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July 31, 2009

Obama EPA Censors Global Warming Skeptic


"Alan Carlin, 35-year Environmental Protection Agency veteran." Source of caricature and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) In March, the Obama EPA prepared to engage the global-warming debate in an astounding new way, by issuing an "endangerment" finding on carbon. It establishes that carbon is a pollutant, and thereby gives the EPA the authority to regulate it -- even if Congress doesn't act.

Around this time, Mr. Carlin and a colleague presented a 98-page analysis arguing the agency should take another look, as the science behind man-made global warming is inconclusive at best. The analysis noted that global temperatures were on a downward trend. It pointed out problems with climate models. It highlighted new research that contradicts apocalyptic scenarios. "We believe our concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA," the report read.

The response to Mr. Carlin was an email from his boss, Al McGartland, forbidding him from "any direct communication" with anyone outside of his office with regard to his analysis. When Mr. Carlin tried again to disseminate his analysis, Mr. McGartland decreed: "The administrator and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office." (Emphasis added.)

Mr. McGartland blasted yet another email: "With the endangerment finding nearly final, you need to move on to other issues and subjects. I don't want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change. No papers, no research etc, at least until we see what EPA is going to do with Climate." Ideology? Nope, not here. Just us science folk. Honest.

For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "OPINION: POTOMAC WATCH; The EPA Silences a Climate Skeptic." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 3, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in original; italics added by Strassel.)

July 30, 2009

Today's Middle Class Citizens of the U.S. Are Better Off Than Emperor Tiberius, Emperor Napoleon, and Saint Thomas Aquinas

In conversation at the HES meeting in Denver, Pete Boettke mentioned that the opportunity cost of blogging can be very high.

The passage below is from a draft of a key chapter of a long-awaited book authored by Berkeley economist and world-renowned blogger Brad DeLong. (At least in this case, Boettke is right.)

(p. 3) Could the Emperor Tiberius have eaten fresh grapes in January? Could the Emperor Napoleon have crossed the Atlantic in a night, or gotten from Paris to London in two hours? Could Thomas Aquinas have written a 2000-word letter in two hours--and then dispatched it off to 1,000 recipients with the touch of a key, and begun to receive replies within the hour? Computers, automobiles, airplanes, VCR' s, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, telephones, and other technologies--combined with mass production--give middle-class citizens of the United States today degrees of material wealth--control over commodities, and the ability to consume services--that previous generations could barely imagine.


DeLong, J. Bradford. "Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century." NBER Working Paper, w7602, 2000.

July 29, 2009

"No Amount of Dancing Will Help You Learn More Algebra"


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) . . . , Mr. Willingham shows how experiments support his claims.

The trendy notion that each person has a unique learning style comes under an especially withering assault. "How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?" asks Mr. Willingham's hypothetical teacher. The disillusioning reply: "No one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference. . . . Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn."

It turns out that while education gurus were promoting the uplifting vision of all students being equal in ability but unique in "style," researchers were testing the theory behind it. In one experiment, they presented vocabulary words to students classified as "auditory learners" and "visual learners." Half the words came in sound form, half in print. According to the learning-styles theory, the auditory learners should remember the words presented in sound better than the words presented in print, and vice-versa for the visual learners.

But this is not what happened: Each type of learner did just as well with each type of presentation. Why? Because what is being taught in most of the curriculum -- at all levels of schooling -- is information about meaning, and meaning is independent of form. "Specious," for instance, means "seemingly logical, but actually fallacious" whether you hear it, see it or feel it out in Braille. Mr. Willingham makes a convincing case that the distinction between visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners (who supposedly learn best when body movement is involved) is a specious one. At some point, no amount of dancing will help you learn more algebra.

For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Bookshelf; How to Wake Up Slumbering Minds
Will the discoveries of neuroscientists help us to think, learn and remember?." Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 27, 2009): A13.

(Note: the initial ellipsis was added; the ellipsis internal to the first full paragraph, was in the original.)

The book being reviewed, is:

Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009.

July 28, 2009

Most Entrepreneurial Tycoons "Begin as Rebels and Outsiders"

(p. 8) Because entrepreneurship overthrows establishments rather than undergirds them, the entrepreneurial tycoons mostly begin as rebels and outsiders. Often they live in out-of-the-way places-- like Bentonville, Arkansas; Omaha, Nebraska; or Mission Hills, Kansas--mentioned in New York, if at all, as the punch lines of comedy routines. When these entrepreneurs move into high society, they are usually inheritors on the way down.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

July 27, 2009

Government Regulatory Costs Impede Energy Innovation


Robert Metcalfe receiving the National Medal of Technology in 2003. Source of photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Metcalfe

The author of the commentary quoted below is famous in the history of information technology. His Harvard dissertation draft on packet switching was rejected as unrealistic. So he left the academy and became the main innovator responsible for making packet switching a reality, through the ethernet.

(He is also the "Metcalfe" behind "Metcalfe's Law" about the value of a network increasing at a faster rate than the increase in the network's size.)

