Monday, December 31, 2007

Would Mankiw approve a Fat Tax?

A leading Australian nutritionist has urged airlines to charge obese passengers more for their seats.

Dr John Tickell believes a "fat tax" would highlight his country's obesity crisis and make commercial sense, as heavier loads increase fuel costs...

Dr Tickell, a leading nutritionist and author, told the BBC that society should take a more hardline stance against obesity and get tough on fat airline passengers.

He said that Australian airlines should impose charges on their overweight clients, as they do for excess baggage, because heavier loads increase fuel costs.

"I fly Sydney to Perth - five hours - and being totally disadvantaged by some huge person next to me literally flopping over into my seat. Why should I pay the same as them?" he asked.

-Australia airline 'fat tax' urged

Internships help for US Muslims

Muslims for Public Service

A good year for Pakistan? Maybe

Benazir Bhutto gave Pakistan false hope of these enlightened values two decades ago. In a shocking display of ineptitude, Pakistan's first woman premier failed to pass a single piece of major legislation during her first 20 months in power. According to Amnesty International, Bhutto's particular brand of democracy while in office - in the words of historian William Dalrymple, "elective feudalism" - brought some of the world's highest numbers of extrajudicial killings, torture, and custodial deaths. Transparency International characterized hers as one of the world's most corrupt governments.

Bhutto revealed her true colors during an interview when she was asked whether she would travel second class as leader of the opposition under the Nawaz Sharif government's austerity measures. In fury, the "people's representative" asked the interviewer if he knew who she was, who her grandfather was, and stated that she was a Bhutto, not an ordinary person, and that Bhuttos never traveled second class. Autocratic to the last, she willed ownership of her "populist" political party....

As much as anything, Bhutto's recent about-face on the issue of supporting an independent judiciary has been galling.

Bhutto issued repeated statements while in exile that rebuked President Pervez Musharraf for ousting the chief justice of Pakistan and undermining the judiciary's independence. Yet after Musharraf passed the National Reconciliation Ordinance in October 2007 without trouble from a purged judiciary, Musharraf won Benazir over: The ordinance allowed him to withdraw pending cases of corruption against her.

Bhutto changed her tune. She claimed that the judiciary that Musharraf had purged may not have been independent anyway. Moreover, Bhutto is said to have issued an ultimatum to her right-hand man, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, who was also lead counsel for the deposed chief justice. She informed him that either he was with the chief justice or with the Pakistan People's Party. The Cambridge-educated politician-cum-human-rights lawyer remains under house arrest and a supporter for judicial independence. He also withdrew his application to contest the elections.

Unfortunately, Bhutto's unashamed hypocrisy has constantly been overlooked by Pakistan's hopeless masses and also by her Western allies, a constituency that she gave utmost importance. In the West's desperation to find a formidable answer to Pakistan's mullahs and increasingly dictatorial generalissimo (Musharraf), it overlooked Bhutto's ugly track record.

-The true colors of Benazir Bhutto

A Happy New Year

"Get ready for total inundation"

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young;

  • 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today.

Worlds like Webkinz, where children care for stuffed animals that come to life, have become some of the Web’s fastest-growing businesses. More than six million unique visitors logged on to Webkinz in November, up 342 percent from November 2006, according to ComScore Media Metrix, a research firm.

Club Penguin, where members pay $5.95 a month to dress and groom penguin characters and play games with them, attracts seven times more traffic than Second Life. In one sign of the times, Electric Sheep, a software developer that helps companies market their brands in virtual worlds like Second Life and, last week laid off 22 people, about a third of its staff.

By contrast, Disney last month introduced a “Pirates of the Caribbean” world aimed at children 10 and older, and it has worlds on the way for “Cars” and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties.

How did John Nash recover?

Actually, it can be analogous to the role of willpower in effective dieting: If one makes an effort to "rationalize" one's thinking one can simply recognize and reject the irrational hypotheses of delusional thinking.
- -John Nash (Nasar 1998, p.354)

Bryan Caplan has an interesting post about a young schizophrenic girl- The Szaszian Gestalt Shift: An Illustration

Watch A Beautiful Mind on You Tube

Econ Talk for the Day

The Psychology of Saving and Investment by David Laibson via CEP Blog

  • Lecture I: Intertemporal Choice
    How do people value delayed rewards? Is a Snickers bar tomorrow psychologically valued as much as a Snickers bar today? How can social scientists measure and model these time preferences? How has neuroscience and neuroimaging provided new insights about these intertemporal tradeoffs?

  • Lecture II: Investment for Dummies

  • How do institutions affect the investment decisions that people make? Why do defaults and other seemingly irrelevant institutional features dominate people’s financial choices? How are these empirical and theoretical findings influencing both conceptual academic debates and practical policy debates? What financial system should we establish if investors are imperfectly rational?

  • Lecture III: Sticky Biases and the Curse of Education
    Why does the marketplace fail to eliminate behavioral biases? Why are there insufficient incentives for firms to compete by educating biased consumers and thereby winning their business? Indeed, why does the marketplace sometimes augment behavioral biases? How should economists model market equilibria in which rational firms interact with imperfectly rational consumers?

Lest we forget- The Real History of Haiti

Book recommendation- An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President by Randall Robinson

In 1804, after Jefferson's landslide reelection for a second term, the president's son in law, Congressmen John W. Eppes of Virginia, rose in Congress to declare that U.S. merchants should have nothing to do with people of a race Americans needed "to depress and keep down." Congress soon concurred and passed a law prohibiting all trade with Haiti, which Jefferson signed. This ukase guaranteed Haiti's isolation for most of the nineteenth century, during which it became the poverty-ridden coup-tormented mess it remains today.

-Why We Are Partly Responsible for the Mess that is Haiti

History of Haiti from Wikipedia (don't know how reliable it is)

Related Book Events; Book TV,Harvard Law School, Hue-Man Bookstore

The Price of Democracy? Another Somalia?

Chris Blattman has the best coverage in the blogosphere on the Kenyan political turmoil.


Krugman on Charlie Rose

Conscience of a Liberal

My God is bigger than yours

How one Christian newspaper quoted the recent The Economist piece on The battle of the books;

The Bible is translated into 2,426 languages (complete or in part) and counting, including 900 English versions ranging from street slang to comic book-like translations, according to The Economist. On the other hand, the Koran is disadvantaged by the belief by some that the word of God must not be changed, even translation-wise...

