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!

Friday, December 24, 2010

In all probability, the last music link of the year

Mai Nozipo. Have a great break everyone.
0 comments this item posted by the management 12/24/2010 01:08:00 AM

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two nations divided by blah blah blah

Paul Krugman is apparently "doing Rachel Maddow from the 92nd St Y"

As an international reader, I have basically no idea what the phrase "Doing Rachel Maddow from the 92nd St Y" means, and I am sure that it wouldn't be anything improper for a married college professor (quite apart from anything, he's talking about it on his blog), but I must say it sounds quite entertainingly dirty.
3 comments this item posted by the management 12/23/2010 02:21:00 AM

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I bet Al Qaeda would make its Companies House filings on time

Quite interesting, if amazingly wordy for the content, document from the RAND corporation. Apparently AQI was a fairly standard insurgency operation almost exactly in line with Che Guevara's book on guerilla warfare, and it had quartermastering, payroll and means for "living off the land", in terms of channelling the proceeds of crime and robbery into the struggle. I'm always very wary of treating things like this as complete records (they're unaudited, and we really don't know how much off-the-books looting the AQI gangs carried out, so the numbers for individual income of insurgents have to be regarded as very shaky), but it's interesting withal. They also act quite surprised at the idea that terrorist groups have fixed costs and overheads, which IMO is probably more likely to account for the kinda-sorta experience curves/power law relationships that Aaron Clauset finds in terrorist attacks than anything interesting about self-organised criticality.

This is the sort of central organisation that we don't think exists in Afghanistan, btw; but I must admit I was surprised at how easy it apparently was for AQI to organise a shadow payments system based on cash couriers moving around the place.
3 comments this item posted by the management 12/22/2010 12:33:00 AM

Monday, December 20, 2010


Just something that piqued my curiosity - can anyone explain to me, at length appropriate to a blog comments box, what the "global temperature anomaly" beloved of global warming charts actually is? It's clearly some kind of modelling residual, but looking at the plots, I don't think it can simply be a difference from the sample period mean, can it? Thanks awfully.
3 comments this item posted by the management 12/20/2010 02:34:00 AM

Friday, December 17, 2010

You guys rock!

The Respublica Trust Ltd and The Quilliam Foundation Ltd, both got their Companies House returns in early!!! Nice one, well done to both.


0 comments this item posted by the management 12/17/2010 09:17:00 AM
Ideas from history - "wealth conscription"

Defence commentating hobbit Tom Ricks has been on about the idea of bringing back conscription for most of this year, apparently out of some worry that the US Army isn't sufficiently representative of America. Presumably he doesn't want the US Army to have more mortgage debt and to be more obese, the two main points of difference.

I kid, I kid. Ricks is very worried about a) a version of the "where are the children of the rich?" argument, and b) some not-all-that-easy-to-understand concept of the military developing a separate culture from the rest of America and this being bad for democracy. Anyway, the answer is conscription, which makes one think the wrong question has been asked.

And so I bring up the historical curiosum of the "Conscription of Wealth". Basically, that the default method of financing a war should be a form of wealth tax (specifically, a confiscatory wealth tax which would be invested in war loan stock, to be repaid at the end of the war at less-than-market-rate interest). It seems rather attractive to me as a way of giving the upper class a stake in things, without taking their kids as hostages which always seemed a bit creepy to me. Not sure it would necessarily help with that "separate culture" thing, but one of my favourite cowboy philosophers of the interwar years seemed to hint that it might:

Will Rogers' Daily Telegram, 13 November 1926:


LITTLE ROCK, Ark - I been reading and studying over President Coolidge's message to Kansas and Missouri. He brought out Mr Harding's idea (he didn't say it was, but it was) about the conscription of all wealth in case of war.

That sounds fine after the war is over. Funny nobody thought of it before the last war started, and I doubt if you hear anything of it just before the start of the next one. If they did do it, it would be a great enlistment boost for war, as we all know thousands that would go themselves just to see some of the money taken away from the ones that copped it during the last war.

It would be a very interesting experiment and would add novelty to the next war, as we have lots more fellows ready and willing to give lives than we have ones that would give their fortunes. You would have more suicides and heart failures on your hands than you would have shot by bullets.

It was a great idea even when Mr Harding recommended it, but it's like a campaign promise; it's too good to ever come true. It would be worth a war just to try it out. Yours for serious consideration of promises, Will Rogers.

At the end of the day, I have never been a great one for "intergenerational equality" arguments, but given that it is young people who get hurt in wars, there is something pretty shameful about fighting one on the basis of deficit financing. Also it does show you how much things have changed - conscription of wealth was a mainstream idea in the 20s and during the first world war (albeit as WR cynically notes, never a real likelihood even then), but something has really changed in the world - in the 21st century, we have had a succession of governments prepared to argue simultaneously that a) we are engaged in a struggle for the survival of our way of life itself, but b) it has to be financed by deficit spending as it would be politically impossible to raise taxes to finance it. Without wanting to get on a great big decadence kick, some future Gibbon is going to get a good couple of pages out of that one.
16 comments this item posted by the management 12/17/2010 01:06:00 AM

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A brief note on the economics of "The Apprentice"

Famously, the salary for Alan Sugar's "apprentice" is £100k, on a one year contract. But a role as Buttons or King Rat in a decent quality pantomime will pay well over £200k, and sufficiently prominent reality show contestants can keep coming back - "Nasty Nick" from series 1 of Big Brother was still appearing in "Dick Whittington" in Reading last year. I think at least one contestant has worked this one out.
5 comments this item posted by the management 12/16/2010 05:26:00 AM
Thursday Music Link

A real toe-tapper this week:

Cello Counterpoint
5 comments this item posted by the management 12/16/2010 12:26:00 AM

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Apropos of nothing ...

A fine link to send to your colleagues in all manner of business situations.
1 comments this item posted by the management 12/15/2010 09:51:00 AM

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hard cases make ... what kind of law?

Following up on the idea of a special libel code for scientists with a case that even causes problems for the most reasonable suggestion made in comments (that of a very robust public interest defence, much more robust than Reynolds Qualified Privilege, for scientists and journalists writing about matters of scientific interest).

Exhibit: Dr Mohamed Taranissi. Controversial IVF clinician, who won an action against the BBC over a Panorama documentary that very nearly got his clinic closed down. Is he one of the scientists who need protecting, or one of the people that science needs protecting from? In what does the public interest reside here? And, most importantly, how can any of these questions be decided outside a court of law, with all that implies ...

When we're done with that one, we can move on to the fact that the putative reforms in question would give carte blanche to libel climate change researchers, even worse than there is now.
29 comments this item posted by the management 12/13/2010 03:58:00 AM

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Thursday Music Link

This week goes out to all the Israeli intelligence agency employees tasked with the job of making predictions about Iran's nuclear program

David Bowie: Five Years
0 comments this item posted by the management 12/09/2010 03:14:00 AM
If this is "libel reform" I want my old job back

Fair do's he's laid it on the line and said it in so many words. This is really not all that much to do with the rest of the libel reform campaign - Goldacre is arguing here for two quite controversial proposals.

1. That "scientists" (which since he is also including his own lawsuit and Simon Singh's, apparently includes science journalists writing outside their specialist field of expertise) should have their own special cut-out from the libel laws.

2. That they should not only have a safe-harbour built into the law, but they should be protected from people suing them, threatening to sue them or even having their lawyers write letters which might be interpreted as a threat to sue them. Or possibly that the safe-harbour should be so strongly worded that every scientist (broadly defined) should always be totally confident that they can never be sued.

I just don't think this dog is going to hunt. Most of (1) above is available already - the Appeal Court judgement in BCA vs Singh has established that questions of science have to be decided on their scientific merit by standards appropriate to scientists and that interpretation of scientific literature is more like comment ("honest opinion) than assertion, which is all that could be reasonably asked in this line.

And (2) is just impossible to give, as I keep saying. You can't, other than in very unusual cases, deny people access to the courts. It's a human right.

The trouble with libel law is that it's so bloody expensive and time-consuming. There is very little wrong with the law itself. As you'd expect - like every other part of the English civil code, it's been around for a very long time and has been case-hardened and adapted. It's an evolved system. Britain gets a lot of big advantages from having a legal system that everyone else wants to use; "libel tourism" isn't really, IMO, a very different phenomenon from the general tendency of people from other countries to issue their bonds and sign their contracts in the best place for doing so.

Addendum: Of course, London's status as an international commercial law centre is, speaking as an economist here, the real root of the problem. The reason why libel is so bloody expensive here is that the opportunity cost of the time of everyone involved is what they could earn doing the commercial bar. If the cost of libel actions were to be reduced, that would have consequences for the quality of the people who would make themselves available to do the work, which in turn could have unpredictable consequences for the kind of judgements we got.

