Friday, December 31, 2010

Not sure what to say about this ...

... other than maybe "oh dear" ...

NB: College of DuPage is a public junior college in Illinois.

Hat tip: Dan Black

Happy Days in the Husky nation

Seattle Times coverage here, here, here and here. AP story here.

Wow ... the Huskies were positively "anteneuheiselan" in their play, to use a term coined by my college friend Ken Virta.

I may just watch this one again on ESPN3.

Happy, Happy Holiday Bowl

Washington 19, Nebraska 7

And the defense! Wow.

Well done.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remodeling teacher education

Apparently, the big new idea in teacher education is teaching teachers how to teach. As with evidence-based medicine, the current big new idea in medicine, one is led to ask "and just what is it that you were doing before?"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Assorted links

1. What statisticians are making these days.

2. Economics via Seinfeld.

3. The relative generosity of Canadians and Americans. I thought everyone knew this?

4. Ohio State: class of the Big 10

5. Public profile rankings of education economists. The scary part is how many people on the list I know. At least one even reads this blog!

Movie: Tangled

I agree with the NYT on this one: best straight-up (i.e. no Pixar) new Disney movie I've seen in quite a long time.

Recommended as a kid's movie.

Forever stamps

The post office is taking the values off of stamps. This is certainly nice for consumers, who will not have to keep track of one and two-cent changes in the price of a first-class stamp. I'm not sure how much, if at all, it will help the post office financially.

This move will provide some minor challenges for whoever does the accounting for the post office, for the same reason that gift certificates and gift cards pose an accounting issue for private firms. They represent a liability but one whose expected cost changes over time.

Be nice, given that the post office continues to lose money, if they would just take away its monopoly and privatize it. They say I'm a dreamer ...

Movie: The King's Speech

This is an historically-based entertainment regarding the struggles of British King George VI, who ruled during WW2, to overcome his stutter. I enjoyed it a lot. I knew the history around George VI's older brother, who abdicated in 1936 so that he could marry American divorcee Wallace Simpson, but did not know anything about the stutter.

The NYT review suffers from the reviewer's excess of class consciousness. This background piece, also from the NYT, gives a better picture of the picture.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Biased research on smoking ...

Here is an example of why moving all research from the drug companies to government funded labs and university researchers will not solve the problem of biased research.

Though one should not omit the possibility that the researchers hired by Health Canada to do the research simply were not very good or did not include on their team someone familiar with survey design. An easy way to deflate nearly any applied economist doing research using survey data is to start asking about the details of the data collection, either in terms of the sampling or in terms of the survey structure and question wording.

There's no hockey on ... what shall we do?

Canadians have the world's highest internet usage. Could it be opportunity costs? It would be interesting to see the seasonal (and regional) patterns.

Is the Economist unhappy now?

The economist oversells a finding from the happiness literature.

If you always put in squared terms, you always get parabolas. Who would have thought?

And I actually read this article in the paper Economist at my in-laws a couple of days ago and assumed the issue was synthetic cohorts and not functional form assumptions or confirmation bias.

Via: MR

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back to the Future, Back to the USSR

The fellow who runs the Northstar Compass lives in a posh house in the same neighborhood as my in-laws.

The website of the Maoist International Movement says: "Northstar Compass occupies a niche to the nominal left of the most left-wing social-democrats like the CP-USA and to the right of consistent Maoists. It consists of reprints of various communist and so-called communist organizations from the ex- Soviet Union for the consumption of Russians in Russia and Russophiles in the Western imperialist countries, especially Canada where it is based and the United $tates."

Now, can someone please point out the Judean People's Front?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Assorted links

1. At the risk of seeming like a snob, this, which I was compelled by social norms to watch parts of on video, is truly and deeply awful.

2. A sad tale of freedom denied in Ontario.

3. Radly Balko on cable news.

4. Post-election career advice for defeated Congresscritters and their staff.

5. This is an unintended consequence only if the payday loan folks do not have lobbyists or make donations. I bet they do.

CBC kids

I had occasion to watch a couple of hours of CBC kids, the children's network of the government-run Canadian Broadcasting Company, the other day. It engendered the following thoughts:

1. I quite enjoyed Dirt Girl. This Australian show was low on preaching, what it preached was actually useful (e.g. wear gloves when handling fertilizer) and all the characters had cute Australian accents. Plus the animation was creative and happy and reminded me a bit of what Terry Gilliam used to create for Monty Python.

2. In contrast, Turbodogs was dull, smarmy and preachy. As is often the case when I watch cartoons produced after about 1975, I wondered what it was that was broken about Road Runner and Bugs Bunny that needed fixing with a lot of preaching.

3. I still have never heard a coherent case for having a government-run television network in a democracy. If there is such a case, it is hard to see how it extends beyond news to entertainment programs that look exactly like those on commercial networks. It is also hard to see how an independent non-profit could not fill the same niche without relying on tax funding and without implicit or explicit worries about pro-state bias.

Happy holidays to all!

Via Chris Blattman, some British adverts that should inspire holiday reflection.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Assorted links

1. Former Husky quarterback and current KJR radio commentator has opinions on the Huskies and the Seahawks.

2. Thoughts on evaluation from Howard Bloom of MDRC on the occasion of his winning the Peter Rossi award of the Association for Public Policy and Management. Most if not all of the thoughts apply to any sort of quantitative empirical research.

3. David Frum on the Mugwumps. This is a period of US political history that I know relatively little about.

4. An hilarious takedown of Alice Waters and middle school gardens in California. Another silly policy to add to the paper topic list for my undergraduate evaluation course. Reading, writing and arithmetic really, really, really should be the primary focus, especially in schools serving low-income populations. Once they are mastered, then make time for other things. Reading is a necessary condition for success in life. Gardening, delightful though it is, is not.

5. An update on the Mounties (now bossed by a relative of my wife). There are lots of lessons to be had in public management.

Simulations and the military

An interesting bit from the Atlantic on the military version of SimCity.

Back in my board wargaming days in junior high, my favorite company, Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) produced a simulation for the military that was also released as a "civilian" game called Firefight. A bit of poking around looking for a good link on Firefight (buy it here!) led to this interesting page. Another book to add to the list ...

Addendum: not actually a book but an online document.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Elasticity of taxable income in Oregon

TaxProf Blog discusses the lower-than-expected returns from raising rates on the top brackets in Oregon.

Neither the discussion at the link nor the counter-discussion linked to at the bottom of the TaxProf blog post really satisfy. The TaxProf blog post focuses on long-term explanations for a short-term change in tax revenues. In the short run, one would not expect lots of residential or small business mobility, but one would expect reductions in consulting income as well as responses related to the timing of capital gains realization, the coding of business income and the like. Sorting out the short- and long-run responses to tax rate changes is hard, and something the literature is not very good at (and sometimes seems to forget entirely).

In contrast, the second of the two counter-views linked to by the tax prof seems to assume that the entire change is due to the recession, with no behavioral response at all. It offers no evidence for this view, which is inconsistent with the broader literature in public finance. Surely there is some mechanical effect of the recession, but it seems unlikely to be all or even most of the story.

More generally, one of the basic results in public finance is that you want to tax things that do not change much in response to the taxes, because the resulting distortions in individual choices that result are then small. Raising the top brackets is doing exactly the opposite of this, as there is pretty good evidence that the elasticity of taxable income increases with income.

Via: instapundit

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Assorted links

1. New developments in methane-powered laptops at Harvard. Insert your own joke here.

2. The closing of GM's Willow Run plant in Ann Arbor.

3. Research uses for Google books.

4. Not one but two pieces on Husky Bowl history from the Seattle Times (as I know at least one Cougar is reading ...)

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown.

