Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday night econlinks: Interviews edition

  • Interesting interview with urban and environmental economist Matthew Kahn on green cities, environmental Kuznets curves, demographics in major cities, policies to attract and retain a skilled population base etc. Here’s one of the parts I like most: “I'm an honest man. I think it's important to know what you don't know. When you know that you don't know something, the answer is to experiment! “ Valid beyond this context.

  • A chat with Greg Mankiw, Harvard professor, successful Economics blogger, former CEA head, and a total family guy.

  • December ’09 video interview with John Nash; inter alia briefly touching on inaccuracies in A Beautiful Mind , childhood, home encyclopedias, meeting his wife, asking refugee status in Europe, willingness to still do some academic work etc.

  • Interview with entrepreneur Peter Thiel, among other things cofounder of Paypal, and first investor in Facebook. Though confused about a few specific issues, his overall idea makes a lot of sense.

  • Short interview with Yoram Bauman, the one and only stand-up Economist, on the need for humor and cartoon textbooks in Economics. We love this quote: “I put my left hand on the small of her back, I put my right hand on the curve of her hip, I put my invisible hand on her thigh

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Atlanta and ASSA grand finale

Right, almost two months since my visit to Atlanta, hence high time to wrap up and conclude.

Briefly on Atlanta itself: ultimately not that appealing a city. In fact, probably the least interesting city I have visited in USA so far (caveat lector: I have deliberately avoided stuff a priori known to be dull), bar San Antonio, Texas (which might have changed since my trip there in '04, but I doubt it). It does have an attractive small city center though, and a couple of decent bars and restaurants. Oh, and not to forget, the Aquarium is definitely worth a visit (even if what they claim, ie. that they are the largest aquarium in the world, was true in 2005 at the time of their opening...), despite that the Beluga whales are/were? on holiday, and the whole place is a tad too commercial for my taste (much more so than the New York Aquarium, say, which is not that large or exciting, but looks definitely better organized, in particular lacking that nonsensical, pushy, overly-populistic, inside marketing). The "gentle giants", the whale sharks, are amazing, you could watch them for hours (did not have time for a dive with them, but that would have probably been the best thing to do in Atlanta) and so are a bunch of species I saw for the first time live, including the huge Japanese spider crabs etc. The one big regret: I did not have time to visit the CNN Center in Atlanta (on the other hand, I am glad I did not queue up for the Coca-Cola Museum).

Back to the Atlanta restaurant stage: the best experience by far was Top Flr, with amazingly low prices for that quality (e.g., an extremely tasty scallops dish, with citrus braised endive, ginger, lemon grass reduction, and horseradish celery salad, at 15 dollars; pair that with a nice Austrian Pinot Gris-- or, but they had run out of it at the time, a subtle French Viognier--, at less than 40 dollars per bottle), and a remarkable environment in general (note: the cab got lost on the way--allegedly, a max 7 min drive--, with Google Maps, and normal maps, and all technical devices in use; after about 30 minutes we realized the problem was very much the cab driver, not the location of Top Flr). Bacchanalia was also up there, quality-wise (the veal sweetbreads, with "braised local baby collard greens", was just out of this world), and service-wise (e.g., the sommelier had some super interesting tips to substitute wines we asked for, which they did not have; btw, what's up with that Viognier-- and nota bene, I did not say Condrieu-viognier; that is unfortunately missing anytime, anywhere-- absent from all Atlanta places that advertise to normally have it on the wine menu), but somehow below the expectations I had for such an exquisite place (I can only have extremely high expectations from a place supposed to be the best of its kind in Atlanta). Anyway, if you happen to be around, these two places are certainly worth checking out. Moreover, you might be able to find some top quality dishes in some absolutely unassuming places; that was a pleasant surprise.

Further highlights from the ASSA @ Atlanta:

