Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The wiliest tools of the Devil"

 "Easter Eggs are one of the wiliest tools of the Devil," ~Dr. Daniel Cameroon


So, shut up about "markets" already.  The key is voluntary private cooperation, and society.  We can do this...

My new piece in The Freeman.

Angus Can Weld....

Angus is an experience welder.  He could probably stitch you up one of these, if you have a hankerin' for one.  It's going to handle your downspout.

Membership Has Its Privileges....And Costs

For Members Only: Ingroup Punishment of Fairness Norm Violations in the Ultimatum Game 

Saaid Mendoza, Sean Lane & David Amodio 
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 

Abstract: Although group membership has many privileges, members are expected to reciprocate those privileges. We tested whether in-group members would be punished more harshly than out-group members for marginal fairness norm violations within ultimatum game bargaining interactions. Participants considered monetary splits (of US$20) from in-group and out-group proposers, which ranged in proportion. Accepting an offer yielded the proposed payout; rejecting it caused each player to earn nothing - a punishment of the proposer at a personal cost. Participants exacted stricter costly punishment on racial in-group than out-group members for marginally unfair offers (Study 1), an effect that was replicated with college group membership and magnified among strong in-group identifiers (Study 2). Importantly, ultimatum game decisions were driven by fairness perceptions rather than proposer evaluations (Study 3), suggesting our effects reflected norm enforcement and not esteem preservation. These findings illuminate a previously unexplored process for maintaining group-based norms that may promote in-group favoritism. 

Nod to Kevin Lewis

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


How mighty is Dan Benjamin?  Very, very mighty.

Going All Boudreaux: Rose's Edition

So, this screed was published in the Chapel Hill News.  The Raleigh News and Observer was so taken by its forceful logic and persuasive evidence that it was reprinted there.

The whole thing is excellent.  But this part was particularly excellent, I thought:

Roses is owned by Art Pope, a man whose politics I vehemently oppose....Roses is the only store of its kind within walking distance of the neighborhoods that surround University Mall. Many of these are among the poorest in Chapel Hill...Art Pope was essentially using his customers’ money against them. And because of their limited mobility and the lack of other nearby options, there wasn’t much they could do about it. While the demise of such predatory practices are to be cheered in the long run, it’s tough to sell that point to folks who’ll find themselves without a place to buy clothes and other household necessities once Roses closes. 

...Were they being exploited? Absolutely. But that doesn’t get make things any easier for them in the short run now that Roses is leaving. Of course, I believe that systems of commerce need to be established that prohibit the creation of an underclass that at once produces and consumes low-cost goods for the benefit of the upperclass. 

So, to be clear, people are being exploited by having a store that is conveniently located, has good quality, and low prices.  He wants new "systems of commerce," because this whole convenient/good/ cheap model is exploitative.  It's the system of commerce, itself, that creates an underclass.

Now, I shouldn't be so hard on him, perhaps, because he's a journalism major, and so has never taken any actual college classes.

Still, I had to go all Boudreaux.  Here is the letter to the editor I sent to the N&O, which they printed today:

I felt conflicted reading Henry Gargan's POV piece ("As Roses closes…", April 13). Some folks are so ignorant of markets that they think selling quality products at low prices in convenient stores such as Rose's is "exploitative." Having Mr. Gargan argue this point, and having the N&O give it prominent space, makes for a useful reading for my economics classes. That made me happy. 

Still, it's upsetting to see Mr. Gargan exploiting his privileged position. UNC is protected from any kind of competition, and takes its budget from public taxes. Mr. Gargan pays, at most, a fraction of the cost of mislearning economics; he is essentially using taxpayers' money against them. And because the state uses taxes to subsidize leftist think tanks like the Journalism School, there isn't much those of us who care about education can do about it. 

The big picture is that Mr. Gargan will never have to face any of the costs of his exploitative misuse of tax funds for personal gain. But the little picture, the one solace in all this, is that I can now use this bizarrely misinformed view of commerce as a teaching tool. 

Michael Munger, Professor 
Duke University

One clarification:  I was trying to parody both the argument and the steps in the argument in Mr. Gargan's original piece.  I do not, in fact, think that the UNC Journalism School should be prevented from teaching whatever ideologically biased material appeals to them, any more than I think Mr. Pope should be prevented from exercising his rights to use his support for causes he believes in.  So the "subsidize left-wing think tanks" is a parody; I don't think the Journalism School is a left-wing think tank.  It's just a bunch of folks doing the best they can, given their beliefs, with the very limited intellectual resources at their disposal.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Federal Lands

The reason we have this problem is that so much of the West is owned by "us," or "the U.S.," or something.  You may not have known that, but it matters a lot for context.  Check out this map:

Click for an even more federally-owned image.

Now, there is a genuine kerfuffle about land rights.  Not ownership, exactly, but the right to use the land for cattle grazing.  Adverse possession, Lockean combining my labor (or cattle) with the land, and so on.  There's this.  And then this

These people are crazy, right?  Why don't they graze their cattle on private land, and stop whining?  Check out Nevada, folks.  In the map above.  There is no private land.

Have we reached a cow tipping point?  What is going to happen?  My answer:  sell it, sell most of it.  My friend Holly Fretwell at PERC wrote about this back in 2003.  Fifteen years ago, Terry, Vernon, and Emily worked on this.  It's not like we didn't know.  Sell it.  SELL IT!  More recently, Holly is still trying to get someone to listen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guess who wasn't an economics major?

In the ongoing battle over monetary compensation for student athletes, perhaps no voice is more stridently ignorant than that of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby:

"I came up as a wrestler and I can tell you I worked just as hard as any football player in the country, as any basketball player, in fact I would say I worked harder than those guys,"

"The fact is we have student-athletes in all sorts of sports that, if you apply any form of value to their labor, you cannot pay football players and not pay gymnasts just because the football player has the blessing of an adoring public. That's the only difference. There are a lot of student athletes that are worthy."

Well maybe he did take a class in Marxian econ and fell in love with the labor theory of value!

Of course a simple glance at the real world (as opposed to wherever the hell Bowlsby lives) refutes his thesis.

Just change the context and see if you buy it: "you cannot pay movie stars more than teachers just because the movie star has an adoring public. Teachers work harder than those guys".


Look people, the hard truth is that football and basketball players have been cross-subsidizing tennis players, swimmers, rowers, golfers, you name it, for a very long time. Now that the handwriting is on the wall for that (to me at least) blatantly unfair system, there are going to be big adjustments.

No more cross country air travel for the golf / tennis / field hockey teams. Heck maybe even no more scholarships for them either.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Amster, Amster, Dam, Dam, Dam

So, when you enter Europa via CDG, from the US at least, and you remain in the international transit part of the airport, the passport check is...well, there isn't one.  At all.  I had thought this was fairly typical (except in the U.S., of course, where we try to maximize hassles for travellers).

I thought little of the fact that the "passport control" on my entry into Prague, from CDG, was  also desultory.  The guy was waving US passports through like it was rush hour and he was a traffic cop.  Didn't scan my passport, didn't even open it.

Today, I tried to leave.  Got a car from Bratislava to Wien, and then flew Wien to Amsterdam.  And tried to cross through passport control, leaving the Schengen area to go to a connecting flight to the non-Schengen area.  The Dutch passport guy, leaved through my passport, and announces, as if it were a movie, "Sir, you are in Europe illegally!

And suddenly there were four men with guns, all around me." The guns weren't drawn, but there were guns, in an airport.  They "suggested" that I take a walk with them.

It seems that I must have entered the "country" (the EU, it turned out, which is no country) illegally, because, according to the remarkably self-important Dutch police, "No country ever allows anyone without stamping their passports."  (This is not only mistaken, but absurd.  Nobody stamps passports...The comments here claim that it's never a problem.  Of course, they are wrong, but it was a problem for me!)

I was ushered into a room to talk to a man who did NOT have a gun, and (thank goodness) was endowed both with excellent English and wisdom.

I said that it was hardly my fault that France doesn't check passports, and that Czech Republic doesn't stamp them.  There is no way I could have gotten a stamp in Paris, which is where he claimed I should have been checked, because they didn't even operate a passport control station inside the international transit area.

The gentleman smiled ruefully, and said, "That's quite true.  And yet that is also what someone would say if they really were in the EU illegally, now, isn't it?  If we simply believed people about when they entered and exited, the whole process could be done on the honor system.  We have to try to enforce the law."
I had to admit this was actually true, from his perspective.  And of course he had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth, because there was no stamp.

He asked if I had my tickets still from the journey into the EU.  Fortunately, I did.  He looked at them, and said, "Now I doubt you just forged these, so you must be telling the truth." And did a carefully placed, handwritten "correction"entry stamp proving I had entered the EU.

And then added an equally careful exit stamp allowing me to leave.

I have to ask:  while it's true that could not have forged tickets RIGHT THEN, it would be easy to forge tickets before the fact.  He didn't check the bar code, didn't make a copy, didn't do anything to verify that the tickets were legit.

Does this happen often?  Thoughts?