Monday, October 28, 2013

Rest in Peace: Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1927-2013)

The former Solidarity leader, political prisoner (like most Solidarity leaders during the period of Martial Law, architect of the "Roundtable" talks that ultimately led to free elections in 1989, Poland's first post-communist Prime Minister, and in many respects the father of Poland's 1997 constitution, Mazowiecki was a man of great principle. A quiet intellectual, Mazowiecki had as much or more influence over the course of Polish politics in the late 20th century as anyone, including the more charismatic Lech Walesa.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

(Not So) Fun Fact about NYC

It can take a taxi more than an hour to get from LaGuardia Airport to Washington Square in Manhattan ... on a Sunday afternoon! That's nearly as long as it takes the airplane to get from Indianapolis to LaGuardia.

On the Road Again

On my way to New York for the annual meeting of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Policy Analysis at NYU Law School. I'm going early so that I can also attend the conference, which precedes the board meeting. The conference is intended primarily to instruct progressive advocacy groups on the utility to their cause of sound economic analysis. However, tomorrow's program includes panels that greatly interest me on the social cost of carbon and the proper role (if any) of jobs analysis in regulatory impact assessments. The full agenda is here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Crystal Palace 0 - Arsenal 2

It seemed like a perfect match for Arsenal to regain their footing after a disappointing midweek loss to Dortmund at home in the Champion's League. After all, Crystal Palace (CP) were near the bottom of the table, having picked up just 3 points in their first eight matches, and their popular manager Ian Holloway resigned earlier this week. But there's no such thing as a sure thing in the Premier League. From the start of the match, the CP players worked hard and pressed Arsenal high up the pitch, giving Arsenal's creative midfielders little space in which to operate. And they looked for their own scoring opportunities on the break, with former Gunner Maraoune Chamakh leading the front line.

Not long into the match, Mathieu Flamini looked to have pulled a groin muscle and had to be replaced. In what proved to be a brilliant move, Wenger substituted the attacking winger Serge Gnabry for the defensive midfield stalwart, and the German looked dangerous from the moment he stepped on the pitch, several times darting into dangerous areas against a CP defense that seemed ill-equipped to handle his pace and ability to change direction on a dime. It was that skill that eventually earned him and Arsenal a penalty kick in the third minute of the second half, which Mikel Arteta scored with confidence.

Fifteen minutes later, Arteta was sent packing by referee Chris Foy, who showed him a red card for a foul on his former teammate Chamakh. Foy adjudged Arteta to be the last defender, even though the foul occurred far nearer the halfway line than the Arsenal goal. Moreover, replays indicated that Chamakh initiated the contact, which resulted in both players tumbling to the turf. Anyway, Arsenal were down to 10 men for the last 30 minutes of the match (including stoppage time), a number that did not include either of their holding midfielders.

In that circumstance, CP not surprisingly gained a stronger offensive foothold in the match, and started to severely test the Arsenal defense. And they would have tied the match but for two saves. The first was made by the woodwork, but the second was the result of outstanding goalkeeping by Wojciech Szczesny, who got a strong enough hand to a bullet of a shot from just outside the penalty area to deflect it over the bar.

Finally, Arsenal put the game to rest on a counterattack, when Jack Ramsey set up Oliver Giroud with a sweetly lifted pass from just outside the left side of the penalty box. Giroud was charging into the box and the ball appeared right in front of his face. He probably could not have avoided heading it into the goal if he had wanted to.

All in all, a good win for Arsenal. CP might be disappointed not to have gained a point from the match, but it always seems that teams near the bottom have the luck go against them, as CP did in this match.
But Arsenal now face a new problem for the upcoming League schedule. Arteta will be sitting with the red card, while Flamini may be sidelined with a groin injury. Nacho Monreal came in and did a decent job in front of defense (and also popped up in the offensive third) as a substitute. But this is still a position where Arsenal lack some needed depth. It's certainly possible for either Wilshire or Ramsey to drop back into the holding midfield position; but they both like to get forward so much that they are inclined to leave space open that other teams might attack. For the sake of upcoming games in all competitions, let's hope that Flamini has a quick recovery.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The High Cost of Victory

In an ironic twist to a game that was about the returning hero -- Peyton Manning -- the Colts and their fans have lost the hero who stayed. The Colts won the game, but they've lost Reggie Wayne for the season with a torn ACL. Reggie's been so durable, having started 189 games in a row, that Colts fans could almost take for granted that he'd be in the line-up each week. Well, we'll take him for granted no more. He will not start his 190th consecutive game. We can only hope that he will be back next season, and not let this injury end his career. Whatever happens, we're sure to see him at his induction ceremony in Canton.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spectacular Libraries

The Telegraph has a nice photo collection, here, some of which I had not seen before. I particularly like the Ryotaro Museum in Japan.

Jim Irsay's Operating Instructions: Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Today is payback day -- the day Peyton Manning shows Jim Irsay just what he thought of Irsay's insults from earlier in the week (see comments here). Whatever Irsay thought he might have been doing with those comments (getting under Peyton's skin or whatever), everyone (and I mean every Colts coach, player, and fan) wishes he had just kept his mouth shut.

Jim Irsay is a very rich man - the son of a son of a self-made man, and the proud owner of an NFL franchise that he inherited from his father. Like many rich men (think Donald Trump), he holds the mistaken belief that money = intelligence.

As a Colts fan, and someone who believes that the Colts were right to draft Andrew Luck, even if it meant letting Peyton go (which I had hoped did not have to happen, see here), I dearly wish someone, anyone, could convince Irsay to (a) keep his mouth shut, (b) let his coaches coach, and (c) let his players play. It would probably have to be someone even wealthier, and therefore more intelligent, than Mr. Irsay. Is Trump available?

By the way, Go Colts!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hilly Hundred Weekend

I hadn't planned on riding the Hilly this year because I was supposed to be in Chicago this weekend (though things didn't turn out that way). Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of the Hilly. Simply too many cyclists for my taste, and lots of them getting off their bikes in the middle of climbs, in the middle of the road. Besides I get to ride the hills around Bloomington whenever I like (or, these days, whenever I find time).

Even if I had planned to ride the Hilly this year, I probably would have bagged it today, when I woke up and saw the weather. 44 degrees and rain. No thank you. I hope all my friends who have come to Bloomington this weekend especially for the ride have better weather for tomorrow's stage.

Arsenal 4 - Norwich City 1

The first game back after an international break is always tricky business, the more so it seems when Arsenal are at home to a lower-ranked squad, like today's match against Norwich City. So often, the Gunners take a half or more to rediscover their rhythm.

Not so today, especially with the Santi Cazorla back on the pitch (after a several weeks on the injured list) playing alongside Mesut Ozil for the first time. From the off, Arsenal's one-touch football was sublime. The first goal, by Jack Wilshire in the 18th minute, resulted from five or six consecutive one-touch passes, the last being a brilliant flick from Giroud (not for the first time this season) to the goal-scorer that put him through against four defenders in the box. A classic Arsenal goal.

Throughout the first half, Norwich City could hardly get a sniff at possession. Every time Arsenal lost possession, they seemed to have the ball back within 5-10 seconds. The only bad news for the Gunners in the first half was the need to substitute for Mathieu Flamini, who picked up a head injury. But how bad could it be when the substitute is Aaron Ramsey, who was Premier League player of the month for September?

Arguably, Arsenal should have led by more than 1-0 going into the halftime break. Olivier Giroud would have made it 2-0 but for an excellent stop at the near post by the Norwich keeper. As the half drew to a close, Norwich City finally started to play their way into the match. It appeared that Ramsey's replacement of Flamini may have unsettled Arsenal's structure a bit. Whatever the reason, the defense let down a bit, and Norwich nearly evened the score before the halftime whistle. Fortunately, Wojciech Szczesny, who had had little to do throughout the half, made a fine save to protect Arsenal's halftime lead.

The second half began with both teams sharing possession and creating a few half-chances. Arsenal seemed comfortable enough, but a 1-0 lead is never safe; and as the 60th minute approached, the fans in the Emirates Stadium seemed to become anxious that their clearly superior side had not already finished the job. But Norwich City deserved at least some credit for their dogged determination. They weren't just going to let Arsenal run roughshod over them; and they played as if they could at least salvage a point from the match.

