Adventures in Smarshland

February 22, 2009

How Bad is Unemployment?

Filed under: Economics,Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics,Politics — smarsh @ 11:30 pm

I’m making a new category for my posts because of this.  The category will be call “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics”.  This goes under the sub-category of lying through failure to recognize the denominator.  Speaker Pelosi’s either failed grade-school math, or more likely, is purposeful distorting job market data.  The following graph I believe is accurate in the facts it displays:

Epic Statistics Fail

What is conveniently left out was that during the time between these recessions the size of the labor force increased as well.  Primarily this occurred through growth in the population of working age individuals.  If this chart had gone back further to the recessions of Jul ’74, Mar ’80, and Jul ’81 it would be even further distorted by the change in the percentage of working age individual participating in the labor force (primarily driven by the increase in women’s participating in the work force).  Here are two graphs that illustrates the demographic changes.

Civilian Labor Force

Civilian Labor Force (#,000's)

Labor Force Participation Rate (Percentage)

Labor Force Participation Rate (Percentage)

Clearly the labor market is hurting badly, but we have seen two post WWII recession that have seen worse unemployment.  If you also consider the runaway inflation of the 1970’s recessions you could make an argument that recession was far worse seeing as current inflation is almost zero.  The 1982 recession saw peak unemployment of 10.8 percent.

Unemployment Rate (Percentage)

Unemployment Rate (Percentage)

For a source of official recession dates you can go to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Business Cycles website

The Onion Slays Me Every Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — smarsh @ 9:01 pm

I think given Dan’s hatred for all things SONY as a result of the rootkit fiasco, he will appreciate the following satire which berades SONY for pumping out garbage like so many other manufactures of electronic crapgadgets.  Warning it contains a profuse amount of swearing.

You Can Do Something About the Financial Crisis

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Tags: , , — smarsh @ 5:18 pm

It occurred to me while listening to a local college radio station program about a boycott of the Washington Post for publishing a racially offensive comic; many Americans can do something about the financial crisis even if government seems spineless to do what is necessary.  You can vote with your patronage of where you keep you banking deposits and other financial assets.  Banks largely make their money on a percentage of assets under management.  You can help banks that avoided complex and exotic financial instruments and were adequately capitalized by rewarding them with you deposits. Similarly, if you currently have your deposits with a bank that received TARP funds, you can close your accounts and transfer the funds to a bank that behaved more appropriately.  I am in the process of doing just this.  I used to bank with National City, largely for convenience (they have an ATM machine at my office building).  However, they went bust and were swallowed up by PNC Financial who received TARP funds on the condition of the merger taking place (a condition I strongly oppose).  If the idea of bailing out banks and industries is they are “too big to fail”, why does it make sense to make them larger through merger and acquisition.  Furthermore, by withdrawing your funds from these banks you will further force the government’s hand on wiping out the shareholders of these “Zombie banks”.  As you take your assets out of these TARP banks, the gap between assets and liabilities will grow.  The solvent banks that you deposit your funds into will become more able to fund new loans.  The government will be forced to put the zombies into conservatorship and eventually bankruptcy.  But since it is a zero sum game (Ryan is learning about these in his game theory class), it rewards the management and shareholders of prudent banks and wipes out the investment of the imprudent shareholders and poor management.

I strongly encourage you to look over the list of banks receiving TARP funds.  If your bank is on the list please take your deposits and business to a bank not on the list.  Vote with your money!

If you are looking for a suggestion, I have moved my funds to Charles Schwab.  I find the banking experience superior to every bank I have used previously.  They have all the standard bill pay, online banking, FDIC insured, blah, blah, blah.  Separating themselves from the rest though: 1) ATM fees are reimbursed at any ATM. 2)You are given postage paid pre-addressed envelopes to deposit checks.  Therefore you don’t have to go to a bank to make deposits or withdrawals.  3) It seem like the phone call centers are staffed by competent people even late at night (11:30 pm on a Thursday).  All of these features respect my time as a customer which is the sign of a mature institution.  When I am working 60 hrs/wk and studying 20+ hrs/wk, wasting my time on the trivial task of managing banking is a pain to be sure.

Disclosure: I work in the Financial Services industry at an insurance company.  The company has no banking interests and I have no interests in any of the banks mentioned.  I did work for one summer as an intern for one of the banks that received TARP funds, but have no current link to any bank other than were I have my deposits.

February 6, 2009

Passage by the Senate version of the “stimulus plan” seems imminent, I am opposed

Filed under: Uncategorized — smarsh @ 11:39 pm

The following post from Greg Mankiw and interview with Robert Barro articulate my thoughts better than I would be able to do so myself.

