Wonder why no one thought of this before? Prisoner's Dilemma as a game show. Two players with two choices with rewards structured similar to a classic prisoners dilemma game (though not quite -- to be exactly the same the return of steal-steal should be higher than the returns of picking split in split-steal).
Posts tagged ‘game’
Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.
The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.
General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.
Why do state governments do this? Public records show that large companies often pay little or no state income tax in states where they have large operations, as this column has documented. Some companies get discounts on property, sales and other taxes. So how to provide even more subsidies without writing a check? Simple. Let corporations keep the state income taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks for up to 25 years.
Kentucky, where I have operated for over 10 years, seems to be the originator of this silliness. I have always wondered why there is not an equal protection issue with such subsidies given to a chosen few companies but not to others.
I wrote years ago about such relocation subsidies being a prisoners dilemma game:
I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations (replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize"). In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies. However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don’t play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.
To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB). We all know that cities and states have been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners. Lets for a minute say this never happened – that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge. First, would MLB still exist? Sure! Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks. OK, would baseball be in the same cities? Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now. The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in retrospect have been a good thing.
The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry: Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.
Ken over at Popehat had a great article about a proposed cyber-bullying law in Connecticut. While he later reports the bill may have died in committee, it is still instructive to look at it, as its twin may well get passed in AZ and many other states are proposing such laws faster than the little animals pop up in a whack-a-mole game.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that these are all stealth attempts to protect politicians and public officials from criticism. Look at the proposed law in CT:
(a) A person commits electronic harassment when such person, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, transmits, posts, displays or disseminates, by or through an electronic communication device, radio, computer, Internet web site or similar means, to any person, a communication, image or information, which is based on the actual or perceived traits or characteristics of that person, which:
(1) Places that person in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property;
(2) Has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person's physical or mental health;
(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's academic performance, employment or other community activities or
(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's ability to participate in or benefit from any academic, professional or community-based services, activities or privileges; or
(5) Has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation to that person within an academic or professional community.
One of the tricks of these laws is to mix and thereby conflate outrageous behavior most all of us are willing to restrict (e.g. make a credible threat to someone's life) with everyday behaviors such as annoying people.
Let's say I were to write in my blog that, say, Joe Arpaio is an jerk and should not get re-elected. Let's analyze the statement
- It's transmitted electronically
- It will very likely annoy Arpaio, since he is known to be annoyed by all criticism
- I am trying very hard to interfere with his employment by preventing his re-election
By this law, therefore, even this relatively mild criticism is illegal. In fact, since all criticisms of politicians can be said to negatively affect their re-election chances, by part 3 any political criticism online would be illegal.
I honestly don't think this is a bug, it is a feature. Already police departments and other public officials are using cyber-bullying laws to stomp on those who criticize them.
The game the Left is playing with the Supreme Court is interesting. Their argument going into last week's Supreme Court frackas boiled down either to, "this is really needed so it must be Constitutional" or something like "we thought the Federal government could do anything." By the way, while I find the latter depressing and it should be wrong, I can understand after decisions like Raich why one might come to that conclusion.
After getting pummeled in court this week, the Left has a couple of new takes. The first is that while their side's lawyers did not offer any good arguments, particularly vis a vis limiting principles, it's the Court's obligation to do it for them. The second is an interesting sort of brinksmanship. It says that this is so big, so massive, so important a legislation, that the Supreme Court basically does not have the cojones to overturn it on a 5-4. The extreme example of this argument, which I am seeing more and more, is that its so big a piece of legislation that it is wrong for the Supreme Court to overturn it whatever the vote, the implication being that Constitutional muster can be passed merely by making legislation comprehensive enough.
Kevin Drum has been taking both these tacks, and included this gem in one post:
So what will the court do? If they don't want a rerun of the 1930s, which did a lot of damage to the court's prestige, but they do want to put firmer limits on Congress's interstate commerce power, the answer is: find a limiting principle of their own. But find one that puts Obamacare just barely on the constitutional side of their new principle. This would avoid a firestorm of criticism about the court's legitimacy — that they're acting as legislators instead of judges — but it would satisfy their urge to hand down a landmark decision that puts firm limits on further expansion of congressional power. Liberals would be so relieved that Obamacare survived that they'd probably accept the new rules without too much fuss, and conservatives, though disappointed, would be thrilled at the idea that the court had finally set down clear limits on Congress's interstate commerce power.
You can see both arguments here - the proposition that the Court owes it to the defense attorney to make up a better argument for him, as well as the notion that the stakes are too high to overturn the legislation.
By the way, maybe I just went to some right-wing fascist school, but I sure don't remember any discussion of a loss of prestige by the Court as they overruled large swaths of the New Deal, particularly since their decisions were pretty consistent with past precedent. I always considered it was FDR who lost prestige with this authoritarian impulse to pack the Court to get the Constitutional answer he wanted. And taking the 1930's as an example, it sure seems both Left and Right are wildly hypocritical and inconsistent on when they are in favor and against Court activism.
My feed reader today had a series of oddly-related articles stacked right in a row.
First, I watched bits from the 1903 Princeton-Yale football game, the oldest surviving college football film (apparently it is just barely old enough not to have Keith Jackson doing the play-by-play). It is amazing how much more this looked like rugby than modern football. The formations look just like rugby scrums except that the players are not locked together. Note there are no huddles, just power scrum after power scrum. Sort of like a missing link between the two games, and oddly less interesting than either.
I then was met with this post from Zero Hedge, discussing the current Greek bailouts in terms of a Nash Equilibrium, the game-theory concept developed by Princeton grad / professor John Nash (who was famously profiled in A Beautiful Mind).
It's not often I run into John Nash even once in a month, but two articles later I found this really interesting early letter, recently de-classified, from John Nash to the NSA, wherein he apparently anticipated many of the foundation of modern cryptography 10-20 years ahead of his time.
And its only a short walk from John Nash and cryptography to Alan Turing, and from Princeton to tiger stripes, so the next article I ran into was this one discussing a group of scientists who apparently have proved a Turing hypothesis for how tiger stripes (and other recurring patterns in animals) are formed.
As I predicted, the various highly touted European debt and currency interventions last month did squat. This is no surprise. The basic plan currently is to have the ECB give essentially 0% loans to banks with the implied provision that they use the money to buy sovereign debt. Eventually there are provisions for austerity, but I wrote that I don't think it's possible these will be effective. It's a bit unclear where this magic money of the ECB is coming from - either they are printing money (which they refuse to own up to because the Germans fear money printing even more than Soviet tanks in the Fulda Gap) or there is some kind of leverage circle-jerk game going where the ECB is effectively leveraging deposits and a few scraps of funding to the moon.
At this point, short of some fiscal austerity which simply is not going to happen, I can't see how the answer is anything but printing and devaluation. Either the ECB prints, spreading the cost of inflation to all counties on the Euro, or Greece/Spain/Italy exit the Euro and then print for themselves.
The exercise last month, as well as the months before that, are essentially mass hypnosis spectacles, engineered to try to get the markets to forget the underlying fundamentals. And the amazing part is it sort of works, from two days to two weeks. It reminds me of nothing so much as the final chapters of Atlas Shrugged where officials do crazy stuff to put off the reckoning even one more day.
Disclosure: I have never, ever been successful at market timing investments or playing individual stocks, so I generally don't. But the last few months I have had fun shorting European banks and financial assets on the happy-hypnosis news days and covering once everyone wakes up. About the only time in my life I have made actual trading profits.
Thought problem: I wish I understood the incentives facing European banks. It seems like right now to be almost a reverse cartel, where the cartel holds tightly because there is a large punishment for cheating. Specifically, any large bank that jumps off the merry-go-round described above likely starts the whole thing collapsing and does in its own balance sheet (along with everyone else's). The problem is that every day they hang on, the stakes get higher and their balance sheets get stuffed with more of this crap. Ironically, everyone would have been better getting off a year ago and taking the reckoning then, and certainly everyone would be better taking the hit now rather than later, but no one is willing to jump off. One added element that makes the game interesting is that the first bank to jump off likely earns the ire of the central bankers, perhaps making that bank the one bank that is not bailed out when everything crashes. It's a little like the bidding game where the highest bidder wins but the two highest bidders have to pay. Anyone want to equate this with a defined economics game please do so in the comments.
My new column in Forbes addresses a topic I wrote about over 6 years ago, and got a ton of feedback on.
The problem with salaries for government workers like teachers is that, in a monopoly (particularly one enforced by law), the usual checks and balances on compensation simply don’t exist. Let’s say a private school gives its teachers a big raise, and has to raise its tuitions to pay for those higher salaries. Parents are then left with a choice as to whether to accept the higher tuitions, or to look elsewhere. If they accept the higher fees, then great — the teachers make more money which is justified by the fact that their customers percieve them to be offering higher value. If they do not accept the higher tuition, the school withers and either changes its practices or goes out of business.
But what happens when the state overpays for teachers (or any government employee)? Generally, the govenrment simply demands more taxes. Sure, voters can push back, but seldom do they win in a game dominated by concentrated benefits but dispersed costs. On a per capita basis, teachers always have more to fight for than taxpayers, and are so well-organized they often are one of the dominant powers in electing officials in states like California. This leads to the financially unhealthy situation of a teachers’ union negotiating across the table from officials who owe their office to the teachers’ union.
We might expect this actually to lead to inflated rather than parsimonious wages. To see if this is true, we have a couple of different sources of data within the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to help us.
Humans have a natural desire to innovate and exercise creativity. Unfortunately, in government bureaucracies, the only place where this creativity is channeled is into inventing new ways to expand one's or one's agency's power. Which is why life as a libertarian seems to be a constant whack-a-mole game against stupid regulatory proposals like banning even hands-free cell phones from cars.
