Reflections on Freedom in New York

[W]hen I think of New York city abstractly, I think of a city that doesn’t work. Taxes are high, there are too many crowds, people are pushy and unfriendly, etc. Then, when I actually experience New York, I see how well it works. People are trying to give me what I want, at a fairly low price. The immigrants I run into–and there have been many over the last two days–don’t seem to have come here for welfare but for opportunity to get wealthier. And people are friendly.

Why are people friendly? Partly because I love people and I’m friendly to them. But also partly because they are paid to be friendly; they do better by being friendly to customers.

via Reflections on Freedom in New York, David Henderson | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty.

What is economics good for?

… the fact that economists did not foresee the Great Recession with any precision and have failed to model accurately the recovery does not mean that economics or even macroeconomics is worthless. My claim is simply that we should recognize the limits of reason in analyzing complex systems with millions of decision-makers, numerous feedback loops, institutional features (synthetic CDOs, the repo market, the willingness of the Fed to bail out bondholders) that are difficult to model in tandem with the outcomes we care about. Finally, there are important variables that we cannot observe directly such as expectations, anxiety, confidence, overconfidence and so on.

So what is economics good for? It’s good for organizing your thinking.

via What is economics good for?.

Hey, Jenny McCarthy, Read This

A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an "elaborate fraud" that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible.

"It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors," Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. "But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data."

Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May. "Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession," BMJ states in an editorial accompanying the work.

via Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds – CNN.com.

Roller Skating and Economics

"How are 100 people supposed to skate around the arena without guidance or direction? Each skater traces out a pattern, and the patterns must mesh so skaters avoid injury. That’s a complex problem. It would require smart leadership. But it won’t get solved! The arena will be a scene of collision, injury, and stagnation. Who will pay for that?!"

If you knew nothing of skating, you would expect catastrophe. Before they knew of skating, people knew of dance performance such as ballet, and to achieve a complex coordination requires a choreographer. Everyone knows that.

Intuition leads us to think that complex problems require complex, deliberate solutions. In a roller rink, the social good depends on getting the patterns to mesh. But no one is minding that good. As your friend describes the business idea, not even the owner intends to look after it. How can the social good be achieved if no one is looking after it?

Yet, we have all witnessed roller skating, and we know that somehow it does work out. There are occasional accidents, but mostly people stay whole and have fun, so much so that they pay good money to participate. The spectacle is counter-intuitive. How does it happen?

via Daniel B. Klein, Rinkonomics: A Window on Spontaneous Order | Library of Economics and Liberty.