(p. A15) . . . new small reactors meet important criteria for nuclear power plants. With no control rods to jam, they are far safer than the old models -- you might well call them nuclear batteries. By not using weapons-grade enriched fuels, they are nonproliferating. They minimize nuclear waste. And they're economical.

. . .

As venture capitalists, we at Polaris might have invested in one or two of these fission-energy start-ups. Alas, we had to pass. The problem with their business plans weren't their designs, but the high costs and astronomical risks of designing nuclear reactors for certification in Washington.

The start-ups estimate that it will cost each of them roughly $100 million and five years to get their small reactor designs certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. About $50 million of each $100 million would go to the commission itself. That's a lot of risk capital for any venture-backed start-up, especially considering that not one new commercial nuclear reactor design has been approved and built in the United States for 30 years.

. . .

As we learned by building the Internet, fiercely competitive teams of research professors, graduate students, engineers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are the best drivers of technological innovation -- not big corporations, and certainly not government bureaucracies. So, if it's cheap and clean energy we want, we should clear the way for fission energy start-ups. We should lower the barriers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the approval of new nuclear reactors, especially the new small ones. In particular, we should drop the requirement that the commission be reimbursed for reconsidering new fission reactor designs.

For the full commentary, see:

BOB METCALFE. "The New Nuclear Revolution; Safe fission power is our future -- if regulators allow it.." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 24, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

July 26, 2009

Free-Range Pork Carries More Disease

(p. A19) Is free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork? Many consumers think so. The well-publicized horrors of intensive pig farming have fostered the widespread assumption that, as one purveyor of free-range meats put it, "the health benefits are indisputable." However, as yet another reminder that culinary wisdom is never conventional, scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It's not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.

The study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease that brought these findings to light last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study, financed by the National Pork Board, discovered not only higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent) but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasma (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, two free-range pigs that carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs). For many years, the pork industry has been assuring cooks that a little pink in the pork is fine. Trichinosis, which can be deadly, was assumed to be history.

. . .

Let's not forget that animal domestication has not been only about profit. It's also been about making meat more reliably available, safer to eat and consistently flavored. The critique of conventional animal farming that pervades food discussions today is right on the mark. But it should acknowledge that raising animals indoors, fighting their diseases with medicine and feeding them a carefully monitored diet have long been basic tenets of animal husbandry that allowed a lot more people to eat a lot more pork without getting sick.

For the full commentary, see:

JAMES E. McWILLIAMS. "Free-Range Trichinosis." The New York Times (Fri., April 10, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 25, 2009

The Epistemological Implications of Wikipedia


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

I think the crucial feature of Wikipedia is in its being quick (what "wiki" means in Hawaiian), rather than in its current open source model. Academic knowledge arises in a slow, vetted process. Publication depends on refereeing and revision. On Wikipedia (and the web more generally) knowledge is posted first, and corrected later.

In the actual fact, Wikipedia's coverage is vast, and its accuracy is high.

I speculate that Wikipedia provides clues to developing new, faster, more efficient knowledge generating institutions.

(Chris Anderson has a nice discussion of Wikipedia in The Long Tail, starting on p. 65.)

(p. A13) Until just a couple of years ago, the largest reference work ever published was something called the Yongle Encyclopedia. A vast project consisting of thousands of volumes, it brought together the knowledge of some 2,000 scholars and was published, in China, in 1408. Roughly 600 years later, Wikipedia surpassed its size and scope with fewer than 25 employees and no official editor.

In "The Wikipedia Revolution," Andrew Lih, a new-media academic and former Wikipedia insider, tells the story of how a free, Web-based encyclopedia -- edited by its user base and overseen by a small group of dedicated volunteers -- came to be so large and so popular, to the point of overshadowing the Encyclopedia Britannica and many other classic reference works. As Mr. Lih makes clear, it wasn't Wikipedia that finished off print encyclopedias; it was the proliferation of the personal computer itself.

. . .

By 2000, both Britannica and Microsoft had subscription-based online encyclopedias. But by then Jimmy Wales, a former options trader in Chicago, was already at work on what he called "Nupedia" -- an "open source, collaborative encyclopedia, using volunteers on the Internet." Mr. Wales hoped that his project, without subscribers, would generate its revenue by selling advertising. Nupedia was not an immediate success. What turned it around was its conversion from a conventionally edited document into a wiki (Hawaiian for "fast") -- that is, a site that allowed anyone browsing it to edit its pages or contribute to its content. Wikipedia was born.

The site grew quickly. By 2003, according to Mr. Lih, "the English edition had more than 100,000 articles, putting it on par with commercial online encyclopedias. It was clear Wikipedia had joined the big leagues." Plans to sell advertising, though, fell through: The user community -- Wikipedia's core constituency -- objected to the whole idea of the site being used for commercial purposes. Thus Wikipedia came to be run as a not-for-profit foundation, funded through donations.

. . .

It is clear by the end of "The Wikipedia Revolution" that the site, for all its faults, stands as an extraordinary demonstration of the power of the open-source content model and of the supremacy of search traffic. Mr. Lih observes that when "dominant encyclopedias" were still hiding behind "paid fire walls" -- and some still are -- Wikipedia was freely available and thus easily crawled by search engines. Not surprisingly, more than half of Wikipedia's traffic comes from Google.

