Saturday, October 31, 2009

Economists on Jeopardy

How can they not know these?

Via: MR

Thursday, October 29, 2009

South University developments

The former Bagel Factory on South University has been empty (and dumpy) since we moved here. I hope they do something with it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Amitabh Chandra Live!

They have disabled the embedding so you will have to click through to see the Kennedy's School's marketing video that stars my friend Amitabh Chandra.

Some thoughts:

- Many years ago, back when he was Kentucky's star once-in-a-decade undegrad, I was charged with the task of talking Amitabh out of doing his Ph.D. at Kentucky. I failed at that, but he seems to have done alright in life anyway.

- Nice suit, but I am very glad that I do not have to wear a suit.

- Good for the Kennedy School for making a video about their econometrics class.

- It is fun to imagine videos built around various of my Michigan colleagues. I'll let humor-minded readers fill in their own choices.

Sirens in the night

We heard a lot of sirens last night as we went to bed, which is unusual in Ann Arbor.

It turns out that was was burning was the vacant former location of Pinball Pete's on South University.

Given that it is a dumpy old building that has been empty at least as long as I have been here one wonders about insurance motives. coverage, with lots of exciting pictures, here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oregon 43, Washington 19; Penn State 35, Michigan 10


Addendum: Seattle Times coverage of the Huskies here and here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gnomic culture

High culture and low culture and history all come together through Garden gnomes (can there really be 25 million of them?) in Germany.

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Monday, October 19, 2009


It turns out that Diwali is a "significant festival in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, and an official holiday in India." It is also the subject of a new video by President Obama, whose writers appear to have consulted the wikipedia entry linked to above:

Many readers may not know this, but US Presidents have been issuing proclamations on American Thanksgiving for a long time. This behavior, and its apparent recent expansion beyond Thanksgiving, raises the question: should the president spend his or her valuable time recording what are essentially glorified Hallmark Cards? If so, where does one draw the line? Are there religions too small or politically touchy to merit this attention? Can we expect a video on the anniversary of Joseph Smith's murder or on Mary Baker Eddy's birthday? Who decides which religions merit presidential videos and which do not? What rules are used?

I suppose this is all harmless enough, but it does seem to reinforce the view that the President is something other than just a functionary, which, it seems to me, is the correct view of the president of a democratic republic. The president is not our grandparent, or our leader, or a moral guide, or a source of inspiration. He is just the head of a large, publicly held company that does a mediocre job of providing some public goods and suffers from an excess of both sanctimony and mission creep. More time on task, and less on holiday fluff, would not be amiss.

Superfreakonomics and Global Warming

Dubner goes after the pre-publication (!) critics of the chapter on global warming / climate change in Superfreakonomics.

Some observations:

It is good to know that Joseph Romm, editor of is a lying, ideological hack. Who would have guessed?

Here is the choicest bit:

The chain begins with Joseph Romm telling [famous climate scientist] Caldeira that he had read SuperFreakonomics and “I want to trash them for this insanity and ignorance.” Romm adds that “my blog is read by everyone in this area, including the media” and tells Caldeira that “I’d like a quote like ‘The authors of SuperFreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work,’ plus whatever else you want to say.”

I understand that blogging, especially advocacy blogging, doesn’t operate under the rules of journalism (where you don’t feed quotes to people), but still: that’s quite a quote to feed to someone.

Caldeira didn’t give him the quote. He did, however, respond point-by-point to a series of statements about him in the book. “The only significant error,” he wrote to Romm, “is the line: ‘carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.’ That is just wrong and I never would have said it. On the other hand, I f&@?ed up. They sent me the draft and I approved it without reading it carefully and I just missed it. … I think everyone operated in good faith, and this was just a mistake that got by my inadequate editing.”
So, let's see. Caldeira gets to review the draft chapter in Superfreakonomics that discusses climate change and that references his views and he gets this opportunity not once but twice but cannot, somehow, find the time to read it carefully? What else was he doing? Unlike most books, you know in advance that this one is going to sell a million-zillion copies. What could be more important than getting this right? Cleaning test tubes? A referee report? What was he thinking?

The rest is worth reading too. I think Dubner and Levitt are far too kind their critics, who seem mainly to be trying to make their point that for many people, this is about religion, not science.

Link via Marginal Revolution

Arizona State 24, Washington 17

Another close one, and perhaps some karmic payback for the miracle win the week before. The coaches own a share of this loss due to poor play calling / time management on Washington's last possession.

Still, Washington came back from 10 points down on the road to come within one play of overtime. This is a different, and much better team.

Now, the hard part. Getting to a bowl means not just beating lowly WSU and almost lowly UCLA (won't that be pleasant) but one of Oregon, Oregon State and Cal. Oregon is up next, in Husky Stadium, at 3:30 PM Eastern this week.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Michigan 63, Delaware State $550,000

I watched this until the score was 14-0, which means I watched about the first four minutes. Then I switched to Iowa and Wisconsin.

Clearly, a mutually beneficial exchange, but not a very interesting one. coverage here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Police gone wild at Western Ontario

This video was taken in the Social Science Building at Western Ontario, which is where I used to work.

Details of the underlying incident here.

Assorted links

1. Cell phone externalities in the kitchen.

2. Redneck bumper stickers.

3. Another urban ruins site.

4. National Book Award nominees

5. Your body is not a toy, nor a place for your toys (warning: a bit edgy)

Hat tips: Anya Chung, Good S**t blog, instapundit

Canlearn Youtube Channel

I've went up to Toronto this week (eh) for a meeting related to the Canada Student Loans Program. I was reminded at the meeting about, the website of Canada's federal government devoted to higher education.

It turns out that CanLearn now has its own Youtube channel. It features two videos, both posted about three months ago. I think the word has not quite gotten out about the channel yet as there are only 581 channel views and only 18 (!) video views. One wonders how many of those are potential students and how many are HRSDC staffers.

I watched the video "New Canada Student Grants". Even putting aside my general concern with having the government market things (as opposed to just providing information), this ad seems too clever by half as you do not find out the point until the very end, and even then there is no information about who is eligible for the money. On top of that, the diversity checklist is a bit more obvious than one might want.

Interesting questions to think about: how easy should governments make it, in general, for individuals to get money from programs? Are information walls a good way of sorting out those who really need the benefits from those who do not? Are YouTube videos the best way to reach students, relative to, say, regular mail targeted to their parents?

Dissertation (and career) advice from Chris Blattman

Almost all of Blattman's advice carries directly over into economics.

Key bits:

Whatever way you go, remember that you need to be on tomorrow’s frontier, not yesterday’s. If this sounds anxiety-producing, it is. Angst and anxiety are the fertile soil from which dissertations grow.

If you think that sounds miserable, wait until you start thinking about your tenure packet.

Actually, it’s only miserable in the worst moments. Most of the time it’s exciting and rewarding. You get out of bed every day and push your brain to its limits. Those limits expand a little bit every day. People will eventually pay you to do this, even though you would secretly do it for free.

Ultimately, you should be doing what you love. If you don’t love it, chances are you won’t be any good at it. So keep that a first priority. But pushing yourself to the frontier is often rewarding for its own sake, and pays off in your academic career. Try to keep that in mind during the most anxious, vexing moments. I do.

I would add a remark in regard to the value of leaving graduate school with more than one skill. Specialization is good in general but you want a bit of insurance against sudden changes in disciplinary enthusiasm for particular tools or styles of work.

This piece also reminds me of my former colleague Ig Horstmann, who told one incoming class of graduate students at Western Ontario that "I wake up every morning and think `Thank God I am an economist'". I second that emotion.

Friday, October 16, 2009


That's my acronym for Cambridge Attitudinal Disorder. The Harvard Crimson demonstrates in regard to this year's Nobel Prize.

via: Marginal Revolution

Monday, October 12, 2009

Economics Nobel

Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson!

Here is the Nobel committee press release.

These are serious and worthy choices.

More on Obama's Nobel

Matt Welch at the NY Post focuses on the Norwegians.

Via Virginia Postrel, clever twitter comments on the award.

Even David Warsh at Ecnoomic Principals has a negative take!

