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Landsburg on compensating the losers from trade

From the NY Times:

Some people suggest, however, that it makes sense to isolate the moral effects of a single new trading opportunity or free trade agreement. Surely we have fellow citizens who are hurt by those agreements, at least in the limited sense that they’d be better off in a world where trade flourishes, except in this one instance. What do we owe those fellow citizens?

One way to think about that is to ask what your moral instincts tell you in analogous situations. Suppose, after years of buying shampoo at your local pharmacy, you discover you can order the same shampoo for less money on the Web. Do you have an obligation to compensate your pharmacist? If you move to a cheaper apartment, should you compensate your landlord? When you eat at McDonald’s, should you compensate the owners of the diner next door? Public policy should not be designed to advance moral instincts that we all reject every day of our lives.


Speaking of race, an 11-year old child of Indian immigrants was initially denied entry into a NYC school because she didn't score high enough for her race on the entrance exam.

"Children should be judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin," said Dr. Anjan Rau, the girl's dad, about the quotas at Mark Twain School in Coney Island.

"The selection process should be colorblind," Rau said.

For decades, the school has enforced racial double standards on its tests to maintain a 6-4 white-to-minority ratio to comply with a 1974 federal court desegregation order.

The order now prevents minority students from becoming more numerous than whites.

Last May, Rau's daughter, Nikita, 11, was rejected by Mark Twain, which caters to gifted students, after she scored 79 on a music admission test.

Officials said Nikita, who is considered a member of a minority group, had to score at least 84.4 score to be accepted. But white students needed to score only 77.

After The Post revealed Nikita's case in June, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein called the quotas "unnecessary" and an "anachronism."

From another article:

"This country believes in racial equality, and we should not face this in America," said Nikita's dad, Dr. Anjan Rau, a Bay Ridge resident who emigrated from India in 1982. "I think it's morally wrong!

"She's American born, and she's a U.S. citizen, and [her parents] are both U.S. citizens, but that doesn't count," said Rau, who has hired a lawyer to try to overturn the decision.

"It could hurt her chances of going to Harvard, Yale or Princeton."

When Nikita recently applied to Mark Twain, she took an admission test geared toward music students and scored a 79.

In May, the Education Department sent her parents a letter that said Nikita was not accepted - even though white students who scored lower on the same test were admitted.

Officials told the Raus that because Nikita is classified as a minority, she would need to score at least 84.4 to be accepted, while white students needed to score 77 or more.

Fortunately for her, it looks like she might get in after all.

The Department of Education announced Monday that it's asking a federal judge to lift a 1974 court order imposing a rigid quota system on Coney Island's selective Mark Twain School.

The announcement came just hours after the Center for Individual Rights filed suit against the DOE on behalf of Nikita Rau, the 11-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants whose application the school rejected because it had already reached its pre-designated allotment of non-white students.

Thanks to shifting demographics, the quota - originally intended to boost minority enrollment - now discriminates against students like Rau, who scored well above the passing rate for whites on the school's entrance exam.

It's not clear to me exactly what's going on here. Generally, quotas are used for "underprivileged minorities" and other minorities like Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans aren't put under that label. The phrase "shifting demographics" is used in the third article, but it's not elaborated upon. I assume it to mean that the bulk of the minority students now applying no longer are of the "underprivileged" sort, and thus, their average scores are higher than those of the white students.

Either way, I recoil at the notion of treating children as young as 11 years old as pawns in a game of social engineering.

via Sepia Mutiny

Too soon to make that judgement

Via Econlog, Paul Krugman in response to Hillary Clinton's win in New Hampshire:

But to be more specific, the prediction markets — which you see, again and again, touted as having some mystical power to aggregate information, know no more than the conventional wisdom.

As various people have pointed out, prediction markets give probabilities, not certainties, and sometimes longshots do win.

However, I think there's another factor involved that often gets overlooked in many economic analyses: maturity of markets. In general, the greater the number of participants, the better these markets work. Most prediction markets are relatively new.

Sports betting is another type of prediction market, one that has been around for a long time, even before Al Gore invented the internet. There are lots of participants.  Nobody I know consistently comes out ahead in betting on sports.

