Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Some science about what is fashionable in clothing


Fashion is an essential part of human experience and an industry worth over $1.7 trillion. Important choices such as hiring or dating someone are often based on the clothing people wear, and yet we understand almost nothing about the objective features that make an outfit fashionable. In this study, we provide an empirical approach to this key aesthetic domain, examining the link between color coordination and fashionableness.

Studies reveal a robust quadratic effect, such that that maximum fashionableness is attained when outfits are neither too coordinated nor too different. In other words, fashionable outfits are those that are moderately matched, not those that are ultra-matched (“matchy-matchy”) or zero-matched (“clashing”).

This balance of extremes supports a broader hypothesis regarding aesthetic preferences–the Goldilocks principle–that seeks to balance simplicity and complexity.

Here is the source and reference. Thanks to MR

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wanting the story to be true… inequality

Recent media discussion and comment has focussed heavily on a story many seem to want to be true – in spite of the fact that it isn’t. 

Claiming that inequality is growing in NZ is an easy sell at present. Couple it with the idea that the fault for such inequality lies with the rich and you have a sure fire winner but for one thing.

It is incorrect.

It may appeal. It sounds cute. It may “resonate” for those wishing to sound “concerned”.

The Ministry of Social Development states, baldly and boldly in their latest report:

Overall, there is no evidence of any sustained rise or fall in inequality in the last two decades. The level of household disposable income inequality in New Zealand is a little above the OECD median. The share of total income received by the top 1% of individuals is at the low end of the OECD rankings.

Inequality is a non story.  Does it mean there is no poverty?

  1. No – assuredly it does not. All aggregate figures and averages mask the sub groups in populations – including NZ – who undoubtedly suffer and in some cases suffer badly.
  2. Moreover, numbers give only the most mechanistic impression of the horror of poverty for some.  Read the Auckland City Mission’s “Speaking for Ourselves” to get some impression of that.

Still – stories built for political and other self interested motivations around the idea that inequality is growing overall in NZ simply cannot be supported.

What’s more, change in who is affected and how needs to be considered.

More than three quarters, some 76% of the people in the lowest decile in 2002 were, seven years later, no longer there. Moved up, migrated or dead in blunt terms – the majority had moved up.

Notice too that the entire decile group moved upward – and quite considerably.  Between 2002 and 2009 GDP per capital (PPP in USD) increased by some 35%. On average people were 35% richer than before – so what we regard as “average” moved along at 5% a year.

So – on average people were a good deal better off than they had been and that with no increase in inequality. What’s more more the period spanned considerable chunks of both Labour and National led governments – so point scoring there is irrelevant as well.

Acknowledging that reality ought encourage further growth while  focussing on the seriously poverty stricken.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A non result news filler piece of rubbish

Not one of the numbers in this story shows anything at all compared with the last poll. The margin of error is + or minus 3%. There is no story here – the numbers show neither disappointment nor triumph for Labour or anyone else. It is a non-story – a dead parrot:

The latest political poll contains more disappointment for the Labour Party.

The 3News Reid Research Poll out on Sunday has National also slipping slightly, but it remains more than 20 percentage points ahead of Labour.

The poll has National on 49.4 percent, down 0.3 percentage points since the last 3News poll.

Labour drops back to 26.7 percent, down 0.6.

The Greens are also down slightly, to 12.4 percent, and New Zealand First is just shy of the threshold to get back into Parliament, on 4.3 percent.

The new Internet-Mana party alliance is up to 2.3 percent.

The 3News poll surveyed 1000 people with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

What is it that eludes the RNZ journalist and editor here? What is so difficult? Why is this so hard?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The medical fraternity–ignorant bleating

Yet another call for income and GST tax concessions on fruit and vegetables and increases on “sugary foods”from a medic (with superb medical qualifications)  demonstrates yet again substantial ignorance of:

  • substitution effects
  • elasticity
  • cross elasticity amongst products
  • supply and demand effects
  • subsidy capitalisation
  • net present values
  • income transfer effects
  • capture and rent seeking effects
  • prospect and endowment theory
  • anchoring and confirmation bias
  • comparative advantage – do try to stick to things you know something about

In short they know as much about the micro economics of human behaviour and it’s wildly dangerous but seductive cousin economic policy making, as I know about medicine and interventionist surgery. Close to nothing.

The difference is I, and most other economists, indeed most other self respecting scientists of any kind,  don’t bleat and advocate gratuitously about matters of which we are profoundly ignorant.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The last six months… book list

Brain Rules - John Medino... understandable neuroscience of practical use and the bones of cognitive behavioural concepts. All people in all cultures have a graveyard shift 1:00pm - 3:00pm.... get over it.... and don't do my job at that time.

Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman. Compulsory. 20 years of thought and experiment nailed and explained. What's behind almost all behavioural economics. Scholar, writer, scientist, entertainer... and humanist.

China versus the West - Ivan Tselichtchev. Non west global economics. Written while the pot was still boiling hard but still sets the framework usefully. Knock you dead stats but with feeling and insights.

The House of Rothschild – Nial Fergusson. (Two volumes). Jewishness, family businesses and banking over several centuries. How to fund a Franco Prussian war. Impeccable research. No magic in banking, or being Jewish and families are just as scary everywhere.

