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Archive: June 2010

New issue of the real-world economics review

Banner for real-world economics review

The paper [pdf] that Kris Warner, Sarika Gupta, and I wrote recently on the high cost of incarceration is now in the current issue of the real-world economics review.

For a summary of the paper and some reaction to the CEPR Briefing Paper version, see my earlier post.

Parental leave

Rebecca Ray, Janet Gornick, and I have a paper (abstract, subscription only) in the current issue of the Journal of European Social Policy on parental leave policies in the major OECD countries.

From the abstract:

Parental leave laws can support new parents in two complementary ways: by offering job-protected leave and by offering financial support during that leave. This study assesses the design of parental leave policies operating in 21 high-income countries. Specifically, the study analyzes how these countries vary with respect to the generosity of their parental leave policies; the extent to which their policy designs are gender egalitarian; and the ways in which these two crucial dimensions are inter-related. The study finds that public policies in all 21 study countries protect at least one parent's job for a period of weeks, months, or years following the birth or adoption of a child. The availability and generosity of wage replacement varies widely, as does the gendered nature of policy designs. Four countries stand out as having policies that are both generous and gender egalitarian: Finland, Norway, Sweden and --unexpectedly-- Greece.


My whole life I've thought that the prefix "cyber" was drawn from some Greek word that --in a stretch-- somehow referred to computers. David Bell now tells me that the prefix "cyber" actually comes from "cybernetics", a word invented by scientist Norbert Wiener sometime before the publication of his 1948 book, Cybernetics or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Wiener used the term to refer to: "A theory of the control and communication of regulatory feedback in biological, sociotechnical or social systems." (Bell, Cyberculture Theorists, p. 3) According to Bell, the word is from the Greek "kubernites", "meaning steersman, governor, pilot or rudder." (p. 3)

The explicit link to computing seems to have come only later, with the rise of cyberpunk science fiction in the early 1980s. Bruce Bethke's short story "Cyberpunk" [pdf] appeared in 1980. (Bethke explains --more or less-- the etymology of "cyberpunk" here.) But, "cyber" as we use the term today really took off after the 1984 publication of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, which coined the term "cyberspace".

A Consensual Hallucination

Yesterday I bought a copy of David Bell's Cyberculture Theorists: Manuel Castells and Donna Haraway (Routledge, 2007), which is a great read and a very welcome change of pace from most of the economics I have to work through at the office.

The first chapter is primarily about defining terms, beginning with the concept of cyberspace. According to Bell, William Gibson coined the term in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, where he wrote:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by millions of legitimate operators. ... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

Which is an uncanny description of the World Wide Web written several years before it existed in any socially meaningful way.

Bell goes on to cite a 1991 essay by Gibson, which recounts how he came to invent the term:

Assembled word cyberspace from small and readily available components of language. Neologic spasm: the primal act of pop poetics. Preceded any concept whatever. Slick and hollow -- awaiting received meaning. All I did: folded words as taught.

Men Need Health Insurance

Men are much less likely to have health insurance than women, according to a fact sheet [pdf] released today by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and CEPR. Heidi Hartmann and Ashley English, at IWPR, and Hye Jin Rho and I, at CEPR, prepared the short report.

The graph below, from the report, shows the share of men and women without health insurance at different age levels.

Graph of health-insurance coverage rates by age and gender

Adults 65 and older --both men and women-- have virtually universal coverage through the government's Medicare program. For younger adults, however, a large share does not have health insurance --and men are consistently more likely than women to be without insurance.

Penguin Escapes Pod of Orcas

GNU/Linux fans will enjoy this video of a tiny penguin that manages to avoid becoming an appetizer for a pod of orcas. (Hat tip JR.)

And here's an explanation of how penguins came to be the Linux mascot.


High unemployment means a lot of work for us at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In the last few weeks, I've been quoted in a New York Time's story about structural unemployment, interviewed on National Public Radio's "The Takeaway" on the same topic, interviewed on Cleveland public radio's "The Sound of Ideas" about long-term unemployment, and written a short piece on the benefits of "work-sharing" for Businessweek.com's "Debate Room".

Incarceration Nation

Kris Warner, Sarika Gupta, and I have a new CEPR report out today on "The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration". We argue: (1) the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world --ahead of Russia and Rwanda and roughly seven times the level in other rich democracies; (2) current incarceration rates are up about 240 percent relative to where they were in 1980 (about the time that the big increase started); (3) rates haven't increased because crime is up --the total number of crimes today is about the same today as it was in 1980; (4) the main factor driving rising incarceration rates are much longer sentences for any particular crime, primarily as a result of "mandatory minimums", "truth in sentencing", and "three strikes" laws; (5) lowering incarceration rates to levels we had in the recent past would likely have little or no effect on public safety; but (6) reducing the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders by one-half (by moving them to probation or parole) could save state and local governments almost $15 billion per year, about one fourth of their total corrections budgets.

The New York Times Economix blog reproduced one of our graphs, with some good commentary underneath. Kris Warner and I also have a post at the Nieman Watchdog's "Ask This" section. And Kris has a post at the new and improved CEPR blog.

UPDATE 06/10/2010: One of our graphs also made "Chart of the Day" at Andrew Sullivan's blog at the The Atlanic.

UPDATE 06/12/2010: The "Hit & Run" blog at Reason (the magazine of "free minds and free markets") has a great post with "Three Charts to Break Your Heart", all from our report. As of today, the post has generated 221 comments. And the Utne Reader's politics blog has run our graph showing the U.S. incarceration rate from 1880-2008.

UPDATE 06/29/2010: The real-world economics review [pdf] has just published the paper in its volume 53.

World Cup 2010

Two good guides to World Cup 2010, which starts in South Africa this Friday: one at The Guardian and another at The New Republic.

And here's the complete schedule at the official FIFA web site. The first match --South Africa versus Mexico-- is Friday, at 10am Eastern Time. Team USA's first match --against England-- is Saturday, June 12, at 2:30pm Eastern Time.