For the full review, see:

JEREMY PHILIPS. "Business Bookshelf; Everybody Knows Everything." Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 18, 2009): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The book being reviewed, is:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.

July 24, 2009

"Nothing Will Ever Be Attempted if All Possible Objections Must Be First Overcome"

(p. 23) Mr. J. R. Simplot had entered the food processing business, without any clear notion of how to produce dried onion powder or flakes. Once again he followed his lifelong precept of entrepreneurship: "When the time is right, you got to do it." His rationale is written more elegantly in metal on a small plaque that has stood on Simplot's desk--and has greeted him each time he pulls up his chair--for some twenty-five years: Nothing will ever (p. 24) be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. The objections to signing a contract for delivery of 500,000 pounds of dried, powdered, or flaked onions--without drier, pulverizer, or flaker, or any clue of how to build them--seemed altogether prohibitive. But J. R. Simplot struck when the time was right.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 23, 2009

Increase in Prizes to Advance Innovation

SciencePrizes2009-06-20.jpgSource of graphic on past prizes: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Are we impatient with NASA? Google offers $30 million in prizes for a better lunar lander. Do we like solving practical puzzles? InnoCentive Inc. has posted hundreds of lucrative research contests, offering cash prizes up to $1 million for problems in industrial chemistry, remote sensing, plant genetics and dozens of other technical disciplines. Perhaps we crave guilt-free fried chicken. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offers a $1 million prize for the first to create test-tube poultry tissue that can be safely served for dinner.

Call it crowd-sourcing; call it open innovation; call it behavioral economics and applied psychology; it's a prescription for progress that is transforming philanthropy. In fields from manned spaceflight to the genetics of aging, prizes may soon rival traditional research grants as a spur to innovation. "We see a renaissance in the use of prizes to solve problems," says Tony Goland, a partner at McKinsey & Co. which recently analyzed trends in prize philanthropy.

. . .

Since 2000, private foundations and corporations have launched more than 60 major prizes, totaling $250 million in new award money, most of it focused on science, medicine, environment and technology, the McKinsey study found.

. . .

In growing numbers, corporate sponsors are embracing the prize challenge as a safe, inexpensive way to farm out product research, at a time when tight credit and business cutbacks have slowed innovation. Venture-capital investments have dropped by almost half since last year, reaching the lowest level since 1997, the National Venture Capital Association recently reported. "Here is a mechanism for off-balance-sheet risk-taking," says Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize Foundation. "A corporation can put up a prize that is bold and audacious with very little downside. You only pay the winner. It is a fixed-price innovation."

For the full article, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "SCIENCE JOURNAL; The Science Prize: Innovation or Stealth Advertising? Rewards for Advancing Knowledge Have Blossomed Recently, but Some Say They Don't Help Solve Big Problems." Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The McKinsey study mentioned in the quotes above, was funded by the Templeton Foundation, and can be downloaded from:

McKinsey&Company. ""And the Winner Is ..." Capturing the Promise of Philanthropic Prizes." McKinsey & Company, 2009.

(Note: ellipsis in study title is in the original.)

July 22, 2009

The Conflict Between Science and Faith

Professor Krauss is a physicist at Arizona State University.

(p. A15) My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

J.B.S. Haldane, an evolutionary biologist and a founder of population genetics, understood that science is by necessity an atheistic discipline. As Haldane so aptly described it, one cannot proceed with the process of scientific discovery if one assumes a "god, angel, or devil" will interfere with one's experiments. God is, of necessity, irrelevant in science.

Faced with the remarkable success of science to explain the workings of the physical world, many, indeed probably most, scientists understandably react as Haldane did. Namely, they extrapolate the atheism of science to a more general atheism.

While such a leap may not be unimpeachable it is certainly rational, as Mr. McGinn pointed out at the World Science Festival. Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world's organized religions. As Sam Harris recently wrote in a letter responding to the Nature editorial that called him an "atheist absolutist," a "reconciliation between science and Christianity would mean squaring physics, chemistry, biology, and a basic understanding of probabilistic reasoning with a raft of patently ridiculous, Iron Age convictions."

For the full commentary, see:

LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS. "OPINION: God and Science Don't Mix; A scientist can be a believer. But professionally, at least, he can't act like one." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JUNE 26, 2009): A15.

(Note: italics in original.)

July 21, 2009

Foreign Aid to Africa "Underwrites Brutal and Corrupt Regimes"


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) It is one of the great conundrums of the modern age: More than 300 million people living across the continent of Africa are still mired in poverty after decades of effort -- by the World Bank, foreign governments and charitable organizations -- to lift them out if it. While a few African countries have achieved notable rates of economic growth in recent years, per-capita income in Africa as a whole has inched up only slightly since 1960. In that year, the region's gross domestic product was about equal to that of East Asia. By 2005, East Asia's GDP was five times higher. The total aid package to Africa, over the past 50 years, exceeds $1 trillion. There is far too little to show for it.

