Thursday, July 30, 2009

Emptying the Bottle: July '09 Links List

1), "we put the love in revolution"

2) Turkish game show where four representatives from the different religions try to convert at least 1 of the 10 atheists to their faith

3) Dr. Doom doing stand up comedy (6:51)

4) Libertarian economist Arnold Kling on "Why I'm not a Republican"

5), "yeah, it's still bad for you - but see how good it can look!"

6) I'm still not sure if twitter is worth it, but you can use it to track Durham's burger truck

7) Economics (as he sees it) from the Vatican

8) Shorten your url's with and see what they were originally with

9) Four questions about charity.

10) Economics (as she sees it) from Miss Teen South Carolina (2:34)

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ideas for Marriage, Anniversary Edition

Today marks two years with my lovely wife Traci. Here are some things I've learned (mostly the hard way). This is by no means exhaustive and many are Traci inspired, but not necessarily approved. Married or single, positive or negative, feedback or additions, it's all appreciated:

1) What's important to them isn't necessarily important to you, that doesn't mean it's not important.

2) Differences are valuable, just make sure the differences aren't values.

3) You don't realize how unique your family is until you try to start a new one.

4) There is a lot of baggage you don't know you have.

5) Love their family because to them, their family is who they are.

6) Invest in argument saving technologies: GPS, dishwasher, dual a/c controls, king size bed, separate bathroom sinks, and even blogs (so my wife doesn't have hear my every stray thought).

7) The safety of stability is the only way to raw intimacy.

8) Don't share the negatives about your spouse without their permission/knowledge.

9) However, you should allow trusted friends and family to know your hardships and speak to them.

10) Love because you said your would, not because they love you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Economics of Slavery

Prominent black economist (should I say prominent economist who happens to be black?) Walter Williams debunks the economic benefits of slavery:
Reparations advocates make the foolish unchallenged pronouncement that United States became rich on the backs of free black labor. That's utter nonsense. Slavery has never had a very good record of producing wealth. Think about it. Slavery was all over the South. Buying into the reparations nonsense, you'd have to conclude that the antebellum South was rich and the slave-starved North was poor. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. In fact, the poorest states and regions of our country were places where slavery flourished: Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia while the richest states and regions were those where slavery was absent: Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.
Human labor, no matter how cheap, is no match for the productiveness of industrialization. This reminds me of Ron Paul's controversial idea of avoiding the Civil War through the governmental purchase of slaves. The cost of 4 million slaves seems small compared to that of a four year war resulting in the of death of 600,000 at the hands of fellow Americans (not to mention the lasting effects of Reconstruction). After all, the slave trade had already been done away with in 1808 and 3/4 of Southerners didn't even own slaves.

However many more Southerners were certainly financially connected to them. And let's not forget slavery was not the central reason for succession secession. Lincoln originally supported bringing the South back with the promise of keeping their slaves. succession secession happened over states rights, but slavery was the main states rights issue. Either way, economic progress would have surely made slavery useless, eventually.

Note: Williams' piece also has some good points on the complexity of reparations.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wisdom of Planet Earth

I had this passing thought when I first watched the Planet Earth series. It's stuck with me, so I thought I might share it. I not only learned details of obscure environments around the world, I also gathered a better understanding for the purpose of life (not my life, but life in general). Animals are not for me. More specifically, animals were not created solely for the human race. This may seem simple, but it's something I subconsciously believed before. I came to this conclusion after realizing how many different species there were that I'd never heard of. Then I realized if I'd never heard of them in 2009, most people had never heard of them for thousands of years. If it's true that most animals (and fish, stars and planets, etc) were not even realized by humans, then they can't exist solely for us. But most people already think that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Catch 22?

