Sunday, April 30, 2006

April in Review: Red Sox Retreat to Fenway

The Red Sox are in full retreat after a gawdawful road trip. They went 3-6, lost every series, and now face the Terror of Taipei and Murderer's Row version 6.3 at home for (mercifully) two games. No-luck Timmy Wakefield has four losses in five starts, four of them quality starts. Coco Crisp is two weeks away, at least, and the Sox bench is so thin that I actually was wishing that Josh Bard would pinch-hit for one of our all-glove, no-bat middle infielders.

The biggest surprise of the month is Mike Lowell, who leads the team in batting (excepting Coco) at .318, and in doubles with 11. Wily Mo Pena is second to Ortiz in slugging, and has 18 K's in just 47 AB's. Bronson Arroyo is 4-0 with a 2.34 ERA, 7 BB, 30 K over five starts. Compare to Curt Schilling: 4-1, 2.88, 7, 40 over six starts. Note to Theo: you can never have too much pitching.

Something in Boston baseball lore needs to be corrected: Babe Ruth did not ditch the Red Sox for the Yankees. The owner sold him. Management, not the players, held back Boston for 86 years, with backwards and racist policies and lousy decision. This year's real Bad Guy is not Johnny Damon, but Theo, who traded a good pitcher who had just signed a hometown-discount deal because he loved pitching for the Sox. In Theo we still trust, but that's the kind of sleeze that builds up ill will with players and bad karma with the baseball gods.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Closed Doors

In the last two days, I found out two things that I will not be doing in the coming year: interning for USAID in Africa and living as a Graduate Head Resident in an undergrad dorm. A bit disappointing, but now I can at least start to plan my next year with greater certainty.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Robbing Peter to Pay Zebedee

The Republican Congress is planning to give $100 to every family as a bribe gas rebate. Naturally, the next generation or two is not complaining that this will be added to the debt we have to pay off to finance our parents' and grandparents' consumption habits.

This program is so senseless that I'm at a loss for words. So I need my readers to step up and fill in the blank:

"This program is the economic equivalent of ________________________________"

Leave your suggestions in the comments. If there are more than one, I'll pick the best.

The full story is at NYTimes and MarketWatch. Both report that this is tied to ANWR drilling and sundry spending. In that case, it will hopefully die as a 3rd-rate publicity stunt. The best way for the government to deal with the gas shortage would be to decrease its own spending; that would ease demand for gas, and generally stabilize the country economically. For anyone more interested, we just studied Aiyagari et al's paper on the effects of government spending; available here from NBER.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

UBL: Boring, Negative, and "Different"

Osama Bin Laden is too hot for Khartoum. And Ramallah. And Beijing. And Canberra.

The CS Monitor reports (warning! meta-meta-journalism alert!) on news stories from all over, in the wake of Bin Laden's taped message globalizing the Jihad.

Hamas says Bin Laden has "different opinions". An Aussie journalist calls Bin Laden and his ilk "boring" (and notes that sometimes "different" means "the same"). Sudan says Bin Laden is a terrorist - not that there's anything wrong with that. China's UN ambassador capped the insulting day of news for Osama by characterizing him as "always, always negative".

The serious news here is that even other militant Islamists find Osama an unwelcome fellow-traveler. The U.S. has made it sufficiently clear that harboring al-Qaeda can lead to very bad consequences, and the Bush Doctrine is forcing even those who openly hate America to publically eschew an endorsement from the big O. And this is, I think, more than English-language PR. Seeing the influx of unaccountable Saudis into Iraq, other Arab countries would rather be left to fight their own battles against the infidel their own way. Another angle is that Hamas and Sudan's regime each have a lot to lose by further destabilizing their respective situations, and it's hard for even them to believe that al-Qaeda's insinuation would do anything but.


The Bush administration and FOX News have come out of the closet and tacitly admitted their illicit relationship. More specifically, former FOX News anchor Tony Snow was appointed White House Press Secretary today (WaPo).
When asked if it would be difficult for [Snow] to transition from reporting the news to presenting the administration's spin on events, Snow demurred. "There's really a lot of continuity here," he said, "You could say that working at FOX was a seven-year audition for being the President's spokesman, or you could say that being the President's spokesman is just an extension of FOX's goals by other means. In fact, my paychecks will still come from the same place."

Bush agreed: "I can't count the number of times when Scotty was in the doghouse, and I had Tony break an important press release for us. Sometimes I'd give him a call to ask how we could possibly spin the latest disaster as good news. He's the mind behind the whole New-Orleans-as-the-Augean-Stables spin that got us out of hot water - no pun intended - after Katrina."
If you're wondering what the Augean Stables are, then you might not realize that this was a not entirely honest reporting of the press conference transcript.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

First-Person Shooter

This is one way to beat the last level of (insert name of favorite first-person shooter game here). Hat tip to Drudge.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Too Rich to Waste

I don't think Robert Kaplan's WaPo editorial is all that enlightening, but this turn of phrase made my day:

...dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who has turned Belarus into the political equivalent of a Brezhnev-era theme park...
Thank you, Mr. Kaplan.

Chops and Hillary

I agree with Hillary. Hillary Clinton. Yes, you heard me right: New York's junior senator has staked out a position on an important issue that is, in my opionion, completely correct. And with my speculation that immigration may be an important issue in 2008, her newly elaborated position may help her win the sensible center.

Michael Goodwin of the NY Daily News reports (hat tip to Drudge):
A fence or a wall? She's for it.

A two-step process, where our borders are secured before the 11 million illegal immigrants already here begin to get legalized? She's for that, too.

The sudden crackdown by Washington on employers who hire illegal immigrants? She welcomes it...

"A country that cannot control its borders is failing at one of its fundamental obligations," she said of America's "broken system." She also said that "we do need an earned path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants here.
We need a balanced approach to this issue. It's clearly an issue, not something politically invented, and the solutions should be obvious. Building a fence is not xenophobic, it's sensible. Letting hard-working immigrants who love America enough to risk coming here illegally gain citizenship is not bleeding-heart, it's sensible. Forcing employers to obey the laws is not draconian, it's sensible.

For a host of other reasons, I do not want to have another President Clinton. But on this issue, at least, she's identified the correct solution to a serious problem.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I Can't Even See the Screen Anymore

Spending twenty-four hours over the space of twenty-four hours working in the computer lab (ok, I watched that painful Red Sox game on the little Gameday thingy while I worked) is probably not something to brag or blog about. I think that makes me 1 part hero, 10 parts geek, and 10e + 200 parts loser.

My other idea for yesterday was to drive up to Toronto and see the Red Sox. Nah... not when there's a computer lab waiting to be worked in! I'm going to go home and have breakfast.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

00 + 04 = 08?

Two WaPo writers today champion a pair of Democratic has-beens for the 2008 nomination: Gore and Kerry. It's not as if the Democratic Party is looking for a new look or anything. Nah, why don't we go with what worked the last two times?

In Chris Cillizza's defense, he'll post a con on Kerry running again next week. Richard Cohen has no such reservations.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Cheruiyots of Fire

Congratulations to Robert Cheruiyot on winning and setting a new record for the Boston Marathon. I wish I was outdoors watching today, instead of indoors coding! And congrats to the Americans, who gave us the best U.S. representation ever, coming in 3-4-5.

Hamas Casts the Die

After a month or two of playing their cards close, Hamas has crossed the Rubicon: they defended a civilian-targeted suicide bombing in Israel proper as part of the right to self-defense. That's about as uncompromising a statement as they can possibly make. Source is Drudge, who also reports that Israel is going to give Hamas something to defend itself against, rolling eighty vehicles toward Nablus for reprisals.


So I successfully made an *excellent* French-style soup yesterday: boiled down carrots, potatoes, celery, zucchini, and onions, pureed them, thickened with flour, smoothed with butter, and spiced with salt, pepper, paprika, and hot sauce.

Of course, that pales in comparison to what I actually ate yesterday: Arricka and her friends at R.I.T. put on a giant Easter dinner: four lamb roasts, three hams, vats of rosemary and garlic mashed potatoes, corn drowned in butter, homemade pie and cake, and my contribution: enormous Italian loaves from the Rochester Public Market. Tonight we're having an after-party to finish off the last lamb roast (two entire hams also survived; they went home with somebody else).

In other news...
Is it too early to christen the Red Sox the 100th anniversary "Hitless Wonders" (stats)? In five of eight wins they've scored four runs or fewer, including four one-run wins. Or are they just the Washington Nationals of 2006, ready to collapse whenever their luck runs out? And was there a better time for Nixon to miss: we faced four straight lefties over the weekend! He'll be back in action this morning against a righty.