Dambisa Moyo, a native of Zambia and a former World Bank consultant, believes that it is time to end the charade -- to stop proceeding as if foreign aid does the good that it is supposed to do. The problem, she says in "Dead Aid," is not that foreign money is poorly spent (though much of it is) or that development programs are badly managed (though many of them are). No, the problem is more fundamental: Aid, she writes, is "no longer part of the potential solution, it's part of the problem -- in fact, aid is the problem."

In a tightly argued brief, Ms. Moyo spells out how attempts to help Africa actually hurt it. The aid money pouring into Africa, she says, underwrites brutal and corrupt regimes; it stifles investment; and it leads to higher rates of poverty -- all of which, in turn, creates a demand for yet more aid. Africa, Ms. Moyo notes, seems hopelessly trapped in this spiral, and she wants to see it break free. Over the past 30 years, she says, the most aid-dependent countries in Africa have experienced economic contraction averaging 0.2% a year.

For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "Bookshelf; When Help Does Harm." Wall Street Journal (Tues., Mach 17, 2009): A13.

The reference to the book under review, is:

Moyo, Dambisa. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

July 20, 2009

Durant and Studebaker Made Transition from Carriage to Car

Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation predicts that incumbents will seldom survive a major disruption. So it is interesting that Durant and Studebaker, appear to have been exceptions, since they made the transition from producing carriages to producing cars. (Willie Durant founded General Motors in 1908.)

(p. 189) In 1900, fifty-seven surviving American automobile firms, out of hundreds of contenders, produced some 4,000 cars, three-quarters of which ran on steam or electricity. Companies famous for other products were entering the fray. Among them were the makers of the Pope bicycle, the Pierce birdcage, the Peerless wringer, the Buick bathtub, the White sewing machine, and the Briscoe garbage can. All vied for the market with stationary-engine makers, machine-tool manufacturers, and spinoffs of leading carriage firms, Durant and Studebaker. Among the less promising entrants seemed a lanky young engineer from Edison Illuminating Company named Henry Ford, whose Detroit Automobile Company produced twenty-five cars and failed in 1900.

. . .

(p. 191) Willie Durant, who knew all about production and selling from his carriage business, decided it was time to move into cars after several months of driving a prototype containing David Buick's valve-in-head engine--the most powerful in the world for its size--through rural Michigan in 1904. Within four years, Durant was to parlay his sturdy Buick vehicle into domination of the automobile industry, with a 25 percent share of the market in 1908, the year he founded General Motors.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Christensen's theory is most fully expressed in:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

July 19, 2009

Individual Independent "Biohackers" Hope to Advance Science


"Katherine's Aull's closet laboratory in her apartment." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

The individual independent scientist used to play an important role in the advance of science, but over time mainly disappeared as the academic scientist, supported by large institutions, became dominant. The dominance of funding from incumbent institutions may constrain major innovations, and so I have speculated that it might be beneficial to find ways for it again to be possible for independent individual scholars to play important roles in science.

Astronomy is one area in which this still happens. The article quoted below points to another domain in which individual scholars might be able to make contributions.

(p. A1) In Massachusetts, a young woman makes genetically modified E. coli in a closet she converted into a home lab. A part-time DJ in Berkeley, Calif., works in his attic to cultivate viruses extracted from sewage. In Seattle, a grad-school dropout wants to breed algae in a personal biology lab.

These hobbyists represent a growing strain of geekdom known as biohacking, in which do-it-yourselfers tinker with the building blocks of life in the comfort of their own homes. Some of them buy DNA online, then fiddle with it in hopes of curing diseases or finding new biofuels.

. . .

Ms. Aull, 23 years old, is designing a customized E. coli in the closet of her Cambridge, Mass., apartment, hoping to help with cancer research.

She's got a DNA "thermocycler" bought on eBay for $59, and an incubator made by combining a styrofoam box with a heating device meant for an iguana cage. A few months ago, she talked about her hobby on DIY Bio, a Web site frequented by biohackers, and her work was noted in New Scientist magazine.

. . .

(p. A14) Phil Holtzman, a college student and part-time DJ at dance parties in Berkeley, Calif., is growing viruses in his attic that he thinks could be useful in medicine someday. Using pipettes and other equipment borrowed from his community college, he extracts viruses called bacteriophage from sewage and grows them in petri dishes. Mr. Holtzman's goal: Breed them to survive the high temperatures of the human body, where he thinks they might be useful in killing bad bacteria.

He collects partly treated sewage water from a network of underground tunnels in the Berkeley area, jumping a chain-link fence to get to the source. But Mr. Holtzman says his roommates are "really uncomfortable" with him working with sewage water, so he's trying to find another source of bacteriophage.

For the full story, see:

JEANNE WHALEN. "In Attics and Closets, 'Biohackers' Discover Their Inner Frankenstein; Using Mail-Order DNA and Iguana Heaters, Hobbyists Brew New Life Forms; Is It Risky?" Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 12, 2009): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

July 18, 2009

"Build a Wall Around the Welfare State"

For a long time, I've been meaning to post a pithy comment on immigration policy from the Cato Institutes's Bill Niskanen.

