Daily Archives: 05/07/2011

Why Liberals Dominate Political Satire

I find liberal humor like on Colbert or the Daily show more absurdist and self deprecating than conservative humor.  Colbert plays the part of a pompous ass, sometimes suggests he fights animals for food on the street.  The images are so silly, that anyone could find it funny even if you didn’t share Colber’t mostly liberal premises.

Humor on Rush Limbaugh’s shows seems ultimately to take itself more seriously.  That is it may be a “joke” being made, but it always has a serious message:  our opponents are fools at best and evil at worst.

I think that why conservative humor has a much limited audience.   You can’t possibly find it funny unless you share pretty much all their premises.  I’ll take Colbert, and I’m no liberal.  Or am I??

Via Garance Franke-Ruta, an extremely funny parody of a Republican congressional candidate who failed to lock down the .org version of her campaign site, with hilarious results. Be sure to click through the whole page, including the option Surrender.

One interesting aspect of the political culture right now is that liberals utterly dominate the field of political satire. Last night I linked to a funny send-up of "Atlas Shrugged." Funny Or Die has another of Will Ferrell’s amusing send-ups of George W. Bush. There’s a huge supply of good liberal satire right now, and virtually no decent conservative satire. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Funny Or Die, and the Onion, while not partisan organs, all clearly have a left-of-center orientation. (If you haven’t yet read this Onion story — "Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Sick Uninsured People" — then you’re missing out.) Saturday Night Live is more covertly liberal. The satire gap opened up during the Bush years, and some attributed it to being in the opposition. But it’s continuing through the Obama administration.

Fox News launched a horribly unfunny right-wing counterpart to the Daily Show that died a quick, merciful death. The right dominates talk radio, and talk radio is a far more valuable communications tool, but the left seems to own political satire. Liberal satirists even have their own Senator, though he’s had to largely hide his satirical sensibility in order to win office. It’s not as good as, you know, winning, but it does take the sting out of losing.

Why Liberals Dominate Political Satire
Jonathan Chait
Thu, 05 May 2011 13:29:52 GMT


Jobs, where are you? – 2 (“Please come back”)


Catherine Rampell has a nice graph that well illustrates the “depth” of the problem.

The following pictures could help assuage the worries of those that see inflation everywhere, and actually believe that “expansionary” monetary policy could harm employment by stoking inflation.

The  pictures, depicting all the recessions since 1981, give out one clear information: until nominal spending growth is strong enough to close the “spending gap”, employment does not rebound. Also, higher spending catch-up growth does not ignite inflation.

The picture for the 2007 recession shows that given the size of the drop in spending, the “hole” to be closed is much bigger, and spending growth is far short of what is needed. But many are worried about inflation!

Jobs, where are you? – 2 (“Please come back”)
João Marcus Marinho Nunes
Fri, 06 May 2011 18:49:11 GMT

Prepaid power consumers using Salt River Project’s M-Power service reduce power consumption about 12 percent

This is an interesting idea. The 12% reduction seems questionable to me if its based on comparing the program customers with others customers. Those who select to be in the program seem likely to be interested in reduced bills more than average, or they are poorer and consume less to begin with.

I think the change in consumption (weather adjusted) for those customers from before and after joining the program would be more informative.

Knowledge Problem

via Prepaid power consumers using Salt River Project’s M-Power service reduce power consumption about 12 percent.

The most detailed study of a prepaid power program in the United States is EPRI’s “Paying Upfront: A Review of Salt River Project’s M-Power Prepaid Program.” The report provides a good overview and assessment of the program. See the abstract, copied below, for more of a description of the content.

One issue of interest with prepaid is whether it promotes energy conservation. The Salt River Project has studied this question a few times and, with varying methods, has found that M-Power customers tend to consume about 12 percent less power than customers on traditional post-paid power accounts.


A few weeks ago I met a program manager responsible for a prepaid service for one of the Texas competitive retailers. He spoke of how a prepaid contract changes the relationship between customer and retailer to one that is more “conversational.” Every day the retailer emails or texts the consumer with account status information. Additional, more detailed information may be available online. The relationship becomes more interactive. Perhaps there is something about the changing financial terms that changes the way prepaid retail consumers think about buying electric power. Or maybe this same change is available to any consumer with instant feedback from a smart meter.

D’oh — The First in a Series or Carbon Tax vs Cap and Trade

I’m impressed at eating humble pie.  Steven Landsburg who blog on a wide variety of topics in economic does that here.  I have a few comments following.

Steven Landsburg | The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics

When something is wrong on the Internet, bloggers love to pounce. But since no blogger is infallible, most of us can find ample fodder in our own past writing, if we go back and reread it with a sufficiently critical eye. Over the next few weeks, I plan to revisit some things I got wrong the first time around. (You’ll recognize those posts by the Homer Simpson logo.) I hope others will be inspired to do the same.

