Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Elevating the NBA and Marginalizing a Harvard Economics Professor

Have y'all noticed how exciting the NBA playoffs have been this year? Unfortunately many people likely have not. They gave up on pro basketball years ago. I am a basketball junkie who's persevered through the low-scoring, over-coached play of the last 10-15 years. Also smothering the NBA's renaissance are the extremely late games. Everyone should get a DVR and watch the games the next day. I generally watch the first quarter or half at night and then the end of the game around 6am with my crepuscular infant son.

The ONLY reason the play is more exciting is the recent removal of the illegal defense rule.

As I articulated so well (and accurately) in a prior blog:

About twenty five years ago, they instituted the illegal defense rule which basically eliminated zone defenses. The league didn’t want teams double teaming its headline stars. In other words, they wanted to cultivate the superstars in hopes it would drive ticket sales.

But in the real world, actions have reactions. In this case, the elimination of zone defenses forced teams to guard every single player, whether they merited it or not. This misguided rule protected guys who couldn’t shoot because an opposing team couldn’t penalize these non-scorers by leaving them open. Anyway, scoring declined steadily until last year when they eliminated the illegal defense rule. So the points are on the way back, but time will tell whether on not the fans return.

The Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs are slow-it-down, walk-the-ball-up low-scoring teams. With both of them bounced from the playoffs, I optimistically see it as vindication for a renewed up-tempo and high scoring era of pro ball. Time will tell.

Now is as good a time as any to Marginalize Cedric Maxwell. Last year he went on the radio in Boston and made the outrageous claim that Dirk Nowitski (pictured above) is a better player than Larry Bird. I won't even deign to argue with him - but do click on the link to hear his case. Now bear in mind, that Maxwell actually played with Bird and won championships with him, yet has this ridiculous notion in his head. The only explanation I can think of is that Max simply snorted too much cocaine during the 1980s Celtics championship runs. That is after all why the team eventually got rid of him. (The rumor I heard at the time was that he was trying to get Kevin McHale into cocaine.)

To a math guru like myself, mathematical induction is one of the most elegant forms of logical proof. I apply this philosophy in my Marginalization strategies.

For example, it seems widely accepted that Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe is one of, if not the "best" sportswriter in the country. So I have fired many emails out to him pointing out his errata, misconceptions, canards, and outright distortions. He always responds, quite pathetically I must add, and perhaps one day I will publish these exchanges. My point is that if he is "the best" and a lowly part-time fisker like myself can effortlessly expose his incompetence, then I don’t have to waste my time correcting or debunking the rest of the sportswriting dolts. Marginalizing Bob Ryan inductively makes tidy work of his compadres as well.

Lately I have been applying the same inductive Marginalization to a Harvard economics professor. Dr. Greg Mankiw recently started his own blog, ostensibly as some sort of adjunct to the undergraduate econ classes he teaches. I don’t think he really knew what he was getting into when he decided to put his thoughts and teaching on display for the World Wide Web. I have posted several Captious comments on his blog, most of which rip his posts to shreds. He hasn’t responded to me once, nor to any of the other eviscerating commentators. I can tell y’all right now, Dr. Mankiw hates me and has deleted at least one of my comments.

Why waste my time provoking this guy? Well, it goes back to preference for induction. It’s very efficient just having to show the inanity of a Harvard professor, so I don’t have to bother with others. The man highlights so much of what’s wrong with taxpayer-funded education and displays an astounding amount of generalized cluelessness.

Here is an example of his head-scratching babble:

Am I eating a free lunch?

For the past several months, I have been using the Blogger service to create this blog. Blogger is a subsidiary of Google, which offers the service for free to the public. Google makes money from its search engine by selling ads, but my blog does not have ads unless I authorize them. I keep waiting for Blogger to offer to sell me some add-on services, but that hasn't happened yet.

What's in it for Google and its shareholders to give me all this free service? I am puzzled. I hope one of the commentators can enlighten me.

Can you freakin' believe this guy? He's a Harvard professor and though exudes a remedial understanding of business.

Hey Greg, do you freakin' realize that your supermarket likely sells milk and eggs to you at a loss? Do you need that cosmic mystery explained to you as well?

