Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

From San Francisco.

My whereabouts at the beginning of the year will be at the ASSA '09, presenting a paper on the 5th of Jan.
But plenty of wine before that, continuing from the Napa Valley wine tasting yesterday :-).

Ad majora in 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Xmas Econlinks

  • The Economist's books of the year. A few from the 'economics & business', 'science & technology' and respectively, the 'biography' sections are on my to-read list for quite a while now. Nevertheless, I am rather amazed that many are missing among the books I was expecting to find in those three sections...

  • I am sure this could happen also within Economics... and I have a few ideas in which "peer-reviewed" conferences it might work just fine... Via Gabi Istrate, on Ad Astra.

And Happy Holidays of course! :-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What I've been reading

I've started many books and haven't finished yet most of them..., but slowly and steadily, mainly during my many & long forthcoming travels (NB: Transylvania, here I come!), I'll get there...

Anyway: a book I've just finished is Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" (wiki link; audio link with Hornby answering questions about the book). There are apparently two movies made after it already, but I haven't seen either, so I'll be silent in that respect. But the book... the book is definitely not to miss.

Whether you are are a (Arsenal/UK...) football fan or not, this is likely the best book about football (or for that matter: sports fan passion) you've run into so far... certainly my best such book, though I confess I am not a big fan of football or of sports fiction & co, for that matter... so this could be most about its literary value, in the end. Here's a blurb that manages to somehow catch the main part of "Fever Pitch" in a phrase: "For many people watching football is mere entertainment; to some it's more like a ritual; but to others, its highs and lows provide a narrative to life itself. For Nick Hornby, his devotion to the game has provided one of the few constants in a life where the meaningful things--like growing up, leaving home and forming relationships, both parental and romantic--have rarely been as simple or as uncomplicated as his love for Arsenal". What I personally like a lot in Hornby's style here is the self-deprecating humor, which works perfectly in the context, and the attention to detail, again functioning very well given the theme.

To get you in the mood, I selected two of my favourite quotes from the book below (though I ultimately disagree with both of them); by the way, Hornby has plenty of those: paragraphs I simply hate I didn't/couldn't write myself :-)
  • "You just can't find this outside a football ground; there is nowhere else you can be in the entire country that will make you feel as though you are at the heart of things. Because whichever nightclub you go to, or play, or film, or whichever concert you see, or restaurant you eat at, life will have been going on elsewhere in your absence, as it always does; but when I am at Highbury for games like these, I feel that the rest of the world has stopped and is gathered outside the gates,waiting to hear the final score"

  • "I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring..."

PS. In order to make a link to my typical Econ academe world: the fan(s) portrayed in this book reminds me in a way of LSE's Chris Pissarides: I recall a short discussion a while ago, probably at the NBER Summer Institute in Boston this year, where he confessed that he cannot miss any game of (several) UK football teams (in the sense that he would shorten his conferences, maybe miss keynote speeches etc, just to make it to these games). And I games; watching them on TV does not count. After reading Hornby's "Fever Pitch", I understand Pissarides is definitely not alone in that passion :-).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The new RAE UK is out

...and for Economics and Econometrics, the quality profiles can be consulted here.

By strictly ranking percentages of research in the highest and respectively second highest research categories, the first 10 Econ Departments in UK RAE 2008 (not very unexpected) are the following:

  1. LSE
  2. UCL
  3. Essex, Oxford, Warwick
  4. Bristol, Nottingham, Queen Mary
  5. Cambridge
  6. Manchester

Thursday, December 04, 2008

You can call me Doc...

... for about a week now. And if you're interested in my dissertation, here's the full digital version, in the Erasmus University Rotterdam online repository. If you believe you deserve a nice, signed, hardcopy, do let me know :-). A short PDF presentation of the thesis chapters, for a rather general audience, can be found on my website, though without the presenter it should not/ will not help very much (NB: of course I ran out of time, this cannot be done in 15 min...).

PS. Aside questions related to my thesis, I was also asked to defend Proposition X from my "stellingen" list, at the public defence. Nothing but expected, it is the best proposition of all that list, after all. All credit to Prof. Rubinstein for that :-).

A morning thought on peer-review

Good journals in Economics (say top 15) typically have good referees (though it also depends on who the Editor in that particular case is and especially on how much effort he is putting in picking the referees; sometimes you have the feeling they expressly choose folks who really seem to have no expertise whatsoever in your area).

The serious problem starts as soon as you go somewhat downwards in the journal rankings (why would you do ever do that? well, for instance because you yourself would feel like rejecting that particular paper of yours at higher ranked journals...): the quality of the referees decreases more than ten fold for each position in the journal hierarchy (abstract for a moment from the fact that not everybody agrees with the existent hierarchies, though most serious people agree to the 10 or so top journals). I am not sure whether this is due to good people always refusing to referee for those lower-ranked journals or to the Editor choosing lower quality referees to start with (which could be surely linked to the former reason). Of course this sort of discussion is not new (see also a previous post where I linked to interesting perspectives on this), it is just frustrating when you experience it yourself...

What to do? Write only papers that can make it in top 5... and hope you do not get very stubborn Editors and referees there, which is a less desired side-effect... After all you do want your, not somebody else's, paper published. All in all, you do not have any chance of getting bored in this research-and-publish business :-).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Science article on the Ad Astra organization of Romanian scientists

Reaching for the stars in Romania. Nice article on Ad Astra, Romanian science and education in general-- and also nice brief profiling of Razvan Florian and Liviu Giosan, the Ad Astra "founding fathers". A bit annoying that Science is reacting only now in this regard, but better later than never...

Update: in the same Science edition, "At home in Bucharest, for better and for worse"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chapter 11 for Detroit's automakers

Best sentence I've read today:

If Chapter 11 cannot save GM, then nothing can.

This is from the recent VoxEU opinion by Joshua Rauh and Luigi Zingales, proposing a bankruptcy to save General Motors. Inter alia, the ideas in Rauh & Zingales might address Richard Posner's worries concerning Chapter 7 versus Chapter 11 in the US Bankruptcy Code; on the other hand, naturally, Gary Becker does not need further convincing that bankruptcy is the only viable alternative for GM, Ford and Chrysler alike.

Econlinks (& more)

  • Do not let this reach Transylvania (the current economic crisis did so, already...) :-).

  • Finally for today, all you bloggers may want to check out what type of blog you have. I am a "Mechanic" (ISTP) right now, was "Scientist" (INTJ) some weeks ago, looking forward to enter other categories in the near future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wine of the Year: Casa Lapostolle, Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2005

Wine Spectator's best wine for 2008 is a Chilean wine produced from a blend of Carmenère, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; see also the video commentary by Wine Spectator's Senior Editor James Molesworth.

The other wines in top 10 look very exciting as well. For instance, I just can't wait trying the Portuguese Quinta do Crasto: a task for my good old Portuguese friend, Miguel? :-).

Check out as well my posts about the top wines of 2007 and 2006.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics ONLINE

...highly recommended for anybody interested in Economics, with or without much formal background in this science.

Start, for instance, with an excellent short exposition of "the Economics of Communism", by Bryan Caplan (recall him as the author of this book you should in no way miss).

PS. "Concise" is really the key word in the title. In other words these authors truly practice what they typically preach as economists, showing perfect understanding of the opportunity cost of time :-).

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

And the winner is...

... Paul Krugman, "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity"! One of the younger/est Econ Nobel prize winners (perhaps second youngest after Ken Arrow). The official announcement. Definitely deserved, though I would have thought he'd get the prize somewhat later and perhaps not alone. The political context clearly favoured him this year (always utterly opposed to the Bush administration(s) and to the Republicans in general :-)).

PS. Got my prediction wrong, but so did Thomson Reuters and a lot of other betting agencies :-).

Econ Nobel '08: My prediction

Some two hours before they should officially announce it, here's my prediction for this year's Economics Nobel:
The 2008 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel goes to Oliver Hart, Bengt Holmstrom and Oliver Williamson for their contributions to the theory of the firm.

Now, this is not very original, since I predicted the same, obviously without success, last year :-). Let's see. It's either this or the macro side (Barro et al). Finance rather unlikely this year (Fama, French etc), though obviously deserved in the very near future.

PS. Steven Levitt seems to have spotted a proxy for who (among potential candidates) thinks will get the Economics Nobel, i.e. people who get a haircut shortly before the announcement :-).

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Business syphilis after credit orgy

... or just Stephen Colbert and his Formidable Opponent getting drunk on Dr. Pepper ... "It was a steaming pile of hot slapping assets", indeed :-).

This and Jon Stewart's Loan interview with Paulson and Bernanke are the best depictions of the 'financial mess & bailout' so far :-).

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nobel(s) '08

Far more important than the forthcoming US Presidential Election is the awarding of the Nobel titles this year. The official Nobel prizes will be awarded starting next Monday (see the schedule). As usually this blog's author is mostly (though not exclusively, eg. I've always followed the Physics prizes, too) interested in the Economics prize, which is to be awarded last, on Monday, October 13; my prediction should appear here at least a day before -- and no, unfortunately I don't get any private signals... :-). Meanwhile, see also the Thompson Reuters predictions (alternatives) for the Economics (and not only) 2008 winners.

On the wackier side of science, an Economist already won a "Nobel" this year. Namely, Dan Ariely just won the IG Nobel for Medicine: "the prize for medicine goes to the enterprising economist who found that expensive fake pills work better than cheap [fake] ones". At the same time, the IG Nobel for Economics was won by three evolutionary psychologists (ironically...), Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tyber, and Brent Jordan, "for discovering that exotic dancers earn more when at peak fertility" (more here). See the list of all Nobel IG prizes this year; 'official site' here. And here's an article about the recent winners (via Greg Mankiw).

Global Electoral College on the US Presidentials

We know already what the general outcome would be, given Obama's popularity outside USA, but still, interesting initiative from The Economist. Can you guess which country will have the highest proportion of Blue votes; France looks like a strong candidate, as of now. (The reverse question is much more interesting).

PS. Obviously one needs to take into account all kinds of selection and measurement issues, but let us ignore those for the moment and assume, e.g., that readers of The Economist are a random sample of the population of each of those countries :-)...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Best paragraph I've read this past weekend the following part from Rob Shimer's letter to Greg Mankiw (posted on Mankiw's blog):

In closing, let me mention one other issue that I take very seriously. I recognize that this might not matter much to my Congressman, but in my view it may be the most important issue for global welfare. The U.S. has long been a beacon of free markets. When economic conditions turn sour in Argentina or Indonesia, we give very clear instructions on what to do: balance the budget, cut government employment, maintain free trade and the rule of law, and do not prop up failing enterprises. Opponents of free markets argue that this advice benefits international financiers, not the domestic market. I have always believed (at least since I began to understand economics) that the U.S. approach was correct. But when the U.S. ignores its own advice in this situation, it reduces the credibility of this stance. Rewriting the rules of the game at this stage will therefore have serious ramifications not only for people in this country but for the future of global capitalism. The social cost of that is far, far greater than $700 billion.

Indeed (paraphrasing Orwell...), time is high that smart people restated all these otherwise obvious things (at least within the Econworld...). I've already linked, in a previous post (last bullet point), to the letter where most serious US economists, including Shimer, are openly worried about the massive bailout plan.

PS. Rob Shimer will be the discussant of one of my co-authored papers in beginning November, within the conference on Structural Models of the Labour Market and Policy Analysis from IFS, in London. Already looking forward to the best possible comments (including toughest criticism...): given the letter mentioned above, Shimer looks clearly in top shape :-).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Econlinks (old and new)

  • Beer or wine and science (this is really fun, by the way and perhaps expected? :-)). I guess they don't separate serious drinkers of Belgian beer from the rest of beer drinkers, though, so that my friends still stand a chance :-).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A bit of (interesting) Aarhus University history

I was away, in Amsterdam, on the occasion of the 80 years anniversary of the Aarhus University (AU); hence I've only read now the AU rector's speech . It turns out to be quite informative and most of it has got a lot of sense, while remaining at the same time concise, rare species in terms of public speeches nowadays :-). In particular, it's interesting to learn how one of the very young good universities (youngest European university in the updated Shanghai world top 100) got started (though-- nota bene-- a "top/good university", in general, should not say much without further info; if your specific department / institute within that university is currently topping all charts, now that is something else; a lot of decent people I know seem to be quite confused over this issue).

PS. Now that I've read this, I am actually very glad that some people were reasonable enough not to have this university in Kolding. Does not mean that I start adoring Aarhus as yet, but still: Kolding?!-- maybe for fishing....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For a Bailout Press 1

This is too good not to be mentioned: Alan Neff in the Washington Post on the automated bailout hotline.

Via Greg Mankiw, who is---obviously--- pretty pissed off with the recent massive bailout proposal.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The phrase of the day

Thanks goodness we bailed out Bear Stearns back in March if we hadn't we might have lost Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and who knows what else. Oh wait...

From Alex Tabarrok, on MR.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The next thing is to inquire whether the saints are listening...

The empirical conclusion from this analysis is important. A little prayer does no good and may make things worse. Much prayer helps a lot.

If Jim Heckman says that, it's gotta be true.
So, either stop praying altogether, or pray 24/24, nothing in between helps...

PS. Andrew M. Greeley's letter attached at the end of Heckman's paper deserves praise on its own.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Econlinks this week

  • The death of the Renaissance man: "If knowledge accumulates as technology advances, then successive generations of innovators may face an increasing educational burden. Innovators can compensate through lengthening educational phases and narrowing expertise, but these responses come at the cost of reducing individual innovative capacities, with implications for the organization of innovative activity - a greater reliance on teamwork - and negative implications for growth." This is from a super interesting, forthcoming ReStud paper, by Benjamin Jones.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Quantifying artistic value

This is about a very interesting, though quite controversial at the same time, project of David Galenson, economic historian at the University of Chicago: quantifying 20th century artwork based on market and visual citations. While I think his proxies for art quality can be debated, Galenson is clearly onto something important-- and that despite the fact that I do not take Clement Greenberg's statement (used as motto within Galenson's forthcoming book) ad litteram (though I am also far from a 100% disagreement with it): "Quality in art is not just a matter of private experience. There is a consensus of taste."


PS. This should probably be an extremely interesting theme for my good old friend, Daniel. I wonder what he makes of this new attempt of Economists to take over other fields :-).

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Read of the week / Quote of the week

My read of the week is John Cochrane superbly answering to this... well, "protest letter" (the latter being the reason why one of the labels for this post is "pathetic"). Probably only Milton Friedman himself could have done a better job than Cochrane here... I actually choose the following paragraphy as quote of the week:

Milton Friedman stood for freedom, social, political, and economic. He realized that they are inextricably linked. If the government controls your job or your business, dissent is impossible. He favored, among other things, legalizing drugs, school choice, and volunteer army. To call him or his political legacy “right wing” is simply ignorant, and I mean that also as a technically accurate description rather than an insult.

And here's the website of the new Milton Friedman Institute (MFI), the object of controversy in the exchange above (you can also read the proposal to establish the MFI, signed by some of my idols within Economics)

Econlinks this week

  • The Cowles Foundation Monographs online!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Big Apple and The Island. And some good Econ research in Boston

Yes, I admit: my blog has been somewhat neglected recently... And unfortunately it will still be in that situation for a while, since I'm in the middle of some conferences and workshops in the US (plus it is summer and awfully hot here). Tomorrow I'll be presenting in the SED '08 conference at MIT (you can see the precise session and download the paper from here- comments are very welcome!) and next week I'll be attending the NBER Summer Institute Workshop on "Macro Perspectives", which will feature some very very interesting papers. Meanwhile, luckily enough (wouldn't be able to make it to Chicago as well!), my co-author, Marco, will present another of my joint papers in the GAMES '08 conference at Northwestern Univ., Chicago (session and paper available for download here).

But equally important, I've spent the last couple of days in NYC--where it is horribly warm currently, I have to repeat that-- and among many other things, I've managed to see for the first time something I wanted to catch for quite a while now: Alex Balanescu and Ada Milea's performance of "The Island" (written by Gellu Naum). I've enjoyed this performance at Joe's Pub, on the 5th of July and I'll say it was nothing short of amazing. Don't miss it if you have the slightest chance to catch it! A/the line to retain (for current and future reference): "Temptation's still alive, temptation's still alive...".

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The fringe benefits of failure

Possibly the best short read of the week. In any case, surely the best speech for a class of university graduates I've ever happened onto. J.K. Rowling, the benefits of failure and, more than anything, the importance of imagination (You can also watch the video of the speech- if not loading, it is also on YouTube already, in several copies...).

(HT to Greg Mankiw).

And here's an advice from the the lecture above that my younger (and older...) friends would do well to retain (there are plenty others, so read the whole speech linked above very carefully); we'll have this one as quote of the week:

There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.

And I'll even add a second-best this week (though, ultimately, very likely my personal favourite from Rowling's speech)

Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

(New) Dutch architecture or urbanism in three dimensions

Here's an excellent article in NYTimes about MVRDV, nowadays the (no reservations) top Dutch architects (here's their website, describing their projects etc.; here's a brief slideshow presentation of some of their work, accompanying the article above). And a contender for best quote this week, from the same article:
"The Dutch population is essentially antiurban,” de Vries says. “Therefore as architects in Holland we have a special responsibility to make living in cities and under dense circumstances not just habitable but preferable.”

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Culmea pateticului pe saptamana curenta

Domnul Daianu, fost economist..., "ataca" din nou (vezi si isprava precedenta, comentata)... Introducerea textului din Dilema Veche uita sa precizeze ca nici un economist serios nu se afla intre semnatarii 'scrisorii', cu toate ca politicienii respectivi (unii dintre ei economisti ratati sau/si politicieni frustrati, altii simpli naivi) "aparţin unor grupări politice diferite [...] depăşirea barierelor ideologice adăugînd un plus de importanţă documentului." (sic!). Revin cu comentarii detaliate pe text cand voi avea mai mult timp. Pana una alta, mirati-va si singuri :-).

Catalin, merci pentru link!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Econlinks for the weekend

  • Investigating the root of biases and stereotypes (this is beyond scratching the surface and shifting all debate on political correctness: yes/no, as too often done nowadays). So far this is really not modelled thoroughly within Economics and much of this review of research within psychology is super interesting (though it is very mixed...). Here's an interesting quote, just to give you an idea what this is about: "To what degree are our decisions swayed by implicit social biases? How do those implicit biases interact with our more deliberate choices? A growing body of work indicates that implicit attitudes do, in fact, contaminate our behavior. Reflexive actions and snap judgments may be especially vulnerable to implicit associations." Link also to the 1st bullet point above.

  • The new business gurus: I agree with Gardner and Hamel in top 5, but Thomas Friedman should be a very passing fad...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Balanescu Quartet's "The Model"

Although Kraftwerk's original version of "The Model" (lyrics in English or German) is very good as well, my take is that The Balanescu Quartet (finally they've got a nice website: congrats!) added that something extra to it. So I'd say I like their cover even better than the original (and this hasn't much to do with the fact that I've met Alex Balanescu twice at small concerts he gave in London when I was there etc, see also my previous posts mentioning the Balanescu Quartet e.g. here or here or here). Anyway, without further ado, here's the super nice rendition of "The Model", placing together David Byrne (of, e.g., Talking Heads fame) and The Balanescu Quartet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Econlinks today

  • The promise of prediction markets, as policy forum article in Science; many Econ Nobelists and future Nobelists on that list of authors... This is a follow up of a statement signed by equally prestigious researchers that I talked about a while ago. Since in the US there are a series of legal issues in this context, I think it is high time prediction markets received a lot of attention in Europe, for instance.

  • Further on drinks: Wine drinkers of the world, Unite! A good article by Christopher Hitchens, in Slate. He's clearly read my mind and probably every serious wine drinker's mind...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gone southeastwards

...though only as far as Budapest, which I am enjoying (as always; I love this city!) since yesterday evening. Among other things, I'll be presenting two papers (one is here, the other one available only as abstract for now on this page or in this conference handbook) at the Comparative Analysis of Enterprise Data (CAED) conference, cruise the Danube, drink top Tokaji wines and admire the beautiful Hungarian women around :-). This also means that I would be less active with blogging these days, but I'll catch up later.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shatner's Rocket Man

The song of the weekend is John and Taupin's great "Rocket Man". And although I like a lot Kate Bush's version as well, nothing can ever compare to Bill Shatner's theatrical rendition of this masterpiece (superb youtube old videoclip, with an introduction by Bernie Taupin). Enjoy!

Quote of the week

Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.

George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists

Friday, May 09, 2008

My whereabouts

I'll be less active with blogging these days since I am attending the Society of Labor Economists annual meeting (at Columbia University this year). I'll present this (preliminary and incomplete; comments very welcome; check my website periodically for updated future versions). For the rest, the Big Apple still impresses me, though I've paid a lot on taxis already :-).

Long PS. Yesterday, completely not linked to the conference above (actually he did not know about it), I met, was introduced to, and exchanged a few impressions with Bob Solow and his wife, at a welcome party organized by Niels, who also happens to be one of my co-authors for the paper linked above. And a brief, fast opinion: Solow is a super nice guy, far more humble when compared to all the Nobel prizers I previously met and always eager to open new subjects of conversation --and no, it wasn't so much about economics, if that is what you think :-). So my NY experience didn't start too bad. BTW, if you didn't read Solow's work (which also, obviously, means that you are not an economist...), retain at least that I've been using his quote related to Milton Friedman quite a lot, most recently in an "economics-popularization" presentation I gave last year in Copenhagen (read about that event here, check out the presentation here, both in Romanian however) :-).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Econlinks today

  • Problems of Interplanetary and Interstellar Trade. Indeed, somebody had to start researching on this topic, at some point :-). Here's the part I like best in the concluding remarks: "Perhaps, the establishment of a solar system monetary union would permit the free flow of capital [...]"

It was in Moldova that Weiner began to see, or, rather, failed to see, the building blocks that make a culture happy. "While I did meet some people I liked, Moldova is the least happy country on the planet," Weiner says. "People go to great lengths to see their neighbors fail. Completely seriously, it is a very morose place. I've never been so glad to leave a country."

A well deserved Pulitzer and pearls before lunch...

I must be the most ignorant person ever: I've only found out today (via Terry Tao) that this superb article by Gene Weingarten, "Pearls before breakfast", likely the best I've ever read in the Washington Post, won a well deserved Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing about a month ago.

And since the credit should definitely be shared with this phenomenon called Joshua Bell, here's the (short, but intense) musical piece I propose to you before lunch today: Josh playing an excerpt from "The Red Violin", composition by John Corigliano, who won with it an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score, in the movie "The Red Violin" (IMDb, RottenTomatoes). Here's one of the best scenes of this movie (with Josh Bell playing again in the background).

Monday, May 05, 2008

Carlsen consistence

He's just tied for first (well, he's been de jure third, if you take the tie-breaks into consideration, but that does not matter much) in the powerful Baku 2008 Grand Prix. This after he did also very well in the Amber '08 Blindfold and Rapid Chess Tournament, where in the Combined final hierarchy he tied for second. As I said before, the chess wunderkid is in the very top already (probably 4th world-wide in terms of ELO-ranking by now) and he's there to stay. Let's try a forecast: Carlsen Chess World Champion before 2012?

(New) Danish cuisine

Yes, yes, I confirm: top Danish cuisine is resurrected and its outputs are nothing but extremely yummy... The NY Times has also got only praise for it (with assorted photos here). I've also mentioned recently that Noma, the current very best among the Danish restaurants, went up on the world rankings, being now number 10 (2nd bullet point).

Now, while the article above focuses on the Copenhagen dining scene, I've already experienced some of the best places in Aarhus (still waiting for such an article reviewing in detail the best of the best restaurants in Aarhus). For instance, I've had all the liquid nitrogen sensation at Malling & Schmidt (where I also paid more than I had ever paid before in a restaurant, but those are details...) and the smoking of the salmon in front of you at Nordisk Spisehus (the cheaper version of Malling & Schmidt, though nothing short of spectacular in terms of quality of the meals).

All in all, it should be clear that the restaurants' quality became a chief reason to visit Denmark. And perhaps the Danes could aggresively market this dimension also in order to attract highly skilled migrants for longer periods? Maybe there is a chance that such great food would make some people forget about the ridiculous level of the taxes (1st bullet point) :-).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Econlinks for the weekend

  • Relative social status seems to dominate relative material status: the neuroscience evidence. Of course I knew that all the time :-).

Quote of the week

Prima impresie spune o poveste spontana, in care de fapt se intretes propriile noastre viziuni cu ceea ce dorim sa vedem. A doua privire este mai atenta, ordonand detaliile dupa logica mediului in care ne-am format ochiul. A treia privire spune o cu totul alta poveste, eliberata de constrangerile prejudecatilor. Povestea mea este galbena si verde, abstracta si concreta, statica si dinamica, reala si virtuala. Ea danseaza la marginea celor ce exista pentru ca exista, a celor ce nu exista pentru ca nu exista. O tentativa de a desena parmenidian.

Read the previous quote of the week (many weeks ago...).

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The prophet Jeremiah is alive and well and teaching economics at Harvard

This is the best article related in a way or another to Economics that I've read so far this week: Roy Weintraub reviewing Stephen Marglin's new book "The Dismal Science. How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community", for Science.

I have to say that on a scale from 1 to 10, I'd give 11 to Weintraub's review (here's Roy Weintraub's site, by the way): a state-of-the-art example of how sarcasm and irony can be used to fight against nonsense. We love it! Next to the opening sentence of Weintraub's review, which is also the title of my post, I'd single out its superb ending:

"I note in closing that the lead dust-jacket blurb for this volume was provided by the noted economist and social theorist Bianca Jagger (sic). Whatever was Harvard University Press thinking?"

Indeed, a darkest black point for Harvard University Press and a brightest red point for Science.

PS1. I've also learnt, for the first time, that even in such places like Harvard, some dinosaurs still roam around...

PS2. Note that this was the second attempted murder of Economics and economists I've talked about today. Dangerous times ahead...

Killing Adam Smith... in Dilema Veche

Surely Adam Smith couldn't care less by now if anybody threatened to kill him, but here's a serious attempt to even burry his memory. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the author), this short article, recently published in "Dilema Veche", is in Romanian. Its author is somebody whom some of my Romanian fellows call the greatest Romanian economist alive (though don't bother to search for his top journal articles, cited by all the economics academe; in Romania that was/still is hardly a prerequisite to such honours: we do not like to complicate things). Next to his extensive academic experience, he is also ex-Minister of Finance, ex-Chief Economist of the Romanian National Bank, ex-that and ex-this, ex-everything... the man has clearly got a lot of policy experience and, truth be told, he also did some good things. Even though that might be in the end for the worse: overall, Daianu comes forth as much more of a politician (read: Romanian politician) than an economist (in fact, he's an MEP currently, probably not very busy with serious economics research), as I see him. Though that is hardly an excuse for his confusion in this article, even with respect to assessing others' viewpoints (Greenspan, Krugman etc.), and for his conclusions that are almost foreign to economic reasoning (a simple libertarian-nonlibertarian economic split would have little explanatory power in accounting for that), and bordering dangerously on populistic arguments with null academic basis, e.g. the "moral compass" etc. While I'll let you enjoy dissecting this further on your own, I'll just wrap it up here: forgive him, Adam Smith, he does not know what he is talking about...

PS. If you really want to read a mature opinion about (re)regulating financial markets and what is needed (even that, only in light of what went wrong because of interfering with the free market, to start with...) and what is simply a lot of noise and naivité, try Becker's here (4th bullet point), for instance. You could also check out recent articles by Feldstein, Mankiw, Summers and a few selected others that know what they talk about, though I am too lazy to find the exact links for you now (check my previous posts in the economics category though, they link often to such viewpoints).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Econlinks today

  • Here's the most ridiculous thing I've heard so far, within the academic publishing business: deliberately slowing things down by sitting a whole month on each submission before doing anything with it. Via Andrew Gelman. Something like this might well be practiced by more journals and in many fields ( and surely I am thinking mostly about my own field here...) than currently known: could explain a substantial part of (complementing the fact that referees are not easy to find and they might be slow themselves, see also here) the often exaggerated times before one gets back referee reports etc. I think it just shows the incapacity of those editors to function as editors, if that is the case. And obviously excessive crowding/queueing can be solved in this context, similar to many other contexts involving congestion, by raising submission fees (despite the apparent objection of some people, which Gelman also mentions, that people don't have the money for it-- give me a break, I'd say: if you are indeed such an underpaid academic, probably you can't produce the quality required for that top journal anyway; and for universities in places that really run low on budgets and remuneration in general, like Africa, Eastern Europe etc., some reduction or waiver could be in place).

  • "Econometrics: qu'est-ce que c'est?" or econometrics as taught at University of Michigan (where also other Econ professors seem to be very talented inasmuch as music is concerned) :-). I think many economics/ econometrics professors elsewhere could learn something from this-- it isn't for nothing that most students consider econometrics courses the most boring courses they (have to) take... Here's the academic website of the excellent performer above, in case anyone wants to contact him for advice in teaching.

  • Discussion on the merits of (further/ re-) regulating financial markets: Becker and respectively, Posner. I believe Posner is for some reason becoming too skeptical of the powers of the free market, so I'll strongly recommend only Becker's analysis this time :-).

  • Collected advice for young economists (via Tyler Cowen on MR), from senior economists. I have read all of these pieces before (though, unfortunately, haven't always followed the advice in there...), but it is excellent to have them in one place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wanted in Romania: Engineers

Romania's finally got a field where it is an uncontested world leader: the shortage of talent on the labour market. Engineers, skilled manual trades and executives are the top missing ones. This is according to the latest survey of Manpower Inc. on talent shortages worldwide. Read also a brief Euroactiv summary on Romania's position in this hierarchy. It would be interesting to know (beyond speculation) where have all these skilled people gone, that is, the distribution by receiving country (obviously we're talking primarily brain drain here), but I am not aware of any study having investigated that (comment away if you have any relevant info here).

(in Romanian on Ad Astra, via Alex Cabuz and Razvan Florian)

PS. A while ago I posted on the Scandinavians complaining about the shortage of skilled workforce (1st bullet point). They seem to be doing rather well compared to Romania, however...

Governance and Growth 4 short essays that sum up the knowns and the unknows. Among other top researchers in the field, these essays contain the opinions of Daron Acemoglu, Francis Fukuyama and Douglas North.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Econlinks today

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rubik's solved in max 25 moves

...from any initial configuration, that is.

The above was on theory and impressive computing power. See also a former post of mine on the latest Rubik's cube pratical world championship, with winning results here. To retain: the least number of moves to solve the standard Rubik was 35; in the speed competition the standard Rubik was solved in 11'50''. Don't start crying now :-).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Despre timpul liber...

... in editia de maine a Cotidianului. Doar daca gasiti putin timp liber sa cititi, bineinteles :-).

PS. Spatiul de 5000 de semne alocat nu a permis un tratament mai amplu, dar sunt bineinteles deschis comentariilor/ completarilor/ intrebarilor etc. (la care voi raspunde insa doar in timpul meu liber...)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Digital Darwin

And here's for instance the first edition of the Origin of Species (links to a PDF of about 90 MB; you can also listen to the audio version of the book in 21 .mp3 files ). If you want/need to start by reading more info on the Origin of Species, go here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Econlinks for the weekend

  • An article in the Economist on the Nordic Labour market and the Vikings' desperate plea for skilled labour. Here's my two cents: reform your bloody tax system and highly qualified people will flood you.

  • Cowen on the erotics of investing. I think lots of this is nonsense, but I have to say I like the non-neutral (gender-wise) stapler image :-).

  • On the Wiki and Digg oligarchies. There's recently been more on this theme in other magazines as well, but this one Slate article was the first I read on the topic.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Populist "economics" at its best

I've heard a lot of economics nonsense coming from Hillary Clinton's camp in the current US presidential campaign, but this might well qualify as the apogee so far (how much nonsense can you utter in a few given minutes...). You might also (finally?) realize why Jay Leno has got a bachelor's degree in speech therapy, not in Economics...

Via Greg Mankiw (read also Russel Robert's analysis on Cafe Hayek, that Mankiw links to; Robert is debunking here but one of the too many obvious flaws in that interview).

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Econlinks today

  • "Insead, for example, has set up a virtual campus on Second Life, to complement its physical campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and in Singapore. Classes attended entirely by Second Life avatars have been held on the virtual campus." More on this FT article on recent trends in business education.

  • The first Romanian Economics journal indexed ISI. While this in itself is not bad, in Romania they still live under the impression that ISI-indexed, per se (alternatively, publishing in any ISI-indexed journals) is divine: a journal can be indexed ISI and be total crap, as de facto many Economics ISI-journals are. If Professor Klein had only known (did they tell him?) what he did when accepting to be in this editorial board, next to such world famous Romanian economists, with publications in all the very top Econ journals... I guess he might indeed be getting old (though nothing short of extremely sharp, scientific-wise, last I saw him debating was in a conference to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Jan Tinbergen in Rotterdam, April '03). But I honestly wish them success: they could start by burning their previous editions (read some of articles in the already published numbers-- & neah, don't worry, for several of them you won't need any prerequisite to see where they're headed) and perform a radical change-- that if they want to ever move from the bottom of the (ISI...) quality distribution, which they've just joined. Via Razvan Florian, on Ad Astra (in Romanian).

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Viking chess

I wouldn't be as worried as Susan :-). The young viking is clearly on the way up and it appears he can't be stopped anylonger. He started Linares with two bangs ( win against Ivanchuk, win against Shirov). Nice, very nice. Though beating Anand today at Linares would indeed be amazing, even if Carlsen won't eventually manage that, he's now got serious chances to show he is already the right challenger of the World Chess Champ. The rest is just a matter of time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Econlinks for 28-02-'08

  • A very nice article about GMU's Econ department. I love for instance the following bit, despite its capitalizing on stereotypes (but we love those sometimes :-)); so here's Arnold Kling: My simple way of describing it is that at Chicago they say, ‘Markets work; let’s use markets.’ At Harvard and MIT they say, ‘Markets fail; let’s use government.’ And at George Mason, we say, ‘Markets fail; let’s use markets.’”

  • Barack Obama might be very good at writing books (see here my assessment of his most popular book); however, he fares pretty poorly so far, in his economics policies. Here's one of his worst ideas, for instance, rightly and well criticized on VoxEU. It is rather amazing that with some top economists as his advisors, Obama can actually support an economic proposal that is "reactionary, populist, xenophobic and just plain silly". One can only hope that Obama does all this nonsense economic campaigning for popular votes and he'd eventually get back to his senses if elected President... But could he deliver as President, as The Economist and probably most of us would like to know...?

Best phrase I've read so far today

[...] Basescu has repeated his insistence that Székelyföld will have no more nor less autonomy than anywhere else. This is not a position with which I disagree in principle, but since he trotted it out two years ago and has done absoultely nothing towards decentralisation in Romania since, it is clear that what he means by "Covasna will have the same amount of autonomy as Calarasi and Constanta" is, in fact, "absolutely none". I know he's fully locked into the Bucharest political scene, being ex-mayor of that city, but I suspect he needs to get out a bit more.

The above is by Andy, on Csíkszereda musings, part of an entry on whether the Kosovo precedent implies anything for Székelyföld. I also find the entire post well written and I disagree, if at all, only with respect to some minor details.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Econlinks for 23-02-'08

  • "[...] it is surprising and disturbing that, at a time when the premium for skills has increased and the return to graduating high school has risen, the high school dropout rate in America is increasing. America is becoming a polarised society. Proportionately more American youth are going to college and graduating than ever before. At the same time, proportionately more are failing to complete high school." Read the whole article on education trends in the USA by Jim Heckman and Paul LaFontaine, on VoxEU (with references to the research papers they quote).

  • a nice interview in the latest Royal Economic Society (RES) newsletter with one of my favourite economists, Avinash Dixit. The interviewer is Andrew Oswald; since the newsletter is not yet available for download on the RES site, you can download the interview (PDF) from Oswald's site. Here's an excerpt dealing with Dixit's aversion towards reviewing long papers (same here, though, on the other hand, I admit to being guilty of having written some very long papers :-)):

[...] here is my reaction as I read, say, page 50 of the 70 page paper. I am reminded of the character Elaine in the show Seinfeld. [...] She is watching the movie of The English Patient. Finally she bursts out “quit telling your stupid story about your stupid desert and just die”. That’s what I think when I am on page 50 of a 70 page paper. Even a really good one!

  • Larry Summers goes into business. Part-time, for now. Probably Summers is one of the few academic economists (top academic economist: this guy is a recipient of the John Bates Clark medal, for instance) to have had quite a wide range of top jobs (the ones outside the typical academic activity as professor at Harvard: Secretary of the Treasury, President of Harvard University, and now managing director of a hedge fund firm).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A classic Alekhine's Defence and 43 moves

... is all what Magnus Carlsen needed in order to win against Topalov. Wonderful, wonderful, we love it! The kid is back in the game (while, surprinsingly, Topalov has lost two consecutive games since I last praised him...).

PS. Nothing is sure yet in Morelia-Linares, but I think it starts to look as if Carlsen were a very serious candidate to become the youngest World Chess Champion ever (thus beating Kasparov, who currently holds that record). The first opportunity for the Norwegian to do so could be in two years from now. The (only) very powerful player whom he still has problems winning against is Anand, who rightly deserves to be the world champ now and for the years to come (before Carlsen takes the title from him :-)).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Real stakes in the US election

Here's my favourite bit of the best essay I've read today:

The reality is that democracy is a very blunt instrument, and in today’s environment we are choosing between ways of muddling through. We may hear that the election is about different visions for America’s future, but the pitches may be more akin to selling different brands of soap.

We hear so many superficial messages precisely because most American voters have neither the knowledge nor the commitment to evaluate the pronouncements of politicians on economic issues. It is no accident that the most influential political science book of the last year has been “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” by Bryan Caplan. The book shows that many voters are ill-informed or even irrational; many economic issues are complex, and each voter knows that he or she will not determine the final outcome.

Rather than being cynics, we should be realists. Democracy is reasonably good at some things: pushing scoundrels out of office, checking their worst excesses by requiring openness, and simply giving large numbers of people the feeling of having a voice. Democracy is not nearly as good at others: holding politicians accountable for their economic promises or translating the preferences of intellectuals into public policy.

Read Tyler Cowen's entire article, from the NYTimes.

PS. I guess you've started reading Bryan Caplan's book by now ( I mentioned it before, e.g., here or here). If not, hurry up, what are you waiting for?! :-).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Carlsen should do better

After three rounds in the first leg of the Linares-Morelia tournament (the most powerful chess tournament of this year), the Norwegian wonderkid is not yet shining. Standings and results so far can be seen here (with at least one mistake on the site: Topalov's total number of points is 2.5, after 2 victories and 1 draw, and not 2.0). Obviously I still hope Carlsen will repeat what he did at Wijk aan Zee: anything is still possible, theoretically. Meanwhile, however, Topalov seems to be in an excellent shape. You can replay for instance his game won against Ivanchuk.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Econlinks for 18-02-'08

  • An excellent (& extensive) interview with Susan Athey, the most recent winner of the John Bates Clark medal. Here's one of the best parts:

    Finding the applications that resonate with the students or the population in general and then showing them how a little bit of structured thinking can substantially improve their understanding — I think that’s where you get the power of economics. I’m still amazed that in the business world how having a coherent and structured way of approaching problems can allow someone like me to walk into an industry meeting and talk to people who are brilliant people managing large companies and still have unique insights for them. That’s because I have these really powerful tools at my disposal. Economics allows you to think several layers deeper. Without that structure, you just get lost in a muddle.

  • Here's Steven Levitt answering (some of) the criticism of John DiNardo. I've mentioned DiNardo's criticism here (1st bullet point). DiNardo might have been bored indeed :-), but Levitt carefully selects which points to tackle in his reply; he eventually addresses (true, very well) some of the relatively minor ones and leaves the gist of the critique unanswered...
  • This IS NOT my reason for not using Facebook and declining every invitation to do so (don't even bother). I think the author of this text in The Guardian has little comprehension of economics, freedom to choose and the like, not to mention that at times he borders on paranoia. As long as users are perfectly informed of their rights and obligations, there is nothing to do with, e.g., invasion of privacy, to choose randomly from the 'sin list' of the article linked above. My rationale is much simpler: my opportunity costs would outweigh any eventual benefits from being active on Facebook or related 'social networking' sites. I however see them perfectly justified and a great business idea.

Chinese (Couch) Potato

"" (="Potato", in Romanized Chinese) is one of the several Chinese "Youtubes", seemingly the largest one at present (possibly larger than YouTube itself in some dimensions). Tudou's stated goal is "to move couch potatoes from the TV screen to computer screens, a process very much under way in China". Here's their wiki entry. While this might be not very exciting yet, what might knock you out is the fact that you can watch on Tudou an amazing number of excellent (whole) movies, both recent and old, in very high definition media format (typically split in several parts). For instance, you can find entirely the top 5 movies (and probably most of the rest, as well) from my 25 favourite movies list (which needs an update). Thus, if you have the time (even if you are not per se a couch potato), go for it: they've got an impressive collection. You can search for the titles of the movies in English: don't be put off by the Chinese, should you not understand it :-). It might be of course just a matter of time before Tudou will also have to start removing some of its material because of copyrights infringement (I am not sure to what extent that is a problem already, but at least concerning recent movies such as Sweeney Todd, the likelihood of foul play is very high...), but the Chinese legislation in context appears to be more than lenient for the time being.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What I've been reading

Lately I've got about 5 books started at all times and I largely read them in parallel (unless I like one too much to let it out of my hands before I finish it). This seems to be an excellent strategy against getting "too much" of something in a short while and eventually deciding to drop it too soon (which, by the way, you should not shy away from doing anytime if you really--but really-- do not seem to find any merit in reading a particular book). Below some brief impressions on some of the books started by end '07-beginning '08 that I've finally finished:

  • Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World. How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare". This is a book once suggested to me by my good old friend Daniel, probably the only person in the world who can read even two-three books a day :-). You'll learn more about Shakespeare (both life and creation -wise) than you've ever known before. Greenblatt, probably best known as father of the New Historicism, combines his comparative advantage as literary critic with a great biographer intuition and manages to almost deliver Will Shakespeare in person (I strongly doubt one can do better than this, based on the current, scant evidence on Shakespeare's life etc.). A book you should not miss.

  • "Why beautiful people have more daughters [with too long of a subtitle...]" by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. I once had a post related to research covered in this book, which was also when I decided that I had to read it. One good point is that you'll find out about a number of extremely interesting fertility or demographic empirical facts that you might have not known. For explaning most of these facts the authors try to fit an evolutionary psychology story. Unfortunately, there's also where you should be extra cautious: although they seem to be careful with presenting clearly the conclusions reached scientifically versus others that might be speculated upon, but cannot be given clear scientific backing, my opinion is that the book is still not satisfactory from that point of view. In fact I am very curious whether this is an opinion solely of people acquainted with scientific research/statistics/econometrics or it holds more generally. For those of you who'd like more details, some of the explanations in the book are simply taken over from several articles published in, e.g., the Journal of Theoretical Biology by one or the other of the two co-authors (Kanazawa most often), which have been already criticized on several grounds, see for instance the 'statistical' criticism by Andrew Gellman, published in the same journal. Somehow both the book and the previous articles on which the research therein is based, try to oversell, without always giving proper scientific foundations (though this does not mean the given explanations can be invalidated). This is not to say that you should ignore this book; once again, it can fill you up with facts you had no clue about (tip: facts that can be used in most colloquial discussions, since people seem to particularly like such topics: now you know which book to read if you want to get in the center of attention every time).
  • Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". Steven Levitt was the one who convinced me to read this book, as I've mentioned before (post in Romanian, with links to Kakutani's review of the book in NYTimes and to Levitt's admission that he "was blown away at how well written it is"). While I am far from being "blown away" after having read Obama's book, I agree that the book is well written, perhaps unexpectedly so for an active politician. One of its strong points is that pretty much all of the author's ideas are conveyed in parsimonious, common sense language; this is essential for a politician aiming to engage and completely clarify his position in front of a mass audience (with electoral power, where applicable). For those of you who want a shorter version, you can watch on YouTube the two parts (part 1, part 2) of Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech (the book extends and expands on the themes touched on in this address). This was the talk that essentially launched Obama as a key player in US politics. Whether you'd eventually like this fellow in the White House or not (hopefully that decision would not be solely based on the most appealing book written by the candidates), you will only gain from reading his book.

More to follow soon. Meanwhile, you can also check my "books" blog-category for other books I've read and/or talked about in previous posts.