29.9.05

THE PERPETUALLY OFFENDED. Former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry had the visitors' locker room painted pink, an act of interior decorating that has irritated numerous visiting coaches. (The idea of just ignoring it and putting your pants on one leg at a time apparently hasn't occurred to people. Well, maybe it occurred to Iowa State.) The locker room has recently been repainted (drunk tank pink?) and some people are getting their ... no, let's not go there ... knickers in a knot over it.

Now comes a visiting professor of law from somewhere in the east who is offended. (Link from Tongue Tied.)
Erin Buzuvis, 29, who moved from Boston to Iowa City to begin teaching at the law school, said she and several friends, colleagues and neighbors have been concerned for months about the message behind the locker rooms. She said the locker room promotes negative stereotypes.
Must be a real fun bunch to drink beers or play cards she hangs with.

Iowa's president, noting that some people have not taken too kindly to Professor Buzuvis taking her gripe public, has trouble sounding like a tough-talking sheriff.

University President David Skorton said Saturday that he is upset at the threats.

"It is deeply offensive and completely unacceptable that a spirited public discussion about the pink locker rooms at Kinnick Stadium has been degraded by threats of violence," Skorton said in a statement.

Skorton said the university "welcomes and open and civilized debate" on the issue.

"However, threats of violence will not be tolerated. For that reason, today I am asking the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and the Department of Public Safety to review these threats and to take appropriate actions based on their findings," he said.

What, a mandatory locker-room repainting party for mouthy miscreants? What ever happened to "We're going to smoke those jerks out of their sports bars and bring them to justice?" I suppose diplomacy ought be given its chance first.
Buzuvis said she will raise the locker room issue Tuesday when a committee seeks public comment on a report it recently compiled on the university's compliance with NCAA regulations. The NCAA requires that each school investigate every five years to see if it is complying with NCAA rules. The locker room issue was not raised in the report. Gender equity apparently was one item on a list of topics for which the panel has solicited comments.
But this series of quotes defies parody, as does the copy editing.

"I did not wake up yesterday with a plan to discuss pink locker rooms," Buzuvis said Friday. "I don't want any more hate mail. This has got to stop."

Buzuvis has not contacted police over the threats.

"With a pink locker room, you're saying that 'You are a girlie man. You are weak, like a girl,'" Buzuvis said. "That implies that girls are nondominant, therefore, lesser. And that is offensive."

Law professor Jill Gaulding said the issue also is a sore spot among members of the women's hockey team, and she has heard similar complaints from others on campus and around town.

"This is an Iowa City issue," Gaulding said. "There are a lot of people out there who, if they felt safe saying so, would say that this has bugged them for years."

If you didn't have a plan to discuss pink locker rooms, why did you go to the NCAA with a gripe about pink locker rooms? And it really amuses to have these beneficiaries of sensitivity training, who model the proper behavior of saying "I'm offended" at the drop of a pink paintbrush, to suggest there is a climate of oppression out there.
NEVER BETTER. The Milwaukee Brewers set a season attendance record of some 2.2 million fans including some who came on "Free Attendance Day" to watch the Crew beat the Reds. Next up: three games at Pittsburgh.
Milwaukee finishes with a three-game series at Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are wrapping up their 13th straight losing season, the longest current drought in the major leagues.
But Milwaukeeans know something about playing for leaster. It's too soon to anticipate the end of the Crew's string of losing seasons.
WHAT HAPPENED TO TEACHING READING COMPREHENSION? I asked this question on a principles of microeconomics examination Wednesday.
Business owners in smaller communities often object to the construction of new Wal-Marts, claiming that the competition hurts their businesses. Wal-Mart has more recently opened stores in larger communities. There are relatively few protests from small business owners in the larger communities. Explain why not.
A number of students asked me to clarify the question. The phrasing strikes me as straightforward enough. Small business owners in larger communities don't object to Wal-Mart. Why not? I'm pleased that students exercised their right to have the point of a question clarified, and at the same time startled that not objecting -- why not? is too daunting.

A successful answer will demonstrate understanding of Adam Smith's observation, The Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market. Don at Cafe Hayek has one piece of the puzzle. The missing piece is what higher-valued tasks that labor is freed up to do. In bigger cities, it might be freed up to sell O Scale trains that Wal-Mart has never bothered to stock. In larger cities, there are sufficient trading partners (we'll later think of them as customers) to make operating a store to sell such things profitable. The small business owners in smaller towns are looking for trading partners interested in more mundane goods, and Wal-Mart has figured out how to move a wider variety of mundane goods more cheaply.
DOING MY HOMEWORK. Here is the preparation I made for Wednesday night's testimony at the House Republican Task Force on Motor Fuel Prices. I've arranged the points in the order I made them during the hearing, moving the sources of price increases first to refer to some work the Task Force's research staff had presented as an introduction to the hearings.

  1. Why the higher gasoline prices? Three reasons, one temporary and two permanent. The temporary reason first. Domestic production and domestic refining have been disrupted by several hurricanes. As the damage is repaired and the workforces return, those sellers will compete for buyers. However, the transition from summer to winter blends of gasoline, which is subject to safeguards against commingling blends in the same storage tanks, leads to localized clearance sales of the blend going out of season and spot shortages of the blend coming on season. This is a permanent feature of prices under the current rules. The real permanent reason, however, is the economic growth elsewhere, with India and China in particular increasing their fuel use of all kinds, as well as replacing coal and wood with petroleum products.

    That demand is likely only to increase. At some world price for crude oil, the temptation to develop resources in Alaska, off the Florida coast, and possibly in the Great Lakes may be sufficiently great that policy makers will conclude we can no longer afford to preserve those areas in their current state.

    Note that I haven't mentioned two popular explanations. Some people have blamed environmental regulations that impede the construction of new refineries. That argument is special pleading. U.S. refinery capacity and production have both been increasing steadily since 1982, shortly after the end of the crude oil price controls in place during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations as well as the severe recession early in the Reagan administration. There is a chart available from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy from June 2005 and some commentary by James D. Hamilton, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, at his web journal. Another economist, Steve Verdon, in his web journal, notes some evidence of oil companies using the environmental regulations to thwart their competitors' construction of refineries, which the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has been following closely. Such behavior doesn't surprise me. It reminds me of the way trucking companies would use the Interstate Commerce Commission to impede competition. “The existing service is adequate. If additional service is required, the existing carriers are ready to provide it. The applicant is incompetent to provide the service.”

    Others have pointed to rising concentration in oil refining. Although at the time of Exxon's merger with Mobil, I made a joke to a class about naming the company “Standard Oil Trust of New Jersey” and having done with it, the reality is an oil business that is far from a monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department approved that merger, as well as the BP-Amoco merger and several other mergers, with divestitures of some gasoline stations and tank farms. The top five oil refiners account for 44 percent of refining capacity in 2002 (.pdf). The domestic oil business probably qualifies as a “moderately concentrated” market according to the Justice Department's current merger guidelines. Hotels and motels and public accounting appear to be tighter oligopolies than refining. The Federal Trade Commission has a longer report of testimony by General Counsel William Kovacic before the U.S. House, detailing Commission investigation of anticompetitive behavior by refiners and gasoline distributors.


  2. General Principles. Resources are scarce and they have competing uses. There aren't enough to satisfy everybody. Economists favor the use of prices to allocate resources because that's the least bad option. A higher price gives buyers an incentive to conserve and sellers an incentive to expand output. A higher price also raises the reward to development and commercialization of substitutes. A price control takes away both of those incentives. Consumers will attempt to buy more of the good than they would at higher prices, and producers will offer less for sale. The result is what economists call “excess demand” at the price, or more succinctly, a shortage. In the case of gasoline, the visible symptom of excess demand is a gas line.

    I quote my colleague Tim Schilling of the Chicago Fed.
    Prices are important. They give us information to make decisions—to make choices. And prices can make us uncomfortable. They tell us how the rest of the world values the products and services available to us…what others are willing to offer…and then ask us to evaluate our choices in light of that information. They ask us, "how badly do you want this?" "What are you willing to give up?"
    Governments have considered other methods of rationing goods. In the case of gasoline, years ago some states used an odd-even buying plan in which the last digit of a license plate controlled whether a person could gas up that day. People can simply shift their purchases to the days they can legally buy, but they might buy more at that price than they otherwise would for fear that in two days the supplies will be exhausted or the price will be higher. Or they can steal somebody else's license plates. Another possibility is for the government to issue ration coupons limiting how much gasoline a person can buy at the controlled price. Because an underground economy in ration coupons developed during World War II, modern versions envision allowing people to freely trade their ration coupons. In so doing, the government increases the wealth of people who sell off some of their ration coupons. The total price a buyer of a ration coupon pays for gas, however, will be higher than the competitive market price, as buyers of ration coupons will be competing for some part of the smaller supply of gas being offered at the lower controlled price.


  3. Interfuel substitutions. I mentioned in my opening remarks that a higher price for gasoline and other crude oil products is an incentive for inventors to develop substitutes. In this vein some recent research at the Weizmann Institute, to use the heat of the sun to release hydrogen from zinc oxides is promising. In Illinois, our neighbors grow corn that can be used as an input into ethanol for extending or replacing gasoline. The economics of this technology are a bit challenging. An Argonne National Laboratory report (.pdf), finds environmental benefits from using corn as a source of ethanol as well as a positive “net fossil energy” value (less fossil energy used in cooking the ethanol than replaced by the ethanol based fuel.) A longer Argonne report (.pdf) notes improvements in the technology by which the ethanol is obtained from corn.

    Some of the claims the industry itself makes do call for further scrutiny. (See the American Coalition for Ethanol's “Net Energy Balance of Ethanol Production" (.pdf).) On the one hand, the document correctly notes that the cost of the fertilizer, pesticides, fertilizer runoff, or tractor fuel will be incurred whether an ear of corn is grown for ethanol or for feed. It errs in suggesting that the ear of corn will be grown in any event. A proper accounting of the environmental costs of a larger corn crop faces a tricky problem identifying how much of that work would not be done but for the demand for an ethanol feedstock. On the other hand, the document comes close to charging the entire cost of military operations in the Persian Gulf to keeping the sea lanes open. Some of those resources might have been deployed to deal with another product of that region, jihadis. Some of those resources might have been deployed even if the region did not produce oil, as a consequence of the United States being on the winning side in World War I, ending the Ottoman Empire's control of the area, and in World War II, where disarming Japan leaves the United States with the responsibility of keeping Japan's sea lanes open. Alternatives to fossil fuels might have their value, but taxpayers ought not be swayed by special pleading, whether from the ethanol coalition or petroleum interests.

    I have no special expertise in evaluating the use of home-grown bio-fuels as a way of defunding oil producing countries. That's more properly the purview of specialists in international relations.

My actual testimony addressed the high spots of this research, with some extemporizations to refer to material in the research service's presentation and observations made by people who testified ahead of me.
THE PROBLEM WITH CAPITALISM IS CAPITALISTS. At Sykes Writes, some scathing commentary on war profiteers defense contractors who are defending their intellectual property against ... ten year olds with Exacto knives.
The defense giants do hold trademarks on planes like the F-15, F-16 and the B-17, and they say if a model company uses their planes to build replicas, it should pay royalties.
Perhaps the plane builders got the idea from Union Pacific, where management found time in the middle of their 2004 summer meltdown to go after the manufacturers of model railroad rolling stock for royalties. UP have gone so far as to roll out some new grain hoppers with CMO reporting marks (because the programmers writing the software for car interchange decided not to write code that could handle the proper CSTPM&O.) Was that to keep the Omaha Road from becoming public domain?

28.9.05

PEER RECOGNITION. The editorial board of the Carnival of Education No. 42(8) thought enough of this post to include it among their Editors' Choices. Thanks! But if you've dropped in here on their recommendation be sure to go to 11-D's original post on kids with disabilities as well.

In other carnival news, Any Letter, despite getting a bit over-committed (don't we know about that here!) is hosting the Carnival of the Capitalists.
THERE ARE PRINCIPLES, AND THEN THERE IS PUBLIC CHOICE. Or perhaps there is pork. Betsy's Page is correct to suggest that "pork" is too cute a term (as is "log-rolling," the term of art I understand to describe the "grease" she identifies as the necessary evil to obtain sufficient votes to get something out of the conference committee and approved by both chambers.) There is, however, discontent all around the 'Net with this sort of business as usual, which public choice theory suggests is rational behavior on the part of legislators motivated to demonstrate their effectiveness to constituents as a way of getting re-elected. The transportation bill that passed the House just before the hurricanes, and the rent-seeking of hurricane zone politicians looking for others to make that part of the world better than it was before is fueling the discontent. Herewith Coyote Blog.
The Republicans are lost. Combine this kind of spending with their Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre obsession with pornography, and I find nothing at all attractive about the party. Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power.
Mahablog arrives at the same conclusion, only from a different start line.
Note, if you don't know: Liberalism is not and never was about tax raises, and profligate spending. Rather, it is about effective government that meets the needs of We, the People, and taxes that are adequate to pay for what We, the People, ask it to do.
Well, no. Tax raises (on somebody else) and profligate spending (to log-roll the bills through and to get re-elected) are the quintessence of public choice. That's true even if Harry Hopkins summed up the New Deal as "We shall tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect" and Ronald Reagan later hung that on "liberalism." Liberalism, as structured by the Welfare Economics Paradigm, favors the use of government policies as the preferred method of providing some services that We, The People ask for. Conservatism, which takes more of a transaction costs approach to thinking about policy, suggests that sometimes government is less effective at meeting needs than some other institutional arrangement, including highly distributed technology and emergent networks beyond the ability of a technocrat to arrange.
WHEN IT'S A TIE AT THE RAILROAD CROSSING, YOU LOSE. As part of the New Haven - Boston electrification and acceleration project, Amtrak eliminated by construction of overpasses or underpasses most of the level crossings on the route, apart from a few near New London, Connecticut, where the curves and a stop for most trains limit speeds to 60 mph or less.

Via California Yankee, news that an automobile got in the path of an Acela Express today. The driver and her grandson died; her granddaughter lived.

National Corridors has a suggestion.
People are all too fallible, and Murphy's Law will always apply unless we end the system that permits collisions in the first place. It is time to stop the insane practice of permitting cars and trucks direct access to property where even a low-speed accident is often fatal, and which puts in danger not only railroad passengers and crew, but the health and safety of surrounding communities as well.
There are other risks for policymakers to assess, some of which have more favorable cost-benefit ratios than eliminating level crossings. (That's apparently how Illinois authorities figure. Watch a stack train hit six crossings in 10 blocks of DeKalb while crowding the official 70 mph and marvel -- from a distance.) But level crossings are dangerous on high speed railroads. Today a family, tomorrow a truckload of heating oil?
APPLIED RENT-SEEKING. I'm back from the hearing, which was called by four State Line members of the Republican Task Force on Motor Fuel Prices. My full statement, with hyperlinks, is available on another machine, and I will post it to these pages from that machine sometime tomorrow.

Among the speakers were transportation managers for transit authorities, school districts, and on-demand para-transit agencies exempt from state fuel taxes, as well as the owner of a service station who would appreciate a little help installing additional pumps and tankage for 85% ethanol motor fuel, and the owner of a trucking company who would like some of the tax relief the non-profits get as well as a change in the tolls.

Tradeoffs all. The 85% ethanol motor fuel might be a cheaper fuel, but it requires investments in different kinds of engines, as well as additional tankage, pumps, and pump fittings. (Consider the investments the railroads had to make in new kinds of engine houses and servicing facilities for the diesels that replaced steam; add to that the somewhat higher acquisition price of a first-generation diesel.) The tolls have been raised for trucks. Some of that is congestion pricing. Truck tolls in Illinois depend on weight, as well as time of use. That has generated a lot of bypass behavior, which is why my students have to dodge more 18-wheelers in town.

27.9.05

RAISING MONEY. The Northern Illinois women's basketball team had a fundraiser for Red Cross hurricane relief. Sponsor a player, write a check for so much per free throw made, each player shoots 100 free throws.

Several of the players made over 90 free throws out of their 100, with one player sinking 96 and another 99. I will be watching the free throw performance during the season, kids.
INDULGING THEMSELVES LIKE MEDIEVAL ARCHBISHOPS. University Diaries has been following the adventures of suspended American University president Benjamin Laidner, who apparently has parlayed a rather generous expense account into La universite? C'est moi! Professor Soltan has located a website with a Drudge-like red alert warning of a faculty revolt. Just start at the top of each linked site and keep scrolling.

