Friday, July 31, 2015

Mike Mueller-Smith in Quartz

Quartz provides a nice summary of the job market paper of my brand new economics colleague (once he gets done with his post-doc) Mike-Mueller Smith.

Hat tip: Martha Bailey

Thursday, July 30, 2015

T-shirt moment of Zen

Seen on a shirt in Oz:

"A Pair of Shoes Can Change Your Life" - Cinderella

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I don't have much to add to A.O.Scott's fine review. The movie is sweet but maybe not too sweet. And the movie parodies by the two boys are pretty funny.

Recommended as light entertainment, if a movie about death can be said to be light.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book: Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity, by James O'Donnell

O'Donnell, James. 2015. Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity. New York: Ecco / Harper Collins.

This is a fun read about an interesting period that I did not know much about. The author has two main points in challenging the traditional narrative: First, he argues (along with some other recent literature) that paganism was much more heterogeneous and local than the usual view of a monolithic pagan opposition to the rise of Christianity. Second, he argues that pagan alternatives more faded away than put up any real fight against the Christians, once the latter had the power of empire behind them. Also quite interesting is the discussion of the fading out of blood sacrifice among the traditionalists both before (to some degree) Christianity really shows up on the scene and in a manner that is largely intellectually and socially separate from it.

This is a book by an academic aimed at both academic and non-academic audiences, though I would not have minded if the book were a bit more academic in style than it is. Having said that, some readers on goodreads did not like the slightly snarky tone. I did.

Recommended if you are into such things.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Minimum wages and the big time

Michigan student Isaac Sorkin (on the market this coming year for those on the demand side) and my favorite minimum wage paper (i.e. his) hit the Economist print edition.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie: Mr. Holmes

This is a a gentle, warm film about an aging Sherlock Holmes. Beautiful scenery and early- and mid-20th century sets and clothes (as with all historical enterprises with which the BBC is involved). Not sublime, but a very pleasant way to spend 90 minutes. A.O. Scott largely agrees.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In praise of Harold's

A site called correctly identifies the best fried chicken to be had.

Harold's in Hyde Park (where the University of Chicago is located) was one of the few local establishments patronized by students, faculty and locals. I recall once watching a small, reasonably well-dressed Indian (as in from India) man, almost certainly a faculty member, walk gently up to the revolving portal made of bullet-proof glass, having already waited 20 or 25 minutes for his order, to ask about how it was coming along. He received in response a very loud "I ain't called you yet" and slunk back into a corner to wait some more.

Back in graduate student days, one of my friends, now a dean at some posh private university, would go with his roommate to a different Harold's in an even dodgier neighborhood just outside Hyde Park on the theory that the chicken was better there. One of them would go in to order the chicken while the other would sit outside in a car with the motor running in case things took an unfortunate turn.

Hat tip: DVM

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


This Atlantic piece on the history and science (or lack thereof) behind Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is interesting a many levels, including in particular how a treatment with very little in the way of real evidence behind it ends up becoming so thoroughly enmeshed in government policy.

Similarly interesting are two critiques. One is from Scientific American's blog. It is incorrect that AA is free; while it has no explicit money price, donations are solicited at meetings and, of course, the time cost is very large for those who take it seriously. Still, the general point of comparing costs and benefits is a good one, and suggests heterogeneous optimal treatment choice depending on factors such as value of time. This critique also offers no comfort for the (common) practice of sentencing people to participate in AA. Changing the Atlantic's conclusion from "no good" to "who knows?" does not justify compulsion.

The other critique is from New York magazine. I wish this one had more detail; it sounds like researchers are using what I would call a randomized encouragement design by randomly assigning people to formal preparation for the 12-step programs. This design, of course, estimates a local average treatment effect, which is then confused in the write-up with the average treatment effect on the treated. Or so I suspect. Also suspect is the apparent mono-focus on abstinence as an outcome. Real success, it seems to me, is leaving people able to drink in moderation, not condemning them to never drink again (not that there is anything wrong with that ...).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Beautiful ruins from Ozy. Be sure to turn on the captions.