1. I had thought that libertarians and conservatives were overwrought when they accused the Obama administration of using their own gun sales in the Fast and Furious program to argue for increased gun control. Oops. It appears that is exactly what they are doing. This article is particularly fascinating, as we get to see a gun dealer, so often vilified by the Left, showing more concern about the guns winding up in the wrong hands than does the ATF.
2. I had thought it an exaggeration when Conservatives accused Obama of being a Marxist. I thought he was reinforcing a corporate state, but politicians of both parties play that game. I assumed that, like much of the Left, he had socialist tendencies but basically accepted the core approach of free exchange and individual liberty. Oops. It is clear from his speech in Kansas that Obama has decided he is going to run in 2012 on a platform of proletarianising the middle class..
For a while, there has been a contrarian school of thought in historical study of WWII that FDR, wishing to have the US enter the way against a strong isolationist streak in the general population, purposefully ignored evidence of an impending Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in order to create a casus belli. A few historians have used some intelligence warmings combined with the insane un-preparedness of Pearl Harbor as their evidence. Instapundit links to a new declassified memo that warns of Japanese interest in Hawaii just three days before the attack.
This is a fun but generally foolish game. The same game was played after 9/11, pointing to a few scraps of intelligence that were "ignored." But the problem in intelligence isn't always lack of information, but too much information. In late 1941, the US government was getting warnings from everywhere about just about everything. It is easy as a historian to pick out four or five warnings and say they were stupidly (or purposely) ignored, but this fails to address the real point -- that those warnings were accompanied by a thousand false or misleading ones at the same time. The entire Pacific theater had already had a whole series of alerts in the months leading up to Dec 7, one false alarm after another. It is Monday morning quarterbacking that strips the intelligence problem of its context. To prove that something unusual happened, one would have to show that these warnings were processed or prioritized in a manner that was unusual for the time.
And sure, the readiness issue at Pearl Harbor is inexcusable. But while historians can always find a few people at the time who argued that Pearl Harbor was the most logical attack target, this ignores the thousands in and outside the military who thought the very idea of so audacious an attack that far from Japan was absurd. Historians are failing in their job when they strip these decisions of context (if you really, really want to get on someone about preparedness, how about McArthur, who allowed most of his air force to be shot up on the ground despite having prior notification of the Pearl Harbor attack hours before).
I have been reading a lot of the data flying around of late about income inequality and mobility. And it struck me that income mobility may be a large part of what is driving many OWS protesters.
Despite assumptions to the contrary on the Left, wealth is not a zero-sum game. Steven Jobs got richer by making me better off. But the one thing that is zero-sum is presence in the top 1%. When someone joins the club, someone, by operation of basic math, drops out.
That does not mean that the other person who drops out is poorer, it just means that they are no longer as rich relative to their peers. This same effect works int he top 10% and 20%, etc.
Looking at OWS protectors, they seem to be disproportionately children of the upper middle class or even of the rich. They have expensive college educations, live in nice homes, and have gobs of stuff (OWS must be the most iPhoned event in history). My guess is that they are of the upper two quintiles, or at least their parents were.
I am wondering if the problem is not income inequality but too much income mobility. After all, a third of the top two quartiles in 2001 had dropped into the bottom three in 2007 (while an equal number moved up). Are these the angry proletariat, or are they children of the well-off who are upset their college degree in puppetteering did not automatically keep them up with the Joneses? Are they, in other words, Philip Rearden?
Are Private Entities Solely To Blame For Making Money Off Structural Problems Created by the Government?
This isn't the only case where news organizations consistently report as truth something that didn't happen, while failing to report what did. Another one that comes to mind is the California electricity crisis of 2001-2002. As some readers may recall, that crisis was caused by market manipulation -- and that's not a hypothesis, Enron traders were caught on tape telling plants to shut down to create artificial shortages. Yet "news analyses" published after the whole thing was revealed would often tell readers that excessive environmental regulation and Nimbyism caused the crisis, with nary a mention of the deliberate creation of shortages.
And as you'll notice, in both cases the imaginary history just happened to be one more comfortable to status quo interests.
I find it hilarious that Krugman is talking about imaginary history, since he plays the same game so often. In fact, the disconnect between many of Krugman's current political writings and his historical economic work are often jaw-dropping. Even the differences in Krugman's opinion on the same topic when a Republican vs. a Democrat is in the White House can be amazing.
But I wanted to address the California utility issue. Certainly Krugman is right, as far as he goes, in that Enron made a lot of money in the California electricity crisis creating some short-term artificial shortages. But what he leaves out of his brief comment were the structural rules the government had put in place that made Enron's actions possible. Enron's profits in the California electricity crisis could never have been made in a free market.
I am not an expert on the whole regulatory environment in which these events occurred, but there were three key regulatory facts that need to be understood:
1. California, due to the NIMBY and environmental concerns Krugman mentions in passing, want lots of electricity but do not want the electricity production near them. So they have exported the production to other states, and, more importantly, California utilities did not control the production of the electricity they needed. Thus a lot of California power, and all of its marginal demand, is satisfied by local utilities buying out of state power. As we will see next, Krugman is really putting up a straw man here, as this is simply background, the least important of the three government factors that drove the problem.
