Saturday, January 04, 2003

A pox on the Israel boycotters
InstaPundit reported
On 16 December 2002 the Conseil d'Administration of Université Paris VI passed a motion recommending the rupture of the European Union's scientific cooperation agreement with Israel. A similar resolution is on the agenda of the meeting of the Université Paris VII Conseil d'Administration, which is to take place on January 7.
A lot more details, including how the motion got passed, can be found here. It includes a petition demanding that the university withdraw the motion. As I write this, it has nearly 800 academic signatures, many of them French.
Personal attacks
Cold Spring Shops picks up on Daniel Drezner's comment that the left seems more sensitive than the right. He adds this comment.
But I have to wonder a bit about his transition from academy-to-public-life hypothesis. You're not supposed to take comments on your second-order conditions, or your sample selection, or your model specification personally. Are the academicians in public life the second string?
The kind, not just the severity, of criticism you get depends on the issue. Fogel and Engerman's work on American slavery, Time on the Cross got criticism of their models, their interpretation of written evidence, and more generally criticism of applying economic analysis to history. It also got them denounced as racists. The first kind of criticism an academic should not take personally; it is hard not to avoid taking the second kind any other way.
Fisk watch
After a pleasant absence of nearly two weeks, Robert Fisk has crawled out from under his rock again to discourse on several themes, all old standards. First, there is oil:
Meanwhile, we are . . . ploughing on to war in Iraq, which has oil, but avoiding war in Korea, which does not have oil.
This is after Rumsfeld has already warned the North Koreans that the U.S. is prepared to fight two wars at once.
Then there is the vast right wing conspiracy, which controls the US press. Long before Al Gore jumped on this theme, this was a Fisk standard.
The New York Times – the most chicken of all the American papers in covering the post-9/11 story

And there is the oldest theme: the wickedness of the American government and its "obscene" war on terror.
Race hustling
Now here is an interesting constrast of stories. In the Washington Post, Robert Woodson writes about Bob Mants, one of the leaders of the march over Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge that was attacked by mounted troopers.
Although the right to vote eventually was won, Mants says the battle produced little change for the masses. As one who stayed behind in Lowndes County and continued to struggle to bring justice and equality to the poor in Alabama, he is bitterly disappointed. His remarks are damning: "Many of those in government and politics, universities and think tanks have pimped the poor. They have used our demographics to win large grants and contracts. State elected officials, both black and white, continue to use our demographics of poverty to qualify for federal and state grants. But the resources have not devolved to the people most in need. They have a vested interest in the problem -- no interest in the solution. Many would not solve the problem if they had the solution in their hands. They are our color, but not our kind."
Meanwhile, the Independent reports on a fuss in Britain over the appointment of the head of the Commission on Racial Equality.
A bitter row is brewing over the appointment of the next head of the Commission for Racial Equality following accusations that radical black candidates have been sidelined from the powerful role.
For me, here is the giveaway line that this is really a fight over pimping on the poor.
Last night Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote who has spearheaded moves to get ethnic minorities involved in politics and recently hosted a meeting with the radical black American preacher and civil rights activist, the Rev Al Sharpton, said the appointment could have a crucial affect on labour's relations with the black community.
Al Sharpton has changed from head of Race Hustling to head of Race Hustling International.
Stuffed shirts?
The The Washington Post picks up a story on Project Exile, a program in Richmond to control gun crime.
Offenders were prosecuted for such crimes as the obliteration of serial numbers on weapons, the use of a gun while possessing a controlled substance and the possession of guns by fugitives. Those convicted were sent to out-of-state federal penitentiaries hundreds of miles away from their home communities -- the "exile" part of Project Exile.
(The full paper, in pdf format, is here.) I have not had time to do more than skim the paper, so I have no comment on it. But I was intrigued by the response by the NRA to the story.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said: "I would take the words of the men and women who are on the front lines of fighting crime in Richmond over the words of a couple stuffed shirts in some ivory tower."
I am used to the ivory tower metaphor, but I have never seen academics as a group described as stuffed shirts before.

