Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The State of Sooner Football

About nine months ago I began writing this post in rough form following a pair of painful and disappointing losses to begin the 2016 Sooner football season. I refined it a bit about midway through the season, but as prospects were improving, I put it back on the shelf not wanting to post something that seemed too critical during a season-comeback effort. The post is more about the long run trend than the short run noise (good or bad). With today's news it seems appropriate to consider the thought experiment...

Bob Stoops has chosen to retire. His contributions to OU have been tremendous. I am and always have been a very strong fan and supporter of Stoops--at times perhaps an apologist. I will miss him being on my team's sideline. He reawakened The Monster. He was an innovator. On the field and off the field he pursued and achieved excellence. Looking back at his tenure it is easy to pine for what could have been. But the fair reflection would be to consider that it is only because of what did happen are we as fans in a position to regret what could have been--his leadership brought OU to such heights that we could see mountain tops yet to climb. [sappy but true]

Here is the post I originally started last football season; the strong finish to the 2016 season, sadly Bob Stoops last, caused me to revise my priors somewhat...

Starting with the premise that OU's expectations of championship-level football have not been met during the last 8 years (2009-2016); what is the explanation? 

Make no mistake about it, the past 8 years have been at a VERY high level of success--what 95% of teams would consider completely satisfying and what >50% of teams could never dream of: 
  • 81-24 overall record--77%.
  • 5-3 bowl record (bowl game every year including 4 major bowls).
  • 1 national championship competed for (lost to Clemson in semifinals).
  • 4 conference titles; competitive (my view) 5 of 8 years (50%!!! but against a debilitated league).
  • Record breaking performances by both the team and individuals including several players competing for top national awards--the Heisman among them. (My views on the Heisman reflect why this is an after thought in this list.)
Yet the prior 10 years were stronger: 
  • 109-24 overall record--82%.
  • 4-6 bowl record (bowl game every year including 7 major bowls).
  • 4 national championships competed for (won against Florida St.; lost to LSU, USC, and Florida).
  • 6 conference titles; competitive 9 of 10 years (60%!!! against a very tough league)
  • Even more record breaking performances and quite a few more awards won including two Heismans, FWIW.
The records are both great and quite close except for the nuance that OU's contention for titles (national and conference) was much stronger. 

So, given the premise, I can think of three possibilities and two alternatives:

1. The Sooners have simply been unlucky the past 8 years.

2. They were lucky in the beginning of the Stoops era (the first 10 years before the last 8 years) and the ability to reach OU's lofty expectations simply was never there.
3. They were up to fulfilling expectations at the beginning of the Stoops era but now they have faded in capabilities (the game as passed them by).

Alternatively we could say:

4. The premise is bad because they actually have been competing at a championship level--just less completely as might be possible/desired (i.e., too few championships achieved).

5. The expectation was faulty (i.e., they shouldn't expect to compete at a championship level).

I hope for 1, fear 2, and slightly suspect 3, but I highly suspect 4 and strongly reject 5. That puts me in possibility 1 assuming the premise and alternative 4 if I can question it.

Assuming the premise, my guess is about 70% of all Sooner fans fall into possibility 1, about 10% fall into 2, and about 20% fall into 3. But these answers would have been significantly different if looked at right after the loss to Ohio State and a 1-2 start to the 2016 season.
Allowing for the alternatives, I would then guess that the assignment of Sooner fans would be about like this:

% of Fans

The fans that don't jump from possibility 1 to possibility 4 once we allow the questioning of the premise probably have unrealistic expectations--they think their team should ALWAYS win. I am tempted to dismiss these folks as fans who think the winning team "just wanted it more". I am tempted to dismiss fans who jump to possibility 5 (presumably from possibilities 2 or 3) as fans who would be happier rooting for a much lesser team so as to increase the emotional gain from a win and decrease the emotional pain of a loss (i.e., no true Sooners).

All fans will make their own evaluations over the course of the Lincoln Riley era, though, probably not with the formality I bring to the matter. And the measure will be how does that era match up to all 18 amazing years under Stoops. I wish Bob the best and thank him for the happiness he brought me as a fan.

I wish Lincoln luck. I fully expect that he has what it takes to keep the Sooners' status as a contender, but satisfying The Monster takes more than ability. It takes luck.

Boomer Sooner!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I'll Have What She's Having

This email from Marco Bresba to Tyler Cowen on food versus music as social status signature really resonated with me.

