Saturday, March 18, 2017

Assorted links

1. On the impending demise of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. I think I most enjoyed driving on it late at night.

2. The Atlantic makes Calvin College (where one of my best friends from gradual school teaches) sound a lot more intellectually open than, say, Middlebury or UC-Berkeley.

3. Great innovations of the 1970s: headphones edition.

4. Russell Hardin, R.I.P. Hardin was around at Chicago when I was in graduate school and I had the good fortune to attend a couple of sessions with his students that he held in his home.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bill Johnson's review of Paying for the Party

Bill Johnson's review of Paying for the Party is now out in the Journal of Economic Literature.

Gated version here.

My earlier thoughts on Paying for the Party here.

Also, the companion book that reports on interviews with the parents of the students from Paying for the Party is now out. It is sole-authored by Laura Hamilton and entitled Parenting to a Degree. I have not read it yet but it is on the stack; Amazon page here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Nick Gillespie interviews P.J. O'Rourke

Podcast here.

My favorite line is P.J.'s description of Trump:"He's a big government guy for small-minded people."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dillon and Smith (2017) on the effects of mismatch

A much revised version of my paper with Eleanor Dillon at Arizona State on the consequences of academic match between students and colleges is now available as a CESifo working paper. It is also available on my web page.

The new version expands the analysis to include the NLSY-79 cohort as well as the NLSY-97 cohort, which allows us to compare our estimates of the effects of college quality, student ability, and their interaction between the two cohorts. It also allows us to present very long-run estimates of earnings effects for the earlier cohort. The new version also features a completely re-written literature survey that focuses exclusively on the (small but growing) literature on match.

Comments very welcome!

Monday, March 6, 2017

On the enthusiasm of program operators for research on the effects of the programs they operate

From the Hollister, Kemper and Maynard (1981) National Supported Work Demonstration book, pages 35-36:

     "The central experimental aspect of the research, random assignment of enrollees to experimental (participant) or control groups, was carried to completion without any technical disruption. It is important to note that operators were permitted to interview all those referred prior to random assignment and to eliminate any persons they felt would be too disruptive to their programs. Once they had screened referrals, those remaining were randomly assigned to program participation or to the control group. Although there were not technical problems with this process, the whole procedure was greatly resented by most of the operators, whose negative views were strongly reinforced by the agencies that referred potential enrollees to a site program. These hostile attitudes to random assignment were deeply embedded and yielded not at all to any sort of rational argument. For example, it did not good to point out that there were, in any case, a limited number of positions because, as with any program, there were limited funds or that in most cases of referral to training or employment programs, agencies were rarely able to place anywhere near 100 percent of those referred. My own suspicion is that even tough, in reality, there was no loss of control, since the operators and the agencies had the opportunity to screen referrals, the random assignment requirement reinforced both their feelings that they had lost control as well as their resentment of the process. It was only because of MDRC's adamant refusal to concede on this issue, and its insistence on making it a prerequisite for continued funding at research sites, that the process was carried out successfully over such a long period of time. As far as the research organization could discern, there was very little resentment of the random assignment process on the part of the enrollees themselves Perhaps it will be easier to apply this method in future studies of employment programs since it will be possible to point to the successful implementation of it, on a large scale, in the Supported Work Demonstration.
     The random assignment had to be carried out during the enrollment period for the research sample, which stretched from March 1975 to July 1977, and during those months the site operators continually inquired about how much longer the process had to continue. Their reaction to the notification of the termination of enrollment and random assignment apparently was one of joy and relief"

Friday, March 3, 2017

Assorted links

1. Swedes paying extra taxes.

2. Life imitates Betsy DeVos

3. I quite like this new citation ranking scheme.

4. On the architecture of post-war Berlin in Man in the High Castle. I found Albert Speer's book Inside the Third Reich fascinating when I read it in high school.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Economist personalized license plate

But whose car could it be? A hint: I took the photo outside of this fine establishment.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Assorted links

1. The disabled on Second Life.

2. It turns out that lots of countries want to be second.

3. John Bound, Gaurav Khanna, and Nicholas Morales make it into the Atlantic with their fine new paper on H1-B visas.

4. My paper on the effects of mismatch with Nora Dillon, as well as earlier work with Dan Black and Kermit Daniel, makes it into this amicus brief for the current UT-Austin affirmative action case.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tim Fuerst, R.I.P.

This is sad news indeed.

Tim was generally acknowledged as the nicest person in my year at Chicago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Movie: John Wick, Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is essentially the old video game Castle Wolfenstein with Keanu Reeves as the shooter, with the castle replaced by Roman catacombs and an art museum, and with somewhat different bad guys. Put differently, there really is not much here other than shooting.

While very stylish and pretty, the movie lacks both plot and character development. Ex post, the relatively high rating on Rotten Tomatoes (89 percent among the critics as I write) surprised me. Conditional on genre it is pretty good, but it is not that good. More humor would have helped.

The NYT review is here.

