Thursday, September 30, 2010

Naughty teacher?

New York is all aflutter at the fact that former sex worker Melissa Petro revealed her shocking past on-line just after receiving tenure.

This little bit of excitement suggests a panoply of possible responses, here are some:

1) I thought New York was a rough-and-tumble bastion of secularism, not rural Alabama. Though I suppose this kerfuffle is of a piece with the resistance to the "mosque" near the World Trade Center site. Both are narrow-minded and illiberal.

2) New York has many thousands of teachers. Based on published estimates, probably two percent or so of the female teachers have had sex for money at some point. One could round this up on the grounds that New York is not rural Alabama, or round it down on the grounds that college graduates are less likely to have sex for money (do we know this?) but in any case Melissa Petro has dozens, if not hundreds of compatriots in the NY public school teaching corps. Has NYC gone to hell as a result? Are students setting up brothels during recess? Maybe this is not really a very big deal after all.

3) Sex work is legal in most developed countries. Maybe it should be here too?

4) Maybe the real issue is Melissa's highlighting of the lack of any rational justification for tenure for primary and secondary teachers. More broadly, if you have a system with tenure, Melissa's timing is clearly the optimal one. In academia, in my experience people who have gamed the tenure system by successfully concealing their type prior to tenure stop doing research immediately after getting tenure. Why wouldn't they?

5) In what sense is it worse for children to have a former sex worker as a teacher compared to, say, a teacher union organizer? I had a math teacher in junior high who broke her arm [sic] banging it on the car of a substitute teacher hired during a strike. Did she provide a good example to her students? Certainly she did not provide a good example of the life of the mind and the value of resolving disputes non-violently. Melissa, in contrast, provides a fine example of not paying attention to stupid laws and also of honesty.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hide and seek at hotels

Hotels without pretensions helpfully attach the blow drier to the wall right by the sink. It is easy to find and easy to use. Hurrah for hotels without pretensions.

Hotels with pretensions of greatness, though, find the sight of a naked blow drier, right there on the wall by the sink, off-putting, like Victorian ladies who covered naked table legs lest their male guests come unglued by the sight. Or, perhaps but rather implausibly, they imagine that their guests have such a reaction.

So, these hotels put the blow drier in a cloth bag and hide it somewhere. Less ambitious hotels hide it in the bathroom, so that it takes only a minute or two to find, though you still have to unwind the cord and all the rest (and you have to do it every single day, because the cleaning people always put it away again, even after you signal that you do not care by leaving it out).

More artistic hotels will perhaps hide the blow drier in a desk drawer, or in a small cupboard within the big, ugly, wooden box in which they have hidden the attractive, modern TV. A couple of hotels I have been to have even hidden the blow drier at the front desk, so that one has to go down in an elevator and wait in line with the people checking out while offering them your wet, wild hair to gaze upon.

I do not understand why posh places, or places that pretend to be posh, do this. Blow driers are not that ugly. Posh hotels don't put their toilets in cloth bags and hide them, and they usually are ugly. Their lamps are often pretty ugly too and they, too, escape the cloth bag treatment. Presumably the guests at posh hotels have higher values of time, too high, one might think, to want to play hide-and-seek with the blow drier.

A mystery to be solved by some clever applied theorist.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Strange feeling

The Fox News crew is going after Steven Colbert for his Congressional testimony, linked to a couple of days ago by Greg Mankiw. As I watched - I only do this in hotels - they played a tape of Nancy Pelosi defending Colbert. I think this means I agree with Nancy Pelosi on something, which is pretty scary.

To me, though, the truly scary part of the Colbert testimony video is the near complete humorlessness of everyone else in the room. They can't laugh because Colbert is being honest. Congressional hearings are not about information gathering. They are about theater. But no one is supposed to say so.

So, I am with Mankiw and Pelosi on this one: advantage Colbert.

Addendum: A link to some conservative criticism of Colbert.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

On boring economists

John Stewart defends, sorta, boring economists, except for Larry Summers, but then he is not very boring.

The first comment is pretty good too.

Via: Economist Mom

On cleaning the house

The Guardian (!) publishes some old-school cleaning advice that seems like it should have ended up in the Daily Telegraph.

