31.12.04

SIXTY YEARS AGO. Sgt. Karlson was playing an away match under somewhat more adverse conditions than those in San Jose.
Huddled ride in open trucks to Recogne, Belgium (near Neuf Chateau). Very cold. 14 radiomen spent New Year's Eve sleeping in a room the size of the front bedroom at home. Cold!
The Germans, however, have scored their 14 points, and the rally is about to begin.
REPOSITIONING YOURSELF. Some time ago, I posted this questioning the obsession of university administrators with the external perception of their universities. One of the universities engaged in this repackaging is the former Troy State University, now known as Northern Illinois's worthy opponent Troy University. A convert headed out to join the local revelers, but not before asking this pertinent question.

Troy!?

Who in the hell is Troy?

(She also got the weather forecast right: we would have been warmer and drier playing in Huskie Stadium last night and I must stick my head outside soon, as it's another sunny morning in Paradise.)

Troy joined Alabama-Birmingham, who contributed to Hawaii's late season run, and Connecticut, who did what a Huskie ought to do to a Toledo Rocket, as first-time participants in Division I bowls. Troy appears to be embarking on an Upwardly Mobile university track.

The university is going to great lengths to elevate its profile. The hope is that the football program, which moved up from Division I-AA three years ago, enables the university to become a national fixture.

Playing in the Silicon Valley Football Classic at Spartan Stadium is another step in that direction.

One wonders, however, whether that is the best course of action.

The university has been playing football since 1909 under the name Troy State. Last April, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to remove "State'' in an effort to reflect its status as a global institution. Troy serves more than 24,000 students at approximately 50 branches and teaching sites located in 11 countries and 14 states, most based on or near military installations.

"They felt like Troy State limited us in focus to the state of Alabama, and Troy would open up to the worldwide concept of education,'' said Larry Blakeney, Troy's football coach of 14 years. "Everything sort of fit together.''

Right. Every so often somebody wants to invert the words to create a "University of Northern Illinois." There is a UNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which is not close to several national laboratories, the LaSalle Street financial district, or numerous universities known nationally for things other than their sports teams, several of which have become more cooperative with us in the past ten years. The name is not what matters, the achievements are. The Trojans (and one downside of that nickname is that a nationally-known manufacturer of prophylactic devices and the producers of the latest Hellenistic epic film bought a lot of air time last night) have yet to learn this.

Now the Trojans are playing in their second nationally televised game this season.

On Sept. 9, Troy knocked off Missouri -- ranked No. 19 at the time -- 24-14 in a Thursday-night ESPN game. The university has been so aggressive in getting games televised that its stadium was wired for ESPN's specifications.

"It goes back to the reason the Board wanted to elevate the program in the first place, to increase its marketability,'' [Troy's acting athletic director Scott] Farmer said. "You do that to increase student population. It culminated this year when we played Mizzou on national television and ended up tearing down our goal post.''

Yes, but to paraphrase Best of the Web, is the students learning?

RUNNING EXTRA: Considering all the technical difficulties getting the Silicon Valley Classic started, and some additional technical troubles in Tampa on Saturday (of which more next week), is wiring a stadium to ESPN specifications such a good idea?
THE SACK OF TROY. It did not begin well. It was a dark and stormy night. The power was disrupted, both to the field lights and to the television truck. (Can't let the television truck sit idle.) When the game started, about 25 minutes late, only one camera was working, which might have made viewers tuning in wonder what bad parody of coverage of a high school game they were watching. It didn't help that ESPN-2 kept cutting back to their anchors and running long adverts for some purple pill with gold stripes (shooting the Vikings into space?)

Worse, Troy demonstrated an early ability to move the ball, converting a third-and-long, completing a pass to the one, scoring, (I think they kicked an extra point, the coverage went back to headquarters at that juncture,) forcing a three-and-out (this was the country's eighth-best defense going into the game) and then running, seemingly at will, to set up a Toledo-style screen pass for another touchdown (and again, they did kick an extra point even if the network didn't show it.)

As was true of Fall Wacht Am Rhein, the bulge was contained and the air coverage improved. Garrett Wolfe got away for a 50 yard touchdown carry. That point-after was televised nationally. On Troy's next series, Lionel Hickenbottom returned an interception to the Troy 28. Before the first quarter ended, the score was tied.

In the second quarter, the Northern Illinois defense and special teams showed their stuff.





That punt block by Dustin Utschig led to a field goal. Northern Illinois would make seven additional stops and score seventeen more points, making their season average of 34 points before Troy put together another scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. Final score 34-21, which a Chicago Tribune reader can discover but a Birmingham Post-Herald reader is still waiting for word.

By the third quarter, the network equipment was working well enough to spend more time observing the live Huskie mascot. We have a few available for home games, and they give the kids who run behind them a bit of a workout. Apparently an alumna of Northern Illinois who lives in Silicon Valley lent one for the game.

Next up for Northern Illinois: a Labor Day weekend trip to Ann Arbor. Did I tell you how much I enjoy NOT hearing the Michigan band play that one tune they know?


IT TAKES A LOT TO STOP A TRAIN. Huge wave flung train like a toy.

It looks like several bombs exploded in the area, not like the power of water. In a disaster that has crushed villages from Asia to Africa, the southwest coastline of Sri Lanka still has the power to shock. The tsunami, triggered by Sunday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake near Indonesia, traveled 1,000 miles west in two hours and unleashed itself on this 30-mile swath of coastline, killing thousands.

More than 27,000 people have died in Sri Lanka. But few places tell the story of this tragedy like the passenger train traveling from the capital, Colombo, to the southern beach town of Galle on the day after Christmas.

The train stopped on the tracks when the conductor saw water ahead. But the water rushed through, picking up the cars and throwing them like toys. Train cars split from each other, landing on their sides and upside down. The wheels came off. The tracks were ripped out of the ground. About 1,000 people are thought to have died.

This was about 400 yards from the coast, much farther away than other hard-hit areas.

Put another way, the tracks were sufficiently far inland to be protected from the normal wear and tear a large body of water such as Lake Erie, the English Channel, or the Atlantic Ocean can inflict on the New York Central, the Great Western, or the New Haven, but subject to much larger destructive forces such as this wave.
WELCOME GUESTS. A Constrained Vision and University Diaries are sending readers this way. Thanks for looking in. It will be a quiet day today after a long night that involved, for reasons that are spelled out above, hoisting multiple Sprechers.

30.12.04

YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BEAT SOMETHING. Metaphor Country suggests that the Democratic Party's efforts to win by offering the same nostrums framed in a new way are likely to be futile.

To Lakoff it's all a matter of "framing" -- frame better, and the human sheep will follow. Because, you know, enlightenment has failed, and the best manipulator wins. Being a progressive, Lakoff is angry at the way Republicans frame. But, in despair over the need to frame -- and operating far from the emotional core -- the best he can come up with are tinny alternative phrases. Call trial lawyers "public protection attorneys." Campaign for "poison-free communities." And you've solved it.

No, you haven't. If you want to motivate people, you have to start by respecting them, and respecting what they believe. And, while you're at it, you have to know what they believe.

True enough. It helps to have good models of those belief systems, and Professor Lakoff's "nurturant parent" foundation has logical flaws.
PLAYING MORAL EQUIVALENCE. Voluntary Xchange asks readers to think about what constitutes a crime against humanity.
How many excess deaths are necessary for a government official to be internationally hounded, and ideally put on trial before some international tribunal for involuntary manslaughter?
Perhaps there is a distinction between crimes of omission and crimes of commission.
REVISE AND RESUBMIT. A Constrained Vision finds Professor Amy Wells of a noted college of deaducation to have been as careless with the research on the effectiveness of charter schools as she was with the economics.
LEGACY OF THE SIXTIES. Things calculated to make me feel old.
The 1960's are as distant from today as the Great Depression was from the 1960's, and economic historians, including Professor Margo, of Vanderbilt University, are examining the decade's long-term effects.
Virginia Postrel surveys their research, which notes the permanent damage done to Detroit and other cities that had a long hot summer.