The comment was related to the proposal to erect a wall between the United States and Mexico, in order to reduce illegal immigration. Some libertarians favor open immigration. Others believe that so long as we have a large welfare state, open immigration would impose high costs on the taxpayer, and thereby reduce economic growth. (I believe that I read Milton Friedman supporting this latter position, in the year or two before he died in 2006.)

In this context, Niskanen's pithy comment has appeal:

"Build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country."


William A. Niskanen on 11/19/07 at the meetings of the Southern Economic Association in New Orleans.

July 17, 2009

Time Diary Studies Show Most Work Fewer Hours than Reported


Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. W13) Sociologists have been studying how Americans spend their time for decades. One camp favors a simple approach: if you want to know how many hours someone works, sleeps or vacuums, you ask him. Another camp sees a flaw in this method: People lie. We may not do so maliciously, but it's tough to remember our exact workweek or average time spent dishwashing, and in the absence of concrete memories, we're prone to lie in ways that don't disappear into the randomness of thousands of answers. They actually skew results.

That's the theory behind the American Time Use Survey, conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ATUS, like a handful of previous academic surveys, is a "time diary" study. For these studies, researchers either walk respondents through the previous day, asking them what they did next and reminding them of the realities of time and physics, or in some cases giving them a diary to record the next day or week.

Time-diary studies are laborious, but in general they are more accurate. Aggregated, they paint a different picture of life than the quick-response surveys featured in the bulk of America's press releases. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation claims that Americans sleep 6.7 hours (weekdays) to 7.1 hours (weekends) per night. The ATUS puts the average at 8.6 hours. The first number suggests rampant sleep deprivation. The latter? Happy campers.

The numbers are equally striking with work. Back in the 1990s, using 1985 data, researchers John Robinson and his colleagues compared people's estimated workweeks with time-diary hours. They found that, on average, people claiming to work 40 to 44 hours per week were working 36.2 hours -- not far off. But then, as estimated work hours rose, reality and perception diverged more sharply. You can guess in which direction. Those claiming to work 60- to 64-hour weeks actually averaged 44.2 hours. Those claiming 65- to 74-hour workweeks logged 52.8 hours, and those claiming workweeks of 75 hours or more worked, on average, 54.9 hours. I contacted Prof. Robinson recently to ask for an update. His 2006-07 comparisons were tighter -- but, still, people claiming to work 60 to 69 hours per week clocked, on average, 52.6 hours, while those claiming 70-, 80-hour or greater weeks logged 58.8. As Mr. Robinson and co-author Geoffrey Godbey wrote in their 1997 book "Time for Life," "only rare individuals put in more than a 55-60 hour workweek."

For the full commentary, see:

LAURA VANDERKAM. "Overestimating Our Overworking." Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 29, 2009): W13.

July 16, 2009

The "Chief Desire" of Entrepreneurs is the "Power to Consummate Their Entrepreneurial Ideas"

(p. 305) Entrepreneurs understand the inexorable reality of risk and change. They begin by saving, forgoing consumption, not to create an ersatz security but to gain the wherewithal for a life of productive risks and opportunities. Their chief desire is not money to waste on consumption but the freedom and power to consummate their entrepreneurial ideas.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

July 15, 2009

Milton Friedman's Legacy Was the "Remarkable Progress of Mankind"

(p. W13) With each passing week that the assault against global capitalism continues in Washington, I become more nostalgic for one missing voice: Milton Friedman's. No one could slice and dice the sophistry of government market interventions better than Milton, who died at the age of 94 in 2006. Imagine what the great economist would have to say about the U.S. Treasury owning and operating several car brands or managing the health-care industry. "Why not?" I can almost hear him ask cheerfully. "After all, they've done such a wonderful job delivering the mail."

. . .

I've been thinking a lot lately of one of my last conversations with Milton, who warned that "even though socialism is a discredited economic model and capitalism is raising living standards to new heights, the left intellectuals continue to push for bigger government everywhere I look." He predicted that people would be seduced by collectivist ideas again.

. . .

A few scholars are now properly celebrating the Friedman legacy. Andrei Shleifer, a Harvard economics professor, has just published a tribute to Friedman in the Journal of Economic Literature. He describes the period 1980-2005 as "The Age of Milton Friedman," an era that "witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. As the world embraced free market policies, living standards rose sharply while life expectancy, educational attainment, and democracy improved and absolute poverty declined."

For the full commentary, see:

Moore, Stephen. "Missing Milton: Who Will Speak for Free Markets?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 29, 2009): W13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The full reference to the article by Shleifer, is:

Shleifer, Andrei. "The Age of Milton Friedman." Journal of Economic Literature 47, no. 1 (March 2009): 123-35.

July 14, 2009

The Case for Patent System Reform

(p. A13) The Patent Office now gets some 500 million applications a year, leading to litigation costs of over $10 billion a year to define who has what rights. As Judge Richard Posner has written, patents for ideas create the risk of "enormous monopoly power (imagine if the first person to think up the auction had been able to patent it)." Studies indicate that aside from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the cost of litigation now exceeds the profits companies generate from licensing patents.

For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "OPINION: INFORMATION AGE; Why Technologists Want Fewer Patents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JUNE 15, 2009): A13.

