Monday, May 31, 2010

Conversation with a Soldier

Good friend, blogger, and regular commenter, Justin Scott, is a rare combination of brutally honest and lovingly gentle. I'd love to see him interview anyone and today he posted a discussion he had with a young female Sargent on plane ride. The whole post is worth reading, but here's a part that especially caught my eye:
I asked her whether she felt supported as a soldier by the American public and civilians like me. She said she felt very discouraged by claims that the war in Iraq was a "mistake," that it was "wrong" or "unwise." She explained how a few months ago her best friend had been killed in the very area she herself was shipping out to in a few days, and it frustrated and angered her to think that someone would claim her friend had died in service of a "mistake." I offered that those who oppose the war have her well-being in mind; they do not wish to see her and her friends killed in service of something they do not believe in. This did not seem to comfort her. This was probably the most striking part of the whole conversation to me, because I realized (and this is my opinion here) that to her, there was no "disagree with the war but support the troops." She had to believe in the nobility of the mission.
Justin wisely responds:
But if this is what is required for her to feel that the American public supports her, it precludes that the American public never disagree with the military actions of their government—which in light of America's military history (Vietnam being the go-to example) is essentially an indefensible position. I think it would be pretty unwise, even scary if the American public never expressed dissent with any U.S. military action once it had begun, even in the name of supporting our soldiers. Nevertheless if I heard someone calling a mission I believed in and my best friend had died in service to a "mistake," I cannot imagine how angry, disheartened, frustrated, even disgusted I would feel. There is a terrible impasse here.
I'm pretty open with my opposition to US military intervention anywhere. If Iraq doesn't want us there, and  most of them don't, then we shouldn't occupy another sovereign nation. For the loss of life both US and foreign, for the economic cost foreign and domestic, and also for the non-combat deaths after soldiers return home. However, this conversation has convinced me of the value of limiting that conversation around American soldiers. My grandfather, father, and uncle have all served in different capacities, and whether in World War II or the Middle East, they deserve our gratitude for their involvement.

Thanks to my cousin Megan Reynolds for this photo taken at the Ware Shoals Veterans Memorial.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Economics of Celebrity Endorsement

I've never understood why companies pay famous celebrities to be in commercials, when there are much cheaper actors available. Do we really care that Usher uses MasterCard? Apparently, we do:
A new study suggests the answer involves superstar-specific happy memories stored in our cerebral cortex. Using brain-scan technology, researchers found those positive emotions get transferred from the personality to the product, producing a more positive impression of the item in question and, presumably, a greater probability of purchasing it.

Difference Between Humans and Animals, Part VI

Sometimes television can describe can answer this age old question more succinctly (and with more humor). Here's a clip from the show Community:

Here's Part one, two, three, four, and five.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What It Feels Like to Teach Public Schools

As you know, I have a love/hate relationship with public schools. I recently heard this Mother Theresa quote that sums it up nicely:
We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Economic Benefits of Political Apathy

Yesterday I discussed the inherent flaws in democratic votes and how shouting (rioting, protesting, donating) can actually be more efficient. In the past this has convinced me of the benefits of political apathy. Apparently I should have been a little more specific:
there is another critical competitive advantage for America in relation to its other democratic peers. It is the fact that in American presidential and congressional elections, about half of the electorate never turns out to vote. And the unique competitive advantage arises from the fact that unlike in other Western democracies, the people who end up staying away from voting in the U.S. belong overwhelmingly to its poorest, least educated sections.
He goes on to discuss the reasons why the poor don't vote:
Historically, many of the southern states have had a nasty record of officially and unofficially making it more difficult for blacks and poor whites to vote, a position that largely prevailed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Other reasons include the disenfranchisement of its prison population, which, at two million, is the largest in the world. Moreover, felony disenfranchisement laws in most states make it difficult for ex-felons to vote. As a result, about 5.4 million offenders and ex-offenders (about 2.5 percent of the electorate) were excluded from the voting rolls in the 2004 presidential election. Also, the fact that Election Day in the U.S. is not a national holiday makes it difficult for those holding low paying jobs (where wages are paid by the hour) to go out and vote.
So why is this good for the American economy? It's something I've already mentioned before on this blog, more educated voters leads to more libertarian voters, which leads to more economic growth:
A critical factor which determines the economic success of a country is how well it strikes a balance between its short term needs and long term requirements. The short term interests veer towards more spending and consumption, while the long term interests lie in greater investment for the future and in shaping an environment conducive to creation of wealth. Essentially, the poor and the disadvantaged within a country would tend to have a short term outlook. Their interest would lie in having the government spend more on generous social security benefits and subsidies and in laws that protect labour. They would be far less enthused by the investments and sacrifice required to further the economic well-being of the country over the long term, or in promoting the entrepreneurial class.
This also supports my graduate school thesis about the correlation between compulsory voting laws and government spending. So here's the question: do the economic benefits of voter disenfranchisement outweigh the social costs? My guess is most people would say no.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wisdom of the Crowd

