Bookmakers in European and US sports

As an American I always get a kick out of bookmakers being involved with professional sports in Europe. Here in the US the major sports leagues want nothing to do with gambling ventures, but in Europe bookmakers can advertise and even sponsor teams. Why the difference?

Off the top of my head I can think of two alternate explanations. The first is that US sports consumers have a lower tolerance for (perceived) corruption. Italy has often been in the news for corruption in its association football system and I’m sure there are other instances. However, Europe has too many different people and cultures for this explanation to cover them all. It might sound appealing (to Americans) at first but I don’t think it’s very strong.

The other explanation is that gambling is legal in much of Europe. It was run by reputable organizations long before organized crime had a chance to get involved. There is no suggestion that these outfits compromise the integrity of the game (read: product). Because 1) gambling has traditionally been illegal in most places in the US and 2) people still want to do it, the void has often been filled by organized crime. With no reputation at stake and little else to lose at the organization level, the mob is free to (attempt to) influence the outcomes of games. Thus the major US leagues shy away from it.

Assuming gambling laws liberalize in the future this aversion to gambling sponsorship will probably pass too. Interestingly, there have recently developed ways to stake and win money based on the outcomes of sporting events that comply with gambling laws. As these are run by reputable companies the probability of fast-forwarding the process is high. From the position that gambling should always have been legal in the first place this is good news.


The decline of private detective fiction

“Get this, and get it straight: crime is a sucker’s road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison, or the grave. There’s no other end…but they never learn!”

So began each episode of my favorite old time radio show, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Except for a couple episodes, the stories were radio originals not based on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories. The complexities of Chandler’s stories were far too much for a 30-minute radio show. Still, the writers did an admirable job and occasionally penned some characters and turns of phrase Chandler would have been proud of. Gerald Mohr’s portrayal of Marlowe was outstanding. I’ve been a fan for years but still have plenty of episodes left to enjoy. But when I finish?

It’s a shame the era of the great fictional private detective is over. Private detectives still exist, probably still have interesting adventures, and are still written about, but it’s clear the winds have changed. Why not? Maybe tastes changed, sure, but that could be said about anything. Some possible reasons:

1. Law enforcement technology is better now; police can do more at lower cost. The relatively limited capabilities of the police back then left more room for private detectives than exists now. Greater law enforcement capability also makes second opinions less valuable. The first ones get it right more often e.g. in forensic analysis. This helps to explain why fiction involving official law enforcement is still thriving.

1a. The scope of law enforcement has changed as well. A lot of crime is related to illegal drugs. From the point of view of the aggrieved parties there’s less uncertainty about the culprits, less interest in using third parties to handle them, and of course more official police interest.

2. A lot of old detective stories had some element of blackmail and shameful secrets that the clients don’t want made known. These still exist, but the circle of things that can be successfully covered up or that people are willing to bear great costs to cover up is smaller. Example 1: a criminal past one is making a clean break from is a matter of public record, and communication technology makes it easier to transmit. Employers, fiancé(e)s, prospective fathers-in-law, et al. are much more likely to find out, so blackmailers don’t have special leverage. (This example ties in with point 1.) Example 2: sexual mores are much less restrictive, making blackmail based on violations of sexual mores decline.

2a. A lot of the clients come from Old Money. The greater development of the market makes Old Money families less prominent. People may look askance at you if your cousin or nephew is a ne’er-do-well but you aren’t risking the family honor as much as you once did, and Rich Uncle Moneybags is less likely to shell out.

3. There are more and more ways to display/broadcast high status, so people have less incentive (read: motive) to fight over any single one. Stolen art objects or jewelry feature often in detective fiction. Today’s lowbrow would-be thieves can peacock in less risky ways. Today’s highbrow would-be thieves can indulge in the greater supply of modern art or tribal art instead of taking the risk to steal a Ming vase, or make a public commitment to a trendy political cause.

4. The Cold War. Cold War fiction must have been a partial substitute for detective fiction, and the characters there are mainly state agents who need access to special information, gadgets, and budgets beyond the reach of private eyes. There were detective stories about Communist spies but they were not the bread and butter of the genre, and subjectively they didn’t hold up as well as the other kinds.

5. Urban population as a percentage of total US population was 56.5% in 1940 vs. 80.7% in 2010. Increasing urbanization led to more audience familiarity with the kinds of things in detective fiction, making the stories less exotic and more like fleshed-out versions of the newspaper crime section.

1 and 2 each probably have a decently high R2, and the rest are plausible but probably don’t cover as much ground. I’m sure there are more. In any event old episodes of the Sam Spade radio show are still out there.


Liverpool 77

In the 77th minute of today’s Liverpool-Sunderland match, thousands of fans got up to leave the stadium to protest the recent increase of ticket prices to £77. It just so happened to coincide with a defensive meltdown, and Liverpool’s 2-0 lead was erased to a 2-2 draw. Liverpool slipped from eighth place to ninth, while Sunderland remained steady at nineteenth—out of twenty. It was very illustrative of the gulf between American and British sports culture. No US fan likes a ticket price increase, but during the week Liverpool FC media were livid about them, using terms like “betrayal”. US fans often leave games en masse but usually because the score is too lopsided and there’s no realistic hope of victory for their team.

I’d like to be able to think it through but there are so many differences (beyond the game) that I could only fail at making sense of it.


Housing supply and demand in New Zealand

Via the Radio New Zealand podcast, I just heard a story about the “catastrophic” condition of New Zealand’s housing market. The piece referred to a report claiming New Zealand’s housing market is the least affordable of the 22 countries it analyzed. My attention: you have it. This article is a shorter version of the radio piece.

The presenter maintained neutrality about the cause, but thankfully Property Countil chief executive Connal Townsend spelled it out for listeners:

It’s a catastrophic regulatory failure.

Decisions were made years ago to artificially constrain the availability of land and it’s the golden law of economics that when you, through regulation, constrain the supply of a commodity it drives the price up.

Prices are signals about resource allocation. In rising they signal to producers to increase production. If they don’t respond, there must be a reason.

I can’t remember the name of the Green Party spokesman who presented the other point, and it’s not included in the web version, but he suggested the problem was…wait for it…a lack of government action.

If I can be forgiven for using Thomas Sowell’s phrase “a conflict of visions” for my own purposes, it’s the perfect phrase here. The rational choice worldview that considers incentives has a very elegant and empirically-supported answer. The social creationist worldview imagines the whole thing to be the result of society’s inability to adjust itself, for mysterious reasons, which planners must counteract by conscious effort.

New Zealand readers may object that I know nothing about the specifics of the situation. They’d be right. I’m not from New Zealand, have never been there, and mainly listen to the podcast for the great accents while I do Saturday morning chores. But there are constants in human behavior. People in New Zealand, like people everywhere, respond to incentives unless prevented from doing so.

It may be that land use restrictions intended to minimize the impact of humans on New Zealand’s famous natural beauty are at the same time 1) the culprit in the housing price situation and 2) justified anyway for other reasons. That’s a reasonable position to hold—as long as you acknowledge the cost.

Bonus question: which segments of New Zealand society are worst off in this situation?


Lessons from Making a Murderer

[Warning: contains spoilers.]

The documentary series Making a Murderer is making the rounds in the media right now after being released in mid-December. I watched it all over just a few days and recommend it highly. Here are some thoughts about its implications.

[Warning: contains spoilers.]

1. Part of the show’s message is that Avery is probably innocent. Another part is that he was not given a fair trial, nor was his nephew. In the nephew’s case it seems very clear that his confession was manipulated and should be thrown out. As far as Avery goes, the series presents him as innocent but a quick search around the internet will give some reasons to think he was not. I don’t know, but police and prosecutors didn’t appear to act fairly. On balance it seems to me the reasonable doubt criterion was satisfied.