Blogs for Industry has done a follow-up on my coverage of the tussle between the state legislature and the University of Wisconsin system. His digging reveals that the Madison campus employs 2,064 faculty and 16,287 employees. Money quote:
What's appalling isn't the number of administrators who have backup jobs...it's the number of administrators.
Indeed.

Here at Northern Illinois, the dwindling ranks of professors face ever-larger classes and less logistical support while the administration engages in fundraising for alumni houses and improved weight rooms. The football team itself is reverting to form. But the burdens of the president are being lightened. Yes, despite all the talk of stingy legislatures and tuition sticker shock, the powers that be came up with sufficient money to entice the president of Chadron (Neb.) State to serve as special assistant to the president. This individual spent some time at St. Cloud, perhaps I can find a scouting report there. Here's what the division of labor will be.

[Northern Illinois president John] Peters said he also looks forward to having more time to interact with students and faculty, and more energy to devote to his growing duties as a fundraiser for the university.

For his part, [new hire Tom] Krepel said he stands ready to do whatever is required to move the president's agenda forward, whether that means applying his skills in benchmarking institutional performance and planning, or simply filling in for the president at events or handling important correspondence.

I'll keep this information in mind the next time I hear a colleague crack wise about Vice President Cheney actually running the show in Washington, particularly if it comes from a campus politician.

Apparently part of being indulged like a medieval archbishop is moving a concert to a less suitable concert hall. The opening concert of the Vermeer Quartet was offered tonight in the auditorium of the original campus building, now a small castle for the upper administration. There was apparently a private party with several Important Guests who reserved the small balcony of the auditorium, leaving the rabble to scramble for fewer seats in a smaller hall with poorer acoustics. But the Important Guests didn't have to leave the castle. Hence tonight's posts. I didn't expect to have time to comment on anything today between the concert and the exams coming up and preparing for the public hearing.

26.9.05

IN DEFENSE OF CORRIDORS. Chris at Signifying Nothing has more thoughts about rail service in emerging corridors such as Texas.
Amtrak probably hasn’t helped its case in “flyover country”—particularly with Republican politicians—by only operating its flagship Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor. If other parts of the rail system had been upgraded to a similarly high standard (notwithstanding the problems Acela has had), the political case for continued Amtrak subsidies would probably be much better, even if the economic case for building high-speed rail in other areas is weak-to-nonexistent—the existence of Southwest Airlines, for example, makes a Houston–Dallas rail link a sure money-loser, even though tens of thousands of people make that trip daily.
There is, in fact, a funny public choice problem in that many of the "red" states are sparsely populated, with one long-distance train often available at inconvenient hours and subject to unreliable timekeeping. And I could raise questions about the market test for the airline or for the interstates, given the use of tax moneys to provide (inadequate) airport capacity and (perpetually under repair -- sorry, I'm still dwelling on the ever-under-construction Kingery and Borman Express[sic]ways) pavement. But it's the cost of providing the high speed service that I wish to address. Given a Hiawatha capable of spinning seven foot drivers at 120 mph on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals, or an E-7 diesel with 22:57 gearing and a top speed of 117 mph on level track, perhaps it's the imposition of (in the Superintendent's view excessively strict) safety standards mandating welded rail, centralized traffic control, and cab signalling with automatic train control as well as some romance with electrification that precludes the creation of high-speed rail in other areas. Perhaps the government ought to go away? Is there a business opportunity in the construction of new transportation corridors that government provision of the highways is crowding out? What I'm envisioning is a toll highway for trucks only, with railroad tracks suitable for fast intermodals and faster passenger trains in the median strip. Or perhaps not. If such a thing were profitable, wouldn't somebody be attempting to promote it?

In other corridor news, more renderings of the upgrade to Milwaukee's downtown passenger train station are now available, and a local paid aesthete likes what she sees.
HELP IS CHEAPER, BUT IT STILL HAS OPPORTUNITY COSTS. Laura at 11-D has organized a session of Blogging for Kids with Disabilities. The first person to join up appears to have been The Useless Tree, who notes the Fundamental Economic Problem manifesting itself.
In an abstract sense, everyone agrees with this: we should provide children with the best opportunities to develop to their full potential. We should hold them in awe. That's why Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and reauthorized it. No one argues against providing special education; indeed, it is the law of the land, all the way from the Supreme Court down. The problem comes when each individual parent sits down with each specific school district and tries to determine what is best, and what is possible, for each particular child who need special education. That's when the money problem starts.
First, a clarification of the first part of my title. We've come a long way from isolating kids with some kinds of disabilities in special schools (for the deaf, for the blind) or shipping them off to vocational rehabilitation where they might be able to earn part of their keep packaging children's toys all day or performing similar repetitive and non-challenging tasks. And kids with treatable conditions are less likely to be shipped off to reform school as "incorrigible." Medicines and calculators and spell-checking programs and tutoring gadgets that were not available at any price twenty or thirty years ago spare people the labor of tasks they might find challenging. (And would anybody begrudge people their glasses and their hearing aids? By the same token, would anybody object to 20/20 uncorrected for fighter pilots or the ability to wield a blue-pencil for an editor or a dispatcher who can juggle multiple trains and radio calls at the same time?)

But although those things are cheaper, they still use resources. Back to the Fundamental Economic Problem.

It's about the money. And what is truly unfortunate is the way that a competition is set up between "special education" (SPED) and "regular education" expenditures. SPED funds come out of the same pot of money as regular ed. If an expensive case, like Aidan (he needs lots of therapies and a one-on-one assistant), comes along, either the district has to get more money from the town or the state, or it must take the money from regular ed. programs. While I was on the School Committee, SPED spending inexorably rose (lots of kids with various levels of need) and we had to press for increases in local property taxes, because the state and the Feds would not respond.

In school districts all around the country, SPED spending is increasing and it is taking funds away from regular ed, creating all sorts of bad feelings and underfunded programs all around.

These problems are likely to remain, whether there is more money from Washington or not. Resources have opportunity costs. Teachers vary in their capability to work with different kinds of kids. (I have not yet been driven to reminding the university that I was under the impression at hiring that it was an institution of higher learning, but there are some trying days ...) Accommodations lead to resentment (Why do I get a time out for speaking out of turn but that kid with Tourette's doesn't?) And, resources or not, the existence of accommodations carries with it a moral hazard problem. I submit that the bad feelings would remain even if the opportunity costs were less onerous. Go here and keep scrolling. (There's also the problem that federalizing a policy includes codifying the response to it. Some parents, and some school districts, might end up operating under more constraints as a consequence.)
A THOUGHT FOR THE DAY. Arnold at Econ Log:
In my view, economists have to be relatively favorable toward immigration, just as we have to be relatively favorable to free trade in general.
Provided the incentives are conducive to allocative efficiency? Discuss.
FINDING THOSE TEACHABLE MOMENTS. Betsy's Page and Joanne Jacobs both link to a lament by Douglas Kern on the state of teaching in the engineering colleges. At both sites, the engineers have weighed in strongly suggesting that engineers might be born tinkerers, and the consequences of getting the Wrong Answer are sufficiently dire that the kinds of things teachers and professors might do to protect the fragile self-esteems of late adolescents (right -- name me a cohort more sure of itself than that cohort) would be somewhere between malpractice and manslaughter. Dilettantes need not apply.

All the same, some of the comments Mr Kern makes about the methods of teaching challenging things are spot on. If people are having trouble working a difficult problem (that might be "Sand falls onto a conical pile ...") simply working that problem, or a similar problem, or a variation on the problem, without laying out the concept first doesn't quite do the job. One must first get the apprentices grasping the proper Big Idea before expecting that they will be able to apply it.
SOMETHING TO REFLECT ON. Michael Barone:

Polls show that most Americans think the economy is in dreadful shape, even though almost all the numbers are good: Inflation and unemployment are low, and growth is robust despite the exogenous shocks of Sept. 11, Enron and Katrina. After a generation of almost constant low-inflation economic growth, perhaps we Americans are only satisfied when we have bubble growth, as in the late 1990s, and are unimpressed when the American economy proves once again to be amazingly resilient. This is all the more astonishing when you consider that we are going through a time of increased competition and change, as China and India, with 37 percent of the world's population, are transforming their economies from Third World to First World. Such a large proportion of mankind moving rapidly upward: This has never happened before and will never happen again.

