Monday, October 03, 2011

Operation Mess With Facebook

So, after reading this critique of Facebook's latest development effort, I could not help but be creeped out by this:
Yesterday, Facebook announced a pretty startling piece of strategy to go with their Timeline, it’s called OpenGraph. The idea is to collect things about you passively, so you can share effortlessly. The goal is to send everything you do, everywhere, on the Web, to Facebook.
First, one must understand that Facebook is all about collecting, connecting and selling data on you. What data? Everything. Period. They want to know, store and sell everything that you do from the time you are born (hello timeline) to the time you die. But most important, they want to know what you actually buy and aspire to buy. Of course, that is a marketing and sales manager's wet dream. Who knows were it will lead? Eventually, you could walk around with your smart phone logged into Facebook and have your location tracked (check in anyone?) to market directly too you something on your Amazon wish list.

Am I going to far? I don't think so. Riddle me this, batman. Why is Facebook worth billions? Information. Data. Marketing. Sales. Bonanza. With this OpenGraph, they have gone too far.

I guess it is time to launch Operation: Mess with Facebook.

Here is how it works. Since the goal is trackable data, the first step is to get rid of all your trackable information. Give Facebook your name and name only. Not your birthday, not your address, not your phone number, not where you work or where you were from. NOTHING. OK, you can give them your city or region, but make it as generic as possible. Of course, if you put all that into Facebook, they have it anyway. Remove it anyway. Make their job harder.

Oh, no check ins. Sorry. If you want your friends to know where you were, post the location in a normal way. No harm in showing some love for that Italian place on Washington Street, just don't do it via GPS.

  1. If you use Chrome, log into Facebook in an Incognito window. Firefox has a similar privacty mode. IE: who uses that browser? ;-)
  2. Start "liking" stuff. Everything. Mostly stuff you hate, but some things you like. You can inform all your friends that your "likes" are part of MWF.
  3. If you get physical junk mail, throw some "likes" their way.
Lastly, don't openly tag your posts as MWF, because Facebook will catch on. Of course, we'll change the name from time to time just to shake it up.

If anything, it will be fun just to mess with them for a change.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fact Check the Obama/Buffett Rule

It really is hearten to see that the Buffett Rule has made it onto the Obama Campaign website. So, let's add a little bit of advanced math to the "Friday Facts"
0.3%: Americans who would be impacted by the Buffett Rule, all making over $1 million a year.
Hmmm...follow the link to the original article:
The White House said the Buffet rule would apply to the top 0.3% of wage earners, and noted that 22,000 people making more than $1 million a year in 2009 paid less than 15% of their income in taxes.
So clearly, it is not 0.3% of Americans, but 0.3% of wage earners or households. Big difference.

According to the WSJ article, 237,00 tax payers reported incomes over $1 million in 2009. Doing some math (237,000 / 0.003) yields 79,000,000 people. And here, I thought the US population exceeded 290 million. This is questionable math given that there are 142,450,589 million returns filed in 2008, this number is a little weird.

There are other issues in the post, but let's focus on this next one:
276%: Amount the average income of a millionaire grew from 1995 to 2008.
Follow the link. That is not correct. It is the top 400 whose income went up that much.
By 2008 -- the most recent year available -- the aggregate income for the top 400 soared to nearly $66 billion, or more than $164 million in adjusted gross income per return.

That amounts to a 276 percent increase.
It is not even clear if the same 400 people in 1995 as were present in the 2008 sample. Perhaps they are entirely different people. In fact you could bet on it!

So, there is some deception here, and these were the obvious ones. Where else might there be deceptive figures?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Same Rhetoric

So, Elizabeth Warren is out there running for the Senate and has people swooning over her rhetorical prowess. This quote is floating around the Interwebs in recent days:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there -- good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory... Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea -- ...Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Let's deconstruct this a little. Warren is implying a few things:

  1. Entrepreneurs don't pay taxes that build schools, roads, pay for police, fire fighters or the military.
  2. There is unequal access to roads, police, fire fighters or military protection.
  3. The students of public schools don't accrue the vast majority of economic benefits of their education through improved economic lives.
  4. The consumer of the products don't accrue the vast majority of economic benefit of the entrepreneur's production.
  5. There are no failed enterprises.

Using Warren's implied assumptions, it then follows that the product of the entrepreneur's efforts are unearned and thus belong to "society" instead of the creator. Of course, she does not say exactly that, providing little guidance about what "a Big Hunk" means. We rarely get an answer about what proportion of the economic benefit should be retained by the creator and what fraction "belongs" to "society". The underlying tone is the entrepreneur took something, so now must pay it back.

