Quick Database Hits

- Here’s an article on unit testing databases that is on my agenda.  I’d like to start building some unit tests for more difficult stored procedures, and one of the things I will be responsible for as a DBA is making sure that stored procs don’t destroy the server, so I would like to take an active role in writing good tests for these procedures.

- I really need to spend some time learning what DMVs are available.  In the meantime, here are a few DMV queries that look helpful.

- Finally, I’m looking at doing some processing to discover the number of transactions per minute per database.  It looks like there are some methods, but I don’t know that I feel comfortable running Profiler or a trace for quite a while, and I’m also not sure that querying sys.dm_tran_database_transactions will give me exactly what I want.  Admittedly, I haven’t looked at it yet, but that’s an assignment for the near future and not right now…

In The Papers: The Red Flag Of Revolution

I am a Burkean conservative.  As an implication of this, I hate the French Revolution with a passion.  It was a disaster which afflicted Europe ever since, and was a direct influence of one of the twin evils of the 20th century.

I came into Daron Acemoglu, et al’s The Consequences of Radical Reform:  The French Revolution with that mindset.

Abstract:

The French Revolution of 1789 had a momentous impact on neighboring countries. The French Revolutionary armies during the 1790s and later under Napoleon invaded and controlled large parts of Europe. Together with invasion came various radical institutional changes. French invasion removed the legal and economic barriers that had protected the nobility, clergy, guilds, and urban oligarchies and established the principle of equality before the law. The evidence suggests that areas that were occupied by the French and that underwent radical institutional reform experienced more rapid urbanization and economic growth, especially after 1850. There is no evidence of a negative effect of French invasion. Our interpretation is that the Revolution destroyed (the institutional underpinnings of) the power of oligarchies and elites opposed to economic change; combined with the arrival of new economic and industrial opportunities in the second half of the 19th century, this helped pave the way for future economic growth. The evidence does not provide any support for several other views, most notably, that evolved institutions are inherently superior to those ‘designed'; that institutions must be ‘appropriate’ and cannot be ‘transplanted'; and that the civil code and other French institutions have adverse economic effects.

To be honest, I think that the final sentence in the abstract is taking things quite a bit too far.  For the paper to show that “evolved institutions are not inherently superior to those ‘designed,'” the “evolved” institutions that did so much worse have to be, well, evolved.  The problem here, however, is that 1790s Prussia, Russia, and Austro-Hungary were far from spontaneous orders—rather, they were quite authoritarian given their technological constraints.  When Thaddeus Kosciuszko tried to free Poland as he had helped to do in America a decade and a half earlier, the Prussians in particular were livid, as they knew that a free Poland would draw serfs (who could become citizens) and allow Poland to become the central European industrial power that Prussia wanted to become.  So instead of freeing the serfs or opening up additional avenues to spontaneous order, the Prussians clamped down and helped destroy the Polish revolution.

The work that Acemoglu, et al, have done does show that French economic institutions were superior to serfdom, at least in the long run.  There is value in that, and they point out several times that they are not making a stand on the French Revolution as a whole, but instead are investigating the economic results of policy changes.  The problem, however, is that I see a problem in the comparison.  Basically, we’re comparing the states and principalities around Europe during the French Revolution (excluding France), and seeing how they did afterwards.  That’s a reasonable thing to do, and based on that comparison, one result of the French Revolution was that French-occupied territories tended to have better economic development a half-century or so later than those with relatively less French influence.  One major exception here is Great Britain, though they were still included in the data set, so the results include this outlier.

But there’s an alternative which I think would have been greatly superior to both setups as they were:  what the British and Americans accomplished and what the Polish tried to do:  develop government-limiting institutions, free their populaces, and promote liberty and order as opposed to Terror and Napoleon.  That would have been significantly better than what did happen.

In The Papers: Offsetting Behavior

While in Germany this year, I wandered into the economics library one day and decided to grab some journals and find interesting articles.  One of the journals I grabbed was the Southern Economic Journal, and specifically, the 2008 edition.  In there, I found an article entitled Automobile Safety Regulation and the Incentive to Drive Recklessly:  Evidence From NASCAR.

Abstract:

When safety regulation makes automobiles safer, drivers may drive more recklessly, creating partially or completely offsetting effects on the overall level of safety. Evidence of these offsetting effects has been hard to find, however, primarily because of the aggregate nature of accident data. In this paper we explore how changes in the safety of automobiles used in NASCAR has altered the incentive of drivers to drive recklessly. This unique data set allows more accurate and objective measurement of the necessary variables to test for these effects at a micro-level. Our results strongly support the presence of these offsetting behavioral effects.

This was a rather interesting article, indicating that NASCAR drivers really do seem to engage in offsetting behavior.  Cited in this article, however, were a couple of articles co-authored by my favorite economics professor back at Dayton.

The first is The Effectiveness of Vehicle Safety Inspections:  An Analysis Using Panel Data (SEJ, 1999, 65(3) pp 571-583).  In this article, the authors look at state-by-state vehicle inspection laws, which are written under the assumption that states which mandate vehicle safety checks are more likely to have safer drivers, as there will be less of a chance of encountering a dangerous car on the road.  The idea of offsetting behavior, however, is that people have an inherent amount of risk that they are willing to bear.  By decreasing the risk (with seatbelt laws, safety inspections, airbags, etc.), people are more willing to make stupid decisions while driving, as the cost of a stupid decision is lower.  People chat on cell phones, put on makeup or shave, drink coffee, and generally don’t pay attention to the road.  Thus, individual behavior will offset legal mandates.  In this article, the authors find that this is potentially the case:  states which mandate safety inspections do not have fewer fatalities or injuries than states which do not.  They point out in the conclusion that this would be due to several potential effects—offsetting behavior, the inability of safety inspections to do their job appropriately, people going to mechanics who pass all cars, and individuals internalizing the costs of damage to their cars so that they already replace the dangerous parts.

So, a few years later, Poitras and Sutter (two of the original authors) come back with Policy Ineffectiveness or Offsetting Behavior?  An Analysis of Vehicle Safety Inspections.  In this paper, the authors decide that offsetting behavior is, in fact, not the best reason for the observation that safety inspections don’t work.  Rather, they argue that the policy itself is ineffective—that people purposefully go to mechanics who will pass them off with a cursory inspection or will find other ways around dealing with the hassle of inspections.

So we can see that offsetting behavior can play a reasonable role in risk-taking activity, but there are other reasons why safety policies might fail rather than the individuals in a regime purposefully scaling up their risky behavior to reach the equilibrium—these policies simply don’t do the job that they’re supposed to on paper.

Yet More Notes

- Note to politicians:  things are not going well when your constituents laugh at you.  And I would like an answer to that last question:  if ObamaCare will be so great, why isn’t Congress forced to take it as well?  Oh, that’s right:  they’re privileged enough that they’ll actually get health care.  It’s the British system all over again:  government officials and wealthy elites get the care that other people lose.

- The black market for tobacco is waxing.  This is a critique of the “legalize, tax, and regulate” argument for drugs.

- We need free markets, not crony capitalism.  Unfortunately, “too big to fail” implies the latter, as failure is an important part of free markets.

- Political Calculations has a good post on the problems of “getting off of oil dependency.” In short, we use oil because oil is extremely efficient for what we need.  Any other energy source has to be more economically efficient, which is some combination of technical efficiency and low-price.  Then, just to humiliate the rest of us, they pile on with a second great point within the same article—this time on the differences in incentives between a private system and a government-run system.

- Ignore the higher budget deficits.  These are not the droids you are looking for.