Couple this with the facts that Japan seems to be growing again, after 15 years of deflation, that East Asia and Eastern Europe continue to grow robustly, and that major Latin countries like Mexico and Brazil are growing as well, and the economic picture around the world looks pretty good, despite sclerotic non-growth in western Europe and continued poverty in Africa.

But even if things are going well, isn't America hated around the world? By the elites and chattering classes of many countries, yes, and by much of the American elite and chattering class as well. But we are not competing in a popularity contest. In a unipolar world, the single superpower will always arouse envy and dislike. The relevant question is if we can live safely in the world; the French may dislike us, but we can live comfortably with France. The recent Pew Trust polls showing diminishing support for Islamist terrorism in Muslim countries indicate things are moving in the right direction. The increasing interweaving of China into the international economy suggests China may not be a military threat. A world spinning out of control? No, it is more like a world moving, with some backward steps, in the direction we want.

The increasing prosperity for much of the world is something to hail, despite the effects that growth is having on oil prices. I've been asked to testify at a legislative hearing on gasoline prices later this week. More details later. But one point I am going to make is that economic growth in other countries brings additional bids for oil supplies. But if you've ever seen the consequences of obtaining that power from coal or wood, as I have, you'll not likely begrudge the people who have to breathe that air every day welcoming cleaner-burning fuels. I'll leave the geopolitics to others.
I'VE ALREADY SET THE EXAM. But this Catallarchy post on price gouging has all kinds of potential for exam and problem set questions.

The run on gas, gas cans, and generators is one of the few outstanding reminders that yes a major storm just happened nearby (relatively speaking). The only difference is that now the people desperate for gas cans, and generators seem to be by-and-large people who really need them. All day I had people asking me if anyone had returned gas cans or generators - I work the returns desk at Home Depot. They were waiting for the people that didn’t need these items to return them so they could buy them the minute they came in the door.

In fact I got multiple generators returned today, and one 15-gallon fuel tank - all of which were completely unused and unopened. They were all returned by people who overreacted - just a little - to the possibility of Austin catching the edge of a hurricane. Meanwhile the people who genuinely need gas cans and generators, because there is neither open gas stations nor power where they are going to, are combing every retail store in Austin and beyond for them.

Possible prelim question: Suppose the probability of a hurricane making landfall in your neighborhood is 0.50. If it does make landfall, a portable generator will be worth $V to you. If it does not, you have paid $P for a useless asset. What premium above P will allocate the generators efficiently? I haven't framed this question very well, but it's a few months until prelims.

Possible principles question: Under what circumstances is it allocatively efficient for the buyers of generators to return them unused to the store for the full refund rather than to sell them for a higher price directly to people in the affected areas?

Possible policy class question: A person buys a generator from Home Depot in anticipation of a hurricane. The hurricane doesn't happen. The person returns the generator to Home Depot for a full refund. Evaluate the pros and cons of a law prohibiting that person from selling that generator to people who were affected by the hurricane at a price higher than the Home Depot price.

Returning to the post, this observation might help structure the risk-premium question.
And in other news the attorney general of Texas has an 800 number you can call to report incidents of price-gouging, and they've promised to fully investigate any complaints made. Which means that big box retailers are going to be much better off if they don't raise prises to meet the demand for certain items when bad weather threatens. Hardware stores don't really lose anything if they sell out of gas cans, and nobody is going to be particularly upset with the store because other people bought up the items they needed.

25.9.05

PRINCIPAL - AGENT PROBLEMS GALORE. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports on the friction between the University of Wisconsin system and the state government. The University has the difficulty of competing for the highest quality talent, where salaries are determined in a world market, in a state whose comparative advantages are in relatively low value-added activities. On the other hand, the University has been artless in its administration's expense-preference behavior and its willingness to take sides in the culture wars.

I've been reading up on the pros and cons of privatizing the state-located universities. Perhaps a longer column on this once the dust settles from exams.
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION, PARLIAMENTS, PUT PRECISELY. Last week's post on the joys of coalition-forming in parliamentary systems received some useful corrections from Fruits and Votes. Head on over there and keep scrolling. There's more on the differing methods of selecting parliaments than I can summarize in a short paragraph, as well as observations on other national elections going on around the world. (It occurs to me, keeping track of the outcomes of national elections elsewhere might -- might -- be a productive way of getting too consumed with the perpetual campaign the U.S. election cycle has become. Younger readers would find The Making of the President -- 1960 instructive -- and look how cheap the paperbacks are. There was a time when the announcements would come early in the presidential election year, just ahead of the New Hampshire primary, the national campaigns for the nominees would officially begin on Labor Day, and with the World Series ending almost immediately after Labor Day, the serious campaigning would begin after the final out. I'm not inventing this history. Read it.)
NO REROUTING OLD MAN RIVER. Rita has moved north and east more expeditiously than originally anticipated. I'm not sure whether this afternoon's rain qualifies as a rain band from that tropical storm, or simply tropical moisture sucked up by the low over Lake Superior being wrung out by the polar air north of that. On the radar it sure looks like circulation around Rita, or ex-Rita.

I'm quite happy to put away my fears of the Mississippi cutting a new course to the sea, but long term my money is still on Old Man River rather than the Army Corps.
WE SOLICIT YOUR ATTENTION. (Repeating an appeal from earlier in the month.) The Red Cross appreciates the money you've sent. They also note that more money would help, and with a second large hurricane affecting the Gulf Coast (still no news from New Iberia, where Tabasco sauce comes from) they'd certainly appreciate what you can send.

Technorati tags: flood aid, Hurricane Katrina.

24.9.05

PROFESSIONALS STUDY LOGISTICS. At the swap meet, I ate lunch with a trader whose military buddies had extensive experience with disaster management. He was impressed with the way something like 2 1/2 million people evacuated south Texas and western Louisiana. We were hard pressed to come up with any way to prepare for such a situation better than the authorities did, especially with half again as many people evacuating as were originally anticipated. (Oh, and the Superintendent is still waiting for those individuals who made invidious comparisons of the troubles evacuating New Orleans -- where the actual results outperformed a drill -- with the Chinese evacuating 25 percent of the population of Shanghai -- to commend the local, state, and U.S. authorities for evacuating nearly the equivalent of Shanghai despite some troubles managing the use of the roads and the absence of any passenger rail capacity. You know who you are.)

Blogs for Industry has been thinking about the effectiveness of reversing the inbound lanes on the expressways, noting that the inbound lanes might be of some value for bringing fuel or breakdown crews toward the cities being cleared. He also recommends some history from Austin Bay. (And although the Germans might have pioneered counterflow, using their Autobahnen to shift resources from front to front, the picture that sticks in my mind is the U.S. Army's adaptation of the practice, using four lanes eastbound, with long columns of prisoners marching west in the medians.) What amuses, though, is the news of the well to do evacuating all their cars (Dad drives one, Mom the other, each of the kids with a driving license ...) as well as everything that can be towed. Tradeoffs. On the one hand, fewer damage claims for destroyed vehicles and adult toys. On the other hand, more congestion and a greater likelihood of people getting caught by the storm.)
DEALING WITH HIGHWAY HYPNOSIS. Brief road trip report. There was an O Scale swap meet in Indianapolis. I was able to find some detail parts for the Andreyev at the traders who cater to scratchbuilders, as well as running gear for some of the passenger cars.

To avoid the weekend congestion in Chicago (For the past 30 years I have not been able to use the stretch of 80-90-94 between Michigan City and Harvey without encountering a work zone somewhere on that stretch) I returned from Indianapolis by way of Champaign and Bloomington to Rochelle. Interstate 74 offers a bit more scenic exit from Indiana than does 65, with some up-and-down into the Wabash and Vermilion valleys as well as tributaries. One local chain of eateries caught my eye. At a number of interchanges the food listings included something called Monical's Pizza, a flatlander enterprise (Arcola, Tuscola, Pepsi-Cola) with outlets in Indiana (near Indiana Beach -- is this pizza any good?) as well as north of the Cheddar Curtain (Arbor Vitae?? That's near Hurley. I smell a mob connection.)

