April 18, 2015

In American Political System "It Will Be far More Difficult to Undo than to Do"




(p. 330) Jefferson traced the formation of the two main parties--to be known as Republicans and Federalists--to Hamilton's victory over assumption. For Jefferson, this event split Congress into pure, virtuous republicans and a "mercenary phalanx," "monarchists in principle," who "adhered to Hamilton of course as their leader in that principle."

Why did Jefferson retrospectively try to downplay his part in passing Hamilton's assumption scheme? While he understood the plan at the time better than he admitted, he probably did not see as clearly as Hamilton that the scheme created an unshakable foundation for federal power in America. The federal government had captured forever the bulk of American taxing power. In comparison, the location of the national capital seemed a secondary matter. It wasn't that Jefferson had been duped by Hamilton; Hamilton had explained his views at dizzying length. It was simply that he had been outsmarted by Hamilton, who had embedded an enduring political system in the details of the funding scheme. In an unsigned newspaper article that September, entitled "Address to the Public Creditors," Hamilton gave away the secret of his statecraft that so infuriated Jefferson: "Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 17, 2015

Disclosure Regulations Often Have Unintended Consequences



(p. B5) . . . , some disclosure works. Professor Levitin cites two examples. The first is an olfactory disclosure. Methane doesn't have any scent, but a foul smell is added to alert people to a gas leak. The second is A.T.M. fees. A study in Australia showed that once fees were disclosed, people avoided the high-fee machines and took out more when they had to go to them.

But to Omri Ben-Shahar, co-author of a recent book, "More Than You Wanted To Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure," these are cherry-picked examples in a world awash in useless disclosures. Of course, information is valuable. But disclosure as a regulatory mechanism doesn't work nearly well enough, he argues.

First, it really works only when things are simple. As soon as transactions become complex, disclosure starts to stumble. Buying a car, for instance, turns out to be several transactions: the purchase itself, the financing, maybe the trade-in of old car and various insurance and warranty decisions. These are all subject to various disclosure rules, but making the choices clear and useful has proved nigh impossible.

In complex transactions, we then must rely on intermediaries to give us advice. Because they are often conflicted, they, too, become subject to disclosure obligations. Ah, even more boilerplate to puzzle over!

And then there's the harm. Over the years, banks that sold complex securities often stuck impossible-to-understand clauses deep in prospectuses that "disclosed" what was really going on. When the securities blew up, as they often did, banks then fended off lawsuits by arguing they had done everything the law required and were therefore not liable.

"That's the harm of disclosure," Professor Ben-Shahar said. "It provides a safe harbor for practices that smell bad. It sanitizes every bad practice."



For the full review, see:

JESSE EISINGER. "In an Era of Disclosure, an Excess of Sunshine but a Paucity of Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., FEBRUARY 12, 2015): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEBRUARY 11, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Ben-Shahar, Omri, and Carl E. Schneider. More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.






April 16, 2015

Occupational Licensing Creates Cartels



(p. 251) Aaron Edlin and Rebecca Haw discuss "Cartels by Another Name: Should Licensed Occupations Face Antitrust Scrutiny?" "Once limited to a few learned professions, licensing is now required for over 800 occupations. And once limited to minimum educational requirements and entry exams, licensing board restrictions are now a vast, complex web of anticompetitive rules and regulations. . . . State-level occupational licensing is on the rise. In fact, it has eclipsed unionization as the dominant organizing force of the U.S. labor market. While unions once claimed 30% of the country's working population, that figure has since shrunk to below 15%. Over the same period of time, the number of workers subject to state-level licensing requirements has doubled; today, 29% of the U.S. workforce is licensed and 6% is certified by the government. The trend has important ramifications. Conservative estimates suggest that licensing raises consumer prices by 15%. There is also evidence that professional licensing increases the wealth gap; it tends to raise the wages of those already in high-income occupations while harming low-income consumers who cannot afford the inflated prices." "We contend that the state action doctrine should not prevent antitrust suits against state licensing boards that are comprised of private competitors deputized to regulate and to outright exclude their own competition, often with the threat of criminal sanction." University of Pennsylvania Law Review, April 2014, pp. 1093-1164. http://www.pennlawreview.com/print/162-U-Pa-L-Rev-1093.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 15, 2015

New Evidence on the Antikythera Mechanism




The Antikythera Mechanism was recovered in about 1901 and is believed to date from about 200 BC. Its complicated gear mechanism is believed to have been used to generate calendars or predict astronomical events. The technology never spread to benefit ordinary people. It was forgotten and mechanical gears had to be re-invented.

The Antikythera Mechanism raises a question: how is it that technologies with the potential to benefit humankind can fail to be adopted? This issue of the causes of technology adoption is an important issue for economic growth.



(p. D3) A riddle for the ages may be a small step closer to a solution: Who made the famed Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator that was raised from an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901?


. . .


. . . a new analysis of the dial used to predict eclipses, which is set on the back of the mechanism, provides . . . another clue to one of history's most intriguing puzzles. Christián C. Carman, a science historian at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina, and James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, suggest that the calendar of the mysterious device began in 205 B.C., just seven years after Archimedes died.


. . .


Starting with the ways the device's eclipse patterns fit Babylonian eclipse records, the two scientists used a process of elimination to reach a conclusion that the "epoch date," or starting point, of the Antikythera Mechanism's calendar was 50 years to a century earlier than had been generally believed.


. . .


. . . Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 B.C., while the commercial grain ship carrying the mechanism is believed to have sunk sometime between 85 and 60 B.C. The new finding suggests the device may have been old at the time of the shipwreck, but the connection to Archimedes now seems even less likely.

An inscription on a small dial used to date the Olympic Games refers to an athletic competition that was held in Rhodes, according to research by Paul Iversen, a Greek scholar at Case Western Reserve University.

"If we were all taking bets about where it was made, I think I would bet what most people would bet, in Rhodes," said Alexander Jones, a specialist in the history of ancient mathematical sciences at New York University.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "On the Trail of an Ancient Mystery." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 25, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 24, 2014.)






April 14, 2015

"The Most Celebrated Meal in American History"




(p. 328) If we are to credit Jefferson's story, the dinner held at his lodgings on Maiden Lane on June 20, 1790, fixed the future site of the capital. It is perhaps the most celebrated meal in American history, the guests including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and perhaps one or two others. For more than a month, Jefferson had been bedeviled by a migraine headache, yet he presided with commendable civility. Despite his dislike of assumption, he knew that the stalemate over the funding scheme could shatter the union, and, as secretary of state, he also feared the repercussions for American credit abroad.

Madison restated his familiar argument that assumption punished Virginia and other states that had duly settled their debts. But he agreed to support assumption--or at least not oppose it--if something was granted in exchange. Jefferson recalled, "It was observed... that as the pill would be a bitter one to the southern states, something should be done to soothe them." The sedative measure was that Philadelphia would be the temporary capital for ten years, followed by a permanent move to a Potomac site. In a lucrative concession for his home state, Madison also seems to have extracted favorable treatment for Virginia in a final debt settlement with the central government. In return, Hamilton agreed to exert his utmost efforts (p. 329) to get the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to accept Philadelphia as the provisional capital and a Potomac site as its permanent successor.

The dinner consecrated a deal that was probably already close to achievement. The sad irony was that Hamilton, the quintessential New Yorker, bargained away the city's chance to be another London or Paris, the political as well as financial and cultural capital of the country. His difficult compromise testified to the transcendent value he placed on assumption. The decision did not sit well with many New Yorkers. Senator Rufus King was enraged when Hamilton told him that he "had made up his mind" to jettison the capital to save his funding system. For King, Hamilton's move had been high-handed and secretive, and he ranted privately that "great and good schemes ought to succeed not by intrigue or the establishment of bad measures."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 13, 2015

Italian Traditional Family Stunts Individual Enterprise



(p. 15) Hooper's book, both sweeping in scope and generous with detail, makes persuasive arguments for how geography, history and tradition have shaped Italy and its citizens, for better and sometimes for worse. Roman Catholicism, for example, has indelibly conditioned Italian society, even as the Vatican's restrictions are widely ignored. Catholicism's great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It's a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.