Warsh hints at, but does not explicitly say, that the decentralization of the awarding of the prizes to multiple organizations means that none of them take into account the effect of their own decisions on the prestige of the other awards. I'd say the Norwegians are pretty clearly not internatlizing these negative externalities.

In my view, a "hope and change" administration would have politely declined the award. In doing so, Obama still would have gotten credit for being chosen, would have silenced all the critics and would have shown some real seriousness. His advisors let him down here.

Washington 36, Arizona 33

The balls all bounced the wrong way last year. On Saturday, one bounced the right way for Washington. Things looked pretty bleak with five minutes to go and UW down 11 but they pulled it "out of the ashes" as radio announcer Bob Rondeau had it. I think he actually meant something else but they are pretty strict about things on the radio.

Here is video of the key play (via Seattle Times reporter Bob Condotta's blog):

I guess that is why they call it football!

Seattle Times stories here and here.

Washington is 3-3 and still in the hunt for a lower tier bowl game. Looking ahead, ASU, UCLA and WSU all seem winnable. Maybe Cal too depending on their mental state at the end of the year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Two bits on the Huskies:

First, they are poised to leave the small club of schools that have never played a lower division opponent. I have mixed feelings about this. I can't whine as much now when Michigan does this (and not just once a year, but sometimes two or three times!) but on the other hand it removes a voluntary tilting of the playing field (pun fully intended) against Washington as it competes for scarce bowl slots against other teams.

Second, the refs blew some calls in the game last week against Notre Dame. Who would have guessed. Getting either call right almost certainly gives the game to UW.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel WTF

This is just bizarre.

The press release is here. Key paragraph:

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

Maybe next year they can give it to Santa, who has had a similar worldwide impact on hope, especially among THE CHILDREN.

Mankiw makes the main point here.

The Economist's Democracy in America blog offers competing accounts, but I think the "pro" account actually makes the negative case more strongly than the "con" account. Most of it consists of announcing things. Politicians are always announcing things. That's not the hard part. Not being George Bush is also not hard. McCain could have done that, so could Hilary Clinton. It is hardly award-worthy. It is like handing out pulitzers for not being Glen Beck or Lou Dobbs.

The Norwegians have made fools of themselves on this one. What were they thinking?

Addendum: another humorous take, this one from Dan Drezner.

Addendum 2: reason's "rapid response" video. Nick really is having too much fun.

Addendum 3: a remarkably prescient SNL skit

Hat tip (on addendum 3): Taylor Hui

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Assorted links

1.Narayana Kocherlakota to the Minnesota Fed.

2. Partial nudity and water polo. Who knew?

3. It is that time of year: the Ignoble prizes. This is on my list of life goals (and a lot more likely than winning that other prize).

4. Body pillow girlfriend (or boyfriend - we are inclusive here at ECONJEFF). Watch the video and be reminded of the old Sprockets skit from SNL.

5. A fine column from David Brooks. I am normally not that much of a fan but this is very well done, albeit a bit dismal at the end.

Hat tips: Anya Chng (4) and Greg Mankiw (1 and 5).

Medieval help desk

This is great fun - all the more because it is in Danish with subtitles.

Hat tip: you know who.

Big internet messes - revisited

So, yesterday I asked this question in regard to the "Conservative Bible project":
2. Is this the best example you have ever heard of where relying on the distributed knowledge of the internet masses is likely to produce a great big mess rather than a thing of beauty or truth? I think it may be such for me.
Ace gradual student Jessica Goldberg argues by email that in fact Star Wars Uncut, a project in which random Star Wars fan recreate individuals scenes from the movie which are then stitched together to form a remake of sorts, may be a bigger internet mess. You can see the trailer here and the full set of completed scenes here.

Of course, the competition is a bit unfair at this point, as Star Wars Uncut actually has output to look at, but based on the trailer, I think it just might win.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farrell's coming soon!

The first new Farrell's Ice Cream parlor restaurant (not in Hawaii) in a long time opens later this month in Mission Veijo California. The Orange County Register reports on the hiring process.

Conservative Bible project

This amazing cultural artifact has been bouncing around the blogosphere the past few days.

There are many interesting things to think about here:

1. Are liberals (of either sort) really wordier than conservatives?

2. Is this the best example you have ever heard of where relying on the distributed knowledge of the internet masses is likely to produce a great big mess rather than a thing of beauty or truth? I think it may be such for me.