Movie: Tamara Drewe

We saw Tamara Drewe last week and quite enjoyed it, perhaps a bit more than the NYT did, though the NYT is spot on about it being a bit unsure of what sort of movie it wants to be.

I thought that the two naughty 15-year-old girls stole the show, but that may be because they so well captured my step-sister and her friend Debbie at the same age.

Bonus interview with Gemma Aterton, who plays the lead role.


Thanks for nothing

Should the tea party, or the dems, or anyone else, be thanked for lower taxes due to the extension of the Bush-era tax rate cuts?

Well, no, because while rates were kept at current levels for now, spending was increased, which means that either future income taxes will be higher, or other taxes (e.g. inflation) will be higher or both. Cutting taxes in a meaningful sense, rather than just moving them around in time or in form, requires actually cutting spending. Let's get to it. Doing it sooner makes it easier to do it in thoughtful ways.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shanghai and PISA

Several people sent me links to articles about Shanghai's performance on the PISA tests, such as this one from the Christian Science Monitor.

Some thoughts:

1. My Michigan colleague Kevin Miller, who is cited extensively in the article, is a very cool guy. We once ended up stuck at Reagan airport in DC for several hours. I don't know about Kevin, but it was by far the most interesting and enjoyable flight delay I ever had.

2. I am surprised that there was no mention of cheating in the article, not in the sense of the students who took the test cheating on it but rather via strategic manipulation of who showed up on test days. People raised under communism understand how to game performance measures even better than do US educators, whose manipulation of performance measures such as those in the No Child Left Behind Act is well documented.

3. It continues to amaze me how little real knowledge we have about how to educate. That has started to change in recent years with improved research designs but only over the screaming and flailing opposition of many educators and professors of education.

Assorted links

1. Wikileaks + Santa

2. Economics book recommendations for the non-economist.

3. Movie posters redone for the holidays.

4. An excellent rant on airport security theater.

5. Toys to avoid this Christmas. Who says there is nothing useful in the Huffington Post?

I laughed harder at #5 than at #1 or #3. A hat tip for all three to Lani Meilgaard.

Tyler Cowen on inequality and the business cycle

This recent piece by Tyler Cowen in the American Interest is really two pieces in one: a nice, low-tech essay on trends in income inequality followed by, and linked to, Tyler's theory of the financial business cycle. I'm not really qualified to judge the latter, but the former seems correct and wise.

I particularly liked this bit, which has occurred to me as well:

The funny thing is this: For years, many cultural critics in and of the United States have been telling us that Americans should behave more like threshold earners. We should be less harried, more interested in nurturing friendships, and more interested in the non-commercial sphere of life. That may well be good advice. Many studies suggest that above a certain level more money brings only marginal increments of happiness. What isn’t so widely advertised is that those same critics have basically been telling us, without realizing it, that we should be acting in such a manner as to increase measured income inequality. Not only is high inequality an inevitable concomitant of human diversity, but growing income inequality may be, too, if lots of us take the kind of advice that will make us happier.
To me, our concern should be with the worst off, particularly poor children and particularly those who are badly off largely due to factors outside their own control, rather than with inequality per se.

The dull life of a test grader

I found myself more sympathetic to this lonely rant from someone who makes money grading the written bits of standardized tests than I expected to be.

But, and there are a lot of buts in this case, I have some issues:

1. First, it is more important that people learn to read, write functional sentences and paragraphs and do basic math than that they learn to be creative or to experience art and music. It would be nice if everyone could learn all these things, but basic literacy and numeracy have to come first. I agree with Rich Hanushek that the upside of NCLB and the broader fixation on standardized measures of basic skills of which it is both cause and effect is to actually improve literacy and numeracy at the worst public schools. It would be great to find a way to do this while wasting less time and energy at better schools.

2. If the main point of the grades is to be used in class or school level aggregates, then it is optimal not to spend too much time on each one. The measurement error will cancel out. One hopes, though this is not described, that the exams from a given class or school are distributed among many graders so that grader-specific effects average out as well.

3. Given that students receive no feedback other than a number, it is again not worth spending a lot of grader time on each exam. Detailed feedback is important for learning to write, but it should be coming from the classroom teachers.

4. If the market clears, then wages are not too low.

5. The author's obsession with the role of private firms is completely beside the point. The demand for standardized testing did not originate with the private firms, and the grading procedure would be little different, other than taking longer and costing more, if it were undertaken by government employees.

6. I was most concerned about the fact that firms are moving the average up or down at the behest of politicians obsessed with averages over time. I will now trust those average even less than I already did, which was not very much.

Via: email list

Frita Batidos

Frita Batidos is the new Cuban-inspired down-scale restaurant from Eve Aronoff, who operates the decidedly upscale Eve, which is one of my two or three favorite restaurants in Ann Arbor.

We've been twice and enjoyed it both times. The decor (and some of the crowd) is hipster (at least by Ann Arbor standards) but not overbearing. The staff are enthusiastic. The food is as yummy as you would expect. I've tried the Chorizo Frita and the Inspired Cuban sandwich and would gladly have both again, with a slight preference for the Inspired Cuban. I've also had the Especial Batidos, a sort of Cuban shake sweetened with honey, and really enjoyed that too.

In short, highly recommended.

Book: An Introduction to Childhood

Heather Montgomery. 2009. An Introduction to Childhood. Wiley-Blackwell.

This book-length survey of the anthropological literature on children was fascinating from start to finish. The writing is functional but the content does what good anthropology should do: illustrate that there are multiple possible equilibria, all of which seem quite as reasonable and natural to the people who inhabit them as the equilibrium that we ourselves experience. Of particular interest to me was the wide variety of equilibria related to discipline, raising of children by individuals outside the nuclear family, and initiation rituals.

And you just do not get sentences like this in economics-land:
Gilbert Herdt, who has written extensively about induced nose-bleeding among the Sambia of Papua New Guinea, places it in a much broader context of gender antagonisms, the symbolic meaning of bodily fluids, and the cultural construction of male and female persons.
Note that this sentence is much more ... something ... than the average sentence in the book, which is remarkably clear, generally free of jargon, and surprisingly low on political correctness.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Assorted links

1. A fine rant about the depressing aspects of air travel. The easiest one to fix is turning off the volume on the video in the waiting area. Please do! CNN is brain-dead, especially its US version.

2. Ooops! Forgot to read the literature before buying the expensive scanners.

3. Figure out where you fit in the US income distribution.

4. Salon Vox makes it into Elle's top 100 salons. I am hipper than I thought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Frontiers of medicine or, your tax dollars at work

Hat tip: Leanne Lyon

Advice and prediction

The folks at offer some good advice to young scholars in regard to journal submissions. The large fraction of desk rejections at many journals suggests that this advice is not being widely heeded.

In regard to the very top journals, I think one of two things will happen over time: either publications in the the top few journals will become less important relative to publications in the next level down or, as the top journals switch to solely electronic publishing, they will take more articles, so that the quality bar returns to what it was 25 or 30 years ago when many fewer scholars were writing articles of a quality level that made them potential top journal publications.

Right now, a handful of editors and their idiosyncratic tastes about what is interesting have way too much effect on the career outcomes of junior people.

The Surgeon General

Every time the surgeon general says something stupid like this, that is obviously not supported by the scientific evidence, it has a negative spillover effect on all other scientific claims the government tries to make, including the ones that are actually true.

There should be some sort of internal tax on this foolishness, or else, perhaps even better, this rather ridiculous office should be eliminated entirely.

Assorted links

1. Why America is great: Ira C. Craddock edition. I love characters like this and Ann Arbor is rich with them which is part of what makes it fun.

2. The Hammer complains about lazy non-economist faculty at UT Austin. Michigan pushes faculty pretty strongly to have their final after the last day of class if they have one, but I have nonetheless heard stories similar to the ones he describes from some of my undergraduates.

3. posts a recent version of one of my favorite graphs, which shows average GRE math and reading scores by discipline. There's a gentle swipe at economists at the end that I'll leave it for the reader to comment on.

4. Bad police behavior in, of all places, Texas. The police should watch more episodes of the Andy Griffith Show and fewer episodes of S.W.A.T. in their spare time. And the whole thing, which will likely end up with the taxpayers covering a big settlement but few consequences for the misbehaving government employees, is mainly over some pot! What a waste of time, energy and money.

5. Northwestern economist (and Cheap Talk co-conspirator) Jeff Ely is sarcastic about his marriage, but all in good fun.

#4 via the Agitator, who is quoted in the piece.

A public finance Top 5 list

An excellent TOP 5 list yesterday:


The United States Congress has just passed President Obama's "compromise" version of a bill that would extend the Bush tax cuts implemented in the early '00s. This version is said to have provisions that appeal to both the left and the right.

Let's take a closer look at the bill, shall we?

The Top 5 Hidden Provisions of the Obama Tax Bill

5> Tax payers may choose to donate $1 to help the president get an American birth certificate.

4> The Romney Loophole: The cost of hair care products may be deducted from your personal taxes if the resulting hairdo can withstand gusts of up to 40 mph.

3> Democrats claiming to favor the Bush tax cuts inserted language allowing strippers to deduct 100% of Brazilian wax expenses.

2> New alternative-energy windbag subsidies for Limbaugh, Olbermann, O'Reilly and Beck.

and's Number 1 Hidden Provision of the Obama Tax Bill...

1> One-time airport restroom sex partners can now be counted as dependents.

As an aside, I am pretty sure that Brazilian waxes are already deductible as a work expense for strippers under current tax law.

Oh, and I laughed the hardest at #5.

Be sure to patronize the funny folks at

Job market advice

Yesterday I heard what struck me as some of the worst economics job market advice ever. That advice is to not tell the faculty members on your committee what schools and organizations you have interviews with at the meetings. The idea seems to be that if your committee knows your interview list as it builds up, they may be tempted to tell some schools that have no chance of hiring you that they should not interview you, thus reducing the total number of interviews you achieve.

Here are some reasons why this is bad advice:

1. The number of interviews is not a performance measure to be compared in some sort of sad contest.

2. At some number of interviews, quality starts to decline due to exhaustion, lack of food, and inability to be on time. A reasonable number of well-matched interviews is optimal.

3. You should not want to interview at places that have no chance of hiring you. You are wasting their time and your own. Your career is a repeated game with all of the other economists you interact with. People remember things. Plus you are taking the interview slot away from someone who might be a good match to the place that you are not a good match for. That's not very nice.

4. Your committee can give you valuable advice on the people who will be interviewing you at particular departments, but they can only do this if you let them know where you are interviewing.

5. It may be that there are particular places that people on your committee think would be a good match for you. If they do not schedule you right away, it may be time to shake the tree a bit, but the tree can only be shaken if people on your committee know your interview schedule. More broadly, if your initial interviews seem to not be as good as they should be, there is a window during which faculty can try to do something about that, but only if they are informed about what is going on.

My advice is to keep your committee informed and to be completely honest with the people you are interviewing with about both interviews and flyouts. More information makes the system work better and partially informed attempts to extract some strategic gain through withholding information are at least as likely to make your worse off, in the short run or the long run or both, as to make you better off.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday bowling

A belated post on Washington's upcoming trip to the Holiday Bowl. I am, of course, delighted that Washington managed, by a very small margin, to attain their pre-season goal of getting back to post-season play.

I would have preferred a somewhat less difficult opponent than Nebraska, which mopped the turf of Husky stadium with the Huskies 56-21 early in the season, but apparently the Holiday Bowl people are very happy with their choice. Those who rank bowls, on the other hand, have the Holiday Bowl near the bottom of their list.

Clearly, Nebraska should be favored. What hope do the Huskies have? Well, I see three reasons to have some hope. First, Washington is coming off of three wins, while Nebraska just lost a heartbreaker to arch-rival Oklahoma on their way out the door of the Big 12. Second, Washington has revenge as a motivation, while Nebraska likely feels a bit ill-used and disappointed at ending up playing a team they already soundly defeated. Third, I suspect that Washington has gained more in experience over the intervening weeks than Nebraska. I would say this is particularly true for Locker, whose rough season and fall in the draft projections has likely added a healthy dose of realism in place of the hype that messed with his mind during the first few games.

So, my guess is that it is at least a lot closer this time around.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Assorted links

1. Fine life advice from Roll Call of all places. If everyone (or just a decent fraction of the people) inside the Beltway took this to heart, it would be a much nicer place to live.

2. Kim Jong-Il explores his world.

3. Frontiers in alcohol consumption. I'm old school on this one.

4. U of Chicago puts artifacts of African American history on the web. This type of work seems first order to me. In general, I think that the science agencies should fund data collection and documentation, which is what this is, in preference to research projects using secondary data, which will get performed "for free" if the data are available and interesting.

5. Novel policy responses to climate change. This bit is novel in two ways: first, a different type of policy is considered and, second and more importantly, policies are actually compared in a serious and thoughtful way.

#1 via a free trade email list I somehow became a part of, #2 may be the Agitator or it may be the Good S**t blog, #3, need you even ask, is Lars Skipper and #4 is from the nice emails I get from the U of Chicago.

Movie: Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We saw this in 3-D (not much difference, actually) at the local multiplex a couple of days ago. The NYT review and this additional piece on keeping the Narnia franchise alive cover it pretty well.

I would have preferred a bit more psychology and a bit less action-of-the-sort-where-it-is-clear-all-along-what-will-happen. The various temptations do not receive much attention, and when they arise they are quickly and easily dealt with. Would that it were so in real life! Presumably it is not so in the underlying book.

Recommended only if need a movie suitable for children.

New Year's resolutions as highway signs

Not with the program

Via: a friend of a friend on Facebook (I think)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Lots of talk in the blogosphere about this Columbia professor. For example, U of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse has strong views on this one.

My thoughts are two, and different than the ones focused on elsewhere:

1. Whatever you think about whether this should be legal or not, this persecution seems to me a complete waste of taxpayer dollars. Essentially, taxpayers are subsidizing the political campaign of some local lawyer by paying for this high publicity, low usefulness persecution.

2. Why weren't both parties arrested? They are both adults.

Assorted links

1. For the sheeple on your holiday gift list.

2. Will Wilkinson on Peter Orzag. There is no easy solution to the revolving door.

3. Preston McAfee on journal editing.

4. More fine service from the TSA.

5. Ron Radosh on the New Republic. Reading Radosh during my undergraduate days was bracing and had an effect on my foreign policy views.

#1 via the Agitator, #2 via Greg Mankiw, #3 via MR, #4 via the Agitator and #5 via instapundit

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In praise of Julia Lane

Economic Principals devotes a column to my friend and co-author Julia Lane, now at NSF.

For me, I am always amazed when anyone can get anything done in the politicized cesspool that is our nation's capital. Julia has gotten a lot of good things done.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cartoon rational addiction theory

This is both hilarious and well-informed about the relevant literature and issues.

NSFW because of a couple of f-bombs.

Via: marginal revolution

New developments in the economics job market

The web page for the job market candidates from Duke reveals a new development in the marketing of candidates in the economics job market: many of the Duke candidates have video clips on the web, apparently from their practice job talks. For example, I took a look at the clip for Jon James (whose name reminded me of former Washington football coach Don James).

