Friday, April 19, 2013

Long-term Unemployment and Perceived Marginal Value Product

Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan have been talking about the long-term unemployed and Zero Marginal Product workers. Cowen thinks the long-term unemployed have, or are perceived as having, zero marginal product, making them effectively unemployable, which is why employers won't even consider their applications. Caplan, on the other hand, says:
Put yourself in the shoes of an employer reviewing applications. What are you saying when you hastily toss an application in the trash? Consider the following possibilities:
  1. "I perceive this applicant to be a ZMP worker."
  2. "I perceive this applicant to have a MVP [EO: Marginal Value Product] below the wage we're offering."
  3. "After a cursory glance at his application, I perceive this applicant to have a sufficiently high probability of having a MVP below the wage we're offering that collecting more information is imprudent."
My claim: #1 is a rare special case of #2, which is in turn a rare special case of #3. #3 is the generally correct story.
I think Caplan is right, as far as he goes. However, he misses that #3 is itself a rare special case of a fourth possibility: "After a cursory glance at his application, I perceive this applicant to have a sufficiently high probability of not being the highest MVP applicant that collecting more information is imprudent."

Consider that most applications are sent for a particular job position, either an existing position that has been vacated by a previous employee or a newly-created specific position. Most employers will be looking for the one best employee to fill that specific position. When that is the case, the employer can safely discard all applications that are unlikely to be that one best employee, even those applications that have a MVP higher than the wage offered.

The job application process is in this sense much like a tournament--only one can win. Indeed, tournament theory explains why the long-term unemployed are perceived to have lower MVP in the first place. Someone who has been unemployed for a long time has apparently lost a long series of application "tournaments." They are presumed to have lost because of a lack of skills and effort rather than a long streak of bad luck.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reasons for Optimism XI

Civil Rights
1. There is quite a bit of good news for civil rights. First, National Security Letters--which the federal government uses to get personal information on thousands of Americans from companies like Google--have been ruled unconstitutional. What made NSLs particularly disturbing was that the recipient companies were forbidden from ever acknowledging that they had given the government any information. Thankfully, these gag orders have also been ruled unconstitutional.

2. Second, the Supreme Court limited the use of sniffer dogs and expanded the Fourth Amendment's protection of the home by declaring that porches count as part of the home.

3. There's good news for civil rights in Canada as well. The Supreme Court there recently ruled that police need special wiretapping orders, not just ordinary search warrants, to intercept text messages.

Deficit & Spending
4. Via PostLibertarian, the federal deficit for the first six months of fiscal 2013 is 23% lower than the deficit for the same period in fiscal 2012. Government spending in March 2013 was more than 20% lower than in March 2012, a $76 billion fall from $369 to $293 billion. Moreover, an analysis of four major budget plans (President Obama's, Senate Democrats', House Republicans' and Senator Rand Paul's) shows that all four cut spending over the next ten years relative to the current-law baseline. The coming debate won't be whether or not to cut spending, it will be how much.

Energy & Climate
5. In November 2012, U.S. oil production surpassed that of Saudi Arabia! U.S. oil production also remained higher than Saudi Arabia's in December 2012. While month-to-month production fluctuates, and there may again be months where the Saudis produce more oil than we do, for at least two months in 2012, the United States was the largest oil producer in the world. U.S. oil production has continued to grow since then, and is now more than 7.2 million barrels per day, a level not seen since July 1992. Also in December, another country (China) imported more oil than the U.S. for the first time in four decades (ht).

6. Coral reefs are more resilient than we thought. Reefs damaged in super-hot 1998 were presumed to have little chance of recovery, yet they're recovering nonetheless.

7. A new Bluetooth-enabled implant (ht) can monitor blood levels of up to five chemicals and transmit that data to a smartphone or tablet (and from there to the internet) in realtime. It can currently detect glucose (useful for diabetics), troponin (which is released during a heart attack) and a few other substances, but the device has been designed to accommodate sensors for substances not yet covered.

8. Functioning kidneys can now be grown in a lab, at least for rats. Doing the same with human kidneys will take some time, and even then the lab-grown versions are only 5% as efficient as natural, healthy kidneys. But if your natural kidneys aren't healthy, 5% could be enough of an improvement to be worth the transplant. No doubt researchers will also be working on improving that efficiency as well.

9. Two recent studies, one from Oxford University and the other from the UN, highlight the improving conditions of the world's poor (ht via @LDoren). Many of the world's poorest nations are on track to eliminate acute poverty and growth is lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. From the UN report: "Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast."

Other Optimists
10. Ezra Klein (ht MR) has his own list of reasons for optimism. Among others, he lists the slowing rise of health care costs, a turnaround in housing, corporate profits, natural gas and technological advances.

11. Stephan Kinsella (ht Bob Murphy) says, "The Golden Age of America is Now." Kinsella writes from a libertarian viewpoint, and therefore includes items like imminent marijuana legalization that some might not agree are actually good things. But many of his points cut across ideologies--there is no draft, air travel is safer and cheaper than ever and technology is amazing, from cell phones to the internet to 3D printing to private spaceflight. He also cites increased diversity and tolerance, saying, "some people are vegetarians, vegans; no big deal... Some people have nose rings, multiple earrings. Tattoos. Nobody cares... Mixed-race couples? Nobody bats an eye."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What happened in London

I missed this when it happened, but it is so very cool that I have to post it. To advertise the new Star Trek movie, Paramount launched a bunch of quadcopters into the air over London and flew them in formation to make the Star Trek symbol.

How cool is it to live in a time where this is possible?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Was Wrong, part I

I believe it's important to admit when you were wrong. Now that the fiscal cliff and sequester are mostly behind us, I can say that I made a few predictions that proved to be wrong.

Immediately after Obama's reelection, I said,
"First of all, expect the fiscal cliff to stay in place. After all, we just re-elected most of the people who put it there to begin with. … Any compromise will include more tax hikes than spending cuts, if spending is actually cut at all."
As it turned out, the fiscal cliff did not stay in place. The deal to avert the fiscal cliff included $250 billion in lower taxes compared to just $9 billion in higher spending, relative to what would have happened with no deal. At the time, I said,
"If you think that two month delay is a sign that the sequester will never happen anyway, I think you're right. It was never going to happen in the first place, and we lose nothing by delaying it."
This was also wrong. Not only did the sequester actually come to pass, the continuing resolution recently passed by the Senate and House and signed by Obama also keeps it in place for the next six months. While the Senate budget for fiscal 2014 repeals the sequester, the House budget does not, leaving open the distinct possibility that the sequester's lower spending is here to stay.

Color me pleasantly surprised. Even a blog called Expected Optimism wasn't optimistic enough!