The economists start with sociologists' findings on the riots' causes: whether a city had a riot was essentially unpredictable, assuming the city was outside the South (where few riots occurred) and had a substantial African-American population. The sociologists' research, Professor Margo says, suggests that "there was so much racial tension in the air in the 1960's that a riot could happen almost anywhere, anytime."

That unpredictability is bad news for sociologists looking for causes but good news for economists analyzing consequences. It creates a natural experiment, dividing otherwise similar places into those that had riots and those that did not.

In cities with major riots, the economists find that the median black family income dropped by about 9 percent from 1960 to 1970, compared with similar cities without severe riots. This impact on the labor market may have actually been more severe in the long run. From 1960 to 1980, male employment in cities with severe riots dropped four to seven percentage points, compared with otherwise similar cities.

The impact on property values is even more striking. In cities with severe riots, Professors Collins and Margo found, the median value of black-owned homes dropped 14 percent to 20 percent, compared with cities that experienced little or no rioting, from 1960 to 1970. The median value of all central-city homes, regardless of owner, dropped 6 percent, to 10 percent.

The following factoid ought to give pause to people who question the effectiveness of the "Great Society" reforms.
From 1940 to 1970, the value of homes owned and occupied by blacks in central cities jumped to 69 percent of the value of urban homes owned and occupied by whites, from 51 percent. (Home values were rising over this period as well.) By 1990, however, the ratio was down to a mere 53 percent, nearly as low as in 1940.
That information ought be considered in any evaluation of other incomes policies.
SPEAKING OF SHIRKING. Forward Markets weighs in on Marginal Revolution's calculation debate questions, identifying a free riding problem inherent in "from each, to each."
In a nutshell, socialist planners could have the best information available and could plan their asses off accordingly and socialism would still fail because the people responsible for actually doing the work would still suffer from the moral hazard problem.
That is, if the planners could plan, which they can't.
PAID YOUR TELEVISION TAX? Professor Althouse discovers that the price of freedom from commercials on the BBC is a slightly greater exposure to visits from the Television Police. (No, this is not a Monty Python skit.)
That's awfully oppressive. And why deter the poorest people from having TVs? What a terrible system. Why not just support the BBC from general tax funds if you love the BBC so much? You're already operating on the assumption that everyone wants to have a TV.
(I will refrain from a riff on the culture war guaranteed whenever government funds are used for the creative arts. The Superintendent's position on such matters is that government sponsored art, or government sponsored broadcasts, are censorship per se.)

The television signal is an illustration of a local pure public good. Every receiver within range of the transmitter (hence local) is able to receive the signal (hence nonexclusive use, provided the receiver is tuned to receive the signal) without impinging on any other receiver's ability to decode the signal (hence nonrivalrous consumption.) The existence of television networks and television commercials present counterexamples to the vulgar Welfare Economics Paradigm perspective (which infects the Wikipedia definition I used, although its observation of the rent-seeking-in-provision phenomenon called the military-industrial complex is notable) in which any outcome other than textbook "perfect competition" are market "failures" that "warrant" some sort of government corrective. (This summary of general equilibrium and welfare economics is more careful. Read and understand it. I may have just identified some online resources for my upcoming public policy class. The one I called "vulgar" has more fumbles than UCLA at the 1993-1994 Rose Bowl. I haven't mentioned my other team much but they will be playing on Saturday. How many other academicians have both their alma mater and their employer in different bowls?)

The article Professor Althouse links to illustrates a couple of problems with the idea that a public good requires government provision. The Television Police have a serious problem with free riders.
It is a criminal offense for anyone with a television set not to pay it, whether they watch the BBC or not. Fee-evasion cases make up 12 percent of the caseload in magistrates' courts. Although most evaders are fined, 20 people were imprisoned for nonpayment last year.
The problem the British face is that viewers now have choices.
BBC television has now been joined by hundreds of commercial stations that compete for advertising and viewers but do not receive a share of the license fee. The government has pledged to keep the current system in place when the BBC's charter is renewed in 2006.
Big mistake. Why should viewers have to pay their television tax for the support of official programming they never watch, and be exposed to the commercials that pay for the provision of other network programming? Let the Beeb have a pledge drive. The Wikipedia analysis gets it about half right.
However, since in some cases, most of the benefit of a lighthouse accrues to ships using particular ports, lighthouse maintenance fees can profitably be bundled with port fees. This has been been sufficient to fund some actual lighthouses as private goods. However, since port fees themselves are much like taxes, this argument does not go against the theory of public goods completely.
Port fees, I suppose, function like television taxes. But the trick is to bundle the provision of the public good with the use of something else in a low-transaction-cost way. There may be no cheaper way to pay for lighthouses than by docking docking ships. Commercials strike me as less intrusive than the Television Police.
$4,530,079.22. At the creation of this post, that's how much money the Amazon Honor System has collected for the American Red Cross's South Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Relief efforts. (If you click that link to see how much more money has been collected, and you haven't kicked in, consider doing so.) This article notes that the American Red Cross has received at least $18 million in donations, as well as providing an opportunity to play Alchian and Allen Jeopardy.
All the charitable agencies asked donors to give money rather than blankets, clothes or other goods.
Money provides flexibility. There will be a prize for the first reader to correctly phrase the question and provide a page reference.

Dan Drezner came off of his leave to provide other links for those who wish to get involved, and Big Arm Woman survived a snowy trip to the Polar Express to identify Charity Navigator, an auditing service that reports how much of your contribution goes to do good works, rather than to pay for additional fundraising or other administrative expenses.

Vinayak at Truck and Barter has a special request. He hails from Madras, India -- those of a certain age may recall the hippie shirts -- a coastal city that has been swamped, and he recommends AID India, a local organization that could also use your help.

Betsy's Page pinch-hits for Santa Claus, finding an Australian server's list of who has been naughty and who has been nice in providing resources.

Some people find time to engage in recriminations. (OK, there's a certain Schadenfreude in noting that as of 1034 CDT the Amazon collection from citizen contributors exceeds the official contribution from Germany.) James at Outside the Beltway compares and contrasts a New York Times editorial grousing about Official Stinginess with a Washington Post article noting Citizen Involvement. McQ at QandO has performed the nasty but necessary trek through the fever-swamps of armchair ankle-biters, as well as offering some advice to such.

And I fear that University Diaries has jumped the shark.

For I considered the frailty of the system:

That a field goal kicked by a schoolboy is worth fourteen million;
That the ill-gotten Bowl won’t send a penny to tsunami victims.

And once my queasiness at 93 million in payouts subsided,
I wracked my airy little head and decided.

Congress should not be soothed, or fooled
Into considering the big football schools
Some sort of academic endeavor.

Well, we knew that, Michigan and occasional flashes from Stanford notwithstanding. But perhaps it's the gains from trade stemming from the bowls, and other entertainment, and other commercial frivolities, that help make the charitable contributions possible. Perhaps the fault lies with Washington Post sports commentator Sally Jenkins.
Once my queasiness at this discovery subsided, I simply put two and two together, and thought, why not put that money where it can do some good, instead of into building more trophy cabinets and indoor practice facilities for America's Kappa Alphas and Sigma Chis?
You mean Title IX is a mistake? Where does the bowl subsidy money, if there is in fact a subsidy, go?

I intend to watch Northern Illinois tonight, whether the $750 thousand will do us any good or not.

29.12.04

RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Could the people of Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Somalia have been spared the mass drownings? A geology professor at the University of Wisconsin interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says yes.
While deaths from the earthquake itself could probably not have been reduced, many of those caused by the tsunami could have. We know that earthquakes and tsunamis are related. It's a practical matter of setting up tsunami warning systems. Seismometers record the earthquake, and wave sensors will pick up traveling wave action. Think about it. These waves are traveling tens or hundreds of miles per hour and crossing distances of thousands of miles. You do the math. With a warning system, depending upon where you are located, you'd have anywhere between a few seconds and hours to prepare. It was a preventable disaster, and it was definitely unfortunate.
Sean at The American Mind disagrees.
I will grant Thai officials didn't have much to offer the effected areas. The best they could have done was inform beachfront resorts that a strong earthquake could produce tsunamis. There's no assumption any warning would have been heeded. Locals could have just brushed it off since tsunamis rarely happen in that area.
We have a classic inference problem. Suppose the null hypothesis is that the earthquake has generated a dangerous tsunami. The government still does not know what its magnitude will be. The beachgoers have no idea how accurate the government's projection is, if one is issued. If you reject the null hypothesis, and it is true, a Type I error, do you drown, or do you see three brief increases in the local surf?

Would your answer be any different if your beach front had a history of tsunamis?

Under what circumstances would you make additional investments in tsunami warning systems?

And people say statistics is dry. I commend this primer on the various sorts of errors in inference researchers may be subject to.
SOME GOOD QUESTIONS. Tyler at Marginal Revolution poses four questions about economic calculation.
1. How does rational calculation take place within the firm? Keep in mind that some corporate giants are larger in economic terms than the smaller socialist economies.
Rational calculation? Tee hee. Dilbert is successful for a reason. Seriously, business firms are collections of transactions that can be organized more cheaply by command-and-control than by open-market transactions (imagine the drawer of wire selling the drawn wire to another contractor who straightens it and then seeks yet another contractor who cuts it.) But those open market transactions provide sufficient information for the entrepreneur to be able to guess how much brass to purchase for drawing into wire in order to convert into cards of finished pins to sell to various users thereof.

That canard about General Motors being bigger than North Korea is a favorite hobbyhorse of socialists and anti-globalization freakazoids. What distinguishes General Motors from North Korea is that General Motors has price signals to respond to that are absent to the North Korean version of Gosplan. The claim that because a corporation is a large planned economy, a planned economy ought to be practical, is a howling non sequitur. The largest corporation subsumes transactions that are a tiny subset of the transactions of a small open economy.

There is a further pedantic point: in the absence of any prices, does anybody really know what the gross product of a small socialist economy is worth?
2. If one person owned (privately) all the firms in the economy, would rational calculation be possible?
No. The image brings to my mind that apocalyptic paragraph in Capital about the dwindling numbers of the magnates of capital, who ultimately become incompatible with their capitalist integument. (Socialism, then, is simply the transfer of ownership of the means of production from their one owner to the workers, who presumably know how the enterprise works and all of a sudden have the usurped surplus value to share among themselves. That's the premise behind Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward.)

But think, instead, about Stuart Saunders, who could not combine two large railroads, or Harold Geneen, who thought that success in managing Latin American telephone utilities conferred ability to bake bread or rent cars at airports, or Jimmy Ling, who thought success in shipbuilding implied a Midas touch at making the steel for the ships. I commend Ravenscraft and Scherer's Mergers, Sell-Offs, and Economic Efficiency (details or compare prices), a case study that discovers much of the merger activity of the early 1980s was diversified companies hiving off divisions that underperformed, sometimes because they proved to be more difficult to manage than other divisions offering products closer to the diversifying firm's original core comparative advantages. Fatal conceits do not lay low only government bureaucrats. The cult of the conglomerate has given way to the cult of the CEO, but the CEO can be mugged by reality too.

(I'm getting a bit ahead of my story here, because I've just argued that a diversified firm is not equivalent to a mutual fund.)
3. If one dictator controlled all the firms in the economy, would rational calculation be possible?
No. Neither a comprehensive conglomerate firm nor a comprehensive dictatorship would have sufficient price signals to make choices, unless one goes pomo and defines rational as "whatever the dictator wants." I think that wrecked the early Soviet economy, the Chinese Great Leap Forward, and the Luftwaffe. The value of markets is in giving people information to choose among conflicting claims on goods (why else begin the first price theory class with "allocating scarce resources among competing uses," nicht wahr?) That information is absent to the CEO of Comprehensive Conglomerate as well as to the economic dictator.
4. If institutional investors or a diversified citizenry all owned the so-called "market portfolio" in equal proportions, like the Capital Asset Pricing Model suggests, would rational calculation be possible? [TC: Or is this scenario of "perfect capitalism" not much different from pure communism?]
Certainly. Those consumers differ in their desires for goods. The existence of shares suggests those consumers are willing to let entrepreneurs be agents on their behalf. Rewards and punishments for acting on those desires remain, and presumably some of those consumers are acting as entrepreneurs, managers, or workers as well as holding their shares. The question as posed hasn't ruled out sole proprietorships.

There is a somewhat more challenging problem. As firms adapt to price signals or develop new products, must these citizens continuously update their portfolios? Sounds like a worse nightmare than an eternal town meeting, the "perfect democracy" scenario from political theory.
MORE VALUABLE AS A SOURCE OF AIRCRAFT. Virginia Postrel:
If ever a company deserved to go out of business, it's US Airways.
Ms. Postrel takes a dim view of the emergence of ramp flu.
If you hate your boss or just don't want to go to work, find another job. Don't deliberately ruin other people's holiday travel.
The rot, however, begins at the top.
“I have seen lots of excuses for why people took it upon themselves to call in sick, such as low morale, poor management, anger over pay cuts and frustration with labor negotiations,” [U.S. Airways chief executive Bruce] Lakefield said. “None of those excuses passes the test. We all have our jobs to do.”
I think that includes having sufficient understanding of the system to be able to improvise schedules and crew dispatch despite computer problems.
THEY STILL VOTE ON COLLEGE COUNCIL. University Diaries does the unpleasant but socially necessary work of locating and commenting on the Modern Language Association convention. She musters a bit of empathy for the New York Times reporter who drew the short straw.
When you edit down the MLA convention, the problem isn't infantile provocativeness, as the Times writer suggests, but ideological non-deviationism. The papers are displays of party discipline.
The writer suggests the act is wearing a bit thin.

What any of it has to do with teaching literature to America's college students remains as vexing a question to some today as it was a decade ago. There is, in fact, something achingly 90's about the whole affair. The association has come to resemble a hyperactive child who, having interrupted the grownups' conversation by dancing on the coffee table, can't be made to stop. Citing [Cal] Professor [Frederick] Crews's book in The Partisan Review last year, Sanford Pinsker said: "In my better moods, I try to convince myself that 'Postmodern Pooh' marks the end of the arrant foolishness that has turned literary studies into a laughingstock; in my darker moments, however, I fear that there are other, even more outrageous would-be celebrities hoping to cash in on whatever post-postmodernism turns out to be."

Or, as Mr. [Scott] McLemee [of the *ahem* Chronicle of Higher Education] put it: "The circus is looking pretty threadbare, and the ones trying to do the freak show aspect of it are looking silly now." And yes, many believe that the press is encouraging them by continuing to pay attention.

To answer that first question: nothing. The Economics Department is apparently teaching writing now; the English Department having abdicated that function. To the extent that economists use inter alia Tom Sawyer or "The Road Not Taken" to introduce basic economic concepts, we're teaching the literature. But Modern Language Association types get to compete for tenured slots in English, Communication, various Area Studies centers, Anthropology, and for all I know Law.
SEX, DEATH, AND PROSPERITY. Voluntary Xchange opens up a can on those who would denounce the marketization of everything.

Does anyone really think that Thailand spent anywhere near that kind of money to protect the thousands of people who could've died in this tragedy - but didn't - because they had the good fortune to be in Thailand instead of Sri Lanka? Of course not.

But, what Thailand does have, and has had for over a generation, is a richer and freer society than its neighbors. And its greedy rapacious free thinking capitalists somehow invested enough in infrastructure while abusing the masses that they saved a lot of lives. There is an economic growth recipe that Thailand followed and its neighbors didn't.

So, let me be the first to say that the anti-business, anti-profit, anti-capitalist policies of many countries are nothing short of murderous. But this can often be hidden ... until a disaster hits and proves it. These aren't policy experiments ... or differences of opinion ... or local ideas for local societies ... they're crimes against humanity.

Strong, perhaps, but worth considering. The Chicago Tribune West (the Los Angeles Times, if you must, via Presto Pundit) has additional details.

Rebuilding will be more difficult in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where resources have been depleted by long civil, ethnic or religious violence and corruption. In Indonesia, for instance, large swaths of the Aceh province, crushed by the magnitude 9 earthquake off its coast and the tsunami that followed, have been a battleground between separatists and government troops since the 1970s.

These places "have been left alone because they were too dangerous, too disobedient, too separatist. And with a high degree of corruption, it will take a very long time for those areas to recover," said Wolf Dombrowski, a professor in the disaster research unit at the University of Kiel, Germany.

Do people have to die in order for these lessons to be learned? A professor at a famous college of deaducation (via Econ Log, and thanks for the props) still doesn't get it.
In this decade of growing free-market disillusionment, policymakers should amend state laws to better support the high-achieving charter schools and close the rest. And I hope they will also remember the hard lesson learned from this reform: that free markets in education, like free markets generally, do not serve poor children well.
Which, I suppose, is why the separatist coastal regions of Indonesia, and the Somali coast, were the best places to ride out the tsunami. (Or perhaps there is an error in inference: where there are markets, there are richer people?) The professor's previous paragraph actually suggests there are insufficient markets, not too many markets. And what's up with this "free-market disillusionment" meme? More of that "reality-based" conceit?
Carrying out market-based school reform on the cheap requires people with the experience to educate children, the business acumen to run an autonomous institution, the political connections to raise the private funds needed to keep the school afloat, and the ability to forsake their personal life to work six or seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. It turns out that there are a limited number of people who can or will do charter school reform well. Thus, most charters schools hire younger, less experienced teachers and have high rates of teacher and administrator burnout and turnover.
Egad. The dot.com millionaires might have been willing to put in even longer hours each day, but they had the chance to become, well, millionaires. (Does anybody complain about entrepreneurs, or lawyers, or Congressional staffers, or tenure-track professors, putting in long hours? That is, anybody other than aggrieved spouses?)

The problem is not with the market reforms, the problem is with attempting to do them on the cheap, particularly if the unionized, tenure-protected, mediocrity-coddling conventional government schools remain as alternatives. The problem might also lie with the assignment of property rights, such that people have to engage in Queen for a Day fundraising tactics rather than raising tuition or having their bonds underwritten on LaSalle Street.
TRIFECTA. Trent at Catallarchy observes that, after a natural disaster, well-meaning people will see reason for price controls on relief supplies, see price gouging, and revisit the broken window fallacy. They're all out there.

Don at Cafe Hayek disposes of the high-prices-have-a-disparate-impact-on-the-poor argument.

But if regulation keeps price from rising, some method other than higher prices must be used to determine which of the many demanders of lumber get the relatively few supplies of lumber.

What are these other methods? They include principally queuing, black-market transactions, and use of political or commercial connections. They might include even violence.

An inevitable consequence of price caps, therefore, is to raise the value of the skills and other assets useful in carrying out these other methods of rationing – skills at queuing; skills at successfully conducting black-market exchanges; skills at manipulating personal and political connections.

Even if you’re concerned only with ‘the poor,’ therefore, the correct question is not "are the poor less able to pay higher prices than lower prices for staple goods?’ The answer to this question is all too obvious: yes.

The relevant question instead is "are the poor less able to pay higher market prices than they are able to pay to take advantage of the other methods of rationing that necessarily replace higher prices?"

I'd add something further. "To each according to his need" requires a measuring stick for neediness. Is a disaster area really the best place to set up the studio for Queen for a Day? (That was a proto-reality show of the early 1960s in which women would tell their tales of woe and the most successful of the three, as measured by audience applause, would get goods provided by manufacturers who offered a promotional consideration to the show.)

Market Power has noted the broken window argument. He has also suffered a real loss. Send your condolences.

And yes, somebody in the main press did offer the broken window argument. Exploit the Worker caught it.
THIS SUBWAY SUCKS. Live from the Third Rail unearths an online history of the Beach Pneumatic Subway under the streets of New York.

28.12.04

MILWAUKEE, ESTONIA?


Milwaukee's City Hall

Whitney Gould praises the construction philosophy of years past, wonders where today's monumental buildings are.

One quibble: those "tacky wooden letters" spelled out the "Welcome Milwaukee Visitors" that appeared at the beginning of each episode of Laverne and Shirley. For many years, that bell tower was the tallest building in Milwaukee.
COLLEGE FOR EVERYBODY? Garance at Tapped sounds the tocsin to defend universal college access.
It's very important if you are trying to create a society where no one expects government help that you first teach the young that they are going to have to do everything on their own and finance their own educations through debt-instruments, such as credit cards and student loans, rather than relying on any sort of collective assistance program, such as federal grants. You might think that reducing aid for young people to go to college would negatively impact the nation's economic future by reducing pathways into the middle-class and the number of skilled workers in the labor force. But it's quite essential to the ongoing Republican effort to re-educate the American public toward a more individualistic philosophy of government that the citizenry be taught early that they can expect no outside assistance and that as soon as they leave the parental nest, they are really and truly on their own.
You might think that the returns to education are sufficiently high that student loans -- or working your way through college -- perhaps with interest payment tax deductions similar to those for mortgage interests -- would suffice for people to finance their own educations.

That observation about "leaving the parental nest" is precious, too. I wonder: how many of the interns, writers, stringers, or editors at the national opinion magazines, left or right (pick Reason or The American Prospect or The Washington Monthly or National Review or The Progressive or The Weekly Standard or The Nation or New Republic) worked their way through a mid-major, perhaps while holding a day job and raising a kid. (Is there an affirmative-action case here: Ivy League graduates work in the national opinion magazines in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the national population of university graduates.) This talk about universal college access is easy for people to indulge in, if they've never had to see what it means for the pace of the class, or had to contend with twice as many bodies vying for space in their classes, or compared notes with someone who has. As King at SCSU Scholars notes, it will be St. Cloud State and Western Illinois and the community colleges absorbing these additional students: it won't be Harvard or Dartmouth or in all likelihood Michigan or Cal doing the accommodating.
STILL PLAYING THAT WEAK HAND. Robert at Liberty and Power continues to follow the travails of Southern Mississippi President Shelby "Ten of Diamonds" Thames.
RONALD COASE, CALL YOUR OFFICE. Grant at Anthropology and Economics discovers a dialectic at work within the corporation.

Creativity in the corporation has always been a kind of necessary evil. Necessary because is often the source of competitive advantage, category leadership, brand profile, growth, profit and share price. Evil because it’s just so hard to manage.

Corporations thrive on system, process, top-down control, stasis and discipline. Creativity prefers fresh thinking, rule breaking and getting outside the box of conventional practice. On balance, it seems better just to keep creativity “over there” at the advertising agency.

The corporation well might be sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

Management is about command and control, how generously we seek to re-imagine it. To this extent, the corporation may well remain a place that is essentially inimical to creativity.

Second, there is the problem of office politics. Every corporation is filled with people who compete for budgets, for CEO attention, for pride of place, and most of all for advancement. This means the corporation systematically creates people who will interfere with the realization of other people’s ideas, however good these ideas are.

Third, a lot of corporations make people miserable. The sheer press of business, the multiplicity of projects, the conflicting agenda and objectives, the grinding need to “make one’s numbers” every quarter, all these conspire to make life overwhelming, exhausting and grim. One effect: talented people turn into nay sayers. The corporation has found another way to staff itself with people who block innovation.

