Saturday, January 31, 2009
I was not organized enough to watch a Huskies b-ball game until yesterday, but they are doing well this season and so I made the effort yesterday and was rewarded with a surprisingly strong win over a very good team.
Seattle Times coverage here.
'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad
The ad is clever but marred by an unsubstantiated scientific claim.
The ad also kind of misses the point if you like both vegetables and meat as it is really pro-vegetable (or at least pro-sex-with-vegetables) rather than anti-meat.
I wonder how much they had to pay to have NBC agree to not show it during the super bowl so that they could hype it as "banned".
Hat tip: Economist Gulliver blog
A policy that focuses largely on shifting travelers out of cars and into transit will reduce mobility. An examination of work trip travel times in 276 metropolitan areas found that the length of public transit trips exceeded those for private automobiles in 272 of those areas. On average, public transit riders spend about 36 minutes traveling to work while private automobile travelers commute about 21 minutes. This does not have to be the case. The innovative use of HOT Lanes, such as the networks being built in Northern Virginia and discussed in Atlanta, Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Miami can finance critically needed road capacity while also providing viable bus rapid transit alternatives.
The reasoning in this paragraph, which comes from this testimony here (about which I learned from a Reason Foundation email updating me on their doings) seems to assume that individuals choose between cras and transit at random, so that the mean difference in travel times represents a causal effect, of an odd sort, of taking transit. An alternative model would suggest that higher income individuals, who are likely to have higher values of time, drive, while lower income individuals, who tend to have lower values of time, take transit. In that case, the difference is partly or even entirely selection.
On a more rarified note, one might also consider the variance of travel times, which is likely to be lower for transit in some contexts. When I was at Maryland, I quickly learned that one accident could turn a 30 minute beltway journal into a 90 minute one; as a result I took back rounds from Chevy Chase to College Park. This raised the mean a bit but lowered the variance. When you need to get to class at a specific time, variance matters.
This seems deeply wrong to me. Particularly in the case of prostitution, where there may be no penalty other than a night in jail and another notch on the arrest record, the posting of the picture in a public space be a major component of the punishment for the "crime" (and leaving for another day the wisdom of making such voluntary transactions into crimes to begin with). And yet the punishment is done prior to the person having a trial or admitting guilt.
This ordering of punishment and conviction flies in the face of the legal principal that we all learn (from watching police procedurals) of "innocent until proven guilty". If that principal applied here, then the pictures would be posted after the determination of guilt, not before.
So, shame on the county sheriff of Hillsborough County Florida.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Some of the backgound:
testosterone levels normally surge during the middle of a pregnancy. This not only shapes the brain and sex organs of the child, but also affects the way its fingers grow. High levels of the stuff extend the ring fingers, making them longer than the index fingers. In general, men have relatively longer fourth fingers than women. Previous research has shown that men with significantly elongated ring fingers excel at competitive sports.
Finger length ratios are so easy to measure - just have the respondent trace his hand on a sheet of paper, that I am surprised it is not routinely done in surveys like the Health and Retirement Study and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
For the curious, my index and ring fingers are of approximately equal length.
Hat tip: Dan Black
Thus old-age male fertility provides a selective force against autosomal deleterious mutations at ages far past female menopause with no sharp upper age limit, eliminating the wall of death. Our findings illustrate the evolutionary importance of males and mating preferences, and show that one-sex demographic models are insufficient to describe the forces that shape human senescence.
I do find it odd, as well, that these models would not routinely include separate behavior for men and women.
Hat tip: Charlie Brown
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I particularly liked the juxtaposition between Walt's - the grizzled old vet that Clint plays - children and grandchildren, who were a bunch of spoiled whiners, and his Hmong immigrant neighbors, who embodied what he would have liked to see in his children. It was nice to see a movie make a subtle case in favor of immigration.
It is also interesting to compare the ending here to that in the original Dirty Harry movie. I am not sure if the difference (which I won't spoil for those who have not seen it yet) reflects Clint getting older or a broader social change.
