Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Emptying the Bottle: March '09 Links List

Here are some links listed in order of most to least interesting. If you find the first link worthwhile, then move to the next one (and so on).

1) Your family may once have been a different color (Text or Audio).

2) The perfect crime: identical twins with indistinguishable DNA and 1 good alibi.

3) How is the stimulus bill is like a big kegger.

4) 50 best stores with pun names.

5) How the free market pushes for racial equality.

6) Magician/Comedian/Libertarian Penn Jillette Q & A.

7) Internationally, rich people are happier than poor people.

8) Why politicians are more harmful than the rich.

9) It's like Craigslist, but for items confiscated by the government.

10) Stop motion animation: Bruce Lee vs Iron Man.

*Check my Bookmarks to see what I find interesting on a daily basis*

Friday, March 27, 2009

This Recession is a Result of Irrationality

My last post was a brief summary of how I think rational actors (politicians, businesses, consumers) have all contributed to this financial panic. However, if you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I blame government for most the problem. After all greed has always existed, so that can't be blamed for this specific problem. Unless of course government created incentives that manipulated that greed. But that begs the question, if people are rational, why do we would elect politicians who push for bad policy? Economist and blogger at EconLog, Bryan Caplan argues in his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, that bad policy comes from four irrational biases that voters have. Here's a brief summary of each:

Anti-foreign Bias: People assume that the destruction of jobs is a bad thing. Even though large numbers of farmers have been put out of work for the last 200 years, we are better off. Creating jobs isn't the solution, increasing the productivity of those jobs is.

Make-work Bias: People assume their nation is in zero sum competition with the rest of the world. This is why job exportation and trade are always under attack. Not only does free trade ALWAYS makes nations richer and usually makes them safer.

Pessimistic Bias: People overemphasize current problems and underestimate past growth. Especially now we constant hear how things used to be better, despite the fact that if you're reading this you're rich.

Anti-Market Bias: People regularly see themselves as victims of the free market instead of the beneficiaries. The few instances of scams are reported, yet the billions of beneficial transactions a day are ignored.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This Recession is a Result of Rationality

1) Rational elected officials push for policies that appeal to voters.

2) These government interventions (Fed reducing interest rates, government sponsored enterprises, etc) made debt cheap, causing rational people to take on too much of it (especially houses).

3) Rational government officials feel pressure to "do something" (Bailout, Stimulus, AIG bonus taxation).

4) This scares rational buyers and investors who sit on the sidelines waiting to see how the rules change.

5) Rational blogger decides to explain where the irrationality exists on his next post to peak reader interest.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Economics of Relationships

Every relationship has a certain amount of give and take (from 1-100%). Some relationships are more give (parent to an infant=100%) and some are more equal (co-workers=50%). For a large majority of my life I have been on the receiving end of most of my relationships. My parents, my teachers, and many times my friends gave more to me than I did. This is measured by who takes more responsibility in the relationship (listening instead of talking, calling to catch up, or challenging). I think it is fairly normal for young people to be served more than they serve. Not only are they less aware of this responsibility, but they are also less capable of serving people (like any skill it is learned).

But kids grow up into adults and part of being an adult is taking more responsibility for yourself and others. A good sign of growth is if you are taking more responsibility for your relationships then you used to. However, I think it's also important to have a balance. People are only capable of a certain amount of service without a recharge. Be sure you have friends who serve you 75% and friends you serve 75%. Here's a question I'd be interested in hearing your response to, what is my percentage to you, have you seen it change, and are you satisfied with it?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Big Picture of the AIG Bonuses

One thing I try to do here at Bottlenecked is get past the noise and focus on reality. I understand people's outrage over giving bonuses to AIG managers who played a part in the failure of a institution that threatened the entire economic system. However, I believe the payment of these it is necessary for that economic system for 3 reasons:

1. First and foremost it is unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution states that "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." This means two things: a) the government cannot declare a person guilty without trial and b) the government can't pass a law that punishes acts done before the law. To punish managers for doing something perfectly legal by targeting them specifically, through taxation, is exactly what James Madison warned against in the Federalist Papers #44: "Bills of attainder, ex-post-facto laws, and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation."

2. They need these people. I'm not ruling it out, but I don't think AIG guaranteed this money as a way to help their fellow AIG friends using taxpayer money. They did it to keep important, knowledgeable, and skilled individuals through hard times. More than ever this company needs people who know how to unwind this financial maze. As frustrating as it may be, the people who created it, know a lot more about it than anyone else. AIG is not the ideal place to work and they need to offer big bucks to keep the know-how in house. Now that the US citizens own most of the company, our success is tied to their success.