Another Bible distribution advantage is the factor of finance. The United States, the world’s richest and more powerful country, is the largest financer of Christian organizations and plays a huge role in marketing the Holy Book.

In the United States, Bible publishing is big business in which annual Bible sales are worth between $425 and $650 million, according to The Economist. Publishing house Thomas Nelson alone made $473 million in 2005. Moreover, secular publishers have also jumped into the rising religious bookselling market. HarperCollins recently bought the Bible publishing house Zondervan.

Too much water can kill you

Earlier this year, a 28-year-old California woman died after competing in a radio station's on-air water-drinking contest. After downing some six liters of water in three hours in the "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" (Nintendo game console) contest, Jennifer Strange vomited, went home with a splitting headache, and died from so-called water intoxication....

, a word cobbled together from Latin and Greek roots, translates as "insufficient salt in the blood." Quantitatively speaking, it means having a blood sodium concentration below 135 millimoles per liter, or approximately 0.4 ounces per gallon, the normal concentration lying somewhere between 135 and 145 millimoles per liter. Severe cases of hyponatremia can lead to water intoxication, an illness whose symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination and mental disorientation.

In humans the kidneys control the amount of water, salts and other solutes leaving the body by sieving blood through their millions of twisted tubules. When a person drinks too much water in a short period of time, the kidneys cannot flush it out fast enough and the blood becomes waterlogged. Drawn to regions where the concentration of salt and other dissolved substances is higher, excess water leaves the blood and ultimately enters the cells, which swell like balloons to accommodate it.

Where did people get the idea that guzzling enormous quantities of water is healthful? A few years ago Heinz Valtin, a kidney specialist from Dartmouth Medical School, decided to determine if the common advice to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day could hold up to scientific scrutiny. After scouring the peer-reviewed literature, Valtin concluded that no scientific studies support the "eight x eight" dictum (for healthy adults living in temperate climates and doing mild exercise). In fact, drinking this much or more "could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants, and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough," he wrote in his 2002 review for the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. And since he published his findings, Valtin says, "not a single scientific report published in a peer-reviewed publication has proven the contrary."

-Strange but True: Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill

Solow and superficial kind of originality

Another quote from Solow (emphasis mine);

What about my peculiar belief in the importance of group enterprises? I am not sure there is any parallel or analogue in economic method. Maybe it explains why I think teaching is an important activity and itself part of the advance of knowledge, and why I sometimes have the feeling that we demand too much of a superficial kind of “originality” from our graduate students. But that would probably be stretching it.

-Bob Solow, Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies, p.274

See also Time Management Tips from Bob Solow

History of South Asia in One Picture

All of the above leaders were murdered- the politics revolve around the cult of personalities. Would it ever change?

Quote of the Day

"In civilized society he [each one of us] stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons."

- Adam Smith

Sunday, December 30, 2007

David Henderson on Making Decisions

Making Great Decisions - book event at Google

David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution. He is also an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Some comments;

- I think the book could have been called, 'Discover Your Inner Economist and Statistician'- probably more practical than Tyler Cowen's book
- The following are the key principles the authors highlight;
  • Avoid the ‘I Must’ trap
  • Think on the Margin
  • Create better alternatives
  • Think about what matters
  • Ask what changed
  • Think value
  • Think arbitrage
  • Know what you want before you choose
  • Biases affect the best of us
-One advise to the authors- please have a better title for your next book.

Office for Human Research Protections?

Atul Gawande op-ed in NYT;

A year ago, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published the results of a program that instituted in nearly every intensive care unit in Michigan a simple five-step checklist designed to prevent certain hospital infections. It reminds doctors to make sure, for example, that before putting large intravenous lines into patients, they actually wash their hands and don a sterile gown and gloves.

The results were stunning. Within three months, the rate of bloodstream infections from these I.V. lines fell by two-thirds. The average I.C.U. cut its infection rate from 4 percent to zero. Over 18 months, the program saved more than 1,500 lives and nearly $200 million.

Yet this past month, the Office for Human Research Protections shut the program down. The agency issued notice to the researchers and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association that, by introducing a checklist and tracking the results without written, informed consent from each patient and health-care provider, they had violated scientific ethics regulations. Johns Hopkins had to halt not only the program in Michigan but also its plans to extend it to hospitals in New Jersey and Rhode Island.

The government’s decision was bizarre and dangerous. But there was a certain blinkered logic to it, which went like this: A checklist is an alteration in medical care no less than an experimental drug is. Studying an experimental drug in people without federal monitoring and explicit written permission from each patient is unethical and illegal. Therefore it is no less unethical and illegal to do the same with a checklist. Indeed, a checklist may require even more stringent oversight, the administration ruled, because the data gathered in testing it could put not only the patients but also the doctors at risk — by exposing how poorly some of them follow basic infection-prevention procedures.

Another Search Tool

Find a Grave

Photo of the Day

"Chinese parents of first-year university students sleep on mats laid out on the floor of a gymnasium at the campus in Wuhan, central China as the parents accompany the students on their first day of college life"- from Al Jazeera

Lest we forget

The True Story Of Black Hawk Down- from History Channel

Somalia is still a tragedy

The Record of Growth

Slides of a lecture by Abhijit Banerjee

See the entire course- Special Topics in Economics: The Challenge of World Poverty

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity - book event at CFR


Growth Wisdom from Charles Kenny

Trends and Issues in Development Aid

Denmark Feels the Pinch as Young Workers Flee to Lands of Lower Taxes

The Truth About Salvadoran Gangs: A Guest Post

Krugman on Trade

China Lets Currency Appreciate a Bit Faster

The IMF's data for global reserve growth in q3

Do We Need Death? The Consequences of Radical Life Extension

Finding Alzheimer’s Before a Mind Fails

Report Says That the Rich Are Getting Richer Faster, Much Faster

Housing price-rental ratios


A lecture series from the World Bank on Islamic Economics;

Microeconomics and Macroeconomics within the Islamic Framework
Globalization and Islam

Islam and economic development: Promoting saving, investment and development in Muslim countries

Capitalism, socialism, the welfare state, and Islam

Public Finance : The role of taxation, expenditure and debt in an Islamic economy.

Role of Zakah and Awqaf in Poverty Alleviation

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pakistan and democracy

A recent documentary from Al Jazeera
Part 2 below

Israel is losing appeal to Jewish immigrants?

A ridiculous ruling in Malaysia

A Malaysian Catholic newspaper and church groups cried foul on Friday over a government move to forbid non-Muslims from using the word Allah.

The row could further strain race and religious relations in the country, where many non-Muslims believe their rights are being trampled by the Muslim majority.

The dispute came out in the open after Malaysia's internal security ministry ruled recently the term Allah -- long used by Christians in Malaysia to refer to God -- could no longer be used by non-Muslims.

"Malaysia is probably the only nation where the term Allah by Christians to refer to God is prohibited," parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said in a statement, adding that the term was never banned even in the Middle East.

"The term Allah was used to refer to God by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed," he said.

-Malaysia faces Christian outcry over word "Allah"

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed- podcast from BBC, In Our Time

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds."

Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a statement of essential faith spoken for over 1600 years in Christian Churches - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

But what has become a universal statement was written for a very particular purpose - to defeat a 4th century theological heresy called Arianism and to establish that Jesus Christ was, indeed, God. The story of the Creed is in many ways the story of early Christianity – of delicate theology and robust politics. It changed the Church and it changed the Roman Empire, but that it has lasted for nearly 2000 years would seem extraordinary to those who created it.

For your information

How to get free access to JSTOR!

Outsource your motivation

Robin Hanson's advice on dealing with procrastination;

* Make a firm commitment to your boss or partner to finish a task by a certain time. This will make delays more embarrassing and difficult to cover up
* Strip your workspace of all distractions, from your iPhone to your Xbox. Then turn off the "ding" on your email. "We have all these temptations," says Steel. "We've made our world motivationally toxic."
* Many people say that they put things off because they are too tired to deal with them, so get a good night's sleep and try tackling the most unpleasant and difficult tasks early in the day.
* Set a series of realistic goals. Some counsellors and therapists recommend drawing up weekly, daily or even hourly goals. The more readily sidetracked you are, the more you need to divide your main task into smaller chunks.
* Promise yourself a reward for each goal that you meet.
* Believe in yourself. "The old saying is true," says Steel. "Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you are probably right."
* Outsource your motivation. Get someone else to regularly goad you into action.

See also Economics and New Year’s Resolutions

You Tube Course in Tax Policy for Dummies

Exploring Issues in Tax Policy- a course from Mercatus Center, GMU

These insights will help policy makers understand the issues surrounding the debate over tax reform by addressing some of the following questions:

-How do tax rates and tax incentives direct decision making? Do small changes in tax policy affect individual behavior or the economy as a whole?
-What lessons can be drawn from the 1986 tax reforms to help us understand tax reform today? Are there any comparisons that may be drawn? Why did the 1986 reforms take place and what did it mean for the economy?
-What role does the corporate income tax play in the overall tax structure? How do corporate tax rates affect international competition, the decisions corporations make, and the U.S. economy as a whole?


Part 2 and Part 3

The Encyclopedia of Taxation and Tax Policy

For a lay person's guide read Taxing Ourselves: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate Over Taxes By Joel Slemrod, Jon M. Bakija

Entrepreneurship and Development

Read Making Poor Nations Rich- Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development
edited by Benjamin Powell

via Frederic Sautet

What's hot in Romania

It's EBay fraud- via Freakonomics blog.

EBay goes far to fight fraud -- all the way to Romania
The country is the top source of organized scams on the auction site. The company has sent over equipment and a team to help the authorities there.

But when it comes to online auctions, particularly for big-ticket items such as cars that can yield $5,000 a scam, Romanians own the game
. Romanian police estimate that cyber-crime is now a multimillion-dollar national industry, as important to organized criminals here as drug smuggling or human trafficking.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, ranks Romania fifth in its table of naughty nations. But most experts agree that doesn't give Romanian criminals their due. Much of the cash being made on auction fraud reported as originating in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Spain or Italy is actually being picked up in those countries by Romanian money mules. An EBay fraud ring busted last year in Chicago, for example, has been traced to Pitesti, Romania.

EBay, which doesn't even operate a site in Romania, won't talk dollar figures but acknowledges that the country is the No. 1 source of "professional fraud." On a November 2006 visit to the Romanian capital, Bucharest, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the vast majority of Internet fraud committed on "one prominent U.S. online auction website is connected to Romania or Romanians."...

A classic Romanian scam is the "second chance auction." The mark: an EBay user who has narrowly lost an auction. The scammers can see that the user was prepared to spend, say, $145 on a particular item. They will then try to guess the user's e-mail address so that they can make contact off the EBay platform to offer a second chance to buy the item. Users commonly have the same e-mail address as their EBay user name, so the scammers may send out 50 e-mail messages using an EBay user name and the most common domain names such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo.

The Romanian scammers then cook up elaborate stories to persuade their victims to send money via unrecoverable methods such as Western Union -- even instructing people not to tell Western Union the payment is for an EBay transaction, claiming Western Union will charge them an EBay surcharge of 10% (it doesn't), and instead to say they're sending money to their Romanian cousin.

Careers of New York Prostitutes

An interesting paper from Sudhir A. Venkatesh, "Vice Careers: The changing contours of sex work in New York City,",

In the mid-1990s, changes to law enforcement strategies in New York City pushed many women working in the sex trade off of the streets and into the indoors. Increasing numbers of women began advertising sexual services in bars, over the Internet, and in print media, and conducting their work in their homes, hotels, and brothels. This study uses in-depth interviews and participant observation to examine the impact of this change on the life and work of women working in New York’s indoor sex trade. A critical finding is that as women move their work indoors, they begin to conceive of sex work as a profession and a career, rather than just a short-term means of employment. This “professional and careerist orientation” may have significant implications for the length of women’s tenure in sex work and ultimately, for their ability to exit the trade completely.