To lead off this series: In December, 2009 I blogged about space scientiest James Hansen, who prefers carbon taxation to cap-and-trade. His argument: A carbon tax allows for the possibility of additional carbon abatements through altruism. Under cap-and-trade, if I altruistically decide to buy a fuel-efficient car, someone else gets to buy an SUV. Whereas under a carbon tax, if I altruistically decide to buy a fuel-efficient car, less gas gets consumed.

Wait a second, though. Under a carbon tax, if I decide to buy a fuel-efficient car, I drive the price of gas down, which encourages someone else to buy an SUV. So altruism is equally ineffective under either policy, no?

That’s the argument I made in December, 2009. I now believe that:

  • Under a plausible interpretation of Hansen’s argument, I was wrong.
  • But Hansen is still unconvincing, though for somewhat subtler reasons.

hansen1First, the key economic point. There is a demand curve for gasoline, and neither a carbon tax nor a cap-and-trade program can change that. The demand curve relates prices to quantities, and market forces will keep us on that demand curve. Government policies can move us along the curve but they can’t change the curve. Suppose we’re currently at the black point, and the government wants to move us to the red point. There are two ways to do that. You can have a cap-and-trade regime that moves the quantity to Q or a carbon tax that moves the price to P. Move either the quantity or the price and the other will follow.

In that sense, the two programs are entirely equivalent, as I said in my post. So far, Mr. Hansen has no reason to prefer one over the other.

hansen2Now let’s introduce some altruism. This moves the demand curve down, and changes the government’s menu of choices. Without the altruism, they can choose any point on the solid demand curve, and they can get to that point with either policy. with altruism, the same is true for the dashed demand curve. Still no reason to prefer one policy over another, which was the point of my 2009 post.

I realize, now, though, that Hansen (at least if we interpret him charitably, which is usually a good idea) was thinking about unexpected altruism, i.e. altruism that kicks in after the new policy is implemented. In that case, he’s right: If you fix the quantity at Q and then the demand curve shifts, the quantity stays at Q. But if you fix a tax rate that moves the quantity to Q on the original demand curve, and then the curve shifts, you will indeed move to a point on the dashed line where the quantity is less than Q. (I don’t claim to have proved that here, but those who have mastered Principles of Economics will be able to fill in the details.) So if Mr Hansen is concerned about changes in altruism that arise only after the policy is set, then he has a point.

What he seems unaware of is that his point cuts both ways. Whatever your current forecast of altruism, you are as likely to be wrong in one direction as the other. So a post-policy shift in demand is equally likely to be upward or downward. Hansen is right about this: If, after a gas tax is implemented, altruism rises, then gas consumption will fall further. But what he seems to overlook is this: If, after a gas tax is implemented, altruism falls, then gas consumption will rise. Either effect is avoided by cap-and-trade, and either effect is, as far as we know, equally likely. (Remember that we are attempting to forecast not altruism, but a change in altruism, which is much harder to get right.) So while Mr Hansen is not clearly wrong (as I incorrectly said he was), there’s still no particular reason to think he’s right.

via D’oh — The First in a Series.

One observation here is that this assume a fixed input output relation between carbon and gasoline.  That might not be true if the amount of carbon fuels in producing gasoline could be reduced.  The carbon in the gasoline maybe fixed by chemistry, but the amount of total carbon to produce I think is not.

I think this post makes a little broader point.

With a tax the quantity of reduction in the quantity sold is depending on the movement along and movement of the demand curve.  If the curve moves the quantity may be more or less than the target after the tax is imposed.  The quantity that is sold ultimately is unknown and not necessarily below the target, as desired.

A simple cap on amount sold would solve this problem.  The price will move to whatever clears the market at the chosen quantity.  The price could higher or lower than expected, but the target would be achieved.

The choice between the two would depend are we more concerned about uncertainty in the quantity that ultimately get sold, or the price of fuel.  If you value certainty with respect to price, cap and trade is preferred.  If you value certainty about the effect on the price of gasoline then the pigovian tax is the way to go.

Coase and the Myth of Fisher Body (via Organizations and Markets)

| Peter Klein | I vividly recall, at the inaugural meeting of the International Society for New Institutional Economics in 1997, a discussion about the best empirical strategy for that emerging discipline. Harold Demsetz stood up and said "Please, no more papers about Fisher Body and GM!" The Fisher-GM case had become the canonical example of holdup in transaction cost economics and was considered stale and even trite. Ronald Coase, who was at th … Read More

via Organizations and Markets

21 Economic Models Explained (via Organizations and Markets)

| Lasse Lien | In celebration of Mahoney and Pitelis's impressive achievement in strategic management, here is a related classic on economic systems (HT: K. Isrenn): 21 Economic Models Explained SOCIALISM You have 2 cows. You give one to your neighbour. COMMUNISM You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk. FASCISM You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk. NAZISM You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sho … Read More

via Organizations and Markets