09 August 2011


Best I can diagnose it, my laptop is having some virtual memory problems, so it has become imperative to keep as few tabs open as possible. This means it's time for another load of links.

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Ace of Spades | The Progressive Crisis

You can ask your average person: Do you wish people would exercise more? Take more of an interest in their health? Stop eating too much? Stop smoking? Stop drinking so much? Stop gambling away their kids' college funds?

Of course the answer is "yes" to all of these (for most respondents).

But again that's just the sales pitch, not the actual offer.

Give them the actual offer and most will say No. Because the actual offer is:

Do you wish to empower a cadre of busybody bureaucrats, who frankly are largely mediocrities at best, but believe themselves to be chosen for greatness, to boss you around your whole life, in order to make sure some other people aren't eating french fries and having a cigarette?
I said earlier that asking poll questions with only what Ace calls the "sales pitch" and not the actual offer is unethical, and I stand by that. It is useless -- and dangerous -- to ask people questions about a fantasy world in which there are no trade-offs.

Via Professor Mondo, who has more commentary on this worth reading.

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Julian Sanchez | Insuring Birth Control

With limited exceptions—I get that birth control can also be a treatment for certain medical conditions—it seems like birth control is just a predictable cost, not a risk to insure against. It’s like food: You might want to subsidize it for the badly off, but you don’t buy “food insurance,” because there’s nothing to “insure.” You just know you’re going to need food, and so everyone who isn’t poor just buys their own; there’s no good reason to pool the expense. [...]

If we think it’s of public value to make sure that low income folks have access to contraception when they want it, great, I get that. But it seems like the solution is to just publicly provide it—whether directly or through some sort of voucher. Achieving that goal through the private insurance system just seems bizarre. If, on the other hand, the goal is just to give a free goodie to people who can very well afford it at the expense of those who don’t want or need it… well, that’s just not a particularly worthy goal, is it?
This birth control ruling is astoundingly stupid in my eyes, and frankly, more than a little insulting. It's insulting because, as Sanchez points out earlier in this piece, it's not even a case of giving away free goodies. Even Mrs SB7, who does not customarily think about markets, recognized in two seconds flat that this meant we'd just end up paying for birth control through our premiums rather than out of co-pays. It is, in her words, like buying someone a gift and paying for it with their own credit card.

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Ricochet | Matt Frost | Getting Everything Wrong in as Many Ways as Possible

It's uniformity of thought and preference that hollows out institutions, as Michael J. Mauboussin explains in this passage from More than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places (cited at the Macroresilience weblog):
"Here's my main point: markets can still be rational when investors are individually irrational. Sufficient investor diversity is the essential feature in efficient price formation. Provided the decision rules of investors are diverse — even if they are suboptimal — errors tend to cancel out and markets arrive at appropriate prices. Similarly, if these decision rules lose diversity, markets become fragile and susceptible to inefficiency. So the issue is not whether individuals are irrational (they are) but whether they are irrational in the same way at the same time." (Google Books)
I don't mean to propose a squishy relativism here: everyone's not right about everything. Rather, if you assume that everyone's going to be wrong sometimes, it's best they not all be wrong in the same way.
Amen. Is there anyone doing quantitative analysis of public policy who uses Cohen's kappa statistic to measure diversity of approaches? I've read some very good studies in the ML literature about ensemble robustness using kappa.

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I won't even both quoting this one, as it's all worth reading. The title is perhaps misleading though. Something like "100 Ways Obama is As Bad or Worse Than Bush" might be more accurate since some of the items on this list have no precedent in the Bush administration, except perhaps in spirit. "100 Reasons People Who Didn't Like Bush Shouldn't Like Obama" would be another option.

I am tempted to convert this into small pamphlets to tuck under the wipers of cars which have both Obama and anti-Bush stickers on them though.

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Speaking of Obama and Bush, Sonic Charmer made two good points this week:

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JamulBlog linked to the honest-to-god new logo for the Smithsonian's new "Department of Innovation" project.

If you don't see the fail, then you must not have played with enough k'nex as a kid.

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Growth Matters | Clement Wan | Made in China? Apparently not so much...?

From Paul Kedrosky:
Thus, on average, of every dollar spent on an item labeled “Made in China,” 55 cents go for services produced in the United States. In other words, the U.S. content of “Made in China” is about 55%.
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The Sports Economist | Victor Matheson | USA, the Crash Davis of the World

Just a quick comment to note that when President Obama says the the U.S. has always been and always will be a Triple-A country, that means a completely different thing to us sports economists than to the finance guys.
Ha! Love that post title.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the meta-fail that inevitably will result from the existence of a government department devoted to innovation!