Saturday, December 3, 2016

Evan Starr on non-competes

Former Michigan student Evan Starr, now at the Smith (no relation) School of Busyness at Maryland, discusses his research on non-compete agreements on NPR.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Assorted links

1. A humorous primer on Hillary's health scandal. It is only funny because despite all evidence to the contrary, one still expects some modicum of intellectual consistency from political partisans.

2. A very fine primer on infrastructure spending by Ed Glaeser at Harvard.

3. Rudi Bachmann on economics in Germany.

4. A new bookstore in Detroit.

5. IES What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) summary of the serious evidence on the Teach for America Program.

6. A truly amazing headline.

#2 via MR

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Harbaugh on vitamins


Sign outside of Knight's downtown (in the former Borders #1) on Friday.

Clearly, I do not get enough vitamins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Full episode of "The Profit" on Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour



A happy ending so far ...

I think fixing up the candy section is an excellent idea, as is closing failed locations. I would not have changed the font on the FARRELLS sign. More generally it is amazing what a smart person willing to speak honestly can accomplish.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Assorted links

1. The government is just another name for the things we do together.

2. Tyler Cowen recalls the Miracle of the Futures. I was always a bit surprised that this did not get more mainstream coverage back in the day.

3. Congratulations to Demetra Nightengale at DOL on winning the 2016 APPAM Exemplar Award.

4. On the demography of college towns.

5. An update on Ann Arbor's State Theater, which is now closed for renovations.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Movie: For the Love of Spock

There is nothing very deep here, and I would have liked more detail about the apparently rocky relationship between Leonard Nimoy and the filmmaker, his son Adam Nimoy. How could two such apparently nice people not get along?

My favorite bits were the remarkably thoughtful interviews with the actors from the reboot movies and, of course, the bombastic William Shatner. Oh, and the short bit about fan-generated "slash" fiction and related videos.

The NYT review does not have much to say.

If this seems like the sort of movie that you would like, then you will like it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Gene Wilder, RIP

An obituary of sorts from the ringer.

The Producers remains one of my favorite movies of all time. I can still quite vividly recall laughing so hard I cried at the famous dance number about springtime the first time I saw it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book: The Story of Australia's People by Geoffrey Blainey

Blainey, Geoffrey. 2015. The Story of Australia's People: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia. Penguin / Viking.

This is an economic (mostly) history of Australia from prehistoric times until about 1850. Much of the book concerns how the aborigines got along prior to the European invasion in the late 1700s. I found this the most interesting part of the book, mainly because I knew the least about it. You can feel Blainey's interest in, and knowledge of, how the aborigines led their economic lives and how the wild variety of climate and terrain within Australia affected those lives. The other part I found most interesting described the massive and quite rapid growth of pastoral industries (mostly raising sheep) in Australia in the first half of the 19th century.. Blainey, a widely published and widely-read author within Australia (with his own wikipedia page), writes for an intelligent popular audience. I would not have minded a more academic treatment, but you can tell that Blainey has read the relevant academic literature. Also, this is very much an economic history; do not expect much discussion of the dreamtime or other more cultural and religious aspects of aboriginal (or European settler) life.

Recommended as an accessible introduction to the topic.

Amazon page.
Dymock's page (the Aussie bookstore chain where I bought the book)

Religious marketing failure


From a Chicago Target store.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

IES Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) evaluation

Below is the IES News Flash about the third-year follow-up report from their experimental evaluation of the TIF program, which provides strong financial performance incentives to teachers.

What amazes me most about the program is not the impacts on test scores but rather how much trouble they have had trying to get the teachers to understand their budget sets.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Technical Working Group for the evaluation.

------------------------------------------------------
Implementation and Impacts of Pay-for-Performance within Teacher Incentive Fund Grants After 3 Years

Changes implemented by school districts through federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants had small, positive impacts on students’ reading and math achievement, according to a new evaluation report. The report also finds that implementation was similar across the three years, but districts reported fewer implementation challenges in the third year of the grant.

The Institute of Education Sciences released the third of four planned evaluation reports on the TIF grants, which were awarded in 2010 to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools. The report, conducted by IES’ National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), provides basic implementation information for all 2010 TIF grantees. It also provides more in-depth implementation and impact information for 10 evaluation districts that agreed to participate in a random assignment study.

In the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), TIF was renamed the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program.

