Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Price Controls Decrease Wealth

Capitalism leads to wealth because capitalism is no more than the opportunity for people to discover mutually beneficial trades. In every transaction both the buyer and seller are made better off, and when people are given ample freedom they will negotiate prices and exchanges such that all mutually beneficial exchanges are made.

Imposing price controls impedes on this freedom, thus placing obstacles to mutually beneficial trades and decreasing wealth.

To demonstrate this feature in my class I give students demand and supply curves, allow them to buy and sell a hypothetical good, and assign them grades based on their profits. In two trading sessions I imposed price controls. One time I enacted a price floor and one time I enacted a price ceiling, and in both cases the overall level of wealth statistically and unambiguously declined.

Five Minute Management Course

This was sent to me by a student...

5-Minute Management Course

Lesson 1:

A man is getting into the shower just as his wife is finishing up her shower, when the doorbell rings.

The wife quickly wraps herself in a towel and runs downstairs.

When she opens the door, there stands Bob , the next-door neighbor..

Before she says a word, Bob says, 'I'll give you $800 to drop that towel.'

After thinking for a moment, the woman drops her towel and stands naked in front of Bob , after a few seconds, Bob hands her $800 and leaves.

The woman wraps back up in the towel and goes back upstairs.

When she gets to the bathroom, her husband asks, 'Who was that?'

'It was Bob the next door neighbor,' she replies.

'Great,' the husband says, 'did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?'

Moral of the story:

If you share critical information pertaining to credit and risk with your shareholders in time, you may be in a position to prevent avoidable exposure.

Lesson 2:

A priest offered a Nun a lift.

She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg.

The priest nearly had an accident.

After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'

The priest removed his hand. But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.
The nun once again said, 'Father, remember Psalm 129?'

The priest apologized 'Sorry sister but the flesh is weak.'

Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, 'Go forth and seek, further up, you will find glory.'

Moral of the story:
If you are not well informed in your job, you might miss a great opportunity.

Lesson 3:

A sales rep, an administration clerk, and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp.

They rub it and a Genie comes out.
The Genie says, 'I'll give each of you just one wish.'
'Me first! Me first!' says the admin clerk 'I want to be in the Bahamas , driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.'
Puff! She's gone.

'Me next! Me next!' says the sales rep. 'I want to be in Hawaii , relaxing on the beach with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Pina Coladas and the love of my life.'

Puff! He's gone.

'OK, you're up,' the Genie says to the manager.
The manager says, 'I want those two back in the office after lunch'

Moral of the story:
Always let your boss have the first say.

Lesson 4

An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing.

A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, 'Can I also sit like you and do nothing?'
The eagle answered: 'Sure, why not.'

So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.

Moral of the story:
To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.

Lesson 5

A turkey was chatting with a bull.

'I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree' sighed the turkey, 'but I haven't got the energy.'
'Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?' replied the bull. They're packed with nutrients..'
T he turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.

Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree.

He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.

Moral of the story:
Bull Shit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there..

Lesson 6

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field.

While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him.

As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was.&nb! sp;

The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy.
A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.

Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him.

Morals of the story:
(1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.

(2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your

(3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep
your mouth shut!

Send this to (at least) five bright, humorous people who have enough of a sense of humor to laugh at it!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Experimental Markets: Introduction

This semester I teach a class consisting of 220 students. The class earns the students 4 hours of credit, and to earn one of those hours they must participate in a weekly laboratory where they act as buyers and sellers. Buyers work off demand curves and sellers work off marginal cost curves, both attempting to make profits and will be graded based off their profits. There are two sessions in each lab, and each student acts as both a buyer and a seller during each lab.

In a series of postings I will document various experiments conducted with the students to illustrate the intersection of government and markets. This posting is an introduction.

After two weeks of learning how to trade and calculate profits, last week the teams played for real for the first time. There were a total of 102 buyers and 102 sellers, and while trading was dispersed across four labs, I will treat them as if they all traded in one single market.

Sellers - Their marginal cost curves were MC = 3 + 1.1(q).
Buyers - Their demand curves were 17 - 1.1(q)

Supply and demand theory predicts that the equilibrium price will be 10 exactly and the equilibrum quantity will be 649. What actually happened? The weighted average price was 10.38 and the total bought/sold was 567. As far as price is considered, it would be hard for supply and demand to predict their behavior any better.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Simon Newcomb on Educating the Public

The Problem of Economic Education by Simon Newcomb in 1893 is one of the best articles I have read in some time, and provided me with greater enthusiasm for teaching economics. At the end of the article is a list of economic findings which we should champion, despite the public's resistance, and that list is perfectly relevant today.

HT: EconLog

Jan Helfeld Interviews

Since the beginning of economics we have tried to inject reason into public policy, but we all know that politicians often do not understand economics well or don't like what economics has to say.

To demonstrate this clearly to students, especially to demonstrate politician hypocracy, see the many Jan Helfeld interviews. I especially enjoy the interview with Pelosi on minimum wages.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Milton Friedman, Minimum Wage

Carpe Diem is awesome for teaching today...here is Milton Friedman on the minimum wage...

The Government Can

Funny video on role of government in society...

HT: Carpe Diem

Top Ten Teaching Mistakes

Good list, found here.

HT: Carpe Diem

Economic Tenets

Those teaching introductory economics courses should always try to focus on the most important tenets of economics. At Cafe Hayek they do a good job of citing Arthur Sheldon's list of these tenets...

I might add the finding that two people, two groups, or two countries can never be made worse off from trade. I guess the cite for that would be Marshall.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Steven Landsburg Video

Superb video by Steven Landsburg on externalities.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Need For Education Into Subsidies

A new survey indicates that a majority of people believe that subsidizing farmers is important to ensure a safe food supply. The results could have been affected by the wording of the question, as all survey results are, but let us suppose the finding is correct.

If the result is correct, we have a lot of educating to do. In a free capitalistic market, buyers and sellers are free to strike deals whenever the exchange benefits both parties. That is the beauty of a capitalistic system: all market transactions benefit both the buyer and the seller, and free markets allow buyers and the sellers to make as many of these mutually beneficial transactions as physically possible.

Subsidies essentially trick consumers into buying products they do not want. Suppose you purchase five bananas per week at the price of $0.50 per banana. You do not purchase six bananas, because you value the banana less than $0.50. Now the government subsidizes bananas, lowering the price to $0.40. You now consume six bananas per week, but you are still paying $0.50 per banana because the government subisides are paid for by tax dollars. You pay $0.40 per banana at the grocery store and an extra $0.10 in taxes.

Hence, subsidies make us pay for things we do not want. This is not an intuitive notion, why is why economics education is so important. After seeing this study, I have incorporated the need for education on subsidies into my course objectives for the next semester.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Grades in OK State Ag Econ

Below are the grades in OK State AG Econ Classes.