And best of luck to all the Marathoners stretching out and eating carbs in Hopkinton right now!

Friday, April 14, 2006

OK, Soup

So I rebelled agains the system and had soup last night. At midnight. From a can. Plus some canned spinach and leftover fettucine with red sauce. So in a mission to expand my culinary "arts", here's a few recipes I plan to try sometime soon (mostly, I'm posting this so I can keep the links somewhere):
  • Chowdah. I'm from New England, I should know how to make this. And I think clams are gummy unless expertly cooked, so I'll stick to cod chowdah.
  • Hummus. Making this at home is a lot cheaper than buying it, and it's a good thing to bring to appetizer parties to show off my Lebanese heritage.
  • Shake 'n' Bake chicken. Just cuz I have a hand-me-down package of Shake 'n' Bake from Mistie's roommate. And this shows you just how artistic my culinary arts presently are.
  • Ditto with pot roast-in-a-bag or whatever it's called.
  • Lasagna. Looks too difficult! My fridge won't fit all those ingredients.
OK, that's probably enough for this year. I'm feeling overwhelmed already.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

No Soup for You

Am I ever going to go home on time? With the advent of working at the department instead of pretending to work at home, I have foregone decent food. By decent, I mean noodles with sauce and a canned vegetable. I've been home for dinner once this week. Tonight I might cook out of desperation, despite the fact that dinner won't be ready until midnight.

On the upside, I got my Investment-Specific Technological Change write-up for Wikipedia done. (Yes, we write Wikipedia articles for homework). If it's good enough, you'll see it up there in a few weeks. And you'll see my Business Cycle write-up there next week or so whether the prof thinks it's good enough or not. Don't tell Adora, but after she posts the Chosen Write-up (probably her own; she's good) on Wikipedia, I'm going to deviously replace it with my own.

Lucky 13

In honor of today's date, the first three MLB games today ended with a winning score of 13. Hopefully the Sox will imitate that trend tonight.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Free-For-All 2008: The Immigration Card

Immigration has not been an issue in national elections for a long time. However, unlike many issues that nonetheless have impacted national elections, immigration is a truly national-level issue. The number and social impact of immigrants has often upset the grandchildren of previous immigrants; that's nothing new. What is new is the illegal status of so many immigrants today, a fact that flaunts the government's ineffectiveness. If only as a matter of pride, the Federal government owes it to its Board of Directors - the American people - to establish order in immigration.

There are a few camps on the immigration issue: Tom Tancredo leads the nativists, who basically believe that immigrants are bad for the U.S., and probably bad people, too. He won't win the presidency, but he's planning to run as a gadfly. This is a bi-partisan issue, and the fact that he's a Republican has to make Democrats sleep sounder. While Tancredo is raising havoc in Republican primary circles, the Democrats can rise above it by talking about issues they prefer.

A less bilous but equally uncompromising group are labor protectionists, who want to keep the American economy in "American" hands. As an economist, I think they're tilting at windmills, but there's potentially a lot of votes here, especially on the right. I can't identify any candidates who are publically staking this position, but if it plays well in 2006, look for someone to pick up the banner of protectionism in 2008.

President Bush has taken the high road on immigration. I think his guest-worker idea is misguided, but it's better than just building fences. This stance is one of the reasons centrists like McCain have been more comfortable identifying with the president. Bush's fluency in this issue highlights the advantage that southern-border candidates will have in this election, in credibility if not expertise. Look for Richardson, McCain, Jeb Bush and Reid (if he runs) to try and remind voters that they know how to deal with this.

The other extreme is the inclusivists (for lack of a better name); liberals who are wary of any security program and see no reason to limit immigration. Hillary seems to be on the record here, and Feinstein and other liberals can be expected to take this side. However, there aren't many new votes for them to gain by making it an issue.

Ultimately, we don't have a good gauge yet of how immigration will affect 2006, let alone 2008. For now, we have to wait and see, and hope nobody does anything too extreme.

In other news, John McCain has gotten serious and gotten good advice: he's campaigning in Iowa, and aligning himself with solid Republicans in an effort to make a serious primary run.

The monthly prediction reflects Rice's continued insistance that she will not run for president. If you want to run, it's good to deflect, bad to deny.

Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice.
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice.
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney.

