Friday, April 24, 2009

Blog of the Day

Think Geek

A credit worthy face?

Women, for instance, judge men by their faces. Testosterone levels are reflected in the face, and who is seen as a one-night stand and who as a potential husband depends in part on this physical feature. Similarly, a male face betrays the owner’s underlying aggressiveness and even his business acumen. Facial beauty in either sex is also associated with higher incomes. The latest research, though, cuts to the moral quick. For Jefferson Duarte of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues are suggesting that one of a person’s most telling moral features, his creditworthiness, can also be seen in his face.

-People's creditworthiness, it seems, can be seen in their looks

Japanese clean Paris

Japan syndrome” hits about 10 Japanese tourists to Paris a year. The victims are so disappointed at the dirty streets and rude waiters that they succumb to a nervous breakdown at the idea of having wasted a week of leave and savings on a trip to the City of Lights.

There is said to be a psychologist, Japanese of course, who treats these despondent compatriots at the embassy

-Japan expats clean up Paris

Costs and Benefits of Friends

A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

-What Are Friends For? A Longer Life

Understanding and debating Islam

One of the scholars at the Notre Dame conference whom I particularly admire is Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, an Egyptian Muslim who argues eloquently that if the Koran is interpreted sensibly in context then it carries a strong message of social justice and women’s rights.

Dr. Abu Zayd’s own career underscores the challenges that scholars face in the Muslim world. When he declared that keeping slave girls and taxing non-Muslims were contrary to Islam, he infuriated conservative judges. An Egyptian court declared that he couldn’t be a real Muslim and thus divorced him from his wife (who, as a Muslim woman, was not eligible to be married to a non-Muslim). The couple fled to Europe, and Dr. Abu Zayd is helping the LibForAll Foundation, which promotes moderate interpretations throughout the Islamic world.

“The Islamic reformation started as early as the 19th century,” notes Dr. Abu Zayd, and, of course, it has even earlier roots as well. One important school of Koranic scholarship, Mutazilism, held 1,000 years ago that the Koran need not be interpreted literally, and even today Iranian scholars are surprisingly open to critical scholarship and interpretations.

-Islam, Virgins and Grapes

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The great career experiment

In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

-With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

An Urban Love Story

As she entered the train, she noticed a man standing and reading “History of Philosophy, Volume IX.” That impressed her.

I infer that people who read philosophy are people who think about life and wonder about it and just don’t take everything at face value,” she said. “I like that in a person.”

After silently willing him to look her way (he did not), she finally gathered the courage to ask him about the book. Mr. Laite, now 48, and she began chatting about whether reading philosophy had actually changed their lives. (She said yes; he was unsure). When he noted that there was a Monty Python ditty, “The Philosophers’ Song,” she sang it aloud.

Soon her stop came, and she suddenly faced a problem: should she stay and chat, or exit the train? She chose the latter, but just as the doors snapped shut she called out her e-mail address and said, “If you have any more book recommendations, let me know.” ...

Still, he Googled her that night and found a photograph of her holding one of her birds (she lives with four parrots and two dogs in her one-bedroom apartment). “I wanted to continue the conversation,” he said, and e-mailed her the names of his favorite books, including “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis and “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki...

The depth of their feelings tickled each of them, because on the surface they are opposites. Mr. Laite lives his life largely in books and movies and has a “spartan routine that would put a Samurai to shame,” said Ms. Feldman, whose apartment is the color of Pepto-Bismol, with a pink chandelier shaped like a giant octopus, expensive art commingled with paint-by-numbers paintings and a vast array of vintage memorabilia....

They were married March 29 at Providence, a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, which was decorated with all sorts of kitschy memorabilia, most of it culled from the bride’s private collection. The wedding had a “party like it’s 1929” theme, Ms. Feldman said. “A soulful era of contrasts: innocence and sin, optimism and cynicism, soft hearts and hard times.” The approximately 90 guests, were encouraged to dress in period costume and they posed for mug shots. Then, a 1930’s-style fedora perched on his head, Mr. Laite stood with his bride before Jen Laskey, a Universal Life minister, and recited his vows in gangster-ese: “You make me smile with my heart.”

Commenting on the bride — her tattoos winking out from her vintage-style wedding gown, her hair piled high like Lucille Ball — Lisa Beebe, a colleague of Ms. Feldman’s, said, “She has a look that’s very brash, but she’s the sweetest, gentlest person.”

“I see beyond the nerd in him, he sees beneath the gaudy in me,” the bride said. “For the first time in my life, Jeff makes me feel fully seen, fully accepted, fully loved.”

-Dixie Feldman and Jeffrey Laite

Friday, April 3, 2009


After reciting the Oath of Allegiance, 144 people became American citizens during a special naturalization ceremony in Washington. The opening sentence of the oath reads: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen."

Co-founder of Twitter Biz Stone

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Biz Stone
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Twitter's Business Model? Well, Ummmm...

The Obsession With Twitter’s Business Model;
Twitter’s venture capitalists say they are not worried about when the microblogging start-up will start making money. And why should they be? The techies in the blogosphere are taking care of that for them.

Twitter watchers are so obsessed with how the company will make a buck that they jump on every hint of a business plan and spread it across the Web.

G-20 and John Nash

Essential task for G20 leaders is a cinema trip to see 'A Beautiful Mind' by Mohamed A El-Erian and Mike Spence;
The US is in the grips of an accelerating process of employment destruction, with over half of the 4.4m jobs lost in the last four of the 14 consecutive months of contraction. Accordingly, its policymakers are pressing other countries to internationalise a massive fiscal stimulus effort. In doing so, they also recognise that the return to the stimulus will be much higher if the financial system and housing are stabilised, because they too are part of the negative feedback dynamics.

Eurozone countries generally agree on the importance of fiscal stimulus. Yet they are not surprisingly uncomfortable with what the US is pressing for. The recession in the region is less advanced, the tolerance for economic pain is higher, and the cross-border leakages are significant.

In these European countries, the focus instead is on long-standing concerns about abuses in the financial sector which are seen to have provided both the fuel and the spark for today's global crisis. Accordingly, policymakers stress financial regulatory reform as the key components of crisis management and crisis prevention.

At one level, emerging economies do not disagree with the US and Europe. Yet, when it comes to their central revealed preference, the onus is to stress a third element: the need to counter trade protectionism and ensure the appropriate flows of international capital. Brazil's President Lula's forcefully advocated this position when he visited President Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month.

Here is where John Nash comes in. The differing onus reflects the fact that various countries start with diverse "dominant strategies" consistent with differences in their initial conditions, be they economic, political or social. Moreover, there is merit in all three. Yet, as the concept and incentive structure of the "prisoners' dilemma" illustrates, the world will undoubtedly end up with a sub-optimal outcome if each party to the solution were to follow just its dominant strategy.

Given the accelerating nature of the crisis, a Nash equilibrium of this type would go down in history as a notable lost opportunity, if not a disastrous mistake similar to what occurred in the international conference of 1933. Accordingly, and again using Nash's framework, the world needs to find a way of "imposing" a more "cooperative solution." What is needed domestically and globally is a coordinated solution that changes the payoffs and hence the virulence of the downward dynamics.

The two traditional ways to get there are ineffective in today's global economy. The IMF needs to address long-standing representation, governance and expertise deficits before it can restore its position at the centre of the international monetary system. The alternative of single country leadership requires a weakened US to step up to the plate more forcefully and, critically, in a manner that recognises that persuasion will work better than lecturing.

So, are we doomed to end up in a sub-optimal non-cooperative Nash equilibrium? The probability is high but it is not inevitable. There is still time for more meaningful cooperation among countries based on the simultaneous, rather than sequential, pursuit of the three priorities: real economy stimulus, financial system stabilisation and openness.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Seeking your advice: Which Economics Department do you recommed?

Maryland, NYU Economics or GMU Economics?

Happy Marriage fact of the Day

a marriage is worth almost £80,000 ($110,000) a year; this reflects partly the fact that marriage makes people happy, but also the fact that we need lots of money to increase our well-being by much.

-Economics in Desperate Housewives

Is World Bank a pyramid scheme?

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Dambisa Moyo
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Lunch with the FT: Dambisa Moyo;
And, as the historian Niall Ferguson (a contributing editor to the FT), notes in a foreword to Moyo’s book, she is venturing into a debate that has to date been colonised by white men – be they rock stars such as Bono, politicians such as Tony Blair or the academics Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly...

Her book contains a damning assessment of the failures of 60 years of western development programmes, but also focuses on an alternative path. This blends micro-finance and changes to property laws with a grasp of the immense opportunity and freedom that shifting global trade patterns, Chinese investment in infrastructure and bond markets could represent for Africa.

“There has been more private capital coming into Africa; more African countries have been issuing bonds. There are the Chinese ... Africa has turned a corner. Now it’s about closing the deal,” she insists with characteristic optimism and a slice of Parma ham, delivered as an amuse-gueule between courses....

And what of the World Bank, where Moyo once worked for two years, and the International Monetary Fund? Do they and other donors not deserve some credit for helping lay the foundations in some countries of recent growth? Yes, they do, she says, in terms of the reforms they have promoted but they have not been aggressive enough about phasing out aid.

This might sound high-handed from someone who lives comfortably in London. But Moyo is not arrogant. She counts herself exceptionally lucky. When she was growing up as a young girl in Zambia her aspiration was to become a flight attendant. She never dreamed she would win the scholarships that took her to Harvard and Oxford, and then to Goldman Sachs. She mostly thanks her parents, who were among the first graduates at university in the Zambian capital Lusaka. They left Africa in search of further education in the early 1970s, when communications were rudimentary and leaving was a journey into the unknown. But when they could they hurried back to help build a future for their country.