Some random excerpts from the paper;

As Whelehan (2001) writes, “Female prostitutes in the U.S. and cross-culturally can earn as much or more in the kind of work that they do than for comparably paid work in the straight world given their skills and levels of education

In one Chicago based study on sex workers, 71% of respondents reported that someone that they knew had suggested selling sexual services. Of those who suggested prostitution, 45% were friends of the respondent, 24% cousins, 19.6% a boyfriend or girlfriend, 14.4% a sister, 7.2% were live-in partners of a parent, and 6.5% were the respondent’s mother (Raphael & Shapiro 2002).

For example, in one study, 67.5% of sex worker respondents reported spending most of their sex work income on rent and household bills, and settlement of personal and household-related debts. While a number of women reported spending significant amounts of money on drugs and alcohol, 87.5% of the sample did not prioritize spending money on material goods and considered them to be “extras” (Sharpe 1998)

Numerous women spoke of sex work as an “addiction.” Allison, who has worked as an escort and who currently works independently soliciting clients in bars and clubs, says, “It's addicting. The work, it definitely, it becomes a lifestyle.”

When asked to describe a time when she had been forced to do something she did not want to do, one woman in our indoor-based sample responded, “He had me fuck his son, a little kid. It was disgusting but he gave me $500.” Similarly painful, one woman recounted her experience with being threatened and beaten up for being a sex worker:
I got beat up twice, both times by a cop. Both of them wanted me to suck their dicks for free, right in the car. I said no, because I really don't like being in the cop cars. But, they said I had to and pulled their dicks out and just grabbed my head and pushed me down there. The first time I bit the guy on his dick. He just screamed and started beating me with his stick. I passed out. I don't know for how long. I was just laying there and when I woke up it was almost morning.

Ebony, for example, is an independent escort who is planning to relocate to California where she believes she can maximize her potential as a sex worker. She feels that there is greater opportunity to earn money in the sex trade in California. She anticipates making $5,000 a week there by seeing only five clients, money which she hopes will support family planning and retirement. For Ebony, making such money by seeing so few clients demarcates her attainment of success in the trade, and thus her achievement of upward mobility within the industry. Ebony hopes to marry and have children, desires which she does not view as antithetical to sex work.

Women frequently drew parallels between indoor sex work and legal work in a way that tempered exit. Many of them said legal work could be considered a form of “prostitution.” As Nancy reflected:

I look at what other people do, the jobs that they have, and all I can think about is what little money they make working these jobs. I think people are forced to take these legal jobs. But really, I think they are just another form of prostitution. In fact, if you ask me, the housewife is really the biggest form of prostitution. You don’t have to be out there to be a sex worker, you know. And you know, it’s hard to get out when the money is so easy. I tried to start over completely after jail but it was hard. The money and way of making it means, it means that sex work is not hard to leave but it’s, it’s very easy to stay in.

At the end of the day, may be we all are prostitutes.

Today's Econ Debate- Stolper-Samuelson is Dead?

Paul Krugman wrote Trouble With Trade, and clarified it here

Tyler Cowen-What if Paul Krugman were right about trade and wages?
Rodrik- Sensible words from Paul Krugman
Mankiw writes
Australian Harry Clarke- Freeing up international trade with poor countries & wage inequality
SCSU Scholars- Trade: It's an empirical question

At Cafe Hayek- Perspective on Trade, The Wages of Misunderstanding, Krugman vs. Krugman, Again

The Economist- Paul Krugman is not a protectionist
The Economics and Politics of Trade

Stolper-Samuelson is Dead

Stop bashing Krugman on trade and inequality

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

The western news is certain that it is Al Qadea;

The following by Rageh Omaar appears biased

And Bhutto, from his death cell, wrote a very moving document called “If I Am Assassinated,” in which he said there are two hegemonies—these are his words. He said, “There are two hegemonies that dominate our country. One is an internal hegemony, and the other is an external hegemony. And unless we challenge the external hegemony, we will never be able to deal with the internal one,” meaning Washington is the external hegemony and the army is the internal one. And this is a problem which still haunts Pakistan and which, I have to say, has now created this new crisis.

And unfortunately, his daughter decided to collaborate with both of these hegemonies. One has to say this. Her second period in office was a total disaster, because not only did she do nothing for the poor or her natural constituency, but basically it became an extremely corrupt government, and she and her husband accumulated $1.5 billion through corruption. This is well known to everyone.

Now, when the United States decided they wanted to put her back in there, they told her, we are going to whitewash you so clean no one will even know. And this is what the global media and networks have been doing. Look, I knew her well. I’m very upset that she’s dead. But the piety being displayed on the global media networks is beyond belief. You know, it’s as if there’s no past, no history in this country or its politicians.
- Tariq Ali

In Bhutto Stronghold, Sharif Seeks a Political Alliance Against Musharraf
Hackers Exploit Bhutto Assassination (unrelated, but)

Must reads for US politicians
Daughter of the West
Pakistan in Turmoil after Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination - from Democracy Now

Friday, December 28, 2007

What Development Economists Need to Know about Climate Change

A great talk by Thomas Schelling, at World Bank;

Schelling started his presentation by characterizing the climate change issue as a bargaining between developed countries, leaving the developing countries with a limited role. Yet it is the developing countries that are truly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, he said. This is largely because in developing countries so many people live on agriculture. Additionally, Schelling explained, this is where the bulk of the population resides, and will increasingly reside in the next few decades. Other reasons for developing countries’ vulnerability that Schelling cited included weaker health care systems and less access to crucial nutrients, clean water, and sewage systems. Additionally, he pointed out that as climates become warmer, vectors that carry pathogens (mosquitoes, flies) become more numerous and also more virulent. These will all be key factors in offsetting the effects of climate change, Schelling said, and as such the best defense of developing countries against climate change will be their own development. This will allow them to become less dependent on agriculture and become sufficiently wealthy to afford a decent public health infra-structure.

Schelling stated that in his judgment there is no uncertainty that the greenhouse effect has contributed to climate change, and that this will become an increasingly important issue. The uncertainty, he said, is about how much warming results from a given increase in greenhouse gases, in addition to how the warming will influence different climates. While much emphasis is placed on the rise in temperature itself, it is the climactic effects such as changes in rainfall, evaporation and prevalence of snow which heavily affects agriculture (and hence people) in many areas of the world. Schelling stated that despite the dramatic increase in funding for climate change research over the past decades, much still remains to be discovered. Schelling also stressed the dire need for more research and development of new forms of energy. He also highlighted the potential of geo-engineering, despite complications of cost and need for further research.

