Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I live for drugs... it's great

This fall semester, I was fortunate enough to take a Law and Econ class from the puissant Alex Tabarrok. Instead of writing a term paper on the partial effects of slinging empty oil cans at the heads of drag racers, I elected to investigate some of the myths of... wait for it... the DRUGS!

If you're of a certain age, a supercilious sneer ought to set up base camp at the corners of your lips, preparing a push to the summit once the weather clears a little bit. Drugs are bad, right? Drugs ruin lives, turn users into abusers into total trainwrecks, right? This is your celebrity; this is your celebrity on meth... not even once. DARE to keep your Gummi Bears off dat juice.

Or whatever.

Point is, there's a lot of propaganda surrounding drug abuse, and the (occasionally explicit, often implict) claim that drugs lead to a life in tatters, implying causality, is sort of at odds with what I would consider common sense. Indeed, it seems as reasonable to me that someone who is having a rough go of it would turn to self-medication as that drugs veer an otherwise decent life off-track. Ordinary statistical treatments have a tough time getting at actual causality. Ordinary Least Squares regressions can show whether or not two factors move together, but are mostly silent when it comes to saying what causes what. That's what theory is for.

Or a clever two-stage regression.

What now? What's all this? Well, look, if we can make the claim that a proxy for individual drug use predicts some sort of individual adversity and we can't plausibly make the claim that the adversity can affect the proxy, then we've got a good case for actual causality.

That's sort of confusing, so let me be a little more specific. I've got some data on positive urinalysis results. I've also got crime data from the FBI and some community drug use stats from the CDC. Basically, what I've done is used the crime data of the individual's hometown (specifically, the home town of record, at the time of enlistment) to predict the probability of drug use by the individual. Nice. So, if the property crime rate of Hookset, New Hampshire is 7.4 per 100,000, then we can say that people (Soldiers) from this charming burg have, oh a 0.43% chance of pissing hot for weed (numbers simulated, natch). Take this number and slap it into an equation that tries to predict some adverse outcome, like divorce or AWOL or non-availability or whatever, and hey-presto, we should be able to show actual causality, right?

Well, maybe. Of course, the 2-stage regression didn't work. I got the first stage numbers to fit pretty well. Indeed, I think I can comfortably claim that growing up in a high-crime community probably predisposes folks to use drugs and to a rather strong degree. However, while I was able to show that drugs and adversity correlate, I was unable to show the two-stage relationship.

Now, this is consistent with my claims, but I've still got a bunch of nagging problems. Yeah, my instrument passed the first condition (first-stage correlation) with flying colors, but it clearly fails on the second condition. All this tells us is that it's a bad instrument. To put it delicately, BFD. I was looking for a bad instrument, and by golly, I found it, but this (and this is crucial) does not imply that it's a bad instument for the reasons I claim. At best, it's a rather weak tea. In short, I found no evidence to support the claim that drugs unidirectionally lead to individual adversity. Not exactly an overwhelming claim.

Still, better than nothing, I reckon. Maybe I can buff this turd out and try to get it published. At best, it can maybe knock a little wind out of the abolitionist argument. Fat chance on that though.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Capital as Language

These will just be some random musings.

Capital is, of course, anything that is a means to satisfying some ultimate goal.

I have been reading a book on linguistics, because i am becoming increasingly curious about the potential relationship between the study of language and the study of the economy. Language is, of course, unpredictible in its future course, just as new capital combinations are by their essence unpredictable (because to envision a future, profitable, combination of capital is to bring it about; that doesn't mean that one cannot imagine new innovations or, for that matter, the direction of language).

I'm also becoming convinced that the term 'labor' is vacuous. To work on is necessarily to apply higher order goods to solving an economic problem. Labor without any previous knowledge or experience in the world would be useless - everything that is in labor is.the accumulation of a lifetime of experience, and is a specific type of capital. The only question that hangs out there is regarding time; but that is not something specific to 'labor.'

To start, here is my reasoning: The use of tools is universal among humans, just as language use is. It also has no meaning outside of those subjectively given. The capital structure, just like language, is built up from ever more complex combinations of simple factors, which can then be used to combine with other simple and complex entities to form even higher level entities. The complexity only arises when the nature of what must be communicated (produced) calls for it - complex, large combinations of words (capital) don't necessarily crowd out simpler ones, but the large ones depend on the small ones... The problem with much development policy seems to be putting the cart before the horse, introducing complex physical elements into a populace whose experience does not match...

Edward Sapir, who's "Language: an introduction to the study of speech" I'm reading, breaks down a 'word' thus: 'unknowingly' - the root word is "know", un, ing, and ly are adjuncts, thus (b) + A + (c) + (d) where.he parentheses note an element of a word that has no fundamental meaning on its own. (Of course, fundamental meaning is determined only in context; in the case of a discussion of language all of the adjunct elements of speech become independent elements on their own.) One could do a break-down and map the elements and relations in a short story, but that would be a lot of work.

The 'radical' (or fundamental) element is the simplest symbol that corresponds to anything we would recognize, yet on its own it cannot convey a thought (outside of a context suggesting another element). For example, if I were to come up to you and just say, "know," you would have no clue what I mean. Any attempt to communicate a thought requires three things: two fundamental elements and a specific relation between them. Thus, the farmer kills the duckling.

The same seems to be true for any capital good as well - a single capital good has no value, until it is combined (in some specific way) with a second piece of capital, usually a skilled person or people. It is the combination and the relation that is important: each on its own does not make a production process.

Different words mean different things at different times, which is true for capital as well. Words are also never single-specific: if you can't remember a word, you can usually come up with some close substitute, or approximate the word using other words. The same is true for capital goods: a hammer might be the most useful tool in the situation you're in, but a rock will substitute for whatever you need to hit. Words, like capital goods, carry different meanings as time advances, some becoming obsolete and some being invented, and others still being plucked from obscurity into a surprising role.

The structure of a language (all of the elements and their relations) is also analogous to the structure of production. Simple language elements, like words, must be understood in order to construct a sentence, a more complex thing. Whether an epic poem, a short story, a novel, or an academic paper, the more and more complex elements that make up a language rest on the strength of the simpler objects. If the simple objects are ambiguous or ineffective at drawing ideas out of the reader, the whole novel will surely be worse. Business organizations will involve as many elements and relations as a novel. Picturing an organization using its net worth captures as much of the image of the whole organization about as well as a page count does the contents of a novel (organizational economists, of course, know this well, as do management/economic sociology scholars)...

The main deviations between capital and language, I think, primarily involve the fact of scarcity, which is necessarily true for capital, but I'm not sure is meaningful in language.

My primary interest in this is wondering whether the methods of linguistics can be applied to the study of the economy. The more belief-ideologically based our conception of the economy is, the more relevant my work is, so I am, of course, simply pursuing my self interest in this case...