I am not sure that this argument rules out all nudges. The examples he recounts are not really nudges that turn into pushes but pushes from the get go. At the same time, the potential for slippage into pushes should certainly figure into the cost-benefit calculation of whether to have a nudge or not in a given context.
Oh, and if you ever get a chance to have some of David's homemade mead, you should go for it; it is really good.
Hat tip: Don Hacherl
Monday, January 26, 2009
The one bit I will disagree with are the salary caps for top aides. The government competes in the same labor market as everyone else and I would rather have good people than ideologues who are willing to work at below-market rates in order to indulge their political fantasies. Also, seems to me that, like Adam Smith said, paying wages a bit above market is a good way to reduce corruption as it increases the cost of detection and subsequent job loss. The populist fascination with the upper end of the government salary distribution (with the exception, of course, of the salaries of winning college football coaches) is just that, a populist fascination. Like most populist fascinations, it should be resisted.
Hat tip: reason.com and Will Wilkinson
For non-A2 readers, RHL is a hot dog place just across from the School of Education and not far from my office. It has amazing cheese fries - second only to a place I used to go to in Chicago - and great dogs as well.
I hope it returns. There is some hope - this mysterious disappareance by restaurants thing seems to be an A2 habit and the last one - Charlie's on South University - did eventually come back. But Charlie's is no RHL.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The movie was much more historical documentary and much less Hollywood rewrite than I expected. No extra love interests were added, nor was history rewritten to make the plot a success. Much of the movie actually revolves around the playing out of the coup attempt in Berlin after the bomb went off; this was largely new material to me and quite interesting.
Tom Cruise is not the best pick for Stauffenberg, not least because you keep expecting him to appear in his underwear doing air guitar, but not the worst either. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent.
Recommended for history buffs.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I particularly like this formulation
Mr. Bush's legacy is thus a bizarro version of Ronald Reagan's. Reagan entered office declaring that government was not the solution to our problems, it was the problem. Ironically, he demonstrated that government could do some important things right -- he helped tame inflation and masterfully drew the Cold War to a nonviolent triumph for the Free World. By contrast, Mr. Bush has massively expanded the government along with the sense that government is incompetent.
And at last it is over.
A parent who attended the game told The Associated Press that Covenant continued to make 3-pointers — even in the fourth quarter. She praised the Covenant players but said spectators and an assistant coach were cheering wildly as their team edged closer to 100 points.
"I think the bad judgment was in the full-court press and the 3-point shots," said Renee Peloza, whose daughter plays for Dallas Academy. "At some point, they should have backed off."
Covenant school has since asked for a forfeit for their unsportsperson-like behavior.
Hat tip: Charlie Brown
Addendum: the Covenant High girls basketball coach has been fired.
Note the equation by the study authors of "not statistically different from zero" with "equals zero". Of course, the NYT does not give us the point estimate so that the reader can make up his or her own mind.
The NYT does not tell us how the sampling was done either. What was the population? What was the response rate? Did the response rate vary by test cohort or by race within test cohorts? These are not hard questions if you actually are interested in seriously assessing the results rather than just providing false uplift to your readers.
Thought question: is it worse to report on results that have not yet been peer reviewed when you know what you are doing - the NYT even notes in the article that the study has not been peer reviewed - or when you are ignorant of the correct behavior, as a middle school blogger might be?
I would praise the NYT for citing some skeptical scholars but I think they are only doing it becasue they know they should not be reporting on this study at all, both because it is not peer reviewed yet and because it does not really pass the smell test, and so they are providing themselves cover and a false appearance of balance.
I could not find the study posted on the web pages of any of the authors, here, here and here, but it may be that norms about posting working papers are different in psychology than in economics.
On the other side of the ledger, the Smoking Gun reports some negative Obama spillovers.
Hat tip: Dan Black (on the NYT piece)
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Also in the mix are implicit transfers from low income people, whose children are less likely to go to college and tend to attend cheaper (to the public), lower quality colleges when they do, as well as between childless middle class familes and middle class families whose children choose not to attend college to middle class families whose children do attend college. These sorts of transfers are not the kinds implied by most philosophical justifications for redistribution.