But I must confess that at the first few observations of this sign, I was misreading it as Monica's ... and my mind was reeling. If you're familiar with Slavic vulgarisms you'll grasp what the cruise control allows the mind to do. But when that trailing "l" registered that didn't help, as a sponsor of the women's basketball tournament kept coming to mind.
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF CHICAGO. The voters have spoken. The L makes the cut, as does the lakefront. There are treasures in Hyde Park.
HUSKIES SOFTEN UP WOLVERINES, BADGERS EAT THEM. Wisconsin 23, Michigan 20. The link to the news article reports that this Badger win ended a string of 23 consecutive Big Ten opening wins by the team with the least imaginative pep band in the universe. So that means the last time Michigan started the Big Ten 0-1 was 1981, when they went into Camp Randall as the preseason No. 1, and the Badgers won. I found out about that win while waiting for the Wildcat at Cedar Point. I found out about today's win on the 10 pm news.

It has been a while since Wisconsin beat Michigan in football. There were back to back wins in Madison in 1993, the first Rose Bowl season, and in 1994, when Wisconsin beat Duke in one of the corporate New Year's Day games. It took a few tiebreaks for Wisconsin to overcome losses to Michigan to get to the Rose Bowl after the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

The Huskies? Didn't fare so well in Akron.

22.9.05

ON THE READY TRACK. The locomotives being built have to have cars to pull. Tonight's modelblogging features a former Long Island combination car (which may have been intended as a control trailer for the electrified lines) in the form it served the Boston and Maine. Off screen to the right are two coaches off the Long Island, and I have several more coach kits.


The Boston and Maine bought a number of surplus day coaches from other eastern railroads late in the Depression with the hope of retiring some even older wooden coaches in commuter service. The wooden coaches had not yet been scrapped when the U.S. began mobilizing for World War II. These coaches ensured that B&M passengers could generally find a seat, even on days the Boston and Portsmouth Navy Yard personnel had liberty.

It is also these red cars that gave B&M management the idea to repaint their formerly green coaches red, a serendipitous match with the red and gold diesels.
CORRIDORS: NOT JUST FOR THE NORTHEAST ANY MORE. A late-running Empire Builder makes up time as a late-running Hiawatha gets under way from Sturtevant, Wisconsin.



The picture motivates some thoughts about whether or not Amtrak is a pork-barrel project. The context is a Shape of Days post offering a Texan perspective on Amtrak's usefulness.

I live in Dallas. If I wanted to go to San Antonio, I could get in my car and drive. It’s about a six-hour trip, depending on weather and other factors. Or I could go to the airport and buy a ticket on Southwest Airlines. Flights depart from Dallas to San Antonio every hour during the day and more frequently during rush hour. The flight takes an hour and the ticket costs $100 if I buy it at the gate.

Or I could take the train. There’s one train from Dallas to San Antonio per day; it departs at 1:40 p.m. from Union Station downtown. The price is right, at a mere $26.

But the trip takes more than ten hours.

The train departs Dallas at 1:40 p.m. and arrives in San Antonio at 11:45 p.m. with stops in Fort Worth, Cleburne, McGregor, Temple, Taylor, Austin and San Marcos. I dare you to find McGregor, Texas, on a map. I dare you.(*)

And if you want to go from Dallas to Houston … tough. It’s apparently impossible.

But are the difficulties of finding a train in Texas evidence of an Amtrak failure, or evidence of a failure elsewhere in transportation policy? Shape of Days argues the former.
Point is, if you live in Boston and want to go to the District, rail travel is a viable option. But if you live anywhere else, forget it. It’s a total non-starter.

I think the Hiawatha passengers would disagree. Mitchell Field to the north suburbs of Chicago in less than an hour is pretty good. One can sometimes spend an hour getting from the north suburbs to the state line on the Tollway. Chicago to Springfield or Kalamazoo or Ann Arbor is pleasant enough. Did I mention California? We'd get an omnibus post out of it.

What about Texas? New Orleans - Houston - San Antonio and Dallas - Fort Worth - Bryan - Houston - Galveston have potential as corridors, as does Dallas - Austin - San Antonio. The distances are not that much greater than Vienna - Paris or Bern - Hamburg. Some of the intermediate cities are larger than their European counterparts, and the topography is suitable for fast running. And at one time (September of 1954 to be the Official Guide I consulted) there was a comprehensive passenger train service, with both the Texas and Pacific and the Cotton Belt offering a day train and a night train New Orleans - Houston - San Antonio and the Burlington - Rock Island and the Santa Fe offering a day train and a night train Dallas - Houston. The Texas and Pacific had several trains on the Dallas - Fort Worth - San Antonio line. None of these were set up as corridors in the modern fashion. But perhaps the problem was in committing resources to the interstate highways. Or perhaps the Interstate Commerce Commission encouraging the railroads to offer competing service on the same schedules, rather than complementary service throughout the day. And, good though those interstates might be, they're under a bit of stress with the evacuation of Galveston and Houston. Texas Rainmaker is live-blogging his experiences in the traffic jam. Government failure, or providing the wrong incentives to travelers? (And that's leaving aside the Texas Highway Patrol's decision to block some of the back roads and divert drivers to the interstates. On the one hand a stranded motorist on a back road might be overtaken by the hurricane, on the other a clogged interstate might become a deathtrap if this storm speeds up.)

Perhaps some passenger trains would have helped in this emergency. The objective conditions for a corridor service under normal circumstances might also be present, Amtrak or no.

(*)McGregor is the station stop for Waco. The Cotton Belt crosses the Santa Fe there. The Amtrak route leaves the Santa Fe for the Katy at Temple. Bonus for correctly identifying the current operating companies.

SOMETHING TO WATCH. The latest forecasts of Rita's overland path have it parking for much of Saturday through Tuesday over the Arklatex. Much of that rain (up to 30 inches in some models!!?!) will flow into rivers captured by the Atchafalaya, rather than the Mississippi. There are some speculations about the significance of that here.

21.9.05

CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of Education No. 41(8) returns to the Education Wonks, who continue to go above and beyond the call of duty hosting the carnival and keeping track of its previous calls.
THIS DEFIES PARODY. University of Wisconsin student affairs specialist Paul Barrows, whose lack of life management skills when his fishing off the company pier didn't turn out so well brought to light Wisconsin's backup jobs boondoggle, has now sued the University.

Embattled University of Wisconsin-Madison administrator Paul Barrows filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday against the university's chancellor, John Wiley, and former dean of students Luoluo Hong.

Barrows, whose paid leaves and backup appointments helped prompt reform of UW System personnel policies this summer, claims in the suit that Hong interfered with his contract by giving Wiley false, secondhand claims of sexual harassment.

Wiley violated his civil rights, Barrows says in the complaint, when he instructed Barrows to resign from his vice chancellor's post and take leaves that were paid for with accrued vacation and sick time, without granting him due process.

Apparently Mr Barrows's lawyer-selection skills are no better than his life-management skills. Earlier reports of the case have a medical recommendation for a leave of absence that the doctor could not release.

What particularly amuses is the reason it's "former dean of students Luolo Hong."
Hong announced her resignation in June, citing Wisconsin's refusal to grant domestic partner benefits to university employees as a major reason. A university spokesman did not return a call seeking comment from Hong and Wiley.
I can't make up stuff like this. Great universities reduced to playgrounds for therapy and identity politics. Believe it.
SQUEEZING THAT VIRTUAL SPRECHER. Brewers 7, Cubs 6. Two out when winning run scored (none of that walk-off barbarism here!) The Crew squeezed in Run 6 in the 8th. Their infield let the bullpen down in the Cub 9th, allowing two runs to tie. It's another school night, so the Black Bavarian stays in the cooler until the weekend.
THEORIES OF THE LEISURE CLASS. More reaction to the non-trend trend of a few Yale women contemplating something other than the corporate treadmill. Anchoress, Betsy's Page, and Number 2 Pencil focus on the meta-story, which is the reaction of Ivy academicians of a certain age to the fact that if people are offered more choices, they're likely to take them.

