Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nos Télécoms

Bernard Salanié et sa chère France(Télécom): c'est bien drôle! Dan, mon vieux, pas de problèmes avec France ? :-).

PS. Ça me fait penser à mon très cher Rom(Télécom)...

Analize economice a la "The Money Channel" & "RGN"

Postul urmator e chiar banal, dar nu ma pot abtine...

Realizez ca singurul motiv pentru care nu ma dezabonez deocamdata de la stirile zilnice ale Romanian Global News e pentru ca nu as mai avea acces la o sursa atat de sigura si constanta de umor. Daca nu il produc ei insisi, stiu exact unde sa-l gaseasca... Una dintre poantele recente ale redactorilor de la RGN este "Economia Romaniei, mai performanta ca cea a Ungariei", titlu care nu poate sa nu-ti sara in ochi imediat. Preluat ad literam de pe The Money Channel, care se anunta o alta echipa cu mult simt al umorului si doar economisti de top. Reproduc textul si mai jos in caz ca link-urile de mai sus nu ar mai fi functionale in timp:
Economia Romaniei a devenit mai performanta decat cea a Ungariei. Potrivit datelor furnizate de biroul european de statistica Eurostat, tara noastra a urcat o pozitie in topul tarilor europene realizat in functie de Produsul Intern Brut, ajungand pe locul 17, transmite The Money Channel. Cu un PIB de 97 de miliarde de euro, fata de 89 de miliarde cat au vecinii nostri, Romania se poate declara multumita. Unii analisti spun chiar ca tara noastra ar putea adopta moneda unica europeana inaintea Ungariei daca performantele economice bune se mentin si in urmatorii ani. Doar trei state din Uniune au reusit in 2006 sa promoveze in acest top, cu cate un loc fiecare: Polonia, de pe 10 pe 9, Romania, de pe 18 pe 17 si Letonia, de pe 25 pe 24.

Economistii nostri ajung la concluzia ca "economia Romaniei e mai performanta decat a Ungariei" comparand PIB-ul unei tari cu peste 22 de milioane de locuitori, cu PIB-ul unei tari cu mai putin de 10 milioane de locuitori, vecine atat din punct de vedere geografic cat si istoric, politic, economic (relativ la restul lumii)... Fara a intra in detalii tinand de alti indicatori economici fara de care nu poti vorbi de evaluare a "performantei" economice relative (rapid, doar doua exemple: Ungaria a eradicat complet saracia, conform definitiei saraciei pentru Europa de Est a Bancii Mondiale, Romania mai are probleme din acest punct de vedere- deci Ungaria e mai "performanta" momentan la capitolul asta- am mai scris putin despre asta si cu alta ocazie; pe de alta parte, Romania a avut o crestere economica impresionanta in ultimii cativa ani si inca accelereaza- e asteptat avand in vedere baza de la care a pornit- in timp ce Ungaria a decelerat si se pare ca incetineste in continuare, deci Romania e mai performanta momentan din acest punct de vedere), daca vrem sa comparam totusi economiile in baza PIB-ului, ne intereseaza PIB-ul pe cap de locuitor (vezi mai jos) ca termen de comparatie si nu PIB-ul ca valoare absoluta. Desigur, se poate face un "top" ilustrativ, bazat pe PIB-ul general, pentru a indica schimbari de pozitie etc., dar in nici un caz nu e vorba de a folosi acest top pentru inferenta directa privind "performanta" unei economii fata de alta economie, ignorand orice alte caracteristici ale economiilor din context. De fapt articolul Eurostat-ului , de unde The Money Channel "traduce" stirea ( a propos de stirile preluate si prezentate in mass-media romaneasca- exemplu elocvent) vorbeste intr-adevar de "batalia PIB-urilor", nu de performanta relativa a economiilor- si partea relevanta pentru Romania este alta: pentru prima data PIB-ul unei tari cu populatie dubla comparat cu Ungaria, vecina cu Ungaria, reuseste sa intre in 'normalitate', adica sa fie, conform asteptarilor, mai mare decat cel al Ungariei. Articolul original prezinta (desigur) si PIB-urile per capita (ajustate conform paritatii puterii de cumparare). Nu ar trebui sa fie foarte greu de dedus sensul inegalitatii: 8800 euro PIB/cap de locuitor - noi, 15600 euro PIB/cap de locuitor - ei. Putine motive sa ma declar deja "multumit", cum ma indeamna amicii de la The Money Channel...LOL.

Maths at work: balancing a wobbly table

I would call this a beautiful scientific result (with immediate practical applications!). If the ground does not raise by more than about 35 degrees between any two points and if the legs of the table are at least half as long as its diagonals, a rectangular table that wobbles initially can always be balanced. Just turn the table, no matter in which direction, roughly around its center, and you must find a balancing position (...and stop trying to balance it by sticking folded napkins under its legs). I just love the proof (PDF file); if you're not a friend of the maths in there, just read section 5.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

World leaders' youth photos

Since I was mentioning Mr. Putin in a previous post, here's where you can see photos of him in his youth. Next to photos from when they were young(er) of other past or present political leaders from all over the world, such as Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Yasser Arafat, Mao Zedong, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Ruhollah Komeini, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Jacques Chirac, Kim Jong-il, Iosif Vissarionovici Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Ernesto Che Guevara, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill (for some reason the pictures of JFK, who's also mentioned, do not display properly). Pick your favourite.

Russian politics: chess or judo?

This is an interesting weekend interview in the WSJ with Garry Kasparov, who is apparently taking very seriously his role as 'moderator' for the "Other Russia" coalition (moderator so far; as the editor notes, Kasparov does not necessarily exclude representing the "Other Russia" as its presidential candidate, with hopes of checkmating Putin). The only major problem is, I think, that despite Vladimir Putin's invisibility in chess, relative to Mr. Kasparov, he does have a hell of a comparative advantage over the chess grandmaster, in judo. And guess who gets to make the rules and choose which way to combat... I'd suggest therefore that they find a top judoka (I am not so sure Mikhail Kasyanov is -or can be- one, though he probably knows Putin's Harai Goshi technique much better than Kasparov does... ) if they want to be a serious challenge to Putin (or to Putin's to-be-protégé, since it is rather unlikely that Putin would candidate himself for a third time- that would require some fixes to the current Russian Constitution that even a black belt 6 dan judoka President might have a hard time justifying...).

YouTube to share its ad revenues with its clip contributors

I can't see yet how this arrangement will work in practice (probably it hasn't been worked out in detail by the YouTube owners, either), but this announcement should certainly please the most creative video contributors to YouTube. I hope this will materialize in a race to the top in terms of overall quality and originality of the videos uploaded on YouTube (of which it should be now clear that I am a big fan!)- could be a great proof that markets work without specific regulation on quality, if you provide the right incentives.

Sundance Festival '07: The Jury Prize for International Short Filmmaking goes to Radu Jude's "Lampa cu Caciula" ("The Tube with the Hat")

See the full list of prizes for jury and audience awards, among which Radu Jude's Romanian film "Lampa cu Caciula" (the Tube with the Hat). And see this (23 min long) film here - spoken in Romanian, with subtitles in English (you can watch all short films participating here). I got the information about Jude's award and the link for his movie via Hotnews.

I am quite impressed by the fact that this film won such an award, since the story might very well not tell a lot to those from outside Romania. For me it is special, since it does remind me about those times back in the 80's and early 90's when I was just as eager to see my favourite TV program at no matter what cost (and indirect or direct pressure on my parents), just as the kid from the movie. In fact my parents did keep somewhere our old tube TV, from those times; it "works" even now: if you hit it now and then, are patient enough and do not want to use it for more than an hour :-). I certainly recommend you to watch this excellent short movie.

Between funny and sad

One has to look at this with the caveat that the subjects 'interviewed' in this clip are what one calls a 'selected sample' (there is really no subject who makes any sense), hence it is a matter of stretching the logic quite a lot to generalize anything to "Americans", as a whole, from watching it. It's not only the USA to have its ignorants (euphemism); whether on average USA has more or less of such specimens than other countries, is quite a difficult question to answer and I am not sure one should hold a firm prior belief on that. Nevertheless, keeping that in mind, I do agree that one can only remain speechless after watching the clip. It's not clear whether ultimately one should laugh or cry...