February 4, 2009

Wiki on Economic Policies

Filed under: Economics — smarsh @ 11:27 pm

For some time now I have thought the public should have a better understanding of the relative merits of the economic policies including the costs and benefits, the winners and losers, and tradeoffs, as well as the economic rationale behind policies that politicians and economists advocate.  I decided to start documenting what I think about certain economic policies that I myself advocate, or am still debating myself.  I decided the best forum and method of documenting my thoughts would be an ongoing editable document.  I also wanted something that other users could contribute to.  It seemed the perfect format for this would be a Wiki.  So I’ve set up a Wiki at the following website:

http://costbenefit.wetpaint.com/

I am still getting to know the administrative aspects of implementing this Wiki, however, I intend to make it a document that should be able to be edited by others rather than just myself.  I am still not sure if I will allow anyone to edit the document freely like wikipedia does, without editorial oversight .  I am worried that some policies would take on more of a prescriptive economic policy perspective related to normative values of economics rather than positive economic thought.  I guess it will be an interesting experiment assuming anyone actually decides to add content other than just myself.  Even if it ends up only being myself I still think it will be valuable in terms of being able to organize my own thoughts on economics.

Another ancillary reason for creating this Wiki is to document the various opinions from economists on what the government response should be to the recent economic downturn.  If you subscribe to my shared RSS feed of blog posts I find interesting you will have noted that there is an incredible amount of diversity of opinion on what the response of government should be to the current economic downturn.  I may create a separate Wiki to document the various policy prescriptions that economists have had for the downturn, as this seems to be a separate topic then what economic policies should be under more normal times.

February 3, 2009

Olympus OM adapter to 4/3rds format

Filed under: Uncategorized — smarsh @ 9:28 pm

As a Christmas gift from my brother Dan I was given an adapter for my new Olympus E-420 digital SLR which allows the camera to use the old lenses from the Olympus 35mm format cameras.  although the old  35mm format lenses do not allow you to use the autofocus features of the camera you can still use the camera in aperture priority mode.  Olympus clearly expected users of the 4/3 format to use old manual lenses because they included a live view zoom mode at either seven times magnification or ten times magnification.  also a nice feature of using the adapter is the lenses from the 35mm format are typically the very fast prime lenses.  for instance 50mm lens I have is f1.4 and the 135mm is f2.8mm.  Because the lenses are very fast you can use depth of field effects which you would otherwise not be able to with a typical zoom lens which is typically much slower.  This is particularly useful when shooting portraits.  also because of the smaller sensor size the 4/3rds cameras have a 2X multiplier relative to a 35mm camera.  This means you can buy a very fast telephoto lens for this camera format very cheaply.  all in all I’m pretty happy with the performance of the camera with this adapter.  Since I receive in as a gift and I am not sure exactly what company it came from.  however , you can purchase a similar adapter from many vendors on Ebay.  I know my brother was not pleased with the quality of the packaging of the adapter.  I believe the left negative feedback on the sellers Ebay page.  Dan if you read this you can feel free to leave a link to the sellers Ebay page in the comments.

Olympus E-420 Review

Filed under: Photography — smarsh @ 3:01 am

I purchased the Olympus E-420 at a closeout of a Circuit City store near my house.  I got a pretty good deal on the camera.  It comes with a kit lens with a zoom from 14mm to 42mm.  it comes from a line of cameras which are based around the 4/3rds format.  It is a format supported by Olympus and Pentax as well as a few other major manufacturers.  The advantage of the 4/3rds format is the rather compact form factor of the system.  It is able to achieve the compact dimensions by breaking away from the traditional spacing of the 35mm format .  The bulky form factor supported by Nikon and Canon is the largely the result of a legacy format .  There is no reason that the form factor used for 35mm film should continue to be the form factor of the future other than the fact consumers already have lenses from their previous systems.

Olympus and the other manufacturers who support the 4/3 format have chosen a clean break from tradition .  And this is of significant benefit .  The Olympus camera which I purchased is the lightest digital SLR camera on the market .  Or least it was when I purchased it.  Pentax has sense come out with a lighter camera based on a related format to the 4/3rds format called micro 4/3rds.  Micro 4/3rds is based on taking the digital SLR even one step further.  It completely does a way with the mirror lockup.  This means that you give up being able to look through an optical eyepiece.  But this is not really necessary with a digital camera when you can have a live view mode on a decent sized LCD screen.  Also it has a digital equivalent of an optical eyepiece; instead it has a small LCD screen which you can view through where the eyepiece is normally.

So what do I think of the camera specifically.  Overall, my impression is that it is a great value for the money.  Although the lens is not nearly as tack sharp as it could be, it is still decent.  From the reviews I have read the sensor is decent but has about one less stop of dynamic range than most prosumer level cameras, but you’re spending quite a bit less than you would to those cameras.  A few of other objections that have had with the camera include fairly limited bracketing ability of only one stop at the maximum.  In most situations when I want to bracket I want two stops typically.  however this is easily overcome by using the +/- EV button and the wheel.  This gives you practically infinitely many possibilities of exposure settings.  the only other major sticking point for this camera is the USB port does not use a standard miniplug connection but but rather a proprietary format.  Combine that with the camera not using xD and compact flash formats rather than the more standard SD format, and it becomes more inconvenient to pull the images pull off of the camera.  I have read though you can get an Eye-fi cards to work with compact flash format.  I may decide to go that route, but for the time being is more of a minor inconvenience.

All things considered I am very happy with my purchase.

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