My favorite bit:
There's no such thing as a cleaning cheat You can hide mess and disguise stains, but something is either clean or it isn't. If you have people coming and the place isn't clean, just tidy up the clutter and focus on the ambience – candles, flowers and low lighting all work wonders. Make time to get yourself ready, too.
The bit I did not know:
Towels go hard because washing powder and fabric softeners leave mineral deposits in the fibres, which are then baked in as the towels dry. To ensure you have soft towels at all times, wash in laundry liquid rather than powder, and take out of the dryer or off the line before they're bone dry. Soaking hard towels in a solution of water and white vinegar (145ml vinegar: 4.5 litres of water) will bring them back to life.
For readers not familiar with the solar system of British newspapers, a piece on housecleaning that really belonged in the Guardian would recommend cleaning not as exercise, as in this piece, but as a nice way to overcome class biases and bond with the workers (before going out for Thai food and the theater).

On academic political science

Stephen Hayward writes what is in part a very standard sort of piece making fun of the lower tail of paper names from academic conferences. That's all good fun but not very deep and not very original.

The other part of Hayward's piece laments the attempts of political scientists to actually act like scientists, by developing theories and testing them against empirical data. This, he argues, makes them irrelevant, which apparently means that it reduces their chances of showing up on a Sunday morning spin show, or on the sale table at an airport book store, and thus gaining the attention of beltway insiders of the more intellectual sort.

My problem with Hayward's plea is that he seems to confuse political science departments with schools and departments of public policy. They have different names because, within the academic division of labor, they do different things. I would have thought, indeed, that it is also in part the task of institutions such as Hayward's employer, the American Enterprise Institute, to translate academic output into formats that beltway types can digest and use. Such translation is a very useful activity, just not one that is necessarily the best use of time for most academic political scientists.

Asking for "political insights" - does that mean things like "senator so-and-so's mistress is ready to go public for $200K"? - from political science is a bit like asking for tips on how to economize at the grocery story from academic economics. It misses the point.

Movie: Cairo Time

I saw this on Wednesday night after a pretty brutal day (to the extent that any day a professor has can be described as brutal) and really, really enjoyed it. It is a lush, quiet, sensual, beautiful piece. I particularly enjoyed the understatement and that the characters developed by show rather than by tell. It also illustrates how a movie can be very sensual without any actual sex or nudity. This is in my top five for the year.

On the other hand, my wonderful wife did not like it very much; she found it slow going and did not find the central relationship as compelling as I did. The NYT review provides a midpoint between the two of us.

Michigan 65, Bowling for Dollars 21

Michigan did a tap dance on hapless Bowling Green yesterday, which no doubt viewed it as a small price to pay for some high quality practice and, more to the point, their share of the gate and television revenue.

Maybe the best news out of the game is that Tate Forcier seems to have gotten over his pouting and is ready to contribute again.

I worry that Michigan will move up in the rankings again (and will rise still further after they pound Indiana next week). False confidence could be trouble when we have to play Michigan State the week after that.

Movie: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

I found this preachy and incoherent, both in regard to its explanation for the recession and in various aspects of the story. But Michael Douglas is really good. Is he good enough on his own to make it worth the time and ticket price? Maybe not.

A.O. Scott at the NYT is much kinder but I worry that he may actually be friends with Oliver Stone or, more likely, just giving him bonus points on this one because of his earlier movies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teacher performance pay

Here is the WaPo piece on the teacher performance pay experiment that I described in an earlier post and that is being presented at the Ford School this afternoon.

The experimental design here is solid but there are some issues of interpretation that stem directly from the nature of the study design.

1. Only volunteer teachers were randomized. Whether one should expect the effects of performance incentives to be higher or lower for volunteers than non-volunteers is not clear a priori but using volunteers makes the politics of doing a random assignment study much easier. The importance of this issue also depends on the take-up rate, which as I recall was higher than you might think but not 100 percent by any means.

2. This is a temporary program. That means that incentives to invest in being a better teacher are limited, as they pay off only in the short term. The numbers at play in the study are not trivial but also not large relative to, say, the cost of going back to college to get a subject area degree.

3. As Rick Hanushek notes in the article, by design the study looks only at current teachers. One important effect of an ongoing regime of performance pay might be to change the mix of people who become teachers in good ways. This study cannot pick up that effect.

4. The treatment is just performance pay. There is no mentoring or other treatment. If teachers are going to figure out how to do better, they are on their own with the literature. Knowing something about the literature, I know that is problematic. But it is not clear that combining performance pay with the sort of additional treatments mentioned in the article, such as mentoring, would work. For example, the randomized trial that the Dept. of Education funded on additional mentoring for new teachers did not produce clear positive results.

I should note in relation to the last point that things are very different in many developing countries. There the effort margin is often quite important. In some countries, for example, teacher absence rates are shockingly high. Performance pay might well get them to show up, and showing up would likely improve test scores.

A side point: why is Rick Hanushek the only person quoted who is identified as having political beliefs? The Hooover Institution where he works is labeled "conservative leaning" while the fellow from the teacher labor cartel is not given any politics, nor are the people from the federal government, nor is anyone else.

Hat tip: Dann Millimet

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On sex (one might say gender) and information economics

I cannot do better than repeat the title of this clever post from the Cheap Talk blog: Men are from moral hazard, women are from adverse selection.

Winds of change in Cuba

Looks like change might come at last. The US can help by ending the travel and trade embargoes, whose justification disappeared 20 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed.

It would be really valuable for someone to produce a credible estimate of the economic cost of the Cuban communist regime. 45+ years of lost economic growth is a staggering hit - a human tragedy really.

Hat tip: Taylor Hui

JQAS: read at your own risk?

Apparently the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports has some issues, though it is the authors who really misbehaved here.

Hat tip: Jess Goldberg

Monday, September 20, 2010

Economics and literature

It was a very full day today, but perhaps the coolest thing I learned is that there is a character based on James Tobin in the Caine Mutiny. Here's the key bit from an old Minneapolis Fed interview with Tobin:

REGION: "A mandarin-like midshipman named Tobit, with a domed forehead, measured quiet speech, and a mind like a sponge, was ahead of the field by a spacious percentage." That's how Herman Wouk described a character-based on you-in The Caine Mutiny. How did you come to be enshrined in a Wouk novel?

TOBIN: That was said in The Caine Mutiny, in the first chapter, and, as you just read, referred to a midshipman, named Tobit, at the school. T-o-b-i-t. It wasn't a very deep disguise.. This school was the midshipman's school for what used to be called those "90 Day Wonders." They would take us for 90 days and make us naval officers. We're talking about 1942, the early days of war after Pearl Harbor. We were assembled in this "ship" in Columbia University in a dormitory. We were taught to be naval officers, supposedly in three months. We were arranged alphabetically in the dormitory. At the top were the people with my first initial T, and also U, V, W. We knew the people adjacent to us and up and down better then the rest of the group, and one of those fellows was Herman Wouk. We were acquainted and were good friends. He was famous in the school because he had been a gag writer for Fred Allen and Allen's famous radio program of the day.

Wouk wrote The Caine Mutiny later and he wanted the protagonist in the book to go to the school that both Wouk and I attended. So that's how this matter came up. That's my only appearance in the book. Wouk and I never had any contact after those 90 days-I was not in the same theater of war that he was or on the same ship or anything. That's how all that came about. The first days after the war when I was beginning my teaching career, in the late '40s and early '50s, The Caine Mutiny became a very popular book which all the students seemed to be reading. So, when the word got around that, well, your teacher was in the book, that added to my reputation among undergraduate students, and graduate students, too. Incidentally, for having the best academic record in this school, I, like Tobit, was given a gold watch by J. P. Morgan.

Full interview here.

This all came up because we covered the Tobit model today in ECON 675, my graduate applied econometrics course.

A great big hat tip to Isaac Sorkin for following up!

Paul Krugman, class warrior

Unlike Paul, I know the difference between a stock (wealth) and a flow (income). I would have thought that distinction might come up in the economics of trade now and again.

To be honest, I suspect this column owes more to effort avoidance - column due and no ideas or no time to do research - than it does to anything else. Rants take a lot less effort than thinking.

Two on Tyler

Thoughts on (mostly) Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution from Economic Principals and an interview with Tyler from the WaPo.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Measuring production in science

My friend and co-author Julia Lane at NSF offers some thoughts on measuring the output of scientists, broadly conceived.