I have always been out of step with music culture. Growing up I was 1-2 decades behind my peers enjoying music from my parent's generation and the 1/2 generation between us. Because I never liked kid's music, though, I was an outsider in kindergarten (listening to adult music) and then an outsider in junior high and high school for the same reason. My horizons have very much broadened in the past two decades and I have friends, lovers, and (mostly) the Internet to thank for that.

People think of me as a foodie, a title I cringe at a bit when assigned to me. I am definitely 1+ standard deviations to the right on food knowledge, experience, and willingness. But at the same time, I know what I don't know and don't do.

My relationship with food and my fellow man is a perfect microcosm for how I see most issues. I agree with no one. On the one hand I try to hold back a knee-jerk, mocking disdain for those to the left of me on the distribution (to abuse that analogy a bit more). The complacency (and that is the perfect methaphor) aggravates my less-charitable self. Eventually I come around to my higher principles--de gustibus non est disputandum--and I seek to accept their mockery of my choices leaving an open door to help guide them along the journey should they choose enlightenment. And yes, I am being sarcastic about my arrived status because . . .

On the other hand I have a hard time hiding my inner-eye roll at those reaching mightily for ultimate food nirvana. My knee-jerk reaction to those demonstrating their fringe and elite status is to assume it is not genuine. I keep waiting for them to rediscover the hot dog, but only concede that it is a desired food once deconstructed from a food truck or simply for the sake of irony. This extreme is its own version of complacency. Rather than make choices for themselves, we have a group looking to peers for the next best (and approved) thing.

This is me at any dinner party. I am either the most avant-garde among a group of conventional wisdom followers (whose motto might be "Choose Sliced Bread, the best thing from here on out!) or I am the most conventional (small-c conservative) among a group of would-be trend setters. Like I say, my food tastes are a microcosm. For once conversation starts I will find myself uneasily choosing how much to politely disagree and hoping the others will appreciate that true respect comes not from acquiescence but from honest/divergent/challenging discussion.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

To UBI, or not to UBI

Alternatively titled, "I Wish I Were BIG".

An idea that has been percolating for a couple years now is a replacement of the current welfare/income transfer system with a Universal Basic Income (UBI) or Basic Income Guarantee (BIG). This idea has origins back to Milton Friedman's Negative Income Tax idea first introduced in Capitalism and Freedom back in 1962.

Watch this space. I predict this idea grows to dominate the debate especially as the unarguably unsustainable social welfare systems reach critical breaking points.

I find the idea fascinating for a number of reasons. My biases creep in all along this debate starting with its origins with Friedman. Some central considerations:

  1. Is the proposal(s) simplification a feature or a bug? My bias is to always simplify all else equal.
  2. Does it replace the entire welfare system (including Medicare and Social Security)? My bias is to replace it all.
  3. Can we reliably replace rather than have this be a politically-captured add on to the current mess? My bias is to avoid opportunities for add on--i.e., I worry about this risk.
  4. Can we trust people to make their own decisions (i.e., cash versus in-kind support)? My bias is to allow adults to be adults and not dictate their choices at least not through the government. On-the-ground private charity will undoubtedly find their mileage varies along this dimension. 
  5. Should it be a very basic subsistence level of aid or a substantial amount (i.e., allow you to pursue that well-fed artist career you've always dreamed of)? My bias is to the low end.
The tension between directional versus destination libertarians is thick here. The interesting and constructive debate is fully within the directional camp (i.e., is this a long-term improvement towards the ideal?). By no means is this a first-best solution (i.e., not a destination).

Bryan Caplan is against the idea. My bias is to first assume Caplan is correct in all things he has a strong opinion on. David Henderson agrees with Caplan. The discussion between Caplan and Ed Dolan is a very thorough treatment of the topic (DEFINITELY read the whole thing). Now cue Mike Munger to start making the strong case for it. Arnold Kling was not impressed. And he makes a strong point about means-tested aid versus behavior-tested aid including where (government or private charity) the competitive advantage in each resides. 

The devil is in the details SO MUCH in this quagmire. Perhaps the most critical (and damning) question is who would be politically capable of achieving this type of a change. While I am very sympathetic to the idea, I cannot conceive of any name attached to the Congressional act that would give me any trust I could support the measure.

P.S., Sorry for all the "i.e." use.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Cure for What Ails American Trade

Trump wants to “win” international trade, and he is considering renegotiation of finalized deals and taxes (for imports) and subsidies (for exports) to accomplish the feat. Those won’t work. Here is what will.

