Friday, July 30, 2010

Al Gore misbehaves

What to say about Al Gore's public relations disaster regarding multiple allegations of misbehavior with hotel masseuses?

I guess I find it a puzzle on several levels. In one sense, the trouble begins because massages with happy endings are illegal in the US, unlike many other countries, when done in exchange for money. This leads to a pooling equilibrium in which providers that want to offer this service attempt to look like massage providers who do not want to provide this service. The result is confusion for providers and customers.

But in another sense, that is not really the issue. Given the pooling equilibrium, with which Al is presumably familiar, he could react to the constraints he faces on his behavior by doing one of several things:

First, he could restrict his attempted purchases of this service to trips to places where they are legal. This requires some self-restraint, but you don't get to be a successful person without some ability to delay gratification.

Second, he could avoid the massage market and instead look in the upscale escort market, where it is clear what is being provided. Given that Al travels with a personal staff, surely one of them could arrange this sort of thing while keeping both Al and the police out of the details of the transaction. Money is presumably not an issue for Al, and as the police focus almost exclusively on street prostitution, the ex ante public relations risk was probably lower with high-end escorts than with massage providers of unknown type.

Third, presumably Al has lots of opportunities for unpaid fun with women who appreciate his Powerpoint slides or want to hold his Nobel Prize. There are of course potential costs as well as benefits here too. Sometimes those women do not want to go away (e.g. Monica) and sometimes they too run off to the National Enquirer, but at least legal trouble is avoided.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, he could have behaved like a gentleman given his choice to take draws from the pooled market of massage providers who do and do not want to offer extras. That is to say, having realized that he had drawn a provider of the massage-only type, he could have enjoyed a nice massage, or just sent her on her way with her fee, in a polite and mature fashion. I think Al's failure to pursue this path is the real puzzle.

Odd, odd, odd.

Book: The Authentic Adam Smith

I got this short biography of Adam Smith by James Buchan on the sale table at Moe's in Berkeley when I was there for a conference in January.

Buchan is not an economist but rather a novelist and critic (or so says the dust jacket blurb) which is consistent with the fact that the book a great pleasure to read. It is not deep, but it is a bit different than the usual economics-focused biography and provides more details about Smith's travels and mode of work on his books than I was familiar with.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Assorted links

1. Advice to profs for dealing with media interviews. These struck me as pretty smart. Though their history is a bit off - Nixon and Kennedy had a televised debate, not an interview.

2. Combating the threat of "pornographic" men's underwear packaging or, put differently, some people have *really* low values of time.

3. Deepak Chopra and friends venture into the worlds of foreign policy and energy policy; the results illustrate the continued importance of the division of labor.
5. Manka Brothers hit the big time. Of course, I posted about them months ago!

#2 via the Agitator.

Economist and minimum wages

From an article on Brazil:
How much of the credit does Lula [the current president] deserve for all this [growth]? ... He also raised the minimum wage by two-and-a-half times since 2003, taking its purchasing power to its highest level since 1979. This has not destroyed jobs: some 13m new jobs in the formal (ie, legally registered) economy have been created since 2003."
Oh dear! The implicit estimator here is the before-after estimator or, if you are a more expensive consultant, the "interrupted time series design." It requires, to produce a consistent estimate of a causal effect, that absent the change in the minimum wage, the change in the number of jobs would have been zero.

Given that Brazil increased its minimum wage in the midst of a boom, this assumption seems highly unlikely. Thus, the correct comparison would be between the number of jobs created in a boom with minimum wage increases and the number created in a boom without minimum wage increases. Both will be large positive numbers. The fact that the first is a large positive number is uninformative about the sign of the difference.

How big the difference would be depends on many factors, including how binding it was to begin with, something the Economist piece is silent about.

One expects this sort of basic error in counterfactual reasoning from the NYT or the WaPo, not the Economist.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

School desegregation and adult health

I've been meaning to blog for a while that I quite liked this paper by Rucker Johnson that I saw him present at the Institute for Research on Poverty Summer Research Workshop this past June.