Friday, January 03, 2003

Bringing teaching back to universities
Mike DeBow of Samford University's law school points out a column by Thomas Sowell suggesting that the research component of government run research universities (e.g., UC-Berkeley, Michigan, Texas) be privatized so that students actually get teachers, rather than graduate students more interested in finishing their own schooling.
Capital markets are very important
The economist Reuven Brenner has argued for the importance of capital markets. Part of his argument (as for instance, in this interview) is that capital markets are important for ensuring that people can take advantage of good ideas. If an idea will pay off, capital markets allow someone with a good idea to use the future income from the idea to finance it.
In a recent NBER working paper, Rajeev Dehejia of Columbia University and Roberta Gatti of the World Bank offer up some evidence.
In poor countries, a move from the 25th to the 75th percentile of access to credit is associated with a 4.2 percentage point decrease in child labor.
(The full paper can be found here in pdf format).
What is going on at the Independent?
The Independent's other editorial today in on Turkey and the division of Cyprus. I know pretty much nothing about Cyprus, but what I find interesting is these lines:
The shift in Turkey's policy towards Cyprus heralded by Prime Minister-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan is partly play-acting, but no less welcome for that.
. . .
Turkey's new leader may still be playing politics, but that is not a crime in itself – ends matter more than means.
Leave aside the merits of their particular position on Cyprus. The Independent has long specialized in adolescent moral preening. Skip realism; instead focus on how we are so much better than everyone else. This is the paper that published Robert Fisk, moral preener supremo (who, by the way, hasn't been seen since December 18th). Instead, we get told that playing politics is not inherently bad. Maybe they will apply their new found principles to George Bush.
Reason, the libertarian magazine, takes over the Independent, Britain's most left wing newspaper
OK, not that I know of. But today's lead editorial in the Independent fires back at pointless government regulation.
When a secretary of state talks of helping to resolve Britain's "stubborn productivity problem", it is time to start counting the spoons. . . . Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, yesterday reannounced the provisions for parents to work flexible hours that will come into effect next April. They have been mocked by trade unions for offering merely the "right to ask" for working hours that fit in with looking after children. The unions are right to identify the new rules as toothless, but they are wrong to complain. The best that can be said of these provisions of the Employment Act 2002 is that they are relatively harmless.

Flexible working hours are in principle a good thing, but we should be sceptical of a Department of Trade and Industry survey that "reveals" that most people would rather work more flexible hours than have more pay. After all, the long-hours culture that undoubtedly exists in this country did not come about mainly because employers insisted on it or because government decreed it but because British employees tended in practice to prefer more money to shorter hours. If this is now changing, that is welcome, but bogus surveys by a department campaigning for a better "work-life balance" do not help.

This foolish waste of public money on the proposition that "work" is not part of "life" includes a "poll" on the department's website that asks: "Do you agree that you work more efficiently when you have had a proper break at the weekend?" Those civil servants have obviously been taking lessons from Saddam Hussein in the drafting of referendum questions.
. .
The main obstacle to flexible working in Britain is culture, not capitalism. For too long, social attitudes in this country have been built on the neglect of children. Long working hours are the corollary of undervaluing time spent with children. Luckily, attitudes have changed dramatically over the past generation. It is now assumed that mothers will work and that fathers will, at least potentially, take equal responsibility for child care.

The state does have a role, but its duty, besides basic protection from discrimination, is to get out of the way and make it easier to employ people. At present, it is all too easy to understand why employers may prefer to offer more money to existing staff to work longer than to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of hiring more people on flexible hours.

The "right to ask" for flexible hours may do no harm, but for Ms Hewitt to do some good would require less government rather than more.
This is in the Independent. More capitalism, please. Compare this to a footnote (on page 125) of Steven Landsburg's excellent
The Armchair Economist
.
In the 1992 vice presidential debate, I loved the irony of Al Gore hammering home his point about family leave legislation ("Did you make it mandatory, Dan? Why didn't you make make it mandatory, Dan?") immediately after extolling the virtues of choice in the abortion segment of the program.

Landsburg, by the way, writes the column Everyday Economics for Slate. It is a good reminder that economics is about more than just inflation and growth rates.
More on crime
A reader writes:
we had an English engineer from a sister company who decided he wanted to transfer back to England because he felt his daughter would get a better education.

We heard from Ian a few weeks after his return to England. His car had been stolen. The police said it was likely "for nefarious purposes." Ian translated that from English to American for us as "IRA car bomb." The car was never found.

Yes, there's a little schadenfreude.
France imitates Ireland
Yesterday I learned about a co-worker's car being fire bombed at Christmas. Now, through Best of the Web, I learn that Parisians burned cars at the New Year. Ah, ain't Europe grand.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Not likely
Ann Coulter says academic life is easy.
Apart from being a college professor, there is no easier job in the universe than being a journalist.
On this she is wrong. Working for a university means working for university administrators, and it means working with other professors. With the right colleagues, academic life can be great. More typically, you would be working with a better class of people if you sold heroin for a living.
Punch an intellectual
Okay, not really. But why, other than the press, am I on a crime kick today? Maybe it is because in 36 years of living in the US, I managed to avoid crime, but in 10 years in Ireland, my wife and I have been robbed twice. (In one case, I had to threaten legal action just to get a police report.) Or maybe because a secretary where I work had her car fire bombed on Christmas night, for no apparent reason other than the bomber could not figure out how to steal her car, so he bombed it instead. If a European intellectual, or one of those annoying American intellectuals who fawn over Europe, tells you how much better the quality of life in Europe is, think about punching him. But do not. That would not be legal. Just be really, really rude to him instead.
Comic relief in Kabul
TV comedy, apparently on the black side, is back in Kabul. Score another one for the good guys.
Gun control must be working, right?
Britain has banned handguns and restricted other guns heavily, so clearly this report of a double homicide in Birmingham must be false.
British justice
Tony Martin, one of Britain's leading political prisoners, jailed for defending his home, got some 7500 Christmas cards this year.

So why do I call Martin a political prisoner? Policing in rural areas is falling while resources are concentrated in the cities. The Labour Party is primarily an urban party. Criminals choose how much to prey on rural or urban dwellers. Since rural dwellers are more familiar with guns, because they use them for hunting fox and other animals that hunt for farm animals, the risk to criminals from preying in the countryside is greater. That implies criminals are more apt to look for victims in the cities, which is Labour's constituency. By taking away the ability of people in the countryside to defend themselves, they get criminals to substitute away from Labour's constituency and prey on people in the countryside instead. So Tony Martin's freedom was stolen to protect the Labour Party.

By the way, the burglar Martin wounded, Brendan Fearon, is already out of jail and is suing Martin. The burglar he killed, Fred Barras, will no longer be threatening anyone else.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Mr. Monbiot's irrelevant arithmetic
I was remarking in the last post on the strange economics of George Monbiot, columnist for Guardian. I will live up to my promise to check his arithmetic. Assuming the pfenning in question is the old German pfennig, then at current prices, it would rack up to a volume of gold only 1.9 million times the weight of the planet. The question remains the same, however. Why does this bit of arithmetic matter in the least? I write this wearing my glasses so that I can see the screen. Glass has been around for millenia, presumably, but it was only within the last several centuries that productivity rose because of glasses to correct for myopia, and less than a millenium since reading glasses were invented. The laws of thermodynamics, so far as I recall my high school physics, do not mean that ideas stop coming.
Hmm. "To monbiot: to discourse on particularly inane efforts to do economics" The trouble with Monbiot is that it has three syllables. It does not make so handy a verb as fisk.