Schelling explained that despite the overwhelming evidence of the effects of climate change, there are still many distinguished people in the United States who believe that climate change is not real. Industrial countries in general have not displayed a serious interest in greenhouse emissions, he said. Schelling stated that because the leading industrial country has barely acknowledged the problem, there must be less pressure on the developing countries to address the issue. Developing countries are, in the short run, less capable of dealing with the effects of climate change because of their lack of development. Hence there must not be a huge demand on their part to seriously curtail their development by allocating too many resources to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, especially if countries who can afford to do so are not leading by example.

Another talk by Schelling on Rational Choice Theory
Greenhouse Effect

Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling's little-known role in the Vietnam War

The Neuroscience of Empathy

Dr. Thomas Lewis, also one of the authors of The General Theory of Love, at Google.

A great talk, and slides and animations are cool- the first 15 minutes the best introduction to the theory of evolution I've seen.

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Why we get bored
Don't blame your job, the traffic or your mindless chores. Battling boredom, researchers say, means finding focus, living in the moment and having something to live for
Developing ways to cope with boredom may even help cure other ills. For example, some research hints that if former drug addicts learn to deal effectively with boredom, they are less likely to relapse. In an ongoing study of 156 addicts at a methadone clinic at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, Todman found that the addicts’ reported level of boredom was the only reliable indicator of whether they would stay clean.

Of course, boredom also has its benefits. It can provide an opportunity for thought and reflection, many study participants observe. It can also be a sign that a task is a waste of time—and thus not worth continuing. “Rather than fighting boredom, we would do well to pause and learn from the experience,” Eastwood says.

Indeed, many scholars have considered boredom a catalyst for action. In his 1995 essay “In Praise of Boredom,” Nobel Prize–winning poet Joseph Brodsky wrote: “When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is, the sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface.” Adds Vodanovich: “If you don’t succumb to its negative effects, boredom is a great motivational force.”

Why It's So Hard to Be Happy

A Thought on the Sub-prime Debacle

Trouble With Trade

Explaining CDOs, Overcollateralization Edition

And finally everything you wanted to know about your health, drugs and sex

Iran's Economy

From Al Jazeera;

Money and Inflation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Summary: This paper looks at the determinants of inflation in Iran. Unlike the traditional estimates of the demand function for real money balances, the approach followed here focuses on the relationship between nominal variables and inflation. The model estimates are used to address the questions raised by the decline in inflation that occurred up to the first half of 2006, looking at the structural stability of the estimated relationships and the ability of the model to predict inflation at the end of the sample. The estimates confirm the strong relationship between money and inflation when M1 is used, with no evidence of a structural change.

Consumer Price Index
data- Iran

Thursday, December 27, 2007

King of Farts

In case you didn't know already it is Steven Levitt's father;

To understand the nuances of farting, or flatulence, I called upon Dr. Michael D. Levitt, a gastroenterologist and associate chief of staff at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Levitt, 64, could well be called Dr. Fart because he is the world's leading authority on flatulence. He has had 275 articles printed on flatulence in medical journals, as either the principal author or the co-author.

In fact, Levitt's career could only happen in America. "In other countries, no way would a scientist study farts. But for reasons I can't completely figure out, farting is considered wrong in America and people are worried about it. Farts have been good to me. I've done very well, thank you."

Levitt works with four assistants out of a small laboratory on the third floor of the V.A. hospital, about a mile west of the Mississippi River. Every day he receives at least one long-distance phone consultation from a worried farter, almost always a man whose wife has prompted her husband to find out why he cuts the cheese so often.

Levitt's job doesn't end when he leaves the hospital at night, either. "Every cocktail party I go to, I always get at least one wife who comes up to me and complains about her husband's farts."

More about Levitt's dad influence on him, listen to this podcast (one of the best of the year).

See also Stopping Car Bombs in Iraq

Econ Talks

Robert Rosenthal Memorial Lecture

Jean Tirole, "Economic Incentives, Self Motivation, and Social Pressure"

Alvin E. Roth, "What Have We Learned From Market Design"

Elective Caesareans and respiratory problems

Babies delivered by elective Caesarean sections are significantly more likely to have respiratory problems than those delivered vaginally or by emergency surgery, a new study finds...

The younger the gestational age, the more breathing problems there were for all babies, and the authors emphasized that the risk was small for all groups.

Still, the increased risk for the elective Caesarean babies was notable. At 37 weeks, they were almost four times as likely as others of the same gestational age to have respiratory problems, at 38 weeks three times as likely, and at 39 weeks almost twice as likely.

The differences remained even after controlling for maternal age, smoking, alcohol intake and other variables.

-Birthing: Elective Caesareans Tied to Breathing Problems

Here's the summary of the findings;

Results 2687 infants were delivered by elective caesarean section. Compared with newborns intended for vaginal delivery, an increased risk of respiratory morbidity was found for infants delivered by elective caesarean section at 37 weeks’ gestation (odds ratio 3.9, 95% confidence interval 2.4 to 6.5), 38 weeks’ gestation (3.0, 2.1 to 4.3), and 39 weeks’ gestation (1.9, 1.2 to 3.0). The increased risks of serious respiratory morbidity showed the same pattern but with higher odds ratios: a fivefold increase was found at 37 weeks (5.0, 1.6 to16.0). These results remained essentially unchanged after exclusion of pregnancies complicated by diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and intrauterine growth retardation, or by breech presentation.

Capitalism and Freedom Fact of the Day

"In 1898, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie offered to buy Filipino independence from the U.S. government for $ 20 million."

- cited in The Idea That is America, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, p. 31

related; American Anti-Imperialist League

Tsunami Lessons for Sri Lanka

An interview with a Sri Lankan scientist on the tsunami's effects;

Q. What did you see there?

A. Severe damage, though inconsistent damage. At Peraliya, near to where the family had encountered those trucks with coral, the tsunami had swelled to a height of 30 feet and surged inland for more than a mile. There, it inundated a passenger train, the Ocean Queen, killing about 1,700 people. Yet, only three miles away, in Hikkaduwa, the wave came ashore with a height of about nine feet and barely grazed the beach. Why such differences?