The guy is technically a "macroeconomist". I put it in quotes because it's an almost meaningless term. Macroeconomists deal with aggregate measures of economic activity. Since aggregates are tough to measure, macroeconomists have (or give themselves) plenty of intellectual license. More often than not, they're merely political propagandists, though very fluent in the abstract rhetoric of their own creation.

Query - How can one make the jump to a "macro" economist when they can't comprehend the most elementary theories of microeconomics? For instance, shouldn't they have a clue about how a company like Google prices its products?

Confoundingly, gross econo-illiteracy pervades much of this Harvard econ professor's posts. His blog is plastered with links to the socialist NY Times yet hasn't once mentioned anything from Forbes - the preeminent capitalist publication. He's got the obtuse notion in his head that economics can be intelligently taught/studied without any direct knowledge of business realities.

Firstly, the guy has never himself worked in the market economy. He's spent the last 25+ years at Princeton, MIT, Harvard, and briefly worked for the Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Taxpayers have involuntarily paid his salary all these years. At root, he is a consumer of wealth created by and confiscated from risk-takers in the market economy.

In his post I Am Not Accountable he declares:

I have often thought of professors as, in some ways, self-employed producers of intellectual output.

Does anyone think this economics professor has a clue about who pays him?

How the bleep can someone so smart claim in the same breath to be both "unaccountable" and "self-employed"?

Greg doesn't have the slightest experience working for so much as a safe large corporation, never mind going it alone in the business world and risking his own personal assets.

Not only is Dr. Mankiw bereft of any time spent in the market economy, he also advises his students to steer clear of wealth creators. Why muddle up good theories with messy facts, I guess.

I recommend that every student planning a career as a professional economist try to spend a summer, or even a year, working at a place like the CEA, CBO, or the Fed.

He's one of these prototypical Overnuanced Morons. He occasionally self-deprecates, but never with due precision or force. Let's just say, that what he thinks are his foibles, biases, etc. and what I think diverge greatly. In one post, he responds to the Wall Street Journal's generalized criticism of professors as,

"...narrowly educated experts" with little experience outside academia. They are "poorly equipped to help college students sort out" their lives."

Dr. Mankiw agrees and chalks it up to higher ed's preference for instructors who've done a lot of research versus those with good teaching ability. Greg loses all of his self-deprecation points with this absolutely pathetic response.

I am open to the idea that we should take a broader view in promotion and hiring than we do. I would increase the weight given to teaching relative to research. I would give some weight to life experiences outside of academia, such as working in policy jobs, writing op-eds, writing books for nonspecialists, and so on. But my perspective is a minority view in my department and, I believe, in research universities more generally.

This dolt wants more emphasis on teaching. Hey dunderhead, all the emphasis in the world isn't going to help if your teachers have no practical knowledge to impart!!!

But even worse was his suggestion to "give some weight to life experiences". Only SOME weight Greg?

How about his jarringly ignorant concept of "life experience".

Working for Big Government and writing op-eds??????!!!!!!

Only in an alternate reality is "writing op-eds" considered a life experience AND mind you it only holds SOME weight in Dr. Mankiw's utopian criteria.

I'll bet my blog readers think I've milked every ounce of inanity from this post.

Think again.

Prior to Mankiw's "some weight to life experience" post, he wrote a blog titled How to Improve Journalism. In it, he agreed with a Wall Street Journal article that deplored the quality of economics journalism. Furthermore, it blamed vapid "communications" courses, "a heavy emphasis on process and theory", and implicitly journalists' lack of specialized knowledge.

Mankiw's suggestion of course was to force more theory on the reporters - though not surprisingly, that of his own.

Here's my radical suggestion to the editors of the world: Require all your economics reporters to have an undergraduate degree in economics. And give a raise to those who spent the extra year or two getting a master's in economics as well.

Note that Greg doesn't suggest not hiring the econo-illiterates in the first place, but rather a company subsidized academic junket that just may in fact drive sales of his textbook.