The problems here are many and deep. The two I think are toughest are dealing with disciplinary differences in the nature of scientific output and dealing with the perverse incentives created by unsophisticated performance metrics. In the latter case, examples are easy to find in the private sector, in universities and in government of poorly designed performance measures consuming resources and diverting activity away from production toward strategic manipulation.

But, it is surely worth trying to do better.

Gates Foundation project

Some of the papers from the Gates Foundation project on evaluating innovative health interventions in developing countries I was involved with have now been published in the journal Health Economics. These are the stronger papers from the project.

Among the people I did not know prior to starting the project but got to know as a result of it, the Iranian group ("Family planning ...") and Jean-Louis Arcand ("Teacher training ...") were particularly impressive. Indeed, being the methods "mentor" for the Iranian group, who did not really need my help, changed my views on Iran quite a lot, as the policy being evaluated highlights aspects of internal politics within Iran with which I was quite unfamiliar. The papers by the people I did already know - Rodrigo Soares was a junior colleague of mine at Maryland and Rebecca Thornton is a junior colleague at Michigan - also impressed me.

One lesson that I learned from this project is that researchers who participate in things like this should get promises about publication outlets in writing before they commit to participating. Some of the papers in the Health Economics special issue could have been published in more prestigious journals but were not because the project organizers wanted to put all the best papers in a single special issue of a journal. The tradeoff here is between the promotion of the project as a whole, which is easier with a special issue, and the interests of the individual researchers, many of whom are untenured assistant professors, who want to get their own work in the best possible journals. I have no problem with making the tradeoff in favor of the project as a whole if the decision to do so is all spelled out in advance, but in this case it was not. This in turn led to some conflict and ill will during the course of the project, along with a bad taste afterwards, all of which could easily have been avoided.

Nebraska 56, Washington 21

Having spotted Syracuse 10 points last week, Washington began this game by spotting Nebraska 14. Bad idea. In the end, Washington was never really close in this game, and got thrashed at home 56-21.

Neither the defense nor the offense played very well. Jake Locker had the worst game in memory, just 4-20 with 2 interceptions. The defense gave up three plays longer than 50 yards.

Just an awful day.

What to make of it all?

1) Nebraska is *really* good. Like national championship good.

2) I think the Heisman campaign that the athletic department ran for Locker messed with his mind. Ex post, not a good idea. In any case, it is over now and Jake can get back to focusing on getting the team to a bowl game.

3) Unlike Michigan, Washington played poorly on both sides of the ball. The defense really seemed to miss linebacker Cort Dennison, who was out with a minor injury.

4) Perhaps the only bright spot on the day was the special teams. In particular, while there were still some coverage issues, the new punter played really well. He seemed more confident and got off some fine kicks.

5) Why does UW put together these awful schedules? I suspect that the UW and Michigan teams are about equally good this year. Yet Michigan is 3-0 and headed for another "easy" non-conference game while UW is 1-2 and headed to USC (after a bye). The folks who write the schedule are not helping the rebuilding effort.

Michigan 42, Massachusetts 37

Michigan barely got by UMass, which meant a better game to watch than I was expecting but makes me nervous about the good Big-10/11/12 teams that lie further along on the schedule. In addition, UConn managed to lose to the Temple Owls, which makes Michigan's first win look less impressive.

The main culprit yesterday was the defense. The offense put up 42. That's fine. And it did it by spreading the ball around rather than just running Denard every play. That's better than fine. But the defense had trouble the entire day with the UMass running attack. That is not fine.

Bottom line: glad to have the win, but this is not a top-25 team yet by any means.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Assorted links

1. An excellent football blooper, from Canada.

2. Accolades for Michigan's undergraduate program, in particular economics, from a Wall Street Journal article that ranks schools based on feedback from recruiters at big firms.

3. Cunha and Heckman on nature and nurture.

4. On page 3, you can find that great and wonderful rarity: tax poetry.

5. David Brooks compares the German and US responses to the recession. To be sure, N =2, but it remains an interesting comparison and Brooks does not overstate what can be learned.

Hat tip on #4 to Joel Slemrod; #5 via MR.

School reform, Matt Welch, and democrat posers

Few people do pissed off better than Matt Welch at Reason. In this case he is pissed at democrats cheering this weeks (indirect) defeat for school reform in DC.

I would add that the democrats are the party of the poor in the same sense that the republicans are the party of free markets, which is to say there is lots of talk but, when the choice comes down to walking the walk or selling out to an interest group, they follow the money.

More on William Shatner

A fine interview from the NYT magazine.

A teaser:
After he was killed off from the “Star Trek” movies, he began doing commercials, because, he said, “every day I realized I would not be a star.” He was 66, beefy, no longer matinee-idol handsome. As always, he worked cheap. In 1997, he took a modest salary (and stock options) to become a spokesman for a little-known online discount-travel company, Priceline. As the pompous Priceline pitchman, he became an Internet sensation among the hip-and-cynical blogger set, which thought he was hilarious in spoofing himself. He didn’t know who this William Shatner character was, but he played to it anyway, which helped lead him to a role in the mid-2000s on the television series “The Practice” and its spinoff, “Boston Legal,” that earned him two Emmys and a Golden Globe. He played the pompous, clueless, self-aggrandizing 70-something lawyer Denny Crane, suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s, which Crane calls “mad cow.” William Shatner the man was playing William Shatner the character playing the character Denny Crane, who was playing the character William Shatner. Shatner has said he once wore a William Shatner mask on Halloween — “Nobody knew who I was.”

From honesty to public relations

Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian on Reggie Bush goes from honesty - in this case defined as calling him an idiot - to a steaming pile of PR do-do in a single day!

I like Bob Condotta's distantly ironic title.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A very different sort of talk

The Departments of Comparative Literature and English Literature at the University of Michigan present:

The Freudian Robot
Lecture by Lydia H. Liu
4pm, Thursday September 30, 2010
3222 Angell Hall

What is the psychic life of digital media? Lydia Liu will speak on digital writing and its fateful entanglement with the Freudian unconscious. Her new research demonstrates how the evolution of alphabetical writing into the ideographic system of digital media alters the threshold of sense and nonsense for the mind and compels a new understanding of human-machine interplay at the level of the unconscious.


I really like the phrase "alters the threshold of sense and nonsense for the mind". We don't get to talk like that in economics! Actually I like the whole thing, just as words.

On the other hand, I received a good dose of Frederik Crews in graduate school (thanks Nat!) and so anything that appears to take Freudianism seriously necessarily crosses my threshold of nonsense.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Banking on death

German bankers come to Denmark, looking to profit from the early deaths of Danes.

More calmly, they are looking to buy people's life insurance policies.

The article is interesting for several reasons, including the apparent success of the banks at overcoming the adverse selection problem in their home market in Germany.

The social democrat's idea that somehow this market caused the financial crisis is well, not so clever.

Perhaps the most astouding bit of the whole article is the news that the University of Copenhagen has among its faculty professors of theology. Who knew?

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Talk of interest to some readers

There is a talk that some local readers may be interested in; I've pasted the announcement below. I can't go because it conflicts with the practice job talk of a student whose committee I am on. Missing the talk is not as costly as it would otherwise be because I already know the findings because I consulted on the project. The design done well and the findings are quite interesting and on an important policy issue.


The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP)presents
Matthew G. SpringerAssistant Professor of Public Policy and Education, and
Director of the National Center on Performance IncentivesVanderbilt University

“Teacher Pay for Performance: Experimental Evidence from Nashville’s Project on Incentives in Teaching”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
4:00 – 5:30pm
Free and open to the public.

Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Betty Ford Classroom
1110 Joan and Sanford Weill Hall
735 South State Street, Ann Arbor

Sponsored by the Education Policy Initiative (EPI) at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP). EPI is a program of coordinated activities designed to bring the latest academic knowledge to issues of education policy.

For more information visit or call (734) 647-4091


Oh, and as an aside, there is actually less, rather than more, information at the website ...

Addendum: There is a bit more at the NCPI website on the nature of the study, but no results. Perhaps the results are being unveiled next Wednesday at the Ford School. Good thing I kept quiet about them in my original post!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's in your first stage?

More nails in the coffin of the quarter of birth instrument from Kasey Buckles and Dan Hungerman at Notre Dame.

They also provide an interesting explanation for why it fails: high education mothers plan their births around the seasons.

