Moneyball: Statistics or Steroids?

Moneyball was a best-selling 2003 book by Michael Lewis and a 2011 hit movie starring Brad Pitt. Moneyball’s underlying theme attempts to support a specific hypothesis about management science–that statistical analysis, such as econometrics, offers a more reliable guide to decision making than does gut-instinct based on experience. Hence Moneyball attributes the success of the 2002 Oakland A’s to general manager Billy Beane’s reliance on econometric analysis, and consequent disregard for the advice of his professional scouting staff.

As someone who actually teaches econometrics, I happen to know a bit about the limitations of the technique, and I therefore always believed that Moneyball oversold the benefits of data analysis. As Steve Sailer argues, the success of the 2002 A’s might have a simpler explanation: steroids.

[I]t never seems to have occurred to [Lewis] that Oakland A’s baseball general manager Billy Beane might not have drawn back the curtain on his statistical techniques for the benefit of Lewis’ Moneyball purely out of a disinterested love of advancing learning.

One possibility is that Lewis’ book served Beane’s need to permanently distract from the large role played in the success of the A’s by performance-enhancing drugs, at least since Jose Canseco arrived in Oakland in the mid-1980s. I heard from a baseball agent in the early 1990s that “Jose Canseco is the Typhoid Mary of steroids,” but in Moneyball a decade later Lewis mentioned the word “steroids” only once.

Moneyball diverted attention to obscure Oakland fringe players and away from Beane employing in 2002 a slugging shortstop, Miguel Tejada, who won the Most Valuable Player award by driving in a remarkable 131 runs.

And then, two years later, Tejada knocked in 150 runs.

A couple of years after Moneyball hit the best-seller lists, Tejada was mentioned in Canseco’s memoir Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.

In 2009, Tejada pleaded guilty to perjuring himself to Congress regarding steroids.

Econometrics is a great subject. But when it comes to explaining the success of the 2002 A’s, I find chemical enhancement more relevant than the fact that Billy Beane hired a Yale grad with a laptop.

By the way, back in 1998, students asked me what I thought about the fact that Mark McGwire had just broken the home run record. I replied that McGwire must be taking steroids. The students expressed shock at my reply, and seemed appalled that I would disparage McGwire’s achievement.

Oh well. Young people often have their delusions shattered.

Great Moments in Journalism


Yeah, I’m willing to bet a lot of money that this would not happen.

Anyone who wants to vote against Trump can easily find legitimate reasons for doing so, but this is not one of them.

But as we’re now less than a month from election day, it’s not surprising to see this sort of Silly Season nonsense from ostensibly VERY SERIOUS professional journalists. At this point, journalists must rank well below car dealers in respectability, and maybe even lower than gypsy pickpockets since, in the aggregate, pickpockets cause less harm.

Where’s the Economic Growth?

The U.S. economy has gone ten years, 2006-2015, without a single year of 3 percent economic growth. This streak is probably unprecedented in American history. The previous post-war record was just four consecutive years (1979-1982) of sub-3% growth. On Friday, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. is now well on its way to making it 11 years in a row.

The U.S. economy expanded less than forecast in the second quarter after a weaker start to the year than previously estimated as companies slimmed down inventories and remained wary of investing amid shaky global demand.

Gross domestic product rose at a 1.2 percent annualized rate after a 0.8 percent advance the prior quarter, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 2.5 percent second-quarter increase.

The 0.8 percent figure for the first quarter represented a downward revision from an initial estimate of 1.1 percent. For the first half of 2016, therefore, growth has averaged a rate of just 1.0 percent. As a result, the economy can avoid an 11th straight year of sub-3% growth only by growing at a rate of at least 5.0 over the second half of the year. That seems a pretty tall order, since each of the past seven quarters have now seen growth rates below 3.0.

Furthermore, growth during the final quarter of 2015 came in at a rate of only 0.9. Hence the economy has grown at a rate of only about one percent over the last three quarters.

As we reported previously, however, some economists think that official figures underestimate the true rate of growth by as much as 0.7 percentage points. Even so, adjusting for this discrepancy would still put growth over the last three quarters at about a 1.7 percent rate, which is weak. By U.S. historical standards, 3 percent growth would be moderate, and 4 percent good.

The other disturbing aspect of Friday’s report was the drop in business fixed investment.

Private fixed investment, which includes residential and business spending, dropped at a 3.2 percent pace in the second quarter, the most in seven years.

Seven years, in other words, since the last recession.

Corporate spending on equipment, structures and intellectual property, decreased an annualized 2.2 percent after a 3.4 percent fall in the first quarter. Outlays for equipment dropped for the fourth time in the past five quarters. Spending on structures — everything from factories to shops to oil rigs — have increased in just one quarter since the end of 2014.

Declining business investment usually presages a recession.

Just sayin’.

Michigan State Discriminated Against Men for 91 Years

Michigan State University, in apparent violation of state and possibly federal anti-discrimination statutes, maintained a women-only study lounge without offering the same accommodation to men. Mark Perry, an economist, Michigan taxpayer, civil rights activist, and former classmate of ours, decided to do something about it.

The University of Michigan-Flint professor filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over the women-only study lounge at Michigan State, which does not have a similar space for men, MLive reported Monday.

The school claims it hasn’t received Perry’s complaint yet – the agency told the Lansing State Journal it was received July 7 – and says it was already planning to make the lounge coed, after 91 years open to women only…

MSU doesn’t appear to have said anything publicly about this pending change to the lounge  – which is becoming an “all-purpose quiet study area” – before Perry’s complaint made the news, judging by the shocked reactions of mostly women on social media this week.

The State News published a selection of outraged tweets responding to Perry’s complaint. One angry alum even called the addition of a private lactation station to the updated lounge “a bizarre cop-out.”

Predictably, there’s already a petition with 2,800 signatures, explicitly filed in response to Perry’s complaint, to “take back our study lounge, reinstate the Women’s Resource Center, and the support our Women’s Counsel.”

LOLZ. Tell us again how feminism is about ‘equality.’

In any event, Kudos to Mark Perry. His excellent blog can be found here.

Feds Approve Radioactive ‘Dirty Bomb’ Material for Fake Company

Here’s just the latest stunning example of government competence. A sting operation by the General Accounting Office fooled nuclear regulators into approving permits for radioactive ‘dirty bomb’ material.

“GAO’s covert testing of NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] requirements showed them to be effective in two out of our three cases,” according to the report.

However, “in a third case, GAO was able to obtain a license and secure commitments to purchase, by accumulating multiple category 3 quantities of materials, a category 2 quantity of a radioactive material considered attractive for use in a ‘dirty bomb’—which uses explosives to disperse radioactive material,” according to the report.

“In the third case, the official from the regulatory body accepted GAO’s assurances without scrutinizing key aspects of the fictitious business, which led to a license being obtained,” according to the report.

The findings are particularly concerning as GAO “made no attempt to outfit the [fake business] site to make it appear as if a legitimate business was operating there.”

The NRC handed a paper license to an undercover GAO operator during the undercover operation.

“Our application was approved and the paper license was handed to our GAO investigator posing as a representative of our fictitious company at the end of the prelicensing site visit,” according to the report.

The NRC also believed several lies by these undercover inspectors.

“During the application process and site visit, the regulatory official accepted our written and oral assurances of the steps that our fictitious company would take—to construct facilities, establish safety procedures, hire sufficient qualified staff, and construct secure storage areas—after receiving a license,” the report states.

“The official from the regulatory body accepted our assurances without scrutinizing key aspects of our fictitious business to the extent that the other regulatory bodies had,” the report adds.

The GAO was ultimately able to use this license to get commitments to obtain enough category 3 materials to reach a category 2 quantity of radioactive material, which the GAO says is an attractive source for use in building a dirty bomb.

Given the fundamental incompetence of the federal security state, it’s frankly surprising we don’t see more terrorist attacks. When it comes right down to it, there must not be very many competent terrorists out there. Really competent terrorists who can put together and execute sophisticated plans–like we see in movies–would run circles around the bureaucratic doofuses who are supposedly paid to protect us.

Notable and Quotable

The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.

Establishment Economist Paul Krugman, 1998.

Book Recommendations

A student interested in summer reading recently asked us for book recommendations. We didn’t want to overwhelm him, so we sent a fairly brief list. Here’s the list, with a couple of additions.


Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

The Armchair Economist by Steven Landsburg


A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel


Is there Anything Good about Men? by Roy Baumeister


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Modern Times by Paul Johnson

The Harvest of Sorrow by Robert Conquest


Art for Dummies by Thomas Hoving

Happy Father’s Day!

To celebrate, here’s our annual Father’s Day pic of a coal miner and his daughters. Those girls were living in poverty-stricken 1970s Appalachia, but unlike one-third of American kids today, they at least they had their biological dad, or what was left of him, living at home. #MalePrivilege


A Democrat Dilemma

Democrats historically have shown an amazing ability to keep antagonistic groups within the same political coalition. For instance, the coalition that elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt included northern liberals, Catholics, and Jews, along with southern conservatives and KKK members who were avowedly anti-Jew and anti-Catholic. Yet somehow, they all voted the same way.

The latest challenge for the Democrats appears to be keeping their Islamist constituency from murdering their gay homosexual constituency.

Good luck with that.