Institutions evolve to economize on transaction costs. That includes the selection of organizational forms other than corporations.
GET A GRIP. Andrew Sullivan has been issuing a new "Malkin Award" to commentators who, in his view, have taken too extreme a position in portraying their mainstream icons as under attack by whiny extremists. Unsurprisingly, at least one involves the de-Christianizing of Christmas. Methinks he doth protest too much. Mark Steyn (via Joanne Jacobs) puts much of the dispute into perspective.
The seasonally litigious rest their fanatical devotion to the de-Christification of Christmas on the separation of church and state. America's founders were certainly opposed to the ''establishment'' of religion, whose meaning is clear enough to any Englishman: The new republic did not want President George Washington serving simultaneously as supreme governor of the Church of America, as the queen today is simultaneously head of the Church of England, or the bishop of Virginia sitting in the U.S. Senate, as today the archbishop of York sits in the House of Lords. Two centuries on, these possibilities are so remote to Americans that the ''separation'' of church and state has dwindled down to threats of legal action over red and green party napkins.
That is not to say, however, that there are not whiny extremists. Penraker finds one.
Let me get this straight - you need to make sure you exclude Christian symbols in order to be "inclusive"? Wouldn't that properly be called being exclusive? I thought being inclusive was welcoming and having respect for all traditions. Why the suppression of one particular tradition?
He takes the opportunity to make mock, as he should, of the Dictatorship of Virtue.
No one person can ever be made to feel uncomfortable. Is that the rule? How about if I am uncomfortable going to your fake, made up diversity training? Can I be excluded because the people teaching those things treat you as such an infant that you are bound to become uncomfortable?
Must. Deal. Cards. But first, an observation. Might it be the case that a few jihadis have hijacked Sunni teachings for their own ends, despite the bad effects that has on all of Islam? Might a few Ba'athists have once hijacked all of Iraq for their own ends, despite the bad effects that had on Shia and Kurd?

And, dear reader, might it be the case that a few seculars -- whiny extremists, perhaps, but successful whiny extremists -- have hijacked the common culture for their own ends, despite the bad effects that have come in their train?
BY THEIR FRUITS SHALL YE KNOW THEM. Michael Barone argues that "reactionary progressivism" is not an oxymoron. One flash point:
For younger women, the grievances of feminism must seem antique. They were told as they were brought up that they were under obligations to leave the workplace to raise their children and to subordinate their own happiness to their duty to others. On the contrary, they may have resented the absence in their daily lives of their working mothers or the divorce of parents who decided to seek happiness their own way.
A Constrained Vision, in a link-rich post, sees that same phenomenon influencing the music.
I think that one of the more novel and interesting parts is the chapter on how contemporary music reflects the emotional damage caused by family dysfunction. That chapter is excerpted in the current issue of Policy Review.
The root of the problem, however, might be in making it more difficult for people to get into difficult situations in the first place; the problem lies not with the divorces, but with the dubious grounds for the marriages that produced these angry kids.
SERIOUS THINKING ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY. ‘Crisis’ may be in eye of beholder.
“I don’t think there is a pressing crisis in Social Security right now,” said John Karl Scholz, another UW-Madison economics professor who has studied the system for a long time. “The long-term financing can use some shoring up.”
We can do better with the "shoring up" than the consensus fix among those denying there is a crisis.

Among the fixes suggested by those who are skeptical of private accounts are mixtures of lowering benefits and raising taxes.

Slowly increasing the retirement age and raising the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax are often mentioned.

According to a recent report from CCH [Inc., a business information firm in Riverwoods, Ill], if the Social Security tax were collected on wages up to $200,000 instead of the 2005 limit of $90,000, enough money would be raised to deal with the situation.

Yes, if one overlooks the opportunity costs. Max Speak, who has been following the conversation with some care, appears not to be bothered by the opportunity cost.
To be sure, conservative critics of the program believe their proposals would have beneficial effects on savings and investment. In that sense, Social Security reform is the newest vintage of supply-side economics. It presumes that program changes will lead to changes in behavior, a topic beyond the scope of this post.
Why, because the conclusions (Martin Feldstein's research on the growth-reducing effect of the Social Security tax serving as a transfer rather than as savings) would not be congenial to advocates of the status quo?

A previous post on the same topic is positively Panglossian.
Actually we require income tax revenues to finance part of benefits starting in 2018. Between 2040, before the system is "broke," and after 2042, exactly zero change in taxes is required to finance all benefits. You don't know what you're talking about.
Back to the newspaper:

• As now constituted, the Social Security system will bring in less money than it needs to pay out in benefits beginning in 2018, according to the trustees of the system, or in 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

• When that happens, to keep paying promised benefits, the system will have to cash in the government bonds it has been collecting since the mid 1980s. That could be done by the government redeeming them through other tax revenue or by borrowing from the general public.

What other expenditures of public moneys shall we give up? The St. Lawrence Seaway? High speed trains in the Midwest? Wouldn't a somewhat larger economy with a larger tax base be preferable?

There's another observation in the Max Speak post that bears noting:
An IOU is a promise to pay. Should the Gov renege on its promise?
Sure. Refinance it at the Fed.

Steve Verdon has some additional thoughts on other magic fixes, including immigration and productivity.

SECOND SECTION: Nate at Four Way Stop has been thinking about the debate as well.
When one side of an issue becomes so intransigient it won't look at facts, you can't have a debate. With pretty much the entire Democratic blogosphere/brain trust/political community dead-set in believing Social Security can just be left alone, I think we've reached that point.
Check it out.
THE "LIVING WAGE" FANTASY. Mungowitz End:

If you raise pay from $6.00 / hour to $14.00 / hour or more (why not abolish gravity, while we are at it?), poor people are going to be driven out. Right now, if a job opening is announced at a university for housekeepers, there are 10 or more applicants, and that is for a very low rate of pay.

But everyone who applies is economically marginal. History of firings, periods out of the work force, little relevant experience, that sort of thing. How about if the job paid $14 / hour? Hundreds of applicants, and many of them are NOT economically marginal. Over time, all of the economically marginal people, with problems with absenteeism, punctuality, health difficulties, will be squeezed out. “Living Wage” will not be enjoyed by those now working at minimum wage, but by those whose skills can command that wage in the marketplace.

None of which deters the city fathers of Madison, Wisconsin, where a local living wage ordinance is to take effect.
At issue is a waging of political wills over the first Wisconsin increase in the minimum wage since it rose to $5.15 an hour in September 1997. The Madison mayor and Common Council have agreed to boost the rate to $5.70 an hour Jan. 1, then to $6.50 a year later, to $7.25 in January 2007. In January 2008, it would go to $7.75 an hour and adjust for inflation.
The usual suspects can be counted on to raise the usual objections.
But the business associations, calling themselves Main Street Coalition for Economic Growth Inc., are challenging the city’s authority to raise its minimum wage independent of the statewide rate. They have filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order against the Madison wage increase.
Sometimes the way to demonstrate the folly of the law is to comply with it. Madison is close enough to reality for reality to demonstrate more job opportunities than will be observed in Madison.
TO REALLY SCREW THINGS UP REQUIRES A COMPUTER. There are no high-speed trains in much of the country, many of the interstate highways, otherwise known as corporate welfare for the truckers, were fouled by snow, and airline employees are unhappy. To add to the troubles, airplane scheduling and crew dispatching (two good jobs for economics majors, particularly with a bit of training in operations research) have become too dependent on computer programs that are incapable of making things up on their own.

Comair was unable to schedule sufficient flight crews, stranding as many as 30,000 people in 119 cities over the weekend, after its computers crashed on Christmas Day.

The carrier continued to struggle on Monday, operating just 60% of its 1,160 flights. Comair, which was already in the process of updating its computers, said it might not operate a full daily schedule until Wednesday.

Humph. What ever happened to lots of scribbling on paper, and the telephone or the crew-caller on a bicycle?

Terry Tripler, an airline industry expert in Minneapolis, said the Comair flight disruptions were inexcusable.

“This is the equivalent of Wal-Mart having every cash register closed down the day after Thanksgiving,” he said. “Is that how a business operates? Is there not a backup system somewhere?”

No. And too many people still view the computer as some sort of god.

But the dependence on computers by the industry means passengers are likely to see more flight delays caused by computer errors in the future.

“I’m afraid so,” said airline industry analyst Michael Boyd. “As long as computers continue to be made and operated by humans, we’re going to have the problem.”

