Friday, September 28, 2007

Should Economists Rule the World?

"Should Economists Rule the World?
Trends and Implications of Leadership Patterns in the Developing World, 1960—2005
Anil Hira, Political Science, Simon Fraser University.
International Political Science Review, Vol. 28, No. 3, 325-360 (2007)
Abstract: This article examines more carefully the oft-made hypotheses that (1) "technocrats" or politicians with an economics background are increasingly common and (2) that this "improvement" in qualifications will lead to improvements in economic policy. The article presents a database on the qualifications of leaders of the world's major countries over the past four decades. The article finds that while there is evidence for increasing "technification," there are also distinct and persistent historical patterns among Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American leaders. Using statistical analysis, the article finds that we cannot conclude that leadership training in economics leads to better economic outcomes.
Por supuesto, no podemos dar crédito alguno a este análisis: obviamente este tipo de cosas no se pueden medir estadísticamente.  El autor, un politólogo, está sesgado por su agenda "anti-economista".  Lo que pasa es que los políticos y los poderes fácticos no permiten a los economistas implementar "fist best policies".  Es toda una conspiración... :-)

Sullivan's liberal mantra

A bit of motivational reading, for a change...
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - by Andrew Sullivan
Link (audio version included)  
"I believe in life. I believe in treasuring it as a mystery that will never be fully understood, as a sanctity that should never be destroyed, as an invitation to experience now what can only be remembered tomorrow.
(...) I believe in liberty. I believe that within every soul lies the capacity to reach for its own good, that within every physical body there endures an unalienable right to be free from coercion. I believe in a system of government that places that liberty at the center of its concerns, that enforces the law solely to protect that freedom, that sides with the individual against the claims of family and tribe and church and nation, that sees innocence before guilt and dignity before stigma. I believe in the right to own property, to maintain it against the benign suffocation of a government that would tax more and more of it away. I believe in freedom of speech and of contract, the right to offend and blaspheme, as well as the right to convert and bear witness.
(...) I believe in the pursuit of happiness. Not its attainment, nor its final definition, but its pursuit. I believe in the journey, not the arrival; in conversation, not monologues; in multiple questions rather than any single answer. I believe in the struggle to remake ourselves and challenge each other in the spirit of eternal forgiveness, in the awareness that none of us knows for sure what happiness truly is, but each of us knows the imperative to keep searching. I believe in the possibility of surprising joy, of serenity through pain, of homecoming through exile.
(...) And I believe in a country that enshrines each of these three things, a country that promises nothing but the promise of being more fully human, and never guarantees its success. In that constant failure to arrive -- implied at the very beginning -- lies the possibility of a permanently fresh start, an old newness, a way of revitalizing ourselves and our civilization in ways few foresaw and one day many will forget."


Friday, September 21, 2007

Krugman on political journalism

Paul Krugman has a blog now: "The conscience of a liberal".  Which is good news because, unlike his NYT column, the blog does not require a paid subscription.  For starters, I agree with his criticism of political journalism (which is slightly related to the troubles "narrative explanations in general).

What I Hate About Political Coverage

Warning: this is a bit (actually, more than a bit) of a rant.

One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans.

There are two big problems with this kind of reporting. The important problem is that it fails to inform the public about what matters. In 2004, very few people had any idea about the very real differences between the candidates on domestic policy. It remains to be seen whether 2008 is any better.

The other problem, which has become very apparent lately, is that this sort of coverage often fails even on its own terms, because the way things look to inside-the-Beltway pundits can be very different from the way they look to real people.


Monday, September 17, 2007

El enfoque Nirvana

En muchos debates de política pública, aunque menos de lo que uno desearía, es común recurrir a criterios de eficiencia (también llamado criterio costo-beneficio) para evaluar arreglos institucionales. Como tantas cosas, el uso descuidado de los criterios de eficiencia puede conducir a razonamientos falaces. En un famoso paper de 1969, Harold Demsetz criticó duramente el enfoque de eficiencia usado por algunos economistas (en particular, su argumento iba contra Kenneth Arrow, premio nobel de economía) Demsetz llamó a esto el "Nirvana approach".

La idea básica es que si uno compara los arreglos institucionales del mundo real con una "norma ideal" (a menudo inexistente o irrealizable) es muy fácil concluir que el mundo real es ineficiente. Como sabemos, un enfoque comparado más útil consiste en evaluar los arreglos institucionales alternativos del mundo de real y, quizá usando la norma ideal como criterio, concluir que el arreglo que menos discrepe de esta norma es second-best efficient.

La sutil distinción entre estos enfoques es importante pues mientras el Nirvana approach te lleva a concluir que (casi) todo el mundo es ineficiente, el segundo enfoque te permite hallar (algunos) casos relativamente eficientes, dadas las restricciones del mundo real.

Según Demsetz, el Nirvana approach puede conducir a tres falacias adicionales:

The grass is always greener fallacy. Una vez que detectas una ineficiencia en el mundo real (digamos, una falla de mercado) inmediatamente asumir que una intervención (gubernamental, colectiva, divina, oenegera, etc.) puede llevarte a un mundo mejor. El problema es suponer que una alternativa aún no examinada es necesariamente superior al statu quo.

The fallacy of the free lunch. Suponer que tal intervención puede llevarse a cabo sin costos sociales significativos o sin distorsión alguna en los incentivos (a veces perversos) del mundo real. El problema es que si estos costos son más elevados que la ineficiencia detectada, a veces lo eficiente es dejar las cosas tal y como están.

The people could be different fallacy. Suponer que la mentada ineficiencia del mundo real desaparecería por arte de magia si tan sólo la gente fuera "mejor" (o más consciente, altruista, civilizada, sensata, educada, etc.) El problema es que es poco probable que la naturaleza humana cambie.

Las primeras dos falacias casi siempre aparecen juntas en muchos argumentos populares y académicos, mientras que la tercera puede aparecer sola o acompañada. Por otro lado, noten que la argumentación de Demsetz puede conducir a conclusiones conservadoras. En cualquier caso, sería deseable que nuestros analistas consideraran este tipo de problemas a la hora de evaluar el mundo o hacer propuestas de política para mejorarlo.

Referencia: Demsetz, Harold (1969). "Information and Efficiency: Another Viewpoint", Journal of Law and Economics 12(1), p. 1-22.

Los ricos cada vez son MENOS ricos...

Si comparamos la riqueza, en el mejor momento de sus vidas, de los multimillonarios norteamericanos y la traemos a valor presente (dólares de 2006), John D. Rockefeller sería varias veces más rico que Bill Gates.  Estos son algunos datos:
Ratio vs. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) 305.3 1.0
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) 281.2 1.1
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) 168.4 1.8
Richard Mellon (1858-1933) 82.3 3.7
Sam Walton (1918-1992) 58.6 5.2
Henry Ford (1863-1947) 54.3 5.6
Bill Gates (1955- ) 53 5.8
*Cifras en "2006 US billion dollars"
Una lista más detallada está aquí: The all-time richest Americans. Estas cifras provienen de All the Money in the World -- How the Forbes 400 Make -- And Spend -- Their Fortunes, de Peter W. Bernstein y Annalyn Swan.