  • Hal Varian's, on computer-intermediated transactions, and the history of technical innovation and implications in general, was by far the best keynote (the 2010 Richard T. Ely lecture) of the whole AEA conference. Varian knows how to bridge the academic and the more general audience sides better than anybody else; he is natural when it comes to joking, without forcing himself whatsoever; and he has always something very interesting to say. To keep to some of the funny things he mentioned (unfortunately could not yet trace slides/ talk summary anywhere online), one of them was the fading importance and influence of HiPPOs (Highly Paid Person Opinions) in IT and beyond; he also thought he coined himself the label "micromultinational", before he googled it and found many precedents; and he shared with us the conviction that 'if you torture the data enough, it will eventually give up everything' (now you know what Google is up to).
  • Robert Shiller gave this year's joint AEA/AFA talk: very provocative, and quite original, particularly his arguments for issuing GDP shares, or so-called "trills", which he had also written about a couple of days before, in the NYTimes (that idea is really not that crazy as it looks at first, trust me). The not so clear/bright? part: he also made repeated allusions to all previous and current "amateur economists", who have no clue about how the financial market works, although avoided being any more concrete; some macro/finance people in the large panel behind him were not smiling at all.
  • The very much awaited session on "New Directions in the Economic Analysis of Human Capital" was not as exciting as it announced itself: Gary Becker, the one who was supposed to chair it, was missing, while some discussants were either not there or did not say anything (since they shared all their comments with the authors before the session?!): organization, what can I say... But there were at least two very good presentations, one by Gabriella Conti (paper joint with Heckman and Urzua) on "Education and Health", and the other one by William Hubbard (paper joint with Becker and Murphy) on "The Market for College Graduates and the Worldwide Boom in Higher Education of Women". Plus, I have a great picture of Josh Angrist and Jim Heckman sharing one podium. That is a most rare occasion, I can tell you :-).
  • Finally, Avinash Dixit's talk at the Nobel Laureate Luncheon honoring Paul Krugman was very nice and as funny as one can imagine: there is probably nobody who could introduce and summarize better Krugman's work, including and emphasizing his pioneering (1978!) work on "The theory of Interstellar Trade"-- which Krugman later announced that it might finally be published in Economic Inquiry. Which is truly great news, since this would be then one of the two funniest papers ever published, in the entire history of Economics academe (the other one being the 1983 AER paper of Preston McAfee, "American Economic Growth and the Voyage of Columbus"-- download here a non-gated version; with thanks to Tor for the tip) . You should definitely read them both-- it will convince you that people do have a lot of fun, next to doing great research, in Economics. Since we're mentioning Krugman: here's a pretty well written, recent, bio article (cats included); and we couldn't do without his musical super fans, of course: e.g., listen to/see this or this.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday night econlinks: Submit the paper right now!

  • The Tilburg Univ "Econ Schools Ranking". It is indeed using a rather decent pool of journals (for period 2004-2008) and moreover, you can construct your own top by choosing subsets of those journals (such as top 5 only, if you wish). Not a bad idea.

  • A pity they decided to close before I managed to assess them... While I honestly hope Ferran Adrià will revisit this decision, I cannot help noticing that this simply paves the way for the would-be King of Restaurants: El Bulli is dead, long live Noma! I promise to tell you more about Noma in the first week of April.

  • (A noteworthy) LEAP forward at Harvard (via Al Roth, at Market Design). The sort of interesting academic initiatives that European universities would be wise to imitate (hope dies last)...

  • The sustainable, meat-eating, vegetarians. And, (in a funny way) related, a great "Hústorta" short movie, by a promising young director, Jakab-Benke Nándor (with thanks to Dan). By the way, this Toldi restaurant in Cluj Napoca, on Clinicilor 23, (tried for the first time with the occasion of my recent trip there) is indeed a place where they know how to prepare meat. In general. So if you want good meat, definitely a place to try. The problem is that there is not much else than meat there... Literally. And they could do so much more. The service and ambiance are pretty decent, though they could invest in more/better marketing (online included, for instance).

  • Time to put all these culinary-links-Chicago in order and save for future reference, before I get there (blame the EU Commission if I am late): Chicago's great culinary middle ground. Assuming I will not go every second day to Avec (which I've tried twice by now) and above (looking very much forward to).

  • Posner and Becker on consumer competence, in particular about whether any regulation concerning obesity is necessary. Or proof of the fact that Becker has a Nobel in Economics, while Posner only believes he should get one...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Indignation. Leila. Zigeunerweisen. Leila

For some reason I (once in a while) remember something Supachai Panichpakdi, then-WTO boss, said at a keynote speach in a Rotterdam conference celebrating 100 years since the birth of Jan Tinbergen (earlier on this blog, in Romanian): namely that we, then-PhD students in Economics, should stop reading [all sorts of books, papers etc.] and start writing immediately [papers, books, anything?], without wasting any further time (footnote here: -- which I do not know if Blogger can handle-- next to that, Dr. Panichpakdi, who also appeared to speak more than decent Dutch, had all sort of nice memories involving his PhD supervisor, Jan Tinbergen, and, my favourite part, he had plenty of anecdotes about the intense interactions between himself, Pascal Lamy, the-- ironically-- current WTO boss, then- EU Commissioner for Trade, and Robert Zoellick, current World Bank boss, then-US Trade Representative; Lamy said later that year that 'Panichpakdi talks too much', when I brought that up to him, in a "Young European Citizen Convention" videoconference, where we could ask him questions...). Now, the thing is that I am more and more convinced (despite similar advice from other, call them, "seniors") that Panichpakdi was dead wrong in that particular suggestion: there is simply too much written stuff around, and most of it is worthless (vox populi: crap); you don't need to be part of that. Au contraire, in order to make a(ny) difference (assuming you do not get significant utility from simply writing down stuff, that is, from the action of writing/typing per se...), you'd better take all the time in the world and read sufficiently... before you write anything. I mean, you're still in gain committing the error of too much reading (can one ever err there?), then that of too much writing, all else equal. Some caveats surely apply (some revolve around the slight alteration "live sufficiently", instead of "read sufficiently.. before you write anything"), but no more space for those here: I wrote too much already :-).

Anyway, what I actually wanted to bore you with is that I have recently returned from home, i.e. Cluj, Transylvania, Vampire Empire, which nowadays happens to be part of Romania (more), a country where in order to get a new, biometric, passport, you have to wait no less than 20 (twenty! and they stress: week)days. In the Netherlands or Denmark (or any other sane country) you get the same, biometric, passport in 5 (five) days. And there they also do not (implicitly or explicitly) ask if you agree to be fingerprinted because (as in my country, the default assumption is that) you, as in you-citizen, might believe there is some connection of fingerprinting/digital photography/anything involving a biometric passport to a peculiar 666 number, or some-- whatever-- religion, or to both. Pathetic. And still (what a child, ain't it?), I insist: I want to have my Romanian (biometric or not) passport. I am by now 99% sure that Marcus Messner's so perfectly displayed indignation (hopefully they get back to their senses in that Nobel Literature committee and give the next prize to Roth, rather than persisting in rewarding mediocrity) is simply a most natural feeling, with or without Olivia (or Bertrand Russell) in the background.

Maybe it is better to talk/write about what we love. So here she is once again, Leila: this time together with Sarasate and his Zigeunerweisen (earlier). More about Pablo de Sarasate's masterpiece (including an incredible 1904 recording of Sarasate himself playing it!). More on Leila's Zigeunerweisen. Fabulous!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

In Memoriam L.H. Chen

For those of us who met him, Long Hwa came across as the soft-spoken, thoughtful Taiwanese; curious, but skeptical, about all-things Western. He brought with him his Asian wisdom, and enriched everybody's horizon in a world where we care too much about details, and often ignore the essence. That doesn't mean he did not care about those details that, at times, sweeten our lives. Among other things, he taught some of us how to do proper dumplings-- operation where his two lovely teenage daughters showed us what comparative advantange in the dumpling-making art really means. (He also 'smuggled' a bottle of Taiwanese hard liquor in a top lounge/bar in Aarhus, just to prove to me, live, that their liquor is better than any European hard liquors; I still have the bottle, full-- I like that drink as much as I like palinka: it burns! :-) ). Next to being a perfect host in Aarhus several times, he was a great companion in several conferences and workshops attended together, among which memorable ones in Budapest, Oslo, Tallinn, Tokyo, and several places in Denmark.

Long Hwa wrote to me the following, after joining me and several colleagues to a dinner in a, as he called it, "burning-money restaurant", in Tallinn, Estonia, September last year:

Thank you for the burning-money restaurant. That is not a bad idea, to burn some money when we are alive. I mean that it is better than getting money in the underworld, when we pass away.

He always knew better.

I will greatly miss Long Hwa: the student, the teacher, the colleague, the Friend.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Albert Einstein Bizottság: Szerelem

I don't think it has occured to any of you that simulated maximum likelihood OX programs, which often take days to converge (given I do not--yet!-- have the parallel computing power I would love to possess...), run much faster if in the meantime one listens to Albert Einstein Committee's brilliant music. Without any doubt, this is the best ever Hungarian band (where I 200% agree with the master of all good Hungarian music, wisest Daniel); and-- as conjecture-- probably the best Eastern-Central European band of the 80's (this should be as clear as-- to switch areas for a second-- the best movie of the same time, same region, being the Polish film "Seksmisja"; unfortunately no time to go in that direction today). Had they sung also in English, they could have been as popular as, dare I say, the Beatles (ok, I said it), two decades earlier; in any case, a band with a similar fate (extremely popular among domestic intelligentsia, but without too much exposure outside, mainly because of the language barrier) , about the same period, but in Western Europe, is for instance the Dutch band Doe Maar. In Romania, the closest to A.E. Bizottság is probably Timpuri Noi (though their top work came out in mid/late 90's).

A subset of my favourite A.E. Bizottság pieces: "Szerelem" (perfect; if you make an effort to understand the lyrics, you will fully agree); "Kamikaze"; "Már megint ez a depresszió "; "Konyhagyeplő" ; "Putty Putty"; "Egy lány kéne nékem" (oh well, I see this one comes with a striptease session in the youtube clip; depending on your tastes/orientation that might be a plus or a minus :-)); finally (update) listen to/see this if you want the total fun part. You will enjoy all of it!

PS. Check out some other excellent/interesting Hungarian music I mentioned earlier on this blog: here, here, here, here, or here. Blame YouTube if clips are not available any longer (though, tip: you can still find them, if you search carefully, under different links).