Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter: The Wizard with a Thousand Faces

Just finished book VI, in anticipation of the finale. (Gave up on reading the french versions for the last few).

Kept on getting caught up (as has been mentioned in all the reviews) how much Rowling draws from all the fantasy epics in popular culture. The Dark Side/Voldemart/Sauron uses fear/anger/hate while Luke/Harry/Frodo's advantage is friendship/love/pity, as we learn from Yoda/Dumbledore/Gandalf. And yet, while Luke/Frodo/Harry's advantage is his friends (Han/Leia, Sam/Fellowship, Hermonine/Ron), he must in the end, go it alone, abandoned even by his mentor as Gandalf/Dumbledore/Yoda dies, to complete the hero cycle.

I guess there are deeper meditations on the nature of good and evil here. Universal truths. Either that, or epic authors have been following the same cliches for thousands of years.

Anyway, on to book VII.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On BBC World

So was hoping to have a video of this to post before posting but looks hopeless. I got interviewed about my apologies research on live tv a couple weeks ago (around 2:50 pm EST on Friday June 22, 2007 on BBC World). Worried I'd make a fool of myself, but I think it went ok, mostly. Still nervous as heck. Though I don't know for sure as I haven't seen the interview yet (they made a tape for me, but their used a 10 minute long video tape, so when I played it back, it ran out shortly after the announcer said, "coming up, some surprising new research on the value of an apology").

Apparently they saw me mentioned in the Financial Times column by Tim Harford. Pretty neat.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Do we really need a higher gasoline or carbon tax?

So I'm no climate change denier. I was the energy economist for CEA for the past year. And the chapter I wrote for the Economic Report of the President even obliquely advocates a higher gasoline tax (Mankiw saw through the political phrasing right away)

But honestly, economists are a little bit dogmatic when it comes to advocating a carbon tax or gasoline tax. It is almost a matter of faith, rather than evidence.

If you read the literature on the social cost of carbon, most (including the ipcc) pick an optimal price of carbon of around $14/ton CO2. (And as an aside, in general the studies that find such a value, do not find values statistically different than $0/ton CO2.)

So first, we are ignoring statistics to advocate a positive carbon tax.

And second, we are having faith that such a tax will yield new technology.

$14/ton CO2 is only about 14 cents per gallon of gasoline (1/3 of the current tax on gasoline). Prices of gasoline have increased several hundred cents. Unlikely that that additional 14 cents will have a huge impact on innovation there.

$14/ton CO2 is about 1-2 cents per kWh of electricity (the EPA expects that most ghg reductions would come from this sector).

Yet it is less than the 2 cents tax credit we already give to non-fossil electricity generation. So by that argument, we have already overshot. A tax on carbon would over substitute toward non fossil fuels.

Europe has substantially higher taxes/subsides on carbon already (well beyond what most economists consider optimal; we're talking 3 or 4 times too high) that should be more than enough to spur innovation. It hasn't. Not clear how creating more dead weight loss from an inefficient tax in US would help.

Despite all this you could still argue in favor of a carbon tax. But you should be cognizant that there is little economic evidence to back you up.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Statistical ignorance scores a win for sinophobia

Fueling sinophobic hysterics the most emailed story at nytimes.com earlier this week was a story entitled “As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China” accompanies by the typically shoddy economics in the NYtimes Economix column.

Both stories are based on the statistic that China is responsible for 60 percent of all product recalls (Time magazine in a similar story this week reports 48% but whatever). And argue that China and the evils of outsourcing is the source of this menace. Of course this next paragraph in the article provides the useful statistic that China actually produces 80% of the toys sold in the US.

Though these statistics don’t quite match up (one is for products, one is for toys), assuming they did, then elementary statistics would tell you that Chinese products are safer on average than toys produced elsewhere. If you’re producing 80% of the toys, but are responsible for only 50% of the recalls, that must mean you are potentially twice as safe as other companies.

Anyway, a long line of really bad reporting at the nytimes, though partially redeemed by their surprisingly excellent balanced reporting on poverty.

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