The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gringos' Fault

A loyal Marginal Revolution reader asks for discussion of:
Latin American politics. Why do our politicians suck.

Assuming that they do suck -- most of my own information on this point comes from the novels of Mario Vargas Llosa -- the obvious suspect is a culture of unaccountability. In particular, governmental failures of almost any sort can be blamed on American imperialism, which for Latin America is actually a closer and more real memory than the vague "colonial oppression" constructed by Arab societies.

Notice that defining policies in opposition to America is not equivalent to offloading accountability. For example, social welfare policies practiced in (e.g.) France are presented as a conscious alternative to "ruthless Anglo-Saxon capitalism"; but this is an attempt by their architects to claim responsibility for success, not to disclaim failure.

Another relevant point is that, due to the generally more hostile topography of Central and South America, even a nation which looks quite small on the map might be divided into isolated regions. This in turn makes regionalism an attractive strategy for politicians, despite its overall negative effects. In short, many governments are insufficiently federalized for the effective size of their countries.

[Tyler Cowen answers here.]


Tyler Cowen has opened up Marginal Revolution to requests, and then has decided to satisfy the first fifty -- perhaps, to him, this seems moderate. Mr. Cowen also says:
It would be fun if some other blogger picked up the same topics (though I won't do them in order), if so let us know in the comments.
Well, my bogging pace is rather slower than Mr. Cowen's, but I will give this a try. I will address the topics after Mr. Cowen, but not necessarily in the same order.

Monday, February 26, 2007


I was struck by Kevin Drum's tendentiousness here:
Over at, Mickey Kaus and my boss are talking about whether it should be easier to fire bad teachers. Naturally this turns into an argument about union busting (Mickey's all for it) vs. figuring out a way to work with unions on this (Paul's position).
Note that Mr. Kaus's fairly centrist position is described as "union busting", while Mr. Glastris's doctrinaire adherence to the union line is presented as an honest quest for solutions.


Megan McArdle goes badly wrong in attempting to reconcile cultural relativism with her opposition to some forms of barbarity:
That is not to say that these cultural traist should be allowed to continue; I think [female genital mutilation] should be stamped out, because people shouldn't be able to make those kinds of permanent decisions for their children.
[Emphasis mine.] This completely begs the question of what "those kinds" of decisions are. Orthodontic braces, for example, are a permanent decision which I presume does not require stamping out.

This is not about choice, but about a culture of subjugation supported by barbaric cruelty. Miss McArdle has clumsily tried to bury this point, but it cannot be avoided.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Relative Value

Poor Value: paying 99 cents (79p in the UK) for the Meat Puppets' hilarious "Foreign Lawns", whose duration is 38 seconds.

Good Value: listening to the 30-second excerpt provided for free on iTunes or on Last fm.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Related to the previous post, some thoughts on discrimination and free riding at Chequer-Board.

Expectations Redux

I re-examined another set of old posts, in the light of this interesting tidbit from David Balan:
4. Bryan Caplan suggests that statistical discrimination is at least mitigated, and possibly eliminated, by the fact that high-attribute individuals in groups with low average attributes have an incentive to "counter-signal" by taking some action to show that they are in fact high attribute. It is true that the possibility of counter-signalling will mitigate the harm from statistical discrimination, but I don't see how it can ever make it go away.
For example, the ill effects of prevalent low-level racism could conceivably be mitigated by a positive consequence, namely that individual blacks might have additional incentives to accomplish something excellent and thereby distinguish themselves from the (statistically undesirable) run of the mill.

Two years ago I wrote:

... people are not so easily fooled. One of the highest hurdles for a black man or woman to overcome, when entering the workplace, is the widely held suspicion that perhaps he has been the beneficiary of placement beyond his qualifications. This prejudice is going to be even harder to eradicate than the racism of fifty years ago, because it has an ineluctable truth behind it -- and even if that cause is removed, the suspicion will taint every potential past beneficiary for a generation. The government lacks the power to make people ignore this -- it is swimming upstream, and the current does not slacken.

Such is the lasting legacy of affirmative action.

I think these words are directly relevant to Mr. Balan's point; the presence of affirmative action programs defeats the productive counter-signalling for which Mr. Caplan hopes. In fact, attempts at such signalling are actively undermined, and the signals of accomplishment will be least respected by exactly those -- namely, employers engaged in statistical discrimination -- whose approbation is most needed.

Significance Redux

Kevin Drum, who should know enough about statistics to know better, has again trotted out the old canard about Democratic Presidents being better for the economy:
As longtime readers know, Democratic administrations routinely deliver better economic performance than Republican administrations. Among other things, they deliver lower inflation, lower unemployment, higher economic growth, better stock market growth, and higher median wage growth. This performance is remarkably robust and consistent...

I thought I had put this thing to bed in 2005:
Several posts lately, notably from Kevin Drum, have purported to show that the American economy prospers more under Democratic Presidents. This conclusion is based on about 50 data points, so we should not expect much significance, but it has been eagerly reported. [...] if Democratic partisans want to use data like these to show that Democratic presidents are somehow better for the economy, they must explain how it is that a Democratic president in the US can help the French and Swedish economies (at least) even more than our own.

Can someone with actual readers please help me slap this thing down?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chain of Decision

Regarding the recent fuss surrounding Amanda Marcotte, there is one thing to add. Someone -- not John Edwards -- made the decision to employ Miss Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. That decision has now forced Mr. Edwards to pick sides between Chris Bowers and Bill Donohue, and for no possible gain.

Someone -- possibly Mr. Edwards -- finessed the difficulty as well as possible, easing Ms. Marcotte out without actually firing her. It won't work perfectly, and it may not work at all; it depends on whether Mr. Bowers decides to swallow his pride and accept a defeat (perhaps following Matt Stoller's example and declaring victory), and on whether Mr. Donohue and those whom he represents decide to pursue Miss McEwan as well.

Whoever hired these bloggers in the first place made an obvious and expensive mistake. I expect to see another "resignation" from the Edwards campaign in about a week; not, this time, a blogger.

Update 15 February: the "someone" above turns out to be named Matt Gross. [HT: Q&O.]

What He Said

Dean Esmay says it succinctly:
I've been saying for years now that I'll compromise with the Global Warming crowd if they'll get over their insane fear of nuclear power (and the dread demonic nuclear waste).
Here is the long version.


In the context of Giuliani's presidential campaign, Ross Douthat discusses what it means to be a "front-runner":
Obviously, it's a bit peculiar to suggest that the person who's leading in the polls isn't, by definition, the person most likely to win - but in a case where two-thirds of GOP voters still don't know where Rudy stands on abortion, and where McCain is still the betting favorite by a substantial margin, I think it's a reasonable suggestion.
Mr. Douthat is too kind. John Podhoretz has characterized Mr. Giuliani as the "front-runner" because of his lead over John McCain in early polls, though he admits they "may be meaningless". But why not, instead of speculating about this uselessness, follow Mr. Douthat's example and look at the market data?

This answers the question. The polling data are available to the market makers, who nevertheless maintain Mr. McCain as the clear favorite. Unlike pundits, the traders have an incentive to be right. Calling Mr. Giuliani the front-runner is simply willful ignorance of obvious data.