Saturday, October 12, 2002

A left-right economics Nobel?
So far, the New York Times barely acknowledges that Vernon Smith shared the prize with Daniel Kahneman. Left-wing bloggers such as Calpundit, Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, and Kieran Healy don't even seem to notice that Smith got the award. The libertarian Volokh Conspiracy at least mentions Kahneman, although it mostly discusses Smith. I don't know much about experimental economics, but I am curious whether this award is some sort of left-right thing like Myrdal and Hayek. Ah well, at least this is an improvement on the press response to Buchanan's Nobel, when left-wing reporters claimed (falsely) that the economics profession was unhappy about the award, but would not quote any actual named economists to that effect.
Washington Post offers a fair look at the Israeli disinvestment movement
The Washington Post has a reasonably fair piece on the movement to force universities to disinvest in Israel. It quotes students on both sides of the issue, and a variety of people with differing views, including Abraham Foxman, Daniel Pipes, and Lawrence Summers in opposition, and Richard Falk, Edward Said, and Francis Boyle in favor.
Some of the comments are silly, such as Richard Falk saying that calling the disinvestment movement anti-Semitic
makes people hesitant to express their real beliefs, because they feel they will be unintentionally misunderstood or deliberately misunderstood. That has an extremely chilling effect on people's willingness to express their views
as if the disinvestment crowd actually ever shuts up. But it isn't the Post responsibility that the disinvestment crowd is silly.
My only gripe with the article is this sentence:
Arab American activists said that incidents of taunting and other harassment of Jews pale in comparison to the wave of anti-Muslim incidents -- and suspicion -- that has swept campuses since last year's terrorist attacks in the United States.
Okay, they listen to both sides. But these are questions of fact. We know about the anti-Jewish riots at SFSU and the Nazi-style posters at Berkeley (which, come to think of it, the story is silent on). What is the wave of anti-Muslim incidents? The Post has a responsibility to do more than just quote students. It is a big paper with access to all the big databases such as LexisNexis (yeah, yeah, with the TM superscript), so it should tell us at least what the news reports suggest.
Blogs get results
The New York Times finally fesses up that the Nobel Peace Prize was nothing more than a partisan attack by a pack of pointless Norwegian lefties. Okay, they didn't admit all that, but they do admit "The peace prize often carries a political message, but never before has it been so pointed." From the Times, that is a big admission.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Was the economics Nobel shared this year?
On a lighter note, I must take a look around the blogs a bit more. I can't find anyone who mentions the economics prize was shared. So far, everyone mentions Smith or Kahneman. My loose impression so far is that right wingers (broadly defined to include libertarians) mention Smith, and lefites mention Kahneman. I shall look into this more closely tomorrow to see if there is some curious phenomenon to be explained.
One last gripe about DeLong
If Brad DeLong wants bloggers to be less childish and petulant, he could also take a look back at this post, which tells us that since we all know that Democrats like him do things so much better than Republicans like, well, obviously not him, what explanation is left but that people like him must clearly be much smarter than people not like him. Then again, when DeLong is good, he can be very good.
Nuremburg rally