AGEC 1114, Peel - 2.85
AGEC 1114, Tilley - 2.60
AGEC 3103, Schatzer - 3.88
AGEC 3213, Schatzer - 2.73
AGEC 3323, Anderson - 3.33
AGEC 3333, Adam - 3.09
AGEC 3333, Norwood - 2.92
AGEC 3423, Vitale - 3.23
AGEC 3463, Kenkel - 3.76
AGEC 3503, Boyer - 3:00
AGEC 3603, Briggeman - 2.7
AGEC 3603, Starks - 2.65
AGEC 3703, Sanders - 2.98
AGEC 3713, Ferrell - 3.44
AGEC 4213, Norwood - 3.19
AGEC 4333, Brorsen - 2.97
AGEC 4343, Henneberry - 3.34
AGEC 4403, Dicks - 2.99
AGEC 4423, Tilley - 3.23
AGEC 4703, Dicks - 2.54
AGEC 4723, Woods - 3.46

AG 1011, Devuyst - 3.69
ANSI 1124, Damron - 2.71
ANSI 1124, Johnson - 2.85
NREM 1114, Kuzmic - 3.06
HORT 1013, Kahn - 1.95
SOIL 2124, Hattey - 2.62
STAT 2023, Masters - 2.25
ECON 2103 - all, 2.49

Saturday, July 4, 2009

if they could only be more cynical

pride and respect for government and law enforcement is admirable, in moderation...it would be a glorious achievement if our students could me slightly cynical regarding everything in government, even the beloved law enforcement...

examples to make one doubt the infallibility of police can always be found at Reason Brickbats

and it grows...and it grows

an example why the rate of government spending never stops rising

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How the Average American Spends Their Money

For a project this year, my students need to develop a financial plan for their working years and retirement. This includes a projected household budget during their working and retired years, and requires them to predict what percent of their income they will spend on food, transportation, and the like. I did not know these things myself.

To calculate these numbers, I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found their consumer expenditure surveys, which describe the income and how much money was spent in various categories for a large number of Americans. The raw numbers are biased because the respondents obviously did not understand how much they paid in taxes (they reported a much lower number than is possible). Consequently, I calculated the relative amount consumers spent within each category without accounting for taxes, and used these percentages to describe spending patters as a percentage of disposable income. The results are below.

These numbers are a good starting point, from which students can set values more consistent with their preferences.  Students will certainly want to change these values for retirement years.  By the time you retire your home mortgage should be paid, leaving your housing expenses only including utilities and taxes, implying the percent of income spent on housing should decline considerably.  There should be no life insurance in retirement, because that insurance protects your family against an early death.  And of course, in retirement, there should be zero dollars set aside for retirement, and I would suspect your out-of-pocket health expenses to be higher.

How Disposable Income Is Spent
Food at home 7.00%
Food away from home 5.70%
Housing 33.00%
Clothing 5.00%
Transportation 18.00%
Health Care (out of pocket) 5.70%
Entertainment 5.00%
Life Insurance 2.00%
Retirement 1.00%
Other Savings (e.g. children) 2.00%
Charity / Church 0.50%
Other 15.10%

Friday, June 26, 2009

Projecting Rates of Return

My introduction to agricultural economics students must write a paper calculating the percentage of income they need to save during their working years to adequately save for retirement. Additionally, they must articulate how they manage these savings through investment. Do they invest it all in stocks, bonds, or create a portfolio of stocks and bonds?

To perform this calculation, they must state the rate-of-return they expect to achieve using bonds, stocks, or savngs accounts. This requires an understanding of the historical rate of return of various investments, and an idea of the volatility of stocks. Below are some suggestions.

(1) This website provides great information about the historical rate-of-return of stocks, bonds, and cash investments (savings, CD's, and money market accounts). The user can even create a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and cash, and the calculator will show the average rate-of-return for that portfolio. What I like best is that the user can check "Adjust For Inflation" and it shows the real rate-of-return. Students should adjust the time period over which they wish investments to be evaluated, and since all we desire is a rate-of-return for stocks, bonds, and money market accounts, the amount of money invested doesn't matter. I encourage students to also check "Adjust growth for MER's", as that accounts for the fees you must pay financial advisors to purchase the investments for you.

(2) Students who are not familiar with certain financial terms can utilize the Forbes Financial Glossary.

(3) For an understanding of the riskiness of stocks, students can study this article by The Economist magazine. I particularly like the statement, "As a result, saving seems like pouring money into a black hole (see article). Any American who has diligently put $100 a month into a domestic equity mutual fund for the past ten years will find his pot worth less than he put into it; a European who did the same has lost a quarter of his money."

(4) The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article regarding the performance of stocks during the last 200 years. Within this discussion is information on the performance of stocks relative to safer investments, like bonds. Highlighs are: "As of June 30, U.S. stocks have underperformed long-term Treasury bonds for the past five, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years," and "Ever since Thomas Jefferson was in the White House, stocks have generated a "remarkably constant" average return of nearly 7% a year after inflation."

(5) The last table of the paper at this link provides an informative description of how the real rate-of-return for stocks can vary across different time periods in recent U.S. history.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Opportunity Costs, Livestock, and Colonial America

Economists enjoy explaining behavior as being dictated largely by opportunity costs (the value of the next best alternative).

Consider the level of care afforded to livestock in Colonial America in the Chesapeake (modern-day Maryland, Virginia) and New England. Both would realize rewards from giving their animals diligent care. New England did so, keeping a careful watch on their animals and providing their animals' needs in abundance. Chesapeake settlers, however, allowed their animals to roam the woods in a state resembling a wild animal. Each spring, it became a tradition to treck into the woods to look for their animals.

The difference? Opportunity costs. Chesapeake settlers had the cash crop called tobacco, which was too valuable to divert their own labor and that of their servants towards livestock. New England settlers could not grow tobacco well, so without this high opportunity costs, they choose wisely to exert much effort in animal husbandry.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reality of Politics

Many of my students enter college with a dangerously naive view of politicians. They think politicians should be revered, and often want to be a politician. Besides teaching them about the rent-seeking aspect of politics, which destroys their naive view of politicians performing the vital role of government efficiencyc, we need to clearly demonstrate their persistent hypocracy. Politicians should not be thought of as role-models.

See this entry for a good overview of the latest scandel involving John Ensign.

Death To America

Regardless of what you think of Bill Haher, you can learn something from Real Time. I recently learned that Death To America doesn't really mean they want to kill us. It is more of a "cute" statement. Muslims may say death to potatoes if they don't like potato salad.

Source: Real Time With Bill Maher, June 20, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Rational Man

Is anyone else sick of the generic behavioral economics journal article providing an experiment showing that humans are not perfectly rational in the specific context of the experiment?

Finally, some researchers are illustrating human's ability to reason.