I asked a fisherman at Peraliya, “Why was the inundation so severe right here?” He said, “Possibly the coral might be the issue, because this is largely a coral-mining area.”

From my fluid dynamics background, I knew he was making sense. If you take friction from a flow, it moves faster.

At Yala, where we’d stayed, I saw evidence of another type of beach-barrier destruction. The resort had been flattened to rubble; 175 people died there, including two friends from California. The owner told us how they’d taken down a sand dune so that all rooms could have an unobstructed view of the ocean. I returned to Arizona, convinced that human activity had magnified the disaster.

Q. So now you had a working theory. How did you prove it?

A. By employing a mixture of science and, believe it or not, journalism. A few weeks after I returned, the BBC asked me to consult on a documentary on the tsunami. With their funding, we hired divers to go underwater at eight different sites around the island, including Peraliya.

Q. In other words, you used this remarkable research technique — you looked!

A. Exactly. And the divers came back with pictures that were very clear. In the areas where there’d been a lot of inundation, there were no, or few, corals left.

Here at my lab at Arizona State, we have our very nice wave tank, which permits us to run waves at different speeds and heights and then measure the effects under controlled conditions.

So we made tsunami models with simulated coral reefs and then without them. What we saw was that where the coral was gone, the surging water increased by a factor of three or more.

At Princeton, Michael Oppenheimer’s research group took the idea further with sophisticated computer models, which substantiated my laboratory experiment. The research together has shown that when you cut down the coral reefs, or dunes or mangrove forests, you make a jetway for waves, because you have less bottom friction, and that lets the water through.

Q. Would you advocate a ban on coral mining?

A. Absolutely. Everywhere, not only in Sri Lanka. Once you start mining corals, you reduce beach defenses. If you have a tsunami or the more common event, a storm surge, the reef will help protect the land. ...

Q. Few scientists ever get to see their work have a direct impact on policy. What does that feel like?

A. I was born in Sri Lanka and I never thought I could make a contribution this way. I didn’t think I could do science that changed policy. Till the tsunami, I thought all I could do was to train students, which I did.

Of course, the research was associated with natural disaster, which is sad. But these are the types of problems that scientists should be helping with. Right now, I’m working a lot on the “heat island” effect, asking why air temperatures in cities like Phoenix and Colombo are about 8 degrees warmer than in surrounding areas. On a different project, funded by the U.S. Navy, we’re figuring out how wave action contributes to how land mines get buried in conflict areas. This can save a lot of lives. These are important questions, though they are also practical.

Many scientists are so engulfed in their own little area of fundamental research that they don’t want to directly embrace practical knowledge. That’s one barrier that I was able to break.

Religion- A Bad Thing for Bad People

Quote of the Day;

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."- Blaise Pascal

Bhutto is Killed

In her final political address—a few minutes before her death—Miss Bhutto alluded to the risk she was running. She said: “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis.”

Life in pictures: Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Assassinated-Implications for US Security
Benazir Bhutto, 54, Lived in Eye of Pakistan Storm
An assassin strikes

Anti-globalization Gibberish?

EDWARD GLAESER on Bad Samaritans;

Ha-Joon Chang's "Bad Samaritans" (Bloomsbury, 288 pages, $26.95) is a lively addition to the protectionist side of the debate. Readers who believe in free trade will not find much in Mr. Chang that challenges that belief, but the book is well written and far more serious than most anti-globalization gibberish.

Mr. Chang's main charge is that free trade advocates from wealthy countries are hypocrites, because the history of America and the United Kingdom is full of protectionism. Mr. Chang alleges, with scant evidence, that the two nations grew great because of these tariff barriers. First world economists have reaped the benefits of protection, he suggests, but are now trying to deprive the world's poor of the wonders of tariffs.

Mr. Chang also takes aim at other free market policies such as privatization and fiscal prudence. Again he argues that since rich countries have public ownership and deficits, it is rank hypocrisy for us to try to forbid them to the poor. An alternative view is that economists shouldn't be required to endorse the worst policies of their own countries.

While it is easy to quibble with some of Mr. Chang's more bizarre statements about American political history, such as his claim that "slavery was not as divisive an issue in antebellum politics as most of today believe it to have been," he is certainly correct that America was quite protectionist during the 19th and early 20th centuries. First Alexander Hamilton, then the Whigs, and finally the G.O.P. all fought for tariffs. While Abraham Lincoln did much to make men free, his support for tariffs made him less of an advocate of free markets.

The most curious thing about Mr. Chang's retelling of American history is his suggestion that there is anything secret about this history of American protectionism. The Tariff of Abominations and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff are both mainstays of high school history classes; Honest Abe's affinity for tariffs even appears in popular movies about the Great Emancipator.

Ha-Joon Chang interview on Bloomberg

Costa Rica Fact of the Day

Costa Rica Fact of the Day;

According to the latest statistics, a robbery is reported in Costa Rica every eight minutes, compared with one every 25 minutes 15 years ago. In the capital city of San Jose alone, the number of asaltos, which include street thefts, jumped by more than 16 per cent from 2005 to 2006. And the latest figures for 2007 show another steady increase month-by-month.

From World Bank- Costa Rica wins big with Intel

Internship at Ministry of Finance, India

A great opportunity for Indian students;

The government has devised an internship scheme to encourage interaction of officers of the finance ministry with students pursuing higher studies in the field of economics , finance and management.

The department of economic affairs (DEA), which operates under the finance ministry, will also give financial assistance to the selected students. The duration of the internship would be two months and the scholar would get a token remuneration of Rs 5,000 per month during that period.

NIPFP-DEA Program on Capital Flows (a blog from DEA)

Television Advertising and Children'sRequests to Father Christmas

An interesting paper- The Relationship Between Television Advertising, Children's Viewing and Their Requests to Father Christmas

OBJECTIVE:: Children's letters to Father Christmas provide an opportunity to use naturalistic methods to investigate the influence of television advertising. METHODS:: This study investigates the number of toy requests in the letters of children aged between 6 and 8 (n = 98) in relation to their television viewing and the frequency of product advertisements prior to Christmas. Seventy-six hours of children's television were sampled, containing over 2,500 advertisements for toys. RESULTS:: Children's viewing frequency, and a preference for viewing commercial channels, were both related to their requests for advertised goods. Gender effects were also found, with girls requesting more advertised products than boys. CONCLUSION:: Exploring the children's explicit understanding of advertising showed that children in this age group are not wholly aware of the advertisers' intent and that, together with their good recall of advertising, this may account for their vulnerability to its persuasive messages.

via Mind Hacks

Blog of the Day

Economic Thought of the Day from Daniel Hamermesh (almost a blog)

December 25, 2007—We were walking along a main street in Maui, past an outlet of ABC General Stores (of which there are probably more outlets per square mile in a city in Hawaii than there are ☼$$ outlets). Signs on the window advertised that it was hiring clerks for this and other outlets to be opened soon and that the company had never had a layoff. This is a pretty good way to attract new workers. The perceived absence of risk of layoff should attract more workers to apply and should encourage workers who otherwise might consider themselves too qualified for the job to think about working there. People are willing to forego some wages (essentially a negative compensating wage differential) for the amenity of working in a job with no risk of layoff. The ad and its implicit promise put a burden on the company—should it later lay off workers anywhere, remaining workers’ morale is likely to sink fast, with negative consequences for worker productivity.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

There Will Be Blood

Movie Recommendation- There Will Be Blood

NYT review of the film

How do you explain trade to a Fox reporter

Steven Landsburg gives a try;

Here's the related op-ed; Why protectionism is a lot like racism;
I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is just plain ugly to care more about total strangers in Detroit than about total strangers in Juarez. Of course we care most about the people closest to us-our families more than our friends and our friends more than our acquaintances. But once you start talking about total strangers, they all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. You could say you care more about white strangers than black strangers because you've got more in common with whites. Does that make it okay to punish firms for hiring blacks?

Related; Landsburg talk at GMU

Assorted Steven Levitt

Assorted multimedia and podcasts by Levitt;

From Guba;

Steven Levitt, at Princeton "Beyond Freakonomics: New Musings on the Economics of Everyday Life" (the best of the lot, very funny- should be required listening to all businessmen and MBAs out there)

Freakonomics at Colorado College

Executive MBA Kick-off Week

See also his videos at NYT Blog

Philosophy and Science Podcast

From Radio National;

The great physiologist and anatomist William Harvey died three hundred and fifty years ago this year. In today's Philospher's Zone, we examine the thinking behind his greatest discovery - the circulation of the blood - and reveal the philosophy that guided his hand when he weilded the scalpel.

Download the podcast.

Dumpster Diving

Welcome to the New York of Freegans;

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,” said Adam Weissman, 29, who started four years ago and is the movement’s de facto spokesman.

Freeganism dates to the mid-’90s, and grew out of the antiglobalization and environmental movements, as well as groups like Food Not Bombs, a network of small organizations that serve free vegetarian and vegan food to the hungry, much of it salvaged from food market trash. It also has echoes of groups like the Diggers, an anarchist street theater troupe based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960’s, which gave away food and social services.

According to Bob Torres, a sociology professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who is writing a book about the animal rights movement — which shares many ideological positions with freeganism — the freegan movement has become much more visible and increasingly popular over the past year, in part as a result of growing frustrations with mainstream environmentalism.

-Not Buying It

What's happening in Afghanistan?

Afghan forces raid US security firms

Afghanistan to Expel 2 Envoys, Citing Threats to Its Security

Afghanistan: Who's to Blame?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Developing Effective Habits with Economics

From the latest column by Tim Harford;

More recently, they have used behavioral experiments to raise economics to the level of common sense (no mean feat) and perhaps beyond.

One of my favorite examples: Participants in an experiment were offered a choice of films to watch. Depending on whether the film was to be watched immediately or in a few days, the subjects chose something light, like Mrs. Doubtfire, or something character-building, such as Schindler's List. When offered the chance to change their minds at the last minute, many who had signed up for a highbrow experience buckled and grabbed something less challenging.

Daniel Read, one of the researchers and an economist at the London School of Economics, told me that he caught himself behaving in exactly the same way. He subscribed to a film-rental service and kept rearranging his favorites so that highbrow films never quite reached the top of the waiting list.

These lapses are not rational. But we can still be rational in anticipating them and taking steps to pre-empt them.

Karlan, one of the men behind, discovered this firsthand in his day job, in which he researches the effectiveness of small financial institutions in poor countries. With two colleagues, he designed a new savings product for a small rural bank in the Philippines called SEED: "Save, Earn, Enjoy Deposits." SEED savings accounts paid the standard rate of interest but would not allow withdrawals until either a specified date had passed or a specified amount had been saved. (There were exemptions, for example, a documented medical emergency, but no savers took advantage of them.)

Karlan surveyed some of the customers, asking hypothetical questions designed to reveal indirectly the sort of preferences that might indicate a self-control problem. He found that women (not men) whose responses suggested a lack of self-control were also more likely to open a SEED account. And a randomized trial found that the SEED accounts did substantially boost saving.

In other words, when we need help with self-control, we tend to know it. I certainly did. Two hundred sit-ups a week might not sound like a lot, but it is 200 more than I was doing before. And I can say for certain that if my money hadn't been on the line, there's no way I'd be sticking to it.

The Bad Girls

The List from Newsweek

Artist of the Day- Marvin Franklin

Rich Legacy of an Artist of the Rails

The Idea That is America

A World Away, Healing From an Attack

Used to be Markets- Letter Writing Business in India

But now the professional letter writer is confronting the fate of middlemen everywhere: to be cut out. In India, the world’s fastest-growing market for cellphones, calling the village or sending a text message has all but supplanted the practice of dictating intimacies to someone else.

And so Mr. Sawant, 61, and by his own guess the author of more than 10,000 letters of others, was sitting idly at his stall on a recent Monday, having earned just 12 cents from an afternoon spent filling out forms, submitting money orders, wrapping parcels — the postal trivialities that have survived the evaporation of his letter-writing trade.

But this is not the familiar story of the artisan flattened by the new economy, because, it turns out, his family has gained more from that economy than it has lost.

Three of Mr. Sawant’s four children are riding the Indian economic boom, including a daughter, Suchitra, who works at Infosys, the Indian technology giant. In the very years that a telecommunications revolution was squashing her father’s business, it was plugging India into the global networks that would allow her industry to explode. Suchitra now earns $9,000 a year, three times as much as her father did at his peak...

There were some letters Mr. Sawant would not write. He refused, for example, to trade in romantic love. Love is fickle and dangerous, he said. Lovers lie; they cheat; they offer their love and rescind it. He refused to engage in chicanery on other people’s behalf....

But Mr. Sawant is not bitter. He said he was happy to stay behind if his country advanced. “With mobiles, India wins,” he said. “For other people, it may be difficult. But I’m happy.”

He is happy, of course, because his four children, all of whom he sent to private school using the proceeds from letter writing, have pulled the family into the upper middle class. His son works at a bank; one daughter works as a civil engineer in Denmark; another daughter is studying computers in college; and there is Suchitra, who is currently in New Jersey on assignment for Infosys.

-The Ink Fades on a Profession as India Modernizes

Tax Policy according to Bible?

Professor Hamill says that since Judeo-Christian ethics “is the moral compass chosen by most Americans” it is vital that these policies be compared with the texts on which they are based. Another professor says she is the first to address this head on, inspiring work by others.

Her findings, embraced by some believers and denounced by others, has also stirred research everywhere from Arizona State to New York University into the connection between religious teachings and government fiscal practices.

Her latest effort is a book, “As Certain as Death” (Carolina Academic Press, 2007), that seeks to document how the 50 states, in contravention of her view of biblical injunctions, do more to burden the poor and relieve the rich than vice versa.

In lectures and papers, Professor Hamill has expanded on her theme, drawing objections from some critics who say that the religious obligation to care for the poor is a matter of personal morality, not public policy.

Professor Hamill asserted that 18 states seriously violate biblical principles in the way they tax and spend. She calls Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas “the sinful six” because they require the poor to pay a much larger share of their income than the rich while doing little to help the poor improve their lot.

The worst violator, in her view, is her own state of Alabama, which taxes its poor more than twice as heavily as its rich, while holding a tight rein on education spending.

The poorest fifth of Alabama families, with incomes under $13,000, pay state and local taxes that take almost 11 cents out of each dollar. The richest 1 percent, who make $229,000 or more, pay less than 4 cents out of each dollar they earn, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group whose numbers are generally considered trustworthy even by many of its opponents.

Professor Hamill said what first drew her to the issue of fiscal policy and biblical principles was learning that Alabama timber companies, which own more than two-thirds of the land in the state, pay an annual property tax of only about 75 cents an acre.

“The Bible commands that the law promote justice because human beings are not good enough to promote justice individually on their own,” she said. “To assume that voluntary charity will raise enough revenues to meet this standard is to deny the sin of greed.”

-Professor Cites Bible in Faulting Tax Policies

Theories of why Societies Collapse

A Question of Blame When Societies Fall;
One day Yali asked Dr. Diamond, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Thus began Dr. Diamond’s tale about the combination of geographical factors that led to Europeans’ colonizing Papua New Guinea rather than Papua New Guineans’ colonizing Europe.

“We think he gets Yali’s question wrong,” Dr. Gewertz said. “Yali was not asking about nifty Western stuff.”

With more of the cargo their European visitors so clearly coveted, the islanders would have been able to trade with them as equals. Instead, they were subjugated.

What Yali was really asking, she suggested, was why Europeans had never treated them like fellow human beings. The responsibility and struggle of anthropology, Dr. Gewertz said, is to see the world through others’ eyes.

In “Collapse,” Dr. Diamond proposed that a precipitating factor in the Rwanda genocide of 1994, in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered by Hutu compatriots, was Malthusian. The country had let its population outstrip its food supply.

Christopher C. Taylor, an anthropologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, saw the tragedy through the other end of the telescope. One afternoon, he sat in the living room of Amerind’s old mission-style lodge, which looks out onto the desolate beauty of the Little Dragoon mountains, calmly describing how he and his Tutsi fiancée had fled Rwanda just as the massacres began. Safely back in the United States, he studied the country’s popular political cartoons, sensing that for many Rwandans, politics was tangled in a web of legends involving sacred kingship and fertility rites. The king, and by implication the president, was the conduit for imaana, a spiritual current symbolized by liquids like rain, rivers, milk, honey, semen and blood.

In times of droughts, floods, crop failures, infant mortality or other misfortunes, he might have to be sacrificed to spill his imaana back into the soil.

“In order to understand the motives of the Rwandans, you have to understand the local symbolism and the local cosmology,” Dr. Taylor said. “Because, after all, what Diamond is doing is imposing his own cosmology, his own symbolic system.”

From You-Tube; Diamond lecture on Collapse, The documentary Guns, Germs and Steel

Monday, December 24, 2007

Inside an 'Iraqi resistance movement'

Quote of the Day

To say that net output to-day is greater, but the price-level lower, than ten years ago or one year ago, is a proposition of a similar character to the statement that Queen Victoria was a better queen but not a happier woman than Queen Elizabeth—a proposition not without meaning and not without interest, but unsuitable as material for the differential calculus.

- Keynes

via Krugman

The Conscience of a Liberal at Google

You Tube Interview for the Day

An interview with anthropologist Clifford Geertz

Health Information

An interesting old informational video from the US Military;

The War on VD

A very bloody Democracy

A model of African democratization?

Election Rules Complicate Kenya Race

The Idea That is America

More than half the 380 students at this unusual school outside Atlanta are refugees from some 40 countries, many torn by war. The other students come from low-income families in the community, and from middle- and upper-middle-class families in the surrounding area who want to expose their children to other cultures. Together they form an eclectic community of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, well-off and poor, of established local families and new arrivals who collectively speak about 50 languages.

“The fact that we don’t have anything in common is what we all have in common,” said Shell Ramirez, an American parent with two children at the school....

Linda Dorage, who teaches English as a second language at the school, said she has even had to introduce children to “just the concept of a two-dimensional image meaning something.”

One early student, a goat herder from Mauritania, did not know how to use a door knob. A Sudanese girl was so traumatized from war and relocation that she insisted on sitting on the floor beneath her desk each day.

“The teacher decided she would go under the desk with her and do lessons under there,” Ms. Thompson said. “She lured her out in her own good time.”

-Georgia School Melds a World of Differences