Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Everybody was an intellectual last night

Last night every single pundit, analyst and intellectual was captured by the debate on the debate. Me? I had to report to our neighbor country:
Barbs fly at Mexico's first presidential debate
By Edwin Garcia
Knight Ridder Mexico Bureau
MEXICO CITY - The first presidential debate leading to this summer's election featured harsh criticism Tuesday among the candidates -- and an occasional reference to the man who was supposed to occupy one of the podiums on the stage.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left-of-center former Mexico City mayor who mobilized millions of followers and long-ago gained front-runner status heading toward the July 2 vote, skipped the nationally televised debate.
"It's not common in presidential elections that a candidate decides not to go to a debate,'' said political scientist Francisco Javier Aparicio of the Center for Economics, Research and Education in Mexico City. "I don't know why he believes it was better not to go.''
But the two-hour debate at Mexico's World Trade Center nonetheless included frequent clashes between ruling National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, running second in most polls, and third-place candidate Roberto Madrazo, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party saw its 71-year grip on power end with the election of President Vicente Fox six years ago.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

How to rally, San Francisco style

You cannot miss this nice exercise in photojournalism... with lots of ideas for when you decide to join the anti-whatever revolution!

"On March 18, 2006, activist groups around the world held protests to mark the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. San Francisco was no exception: the communist anti-war group ANSWER planned to stage a large rally and march through the city, in opposition to the war and other American policies.

The problem is, other groups also planned additional anti-war and anti-authoritarian events in San Francisco (and nearby) on March 18. And all the events were conflicting with each other. Something obviously had gone terribly awry in the progressive community. In the weeks leading up to the big day, the different factions began bickering with each other.

The most glaring scheduling snafu involved the Anarchist Bookfair, which was being held on the other side of San Francisco from the ANSWER march, but on the same day at the exact same time. Seeing as the anarchist event and the anti-war event both drew on the same pool of potential attendees, accusations began to fly that each event was going to hurt attendance at the rival event. "

San Francisco is an interesting place indeed--Take a look at the pictures on these links:
The "Global Day of Action" rally and Anarchist Bookfair -- San Francisco, March 18, 2006
And do not miss part 2:
The Anarchist Bookfair 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hurting candidate's feelings

Pundits don't like negative campaigning. I do. At the very minimum, negative campaigning has a screening effect: people with questionable records will not bother to become candidates--and that is important if you only have a say every 6 years.  But does negative campaigning work? Does it hurt somebody's feelings, other than the pundits? Here is some evidence... with videos included.

Going Negative

Advertising Tone Manipulations

Positive Tone Negative Tone
Crime: Feinstein Crime: Feinstein
Crime: Wilson Crime: Wilson
Environment: Feinstein Environment: Feinstein
Environment: Wilson Environment: Wilson
Women's Rights: Boxer Women's Rights: Boxer
Women's Rights: Clinton Women's Rights: Clinton
Winning, but losing
How negative campaigns shrink electorate, manipulate news media
By Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar

Once upon a time, this country divided itself neatly along party lines. Most people voted; those who did not fended to be poorer, less well educated, and more apathetic, but still party loyal. Television has changed all that. Now, we are split by a new division: between loyalists and apathetics. On the one hand, media propaganda can often shore up loyalists to vote for their traditional party; on the other hand, that same propaganda is increasingly peeling off a band of citizens who turn from independence to apathy, even antipathy, toward our political institutions.


Are interest groups good for you?

"Contrary to the view of many, the models presented here suggest that even uninformed voters can respond rationally to political advertising and that campaign donations and endorsements by special interests tend to move the outcome toward, instead of away from, the median voter.

The following question naturally arises. If, as argued in this paper, campaign contributions by pressure groups aid the democratic process, then why do we see so many attempts like the McCain-Feingold bill to put limits on campaign financing? The answer lies in this paper, also. As we have seen, pressure group contributions to political campaigns hurt some of the participants – informed voters on average and those informed voters whose preferences run contrary to the median uninformed voter in particular, as well as those policy-preferring candidates whose preferences are more aligned with the median informed voter than with the median uninformed voter. It is not surprising that these actors and their supporters would be against unlimited campaign financing.

Pressure groups have often been viewed as the bad guys of democracy. But “special interests” is just a pair of words meaning self interest, and from Adam Smith onward, we know that "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher or the brewer ... that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." Here I have argued that the invisible hand works for pressure groups also. Instead of viewing pressure groups as undermining the democratic process, it may be more enlightening to view them as institutions that reduce transaction costs. Just as speculators (who were once thought of as the bad guys of financial markets) are now seen as transaction-cost reducers, pressure groups need to be seen in a similar light. Once we have altered our perspective, we are primed for a new research agenda. For example, why efficiency would lead special interests to be organized in the way that they are and how or why they are different from political parties.

Perhaps even more important than the change in perspective on pressure groups is the added understanding on how uniformed voters can rationally respond to political advertising. This paper has shown how uninformed voters can make use of optimal rules of thumb that cannot be manipulated by candidates or pressure groups. Future work will no doubt consider still different information sets available to the uninformed and how the strategy of the uninformed voters changes in response to the changes in the information available."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I am normal, you are crazy

Tyler Cowen on the normalcy of being weird:

"Whenever you see or hear of me doing something weird, think twice. I am actually behaving normally, and no offense is intended. Quite the contrary, I am flattering you by behaving normally in your presence. You just haven't yet solved the signal extraction problem which would allow you to differentiate between my actual weirdness and my different standards for what weirdness should be."

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Hispanic Civil Rights Movement?

A Hispanic Civil Rights Movement: "A Hispanic Civil Rights Movement
By Juan Williams
Monday, April 10, 2006
"The massive demonstrations by Hispanics across the country have the look of civil rights history. The crowds protesting punitive immigration legislation have been huge, rivaling or exceeding the gathering for the 1963 March on Washington. Is this in fact a major new civil rights movement?
Until now Hispanics have not been a political force or a major factor in national discussions of civil rights, though they have become the nation's largest minority. The politics of race are still dominated by conversations about black-white relations, and blacks remain the gatekeepers of racial representation on school boards and in city halls. In Congress, African Americans have a caucus more than twice the size of the Hispanic delegation (43 to 21), even though they are a smaller percentage of the population.
One big reason Hispanic power has been slow in maturing is that most Hispanics do not identify themselves as such. Their group reference has tended to be to homelands -- Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic. And of course there are racial differences, especially between black and white Hispanics.
But that changed recently, with marches that drew hundreds of thousands and created coalitions across the lines of Hispanic national identity. People from disparate Hispanic nations coalesced around the debate on illegal immigration. It took a radical step by the House -- giving serious thought to dragnet arrests of all illegal immigrants and charging them with a felony -- to achieve this. To some, the level of hatred and racism against immigrants seemed to match that once directed against blacks in this country..."

READ the rest at the link

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Does preference satisfaction make you happy?

Something fun to think about: What if satisfying your preferences does not lead you to a happy place? Who or how would you restrict your preferences to avoid unhappy outcomes? What if all you really want is to be addicted to junk and avoid all those “deliberative democracy summits in the local junior high gymnasium”?

Wanting vs. Liking in Welfare Economics (Will Wilkinson) the formal theory, the highest ranked preference has the highest utility. And the highest ranked preference is revealed by the agent’s actual choice. (...) Now, the folk theory adds a substantive hypothesis that is no part of the formal theory: preference satisfaction is involves a kind of psychological satisfaction as well as abstract semantic satisfaction (i.e., a fit between the semantic content of the preference and the state of the world.) That is to say, preference satisfaction is satisfying. And the satisfaction of the most preferred option is most satisfying. Economist folk theory envisions a kind of pre-established harmony between formal utility and hedonic utility, and that’s how it is supposed to work. (I blame Bentham.)

Pre-established harmony is a key component of the folk-normative appeal of orthodox welfare theory. Nobody but a bullheaded nettle-grasper will claim that semantic satisfaction by itself has anything to do with well-being. (If I prefer that Saturn have a number of moons greater than five, and it does, I am not therefore better off. Etc.) But the idea that well-being has something to do with the quality of experience is immensely appealing. If preference satisfaction is satisfying, then preference satisfaction might have a lot to be said for it.

The problem is that pre-established harmony is false. The neuroscience shows that satisfaction of the highest ranked preference does not imply the greatest hedonic satisfaction. It does not imply any hedonic satisfaction. Take a look at this paper, “Parsing Reward,” [pdf] by Kent Berridge and Terry Robinson. They report that “wanting” and “liking” have “are in fact dissociable and have different neural substrates.” Roughly, the dopamine system is more about wanting–”incentive salience”–and liking or hedonic satisfaction has more to do with opioids.

Experiments show that morphine addicts will repeatedly push a button to deliver a dose of the drug that is too small to have any experiential effect whatsoever. But they’ll keep pushing it, because the drug is doing something, just nothing you can notice subjectively, and the wanting system keeps you wanting it, even though you get nothing at all experientially out of getting what you want. Berridge argues that a lot of addiction is like that. People who are addicted to cigarettes, for example, may not much like smoking, but they want to smoke anyway.(...) And that pretty much demolishes pre-established harmony. What choice reveals is what we most want. But what we most want need not correspond to any kind of representation of what we expected would produce the best hedonic outcome, and doing what you want need not produce any hedonic payoff at all.

This will trouble a lot of people, mostly economists, who buy into economist folk morality. Without pre-established harmony, some libertarian economist folk wisdom falls apart. It will be possible in many circumstance to make people better off hedonically by decreasing their budget–by taking alternatives away. The hedonically ideal choice set will be the one in which the most preferred option corresponds with the biggest hedonic payoff. But that will be a choice set in which all the options that you want more, but which satisfy less, have been removed.

That, in a nutshell, is the basis for a powerful post-harmony, neo-Benthamite, crypto-Marxist, argument for the restriction of advertising and marketing. All Madison Ave. does is create wants that do not satisfy us. Good policy will restrict our choice sets to only truly satisfying options, like watching public television, paying higher taxes, and attending deliberative democracy summits in the local junior high gymnasium, instead of allowing the market to, in effect, addict us to junk. A system that allows us to self-defeatingly generate and satisfy “false” desires hardly constitutes a realm of true freedom, now does it?