Monday, October 26, 2020


 Matt Yglesias at Vox writes on nepotism.  It's a thorough and to my mind bipartisan treatment.

I do wish Biden had been asked during the debate what role, if any, his family would play in his administration. Would he have replied: the same sort of roles as my predecessor has assigned to Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, Jared Kushner or would he have excluded them? Would he promise to put his assets into a blind trust? 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Golden Rule Applies in Government

 I've referred before to the idea of a "golden rule", the cynic's version: those that have the gold gets. It's also known as the "Mathew Effect", named by the sociologist Robert Merton from verses in the New Testament.

Saw another instance of it, from Hawaii where ProPublica reports that the "Homestead Program" (who knew we had a century-old program to provide homesteads to native Hawaiians) this:

But no one, not even the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the state agency that oversees the initiative, fully understood how far the program has strayed from its original intent. A first-of-its-kind analysis by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica of department data showed the program has benefited those with the means and knowledge to navigate the complex homesteading system while leaving behind much of the Native Hawaiian community it was primarily meant to help.

I suggest there are similar instances throughout government where the legislature passes a worthy program, but enrollment is required and there's an information gap, so some of those who might qualify simply don't know about it or don't know enough to navigate the hoops. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Network Effects in the Classroom

 Washington Post magazine had an interesting article by a university English teacher on teaching English, including through the transition in the spring to Zoom.
What struck me was this: 
"Especially in a class organized around discussion, it’s the level of the floor, not the ceiling, that most dictates the strength of the group. Even if you get lucky and have two or three great English students in a class, they can’t carry a weak group, and it’s more likely that the gap between the standouts and the rest will breed resentment....

My insistence that all students participate in class discussions isn’t just some kind of touchy-feely inclusiveness, nor is my insistence that they bring the reading in hard copy and shut off all electronic devices some kind of aggressive old-fashionedness. Rather, it’s a recognition that the class works better for everyone if we’re not dragging along silent or distracted partners, and of what’s special and valuable about what we’re doing. Students are essentially paying for two things in a humanities class: the admissions process that produces the students in the room, and the hiring and promotion process that produces the teacher. Everything else they can get at home, online: They can do the reading, study scholarship about the writers and their eras, post opinions and even watch lectures about literature (most of which are bad, so far, but if you dig you can find substantive ones, and in time there will be more).

What happens in the classroom — humans paying attention to books and one another — may seem rudimentary to a fault, but it’s a vanishingly rare and precious experience. Most of the people in the room will never again gather regularly with other people to think deeply about something they have all read, uninterrupted for 75 whole minutes by text messages, emails, buzzes, beeps, dings, klaxons, flashing lights, tempting links, breaking news alerts or GIFs of naked mole rats dancing..."

One way of thinking about this is the idea of "network effects"; the idea that the more participants on a network you have, the more attractive the network is.  So in a classroom, consider the activity, the speech in the classroom during the duration of the class to be a network, where the more participation you have the more value for all.

I don't know that the observation leads anywhere, but I like it.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Farm Program Payments

From  here, a nice graph of US farm payments, including MFP and CFAP.


Today's Tractors

It's amazing how far out of touch I can get.  Was discussing this morning the likely cost of a modern tractor.  I guessed 6 figures.  My first search turned up this ad for a used John Deere, a 2016 model. Asking price is $300K+.  Further searching showed a lot more progress in guidance and precision than I expected.  Also checked wikipedia and their entries seem somewhat out-of-date.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Broadband Gaps in the Big City?

 Turns out the rural areas aren't the only ones.  This Technology Review explains, in the context of an effort to fill the gaps.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Two Sides of Low Interest Rates

 In today's NYTimes Paul Krugman has an article arguing for big stimulus spending, partially justified by the very very low interest rates now being charged for the Federal government's borrowing.

In the business section is an article on CALPERS (the California employees pension fund) and its problems with trying to have its 7 percent return on investments.  It's taking on more risk to try to get its returns up.   CALPERS has, or used to have, a reputation for good investment strategies, so if they're having problems you can bet other smaller retirement funds across the country are having more problems.

I don't have any answers, just the observation. 

[Updated--ProPublica has a related piece, also on impact of Fed's actions on retirement savings.'

Monday, October 19, 2020

What's Good in America?

 From Cesar Hidalgo comes a twitter thread describing three things he finds good about America (although he's leaving for more academic opportunity in France).

A tweet:

My summary of the thread:

  • people value quality work (over cost)
  • people value entertainment, even in speaking to business audiences
  • our bureaucracy is simple!!! 
Let me expand on the last item, since it is so surprising.

He's talking specifically about the running of a small business, and comparing it to the notary-ridden bureaucracy in countries whose legal codes are based on Roman law, not common law. I think it might be related to the De Soto thesis, arguing the need for well-defined and documented property ownership.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Adherence to Principle Creates Different Alliances?

 I follow L. D. Burnett, who is a history professor at Collin College both on twitter and at this blog. Her background might surprise some of her right wing critics.  She's more vocal about her opposition to Trump and his administration than I, which recently caused the Collin president to criticize a tweet of hers. Links are at the end of her post here.

What was different to me was that FIRE jumped in to her defense.  I've been only vaguely aware of FIRE; I knew it opposes speech codes in college, but thought of them as defending conservatives.  Turns out they adhere to principle, even when it involves someone on the left.  As someone who joined the ACLU at the time of Skokie I need to recognize their stand. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Rush To Regulate

Eric Lipton at the Times writes about the Trump administration's rush to get their last (I fervently hope) regulations through the process and published in the Federal Register.  It's not a new process, but as the Obama administration learned to its regret the Congressional Review Act puts regs issued now in jeopardy.   I hope the Biden/Harris transition team has studied their history and is ready to apply the same medicine to these regs.