But it could have been Catch-18. This was Heller’s original title - and his title throughout all the long years of composition, from 1953 to 1961. However, just before the book was published Leon Uris produced his novel Mila 18. Heller’s publishers, Simon and Schuster, thought two books with ‘18’ in the title in one year was one book too many, and suggested a change.
That's from the blog How books got their titles. Here are some other interesting ones:
Some of these titles are so common place it odd to think they could ever have been different. Then again, if they were different, they would be familiar too, just differently, and I would still feel weird. Is that a catch-22? How about a catch-18?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Random Act of Kindness or the Facebook Fairy?

My old GPS has been broken for a while and I've been putting off buying a new one. My wife and I are heading to Washington D.C. for our anniversary, so she posted this in her facebook status:
can you rent GPSs? we need one for the weekend...
24 hours later I receive a package with a new GPS inside. Now either someone went above and beyond nice and bought us a new GPS (I've narrowed the list down to a few) or Facebook gifts just got a lot better. So if you recently sent me a GPS, let me know, or Mark Zuckerberg is getting a thank you letter.

Economics of *this post is not yet rated*

Here's a collection of blue topics discussed through the lens economics:
*some of these are callous, but I found them all educational

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Car Czar Cronyism

No one is particularly happy with the government holding a controlling stake in General Motors, but its hard to know exactly what problems will arise. Here's one, good old fashion cronyism:
The latest self-appointed car czar is Massachusetts's own Barney Frank, who intervened this week to save a GM distribution center in Norton, Mass. The warehouse, which employs some 90 people, was slated for closure by the end of the year under GM's restructuring plan. But Mr. Frank put in a call to GM CEO Fritz Henderson and secured a new lease on life for the facility.

Mr. Frank's spokesman, Harry Gural, says the Congressman discussed, among other things, "the facility's value to GM." We'd have thought that would be something that GM might have considered when it decided to close the Norton center, but then a call from one of the most powerful Members of Congress can certainly cause a ward of the state to reconsider what qualifies as "value." A CEO who refuses the offer can soon find himself testifying under oath before Congress, or answering questions from the Government Accountability Office about his expense account. To that point, Mr. Henderson spent Wednesday with Chrysler President Jim Press being castigated by the Senate Commerce Committee for their plans to close 3,400 car dealerships. Every Senator wants dealerships closed in someone else's state.
Imagine a world where car dealerships are stay open not because of profitability, but because of political connection. We are in that world. Then again, at least our housing market isn't government run.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Can Robin Hood Predict a Recession?

Remember the undead's correlation with hard times? Well it looks like Robin and his not-so-merry men do too:
My colleague Binyamin Appelbaum noticed something interesting yesterday: Robin Hood movies are tied to recessions. We're talking here about the adult Robin Hood movies. So set aside "Men in Tights" and the Disney cartoon. Instead, look at first major Robin Hood film, "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Release date? 1938. Similarly, "Prince of Thieves" came out in 1991, another recessionary year. And I ran a quick Google search: Sure enough, there's another Robin Hood movie slated for May of 2010.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finding Your Lost Wallet

I recently lost my wallet and if you know me that should come as no surprise. Although I've gotten better as I've moved farther into adulthood, I still rarely keep cash in my wallet for this reason. But instead of what not to have in your wallet, maybe I should focus on what you should have in your wallet:
Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, and his team inserted one of four photographs behind a clear plastic window inside, showing either a smiling baby, a cute puppy, a happy family or a contented elderly couple. Some wallets had no image and some had charity papers inside.
Hundreds of wallets were planted around the city and the result was that the
baby photograph wallets had the highest return rate, with 88 per cent of the 40 being sent back. Next came the puppy, the family and the elderly couple, with 53 per cent, 48 and 28 respectively. At 20 per cent and 15, the charity card and control wallets had the lowest return rates.
My niece and nephew just got upgraded from the fridge to the wallet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Most Libertarian Superhero

I recently found out that the Green Lantern is making a run for the mayor of Washington D.C. He is even running against Spider-Man, Superman, Batwoman and The Atom. Although these heroes have proven themselves qualified in saving lives, I'm not so sure they would get my vote in an political election. So then who would a self respecting comic book nerd libertarian want as his mayor?

