Archive for May 5th, 2009

Just run the Monty Hall experiment and get it over with

| May 5, 2009 | 15 Replies
Just run the Monty Hall experiment and get it over with

Monty Hall was the host of a TV game show called “Let’s Make a Deal.” I watched it when I was a boy and it was quite entertaining. One of the specific games on the show involved offering to allow a contestant to pick one out of three wrapped prizes. Some of the prizes were valuable, but one was often a worthless gag. After the contestant chose one gift, Monty invariably removed one of the two wrapped gifts that the contestant did not take. He then asked the contestant if he/she wanted to trade the box he/she originally chose in return for choosing the other remaining gift. Should the contestant stay put or should he/she switch? My gut feeling says that there is nothing to gain by switching, but there are many experts who disagree with me.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about the Monty Hall problem. Many mathematically-inclined experts insist that you should ALWAYS switch after Monte takes away one of the three hidden prizes. There’s all kinds of high end mathematics involved in many of these analysis (see here for instance).

The dispute gets really high-pitched sometimes, which is usually a clue that experts are claiming to be certain when they really don’t have any right to be.

What I’m wondering is this: why don’t some social scientists simply gather empirical data in a lab? Assign someone to be Monty and let college students play the roles of contestants. Set the experimental parameters precisely (this needs to be done carefully because there is some question as to what, exactly Monty knows and does) and run the test over and over, until you’ve got LOTS of data. Have some students always make the switch. Have others never make the switch. Then tally the results and tell the mathematicians that you have the real answer.

So that’s my thought: allow real-world trials tell the theoreticians the answer. Then let’s move on, please.

Or has someone actually run the Monty Hall skit over and over in a lab yet and added up the results? I haven’t seen it yet, if this has been done.

Share

Read More

The myth of the American Elite

| May 5, 2009 | 4 Replies
The myth of the American Elite

I came across a wonderful post at firedoglake today, a few days after it posted.

Dean Baker, writing about the Fiat-Chrysler merger, highlights the growing disparity between so called ‘knowledge workers’ and the blue-collar manufacturers who have so often been at the sharp end of outsourcing. As he states

The media coverage of the auto bailouts has focused on the need for union autoworkers to take big pay cuts, causing them to once again miss the real story. The Fiat-Chrysler deal shows that the pay problem is at the top, not the bottom. At the end of the day, the new Chrysler is still likely to be producing most of its cars in the United States. What the new company will be getting from abroad is technology and top management.
[...]
While this story of the US becoming a high skills center in the world economy may have been comforting to the elites, and was widely promoted by economists and the news media, there was never much truth to it. Highly skilled professionals did well in recent decades not because they succeeded in international competition, but rather because they were largely sheltered from it.

Over the past ten years those elites have gained in accelerating salaries and in a lower tax burden (see also my earlier post on the rich/poor tax divide) while the blue collar workers wages have largely stagnated, and fallen behind in real terms. As Baker says

If we compare wages for assembly-line workers in Europe and the United States, there would not be much difference between the pay of UAW members and their counterparts in Europe. However, there would be a very large difference between the multi-million dollar pay packages of the top executives at the US companies and their European counterparts. The pay gaps persist among the more highly paid engineers and management personnel.

The remaining differences are that European workers do not need to reserve a significant portion of their weekly wage to cover healthcare costs, that they receive many more vacation days (between four and eight weeks for most Europeans), and that their supervisors, engineers and management are not a world apart in terms of salaries, benefits, and lifestyles.

Share

Read More

Growing opposition to Obama’s Tax Haven clampdown

| May 5, 2009 | 14 Replies
Growing opposition to Obama’s Tax Haven clampdown

Opposition to President Obama’s plans to close the fiscal loophole of Tax Haven’s is under increasing pressure from business, lobbyists, and the media. You can be sure many Senators and Congressmen, worried about their campaign contributions in the run up to 2010, will be conveying this sense of alarm to the President.

Bloomberg ran with a story this morning, quoting some very influential Democrats including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer.

This latest attack follows a lot of negative, primarily republican generated, commentary since last Monday, including the expected outrage from the Republican caucus and their media friends (particularly Fox). One of the most telling, however, was a seemingly innocent comment from CNBC’s Erin Burnett, during an interview on Morning Joe last week. She basically said that ‘avoiding taxes’ is a perfectly acceptable and legal practice and is basically the fault of our 35% corporate tax rate. To Ms Burnett, and all of the other people who think that tax avoidance is perfectly acceptable, I’ll share another quote that I discovered while following this story – posted on a discussion thread

“My Lords, of recent years much ingenuity has been expended in certain quarters in attempting to devise methods of disposition of income by which those who were prepared to adopt them might enjoy the benefits of residence within this country while receiving the equivalent of such income without sharing in the appropriate burden of British taxation. Judicial dicta may be cited which may point out that, however elaborate and artificial such methods may be, those who adopt them are “entitled” to do so. There is, of course, no doubt they are within their legal rights, but that is no reason why their effort, or those of the professional gentlemen who assist them in the matter, should be regarded as a commendable exercise of ingenuity or as a discharge of the duties of good citizenship.”

Lord Simon, L.C., Latilla v Inland Revenue Commissioners (1943)

Video and more details after the fold

Share

Read More

Public court proceedings aren’t very public, and that’s the way they like them.

| May 5, 2009 | Reply
Public court proceedings aren’t very public, and that’s the way they like them.

Would you like to monitor our government at work? What if there’s a really interesting court proceeding in Massachusetts, but you live far from Massachusetts? But you’d really like to hear the court proceeding live, because this case is about some of the lawsuits that record companies have been bringing under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 501, alleging that individual defendants (many of whom were students) were copyright infringers—that they had illegally used file-sharing software to download and disseminate copyrighted songs without paying royalties. The Plaintiffs were a large group of record companies including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records, Inc., Atlantic Recording Corporation, Arista Records, LLC, and UMG Recordings, Inc.

In a case styled In re Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 2009 WL 1017505, 7 (1st Circuit, (Mass) 2009), the Court of Appeals recently ruled that I don’t have the right to listen to court deliberations over the Internet, at least in the First District.

In the trial court, Joel Tenenbaum (one of the persons whom the record companies had sued) moved to permit Courtroom View Network to webcast a non-evidentiary motions hearing that was scheduled for January 22, 2009. Presiding Judge Nancy Gertner, citing the keen public interest in the litigation, granted his motion over the objection of the record companies. She thought it would be a good idea to permit webcasting of the motion hearings. She thought that anyone interested in the exercise of the Court’s power should have the opportunity to listen in remotely through a computer. On April 16, 2009, however, the Court of Appeals struck down Judge Gertner’s decision, holding that it was inappropriate to make the inner workings of the private PUBLIC courts easily accessible to the public.

The Court of Appeals said something that a sarcastic lawyer might paraphrase like this: No more of that webcasting nonsense, Judge Gertner!

Share

Read More