The thing that struck me about the results , that is not emphasized that much in the paper, is that he finds that being subject to school desegregation, in addition to positive effects on blacks, does not have much in the way of effects on whites. Given all the upset at the time about the school desegregation, this is surprising, if only because it must have been a stressful experience for all the students involved.

Ann Arbor as singles haven

CNN Monday Magazine ranks Ann Arbor #21 in its list of best places to be rich and single.

This will be useful in recruiting on the economics job market!

More on recording the police

From abc news, a summary of cases and views from around the US.

A snippet:
"Police and governmental recording of citizens is becoming more pervasive and to say that government can record you but you can't record, it speaks volumes about the mentality of people in government," Rocah said. "It's supposed to be the other way around: They work for us; we don't work for them."
Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mr. Bean welcomes you to hell.

Hat tip: Krista Carlton

Causation and correlation: occupational edition

Reuters produces and the NYT publishes a report on a study of bivariate correlations between occupations and death rates. Neither the authors of the study nor the reporter seems to understand that the estimates are not causal.

This will give you the idea:
Higher than average risk of death from HIV/AIDS was found among male tailors and dressmakers and male hairdressers, while accidental poisoning by drug was high among male painters, decorators, bricklayers, plasterers and roofers.
I look forward to the pathbreaking research on the causal effect of proximity to scissors and sewing machines on HIV/AIDS that is inspired by this work.

No link to the study, no mention of whether it is published and not even any quotes from experts. This is an "F" for sure.

Hat tip: Jessica Goldberg

Business travel divas

This is so on target it is scary. I do everything on the list other than number 8 and, just like the author, am perplexed when my wonderful wife and daughter do not immediately do them as well.

I do one other thing that is not on the list:

4.5. As you walk briskly past the long lines of unhappy people at the check-in desks with your pre-printed boarding pass in hand, marvel that (a) anyone would get their boarding pass at the airport and (b) anyone would actually check bags.

Via: Gulliver

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tenure: pro and con

Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen both have posts about the academic tenure system in recent days.

Megan's post has two parts: it begins with a long list of complaints, many of which have nothing to do with the tenure system per se, and others of which seem to forget that academia is a tournament with known rules that people enter into voluntarily.

Consider this bit:
At the end of the process, most of the aspirants do not have tenure; they have dropped out, or been dropped, at some point along the way. Meanwhile, the system has ripped up their lives in other ways. They've invested their whole youth, and are back on the job market near entry level at an age when most of their peers have spent ten years building up marketable skills. Many of them will have seen relationships ripped apart by the difficulties of finding not one, but two tenure-track jobs in the same area. Others will have invested their early thirties in a college town with no other industry, forcing them to move elsewhere to restart both their careers and their social lives. Or perhaps they string along adjuncting at near-poverty wages, unable to quite leave the academy that has abused them for so long.
The fact that most people who try to become tenured professors do not succeed is common to many professions that operate on tournament models, such as professional athletics or entertainment or architecture. This has nothing to do with tenure per se and would not change with its abolition. Such professions also consume your youth. Yep. And that would not change either. Indeed, if scholars do their best work when they are young, again like athletes, that is surely optimal. And people might have to move! On no. Never happens in any other field of work. And how about those folks who stay on in non-tenure track positions. They do so voluntarily. So what? Lots of people like to teach at college. That is why the pay is not very good for positions that involve teaching and no research.

The second part of Megan's post is a more standard set of arguments that focus on the "tenure encourages innovative research" line of argument. As noted below, I think that argument is mainly compelling outside the US.

Tyler, on the other hand, is on the right track, though his post adds on some bits of unnecessary and distracting (and rather dismal!) metaphysics. Think about the counterfactual. Most firms do not fire very many workers at all, either in the direct sense or (what they used to do at Farrell's because it was cheaper) in the sense of making them miserable until they go away on their own. Academia fires lots of people. So the issue is not whether or not weak workers are let go. The issue is the extent to which being a good faculty member is a relatively stable characteristic or whether it changes a lot over time. If it is stable, trying to figure it out and then making one round of cuts will work well. If it is time-varying, this will work less well.