Greg simply doesn't get it. An academic degree does reporters no good without real world experience. He is the trenchant case in point. He doesn't even understand the concept of a loss-leader (milk, eggs, Google's free blog hosting, etc.) A term which I first learned of over a decade ago while listening to college dropout Rush Limbaugh - an intellectual Neanderthal who unlike Dr. Mankiw, has spent zero semesters at MIT, Princeton, and Harvard. When a renowned scholar like Mankiw clearly doesn't understand basic truths about the economy, I think it's safe to indict all of academia.

There are plenty more econo-illiterate examples on his blog, including one discussion of rising healthcare costs where Mankiw doesn't even mention the albatross of Medicare's role in aggravating prices. This salient point had to be mentioned by a plebeian anonymous commenter.

It's really a quasi-blog because Mankiw hardly ever responds to crippling criticism. He only responds to fawning students who mention how much they've learned from his published textbooks. On second thought, he has responded twice to me, once indirectly when all he could muster was, "I am a bit surprised by the tone of the commentary" and another where he deleted my expressed hope that he "leaves the politics out of the classroom."

Bravo Greg. Ignore most substantive criticism, delete some, and shamelessly highlight the obsequious comments.

What politics one may ask? Well he's routinely posts about non-economic issues like the legalization of drugs, the War in Iraq, obesity, and "global warming" (click here, and here). Like I said above, he inhales the agitprop of the New York Times and like most of its readers, he likely wouldn't know what to think without it. It's simply amazing the level of groupthink produced by our supposedly "intellectually free" academics.

A most nauseating trait of Mankiw is his penchant for diplomatic intellectualism. He is more concerned with being liked (or at least not hated) by unmitigated socialists like Paul Krugman and Brad Delong than he is with the naked truth. For example, in one post of his, he takes former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich to task over an article Reich wrote on rich people and Bush's tax cuts. Though Mankiw catches Reich lying, instead of calling Reich the deliberate socialist that he is, he opts for more friendly diction.

..."facts" about the current tax law that I found so surprising...

These data (which include all federal taxes, not just income taxes) seem hard to square with Reich's second claim...

I don't know what data Reich was using when he made his claims.

If there are data backing up Reich's claims, it would be interesting to figure out why they are inconsistent with CBO data. Comments and explanations from readers are welcome.

As I said in the comment thread:


How come when you catch a lying socialist you wonder,

Why, it would be interesting to see why their thesis is inconsistent with the data

Why can't you just call a spade a spade?

How can you possibly think agitprop innocuous?

I am not holding my breath for a response. But this is what it boils down to, professors like Mankiw do in fact think socialism is innocuous, or at least they're scared of an honest treatment of it. After all, Harvard would never have hired Mankiw if they feared he might passionately propagate the truth about capitalism. Personally, as an economics professor, I would consider myself a failure if thousands of little Commi nerds left my classes with A's and B's.

Not only is there no reason to fear haughty Harvard intellectuals, in fact, there's barely a reason to respect them.

To read all of my comments posted on Mankiw's blog click here.

In particular, the comment thread on his Intellectual Property post further illustrates my overall point.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I think it's safe to say that stupidity correlates positively, though not absolutely, with the number of bumper stickers you have on your car. Now I have never seen so many bumper stickers as I do in the Chestnut Hill area of Massachusetts.

However, I found the one pictured above so funny that I actually thought about plastering it on my Earth-scorching SUVs.

But the notion didn't last long because I have, let's charitably say, a different take on what ails the Commonwealth. Massachusetts just voted down a bill that would have started enforcing the mandatory seat belt law and many Bay Staters cheered. Now there are many reasons one could be happy about this outcome, but seriously, of all the problems this state has, I simply fail to see any meaningful significance. It's not going to lower taxes, improve traffic on the pothole-riddled roads, enlighten the dumbest group of "smart" people on the planet, or stem the Mass exodus to other states.

As I pointed out on a prior blog, the nanny state is still in tact when 40 year-olds with out-of-state driver's licenses can't buy beer at Celtics games.

Now I am not advocating for the failed measure (read my comment in the first link), but why have a law in the first place if there is no mechanism or popular will for enforcement?

It's almost like an open, unguarded border - what's the point?