How to Think Like a Freak - Levitt and Dubner's 3rd. Strong as ever. Entire "wine buff" rubbish crushed with evidence. How to annoy David Cameron. Great economics. David Lee Roth uses revealed preference theory.

Dice World - Brian Clegg. Excellent journey into randomness and quantum physics without the grief. As arguably “the” critical phenomenon I spend a lot of time studying randomness – and our ability to accept it, manage it, even exploit it. Clegg assembles the vital where and why and some of the how.

Hitler - A. N. Wilson - weak and rather bigoted. He is still annoyed about Hitler - but also Churchill, possibly Thatcher. Achievements by those he despises really cause bother. Stick to Victorians, even Elizabethans.

Paradox: The Nine Great Enigmas in Physics - Jim Al-Khalili. Kim Hill rather knocked him over. Just satisfactory but Kim and Callaghan are better. Strong on the speed of light and why no SUV will ever beat it. Origins of physics envy slightly apparent.

Being Prez - The Life of Lester Young... David Gell. Far from the first but strong musical analysis and no pseudo white man's status seeking through fake "apologies". Contrast between musical and sonic authority versus insecurity is staggering.

Staying On - Paul Scott - death of colonialism by 1,000 cuts seen from an Indian minion's perspective. The long march into oblivion with nowhere to go back to. Something of an OE from the British end that wound up in a stranding.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Conan Doyle.... repeat read of one volume per year (4 Akl - Dud returns by Air NZ). This year.... how Conan Doyle makes induction meet deduction. Unbeatable logic and yet the guy became a spiritualist in later life.

Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker - Chuck Haddix. Strong on the context of American life in which Bird featured. What Kansas City was about during prohibition - instructive on what such regulation does. Mayor Prendergast etc. Territory bands - and other bygones.

Eminent Hipsters - Donald Fagan. My Old School and other real stories from the Steely master...terrifyingly easy to identify with. Suburbs growing up in 50s, 60s, 70s. Surprising parallels with (my / our I suppose) NZ child, teen aspirations. Less obscure than most SD lyrics.

Antifragile - Nassim N Taleb. Strong summary from "Fooled by Randomness” to now (via Black Swans). Powerful concepts. Some irritating condescension but never a problem. His unique mixture of psychology and statistics which falls just this side of smart ass but close enough to challenge and inspire.

The Success Equation – Michael Mauboussin. Knowing which outcomes are determined systematically versus randomly is a critical skill. It is not easy. The notion that there is “a reason for everything” is wrong and dangerous. Mauboussin is amongst the very best in this space (and other investment areas) Anything he writes pays dividends when read.

How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes - Maria Kornikova. Cognitive behavioural processes in "that" framework. Clever and not forced at all. Watson gets thumped - and he is us. Links strongly (and deliberately) to Kahneman (above) and the guys in the band.

What it Takes - Charles Ellis..... what makes successful consulting, law, investment, healthcare enterprises fly by the guy who wrote "Winning The Losers Game". Not another business war story - Ellis is healthily cynical.... mixes the madness with the achievement. Vital for anyone with work life balance... lose it and succeed.

Hornet’s Sting – Derek Robinson. Class war through aerial war and Etonian madness with boys toys in WW 1. Very strong writing over a credibly spun anti-hero theme that spins into broader points beyond war. Also humorous in an Adderian fashion.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

What the Lucan Case can Teach us about Rule Making

While much of the debate about school boy hair length has made for lazy TV stories, emotion and re-visiting personal convictions of various “commentators” there are some useful lessons here – highlighted by the judgment.

These largely boil down to trying make useful rules if we choose rules to achieve our goals. We might well note the following:

Making efficient rules involves giving thought to both content and process. In turn:


  1. Rules should be certain and to the greatest extent possible they should avoid ambiguity. Since we don't necessarily want rules to be utterly unchanging forever, clear specified processes for changing them (amongst which parental grandstanding is unlikely to be a good candidate) are helpful;
  2. It is preferable that the content of rules does not involve requirements which can be seen to be hypocritical (rule makers disobeying or near disobeying their own rules) or grossly inconsistent;
  3. Rules which seek to impose subjective judgments are typically troublesome. Seeking to justify such impositions by reference to committees, boards or other small collectives does not overcome the basic flaw; 
  4. Content even remotely approaching “fashion” is subjective. There are no logical constructs which allow its objective evaluation; and,
  5. Remedies and sanctions ought to be spelt out. Those should be proportionate (transportation to the colonies or capital punishment for theft of a loaf of bread is not proportionate by most measures), enforceable and easily understood.


  1. The granting of unfettered discretion to single individuals to interpret, enforce and apply remedies is typically troublesome.  The weaker the content of rules (see above) the worse this problem becomes;
  2. Enforcement and remedial measures should be spelt out before the fact – i.e. when the rule is introduced. Wildly swinging about grabbing for any action which might annoy the rule breaker does not qualify as considered, reasonable practice;
  3. Proportionate application of flexibility in administering rules is useful. It adds to the credibility of the rule, the rule maker and the rule enforcer. Unwarranted entrenched behaviour tends to beget entrenched behaviour.
  4. The abuse of any aspect of the process – from rule design to enforcement – for the purposes of asserting authority for its own sake is both unacceptable and likely to lead to ridicule.

Rule making can be a process which is then “simple” but not “easy”. Less is typically more especially when objectives are unclear, motivations are suspect and the love of good “copy” overwhelms considered thought.