Friday, July 28, 2006

Violence in Defence of Guild Priviledge

Most economists are not used to being threatened with harassment for advocating pro market policies. In Italy advocates of competition are considered enemies to abuse violently if necessary. In today"s Corriere Della Sera I read

Strappa il volantino dei tassisti, lo picchiano
Giovane aggredito a Milano per aver cestinato un comunicato in cui si invitava a disturbare a colpi di clacson l'economista Giavazzi

MILANO — L'invito: «Passando sotto casa del nostro amico, rivolgetegli un saluto con qualche colpo di clacson». Le indicazioni: «Giorno e notte». L'istigazione: «Ora e per il resto della sua vita». In calce al manifesto, comparso ieri sotto la pensilina di una fermata dei taxi, indirizzo e numero di telefono del professor Francesco Giavazzi, docente della Bocconi, economista ed editorialista del Corriere della Sera. L'accusa: avere opinioni contrarie al pensare comune dei tassisti. Sedici righe di intimidazioni, accuse, caustica ironia.
Per aver staccato il manifesto, dopo averlo letto e giudicato «incivile», un ignaro passante si รจ ritrovato sotto una scarica di pugni.

That is

He tore down a poster of the taxi drivers and they beat him up

A youth was attached in Milan for having trashed a message which suggested bothering the economist Giavazzi with taxi horns.

Milan: The invitations "passing under the house of our friend great him by honking" instructions "day and night" ... "for the rest of his life" on the page posted yesterday at a taxi stop, the address and telephone number of prof. Francesco Giavazzi, professor at Bocconi University and columnist for the Corriere Della Sera. The accusation: having opinions different from the consensus of taxi drivers. 16 lines of intimidation, accusations and caustic irony.

For remobing the manifesto, after having read it and judging it to be "uncivil" an unknowing passerby found himself under a flood of punches.

Further details. The guy, Marco M, was interviewed in the emergency room of a hospital with bruises and cuts. Between the offence of removing the call to abuse an economist guilty of believing in reduced protection of taxi drivers from competition and the assault there were words exchanged and the victim spat on a taxi driver. Notice that Mr M does not want his name to be published since he dared the offence of lese tassista.

I think economists around the world should declare solidarity with prof Giavazzi and, especially Marco M.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

OK so big news from Josh Marshall made me interupt my vacation from blogging
(also I am upset that no one and I mean not one single person complained).

Also I raised the issue of the heritability of intelligence. This is a very very delicate topic so I will plunge right in.

Kevin Drum has an interesting post presenting data which seems to contradict his analysis.

He notes that twin studies suggest that, if variation in IQ can be decomposed into hereditary and environmental components (a big if) then the hereditary component is larger than the environmental componenent. In fact, they suggest that it is slightly larger -- on the order of 60% of the variance. He argues that this understates the amount of IQ variation due to environmental factors since twin studies look only at adopted people and most adopters are middle to upper class. This is a good point (it is also worth noting that some of the most convincing studies which weren't completely fraudulent were conducted in Scandanavia which is not the place to look for effects of inequality). Thus one would guess that, if a decomposition makes sense, the environmental component is larger than the hereditary component.

Then he notes a study which does not use twins and but looks at IQ based on the very rough socioeconomic class of biological and adoptive parents. The study finds that the IQ's of people with poor biological parents and non poor adoptive parents are very slightly lower than the IQ's of people with non poor biological parents and non poor adoptive parents. Drum seems to think this shows environment is more important than suggested by twin studies. It doesn't. To the extent that it suggests anything it suggests that variance due to congenital factors is slightly greater than variance due to post adoption environmental factors. This is in line with twin studies.

So what about Drum's very convincing argument which suggests that twin studies underestimate the relative importance of environment compared to genetics ? I think the explanation is based on the difference between "congenital" and "genetic" that is "present at birth" and "heritable indefinitely at least for millions of years". Congenital factors which are not genetic include maternal malnutrition, maternal smoking, maternal alcohol consumption and maternal crack consumption and maternal expose to lead. There are many factors which differ between the biological offspring of the poor and non poor which have nothing to do with genes. Each of the factors I mention is strongly associated with both IQ and mothers' income.