More broadly, beyond this case, police and prosecutors have powers—both de jure and de facto—that would blow the average citizen’s mind to find out. Regardless of Avery’s guilt or innocence I’m glad to see the presentation of what the state’s side of the legal system is capable of. The public may think it’s a good thing on net, but they need to know what kind of tool it is. It can be used for good purposes, yes, but there’s no guarantee of that. People know this abstractly, but the concrete portrayal in the series does the Lord’s work. (Regrettably, the Annie Dookhan case had very little impact.)

How often are situations like this happening all over the country? Probably every day. One of the things I thought as I watched was how taxing being a good judge must be. As a judge you inevitably preside over and influence false positives and false negatives, and beyond knowing these are possible there is really no way to know which is which in any case. My subjective impression is that most judges tend to side with the state more or less automatically, sacrificing quality for comfort.

2. What the purpose of law enforcement? Really the question is what are the purposes of law enforcement? (Here I take the broadest view of law enforcement systems, including those in societies that don’t/didn’t have dedicated state apparatus for it e.g. medieval Iceland, pre-contact American Indian groups, etc.) One of the purposes is to keep order. Societies that are too disordered don’t allow for human flourishing. Another purpose is to set the public’s mind at ease. In general, people will tolerate quite a few questionable cases if they think the system overall is working (from their perspective; if you’re on the receiving end of a questionable case you don’t feel that way). While I don’t like it I can see why police and prosecutors would zero in on suspects they think they can convict at the expense of exploring other less certain investigative paths. This is why protections for the accused are so important and why Brendan Dassey’s manipulated confession was so heinous.1 If people can be punished for crimes they didn’t commit, i.e. if their choices and their life outcomes are severely disconnected by non-random events, we are back to the disordered society.

3. Imagine the details of this case being substantially the same, only in Mississippi and with the accused being black. Now go back to the case as it happened. What are the essential components of both stories? So I’m not misunderstood, I don’t doubt racism influences the legal system. What I’m saying is there is more than one troubling factor at play. There is only so much social attention to devote to the list of social problems, and society may prefer to focus on racism inside and outside of the legal system more than other problems within the legal system, but tradeoffs always exist.


1. How many of the people who are outraged about this case also think lower evidentiary standards for college rape tribunals are a good idea?


David Malo on autocracy, pt. 2

While the authority of the kings in ancient Hawai’i was and is described as more or less absolute, selections from Mo’olelo Hawai’i, chapter 38: The Civil Polity demonstrate some constraints:

46. One thing which the kalaimoku [the king’s right-hand-man and chief agent] impressed upon the king was to protect the property of the chiefs as well as that of the common people; not to rob them, not to appropriate wantonly the crops of the common people.
47. If the king made tour about the island, when night fell, the proper thing for him to do was to camp down by the highway, and the next morning to proceed on his journey. It was not right for him to enter the house of commoner to pass the night; that was all wrong and was termed alaiki, the short way.
48. The wrong lay in the fact that when the king entered the house of common man his men entered with him. They ate of the commoner’s food, helped themselves to his goods, seduced or ravished the females, acted disgracefully, and raised the devil generally.
49. Their counsel to the king was that when, in travelling along the alaloa, he came to branch-road, he was not to follow the branch, because that was bad practice. The branch-road was called mooa, or meheu. (Mooa, bending of the grass; meheu, trail, trace.)
50. The evil lay in the fact that when the king left the beaten way, the people followed along with him. The path led probably to little farm—mahina ai—and as soon as the king’s men saw it they pulled the crops, helping themselves to the sugar-cane, etc., and the blame for the outrage fell upon the king.
51. Another reason why the king should not turn aside to follow a by-path was because it might lead to house where women were beating tapa—hale kuku—and if the king’s men found her to be handsome looking woman, they might ravish her, in which case the king would be blamed for the deed.
52. The proper course for the king was to camp at night by the highway. If the people put up house for him, well and good. If not, let his own retinue set up for him tent, and let him eat the food he brought with him. The king who would follow this plan would not have to issue any orders to the districts for food; he would be called king of superior wisdom. (Alii noeau loa), prudent king.
53. Again when the king went on canoe-voyage around the island, he should not let his canoes tack back and forth, off and on, in towards the land and out to sea again, lest, by so doing, they should come across fleet of fishing canoes, and the fishermen, being robbed of their fish, should lay the blame upon the king.
54. The right plan in sailing would be to keep the canoe on straight course from the cape just passed to the one ahead, and when that was doubled to steer directly for the next cape, and so on until the destination was reached.

