## Sunday, October 31, 2010

### White House Fall Garden

The White House had a fall harvest of their garden recently.  Obamafoodorama had posts, as did the White House blog:
Armed with large baskets and wheelbarrows, they scoured the garden for peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce and other fall vegetables. The First Lady joined them, rolling up her sleeves, to dig up enormous sweet potatoes, including a near record-breaking four pounder, and to pick deep purple egg plants.  The children and the First Lady also admired the two pumpkins growing in the garden – just in time for Halloween.
The pictures I've seen look really good. I would nitpick that peppers and tomatoes aren't fall vegetables, what the writer should have said is they were harvesting the final round of tomatoes and peppers and the first round of broccoli and lettuce. I'd also note they're claiming a total of 1600 pounds of food over 2 years.  Last year they claimed 740 pounds, so this year's was 860, which doesn't represent much of an increase, considering the garden was enlarged and they got it planted timely this year.  Of course, the mixture of vegetables may have changed, and they may well have been more systematic on record keeping this year.

Anyhow, they deserve credit, except I haven't seen any evidence the kids are doing any of the work. Unfortunately, the Obamas can't have it both ways: preserve their kids' privacy and yet have them serve as inspirational models for the nation.

### The Mind-Body Split

"Obese teens may be lacking in brain size, not willpower"
The headline writer and the researcher miss the possibility that "willpower" resides in the smaller size of the region of the brain the article discusses.  In other words, the theory could be: the obese lack the willpower neurons.

### No Guts, No Glory

I'm going to predict that the Republicans take 50 seats in the Senate, and end up flipping a Senator (Nelson or Lieberman) to take control. In that I agree with the Oakton High School in the Post's contest to pick the results of the election.  I'm picking, not with logic or my gut preference, but just because that would make for the most interesting political scene over the next few months.

## Saturday, October 30, 2010

### Dirty Campaign, Not Up to the Standards of Our Forefathers

Via Cliopatria, here's a video which shows how far we have declined.

## Friday, October 29, 2010

### A Harvard Professor Misses the Point

Professor Mankiw of Harvard wrote a while back about the marginal tax rate he faces and its impact on his decisions on how to allocate his time.  Now he's linked to an article about Keith Richards, who seems to have been a famous rock singer back in the day (my familiarity ends with Elvis) who claims his group moves from country to country in order to minimize their taxes.  Ezra Klein comments on it here.

It seems to me neither Mankiw's original piece nor this example is on point. The classical theory is that the rich, faced with high marginal tax rates, will stop working so hard thereby decreasing the total wealth of the economy.

But in the case of Mr. Richards, there seems no indication that he and his group reduced their output of songs nor were they deterred by the confiscatory British tax rates back in the 1960's.  At most, they've expended effort to travel to take advantage of the lowest available rates.  That might be an argument for standardizing tax rates from nation to nation.

In the case of Mr. Mankiw, he seemed to say he was being dissuaded from giving more paid speeches, presumably spending his time on the research and teaching for which he's receiving a salary from Harvard.

I'd think the high tax rates might have more impact on people who are choosing their occupations--high tax rates might discourage choosing hedge fund operation and encourage teaching math in high school.  That's not a bad trade, IMHO. Or, as it did in the case of Britain in the 1960's and 70's, it could change the location in which work is pursued.  For the minority of people who really find their satisfaction in life from their work, certainly including Prof. Mankiw and Mr. Richards, I remain unconvinced their output is being much reduced by the disincentive of high tax rates.

## Thursday, October 28, 2010

### This Is Sick

Assuming the post is correct, because the crime rate has been failing since the Clinton administration (or thereabouts--no causal relationship implied but Dems are happy to take credit) the supply of prisoners for private prisons is down.  So what should be done to renew the supply: crack down on illegal immigration, as in the Arizona law, which seems to have been pushed by the private prison lobby.

