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Eliminating Anonymity To Limit Critique?

Thursday, June 30, 2011
I just noticed that Matt Yglesias has altered his blog so that you have to logged into facebook to comment, which is a great way of stunting criticism. Or maybe I'm just confused about the new system. Anyway, I thought it was interesting that Matt had both a blog I really liked, suggesting we could use a bit more selection by lottery, and a post I really detested claiming that after adjusting for comparative living standards he'd rather live in the U.S. than Germany. I think the point of the metric is that MOST PEOPLE would be better off living in Germany. Come on Matt, I thought you read Rawls! Try using the veil of ignorance and imagine you don't know what your job would be in either country. Then tell me whether higher wages balances out poorer health, higher risk of poverty, higher unemployment, more work, and a GREATER RISK OF BEING DEAD.


Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:45 PM

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Daring to write another post about grammar

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I'll take the risk. Evidently the University of Oxford has sold out and abandoned the serial comma. To which I say: boo!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:03 PM

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Editing Papers

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Why is it that people with PhD's don't know how to use commas?!?! Yeeeaaaarrrgggghhhh!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:16 AM

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I was reading Al Gore's essay in the Rolling Stone and this line would have made me sit down if I hadn't already been sitting:
The average American, meanwhile, is watching television an astonishing five hours a day.

Seriously? Can this be right. I mean, what the heck are they watching. I knew I was out of touch, but do you know how many hours of TV I've watched this week? Zero. I'll freely admit that when BH is home we watch a movie or some Buffy episodes, but five hours??? If that's an average, does this mean that there are people out there watching TV 8 hours a day? Don't they have jobs?

BH and I were traveling last week, and while staying in hotels I skimmed through cable to realize, once again, that there's nothing on.

I am so confused.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:04 PM

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Back At Home

Monday, June 20, 2011
BH is off doing a month-long stint in the field in a faraway western state. Last Thursday and Friday I helped her drive out there. She did most of the driving, but I spotted her when she needed to break - she drives much faster than me! We arrived earlier than we'd originally anticipated and looked forward to a nice relaxing day. After sleeping in we had a pleasant brunch, then went to meet up with her research partner. He suggested that we take a short hike to go see a waterfall that turned into an exhausting 4 hour march up the mountain. The waterfall was pretty, but I was reminded of exactly how old I am. Flying home yesterday took about twelve hours, and I arrived home last night around midnight to two ecstatically happy dogs, four seething cats, and a tortoise and bird too sleepy to care I was home.

So this morning I returned to my very warm office a bit jetlagged and missing my wife already. Only 23 days until I see her again!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:02 AM

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Re-Thinking Representation

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
For some time now I’ve been kicking around the idea of selection of public officials by lottery. The technical term for it is “sortition,” which is pretty unwieldy. Whenever I use the word BH makes a face. Whatever we want to call it, I’m beginning to think that any serious effort to re-think our political paralysis is going to have to involve much greater attention to how we choose the people that represent us, and that the changes required are going to be much more dramatic than we realize.

I’ve always believed that the political system required strong campaign finance reform laws to operate effectively. This is for several reasons. First, the high price of political campaigns, especially in the wake of the Citizens United Decision, slews the public dialogue towards the interests of the rich (and very rich). I have to believe the necessity of winning Wall Street donations is a big reason for the milquetoast Obama presidency. Second, the importance of money makes it extremely unlikely that a broad cross-section of individuals will have a fair chance at serving in government. The current political obsession with deficits in a time of 9% unemployment, or with cutting social security, medicare, and medicaid, is almost inevitably related to the fact that those in the political elite don’t know anybody who’s unemployed or needs medical insurance or don’t have enough to retire on. There’s also the problem of corruption, but I’ll set that aside for now, other than to say that even if there isn’t actually a great deal of graft at any one time (and there’s some evidence that there in fact is corruption of a sort), the appearance of corruption fostered by all the cash flowing around can undermine the legitimacy of the system.

For years I’ve been of the opinion that with a regime of strong campaign finance laws we might be able to improve the quality of political representation. Now I’m not so sure. I’ve been reading lately about the historical development of institutions in republics, and until the 17th century all of them included some element of random selection of public officials. Doing so guarantees that a broader number of perspectives will be heard, and assuming the term of service is brief, makes it clearer that government is not something “out there” acting upon us but something that we control. Now I’m not saying that we need to abolish the House of Representatives, but would it really be so ridiculous to a legislative chamber selected by lot to serve for a year that has to approve legislation?

It sounds radical, I know. And it wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of corruption after the fact (like Evan Bayh’s sell-out to the chamber or the so-called “Shadow Congress” of ex-members becoming lobbyists). Yet as the country’s population continues to rise, we still have legislative bodies that are almost exclusively composed of people from born in the top ten or twenty percent of the income scale - people who have every reason to support the interests of the rentiers (as Krugman has called them) because they are rentiers themselves, immune to the awful challenges facing the rest of us. Conservatives talk a lot about the democracies being in trouble when the people realize that they can vote themselves goodies at the expense of the rich. Regrettably, what’s more often a problem are political elites who do nothing but enrich themselves and their benefactors - who are most definitely NOT the voters they purport to represent.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:35 AM

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While I'm Supposed To Be Working

Thursday, June 02, 2011
I'd like to point out to everybody this wonderfully insightful piece by Bradford Plumer. In it Plumer describes how irrational our attitudes towards commuting and home-buying have become, that we gladly fork over hours of our lives every week in order to have a slightly bigger yard of an extra bedroom. What I find compelling about this piece is that it identifies the one really useful thing I learned in my economics classes: the principle of opportunity costs. Whenever you decide to do A, you forgo B, and need to take the value of B into account. For me, time is precious. I had a good friend who referred to it as his "f*@cking around time." One simply did not interfere with it. For every minute of time I spend commuting (or at work, or mowing the lawn - name your unpleasant task), I'm sacrificing time with my lovely wife or my hobbies or a good book.

What does this have to do with commuting? Well, I hate driving. I was in my mid-twenties before I learned how and to this day I gladly hand over the wheel. One of the reasons I hate driving is that I'm not particularly good at it, but another is that I've never investing sitting in a car with the concept of freedom - I just don't get any inherent pleasure from it. At all. To me every second I spend in the car getting from place to place is a second wasted. At least when I'm walking somewhere I can happily space out. When I'm on a train I can open up a book. Cars? They're mainly good for getting annoyed at your fellow motorists.

So like any good middle-class American I love having a house with a yard and spacious kitchen. I don't think I could ever go back to those tiny holes I lived in New York. On the other hand, I miss the ability to go to the grocery store or to work or the movies without having to sit in a damned car. Or (shudder) look for parking. Bradford is right - there are those of us who would pay good money to have slightly smaller homes that were close to mass transit and/or basic services. Unfortunately the cities we've built either demand "great money" rather than simply good, or don't have a yard for my dog.

Maybe I'm just expecting too much.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 3:47 PM

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