December 20, 2012

“Japanese are smart. Chinese are smart. Americans are smart. Even Finns are smart. But Canadians? We tend to be plodders.”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:38

William Watson on a terrible psychological burden Canada has been labouring under for generations — the productivity gap — which does not actually appear to exist.

The good news just keeps pouring in. Last week we learned courtesy of a special report from TD Economics that median income in Canada had caught up with median income in the U.S. Never mind that the measure of income used was a little screwy: market income plus cash received from the government — basically all the goodies — with no accounting for taxes paid to the government. Most Canadians seemed tickled by the result anyway, as we always are when outperforming the Americans.

Now this week, just in time for Christmas, comes news that Canada’s productivity, far from having flatlined over the last 30 years, has actually been growing at a perfectly respectable pace that’s even comparable to American rates. It turns out we’re not nearly as incompetent as our official productivity numbers have been suggesting we are. We’ve just been calculating them wrong. In fact, it’s tempting to say our incompetence is mainly in the productivity section of Statistics Canada. Tempting maybe, but not fair. It’s Christmas, after all, and, besides, calculating productivity is like doing Sudoku for a living and there’s plenty of room for disagreement over what the data are saying.

[. . .]

StatCan’s estimates of our MFP have consistently suggested that as a people we aren’t at all clever. We may be lumberjacks. We may be OK. But doing more with less — or even more with the same — just hasn’t been our game. Japanese are smart. Chinese are smart. Americans are smart. Even Finns are smart. But Canadians? We tend to be plodders. Thus over the last half-century our business-sector MFP growth has averaged just 0.28% per year. By contrast, the Americans are used to rates a full percentage point higher. In 2010, they hit 3.4%! But now Diewert and Yu estimate that in fact over the last 50 years our MFP growth has averaged a perfectly respectable 1.03% per year. If you can add 1% a year to overall output without adding more and smarter people and machines to the mix — which of course you’re also allowed to do and we have been doing — your living standards will rise very nicely over time.

How can StatCan’s estimates have been so wrong? Diewert and Yu use quite different techniques at different stages of the calculation, but the main problem surrounds capital services. StatCan’s estimates of how much capital we use in production typically are much higher than Diewert and Yu’s. Partly the difference revolves around abstruse discussions about what internal rates of return to assume when trying to measure capital.

Did the Germans and the British really play soccer at Christmas in 1914?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, Military, Soccer, WW1 — Tags: — Nicholas @ 11:14

In the Guardian, Scott Murray and John Ashdown discuss the rather amazing events of Christmas Day, 1914 between the combatants in France:

To borrow (and then misuse) one of the oldest football zingers in the book: in the middle of a fight, a football match broke out. A report in the Guardian on Boxing Day 1914 described how in one region “every acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football”. In their letters home, British soldiers told of shaking hands with their German counterparts and swapping cigarettes. A Scottish brigadier described how the Germans “came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.”

While there was undoubtedly continued gunfire along many sections of the front, most soldiers appear to have laid down their arms and called an unofficial truce that day, with fußball uppermost in the minds of many. A letter published on New Year’s Day from a British officer reads: “I hear our fellows played the Germans at football on Christmas Day. Our own pet enemies remarked they would like a game, but as the ground in our part is all root crops and much cut up by ditches, and as, moreover, we had not got a football, we had to call it off.” A letter in the Times, meanwhile, from a major reported that a German regiment “had a football match with the Saxons [regiment], who beat them 3-2”.

One match appears to have started between the Germans and a regiment from Cheshire, one of whom years later explained how a ball suddenly came hurtling over the top from the German side. “I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee — nothing like the soccer you see on television.”

Borking, in retrospect

Filed under: Government, History, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:14

Walter Olson on the historically nasty confirmation battle that kept Robert Bork off the US Supreme Court:

Of course the confirmation critique that makes it into every Bork obituary isn’t Heflin’s or Johnston’s. It’s Ted Kennedy’s blowhard caricature, intended for northern liberal consumption, of “Robert Bork’s America” as “a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution,” and so on.

Never in memory had a judicial nomination been fought in such language. Why?

As a constitutional law scholar, Bork had distinguished himself even among conservatives for his scathing critique of the Warren Court, which he accused essentially of having made up constitutional law as it went along.

To organized liberal groups, on whose behalf Kennedy was acting, this was the next thing to a declaration of war. Yet they couldn’t exactly come out and defend making up constitutional law as you went along as their own vision for the high court.

Instead, they served up a steady diet of vitriol and wild oversimplification, especially in TV ads and other messages delivered outside the confirmation hearings.

The Washington Post itself opposed Bork’s confirmation, yet nonetheless editorialized against the “intellectual vulgarization and personal savagery” to which some of his opponents had descended, “profoundly distorting the record and the nature of the man.”

Wikipedia’s funding model

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:57

At The Register, Andrew Orlowski looks at the way Wikipedia is funded and explains why they don’t actually need to pester you for donations (but do anyway):

It’s that time of year again. As the Christmas lights go up, Wikipedia’s donation drive kicks off. Wikipedia claims that the donations are needed to keep the site online. Guilt-tripped journalists including Heather Brooke and Toby Young have contributed to Wikipedia in the belief that donations help fund operating costs. Students, who are already heavily in debt, are urged to donate in case Wikipedia “disappears”.

But what Wikipedia doesn’t tell us is that it is awash with cash — and raises far more money each year than it needs to keep operating.

Donations are funding a huge expansion in professional administrative staff and “research projects”. Amazingly, this year for the first time Wikipedia — the web encyclopaedia anyone can edit — has even found the cash to fund a lobbyist.

All this has been met with dismay by the loyal enthusiasts who do all the hard work of keeping the project afloat by editing and contributing words — and who still aren’t paid. For the first time, Wikipedians are beginning to examine the cash awards — and are making some interesting discoveries.

First, let’s have a look at the finances.

Half in the Bag: The Hobbit

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

Mike and Jay talk about Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle-Earth, The Hobbit, and frustrate both Tolkien fans and HFR projection supporters in the process.

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