Reason-Based Judgments: Using Reasons to Decouple Perceived Price-Quality Correlation

Ivo Vlaeva, Corresponding Author Contact Information, E-mail The Corresponding Author, Nick Chatera, Rich Lewisb and Greg Daviesa

aDepartment of Psychology, University College London, London, WC1H 0AP, UK

bDepartment of Psychology, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK

Received 23 October 2007;
revised 18 May 2009;
accepted 10 June 2009.
Available online 13 June 2009.


Many models of consumer behaviour assume that people evaluate price and quality independently. However, evidence shows that consumers perceive price and quality as positively related even when they are weakly correlated in the real markets. This paper explores whether this perceived relationship can be cognitively de-coupled by providing explicit reasons why low price and high quality may be compatible. The participants were asked to rate existing stores and fictitious stores in a two-dimensional price-quality space. When the participants were given plausible reasons why the seemingly high quality fictitious stores could have lower than average prices, their judgement of the price-quality relationship was significantly less correlated than when these stores were judged without such reasons. Therefore, the demonstrated phenomenon of reason-based judgments can be used to attenuate the typical price-quality overestimation, or heuristic, which has important implications for decision making research and marketing practice.

Keywords: judgment; reasons; price-quality correlation; consumer behaviour; decision making

Journal of Economic Psychology

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Passive Values and Policy

The concept of valuation and willingness-to-pay is receiving greater attention in the classroom. I recently ran across a paper discussing the importance of passive or existence values, where people value things even though they will not directly use them. We may receive pleasure knowing salmon can breed naturally as they have been doing for thousands of years, even if we will never visit those areas.

This paper, Importance of Including Use and Passive Use Values of River and Lake Restoration, by John Loomis, also illustated political meddling in economic valuation.

Great for teaching!

The COE originally planned to include a nonuse
value question in its economic analysis, but
intervention by then Washington Senator Slade
Gorton (who supported dam retention) resulted
in the question being removed from the survey.
Calculation of the non-use value for salmon and
free flowing rivers was done using benefit transfer
from existing non-use valuation studies. Using a
variety of benefit transfer protocols, the passive use
value of salmon was estimated for the dam removal
alternative at between $22.8 and $310.5 million
(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 2002: 42). The
passive use value of restoring the free flowing river
was estimated at $420 million (U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers 2002: 42).

As shown by including the passive use values
of the free-flowing river and salmon restoration,
this would make dam removal economically
efficient, which yields the highest net benefits.
The omission of the passive use values may have
contributed to the Corps of Engineers decision to
keep the dams in place.

Incentives and Unintended Consequences

When introducing the economic way of thinking, economists stress the importance of incentives and why incentives are important through the law of unintended consequences. During these lectures, the more interesting examples you use, the more effective the lecture.

The CATO Institute on June 12, 2009 released a podcast about smoking that provides some good examples. The examples are especially relevant for OK State University, who recently banned smoking on campus.

Importance of Incentives - Cigarette taxes are intended to curb smoking and thus positively influence the smokers' health. Yet, if each cigarette costs more, smokers have the incentives to smoke each cigarette more intensely. Scientific studies have shown that this greater intensity in smoking outweighs the reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked, such that the cigarette tax negatively impacts the smokers' health.

Law of Unintended Consequences - Regulation of tobacco is often justified on the grounds that the health care of smokers is paid for in part by society at large. Thus, improving the health of smokers reduces the cost society pays in taxes and such. However, studies have shown that if all smokers ceased smoking, they would indeed live longer. More importantly, they live longer in their elderly years, drawing more money in social security, medicare, and medicaid. As a result, smokers who quit actually increase government costs by living longer, an unintended consequence.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Minimum Wages - Good For Some, Bad For Many

In an earlier post, I stated that one of the most important concepts to articulate in an introductory economics course is the fact that policies which are good for some are not necessarily good for society as a whole. As this Wall Street Journal editorial describes, minimum wages are an excellent example. Though the higher minimum wages currently being considered will benefit those who already have and do not lose their jobs, the author states...

The best estimates from studies since the early 1990s suggest that the 11% minimum wage increase scheduled for this summer will lead to the loss of an additional 300,000 jobs among teens and young adults. This is on top of the continuing job losses the recession is likely to throw our way.

Incentives and Economics

In my textbook, I describe the economic way of thinking as the 3 I's: incentives, interactions, and indifference. Saying "incentives matter" is no profound statement, but the difference between economists and non-economists is that economists (as Steven Landsburg puts it) insists on taking incentives seriously at all times.

Thus, when designing health insurance plans a good economist is likely to focus on designing incentives that lead to good health and, correspondingly, lower health care costs. This is exactly what Safeway has done, as described in the Wall Street Journal here. The author argues that with the proper incentives, insurance policies with better incentives can reduce health care costs by 40%.

This article is a good tool for articulating to students the rewards associated with smart incentives.

Perils of Inflation

Fighting the economic downturn, the Federal Reserve has printed more money--much, much more money--than it ever has. Once the economy begins to heal the Federal Reserve may be able to take this new money back out of the economy, but that will be difficult, and to the extent that it does not, inflation will ensue. Most of us are accustomed to low inflation rates and do not possess the experience to plan for a future with high rates.

Consequently, should high inflation rates take hold many will be adversely affected. The Notable and Quotable section of the Wall Street Journal contained a description of the harms inflation inflicted on one particular person in the 1970's. Students identify better with stories of real people than abstract concepts, so relaying this little story may help them understand how inflation harms innocent people as they try to plan for the future.

From June 12, 2009 - "He was the epitome of the Protestant Ethic. He had inherited money, he had saved, he was very frugal, had a very modest house, had part of his investment money in bonds and short-term securities, had always maintained liquidity. And he came out of the Seventies looking like a fool."

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Indifference Principle

In a previous post, I stated how I disagree with my peers over what constitutes the core principles of economics.  Arguing indifference curves and production stages are not core principles, I argued the Indifference Principle (IP) is a core principle.

The IP was articulated in Steven Landsburg's The Armchair Economist, but is not a discovery. It is a succinct description for how economists think about market behavior.  The principle states that unless there are unusual talents or tastes, all actions must be equally desirable.  To illustrate how the IP is a core principle, consider how many economic questions it explains with parsimony.

The IP explains
  • Why landownders benefit from farm subsidies when land is fixed
  • Why consumers benefit from farm subsidies when land is not fixed
  • Why the price of corn and sorghum move in tandem
  • Why the prices of commodities between regions do not exceed transportation costs
  • Why stock prices and commodity prices are efficient
  • Why sunny days are not necessarily the best time to go to the zoo
  • Why crop prices increase between harvests
  • Why compensating people for building in areas where floods will predictably occur make everyone worse off.
  • Why rent-seeking often eliminates any potential benefit from government subsidies.
  • Why rent-seeking limits the ability of government to correct for market failures.
These are economic questions students in introductory economics courses should be able to address.  The IP allows one to address them, but indifference curves and isoquants do not.

