Thursday, July 7, 2016

Yes, Kevin Durant is a Golden State Warrior

Kevin Durant's decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors has been greeted with joy by
Warriors' fans and disdain by fans of virtually every other team in the NBA. As several commentators have pointed out, next season the Warriors will no longer be seen as the lovable underdogs but instead as the NBA's most hated bullies, which is interesting considering that signing players like Durant is exactly what the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics have been doing for years, and no one seemed to mind. However, now that the Warriors have done it, it's somehow immoral. Oh well. I'm sure most Warrior fans can live with it.

My sense is that when cry-baby James convinced the NBA's powers-that-be to suspend Draymond Green for the 5th game of the NBA finals, the Warriors' management decided that from that point on it would no longer be the NBA's nice guy but instead would be the NBA's new LA Lakers (or Boston Celtics). That's not to say that they weren't targeting Durant before. It's just to say that they probably became more determined after. We'll see how it all works out.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why Brexit Is (Probably) A Bad Thing

The decision of British voters to leave the European Union (EU) will probably be a bad thing, not only for Britain, but also possibly Europe and the rest of the World. Why? Well, aside from the fact that Russia's Vladimir Putin thinks it's a good thing, no doubt because he thinks it will weaken Europe and help Russia, here's a few reasons:

1. Capital investment: Economic uncertainty reduces capital investment, which is necessary for economies to grow, innovate, and thrive. In fact, on July 1st The Financial Times reported that deals worth £650m had been pulled as a result of the Brexit vote. And uncertainty will continue to reign until Britain and the EU negotiate the terms of their divorce. The best case scenario is for EU members to quickly agree to keep Britain as closely tied to the EU as possible without being a member. It would be similar to the relationship that Norway and other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) have with the EU. Such a relationship would have its costs: EEA members make large payments to the EU, and they have to observe all EU single-market regulations without having a say in drawing them up. However, this would also mean accepting the free movement of labor, which the Brexiters campaigned against (see below). Thus, a more likely scenario is that the negotiations will drag out, which will prolong uncertainty, reduce investment, and hurt Britain's economy.

2. Free trade and open markets: Although open markets have deleterious effects, there is little doubt that they contribute to an economy's long-term growth. The answer isn't to restrict trade, but to put in place social safety nets (e.g., single-payer health care) and educational advancement options that help those displaced by a rapidly changing economy. To be sure, Brexiters argue that by leaving the EU, Britain can negotiate its own trade agreements with non-EU countries and not be subject to EU trade regulations, which Brexiters argue restrict free trade, thus making it easier for Britain to trade with the rest of the world. That argument, however, is problematic. First, almost half of Britain's exports go to EU countries -- not having access to the EU single market will hurt the very people the Brexiters claim to be protecting. Second, Europe has negotiated scores of trade agreements that Britain would need to redo, and as The Economist notes ("Divided We Fall"), Britain "would be a smaller, weaker negotiating partner. The timetable would not be under its control, and the slow, grinding history of trade liberalisation shows that mercantilists tend to have the upper hand."

3. Free movement of labor: Research has found that immigration positively affects a nation's economy. Immigrants contribute more to a country's GDP than they take away, but they are often seen as the problem. As The Economist noted a couple of weeks ago ("Divided We Fall"):
Leave has warned that millions of Turks are about to invade Britain, which is blatantly false. It has blamed strains on public services like health care and education on immigration, when immigrants, who are net contributors to the exchequer, help Britain foot the bill. It suggests that Britain cannot keep out murderers, rapists and terrorists when, in fact, it can.
And, as FiveThirtyEight recently reported ("The U.K. Can't Block Immigration If It Wants To Keep Its Finance Industry"), Britain will not remain one of the financial capitals of the world if it insists on restricting immigration. Why is that important? Because Britain's financial services industry accounts for about 11% of all tax revenue.

4. Scotland and Ireland: Scotland voted to remain in the EU and now is considering another referendum to gain independence from the UK, so that it could rejoin the EU. That would probably be bad for both economies. And in Ireland, the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord, which has helped reduce the tensions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the last 18 years, "required" that both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland remain in the EU. Many see the sharing of British and Irish national sovereignty within the EU "as an important softening of the bipolar choice between British and Irish dominion in Northern Ireland... [a decision to leave the EU] will be seen by many nationalists as a reconstruction of political and even physical barriers between the north and south of Ireland, which the Good Friday agreement was designed to reduce" ("Troubles Redux: Brexit Would Put the Good Friday Agreement in Jeopardy").

Monday, July 4, 2016

Don't Blame Terrorism on Mental Illness Either

In a recent post ("Terrorists Aren't Stupid (Nor Are They Ignorant)") I noted that contrary to conventional wisdom, terrorist are neither stupid nor ignorant. Several studies have demonstrated that the average terrorist (not just the leaders) tends to be well educated, come from a middle class background, and have attended secular, rather than religious, schools as a child.

I should also have also noted that the average terrorist does not suffer from mental illness. Several studies have found that although some terrorists do display signs of mental illness, most do not. In fact, the proportion of terrorists who are mentally ill is not higher than the proportion of people in the population at large who are mentally ill.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The College World Series Isn't Fair

Like probably most who follow college baseball, I was pulling for Coastal Carolina to beat Arizona in the College World Series Finals (which they did). Everybody (well, almost everybody), including me and Carl Spackler, loves a Cinderella story, and Coastal Carolina fits the bill. It's tough for teams from non-power conferences to win the World Series, even when they have a good program. It's tougher for them to recruit the top players (or as many top players) than it is for teams from the SEC, Pac 12, and so on. So when a team like Costal Carolina, which this year played in the Big South Conference (they're moving to the Sun Belt Conference next year), has a chance to win a college national championship, it's hard not to root for them. That said, as much as I loved seeing Costal Carolina win, I don't think the College World Series is fair (although Coastal Carolina deserved to win more than Arizona did). I believe that the way it's structured raises the probability that college baseball's best team WON'T emerge as champion.

Briefly, the path to the championship works like this. After the regular college baseball season is over, 64 teams are selected to play in 16 regional double-elimination tournaments. The winners of these then play in one of eight "super regional" best-of-three tournaments. The eight winners of the super regionals head to the World Series where they are sorted into two four-team double-elimination "tournaments," and the two winners then play a best-of-three series for the championship.

The problem lies in the assumption that most of the time the winners of best-of-three series are the best team. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Imagine, for the moment, that two teams are in a playoff, and one, the favorite will win 55% of the time (given enough games), while the other, the underdog, will win 45% of the time (again, given enough games). In such a scenario, in a three game series, the underdog will win the playoff 42.53% of the time. In a five game series, the underdog will win the playoff 40.69% of the time. And, in a seven game series, the underdog will win the playoff 39.17% of the time. And these probabilities don't even take into account the possibility that the favorites will suffer a key injury along the way. Thus, while the favorites will win playoff series of 3, 5, and 7 games more often than will the underdogs, underdogs will still win far more often than most people probably realize. My guess is that the likelihood that one of the underdogs will win a four-team, double-elimination tournaments is even higher.

In short, when teams have to win two best-of-three playoff series and two four-team, double-elimination tournaments in order to be crowned champion, there's a strong likelihood that the eventual champion isn't the best team in the country. Put differently, the probability that that best team will not win it all is far too high, which is why the College World Series isn't fair (at least if the goal is for the best team to be crowned champion).

What could be changed? At a minimum, I think that the NCAA give the top eight teams in the country a bye to the super regionals. It's not a perfect solution, but it would increase the likelihood that that best teams will at least reach the World Series. An even better scenario would be for the NCAA to give the top four teams a bye to the World Series. That almost certainly won't happen, but it would make things more fair.

Similar arguments could be made for the NBA, NHL, and MLB. Both the NBA and NHL require the top teams to play four rounds of playoffs. It makes for great TV, but it increases the likelihood that the better teams will be upset. Both leagues could improve matters if they gave the top two teams in each division a bye for the first round, and then let the next four teams battle it out for the other spots. This would reduce the number of teams making the playoffs from eight to six, but that would be more than acceptable if the goal is for the best team to win the championship (at least most of the time). Major League Baseball playoffs could give the top four teams in each league a bye, but as I noted some time ago, the one-game wild card is a terrible idea ("The Baseball Playoffs Need to Change"). A better approach would be for the top two teams in each league to receive a bye. Then, the other four teams could play best-of-seven series. Again, not ideal, but it would be more fair than it is right now.