Sunday, November 29, 2009

Inequality has NOT increased

Professions can have blind spots, and I think one thing that not only have pundits been mistaken on, but economists as a whole may also have been, has been rising inequality. It has become a oft repeated stylized fact that inequality (which has declined for centuries) has been increasing in the United States since the 1970's.

I never believed it. Mostly due to my own prejudices for optimism. Prejudice can be good when it forces you to seek out more information.

A lot of the inequality can be explained by increases in immigration which opened up in the 1970's; inequality amongst American born Americans has declined (Easterbrook). Also, the inequality picture looks a lot better when looking at outcomes like health, where inequality continues to decline, rather than just income (Lomborg).

Yet despite this, most economists still believe that inequality is on the rise, and the profession has mostly come to take this for granted. Two new studies have revisited this (Gordon and Winship):

They emphasize that the measured inequality has really only occurred in the top 1% (bankers and CEOs and movie stars, the superstar winner take all effect that economists like Frank and Rosen have emphasized) of the population, but does not reflect shifts amongst the population as a whole.

Anyway, this could still be a reflection of my own biases for sunny-optimism and that the world is always getting better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

reCaptcha - a genius idea

In general, those words you have to type in to prove you are human before leaving a comment on a blog or e-mailing a nytimes story tend to be annoying because it often takes me several times to get it right. That is why I appreciate the genius of the reCaptcha used now at the NY Times, since they use words from actual scanned documents, that are generally pretty easy for humans to read, but are demonstrably hard for computers since they have failed the standard computer OCR (optical character recognition) programs. The added genius is that not only are these relatively easy to read, they also help collect data for the designers of OCR programs, to make OCR programs better in the future, so you're actually doing useful work by deciphering those letters.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

E-mail Storms

A friend of mine was recently complaining about someone who e-mailed a large distribution list and the two people who hit reply-all.

Reminded me of the early days of e-mail back in the 1990's when such things could last for days and span hundreds of e-mail, when there were mysterious lists that had hundreds of people, and someone would hit reply-all, and and then someone else would hit reply all to tell people not to hit reply-all, and then people would hit reply all to that to lament about the irony, and then lots of people would start hitting reply all out of annoyance to tell people to shut up, and then people would hit reply all to just be part of this weird social phenomenon.

Ah, good times. I haven't seen that in a long time. Always interesting how society interacts with a new technology.