## Wednesday, October 27, 2010

### 52 Dems in Senate?

That seems to be the current projection.  Of course, if the Republicans could persuade Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to caucus with them, perhaps by giving Nelson the chair of Senate Ag, they could drop the number to 50/50. Then it just takes one upset in the last week, or one unexpected death among the Dems, to lose control of the Senate.

(Did I say I was feeling down today--switching to a new computer is depressing.)

### Change of Address and Government Gab

The Government Gab blog has a post about changing one's address, which includes this sentence:
"The good news is that you can find all the government address change contact information you’ll ever need on USA.gov."
Unfortunately, it's not true.  The linked page has the links for USPS, IRS, and SSA, but nothing for FSA, Treasury, TSP, VA, Extension, Education, etc. etc.  Granted, for all the value the USA.gov page provides, you can achie

## Tuesday, October 26, 2010

### My Mother Always Said: Drink Your Milk

John Phipps quotes from research showing that milk was the secret weapon of the barbarians who sacked Rome (my distant cousins, I believe).

Ozzy Osbourne's genome.  (Not that a geezer like me knows who he is, other than one of the weirdoes popular culture threw up after my youth.)

## Monday, October 25, 2010

### Pigsford, Keepseagle, and BP Oil Spill

I'm late in commenting on the resolution of the Keepseagle lawsuit (which roughly follows the Pigsford lawsuit, but with Native Americans as the aggrieved party). An agreement was signed last week.

I haven't followed it in enough detail to know the answers on the issues of class action and funding.
• if I recall,  for Pigsford, the initial lawsuit didn't pass the threshold to achieve class action status.  If I remember, Congress had to pass legislation allowing the suit to be treated as a class action. Apparently Keepseagle didn't have that problem.
• also my memory says there was some reason the Pigsford settlements (the first one) had to be funded by Congress instead of using the existing Department of Justice fund. The Keepseagle ageement is using the DOJ fund, which means claimants won't have to depend on Congress to act.
The Post had a piece on the Keepseagle complainants.  No one in my position can talk about discrimination.  I did note, however, one of the complainants couldn't get a farm loan at 4 percent from FSA but was able to get an 8 percent loan from a bank.  This ties to something I may have written before: the original intent of the farm loan program was to help those for whom help wasn't available through normal commercial channels.  That is, if the local banker would make you a loan, then you should go there and not to the government.  Whether or not that theory is still in effect I don't know.  And it's quite possible it might be the policy on paper, but the reality is the well-connected are able to get FSA loans regardless.  And the situation may well vary from county to county and state to state.

### Some Academics Are Not Sensible

See this review from Treehugger of the latest vertical farming missive. Just because someone has a PhD doesn't mean they have common sense.

## Sunday, October 24, 2010

### FSA and the Amish

I was on a task force with the CED of Lancaster County some 35+ years ago.  At that time she didn't do much business with the Amish farmers, who were mostly dairy farmers and didn't believe in participating in government programs.  Thus it surprised me to read this post on the FSA blog, describing the outreach of the FSA farmer loan program in Cerro Gordo county, Iowa to the Amish farmers there.  I'm not clear whether the difference between a loan program and a production adjustment program makes a difference in acceptability, or whether it's just the passage of time which has changed their attitude.

### More Tolerance for Promiscuity Today?

That's the claim of Prof. Hanson of GMU:
" Norms and practices have clearly moved in the direction of increased tolerance for promiscuity over the last century, though of course they aren’t remotely near an extreme free love scenario."

I'm not sure what country and class the good professor has in mind, but he may be misled by popular history.  For example, my understanding is the British upper classes, as represented say by the Victorians (think of Churchill's parents), were very promiscuous; once you had an heir and a spare in the bank, wives were home free whereas the husbands were always free.

Elsewhere prostitution was more prominent in urban areas in the 19th and first half of the 20th century.  And notoriously, one-third or more of the first children of the Puritans of New England were born "prematurely".

## Saturday, October 23, 2010

### Old News--Dems Get No Love for Farm Bill

That's in a recent Farm Policy--the idea was that the Dems would pass a farm bill which would please farmers, thus enabling blue dog Democrats to be reelected in 2010. But current polls show many of the Democratic representatives on House Ag to be in trouble, or walking dead.  What will happen on House Ag as the Republicans take control and the Tea Partiers talk about cutting government? Will the backscratching between farmers supporting food stamps and urban reps supporting farm programs continue, or will the coalition dissolve into short-sighted turf protection.  I don't like the idea of the Dems losing the majority, but it at least promises to make life interesting.

## Friday, October 22, 2010

### Work for FSA--Michael Roberts Predicts Disaster

Roberts has a take on the corn situation, and observes it's likely the good weather we've had in the Corn Belt the last 15 years won't hold.  That means more disaster work for FSA.

## Thursday, October 21, 2010

### Those DAmn FSA Bureaucrats Force Money Into My Pocket

That's the position of a Republican candidate for Congress in Indiana. Even if it were true, which it's not, there's always the "conscience fund" at the Treasury, which accepts donations.

### IRS, FSA , and Adjusted Gross II

Still dealing with PC problems, but I need to get back to this subject. Here's the Iowa State's pdf paper
and a paragraph from it:
In the fall of 2010, FSA offices received a list of people who the IRS claimed did not send in their CCC 927 forms to Fresno. Those farmers then began receiving official notices of the delinquency in the mail. It is believed that the problem involves the unfamiliarity of the IRS with the CCC forms. The IRS has been notified of the issue and is being further advised as to the nature of Form CCC 927 and how it is to be processed.
In my hurried reading earlier, I was confused by this.   Rereading and reading between the lines here's what I understand:
• some farmers participating in the program sent their CCC-927 forms, authorizing IRS to tell FSA whether their AGI was above the limit, to IRS in Fresno
• since this was the first time for the process, some IRS people in Fresno didn't know what the forms were and what to do with them (probably particularly in the case of misaddressed forms)
• some farmers who were supposed to send in their forms didn't
• FSA presumably gave IRS a list of tax ID's of program participants who should have supplied CCC-927's.
• IRS matched the list from FSA against their list of CCC-927's received.  They gave FSA a list of ID's for which they hadn't recorded a CCC-927, either because it got lost, was misprocessed, or was never sent.
• FSA broke the list down by county and sent it out.  (Maybe I missed it, but I would have expected a PL notice to have gone out as well. So for this and the next steps, I'm relying on Iowa State.)
• The FSA county offices notified their program participants that no CCC-927 was recorded, meaning eligibility for payments was in question.
That's as far as I'd go without seeing FSA procedure.  These sorts of matching efforts between bureaucracies are difficult to work through. If the producer knows she mailed the form, she's going to be mad, and scared about maybe losing her payments, or at least going through a lot of hassle.  If he didn't mail the form, he's maybe going to lie and say he did, because who's to know.  Either way the poor person at the counter in the county office is going to take some heat.  Eventually, after some time, the systems will get worked out and expectations established, but not this fall.

## Wednesday, October 20, 2010

They're planning to push a $250 payment to seniors to make up for the absence of a COLA for social security (and, I'd assume, Civil Service retirees). I understand the politics, but it's not right. If the COLA formula is right, you adhere to it, regardless of the answer it gives you. If it's wrong, you fix it. If you want retirees always to get a little boost, make the formula more complicated (I love complications) and take it from prior or future years. But the total disbursed shouldn't be subject to political motives. ### Tax Cuts and the Stimulus An article this week on the$100+ billion dollar Obama tax cut, which no one ever heard of.  I regard myself as well-informed, and I may have been vaguely aware of the cut back when it was passed, but it soon slipped my mind.  As it happens, the stimulus package included the cut.  It seems as if it's part of the packaging problem Obama has had. He loses on two counts:
• because the tax cut was included in a bigger legislative package, it didn't and doesn't get the publicity it would ordinarily rate
• because people equate "stimulus" with "spending", Obama's seen as a bigger spender than he should be.  That's given the ordinary usage of American politics, which says spending is only when the government writes the check, not when tax breaks are given out.