It seems to me that these clips can potentially serve several functions:

First, they provide a lot of information about public speaking ability very quickly. If someone cannot manage two clear minutes during their practice job talk, they probably cannot give the sort of lectures that attain good teaching ratings. That is something that letters, papers and the CV just do not reveal. It will be especially useful for students with first languages other than English (or with names that suggest their first language is something other than English) who want to demonstrate that their skills with spoken English are not a concern.

Second, the videos provide information on both demographics, such as race/ethnicity, and on appearance, in an indirect way. This feature is a bit more ambiguous in its normative and positive implications.

Third, the videos provide a way to get a quick summary of the job market paper without having to read a dry abstract.

I'll be curious to see if this catches on as an equilibrium. I expect it will (but say that in full awareness of the awesome track record of economist predictions).

Play: The Drowsy Chaperone

We saw the Drowsy Chaperone at Performance Network last week. It is the second show of the season and, more to the point, one of the funniest plays I have ever seen. Amazing writing, amazing acting, and overall a couple of hours of very good, post-modern fun.

Highly recommended.

Milestones (or, perhaps, kilometerstones)

This is my 17th (!) year as a professor. Perhaps surprisingly, it is just this past week that the first two students whose committees I chaired or co-chaired got tenure.

Great BIG congratulations to Miana Plesca, one of my (handful) of students from Western Ontario, who got tenure at the University of Guelph.

And more great BIG congratulations to Habiba Djebbari, one of my students from Maryland, who got tenure at Universite Laval in Quebec.

Both are wonderful people and good friends as well as very fine economists.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Movie ratings

Wise thoughts from Roger Ebert on the Motion Picture Association of America's system for rating movies.

I find the information that HBO puts on at the start of everything it shows, and in the little program guides it provides to hotels, very useful. Why not just port that over?

Via Glenn Simon on Facebook

MR does wedding planning

Marginal Revolution ventures into wedding planning. Read the comments, some of which hint at some very funny stories.

Some thoughts of my own:

1. If your prospective partner is really, really into the surface aspects of the wedding and into counting the $$ spent as a measure of your affection, think carefully about marrying the person. One of the things I most value about my wife is how little she cares about this sort of thing.

2. I actually much prefer the video we had done to the photographs. The video is particularly nice for people who could not come to the wedding but really wanted to, and there will always be some of those. I'd spend on a good videographer and be sure to have them walk around talking to the guests.

3. Our reception was "dry" but at a hotel with a bar. My economist friends sorted the solution out pretty quickly.

4. If you are older and well-established when you get married, I suggest skipping the gifts altogether. We did, and asked people to give us their "words of wisdom" instead. This worked really, really well. Periodically we will go back and dive into the box of words of wisdom and re-read some of them. It always makes for a fun, informative and romantic time. Plus a few folks did their "words of wisdom" live at the reception. Both the economists and the relatives proved remarkably entertaining. My favorite line was from my cousin, who suggested imagining your partner naked when having an argument.

Views of the tax cut compromise

Two very different views from Robert Reich and Charles Krauthammer.

I am more inclined to side with the Krauthammer view.

Regardless of which view one agrees with I do not recall a policy discussion where the within-group variation in views was so large for both the Rs and the Ds. I think fiscal responsibility is, like civil liberties, a cross-cutting issue on which the parties are not very strongly sorted.

Hat tip to Nat Wilcox on the Krauthammer piece; the Reich piece is via those emails that I am still getting despite not having signed up for them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Assorted links

1. A solid rant about campaign finance laws from a center-left perspective.

2. In praise of exotic dancing.

3. Cameras on the way out.

4. On the costs and benefits of having an affair.

5. The story of the monster tire on I-94 on the way in to Detroit. My colleague John DiNardo grew up not far from the tire.

Steve Chapman on homophobia

This is a fine and heartfelt piece. As best I can recall, I was always pretty tolerant, perhaps because I grew up feeling like an outsider myself for various reasons.

It would be nice if people could be tolerant of other views of how to live life, whether they concern sexuality or religion or just how to spend one's leisure time, without having to meet and be impressed by people who hold them in person, but at least that approach works sometimes.

My view is that people who spend their time worrying about the hobbies / lifestyle choices of others are wasting their time and, often, avoiding dealing with their own issues.

Via: the Agitator

New measurement error paper

A new paper on measurement error in survey measures of earnings, specifically in the U.S. Current Population Survey data used to calculate the unemployment rate, from Chris Bollinger and Barry Hirsch.

My general feeling is that measurement error is ubiquitous, sometimes substantively important, and grossly understudied by economists and other social scientists.

This is meat and potatoes research that has potentially large spillovers across subject areas and disciplines. Research funding agencies would do well to fund it.

Movie: The Last Airbender

We watched this on DVD a few days ago. The NYT review, which is pretty funny, offers this useful summary:

Mr. Shyamalan’s attempt to conjure a realm of myth and adventure out of special effects and long expository speeches might serve as a textbook chapter on How to Do It Wrong.

Oh, and that bit in the first line of the NYT review about the last scene gesturing toward a sequel is far too understated. The scene has no point other than to point toward a sequel, at the cost of diminishing the impact of the movie's conclusion.

Not recommended.

Institutional holiday greetings

For some years now it has been the case that I have reached an odd stage in life in which I receive more holiday greetings (physical cards or electronic cards) from institutions than from actual people.

So far this month I have received exactly zero holiday greetings from actual people - still a bit early for them - but three from institutions:

Intellectual (always!) greetings from the University of Chicago
Diverse and enthusiastic greetings from the University of Washington
Resolutely generic greetings from Delta Airlines.

One wonders if anyone has ever evaluated the effectiveness of expenditures on such efforts on profits / donations. The UW video, in particular, took some real resources to put together.

Oh, and of course, no mention of Christmas anywhere, ever. I'm compeltely fine with that, but it is nonetheless an interesting social phenomenon.

An important public health problem

Early research warns of the increasing danger of "Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome".

Hat tip: Johanna Dolle

Friday, December 10, 2010

Academic hiring

Wolfgang Franz, head of the ZEW in Mannheim, has some amusing and topical thoughts on academic hiring on the last page of the current issue of the ZEW News (in English).

The description of the hiring meeting, in particular, is funny because it has a strong undertone of truth.

Bob Poole on airport security

Bob Poole has some wise words on how to improve the resources presently spent on airport security.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Yankees hat = crime?

Or could it just be that the denominator has been mislaid?

The article manages to actually hint at the denominator in one paragraph, but it seems to me that it is the whole story.

Non-Yankees hat tip to Charlie Brown

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

TSA and sexual assault

This is a pretty sad story. It seems to me that the one guilty of sexual assault is the TSA agent, not the passenger. And why, exactly, does this fellow need to be "thrown to the ground"? Why not treat him as what he is, a victim of bureaucratic incompetence and government overreach? Or why not just hand him a Kleenex or two and move on to the next victim ... I mean customer.

Addendum: I was fooled.

Thanks to Daniel Marcin for the correction.

Tax cut compromise

So after an election whose primary substantive message was "get back on the wagon", we have a compromise in which co-dependent Rs and Ds agree to buy each other lots of their favorite drinks.

One can have a serious discussion about the scientific case for more spending now versus starting the fiscal belt-tightening that must come sooner or later, but in strictly political terms, this is both parties giving voters the finger.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Assorted links

1. The Onion mocks high speed rail.

2. Top ten Republican thinkers? All but two of these - George Will and Newt Gingrich - are just pundits and/or TV personalities, not thinkers in the sense of public intellecturals. And the rest make for a rather sad list.

3. Kim Jong Il managing by walking around and looking at things. Perhaps he should write an airport book to generate some much-needed foreign currency?

4. Red light cameras illustrate the principal-agent problem between voters and their elected representatives.

5. More TSA wear.

Hat tip on #3 to Lars Skipper

Gelman on regression practice

A fine post from Andrew Gelman on important rules for regression practice.

