Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On wikileaks

In a half-remembered management book of the 1990s, and who knows, maybe in real life, they have a tradition in some Japanese companies of having the big boss take all the middle managers out to a bar, and get them blind drunk. The social role of this ritual is that all the junior types tell their superiors exactly what they think of them, and under pain of the severest loss of face, the manager is not allowed to get annoyed or to hold it against them or ever mention again what Mr Watanabe said while he was three sheets in the wind. So the lower ranks blow off stress, and the upper ranks discover home truths that they would never otherwise find out in the absurdly deferential culture of Western management book pictures of Japanese corporations.

I would suspect that this is how the international diplomatic corps is going to end up managing the putative embarrassment of the US cable leaks. I rather think a lot of them will be secretly quite pleased about it. They might make it an annual affair, to kick off the Christmas party season.
8 comments this item posted by the management 11/30/2010 10:30:00 AM

Friday, November 26, 2010

From the department of "are you fucking kidding me"?

Me, in Blood & Treasure comments, four years ago:

I keep getting this idea for a screenplay about some Al Qaeda terrorists who hijack the Eurostar, aiming to run it off the rails at the Waterloo end for a massive coup de theatre and huge loss of life. The tension builds and builds throughout the film until the final denouement, when it is revealed that the Al Qaedas had a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of points switching and end up in a siding outside Clapham.

Unstoppable. An entire movie based on this intrinsically fucked premis. Based on a true story. A true story under which the problem was handled sensibly and with a minimum of drama, as it obviously would have been.

The experiment with reality clearly isn't working. Back to the Philip K Dick psychotropics for me.
8 comments this item posted by the management 11/26/2010 08:32:00 AM

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It is traditional on this blog for us, once a year along with our American brethren, to look into our hearts and sincerely express ourselves about the deep and sincere gratitude we show for all the things we consider that we owe to our fellow human beings.


Nope, still nothing I'm afraid. Happy thanksgiving, bastards.
2 comments this item posted by the management 11/25/2010 10:05:00 AM
Thursday Music Link

It's often said in defence of the sport of boxing that it should be credited with the numerous felonies that its practitioners would have committed if they hadn't been kept off the streets. Similarly, the long hours and high stress of investment banking have almost certainly saved the world from dozens and dozens of terrible novels. I'd probably have inflicted a couple of shockers on you myself if I'd had the time.

Every day I write the book
0 comments this item posted by the management 11/25/2010 01:47:00 AM

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Airmiles must win

Salon, the American website for people who can't quite believe that Salon is still going, is having a competition for the 30 biggest hacks in American journalism. You know who my counter is on. Remember people, this is the sort of thing we're talking about:

For me, the most frightening news in The Times on Sunday was not about North Korea’s stepping up its nuclear program, but an article about how American kids are stepping up their use of digital devices: “Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace [.... fade out]

[....fade in] We used to have a receptionist at our office. She was replaced by a micro-chip. We got voice mail TWAT! [....fade out]

[... fade in]We need teachers and principals who are paid better for better performance, but also valued for their long hours and dedication to students and learning. We need better parents ready to hold their kids to higher standards of academic achievement. We need better students who come to school ready to learn, not to text.[... fade out]
. (emphasis, word "twat" and exclamation mark added).

The really annoying thing is that you know it's odds even that in six month's time he'll be writing the column about how the fuddyduddies of the education system need to get with the program and teach our kids about the reality of modern technology - we need students who come to school ready to text, like they do in Asia! Maybe he's already done that one, I'm damned if I'm checking.

Seriously, this man has got to win. Thomas Friedman has been wrong about every major issue of the last fifteen years (with a partial exception for climate change, but even then he tied it to a ridiculous "geo-green" thesis). Not only wrong, but monstrously, disastrously, embarrassingly wrong. Vote for him. Vote early and vote often. I am pretty sure that you are not actually able to vote on the Salon thing, but vote anyway. Buttonhole any social acquaintances you have who might work for Salon and tell them that Friedman Must Win. If he is not declared number one on the "Hack 30", the award loses all possible credibility.