Further addendum: actually the more I think about it, the more I think it's really rather cheeky for BG to have added his own case and Simon Singh's to the top of this article. Science is one thing and journalism is another. It's not at all clear that the purposes served by scientists criticising one another's work in their specialist literature are the same as those served by Simon Singh having a go at the spinebenders in the Guardian. This amalgamation of the interests of researchers being bullied by pharmaceutical companies, with those of media organisations who want to keep their legal bills down, makes a certain kind of tactical sense I suppose, but it's really not particularly ideologically coherent.
19 comments this item posted by the management 12/09/2010 02:24:00 AM
Physics Today

... an occasional look at foibles and funnies of the arxiv, mainly in cases where natural scientists do silly things while reinventing the wheel in social science statistics. Here we see three intrepid adventurers into "scientometrics", that being the statistical analysis of scientific journals.

In principle, this is a sensible thing to do. In execution ... perhaps not so much. Apparently, the frequency with which the words "simulation" and "Monte Carlo" appear in physics journals has a statistically significant correlation with average incomes in Argentina, the number of doctoral degrees granted in the USA and the number of collaborations at CERN. What they don't publish is that, via the spurious regression phenomenon, their dataset will also show a statistically significant correlation with anything else that has gone up over the period in a sufficiently smooth fashion.

(NB: physicists should only feel a little bit ashamed of this; most econometrics papers before the early 70s also suffered from the problem of regressing two nonstationary series on each other and then patting yourself on the back for getting a high r^2).
8 comments this item posted by the management 12/09/2010 12:45:00 AM

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

He is from Wrexham but even so

I think Robbie Savage comes off rather well in giving this local radio bumpkin a hard time.
0 comments this item posted by the management 12/08/2010 02:29:00 AM

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Heterodoxy I can believe in

One of the interesting things about the past three and a half years, is that Paul Krugman now regularly and explicitly identifies himself as a heterodox economist.
4 comments this item posted by the management 12/07/2010 01:01:00 PM
The end of democracy

I see from the wikileaks cables that the US government is associating itself with Moazzam Begg of CagePrisoners.

Unaccountably, parties such as Peter Tatchell, Gita Saghal and Nick Cohen appear to have been slow to condemn this horrific act of collaboration. I for one am going to stand side by side with Shiraz Maher and face up to the obvious if unpalatable reality. There can be no "yes buttery". The USA praised Begg. End of story. Whatever else they might have done, whatever their track record of good work (of which I must emphasise I am a heartfelt supporter, though not to the extent of ever having written anything favourable about it), we need to face facts.

The US government has willingly associated itself with Moazzam Begg. Therefore, in the Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time, the USA, like the Guardian, Amnesty International, the BBC and Elvis Costello, is on the other side.
0 comments this item posted by the management 12/07/2010 08:27:00 AM

Friday, December 03, 2010

Great British Traditions

I quite like the new addition to the State Opening Of Parliament - the tradition whereby an incoming government commissions a report on inequality and the benefits system from Frank Field and is then horrified at its quality. The Sacking Of The Field has a nice ring to it, it sounds like the sort of thing that's gone on since time immemorial.

Via Chris at Crooked Timber. I must say I like this "A working class version of Mumsnet" idea; it really does indicate to me that I wasn't swindled when I bought those Philip K Dick drugs.

Afterthought: "Poverty is a much more subtle enemy than purely lack of money", apparently. And we are to have a new "index of life chances". Another one to add to the lists of reasons why there are much worse things for economists to be than soulless calculating machines, and to suspect that we might look back on the days when economics regarded market value as the single measure of all things with a degree of nostalgia. Also, clearly another one to put in the category.

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8 comments this item posted by the management 12/03/2010 03:21:00 AM

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thursday Music Link

The reason why interest payments are a deductible expense is that if they were not, you would get situations in which an otherwise solvent company was made bankrupt by its corporation tax bill. I've never understood why so many otherwise intelligent people don't understand why the politics of putting the taxman in that situation are impossibly toxic.

Money's Too Tight To Mention. Did you really think I would get through a whole year without at least one Simply Red track? The video is a peach.
7 comments this item posted by the management 12/02/2010 01:11:00 AM

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