This month's Chatter Rankings are the most volatile so far. Some is just a function of the news: Romney's health care bill and Frist's immigration bill. But we're also seeing a general increase in chatter. Candidates are hiring consultants, making visits, and getting into the public eye. Three candidates who didn't make the list last month just jumped on, and there are more in the wings who might join them.

*** NEW!!! Check out graphs of the Chatter Rankings since May 2005 ***

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 2,2800
R.2 Sen. Bill Frist 1,960+2
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 1,700+3
R.4 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 598-3
R.5 Sen. George Allen 573+2
R.6 Rep. Tom Tancredo 433+7 (new)
R.7 Sen. Chuck Hagel 432+1
R.8 Rudy Giuliani 400-3
R.9 Sen. Sam Brownback 352+1
R.10 Gov. Jeb Bush 267+1
R.11 Newt Gingrich 261+1
R.12 Gov. George Pataki 233-9
R.13 Gov. Mike Huckabee 180-4
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 1,7400
D.2 Sen. Russ Feingold 1,360+7
D.3 Sen. John Kerry 989-1
D.4 Sen. Harry Reid 781+6
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 483+6
D.6 Gov. Bill Richardson 466+2
D.7 Al Gore 362-3
D.8 Sen. Barack Obama 356+5
D.9 Gov. Mark Warner 344-4
D.10 Wesley Clark 301+4 (new)
D.11 Howard Dean 274-8
D.12 Sen. John Edwards 264-5
D.13 Tom Daschle 175+2 (new)
D.14 Gov. Tom Vilsack 169-2
D.15 Sen. Evan Bayh 85-9

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month's tested-but-not-qualifying list is Rep. John Murtha, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Haley Barbour and moonbat Daniel Imperato. Tom Tancredo, Wesley Clark and Tom Daschle were tested-but-not-qualifying last month. Some of the folks on the list almost surely won't run for president (Reid, Jeb Bush) and are there just in case, or as an indication of VP popularity.

See the Chatter Rankings from March, February, December, August, July, June, and May.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bad Call

The Bush Administration is straining credulity in their War on (Domestic) Terror. In an appearance before the House Judiciary Administration, Attorney General Gonzalez "suggested that the administration could decide it was legal to listen in on a domestic call without supervision if it were related to al-Qaeda", according to the Washington Post. (Hat tip to Dead Parrots).
Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry. He also testified at the time that the Justice Department had not fully analyzed the legal issues of such a move.
There is a fundamental problem here. If (a) domestic wiretapping is not important to the administration, this should not come up. But clearly they would like to do it. And (b) they've had four and a half years to have their lawyers look into this! If they are telling the truth, they are lazy. And if they've been energetic about anything, it's the War on Terror. So that leaves us with the possibility that they are lying, and they've decided to play their legal cards close to the vest, which is understandable.

Why should the administration desire to eavesdrop on citizens, given the likely public-opinion fallout? As I said in my research piece on the international wiretapping, this could be out of a desire to use massive automated electronic filters. But if this is the case, they need to change the law - not circumvent it.

At first appearance, there were a number of plausible explanations for the wiretapping programs. However, the administration has been ruling out those explanations most favorable to them, and is forcing us to conclude that they have no desire to conduct policy in a straightforward way and are essentially kleptocratic. I wish somebody inside the White House understood how bad this is for them and for the country.

Mitt on Mitt

Mitt Romney trumpets Massachusetts' health care plan in Opinion Journal today. Anything that can bring together Massachusetts Democrats, the Heritage Foundation, and MIT's Economics Department has gotta be good.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Comment on Casey's Mighty Blog

If I write a 2-page comment on somebody else's blog, I'm darn well going to post it here! First skim Casey's angry rant about conservatives ranting about liberals in academia. You don't have to read the 65 comments preceding this one.

Casey - Congratulations on engendering an excellent debate! There are many worthwhile opinions expressed here in the "much-ignored comments section", and only one of the many participants is shamelessly evangelizing.

Having read the sixty-five comments preceding this one, may I take the liberty of summarizing what I have read?

Your original point, I believe, was that it is bad that conservatives in government are trying to influence liberals in academia. You began inauspiciously by lowering yourself to David Horowitz's level and calling him a "nut-job". The vivacity of this debate gainsays your attack.

