Saturday, October 30, 2004

Spring Forward, Fall Back: Its All About Economics

Spring Forward, Fall Back: Its All About Economics

A friend of mine and I were politely discussing the logic behind Daylight Savings Time this evening. She argued that it originated because farmers wanted more time to harvest their crops. I reasoned that this argument is ridiculous. Farmers don't "clock" in and out! (I'm imagining a guy in overalls climbing down from his combine singing "yabadabadoo!" when the whistle blows...).

Time is simply a construct that we've invented. And any law that requires a universal clock change must be more about uniformity and getting us all on the same page than about getting our work done before the sun goes down.

Of course, it turns out to be all about economics; specifically, saving energy. Energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes and for small appliances is directly correlated with when we go to bed and get up.

From this site:

"In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day....Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time."

The American law which, by the way, does not require one to observe Daylight Saving Time, is the Uniform Time Act of 1966. It just says that if we are going to have such a thing, it must be observed uniformly.

So why is Arizona exempt?

Maybe its those farmers in the desert....

Keywords: ECO110 and ECO120

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Heisenberg's Polling Principle

The problem with polls is...well they're polls. They are attempts to measure an individual's likely voting behavior and in so doing they offer a prediction as to the likely outcome of an election were it to have been run at that moment. The problem is, the very act of trying to measure the likelihood an individual will vote, and who they will vote for, can alter the outcome. Sound familiar? Well its close to the problem physicists face when trying to measure the position and velocity of a particle. Heisenberg described this in his Uncertainty Principle:
Light can be considered as being made up of packets of energy called photons. To measure the position and velocity of any particle, you would first shine a light on it, then detect the reflection. On a macroscopic scale, the effect of photons on an object is insignificant. Unfortunately, on subatomic scales, the photons that hit the subatomic particle will cause it to move significantly, so although the position has been measured accurately, the velocity of the particle will have been altered. By learning the position, you have rendered any information you previously had on the velocity useless. In other words, the observer affects the observed.
The problem faced by pollsters is when they measure and report the intentions of likely voters, they alter the population of likely voters, and sometimes they even alter the votes of the very people they polled. For example, if the election looks to be decisive for one candidate or the other, I'll vote my true leanings (libertarian), but if the election looks close, I may vote strategically (the lesser of two evils). Still other people who are not likely to vote, will become much more likely when the polls report that the vote looks to be close, since they will feel they can influence the outcome. Sometimes this happens in predictable ways, but as Ray Fair notes in response to a reporter suggesting his prediction of Bush winning would reduce participation by Kerry supporters:
It could work the other way. If Kerry supporters see that I have made this big prediction for Bush, more of them could turn out just to prove an economist wrong.

So you can think of polls as attempts to measure two things, one would be your probability of voting, and the other would be your preference in a candidate. It seems unlike the physicists we can't even measure one of those precisely. Unlike Ray Fair some social scientists aren't willing to let the polling chips fall where they may, which is why Krugman recently penned the following:

By the way, why does the Gallup poll, which is influential because of its illustrious history, report a large Bush lead when many other polls show a dead heat? It's mostly because of how Gallup determines "likely voters": the poll shows only a three-point Bush lead among registered voters. And as the Democratic poll expert Ruy Teixeira points out (using data obtained by Steve Soto, a liberal blogger), Gallup's sample of supposedly likely voters contains a much smaller proportion of both minority and young voters than the actual proportions of these voters in the 2000 election.

But the question of who is right is an empirical one. If Krugman were honest, instead of the political hack he has become, he would point out that maybe the proportions of minority and young voters in 2000 where not unusually high, but rather part of a rising trend of increased participation for those groups? Even so, one data point does not a trend make, so the fact that Gallup is using a longer period average to weight participation does not make a conspiracy. Although you wouldn't know it from this full page ad over at I don't disagree with the assessment that the Gallup polls are over stating Bush's lead, because I do believe we will see a much larger turnout among the youth and minorities, not because I believe it is a right wing conspiracy. The fact is turn out among youth and minorities is very volatile, so only time will tell who is right.

Keywords: Polls, Surveys, BUS230

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

More Quick Hits

A few quick links to some interesting stuff.

Time management tips by John Q. Boy I need to follow this wonderful advice.

Economists lie less than sociologists, according to this study referenced by Mahalanobis via Rasmussen.

Larry Summer's thoughts on the CA deficit. Link via Full context.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I (Still) Love Competition

According to a recent article, Netflix has lowered its price to 17.99 a month, due to the threat of Amazon entering the market. And in response to pressure from recent entrants Blockbuster, entering at 17.49, and WalMart. Its worth noting that just a few months ago Netflix raised its price from 20.99 to 21.99, but now it looks as though they fear marauders. Economic theory tells us easy entry and exit should keep profit down, looks like it in this case.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Competition is Great

I just got back from Subway, where for the first time they offered to toast my ham and cheese sub. I asked when they started offering to toast the subs and the sandwich artist replied "a few months ago". To which I replied, "Oh you mean about the time Quiznos moved in?". He shook his head in affirmation. I love competition.

Keywords: Competition, ECO120

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Do No Harm: Perform the Transplant

While the Hippocratic oath does not actually contain the words "Do no harm", the modern version does suggest:

I will treat without exception all who seek my ministrations, so long
as the treatment of others is not compromised thereby.

So, if you have a willing patient and a willing donor, as a physician why should you care how they came to you? In this CNN story: a man was initially denied a transplant operation due to the means he used to find a transplant - a web page - While websites like this help draw donors in, so would cash. Oh well.

One of the money quotes:

His saga highlights the plight of some 80,000 Americans who are waiting for an organ transplant. There is growing pressure to bypass the official United Network of Organ Sharing and use private services such as the Massachusetts-based Web site instead.

And another one from the ethicists:
Medical ethics specialists said going around normal channels for organs poses

Amazing. Only professional ethicists could think skirting "normal" channels to save your life was unethical.

Keywords: Organ Donation, ECO120

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

We Get What We Deserve

If get our political information from actors then we deserve to have crappy Presidents. Right now, across campus droves of giddy women (of all ages) are lining up to hear Leonardo DiCaprio talk about the election. This from a guy who cheated to get through high school. From his biography:
He wasn't good in class, finding it hard to focus on academic studies. Indeed, he'd take to cribbing off his peers' papers and become known as Leonardo Retardo. Instead, he concentrated on breakdancing for his peers at lunchtime, and playing practical jokes on the neighbours.

They say he was bright as a kid, although he doesn't appear to have gone to college, but apparently that doesn't matter. Of course if this woman showed up to talk about anything...I'd be there.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Great Writers

How to be a great writer? Don't write like Veblen. Cafe Hayek has a great post on what Mencken thought of Veblen's tedious writing. In Mencken's words:

[It is] a cent’s worth of information wrapped in a bale of polysyllables.... It was as if the practice of that incredibly obscure and malodorous style were a relentless disease, a sort of progressive intellectual diabetes, a leprosy of the horse sense. Words were flung upon words until all recollection that there must be a meaning in them, a ground and excuse for them, were lost. One wandered in a labyrinth of nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and participles, most of them swollen and nearly all of them unable to walk. It was, and is, impossible to imagine worse English, within the limits of intelligible grammar. It was clumsy, affected, opaque, bombastic, windy, empty. It was without grace or distinction and it was often without the most elementary order.... Worse, there was nothing at the bottom of all this strident wind-music – the ideas it was designed to set forth were, in the overwhelming main, poor ideas, and often they were ideas that were almost idiotic. The concepts underlying, say, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” were simply Socialism and well water.

Orwell has a genius essay on how to recognizing crappy academic writing, and more importantly how to avoid it. In his collection:

Orwell, G. (1956). The Orwell reader; fiction, essays, and reportage ([1st ed.). New York,: Harcourt.

Of course, let us not forget our discipline's best writer, my hero Dierdre McCloskey.

Keywords: writing, ECO120, ECO301, ECO305

What? Bush Can't Count?

The President either knowlingly lied (which wouldn't be a first) or he seriously misspoke. He said:

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control.

Marginal revolution and Brad Delong both point this out as well. If this isn't true, there where is he spending the money? To listen to Kerry speak you would think Bush wasn't spending enough, on anything, let alone non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending. Well according to this report by Cato, here is where he is spending it.

From page 2 (the first number is te change in spending under Regan in the first three years and the second is the change in Bush's spending in the first 3 years):

Table 1. Spending by Department
Percent Change in Real Outlays in First Three Years
Department Reagan Bush
Agriculture -13.2% 8.5%
Commerce -29.0% 9.6%
Defense 18.6% 27.6%
Education -21.8% 60.8%
Energy -19.6% 22.4%
Health & Human Services 9.0% 21.4%
Housing & Urban Dev. -3.7% 6.1%
Interior -4.6% 23.4%
Justice 1.2% 11.0%
Labor -29.4% 56.0%
State 9.5% 32.5%
Transportation -13.0% -1.3%
Treasury 31.1% -7.0%
Veteran Affairs -3.9% 29.4%
Total Outlays 6.8% 15.6%
Sources: Budget of the U.S. Government and Mid-Session

I hope Kerry means that Bush isn't spending money on the right programs, not that he isn't spending enough money.

Keywords: Deficit, Fiscal Policy, ECO120, ECO305, ECO301

Thursday, October 07, 2004

To All Students

From craigslist via the Door. A female Professor says the things we all think:

Things I'd like to tell students that would probably get me fired.

You’re not nearly as cool as you think. Class clowns were funny in high school, but not now.

If you miss class, don’t ask me if anything important happened. Lecture happened. If you didn’t want to go – your money, your grade. What do you expect anyways? That I’m going to answer, “Yes, actually, on the one day you missed I decided to give a pop quiz that counts for 50% of your grade. Oh yeah, and then we discussed the answers to the final and then I gave everybody cookies. Too bad you missed it.”