The obvious choice is Batman. By taking the law into their own hands vigilantes are inherently libertarian, but Batman is most famous for this. This can be clearly seen in my favorite Batman comic to date: All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller. You can also see his anti-government roots in my favorite comic of all time Red Son. Here Batman rises to stop a power hungry soviet Superman (trust me its worth reading). There even seems to be an economic incentive in Batman/Bruce Wayne's actions:
At times, the Batman movies even hint at the possibility that big businessmen actually have a self-interested incentive to help provide the public good of reducing violent crime. After all, they stand to lose a lot of profit if high crime rates reduce investment and drive away their customers and skilled workers. Precisely because of the vast size of his firm, Wayne has less incentive to free ride on the crime-fighting efforts of others in providing the public good of crime control. He will capture enough of the benefits of crime-fighting to justifying investing in it, even if he has to pay a very high proportion of the costs himself.
However, if you take a closer look you realize Batman is more of an fringe conservative than a libertarian. He is regularly breaking up shipments brought into Gotham that have not been regulated by the city. He is a staunch advocate for limiting drug use and gambling. And most importantly, his solution to the problem of crime is not better laws, but better politicians. "I believe in Harvey Dent" is the mantra of the most recent Batman film. This sounds more like an an Obama fan than a libertarian to me.

The second obvious answer comes from another recent film, The Watchmen. Rorschach is the moral voice of the series. He will, in his own words, "Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon." Even the DC characters he was based on, Mr A and The Question, seem to lean libertarian. There is even a hint of the importance of personal choice written in his journal:
Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No." They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father or President Truman. Decent men who believed in a day's work for a day's pay. Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn't realize that the trail led over a precipice until it was too late. Don't tell me they didn't have a choice. Now the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloodly Hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers... and all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say.
However, whereas Batman was a long term optimist, hoping one day to hangup his cape and cowl, Rorschach seems to think man is corrupted to a point of hopelessness. But libertarians are optimists. We see how much life has improved, we see the silver lining of hard times, and we certainly don't see Harry Truman as a role model.

Although I am big fans of Batman and Rorschach, their love of freedom pales in comparison to the most libertarians superhero, V. Like our previous heroes he's a little crazy, but his insanity drives him to an anarchist libertarianism unspoiled by traditional conservatism. He has a defense of terrorists that only our founding fathers could appreciate. And he able to do what all libertarians dream to do, influence the people to stand up and take back the liberty they deserve:
Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. Last night I sought to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you've seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Economics of The Economist

In a time when print media is going the way of beepers, The Economist is holding its own:
Unlike its rivals, The Economist has been unaffected by the explosion of digital media; if anything, the digital revolution has cemented its relevance. The Economist has become an arbiter of right-thinking opinion (free-market right-center, if you want to be technical about it; with a dose of left-center social progressivism) at a time when arbiters in general are in ill favor. It is a general-interest magazine for an ever-increasing audience, the self-styled global elite, at a time when general-interest anything is having a hard time interesting anybody. And it sells more than 75,000 copies a week on U.S. newsstands for $6.99 (!) at a time when we’re told information wants to be free and newsstands are disappearing.
But why?
The Economist prides itself on cleverly distilling the world into a reasonably compact survey. Another word for this is blogging, or at least what blogging might be after it matures—meaning, after it transcends its current status as a free-fire zone and settles into a more comprehensive system of gathering and presenting information. As a result, although its self-marketing subtly sells a kind of sleek, mid-last-century Concorde-flying sangfroid, The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009.

