Friday, August 29, 2008

Emptying the Bottle: August '08 Links List

1) Fallacy of Reductio ad Hitlerum.

2) How America is different.

3) How comparatively rich are you? (thanks Justin for sharing)

4) How to say "I am rich".

5) The decrease in supply should increase the price!

6) Fair grading, Communist style.

7) Scarecrows for humans.

8) Brilliant quotes.

9) Helping otherwise self-sufficient families from entering the cycle of poverty.

10) Sadly there is a market for everything, even infidelity.

*As always, you can see what I find interesting on a daily basis*

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympic Medal Recount

As the 29th Olympiad athletes head back to their respective homes, they should be proud to have competed in what many claim is the most spectacular games ever. So spectacular even, that there isn't a clear winner of the games. The United States leads the pack with the most overall medals. However, China has the most gold medals. So who is declared the winner?

NBC, the U.S. source for the 2008 Olympics orders the the nations by total medal count. This seems to be true on most other American news outlets. However, on China's official site, they are listed in order of gold medals won. In looking for an unbias list I could not find a ranking on the official Olympic Games site, who does not recognize any official ranking method (although I did find a page from the 1964 Olympics that had a similar outcome). I eventually found one over at the British Times (a country that would rank 4th no matter how you count) who ranks China first with the most gold medals. And it would seem even Google agrees that China is on top. It seems only France is willing to take the high ground and use the gold standard, even though it actually hurts their standings. But when declaring the winner, should silver and bronze medals count for nothing? Instead, I suggest we place an appropriate value on each medal and then tally the entire score (3 for gold, 2 for silver, 1 for bronze). Here's my medal count:

Gold + Silver + Bronze = Total OR Value Total
China: 51 + 21 + 28 = 100 OR 223
USA: 36 + 38 + 36 = 110 OR 220
Russia: 23 + 21 + 28 = 72 OR 139

So it seems China is still the victor. Nonetheless, American athletes should be proud of their performance individually and their ability to add to the United States incredible all time Olympic medal count. I must say that I have enjoyed these Olympic Games more than any other in my life. It was exciting to see the competition in swimming, track, and beach volleyball (which I think has become my new favorite Olympic sport). It was also encouraging to see what the Chinese people were able to accomplish thanks to the liberalization of their society. These athletes all over the world have shown us the ability of man to be Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin Olympic motto for "Faster, Higher, Stronger".

Update: Another possible way to award the winner of the Olympics is to hold population constant and give it to the Netherlands.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Really Thinking About Real Estate

"If you rent, you're throwing away your money." That has become a regular assumption when it comes to deciding on whether to rent or buy a home. If that's true, then why does this writer for say he will never buy a home? Here are some reasons why I don't think this issue is so clear cut:

1) Buying a house is usually more expensive than you think:

2) More of your money is tied up in this single investment: By investing your money evenly in a variety of things, you can spread out your risk. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
3) There is of course other ways, usually better ways, to invest your money:

4) Real estate is an investment you live in: This complicates things when you need to move across town, relocated for a job, or sadly because of divorce. It also makes the roof over your head another risk filled investment.
5) Housing prices do not always go up: Here is a video showing what the change in house prices would look like if you could ride them (the end has the data in a simple graph).

To give a real world example, I used this NY Times calculator to see if it would be better to rent or buy this this Philadelphia condo. Using the average mortgage rate and putting 10% ($16,500) down, it is better to rent unless you live there for at least 7 years.

At the end of the day, it's not whether you're throwing money away or not. It's comparing the return you will get on all the money you invest. A home should be a nest, not a nest egg.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Political Vindication

For many who find themselves far from center in their political views, it can become a little lonely. Not only do politicians rarely speak your language, but those around you are slow to agree and quick to label you arrogant (I’m still trying to work out how to believe you’re right and most people wrong and not sound arrogant). If you go long enough without hearing a friendly voice, you begin to wonder if you’re the one with limited sight. I recently came across a book that gave me some respite from my lonely libertarian existence. Scott Althaus’ book Collective Preferences and Democratic Politics shows that when controlling for a range of demographic variables (race, income, gender, etc), an increased political knowledge makes voters more social liberal and economically conservative (aka more libertarian). So it is reasonable to posit that increased political education for the public would shift public preference towards a smaller government.

Here is a summary of Althaus’ method:
You start by administering a two-part survey.Part 1 is a test of objective political knowledge. (How many senators does each state have? Name as many Supreme Court justices as possible. Etc.) Think of it as a "Political IQ" test.Part 2 asks respondents about their policy preferences. (Should we rely more on the market or government? Should we invade Iran? Etc.)

The survey also collects standard information about respondents' income, gender, party i.d., race, etc.Once you've got all this information, you're ready to discover the public's "Enlightened Preferences." In essence, you estimate policy preferences (from part 2) as a function of Political IQ (from part 1), plus a bunch of control variables that you think might influence political preferences holding knowledge constant. If you're finicky, you can even allow Political IQ to have a separate coefficient (and sign) for various subgroups of the population. (Perhaps knowledge makes the rich more pro-market, but makes the poor more pro-government).

