Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Archive for June 2008

It slices, it dices, it cures polio

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“Once upon a time, there was a man who was convinced that he possessed a Great Idea.  Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc. etc. etc.

The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right.”

The people at Overcoming Bias say the awesome powers of science mean rational people must be extra skeptical of its methods.

I wonder whether another crazy idea will ever be so successful again.  Its enough to make a man want to hang out in the British Museum and put pen to paper for a few decades.

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Written by James Bailey

June 11, 2008 at 3:28 am

Economics Subfield Interests

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Like all areas of inquiry in the modern era, economics has been broken off into progressively narrower subfields, so that as the sum of human knowledge expands people can still feel as if they have mastered their “field”, however narrowly it has been defined.

With a healthy supply of youthful arrogance and naiveté, I hope I can reach a much broader understanding.

So what is worth studying in economics?

The practical answer is: econometrics. Econometricians are able to use their knowledge of economics, math and statistics to draw inferences from mounds of raw data. In the era of the internet, data is becoming ubiquitous, so its analysis is at a premium; econometricians can go into government, academia, or even the private sector.

The ambitious (power-craving) answer is: Applied macroeconomics. This is the most sure stepping stone to obtaining powerful, unelected government positions in the Federal Reserve, Treasury, or Council of Economic Advisers.

The ambitious (important mystery-solving) answer is: Development, health care, or macroeconomics. These fields each study complicated systems which effect just about everyone in the world. They are each fields into which many highly intelligent and driven people have poured their lives into studying; these people have discovered some simple rules, but the fields remain full of problems that have not been fully solved. These are the fields where the biggest payoff to society at large would accrue if they were to be “figured out”.

Our approach to each of these, especially health care, is likely to undergo sweeping changes in the near future. There is broad agreement of the need to reform health care policy, but very little agreement or understanding of what these reforms could look like. It is extremely possible that the desire for change, the pent-up political will, will be spent making a bad system worse. I hope that when the health care revolution comes, I will be at the policy-wonk barricades fighting for brighter, better-utility future.

Written by James Bailey

June 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm

France Releases UFO Records

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Not only are they declassified, they are available on an easy to use website!

Lifting the veil of secrecy is the easiest way to convince people that all the sightings have been hoaxes, hallucinations or comets (unless, of course, we really are covering up some crash-landed spacecraft).

The French site classifies the sightings into four groups; group “D” consists of the reports that remain unexplained. For those who don’t speak the language, Google translator should be enough to get the basic ideas.

Written by James Bailey

June 2, 2008 at 2:45 am

When Economists Dream

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They dare hope for tax policies like this:

Indeed, if we increased the tax on gasoline to the level that many experts consider optimal, we could raise enough revenue to eliminate the corporate income tax. And the price at the pump would still be far lower in the United States than in much of Europe.

Don’t laugh. I’m serious.

That’s Greg Mankiw in the NYT.

Written by James Bailey

June 1, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Economics

Its my Party, I’ll Disenfranchise who I want to

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Voting rights occupy a special place in the minds of Americans; no voting controversy can be settled, or even discussed, without some good doses of demagoguery from all sides.

The Democratic Party wanted to keep states from having their primaries a year ahead of the election; the state parties in Florida and Michigan moved theirs back anyway, fully aware of the consequences for breaking the rules.  It’s beyond me how most people seem to blame the National party for making and enforcing rules rather than blaming Florida and Michigan for breaking them.

A compromise has just been reached to give half-votes to the delegates from Florida and Michigan.  Now Clinton supporters and concerned citizens can complain about not only disenfranchisement, but make comparisons to the famous three-fifths slave-voting compromise!

Can you hear the Republicans chuckling on the sidelines?  Rush Limbaugh himself last week, as part of “Operation Chaos“, suggested giving three-fifths of a vote to the delegates.

Parties can choose their nominees any way they like; the current system of primaries and caucuses is found nowhere in the constitution (for that matter, neither are parties themselves).  We might even be better off with the traditional mechanism of party elites in a dark, smoke-filled room.  But it sure is amusing to watch democrats with misplaced enthusiasm tearing their party apart.  Seeing how well they run their own party, one can only hope they learn a lot before they have a country to run.

Written by James Bailey

June 1, 2008 at 5:10 pm