What's the difference between sports betting and election betting? A lot of people I know bet on the Orange Bowl, whereas I only know one person who bet on the NH primary, even though the former was a 'niche' game and the latter was a national event. Sports betting markets are mature; election prediction markets aren't yet.

James Kirchick

In one of the Hit and Run comment threads, I ran across a link to an email attributed to James Kirchick in which he says,

Anyways, I don’t think Ron Paul is a homophobe; I’m just cynical and enjoy getting supporters of political candidates riled up. If you were a Giuliani guy I’d have called him a fascist. But I must say, the Ron Paul supporters are the most enthusiastic of the bunch!

While it doesn't rebuke anything from the TNR "hit piece", it does call into question Kirchick's professionalism.

Soldier's Duty

In case you might've missed it on other blogs, Andrew Olmsted has died in Iraq. The name vaguely rings a bell from the early days of the blogosphere, but I don't think I ever really followed his blog. Here is his last post published posthumously. It's worth reading. One passage caught my eye:

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

Olmsted makes it clear in that post that he does not want his death to be used for political points. So I hope I'm not being tactless in discussing this. I don't think I am as long as we keep it at a general level, without mentioning this particular war or the circumstances around it.

Can militaries be effective if soldiers are allowed to opt out of missions they disagree with? Do soldiers have an obligation to carry out missions they disagree with after they join?

Hunting-Gathering : Farming :: Farming : Industrial Revolution

From an article in The Economist:

Several archaeologists and anthropologists now argue that violence was much more pervasive in hunter-gatherer society than in more recent eras. From the !Kung in the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic and the aborigines in Australia, two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year. War is a big word for dawn raids, skirmishes and lots of posturing, but death rates are high—usually around 25-30% of adult males die from homicide. The warfare death rate of 0.5% of the population per year that Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois calculates as typical of hunter-gatherer societies would equate to 2 billion people dying during the 20th century.

At first, anthropologists were inclined to think this a modern pathology. But it is increasingly looking as if it is the natural state. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University says that chimpanzees and human beings are the only animals in which males engage in co-operative and systematic homicidal raids. The death rate is similar in the two species. Steven LeBlanc, also of Harvard, says Rousseauian wishful thinking has led academics to overlook evidence of constant violence.

Not so many women as men die in warfare, it is true. But that is because they are often the object of the fighting. To be abducted as a sexual prize was almost certainly a common female fate in hunter-gatherer society. Forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max.

Constant warfare was necessary to keep population density down to one person per square mile. Farmers can live at 100 times that density. Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead. The invention of agriculture and the advent of settled society merely swapped high mortality for high morbidity, allowing people some relief from chronic warfare so they could at least grind out an existence, rather than being ground out of existence altogether.

Notice a close parallel with the industrial revolution. When rural peasants swapped their hovels for the textile mills of Lancashire, did it feel like an improvement? The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.

Eighteenth-century rural England was a place where people starved each spring as the winter stores ran out, where in bad years and poor districts long hours of agricultural labour—if it could be got—barely paid enough to keep body and soul together, and a place where the “putting-out” system of textile manufacture at home drove workers harder for lower pay than even the factories would. (Ask Zambians today why they take ill-paid jobs in Chinese-managed mines, or Vietnamese why they sew shirts in multinational-owned factories.) The industrial revolution caused a population explosion because it enabled more babies to survive—malnourished, perhaps, but at least alive.

You put the "b" in "subtle"

The first episode of the last season of The Wire, "More with Less," aired last night. As usual, the first episode doesn't provide a lot of action as it's used to set up what comes later. The biggest addition to the storyline this season is the crew of the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

Every institution that's portrayed has someone principled to some degree.

: McNulty, Freamon, Greggs, Colvin

Drug dealers
: DeAngelo, Wallace, Cutty

: Carcetti (at least at the beginning, though no longer)

: pretty much all of them, but especially Randy

: Prez, Grace Sampson

: Nick

: Bubs, Omar

These people do their best to fight the system but ultimately can't stand up to the machine's inertia. Some merely battle fruitlessly; others become it's victims. Now that I'm watching the 5th season of this show, a few predictable ploys are apparent even this early in the season. The main theme is going to be irresponsibility in the media. The Sun's principled warrior is going to be desk editor Gus Haynes. He'll fight for truth and transparency against the corrupt out-of-touch higher-ups like execute editor James Whiting. His good minions will include Alma Gutierrez. Thorn-in-his-side minions will include Scott Templeton. In the end, as with all past seasons, Haynes will lose, and the people at the top will remain untouchable. There are no happy endings in David Simon's world.