The present scheme hardly seems optimal, but the confused public discussion which ignores indirect payment via taxes, ignores the deadweight costs of tax finance, ignores possible effects of public subsidies on the prices of inputs, assumes spillovers that have not been shown to exist in any serious way (other than voting, and it is not clear that marginal voters add or detract from the process) and neglects the various (rather unattractive) implicit transfers in the present scheme does not inspire much confidence that any policy changes will improve the situation rather than worsening it.
Addendum: blogger is having trouble with the link, which is:
Hat tip: Dan Black
I saw this cover at the WHSmith store at the Leeds airport and had to have it. In case you cannot tell, as it is rather small, it is a cover for the Economist's lifestyle periodical called "Intelligent Life". The cover story is "Wising Up" and the cover picture is Paris Hilton reading "War and Peace". I do love the Economist. And bonus points once again to Paris Hilton for not taking herself too seriously.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I did not watch the event itself but it was an odd day indeed:
- on British TV in the morning Michelle Obama was declared "the first lady of fashion" and a "one woman stimulus package for the fashion industry".
- I just saw British prime minister Gordon Brown's media clip about the inauguration. He noted that Britain and "America" have been on good terms for "over 200 years", a period that includes the War of 1812 between, well, Britain and "America". I thought these British pols at least learned a bit more history than their US counterparts. Evidently not.
Treating the inauguration like a coronation seems to me deeply illiberal. A liberal polity is not a polity that wants or needs "one great man" to unify it or lead it or change it or inspire it with hope. Unity is not what free people are about - the pursuit of diverse individual paths to happiness is what free people are about.
Blecch. Too much state today.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
What do we learn? We learn that there is a correlation between coffee drinking in middle age and dementia in later life in some unknown Finnish panel data set. We also learn that the researchers have no model of why caffeine should affect Alzheimers, they are just fishing around in the data set.
When I was an undergraduate, I worked for a few years at a "remote" site of the campus computer center located in the Warren G. Magnuson (a former porkmeister senator from Washington State) Health Sciences Center. There was one researcher who would literally regress "all on all" - apparently you can do this in SPSS, which is another reason to prefer Stata - print out the results on fan-fold paper (this was back in the day), and then stand by the printer circling all the regressions with statistically significant coefficients with a red pen. Pre-test bias, you say? Never let that stand in the way of publication.
What do we not learn? We do not learn anything about initial response rates or subsequent attrition in the Finnish panel data. We do not learn how many other treatment variables besides coffee the researchers looked at. The write-up suggests indirectly that the identification strategy here is linear selection on observed variables but we learn nothing about what else was conditioned on that might serve to make such an identification strategy plausible.
And, of course, the article provides no information on how to actually find the study so that you can read it yourself and fill in the important bits omitted by the reporter.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Indeed, it is amazing to me that he remains alive let alone in charge.
Here is a moving, and amazing, post from Chris Blattman on hyper-inflation in practice. We know how to prevent hyper-inflation. There is NO excuse for this.
It is, as he says, a very cool paper.
17 percent budget cuts over two years are tough when you can only get rid of tenure-track faculty, who are by a lot the main expense of running a university, by closing departments. I expect that the staff will take pretty severe hits and that tuition will go up by a lot. I also predict that too few administrators will be cut than is optimal.
UW is not that far below Michigan in world rankings of universities (though they have let their economics department slip since I was there as an undergraduate, they are kings in computer science, aeronautical engineering, medicine and other fields), there is no reason their tuition should not be similar to Michigan's.
As a Husky football season ticket holder, I like the bit at the end about the stadium - priorities!
Esther is indeed an intellectual leader, a delight in person and deserving of the many honors that have been bestowed upon her.
Those honors, and Esther's contributions to development, to economics as a whole and to development economics in particular are not dimmed by characterizing them accurately. Contra the article, she was not the first person to suggest using field experiments to experiments to evaluate anti-poverty programs. These date back (at least) to the Negative Income Tax experiments in the US in the 1970s, which took place when Esther was a child, and continue through a long series of experimental evaluations of welfare-to-work programs and job training programs in 1980s and 1990s.
Is it really too much to ask reporters at leading newspapers to get these things right?
One can also appreciate all that Esther and her legion of co-authors and followers have done while still having some sympathy for the view, recently voiced by Angus Deaton in a talked entitled "Instrumental Development Economics" - I am still trying to track down the slides - that there is more to development economics, and even more to empirical research in development economics, than field experiments. Field experiments are new and exciting in the development world and much valuable and tasty low-hanging research fruit is being harvested. That is all to the good. But graduate students aspiring to become development economists should learn about the whole toolkit, including the econometric wrenches and theoretical screwdrivers, not just the field experiment hammer.
Finally, the "no-nonsense look of a primary school teacher" seems a bit tough. I agree with the no-nonsense part, but Esther has a good bit more charm and presence than the reporter for the Independent lets on.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
1980 641 127 20
1981 784 115 15
1982 820 120 15
1983 932 129 14
1984 921 138 15
1985 952 128 13
1986 987 123 12.50
1987 843 99 12
1988 844 100 12
1989 946 116 12
1990 911 100 11.50
1991 884 110 12
1992 950 108 11
1993 900 94 10
1994 953 91 10
1995 929 88 9.50
1996 976 85 8.70
1997 976 66 6.80
1998 900 71 7.90
1999 927 79 8.50
2000 989 85 8.60
2001 931 96 10.30
2002 990 103 10.40
2003 1,223 106 8.67
2004 1,265 92 7.27
2005 1,337 98 7.33
2006 1,304 98 7.52
2007 1,308 101 7.7
2008 1,326 99 7.5
These are the numbers for the AER (one of the very top journals in economics for those readers who are not economists) for the past 29 years.
It is hard to know what to make of these numbers, though, because they do not condition on manuscript quality. Submission costs have fallen over this period and the AER tries not to do a lot of desk rejections where the editor sends the paper back to the author without first sending it out to referees for comment. So it seems likely that the average quality of the submissions has fallen over this period. Thus, the pattern here is consistent even with the probability of participation increasing for high quality papers. Hmmm ....
Hat tip: Lones Smith
Monday, January 12, 2009
There is something about the UK tabloid journalism style that is both magnetizing and revolting at the same time.
Hat tip: reason.com
I am never sure if the reason why there are not more stories like this is that newspapers and other media do not assign their reporters to look into them or if they really are isolated incidents. I am inclined toward the former view but this is a case where the file drawer problem really hinders inference.
Hat tip: Dan Black
It seems to me that she should be able to send an invoice for legal research services to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and expect it to be paid.
Also, based on my experience, you cannot solve this problem by moving to Maryland instead of DC. The bureaucracy there is just as bad. I spent hours at the DMV in Maryland on multiple occasions. In Ann Arbor I have spent 10-15 minutes on both occasions.
Hat tip: instapundit
Sunday, January 11, 2009
See if you can find the missing cost in each one of them that should exclude it from the list. Hint: value of time is a good place to start, but it is not the only thing missing.
I am surprised that this made it past the WSJ editors. They should send the author to a remedial economics course.
Hat tip: yahoo.com
The link is here and it is not work friendly due to the ads that surround the blog post but I could not find another more work friendly discussion that I liked as well (or that had as many clever puns).
It always struck me during the end of the cold war that we were wrong to be in such fear of communism. The fact is, communism is not any fun and no one likes it much, other than the party bosses, once they have experienced it. I think the same is true of radical Islam, which is one reason that I am more optimistic about the future of Iran than about the future of some other middle eastern countries as the Iranians have experienced a heavy dose of it and so have a keen sense, by this point, of what they do not want. I think the way we can help these things along is by exporting the fun bits of our culture, whether it be sports, jazz, or viagra.
Here are some thoughts:
First, it provides good advice on what human capital you should accumulate if you want to be an evaluator. I would just add a bit more refinement to Chris' recommendations. If you want to do evaluation in development, find a place that is strong in micro-development and in labor. Princeton and Michigan are examples here. If you want to do domestic educational evaluation, find a place that is good in labor and/or education and, ideally, where the economists talk to the ed school people and the ed school people are worth talking to. Harvard and Michigan come to mind here. I would second his recommendation regarding obtaining some work experience in the real world of evaluation but would broaden it to include working at an evaluation consulting firm like Mathematica, Abt or RTI.
Second, it really is true that getting a reliable impact analysis is just the first step. There is always interest in improving even the most effective programs (where effective programs are a rather modest subset of all existing programs) by tweaking the design. There are also important issues of portability. For example, just because Progresa "works" in Mexico does not mean that a Nicarguan or Brazilian version will obtain the same results. Knowing how and why a program produces the impacts it produces makes addressing these questions of program modification and program replication in other contexts a much surer business. Of course, as a byproduct learning about how and why programs work adds to our general stock of social science knowledge in a way that isolated black-box impacts estimates do not. This point is emphasized in, e.g. the Heckman and Smith (1995) piece in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.
Third, I would note that economists sometimes forget that there is more to evaluation itself than obtaining credible impact estimates, difficult though that often is even within the context of an RCT. If you pick up one of the standard non-economics texts on evaluation, such as the nice book by Shadish, Cook and Campbell, you will find that surprisingly little space (probably too little, but that is a different post) is spent on impact evaluation. What you find are are sections on topics such as implementation fidelity (does the program as implemented match the program as designed) and process evaluation (how does the program operate in practice) that economists tend not to talk too much about.
Finally, cost-benefit analysis, which in economics traditionally falls under the heading of public finance, is also an important part of a serious evaluation. Very few evaluations do a very good job with this; a useful exception in the labor economics world is Mathematica's experimental evaluation of the Job Corps program. Even if your career focuses on impact evaluation, having a solid foundation in the other facets of evaluation will allow you to do your job better. You will be able to interact more effectively with people from other backgrounds and you will find that, for example, the output produced under the heading of a process analysis is very valuable in the course of an impact analysis. An excellent examples of a (relatively quantitative) process analyses in the labor economics context is the Kemple, Doolittle and Wallace (1993) report produced as part of the National Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) study.
Hat tip: marginal revolution
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Methinks that the Ann Arbor police department is a ripe target for budget cuts as the city tries to balance its budget if this is the best way they can come up with to spend their time and my tax dollars.
Methinks too that students exchanging for grades is a much more serious issue than students exchanging favors for cash.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I am actually a bit excited about next year now.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
The list includes only one macroeconomist and no labor economists (and no micro theorists either). I am not sure who I would pick as a future star in labor; the field seems to be in a stretch of high quality, within-paradigm research of an incrementalist sort. This kind of research gets done by good but not star quality researchers.
The Economist does an excellent job of analogizing the link between structural economics and the raw reduced form results produced by experiments and other reduced form analyses:
The randomistas, as Ms Duflo and her comrades are called, liken their studies to the clinical trials that prove the efficacy of new drugs. But the ultimate ambition of economics is for something more akin to anatomy. Researchers hope to dissect the underlying physiology of an economic problem, revealing how the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone. With a full anatomy of behaviour—what economists call a structural model—they can determine if a policy or project will work even before it has been attempted.I read that as a gentle poke at the randomistas and a nod to the view, implicit in my papers with Shannon Seitz and Jeremy Lise on the Canadian SSP program and in the excellent paper (since published in the AER) on the Mexican PROGRESA program by Petra Todd and Ken Wolpin, that experiments and structural models are complements, not substitutes.
I also like the Economist's (likely controversial) definition of what constitutes economics:
What, then, unites these eight young stars and the discipline they may come to dominate? Economists still share a taste for the Greek alphabet: they like to provide formal, algebraic accounts of the behaviour they explain. And they pride themselves on the sophistication of their investigative methods. They are usually better at teasing confessions out of data than their rivals in other social sciences. What defines economics? Economics is what economists do—the best of them, anyway.I think this bit indirectly highlights the fact that recent economic imperialism, unlike the efforts led by Becker and others, rides on the superior applied econometric skills of economists rather than on their theory. This is particularly true for the large inroads that economists have made into education research.