13 September 2011

Some Charts

I've got a major piece of work due in about six weeks, so I think blogging will continue to be light around here. Besides that, I have a big stack of new books from the library,* and those are a lot more interesting to me right now then rehashing internet squabbles about whether social security is or is not Ponzi-like (it is), how we have reacted in the ten years since 9/11 (poorly), how the GOP candidates looked at their most recent "debate" (goofy), or Obama's latest bloviation event ("a jobs plan that was only designed to produce one job — a second term for Barack Obama").

(* Including The Magician King, Just My Type, several volumes of Kurt Busiek's Conan series,** The Secret Knowledge, How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer and one other volume I should be writing about shortly.

** Hey, I'm a guy who needs his pulp entertainments too.  Also, this series has some decently scholarly essays in the backmatter, complete with excerpts from Conan creator Robert E Howard's correspondences. That's not something you see in sword-and-sorcery comics.
Instead I'm goign to try and post some link digests, and maybe some short snippets and such that strike me, and leave more lengthy commentary until such a time as it strikes me, which will probably be November.  Unless, of course, I change my mind.)

So here's a few of charts I'll pass along with minimal comment.  The first two are from Mark Perry.

"Consumption Has Recovered, We've Got a Sub-Par Recovery Because of Weak Investment Spending"

"A Tariff-Reduction Plan for American Jobs"

This one I've seen posted in a lot of places.  I'll just pick Jeffrey Ellis to link to.  It shows the use that the Patriot Act's "sneak and peak" warrants, which were supposedly going to protect us from nefarious terrorists, have actually been put to use on.

Finally, Coyote Blog has a good chart on the bubble in student loans:

We can not continue to pretend that a degree in chemical engineering is as productive an investment as one in poetry.  I don't think anyone really thinks they are equivalent, but we continue to order our affairs as if they were.  Is there a word for the condition of a society knowing something is false but collectively agreeing to pretend otherwise?

Addendum: I should be clear that by "productive investment" I mean that the average chemical engineer will have an easier time repaying a student loan than will the average poetry major.  I am not claiming that one is inherently more valuable than the other.  (That is something I believe, but not something which is relevant to this discussion nor that I am interested in defending right now.)

I do not think anyone would disagree with the notion that the CHEG will be better situated to repay the investment in his education than will the poet.  There is a reason we have no stereotype of a "starving chemist." And yet loans can not be priced to reflect this knowledge.  This disruption of the price signal is a destruction of information, and I believe is caused by people conflating changing a measurement (the price, which they can do) with changing reality (the repayment rates, which they can not do).

I think this whole issue is wrapped up in another bottom elephant of mine, which is the distinction between higher education as consumption and higher education as investment.  People are simultaneously told to take on debt as if all courses of study were equally good, and valuable investments, but then incentivized choose their courses to maximize their personal consumption.

And just like that, my commitment to not doing any longer commentary went out the window.


  1. "Is there a word for the condition of a society knowing something is false but collectively agreeing to pretend otherwise?"

    If there is, a poet would know it sooner than a chemical engineer.