## Tuesday, October 19, 2010

### Resume Speed and Mayor Fenty

We're back home, although still with PC problems, so there will be a slow resumption of blogging.  One thing I noted in the Post was Mayor Fenty's last hurrah, or at least his last opening/reopening of a DC library.  I was sort of casually aware he'd been active in the area, but the Post piece gave him lots of credit, both for facilities and for his support of the libraries.  The best bit of news in the piece was the fact that circulation of books etc. from the libraries is up 125 percent.  As Mrs. McNamara and assorted first ladies have said, reading is fundamental.

## Sunday, October 17, 2010

### IRS, FSA, and Adjusted Gross Income

Some problems in the process, apparently.

[Updated: Rereading the post at the link, I'm confused, and I'm losing faith in the underlying article. Will try to return to the subject soon.]

## Wednesday, October 13, 2010

### Get Coffee from Your Local Bureaucracy

Megan McArdle views Starbucks as a model bureaucracy.

### Slow Posting

Between computer problems and travel over the weekend, blogging is apt to be light.

## Tuesday, October 12, 2010

### The Cost of Farm Programs

Is down and likely will continue down, given last Friday's crop report (cutting corn production and carryover, with cotton still at a buck).  See this graph (average of about $12 billion for the last four years). Cato back in 2002 predicted the 2002 farm bill would cost at least$170 billion over 10 years.  So much for predicting the future. (Which isn't to say that the various programs can't be challenged and shouldn't be reformed or dropped, just that foreseeing the future is difficult.

### Prognostications of the Future

Kagan and Kristol foresaw the future in a book published 10 years ago. Via Tom Ricks The Best Defense, here's a look back.

[Needless to say, they were about 95 percent wrong, and totally missed bin Laden.  But then, no good liberal would ever pay attention to any book which got the future right--what would be the fun in that.]

## Monday, October 11, 2010

### Where's the NAEP for Government?

NAEP stands for National Assessment of Educational Progress.  It's a set of tests to see what students know and can do in different fields; thus, it's indirectly an assessment of schools, which is the way it's mostly used.

Assessing teachers is hard.  We've all had good teachers and bad teachers, and some of the teachers who were good for us maybe weren't so good for other students in the class.  And maybe some of what we learned wasn't really what our parents or the local community wanted us to learn, and thought they were paying the teachers to learn.

So is assessing government bureaucracy hard.  Compared to education, there's probably even more disagreement over the value of various programs.  The GPRA of 1993 was an initial attempt to try to assess performance. I'm dubious of its value, but now Sen. Lieberman and others are trying to revise and update it. I'm still dubious.  To make this real, there should be an administration strategic plan and a Congressional strategic plan. Obviously what Obama wants the EPA to do is different than what Sen. McConnell et. al. want the EPA to do.  If the EPA does a plan that's the lowest common denominator of the two, it won't say much.  But even then, if Obama and McConnell were paying attention to the strategic plan, that would be a big improvement.  I suspect the reality is neither will pay much attention to it, meaning it's mostly an exercise in bureaucratic paper creation and shuffling.

### Government Is Good

That's the title of an interesting website, not a blog, of a professor at Mount Holyoke College.  He has a bunch of articles arguing various points.

## Sunday, October 10, 2010

### Another Dairy Farmer Goes Out

In central New York. Their numbers keep dwindling.