Some of this reminds me of one unforgettable encounter I had with a female police officer at the reception of one of the NYPD precincts in New York City (I had the very unfortunate experience to have my wallet stolen/lost in the Big Apple, about three years ago, and I had to declare that at the police). Firstly, she never understood (to the point of exasperation) that I did not lose my 'Greencard', no matter how much I explained to her that a temporary residence permit in the Netherlands (which happened to be in my stolen wallet) was not a greencard, had nothing to do with the USA administration and did not stop me in any way of going back to Holland, since I still had my passport- and so that she did not have to worry that 'after 9/11 if you lost your Greencard, we really cannot help you/do anything for you/register your statement, this is much much more complicated, you are in big trouble, you need to go to your Embassy and Consulate and blah blah...', which she kept repeating all the time. But that is not the precise point I wanted to make, this was just the warming up.... My American friend who accompanied me (Bahman, are you reading this? :-)), trying to 'break the ice', so to speak, managed to get the lady to 'confess' that she was from Malta, originally, and that her father was Sicilian (she clearly had a foreign accent), after which he told her that Malta just joined the European Union (this was just after the May 2004 entry in the EU of the 10 new states) and that probably she could now go and work there, for instance. And that since I came from the EU, I could tell her more of what EU is like. So then she looked at me rather happily and asked anxiously: "Really, really?! So you really come from the European Union? And who else joined the EU? Germany?". I told my friend (who could hardly contain his laughter; of course it wasn't him to have lost his wallet...): 'let's go, this is hopeless'. Fortunately, we then went to the main precinct, in the center of Manhattan, and there were three officers at the reception and they immediately understood the whole thing, did not ask any nonsensical questions and registered my statement. So again, what I said above, there are Americans and Americans; as everywhere else there is considerable heterogeneity, of all sorts. Probably (let's strongly hope for that) the 'Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect' motto of the NYPD stands, in general.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Paul Krugman on Milton Friedman (and my opinion on Krugman's essay)

Quite a long essay of Paul Krugman on Milton Friedman, in the New York Review of Books. I must say I would only call "fascinating", as Greg Mankiw does (with a shadow of irony, I'd like to hope; he couldn't have read the entire article, otherwise), its first part, up to the 3rd section (part which is also well written and informative, I'd say, also for persons who did not have formal training in Economics). For the rest and put as shortly as possible: I believe Krugman is a great scholar, but I think that what impedes him (for the moment) to become even greater is his being so dismissive, despite not having sufficient arguments to backup his opinion, with regard to Neo-Classical Economics, while adhering to the Neo-Keynesian trend too zealously. There is of course some room for debate there but I believe (am I so wrong? comments invited) that most economists see the balance here in a very different way than Paul Krugman does. And that is such a pity for an economist admired by so many people (myself included)!

Update: I wrote part of the comment above too much in a hurry and, re-reading it, I don't find it quite (actually not at all...) what I wanted it to be. Obviously both the 'new classical' and the 'new Keynesian' trends had a few waves over time and there were enough differences even among those. Moreover there was of course also the 'neo classical- Keynesian synthesis' attempt and 'new neo-classical' blend (which takes some Keynesian elements as its core). One excellent recent material that discusses all this very well (and that perhaps justifies in a way- I've thought of it now- why Mankiw called Krugman's text 'fascinating') is in my opinion a recent article by Greg Mankiw in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the Fall 2006 edition (you need either individual subscription or institutional access) entitled "The Macroeconomist as Scientist and Engineer". I can perfectly agree with the idea Mankiw presents there, that the real 'tension' in macroeconomics is in fact between its "scientific" and respectively its "engineering" perspectives. To some extent Krugman also tackles this 'macroeconomics engineering perspective' when criticising Friedman in the last part of the essay in the NYRB (I still do not agree at all with Friedman's characterization as 'dishonest': in fact one could say he was merely putting forward the scientific view of the macroeconomist also in his public policy advice, if one follows Mankiw's point). But you should definitely read this article by Mankiw to get a full impression of the macroeconomics development, its present status etc. I paste its abstract below:
The subfield of macroeconomics was born, not as a science, but more as a type of engineering. The problem that gave birth to our field was the Great Depression. God put macroeconomists on earth not to propose and test elegant theories but to solve practical problems. This essay offers a brief history of macroeconomics, together with an evaluation of what we have learned. My premise is that the field has evolved through the efforts of two types of macroeconomists, those who understand the field as a type of engineering and those who would like it to be more of a science. While the early macroeconomists were engineers trying to solve practical problems, the macroeconomists of the past several decades have been more interested in developing analytic tools and establishing theoretical principles. These tools and principles, however, have been slow to find their way into applications. As the field of macroeconomics has evolved, one recurrent theme has been the interaction, sometimes productive and sometimes not, between the scientists and the engineers. John Maynard Keynes (1931) famously opined, "If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid." As we look ahead, "humble" and "competent" remain ideals toward which macroeconomists can aspire.

Summarizing Proust

I've seen this Monty Python clip many times by now, but I am still not able to stop laughing when watching it. Obviously the first prize could only have gone to the girl with the biggest tits!

Tyler Cowen reminded me about the clip, by linking it to Montesquieu's Persian Letters, which makes his top five of best novels about politics.

Economii virtuale

Recunosc ca nu as fi crezut ca Iulian Comanescu sa stie ceva (alternativ, sa fie interesat de) despre proiectul stiintific al lui Edward Castronova, dar iata ca ma surprinde (placut) de data aceasta. Cam subtire 'analiza' dar sa zicem ca e okay pentru o prima informare a publicului, mai ales ca tema principala ar fi fost decizia eBay de a nu mai permite tranzactii cu posesii 'virtuale'. A propos, Castronova a castigat niste sume imense, ca sponsorizare, pentru proiectul sau: pe scurt este vorba de a intreprinde, pentru prima data, un experiment economic (de lunga durata) intr-o economie de proportii reale, 100% functionala, dincolo de 'field experiments' sau 'lab experiments' in economie, care se practica deja de multa vreme (dar cu rezultate mixte: una din problemele majore este intotdeauna lipsa asa numitei 'validitati externe', dar pana la urma critica aceasta e valabila in cazul multor analize economice 'reduced model'). Multi economisti ii urmaresc eforturile indeaproape, desi multi sunt si cei foarte sceptici. Cititi si un interviu cu Castronova aici.

Petitii si...petitii

Daca nu ar fi scrisa cu picioarele si in dorul lelii, poate cineva ar da atentie acestei petitii. Eu zic sa mai incercati o data. La rece. Poate nimeriti macar numele corect al ministrului. Caveat lector: deocamdata nu am discutat esenta protestului sau ordonanta in cauza a ministrului Vladescu (ar fi multe de discutat acolo): nu poti face asta cand o petitie (semnata de 1069 de oameni in momentul cand scriu postul asta!) arata intr-un asemenea hal. Cand textul va fi scris de persoane care au absolvit cel putin scoala primara (inainte de a deveni "investitori"), ar trebui revenit. Link de pe hotnews.
Textul petitiei arata astfel acum cand il citesc (in caz ca totusi cineva il corecteaza la o adica):
To: Romania

Avand in vedere ce se petrece si, mai ales insistenta cu care finantele sustin o masura absurda, in ciuda oricarui argument de bun simt sau legal, eu interpretez acest lucru, in singurul mod posibil si anume ca, ne este prezentat dispretul si desconsiderarea profunda pe ca ministrul Valdescu o nutreste fata de investitorii de pe piata de capital. Pentru ca sa nu se mai iveasca abuzuri de acest calibru si pentru a ne pozitiona acolo unde meritam, este necesar ca sa raspundem abuzului cat mai repede.
Propun urmatoarea petitie care va fi adresata ministrului de finante, presedintelui ANAF, primului ministru si la comisiile de buget finante din parlament.
Stimate Domnule Ministru,
Suntem martorii haosului creat prin emiterea normelor pentru impozitarea castigurilor de pe piata de capital din Romania, la care se adauga prejudiciile materiale si de sanatate pe care le sufera mii de oameni vinovati doar de a-si fi investit banii proprii pentru o crestere neinflationista a economiei.
Am luat act, de asemenea, de atitudinea lipsita de orice respect a reprezentantilor ministerului de finante (platiti din banii nostrii) care recomanda ca oamenii care au pierderi sa « aduca bani de acasa ».
Va solicitam oficial sa luati masurile care se impun pentru ca Romania sa intre in normalitate si aceasta imediat, astfel incat investitorii sa nu mai fie sicanati, jigniti si prejudiciati de normele ministerului, ale ANAF sau de declaratiile publice ale reprezentatilor acestor institutii.
In cazul mentinerii masurilor actuale vom demara procedurile necesare pentru sanctionarea vinovatilor in temeiurile:
1. Incalcarea Constitutiei prin emiterea de norme care incalca legile organice.
2. Abuz in serviciu.
3. Abuz impotriva intereselor persoanelor.
4. Subminarea economiei nationale, prin subminarea uneia din institutiile financiare de baza si anume bursa de valori.
Masurile vor include si actiuni in justitie si plangeri penale acolo unde ste cazul. Este o situatie fara precedent si care nu trebuie sa se mai repete in viitor.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Democracy for sale

