Do enjoy Jussi Björling’s wonderful rendition of O Holy Night.
With the Black Friday sales behind us, and Christmas fast approaching, anti-consumerism and Walmart bashing is approaching its yearly highs, mostly among people who has bought most of what they want, and who never set foot in the gargantuan retailer. Happily, Peter Suderman spent yesterday writing a series of tweets explaining the immense value Walmart generates, in particular for the people its detractors claim to represent. Collected here.
Obviously there are plenty of worthwhile things to do that does not involve shopping. But we should be wary of boosting our own feelings of superiority by tweeting our anti-consumerist rants on newly purchased iPhones.
Was Clint Eastwood more insightful than anyone thought when he was addressing that empty chair at the Republican convention? Angus points out that “Nobody” got more votes than any other candidate.
Is it time for the Republicans to leave the culture war behind, and accept the gay community with open arms? This gay Republican certainly thinks so, and makes a compelling strategic argument. I obviously agree, regardless of whether it would win votes or not. Embracing gay marriage is simply the right thing to do.
Whenever an election is approaching, a lot of energy — too much? — is spent on analyzing opinion polls, to figure out who we can expect to win. A common problem for most polls is that people are reluctant to admit to holding views that are socially problematic, ranging all the way from racism to deciding not to vote.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz suggests using Google search data to get a more accurate picture.
Comparing the timing of our Google searches to outside events is often intriguing. Searches for “McCain life expectancy” rose to unprecedented levels the day of his controversial choice of the Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. They rose again after Ms. Palin’s poorly received interview with Katie Couric.
Google data may also help us predict the composition of the 2012 electorate. Individuals may systematically deceive pollsters regarding their intentions, but actual voters are far more likely to Google phrases like “how to vote” or “where to vote” before an election.
The whole article is interesting, and recommended reading for the political junkies out there. With a few weeks to go, the data currently suggests an electorate with a similar composition to 2008, which is good news for the Obama campaign.
As for who will win the presidential election, I share the view of those betting on the outcome, giving Obama a 60-40 chance.
The winners of the Nobel prize in economics this year are Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley. As always, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok has written brief summaries with good links in them (here and here). Also, if you want to know what matching theory is about, I highly recommend Tabarrok’s primer.
The field of matching may be said to start with the Gale-Shapley deferred choice algorithm. Here is how it works, applied to men and women and marriage (n.b. the algorithm is also good for gay marriage but it’s a little easier to explain with men and women). Each man proposes to his first ranked choice. Each woman rejects any unacceptable proposals but defers accepting her remaining suitors. Each rejected man proposes to his second ranked choice. Each woman now rejects again any unacceptable proposals, which may include previous suitors who have now become unacceptable. The process repeats until no further proposals are made; each woman then accepts her most preferred suitors and the matches are made.
Although in this first example marriage is used to illustrate the algorithm, it has been usefully deployed to match students to schools, patients to hospitals, and liver donors to recipients. More at the link.
Congratulations to the winners!
Freedom House has written a report analyzing how the freedom of expression on the internet has developed over the past year.
This year’s findings indicate that restrictions on internet freedom in many countries have continued to grow, though the methods of control are slowly evolving, becoming more sophisticated and less visible. Brutal attacks against bloggers, politically motivated surveillance, proactive manipulation of web content, and restrictive laws regulating speech online are among the diverse threats to internet freedom emerging over the past two years. Nevertheless, several notable victories have also occurred as a result of greater activism by civil society, technology companies, and independent courts, illustrating that efforts to advance internet freedom can yield results.
The report is worth digging into. Mostly, the trend is negative in countries where we might expect it, but as the summary above explains, governments are getting ever smarter about how they can enforce restrictions. It’s also worrying that countries such as India or South Korea are among those where expression is increasingly restricted.
Even in the West, it is important that there are people keeping a close eye on our legislators. Otherwise the patchwork of regulation will grow more potent.
Since I take an unreasonable delight from political tests, I couldn’t resist this one created by PBS for the U.S. election.
I end up getting an “Average Republican” rating, although I score “Very conservative” on economic issues and “Very liberal” on social issues. No surprise there, although I don’t necessarily agree that it adds up to being an average Republican.
The main problem with the test is that it has too few questions (which means that each question has an undue influence on the result), and that it doesn’t let you signal whether you care about an issue or not. Also, I would still to see questions along the radical-conservative axis — that is, questions about the pace and style of reform, rather than the reform’s contents — but I have yet to discover a test that incorporates this.
On the other hand, the test does perhaps illustrate that the two parties leave a lot of people wanting, by having a narrower span of views than they used to.
When I read Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist in 2008 I found it to be one of the better attempts at a popularized introduction to economics. The second edition was published recently, and I thought my readers might be interested in the new chapter on the financial crisis, which the author has generously made available for free. You can get it here (pdf).
In effect, while investments were once one of the largest parts of our budget, today they are one of the smallest. In fact, public investments represented a full one-third of the budget in the 1960s. Today they have dwindled to less than 15% as a result of more and more federal dollars going to entitlements. And as the budget caps set forth in the Budget Control Act take effect, investment spending will fall below the rate of inflation, plummeting to 5% of our budget by 2040. This fiscal path translates to a less-skilled workforce, lower rates of job creation, and an infrastructure unfit for a 21st century economy—hardly the Great Society LBJ envisioned.
There is much more in the interesting report titled Collision Course: Why Democrats Must Back Entitlement Reform.
Tax rates will have to come up, but they are unlikely to cover for the ever growing cost of American entitlements, and indeed the tax hike needed to support spending levels would be harmful to the economy. Thus, entitlement reform must cut costs, or the Fed will have to start printing money while schools and basic research will suffer from lower quality.
Today, were he alive, Milton Friedman would have celebrated his 100th birthday.
Here he is, talking about what cries concerning unfair competition are usually about.