31.10.02

MORE ON KING AIRS. Veteran King Air pilot and flight instructor Old Blind Dog has a hypothesis about the Wellstone crash. "Most likely this will be attributed to CFIT (controlled flight into terrain). This is addressed in yearly recurrent training by companies like FlightSafety, Simcom, Simuflight, etc. It is imperative that spatial and altitude awareness be maintained when on an instrument approach. It is only speculation, however, that this is what occurred." Details for Cold Spring Shops readers here. The "interesting post" his readers are seeking is here.
"Because cellphones enable people to report emergencies quickly, for instance, it is difficult to get consensus on whether to regulate them, experts say." That leaves Light of Reason unimpressed. His preference:

"Here's one sensible comment:

"Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, calls the proposal ''a blunt instrument trying to fix a fairly small problem.'

'''We can't outlaw rude people,' Larson says. 'We can only hope to educate them. Cellphones already come with a large number of tools to make them less invasive in public spaces
.'"

That's called socialization. Schools used to do it: not playing well with others, or not respecting authority, or generally acting like your origins were in the lower orders, used to be grounds for detention, or suspension, or exile to reform school. Alas, socialization of that form is oppressive, it marginalizes people, and it's chock full of hegemonic biases. So instead we have to outlaw cell-phone use in public spaces.
FRAGMENTATION? Where Worlds Collide has picked up my post on Chicago's Metra working despite "fragmentation." That's a British term of art I don't fully understand. It might not be accurate for Metra in any event, as Metra's locomotives, crews, and coaches are their own, with running powers purchased over the freight railroads once out of terminal limits. And I believe the freight railroads purchase some running powers over Metra's lines.

The Superintendent welcomes constructive criticism, i.e. we will respond to "Could do with some more railway-related blog entries, though!" as circumstances permit. Please note that the failures of the academic enterprise are of more than academic interest around the Shops, however, and that there's no shortage of bad economics to point out.
NOT THE ERIE, NOT THE COAST LINE, NOT THE MISSABE. But worth a look. And don't tangle with folks who have serious railroads, you hear?
DISCOURSE PARTICLES: Y'know, they, like, um, have a, y'know, purpose.
KNOCKING ON NEWMARK'S DOOR. Yet another economist with a weblog! And he's got comments on streetcars!
POINT OF VIEW? "America's divided government faced collapse on Wednesday in a row over funding for implementation of the Kyoto treaty, raising the prospect of narrow Republican rule with no end in sight to the problem of global warming." Now, guess the news service, then check the real filing, which is at Chicago Boyz.
INCENTIVES MATTER UK Transport asks why a passenger train operating authority in Chicago might succeed, while there are problems moving people around in the UK.

"The unusual thing about METRA is that it is highly fragmented. The label encompasses four train operators and nine infrastructure operators - and yet it works. We, in the UK also have fragmentation and many (including myself) believe that it is that fragmentation that has done so much damage to the industry."

In the UK, the fragmentation is working backwards, you're resurrecting pre-Grouping company names in some cases. On the other hand, the routes of Metra (with the exception of the North Central service) are the routes of long-established railway companies: the Illinois Central and tenant South Shore for the electric lines; the Rock Island for the Joliet service; the Gulf Mobile and Ohio for the Heritage Corridor Joliet service; the Wabash for the Orland Park service; the Burlington for Aurora; the Milwaukee for the Elgin and Fox Lake service; and the Chicago and North Western for the Geneva, Harvard, and Kenosha service. Metra began by purchasing service from the railway companies. The brand label came later. Some Chicago and North Western riders viewed the Metra label as a step backwards.

"So why can fragmentation be made to work in the States but not here? I think the reason lies with those infrastructure controllers. Now I am guessing here but my guess is that most of that infrastructure is owned by private companies who specialise in operating freight trains. I would also guess that the majority (in cash terms) of the trains using those tracks are freight trains."

Metra owns some of the terminal trackage and three of the downtown stations (Randolph Street, LaSalle Street, and North Western, now officially the Oglivie Transportation Center, but cab drivers know "North Western" if that's your request.) Amtrak owns Union Station and the approach tracks. Suburban trains share tracks with Amtrak passenger trains and with freight trains. In most cases, the dispatchers have had long experience with combining freight and passenger trains, and the Burlington is particularly interesting as trains cross to or from the center express track at several interlockings. There are curfews in the Metra purchase of service arrangement that limit the entry of freight trains into suburban territory during rush hours; we see freights waiting in DeKalb for clearance to the yards. And should the dispatchers lose sight of their responsibilities, Metra lets the contractor railroad know. Union Pacific had to learn that lesson the hard way in 1995, when they bought the Chicago and North Western and assigned inexperienced (with the discipline of passenger railroading) dispatchers to work the Chicago and North Western desk.

A little help for our British guests: the dispatcher controls the movement of trains. When I refer to a desk, that is analogous to a panel signal box. But the panel signal boxes are at a central location, such as Omaha for the Union Pacific, and Stevens Point for the Wisconsin Central, before that sold out to Canadian National.
HARRY BELAFONTE'S GURU? Spotted in Ann Arbor, by Haggai's Place.
SWINE WRAPPED IN SWINE. Details at Little Green Footballs. If memory serves, the Soviet KGB captured some Palestinian militants who had notions of extorting reparations from the Rodina and later returned the bodies, with some parts rearranged.
UNDERMINING THE TEACHER'S SELF ESTEEM? Joanne Jacobs reveals the dirty little secret behind changing or eliminating the achievement tests in the government schools.
SADDAM BINGO ... B-2? "About a month to move - hmmm, looks like things are shaping up for about mid-December. Deploying the B2s forward is a sign that they're nearly ready to go. The anti-radar coating on the B2 doesn't tolerate tropical weather well, so they keep them at home until they're ready to use them," reports Cato the Youngest.
PHASERS ON STUN. Coming soon to an airspace near you?
VIRGINIA POSTREL has returned from Minneapolis, where the Paul Wellstone plane crash has been the news. She has sound advice for any policy advocate. "In evaluating policy, if not character, consequences ought to matter at least as much as intentions." Amen. I am sick and tired of hearing people defend Social Security, the Motor Carrier Act, farm price supports, or no-fault divorce as something done "to solve a problem." By their fruits shall ye know them.
PROFSCAM, REDUX: "Peer review is supposed to be an adequate protection against fraud, inaccuracy, and other scholarly shortcomings, that being its main reason for existing. There have been studies of how it really works. They do not make encouraging reading. Even if the built-in temptations for reviewers could be taken out of it, the official peer review system can't possibly work as it needs to within the microscopically subdivided academic research system of today: often there are no true peers to be found. In practice, peer review is a compost that nourishes cronyism, conformism, and other abuses." (Via InstaPundit.)
A few more shootings, and CAIR can start referring to hip-hop as the "music of peace." Details at Silflay Hraka
FASCINATING STUFF. Atlantic Blog has discovered Haggai's place, published by a graduate student in mathematics at the University of Michigan. The post I've linked to makes use of the Ellsberg Paradox (yes, that Daniel Ellsberg) in decision theory, the fundamental point of which is definite information is preferable to ambiguity. The connection to the debate over war on Iraq is this: "It is of the utmost importance right now that we understand that the decision to go to war is ideological, not informational: the reason people disagree vehemently about war in Iraq is not that the facts on the ground or the true prospects of American military success are being kept hidden. What they disagree about is under what conditions and by what means the United States should try to affect the governance of other countries. It's not what we know but what we believe in that makes all the difference." To which I can only add: and in the case of a war with Iraq, will the outcome be sufficiently decisive for debaters to renounce their prior beliefs? That's the part of these decision theory paradoxes that interests me: how much evidence does someone require to change one's prior. It's easy enough to model, but darned difficult to observe.

30.10.02

OCCAM'S RAZOR. InstaPundit has located Andrew Sullivan's characterization of the Senator Wellstone was murdered conspiracy theory as "Idiocy of the Week."

My brother, who has occasionally flown Wisconsin Senator Kohl as pilot in command (sorry for misstating your rank, captain), has provided some information about the King Air aircraft.

"However, regarding the Wellstone crash; the weather observers were reporting freezing rain at the time of the crash. While all King Airs are certified for flying in known icing conditions as they are adequately equipped to handle moderate icing conditions, there are conditions in which it is foolish to operate. One of those is freezing rain, and the operations manual for the company for which I fly specifically prohibits us from operating in any type of freezing rain, including the jet aircraft which have more effective deicing equipment and therefore better capabilities.

"Freezing rain has the nasty ability to accumulate at astounding rates and to spread back over the wings and tail surfaces past leading edges and onto the unprotected areas of the wing, tail surfaces and fuselage. The effect is a rapid increase in the weight of the aircraft from all of the ice accumulation and changes in the shapes of the airfoils which alter the lift producing capability of the affected surfaces. All of this results in higher stalling speeds and unpredictable control responses. A pilot slowing the aircraft down to approach speeds may find himself entering a stall without any warning under these conditions. If the stall is severe enough and encountered at a low altitude, recovery may not be possible.

"It also sounds like the Wellstone plane was off-course for the normal instrument approach to the airport. (Now comes the speculation part.) If the crew was flying the instrument approach, got off course and decided to miss the approach, which would be normal procedure once it was determined that they were off course, and the aircraft was icing up with clear ice and the crew was busy monitoring the approach and not paying attention to the ice accumulation, I can imagine a set of circumstances in which the aircraft would not be able to successfully execute a missed approach. My guess is that when all is said and done this one will fall into the pilot error category. In NTSBese something like, "Pilot continued flight into adverse meteorological conditions beyond the performance capabilities of the aircraft." Freezing rain or the presence of clear ice may also be mentioned as contributing factors
.

Thanks for that information.
PERMA-PB&J? Atlantic Blog quips that school cafeterias have known for years how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that will keep for three years.
DIE FAHNE HOCH. Atlantic Blog reports on a campus appearance by Robert Fisk. "As the audience broke into a standing ovation, I went home. I had my whiff of a Nuremberg rally." Fisk, however, might be more entertaining than Michael Moore. Probably in better shape, marginally better dressed to be sure.

29.10.02

FULL FAITH AND CREDIT? "The occurrence of a chain of events leading the US to default on its own debt remains highly improbable, but it is no longer unthinkable," frets John Quiggin. It's a carefully reasoned post omitting only one thing: any default by the United States on any part of its debt owed to foreigners would knock the last props out from Social Security. It's much easier for the United States to default on that part of its debt owed to Social Security pensioners by means-testing, or raising the retirement age, or taxing benefits, or changing the cost of living formula. Why be obvious when you can be subtle?
AMNESTY UPDATE: "Apparently even the maligned George W Bush is not opposed to the principle of illegal immigrant amnesty," writes Catallaxy Files. Of course not. People who are willing to risk suffocation in railroad cars in order for the chance to bone beef or mow lawns or clean motel rooms might well be future entrepreneurs, and their grandchildren future venture capitalists. Read it here.
LET US ALL GIVE THANKS. Common Sense notes, "So it looks like the America wasn't exactly paradise for the natives before the Europeans came over." John proposes we celebrate Columbus Day. This descendant of Elder William Brewster also wishes all a happy Thanksgiving.
AMNESTY ALERT. "I figure anyone willing to make that trip because they want to become Americans ought to be allowed to stay," is InstaPundit's take on today's Haitian ship-jumping contest. I like it when the topic of immigration amnesty is in the news, particularly as all the theorem-proving on the latest paper is about done.
NOTICE OF SUSPENSION OF SERVICE The Superintendent notes with regret the closure of Amateur Economist. Cold Spring Shops hereby extends interchange privileges to all economics weblogs at Amateur Economist's blogroll.
BETA-TEST IT FIRST. Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith managed to raise the hackles of California Governor Gray Davis. Here's his brief summary of an incentive problem facing consumers of electric power:

"The typical consumer does not know how much he has purchased and what it will cost him until the end of the month when he gets his bill. If he should go to the trouble of looking at his meter at 3 p.m. on a hot summer day with the air conditioning on high, and the clothes dryer cranking away, he will note that the little monitoring wheels are spinning much faster than when he inspects it at 3 a.m."

And here, a suggestion:

"The nice thing is that technology is already available, or on the near horizon, that can make consumer demand as responsive to prices as consumers choose to make it when exposed to the reality of time-variable supply cost. In turn, a change in the pattern of investment in generator types will be encouraged. The need for peak plants that sit idle for most days of the year will be reduced."

In fact, such pricing methods are in place. Each summer, I sell Commonwealth Edison an option. They credit my electricity bill for $10 in each of June, July, and August. They have placed a switch on my central air conditioner. Should they wish, they can turn off my central air conditioner, and only my central air conditioner, for up to three hours. By turning off central air conditioners, they avoid having to turn on an expensive power plant (or buy on the spot market at a high price.)

The use of time-of-day pricing has lots of applications and analogies. An interesting new variant is a priority price at the amusement park: evidently for $10 a guest at Great America can buy the right to enter a shorter line at up to five rollercoasters. I'm going to have to look more carefully at this, but it suggests incurring the additional transaction costs to sort riders has become worth doing. A few years ago, it was the other way around, it's only people of a certain age who remember what "a real E ticket" used to refer to.
IST'S NICHT EIN HAUFEN MIST? AlterNet has speculation on whether or not Senator Paul Wellstone's plane crash might have been no accident. Read the story closely. Focus on the recurring references to "small plane." More likely, the reality is an accident. Senators charter small planes to get around (King Airs and similar executive turboprops are popular, Lear Jets are rare) because it is not fiscally responsible to charter a jet for a relatively small staff, and commercial air schedules, based on hub-and-spoke networks, don't work well for campaign swings. My brother has supplemented his income flying right seat on Wisconsin Senator Kohl's plane. Small planes are not inherently any less safe than any other kind of planes, but they are not fail safe. It might also be the case that the important passengers (or their pilots) have a serious case of get-home-itis, which my brother tells me is the single biggest killer of pilots. But asking the pilot to take a dive for the cause? We're talking about charter aircraft pilots, not zealots.
MEDIAN VOTERS. Noted by InstaPundit, independently rediscovered by Mickey Kaus, and clarified by Jacob Levy. Whether Islamo-fascism constitutes a secular challenge comparable to the Depression and Second World War, or whether it's the death rattle of a failed ideology, is likely to matter greatly in determining whether or not the current median voter remains the median for long.
POMO WATCH The Superintendent is considering Tightly Wound as a source of Company Mail.

27.10.02

UNREPENTANT LIBERAL? I'm listening to the noon show on WLS, with Nancy Skinner raising questions about the "unrepentant liberal" trope being applied to the late Paul Wellstone. Let us not speak ill of the dead, but let us note that the new Democratic candidate, Vice President Walter Mondale, has demonstrated growth in the years since his 1984 trouncing by Ronald Reagan, and one of the questions on Fox News this morning was about differences between Senator Wellstone and Vice President Mondale. Let us also note that Senator Wellstone is a former college professor, and there are plenty of college professors who encourage the sensibilities of college sophomores, without encouraging the intellectual development of sophomores, say into juniors, seniors, let alone deep thinkers.
GREATEST GOOD FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER? The story that the Russian police used a chemical weapon to put the Chechen terrorists to sleep, with substantial collateral damage, just won't go away.
A WORDS-L MOMENT. Atlantic Blog has a Silly Professor Alert (scroll down, the interchange tracks are not working again), this time taking down a dissenter "marginalized to the pages of the Washington Post. But she is brave, and she is confident that everyone is with her." But here's the Words-L moment (for those of you in Broward County, Bill Sjostrom, and I, and a number of our net friends, hung out there regularly, and we sometimes drop back in): "I have not met a single person who is confident about waging war on Iraq. A noted novelist recently asked me, 'Do you know anyone who's in favor of this war? I don't!'" If memory serves, a prominent personage on Words-L had the same reaction to John Anderson not winning the Presidency in 1980.
NO ONE ELECTED BUSH TO ATTACK IRAQ. Excuse me, William Pfaff, who elected Tim McVeigh to bomb the McMurrah office building, or Mohammed Atta to bomb One World Trade Center?
THIS GUY USED TO HAVE A VETO OVER TENURE AT A PROMINENT UNIVERSITY Retired Dean Hubert G. Locke is at it again.

"Everywhere one turns these days everyone is discussing the possibility of war -- and doing so with unconcealed anxiety. It is a pity of incalculable proportions that in a period of such widespread uncertainty -- with the nation buffeted by a shattered economy, awash in revelations of corporate greed, with the stock market in disarray and a pervasive dread about the prospect of having to face more acts of terror on our own soil -- that we should find ourselves in the hands of and at the mercy of national leaders with such a frighteningly perverse set of national aims and objectives."

Is it really unconcealed anxiety everywhere? Or have some of us reluctantly concluded that until there are constitutional republics in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia, we are not safe in our homes here. Is it really accurate to speak of a "shattered economy" in which unemployment rates are still lower than what some of the Wise Experts used to think was the non-inflation-accelerating rate of unemployment? Is it really any surprise that if tax dollars go for corporate welfare, that rent-seekers won't seek those rents? And if the equilibrium price of a stock is fifteen times permanent earnings, is it really disarray to see a restoration of equilibrium?

Dean Locke, do you owe promotion committees at the University of Washington an apology?
CUI BONO? Little Green Footballs discovers the re-issue of a humor piece that dates back to 1990. He performs a useful service, identifying French oil interests guess where?
MOTIVE-QUESTIONING: "Objective truth simply becomes a thing to jeer at, because obviously there's no such thing as objectivity—unless of course you're politically okay, in which case you can be objective. Any child can see through that, but many adults can't." Here it's Little Green Footballs spotting the phenomenon in light of reaction to Christopher Hitchens's recent work on George Orwell.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PROFESSIONALS AND THE AMATEURS. Gore Vidal's latest column has already attracted the notice of the usual suspects, with a fisking no doubt penned over morning coffee, and a statement of general principles available.

On the other hand, Fox News's Tony Snow simply read some of the more egregious paragraphs, then quipped something to the effect of "Now we know who is writing Woody Harrelson's material."
MUGGED BY REALITY? Daniel Drezner has a fisking of President Carter's latest New York Times essay.
IN DEFENSE OF FISKING. "Fisking isn't a waste of time. If you're doing it right, you'll be taking a mini-course in your subject through gathering info and rebuttals.

"Take these columns I write. When I get mail that elucidates, in a few lines, how much I "suck," I learn nothing. The letter writer probably learns nothing.

"But when I was Fisked last week by a member of Peace Project, I learned loads of new stuff. Having my arguments overrun like a French platoon forced me to go back and read through the articles I'd skimmed to make my points. Trying to rebut my accuser led me to reading stuff I'd never heard of.

"We all have midterms to study for and it may reasonably be said that doing any of this is a waste of time ... but I disagree. It's never a waste of time to wallow in your own ignorance and look for a way out. Getting in the habit of defending every little thing you say is a good way to weed stupid ideas out of your head
."

That's from a column by David Weigel at the Northwestern Chronicle.

The Superintendent wishes to thank Atlantic Blog for discovering that Northwestern Chronicle was back on line.

26.10.02

WHAT TURNING IS IT? Asparagirl has nightmares about her neighbors sleepwalking through history:

"In the past month, Islamic terrorists blew up a nightclub in Bali and killed hundreds of people, but it must have been because Australia is friendly with that evil pariah, America. Islamic terrorists blew up a French oil tanker in Yemen, but it must have been because France likes that evil pariah America...uh, wait, then it must have been an accident of some sort. Islamic terrorists have taken hundreds and hundreds of people in Russia hostage because...no, they're rebels, not terrorists. We will excise from all the media reports that they let all the Muslims in the audience go free. If we don't report it, it never happened. Islamic terrorists blew themselves up in Israel, killing many people, but it's Israel, so who gives a fuck, that happens there all the time, let's not waste our time there. A man with ties to radical Islam methodically killed people near the nation's capital from the backseat of his car, but as long as we don't know who he is, we will say he might be a terrorist and certainly nutters, but when we know who he is and who he has ties to, we will not say a thing and will refer to him by his former last name even if he does not. This is one month. This is quite normal.

"There is nothing to see here. And even if there were, if we pretend not to see it, surely it is not there. Every news conference will start with reassurances that you are safe, your community is safe, and please people, would you save your doubt and panic for those times when you wake up early in the morning and pretend it was the malted milk balls that are the problem
." Meanwhile, the Institute for American Values seeks peaceful coexistence and reasoning together:

"In a world threatened by violence and injustice, made anxious by war and discussions of war, and facing the grim prospect of religious and even civilizational polarization, is any task facing us as intellectuals from East and West more important than finding a time and place to reason together, in the hope of finding common ground on the dignity of the human person and the basic conditions for human flourishing?

"We earnestly wish to be a part of such a dialogue, with you and with other intellectuals from the Muslim world. We recognize that the only preconditions for participating in such an initiative are good will, the recognition of our common humanity, and the willingness and freedom to engage in critical introspection as well as careful criticism of others' views
."

Lest I mischaracterize the lengthy post, let me also quote,

"For example, speaking of those who murdered 3,000 innocent persons on September 11, you do not speak in your letter of perpetrators, but instead of "alleged perpetrators." These words sadden and disappoint us. Do you expect us to believe that you are not aware that 15 of the 19 murderers of September 11 were Saudis? Or that their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a Saudi? Or that their organization, al-Qa`ida, has for years received substantial financial support from sources in Saudi Arabia? Or that a high proportion of Qa`ida and Taliban fighters captured by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are Saudis? Or that the spread of violence by Islamist groups across the world, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to the United States, is clearly traceable, in part, to the ongoing financial, political, and religious support for such activities in your country?

"These facts are well known and are beyond empirical dispute. Yet your letter incorrectly suggests that these facts are not facts at all, but instead mere "allegations," and that this entire subject - who are these terrorists and who is supporting them? - is somehow irrelevant to the present crisis.

"We are aware of some of the possible reasons for your reluctance to discuss this issue. However, if we wrote to you suggesting that slavery was merely "alleged" to have once existed in our country, or that Native Americans only "allegedly" have been the victims of injustice, we suspect that you might reply, correctly, that such fundamental denials of reality render futile any attempt at honest communication. Accordingly, to continue productively our dialogue beyond this present letter, we ask you in good faith to address specifically your perspective on the important roles played by some members of your society in the attacks of September 11 and in the worldwide spread of violence perpetrated by groups citing Islamic sources as justification
."

Not quite a fisking, but not an abject surrender either.

So what Turning is it? My World Almanac list of birthdates of prominent people isn't a lot of help confirming, but I conjecture that the median age of signers of the Institute's letter is a lot higher than mine, or Asparagirl's. The relevant paragraph from Fourth Turning is two bullets at p. 253.

"The elder Artists, now appearing less flexible than indecisive, begin impeding the Prophets' values agenda.

The midlife Prophets, now filled with righteousness of conviction, grow impatient to lead society toward ever-deeper spiritual conversion
."

Not quite. The generational analysis in Fourth Turning breaks down, just a bit. There is a coalition of Silents and hippies (the latter being older Baby Boomers) insisting on talk, talk, talk, wait, wait, wait. There is a coalition of yuppies and preppies (younger Baby Boomers and older Thirteeners) posting most of the bellicose weblogs.
ACADEMIC INTEGRITY. The Big S is not impressed with Michael Belesille's farewell address. "Bellesilles in his inordinately long attempt at rescuing his obliterated reputation is saying he will explain all the descrepancies in the second edition of his book. Don't be surprised if instead of guns, he proves via probate records(miraculously recovered from the Chicago fire) that instead of guns, all Americans were armed with ray guns, and did not venture out at night, because vampires roamed the streets." Clayton Cramer, whose work has done much to batter Belesilles's reputation, is also downbeat. "There won't be any corks popping tonight at my house. My reaction to this is rather like watching a killer being executed: justice requires it, but it would have been far better if Bellesiles hadn't pulled this dishonest stunt--and if the academic community and mass media hadn't decided to play along with it.

"I've spent much of my spare time in the last two years gathering evidence on this matter, and writing two books (one now ready for publication, one still a ways out) refuting Bellesiles's nonsense. I have little confidence that either will ever get published, for the simple reason that Bellesiles can now parade around as a "victim" and publishers will simply choose to feel sorry for him
."

There is much more. Scroll down.
LEON KASS ON AIR. Professor Milton Rosenberg of the University of Chicago hosts the Extension 720 talk show, 2100-2300 Central Standard Time, on WGN radio, Chicago. Monday's guest is his colleague, Professor Leon Kass, and the topic of conversation will be Kass's new book, Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics. Listeners in most of the United States will be able to pick up this show on the AM band, 720 kHz, or listen online. Professor Rosenberg takes some emails from listeners, particularly listeners at a distance, as well as a few carefully-screened calls.

IST'S NICHT EIN HAUFEN MIST? "'Everyone was looking for a white car with white people.' Get that? There's a word for this: racial profiling." That's Andrew Sullivan on the rash assumption many commentators made about the Washington, DC sniper. To be sure, the blogosphere has been all over this story, as Common Sense and Wonder has noted, complete with a link to a Michelle Malkin column of several weeks ago that was on point, and Seth Gitell has a column in the Boston Phoenix.

So far, I have not seen any suggestions that the commentators who used the angry white guy trope be given diversity training, which is good. I do, however, have one suggestion for any commentator who wants to use the angry white guy trope. Just sit. Take a deep breath. Then reflect: Why do they hate us so? Have I given them cause to be angry?