Obviousness not really a criticism because it's hard to remain unpredictable after making fifty hours of television. After 13 seasons of Whedonism, I pretty much know what sorts of themes and archetypes to expect, yet I still find it entertaining. I'm gonna savor this last season of The Wire.

Edge 2008

This year's Edge question is "What have you changed your mind about?" Among the respondents is Steven Pinker, who mentions something I've said before on this blog, that evolutionary psychology as understood by its mainstream popularizers makes an assumption that no major evolutionary changes have occurred in humans in the recent past. His answer to this year's Edge question is that perhaps this assumption is false.

New results from the labs of Jonathan Pritchard, Robert Moyzis, Pardis Sabeti, and others have suggested that thousands of genes, perhaps as much as ten percent of the human genome, have been under strong recent selection, and the selection may even have accelerated during the past several thousand years. The numbers are comparable to those for maize, which has been artificially selected beyond recognition during the past few millennia.

If these results hold up, and apply to psychologically relevant brain function (as opposed to disease resistance, skin color, and digestion, which we already know have evolved in recent millennia), then the field of evolutionary psychology might have to reconsider the simplifying assumption that biological evolution was pretty much over and done with 10-000 — 50,000 years ago.

And if so, the result could be evolutionary psychology on steroids. Humans might have evolutionary adaptations not just to the conditions that prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years, but also to some of the conditions that have prevailed only for millennia or even centuries. Currently, evolutionary psychology assumes that any adaptation to post-agricultural ways of life are 100% cultural.

My personal opinion based on reading between the lines of Pinker's recent articles and interviews is that he's reluctant to say what he really believes for fear of being Summersed.

This is probably an interesting question to ask our readers:

What have you changed your mind about?

Happy New Year!

I'd give my 2007 a 7.5 out of 10.  A bit short in some professional goals and a bit late on some personal goals kept it from being perfect.  That's about five years in a row on the very high side for me. 

I try to do a "best of" post at the end of the year, but this year, I can't think of anything.  Alls I gots is Most Newly-Overused Phrase: "Wow.  Just wow."  Don't ever say that again.

Alright, one more since it seems we have a few television addicts on the blog:  Best TV show:  Dexter.  If you're really interested, don't read up on it before you watch it.  Embrace the magic with virgin eyes and chaste mind.  Wait... WHAT????

My New Year's resolution this year is simple:  Aspire for excellence and be excellent to my friends. 

What's your resolution? 

Down with the Sickness

Theophanes is asking for feedback on his post against idolatry.


Vinod at Sepia Mutiny
has some thoughts:

  • Both Musharaff and Bhutto are considered Pro-US / Pro-West / Secular leaders
    • Especially relative to the Islamists
    • And likely relative to the general population ;
    • Bhutto moreso than Musharraf
  • So, Jihadist forces (who are both anti-Musharraf and anti-Bhutto) are a likely culprit
    • To them, Bhutto was a powerful ally to Musharraf (rather than a rival) and potentially more dangerous in the long run
      • Knocking out an important ally wins them almost as much “cred” as taking out Musharraf directly
      • Bhutto was “more dangerous” because she was even more vocally Pro-West as well as a woman
    • “Pro-Musharraf forces” are getting the initial blame by some … but my gut leans skeptical
      • The jury is still out on whether this is a net gain or net loss for Musharraf’s interests
      • It certainly feeds the perception that he’s not in control of the country
  • Given their similarities, what are the substantive differences between Musharraf and Bhutto?
  • One key difference was their respective views of the general
    Pakistani population; Musharaff was a bit more of a “realist” ; Bhutto
    presents herself as an “idealist”
    • Musharaff feared that the populism writ large would lead to an illiberal democracy
    • Bhutto was more willing to turn to the electorate to ..
      • lead the country to more democracy (if you think she has Good Intentions)
      • secure more power / perks for herself (if you think she has Bad Intentions despite the lofty rhetoric)
    • By contrast, Musharraf feared that Bhutto’s push for
      “more democracy” would backfire, leading to “less liberalism” rather
      than realizing her (stated) intentions…
    • Perversely, Bhutto’s assassination is a perfect example of
      illiberality that gives Musharaff the license to enact, repressive,
      authoritarian policy.