Bunk. Somewhere there has to be someone with the authority to override the computer, and check the availability of planes at the airport and rest time of crews at the hotel, and get some semblance of service running.

Perhaps part of the problem has been the belief of airline management that there is a reserve army of unemployed aircrew just waiting for their chance to work for Screwup Scarelines.

Michael Boyd, an aviation industry consultant, said the sick calls were a case of "product sabotage."

US Airways has a full-scale employee mutiny on its hands," he said. "Not everyone is involved, but enough are to give the airline heartburn and they can't afford heartburn."

I think they have employees that are fed up with being made the scapegoat for what is happening at the airline," said Boyd, alluding to US Airways' bankruptcy now pending in federal bankruptcy court. "I understand where they are coming from, but this might kill the airline. This airline cannot afford a lot of bad publicity or passengers booking away."

Perhaps Allegheny U.S. Air is more valuable as a source of aircraft for other carriers than as a going concern.
TIME-CONSISTENCY PROBLEM. More shoppers are buying gift certificates, which have odd effects on the retailers' bottom line.
This year, sales lagged behind expectations in the early weeks of December, so a strong last week of the month is crucial for many retailers. Sales of gift cards were expected to rise for the holiday season, and that should bring more shoppers into stores this week and into January.
Let's see if I remember the accounting.

Store sells the gift certificate. Debit cash, credit some sort of future liabilities account.

Shopper redeems the gift certificate. Debit the liabilities account, credit inventories.

Because the good has now been sold, now the store can work out the cost of goods sold and report Christmas-season sales and profits.

The more interesting problem involves the timing of sales, which gift-certificate holders are exploiting.
Gift cards are a mixed blessing for retailers. While consumers who use them typically buy more than the face value of the cards, they also are shopping after Christmas and buying heavily discounted items.
Yes, but stores are now making pre-Christmas markdowns to clear the stuff out before Christmas, which is when it used to be purchased, and when the cost of goods sold and gross margin could be calculated. Retailers are already figuring some of this out.
“I think you’re going to see stores promoting higher-margin goods for shoppers with newfound money, and maybe less discounting,” [consultant William] Michaels said.
There is one other advantage retailers are going to recognize eventually.

“There’s a lot of stuff left,” said Catherine Spelshaus of Waukesha, who shopped at Kohl’s on Sunday.

Spelshaus was at Mayfair on Monday with her son Adam, 23, to exchange Christmas gifts at Boston Store and to look for bargains. “I’m probably going to wait yet, because I think there’ll be further markdowns,” Spelshaus said.

Those exchange desks don't run for free. Not only that, returned goods have to be credited to inventories with adjusting entries to the cost of goods sold, and the gross margin, no? (Hmm, do those reported sales figures reflect reserve accounts established for returns, or not?)

Somebody remind me once again how precise those numbers are ...
A LITTLE UNSEEMLY CROWING. Packers 34, Vikings 31, in the Roller Dome.
CLOSE THE WELLAND CANAL. Exotic predators enter the Great Lakes as stowaways in the ballast tanks of ships, as well as by swimming up the Chicago River.
"We haven't done anything," says Gary Fahnenstiel, a senior ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's all been rhetoric by politicians. I'll be among the first scientists to say: Let's close the Welland Canal. Let's start there. This is ridiculous."
That will limit the access of overseas hitchhikers in ballast tanks. There is still the little problem of Asian big-headed carp making their way north in the Illinois River and the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
If bighead carp make their way into the lakes, says Dennis Schornack, President Bush's handpicked person for U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes issues, "then it is just a matter of time before we end up with a carp pond."
Suppose the U.S. and Canadian governments did in fact close the Seaway and the Welland Canal. What would the economic consequences be?

Perhaps not much, according to this study conducted for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. The study notes some 152,000 jobs dependent on cargo movements on what the report calls the "U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System" as of 2000.

Note the conjuring trick being employed. Absent the Welland Canal, three of the five Lakes would function as a connected ecosystem as well as a contiguous transportation route, and the St. Mary's River from Lake Superior to Lake Huron allows for some movement of fish. The Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo") Locks permit the movement of boats between Lake Superior and the other three Lakes. These locks are much larger than those on the Welland Canal and the Seaway. There are lakers that have been built and remain confined on the Lakes for their entire service lives, transporting iron ore, coal, and sand and gravel aggregates, which are three of the top four cargoes transported on the Lakes. (Iron and steel products, which for the most part move within the contiguous Lakes, are in second place.) Note what is missing: grain (which in principle could be moved from elevators at Duluth-Superior, Milwaukee, and Chicago overseas), paper (Minnesota and Wisconsin ports), timber, and livestock. Those export cargoes can be sent by rail or truck to an Atlantic port.

Questions:

  • What is the value of the St. Lawrence Seaway?
  • Is the St. Lawrence Seaway corporate welfare?
  • Do the economic benefits it confers, if any, warrant the introduction of invasive species?

    This site at the University of Michigan identifies some of the invasive species. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel provides an instructive primer on how those hitchhikers get here.

  • FEELING STRESSED FOR TIME? Aftermath of the earthquake: Shorter days.
    By a tiny but measurable amount, the Earth is now rotating more quickly on its axis, and the 24-hour day is now one ten-thousandth second shorter.That's the result of calculations based on preliminary data made by Oak Park astronomer Dr. Leslie M. Golden. It's analogous to the increase in rotational speed that a twirling ice skater experiences when he or she draws in their arms.
    I shall let you know what the people who calculate "leap seconds" have decided, once I find it. (The leap second gets added just before midnight Greenwich every so often to compensate for the slowing of the earth's rotation mandated by the laws of physics.)
    POSITIONAL ARMS RACES. Deferred maintenance in the classrooms, waiting lists for required courses, departments limited to six campus visits to fill two tenure-track jobs. But there's plenty of money for building new basketball arenas, sometimes disguised as general purpose buildings, reports Skip at The Sports Economist.
    They aren't cheap, but they bring in millions of new revenue as well.
    The article he links suggests, not always.
    "It's very challenging in this economy to build that scope of building," [Maryland athletic director Debbie] Yow said. "You can't just do this because you want to do it."
    Too true, too true. Consider the white elephant known at the Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University.
    THE FEAST OF STEPHEN. Yes, that's the one that Good King Wenceslaus looked out upon. In much of the British Empire, the Feast of Stephen, 26 December, is also Boxing Day. Econoclast explains that Boxing Day is not a primitive form of re-gifting for altruistic purposes. This Boxing Day page explains one version of the tradition. Snopes compiles several explanations.

    And what happens in the U.K. when Christmas or the Feast of Stephen come at weekends? Extra Bank Holiday Mondays, which sometimes last until Tuesday.

    In the States, when Christmas comes on a Sunday, the Packers may be compelled to play. Bah and humbug. Pro football is supposed to be done before January 1, in order for the college season to end on January 1. Oh, and preferably in a genuinely warm-weather location. The early forecast for Thursday has warmer game-time temperatures in DeKalb than in San Jose.
    COST OVERRUNS? Projected cost of high-speed trains doubles.

    The projected cost of a proposed Midwestern network of high-speed trains has more than doubled over the past six years, to $7.7 billion, including about $1.2 billion in Wisconsin alone, a new report shows.

    But the federal government has yet to show any interest in putting up its $6.2 billion share of the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, and supporters agree the 110-mph train plan won't get out of the station without federal money.

    On the other hand, federal money is available for rebuilding the Marquette interchange in central Milwaukee, and continuing to operate the St. Lawrence Seaway. The problem, I suspect, is that this Midwestern network would not offer sufficient pork for northern-border state Senators and Representatives to get on board. First some details.

    Planners originally sought four round trips daily at 79 mph, with stops in Neenah, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac and either Allenton or West Bend. The revised plan seeks seven round trips daily at 110 mph.

    Because the Milwaukee-to-Green Bay leg would be a continuation of the existing Chicago-to-Milwaukee route, service between Milwaukee and Chicago also would rise from the originally planned 14 round trips daily to 17.

    The Chicago-Milwaukee frequency would still fall a bit short of the frequency once offered by the North Shore Line alone, but would exceed the frequency offered by either the Milwaukee Road, which Amtrak uses, or the Chicago and North Western during the 1930s and 1940s. There is one additional wrinkle: what happens if Wisconsin works with Chicago's Metra Rail to extend the local train service from Kenosha to Milwaukee, along the old Chicago and North Western 400 route.
    Amtrak's Hiawatha line now runs seven daily round trips at 79 mph, covering the distance in about 11/2 hours, with stops in Sturtevant and Glenview, Ill. The boost to 110 mph would cut the trip by about 25 minutes, the report says.
    That's a long-sought improvement over the best running time, which was 75 minutes until the late 1950s.

    Of the 17 trains on the Chicago-to-Milwaukee route, 10 would continue to Madison, another destination not currently served by Amtrak. At 110 mph, the Milwaukee-to-Madison trip would take about an hour, with some trains stopping in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

    Plans have long called for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route to be one of the first in the Midwest network, because of its potential to attract new riders. In June, Amtrak urged Congress to jump-start the route, predicting that extending the Hiawatha to Madison and adding more trips would more than double ridership, to 1.09 million by 2008.

    This Madison service would also be a significant boost in frequency compared to the 1930s and 1940s. Now comes the rub.
    Of the 10 Milwaukee-to-Madison trains, six would continue to the Twin Cities. That service would replace Amtrak's once-a-day Empire Builder, which now links Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Pacific Northwest on a route that bypasses Madison.
    And thus the problem. That northerly train does a little bit of ferrying college kids to St. Cloud or Fargo or Grand Forks, as well as hauling excursionists to Glacier Park. The second function might properly be farmed out to a Nostalgie Orient Express type operation, but that might spell finis to any votes for Amtrak from Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, or eastern Washington.

    We are, incidentally, speaking of a Neubaustrecke for this service. There is a Milwaukee Road line leaving the current Empire Builder route (which was a 100 mph railroad until 1960) at Watertown and going to Madison, but to continue three trains from Madison to the Twin Cities involves either new construction or an upgrade of a line from Madison to Portage, where it rejoins the old 100 mph railroad. But either there will be a reversal of the train's direction in Madison or a new station somewhere on the east side of the city.

    The shopping list for that 12" = 1 ft hobby store runs like this:

    The plan now estimates track improvements would cost $227 million between Milwaukee and Madison; $285 million from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line; $243 million from Madison to La Crosse; and $311 million from Milwaukee to Green Bay, Wade said.

    New trains for the Milwaukee-to-Madison route would add another $89 million, bringing the total cost of that route to $316 million, with $253 million from the federal government and $63 million from the state, Wade said. For the rest of the Wisconsin routes, trains would cost $152 million, but Illinois and Minnesota would share part of that cost, he said.

    Probably a cheaper investment than some of the highway improvement projects in other transportation bills.
    Although the overall plan hasn't been approved, more than $100 million has been spent on engineering and on facilities that could improve existing service even if the full network isn't built.
    Additional economies could be achieved with a little understanding of history. Those 75 minute trains of years ago were pulled by steam locomotives -- not necessarily built especially for speed -- on jointed rail past semaphore signals that were not repeated in the cab. One does not require space-age electronics and global positioning systems to run fast trains.
    STANDING DOWN. Laura at 11-D, who has rather a lot on her plate right now, announces a blogging sabbatical.

    23.12.04

    GOOD NIGHT, SWEET DREAMS. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.



    Santa Claus comes to East Troy, Wisconsin, December 8 1992.


    I did mention a bowl game. Expect some post-Christmas commentary on that and other lighter topics.
    A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON CELL-PHONE YAKKERS. Steve at Shot in the Dark suggests that there are design flaws that lead many users to shout, as well as some new conventions regarding their use that must emerge.
    There are clearly some people who don't bother to think about what their loud conversation is revealing about themselves, let alone how they are impacting those around them. And there are others -- and I would include myself on this one -- who still aren't used to having people talking on the phone in certain situations.
    All the same, I'm keeping my cards handy.
    THE NUCLEAR OPTION. Not just a theoretical possibility, according to Laurence Kotlikoff (via Presto Pundit.)
    The United States is going to be printing money like crazy over the next few decades to try to 'pay' its bills.
    Nobody is so crass, however as to actually print money. The approved method is called "borrowing from the Fed."
    MIGHT IT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE JOB PROSPECTS? The latest thesis tacked to Newmark's Door: U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students.
    Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.
    The article focusses on visa hassles and developing graduate programs elsewhere, but the niggardly salaries and burdensome teaching loads might be Neglected Actors.
    DIRECTED SERVICE ORDER. Milt Rosenberg is temporarily posting his Milt's File only at the WGN Radio site.
    NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN INDUSTRIAL ECONOMICS. Tyler's List of good recent papers, all available on line.
    COLLEGE FOR EVERYBODY? The Agitator says no.

    Employers today use a bachelor's degree to weed out applicants the same way they used a high school degree a generation ago. So in one sense, I suppose, a college education is more important than ever, in that without one, your prospects in the white-collar world are pretty dim. But if everyone else has a degree, the value of your degree drops pretty dramatically.
    Particularly if the degree is a signal that is replacing the signal a high-school diploma used to communicate. Don't overlook the response to the incentives third-party payments bring in.

    That's because by making it easier for anyone who wants to to go to college, the government has made buyers of colleges and sellers of prospective students, and rigged the system in favor of the buyers. When colleges get 10 applicants for every spot in a freshman class, they can pretty much charge whatever they please for tuition. There's very little consumer pressure to keep costs down (I'd submit this is also one reason why textbooks cost so much more than ordinary books -- college kids aren't spending their own money. They're spending their parents' money, the government's money, or their own future income in the form of loans). That same lack of consumer pressure also means colleges don't have to work as hard to provide as good a product, in this case a high-quality education.
    (I would note in passing that ten applicants for each slot is not the norm. The ratio is something larger than one but not exceeding 1.5 at Northern Illinois.) Quality isn't the priority for many administrators, surfeit of applications or not. "Access" is, which provides lots of additional work for assorted crying-towel pushers. By their fruits ...

    If we look what increased access to college has effected so far (the diminishing real value of an ever more expensive degree, grade inflation that makes it increasingly difficult for employers to evaluate graduates, the dimished quality the college education itself, and a generation of graduates burdened with debt) it's probably safe to predict that "universal" access would provide more of the same, only worse.
    Not to mention that employers would carp even more about having to do the education establishment's work than they currently do. Not to mention that students would lobby for additional government grants and engage in more grade-wheedling to guilt-trip professors who would be stopping the gravy train by telling the truth on grade sheets.

    Instead of Adesnik and Yglesias' ideal, my guess is that univeral access would give us a generation of young adults with college degrees who are about as smart as the population of young adults with high school diplomas a generation or two before them, only they'll be getting started on their careers (and building wealth and savings) several years later in life, and with the added handicap of looming student debt and interest.
    And natural constituents for politicians who would like to turn college into a taxpayer-supported "right."

    The Truck and Barter guys have been following this story as well. Ian, who points to the Agitator article, does some careful thinking about the margin, along which payoffs tend to equality.
    On the margin, then, lowering these costs lets in a student for whom the returns may not be as high and for whom other activities might be of greater value. If you don't have to cover tuition, and don't mind eating the cafeteria food, school is a relatively cheap and fun way to live. This doesn't mean it's the most productive thing for that person, however. It's not that I know what would be more productive, either, but making it easier for them to attend college by spending more federal money isn't exactly doing them some great service and the little it might or might not do is done at the cost of everyone else. Additionally, it negatively impacts the people who would have attended even when the costs are high. Increasing the cohort that graduates at a certain time with similar degrees increases the labor force for a certain category of work. A couple things happen, such as people taking jobs for which they are overqualified (as mentioned in some of the posts linked to above), or wages may drop for that pool since labor is then potentially in larger supply relative to the demand (ok, so some of both of this happens, plus some people go back to school, some people leave the labor force altogether...but I'm limiting the scope here).
    Consider that point along with Kevin's comparison of givens and druthers for students and employers.

