Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Emptying the Bottle: June '09 Links List

1) Two very different, very good posts on abortion:
  • from a conservative who is fed up with conservatives
  • from a liberal with a personal story of abortion
2) Log in and see scanned images of your mail online. Choose which items should be recycled, shredded, archived, or shipped to you.

3) Why haven’t non-buff men been wiped out of the gene pool? Our superpowers!

4) Do bike helmets make us less safe?

5) Each point should be an individual post.

6) Should you move to NYC (or any big city for that matter)?

7) From a Brazilian fisherman to a Chinese shopkeeper, from a German performer to an Afghan farmer, all answered the same questions about their fears, dreams, ordeals, hopes.

8) Golf is for capitalists.

9) Blogs that never made it past one post.

10) Send your professor a corrupted file while you work on your real paper.

Here are previous links lists and here are my daily Bookmarks.

Free Trade Agreements Are Not Free Trade

From a Ron Paul column in 2000:
The economic argument for free trade should be no more complex than the moral argument. Tariffs are taxes that penalize those who buy foreign goods. If taxes are low on imported goods, consumers benefit by being able to buy at the best price, thus saving money to buy additional goods and raise their standard of living. The competition stimulates domestic efforts and hopefully serves as an incentive to get onerous taxes and regulations reduced.

If one truly believes in free trade, one never argues a need for reciprocity or bureaucratic management of trade. If free trade is truly beneficial, as so many claim, unilateral free trade is an end in itself and requires neither treaties nor international management by politicians and bureaucrats. A country should promote free trade in its own self-interest -- never for the benefit of someone else.

Those not completely convinced of the benefits of free trade acknowledge a "cost" of lower tariffs for which they demand compensation and fair management. Thus, we have the creation of the WTO. By endorsing the concept of managed world trade through the World Trade Organization, proponents acknowledge that they actually believe in order for free trade to be an economic positive, it requires compensation or a "deal."
He goes on to discuss how it is also a threat to national sovereignty, but that is more distracting then helpful. Free trade is good with or without state agreements. Free trade is by definition the free exchange between individuals. American would benefit from open and free trade even if every other nation had a complicated system of tariffs and restrictions. Now whether the WTO gives us a net higher or lower amount of free trade is uncertain. Go here to your senators votes on free trade.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Different Equilibrium

One of the major problems with government action is the replacement of choice with force. Rational people, given the same information and options will sometimes make different choices. And maybe most importantly, both choices are best. Whether its ordering from a menu, buying health insurance, taking out a high interest loan, selling an organ, buying medical marijuana, shopping at Wal-mart, or getting a speeding ticket; everyone might not make the same decision that politicians want them to.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Economics of Economics

Or as Bryan Caplan might say, the Sociology of Sociology:
I've studied economics for over twenty years. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that I don't know what "economics" means anymore.

Textbooks may say that economics is about "incentives" or "trade-offs." But you can publish papers in econ journals about the effect of birth weight on educational attainment. I don't see any incentives or trade-offs there. Or take Emily Oster's early research arguing that hepatitis, not infanticide or selective abortion, explained a lot of Asia's gender imbalance. Some economists asked, "How is this economics?" But if some economists argue that the gender imbalance is driven by incentives, how can you object if other economists say that the real explanation is medical? Or consider happiness research. Economists like Justin Wolfers are in the vanguard; but the connection to incentives or trade-offs is unclear.

You could deplore all this as a loss of focus. But I see massive progress. Economics has grown hard to define because we now focus primarily on real-world problems, not "literatures." If we want to understand income determination, we don't waste time with topological proofs. We still think about supply and demand, but we also think about policy, psychology, behavioral genetics, and much more. As a result, we come to understand the world, instead of solving unusually difficult homework problems.

What, though, is the common essence behind everything that economists now do? The only answer that works, I think, is that economics is the all-encompassing study of the social world. In the words of the Roman poet Terence, "Homo sum, humani a me nihil alienum puto" - "I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me."

Unfortunately, this puts me in an awkward position. There's another field that already sounds like "the all-encompassing study of the social world": sociology. Not only does sociology have lower status than economics; with honorable exceptions, it's also well-stocked with academics who aren't fond of economics. Tactically, then, it would be foolish to start calling ourselves "sociologists." If we were picking names from scratch, though, "sociologists" is exactly what modern economists ought to proudly call ourselves.
Economics is explaining the world. Now that I've gotten my copy of the Economic Naturalist, we might see and increase in the "Economics of" posts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best of the Second 100

The lack of posts here is because I've been transferring all my information from Weebly to Blogger. Here's a link to my new site and the new rss feed and comments feed. I switched for various reasons, but the important thing is I'm happy to say its over and regular posting can return. In celebration of over 200 posts here's my favorites from the second 100 (here's my favorites from the first 100):

1) This Recession is a Result of Rationality (or maybe Irrationality)

2) Let's Not Do the Numbers

3) Three Part Series on the Economic Stimulus Package

4) Blockbuster's Future, A Personal Story

5) Wisdom from Comic Books

Monday, June 08, 2009


General Petraeus, the leader of the coalition forces in Iraq, recently did an interview with Fox News explaining some of the mistakes the US made after 9/11. One of them, he states, is that "the existence of Gitmo has been used by the enemy against us". Evidence that torturing prisoners has actually made us less safe. These "alternative techniques" are not necessary and as Petraeus points out, the "Army Field Manual is all that we need to use to interrogate prisoners." Here's a snippet from the manual:

The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor. condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources.

In the interview he suggests a responsible closure of the infamous Gitmo prison and trying the prisoners in American courts. That latter part is an important idea. We must trust the legal system that we are fighting to protect. We cannot be proponents of the rule of law overseas and ignore the Geneva Convention (Petraeus says we have) at home. This is especially true given the evidence that torture has been used not to protect American people from future attacks, but to justify past military action (hat tip to Justin). Even though the most talked about technique, waterboarding, has only been used three times, it should not be doubted that it is torture. If you're unsure, watch this video of someone being waterboarded.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Economics of Comics

Ecocomics is a new blog that focuses on the Economics of the comic book world. Here are some experts from my favorites:

On how the construction industry must be booming:

In order to recover from such devastating blows, the comic book world must have an array of daring contractors and craftsman, willing to jump into the fray at a moment's notice. They are the truly amazing people in the comics universe. Somehow they are capable of repairing the Chrysler building overnight after Thor has been punched through it, only for the Green Goblin to the blow the top off of it the next day. And they do this consistently. For this to work, the public works department of Marvel's New York must be 1 billion workers strong.

Batman should spend less on customizing weapons and more on installing:

more motion detectors and reinforced doors in Arkham Asylum

One on the relationship between money and crazy:

In the world of comic books any individual who has more than 5 million dollars in saving or assets immediately becomes bat-shit insane. It's a strange rule, but it seems that every independently wealthy individual in superhero comics decides that fighting/committing crime is the best way to spend their free time. They ignore possible hobbies like golfing, yachting, and collecting antique cars and go straight into wearing a mask and creating a global organization designed to save/destroy/conquer the world.

The economic advantage of mutants:

Each mutant possesses a special skill which has its own inherent value. Because of this, a mutant can be viewed as a craftsman or a skilled laborer. Mutants with enhanced strength can work in construction, demolition, or even transportation. Storm could irrigate the crops of all the suffering farmers in the Midwest and California when the droughts of summer are destroying their crops. Quicksilver could sort the daily mail output of the United States in 3 hours. And the extraordinary power of these abilities would only make the economic effect of using mutant powers that much more extraordinary itself. Time, labor, and machinery costs would all be cut dramatically.

How labor market benefits are short lived but technology last forever:

I feel that these mutants may ultimately prove unable to increase long-run living standards. Any effect that Magneto may have on productivity will only temporarily move the economy to a higher steady-state output per person (y/n). With his death the economy will move back to where it was (and probably experience some unpleasant distortions during the transition).


Being mere humans in a giant multiverse of galactic powers, it’s a fair assumption that earth is an LDP (less developed planet) with a comparatively small capital stock. According to the Solow model, alien entrepreneurs should be jumping at the opportunity to invest in Earth. Add a growing stock of technology from metahumans and falling debris and you can get productivity and standards of living rising indefinitely.

Now if I can just can an Econprov blog.