2. California deregulated wholesale utility prices, but not retail prices. The point of price deregulation is that suppliers and consumers can make better decisions because the information they get via prices is not distorted by government mandates. But price deregulation only makes sense if the ultimate consumers have prices that float with the market. But California consumers still had fixed prices. There were no changes to pricing signals to consumers that might cause them to conserve more when electricity was particularly short.
So, only wholesale customers saw their prices paid increase when electricity supplies ran short. This mainly applied to large California utilities that bought power they needed from out of state. Theoretically, when prices spiked, they could cut back their demand. This is more awkward for them than consumers, but could be done either with pre-determined shut down priorities or rolling brown-outs. At some point, one would assume the cost of power would be higher than the cost of service disruptions, but...
3. California utilities were effectively required by regulation to try to serve all demand. Right or wrong, they felt they were in a position that if power were available, they had to buy it no matter what the cost.
So step in Enron. Seeing this mess, they found they could corner the market at a few peak demand times and sell Calfornia power for a gazillion dollars a Kw. I would not personally have been proud to make money that way, but Enron jumped right in.
I have no problem giving Enron grief for the way they make money, but one has to ask themselves, why the hell were California utilities buying power no matter what the price, and why was it that when electricity was so dear, it was illegal to communicate this to end users via prices (as we do with any other product or commodity). The story here is a lot more complicated than Enron.
Update: Finem Respice took a more sophisticated look at this same issue a while back in a broader post about trying to close an open system.
On the retail side, just as California was patting itself on the back for "deregulating" in 1996 (via a bill that Pete Wilson created with complexities and exceptions for e.g., San Diego that make the special interest game in Washington look tame by comparison), it froze, just after reducing, retail electricity rates for five years. Add to this the fact that California had long depended on supplies from, e.g., the Northwest, which, for years, enjoyed a hydroelectric power generation surplus. As the surplus vanished with droughts and increased demand in the Pacific Northwest, so did the supply buffer California was so used to, and that it leaned on most heavily over the years to avoid building new generating capacity (new capacity being the bane of the progressively green environmental utopian-paradise that was (is) California energy politics). All this conspired to spike rates. Who is surprised?
It is somewhat unfortunate that Enron's shrewd manipulation of California's badly flawed and outright schizophrenic market scheme was so flagrant, and that unrelated accounting scandals at the company permitted the story to become one of deregulation evils and free market greed rather than the core issue: the political spinelessness exhibited by California officials and their ongoing attempt to insulate voters from anything resembling market prices for electricity
This is a pretty interesting interview with Eric Schmidt of Google. I am running out the door and don't have time to excerpt it, but in short, Schmidt is quite critical of the ability of government to intelligently regulate technology.
His solution is telling. There is nothing here about reducing the power and scope of government, despite his clear and concise description of its consistent structural failures. His solution: more power for my guys. That way, when Washington plays its game of sacrificing the less connected in favor of the well connected, we will do OK.
I am working on this concept for my next Forbes column vis a vis the Occupy Wall Street movement. The OWS folks seem incoherent to us, because, in short, they complain about people having unfair power over them and then their solution is ... to give other people more power. I have reconciled this in my mind with a cold war analogy. Everyone accepts the arms race as a fact, and so the only way to survive is to have more nukes than the other guy. The only way to deal with power, is to get more power for my side.
Frankly, its time for disarmament. As a retailer, I get irritated with credit card processors, but I understood when Congress was considering regulation of interchange fees that giving the Feds the power to set credit card terms, rather than the banks, was not going to make things any easier, just shift the costs from more to less favored constituencies (and consumers are always the least favored constituency).
More later as I sort this out in my head.
Well, I finished Reamde this weekend. It was only OK. It is a straight up modern adventure book, like perhaps a Vince Flynn novel, chasing terrorists around the globe. I enjoy Stephenson for his big, sometimes outrageous ideas, his witty prose, and his love affair with the geek culture. Except for the latter, none of this is in evidence in this book. It is certainly a more popularly accessible book, but that is certainly not what I want from Stephenson.
Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are among my favorite novels. One of the reason I liked them were for the prose he brought to bear on even (or especially) trivial topics. His long passages on eating Cap'n Crunch or getting wisdom teeth removed in Cryptonomicon are classics. I got very little of this kind of thrill in Reamde, made worse by the fact that there were just too many main characters, none of whom were very well developed for me.
At some points, this book held my attention, and at some points it dragged. The book in some ways is almost the same structure as a comedic farce -- a whole bunch of characters who are dragged along by events into increasingly unlikely circumstances. There is no looming event or goal that drives the narrative in a, say, Clancy novel. Its just a lot of falling into one mess after another. Its also a bit unseriousness - it feels like the teens in Scooby Doo chasing terrorists. (One problem is that Stephenson's bad guys are too likable - they are always smart and ironic gentlemanly - so its hard to get as worked up about heading them off as one might in a classic thriller).
