Octavo Dia

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Terrible Economics in an Obama Advertisement



Fortunately, I don't have TV at home, or I would be subjected to this more frequently (I saw this at the mechanic's shop), but the above advertisement has absolutely terrible economics.

(No, I do not care that Romney ads also have terrible economics.  If you want to link me to a Romney ad with terrible economics, I'll agree heartily and lament the state of the American electorate.  But there's no reason to do so.  I don't want to see it, and it won't change the fact that the above ad is terrible.)

The problem with this ad is that there are far, far, far more American tire consumers than American tire producers.  If a Chinese company can produce a tire for $1 less than an American company can, that Chinese company could save Americans roughly $300 million a year (the U.S. goes through roughly one tire per person, per year).  According to the video, this threatened "a thousand American jobs" (a number which is, pardon the pun, more likely inflated than deflated).  Unless these tire manufacturing jobs were paying $300,000 a year, which seems unlikely, Americans as a whole would have saved far more in reduced tire costs than we lost in wages.  We would be better off to have lost the jobs and bought the tires.

The reason we keep making this mistake is that the lost jobs are immediate, tangible, and have an impact on nameable individuals and communities.  Saving $4 on a set of tires, however, escapes notice.

(Before you bring up monopoly pricing and all the dangers that could come about by Chinese influence on the tire market, tires are a good which is relatively easy to manufacture.  If China started monopoly pricing, someone else would start up a plant in short order.)

"Saving Jobs" also deals in a counter-factual.  You never know whether, if fact, the American jobs would have been lost.  Only 200 may have been lost, or a reduction in wages, or the American manufacturer may have been able to find some efficiency gains, or, or, or.  All we really know is that the Chinese were offering us a deal on tires, and we refused to take it.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Ten Commandments of the Internet

Don't be stupid.  This it the first, and greatest, commandment.  In no particular order (I haven't categorized them into tables of the law, or anything), here's a brief guide on how not to be stupid on the internet.

1. Thou shalt not trust anyone who doesn't link to their source.

Linking is quick.  Linking is easy.  Even copying and pasting a URL is permissible.  Anyone who can't manage that on at least a somewhat routine basis is either hiding something or out-of-touch--neither of which make for a good reference.

LIMITED EXCEPTION: Dead-tree media, which publish both print and online versions, will often not provide the URLs.  They need to grow up.

2. Thou shalt know the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and when each one is appropriate.

With very limited, specialized exceptions, journalists don't know what they're talking about--particularly in the hard sciences or the harder (political science/economics) social sciences are involved.  As such, the awesome article you just read is probably misleading, and you have to check the original to be sure (which is another reason linking is important).  By contrast, Wikipedia, that paragon of tertiary sources, is a super means of finding the original sources.  Though you wouldn't cite Wikipedia directly, you can find the original sources more easily that way.  And if all the sources of the article point back to a single individual, you can be pretty sure someone's just making it up.

3. Thou shalt not dismiss blogs out of hand.

Why would you cite Brad Delong in a book, but not on his blog?  In a world of self-publishing, does hitting "print" make his ideas any more valid?  No one would fault you for citing a leading expert, so why restrict yourself to a single medium?

4. Thou shalt not trust anyone who does not show their work.

This doesn't mean that they should bore you by putting ever equation in the document, but you should be able to review it.  As in #1, any fool can put a pdf of his research results online.

5. Thou shalt consider the motivations of the author.

People write things for a reason.  It could be their interest, their profession, their personal vendetta, or just to get a paycheck.  Let this inform your trust.

6. Thou shalt remember that the burden of proof falls on the reformer.

Anecdotes do not equal statistically valid, double-blind, repeated studies.  If you want me to believe that smartphones cause leprosy, YOU conduct the study.

Also, the absence of evidence indicates nothing other than no one has bothered studying it yet, which is often because it's stupid.  If your proof depends on some massive conspiracy to cover something up, you've just proven that there is no massive conspiracy, or they would have surely come for you.

7. Thou shalt read the comments.

You don't know everything.  The original argument is often destroyed in the comments, through a weakness you didn't even recognize.  Alternatively, the original argument can be strengthened or expanded in the comments.  You never know until you read.