25.10.02

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "I am the product of a Jesuit education, and institutions like the Jesuits and the Marines have for generations produced impressive intellectual and motivational results by undermining the self- esteem of recruits." That's a bit of autbiography in a Dinesh D'Souza column recommended by Joanne Jacobs, whose prescription for a mugging by reality I reproduce here. "Eventually, their inflated self-esteem will be punctured by reality. Better to let students struggle, learn from their failures and take pride in real achievements."

Amen.
MEASURING INPUTS IS NOT MEASURING OUTPUT. Joanne Jacobs has an item headed "Money doesn't buy excellence." It's about the dismal return on investment realized in the government schools. The Superintendent wishes to remind people that advocates of the government schools frequently object to vouchers on the grounds that to do so is to take money away from the government schools. The report Jacobs links to makes the point that the additional money spent on the government schools has produced ... nothing.

There is one consolation. Apparently Garrison Keillor could say, "and all the children are above average," and be telling the truth. "Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota and Iowa had the top-performing K-12 schools. Mississippi, the District of Columbia, and Louisiana ranked at the bottom."
REVENGE OF THE NERDS? This Jeff Koterba cartoon has it about right.
BETA TESTING? What is the simplest explanation for two apparently homeless guys running around with a sniper rifle? More coverage and links at InstaPundit. Developing....
BREAKING NEWS Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, three campaign workers, and two pilots died in a plane crash on their way to a funeral of the father of an Iron Range state senator. Our condolences to the families and friends.
BREAKING NEWS Michael Belesilles has resigned from the Emory faculty. Instapundit has linked to the primary sources.

24.10.02

A BEACON TO ALL HUMANITY. Recommended reading at Ranting Screeds.
$100 ON THE SIDEWALK? Scrapple Face discovers a new form of soaking the rich. "Across the nation, the rich are coming forward with their painful stories. Tens of thousands of dollars wasted on shining rocks and glittering metals. Millions squandered on oversized homes, and underused private jets. And almost all of that money goes to middle and lower class workers." The post is probably intended to be funny, but it makes a serious point. And that serious point goes the other way in a couple of ways. First, the great commercial successes of the past 100 years or so have been those businesses that figured out improved ways of serving the middle and working classes. Sears, Ford, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, McDonald's come to mind. Second, one of my pet investing stories is what I call the English Countess's Charwoman Theory of Investing. Got it from an old version of How to Buy Stocks years ago. The countess, in the course of making small talk with her hired help, discovered what products they, and their neighbours, were buying, what entertainments were popular, what the children were eating. She did a little research, and bought the stocks of those companies, and increased the value of the estate.

22.10.02

BUYING OPPORTUNITY? Brad DeLong offers the possibility.
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Brad DeLong suggests a pitch-hit timer and a modification of the intentional walk rule. His thinking is these two reforms would speed up the game. Don't know about the second as there might be ways of committing the intentional unintentional walk, using mixed strategies. Consider in particular the baseball wisdom of taking the 3-0 pitch, as offering on it leads to pop-ups.
VIRGINIA POSTREL is back with her usual assortment of goodies. I particularly liked her link to Daniel Pink's takedown of Washington, D.C.'s baby naming policy. As Dave Barry or Anna Russell would put it, "I'm not making this up, you know."
ARGUMENTAM AD MISERICORDIAM. The lead editorial in Tuesday's Northern Star makes a case for tuition relief, or something. (I don't intend to make a practice of commenting on editorials in college newspapers, but this one raises a number of questions.)

"We went to school here and used government money to help fund our education, so why can’t we give some of that back? As reported in the Chicago Tribune, the College Board said the national average for tuition and fees at four-year public institutions, such as NIU, has increased by an average of $4,081, a rise of 9.6 percent from last year.

"Because tuition and fees have increased over the last year, the number of those who apply for federal grants, like Pell grants, has increased.
"

I'm not sure I follow the first sentence, but the rest of the argument is clear enough: college has become more expensive, thus more people seek help in paying for it.

"Yet, the federal funding available for such grants has been decreasing, forcing more students to look to banks for student loans."

So far, so straightforward. Looks like substitution at work: when one good isn't available, look for something else that does something similar.

"As a result, there has been less money coming from schools and the government for students to get their hands on."

I don't follow this part of the argument either. It's not an "as a result," it's a substitution.

"When that happens, banks basically can say you have to use their funds, which require interest on the money, therefore, the bank gets more money than it gave you. The banks don’t seem to have a problem with this, and it’s good that they have started to pick up the slack in providing student loans."

For reasons that will become clear shortly.

"However, then banks make and keep the money. It is not reinvested in any institution. In a perfect world, the money would be going back to the university and government"

Here is a nasty form of the Complex Question. First, the money is in fact reinvested. Banks lend money that depositors lend them. Second, the authors have invoked a perfect world, without first spelling out their standard of perfection. Is it any less perfect for repayments of student loans to make Granny's retirement a little more comfortable, which is what happens when Granny draws interest on the savings she left with the bank, which the bank then lent to students?

"What’s keeping us from that ideal is the small number of people investing in the institution that invested in them. And that number continues to get smaller."

I don't follow this at all: where is this return of an investment coming from?

"The College Board reported that a record $90 billion in student financial aid, including loans, was given out in the 2001-2002 school year. That’s an 11 percent increase compared to the 2000-2001 school year."

Not only that, we have a confusion of number with proportion. We have an 11 percent increase in financial aid, a less than 10 percent increase in tuitions on average, and an unspecified increase in enrollment in college. The authors have not ruled out an increase either in the proportion or in the absolute number of people "investing in the institution," whatever that means. And we are about to see why banks might be interested in writing college loans, rather than lending money for cars.

"The Board also estimated those with a college degree can expect to make $1 million more throughout their careers than those with only a high school diploma."

Suggesting that a portfolio of student loans is a better investment than a portfolio of auto loans to high school graduates.

"If that is the case, then some of that money surely can go back to the university or be offered through federal programs to help keep education costs down for college students."

It is certainly in the interest of a student, or of anyone else confronting the obligation to pay for something, to seek ways of paying less. But it sounds like a particularly obnoxious form of special pleading to ask Granny on her pension, or those high school graduates who stand to make less money, to dig deeper and pay more taxes simply to ease the path to those larger salaries. In other contexts, such policies might well be viewed as giving to the rich.

"The way to combat increasing college costs is to know which politicians lobby for money for higher education. There are some elected representatives interested in helping institutions of higher education weather poor economic times and expand during good ones, and students need to recognize these people and support them."

That really doesn't do anything about college costs: the value of a resource depends on the use to which its owner puts it. It does reduce the price students pay, and it's certainly not wrong for students to advocate such policies. By the same token, it's not wrong for a professor to say: Look, you stand to gain a great deal by obtaining your degree, and it is my responsibility to help. Share some of the gains you expect to make with me. That I am not advocating the bribery of professors is left to the reader as an exercise.

"So, not doing your homework will cost you in the long run."

And in the short: I also leave the grade this essay would have earned to the reader as an exercise.
CENSORSHIP BY ANY OTHER NAME? Northern Star editor Barbara Bystryk discovers the dirty little secret behind campus free speech zones. She is not pleased. "All of NIU’s campus should be declared a free speech zone," she recommends.

Amen.

21.10.02

THE SECRET IS OUT: "Most of the students at our "best" universities aren't really that bright. The small liberal arts colleges and the Ivy leagues are good enough, but it's schools like UCLA, Berkeley, Michigan, and Boston University that, while they certainly have their share of talented people, carry what I like to call the diploma-chasers. These students aren't intellectually interesting, they aren't even interested in being intellectually interesting. They certainly aren't in school to study - they're in school because their parents told them to go or because they don't want to work yet or because they recognize that the only way to get a decent job (according to their values) is to get a college degree. They show up and do the minimum amount of work necessary to get through and get their diploma, usually in something like Psychology, English, Sociology, Poli Sci, or Communications. (Perfectly respectable majors, but they do seem to be magnets for collegiate detritus) Maybe this happens because we are turning education into a commodity, or maybe it has always been thus." So argues Highered Intelligence in a rebuttal (neither misting nor fisking) of an unfocused piece by Leslie Lenkowsky.
THE VANISHING MIDDLE? "The Census Bureau data show that on an inflation-adjusted basis, households in the middle quintile of the income distribution today have the income level that the quintile above them enjoyed 30 years ago. How does this help make Krugman's case that we are losing the middle class?" asks Arnold Kling. Jane Galt commends Kling's article as a shorter version of her thorough response to Paul Krugman's recent article on economic inequality.
DOUBLE-TAXATION OF DIVIDENDS dissected at Tech Central Station by Hilary Kramer and Stephen W. Stanton.
Packers expect Favre to play next game.
NO BREAKTHROUGH. The two men arrested this morning in connection with the Washington, D.C. sniper investigation have been cleared of any involvement, but are subject to deportation. There is one encouraging development in this story. As long as people are willing to take the risks of deportation, or risk suffocation in a freight car to come here, just to cut lawns or debone meat, the propaganda about the United States being hopelessly hostile to the peoples of the Third World rings just a bit hollow.

