Monday, June 30, 2008


I was in Barcelona last week teaching a course on the economics and econometrics of program evaluation with my friend Michael Lechner. We originally got into the course business in the late 1990s when the IFAU in Sweden wanted to repeat the successful course offered by Jim Heckman and Costas Meghir but was unable to induce them to do so. Michael and I were brought in as substitutes (a tall order indeed and one that I make no claim to fulfill). Since that time we have done versions of the course twice in IFAU, once in Nuremberg at the IAB, once in Cologne, once in Aarhus and once in Copenhagen. We have also both dones mini-versions on our own at various places.

This iteration of the course, which included doctoral students from around Europe, including a large delegation from Uppsala, as well as people from Germany, Italy, the US, Russia and Spain and maybe one or two other countires, was one of the most fun for us. This course differed from previous version in that there was no empirical aspect for the students but there were student presentations of papers. This made it more like the annual European Summer School in Labor Economics that the IZA runs and which I taught in a few years ago. The paper presentations seemed to induce a differential selection of more advanced and more engaged students as the lectures were more interactive than we recall them being in previous cases, which is of course great fun for us.

There are a lot of these sorts of courses in Europe - Guido Imbens is coming to a different university in Barcelona to give a course in applied econometrics in two weeks for example, and my friends Petra Todd and Ed Vytlacil have both done such courses. For the students, they provide a chance to meet, learn from and perhaps impress scholars from North America or from leading departments in Europe. Most European departments are relatively small by North American standards so it also provides a chance for the students to see different approaches that they might not get in their home department. The students also get a chance to start networking with students from elsewhere in Europe.

For me, it is always fun to go to Europe and to see Michael. I also get to look around for up-and-coming young labor economists in Europe whose careers I can encourage (and who would make good referees for the Journal of Labor Economics)! I also enjoy hearing about the research that the students are doing as it is a cheap way to learn about what policies are presently of interest around Europe. I think there are also benefits to my citation count as occasionally some of my papers are mentioned during the course lectures. :)

Euro 2008

I watched the final of the Euro 2008 soccer championship yesterday. I got interested as a result of watching the semi-final between Germany and Turkey last Wednesday in Barcelona. The final featured Germany and Spain. Germany is a long-time powerhouse of European football while Spain is a chronic underperformer, having not won a championship in 44 years despite a very strong domestic league and two internationally known teams, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

It was a good game. The flip side of what seems to an American as a game designed to have too little scoring is that most games are "close" most of the time. This game was 1-0 in favor of Spain from 33 minutes in until the end. Germany played really well for about 10-15 minutes after halftime, and had a couple of close shots on goal, but otherwise was outplayed by Spain throughout. One had the sense that Spain wanted the win more than Germany did.

The game was on ABC in the US, which surprised me a bit. I was expecting ESPN-2 or maybe even having to watch it in Spanish. I guess soccer really is getting more popular in the US.

I found myself wanting more commercial breaks - soccer in Europe is played continuously through each half with no stopping, something I think is not true of the US professional soccer league due to the demands of its television contract - so that I could get up and get something to drink or go to the bathroom. Of course, when I watch American football I find that I could do with fewer, though not zero, commerical breaks.

Towards the end of the match, the announcers, two Europeans hired by ESPN, started going on about how a Spanish win would be shared by everyone in Spain. Based on my experience in Barcelona on Thursday night during Spain's semi-final win over Russia 3-0, this is complete rubbish. A few stores closed for the game but basically traffic stayed the same and there was not very much celebration afterwards. The Catalans I talked to were mostly happy for their friends "in Spain" but not deeply moved by the win. I was told that newspaper coverage was entirely about the Catalan players on the Spanish team and not about the team as a whole.

I realized this morning that I actually quite enjoy watching soccer now - not as much as American football or basketball, but surely more than baseball (the great insomnia reliever) and hockey.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Milton Friedman Institute

Economic Principals reports on faculty opposition at Chicago to the planned Milton Friedman Institute. The fraction of the faculty at issue is small and will be easily over-ridden by the administration so there is little to worry about.

I thought two issues were noteworthy. First, the opposition protest seems to embody the view that universities should not specialize in particular worldviews. This seems to me rather obviously a bad idea. Particularly in the case of private universities, individuals are, one might say, free to choose what type of school they want to attend and, indeed, whether or not they want to work at a particular type of school. Surely a diversity of schools better serves a diverse student population (and less diverse faculty population) than does a long list of academic clones.

Second, EP remarks that he cannot imagine a Keynes Institute at Harvard. I found this puzzling. First, Harvard is not unwilling to name things after politically controversial characters. For example, its policy school is named after John F. Kennedy, hardly a neutral or non-partisan figure. Second, why is the comparison appropriate when Keynes was not involved with Harvard in the way in which Friedman was at Chicago? It is easy to imagine Harvard setting up a Galbraith center, which seems the more direct analog.