Friend and fellow blogger Justin Wehr (recently outed as Justin Landwehr) conducted an interesting survey among his readers to test the wisdom of the crowd theory. In its simplest form, the idea theory suggests that groups of individuals combined opinions are better than a person alone. His results are here. Of the 8 questions asked, none of them had more people right than the rest of the crowd. I've once tested this same theory before in my classes with an informal poll on how much I weigh. The results were similar. This helps explain why Wikipedia is so accurate, why blogging comments are so important, and most of all, why the market's predicting power is so strong. Also, the limits of crowd wisdom show us why voter bias makes democracy a dangerously flawed system.

When Shouting is Better than Voting

A while back I questioned the value of public protesting and suggested handwriting a letter instead. I've also questioned the value of voting, the most traditional way of citizen involvement. I certainly don't think voting is worthless, but I do have a different understanding of why I and others really vote (even for a third party). Not only is the probability of your vote making a difference in national election statistically impossible, voting also has another huge flaw, everybody only gets one. No matter how how passionate/apathetic and educated/uneducated you are, all voices count the same. This is simultaneously democracy's greatest strength and weakness. Luckily, citizens have created other ways to influence government, some better than voting:
"One man one vote" is not always optimal. I reported a few days ago that technocrats can under some conditions take better decisions than a referendum could. The point there was about information and heterogeneity of preferences.

Surajeet Chakravarty and Todd Kaplan use similar arguments to compare simple voting and shouting matches. In the latter, those caring more about the outcome put more effort into shouting. Thus, if there is a lot of variance in opinions, shouting better reflects marginal utility and yields something closer the social optimum.

How is this shouting concretely expressed? It should be a signal that is costly and in some way wasteful. In France, it is demonstrating on the streets. In the United States it is donating to political campaigns. In Thailand it is erecting barricades. Usually seen as major inefficiencies, all these can actually be good.
Greece seems to have their own, less conventional method. This is why I was happy with the Supreme Court case earlier this year that struck down limits to campaign finance. I've done a lot of research on the topic and it seems to be one of the most efficient ways for citizens to show their preferences for government. Criticizing the equality in voting probably makes many very uncomfortable, but that only confirms to me that voting is less about producing an effective government and more about satisfying a citizen's desire for participation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Economics of Whistle-Blowers

There are some things that it seems only government can do, getting people to pay their taxes seems like an obvious one. Once again, the power of the market is surprising:
Informants who turn in tax cheats have to wait years to get their share of any reward from the I.R.S.’s recently expanded whistle-blower program. So hedge funds, private equity groups and other big investors are offering an alternative. They are essentially agreeing to buy a percentage of those future payouts in exchange for a smaller amount upfront to the whistle-blowers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Revisiting Graduation Speeches

Just recently my younger sister Kelsey graduated from Clemson University. Also this year my younger brother Parker will graduate high school and become the fourth Brookie in a row to go Clemson. Although I can hardly describe how proud I am them, I can't help but remember what I said two years ago about graduation. In one sentence it was that your graduation is not only the result of your hard work, but of the work of the last 150 years of society. Harvard graduate David French puts it bluntly:
Congratulations on your important, though modest, achievement. Your graduation is important because it is — for all too many people in this country — considered a necessary prerequisite for full participation in our nation's economic and cultural life. This belief is misguided for a number of reasons -- we significantly over-value economic advancement, stress education over hard work, and often go deeply into student loan debt which will handcuff us for decades. But it is widespread nonetheless. So your graduation is important.

It's also important for other, more virtuous reasons. Many of you — though not all of you — worked hard during college, and I congratulate you for your hard work. Many of you — though not all of you — made financial sacrifices to afford college, and I congratulate you for your thrift and far-sightedness. A few of you — not many — achieved family dreams by being the first to graduate college, and I congratulate you for honoring the legacy of those who sacrificed and struggled before you. Yes, your graduation is important.