July 13, 2009

Justice Department is Creating Barriers to Companies Trying to Create New Technologies


Intel CEO Craig Barrett. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Craig Barrett is spending the last days of his tenure as Intel chairman the same way he spent his previous 35 years at the corporation: moving at a superhuman pace that leaves exhausted subordinates in his wake.

Mr. Barrett has maintained this lifestyle since he replaced Andrew Grove as CEO of Intel in 1998. "Was it hard to follow a legend?" he asks himself in his typical blunt way, adding, "What do you think?" Mr. Barrett barely broke pace when he became chairman in 2005, and shows no sign of slowing even now, at age 69, as he faces retirement.

. . .

The latest thing that has him animated is the record $1.45 billion antitrust fine levied against Intel by the European Union this week. Mr. Barrett shakes his head and says, "The antitrust rules and regulations seem designed for a different era. When you look at high-tech companies, with the high R&D budgets, specialization and market creation they need to hold their big market shares, it's so very different from the old world of oil companies and auto makers that the antitrust regulations were designed for. They are out of sync with reality.

"And how do you reconcile European regulators, who don't believe that any company should have more than 50% market share -- even a market that company created -- with the way we operate here? Of course, now it seems as if our Justice Department is preparing to march in lock-step behind Europe. In the end, all they are going to do is create barriers to companies growing, entering into new markets, and bringing new technologies into those markets. And when we stop being the land of opportunity, all of those smart immigrant kids getting their Ph.D.s here are going to start heading home after they graduate. Then watch what happens to our competitiveness."

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Barrett; From Moore's Law to Barrett's Rules; Intel's chairman on antitrust silliness and the secrets of high-tech success." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 16, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 12, 2009

Small Companies Created 80% of Net New Jobs in 1970s

(p. 298) David L. Birch and his associates at MIT gained a glimpse of this topsy-turvy domain during the late 1970s when they themselves entered the statistical skunkworks of the economy by conducting the most comprehensive and detailed analysis ever performed on the facts of American small business. Using records from a Dun & Bradstreet sample of 5.6 million firms, the Birch team reached the highly publicized conclusion that companies with fewer than 100 employees created 80 percent of the net new jobs in the U.S. economy during the 1970s. Data from the early 1980s confirmed these findings. In launching jobs, the last were manifestly first in U.S. capitalism.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

July 11, 2009

Drug Innovation Funding Slashed in Economic Crisis


Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Big pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars to buy other drug giants lately, leaving behind small biotech companies that can no longer find investors.

The biotech industry had thrived as a new-drug incubator for big pharma companies, which poured money into acquisitions and partnerships to build up their biotech-drug product line. Some of that is still happening, but most sources of investment funding have dried up in recent months.

Since November, 10 biotechs have declared bankruptcy, says Ellen Dadisman, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Meanwhile, 120 of the 360 publicly traded biotechs have less than six months of cash left, compared with just 12 companies in that position a year ago, according to Burrill & Co., a venture-capital concern in San Francisco that follows the industry.

For the full story, see:

KEITH J. WINSTEIN. "Cash Dries Up for Biotech Drug Firms." Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 16, 2009): B1.

July 10, 2009

Lomborg Warns of "Climate-Industrial Complex"

(p. A19) Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. This is a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets.

The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.

For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "OPINION: The Climate-Industrial Complex; Some businesses see nothing but profits in the green movement." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MAY 22, 2009): A19.

July 9, 2009

Government Regulators Again Suppress Entrepreneurial Innovation

FeetNibblingFish2009-06-20.jpgSource of photo: http://images.quickblogcast.com/82086-71861/pedicurex_large.jpg

(p. A1) Until Mr. Ho brought his skin-eating fish here from China last year, no salon in the U.S. had been publicly known to employ a live animal in the exfoliation of feet. The novelty factor was such that Mr. Ho became a minor celebrity. On "Good Morning America" in July, Diane Sawyer placed her feet in a tank supplied by Mr. Ho and compared the fish nibbles to "tiny little delicate kisses."

Since then, cosmetology regulators have taken a less flattering view, insisting fish pedicures are unsanitary. At least 14 states, including Texas and Florida, have outlawed them. Virginia doesn't see a problem. Ohio permitted fish pedicures after a review, and other states haven't yet made up their minds. The world of foot care, meanwhile, has been plunged into a piscine uproar. Salon owners who (p. A12) bought fish and tanks before the bans were imposed in their states are fuming.

The issue: cosmetology regulations generally mandate that tools need to be discarded or sanitized after each use. But epidermis-eating fish are too expensive to throw away. "And there's no way to sanitize them unless you bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees," says Lynda Elliott, an official with the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. The board outlawed fish pedicures in November.

In Ohio, ophthalmologist Marilyn Huheey, who sits on the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology, decided to try it out for herself in a Columbus salon last fall. After watching the fish lazily munch on her skin, she recommended approval to the board. "It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile of course," Dr. Huheey says. "Sanitation is what we've got to live with in this world, not sterility."

. . .