As to "if variation in IQ can be decomposed into hereditary and environmental components" this is only possible if IQ is the sum of a part due to genes and a part due to the environment, that is, if the effects are additively seperable. Clearly this is not true if any environmental factor is a function of a genetic factor. Consider IQ in Southern states of the USA for people who attended school before (at the earliest) Brown vs Board of Education (to be reasonable in all US States at any time up to the present) or in Apartheid South Africa. Skin color is definitely highly heritable (has to do with exposure to the sun too). It affects the budget of the school one attented if one lived in those places at those times. That budget affects measured IQ (look at IQ by US state if you doubt this). Thus IQ was highly heritable then and there because race as defined there and then is 100% heritable. I know I didn't notice this obvious point on my own. I think I may have gotten it from Jonathan Chait but then again maybe not.

update: See also this which I didn't notice the first time around and which only appears because the editors is whomping on Andrew Sullivan. Also just this second I notice that Mark Klieman makes the point about congenital and genetic somewhat more concisely than I did (and with no big words).

"Kevin Drum is right to say that studies of separately adopted twins have long been considered the gold standard in research on the heritability of IQ. But I've never understood why. Each twin in a pair spends nine crucial months in precisely the same environment, and an environment whose quality varies strongly with social class."

To be fair to twin studiers who didn't just make the data up (that is who are not Sir Cyril Burt) they compare fraternal and identical twins. So they look at pairs all of whom shared a womb and all of whom were raised by different parents some of whom had all the same genes and some of whom have half the same genes and half different genes. Differences in experience in the womb do not appear either as genetic or as environmental differences. Thus the ratio is post natal environmental vs genetic out of the sum of the two. The variance due to prenatal environmental factors is not estimated in twin studies. Thus my idea as to why the results from the new studies aer similar to results from twin studies even though Drum's criticism of twin studies is convincing. There is a similar problem in the new study which is that it lumps 9 months of crucial environment with genetics (not that there is anything the authors cold have done about it or any hint that they didn't understand and discuss the issue).

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "7/27/2006 11:56:00 PM":

This assumes that intelligence can be measured. We can all site examples of people who are intelligent about some things and stupid at others. I understand the scientific need to study and measure things but when it comes to the brain, they have a long way to go. When building on previous knowledge, it is important to have a solid foundation to stand on and not just pretend that you do. By now it should be clear to everyone that the brain especially at a young age has enormous potential for learning.

yes Anonymous that is certainly true. Why at this site alone I can cite two examples of people who have interesting things to say but can't spell to save our lives. More generally scores on IQ tests are useful in predicting life outcomes. The tests measure something that matters. This does not mean that it corresponds to the ordinary meaning of the word "intelligence" but there is solid evidence that IQ test scores are correlated with something interesting and important.

Tilted Edge has left a new comment on your post "7/27/2006 11:56:00 PM":

This assumes that intelligence can be measured. We can all site examples of people who are intelligent about some things and stupid at others. I understand the scientific need to study and measure things but when it comes to the brain, they have a long way to go. When building on previous knowledge, it is important to have a solid foundation to stand on and not just pretend that you do. By now it should be clear to everyone that the brain especially at a young age has enormous potential for learning.

Also some very smart people have trouble dealing with blogger sometimes.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "7/27/2006 11:56:00 PM":

If you are ever have a psychological evaluation, one of the first questions you will be asked is "Did you Graduate from college?" In my opinion this should have nothing to do with your mental state but statistically they find that college graduates have better mental health so they ask you this question. This is bullshit.

Tilted Edge has left a new comment on your post "7/27/2006 11:56:00 PM":

Yes and legibility in handwriting skills surely are not a measure of intelligence.
Josh Marshall is Expecting

he wrote "my dear pregnant wife".

Now I don't want to add to the suspicions caused by my having something good to say about R.J. Herrnstein, but I can't deny that I expect average human IQ to increase in the near future.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "7/27/2006 11:45:00 PM":

I thought he was just trying to make clear which wife he was refering to, distinguishing her from the dear one who is not pregnant!

ah yes I understand anonymous' point. Josh Marshall not an islamofascist but, who knows, perhaps a polygynoliberal.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

About Time

Berlusconi has finally been indicted for his record setting false accounting and tax evasion. The odd thing is that prosecutors announced that they had finished the investigation months ago (more than a year ago I think). Oddly the "rinvio a giudizio" came only now after the elections. I think someone in the palazzo di giustizia in Milan decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

I wonder if Brad is about to run for the "forest-phone" again. If so, I should say that I don't expect this to have any political implications either. Almost all Italians (including most Berlusconi supporters) assume that he is a crook. The others are sure that the Procura di Milano is a den of communist conspirators and will not be convinced by any evidence.

Speaking of evidence, said procura might not be a den of commies but their approach to the obligation to keep investigations secret is more similar to Starr's than to Fitzgerald's so I am rather familiar with the overwhelming evidence that Berlusconi is guilty guilty guilty.

For the past 5 years Berlusconi has had the power to rewrite the law so one might imagine that he legalised all of his crimes. His problem is that one of them was transferring money from his firm (then Fininvest now called Mediaset) to himself. Legalising such conduct means abandoning capitalism. Berlusconi wouldn't care, but his allies must have balked.