Disclosure: I have a vested interest in amnesties for illegal immigrants being newsworthy.
OBVIOUSLY A MAJOR MALFUNCTION. Peter Wood has returned to faculty at Boston University, but remains as alert as ever to poseurs. Specifically, "Every few years, we shake ourselves awake and focus on school reform for a while and then, finding the problem intractable, turn our attention elsewhere. But a major reason that the problem is intractable is that most teachers come into the profession via schools of education that have low admissions standards, hapless faculty members, vapid curricula, and no real accountability." Just go read the whole thing.
PROCESS, NUANCE, FAILURE. Andrew Sullivan (scroll down) has a "what he said" endorsement of Max Boot's "The Consequences of Clintonism." Sullivan's key point: "Bill Clinton's policies - not his person or his private life or anything else - but his policies left the world a far more dangerous place than when he took office. History will judge him brutally for what he has done to damage world peace. He may have meant well; but we must live with the consequences."

Boot's summation: "There's a good argument to be made that peace based on threats and fear has proven to be much more durable than peace based on niceness and wishful thinking. After all, it was through threats and fear--and actual violence--that the Allies won World War II, thereby converting Japan and Germany from militarism to pacifism. It was also through threats and fear that Ronald Reagan helped to bring down the Evil Empire and end the Cold War, thereby promoting "fraternity between nations" and "the abolition or reduction of standing armies," two of the achievements the Nobel Peace Prize is intended to honor.
But [former Nobel Committee Chairman Francis] Sejersted is having none of it. Such a peace, he argues, "takes us back to deterrence and the terror balance. Ought peace of that kind to be honoured?" His answer is an emphatic no, because "it certainly does not correspond to Nobel's conceptions of disarmament and fraternisation." Perhaps not. But do Alfred Nobel's conceptions correspond with how to achieve peace in the real world? On this question, the Nobel committee is silent. Perhaps the ever-voluble Bill Clinton has some thoughts to share on this pressing subject
."
NOTICE OF INTENTION TO ABANDON? "Posting will be light for the indefinite future" reports the Amateur Economist.
LYAPUNOV'S SECOND METHOD, ANYONE? Juan Non-Volokh cross-references two Brad DeLong posts on the Economics Nobel, one noting that awards recognize fields of study, the other taking the time to cite the award itself.

With respect to the first post, I recall some people in regional science suggesting that if public choice theory deserved a Nobel (James Buchanan), so did regional science (with Walter Isard as their candidate). Paul Krugman's recent professional work on suburbanization suggests there is still a discipline called regional science.

The open research question Vernon Smith's comment ("theory is incomplete, particularly in articulating convergence processes in time and in ignoring decision costs") addresses is one with lots of potential. Austrian economists like to discuss market process, but dislike mathematics. Convergence proofs are simpler with a lot of predetermined information.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT Here is the closing paragraph of the latest weekly essay from Andrew Sullivan: "This negativism matters. When you have a movement based on resentment, when you have a political style that is as bitter as it is angry, when your rhetoric focuses not on those who are murdering partiers in Bali or workers in Manhattan, but on those democratic powers trying to defend and protect them, then your fate is cast. A politics of resentment is a poisonous creature that slowly embitters itself. You should not be surprised if the most poisonous form of resentment that the world has ever known springs up, unbidden, in your midst."
COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES. Daniel Drezner has a simple explanation for recently-laid off financial services workers using their unemployment benefits for purposes other than seeking new employment.
MR. GORBACHEV, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL! "But we know from history that the moment a tyrant begins to relax his grip, forces are unleashed that he can find hard to control." Andrew Sullivan has more on the amnesty of prisoners in Iraq.
NO COMMANDER ERRS BY PLACING HIS SHIP ALONGSIDE THAT OF THE ENEMY. Interesting twist on an old maxim, reported by Geov Parrish.
DAVID WARSH'S October 20 column is up.
GOOD NAME FOR A FIGHTING SHIP. Atlantic Blog offers a proposal to name a ship USS Flight 93. Excellent proposal: I too will be writing The Honorable Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, DC 20350-1000 with that suggestion.

Currently carriers bear the names of high government officials (John Stennis, Ronald Reagan), but they used to be named after battles (mostly now guided missile cruisers, e.g. Yorktown, Saratoga), and destroyers are often named for individual heroes (Reuben James, The Sullivans.)

20.10.02

COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS: "In particular, an economic determinism and reductionism that merely depicts globalization as the continuation of market capitalism fails to comprehend the new forms and modes of capitalism itself which are based on novel developments in science, technology, culture, and everyday life," writes Professor Douglas Kellner of UCLA (motto: On! Wisconsin!). Here's the closing paragraph:

"Thus, in opposition to the globalization-from-above of corporate capitalism, I would advocate a globalization-from-below, which supports individuals and groups using the new technologies to create a more multicultural, egalitarian, democratic, and ecological globalization. Of course, the new technologies might exacerbate existing inequalities in the current class, gender, race, and regional configurations of power and give the major corporate forces powerful new tools to advance their interests. In this situation, it is up to people of good will to devise strategies to use the new technologies to promote democratization and social justice. For as the new technologies become ever more central to every domain of everyday life, developing an oppositional technopolitics in the new public spheres will become more and more important (see Kellner 1995a, 1995b, 1997, and 2000). Changes in the economy, politics, and social life demand a constant rethinking of politics and social change in the light of globalization and the technological revolution, requiring new thinking as a response to ever-changing historical conditions."

Looks like the fallacy of insufficient options at work. The whole paper is long and full of pomo-babble, it's unlikely that I'll read it in any detail. Thanks to Jane Galt for calling this guy to my attention.
ECONOMICS NOBEL UPDATE: "After you've done a couple of years in a department full of economists, you'll start to appreciate the lobsters more," according to Jane Galt. Her main point is straightforward: "[Although] we need a more complex model for markets than we're currently using, it also means that government regulation is not the automatic solution to the problem."
RELIABLE SOURCES? Little Green Footballs characterizes a Debka report of an Osama sighting "in the wildest, most inhospitable regions of Saudi Arabia, the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, and Najran on the Yemen frontier." This area of the world is 220,000 square miles (a bit smaller than Texas) and mostly undeveloped. This time of year, it also gets cool quickly after sunset. I have no doubt that US intelligence reads Debka. If the information is true, and goes un-acted upon, that is not good. If the information is true, isn't this an easier haystack to sift through than the mountains of Afghanistan?
FOURTH TURNING ALERT: How else to characterize Daniel Henninger's "A politics of concern may be enough to assure some people that their own lives will be as untouched today by anti-civilization as they were all day yesterday. But it does appear that for a much larger majority of Americans, looking back on a week of slaughter, something sturdier is going to be needed to preserve where we are," or Paul Johnson's "It is worth recalling that the dispirited democratic societies of the 1930s were similarly reluctant to take arms against the growing dictators of the period. They behaved like ostriches, and the mentality prevails today in countries emotionally drained by lack of economic dynamism."
IDEAS THAT UNITE AMERICANS. Joanne Jacobs has the National Endowment for the Humanities on board with Dave Kirkpatrick and Diane Ravitch. Sounds pretty Fourth Turning to me.
WHAT'S UP WITH THESE POET LAUREATES? Now California's has resigned.
SIR, I BELIEVE YOU DROPPED THIS. The Washington Redskins got five first downs by penalty in the first half, and Brett Favre suffered a knee sprain being sacked in the third quarter. Packers 30, Redskins 9, and next Sunday is the bye week. Get well, Brett. Doug Pedersen looked solid in relief.
YANKEE GO HOME. Or not. Tim Blair discovers the United Nations.
ANY PERSON WHO SHALL MONOPOLIZE: ScrappleFace says, "That goes for you, too, Uncle Sam."
SORRY. In the absence of Pundit Watch, all I have to offer for today is a great quote by National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice, on Wolf Blitzer's noon segment. She saw some tape of Harry Belafonte make a disparaging remark about her to Larry King, noted that debate over serious topics such as war was important, then said, "I don't need Harry Belafonte to tell me what it means to be black."
LET A HUNDRED FLOWERS BLOOM. Daniel Drezner has a host of good information, including links to research, about inventiveness on the shop floor and in the home office.

