Monday, August 16, 2010

Quotes of the day

... even with the best of responses the recovery probably would have been slow and uneven. But both the Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush, and especially the Congress and President Obama since his election in 2008 made the main mistakes after the crisis hit. Instead of concentrating mainly on fighting the recession and promoting faster economic growth, the Congress elected in 2008 believed they had a mandate to radically remake the American economy. Aside from repeated attacks on American business, especially banks-some of them deserved- they not only passed various stimulus packages (that did not stimulate much), but also tried to promote a vast legislative program that had nothing to do with fighting the recession.--Gary Becker

George W. Bush left a big growling bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with Churchill’s heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It’s not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and tortured on Churchill’s watch, for resisting Churchill’s empire. ... In the end, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the world’s people of color. [Richard] Toye teases out these ambiguities beautifully. The fact that we now live at a time where a free and independent India is an emerging superpower in the process of eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the Kikuyu “savages” is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest — and a sweet, unsought victory for Churchill at his best. --Johann Hari

Australia posted 7.5% after-inflation returns per year during that time, with a standard deviation of 18.2%, according to a study from Credit Suisse. Those returns are the highest and the volatility the second lowest of the 19 major markets the researchers studied. During that time, U.S. stocks made a 6.2% return, with a standard deviation of 20.4%.--Howard Gold

From prostitution scandals to corruption allegations to the steady drumbeat of charges against corporate executives and world-class athletes, it seems that the headlines are filled with the latest misstep of someone in a position of power. This isn't just anecdotal: Surveys of organizations find that the vast majority of rude and inappropriate behaviors, such as the shouting of profanities, come from the offices of those with the most authority. Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.--Jonah Lehrer

Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking. Higher charges for parking spaces would limit our trips by car. That would cut emissions, alleviate congestion and, as a side effect, improve land use.--Tyler Cowen

Masticate. Meditate. Masturbate.--Lauren Winner, summarizing Eat, Pray, Love

Biologists have been long perplexed by the peacock’s tail, economists by the use of advertising. In both cases the struggle has been to understand why something so self-evidently pointless and potentially damaging can survive in a vicious world of winner-takes-all, loser-goes-extinct natural selection. Meanwhile researchers from both worlds have been closeting themselves ever deeper in an arcane world of computer modelling, where truth can be validated only by mathematics. Hints of answers to these puzzles have come not from number crunching but from fuzzy human intuitions about the way the world actually works. Peacocks and advertisers have something in common – in both cases it turns out the handicaps they place themselves under send signals to their potential suitors. Behavioral advertisers, who aim to remove these handicaps, take note: a peacock without a stupid tail won’t get a mate and an ad that’s easy to deliver won’t get a customer.--Psy-Fi Blog

Aid recipients understand unconditional conditions all too well. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai knows that USAID will have to spend its Afghanistan budget no matter what, so he makes some token commitment, does nothing, and indeed the aid keeps flowing. I can certainly understand why USAID would prefer not to talk about this unsavory equilibrium. But the stakes are far higher in Afghanistan than in the usual aid recipient. As the war there drags on, we have to ask the following question: Is U.S. aid winning hearts and minds? A U.N. survey taken in January found that 52% of Afghans believe aid organizations "are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich." I don't know much about waging a counterinsurgency, but it seems to me that we're getting very little for our money.--William Easterly

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