The Hamptons society page has discovered another display of conspicuous consumption, one that the anecdote trend-spotters at the Times have not yet anointed. The display in question is an indoor ice rink for your home. I am not making this up. Check it out.
GETTING STARTED IN ECONOMICS. The Wall Street Journal's Wednesday Free Feature (hie thee hence before it goes behind the fence) features a conversation between Company Mail sources Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek and William J. Polley of Western Illinois. I like what I'm reading. Start at the end. This is WJP:
If economists do end up making movies and video games, I hope they include things like the development of institutions and the emergence of social order hand-in-hand with market order. Then, speaking out of my own rational self-interest as an economist, I hope that these ideas are clearly identified as economics somehow. I want the reaction of the consumer of these materials to be, "That's economics? It's nothing like the economics I learned in college." Then we can say, "You bet it's economics. Want to learn more?"
Do I hear an echo? Sounds like the Second Principle of Social Organization.

There's this, from RR:
Another airplane passenger story. I'm talking to the woman next to me and she asks me what I do. When I tell her I'm an economist, she says, "Too bad my husband isn't with me today, he'd love to talk to you." "Why's that?" I ask. "He's fascinated by the stock market," she replies. I had to tell her that I knew nothing about the stock market other than the virtues of indexed mutual funds. A useful thing to know -- one of the most useful insights of economics into personal finance -- but it would have made for a short conversation with her husband.
Story of my life. I get that question, or the one about interest rates, all the time. My response is usually "what's wrong with this picture?" (Answer: I wouldn't be in this sardine can on a discount ticket if I knew.) If the passenger asks, "what do you do?" I say "Economics is about sex, death, and why the lines are longest at the roller coaster." That's an excellent gambit for separating the interesting (to me) seatmates from the boring ones.

There's also this evidence of great minds thinking alike. RR:
Whenever I teach a seminar on basic economics, I always survey the audience: What proportion of the American labor force earns the minimum wage or less and what is the standard of living of the average American today relative to 100 years ago?
I do this also, on the first day of the introductory class. The results for fall 2002 are here. Today seems like a good day to comment on this year's results, as the Free Feature has the answers. As was the case in 2002, I told the students their answers would not affect their grade.

My first question: What proportion of the work force earns minimum wage? Of the 75 responses, the mean was 44.0 percent, the (divided by n-1) standard deviation was 18.7, the mode 35, the lowest estimate 12 percent, and the highest estimate 75 percent.

The reality: less than three percent of the work force earns minimum wage. (There is a teachable moment here. It's called "Do Not Generalize From Your Own Experience." Likely the bulk of the class has recently worked at a minimum wage job.)

Next: Are real living standards in the U.S. better or worse today than they were 100 years ago? 48 students offered better, 22 offered worse, 6 offered other choices.

The reality: Cornucopia.

I pose a third question as well: In a financial transaction, who benefits, the seller or the buyer? 28 respondents offered the seller, 9 the buyer, and 32 showed the initiative to answer both, and 7 offered a variant on "It depends." That's an encouraging note on which to begin the term. With the first hour exam approaching, the students are ready for some encouragement.
EMERGENCY ENGINEERING POSSESSION. Let's see if the server is willing to load last night's posts.

20.9.05

EDITORIALIZING, OR REPORTING THE FACTS? Tax Breaks for Katrina May Aid Rich More. Why?
The Congressional Research Service report said some elements of the tax assistance would do more for wealthier taxpayers because many lower income individuals and families pay little tax. Lower income survivors are also less likely to have retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs.
Couldn't one write the headline Katrina Tax Relief Favors Poor?
However, the same tax measure includes assistance specifically for lower-income families that would help the working poor hang onto their income tax credits, which can be disrupted by unemployment or family separation.
Would it be more constructive to ask about how close to restoring people to 100% of their material position before the storm the relief gets, and if the relief more fully restores richer or poorer people?
IT'S A SCHOOL NIGHT, SO ONLY A VIRTUAL SPRECHER. Brewers 5, Cubs 3.
IT WASN'T RUNNING THE YELLOWS. This speculation proved to be in error. A review of dispatching records reveals that the dispatcher lined a diverging route for the commuter train an hour before it entered the section. The engineer claims to have seen a high green, although all parties are properly telling the press very little. Earlier today, investigators attempted to replicate the conditions at the time of the derailment.
DOES MACY TELL GIMBEL? No, in the Midwest, Gimbel becomes Macy. The genealogy is a bit complicated, but here is the quote that made Chicago furious.
On Tuesday, Federated Department Stores Inc., said it is planning to change to Macy's the name of all 62 Marshall Field's, including the one on State Street that dates back to 1892.
Here is a bit of history.
It also was something that was uniquely Chicago. Despite being the template for stores such as Filene's in Boston and Gimbel's in New York, Marshall Field's belonged to just one place.
And here's the Rest of the Story. Marshall Field operated a branch store in Milwaukee. A few years ago, Marshall Field bought the assets of Gimbel's (which had by then hived off the Schuster's stores it had bought) and renamed a few as Marshall Field. Now Marshall Field is to become Macy's. Thus, Macy's now tells Gimbel's.
SPEAKING OF THOSE DESKTOP COMPUTERS. At Market Power, some nostalgia for those good old days when your $8500 would buy you a Tandy 5000 with two meg of RAM and a 20 MHz Intel 386 Inside! That's $8500 in 1989 dollars.
IS THAT ALL THERE IS? Mahablog comments on a New York Times article discovering that female students in the Ivies aren't as interested in staying attached to the work force. Key news discovery:

Much attention has been focused on career women who leave the work force to rear children. What seems to be changing is that while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.

"At the height of the women's movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing," said Cynthia E. Russett, a professor of American history who has taught at Yale since 1967. "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."

That may mean your boss 20 years from now will be wearing a Northern Illinois class ring. And she's not going to be one of the Ashleys with delusions of snaring the next Donald Trump that populates the article. There's a lot more to higher education and labor force participation than what the society reporter at the Westchester, er, New York Times discovers. On the other hand, that resources are scarce and have competing uses, which prompts the title of this post.

"It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: when we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?" said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard, who served as dean for coeducation in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

It is a complicated issue and one that most schools have not addressed. The women they are counting on to lead society are likely to marry men who will make enough money to give them a real choice about whether to be full-time mothers, unlike those women who must work out of economic necessity.

Was the inventor of the desktop computer disappointed that people were buying them to play games rather than work engineering problems? Perhaps. Are we better off that desktop computers are available for game playing as well as for working engineering problems -- and with algorithms more powerful than Quick Basic? Now, on to that "economic necessity." How many times must I run a review session on the Say Aggregation Principle? More labor force participation by women, more two-income households, more prices that reflect the ability of two incomes to bid for those goods. That actions have unintended consequences ought not come as a surprise. And what's this about "lead society?" You mean that lady over there, yes, the one with the Northern Illinois class ring, ought not be viewed as a possible leader? (On the other hand, does an emergent order have to have leaders? Questions, questions.)
University officials said that success meant different things to different people and that universities were trying to broaden students' minds, not simply prepare them for jobs.
Quite. A working jive-detector is useful, whether it's being used in the employ of others, or in minding kids, or in shooting the breeze at the model railroad club.
"What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn't constructed along traditional gender roles."
Perhaps because the box evolved to reduce some transaction costs. Sometimes the proper response to these "think outside the box" cliches is to say, "respect the box." Turmoil for its own sake is not equivalent to improving one's life. That's something that Mahablog appears to be recognizing.

This, of course, rather ignores the fact that sixties feminism was very much a reaction to the mistakes of fifties Stepford-wifism.

But the larger issue no one wants to talk about is that raising children in a post-Industrial Age society is a problem with no good solution.

Again, there's the title of my post. Forty years ago, the daughters of dependent housewives were asking that question. Today, the granddaughters are observing their stressed-out moms and rephrasing the question.
So, it became socially acceptable for women to work outside the home. In fact, in recent decades the American economy has become increasingly dependent on the productivity of women, just as the famous American middle-class lifestyle has become dependent on two paychecks.
Yes. There are laws of conservation in economics. It ought come as no surprise that if some people see the financial benefit that comes from two incomes as simply incidental to the greater freedom made possible by those daughers asking my question, prices will adjust to reflect those incomes.
At least we are getting away from the "having it all" myth, which said that women can have the high-power career and be excellent parents at the same time if they just tried hard enough. There may be a few high-energy types who manage it (the ones I've met made enough money to hire nannies), but most of us who have tried this end up leading lives of unquiet desperation.
Institutions evolve to conserve on transaction costs.
I'm not sure what the solution is, other than better social supports and more Real Men who carry their share of the load. Ultimately I wish we could re-think the whole nine-to-five employment thing.
Good point. Sometimes I'd be happy to be limited to nine-to-five rather than whenever-to-whenever, depending on what's on the answering machine or in email or how imaginative the wrong answers on the homework or the methods of the research paper under review are.