Arsenal seemed to put paid to that notion in the 58th minute on a fine counterattack led by Santi Cazorla. He passed the ball to Giroud on the wing as Ozil ran straight at the goal. In a reversal of normal service, Giroud, for second time in the match, picked up the assist, as his cross found Ozil's head and Ozil's header found the back of the net. It was Cazorla's last action of the match. Being short of match fitness, he was replaced by Thomas Rosicky.

The Gunners seemed well and truly in control of the match, when suddenly, against the run of play, some lackadaisical defending by Arsenal allowed Norwich City back in the match. Johnny Howson scored on a fine shot from the edge of the box. In some respects, it was to be expected. Arsenal hardly ever keep a clean sheet these days -- their only one of the season so far came against Tottenham. This must be a continuing worry for Arsene Wenger. It may, in part, have been a consequence of the first-half injury to Flamini, who is happy to do the dirty work on defense. His replacement, Aaron Ramsey is, like Jack Wilshire, more intent on getting forward on the attack. Clearly, Arsenal's defense is strongest when Flamini and Arteta are in the midfield together. Take one of them out, and Arsenal's goal seems more at risk. Fortunately, Arsenal survived the risk today, but they definitely need to better organize their defensive midfield in situations when they're protecting a lead and either Flamini or Arteta is out of the line-up.

Second-half substitute Aaron Ramsey finally put the game to rest on a brilliantly taken goal in the 83d minute. He received a pass from Wilshire at the edge of the box, and then dribbled his way past three defenders to bring himself face-to-face with the goalkeeper, who really had no chance as Ramsey blazed the shot past him. To put a cherry on it, Arsenal scored a fourth, brilliant goal in the 88th minute, as Rosicky crossed to Ramsey at the far post, who pulled the ball back to Mesut Ozil in front of the net for his second goal of the match.

Despite the defensive frailties that can result from having so many offensively-minded midfielders on the pitch at one time (not to mention two offensively-minded fullbacks), Arsenal's have the offensive prowess to overcome those frailties. Some of Arsenal's combination play today was simply breathtaking.

It must be a terribly frightening prospect for Arsenal's opponents these days to face a side with six legitimate play-makers, each of whom could legitimately wear the #10 shirt, including Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshire, Ramsey, Rosicky, and Arteta if necessary. When three (or more) of them are in the game at the same time, they are fully capable of switching positions at a moment's notice, creating massive match-up headaches for the opposing team's defense. The quality of Arsenal's offensive midfield, at present, is on par with any side in the world, excepting Barca.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Did Mitch McConnell Do a Deal to Re-open the Federal Government?

Facing challengers from right (Tea Party) and left (a strong Democratic candidate) in his forthcoming reelection campaign, Mitch McConnell has problems no matter what positions he takes. In that circumstance, we should expect him, like most experienced, cynical politicians, to take whichever position losses him the fewest votes, all things considered. Here are two factors that might have led him to make the decision to do a deal with Harry Reid, rather than just sit tight: (1) He currently holds a 47-point lead in Kentucky public opinion polls over his Tea Party primary challenger; and (2) McConnell inserted into the short-term budget fix a provision to fund two new dams in Kentucky.

As to (1), with the midterm elections still a year away, McConnell's big lead over his Tea Party primary challenger could well evaporate, but he might well hope that broader voter support for Tea Party candidates might wane in light of their extremism; and he might come off looking like a statesman by comparison. No doubt, his staff did their own calculations on the likely costs and benefits of his doing a deal with Harry Reid, and decided that his current lead in the polls was unlikely to evaporate as a consequence.

As for (2), I find it repulsive that Mitch McConnell used his political leverage and the cover of national concerns at stake to sneak into law funding for two dams in his home state. That's about as venal as you can you get. But will Kentuckians see it that way? Or will they just see their stalwart Senator bringing home the bacon? If the later, it might well gain him some general election votes against his Democratic rival. At the very least, it is a reminder that as a (very) senior Senator, McConnell is better positioned to provide for his constituents than a brand new Senate (regardless of party affiliation) would be.

The Big New Energy Source Is Conservation

Forget biofuels. Consider these facts from a new report by the International Energy Agency (here):

  • From 2005 to 2010, efficiency measures saved the energy equivalent of USD 420 billion worth of oil in a group of 11 IEA member countries.
  • Had it not been for energy efficiency measures implemented in past years, consumers in those 11 IEA member countries would now be consuming – and thus paying for – about two-thirds more energy than they currently use.
  • In 2010 in those countries, the energy savings from efficiency measures exceeded the output from any other single fuel source. That year, the 11 IEA economies avoided burning 1.5 billion tonnes of oil equivalent thanks to efficiency improvements developed since 1974. By comparison, in 2010 those same economies consumed about 1 billion tonnes of oil equivalent from assets developed over the same period.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Favorite Comment on Yesterday's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics

Fama got the prize for his "efficient markets" theory, and Schiller shared it for showing that Fama was wrong.

That pretty much captures it.  (As for Hansen, the third recipient of the prize, hardly anyone seems to understand his work, and those who do seem incapable of explaining it in ordinary English.)

Actually, Fama and Schiller ended up in the same place but for diametrically opposed reasons. Both believed no one could predict future moves in stock markets. For Fama, this is because markets possess and process way more information than any individual could possibly possess and process. For Schiller, markets are largely irrational (moved by what Adam Smith called "animal spirits"), and no one can predict what an irrational actor might do.

The 2008 financial crisis pretty much proved that Fama is wrong and Schiller is right.

UPDATE: John Kay adds that giving the Nobel Prize to Fama and Schiller together in the same year is like giving the physics prize in the same year to Ptolemy and Copernicus.

Andrew Luck's Not Good Enough...

... to catch his own passes.

Meanwhile, injuries are piling on the defensive side. Pretty soon, the "next man up" is going to be one of the coaches.

Monday, October 14, 2013

This is the Republican Party's Problem

This time, I'm not talking about the budget impasse or the debt ceiling, but about the Republican Party's toleration, and occasional baiting, of racists and other despicable extremists in their midst. See the most recent example in the Washington Post (here).

Finally, A Ride

It had been two full weeks since I'd been out for a ride (with only one or two spins on the indoor trainer during that period). So, when I finally got out for a ride with Dr. Jim yesterday to ride the Orchard Route, the decline in fitness was palpable. My heart rate was consistently 5 to 10 beats faster at every level of effort than it had been two weeks before. Over the course of a 30-mile ride, that's a lot of extra heart beats. In terms of basic feeling on the bike, a two-week layoff felt more like a two-month layoff.

On the other hand, winter training up in Indy starts in another couple of weeks. And if my schedule and energy levels allow me to get up there two evenings a week, I should improve my overall fitness during the off-season, which is something I haven't managed to do since I moved down to B-town from Indy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Excellent Interview with Behavioral Economist Richard Thaler

Here.

Republican Gerrymandering Destroys Party Cohesiveness

The great American humorist Will Rogers famously quipped, "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat" (see here). The Republicans traditionally have been viewed as a more cohesive party, if not exactly marching in lock-step, at least holding to certain core principles and goals.

The current impasse over the government shut-down and the looming debt-ceiling debacle demonstrates more than any previous political issue that the Republicans have become at least as disorganized as Rogers' old Democrats. The GOP is fractured by disagreements not between moderates and conservatives, who are generally united on these issues by a base level of pragmatism, but between those two groups on one side and radical/irrational anti-federal government ultra-conservatives on the other.

Interestingly, this problem is largely a perverse consequence of Republican efforts to maintain control of the House of Representatives through partisan gerrymandering, which has created dozens of congressional districts in which pragmatic governance is viewed as a fault in what the ignorami consider a zero-sum game for the heart and soul of "America."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spectacular Public Health Improvements from Statin Use

According to this story in the Telegraph, use of statins to control cholesterol has cut the rate of strokes in the UK by 40% between 1995 and 2010. Imagine how much more we could cut the rate of strokes, as well as heart attacks, if the medical/pharmaceutical complex could resolve the intellectual property problems and combine a statin, a blood pressure medication and small dose of aspirin into a single super-pill, which doctors could prescribe to (nearly) everyone in the population starting on their 40th birthday.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Which Way Does Uncertainty About Climate Change Cut?

Gernot Wagner and Marty Weitzman argue strongly in today's New York Times (here) that the risks of extreme increases in global mean temperatures swamps any uncertainties that climate change might not turn out to be as much of a problem as scientists currently believe. They calculate a 5 to 10 percent chance that global mean temperature could increase by 6 degrees Celsius or more over a relatively short period of time, entailing socio-economic consequences "outside anyone's imagination, perhaps even Dante's." Therefore, in their view, lingering uncertainties about climate change effects should cut in favor of "an even more sharply decreasing path" in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

What makes this op-ed so compelling is that Weitzman (I don't know Wagner's work so well) is no alarmist or doomsayer, but an extremely rigorous and respected mainstream economist (very likely a future Nobel Prize winner for his ground-breaking work in environmental economics). Policy-makers should (but probably won't) pay very close attention to what he writes.

A Reminder that Small, Self-Governing Communities Can Be Very, Very Nasty

Divorce is never easy. But state laws throughout the US provide reasonable institutionalized processes by which either party to an unhappy marriage can get out. For Hasidic Jews in New York, however, the rules for divorce are different than for the rest of us. For example, a wife who wants to divorce her husband (for any reason, including abuse), must obtain the husband's permission in the form of a document known as a "get." In other words, the husband in a Hasidic marriage holds a veto power, which in effect makes him sovereign over the marriage.

This institutional arrangement is so obviously out of step (that is, it lacks "fit") with other fundamental attributes of Americanism, including individual autonomy and equal rights (especially for women) that it should be abolished. But so long as it persists, how are Hasidic wives to get out of abusive or otherwise unhappy marriages?

Rabbis, as community leaders, can serve as advocates for wives, counseling, even urging, husbands to issue gets. But the decision remains firmly with the husband, who can choose to ignore the rabbi. To solve that problem, a new market apparently has arisen, in which abused or unhappy wives pay rabbis to abduct and torture their husbands to extract (or extort) the get. According to CBS News (here), a New York Police sting operation infiltrated the illicit market in Hasidic husband torture. Two Hasidic rabbis are under arrest for kidnapping and torturing husbands, using "'electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs, and ... plastic bags' placed over the heads of husbands to force them into granting their wives a divorce." The price for the service, which included the services of "two enforcers," was $60,000 to $70,000.

Evidently, the transaction costs of at least some Hasidic divorces are very, very high mainly because of the husband's (unilateral) veto power. This story contrasts sharply with well-known story, told by law and economics scholars, that high levels of trust and internal dispute-resolution mechanisms within close-knit Hasidic communities, reduce transaction costs (including principal-agent problems) among Hasidic diamond merchants (see, e.g., here). It is clear that small, self-governing communities do not only reduce transaction costs for members, but can raise them to very high levels, depending on the institutional context.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Off to MLEA

As soon as I'm done teaching Climate Law & Policy this afternoon, I'm off to Champaign-Urbana for the annual meeting of the Midwest Law & Economics Association at the University of Illinois College of Law. I'll be presenting a new paper, co-authored with Mike McGinnis and Graham Epstein, about the somewhat hidden institutional interactions that give rise to Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons." To make a long story short, it's not just about (non)ownership the pasture - it's equally about ownership of the cows and the institutions governing what happens to the grass when the cows consume it. We'll probably be posting the paper soon on SSRN.

I've been attending MLEA pretty regularly since the inaugural conference 12 years ago. It's the only law & econ conference I regularly attend because it's smaller, much friendlier, and less status-driven than national or "coastal" law and econ conferences. We attract plenty of top-notch senior scholars, but the relative friendliness of the conference also attracts lots of junior scholars, who really appreciate having the forum for presenting their works. And we "elder statesmen" inevitably learn a lot from them.

Anyway, this conference is chock full of interesting-looking papers. You can download the schedule here.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Who Says Democracy Is An Inefficient Form of Government?

According to The Independent (here), in Azerbaijan the election results are published before the polls are opened.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bergkamp Wants to Return to Arsenal as a Coach

He doesn't want to manage; he wants to coach the strikers. Who wouldn't wanted to be coached by the greatest creative genius ever to play for the Gunners? The Telegraph has the story, here.

Memo to self: Buy Bergkamp's new autobiography.

"Model-free Forecasting"?

Wouldn't that be something like language-free writing?

Each day I receive dozens of messages from SSRN, alerting me to new working papers in Law, Economics, and Political Science. A couple times a week, those announcements are supplemented by others from PNAS, NBER and others. This morning, I happened across a paper in the PNAS Early Edition purporting to be about "model-free forecasting." I didn't read the article, but I am puzzled by the phrase, wondering what kind of forecasting could possible be "model-free."

With the possible exception of tiny infants (who probably do not engage in much forecasting of future conditions) or those whose brains are seriously damaged, we all operate with mental models about the external world, models which are largely formed by the (for lack of a better word) cultures in which our brains and bodies develop. Those models not only help us conform to the social norms of the societies to which we belong; without them, it would be literally impossible for us to make sense of the external world or even function (that is to say, live) as part of it. In this basic sense of the word, even animals can be said to engage in mental modeling, albeit without the kind of self-reflection and Bayesian updating of which humans are capable.

Perhaps I should read the article to see what the authors are actually on about. I find it hard to believe that they could really believe in anything as absurd as "model-free" forecasting (I would say the same about claims of "value-free" or "theory-free" forecasting). Perhaps they just mean that forecasting may be free of explicit models, which at least is conceivable.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Who'll Stop the Rain?

It's been a complete rain-out for cycling this weekend. To be relegated to the trainer in the basement (not by choice) this early in the fall is a gross insult, especially given that I'll be on the road next weekend (at a conference in Champaign-Urbana). The miles are getting hard to come by.

West Brom 1 - Arsenal 1

This was a tough away game for the Gunners. West Brom are a solid side that have been playing very well this season (as their win away at Man U last weekend attests). So, no disgrace that Arsenal came away with only one point from this fixture. Admittedly, the Gunners weren't at their fluid best; aside from a few moves of real brilliance, they looked like they have come off the boil a bit. Ramsey picked up a knock in the first half that forced him to retire early in the second half. His replacement, Thomas Rosicky, seemed completely off the pace. Jack Wilshire, aside from a well-taken half volley that careened off a West Brom defender for Arsenal's only goal, still is struggling to find his form. He misplayed several passes in the first have, and allowed West Ham defenders to get into his head with a lot of niggling fouls (as is too often the case). Giroud and Ozil showed great quality, once again. But they didn't get enough support in this match from the rest of the midfield.

That said, West Brom have to be given some credit for taking Arsenal out of their game. They made up for whatever talent differential that exists (and if it does exist, it's not all that great) with great effort, good passing, and a strong defensive shape that Arsenal found hard to break down. Either team could have taken all three points in this match, and West Brom might actually have had the better claim to them.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More Psychic Income

I'm not talking about the IU football team's surprising victory over Penn State today, but a terrific recital this evening at Auer Hall by the prodigiously talented German organist Martin Schmeding. In addition to the usual repertoire of Bach, Buxtehude, and Mendelssohn, Schmeding treated us to a virtuouso piece by the contemporary Japanese composer Akira Nashimura and the beautiful Sonata in C Minor by nineteenth-century German composer Julius Reubke. The latter piece is familiar to organ music aficionados, and has been widely recorded (including by Schmeding, although his recording is not so easy to find in the US). I highly recommend a listen.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Psychic Income in Academia

I am not an underpaid academic, and yet on top of my regular income, I receive a lot of psychic income - the kinds of perks that cannot be valued in market terms. So, for example, the most enjoyable part of my school week is usually the 90 minutes I spend with two super-smart colleagues from Political Science discussing books we are reading together on political theory. Right now, we're reading Hume's Essays.

But this week has brought an unusual perk that makes even my reading group pale in comparison. The great political and property theorist (and intellectual historian of political theory) Alan Ryan is in Bloomington to give a talk in the Political Science Department. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a small group having dinner with him this evening, and it was a rare treat.

Ryan's 1986 book Property and Political Theory is a foundation stone for the seminar I teach (whenever I get the chance) in Property Theory. Unfortunately, that book is out of print, so I cannot have my students actually read the book, but it has influenced the structure and content of my course. And this past summer, unbeknownst to Ryan himself, I spent a great deal of high-quality time in his company, reading his two new books, On Politics and The Making of Modern Liberalism.

I'm greatly looking forward to his presentation tomorrow about the work of John Stuart Mill, revisiting some of his earliest works on the great English liberal.

Is The Shutdown All About Saving Boehner's Job?