You'll see some comments from ECONJEFF as well.

Mankiw on UI

A thoughtful post from Mankiw on Unemployment Insurance (UI).

He leaves out a couple of bits that are relevant to the current discussion. The first is that one additional benefit of UI centers on increasing the quality of job matches. Severely credit constrained workers without much in the way of assets will make bad job matches very quickly in the absence of UI and that has some costs for the economy in terms of forgone output and later job switching.

The second is that my understanding of the optimal UI literature is that it does have one fairly robust finding, which is that UI benefits should decline with spell length. This finding pops out fairly quickly from a model in which individuals have heterogeneous tastes for leisure. Among those with long spells, individuals with a strong taste for leisure are over-represented because the dynamic selection process weeds out those who do not like leisure earlier in the spell. As the optimal UI payment is decreasing in taste for leisure, so also is it decreasing in spell length.

The third is that there are dynamic issues here. We are setting up expectations for the next recession. This increases the impact of current extensions on future budgets.

I think I would be inclined to do the following in terms of an extension:

(1) Don't call the checks UI. Call them "Temporary Aid to the Long Term Unemployed". This makes it clear that they are welfare and not social insurance via the parallel to Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It also, hopefully, reduces expectations regarding future, milder, recessions.

(2) Following the optimal UI literature, reduce the replacement rate so that payments decline a bit. One could even think about dropping the replacement rate business altogether (along the theme that this is not a social insurance program and not really UI) and tying the payments to demographics instead. The cost of that is a whole bunch of bureaucracy that it would be hard to do quickly (and for which UI offices are likely ill-suited), so I guess I prefer just reducing the replacement rate a bit for practical reasons. Similar practical concerns arise with otherwise reasonable ideas like making people with family incomes above some level ineligible for the extended benefits.

(3) Attach some time-consuming job search requirements along the lines of those imposed in some states under the Worker Profiling and Reemployment Services System (WPRS). What I have in mind are the sorts of things Kentucky was doing when the data were generated for the Black, Smith, Berger and Noel (2003) American Economic Review paper. These sorts of required services are a two-fer. Based on the results in BSBN, they chase some people off UI who should not really be there. For the people who should be there, they may help them get a job by providing them with job search skills or simply by giving them a needed pep talk or kick in the pants. In this context, it may be useful to include some of the sorts of counseling services sometimes offered to high-wage union workers displaced from contracting industries and designed to help them adjust their wage expectations down to something closer to the value of their marginal product.

Like Greg, I think the petition is telling us about the normative views of those who sign it as well as their positive views, but there is some of both, as the statement of views at the start of the petition makes clear. I should note in full disclosure that the list of petition signers includes several friends of mine.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Richard Epstein

Nick Gillespie from reason interviews law professor Richard Epstein.

There's not as much meat here as in Epstein's law school talk that I blogged about a few weeks ago, but it is still good fun.

Subject line of the week

I received an email on Friday with the subject line:

"sorry for multiple e-mails - got a job"

I still laugh every time I think about it.

Just to clarify for the students who read this: yes, I am very busy, and yes, I get a lot of emails. But emails telling me that you got a job offer do not need to be apologized for!


And congrats to the job-offer-getting student, who got the exact job she wanted.

Washington 35, Washington State 28

Washington wins the Apple Cup 35-28 and is off to a bowl after seven seasons without one. Chris Polks was the real star with 284 yards rushing. But credit to the Cougars: they played much, much better than last year. This one really shouldn't have gone down to the final minute, but it did.

Washington also finishes third (!!!) in the PAC-10 with a 5-4 conference record.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prince Andrew on France and the US

Some of those leaked diplomatic wires are simply good fun.

My favorite bit is at the end:
14. (C) COMMENT: Prince Andrew reached out to the Ambassador with cordiality and respect, evidently valuing her insights. However, he reacted with almost neuralgic patriotism whenever any comparison between the United States and United Kingdom came up. For example, one British businessman noted that despite the "overwhelming might of the American economy compared to ours" the amount of American and British investment in Kyrgyzstan was similar. Snapped the Duke: "No surprise there. The Americans don't understand geography. Never have. In the U.K., we have the best geography teachers in the world!" END COMMENT. GFOELLER
Who knew that geography teachers were the secret to the British empire?

Via: Cheap Talk

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Assorted links

1. The real world of sports agents. The list of confirmations and denials at the end is worth the wait.

2. Abercrombie comes to Copenhagen, the better to separate dull people who value form over substance from their money.

3. A good story about Michigan soccer coach Steve Burns.

4. Talk about warm glow! But where is Charleton Heston with those tasty green chips?

5. Why doesn't this work for the TSA?

Hat tips to: someone I've forgotten, Lars Skipper, Charlie Brown, Lars Skipper (again) and Charlie Brown (again)

Ohio State 37, Michigan 7

OSU crunches Michigan for the seventh time in a row. Yikes!

Will there be a new coach tomorrow?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rumors of change on South Campus

I would have thought that seven wins and a second-tier bowl would suffice to buy Rich Rod another year, but that is not what the rumor mill has to say.

This would be a two-fer because Michigan would get better and Stanford would get worse, thereby benefiting Washington. What Harbaugh has accomplished at Stanford is really impressive.

Uses for small children

One important reason for having a child is that they provide you, as an adult, with cover to do things that you remember fondly from your childhood but could not otherwise do without embarrassment.

Today at lunchtime my wonderful daughter (nearly 3.5 years old) and I took in an hour or so of classic Warner Brothers' cartoons, heavy on the Bugs Bunny, at the Michigan Theater, along with hundreds of other Ann Arbor parents and children.

Great fun was had by all, especially yours truly. But of course the inner social scientist never quite turns off, and I am left afterward thinking about how violent those old cartoons are, how politically incorrect (even cigarettes!) and about my own reaction to same. It was also interesting to see which cultural references were still current - Jack in the Beanstalk, yes, Dick Tracy and Errol Flynn, not so much.

Doing jury time

A thoughtful blogger recounts an experience on a jury in a criminal trial.

Interesting reading, though I must confess that the author's final, big picture paragraph seems to me completely unrelated to what comes before.

Via MR

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Assorted links

1. Revising the history of Hitler's WW1 experience.

2. A Christmas gift suggestion. Most of their shirts are too thoughtlessly partisan for my taste but I like this one.

3. Diary of a trans-Atlantic flight.

4. Stop me before I enroll again!

5. Mommy, where did instrumental variables come from?

Thanksgiving thoughts from Reason

Movie: Mademoiselle Chambon

We saw Mademoiselle Chambon last night at the Michigan Theater.

It is quiet, very French in its sensuality, focus on romantic longing and attention to social class, and very moving. The NYT says it well.


Washington 24, UCLA 7

Someone should have bought my tickets on StubHub, because this game was a lot of fun to watch.

Seattle Times coverage here, AP coverage here, and the Times on Slick Rick's unhappy return to Montlake here.

Washington has two more games to go: Cal this Saturday, coming of a real trouncing by LeLand's College of Palo Alto, and Wazoo in two weeks. Win both, and they go to bowling for the first time in nearly a decade. Can they do it? Maybe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Future of advertising

A big picture piece on the future of advertising from Fast Company. It sounds like an exciting time to be in the industry, keeping in mind that "may you live in interesting times" is viewed as a curse in some parts of the world.

One suspects that such change is on the way in academia as well; up to this point new technology has had, in some sense, a remarkably small effect on our core business of teaching undergraduates.

Advertising is one of my counter-factual careers, along with architecture and computer programming.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Assorted links

1. Is voting like sex? I would think politicians would like this video.

2. A very cool, very detailed picture of London (the real one this time).

3. A very old video. Is there nothing that is not on the internet somewhere?

4. The economics of admitting to cheating. Whoever said about game theory "nice name, no results"? [Actually, it was Sam Peltzman who said that.]

5. The "bureaucrat song" from Futurama. Like the Agitator, I never really caught the Futurama bug, but this is kind of fun.

Hat tip on #1 to Lars Skipper.

Things to read

Great fun at the Abebooks weird book room.

One of the current list plays a role in the job talk of one of Michigan's students on the job market this year. Can you find it?

My favorites:

Why Do I Vomit?

Radiation Recipe Book

Gangsta Rap Coloring Book

Winds of change reach London, Ontario

Joe Fontana, who was my MPP (member of provincial parliament) when I was teaching at Western Ontario and living in London, Ontario, is London's new mayor.

I used to get a lot of junk mail from Joe, explaining to me how much fun he was having spending other people's money. The "liberal" in "liberal party" in Canada means liberal with other people's money (and having a good time, and maybe a bit of corruption, but all in the pursuit of fun for those on the inside and their pals).

I have to say, though, that old Joe is almost surely an improvement over the woman he replaced, Anne Marie DiCicco, who had been the mayor since before I decamped for Maryland. Anne has had some problems with her husband, whom she imported from Texas. Anne Marie was, in turn, more or less a continuation of the dreaded dragon lady Diane Haskett, for whom the mayor's office was mainly an opportunity for her to publicly act out her unhappy obsession with strip clubs, massage parlors and homosexuals.

So, I say, good luck Joe! Let the party begin.

Hat tip: Todd Stinebrickner

Dave Nolan, RIP

A fine obit from reason magazine co-founder Bob Poole.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wisconsin 48, Michigan 28

Michigan put up a better fight than I expected but, in the end, Bucky had both an offense and a defense, and Michigan just has an offense.

Can they do as well next week against OSU?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Royal News

The headline on the Economist email for this piece was "Unemployed Woman Marries into Welfare Family".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reform in Cuba

An update from the Economist. The US should end its economic restrictions now. If it ever had a justification, that justification ended when the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago.

A prediction: Cuba will be very successful economically 20 years from now.

Assorted links

1. SNL on Obama and China. Ouch!

2. Women misbehaving. And again. Who knew that women could behave as badly as men?

3. Useful information on currency conversion.

4. Did they look in the cigar box?

5. Protecting the innocent masses from Spencer Gifts in South Dakota.

#5 is via the Agitator

Economics of Evite

A fine way to add additional stress to your party planning from the gents at Cheap Talk.

My favorite Evite story has to do with a former colleague at Maryland, who shall remain nameless, who did not realize that the comments that you leave there can be read not only by the host of the event but by everyone else who was invited to it. This colleague replied to a party invitation with "should I bring the funny stuff?", which was later claimed to be a reference to Whoopie cushions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Assorted links

1. Secure your privates from the prying eyes of the TSA. I would like one that says "get a real job" on it.

2. Keith Richards on partnerships.

3. The product museum in Ann Arbor.

4. On the curvy frontier of immigration policy reform in Denmark.

5. Idiot paternalism in Michigan.

Hat tip on #1 to Daniel Marcin and on #4 to Lars Skipper.

Success in America

Reading Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America in college affected my thinking about the progress of various ethnic/racial groups in American society quite substantially. I learned for the first time about the historical discrimination against the Irish and against many Eastern and Southern European ethnic groups when they first arrived in the US. I also learned about the idea of selective immigration for the first time - the notion that individuals from a given group who show up in the US, or anywhere else, as with the Chinese diaspora scattered around Asia, are not randomly selected from the population, and that this might have something to do with how they fare in their new homes. The relative success of immigrant blacks from the Caribbean in the US was also news to me at the time. In addition, Sowell charts the gradual rise over time of groups like the Irish up the scale of average incomes.

This Slate essay by Nicholas Lemann considers a later stage in the process of economic success and cultural assimilation. One might call this the "regression to the mean" part. I could see this pretty plainly among the Chinese students at Western Ontario when I taught there. The first generation kids, who were way over-represented in our honors program, particularly among that segment of the honors program that got by on effort rather than just on smarts, worked really, really hard. More than once I had a student in my office tell a story of genuine sleep deprivation brought on by extreme pressure from parents for academic success. By the third generation, my casual observation suggested that it was more often clothes, cars and parties (and, presumably, as Lemann suggests, hockey as well).

Via "The .Plan"

Update on Christopher Hitchens

From the Guardian, a wide-ranging interview with Christopher Hitchens.

One favorite bit:
Among his many struggles, the one waged against the tyranny of the pressed and laundered outfit should not be overlooked.
On his cancer:
"The worst days," he says, "are when you feel foggy in the head – chemo-brain they call it. It's awful because you feel boring. As well as bored. And stupid. And resigned. You don't have any motive, which is bad. You don't care what's going to happen to you.
Worth reading.

Via MR.

Michigan 27, Purdue 16

It was a sloppy game on both sides, but Michigan won in the end.

The final two games on Michigan's schedule are Wisconsin and Ohio State. They'd best not hand the ball over quite as many times as they did with Purdue, or things could get pretty ugly.

Washington did not play on Saturday; their next game is this Thursday night against UCLA on ESPN. I am glad Washington is getting lots of TV money; I lost some money because my tickets did not sell on StubHub, even at half of their face value.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On trade with China

A nice rant on China-bashing.

The author is a bit less optimistic about China than I am - I think people almost always buy freedom and democracy as they get richer. I think he is particularly helpful in trying to think about the issue from the Chinese perspective.

It is really disappointing to see the first African-American president presiding over what is essentially a whole lot of racist China-bashing by people in his party and its enthusiasts in the media. At the same time, the Republicans are just as bad on China and worse on Mexico and Mexicans. In sum, our political class is a national embarrassment. But then what else is new?

On football and psychology

This is priceless.

Via: Cheap Talk

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The Top 5 Facebook Status Updates From Queen Elizabeth

5> "attention, royal subjects: ya can't have any pudding if ya
don't eat yer meat! lol - i always wanted to say that"

4> "OMG! Giant, ugly purses are on sale at Harrods!"

3> "HRH thanks you for all the likes and comments of concern,
but would like to assure you she was NOT robbed at gunpoint
while vacationing in London."

2> "Who do you have to blow to get some heat in this damn

and's Number 1 Facebook
Status Update From Queen Elizabeth...

1> "changed her relationship status from 'Ruler of a Vast
Colonial Empire' to 'It's Complicated.'"


Trade rap

I don't endorse all the views, but it is pretty clever and quite funny at times.

Too bad trade can't just be between individuals.

Hat tip: Andy Roth (and the free trade email list)

Job market signal

The American Economic Association allows newly minted (or almost minted, in most cases) doctorates to send an explicit signal of extra bonus interest to two of the (usually 100-150) schools / governmental or quasi-governmental institutions / firms to which they have applied.

As I sometimes get emails from students asking about strategy, here it is: send your signals to places that you would like to go to for some reason that would not be observable to them based on your job market packet: e.g., your favorite cousins live nearby, you've always been a Packers fan ever since you first saw the cheese hats, etc. In terms of quality, I would pick places for this purpose that are around your expected placement level.

Here is a deeper, and longer, discussion from Greg Mankiw's blog a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Email etiquette for students

A fine post from Chris Blattman lays out the rights and wrongs of student emails to professors.

I had a student at Western Ontario email from an email address along the lines of "". Not a good idea.

The comments are interesting too. Like Chris, my personal rule is to have undergraduates call me "Prof. Smith" and graduate students call me "Jeff".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT)

No, that is not a basketball score, but rather the result of the titanic defensive struggle this weekend at the Big House between Michigan and Illinois. As with the Washington game, I was watching this on ESPN3 on my laptop while attending a conference, so it did not receive my full attention. Still, it was a pretty amazing game. And now Michigan is bowl-eligible, having defeated four bad teams and two mediocre ones.

Next up: Purdue, another bad team, on Saturday, which should put Michigan at 7-3.

Oregon 53, Washington 16

Odd though it might seem given the score, Washington played pretty well, particularly given that they were relying on a new quarterback with very little actual playing experience in place of the injured Jake Locker. Indeed, the game was close into the third quarter, when things fell apart.

I only saw bits and pieces of the game as I was at a conference and had it going on my laptop.

Here is some other good Washington news, in this case on the recruiting front.

Next up: UCLA on Nov. 18, for the Thursday night ESPN game.

Open letter to Rick Snyder

Dear Rick,

If you are looking for good, low-cost ideas to improve the performance of government in Michigan, my suggestion is to take Michigan from being one of the states where it is most difficult for academic researchers to get access to state administrative data to being a state where it is very easy, conditional on all relevant privacy protection requirements having been met. Making data available to researchers will induce, as if by magic, lots of policy-relevant research on Michigan's programs and on its economic situation more generally. This research will be largely free to the state as many researchers (read: gradual students) will be happy to have cool data to work on, and others will be able to obtain funding from outside sources such as the NSF to fund their projects. All the state has to do is clean and document the data so as to make it usable by outsiders; most of what this entails are things the state should be doing anyway.


Data Starved in Ann Arbor

Village Corner

Ann Arbor institution Village Corner closed this weekend. I always called it the "stoner store" because their employees (other than the older folks who did the wine) all seemed to be stoners. They'll be missed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dude, why did California fail to legalize marijuana?

Jeff Miron on the failure of Prop. 19 in California.

I think relatively high [pun intended] Republican turnout plus huge spending on misleading ads by the opposition are probably more to the point than the fine details that Jeff emphasizes.

Assorted links

1. On the sad state of Sidwell Friends football. Hilarious on several dimensions, including the comments.

2. Thinking like an economist. The comments are illuminating here too.

3. What's your excuse?

4. How much does it cost to attend Duke as an undergraduate? [May be inappropriate for work depending on how prudish your work environment might be.]

5. Jeff Goldberg reports from the frontlines of airport security theater. Was it good for you too?

#1 and #2 are from marginal revolution. #3 is from Dann Millimet

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Useful Theorem

I learned this today from my colleague Charlie Brown:

The Fundamental Theorem of Demography:

The derivative of age with respect to time equals one.

Assorted links

1. Placebo! The new miracle drug.

2. Seasonality in break-ups. Is this the missing link in macro?

3. Is it really necessary to tell New Republic readers that Tea Party people are not fascists? I think this means that they should get out more and have a wider circle of friends.

4. The story of Sava, on State Street in Ann Arbor.

Hat tip on #1 to Laura Kawano. #3 is via instapundit.


Wow ... does this ring true:
Procrastination is a best-response to perfectionism. A perfectionist spends too much time on a task, so she should optimally procrastinate so that the deadline disciplines her to work quickly and settle for imperfection.
I think the point is even broader. Particular tasks expand to fill the time available. The only way to be sure not to spend too much time is to wait until only the optimal amount of time is available.

From Cheap Talk.

Movie: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

I enjoyed this most recent offering from Woody Allen a lot more than most of the critics did.

And being happy with what you have, rather than pining away for something that you do not have and that you imagine to be better than it really is, is a remarkably practical and valuable message.

So much of our misery is self-inflicted.


Collaborating with bio-statisticians

Actually, the most challenging part of the "giving statistical / econometric advice" role is when it becomes clear to you as the advice-giver that in fact the study you are providing advice about is a waste of time. That is a hard message to pass along in a nice way.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown


Some quick thoughts:

1. Hurrah for Gridlock! One of the writers at the Economist's Democracy in America blog worries that we will have two years of nothing. Relative to most other recent two-year periods, that sounds pretty good to me. Two years without a new war or a new unfunded health-related transfer program should help a lot.

2. In what world does it makes sense to elect Jerry Brown governor while voting down marijuana legalization? Those voters out in California must be on drugs. :)

3. All praise to voters in my home state of Washington for voting down a state income tax yet one more time, and by a hefty margin. The income tax initiative was heavily supported by folks in the Gates family, enough so that they may have pushed me over the threshold into doing something I have never done: buying an Apple product.

The view from the other side.

The worst version of this I have experienced was a student at UWO that I caught plagiarizing on a paper who showed up a week later at my door wanting a higher course grade because he was below the average required to graduate with honors. That was the closest I have ever come to screaming at an undergraduate. But, I didn't. I just suggested that it might be more fruitful to try asking his other professors.

Hat tip: Wang-Sheng Lee

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

High on voting

While crossing my fingers for gridlock in DC, the election issue I'll be watching most closely is Proposition 19 in California. As reasoners Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch discuss, this may be the most important aspect of the election for the country as a whole.

Several former drug czars summarize the case against legalization in the LA Times. I'll let it speak for itself, but the main conclusion I draw is that we should get rid of the drug czar position.

I recall a conversation with one of my economics colleagues at Michigan two years ago, when Michigan's state ballot featured a medical marijuana initiative. My colleague indicated that s/he was voting against it because it was a stalking horse for legalization. My thought: Exactly, and that is a big part of why I am voting for it!

The process of medical marijuana leading to legalization seems to be playing out in California. Let's hope it spreads elsewhere soon.

So you want to be a humanities professor

This is a companion piece to the one on political science. Also very funny.

Hat tip: Dann Millimet

Assorted links

1. The only true radical at the Stewart / Colbert rally?

2. Revenge of the chubby.

3. The front lines of the war on (certain) drugs (not manufactured by large corporations)

4. The changing roles of movies and television.

5. Science, politics and mammography.

Locker out for UW versus Oregon

I think this explains a lot about last Saturday as well. Sarkisian should be much more aggressive about pulling Locker out and Locker needs to worry more about the future and less about the present in making his decisions about misrepresenting his physical state to the coaches.

I haven't checked the line on the Oregon game but it must be something like 35 or 40. Yikes.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Addendum: I am told the line is 29. That's probably too low.

The politics of Michigan faculty

Some figures on political donations by Michigan faculty from the Michigan Review.

A couple of thoughts: First, this is not very surprising. Second, Michigan has turned out to be less politically correct than I was expecting ex ante. Based on my own experience, it is less politically correct than Maryland, where I taught before coming here. Still, the figures are what they are for a reason. Third, my sense is that many of the democrats among academics are motivated more by a dislike for social conservatism and a desire to help the poor than by any particular affection for, say, warmed over central planning.

So you want to be a political scientist?

Much of this applies to economics, other than the part about not getting a job.

It can also be "read" as a critique of those who would make strength of identification the sole metric by which to judge empirical work.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is Obama a Keynesian?

Reminds me of how I always used to wonder why any executive would agree to an interview with 60 Minutes. If they come by with a microphone and a camera, you should just run the other way.

Hat tip: Nat Wilcox

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penn State 41, Michigan 31

Unlike Washington, Michigan showed some signs of life, having brought an offense to Happy Valley but no defense. Still, it was not really as close as the score, in part because class act Joe Paterno turned off the engine at the end and had his quarterback take a knee inside the Michigan 5 yard line.

Now, suppose, as seems reasonably likely, that Michigan loses all its remaining games other than that against hapless Purdue, and so is bowl eligible having beaten only Purdue, Indiana and four glorified high school teams. Should it go to a bowl if one is offered?

Rally for Sanity / Fear

I know three people who went to the rally - I am sure many other people I know also went but I know of three for sure - and one of the three is interviewed in this video!

Small world.

Taxing the rich

One problem with taxing the rich is that both they, and their income and assets, can often move around. They also have the incentive, and the resources, to keep up with the tax laws and exploit every mistake that gets made when they are composed by some sleep-deprived Yale political science major policy wonk at 2 AM, just short minutes before they get voted into law.

Example 1: Rolling Stones

Example 2: Famous athletes

The second example is doubly troubling as apparently the UK government has given up on the rule of law in this policy area, setting tax rates for events based on the whim of some bureaucrat at HM Treasury (or, more likely, based on the gifts received by some politician).

Dammit! Why won't people just lay there and take it like they are supposed to?

Via: Mankiw and Marginal Revolution

Stanford 41, Washington 0

I thought we were done with the "first since " business. Yet this was the first home shutout since 1976.

To quote a friend on Facebook, we was "Willinghammed".

Yikes, says a columnist at the Seattle Times, and I heartily agree.

And despite the score, it was the defense that played better than the offense.

Next week in Eugene is not going to be pretty. Will the betting line be 50? 60?

The last two weeks have been backward steps.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meanwhile, in Denver ...

Delicious direct democracy does Denver.

My favorite bit:
Recognizing that ET contact protocols aren't foremost in the minds of voters these days, Mr. Peckman has refined his pitch on Initiative 300. These days, he promotes it as a jobs bill.

He envisions sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors.

Councilman Charlie Brown is skeptical. "That's not the kind of job we want to create," he says.

But Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, says she's game: "We are open for business to all other planets."

Hat tip: Nat Wilcox

UM grads doing well, particularly ones called Brian

Congratulations to recent UM doctorates Brian Cadena and Brian Kovak on winning a young investigator award from the Center for Poverty Research Center at the University of Kentucky.

Here is the description of their research:
Drs. Cadena and Kovak’s proposal is titled U.S. Mexico Local Labor Market Integration: Evidence from the Housing Bust. In this study, the authors propose to determine whether the housing bust created incentives for potential immigrants to avoid entering certain local labor markets and whether immigration flows responded as expected. The results will have implications for determining if the decrease in the inflow of immigrants can mitigate the negative labor market consequences of shocks, such as the recent recession.

Assorted links

1. Bill Clinton, restaurant maven. I like Georgia Brown's too.

2. Should any university be paying Jill Zarin $15,000?

3. Search models of the relationship market.

4. Shacking up is apparently no longer selective. Which is to say that the negative effect of living together on marital success has gone away, but I always assumed it was just selection bias anyway.

5. Tax poetry - see At the Revenue Museum on page 3.

I think the first one is via marginal revolution. The last one is a hat tip to Joel Slemrod.

People who don't know history

can easily be made to look like idiots.

Funniest reason video - maybe ever. Perfect!

Can we got over the moralizing now and return to mud-slinging as usual?

Via: the Agitator

On matching

Chris Blattman has a fine rant about matching as a statistical method for program evaluation. That in turn engendered a response from Andrew Gelman and a reply from Blattman. This post is my response to them both and to the broader questions they raise in their post.

Perhaps the nice thing about all this is that the three of us generally agree on the main point: matching is not a magic bullet. Just because you estimate a propensity score and then run psmatch2 in Stata does not make the selection on observed variables assumption any more true than it was when you were running a linear regression of the outcome variable on the conditioning variables and a treatment indicator.

In my graduate applied econometrics class, we are just finishing the discussion of matching and weighting methods. In my lectures, I make the point that parametric linear regression and matching methods differ in four main ways:

1. Matching relaxes the functional form restrictions inherent in parametric linear regression the way in which it is normally used in applied work, which is to say with each conditioning variable entered linearly and few, if any, higher order terms.

2. Matching focuses attention on the so-called overlap or "common support" condition, which considers whether there are untreated units that "look like" each treated unit in terms of their observed characteristics. With a parametric model, it is easy to rely on the functional form to fill in where the data are absent without knowing that you are doing so. Matching makes that much harder.

3. In one of the "usual" notations, parametric linear regression requires E(U | X, D) = 0 while matching requires E(U | X, D = 1) = E(U | X, D = 0), where U is the "error" term, X are conditioning variables and D is the treatment indicator. This difference in conditions may affect the set of reasonable X. For example, a lagged Y might satisfy the matching condition but not the parametric linear regression condition.

4. As noted by one of the commenters at Gelman's blog, in a heterogeneous effects world, parametric linear regression and matching have different estimands. Matching estimates the impact of treatment on the treated (in the usual case) while parametric linear regression estimates a different weighted average of treatment effects. Angrist has been making this point for a while - see his 1998 Econometrica paper and his new Mostly Harmless Econometrics book with Steve Pischke - but it remains under-appreciated within economics. Perhaps oddly, it is widely understood by sociologists.

A few other points:

1. Thinking about matching as a way of selecting comparison observations is really just a special case of thinking about matching as a weighting estimator. It is a special case because all the weights are integers (or, in the case of single nearest neighbor matching without replacement, they are all one of just two integers: 0 and 1). See equation (10) of Smith and Todd (2005) Journal of Econometrics.

2. One reason to prefer thinking about matching as a version of weighting is that it pushes you away from doing nearest neighbor matching, which the literature pretty clearly shows to have inferior performance relative to its alternatives in terms of mean squared error. For the latest on that literature, see the papers by Busso, DiNardo (get well soon!) and McCrary on McCrary's web page at Berkeley law school.

3. One reason to prefer thinking about matching as an application of non-parametric regression, which is how I teach it in my class, rather than in terms of comparison group selection, is that it makes clear that matching fits much more neatly into our existing stock of econometric and statistical knowledge than it might at first seem.

4. I don't think we fully understand the statistical properties of matching treated as a "pre-processor" in the sense of this paper by Ho, Imai, King and Stuart, which Gelman seems to have in mind in part of his discussion. We do know that doing some statistical procedure on a sample obtained by some sort of matching and not taking note of the pre-processing in the construction of the standard errors will make for misleading inferences.

5. Sometimes you can learn about what conditioning variables are required to make unconfoundedness hold in particular substantive contexts by running experiments. Indeed, to me this is one of the major values of experiments. For this reason, I argue that experiments should often be accompanied by parallel collection of the data required for a non-experimental evaluation designed to shed light on the variables that are, and are not, required for "selection on observed variables" to hold in a given context. For instance, we have learned a great deal about the variables required for selection on observed variables to hold in the context of evaluating job training programs in precisely this way. See, e.g., Heckman, Ichimura, Smith and Todd (1998) Econometrica (gated).

6. Contra Gelman, what you want is not all the variables that determine participation, but rather all the variables that determine both (not either but both) participation and outcomes. A variable that affects participation and not outcomes (other than through an effect on participation) is an instrument. If you have one, you should be using it to do an instrumental variables analysis. You do not want to be in the business of matching on instruments. Also, if you literally had all of the variables that determine participation, you could not do matching, because there would be no common support. Put more prosaically, in such a case, all of the treated observations would have estimated propensity scores of one and all the untreated units would have estimated propensity scores of zero.

7. I really like Gelman's point about the two tribes: those who think unobserved variables are always important, so that selection on observed variables is always wrong enough to lead to substantively important bias, and those who think that selection on observed variables can be true enough in particular, well-motivated contexts to yield reasonable results. I count myself a member of the second tribe, but have many (economist) friends in the first tribe. There is also a third tribe, which I think of as the "benevolent deity" tribe. They believe that whatever variables happen to be in the data set they are using suffice to make "selection on observed variables" hold. This tribe has a lot of members, particularly outside of economics. Indeed, it is probably the largest of the three tribes in the academy as a whole. If you do not believe this, read the chapters in Linda Waite's The Case for Marriage book that survey literatures untouched by economists.

Hat tip: Jess Goldberg