So some people were excited about the failed attempt at enforcement, but again, this is Massachusetts and everything is relative. It's like when a team is trailing 10-0 with 2 outs in the ninth inning and the clueless fans cheer for a single.

Speaking of Boston, most people are aware that Condoleeza Rice gave the commencement address at Boston College this past Monday. The protests were anticipated and hyped up by Big Media. Of course Rice is seen by some as an architect for an "illegal war" and "mass murder of civilians". Boston College professor Steven Almond supposedly resigned in protest, rather than teach at a school that condoned the devilish Rice. Personally, I would have been more convinced of his sincerity if he had quit mid-year. It seems only a shade above quitting right before you get fired. Anyway, I listened to an exchange between the dissenting Almond and John Gibson. It was kind of childish but one part 4 minutes in caught my attention. Responding to Gibson:

Professor Almond - ...yeah, you know that's what all of us Communist homosexual lefties advocate...

Now, the context is completely irrelevant, and you can listen yourself to the dull debate if you don't believe me. All they were talking about was Condoleeza Rice and her role in the Iraqi War, "Bush lied", etc. Why Almond saw fit to inject his self-portrait into the discussion remains mysterious.

But I was shocked that a man of that profile would be teaching at a Catholic college. Almond's entire protest was ostensibly based on how a Jesuit institution shouldn't be welcoming an alleged architect of murder - that it was inconsistent with the school's mission and most certainly against Catholic dogma.

Someone ought to fill in Mr. Almond on the Church's teaching on homosexuality. And I doubt that the Church condones Communism since it's responsible for 50-100 million deaths worldwide.

Now I don't blame Almond for anything because Boston College hired him in the first place. Professors like that just tend to erode the notion of Boston College being a Catholic school.

There is a lot of this going on up here. Howie Carr, a local radio talkshow host, is supposedly a "rightwing, conservative" yet he spends a lot of time complaining about gouging at the gas pump, and displaying considerable economic illiteracy. Republican governor Mitt Romney is also locally considered a right-wing conservative, even when he's approving mandatory universal healthcare. Heck, the New York Times labeled John McCain a "conservative Republican" this week, a description that probably made Rush Limbaugh's blood boil - at least more than many of their other grave distortions.

And at the risk of sounding like a "both sides" Moron, I also want to add that the self-identified Democrats I know in Massachusetts have absolutely NOTHING in common with the ones I know in say, Philadelphia or Baltimore.

Why would anyone self-identify as a conservative Republican when that could mean anything from John McCain to Michael Savage? The same goes for the term liberal. These terms are essentially meaningless and are usually just impediments to dialogue, government, and progress. Go google these terms on my blog and you'll find that I have hardly ever used them. As of now, a google search on "liberal" of my entire blog turns up only 7 results, almost all of which are in quotes made by other people.

This leads to a new and regular feature of my blog. In response to a few blog readers who have complained at the length of some of my posts...

Rapid Fire Moron Marginalization

1) I'd like to Marginalize anyone who thinks the George Foreman Grill is "easy to clean". What a load of bull.

2) Those older people that don't have call waiting - because they are cheap and/or think it "rude" to put someone on hold to take another call. It's pretty damn rude when you can't get through to whom you're calling because the phone is busy all day.

3) Anyone who says their school district is the "best". I've recently heard that the schools are "best" in Manhasset, Garden City, Scarsdale, Wellesley, and just the other day Brookline. Does that mean that Boston Latin and Stuyvessant aren't any good? I also have read that Charlotte elementary schools are the best in the country. Logically, they can't all be the best now can they? Plus, I am pretty sure that my high school, Saint John's High in Shrewsbury is much better than all of them!!! (kidding, but only partially.)

4) These dads that can't parent. I know a woman who has an 8 month old baby. She's traveling overnight to Boston for work (from NY) and has to take the baby with her (find a daycare facility, etc.) She can't leave the infant with her husband, who "won't wake up when the baby cries". I have already mentioned another male friend of mine that will only change "pee" diapers. These people are unbelievable.