3. Voiding contracts is very bad. Whether its businesses trusting employees, lenders trusting borrowers, or consumers trusting producers, capitalism needs trust. Formal or informal, all economic relationships involve contracts. If the government suddenly assumes the power to break legal contracts between parties, massive uncertainty will be created and we might really have the Great Depression II.

So what is the solution? It's the same song I've been singing all year. They should do what they should have done in the first place, file for bankruptcy, which is essentially the legal system for renegotiating contracts. This problem shouldn't remind us how greedy corporations are. Instead it's proof that the tax payers should never have been forced into this position.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Ongoing Campaign

I predict this to be a trend for future presidents:

Millions of campaign supporters are receiving emails urging them to call members of Congress. Groups allied with the White House are running ads scorning the President's foes. States that were closely fought in the 2008 election are again being visited by Mr Obama.

On Friday morning, Melbourne time, he will arrive in talk show host Jay Leno's studio to appear on The Tonight Show. Candidates have often used late-night talk shows to highlight their lighter side, but no sitting president has appeared on one, according to NBC.
Never stop reminding the people about the mistakes Bush made and how much you're doing to fix it. Seems like a useful, yet scary, tool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Does John Stossel Read My Blog?

I wish. But apparently we have similar complaints about America. Last Friday on 20/20 Stossel, along with another favorite news source Reason Magazine, had a special entitled "Bailouts and Bull." Coincidentally, he talks about a lot things I've discussed here:

Part I: How the government is greatly mismanaging this panic (from me)

Part II: Possible solutions to traffic congestion (from me)

Part III: The deplorable arrest and conviction of Charlie Lynch (from me)

Part IV: Problems with Universal Preschool
Part V: The worthless wall on our Southern border
Part VI: The fallacy of the struggling middle class (from me)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Original Reformer

In my World History class I came across this little known church leader
John Wycliffe lived almost 200 years before the Reformation, but his beliefs and teachings closely match those of Luther, Calvin and other reformers. As a man ahead of his time, historians have called Wycliffe the "Morning star of the Reformation."

Born in the 1300s, Wycliffe criticized abuses and false teachings in the Church. In 1382 he translated an English Bible—the first complete European translation done in nearly 1,000 years. The Lollards, itinerant preachers he sent throughout England, inspired a spiritual revolution.

But the Lollardy movement was short-lived. The Church expelled Wycliffe from his teaching position at Oxford, and 44 years after he died, the Pope ordered his bones exhumed and burned. Intense persecution stamped out his followers and teachings. It would be hundreds of years before men like Martin Luther resurrected the reforms of which Wycliffe dreamed.
This got me thinking: What if Martin Luther King Jr. (or any leader) was born just decades earlier? Would the world have ready for his message? So I guess it takes two things to be a great leader, talent and luck.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beauty and the Geek Q & A

One of the great things about the comedy world is meeting interesting people. One of those people is Will McDonald, a former contest on the reality television show Beauty and the Geek. He graciously agreed to answer some questions about his experience and allow me to share them with my readers. Will has also agreed to watch the blog for 48 hours and answer any questions you may have (except for a few legal details).

Do you ever watch these kind of reality TV shows?

I never did watch any reality TV shows because I thought to myself, "Why would I care to find out about someone that I'm never going to meet?". I knew of the of shows and I thought the concept was interesting but to actually watch the shows could be a bit painful, to the extent that you felt so bad for the geek or beauty.

What was the audition process like?

Well I met the Casting agents at my restaurant and we spoke for about ten minutes. They invited me to the casting call, I signed up at the casting call, and the next thing I knew I was being invited to a second interview. The second interview is really intense because it's designed to get to know you as fast as possible and even if you think your ready for it, your not.

Any advice for people auditioning for reality TV?

Don't do reality TV unless you're ready to have all your faults highlighted and concentrated.

Did you get paid or compensated for the show?

We received a daily stipend in the form of a check so that we had someone money to return to.

How were housing, food, toiletries supplied?

We had production assistants that would go out and those supplies for us. Try as we might everyone wanted hard alcohol but everyone said no dice every time.

Did they make you more geeky in the beginning?

Well the funny thing about that I was called in maybe a day before my flight left for la la land and I hurriedly packed all my gear and well the thing of it is the company couldn't have any of the guys wearing logos. Most of m my stuff has like The Doors on the front or Snap crackle and pop and the like. So they couldn't use any of it and so I looked less put together than I normally am. And obviously the show is about transformation of a geek to a whatever you wanna call it and so maybe the way we were depicted was to show a bigger transformation.

It was obvious that you didn't like your beauty, care to elaborate?

