Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's Not As Sexy As You Think

It seems like the conventional wisdom surrounding Zen Buddhism is that it's a remarkably complicated, confusing, and incomprehensible philosophical system.  I can't really say anything about the history or traditions associated with it, but looking just at the philosophical system it's much more straightforward than I expected.  Here it is: Zen Buddhism is a system of belief that is opposed to any sort of simplification.  It's just holism taken to it's extreme.  According to Zen, any attempt to simplify reality through dualism, or breaking the world into categories, creates a flawed model of the world.  This applies to humans also: even basic logical principles (like non-contradiction) are foolish because our brains are highly dualistic.  In the same way, words are the worst sort of dualism, so Zen seeks to abuse them completely with goofy contradictions and silly questions.

After reading this, somebody might respond in the manner I've come to expect: try to jump up a level and use Zen to criticize my own description of it.  It's impossible to constrain Zen by characterizing it with a simple blog post, right?  Wrong.  Zen is merely a system, which means it cannot be its own meta-system.  As a human, I can always take a step back and reflect on stuff, even Zen Buddhism.  I think people get confused by Zen's admittedly bizarre use of language and mistake it as something deeper than it really is.  For more, read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Policy Quagmire

Ezra Klein explains the problem in a great Newsweek story:

"And here is the system's problem: the minority wins when the majority fails, and the minority has the power to make the majority fail. Since the rules work no matter which party is in the minority, it means no one can ever govern."

And the cause:

"Congress used to function despite its extraordinary minority protections because the two parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats used to provide a home to the Southern conservatives known as the Dixiecrats. The GOP used to include a bloc of liberals from the Northeast. With the parties internally divided and different blocs arising in shifting coalitions, it wasn't possible for one party to pursue a strategy of perpetual obstruction. But the parties have become ideologically coherent, leaving little room for cooperation and creating new incentives for minority obstruction."

And a potential solution:

"So how to change Congress? Well, carefully. Reform may be impossible in the day-to-day context, as the minority cannot unilaterally disarm itself. But the day-to-day context isn't the only possible context. 'You have to do the John Rawls thing,' says John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University. 'Go behind the veil of ignorance. Figure out the system we'd want without knowing who will be in charge or what they will be doing.' "

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Governor Moonbeam

Former California governor Jerry Brown is running to reclaim his old office in 2010.  This should be an interesting race because Mr. Brown has a well-known penchant for abstract philosophy.  Some select quotes:

"Adaptation is the essence of evolution.  And those who don't adapt go extinct"

“Action and contemplation joined together, is what I would call the highest path that we can follow.”

"Inaction may be the biggest form of inaction."

“The reason that everybody likes planning is that nobody has to do anything.”

“This lawsuit is part of a broader effort to realign economic and industrial activity with ecological constraints,”

"I like computers. I like the Internet. It's a tool that can be used. But don't be misled into thinking that these technologies are anything other than aspects of a degenerate economic system."

Excerpt from a recent interview:
Over the years, you have moved from being a fabled liberal to a centrist position.
Brown: I don’t know. I don’t use that spatial metaphor.
Then how would you describe yourself politically?
Brown: I’m very independent. There’s a great line from Friedrich Nietzsche: A thinking man can never be a party man.

And yes, he's the front-runner.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts On Global Heating, Ctd.

Last week The Economist did a comprehensive briefing about climate change science and conflict that got me thinking about an economics talk I saw last year.  Much of the debate over climate change pits those who believe it is real against those who do not.  The only way to completely settle this issue to just wait and see what happens, a risky proposition.  To transcend this stagnant debate, we should simply stop talking about probabilities altogether and just look at the different possible scenarios.  

