The Battle of the Borders

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Arnold Kling believes that The Battle of the Borders is a distraction from more meaningful issues:

I believe that illegal immigrants bring relatively little economic benefit and cause relatively little economic harm. I believe that there are substitutes readily available for the work done by illegal immigrants. Legal residents could do some of the work. Other labor could be replaced by capital or by alternative production techniques. By the same token, because there are many substitutes available for unskilled labor, the salvation of American workers does not lie in immigration restrictions.

My prediction is that effective restrictions on illegal immigration would cause a shift in the location of unskilled labor, but not a meaningful long-term change in real wages. In the short run, wages for unskilled labor would rise in the United States. This would cause more manufacturing plants to relocate outside the United States, driving wages back down. Compared with the situation today, the net effect of immigration restrictions would be to shift some Mexican workers out of service work in America and into manufacturing work in Mexico. Within the United States, the reverse would happen: legal residents would lose manufacturing jobs more rapidly, and hang onto low-wage service jobs longer. I do not think that these economic effects are important.

WWE: Illegal Mexican Wrestlers Taking Smackdowns American Wrestlers Don’t Want

Friday, March 31st, 2006

WWE: Illegal Mexican Wrestlers Taking Smackdowns American Wrestlers Don’t Want:

In response to criticism over World Wrestling Entertainment hiring policies, World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon defended the league’s reliance on Mexican wrestlers as “the only way fans can witness the grueling, bone-crunching maneuvers that American wrestlers want nothing to do with.”

McMahon made the remarks after the Border Patrol, an unaffiliated Texas-based tag team known for wrestling masked Mexicans and then reporting them to Immigration and Naturalization Service officials, revealed that dozens of illegal Mexican wrestlers join the WWE each year.

The wrestlers, also known as “jobbers,” come in search of greater title opportunities and more interesting storylines than those available in their small, unorganized Lucha Libre leagues.

“These masked luchadores are hard-working, energetic, and always willing to learn new skills that Americans consider beneath them—such as being power-bombed from the top turnbuckle or chokeslammed through the announcer’s booth,” said McMahon on this week’s WWE Raw.

“The idea that these Mexicans are somehow stealing jobs from American wrestlers is ridiculous,”McMahon said.

“After all, someone’s got to take these folding chairs to the face.” McMahon then picked up a folding chair and whacked Rey Mysterio Jr. in the face.

It is not known exactly how many Mexican wrestlers are on the WWE payroll, since many lack Social Security numbers, or even clear and verifiable identities, as McMahon himself admitted Monday. “I know as much about these masked wrestlers as the fans do,” McMahon said. “What’s certain is, they often seem marvelous and mysterious, saintly, and even rude.”

Lioness and Jindo Dog

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Another cute At the Zoo photo:

Lioness ‘Soonee’ and South Korean traditional breed Jindo dog ‘Tangchil’ play together at a zoo in Chinhae, about 410 km (255 miles) southeast of Seoul March 20, 2006. The 10-year-old Soonee who was raised by zoo keepers and the 5-year-old male dog Tangchil have lived together in the same cage since 2002.

Smart Kids’ Brains May Mature Later

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Smart Kids’ Brains May Mature Later:

The findings are especially strong for cortex development in the front part of the brain and in a strip over the top of the head, areas where complex mental tasks are done, Shaw said.

One analysis found the cortex in kids with the highest IQs — 121 to 149 — didn’t reach maximum thickness until age 11. Children who were just slightly less bright reached that point at age 9, and those with average intelligence at around 6. In all cases, the cortex later thinned as the children matured.

Nobody knows what’s happening within the cortex to make it get thicker or thinner, Shaw said, so it’s impossible to say why those changes would be related to intelligence. Brain development is influenced by intellectual stimulation, so that probably plays a role, he said.

Indian Cattle Drug Is Killing Vultures

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

An Indian Cattle Drug Is Killing Vultures — by the millions:

Conservationists said Wednesday that they expect Indian authorities soon to ban a cattle drug blamed for killing more than 90 percent of the country’s vultures.

Millions of long-billed, slender-billed and oriental white-backed vultures have died in South Asia after eating cattle carcasses tainted with diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory and painkiller given to sick cows.

Vultures are vital to the ecosystem:

Vultures play a vital role in disposing of carcasses, keeping down populations of stray dogs and rats that also feed on dead cattle and can spread disease among humans.

Vultures are also crucial to Zoroastrianism:

Zoroastrians consider the earth and fire too sacred to use for either burial or cremation, and traditionally leave their dead atop towers, to be consumed by vultures.

Marines Decline Extra Armor

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Marines Decline Extra Armor:

Extra body armor — the lack of which caused a political storm in the United States — has flooded in to Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.

Marines already carry loads as heavy as 70 pounds when they patrol the dangerous streets in towns and villages in restive Anbar province. The new armor plates, while only about five pounds per set, are not worth carrying for the additional safety they are said to provide, some say.

‘We have to climb over walls and go through windows,’ said Sgt. Justin Shank of Greencastle, Pa. ‘I understand the more armor, the safer you are. But it makes you slower. People don’t understand that this is combat and people are going to die.’

Don’t burn the food

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Steven Levitt says, Don’t burn the food:

In a sample of 13 African countries between 1999 and 2004, 52% of women surveyed say they think that wife beating is justified if she neglects the children; around 45% think it’s justified if she goes out without telling the husband or argues with him; 36% if she refuses sex, and 30% if she burns the food.

And this is what the women think.

We live in a strange world.

(Source: Demographic and Health Surveys, publicly available at www.measuredhs.com. Thanks to Emily Oster for forwarding these statistics to me.)

Give Grumpy Gamers What They Want

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Lore Sjöberg asks game developers to Give Grumpy Gamers What They Want:

Characters That Don’t Look Dead
It used to be that you needed a game with Silent Hill or Resident Evil in the title to freak you the hell out. Nowadays, though, we’re deep in the uncanny valley: Thanks to graphics powerful enough to render every pore and eye wrinkle (but not necessarily to animate faces realistically), every in-game bystander and security guard looks like a shambling nightmare creature clinging to life through dark magic and sheer force of will. I swear, if I have one more nightmare in which Tiger Woods and Lara Croft are looking to harvest my organs, I’m going back to the ColecoVision.

Genetically Altered Pork Chops

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

It’s much harder to eat Genetically Altered Pork Chops when they’re looking up at you like that:

US scientists said on March 26, 2006 that they had genetically engineered pigs that make beneficial fatty acids and may one day serve as a healthier source of pork chops or bacon.

Mmm…healthy bacon…

Bosses in love with claptrap and blinded by ideologies

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Simon Caulkin says that bosses are in love with claptrap and blinded by ideologies:

Heroic leaders are a disaster. Seventy per cent of mergers fail. In most organisations, financial incentives cause more problems than they solve. There is no connection between high executive pay and company performance (well, there is — the wider the pay differentials, the lower the commitment of the less well paid). The main result of many consultancy assignments is another consultancy assignment. All ‘silver bullet’ or ‘big ideas’ on their own are wrong.

These are not theories, but facts.

He’s reviewing Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense (Harvard Business School Press), by Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton.

Here’s an Idea: Let Everyone Have Ideas

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

In Here’s an Idea: Let Everyone Have Ideas, William C. Taylor, co-founder and founding editor of Fast Company magazine, looks at idea markets:

At Rite-Solutions, the architecture of participation is both businesslike and playful. Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal market, which is called Mutual Fun. Each stock comes with a detailed description — called an expect-us, as opposed to a prospectus — and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in “opinion money” to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock and, better yet, volunteering to work on the project. Volunteers share in the proceeds, in the form of real money, if the stock becomes a product or delivers savings.

Mr. Marino, 57, president of Rite-Solutions, says the market, which began in January 2005, has already paid big dividends. One of the earliest stocks (ticker symbol: VIEW) was a proposal to apply three-dimensional visualization technology, akin to video games, to help sailors and domestic-security personnel practice making decisions in emergency situations. Initially, Mr. Marino was unenthusiastic about the idea — “I’m not a joystick jockey” — but support among employees was overwhelming. Today, that product line, called Rite-View, accounts for 30 percent of total sales.

“Would this have happened if it were just up to the guys at the top?” Mr. Marino asked. “Absolutely not. But we could not ignore the fact that so many people were rallying around the idea. This system removes the terrible burden of us always having to be right.”

Another virtue of the stock market, Mr. Lavoie added, is that it finds good ideas from unlikely sources. Among Rite-Solutions’ core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos, a big market for the company. A member of the administrative staff, with no technical expertise, thought that this technology might also be used in educational settings, to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math.

She started a stock called Win/Play/Learn (symbol: WPL), which attracted a rush of investment from engineers eager to turn her idea into a product. Their enthusiasm led to meetings with Hasbro, up the road in Pawtucket, and Rite-Solutions won a contract to help it build its VuGo multimedia system, introduced last Christmas.

The Container That Changed the World

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

In The Container That Changed the World, Virginia Postrel explains that the shipping container’s story “is a classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction”:

Just as the computer revolutionized the flow of information, the shipping container revolutionized the flow of goods. As generic as the 1′s and 0′s of computer code, a container can hold just about anything, from coffee beans to cellphone components. By sharply cutting costs and enhancing reliability, container-based shipping enormously increased the volume of international trade and made complex supply chains possible.

“Low transport costs help make it economically sensible for a factory in China to produce Barbie dolls with Japanese hair, Taiwanese plastics and American colorants, and ship them off to eager girls all over the world,” writes Marc Levinson in the new book “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” (Princeton University Press).

For consumers, this results in lower prices and more variety. “People now just take it for granted that they have access to an enormous selection of goods from all over the world,” Mr. Levinson said in an interview. That selection, he said, “was made possible by this technological change.”

When the first container ship set sail 50 years ago, businesses and regulators treated distribution not as a single process but as a series of distinct modes: ships, trucks and trains. Every time the transportation mode changed, somebody had to transfer physically every box or barrel.

“By far the biggest expense in this process was shifting the cargo from land transport to ship at the port of departure and moving it back to truck or train at the other end of the ocean voyage,” writes Mr. Levinson, a Wall Street economist and former economic journalist. This “breaking bulk” could easily consume half of the total cost of shipping.

Goods often had to wait in warehouses for the next stage. Those transfers and delays made shipping slow and schedules uncertain. They also created opportunities for damage, mistakes and more than a little theft. (Whiskey was one of the first products shipped by container because it was so subject to pilferage.) Different companies in different industries facing different price regulations for different goods handled each step.

Today, by contrast, “you can call one of the big international ship lines, tell them to pick up your container in Bangkok, which is not a port, and tell them to deliver it in Dallas, which is not a port, and they will make the arrangements to get it to a port and get it on a ship and get it off at another port and get it onto a train or truck and get it where it needs to be,” Mr. Levinson said.

On her own site, Postrel adds a key point:

At first, containerization grew through cracks in the rigid regulatory structure of the 1960s. But today’s fully integrated systems became possible only after trucking and rail were deregulated in the 1970s and maritime rates were deregulated (to very little fanfare) in 1984. Assumptions about transportation regulation have changed so radically that reading about the bad old days seems like science fiction.

As Levinson said in our interview, “Nobody even remembers what the Interstate Commerce Commission used to do. But you’ve probably been in the old ICC building on Constitution Avenue in Washington. It had a choice spot in Washington. Important agency, important location, big building. This was a key federal agency. And it spent its time hearing arguments about whether this truck line ought to be able to carry cigarettes in the same trucks as it carried textiles or whether the rates that were being charged to carry pretzels were adequate. People have trouble remembering that today.”

Incidentally, this was Postrel’s last “Economic Scene” column for the New York Times — but there’s good news: she’s “writing a column on commerce and culture for The Atlantic,” and Tyler Cowen is taking over her Times slot. Excellent.

Your Space Is Waiting: Reserving a Parking Spot

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, gets mentioned in Your Space Is Waiting: Reserving a Parking Spot:

Taking a cue from Web-based reservation systems used by restaurants, airlines and movie theaters, more companies and cities are offering services that let people reserve parking spaces online or by cellphone.

The services come as traffic is growing worse around the country and are meant to help ease the traffic tie-ups caused by drivers cruising for a parking spot on the street, where charges tend to be lower than garage rates. In downtown areas, based on studies from cities around the world, about 30% of traffic results from drivers searching for curbside parking spots, says Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. Besides using availability information or reservations to attract drivers to garages or lots, other efforts to reduce such tie-ups include raising the price of curbside parking or charging different rates during various times of the day.

I’ve blogged on Shoup’s work before — and on Dan Klein’s review of Shoup’s work too.

Liberté, Precarité: Labor Law Ignites Anxiety in France

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

From Liberté, Precarité: Labor Law Ignites Anxiety in France:

France’s most famous period of violent protests in 1968 saw students rioting against what they saw as a rigid and smothering state. Today, it seems, they want the state back. Serge July, director of France’s main left-of-center newspaper, Liberation, and a ’68 veteran, says his country is gripped by ‘anguish about the future.’ It is also suffering from, he says, a ‘crisis of identity.’

According to a recent poll, France is the only country among 20 surveyed where those who don’t have faith in the free market outnumber those who do. Only 36% of those polled in France agreed with the proposition that the free market is the ‘best system on which to base the future of the world’ — compared with 71% in the U.S., 66% in Britain and 65% in Germany. In nominally communist China, 74% said they favored the free market, according to the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes.

Police put the number of protesters yesterday across France at 1.05 million, more than twice as many as the previous biggest protest on March 16. Trade unions, which organized the rallies, put the figure at three million. A one-day strike to coincide with the protest disrupted hospitals, schools, rail services and air traffic, halted delivery of newspapers, dented production at France’s biggest oil refinery and shut down the Eiffel Tower.

Blue Poison Frog

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

The Blue Poison Frog certainly is a striking animal:

A blue poison frog (Dendrobates azureus) sits on a leaf in the zoo of Zurich, March 22, 2006. The blue colour of this South-American frog serves as a warning to would-be predators, its skin is covered with glands that secrete alkaloid poisons capable of paralyzing and even killing predators. With the destruction of its rainforest habitat the blue poison frog has become one of the most threatened of all poison dart frogs.