Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

... although still more than 6 hours to go of '09, here, in Chicago. Where I have already discovered (in Devon Market; all credits to Daniel) an interesting range of rather decent Romanian wines (eventually I have settled for a Feteasca Regala from Jidvei and, something special for tonight-- I am very curious!-- a Dracula's Blood Merlot). Good to know, given that I'll soon spend quite some time around here.

Anyway, let us enter 2010 on Massenet's Méditation de Thaïs, wonderfully interpreted by the one and only Leila Josefowicz (how can one not be in love with this woman?!). THE music piece for the New Year (why not)?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The hard road to Transylvania

4 hours inside a KLM/Malev plane that just wouldn't take off at Schiphol (after 2 extra hours of waiting for the-- eventually, wrong-- plane to arrive); a (involuntary, for a change) night spent in beautiful but frozen Budapest (helped by the fact that my friend Balint was very inspired for the dinner suggestion; even the house white wine was very decent!-- though nothing like my favourite Hungarian white); quality time the next day (inter alia, absolutely great mushroom soup and venison with juniper berries, for lunch!) spent with my good old friend, master of all things Budapest, Daniel, while waiting for the uncertainty concerning trains towards Cluj to be resolved; and partly resolved it was after endless hours, although they forgot to provide a 1st class (they were considerate enough to give me a full 2nd class compartment instead, all the >8 hours long trip...enough time to go through quite a few Econometrica articles, tons of coffee, and a number of jazz and classical music albums...); but, finally, Transylvania it is, for the last couple of days: great feeling to be home. All nice and well, for the rest; among other things, my Xmas present arrived just in time, with compliments from the EU Commission.
Oh, and not to forget: You Baffle Me... (by the one and only female equivalent of Yann Tiersen out there, Shannon Wright; e.g. Shannon can also do this, or this, or this, or this.., and much much more, check out for instance all her wonderful Let in the Light album; plus, naturally, she had to collaborate on a fantastic album with Tiersen : for instance, this and this are simply perfect).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Popcorn theories and winter. In Kolding

Just returned from a very interesting CCP Workshop on Personnel Economics, where we found out about respect, CSR, trust, and a lot more, proving once again that we are most ruthless economic imperialists. Kolding can be a pitoresque place (fantastic for workshops & co!)-- especially when you literally see winter taking over-- though I still think I wouldn't have liked the alternative of "Aarhus University" starting as "Kolding University". Among the workshop highlights: some excellent informal chats with Eddie Lazear about the popcorn vs. domino effect of financial shock propagation and all things related (including a couple of captivating stories from his recent past in the US Government); and, obviously..., my very own presentation on pay for performance and wage patterns in Portugal, the prologue of a will-be-great paper on this important theme, joint with Miguel-- what were you thinking, that we only drank port in Portugal last summer? :-).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday night econlinks

  • I am very curious how big this can/will get. After all, a whole Nobel might be at stake (I confess: I never really liked Gore, on any dimension; I still think he is submediocre or worse; however, I thought/still think that some of the climate guys/gals who won within the IPCC were more than decent...). This is not so much about scepticism (of any kind/degree), but first and foremost about scientific honesty. Seemingly a very rare quality today.
  • The current world chess champ was in Romania some days ago, but nobody within the national mass media seems to have noticed. Of course not, they are all busy with one of the most pathetic presidential elections ever; they always manage to keep themselves busy with the least important things.
  • The battle of the IT giants takes every possible form. In case you're wondering whom I am putting my money on, here's something to help you; these guys seem to know what's important for tomorrow: a small step in that direction with a (preliminary version of) automatic captioning for YouTube .

  • Only reinforces one point Easterly (and a minority of others) has been stressing all the time; this is how development should be done: help them to help themselves.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Easterly on Randomized Evaluation

By far the best read of the current week (as yet, but looks incredibly difficult to surpass this):

Here’s an imagined dialogue between the two sides on Randomized Evaluation (RE) based on this book:

FOR: Amazing RE power lets us identify causal effect of project treatment on the treated.
AGAINST: Congrats on finding the effect on a few hundred people under particular circumstances, too bad it doesn’t apply anywhere else.
FOR: No problem, we can replicate RE to make sure effect applies elsewhere.
AGAINST: Like that’s going to happen. Since when is there any academic incentive to replicate already published results? And how do you ever know when you have enough replications of the right kind? You can’t EVER make a generic “X works” statement for any development intervention X. Why don’t you try some theory about why things work?
FOR: We are now moving in the direction of using RE to test theory about why people behave the way they do.
AGAINST: I think we might be converging on that one. But your advertising has not yet got the message, like the
JPAL ad on “best buys on the Millennium Development Goals.”
FOR: Well, at least it’s better than your crappy macro regressions that never resolve what causes what, and where even the correlations are suspect because of data mining.
AGAINST: OK, you drew some blood with that one. But you are not so holy on data mining either, because you can pick and choose after the research is finished whatever sub-samples give you results, and there is also publication bias that shows positive results but not zero results.
FOR: OK we admit we shouldn’t do that, and we should enter all REs into a registry including those with no results.
AGAINST: Good luck with that. By the way, even if do you show something “works,” is that enough to get it adopted by politicians and implemented by bureaucrats?
FOR: But voters will want to support politicians who do things that work based on rigorous evidence.
AGAINST: Now you seem naïve about voters as well as politicians. Please be clear: do RE-guided economists know something the local people do not know, or do they have different values on what is good for them? What about tacit knowledge that cannot be tested by RE? Why has RE hardly ever been used for policymaking in developed countries?
FOR: You can take as many potshots as you want, at the end we are producing solid evidence that convinces many people involved in aid.
AGAINST: Well, at least we agree on the on the much larger question of what is not respectable evidence, namely, most of what is currently relied on in development policy discussions. Compared to the evidence-free majority, what unites us is larger than what divides us.

Looks like Easterly's has very high chances to become the top blog among my econblogs (at least according to how often I dedicate entire blogposts just to cite his posts, e.g. here or here, or a WSJ article here). Not bad, not bad at all: I do have pretty high standards, as all of you should have noticed! :-).

PS. See also an earlier entry on the topic (featuring again some of the heavyweights in this realm): 4th bullet point.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


  • The way forward for art: private funding with the right incentives for donors/funders. I think this ought to work also for universities, including public European ones... which are notoriously bad at this task, as we all know (with the important caveat that, especially in these European universities, the persons in charge of alumni networks and the like should really be the brains and not the (sub)mediocrities-- which seems to be the default in a lot of such places, even beyond the obvious fact that these are typically people with more /a lot more spare time; perhaps they/we should understand/decide that this is too important a job to leave to those with time to "spare" on it...-- only the brains can attract other brains and...their money).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tokyo, Narisawa, Takemitsu: Arigato!

It happened almost two months ago (see last bullet point here), so I've thought it is about time I gave you some impressions about my Tokyo trip :-). Obviously I do not plan to get into what you can find described in detail online, e.g. the more than decent Tokyo-wiki source.

For starters, very briefly, some (incomplete, random, and likely very personal) general impressions about Tokyo. My good old friends Sae and Folkert gave me plenty of information and advice on what I must see, but unfortunately I did not eventually manage even half of that... For instance, places outside Tokyo, like Yokohama and Kamakura, are priorities for next time (though Kyoto is clearly my number 1 priority in what regards my next trip to Japan, will try to make that happen as soon as possible). I also had very little time, however, for Harujuku (but, just from what I did see, I have to say that I like Ginza as shopping area, and also simply as city area, much more) and I only saw Roppongi by evening/night time (restaurants in the area are lovely; the persistence of the many black American guys trying to get you in every (strip)club is quite annoying). Loved the Tsukiji fish market (though I arrived there pretty much after the main action was gone; I am not a morning person...), particularly eating very fresh sushi right in the middle of it (after queing ad infinitum: I guess I am not the only sushi lover). Very very unfortunately, I did not have enough time to look for and try this place called Daiwa sushi, allegedly the best sushi place in the world (see the third bullet point from here for that Guardian list), very close to the Tsukiji market as well. In any case, once you eat sushi and sashimi even in average places in Tokyo, you will never ever want to eat them outside Japan-- there is simply no comparison! To the other Japanese delicatesse: the "Kobe beef temple" in the middle of the electronic town (Akihabara) was fantastic; I could have basically eaten all that beef raw.

People in Tokyo are very stylish, in general. The style and very good taste are actually extending beyond personalia and are to be found everywhere; for instance, quite impressive is that the most unassuming, average restaurant/ cafe, will play Norah Jones, or Gershwin, or Mozart, or Takemitsu (of whom more below). I was negatively impressed however by how few Japanese speak English, and how bad they speak it when they speak it (just try to ask for directions to random people in the will not try a second time). They are also obsessively polite (which, very likely, you know already: what I am telling you is that they are even more polite than whatever you heard/imagined). The center is extremely crowded, at every hour (Amsterdam is Mickey Mouse compared to Tokyo, in that regard); I am still puzzled by the (seemingly stable...) equilibrium consisting of pedestrians and bicycles in full speed, sharing the very same sidewalk. Too humid and warm for my October mood, but I guess one can get used to it. The Japanese toilets are just the finest piece of technology ever put to basic needs use: I am actually very surprised that they did not get popular outside Japan; in Japan they are (still) en vogue (the very funny conference guide we had explained us that Japanese people might not want a dishwasher, but then every single one of them will have the latest technology toilet). The guided bus trip around Tokyo after the CAED conference, with a long stop at the legendary Senjoji temple in Asakusa, and particularly the great dinner & cruise on the Tokyo Bay (under a beautiful starry night) that finalized it all, were by far the best sightseeing part, from my perspective. Needless to say, the dinner ended-- as usually in Japan, I am being told-- with a very succesful karaoke (no, I did not participate in the singing part; you really wouldn't want me to participate) where, inter alia, I learnt that David Neumark has another competitive advantage next to that of the economist: he is the best interpreter of Deep Purple songs after Deep Purple themselves :-).

One of the absolute highlights was the lunch at Les Créations de Narisawa (many thanks to Valérie for the extremely inspired suggestion), a superb 1-star Michelin restaurant and the best restaurant of Asia (number 20 in the world) in 2009, according to San Pellegrino (this is by no means little accomplishment, particularly given the sea of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo alone! Actually, I conjecture that Narisawa's restaurant will receive the 3 Michelin stars in 5-6 years, the latest). There are simply no words to describe my impression about the food, so I will let Valérie's pictures speak instead (I am too lazy to put mine online for now, but this will happen... at some point-- I might then link back to this blogpost): the menu, first appetizer, second appetizer , third appetizer, first starter, second starter, main dish, dessert plate, dessert 1, dessert 2, dessert 3, Japanese white whine (instead, I tasted a fabulous Chateau Lestrille, Entre-deux-Mers, 2008: it is the first wine described here), I also had the best mint green tea in the world; unfortunately you will have to imagine the taste from looking at the pictures, at least until you manage to get there...). The service was beyond perfection. And, to top it all, no less than the famous chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa himself, came at the end of the lunch to greet and have an informal chat with us: now this is what I call caring for your customers; I solemnly declare myself the biggest fan of Narisawa-san! In a nutshell, this was by far the best lunch I've ever had.