The report’s main findings among all 2010 TIF districts are:

In the third year of the grant, most districts (88 percent) implemented at least 3 of the 4 required components for teachers. This was similar to findings of the previous two years; and

By the third year, districts reported fewer challenges with implementation, with no more than one-fifth of TIF districts reporting any major challenges.

The main findings among the 10 evaluation districts participating in the impact study are:

After three years of TIF implementation, average student achievement remained 1 to 2 percentile points higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. This difference was equivalent to a gain of about four additional weeks of learning;

Teachers’ understanding of performance measures continued to improve, but only about 60 percent of teachers correctly reported that they were eligible for a performance bonus; and

Teachers believed that the maximum bonus they could earn was smaller than the actual maximum bonus that the districts awarded, a finding similar to previous years.

See the report.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek

The first episode of the original series aired September 8, 1966.

Wired tries to imagine the counterfactual world without it.

And Paramount has a video.

Gene Roddenberry went around showing a blooper reel and answering questions about the show in the late 60s after the original series had been cancelled. My dad, an engineer who subscribed to Galaxy and Analog magazines while I was growing up, took me to see his show at the Seattle Coliseum. Geek memories.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Former reason editor Virginia Postrel interviews incoming reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward

The video is here. It takes a while to start.

I was interested to learn that there will be columns by Virginia Postrel and by Dierdre McCloskey going forward. I was entertained to hear the phrase "Milton Friedman was a wuss" but have to admit to being very much an incrementalist myself. And how many other political magazines have had one cool female editor, let alone two?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Assorted links

1. Frontiers of human sexuality, in Ohio.

2. There is no Great Stagnation: placenta edition

3. Which R1 universities get "green light" speech code ratings from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)? Only one current Big Ten school and only two Pac-12 schools. Sad.

4. Academic title generator.

Hat tip on #2 to Lisa Gribowski and on #3 to Scott Wood.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Movie: Kubo and the Two Strings

Visually stunning, sweet without being saccharine and just different. Who expected a Hollywood movie promoting (a watered down version of) ancestor worship?

NYT liked it too.

Recommended..

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

New editor at Reason

Here is the announcement from reason and here is an interview. My favorite bit of the interview:
One of the great pleasures of Reason — as an editor and (I hope) as a reader — is listening in on five decades of freewheeling conversation about how to make the world more free, more fair and more fun," says Mangu-Ward, a self-described "Beltway baby" and "D.C. lifer" who's an Alexandria, Virginia native and lives in the capital.
Who would argue that there is not far too little emphasis on fun in American political discourse more generally? It is all grim conservatives going on about the end of civilization and endless war and grim progressives going on about their endless moral purification campaigns.

Having been reading reason since my college days, I can say from my own experience that every editor brings a different flavor to the magazine. My favorite to date was probably Nick Gillespie who gave it a more cultural spin - not surprising given he has a doctorate in English - with lots of talk about gatekeepers and such.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Movie: Indignation

Philip Roth sends his main character, a working class Jewish boy seeking to avoid the Korean War to a liberal arts college in Ohio in this movie based on his book of the same name.

The movie is really well done. I found the depiction of the day-to-day workings of "in loco parentis", the now largely obsolete but once very serious doctrine that colleges should monitor and guide their students in the absence of the parents, quite fascinating. The one flaw with the movie is that it does not make it clear enough that this was standard fare at the time at most residential colleges, not something unusually horrific about the college represented in the movie.

I also like the overall theme, which concerns the unintended consequences of sequences of seemingly minor choices.

Positive NYT review here.

Recommended.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

First seven jobs

I had missed it until now, but apparently there is a meme about listing one's first seven jobs.

To wit:

1. Cashier in a hobby shop (at which I was a regular customer) over the holiday season (minimum wage plus cookies)

2. Dish washer / short-order cook / ice cream scooper at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant Southcenter, the first Farrell's to ever top $1 million in sales in a year. I started at $2.98 when the minimum wage was $2.90. I later advanced to $3.25 per hour plus free meals.

3. Consultant / operator at the Health Sciences remote site of the Academic Computing Center at the University of Washington. My remote site (a grand name for a small windowless room in a very large building) featured one of the last (punched) card readers on campus. This job resulted from my dad meeting someone from the ACC at some work function.