State bans have disrupted Mr. Ho's plans to build a nationwide franchise network. Currently, he has four active franchises, in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri. But others have terminated franchise agreements. In Calhoun, Ga., Tran Lam, owner of Sky Nails, says she paid Mr. Ho $17,500 in exchange for fish and custom-made pedicure tanks. A few weeks later, in October, the Georgia Board of Cosmetology deemed fish pedicures illegal. "I'm very mad," says Ms. Lam. "I lost a lot of money and the economy is so bad."

For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook; Mr. Ho's Import From China Caught On, But Some State Pedicure Inspectors Object." Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 23, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 8, 2009

"Entrepreneurship is the Creation of Surprises"

(p. 297) Because he started in rebellion against established firms, he bears a natural skepticism toward settled expertise. Because he had to make scores of decisions before all the information was in, he recognizes that enterprise always consists of action in uncertainty. The entrepreneur prevails not by understanding an existing situation in all its complex particulars, but by creating a new situation which others must try to comprehend. The enterprise is an aggressive action, not a reaction. When it is successfully launched, all the rest of society--government, labor, other businesses--will have to react. In a sense, entrepreneurship is the creation of surprises. It entails breaking the looking glass of established ideas--even the gleaming mirrors of executive suites--and stepping into the often greasy and fetid bins of creation.

In the entrepreneur's contrarian domains, he needs most of all a willingness to accept failure, learn from it, and act boldly in the shadows of doubt. He inhabits a realm where the last become (p. 298) first, where supply creates demand, where belief precedes knowledge. It is a world where expertise may be a form of ignorance and the best possibilities spring from a consensus of impossibility.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

July 7, 2009

Medoff Swimming Naked

BedoffBernieSwimmingWithoutSuit.jpgBernie Medoff, and friends, swimming naked. Source of caricature: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The article quoted and cited below, is most notable for the wonderful illustration of the famous Warren Buffett quote on how hard times reveal who has been prudent and who has not been prudent.

(p. 19) Though we may be caring less, we're hearing a lot more about Ponzi schemes lately, perhaps because the scams tend to fall apart when markets drop. As Warren Buffett so memorably put it, "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out."

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Lost in Bernie Madoff's Shadow." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., April 11, 2009): 19 & 24.

July 6, 2009

Our "Patently Absurd" Patent System

(p. A15) The Founders might have used quill pens, but they would roll their eyes at how, in this supposedly technology-minded era, we're undermining their intention to encourage innovation. The U.S. is stumbling in the transition from their Industrial Age to our Information Age, despite the charge in the Constitution that Congress "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

. . .

Both sides may be right. New empirical research by Boston University law professors James Bessen and Michael Meurer, reported in their book, "Patent Failure," found that the value of pharmaceutical patents outweighed the costs of pharmaceutical-patent litigation. But for all other industries combined, they estimate that since the mid-1990s, the cost of U.S. patent litigation to alleged infringers ($12 billion in legal and business costs in 1999) is greater than the global profits that companies earn from patents (less than $4 billion in 1999). Since the 1980s, patent litigation has tripled and the probability that a particular patent is litigated within four years has more than doubled. Small inventors feel the brunt of the uncertainty costs, since bigger companies only pay for rights they think the system will protect.

These are shocking findings, but they point to the solution. New drugs require great specificity to earn a patent, whereas patents are often granted to broad, thus vague, innovations in software, communications and other technologies. Ironically, the aggregate value of these technology patents is then wiped out through litigation costs.

Our patent system for most innovations has become patently absurd. It's a disincentive at a time when we expect software and other technology companies to be the growth engine of the economy. Imagine how much more productive our information-driven economy would be if the patent system lived up to the intention of the Founders, by encouraging progress instead of suppressing it.

For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "OPINION: INFORMATION AGE; Patent Gridlock Suppresses Innovation." Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 14, 2008): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 5, 2009

The Middle Ages Were Poor Ages (and, Yes, Dark Ages Too)


Source of book image: http://images.barnesandnoble.com/images/11610000/11613340.jpg

(p. A19) . . . some excellent books for general readers in the past few years, notably Brian Ward- Perkins's "The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" (2005), have shown how devastating was the economic and human cost paid between 450 and 900. It is still unfashionable to speak of the Dark Ages (there was continuing cultural life), but these were certainly the Poor Ages, in which protection for the weak and vulnerable, from roaming killers and even from the weather, was much more precarious than it had been under Roman rule.

For the full review, see:

SCOTT PATTERSON. "Bookshelf; The Emperor Left Town." Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 21, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the book mainly under review by Patterson, is NOT the book featured in this blog entry.)

The reference for the Ward-Perkins book, is:

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

July 4, 2009

Entrepreneurs Learn "Not in the Classroom Where Old Ways are Taught, But in the Factories and Labs, Where New Ways Are Wrought"

Gilder's rhyme about the classroom is cute, and maybe mainly true. In an important paper, Baumol has more prosaically (in the literal sense) expressed a similar view.

But there are counterexamples. Gilder himself, in his Microcosm, notes how what was taught in some classrooms was crucial to progress in information technology.

(p. 296) Entrepreneurs can be pompous and vain where it doesn't count; but in their own enterprise, the first law is to listen. They must be men meek enough--and shrewd enough--to endure the humbling eclipse of self that comes in the process of profound learning from others. In all the history of enterprise, most of the protagonists of major new products and companies began their education--and (p. 297) discovered the secrets of their later breakthroughs--not in the classroom, where the old ways are taught, but in the factories and labs, where new ways are wrought.


Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

The important Baumol paper mentioned above, is:

Baumol, William J. "Education for Innovation: Entrepreneurial Breakthroughs Versus Corporate Incremental Improvements." In Innovation Policy and the Economy, edited by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, 33-56. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005.

July 3, 2009

Berkshire BYD Technology Bet Based on Munger's View of BYD Manager


"BOOK VALUE: Berkshire Hathaway's Charles Munger reads businesses well -- and, as a bibliophile, he goes through several books a week." Source of caricature and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

At a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting a few years ago, I remember hearing Warren Buffett say that he stays away from technology stocks because he does not know how to judge which technologies are likely to succeed in the long-run. So I was a bit puzzled by the news that Berkshire Hathaway was investing in BYD, a Chinese company producing an electric car.

The passages quoted below may partially solve the puzzle: the investment in BYD was pushed by Charlie Munger and David Sokol, and was based more on a judgment about the quality of BYD's management, than the prospects for BYD's technology.

(p. C1) Mr. Munger's views have pushed Berkshire into some surprising directions. Several years ago, Mr. Munger learned of an obscure Chinese maker of batteries and automobiles called BYD Inc., which hopes to create a cheap, functional electric car.

A Chinese tech company is nothing like the shoe and underwear makers Berkshire had been buying. But Mr. Munger was enthusiastic, less about the technology than about Wang Chuanfu, who runs BYD. Mr. Wang, Mr. Munger says, is "likely to be one of the most important business people who ever lived."

Mr. Buffett was skeptical at first. But Mr. Munger persisted. David Sokol, chairman of Berkshire utility MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., paid a visit to BYD's factory in China and agreed with Mr. Munger's assessment. Last year, MidAmerican paid $230 million for a 10% stake in BYD.

"BYD was Charlie's idea," Mr. Buffett said. "When he encounters genius and sees it operating in a practical way, he gets blown away."

For the full story, see:

SCOTT PATTERSON. "Here's the Story on Berkshire's Munger." Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 1, 2009): C1 & C3.

July 2, 2009

If the Medici Had Not Intervened, Galileo "Would Have Been Killed"

(p. D7) The Franklin Institute and its aspiring blockbuster, "Galileo, the Medici & the Age of Astronomy," are something of an odd couple -- a circumstance explained, like so much else, by history.

. . .

Meanwhile, the exhibition leaves provocative questions -- about the nexus of church and state, as well as science and faith -- unanswered. If Galileo was still a court favorite, and science was so revered in Florence, why weren't the powerful dukes able to prevent his 1633 trial, heresy conviction, and sentence of house arrest?

Galileo's patrons did, in fact, intervene on his behalf, Filippo Camerota, vice director of the Institute and Museum for the History of Science and one of the exhibition curators, said in an interview. "If the Medici were not there," Mr. Camerota said, "he would have been killed." Good to know.

For the full commentary, see:

JULIA M. KLEIN. "Exhibition; What Galileo Saw." Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 28, 2009): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

July 1, 2009

RIP Marjorie Grene, Who Helped Polanyi with Personal Knowledge


"Marjorie Grene in 2003." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

The NYT reported, in the obituary quoted below, that philosopher Marjorie Grene died on March 16, 2009, at the age of 93.

Although I studied philosophy at the University of Chicago, my time there did not overlap with Marjorie Grene's and I don't believe that I ever met her, or ever even heard her speak (though I did occasionally walk past her former husband David Grene, on my way to talk to Stephen Toulmin).

I am increasingly appreciating Michael Polanyi's book Personal Knowledge in which he introduced his view of what he called "tacit knowledge." In particular, I am coming to believe that tacit knowledge is very important in understanding the role and importance of the entrepreneur.

So if Marjorie Grene was crucial to Personal Knowledge, as is indicated in the obituary quoted below, then she is deserving of serious consideration, and high regard.

(p. 23) In Chicago, she had met Michael Polanyi, a distinguished physical chemist turned philosopher; she ended up helping him research and develop his important book "Personal Knowledge" (1958). The book proposed a far more nuanced, personal idea of knowledge, and directly addressed approaches to science.

"There is hardly a page that has not benefited from her criticism," Dr. Polanyi wrote in his acknowledgments. "She has a share in anything I may have achieved here."

. . .

Her sense of humor sparkled when she was asked about being the first woman to have an edition of the Library of Living Philosophers devoted to her -- Volume 29 in 2002. Previous honorees included Bertrand Russell and Einstein. "I thought they must be looking desperately for a woman," Dr. Grene said.

For the full obituary, see:

DOUGLAS MARTIN. "Marjorie Grene, a Leading Philosopher of Biology, Is Dead at 98." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., March 29, 2009): 23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The reference for the Polanyi book, is:

Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1958.


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