Greg Mankiw has a column in the NYTimes on his marginal tax rate, as it stands, and if the Bush tax cuts for the over $250K bracket aren't extended. He makes a fairly convincing case that increasing his marginal tax rate would decrease his incentive for added production. Apparently, in his case, he'd be less apt to accept additional speaking engagements. But I've some questions: when he's on the road speaking, what is it he's not doing? • Presumably he's not at Harvard mentoring his graduate students or teaching his undergrads. (Maybe he will have fewer guest lecturers in Econ 101 and more of the real Mankiw?) Maybe he cuts his office hours? • Or maybe he's not doing economic research, writing the next great paper which is going to win him a Nobel prize? • Or maybe he's not home with his family, investing in their social capital and his happiness? (Granted, none of the activities he's not doing would show up in the GDP, but Professor Mankiw is still a sentient human being and he's probably contributing to the good of the society wherever he is and whatever he's doing. On a broader scale, assuming we need the money for the government, isn't the issue whether it's better to reduce the incentives for someone such as Professor Mankiw, or for the struggling graduate student or the assistant professor without tenure? To some extent it would seem increasing the rates on higher levels of income is age-biased; it is more likely to hit the older, better established person. I'd assume, just as the most jobs are created by start-up businesses, most ideas are created by the young. That would lead me to support increasing the rates on the high brackets, if that's the only choice I'm given. ## Saturday, October 09, 2010 ### The Great American Tradition: Hypocrisy So thinks Kevin Drum, who argues everyone wants to cut government spending, except on the things they like. I agree. ### Externalities: Not Costs But Benefits The economists define an externality as something which isn't captured in the price of the good or service. I usually notice externalities as costs: the pollution which is a by-product of the internal combustion engine, for example. But there can also be benefits. In the case of BT corn (corn genetically modified to produce a natural toxin which kills corn borers), farmers who buy and use BT corn seed benefit their neighbors who don't. Turns out it's like vaccinations--vaccinate enough susceptible people in a group, and the unvaccinated benefit because the disease can't establish itself. ## Friday, October 08, 2010 ### Cap Gemini and USDA GSA gave Cap Gemini a 7-year blanket purchase agreement for services for USDA, including FSA's MIDAS. Sometime 35 years ago or so, CAP Gemini did work for ASCS. At that time the idea was to get a view of the critical data ASCS managers needed and give it to them timely. My impression from a friend who was trying to get work achieved was that management said something like: "data, what data? WE don't need no stinking data. Go away and don't bother us." ### FSA and Crop Insurance I can't resist stealing this from Farm Policy: " Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy is pushing wireless records, GPS mapping technologies and smarter business practices to adapt. “Agent commissions ballooned 35 percent between 2005-2008, thanks in part to the run up in commodity prices and a national shift toward revenue insurance policies, Murphy says. But given the budget constraints in the next farm bill, ‘Congress is not going to stand for paying$4 billion a year in administrative and overhead expenses,’ he adds. ‘That’s twice what the Farm Service Agency (FSA) spends to administer its programs. They don’t want it to happen again.’
Murphy stresses the FSA isn’t seeking to replace the private crop insurance delivery system, but he says ‘other people in government’ may look at it when farm bill discussions begin in earnest. ‘We need to show we’re efficient and we’re lean,’ he tells agents.”
One of the final bitter lessons of my career was driving my employees and KC programmers to try to deliver CAT insurance efficiently, only to find our best efforts were ignored.  What Mr. Murphy seems to be saying is a government bureaucracy is more efficient than private industry.  Imagine that!

(To be fair, "private crop insurance" isn't a real private industry, but I'll take any crumb of comfort I can find.)

### Most Surprising Sentence Today

From a description of a visit to MIT (yes, that's Massachusetts Institute of Technology): "During the conversation, I asked the MBA students if they knew where the library was and received many blank stares

## Thursday, October 07, 2010

### Get Serious

Pushing their Young Guns book on The Newshour last night, the first two areas Rep. Cantor and his sidekick Kevin McCarthy mention to cut are Amtrak, and compensated time for union representation for federal employees.

### Best and Worst of America

Side by side in today's Washington Post.  First its coverage of the Supreme Court hearing of the Rev. Phelps demonstration near the funeral of a soldier.  Second an article on the death of a food cart vendor in DC, who over 20 or so years developed an extensive network of friends among the people who bought from him.