Principles of Economics

This semester I will be teaching the intro to ag econ class for the first time in many years.  It is in this class where the instructor is expected to cover the "core principles", yet the more I have thought about this class the more I believe I disagree with my peers over what these "core principles" are.

In my department, the core principles are described as follows.  Consumer preferences are derived from indifference curves, and from theese curves the consumer demand curves are formed.  Supply stems from production isoquants and the three stages of production, which yields supply curves.  Putting the two together, you have supply and demand, from which the instructor should spend considerable time covers substitutes, complements, normal goods, inferior goods, and elasticities.

I don't like this view.  You could learn all this and really know nothing about economics. Consumer indifference curves are useful for some problems, but are not the foundation of consumer demand.  To get demand curves from these indifference curves, one must make assumptions about their shape to avoid giffin goods, which implies they are not the foundation of demand curves--demand curves are entirely an empirical construction.  Now for production.  One of my colleagues once stated that the stages of production are of paramount importance, because a falling marginal product curve drives everything.  Yet what does it "drive?"  All it does is imply that prices are positive but not infinite, and that we consume a finite amount of any good.  If that is all the production stages can do, that is not impressive.  Topics like substitutes and normal goods and elasticities are good for writing exam questions, but alone do not answer any economic questions.

So what are the "core principles" of economics?  Frankly, I don't believe there is a general model of economics that encompasses everything.  To me, the most important concept is the indifference principle. Which does not turn up in a Google search, nor is any any textbook except my own.  More on the indifference principle later.

Good for the Group, Not for Society

The goals of an introductory economics course should be succinct.  They should seek to instill an understanding of a few basic economic principles.  Seeking to cover a large amount of material is like pouring water onto concrete; the water spreads over a large area but no one gets a sip.

This is one principle I feel is important: what is good for a group is not necessarily good for society.  Most of the policies of the great depression (price controls, plowing under cotton, killing baby pigs) were based on the idea that this principle is false, and that if one group is made more profitable, society is made better off.

How can one instill this principle?  One way is the traditional supply and demand diagram with consumer and producer surplus contrasted with the same diagram under a monopoly case.  Yet, students often memorize the graphs without actually understanding the concepts.  It is perhaps better simply to discuss what happens when we force farmers to plow under their cotton, which raises their prices and profits (if done right).  Yet the impact for society is obvious--less cotton. More importantly, there was some cotton that individuals wanted to voluntarily trade, but now cannnot.  Some students may then ask: perhaps farmers spend their higher profits on other goods, so there may be less cotton but more other stuff?  Fair question, which demonstrates why those diagrams are important; those diagrams show that after the reduction in cotton there is, physically, less money to spend on other stuff.  Society is made poorer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Is An Economist?

Over at EconLog Bryan Caplan wonders exactly what "economics" means.  I will be teaching Introduction to Agricultural Economics for the first time this fall, and necessarily must address this question.  Caplan points to the fact that in many facets the term "sociologist" is more appropriate for the research we conduct than "economist."  In ag econ, I would argue that "management" might be an appropriate substitute also. Many ag econ departments in fact call themselves agribusiness departments, and most of our students obtain agribusiness degrees.

In my textbook I gave the standard definition "study of the allocation of scarce resources" but quickly told the reader that this definition should not mean much to them.  Instead, I informed the reader about the questions we address.  In my field, these questions are questions of management and sociology.

Fortunately, we do not need to provide students with a good definition. Frankly, they don't care.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stumbling Upon Adam Smith

In his best-selling book, Stumbling Upon Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert argues that we know little about how to make ourselves happy.  We suffer the delusion that the pursuit of wealth will make us happy, but why should such an intelligent species be so naive?  Gilbert argues that this type of delusion tends to persist in cultures because that type of delusion is helps fortify the resilence of that society and its propensity to conquer others.  Wealth may not make us happy, but it overwhelms those who do not chase after wealth, until all that is left are those who suffer the delusion.

In my recent readings of Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I found that Smith "stumbled" upon this same idea long ago.  In describing man's pursuit of wealth, he states, "They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death."

But shortly after Smith asserts, "And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner.  It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of manking."

Benefits of Education

HT: Carpe Diem

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teaching Tips by Eric Devuyst

Eric is a new professor to our department, and the more I get to know him the more I think it a shame he is not teaching our undergraduates.  Here are some ideas he gave me that I plan to steal, and offer to you to steal as well.

Teaching the Art of Economic Modeling - Eric asks for volunteers to approach a flat map of the world.  Giving them a piece of string, he asks them to find the shortest distance between their university and Tokyo Japan (there will be many laughs as they struggle to find Japan, so don't call on volunteers who you think are smart).  Then, ask the students to perform the same activity on a realistic model of the world: a globe.  As they find their more direct route they quickly see that it differs from the route selecting using the flat map.  This illustrates the importance of using a good model for the problem at hand--in economics and everything.  During the Great Depression people thought that whatever was good for a cartel was good for everyone.  This is why they promoted price-fixing, plowed under acres of cotton, and killed baby pigs.  This model of how the welfare of cartels affected the welfare of everyone proved to be a bad model - with terrible consequences.

Teaching the Three Stages of Production - Most introduction to economics professors have an activity they use to teach the three stages of production.  I once had them build structures out of empty beer cans (guess where the empty cans came from!).  Andrew Barkley has them build paper airplanes.  My intro teacher had us build "products" where were five sheets of paper stapled together.  In all cases, there is a fixed amount of capital (beer cans, paper, stapler) and a variable amount of labor.  Start with one person, measure output, then do the same for two, three, ..., twenty people and plot how production changes with labor.  Eric uses a method that might not be as fun as building a beer can structure, but I think illustrate the concept better.  he draws a rectangle on the chalk board and has them write something like "Bailey Rocks" as many times as they can in a limited time period. The fixed capital is the area within the chalkboad and the time limitation, and the variable labor is the number of people drawing.  You can imagine the fun and laughter as they get in each others way when the number of participants becomes large.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bailey's Book Club

(Note, for students wanting to earn honors contracts...if you complete Options B or C I will gladly contract with you)

Students frequently take independent study hours (AGEC 4990) under me for one, two, or sometimes three credits. For students taking the course for one or two hours, I allow them to read books for credit. In the past, the books that were allowable, the credit hours associated with books, and the student deliverables were stated verbally and informally. In this post, I explicitly describe the terms of reading books for independent study credit.