I just got home after attending Robert Fisk's lecture at my undistinguished university. It was titled "September 11th: Ask who did it but for heaven's sake, don't ask why!" The text of the previous lecture in the series was posted before it began; I'm still waiting for Fisk's speech to go up. I will link to it if it appears. Were I a deeply cynical person, I might suspect that the university doesn't want to put up his hate-America-and-the-Jews screed because it might affect their US fundraising. I am of course not a deeply cynical person. But I will say this. His tirade against Israel stunk of anti-Semitism, for all his puffing that he was not. The funny thing is, I'm inclined to believe he isn't anti-Semitic, just a nutty left-winger. The audience, though, was sickening. I finally have a whiff of what it might have been like at the Nuremburg rallies. One questioner claimed that the Irish Times (the leading Irish paper, sort of like an Irish New York Times in its editorial attitude toward Israel) was part of the Zionist conspiracy because one of their Middle East stringers is Israeli. Fisk actually got jittery about that, but the audience clearly loved it. I won't say much until tomorrow because the audience still has me shaken.
Fisk, however, was Fisk. Instead of the whole oil bit being about Cheney and Bush, he started off with Condoleeza Rice, who apparently is a tool of Chevron. And, boy, is he still mad about the press treatment of him when he got beaten up and said poor muggers. He quoted Mark Steyn as saying about him "you would have to have a heart of stone not to weep with laughter" (I haven't checked the quote, but it sounds right.) He went about this one at length; Steyn really got to him. And he is still mad at Judea Pearl. I have pages of notes, and I'll blog them all tomorrow. Tonight I am too tired and disgusted by Irish intellectuals.
More on DeLong
I sometimes get a bit cranky about Brad DeLong's blog, so let me clarify with two points. First, there is a lot of interesting stuff there, because he is very, very smart. Second, although I don't his papers on macroeconomics because it isn't my field, he has written some amazingly good stuff. Two of my favorites, which I have assigned to students, are on J.P. Morgan and on the growth of cities. There, my first attempt at being whatever the opposite of petulant is. I am off to see Robert Fisk shortly. I guarantee I will be less kind.
Petulant Bloggers
Brad deLong, quoting CalPundit, chides bloggers for being "[c]hildish, petulant, ignorant, and willfully trying to miss the bigger point." To some degree, anyway, a fair point. I can feel very childish some days, even a bit petulant, and certainly tired of my left wing colleagues. So I promise to try harder. I would ask DeLong, however, when he seems desperate to take shots at Bush, or serves as cheerleader for Paul Krugman's frequently childish, petulant, and ignorant columns, he should (1) remember his own advice, and (2) remind his readers he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, Department of the Treasury, from April 1993 to May 1995, in other words, during the Clinton administration. I am not saying DeLong hides this fact, just that it ought to go along with his posts when he vents his visceral dislike for George Bush (and I will admit to a visceral dislike of Carter, Clinton, and Mary Robinson).
More on Carter
Daniel Drezner thinks Carter deserves the peace prize, and David Skinner in the Weekly Standard says that as peace prize winners go, Carter isn't a bad choice. Since I respect both writers, I will give the issue a rethink. Skinner, however, suggests that because the committee so clearly was using the prize to attack Bush, the honorable thing for Carter to do is to refuse it on the grounds that the award was a brazen bit of anti-Americanism. Let us see how honorable Carter is. More to the point, I will wait to see what Carter says in Stockholm (since I greatly doubt he will take up Skinner's suggestion). If he takes the committee's bait and goes after Bush, well, maybe I should just wait and see.
A pun I like
Although I regularly read Israpundit, I don't link to them very often because their links don't seem to work well. No matter. Today it is funny. In a comment on Europe providing guns to Hamas, Israpundit writes:
I generally support the practice of fighting fire with firing.
More temperate and sober analysts will probably find an objection. Me, I like the line, and sadly have to agree.
Unfair to deconstruction
A reader writes to object to my connecting deconstruction and Nazism. He says first the de Man was not a Nazi and not a collaborator, only that he wrote for a collaborationist paper. So I guess that means he wasn't exactly courageous, but hardly a Nazi. He adds a philosophical point.
[T]he political consequences of deconstruction are completely opposite to the National Socialist project; I mean, deconstruction starts with a rejection of organic unity as the central concept of Western metaphysics.
