Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why Do I Continue To Discuss Topics I Know Nothing About?

This is a follow-up to this post.

Any discussion on development must start from the admission of ignorance. We do not know why the rich are rich. We do not know why the poor are poor. But the United Nations and most development agencies refuse to accept that there are no silver bullets for poverty alleviation. There are no easy solutions.

Development agencies want to save people. But the poor do not want to be saved. Poor people are like me. They have made some bad decisions. They have had some bad luck. And at the end of the day, they, like me, want to face the consequences of their decisions and luck. They do not want "free" money thrown at them. They want opportunity. They want a chance to succeed. These are difficult things to give.

Development agencies do not bother to understand the poor. All they do is pity the poor. This pity makes the poor bitter. It makes the poor angry. It makes the poor poorer. The poor do not want to be saved, and just like with me, the things they do want cannot be achieved through monetary contributions from foreign donors.

My Dad has been in the microfinance business for years. He has lent thousands of dollars to poor people in our community. He gets most of his money back. He says his secret is that he screens wisely, and he always treats the borrowers with respect. He calls it treating "men like men."

Ivy League economists, Bono, and all the others calling for greater aide to the developing world do not have enough respect for the poor to treat "men like men." Instead of admitting their ignorance, they cling to Utopian dreams. They cling to their arrogance.

Monday, March 26, 2007

For The Record

I showed ML my review of The Last King Of Scotland.

She thought it was vulgar.

But I still think it is a great summary of the movie. "It is like eating the vending machine honey bun. When you finish all you want is more, more, more."

I hope to write a review of Little Children soon.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Maybe Hate Is Too Strong Of A Word

I hate econometrics. I hate the use of numbers and chance to explain human action. I hate the aggregation and averaging econometrics require. I hate econometrics.

And that is why I want to write an econometrics textbook. Introductory econometric texts ignores that econometrics is statistics. Statistics is chance, but economics is not about chance. It is about human action.

My textbook would clearly separate economics and statistics. It would not allow students to get confused between association and causation. It would allow students to see that averages say nothing about individuals.

(I readily admit this is a shitty post.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

John Steinbeck To John Kenneth Galbraith

Steinbeck wants to be ambassador to Oz:

"Now Oz has another secret weapon we could well use on all levels of government and diplomacy. The Wizard of Oz is a fraud who admits he is a fraud. Can you think what this would do if it got into chancelleries and general staffs. There would be a major breakthrough. I can think of a dozen other advantages and rewards of my Embassy to Oz, but I think these two would justify it. The simple expedient of dyeing different countries different colors so we would know whether we were for or against them would be worth any outlay by our government. It is even possible that a discreet traffic in emeralds could make my Embassy self-supporting if not profitable."

I am a fraud. Economists are frauds. Am I and are they willing to admit it?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Three Topics On My Mind

I have at least three things on my mind.

First we had a prospective student visit who was an institutionalist and thought most economics was a bunch of shit. We shared many of the same views, but she was focused and somewhat optimistic. She also has not been through economics PhD courses yet. I cannot say if she motivated me or sunk me into another depression.

Second Sam wanted me to discuss the research him and I are supposed to be doing. Honestly he has done a lot of work. I have not. But it is an interesting problem. Basically African farmers are in between a rock and a hard place. They can spray their cotton and make money. But by spraying they also increase their chances for malaria. Nobody has a handle on the situation or exactly what is going on. This is where we step in and save the day.

Third I want to talk religion. My two or three readers and myself all have different views on the subject. But at the core, all of us are pretty much the same.

I do not feel like expanding on these subjects. I have to start a presentation that I have to give in less than twelve hours. But four things must be said:

1. I am not an institutionalist. JKG was an institutionalist . The final goal has to be individuals making decisions for themselves. Some institutions allow for this better than others. But the final goal is a society without institutions.

2. I am sure that the African farmers have a much better handle on the situation than either Sam or I do.

3. No matter what some say, religion is personal. This might be semantics, but anybody who gets out of the bed in the morning has some religion.

4. Pussy drives 95 percent of my actions. This is a conservative estimate. It is like with this blog. I want people to read me, and say, "Wow, that is an intelligent guy." "He is smart, philosophical (whatever the hell that means), and thought provoking." I want to get thousands of hits a day. This is not a bad thing, but I do not delude myself, it is not a good thing either. Blogging gets me no closer to happiness. Yeah it relieves some stress but so does masturbation.

Yeah, I Am One Of Those Guys

Who walks around with headphones and a MP3 player in his pocket, looking like he is in his own world and does not give a damn about you or society.

Maybe that is not a bad guy to be.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Am Not A Libertarian, Republican Or A Democrat

But I am a libertarian, republican, and a democrat (the last two in the sense that democratic republics are the best form of a government if there has to be government).

Here is a great article by Virginia Postrel that showed me the light.

Quick Question

Isn't anyone who uses generated (fake) data missing the point of statistics?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

As I Travel Down The Road To Mediocrity

Great things I heard and read today:

"...many have said of Jane Austen's novels that although the reader knows nothing will happen, he can't wait to find out." ~ From John Kenneth Galbraith's essay on Ed O'Connor

JKG was a pompous asshole who would have liked to see everyone ride horse and buggies (except himself).

But he can write.

An older colleague told me that she read Galbraith and Friedman in undergraduate economics courses. I did not. Maybe that is my problem. I am a PhD student reading undergraduate material.

But every economist needs to read JKG (and Friedman). They help remind the profession that articles can be written about issues that are discussed in the barbershop, articles that discuss ideas and not mathematical bullshit.

"Well I could have been a famous singer
If I had some one else's voice
But failures always sounded better
Let's fuck it up boys, make some noise!"

From Bright Eyes' "Road To Joy"

My Dad jokes, "All I needed was a ride to Nashville."

I could have been a great option quarterback, if I could run or pass.

I could have been a great, if...

"...I'm happy just because...
I found out I am really no one"

From Bright Eyes' "At The Bottom of Everything"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Things I Want From Graduate School

I tried to write a list of objectives for a graduate of a graduate school. I started with the skills to critically analyze different problems in multiple ways. (Basically I want to be intelligently critical. I want to know the whys and hows.) Then I wanted to have better written and oral communication skills. But after that, I am stumped.

Well this reinforces that graduate school is pointless.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

A Plan For Development

Give any willing developed country citizen a plane ticket to Sub-Saharan Africa, $1500 in the local currency, and the inability to leave Sub-Saharan Africa for six months. I would increase the payment to $4000 for anyone willing to stay a year. If someone comes back before their term is up, they would have to pay the whole sum plus interest back. Notice the plan does not provide a plane ticket back to the citizen's home country.

At worst, the citizen spends something on six months worth of tourist activities. This should satisfy the Keynesians who believe multiplier effects cause economic growth.

At best, entrepreneurs use the $1500 and connections in the developing world to start business activities, increase African productivity, and really create growth.

The plan uses adverse selection to get different people involved in development. I suspect the people who join the program will not be the best of society. I suspect that most willing people would be looking to make a quick dollar and get a free vacation. I also suspect some risk-loving entrepreneurs would sign up quickly.

Considering the failures of everyone else involved in African development, these types of people deserve a chance. I am confident my plan would do more for Africa than anything the current establishment is doing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Last King Of Scotland

Men lust for pussy. Pussy is all those things that men want but their Mamas told them not to want. Pussy does not have anything to do with love or ideals. It has to do with getting your dick hard and wet. It has to do with getting high.

Nick Garrigan left Scotland and a father who loved him in search of African pussy. He found it. He found a lot of it. And in the end, he faced the consequences of pussy. He learned why his Mama was right.

Idi Amin discovered pussy from the British. They gave him a taste, and he could never get enough of it. He destroyed his own country for pussy, to show the British an African man could eat pussy with the best of them.

Now pussy is not all bad. Pussy makes men great. It puts a fire in their belly. The United States was built on life, liberty, and the pursuit of pussy. I mean property. I mean happiness. The greatest men, the men who accomplish the most, all love pussy. They cannot get enough of it. Pussy is why Garrigan was a great doctor. The lack of lust for pussy is why the Ugandan doctor and the health minister could never lead Uganda.

But the thing about pussy is it never satisfies you. It is like eating the vending machine honey bun. When you finish all you want is more, more, more.

Development And Honesty

When I was in kindergarten we played with blocks. The teacher would demonstrate: "Blue, green, yellow, blue, green, yellow, what comes next in the pattern?"

I would always yell "red." The teacher was not amused.

Much life can be described by patterns. The sun comes up every morning. The sun goes down every evening. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall comes every year. Every evening I do homework.

But patterns break. The sun does not come up and go down at the same time each day. Harsh winters are followed by mild ones. I graduate from one school so I can suffer at another.

The problem with poverty and development economists are that they are looking for a pattern that does not exist. There are no magical elixirs. There are not mathematical models or surefire governmental policies that can get a country out of poverty.

Four years ago, I was working with my Dad. I hated it. I was working sixty to seventy hours a week so I could save pennies.

Tonight I am staring at a computer screen looking for diversions from homework and meaningless paper writing. Four years ago, no one could have convinced me that I would be sitting here tonight. No one could have "saved" me from this predicament. And I would not and still do not want "saving."

Development is a classic the chicken or the egg problem. Do you have to be rich to get rich? Does good governance and success precede wealth? Or does wealth precede good governance? I do not know, and no economist knows.

Unlike many of my Ivy League trained colleagues, I am willing to admit my ignorance. I do not know if this makes me better, but at least I am honest.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What I Have Been Thinking

Daniel Klein writes what I have been thinking.

I meant to post on this last week, but I did not. As a professor tells me when I am late for the gym, "Get your priorities straight."

I better get my priorities straight (and not be posting at midnight) before I am forced to have different priorities.

400th Post

Since this is the 400th post on Why?, I wanted to write something positive.

If I stay in academia, I would like to model my career after Russell Roberts. He consistently writes quality posts at Cafe Hayek. He wrote a wonderful book about free trade. He sounds passionate and down-to-earth on his podcasts. He was even a gentleman when Tyler Cowen sounded like John Kenneth Galbraith for a few minutes. He once replied to a thank you Email I sent him. He also likes sports. All in all, He seems to be a good man.

Like most people, he probably has some flaws once you get to know him. But I am going to remain positive (at least for this post).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Black And Brown

1. Black and brown do not match. My Dad always told me black goes with everything. He was wrong. It does not go with brown. When I was a child I thought like a child. Now I know black and brown do not match, but I still think like a child.

2. I do not work hard enough. I blame my laziness on boredom. But boredom is self-inflicted. I have to make my work more interesting or stop worrying about being lazy. I will probably stop worrying about being lazy.

3. I now officially have a Masters' degree and a diploma to prove it. I feel no different.

4. I have multiple accounts with Google, but I have never paid Google a dime. I like my relationship with Google. Some politician or wannabe politician will eventually go after Google for its monopolistic behavior, and good things rarely last. But I am happy now.

I also wonder if Google will eventually have to charge. Eventually cable television and pay-per-view was invented. I can imagine premium Email services like the ability to withdraw poorly written Emails and automatic replys.

It should be an interesting next ten years.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Statistics Everyone Should Know Especially Poor People

1. The lottery is a scam. I have heard a thousand commericials about how the lottery gives so much money to education. I am sure they do but at the expense of people who are bad at math and probably had a poor quality education. It is okay to play once in a while, but never bet your present and future on a one in a 4.7 million chance.

2. Knocking a woman up really has a low probablility. But if you have a lot of sex, then the odds that you impregnate a female increases. So have has much sex as possible, but remember to cover up.

3. An average or a percentage says nothing about an indivdual. Just because five percent of the population is unemployed, does not mean I am unemployed. Just because half of the country thinks something is true does not mean I think it is true, or that it is really true.

So to summarize:

1. Don't continuously bet on long shots.

2. Don't press your luck.

3. Statistics are crap.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sometimes I Forget How Great Mark Twain Was

Then I read something like this.

What Is Value?

I went to a seminar yesterday. A government funded group had compiled tons of GIS (geograhpical information system basically high quality maps), environmental, and land usage data and people to know about it. The overriding question from the presenters (and the audience) was what do we do with this information to ensure Virginia's environmental sustainability?

One professor made the comment that state agency, environmental groups, and citizen preferences had to be balanced. (I did not ask how could a state agency have preferences, but I should have.) Basically the discussion kept going in circles. Some wanted the preferences of farmers to have the highest weight. Others wanted the ecologist and environmental groups preferences. In the end, nothing was solved. The conclusion was "it is complicated."

But nobody cared about the private owner. No one questioned whether the state had the right to own property.

Positivism cannot answer the fundamental questions of governance. But positivists will try.