Option A for 2 Credit Hours) Role of Government and Capitalism in Society as Expressed in Popular Fiction.
Required Readings: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Credit Hours: 2

Both works of fiction are well-written and are interesting. They are two of the world's most important works of fiction, for the power of the story, the boldness of the story, and their place in modern society. The works express two extreme views on the role of government and capitalism in society. The Jungle was written to expose the misery supposedly resulting from capitalism, and was a call for the U.S. to take up socialism. Atlas Shrugged is the opposite, articulating the supposedly detrimental effects of government attempting to redistribute wealth and assume both ownership and control of daily economic life. Most people today, regardless of their views, are between these two extremes; yet studying these extremes can help you discover where on this spectrum your view's reside. More importantly, the narrative in the books help us understand what people were thinking in the first half of the twentieth century.

Deliverable: Write an succinct but powerful editorial (one-page, single spaced, 11 space, palatino linotype font) describing the essence of the two articles, including their strengths and weaknesses. Articulate your belief as to which work of fiction speaks the greater truth, and why. For help with the writing style, select an editorial from a major newspaper and model your narrative after this selection. Turn in an electronic copy of your editorial and the editorial you modeled your narrative after to be at bailey.norwood@okstate.edu. Editorials are meant to be succinct but superbly written, relaying a wealth of information in a few words. An editorial (even those written by the best) must go through numerous drafts, usually being completely rewritten at least once.

Option B for 1 Credit Hour) Fiction & Non-Fiction (Science & Biography)
Students must read two books for one credit hour and write a review of both books. I wish for you to read a book that I have read, so that we can discuss it afterwards.

Below are suggested readings from four categories. I have other books in my office that you may peruse. For one credit hour, you must select two books from different categories and write two book reviews. For help in writing a book review, find a book review written in a major media outlet (the Wall Street Journal prints a book reviews every day). Each review should be one-page, single spaced, 11 space, and palatino linotype font. Book reviews are meant to be succint, but well-written. You should rewrite your book review at least twice (or perform many edits) before it is presentable, unless you are a particularly talented writer.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Demons by Dostoevsky
Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Babbit by Sinclair Lewis

Note: I do not allow any readings of Hemingway, Ken Keesay, or Jack Kerouc

Non-Fiction (Science)*
SuperCrunchers by Ian Ayres
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephan J. Dubner
Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
The Mind of the Market by Michael Schermer
The Science of Good and Evil by Michael Schermer

Note: I do not allow anything written by Thomas Friedman (and not because of politics)

Non-Fiction (Biography)*
A Beautiful Mind (about John Nash, led to movie) by Sylvia Nascar
Kinsey (about Alfred Kinsey, led to movie) by James Jones
Khruschev (about the Russian leader during the Cold War) by Walter Taubman
Lennon (about John Lennon) by Ray Coleman
Harvard and the Unabomber by Alston Chase

Non-Fiction (History)*
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Human Story by James Davis
Food in History by Reay Tannahill
The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales
The Great Medieval Heretics by Michael Frassetto

*most highly recommended books listed first

Option C for 1 Credit Hour) EconTalk Podcasts or Similar
Some people absolutely hate to read. Fortunately, technology has provided alternative means for learning, and I will allow students to use podcasts or videos as an alternative to books.

Option C.A) Go to www.econtalk.org and listen to eight episodes of EconTalk podcasts. Summarize each podcast briefly (one large paragraph, witten) and be prepared to chat with me about the podcasts. I have listened to them all carefully, and will be able to tell if you did not listen to them.

Option C.B) Go to http://bigthink.com and peruse the videos. Watch up to eight hours of videos on whatever you like. Summarize each video briefly (one large paragraph, witten) and be prepared to chat with me about the videos. I have listened to most all carefully, and will be able to tell if you did not listen to them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Seeds is on hold

Notice: Seeds will be temporarily discontinued while Bailey is writing a book about farm animal welfare.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why I Keep Tests

I used to allow students to keep their tests after they are graded, but now I take the back up.  I do this in anticipation of a student like one who came by today.  He indicated that he studied and studied but still didn't do well on the test.  Then, I took out his test and noted question after question which was identical to questions on homeworks, and I told students directly that those questions would appear on the test almost exactly as they appeared in the homework.

He surrendered, admitting he did not study very hard.

Teachers, keep your tests, they are good ammunition.

Seeds Summary

Recent news and discoveries highlighted by Seeds...

Popularity is Everything!
In some of my research I have found that the most important quality of college graduatesthat employers seek is an ability to work well with others.  This ability is usually correlated with other social skills and achievements like conscientiousness, extracurricular activities, and punctuality. Recent research has discovered that high school students who are identified by teachers as having these social skills perform better in life (e.g. make more money, obtain more degrees) than their counterparts who lack these social skills but have the same intellectual ability (as measured by standardized test scores).  How do employers determine which job applicants possess these social skills?  From my survey work, they determine it almost entirely through their perception in the personal interview.

Searching for Happy Sows
Feedstuffs recently published an article describing a scientific study which concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether gestation crates or group pens are better for sows. Yet this will always be the case.  Gestation crates are like solitary confinement, and group pens are like prison yards where you suffer constant injury from others.  Which one is better depends on whether you think the small, individual cages are better or worse than the pain sows inflict on one another when grouped together in small pens.  The debate about animal welfare for hogs seems to focus exclusively on gestation crates versus group pens, but if group pens is the best we can do, I am unsure whether we should even pretend to care about animal welfare.

Meat for Sex
Primates seem more and more like humans with every study.  This recent study found that wild chimpanzee females have more sex with males who share meat with them more frequently. Humans, it seems, evolved to bring home the bacon a long, long time ago.

Meat Versus Vegetables
An ongoing debate is whether a diet free of meat is preferred to one that includes meat.  A good diet is possible with or without meat.  Which one is empirically better across those who employ each diet is debatable.  In a controversial area like this, where peoples' beliefs are more like religion than reason, there is no truth to be found.  Example: a recent study found young vegetarians have healthier diets but are at risk for eating disorders.  So which is more important, the diet or avoiding meat disorders?  That is like the gestation crate versus group pen diet - there is no unambiguous answer!

A recent study is titled: Brain Activity Predicts People's Choices.  And I thought people just pulled choices out of their ass!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

OK State Graduates at Chesapeake Energy

Being an effective teacher and advisor requires an understanding of the careers college graduates pursue and the skills they require in those careers. To improve my understanding, I recently visited four of my former students at Chesapeake Energy.  A detailed narrative is provided below, but for those who just want the main points, see the bullet list below.

The Point...
  • Four Ag Econ OK State graduates currently work at Chesapeake Energy, where I visited them in March of 2009.
  • All have jobs that primarily involve managing data using Microsoft Excel.  All spend a majority of their time working in Excel.
  • Instant Messaging, Microsoft ACCESS and other databases, and Spotfire are used as well.
  • Their major form of written communication entails formal emails with data tables and Excel attachments.
  • After graduation, they found HireOSUGrads.com to play a pivotal role in finding their careers at Chesapeake.
  • While many suggest obtaining an MBA after obtaining work experience, the reality of going back to school while raising a family makes pursuing an MBA immediately after a Bachelor's Degree preferred.
  • Their happiness in their job stems largely from good colleagues.

