Saturday, March 28, 2009

My job here is done

I've posted everyday for a month now. Whew!

I've enjoyed blogging more again. But I'm off on a trip on the Orange River tomorrow and won't be posting till Friday.

I hope you'll muddle along alright without me.

because I enjoy blogging about it

one more post.

Of course there are other ways of sending the same or similar signals as books. But the fact is that it does work as a signal. Much of Trevor's most recent post explains why books will persist as a signal. People will simply deny that they use it as a signal! And most of the time they'll mean it!

Trevor's last post on the subject was titled "the smell of paper". I've already read a few articles arguing against e-readers and marvelling at how wonderful books make a room look. We come up with different reasons for why we like books.

Trevor endorses the idea of what we're reading being used as a signal when he suggests that the e-reader could display what's being read, but that's exactly what I think would destroy the signal. How do we explain why we have this expensive feature on our reading device? Denying that we're signaling (as Trevor does with his History of Western Philosophy) is a much more credible way of denying that we're trying to signal to people.

Signalling has been around for a long time as an explanation for a lot of our behaviour yet most people are not aware of the explanation. I don't see any reason why this would suddenly happen with books.

But like I said, they people with the specific attachment to books rather than reading will die. And our reading habits will become more rational.

Friday, March 27, 2009

did I just destroy my status?

Oops. I admit in my last post that I only buy books, or enjoy getting them as presents because of the status I get from telling people what I'm reading and displaying them in my flat. Trevor says
By default doesn't that signal change as soon as you are aware of it?

People use books as a signal for how smart they are. A smart person without bias uses an ebook because it is more efficient. The signal of people with lots of books then becomes one of someone who likes signals but not reading?
I hope so, and I think it will happen, but probably only when all the people obsessed with books in particular are dead.

But even if we agree on this I'm skeptical about books losing their signaling power any time soon.

Knowing that we signal for status doesn't prevent us from doing it. People still try to signal fertility by looking good. It still works even though we know people get plastic surgery and have clever ways to hide flaws. Doctors are still high status even though there's little evidence that they do much to help and plenty of evidence that they don't much care that they don't.

It matters more that the signal be hard to fake. It's easy to buy pretentious books, but harder to talk knowingly about them. So the signal is for people who either know about, or care in some way about similar books. We need ways to hang out with people like us without seeming too much like assholes about it.

Often the only thing that counts is that people know what we're reading. We read Harry Potter in public because other people know about it and are likely to be able to chat about it. Road to Serfdom is better on a learned bookshelf.

It's like Trevor's university filter. If we know that people mostly go to Harvard for the signal and to be with the right kinda people, won't people just learn online? It's so much cheaper and more efficient!

The point is not that unbiased smart people will not use e-book's, just that they don't perform some social functions that we to perform sometime anyway.

I'd also predict that people with secure reputations for deepness and learning will be quicker to adopt. Tyler Cowens rather than academic careerists.

Personally I'm fine with telling people that I like having books for signalling. Just so long as people appreciate how profound and self effacing I'm being when I do it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I posted a comment on Trevor's blog about 2 minutes ago. I was impressed by how insightful it was so I thought I'd link to it. Then I considered reprinting the whole thing here
We use books to construct our identities but mostly as a signaling device to increase our status.

Kindle gives gadget status, but not so much culture status. the very fact that books take up lots of space is a big reason why people like them. it shoves your smartness and sophistication into visitors faces.

you can't just keep talking about books you have on your kindle, you'd sound liek a pretentious ass.

For an enjoyable few seconds I contemplated my choices while skimming posts in my Google Reader when I came across this
I've been following your Kindle posts for a while now and something that struck me is the signalling effects of reading a book versus a reading using a Kindle - yes I read Robin Hanson's blog too!

Reading with a Kindle, the signal is relatively constant and, at the moment, is something like "I'm an early technology adopter and I like to read". As the Kindle gets more commonplace the efficacy of this signal will, I think, diminish. Compare this with the signalling effects of reading a traditional book, where you signal to people not only that you like to read, but crucially what you are reading.

