Lists: A Blog Post on Madness

by Mario Rizzo

I don’t like lists. Many bloggers really love them. There are lists for everything. The top 5 books on gardening in October, and so forth.

I don’t like lists because they make me feel insecure. Do I have the top books? Is my blog in the top for new academic blogs in economics? (Some people think so; others do not.) How many views did we get divided by the number of posts relative to other blogs?

Am I reading the top young economists? What about the top economists in a particular area like behavioral-economics rationalized paternalism?

Are my categories in the top ten? Even if I read the top articles in a field, is the field itself in the top as determined by the top economists and the top universities?

I love champagne. Recently, the New York Times had a list of the best champagne that costs between $30 and $40 per bottle. But is that the best price category? (Is the third best champange over $50 better than the second best under $40?)

The store I went to had only the second best champagne in the Times category. I bought it. Should I feel bad?

Finally since I don’t like lists and don’t like other things as well (e.g., Obama), am I missing something by not prioritizing my dislikes? How much time should I spend criticizing Obama relative to, say, Paul Krugman?

I really don’t like lists.

Happy New Year.

16 thoughts on “Lists: A Blog Post on Madness

  1. If anyone ever wanted to know what it’s like to have a conversation with Mario, they should just read this post. 🙂

    Happy New Year to all my friends at ThinkMarkets.

  2. I can think of a list of my least favorite organizations. Guess what’s top of it?
    Hint: it begins with G.
    T minus 157 minutes…

  3. But when compared to Obama and Krugman, how does your distaste for lists stack up? Curious minds want to know!

  4. While we’re on pet peeves, let me register one.
    That would be calling a year that ends in 9 the end of a decade.
    Or calling a year that ends in 999 (like 1999) the last year in a century.
    Since the first year A.D. was the year 1, not “year 0,” and since a decade has ten years (and a century 100), the last year of the first decade A.D. was 10 A.D., and the last year of the first century A.D. was 100 A.D.
    Therefore the last year of the last century was 2000, and the last year of the first decade of the 21st century will be 2010, which is set to begin in

    T minus 126 minutes.
    Way too much time on my hands.

  5. Bill Stepp,

    I have to disagree. I heard the guy guest-hosting for Rush Limbaugh go over this, and when he was done he had convinced me.

    Yes, the first century ran from 1 AD – 100 AD. And by the same token the last year of the 20th century was 2000, not 1999.

    However, we don’t talk about decades ordinally. We don’t say, “Calvin Coolidge was in office during the Roaring Secondths.”

    By your argument, “the 1960s” ran from January 1st, 1961 through Dec. 31, 1970. That’s crazy.

  6. I’m going with the revisionist dates and ordinal dating.
    You admit the 20th century included the year 2000, yet the end-of-the-20th-century celebrations took place in 1999.
    And office? What office? Is the unconvicted criminal gang known as “the government” in office? They should be holed up in a cave, a car, or maybe a farmhouse, or better still in jail.
    The Brits had the right idea what to do with the “White House.”

  7. Bob,

    At the risk of starting a Seinfeld episode, let’s parse this. Today’s Wall Street Journal says “Don’t Fear the 2010s.” Poppycock!
    Would it have written Jan. 1, 1 AD, “Don’t fear the 0s”? If a decade has ten years, the first decade AD ended Dec. 31, 10 AD. Why not write “Don’t fear the 1s”?
    If the second decade AD began with the year 10, then the year 10 was double counted for decade marking purposes. I submit that the second decade began with the year 11 and ran until the end of year 20. It was the decade of the 11s.

  8. Bill,

    Sure why not, I have real work to do so I’ll answer you instead…

    You are missing the point. We don’t classify decades ordinally. We refer to the “2010s,” not to “the first decade of the 21st century.”

    In contrast, we *do* classify centuries ordinally. We talk about people writing in the 18th century etc. Nobody says Elvis swept America in the 6th decade of the 20th century. No, they say Elvis made it in the 1950s.

    You’re right, technically the last year of the 20th century was 2000, not 1999, at least if we want to be consistent going all the way back to year 1 AD.

    I’m not arguing about that, I’m arguing about your attempt to carry over the attitude of “the average man is so dumb” to the treatment of decades, too. On that score, the average person is right, there is no inconsistency in saying the 1960s ran from Jan 1 1960 through Dec 31, 1969. We are defining the term itself based on the tens place.

    If someone actually talked about, “The 4th decade of the 21st century blah blah blah” then OK, you can chime in, but nobody ever talks like that unless they are trying to show how dumb everyone else is.

  9. It took me a long time to overcome my natural elitist instincts, but I finally came around to the common man’s position on this one. It’s just a lot more dramatic when multiple digits change on the temporal odometer, such as from 1999 to 2000 or (to a lesser extent) 2009 to 2010. It’s not that exciting when just one digit changes, such as from 2000 to 2001 or 2010 to 2011.

    And, as Bill clearly explains, the traditional system is the result of our ancestors having designated the first year A.D. as “1” instead of “0” — most likely because the Romans hadn’t embraced the concept of zero. This is not something we do with babies; we don’t say you’re one year old at the moment of birth. Furthermore, the year designated as year 1 was essentially arbitrary; they could just as easily have started a year earlier or later.

    So why not retrospectively designate the year prior to 1 A.D. as 0 A.D., and then adopt the sensible and intuitive system already followed by the common man?

  10. Year numbers are tallies and not measures of temporal distance. The first year of our Lord, the second year of our Lord, and so on. It would have been most unnatural to declare a year zero. Compare this to birthdays. On your tenth birthday you entered your eleventh year of life. As an infant you were in your 1st year of life, then you had your 2nd year of life (when you were 1 year old), and so on. The calendar tells us which year we are in and not how many years old anything might be. Since this thread started as a discussion of lists, I’ll put the point like so: Year numbers are like list entries, and lists are numbered 1, 2, 3, . . . not 0, 1, 2, . . .

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