I thought the 'new life sale on eBay' was the ultimate proof that economics is ubiquitous, that markets are in everything and everywhere, anytime, but I now found another candidate for that. Imagine you want to stage your own public protest (say you're against globalisation and you want to make that known to everybody- after all it's so fashionable nowadays): you can now buy your own crowd of protesters ( I see that the max crowd is rather small for now: only about 318, this is how many volunteer protesters are registered) at 145 euro / a piece (and you can choose each and every one of them, say you only want blue eyed blondes, for instance: they do post a photograph of themselves). The only thing you should take into consideration is that you can't really buy protesters for whatever cause goes through your mind, they will not protest for neo-Nazis, for instance (which is comforting, to say the least...). Anyways: apparently- unfortunately for those of you who got already excited about the 'buy a protester' idea- this is available only in Germany for now, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this expanding far beyond that country's borders. Here's a BBC article with more details on the topic. I got the link, as with most 'markets in everything' links, from Tyler Cowen, on MR.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Presa recenta si impresii

Ideea principala ar fi: daca masuram cultura tineretului cu instrumente vechi, nu facem decit sa intram intr-o clasica neintelegere intre generatii. Am constatat ca un tip cu 10 ani mai tinar priveste mult mai inteligent la televizor. Iar un pusti cu 15 ani mai tinar are un alt simt al Internetului, asa cum eu am un simt mai dezvoltat in orientarea printre texte. E mai mult o dilema despre un filtru al informatiei. Dar ramine intotdeauna o provocare pentru orice sistem de educatie perfectionarea accesului si a orientarii individului in spatiul de informare. Toata lumea vorbeste despre scoli sau manuale. Nu prea conteaza ce scrie in ele, va asigur. Conteaza foarte mult cum discuta profesorul temele mentionate acolo. Se vorbeste prea putin insa despre cit de opace sint bibliotecile din Romania, despre cit de greu ajungi sa citesti daca nu esti in mediul universitar, despre accesul incomparabil mai greu la text. Sa nu fetisizam cuvintul scris si sa nu fantazam apocaliptic. S-ar putea sa existe si alte forme de inteligenta educata pe planeta asta.

  • Eugen Istodor, de obicei fara greseala, acum insa freaca menta: cetitori in beletzele. Pretinzi gramatica si intelesuri subliminale (sic!) la domnii Tariceanu sau Basescu? LOL. In particular imi place partea urmatoare a analizei distinsei profesoare intervievate (care totusi se salveaza in finalul interviului): "Este o sintaxa orala, dar si un lexic adecvat. Este clar ca premierul vrea ceva mai personal de la presedinte." Categoric dorea saracu' ceva, dar numai Darius i-a ghicit pofta: un kebab...
  • Dintre toate gafele, a-i lua apararea unui bufon ca Nea Ion e apocaliptica, Caline draga...Sau ti-a garantat 'mnealui kebabul?
  • Am zis intotdeauna ca domnul Geoana nu stie spune decat adevarul. Am gresit doar prezicand ca asta l-ar putea costa pozitia de frunce a PSD-ului...
  • obsesia cu obsesia: Sever Voinescu incepe sa devina cel putin obositor: cred ca e vorba de obsesia dumnealui cu obsesia anti-Basescu.
  • Mai grava e situatia cu Traian Ungureanu, care e totusi de un alt calibru (si nu de putine ori mi-am declarat admiratia fata de articole ale dumnealui). Tare ma tem ca ratiunea nu-i mai e amica. Cum se poate ca cineva traind in GB pentru atata vreme (si in prezent daca nu ma insel) sa scrie doar cu ochelari de cal? Nu mai vad nici macar scuza de genul: 'nu e deloc un lucru bun, dar mai bine decat orice alternativa pe moment...si sa speram ca e pe termen scurt'. Sa nu spuneti ca doar Paler ramane treaz (desi are si el ticurile lui).
  • Mirela Corlatan nu scrie intotdeauna impresionant, dar in cazul de fata pune punctul pe i. Una dintre putinele persoane lucide in orice analiza vis-a-vis Basescu & co. Din pacate (atat relativ la numarul de lucizi cat si la domnul Basescu).

Scurte comentarii pe marginea legii cultelor

Chiar foarte pe scurt si cu documentul in fata (Legea nr. 489/2006 publicata in Monitorul Oficial Partea I, nr 11/08.01.2007). E clar ca sunt pareri personale si ca invit si alte interpretari.

