Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rank fetishism

Elias Khalil gave an excellent talk yesterday at ICES, providing a compelling explanation for why we continue to put up with politicians. Here's the abstract:

The dominant view of corruption is based on the principal-agent framework: corruption undermines the interest of the principal. This view cannot explain why corruption, in many cases, is accepted and even demanded by the public, the principal. This paper provides a general theory that provides an answer. It redefines corruption as privileges enjoyed by people of high rank, what is called "rank fetishism." The principal demands people in authority to indulge in privileges to enhance, via heightened neurotransmitters, their own neural capital.

Essentially, blame Smithean sympathy, the peculiar kind. Peculiar sympathy is when we imagine ourselves as others, to avoid the pain of our own frustrated ambitions. Setting up leaders thus psychologically benefits us, the followers. Likewise the designated leaders benefit in more than the obvious way, they psychologically rise to the occasion, e.g. Sarah Palin. It is therefore a kind of free lunch, up to a point. Eventually the process can get out of hand, e.g. the French revolution, or Emelda Marcos and her 3000 shoes. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why did it take so long for this to happen?

Everything about Alison Gannett is green, from her straw-bale house to her solar-powered appliances. But when you're as serious about curbing carbon as she is, a mere hybrid won't do. That's why she spent $35,000 to install an extension cord on her Ford Escape Hybrid.

She is among a small but vocal — and growing — number of people who aren't waiting for automakers to deliver plug-in hybrids. These early adopters are shelling out big money to have already thrifty cars like the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid converted into full-on plug-in hybrids capable of triple-digit fuel economy. "I love watching the mileage go up," says Gannett, a world champion extreme skier and dedicated eco-evangelist. "The highest I have gotten is 232 mpg. I average around 80-100 mpg."

Read the rest here.

Ig Nobel prizes announced

We all know it and science has proved it - wires, string, and hair will inevitably tie themselves in knots.

This astonishing non-revelation is one of 10 pieces of real research honoured this year with Ig Nobel Prizes.

The spoof alternatives to the rather more sober Nobel prizes were presented in a ceremony at Harvard University.

Other winners included studies that showed coca cola was an effective spermicide; and that fleas on dogs jump higher than fleas on cats.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What is Dodd after?

From the WaPo:

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, acknowledged last night that it was tempting to oppose a bailout and "stick a finger in the eye of the bankers and the tycoons whose greed brought us to this crisis."

"But after the rush of righteousness fades, what then?" said Dodd, an architect of the package. "We can take a cut at Wall Street, but Wall Street won't feel the brunt of the pain."

From this we might conclude that Dodd is for reducing the capital gains tax. Or we might conclude that he just wants to spend more money. I wonder which it is.