Wednesday, 28 October 2015

I was 40 yesterday

... and the Metro newspaper wasn't being very helpful:

Experiments on children's lying

Psychologists do it differently:
Children’s statements after they have told an initial lie further reveal the role of intentionality. In the temptation resistance paradigm, after children denied transgressing, the experimenter asked follow-up questions. For example, when children peeked at a toy (e.g., Barney) and lied about peeking, the experimenter asked, “What do you think it is?” Children’s answers reveal a marked developmental change between 2 and 7 years of age: Most 2- to 3-year-olds blurt out “Barney!” without hesitation, thus revealing that they not only transgressed, but lied .... With increased age, children try to avoid making such blatantly inconsistent statements. Initially, their efforts may be a little clumsy and inconsistent (i.e., semantic leakage): For example, a 5-year-old girl said, “I didn’t peek at it. I touched it and it felt purple. So, I think it is Barney.”
The paradigm involves more deception than experimental economists would like. But the results are much more adorable!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Dani Rodrik on Sledgehammer in Turkey

Dani Rodrik is not only the most thoughtful writer I know about international political economy, he has also been fighting for justice for his father-in-law in Turkey. Here is his account of a major conspiracy to subvert the rule of law. His description of the role of the intelligentsia, starting on page 23, is particularly uncomfortable reading.
There were a few prominent journalists such as Sedat Ergin, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, and Ezgi Başaran who wrote about the inconsistencies in the mainstream media. But for the most part we were ignored by the Turkish intelligentsia, and when not, pilloried for our views. Rarely was the evidence we presented discussed seriously....

Eventually, Görmüş would essentially give up any pretense of a credible court case against the defendants. In an interview published in early 2014, he would say he opposed the arguments Pınar and I were making because of the effect we were having on “public opinion”: “I am fighting against the perception that ‘nothing happened in this country since 2002, that the military did not take a stance against the elected government, that everything is made up.’”

Ultimately, to many commentators it apparently did not matter whether the Sledgehammer documents were authentic.
The highlighted part is to show what happens when you subordinate principle to means-end reasoning.

This a great piece of writing which, among other things, does the very needful job of naming the guilty men.


This (old) piece by Bryan Caplan is a brilliant way of thinking about libertarianism: it brings out both how logical it is, and how dangerous and dysfunctional.

The sociologist Kieran Healy has a paper entitled Fuck Nuance.
Abstract: Seriously, fuck it.
From the body:
By calling for a theory to be more comprehensive, or for an explanation to include additional dimensions, or a concept to become more flexible and multifaceted, we paradoxically end up with less clarity. We lose information by adding detail. A further odd consequence is that the apparent scope of theories increases even as the range of their actually-accomplished application in explanations narrows. ... The particulars are “brought in” to the theory as general dimensions or levels of analysis—e.g., by nesting individuals, interactions, neighborhoods, and states; or by considering social- psychological, cultural, and structural aspects of the phenomenon; or by the simple claim that (for example) institutions matter, power matters, and culture matters, along with something new that the particular case suggests also matters.... Concept stands near concept—“Culture!” “Structure!” “Meaning!” “Power!”—like a herd of Brontosauruses ruminating in a primeval swamp.
Article in the FT which nicely talks about the tradeoffs between public and private companies.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

EU: loosen or shift?

Britain needs to stay in the EU. Otherwise, politically, the EU will be crippled as a great power, and Britain will be too small to stand on its own; economically, the single market will fall apart, making European consumers worse off.

So, why do some want to leave? One reason is that the EU is partly a free market, partly a social democratic club. Social democracy, at least in its unreformed version, means overregulated markets and an unaffordable welfare state. The results are high unemployment, low growth, ever more debt and the prospect of Europe growing poorer and more irrelevant.

This is the problem facing David Cameron as he renegotiates the relationship, ahead of the UK referendum on "Brexit". There are two possible solutions.

One solution is: loosen up! If we renationalise powers from Brussels, individual countries can go their own way. Britain can go the sensible free-market liberal way, and other countries can do things differently if they want.

The other solution is to shift. If we persuade Brussels and Europe to move rightward, then we get what we want. All of Europe then moves in a free-market direction.

Loosening up sounds attractive and libertarian. Why should we impose our views on the whole continent, rather than simply requesting more freedom for ourselves?

But, loosening is the wrong path and shifting is the right one.

There is no such thing as "just" a single market. If you want freedom to trade, you have to stop countries imposing bad regulations to protect their national firms (who lobby the local politicians). Otherwise free trade across borders is just a meaningless idea.

We do need some regulation, though. So, we need European regulation, even if it sometimes is too heavy. Any sensible businessman would rather face one set of tough regulations than fifteen sets of light ones, all different. If we want to trade across Europe, we do need "ever closer union".

The biggest example of this is banking. A single market for investment could make Europe much wealthier. A single currency is a huge help for this. (Even though it has had devastating consequences in the short run – yes, the last ten years are the "short run"!) But a single currency requires transfers to help out poorer countries, which in turn requires a lot of political centralization and a bigger EU budget.

Also, imposing our views on the rest of Europe will make Europe better off. Nobody benefits from Italy's and France's "freedom" to be burdened with out-of-date regulations that keep unemployment high. We should make the case for them to move. That will make their societies better. Their well-being benefits us. David Cameron should persuade the whole flotilla of Europe to steer rightward, not sail off on his own.


Unlearning economics on randomized controlled trials.

Among other things, the author argues that it is unethical to deny some people in the RCT a treatment, since this treatment is unambiguously useful. This argument is weak. The reason for doing RCTs is to learn how useful treatments are. People in the real world outside the trial are constantly denied useful treatments, because resources are not unlimited. We conduct the RCT to find out which treatments are the most useful. This minimizes the number of people who will be denied useful treatments in future. (Question: are the ethics of medical research vitiated by a bias in favour of the people in the trial over the future people who may be helped?)

Law enforcement might get your DNA from 23andme. 23andme have an option to delete your DNA data after 30 days, sounds like a sensible precaution.

Der Spiegel have uncovered evidence that Germany's right to host the 2006 World Cup was bought.

Corbyn's incentives

Jeremy Corbyn to become CND vice-president.

Side note: the last time I heard a speaker from CND was September 11th, 2001. I was on a demonstration against the arms trade. The news of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks filtered through and a CND guy got to the microphone. He seemed euphoric. He said, "I hope nobody was hurt, but I hope they don't build it [the Pentagon] up again!" Cue enthusiastic applause from loons.

Many people think Jeremy Corbyn will be a terrible Labour leader because he is so idealistic. He surely is, but there is another way to look at it. Mr Corbyn's friends and allies come from Stop The War, CND, and similar organizations. He has worked with these people all his life. He wants them to do well, to gain influence and power. In his heart of hearts, he may know that Labour cannot win an election on a hard left platform. But the hard left can win Labour.

Those friends, he will think, have struggled all their lives for a just cause. Surely they deserve some influence and power now. And perhaps it's better to have the Labour party making truly socialist arguments and losing, than compromising and winning. (People pursuing their self-interest don't drop all ideals; they just develop more suitable ones.)

So from this perspective, Jeremy Corbyn and his backers have an interest in Labour being unelectable.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Nobel: haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate. I see a namecheck for Zygmunt Bauman. Maybe he can get a Nobel for copying his books off Wikipedia; instead of such trivia as "“contributions to methods of analysing economic time series with time-varying volatility” (2003) or the “analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity” (2008)' which, like, can't be real science because they sound sooo boooring.

This article also contains sentences like
Over the past decades mainstream economics in universities has become increasingly mathematical, focusing on complex statistical analyses and modelling to the detriment of the observation of reality.
which is precisely 180º wrong. (Duflo? List? Or, I heard there's some guy called Deaton who spent huge amounts of effort designing household surveys to figure out the best way of measuring poverty.)

There is a real case for humility in economic research, and for sensitivity to the limits of quantitative methods. There's even a real case for qualitative research. It would be great if the case could be made by somebody who knew something about economics.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


... their falseness and malice are well known. But one thing I dare well say that if any beast has the devil’s spirit in him without doubt it is the cat, both the wild and the tame.
So true.

Credit scoring in China.

The hot hand fallacy may actually be a truthacy.

Thursday, 1 October 2015