Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cans in a car

I'm moving to a new apartment and saying goodbye to the Dr Pepper cans I accumulated at my old place. I counted (and recounted) 1819 Dr. Pepper cans in my bedroom, all emptied of their sweet contents over a period of 733 days. (Average: 2.48 cans/day.) Dave W. pointed out to me that my combined MIT and UW-Madison Dr Pepper consumption exceeds 3000 cans in number, 280 gallons in volume, and a ton in weight.

As with my MIT collection, I was determined to give these 1819 cans a proper send-off. I ultimately settled on trying to fill my car. I drive a little Hyundai Accent; without doing any calculations, I was worried the cans wouldn't all fit. So, I made sure the car the completely empty---even the glove box. However, by the time the trunk was full, it was apparent that there was more than enough room for all 1819 Dr Pepper cans. In fact, the vehicle was quite safe for travel with two people sitting in front, after the application of some plastic bags and tape along the sides of the front seats to prevent the cans from flying forward. The only difference between before and after driving was that fewer cans were neatly stacked.

Thanks goes to Krista, whose stacking skills and conversation made filling the car go much faster.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

There's a bit of interesting commentary on the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment over at the Volokh Conspiracy---here and here. I hope they follow up with more.
Come back to earth, David Boaz. Over at CATO@liberty, Boaz claims that,
Only if you believe that continuing to support the war in Iraq outweighs all other issues combined can a conservative reasonably support Joe Lieberman. And apparently a lot of Republicans and conservatives are willing to toss aside his commitment to high taxes, higher spending, more regulation, and entitlement expansion in order to get that vote for Bush’s war.
Or maybe you looked at the polls, and figured out that a vote for Schlesinger is effectively a vote for Lamont, whom Boaz never even mentions. In American politics, "I support Smith because of his views on A, B, and C" really means "Smith isn't as bad as Jones on A, B, and C, and they're equally bad on D, E, and F; Jones is better on G, but that's less important."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ray Kurzweil predicts that, "By 2019, we will largely overcome the major diseases that kill 95 percent of us in the developed world, and we will be dramatically slowing and reversing the dozen or so processes that underlie aging." Derek Lowe says he'd bet against that.
One reason I enjoy reading Randall Parker is that he's provocative. He has a few recurring rants that I've grown bored with (more so at this blog), but even they are usually accompanied by an interesting link or two.
I found many interesting comments on an MR post about the Peace Corps. I got the impression that the Peace Corps doesn't materially help foreigners much at all, but that it does give them a better impression of the U.S. For example, I followed a link to this:
The substantive work I did wasn't all that useful... However, and this is the big kicker, while I don't know how useful PC is generally to the people we're trying to help, I'm very certain that it is incredibly, incredibly helpful to the US's image abroad. Samoa gets a lot of foreign aid, because it's both poor and peaceful. Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and China all had programs costing tens of millions of dollars in road building, harbor dredging -- expensive, useful stuff. The US gave very little aid comparatively, but a whole lot of Volunteers, and we got the credit for everything.
On the other hand, the above provoked a comment claiming that the Peace Corps is not so loved in the Dominican Republic.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Don Bourdeaux soundly rebuts the argument the free trade should be restricted to prevent people who worked hard "played by the rules" from losing their jobs. The rebuttal is mostly a pragmatic argument. (If we guaranteed jobs for all rule-keepers....) Yet, after reading the argument, my gut reaction is a moral uneasiness about desert. When limiting one's moral considerations to desert, the fact that free commerce advances a society's overall prosperity is ignored. The unease is the same as that I experience when considering a hypothetical good farmer who is also a good man losing his crop to a storm.

For those who know a bit of Reformed theology, I'm a five-point Calvinist, but of the five points, total depravity has always been the hardest for me to accept. From introspection I realize that the doctrine certainly applies to me, and abstractly I can use this this data and various arguments to conclude that the same is true of every other person. In practice, I know a lot of nice people; appearances deceive my emotions. It's also possible my emotional reaction confuses desert with my own preferences: I want nice people to do well, so I want nice people to deserve good.

I'm not sure what applications the above meandering ruminations have outside my own head, but at least one is that political slogans about protecting "people who work hard and play by the rules" have a deep appeal. It's no wonder so many don't like free trade.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

An oldie but a goodie: confessions of a textbook editor. (Hat tip: Paul Graham.)
Talking with some friends today, I mentioned that I voted for Bush in 2004. I was then asked a very good question that I hadn't considered before. If there were no terms limits and Bush was running in 2008, would I vote for him again? I didn't have the most articulate answer at the time, but upon further reflection, I must say that I would vote against Bush in the primary election and for him in the general election (presuming Bush won the primary). I believe that would be the best voting strategy to advance the political cause that matters to me most nowadays, smaller government.

Yes, Bush probably wouldn't face any serious primary opponents (then again, with all the Right's discontent about spending and its divisions over Iraq and immigration...), but this is all a counterfactual; the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951.

P.S. Regarding that "nowadays," there was a period after Sept. 11 when the most important political cause to me was defeating our enemies in the Islamic world. However, the data accumulated since then has led me to believe that Sept. 11 was an exception, not a new rule. Our Islamic enemies are pathetic compared to past opponents like the Soviet Union. Still worthy, but less urgent, is the cause of exporting good parts of Western civilization like democracy, religious freedom, and free enterprise. (That list is not exhaustive!) As the urgency of worthy causes abroad have decreased for me, worthy causes at home have reasserted their old priority.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The official poverty rate is mighty strange. Historical regressions suggest that the "poverty rate falls when unemployment rises; and when education or anti-poverty spending rise, the poverty rate rises too." What's going on?

A lot can be explained by the fact that Americans with relatively low incomes spend a lot more than they used too.

In 1960–61, the lowest income quartile of U.S. households reportedly spent about 12 percent more than their annual pretax income. By 1972–73, however, the poorest fifth of households were spending nearly 40 percent more than their annual income — and by 2002 were spending well over double their reported annual income.
This may have something to do with increased income variability, i.e., temporarily poor folk living beyond their (current) means.

Several researchers have attempted to estimate longer-term trends for transitory variance in U.S. household income based on these data. Their findings all point to a single general pattern: one of secular, and quite significant, increases in such variability between the early 1970s and the beginning of the twenty-first century.


Clearly more research is warranted here. For now, however, we may note that the curious divergence between reported income and expenditure patterns that has been recorded in consumer expenditure surveys for the period since the early 1970s appears to be matched by a simultaneous reported rise in transitory income variance for U.S. families in the psid survey — and with a particularly marked increase in proportionate year-to-year variations for families on the borderline of the bottom income quintile.

Whatever's going on, many indications of material improvement clearly contradict the stagnation of the poverty rate over the last thirty years.

To summarize the evidence from physical and biometric indicators: Low-income and poverty-level households today are better-fed and less threatened by undernourishment than they were a generation ago. Their homes are larger, better equipped with plumbing and kitchen facilities, and more capaciously furnished with modern conveniences. They are much more likely to own a car (or a light truck, or another type of motor vehicle) now than 30 years earlier. By most every indicator apart from obesity, their health care status is considerably more favorable today than at the start of the War on Poverty. Their utilization of health and medical services has steadily increased over recent decades.

Monday, August 07, 2006

I read all the time about how horrible is our exposure to the world oil market, with far away political instabilities threatening our economy and even drawing us into war. But today I'm especially glad of this exposure.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cash payments for agricultural purposes have cost the government $172 billion over the last decade, and $25 billion in 2005 alone. This is nearly 50 percent more than what was paid to families receiving welfare.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I see that Bryan Caplan has learned of dark matter (in the context of economics, not astronomy). I hope dark matter is real, but I'm given pause by critiques like those of Brad Setser, who believes that what's really going on is corporate tax arbitrage.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006