Yes, according to this article in today's Washington Post by Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan. They claim enough Republicans favor a "clean" continuing resolution on the budget that the Senate version would pass if Boehner brought it to the floor for a vote. However, that Republican support amounts to only a small percentage of the House Republican conference, and Boehner is under intense pressure from a somewhat larger (but not a majority) percentage of his conference - the Tea Partiers - to hold out. The bottom line, according to Cillizza and Sullivan, is that Boehner would likely lose his job as Speaker, if he allowed a vote on the Senate version of the continuing resolution.

So, the question is whether Boehner is refusing to bring the Senate bill to the floor for a vote out of principle or merely to save his own job. He could, as a matter of principle, oppose a "clean" continuing resolution because he believes it would be bad for the country or because he believes that the Speaker, as a matter of practice, should bow to a plurality of his own conference (rather than being an actual leader). But if he is merely catering to the Tea Party blowhards to save his job as Speaker, then he is disserving the country and his constituents as a cowardly careerist.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

World University Rankings: Bad News, Good News

Start with some bad news: The 2013-14 Times Higher Education World University Rankings are out (I refuse to link to silly rankings).

More bad news: Indiana University (132) is only the third best university in the state, ranking below both Purdue (62) and Notre Dame (90).

But there is some good news: The rankings are, in the wonderful words of Jeremy Bentham, "nonsense upon stilts."

However, there's even more bad news: Many people treat the rankings as significant of something; after all, they're based on objective criteria, right?

To end on a more positive note: Those people are wrong.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Arsenal 2 - Napoli 0 (CL)

In a very tough Champion's League group, Arsenal have made it two out of two. Having beaten Marseille away, today they made a strong Napoli side look very average. In the first half, Arsenal put on a footballing clinic with very sharp passing and movement leading to the two first half goals, including the first goal in a Gunners uniform for Mesut Ozil. Olivier Giroud showed great touch putting Aaron Ramsey in the clear down the right side; and Ramsey cut the ball back across the area to a free-running Ozil, who made a tough chance look easy, as he dispatched the ball past the keeper from about 18 yards out. Having scored the first, Ozil set up the second a few minutes later with a beautiful cross that Giroud could hardly help striking home from just a few yards out.

After that, it looked as if Arsenal might run rampant against a Napoli side playing without new striker Gonzalo Higuain, who Arsene Wenger targeted during the summer transfer window but ultimately declined to sign. Napoli managed not to concede again before halftime, despite Arsenal's domination of possession and shots on goal.

When the teams came out for the second half, I'm sure everyone expected Napoli to come out with more fire in their bellies. After all, 2-0 is hardly an insurmountable lead, and Arsenal do not often keep a clean sheet. The Italian squad's fans must have been sorely disappointed, as Napoli hardly threatened the Arsenal goal. For their part, the Gunners did not match the intensity of their first-half performance, but they didn't need to. They fairly coasted home to an easy 2-0 win against a top European opponent.

Supreme Court Passes on EPA's Greenhouse Gas Regulations

The story is here. It is not surprising that the Supreme Court did not accept the petition to review the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. With rare exception, the D.C. Circuit is the supreme court of federal administrative law; the actual Supreme Court gives its decisions great (though not unlimited) deference.

However, I would be surprised if at least a couple of the justices (perhaps Scalia and Thomas) were not eager to overturn the EPA's "Tailoring Rule" (on which see here and here).

The Root of the Federal Governance Problem in the US

It's not the Republicans, or the Democrats, or the electorate, or the media, or the money that is at the root of the latest US government crisis.

It is the Constitution of the United States, an outdated document that either requires or permits all kinds of pernicious impediments to compromise, consensus-building, and collective action. They include, but are not limited to, the electoral college, the Senate filibuster, equal representation for states in the Senate regardless of population, and partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts.

And because the time-worn and faulty document is so difficult to amend, mainly due to the very pathologies it facilitates, getting rid of those pathologies is extraordinarily difficult. In a sense, our Constitution has become (for functional democracy) what the Supreme Court has long argued it is not (for national security): a suicide pact. Some argue that a constitutional convention is needed to replace our current, outdated governing document. Given the circumstances, I'd be concerned that the cure might prove worse than the disease.

It stands to reason that no other country in the world has tried to emulate our constitutional structure. The real American exceptionalism is not our democracy or our balance of powers, but our dysfunctional constitution.