Update: On the other hand. But no. This is a marathon not a sprint. Friedman. Must be.



16 comments this item posted by the management 11/24/2010 09:46:00 AM

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Libel reform, the ongoing saga

One from the department of "their hearts are in the right place, but god they over-reach", I think. Basically, what possible libel reform could there ever be which would have prevented this? The surgeon in question is not being sued for libel and (as far as I can tell) hasn't even been specifically threatened with a libel suit. Someone has instructed their solicitor to send her a nasty letter. Which is unpleasant behaviour and I'm sure it ruined her morning, and people shouldn't do it. But equally clearly, there's no way at all that you can have a blanket ban on people asking their lawyers to send letters. Is there?
27 comments this item posted by the management 11/23/2010 12:56:00 AM

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday music link, a day late

This one goes out to the creditors of the Irish banking system What a week.
3 comments this item posted by the management 11/19/2010 01:14:00 AM

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm forever blowing bubbles the normal rise and fall in capital values of risky assets

Yes, exactly right. Not every increase in asset prices is a bubble, not every fall (even if that fall happens to be inconvenient for leveraged longs) is a bubble-bursting. The definition of a bubble is that it's a self-sustaining, self-reinforcing feedback loop - if prices are going up because some outside influence is propping them up, that isn't a bubble.
0 comments this item posted by the management 11/18/2010 03:02:00 AM
Thought for the day

on risk management: There are, essentially, two types of risk. First, the risk that something bad might happen. Second, the risk that some specific bad thing might actually happen. In general, an organisation or a person's capability for bearing one kind of risk is not necessarily informative at all for their ability to bear the other kind, and the two kinds of risk require completely different risk management approaches.
14 comments this item posted by the management 11/18/2010 02:57:00 AM

Monday, November 15, 2010

In the cold light of day

hmmm, these things never seem quite as much fun as they did when you were just daydreaming about them, do they? Apparently we're going to have policy shaped round managing the Gross National Happiness going forward. Because money isn't everything you know. It was when we were making loads of it but now it isn't. I think this is the definitive answer to students campaigning about fees and debt and the like - god it's all about the money with you people isn't it? Don't you have better things to think about? Stop and think about the flowers and magnets man, don't just obsess about your nine thousand bloody pounds all the time. Etc, etc. You can be just as happy living in a bedsit in Luton as you can on full housing benefit. Here's a book by Philip Blond that explains it all, I really think you should read it.

I would guess that there are a fair few dozen economists of the leftish persuasion who are feeling right now rather as one used to on Christmas mornings past, as the realisation seeped in that the MegaRanger Exclesior was not really quite as life-transformingly cool as it had appeared to be in the advert.

PS: Bhutan was hardly ever any kind of Shangri-la either, by the way.
18 comments this item posted by the management 11/15/2010 05:49:00 AM

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Intellectual property quiz time!

Easy one. Which currently-in-copyright work of art has the most "derivative works" (in Lawrence Lessig's sense) produced from it?
24 comments this item posted by the management 11/13/2010 05:59:00 AM

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two cultures

I have tried to see the "#twittertrial" from the point of view of the other side, but I must say I've basically failed to do so. It seems completely idiotic to me. Nonetheless, it does have to be dealt with as a fact that this case has now been looked at in a fair degree of depth by two or three airport security personnel, several police officers, a magistrate and a judge, all of whom have come to the same opinion. And this opinion is one that more or less everyone with a Twitter account considers to be actively bizarre.

It strikes me that this is a cultural divide potentially rather more practically significant than CP Snow's. I wonder if it is a new thing (different reactions to new technology), or whether it's always been there (ie, different views on whether there is such a thing as casual, informal speech) and it's just now that we've come to notice it.
13 comments this item posted by the management 11/12/2010 04:58:00 AM

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Final thoughts from an economist on Armistice Day

There are plenty people out there (I've just seen a documentary on Channel 4 presented by one) who don't believe in Keynesian economics, but who think that the Great Depression was ended by the Second World War. In other words, paying men to dig holes and fill them in again is a ridiculous policy, compared to the sensible and effective course of action of paying men to dig holes and die in them.
6 comments this item posted by the management 11/11/2010 04:39:00 PM
Pissing down your back and telling you it's raining, an occasional series

Nick Clegg tells us that the easy thing to do would have been to have kept his promise. That would be the easy and popular thing. But he had the courage and honesty to take the difficult choice and break his promise. And now he's being entirely open about the fact that he broke his promise. So in many ways, we should be impressed by his honesty. Legend.

Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. This was rehearsed pretty much verbatim in the pivotal scene of "In the Loop", but it's a surprisingly old idea, the best example I can think of being the Borges short story "Three Versions of Judas". I suppose this is what they call postmodern politics. Interestingly, of course, Clegg justifies it all by reference to "political realities". Another political reality is that if you piss people off badly enough, you might find your windows don't last as long as the builders said they would. I hope that one doesn't become too salient.

(The thing about "only when we came into government did we find out how bad the finances were" is, of course, a lie, of the more-or-less-flat-out variety. Tax receipts have been consistently better than Darling's forecasts, not worse.)
1 comments this item posted by the management 11/11/2010 07:05:00 AM
Have you heard? They're middle class! Middle class I say! Let's hang the bastards!

Apparently a lot of students are middle class, and therefore (not that anyone seems to have bothered to check this) that means that a lot of the student rioters are middle class too. I might have more to say on this subject later this evening (capsule: student riots are in general a phenomenon that needs to be taken seriously when they happen; empirically they are correlated with all sorts of interesting stuff), but for the meantime this one goes in the "I mean really" file.

I've said this before (albeit in a context which made it inevitable we'd get sidetracked onto a discussion of woo in the NHS) but I'll say it again because it's important - there is nothing particularly bad and a lot potentially good about recycling some of the middle class's income back to them through the tax, benefit and public service system. Things like universal free university education tie the middle class into the system, and avoid the notorious and obvious public choice consequences of means testing - ie, that "benefits for the poor" become "poor benefits". Oddly enough, what with the economics degree and everything, I am aware that the effect of funding university tuition out of general taxation is probably regressive in its distributive consequences. But this would only be an interesting fact if paying for universities was literally the only thing that government did; people really need to be gently persuaded (in the alternative: beaten) out of trying to do distributive analysis of spending at this sort of disaggregated level.

I am, as I've said before in this space, a very typical middle class British burgher, genus "City boy", species "North London". As such, I'm wholly in favour of the enforcement of the law on common assault and on damage to property, and the prosecution of people who throw punches and break windows, in more or less whatever context. But given that the rioters are in fact going to be punished for whatever common assault and criminal damage they've committed, I'm not sure they need or deserve an additional hiding in the form of special moral and political opprobrium from me. Given that I tend to regard riots as an interesting but basically normal part of the political process when they happen overseas, it would be pretty odd and hypocritical to think of them any other way when they happen here.
22 comments this item posted by the management 11/11/2010 04:25:00 AM
Thursday Music Link

No particular reason for this one:

Back on the chain gang

Update: Although, looking at the lyrics, it will do as well as anything as a post in memoriam of all the young people of all races and classes who have had their time wasted and bodies destroyed in the service of largely extremely questionable political objectives over the last few hundred years. And speaking as an economist, it's a day on which to remember that when people talk about war spending bringing the world out of recession, they're talking about a practice which is in general very, very much less productive than paying people to dig holes and fill them in again.


0 comments this item posted by the management 11/11/2010 03:14:00 AM

Friday, November 05, 2010

Four days late and a dollar short

Policy Exchange Ltd now up to date with all CH filings. Well done.
1 comments this item posted by the management 11/05/2010 03:14:00 AM

Thursday, November 04, 2010

On performativity

Axiom: Assume that there is some entity X which is such that there is no possible state of the world in which you would say anything about it.

Axiom: Define the relation "cares more about Y than X" such that for any entity Y in which there is a state of the world in which you would say something about it, you care more about Y than you do about X.

Lemma: Therefore, for any entity which you do comment about, you care more about it than you care about X.

Conclusion, after many ommitted stages: For any Y, it is always wrong (specifically, self-defeating in utterance) to say "I couldn't care less about Y" and correct (although tautologous) to say "I could care less about Y".
8 comments this item posted by the management 11/04/2010 07:04:00 AM
Moral dilemmas

I noticed yesterday evening that there is a shop down the far end of my road calling itself a "Homeopathic Pharmacy". I think this might be in breach of the Medicines Act 1968 - "homeopathic medicine", a bit of an abomination in my view, is legal labelling by EU law, but I don't think that the Royal College of Pharmacists have ever lost their control over their reserved word.

If I were to lodge a complaint about this, would I be a) an ass or b) a hero of rationalism? I suppose I ought to ask Twitter.

Points for:

1) I do believe in the reserved words system and think people should take it seriously.

2) Although regular readers will know I have written in qualified defence of woo in the past, homeopathy isn't medicine and it isn't pharmacology either.

3) Therefore I do want them to change the sign.

Points against:

1) People who lodge complaints with councils are, by and large, tossers. (update in response to comments: complaints about other people that is, people who complain about potholes and flytipping are great)

2) I don't want to drive someone out of business because at the end of the day I don't agree (as I think we have established so maybe no need to go through this again unless someone really thinks they can change my mind?) that the actual shop is doing much harm.

My ideal situation therefore, would be to find out that homeopaths are actually allowed to call themselves pharmacists - while this would be pretty scandalous in itself, it would mean that I could lodge the complaint, safe in the knowledge that it was frivolous, and that I was merely winding up the shop owner and wasting his time, rather than potentially driving him out of business.

Labels: ,

10 comments this item posted by the management 11/04/2010 03:07:00 AM
Thursday Music Link

Unusually, the Youtube comments on this one are basically entirely accurate. I can play the first forty seconds of this.

Drivin' South - Jimi Hendrix Experience

Consumer alert: There are other versions recorded around the same time for other Radio One shows which appear on compilation albums, but this one is definitely the best. Also a real gem for connoisseurs of utterly pedestrian bass playing, to whom Noel Redding has long been an idol.
15 comments this item posted by the management 11/04/2010 01:28:00 AM

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Once there was a man, and he did things

Here is an example of a point I was trying to make in the "not obliged to vote Democrat" series, which is that the unimportance of voting in midterm elections isn't just a matter of the Paradox of Voting theorem. Plenty of liberal Democrats in America are distraught at the fact that Russ Feingold has lost his seat. I am sure that Feingold was, personally, a decent man. He was against capital punishment and the Iraq War, and the simple fact that so many people I respect were fans of his convinces me that he must have been an all right one.

But seriously, click the link and look at his legislative record. Did you ever see such a list of dull-but-worthy initiatives that didn't go anywhere, minor personal hobbyhorses, and actively counterproductive procedural bullshit? And remember that this man was one of the *best* Democratic senators, if not the best, and the net effect of having had him as the incumbent for seventeen years was heartbreakingly close to zip. He was regarded as "the conscience of the Senate" on civil liberties issues, which is probably and unfortunately true.

Update: I just realised that we also covered this phenomenon in the context of the "McCain Ratio" (the ratio of personal courage to actual achievement), and that Feingold's main claim to fame was the "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance reform (capsule summary: a worthy initiative that didn't go anywhere). And so the circle of cynicism and stasis is complete.
18 comments this item posted by the management 11/03/2010 01:57:00 AM
Jokes already made on Twitter, slight return

OK, please somebody tell me if this gets tedious, but I am in general a big fan of repurposing, reworking and repackaging material.

  • I now very much hope that Rand Paul runs for President in 2012, picking as his running mate the Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. If elected, I would immediately demand that the Paul/Daniels administration make a state visit to Chad, where they would meet President Idriss Déby, in a marquee.