I'll end with a few lines on one of my alltime favourite-things Japan, i.e. my favourite Japanese music composer, Toru Takemitsu. Unfortunately, although I planned it carefully before getting there, it turned out I could not save enough time to go and look in Tokyo for a bunch of Takemitsu works that I definitely definitely must have. So I'll probably end up buying them from Amazon instead. Anyway, here's just a flavour (with thanks to YouTube... and hoping they would not be removed from there any time soon) of some of my favourite Takemitsu pieces. Just ideal for starting the week, my very number 1 Takemitsu work, a 200% masterpiece: November Steps (Part 1; Part 2). And if you have even more time (you must!), listen also to my preferred Takemitsu soundtrack, Black Rain, and to one of the finest piano works out there, Rain Tree Sketch (which I actually heard being played in Tokyo, in one of the nice cafes from Ginza). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weekend econlinks

  • Sharing information in scientific research: yes/no/when. Interesting, but the analysis here is applicable only in the context of some sciences (arguably, not most). Moreover, sharing by means of co-authorship is discussed at best indirectly (if one is willing to expand on their repeated interaction game thread...). But my major "disagreement" has to do with their upshot: my conjecture is that know-how sharing is, ceteris paribus, over all disciplines, U-shaped in the degree of competition (and, since I also believe that, overall, very high competition dominates very low competition equilibria, you already know what my prior of the ideal is). Remains however an open empirical question for now.

  • We are what we ate: Tony Judt's culinary autobiography. Reminds me that (fortunately) I have only got to know top Indian restaurants in London (in general, Londonese Indian cuisine is probably, up to now, my favourite in the world; though surely there is a variance): a lot must have changed.

  • Cheaptalk on the election process of Econometric Society Fellows. Not extremely surprising or, for that matter, singular within Economics; after all, they almost forgot Hurwicz for the Nobel Prize..., for largely the same reason: most of the people who used to propose and lobby for him died at some point... I think Ely is right: focus on the young people-- at least that would be an attempt to solve the problem for the future... And yes, for potential candidates why wouldn't you just look to the Econometrica editions (Lones Smith's suggestion in the comments)...

  • Philip Greenspun on universities and economic growth; via Razvan, on Ad Astra. First impression: he writes much and he misunderstands a lot; particularly the Economics of it all (no, he is not qualified to understand what is clear and what is controversial in Clark's book, to give but one example). Also, doesn't seem to realize (not sure whether qualifying this as voluntary misrepresentation would be better or worse...) the difference between statistical and anectodal evidence. And, in general, he doesn't seem to have decided whether his target is to make people incensed at or interested in what he has to say. BUT, although he errs nearly everywhere else, I agree that a. much change is needed in the way teaching in most universities is done nowadays (see also the 3rd bullet point here on opinions on the value of college education & all that jazz); b. he has some very decent ideas there (others had/have them too) and c. these changes would not cost too much, with the benefit very likely to outweigh that cost. (Probably) Inadvertently, Greenspun is actually arguing for a "Japanese approach" (which the Japanese apply to both teaching and on-the-job training): give a rather broad ("customer-based", if you want some context) training, be able to/ focus on study/work in teams, always help the new/junior ones etc. etc. There is however a known problem with the (standard) Japanese perspective to (life-long) education that I am not sure Greenspun is aware of... Simply put, you really do not want to give no/wrong incentives at the very top of the ability distribution.

  • One of the two prediction markets on the 2009 Romanian Presidential Election is now closed and cashed-out (the other one is also "closed", but waiting for the final results on Dec 6th), as the official First Round results of that election are out. Several participants won (virtual) money (yours truly included), but the congratulations go to Dan, as he is the one who won the most (a fortune!). Which means that he is obviously going to pay for the (very good: e.g. the French on this list?) wine, with the occasion of our next meeting :-).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Wine Spectator's Wine of 2009

The highest rated in terms of points (99/100) of top 10 is number 8, a 2006 Flaccianello .

This was the wine of the year for 2008.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On U2's poverty of music trap

We will be lending African musicians to U2 to try to refurbish their sound to satisfy the urgent and growing needs for diversionary entertainment at a time of crisis in the global music and financial sectors.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekend econlinks

  • Blogossary. With some definitions completely redundant.

  • "If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot." And many other smart thoughts from Umberto Eco (Part 1, Part 2).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Songwriters as innovators

Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were two of the great experimental songwriters of the Golden Era. They aimed to create songs that were clear and universal. Their ability to do this improved throughout much of their careers, as their skill in using language to create simple and poignant images improved with experience, and their greatest achievements came in their 40s and 50s. During the 1960s, Bob Dylan and the team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney created a conceptual revolution in popular music. Their goal was to express their own ideas and emotions in novel ways. Their creativity declined with age, as increasing experience produced habits of thought that destroyed their ability to formulate radical new departures from existing practices, so their most innovative contributions appeared early in their careers.

This is the abstract of David Galenson's new paper on the two creativity patterns in songwriting. Extremely interesting, very convincingly argued, and at the same time a crash course into the musical biographies of Berlin, Porter, Dylan, Lennon and McCartney. See also a previous entry on Galenson's research.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Top Gear in Romania. Or: keep up with the Sandero!

If you're not going to die of laughter before that, you will when the Dacia Sandero appears (and overtakes them) :-). Oh, and this gem from Clarkson is to save for further reference: "If Simon Cowell came here [Mamaia, Romania], they'd put him on income support". Brilliant!
Thanks to George for the tip!

PS. Looking forward for the rest of the upload on YouTube. UPDATE, 17 nov: second and respectively, last part of the episode, with thanks to Bogdan. Watch them before they are removed from YouTube.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After this, what is left for us to write?

... so is said to have rhetorically wondered a deeply impressed Schubert, after witnessing a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet no. 14 in C sharp minor, Opus 131. And so must repeat yours truly after listening to his favourite Beethoven string quartet, flawlessly performed by the Takács Quartet, in the Lille Sal of the Aarhus Musikhuset-- a mere couple of hours ago.

The program contained three pieces, strategically chosen from the three distinct creativity periods of Beethoven, namely: the String Quartet no. 1 in F major, Op. 18, from the early period (1799); the String Quartet no. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74 (the "Harp"), from the middle period (1809); and the already mentioned Op. 131, a late Beethoven quartet (1826). I have known the Takács Quartet, for quite a while now, for their superlative recording of Béla Bartók's string quartets (I would not miss a Bartók concert with them for anything in the world!), and have found out much more recently (why?!) of their perfect, highly acclaimed, recording of Beethoven's three "Razumovsky" Quartets (Op. 59) plus the "Harp". Hence, on the one hand I had very high expectations; on the other hand, especially since the Op. 131 is my most treasured of all Beethoven's quartets, I nonetheless knew that I would not be easily impressed... But they did deliver beyond my expectations! I have found a Guardian review of their performance from just a week ago, in Norwich, where The Takács played the same pieces from tonight (in the Nov 8 performance); that to a great extent seems to summarize also my impressions. Else, indeed, there isn't much left that we could write; perhaps, as on-site reporting, only that their first violonist, Dusinberre, was so much out there, into the music, when playing the last movements of the Op. 131, that he inadvertently used his mouth as well a couple of times-- now that is what I would call true passion :-).

Finally, since I cannot leave you without any concrete 'musical feel' of all this, I have searched all of YouTube and here is my gift to you: firstly, I have found the First Movement of the Op 131, by the Takács Quartet themselves (and there is nothing piu espressivo than this rendition here, just as required by the great Ludwig van; I have to get hold of this late Beethoven quartets recording immediately!); secondly, I have managed to retrieve the whole Op 131, albeit interpreted by a different quartet (I personally strongly prefer the Takács, but these folks are not bad at all). Enjoy!

PS. Last time I saw a performance of a string quartet close to this level was in Amsterdam, some months ago: Schubert's String Quartet no. 15, in the interpretation of the Artemis Quartet (though, for a fair comparison, one should also take into account the differences between the two locations: Aarhus's Musikhuset is more than decent, but, in all honesty, not even close to replicating the unique acoustic features of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw).

Sunday econlinks

  • One of the reasons I just love reading Landsburg: he is acid and funny. Here's something that hopefully will open a longer exchange between him and Krugman: I really think Steve Landsburg is the proper counterpart to Paul Krugman in any debate (NB: Mankiw is great, but too serious and not engaging--understandably-- enough in the type of debate Krugman seems to love). And I tell you beforehand that I shall bet all my money on Landsburg :-). This for instance should be kept for posterity: "But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he’s been awarded a column at the New York Times)."

  • Who should go to college and who should pay for it: with many specialist opinions (via MR). Signalling seems to be dominating as point of view, though I myself think that university also has a genuine positive effect (I agree that matters most for the students in the top of the ability distribution). Else, all might be boiling down in the limit to competition between cats with fraudulent diplomas (via boingboing, via MR).

  • Kirman has been writing about these things for quite a while now (with high frequency recently), and almost always on such a revolted tone; these things are happening within Economics, for quite some years now, much of what he mentions is mainstream or closeby (think of social interactions and networks, herding behaviour in finance etc). Plus arguing for discarding these old and well known models (my belief is that most serious economists are very well aware of their limitations for each specific context), just for the sake of discarding them, is madness (who is ideologue here?...). I really don't think this is the way one should argue for different approaches. All my respect for Alan Kirman's scientific work, but with his (especially recent) comments he does seem to go/fall a long way in the direction of non-Economists misinterpreting Econ fundamentals (first bullet point), or, worse, of the several nonsense people writing now and then in The Guardian, e.g. here (6th bullet point) or here.

  • Tim Harford on the "Jamie Oliver Feed Me Beter" experiment in UK schools. Features recent econ research analysing effects of that experiment, by Michele Belot and Jonathan James; you can download a draft version here. The preliminary results suggest that good food has considerable positive effect on educational outcomes. Extrapolating: so stop telling me not to spend my money on Michelin-starred restaurants :-).

  • I think "wine critics/commentators" should move-- what they should have done a long time ago-- to identify / classify wine quality ranges, rather than preserve the current practice of grading on a 1 -100 scale. In any case, the last paragraph in this article is the one to retain.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Noncommutative Geometry, String Theory, and the EU vs. US academe

All this in a 2005 interview with Alain Connes, in Iran (initial link to the PDF of the interview via Tyler Cowen, on MR).

First, I think this is a very welcome, very open interview (several questions/comments are just great, congrats to the interviewers!) and it is extremely interesting to see the opinion of this great mathematician (inter alia, Fields Medalist in 1982) on a wide range of topics. The pros: I completely agree with Connes's view on the distinct (ir)relevance of String Theory for Mathematics and respectively, Physics. I also like his (humorous) detachment from being considered the guru of NCG (of which unfortunately I know currently epsilon, albeit once I was almost sure this is what I wanted to do...) and from the tendency of always looking for / looking up to the one mastermind, in general, in any (sub)discipline. So no more on those, read for yourselves in the transcript of the interview. What I don't quite agree with is summarized below:

  • resources (money) in research are not important (Connes's context has to do with the large interest/funding in Bio-Mathematics; he actually says "nothing", which I take as far stronger than "not important":-)): to the extent that it shapes incentives, I think it is actually very important. Intrinsic motivation is (the most) relevant, but it is not everything. The marginal (very able-- let us simplify) scientist can be moved into one direction or another by means of designing proper (or improper; but then again, who is to decide what is proper/improper in the context: I think we ought to take the view that lots of money is being thrown in one direction, because there is a lot of interest in that particular direction) extrinsic rewards. That being said, I personally (also) think there are a lot more interesting things in/to Maths than Biomaths :-).
  • the European academic system is better than the US one. Hmmm, this is an endless debate and, as always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Inter alia, it goes back to whether you need/want tenure or not in the academe (see for instance such a debate I've earlier linked to, especially within Economics) and to what goals you expect researchers to meet. And this also goes beyond one or another discipline, although it is perhaps interesting to discuss it indeed in the light of fundamental Mathematics, given its very abstract nature. Now, Connes believes that a system such as the French CNRS (which possibly is in the process of changing since 2005, when this interview took place) is perfect for mathematicians working on extremely complicated issues, that take years and years and years, since they are insulated from being subjected to those "n publications" requirement per year and in general from the eternal harassment of frequently showing how you compare to your peers, something specific to the top US institutions (Connes dismisses that the US places are ultimately inherently better in producing top scientists, because they get all the top European people-- not (entirely) true and to a great extent working eventually against his thesis, e.g. need to justify preferences of those very high European achievers for the US places, but let us not get also into that). The potential problem (sacrifice), as acknowledged by Connes, is the cost of such a practice, given that a lot of people might end up not producing anything and that the vast majority of them will be very far from getting Fields Medals or similar recognition among their peers... I say that the main problem is who bears that cost, namely the taxpayers here; and the public (not all of them having the same goals as Connes or as the specific, minority, group of the scientists, in general) is justified in knowing and assessing (whenever it so pleases) where its money is going and what precisely it pays for (if the funding is private, all this discussion has a completely different flavour-- remark that the US top academic places are privately funded, while all European examples Connes mentiones are public institutions; in my view, this again tips the balance towards the US academia). Related, but extremely surprising, Connes seems to be nostalgic after the Soviet Union academic system, but I think he deeply confuses things-- anyway, let us just say for the sake of this brief post that, fortunately, France was never quite like the Soviet Union, despite its tendency to lean extreme left, particularly within its academe... As for the claim that the Soviets would have been far ahead US and everybody else, if their system remained in place, I guess we'll never know (though I have opposite priors). And I think it is better we don't... So I am rather dissapointed that one of my idols in Mathematics has/had (this was '05) such, hmm: uninformed, views. But then again, I've always thought Economics (Not Politics. Politics is just a surface, not relevant in the long run, ultimately all boils down to Economics-- really!) is far less intuitive than Mathematics or Theoretical Physics :-).

I am sure one can go on and on, but I trust the main ideas are all outlined above (read also between the lines).

Friday, November 13, 2009

John Adams on concert coughing

So the loud cough, most likely completely unconscious, is a way of saying “I can’t handle this, folks. You all may be crowding round Mahler’s deathbed for one final intimate confession. You may be letting Debussy whisper opium secrets into your ear. Perhaps you like being ravished by Takemitsu’s lush penumbras. BUT I AM OUTTA HERE!"

Excellent!-- I don't think anyone could have written this better than Adams.

PS. Unfortunately, I think there are even more types of concerto coughers. For instance the person who just cannot stop coughing-- desperately wants to, but simply cannot-- somebody who should have stayed at home, or even better, in a hospital. Provided s/he does not die before, s/he is usually gone after the break...

Thursday, November 12, 2009


  • Endless Summers (via Mankiw). Supercilious he might well be, but some of us still find him absolutely fascinating-- I think I am (in the process of) understanding why :-). Earlier (first bullet point).

  • They cannot be blamed for defending/arguing what's in their best interest (click on the British flag in the upper right corner to get to the article in English, if you do not see it immediately through the link above); however, in my opinion, their general case is overstated: most of the translation services as hitherto understood are redundant. There is still a case (and a premium) for translation services from/to Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese & the like, but certainly not for European to European languages, and certainly not in countries from Scandinavia or Benelux...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vedrai vedrai...

An old, but eternal, musical masterpiece to start the week, with a well-preserved Luigi Tenco live performance video clip from the 60's. Lyrics.

Grazie, Elena-- it is indeed high time I was reminded of Tenco's superb voice and style.

PS. Luigi Tenco is yet another of my top five Italian cantautori (earlier, here and here).

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Weekend Econlinks

  • The Levitt vs. Heckman leitmotive (actually the rest of that Univ of Chicago Magazine article is more interesting; in general, I think people put too many resources into this sort of personalized academic fights). Earlier on the same topic (3rd bullet point). See also an essay on the economics-made-for-fun genre, kind of vague / unfocused, but some parts are well worth your time (such as the beginning summary of the books in this econ-made-for-fun area)

  • Best US cities for classical music, in '09. Worldwide, I would place London, Amsterdam and Vienna somewhere in top 5. Not sure about Tokyo yet, since I was for too little there (and still have to put my impressions on paper... well, blog).

Friday, November 06, 2009

The new Danish ranking of journals

Ridiculous, if you ask me (needless to state, this is a very personal opinion). Unfortunately, in Economics (you find that category under "Samfundsøkonomi" in the linked pdf), there will be many years till Denmark will catch up with the best places in the Netherlands, for instance (see here an Economics journal ranking of the Tinbergen Institute (TI) , which has its imperfections-- such as Journal of Finance placed in the 'AA' category... -- but it is way way better), in competitiveness, attitude in this context etc. Not to mention the top places in US or UK (NB: the non-existence/ non-marketing of an explicit journal ranking on the (web)sites of those departments does not mean the non-existence of a very strict, informal hierarchy -- decisive in hiring and, especially, promotion decisions--, in many ways similar in spirit to the one of the TI linked above!).

The simple test the folks who made up this hierarchy (there was and still is a lot of disagreement among them apparently, this solution seems to be a compromise solution) should(have) subject(ed) themselves to is the following: if you are in the process of deciding where to submit the best paper you ever produced as yet, i.e. something you are satisfied with and very proud of, would you submit it to Econometrica, AER, JPE, QJE, ReStud, or to any of the other places (yes, some extremely good, much better than others paired with them..., but just somewhat below the very top category), which are placed in the same category in this ranking (if I were them, I would ask this question to any potential candidate I would consider hiring in my Danish Econ department). That first hierarchy level (labeled "2" in the pdf) can/should be further split in at least 3 sublevels (even the general editors of those journals in question would all agree; I doubt they were asked when this ranking was made up...). I won't even touch on assessing the fact that the rest of the journals were all bunched together in a second hierarchical level (labeled "1" in the document). This is not about my being obsessed with rankings, this is about having an idea about scientific quality. And about proper incentives.

PS. The hilarious thing is that some would like to add even more journals that nobody reads/cites to these two categories.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Prediction markets for the upcoming Romanian Presidential election

I opened up two distinct markets (with the help of InklingMarkets-- hat tip to Al Roth, on Market Design), both active until November 21st (the first election round is on November 22nd, the eventual second one on December 6th) :

Sign up and trade!

PS1. Hope I didn't make any mistakes; I put these up in less than 5 minutes :-).

PS2. Although you might really not share this opinion, I 'conjecture' that, if the outcome is not clear in the first election round, the future President will eventually be the first round's runner-up. Wanna trade against that? See above :-).

Monday, November 02, 2009

This week

... I am in Amsterdam and The Hague, working with Coen on a couple of great, but demanding, revise & resubmits. Unfortunately, it does not look like I will have much time for any serious cultural immersion, unlike my usual spells in lovely Amsterdam & Holland, in general (for instance).

Long PS. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis has a very decent cantine. I would pay the extra 2 euro and upgrade the cantine at the Aarhus School of Business in a similar vein (I believe it is just matter of incentives-- otherwise our Danish cook seems extremely talented); maybe somebody with decision powers in this realm reads this post? :-). Which reminds me that in Spain and Portugal I have experienced the best university cantine food so far, counting here University of Alicante, Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Autonoma and Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, and University of Minho, in Braga. My bet is that neither the Netherlands, nor Denmark can ever catch up on that...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekend Econlinks

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mating, development aid, and the econometrics of it all

I recently helped one of my single male graduate students in his search for a spouse.

First, I suggested he conduct a randomized controlled trial of potential mates to identify the one with the best benefit/cost ratio. Unfortunately, all the women randomly selected for the study refused assignment to either the treatment or control groups, using language that does not usually enter academic discourse.

With the “gold standard” methods unavailable, I next recommended an econometric regression approach. He looked for data on a large sample of married women on various inputs (intelligence, beauty, education, family background, did they take a bath every day), as well as on output: marital happiness. Then he ran an econometric regression of output on inputs. Finally, he gathered data on available single women on all the characteristics in the econometric study. He made an out-of-sample prediction of predicted marital happiness. He visited the lucky woman who had the best predicted value in the entire singles sample, explained to her how he calculated her nuptial fitness, and suggested they get married. She called the police.

Continue reading this brief masterpiece by Bill Easterly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Timeless Dances (On Fado and Didge Fusion)

... performed by a fantastic crew of the Queensland Ballet, on their European Tour. François Klaus's choreography is pure genius work, while William Barton is a most fascinating didgeridu virtuoso and composer (not to mention that he also proved to possess great vocal skills and to play top guitar). Here's an excerpt-- the only one I have managed to find on YouTube-- apparently from the very premiere of the show a year ago in Australia, identical to what I saw a couple of hours ago at the Musikhuset in Aarhus; this is from the final part, arguably the best, of Klaus's Timeless Dances arrangement, carried out on an electric guitar-didgeridu fusion background. Enter Queensland Ballet & William Barton!

My other absolute highlight (naively attempting to further differentiate somehow: every part in the program was a highlight!) from tonight's ballet agenda was Klaus's perfectly choreographed and superbly executed pas de deux in Chant d'Amour; music-wise, a succession / combination of two songs from Madredeus's O Paraíso album (ironically, this album is thought to be the one that marks Madredeus's split with its fado roots; I would say that it is debatable to what extent each individual track still claims that heritage), "A Andorinha da Primavera" and respectively "Coisas Pequenas", interpreted by the one and only Teresa Salgueiro (earlier on Madredeus; more on Portugal & fado). Timeless indeed!

Sunday econlinks

  • An interesting debate in the latest issue of Capitalism and Society on the current status of Economics and other Social Sciences, worth reading especially for the two comments to the leading article on the theme. Unfortunately, Jon Elster, in his "Excessive Ambitions", otherwise a welcome (and relatively informed) outsider's critique, does not manage to rise up to his declared ambitions of debunking the status quo / portraying "the persistence in the economic profession and elsewhere of these useless or harmful models", and eventually falls easy prey to his commenters: Pierre-André Chiappori (who, very elegantly, but unmistakenly, tackles most of the points raised by Elster in his criticism of economic theory and testing its predictions) and respectively, David Hendry (who virtually destroys Elster's line of reasoning and conclusions on empirical modelling in Economics). To add up to that, beyond the many (surprising!) fallacies that Elster commits in his scientific criticism (not even half of them acknowledged, e.g. his sole reliance on third-party sources in the discussion of the criticism to the empirics is somewhat revealed, however the very selected sample of those sources --strategy common also to his earlier sections-- does not seem at all problematic to the author), what strikes me throughout his text is his often bringing up the lack of "humility" of economists (e.g., "The competence of economists may not be in question, but their humility is"), although in reading his piece I was rather intrigued by Elster's own absence of humility whatsoever in his strongly opinionated, though insufficiently argued, assessment... I was really hoping for something more serious.
  • Solving the public-goods free rider problem using neuronal measures of economic value. Looks super interesting!
  • "[D]oes conspicuous consumption fall and efficiency increase in a society in which income is conspicuous?" or some of the potentially positive implications (research-wise only...) of Norway's recent crazy move to make public all tax records of its (tax-paying) residents...
  • Even Robert Parker can make a total mess of himself when it comes to wine blind tasting (via cheaptalk). And a short review of a new wine book by somebody who really doesn't like Parker (thanks to Fred for the link).
  • "Wellicht komt er ooit een nieuw paradigma dat voor de economische wetenschap net zo revolutionair zal zijn als kwantummechanica is geweest voor de natuurkunde. Tot die tijd is het beter om te blijven schipperen met de kapstokken die we hebben in plaats van alles jassen op één grote hoop te gooien." door Wouter den Haan, op MeJudice
  • An older interview with the foremost cafeteria Keynesian (Part 1, Part 2). I only agree with about 50% of what he's saying here... And I think some are just too fast in dismissing Milton Friedman, but... on verra.
  • Norman Manea on Herta Muller's Literature Nobel. Though ultimately there isn't much in there about her Nobel..., which might actually be the whole idea of that post.
  • Brinkmann, Ehrman and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Very interesting, all news to me.
  • Is shouting the new spanking? Hopefully not.
  • I generally agree, though, for instance, Econophysicists seem to have a hard time both on the Economics and on the Physics academic/ publishing market. Not that I wonder much why that is the case, but others may...

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Renaissance in European Research...

The First Report of the European Research Area Board.

Now, overall this looks like a great step ahead and I would like to see it indeed as a commitment (by the ERAB, the Commission, the relevant decision makers). It is easy to note the pros, so I shall highlight briefly what I see as major cons therein. They [the ERA Board] do cite Schuman, "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity" (emphasis added), but some of their proposals/ intentions/ targets are anything but concrete/ focused/ rational. One also hopes that the list of "six broad areas in which [they] believe action must be taken" de facto starts with "the encouragement of excellence", on paper only item number 5... And that the gender affirmative action envisaged really means equality of opportunity and never gender choice prevailing over merit... And that the multi-disciplinarity so much talked about is supposed to arise naturally, not to be imposed a priori... I guess they still need that serious research appendix to the "New Renaissance".

Thursday, October 15, 2009


  • Eric Maskin on the financial crisis (Mankiw, Cheaptalk and MR link to this interview, among others). Maskin is one of the smartest persons alive, so this is mandatory-- a must read in particular for those who'd like to crucify all economic theorists :-). I would also link however to a very interesting blogpost by Harald Uhlig, on VoxEU (a summary of his recent NBER working paper): he really extends the Diamond and Dybvig (1983) bank run model that Maskin starts with, such that it incorporates the stylized facts specific to the current financial crisis. Uhlig also makes very clear that this is just one way to view things and in fact that insolvency rather than illiquidity might have been the main culprit: "It is possible that the appropriate perspective is one of insolvency rather than illiquidity, and future research will hopefully sort this out."

  • Of course Oliver Hart should have won this year's Nobel as well (and Bengt Holmstrom). I cannot but agree with Aghion here, as I made clear in my prediction for the Econ Nobel within the last 3 years... Returning to Elinor Ostrom, there are by now many reactions. Most of them seem to be as confused /skeptical as I was after the release of the results, e.g. Ely, Baliga, Levitt (I disagree with Levitt's "suspicion" that most young economists also did not hear about Williamson), to some extent even Cowen ("I was delighted to hear of Ostrom winning (which I had not expected) but frankly it makes the omission of Gordon Tullock all the more glaring" ) or Krugman ("I wasn’t familiar with Ostrom’s work"); nevertheless Economists who work /worked in public choice and related (the tragedy of the commons, in particular) seem delighted with the choice, e.g. Spence, Glaeser, Romer, Smith, Tabarrok, Gächter (the latter cited in this Science short article on the Econ Nobels). The conclusion of all this (once again) is that I really have to read Ostrom's main works sometime in the near future (meanwhile I also found out that apparently she's got at least one article in a mainstream Economics journal)-- and to accept that yes, to a great extent, we are all very ignorant.

"The journal submission process is a controversial and stressful part of academia. There are many dimensions of uncertainty, and bad decisions could greatly delay publication of important results and harm one's career. This paper provides new evidence that, on the whole, the advice supplied to young faculty members by veterans of academia is correct. Authors largely have an incentive to submit first to the best journals and then subsequently, wortk their way down a schedule of journals. The exceptions to this simple rule occur when authors are particularly impatient or risk-averse.

We also note, however, that the efficiency of the system may be improved by a system in which journals reduce time lags, perhaps through incentive-based rewards for faster reviewing by referees, and increase submission fees. This system reduces the impact of time-lags on impatient or risk averse authors and more efficiently rations submissions to journals- higher reward journals will get more submissions of high-quality papers and fewer submissions of low-quality papers. This also streamlines the publication process, shortening the time during which important results are sitting on a desk, waiting for publication. "

Monday, October 12, 2009

Half of a Nobel

Certainly Williamson was expected to win sooner or later (sooner rather than later), in fact I predicted him to be winning, yesterday (and a year ago, and two years ago...). But then together with Hart and Holmstrom.... Honestly, I have to say that I have never heard of Elinor Ostrom, before discussing whether I have read anything of what she's written. But perhaps it is high time I found out more about her work-- before I decide to call half of this prize a flop, just as the Literature and the Peace Nobels this year (what happened with these Nobel committees?!...)... Meanwhile congratulations to Oliver Williamson of course; this is a very deserved and, in fact, very delayed honour!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Econ prediction(s)

After the Nobel flops for Literature (Herta Müller is ok..., but the Eurocentrism of the Nobel Literature commitee remains obvious; e.g. how can you still keep out Philip Roth or Michael Ondaatje, that after having ignored all US & Canadian top writers for the last several decades?! ) and Peace (I guess nobody beats Greg Mankiw in describing that), let us hope for a vindication with the '09 Nobel Economics prize.

It's simple, I will be consistent :-), thus my bet for tomorrow is: Hart, Holmstrom and Williamson for their contribution to the theory of the firm. This despite that others/ more or less official odds would suggest otherwise (see for instance Thomson Reuters, Ladbrokes, Kellogg & Northwestern), and although my personal favourite is Dale Mortensen (for developing search theory, with Peter Diamond and Chris Pissarides). Of course you might know that I am part of Dale's LMDG group in Aarhus and for instance just returned from a great conference program he put together in Sandbjerg, but, bias aside :-), I cannot imagine search theory not being rewarded with the Nobel within the next couple of years.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My whereabouts

From tomorrow till Sunday I'll be attending the Conference on "Structural Models of the Labor Market and Policy Analysis" at Sandbjerg, inter alia meeting once again several friends/ co-authors/ mentors. Ex ante, the program looks great, notwithstanding my non-presenter role this time (unlike the analogous conference last November, in London). Here's more on the Sandbjerg Manor, a close-to-ideal conference location (some say this place is "too dark"... well, duh... we are in Denmark; moreover, I am from Transylvania: darkness is good for my kind).

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The connoisseur of prostitution

Likely no good economist, surely a bloody good writer. Gems:

3. "You lie to two people in your life; your partner and the police. Everyone else gets the truth."
2. "The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you’ve got to talk to them."
1. "The big difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less."

Hmm... he might still turn into an Economist :-).

Monday, October 05, 2009


  • The Nobel Ig prizes this year. My favourite is the Literature one: "Ireland's police service for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawo Jazdy — whose name in Polish means 'Driving License'". Almost as good as the Nigerian Literature Ig winners a while ago. At the same time, the Economics Ig for '09 is somewhat forced; the whole Icelandic population should have gotten it: as we know, they were all into banking until rather recently.

  • Writing from Schiphol, after almost 11 hours return flight from Tokyo. Detailed impressions in due time. Now boarding again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tallinn highlights. And the egoists.

  • Architecture-wise, the Old Town is a combination of Brasov+ Cluj + Sighisoara centres (Transylvanian cities), including a mirror image of the Taylor's Bastion from Cluj (despite my guide's insistence that Tallinn is the only city with a Bastion in its very centre). Much better preserved, though. In a nutshell, a most modern medieval town. Plus a seaside. Lovely, lovely (we wouldn't want it off the UNESCO World Heritage list, oh no)!

  • Free wireless everywhere in the city. No kidding. I think it was in a single spot in the Old Town where my Ipod could not trace any free network. Admirable!

  • Power to the youth: Estonian newspapers are being sold by kids; the Government minister who addressed the EALE '09 audience was in his early thirties (possibly reason why he apologised a zillion times for having to leave as soon as done with his talk...); a/the Central Bank governor (gave the shortest and smartest address I have ever heard from EALE organizers/hosts/sponsors... ) was in his early forties etc. Something other countries in Eastern Europe should learn from?...

  • Egoist was absolutely fantastic. And, well... egoistic... from all points of view (ex post non-egoistic complaints/regrets/remorses from real Swedes and Taiwanese were obviously ignored :-)...). Anyhow, the Foie Gras Escoffier was the second best I ever had, while the Estonian Elk Noisette paired with a 2006 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-de-Pape (which some believe to outrank even the legendary 2005 version!) was sheer perfection. A total bargain at that price!

PS. And yeah..., there've been already two weeks since I am back: had to fight off a stubborn Estonian flu acquired under the most unclear circumstances.

Monday, September 21, 2009


  • Here's Paul Graham's rule of thumb for recognizing (publishing) winners and losers: "When you see something that's taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn't have before, you're probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that's merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you're probably looking at a loser" . He's also got an entertaining piece on the cheeseburger of essay forms.

  • "The paradox is this: it's best to engage with your opponents' strongest arguments--but your view of what their strongest arguments are is not necessarily their view." This quote (valuable on its own) is from a must-read post of Gelman on (strategic) citation practices.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Klausenburg, anno 1865

WHEN you leave Szamos Ujvár, the road passes straight over a plain, with little or nothing to relieve the monotony. A Hungarian village or two, a nobleman's mansion with the surrounding farm-buildings,-that is all, until the tall spire and the various towers of Klausenburg rise before you. The town takes you by surprise, entering it from the north; the main street is broad, with many stately buildings in it, and the square with the Catholic church in the centre, seems to belong to a larger town than Klausenburg really is. Though it has but 25,000 inhabitants, which is less than the population of Kronstadt, its general appearance makes it seem the more considerable town of the two. The capital of the Barzenland is neat and compact, the houses are none of them high; and owing to its position among the hills, which gives it such enviable beauty, there is no possibility of broad streets and an open square in the centre of the town, as is the case in Klausenburg. Here there is plenty of room and to spare, and it would seem as if the Saxon founders-liking spacious dwellings, and needing them probably for their families and servants--had determined to make use of it.

All the old buildings are essentially German in their architecture and arrangements. The ironwork before the windows, the balconies, railings, the spouts for the water running from the gutters of the roof,-each bears its own unmistakable impress; the hand and skill of the German handicraftsman is everywhere to be recognized. Those first settlers were evidently well to do in the world,-comfortable citizens, who, if they did not care for luxury, valued at its full a good substantial dwelling, giving evidence that its possessor was also a man of substance.

The above is a fragment from Chapter XXVII of Charles Boner's "Transylvania. Its Products and Its People", published in London, in 1865. The whole book is available online, part of a very welcome research project at DXARTS/CARTAH, University of Washington-- which collects, inter alia, a bunch of other, old(er), books/translations about Romania et al, in digital format.