But make no mistake. This achievement is modest. Millions of Americans get a degree. Go ahead and pop those champagne corks, but not for your uniqueness or talent, but rather to commemorate a rite of passage, for your lifelong connection with your college community, and for the satisfaction of a task completed.

How should you think of yourselves on this day of important but modest achievement? I'd propose you shouldn't think much about yourself at all. The richest life is not "about us" – it's about others. It's about service — and not just the obvious service of volunteerism or charitable giving. Some of the most unpleasant and self-righteous people I know give away quite a bit of money and ladle out more than their share of soup at the soup kitchen. The best lives are lived by people who count others as better than themselves and place others' needs above their own. Every day. Including this day.

Who are you here with? A father who worked long hours to afford your tuition check? Honor him on this day. A mother who struggled alone to provide for you and teach you how to live as an adult? Honor her on this day. Start a habit of turning "your" days into days to show kindness and respect for others and choose, day by day, moment by moment, to bless others rather than drain their emotional and sometimes financial resources through your own selfish demands.

This is not a call for perfection but instead a request for a mindset — an attitude of proportionate humility that you carry with you every day of your life.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grossest Solution to Feeding the World

There are plenty of doomsayers out there predicting the coming global food crisis. They suggest the next six billion will require huge sacrifices to feed. They seem to forget the fact that the previous explosion of population in the last 150 years coincided more selection and less sacrifice. Difficult prediction aside, there have been many interesting suggestions on what changes will be required, from weekday vegetarianism to cap-and-trade for fishing. But here is perhaps the grossest (and most interesting) solution I've heard, eat bugs:
"They can’t give us pandemics. So the mass production of insects—farm insects—really easy. There’s no cricket flu on par with avian flu or swine flu or E. coli."

And then there’s this: "Look, crickets are not better than beef in every category, just most of them."

Gracer says a bowl of grasshoppers has more vitamins than beef and is lower in fat—and uses far fewer resources to produce. Our disgust for insects is just cultural

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dedication Begets Dedication

Awhile back I warned against exerting too much passion, in fear of burning out. That may have been misleading. Despite popular belief to the contrary, divorce rates among parents of children with Down syndrome are lower than those with children without disabilities. I've discussed how all relationships are a certain portion give and take and a healthy balance is needed. Perhaps the more you give in one relationship, like a disable child, the more you give in other relationships, like your marriage. However, the lower divorce rate does not hold true for the first two years after a pregnancy. So if you can resolve the issues, your marriage is better off for it. This also seems to fit with my own predictions about how resolved conflict can actually increase intimacy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Discrimination Requires Government Intervention

In a previous post I wrestled with how someone who supports a small government should feel about Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination, even by a private company. In a nation of free people, should they be free to be racially discriminatory to their employees or customers? Later I tackled the issue again trying to show that perhaps laws would not be needed, because discrimination is unprofitable. Yesterday loyal reader (and commenter) Aaron Keck (aka Amike), posted an interesting link that was just too good to leave in the comments:
There is no such thing as "private" discrimination with respect to a public accommodation. Like any other claimed property right, it could not exist without government support.

Suppose an African American customer sits down at a "whites only" restaurant and asks for dinner. The owner tells him to leave. The customer refuses and stays put. What are the owner's options at that point? He can forcibly remove the customer himself, but, as Paul concedes, that could expose the restaurateur to criminal or civil liability. So he'll have to call the cops. When they arrive, he'll have to explain his whites-only policy and ask them to remove the unwanted black man because he's violating it. But they can only do that on the basis of some law, presumably trespassing. In other words, the business owner's discriminatory edict is meaningless unless some public authority enforces it.

Conversely, it is precisely because of this nexus between private discrimination and public enforcement that the larger community, through the political and judicial process, acquires a valid interest in legislating against discrimination. The public is entitled to say whether their tax money should pay for arresting black trespassers on whites-only property.
Here's the question I need answered, which set of laws (to allow discrimination or not) will result in the most good for America in the long run? Banning discrimination in the 1960's decreased the amount of discrimination. But did it also leave the door open for the federal government to intervene in other ways?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Makes a Good Improv Team?

