immigration is a moral issue (upon which American politicians tend to be on the wrong side).

Although one should be wary of it, it's always a pleasure to read one's own ideas posited in such a fantastic way.

Friday, November 30, 2007

If only every one were so rational

A quick and dirty exposition of why trade, sweatshops and what can be done about it is much more complicated than most people think.

One topic I have found lacking in the literature is a serious discussion of the implications of Fair Trade. Well-intentioned, of course. But beneficial...probably not. Again, I haven't found any sort of significant analysis, but the reasoning goes like this:

Fair trade sells an almost identical product for a higher price, the higher profits going to the farmers. The idea (again, as I understand it) is that this model will eventually overtake free trade coffee (for example) and so better the lot of all third world coffee farmers. This is all well and good except for two points

1. The demand for more expensive coffee must constantly increase, otherwise producers would find themselves providing too much supply and so be forced to either not sell their product or sell it at a lower price anyway.
2. So far as consumers are purchasing Fair Trade coffee, they are not purchasing free trade coffee, which, necessarily (since they aren't producing Fair Trade coffee), is produced by the poorest farmers. So, in order to help the poor, one must not purcahse their goods...?

The really big question in the above is whether or not the market demand can be altered so as to absorb the same amount of coffee at a higher price. So the real question is, "Do/can people care enough so that they will support an artificially high price?" Even if this can be answered in the positive, there remains another critical issue:

3. Say that the ideal coffee price is achieved and all of the coffee producers are receiving their "fair wage" (whatever that may mean). What's to stop a producer from lowering his price just a little bit so as to capture more of the market? And so on and so on until the producers are making the minimum at which they are willing to produce coffee. It's a simplistic argument, but the response to it would require some sort of global coffee cartel. Not impossible, but very unlikely.

Ultimately, I'm inclined to believe that labor-driven agriculture (as opposed to capital-driven) is probably not the best way to expect a nation to develop itself and that attempts to distort the market to this effect will be largely ineffective.

But, to be honest, I would like to be wrong.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Can you blame your parents for everything?

My favorite econ blogger responds to some of the recent discussion among the media "intellectuals" regarding the heredity of IQ, inequality, and the role race might play in those. While the debate has been going on (recently) since this, the end of it (to my satisfaction) is found here.

I also find the lofty claims to advancing truth in the face of political correctness and despite the danger of controversy in the Slate article obnoxious. Obviously the topic makes for fiery discussion and so ups the readership interest. So, I suppose it's served its purpose.

Damn, probably shouldn't link to it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why we can all get along!

Here is a fantastic post from a conservatice blogger about torture. It makes several excellent points:

1) The government is fallible, hence even given the best intentions horrific wrongs will be committed.

2) The constraints given in many torture hypotheticals (the ticking bomb) are such that lacking those constraints the presumed answer (that torture would be justified) is no longer reasonable.

3) There is no relationship between hypotheticals and how we should set policy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

So...useless

After listening to a fascinating interview with this interesting guy, and going to two talks given by this absolutely fantastic scholar and lawyer I decided to give student activism a chance again. Not that either one explicitly called for it, but I was beginning to feel that even if one can't control events, small differences can accumulate themselves and evolve into significance...perhaps.

However.

Why must student groups be so frustratingly useless? Went to the University's Amnesty International group meeting and was hopelessly depressed by the almost complete lack of competence, leadership, direction, and purpose.

The people were...nice, but are never going to light any fires. And, instead of directing their energies to useful things like local issues that could, MAYBE be altered by their efforts, they organize a letter writing campaign to the president of Indonesia demanding the release of political prisoners.

He. Doesn't. Care.

And, instead of organizing some silly event where there will be bands and a poetry slam, why not try to organize an event to donate resources to Victims of Torture, provide publicity for the (locally) growing problem in human trafficking, or work on decreasing the number of prostitutes that are minors. There are so many local issues that could be addressed. Instead, they show a movie about Abu Ghraib. Perhaps that wasn't a bad idea. I was stunned when some people at the meeting had to have what Abu Ghraib was explained to them.

It is needless to say that I will not be doing anything with or for them. My spirit for activism can't survive another such blow.

However, I have been exploring the idea of a group/organization I would like to put together. It wouldn't be an activist group (I'm afraid I have neither the will nor the time to do justice to such an effort), but I hope that it would make the world a little better place. At least more interesting. I will give you more when I see it materializing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I am programmer, hear me roar!!!

Just had to let the world in on the primal satisfaction I derived from solving the programming issue that had been confounding me for almost two hours.

And it turned out to be little more than three lines of code.



What am I doing?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why we use math...

Paul Krugman, in this older paper, provides some excellent insights into why math and models are a necessary (or at least appropriate) part of modern economics.

The paper also happens to provide an interesting biography of selected parts of development economics and how it has been altered by the changing methodology of economics itself.

I knew it!!

Turns out that women are racist:

"Another clear gender divide, this one less expected, emerged in our findings on racial preferences, reported in a forthcoming article in the Review of Economic Studies. Women of all the races we studied revealed a strong preference for men of their own race: White women were more likely to choose white men; black women preferred black men; East Asian women preferred East Asian men; Hispanic women preferred Hispanic men. But men don't seem to discriminate based on race when it comes to dating. A woman's race had no effect on the men's choices.

So far I've been lucky enough to slip by. Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Best Part of College!!!

Time for the new schedule! Yay!

-Intro to Mathematical Economics

-Sequences, Series and Foundations

-Applied Linear Algebra

-Theory of Statistics 2

-Women in Modern America

..wait. What?

Next semester is going to suck!!!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Telling it like it is

Here is a good discussion about taxes and the truth (or at least what approximates it in economics). Very interesting points about the wealthy and taxes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Darfur

Following the current situation in Sudan one can't but be overwhelmed with the complexity of the situation. It's remarkable and frustrating how unwieldy seemingly simple issues become upon further inspection.

Rebels refusing to attend peace talks makes the international prescription far from clear.

Obviously, the U.S. is in no position to unilaterally intervene (even if the political will did exist, the thought of invading another sovereign Muslim country, especially to aid a Christian minority, makes me shudder).

If the U.S. were to invade, who has any real idea what the situation would appear like on the ground. Obviously, there are two warring parties, and if neither party is prepared to come to the table is an intervening force meant to not only keep the peace, but also make the peace?

Intervention from the UN seems like the ideal situation, but as always complexities abound. First, the legality of a forced intervention (a military presence without the explicit approval of Sudan) would be incumbent not only on successfully determining that the conflict meets the necessary criteria, but also on convincing China and Russia that it is in their best interest. Not only has Russia turned out to be a snot-nosed problem child with an inferiority complex, but China has every reason to not put pressure on Sudan. So, a UN resolution with teeth seems inestimably far away.

Is the AU peacekeeping force really the best and most realistic option?

Is it possible to fund them to the point of approximating effectiveness?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Also...

A decent exposition of supply-side economics and what the econ profession actually thinks.

Also prompts the reader to ask, "What the hell is wrong with Republicans?"

Why is it called economics?

A nice introduction to a...discipline(?) known as feminist economics. Several observations:

-Why bother attacking an introductory textbook? It's understood within the economics profession that ALL of these issues are more complicated and that economics can only hope to approximate a description by simplification through models. No one believes that the Phillips curve is absolute fact, but it's still useful to think about in order to gain an understanding of how inflation and unemployment might interact. In your introductory political science course (Robert Dahl anyone?) a survey of democracy can't always be expected to discuss how poll-taxes were used to prevent poor people from voting or how ignorant people can be manipulated.

Also, there are plenty of economists (here's a fantastic example) who are extremely concerned with values insertion in economics research and theory. However, they seem to be significantly more careful in their analysis.

-Second: Related to my previous post regarding moral perspectives about markets, the feminist critiques include so many assertions it's astounding. Women's caring natures? I've some anecdotal evidence to the contrary. And here is where economics and feminomics diverge. One shouldn't castigate an extremely rigorous discipline for working within its stated assumptions and context by spewing any assumption and generalization that occurs to one's pretty little progressive head.

-They mistake theory for practice. The literature on the theory of trade is far different from the literature on the practice of trade as it has transpired. Moreover, it is an almost universal convention to include in intro textbooks qualifiers to the effect that while a trade can increase the pie overall, it can certainly cause some to lose their spot at the table.

The ultimate conclusion being that it would be better to get the bigger pie and figure out a way to find a few more chairs. This qualification, however, receives no mention.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting, though mildly frustrating, read.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Good Market?

"Moral Views of Market Society"

The above links to a very interesting paper (actually, only read the first half, after that it became too sociological) that provides a balanced overview of three basic approaches to determining the moral consequences and identity of markets.

Obviously, I would tend toward a certain perspective (guess!), but I might add that I find that perspective most compelling in part as it would seem to necessitate the fewest assumptions or argumentation regarding what is a desirable and what isn't. Essentially, to let people decide for themselves.

I am no anarchist, so let me explain. I believe that people are best positioned to define what their "goods" are (and I mean that in the ethical sense) and that the free market system is, ideally, best suited to allowing people the ability to pursue their ends.

A Marxist critique might be that free market systems alienate people from the fruits of their labor by dehumanizing the inherently personal production and transaction process. One can reasonably argue this (obviously it isn't necessary for me to legitimize Marx). However, my argument is that such a perspective necessarily burdens itself with deeper assumptions that require difficult justification.

That there exists a meaning in labor beyond the exchange of time for goods is not self-evident. The fact that there exists a wage and a product which are exchanged is all the justification necessary for the conclusion (perhaps incomplete) that the laborer devoted his or her time for a reasonable (as perceived by the laborer) compensation.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Disgusted

It's not that I care so much about football, rather it's that I despise being tacitly associated with a losing team.

I have compiled a collection of blogs that I find to be consistently interesting and (more often than not) thoughtful:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/

http://www.economicprincipals.com/

Enjoy, I hope to post something original soon. But the spirit hasn't quite captured me lately.

My current read "A History of Modern Russia" is somewhat disappointing. I find the wide generalizations made in much history writing extremely distressing.