5) Moms who can't parent. I can't believe all of my peers that have nannies. None of us grew up with nannies but my friends seemingly can't live without them. They bring the nannies with them on vacation, to reunions, etc. Some jackasses even think that having a nanny elevates their image. I'd argue the opposite.

6) I need to Marginalize these grocery stores up here in Boston that don't carry pancetta or prosciutto. As my wife says, "too many Mc's up here..." Yes, indeed.

7) Everyone who bores others with the story on how they got a "good deal" on their engagement rings. Invariably the story goes like, "I know a guy..." Yeah, that's all jewelers do - sell diamonds at a loss.

8) These parents that put their kids on "time out". What the heck is that? When my kid screws up, he is going on "death row" or in "the hole". Time out, give me a break.

9) Anyone that complains about someone else being "overpaid". At root, this is pure envy. Stop bitching and go find your own high-compensating low-demanding job. Two different people bored me this weekend with screeds on their personal overpaid villains. What did I do? I told them both I thought THEY were overpaid.

10) I need to Marginalize all of these losers that spend all of their time at "free" events. You know where they are - at the libraries, free concerts, always hanging in the park, spending all day in Starbucks with a newspaper, etc. I once saw an email that was being forwarded all over NYC that listed seemingly every free event in the city. Some people are so God-awful cheap...I could write several blogs entirely on cheap people.

11) Anyone worrying about the avian flu. I read recently that the poultry industry has been losing $27 million a month because customers are eschewing chicken products. You may have noticed that it's been marked down substantially at your local supermarket. These are the same people that have in the past hyperventilated about Sars, Mad Cow, and Anthrax. I say eat the cheap drumsticks and thank your Moronic friends for the discount.

12) Anyone who thinks that a totally white and 100% college educated city would be Utopia. These people need to visit Boston. This city is so white that Sicilians stand out. Everything sucks in Boston: the food, the weather, the economy, and the people. Also, as my buddy concluded the other day...even Don Juan would be leaving Boston bars alone.

13) It's also time to Marginalize all of the stupid adults that used to torture us as kids. These are the people who forbid us from putting our jackets on before we went outside - for fear of "catching a cold". They made us wait 20 minutes after we ate lunch before jumping back in the pool. And what about all of these stupid teachers that insisted we learn the metric system because "America would switch over soon"? It's a depressing thing to think about how much nonsense was thrown at me as a child.

14) I'd like to Marginalize these teachers that say, "There's no such thing as a stupid question." This is one thing that Morons actually do adopt as a life philosophy and they terrorize their co-workers, bosses, and everyone else they come into contact with. NOT ONLY IS THERE A STUPID QUESTION, THERE ARE BILLIONS OF THEM.

15) Also in need of Marginalization is anyone who honestly thinks that a $37 steak from Smith & Wollensky's or other highfalutin steakhouse is better than a $5 combo meal (with cheese) from a fast food joint.

And finally, Moron(s) of the week goes to some guy I know in Manhattan who threw his friends a BBQ last weekend. He CHARGED them all $15 apiece - including a young lady whom he was interested in dating. The loser even said he'd accept Paypal in an evite he sent out. Everyone that showed up must be a bigger loser than him - if that's even possible.

Predictably, Bill O'Reilly is musing why our country isn't "100% on ethanol" instead of gasoline. His profound reasoning, "If Brazil is doing it...why can't we?"

Well Bill, I'll let Forbes' Field of Dreamers give you the answers.

Even studies by ethanol fans concede that achieving energy independence via ethanol requires bullish assumptions. Among them: that refiners will get at least twice as good at making ethanol. That the average efficiency of our vehicles improves to 42 miles per gallon, 68% better than the 25mpg now achieved. And that people will move closer to where they work. If all those fantasies become reality, the U.S. could, in theory, meet all of its transportation fuel needs with ethanol by 2050 without adding to today's current cropland, according to an exhaustive study by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group based in New York.

(This is what I mean when I call alternative energies, science fiction.)

But what if fuel demand continues on its existing growth trend and there is no improvement in ethanol manufacturing? Then we'd need to plant crops on 1.7 billion acres to eliminate gasoline by 2050. That would mean putting fuel crops on just about every square inch of the country (total land mass, 1.9 billion acres). There would be no room for homes or food crops.