67. It is the king’s duty to seek the welfare of the common people, because they constitute the body politic. Many kings have been put to death by the people because of their oppression of the makaainana.
68. The following kings lost their lives on account of their cruel exactions on the commoners: …
71. It was for this reason that some of the ancient kings had wholesome fear of the people. But the commoners were sure to be defeated when the king had right on his side.

Many, perhaps all ancient societies had similar implicit constitutional provisions.


Contra Hayek, Maybe: The Intellectuals and Christianity

In The Intellectuals and Socialism Hayek attributes the success of socialist thought to its penetration among intellectuals, defined as “second-hand dealers in ideas” such as writers, editors, and pillars of the community, who were not theorists but relayed the ideas of theorists to the people at large. Students of Hayek to the present day have tended to accept this hypothesis, but I think it is incomplete.

Consider a narrower case. The traditional accounts of who wrote the Bible haven’t held up to scrutiny very well. Scholars of the New Testament almost universally agree that the fourteen books of the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul were not all written by him.* David Aune writes in the Blackwell Companion to the New Testament:

While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e. written by unknown authors under Paul’s name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).

Some scholars go lower than seven. F.C. Baur went as low as four (Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans), and Bruno Bauer went all the way to zero. Regardless of the actual number or the possible biases of individual scholars, the fact is the consensus is lower than fourteen (or thirteen, removing the anonymous and long-debated Epistle to the Hebrews). Included in the consensus are the reasoned opinions of many self-professed Christians, who make up a majority of Biblical scholars. Even the Vatican, as official an organization as can be, acknowledges that this is the consensus, although it appears to lend greater weight to other theories.

There is a clear intellectual link between these Christian academics and the Christian faithful: church leaders and Christian writers. Yet it is far from common knowledge that even most scholars who are Christians deny Pauline authorship of a substantial number of the Pauline epistles, or that this is a topic of debate at all. The second-hand dealers in ideas have failed to relay what seems to be a very important piece of high academic theory to their non-specialist audiences. It is not as though these ideas are new; for example, Schleiermacher challenged the authenticity of 1 Timothy in 1807.

The question, then, is why the process by which socialist ideas were transmitted from theorists to the public is not repeated for scholarly takes on the Bible. I can think of a few possible reasons:

  1. Most Christians already have stronger opinions about the Bible than citizens in general have about forms of social organization. The people who were influenced by socialist ideas adopted a position where they didn’t have one before. Changing minds is a bigger task than making them up.
  2. Socialism is a clearer articulation of a perspective people already had; social creationism is and has always been popular. They were already ripe for it in a way that Christians as a whole aren’t ripe for accepting the scholarly consensus or they were in effect already socialists, just waiting for a creed.
  3. The essential aspect of these beliefs is the psychological desire for purpose. Socialism as a new ideology provided it and the current product in Christianity provides it, not the “newer” scholarly version. In the minds of the consumers of the Christian message there’s nothing to improve. You don’t consistently give sermons nobody wants to hear or you end up talking to an empty room.
  4. There are more intellectual rōnin in this arena who end up dominating the narrative. The second-hand dealers in ideas are disconnected from the theorists in the realm of Christianity in ways they are not disconnected in other areas. This is probably the least credible. It may have some small explanatory power for popular Christian books, but for church leaders the situation is probably the reverse; seminaries are full of stubborn apologists, of course, but they often teach critical scholarship and employ critical scholars, and the boundary between the two groups is not firm.
  5. The information isn’t relevant. I think this one is, if not self-evidently false, at least highly unlikely. Apologist theorists have spilled a lot of ink dealing with this issue. Even those who don’t think it leads to significant changes think it’s relevant.