Some playwright or critic once wrote (sorry, can't remember the name) that if you put a gun out on the stage in Act 1, someone better use it in Act 3. (OK, it was Chekov, though why he said "gun" rather than "phaser" is beyond me). In this book, Stephenson leaves guns unused all over the stage. In particular, Stephenson comes up with one of his patented interesting-crazy ideas of using an MMRPG to crowd-source security analysis. I felt sure that in the manhunts that followed, that particular gun would be picked up and used to help drive to the climax, but we never hear of it again. In fact, we learn a lot of interesting things about this game in the book, which seems to be absolutely central to the plot, but in the end turns out to be entirely peripheral, an early macguffin to kick start the plot.
Another example is the HUGE amounts of the book go to talking about an interesting social realignment happening in the game, to absolutely no end. OK, so characters have abandoned the good and evil alignments put in by the game masters for a new emergent faction division. I thought sure we would see some kind of real-world parallel to this happening in the book, or some insight drawn from this that helps solve the real world problem. Nothing.
Overall, a disappointing book I would not have finished had it not been by Stephenson.
Postscript: If you become interested in the dynamics of the MMRPG in the book, where there are no character levels (only a skill system) and money and money making is central to the the game, the closest analog I have ever seen is not a fantasy game but EVE Online, a space-based game (also, to a lesser extent, Star Wars Galaxies as well, but that is now defunct). EVE Online probably has the most interesting economy of any MMRPG I have played and I know they employ an economist who sometimes writes articles about his work.
Social Security is structured from the point of view of the recipients as if it were an ordinary retirement plan: what you get out depends on what you put in. So it does not look like a redistributionist scheme. In practice it has turned out to be strongly redistributionist, but only because of its Ponzi game aspect, in which each generation takes more out than it put in. Well, the Ponzi game will soon be over, thanks to changing demographics, so that the typical recipient henceforth will get only about as much as he or she put in (and today's young may well get less than they put in).
Paul Freaking Krugman, 1997. Incredible how much his beliefs change depending on which party occupies the White House.
For some reason I do not fully understand, there are two worlds of gaming - the Wal-Mart/Target/Toys R Us world of Monopoly and Risk, and the geeky world of strategic gaming.
It used to be that the strategic gaming world was just too complicated and arcane for prime time. I once spent a whole summer playing through a game called "War in Europe" from SPI. It had a 42-square foot map of Europe, thousands and thousands of counters, hundreds of pages of instructions, and simulated WWII in weekly turns.
However, there is now a whole slew of games in the strategic arena, mostly from Europe, that are very accessible. A number are not much harder to learn than Risk but are more fun and play a lot faster. Unfortunately, few of these have migrated to mainstream stores, so you may be missing them. Here are a few my family plays that are excellent places to start. I have put them in approximate order of complexity, from low to high.
[By the way, don't have a family or friends? Your in luck! At least 3 of the games below have very high quality iPad game apps with good to very good AI competitors]
- Ticket to Ride. Very easy to learn. Even visiting kids get the idea immediately. This is a railroad line building game. Start with the original North American version, it is the least complicated. Also, if you have an iPad, there is a very good game app port of this game.
- Small World. This is an absolute freaking classic. Totally fun, pretty easy to learn, fast to play. Sort of a wargame ala Risk but it doesn't feel like Risk. Very repayable because the army or race (e.g. dwarves, elves, giants, etc) you play changes each game as special powers are mixed and matched. As important to taking territories will be recognizing when your race has become senescent and when it is time to start a new race. If you have an iPad, there is an awesome Small World game app I heartily recommend.
- 7 Wonders. A new game that has quickly become a favorite. This game is typical of many modern strategy games -- there are many ways to score and you only have a limited number of actions, so the trick is figuring out your priorities. The play rules of this game are dead simple. The complicated part is deciding what action to take among many alternatives, since the scoring is complicated. Here is my advice on this game and for many of these games that follow. Just play the game once. This is what my kids and I did with 7 Wonders. They yelled at me at scoring time that they hadn't understood that such and such scored so well or poorly, but they understood it better with one play-through than by any number of times parsing the rules. This is our current favorite. Interesting dynamic here as after each card play, everyone passes his or her whole hand to their neighbor.
- Dominion. Similar to 7 Wonders in that it is a card game building to victory points. There is a constant tradeoff of getting victory points now or building up "infrastructure" that will allow more scoring later. It is more complex than 7 wonders as it has even more options and paths. I play it with my family but both this and the next game fall out of what are typically called "family" games.
- Race for the Galaxy. Again, similar to 7 Wonders and Dominion, just more complicated. A planet development game.
Here are some other family accessible games I can't recommend as much
- Settlers of Catan. This is a popular strategy classic, and is simple to learn. My kids think its kind of meh. It has a diplomacy negotiating element that does not seem to work well in my family for games
- Cargo Noir. I have only played this once, so I can't say how it wears. My kids liked it better than I did. It is easy to learn, but I thought the strategic options were a bit thin.
- Carcasonne. There are very few games I don't care for, but I have tried this game several times and it just does not click for me. But it is wildly popular, so what do I know? A game where you add tiles of roads and cities to try to score based one where you have put your mini people (meeple in euro-game speak). There is a high quality port of this game on iPad.
Here are some games I really love but are not appropriate for the entry level family
- Twilight Struggle - replay the cold war. My son and I played this and it was awesome, but it took some time to learn and was pretty wonky.
- Agricola - one of the reigning kings of hard-core Euro-style strategy games, this game is fairly complicated to learn (not helped by instructions that really need a re-write) and very complicated to master. The concept -- trying to keep a medieval family alive - bored the hell out of my kids but it is similar to many of the games above in that there are far more ways to score than one can pursue in a turn, and it has a very strong element of balancing immediate returns against investments in the future. I have never played Puerto Rico but my sense it is in a similar genre.
The Boardgame Geek website is a great place to learn about these games (I have just listed a few of the most popular of literally thousands of games). Their ranking of top family games is here. To give you an idea, Monopoly is rates #781 in family games and #7148 overall by their readers (though there is some geek snob factor in this, it really is not a very good game), so you probably have some good games to discover.
PS- Most all of these are on Amazon.
I have argued many times that publicly-funded stadiums are a huge part of sports profits and team valuations. For example, here in Glendale AZ, the town's stadium subsidies represent over a third of the value of the Cardinals and almost 200% of the value of the Coyotes.
As some of you may know, the NBA is heading into a protracted labor negotiation, with both parties acknowledging that the economics of the game have turned against owners. Henry Abbot at ESPN argues that a large part of that economic change has been increasing taxpayer reluctance to subsidize sweetheart stadium deals for teams
Public money for stadiums has become scarce, and I have to believe that's part of the owners' pleas for financial relief from players. Huge moneymaking buildings for free or cheap have been no small part of what makes owning a team a no-brainer. Now teams in need of stadiums -- like the Kings and whatever team may one day relocate to Seattle -- face tough economics. Getting either deal done requires some kind of miracle. And in that context, if you ever fantasized about a world where taxpayers didn't contribute so much to buildings -- even if it meant players earned a little less -- well, your time is now.
To his latter point, I hope he is right.
There are some themes here. Several are sort algorithms (the horses and the balls) and a number are probability and distribution questions (e.g. the stairs and the stools). Several are clearly sales and customer service situations (e.g. the invisible pen).
And several are estimation problems (e.g. how many airplanes are in the air right now). The latter type question was very popular when I was at McKinsey & Co. Many interviews actually gave the victim interviewee some kind of business case. The point was to see how well the person broke down the problem, considered facts they would need to obtain, etc.
A subset of these was the ever-popular market estimation game, such as "how many home windows are bought each year in Mexico?" As an interviewer, one wants to see the person think "OK, there is new construction and replacement. For the new construction market, we need the size of the home construction market, number of windows per home...." That sort of thing.
We would also generally ask them to guess at numbers for all these and actually come up with a number. This is not some test of trivia -- being able to look at numbers and reality check them is an important skill, so having a reasonable intuition about the proper scale of business and economic statistics is useful. In fact, if there was one skill as a consulting manager I was constantly trying to hammer into younger consultants it was to look at the numbers coming out of their spreadsheets and ask them if they really make sense.
I have no idea why this town of 250,000 people is so fired up to hand money over to sports enterprises. This time, its a Superbowl bid:
Glendale is throwing its support behind a regional bid to bring Super Bowl XLIX to the city in 2015.
In return for the prestige of hosting the National Football League game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale must guarantee services such as public safety and sanitation for free and exempt game-day tickets from sales tax for the NFL.
When Glendale hosted its first Super Bowl in 2008, it saw $1.2 million boost in sales-tax revenue. But a city-commissioned study showed it cost the city $2.6 million in services.
The City Council on a 5-2 vote Tuesday approved the resolution. Councilwomen Joyce Clark and Norma Alvarez dissented.
Councilman Phil Lieberman asked for Glendale's cost to host the Super Bowl in 2015, but Deputy City Manager Cathy Gorham said she didn't want to speculate because "things change on a regular basis." The needs in 2015 may be much different from 2008, she said.
These guys are beyond parody. We lost money last time so lets do it again, and by the way lets be sure not to estimate our costs before we make this decision. Here is a bit more:
Clark said the NFL's demands grow more "invasive" every year.
Clark ticked off requirements such as use of the stadium for nearly two months, final cleaning of the stadium and equipment as needed for free. The NFL doesn't pay state or local levies such as payroll, sales, use and occupancy taxes.
Clark cited two former host cities, Arlington, Texas and Miami Gardens, Fla., which did not shoulder the costs of a Super Bowl. In both those cities, the states stepped in and reimbursed them, Clark said. She said that communities that hosted the NFL game didn't see "big spikes" in their tax revenues.