Finally, at least when I was at Chicago, the claim was that no one at the Chicago Theological Seminary actually believed in God. Thus, whatever is being relegated to the edge of campus when it moves, it is not religion. :)

Addendum: A modestly revised version of the original EP post now appears in EP's archive here.

In the workers' paradise

Here is a funny story from Denmark in which government agencies compete for workers by offering private health insurance.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Another icon of my youth

George Carlin died yesterday; the NYT obituary is here.

This past year I got to see three of my favorite comedians: Carlin, Emo Phillips and Steven Wright. Carlin's show was up and down. Some of it was clever and hilarious, other bits were just there to shock and could have been done by anyone. Nonetheless, he will be missed. My favorite routine was the one comparing baseball and football.

Sigh. Best not to get old.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Very sad news from Zimbabwe

The opposition candidate has pulled out of Zimbabwe's presidential election, leaving the field to the senile thug Robert Mugabe.

Shame on the UN and shame on the government of South Africa for letting Mugabe persist in office.

I am again mystified, as I always am in these situations, at the international norm that protects dictators from the benign influence of the well timed cruise missle but fails to protect their subjects from their violence and incompetence.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

So many Jeffrey Smiths, so little time

My high school friend "Passionate" Patty Slezak emailed today and noted that if you google "Jeffrey Smith" I am the third (!) entry. I am not sure how that happened but I had best watch what I say on this blog!

Patty brought a California breeze into the lives of the nerdy crowd I hung out with in high school when she moved from Southern California into our neighborhood in a Seattle suburb. None of us had ever met anyone with a water bed before, nor anyone with one wall of their bedroom turned into a full size picture of a beach.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Speaking truth to power

This video pretty well sums up what you wanted to say when you were pulled over.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Data security

I've spent a good bit of time the last two weeks devoted to issues of data security. In this regard, my first thought is always that one hears many stories - there are some amusing ones from the UK here and the post about Canada from a couple days ago is also relevant - about politicians leaving sensitive information about, as well as stories about data being left by bureaucrats in a Starbucks in DC or somewhere similar because Jessica Cutler walked by or some other distraction intervened, but I have never, ever heard a story about ill effects from any academic researcher using confidential data.

Methinks perhaps margins are not being equated here.

How the Wildcats beat the Wolverines

It always has struck me watching games that the signalling schemes were a ripe target for clever opponents. Apparently I am correct.

Hat tip: Seattle Times Husky football blog by Bob Condotta

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Canada's biker chick scandal

On the news when I was recently in Vancouver for the CEAs and in Toronto to visit my wife's family was the most entertaining story of a new conservative (!) minister in the Canadian government undone by revelations that he had left sensitive documents lying about where his biker chick girlfriend could find them. Wry Economist story here; Toronto Star story with a picture here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What about left-handed children from multiple births?

Look mom, I found a new instrument!

No mention of heterogeneous treatment effects, which would aid in the interpretation of the differences between the probit and IV estimates.

I am also not convinced that handedness is exogenous. My parents always claimed that I was leaning towards being left-handed but that they constrained me to be right-handed. My mother was left-handed and didn't care for the minor hassles it entailed. According to footnote 4 I suffered from "cultural censorship of left-handedness".

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mr. Orwell, please call your office.

In this report on Jason Furman's appointment as Obama's chief economic advisor, I was struck by the line "Going farther back, liberal activists resented former President Clinton's support for free trade, ... and other centrist policies."

The usage of "liberal" here is the exact opposite of its historical meaning. Indeed, is there any more quintessentially liberal policy than free trade?

From this we learn not only something about the evolution of language but also something about the historical knowledge of people who write for the LA Times.

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I don't agree with many of his policy views, and I won't be voting for him (or for McCain) this fall, and I do think Americans make the presidency out to be much, much more important than it should be (or even actually is).

At the same time, I share the sentiment of Megan McArdle here. This is a good and amazing thing and it is nice that it happened in time for many older black Americans who grew up under segregation to see it.

More broadly, I would say that the two candidates this year are the best set since the 1996 election. Both parties have done better than either of the last two rounds. Sure, that is not a very high bar, but if the primaries had gone differently, both parties could have failed to surpass it. Just imagine John Edwards versus Mike Huckabee in a mighty electoral battle that only Jeff Foxworthy could love.

Hat tip: Virginia Postrel

Laptops and other distractions

More on laptop rudeness, with lots of Michigan content.

I am surprised that Ann Althouse is on the wrong side of this one.

Hat tip: instapundit


Quick takes on four movies, recently seen:

Indiana Jones
Disappointing but my affection for Karen Allen lives on 30 years after Animal House. As with much Hollywood fare, the effects far outshine the writing and acting.