I won't quarrel with the point because I know far too little about deconstruction, beyond reading a bit of Richard Posner on the subject as applied to law. My point was not to try to link deconstruction to Nazism. It was rather to note how deconstruction's adherents cringe at the thought they had anything to do with the Nazis, and even worry that it might discredit deconstruction merely by association. Does anyone worry that American folk music is discredited because Pete Seeger is a Stalinist, or that the American civil rights is discredited simply because Martin Luther King had advisors who were communists. Wagner is still controversial because Hitler liked him. What composer is controversial for being a favorite of Stalin or Mao?
Welcome to AtlanticBlog
Those of you referred here by Instapundit, welcome to my site. There are lots of lawyers who blog; far fewer are economists. The famous ones are well known. May I suggest you take a look at ColdSpringShop, full of interesting ideas, and written by a very good economist and (full disclosure here) former colleague.
UPDATE: Oh yeah, and I will be posting about Robert Fisk's speech here tonight, sometime before midnight Greenwich Mean Time.
Instapundit gets results
When bloggers say Instapundit gets results, they are really not kidding. I started this blog about six weeks ago, mostly to amuse myself and the few friends who read it. I typically get 3-4 visits per day. Then I get in this morning (when on the US east coast it is not even 5 AM), note the papers have different ways of covering Carter's prize, and drop a note to Glenn Reynolds. He links my comment, and as I post this, I have had 306 visits so far today, far more than all the visits in the last six weeks combined. Clearly, Reynolds has become a powerful force in the press who must be constrained by antitrust laws. (That last line was a joke. I repeat: that last line was a joke about antitrust, which I probably should not have said, because it will give the antitrust boys more bad ideas.)
UPDATE: Where are my manners? Thanks, Glenn.
Covering up the stench
The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) reports that in awarding the prize to Carter, the committee said:
"It should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken," said Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel committee. "It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the U.S.," he added.
I think it is interesting that neither the Washington Post or the New York Times picked up this line. Are they covering up just how degenerate the committee is?
More on why American is better than Europe
In the Washington Times, Andrew Sullivan (scroll down to second item) notes that the left-wing thought police in Europe have the power of the state behind them to shout down free speech.
Finally, I predict correctly
At the beginning of the month, I said to look for Virginia Postrel reporting in the New York Times on the annual conference of the International Society for the New International Economics. Here she is.
Good for a few laughs
Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
a little correction
Earlier, I had linked to a Larry Miller piece on a punk bank audience booing a band that denounced the upcoming war on Iraq. Miller got the wrong band, and here issues a nice correction.
The stench of death
In 1993, I took a trip to Munich, and while I was there, I visited the concentration camp at Dachau, a Munich suburb. It is all very clean and neat. The barracks for the inmates were crumbling apart when the allies showed up, so they had been replaced with gravel. The gas chamber is preserved. The camp headquarters were turned into a museum. I walked around the camp first before going into the museum, and started feeling sick. As I walked up to the museum, a busload of teenagers was just showing up, being the usual rowdy bunch. We walked in together. Within a minute, they were silent. The walls were full of pictures the Nazis had taken of their experiments on people. For some reason, the pictures that stay in my mind today were a series of shots of a man chained up in a wind tunnel being used to test the effects of a high wind on the human face. His face became more and more contorted as the wind speed picked up, until the wind got so strong that his whole face was destroyed.