Commenters have addressed:
  • The actual conditions in academia.
  • The condition of students entering and leaving mainstream institutions.
  • The sources of the academic disparity.
  • The dominance of conservatives in other fields.
  • The importance of this debate (do Ph.D.'s matter? do students' politics matter?).
  • The fairness of professors.
  • The effect of the echo chamber.
My bona fides: graduated from a liberal Massachusetts university; then worked in a liberal federal agency; presently a Ph.D. student in economics in a multi-polar department.

QUESTION: How important is this? To me, this debate needs to start with #5 - is this important? Better, which aspects are important? In some fields, it is clearly important: political science, economics. In some, it is unimportant: nursing, physics. I think it is instructive that in the fields where politics is most important, the greatest political differences emerge. That is, while conservatives are less inclined to enter academia in general, they are especially unrepresented where their presence would be most beneficial.

Why are faculty politics important in social science disciplines? First of all for balance. Students should be taught not only multiple sides to an issue (which many professors strive to do despite their own bias) but also multiple worldviews. Growing up in Massachusetts, I've found that conservatives tend to be more articulate, nuanced, and worldly than liberals - because they have their views constantly questioned. I'm sure the opposite is true in Kansas. Thus, if I were a university president seeking to offer my students - liberal and conservative - the best education in political science, economics, etc, I would hire a balanced faculty. Also, academics play an important role in pushing new ideas into politics, lower education, and other areas of American life.

CONCLUSION: This is important to the quality of education, but not vital to society in general.

QUESTION: Whence arises the disparity?

One of the most important contributions to this debate was Chris (April 9th, 10:40 am) on the barriers to advancement. I think it is safe to say that the disparity, drastic as it is, is not a conspiracy.

Another theory is that this is entirely self-selection: conservatives prefer business, liberals prefer academia. This is true to an extent, but I think (without evidence) that it is insuffient to explain the drastic differences in some disciplines. Also, conservatives may opt for fields that fit their worldview, such as economics. But in econ, the ratio is still 3-to-1, and my department, which is considered quite conservative in the field, may be something like 2-to-1 among American professors (a minority).

Neither of these explanations seem adequate to me. Instead, I think most of the difference comes during the educating process. Very few disciplines see an active role for politics; rather, students pick up the biases and worldviews of their professors. Likewise, young professors will tend to fit into their surroundings, similar to Supreme Court Justices, who often drift to the left because of peer pressure despite their unequaled job security.

But even this, combined with the other two explanations, doesn't give me a sense for how political science could end up with an 81-2 ratio. PoliSci students should be the most confirmed in their views and the least conformable. Their departments should be most attuned to lopsidedness. Their corresponding industry is split almost 50-50; this is not true for anthropology, sociology, etc. So why is PoliSci so ridiculously one-sided?? Theories?

CONCLUSION: The academic environment tends to conform people to its existing liberal angle, but this isn't enough to explain PoliSci departments.

QUESTION: Are academics fair to conservatives in their midst? Somebody above said that if liberals were unfair to conservatives, we would see examples of conservatives being drummed out of departments. But note that the disparity already exists; the remaining conservatives are quiet, tough, or uncontroversial enough to stick around. We should instead look to see when in history the disparity arose, and whether examples existed back then.

There are still instances of faculty being drummed out of positions of influence for supporting conservative politics. Larry Summers is an important example: he was the first moderate conservative in decades to occupy perhaps the most prominent position in academia, and he was brought down by a concerted, organized, liberal faculty movement after suggesting that academics should research a question that is politically incorrect. That's censorship, something no conservative political body has yet imposed.

In the classroom, most professors make a studied effort to be openminded. Former Governor Mike Dukakis was one of my professors; now he's assisting a former student to run for office in Massachusetts as a Republican. Many other profs went out of their way to treat conservatives as intellectually capable people. Marshall will no doubt see this as evidence of an insidious conservative conspiracy, but to me it is eminently equanimious.

CONCLUSION: Academics are generally fair, but sometimes not.

QUESTION: Are there fields in which we see conservatives overwhelmingly overrepresented?

My candidates would be business, religious clergy, government, and the military, two of which have been mentioned above. Business is the best analogue: it is a wide field that requires a good deal of education. I don't have statistics, but my experience is that while conservatives may have an edge here, it is not to the tune of the 70 or 80% that would mark this as a good mirror. Does anyone have data here? In addition, businesspeople are evaluated on their profit-making, not their ideas, and there's competition rather than cooperation between businesses (unlike universities), so each business is much more independent.