18.10.02

SPECIALIZATION AND TRADE Professor Gutman, I wouldn't venture into literary criticism. Since you have chosen to play Economics with me, for what you are about to receive, give thanks.

"So why has the rumor of war taken over the front pages? First, there is 11 September. The American psyche was profoundly altered by the events of that day when terrorism became a reality and not just a distant threat. The need to protect the nation against eruptions of violence within its borders, has deep resonance. Yet the unhappy truth for the Bush Administration is that its onslaught against Al-Qaeda has not gone well. After an initial victory over the Taliban — a “lesson” taught that those who harbor terrorists will suffer grave consequences — the war on terrorism has had few triumphs to trumpet. Osama bin Laden has not been caught; his purported worldwide network has not been exposed."

Right. It's a bit difficult to catch pink mist. Perhaps you ought to get out among the public. Read InstaPundit or Greatest Jeneration or Little Green Footballs. You might find the Rottweiler to provide transgressive hermeneutics that you wouldn't find in Social Text.

(text slipped at Reading)

"In the past four years, the USA lost two million manufacturing jobs, 10 per cent of its manufacturing work force. One in five jobs in the care industry was lost, one in three jobs in textile manufacture. The number of people living in poverty as well as those without health insurance are up. So too are personal bankruptcies. Unemployment is rising, long-term unemployment is going up even more rapidly. A ballyhooed “economic recovery” is nowhere in sight."

Plenty of blame to go around here. Also plenty of deception. Have jobs moved out of manufacturing, not because of runaway shops or capitalist greed, but because the Census now classifies some formerly manufacturing industries as information industries, or as service industries? (Time permitting, I will post this information. Your researches are invited). The use of the term "number" is deceptive as well: as a proportion of the population, have the rates of poverty or the rates of uninsured been rising? Is that even something to worry about? Based on income, retiring members of the Silent Generation might well be classified as poor, but based on their asset holdings, they're rich. Because the large Millennial Generation is coming of working age, we would expect the proportion of what you call uninsured workers to rise, simply because insurance is a poor investment for younger workers without dependent children. Or are you pining for the days when labor force participation by young women was low?

"The most stark and stunning news appears on the financial pages, where the daily reports of stumbling stock prices are listed. Stocks, of course, are not the economy: but they are an index to both what is happening, and what is to come. Yet the newspapers these days address them merely as a daily phenomenon, not as a narrative of historical dimension. The aggregate numbers of the declining stock market are stunning. But they are either buried deep in the financial section or not reported at all."

Paul Samuelson has quipped that the stock market has called nine of the past five recessions. Or something to that effect. And to claim that this information is not reported at all is a lie. Find the archives of the Drudge Report for the days the Dow Industrials dropped by 300 points.

"By the close of the third quarter of 2002, the Dow-Jones average, America’s most widely cited measure of the valuation of its major corporations, had dropped 32.7 per cent since its high on 11 April 2000. Thus, it lost almost one-third of its value. In the great stock market crash of 1929, The Dow Industrial index fell 48 per cent over two months, but thereafter it rallied for the next for five months. So although the fall in stock prices of the nation’s largest corporations is not as precipitous as it was then, it is nonetheless steep, even by historical proportions."

Similarly, the unemployment rate in August is one that Jimmy Carter would have forfeited all claims to the Nobel Peace Prize for, could he have arranged it in September of 1980. And stocks trade, historically, at fifteen times permanent earnings. It pays to think through what Alan Greenspan meant, back in 1996, when he made that "irrational exuberance" speech.

"The Standard and Poor 500 index, a broader measure, has done even worse. It has fallen 46.4 per cent since 24 March 2000. Since the S&P index has been in existence since 1923, it can provide a reasonable comparative measure of historical trends. The 46 per cent decline is only 1½ per cent away from the biggest dip registered since the depth of the Great Depression, in 1937-39 and already the longest-lasting one since the bear (declining) market of 1938-1942."

See above.

"The numbers get even worse if we look at the Nasdaq, the market on which most emerging stocks are listed. On 10 March 2000 it was at 5048; at the end of the third quarter of 2002 it stood at 1182. That is a drop, from peak to current trough, of 76.8 per cent. Compare that with the drop between 29 October 1929 (“Black Thursday”) and the bottom of the Depression market, on 8 July 1932, a period when the market declined 89 per cent. Seventy-seven per cent is not far from 89 per cent — and the Nasdaq is still plunging."

Yes, and during 1999 and 2000, those NASDAQ stocks that had earnings traded at 300 to 1000 times earnings. I didn't buy any of those stocks. Did you?

"One could try to minimize this staggering loss by suggesting that the Nasdaq is a more speculative market than the New York Stock Exchange. But in the past decade, many of the nation’s fastest growing and most successful companies were listed there. Four of the top 10 corporations in market capitalization— Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel and Oracle — were on the Nasdaq. In simple terms, a great deal of the money invested in US corporations was in Nasdaq-listed stock, which lost over three-quarters of its value in the past two-plus years."

Yes, and we're still having a conversation about whether or not the antitrust difficulties Microsoft and Intel encountered made any sense, as economics or as policy. Those difficulties will affect the expectations of future earnings, whether valued at fifteen or fifteen-hundred times those earnings.

(slip ...)

"What does the huge decline in stock prices mean for America’s ability to fund the proposed war in Iraq and its consequent occupation? Senator Ted Kennedy recently estimated the war would cost $100-200 billion. But when the stock market plunges, so do tax revenues. According to figures compiled by the US Congress, capital gains taxes amounted to $129 billion in fiscal 2001. Rising stocks lead to profit taking; when investors take a profit, they pay taxes on it. Falling stock prices mean that the taxes formerly realized from capital gains taxes are no longer available."

Absolutely nothing. President Franklin Roosevelt was able to finance victory in World War II, despite a bearish stock market. Buy War Bonds. At least you're not suggesting that there will be war profiteers to pay the capital gains tax. Progress among "progressives." I like that.

"A fiscally hard-pressed government — and the USA’s surplus of $127 billion in 2001 is already predicted to be a deficit of $157 billion by the end of 2002 — will not be able to fund both a war and social services. So social services will be slashed."

Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps we will have a serious conversation about what those social services are. Does it make sense to provide subsidies to the middle-class and the rich in the form of low tuitions at state universities? Does it make sense to provide subsidized water to rice farmers in the desert, and to raise the price of corn and of sugar, by excluding African agricultural products from our markets? Does it make sense to subsidize the use of automobiles, by providing matching funds for local road construction?
SPELL OUT YOUR MODEL, PLEASE. Seth Sandronsky is not happy with the current state of affairs:

"President Bush just signed the Iraqi resolution plan for a preemptive and unilateral attack on that country, but that probably won’t improve the souring U.S. job market. Progressives, take note.

Shouldn't that be "idiotarian progressives?" I expect that there are some socialists, and some liberals, and some self-styled "progressives," who will take note of the non-sequitur in that lede.

"Currently, the administration is bringing its full weight to bear on the U.N. Security Council to legitimate U.S. military action against Iraq. Meanwhile, the number of people out of work in September was basically the same as it was in August, according to the Labor Department."

Let's see, if the number of people out of work is basically the same, and the labor force is basically larger, the unemployment rate is falling. Do the arithmetic.

(text slipped at Reading)

"For example, protecting the U.S. public against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein doesn’t change the fact that the economic slowdown is forcing businesses to hold back on hiring. When the growth of profits slows, the hiring of workers slows."

Why should it? That's also a non-sequitur. Let's have a serious debate on whether there is a risk of Saddam's weapons-of-mass-destruction being used on these shores, which WILL have a deleterious effect on the growth of profits, and WILL render moot the hiring of those workers we will refer to as DEAD.

(text slipped at Taunting)

"What is our vision of a civilized society based on social cooperation, not the private competition of all against all and each against all? How should peace activists encourage the U.S. public to consider capitalism and its wars, national security and economic insecurity?"

Tell you what, provide me some specifics of this vision, and I shall be happy to consider them. Until then, I shall continue to see what you call "private competition of all against all" the simplest and most effective way of securing social cooperation. People respond to incentives.
BLOOD ON PRESIDENT CARTER'S HANDS? Foreign Policy in Focus contributor Stephen Zunes observes, "the sad truth was that his administration was a disaster when it came to the areas for which he is now best known: peace, international law and human rights."
RECOMMENDED ECONOMICS READING I have recently received David Henderson's The Joy of Freedom and Charles Wheelan's Naked Economics. Extended comments likely in future. Too many deadlines (the Illinois Economic Association's student paper contest is tomorrow, and I'm session organizer) and too many distractions (a box of passenger car kits delivered today) to read these both tonight, as I am sometimes able to do.