American Enterprise Institute

Via MR, a thoughtful post about AEI from Arnold Kling.

He addresses two interrelated but separate topics: how to think about AEI and how AEI can best accomplish its political aims. Let me remark on those topics in turn based on my admittedly limited - one visit, a few lunches with AEI folks, reading their emails - information.

Arnold thinks of AEI as stogy, which is a reasonable view. I think of it as incoherent, in two senses. First, unlike the Brookings Institution with which it is often paired (both literally as they run some joint programs as well as figuratively), AEI produces middlebrow policy-oriented research as well as explicitly political output. I would argue that this dilutes the value of the academic work. Second, and more broadly, because of its strong orientation toward free markets as well as traditional social conservative themes, it embodies more than any of the other DC conservative think tanks the deep intellectual and cultural incoherence at the heart of modern American conservatism. There is much talk of freedom and free markets but there is also intolerance of homosexuals and, more generally, no love of cultural difference. It is a sort of pointless freedom, that is possessed but whose actual use is discouraged through cultural and religious norms. On another dimension, it is simultaneously argued that the government is incompetent to deliver mail but competent to engage in vast military/political enterprises half a world away. Inconsistent? You bet.

On the question of how AEI can accomplish its aims, I would say that AEI is pretty good at the middlebrow policy-oriented academic work and should specialize in that valuable activity. Brookings and AEI benefit from having each other, and it would be a shame to see that useful combination of cooperation and competition disappear. Rather than trying to reorient AEI to have a focus on the moral aspects of markets, doing that should be the task of some new entity, or perhaps just left to existing entities such as the Institute for Justice that already do a fine job at just that. Otherwise I think AEI will end up losing something useful, incurring a lot of transition costs, and probably not getting where it wants to go.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Washington 41, Syracuse 20


I did not get to see this one - the Slingbox is still not working - but did listen to the second half over the internet. It was 13-10 when I started listening so clearly my arrival caused them to play better!

Nebraska comes to Seattle this coming Saturday. That will be a real challenge, but one they might meet at home.

Michigan 28,. Notre Dame 24

Denard Robinson was impressive indeed, and the defense played pretty well too, other than being burned for a couple of long gains. The special teams, on the other hand, were awful, with punts flying every which way, missed field goals, etc.

I do worry about just how many times they are running Denard Robinson. They are not going to win many games without him, given a young untested backup and Tate Forcier acting like a 12 year old who has had his Nintendo taken away. My concern springs from what happened to the Huskies two years ago, when Locker got injured. My suggestion to the coaches: not quite so many designed running plays for Mr. Robinson, especially against the three patsies - Massachusetts, Bowling Green and Indiana - we play the next three weeks. Spend those weeks finding someone else who can pick up some of the slack in the ground game.

Kudos, too, to the Michigan band, whose halftime routine included the drill team dressed up as Lady Gaga, complete with platinum blond wigs and black spandex. They embodied the same spirit of fun that used to animate the Husky band back in the days of director Bill Bissell.

I had the good fortune to see this one, along with my wife, at Notre Dame stadium, thanks to the nice people at the Notre Dame economics department, where I gave a seminar on Friday before the game. We were at the very south end of the stadium; looking north over the rim of the stadium we could see the hands and halo of "touchdown Jesus".

I have a few comments about seeing a game in person at Notre Dame, a life experience that I now highly recommend:

First, while Washington fans are into football, and Michigan fans are really, really into football, Notre Dame fans are really, really, really into football and really, really, really into tailgating. Wow.

Second, thanks to some ND undergrads for letting me in on the fact that the words to the first line of the Michigan fight song are really "Hail to the Mastur-bators". Didn't know that.

Three, how can a school this into football not have a big screen for replays in their stadium?

Finally, and most importantly, I was amazed by the good cheer and good sportsmanship of the Notre Dame fans. I wore, somewhat nervously, a Michigan t-shirt to the game. Its only effect was to attract statements of "good game" and "congratulations" from a whole bunch of strangers, both at the game and at our hotel, after the Michigan victory. I hope our fans treat visitors as well.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On Glenn Beck

Thoughts on Glenn Beck, and his rally from a couple of weeks ago, from the Economist and from Nick Gillespie at Reason.

I particularly liked Nick's comments.