. . .


There's . . . mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings. But while "the traditional family has been at the root of much of what Italy has achieved," Hooper writes, dependence on the family can infantilize, and lack of individual enterprise has held the country back. Indeed, various sections of Hooper's book return to Italy's economic decline and its underlying causes.

He notes that the paperwork and formalities of Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy rob the average Italian of 20 days a year. And he wonders what other country could ever have had a Minister for Simplification to deal with its plethora of often conflicting laws and regulations.

Circumventing some of that bureaucracy partly answers another common question: Why is Italy so prone to corruption? After all, Italians are masters at sidestepping regulations, or, as the saying goes, "Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno" ("Make the law, then find a way around it"). It's no wonder foreign investment in Italy is so low.



For the full review, see:

LISABETTA POVOLEDO. "Under the Italian Sun." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 1, 2015): 15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "'The Italians,' by John Hooper.")


The book under review is:

Hooper, John. The Italians. New York: Viking, 2015.






April 12, 2015

For Some, Apprenticeships Could Be Less Expensive Path to Good Jobs



(p. 250) Melissa S. Kearney and Benjamin H. Harris have edited an e-book, Policies to Address Poverty in America, with 14 short essays on specific policies. As one example, Robert I. Lerman advocates "Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in the United States." "Today apprentices make up only 0.2 percent of the U.S. labor force, far less than in Canada (2.2 percent), Britain (2.7 percent), and Australia and Germany
(3.7 percent). . . . While total annual government funding for apprenticeship in the United States is only about $100 to $400 per apprentice, federal, state, and local annual government spending per participant for two-year public colleges is approximately $11,400. Not only are government outlays sharply higher, but the cost differentials are even greater after accounting for the higher earnings (and associated taxes) of apprentices compared to college students." "Stimulating a sufficient increase in apprenticeship slots is the most important challenge. Although it is easy to cite examples of employer reluctance to train, the evidence from South Carolina and Britain suggests that a sustained, business-oriented marketing effort can persuade a large number of employers to participate in apprenticeship training. Both programs (p. 251) were able to more than quadruple apprenticeship offers over about five to six years." Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution. 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2014/06/19_hamilton_policies_addressing_poverty/policies_address_poverty_in_america_full_book.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 11, 2015

Perceptual Diversity Puzzle: Is It White-and-Gold or Blue-and-Black?




WhiteAndGoldOrBlueAndBlackDress2015-03-15.jpg

"The dress in a photo from Caitlin McNeill's Tumblr site." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) The mother of the bride wore white and gold. Or was it blue and black?

From a photograph of the dress the bride posted online, there was broad disagreement. A few days after the wedding last weekend on the Scottish island of Colonsay, a member of the wedding band was so frustrated by the lack of consensus that she posted a picture of the dress on Tumblr, and asked her followers for feedback.

"I was just looking for an answer because it was messing with my head," said Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old singer and guitarist.


. . .


Less than a half-hour after Ms. McNeil's original Tumblr post, Buzzfeed posted a poll: "What Colors Are This Dress?" As of Friday afternoon, it had (p. B5) been viewed more than 28 million times. (White and gold was winning handily.)


. . .


Politicians were eager to stake out their positions. "I know three things," wrote Senator Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, on Twitter. "1) the ACA works; 2) climate change is real; 3) that dress is gold and white."

Sorry, senator. The dress, as we all now know, is blue and black. It goes for 50 pounds at Roman Originals, a British retailer.


. . .


Various theories were floated about why the dress looks different to different people. (No, if you see the darker hues of blue and black it doesn't mean that you are depressed.)