I wonder if Kindle advocates are underestimating how important it is for people to show those around them not just that they like to read, but also what they like to read?
That's a loyal Marginal Revolution reader.

I swear! I wrote my comment before I read that!

Oh and look how smart I am.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the amazing thing about morality is...

  1. the incredible convergence across different cultures. All societies have prohibitions on rape, theft and murder etc.
  2. the incredible diversity of moral norms. An incredible range of cruelty is acceptable in different societies. Societies have slavery, genital mutilation and execute gays etc.
Depending on the conversation, each can sound deeply wise (though I think more people think 1. than 2.). Jonathan Haidt goes for no. 1 and Jesse Prinz goes for no. 2. Haidt is famous but Prinz is very cool.

I think no. 2 is far more telling. But isn't it weird that super duper profs are equally taken by entirely contradictory positions?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

this doesn't happen often

but consecutive weekends of good soccer results! Man U lose 2-0 to Fulham with Scholes and Rooney sent off. Nice.

United are 6-1 in their last two matches. Arsenal and Liverpool winning too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

sport and games

I've read quite a bit about happiness, and while the concept is slippery enough that people can find ways to gripe about anything you have to say on the subject, it's pretty safe to say that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi idea of "flow" is onto something. People are most satisfied with the way things are going when the following things are happening

1. Clear goals and expectations about the task at hand.
2. Direct and immediate feedback.
3. A high degree of concentration.
4. Loss of self-consciousness.
5. Altered perception of time.
6. Challenge proportionate to your skill level.
7. Feeling of control over the situation.
8. Activity is intrinsically rewarding.

It's easy to see why we want to experience flow and also why we don't experience it often enough. Real life doesn't always offer 1, 2 and 6, life is usually to open ended and complicated. And without those it's hard to just conjure altered perception of time and stuff.

Just looking at this list I think it's easy to see the value of a good boss. Bosses usually have some control over 1, 2 and 6.

But what really jumped out at me is that with the exception of 8, this is exactly the point of sport and games. The goals are clear, you can't avoid instant feedback on your performance and you most of the time you end up at more or less the right skill level.

So long as the rules are not to stupid, or lots of people care about playing it, you're well on the way to flow. That goes for sport, board games and computer games.

Stupid blogger draft function

I did move it this time though...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Robin and Tyler

Got post something everyday right? Here's Robin and Tyler on bloggingheads.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Peter Singer

Bear with me here, I've had a couple of beers.

Some people who know me think I'm overly in awe of the talented people I know or know of.

The Bayesian in me tells me to update my opinion to be less in awe, and I do, a little.

My awe though is part of my broader capitalistic ideology. Many people freak out over inequality, they present the fact that the richest earn hundreds of times more than the poorest as though it were self evidently ridiculous and appalling. I believe some people are fantastically productive. I think it's plausible that some people are well over 100 times more productive than me.

Applying that to academics, top academics have been studying and working for 80 hours a week for over 20 years, and they are way smarter than me to begin with. These people know a lot.

Peter Singer is one of those people. He's devoted his life to trying to do the right thing. He's most famous for his animal rights advocacy but he's also written books trying to get people to help end world poverty. And yet when Tyler Cowen asked him why immigration isn't even in the index of his latest book, Peter Singer admitted that he hadn't ever really considered it as a way of helping the poor. This didn't stop him from making up some bullshit reasons why it's not such a great idea. My point is not so much that he's wrong about the specific reasons he suggested, just that he seemed to know less than what is contained in the comments to any Marginal Revolution immigration post.

I confess I was shocked.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

visitor map

Check out the last gadget on the right of my blog (scroll down). That's pretty cool right?

I took the other sitemeters down because I didn't know how to interpret them, but with this one it is at least plausible that each red dot represents a sentient reader given that there are only about 20 of them and I can "see" Tracy, Trevor and myself (and probably Greg). Obviously most of them are just passing through etc. But I still think its cool. Hello Latvia and Trinidad and Tobago!

I'd say that the number of subscribers in google reader is also a good measure. I notice Trevor has zoomed past me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

attack of the unbelievable nitpicker!

In march last year Trevor said this in the comments

There is also that haunting possibility that a significant proportion of that wealth is off the back of damage to the other nations.
I disputed this, claiming that only a small percentage of the current total stock of wealth in the west comes from exploitation/slavery. Trevor responded by saying
There is a difference between

1) Rich countries being as rich as they are MAINLY because of abusing poor countries

2) Poor Countries being better off than if there had been no interaction but being worse off they could have been if things had been `fair'

A lot of wealth `sailed over the seas' when Colonists left Africa, and the massive `sans-transtion' destabalation I think should deservedly inspire feelings of remorse up North.
This seemed to me to be changing the subject. I didn't claim that colonialisation didn't hurt the oppressed countries, just that only a tiny % of our current wealth comes from that exploitation and in my following post I made the point that it's possible to screw a place up without getting richer from doing so. Which is what happens when we blow a place up.

In his last post, Trevor repeats that claim that a large portion of our wealth comes from stuff the west stole.
there are arguments that large portions of this wealth are attributable to dispossession of resources from other countries.
I'm sceptical because the vast majority of wealth is created, not taken. Resource rich countries are often poor and resource poor places often become rich. There's little correlation between natural resources and wealth so I don't think there's any particular reason to believe that the west is rich because of the resources they took.

Monday, March 16, 2009

more immigration

A commenter (a friend of Trevor's) on a recent post by Trevor writes

I am no big believer in borders; practically, I get annoyed when applying for visas, standing in queues etc. but also philosophically, because I believe in freedom - the ability to freely move around on my planet.

However, if there were no borders, Julia commented, cultures would get diluted and everything would become uniform, like in the US. Furthermore, in a capitalistic world people would move towards the more prosperous region and then over-population would never allow that region to reach its full potential.
Now, in another recent post Trevor commented that my tone can be a little aggressive, but I can't help finding this kind of view very distressing! I run a real risk of reading this unfairly, but it does kind of sound like the reason he's a believer in open borders is because it would his life more easier and more pleasant. I totally understand! And it's actually suggests an interesting point, that everyone has good reason to be in favour of open borders for himself. Yet most people are not in favour of generally open borders. So either we're like kids who want the biggest slice of cake and are unimpressed by the claims of the other kids, or they're willing to take a personal loss (the loss of the right to move around freely) in order to be less hypocritical when they support restrictions on the movement of others.

Broadly speaking, rich, well educated people are like kids who are used to getting the slice of cake. They (we?) move around without too many problems.

I think this is good of course, but that's really not what I care about when thinking about this issue. Who cares about us!? We'll be fine anyway. For lots of people, immigration is the only way they could survive for more than a few years. For hundreds of millions of people it's the only chance for living a passably decent life and this is what matters.

Trevor doesn't with the second paragraph and responds in the comments. This is the most dangerous ground for me because I simply have zero emotional connection with an argument that has a lot of emotional resonance with a lot of people; the issue of cultural homogeneity.

I have lots of issues with this line. First of all I dispute the extent to which it is happening. On the one hand, if you have lots of trade and immigration between countries they will definitely become more alike (especially initially since many countries are incredibly different partly because of their isolation). There will be less novelty for the tourist. But on the other, as has happened over the past 50 years, new cuisine like Indian food is introduced into America because Indian people move there, the previous cuisines are not driven out. The food diversity (and hence culture more broadly) increases.

More simply, diversity between nations goes down, but within nations goes up.

Are California, New York and North Dakota more similar now than they were 50 years ago. I'm skeptical.

Tyler Cowen argues that for people like himself it's probably better to have diverse nations so long as he can travel to them, because of the novelty, but this is not likely to be the best thing for most people. I quoted from his book Creative Destruction in the early days of this blog

Cosmopolitanism must resort to a value judgment to overcome the force of this critique. I will define this value judgment as the view that poorer societies should not be required to serve as diversity slaves [emphasis in original]
Most people are simply too poor for me to care about the effects on culture of mass immigration. But it's not clear at all to me that the effect would be bad, I really believe it would be good.

As for the overpopulation issue. Rich countries are the ones who's populations stop growing. Poor countries are the ones with population problems. There really is a lot of space in a lot of rich countries, most obviously America. The fact that people would move to where life is better means that peoples lives would be improving!

I have the same objection to the concern over certain places "reaching their full potential". I'm reminded of another Tyler Cowen quote from a paper arguing that if you want to help the poor you shouldn't support the welfare state
These global comparisons further support our suspicions that the case for the welfare state is not based in egalitarian reasoning. More likely, a citizenry spends welfare money at home, rather than abroad, to make their country the best possible country by some moral standard it holds, and to bring the country to the highest possible peak. This is achieved, to some extent, at the expense of starving people abroad. We help the relatively rich -- the American lower class -- rather than the truly poor, such as the Haitian lower class. The domestic welfare state, in this account, is based on a philosophy closer to perfectionism, rather than egalitarianism or theories of positive rights to material goods. Once again we see that impersonal consequentialism would militate against a domestic welfare state, although not necessarily against foreign aid.
I very much understand the allure of big prestige projects. I understand the urge to build CERN, or have the best military or host the world cup, but we usually scramble to find consistent reasons for doing so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

immigration depression

I downloaded this Bloggingheads diavlog on immigration a while ago but couldn't get through it because it was so crap. After about 20 minutes I'd say the anti-immigration guy is doing better (naturally that's why I couldn't listen all the way through). The pro-immigration person adopts that aggressive, hectoring style that people so often complain about in vegetarians.

I don't know how it sounds for me to say this, but I'm skeptical that an aggressive woman with a thick Indian accent is the best person to make the case for immigration to hostile Americans.

Aside from speculating that debates like this are one reason why immigration laws aren't better, I wanted to blog one of the things the anti-immigration says in his opening statement (and I'm paraphrasing here).
Sure we're a nation of immigrants and we wouldn't be such a great country without the huge influx of immigrants during the 19th century, but America has matured to the point where we don't need them anymore.
Nice. Assigning zero moral weight to people born outside your country is maturity.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I didn't get to see how it ended...

but I assume not well for the culprit. I was driving south along the M5 this morning watching those driving north getting pulled over. They all deserved it of course, all those people and cars with expired licences etc. Never mind that that they all had to be delayed by what looked like a really long time, people's time is not important.

Anyway, several drivers hit on the same clever solution, drive over the grassy island to the southbound lane and find another route. Unfortunately there were a few cops dotted along the island, possibly for this very eventuality. One guy seemed not to notice, and started his U-turn almost on top of one of the cops. The cop got out of his car and started to wave him down, but the offender apparently would never dream of doing something as illegal as a U-turn, so he turned back and carried on driving north, on the south bound highway (on the should of the road but with a wheel in the fast lane)! The cop seemed a little surprised by this, tragically I didn't see how it all ended.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Cowen goodness

This is all good. When I see big block quotes like this I usually just skip over it. Don't do that! Read it!
I am myself more libertarian than conservative but at the same time I am on Douthat's side in questioning the common presuppositions behind modern opinion. There is a presumption that liberal, tolerant people should have certain views on abortion, stem cell research, and other matters and I am happy to see Douthat breaking the mold. On these issues, the derivation of current liberal policy views from underlying liberal principles is in fact extremely tenuous, even if one views those conclusions as ultimately correct. I view the current alignment of stances on social policy as more of a sociological regularity ("look at how rotten are the people on the other side") then an intellectual necessity.

Take abortion. Let's say that the mainstream modern liberal understanding of when life begins is correct with p = 0.92. That's a pretty high p on a matter where so many intelligent people disagree so vehemently. Does such a "p" provide enough reason to follow through with modern liberal policy conclusions? That's far from obvious. In this debate you'll find lots of fury and very little willingness to apply stochastic reasoning to ethics. There are far too many smart people who offer lip service to the toughness of these questions and then simply go ahead and take sides.
I've vaguely thought something like the abortion point before. It doesn't necessarily matter what your considered opinion is, a small chance you're wrong should seem like a really big deal.

I've thought it about abortion, but I've thought it more regarding animal rights.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The enigmatic Tyler Cowen

Obviously Tyler is a big hero of mine, but I often wish he'd be less vague and I've suggested he's a little out of touch.

I do love it when he writes stuff like this though:
"Learning from YouTube" strikes me as more valuable than 80 percent of what is currently on tap. I also think it is often useful to teach science through the medium of a TV show or to teach philosophy through The Simpsons. It fosters personal involvement and if you don't, most of the students aren't learning anything anyway.
I care more about how scathing he is about most of the stuff that gets taught than any of the particular semi-endorsements.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I did post yesterday!

I hastily posted something that had been sitting in a draft for a little while. For some reason blogger posts it on the date that I first saved the draft, which I think is stupid.

So, does this post count as my daily post?

Monday, March 09, 2009

"Never waste a good crisis"

The new administration in America boasts about about its embrace of the shock doctrine.

Since they're trying to implement good policies, it's good. When other people use crises to implement bad policies it's bad. In a way this is obvious and uninteresting. But since the "bad" people think they are good how is it relevant to fault them for following the shock doctrine specifically rather than their support of evil policies. They do do this too, but "they" also just published a very popular book called The Shock Doctrine in which the shock doctrine was bad.

I honestly have a hard time getting my head round this attitude. It's maddening!

Anyway, my actual point in this post is that I personally am becoming less of a shock doctrine person. I've been keen on pushing libertarian stuff though by whatever (more or less democratic) means possible (in my fantasy land where Libertarian Happens). But now, for fear of hypocrisy, I'm willing to make an explicit deal, my team won't do it if your team won't.

If you think my timing is suspicious what with a Democrat just taking over. My team wasn't in power and the same applies to stuff like Bushes response to 9/11.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

bias against the free market

Brian Caplan and Robin Hanson wonder what people would be saying if the government had been principled free marketers since the crisis began and we were exactly where we are now. Realistically people would be taking it as (even more, not that its needed) definitive proof that free markets lead to disaster.

People seem to think the problem was that the government didn't intervene decisively enough.

Incidentally Hillary Clinton's talking about how wonderful crises are for helping the Democrats make the changes they've always wanted to make.

Basically, Naomi Klein's shock doctrine. Suggesting that free marketers are the biggest shock doctrinaires is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Clear and simple as the truth...

is Robin Hanson's new favourite book. Here's a short excerpt:
Classic style is neither shy nor ambiguous about fundamentals. The style rests on the assumptions that it is possible to think disinterestedly, to know the results of disinterested thought, and to present them without fundamental distortion. In this view, thought precedes writing. All of these assumptions may be wrong, but they help to define a style whose usefulness is manifest.
I suppose the post isn't all that thrilling (though you should still go there and read it), but it speaks to something I've been thinking about regarding my own blogging: what tone should I strike in my writing?

Over the past year or so I've decided that most people (including me) are massively overconfident in many of their opinions. I wrestle with this when I write my posts, which are often opinionated. I often discard overly long posts and am unhappy with ones that I end up posting. They seem to ramble and not have a clear point. Part of this is just that I'm not a great writer, but sometimes it just reflects my attitude towards the complexity of whatever I'm thinking about.

The posts I like better are shorter with an unambiguous point. I say I like them, but I'm wracked with guilt for committing a sin which I do not forgive in my enemies.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Who is John Galt?

While some people see the current crisis as the definitive refutation of Ayn Rand's ideas, sales of Atlas Shrugged are way up for the first part of the year. Now some people are apparently talking of "Going Galt" because of Obama's expansive "liberal" budget. I doubt anybody reading this will have read the book so I won't say what going Galt means, but it doesn't give anything away to say that to "go Galt" you have to see similarities between John Galt and yourself, which is ridiculous.

When I first heard of people saying this I cringed inside. Will Wilkinson, very amusingly, sets them straight.

By the way, Atlas buffs, the point of Atlas Shrugged is not that you are John Galt. The point is that you are not John Galt. The point is that you are, at your best, Eddie Willers. You’re smart, hardworking, productive, and true. But you’re no creative genius and you take innovation — John Galt — for granted. You don’t even know who he is! And this eventually leaves you weeping on abandoned train tracks.
I sure as hell am no Eddie Williers, even at my best.

He goes on to explain that his big worry is not people going Galt, but people going Stadler. I hadn't thought of it in those terms, but essentially I've also bemoaned people going Stadler, or just being Stadler. To find out what that means I guess you'll have to read the book.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sport is not trivial

I often blog about stuff that annoys me. A lot of things annoy me, including things that people far smarter than I say. In my reflective moments I tell myself to be less confident in all my opinions, and yet I am annoyed.

Lets assume that we need to stay alive, so things that help us live to, say, 70 are necessities. Getting rid of everything that doesn't help keep us alive would involve getting rid of most of our stuff and things we do. Yet we don't think of all this stuff as trivial. It isn't trivial because we like it. People don't call music, books and art trivial. We don't think of most medical practices as trivial, or education or socialising. None of these things help us survive to 70, but they do make us happier.

Saying of a sporting event that it's just a game or this from the Times in response to the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team (the article is ok incidentally, not really griping) gets on my nerves:
Sport is an essentially trivial activity. To the puritan mindset, sport is a living statement of the world’s failure to take your issue of choice with the right kind of seriousness.
Sport is a way of creating excitement, beauty and bringing out human excellence just like other, less trivial things. Declaring on thing to be trivial and another weighty or substantive is simply to declare your own tastes and preferences superior to other people's. A way of attempting to increase your own status relative to others.

We create value for each other, that's what life is. Rich westerners have been living on triviality for quite some time and it's great.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Commit yourself early

On the 30th of September last year Brian Caplan made a simple point about the bailout that almost everyone will violate. You need to specify before the fact what would count as evidence that the policy you favoured was wrong. The temptation if things turn out well is to credit the bailout and if things turn out badly to say, "think how bad things would have been if there wasn't a bailout!". Which is another way of saying, there is no possible evidence which will make me believe I am wrong.

I wrote a similar (clunky) post a little while after.

Same deal with the stimulus. I already see that some liberal economists are moaning that the stimulus is too small. Clever! If the economy sinks into a deep recession, hey they warned us that the stimulus was too small, but if things don't turn out too bad they can say, "Whew! Good thing we got that stimulus!".

Apart from being plain wrong, I find this incredibly annoying.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

yay internet!

Seriously, yay internet.

I love the internet. I think it has made things better.

I still don't understand why so many people worry about Facebook and stalking but don't think it's odd that we all grew up in a world where all you needed was a surname in order to find out a person's phone number and physical adress.

My post the other day wasn't alluding to any building irritation to yay internet sentiment.

I don't think excessive optimism should be balanced with excessive pessimism. But as part of my broader interest in bias, ethics etc I do wonder how I should present my opinions on these things about which I strong views.

The fact that I'm pro-internet doesn't mean I don't see some downsides, but I think most people I talk to focus on these points so I spend my time arguing even though I may not disagree with particular issues. I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about things, but there you go.

Federer Nadal again

I'm very late getting to this but Alex Massie had a post on the Australia Open final. I'm not a huge fan of sports punditry so I like it when someone like Alex writes something.

All of which leaves us in quandary: if Federer is the greatest player since Laver, how come he's only won six of his 19 meetings with Nadal? Even away from the clay the record has been narrowed to 5-4 in Federer's advantage. In non-clay Grand Slam finals it is 2-2.

