31.3.04

MORE ON PIGOUVIAN TAXES AND SPRAWL. (Dispatcher's note: today's content is sufficiently different to preclude running a second section of this post, which see anyway.)

Let's start at Apartment 11-D, which on the one hand sees the benefits of urban gentrification (it helps that the village has solid middle-class values, particularly for exerting influence on the schools) but on the other hand sees that such neighborhoods command a premium, which might be greater, the higher are commuting costs (whether raised by congestion or by gasoline prices is for the moment irrelevant.) It is always instructive to see noneconomists discovering the Say Aggregation Principle, as one sociologist evidently just has.
"I don't know how people are doing it," said Rachel Ranis, a sociology professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. "It's very hard for any family to buy in this market unless both parties are working."
Further confounding matters will be the manifestation of the backward-bending labor supply curve, which has been spotted outside Apartment 11-D as well. (There are some longer articles linked at the site also worth a closer look, but not this morning. Time crunches at the Shops.)

It appears as if Senator Kerry is grappling with the conflicts between Pigouvian taxation and suburban mobility (which the Superintendent does not see as bad per se.) Here's Winds of Change:
One of my major discomforts with Bush is his unwillingness to put the nation on notice that we're at war, and that this war will require sacrifice from those of us who don't wear uniforms as well. A gas tax or tax on oil imports would be a good start. We need to wean ourselves from dependence on easily-interrupted foreign oil, and at the same time, make the public point that our troops are not in the Middle East to steal the oil, but instead to respond to a violent threat.

Kerry could have taken that issue and run with it. But instead, he's pandering to his suburban constituency, and doing it in a way that shows how unserious he is about our current situation.
(There is another option, to develop the Alaskan oil fields, explore around the Great Lakes, and stop using natural gas in power plants, where fission is less polluting. Don't get me started on running trains of Powder River coal to the east coast.)

Mickey Kaus argues that Senator Kerry might have stuck with the Pigouvian tax idea (or repackaged it as a war tax??) On the other hand, that would have the effect of raising housing prices near transit lines and near work places relative to those at a greater distance. It's a fifteen minute bicycle ride to work, in case anybody wonders whether this Pigouvian tax would help me or hurt me.
YOU WANT TO BUILD A WHAT? Suppose you get the idea that a steam-powered stationary pumping engine might be put on wheels and used in lieu of mules or oxen to pull mine carts. (This idea was first tested 200 years ago. Expect additional commemorative posts as the school term winds down and the summer break begins.) Once the concept has been demonstrated with mineral loads, somebody has the idea of using the same technology, albeit with different kinds of carts, to transport people. People are live loads, capable of self-loading. What does a facility for such loading look like? The first one survives in Manchester, England (the one at the Liverpool end has been extensively reworked) and the Transport Blog writers (taking advantage of a meeting with the Live from the Third Rail writers, offer a guided tour.

There is a great deal more habit persistence in British railroad technology than there is in the United States. Floor-height platforms? We built step boxes. Passenger cars based on stagecoach technology? We lacked the patience to hang all those side doors. Across the pond, the window arrangement of the British Railways' Mark I coaches is a clear descendant of the old stagecoach design; an exhibit at the National Railway Museum in York illustrates this.
TUSCAN AND GOLD LOOKS GOOD ON YOU. Deacon at Power Line offers continuing coverage of the Minnesota Gophers' journey to the Final Four. With Pictures.
THE ROLE MODEL HYPOTHESIS. Tested. and found wanting. Details in The Review of Economics and Statistics. Alex at Marginal Revolution, who has been a little quicker to look through the most recent Review than I, notes,
[Author Thomas] Dee is quick to point out that we don't understand why students perform better with a teacher of their own-race. If it is a role-model effect then why would white students perform poorly with black teachers - surely there are enough white role models to choose from that one more or less isn't going to have an effect on the self-esteem of white students. Another theory, with some support from other studies, is that teachers spend more time helping students of their own race. Note that if it is the latter then better teacher training, to overcome natural biases, could improve the effectiveness of both white and black teachers.
Diversity training in more than one direction, nicht wahr?

SECOND SECTION. See also this, on additional directions for diversity training.

30.3.04

SECOND CALL FOR A FISKING. It's actually a call from Dave at SCSU Scholars, who is unimpressed with the latest St. Cloud State strategic plan (These strategic plans are so last century.)
Social justice and diversity are mutually reinforcing concepts. Diversity relates to the empowerment and inclusion of all peoples and results in the enrichment of the human experience and the continued viability of the planet's ecosystems.
Translation: We don't really know what "diversity" means, but everybody tells us we ought to value it. Thus a strategic plan ought to have some reason for valuing it. Because in two years, nobody is going to read this thing, it really doesn't matter what it says.
Social justice is best exemplified through the ideals and values espoused by a democratic society; it is achieved though systems that enable and support individual empowerment, the fair and equitable distribution of resources, and socially responsible leadership committed to advancing social change.
Doesn't a democratic society get to choose its own leadership, which means that social responsibility means respecting those choices, and social change is the outcome of those choices, rather than something ordained by the leadership? Furthermore, is the individual empowerment or the equitable distribution the primary objective?
A foundation of diversity and social justice builds and optimizes organizational strength and effectiveness by capitalizing on the value and abilities every individual has to offer; it is founded on management and leadership practices that assume the general goodness of our humanity.
Again, after one wades through the thicket of jargon, doesn't one reach an impasse: a generally good humanity is a humanity that does not have to be managed or led. Management and leadership are for herds, not packs.
ALL ABOARD AMTRAK. A travel writer from New York has business in White Sulphur Springs.
So off I went to the Amtrak Web site. It offered up The Cardinal, a thrice-weekly train that meanders from New York to Chicago via White Sulphur Springs. The train's schedule was fortuitous: I could leave New York around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, arrive at the Greenbrier by 7 p.m., then leave Sunday afternoon around 1 p.m. and be back in New York by 11:30 p.m. The fare: $160 roundtrip for a coach seat.
We used to have a joke about the try-weakly train: it goes down the branch line, then tries weakly to get back. But I digress.
Had I known last week about The Cardinal's recent appearance in New York, I wouldn't have been surprised by what happened next. As I approached the train to board, an Amtrak employee stationed at the door asked: "Where to?"

"White Sulphur Springs," I said, showing my ticket.

"Where the hell is that?" he said, quite seriously.

"Don't you know?" I said, surprised and a little concerned.

"Hey, pal, I get off the train in Washington. What do I know? You might as well get on the train."
Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the Cardinal, formerly the James Whitcomb Riley, and prior to Amtrak the George Washington had offered a through New York-Chicago sleeping car continuously from Amtrak's formation in 1971 to today (the sleeper has been on or off the Cardinal several times and the train has terminated in Washington or in New York depending on whether it has double-deck Superliner or single-level pot luck for coaches). Although it has been more than 30 years since The Pennsylvania Railroad handed off trains to the Chesapeake and Ohio at Washington, Amtrak employees still often think like New Haven people or Pennsy people on the Corridor, and forget about anything at all if it's off the Pennsy.

I will refrain from quoting that part of the travelogue wherein the usual recital of the usual Amtrak maintenance bugs manifests itself. But when we get to the return trip, we see that Amtrak still acts as if the Chesapeake and Ohio is handing a train off to The Pennsylvania Railroad at Washington.
As we neared Washington, we were an hour behind schedule. The conductor came on a wheezing intercom system and gave new arrival times for several stations. But he claimed the train would arrive on schedule in Washington at 7:30 p.m.

So it did. And, then, we sat. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty-five minutes. An hour. Two or three trains arrived and departed on the track across the platform. But we sat motionless.

Finally, I got up and sought out [coach attendant] Dara. I found her in the vestibule, sitting on a yellow stepstool, surrounded by irate passengers.

"Don't blame me," I heard her say. "It's not my fault. There's no crew. They're not here yet."

From what I could gather, The Cardinal changes crews in Washington and the Washington-boarding crew drives the train to New York. But tonight, the new crew hadn't appeared.
No amount of tax money on better coaches or better tracks for Amtrak will have any effect, so long as the crew callers are unable to cover the trains they know are running.

(Via Web Flyer, a potential source of Company Mail.)
RONALD COASE, CALL YOUR OFFICE: A neighbor asks a Huskie to turn the music down.
Tomorrow you'll get a dosage of Shostakovich...you will witness the full extent of my thumping bass and woofers...watch out for the coda, it'll knock your ass on the ground!
That sounds like the conclusion of the Fifth Symphony, although there are bits of the Eighth that also qualify...
FIRST CALL FOR A FISKING. Knowledge Problem begins a fisking of a Washington Post editorial lamenting the lack of a Pigouvian tax on gasoline. The three questions at Knowledge Problem begin the effort. I will continue, in a less Talmudic vein.
In fact, had 50 cents a gallon been added to the gas tax 10 years ago, when oil costs were lower, demand for gasoline today might well be less.
Only "might well?" The Law of Demand suggests that gasoline consumption would be lower per capita, but it also suggests that some of the productivity gains of the past decade might have been lost. The economics journals of the mid-1970s featured numerous articles on a productivity slowdown that manifested itself late in 1973 or early in 1974. I recall a cover of The Economist titled "Cheap Oil Makes You Strong.
U.S. automakers have fallen far behind their foreign counterparts in the development of hybrid cars and cars that consume very small amounts of fuel.
Funny how the Principle of Complements works.
Relatively low fuel prices have discouraged investment in public transportation and energy-efficiency standards.
Curiously, this editorial does not mention the failure to use revenues from the existing gasoline taxes to make improvements in the highways or to build new ones, which is what the Highway Trust Fund is for. I believe the national government -- the previous administration in particular -- opted not to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund in order to make the current deficit (surplus) smaller (larger).
This country does spend a surprising amount of money promoting alternative fuels, from wind to ethanol: a gasoline tax or a more equitable "carbon tax" on the consumption of fossil fuels would render such subsidy spending less necessary. Even better would be removing altogether the subsidies this country gives the oil and gas industries.
Does it follow that removing all taxes and all subsidies would be better still? Somebody looking for a public finance paper topic? Can you say excess burden?
Given the hidden costs of high fuel consumption -- pollution, urban sprawl, time wasted in traffic -- it can be argued that this country has paid a high price for not having higher fuel prices.
We've dealt with the time wasted in traffic infra. Urban sprawl means bigger houses or more open spaces. I have to wonder what the urban reformers of 100 years ago would have made of people moving from crowded tenements along the L tracks to free-standing housing.
THE WHY AND WHERE REVEALED. Some readers also have their own weblogs. (Thanks for the kind words.)

This physics demonstration illustrates the same principle of the greater compressibility of gases than of water that requires the hostler to open the cylinder cocks before turning the steam locomotive over to the road crew. (Oh, and contemplate the resistance training that's involved in booting up a steam locomotive, not to mention hand-firing one.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY.
Students who can't read fluently become deeply frustrated. Not only do they drop out, they can ruin the learning environment for other students.
That's Joanne Jacobs, commenting on a teacher's discovery that in Chicago, if you hold back students in the third grade who are not fourth grade material, when they do get to sixth grade, the sixth grade teacher is able to teach them sixth grade material.

29.3.04

FINDING THE PROXIMATE AND THE ROOT CAUSES OF OFFSHORING. Herewith an opportunity to apply the five whys to the offshoring phenomenon. At Joanne Jacobs, at least one of the "whys" ought to point at the education establishment; this plays off a post at Reform K-12. Semi-Daily Journal sees factor price equalization at work, but Max Speak suggests people visit the comment sections to that post.
PLAYING THAT WEAK TRUMP. Southern Mississippi president Shelby "10 of Diamonds" Thames just can't get any slack. Robert at Liberty and Power, and Chris at Signifying Nothing offer continuing coverage. The athletic department well might regret its endorsement of President Thames, who has shown his gratitude by bringing in disgraced Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy, a move that amuses the local press.
CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS sits down at Admiral Quixote's Roundtable.
NOTICE OF STARTUP. Welcome, Academistics. Are we seeing a possible new member of the Northern Alliance?
BEING TRUE TO ONE'S FOREFATHERS

What revolution are You?
Made by altern_active

(Via Atlantic Blog.)
REASON 6,029 WHY TOPPLING SADDAM IS A GOOD THING.

A year ago, the Superintendent noted the Tauern-Orient Express, a train and bus service from Istanbul to Baghdad. Jack Fairweather takes a ride on its successor. Key excerots:
There are many things to complain about in Iraq, and by the time the Orient Express arrived at the Syrian border the Iraqi passengers on board had exhausted most of them.

"Bombings, kidnapping, robbery, unemployment," summarized one weary businessman. "Who'd want to stay here?"

But the mood changed abruptly when Syrian border guards began to evict from the train those unable to afford a bribe.

Iraq may be plagued with violence, but a taste of life in Syria --the last Baathist stronghold and a place with more than a whiff of the old Iraq -- convinces most Iraqis they are better off without the paranoia and corruption of a police state.
The symbolism at the border crossing (What is it about frontier crossings in the Orient that lays out the trains for so long anyway, I once spent a day going from Erlian in China to Dzamyn Ude in Mongolia, most of it with the carriages detached from the motive power and the air conditioning not functioning, with the traveler's complaint, but loved the experience anyway...) is telling.
"It's just like traveling back in time to the old Iraq," muttered another businessmen, Mohammed Ahmed, as the Syrians did their work.

The guards stood next to a huge poster of President Bashar Assad. On the Iraqi side of the border a similar picture of Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a political slogan.

"It makes me realize how far other countries have got to come," Ahmed said.
There's something about a train ... that's magic ...
Now, with Iraqis able to travel freely, they may well become the seeds of discontent. That at least is what the Americans are hoping: that their great project of democratizing the Middle East is slowly putting down roots.
And why does the Superintendent hail the toppling of Saddam?
The Baghdad-Aleppo link was first opened in 1940 after decades of colonial wrangling between France, England and Germany.

It connected with the Orient Express to link London and Baghdad in a seven-day journey that Agatha Christie, a regular commuter, used as the setting for her novel Murder on the Orient Express.

The train lost its name and antique rolling stock when the Baathists came to power but the nature of the journey remains the same.
To ensure a better service, kindly be advised that Dame Agatha's story takes place on the European leg of the Orient Express, I believe in the mountains of Yugoslavia. Passengers were ferried across the Bosporus, no Alexander Cassatt or North River Tunnels in Istanbul.

Syrian public servants are well-coached in the old Soviet mold, according to this story.
One guard, asked if he thought the tumultuous events across the border augured change in Syria, replied: "We have noticed no change across the border. Everything is exactly the same as it has always been."
MAKING FUN OF CARY? The Newmark's Door Guide to being a true Tar Heel.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A HOSTILE CLIMATE? Mike Adams (via Betsy's Page) is on a roll. Read and understand.

