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31 May 2007


Somewhere along the way the Cardigans accidentily became one of my favourite bands. I can't even remember how they ended up in iTunes, but now I listen to them all the time.


I love MSG. I makes things so tasty. Qin made a really yummy dinner tonight. I couldn't work out what had made it so good, but she told me the trick. I'll have to learn how to use it. Even better, I just read that the health problems of MSG aren't that bad.

Incomes of the very poor



(bottom 10%)





























Czech Republic















United States



European Union















Korea, South



United Kingdom










































New Zealand












































The source data and calculations are in Poor Incomes.xls. All the data (Population, Income level, Income distribution) came from the CIA World Fact Book.

These are all in $US/year and are PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) figures. There were a bunch of surprises in there for me. The US actually does pretty well. Low in the equality stakes, but they have so much money that even a little share counts for a lot. It's pretty sad that Australia is so low down. I think through the middle of the distribution we probably do quite well on equality, but down the bottom we're only a tiny bit better than America. And sad bloody New Zealand. Their poor really are living the second world.

I estimated these figures based on (GDP * Proportional income of the poorest tenth) / (Population * 10%). Enough of them close enough to right, so I think I must have got it mostly right.

28 May 2007

Wondabyne – Somersby

Dad, Stella, John and I all went for a bushwalk on the weekend. It was a real winner. We caught a train to the start and Jane picked us up at the end so it was super easy. The whole walk was virtually in our backyard, but it ended up being one of my favourite walks. Hornsby area has some pretty awesome bushland. And same way neat bridges.

John did the catering and it was brilliant.

On Economists

Leading active members of today's economics profession, the generation presently in their 40s and 50s, have joined together into a kind of politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule — as one might expect from a gentleman's club — this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen. They offer a "rape is like the weather" fatalism about an "inevitable" problem (pay inequality) that then starts to recede. They oppose the most basic, decent, and sensible reforms, while offering placebos instead. They are always surprised when something untoward (like a recession) actually occurs. And when finally they sense that some position cannot be sustained, they do not re-examine their ideas. Instead, they simply change the subject.

James K. Galbraith

James is John's son, and seems to have inherited a fondness for reality.

26 May 2007

Myths and Heuristics

I've noticed that the myths that economists like to debunk often look quite a lot like the heuristics that humans use to guide their daily life without spending all of it in front of a calculator. Humans have a lot of innate preferences for things (like equality) that economists try to convince humans are foolish or perverse. In the eternal search for the one true model, it is important to ask ourselves why we might make the choices we make. But it's also important to remember that most of the stuff in people is there for a reason. Economists have a terrifying respect for the success of evolution in getting us where we are, but a surprising disrespect for a lot of the intuitive preferences that are almost definitely a product of this evolution.

If your economic model tells you that equality isn't important and doesn't make you happy, but the people are saying they want it you have to decide if there is something humans are including in their preference model (i.e. experience/date from millions of years of evolution) that your model is missing out. I'm not saying that humans always work stuff out better and smarter than models. Sometimes we are made aware of significant inconsistencies in our own thinking which are clearly outdated. But I feel like these instances are probably limited.

There's an enormous amount of behavioural feedback from models. Your assumptions about human behaviour influence your outcomes, which provide normative recommendations about future behaviour.

Probably the best example is maximisation of the utility function (which is just like a happiness function). I suspect people know their own utility functions far better than economists ever will. But if economists try and guess it, and then maximise it, and declare that we're all making sub-optimal decisions, what do we really know? Should we stop doing the things we think make us happy because they're officially not making us happy?

The human ability to guess out solutions is amazing, and shouldn't be belittled. The burden of proof should be on economists to show that our heuristics are wrong. I wonder if we've given economists the benefit of the doubt, because asking them to provide this proof feels like an unreasonably tough demand. It is a tough demand, but it's definitely not unreasonable. If there's any reason to believe one of these economic "myths" could actually be a heuristic, then it seems to me that the economists have to go back to the modeling room and explain why it isn't, before they have the right to start messing with the last million years of development.

Monika Tumbles

24 May 2007

Fair compensation

Mr Howard said the fairness test would guarantee that, if people traded off their penalty rates and overtime loadings, they received fair compensation in return.

"I would have thought that was a very fair proposition," Mr Howard told Parliament.

"It was never intended when we introduced this legislation that it would become the norm that that would occur.

So Howard never expected that employers would negotiate the best deals they legally could? That seems a little naive, even for Howard. The whole point of Howard's workplace laws are that there is no such thing as "fair compensation" and that the market should determine appropriate compensation. Does he want fairness, or does he want efficiency and flexibility?

I think Howard has realised that people actually give a shit when you cut their wages or benefits. They won't just take it on the chin, and comfort themselves with the thought that it's for the good of the economy.

22 May 2007


Brilliant ladybeetle game. You have to crash ladybeetles together. So satisfying.

20 May 2007


Google Gradient

What is happening to the world? Google has put a gradient in their search results. What crazy design feature will they come up with next? A four colour theme?

Surry Hill Quakers

I'd been planning to go to the Quaker meeting in Surry Hills this morning. I thought I would have time to fit in vegetable shopping at the farmers markets, but I didn't. I slept in too much.

The vegetables at Marrickville organic farmers are pretty expensive. And there is only one fruit and vegie stall. I spent $43 and didn't get very much. Then I spent another $9 on apples at the specialised apple stall. And $5 on bread at the bread stall. They're very good apples and it's very good bread. But I think the vegies at my uni are a stack better. Cheaper and better.

I need to go for another run today. Staying at mum's house wasn't very good for my discipline.

A History of Violence

Oh what a great film it was. David and I watched it together. Everyone in it was fantastic. Such interesting themes and interesting violence and interesting sex. Watching movies remind me how much I love movies. Not that I ever really forget.

19 May 2007

Giant Curry

I'm making the most giant curry I've ever made tonight. It is because my house is crap and haven't cooked any of the vegetables this week. So we have all these poor vegetables languishing in the crisper. Not that they are very crisp anymore. Luckily I have returned, and I have now graciously thrown all those vegetables into our big pot. They are cooking merrily away now the poor forgotten dears.

I hope it's tasty. I'm trying not to make it too hot.


Our street has its own hummer for the night. I love hummers.


Someone rented Crank and so I watched it. It was a pretty fun film. It had this professional killer running around the city on one long coke trip for the whole film. He'd been poisoned, and the only way to stay alive was to keep his adrenalin high. So he did a whole lot of stuff. The violence was unusual and it was happy to throw in a sex scene or some relationship slapstick every now and then. And they shot it in that jumpy way that everyone seems to like these days. A bit Requiemish, or probably closer to Spun actually.

The other thing I liked was the way they used Google Earth to do a lot of their aerial motion shots. It was clever and worked well.

Tom just told me he thought it was a silly movie. He is a bit right of course. But I still had a good time watching it.


I saw Sunshine a couple of weeks ago and loved it good. I didn't write about it because I wanted to write a good, in depth review of it. Unfortunately I haven't. And probably won't. And have possibly forgotten too much of it anyway.

It was a brilliant film though. Perhaps my favourite spaceship sort of film. Not that I like grouping films into superficial categories like that. Everything that I've ever thought was wrong with other spaceship films wasn't wrong with this film. They even had effective decision making. The bits where they made decision were probably my favourites actually.

Good and good though. 5/5 for shizzle.

18 May 2007

We Never Change

I wanna live life and never be cruel
I wanna live life and be good to you

And I wanna fly and never come down
And live my life and have friends around

We never change, do we?
We never learn, do we?

So I wanna live in a wooden house

I wanna live life and always be true
I wanna live life and be good to you

And I wanna fly and never come down
And live my life and have friends around

We never change, do we?
We never learn, do we?

So I wanna live in a wooden house
where making more friends would be easy

Oh, and I don´t have a soul to save
Yes, and I sin every single day

We never change, do we?
We never learn, do we?

So I wanna live in a wooden house
Where making more friends would be easy
I wanna live where the sun comes out

These are my favourite lyrics in a song. I really want to live in a wooden house.

Macquarie Bank

I wonder if Macquarie Bank's strategy of paying stupid amounts of money to its managers actually isn't that stupid. They could probably get those same people to work there for a lot less. They wouldn't be worth as much in another company, because they wouldn't be supported by all those brilliant Macquarie brains. But if they paid those managers less, maybe they'd have more trouble keeping the rest of the brains. The line of people queuing to get a job at Macquarie includes pretty much every good finance brain studying at my university. Just having that queue there is enormously valuable to Macquarie.

People aren't always that rational and think they stand a chance at getting that $33 million a year. A $5 million income is almost as good as a $33 million income, but it doesn't sound as good and it won't get you on the front page of the newspaper. So Alan Moss' income attracts a lot more talent than just Alan Moss. It makes smart people want to be in the vicinity of Alan Moss. If people thought about it, they'd probably work out that $33 million isn't that good, relative to the likelihood that they will ever become the CEO of Macquarie, and weighed against the pain and suffering of the next 30 years working at Macquarie (followed by even more pain and suffering being another Alan Moss). Especially since $33 million a year isn't so much better than a whole bunch less. You can probably thrown job satisfaction into that trade-off, but I reckon that if job satisfaction was really super high at Macquarie they'd be paying people a whole lot less.

Google is getting more crap

I feel like Google is getting way more crap. Half the time when I search these days I get random PDFs and Powerpoint presentations. Often you have to pay for the PDFs, even though Google has indexed the content. I don't mind having to pay for things, but I wish Google wouldn't show that stuff by default. I feel like in their enthusiasm to get search and present all content, we end up getting less useful information. Although I suppose that is the classical search dichotomy isn't it.

It is possible that my tastes are just getting stranger. I spend a lot more time searching for things like "r cran heckman model" and "stata loglinear" than I used to. I miss the days when most of my searches were for "funny dog" or "small gerbil". I got much better search results.

State Terrorism and the United States

I'm reading a book called State Terrorism and the United States. The US Government really is a despicable creature. The ugliness of US realpolitik makes me more ambivalent about terrorists who use the same logic. When it comes to political realism, does the oppressor define the nature of the politics? The US is perfectly happy to kill civilians if it furthers its own goals. The US will use whatever power it has, as effectively as it can, irrespective of ethics. However, in general, setting out to kill civilians doesn't achieve what it wants. For oppressed groups, perhaps this is not the case, and targeting civilians does further its goals. There have been enough instances of the US aiding and participating in foreign state terrorism and genocide, that I feel comfortable assuming the US would use these methods more directly if it thought it would be effective.

I think I shouldn't be ambivalent about terrorism. It is probably better just to say amoral politics and war are crap, whoever does them.

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