Narnia: Prince Caspian
Disappointing but somehow the British accents partly make up for it. The religious element is much closer to the surface in this one than in the first Narnia movie.

The Fall
Though imperfect, it puts Indiana and Narnia to shame for sheer imagination and fun. But, caveat emptor, Lisa did not like it near as much as I did.

My Brother is an Only Child
You get a nice drama and some Italian political history. It is amazing to me how countries can function and even grow (albeit slowly) when filled with so many deeply illiberal (in the classical sense) people on both the left and right. The ending makes this sort of a Christian Democrat movie.

Science shows men are slime

Here. But you knew that already, yes?

Hat tip: Jon Lanning

Defending your thesis

Jim Sallee, soon to be employed at the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, defended his thesis on Wednesday. I am on his committee and so got to give one last read to two of his three essays; I passed on the third as I have read it before and it is, in fact, already published. Jim's job market paper looks at the incidence of tax subsidies for the Toyota Prius. It, and the other two papers in the thesis, are quite nice indeed.

In the advice column, a reader of Jim's thesis would find the paper on the Prius tax subsidy incidence, a paper on age at marriage laws which is sort of a measurement paper and sort of a substance paper and an applied theory paper on the optimal design of university systems. While all three papers are excellent, we advised Jim to pursue a somewhat more focused agenda between now and tenure time. Knowing how much to focus is tough. You do not want to be the world's expert on some very minor subject but you also do not want to be seen as an unfocused wanderer through the academic desert. As usual, moderation in all things applies here as a specific case.

More generally, I was again impressed with the productivity of the Michigan graduate students.

Harris School tidbits: Irving made his money on Toni home hair styling products and First Alert fire alarms. Oddly, these fine products are not available for purchase at the school. Back in my graduate student days, Irving would periodically drop by and, sometimes, ask to have the school do some research for him. I got called in for one of those projects, which involved looking for people with "multiple barriers" in the NLSY-79.

Monday, June 9, 2008

CEA meetings

I have been at the Canadian Economic Association meetings and an associated conference sponsored by the Canadian Labor and Skills Research Network (CLSRN) in Vancouver.

Among the intellectual highlights for me was the CLSRN talk by Robert Moffitt on trends in inequality, the "state of the art" lecture by Randy Wright on integrating search models of the labor market with search models of money demand and the SRDC (MDRC's Canadian offspring) session on the CEIP program evaluation, which my UWO student Shek-Wai "Taylor" Hui had a hand in.

I missed David Card's state of the art lecture on labor economics as something I ate kept me in my hotel room on Friday. I am told by multiple sources that he mentioned my work with Shannon Seitz (Boston College) and Jeremy Lise (UCL) on the general equilibrium evaluation of the Canadian SSP program, which is nice. I also missed Caroline Hoxby's lunchtime lecture as the lunch was sold out by the time I registered for the CEAs, even though I registered fairly early on.

Among the personal and culinary highlights was dinner at Chambar with various Canadian labor economists. Craig Riddell picked the restaurant and the wine, which is always auspicious.

Vancouver fact: most Vancouver taxis are Priuses (or is it Priii?)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

High school friends

This Exxonmobil video features my friend Erik Oswald from high school. You have to watch about 40 seconds to get to it.

We had a nice dinner in Houston a couple of years ago.


Bleeding heart libertarianism

Will Wilkinson calls it "market liberalism" in this fine essay. I like "classical liberalism" the best but not everyone (well, actually, almost no one) knows what that means.

I am unusual in that it was Hayek, via Paul Heyne, my mentor in my undergraduate days at the University of Washington, that moved me from being a sort of technocrat Rockefeller Republican (remember those?) to being a classical liberal. I only read Ayn Rand later on and I had a negative reaction to her philosophy. Most fundamentally she confuses having an obligation to be kind to others with wanting to be kind to others.

Hat tip: marginal revolution

Monday, June 2, 2008

Human statue of liberty photo

This amazing photo is actually part of a series.

Who knew they were doing such amazing things in 1918?

Hat tip: Jaci Smith

But did they regulate Jerry Lewis?

Line dancing hits France - regulation to follow.

To follow up on an earlier theme, note the implied belief system underlying the regulation of line dancing instructors. It is that people are clever enough to choose their political leaders, but not clever enough to pick their line dance instructors.

