Monthly Archives: November 2012

Have we found life on Mars?

We can hope can’t we?  Organic material, or methane seems the most likely.  What a scientist would consider historic might seem like a yawn to many if not most non-specialists in that field.

I don’t know. We thought we might have before, and it disappointed (although some suggest we did find life before – the evidence is clearly too sketchy to get excited either way).
But in case you didn’t hear, NASA’s Curiosity had a big find that NASA is keeping secret as it tests and retests the data. They don’t seem interested in managing expectations at all, announcing that “this data is gonna be for the history books”. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? More conservative guesses are that it’s organic material in the soil. I found this passage from that article interesting:
“Whatever Curiosity has found, it is not evidence for life on Mars. It can’t be. Curiosity is not designed to look for life. Grotzinger has stated this himself. In a NASA video about the mission, he says, “Curiosity is not a life detection mission. We’re not actually looking for life; we don’t have the ability to detect life if it was there.”
What if they brushed dirt off a small fossil? What if a little bug crawled across the screen and Curiosity followed it back to a Martian ant hill? Or lichen on a rock? “Not designed to look for life”? What an unimaginative way of thinking about things. They mean, of course, that it isn’t equipped to identify microbial life in soil. But Mars is a big planet, and even if most of it is blighted and uninhabitable that doesn’t mean Curiosity couldn’t have stumbled on something previous probes missed.
Of course, it probably isn’t life. It probably found the sorts of things it was sent to find. That’s where the smart money is. But “for the history books” is an intriguing turn of phrase, and I’ll be waiting expectantly until they announce exactly what we’ve got here.
So what do you think:
1. Will we hear in a couple weeks that there is life on Mars right now?
2. How will that change the way people thinking about their place in the universe?

Have we found life on Mars?
Sun, 25 Nov 2012 13:50:00 GMT

Heat Maps


You should always adjust for population.


Heat Maps
Sun, 25 Nov 2012 22:24:00 GMT

The Crisis: Monetary policy, “not guilty”. The fault lies with “human nature”


Rogoff & Reinhart insist with their argument that the economy is performing as best as is possible following a financial crisis.

This is the last question and answer from the interview:

What are some of the key lessons from the financial crisis and the recovery?

Reinhart: The U.S. recovery very much fits the mold of those following any severe financial crisis. The U.S. did not have as sharp an initial decline in output as what you have seen in emerging markets or, in effect, as what you saw in prior crises in U.S. history.—not just the Great Depression, but in the crises of 1907 and 1893, as well. In all of these, there were years where you had massive initial declines in GDP [gross domestic product] of 10% or 12%. In the Depression, it was 30%. We did not have that this time. But all the other developments were the same, including the failure to regain what was lost in income and employment, and how long it has lasted.

Post-war recessions, on average, barely last a year. And here we are having these conversations five years after the onset of the subprime crisis. It attests to the long duration of this type of systemic crisis. In the historical context, the U.S. has had, overall, a pretty good track record in the latest crisis. In terms of income per person and in comparison with other countries that are having similarly severe crises, we are doing pretty well–but not so hot in terms of unemployment.

Rogoff: We have always argued that the right metric for thinking about deep financial crises is to compare the current conditions to where you started. It is a much more robust method, particularly because there are false starts, and you don’t know when the recovery starts. It is really getting into semantics to say, “Well, we are not racing ahead that fast.” But the flip side of that is that a lot of effort was made to have the economy not fall that fast. There is basically fiscal stimulus being taken out of the economy, for example, as we are consolidating from the initial $800 billion stimulus in 2009. And if we hadn’t done that, there would be more room to make the economy grow faster now. But that doesn’t mean we would be ahead.

“We did not have that this time”. I certainly agree and would be surprised if more than one century later we would make the same mistake. But we did, only in much less intensity. Nominal spending in 2009 didn´t drop 13.5% like in 1894 (relative to 1892) but only 3% (relative to 2008). This was a first since 1938. But in 2010 we could have been much more “aggressive” in getting spending up, as it was done in 1895.

And isn´t it comforting to read Rogoff saying: “But the flip side of that is that a lot of effort was made to have the economy not fall that fast”. Yes, belatedly the monetary “breaks” were applied cushioning the fall, but what is lacking is the requisite monetary “acceleration” to get the economy back out of the “ravine”.

The Charts below provide the illustration.

The Crisis: Monetary policy, “not guilty”. The fault lies with “human nature”
Marcus Nunes
Sun, 25 Nov 2012 03:06:27 GMT

How Marginal Tax Rates Work

Is really possible people are as confused as this suggests???  Even with preogressive taxes, you don’t end up with less income from more work, just only part of the extra income from more work.  I think people understand this, but aren’t expressing themselves very clearly here.

Here is an exercise. What is wrong with the way the people quoted below are thinking?

1. Kristina Collins, a chiropractor in McLean, Va., said she and her husband planned to closely monitor the business income from their joint practice to avoid crossing the income threshold for higher taxes outlined by President Obama on earnings above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

Ms. Collins said she felt torn by being near the cutoff line and disappointed that federal tax policy was providing a disincentive to keep expanding a business she founded in 1998.

“If we’re really close and it’s near the end-year, maybe we’ll just close down for a while and go on vacation,” she said.

2. … [the extra money that comes with a raise] “is nice, but it could very well bump you into the next tax bracket, possibly leaving you with less money than you had before the raise.”

For an answer, see the wikipedia entry on “Tax Rate” and Matthew Yglesias’s posts “Nobody Understands How Taxes Work,” “Tax Whiners Don’t Understand How Marginal Tax Rates Work,” and “Tax Ignoramuses.”

How Marginal Tax Rates Work
Fri, 23 Nov 2012 13:00:57 GMT

Isn’t this wonderful!?

Untitled by jenn*m
Untitled, a photo by jenn*m on Flickr.

Wait Wait


You can't stab Carl Kasell. He sounds all slow and stentorian, but he moves like a snake.

Wait Wait
Fri, 30 Dec 2011 00:00:00 GMT

Add your thoughts here… (optional)


1. Antiquated Lectures: the college lecture format is antiquated. In my first year of graduate school, Brad Delong mentioned that the lecture format originally stemmed from a scarcity of books. Since only a few books were available, lecturers had to gather people in rooms to read them aloud. It’s very unlikely this method of instruction is still optimal.

2. Baumol’s Cost Disease: Roughly speaking, in 1960, one teacher could teach 20 students per day. In 2012, one teacher can still teach 20 students per day. Compared to other goods, such as a cars, TVs and computers, productivity in education has increased much less rapidly, resulting in profound economic consequences. In particular, Baumol’s cost disease, which is driven by these sectoral productivity differences, can lead to huge cost increases for relatively unproductive sectors. These underlying economic forces and cost increases amplify the need for productivity gains in the…

View original post 315 more words

Gas prices in the Northeast

What would happen if the price of gas in the ravaged northeast went to a gouging price?  there are suggestions by John Cochrane of the University of Chicago below.  The claimed effects are mostly good.  Price gouging is often defended by economists.

I think it might induce more theft of gasoline as well though, and clearly the well to do would likely be advantaged.  A lot what is suggested here would likely go on in practice as well.

… If New York and New Jersey let people charge whatever they wanted for gas, and prices went up to $25 per gallon then…
Here are some ideas to get you started

  • People would voluntarily stay home.
  • Rather than allocating gas to people with time on their hands to wait in line, gas would go to people who are really busy. 
  • People would voluntarily form carpools. Better, they would advertise for paying carpool mates on Craigslist, and the minivan owner running it would be able to get gas. 
  • People who have emergencies, like wife needing to go to the hospital to deliver a baby, could get gas to do so. 
  • Ditto emergency services, fire, ambulances, cops
  • Gas stations would have bought generators, so they could pump and sell gas at a big profit when the power goes out.
  • Gas stations would buy said generators now. (We need to get rid of gouging laws on the generators too, so that gas stations needing generators can pay through the nose to get them, instead of someone who wants to recharge his iphone.)
  • People who don’t have to go anywhere would siphon their gas and sell it neighbors. Or second-car gas. 
  • They’d siphon their lawnmowers too.
  • People would rent tanker trucks, drive around the northeast, buy gas and resell it in NY.
  • Actually, people might get a bunch of gas cans and drive the gas in from rural areas in the back of pickups. Not sure if this is a good idea, especially for smokers, but it would improve gas supplies.  
  • Exxon would have spent the money for more storage tanks in NJ, ready to sell gas at high prices in an emergency.

Gas price contest
John H. Cochrane
Tue, 13 Nov 2012 02:13:00 GMT

Found In Our Neighborhood: A Planet Without A Sun


Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn What’s the Latest Development? A paper soon to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics reports the discovery of a “rogue planet” about 100 light-years from Earth. This planet, which is drifting in space without a sun to orbit around, is the nearest of …
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Found In Our Neighborhood: A Planet Without A Sun
Orion Jones
Wed, 14 Nov 2012 14:41:00 GMT

Ron Paul’s Farewell Address


This is from Lew Rockwell, FYI:

It seems that the mean-spirited and envious Republicans will finally allow Ron to deliver his eloquent “Farewell Address.” While it is a so-long to Congress and the various crooks, liars, con men, and clowns who comprise it, it is far more important than that. Ron lays out a blueprint of exactly what is wrong, thanks to the rotten government, and how to set about fixing it. He talks philosophy and the most practical matters, too. He also tells us bout the ideas he will be advancing in his freer life post-Congress and post-politics. We have so much to look forward to! Watch this space for the CSPAN schedule, and the YouTube, and prepare to be moved, thrilled, and inspired. (Thanks to Jeff Deist)

UPDATE It looks as if his talk will be at 3:00pm EST today. (Thanks, Jeff)

UPDATE Now it is scheduled for 2:00pm EST. (Thanks to Norm Singleton)

So by my calculations, that’s starting in about 5 minutes as I post this…

Ron Paul’s Farewell Address
Bob Murphy
Wed, 14 Nov 2012 18:54:34 GMT