4. Summer intern (twice) at the Reason Foundation, which publishes reason magazine. This was in Santa Barbara, which is a very nice place to spend a summer indeed.

5. Research assistant to Joe Hotz at the University of Chicago

6. Research assistant to Jim Heckman at the University of Chicago

7. Assistant professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario

I have omitted a few more minor things like small amounts of paid tutoring in both my undergraduate and graduate school days.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lena und Lisa


The new enthusiasm among the younger set at my household is called musical.ly, an app that allows the user to record themselves lip-synching bits of songs, movies and television shows. These bits can then be shared among one's friends.

The stars of muiscal.ly are two young Germans called Lena and Lisa. You can watch their greatest hits in the video above, and you can hear their real voices here. One infers that Lena und Lisa have very indulgent (and well funded given the large number of different outfits and props) parents as well as lots of spare time (and the grit and determination for quite a lot of practice).

Hat tip: Lizzie Smith

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Statistical treatment rules and racial bias in the criminal justice system

Jennifer Doleac, who is on leave this year at Brookings from Virginia's policy school, provides a very fine summary of the issues.

Jen's post includes a shout-out to my one economics of crime paper (which is co-authored with my former Maryland criminology colleague Shawn Bushway). In that paper we raise some issues that have been discussed a bit in the labor economics literature in the context of the criminology literature where they had not really been addressed. Labor economics and criminology (and medicine) each have their own statistical treatment rule literatures that mostly do not talk to one another, which opens up space for intellectual arbitrage.

This quite nice AEJ paper by Devin Pope and Justin Sydnor considers related issues in the context of the Worker Profiling and Reemployment Services (WPRS) system.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Assorted links

1. State-level freedom ratings from CATO

2. On economics seminars.

3. Advice on the publishing of academic books.

4. Frontiers of academic administration (or "it could be worse"). Apparently the chancellor has recently resigned. Hard to imagine why.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book: Blood and Daring

Boyko, John. 2013. Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation. Knopf Canada.

I got this book from my (Canadian) father-in-law as a gift, and quite enjoyed it. Though it is less academic in style than I usually prefer, and perhaps a bit too fawning on some of the Canadian founders (something that never, ever happens in books about the US founders), I quite liked it, mostly because it is full of things I had not read about before. The American Civil War was actually pivotal in uniting what was at the time a collection of multiple Canadian colonies into a single (almost) political entity, driven by fear that the Union army would finish the job left unfinished by the War of 1812 as soon it finished finishing off the confederates. The amateur cloak and dagger antics of the confederate agents in Toronto and Montreal provide comic relief.

Recommended if you are interested in our neighbor (or even neighbour) to the north.

Barnes and Noble page.
Amazon page.

Friday, August 19, 2016

More on Farrell's



There are a couple of errors in the backstory at the beginning. Bob Farrell was having trouble and sold out to Marriott (!) at some point not long before I started working at Farrell's in the spring of 1979- my paychecks were Marriott paychecks. It was Marriott who sold out to the investor group shortly after I stopped working there in 1982. Also, it is just wrong that there were ever zero Farrell's. One of the original franchisees kept running stores in San Diego long enough to overlap the stores operated by the new group featured in the show.

Lots more history at this website maintained by a former Farrell's manager.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Vegetable video



Thankfully, only a subset of my vegetabletarian friends are like this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Assorted links

1. On the Icelandic national soccer team, that defeated England. A couple of months old but still very funny if you follow such things.

2. On the history of airport mobile lounges.

3. Mao and the cultural revolution. We should make much more of this than we do.

4. New research on the causes of divorce.

Hat tip on #1 to Peter Dolton.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Farrell's closes three locations

The Sacramento store, the Mission Viejo store, and the Rancho Cucamonga store all closed. I hope it is indeed just property issues as suggested in the news stories and not signs of a broader decline, though the fact that they also removed all the franchising information from the website suggests that more is going on.

I had lunch at the Sacramento store when I was in the area to give a seminar at UC-Davis. I had a great time but it did not seem like the most auspicious location. I had also been to the Rancho Cucamonga store.

Hat tip on the first two closures: Chuck MacDonald (who was an assistant manager at Farrell's Southcenter in Seattle when I was working there)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie: Suicide Squad

So I thought this was the worst movie I have seen in a couple of years, but not one of the worst of all time. My young companion, however, enjoyed it very much indeed.