A commenter in the thread writes,

Benazir Bhutto's manipulation of and embrace by the West probably doomed her. She left Pakistan at only 16 to matriculate at Harvard. From there, on to Oxford. Her stunning physical beauty, coupled with her eloquence in the English language, made her a darling of the Western media and governing elite. Her first electoral victory carried so much hope, and defied convention as a woman took the helm of a Muslim country. It is tragic that the promise was squandered by corruption, cronyism, and heavy-handed governing tactics.

Yet, for all her imperfections, Benazir was probably the best hope for semi-secular governance in Pakistan. She and Musharraf, though bitter personal foes, shared the goals of ensuring that Pakistan did not spiral into chaos at the hands of religious extremists and bridging firm ties with the West. In the wake of Bhutto's assasination, it is not clear that Musharraf will survive much longer.

Mises and Nozick in so many words

From a commenter named "Herkimer" in that same MR thread about liberal arts education:

Early in this thread it was suggested that study of physics and/or math should be preferred to liberal arts.

In fact, our studies often later define our politics. The typical liberal generally majors in liberal arts, and after graduating with his/her degree in art history, or American literature, or gender studies, etc. heads out to find one of those high paying jobs. He/she goes to a major employer, who views the resume and asks, "How much can you lift? We have a couple of openings in the shipping department.."

"Huh?", says the liberal.

"Well, your diploma only tells me you know how to listen, read, memorize and regurgitate stuff on exams. I don't see any real world work skills here other than those held by a reasonably competent high school graduate.."

But you hired my room mate Bob, yesterday starting at $85,000 a year!"

"Your roommate has a degree in electrical engineering, and we need him to help design the next generation of widgets for our company. Your education has only given you facts from the past, and you can be replaced with a nice big coffee table book, the Golden Treasury of Art History."

Discouraged, the liberal goes on to finally get a job with the Foundation to Save the Gay Unborn Whales at $15 an hour, and ever after hates the "large multinational corporations" who start engineers at $85K a year but simply use the internet when they want to know something about art history or American literature.

The common denominator among liberals is that an overwhelming number of them derive their daily bread either by public charity or government ( tax ) support in some fashion. That's the world of "education" and the general non-profit community at large.

Disclaimer:  I am a fan of the engineering-arts education.

g vs Modularity

Half Sigma has a great post describing attempts to determine g through testing and why the Flynn Effect is probably not measuring increases in intelligence.

One question that comes to mind is -

Doesn't the existence of g oppose some of the ideas of evolutionary psychology?

One of the presumptions of ev-psych is that rather than being a general purpose learning machine, the mind has specific 'modules' to handle specific tasks, such as learning languages or indentifying people who try to rip us off or finding the best mate possible. Having a general factor of intelligence seems to run counter to that notion.

Perhaps the mind is running different software programs (modules) but is still dependent on a central CPU (g)?

Oh Snap!

Robin Hanson enters the comments to Tyler Cowen's post on liberal arts education with gusto:

What does the title of this post have to do with the body? That is, what does traveling and mixing with other cultures have to do with a "liberal arts education"? Do people and elite liberal colleges really believe they are exposing themselves to diversity?

I was all set to defend my decidedly non-liberal arts education, which was neither liberal nor artsy, when I realized I wasn't completely sure that Cowen is indeed defending liberal arts education.

New Tunes

I get a lot of my new music ideas from TV and commercials. Some recent ones:

"Love Song" by Sara Bareilles - seen on the Rhapsody/TIVO commercial. I like the version with accompaniment better than the a capella version that's also floating out there. The original video isn't available for embedding, so here's a live performance:

"C'mon" by Guster - heard on a commercial for Cypher stents. Though I am a big Guster fan, I didn't remember "C'mon" because I barely gave Ganging up on the Sun a listen, such a departure it was from their original style. I think this is actually the official video for the song:

"The Funeral" by Band of Horses - heard in the Ford Edge commercial. It's the one the backseat passenger mesmerized by the view of hi-rises through the moonroof. It's the best of the three, combining ascendant guitars and powerful vocals with an ethereal vibe. This is the commercial which only broadcasts a small clip of the song: