Monday, February 08, 2010

Quotes of the day

... there really is scarcity and aid really is forced to make intelligent choices. Be sure to give a seat [on the plane] to the pilot.--William Easterly

So here’s what irritates me about the Haitian government’s decision to prosecute Baptist missionaries for child abduction and criminal conspiracy. First, this is, according to the news report, the first criminal case to receive a hearing in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake. Really? Looting, rape, and beatings across the capital, and this is the one you decide to prosecute first?--Tony Woodlief

I would argue that corruption kills more people than terrorism and the drugs trade combined. The more public funds — some of them our taxes — that are stolen and go into the offshore bank accounts of corrupt officials and politicians, the less goes on health, education and development. That loss kills people. In 2001 Tanzania was the third poorest country in the world with an infant mortality rate of 91 deaths per thousand births. South Africa provides an even better example. As that £5.5 billion arms deal was going through President Mbeki was arguing that his country could not afford the £25 a month anti-retroviral drugs for the estimated 5.5 million South Africans who were infected with HIV. Work it out for yourself. --Richard Dowden

There is something strange going on when the environmentalist and the anti-environmentalist use the same excuse – one to justify taking the plane, the other to justify taking the bus. An admittedly unscientific poll of environmentalists at dinner parties suggests to me that they think “the plane is making the journey anyway” excuse is unacceptable but “the bus is making the journey anyway” excuse is spot on – and that they have no coherent justification for the distinction. Their favourite excuse is “you have to set an example” – but surely, before you decide to set an example, you need to be sure that you aren’t setting a bad one.--Tim Harford

There is a growing sense that the properties of the universe are best described not by the laws that govern matter but by the laws that govern information.--KentuckyFC

The process of evolution just isn't what most evolutionary biologists think it is.--Jan Sapp

Disclosing information about how the Chinese government works risks violating nebulous secrecy laws or sacrificing business opportunities. Many China-watchers will only speak face to face, concerned about using e-mails or phone calls to discuss what, in the West, would be standard chatter about the status of bankers and their supervisors.--Economist Editorial Board

A number of universities would like to institute affirmative action for males.--Alex Tabarrok

Many people think men are less romantic than women. Yet men fall in love faster (because they are so visual); men tend to be more dependent on their girlfriends or wives for intimacy; men are over two times more likely to kill themselves when a relationship ends; and men show just as much activity in brain regions associated with romantic passion.--Helen Fisher

... in the final equilibrium no married (paired) woman can be significantly better off than the unmarried woman (otherwise the unmarried woman would have an incentive to muscle in with a better deal) and so because the unmarried woman gets nothing the married women can't get much more nothing. Thus when the sex ratio is 20:20 the split is $50:$50 and when the sex ratio is 19:20 the split is more like to $99:$1 in favor of the men.--Alex Tabarrok, paraphrasing Tim Harford

I forced my kids to watch [The Who perform during the Super Bowl halftime show] for purposes of cultural instruction, at least until about the third note of “Pinball Wizard” when it became too painfully embarrassing. We clicked over to ESPN for more sports blah blah blah, checked back. The geezers were crawling through their medley … that high-tech lightshow and pyrotechnics actually were impressive, held us for a minute, but only served to make the oldsters look lamer … clicked away again, back, away again, back. It didn’t get any better. Someone please tell the NFL that geriatric hasbeen halftime shows are painful, especially when the 60-somethings insist on dressing retro and are hanging out of their mod gear.--Jules Crittenden

E cono mist the financial crisis, but will try to do better next time.--Yoram Bauman

... breaks disrupt hedonic adaptation and, as a result, intensify the subsequent experience.--Journal of Marketing Research

Er, well, the great sooth sayer and now standing feature of this mountain top conference for the elite of business and finance thought that even if governments and central bankers did everything right in terms of fiscal and monetary policy, we’d all still be in recession across the advanced economies for all of 2009 and 2010. And for sure, the S & P was going to 600. Admittedly, it did get as low as 650, but now it’s back above 1,000. If you’d listened to Mr Roubini, you would have missed out on one of the greatest stock market rallies ever.--Jeremy Warner

Did the bans on short selling achieve their stated purpose of restoring order to the stock market and limiting unwarranted drops in prices? This column presents new evidence from 30 countries arguing that the effect on stock prices was at best neutral, the impact on market liquidity was clearly detrimental – especially for small-cap and high-risk stocks, and that the ban slowed down price discovery.--Alessandro Beber and Marco Pagano

... mandates do generate a moral hazard problem, with diabetics exhibiting higher BMIs after the adoption of these mandates.--The Journal of Law and Economics

At the root of this kind of self-contradiction is our historical, nationally characterological ambivalence about government. We want Washington and the states to fix all of our problems now. At the same time, we want government to shrink, spend less, and reduce our taxes. We dislike government in the abstract: According to CNN, 67 percent of people favor balancing the budget even when the country is in a recession or a war, which is madness. But we love government in the particular: Even larger majorities oppose the kind of spending cuts that would reduce projected deficits, let alone eliminate them. ... Our reluctance to recognize economic choices also portends negative effects for the rest of the world. To change this story line, we need to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office and start looking to ourselves.--Jacob Weisberg

Today's tax system was shaped by sadists who were trying to be nice: Every wrinkle in the code was put there to benefit this or that interest. Since the 1986 tax simplification, the code has been recomplicated more than 14,000 times -- more than once a day.--George Will

A significant move to either the left or the right would open the door for a rival to take a more moderate stance, win the next election and change the agenda. Politicians will respond to this dynamic, whether they are power-seeking demagogues or more benevolent types who use elected office to help the world.--Tyler Cowen

The problem is, the public doesn't get mad at you for obstructing things the public doesn't like.--Megan McArdle

... this year [JPMorgan] Chase’s political action committee is sending the Democrats a pointed message. While it has contributed to some individual Democrats and state organizations, it has rebuffed solicitations from the national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees. Instead, it gave $30,000 to their Republican counterparts. The shift reflects the hard political edge to the industry’s campaign to thwart Mr. Obama’s proposals for tighter financial regulations. Just two years after Mr. Obama helped his party pull in record Wall Street contributions — $89 million from the securities and investment business, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics — some of his biggest supporters, like Mr. Dimon, have become the industry’s chief lobbyists against his regulatory agenda.--David Kirkpatrick

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension. ... Perhaps the most important conservative insight being depreciated is the durable warning from free-marketeers that government programs often fail to yield what their architects intend. Democrats have been busy expanding, enacting or proposing major state interventions in financial markets, energy and health care. Supporters of such efforts want to ensure that key decisions will be made in the public interest and be informed, for example, by sound science, the best new medical research or prudent standards of private-sector competition. But public-choice economists have long warned that when decisions are made in large, centralized government programs, political priorities almost always trump other goals. Even liberals should think twice about the prospect of decisions on innovative surgeries, light bulbs and carbon quotas being directed by legislators grandstanding for the cameras.--Gerard Alexander

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