Duje Tadin, associate professor for brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, says it may be because of variations in the number of photoreceptors called cones in the retina that perceive the color blue. The human eye has about six million cones that are sensitive to green, red or blue. Signals from the cones go to the brain, which interprets them as color.

"It's puzzling," conceded Dr. Tadin. "When it comes to color, blue is always the weird one. We have the fewest number of blue cones." He added, "If you don't have very many blue cones, you may see it as white, or if you have plenty of blue cones, you may see more blue."


. . .


The one thing scientists could agree on was that this is a very unusual illusion. People who see the dress one way do not eventually begin to see it the other way, as is common with many optical illusions. "This clearly has to do with individual differences in how we perceive the world," said Dr. Tadin. "There's something about this particular image that just captures those differences in a remarkable way.



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "The Dress That Melted the Internet." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 28, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "The White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress That Melted the Internet.")






April 10, 2015

In Hamilton's Financial System the "Cogs and Wheels Meshed Perfectly Together"




(p. 302) Much later, Daniel Webster rhapsodized about Hamilton's report as follows: "The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton." This was the long view of history and of many contemporaries, but detractors were immediately vocal. They were befuddled by the complexity of Hamilton's plan and its array of options for creditors. Opponents sensed that he was moving too fast, on too many fronts, for them to grasp all his intentions. He had devised his economic machinery so cunningly that its cogs and wheels meshed perfectly together. One could not tamper with the parts without destroying the whole. Hamilton later said of this ingenious structure, "Credit is an entire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part. Wound one limb and the whole tree shrinks and decays."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 9, 2015

Federal Government Main Cause of 2008 Financial Crisis



(p. A11) How much did the federal government contribute to the financial crisis? The question is quantitative, and the answer requires the kind of number crunching and careful thinking than cannot fit into an op-ed or television interview. Peter J. Wallison 's "Hidden in Plain Sight," is the book that answers the question most meticulously of any written since 2008.

At this point, seven years on, most readers of this newspaper will recognize that the federal government's role has been to force American taxpayers to subsidize trillions of dollars of risky lending. But each reader of Mr. Wallison's book will come away a bit embarrassed at having neglected or forgot about one or more of Washington's many contributions to the financial crisis.


. . .


In my opinion, a financial crisis is not only a likely consequence of implicit subsidies for risky lending but a necessary one because that is when implicit guarantees ultimately become real-life bailouts and trigger the taxpayer payments necessary to fund Washington's longstanding lending goals. Mr. Wallison gives taxpayers the inside story of how housing policy was like a siphon hidden inside their wallets--and why it hurt so much.



For the full review, see:

CASEY B. MULLIGAN. "BOOKSHELF; Capitol Hill Pickpockets; Risky loans made by Fannie and Freddie were the biggest factor that led to the financial crisis--and the direct result of federal policy." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 25, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 24, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Wallison, Peter J. Hidden in Plain Sight: What Really Caused the World's Worst Financial Crisis and Why It Could Happen Again. New York: Encounter Books, 2015.









Eight Most Recent Comments:



Aaron said:

Interested to see how not only did Hamilton gain a vote, but also how Jefferson lost one.



Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.



Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.



Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.



Rev. Pfloyd said:

Hans' "The Best Stats You've Ever Seen" Ted Talk is my favorite Ted Talk ever, which is a pretty big statement when you share company with talks like Sir Ken Robinson's education talk and Steven Pinker's Human Nature and the Blank Slate" talk.



Rev. Pfloyd said:

Voting with your feet. And of course now people are fleeing France to move across the water to England for the same reason. It's truly a global world; soaking the rich really isn't an option anymore.



otacon said:

The media tends to be a willing participant in fanning the flames of racism. Check CNN or the Drudge Report. Every day there is at least one racially charged story. Every day. It has become a tool for news outlets to get clicks but ultimately is a disservice to pretty much everyone.



otacon said:

This is very dangerous and this doctor is acting completely irresponsibly. Are these students supposed to take Adderall for their entire lives or just until they pass American History class? Why not prescribe steroids for under performing children in sports?





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