  • Totul in regula la Capitolul I, daca totul ar continua la fel chiar ai ajunge sa crezi ca Romania s-a transformat- deja!- in bine. Dar nu rade... citeste inainte...
  • Potentiale probleme incep sa apara la Capitolul II, Sectiunea I, 'Relatiile dintre stat si culte': Art. 9 alin. (1) declara, admirabil de altfel: "In Romania nu exista religie de stat; statul este neutru fata de orice credinta religioasa sau ideologie atee". Bun, pana aici, insa Art. 10, alin. (3) si (4) intra in conflict mai mult sau mai putin direct cu fraza citata mai sus. Art. 10 (3) spune "Statul promoveaza sprijinul acordat de cetateni cultelor prin deduceri din impozitele pe venit si incurajeaza sponsorizarile catre culte, in conditiile legii". Avand in vedere neutralitatea asumata mai sus, formularea "incurajeaza sponsorizarile catre culte" este mult prea vaga si "in conditiile legii" nu imi spune clar ca asta se face doar in masura in care sunt incurajate orice alte sponsorizari catre orice alte asociatii a-religioase (tot aici banuiesc ca deducerile pe impozitele pe venit sunt aceleasi care se practica la sponsorizarea oricarei alte asociatii, altfel problema ar fi majora). Sa zicem ca e o problema de interpretare si ca in cadru legislativ aceeasi neutralitate este practicata... insa citeste inainte...
  • Dileme mai serioase apar la Art. 10 (4) unde se spune: "Statul sprijina, la cerere, prin contributii, in raport cu numarul credinciosilor cetateni romani si cu nevoile reale de subzistenta si activitate, salarizarea personalului clerical si neclerical apartinand cultelor recunoscute. Statul sprijina cu contributii in cuantum mai mare salarizarea personalului de cult al unitatilor de cult cu venituri reduse, in conditiile stabilite de lege". Dupa mine alineatul asta intra in conflict direct cu Art 9 (1) reprodus mai sus: daca statul este neutru fata de orice credinta religioasa sau ideologie atee, de ce sprijina, prin contributii de la bugetul de stat, structuri religioase (alternativ, unde este continuarea logica in text- dar irationala economic per se, in context largit- , "in acelasi mod in care sprijina orice alte asociatii, areligioase)? De ce nu e suficient alineatul 1 de la Articolul 10, din acest punct de vedere, care spune clar: "Cultele pot stabili contributii din partea credinciosilor lor pentru sustinerea activitatilor pe care le desfasoara". Conjectura: Textul legii a fost scris de de doua persoane, una cu cap si alta fara, sau, alternativ, de o persoana schizofrenica. Poate cineva dovedi contrariul? Be my guest.
  • Art 10 (alin. 5) continua prin "Nimeni nu poate fi constrans prin acte administrative sau prin alte metode sa contribuie la cheltuielile unui cult religios". Si cu acordul cu contributiile directe din bugetul de stat de la Art 10 (4) cum ramane? "Contributiile" din bugetul de stat sunt cumva donatia membrilor Parlamentului care au aprobat o asemenea anomalie? Sau, in mod indirect, tot cetateanul (pacatos) pune mare parte din aceste contributii, chiar daca nu are de gand sa contribuie la cheltuielile vreunui cult religios (si chiar daca nu e taxat direct pe pacat). Food for thought.
  • Idem Art 10 (6): "Cultele recunoscute pot beneficia, la cerere, de sprijin material din partea statului, pentru cheltuielile privind functionarea unitatilor de cult, pentru reparatii si constructii noi, in raport cu numarul credinciosilor, conform ultimului recensamant, si cu nevoile reale" - iarasi contributii in "sprijin material", suportat pana la urma de fiecare persoana, desi este clar ca nu toata lumea doreste asta (si e in flagrant conflict cu principiul neutralitatii enuntat in Art. 9 (1), ceea ce de altfel se aplica aproape in totalitate Articolului 10 )
  • Singurul alineat care are sens (caveat lector insa la dimensiunile sintagmei "servicii sociale") in tot Art. 10, pe langa alin. 1 care a fost deja discutat, este alin (7), desi particula "si" nu isi are locul aici: "Statul sprijina activitatea cultelor recunoscute si in calitate de furnizori de servicii sociale".
  • Art 11, vag cum ne-am obisnuit, stipuleaza: "Sprijinul statului consta si in acordarea de facilitati fiscale, in conditiile legii". Daca neutralitatea fata de dimensiunea areligioasa, "in condiile legii", se respecta, here we go. Daca nu, shit as before.
  • Art 13. este cel mai controversat dintre toate si s-au varsat deja rauri de cerneala in presa scrisa, in roblosfera si aiurea, pe tema asta. E vorba desigur de alineatul (2) al acestui articol care spune: "In Romania sunt interzise orice forme, mijloace, acte sau actiuni de defaimare si invrajbire religioasa, precum si ofensa publica adusa simbolurilor religioase". Intre multele opinii, Lorand a scris (aplicat) despre asta pe blogul sau, Teodor Baconsky a scris mai mult despre substanta articolului, in Cotidianul. Comentariul lui Teodor Baconsky merita o analiza separata- e bine scris, in mare parte bine argumentat, si mai ales, cu stil- dar voi spune de la inceput ca sunt pe o pozitie diametral opusa parerii domnului Baconsky. Deocamdata voi spune ca titlul comentariului sau, "Funeraliile statului ateu" spune foarte mult si ma leg din nou de Art.9 (1) care asuma neutralitate intre religie si ateism, nu suprimarea uneia si/sau favorizarea alteia. Cine decide ce este "ofensa" adusa simbolurilor religioase? Unde tragi linia intre arta si blasfemie, sa luam doar primul strat? Chiar daca ar fi fi categorizata drept ofensa (nu am lamurit-o pe asta deloc), cand este ea "publica"? Daca domnul Baconsky si alte cateva mii se simt ofensati si restul populatiei nu, e sau nu e vorba de domeniul "public"? Domnul Baconsky si altii ca dumnealui au avut si au in continuare o influenta deosebita la nivel decizional in Romania si iata ca au trecut prin Parlament o lege care ne impinge- voalat -catre negurile Evului Mediu. Mai ramane sa il desemnam pe domnul Baconsky Sef Inchizitor si sa inceapa vanatoarea de vrajitoare. To be continued.
  • Alte potentiale probleme. Sectiunea a 2-a a Capitolului 10, 'Recunoasterea calitatii de cult', spune la Art 18 (a) ca pentru o asociatie religioasa care solicita recunoasterea calitatii de cult se cere "dovada ca este constituita legal si functioneaza neintrerupt pe teritoriul Romaniei ca asociatie religioasa de cel putin 12 ani"- desi domnul Baconsky vorbeste (in articolul din Cotidianul, de mai sus) pozitiv despre asta si da exemplul mai "aspru" al Austriei (20 de ani vechime, 0.2% populatie), problema care ramane nediscutata e favorizarea unor culte religioase vechi in dauna unora foarte noi, care ar cunoaste o popularitate imensa (mult peste nivelul de 0.1% din populatie, cum se cere la Art 19 (b)). Evident domnul Baconsky & co nu s-au nascut ieri si stiu ce fac, s-au gandit din timp sa lase pe din afara, de exemplu, cultul lui Sebi Buhai (cu popularitate in continua crestere). Bine lucrat, domnilor, felicitari, ati castigat prima batalie!
  • Mai departe: remarc faptul (iarasi vina persoanei cu doua fetze care a scris textul!) ca pe ici pe colo exista si ratiune in legea asta. De exemplu, Art. 29 (1) scrie "Cultele au dreptul exclusiv de a produce si valorifica obiectele si bunurile necesare activitatii de cult, in conditiile legii". Remarcabil. In mod normal, asta ar trebui sa fie singurul lucru in care statul sa se amestece: sa asigure dreptul la proprietate si competitia, competitia intre culte in cazul de fata. Cetateanul este pana la urma liber sa aleaga, de ce ar vrea statul sa se amestece in promovarea "echitabilitatii" materiale intre culte (era parte din Art 10 (alin. 4))? Exista o piata a cultelor cum exista o piata pentru orice altceva si tot ce necesar e ca piata aceasta sa fie functionala. Legea cultelor are niste parti magistrale si niste parti de tot cacatul, iertata sa-mi fie expresia...
  • O parte sensibila este Sectiunea a 5-a din Capitolul II, 'Invatamantul organizat de culte'. In general insa nu sunt formulari utopice, dar obscuritatea caracterizeaza inca mare parte din text. Nu mai intru in detalii ci discut doar doua alineate. La Art 32 (alin (4)) exista 'fereastra de scapare' : "La cerere, in situatia in care conducerea scolii nu poate asigura profesori de religie apartinand cultului din care fac parte elevii, acestia pot face dovada studierii religiei proprii cu atestat din partea cultului caruia ii apartin". Bon, legislatorii nostri iau garantat faptul ca fiecare ar apartine unui cult (neutralitate, ce mai, amintiti-va Art. 9 (1) si... autorii schizofrenici) si deci, daca nu iti convine sa iei orele de religie (obligatorii, se intelege) ale majoritatii, poti veni cu "certificatul de acasa". Aici e dilema si aici sper sa fi interpretat corect intentia autorilor drept 'portita de scapare' (desi nu ar fi nevoie de asta daca nu am avea autori cu dubla personalitate): daca de-acasa vii cu certificat ca esti in stadiu agnostic avansat si de maine esti pierdut pentru sufletele pure, e suficient sau ti se cere sa aduci certificat ca studiezi religia cu unul din cultele 1-18 din anexa legii? Alternativ, daca Tom Cruise (sau John Travolta sau jumate de Hollywood) trimite certificat ca studiezi scientologia cu el (nu e in setul 1-18, daca va puneti vreo intrebare in sensul asta) e ok sau Teoctist, Anania si Baconsky au alte idei? Intrebari.
  • Si in final, Art. 37, cu un singur alineat, spune: "Salarizarea personalului didactic si administrativ din unitatile de invatamant teologic neintegrate in invatamantul de stat se asigura de catre culte. La cererea cultelor, statul, prin Ministerul Culturii si Cultelor, poate asigura o contributie la salariu, proportional, in raport de numarul membrilor acestora. " No further comments, am mai discutat despre asta si conflicte cu alte articole din aceeasi lege si la inceput. De ce nu adoptati metoda daneza (singura parte a fiscalitatii daneze cu care sunt de acord): adaugati la taxa pe venit si taxa aferenta cultului religios, astfel doar cei declarati membri ai cultului vor plati. Va spun eu de ce nu v-ati gandit la asta: in scurt timp tara asta ar numara mai mult de 22 milioane de atei. Mai putin barbile lungi si Seful Inchizitor.

On raising the federal minimum wage in USA, again

First, I blogged on this topic before: here, here and here.

So what's new? There is now a very interesting survey in the EconJournalWatch, which asks a set of questions to the 659 economists (some of them top researchers whom I always admired and admire- not necessarily for their views in this context, though) who signed the formal statement released by the EPI, concerning a raise of the federal minimum wage. By reading the opinions there I cannot but agree with Tyler Cowen's conclusion on MR. Put simply, I think this is beyond economic reasoning and has much more to do with political choices. Moreover one answer I would have really liked to read, more than anybody else's reaction, in fact- but he does not seem to have completed the survey- is Larry Katz's. In fact only 95 individuals, out of the 659 who signed the 'raise the minimum wage' statement in the first place, completed this questionnaire. A minority of a minority, really (Becker pointed out this first).

Update: The USA Senate has just bloked the raise of the minimum wage, asking for further small business tax break relief. This is just normal, though unfortunately here it is mostly on political lines, otherwise you would also expect many of the Democrats to think (and you would find many weirdos in the Republican side as well). Think, yes, because economically most often they do not make much sense (such as this Edward Kennedy senator). More on yahoo news, don't know how much it'll stay there; yahoo is one of those immature news channel that does not keep the same internet addresses over time, happened to me before...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rich libido

Since my blog is not a "family blog" like MR , I should be able to talk without inhibition about this :-). So I try. Not that we didn't have already a hunch about this, wealth comes with better sex lives (bloody Joop, he kept telling me this all the time- money and women and sex and the rest- ok, ok, you've got a point my friend, though not the whole truth...). So, assuming that the results of this survey study have external validity, you should immediately check how you fit in the global income distribution, relative to the average person surveyed, and work hard on getting higher if you're not anywhere near the threshold yet. This if you care at all about orgasms (global or not) and do not think that the adrenaline intensive jobs can give you, would work as a substitute (I think the people surveyed above - most of them in intensive, high responsibility jobs- cannot but agree with me on that).