But apart from subsidies and mandates, ethanol from corn doesn't make economic sense. Corn does not grow easily in the U.S., so it requires a lot of energy to produce. How much? That's a matter of debate, bitter debate. But a recently published survey of the various conflicting engineering studies comes up with a plausible compromise estimate: Every unit of energy that goes into making ethanol from corn produces ethanol that yields 1.27 units of energy. To turn the ratio around: If you want to displace a unit of petroleum energy, you have to burn four-fifths of a unit in fossil fuels. Corn ethanol is barely in the plus column. That's no way to achieve energy independence.

Brazil's energy balance is far more favorable. Sugarcane doesn't need as much fertilizer, and Brazil is close to the equator, so it soaks up more sunlight.

What if we repealed the import duties, inviting ethanol in from sugarcane-growing nations near the equator? Heroic assumptions must be made here about the willingness of American farmers and distillers to compete. Assuming public opinion were to swing around to free markets in agricultural goods, new questions arise. Do we want to motivate Brazil to plow under what remains of its forests? And what do we accomplish by replacing a potentially unreliable petroleum supplier like Venezuela with a potentially unreliable ethanol supplier next door?

This whole ethanol push is one giant fraud of which the public is totally ignorant.

About 50 cents of the current per gallon price of gasoline is due to ethanol. Does John Q. Public really want to spend this much money to support a completely infeasible renewabletechnology? I think not.

John Q. Public also has no idea that politicians keep cheaper ethanol out of the country via a 54 cent tariff.

John Q. Public is completely unaware that pols do this to curry favor from corn belt states. This is by no means a one party pandering issue. Note Hillary Clinton's recent flip-flop on ethanol subsidies.

These stupid bleepin' politicians are scared to death of cutting agricultural subsidies (i.e. corn) for states like Iowa because of its standing as the second Presidential primary. The public doesn't give a hoot about these early primaries come November, yet the pols are stuck on this stupid premise. And again, this shows that pols care more about themselves than what is best for the public.

Don't forget that domestic ethanol will NEVER replace gasoline, otherwise corn would be growing on every square inch of the fruited plain.

In summary, we have a science fictional energy, foisted upon already suffering gasoline consumers, only benefitting Midwest corn growers that are only too happy to exploit the misguided fears of no-term-limit Congressmen and aspiring Presidents.

I know that's not such an elegant description, so let's just call it a pile of bull dung.

One of the things I am trying to do is provide if not original, but slightly uncommon insights into the big issues of the day. Walk down the street, and start polling people. No one has any idea what is going on with ethanol. If they do, it'll likely resemble Bill O'Reilly's vacant insight about doing what Brazil does. For all of the "No War for Oil" canards flying around, this ethanol scam is playing out in broad daylight - and it's playing to an empty theater.

Part of this ignorance stems from good old fashioned econo-illiteracy. But make no mistake, Big Media doesn't honestly cover this issue because ethanol realities simply don't fit their "Oil is evil" and "Green/Renewable energies are good" template.

When Bill O'Reilly asserts that the Antique Media is "not looking out for you", about that he is dead right - and ignore that at your own peril. Why anyone would religiously buy a newspaper that systematically lies to them is beyond me.

Bear in mind that I am a little bit crazy, but it's not possible for me to loathe these old large media organs (New York Times, network news, CNN, Time, Newsweek, etc.) any more than I already do. By not even covering this issue, the press is once again giving a giant middle finger to its consumers - especially to those of lower income to whom $3 gasoline is a bigger burden.

It's almost unfathomable that gasoline is 50 cents more expensive than it would be without the ethanol mandates. That means roughly $200 million of American consumers' money is wasted EACH DAY on this fraud. (Assuming 400 million gallons consumed per day.)

$6 billion wasted a month in fact. That's about the current monthly cost of the war in Iraq.

So the next time someone trots out the cost of Iraq, as a ruse no doubt, ask them how much ethanol is costing America.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where is CaptiousNut?

I have been down in Texas helping to build a wall.

Will be back posting shortly.