For the sake of argument let's say there is a trade-off between fighting climate change and potential economic output: if the world acts to stop the worst environmental effects, then it loses potential GDP growth.  If the world does not act, then it realizes this potential GDP growth.  With no thought to probability, climate change is either real or not real.   In this model there would be four scenarios:
  • Scenario 1: The world acts, climate change is real.  The world loses potential GDP growth but the maximum negative effects from climate change are mitigated.
  • Scenario 2: The world acts, climate change is not real.  The world loses potential GDP growth and experiences minimal environmental effects.
  • Scenario 3: The world does not act, climate change is real.  The world realizes potential GDP growth but the maximum negative effects from climate change are unmitigated.
  • Scenario 4: The world does not act, climate change is not real.  The world realizes potential GDP growth and experiences minimal environmental effects.
Scenarios 1 and 4 are good "fits": given what happens with climate change, wealth is maximized.  These can't tell us very much about whether we should act or not act.  Scenarios 2 and 3, however, result in big losses and are pivotal in determining the best strategy.  It's immediately apparent that what really matters in these scenarios is the difference in magnitude between potential GDP output and potential negative environmental effects on GDP caused by climate change.  By environmental effects I mean destruction that can be measured in dollar terms, like droughts.  Without considering probabilities, if environmental effects on GDP outweigh potential GDP growth, then net welfare losses in scenario 3 are greater than net welfare losses in scenario 2.  Conversely, if potential GDP growth is greater than environmental effects, scenario 2 is worse.  This is important because it shows how to make informed decisions based purely on minimizing the impact of the worst-case scenario, even if we don't know how likely each scenario is to occur.  Say what you will about climate change doomsayers; few will deny that their worst-case story packs more horror than does their oppositions', signaling that scenario 3 is worse than scenario 2.  If we can't decide on the probabilities, then we must agree to put them aside and make decisions based on potential outcomes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health Care Insanity Reaches Minnesota

A new states' rights constitutional amendment proposed in Minnesota is morbidly fascinating.  Read it here.

Economics And Models

David Brooks has an incoherent column today about the death of economics.  All approaches and methodologies for generating knowledge have strengths and limitations, yet Brooks seems unwilling to view economics through a context of trade-offs.  He observes that economics has been trending towards more complexity and asserts that this process will continue until the field of study becomes something akin to Zen Buddhism in eschewing all forms of simplification.  Just kidding.

Economics is best understood as a model-building discipline.  Models are essentially simplified versions of reality: their goal is to make sense of the world by sorting important details from unimportant ones.  They should be simple, fit well with reality, and identify some sort of causal mechanism.  There tends to exist a trade-off between a model's simplicity and its ability to fit well with reality (what we observe in the real world), and this is often the source of conflict: what is the optimal balance between simplicity and empirical validity?  At one extreme, if we add too much complexity into our model, it may become nearly as complex as the reality it seeks to model, telling us very little about any causal relationships.  Conversely, too much simplification might leave out important elements.

Brooks praises the study of history, viewing it as economics' final evolutionary destination.  This prediction betrays a serious lack of understanding about each discipline's goals.  History, for the most part, is not interested in model-building.  It is all about context and details; there is no rigorous attempt to simplify things down into a causal mechanism.  Of course the best description of a rare and influential event must include idiosyncratic details, but that sort of "rich, thick" description of a single case necessarily limits the ability to generalize, compare, and most of all predict. 

The addition of new complexities into economics is indeed a positive change---incorporating psychology better aligns assumptions with real-world observations---yet we must recognize that its models have reduced strength and analytical precision.  The addition and subtraction of complexity should be a careful, incremental process governed by empirical testing and changing methodological constraints.  The idea that economics will wildly careen towards history and philosophy, its simplifying assumptions flying off into the abyss, is foolish and misunderstands the purpose of social science.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Republican Health Care Reaction

At the risk of stating the obvious, Republican talk of repealing health care reform is unrealistic political posturing.  Firstly, Republicans would need either both chambers of Congress and the Presidency, or massive veto-override majorities, which will never happen.  Besides that, repealing the law would now increase the deficit, forcing fiscal hawks to either raise new revenue or bypass PAYGO rules.  Some parts of the bill are widely popular, like eliminating pre-existing conditions, and it's simply politically impossible for Republicans to kill them.  Most recently, talk of a Republican Congress not funding HCR seems insane, especially considering who's trumpeting this course of action.

Another bizarre response to health care reform is the legal push-back by many states.  The bill is clearly constitutional, and opposing HCR on the basis of states' rights is futile; the courts have long upheld the primacy of the federal government.  This is not principled opposition to federal power, but pure political theater.  'States' rights' has become a method to achieve political and policy objectives, nothing more.  George W. Bush's big expansions of federal power (NCLB, prescription drug act, federal abortion restrictions) didn't spark much action among conservatives, and liberals (medical marijuana, gay marriage, environmental regulation) aren't complaining now.

Republicans have failed (or will fail) to block HCR at virtually every level of the policy process: agenda-setting, congressional committees, drafting legislation, passing legislation, funding legislation, and constitutionality and states' rights legal challenges.  According to public policy 101 Republicans have only one avenue left: stop HCR in its implementation phase.  Given its high-profile and national scale, that seems unlikely.  While there is uncertainty about how the law will evolve, one thing seems obvious: Democrats won, health care reform is here to stay.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food Stamps Are... Hip? has an interesting article this week about the large numbers of cool unemployed college grads receiving food stamps.  More commentary here.  Looking at our sickly economy, it seems overly harsh to criticize any individual for using every available tool at their disposal to save money.  On a policy note, however, there should be better methods for distinguishing between those who truly need nutritional assistance and those who don't.  I won't make any judgments, but an unemployed middle-class college graduate is in a much different long-term socioeconomic category than those living in poverty.  My main problem with food stamps is that they don't discriminate against unhealthy foods.  Obesity, diabetes, and other health problems hit the food stamp demographics hard, and the government could reduce its health care costs by making nutritionally worthless foods like soda more expensive.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Culture And Social Science

Michael Keating says it all:

The social sciences face four enduring problems in understanding and explaining behavior.  First is how to account for both continuities and change over time within societies.  Second is to explain the connection between micro-level changes and the larger, macro level.  Third, and related, is how to explain the connection between individual decisions and the aggregate behavior of a society as a whole.  Fourth is the relationship between the hard facts of the social world and the way in which these are interpreted by people.

Cultural explanations of social phenomena go directly to the collective level, they are essentially social and in many respects (but not quite all) they represent a challenge to methodological individualism.  They also seek to bridge external explanation, by reference to a social world, and internalist explanations, which rely on individual interpretation and decision.  Yet if culture allows us to identify and explain differences in behavior among groups -- be these nations, classes, genders or localities -- it is an extremely elusive and slippery idea, prone to all manner of abuse

[Culture] can help to understand and explain social and political institutions and behavior, but only if it is understood in a sophisticated way.  Although there are numerous difficulties in operationalizing and measuring it, these are not totally insurmountable. . . . insight into the complexity of culture can be gained through triangulation and combining different methods.  Thus surveys can tell us a lot about popular attitudes, while ethnographic work may be needed to explore their meaning.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Earth to Pro-Lifers: Money Is Fungible, Get Over It

As health care reform enters its final stages before the big House vote, the issue of abortion is back with a vengeance (it never really left).  Abortion opponents in Congress claim that current reform proposals break the legislative "truce" of the Hyde amendment, which bars most federal funding for abortion.  Most Democrats disagree.  The Economist lays out the facts:

"Under [Obama's] plan, many individuals and small businesses will buy subsidized health insurance through state-sponsored exchanges.  Under the Senate bill, they would only be able to obtain abortion coverage through these exchanges if they paid for it with a separate, unsubsidised, cheque.  Thus, federal dollars would be kept out of abortion clinics, say the bill's supporters.  But many pro-lifers are not convinced."

Economists know that money is fungible, meaning any dollar can replace or be replaced by any other dollar.  Most politicians pretend otherwise, because it's politically convenient; people like to think their tax dollars have purpose and direction, instead of just contributing to the government pile.  A good example of this fungibility bias occurred during the 2000 election when people got angry at Nader for spoiling Gore's victory.  In reality, the margins were so close that almost any trivial factor can be said to have caused Gore's defeat.  Gore's margin of defeat was fungible, but everybody blamed Nader anyways.

So what does this have to do with federal funding for abortion?  Staunch pro-lifers like Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak are breaking the fungibility illusion by arguing that any federal dollars that are connected in any way to abortion constitutes an abortion subsidy.  This logic is true, yet meaningless: any income from the government (like food stamps, for example) could be considered as subsidizing abortion.  The pro-life objections to health reform are insincere; the real goal is probably to entrench a new, more restrictive abortion status-quo.  Unless pro-life lawmakers are willing to tell their constituents the truth about the fungibility of money, they should keep their mouths shut.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day Everybody

I almost forgot, it's 3/14 today: π-day.  If you're confused, check out this short podcast.

Thoughts On The Current Policy Quagmire

It's become the conventional wisdom that our government is incapable of solving big problems.  Health care, global heating, peak oil, federal deficits, structural reforms, and most environmental problems all typically make the list.  So why can government tackle some issues, but not these?  Perhaps each issue's unique characteristics are to blame?  While each problem obviously contains unique challenges, certain common characteristics exist that allow us to generalize a bit.  Most of these problems are massive and complex, requiring major policy solutions.  These solutions require simple, fixed, upfront and well-understood costs to achieve benefits that are vague, amorphous, far-off and complicated.  So what about these big, complex issues makes them so difficult for government to solve?  There exist many explanations. 

The most basic answers focus on individuals.  Cognitive biases in human psychology make certain issues troublesome to deal with.  People have a difficult time conceptualizing the benefits of solving environmental issues, for example, yet they understand the costs of higher taxes very well.  People discount the future too heavily, so they favor and reward short-term promises over long-term solutions.  People tend to think that the status-quo is safer than it actually is.  Some explanations centered around individuals focus on leadership: Obama isn't making the right decisions.  Leadership and inspiration is difficult with big, complex issues.

Other explanations emphasize social groups and collective decisionmaking.  Democratic and Republican lawmakers don't have casual friendships anymore, so rejecting compromise is dispassionate and easy.  On the larger scale, commentators claim the public cannot make up its mind.  Party identification has been falling for decades, and now we have a massive group of impatient independents in the ideological middle who simply ping-pong back and forth, preventing either party from amassing enough power or popularity to solve all but the smallest issues.

Still other explanations do away with people altogether, instead focusing on institutions and big, structural factors.  In this category, the senate filibuster is to blame.  Legislative committees and executive agencies, jealously guarding their turf, don't coordinate.  Solutions to big, complex issues lose cohesion.  Legislative politics incentivizes short-term strategic action and hard-nosed opposition.  Gerrymandered districts pack The House of Representatives with extremists, who go on to win Senate seats, infecting that body.  Our constitution grants too much power to states and minority factions.

All these explanations have merit, and are probably all true to some degree.  Yet most of them have trouble explaining the recent change.  Government has solved big, complex issues before.  We've always had the filibuster, and the senate managed to pass big, transformational legislation.  Human psychology hasn't changed too much over the past 40 years, I'm guessing.  What is it about now that makes these issues especially impossible to solve?  I don't know the answer (or even if there is one; it could just be random factors), but I do have a thought.

Over the course of history, and especially in the last 40 years with the information revolution, technology and scientific knowledge has increased rapidly, leading to new levels of understanding about how the world works.  This pattern is apparent in all aspects of life: the world is becoming increasingly technocratic.  Better statistical techniques identify more and more correlations.  Experts know more and more about less and less.  Modern social science is giving us drastically better information about individuals and populations.  Our understanding of the world is becoming better and more complex.  The implication for government is clear: while politicians may not be more calculating than they were in the past, they are certainly better informed and more accurate.  The 2000 presidential election was a revealing flash-point.  That incident showed everybody that nothing matters except winning.  Bush became president, end of story.  The ends do justify the means, because voters only remember the ends.  If the minority party can hold out in opposition long enough to deny the majority any achievements, the minority will soon find itself in the majority, pursuing its ideal policies.  We may not like the harsh, misanthropic findings of social science, but their explanatory power is impossible to ignore.  Increasing quality and analytical rigor of political decisionmaking means it's easy to be "rational" in the formal sense.  An unfortunate and unintended result of this medium-term consequentialism is that long-term policy solutions are increasingly politically irrational.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen

Nearly every theory of justice produced by Western philosophers has the same basic format: identify some hypothetical perfectly-just ideals, then apply them to create institutional arrangements.  If the philosophical reasoning is good enough, then adopting these ideal institutions will result in a perfectly just society.  In The Idea of Justice, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen systematically departs from this worn-out endeavor. 

According to Sen, the pursuit of justice should be a comparative enterprise, concerning itself with picking alternatives that increase justice, rather than identifying transcendental ideals.  Additionally, the classical institution-based conceptions of justice are flawed.  Instead, scholars should incorporate social realizations, or how individuals actually behave within a system.  In this view, understanding incentives and individual preferences are critical to increasing the amount of justice in the world.

