Friday, February 27, 2009

McInerney's wine world

You probably know, even if you have never tasted them, that Lafite is synonymous with elegance, Mouton with power. Lafite is fragrant and ethereal, Mouton loud and fleshy. Lafite is Leonardo to Mouton's Michelangelo. If they made clothes, Lafite would be Armani and Mouton, Versace. "If Lafite was an artist, it would be Chagall", Eric Rothschild once told me. "If a musician--Mozart."

Jay McInerney, "Bacchus & Me"

Friday, February 20, 2009

London my love

My whereabouts: overlooking the Thames from the Royal Festival Hall. Rachmaninov, Mozart and Strauss tonight. Presented a paper a couple of hours ago, here. Very interesting workshop.

What is better than being in the academe? :-).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Econlinks for the weekend

  • It is a very important research topic, granted (and, my hunch has always been and continues to be that 'deliberate practice' explains most of the observed high achievements), but my feeling is that findings & methodology therein are so far overrated (and over-mediatized) and that much more research is needed to get a satisfying, not to say definitive, answer... One ought to welcome however the distinction between plain hard work throughout (the 99% perspiration...) and high productivity hours (the nap after lunch?...).

  • Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy with more words of wisdom: there's no stimulus free lunch. Murphy continues from his ideas put forward here. I guess the debate is really or mainly about the multiplier size; the fact that Becker and Murphy insist so much that it is much lower than the advocated 1.5 should get other economists paying more attention (including some European economists I know who also believe the effect of the multiplier might well be that large...)

  • "I think we economists love to speculate about heterodox theories when times are good and we feel free to discuss experimental alternatives to economic orthodoxy (and nobody is paying us much attention during good times anyway). But when the global economy is in free fall and everyone else seems ready to throw each and every Econ 101 principle out the window, we get desperate to save the core principles that lead to prosperity and development." Read more in Easterly's excellent piece on the economists' returning home.

  • Esther Duflo sometimes adventures in areas where she does not necessarily have a serious comparative advantange (see 3rd bullet point here for the area where one shouldn't start an argument with her...) I don't see how proper incentives (here disincentives...) can be given by imposing pay caps in the financial sector, what is, unfortunately, happening de facto now (at least if the respective financial institution receives governmental help). Philippon's point is well taken (and the co-authored research this is based on looks pretty sound), but he stops short from recommending any policy initiatives that would involve income ceilings, despite obtaining that financial guru's were paid too much. Au contraire, I think Posner and Becker ('at any level' is well worth bookmarking...) are the ones right in this context.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Broccoli, pornography, and Kant

Very interesting and well done Hoover Institute review by Mary Eberstadt, "Is Food the New Sex?", though my feeling is that Economics would have way better tools to address the questions raised here than Philosophy, Kantian categorical imperative notwithstanding...
Thanks to Fred for the link!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Unza Unza Time!

No matter what fans of the old Zabranjeno Pušenje think of their rather recent facelift, i.e. the Kusturica & No Smoking Orchestra, I simply love their music (inter alia, they created the soundtrack for "Crna macka, beli macor", one of my all time favourite movies). So here's "Unza unza time" (with an absolutely great youtube videoclip, à la Kusturica) for a perfect start of the week. All together now, accompanying Dr. Nele Karajlić :-)

In the beginning at the boring time
back in 1999
The man killed the line
between punishment and crime

On the planet Earth
there was no more fun
no sex no drugs no rock'n'roll
All music turned to a fashion show

White man had British pop
and black man had soul
No, not a drop of blood
'cause video killed the rock'n'roll

And God said "Oh my God!"
what's happened to the human being
What's happened to my lovely creatures
they all became a cold machine
No more love no more power
machine without gasoline
Wake up wake up crowd
wake up from your boring dream

There is lighting
there is thunder
What's up with you I wonder
Lift your shoulders
stamp your feet
produce the extra protein
I'm gonna hit you hit you hit you hit you...
hit you with my rythm stick
So let there be... light
let there be... sound
let there be a music divine
'Cause it's Unza Unza Unza Unza time...

PS. For whatever reason (you tell me why...), this song reminds me of the Hungarian band Quimby's "The Ballad of Jerry".

Sunday evening econlinks

  • Don't know what's going on with Posner, but this really is something I can only imagine someone trained in Economics write while drunk... I am referring obviously to his suggestion of regulating charitable giving abroad; this is not Economics anylonger... Caveat lector: Becker's post on the same theme, on the other hand, is very sound; I really doubt Becker would support Posner's suggestion above.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Blog Stimulus

And since everybody's concerned about the fiscal stimulus & co..., here's the likely-to-be-best proposal in that realm (via MR). And here's an absolutely great quote from it, to memorize over the weekend and save for future reference:

With sufficient momentum we can make sure the stimulus is not wasted on filling in freshly dug holes, fixing the environment or building bridges to nowhere - all things that the market is perfectly capable of doing by itself. Instead of Bridges to Nowhere, what this economy really needs is a serious infusion of Blogs about Nothing.
Yes. We. Can!

Chicago trio on the fiscal stimulus

This is so far the most informative discussion on the (in)famous fiscal stimulus I've happened onto: a recent, 1 hour long, panel discussion within the Myron Scholes Global Market Forums at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, having as panelists U. of Chicago professors John Huizinga, Kevin Murphy and Bob Lucas. My favourite is Kevin Murphy (and here I am in total agreement with Steven Levitt, see below for his blogpost and more details), though Huizinga and Lucas have also extremely interesting and pertinent points. Don't miss the questions-answers part in the end either, again particularly for Murphy's answers. Here's the video, and here are the PDF presentations of each of the speakers (to be used while listening to the respective speeches): Huizinga's, Murphy's, Lucas's.

Hat tips to Greg Mankiw and Steven Levitt.

Friday, February 06, 2009

On cats

while talking about animals seems easy, a thorough analysis on cats is a nightmare. let us see the dogs. stereotypes about dogs are more clear-cut: common sense conceptualize them as long standing markers of faithfullness, accuracy, and addiction to well known spaces. dogs bark when they have too, cats miaou when they want to. we could hardly conceptualize a cat, because all cats are linked to contexts, and yet so dreadfully out of them. it is difficult to categorize them either. we think about cats as agile creatures and lazy things at the same time. we find them attached (.pdf, .jpg, never .doc), yet mostly disconnected and independent. it is impossible to write about cats. apologies for this failure.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


  • Massively collaborative mathematics (via Terry Tao). I count myself an idealist when it comes to such ideas, just as the author of this post, and there are some well argumented points therein, but... my more recent economics background takes me back to earth. So here's one main reason (there are others, linked particularly to the nature of problem chosen to be solved by way of such "massive collaboration") why I think this will not work out (in Maths or any other science, for that matter, Econ included): the costs (particularly time and effort to follow such discussions, not to mention trusting the person-- if at all-- to monitor it all etc) would far outweigh the benefits. Unless the persons participating are far more efficient than the average (in time management & co) and, perhaps crucially, are not concerned with career building any longer... Somebody like Terry Tao perhaps, to keep it to Maths, though he does not seem overenthusiastic either :-).

  • Nature editorial on a "scientific responsibility index". I think some of these indices do not have to do so much with the aggregate, such as a country/nation dimension (for instance, it is in my opinion almost ridiculous to claim that researchers from/in a certain country ought to feel in any way tarnished by other co-national researchers'--could be from other fields, other times etc-- lack of ethics, and thus by an eventual 'country science ethics index'...), but otherwise the article is on the right track... Via Razvan, on Ad Astra.

  • George Soros, with an interesting (and financially very informative) FT article entitled "The game changer" (plus an account of how well his own financial operations fared). Obviously I do not agree with all his points, for instance one paragraph I do not fancy is the following: "As it is, both the uptick rule and allowing short-selling only when it is covered by borrowed stock are useful pragmatic measures that seem to work well without any clear-cut theoretical justification." In fact, I think it is precisely because we do not have clear-cut justifications and lent ourselves too much to "pragmatic" experimentation, of whatever kind, is why we ended up here. One new such 'pragmatic' rule is not necessary better than a previous such 'pragmatic' rule :-). Thanks to Paul for the link!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

This is a Great week

... and not only because 6 (six) of the emails I so far received within the last three days (out of a few dozen, true...) simply stated "Great!". One word, one line, nothing more, nothing less. We love it, we love it!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Schubert meets Piazzolla in Amsterdam

...or Schubert young+Piazzolla+Schubert old. All that yesterday evening at the Concertgebouw, in a superlative interpretation of the Artemis Quartet (see also here), joined by pianist Jacques Ammon. This time they've been even more impressive than almost 5 years ago, when I witnessed them giving a lesson of Schumann interpretation, in the very same place. Inter alia, Schubert's String Quartet No. 15 was flawless.
What better way to (re)start my Amsterdam journey?

Anyway, for those of you who did not make it to the concert yesterday..., here's something to give you a feeling of (some of) these people's potential (could not find online, very unfortunately, the pieces they played yesterday): check out cellist Eckart Runge (who also gave plenty of interesting/funny explanations on the quartet's long lasting relationship with Piazzolla's music, and on Piazzolla's biography and birth of tango nuevo, in yesterday's concert) and pianist Jacques Ammon with superb parts of a very interesting "celloproject". Enjoy!

PS. By the way, haven't seen somebody interpreting Astor Piazzolla's pieces with so much passion as the Artemis Quartet since Yo-Yo Ma and Nestor Marconi's rendition of Libertango.