Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ron Howard campaign ad

I am not sure this will work, but it is kind of cute. I like the "moose" bit in particular.

Isn't there some rule that democrats have to be humorless scolds? It sure seems like there is such a rule sometimes.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PC versus Mac: a cultural interpretation

Grant McCracken, the Harvard anthropologist whose blog I am again reminded I should read more often, dissects the new PC ad campaign.

It has always seemed to me that Mac ownership is more of a personal statement than a technical decision, despite all the talk about avoiding the "blue screen of death", which I never seem to encounter anyway.

The one time I ever sat down to use a Mac was in graduate school. I powered up a Mac at the social science computing center in the basement of the 1155 building and it came up with a frown face which was supposed to tell me that I should insert a disk (this was a while ago). I decided that a computer that starts with a frown face is not really a serious computer and went on my way, never to return.

A similar line of reasoning could be applied to the LaTex versus Word + Mathtype divide among economists.

A causal effect of names?

"The initials of your name may influence where you choose to work, new research suggests.

While it sounds like a joke, a well-known psychological theory called the name-letter effect maintains that a person’s behavior may be influenced by his or her name."

Causation or correlation? I report. You decide.

Whole thing here.

Hat tip: Jessica Goldberg

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I think I have concluded that the thing that irritates me most about Obama is actually not his policies, some of which are just fine and others of which are not, but his more fervent supporters.

This video from the Upright Citizen Brigade sort of sums it up.

Hat tip: Ophira Vishkin

What to expect from the government bank

LOS ANGELES — An Amtrak train traveling from here to San Diego ran out of fuel on Sunday night, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.

"It’s not uncommon for trains to run out of fuel here, the spokeswoman, Vernae Graham, said. “It happens from time to time.”

Details here.

Hat tip:

Economist cartoon

Mankiw column on the financial crisis

Some wise thoughts here.

Includes nods to my Michigan colleagues Matthew Shapiro and Kathryn Dominguez.

It is interesting to see the revisionist view of the New Deal that has been percolating in the economic history literature for some time going mainstream. That view argues that much of what FDR did actually prolonged rather than shortened the Great Depression.

Hat tip:

Willingham resigns

Ty Willingham resigned as Washington's football coach yesterday, but will continue to coach the team for the remainder of the season.

So, another new start with another new coach. The Seattle Times' thoughts on possible replacements here. I think the job is more attractive than it might seem at first blush. UW regularly turns out 60,000+ fans this year for a team with no wins. Even a decent team would fill the 75,000 seat stadium. Washington also has a long winning tradition that includes the Don James era when I was an undergraduate but also goes well back into the early 20th century.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Conference at Nuremberg

On Friday and Saturday I was at a conference at the IAB (the research arm of the German Ministry of Labor - sort of like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The program and the papers are here.

I particularly liked the paper presented by Margaretha Buurman of Erasmus University in Rotterdam. It formalizes a question closely related to one that Jim Heckman, Chris Taber and I wrote about informally in our paper on caseworker behavior at the Corpus Christi site of the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). That question has to do with the interaction between who you hire as a caseworker, the wage you have to pay, and what you can do in terms of selecting among applicants. One way to think about what outcome based performance standards, like those in JTPA its successor the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) do is that they push caseworkers away from doing what they would otherwise do, which is devoting resources to the hardest-to-serve among the applicants. This is probably efficient but the point here is that it reduces the non-pecuniary remuneration of altruistic caseworkers, which means that they will require higher pay. Of course, an alternative is to hire non-altruistic caseworkers devoted solely to efficiency.

The Buurman and Dur paper addresses the related question of the tradeoff between hiring altruistic caseworkers, who will work for less, and implementing sanctions on welfare recipients who do not take available jobs. The key is that altruistic workers do not like to sanction, so the local agency faces a tradeoff.

I think this type of public management question is understudied by economists both in terms of theory and in terms of empirical evidence.

The paper by my friends and Chicago graduate students colleagues (and fellow laborers in the Heckman vineyards) Gerald Marschke and Pascal Courty is also quite interesting. It shows that sites respond to changes in the payoffs to particular client characteristics implicit in the regression model that was used to adjust performance targets under JTPA.

The design and effects of performance management systems, a topic with broad implications in both the public and private sectors (it is a close cousin to the literature on performance based rewards for executives) is, in my view, similarly understudied.

The overview talks by Carolyn Heinrich (another Heckman student now at the LaFollette Institute at Wisconsin) and Burt Barnow are worth a look as well.

Notre Dame 33 Washington 7

The death watch is on at Montlake.

I got up at 4 AM in Nuremberg to watch the last quarter of this on the slingbox prior to getting ready to leave on the long trip back to Ann Arbor, having already stayed up until almost 1 AM to watch UM versus MSU.

I did get to see Washington's one touchdown but the rest of the game was a disaster, clear and simple. Willingham looked like a deer in the headlights on the sidelines. Everyone knows it is over now.

USC are 43 (!) point favorites next Saturday in LA.

More on the Milton Friedman Institute at Chicago

The saga continues, as detailed here.

I suspect that there is a backstory that is missing from the account in the Chicago Maroon piece that is referenced in the marginal revolution post I link to.

Alex is off base in the title of the MR post. This is certainly not about Heckman wanting the institute named after him. I suspect it has more to do with the fellow who tipped off MR to the Maroon article.

Levitt and Heckman have strong methodological differences. One can frame these derisively as cleverness versus substance but that is too strong and also not quite correct. A more serious framing would be in terms of the tradeoff between substantive import of topic and clarity of identification. Some important topics, typically those involving general equilibrium effects or programs that are mandatory for everyone such as social security, do not lend themselves to clean identification strategies. At present, and at the margin, having a clean identification strategy will help you more at the top general journals than having done the best you can with a substantively important topic and a less clean identification strategy. My impression is that Heckman would like this to change, at the margin of course. Such a preference is not at all inconsistent with valuing clarity in regard to identification; but clarity applies even to identification strategies that are not clean. Put differently, even strategies where validity is only somewhat compelling can be described clearly and their limitations described.

The Economist on Obamacons

As always, the economist says it well.

Some subset of the Obama coalition is going to be very disappointed once he gets into office and starts to govern, as he cannot simultaneously please those who want radical lefty change and those who want Larry Summers and other moderates who will give a more serious and intellectual cast to policy than we have experienced the past eight years.

A key early signal will be who gets put in charge at the Department of Education and what they do with the Institute of Education Sciences. The ed schools and teacher unions do not like all this business about real evidence nor do most ed school types appreciate having so many economists around crowding in on their traditional turf. But the IES is almost certainly the greatest positive achievement of the Bush II years.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Commerce as culture

The website for the new Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is here.

The links page leads not to other museums or to erudite discussions of brands, packaging and advertising, but rather to the brands who have sponsored the museum.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tories and women

An entertaining story here about the UK Conservative party and its consultant-driven effort to pick up more female voters.

Their consulting firm, called Pretty Little Head (!) is here.

All calm down

Some wise words from John Hood.

Obama getting elected will not send the US down the slippery slope to socialism nor would McCain winning usher in some sort of warfare state. Obama will hand out some goodies to the usual suspects on the left, such as organized (cartelized?) labor, but I think it makes sense to expect something very much like the Clinton administration without the sex and the lamp throwing. These folks on the right who act like it would be some sort of apocalypse are just deeply silly and quite removed from reality. Chill out people. The US political system is like a giant oil tanker. It is quite difficult for it to change course other than slowly. Moreover, the president, thankfully, has much less power than the sheep seeking a shepherd in both parties imagine. There will be no second coming, and change we can believe in has already been revealed to be Joe Biden, card check, and "tax cuts" (which is to say tax postponement, with interest) for the middle class; put differently, change we can believe in is not really change at all, just the usual beltway banditry.

Hat tip:

Chicago Tribune on Willingham

Article here.

I do not think that Ty's troubles at Washington excuse the shabby treatment that he received at Notre Dame.

Hat tip: Bob Condotta's blog at the Seattle Times

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Theater: Fat Pig

I saw this play at the Comedy Theatre in London's West End on Thursday night with some friends from the Policy Studies Institute.

Despite claims on the website that this is a comedy (something one also might expect based on the name of the theater that is hosting it) it is really a biting social commentary with a healthy portion of jokes to smooth the ride. The ending is emotionally brutal. The writing is excellent, the set clever, the music between scenes too loud, and the acting generally excellent. They even had mint chip ice cream available at intermission.

But you'll like it better if you do not come in expecting to be laughing as you exit.


Investment comparisons

If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you would have $49.00 today. If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you would have $33.00 today. If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you would have $0.00 today. But, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling refund, you will have received $214.00. Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily & recycle. It is called the 401-Keg.

A recent study found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year. Another study found that Americans drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year. That means that, on average, Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon! Makes you proud to be an American!

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Viral language humor

Lovers of the English language might enjoy this. It is yet another example of why people learning English have trouble with the language. Learning the nuances of English makes it a difficult language. (But then, that's probably true of many languages.)

There is a two-letter word in English that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is 'UP.' It is listed in the dictionary as being used as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?

Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends and we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has a real special meaning.

People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this up is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP !

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP . When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP..

One could go on & on, but I'll wrap it UP , for now time is UP , so time to shut UP! more thing: What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night? U P

Don't screw UP. Send this on to everyone you look up in your address book.

Now I'll shut UP.