But general conclusions aside- "more money equals more magic in bed." full stop- , the very interesting part of this study is that women's sex lives seem to be much more responsive to wealth status than men's ( the survey seems to have been assuming only heterosexual sex, though I don't see that mentioned explicitly in the article). Surprised? Me too. Particularly given that the article expressly dismisses the 'pool boys' as new accessoires for the rich lady (I have to admit this is the first explanation that came to my mind: of course I cannot but envy the pool boys in that respect). One problem with the whole discussion is the different way in which men and women appear to have defined "better sex" in the survey:

Fully 63% of rich men said wealth gave them “better sex,” which they defined as having more-frequent sex with more partners. That compares to 88% of women who said more money gave them better sex, which they defined as “higher quality” sex.

This is vague enough and I don't think the subjects were asked the right question(s). Otherwise I would have to ask, among other things, who the hell were the 63% male morons who totally ignored quality in favor of sheer quantity. That still leaves the door open on what is "higher quality". Based on my own intuition (and my humble and limited experience in this area...), answering to that question should not differ a lot between the two sexes, despite widely circulated stereotypes. Comments are open.

A plausible candidate to explain the sex differential here could be the difference in the way the 'self-esteem is boosted' for women, compared to men. Not that it is wholly convincing (for me, not at all)... But here's the "ego booster" rationale advanced in the Wall Street Journal piece:

...especially for women, sex is closely linked to self-esteem. And since wealth usually brings greater self-esteem, it can improve a woman’s sex life.

“For the minute percentage of women who are that wealthy, this wealth can be a big ego booster and allow them to feel very comfortable and relaxed about sex,” he says. “They have a strong sense of identity and they know they don’t have to be inhibited about communicating their needs. It’s about the confidence and power and opportunity that comes with having a lot of wealth.”

If any very rich gal reads this, maybe we can get a more detailed version of the "confidence and power and opportunity" part (after all a man came up with that: obviously he couldn't have been clearer).

Gapminder, now on Google tools as well

I once blogged (among other things) about this extremely interesting and welcome software, Gapminder, developed by Hans Rosling and his team from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It seems that the software is now included as part of the google tools, which makes it even more popular and easier to disseminate everywhere. Recently Greg Mankiw also spotted how useful this software is. Try it out: inter alia you can get a lot of nice graphs of several economic indicators (and visualize their dynamics over time, as well) for Romania.

Milton Friedman Day: Jan 29, 2007

Mark your calendars for "a day of national celebration and remembrance of Friedman’s life and his influence on American society and economic systems". See also Dubner's entry about the event, on Freakonomics.

More on Milton Friedman.

To have or not to have: brandul de tara (I)

Categoric un subiect de continuat (I'll do my best...). Pana una alta, impresia mea este ca atat Sorin Ionita in Ev. Zilei, cat si Florin Dumitrescu pe Media lui Comanescu, care incepe prin a-l comenta pe primul, se afla pe pozitii extreme. Deocamdata si foarte pe scurt, parerea mea este ca a). categoric avem nevoie de brand de tara (de fapt nu imi dau seama de ce se vorbeste doar de "brand de tara" si nu "branduri de tara", la plural: exista numeroase 'categorii de branduri' unde Romania ar putea incerca sa obtina excelenta- de fapt brandul "Romania" ar trebui sa fie o umbrela pentru numeroase produse (branduri) competitive international), dar ca b). acesta nu trebuie promovat/sustinut a priori prin fonduri bugetare ( legat de reprezentanti si branduri si cheltuieli bugetare inutile, Tihamer are un post la obiect care ridica cel putin niste intrebari legate de activitatea si rezultatele concrete ale principelui Radu) ci trebuie sa fie c). rezultatul functionalitatii pietei (asta ar impiedica, inter alia, alegerea unui brand artificial si/sau necompetitiv), ceea ce implica ca trebuie sa ne asiguram de un minim de functionalitate al pietei inainte de a ne gandi la branding. Si o idee de final aici: pentru un brand de succes al unei tari o conditie sine qua non este ca intreaga populatie a tarii (cvasi-unanimitate) sa creada (sa fie convinsa de utilitatea/competitivitatea) in brandul respectiv. Aceasta e o diferenta esentiala intre brandurile corporate si brandurile de tara. Sa ma intorc la un exemplu de mai sus: ma indoiesc ca alegerea ca reprezentant cu "imaginea Romaniei" a principelui Radu a fost supusa vreodata testului public.

Quote for the week 21st to 27th of Jan '07

O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.

E os que lêem o que escreve,
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve,
Mas só a que eles não têm.

E assim nas calhas da roda
Gira, a entreter a razão,
Esse comboio de corda
Que se chama o coração.
Fernando Pessoa

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gift Giving III: David Friedman's explanations

This post by David Friedman on the gift giving topic (why people give gifts when simply giving cash instead appears to be the most efficient choice in most cases) is very interesting, hence I add his two explanations to the signalling hypothesis by Greg Mankiw, with the "wild self" connotation by Alex Tabarrok (however it appears that Tabarrok's wild self ran into trouble subsequently...that's what happens when you've got both a wild self and a wife).

The first explanation considered by Friedman also works via signalling, as method, except that here the motivating engine is the (general) altruism, not necessarily based on a strong interpersonal relationship (though I find it quite difficult to conceive of altruism without assuming a strong, special, type of relationship...). In a way, David Friedman's theory, which is based on the economics of altruism developed by Gary Becker, could be seen as more general. But here's a fragment from his post:

If I am an altruist with regard to you it is in my interest to be well informed about your preferences in order that I can recognize situations where I have an opportunity to confer a large benefit on you at a small cost to me. It is also, via Becker's Rotten Kid Theorem, in my interest for you to know that I am an altruist with regard to you, since that makes it in your interest to act altruistically towards me--loosely speaking, because the richer I am the more I will be able to help you.
If I am well informed about your preferences, it is relatively inexpensive for me to find a gift you will like. Hence giving a gift you will like meets the requirement for a signal of altruism--it is cheaper to send the signal if it is true than if it is false.

The second alternative considers a person made up of two selves, a short-run pleasure maximizer and a long term utility maximizer, and equates gift (instead of cash) giving to another person with showing that both selves of the giver care about the receiver. In my view, this explanation assumes a long term, most likely very strong, relationship, between the one who gives and the one who receives the gift and it is yet another form of signalling. In David Friedman's words:

Suppose we accept the plausible idea that I can be modeled as two individuals in one body. The first is a short run pleasure maximizer--the me that almost always wants an ice cream cone or another potato chip. The second is a long term utility maximizer--the me that promises not to have ice cream for desert until he has lost five pounds and tries to force the first me to keep the promise.

Most of us do not face an immediate budget constraint. Spending an extra few dollars on a gift doesn't mean that I can't afford an ice cream cone today, it means I will have a few dollars fewer when I retire. The long run me cares about that, but the short run me doesn't. Spending an extra hour shopping, on the other hand, is a cost that occurs now and so counts for both versions of me.

We now have a second explanation of gift giving. By giving you a gift instead of cash, I demonstrate that the short run me as well as the long run me cares about you.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Markets in everything, everywhere, anytime: inflation in Tahiti, XVIIIth century

The best post I've read today is Bernard Salanié's "L'inflation chez les nobles sauvages" , on the dynamics of a particular business relationship between Captain Cook's sailors and the female population of Tahiti, around 1770. The story seems to be yet another proof for Milton Friedman's 'inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon', or, better said, a carpenter's nails' phenomenon in this particular case...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Confessions in the blogoshere

Here's a well written confession on Violent Acres that all those of you who wrote (a hell lot of) ineffective love letters anytime during your lifetime might want to read. Of course this does not concern such heart-throb types as myself. Nonetheless, we'd still be very interested in reading John's reaction.

New life for sale on eBay

This is the final proof that markets function everywhere and in everything. I have blogged before about auctioning favourite restaurant meals and about the free market for beers, but this Aussie beats all that: he sells you a new life (well, obviously his life- the only one he can auction- with all its current advantages and drawbacks, though he concedes that some 'inherited' features can be altered in the future, such as the fact that you'd have to start as vegetarian...). On eBay. Hurry up and place your bid! As usually, Tyler Cowen was the first to blog about this.

