Friday 13 December 2019

Afternoon roundup

The worthies on a very much belated closing of the tabs:
  • Nice roundup in Nature on psychology's problems in social priming
    A promising field of research on social behaviour struggled after investigators couldn’t repeat key findings. Now researchers are trying to establish what’s worth saving.
  • Somebody is gluing miniature cowboy hats to pigeons in Los Vegas.
    “They look like happy pigeons to me. It is hard to know, of course, because they will not talk to us.”
  • This one's more depressing. The Dean of the University of Virginia's School of Education writes a column for the Washington Post on education and education funding. You'd expect the column would be decent, right? The Washington Post is one of the newspapers that seems to be doing well on subscriptions; heck, I pay for a subscription there. And he's the Dean of the School of Education at one of the top universities in the US. But he claims that real per-student education expenditures have been dropping. Corey DeAngelis points to the actual data showing a 36% real increase over the period. This was a couple days ago, and there's as yet no correction at the Post.

  • Average is over: geographic segregation edition. An ultra-Catholic community in Kansas. Excellent long-read; the kind of thing I'd have pointed to Denis for Arts & Letters Daily, back in the day.

  • Randy Holcombe on Gordon Tullock on inequality and redistribution. Self-recommending. We might note, though, that New Zealand's overall system has been one of the more targeted ones - I wonder how that ranking's been affected by sillier policies like extra free years of tertiary study.
    People can afford to be charitable with their votes when they know their one vote will have no effect on the outcome of an election. This may be Tullock’s most important contribution to the literature on redistribution and inequality—the observation that because of incentives inherent in the political process, people are likely to vote for redistribution programs they would not choose if the choice were theirs alone.

    Tullock (1971) anticipates the arguments made by Brennan and Lomasky (1993) and Caplan (2007), explaining how people can vote expressively and even irrationally for outcomes that redistribute more than they privately prefer. This adds a wrinkle to Tullock’s analysis of motives and justifications for redistribution. Tullock (1997) dismisses justifications for redistribution and looks at motives—the desire to receive transfers, the wish to help the poor, and envy—to conclude that government redistribution will not be very effective at helping the poor. But he suggests government redistribution is larger than the median voter would prefer because of the incentives in the democratic political process that cause people to be more charitable in their voting behavior than when considering private charitable giving done individually (Tullock 1971). Perhaps this unintended consequence of democratic decision making renders democratic government a better mechanism for helping the poor than Tullock (1997) recognized.
  • When New Zealand's declining PISA scores were released, we heard a lot about how PISA scores don't matter. I rather prefer Australia Labor MP Andrew Leigh's take on Oz's declining scores.
    Forget how we’ve slid relative to other countries -- it’s enough to compare our own students with their predecessors. Year 9 students today score worse than year 8 students would have done at the turn of the century. If this was a sporting contest, we’d be running slower, dropping the ball more often, and missing more goals.

    The PISA tests matter because they are designed to capture the skills that young people will need in the workplace. These tests don’t measure memorisation and rote learning -- they aim to capture the essential talents that will be needed in the labour market.
  • Kudos Doc Nolan!

  • Phil Twyford continues to provide speeches showing he gets housing better than anyone in Parliament. I don't agree with everything in here, but it's good. And we finally now have the infrastructure financing legislation coming through - the Bill has been introduced, and they're expecting to have it done mid 2020. About three years after they came into office. New Zealand's electoral cycles are too darned short given the length of time it takes to get substantial legislation ready.
    I now want to look in a little more depth at housing and land markets, and transport.

    I started by saying urban planning has lacked an economic underpinning. An example of this is the use of the urban growth boundary which is a common planning tool ostensibly to stop cities growing outwards, often described pejoratively as sprawl.

    Sprawl is often meant as development on the fringes of a city, far from the centre. But I want to make the point that the better way to think of it is in relation to the time value of travel.

    If you are building homes let us say in Pukekohe in the south of Auckland, where people who work in the city centre might face a drive of 90 minutes on a bad day, that might be characterised as sprawl. But when we electrify the rail line to Pukekohe, and build an additional line on the main north-south corridor, as we are about to do, those people will have a 30 min express commuter ride into the city, is it sprawl then? I don’t think so.

    The most harmful effect of the urban growth boundary where there is rising demand is to create an artificial scarcity of land driving section prices up.

    The boundary is much loved by land bankers whose business model is to buy up rural land and sit on it until the local council shifts the boundary in response to growth pressures, changing the zoning from rural to urban, and then sell it sometimes at ten times its former value.

    My intention is not to vilify land bankers. Their behaviour is a rational response to bad policy.

    If the urban growth boundary wasn’t bad enough, restrictions on height and density, often justified as protecting the amenity of the low-rise garden suburb, ration floor space, stopping the city growing up and restricting the supply of apartments, and of course driving up prices across the market.

    Urban planning has too often failed to grasp that whenever rules stop people building or living in places they want to (typically close to amenity, jobs or transport interchanges) they deny people housing choices, restrict supply and drive prices up.

    As Ed Glaeser says, every time you place a restriction on intensification you deny a family access to the city.
  • More evidence against Sachs's Millennium Villages. Small or null results on core indicators, no spillover benefits.

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