    Top 10 Demand (2004): accounting, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, business administration, economics/finance, computer science, computer engineering, marketing or marketing management, chemical engineering, and information sciences and systems.

    Top 10 Supply (2001): Business, social science, education, psychology, health, performing arts, biology, engineering, communications, English...

    Which provides a bit of job security for professors in graduate programs, as one observer observes:
    I apologize to everyone actually using their college degrees in any of these fields...but everyone I know who was a communications/psychology/leisure studies major and didn't continue to graduate school is now a waitress or sells copy machines or something equally worthy of a college graduate.
    But one who will show up for work. The high school diploma no longer has that signalling value.

    There's a more recent Agitator post suggesting that more targeted financial aid might restrict the supply of majors in such disciplines.

    22.12.04

    SIXTY YEARS AGO. Sgt. Karlson's unit is in action.

    Week before Christmas moved to Obergelbach, France, but were very near the German border. Radio station was perched in the open forward high slope for good reception, but were sitting ducks from German artillery. Frequent close calls from 88s.

    Dec 25: Spent Christmas in a quiet French farmhouse in a small village of Lohr behind the lines; later in the day moved to Reims.

    Christmas afternoon moved to a large beautiful wooded area about 15 miles out of Reims and spent the next 5 days freezing, sleeping in pup tents.

    Providing reinforcements to contain Fall Wacht am Rhein.

    In those days the press coverage was probably not like this:

    Some say that General McAuliffe's response was a single word--"Nuts!"--a word that the German officer sent to negotiate had trouble translating back to his superiors. Other firsthand reports suggest, however, that the General actually issued a two-word reply, one in the imperative case suggesting that the unfortunate officer have someone engage him unwillingly in activity of a sexual nature, but one that was also more readily and universally understood.

    In either case, the negotiations were ended, and with them any prospects for saving the town. As a result of the general's needlessly insulting recalcitrance, the destruction of the town is now all but certain, and the lives of its terrified residents and defenders likely forfeit.

    Next action report next week.
    COURAGE, MAN. Electronic mail makes post-performance grade-grubbing more convenient, and casual abuse easier. Filmmaker Guy discovers this the hard way.
    Every time a student in that class (or in any class, I guess, but only the ones in that one class have done this) writes to inquire about his or her grade, I expect some angry response. So here I am sweating my student responses, which is ludicrous.
    That is why you get paid. Stand by your standards. And by all means, report the miscreant to the disciplinarian, and follow up.
    LONG CHANCES SHORTEN LIVES. Take risks to catch your train, wait for the next train.

    Faced with the daily danger of pedestrians running across railroad tracks or under lowered crossing gates to catch their trains, Metra crews are increasingly fighting back by refusing to allow the violators to board the train.

    The lawbreakers are given the option of waiting for the next train or, if the offenders insist on getting onto the train that almost hit them, going to the police station.

    People respond to incentives.
    It seems that in many cases, the threat of making a commuter late to work is more effective than the prospect of a fine ranging from $250 to $500 for being on the tracks or jumping crossing gates when a train is coming, railroad officials said.
    Commuters generally buy into the policy.

    “I have no problem fingering some idiot who can’t get to the station on time and plays Russian roulette with the train,” said Debbie Harris, 41, a commuter from Glen Ellyn. “I don’t need the stress of seeing somebody splattered.”

    Denying boarding to commuters who foolishly dart in front of trains, or issuing fines, “tells these people that we care more about your life than your action just indicated,” said Chip Pew, a railroad safety specialist with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

    But there are still a few people that don't get it.

    Pew recalls an incident in Deerfield, on Metra’s Milwaukee District North Line, involving a commuter who became irate with a conductor because the man got grease from the train on his business suit.

    “He wanted to file a damage claim against Metra and the conductor asked him, ‘How did you get the grease on your suit?’ The guy says, ‘I was climbing under the train’ (to get to the platform in order to board the train.) “The conductor denied him boarding,” Pew said.

    Evans had a similar experience recently in Wheaton when a man and a woman in a hurry crawled under a Metra train momentarily stopped at the station. “They were carrying suitcases, smiling and happy that they were going to make the train until I told them they couldn’t get on,” Evans said. “They said, ‘We didn’t know you couldn’t crawl underneath the train. We’re from Texas.’”

    What did they do, ride the rods north?
    STAYING THE COURSE. Grant at Anthropology and Economics gets his range and bearings here. ('Tis the season to think about lode stars.) Thanks for the props. His argument:

    Here, if I may, is the “intellectual” approach. I offer it as a rudimentary handbook for the liberal arts programs that have yet to install it.

    1) take kids who are, many of them, not very gifted.

    2) introduce them to a body of ideas that are, many of them, not very clear.

    3) insist on a relativism that gives each student a certain freedom from judgment, as in “this is what I believe, so you may not judge me.”

    4) engage these kids in a classroom debate in which political or personal correctness is more important than power or acuity.

    5) engage these kids in a classroom debate in which certain hallowed beliefs are “taken off the table” and removed from scrutiny.

    6) evaluate these kids on written work in which they are allowed to reproduce the lack of clarity (aka discursive delirium) of the authors on which they have been
    raised.

    7) create a classroom in which “real world” issues and outcomes are never discussed in strategic or practical terms unless they might be seen as ways “to fight the man.”

    The characterization is a bit loose in places, but the conclusion appears to be accurate.
    The “intellectual” approach pays dearly for it’s epistemic and pedagogical investments. Smart kids are obliged to forego some of their intelligence. Not very smart kids are confirmed in their mediocrity. The “anti-intellectual” approach creates astonishingly capable people. Native intelligence is multiplied and maximized. Smart kids get smarter. Ordinary kids get smart.
    Sounds a bit like Hard America, Soft America (details or compare prices) to me.

    But what qualifies the Superintendent to be lode star for the tempest-tossed Academy? Practice, perhaps. In the course of housecleaning, this memorandum, dated 21 November 1985, from me to my department chairman at Wayne State, addressing retention of students, turns up.

    I have read the Carlton Maley's [c.q.] memorandum of October 29 describing research into the University's enrollment decline and efforts to stem same by retaining more students. I have three suggestions which might help.

    First, we lose some students because they are simply not prepared to handle schoolwork: they lack simple reading, writing, and math skills, and any idea of good study habits. Not surprisingly, we lose many of these students in the first few weeks of class. The university can solve this problem either by raising admission standards or by being more insistent on students acquiring these skills before they enroll in classes.

    Second, we lose some students because our class schedules, while more convenient than those at many universities, are not perfect. For instance, our first evening session begins at 5:30. Since the working day ends at 5:00 for many people, and their jobs are as likely to be in the northern suburbs as downtown, we are discouraging students by expecting them to battle crosstown rush hour traffic to make classes on time. The University should consider starting some evening classes at 6:00.

    Third, we lose some students because our extension classes are in locations where the people have left: in Detroit and at the Downriver Center. Meanwhile, Central Michigan is offering an MBA program at Troy High School. The University should consider new extension locations, and encourage the state to impose "sales territories" on universities.

    What has changed and what hasn't? Clearly, a college cartel is a bit powerless against private entry. In Illinois, there is a state board of higher education to manage the state-tolerated institutions, but it has no authority over what Chicago, Northwestern, Loyola, DePaul, not to mention Upper Iowa or Phoenix do. Evening classes at Northern Illinois begin at 6 pm, with monster traffic jams from about 5:30 to 6:15, and the extension centers are in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, not exactly poverty pockets.

    But check out that first point. Sound familiar? So far, nobody has offered me any evidence that would persuade me to reject that position, while many execute ever more complicated maneuvers to deal with retention problems by other methods. Westward leading, still preceding ...