I don’t really like it when I see you guys in the bathroom. I’m always afraid I’ll fart or something, and then it’ll be around the department and I’ll get some lame nickname like Dr. Farts. On a similar topic, how do you know when I fart in my office? Invariably, there’s a knock on my door immediately afterwards, and I have to answer it while trying to position my body for maximal obstruction of air. And, it’s kind of a catch 22. It’s not like I can go to the bathroom and fart, because of the above issue.

I’m a better liar than you. It’s because I’m really smart. When I was an undergrad, I got out of all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Deaths in the family, tears on command, cars breaking down, feigning symptoms of depression, you name it, I used it. I know when you’re trying to bullshit me. Don’t try. And while I’m very sympathetic if it’s legitimate, I’m a bitch if you lie to me.

I’m also a good writer. And the thing is, good writers notice writing style. If you try to plagiarize, I will be able to tell. And, I will give you hell for it and I will report you and you will be sorry because I will make you re-write the paper and take an ethics
course to boot.

I’m not actually all that good at keeping my mouth shut. Please don’t tell the other faculty what I say, unless it’s good and about them; or it’s something you learned that you thought was really neat that also does not clash with their theoretical viewpoint, because they’re sensitive about that.

Please don’t get offended by my jokes. See, they’re funny, only, as it turns out, not to conservative Christians, most Republicans, and ultra feminists.

If I’m late for a meeting and rushing out of my office, or if I’m trying to eat lunch in between classes, or if I’m out with friends on a Friday night, I might not be all that keen to answer questions about the upcoming midterm. I might be grouchy. Just so you know.

This here’s for the boys. If you’re flunking my class, don’t make sly little suggestions about what you might to do earn an A. You’re flunking my class. Why would I think your performance would be better in any other areas?

Incompletes are for students who, for legitimate, documented reasons, couldn't finish the class. If you don't like your grade, you can't take an incomplete.

I will do my best to give the first midterm before the drop deadline, and all other midterms before rather than after holidays.

If you take the midterm and do badly, and then don't drop the class, and then come back 3 months later and try to play it like you were never in my class and you want me to sign a petition, I won't. If you ask me to sign the petition before the drop deadline, I will happily. If the administration gives you shit about it, I'll cause a ruckus.

If I see you out on the town on a weekend night and you want to buy me a drink, you can’t currently be in my classes or ever take any of my classes again. Ever. Then maybe you can buy me a drink. Allright probably. Okay.

If you’re out on the town drunk and want to yell at me about your grade, then please don’t ever take any of my classes again.

If I set up extra office hours to tutor you, and you don’t show up, I will secretly hate you. Also, I will refuse to set up any other office hours outside of regularly scheduled ones. Oh, and any subsequent emails from me will be cryptic and I’ll wait an extra day to respond.

Just because I seem cool doesn’t mean my tests are easy. I tell you all the first day the classes are hard. Here, I am not lying. Believe me.

Reading all the material and going to class does not guarantee you an A unless you’re super-duper smart. You actually have to study too.

At the beginning of the term, when I say, “I won’t hand you a grade, but I’ll help you work to get the grade you want,” that doesn’t mean that if you flunked all the midterms and you show up the day before the final I can do anything other than feel bad and tell you to get a good night’s sleep.

When you tell me, “I’m getting kicked out of college because of the grade I got in your class,” this makes me feel bad, but it also makes me wonder if this is the first bad grade you’ve gotten in college, and what kind of slave driver is supporting you
that would cut you off for one bad grade.

When you come to office hours week after week because you’re worried about your grade, and you use all the study suggestions that I tell you to, and I really honestly believe that you’re trying hard but you’re still getting a bad grade, I will wish I had the guts to gently tell you that not everyone is meant for college, but I won’t. I will feel bad instead and continue to tutor you.

When you ask a stupid question in class I will not repeat the most horrible thing I ever did to a student the first year I was teaching, which was to laugh at a question. However, I do reserve the right to later tell my friends and to laugh then. Sorry, but
sometimes I just have to. Your name and any identifying information will not be used.

Please ask all the questions you want to in class. Really. I learn from my mistakes. If I see anyone so much as roll an eye, I will pull them aside after class and tell them that’s inappropriate.

I’m kind of a talker. I like to tell stories. Please, if you figure this out, do not use it to postpone lecture, and hence, the amount of material you will be responsible for.

Please vote. And when you do, consider what cuts in educational funding
do to your tuition. They are not unrelated.

If you work for me on a project, and you do a good job, I will write you a kick-ass letter of recommendation. If you work for me and do a lousy job, I will writer a letter that, while not direct, will let the program you are applying for know what kind
of a student you are, and I will show you this letter before I send it because I
will feel guilty. Remember that things like, “She was often on time,” or, “From
my conversations with him, it is clear that he very much wants to go to graduate
school,” are not really compliments.

And, please, if you like my class, if you feel that it changed the way you think, if you learned a lot, if you were challenged, please tell me. In this age of limited resources and time, that’s what keeps me going. I love teaching, and I’m clearly not in it for the money. All this above is just my bitch-session to get it out of my system before school starts. Almost always, I only hear from people who are angry at me. Tell me if you got something out of my class. I really really need it sometimes.

Actually, the last item goes for all your teachers.

Keywords: Teaching.