Regardless, all these assumptions are flawed. Businesses and entrepreneurs pay taxes that support the building of roads, police, fire fighters and the military. There is equal access to the highways; anyone can put goods on the roads, subject to government restrictions of course. Students who go through schools are the ones who gain the most. The diligent student's income far exceeds the "investment".

As far as where benefits of innovation accrue, economist William Nordhaus estimates:

For the entire postwar period and for the nonfarm business sector, Nordhaus estimates that innovators are able to capture about 2.2 percent of the total surplus from innovation.

I wonder if Warren considers this to be sufficient distribution of benefits (97.8% to society and 2.2% to the innovator). In the case of failed enterprises and capital losses, does the implied expectations that the benefits will be "paid forward" also imply that the losses will be absorbed by "society"?

In the end, Warren is merely peddling the same progressive rhetoric: "You Owe Us" with a healthy dose of "you have it, I want it, hand it over."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Technocratic Utopia

File this as something I wish I thought of and wrote:
Technocratic utopia is of course a mirage, a supreme act of hubris, that any group of people could have the incentives or information required to manage the world top-down for us. If I told an environmentalists that I wanted ten of the smartest biologists in the world to manage the Amazon top-down and start changing the ratios of species and courses of rivers and such in order to better optimize the rain forest, they would say I was mad. Any such attempt would lead to disaster (just see what smart management has done for our US forests). But the same folks will blithely advocate for top-down control of human economic activity. The same folks who reject top-down creationism in favor of the emergent order of evolution reject the emergent order of markets and human uncoerced interaction in favor of top-down command and control.
Of course, emergent order is so Hayekian. It is a shame that domain-specific thinking keeps otherwise intelligent people from recognizing the phenomena.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nice Rating Agency You Have There

Shame if anything happened to it.:
The Justice Department is investigating whether the nation’s largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis
Yeah, downgrade me, I investigate you.
The investigation began before Standard & Poor’s cut the United States’ AAA credit rating this month
Sure it had, but payback is hell. H/T Drudge

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bashing Texas, What are the numbers?

So now that Rick Perry has declared his candidacy for governor, it has suddenly become popular to bash the Texas economy. Since I am not one to take claims of political attack dogs at face value, let's take a look at some of the most common anti-Texas rhetoric.

First up is Rick Newman: of US News and World Report:
"Perry's No. 1 talking point as a presidential candidate is job creation in Texas. He claims correctly that Texas has created more than one-third of all jobs in the country since the economic recovery began in mid-2009. What he doesn't mention is that virtually all of that job creation was in government, not in private industry.

Here are the numbers, which come from the federal government's Bureau of Labor Statistics: Between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2010 (the latest data available), Texas created about 75,000 jobs. That makes it one of the few states with any job creation at all over that time. But federal, state and local government hiring accounted for 115,000 new jobs in Texas, while private industry shed about 40,000 jobs."
Unfortunately, Mr. Newman does not link to a source for this attack making his numbers hard, but not impossible to verify. So I do, via the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site, selecting the data for Texas only. The first issue with Mr. Newman's data is we do have data through May and preliminary data for June. For some reason, he chooses to not get the latest data. That's OK, I can pull it for him. The government worker data is here. So, a simple table compares Dec-07 numbers to Dec-10 and the latest data from May-11. Guess, what? Private sector jobs were created and even more if compared with the most up-to-date figures!

So what is going on here? Bad math or some other issue? I am not sure and have published these numbers as a comment on Mr. Newman's blog.

Another way to look at government employee data is as a percentage of the total labor force. Notice how the line is very flat except in 2010 which is census hiring. The percentage since Dec-2010 is going downwards.

I wonder if Mr. Newman would like to compare Texas to Illinios over the same time period. Which state do you think would look better?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nassim Taleb's Work and Links

I have gathered an extensive library of Podcasts, books, websites, articles and publications where Nassim Taleb has appeared. Since I have yet to see an organized list, I am organizing it myself! I am not linking to everything since a lot is redundant and not useful. Most of the articles about him are superficial and useless, so I am leaving those out.


The Black Swan (Amazon)
Fooled by Randomness (Amazon)

Taleb's Website:
Fooled by Randomness

Econtalk - April, 2007
Econtalk - March, 2009
Econtalk - May, 2010
Idea Festival Episode 36 (2008)
Idea Festival Episode 37 (2008)
Forum Network (video May 19, 2010)
PopTech (video 2005)
Fora TV (A Crazier Future - Video Feb, 2008)
Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahnemann (Video January 2009)
New Yorker Summit 2009 with Robert Shiller
Thinking the Impossible RSA 1-May-2007 Audio PDF Transcript
David Cameron and Nassim Taleb at RSA 18-Aug-2009 Audio Video
Atheists and the Stock Market (Video)
Radio Open Source 3-June-2010

Publications and Papers:

Opiates of the Middle Classes (Religion and Stock Market)

Having a Job Make You a Phony? (Stoicism)
The Fourth Quadrant
Homo Ludens or Homo Oeconomicus
Manifesto with Benoit Mandelbrot in the FT page 1, page 2
Technical Paper on Fat Tails, or Why the Lévy Regime does not count (very techinical!)
On the Very Unfortunate Problem of Not Observing Probability Distributions )(with Avital Pilpel)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thanks for Praying in Private

This Freethinker would like to thank the President for praying in private:
"It's not a crisis of biblical proportions, but President Obama's plan to recognize the National Day of Prayer on Thursday with a paper proclamation"
This is the way it should be.

Carbon Tax Reality

This really boils down the argument of the Fatal Conceit of Cap-and-Trade versus the Carbon Tax:
What they are basically arguing is that a carbon tax works by hundreds of millions of individuals making decisions in reaction to higher prices, and chosing their own way to reduce carbon production. They don’t trust this kind of bottom up chaos, despite the fact this is how our entire economy and society works, except for a few corners where beltway guys live and breath in their own reality. They want a few “scientific” guys at the top picking winners and subsidizing technologies and particular approaches.
It is really telling that a democracy boils down to electing a political aristocracy that endevours to control everything and everyone. They don't trust us to act in our own best interest, but infinitely trust themselves to act thusly on our behalf. To that I say "No Thanks!".

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Contradictory Evidence Alert

Don't look now. The ice is thicker than expected:
"The research aircraft “Polar 5” (see photo above) today concluded its Arctic
expedition in Canada. During the flight, researchers measured the current ice
thickness at the North Pole and in areas that have never before been surveyed.
The result: The sea-ice in the surveyed areas is apparently thicker than
scientists had suspected. "
Quick. Let's get the destructive "cap and trade" legislation through Congress and on the President's desk before this information is integrated into the global warming theory.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Not That difficult

Sorry to say, because we are so collectively stupid, it is not that difficult:
"Because we're dumb, and you need to manipulate us."

Patronage Payback

Megan McArdle is very insightful about the power of unions in the current political climate.:
"Which brings us to the real question, which is, when did it become the government's job to intervene in the bankruptcy process to move junior creditors who belong to favored political constituencies to the front of the line? Leave aside the moral point that these people lent money under a given set of rules, and now the government wants to intervene in our extremely well-functioning (and generous) bankruptcy regime solely in order to save a favored Democratic interest group.

No, leave that aside for the nonce, and let's pretend that the most important thing in the world, far more interesting than stupid concepts like the rule of law, is saving unions. What do you think this is going to do to the supply of credit for industries with powerful unions?"
Answer: money lending to companies with strong unions will demand a high premium to pay for the extra default risk. That is, the cost of "Patronage Payback" just went up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can't Do the Math

Unfortunately, Don Boudreaux is tilting at windmills because the government can say whatever it likes. The Americans who voted for him either don't care about reality or can't do math. Or Both.

To put this budget "cut" in perspective, suppose that the typical American family, earning $50,000 annually, plans this year to run a budget deficit proportionate to the deficit that Uncle Sam will run. Such a family would plan to spend $75,000.

This family would declare - surely with much fanfare - that it will reduce its planned expenditures for the year by $2.08! Perhaps it might promise to survive the year with one less gallon of gasoline or with one less cup of coffee.
It is almost like it was planned this way. Breed an apathetic population that also cannot do math. Hmmmmmm.....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Half the Population will be Serfs

If you cannot understand a weather forecast, then you will be a serf, not a leader:
"only half the population understands what a precipitation forecast means well enough to make a fully informed answer, a new study finds.

If, for example, a forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of rain, many people think it means that it will rain over 20 percent of the area covered by the forecast. Others think it will rain for 20 percent of the time, said Susan Joslyn, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington who conducted the study.

Joslyn said that the research, funded by the National Science Foundation and detailed in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, shows the difficulty of making decisions where uncertainty is involved. People find it easier, she said, to simplify the situation to a single outcome: that it will definitely rain, but not for the whole day or the whole area."
So sad. They should not worry about the weather, and instead go back to watching American Idol or the Miss USA Pageant.