My former students and current friends at Chesapeake Energy.

Chesapeake Energy is an impressive company.  Only twenty years old, Chesapeake mines natural gas (and some oil) from Texas to New England. Entering their campus, you immediately feel like you must be at a prestigious private university, but you are not; the campus was recently built using a regal but egalitarian architecture. Employees told me it was important to Aubrey McClendon, the CEO and founder of the company, that the company utilize multiple, shorter buildings instead of one tall building.  The idea was to construct a campus that reflected the decentralized and empowering decision making process utilized by Chesapeake.

While there is one large campus there are also other, off-campus office buildings belong to Chesapeake. Not all of them mimic the beauty of the main campus, but they are modern and notable. Employees have an impressive gym and cafeterias with a large, tasty variety.  They even expect to have a day-care center soon.  Over 2 billion cubic feet are pumped by Chesapeake each day.  Compared with the 64 billion cubic feet consumed by Americans each day, Chesapeake is an important part of everyday American life. 

Given the similarities between energy and agricultural markets, it is not surprising that Chesapeake regularly hires agribusiness graduates.  In March of 2009, I visited four of these graduates to learn what they were doing on the job, and how we can better prepare students for life.  Below, I will discuss each graduate individually.  Their individual stories are useful not just for advisors and teachers, but for the many students who go through college with little idea what they want to do in life--or even a good understanding of what their options are.

Bryan Sloan and Megan Barber

Bryan (shown right) was among the first group of students I taught when I arrived at OK State in 2003.  I remember Bryan well; he sold me his student basketball tickets, helping me develop a love for OSU basketball that I have since maintained.  A student with high grades and notable achievements, it took Bryan several years after graduation to find a place he felt like he belonged. That place was Chesapeake Energy.

Bryan and Megan Barber work in the same office and perform similar jobs, so I discuss them together. Megan has always been one of my favorite students, and I was fortunate to have her in two classes.  She always performed well in class, and after seeing her workplace, know that it must be in part due to her remarkable organizational skills.  Chesapeake was Megan's first job after graduation, and like Bryan, loves both her work and her colleagues.

Megan and Bryan have one major job task: to keep track of the gas being pumped and finding a buyer for a portion of this gas.  A majority of their time is spent using Microsoft Excel, with particular emphasis on the data lookup and reference functions (e.g. if, and, vlookup statements and linking cells between spreadsheets).  When it comes to selling natural gas, they negotiate sales with buyers through instant messaging (i.e. IMing).  Being young and bright, Megan and Bryan had no trouble adopting and using IM.

An average day will proceed as follows.  They arrive at work by 8 AM, and begin downloading data that meter readers input from the internet. These data indicate production of natural gas, and they export these data into Excel.  The next two hours are spent finding buyers for natural gas, negotiating transations through instant messaging.  By 10:00 AM all gas that needs to be sold is sold, and the remainder of their day is spent maintaining their Excel spreadsheets so that they can be effectively used the next day, along with other various tasks. Microsoft Access is used some, but not extensively.  

Lacy McCornack

Lacy not only attended two of my classes, but my wife's class as well, so she is like family to me. I had no doubt Lacy would land a great job and make important contributions to her employer.

Lacy works in the accounting division of Chesapeake, but her job requires more Excel skills than accounting skills-90% of her job is spent within Excel.  Her main job entails making sure the sales taxes from Chesapeake purchases are made correctly.  Most of us are used to paying sales taxes directly at the point of purchase, but for many purchases of large firms like Chesapeake, what tax should be paid on what purchase is not a straightforward question.  Answering this question is Lacy's job. It does not sound fun, Lacy admits.  For reasons difficult to explain, she does enjoy her job though.  Current students can take refuge in the fact that many of the business jobs that have boring job descriptions may actually be engaging and rewarding.

Soon after taking her job, Lacy contacted me noting that her boss requested she perform a data analysis that utilized regression.  Her job was to study the relationship between two variables, one a physical measurement and one a cost number.  Hopefully, Lacy's many classes in Excel, statistics, and algebra prepared her well for this assignment!  If any student wonders why they should learn algebra, computer software, or statistics, they should see Lacy for an answer!

Jason Elder

I fear this narrative may become redundant, but my former student and Chesapeake employee Jason Elder spends a significant amount of time in Excel.  Mr. Elder was a superb student, and with his many undergraduate honors and his subsequent MBA from OK State, he quickly found a professional home at Chesapeake.

When I visited his office, he had two large monitors opened to colorful, complex spreadsheets.  Jason's job is to keep track of wells being drilled so that Chesapeake knows when oil or gas will begin pumping and how much to expect from each well being constructed. Biweekly, Jason attends a long meeting to discuss wells coming online, and to communicate this information he relies on effective graphing tools.  It is at this point where Jayson requires something in addition to Excel.  While about 50% of his job entails working within Excel, he utilizes the program Spotfire for the type of graphs he needs to produce.  One aspect of Jason's job--that I have seen numerous times on similar visits--is that a large portion of a data analyst's job is not just to purge data, but to find a way to clearly communicate the data to others.  Every agribusiness graduate should be able to construct a clear Excel chart of graph quickly--every agribusiness student.

A Potential Agribusiness Career

Brent Williams was not an agribusiness student, nor did he take an agricultural economics class. Instead, he obtained an M.S. in management and an MBA and Oklahoma Christian University, and today is a hedging analyst for Chesapeake. However, an agribusiness student could easily become a hedging analyst, so it is worth chatting with Brent also.  Agribusiness degrees are very similar to management degrees, and agribusiness students can easily go on to obtain an MBA. 

Mr. William's career is interesting because he utilizes many of the concepts taught in agribusiness classes; including futures markets, hedging, and risk management.  Chesapeake relies extensively on hedging to manage their risk, and they provide an excellent narrative of their hedging philosophy here.

For those who teach hedging, it might be useful to know that Chesapeake does not usually hedge by selling natural gas futures contracts, such as those on the NYMEX exchange, but instead uses an investment bank to arrange the contract.  The concept is the same, except that the bank (referred to as a third-party by Brent) facilitates the hedge instead of a clearinghouse.  Teachers might also find interesting the fact that the major reason Chesapeake likes to hedge is so that they can manage their cash flow properly.  Put simply, it helps them plan, and make sure they can always pay their bills.


My conversations with these friends brought forth a few other notable thoughts.

  • The HireOSUGrads.com system for finding jobs is superb!  Bryan Sloan found that even more than a year after graduating, he could use it to help him find his career at Chesapeake.
  • Career Fairs are important.  Megan Barber went to agricultural and business school career fairs, and even career fairs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  If Megan had only attended local career fairs, she might not have the tremendous job she now possesses!
  • Don't be impatient looking for a job.  You will spend most of your life at work, so if you are not happy at work, you are in for a miserable life.  For this reason, Lacy suggests that students look around and do not feel like they have to accept the first offer (except maybe in today's economy).  If it takes time to find a job where you will be happy, consider the time taken an investment, not a waste.
  • Businesses communicate via email with attachments.  Teachers would serve their students better by focusing more on writing succinct email documents using proper etiquette than research reports.  Little things like alerting the reader to exactly what the email and the email attachment corresponds to may sound obvious, but without a course explicitly teaching and reinforcing this fact, the graduate may find herself sending confusing documents and getting off to a bad start with her employer.
  • All graduates wish they had paid more attention in school.  Students are sometimes surprised how relevant courses can be.
  • MBA's are a valuable accomplishment to possess, and it is okay to seek an MBA immediately after a Bachelor's Degree.  Both Jason and Brent lamented that their MBA might had served them better if they had earned a few years of work experience before their MBA.  However, when confronted with the difficulty of earning an MBA while married with children, they did not regret earning their MBA immediately after graduation.
  • You cannot learn too much Excel in college.
  • Students wish they learned more practical business skills, such as how to calculate the amount one should invest for retirement.

It brings me great pleasure to see my former students become successful and happy in life.  Now that they are professionals, they have much to tell professors and current students about what constitutes a successful college and after-college career.  Hopefully, the notes on my conversations with Megan, Bryan, Lacy, and Jason will help current and future students lead an equally successful life.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Economics of Law and Order

I've become adept at predicting who "did it" in detective shows like Law and Order and The Mentalist.  The criminal can often be identified early in the show using economics.

Television time is expensive, and television series writers want to get as much thrilling material into one show as possible.  Time is scarce, and thus, they do not want to waste time introducing a new character to the view unless that character is important.  Moreover, a new character is unlikely to receive lots of airtime unless they are the person who "did it."  It is important that the person "who did it" is someone the viewer knows.  This leads to an important rule that often works perfectly: any new character receiving seemingly unwarranted air time is the criminal.

Consider the Law and Order episode Lunacy, which aired October 21, 2008.  The writers bring into the episde an old mentor of Elliot Stabler (one of the lead detectives).  This mentor began as just a helpful witness, but quickly the writers had the mentor hanging around and allowing the audience to get to know the person more than was necessary.  Ten minutes into the show I announced he was the murderer, and I was right.  I made this prediction simply because I thought the writers would not waste scarce time with a new character who would ultimately be irrelevant to the plot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Poetry by Jake Bodin: Animal Man

I love old poetry like those from Tennyson or Pope, and I despise modern poetry.  Kudos to Jake Bodin, a modern poet who communicates important ideas through beauty, the ultimate purpose of poetry!

Here is Jake Bodin's Animal Man.  It is long, but worth the time.

Circle and spin,

moon round the earth, earth round the sun,
the sun to another, another to one.
From the premier gyration, when the first circle began,
has anything at all revolved around man?

Or was his deified lot made trivial by Copernicus?

The bodies circle and spin while time runs straight.
Is time just the length of the circle unwound?
Is anywhere save for the end of time
the beginning of the circle found?

Is the circumference of this life
and the area it contains,
lonely abstract circles in space,
or equally vital links of a chain?

The meaning of his lot is all man desires to know.
Yet a question of meaning is a question ill posed.

For an answer exists, an answer sufficing.
Yet so does another, and another and another…

Our discontents arise not from the failure of logic to elucidate,
but rather the difficulty of deciding which answer to eliminate.

We are ships with sails aplenty,
yet no rudder to steer.
  The winds they blow in circles
   like the thoughts of the sailor.

So rather than leaving waters far as unknown,
we conjure tales in waters near.

This you read though, this is no tale.
This is a map of waters sailed.
The rhyme is of no need, nor the tale need told.
The rhyme is but to beautify a sailor’s tale of old.

The story of what we are,
is a story of how we began.
Behold these words of rhyme:
The tale of Animal Man.


To what divine purpose or will
Sets the sheep to graze, the wolf to kill?
Destines the proud eagle to majestic solitude?
Fuels the perpetual lion/hyena feud?
Through the same reed plays the opus of man.
All life is sown from the same powerful strand.

One force to survive, one force to breed,
they are the maker of our story, the writer of our history.
Two forces--one artist--of anatomy and disposition;
fighting the world outside with armies of the universe within.
I urge you the reader, just consider this:
Nature is not what should be, but rather about what is.

Sentence the deranged and perverted to shame.
Burden their thoughts, their soul with blame.
For murders of anger and passions uncontrolled;
for sins of the flesh may their souls be sold.
Compare them to you and your virtue refined,
then all nature must be judged by the same fine line.

What is the difference between a whore
and the other multiple-partner carnivores?
Was it not inherit in nature’s design,
for the purpose of preserving the family line;
for the woman to desire numerous men,
so one man sterile cannot set her genes to an end?

Defend the whore? The reader proclaims!
Use sources of lust and passion to justify her ways?
By this we can forgive every murder and rape,
every wrong deed executed following urges innate!
But I know of no grounds to crown or crucify.
I do not defend or judge. I only explain why.

With no system to judge in judging I refrain,
but judging and punishing are not the same.
To judge is to lift the throne of vanity up high.
To punish is to care for others, to prevent future crime.
Left to themselves, some are violent inclined.
The punishment is to keep Animal Man from hurting his kind.


Proudly we sit, on the throne of experiments and equations.
Mocking forms stuck at lower elevations.
To the moon goes man, and beyond soon.
Any place of entry nature has refused;
we march, we conquer, nature has no defense;
for the energy of ingenuity and the congruency of common sense.

So easy it is, when we have conquered distance,
squeezed the length of miles into a minute,
to arrive at this absurd, universal truth:
That creatures of earth were made for our use.
That the cat who chases its tail in futility,
does so for our amusement, solely for our utility.

How shocked he would be if it were known,
that if man had a tail he would chase his own.
Lacking a tail, an analogy may be made,
to the “tales” man composes to fend off dismay.
To make a day worthwhile and life a blessing,
man assigns a meaning, a story, a purpose to everything.

Does man fall into despondency when tragedy ensues?
No, man finds in calamity a lesson to use.
Does man feel helpless at the approach of his death?
No, he simply assumes after this world there is still one left.
Does man grow weary waiting for God to orate?
No, he says it must be God works in a mysterious way.

Imagination is a brilliant filter of misfortune.
When the wheels of tragedy are set into motion,
never will it outrun man’s magic potion,
the magic of believing any farcical notion.
Nature’s engineering feat that exceeds all else,
is the ability of man to deceive himself.

Give thanks to the heavens for putting imagination in place.
Otherwise man would learn to spite his meaningless days.
As man takes grapes, takes it to make wine,
a thought can turn earth absurd to earth sublime.
Does man even care his beliefs are sophistry alone?

No more than the cat cares the tail is its own.