I continue to notice summer rush hours beginning around lunchtime (one story here) and employers may implicitly understand that there is a backward-bending supply curve and offer promising employees with families a different combination of pay and hours. The rethinking, however, is likely to be an emergent phenomenon, with any codification in law to come later.

SECOND SECTION: Crooked Timber and Althouse comment on the Times, with spirited bull sessions in progress at both sites. In those discussions some irritation with treating one or two anecdotes about life among the priviligentsia as evidence of a social trend emerges.

THIRD SECTION: The view from 11-D.
PRIMORDIAL SHOCK AND AWE. Book Review No. 39 is Dennis Showalter's Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century. There are a few aspects of these not-quite-rivals that the movies won't tell you. Erwin Rommel came from a family of modest means to be admitted to one of the German service academies. His only experience with elite troops was as a company commander in the Wuerttemberg Mountain Battalion in Romania and later in Italy, during World War I, where he demonstrated a resourcefulness in making do with little and defeating larger opposing forces. George Patton obtained some experience with the pioneering tanks toward the end of that war.

In the opening phases of World War II, Rommel's Seventh Panzer made short work of much larger opposing forces. Professor Showalter summarizes the lessons.
Erwin Rommel and the 7th Panzer had done something more than win a series of tactical victories that remain unprecedented in terms of time, space, and numbers. They had established an archetype of blitzkrieg. Ever since May, 1940, "lightning war" in military mythology is more than just quick, lethal, asceptic conflict; something other than the "shock and awe" of paralyzing aerial bombardment, or massive artillery barrages anonymously delivered, or even of hundreds of tanks rolling forward in an irresistible mass. What the 7th Panzer Division did was set a pace that transformed each enemy it faced into an obliging enemy, whose decisions and behaviors seemed to fit German requirements as closely as though Rommel himself had drawn up the plans and issued the orders. It was a virtuoso performance, after a half-century when war had become an endurance test.
The Seventh Panzer improvised methods of using Stukas for tank-busting, but had to be careful not to run too far ahead of the air support for fear of being misidentified by the Stuka pilots. The language of battlefield preparation I hear these days strikes me as refinements of what Rommel and the Seventh made up on the fly in the spring of 1940.

The legendary Afrika Korps transpires to have been a scratch force (with the Russian Front calling for more and more resources) and Professor Showalter reveals that the German leadership, including Hitler, had no idea how to defeat the United States. The United States, and the British, had to figure out how to win, and there were several false starts in North Africa and Sicily. Enter, then exit, then re-enter Patton.

Professor Showalter's most provocative suggestion is that each of these generals might have done better on the other team. An improvisational and glory-seeking Patton in Russia in 1941? A Rommel with the logistical support of the Arsenal of Democracy in 1944? Both of these generals are more intensively studied in the service academies of their old adversaries.

I also commend this observation on Patton's documented prejudices, commonplace among the old rich of those days.
His frequently graphic private language was largely confined to outlets understood at the time as private: his diary and his personal correspondence. Even there his tone as a rule invites comparison to expressions of opinion common among other kinds of elites at the turn of the century on Kenneth Starr, George W. Bush, Texans, neoconservatives, and similar upstarts who do not accept their places. The underlying motivation in each case is the same: a comprehensive, unreflective, uncritical sense of superiority.
That sounds like a colleague I'd want to say "Got your back" in a common room argument.

The book itself? Recommended reading for World War II buffs.
THE DOWNSIDE OF PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION. The United States Constitution apportions representation by states. Many other republics apportion representation by political parties. Successful political parties in the United States engage in coalition building to capture median voters, a reality that frustrates true believers of all sorts. (Read around the weblogs: the discontent of business Republicans with evangelicals, or of labor Democrats with pacifists, is there.) Successful political parties in parliamentary republics are able to appeal to their true believers -- who do not have to live in contiguous districts such as Berkeley, or Emporia -- to obtain seats in proportion to the true believers' share in the vote. But then comes the challenge: to form a government. No Oil for Pacifists works through the arithmetic for Germany, as well as the history. One wonders if the Germans won't soon be petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the recounts. Betsy's Page lays out the nightmare scenario for the U.S.
Can you imagine some situation in America when we would have to have a coalition government of Republicans and Democrats running the government together. I'm not talking about divided government between Congress and the president. I'm talking about running the executive branch together. It is just unimaginable. The reason we have two parties is because they disagree fundamentally on how the government should run. And thinking of some coalition between a major and minor party would just move that party more to the extremes.
I don't even want to contemplate the potential for blocking coalitions.
SOMETHING TO REFLECT ON. Simon Wiesenthal died in his sleep overnight.

Even after turning 90, Wiesenthal continued to remind and to warn. While appalled at atrocities committed by Serbs against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the 1990s, he said no one should confuse the tragedy there with the Holocaust.

"We are living in a time of the trivialization of the word 'Holocaust,'" he told AP in 1999. "What happened to the Jews cannot be compared with all the other crimes. Every Jew had a death sentence without a date."

Keep that in mind the next time somebody attempts to escalate the debate over the separation of national, state, and local powers by invoking fascism.

19.9.05

OPERATE SAFELY AT ALL TIMES. Last Saturday, a Metra Rock Island district train derailed at the 47th Street crossovers, with two deaths and many injuries. The train attempted to negotiate a 10 mph crossover at track speed, 70 mph.

A similar wreck, without fatalities, occurred two years ago.

In both crashes, commuter trains were supposed to switch tracks at a crossover near 47th Street. The speed limit for such a maneuver in that location is 10 m.p.h. Both trains were traveling close to Metra's regular cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. when the accidents occurred, investigators said.

Both crashes also involved engineers who had only recently joined Metra.

What follows is speculation, and I hope to be shown wrong. The engineer of Saturday's train had recently joined Metra from CSX, which is one of the sloppier big railroads. I wonder if there isn't a pattern of engineers operating trains at track speed despite a restrictive signal, expecting a somewhat harried dispatcher to clear a signal in response to a radio request. Although such a practice is contrary to the rules, it is something I have noticed listening to freight railroad radio chatter. If the usual pattern is to clear the through route upon request, crews might be lulled into a false sense of security until, as sometimes happens, that restrictive signal is properly displayed in advance of an open switch.

Years ago, a practice called "running on the yellows" was a cause of rear-end collisions. The engineer of a train running behind another train might become frustrated by reducing speed for an approach aspect (usually yellow) only to see a clear aspect (green) at the next signal, then having to reduce speed for the next yellow. He might become lulled into the idea that as long as the train ahead continues to run at track speed, he can stay closer to schedule by pushing the yellows at track speed. Works just fine as long as the train ahead doesn't stop with its hind end just beyond the unanticipated stop aspect (red) the preceding yellow is supposed to call attention to.
LET'S THINK ABOUT OUR HISTORY. The Northern Star speaks with some colleagues who have been peacefully assembling seeking redress of grievances.
The rally protesting the Iraq war was established in Dec. 2001. However, the DeKalb Interface for Peace and Justice recently celebrated 20 years together as an organization.
No, the vigil that began in late 2001 was first to draw attention to the human costs of liberating Afghanistan. Is the half-life of our memory so short that objections some people raised to that campaign have gone past the event horizon?

This, on the other hand, is priceless.
"I saw the group protest and I had a sense that I needed to do something," [DeKalb resident Frances] Loubere said. "I was astounded and surprised that Bush was voted into office again."
In microcosm, that's the intelligentsia's echo chamber. "How could Nixon win [Anderson lose]? Nobody [Everybody] I know voted against [for] him?"
BATTEN THE HATCHES. The glass is falling and my peg-leg socket aches.

From the Northern Illinois University forecast for Monday afternoon.

Rita. I looked at the latest model data and I just shook my head. Here's what the media and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) AREN'T telling you: the model late this morning shifted the track eastward from what they are showing here as of 11 AM Monday:

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at3+shtml/153924.shtml?5day

The latest GFDL model, one of the best hurricane models out there, is in fact showing a 150 MPH hurricane (strong category 4) slamming into New Orleans on Friday, with the NHC model taking it right through the city as well. The official NHC track will be adjusted eastward later today; they like to be conservative and want to make sure this thing is heading into Louisiana before they cause inevitable alarm along the Gulf coast. However, they should have 60 hours of lead time on this one, wherever it heads inland.

Irish Trojan is also following events in the gulf. Voluntary Xchange recalls some troubling history.
What New Orleans does not need, but which is possible, is a repeat of 1998, in which Earl, Frances, Hermine, and Georges bothered the city over a 3 week period in September. Frances was the worst - even though its eye hit Corpus Christi, feeder bands on its eastern side dropped 21 inches of rain in suburban New Orleans (although I remember something about 34 inches over a 4 day period that included days before and after Frances).
Mayor Nagin of New Orleans has asked residents who have returned to leave again. But this interpretation of events from that report is a bit disturbing.

The dispute over the reopening was just the latest example of the lack of federal-local coordination that has marked the disaster practically from the start.

Nagin saw a quick reopening as a way to get the storm-battered city back in the business of luring tourists. But federal officials warned that such a move could be a few weeks premature, pointing out much of the area does not yet have full electricity and still has no drinkable water, 911 service or working hospitals.

With the approach of Rita, Bush added his voice, saying he had "deep concern" about the possibility that New Orleans' levees could be breached again.

In addition, Bush said there are significant environmental concerns. New Orleans still lacks safe drinking water, and there are fears about the contamination in the remaining floodwaters and the muck left behind in drained areas of the city.

"The mayor - you know, he's got this dream about having a city up and running, and we share that dream," the president said. "But we also want to be realistic about some of the hurdles and obstacles that we all confront in repopulating New Orleans."

It is interesting to watch the term "states rights" go from a code word for "Southern racism" to a watchword in defense against "fascism" (Yes, I have seen that charge on some sites. Find them yourself.) faster than those levees gave way as this tussle over authority plays out.
MAKE THE GATEKEEPERS WALK THE PLANK. The dean at Anonymous Junior doesn't like creating a college-wide textbook selection committee either.
Bundling books with tuition would render those options irrelevant. Finally, and most damningly, have you looked at a high school textbook lately? College texts have their shortcomings, to be sure, but at least they don’t have to get approved by central committees. Start bundling the texts for the huge intro classes, and the central committees will become relevant.
Quite. Not to mention the increase in buyer concentration that would result as the high-school oligopsony gets reinforced by some kind of collegiate oligopsony. (Membership on a college textbook committee might not be without its rewards for suitably avaricious faculty. I was once principles coordinator at a fairly large university and received more than one offer of baseball tickets and the like.)
THERE BE BURIED TREASURE. Steer a course to WILLisms for the latest Carnival of the Capitalists. And if ye be boardin' on his recommendation, the grog is in the wardroom and the idea shop is open.
LOOK AHEAD AND LOOK ASTERN, LOOK TO WEATHER AND TO LEE. No man-of-war nor American privateer be we, for 'tis Talk Like a Pirate Day. These laddies be collectin' yarns, and remindin' all buccaneers to spare some booty for the wenches of the Gulf Coast. This scribbler is advisin' landlubbers, and this fine lady givin' lessons.

17.9.05

CONDOLENCES. University Diaries notes the recent passing of two great Polish artists, creator of metaphoric posters Henryk Tomaszewski and father-in-law and Harvard professor Jerzy Soltan.
SPITE CHECK. Northern Illinois gets into the win column with a 42-3 win over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (did this team once have an Indian theme?) The field goal came late in the game, well after the outcome was determined.
RETHINKING THE WELFARE ECONOMICS PARADIGM. Kash at Angry Bear has an instructive meditation on the citizen and the state.

Liberals like me tend to believe that when that happens, our society as a whole will be better off if the rest of us try to help out those individuals who have suffered from circumstance. This doesn't mean that we think that we can eliminate suffering, or ensure that nothing bad ever happens, or that we should insulate individuals from the consequences of their own actions. But when things outside of an individual's control devastates their life, we think that it is compassionate and good and just - and even in our own enlightened self-interest - to help out.

Most conservatives, on the other hand, tend to believe that society should play a relatively small role in helping people when they're down - the primary responsibility for recovery from bad times rests with the individual and his or her family, not with society in a broader sense. Perhaps this difference largely springs from the presumption of many conservatives that if an individual is experiencing bad times, it is probably largely a consequence of their own actions, and that they should have to bear full responsibility for their poor choices.

This argument might be phrased more felicitously, as it conflates "society" with "government." Betsy's Page links to an Anne Applebaum column suggesting that society has been stepping up more effectively via non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross, Move On, or the Salvation Army. The latest poll roundup from Public Brewery notes a decline of confidence in government. The poll appears to focus on whether "Washington" can do the right thing; had somebody asked about "City Hall" or "the Governor" my conjecture is that the decline would have been more pronounced.

Don at Cafe Hayek has an excellent summary of what might be going on in people's minds.
Katrina, in addition to stripping my hometown of life, unmasked the pretenses of government as savior.

David Brooks is thinking along similar lines.

Back to the Angry Bear essay. Economic theory might propose a role for the government.
The reason for this actually goes back to economic theory. One powerful insight that every first-year economics microeconomics student learns is that when something has a positive externality, or is a public good, the provision of that public good by private individuals will be less than each of those individuals would like. The problem is that such goods suffer from the free-rider problem. In such cases, society is unambiguously better off if the government provides the public good.
That argument appends an ideological statement to a logical proposition. A positive externality is a situation in which one person's actions provide uncompensated benefits to other people. The person who provides the benefit has insufficient incentive to exploit all the possible gains from trade, because some people will free-ride. A sufficiently well-informed and properly managed government is indeed able to design the proper rules and taxes to achieve that allocative efficiency. But unexploited gains from trade are equivalent to $100 bills on the sidewalk if one is clever enough to pick up the $100 bill at an expenditure of less than $100. Society will be unambiguously better off if the $100 is picked up at an expenditure of less than $100. The tussle between big-government and limited-government advocates often reduces to an empirical question, namely, is government able to pick up the $100 more cheaply than some other organization?

The Kash essay continues with a bit of elaboration, then this statement of a general principle.
So what does this mean in practice? It means that liberals support government policies that provide help to those who have suffered from the powerful forces that buffet each of our lives but are outside of our control. As I said, that doesn't mean that liberals want to try to completely insulate everyone from anything bad ever happening... just that when bad stuff happens that individuals have no control over, we think the government should help out a bit.
As long as one confines the discussion to the provision of a public good, and grants the national government a superiority over other institutional arrangements at discouraging free-riding, the essay stands. However, it neglects another problem with public policy, namely the moral hazard that is present any time a person who is at risk from forces outside his control holds some kind of insurance against those forces. There have been some lurid criticisms of the moral hazard effect of the Welfare State on the behavior of people left behind in New Orleans. Brendan Miniter at the Wall Street Journal proposes to remove the source of the moral hazard itself.
It is time to break free of the narrow thinking that has prevented progress for decades. It's time to rethink how we, as a society, combat poverty. Are we going to try another big-government program and expect better results this time? Or are we now going to realize that ownership is the most likely path to the middle class? School vouchers can help poor parents take ownership of their children's education and finally break the grip teachers unions have on the public schools. Health savings accounts and private accounts for Medicaid and Social Security will give those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder the skills as well as the assets necessary to climb higher. In late August the levees broke in New Orleans. But the welfare state had left the poor stuck in the mud long before that.
There is one further consideration. Any attempt at changing peoples' behavior by changing policy ought have an answer to Deirdre McCloskey's takedown of the Social Engineering Vice: "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" Because any allocative inefficiency leaves unexploited gains from trade, advocates of any attempt at a policy change -- whether to expand the power of government or to take functions away from it -- owes voters an explanation of whether the proposed change will in fact be cheaper to implement than the social benefits it attempts to harvest. Mr Miniter's post lapses into what I refer to as Utopian Wonkery. That accounting has not been offered in it.