Assorted links

1. A new bad idea in traffic safety from Canada.

2. Happy scenes of the students moving back onto campus.

3. Good advice for the single. Think in terms of mutually beneficial exchanges.

4. Still more praise for Ann Arbor.

5. Advice for college students from Greg Mankiw.

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown. #3 is via instapundit.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Assorted links

1. When divorce lawyers divorce.

2. More honors for Ann Arbor.

3. Sorority girls from hell.

4. On the usual disclaimer.

5. Food porn versus real food, Quiznos edition

Hat tip on #1: Charlie Brown

On choosing a name for your journal

From the home page of the Journal of Human Resources:

The Journal of Human Resources is a quarterly journal that publishes academic papers using the best available empirical methods, principally in the field of economics.

It is not a management journal.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

BYU 23, UW 17

A disappointing game for the Huskies who could have won, and would have without two or three key mistakes, particularly on special teams.

BYU is a good team so coming close is not a disaster. And, it is useful to recall, one player does not make a team and Don James went 6-5 and 5-6 in his first two seasons.

Hopefully, too, Locker's good but not at all great performance will quiet all the Heisman hype so that the team can concentrate on winning games.

The game against Syracuse next week will reveal a lot more, as will BYU's performance down the road.

Play: Woman Before a Glass

We saw Woman Before a Glass at Performance Network on Thursday night. The play features Naz Edwards as Peggy Guggenheim, eccentric art collector, inveterate cougar and niece of the Guggenheim for whom the museum in NY is named. Directed by my UM colleague Malcolm Tulip, it is hard to see how you could end up with anything other than an excellent show.

Today is the last day, it is well worth a look.

Michigan 30 Connecticut 10

The hot seat got just a bit cooler for Rich Rodriguez yesterday. The offense looked very impressive, the defense less so. UConn provided a lot of assistance in their own defeat. But, still, a good win, if not quite all that an overheated Dan Wetzel column makes it out to be.

Be interesting to see what happens in South Bend next week. But what to wear? I'm thinking of wearing Washington gear and commiserating with the locals about Ty Willingham.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Life's little pleasures

After the Michigan vs. UConn game today I'll be watching the Washington vs. BYU game on channel 734.

I am pretty sure you have to be around my age or older to get why having channel numbers with three digits is so cool and still brings a smile to my face.

In my boyhood days there were only channels 4 (ABC), 5 (NBC), 7 (CBS), 9 (PBS), 11 (reruns) and 13 (more reruns).

This is better!

Adventures in marketing to children

The perilous, plastic plague that is SillyBandz has come to the ECONJEFF household.

Oh dear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I can't write no ...

... dissertation.

I suspect all the local grad students have long since seen this but it was new to me.

A couple of colleagues of mine make very brief appearances in the video. Current students should remember that these sorts of things never really disappear - so make them good!

Hat tip: Ken Troske

On school consolidation is pushing, via both an article and an editorial, a study that argues that much money can be saved by consolidating government-run school districts at the county level.

Mcihigan's funding scheme for its government-run schools is pretty byzantine, and the article was the first time I figured out what the "Washtenaw Intermediate School District" actually does.

The key omissions in the article and editorial are two. First, there is no sense that, as Caroline Hoxby has argued, having many small districts may lead to better outcomes through competition. When districts do not cover a lot of space, parents can easily change districts by moving without having to change jobs as well. The threat of parental mobility, combined with a strong link between enrollment numbers and funding, introduces some welcome competitive pressure to what is generally a very rigid government-run and highly unionized system. Second, there is also some value in having heterogeneous systems so that parents can match sort geographically based on their tradeoff between tax bill and school spending. Aggregating government-run schools up to the county level would largely eliminate both of these advantages associated with smaller, and more heterogeneous, school districts.

This is not to say that economies could not, and should not, be realized on non-instructional aspects such as transport, or that individual districts could not save money by cutting administrative jobs.

Finally, it strikes me as odd that thinks of consolidation as "bold change". Voucherizing the system would be bold change. Moving boxes around on an organization chart? Not so much.

Patriotism and college sticker prices

A Boston Globe editorial writer bemoans the high sticker price of top four-year colleges, calling it unpatriotic.

