Thursday, June 30, 2005

Environmental Economics

There is a new Environmental Economics blog that has several contributers. The posts so far seem to favor government regulation more than solutions based on private markets and property rights. They do, however, link to some property and market friendly sites on their blogroll.

I think a few environment questions need to be asked: Can we increase the efficiency of big car rentals so that consumers will buy the smallest car they need rather than the largest car that they need? Why are we focusing global efforts on controlling the least harmful greenhouse gas (CO2) and not starting with global markets to control the more harmful GHG's and pollutants? Should we have a consensus on why the ice age ended before we believe that there is a consensus about human caused global warming?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

New and Improved

The new Freedom Tower redesign is out. I love the tower geometry, but could do without the "Luxor" night-light. But rather than one tower I want a "hydra" plan. They knocked down two towers, so four towers would grow back in their place. The new towers would be of ascending height.

2005 Q1 GDP

The BEA reports that real GDP increased at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2005. After a 3.1% advance and 3.5% preliminary we have now arrived at the same final growth number as the previous quarter.

This revision means that the national debt burden has dropped from 64.6 to 64.2% of GDP since last month.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Guantanamo Psychology

Reason's Hit & Run discusses a New York Times article on how we are using military psychologists to help in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.
The former interrogators said the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information.
Some question whether this is unethical. I think this is the most humane action we can take.

We treat prisoners the way we do precisely because we care about the life and liberty of potential victims of terrorism. The greedy strategy principle to 'first do no harm' and not attempt to collect information to prevent terrorism is the most inhumane action we could take. It would be nice if we had the capability to precision target information from detainees mentally without causing physical discomfort but we don't have that capability. We must use the same tactics uses by all regimes throughout history, creating a large difference in the 'payoff' for the prisoner to get them to voluntarily choose to reveal the information that we want. By precision exploition of their fears and cultural taboos we can make prisioners willing to provide information by causing discomfort and not by torture. Exploting discomfort, especially cultural discomfort, to obtain information from prisoners in order to protect victims is the strategy that will lead to the least inhumane outcome.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Grokster vs SCOTUS

I think the deciding issue with Grokster is that while sharing programs are capable of it, there has been less than substantial non-infringing use of the programs. There has been substantial use of publishing programs like the web and BitTorrent to publish original content. The only actual non-infringing content published by sharing programs is stuff copied from the web and the spyware that frequently gets included in free downloads. I hope the loss of Grokster will reduce the demand for legislation that may actually harm publishing programs and threaten BetaMax.

There may not have been much economic damage from sharing. Payola and independent promoters show that the market price for disposable music is frequently negative. I think the biggest problem is that with most online music prices being fixed at zero by sharing there has been much less innovation in micro-payment then there should have been. Music publishing should be the driving innovation for micro-payment both to labels and to individual publishers. Instead, sharing programs have been driving innovation for their paying customers: spammers and spyware publishers. The customer is always right. It is best that the customer be the consumer.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Social Security Indexing

The economists and politicians mostly support raising the retirement age because Social Security is relatively better as social insurance than it is as an investment. Most people don't support raising the retirement age because they don't want to be told when to retire, which is why the retirement age should be abolished. The retirement age should be replaced with a more flexible age/benefits curve. For better investment, private accounts should be like Phillip Longman's early retirement accounts where contributions raise the age to collect benefits rather than reducing benefit levels. Pozen style progressive indexing could apply to both retirement age and benefit levels to achieve solvency. We could keep a reasonable retirement age for low earning non account participants while reducing government spending on high earners and account participants who don't need government benefits while preserving the old age insurance aspect of Social Security.

Workers should work until their benefits are enough to live on, or until they have enough savings in private and other accounts to last until their benefit levels increase to sufficient levels for continued retirement. Not all retirees are the same, so why should everyone have the same retirement age?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Eternal Life

The New York Times editors come out against private property. Their editorial calls the ruling
a setback to the "property rights" movement
with the scare quotes theirs. The Times has completely marginalized private property to a "movement" and not an unalienable right endowed by our Creator.

The Times then notes that the city of New London is shrinking. This is the real story. This is not about property, it is about government's rights. Rather than contract the government must use the power of eminent domain to bring business to the city to preserve the size of city government. There is no exit for government. This is the same reason that failing schools must be preserved rather than exiting allowing students to move on to better schools, and why Social Security must be preserved in its current form. Government must not contract. The court has ruled that government's rights come before God-given rights.

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Dancing With the Stars

For the fourth week the stars will dance sambas and then a group Viennese Waltz.

Joey's posture is improving, he is selling his upper body movements better, but is still a little sloppy.

Rachel and her partner are far apart and side by side too much and do not do enough dancing together. Rachel is not as good by herself, they should spend more time in and dance holds and pair stunts where she looks the best. She needs her partner to make her look good. They also need better music. I agree with Carrie Ann for once.

John looks great in the first half when he is dancing with his partner. The second half is weaker with with too much wiggling side by side. His leg kick at the end is glaringly much lower than hers.

What a difference a little ballet makes. Kelly looks like the best of the group dancing by herself. She survives nine straight spins and a wardrobe malfunction. Her posture and arm motion looks much better with the ballet work.

Unfortunately, they do not use Viennese music for the group waltz. Joey's waltz jumps and Kelly's lift spin were the best spotlight dancing. Kelly was the most noticeable outside of the spotlight on first viewing, but the camera and dress color may have helped. On replay, John looks solid and Joey was not on camera enough to verify the judges' scud comment.