May your hangovers be mild and short

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Rounding out a silly year
It seems that the best way to end the year is by noting George Monbiot's end of the year column in the Guardian. It seems that life in America has been going downhill since 1968 (although Britain's decline did not start until 1974). Why, you may ask? If you asked Monbiot, you are going to regret it.
Capitalism is a millenarian cult, raised to the status of a world religion. Like communism, it is built upon the myth of endless exploitation. Just as Christians imagine that their God will deliver them from death, capitalists believe that theirs will deliver them from finity. The world's resources, they assert, have been granted eternal life.

The briefest reflection will show that this cannot be true. The laws of thermodynamics impose inherent limits upon biological production. Even the repayment of debt, the pre-requisite of capitalism, is mathematically possible only in the short-term. As Heinrich Haussmann has shown, a single pfennig invested at 5% compounded interest in the year AD 0 would, by 1990, have reaped a volume of gold 134bn times the weight of the planet. Capitalism seeks a value of production commensurate with the repayment of debt.
I will not bother to check the arithmetic. Just suppose it is true. The quick question is "So what?". Then a 2000 year loan at 5% would not be paid back. I will check the arithmetic for my first post of the New Year.

And a Happy New Year to one and all

Monday, December 30, 2002

Realism in the Independent (really)
Perhaps because the Telegraph gives a sounding board for Germaine Greer, the Independent today has given us this piece by Bruce Anderson.
As usual, the Europeans are wrong. In their determination to convict President George Bush of serial naivety, a number of European commentators have been accusing the United States of concentrating on the wrong enemy. Why go to war against Saddam, on the suspicion that he might eventually acquire weapons of mass destruction, while ignoring North Korea which is on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons and already has the missiles to deliver them?

But this charge against the Americans is based on two false assumptions. It underestimates both their realism and their power. It seems as if some Europeans only became aware of the North Korean threat within the past few weeks. That was not true in Washington. I was told in late 2001 that the administration was fully apprised of the need to keep one eye on Kim Jong Il, and North Korea was included in the "axis of evil". The Americans are fully aware of the risk that Kim Jong Il might decide to indulge in some provocation during the invasion of Iraq. If so, he would be underestimating his adversary. The Americans possess more than enough firepower to make war on North Korea and Iraq simultaneously – though North Korea would be the harder target.

From the outset, the Bushites were unhappy with the North Korea strategy which they inherited from President Clinton: a Koreageld policy. In return for Kim Jong agreeing not to press ahead with a nuclear programme, the US would give him aid to help avoid the worst effects of the famine which his economic policies had created. There were moments in the late Nineties when millions of North Koreans were virtually starving. Mr Bush and his team rapidly concluded that the Clinton policy was weak, immoral – and likely to fail. They have been proved right, so only the little problem of what to do next remains.
The whole piece is stunning in its realism. Is the Independent ready to grow up?
Controlling speech
Charles Fried takes on McCain-Feingold, and asks why the New York Times is entitled to better treatment than the NRA or the NAACP.
There are two impulses at work in this law, one admirable and one not. The first seeks to respect the bedrock principle that a person must be free to speak his mind and spend his money doing so. The second comes from the belief that government knows best not only who should speak but also how much. With its limits on speech by ideological organizations just before elections, McCain-Feingold unconstitutionally turns this second impulse into law.
Moral principles
The Irish Independent picks up on part of the reason for European opposition to a war with Iraq.
THE tourist trade could be a dealt a body blow if war breaks out in the Middle East, industry chiefs warned last night.
An immediate affect of serious conflict, or uncertainty about what might happen, could be a drop in international travel, according to the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation in its end-of-year review.
Ireland missed out on thousands of US visitors after the September 11 terrorist atrocities. The slump in numbers hit many sectors of the trade, particularly Aer Lingus, hotels, guest houses and the coach-tour business.
And you thought it was all about high moral standards.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

The Guardian complains: It isn't about me
In the Guardian, Mary Riddell seems to be upset that the focus on opposition by a number of churchmen to a war with Iraq is taking away attention from, well, people like her, who oppose the war on secular grounds. It contains this strange line about the pope.
The Pope's thinly veiled hostility to war against Iraq is not unexpected. John Paul II, the only global figure to criticise America's capitalism and hegemony, has long been an ideologue unrivalled by any left-wing agitator. He is also a traditional moralist opposed to any whiff of liberalism.
The left has problems with the Pope, and understanding him is high on that list. I am not Catholic enough to comment at length. Rather, I will just be content to send you to the journal First Things, which had a symposium on John Paul II, and in particular Richard John Neuhaus' essay, which specifically addresses the relationship between the Pope and liberalism.
Can one culture really be better than another?
In the Guardian, of all places, Mihir Bose, an immigrant into England from India, says that what makes England an attractive place to go is that it is a better place. Not necessarily richer, but freer.
I am well aware that there still remain immense barriers of colour and creed in this country and I have always felt there is a glass ceiling beyond which I cannot go, but within such boundaries it has provided me with opportunities which I would not have had in India.

It is an immensely open, intellectually alive and culturally curious country and it surprises me that in the endless debate about immigration these virtues are not talked of but the stress is only on filthy lucre.
Not so bad from the Guardian
The Guardian runs a piece on Gen. Tommy Franks that manages not to be condescending. It is, however, titled "A Modern Major General" (without citing The Pirates of Penzance) and makes a point of contrasting the experienced, cautious Powell camp (which it says Franks belongs to) with the reckless, ideological Rumsfeld camp. Nothing new, but at least it does not set new lows.
Shifting "civil rights"
In the New York Times, David Firestone has a piece strangely titled "The Republicans Try to Redefine Civil Rights". Strange, because the piece is devoted to the efforts of groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to get the Republican Party to follow Trent Lott's lead in shifting its position on civil rights issues. Specifically, it is about getting the Republicans to accept their position on the welfare state.
"I would argue that unemployment benefits are a form of civil rights," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate who represents the District of Columbia in the House. "Because of the great work of the 1960's, there are only a few clear-cut issues left, like hate crimes and racial profiling. Now we're following the bread-and-butter issues that we share with a broader array of Americans, because issues like health insurance and unemployment affect us so disproportionately."
DeLong is still obsessing on Coase
Brad DeLong, citing at length a post by Daniel Davies, is still annoyed about Ronald Coase on the lighthouse, in a post he strangely titles "Score: Daniel Davies, 393; Ronald Coase, 0". I will not ask where those numbers came from, but DeLong is missing an important part of the point here. There are important empirical errors in Coase's paper on lighthouses, as shown by David Van Zandt in "The Lessons of the Lighthouse" (in the Journal of Legal Studies, January 1993), and government involvement in lighthouses was heavier than Coase thought. There is, however, a good reason why Coase's paper remains hugely influential, as Van Zandt notes (and one Davies is missing by looking solely at web sources; neither the Coase nor Van Zandt papers are on the web, and sometimes you have to leave the computer and go to the library). Coase was attacking the common practice of economists of playing very casual with facts and letting abstract theory do most of their work. Economic Principals had a nice summary back in September of the influence of Coase's paper. William Fischel offers a more thorough explanation, and remarks
Coase's criticism of economists' rationale for government intervention is not the deductive logic by which they arrive at their conclusions, but that they deploy inductive principles from examples that do not hold water. In his original paper, Coase waxed subtly sarcastic about economists' use of fanciful examples: "The lighthouse is simply plucked out of the air to serve as an illustration. The purpose of the lighthouse example is to provide," quoting now from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Mikado, "`corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative'" (1974, p. 375). That the line is uttered by Pooh-Bah, the fatuous "Lord High Everything Else," is not pointed out by Coase but would have been known by many of those toward whom it was directed.
Read DeLong's paper on J.P. Morgan. It is an intelligent paper that uses economic theory to look in detail at actual facts, rather than casually tossing out some facts to illustrate and defend a purely theoretical proposition. That papers like this are being written is in large part the influence of Coase. Strange that DeLong does not see this.