But not quite as distressing as losing to NDSU in football.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Prostate...massage?

Depending upon your point of view, either the best or worst study ever:

The visits will be scheduled in the morning and will need
an overnight fast. Each visit will last for 1 hour 1.5 hours.
At each visit we will ask you for a 24-hour urine collection,
blood and semen. At the second visit prostatic secretion will
be obtained from you via a prostate massage. You will be
asked to collect urine after the prostate massage.
Trained personnel will perform all these procedures.
Participants will be paid up to $100 for the proper completion
of the study. You will also be asked to keep a record of
your diet for 3 days before each study visit.
Detailed information will be provided at the orientation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Truth

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

(Billy Collins
)

Friday, September 14, 2007

?

I swear that this university becomes more strange every year.

Today I saw TWO outdoor sinks, half a block away from each other, where men in bathrobes were shaving. To the side of one was a hobo playing guitar and harmonica who probably hasn't shaved in years.

A block away was a family of ultra-conservative preachers spewing forth vitriol against just about everyone. Accompanying them was a man displaying a "Trannies are God's children too!" sign.

Accompanying all of them (literally) was a shirtless crazy man wearing a construction helmet playing a horribly tuned guitar, punctuating its dissonance with randomly shouted inquiries into who in the crowd loved Jesus.

THEN there was a crew, or troupe if you will, of jugglers.

I don't know what to make of it. But I like it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pay! Up! Go!

It would appear that there is a strike at the University. And the title of this post, despite approaching absolute nonsense, is one of the unfortunate cheers of the strikers. Leaving aside judgments of strikers' ability to form coherent sentences, I still have some issues with the whole thing.

Let me say that I'm not anti-union. I'm not pro-union either. Being consistently pro or anti labor seems extremely simple-minded to me. The circumstances of each situation seem to vary reliably and so a consistent opinion would be little more than bias.

Essentially my position boils down to waiting and seeing. If the political conditions surrounding a labor dispute are permitting the necessary degree of freedom (no legally enforced closed-shops, secret ballots, no union-busting, strike-breakers permitted) then I believe that contest will be fair and that the winner will win because they deserved to win.

More clearly, if the market is such that a strike permits labor to effectively damage an employer's ability to operate such that they concede to labor's demands then that means one important thing: that the employer was unable to find other workers for the offered wage. This means that the wage was not high enough, plain and simple. So, the workers deserve a higher wage as there aren't any other people willing to work at that wage.

But, if the strike fails to shut down operations, then that means that there are people willing to work for that wage and, more importantly, that fact means that they are more deserving of the wage. The simple fact that they are willing to work for the wage refused by others means that the employees who broke the strike are more deserving of the job (if only by their greater poverty) than those that struck.

Additionally, I do have a problem with the idea that everyone deserves a raise. Just as much as I do with the idea that no one deserves a raise. Such uniform implementation of changes in wages that are, at least to my mind, intended to reflect ability and reward merit seems to lack sense.

People like to throw around the idea that unity between workers is the only way that they can have any power. But, there is weight to the idea that by joining all of their fates the workers are harming themselves. If an employer wishes to reward a good worker with a raise it would be impossible as it might violate seniority-guided pay-rates. In fact, by negotiating as a group any pay increase become massively more expensive for the university, thus increasing the disincentive to provide anyone with a raise.

Also, what kind of union can only convince a third of its members to strike?

One that might not have a real issue.


Why is it that the liberal, progressive students support the union but then also denounce the University for raising tuition (making the University less accessible to the poor). Where do they imagine the money comes from? Where would they like it to come from?

Some thoughts. Hopefully I will become more consistent in writing this thing.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It Begins (again)

Well, here we are. A new blog in the hopes that abandoning the old one will help me maintain a higher level of maturity and interest.

I had the habit of posting scantily clad women and tasteless jokes on the old blog. Things of great interest no doubt, but perhaps not quite the best representation of myself (I hope).

So where do I and this blog stand?

Let's have a little self-reflection:

1) I am an undergraduate in economics entering my fourth year but set to land solidly in a fifth. Thus continuing my tradition of not doing large things in a timely manner. Before this it was getting to college, now it's getting out of college. I shudder to think of what I'll manage to do to graduate school.

2) I am extremely interested in most everything. This includes science, law, economics, history, literature, music, and, unfortunately for my self-respect, video games.

3) I am set for pursuing a PhD in economics, my GRE scores, research experience, grades, recommendations and general awesomeness will enable me to apply to top-notch PhD programs.

4) I wish I had gone into medicine, though I can easily imagine myself forgetting a scalpel in a patient.

5) I plan on taking the LSAT. HAH!

6) I enjoy arguing to the point of absurdity and exhaustion.

7) I like to win. It's a terrible quality that makes playing boardgames with me an unfortunate and often traumatic experience.

8) I enjoy a number of sports, all of which I play poorly (though I maintain I could be decent at tennis).

9) I am a liberal who hates liberals and can't understand conservatives.

10) I like White Castle.

What does all this mean for this blog??

I have no idea.