  • The basic problem for the Times' online subscriptions (summary; 105k, v weak) is that they have not yet found an online equivalent of their successful offline sales model, which relies on people picking up a copy in Starbucks and then not realising it isn't free. Thinking about it, this is basically the iPad free trial, isn't it?

  • With the victories of Harry Reid (vs Sharron Angle) and Christopher Coons (vs Christine O'Donnell), it looks increasingly to me as if the Republican Party has missed out on control of the Senate specifically because of the personal negative vote of inexperienced female Tea Party candidates in winnable seats. This is surely not great news for Palin '12?

  • This was a bit of a throwaway joke, but the more I think about it, the more I like it; Windsor & Maidenhead council are barking up the wrong tree trying to bring crappy supermarket vouchers into it. What they ought to be giving everyone is a "Single Social Behaviour Allowance", unifying the ASBO and Big Society regimes, rather as tax credits are integrated into the benefits system.

    This would work on the basis of scoring various activities with positive and negative points (ie, visiting old people in hospital: +50 points, serving as a school governor: +25 points, noise nuisance: -10 points, gross indecency on Clapham Common: -30 points), and setting a per capita budget for how many positive points you required citizens to contribute (or, if there was a subsidy from central government, how many per capita negative points you could tolerate). The basic idea being similar to the trusty system in prisons; that if you were a good upstanding and well-behaved citizen, you could be permitted a few liberties not allowed to the masses.

    I am not sure that I would push this as far as they did in 1950s Ireland (where, as far as I can tell, it was at least tacitly accepted that if you were a good parish priest, this could excuse quite serious crimes), but the underlying idea is quite horribly attractive in a glib thinktankish way. And of course, it paves the way for the real agenda, which would be to integrate the Single Social Budget into the actual income tax system and to thereby formalise the arrangement of there being one law for the rich and another for the poor (or at least, for those among the poor who didn't do sufficient supererogatory duties subsidising the social care system).

4 comments this item posted by the management 11/03/2010 01:05:00 AM

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The World's Most Undignified Job Title

Thanks very much to Chris in comments, I learn that David Halpern, although he may be trying to call himself the Head of the Behavioural Insight Team, is shortly to be appointed Britain's "Nudge Tsar". He was the chief analyst in the No 10 Strategy Unit for six years under Tony Blair, but apparently does not appear to have taken the hint.
0 comments this item posted by the management 11/02/2010 04:51:00 AM
Right, bastards, I have got a Twitter account

Could someone please a) explain what I ought to now do with the bloody thing, and b) give me some tips on not being swamped with garbage? Thanks, or as I probably ought to say now, #thanks@, or something.


18 comments this item posted by the management 11/02/2010 04:48:00 AM

Monday, November 01, 2010

What do you mean you don't care about Companies House returns? Of course you care!

Policy Exchange Limited - OVERDUE, since 31 Oct. Obviously that was a Sunday but CH is quite clear about whose problem that is, and calendars are freely available. The Henry Jackson Society Project For Democratic Geopolitics got their Charities Commission return and accounts for 2009 in on Friday, no bother - interestingly (yes it is), they have a small but material deficit for the year 2009, making it all the more interesting that they launched projects like Student Rights in 2010.
0 comments this item posted by the management 11/01/2010 02:57:00 AM
Nudge nudge, wank wank

I think this probably falls into the category of "hope in one hand and shit in the other, see which gets full first" rather than "money talks and bullshit walks" strictu sensu, but it does have this passage, which I think exemplifies what it is that I find so irritating about the MTBW series - the sending out of a self-congratulatory press release in anticipation of having actually done the thing:

Windsor and Maidenhead council hopes to join forces with a commercial rewards scheme such as Nectar – whose points can be redeemed in Sainsbury's, Homebase and Argos among others – or RecycleBank, whose vouchers can be spent in outlets including Marks & Spencer and McDonald's. [...] Officers are still working out the practicalities, but it is likely residents would get a loyalty card similar to those available in shops.

Via Chris. Armando Ianucci must be laughing up his sleeve.


5 comments this item posted by the management 11/01/2010 02:13:00 AM

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