Why the "best and worst"?  The activities of Rev. Phelps are disgusting and disgraceful.  They also, IMHO, should be legal if I understand the situation correctly, i.e., that while close to the funeral, the demonstrators weren't at the funeral.  Meanwhile, Carlos Guardado was making friends on K street, a site not known for its public-spirited and outgoing denizens.  Starting as an illegal immigrant, he became legal.  As a book by Harry Golden once said: "Only in America".  (Golden coined the "Vertical Negro Rule" and inspired Calvin Trillin to coin the Harry Golden rule:  "in present-day America it's very difficult, when commenting on events of the day, to invent something so bizarre that it might not actually come to pass while your piece is still on the presses."

## Wednesday, October 06, 2010

### Damn Right I Do

Prefer to read negative stories about younger people, as this study says.  Of course, I prefer to read negative stories about evil people, Republicans, the rich... (but I repeat myself).

### Court Strategies: Libs Are Hypocrites

Ezra Klein links to a Slate article on how the conservatives are manipulating things on the Supreme Court to get their preferred result.It sounds bad, but with my little nose I smell hypocrisy.  I recall reading in the past  articles, first on Thurgood Marshall and then on Justice Ginsburg, the theme of which was the craftsmanship and legal tactics involved in selecting the right cases, and making the right arguments, to lay the ground for overturning segregation and establishing women's rights.  So it seems to me what Chief Roberts and his fellow conservatives are doing is much the same, using sharp tactics to reach their strategic goal.  The difference is that liberals liked the goals of reversing Plessy v. Ferguson, but don't like the goal of reversing Miranda, or Roe v. Wade.

## Tuesday, October 05, 2010

### Waste: The Price You Pay for Choice

Waste, as in wasted food, is a subject reaching the news.  See this Treehugger post

I have to believe that more waste occurs in the food distribution channels, including restaurants, than in the kitchens of America.

In the spirit of Warren Buffett's education reform idea (fix the system by assigning pupils entirely at random, after banning all private schools and home schooling), my suggestion to avoid food waste:

When shopping for vegetables and fruit in the store, always choose the oldest and ugliest available. When ordering in the restaurant, always order the least popular entree.

Don't want to follow my choice rules? That's because they eliminate choice, eliminate freedom. Choice necessarily involves waste.

### Cultural/Societal Differences Are Fascinating

China doesn't have a navy. Via Tom Ricks at Best Defense, a very interesting article on 10 myths about the (non-existent Chinese navy).  It reminds me, early in the Revolution the army or militia had some ships.  Matter of fact, the Army still has ships or boats, or something that floats.  (I think that's right--I remember being on guard duty at Ft. Belvoir and they had something nautical.)

## Monday, October 04, 2010

### Mankiw's Error of Perception

Greg Mankiw, Harvard economics prof, found The Social Network to be an enjoyable movie, but thought it unfairly portrayed Harvard undergrads as snobs, instead of the likable types he encounters. I hate  love to snark at Harvard, but there may not be a conflict. here: Harvard undergrads are so capable they can appear snobbish to the world outside and likable to those in authority over them, like a professor.

### Black and Yglesias Are Wrong on McGovern

Matt Yglesias links to an a Jane Black piece from yesterday, implying George McGovern's chairing of a nutrition committee in 1977 which dissed red meat was a reason he lost his Senate seat in 1980.

This is a piece of wisdom from foodie movement literature--off hand I can't remember whether it was in Pollan or another writer.  Unfortunately, I believe it's wrong.
• I doubt the cattlemen ever were real strong supporters of McGovern's.  The wheat growers, maybe, because he supported farm programs, but not cattlemen.
• Searching the NY Times archive finds articles discussing the election outlook but none mentioning nutrition/red meat as an issue.
• McGovern had won re-election in 1974 by 53 percent, so he wasn't exactly strongly entrenched.
• His opponent, James Abdnor, was a four-term congressman so had name recognition across South Dakota.
• NCPAC opposed McGovern, partially on abortion issues, partially because the conservatives loved to hate George.
• Finally, the head of the ticket in 1980 was Jimmy Carter, who was running against some aged ex-actor fellow.  As a result, 1980 was the worst year for a party in the US Senate since 1958, seeing McGovern, Frank Church, Warren Magnusson, Birch Bayh, John Culver, et. al. all go down to defeat.
See Wikipedia on the 1980 senate election in SD , the national senate election, and on McGovern.