Hat tip: instapundit

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Trade with China

I recently received this viral email from a friend:

"Are we Americans as dumb as we appear --- or --- is it that we just do not think? While the Chinese, knowingly and intentionally, export inferior and even toxic products and dangerous toys and goods to be sold in American markets, the media wrings its hands and criticizes the Bush Administration for perceived errors. Yet 70% of Americans believe that the trading privileges afforded to the Chinese should be suspended. Well, duh..why do you need the government to suspend trading privileges? SIMPLY DO IT YOURSELF, AMERICA!! Simply look on the bottom of ev ery product you buy, and if it says 'Made in China' or 'PRC' (and that now includes Ho ng Kong), simply choose another product, or none at all. You will be amazed at how dependent you are on Chinese products, and you will be equally amazed at what you can do without. Who needs plastic eggs to celebrate Easter? If you must have eggs, use real ones and benefit some American farmer. Easter is just an example, the point is.. do not wait for the government to act. Just go ahead and assume control on your own. THINK ABOUT THIS If 200 million Americans refuse to buy just $20 each of Chinese goods, that's a billion dollar trade imbalance resolved in our!! The downside? Some American businesses will feel a temporary pinch from having foreign stockp iles of inventory. Wahhhhhhhhhhhh The solution ? Let's give them fair warning and send our own message. Most of the people who have been reading about this matter are planning on implementing this on June 4, and continue it until July 4. That is only one month of trading losses, but it will hit the Chinese for 1/12th of the total, or 8%, of their American exports. Then they will at least have to ask themselves if the benefits of their arrogance and lawlessness were worth it. Remember, June 4 to July 4. EVEN BETTER. . . START NOW.Send this to everybody you know.Show them we are Americans and NOBODY can take us for granted.If we can't live without cheap Chinese goods for one month out of our lives, WE DESERVE WHAT WE GET!Pass it on, America"

It is hard to know where to start with this. First, China is full of poor people. Buying things from China helps make them less poor. Poor people in China are much worse off, on average, than poor people in the US. Thus, buying goods from China is doing good.

Second, why should we care more about people who live outside some arbitrary political boundary called the US border than about people who live inside it? This seems to me, to be blunt, just morally wrong.

Third, it is certainly true that there is much to dislike in China's treatment of Tibet and in their domestic policy. At the same time, there is much to dislike in the way France behaves as well, and I suspect that the same author is not suggesting that we boycott the French, or the Russians, or basically every country in Africa or any other country whose policy leaves something to be desired. We should beware of glass houses here as well. Our own foreign policy is nothing to be particularly proud of.

Fourth, trade is good. Makes people better off. Comparative advantage, etc.


Oversharing, indeed.

I stumbled on this fascinating piece from the NYT magazine by a woman who shared a bit more than she should have (though not as much as Jessica Cutler). As an aside, I did not link to this, and no longer have the link, but according to the NY Post Jessica Cutler now apparently works for the same firm as the paid companion of not-at-all lamented Eliot Spitzer.

The personal stuff will be minimal here - though part of the point of the blog for me is to have a record of things I read and think about.

Movie: Son of Rambow

We saw this on Friday night - our sitter is doing very well financially of late. I thought it was one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is original, fun, clever and works on many different levels. The story concerns two young English boys making a film to enter into an amateur film contest sponsored by the BBC. Along the way, much is learned about the nature of friendship and loyalty, about the way popular culture does its work and about the enduringly odd relationship between the English and the French. Indeed, the bits about the visiting French students, and the way the English students react to them, are among the funniest, and most telling, in the film.

Highly recommended, with the caveat that Lisa thought the ending too sweet. I thought so too but not to the same extent.

Movie: Dalai Lama Renaissance

Last night we saw the movie Dalai Lama Renaissance. It is a documentary about a conference held at the Dalai Lama's (DL) headquarters in Northern India in 1999. The aim was to bring together a variety of "thinkers" to interact with one another and then with the DL to solve the world's problems.

The movie was not quite what I expected. I imagined a lot of very earnest and very silly discussion of ideas that even a first year economics undergraduate could recognize were hopelessly misguided. Instead, the film is actually something of a study of the sociology of conferences. This made it interesting to me, having been to many conferences, including some that got hijacked by the participants because the organizers were not clear about what they wanted, which was the case with this one. Lisa, on the other hand, found it quite boring, and skipped the last third of it.

Also interesting was watching the DL and the interactions of others with the DL. Even among the various professors and others at the conference the demand for a leader who would remove the burden of thought and/or action seemed remarkably high. An equally or even more interesting movie would have featured a similar conference of people who simply thought the DL was a good and interesting fellow but who were not otherwise invested in eastern religion and/or in out of the mainstream political and social causes. For instance, it would have been very interesting to see the DL interact with real economists, instead of popular writer Vicki Robin, identified as a "progressive economist" in the film. Progressive she surely is, in the current odd usage of that word to mean people opposed to most sorts of progress; an economist she is not.

The DL comes across as someone very happy, who is having a great time and who wants to make things better. Remarkably, given all the adulation and attention, he seems not to take himself too seriously. In that, if nothing else, he is surely a role model.