"The city of Glendale should not be expected to pay the Super Bowl's costs without recompense when it benefits the entire region," she said. "We are at a disadvantage because the NFL is hosting in our city."
Alvarez, an ardent opponent of using taxpayer money for professional sports, said the city was in no position to be spending money for the Super Bowl with the economic crisis. She said she couldn't face her constituents if she supported the resolution when there are unmet community needs and employees are still taking unpaid days off.
Note the only alternative suggested - the alternative is not "let's not do this, it makes no sense" but "let's make sure we stick the costs on a larger group of taxpayers.
More articles on Glendale and sports subsidies here.
Well, the execreble Sheriff Joe Arpaio, America's most-desirous-of-PR-exposure lawman, is at it again. Phoenix will be mobbed by the press in a couple of weeks when the MLB All-Star Game comes to town, and of course Sheriff Joe will be hurt and depressed if he doesn't get himself in front of all those cameras.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's publicity stunt of choice for All-Star weekend: a female chain gang that probably will make a stop at Chase Field to pick up garbage as the national sporting press tries to cover a baseball game....
This particular gang is comprised of women convicted of DUI. They will be decked out in the standard striped uniforms. However, they will also be wearing pink T-shirts with messages about DUI.
Because nothing says "thoughtful and humane treatment for alcohol problems" like parading prisoners in front of national TV audiences like a modern remake of Cool Hand Luke.
We give special, unique powers to use force to the police, and it is horrifying to see them used for personal aggrandizement.
By the way, I will share my secret fear. As you may know, Apriao enjoys leading raids on businesses that hire Mexican immigrants. His MO is to zip-tie everyone with brown skin or an accent until they can produce proof of citizenship. My deep fear is that he will run a raid of the concession operations at the ballpark during the game.
For those on the Left who wish to return to the economic organization of the 1950's, recognize that this era of more uni0ns and a greater dominance of the economy by hard-core manufacturing also had strong social inhibitions to half the adult population working paid jobs. As women entered the work force in droves in the 1970's to the present, most of the jobs they found were in the new service industries whose displacement of manufacturing you lament.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the Battleship game box my son found in a stack of old games at his grandparents house. The boys having a blast while the girls are washing the dishes.
Update: More from Matt Welch and Michael Barone. Money quote:
There are lots of things that are legal, and should stay legal, that I don’t want my daughter participating in. I don’t let my daughter hang out at the mall without an adult or have a video game console in her room, but other parent’s make different choices. I think prostitution should be legalized but certainly hope my daughter does not become a hooker. On the other side of the equation, I grew up drinking modest amounts of alcohol in the home with my parents (ie wine with dinner), and feel strongly this pays benefits later in life in the form of more rational approaches to alcohol, but I am legally barred in Arizona from taking this sensible parenting approach with my kids.
Oh, and by the way, as a word of advice to Mr. Levitt: While you may be happy to see your daughter as a future poker champion, or you may want her to have the option of an abortion, a large portion of America thinks that your daughter making these choices is roughly equivalent to shooting heroin or engaging in prostitution, and they are going to try to ban them, and maybe even put her in jail for doing so. In your theory of government, your hopes and dreams for your daughter rely on being able to out-vote folks who have very different hopes and fears.
This flawed view of government thrives in Washington because it neatly reinforces the ego and hubris so characteristic of politicians. It essentially calls on 535 people in Congress to substitute their judgment for that of ordinary Americans on a zillion different questions, large and small. Because in reality, Mr. Levitt’s philosophy of government plays out not as the government banning what I think is wrong for my daughter, but what Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner think are wrong for their daughter’s.
Spend a few nights listening to the news on TV, and you will quickly discover the one of the bedrock logical fallacies of political discourse:
If it's good, the government should subsidize it. If it's bad, the government should ban it. If outcomes are in any way perceived by any group to be sub-optimal, then the government should regulate it. Anyone who opposes these bans, subsidies, and regulations must therefore be a supporter of bad outcomes, hate poor people, want people to get sick and die, etc.
Just last night, I was watching the local news (something I almost never do) and saw a story of one of those kids' bouncy houses that blew out of someone's backyard into a road. There was a girl inside who was scared but unhurt (after all, she was surrounded on six sides by giant airbags). Of course the conclusion of the story was a call for more government regulation of tie downs for private backyard bouncy houses. And those of us who think it's absurd for the government to micro-regulate such things, particularly after a single freak accident when no one was hurt -- we just want to see children die, of course.
Which brings me to this little gem in a local blog, which reflects a feeling held by many area sports fans. Remember that I have supported the Goldwater Institute in their opposition to the city of Glendale giving a rich guy $200 million to buy our NHL ice hockey team and keep it here. My (and I presume Goldwater's) motivation has been opposition to a huge government subsidy that equates to nearly $1000 for every man, woman, and child in Glendale. This subsidy appears illegal under the Arizona Constitution. But that is not how political discourse works. We are not defending the Constitution, we just hate hockey (emphasis added)
If you believe Canadian newspapers, tonight's game against the Detroit Red Wings will be the Phoenix Coyotes last game in the desert.