Both books offer the observation that economics, as taught by most professors, isn't presented well, and the really challenging stuff (sex, death, and why the lines are longest at the rollercoaster) gets crowded out by 2000 definitions, arc-elasticity versus point-elasticity, tangencies and intersections, blah blah blah. One day, the profession will take the time to read and understand what Becker and Walstad, Siegfried and Hansen, et. al. have been telling us for years. Or not. Job Openings for Economist is chock full of position announcements with the usual boilerplate about equal opportunity, affirmative action, protected status persons encouraged to apply, oh yes, don't forget that solid publication record.
MOTIVE-QUESTIONING and other logical follies, at length, at Light of Reason. There's stuff about Michael Belesilles, and about Ann Coulter, but without pictures.
DELUDED MIDDLE? Norah Vincent is back, exposing a masquerade by the Leftover Left. (Via Light of Reason.)
AOL CD SPAM? Common Sense and Wonder link to No More AOL CDs, who are collecting a million disks, with the purpose of returning them to AOL along with a simple request. Stop it. I have one of the new disks, in the metal box, that I will be sending for the collection.
STUPID NOBEL TRICKS? Amateur Economist reports that Nobel Laureate Robert A. Mundell appeared Thursday night on David Letterman's show.
PROFSCAM REDUX: Cranky Professor observes, "The cover over the plantation system that is 'higher education' in America is twitched off again
." Specifically, there is a strike by adjunct faculty at several of the University of California locations.
COFFEE CYCLES "Are you puzzled why wholesale coffee prices have dropped so much? Are you even more puzzled why the fancy latte you had this morning is still so damned expensive?", asks Atlantic Blog. He refers readers to a classroom-friendly study done by Miriam Wasserman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

I see $100 on the sidewalk, for someone alert enough to deal with the following realities.

1. The demand for coffee (as is true of foodstuffs in general and addictive foodstuffs in particular) is price-inelastic.
2. The short- and long-run elasticities of supply for coffee (as is true of any crop that grows on trees) are also quite low.
3. Vietnam has become a major producer of coffee for export (we'll co-opt the last communist, and he'll sell us the coffee that's served at the signing).

Taken together, there is the potential for great instability in coffee prices. But a cobweb cycle? I kid you not: "In the current price slump, enough farmers will eventually be driven out of business that the price of coffee will likely rise again. That means another potential shortage is looming in the future, particularly for the higher-quality coffees that are more costly to produce. And this shortage may drive prices high enough to encourage overproduction once again.
"It is not clear whether, or perhaps more aptly, when, this damaging cycle will repeat itself. What is clear is that new and better solutions are needed to help diminish the human price, a price that is now being paid mostly by the most vulnerable workers in already poor countries
." Isn't it the case that for each cobweb cycle, there is an arbitrage strategy by which someone can profit and end the cycle?
LONG MEMORIES. Who said, "North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb. We have to be very firm about it," and when did he say it? Answer here.

17.10.02

PARLOR CARS: "Shaq-sized reclining seats, computer terminals, sound systems and cable TV. They are designed to haul business types between the two cities with the ease and comfort that disappeared on airlines about the time the last Pan Am Clipper went out of service." A description of a parlor car?

For those of you born after the moon landing, a parlor car offers larger seats, an attendant to keep your highball glass filled, and preboarding at major stations. The railroads used to offer this service on day trains: usually the parlor car was separated from the masses riding up front in coach by the dining car, and sometimes the parlor car provided a stunning view through large picture windows as shown here. (The beauty shown in the middle used to offer riders a view of Chicago receding in the horizon at 100 mph, whirling toward Milwaukee in 75 minutes, behind a steam locomotive riding on jointed rails and protected by semaphore signals and alert men in the towers, but that's a rant for another day.) What Amtrak calls its Pacific Parlour Car is more properly called the first-class lounge, and serious overnight trains have one in order that the carriage trade does not have to occupy the lounge provided for the coach passengers.

The parlor car described in the first paragraph, however, is a bus. There are some bus operators who call their service parlor car service, and the concept has caught on as a way to deal with airport hassles. InstaPundit linked to a Brock Yates column that discovers bus operators eating the airlines' lunch on shorter trips. More comfortable, no security hassles, often faster door-to-door.

Now if someone would connect the dots between deregulating bus transportation (which means Greyhound cannot protest the startup of new services) and the emergence of these services. Perhaps there's an economics research topic or six here.
RESERVATION PRICES Volokh Conspiracy recommended Eric Cox's column on the Economics Nobel Prizes. Cox provides excerpts from an otherwise unattributed Los Angeles Times [Superintendent's note: embargoed account ridiculous registration screens] article that offers, "In a demonstration inspired by [Kahneman and his collaborator's] writings, University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler gave one group coffee mugs and a second group money, then offered to buy mugs from the first and sell mugs to the second. Classical theory would predict that students selling the mugs would ask for about the same price as the buyers would be willing to pay. But, in fact, the sellers asked for twice as much." Somehow, that doesn't surprise me. Sellers have lower reservation prices and gain by the receipt of any price above that price. We torture undergraduates with something called producer surplus, often obscuring the fundamental point. (If I've obscured the fundamental point here please advise.) Buyers have upper reservation prices and gain by paying any price below that price. Here the instrument of torture is called consumer surplus. Negotiation between a buyer and a seller leads to a (not necessarily unique) price that divides the consumer and producer surplus in some way. There's another instrument of torture called bilateral monopoly that I could pull out of my dunge^H^H^H^H^H kit here. Negotiation among multiple buyers and multiple sellers, with rapid discovery of the prices agreed to by others, leads to a single price that divides the consumer surplus and producer surplus among buyers and sellers in such a way that any further change in the price increases (decreases) consumer surplus by decreasing (increasing) producer surplus: thus, no mutually beneficial bargains remain.

And that's what U.S. News missed. Returning to Cox, "With regard to this experiment, the U.S. News story went so far as to claim that 'Adam Smith's invisible hand would have smacked the sellers over the head — classical economics says the right price is what people are willing to pay'." No, and Cox has it exactly right in his response. If the right institutions are in place, people will have incentives to do the right thing. Vernon Smith's experiments support the hypothesis that sufficiently informed traders, trading in competitive conditions, allocate resources efficiently. Take away the competitive conditions, under carefully controlled experimental protocols, and traders allocate resources as efficiently as they can, given the constraints. That line of research supports hypotheses that have been derived under the most rigorous of mathematical reasoning that economists can muster (and it's a sobering thought that almost all the central mathematical theorems economic theorists rely on come in the first chapter of a good text on real analysis.)

Something about the commentary on this year's Nobels recalls the Ronald Coase award a few years ago. Many observers took Coase's work to imply the superiority of market institutions over other forms of regulation. Not so. Coase argued that in the absence of transaction costs, assigning ownership of resources mattered less for purposes of resource allocation than dividing the gains from trade. The insight is in thinking about what is different if there are transaction costs, or if ownership of some things (the right to dock a ship, for example) is more easily established than other things (the right to observe a navigation beacon, i.e. a lighthouse). There's something similar in the Edward Lazarus quote that set off Juan Non-Volokh, "that human beings frequently do not act as the kind of supremely rational actors ordinarily posited in economic theory." I believe it was Harold Demsetz who once quipped that people would certainly use steel differently if they could get it costlessly, and why would information be any different?
FOURTH TURNING ALERT: A Fourth Turning is that period of history in which a civilization faces one big crisis, during which ideals are championed. N. Z. Bear's comments on the Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto certainly have that ring to them. Consider first

"WE SHALL study closely the statements and actions of our elected officials and candidates. Recognizing that this conflict is the defining crisis of our age and a danger which renders all other issues secondary, we shall judge our politicians first and foremost by their stance on this war. We pledge to cast our ballots for those leaders who we believe are best suited to guide our civilization through this crisis, regardless of disagreements we may hold with them on other issues." If, indeed, the struggle with Islamofascism is The Big Problem (much as World War II was at the end of the previous Fourth Turning), that values regime that best is able to conduct that struggle will govern for the duration of the struggle. The Republicans in the United States are acting as if Islamofascism is the big problem. The Democrats are not yet there. I am not yet convinced that the Democrats are being postseasonal (continuing to act as if it's 1993) or the Republicans preseasonal (which, historically, they have not been since 1860.)

"WE SHALL apply our powers of persuasion to the fight; pouring our passion into our writings and striving to convince those who still doubt. We pledge to argue not for the beauty of our own rhetoric; not for the applause and admiration of our colleagues, but to lend clarity to the critical debates that face our civilization. We shall strive to ensure that our conviction does not overwhelm our own humility, and will remember that sometimes, the path we initially believe is right will be proved wrong. Some questions which face us now present obvious solutions; with others, the course is less clear. Through honest, open, and impassioned debate, we will provide the heat --- and light --- in which our civilization's decisions may be forged.