Rachel is out. Though she was not the worst of the group, I have the least interest in seeing how much she would improve. I think Joey needs the ballet class this week.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Everything But Income Is Converging

Brad DeLong has found, but does not link to, an interesting World Bank paper from Charles Kenny.
Why Are We Worried About Income? Nearly Everything that Matters is Converging.

Convergence of national GDP/capita numbers is a common, but narrow, measure of global success or failure in development. This paper takes a broader range of quality of life variables covering health, education, rights and infrastructure and examines if they are converging across countries. It finds that these measures are converging as a rule and (where we have data) that they have been converging for some time. The paper turns to a discussion of what might be driving convergence in quality of life even as incomes diverge, and what this might mean for the donor community.

I helpfully added a link to the abstract in his comments. The link to the full paper from the abstract costs money. I had first found this paper from Arnold Kling linking to Ronald Bailey in Reason, which has a free link to the full paper. I originally noted this paragraph:
Looking over time, a number of studies find a tenuous link between various health measures, for example, and growing income. Preston (1975) estimates that income could only account for perhaps 10-25% of the growth in life expectancy in the world as a whole between the 1930s and the 1960s. Looking at a wider range of measures, Easterly (1999) found that almost all of the quality of life variables that he could find (including infant mortality, life expectancy and war deaths per capita) were not correlated with the rate of growth in that country over the last 40 years, but instead with improvements over time common to all countries.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Symphonic Disrecord

The Globalization Institute notes how symphonic recording activity in North America has nearly ceased because the musicians' unions have priced American symphony orchestras out of the recording market.

When Esa-Pekka Salonen composes an original composition to be performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the grand opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the recording is performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Helsinki, we have a a big problem.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dancing With the Stars

I have to let my inner Simon out for this reality show.

Evander has been flat footed the whole competition. His partner sure does make herself look good, which is not a compliment to him. Deserved to go.

Rachel finally looks like she is doing more ballroom than ballet. Best performance of the night.

John does the basic steps well and is the most useful one to watch if you want to pick up anything.

Joey's footwork is still way ahead of his posture.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Iraq's Army

There has been a lot made over the lack of progress in the training of the Iraqi army. It is going to take a long time to train the Iraqi forces to the level needed to win against terrorists without our help. The performance of Russian special forces at Beslan could also be described as inadequate. Iraqis are going to need to be even better trained than those of the former super-power. However, war opponents need to realize that this makes the case for the Iraq war even stronger.

Al-Qaeda had been concentrating full-time on training and recruiting for over a decade before 9/11. The Baath resistance has been training for over a generation. We have only just begun training the volunteer military of new democracic Iraq. Al-Qaeda and the Baathists have a huge head start on Iraqi recruits. Not removing Saddam would only have made this problem worse by giving the enemy an even bigger head start. We are going to be bogged down in Iraq longer than expected because the war did not start soon enough.

Guantanamo Bay

It seems certain human rights organizations only look at violations, and not at the advancement of human rights. They would rate our human rights record better if instead of detaining and interrogating terrorists we were supporting them. Terrorists at large murder, kidnap, torture, and abuse innocent Muslims and non-Muslims wherever they operate. The terrorists are the biggest human rights abusers, and those who support them and those who do nothing in the war against them are abusing human rights by not confronting terrorism. To have a better human rights record than us, a country would have to achieve as much or more to control terrorists while committing fewer abuses in the process. Those who say they can do human rights better should not be telling us to shut it down, they should be offering to run the place.

There is one alternative to Guantanamo Bay that is worth consideration. Turning it into a Hong-Kong style Guantanamo Bay Freeport.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

?NC Chairman

Howard Dean's mouth keeps moving.
Republicans "all behave the same, and they all look the same. ... It's pretty much a white Christian party."
Republicans "never made an honest living in their lives,"
"You know, the Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people. They're a pretty monolithic party. Pretty much, they all behave the same, and they all look the same. ... It's pretty much a white Christian party,"
"Republicans don't represent ordinary Americans, and they don't have any understanding of what it is to go out and try and make ends meet.''
"Republicans always divide people."
It looks like the democrats have chosen Howard Dean as their ideal choice for the head of the Republican National Committee.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Day Without...

With Bill Moyers claiming that anyone who pays taxes on dividends, capital gains, and inheritance are "idle rich" and Howard Dean claiming that "a lot of [Republicans] have never made an honest living in their lives", do you think we could live a day without them?

The best way to specifically target the money of the "idle rich" is to sell bonds. Struggling families, hard workers, and entrepreneurs are not going to put their money in government bonds when they have greater needs for their money. The people who buy bonds are the people who need their money the least, otherwise they would use their money for a greater need. Deficits are the best way for government to raise money from "old money" without taking it away from the "new money" that drives economic growth.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Neuroeconomics of Trust

The Economist reports on how sniffing a spray containing a hormone called oxytocin increases a person's level of trust in others in a trust game.
Of the investors who were sprayed with oxytocin, 45% invested the maximum of 12 units, while only 21% of those who received the control spray did so. On average, the oxytocin-sprayed group transferred 17% more money to their trustees than the controls.

But the sum returned did not depend on whether there was oxytocin in the spray a trustee had sniffed--as it might have been expected to if oxytocin promoted generally sociable behaviour, rather than trust specifically.

Lynne Kiesling has more analysis.

Anyone see a resemblance between this and the latest Alias plot line dealing with water and mind control?