SECOND SECTION: Professor Adams is not being completely facetious. From Critical Mass comes news of the sensitivity dog chasing its own tail:
Amazing to see the [U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, hereafter OCR] recognizing that the censorious culture of campus liberalism, which routinely enacts official and ad hoc speech codes in order to impose certain values as behavioral and intellectual norms, can itself readily give rise to the very sorts of harassment it claims to work to prevent. The OCR has asked UNC for copies of its harassment policies as well as for copies of all documents pertaining to the Crystall case.
At Discriminations, John Rosenberg is more colorful.
So, a student calls homosexuality in effect a perversion; the instructor calls the student a violent, white, privileged heterosexist and the neutral, colorblind application of civil rights laws "a perversion"; and the feds are brought in to investigate. Aren't hate speech regulations a wonderful thing?
David at Volokh Conspiracy doesn't quite say "told you so."
THE ECONOMICS OF EXHAUSTIBLE RESOURCES. The steel shortage begins to pinch Chicago builders.
The increases are widely attributed to a construction boom in China that comes just as worldwide reserves of iron ore, a raw material for steel, are declining. [Steel consultant John] Anton said he expects steel prices to fall, perhaps suddenly, in the coming months but still remain higher than last year's levels.
Thus, in addition to the economic hysteresis inherent in restarting a mothballed blast furnace to meet a temporary increase in demand, add the problem that the mothballed blast furnace is more costly to operate with more costly feedstocks, and a steel shortage in the face of chronic excess capacity in the industry begins to make more sense.
WAS THE HOUSE OF HAPSBURG CORRECT? In the screen version of Amadeus, the Austrian Emperor complains that one of Mozart's compositions has too many notes. With complete and perfect information, one ought to be able to evaluate the marginal products of string players who are all the time fiddling while the brass rests.
MORE ON BUNDLING AND UNBUNDLING. Knowledge Problem provides a summary of weekend discussion on the gains and losses from bundling. Semi-Daily Journal misses the old days of browser competition, but Alex at Marginal Revolution wonders whether that competition was competition to become a monopoly. At Econ Log, we see reinforcement of the point that bundling is everywhere.

It is such fun to pose a problem, then take a working weekend holiday away from the computer, and discover some useful followups on my return.
NO BADGERS DANCING. Wisconsin's hockey team goes to overtime, finishes with a win and a loss.
ILLINOIS DRIVERS, ON THE TRACKS? Kindly be advised that all stop aspects in the throat of North Western Station are absolute stop aspects.

25.3.04

MARKING OFF. Some readers know why, and where. Have a pleasant weekend. I intend to.
BUNDLING AND UNBUNDLING. Some rather strong stuff from Professor Bainbridge.
Bundling of private goods is fundamentally anti-competitive and, accordingly, reduces innovation.
I'm sure he doesn't really mean this. Wal-Mart bundles groceries and soft goods. Such bundling can have deleterious effects on less clever competitors, but that is not the same thing as lessening competition. Amusement parks bundle all sorts of things. Power companies bundle power by day and power by night. There has to be some qualification to this claim.
Prohibiting Microsoft from bundling, say, media players and search engines into the Windows operating system is critical to preserving competition and promoting innovation.
That's not the qualificatin I'm looking for. Perhaps I'm showing my age, but there's something about contemporary high-powered operating systems with graphic user interfaces and embedded programs that makes me skeptical about defining bundling in software in any non-trivial way. As the operating system has to be able to work with the applications, whether an application counts as bundled or not strikes me as part art. Programmers of a certain age will remember punch cards and subroutines. Quibbles over whether a program is part of the operating system or free-standing are often as foolish as arguing whether the cards should be placed as a subroutine behind the    '  END card or simply linked to as required, say by a computed    '  GO TO within the deck.

The Barry Nalebuff paper Professor Bainbridge cites promises less than he claims.
In this paper, we look at the case for bundling in an oligopolistic environment. We show that bundling is a particularly effective entry-deterrent strategy. A company that has market power in two goods, A and B, can, by bundling them together, make it harder for a rival with only one of these goods to enter the market. Bundling allows an incumbent to defend both products without having to price low in each. The traditional explanation for bundling that economists have given is that it serves as an effective tool of price discrimination by a monopolist. Although price discrimination provides a reason to bundle, the gains are small compared to the gains from the entry-deterrent effect.
Any such oligopolist has to face one further problem: the prices of A and of B must be such that no rival will be tempted to produce either A or B, because the incumbent firm's prices would allow such a rival to cover the stand-alone costs of one product.
BLACKBOARD ECONOMICS AND THE WELFARE ECONOMICS PARADIGM. I'm not sure who started this scrap, but a post by Kieran at Crooked Timber on the sensibility of arguing that some problems of market failures are actually problems of missing markets, which figures in my remarks on the usefulness of the exit option, generates a rejoinder by David at Volokh Conspiracy on the divergence between blackboard policies toward monopolies and actually existing trustbusting. Juan at Volokh Conspiracy follows up with a more general assertion of the divergence between blackboard correctives to missing markets and the premise, often weakly supported, that any corrective is thus an improvement; an assertion that draws a "the reverse argument is no stronger" from Henry at Crooked Timber.

Brayden King suggests there's a possibility for sociologists to get involved in the conversation,
We tend to be pretty good at pointing out the faults of economic thinking, but we don’t offer many solutions. We don’t have an alternative to macro-economic policymaking, and our speculations about welfare redistribution and liberal policymaking seem more founded on Rawlsian philosophies than any theory indigenous to sociology. This isn’t to say that we couldn’t offer real contributions to the debates of central importance in economics. The potential is there I believe,
although the shape of that involvement remains to be determined.
FINDING THOSE NONCOMS. Pittsburgh philosopher Robert B. Brandom bolsters his team's case for a spot in the Final Four.
The faculty and administration long ago made the decision that the thing to do with all these high-powered philosophers is to get them up on their hind legs in front of undergraduates. Accordingly, every senior member of the department offers an introductory philosophy course every year — typically structured as two lectures a week by the professor, supplemented by one or two small-group discussion sections per week, led by one of our doctoral students. And every undergraduate who takes a bachelor’s degree takes one such course at some point in his or her career.

At least for a couple of hours a week, they listen to and talk with people who are pushing back the frontiers of the discipline, have published a shelf-full of books, and lecture all around the world. One of the things I’ve always thought was special about my alma mater, Yale (where my son just started as a freshman) is that they have a policy across the board of having their most distinguished faculty teaching the most introductory courses, so that the most students are exposed to them. That’s the policy we’ve adopted in the philosophy department.

As a result, the number of undergraduate student-contact hours per senior faculty member in the philosophy department is the highest in [arts and sciences].
There is much to commend about this speech. First, there appears to be some kind of core course in philosophy for Pittsburgh students. Second, the presence of a senior professor in an introductory course sends the right signal: the basics are too important to leave to novices. (Visualize a boot camp without lifer sergeants as drill instructors.) Third, the university is using a sensible metric for teaching load: contact hours per professor (rather than classes taught per professor, which lends itself to all sorts of fiddles.)

Leiter Report correctly characterizes what follows in the speech as dealing with the "pernicious idea of students as customers."
The students are not always initially happy about being required to take these courses, though our exit evaluations of satisfaction are very high. This underlines what is wrong with thinking of our students as customers, whose desires ought to drive our offerings. If we just give the students what they want, half of them would do nothing but channel-surf through undemanding courses on the symbolism of the Matrix movies and what the popularity of reality TV says about contemporary culture — with lots of video-viewing time.

A somewhat better model than that of commercial customer is that of professional client, in relation, for instance, to a doctor or lawyer. No one with any sense goes to their counselor and says: Prescribe this drug for me in this dosage, or file a lawsuit for me under this section of the Uniform Commercial Code. One goes instead for access to a different kind of judgment and advice, which one wants to take account of a whole range of possibilities and constraints initially visible only to the professional.
Read the whole thing. Great candid shot of the professor accompanies it.
SEEKING THOSE NONCOMS. Critical Mass has an open thread on the state of English as a discipline and as a course of study, including
--the conflict of interest that is built into many university writing programs, in which freshman composition is taught by unmentored, untrained graduate students who are placed in the classroom not because they have demonstrated qualifications to teach college writing, but because their contract stipulates that they must teach comp to receive their stipend and because they need teaching experience

--the tremendous reliance of English departments on underpaid, uninsured adjunct teachers

--the vanishing job market

--the overproduction of Ph.D.s and the various exploitations, false advertisings, and malpractices therein.
Note the facts on the ground in a corner of the academy frequently heard to lament excessive reliance on the logic of the marketplace.
TELL US WHAT YOU REALLY THINK.
Worse yet, when new music is introduced, concertgoers are turned off by the snarling cacophony that's a legacy of the Second Viennese School. These musical ideologues valued new works in direct proportion to the auditory pain they inflicted. Largely the product of a nihilistic European intelligentsia reeling from the destruction bookended by two world wars, this institutional ugliness has mindlessly possessed at least two generations of American academic composers.
That's T. L. Ponick in praise of sound track music. Hat tip: Captain Yips, apparently a Chicago and North Western rider.
DANCING WITH THE GOPHERS. Two University of Minnesota teams are enjoying their tournament runs. Hindrocket at Power Line covers the Lady Gopher's wins over UCLA and Kansas State (would you rather be a No. 2 seed on the road or a No. 7 at home?) Kansas State essayed a triangle-and-two to contain Minnesota's Lindsey Whalen. That leaves the perimeter shooters with a lot of open looks. If they are shooting well, with the three-point rule, good stuff can happen.

The Elder at Fraters Libertas watched the Skating Gophers win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's finals from the Cities. As he notes, "Let the real March Madness begin." Good evening, hockey fans!
NOTICE OF LINE RELOCATION. India West's D. C. Smith is now a participant in Bonobo Land.
NOTICE OF INTENTION TO ABANDON. Effective with the completion of Different Worlds, Academy Girl intends to discontinue operation of Academic Game.

24.3.04

ALL YOUR KIDS ARE BELONG TO US. Apartment 11-D takes on social promotion in schools.
So, I asked a friend from the neighborhood who teaches second grade in a hardcore city school. She said that holding them back doesn’t help and promoting them doesn’t help. By the time they get to third grade, it’s too late. She said that the kids in her school are behind middle class kids even by Kindergarten. Nevermind the ABCs or numbers, these five year olds don’t even know how to hold a book, because they have never done so before. She said these kids need intensive work in mandatory nursery schools.
I have a colleague who has done work on the effectiveness of flunking students; her research is consistent with the two "doesn't help" outcomes. Mandatory nursery schools, however? How do we do that? Some shills for the education establishment have been pushing the idea that parents are obligated to send their children to their government schools; not surprisingly, many opt out. (The Joanne Jacobs post that is my source has provoked extensive discussion. If well-to-do and middle-income parents opt out of the government schools, what hope does the education establishment have of implementing compulsory preschool for children of poorer parents?)
REGULATION IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST? Henry at Crooked Timber finds occasion to bash Microsoft and to praise Albert Hirschman.
It’s a point that’s made eloquently in Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Hirschman, who has had far greater influence on political scientists and sociologists than his fellow economists (Brad is an exception) points out that the real costs of monopoly are much greater than the inefficient prices they maintain to extract rents. Monopolies are lazy. They have no reason to respond to their customers - where else, after all, can dissatisfied customers go? Without the threat of exit, monopolies face few incentives to improve their service.
Eloquence? Piffle. "The best of all monopoly profits is the quiet life," according to Nobel Laureate (Sir, for those of you still subjects of the Queen) John Hicks. Read on, there is more food for thought,
Of course, it’s far harder to model or to measure these effects than it is to measure the inefficiencies caused by monopoly pricing (and even that involves a fair amount of guesswork). Still, they’re the real reason for welcoming the EU’s forthcoming decision to restrain Microsoft’s shenanigans with media player software. If Microsoft has its way, we can expect to have similarly sloppy, bug-ridden media software, with infrequent updates and proprietary standards. This isn’t to say that Microsoft’s competitors have the consumer’s interests at heart: inside every lean, hungry entrepreneur, there’s a bloated monopolist struggling to get out. But without competition, there’s no restraint on firms’ ability to abuse consumers, and sometimes (as here) the maintenance of competition requires vigorous state intervention.
Curiously, in United States antitrust enforcement, it is often the lean, hungry entrepreneurs that stand accused and convicted of monopolization, despite Judge Learned Hand's dictum, "The successful competitor, having been encouraged to compete, should not be turned upon when he wins." It's the monopolies regulated in the public interest that often become bloated. Perhaps it is no accident that the electrical equipment manufacturers' price fixing conspiracy had the regulated electric utilities as principal suckers, and that manufacturers of chicken feed got to fix prices at the expense of subsidized agricultural interests.

Catallarchy takes on other parts of Professor Farrell's argument. Kieran at Crooked Timber offers a follow-on post with more discussion of the roles of exit and voice.

Exit matters, perhaps more than some of these posters understand. I recall a training poster for employees of the North Shore Line called "The Quiet Customer." It's premise: I am the customer who will not complain. It bothers me when I see others make a scene. But I am the customer who does not come back.
CZARIST RUSSIA, IN COLOR. Photon Courier points to color transparencies from long before Kodachrome.
MEDITATIONS ON WHAT WENT WRONG, from Victor Davis Hanson:
No, no, no. You see when people fail, or when they are angry, or they become afraid and confused, they always blame those who are different or successful or confident.
Professor Hanson is contemplating anti-Semitism, but the observation generalizes.
Get off this farm and meet others, learn we are just people. Live next to or marry anyone you want. We are all the same on the inside and nearly so on the outside as well.
Likewise.
The world has changed. What was once liberal is now illiberal, and the old progressivism has become mean-spirited and opportunistic. What was once idealistic is seen as calculating.
The essay gets a bit over the top in places, but read it and understand it. (Via Power Line.)
MAKING IT HARDER TO FIND THOSE MISSING TEACHERS. A previous post noted the efforts of the Chicago Public Schools to bring in additional teachers, not necessarily credentialled, in science and algebra (curmudgeon's note: there is no mathematics taught in the common schools.) The post alluded to working conditions. Number 2 Pencil and Joanne Jacobs have picked up the story. As Ms Swygert notes,
Teachers are being attacked for doing their jobs, and they aren't getting the support they need from school officials. Security guards, closed-circuit TV systems, and the like might help catch attackers after the fact, but it won't prevent the "cultural meltdown" that has resulted in daily abuse of teachers. Parents aren't stopping it; they say they're afraid of their own kids. Principals aren't doing enough; one violent first-grader, whose assault left a teacher unable to open her mouth for four months, was suspended for only one day, and the principal refused the teacher's request for counseling for the student.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, what kind of children does the village raise, when the village has all the redeeming features of a hippie commune and a slum?
NEW SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL. The Idea Shop starts by debunking some popular canards in welfare economics, more recently, it spells out the possibly deleterious effect of more comprehensive regulation of start-up businesses. (Hat tip: Newmark's Door.)
RENT SEEKING. The latest newsletter from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni cited a Center for Responsive Politics report on individual contributions, by university affiliation, to individual candidates and political action committees, by party affiliation. (The Donks get about 2/3 of the money).

One participant stands out. In third place is Apollo Group, better known as the parent company of The University of Phoenix (motto: Somebody else's research is good enough for us), and apparently politically savvy enough to encourage contributions to political action committees.

The U.S. Senate recently held hearings on intellectual diversity in universities. Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni testified.
IF ONLY THEY PULLED LASERS. Lynne at Knowledge Problem notes the Principle of Complements in action: as fuel becomes more expensive (than it was in 1958, start at the top and keep scrolling), people look for less-guzzling vehicles, in this case the electro-Otto Cycle cars, better known as hybrid vehicles.

The Superintendent confesses a weakness for the Toyota Prius, which has a really cool energy monitor readout that looks like something from Anakin Skywalker's racing pod. But when the sales representative checked with the factory and advised him that the warranty was void if a technician found a trailer hitch on the car, that was a deal-breaker. Volkswagen did it again.
NOTICE OF DISCONTINUANCE OF SERVICE. Invisible Adjunct ceases operations effective March 23. Critical Mass may be posting a preliminary notice.
APPLIED FISCAL POLICY. Insta Pundit gets a tax refund and hosts a bull session on where the larger-than-last-year refunds others are getting are going.

22.3.04

CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS calls at The Entrepreneurial Mind.
DID THE SECOND WORLD WAR CAUSE THE BROAD MIDDLE CLASS OF THE 1950S? Possibly, but that doesn't make it a good thing. Read and understand.
A NOMINEE FOR THE DECK OF CARDS. King at SCSU Scholars joins other Claremont veterans in reacting to yet another hate-crime hoax. I like this:
All in all, a graphic illustration of the "verdict first, trial later" atmosphere that pervades the intellectual life of elite college campuses today. While it is difficult to assess the situation from a distance, we somehow doubt that all students at the Claremont Colleges feel free to express their viewpoints, thoughts, and ideas, particularly if they partake of any cynicism about the morality tales that constitute their daily mental diet.
Claremont Graduate University president Stedman Upham figures prominently in this story. The Queen of Hearts is already taken, but the King of Hearts is not. That's a four point card, useful if you want to make schneider, but not often capable of taking a trick. The dossier and a keg of Spaten Brau are en route to Schneider and Schwarz for evaluation.
ROUND AND ROUND ON OUTSOURCING AND GLOBALIZATION. Econ Log points to two policy papers, by Brink Lindsey and Dan Drezner, both suggesting that the sky is noit falling; indeed, some people really ought to take a deep breath. Professor Drezner:
It is also worth remembering that many predictions come from management consultants who are eager to push the latest business fad. Many of these consulting firms are themselves reaping commissions from outsourcing contracts. Much of the perceived boom in outsourcing stems from companies' eagerness to latch onto the latest management trends; like Dell and Lehman, many will partially reverse course once the hidden costs of offshore outsourcing become apparent.
There is already a comment and rejoinder on Professor Drezner's site. Sean at The American Mind offers additional links, including one that suggests the principle of comparative advantage is not dead. (Of course not, marginal costs can be compared, and either they are all the same, or they are different. If they are different, the lowest among them is the comparative advantage provided some regularity conditions hold. Weierstrass I'm not, but this argument I can make.)

The intellectual arguments are not sufficient to convince everybody, however. The people of Reading, Pennsylvania, are discovering tradeoffs: "''We've enjoyed the fruits of cheap labor for so long that we want it both ways: We want good jobs and good wages, and we want everything cheap." This is doable, if the technology is right and the people can work with it. The people of Bangalore, India get it. (Read and understand the article. Those of you who complain about 500 applications for one temporary lectureship in a community college may have a point, but the article reinforces this lesson about failures to balance production and consumption of some kinds of degree.)

There remains, however, the expectation of another way. In my mail today was an announcement of a presentation by Professor John French, the director of the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Here's what's on offer.
In late 2002, Luis Inacio Lula da Sliva became President of Brazil ... Lula's rise was possible only after the Brazilian people fought to end the military dictatorship supported by the United States ... Lula was born in poverty, and his current government is searching for alternatives to U.S. strategies of "globalization" that have increased rather than decreased poverty. The rise of the Brazilian Workers Party, which was built with a base of militant workers, socialists, and adherents to "Liberation Theology" eventually captured the hopes and dreams of the citizenry of Brazil, who hope indeed for a new world with a new agenda that eliminates poverty and desperation.
In twenty years, would you rather live in Bangalore or in Rio? Developing ...
A PLEASANT SATURDAY AFTERNOON. Chicago sometimes gets a decent spring day in March, which was the case last Saturday. The weather was favorable for a war protest; it was also favorable for graduation day at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Sailors, family members, and protesters mingled at the North Western Station and in the shopping districts. At least in the part of Chicago that I observed, I saw none of the in-your-face attitude some commentators observed elsewhere.
TONIGHT'S IMMIGRATION ROUNDUP. This report from South Texas suggests that immigration from Mexico is not the leading edge of la reconquista. It also reports a feast of thanksgiving from the sixteenth century
ENFORCING PROPERTY RIGHTS? Build a baseball stadium in a neighborhood of walk-up apartments. Wait for the owners of the walk-ups to discover that the roofs of the walk-ups might better be used for grandstands, rather than, say, pigeon coops or vegetable gardens. If you are the owner of the baseball stadium, do you negotiate for a share of the grandstand rentals, or do you block the view?
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
We sympathize with [South African Bishop Desmond] Tutu's criticism of Western trade policies, but if he thinks Osama bin Laden and his followers are agitating for free trade, he's nuts.
That's in Best of the Web, and the bishop has come up with a non-sequitur, no matter how accurate his comments about the deleterious effects of developed country agricultural policies are.
FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN. Some time ago, these pages featured some commentary on this essay about the socialization of young men. Derek at Cliopatria wishes to dissent, suggesting that the model does not capture the essential elements of reality.
PLAYING THAT WEAK TRUMP. Southern Mississippi president Shelby "10 of Diamonds" Thames continues to wriggle. Robert at Liberty and Power reports that Thames is being reminded to play by the rules (if it's a drumhead court-martial, are there rules?), and Ralph at Liberty and Power summarizes recent reactions to reactions to the original story.
FINDING THOSE MISSING TEACHERS. Chicago seeks teachers in science and algebra. The usual suspects have the usual objections to teachers lacking certification or an attachment to the job. The article does not address working conditions as a reason for teachers leaving.
A BRITISH CONCEPTION OF TRAIN:
But what about trams? They have to operate in mixed traffic conditions ie with normal road vehicles. They don't need signals. They seem to stop all right. So, why don't they have this problem? Is it the speeds involved? Or is it because they are lighter? And if it is because they are lighter why not make trains lighter and get rid of the signals?
To do so would be to throw away the advantage of a train, which is to move thousands of tons of Powder River coal with little rolling friction, albeit with lots of momentum to master. Some of the comments on this post recognize the point.
D'OH!
Because not only is [criticizing a Christian organization for requiring that its leaders be Christians] stupid, it also opens the door for men to demand leadership of the Women's Law Caucus or for white folks to demand equal representation in the Black Law Students Association. 'Cause, see, a requirement based on skin color or genitalia is every bit as discriminatory as one based on religion, now, isn't it?
Yes, but don't get so tightly wound as to forget that some concepts are so absurd that only an academician will embrace them.
OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. Welcome home, Sgt. Christina Rivera. One of her professors, a Vietnam veteran, summarizes advice that is as old as soldiering: [English associate professor Larry] "Johannessen said he told her to keep her ass down, don’t volunteer for anything and stay out of trouble." Go and read the rest of the story.
RISING OPPORTUNITY COSTS
It's pretty clear that grocery checkout clerks are going to go the way of bank tellers. They won't disappear altogether, but there will be many fewer of them. Grocery employees will have to add value to the customer's experience, not simply process their purchases.
Thus does Virginia Postrel hail the introduction of self-serve checkout, something she compares with automatic cash dispensers. Although it makes sense to substitute toward machinery rather than more expensive labor (either because human capital is more valuably deployed in tasks more challenging than swiping goods past a scanner, or because school-leavers lack the intellectual or the social skills to be checkout people) the effect is to raise the cost to the consumer, particularly for idiosyncratic and high-valued transactions. Ms Postrel's illustration of the supervisor-assisted purchase of a controlled substance is a case in point. Get behind a few of those and practice your anger-management skills. Something similar is happening at banks and at post offices. To the extent that the cash dispensers work properly, account holders can do routine deposits and withdrawals more quickly. That means the people waiting for the one or two tellers left inside the bank are more likely to be doing complicated transactions. At the post office, the line out the door is a line of people each of whom requires more attention than a simple purchase of first class stamps. Is the net effect on economic welfare positive or negative, with greater waiting times quite likely being imposed on the more complex transactions while the routine transactions have become more convenient?