Sugestie pentru Ad Astra: de ce nu faceti o petitie pe tema asta?

As vrea sa cred ca majoritatea celor care au obtinut doctoratul in Romania ar fi de acord cu o petitie pe tema asta. In plus poate exista in MEdC (sau mai sus) si persoane mai capabile decat acestea. Dar sa revenim la realitate.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quote for the week 14th to 20th of Jan '07

To see with one's own eyes, to feel and judge without succumbing to the suggestive power of the fashion of the day, to be able to express what one has seen and felt in a trim sentence or even in a cunningly wrought word- is that not glorious? Is it not a proper subject for congratulation?

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Dutch coffeeshops and the war on drugs

Since I recently blogged about libertarianism, the Netherlands is in some respects (however, mind you: NL is far from being a pure 'laissez faire' country in general) a champion in succesfully implementing libertarian policies. And they also seem to know what they are doing- their approach is very effective- as, for instance, this well organized Drug Policy Alliance website concisely explains. In fact, Becker or Posner are not the only ones who do not find economic (or hardly any, for that matter) arguments for waging the total war on drugs anywhere outside the Netherlands (with the focus on the USA).

For more informal, but still informed opinions, here's a post explaining the difference between Dutch coffeeshops and Dutch coffeehouses (with a linked Youtube amateur videoclip which probably wants to be a user's manual but fails and a bunch of other things...). Or- iff you read Romanian- you can also consult a surprinsingly well written article on the topic by Cosmin Popan, for Cotidianul, that I blogged about, among other things, some time ago.

PS. If you are already in or plan to visit A'dam soon, you can check out this local coffeeshop directory. That being said, for a first visit, I would rather spend my time in the Rijksmuseum than in any A'dam coffeeshop or De Wallen (for a second visit or a longer stay I would avoid 'touristic Amsterdam' altogether: this amazing city has so much more to offer), but hey, the most important idea is that you are free to choose! And nobody should be interfering with that right.

Can we just scale up Denmark?

Asks Tyler Cowen.

  • My short answer: no.
  • My longer answer: no, the success of the DK extensive welfare policies is to a large extent possible given the character of the Danes and therefore they'd most likely not work anywhere else. For instance, I would not be very surprised to see a lot of Danes, or Scandinavians in general (my personal experience concerns several Swedes whom I happen to know quite well), disagreeing- to various degrees- with Becker and Posner's critique to paternalism). See also how the Danes manage to keep the happiest in the world: it is in their character (and in their homogeneity as nation, so far, due to which they preserved that character). There is also an interesting comment to the post of Cowen above, by somebody called Peter Schaeffer, whose answer is along the same lines, but more detailed. I quote this comment below:
    The question “Can we just scale up Denmark?” has already been discussed at considerable length right here at Marginal Revolution. See the How good is the Nordic Model?. One poster suggested comparing several states of the upper Midwest (WI, MN, ND, SD) with the Scandinavian countries. Several folks, including myself, replied with a wide range of facts and figures. The bottom line is that these states perform very well measured by education, life expectancy, health care coverage, per-capita income (MN is number 1 for the country), etc. Some of the comparisons were versus other states, others versus the nations of Scandinavia. Of course, these states have the American social system, not an expansive welfare state like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, etc. This comparison shows that the successes of the Scandinavian welfare state are more likely to be attributable to the character of the people, rather than the actual social and economic systems. Conversely, it is not reasonable to expect that the Danish/Nordic model can be extended to other groups with comparable results. Indeed, the model is already failing in Scandinavia for some immigrant groups. For example, parts of Malmo are so dangerous that ambulance drivers require a police escort. Indeed, police cars require a police escort. See Swedes Reach Muslim Breaking Point for an article about Muslim immigration and crime in Malmo. See Crime in Sweden for some Malmo crime stats. The Danes have recognized the truth of this and have imposed the toughest immigration restrictions in Europe (The Netherlands is number two). A commonly heard expression in Denmark is that the welfare state and mass immigration can not be combined and therefore immigration must end.


Clipul de pe YouTube e magistral. La fel si comentariul insotitor al lui Darius de pe jeg.stuffo.info. Via Dan.

Sibiu as one of the top world up-and-coming tourist hotspots

So says Tyler Cowen on MR after having read the most recent Italian edition of Vanity Fair. That would not be bad at all. However, I cannot find anything on the net about this (the Italian edition of Vanity Fair seems to exist only in print) so all we know for now is what Cowen tells us: Bogota (Columbia), Sibiu (Romania) and the Kurile Islands (Russia) are three of the six up-and-coming tourist hotspots. If anybody has more information and maybe a link or a scan of the article, I'd gladly welcome comments.

Update: The Guardian also talks about Sibiu (got the link via this Hotnews article in Romanian). It includes it among the "fabulous 50 for 2007" touristic locations, more precisely within the category "new horizons" next to "Lakshadweep cruise", "Sarajevo", "Yangtze cruise", "Yemen" and "Algeria".

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Antreprenoriat de succes in Nigeria: schema 419

Cu destul timp in urma (inainte de a avea blog personal...) ii spuneam lui Sorin, pentru pagini.com, despre Nobel Ig-uri si intre ele despre "antreprenorii" nigerieni care castigasera- in absentia, bineinteles- un Nobel Ig in literatura. Ei bine, pana acum am crezut ca intreprinderea nigerienilor nu poate fi foarte profitabila (cateva batranele ametite pe ici colo, maxim cateva sute de dolari castigati dupa mii de email-uri trimise, costand ceva efort), dar dupa ce am citit articolul acesta din The New Yorker, mi-am schimbat radical parerea: nigerienii nostri puteau linistit primi Nobelul Ig si in economie (sau psihologie, luand in considerare cum l-au invartit pe degete pe bietul psihoterapeut, PhD- sic!). Alarmant este ca numarul 'victimelor' a continuat sa creasca in timp, desi email scam-ul nigerian (numit des 'schema 419', dupa codul criminal anti-frauda nigerian) functioneaza de vreo 20 de ani: aproape 55.000 de plangeri inregistrate in 2005 in USA, la US Federal Trade Commission, de aproape 6 ori mai multe decat in 2001. Invitatie pentru alti "antreprenori", poate chiar o concurenta serioasa nigerienilor?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Becker and Posner on 'Libertarian Paternalism'

I have just read a wonderful critique of 'libertarian paternalism' by Gary Becker, complemented very nicely by Richard Posner. Some excerpts from both texts below (which also attempt a summary of the main arguments):

The term is indeed an oxymoron. Libertarianism, as expounded in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, is the doctrine that government should confine its interventions in the private sector to what Mill called "other-regarding" acts, which is to say acts that cause harm to nonconsenting strangers, as distinct from "self-regarding" acts, which are acts that harm only oneself or people with whom one has consensual relations authorizing acts that may result in harm. So, for example, if you are hurt in a boxing match, that is a "self-regarding" event with which the government has no proper business, provided the boxer who hurt you was in compliance with rules--to which you had consented--governing the match, and provided you were of sound mind and so could give meaningful consent.

Paternalism is the opposite. It is the idea that someone else knows better than you do what is good for you, and therefore he should be free to interfere with your self-regarding acts. Paternalism makes perfectly good sense when the "pater" is indeed a father or other parent and the individual whose self-regarding acts are in issue is a child. In its more common sense, "paternalism" refers to governmental interference with the self-regarding acts of mentally competent adults, and so understood it is indeed the opposite of libertarianism. The yoking of the two in the oxymoron "libertarian paternalism" is an effort to soften the negative connotation of paternalism with the positive connotation of libertarianism.

A serious problem arises if libertarian paternalism is not just considered an intellectual exercise, but is supposed to be implemented in policies that control choices, such as how many calories people are allowed to consume, whether adults are allowed to use marijuana or smoke, or how much they can save. Even best-intentioned government officials should be considered subject to the same bounds on rationality, limits on self-control, myopia in looking forward, and the other cognitive defects that are supposed to affect choices by us ordinary individuals. Can one have the slightest degree of confidence that these officials will promote the interests of individuals better than these individuals do themselves?

One of the great weaknesses of "libertarian paternalism" is failure to weigh adequately the significance of the operation of the cognitive and psychological quirks emphasized by libertarian paternalists on government officials. The quirks are not a function of low IQ or a poor education; they are universal, although there is a tendency for the people least afflicted by them to enter those fields, such as gambling, speculation, arbitrage, and insurance, in which the quirks have the greatest negative effect on rational decision making. As Edward Glaeser has pointed out, the cost of these quirks to officials--who are not selected for immunity to them--is lower than the cost to consumers, because the officials are making decisions for other people rather than for themselves.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

500 mostly useless facts...and still

...but at least the following among them are damn interesting... Obviously I cannot guarantee that they are all true, but you can check fast at least the chewing-gum-peeling-onions-no-crying hypothesis; do not, by any means, try the run-in-zigzag-to-lose-crocodiles-or-alligators or the push-thumbs-in-crocodile's-eyeballs-to-escape-his-jaws or the throw-a-cat-from-at-least-the-8th-floor-no-lower :-).

  • When the French Academy was preparing its first dictionary, it defined "crab" as, "A small red fish, which walks backwards." This definition was sent with a number of others to the naturalist Cuvier for his approval. The scientist wrote back, "Your definition, gentlemen, would be perfect, only for three exceptions. The crab is not a fish, it is not red and it does not walk backwards."
  • The word "Checkmate" in chess comes from the Persian phrase "Shah Mat," which means "the king is dead."
  • To "testify" was based on men in the Roman court swearing to a statement made by swearing on their testicles.
  • The dot over the letter 'i' is called a tittle.
  • All of the clocks in the movie "Pulp Fiction" are stuck on 4:20, a national pot-smokers hour.
  • Virginia Woolf wrote all her books standing.
  • Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying.
  • Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian coat of arms for that reason.
  • When a Hawaiian woman wears a flower over her left ear, it means that she is not available.
  • A bull can inseminate 300 cows from one single ejaculation.
  • The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law, which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.
  • Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
  • Crocodiles and alligators are surprisingly fast on land. Although they are rapid, they are not agile. So, if being chased by one, run in a zigzag line to lose him or her.
  • To escape the grip of a crocodile's jaws, push your thumbs into its eyeballs - it will let you go instantly.
  • The word "samba" means "to rub navels together."
  • A pig's orgasm lasts for 30 minutes.
  • Studies show that if a cat falls off the seventh floor of a building it has about thirty percent less chance of surviving than a cat that falls off the twentieth floor. It supposedly takes about eight floors for the cat to realize what is occurring, relax and correct itself.
My favourite:
  • Dr. Kellogg introduced Kellogg's Corn Flakes in hopes that it would reduce masturbation.

Ada Milea plus Alex Balanescu

Scriam cu alta ocazie ca nu m-ar deranja chiar deloc ca Alex Balanescu (cu al sau Balanescu Quartet) sau Ada Milea sau - chiar mai bine- Alex Balanescu plus Ada Milea - sa ajunga foarte populari in Romania si chiar sa reprezinte 'branding through music' al Romaniei in strainatate. Din pacate o asemenea transformare ar cere un surplus de neuroni, ori o considerabila parte a co-nationalilor mei prefera sa-i distruga si pe ultimii, pe ritmuri gen Diskoteka Boom.

Cu Alex Balanescu am avut ocazia sa vorbesc la Londra de doua ori, in urma unor scurte concerte ale Balanescu Quartet (intre ele si lansarea albumului 'Maria T' pe care nu se poate sa-l pierdeti, e probabil cel mai bun omagiu care i s-ar fi putut face Mariei Tanase- vedeti si interviul acesta cu Balanescu dupa lansarea albumului) si artistul mi s-a parut foarte natural, degajat, sociabil, cu mult simt al umorului, facandu-si timp (admir asta!) sa raspunda numeroaselor intrebari cu care prietenii mei doctoranzi de la University College London- mai ales italienii- l-au asaltat (Balanescu Quartet tocmai interpretase fragmente din coloana sonora a filmului italian Il Partigiano Johnny: un soundtrack fantastic compus de Alex Balanescu). Din pacate nu am gasit nimic live pe YouTube cu Balanescu Quartet, dar am gasit un videoclip despre Emily Dickinson, cu muzica Balanescu Quartet in background.

Desi nu m-am intalnit niciodata cu Ada Milea si nu am avut inca, din nefericire, ocazia sa o vad in vreun concert live, am impresia ca interviul din Cotidianul pe care i l-a luat Eugen Istodor spune multe despre ea- mai multe decat artista ar fi vrut :-)- si exact in sensul pe care il asteptam: no disappointments. Iar majoritatea albumelor ei de pana acum sunt, din punctul meu de vedere, excelente. Pe website-ul (foarte bine facut al) Adei Milea se pot asculta cateva din piesele ei, poate chiar majoritatea lor (Alex Balanescu ar avea si el mare nevoie de un site profesionist!).

Dar vorbeam de Ada Milea in concert cu Alex Balanescu. Recent am gasit pe youtube 3 minute din concertul recent- din noiembrie anul trecut- al celor doi, de la Tg. Mures (ii invidiez pe toti cei care au fost acolo...). E vorba de niste fragmente din "The Island". Enjoy!

Romania and team building

In The Economist's print edition of the 6th - 12th of Jan, a very interesting article notices the official entry of Romania and Bulgaria, "the new kids on the block", in the European Union.

The article's one line argument is- rightly- that both countries are "economically and politically backward" and that the "Balkan pair's road to EU prosperity and stability" will be very hard. There are however important differences between the two countries: "although united by weak institutions and their poverty, Bulgaria and Romania differ in size, history, politics and economic structure (a recent BBC article showed that they do not differ massively in media entertainment- the competition there is in the details and both countries are emulating the fashion set years ago by others- I guess there we're both in the 'Balcanic' category here: not that I am very comfortable with it...). Now, The Economist seems to slighly favour, overall, Romania, and to give it relatively more chances of success (all this, unfortunately, seems to be largely proxied by surprisingly too much credit given to Romania's current political class- probably from outside it looks much rosier...), but arriving here was not exactly my purpose. Rather, what I find more interesting in this Economist piece, is one short paragraph that reads as follows:

Managers with experience in both countries say that Romanians are more individualistic than Bulgarians. "In Romania the problem is getting them to work in a team. In Bulgaria the problem is getting them to show any initiative"[...].

Truth be told, nobody can describe better the economic reality and, in particular, the quality of the local workforce, than managers who have de facto experience in those particular places, that is Romania and Bulgaria in our case (and foremost among them, the multinationals present in both countries). Hence I'd label this as the one piece of more 'objective', clear-cut, evidence in the article. For me the Bulgarian 'passivity' sounds new (from the quote above it is also not clear whether they are very good at team building, hence that they would somehow complement us), but I am not surprised at all by the lack of ability (or willingness) assigned to the Romanians inasmuch as working in teams is concerned. Unfortunately this feature permeates every activity, far beyond team building in industry for instance, it actually impedes cooperation in (would-be) most productive and desirable endeavours. It has a particularly negative connotation when it is about collaboration in the highest circles, among the elite. I once wrote a short opinion, in Romanian, that was precisely making this point, how important it is for the Romanian elites to actually get together, to participate in joint projects, for every significant achievement (if one truly wants to rise from mediocrity, that is- if the goals are different, then this post is useless) cannot be but the result of joint effort and cooperation (paraphrasing Graham Bell). It looks like one cannot stress that enough and now the foreigners also draw your (our) attention to it. The advice is still for free at the moment but I have the feeling we will not realize how important this is before we'll end up paying dearly for it...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ioan Mircea Pascu si furtul intelectual... sau "Sa ne amuzam cu europarlamentarii romani: primul episod"

In mod normal nu ar merita un entry separat, dar omul nostru e chiar prea simpatic. Cu asemenea europarlamentari, tot inainte! Pana una alta: he totally made my day. Ad majora, dom'le Pascu!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Denmark: Happiest lige nu!

This is an absolutely wonderful (and fun to read) article in the BMJ that a short review in today's NY Times does not do full justice to.

The article explains why the 5.4 million Danes have consistently ranked as happiest Europeans for more than 30 years, on Eurobarometer surveys (they also rank first on the latest World Map of Happiness). The possible hypotheses explored are the following (in italics those that are not found to be relevant, in bold those that seem to have explanatory power- kept at the end). Paraphrasing or quoting from the text of the article:

  • hair colour: it may indeed be the case that "blondes have more fun". Not really working, since Sweden has a higher prevalence of blondes, but seemingly they are significantly unhappier than the Danish ones...
  • genes: genetic factors might influence differences in life satisfaction within a country. Neah, genotypes in Sweden are similar to those in Denmark (since most Swedes were Danes until the 17th century)
  • food: truly unmemorable (potatoes, gravy, pork; hotdogs, hamburgers, Baltic-style pizzas; I would add cucumbers and patté), but similar to food from Switzerland and Austria, second and third happiest nations according to the World Map of Happiness. So 'comfort foods' might have a positive effect for life satisfaction. The authors do not regard it though as an essential factor, perhaps because other countries with similar, 'unmemorable', food sorts are not that happy... BTW, this is a very good point also vis-a-vis the recent trans fats bans in most restaurants in NY, with more arguments against this regulation than the classic economic ones advocated by Gary Becker: don't make the Americans even less happy than they are :-).
  • climate: somewhat colder and cloudier version of the UK weather. If anything, works against happiness; indeed, most Danes are far happier in spring than in autumn...
  • native tongue: "tilfreds" apparently means "at peace". The BMJ article argues that this state contains satisfaction, so the puzzle cannot be in the language usage...
  • alcohol and smoking: if anything, this also works against wellbeing, since the Danes are among those with the highest consumption per capita (however, according to the authors, a reviewer of the article suggested that one reason why Danes seem smug is that they were always drunk when participating in the Eurobarometer surveys: to be investigated :-)).
  • marriage and children: not so clear, the authors claim: Denmark is no. 1 in Europe concerning the number of marriages but also leads in the number of divorces and the two have documented opposite effects on life satisfaction; similarly, children bring happiness and Denmark is among the European leaders in fertility; but some studies suggest that children beyond the first child decrease life satisfaction, especially for women.
  • general health: again not very clear; according to self-reported health, Danes seem to be doing well, however when measured objectively they do poorer than many others in Europe (life expectancy for DK places the country 13th among the 15th 'old' EU countries)
  • welfare state: Denmark ranks 1st on the income equality index, but Sweden ranks second and Danes are far happier than Swedes. A similar story regarding the level of Protestantism.
  • exercise: many Danes do some sports and they also use bycicles a lot for transport (where they are closely related to the Dutch, but the latter ones rank below them in satisfaction). Not very clear in terms of importance relative to life satisfaction.
  • prowess in sports: guidebooks to Denmark assert that winning the 1992 European Championship put Danes in such a state of euphoria that the country has not been the same since. This is one of the main explanations of the authors for the Danish euphoria. Now you know what Romania needs (a miracle, not Gigi Becali...).
  • expectations for the coming year: it has been argued that great expectations of favourable life circumstances in the future should be associated with life satisfaction, but it the expectations are unrealistically high they could be the basis for dissapointment and low life satisfaction. The Danes have always had very low expectations for the next year compared to other Europeans. So, for my Romanian fellows: if you believe Romania will reach the current EU level in about 20 years, as our Government now claims, forget it: you will only get us very low in the happiness ranking in 20 years. Don't worry, be happy, but do it "lige nu" (see below).

So, all in all, what is the secret of the happiest nation (in the middle of which I live for more than a year now- unfortunately however, there don't seem to be significant spillovers of happiness...)? In the words of the authors,

Our analysis points to two explanatory factors. The Danish football triumph of 1992 has had a lasting impact. This victory arguably provided the biggest boost to the Danish psyche since the protracted history of Danish setbacks began with defeat in England in 1066, followed by the loss of Sweden, Norway, Northern Germany, the Danish West Indies, and Iceland. The satisfaction of the Danes, however, began well before 1992, albeit at a more moderate level. The key factor that explains this and that differentiates Danes from Swedes and Finns seems to be that Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come. Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.

This finding is supported by Danish news coverage of the 2005 pronouncement by Ruut Veenhoven, Dutch Professor of Social Conditions for Happiness and head of the World Database of Happiness, that Danes are the world's happiest people. The headlines in Denmark ran: We're the happiest "lige nu." The phrase "lige nu," which can be translated literally as "just now," is a quintessentially Danish expression redolent, indeed reeking, of the sentiment "for the time being, but probably not for long and don't have any expectations it will last."

This is insane

Rafael Rob, Professor of Economics at U Penn was charged with the murder of his wife. Via Marginal Revolution. Certainly not the best way to draw public attention...

Quote for the week 7th to 13th of January '07

...I was not meaning to suggest that people are dumb. There is such a thing as rational ignorance. It just does not pay most people to become well informed about how markets work. Perhaps this is a deficiency of our educational system; it is not a sign of stupidity. To put the point in economic terms, there are costs of becoming well informed, and especially about issues on which the individual's influence is very small the costs are likely to exceed the benefits. What makes economics a very interesting and challenging field is that many of its findings are counterintuitive. Naturally people not steeped in a subject reject counterintuitive assertions. That is a rational reaction.
Richard Posner

Broker's Bier Börse (ideally, with Belgian beers...)

Neaparat ceva ce trebuie incercat la Cluj: un loc unde pretul berii creste sau scade in functie de cerere si oferta, analog ideii berlinezilor de la Broker's Bier Börse (sfat gratuit, din nou- vezi si un entry asemanator pentru masa la restaurant- doar pentru cei intreprinzatori). De exemplu, in Insomnia (asta in loc de jocul unde poti castiga un Ursus pe gratis...). Citeste si entry-ul lui Dubner despre bursa berii, pe Freakonomics. Evident mult mai interesant ar fi daca ideea ar fi implementata pentru un bar 100% belgian (care lipseste absolut inexplicabil in Cluj-Napoca!).

Most important science news of 2006

After the science breakthrough from...Science, let me post a short entry on the most important science stories of 2006, according to Scientific American. Some highlights:

The Buhai

A short but quite informative English text on what "buhai" means in Romanian (its most popular sense- that of a friction drum- that is; a second usage is also mentioned in the text, ie. buhai as traditional word for 'ox'). Now, given that my surname is 'Buhai' I guess I ought to be interested in this.
A fragment from the text:

The focus of this lesson is one ancient instrument in the drum family, a friction drum called the buhai.

The buhai (an old Romanian word for “ox”) is made from a wooden bucket or tub that functions as a drum body or resonator. The drumhead, made from goat or sheepskin, is soaked in water for several hours, stretched over the end of the bucket, and fastened there with rope. Some horsehair passes through a hole in the middle of the skin, and with the drum held by someone else the performer wets his or her hands and pulls along the length of the hair with one hand then the other, thus producing a noise resembling the bellow of an ox. The performer can raise the pitch of the drum by pressing into the drumhead with the free hand as the horsehair is being pulled.

Rhythms: While the rhythms of Romania include the standard four and six beats, and even five beats and seven beats, the buhai is intended to have the rhythm of an animal sound.

PS1. Except for its main theme, where the article does a good job, there is a series of mistakes in the rest of the content. For instance, "In 1990 Romania held national elections and a non-Communist party took control" is 100% flawed. But I guess the only important message of the article is about the 'buhai': skip the rest...

PS2. If you can get the accompanying CD, you can actually listen to the sounds of the 'buhai'. I don't think you lose too much if you don't do that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Building a better blog for 2007

One of the resolutions for 2007 should be, as I am sure most webloggers would agree, building a better blog (or starting one first, if you did not do this before!). Well, somebody thought of plenty of advice to that aim, and, for the whole months (ad literam!) of December 2006 posted new entries in the 'Bulding a better blog for 2007' sequence. Without further ado, here's the link to The Simple Dollar's sequence of posts. To be sure, some of these advices are simple truisms, some might seem plain redundant or obsolete, but even those are welcome when restated in the context... My favourite is about 'don't know it all' (and this goes as answer to some friends of mine who did not understand my 'unfinished business'-like posts: maybe they'll understand that it's all part of the strategy). Most of all, this material I linked here is very well organized: its biggest merit.

See also some previous entries I had on blogging: here, here or here.

Best cold weather cocktails & how to cure hangovers...

Sometimes I find things that I knew for ages, but much better structured and presented. For instance (and in perfect resonance with the weather and my mood(s) these days), I've recently run into an excellent resource for cold weather cocktails (my top 3 of their top 10 would be Bloody Mary, Prairie Fire and Irish Coffee). Naturally, the sequel should be a good guide for getting rid of hangovers (particularly useful if you mix all the 10 weather cocktails above...): I am fine (and confirm their positive effects) with water, orange juice and Bloody Mary(s), but now that I know about the pickle juice, I am eager to try that (hopefully non-Polish pickle juice works as well).

Quote for the week 31st of Dec '06- 6th of Jan '07

Nimic nu-l face mai steril pe un scriitor decat obsesia perfectiunii. Ca sa produci, trebuie sa-ti urmezi firea, sa te abandonezi, sa-ti asculti vocile..., sa elimini cenzura ironiei sau a bunului gust...
Emil Cioran

See also the quote for the previous week.