I won't predict if this is the time he will actually get nailed even though I am very very tempted.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Not Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Brad DeLong asks where is my post on the arrest of two high ranking officers of SISMI (Italian military intelligence think CIA with no restiction on domestic spying)

I can explain. I know nothing nothing. For one thing we are moving to a new house. For another said new house does not have a telephone or electricity yet hampering my internet access. Thus I am now in Sardinia which involves going on a car ferry with a TV tuned by the crew. If you think that Italians are going to watch the news when they can watch a world cup semi final in which Italy beat Germany, then your grasp of Italian politics is hopelessly weak.

Actually I just read the story (in the Washington Post). My personal reaction was "what they want me to believe that SISMI is breaking Italian law in cooperation with the CIA. Hah next they will try to convince me that Berlusconi is rich or something."

I predict no zero (0) political implications because all Italians (and this non citizen resident) assumed SISMI was involved when the story broke. This is not an organisation known for principled restraint (say like Karl Rove). SISMI agents have, among other things, been convicted of planting bombs and claiming responsibility as a fake communist terrorist organisation before real communist terrorists took over the market.

Believe me no one with any respect for the law even considers voting for the Italian center right. Kidnapping Islamic terrorists is likely to be a big hit with Berlusconi's base.

Also remember that I have already claimed (based on no evidence in good Italian fashion) the astounding incompetence of the CIA station chief in Milan was demonstrated when he took Berlusconi's word that he wouldn't be prosecuted in Milan when Berlusconi clearly doesn't control who is prosecuted in Milan since he has been sub giudice for the past 11 years.

Believe me, "Milanese magistrates investigate SISMI" is a shocker like "Brad DeLong does not plan to vote for Richard Cheney in 2008." It never crossed my mind that the news would be worth a blog post.

update: OK now I will check La Repubblica Italy's leading daily and a major center of Berlusconiphobia since he tried to buy it and fire the staff.

Headlines (translated) in the order in which they appear at

Taxis no longer on strike (will strike again July 11) Lawyers on strike.

This is about really huge news. The Prodi government is trying to eliminate dozens of explicitly anti competitive regulations which were designed to protect taxi driver/owners, lawyers etc etc etc etc from the evils of competition. Needless to say, the formerly protected are protesting. Over 110,000 have voted in La Repubblica's on line poll. The results are ... (so far) 93% approve of the deregulating reforms. 6% disapprove. 1 % don't know.

Wow. Totally unscientific but 93 % of Italians who clicked the link support market competition. This is news.

I have to point out that part of why La Repubblica is so enthusiastic about the reform is that protection of newspapers and journalists from competition were not eliminated as part of the reform. Consistency is a virtue but stupidity is not.

2nd headline

World cup final will be Italy vs France. President of the Republic will watch the game.

3rd headline

SISMI number 2 arrested

Get it 3rd headline today.

The story does report that the SISMI officers were arrested for "studying the movement of Abu Omar and, especially, because they evaluated the possible use of Ghedi airport to transport him after the kidnapping (it wasn't used)". Amusingly 2 of my fellow citizens who are now wanted by the Italian authorities are named Russomando (trans. I send a Russian) and Castelli (trans. castles).

The center left does not want to touch this one with a ten foot pole. The Prime Minister's office says that SISMI assures them they weren't involved but that they respect the magistrates and will co-operate. Roughly what the last Prime minister's office would have said. The far left still communist president of the chamber of deputies is extremist enough to say "There is a need to respect the work of the magistrates" in response to the center right which is, more or less, accusing them of being soft on terrorism.

I'm sure Prodi is really looking forward to the request that his government forward the request to extradite the CIA kidnappers to the USA.

Remember, in Italy, prosecutors are really really independent. I think all politicians in Italy just want this case to go away (but it won't).

update: In a totally unscientific poll 5 Italian adults stared at me as if I was crazy when I asked them if they were suprised that SISMI officers were breaking Italian law in cooperation with CIA agents. It's like asking someone if they have ever heard of the theory that the earth is round.

Laura Rosen has more on the story based on her actual reporting.

Also Henry Farrell has a comment.

Henry Farrell has left a new comment on your post "7/06/2006 03:21:00 AM":

Ah, but check out La Repubblica today. A very different story. Number one story: "Amato: We have to talk about secret service reform." Number two story: "Abu Omar: Mancini: I never kidnapped anyone." I agree in re: the World Cup fever - but my best guess yesterday was that the less than prominent placement was b/c it was a late breaking story, and the many La Repubblica journalists with axes to grind in this affair were working on stories for the morning edition.