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Archive for November, 2008

Happy People

Great article in the NYT a few days ago about how unhappy people watch television more often than happy people:

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television,
it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy
people.

What a fascinating thing. What makes TV different from other activities? I always feel like garbage after watching a load of TV. Maybe it has something to do with the difference between being passively entertained and actually pursuing real satisfaction. Do people need to be doing something to feel happy?

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Shift Shifting

I’ve been told that fire fighters and police officers all start their shifts one hour earlier than scheduled.

So if someone is scheduled to start at 8, the show up at 6:45 and start at 7 and the person they relieve leaves at 7. Why on earth is this? The common explanation is that once upon a time someone wanted to start early and so asked someone else to stay late (or early) and then everyone followed suit.

This doesn’t make sense to me.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that there is some scheduling rigidity that prevents them from changing the rules and that the times they choose to work are more convenient (dropping kids off at school? avoid traffic? something else?). Efficient solutions emerge.

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Protectionists argue that when “good” manufacturing jobs are lost, people are out of work.

I have three problems with this:
1. Those people lose their jobs because someone else is better at it than them.
2. A consequence of the loss of these jobs is that everyone gets richer
3. As Kling says,

the natural process of retirement and new entry into the labor force tends to
take care of the marginal adjustments in occupational choice. No, not every
manufacturing production worker can retire at once, but they do not all have to.
Many of them have to change firms or change industries, but the overall process
of adjustment among occupations is reasonably gradual.

It’s the third point that I want to focus on. When we talk about the “people” that “lose” these jobs, we’re really talking not about a large number of individuals, but a notional concept of a person that works in a job. So, what happens to this “person” in the future? Remember that this “person” is getting gradually more educated (hopefully) and that they are going to have more disposable income precisely because the economy in which she works destroys jobs that aren’t productive enough.

There’s a funny paradox, though, because consumption as a share of GDP does not drop over time. So people are getting more for their money but they still spend as much. So where does this extra money go that’s saved by “destroying” these “peoples’ ” jobs?

I am willing to bet that these people are getting jobs in industries that are immune to this kind of destruction. Industries like education and, perhaps, entertainment. I think about all the people that work in the entertainment industry and wonder what, exactly, they DO. What I think they’re DOING is actually NOT doing something they’d be bad at, like making widgets that are better made in China. They are rewarded for their idleness with cheaper goods and jobs in industries that are a bit more fun.

Hollywood should be the biggest advocate of free trade. They sell their movies overseas and have foreign manufacturers to thank for the free time and spare national income required for them to do their jobs.

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We have two school systems in Ontario. Why not set them up to compete with each other?

I think education as a whole will benefit tremendously. The method is simple. Let kids choose which school system to attend and pay the school system for each student. Done.

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films and economy

I wonder if there is a correlation between some aspect of the fimn industry (supply side) and economic growth. If true, then there would be more movies with bigger bugets at the peak of an economic boom. This would be tricky to measure because demand will increase as well as disposable income ramps up.

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I read a book a few years ago that postulated that birth order and family dynamics are the most powerful forces affecting creativity.

The gist of the argument is that siblings compete with each other for their parents’ attention and can only get sufficient attention by doing something that the other siblings aren’t doing. If the eldest becomes an astrophysicist and her parents are really proud of it, the youger will have always found himself not quite as good at astrophysics growing up (even if it’s just a matter of being younger and so further down the maturation curve). So he’s more likely to be a writer or a lawyer or cage fighter.

The more different the kids’ activities, the more unique attention each gets. Because the older kids do the “easy” things for attention (do well in school, get a stable job, etc), those routes are closed off and the youngsters need to be creative.

The book uses the example of Charles Darwin, who was the lastborn kid of lastborn parents. (The premise being that the effect is enhanced through the generations and not cancelled out – so if a grandparent became a politician, his firstborn become politicians and laterborn become cage fighters, then wouldn’t the cage fighters’ firstborn become cage fighters and laterborn become politicians?). Darwin’s accomplishments are noted for being particularly striking because the evidence for his ideas was available for everyone to see. Indeed, the book points out that it was his perspective and not his intelligence that was the source of his genius. He could see things that other, far “smarter” people could not.

I rather like this idea. One other thing about these geniuses is that they tend to be pretty driven people and the bigger their contrbution the less likely it is properly recognized until late in life or after they die.

So here’s the question: who is happier? The world-changing genius or the happily married businessman who gets no widespread recognition?

And let’s not forget to shed a tear for the laterborn kids out there who thought they were world-beating geniuses but never made it.

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Baumol’s cost disease

I just learned about Baumol’s cost disease. What a phenomenal idea.

What is the comparison that sets an English teacher’s salary?

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