Saturday, March 26, 2005

Regression toward the mean?

We knew that with the departure of Dwyane Wade and Robert Jackson, MU would not be making many runs to the Final Four. We knew that Diener's graduation date was set the day he stepped on campus (although we didn't know he would be hobbled with a series of injuries his senior year); we also knew that MU was likely to implode without his presence on the court. But a first-round defeat in the NIT? That was hardly in the cards.

Now, with fewer than eight months before Marquette joins the growing Big East (having snagged all the good teams from Conference USA), one has to wonder whether the Golden Eagles will become the Brewers of Big East basketball. The 2004-5 season left us with few unexpected surprises; Novak managed to improve his inside game somewhat, signs of Mason's maturation were evident, and Amoroso showed that he might replace the disappointing Chris Grimm. But at the same time, Novak's 3-point shooting has been anything but impressive in the last year, and Mason hasn't shown the same sort of Wade-like talent that was touted upon his recruitment. With the untimely transfers of Bell and Berkowitz, we can only hope that either Chapman warms up to the point, or one of the recent recruits steps up.

Nevertheless, any way you look at it, it looks like seven years of famine.

Border Madness

Picture your local suburb: no doubt somewhere safe, clean, and quiet comes to mind. Crime, by and large, has never been a problem, and the adequate village police force spends most of its time hassling speeders and skateborders. But suppose, for one reason or another, crime gradually creeps in to our suburban idyll: a few houses get broken into, a handful of robberies take place during the night, maybe even a previously-unheard-of rape or murder takes place.

How might we react to a group of well-meaning, honest citizens getting together to form a neighborhood watch group? I can picture the headlines now: "Neighbors Fight Back", "Concerned Citizens Take to the Streets", etc. We praise those involved for their civic virtue, for their sacrificing free time to make the community safer for everyone. Economists note the rarity of observing here a "positive externality" (benefits which accrue to a third-party, in addition to those of the acting agent).

Now, how is the group of citizens who monitor the US-Mexico border, dubbed " vigilantes" by President Bush, any different? Those that are civic crusaders in the suburbs suddenly become uncontrollable vigilantes when encountered along our porous southern border.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Not a Drop to Drink

Two things to take out of a recent AP article on the lack of clean drinking water in China:

1. China is still a long way from being considered developed. Those 10+% rates of growth don't look so impressive when (or rather, they are better put in after considering), as the article notes, 360 million Chinese are without safe drinking water.

2. Figures on economic growth can hide relevant changes in quality-of-life; environmental damage (though necessary or not) is not something that is captured by those statistics, though they are relevant to overall social welfare. It would perhaps be useful to "deflate" economic growth figures to reflect, say, depreciation of the "stock" of natural resources just as physical capital is depreciated in the national accounts. Indeed, as I read elsewhere, it hardly makes sense to define investments in water purification plants as investment proper if we're not going to consider pollution of, say, ground wells as a depreciation of the capital stock.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

America's Soft Underbelly

A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that "between 80 percent and 85 percent of Mexican-born people now in the United States came here illegally"; moreover, "[i]llegal aliens make up 29 percent of all immigrants, while another 61 percent are legal permanent residents, 7 percent are refugees and 3 percent are here temporarily but legally".

That wall is looking better and better!

Krugman on Krack

Krugman's Op/Ed piece from last Friday's NYT, talking about Wolfowitz's nomination to the World Bank presidency, has this to say:
Dogmatic views about the universal superiority of free markets have been losing ground around the world.

Latin Americans are the most disillusioned. Through much of the 1990's [sic], they bought into the "Washington consensus" - which we should note came from Clinton administration officials as well as from Wall Street economists and conservative think tanks - which said that privatization, deregulation and free trade would lead to economic takeoff. Instead, growth remained sluggish, inequality increased, and the region was struck by a series of economic crises. [My italics]
Throughout most of the 90s? Latin America started out on the free market path in the late 80s, as it tried to recuperate from a debt crisis that crushed the entire continent. Growth remained sluggish? Try growth remained record. And the "series of economic crises" were as much to do with fall out from the Mexican crisis of 1995 and the Asian crisis of 1998 than anything inherent in free market policies.

Krugman continues:
The result has been the rise of governments that, to varying degrees, reject policies they perceive as made in America. Venezuela's leader is the most obstreperous. But the most dramatic example of the backlash is Argentina, once the darling of Wall Street and the think tanks.
I would hardly use the policies of Venezuela's half-mad president Hugo Chavez as characteristic of an entire region. And Argentina has seen crisis after crisis for who knows how many years, under a series of anything but free market policy.
And the backlash has reached our closest neighbor. Mexico's current president, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, is a firm believer in free markets. But his administration is widely considered a failure.
Failure or no, Mexico under Fox's watch has seen its per capita income double from $3,100 to $6,505 since the passage of NAFTA in 1995 (see article on walls below).

Krugman, though a fine international economist (international, not development), should learn to take the advice he so kindly offers to Wolfowitz: mind your own business.

Socialized Medicine: The Case of Canada

This does not quite qualify as "news", but an article on Canada's system of socialized medicine hit the AP wire a few days ago. Some highlights:
[A]ccording to experts on both sides of the debate, Canada and North Korea are the only countries with laws banning the purchase of insurance for hospitalization or surgery. Meanwhile, the average wait for surgical or specialist treatment is nearly 18 weeks, up from 9.3 weeks in 1993, according to the Fraser Institute, a right-wing public policy think tank in Vancouver. A Fraser study last year said the average wait for an orthopedic surgeon was more than nine months.

The average Canadian family pays about 48 percent of its income in taxes each year, partly to fund the health care system. Rates vary from province to province, but Ontario, the most populous, spends roughly 40 percent of every tax dollar on health care, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

[A Canadian doctor, Dr. Day,] tells of a patient who was informed by Ontario officials that since Ontario couldn't help him, they would spend $35,000 to send him to the United States for surgery. Day said his Vancouver clinic could have done it for $12,000 but the Ontario officials "do not philosophically support sending an individual to a nongovernment clinic in Canada."
It seems the bottom line is: let's screw doing things in a cost-efficient manner, and let's screw letting people choose things for themselves, even when they're willing to pay a lot more out of their own pocket to do it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Bono-fied progress at the World Bank

We can all sleep easily now that Bono's mind has been eased on Wolfowitz's nomination to the World Bank presidency. Bono, "whose name had been bandied about for the World Bank presidency", may have moved on to other aspirations.

Interestingly, Bono wrote the introduction to Jeffrey Sach's just-released book The End of Poverty. Could Professor Sach's lukewarm reaction to Wolfowitz's nomination (see post below) have been disappointment that Bono was not picked for the job?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Walls, walls, everywhere are walls...

Has Vicente Fox learned nothing from 3000 years of human history? If you have a problem, building a wall is probably the way to go. Here's what ol' Vicente had to say (in a recent UPI article) on the US's move to build walls along the US-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants: "No country that is proud of itself should build walls ... it doesn't make any sense. We are convinced that walls don't work."

Ludicrous. Walls work. How are you going to get around a wall? You either have to go above it or dig under it, both of which are not easy and prone to discovery. What do we do when we want to keep prisoners holed up? We build humungous walls with all sorts of scary barbed wire on top of it.

He justified the lack of Mexican effort to curb illegal immigration as follows: "We can't keep them against their will by force." Lame excuse, especially when Fox tacitly encourages such northward immigration.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The genetics of religion

An interesting article from the New Scientist explains a recent research into how genes affect one's religiosity. The study was done by comparing how identical twins (100% of the same genes) and fraternal twins (50% of the same genes) kept up church attendance once they hit their 30s. Fraternal twins were about a third "less similar" than they were during adolescence, suggesting a genetic cause.

Big News on the International Development Scene

Bush nominates Paul Wolfowitz, neoconservative extraordinaire, UofC alumn, and Deputy Defense Secretary, to head the World Bank. Wolfowitz is known for his hawkish stance towards Saddam's former regime, and a vocal proponent of spreading democracy in order to promote America's security.

Overrated development economist and adviser to the UN Secretary General Jeffrey Sachs had this to say: "It's a very surprising and in many ways inappropriate nomination. International aid organisations warned that the World Bank needed to maintain its mission to minimise poverty, rather than reframe its purpose to spread liberty in an effort to combat Islamic militancy... It's time for other candidates to come forward that have experience in development".

On Bush's unilateralism, this was said: "Wolfowitz has been seen as a symbol of the go-it-alone approach of the Bush administration," said Devesh Kapur, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the official history of the World Bank. "Along with the nomination of Bolton, the US is putting the biggest sceptics of multilateralism in charge."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

American girth: Exceptional in the West?

Continuing the theme of American exceptionalism, I submit the following: an AP report on the growing obesity problem in Europe. Among men, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Malta and Slovakia all exceed the US in terms of percentage of the population overweight. The study cites that 34% of US women and 67% of US men are considered obese.

Even among the fashionable, fit French, obesity has reared its ugly head: France has seen "troubling trends" in recent years, with obesity rising from 8% in 1997 to 11.3% among women and 8.4% to 11.4% among men.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Recent Hyde Park homicide sparks UChicago bureaucratic nonsense

A February 27th gang shooting/homicide in Kimbark Plaza, located on 53rd street in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago, has been the focus of area residents for the past week (See Chicago Maroon, "Man shot in front of Kimbark Plaza", March 8th, 2005).

But the reaction from the University could be classified, perhaps, as head-scratching. Vice President and Dean of Students Steve Klass said this: "It is my fervent hope that this does not cause students to feel as though they should separate themselves from engagement in the surrounding communities... These criminals are not representative of our neighbors and they should not be allowed to have that kind of segregating impact between our students and the residents of these wonderful communities" (qtd. from the Maroon).

Granted, there are plenty of community residents, not at all affiliated with the University, who are fine people. But what sort of murti-bing pills has Klass injested to encourage students not to disengage themselves from the "wonderful communities" surrounding Hyde Park? This is, after all, a neighborhood who is "split eat and west by Dorchester Avenue" by "two competing gangs". It doesn't take too far of a walk north, or any time at all south, for University students to realize they are seriously in harm's way. What sort of "engagement", exactly, is appropriate for urban youth gangs? The suspects in this case were precisely residents of the nearby, "wonderful" communities. Being realistic about Hyde Park's location is one thing; completely contradicting it is another.

Students are going to continue to converse and engage with those Hyde Park residents who, say, live in their apartment building or work for the University. But what sort of activities is the average student supposed to undertake with the criminal youth of the surrounding areas? Midnight basketball?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

American treatment of Iraq casualties: exceptional in the West?

The idea that Americans show disproportionate concern for their casualties in the war in Iraq is not debatable; whether or not this concern is warranted is only slightly moreso. But we should bear in mind that this is not some perverse form of American exceptionalism (call it "American lack-of-altruism") which out more sophisticated, cosmopolitan European counterparts are free from; disproportionate concern for one's own casualties is a common thing in the West. For example, since last Friday Italian newspapers have been splashed with the news of that botched hostage rescue (see an article from last week's La Repubblica), much as Italian media was fixated on the two hostages taken last fall. Japan's case has been no different. Sure, the fact that hostages are usually civilians should, perhaps, make us more sympathetic towards their plight than towards soldiers', but 100,000 times more?

In conclusion, America is no worse than any other Western nations on its treatment of war casualties.