Assorted Links (3/24/2013)

Here’s a list of articles that I have been reading lately:

When Hope Tramples Truth

“It is easy to trace disasters like the Euro and the Arab Spring to the bursts of unfounded optimism that gave rise to them. So why is pessimism so often ignored?”

Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America

“In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled.” The other “startling” fact from this NPR article is that there apparently exists a fairly lucrative “business opportunity” for firms which help state governments move “disabled” people from state welfare over to federal disability status. For example, one such company asked for $2,300 per person from the state of Missouri for effectively converting its state welfare recipients into Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants. In other words, substantial transactions costs are apparently being paid by state taxpayers to transfer the costs of state welfare programs over to federal taxpayers…

Health Insurers Warn on Premiums

Here’s a very interesting (ungated) Wall Street Journal article concerning some of the “unintended” consequences of Obamacare…”Health insurers are privately warning brokers that premiums for many individuals and small businesses could increase sharply next year because of the health-care overhaul law, with the nation’s biggest firm projecting that rates could more than double for some consumers buying their own plans.”

Memo to Staff: Take More Risks

“Want to succeed? Embrace failure…. Extended Stay CEO Jim Donald said employees were afraid of taking risks. So he is handing out “Get Out of Jail, Free” cards to 9,000 employees. They call in the card when they take a big risk on behalf of the company – no questions asked.

New York’s Coolest New Museum: MoMath

“Bloomberg’s Tom Keene goes to MoMath, the first math museum in the United States.”

Preach Like Your Faith Depends on It – 10 Big Ideas

“They can be as huge as a new constitution or as tiny as a medical microchip. In this special report, TIME explores innovations that are changing the way we work, live, pray and play.”

Jeremy Lott on the Media’s Pope-O-Rama

“How well did the popular media do in covering the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Conclave of Cardinals, and the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis I?”

Failing College

“Why are we screwing up the world’s best higher education system?” Here’s the answer in a nutshell, “Students arrive on campus underqualified, courtesy of an American public school system that has flatlined in quality while tripling its per-student cost. They do less academic work yet receive better grades than their parents did. And their post-college job prospects are dim, with unemployment rates for recent grads hovering at 12 percent.”

The America that works

Quoting from The Economist, “This is the America that China’s leaders laugh at, and the rest of the democratic world despairs of. Its debt is rising, its population is ageing in a budget-threatening way, its schools are mediocre by international standards, its infrastructure rickety, its regulations dense, its tax code byzantine, its immigration system hare-brained—and it has fallen from first position in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings to seventh in just four years.”

The Doctor Will Not See You Now. He’s Clocked Out

“In The Wall Street Journal, Scott Gottlieb writes that ObamaCare is pushing physicians into becoming hospital employees and the results aren’t encouraging.”

The New Power of Memory

“Sharp recall skills have proven themselves key to future success, scientists have found. A look at what some call mental time travel.”

Soda Ban Ruling a Devastating Defeat for Mayor Bloomberg

“The judge who struck down Mayor Bloomberg’s nanny state soda ban issued a sweeping opinion that does everything but hand Mayor Poppins his umbrella and carpetbag.”

Medicaid Expansion Too Good to Be True

“If implemented, ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion will cost Michigan taxpayers $2.25 billion over the next 10 years. Fortunately, legislators can still defend state taxpayers by saying “No.””

Intrade, R.I.P.

“From the Intrade website: “With sincere regret we must inform you that due to circumstances recently discovered we must immediately cease trading activity””

Michael Mauboussin rocks!

From Knowledge@Wharton: “How do we know which of our successes and failures can be attributed to either skill or luck? That is the question that investment strategist Michael J. Mauboussin explores in his book “The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing”. Wharton management professor Adam M. Grant recently sat down with Mauboussin to talk about the paradox of skill, the conditions for luck and how to mitigate against overconfidence.”

I also recommend Mauboussin’s book entitled “Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition”. Mauboussin does a wonderful job explaining how to use modern social science findings (particularly behavioral finance) to become a better decision-maker when facing risk and uncertainty.

Assorted Links (3/10/2013)

Here’s a list of articles that I have been reading lately:

Cutting Government Will Boost the Economy

“Why Keynesianism is still wrong.”

Colleges Bleeding Students to Buy Golden Parachutes for Administrators


“College administrators have found an interesting new way to strike it rich: quitting their jobs.” Quoting from this article on the high cost of college, “People blame faculty, but most of the increase in cost has come from administrative bloat.” The various “Golden Parachute” examples given by NYU during recent years are quite impressive indeed!

Stop Hedging Around

“Hedge funds have amassed a record size of assets. If only their results were as impressive.” Brett Arends notes that given the fees typically charged by hedge funds (2% of the value of assets under management plus 20% of any profits), such funds would have to beat the market by 50 percent a year, every year, just to match a low-cost portfolio of stocks and bonds.

College: Where Free Speech Goes to Die

“Thanks to unconstitutional university speech codes, students are losing their intellectual edge.”

Budget Politics

Hoover Institution economist extraordinaire Thomas Sowell opines on the political economy of sequestration… He poses a particularly interesting thought experiment which we now see being played out in spades: “Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.”

Edith Widder: How we found the giant squid

“Humankind has been looking for the giant squid since we first started taking pictures underwater. But the elusive deep-sea predator could never be caught on film. Oceanographer and inventor Edith Widder shares the key insight — and the teamwork — that helped to capture the giant squid.”

Hugo Chávez

“The lesson is to beware the rule of charismatic demagogues.”

Actually, the real Dow is still 11% below its record

“In inflation adjusted terms, the Dow is still 11% below its all-time high set in January 2000.”

Leigh Steinberg on Sports, Agents, and Athletes

Leigh Steinberg is the legendary sports agent depicted in the film “Jerry Maguire”. He writes a regular column on, and I recommend not only listening to this podcast but also reading his article “The Death of the NFL” at Here’s a synopsis of this very worthwhile and informative podcast: “Leigh Steinberg, legendary sports agent, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his career as a sports agent. He discusses the challenges of building a clientele, how sports agents spend their time, strategies for building a brand as an athlete, and safety issues currently affecting the National Football League.”

Shining like the Sun

I highly recommend UT-Austin sociologist Mark Regnerus’ “… non-sociological compilation of thoughts on Lent, magnanimity, and dying.”

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic

AEI president Art Brooks argues that an important reason why conservatives find themselves continually losing at the ballot box is because they’re using a faulty moral arithmetic…

Running on Empty

“John H. Cochrane reviews The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig.” This book review by University of Chicago finance professor John Cochrane provides the best “layman’s” explanation that I have seen concerning how regulatory complicity (by sanctioning extraordinarily high levels of debt relative to equity coupled with providing bailouts for so-called “Too Big to Fail” (TBTF) banks) not only set the stage for the GFC (global financial crisis) of 2008, but also sets the stage for future financial crises by effectively codifying TBTF and bailouts (compliments of the so-called “Dodd-Frank” financial reform law) as “essential” parts of the architecture of the US financial system…

Unfortunately, the rest of the developed world seems to be following the US lead in rendering financial markets even more susceptible to financial crises going forward by similarly designating TBTF firms as “systemically important financial institutions” (SIFI) for which bailouts are implicitly promised. No sane person would ever design a system of regulation like this, which effectively rewards large financial institutions for rolling the dice with the house’s (taxpayer) money…

The Minimum Wage Harms the Most Vulnerable

“How long will progressives get away with pretending to care about the poor?” Abolish the minimum wage—for the sake of the poor.

Obama Is Playing a New Game

“He seems to think the way to win is by trying not to make a deal, Peggy Noonan writes.”

In Cuts, a Stroll Through Obscure Parts of Budget

“The ‘sequester’ reductions range from $6 million in the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust to $1 million to wool manufacturers in a homeland-security program.” Still scratching my head over the following sentence from this article: “Payments to wool manufacturers, a $15 million Department of Homeland Security program, would be cut by $1 million”. To be sure, border agents on the Canadian border might require heavy wool coats, but $15 million worth?

Imagining a Post-Bundle TV World

As more consumers cut the cord, cable-TV executives are considering the end of the bundle system. That may allow customers flexibility in choosing channels, rather than subscribing to large packages.” My wife and I cut the cord back in November 2011. By dropping Time Warner’s so-called “Triple Play” service (consisting of digital cable, digital phone, and internet) and only subscribing to Time Warner’s RoadRunner Internet service, our monthly bill is now more than $100 lighter than it used to be. We still have home phone service, but it’s free and our telecom carrier is Google (see I purchased a “rabbit ear” style antenna from Radio Shack for $11 and we now receive all the local network affiliates plus various other channels in HD for free, although we mostly watch programs on Hulu Plus ($8 per month) and occasionally rent movies from Amazon. It’s amazing that it has taken the cable companies this long to “unbundle” – their customers have been doing their own “homemade” unbundling for some time now…

Population Decline and the Birth Dearth

Jonathan Last’s new book attributes population decline and the birth dearth to two trends that started in the Enlightenment era—first, an effort to limit death; second, an effort to control birth. Both trends are guided by a desire to control nature. Quoting from this fascinating article, “All Western countries have birthrates below the replacement rates, suggesting that soon all countries will experience a graying of, and a decline in, population.”

Wal-Mart’s Sales Problem—And America’s

The left loves to see the retailer suffer, but does its bad February herald another recession? Apparently the Jan. 1 expiration of the payroll-tax cut on Jan. 1 (which lowered most worker’s net pay by 2 percent) was a contributing factor, as was the decision by the IRS to delay the start of its tax refunds to Jan. 31 from Jan. 17.

Varoufakis on Valve, Spontaneous Order, and the European Crisis

This is one of the most intriguing EconTalk podcasts I have ever listened to. I particularly like his title as “economist-in-residence” at a gaming company called Valve Software (cf. Here’s the synopsis from

“Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens, the University of Texas, and the economist-in-residence at Valve Software talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the unusual structure of the workplace at Valve. Valve, a software company that creates online video games, has no hierarchy or bosses. Teams of software designers join spontaneously to create and ship video games without any top-down supervision. Varoufakis discusses the economics of this Hayekian workplace and how it actually functions alongside Steam–an open gaming platform created by Valve. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the economic crisis in Europe. ”

Obama’s sequester deal-changer

“The president and his staff have been wrong about how the sequester came about.”