Monday, November 17, 2008

Blockquoting X

Some Thoughts about Writing from Thomas Sowell:
For reasons unknown, some copy-editors seem to think that words with similar sounds are substitutes for one another. But there is a big difference between Londonderry air and London derriere.
Overall, Sowell's suggestions are not what one usually hears. For example, instead of "WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!" he says "Write. But only when you have something to say."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Becoming an Economist

A little less than a year ago, I had dinner with Ben Powell and Robert Lawson where we spoke a lot about graduate study in general. At one point in the conversation, Powell described grad school as a transition from consumption to production of economics. This idea stuck out to me. And I am still trying to figure out how to make this transition.

I have been trying to write a lot more lately. McCloskey's How to be Human* was a good read; I think I will be a better writer having read it. But I am encountering what I think is the biggest problem for graduate students attempting to write decent papers: I do not know the literature.

It's worse than that. I do not know where to look for the literature. And even if I actually know the literature (i.e. I have read the important works), I do not know that I know the literature. So when I write something, I cannot help but think that someone else has already pointed this out; that I am wasting my time; that my efforts could be much more productive if I only had a little human capital built up.

It is frustrating, to say the least. I am ready to start thinking through interesting problems---to shift away from being primarily a consumer of economics. But starting the transition is proving to be much more difficult than I imagined.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Medical Mayhem

This weeks GSPW featured a paper on cheating doctors in private Chinese hospitals. Supposedly, these doctors prescribe medicine when none is needed.

On a similar note, Arnold Kling points out that roughly 66% of doctors support prescribing placebos to patients. I left the following comment at Econlog:
Actually, I think this has more to do with the patient than the doctor.

The patient comes in sick and knows, rather simply, that medicine makes people unsick. He does not know what medicine, how much, or even if any particular medicine will do much of anything for the particular sick he is.

The doctor, on the other hand, has a rough idea of what kind of sick the patient is and, assuming he is correct, knows whether or not medicine makes much sense. Some things, I believe, just need to take their course. But patients do not want to hear that. They came to a doctor. They want to be unsick. And, at least to them, that means medicine.

If the doctor does not prescribe SOMETHING, the patient may get a second opinion. And if that doctor prescribes something, he is likely to capture a new patient. To prevent this from occurring, doctors prescribe placebos.

...if only there were a way to credibly signal to your doctor that you will not be going elsewhere regardless of the treatment strategy he chooses.
How would you feel if you found your doctor had prescribed a placebo? Do you think this could be the best treatment strategy in some situations?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blockquoting X

PJ O'Rourke is my favorite author. You can read his new piece, We Blew It, in the Weekly Standard.
It's not hard to move a voting bloc. And it should be especially easy to move voters to the right. Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren't so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes.
Wait. There's more:
Agriculture is a business that has been up to its bib overalls in politics since the first Thanksgiving dinner kickback to the Indians for subsidizing Pilgrim maize production with fish head fertilizer grants. But never, since the Mayflower knocked the rock in Plymouth, has anything as putrid as the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2008 been spread upon the land. Just the name says it. There are no farms left. Not like the one grampa grew up on.

A "farm" today means 100,000 chickens in a space the size of a Motel 6 shower stall. If we cared anything about "nutrition" we would--to judge by the mountainous, jiggling flab of Americans--stop growing all food immediately. And "bioenergy" is a fraud of John Edwards-marital-fidelity proportions. Taxpayer money composted to produce a fuel made of alcohol that is more expensive than oil, more polluting than oil, and almost as bad as oil with vermouth and an olive. But this bill passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and was happily signed into law by President Bush. Now it's going to cost us at least $285 billion. That's about five times the gross domestic product of prewar Iraq. For what we will spend on the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2008 we could have avoided the war in Iraq and simply bought a controlling interest in Saddam Hussein's country.
Ok, ok. This is the last quote:
Yes, we got a few tax breaks during the regimes of Reagan and W. But the government is still taking a third of our salary. Is the government doing a third of our job? Is the government doing a third of our dishes? Our laundry? Our vacuuming? When we go to Hooters is the government tending bar making sure that one out of three margaritas is on the house? If our spouse is feeling romantic and we're tired, does the government come over to our house and take care of foreplay? (Actually, during the Clinton administration  .  .  .  )

Anyway, a low tax rate is not--never mind the rhetoric of every conservative politician--a bedrock principle of conservatism. The principle is fiscal responsibility.
Of course, I have mentioned my favorite PJ O'Rourke piece before.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tullock on (NOT) Voting

Contrary to Fred's post at TAE, I do not believe Tullock actually voted (See comments over there). Here is a clip of Tullock explaining why he doesn't vote.

Mock the Vote

Use your hour off from work to read this piece by the Mises Institute's David Heleniak. After detailing the history of democracy, Heleniak takes the words right out of my mouth:
Wise up, America. There's nothing special about 50% plus one. Truth and justice cannot be determined by a show of hands. We are not the government. Voting is not a sacrament. And as it stands today, when we're only given a choice between two Establishment-approved candidates, voting is a joke.
Of course, this article will not take up the whole hour. So stop by Ben and Jerry's for some free ice cream as well.

From the Inbox

Though I could have entitled this post "Joke of the Day" (except that it is entirely true):
To the Mason Community:

I hear some troubling rumors, so here are a couple of facts: 1. The election is Nov. 4, for all political parties. The notion that one party votes Nov. 5 is UNTRUE. 2. It is also UNTRUE that any student jeopardizes financial aid by voting.

Peter N. Stearns
Are you serious? Does this need to be said? Anyone who is dumb enough to believe that either (a) there are separate days to vote based on who you are voting for or (b) voting could have a negative impact on financial aid IN AMERICA should not be voting anyway. I would be really upset to know my vote was being counted on par with the likes of these students if voting actually mattered (and, of course, if I intended on voting).

Monday, November 03, 2008

Lawson on Voting

Like me, Dr. Lawson has decided not to vote tomorrow (and possibly ever again):
My working metaphor for politics is gang rape. If 9 rapists and a woman are in a room and hold a vote, it's 9-1 in favor of raping the woman. If the woman doesn't vote, it's 9-0. Same result. But at least the victim doesn't have to sanctify the process that violates her rights. I am no longer going to go to the polls to give legitimacy to these criminal politicians.
I hope he also decides to join those of us who will be washing down the ceremonial celebration of theft with a pint or a shot.

Capitalism and Tolerance

Zazzle dot com illustrates quite vividly the tolerance in capitalist societies. The successful businessman has to serve the needs of his customers, even when their religions or ideologies are in conflict. I first noticed this principle when I was in South Africa; almost all of the restaurants advertise their Halal status (which is certified by a third party). Why? Because some 70% of the world's Muslims would not eat there otherwise. That is simply a market-share businesses cannot afford to lose.

So scroll down the sidebar at Zazzle. Do you support the Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, or Greens? Is gay marriage poor policy or A-OK? Would you prefer to win in Iraq or bring the troops home? Pro-choice or Pro-life? The folks at Zazzle don't care. They will be providing you with a nifty t-shirt regardless of your political views. For a fee of course.

As for me, I might be picking this one up.