Friday, April 25, 2014

"There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing."

Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber tells us that Lawrence & Wishart, publishers of the Marx-Engels Collected Works, are issuing take-down notices to the Marxist Internet Archive for their translations of Marx and Engels; other translations will stay there. Writes McLemee:
Chances are the archive volunteers never contacted the press before putting the material up because they assumed, reasonably enough, that an edition prepared largely if not entirely with the support of old-fashioned, Soviet-era Moscow gold was not anybody’s private intellectual property—that the works of Marx and Engels now belong to the commons. They just want people to be able to read Marx and Engels.
...
About the time the Marxist Internet Archive announced that it would be taking down all theMECW material, Corey and I both, by coincidence, were ourselves of radically under-priced materials from the enemy’s publishing apparatus. He’d received an order containing dirt-cheap copies of Bastiat from the Liberty Fund, while a day earlier I had downloaded free digital editions of the major Austrian School books on theory of value and the socialist-calculation debate from the Mises Institute website. There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing.
One side of the war of ideas recognizes the value of supplying free ammunition to its allies. The other side will charge its own side for each bullet. Interesting which side's chosen which strategy. The interested reader can also find all three volumes of Das Kapital at Liberty Fund.

If you've not perused the Online Library of Liberty, or Mises.org's extensive selection, they're both well work a browse. All it will cost you is your time. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Surprising irreligiosity

Fifty-five percent of the people in my neighbourhood have no religion, while thirty-nine percent identify as Christian. My daughter's Jedi status I guess is part of the remaining 6%.

The Christchurch Press puts up the map, though I'm not sure whether the map is theirs or comes from elsewhere; the GoogleDoc has "attribution unknown". As it's from a Google Doc, I've embedded it below.

 

I didn't know that you could have Google do this kind of thing; it's amazing. Were I not a bit swamped with other projects, it would be really rather fun to copy the spreadsheet and add in columns for income, education and ethnicity. I was surprised to see that the east side of Christchurch was so irreligious; the usual stereotype has places with strong Pacific island migrant communities, like Aranui, being pretty religious. But Christchurch's godly folks live out West in the richer parts of town like Fendalton. It would also be neat to overlay changes from 2006 to 2013 with relative earthquake damage.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Birthdays

American kids tend to be born June through September. I'd thought this was generally due to parents planning to hit a September school enrolment cut-off day: in many US states, if your child turns 5 at or before the start of school in September, the kid's enrolled; otherwise, you've got another year of daycare to worry about. Buckles and Hungerman showed that seasonality in births is due to deliberate timing: women who were trying to conceive showed strong seasonality, while those for whom births were unexpected showed no seasonality.

In New Zealand, your child starts school on the fifth birthday. If the child is born before a cut-off date (end-March, but later at most schools), he or she will start straight into Year 1. If the birthday is later in the year, the kid starts in Year 0 then either progresses to Year 1 at the start of the new school year in February, or continues in Year 0 until ready for Year 1. 

Incentives facing Kiwi parents are then a bit different. Since your kid is in school on the fifth birthday no matter what, you don't have to worry about hitting that barrier. But you might want to avoid a protracted stay in Year 0 unless you want your child to be old for his class. If you want to have your kid start straight into Year 1, you'd time your birth for the Kiwi summer or autumn; if you want your kid to start in Year 0 and dominate his later classmates on the rugby pitch, you'd time it for a spring Year 0 start. 

StatsNZ today put up a table showing the most common birthdays and linked to a great visualisation of the US data. In both cases, the heatmap shows the frequency of particular birth dates.

Here's the US:


And NZ:


 
Where Americans tend to be born June-September, Kiwi births cluster September-October. Those kids would get a short start in Year 0 before progressing to Year 1 when school starts in February. 

We hadn't really considered school timing when beginning the Ira and Eleanor production processes. I expect that the Kiwi data reflects deliberate timing decisions like those found in the US. I'm just a bit curious what's underlying those decisions. Kiwis avoid June the same way that Americans avoid January, but the only sense I can make for Kiwi preferences for spring over fall is differences in school timing. But there are disadvantages to being part of the cluster. Maternity wards have only so much capacity. If you're giving birth at the same time as everybody else, you're likely going to be pushed home rather more quickly than you'd like.

Pointers to the relevant literature, or Kiwi common knowledge, are welcome.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Social costs of Easter

It's not just how much chocolate we're eating, it's how we're getting our Easter eggs. From the Herald:
The Egg Day Out was held across three locations in Auckland on Good Friday. It was organised by the Equippers church and sponsored by Cadbury. A thousand eggs were to be dropped at each location from a helicopter for children to "hunt" and gather. All went to plan at the city and North Shore locations but in Manukau at the Vodafone Events Centre air traffic control prevented the chopper from flying over the site and the eggs were scattered by hand.

Equippers pastor Wilhem Schaafhausen told the Herald he had expected up to 5000 people to attend at each site, but on the day about 30,000 showed up. He said one of the problems at the event was the behaviour of many parents.

"A lot of kids were getting hurt ... parents were just running in and running over the kids. I was like 'oh my goodness' and my volunteers were blown away by the behaviour of the parents," he said.

...They described other parents as greedy and abusive and said they were trying to get as many eggs as possible. Yvonne Pokotai-Ratana took her daughters to the event with some friends and their own kids. She said an adult set upon her younger daughter Yves to take any eggs she had collected.

"There was a point where the adults weren't allowed to access beyond, only the children. But arrogant adults ignored the commentator," she told the Herald.

"When the egg drop started the crowd of kids and adults rushed up the hill - most of whom I saw were adults being rough to others around them just to get the Easter eggs. My 7-year-old's face was scratched by an adult and she didn't even have an egg. Other children walking past were crying or even hurt."

A woman posted on the Facebook page that she ended up in the accident and emergency department with her young son after an incident at the event.

"Thanks for the A&E visit for my 3-year-old [after] getting pushed by adults and his fingers getting trampled on after egg ripped out of his hand," she wrote to organisers.
We know that chocolate is addictive. And look at the lengths to which even adults will go when chocolate-crazed. Events like this encourage precisely this kind of behaviour: a chocolate free-for-all. Clearly we need to ban free-chocolate events. But that isn't enough. Our obesity problems combined with this kind of mayhem point strongly towards tougher regulations on access to chocolate and chocolate minimum pricing. We need many hundred-thousand-dollar grants to the University of Otago's and University of Auckland's public health departments examining binge chocolate eating. They'll surely find that we're in a deep crisis and that More Must Be Done. We could establish Chocolate Healthwatch to send out anti-chocolate press releases every Easter and Halloween.

Or maybe we could instead start recognizing that there are just some real jerks out there and deal with the more general jerk problem. It would be ridiculous to start some anti-chocolate campaign on the basis of this weekend's event; it would be rather more appropriate to have parents go through their videos of the event, find the adults who were behaving like this, put their pictures up everywhere, and shame them for their loutish, awful behaviour. Would that we could take an individual responsibility approach more broadly.

Coordination failure?

Despite Kiwi secularism, New Zealand still has odd rules around shops and bars being open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But, if there's a special event on, you're supposed to be able to get a special licence to keep your bar open.

Warbirds Over Wanaka comes to Wanaka every other year. Fifty thousand showed up in Wanaka (population 7000) to watch the airshow. It's a pretty big deal for Wanaka. You might even think it would count as a special event.
Disappointed Wanaka bar operators have been given a resounding ''no'' to requests for special liquor licences at Easter, leaving a 50,000-strong Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow crowd with nowhere to drink in the resort unless they are dining.
The Queenstown Lakes District Licensing Committee refused special licence applications for Good Friday and Easter Sunday from eight Wanaka bars and one Queenstown bar at hearings in Frankton on Monday and Wanaka yesterday.
The applications had been opposed by Public Health South medical officer of health Dr Derek Bell and Sergeant Linda Stevens, of Queenstown police, who said despite claims to the contrary, the bars were essentially proposing ''business as usual'', not genuine events as required for special licences under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.
Fifty thousand people showing up wasn't enough for it to count as a special event; apparently, had the bars coordinated with Warbirds to have plane-themed stuff going on at the bars, they could have opened for the weekend.
Post Office Lane bars manager Tom Wild said Wanaka businesses relied heavily on seasonal trends, particularly Easter, which came immediately before a long, quiet shoulder season.
Warbirds provided an opportunity for bars to ''showcase'' Wanaka as an attractive tourist destination to the thousands of visitors in the area.
However, because people wanting a night out would be denied that option and restaurants allowed to trade would struggle to cope with the huge numbers, visitors were likely to form a negative opinion of their time in Wanaka, Mr Wild said.
It seemed inconsistent that Post Office Lane bars Woody's and Barluga had been granted special licences during the 2012 Warbirds, when there was ''substantially less'' entertainment than the three-day ticketed music event proposed this Easter, he added.
The rationale?
Wanaka bars had tried to ''dress up'' their applications as separate events to cater for the large Warbirds crowd, yet in reality, there would be ''no significant differences'' in the food, drinks, ambience and music provided at those events compared with regular trading days.
Evidence for that could be found in the ''dulling sameness'' of the applications, the intention to trade for a large part of the prohibited days rather than a ''gentle intrusion'', the lack of significant entry fees for the bars' proposed events and the fact licensees had made no attempts to co-ordinate with Warbirds' organisers.
Bar operators had two years between each airshow to plan a complementary event and Mr Unwin hoped for a ''much more significant form of co-operation so there will be an event within the event'' in future.
So, by whim of retired judge Bill Unwin, if next time around the applications are more interesting and don't suffer from "dulling sameness", maybe the bars will be allowed to open. Or maybe they won't. The bar owners don't get to try to figure out what kind of thing customers might want during Warbirds; Unwin gets to. Great system.

Meanwhile, in Christchurch, co-blogger Seamus Hogan timed his garden shopping to allow for civil disobedience:

The Cramptons instead spent Easter in the pools at Hamner Springs. Note that the green waterslide can be very fast indeed.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Margins and averages: college edition

College grads earn more than those who don't go to college. Does it follow that governments should encourage more kids into university? Not necessarily. 

Bryan Caplan here points to work by Eberly and Athreya showing that while the college premium increased substantially, college enrolment did not. Why? Because mediocre students are likely to fail out, and the returns to dropping out of college aren't that high. Caplan summarises:
Let me illustrate.  Suppose you're at the 90th-percentile of high school graduates, so your probability of graduating college if you enroll is around 90%.  When the college premium ascends from 50% to 70%, your expected premium goes from 45% to 63%.  In plain English, the payoff goes from very good to excellent.  Either way, enrollment is a no-brainer.
If instead you're at the 25th-percentile of high school graduates, your probability of graduating college if you enroll is around 20%.  When the college premium ascends from 50% to 70%, your expected premium goes from 10% to 14%.  In plain English, the payoff goes from really crummy to crummy.  Either way, non-enrollment is a no-brainer... especially when you dwell on the fact that colleges don't refund drop-outs' tuition, much less the earnings and work experience they forfeited to attend.
 Bryan then looks to other "no-brainers":
My favorite feature of Eberly-Athreya: Their story readily generalizes to other weighty life choices widely seen as "no-brainers."  Conventional wisdom condemns dropping out of high school.  After all, standard estimates say that finishing high school raises your income by 50%.  For good students, it's easy money.  For stereotypical "bad students," though, it's hard money - or a waste of money.  Why?  Because when bad students attend high school, their probability of graduation - and their expected return - remains fairly low.
The same holds for marriage.  The economic benefits of stable marriage are massive.  But as Charles Murray explains, the probability of stable marriage varies widely by social class.  Divorce rates for the working class are about four times as high as for professionals.  Marginal brides and grooms therefore face a high probability of marital failure - and can reasonably fear that marriage will make them worse off despite its palpable benefits.
To be fair, Eberly and Athreya are not the first or only education researchers to highlight the chasm between ex ante and ex post returns to education.  But as far as I can tell, no one makes the logic clearer.  If anyone taunts, "So your kids should go to college, but other people's kids shouldn't," the honest answer is "Don't shoot the messenger - or his kids."  The numbers don't lie: College is a great investment for great students, a mediocre investment for mediocre students, and a bad investment for bad students.  
This mirrors what Wolfers and Stephenson have been saying about the returns to marriage: the decline in marriage among the poor comes down to its lower expected value for poor people.

I will leave as an exercise for the student the following problem. New Zealand recently changed the university funding model. Previously, universities were funded based on student numbers and research output. Now, they're also rewarded for their degree-completion rates: they're punished for drop-outs. What happens to:

  • equilibrium standards for passing grades
  • the average college premium
  • the absolute college premium for better students
  • the expected college premium for better students
  • the absolute college premium for worse students
  • the expected college premium for worse students

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gender quotas

Annick Masselot of Canterbury's Management department wants gender quotas on boards of companies listed on the NZX.
UC associate professor Annick Masselot said the NZX should go further with the introduction of quotas.
"In fact I think they have a duty to do that . . . Diversity is not an option."
She said NZX's diversity rules should at least match rules from the Australian sharemarket that required companies to disclose whether they had a formal diversity policy, and "if not, why not".
Masselot said several studies found that having women on boards led to an improvement in financial metrics.
Countries including Norway had introduced gender quotas in company boards using hard legislative measures. Others, including Australia had increased the number of women on boards with the use of "soft" self-regulation, she said.
The NZX would have the power to introduce gender quotas, but did not consider it appropriate to introduce them and had no intention to do so, a spokeswoman said.
I wouldn't be surprised if there were some studies finding benefits, but I doubt that they'd be sufficient to overturn the general conclusion that quotas aren't necessarily that hot an idea.

Adams and Ferreira, in the Journal of Financial Economics, found that mandating gender quotas for directors reduces firm value for well-governed firms. Forcing Boards to take on more women can help performance where those firms had existing problems that could be solved by greater Board monitoring. But on average, greater diversity yielded worse firm performance in the set of S&P firms (500, MidCaps and SmallCaps) studied.
Given that our previous findings suggest that more gender-diverse boards have stronger governance, these results imply that, on average, tough boards do not improve firm value. But they do not imply that tough boards never add value. There is no reason to expect tough boards to add value in all firms. The value of a tough board should depend on the strength of the other governance mechanisms. If firms have otherwise strong governance, having a tough board could lead to overmonitoring. But if firms have otherwise weak governance, we would expect tough boards to be particularly valuable.
I read this as a strong argument for shareholders' demanding greater female board representation if they think the Board has governance issues. But as for quotas:
Our results highlight the importance of trying to address the endogeneity of gender diversity in performance regressions. Although a positive relation between gender diversity in the boardroom and firm performance is often cited in the popular press, it is not robust to any of our methods of addressing the endogeneity of gender diversity. The true relation between gender diversity and firm performance appears to be more complex. We find that diversity has a positive impact on performance in firms that otherwise have weak governance, as measured by their abilities to resist takeovers. In firms with strong governance, however, enforcing gender quotas in the boardroom could ultimately decrease shareholder value. One possible explanation is that greater gender diversity could lead to overmonitoring in those firms.
More generally, our results show that female directors have a substantial and value-relevant impact on board structure. But this evidence does not provide support for quota-based policy initiatives. No evidence suggests that such policies would improve firm performance on average. Proposals for regulations enforcing quotas for women on boards must then be motivated by reasons other than improvements in governance and firm performance.