21.3.04

ECONOMIC ILLITERACY. Conference or no, the lack of understanding of economics by people who ought to know better suggests I'll never run out of projects to work on, although a colleague's description of his work as "sand castles" might be more to the point. The latest: a couple of whinges about the state of the academic job market (in some disciplines -- economics departments rely heavily on green cards and work permits) recommended by Laura at Apt. 11-D. Let's start here:
And I wouldn't want to give administrators any more reasons than they already have for treating part-time instructors as a great way of balancing budgets and ignoring the true cost of higher ed. The logic of the marketplace is already used too often in American colleges and universities.
The author is that rarity, a freeway flyer who is happy with his two temporary positions at two very different colleges. There are, however, two propositions deceptively packaged as one in the quote. The true costs of higher education are, as the author suggests, quite high. One of the sand castles a colleague has built is a time-intensive course with the objective of fostering mastery of some core proficiencies in economics. In the break after his presentation, I asked him about the chances of persuading the administration that in order to offer that sort of learning experience university-wide, the economics department ought to be sufficiently staffed with faculty members that each faculty member would teach one such course a semester, in order to be able to work intensively with each student and produce quality research. The colleague knows me well enough to recognize I was being outrageous to make a point. The logic of the marketplace, however, precludes that in economics departments, even with starting salaries in the mid $60K range.

The logic of the marketplace, however, is something too often ignored by advocates of the academy. A service that has such serious quality control problems as a defect rate in excess of 50 percent, a failure rate among entering employees in excess of 50 percent (including economics, although there is no great mismatch between tenure track positions offered and tenure track applicants in the labor pool), and continued denial by senior administrators (if I keep this up, I will end up with 99 theses to nail to a cathedral door, won't I?) is hardly a paradigm of market-driven thinking. (And it is worth remembering that there is an element of market competition -- school choice -- in the academy that is missing from the primary and secondary schools that provide our students, many of whom the administration is not worthy of serving.)

The passage that really calls for a fisking, however, is Lucy Snowe in the latest (where do they get these people) Jobs article (in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
It has often been remarked of college teaching that in no other profession do people compete so ardently for stakes that are so low. One might add that in few other professions do employees behave as if those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy are Untouchables. What will it take for powerful people in academic departments to acknowledge that their humanity, their core decency, would be enhanced if they practiced the liberal values they espouse so passionately in the classroom? If the literary canon can be expanded to include the work of women and minority writers, why can there not be a seat at the table for adjuncts and lecturers at faculty meetings?
Speak for yourself. But do better than this.
And we all know (choose your favorite cliche) that it's survival of the fittest, that it's the law of supply and demand, that life is unfair, that beggars can't be choosers, that nobody held a gun to your head and forced you to write a dissertation, that sanitation workers earn more than most academics, and that people who can't write teach.
Wasn't it Paul Fussell, long ago, who compared the academy with the ancient courts and salons (Northern Illinois defers to Northwestern defers to Harvard, except on Saturdays) rather than to any open institution whether a government agency in a republic, or a business in a competitive market? The court model describes the behavior of the Anointed relative to the Untouchable, much more accurately than any analogy from government or business. (The wisecrack, "I'm not running for Congress, I don't have to be nice," is not without its point.)

To talk about those liberal values is to laugh. Visit Critical Mass:
In my selective perception it seems that with the exception of fraternity "ghetto" parties and other acts of hate speech that are grossly insensitive but harm nobody's physical person nor property, a very high proportion of contemporary campus racial incidents are fake.
The fakes are often the ones that get the Undies of the Anointed in a bundle. John at Discriminations has extended coverage of just how bundled some undies are, at the Claremont colleges. On the other hand, questioning the intellectual capabilities of people in business or in government, particularly if they are Republicans, is often all in a day's work for the Anointed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY.
Good for [Colorado state legislator Mark] Larson for upholding the principle of limited government that Republicans are supposed to defend
The context is a debate on the viewpoint diversity law making its way through the Colorado state house, and Invisible Adjunct correctly sees the possibility of politically motivated grade appeals. On the other hand, some knowledge of the divergence of course content as actually presented and assessed from course content as asserted in the college catalog might be worth having.
NO REPEATING HISTORY.
The teams met in the 1941 NCAA tournament at the UW Field House in Madison, and the Badgers won 36-30 on their way to their only national championship.
The defenses were both as good today, but Pittsburgh had the better of the second-chance points, and earned a match with Oklahoma State in the round of sixteen. (No, I am not going to attempt to re-seed the tournament using the pairing methods described earlier.)
AND YET MORE MUSINGS FROM THE BRACKETS. Chris at Signifying Nothing attempts to answer Lily at Kitchen Cabinet asking why the scoreboard summary (including times out remaining, fouls, the direction of the possession arrow, and sometimes the players in foul trouble) becomes a "game reset" on television. More accurately, the phrase "game reset" is a relatively recent invention. It's probably some affectedness, much like the chap who reads the sports scores giving the soccer scores as "one-nil" or the midwestern English teacher addressing the "yuman condition." Or perhaps it's a recognition that your basic brackethead can't grasp the idea of an abstract, and thinks that a summary has to have bullet points?

On to somewhat more substantive territory: The Sports Economist finds some problems with the seeding system in the basketball tournament, which enhances the chances of the strongest teams advancing in the tournament, at the cost of a few 30-40 point victory margins in the first round.
As it stands, seeding sets up yet another final between basketball giants. A random draw in the NCAA tourney might add just the spice to enhance a special and underutilized form of play, the knockout competition.
That's one possibility. Another possibility might be to use the pairing system known as the "Swiss" system for organizing a chess tournament (looks like someone is doing chess tournament pairings as a class project.) In chess, each player has a performance ranking. Although this is an ordinal scale, and at best an approximation of each player's strength, it can be used to produce a cardinal seeding of a chess tournament. The strongest player has as a first opponent a player of just below median strength, while the weakest player has as a first opponent a player oif just above median strength. In a sixteen team regional, the pairings would become 9 at 1, 10 at 2, 11 at 3, 12 at 4, 13 at 5, 14 at 6, 15 at 7, and 16 at 8. Now there is a much better possibility of "one and done" for the No. 1 team, and the No. 16 might have a shot at a second game. If one wanted to get really creative, one could use the chess tournament method to set up the second round of games. Suppose the winners were 9, 2, 3, 12, 5, 14, 7, and 16. Rank the winners according to their pre-tournament strength, and switch colors. You'd have 2 at 9, 3 at 12, 5 at 14, and 7 at 16. (In chess, the losers also play, with 1, 10, 11, 4, 13, 6, 15, and 8, 1 would be at 10, 4 at 11, 6 at 13, and 8 at 15, but we're not doing double eliminations or a six round weekend tournament here.) Such a pairing system would make filling in the brackets for the office pool much more difficult, but it would also defeat the Newmark Algorithm for submitting a booby-prize entry, as the strategy of picking the lower-rated team in each game would no longer be as certainly the poorest set of picks.

On to a more serious problem with the tournament: the graduation rates of basketball players qualify as state secrets. (Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs.)
GET A GOOD START AND SAIL ON THE LIFTED TACK. Inland sailor Sally Barkow's Olympic bid comes up short against some excellent opposition. There are some other up-and-coming sailors in Southern Wisconsin and soft-water season is not far off. Overnight temps in the low teens, indeed
YES, THERE WAS AN ECONOMICS CONFERENCE THIS WEEKEND. There was also a meetup between the Superintendent and and several of his colleagues. There will be some economics-related posting, later tonigbt.
BACKING IN. Wisconsin's ice hockey team draws a No. 3, opens against No. 2 Ohio State. How things change. Miami of Ohio also a No. 3; no sign of onetime powerhouse Bowling Green.

North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Twin Cities, and Minnesota-Duluth join Wisconsin among the Best of the West.
WHEN I GET MY ECONOMICS PH.D. I WANT TO BE LIKE
a. Joan Robinson
b. George Stigler
c. Peter Diamond
d. Alex Keaton
e. Diane Swonk
Results of one unscientific poll.
MARQUETTE EVADES UWM AGAIN. Boise State advances in the NIT.
TODAY'S OBSCURE SPORTS ITEM. Division I women's basketball teams with four active 1,000 point scorers in the same season. (The things sports information directors do to highlight their teams??) But look who did it first (scroll down.)