Trust. What makes a group trust? Having very trustworthy (talented) group members:
Findings from two studies demonstrate that perceptions of team trust are indeed lower than the average ratings of individual trust and are statistically equivalent to the least trusted member.
You are only as a good as your weakest link, which is perhaps the benefit of a two person team. Speaking of, Paula Pazderka and myself as Pound for Pound, are going head to head in comedy CageMatch this Saturday. Here's how it works:
A new challenger takes on the champion for each CageMatch, performing head-to-head longform improv. Each team gets 22-minutes and the audience decides the winner. The champ comes back to defend the CageMatch title; the loser stays home
If you were ever going to come to a show and vote, this is your chance!

Emptying the Bottle: Late-May '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Remembering Makes You Forget

Right now, think about one of your favorite childhood memories. Did you do it? Chances are your brain just changed what you think happened. In a recent article from the Smithsonian Magazine, the act of trying to remember something actually changes the memory. Each time we recall something from the past, the connections between the neurons in our brain adjust. So the memory you think of the most is probably the most inaccurate. This is frightening when you consider you can't trust your own memory. Imagine the implications this has for witnesses in a criminal trial. However, the silver lining is that those witnesses could actually help themselves get over what they saw by misremembering it. Researchers have even used this "memory reconsolidation" to help patients suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may also help the rest of us live in the present, not in the past. So hurry and comment on this post now before your brain tricks you into thinking you thought something else.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comment on Comments

It's well known that commenting on blogs brings readers to your own site, but there are better reasons to comment. One of the things I most enjoy about blogging is the conservation and accountability. I know that I can take chances with ideas, trusting that if I'm off base my readers will kindly correct me. I intentionally do not pre-moderate any comments in order to keep the discussion in real-time. For my regular commenters thank you. For all you lurkers out there, let me assure you that all bloggers love comments. Whether positive or negative, whether I know you, I don't know or I used to know you, your thoughts are appreciated. I will as honor the conversation by not deleting comments, unless they are unusually obscene, cruel, or spam. In my whole history, I have only deleted one comment, and that was more to protect personal privacy. I will also vow to respond to all comments if called for. Finally, just a friendly reminder, all comments within this blog are the responsibility of the commenter, not the blog author. Look forward to hearing from you, yeah you.

Empowered by Inadequacy

I recently came across this very interesting article on marriage. The main point is in the first sentence:
A sure way to improve your marriage is to admit that you don't know what the hell you're doing when it comes to making an intimate relationship work.
This advice is not only Biblical, as the author describes, it's practical. The whole article is worth reading, especially the part on how men and women both have unique challenges in love relationships.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Economics of Vehicle Safety

With all the news of Toyota's safety concerns, Washington has decided to step in, even to the point of demanding the president of the company appear before Congress. Not surprisingly the meeting looked less like concern for public safety and more like a political circus. The Chicago Tribune recently published a great article on how the federal government's response ignores customer response:
Then there was the reaction from customers, the very people whose lives and safety are at stake every time they get in a car. In the first four months of this year, Toyota's U.S. sales did not fall, as you might expect. They rose by 12 percent.
and previous private sector success:
"automakers have developed many of today's significant safety innovations without a government mandate, including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, adaptive headlights, side airbags and curtains, front passenger safety belt reminder systems and advanced collision avoidance features like lane departure warning, blind spot monitors and adaptive cruise control."

Those improvements are among the reasons that last year, the number of traffic deaths was the lowest since 1954 — even though there are twice as many drivers, traveling four times as many miles, as there were back then.
and possible public sector failure:
What they are inclined to forget is that mandatory vehicle improvements don't come free. Those black boxes, for example, could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece.

New cars have more safety features than older ones, so someone who trades in an old vehicle is likely to increase her life expectancy. Regulations that raise the price of a new car shut some buyers out of the market. So tougher federal rules may have the perverse effect of leading to more traffic fatalities.

If so, don't expect Congress to hold a hearing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Evaluating Our Government's Debt

This year Social Security will pay out more than it collects. This is sign of the rising public debt, mostly from entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, etc). This graphic perfectly explains just how large these expenses will be in 2020. They are especially dangerous because their cost varies with who qualifies, a group that has been growing since the Great Depression. I've discussed the danger of looking at gross debt, instead debt as a percentage of national income. Even though US government debt is not at its highest level ever, it is increasing faster than ever. Like the issue of trade deficit, government debt can be both a good and bad signal. Nations with a debt too large, risk defaulting on loans. However, some nations may have a small debt because they are not seen as reliable sources for investment. The European Union's problems with Greece (and Spain and Portugal), show that those two problems can make national bankruptcy is a real concern. So let's look at how the US government debt compares to the rest of the world.

