Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Angus Deaton on John DiNardo

From a recent "Letter from America" column:
Another friend who cared about the underdogs, and sometimes felt himself to be one, was the labor economist John DiNardo, who taught at Michigan and died this summer at the absurdly early age of 56. John had an (occasionally) overwhelming sense of humor, with a deep streak of irreverence that he loved to use to deflate the pomposity and pretensions of sophisticated econometrics. He wrote a memorable paper with Steve Pischke that poked fun at the interpretation of the wage premium for those who worked with computers; they showed that workers who carried pencils, or who worked sitting down, also received the premium. He was also famous for writing three (sometimes apoplectic) reviews of Freakonomics. He worked with Jack Johnston on late editions of the econometrics text that was standard for my generation of British students. When he finished his PhD at Princeton, he taught me that the class prejudice that I thought I had left behind in Britain, was as bad in the US. His affect as an Italian-American working-class guy, smoking when he could, not caring much about niceties of dress, and giving respect only when he thought it was due, told against him on the job market, though he quickly moved up as his work was appreciated.
Hat tip: Steve Hamilton

Sunday, October 29, 2017

John Cochrane on tax reform

A brilliant (and grumpy) column from John.

I particularly like this bit:
Economists serve best when they offer thoughts outside the standard left-right partisan divide. Our first function should be always to remind people that marginal tax rates matter to the economy not taxes. 
Our second insight is always to analyze things comprehensively. The Federal income tax is not what counts, the entire wedge between work and consumption matters. Whether the corporate tax is progressive or not does not matter, whether the overall tax code is progressive (plus the overall spending code, and forced cross-subsidy code!) matters.   Don't tax wine over beer to redistribute; tax goods evenly and achieve progressivity through a progressive income (or better, consumption) tax, or spend money on programs to help people whose distress is correlated (imperfectly) with beer drinking.
Economists may feel their moral sentiments about redistribution are really important. But we have little professional reason to argue our feelings are better than anyone else's. What we can argue is, if you'r going to do more or less redistribution, do it efficiently and comprehensively.
And I particularly like the way John keeps his eye on the prize of making the pie bigger.

Thanks to Steve Hamilton for nagging me to read it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Buy my house

My beautiful house in Ann Arbor is now officially on the market, complete with new carpet, new interior paint job and new deck. Within the past couple of years, it has also gotten a new roof and a complete remodel of the master suite.

Here is the listing on the website of our realtor, Nancy Bishop who, as it turns out, sold us the house back in 2005. We were only the third set of owners.

There were a few years when I was growing up when I thought I would pursue a career in architecture. Even after I abandoned that idea, mainly because I did not think I would be a good enough architect to get to do really fun work, I retained an interest in it and a love of it. For me, living in this house was like living in art. I will miss it.

You can learn more about the architect, David Osler, here. Osler was the son-in-law of Emil Lorch, the first dean of architecture at Michigan. Lorch Hall, the current home of the Michigan economics department, was the original architecture building and is named after Mr. Lorch. We hired David Osler's daughter, Molly Osler, to help us with the remodel of the master suite and with the design of the home we will build next year in Wisconsin. Her website is here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Some new research on the importance of caseworkers for the unemployed

Amelie Schiprowski:

The Role of Caseworkers in Unemployment Insurance: Evidence from Unplanned Absences

Caseworkers are the main human resource used to provide social services. This paper asks if, and how much, caseworkers matter for the outcomes of unemployed individuals. Using large-scale administrative data, I exploit exogenous variation in unplanned absences among Swiss UI caseworkers. I find that individuals who lose an early meeting with their caseworker stay on average 10 days longer in unemployment (5% relative to the mean). Results show large heterogeneity in the economic value of caseworkers: the effect of a foregone meeting doubles for caseworkers in the highest productivity tercile, while it is zero for caseworkers in the lowest tercile. Finally, absences induce negative spillover effects on the performance of present colleagues, who have to cover additional workload.

You can find the paper here.

I have seen this presented a couple of times at conferences and quite like it.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book: "K Blows Top" by Peter Carlson

Carlson, Peter. 2009. K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude, Starring Nikita Khruschev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist. PublicAffairs.

I bought this when I was in Moscow as some light travel reading. The book actually covers three trips: then-Vice President Nixon's trip to Moscow in 1959, Kruschev's grand American tour later in 1959, and Kruschev's subsequent visit to New York in 1960 to speak at the United Nations. The last of these featured the famous shoe-pounding episode. The book has the light and often humorous tone suggested by the title, but indirectly provides some serious history as well. I was reminded how seriously the public used to take the major mainstream media (and by contrast how far they have fallen in public esteem since that time). Indeed, the author makes a good argument that Kruschev's first visit was the first true modern media circus. For those too young to have experienced the cold war first hand, the book provides some sense of how it differs from our current fears.

Recommend if you are interested in the history of the cold war.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On jerks at work

I thought this article had some good advice on dealing with jerky colleagues.

I particularly like this bit:
What if you have to sit near the sleaze?
There are mind tricks to protect your soul — ways for the situation to be less upsetting to you even though you can’t change it. My favorite is a guy at Stanford who pretends that he’s a doctor who studies “a-hole-ism.” When he sees these people in meetings, he pretends that it’s a privilege to be able to see such a rare specimen. It’s a sort of detachment — pretending you’re a doctor, just observing.
and plan to give it a go at my next meeting.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

NPR on the economics job market

Planet Money follows my student Julian Hsu around during this past economics job market.

The piece does a nice job of capturing both Julian's personality and the rush of the interviews at the Allied Social Science Association meetings.

I do think they could have worked in some additional substantive information about the market without compromising the relaxed feel of the piece.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Assorted links

1. On Donald Trump's financial acumen.

2. Some useful thoughts on saying "no", one of the very most important skills for professorial success.

3. I really enjoyed this old piece by Donald (now Deirdre) McCloskey that marginal revolution linked to a few days ago.

4. Economic Journal Watch on the (quite interesting) history of classical liberalism in China.

5. Dilbert on the economics Nobel.

Hat tip on #1 to the deputy dean and on #5 to Herr Bachmann.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Movie: Battle of the Sexes

This movie was not quite what I expected. In particular, it is much less preachy and much more focused on sexual preference, and much less focused on feminism, than I was imagining. Indeed, as the NYT review hints, the movie manages to make Bobby Riggs out as a sort of warm-hearted American huckster type who plays the "male chauvinist pig" character not because he really believes it but because of the big financial payoff it provides. And I think feminism plays a somewhat reduced role relative to sexual preference both because in retrospect it is so clear the feminist side was destined to win out and because sexual preference is more topical in the present day.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Jerry Pournelle, R.I.P.

Pournelle was one of my favorite science fiction writers during my heavy science fiction reading phase in junior high and high school. I recall reading some of his columns in Byte as well, as my dad had a subscription for many years.

I got different bits out of the NYT obituary and this warm recollection from science fiction writer Sarah Hoyt.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Assorted links

1. The health effects of flying - some of this was new to me.

2. An update on the Seminary Co-op bookstore.

3. Cool abandoned places in Michigan.

4. #administrationfailure at Western Ontario.

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown