Tuesday, May 18, 2010

American Idol Non-sense

Pick o' the post: (see below)

Just tuned into my first american idol today, so I'm not sure where they are in the season.  It looked like there were contestants left.  Each sang a song of their choosing, and a song picked by a judge.

Everything was carrying on as I'd recalled from previous encounters... song tracks or a couple instruments accompanying the singers; except for the final singer who got an orchestra and 5 or 6 backup singers.  The song was Hallelujah.

The singing was much more than I can do, but from the moment the singers flowed in from behind him, there was no way this guy was not getting a standing-O.  To be honest, I don't remember any of his singing, except for the end (because the end was replayed).  All I heard was the orchestra, choir, and the entire audience.

I'm calling bullshit on American Idol.

This is basically a conspiracy theory, but it's *actual* conspiracy theories that give a bad name to American Idol's mischievous goings on.

I'm speculating that the producers of American Idol have come to understand that they have the ability to influence the outcome of their contest by any number of factors... song choice, accompaniment, etc.  I don't know about song choice, etc.,  all things were not equal for these competitors.  One got an orchestra for God's sake.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Socialists are Backwards (I guess we already knew that)

Even the casual mention of the word 'socialism' sets off a flag immediately.  The word just has a negative sign next to it in my mind; and many more times than not the speaker doesn't really mean "socialism," or they're a little nutty.

Socialists have it all backwards.  Aside from the "why" in "why are we not a socialist society?", socialists imagine it is possible to strictly design society; have tried, and failed miserably.  The American economy certainly has aspects of socialism (social security, medicare, etc), but these were, at some point, last resort circumstances.

In Socialism's heyday (... I guess ...), information was very slow to travel.  From this perspective, a socialist government could have had no idea that it might someday be possible to distribute information to each and every one of it's citizens.  Even so, history probably wouldn't look too much different... corruption always seems to creep its way into command economies.  Greed gets us all - and drives our economy (put generally).

Now that we can deliver and receive near-instantaneous information almost anywhere in the world, governance and society would benefit from information systems that inform us on some of our basic activity as citizens.  The first thing that comes to mind is privacy issues - I just recently came across this infographic about Facebook's privacy policy - but that's for another blog.

Imagine if you could observe your own water consumption against that of other similar households.  Skipping the R&D, legislation, and infrastructure needed to make that happen, we can imagine that everyone knows this information and can act on it as they wish.  There would be all sorts of behavior as a result of this.

I think I would work to consume less water than the typical household of my type (1000 ft.^2; just me) - more times than not.  There will be people who don't pay attention to it at all.  On aggregate though, this information would do us more good than bad with regard to conservation and sustainability.

Of course, R&D, legislation, and infrastructure can be prohibitively expensive, but who's to say that those things won't become less expensive - whether it's monetary costs, time costs, or simply the time cost of the diffusion of knowledge (I made that one up).  I'm to say... those requirements will become less costly in time.  It might seem that at some point in the next 30 years (because I can predict the future), informing the public on whatever information the public demands will be an important part of democracy.  We are seeing the beginning of this with the attempts at transparency that the Obama administration has made public.

There's no way to know what those systems might look like, but a goal of informing the public allows markets to function on the collective will of its participants.  Nothing a government can build - on its own - will be as clean as that last sentence conveys.  It's probably more accurate to imagine the government incentivizing the market to build these systems.

We already do this to some extent, but there are some vey basic data - like water consumption - that could do a great deal of good for a market society.  The "ruling generation" can be afraid of the (sometimes irrational) vulnerabilities that this might generate and... the word, "socialism."  Even if it's not exactly concept that comes to mind, it's the idea that someone, somewhere is gonna screw you.

On the topic of getting screwed, our market economy did a wonderful job making me feel safe when I got my first employment agreement... a contract... in 'legalese'.  I didn't even have to read it - the words just screamed, "FUCK U!"  We're never gonna stray too far from legal language in our society... governed.. by.. law.  However, the biggest hurdle for a company and a potential employee is jointly determining if the labor match is a good one.

I have one thing to say: Data

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

-In the long run, it's your theory that's dead.

You know what I really liked about Econ?  It wasn't macroeconomics.  I actually learned very little about macroeconomics - not entirely my fault.  It had to be the (visiting) professor's first time teaching (over from Iceland).  We couldn't understand him and he was very soft-spoken and I could barely pronounce his name.  A whisper and an accent.  I learned very little, and it all seemed as if economists spent 50 years crawling down an attractive rabbit hole.

I did take a course on the History of Economic Thought, which was very revealing.  I will probably never read another 500-page book in my life, but I read "The Origin of Wealth" - a bit about evolutionary economics, but mostly it just challenged and looked for solutions to the field's weaknesses.  The next time you're thinking, "I just want a good 500-page book on heterodox economics...", this book's for you.  Or, if a course syllabus lists it, I guess I'd recommend it.

"That won't be necessary.  I am the agenda."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Price Gouging and Public Opinion

My good friend Jake Russ relayed an article on his blog recently.  Basically, it's a real-world example of the public fighting (probably, unknowingly) the mechanics of a free market pricing system.

I don't know if it's the ignorance of the public in this case, or the mirror of our behaviors that this represents, but I really like the way the point is made... very clear.

Sorry Jake.  I liked your last two posts enough to put post em here.

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