As the fish, to ignorant to conceive of dry land,
the geniuses buckle in defining Animal Man.
Is a brief moment’s movement, a movement of mine,
if by conscious contemplation in movement I decide?
Or the instinct to blink before a particle hits the eye,
that proceeds deliberation, was it an action of mine?

The instinct or the deliberate? What constitutes that which is me?
Or am I perhaps not a whole, but two separate entities?
Or many more? What is the whole?
What is the whole if parts act solely on their own?
If my cells so loyal turned to cancer unrestrained,
is it cancer that will kill me, or am I to blame?

If the reflex to kick at the tap of the knee,
were outlawed universally by sacrosanct decree,
and I kicked, who would stand trial; who for mercy should beg?
Animal Man whole? Or the nerves in my leg?
If sentence was given, a sentence of death,
the mind is tortured for the actions of the leg?

Consciousness is only the deceiving face of being,
the only part of self-reflection able to be seen.
So much more, alas, the majority rests inside,
part directed by nerves, part by the mind clandestine.
They handle the parts of life most dear and felt:
Animal Man pushes his soul away from himself.

Man claims the irresistible impulse of falling in love,
is rational to playwriting gods above.
Yet he fooled himself! Love cannot be a rational choice.
Love is a prison rationality would avoid.
But love must exist, for the offspring rationality must fall,
and so the hidden irrationality is rational after all!

Lastly, for who do I pray, what really am I,
when I am a voyage of a thousand guides?
On the whole I am my story, in part what I feel,
yet I only know the latter, and never grasp the real.
And the story saddest among all the rest,
is that Animal Man has never met himself.


Classes the classes! the inequalities persist!
Is status cloaked by manner or displayed by dress?
By effort? By chance? Is the difference justified?
What trait ensures one will serve he who dines?
And how does the politics elected to correct inequality,
only results in profits for the elected party?

What are we to do? What can be done?
Is every man different, or is every man one?
It is not our society has missed the value true:
We do not value the man, but rather what he can do.
And so if man is paid according to talent displayed,
the value of a intrinsic man is not captured in his wage.

So where is the value of man, by what is his measure?
Perhaps by religious principles one can deem man the better?
Then the measures would be infinite, no ranking is feasible,
when beliefs scatter in the head like the earth scatters with people.
Besides, the sum of man’s morals always add to zero.
One-half man the villain, one-half man the hero.

If a man is talented, his talent will be bought,
but though inequality is widened, it is solely man’s fault.
The poor reproach the gods for poverty dateless,
regardless the gods have never doled wages.
It is man’s preference that poverty, inequality persist,
as man walks the earth, naming all that is his.

When the final roll is called and all men are dead,
will the meat of the fat be given to the underfed?
When destiny greets man at his most feared stage,
at the stage of death, will the greeter compensate?
Does fate ensure at last that all men are equal,
equally rotten corpse of no life, sight, or feel?

Is the imbalance of fortune really a terrible realization?
Is the panhandler made worse by a king’s coronation?
Whitman might say the value of living is the power of your story.
That a novel can bestow the poorest of men with earth’s greatest glory.
Life would feel ever so futile, were story after story to repeat.
Injustice, with all its harms, ensures Animal Man’s story is unique.


Children pull their hair in search of gray roots,
then when gray shows they long for youth.
Remembrance is the deep moaning cello string.
The precious pasts rides patiently on future’s wings.
Yesterday held so dear, tomorrow so faithful.
Yesterday, tomorrow enter. Today is never welcome.

Memories are life’s chronicle in order of emotion,
some ready to be relived at the slightest of notion.
Other insignificant moments are quickly set aside,
forgotten, sacrificed, for the critical to reside.
If the inconsequential are cast into the mind’s abyss,
can we really then say this half of life was lived?

If not, then half of what we are is not our half to claim.
If not, the book called life must then be renamed.
Changed from a meticulous recording of history,
to a summary highlighted by the limits of memory.
Every day changed by new moments lived.
Every day Animal Man changes what he is.

The present is a trudge towards the top of a mount.
One side clearly seen, one blocked by the ground.
At the present, yesterday is a chaotic order of events,
in the grand scheme, happenings with no consequence.
Today does not justify the disagreeable days of past.
But his unshakable faith assures him tomorrow will at last.

The future is a chest of treasures to be bestowed,
compensations of blessings to coat memory’s sores.
Promises, promises of fortunes profuse,
a dollar for each inconvenience, a million for each abuse.
Future promises in extravagance, doles the highest wage.
And why not? The future, lying ahead, never has to pay.


The arts are man’s; no other species’ to perform.
In arts the world is imitated, transformed to adorn.
In taking the earth so vile and unjust--
a sphere that bundles a birth with a curse--
and casting this play in a more suitable setting,
the absurd becomes necessary, a curse becomes a blessing.

Before language, music must have been sung,
for nature seems to bundle a song with a lung.
From a baby cub’s cry to her mother’s roar,
pitch alone is a language for this expressive carnivore.
In screams of danger and calls for breeding,
nature found in music an expression of feelings.

Few Americans can discern a Frenchmen’s conversation.
Borders divide countries, but language divides nations.
Yet a Frenchwoman knows an American baby’s bawl,
and French symphonies tell stories throughout America’s halls.
Before language was made so intricate and diverse,
this primordial tongue of emotion was the language used first.

Though birds may sing they do not create;
when man composes a new world is made.
The world is but a story that cannot be revised,
except in the variform siblings the arts comprise.
The arts are a cult with the greatest of persuasion,
inciting with frail promises and the most clever of puns.

Animal Man stands like sheep waiting for his shepherd;
he says, “ The grass here is good, but there must be grass better;
whoever leads must knows where it lies;
this leader’s trail, his wisdom, must be canonized.”
Walking in faith sets Animal Man into a lull,
and dying to learn the trail was a circle.

When Animal Man cannot discern the purpose of his place,
he will cast away logic and with faith replace.
Animal Man will worship gods benevolent or wicked,
anything making this world seem different than it is.
The arts are like gods, they are different points of view,
to bury realities deep, and replace with truths new.


Circle and spin,

man round his thoughts,
his thoughts round desire.
finding little down on earth,
he reaches to spheres higher.

Man round his stories,
dizzy about his art.
For smarts without purpose,
is a shadow of the dark.

Nature casts his lot short,
to be born is but to die.
She lowers his tomb slowly,
to be born is but to die.

But man listens little to nature’s plan,
for man can make his own.

Imagination was given as a means to survive,
intended as nothing more than a tool.

But it proved all too useful in a land of despair.

Imagination is the mother;
of story,
of art,
of music,
of dance.

In the end he became what was not intended.
In the end he became a god of his own world.

In the end man sees the world not as it is,
but as what it can be.
Animal man rearranges the stars from where they are,
to their every possibility.

Jake Bodin, 2007

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