Religious clergy in some denominations will show similar numbers to the extreme academic fields; but other denominations will show an equally liberal bias. So if you're wondering whether the Southern Baptist church you go to is preaching the gospel or conservatism, you can always go to the American Baptist church down the street for the liberal take.

In government, all the appointee-level managers are Republicans. But in 1999, they were all Democrats. So this field flip-flops with the president. In addition, a sizable majority of career government workers are Democrats, including managers.

The military is probably the most politically uniform institution in this country. There's self-selection, peer pressure, and echo chamber effects all over the place, and this is probably a more important issue than liberalism in academia, since a single-party military is a dangerous thing.

CONCLUSION: Conservatives have their bastions, but nothing that functions as an equal-and-opposite alternative. The military is a conservative bastion.

QUESTION: What is an appropriate response to the issue?

I think it should be handled by schools. They already go out of their way to diversify undergraduate populations geographically and to diversify the faculty across areas of expertise. Many schools also have preferential hiring for various politically correct minorities. A similar attempt should be made by PoliSci, Econ, Soc, etc, departments to recruit professors who can bring a different political perspective to their work. An unwillingness to do this voluntarily shows them to be truly partisan, but should not (and will not) be addressed by government.

In state schools, there is always a blurry line between politics and school administration (the UMass president had to step down because he wouldn't cooperate with an investigation of his brother, who is Mass's most famous mob boss!). I would say that any effort to diversify political views should be undertaken in the same measure as attempts to diversify the faculty by gender, race, or sexual preference.

CONCLUSION: Universities should take the initiative to better themselves by diversifying as appropriate.

That's all I will say for now. Like a good academic, I have attempted to draw on the previous work in formulating my own contribution. This is an interesting conversation, and I'm interested to see if anyone has answers or data to address my questions.

The United Nothing

One of my Rwandese friends angrily referred to the UN as the "United Nothing" when we talked about the world's response to the 1994 genocide. In yesterday's Opinion Journal, Paul Rusesabagina, newly an author and of Hotel Rwanda fame, sounds off on the same note:
When modern genocide has loomed, the United Nations has shown more concern for not offending the sovereignty of one of its member nations, even as monstrosities take place within its borders. Yet "national sovereignty" is often a euphemism for the pride of dictators. Darfur is just such a case. The world cannot afford this kind of appeasement any longer.

The real lesson here is that the United Nations is in need of not only reform but also a basic rethinking of its peacekeeping philosophy. World governments must agree that the extinction of a race is a crime worth stopping at any cost, and back up this sentiment with action. And the U.N. Security Council must create a tool that it has lacked for far too long--a small multinational "rapid response" force which can quickly airlift tanks, jeeps, helicopters and troops to spots where the evidence of genocide is overwhelming.

History offers us another lesson about genocides: The apologies, recriminations and resolutions of Never Again usually begin after the genocide is safely finished and it becomes safe once more to mourn the lack of action. That should not happen this time. The proposed extinction of an entire race should now be considered an override clause to the rule of national sovereignty. Rwanda is over and everybody mourns it comfortably. We ought not to wait until Darfur is over to start saying Never Again yet again.
Indeed! But would a UN-headed force really stop the "dickering"? Impossible: the Permanent Five would have to agree to deploy any such force, and that's no easy task. In Yugoslavia, Russia would have blocked it. In Sudan, China and Russia might. In Rwanda, possibly France. The evidence is worse than Rusesabagina alleges: not only does the UN as a whole fail to react, but usually some of its powerful members are opposed to action.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Closing Time?

Has Tito finally lost his patience with Keith Foulke? Or is Foulkie feeling off tonight? I'm not in the loop, but I was shocked to see Jonathan Papelbon instead of Foulke come on to close out a 2-1 nailbiter in Texas and give Josh Beckett - who pitched through some tough situations - his first Boston win. Papelbon was dazzling: 2 K, 1 popup. I, for one, won't complain.

First in Healthcare

Massachusetts adds yet another first to its littany of leadership: near-universal health care. Rather than socializing medicine, the plan uses a comprehensible system of economic incentives to insure almost all its citizens in a competitive market. I don't know enough about health care to pick this apart, but the Globe has the story:
The cost of the bill will rise from an estimated $316 million in the first year to more than a $1 billion in the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending. About $125 million in new money will come from the state's general fund during each of the three years.

The measure does not call for new taxes, but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay an $295 annual fee per employee.

Individuals deemed able but unwilling to purchase health care could face fines of more than $1,000 a year by the state if they don't get insurance.

The state's poorest are the biggest winners. Single adults making $9,500 or less a year will have access to health coverage with no premiums or deductibles.

Those living at up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $48,000 for a family of three, are also big winners. Under the bill, they will be able to get health coverage on a sliding scale also with no deductibles.

The vast majority of Massachusetts residents who are already insured could see a modest easing of their premiums.
For those of you who study economics with me, this is precisely what we learned today in Micro: government intervention in a signaling model. Effectively, the types of buyers are their wealth and the signal is the insurance premium (work with me here!). The single-crossing property arises (assuming a common utility function) from the fact that the wealthier an individual is, the further from the origin the purchase of insurance is occuring. For low-wealth individuals, the tradeoff in terms of utility is high; for high-wealth individuals, the tradeoff is low.

The government addresses the welfare loss in the separating equilibrium by imposing fines and rules that shift the effective wealth of the high types down. That is, they have the same ability to pay, but their utility if they don't pay is lower. This shifts their indifference curve down. Meanwhile, the low types receive a subsidy that shifts their indifference curve up. The new equilibrium results in a lower premium than the first, and involvement by all. (It can be understood that for some, the government actually pays the premium).

Of course, there's another way to look at the problem. If the government intervention changes behavior, the result may be bad. Since the high types are penalized only if they don't pay a premium, they will be more willing to pay. Thus, H' is flatter than H (think of these indifference curves as aggregations to understand the intuition). The low types, since they will receive utility for no premium, are less willing to pay a premium, so L' is steeper than L. Here, a new signalling equilibrim arises, with both groups happier than before and the high types paying a lower premium. The benefit comes not only from the subsidy but also from the fine schedule.

And of course, there's an argument to be made that paying a premium cannot be viewed as signaling. If we instead look at this as two separate markets with traditional supply and demand curves, the potential fine effectively increases demand and increases price, quantity and producer surplus. Separately, the government provides insurance to others at some cost to society.

In all three scenarios, the health-care providers and the low-wealth types win. In the first two cases, the high-wealth types are better off as well. In the third case, the consumers avoid a threatened loss (grey shaded), but that can't truly be called surplus. For some consumers, that area will exceed their surplus, and can be thought of as a negative surplus. The pink area is surplus that is transferred from consumers to producers as a result of regulation driving up prices.

In case you were wondering, this has nothing to do with my homework; it was just a fun waste of time.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Annual Red Sox Predictathon

In keeping with tradition (2005, 2003) I'll predict some seemingly meaningless Red Sox statistics and ask you to do the same...

Wait a sec... 2005, 2003, what's missing here? Uh, never mind. No predictions this year.

The Fond Expectancy of Springtime

A poem of April 3rd:

AL East .......... NL East
Baltimore Orioles 0 - 0 Atlanta Braves 0 - 0
Boston Red Sox 0 - 0 Florida Marlins 0 - 0
New York Yankees 0 - 0 New York Mets 0 - 0
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 0 - 0 Philadelphia Phillies 0 - 0
Toronto Blue Jays 0 - 0 Washington Nationals 0 - 0

AL Central

NL Central
Chicago White Sox 1 - 0 Chicago Cubs 0 - 0
Detroit Tigers 0 - 0 Cincinnati Reds 0 - 0
Kansas City Royals 0 - 0 Houston Astros 0 - 0
Minnesota Twins 0 - 0 Milwaukee Brewers 0 - 0
Cleveland Indians 0 - 1 Pittsburgh Pirates 0 - 0
St. Louis Cardinals 0 - 0

AL West

NL West
Los Angeles Angels 0 - 0 Arizona Diamondbacks 0 - 0
Oakland Athletics 0 - 0 Colorado Rockies 0 - 0
Seattle Mariners 0 - 0 Los Angeles Dodgers 0 - 0
Texas Rangers 0 - 0 San Diego Padres 0 - 0
.......... San Francisco Giants 0 - 0

Time and timelessness. Speed and grace. Failure and loss. Imperishable hope.*