Determining where exactly The Idea of Justice fits into the existing scholarship is not immediately apparent.  This book is not a philosophical argument for a particular definition or version of justice.  Rather, it is a detailed study of the epistemological and methodological properties of theories of justice.  Naturally, Sen's technical analysis leads to some implicit conclusions about certain good and bad characteristics that theories of justice should and should not have.  For example, Sen concludes that multi-dimensionality and non-commensurability (irreducible diversity between distinct objects of value) exists, therefore any theory of justice based solely on one dimension of value, like happiness in the case of utilitarianism, is incomplete.  We must accept a 'plurality of reasons,' the possibility that several valid, defensible, and mutually-exclusive arguments may exist for a given topic, such as justice.  From this novel result, Sen concludes that open-minded and rigorous public reasoning is central to the pursuit of justice.

In The Idea of Justice, Sen is obviously attempting to unify his lifetime of scholarship from multiple academic fields into one single book.  The concept of justice is broad enough to allow such diversity while generally maintaining cohesion, yet at times Sen veers off onto tangents whose only purpose is seemingly to cite a few old academic papers.  In fact, Sen's lengthy endorsement of social choice theory as a tool for evaluating justice seems out of place.  Sen is a giant in the field, yet his arguments for its use in this setting seem to point more towards game theory, of which there is little mention.  Generally, this book serves as a wonderfully detailed primer for the study of justice, providing new angles for generating criticisms of existing theories, while also suggesting new avenues of research.  Sen argues convincingly that we should have a comparative theory of justice, yet states only that we should compare; he leaves it up to others to decide exactly what and how.  It is this interactivity that makes The Idea of Justice such a pleasure to read, and will probably secure it's place as a must-read within multiple academic disciplines.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Data Deluge

The Economist had an amazing special report last week about the increasing abundance of digital information.    These special reports are always good and often amazing, and should be read in one sitting for full effect.  Check it out here.  The section about governments is especially timely because of the upcoming 2010 census.

Urban Nature

I've never subscribed to the idea that there exists a zero-sum relationship between nature and culture, but this short essay takes another crack at the idea.  It's true that leaders in government probably don't get out much, but I'm less pessimistic than some.  At least President Obama has Camp David as a convenient retreat.  From this perspective, we should perhaps rethink our scorn of George W. Bush's long weeks spent clearing brush on his ranch.

The book Ecopsychology effectively lays out the benefits of natural environments on individuals, and I'm still searching for a contrasting defense of urban life.  No doubt that on the aggregate, though, cities are environmentally beneficial, reducing a population's ecological footprint through density and scale efficiencies.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Power Players: Kehinde Wiley

One of the best painters out there currently.  I usually put too much emphasis on technical skill when assessing art, but Kehinde Wiley's paintings have it all.  More here.

Libertarian Paternalism Finally Goes Mainstream

In a fantastic new paper published this week in Science, economists Hunt Allcott and Sendhil Mullainathan investigate behavior and decisionmaking in the context of energy policy: 

"To combat climate change, many economists and policymakers advocate price-based approaches, such as greenhouse gas emissions taxes and emissions trading programs, or technology-based approaches, such as R&D subsidies and public-private R&D partnerships.  In the end, however, both types of approaches rely on consumers and firms to make different choices: they will need to change what they do and what they buy in response to increases in the relative prices of carbon-intensive goods.  A recently-growing body of research in psychology and behavioral economics suggests that non-price interventions can be just as powerful as prices in changing consumer choices."

I'm thrilled to see these ideas popping up with increasing regularity, and as I've said before, more funding for social science research could yield higher returns than the current technology and natural science monopoly.

Behavioral economics has been criticized as a "negative theory," concerned more with critiquing mainstream economics than developing new models.  The empirical success of the behavioral perspective in explaining why cost-effective energy efficiency improvements don't occur would seem to disprove this criticism.  Additionally, behavioral economics flows naturally into the normative realm, inspiring policy correctives in the forms of choice architecture and nudges.

For a short interview with Hunt Allcott, click here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Presidency

Stephen Skowronek says it all:

Presidential action in history is politicized by the order-shattering, order-affirming, and order-creating impulses inherent in the institution itself.  The presidency is an order-shattering institution in that it prompts each incumbent to take charge of the independent powers of his office and to exercise them in his own right.  It is an order-affirming institution in that the disruptive effects of the exercise of presidential power must be justified in constitutional terms broadly construed as the protection, preservation, and defense of values emblematic of the body politic.  It is an order-creating institution in that it prompts each incumbent to use his powers to construct some new political arrangements that can stand the test of legitimacy within the other institutions of government as well as the nation at large.  Getting these three impulses to work together---the political message and practical effect of each reinforcing the others---is no easy matter.  That is why incumbents so often find themselves at cross purposes.  As a general formulation, however, we might venture that to secure a place in history even roughly on his own terms, a president must be able to exercise his power in such a way that these order-shattering, order-affirming, order-creating impulses operate in tandem.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Start Learning About The Borda Count, Ctd