Canadians like hockey. Judging by attendance at Coyotes games, Phoenicians don't (at least not enough to drive to west side), which is why Canadians are so optimistic that their beloved Winnipeg Jets will be returning to our overly polite neighbors to the north.
The Coyotes ended the season with the second worst attendance in the NHL. That, coupled with the Goldwater Institute's crusade to drive the team out of the Valley, is not helping the city of Glendale's attempt to keep the team.
A few facts to remember:
- As the article states, local residents have already voted with their feet, since the team has nearly the lowest attendance in the league despite going to the playoffs both last year and this year. They have trouble selling out playoff games.
- The team has lost money every year it has been here. It lost something like $40 million this year
- The team is worth $100 million here in Phoenix. That is the going rate for warm-market teams. The buyer is willing to pay $100 million of his own money for the team. So why is a subsidy needed? The NHL insists on selling the team for $200 million or more. Though it piously claims to want to keep hockey in Arizona, it is selling the team for price than can only be paid by buyers who want to move the team.
- The City of Glendale appears to have lied outright in selling this deal to the public. In particular, it claimed the $100 million was not a giveaway, but a payment for the team's rights to charge for parking. But many insiders say the City always retained this right, and it strains credulity that while losing money for seven years, the team would not have exercised this right if it really owned it.
- Glendale has only itself to blame, confounding an already difficult marketing task (ice hockey in the desert) by putting the stadium on the far end of a sprawling city. The location is roughly the equivalent in terms of distance and relationship to the metropolitan area of moving the Chicago Blackhawks or Bulls stadium to Gary, Indiana. The stadium ended up in Glendale because neither Tempe, Scottsdale, nor Phoenix was willing to make a $200 million, 30-year taxpayer-funded bet on the profitability of ice hockey.
The toughest competition for basketball and football players occurs at the Division I level. These sports have both large attendances at games-sometimes, more than 100,000 persons attend college football games– and widespread television coverage.... Absent the rules enforced by the NCAA, the competition for players would stiffen, especially for the big stars...
To avoid that outcome, the NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players....
It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.
Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses....
I expressed many of the same thoughts in this article at Forbes. In addition to making the same points as Becker, I slammed on the whole concept of the "amateur athlete" as an outdated holdover from the British aristocracy and their disdain for commerce:
University presidents with lucrative athletic programs will do about anything to distract attention from just how much money their Universities are making off of essentially unpaid labor. Their favorite mantra is to claim they are holding up an ideal of “amateurism.”
The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true “gentleman” did not actually work for a living but sponged off the locals while perfecting his golf or polo game. These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges. Even the Olympics, though, finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.
In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of “amateurism” in any other part of society, or even any other corner of university life, it would be considered absurd. Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers? Economists? Poets?
When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she still was able to perform in the “amateur” school shows despite the fact she had already been paid as an actress. Engineering students are still allowed to study engineering at a university even if a private party pays them for their labor over the summer. Students don’t get kicked out of the school glee club just because they make money at night singing in a bar. The student council president isn’t going to be suspended by her school if she makes money over the summer at a policy think tank.
In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics. I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.
The importance of government largess to sports, including publicly-funded stadiums, has been a frequent topic on this blog. Recently, the CEO of the Fiesta Bowl John Junker was fired for a number of alleged violations related to campaign contributions and favors for politicians. This story is virtually inevitable.
The Fiesta Bowl benefits enormously from being one of the four BCS bowl games. In fact, the difference economically between being one of the four BCS bowl games and being one of the numerous other bowls is roughly the difference between the United States and, say, Peru. To give one a sense, the prize money for winning a BCS bowl is about $18 million. The prize money for all other bowl games varies from $325,000 to, at most, $4.25 million.
But the Fiesta Bowl would almost certainly not be one of the four BCS bowls were it not for the city of Glendale building a half billion dollar stadium to be shared by our NFL franchise and the Fiesta Bowl. It would almost be shocking if a few tens of thousands of dollars were not directed to politicians given the stakes on the table. And it should be no surprise that politicians in Glendale received many of the payments.
Postscript: Junker's attorney's comments are telling. This was all about doing what it takes to make the Fiesta Bowl a big player. And I can tell you, from all the grief I have gotten for defending a Constitutional principle at the expense of holding on to a sports franchise, there is a strong public lobby for the ends justifying the means when sports are involved. Anyway, here is the quote:
While Junker declined SI.com's request to be interviewed for this story, his lawyer, Stephen M. Dichter, could not resist issuing an e-mailed reminder that it was his client "who took the Fiesta Bowl from a postseason game created so [that] Frank Kush's ASU Sun Devils would have a game in which they could be showcased while they and the rest of the WAC were completely ignored by the national media to its present position as one of the four pillars of the Bowl Championship Series."