2008-02-26

Nonexistent internet "sexual predator" threat

Bruce Schneier quotes this story summarizing an article recently published in American Psychologist titled Online "predators" and their victims: Myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment.

Essentially, their findings are that internet sexual predation as imagined by paranoid parents, crazy reporters and idiot politicians hardly exists. Almost all internet "predators" are actually people who use the internet to find willing adolescents to engage in consensual sex. Three quarters of "victims" even do it again.

The problem is not in internet "predators", the problem is the insane statutory rape laws across the U.S. Teenagers want to, and do, have sex. That's the reality. Sending people to jail for consensual sex with a 16-year old (let alone a 17-year old!) is just stupid and compounds the damage.

16-year olds who want to have sex are going to have sex anyway.

The age of consent in Slovenia is 15 years - it even used to be 14 - and I think that's a lot more compatible with reality.

Some things you can legislate against successfully, other things - like drug use or teenage sex - you just can't. Water flows down even if Congress decrees it must flow up, regardless of penalty. Laws need to work with reality, not against it.

2008-02-24

Learning a subject by catching the lie

On Overcoming Bias, Kai Chang recounts "an exceptionally powerful teaching technique employed by an economics professor of mine at university":
"Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures ... one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day." And thus began our ten-week course.
Cool article. :-)

2008-02-22

Kosovo and thoughts on self-determination

This recent post by Amos Anderson prompted me to express my sentiments with regard to the recent declaration of independence by Kosovo.

In my opinion, the tendency of countries and "nations" to aspire to being bigger and grander and more influential and more powerful and more unified, is something that hurts their inhabitants, rather than helps them.

I use "nations" in quotes because nations exist only to the extent that we imagine and identify with them, and the benefits we have from "nations" are also predominantly of the imaginary type - the "pride" that comes from identification.

In my opinion, everyone who owns a reasonably sized piece of land should be able to make their own rules on that piece of land.

American culture is overflowing with praise for Abraham Lincoln - how he unified the nation; how before him people said "United States were", and now they say "United States is".

As if it's a good thing.

Serbia and Russia and China would do best to let people have referendums and if they decide to separate, let them separate. The only rational reason I can conceive against it is if the separating region has natural resources that the larger country finds it in its best interest to retain.

Even so, that is a morally dubious reason to prevent a group of people who feel strongly about going away from you from doing so.

Women overestimate inflation more than men

Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland publish a paper titled The Curiously Different Inflation Perspectives of Men and Women:
The data indicate that the public's estimates and predictions of inflation are significantly and systematically related to the demographic characteristics of the respondents. People with high incomes perceive and anticipate much less inflation than people with low incomes, married people less than singles, whites less than nonwhites, and middle-aged people less than young people.

[...]

In the roughly 20,000 responses we have received from our telephone survey since August 1998, the average rate at which respondents thought prices had risen over the previous 12 months was about 6.0 percent. This "perception" of inflation is more than twice the rise recorded by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the same period (2.7 percent). Further, if we separate our sample by gender, we find that the average inflation perceived by the nearly 8,500 men who answered our survey was 4.6 percent. While this response is higher than the official CPI inflation estimate, it pales in comparison to the 6.9 percent inflation perceived by the roughly 11,500 women who took our survey.

[...]

But statistical tests reveal that even after we adjust for the respondents' age, race, education, and income, women in our survey tended to think inflation was 1.9 percentage points higher than men. A similar examination of respondents' predictions of future inflation yields the same basic result: After we account for other major demographic factors, on average, women expected prices to rise 2.1 percentage points more than men.

2008-02-15

Poverty: it is an attitude

Follow-up to: The problem with reducing inequality

"The poor" aren't suffering unless they choose to. Here's evidence:
Alone on a dark gritty street, Adam Shepard searched for a homeless shelter. He had a gym bag, $25, and little else. A former college athlete with a bachelor's degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C.

But Shepard's descent into poverty in the summer of 2006 was no accident. Shortly after graduating from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., he intentionally left his parents' home to test the vivacity of the American Dream. His goal: to have a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within a year.