In a list of national debt as a percentage of GDP, the US ranks somewhere in the middle. In 2008 US debt was 39.7%, but in 2009 it rose to 52.9%. This compared to 108.1% by Greece and 75.2% by Portugal. Surprisingly Japan, the third largest economy in the world, also has the high level of debt at 192.1%. Something that not only worries me, but one of the most successful news magazines the Economist is also worried. Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, India and a whole host of other nations all have higher debt percentages than the United States. Government spending here is a problem, but less than around the world. In a democracy, the buck stops with the voters. Luckily it seems Americans have less patience for taxing our children.

The other good news is that the real solution to government spending is economic growth. Just like regular borrowers, nations pay back loans with income. Because of the hard work of generations of Americans we are ranked second in global competitiveness by the World Economic Forum. It is for this reason I'm more worried about nations like Japan and Greece than I am about the United States. In a globalized world, we may benefit from the hard work of others, but we also pay for the mistakes of other nations. At least we didn't put ourselves on the hook like the highly interconnected European Union did. If anything this shows how dangerous a global government can be. Small nations making small mistakes and then taking the small punishment is better than having a global structure for supporting failing economies. Just like how the bailout of Fannie Mae didn't solve the problem, it seems that by the reaction of Greek citizens to spending cuts,they haven't learned their lesson either.

I'm not very worried about our debt problem. Neither is Nobel Prize Economist Paul Krugman. Our federal debt has only been zero once, and that was only for a short time. My guess is we'll never see that again. It's too politically tempting for politicians to borrow from non-voters, meaning future generations. And there may even be some rationality for current generations to take from future generations. Since we're richer than our parents, our kids will probably be richer than us. Not saying I like the idea, but at least it's progressive, which counts for something. We also shouldn't worry too much about other nations holding our debt. If one day they decide we aren't a good investment, it just means it will be harder for our government to borrow so much, which is okay by me. I'll close by saying that any spending cuts that don't deal with entitlements is only political pandering. Focus on economic growth (and maybe population growth). These the keys to a better, more stable life. And if you're still worried, feel free to donate.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Most Repeated Advice

Over at the Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner asks his readers, "what is the best advice you ever got"? His own response to the question involves a fishing story from his childhood. He caught a small fish, but was forced to throw it back in and they moved to another spot. In the deep water they didn't catch any fish, but he did learn an important lesson:
Even though we returned home empty-handed, we went for the big fish. In the short run, this kind of thinking might not be as much fun. But it’s the long run you should be thinking about — the big goals, the ones that require a lot of failure along the way. They might be worth it (of course, they might not be, too). It’s a lesson in opportunity cost: if you spend all your time catching the little fish, you won’t have time — or develop the technique, or the patience — to ever catch the big ones.
Like many of the commenters I had a hard time coming up with the "best" advice ever. So instead I went with my most often repeated. It's certainly not as life changing, but it sure has helped me navigate otherwise awkward situations:
If someone offers you something and you want it, take it. They either really want you to have it or need to learn to stop offering things they don’t want people to take.
Here are some other interesting answers:
Your brain works very hard to fool you into believing that you are smart, wise, and that you always make good decisions. Your brain is very skilled at this.

So whenever you are trying to make a difficult decision or solve a difficult problem and the evidence points to a conclusion that pleases you, be especially skeptical.
As an educator and an economist, I appreciated this one:
Invest in your mind, no on can take it away from you.
This one gave me quite an emotional response, though I'm not sure if I agree:
Just because someone doesn’t love you the way that you want them to doesn’t mean that they don’t love you with all that they have
I wish more people followed this one:
No use complaining about things you can’t control.
and here's one from the character Dwight Schrute:
Whenever I am about to do something, I stop and ask myself: ‘Would an idiot do this?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ I don’t do it.
Of course I'd love to know what your best or most often repeated advice is.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Social Networking Won't Kill Email

Penelope Trunk recently stated that she believes email is on its last leg. Her three reasons were 1) email is inefficient, 2) email's intimacy is overrated, and 3) internet privacy is a thing of the past. I usually avoid disagreements on the direction of technology, because I'm far from an expert. However on this topic, I can't stay quiet. Although I agree that the one to one communication of email makes group messaging a pain, it seems Google Wave will solve that problem. I also agree that email as a tool of intimacy is limited. It's helpful for keeping in touch trivially, but text is rarely a way to improve communication. I also agree that there is too many complaints about online privacy in social networking. This graphic is helpful in showing how Facebook has consistently changed its privacy settings, much to the chagrin of many users. Though I think these changes will hurt Facebook, they don't hurt me. A long time ago I decided to never post anything online that I don't want everyone to read. I'm willing to give up control of my personal information in exchange for a lot free stuff online, but I guess not everyone is.

As much as I agree with Penelope on the problems with email, I don't think we've seen its killer just yet. Even though I don't post things on my Facebook, my blog, my shared bookmarks, or my photo album that I don't want people to see, that is not true for my email. Email is a helpful tool between talking and social networking. It's faster than a telephone and a letter, but more private than a Facebook wall. This is why I disabled my Facebook wall. Sure it confuses people on my birthday, but if someone has something to say to me, message me. There is no reason to clutter others' feeds. It is for this reason I believe email, or some other type of private messaging service, will always exist. Maybe one day texting and email will be there same thing. Or maybe I'm already behind the times. Perhaps internet users only want to interact if they know people are watching. If so, I may have to go all Andy Rooney on the internet.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Economics of Tall, Dark, and Handsome

As kids we were told to judge people by the way they acted, not by the way they looked. As wonderful as that might sound, it's not reality:
Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical [un]attractiveness are linked to crime.
So why are short, overweight, unattractive people more likely to commit crimes? Possibly because the job market is not very kind:
very inch of additional height is associated with a nearly 2 percent increase in earnings; that employees rated beautiful tended to earn 5 percent more an hour than an average-looking person, while those rated as plain earned 9 percent less; that obesity can cause a drop in white women’s earnings.
So how tall is tall and is it also true for women?
women who are shorter than average and men who are somewhat taller than average, but not among the tallest, enjoy significant wage advantages.
It matters so much that people on dating websites lie about it:
Height matters so much to people that the majority of both men and women who use online dating sites lie about it ( 1 in 1.81 (55%) men, 1 in 1.95 (51%) women).
Apparently, for a good reason:
Taller men tend to be higher achievers. Malcolm Gladwell reported in his book Blink that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies averaged 6 feet tall, more than 2 inches higher than the national average for American men. This same select set of power brokers would rather be bald than short, according to an unscientific USA Today survey. Only two US Presidents have been below average in height.
So is the increased income and success due to just employer bias for the attractive? No. Sadly teacher bias exists as well:
Including personality and grooming, the effect of physical attractiveness turns negative for both groups, but is only statistically significant for males. For male and female students, being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium.
Higher grades, better pay, and yes there is even evidence this can make you less jealous. As I'm sure you've already put together, this has a pretty significant impact on happiness:
The Gallup data suggest it would take a 29% increase in income to have the same effect on men's life satisfaction as moving from below-average to above-average height. Alternatively, each additional inch of height has the same effect on reported life satisfaction as a 4% increase in family income.
It gets even more surprising:
Taller people are happier, at least on average. According to recent data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index study, taller people are more satisfied with their lives than shorter people are; are more likely to report experiencing several positive emotions such as enjoyment and happiness; and are less likely to report experiencing negative emotions such as anger, sadness, stress, and worry. Taller people are also less likely to report experiencing physical pain.
And even more surprising:
Taller people have "better" marital outcomes
These effects are so significant, that my previous post on an efficient height tax seems a little less ridiculous. Especially when you consider why employers and teachers seem to be bias towards the tall and attractive:
Since biologists believe that 80 percent of height is determined by genetics and 20 percent by environmental conditions, height — and sometimes weight — can be an index of childhood nutrition, health care and exposure to disease. Thus smaller stature may be a sign of an impoverished upbringing.
It's well known that the poor and sick tend to do worse in school and in the workplace. It seems the reason for this correlation is partly human preference for the attractive. Mostly however, being tall, dark, and handsome tends correlate with other important factors like upbringing, health, and even marital satisfaction. All of these factors are fairly useful measures of productivity. So even though this is a small factor, it's still a factor. This is why I even though I'm 5' 10 and 1/4", I round up to 5' 11". The fact that I am thin makes for a helpful optical illusion. Also good news, thanks to my supermodel wife, my children will be the ideal height.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Libertarianism: Abortion, Zoos, and Civil Rights

That's Jeffrey Miron, blogger, and the author of Libertarianism, from A to Z.

The World at a Glance

Wikipedia has a table containing a list of national superlatives. Here's highlights from the world:
Here's highlights from the United States:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

500th Post!

From my obligatory 1st post to my 500th post, I've really enjoyed learning and writing. Two years ago I posted a word cloud of my blog text. Then again this time last year. Instead of repeating an old idea, I'd like to do something different. There is a document where I keep all my ideas for future posts. You might remember my wife April Fooled me by deleting it (but saving it elsewhere). The list seems to grow more than it shrinks, hence the name of this blog. So here's the word cloud of what you can expect from the next 500 posts:

One final thing, I'm adding a "Favorite Posts" list to my sidebar. Let me know if you had a favorite I missed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Mid-May '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
To follow live and to see comments, subscribe via Google Reader.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Pill Turns 50

Probably the most important thing to happen to women in human history:
It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick. Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it. It was blamed for unleashing the sexual revolution among suddenly swinging singles, despite the fact that throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to get it. Its supporters hoped it would strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children; its critics still charge that the Pill gave rise to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of the family. In 1999 the Economist named it the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, but Gloria Steinem, one of the era's most influential feminists, calls its impact "overrated." One of the world's largest studies of the Pill — 46,000 women followed for nearly 40 years — was released this March. It found that women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, yet many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits.
I'm curious what the effect of a birth control pill for men will have.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Amoral Reason for Limited Government

I've often wrestled with many of the moral arguments in favor of small government. Though I value the Declaration of Independence as much as the next American, the idea of personal and property rights being given to us by God has never sat right with my understanding of depraved humanity. Just recently I discovered two different types of libertarianism. The first, Deontological libertarianism, is the idea that acts of force are always immoral, whether by man or government. The other, Consequentialist libertarianism, states that liberty leads to the most prosperous outcome and should for that reason alone be supported. Whether it's drugs, foreign aid, or sustainability, I think that the collective decisions of the market will create a better outcome, and for that reason alone I advocate for it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Economics of Immigration Reform

Over two years ago I described how I think immigration has been and will continue to be the backbone of American growth. I attempted to disprove the racial, psychological, and economic arguments against opening immigration. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, here is the data to support relaxing immigration laws:
Modest savings in public expenditures would be more than offset by losses in economic output and job opportunities for more skilled American workers. A policy that reduces the number of low-skilled immigrant workers by 28.6 percent compared to projected levels would reduce U.S. household welfare by about 0.5 percent, or $80 billion.

In contrast, legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households. Legalization would eliminate smugglers' fees and other costs faced by illegal immigrants. It would also allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higherskilled occupations. The positive impact for U.S. households of legalization under an optimal visa tax would be 1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion.
Here's another article suggesting that immigration has increased non-immigrant wages:
For each percentage of the workforce that is foreign-born, he found an almost 0.5 percent bump in average wages. In California, where the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has jumped more than 25 points since 1960, that means an almost 13 percent bonus—roughly $8,000.
To show all sides, here is evidence that there is a negative impact on some, namely unskilled minorities, due to increased immigration. However, these poor workers are also consumers who benefit from immigration. They are also taxpayers, and more immigrants means more young workers. As America ages, that becomes more and more important, especially for the solvency of Social Security.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Will of God

A while back I came across a post entitled: 6 Reasons Pastors Should Blog. Since then I've always desired to have a blogging connection with my church leaders. I can happily report the wait is over. The head pastor of my church, David Bowen, has started a blog. The other leaders of the church have started their own blog as well. In celebration, I'd like to quote a snippet from David's most recent post on how we can know the will of God:
1. MANDATES (Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”).

It is through obeying God in all of his revealed will that we gain confidence that he will direct us in matters of his secret will. In other words, I need to settle first whether I am willing to do his will, before he is likely to reveal it to me (John 7:17). Praying for God to show us what he wants us to do is an obvious first step in discerning his specific will for our lives, but such prayer needs to be sincere, offered in reverence and awe of him (James 1:5-6; Proverbs 3:5-6).

2. MIND (Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” NASB.)

Rather than being incredibly mystical or strange, the way the Lord has chosen to reveal his specific will to us is through the reason and good sense he has given us. Therefore, as we face a big (or small, for that matter) decision, thinking is the second step. We should take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it, listing the PRO’s on one side and the CON’s on the other. It is an excellent idea to write down the reasons we believe God is leading us to take a particular course, because when (not “if”) we experience difficulty, we can go back to those reasons for strength to persevere.

3. MENTORS (Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”

Our minds (or “hearts” as the literal Hebrew rendering speaks of the core of us that makes decisions) can be very deceptive and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). It is for this reason that God has told us repeatedly in his book of wisdom par excellence that seeking advice from other wise people is step number three (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22). Although no one else can make the decision for us on what school to go to, what job to take, where to move, whom to marry, etc., others can definitely advise us as to whether we are undertaking a reckless course or not. We do well to listen to their counsel.

Three steps to knowing the will of God sounds awfully easy. But we all know that deciding which path to take is still hard. But go ahead and decide! As Kevin DeYoung’s excellent recent book puts it, “when it comes to our future, we should take some responsibility, make a decision, and Just Do Something” [which is his title]. God is trustworthy!
As I slowly make my way through Proverbs on my other blog, it's nice to hear such a practical application to it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Worthwhile Sentences on Success

From Alan Reynolds: "Successful people are not docile sheep just waiting to be shorn."

From Dan Pink: "Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse."

From David Brooks: "Every move is a partial failure, to be corrected by the next one."

From the Economic Logician: "But not everyone is a good entrepreneur, and encouraging this too much leads some people to become entrepreneurs while they would have been more productive as employees."

From Tracy Morgan: "I like a strong woman, but weak enough to need me."

From previous worthwhile sentences.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Legalize Drugs: The Story

In a recent post, Legalize Drugs: The Facts, I listed 20 fact based reasons why I believe the legalization of drugs would improve the lives of drug users, street level drug dealers, and everyday citizens. Facts however, are not always as convincing as we might think. Here's some research I've shared before showing that fiction books are more convincing than non-fiction books. Similarly, here is economist Tyler Cowen both praising and warning about the strong impact a convincing story can have. In line with that, here's a good fictional story about the costs and benefits of drug legalization. It's one of the subplots of The Wire, a show about the drug trade in intercity Baltimore:
Over the course of this series, police chief Bunny Colvin establishes three drugs-tolerance "free zones" in derelict areas of Baltimore, and the programme carefully and even-handedly analyses how these would work and what the eventual political, media and public reaction would be.

Quickly nicknamed Hamsterdam – a corruption of Amsterdam, "one of those countries where drugs are legal" – the experiment is successful in clearing drug dealing off residential street corners that had been blighted by the dealing and its attendant violence for years. We see peaceful corners presented like a dream or a fantasy, or a trip to the past, with neighbours hanging up their clothes, the radio trilling softly, kids rushing past to play games.
In the show, due to the isolation of the drug trade, there is a 14% drop in violent crime. That is until Major Colvin's superiors find out and raid the zones. The Wire does not present this as the solution to all the problems of the drug trade:
The free zones themselves, while largely violence-free, are shown encouraging addiction and promoting disease and prostitution. (Colvin eventually invites public-health charity workers and harm-reduction experts into Hamsterdam to deal with these problems – an impressively undramatic, realistic touch.) Young children formerly employed by dealers as look-outs are laid off, leaving them idle and in poverty. The viewer is also invited to sympathise with the one person who lives in the derelict area, an elderly woman who tells Colvin: "You say you've got a programme that can place me somewhere else, but you ain't got a programme for what's outside my door." The writers are not afraid to point out flaws in the plan.
To get a complete feel for the implementation and reaction to the free zones, here are some graphic but descriptive summary clips from The Wire, Season 3:

This is a fictional representation of what might happen, but I believe the real life results would be similar. I'll leave you with some a summary of the drug problem from The Corner, the nonfiction book in which The Wire is based on:
It criminalises swaths of society, fills prisons with non-violent offenders, facilitates the creation and enrichment of violent gangs, forces those who use drugs to use adulterated, dangerous products, brings the law into disrepute, and costs vast amounts of money that could be put to better uses.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Emptying the Bottle: Early-May '10 Links

Here is a list of the worthwhile sites I've Bookmarked recently:
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