A.O. Scott takes a (more positive than I expected) middle road, in another very snarky review. He is certainly correct that the best bits are Harley Quinn and the Will Smith character but, really, Will Smith should fire his agent over this.

Recommended only if the nine-year-old is making the decision about which movie to see.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

New working paper on teacher unions

The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining
Michael Lovenheim (Website), Alexander Willén

CESifo Working Paper No. 5977 (July 2016)

Abstract:

This paper presents the first analysis of the effect of teacher collective bargaining on long-run labor market and educational attainment outcomes. Our analysis exploits the different timing across states in the passage of duty-to-bargain laws in a difference-in-difference framework to identify how exposure to teacher collective bargaining affects the long-run outcomes of students. Using American Community Survey (ACS) data linked to each respondent’s state of birth, we examine labor market outcomes and educational attainment for 35-49 year olds. Our estimates suggest that teacher collective bargaining worsens the future labor market outcomes of students: living in a state that has a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 grade-school years reduces earnings by $800 (or 2%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.50 hours per week. The earnings estimate indicates that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation, as well as reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which workers sort. The effects are driven by men and nonwhites, who experience larger relative declines in long-run outcomes. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining leads to sizable reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults. Taken together, our results suggest laws that support collective bargaining for teachers have adverse long-term labor market consequences for students.

You can find the paper here.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Assorted links

1. The map of (heavy) metal

2. A wise piece from Thomas Friedman on Hillary Clinton

3. Deeply horrifying video of the 1996 democrat convention, featuring Hillary as a Stepford wife.

4. I agree with John Cochrane (and by extension the marginal revolutionaries) on NSF. Data is a public good, summer ninths are not. NSF should just be funding data, and maybe grad students.

Hat tip on #1 to Stephane Mahuteau and on #2 to the deputy dean, who denies being the unnamed colleague responsible for #3.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Book: Japan 1941

Hotta, Eri. 2013. Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy. New York: Knopf.

This book presents a political history from a skeptical Japanese perspective of the period leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack. The history gets denser as the day of infamy gets closer in time. I found the book fascinating as I knew essentially nothing about the internal politics of Japan in the interwar period. The book makes the case that a combination of cultural (saving face, etc.) and institutional (too much shared responsibility) factors led to a war that, had you somehow collected the honest opinions of the major players, most of the Japanese leadership did not want.

Recommended if the subject is of interest.

Amazon page
Barnes and Noble page

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Movie: Cafe Society

It is a Woody Allen movie, so you know what you are getting. I liked it better than A.O. Scott but he does a fine job of laying out the strengths and weaknesses.

He does not mention my favorite line, which is "Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living; the examined life is no bargain either."

Recommended if you like Woody Allen movies.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Something to listen to next time you get a jerky referee report



Some clever person should do a version of this using the vast supply of intellectually narrow and misogynist comments from "econjobrumors".

Hat tip: Lizzie

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Assorted links

1. JJH on the NFL draft - yes, a couple of months late, but still worth reading on several levels.

2. I wonder if a study of resumes on on-line job sites would yield the same findings.

3. The economist on Donald supporters on the Donald.

4. Nick Gillespie on the (yawn) Olympics. I always say that I will start watching again when they no longer identify the country associated with each athlete and instead have them compete as individuals. Probably that's not true - I never liked them that much anyway - but I doubt that my claim will ever be tested empirically.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Ann Arbor up in smoke

My first reaction to this headline about the Ann Arbor city council banning the sale of cigarettes to individuals ages 18 to 21 is that it is odd that they would have the power to do this. Reading the article, it seems likely that they do not actually have the power to do it, though in a narrower sense than my initial reaction had in mind.

This looks to me like a bunch of pointless moral posing by local pols at public expense, and thus yet another lesson in the difficulties of solving principal-agent problems. If the city council really does not have anything better to do, they should come over to my neighborhood and fix the appalling potholes.

More substantively, it seems to me to that if you are old enough to vote you ought to be old enough to buy cigarettes and alcohol. Politicians are a lot more dangerous than a few puffs of tobacco smoke or a beer. Indeed, that point is made by this very episode.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Movie: Jason Bourne

Bourne, again?

