Thursday, August 29, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Five thoughts on Government reading over your shoulder right now

PPS.  I’m just kidding folks.  Honest people have nothing to fear.  Senator Feinstein assures us that it will only be used against terrorists, and also people that someday might become a terrorist:  
... She said on Thursday that the authorities need this information in case someone might become a terrorist in the future.
And since I don't ever plan on becoming a terrorist, I figure I have nothing to fear. Yes, I do publish one post after another calling for the IRS to be abolished, but I'm confident that IRS agents have too much professionalism to single me out for special treatment.
2. I also claim that a must-read is my own article, The Constitution of Surveillance, written nine years ago. [DW - Quite good]
3. I hope people are putting the NSA program in context with the Boston Marathon bombing. Here you go to all this effort to use Big Data to find terrorists, and when you are handed hard, actionable intelligence from the Russians you muff it.
4. I bet you will not find politicians putting the NSA program in context with Chinese cyber-spying, and explaining why ours is good and their is bad. I don’t think politicians are capable of doing the hair-splitting, so I think what they are left with is “What we do is good because we are good, and what they do is bad because they are bad.”
Fournier then runs through how the various Obama scandals show:
Government is intrusive … Orwellian … incompetent … corrupt … complicated … heartless … secretive … [and] can’t be trusted.
And that’s when the good guys are running the show!
Wallace (hat tip: The .Plan):
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? 
...Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious? I recognize my own biases are showing pretty heavily here. On the other hand, The Economist publishes this that is tempering my thinking:
3. And now the key question: is it okay for Google to use knowledge it gains from searching your e-mails to sell advertising to Williams Sonoma, but not to pass it on to the government when it asks for matches between pressure cookers and beheading videos?
 We need to think coherently about what we find scary here. The problem isn't so much that we haven't set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from the government; it's that we haven't set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from anyone at all. If we don't have laws and regulations that create meaningful zones of online privacy from corporations, the attempt to create online privacy from the government will be an absurdity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Economist: a menace?

The Economist this week posted a study from Evolv, showing certain correlations between unusual worker choices and their talent. Among other factoids, it was argued that workers who had switched from their default browser (Internet Explorer or Safari) to another (Firefox or Chrome) were more likely to stay with the company and perform well - 15% more in fact. The browser is assumed to be a pure signal of initiative, rather than actually raising employee performance.

So far so good. However, the article concludes by encouraging all wannabe workers to change their browsers. This may be a good thing for some, but the advice will also definitely make some people worse off and will probably make society as a whole worse off. Let's take a look at who and how.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Amnesty and the Median Voter

As I prepare to introduce my ECO 303 students to the Median Voter Theorem today, I've been thinking about Republicans' worries that allowing more migration from Mexico or amnesty or Puerto Rico into the US will increase the number of Democrats. More of them, fewer of us, we lose elections. The Median Voter Theorem tells me that that isn't the real point to worry about.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Fact checking Common Core: Fair and Balanced

A friend pointed out an article on the Obama administration's current set of Common Core (CC) standards in education. The article, by Burke of the Heritage Foundation appearing on Fox News, casts the standards in a fully distopian light, closing with the beautiful zinger:

But if states stay on the Common Core bandwagon, say goodbye to “1984,” “Animal Farm” and “Brave New World.” No need for kids to be reading those books, anyway. They’ll be living them.

Burke's primary concern is that for most of students' learning experiences, fully half of what they read is supposed to come from so-called "informational texts," which she typifies with the following list:

The Federal Reserve Bank’s “FedViews,” “The Evolution of the Grocery Bag,” and “Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas.” And, roll over “For Whom the Bell Tolls” it’s time to make way for that GSA classic: “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”
Notably missing from the CC are many of the greatest authors of all time:

Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, J.D. Salinger, Washington Irving, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Sinclair Lewis – all achieved that complex goal. And all are absent from the Common Core list

From her article, I was quite sympathetic to her concluding line. It turns out, however, there is an important element she missed from reading the standards themselves and their intents, and I was relieved to see that these nuggets are not representative of the writing students are expected to have mastered. (However, I was much less reassured by the CC explanation that teachers were to be free to use whatever methods they wanted, as long as Big Brother gets to control the messages.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lit in Review: Climate Change and Investment in Vietnam

Dang, Anh Duc (2012) "Cooperation makes beliefs: Weather variation and sources of social trust in Vietnam" ANU Working Papers in Economics and Econometrics #596.

Dang - a PhD candidate at ANU - begins with Durante's (2009) finding that large weather variation in medieval times led to more collective action in Europe and hence to more social trust. Applying a similar methodology to Vietnam's 1927-1995 regional rainfall variation (both monthly and maximal), Dang shows that regions that had higher weather variability also have higher social trust. Social trust is measured by surveys asking if respondents feel they can trust their community and if there is someone outside their household to whom they could turn for help in hard times. Oddly, while recognizing that migrants are part of an interesting dynamic with social trust, Dang excludes them completely, focusing only on households where at least one adult has lived in that community their entire life. I also find it odd that he is worried about unobserved non-geographic factors that would determine both rainfall and social trust among people who haven't migrated.

Among the implications of this work is that climate change is likely to impact individual adaptive behavior through changing levels of trust and social cooperation. This will tend to mitigate some of its negative effects on individuals.

Chinowsky, Paul, Amy Schweikert, Niko Strzepek, and Kenneth Strzepek (2012) "Road Infrastructure and Climate Change in Vietnam," UNU-WIDER Working Paper 2012/80.

They consider the tradeoff between expanding road access to more areas today and upgrading and maintaining existing roads to prepare for and respond to climate change. Even while assuming sea levels rise by one meter, they show that the large majority of cases involve costs in the lower end of the distribution. Despite that, it is cheaper in terms of foregone roads to adapt to future climate change than to await its eventual impact and rebuild roads once the uncertainty is resolved. In the minimum impact scenario, Vietnam would be no worse off for making adaptive investments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Changes in monetary tectonics

At home:
Ball: "or the first time, the Fed clearly says it will be more dovish in the future than the pre-crisis Taylor Rule dicates [sic]."

O'Brian:  The Fed still thinks it’s first rate hike will come in 2015-ish, and it’s still buying $85 billion of bonds a month. This is a true fact. But it undersells the intellectual shift at the Fed. It’s gone from mostly thinking about inflation to creating a framework to guide its thinking about inflation and unemployment. And it’s done that in just a year.

Today’s statement provides important additional clarification of the conditions under which it will be appropriate to begin raising short-term interest rates, relative to the FOMC’s statements in September and October. Such clarification is particularly likely to help stimulate the economy when, as in this case, it indicates that the conditions required for policy tightening will not be reached as early as some might have expected on the basis of past Fed behavior.
The explicit thresholds mentioned today are not ones that will be reached as soon as a federal funds rate above 25 basis points would be dictated by a reaction function estimated on the basis of the FOMC’s pre-crisis decisions, and in that respect the announcement should change the forecasts of future Fed policy of at least some market participants.
Yglesias: This is huge. With today’s policy announcement, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee has stopped screwing around and started doing real expectations-based monetary easing.

In England:
Carney [up and coming BoE head]: If yet further stimulus were required, the policy framework itself would likely have to be changed. For example, adopting a nominal GDP level target could in many respects be more powerful than employing thresholds under flexible inflation targeting.