links for 2010-01-03
What Should Economists Study?

Five Economics Pieces Worth Reading: January 3, 2010

1) Stan Collender: Nightly Business Report Is Also Changing To Not-The-News:

I posted last week about how newspapers are having to change what they publish because technology meant that most of their readers already know the news before they receive their paper the next day.  The newspapers now have to provide more color and context in what are now less news and more features. A story in today's New York Times indicates that the same thing is happening in daily television news.  According to the Times, the oldest television business news show -- Nightly Business Report, which is seen on PBS stations in evening drive time across the country -- has now realized that it won't be able to maintain its audience it if continues to do the same thing it's been doing the past three decades, that is, provide the day's stock market results.  Here is the money quote: "...nobody wait(s) until 6:30 in the evening to get st

2) Bernard Simon: Low lobster demand puts fishermen in red:

At a time when prices for commodities such as tea, cocoa and sugar are soaring to their highest levels in years, lobster, a delicacy associated with luxury living, is selling at bargain prices. Prices have sunk so far over the past two years that some mass-market restaurant chains have added lobster to their menus. Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday, with about 850 outlets in the US, offers lobster tails, as well as lobster carbonara and lobster macaroni and cheese. Hannaford Supermarkets, a New England chain in the heart of the US lobster industry, has the crustacean on special this week at $4.99 a pound, half the price of halibut. The lobster fishery’s woes are closely tied to the global financial crisis, which has shrunk demand for a delicacy long associated with celebration. The credit crunch has also deprived North American and European processors of working capital. Icelandic banks, among the most prominent casualties of the meltdown in the markets, were big lenders to the seafood industry. Bank of Montreal, a big lender to Canada’s east coast fishery, urged Canadians this week to make lobster part of their New Year festivities. “Canadian lobster fishers need your support,” the bank said. “You’ll be having a treat and helping out your fellow Canadians at the same time.” The Canadian industry, which makes up the bulk of the North American catch, employs about 30,000 people, with exports last year of close to C$1bn ($950m). Boat foreclosures have driven some fishermen out of business. In addition, the Canadian government has earmarked C$50m to implement long-term “sustainability plans” aimed at bringing capacity in line with demand...

3) BEST NON-ECONOMICS THING I HAVE SEEN TODAY: Matthew Yglesias on the Impossibility of Profiling: Very Rare Terrorists Are Very Hard to Find:

[M]onitoring the UK’s 1.5 million Muslims is a lost cause. If you have a 99.9 percent accurate method of [profiling and] telling whether or not a given British Muslim is a dangerous terrorist, then apply it to all 1.5 million British Muslims, you’re going to find 1,500 dangerous terrorists in the UK. But nobody thinks there are anything like 1,500 dangerous terrorists in the UK. I’d be very surprised if there were as many as 15. And if there are 15, that means you’re 99.9 percent accurate method is going to get you a suspect pool that’s overwhelmingly composed of innocent people. The weakness of al-Qaeda’s movement, and the very tiny pool of operatives it can draw from, makes it essentially impossible to come up with viable [profiling] methods for identifying those operatives.

4) STUPIDEST THING I'VE SEEN TODAY: I actually haven't read anything notably stupid today. It's quite a relief... Ooops. Well, now I have read about something notably stupid--from (surprise, surprise) National Review. Outsourced to Steve Benen: Steve Benen:

CONSERVATIVE COMEDY.... National Review's Cliff May had a brief item the other day, headlined, "A Bipartisan Proposal." It read, in its entirety: "Step (1): Return all Gitmo detainees to Yemen. Step (2): Use Predator missiles to strike the baggage-claim area 20 minutes after they arrive. Just an idea." Glenn Greenwald reminds us that, according to U.S. officials, many of the Yemeni detainees have done nothing wrong and are not considered a threat. The "idea" of executing them, based on nothing but their country of origin, is, of course, insane. Indeed, if an outfit like al Qaeda in Yemen wanted to convince potential recruits that the United States is hostile towards Yemenis, it's not hard to imagine an item like May's being exploited.

May later said his item was an attempt at "humor," and accused Greenwald of failing to recognize a "parody." (It's unclear who or what May was parodying; perhaps he meant "satire"?) It's a reminder that conservative humor is just so ... droll. Here we have a prominent conservative political magazine publishing a "parody" about the summary execution of innocent people. Isn't that hilarious?

5) HOISTED FROM THE ARCHIVES: DeLong (April 2005): Moral Relativism:

Matthew Yglesias writes: "The only kind of real relativism that I hear anyone seriously endorsing (as opposed to sloppily seeming to endorse when they're not really thinking through what they're trying to say)..." Matt is wrong. Alasdair Macintyre's argument in After Virtue is a relativist argument. Macintyre begins by saying that in modern society there is no agreed-upon set of virtues and hierarchy of goods to guide our moral decisions and to settle our moral arguments--and he says that our collective lack of a consensus moral framework is a very bad thing. It would be better... if we had a consensus moral framework--whether of not that consensus moral framework were in some sense the right one. Better to have a collective consensus moral compass that says that east is north than not to have a collective consensus moral compass at all.... At the end of After Virtue, after all, Macintyre appears to be praying for the Second Coming of Someone--but not to greatly care whether it is Nietzsche or Aristotle, Trotsky or St. Benedict who shows up. (Admittedly, in later work Macintyre revises his position and says that only St. Benedict--or is that Benedict XVI?--will do...)