I received a great comment on my previous post about the Borda count, which is an alternative voting system that I believe is superior to the current plurality-rule regime.  Anthony writes:

"A very interesting idea, but I wonder how well it would work in our two-party system. The Wikipedia page states that the Borda count "affords greater importance to a voter's lower preferences than most other systems." I am imagining a scenario where the two major party candidates roughly divide the As (borrowing your GPA analogy), but due to the binary (yes/no) mentality within the two-party system voters are unwilling to give their B votes to the candidate of the opposing party. If an independent candidate receives only 5% of the As, but ends up with 90% of the Bs, could he/she steal the show?"

The independent candidate could potentially win despite having few first-ranked votes, although it would be very close.  This scenario reflects the Borda count's biggest weakness: it may sometimes fail to elect the candidate who wins a simple majority.  This fact cuts to the core ideological argument of what bias we want our voting system to have.  No voting system is neutral; majority and plurality rules give an advantage to extreme, divisive candidates, while the Borda count favors moderate, consensus candidates.  No doubt the optics of selecting a winning candidate who was ranked first by a tiny minority would require some adjustment, however.  As for our two-party system, it exists largely because of our plurality-rule regime; adopting the Borda count would result in a more varied party system.

Anthony raises another interesting feature of voting: strategy.  In the above example, partisan voters may insincerely push a candidate further down in their ranking to increase the probability of their favored candidate winning.  While strategic voting may still occur under the Borda count, it's effectiveness is drastically reduced compared with strategic voting under plurality rule.  Instant-runoff voting is a rule designed to solve this burying problem.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Information Nexus

1. Anthropology Can't Catch a Break
2. Short Story: Cargo Cult Sci-Fi
3. The Jagged Science
4. Our Next Ruling Class
5. The Approval Matrix

Thinking About Risks

Joe Biden, speaking at Justice Breyer's confirmation hearings in 1994:

"The American people have no doubt that more people die from coal dust than from nuclear reactions, but they fear the prospect of a nuclear reactor more than they do the empirical data that would suggest that more people die from coal dust, having coal-fired burners.  They also know that more lives would be saved if we took that 25 percent we spend in the intensive care units in the last few months of the elderly's lives, that more children would be saved.  But part of our culture is that we have concluded as a culture that we are going to rightly or wrongly, we are going to spend the money, costing more lives, on the elderly. . . I think it's incredibly presumptuous and elitist for political scientists to conclude that the American people's cultural values in fact are not ones that lend themselves to a cost-benefit analysis and presume that they would change their cultural values if in fact they were aware of the cost-benefit analysis."

Does this mean I should keep worrying about terrorism and boycotting GM crops?  Sometimes we need scientists to tell us what's actually killing us.  Think indoor radon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SNL Presidential Reunion

Great to see so many presidents, although as SNL presidential skits go, this one still takes the cake.


The Fiscal Times, a new online newspaper focusing on... you guessed it... fiscal and economic issues, officially launched today.  I'll withhold my judgment until I get a chance to check out their reporting, but I have two initial observations.

Firstly, the obvious: what about monetary policy?  Maybe it simply won't be covered, but that seems risky for an economics publication.  The website has an opinion section, but I don't think I'll put much stock in an argument about monetary policy coming from The Fiscal Times.  At least not without a snide chuckle first.

Secondly, their logo is TERRIBLE.  It's difficult to describe, but that's only because it's difficult to look at.  Check it out for yourself.  It's no Altria, that's for sure.  Sometimes no logo is best.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Norway's Cultural Cocktail

David Brooks must have been sipping some sort of cocktail himself when he thought up today's bizarre column about a survivalist gruesomely traversing occupied Norway.  This isn't the first time Brooks' analysis has been 'outside the box.'

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Favorite U.S. State

Wyoming.  From the Wind River Mountain Range:

In the face of such majesty, other considerations like politics and culture seem trivial.

Politics of Europe

Washington Post domestic policy guru Ezra Klein has a great series on his blog exploring the political systems of various European countries:

                                                            1. Great Britain
                                                            2. France
                                                            3. Germany