The final step is to use these results to simulate what public opinion would look like if you raised Political IQ up to the stratosphere but kept all other characteristics the same. The resulting distribution of opinion is what we call the public's Enlightened Preferences. It's what people would want, if everyone knew a lot more."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bill O'Reilly Let's You Know

Loaned to me by my good friend Graydon, I just finished Bill O'Reilly's book Who's Looking Out for You. It was an enjoyable read but the premise of the book was a little hard for me to swallow. From what I gathered, the purpose of it was to evaluate different influencers (media, government, church, etc) of people's lives and evaluate them to see if they are really "looking out" for the American people. The main problem I had was the harshness he recommends towards relationships that are not personally beneficial. For example, he applauds Shaquille O’Neal for shunning his deadbeat dad. I'm not going to condemn Shaq for being hurt, but I do not admire his lack of forgiveness. Bill O’Reilly has a very good guy vs. bad guy outlook on life. No doubt he is one of the good guys. A story from his personal life explains it perfectly:

Anyway, on a trip to Colorado for a little rest and relaxation, I told the guy how much he owed for the hotel room that he and I were splitting. He paused, and then asked to see the bill. Okay, fine, I showed him the bill. Then he questioned why he should pay half of the parking charge. Well, since I had paid the entire car rental fee—and he was riding around in that car—I had assumed the car parking fee would be split.
Now some people might have argued, tried to understand, or even become bitter. Not me. I just walked away. If the guy had later apologized, I might have dealt with him again. But he did not. And since a person who doesn’t trust you cannot possibly look out for you or even be a friend, there was no further common ground on which that man and I could stand. He was history" (pg. 29).

Pretty rough for a guy he had known for fifteen years. It was clear throughout the book that Mr. O’Reilly saw friendship as a tradable good. You be nice to people so they will be nice to you. You should look out for other people so later they can look out for you. The moment that ceases to be true, you are to exit the relationship. For a devout Catholic he doesn’t seem to value sacrifice.

But it wasn’t all “look out for number one” nationalist mumbo jumbo. There is also a great chapter on race relations. And I appreciate that sees himself as a media watchdog. I truly believe that he tries (and often succeeds) at looking out for the American people regularly on his show, The O’Reilly Factor. He is even a fan of my favorite newscaster John Stossel, so he can’t be too bad.

I think overall this book didn’t resonate with me because I am already pretty pessimistic about the media, the government and celebrity’s ability to look out for me. Also, he really pushes personal discipline and individual righteousness (two things with which I’m uneasy). He says that “the ability to do the right thing most of the time will make you successful.” Sorry Bill, I don’t agree (or even think that’s possible). And finally, I’m not sure if he is speaking to the right audience. Do Americans really need to be told to look out for themselves more?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Useful Church Criteria Bleg

Normally I like to provide not request information here, but this question has been troubling me since I moved. What exactly should I look for in a new church? Firstly, the church must preach the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ. But there are many churches in the area that do that. My worry is that if we give too much attention to our non-essential preferences (music style, formality, demographics) then churches will lack a beneficial diversity. In this bleg, blog + beg, I ask my readers, what are useful criterion for finding a new church?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thesis: The Effect of Compulsory Voting Laws on Government Spending

Had I not opted out, today would be the second time I walked across Clemson's graduation stage. For your reading pleasure, here is the abstract of my thesis. The full paper is attached below.

by J. Harrison Brookie

The United States’ voter turnout is often cited as being disappointingly low. Compulsory voting laws are offered as a possible solution to increase voter turnout and overall political participation. Opponents of the law complain that voters affected will be more politically liberal and in turn seek to enlarge the size and scope of the government. In order to determine whether this is true, a test was run on the effect compulsory voting laws have on the government revenue of 109 nations. The data held that no significant relationship exists between the two variables observed. This paper will discuss compulsory laws and the controversy surrounding them and also offer possible explanations for why the predicted correlation was not found.

Here is the full paper.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brookie Dictionary: Treason

trea-son [tree-zuhn] (n) - a poor excuse for not doing something you already didn't want to do, also known as a "Traci Reason"

Me: "Come on, let's go to the library"
Treason: "Let's do laundry first"
Real Reason: "Oprah comes on in 10 minutes"

synonyms: falsehood, substandard erroneous self-justification, lie

Monday, August 04, 2008

Difference Between Consumerism and Capitalism

One example, the subprime mortgage “crisis”, is the failure of Consumerism, not Capitalism. Producers misread the housing market (most likely because of government intervention) and built too many residences. Buyers assumed housing prices would always go up, and bought houses they couldn’t afford. Suddenly everyone realized their mistake and tried to cut their losses. The bubble popped.

Consumerism seeks to satisfy some innate need for fulfillment through material goods. Capitalism, on the other hand, is using the price system to allocate goods and services to their highest valued use. Capitalism is two sides of the same coin; consumption and investment. If we buy things, we can consume them now. If we save, be it with your local bank or in the stock market, that money is used to invest in future production, to allow for future consumption.

This plea to increase consumer confidence is a hollow plea. If people foresee a recession, and they restrict their spending accordingly, this is not a problem with consumer confidence; it is rational consumers planning for tough times. Instead maybe we should increase market confidence. Sending out tax rebates with no spending decreases, promising tax dollars to more and more government services, and restricting the free decisions of producers and consumers is not the way to carry out that goal. I condemn Consumerism and applaud Capitalism.