18.3.04

MARKING OFF. Midwest Economics Association conference time. Posting resumes Monday.
SURE SIGNS OF SPRING. Mud-season axle loading restrictions are posted on the county roads. Sawhorses and other blockades proliferate between the buildings at Northern Illinois University. The former makes sense owing to frost heaves and wet grounds. The latter make no sense. Some technocrat decided to run the sidewalks where they would look pretty on a blueprint. The students, faculty, and staff decided to walk the shortest routes, which can't be blueprinted. Result: muddy sections where the grass doesn't grow. The response of the groundskeepers: Protect. The. Grass.

The card deck really ought to have some local representation. The administrator who sets policy for the groundskeepers will be identified and named.
COPING WITH THE STEEL SHORTAGE. One manufacturer's scrap may be another's raw material. For future research: why, in light of the worldwide overhang of excess capacity, is there a steel shortage? Too little of the right kind of capacity (either in converting technologies or in rolling mills?)
A WIN FOR JUNEAUTOWN. Panthers go Owl hunting. Next up: Boise State, in Idaho.

17.3.04

COVERING THOSE COMMON COSTS. Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur suggests that Seattle can find some more money to fix the streets by buying prescription drugs for city employees from Canada, or something to that effect.

Stefan at Oh, That Liberal Media is not impressed.
Unfortunately, importing drugs from Canada is not a long-term solution. Drug companies sell their wares for less in Canada only with the understanding that Canada is a relatively small market. Once enough Americans start buying their drugs up north, drug manufacturers will reduce the Canadian supply and the Canadian government will ban the export of Canadian drugs. Likewise, price caps in this country would only lead to shortages, a black market and less research and development of new drugs.

A more effective solution to reduce the city's exposure to escalating health care expenses would be to raise deductibles and encourage the city workers to impose their own price caps by making more choices about their own spending.
There is a bit more to this story. Presumably Canada's health authority negotiates prices for drugs at the avoidable cost of producing them, letting others, primarily U.S. insurers, bear all the common costs of research and development. (Or do Canadian taxpayers bear some of those costs through Canada Council grants?) United States patients presumably could get drugs for 30% cheaper if they agreed to freeze further development of drugs. (Who wants all that controversy over animal testing and double-blind studies, anyway?)

Mr Sharkansky correctly uses the term "expenses" rather than "costs." There is a difference. Think about all the expensive drugs available today that were not available at any price a few years ago. That is a price reduction reflecting a cost reduction (from undefined, effectively infinite, to finite albeit more expensive than a Metra monthly pass.) Think also about the improved performance of the newer drugs. By analogy, a Boeing 747 is more expensive than the Wright Flyer. But a seat on the Wright Flyer is not available, at any price, even to the pilot, let alone a seat with recorded music available (eavesdropping on the air traffic control on some carriers) and a bag of peanuts or a cup of coffee delivered to that seat.
NO WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD? Live from the Third Rail recommends a Baltimore Sun editorial on the continuing drama of Amtrak funding.
It's true that Amtrak has seen its share of mismanagement and made some poor decisions over the years. A recent General Accounting Office report pointed out that Amtrak has failed to bring down the New York to Boston travel time to 3 hours (it's currently 3 hours, 24 minutes). But even that is not wholly Amtrak's fault. One of the major delays has been the bottleneck created by track repair on a 50-mile stretch owned by Metro North, the commuter rail line. Outside the Northeast, Amtrak must cope with the freight industry's decaying infrastructure, something over which it has virtually no say.

These criticisms over performance also ignore how much Mr. Gunn has accomplished in getting Amtrak's administration under control. He's reduced the payroll by 3,417 positions to fewer than 20,000 today, and implemented better financial practices. It's been a back-to-basics approach that's emphasized refurbishing rails, cars and engines without pie-in-the-sky promises of new services or technologies. That kind of steady hand was exactly what Amtrak needed.

Once again, the real problem is the lack of a coherent national rail policy, a vision for the future. That's Washington's fault, not Amtrak's. Do we want our rail corridors rebuilt? Should Amtrak develop new high-speed routes? Should the states be required to make an economic investment in the rails? The country needs to stick to a strategy - instead of having these annual showdowns where draconian budget cuts are sought and supporters in Congress must ride to the rescue.
Three observations, in no particular order. First, David Gunn has restored some order to Amtrak by recognizing it is a railroad, something prior Amtrak chiefs have not always understood. Second, there is a coherent national transportation policy. It's called "don't spend any money from the highway trust fund, to make the government deficit smaller (or to punch up the surplus, for those who recall the bubble economy)." Per corollary, no money goes for other modes, either. Third, the Sun editorial writers have clearly not observed a freight train in years. The freight infrastructure is not decaying. Engineered for 70 mph stack trains or heavy Powder River coal trains, rather than for Hiawathas, perhaps, but definitely not decaying.
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS IS ALREADY TAKEN. The nine of hearts, however, is not. The dossier of Emory Assistant Dean of Campus Life Vera Dixon Rorie is being forwarded to Herrn. Schneider und Schwarz for review. Critical Mass has the details, and Tightly Wound observes,
The beauty of academic wankery stems from the fact that the wankers in question are completely oblivious to their complicity in the messes they make.
In this case, Dean Rorie has made her own case for the nine of hearts (via correspondence with the Emory College Republicans), to wit:
My office had offered to assist the College Republicans in planning an event that would bring a conservative speaker of your choice to campus. In light of the attached email and link it is clear that you are not interested in practing community. The information you provided to outsiders is the source of the enclosed personal attacts on me. I am rescinding the offer to meet.I will not participate in email name calling or personal assaults.
Trite, brimming with indignation, unlikely to trump a serious argument thusly, not worth hiding in the blind. As all the truly miserable failures are assigned, the nine of hearts is the weakest card left in the deck.
CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES NO. 78, with a list of upcoming stops, calls at Patterico's Pontifications.

16.3.04

WHAT DID I TELL YOU? "[F]aculty senates are notoriously nests of administrative wannabes and pusillanimous vacillators." That was last week. David at Liberty and Power reports that the Southern Mississippi faculty senate has voted 27-10 (with three abstentions?) to support the two professors being subjected to a drumhead court-martial by president Shelby (The athletic department is with me) Thames. Key observation: "Then it again, it might be like the faculty senate of my own institution which is notorious for serving the role as shock absorber for the administration."

Quite.
JONES FEELS THAT 2+2=5.
But here's the kicker: when I tried to actually teach the correct definition of a square, students refused to listen, because they acted like it was just my opinion.
(Reform K-12, via Joanne Jacobs.)

Obviously. Notions of squareness are historically contingent and culturally constructed. Ninety degrees at the vertices and at the intersection of the principal diagonals? A restrictive conception, possibly at one time useful, but, hey, this is the twenty-first century.

(That the largest returns to schooling are in fields that require technical training, meaning a grasp of algebra, geometry and logic, just doesn't matter to some people.)

15.3.04

A PEACE OFFERING FROM THE DESTRUCTIVE GENERATION.
A first step would be for the Vietnam generation - my generation, not by any means the greatest, but surely the largest generation - to stop doing something we always accused our own parents of doing. Let's stop fighting all the old political wars.

Let's admit, courageously and candidly, that our unbending moral libertarianism has really messed this country up. It's a valid gripe that the so-called "Arab street" has about us.

(Carl Raschke, via Milt's File.)
KILBOURNTOWN ADVANCES, JUNEAUTOWN YET TO PLAY. The team formerly known as the Marquette Warriors defeated Toledo (another Mid-American power not called Northern Illinois) tonight, taking one step toward a possible crosstown matchup. Dale Hofmann sums up the attitude on College Hill: "It's Marquette University that took the biggest fall.

Not only did the school plummet from the Final Four to the Forgotten 40, but it missed another chance to conquer its fear of UWM.
"

Hofmann demonstrates an understanding of incremental costs rare in a sportswriter.
The NIT has displayed more than a passing interest in the bottom line over the years, and [NIT director Jack] Powers' position would make sense if he had reason to think that Marquette would draw a throng of paying customers playing host to Toledo tonight at the Bradley Center, and UWM would do the same entertaining Rice at the U.S. Cellular Arena on Wednesday.

He must believe that the two crowds combined would come to more than what Marquette and UWM would get sharing the same floor while the tournament was picking up the expenses from two games rather than one. We'll see.
REPLAYING THE MID-AMERICAN TOURNAMENT. The Women's NIT field includes three teams from the Mid-American Conference, none of which are named Northern Illinois. Also participating is Florida State, with Northern Illinois veteran Sue Semrau coaching. It has been a long time since Northern Illinois put in four straight appearances in the Big Dance.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF PROTECTING THE TRAINS. Intel Dump (via One Hand Clapping) evaluates the benefits and costs of providing more security for the trains.
On the other hand, we probably ought to scrutinize the parts of our rail system that look most attractive to terrorists: densely populated stations (e.g. Penn Station in NYC, Union Station in DC), rail movements of hazardous materials, and critical rail junctures that would have a major disruptive effect if targeted.
Problem: it's possible to disrupt the service without going after the critical junctions. Amtrak vows never again: the as yet unsolved sabotage of the Sunset Limited in 1995 recalls the still unsolved sabotage of the City of San Francisco in 1939.
UNBUNDLING.
Sex, childbearing and marriage now have no necessary connection to one another, because the biological connection between sex and childbearing is controllable. The fundamental basis for marriage has thus been technologically obviated. Pair that development with rampant, easy divorce without social stigma, and talk in 2004 of "saving marriage" is pretty specious. There's little there left to save. Men and women today who have successful, enduring marriages till death do them part do so in spite of society, not because of it.
That's today's sermon, from Rev. Donald Sensing. Be sure to understand the reasoning leading to this conclusion.
CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS calls at TJ's Weblog, who owns up to doing some peer review first.
DO I HEAR AN ECHO? From the weekend:
Add to that the obligation of an employer to pay person-dependent (rather than effort-dependent) fringe benefits including but not limited to health and unemployment insurance premiums, and employers will reveal a preference to pay their existing workers overtime and to prefer offshore workers with lower setup costs rather than to expand their domestic hiring.
(Been there, researched that, published the article.) Now, Professor Drezner links to a Business Week essay advancing the thesis, "The drive for productivity gains is the real culprit behind anemic job growth." Erm, in part. Scroll down.
The soaring cost of employee benefits is making companies increasingly hesitant to add workers unless absolutely needed. Benefits costs, fueled by sky-high health-care premiums and the need to restore underfunded pension plans, are up 6.5% from a year ago. After adjusting for inflation, that's the fastest clip on record. If a company can get three people to do the work of four, that's one less health-care premium it has to pay.
Then keep scrolling.
The pace of efficiency gains always slows as a recovery picks up steam, but no one is really sure how much. The question is how long companies can meet this big increase in demand without expanding their workforces. "We're getting up close to the point where firms will of necessity have to hire additional people to sustain the growth they see in the demand for their products and services," Treasury Secretary John W. Snow told BusinessWeek. To judge by history, business cannot lean on the workforce so heavily for much longer
. Time also to consider the income and substitution effects of larger pay packets.

The real poser, however, comes early in the article.
What's confounding economists is that high-growth, high-productivity periods in the past -- the mid-'60s, say, or the late '90s -- have coincided with robust job creation. Consider that from 1997 to 1999, the economy expanded an average of 4.5% annually, productivity growth accelerated sharply, and 264,000 jobs per month were created. So why isn't the same thing happening this time around?
It is worth remembering that economic growth and productivity growth do not have to be bundled. There was a lot of productivity growth during the 1930s.
OH THE ROCK ISLAND LINE IS THE ROAD TO RIDE. "A high-speed train that's been proposed to link Chicago and Omaha, with stops in Des Moines and Davenport, is in trouble," notes this article.

Here is what the project has to live up to.

From the June 1954 Official Guide, here are the schedules the project must beat to have any chance of being called high speed rail.

   7    505                   506   10
 2:00  5:00  Chicago    1:15  8:30
 4:55  8:20 Rock Island 10:15  5:25
 7:55 11:40 Des Moines  7:15  2:10

Trains 505 and 506 are the Des Moines Rockets, train 7 the Rocky Mountain Rocket, and train 10 the Corn Belt Rocket. There were trains in addition to these.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Economics: the antidote for sloppy PC!" That's Newmark's Door, finding the missing Republicans in Duke's liberal arts program. He also reports on the corrective taken by an office pool manager who offered a worst picks prize without considering the incentives it set up.

(In case anybody is curious, the Illinois primary is March 16. Voters declare their party on the day of the vote. I intend to request the Pach ballot, although that might be driven by the local nomination of judges as much as by any state or national races. There is an interesting Senate race for the Donks, but otherwise not much happening on their side in Speaker Hastert's district, with the Presidential nomination settled.)
TAIL TRACK. Barring signal troubles, links to any posts of substance ought to work.

RULES EXAMINER'S REPORT: The time stamp on this post is not in the proper form.

14.3.04

BEGGAR-THY-NEIGHBOR. Minnesota politicians now claim to be losing money on the reciprocity pact that allows Wisconsin and Minnesota students to attend any state university in either state at in-state rates. This despite Wisconsin last year sending Minnesota $3.1 million to cover the balance-of-payments deficit, presumably arising account some 2700 more Minnesotans attending Wisconsin state colleges and universities than the other way around.
TURN OFF THE BUBBLE MACHINE. This dance music is for everybody, but especially for you and you. The Badger men's basketball team set a standard that the hockey team was unable to match, winning the Big Ten tournament and earning a sixth seed in a game to be played in Milwaukee.

The men's and women's brackets are available for your downloading and printing pleasure, should you wish to get started on your office pool.

The Duke administration have taken some (deserved) stick on these pages for some foolish statements about the lack of viewpoint diversity on the faculty, but take a moment to note that both the men's and women's programs have earned No. 1 seedings in the tournament. Might as well run a good money losing passenger train, if that's the window through which much of the public views the university.

Also on the dance card, Wisconsin-Green Bay returns to the tournament for the third straight year, while former Phoenix coach Carol Hammerle has just finished her fifth losing season in six years at Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois alums Deb Patterson and Kamie Ethridge have guided Kansas State to a No. 2 seed. Northern Illinois's athletic director has recently gone dancing at Nevada-Reno. Perhaps her successor will see some value in treating the women's basketball program as something other than a diversity showcase, possibly setting as an objective building a team that leads the country in scoring as it once did.

The formerly top-notch National Invitational Tournament (yes, I am that old) has announced its field, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette both commence play in Milwaukee. (Why did Milwaukee become such a happening place thirty years after I left?)

SECOND SECTION: The Dance is the first topic of conversation on the Charlie Sykes radio show out of Milwaukee. Thesis: Marquette is afraid of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Although both Marquette and Wisconsin-Milwaukee play their opening games in Milwaukee, they will not play each other in Milwaukee, should both teams advance. Also under discussion: a revision of the old Milwaukee Classic, albeit with the Badgers, the Panthers, the Phoenix, and the Team Formerly Known as the Warriors as permanent participants.

EXAMINER'S REPORT: This post has been strengthened with additional cross-references.
OUCH. Alaska-Anchorage??? Taking two of three at the Kohl Center? All is not yet right with the world.
BARGAIN HUNTING. Just took delivery on one of these babies, undecorated, for a sinfully low price.

Now imagine one in hunter green with gold striping and lettering, and a script herald on each nose.

SECOND SECTION: Tim at Where Worlds Collide proposes painting it in the original Swedish orange. That comes pretty close to using fighting words in New Haven Railroad country. I had something more like this in mind.