"WE SHALL watch. We shall consider carefully, and argue wisely, to the best of our abilities. We will exercise the very rights which our enemies would see taken from us: to speak freely, and to choose leaders who will represent and defend us
."

These two paragraphs clearly champion ideals. In a Fourth Turning, those decisions quite often forge a new social contract. Previous Fourth Turnings brought Independence, Emancipation, and V-E and V-J days. These promise to be interesting times.

16.10.02

HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER. Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto. Relax, there aren't 99 points to it, and you don't have to go to a church door to read it. (Via InstaPundit.)
THOUGHTFUL HETERODOX ECONOMICS at D-Squared Digest.
THE PACKERS, THE CAR LINES, AND THE PEOPLE. Brad DeLong delivered a keynote address to an investors conference at Pebble Beach. He draws some analogies between the long-distance network of today and the railroads of 100 years ago. The key points are on this slide (the Professor kindly provided his entire slide presentation.)

I do wish, however, that people would get their facts straight about the railway mania in the United States. The Northern Pacific ("And like our internet bust, there were moments when investors in New York and London suddenly realized that they had been total fools and idiots to sink their money into a railroad running west from Duluth across northern Minnesota when next to nobody lived in northern Minnesota, or would live there for a generation.") and the Credit Mobilier ("The biggest of the railroad frauds took place in the 1870s, when it appeared that the Union Pacific was bribing 1/3 the U.S. Congress, and that the Central Pacific--run by Crocker, Hopkins, Huntington, and Stanford--had paid an extra $40 million to a construction company owned by--guess who?--Crocker, Hopkins, Huntington, and Stanford. Money that the largely-British investors in the Central Pacific had thought was going into earth-moving and track-laying went, instead, to form the core endowment of a great West Coast University.") scandal might well have involved financial (mis)management and irrational exuberance, but the provision of subsidy in the form of land grants certainly provided a powerful spur toward building railroads. On the other hand, as noted here, the one non-land grant railroad, the Great Northern, choosing to go further north than the Northern Pacific, found the easiest northern crossing of the Continental Divide that Lewis and Clark heard about but could not find.

Professor DeLong does provide the case for lowering trade barriers, however (think of the Commerce Clause establishing a customs union among the states). "But what if the Massachusetts legislature were to require--for reasons of health and safety, of course, with the desire to protect the jobs of Massachusetts voters who worked in Massachusetts slaughterhouses or on Massachusetts farms the furthest thing from their minds--that all meat sold in Massachusetts be inspected, live and on the hoof, by a Massachusetts meat inspector, in Massachusetts, immediately before its slaughter? Then Swift and Armour's business model--their profits, the lower prices of beef and higher standards of living for Massachusetts consumers--evaporate."
WHAT ARE THEY HIDING? Common Dreams posts a report from New York University, where "About 75 anti-war protesters, angered by Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision to back President Bush's war plans in Iraq, picketed an address given by the senator at the New School on Monday night." The report goes on, "When a reporter tried to enter the event, she was informed that no press would be allowed, 'at the invitee's request.'" A few months ago, an American University student was punished for videotaping Tipper Gore.
CANT WATCH goes to freshman orientation (keep scrolling).
ELASTICITY OF SUBSTITUTIONAmtrak's westbound Empire Builder derailed outside Chicago's Union Station last week account a combination of worn wheel flanges and worn track switches. "Neither the slightly worn switch point nor the worn wheel flange were in a condition that made them non-compliant," according to Warren Flatau of the Federal Railroad Administration [Editorial note. I am quoting from page 1, section 2 of the DuPage edition of the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune's web site has intrusive registration procedures and the Federal Railroad Administration's is as convoluted as the approach to London King's Cross.] Amtrak, the owner of the Chicago trackage, has completed removal of the track switches and reprofiled the track. As one cannot remove all track switches and keep the railroad fluid, railroads must strike a balance between maintaining switches and maintaining wheels. There are evidently allocations of resources among these tasks that raise the likelihood of derailments.
MR BAYES, CALL YOUR OFFICE. "Reasonable precautions are not discrimination." More at Joanne Jacobs.
ECHO CHAMBER GOES SILENT. InstaPundit also links to a Stanley Kurtz observation, "The NYU Federalist Society has invited over 100 NYU law professors to debate Epstein, but not a single professor has accepted. Yet each of these professors signed a statement deploring military policy and criticizing the school’s decision to allow military recruiting on campus. True, the Federalist society gave many of these professors, including the famous Ronald Dworkin, only a week’s notice. Yet surely at least one of these brilliant advocates ought to have been able to defend themselves." Wasn't it William Buckley who once noted, "Those who claim to respect differing points of view are often surprised to discover there is one." (In all seriousness, a sparring partner of mine from listserv days was once surprised that John Anderson didn't win the 1980 presidency.)

UPDATE: Packer fan Ranting Screeds has some observations on silence in the echo chamber.
THIRD TURNING RELIC? Atlantic Blog is not happy with the work of Vice President Gore's advisor, Leon Fuerth. "He has argued vehemently and continually for wait, wait, wait. If Gore were president, we would have today nothing more than a blue-ribbon panel urgently putting together a report, due in 2005, on was really behind 9/11.." More of Professor Fuerth's biography is here. As he began his professional career around 1968 or 1969, it is likely that he is of the process-obsessed Silent Generation (the same folks who, when two feet of snow are forecast, want a contingency plan just in case the temperature goes to 70 degrees immediately after and flooding results), and all we really have to do to deal with these people is wait, wait, wait.
SPECIALIZATION, TRADE, AND COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS: InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds writes for Tech Central Station. This week's column compares and contrasts the economics of punditry with the economics of serious news.

"Professional punditry is in for some hard times: people have figured out that it's not that hard to do, and the supply of would-be pundits probably exceeds the demand. I know that I tend to turn to weblogs for insight and analysis far more often than I turn to the op-ed pages of the Times and the Post these days, and I think you'll see more people doing that over the next few years. "

The weblogs have also been the place of origin for the practice of "Fisking," which refers to the line-by-line rebuttal, or demolition, or making fun of, the works of the establishment pundit. There is a good deal of economics at work in here.

1. People have to pay less to get their point of view in the open today. Steven Landsburg, in his marvelous The Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life, long ago noted that the information content of op-ed pages was likely to be low. "Most readers turn to the op-ed pages for entertainment, not enlightenment, and the writer's incentive is to supply what his readers demand."

2. Failures are not severely punished (a point Landsburg also makes): in fact, Robert Fisk's value to the Independent might be higher precisely because in order to fisk Fisk, one has to read the column.

3. An Instapundit reader pointed out a self-selection incentive at work: "Successful talk radio and Internet bloggers are conservative/libertarian because they represent the error signal in a negative feedback loop, correcting left wing bias." Perhaps so -- there isn't much mileage in sending a letter to the editor or posting a comment agreeing with everything. There also isn't much incentive for the big media echo chamber to change its ways. They comment, the blogosphere fisks, but the big media sites (particularly those with intrusive registration policies) still get the hits.

There is a testable hypothesis in Professor Reynolds's TCS column, "But actual information about what's happening is still mostly the province of professional journalism, and that's less likely to change. I can imagine a decentralized amateur news service (a sort of Slashdot on steroids)." That's a comparative advantage argument. To the extent that independent commentators can engage in independent commentary without being vetted by Big Media (that's the Professor's main point, "Unfortunately, this hasn't worked out very well. The move to analysis and punditry was driven, in no small part, by corporate pressures to cut costs, pressures that accompanied the consolidation and corporatization of the news media. But the very environment that produced those pressures made it harder to produce good, and interesting, opinion: the hard-drinking, wise-cracking Lou Grant archetype has been replaced by graduates from a very small number of elite schools who tend to play it safe and share the same views. That, plus the don't-offend mindset that always goes along with corporate life, doesn't make for interesting commentary: Amateurs, under no such constraints, can do better and already often do. So it may be necessary to reverse this trend, and for Big Media organizations to put a higher priority on actual reporting out of simple economic necessity)," he sees the same sort of echo chamber in media organizations that I have observed in university administrations. The media echo chamber is subject to market tests in a slightly different way, however, and the opportunity cost of producing punditry rather than news might in fact increase. Or if not, the "decentralized amateurs" might find their way around Big Media anyway. In some ways, the ability to participate in listservs, chat rooms, or publish web logs is similar to the ability to operate an amateur radio station, but without the licensing requirements and CQ codes.