Archive for May 2016


Trump’s lead among evil dictators is now virtually insurmountable

2016:  The year The Onion merged with REALITY.

According to the Guardian:

North Korea praises Trump and urges US voters to reject ‘dull Hillary’

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North Korean state media has praised US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, describing him as a “wise politician” and “far-sighted candidatewho could help unify the Korean peninsula.

I’m getting so bored with the “dull” Korean peninsula.  Let’s have a President who can bring some excitement to Korea!

Only Trump can protect us from Chinese Snow Whites

Disney vows to take action over a “Snow White” that appeared in a Chinese theme park:

Walt Disney Co. said it’s prepared to take action to protect its intellectual property rights after performers dressed as Snow White and Captain America were sighted at Dalian Wanda Group Co.’s new theme park and entertainment complex in China.

Imagine if in 1937, you had told someone that 80 years later Disney would be suing someone in China for dressing up like Snow White.  People would have rolled their eyes in disbelief.  In 1937 China was being invaded by Japan, and Snow White was the least of their concerns.

Exactly what sort of intellectual property is being defended here?  And what is the societal benefit from this property?  I suppose one could argue that without 80-years of intellectual property protection, Mr. Disney would have had no incentive to create lovable characters such as Snow White. Except that Snow White is not a Disney creation, the story was written by the Grimm Brothers in 1812 (and they might have been merely retelling folk tales.)

Did Disney pay the estate of the Grimm Brothers back in 1937, for stealing their idea to make a movie?  I don’t know the answer, but I can guess.

OK, so Snow White is not Disney’s intellectual property.  But maybe they should have property rights over the costume she wore in their 1937 film. But is the Chinese Snow White actually wearing that costume?

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Now let’s take a look at the Disney Snow White, from the famous 1937 film:

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.06.39 AMI see lots of differences. One has a tiara and the other has a red ribbon in her hair. One has a solid blue top and the other has a dark blue vest over a light blue blouse with red cross hatching. One has a red bow tie, and the other does not. One looks like a Western woman, the other looks Asian.  One is standing next to Captain America, while the other is surrounded by a bunch of animals.

Update:  Wikipedia describes Snow White as follows:

Some time later, the Good Queen gives birth to a baby daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.

Notice that Wanda seems to have found the only young woman in all of China with hair than is not black.  (The non-ivory skin is a bit more excusable, but they could have done better with a young lady from Sichuan, where the skins tend to be very light.)

Even Disney seems to concede that this is not actually Snow White:

We vigorously protect our intellectual property and will take action to address infringement,” the company said in an e-mailed statement Monday in response to Bloomberg News queries about the characters, who resembled ones from Disney. “Our characters and stories have delighted generations, these illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more.

So the social justification for this intellectual property is not to encourage innovation, or even to maximize the flow of money from Asian consumers to wealthy American corporations, but rather to protect the feelings of Chinese kids, who might be disappointed that this doesn’t look like the “real Snow White”, which doesn’t mean the Snow White of the Brothers Grimm, but rather the Snow White of Disney.  Obviously Chinese consumers who chose the Nanchang Wanda theme park over the Shanghai Disneyland would expect exact replicas of Disney figures at Wanda.

Since even Disney concedes that this girl doesn’t look like Snow White, what’s the actual claim here?  Perhaps Disney is claiming that any young Chinese woman wearing a blue top over a yellow skirt is engaged in an homage to Snow White, and should have to pay royalties to Disney.

But who first showed the beauty of the yellow/blue combo?  I’d say Vermeer:

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Or Perhaps Mondrian:

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You can’t have it both ways

In two recent Econlog posts (here and here), I pointed out that a wise man or women should always have two levels of belief.  One is their own view of things, independently derived from their own research.  This is the view from within your skin.  The second level of belief is the awareness of the wisdom of crowds.  The awareness that an index fund is likely to do better than a fund that you personally manage. An awareness that the consensus view of the true model of the macroeconomy is likely to be better than your own model of the economy.  This is the view from 20,000 miles out in space, where it’s clear that you are nothing special.

In the comment section, Philo suggested:

In most things, you’re admirably sensible (insightful, etc.). In philosophy . . . well, better stick to your day job!”

He likes my market monetarist view of things, but not my philosophical musings.  But you can’t have it both ways.  If my philosophy is wrong then my market monetarism is equally wrong.  Either the wisdom of the crowds is true, or it isn’t.

(As an aside I’m aware that the wisdom of the crowds might be slightly better if the views are weighted by expertise, but that has no bearing on my claim.  Even if you think I have a bit more expertise that the average economist, the entire weighted sum of non-Scott Sumner economists is, objectively speaking, far more qualified than I am.)

In this blog I am normally giving you my views on the optimal economic model from the “within the skin” perspective, because otherwise I am of no use to society.  I’d be just a textbook.  In contrast, I give you my views on where markets are heading from the 20,000 miles up perspective, because that’s the most useful view for me to communicate the intuition behind market monetarism.  You don’t care where I personally think the DOW is going, and you should not care.

It is the job of the economics profession to weigh my arguments, and the arguments of those who disagree with me, and reach a consensus.  That consensus is not always correct, but it’s the optimal forecast.  Unfortunately, at the moment the optimal forecast is that I’m wrong about monetary offset, but I’ll keep arguing for monetary offset because that’s the view I arrived at independently, and I’m of no use to society unless I report that view, and explain why.

When I talk to philosophers about epistemology, they often mention concepts like “justified true belief” which seems question begging to me.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I can’t see how the EMH is not right at the center of the field of epistemology.  If back in 1990, we wanted to know whether there were Higgs bosons or gravity waves, the optimal guess would not have been derived by asking a single physicist, but rather setting up a prediction market.  Yes, traders know less about physics than the average MIT physicist, but traders know whom to ask.

Many worlds vs. Copenhagen interpretation? Perhaps it can’t be tested.  But if it could, then set up a prediction market.  Robin Hanson’s futarchy is a proposal to have public policy based on society’s best estimate of what is true—derived from prediction markets.  He wants us to vote on values and bet on beliefs.  Richard Rorty might go even further, and have us bet on values, where the outcome of the bet depends on a poll of values 50 years in the future.  Rorty would say values are no more subjective than science.

I think the EMH is basically what Rorty meant when he said truth is what my peers let me get away with.

PS.  My two types of beliefs do not have a rank order; they are incommensurable concepts.  Both are essential, and one is not more or less important than the other.  There’s no answer to “What do I really believe about monetary offset?”  I believe different things, at different levels of belief.

Forza Italia!

In the 1990s, Berlusconi founded a new political party called “Forza Italia”, which means something like “Go Italy!” or “Be Strong Italy!”  He was going to push his country past the inept Italian politics of the past.  Although nominally conservative, Berlusconi’s party didn’t have much of an ideology.  It appealed to all sorts of disgruntled people, especially the less educated, and mostly relied on media image making.  Berlusconi was very wealthy, and involved in TV, and also was involved with a string of beautiful young women, some underage.  A walking ad for Viagra. He was also the kind of guy that would sue people for libel when they criticized him, so perhaps I need to be careful here.  (The Economist won its libel suit, and warned the Italians that Berlusconi was unfit for office.  When the Economist says a candidate is completely unfit for office, it’s worth listening.)

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Voters didn’t have much to go on except his promises to rejuvenate Italy.  But since traditional parties had failed, and the Italian economy had been growing very slowly, they decided to put their faith in a politician with a macho image, who made crude jokes and was a fan of Vladimir Putin.  What could be worse then an economy mired in a malaise of slow economic growth?  Wait and see.

Between 2001 and 2011, Berlusconi was in power for all but 2 years.  So I went to Eurostat (which is insanely confusing) to see how the Italian economy had done in the 21st century, compared to other European economies.  Yes, I know it’s been a tough period for all of Europe, but let’s see how Italy did in relative terms.  At least they avoided a big Greek-style financial crisis.

In all of Europe, the slowest growing economy was Portugal, whose RGDP increased by 0.8% between 2000 and 2013 (the most recent data available.) That’s not 0.8% per year, that’s a total increase of 0.8% in 13 years!  So at least Italy wasn’t the worst?  Not quite, I said Portugal was the slowest growing.  There was one country where the economy actually shrank over the 13 year period between 2000 and 2013.  Can you guess which one?

That’s right, the one presided over by the jerk with the smirk:

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PS.  During the same period Germany grew by 14.9%, France grew by 14.3%, Spain grew by 19.0%, and even Greece managed to grow by 1.5%.  But Italy shrank.  Apparently Viagra is not enough to make an economy grow.

PPS.  I’m not trying to tell you how to vote. But if you encounter any Berlusconi-type macho politicians, who brag about their sexual prowess, just recall what he failed to do for Italy.

PPPS.  Here’s how The Economist reported its victory in the libel lawsuit:

Cash will do nicely, Silvio

He may have heard that phrase before, but at least we kept our clothes on

PPPPS.  Isn’t it nice to finally have a post with no mention of American politics!

Asian voter support for the GOP falls to new lows, will Jewish voters be next?

Here’s the Daily News, in 2015:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump lampooned Asians during a campaign rally in Iowa, mocking them with broken English. . . .

“It wasn’t enough for Jeb Bush to insult Asian Americans with his ‘anchor baby’ slur? Now Donald Trump mocks the way Asians speak after calling for an end to birthright citizenship,” Margaret Fung of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund told the Daily News Wednesday.

“If these offensive remarks continue, no one should be surprised when Asian American voters turn their back on Republican candidates in 2016.”

And a year later:

Asian-American voters headed into the 2016 elections are shifting toward the Democratic Party, according to a report released Monday by APIA Vote, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, and AAPI Data.

The report — which surveyed 1,212 voters and was conducted in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Vietnamese — also found that a majority of voters disliked Donald Trump, were more enthusiastic about voting compared to earlier elections, and — despite increased enthusiasm — had not been contacted by any political parties or civic engagement nonprofits. . . .

Rhetoric around immigration was a major issue for the Asian-American electorate. Forty percent of surveyed voters said they would vote for someone else if a candidate expressed strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, and 43 percent of voters said they would do the same if a candidate expressed strong anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Matt Yglesias has a chilling post on rising anti-Semitism within the new Trump GOP:

The Republican Jewish Coalition has the mission of attracting votes and fundraising dollars for Republicans from American Jews, a challenge when your party’s nominee has a robust following among the online “alt-right,” which is full of kooky anti-Semites. (Check out the #kikeservative hashtag for some examples.)

Apparently the RJC has dodged the issue, which attracted some tweets from outraged journalists:

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The modern GOP is not a pretty sight.