I liked it more than A.O. Scott, who I think feels a bit guilty about liking it as much as he did. The review is Scott at his snarky and insightful best. An example:
This is perhaps the most striking feature of “Jason Bourne”: Virtually all the major characters — good, bad and in-between — work for the same organization, at least on a consulting basis. There are dark whispers about external threats, and invocations of the tension between security and privacy in the digital age, but geopolitics and technology are scaffolding for what is essentially a movie about human resources challenges in a large bureaucracy.
Maybe it was this labor economics angle that drew me in?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

New IZA Working Paper

IZA Discussion Paper No. 10108
July 2016

ABSTRACT

Viewpoint: Estimating the Causal Effects of Policies and Programs

Estimation, inference and interpretation of the causal effects of programs and policies have all advanced dramatically over the past 25 years. We highlight three particularly important intellectual trends: an improved appreciation of the substantive importance of heterogeneous responses and of their methodological implications, a stronger focus on internal validity brought about by the “credibility revolution,” and the scientific value that follows from grounding estimation and interpretation in economic theory. We discuss a menu of commonly employed partial equilibrium approaches to the identification of causal effects, emphasizing that the researcher’s central intellectual contribution always consists of making an explicit case for a specific causal interpretation given the relevant economic theory, the data, the institutional context and the economic question of interest. We also touch on the importance of general equilibrium effects and full cost-benefit analyses.

JEL Classification: C18, C21, C26, C50, C90

Keywords: causal effects, heterogeneous treatment effects, partial equilibrium identification

The paper is forthcoming (after a while) in the Canadian Journal of Economics.

You can find the working paper here.

ASAK

I like it when my students win awards. Even more marvelous, Sasha is now a tenured full professor at Harvard just five short years after earning her doctorate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Assorted links

1. Applied monetary policy at the Houston public schools.

2. On neckties. In my view, they can't disappear fast enough.

3. Maybe you don't have the right to remain silent.

4. Demetra Nightengale on evidence-based policy at DOL. They have made some real improvements. It will not come as a surprise, of course that I think there is room for a lot more.

Monday, August 1, 2016

New NBER Working Paper

Tobacco Regulation and Cost-Benefit Analysis: How Should We Value Foregone Consumer Surplus?
Helen Levy, Edward C. Norton, Jeffrey A. Smith

NBER Working Paper No. 22471
Issued in July 2016
NBER Program(s):   HC   HE

Recent tobacco regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration have raised a thorny question: how should the cost-benefit analysis accompanying such policies value foregone consumer surplus associated with regulation-induced reductions in smoking? In a model with rational and fully informed consumers, this question is straightforward. There is disagreement, however, about whether consumers are rational and fully informed, and the literature offers little practical guidance about what approach the FDA should use if they are not. In this paper, we outline the history of the FDA’s recent attempts to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products and how they have valued foregone consumer surplus in cost-benefit analyses. We discuss the evidence on whether consumers are fully informed about the risks of smoking and whether their choices are rational, reviewing the competing arguments made by different authors about these questions. We describe the appropriate approach to welfare analysis under different assumptions about consumer information and rationality. Based on our reading of the theoretical and empirical literatures, we advocate using a behavioral public finance framework borrowed from the literature on environmental regulation. This approach applies standard tools of welfare analysis while allowing consumer behavior to deviate from rationality and full information without requiring specific assumptions about the reason for the deviation. The use of this approach would substantially reduce the confusion currently surrounding welfare analysis of tobacco regulation.

The paper (gated) is here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A brief meditation on travel



I like this commercial a lot. Donald Sutherland is the perfect voice.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Research cited in Forbes

The column is mainly about a fine paper by Andrews, Imberman and Lovenheim but also presents some evidence from my work with Nora Dillon.

Hat tip: Scott Imberman

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Updated web page

I have updated the papers and courses part of my web page, as well as adding a link to my Google Scholar page.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dominicks ...

... is open again. Yum.

For folks not in Ann Arbor, Dominick's is the restaurant / bar closest to Lorch Hall, home of the economics department. They close every year between the last home football game and the Monday after winter break as much of their seating is outside.

This year, their re-opening on Monday "caused" temperatures to increase by about 30 degrees relative to Sunday. Such power.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Making grocery shopping better

How come no one thought of combining beer and grocery shopping before?

Can white wine at Whole Foods be far behind?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Blood and Gore

I enjoyed this Atlantic piece by James Fallows on Al Gore's investment firm more than I expected to. Particularly interesting is the surprisingly detailed description of the process that the firm uses to choose the firms in which it invests.

The key weakness of the piece is that no attempt is made to separate out two very different stories about the firm's financial success: One is that they have shown that, magically, you can have it all: high financial returns while investing only in ethically and environmentally friendly companies. In that story, the firm's performance provides evidence that the tradeoff that the literature highlights between monetary returns and other goals does not have empirical bite. The other, very different, story is that Gore's firm earns above-market returns because they focus on bread-and-butter issues that other investment companies do not emphasize enough, such as corporate governance and executive compensation, they pay relatively more attention to the long run than do other firms, and they are relatively more activist shareholders. Under this story, their returns would be still higher if they did not add in the focus on ethically and environmentally friendly firms. Of course, it could all just be good luck too, an aspect that the story neglects but which merits attention given the firm's relatively small size.

One odd bit. Fallows notes: "No one [at the firm,which is mostly in the UK] seems to call him `Vice President Gore'; they viewed my reflexive use of the term as a weird Americanism." I think Fallows needs to get out more. Only a beltway journalist used to flattering politicians would bother with this sort of foolishness. Gore has been out of office for 16 years!

Another odd bit: Why doesn't the firm pay Laura Tyson to be on their advisory board?

You have to read the article to understand the title of the post. Truly an opportunity missed.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On where to publish after tenure

Instapundit remarks on a paper that argues that law professors publish just as much post-tenure but dial down the journal placement.

The journal process can be slow and tortuous, and not infrequently results in papers that are worse, not better. It puzzles me a bit that well-known tenured economists with access to the NBER working paper series, which has essentially become a means of self-publication rather than a means of circulating unfinished work for comments, bother with the journals at all. If people will read and cite the NBER working paper, why spend time rewriting to make the paper more like the one that the referees would have written when you could write a new one?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Clerking for Scalia

This piece from a former clerk, with different politics than Scalia, gives a sense of what it was like to work for him. I particularly liked this bit:
He forced us all to acknowledge that words cannot mean anything we want them to mean; that we have to impose a degree of discipline on our thinking.
Odd that this is controversial.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Trump v. Hitler

An amusing piece from a German site (but in English) on the important differences between Adolf and Donald.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Assorted links

1. Do snapchat like a teen.

2. How many degrees of separation? Lots of interesting bits on measurement and selection bias.

3. On working at Hooters. This would make a fascinating topic for a serious ethnography that focused on the implicit transfer of money for attention.

4. Yet another Camille Paglia interview, this time with Nick Gillespie of reason.

5. Dan Drezner's theory of Trump.

#2 via MR

Link on #5 fixed.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book: The Baby Boom by P.J. O'Rourke

O'Rourke, P.J. 2014. The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way, And It Wasn't My Fault, And I'll Never Do It Again. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

This book turned out to be much more autobiographical than I expected and less of a contribution to popular social science. I particularly enjoyed the bits towards the end about P.J.'s college years and the period immediately afterwards. If you like P.J., you will like this book, though for me it did not quite reach the level of Parliament of Whores, which is my favorite.

The earlier parts of the book, in addition to the humor, provide a picture of what childhood used to be like. I can remember going off to the local "wetlands" to catch frogs and lizards for hours with no particular designated time of return and no electronic devices by which my parents could contact me. That sort of free range play just does not happen any more, at least not in these parts.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dick Spady, R.I.P.

Spady was the founder of Dick's Drive-In, a delightful relic of the 50s that my parents and I both enjoyed in our respective college days in Seattle. The Seattle Times obituary includes some history of the restaurant chain.

Hat tip: Mike McCutchin

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Charles Murray on Trump

While not agreeing with everything Murray has to say, I found this piece thought-provoking. It pushes themes related to the decline of the working class in the US that have been on Murray's mind since the Bell Curve (though most critics ignored them there in their rush to talk about IQ).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Assorted links

1. Ginger Ambition on life in silicon valley.

2. On the future of gastronomy.

3. Who marries whom.

4. Uncle Sam at the bar.

5. Atlantic on the science of bad science. Lots to worry about here.

Hat tip on #3 to ASAK

Friday, February 12, 2016

Canada for president?



I think this option dominates all of the remaining red and blue team candidates.

Hat tip: Shannon Seitz

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Immigration comedy



This is pretty well done. The one bit that is not explained is why we are not morally obligated to have open borders, which would seem to follow from the arguments he makes, absent other considerations.

Via MR

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On college admissions

The New York Post offers an entertaining bit on Yale undergraduate admissions by a former admissions officer. Missing from this article is any understanding that the optimal number of admissions "mistakes" does not equal zero. It is interesting despite that.

For a deeper treatment, from a somewhat different place in the academic pecking order, I can recommend the book Creating a Class by Mitchell Stevens. The author embedded himself in the admissions office of a good-but-not-the-very top liberal arts college. I found the background it provided really useful in thinking about academic college match.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl L

Some thoughts:

1. Defense wins championships.

2. Peyton Manning is a class act.

3. What happened to the Roman numerals? Last year was Super Bowl XLIX. This year, Super Bowl 50? Where were the angry mobs of high school Latin teachers demanding that the NFL "Go to L"?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On the water in Flint

Lots of incompetence (and concern with the daily battle of the talking points rather than with actually doing one's job) to go around at different levels of government and between the red and blue teams. This story by a reason writer attempts to allocate the blame.

This WaPo story seems more worried about loss of "trust in government" than about the health effects. No explanation is provided for why the residents of Flint should have trusted government prior to this episode.

Plus a nice piece from 538 detailing the roles of both local citizens and concerned professionals and a piece from David Warsh on the role, or lack of a role, of the press.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

On corporate hubris and ineptitude

The sad but informative tale of Target's foray into Canada.

Charlie will like this bit:
A small group of employees also made an alarming discovery that helped explain why certain items appeared to be in stock at headquarters but were actually missing from stores. Within the chain’s replenishment system was a feature that notified the distribution centres to ship more product when a store runs out. Some of the business analysts responsible for this function, however, were turning it off—purposely. Business analysts (who were young and fresh out of school, remember) were judged based on the percentage of their products that were in stock at any given time, and a low percentage would result in a phone call from a vice-president demanding an explanation. But by flipping the auto-replenishment switch off, the system wouldn’t report an item as out of stock, so the analyst’s numbers would look good on paper. “They figured out how to game the system,” says a former employee. “They didn’t want to get in trouble and they didn’t really understand the implications.
Quantitative performance management is never as simple as it seems.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book: Hive Mind by Garett Jones

Jones, Garett. 2015. Hive Mind: How Much Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More than Your Own. Stanford, CA: Stanford Economics and Finance.

I read this because the folks at Marginal Revolution were pushing it. The title makes the book's thesis clear and the author does a good job of making the case for his views by marshaling evidence from a variety of disciplines. I was surprised at how much of the material was familiar to me from other things I had read, though I still appreciated the thoughtful arrangement of the familiar bits into a clear and fairly compelling argument.

Four things bothered me about the book. First, even conditional on being aimed at a general audience of intelligent readers, I found the writing annoyingly simple at times. The book is, say, a 3.5 / 10.0 on a scale from "not academic at all" to "Varian's graduate micro text". I would have preferred a 5.0 or 6.0 book. Maybe the author will write that one next. Second, in trying to make the case that national average IQ matters, the author minimizes the value of own IQ conditional on national IQ, but does so without putting much effort into justifying that point. Perhaps I am overly influenced by the Murray and Herrnstein Bell Curve book which I read as showing that individual IQ is a non-trivial predictor of nearly every adult behavior. Plus there is no real need to make this case: it can be true that both individual IQ and national average IQ have meaningful explanatory power. One does not preclude the other. Third, I would have liked a chapter on within-country sorting by IQ and why it does not function to partly undo the effects of national IQ. Certainly in countries like the US with a lot of residential and social segregation by education and income (and thus implicitly by IQ) this would seem relevant. Finally, the part of the book that was newest for me was a discussion near the end of a model of the labor market that combined a sector with an o-ring technology, where the average skill matters, with a standard Cobb-Douglas sector where it does not. Trying to explain this model without the math and at the 3.5 level of academic sophistication made things really frustrating for this reader, particularly as it seemed to me that some of what were offered up as general points may well have depended on specific functional form assumptions.

Recommended with the above caveats.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Assorted links

1. This is funny in a bizarre sort of way. What struck me was how few of the shows I have ever watched.

2. The future of economics?

3. Teach for America at 25.

Hat tip on #2 to Scott Wood.

Friday, January 1, 2016