3. Is there perhaps a contradiction between not "dumbing down" the prose (and why pick on the NIV here and not the "Good News" bible or other similar populist abominations) and relying on internet amateurs to do a translation, rather than actual scholars?

4. Could this be a troll? That is, could this be lefties trying to make the righties look bad, rather than a sincere proposal? I assign some small probability to this state of the world.

We live in a varied and wonderful world, indeed.

Where to submit your paper?

The BE Press has just published this article that considers a model of the choice of where to submit an academic paper.

This is certainly something that authors spend a lot of time thinking about, and co-authors spend a lot of time emailing about on papers with multiple authors. Left out from the model here are editors. I find that I often write papers with specific editors in mind, and submit them to journals with specific editors in mind.

That editors matter provides an edge both to more senior scholars, who are more likely to know or at least have experience with a given editor, and to scholars at top fifty departments, from which editors tend to be drawn, for the same reason.

Sanctions on Iran

My friend Djavad Salehi-Isfahani thinks about sanctions on Iran over at Brookings. I am always impressed at how Djavad's knowledge of Iranian internal politics enriches and changes my views about policy toward Iran.

More generally, US policy discussions often proceed as if the citizens of other countries frame international issues in the same way that we do and as if their domestic politics are irrelevant to their interactions with the US. Neither of these views is correct, for Iran or for any other country.

Have sanctions ever worked? Certainly not on Cuba. Not on Iran to date. Not on Iraq either before the first Gulf war or between the two Gulf wars. Not on North Korea. There is a literature on this in international relations but I am guessing that I know the answer from casual empiricism, which is that sanctions are really all about domestic audiences, and not about changing behavior.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michigan State 26, Michigan 20

I had a bad feeling about this one. I did not see the game because of the conference I was attending but a friend told me that Michigan "did not deserve to win" which comports with what I have read and with the game stats.

Coverage from here.

Playing undefeated Iowa at their place will be a tough challenge indeed.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dueling heads of state

Canada's Stephen Harper joins the coolness competition with our man Obama and with fond memories of Bill Clinton and his instrument (that would be the saxophone).

Hat tip: MIL


I have a very simple explanation as to why the Olympics went to Rio. My explanation relies on basic human desires.

Here is an article on Danish prostitutes flocking to Copenhagen for the meeting of the International Olympic committee.

Here is an article declaring the Rio the sexiest city on earth. Prostitution is legal there. Indeed, when I was in Rio for the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association (LACEA) meetings the year that Heckman won the Nobel prize, I can remember watching (subtle, but obvious enough even when observing only sporadically while reading papers and drinking beer) transactions taking place in the bar of the upscale hotel at which the meetings were held.

In Chicago, on the other hand, the Cook County sheriff is busy (like so many other public officials looking for ways into the headlines without actually doing their jobs) suing Craigslist. Good to know that there are not any other crime problems in Cook County that might call for the Sheriff's attention.

Probably the reader can connect the dots from there.

As to the Obamas, they should not have been there if Chicago was not going to win, and whether or not Chicago was going to win is something that the administration should have known about in advance. This is not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it is not a signal of competence either.

Hat tip (on the Denmark piece): Lars Skipper

Notre Dame 37 Washington 30

Wow! What a game. I missed the first quarter watching the last paper of the conference I was attending in DC but caught the remainder in my hotel room.

The ending was a disappointment, as was the temporary blinding of the replay official who called back Chris Polk's touchdown (divine intervention or just a cash payment?), but the Huskies showed that the team that beat USC can show up and play on regular basis. And, replay official aside, if you have eight tries from the one yard line, you have to be able to put it in. Had the Huskies done that, they would have won the game.

Stanford's win at UCLA also makes Washington's loss last week look a little better. Stanford could be the surprise contender in the PAC-10 this year.

If this Husky team shows up every week, there could be bowling.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cochrane on Krugman

John is always fun to read and Paul makes an easy target.

But where are Ringo and George?

Austan Goolsbee does standup

Competition enters the exciting new field of economics stand-up.

Do they give NSF grants for this?