This only recently occurred to me so I am not confident in ranking these options. I suspect some mix of 2 and 3.

I sign off for now with Colossians 1:24-26:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.

…wherever it came from.


* I use this case as an example but it extends far beyond the New Testament, and indeed beyond Christianity.


Wednesday nexus

1. R.I.P. Douglass North, 1993 Economics Nobel laureate, 1920–2015. Bio here; New York Times obituary here.

2. Alex Tabarrok tackles a persistent meme about refugees.

3. Don Boudreaux on trusting political leaders:

In short, when the subject of discussion or the object of action is the economy, politicians and their deputies typically sound and act as if they are imbeciles (or as if the audiences they aim to please are made up largely of imbeciles). So why should I trust that these same politicians and their deputies, when they discuss and act on matters about which I know far less than economics, are not imbeciles? Why should I suppose them to be any more informed, reasonable, and wise – and less politically motivated – than they are when they discuss economics?

4. Two can play this game: How Democrats Suppress the Vote. I’m kicking myself for never having thought or read about this before, though in fairness I suppose very few people have.

Scheduling local elections at odd times appears to be a deliberate strategy aimed at keeping turnout low, which gives more influence to groups like teachers unions that have a direct stake in the election’s outcome.

The article draws largely from a book by political scientist Sarah Anzia that I guess I’ll have to read now.

5. And some levity: The 12 coaches rumored for every college football job opening ever. Teaser:

1. The Back The Truck Up dream coach you deserve: This is [your university], dammit. Before you even think of calling any of these other candidates, you get out that dang checkbook, you sit down in front of the most accomplished and least interested NFL or college head coach, and you make him say no.


Bias in social psychology

Via Twitter, a new study suggesting a large body of social psychology research may be seriously biased. The abstract, with my emphasis:

Prior research suggests that liberals are more complex than conservatives. However, it may be that liberals are not more complex in general, but rather only more complex on certain topic domains (while conservatives are more complex in other domains). Four studies (comprised of over 2,500 participants) evaluated this idea. Study 1 involves the domain specificity of a self-report questionnaire related to complexity (dogmatism). By making only small adjustments to a popularly used dogmatism scale, results show that liberals can be significantly more dogmatic if a liberal domain is made salient. Studies 2–4 involve the domain specificity of integrative complexity. A large number of open-ended responses from college students (Studies 2 and 3) and candidates in the 2004 Presidential election (Study 4) across an array of topic domains reveals little or no main effect of political ideology on integrative complexity, but rather topic domain by ideology interactions. Liberals are higher in complexity on some topics, but conservatives are higher on others. Overall, this large dataset calls into question the typical interpretation that conservatives are less complex than liberals in a domain-general way.

This immediately made me think of another recent paper about the lack of political diversity in social psychology [summarized by one of the authors here]. The abstract of that paper, with my emphasis:

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

For what little it’s worth, this fits with my subjective impressions about the current intellectual climate. In my experience the thought leaders on the left typically cannot even characterize libertarian ideas properly, much less understand them on a deeper level, and, perhaps secure in their dominance, are extremely dismissive of them and the people who hold them. We could hardly expect it to be be much better for people who don’t earn a living by research and instruction, and a quick perusal of just about any corner of the internet will confirm this pessimism. To a lesser extent the same thing seems to happen with conservative ideas, although I admit I pay less attention to these.

The problem, of course, is that the marketplace of ideas only works if it’s competitive. If the academic climate is dogmatic and hostile to minority positions, refusing to engage with them, how could we expect the ideas that emerge to be the strongest?


I have always enjoyed the apocryphal story of Pauline Kael musing that she couldn’t believe Nixon was elected president, as nobody she knew voted for him. The true quote is still interesting and not very comforting:

I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.


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