Thursday, July 19, 2012

Malthus vs. Jackson smackdown

What can perennial wheatgrass tell us about macroeconomics?

Probably not all that much in the end, but it can help frame a way of thinking about it.

L:; R:
One of the big questions in macro should be (but isn't) the extent to which a different path of technological development can allow us to do more with less.This might not seem like much of a question--Isn't that what technological progress is?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Joey Jump-up!

As if more evidence were needed that it's hard to pull apart knowing a language from knowing a culture ...

There was a post yesterday at Britské listy about direct election of the president in the Czech Republic. When Czechoslovakia was set up after World War I, the system was established that the people elect the parliament, then the parliament elects the president. This procedure was retained when the country was re-established after World War II, and through the communist period, though the parliamentary elections at the time were predetermined, so the election of the president was a formality of power rather than a real political event. Parliamentary election of the president continued into post-communist Czechoslovakia and then into the Czech Republic after the "Velvet Divorce" in which Czechoslovakia became the two independent states. The parliament recently changed this, so in 2013, the successor to current Czech president Václav Klaus will be chosen in a direct election by the voters, not by the parliament.

Yesterday's post was titled "The direct election of the president is just a pacifier," the point being that the new form of election won't accomplish much of importance, but is mostly about distracting the public from things the politicians don't want them to be thinking about.

"Now that the candidates for president include Vladimír Dlouhý, Ladislav Jakl, and Pepek Vyskoč from Putim, the dance of the candidates has assumed an utterly grotesque character." Who are these people the writer is talking about?

Czech Wikipedie will tell you that Vladimír Dlouhý is a politician, the first minister of industry and trade in the new Czech Republic back in the early 1990s. The same source informs you that Ladislav Jakl is a former journalist and currently the director of the political section of the Office of the President of the Republic.

And Pepek Vyskoč from Putim? Czech Wikipedie won't tell you who he is.

He's this guy (the one with no hat, not the police commander):
He's a character from one of the most famous Czech novels, The Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk in the World War. He's the town shepherd, a half-wit (or maybe a quarter). He often bleets when he talks.

The police commander has been ordered by his district superior to find a paid snitch to get information about the mood of the populace regarding the war. He can't think of who to get, when into his office walks the shepherd, bleeting. The commander pulls him aside, slips him a coin ("borrowed" from one of his officers), and speaks with him confidentially. "If you hear anyone say that the Emperor is an ass, or that we won't win the war, you come tell me." He sends him out, and as the fellow reaches the door, the police officer says to him, "Pepku, vyskoč!" ("Joey, jump!") and the man does an odd little jump.
Afterward, he's dictating a report for his superior, about how he's found a paid informant. He's not sure of the shepherd's name, so he asks the underling who's taking dictation. "I've only ever heard him called Pepek Vyskoč."

"Alright, then," says the commander, "our informant is Josef Vyskoč."

The next day the priest comes to commander all concerned and asks to speak to him in private. "The shepherd told me you said the Emperor is an ass and that we won't win the war!"

That's Pepek Vyskoč from Putim. A world of denigration hurled at the presidential field in four quick words. And a grammar book or dictionary won't be of much use in helping you figure out what the writer means. Knowledge of a language is tied up with knowledge of a culture.

Well, that's less true now than it used to be, thanks to Google ... (How do you think I refreshed my memory of who Pepek Vyskoč was, or found the picture above?)

Friday, July 6, 2012

And so it begins?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a partial translation of an article from Britské listy by Jan Čulík, about how the Czech Republic should be doing more to cultivate friends among influential citizens of important countries. Čulík said, "The fact is, as Czechs know from history, that when it comes to a crisis, valid agreements are not fulfilled, unless their fulfillment is in the direct interest of the given power." So the Czechs need friends among the citizenry of the Western powers who will make the case that protecting the Czech Republic is in the interests of the West.

Then on Wednesday I came across a Guardian article about British Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement in Parliament that his ministers were considering measures for keeping Greeks out of Britain in case of Greek withdrawal from the euro leading to chaos in Greece. Later that day, I saw a post on Britské listy titled, "Is it beginning already ...?" and thought it must be about Cameron's move, and it was. What follows is my translation.


Is it beginning already ... ?
by Jan Čulík

I published a warning here recently that, in the current European situation, getting progressively less and less stable, the Czech Republic does not have strategic allies I argued that Czech politicians should be dedicating substantial sums to the expansion of Czech studies centers in (Western) countries where the fate of the Czech Republic is decided and will be decided. Not at all because I'd like money for my "area" (I myself will leave my university soon in any case) [Čulík is currently the Senior Lecturer in Czech Studies at the University of Glasgow], but because over the last twenty years I've witnessed what a tremendous cultural, social, economic, and strategic boon this is for the Czech Republic when it's done well.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pile on Tyler!

Around the Intertoobz last Wednesday was "pile on Tyler" day (for example, at Kos, or Balloon Juice, or The League of Ordinary Gentlemen). The understandable cause was point 2 of Tyler Cowen's post on the kind of mandate the right should support,with its language about how we need to accept that poor people will die because they're poor. As I'll explain below, I think that language was somewhere between clumsily worded and a callous strawman, but it wasn't a surprise, because it's what everyone else was writing about, so I knew it was there when I read the original post. What did surprise me was point 4:
4. Price transparency (mandated if need be) and real competition in the health care sector, including freer immigration for doctors, nurses, and other caregivers, and relaxation of medical licensing and encouragement of retail medical clinics, a’la WalMart style.  This helps keep the cost of the mandate to reasonable levels.  Most cost-saving innovation should come through markets.  The man strapped to a gurney, bleeding, while negotiating a price with his doctor is the exception in this sector, not the rule.  In any case the insurance companies can prearrange the price for that one.
There's the nugget about how it's rare that someone has to negotiate the price and extent of their treatment while strapped to a gurney and bleeding. (Right. Because if you're negotiating the price and extent of your treatment when you have a diagnosis of accute myeloid leukemia, you're in a much stronger bargaining position than that poor bleeding sap down the hall strapped to a gurney.) And the touching faith in "price transparency," because yes, if I knew ahead of time how much it was going to cost me to be treated for Alzheimer's, I'd make sure not to get that disease.