My thoughts:

1. A sure way to reduce the quality of thinking on any topic, and thus the resulting policy outcome, is to wheel in patriotism or, as Obama does, morality, in place of data, analysis and clear thinking. Indeed, the arrival of such concepts in a discussion is usually, as in this instance, a signal that the person who raises them does not know what they are talking about.

2. The figures the editorial cites on the fraction of high school graduates starting college refer to both 2-year and 4-year schools. Two-year schools are highly subsidized and unlikely to generate large debt loads. And many of those who start at 4-year schools will do only a year or two, and drop out after learning, perhaps, that college is not a good match for the interests and talents. These students will not end up with huge debt loads either. As such it is hard to see the basis for the claim that "most of these students are also guaranteed unprecedented debt burdens no matter their final GPA".

3. Next up, the editorial recounts the high sticker prices at some top schools, without noting that almost no one actually pays these prices. The main effect of such lists, and indeed of editorials like this more generally, may be to deter bright students from low income families for even attempting to apply to a top school, even though it might well be cheaper for them, after financial aid is taken into account, than attending a mediocre state school without financial aid. Indeed, editorials like this might even discourage such students from applying to a 4-year college at all.

4. Implicit in the editorial is the view that everyone should get a 4-year degree. This is simply false, in addition to being very silly.

5. It is not clear what the editorial writer would have state universities do in the face of cuts in their state approprirations other than raising tuition. Should they lay people off so that he could write an editorial about how they do not have a conscience because they lay people off? Should they cut salaries and watch their best faculty depart for schools in other states? Should they run down their endowments, if they even have them?

There are many serious and reasonable things one could say about the current organization of post-secondary education in the US, but this editorial studiously avoids saying them.

This one gets an F.

Age discrimination in silicon valley

This piece on age discrimination in the tech industry makes much of a graph showing that earnings in the industry decline with age.

I have two problems with this. First, though the article does not say so, the graph is almost certainly not the age-earnings profile for any one cohort, but rather is based on the "synthetic cohort" assumption. Under this assumption, which holds that older people at a point in time can proxy for what young people at that time will experience when they are old, allows the construction of age-earnings profiles using a single cross-section of data.

The synethetic cohort assumption seems really dubious in the context of the tech industry. Suppose the cross-section data come from 2005. The youngest individuals in the oldest group, who are 51, were then born in 1954 and went to college in the mid-70s, just before the arrival of PCs. Are they really a good proxy for what will happen to the earnings of people who are 20 in 2005 when they are in their 50s? More broadly, we know that in the population as a whole, actual cohort age earnings profiles generally look quite different than those implied by synthetic cohorts constructed from any individual cross-section.

A second, probably less important issue, is that in the oldest age group in the graph, many of the most successful workers will have retired, and so not get counted in the mean earnings figures. This sort of selective retirement would push the graph toward having a downward slope at higher ages even in the absence of any discrimination.


Via instatpundit


The latest news from Borders books, headquartered in Ann Arbor.

My recollection is that the "let's have more non-book products" strategy was also the strategy before last, while the most recent strategy was "let's go back to our core business" which seemed in practice to mean big reductions in the number of non-book products, as well as a less dramatic reduction in the number of books to create more open space in the store. They also got rid of the "university press" shelves near the door of the store in Ann Arbor, which struck me as less than clever.

I was surprised to read that their customer base is mainly female.

I hope they stick around but my sense is that they are flailing and that their management, which has been turning over pretty rapidly the past couple of years, does not really know what to do.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Assorted links

1. Deputy Chad forgot that you have to start an "investigation" before you ask the masseuse for extras.

2. Cool abandoned buildings with silly headings.

3. When does a name become androgynous?

4. Vintage calculators.

5. People respond to prices? Who knew? Is that even allowed?

#3 via Andrew Gelman, #4 via instapundit, #5 via MR

Grandma's political machine

Meet Hazel, who has been the mayor of Mississauga Ontario (where my in-laws live, as it turns out) for over 30 years and who is now in her late 80s. She has a wikipedia page too, and more recently, scandal has arrived over business dealings involving the city government and her son.

Assorted links

1. Twitter trouble in a tiny town.

2. The dangers of multitasking while driving.

3. High heel-a-thon with Regis and Kelly! There's one for men too!

Hat tip on #3 to Charlie Brown.