True, The Economist virtually never gets scoops, and the information it does provide is available elsewhere … if you care to spend 20 hours Googling. But now that information is infinitely replicable and pervasive, original reporting will never again receive its due. The real value of The Economist lies in its smart analysis of everything it deems worth knowing—and smart packaging, which may be the last truly unique attribute in the digital age.
And you thought blogging wouldn't last.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Safety and the Law of Unintended Consequences

In a recent post I showed how child safety laws are based on their cost and benefits. Here's a John Stossel piece on whether bike helmets are worth the cost:
If parents have such a hard time assessing risk for their own children, how much better can politicians assess the risk for millions of Americans?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why I'll Probably Never Vote for a Democrat

One of the main differences between liberals and conservatives (by the American definition of those words) is who they fear. Liberals fear unchecked businesses, whereas conservatives tend to fear unchecked government (or at least based on their rhetoric). Here is a video from Zimbabwe, that helps show why I usually side with the conservatives. I challenge you to find an example of a bad business that has done anything remotely as destructive as bad governments (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, and Castro).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Economics of Child Safety

Child safety laws in cars are so extreme that most parents don't even follow them. For example, in my state of North Carolina, a child must be in a restraint device until they are older than 8 years old and over 80 lbs. And yet, parents are allowed to fly in planes while holding their children. In response to this very question, the FAA stated that:
the cost of an extra ticket could force parents to travel by car instead. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children. On the other hand, the problem of child safety in air travel, the F.A.A. said, 'barely exists.'
This is a good example of how hard it is for people to assess risk. As this graphic explains (thanks Justin) you actually have a better chance of dying on a bicycle than in a plane.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Worthwhile Sentences on People

From Alex Tabarrok Jacqueline Novogratz: "Philanthropy can appeal to people who want to be loved more than they want to make a difference."

From Arnold Kling summarizing Thomas Sowell: "the [political] right thinks that social problems primarily reflect basic constraints, while the left thinks that they reflect the failure of good to triumph over evil."

From Walter Williams: "Having been around for 73 years, I have been through a number of names. Among the polite ones are: colored, Negro, Afro-American, black, and now African-American. Among those names, African-American is probably the most unintelligent."

From Allison Schrager: "Like most people, I am far too self-involved to make it as a cheat."

From Tyler Cowen: "take the smartest person you know and put him or her on TV for hours a week, for years, and see what happens."

*Past worthwhile sentences.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Economics of "Hello"

If you've ever lived in a small town or, in my case, went to college in a small town, you may have noticed strangers like to say "hello" to each other. But go to any big city and you'll notice no one says hello on the street. Here are some possible reasons why:

1) In big cities the opportunity cost of saying hello is high because there many other things to do. People vacation in big cities because there is always something fun going on. Time spent talking to strangers is more expensive to busy city dwellers.
2) In America making eye contact with someone usually results in a polite hello. So the less eye contact there is, the less hellos there will be. In big cities there is a large number of commuters, vacationers and just plain people. Your likelihood of seeing someone you know on the street is pretty low. So you look at peoples faces less, make eye contact less, and say hello less.
3) If you say hello to one person, you usually say hello to all people. In a small town you may pass a few people every so often. In a big city you are constantly walking pass strangers and can't be expected to say hello to all of them. This may be why people on boats wave to each other, but people in cars do not.
4) Most big cities are in the North where the weather is colder. When people dress warmly you see less of their face. Less face to face contact will result in less hellos. This could be another explanation of why people on boats (or motorcycles or convertibles) wave to each other.
5) Because of reasons 1, 2, 3, and 4 most big cities have created a culture of people that don't say hello. It's like the final episode of Seinfeld when Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are weired out that people in the small town keep saying hello to them. A lasting cultural norm may increase the cost of saying hello and ensure that New Yorkers are always rude.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More Celebrities, More Celebrity Deaths

In the last week or so, Steve McNair, Karl Malden, Billy Mays, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and Michael Jackson have all died. Is this a series of freak occurances or a signal of an increasing trend? After the coverage of the death of Billy Mays, it occured to me that this increase in celebrity deaths is due to an increase in celebrities. We live in a time where information is so free flowing that a man known only for selling cleaning products becomes the top searched item on Google. There are even websites dedicated to keeping you up to date on famous deaths ( and With movies, music, TV (reality TV), YouTube, blogs, etc, there are so many ways to have your name known. I imagine the list of "famous people" was much smaller even just a generation ago.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Baptists, Bootleggers, and Wal-Mart

In case you haven't heard, Wal-Mart has come out in support of Obama's plan to force employers to provide health insurance to workers. What you haven't heard, is why:
I find it hard to believe that none of the liberal commentators breathlessly celebrating Wal-Mart's "capitulation" on national health care have even entertained the most parsimonious explanation: that Wal-Mart is in favor of this because it raises the barriers to entry in the retail market, and hammers Wal-Mart's competition.
Politics makes strange bedfellows. Here is another example from Clemson University economics professor (and all around nice guy) Bruce Yandle's famous paper: Bootleggers and Baptists: The Education of a Regulatory Economist.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Economics of Capture

From TechCrunch (thanks to Justin):
In November 2008, Rohde was captured and held hostage by the Taliban, along with a local reporter, Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal. But until he managed to escape, most of the general public had absolutely no clue. To prevent Rohde’s value in the eyes of his captors from rising, the New York Times kept more than 35 major news organizations from reporting on the story. They believed that the publicity from reporting his capture would inflate the value of Rohde’s life, increasing the difficulty of negotiating for Rohde’s release. Keeping 35 news organizations quiet was actually not the hard part - but staving off Wikipedia users from publishing the news? That was a bit trickier.
This story is interesting to me for a couple reasons. One, that the price of a prisoner is derived from the public. The more we want people free, the more the government will pay/do to free them. If people don't know, the hostages are worthless. Compare this to President Carter's headache, the Iran hostage crisis. There were repeated rescue attempts that all that failed (because they were valuable to the captors). Where as these hostages were able to climb over a wall and run away.

The other interesting part is how this story almost broke in the New York Times (the largest metropolitan newspaper in the US) and Wikipedia. I've posted before on how accurate Wikipedia is, but this is proof that they are also where news comes first. Although I'm happy they were able to keep the story suppressed for a while, I'm comforted that it was so difficult to keep such an important story quiet.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day from OverThinking It

That's from Overthinking It, a blog dedicated to explaining "popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve." Other highlights from the site include: how the movement of the earth wasn't calculated in Back to the Future, how to survive the music video Thriller, and the philosophy of that last two Batman movies.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Religion Is Not About You

After my last post, you may have gotten the impression that religion is about people and their choices. Let me clarify, it's not about me, it's about God. Organized religion is a structure for giving attention to a higher being. Not because he is a needy child, but because he deserves it (he is God after all). So when I talk about going to church to indoctrinate myself, it's not primarily for self improvement (Christian term: sanctification). It's so I can be reminded of what God has already done (Christian term: justification). The Bible is full of stories about the terrible mistakes humans made: Adam ate the apple, Noah couldn't convince one person to repent and join him, Moses regular doubted God and wasn't even allowed into the promised land, Jonah refused to obey and was upset when God saved the repentant people of Nineveh, and even David killed a man to cover up his adultery. It's not what men are doing that makes me show up church, it's what God has done for that long list of broken men (and those like them).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Good Indoctrination is Good

Every so often my wife and I will sleep in an miss church on Sundays. Recently on one such Sunday I asked myself why I go to church in the first place (hoping that if I better understood the motivation for going, I might go more). Reasonable answers I've heard before were "to hear the gospel" or "fellowship with other believers". But then it hit me, I go to the church to be indoctrinated. In many ways being a Christian is like being schizophrenic. You desire to be certain kind of person, yet you are never able to attain it. That is of course why Jesus' atonement is so important. However, there are many times when I doubt my faith based my own failings. That is why I am involved with my local church; so that I can be reminded of what I believe. After this realization I was a little disturbed. If I am honestly seeking truth, isn't indoctrination just tricking myself? I don't think so. I am being indoctrinated all the time (by friends, family, TV, and yes even economics blogs). So like everyone, I pick and choose what influences me and to what degree. And from what I have witnessed in my own life, the local Christian church is a powerful force for good indoctrination.