You have to make America lousy, again for the first time. Cue the action plan—do them all for the full interactive effect (links are in some cases NSFW):
  1. American assets are too attractive to foreigners. Require that U.S.-based assets cannot have more than 25% foreign ownership.
  2. The dollar’s too damn high! We have to make import purchases less desirable and export sales more desirable. Inflation is the tool for the task. Announce and begin immediately paying off all U.S. government liabilities (interest, salaries, and debts) with newly created money. Hey, we just cured the national debt as well. 
  3. Rates of return are too good. Increase taxes especially on savings/investment. Take the current rates, and double them.
  4. Importing is too easy. Prohibit customs processing for imports on days that begin with the letters “W” or “T” (for “Win Trade”).
  5. Reduce property rights. The security investors enjoy knowing that American assets are relatively secure in title and protected from theft and abuse is making investment in America too desirable. Start with strong asset forfeiture confiscation and regulation which effects de facto takings. 

This is just a start. If we really put our minds to it, we can certainly screw this place up.

P.S., I can’t believe I just linked to Krugman. See what Trump has done to this country!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Highly Linkable - "progress" report edition

Let us begin with all the answers: The Cato Handbook for Policy Makers - it reads like stereo instructions for solving public policy problems.

Tyler Cowen has a new book, The Complacent Class, this short video is a good introduction. He suggests you can turn the book into winning advice. And perhaps it offers a unique explanation of Trump.

More from Cowen: Let he who cannot assimilate cast the first stone.

The Trump Rally? Scott Sumner cautions against the conventional view.

Dollars, Taxes: It is that time of year again. One of the promised blessings of President Trump is tax reform. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the version we will get is anything but ideal. Cowen explains. And Scott Sumner points out what economists know about taxes that the general public doesn't.

Do we need a national health policy? Steven Landsburg strongly suggests the question is silly on its face and requires more and different thought than what is generally offered.

One area of public policy Trump is offering no progress on is Social Security along with its ~$11 TRILLION of unfunded liability (i.e., debt in addition to the official national debt). Regardless of the chances, Bob Murphy has thought through a first-step solution to be considered before the inevitable changes to the benefit formula: Let people opt out. 

Speaking of letting people make decisions for themselves (and why shouldn't we given that they are in the best position to make good decisions as it concerns themselves), a surprising thing happened to an Ivy-league professor when she did a study of check-cashing businesses by working at one. She changed her mind about the business's virtues. (HT: David Henderson)

Scott Alexander kindly suggests some groups of people who we don't have to hate.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

It is hard to stop planning--to go from preparing, which is safe and a bit fun, to actually doing. It can be hard to actually use stuff you've been keeping for that special occasion or rainy day. But that is why you were keeping it in the first place! 

Studying is ultimately about performance on the test. Practice is ultimately about playing in the game. Planning is ultimately about execution. Saving is deferred but eventual using.

In Evernote I have a note that serves as a brainstorm journal on blogposts I am planning to write but haven't yet. It is literally 19 pages long. Lack of time and a character flaw of perfectionism are my excuses for the procrastination.

Here is some good advice on converting planning into doing. 

Here is the case against 'just-in-case' items. 

Often we are not actually planning at all--we are just daydreaming. Daydreams can be ends in themselves, but their seductive allure can be destructive as they can be the antithesis of achievement. Daydreaming can be the first stage in the three-act progression (dream-plan-achieve). It can also be a fantasy world that doesn't and won't ever exist. Recognizing which one you are engaged in is vital to success. It is easy to confuse yourself in this regard and easier still to confuse those who are making their own plans around yours. 

My advice, which is for myself as much as anyone, is to not allow the 'someday I'd like to ...' daydreaming without honestly identifying if I am writing fiction or making plans. Ideally this would avoid the confusion of daydreaming as ends and daydreaming as means. Get busy living or get busy dying. There are enough real constraints preventing us from 'someday' being 'today'. Life doesn't need any help with roadblocks. Aspire to the end result, but admit that aspiration is just fruitless desire in the absence of actual progress. Plan to do.

R.I.P. Rosling and Arrow

This month saw the passing of two giants. Not many people in history truly change minds. These two men did.

Kenneth Arrow: Among his many contributions, he proved that majority-voting will always lead to suboptimal results. There are many fine tributes linked here.

Hans Rosling: Among his many contributions, he showed time and again that what we believe about poverty and development is simply and tragically wrong. Tim Harford has a great More or Less podcast tribute. The NYT obit is good too.

May their ideas, influence, and spirits live on.