Two other features of academic life are worth noting and are relevant to the question. First, there are still strong incentives to produce even after tenure. Even in a world with modest inflation, a decade of no raises hurts your real earnings. Of course, this incentive is strongest at places like Michigan where faculty do not get routine cost-of-living increases. Beyond pay, there is still promotion to full professor and the broader, and likely more powerful, pressure that comes from the expectations of one's colleagues.

Second, faculty do many different things, which are generally grouped into research, teaching and service. Faculty whose research output declines for whatever reason should be doing more of the other things that faculty do. One of my former chairs at Western Ontario used to say something along the lines of that his job was to make sure that everyone contributed to the department in some way, and in his regime faculty who were not research active did lots of teaching and administrative work.

So, my answer is that tenure does not matter much. If you get rid of tenure, the counterfactual will still likely be an "up or out" system in which a major decision is made after a few years, with contracts after that point generally renewed for almost everyone who makes it past that initial evaluation. This is like many jobs with probationary periods, but in academia the probationary period has to be long in order to get a reasonably precise measure of research quality and quantity. Getting rid of tenure probably would trim the tails of the distribution of views expressed in academic research. Valuing that is tough. This is less of an issue in the US, with its many private universities of varying politics, than it would be in more homogeneous state-run systems like those in Canada and most of Europe.

As an aside, the biggest pool of teachers with tenure is in government-run K-12 education. If you think the arguments for tenure are weak at the university level ...

Addendum: orgtheory jumps on Megan McArdle as well, but from a different angle.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Assorted links

1. Christopher Hitchens picks on Senator (cough, cough) Al Franken (and others).

2. A fine rant from Michael Moynihan at reason. Indirectly, it summarizes why I did not like living in DC all that much.

3. UM makes the Chronicle of Higher Education's list honor roll of best workplaces.

4. The Economist (gently) taunts the French.

5. Anna Chapman, exotic and wild Russian spy (with an ex-husband who is getting all he can out of his 15 minutes of fame).

Washington gives Chuck Nelson the boot

I like former Husky quarterbacks Brock and Damon Huard both very much, and am delighted to see Brock on ESPN, but I agree with Ted Miller that replacing Chuck Nelson with Damon Huard on the radio broadcasts is a bad idea (above and beyond the awful way it was apparently handled).

There is an old saying about what to do when things are not broken.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Flash opera

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Journal spam

One of our students received this:


This is Journal of Business and Economics (ISSN 2155-7950), a professional journal published by Academic Star Publishing Company, USA. We have learned your paper "[PAPER TITLE]" in the conference of 7th Midwest International Economic Development Conference. We are very interested in publishing your latest paper in the Journal of Business and Economics. If you have the idea of making our journal a vehicle for your research interests, please send the electronic version of your papers or books to us through email attachment in MS word format. All of your original papers which have not been published are welcome.

Hope to keep in touch by email and publish some papers or books from you and your friends in USA. As an American academic publishing group, we wish to become your friends if necessary. We also want to invite some people to be our reviewers or become our editorial board members. If you are interested in our journal, you can send your CV to us.

Expect to get your reply soon.

Best regards,

Elin Peng
Journal of Business and Economics
Star Publishing Company

I get things like this fairly often, but I don't recall any of them ever offering to "become your friend if necessary" before. How heartwarming!

Movie: Cyrus

We saw Cyrus last night at the Michigan Theater, where the crowd was surprisingly small given that a storm had driven many of the art fair masses indoors.

I am not sure still quite what to make of it. The NYT review does pretty well at capturing the movie, though I would not describe the ending as conventional. It is a creepy-odd-and-a-bit-funny story of three not that functional people who grow a bit but not a lot and prefer dysfunction together to being alone at the end of the movie, just as at the beginning.

Marginally recommended.

Econometricians and the Econometric Society

Two documents on the growing dissatisfaction of theoretical econometrians with the Econometric Society. One is a letter from top (very top) econometrician Peter Phillips to the Econometric Soceity, the other consists of minutes from a meeting held to discuss concerns with the Econometric Society.

There is something to the idea that theorists and theoretical econometrians are not the most natural social grouping and casual empiricism does suggest fewer theoretical econometrics papers in Econometrica, particularly from younger scholars.

It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this.

Hat tip: Canadian Econometric Study Group email list.

On jury duty

I've been thinking about jury duty lately, in part because I narrowly avoided it earlier this week. The particular topic I've been considering is why this particular in-kind tax bothers me.

First, let me be clear that I am generally a fan of jury trials, my concern is with the institutions used to select jurors.

For non-US readers, the general set-up is that potential jurors are chosen at random, usually from voter registration rolls. In some jurisdictions it is pretty easy to get out of serving on occupational or hardship grounds. In others, like Ann Arbor, it is not, though Ann Arbor will let you essentially pick a date when you want to serve, within some time frame. Jurors are paid a very minimal amount and most employers do not pay for jury duty days - you have to take leave - though they are forbidden from otherwise punishing those who end up serving on juries. Montgomery County Maryland, where I did one day of jury service, rubs the low pay in your face by suggesting that you donate your tiny check to a charity of *their* choice. The length of service depends on whether or not the potential juror gets assigned to a trial and, if so, how long the trial lasts. Thus, the size of the in-kind tax has a very skewed distribution when measured in terms of number of days, as most trials are short but some are very long.

Four things bother me about the current regime. First, it is tied to voter registration. Second, the tax it imposes is random in size due to the different lengths of trials. Third, jurors are essentially slaves. Fourth, the system makes inefficient use of the available labor. Let me consider each issue in turn.

1. Why should people who register to vote be punished for doing so? This link should mainly deter people with high values of time from voting. Those people are likely to cast more informed votes.

2. Random taxes are a bad idea in general if, as one expects, people are risk-averse. One of the lessons of economics is that it is often good to convexify. Paying jurors their wage, rather than a low flat fee, and funding the payments out of general revenues, would spread the cost of jury duty more broadly. It would also make plain the true cost of jury trials, and so provide an incentive for using them only when the costs exceed the benefits. The use of coerced labor disguises the social costs of jury trials and so likely leads to their overuse.

3. One wonders if volunteer jurors would do a better job than coerced jurors. It would be worth funding some research on this if, indeed, the literature does not already offer up evidence on this point. We moved the military from slaves to mercenaries (i.e. from a draft to an all-volunteer force) partly for this reason.

4. The current system implicitly assumes that someone whose opportunity cost is $1000 is a ten times better juror than someone whose opportunity cost is $100. This seems unlikely. If it is not the case, then it is inefficient (in the economic sense of that term) to choose jurors without reference to their opportunity costs. Sensible institutions would obtain the desired level of juror quality at minimum cost, not without reference to cost, as in the current system.

Some possible policy changes:

1. Use SSNs to pick jurors rather than voter registration records.

2. Allow those selected for jury duty to pay a fee rather than giving up their time. The fees could be used to finance higher compensation for those who serve. I would happily have paid a couple of hundred dollars to avoid the risk of serving. In a sense, this is like the system of "substitutes" used under the union draft in the civil war.

3. Have all-volunteer juries. Some people probably really like doing this. Perhaps it could be something like the CCC or TFA where you sign up for a year or two, go through both screening and (gasp) training, and then serve on a number of juries. Having jurors with both training and experience might substantially improve the quality of the decisions, in addition to whatever improvements arise from using volunteers rather than slaves.

Finally, as an aside, why is the link between jury duty and voter registration never mentioned in discussions of lower voter turnout in the US? It would be interesting to see if cross-state variation in turnout is related to the leniency of the jury system (e.g. how easy it is to get out of serving).

Addendum: not one but two alert readers - thanks to Sasha and Julie - have pointed out that voter registration rolls are no longer used to select juries, it having been ruled unconsistitutional to do so about a decade ago. So, ignore the first policy recommendation. Most states, including Michigan (look under "how"), now apparently use driver's license lists, which should spread the burden reasonably well other than places like New York City.

Assorted links

1. Economist review of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Back in the day, ECONJEFF's father worked in Boeing's wind tunnel.

2. Greg Mankiw bubbles over on soda taxes.

3. Chris Blattman on career choice (in particular accounting).

4. Putting pyramid power to use in India.

5. A video history of Division Street in Ann Arbor.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wesley Snipes, tax resistor

Read all about it here. An extra good bit:
Snipes also claimed that as a “fiduciary of God, who is a ‘nontaxpayer,’” he was a “‘foreign diplomat’” who was not obliged to pay taxes.
All those action movies and poor Wesley does not realize he is outgunned?

Hat tip: Adam Cole

Job training in a recession

The NYT offers up this piece on the relative lack of success of participants in federal job training programs during the current recession.

On the plus side, they do cite the recent study by my friends at Impaq, which does a very good job with the available data.

On the negative side, there is the odd claim that training programs work better for younger workers, which is the opposite of what is generally found in the literature, though it is not clear whether younger here refers to late teens and early 20s, or 20s and 30s. The literature is devoid of examples of programs for the younger of those two groups that pass cost-benefit tests.

I also found the article long on human interest stories and short on hard thinking about the underlying issues of institutional design. And, as is common in newspaper articles (and TV news), demonstrably false statements by politicians, bureaucrats and activists are printed with little or no questioning, as with this bit:
“These programs are really working,” said the assistant secretary of labor, Jane Oates. “These are folks who clearly want to go back to work and we’re able to help them get back to work. The investment in job training is one that’s not only going to pay off in the short term, it’s going to help us be more competitive in the long term.”
Also not directly mentioned in the article is that administrative chaos in the WIA program that resulted from the huge budget dump in the stimulus. When a program that does not do all that well anyway is in a situation of having to run around spending money any way it can (because of course you can never just send it back), one should not expect overmuch.

Finally, and more generally, a recession is an excellent time for training, as the opportunity cost is relatively low. The trick, of course, is taking training that will pay off when the recession is over. As noted in the article, there is a long history of mismatch between the training provided by government programs and that demanded by the market. But it is not clear that individuals do that much better on their own. This type of decision is something workers make only a couple of times in their lives and often with quite limited information.

Designing a better system is a worthy goal indeed, but not an easy one.

Full disclosure: I was paid to review the Impaq study by the US Department of Labor

Hat tip: Ken Troske

CV norms

Should you put your picture on your CV, as my friend Conny Wunsch has done?

There's a paper in that question, I bet.

Job talk rules

These are written for sociologists but pretty much all carry over to economics.

I would highlight the following:

1. Practice your talk a lot.

2. Don't BS when answering questions. If you don't know, say so, and write it down. Following up later by email in such cases is a good idea as well. You lose fewer points (if any) for not knowing than you do if you get caught fibbing.

3. Be interested and enthusiastic about your work. I am always amazed at how many people act bored with their own work or do not seem to take responsibility for it, as if they are presenting something written by others in a class. It is your work; if you don't think it is cool, no one else is going to. And if you don't think it is cool, you should not be on the job market.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book: Up Till Now

I finished William Shatner's autobiography a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Don't expect anything very deep. Even the parts where his second wife dies in their pool and where he learns that many of the minor players on the original Star Trek intensely dislike him do not occasion much reflection.

But there are lots of great stories about his experiences in the entertainment industry. There is less about Star Trek than you might expect and relatively more about the early days and about Boston Legal.

In addition to the stories, I felt like I learned more about what it is like to be a struggling actor working on anything and everything that comes along. Shatner does not really get secure financially until after the Star Trek movies come along; before that, he does all kinds of crazy jobs, including a movie spoken entirely in Esperanto.

Oh, and since it is mentioned about every 25 pages in the book, here is Shatner's website where you can buy yet more things about Shatner.

Recommended for Trekkies

Great moments in customer service

Sony will generously replace my out-of-warranty freezes-every-few-minutes DV-FX930 portable 9" DVD player with a factory refurbished unit for only $142.23.

Price of a completely new unit on Amazon: $138.88.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Muhammed is different

A sad story of wobbly, romance-addled, middle-aged British women touring in the middle east.

Via: instapundit

Assorted links

1. Some good news on free speech.

2. Why Crains Detroit Business always has that edgy feel.

3. Disappearing brands. T-Mobile surprised me.

4. Perfection on the Price is Right.

5. On the tax code and the bible.

Hat tip on #2 to Charlie Brown; #4 via the Agitator.

Thought for the day

Old is when the super groups of your youth are playing at the local Indian Casino.

From a friend of a friend on Facebook.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Puzzling gender difference

"School Shootings and Student Performance"

PANU POUTVAARA, University of Helsinki - Department of Economics, Helsinki Center of Economic Research (HECER), CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research), Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), OLLI TAPANI ROPPONEN, University of Helsinki - Department of Economics

In this paper, we study how high school students reacted to the shocking news of a school shooting. The shooting coincided with national high-school matriculation exams. As there were exams both before and after the shooting, we can use a difference-in-differences analysis to uncover how the school shooting affected the test scores compared to previous years. We find that the average performance of young men declined due to the school shooting, whereas we do not observe a similar pattern for women.
CESifo Working Paper Series No. 3114

But why?

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Movie: Sorcerer's Apprentice

The summer fluff-o-rama continued last night with a trip to the Rave cinemas to see Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicholas Cage.

The NYT pretty much nails this one. I liked the young dweeb better than they did and I liked Nicholas Cage's performance a bit less. The romance between the dweeb and the woman-who-looks-a-lot-like-Scarlett-Johansson-only-younger was not very plausible. She was pretty but vacuous. He should have been chasing a cute but nerdy girl.

We did have fun deciding which characters in the movie reminded us of particular economics colleagues of mine.

Recommended if you are a 12-year-0ld boy.

On field work in Africa

My student Jessica recommends this moving post on being an outsider doing research in Africa.

You really are a visitor from another world - a rich and peaceful world.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do police have a "right to privacy" while working?

Radley Balko is doing a great job of keeping track of the ongoing legal and policy battles over civilians making audio or video recordings of police as they do their jobs.

I have to say that I think the idea that police have a "right to privacy" while doing their jobs is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. The development and spread of cheap and reliable recording technologies offers the chance for great improvements in civil liberties via the monitoring, and consequent improved behavior, of those entrusted to enforce the laws (which is to say, of those given a partial monopoly on the use of force). Police organizations should be stepping up in support of citizen recording as a way to improve their level of professionalism and their reputations.

On redisorganization

A spot of pointed humor from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Hat tip: Genevieve Knight

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Assorted links

1. Penn and Teller interview from Timeout London.

2. Why the plane always seems to be full.

3. Review of Revive / Replenish, across the street from the Michigan Ed School

4. Maybe it wasn't the Toyotas after all?

5. The history of Division Street in Ann Arbor - cool video!

Movie: A-Team

We went for a summer action fluff bonus round last night and saw the A-Team at the Quality Cinemas, the lesser, at least in terms of physical plant, of Ann Arbor's two multiplexes.

At some level all you need to know about the movie is that the only line I remember is the Mr. T analogue saying "You can't fly a tank, fool."

Another good summary is the final paragraph of the NYT review:
From the repetitive looks of it, Mr. Carnahan enjoys blowing stuff up almost as much as he enjoys letting you know how much he enjoys blowing stuff up: as he has in movies like “Smokin’ Aces,” he indulges in screen mayhem with the usual overcutting and increasingly preposterous set pieces. He’s very serious about his own action chops, and in that regard alone he betrays the original show. His estimable support team here includes, among others, the action wizards Tony and Ridley Scott, six producers, various assistant directors, more than a half-dozen special-effects outfits and numerous stunt performers, all of whose efforts pale next to that special effect known as Mr. T and George Peppard in a lizard suit.
The movie indeed does not quite get the humor right from the original show and I was left, as I sort of expected I would be, missing George Peppard.

Still, we liked it marginally better than Knight and Day so it is recommended if you are in the mood for a bit of mindless silliness.

Intermarriage in the US

Alert reader (and UM economics Ph.D.) Jon passes along a pointer to a recent Pew study on intermarriage in the US in response to my earlier post on intermarriage in Canada.

The rates are much higher than I would have thought, particularly for blacks. The aysmmetry in intermarriage rates between black men and black women is large and has important implications for the "marriageable men" theory of William Julius Wilson. Indeed, I long intended to write a paper on just that point but never got around to it. That's another free paper idea ...

The geographic differences are interesting as well, though that one case where the multivariate analysis would be of interest, as Asians in the US are concentrated on the coasts and are generating a lot of the intermarriage. More broadly, there is a great "economics of intermarriage" paper waiting to be written as well, I suspect ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

New blog on the list

By request, I've added Casey Mulligan's blog to the list on the right.



Airline competition in Canada (or the lack thereof)

Gulliver correctly describes the state of the airline industry in Canada, but fails to mention that the Canadians will not even let a US airline fly people between two destinations with a stop in between in the US (i.e. Toronto to Vancouver via Detroit on Delta).

Don't get me wrong - the Canadian airline industry is better off with Westjet than without it, but they really should open up to US airlines (as the US should open up to Canadian airlines). If the Euros, who really at bottom do not like or trust each other very much, can do it, we should be able to do it.

Hope and change in the skies?

Assorted links

1. The Tim (Geithner) and Ken (Troske) show.

2. In praise of Blimpy Burger.

3. An entertaining slide show of vintage ads that are now politically incorrect. The title asks: "What were they thinking?" They were, of course, thinking what everyone else was thinking at the time. Trying to figure out why they were thinking what they were thinking is a large part of what makes studying history interesting.

4. China wages war on poor English translations.

5. Losing weight means updating your wardrobe.

Intermarriage in Canada

These statistics were on the front page of the National Post, with no accompanying article, a few weeks ago when I was in Ottawa for a one-day conference on the Canada Student Loan Program.

The percentage of mixed couples for black Canadians is particularly notable and, I suspect, much much higher than the corresponding rate in the US. An interesting question is whether this results from differences in preferences between the two countries or from the fact that, both relatively and absolutely, blacks represent a much smaller fraction of the population in Canada, and so have a smaller within-group choice set. Of course, it could be some of both.

That's a free paper idea ...

Movie: Knight and Day

We saw Knight and Day last night at the Rave 20 in Ann Arbor. Tom is Tom, and Cameron is Cameron, and the whole thing is very silly, but we still liked it better than the grumpy NYT reviewer. The reviewer is right about the green screen bits - they were remarkably obvious for a movie that cost as much to make as this one presumably did.

The Rave 20 used to be the Showcase, but changed hands. The Ravers have started to reorganize it a bit; in particular, they are saving one staff person by moving the ticket taking in front of the refreshment counter. This means that (to pick a not irrelevant example) you cannot have one person in a couple by the tickets while the other gets the popcorn, something that is on occasion useful if you arrive only a minute or two before the movie starts.

Recommended if you like Tom or are in the mood for pure summer fluff.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Seminal issues in public finance

It turns out that if you set up a foundation whose mission is to distribute your own sperm to eager female recipients, the IRS will not grant your foundation tax exempt status.

A colleague adds that "the courts have ruled that one has no basis in one's, um, bodily fluids (comes up mostly in blood donor cases), so THAT component of any donation to a nonprofit sperm bank is extremely unlikely to qualify for a deduction under any circumstances."

Good to know.

Hat tip: Adam Cole

Paul Craig Roberts

Paul Craig Roberts speaks out on foreign policy.

It puzzles me that many on the right think that the domestic parts of the government are corrupt and inefficient while the parts that deal with other countries are somehow not.

Despite a bit of looking, I remain unclear on Roberts' current politics. His wikipedia page suggests a sort of left libertarian nationalism, something that sounds like it cannot possibly be a stable mental equilibrium.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Career advice from the WSJ

The WSJ offers some career advice, some of which strikes me as wise and other bits of which seem either comical or scary.

The administrative assistant who spends her time listening at the rest room door to be sure that job candidates wash their hands is the scariest. This also sounds like a potential liability issue for the firm.

Perhaps most comical is the suggestion to network via your hair stylist.

More generally, the article seems to encourage a focus on trivialities of form rather than on substance. For example, consider the suggestion that firms should reject applicants who make minor errors on their cover letters. This issue is a bit personal as my friends at one particular economics consulting firm took a pass on one of our very best undergraduates over just this issue. I am leaving the firm anonymous because I am embarrassed for them for making interview decisions in this way.

I cannot say how ridiculous this seems to me, particularly because the norm in academia is not even to read cover letters. Certainly when I have done graduate admissions or junior hiring, I have ignored them completely as they never contain any useful information. My sense is that this is what everyone else does as well.

The serious, and broader, point from this example is that context matters. Some of the suggestions in the WSJ article might well work just fine in sectors like banking but would have exactly the opposite of the intended effect in an academic context, where too much attention to form is taken a signal that substance is lacking. By all means, shower, wear clean clothes to interviews and try and be organized in dealing with potential employers. But looking and acting like an MBA on stimulants will probably turn more people off than it turns on.

I do like the article's advice to "pay it forward", which I interpret as simply being a nice person, even when you do not have to. Being a nice person has a surprisingly high payoff in academia. Having a reputation as a jerk, on the other hand, can close doors.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pay and power

According to this list of salaries of White House staff, a substantial fraction of my Michigan economics colleagues have higher salaries than Larry Summers. Hmmm ....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nude biking not okay?

If you can't ride your bike naked to make a political point in Madison, Wisconsin, where can you?

Well, maybe Berkeley or Amsterdam.

But, seriously, this seems awfully narrow-minded for Mad City; it may just illustrate the large cultural divide that sometimes exist between the police and the people they are supposed to protect.

Via, I think, the Agitator

Addendum: Don in the comments provides an answer, namely Fremont, a neighborhood in Seattle which is also home to a statue of Lenin. As an aside, I spent the first eight years of my life living on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, at the foot of which you will find Fremont.

Geographic confusion at the Ann Arbor city council

The Ann Arbor city council is apparently unaware that our most excellent college town lies in Michigan rather than Arizona.

More seriously, while I join in the opposition to Arizona's new anti-immigrant laws, the only effect of a resolution by the Ann Arbor city council on this point is to make that body look silly on a national stage. In the midst of a budget crisis, they really do have better things to do. If they want to oppose Arizona's new law, they should do so on their own time as private citizens.

Assorted links

I've decided to go back to doing occasional "assorted links" posts to clear out the backlog of things that I found interesting and/or amusing but do not feel the need to comment about more extensively.

1. Dave Barry on the death of newspapers.

2. Ed Glaeser on Jeff Miron's new book on libertarianism. Jeff's blog is on the list on the right; it performs the useful service of making me feel very moderate. Jeff used to be Michigan.

3. Chain restaurant selection flowchart.

4. Impressive leadership in Georgia's athletic department. But why are the really important bits buried at the end of the story?

5. Will Wilkinson on becoming a Canadian citizen.

Hat tip on #4: Charlie Brown

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Movie: Please Give

We saw Please Give on Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater.

It is quirky, funny, tough, and very, very New York. Indeed, it may secretly be part of a marketing campaign to keep nice people from moving there. One could think of it as a bit of a meditation on optimism versus pessimism or, not quite the same, as worrying or not worrying and just being happy.

I think we liked it better than the New York Times did.

I am also, again, puzzled by the "R" rating.


Yuan or Renminbi?

The BBC sorts out the name of the Chinese currency, which is something I had wondered about ever since I went to Beijing for a conference a few years ago.

Via Marginal Revolution

Email is forever

Dave Weigel, formerly of Reason and now formerly of the Washington Post, learns about the permanence of email.

I have to say, though, that other than breaking the taboo and revealing that journalists actually have political opinions, I am not really sure what he did that was bad enough for the Post to let him go.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

ESPN and the World Cup

An interesting piece from the WSJ about ESPN's extensive (and expensive) coverage of the World Cup.

Getting people who actually know about soccer / football to cover the matches is a good idea; I think I would have been inclined to have some more familiar faces and voices as well to make the enterprise seem a bit less foreign to US viewers.

I liked this bit:

If NBC managed to get a prime-time audience for curling at the winter Olympics, the cable network can surely generate buzz for the world's most popular sport.

My sense from the selected sample around me is that US interest in soccer is growing steadily over time. Now if only I could get my slingbox to work ...