To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

During his first 70 days in Charleston, Shepard lived in a shelter and received food stamps. He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family. But by then he had moved into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000.
As Shepard remarks in the interview, it's not your background - it's your attitude:
To meet that guy [in the wheelchair] at the shelter, [makes you wonder] 'Can he get out and go to college and become a doctor?' Maybe, maybe not. I think he can set goals..... You can use your talents. That's why, from the beginning, I set very realistic goals: $2,500, a job, car. This isn't a "rags-to-riches million-dollar" story. This is very realistic. I truly believe, based on what I saw at the shelter ...that anyone can do that.
(Tip of the hat to Libertarec.)

2008-02-14

Wealth, income, consumption, or happiness?

The Economist's Free Exchange blog publishes a great article about Which inequalities matter, and what do we know about them?

2008-02-13

Awful, awful progress

I must draw attention to this great comment by Yawar Amin, in a recent discussion on the Freakonomics blog:
Old IBM ad
==========
A man, speaking to another man at a construction site, says: `Look at these new-fangled earth-mover machines. If it wasn’t for them, ten men with shovels could do this work.’

`Yes,’ replies the other, `and if not for the shovels, a hundred men with spoons could do it.’

Low-end jobs in St. Kitts vs. Europe

One difference we noticed between Europe and St. Kitts is that there are lots more people doing low-end jobs here. By low-end, I mean jobs that simply don't exist in Europe.

In European supermarkets I've been to - Slovenian at least - you always need to bag your own groceries. You are pretty much in competition with the cashier in whether you'll be able to bag the groceries in time for them to pass you the bill. In St. Kitts, there's almost always someone there to bag the groceries for you. Sometimes there is more than one person. Sometimes there's even someone who helps you take the groceries to the car - all jobs that don't exist in Europe.

Then there's the local Marriott hotel, which appears to have built a parking lot insufficient for its current popularity. On the busier evenings, people parked all over the place, making the parking lot impossible to navigate. What would a European manager do? Install an expensive ramp to count the number of cars and refuse entry when the parking lot is full. What does the St. Kitts Marriott do? They have a guy standing there all evening, and he lets you in if there are parking spaces available, and doesn't let you in if it is full.

Why do these jobs exist in St. Kitts, but they don't exist in Europe? Why do Europeans employ machinery for the same purpose Kittitians employ people? Is it technological backwardness? That's probably a factor - equipment is more difficult to get here, to install, and to maintain. But if that were all, why do St. Kitts customers get groceries bagged for them, while European customers must do without?

Perhaps the answer might have something to do with the government being keen to see local companies employ more people. But - governments like to see companies employ more people everywhere.

I propose that European stores do not have people bagging groceries for you because of two things:
  1. Minimum wage.
  2. Laws make it difficult to fire people.
If laws make it difficult for you to manage your workforce, and you have the option to choose either a person or machinery, you'll choose machinery. If the machinery malfunctions, it can be fixed. A faulty worker can't be fixed, and European legislation makes it hard indeed to get rid of a worker who is not operating properly. Hence no job for the worker.

That, and the minimum wage, make it more efficient to replace a person with a machine, or to even not provide an unessential service, to the detriment of all.

2008-02-12

The problem with reducing inequality

Lane Kenworthy, a leftist confiscatorian, has published an article with charts showing that the government action which most reduces inequality is not taxation itself, but transfers.

In other words: the aspect of government which achieves the inequality-reducing effects that leftists desire is not that it punishes the rich; it is the transfer of money to those with "less". It does not matter much whether the money was originally confiscated with a progressive income tax or a flat sales tax or whichever method.

Consequently, Lane goes on to propose that the U.S. should consider a national sales tax in addition to the existing income tax system, so as to alleviate the suffering of the masses. Who undoubtedly suffer much. [/sarcasm]

The problem with reducing inequality is that equality is inherently unfair. Some people want to strive to have more, others aren't willing. Why should those who are willing to strive be denied their rewards?

On the other hand, people suffering and not being given opportunities for no good reason isn't fair either. But to help alleviate such pointless and unnecessary suffering, it is not necessary to reduce inequality. In fact, I believe that policies aimed specifically to reduce inequality actually increase suffering.

Policies intended to alleviate pointless and unnecessary suffering should aim to alleviate pointless and unnecessary suffering. Not reduce inequality. Inequality is not suffering. Unless, perhaps, you count feelings of envy as reasonable grounds to complain.