Friday, March 26, 2010

A better use of free time

As if on cue, the WSJ has a good article on kids and what they should be doing.with their cellphones- and spending more time in school could be a good idea for some.  Of particular interest is in the technological advances that are going to make the time in school more useful- and the instruction more individualized.

---

Over the long run, technology holds much potential to boost student learning time in flexible ways and at modest cost. We can stipulate that kids are addicted to it; that "virtual" instruction can happen at very nearly any time or place; and that well-designed distance-learning programs (and suitable hardware) enable greater individualization of learning, with each child moving at his/her own pace, diving deeper when warranted, and going back over things they didn't quite understand the first time. This already happens in the best online schools, of which the U.S. already has several dozen, often operating statewide, such as the Florida Virtual School and Ohio Virtual Academy. 

It also happens in "hybrids" that make astute and economical use of computer-delivered instruction, testing and such within brick-and-mortar schools that also have flesh-and-blood teachers. Rocketship Education, a small but growing network of elementary charter schools in San Jose, Calif., is such a creation, skillfully blending online lessons, practice and testing with a small but terrific team of instructors.

With continuing advances in hardware and software, the boundaries among "learning in school," "learning in other settings" and "learning on your own" will gradually disappear, with potent implications for time spent learning, which need no longer be confined to the classroom hours stipulated in the teachers' union (or custodians' union) contract or the 180-day year prescribed in state law (and, in some jurisdictions, not allowed to start before Labor Day).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nutter not a Nutter

Mobs Are Born as Word Grows by Text Message

Roaming gangs of kids beating up people in streets. What is the response the NY Times chooses to include? Adults that want more money for their own groups, Luddite fear of text messaging, and then at the very end some information that belies the shocking headline.

"“We definitely need more jobs for kids, we need more summer jobs for kids, we need more after-school programming, and we need more parent support,” said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a children’s advocacy group in Philadelphia."
Well, at least she did say they need more parent support. Maybe they need to be studying?

"Clay Yeager, a juvenile justice consultant and former director of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Pennsylvania, said he believed the flash mobs were partly a result of a decline in state money for youth violence prevention programs."
Sure... 

And then some sense from the mayor:
“I don’t think people should be finding excuses for inappropriate behavior,” Mr. Nutter said. “There is no racial component to stupid behavior, and parents should not be looking to the government to provide entertainment for their children.” 
That's a perfect way of putting it. The list of things people are looking to the government to provide is a bit too long.


 Violent crime in Philadelphia has dropped 12 percent and homicides have fallen 23 percent since 2008.
And how did that happen? Seems like a significant story! Maybe they should report on it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Global Warming

Read this bit on Global Warming today that made me laugh...

"The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in December that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade since records began in 1850"

Wow, there's only a 1/16 chance of that happening randomly...now if the second hottest was 1990-1999, third hottest was 1980-1989, we might have a trend. "Fooled by Randomness"

In the same blog post... "'Last November was the hottest November we’ve ever seen, November-January as a whole is the hottest November-January the world has seen,' he said of the satellite data record since 1979."

A little better odds of that being relevant... 1/30, but it still makes you wonder if anyone is capable of rational thought on this subject any more, or if everyone has just made up their minds and decided to shout at one another in perpetuity.

It is obvious that humans are having an effect on the environment. I've been to Beijing, Los Angeles and West Virginia and tried to breathe, but that's what we should be trying to fix, the real problems. For the "Skpetics" to claim that we are not having a significant effect is to deny reality. On the other hand, for the warmers to claim that all human progress is leading to warming also seems insane. I am also not convinced that warming is all bad, it seems like it would make more arable land in the world. Farm Canada. Also, the solutions bandied about are all so anti-progress and complex. The last chapter of Freakonomics is a much more likely path to success, if more serious problems develop.

Current positions (subject to continuous change):

  • Cap and Trade is an Enron-like scam, in fact, they had some guy named Paul Krugman pushing it. A Pigovian carbon tax is a better option.
  • The air sucks in a lot of places, and we should do we can to avoid that, as long as the costs do not exceed the benefits.
  • We should plant more plants, apparently they can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen
  • We may reach a point where there is a non-optimal number of people on Earth. I have a list of nominations for those we can eliminate, in case we have too many.
  • People who claim to know exactly what is going on do not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Randian Confusion

"Bernanke took over the Fed when Greenspan was considered a rock star, inhaling his libertarian, free-market, Ayn Rand inspired philosophy in great giant gulps."
- madhedgefundtrader

It always confuses me when I read about how "Randian", free-market, and libertarian Greenspan was. I don't recall anywhere that she commented extensively about how the Federal Reserve should let banks borrow money from the people at extraordinarily low rates to be used for the creation of proprietary speculative derivatives markets. In fact, most Rand followers seem to be in favor of the abolition of the Fed and allowing the market to set interest rates.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everybody's Starry Eyed

Still not sick of this. Next thing, we're touching.



Oh, oh, starry eyed
Hit, hit, hit, hit, hit me with lightning

Handle bars, and then I let go, let go for anyone
Take me in, and throw out my heart and get a new one

Next thing we're touching
You look at me it's like you hit me with lightning
Ahhh

Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And everybody goes
Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And my body goes
Whoa oh oh ah ah
Whoa oh oh ah ah
Whoa oh oh

So we burst into colors, colors and carousels,
Fall head first like paper planes in playground games

Next thing we're touching
You look at me it's like you hit me with lightning
Ahhhh

Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And everybody goes
Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And my body goes
Whoa oh oh ah ah
Whoa oh oh ah ah
Whoa oh oh

Next thing we're touching (x8)

Hit me with lightning

Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And everybody goes
Oh, everybody's starry-eyed
And my body goes (x2)

whoa oh oh ah ah (x3) 

Ideas on Econ- an evolving set

Prices reflect opinions.

Buying assets from others with the intention of selling them later for more money is fundamentally weird. Buying a share of a company's profits makes sense- you are buying the dividend stream. Buying existing shares of a growth stock doesn't really benefit anyone- you are basically betting that you can predict better than the seller what the future value of the company should be. Buying new issuance, investing in ventures results is money that does something.  So does selling bonds.

Think about buying a home as an investment (versus as a place to live). You buy an investment home for the income stream it can provide. Let's say you put $50k down on a $350k property. It has an annual payment to the bank of $24k and a rental value of $20k. Is this a good deal? If the price of the home does not rise at faster than 8% per year, it is not a good deal, on the face of it. However, you are leveraged at 6:1, so it only needs to rise 2% per year.

Policy results - low tax on dividends and bond interest? I guess we have that, but people still invest in the lottery.

Auto-didacts

Sometimes I wonder if "school comparisons" are just nonsense.  It's usually clear that they are comparisons of students, not of the quality of instruction, except perhaps to the degree that they influence each other. There is a certain percentage of kids out the there that are auto-didacts. They are going to learn the stuff just by being given a reasonable textbook and some time to practice. They make schools that have more kids that can do this look better than they are, and vice versa. Maybe that's what we should be teaching, teach people how to learn on their own.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Short sighted partisans

Sadly, this blog post [nsfw] illustrates the short sighted, partisan thinking that drives our policy- on both sides of the aisle. The most popular health care plans are not transformational reforms, they are expansions of what we already have. They are mostly going to make the cost control problem worse, with a few notable exceptions. If we don't attack costs now, we won't even be able to save the risk protections we have in place today from the onslaught of baby boomer retirements. We obviously need to raise money as well, just to pay for what we already have, and completely removing the income tax exclusion on health insurance benefits would be a great place to start.

It's easy to attack the insurance companies and their ridiculous rescission clauses, but the problems we face are much deeper than that. The cost of insurance is driven by the cost of health care services. I'm not angry, but I differ from the implied view here that taxing people to pay the providers insane amounts (that we aren't even allowed to see before we have to incur them) is better than making the costs public and letting the consumer drive the system towards value. When you don't know if an MRI is costing us collectively $350 or $750, even if you had an incentive to choose the better value, you wouldn't have the information to make a good decision. Of course, the question as to whether Americans get too many MRIs is generally sidestepped.

We need to create the incentive for all of us to work together for lower cost care- and make the information available to enable that. I'll go to a different grocery store to save $2 on bananas. I'd definitely go to a different doctor if I could save $100 the next time one of the kids gets sick. It is that sort of behavior that drives prices down for most other things we buy, and it can work for health care too. The reason there is no low cost provider of health care, providing popular goods at low prices, is that there is no advantage to the insured consumer of trying to save money.

The generally naive response to this, which was my initial thought as well, is that we can just cap provider costs once we have a monosopony. Of course, the general response to that is that the providers stop offering options that are money losers, and you end up with something like the Canadian wait for your MRI. Markets, for whatever flaws they have, are good at one thing, setting prices. Without a market, determining a fair price is simply not possible.

Before we lose all of the energy and attention that we have currently focused on health, let's work together to find a way to make what we have cost less, so we can afford to get it to more people. We need to sell $1.7T of Treasuries this year to pay for our current deficit. Demand is likely to fall far short of that, meaning that the interest we pay on our debt will rise, along with other interest rates as government borrowing crowds out other lending. Reducing the cost of health care is a serious concern of every party, Tea, Democrat, Green, and Libertarian (have to leave out the Republicans responsible for the Medicare Part D monstrosity). Enacting benefits without caps will just put us in the Massachusetts situation, where they are struggling to figure out how to contain the rising costs. Looking at options like Health Savings Accounts, and high deductible plans give us better coverage on the big risks, and ways to cut spending on the most common costs. There are still hard choices out there- we'll probably need the "death panels" at some point since we outspend the rest of the world so much in the last six months of life.

There are hundreds of disruptive ideas out there to revolutionize health care in America so that everyone can afford some, let's set path out there to make it happen. I'd suggest reading "The Innovator's Prescription" if you want a good picture of how our policy is preventing the best ideas from coming forward.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Intensity

The intensity is about to move up. It's not the time to procrastinate. Things are going to start flying at you faster and faster. It doesn't slow down for a long time, and when it does, that's not good. That's the end. This is the new speed. Get with it or get off the bus, because if we slow down we die. Just get on with it and make it happen. What's the worst case scenario? Once you accept that, there's not much left in your way. Get it done.

Happy to be Hardcore.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The NY Times Editorial Page Fails Logic

Avoiding a Japanese Decade

"The green shoots are barely out of the ground and Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress are already demanding that the administration “do something” to cut the budget gap. We worry that the political drumbeat may be too hard to resist. In 1997, after three years of tepid growth, the Japanese government stopped its stimulus: it raised a consumption tax, ended a temporary income tax cut, increased social security premiums and nipped recovery in the bud."

What an inane counterfactual. The idea that it is the government's job to spend us out of a recession is conveniently popular with the government that gets to spend all of that money to increase their own influence, power, and status. We've been overstimulating the economy for 10 years, using deficit spending to pay for all sorts of nonsense like full price prescription drugs and wars against countries that couldn't attack us. Adding more stimulus is so unbelievably risky, it risks the very status of our currency and out ability to borrow money.

Of course, we have genius bankers making these decisions, guys that are so full of ego they think they can completely orchestrate the economy by moving the fed funds rate.

Stimulus doesn't work- we tried it from 2001-2009, and look what we got. On the other hand, government fiscal discipline will allow more money to go into the job creating sectors of the economy, not make work to siphon tax dollars.