Recommended only if you need a gratuitous violence fix.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Assorted links

1. I enjoyed this reason interview with Food Network celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian

2. The optimal office - a brief literature review from the Atlantic

3. A plug for only children from the NYT. I am one, along with my daughter and my father.

4. On being an East German deep undercover in the US

Hat tip on #3: Lisa Gribowski

Sunday, February 19, 2017

On rapid cycle evaluation

CIRE #EvidenceInsight Video Series - Rapid Cycle Evaluation from Mathematica Policy Research on Vimeo.

See Michigan Ph.D. Alex Resch talk about "rapid cycle evaluation", which basically means using administrative data to do very quick program evaluations, often via random assignment or regression discontinuity.

Viewed as an alternative to simplistic performance management based on outcomes, I am all in favor of this. Viewed as a substitute for more serious evaluation efforts I am a bit less enthused. I would say that rapid cycle evaluations complement, rather than substitute for, more ambitious evaluation efforts that aim to look at longer term effects, at mechanisms, and/or at outcomes not available in administrative data.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie: Elle

Wow ... intense, violent, surprising, and very French.

The A.O. Scott review captures it well. I particularly like his phrase: "it is both an impeccably Gallic delicacy and a gleeful parody of Frenchness"

Scott also says: "After it’s over, you may find yourself in an argument about just what kind of movie you saw. A nasty, exploitative spectacle of a woman’s victimization, or the celebration of her resistance? A feminist tale of rape and revenge, or an exercise in chic, cynical misogyny?" In fact, I had exactly this discussion after the movie, and the answer really isn't clear.

And the director - something I did not realize until reading the review - did "Robocop" back in the day.

Recommended, but not if you are triggered by sexual violence.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Book: The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography by Donald Lopez

Lopez, Daniel. 2011. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography. Princeton University Press: Lives of the Great Religious Books.

What a fun book! This book tells, with great brevity, the story by which a set of Tibetan manuscripts came to be packaged as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and to make a splash in various circles in the west. This is a fine tale of nutty colonials and wanton cultural appropriation. Plus the author takes the novel tack of highlighting the parallels to another important "found" spiritual document, namely the Book of Mormon. I raced through it and really enjoyed it. Oh, and the author is a faculty member at Michigan.

Recommended for those into such things.

Purchase the book at Amazon
Purchase the book at Barnes and Noble
Purchase the book at the Seminary Coop

Sunday, February 12, 2017

So many titles to choose from ...

Some thoughts:

1. How to get 795,000 youtube views.

2. Imagine how proud her parents must be!

3. Is this better or worse than the original Disney song?

4. Children are the future

Hat tip: EJCS

Friday, February 10, 2017

A research agenda on school choice

Mathematica Policy Research is doing a series of blog posts that aims to lay out a research agenda on school choice for the new administration.  This seems like a worthy endeavor and I was generally impressed with the contents of the first two installments. I was particularly impressed that the first part mentions equilibrium effects of school choice, whether charters or vouchers, on traditional government schools. That is a tricky thing to study, but may well be an important part of the overall story.

I do have two quibbles. First, I would emphasize the role of innovation in the design and operation of schools as another potential benefit of school choice, though one that is constrained by the overarching regulation that governs all schools receiving public funds (as well as home schooling to some degree in some places). As best I can tell, the way schools work has changed little since I was attending them, and that was a while ago. There is some electronics around now, and the curriculum emphasizes current enthusiasms, but it all seems familiar in a broad sense. Are there better ways? If there are, could we possibly find them in the current institutional and regulatory environment?  Are there policy changes that would yield more useful innovation?

My second quibble is that the second installment implicitly adopts a binary epistemological stance in which the research world contains two kinds of studies: experiments and non-experiments. In this binary view, experiments are wonderful and non-experiments are kinda sucky, but perhaps better than the opinion of the stranger sitting next to you at the bar, at least on average. What the binary view misses is that experiments have issues, sometimes more, and sometimes less, because randomization does not solve every problem associated with empirical research; rather, it solves just one problem, albeit an important one. For example, the charter school impact studies that rely on admissions lotteries have some issues of interpretation, e.g. with multiple lottery winners, and some issues with external validity, because not all charters run lotteries. The binary view also misses substantial variation in the quality and causal compellingness among non-experimental studies. I know that the Mathematica folks know all this, but I would have liked to see it reflected a bit more in the way that they discussed the existing evidence.

Link to the first installment.

Full disclosure: I sometimes act as a paid consultant to Mathematica about various things (as I also do with several of their competitors).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Assorted links

1. On thoughtful panic.

2. A belated but apposite remark on the passing of Fidel Castro.

3. A nice summary of Eric Chyn's work on public housing. I have been at Michigan for 12 years and had photos taken by three different professional photographers and still do not have a picture as nice as this one of Eric.

4. Super Bowl halftime shows of the past: rocket belt edition.

Hat tip on #4: Charlie Brown

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

Michael Lewis: The Undoing Project

Lewis, Michael. 2017. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. W.W. Norton.

The title is a pun, the prose is breezy and fun to read, and the subject is behavioral economics or, more accurately, the collaboration between psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman that played a foundational role in the development of behavioral economics. There are bits about other scholars too, like Richard Thaler, but mostly it is the Amos and Danny show. What more could one want? If you are thinking about reading the book to learn more about the academic work that Kahneman and Tversky undertook, you will be disappointed, at least if you want more than the shallowist of substantive introductions. On the other hand, if you already know the academic work and you would like to learn more about their personal stories, including some really interesting bits about work they did for the Israeli military early in their careers (and early in Israel's career), and about their process of team production, you will find much to enjoy.

Buy the book on Amazon.
Buy the book on Barnes and Noble.
Buy the book from the Seminary Coop.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Gentleman's C ....

.... one of my favorite blogs on the blogroll (and yes, I know it desperately needs updating) has reappeared. This post about students and this one about campus electronics provides a worthy example of its timeless wonders.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

America First, the Netherlands Second

A most excellent mocking of the Donald (but perhaps a bit edgy for some).

Hat tip: a fine colleague indeed.

Friday, February 3, 2017

New paper on state tuition walls

I have seen this paper presented twice and really like it. It suggests that the welfare losses due to tuition differentials between in-state and out-of-state students are non-trivial. Seems like it is trade barriers like this that the commerce clause was supposed to prevent.


The Out-of-State Tuition Distortion

Brian G. Knight, Nathan M. Schiff

NBER Working Paper No. 22996
Issued in December 2016

Public universities in the United States typically charge much higher tuition to non-residents. Perhaps due, at least in part, to these differences in tuition, roughly 75 percent of students nationwide attend in-state institutions. While distinguishing between residents and non-residents is consistent with welfare maximization by state governments, it may lead to economic inefficiencies from a national perspective, with potential welfare gains associated with reducing the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition. We first formalize this idea in a simple model. While a social planner maximizing national welfare does not distinguish between residents and non-residents, state governments set higher tuition for non-residents. The welfare gains from reducing this tuition gap can be characterized by a sufficient statistic relating out-of-state enrollment to the tuition gap. We then estimate this sufficient statistic via a border discontinuity design using data on the geographic distribution of student residences by institution.

Link to paper at NBER.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My alter ego runs for mayor ...

... of Evanston.

Hat tip: Figlio household or current resident.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Charles Bidwell, RIP

Bidwell was around the Harris School at Chicago when I was a grad student. provides a worthy obituary.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book: The Worm at the Core by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. 2015. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. Penguin.

This book aims to draw big picture conclusions about life, the universe and everything based on a (quite large) literature of lab (mostly) experiments in which individuals primed to think about their own mortality change either their responses to researcher questions or their behavior in a wide variety of substantive domains. The authors had a hand in starting this experimental literature, and they view it as having broad implications for how society deals with quite a number of issues quite far removed from death and its rituals.

I found the case they make in the book provocative (to borrow the word used by the Financial Times reviewer quoted on the cover of the paperback edition that I purchased at my favorite bookshop in Aarhus) but ultimately incomplete for several reasons. First, the book lacks an argument as to why the results from the (mostly) lab experiments on (often) undergrads would generalize to real world behavior by other groups. This is a standard issue with lab experiments done by economists and other social scientists, of course, but it should receive serious mention in a book aimed at the intelligent non-specialist. Second, the authors describe the experiments, and they describe what they see as the big picture implications of them, but they never really provide much evidence regarding what they have in mind as the mediating causal linkages. Third, and finally, the authors do not give a sense of just how much of the variation in real world behavior in particular domains they imagine that "existential terror" (i.e. fear of death ... some truly excellent jargon indeed) explains. In a crude sense, I would like to know their estimate of the partial r-squared of existential terror in the grand regression of life. The reader could easily come away with the view that the authors think it equals one but surely it does not and equally surely that is not their view. But is it 0.01, or 0.1 or 0.01 in some domains and 0.1 in others, or what?

Recommended if you enjoy big picture social science books whose ambition perhaps exceeds their evidence.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

NYT mockery

There is a "shooting fish in a barrel" aspect to mocking the NYT but still ...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On meetings

This reminds me of something ... I can't quite put my finger on it.

Hat tip: Lisa Gribowski

Friday, January 20, 2017

Assorted links

1. Life on a submarine.

2. The NYT on where fake news comes from. I think the current media enthusiasm understates the difficulty of separating "fake" from not "fake" in all but the most obvious cases, of which the case in the article is one example.

3. This Atlantic piece channels The Bell Curve on the importance of worrying about Americans of low intelligence but never mentions either the book or Charles Murray. Amazing. Where was the editor on this one?

4. Advances in cultural appropriation: beer yoga

5. On the health effects of diet soft drinks. Whew! It is episodes like this that make me worry just a bit about adding press mentions to the department's annual review form that feeds into the merit pay process.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Calling bullsh*t

What a great idea for a course!

One can imagine a whole series of specialized follow-on courses dealing in depth with academic administration, the editorial pages of major newspapers, beltway advocacy groups, and so on.

If they want to add some local flavor they could do a class on the speech that former University of Washington president William Gerberding delivered at my graduation ceremony back in 1985. It concerned, as I recall, how the Japanese were going to bury us via their clever industrial policy.

Be sure to read the whole thing, even the (hilarious) legal disclaimer.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown