Happy New Year

2016 was a good (but exhausting) year, and 2017 should be even better.  I’m too tired to post on economics today, so just a few random observations:

Predictions:  Trump will shake up the BLS, and appoint people willing to tell the “truth” about unemployment.  The official unemployment rate will jump from 4.6% to 40% in early 2017.  That will allow Trump to bring the rate down sharply over the next four years.

Resolutions:  Watch more NBA basketball.

Two years ago I was asked to name the people I most admired.  Here are the three athletes I named:

Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Does this blog have something similar to the Sports Illustrated curse?  See for yourself:

Since then, Kareem was interviewed by Tyler Cowen, and there’s also this:screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-15-03-pm

And how are the other two doing?

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-05-50-pmWestbrook was already a good player two years ago (but not “average triple double for a season” good).  Giannis was a nobody.  And notice that 3 of the top 5 are from the 2012 OKC team.  Replace Roberson with Harden on last year’s team and you have a OKC championship (they weren’t all that far away without Harden.)

Westbrook gets my vote for the greatest under 6’4″ athlete, and Giannis for the best 6’11” or above athlete.  Ever.  Where does Giannis’s athleticism come from?  I suppose I can’t avoid posting the picture that has caused 17.3% of the Bucks (male) fans to change their sexual preference:

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-2-23-54-pmPS.  When I was in junior high school I was the tallest person in class, but was always picked last when they chose sides for basketball.  Life is deeply unfair.

PPS.  Last night Giannis had 35-9-7-7-2, and the Bucks’ rookie second round draft pick had a triple double.  Life is beautiful.

PPPS.  My most admired artist was Dylan.  I heard that he also had a pretty good year.

PPPPS.  Under politician most admired I put:

Politicians:  Can’t think of any

This year Gary Johnson stole my line, and 2016 validated my cynicism.

PPPPPS.  OK commenters, any rating that puts Lebron at #10 is garbage, but why do you have to be such killjoys?




33 Responses to “Happy New Year”

  1. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    1. January 2017 at 16:12

    “When I was in junior high school I was the tallest person in class, but was always picked last when they chose sides for basketball.”

    -Nobody cares.

    “PPPPPS. OK commenters, any rating that puts Lebron at #10 is garbage, but why do you have to be such killjoys?”

    -Uh, dude, none of us have commented yet.

  2. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. January 2017 at 16:54

    Is it a bad thing if the labor force participation rate goes up and there is a shift from part time to full time work?

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. January 2017 at 17:24

    Harding, It’s comments like that that have us coming back for more.

  4. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    1. January 2017 at 17:54

    And a deep whimsical arbitrary calendar division to you too 🙂

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. January 2017 at 18:00

    dtoh, Maybe, probably not. Never reason from a LFPR change.

    Lorenzo, I wish New Years Day was moved to the beginning of Spring–March 22. January is a lousy choice. Of course things are different in Australia . . .

  6. Gravatar of Colin Docherty Colin Docherty
    1. January 2017 at 20:44

    Famed sports gambler Haralabob Voulgaris was on team Giannis for the last 3 years, I think pretty much every NBA blogger except the “everyone needs to shoot now” zealots was too.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. January 2017 at 21:18



  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. January 2017 at 21:19

    But yes, knowledgable people did see his talent, at least two years ago.

  9. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    1. January 2017 at 21:46

    Re: January I as new year: blame the Romans

  10. Gravatar of Dtoh Dtoh
    2. January 2017 at 01:17

    I assume you then believe that the LFPR is optimized from a utility point of view and it’s not biased because of non-market forces. If that were not the case, and the LFPR was distorted by regulation or other factors, then clearly you have not maximized utility in which case you would be in favor of a lower LFPR. Correct?

    Or are you just trying to avoid contradicting yourself?

  11. Gravatar of John S John S
    2. January 2017 at 04:59

    I re-read your linked post. I strongly agreed with you when I read this:

    “By admiring people who do good things, we encourage good behavior.”

    So once again, I’m going to have to quibble with your pick of Westbrook. He is still guilty of coasting on his athleticism.

    Here are the career FG%’s of similar sized players from 0-3 ft:

    Tony Parker (6’2″): .648
    Steve Nash (6’4″): .650 (many years of .700+)
    Dwyane Wade (6’4″): .659

    Russell Westbrook (6’3″): .577

    (Even 5’9″ Isaiah Thomas is at .616!!)

    How can the most athletic 6’4″-or-under man ever not be able to hit layups consistently? Answer: He hasn’t put in sufficient effort to master basic footwork and finishing technique.

    This is why Jordan is so admirable from a bball standpoint.** He had a similar level of athleticism and could have easily relied on his physical gifts alone (even Dr. J did to an extent — he always had a crap jumper). But he didn’t.

    His outside shooting was spotty at first, but from his 3rd season, the mid-range was automatic. He didn’t trust his teammates early on, but he mastered the triangle and learned to move flawlessly within it. He lost just a bit of his explosiveness by the early 90s, but he made up for it with perfect footwork and dazzling post moves (his up-and-under counter, to balance against the fadeaway, is my all-time favorite move).


    Why does this matter? It matters because people can’t will themselves to be reborn with incredible natural talent, but they can dedicate themselves to continuous self-improvement. If the most athletic player of all time (as Jordan was, at one point) makes sure to master all of the fundamentals (and play defense!), what excuse do you have not to?

    Who we choose to admire is important for setting expectations for the next generation. Like I said before, Russ has made a lot of strides in the last couple years (his passing in particular has improved). But at it’s core, his game is a bit of an “F you” to the system. Observers have long criticized his decision making and the overall sloppiness of parts of his game. But he’s showing that, hey, as long as you have an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers, who cares about a few missed layups?

    I think Westbrook is actually a great guy, at least as far as I can tell from interviews. I don’t believe for a second that he’s a selfish teammate, and he’s a million miles from Iverson’s “Practice?” attitude. But there is something lacking in his approach, so it’s really hard to call him the most admirable athlete when there are so many better examples (Giannis, for one — his phenomenal improvement isn’t just due to growing into his body; his decision making is arguably already better than Russ’s, and I’m sure he’s trying to absorb as much as he can from Kidd).

    ** There’s pretty strong anecdotal evidence that Jordan the person is a rotten bastard. But his off-court behavior is irrelevant to assessing him as a player.

  12. Gravatar of John S John S
    2. January 2017 at 05:02

    Re: your junior high playing days — you were tall, did you develop a decent hook? (Even though pickup players won’t “feed the post” unless you’re clearly good, you have to work with what you got.)

  13. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    2. January 2017 at 06:59

    When I was in junior high school I was the tallest person in class, but was always picked last when they chose sides for basketball. Life is deeply unfair.

    Just being tall is useless when you can’t handle the ball at all. It’s a cliché but I actually saw this pretty often in my life: Very smart people but very low motor skills, especially when it comes down to ball sports. I’m sure there are several papers out covering this topic. You can’t be a genius at everything, THAT would be really unfair.

    I will never get why professional athletes are often regarded as being “stupid”. Their motor skills are amazing and motor skills are simply an ability of the brain as well.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    2. January 2017 at 07:10

    My most admired artist was Dylan. I heard that he also had a pretty good year.

    I guessed he wouldn’t care for this (especially stupid) Nobel at all, like he did with other prizes in the past. And what happened? He didn’t even pick it up. Now that was funny – and classy.

  15. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    2. January 2017 at 19:22

    NBA real plus minus probably gives a better all around rating of players. Your three players are still in the top 10 but it at least includes Lebron in the top 3. PER underestimates a player’s defensive liabilities.

  16. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    2. January 2017 at 20:24

    BLS: I’ve thought the same thing!

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. January 2017 at 20:35

    dtoh, You said:

    “I assume you then believe that the LFPR is optimized from a utility point of view and it’s not biased because of non-market forces.”

    Nope. Why assume I believe that when I said I did not know whether the LFPR was optimal? Indeed I said it was “probably” suboptimal. And you took from that that I assumed it was optimal?

    John, I certainly agree that Jordon was better than Westbrook, he was better than everyone. He’s the reason I specified 6’4″ and under.

    Westbrook takes more difficult layups than those other guys (Parker isn’t going 100 mph), so the percentages are not comparable. I agree that he does have some flaws in his game, but consider where OKC would be without him. And he’s fun to watch (even more fun a few years ago, when he was more athletic.)

    And why would they want to feed me given that I couldn’t catch the ball?

    Christian, Actually, Dylan said he was honored to win the award. I agree that professional athletes are not stupid. (A few are, but they tend to wash out of the league quickly.)

    Carl, Yes, I’ve seen the plus minus, and I suppose with a large enough data set it’s fairly relaible. Does “real” plus minus adjust for the other players on the court at the same time?

  18. Gravatar of Dtoh Dtoh
    2. January 2017 at 21:17

    Scott, sorry you lost me. First you said it’s “probably not” a good thing if the labor force participation rate goes up. Then you said that the labor force participation rate is probably sub optimal. That leaves only one option. But you think the labor force participation rate to go down? Maybe i’m reading your comments wrong.

  19. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. January 2017 at 00:16

    Typo should read.

    > “That you think the LFPR should go down.”

  20. Gravatar of John S John S
    3. January 2017 at 05:24

    Carl, the main problem with PER is that it over-rewards high volume inefficient shooting.

    “As described by David Berri, PER is well-known to reward inefficient shooting:

    Hollinger argues that each two point field goal made is worth about 1.65 points. A three point field goal made is worth 2.65 points. A missed field goal, though, costs a team 0.72 points. Given these values, with a bit of math we can show that a player will break even on his two point field goal attempts if he hits on 30.4% of these shots. On three pointers the break-even point is 21.4%.

    If a player exceeds these thresholds, and virtually every NBA player does so with respect to two-point shots, the more he shoots the higher his value in PERs. So a player can be an inefficient scorer and simply inflate his value by taking a large number of shots.”

    Breakeven thresholds of 21% and 30% (for 2s and 3s) are ridiculously low, considering that the league avg eFG% is at an all-time high of .508 (and for 3PT-shooting, lg. avg. is 35.4%).

    Defensive problems plague all bball metrics (trad and adv). I think the best combo is a mix of WinShares and DRPM (but with a huge grain of salt for DRPM — there are some weird results for Kawhi and Klay this year).

  21. Gravatar of John S John S
    3. January 2017 at 05:49

    Here’s a good rundown of adv metrics and the pros and cons of each:


    I certainly agree that Jordon was better than Westbrook

    My point wasn’t that Jordan was better, it was that he emphasized mastering the fundamentals rather than relying on his athleticism. To me, that attitude’s a lot more admirable than Westbrook’s head-down, bull-in-a-china-shop approach.

    There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of artifice to Westbrook’s game. Look at when he got blocked tonight — he telegraphed that he would go right the whole way, but his plan was to just to… jump over Giannis?

    When Harden sets his man up outside the arc, I feel like I’m watching a master at work. His hesitation crossover is so deadly his man has no idea which direction he’ll drive, whether he’ll step back for a 3, or if he’ll unleash a crosscourt laser to the wing or corner. I rarely, if ever, get that feeling from Russ. (But I haven’t seen too much of him this year, so I’ll keep an open mind that he actually has improved.)


  22. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    3. January 2017 at 06:01

    @E. Harding

    There were some jokes in this post.

  23. Gravatar of John S John S
    3. January 2017 at 06:11

    Scott, semi-serious tangent: you mentioned that you never got picked for basketball, have no talent for even catching the ball, and that it’s “unfair” you were born that way. (I know it’s a joke, I’m not that much of a killjoy).

    In an earlier post, you criticized the white underclass for making bad decisions like not studying and abusing drugs. But isn’t it possible that they’re just like you: born into circumstances where they lack the required capacity (e.g. facility to manipulate verbal & numerical info) to be anything but ZMP-workers?

    Manufacturing at least offered this group (both white and black) the chance to earn high wages and have some level of family stability. It is at least plausible to me that the dysfunction we see in these groups (over 50% illegitimacy, drug usage) is caused in part by their unsuitability for the modern age. (Thus, telling them to study harder is akin to telling you to practice your post-moves when you can’t even catch the ball).

    Of course, you will reply that automation, not free trade is to blame. I agree. But perhaps that means that some sort of wage subsidy for manufacturing industries (or a govt jobs guarantee program) is needed to help the US underclass.

    It would be great if everyone could become a web designer or data scientist. But I’ve come to realize that people aren’t interchangeable widgets.

    (Btw: Parker also attacked the rim at pretty high speeds — he just made sure to stay in control.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoEHWHXIPDI#t=0m30s )

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. January 2017 at 09:12

    dtoh, No. I said it may be a bad thing if LFPR goes up, but probably not.

    John, You misunderstood me, I was not criticizing the white underclass. I was suggesting that some conservatives have a double standard. I’ll do a post later explaining why, probably posted at Econlog tomorrow or Thursday.

    I am a long time advocate of wage subsidies, so you don’t need to convince me on that.

    As far as Westbrook, there’s no accounting for taste.

  25. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    3. January 2017 at 09:52

    Yes. Real plus minus does adjust for other players on the court. Look for the bullet points a page or so down in this article, https://cornerthreehoops.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/explaining-espns-real-plus-minus/, for the highlights of RPM.

    @John S
    Just to be clear, I’m advocating RPM over PER. But your link looks interesting. I will look at in more depth later and consult my statistics crazy 15 year old nephew for his expert appraisal.

  26. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. January 2017 at 16:49

    My bad. Misread your comment. Seems to me given the loss of some 12 million jobs through a decrease in the LFPR and since a lot of the loss was through poor policy that a higher LFPR is almost certainly a good thing not merely “probably” a good thing. If so, why should it not be a policy objective of the new administration.

    Which is better putting a million people back to work by shaving a bit off the official unemployment rate or putting 12 million people back to work through a recovery in the LFPR

    (BTW – Not sure if 12 million is exactly the right number.)

  27. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    3. January 2017 at 20:21

    #2 – Giannis is a Nigerian Greek who speaks Greek better than I do. The benefits of globalization.

    OT–BBC: “Plans to release beavers back into Wales after almost 500 years” – Sumner stymied!

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. January 2017 at 21:19

    Thanks Carl,

    dtoh, I have no problem with Trump trying to increase the LFPR. Now if he would only explain how he intends to do so. And not with a tweet. Is that too much to ask?

  29. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. January 2017 at 22:27

    How about “Cut taxes and reduce regulation.” Will that fit in a tweet. 🙂

    Only academia and the New Yorker view verbosity as a virtue.

    Or as Cicero said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

  30. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    5. January 2017 at 12:47

    trying to increase the LFPR. Now if he would only explain how he intends to do so.

    Cut taxes and reduce regulation.

    Another way could be getting rid of the old, sick, weak and unemployed faster. Maybe repealing medical care can help with that? This would increase LFPR as well, wouldn’t it?

    I just doubt that it would be very effective since medical care isn’t as important for survival as most people think.

    But it would make job creation cheaper again and also set more incentives to work so it would probably work through this channel.

    Or in short: “Cut taxes and reduce regulation!”

    On a side note: Trump’s use of Twitter is actually very smart and one of the good things about him.

  31. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    6. January 2017 at 10:02

    Russel is the most fun to watch. LeBron still the best. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be he best had he been born in the USA and so started playing earlier. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry also deserve consideration.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. January 2017 at 15:56

    dtoh, Are tariffs on imports an example of cutting regulations or cutting taxes?

    Floccina, I agree, and keep in mind that Giannis has not yet hit his peak, whereas the other names you mention have.

  33. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    8. January 2017 at 03:58

    I don’t know. Does all government action have to relate to either taxes or regulation? Is all human endeavor perfect?

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