The Middle East has become a haven for the successors of the Nazis, and one of the leading apologists for these monsters is showing up a my university tonight. I'm going, partly to be able to report on it, and also to see how my "colleagues" react. I am curious how many would happily join up with the Gestapo if given a chance.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

New York Times Pushes Doggerel
The New York Times decided to make nice with Laura Bush, because of her reading initiatives. They give us, though, such a pedestrian outlook on reading. The editorial ends with
Mrs. Bush's programs suggest that she is aiming for the heart of the reading community, that enormous middle ground defined by the books that some of us begin with and others of us end with, books that we can think of as the common property of literary Americans, young and old. There can never be too much of that.
The point of serious reading is to stop writing or thinking that kind of banality. What can it mean to describe "the heart" of anything as an "enormous middle ground"? The middle of what? I can't think of, say, Genet, as sitting in the middle of anything. Does the Times want us all to sit around and recite:

I think that I shall never see,
A poem as lovely as a tree.

This old bit of doggerel was dumped on students for years (I have mercifully shut the author's name out), but sits in that nice, inoffensive middle ground. I can really see why the New York Times keeps it editorials unsigned.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Irish taxpayers need to start Fisking
My own employer has invited Robert Fisk to spread more drivel about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The Irish taxpayer is paying for this tripe. Shortly before or after his speech, it should go online. I will post the link.
Experimental economics gets the Nobel
The Nobel Prize in economics went to Daniel Kahneman of Princeton and Vernon Smith of George Mason University for their work in experimental economics. Details are here. In Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Nash, she claims that one consequence of the fight over Nash's Nobel was that the committee started opening up the economics Nobel to social science more generally. A look at the winners since then doesn't offer a lot of support for this claim, but maybe she was on to something. Last year Akerlof won, and this year, two quasi-psychologists. That last remark isn't intended as a criticism, since I am largely ignorant of experimental economics.
Being Nice to Nazis?
Cold Spring Shop takes issue with the idea that Nazis get bad press compared with Communists. He cites Heidegger and Paul de Man, active Nazis who gave us deconstruction. I think he is only half right. The deconstructionists have hidden their Nazi past for years, and still tend to deny it in a way that the same crowd would never deny, and even celebrate, Sartre's communism.
Fisking will be needed
I just received notice from my esteemed university president that Robert Fisk the "veteran war correspondent" will be giving a lecture at my university on Friday evening as part of the university's distinguished lecture series. There is no title. The last lecture was a really dull one by Peter Sutherland, a former EC commission, on why the Nice Treaty is a GOOD THING and why its opponents are really stupid. I promise a full report.
It amuses me that my lefty colleagues keep getting Fisk and Pilger mixed up. Is the English version of anti-Americanism a genuinely homogeneous good?

Monday, October 07, 2002

Paying Teachers
Cold Spring Shop has some observations about how to pay teachers. The part that interests me is this:
[T]he universities of the United States are stronger precisely because the British, and possibly other European universities, have the same pay packets for professors of comparable seniority, irrespective of field.

Teachers get paid based on seniority and credentials, rather than actual ability, so it is hardly surprising they frequently do their jobs so badly. It surprises me more that any of them do their jobs at all. The part that worries me is how it can be fixed, or whether it can be fixed at all.
Imagine a large government bureaucracy that produces something but does not sell anything. The point was made years ago by von Mises in Bureaucracy that bureaucratic rules are necessary in such circumstances, because there are no prices to control how much of different things to do. One of the advantages of a profit system is that, through prices, it gives producers an indication of what to do. Absent prices, there are no clear ways of measuring whether people are doing the right thing.
There are different reasons why rules are in place. For example, in a bureaucracy, there are constraints on your supervisor because there is no clear profit motive to restrain him from lying about you.
Similar problems apply with respect to paying people according to the market. It is not entirely accurate to say that over here professors are not paid according to field. In medicine, pay is noticeably better because of a market constraint. But as a general proposition, Cold Spring Shop is accurate enough. The problem is how you assess whether the market pushes wages higher in one field relative to another. Is it an inability to hire? That is endogenous; a department could push up wages by having unrealistic standards. If a department head wants to hire an incompetent flunky, and the president is his good friend, what is to counter a claim that there is almost no one available and wages have to raised?
There are two solutions to this problem that I have seen. One is the British system of research assessments, which makes it more costly to hire incompetents, but doesn't get at the problem of measuring market wages. The other is a heavily competitive job market, where wages are set low and then raised to match counter-offers. The downside to this system is there is little incentive for faculty to make school-specific investments.
Punkers for Bush
Larry Miller, who is not as funny as Dave Barry but reasonably close (that is a big compliment, by the way), has the story.
Against Netanyahu?
David Weinberg writes in the Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu should not run against Sharon, but should settle for now for running as deputy PM. Weinberg has some interesting comments on Netanyahu's personal failings as PM, and thinks a term as deputy PM would be good for him, and would also be a good show of unity for Israel.
Antisemitism, one more time
Jay Nordlinger has a very good, very brutal line in today's Impromptus.
The Jews are worried sick again — worried that the world will blame them. They need not worry: The world will, as always. It never lets you down.
Relief for starving children
A nifty AP story I picked up at FindLaw offers some comfort to starving children. A committee of what the AP or the UN calls experts are upset that Britain still allows some corporal punishment. In other words, when your kid is pounding on his baby brother, you can give him a spanking to learn empathy with those on whom he has inflicted violence. The UN's experts are deeply shocked by this, and say that Britain isn't properly living up to its treaty obligations.

The story gives us a nice reminder of how insidious some of these treaties are. It says that only the US and Somalia have declined to ratify the treaty. It follows that, say, Zimbabwe has. So as those children are being starved to death by Mugabe's genocide on his political opponents, the UN sits relieved that at least their parents aren't spanking them for misbehavior. Thus does the UN attempt to deflect attention from Mugabe to Blair.