8. Thou shalt not trust anyone who doesn't allow comments.

Obviously, as in #1 and #4, it's easy.  People who don't, don't want public scrutiny.

LIMITED EXCEPTION: Anyone advocating/associated with a socially conservative viewpoint will not have comments turned on due to the abusive nature of the Internet.

9. Thou shalt demand a higher level of proof from sources whose views support thine and, and seek sources whose views differ from thine own.

You know what you think.  You know what you believe.  You're less likely to spot weak arguments, because you've subconsciously filled in the blanks.  You may think it's obvious, but it's not.

10. Thou shalt recognize verbal hedges, that thou mayest not cite headlines or executive summaries.

The purpose of a headline is to get attention.  Consequently, they often remove many of the qualifying words, such as "may," and "might."  That can change the meaning entirely.  If a quote is too good to be true, check the original--it's usually not as exciting as it seems.

And a bonus, 11th commandment:

11. Thou shalt not be a skeptic, cynic, or troll.

Because aren't there enough of those already?

Monday, September 03, 2012

The War of the Roaches

We acquired a few varieties of cockroaches from an apartment that we have come to fondly refer to as the Hell Hole.  When we moved in, we didn't realize just how profoundly they had fumigated it prior to our arrival so as to leave no warning of the tsunami of roaches that was about to fall upon us.  When we left, we attempted to get rid of them by bug-bombing the moving truck (which is not a recommended use of a bug bomb), but they can with us and quickly established themselves in our house.

Of course you know, this means war!

First, we reduced the available food supply as much as possible.  Sweeping after every meal, never leaving dishes in the sink, never leaving food out, etc., etc., etc.

Second, we reduced the available habitat as much as possible.  Roaches love to live in corrugated cardboard, so despite having a few hundred dollars worth of nearly-new cardboard from our move, we recycled almost all of it.  For that cardboard that we didn't want to recycle, we sprayed the inside of a plastic garbage bag with bug spray, put the box inside, and sealed it up.

Third, I got a variety of different roach baits: large and small roach baitsdouble control, and egg stoppers.  I placed these everywhere that the roaches could find food, water, or shelter.  When you consider how little they really need and how low their standards, that's an awful lot of places:
  • Under every sink.
  • By every toilet.
  • By every trashcan (they can eat the mucous on a used tissue).
  • By the diaper pail.
  • Everywhere we eat (I created a perimeter around the dining room).
  • By the showers and bathtubs.
  • On the counters (edges and corners).
  • In the cabinets.
  • Under the fridge.
  • By the cabinet kick plates.
  • In the pantry (on the floor and on the shelves).
  • Under the beds (they seek out the salt your sweat leaves on the sheets).
  • By the laundry baskets (same reason as the bed, and any food crumbs).
  • By the washing machine.
  • Anywhere I saw a roach...
Fourth, I used a roach spray to divide the house into sections (spraying the perimeters and obvious entry and exit points).  If I eradicated them in one part of the house, I didn't want them to repopulate from another part of the house.

Fifth, I used Boric acid anyplace that I couldn't replace traps conveniently:
  • Behind the washing machine.
  • On top of the built-in dishwasher.
  • Behind the fridge.

The above attacks were highly successful, and I had eliminated them in all but one part of the house: inside the dishwasher.  It's a perfect environment for them.  It's warm.  It's moist.  It has sufficient food particles in it even if you load and run it immediately.  I couldn't figure out how to get rid of them.  I couldn't really put poison in the dishwasher, other than putting a bait in hoping I'd remember to take it out before running the dishwasher.

Then one day I noticed that they would go scurrying into the vent in the door when we opened it, so I disassembled the door, added some roach gel to the inside, and put it back together.  I put new roach gel in every month.  The first couple of times all the roach gel disappeared.  When I went back in after the third time, it was still there.

That was in December of 2011, and we haven't seen a roach since.  They estimate that if you've gone six months without seeing one, you're in the clear, since roaches can only live for a few months and roach eggs can only lie dormant for a couple months.  I don't want to go through this again, so I've been putting out roach baits ever since.  It's been almost nine months and the last set of roach baits I put out will stay potent for another three, so I'm declaring victory.