God blah. I'll try to keep it short for your readers because I could elaborate this at length. She was so selfish and into herself that it was disgusting. I also feel that there could be some kind of a black hole of thought inside of her brain that just sucks up any other thought. I didn't like her because it seemed that she wanted me to be there just for her and when we were partnered I tried at first but she wouldn't believe anything that I said when she would ask me questions, then get frustrated at ME. Ironically the one thing she did listen to me on was the pronunciation of a certain word and that's what cost us the game.

What kind of fame followed you after a show like this?

I was invited to some local award shows. I met Ron Jeremy and I was interviewed by a few reality t.v websites. Oh people still recognize me and think it's really a fun thing to meet someone that's done a show like this. Nothing beyond that though.

Monday, March 09, 2009

More Old Improv Videos

Every so often I come across a video of my old improv group, Mock Turtle Soup. Unlike the improv, the video quality isn't that great.

Part II
Part III

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Best/Worst Presidents

Here is the 2009 version of C-Span's Top 10 US Presidents:

10) Ronald Reagan
9) Woodrow Wilson
8) Dwight D. Eisenhower
7) Thomas Jefferson
6) John F. Kennedy
5) Harry S. Truman
4) Theodore Roosevelt
3) Franklin D. Roosevelt
2) George Washington
1) Abraham Lincoln

The task of ranking presidents is inherently flawed (here's another list with similar results). Presidents who do a lot are praised. Presidents who do little are seen as ineffective. But what if we don't want anything done? A blog I check every so often, Citizen Economists, also came out with their own list of the worst Presidents, but this time from a freedom perspective. Here is their list and their reasoning:

10) Theodore Roosevelt

was obsessed with war and killing. He was the first president who totally eschewed the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson and said that the U.S. needed to be the world’s policeman — he even warned of the “menace of peace.” He imposed price controls and unprecedented regulation, and championed “progressive” reforms that came into being with the 16th (income tax) and 17th (direct election of senators) amendments.

9) Ronald Reagan

Although the Gipper mouthed libertarian rhetoric, the facts are that he imposed one of the greatest tax increases in U.S. history (taking away many tax deductions and raising the payroll tax), ramped up the disastrous War on Drugs, and accumulated more debt than all of the previous 39 presidents combined.

8) George W. Bush

a president who began his second term by trying to privatize Social Security and ended it by socializing the banking sector. Bush’s two terms were characterized by massive federal-government growth, huge deficits, expensive and immoral wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit (which is bigger than Social Security and will eventually bankrupt the nation), the loss of civil liberties (i.e., the Patriot Act), and the nationalization of “education” (No Child Left Behind).

7) George Washington

it was he who appointed the initial federal judiciary, and he stocked it with Federalists to the exclusion of his political adversaries. This meant that anyone who was skeptical of the new Constitution — which increased central power over the states from the original Articles of Confederation — was automatically disqualified. In practice, this led to a judicial monopoly of monarchists and nationalists that lasted well into the long Jeffersonian reign of 1800-1860. Also, Washington signed the (unconstitutional) first Bank of the United States into law, and led an army against his own citizens to crush the Whiskey Rebellion.

6) Richard Nixon

In addition to his well-known criminality, lying, and illegal warring, Nixon truly deserves our ire for his imposition of price and wage controls and “closing of the gold window” — making the U.S. dollar into a pure fiat currency. In fact, it was in protest to these things that the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971.

5) Lyndon B. Johnson

In addition to the pointless death and destruction of Vietnam, Johnson’s “Great Society” also caused irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and the American family. Even his “civil rights” initiatives, for which conservatives give him begrudging praise, are condemned by libertarians. The Civil Rights Act, for example, amounted to the nationalization of private property and ushered in Affirmative Action, which arguably exacerbated racism.

4) Harry S. Truman

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed tens of thousands of innocent women and children — and it was all unnecessary. Although we’re not taught this in our government-funded schools, Japan had already offered a conditional surrender, but the U.S. demanded unconditional surrender. The Japanese were worried that the U.S. would kill or humiliate their Emperor, a religious figure, if their surrender was “unconditional.” Truman used this as an excuse to display the U.S.’s horrible military might — and put the Soviets on notice, igniting the Cold War.

3) Franklin D. Roosevelt

No executive has ever assumed more absolute power than FDR. One of his first actions as president was to dictatorially close U.S. banks. Shortly thereafter — in an episode that has been censored from our history books — he made it illegal to own gold, which then backed the U.S. dollar, and sent government agents into the homes and businesses of gold “hoarders” to confiscate the precious metal. Once all the gold had been turned in or seized, FDR revalued the dollar from 1/20 an ounce of gold, to 1/35 — an outright theft.

We are taught in government schools that FDR “lifted us out of the Depression.” Numerous economists have shown this to be false. In fact, FDR’s New Deal policies made the Depression longer and more painful. For example: to keep food prices from dropping (as if that would have been a bad thing), FDR ordered millions of pounds of crops to be destroyed — while much of the nation went hungry. Later, unemployment did drop precipitously, but only after FDR had drafted a huge portion of the American work force into war.

2) Woodrow Wilson

Cindy Sheehan might have been unfairly ridiculed by Bush’s proxies in the right-wing media, but she wasn’t thrown in jail. Thousands of World War I critics, however, were. Among them, Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who gathered nearly 6 percent of the vote against Wilson (and T.R. and Taft) in 1912, and then ran for president from a jail cell — thanks to Wilson — in 1920.

Wilson, a former Klansman, re-segregated the Capitol, which had been integrated under President Grant. He gave us the Federal Reserve Act, the income tax, the direct election of senators (which entirely crushed “states’ rights”), and lied us into the completely counterproductive World War I — which led the way to the rise of Hitler and World War II.

1) Abraham Lincoln

For merely the monetary expense of the Civil War, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of lives, the North could have purchased the freedom of every slave and given him or her 40 acres and a mule. The real motivator behind the Civil War was economic mercantilism. Lincoln believed ardently in protectionism and corporate welfare, and the states that would comprise the Confederacy were for free trade.

But what makes Lincoln the worst president ever? Well, he literally destroyed the founders’ republic, which was a federation of independent states — a voluntary union. Lincoln made it an involuntary one and abolished state sovereignty. He also imposed the first income tax, conscripted men into the army and paid them with fiat money (another first), illegally suspended habeas corpus, shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned political opponents in the North, and ultimately forced his Hamiltonian agenda — which had lost for sixty years at the ballot box

Thursday, March 05, 2009

First Instinct Fallacy

As a high school teacher in a state with end of course testing, I am a regular administrator of multiple choice tests. So it's worth revisiting an old debate; if uncertain with your answer, is it better to change it or stick with you first instinct? Here's an abstract that may challenge the traditional beliefs:

Most people believe that they should avoid changing their answer when taking multiple-choice tests. Virtually all research on this topic, however, suggests that this strategy is ill-founded: most answer changes are from incorrect to correct, and people who change their answers usually improve their test scores. Why do people believe in this strategy if the data so strongly refute it? We argue that the belief is in part a product of counter factual thinking. Changing an answer when one should have stuck with one’s original answer leads to more “if only…” self-recriminations than does sticking with one’s first instinct when one should have switched. As a consequence, instances of the former are more memorable than instances of the latter. This differential availability provides individuals with compelling (albeit illusory) personal evidence for the wisdom of always following their first instinct, with sub-optimal test scores the result.
One of their studies showed: 25% changed their answer from right to wrong, 23% went from wrong to wrong and 51% changed from wrong to right.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Worst Than Reality

Last night was the finale of the 13th season of ABC's The Bachelor. With no surprise to probability, the relationship for the "winners" has not worked out. In fact, the bachelor has now decided to try a relationship with the second place finisher. As my wife watched the season (and yes, I was there for a lot of it), I couldn't help but wonder what was going through the minds of the women. Out of 13 Bachelor and 4 Bachelorette seasons, there have only been 1 lasting marriage (though two are currently engaged). That's 1/17 (.05%) chance. More than 10 times the normal divorce rate! But to be fair, you have to beat out 25 other women competing to even get that far. That bumps your chance at a lasting marriage to 1/425 (.002%) chance. You're more likely to roll 70 dice and guess the number rolled. So my question is, who would put themselves through such heart break for such a small chance at a real relationship? 1) people who want to be on TV or 2) those who believe this is their best chance at "love". This selection effect (and the insane polygamist structure of the show) probably explains why the failure rate is so high.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Economics of Late Night Television

I've often wondered why shows like Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show don't charge for tickets. Economists often argue that waiting in line is an inefficient way to pay for things, so what do these television execs know that I don't? Then it hit me, waiting in line must be a signal for something that the show wants in its audience. Figured it out? Excitement! If I went to a taping of the Tonight Show, I wouldn't be very excited (until Conan takes over that is). But I would also never wait in line for tickets. By making the show "free" and forcing a line, it weeds out the moderate fans and leaves only the die hards.

UPDATE: It's also possible that they want young (and attractive) fans. Its fairly obvious that youth have a lower price on their time and are more willing to stand in line.