If Federer is a Derby Champion, all grace and elegance and poise and acceleration, Nadal is a Gold Cup winner; equally classy in his own way, inexhaustible, courageous, inspirational. Federer's game is built upon such fine margins that the slightest mishap can have ruinous consequences. And as he gets older such mishaps must become more common. Yet it's this fragility that makes Federer's tennis so appealing; the line between seemingly effortless brilliance and collapse is thin to the point of being all but non-existant. There are times when watching Federer play tennis reminds one of watching Brian Lara or David Gower bat: beautiful but, as I say, fragile.
I don't exactly disagree with anything in the post, but I do feel that there's something missing. I'm all in favour of discussing Federer's weaknesses, like his fragility and relative (to Nadal I guess) lack of heart/deep well/fighting spirit or whatever. But this misses something if you neglect to mention that he was almost invincible for over 4 years. Fragility together with invincibility seems incongruous and is interesting! For hundreds of matches the majority of his tiny amount of losses were because he was sick or injured or because he was playing Nadal on clay. The proper response to this after we consider his fragility is to increase respect for him along other dimensions.

Another point I've made before is that if you went back in time and made Federer worse on clay, he would likely have a better head to head record against Nadal and this wouldn't be a good thing. Great players like Sampras lose in earlier rounds on clay and thus lose to random people. If Sampras got to lots of clay court finals his career head to head record against clay courters would be worse.

Monday, March 02, 2009


I'm not sure why I find this so funny, but here you go.

Funny how the same situation can look so different to different people

Paul Collier is the author of The bottom Billion and the new star when it come to helping the poorest economies in the world. I'm not a big fan, partly because of some of the criticisms I've read and partly because I listened to his interview with Russ Roberts and his ideas just don't seem terribly profound to me, especially compared to this podcast (of course I'm not qualified to pass judgement on either issue). Here he suggests a new way of thinking about our responsibilities concerning climate change. I don't think this is really new, but I've seen it presented in a different way.

Natural assets such as biodiversity, and natural liabilities, such as carbon, are not owned by the current generation, because we did not create them. We have them because previous generations passed them on to us, and we are obliged to do the same. If we deplete natural assets, or run up natural liabilities, we have an obligation to compensate future generations in some other way.

It is fairly obvious that adequately compensating the future for letting it fry is likely to be a more expensive undertaking than curbing our carbon emissions. Remember that future people are likely to be much richer than we are, and so what they would regard as fair compensation would be prodigious.

What he doesn't say is that we're the reason they're going to be so rich. In other words, their richness is their compensation.

If Bill Gates gives some stranger a billion dollars and accidentally pokes him in the eye with the giant cheque at the ceremony, few people would think that the fact that this person is now a billionaire is the reason why Bill Gates would owe him huge compensation.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

US education lobby

A lot of people really hate/worry about companies like Lockheed Martin and Blackwater. Look! They donated $2 million dollars to the republican campaign! This is a part of a more general worry about lobbying. Evil corporations donate money to politicians who they hope will fight for favourable policies.

I sort of share the concern (though I doubt I agree about how to deal with the problem), but how many people know that the groups who donate the most money in America are teachers unions? I doubt many do. And I doubt that those who do know are especially concerned about this fact. Here's the heroic Will Wilkinson
If you believe, as I do, that the returns to further government spending on education, given its present structure, is zero or negative, and that the best hope for increasing the quality of education for the least well-off, and for increasing economic and social mobility generally, is to legalize competitive markets in education, then you will tend to believe, as I do, that this attempt to destroy voucher programs before than can show themselves effective is nothing less than a powerful political interest group screwing over poor people by bending the democratic process to their advantage. The sad thing, from my perspective, is that strong Democratic partisans (and especially members of the teachers’ unions) are likely to violently reject any such argument out of hand on the basis of their deep conviction that the Democratic Party cares about the poor, and so would certainly not allow itself to become captured by groups with interests diametrically opposed to interests of the poor.