This to me is an example of how easily whippersnappers who didn't live through events can adopt historical theories which suit their viewpoint, ignoring the complexity of reality while enjoying the ease of certitude.

[Updated: changed first sentence to be more fair to Black.]

### Sentence of Oct 4

"the Tea Party activists on the right and the netroots activists on the left might be the political lobbies that do the most to preserve the integrity of the U.S. financial system."  Dan Drezner

## Sunday, October 03, 2010

### Republican Senate Catch-22: Coburn Meet DeMint

Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma blocked the unanimous passage of five bills protecting various animals on the basis that ""The problems that are facing this country are so big and so massive that our attention ought to be focused on those large problems, not on five separate bills that have been proffered for special interest groups," Coburn said.

Meanwhile Sen. DeMint of South Carolina is blocking consideration of every bill with he doesn't agree.

## Saturday, October 02, 2010

### Plain English

I remember when we had to certify each regulation published in the Federal Register was in "plain English".  This was back in the days of Jimmy Carter.  It was a pro forma requirement then; I don't expect much different from the new law.  It includes a requirement to change agency websites and to permit public input on compliance.  Problem is: while everyone complains about jargon, there's no one with the motivation to play policeman.  At best it will be providing another cudgel to be used by opponents of a program; they'll mock the regulations for not being clear.

### Good Bureaucracy Is Important for Development

Tim Harford posts on the ways in which past history impacts economic development, citing several research reports.  From his post:
Berger argues that the 7° 10’ line of latitude in Nigeria is important because different systems of taxation once prevailed on either side of it. To the south, officials relied on customs duties and other taxes on trade through Nigeria’s ports. North of the line, taxes were levied on people – which meant somebody had to arrange a census and keep proper accounts. The difference in bureaucratic capability has persisted for a century

## Friday, October 01, 2010

### Mitch Daniels Is a Good Governor? But Not Digitally

Mitch Daniels, former director of OMB, current governor of Indiana, and possible Presidential candidate may have a good reputation in some circles, but apparently he didn't get Indiana moving in the IT area.

[Updated: David Brooks has picked him in the Times as the Republicans Presidential candidate in 2012 (see Althouse on this) but Cato only gave him a B for his governorship.]

### The Amish and the Ig Nobels

The Ig Nobel prizes were awarded last, including one for this study :
In the late sixties the Canadian psychologist Laurence J. Peter advanced an apparently paradoxical principle, named since then after him, which can be summarized as follows: {\it 'Every new member in a hierarchical organization climbs the hierarchy until he/she reaches his/her level of maximum incompetence'}. Despite its apparent unreasonableness, such a principle would realistically act in any organization where the mechanism of promotion rewards the best members and where the mechanism at their new level in the hierarchical structure does not depend on the competence they had at the previous level, usually because the tasks of the levels are very different to each other. Here we show, by means of agent based simulations, that if the latter two features actually hold in a given model of an organization with a hierarchical structure, then not only is the Peter principle unavoidable, but also it yields in turn a significant reduction of the global efficiency of the organization. Within a game theory-like approach, we explore different promotion strategies and we find, counterintuitively, that in order to avoid such an effect the best ways for improving the efficiency of a given organization are either to promote each time an agent at random or to promote randomly the best and the worst members in terms of competence.
Where do the Amish come in?  As I understand the above, they identified this truth back in the 17th century.  The usual pattern in churches is for bishops (authority figures) to be selected by management, or maybe elected by a church body.  That leads to the Peter principle: a top programmer becomes the manager of programmers, a top analyst becomes a manager of analysts; even though neither knows anything about management.  The Amish use a different principle: they let God decide.  Or, to the secular-minded among us, they select bishops by lot.  They're one of the fastest growing religions, so it's proof the system works.