Monday, March 31, 2008

Broken Bulb Comedy

This was an idea of mine brought to life by these two guys. Check out more from them at:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stuff White People Like is a humor site that was brought to my attention by my brother-in-law Stephen Jones. It lists the many things that white people like. For example:

White Problems - Should children drink wine?

"Being able to declare “my favorite wine as a child” in a conversation is recognized as more impressive than stories about extended visits to wine regions."

"White children should drink wine. They should not be allowed to drink beer or other “party” liquors."

#62 Knowing what's best for poor people

"It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things."

"But it is ESSENTIAL that you reassert that poor people do not make decisions based on free will. That news could crush white people and their hope for the future."

# 2 Religions that their parents don't belong to

"White people will often say they are “spiritual” but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn’t involve Jesus."

"A few even dip into Islam, but it’s much more rare since you have to give stuff up and actually go to Mosque."

"Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn’t require them to do very much."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bad Economics

In the study of Economics there are some theoretical discrepancies between macro and micro (the two current divisions of science). Macroeconomics is still stuck on old Keynesian ideas that are in many ways "divorced from reality". EconLog, a blog I frequent, posted an interesting set of descriptions of the "essential features of macroeconomics":
1. Financial markets and investment depend on subjective perceptions of risks and opportunities.

I have talked about the risk disclosure problem, which is that financial intermediation works by disguising risks. When people perceive that it is working well, the cost of investment falls and we have a boom, or possibly even a bubble. When people lose faith in financial intermediation, we can have a crash.

Keynes spoke of "animal spirits" of entrepreneurs. He contrasted that with a propensity to hoard among those who are averse to risk. His story was of an excess desire to save among the hoarders relative to the animal spirits of the entrepreneurs. There is much about Keynes that I reject (the liquidity trap, for example), but I have always liked the "animal spirits" story. It is mostly overlooked in textbooks nowadays.

2. Labor markets adjust slowly to sudden shifts in demand.

There is a perpetual need for people to change jobs. Societies start out with the majority of workers in agriculture, and the trend is to migrate to jobs in cities. For the past fifty years in the United States, the share of manufacturing production work has declined. These gradual, normal adjustments in the labor market reflect the fact that demand grows faster than productivity in some sectors (health care, education) while productivity grows faster than demand in other sectors (foodstuffs, manufactured goods).

On the other hand, there can be sudden, unexpected shifts in labor demand. Think of the dotcom crash of 2000, which suddenly lowered the demand for web developers and "business development" shmoozers. In theory, wages for these occupations should have fallen and the relative wages of other occupations should have risen, with little or no net drop in employment.

In practice, relative wages adjust slowly. It may be possible for the monetary authorities to speed the process of relative wage adjustment by engineering an inflation surprise. That is, you increase the rate of money creation, leading to more inflation, causing real wages to fall where needed. Maybe. My confidence in that mechanism is actually pretty low.

3. "Fiscal policy" is an unfortunate excuse for vote-buying.

Running a government deficit means redistributing wealth away from future taxpayers toward current taxpayers. On net, this makes people feel wealthier. This would be a good thing if the economy were suffering from severe, protracted high unemployment. In practice, however, deficit spending is used as a cynical political tactic. It is a stain on macroeconomics that this crude vote-buying is dignified with the name "fiscal policy."

Having a large government sector helps to insulate the economy from macroeconomic fluctuations, primarily because government employment is not subject to sudden changes in market demand. But temporary increases in spending or cuts in taxes are exercises in politics, not in good economics.

4. The central bank matters more as a lender of last resort than as a monetary authority.

Financial markets are large and complex. There are many substitutes for money. When the financial markets are operating reasonably smoothly, the central bank has to work really hard to generate either high inflation or disinflation. Central banks certainly have done this. In the U.S., the central bank facilitated inflation in the 1970's. However, for most of the past twenty years, many central banks have kept inflation at modest levels.

When financial markets threaten to unravel, a lender of last resort may be able to mitigate the damage. This is the context in which I view recent moves by the Federal Reserve in the U.S. Only time will tell whether my support for these policies is warranted. But it is consistent with my view of macro.

5. Remember that much of macroeconomics is anti-economics.

In real economics, work is a "bad." There is no such thing as a shortage of jobs. Instead, there are unlimited wants. We should be rooting for high productivity that enables people to choose a mix of consumption goods and leisure that they prefer.

In real economics, saving does not hurt the economy. Saving allows individuals to smooth their consumption. It allows businesses to accumulate capital, raising worker productivity. We should be rooting for high saving, rather than worrying about consumers being in the mood to spend.

In real economics, government spending that is financed by borrowing is typically not a good thing. We should be rooting against deficit spending.

In real economics, borders and currencies do not matter. We should not be rooting for a weak dollar to give us a "trade surplus." Instead, we should be rooting for unimpeded trade, in order to gain from specialization and comparative advantage.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Response to an Email

First, please accept my apologies for not having attended the last several meetings! I am – unfortunately – so much opposed to globalization and cannot see any benefit in it for the Western World, economically, politically as well as militarily, that I cannot in good conscience support this "pro globalization" conference! It is my firm conviction that globalization in its present form is the beginning of the end of Western civilization. If we do not oppose this scheme, we will either all speak Chinese or will have to pray to Allah within 50 years. I do hope you understand my dilemma! I am sorry that I did not have the guts to express my feelings earlier on!

