Print Story You're living off the corpse of the old world
By TheophileEscargot (Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 09:50:05 AM EST) Reading, Web (all tags)
Reading: "Economics of the Public Sector". Web.

What I'm Reading
Got to the end of Economics of the Public Sector by Sara Connolly and Alistair Munro, though I skimmed a lot of the second half. It's an undergraduate textbook, requires some knowledge of economics, quite a few equations. Found it quite useful for clarifying some things, but it's not exactly a thrill ride. I've been spoilt by recent books: the text here is plodding and disjointed sidebars, graphs and digressions.

Found some bits of it fascinating though, especially the stuff on social welfare functions. The big trade-off is that between equity and efficiency: the more you intervene to make an economy fairer, the less efficient it gets. An economy is like a pie where the fairer you slice it, the smaller the pie gets.

That's pretty obvious, but where it gets interesting is where they start to analyse the economics in terms of ethics. They take three systems: a utilitarian view where social welfare is the sum of everyone's well-being, a Rawlsian view where social welfare is that of the worst-off person in society, and an isoelastic view where social welfare is the aversion to inequality. Then they take various graphs and show how you can adjust redistribution and tax rates to maximize each case.

They also have a bit on public choice theory, analysing voting systems. I'd already heard of Arrow's impossibility theorem, but the median voter theorem was new to me. It's not in the book, but that led me on to May's theorem which might be helpful in the next proportional representation flamewar (though they seem to have died out lately).

The rest of the book was less novel, but fleshed out a lot of stuff for me: nice to get a UK-centric perspective. This is the 1999 edition and some of the examples are getting a little dated though. Also has some good stuff on the various forms of market failure,

Overall, this book is almost certainly of no interest to any casual readers except me. Probably quite helpful for an econ undergrad though.

The book did have an interesting quote from Jude the Obscure

It was indeed open country, wide and high. They talked and bounded on, Jude cutting from a little covert a long walking-stick for Sue as tall as herself, with a great crook, which made her look like a shepherdess. About half-way on their journey they crossed a main road running due east and west--the old road from London to Land's End. They paused, and looked up and down it for a moment, and remarked upon the desolation which had come over this once lively thoroughfare, while the wind dipped to earth and scooped straws and hay-stems from the ground.
The melancholy desolation is because this crude and ancient form of transport, the road, is being made obsolete by the new technology of the steam train.

What I'm Watching
Saw Be Kind Rewind. Not really what I expected, which was a dim comedy about a couple of video store clerks who start filming their own versions of movies after their tapes are wiped. Instead it's a kind of Capraesque fable about a Community Coming Together and learning to love the art of creation instead of sucking the Hollywood teat.

Seemed a little bit condescending to me, but it does have some good moments and it is a bit different.

Tried to look at the Turner prize exhibition but was derailed by a minor panic attack. Made the mistake of going Saturday afternoon: it was pretty crowded and it's mostly a darkened, body-heaving, unsignposted maze of video installations. Really annoyingly they'd blocked off the exit, so you have to thread/barge your way through everyone twice to get in and out.

The perspex sculptures by Goshka Macuga were pretty impressive though: nice patterns of reflection at least.


Pics. Balloon lumpfish. Battle of Nashville.

YouTube. Polysics music video: Domo Arigato Mr Roboto

Guardian on Chinese-run prostitution this time.

Science. Why Steve Jones is wrong about evolution stopping. Misconceptions in textbooks.

If a science book contains the lemon battery bulb-lightning experiment, it means that the author never performed the experiment to see if it works.
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You're living off the corpse of the old world | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Sidebars should die by herbert (4.00 / 3) #1 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 10:11:27 AM EST
Authors need to make up their damn minds whether they want something in their book or not.  If they do, they should put it properly in sequence so that you can tell what order you're supposed to read it in.

I agree in general by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 10:14:17 AM EST
Some of these look like they might be useful for a course guide though: some of them have discussion points, other bits remind you of basic economics terms and so on.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Anything in the book by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 11:23:48 AM EST
About the difficulties of measuring an unquantifiable service in economic terms? Eg, how do you put a monetary value on social work?

It's political correctness gone mad!

There are a few ways by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #4 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 11:32:18 AM EST
Going back to the book...
  • Market behaviour. (E.g. how much people will pay for private healthcare may tell you how much the equivalent public treatment is worth
  • Travel cost. E.g. someone who buys a £20 train ticket to go to a free museum probably values the trip that much.
  • Hedonic pricing. E.g. look at the price difference of a house under a flight path to see how much people value quiet.
  • Stated preference. E.g. do a survey asking how much people would be willing to pay for something.

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
I'm unclear how any of those would work for by garlic (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 11:49:29 AM EST
social work, unless you price houses in areas where they need social workers (since they probably can't travel far for it) against areas where they don't.

[ Parent ]
I've just had a think about it (see my comment) by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 11:59:46 AM EST
And I can see how you could have a go, but it would be very imprecise. An example of there being too many variables I think.

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Never thought of it that way by nebbish (4.00 / 2) #6 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 11:57:23 AM EST
It's logical though now I have.

So you could roughly (very roughly actually but never mind) work out a youth worker's economic benefit by measuring a sample group of youths with a youth worker and another without one, seeing the difference in how many go into crime, tot up how that much costs and get an idea of the benefits.

I wonder if this actually gets done?

It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Not sure by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 08:43:41 PM EST
I checked the index too, and the book doesn't seem to have any specific examples about that kind of social work.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Pay for a social worker? by houser2112 (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Oct 14, 2008 at 03:17:02 AM EST
I suppose that would depend greatly on the flavor of social worker we're talking about.  My wife used to be a child protection case worker, and judging by the stories of having dogs sicced on her and having to go places that cops were scared to go into, the price someone would pay your typical child protection worker is probably exactly 0.

[ Parent ]
Mindless copying in school science textbooks by riceowlguy (4.00 / 2) #8 Mon Oct 13, 2008 at 12:33:06 PM EST
It's happened before, it will happen again.  Stephen Jay Gould had an essay entitled "The Case of the Creeping Fox Terrier Clone" in which he tracked the usage of the phrase "about the size of a fox terrier" used to describe Eohippus (an early horse ancestor) in high school biology textbooks from 1920 until the present and showed that the "authors" of the textbooks in question had just been blatantly copying the text on horse evolution out of previous textbooks, long after a) anybody had the slightest idea of what a fox terrier looked like and b) new research had shown that your average Eohippus was actually a good deal larger.

How does May's theorem help on PR? by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #11 Tue Oct 14, 2008 at 04:47:36 AM EST
Given that it only applies to two candidates?

I didn't mind Be Kind Rewind but it had a strange mix of silliness and sappyness. Michael Gondry directed and wrote so I guess there was some warning of the deeper themes.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

I might have to look it up again by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #12 Tue Oct 14, 2008 at 08:35:34 AM EST
But I believe it can be generalized to any binary decision, possibly any decision.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
You're living off the corpse of the old world | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback