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March 2008

Ms. Hillary

A writer for Rolling Stone declares, "Hillary is a habitual teller of tall tales."

Well sure, you think, RS is well known to be extremely right-wing. Margaret Carlson, another well-known member of the VRWC, writes, "A few more tall tales and voters may be less worried about Clinton's capacity to be commander-in-chief than her ability to tell the truth."

But Dick Morris, who used to work for her husband, provides this "list of lies".

And Michelle Malkin deserves extra credit for recalling George Costanza's line, "It's not a lie if you believe it" and labeling this behavior "Better living through self delusion." (Jonathan Alter of Newsweek agrees: "Over time, the movies that politicians create in their heads become real to them.")

I think something slightly different: I think that Hillary thinks if something could be true and should be true, then it's fine to talk as if it actually were true.

Speaking as a Nobel Prize-winner in economics, I have no problem with that.

Four on patents

Jim Bessen's talk on patents at the Berkman Center. (Link via EconLog.)

Bessen analyzes a broad range of evidence on the economic performance of the patent system. He finds that patents provide strong incentives for firms in a few industries, but for most firms today, patents actually discourage innovation because they fail to perform as well-defined property rights.

See also Bessen's recent paper co-authored with Michael J. Meurer, "Do Patents Perform Like Property?"

Forbes discusses the "standard of obviousness" and a few of the seemingly goofier patents awarded recently, such as a "method of exercising a cat" (U.S. patent 5,443,036).

A recent paper documents that over the last 20 years, U.S. patents have becom larger and more complex.

Kling and Alchian on the value of college

Arnold Kling has an interesting post on "the value of college is in assortative mating".

I first heard that theory in 1978 in Armen Alchian's class. As far as I know, Professor Alchian never developed the theory in a paper, but he does refer to it briefly in a talk he gave at a symposium in his honor:

It is my general premise that the university has two functions; I’m not sure which is the most important one. One is education, the other is a marriage market.

(Economic Inquiry, July 1996, p. 426.)

New line

Glenn Reynolds: "Old line: Left-leaning faculty are a right-wing myth. New line: Faculty Are Liberal — Who Cares?"

The link reports on a forthcoming paper that finds students' political orientations don't change "much" in college. The Inside Higher Ed writer than adds that we shouldn't care if university faculty are disproportinately liberal because they apparently aren't affecting students' views.

Reynolds and his readers point out a few flaws in the "who cares" argument. (And their discussion includes this lovely observation: "If the beliefs and attitudes of faculty don't matter, even if they're pretty much a monoculture, then the argument for 'diversity' in general would seem to evaporate.") Dan Klein of George Mason, quoted in the linked article, points out another.

Here's my small contribution. Imagine a parallel Earth on which more than half of American university professors were evangelical Christians. The evangelical biologists don't teach evolution; they teach intelligent design. The evangelical English department focuses on the Bible. Evangelical historians teach that history is pretty much the working out of God's design. Evangelical economists focus on The Wealth of Nations. Etc.

But suppose a study finds that on this paralled Earth college students are no more likely to be evangelical Christians when they graduate than when they entered. Do you think Inside Higher Ed would claim that the Christian orientation of the faculty "didn't matter"?

Take some time to think about it. I'll wait.