-Concerned Citizen


Dear CC,

I am sad to hear that you will not be supporting the upcoming conference, but I wanted to take this chance to explain to you why we are organizing such an event.

You stated that you are very opposed to globalization, but I wonder if we are talking about the same thing. The idea covers such a broad and vague issue, that sometimes the world itself becomes vague. This conference will be discussing the many benefits of globalization, but if we don't clarify the word, then we cannot clarify the world. Globalization, as we define it, is the cultural and economic integration of nations around the world. It is the ease of communication, the opening of trade, and the flow of culture around the world. Put simply, it is the process of shrinking the globe.

Now that you understand what we are organizing, let me explain why we have a positive point of view of the subject. From an economic viewpoint, globalization has radically and unambiguously increased the wealth of nations around the world. Countries that embraced this idea of the free global market (South Korea, Switzerland and the United States to name a few) are the richest and most prosperous nations. Those that have rejected global trade (North Korea, Iran and formally China) are the poorest and most destitute nations. This is not happenstance, but instead a direct result of their international cooperation.

Another point you mentioned was the lack of political benefit to the West. This comment was confusing to me because of what I see and define as the West. What characteristics differentiate this region from others around the world? Globalization is a western idea. Pioneered by Great Britain and championed by the United States, the process of globalization defines western civilization. From the industrial revolution to the age of the internet, western nations have always been at the forefront of connecting the world. The results of this process has improved not hindered, politics. Globalization partners with freedom and democracy around the world. Wealthy people demand and get individual liberty.

Your final worry was that globalization may come at an expense to our military might. This is again opposite of reality. Historically, democracies rarely, if ever, go to war each other. If globalization is a path to democracy, then it must also be a path to peace. Also, nations whose markets are interwoven together have no incentive to use military action against the other. It would only serve to disrupt the economies of both nations.

Finally, I like to respond to your fear of Chinese, Islamic other foreign influences. Like I stated above, the spread of globalization has resulted in more, not less western influence. For good or bad, we have seen the English language and the Christian religion spread around the world. Increased global competition between goods and services are good for consumers and the same is true for other kinds of competition. Rises in competition between cultures, languages and even governments will result in the failure of the bad and the success of the good. Harmful cultural norms will be weeded out by an increase in choices. The resulting free flow of information and ideas will even increase the quality of governments around the world. As people are given the opportunity to move elsewhere, governments must work harder and better to keep their populace.

I hope that this lengthy response has helped you to understand our support of the global integration. That globalization does not mark the end, but instead the spread of western ideas (the good ones at least). In future feel free to speak with me personally so that we can involve you in our future support of globalization.


Harrison Brookie

*this was an assignment for ECON 621: Globalization

Monday, March 24, 2008

Come Ye Sinners

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you, Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able; He is willing; doubt no more.

Come ye needy, come, and welcome, God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance, Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money. Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry 'til you're better, You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous; Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you, 'Tis the Spirit's rising beam.

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended; Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly, Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners good.

Listen to this song or read interesting thoughts on hymns.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Comedy

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”

I just got back from Chicago and after a week of inundating myself with professional improv, I can’t stop thinking about it. The main conclusion of all this thinking is that good comedy is hard work. I’ve seen a lot of improv over the last 4 years, some good, and some bad. The main difference in the two qualities, is that the good performers practice well and often. Comedy is fun, but it can also do things other art forms can't, if you'll let it.

This radio clip describes the process The Onion writers go through to publish and shows just how gruelling comedy can be.
*skip to 4 min 29 seconds

Friday, March 14, 2008

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Addendum: At closing, the highest bid was $300. He then donated the money to the Cancer Society as promised.

This looks pretty legitimate. Not sure if it will really help him stop, but I do wonder how much the contract will go for.
I've smoked cigarettes for twelve years and I've tried all the usual ways to quit smoking. Now that my wife Annabel and I are pregnant with our first child, it's time to give up once and for all.
I've created a listing on the New Zealand online auction site, and on Monday 31 March, 2008, the highest bidder will receive a contract written by my lawyer, Chris Hoquard at Dominion Law, in which I hand over my right to smoke to them, and agree to pay them a forfeit of [$800] per cigarette that I smoke at any time following the auction's closure.
The auction will run from March 22-31.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Mindset List

The Beloit College Mindset List is an effort to identify the worldview of incoming freshman in a given year. For example, I'm the class of 2007, that would be those generally born in late 1984 or early 1985.

Granted there is surely going to be some generalizations, it's still a neat idea to try and identify the unique experiences, or non-experiences, that shape who we are. Here are some highlights from my class and the newest freshman class:

Class of 2007
"Ctrl + Alt + Del" is as basic as "ABC."
Paul Newman has always made salad dressing.
Pete Rose has always been a gambler.
Gas has always been unleaded.
They would never leave their calling card on someone’s desk.
They have never been able to find the "return" key.
Rock and Roll has always been a force for social good.
They can still sing the rap chorus to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the theme song from Duck Tales.

Class of 2011
Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.
They’re always texting 1 n other.
The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters.
They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.
Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
They have grown up with bottled water.
They never “rolled down” a car window.
Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Adam's Thoughts on Man

This is a passage taken from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, written by Adam Smith almost 250 years ago. The story he tells is a description of the internal struggle of man. It is also a great window into the philosophical side of early economics. The excerpt is kind of long, but I think it's worth the read:
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
But the story is not over yet, nor is Smith's final conclusion made:
To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Welcome to the 24th 1/2 Century

For the full story from CBS news go here.