Hat tip: Jackie Smith

Thermostat model of regulation

Many individuals in the media and the blogosphere appear to hold what I call the thermostat model of regulation. Like temperatue, there is a one dimensional scale and one can be too hot - too much regulation, just right (like Goldilocks, a well known expert in financial markets) or too cold (too little regulation). The consensus among amateur economists of the theormostat school is that the financial crisis is the result of the regulatory thermostat being set too low.

It would be difficult to overstate the silliness of this view. What would one think of a doctor who ended each visit with "you should take more drugs" or "you should take fewer drugs" or maybe "you're taking just the right number of drugs"? We would think the doctor was an idiot and a fraud.

So it is with the deep thinkers of thermostatic political economy. Regulation is not a one-dimensional policy lever. Thinking about regulation broadly to include law as well as administrative rules of various sorts, some of it can be quite useful. Other types of regulation impose quite obvious social costs but serve the interests of the small, well-0rganized groups who push for their adoption; the economics literature is full of examples of such laws and regulations. Sadly, this all means that getting the socially optimal regulation in any given context requires actual thought and analysis, about both the design of the institutions that promulgate and enforce regulations as well as about the details of individual regulations.

So, my advice is, if you read something that says we need "more" regulation (or "less" for that matter, as the argument is symmetric) rather than saying that we need "different" or "better" regulation and then providing specific institutional details, you should assume the person in question does not know what he or she is talking about and move on to the next source of information.

One of the largest dangers in the current crisis is that it will spawn a great, squirming brood of bad policies as politicians rush to give the appearance of "doing" something and interest groups take advantage of the crisis atmosphere to push through their particular agendas at the expense of the public good. We saw this after 9/11, which law enforcement agencies at all levels took advantage of to gain legislative changes that weakened civil liberties and increased the potential for abuse of power. We saw it after Enron with the Sarbanes-Oxley Deadweight Loss Creation Act. And we are still suffering from the slew of poorly designed programs bestowed upon us by FDR.

1999 NYT article on Fannie Mae

The volume of really, deeply stupid things I have heard and read in the media in the last week regarding the credit crisis is simply astounding. At the head of the list is that some amorphous "free market" caused the crisis. Despite what you might think from listening to some libertarians, the "free market" is really just a conceptual tool, with no single clear and direct mapping into something in the real world. Someone or something is always defining property rights and other institutional features within which markets work. Those rights and features can be smart or not smart. In the case of credit market some of the institutions were not so smart. Here is the NYT on the origin of some of the not so smart institutional features of the US credit market.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World university rankings

These rankings are from the UK (and one might argue that it shows). Chicago comes in at #8 and Michigan at #18.

U of Chicago Law School Remodel

I'm glad that U of Chicago decided to remodel the gorgeous law school building by Eero Saarinen rather than tearing it down, as they did with his Woodward Court dormitory. The latter was demolished in 2002 to make room for the new Graduate School of Business, which was designed by the staff architects at Hilton Hotels. Just kidding.

Hat tip: alumni email from U of Chicago

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

9 Parts of Desire at Performance Network

Lisa and I saw "Heather Roffo's 9 Parts of Desire" at Performance Network in Ann Arbor this weekend.

It is a one-woman show with nine characters, all of whom are Iraqi women. They range from intellectuals in exile in London to sellers of stolen goods on the street. The writing and acting are both amazing and the play packs a powerful punch. It is political in the large sense but not the small. It took me a couple of hours to recover afterwards.

This is one of the best shows at Performance Networks in our three years of having season tickets.

Highly recommended.

Pathbreaking policy innovation from the EU

As the financial sector experiences its worst turmoil in decades, the EU helps support the real economy by subsidizing the construction of a ski slope on a flat Danish island.

Best bit:

"Even the farm owner who applied for the grant in 2006 was surprised to receive such a generous donation from the EU, reports Ekstra Bladet newspaper. ‘I didn’t reckon on them supporting something so crazy, but once the money had arrived, there was no excuse not to get started,’ said Ole Harild, the man responsible for the ski slope."

Hat tip: Lars Skipper

Blue is everywhere

UMich goes to Second Life here.

Perhaps the virtual football team is better than the real one?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Swedes surprise the auction markets

The Swedes have made a poltical statement of sorts (though I am not sure just which sort) and given the Nobel prize to economist turned democrat columnist Paul Krugman.

I have heard a number of people voice the opinion that Krugman had taken himself out of the running by becoming so explicitly political. Apparently not.

Official announcment here.

Matching "versus" IV

I am not quite sure at this point how I found this post on an empirical law blog about matching versus IV but it is worth noting.

I agree with the "correspondent" mentioned in the paper "that both techniques had their strengths and their relative superiority depended upon the research question and the available data". I would go further and argue that the whole question of "matching versus IV" makes little sense and shows a lack of appreciation for the basic issues. It is a bit like arguing about whether you would rather have a screwdriver or a wrench without knowing what task it is you are trying to accomplish and what other materials you will have available to accomplish it.

Two other points are worth noting as well:

1. Matching and IV in general estimate different parameters in a heterogeneous treatment effects world. Except in the (I would argue) unusual case of instruments not correlated with impacts (all cost-based instruments are not in this category), IV estimates some sort of local average treatment effect. Some LATEs are of great interest but a LATE is nonetheless a different bird than the average treatment effect on the treated which is what is typically estimated using matching. Sorting out these different estimands (or in some cases even noting their separate existence) continues to prove a challenge for some parts of the literature.

2. I am not sure that I agree with the disciplinary difference claim. Both matching and IV have their advocates in economics, and you can find people who think that the conditional independence assumption (aka "unconfoundedness") that underlies matching is always true and who think that it is never true. I would say that it depends and also that we can learn from both methods even when there assumptions are only approximately true, especially in cases where we are unlikely ever to have an experiment or a really good instrument or a data set that contains every variable that theory or existing empirical knowledge suggests is necessary for the CIA.

My sense is that political science is going throught the non- and semi-parametric upheaval that economics went through about a decade ago. It did a lot of good in economics in the long run to get researchers thinking about functional form (and by imposing a small implicit coolness penalty on making strong assumptions) but the transition dynamics involve a lot of weak papers as researchers learn-by-doing the new methodologies. I refereed some truly horrific matching papers back in the late 90s but my sense is that the average quality has been increasing over time with increased knowledge dissemination withi the profession. At the same time, at PolMeth XXV this summer there were folks doing both IV and matching.

Academics and policy

Academics do have real effects on policy in many dimensions, though usually over the long range through establishing the stylized facts and particular explanations for them.

This WSJ piece details how economists have affected the debate over policy responses to the financial crisis, a much more short-run endeavor, though with roots in the long term research agendas of the profession and of particular scholars.

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw

Vintage photos

This site of old snapshots is fascinating.

Hat tip: Virginia Postrel's

Britney's "womanizer" video

So Britney is apparently taking on all the womanizers out there with a video that will encourage male viewers to think about other women, or, more precisely, one other woman in particular.

The "story" from TV guide here (plus you can vote on the video!) and the video at Britney's site here.

I thought about writing a longish post giving my views on "objectification" but I think I will hold off on that until another time, other than to say that a video that implicitly requests men not to treat women like objects while doing nothing but treating its star as an object (in pursuit of the noble goal of a financial and popular comeback) is a tiny bit conflicted or maybe just ridiculously hypocritical.

Oh, and I only watched the video out of a combination of music appreciation and scientific curiosity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

ECONJEFF in London - the one in England

I'll be at the Policy Studies Institute this Friday, October 17 to give the fourth annual lecture in memory of Steve Lissenburgh, who perished in the tsunami. Details here.

The following Monday, October 20, I'll be in the lunch seminar at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

VP debate

The (very funny) Saturday Night Live skit here. Tina Fey is amazing as Sarah Palin.

Hat tip: Anya Chung

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toledo 13 Michigan 10

I did not watch this because I assumed, foolishly as it turns out, that it would be a blowout.

I am not sure that this is worse than the loss to Appalachian State last year but it is probably in the same equivalence class. Lisa and I were downtown for a play, dinner at Zingerman's plus bookstores and things were pretty subdued.

The story is here.

At least all of my teams won't lose this weekend as Washington has a bye week.

Michigan plays Penn State next week, which could be pretty ugly.

Addendum: more commentary here.

David Warsh - "Economic Principals" - on the bailout

A particularly interesting column. It is presently on the front page but will shortly move to the archive. The title is "Some Bodkin!"

Student loans: what happens when you have too many

This piece from the Seattle Times about students with a lot of debt is interesting for several reasons:

1. It reads as though these extreme cases are typical. In face, the fraction of students who finish with more than $40K in debt is very low, let alone over $100K like some of the folks in the article.

2. It is not quite clear if the author deliberately picked cases that do not elicit much reader sympathy or if he really thinks that we should feel bad for someone who chooses BU over in-state tuition at UW (a better ranked university in many departments) and so has to live at home for a while because his job does not pay that well. Nor is it clear that we should feel sorry for someone who completes a four year program in one subject and then discovers that his "true calling" is in something else. Not even the author, I think, has much sympathy for the fellow who spent a couple of expensive years partying at Montata State. Still, these cases seem to me so unsympathetic that I entertain some small possiblity that the intent here is actually the opposite of what a straightforward reading of the text would suggest.

3. Is it really a moral outrage if people think about their future earnings when making decisions about what to study or where to work? Prices are signals. High salaries for engineers, for example, provide valuable information about the state of the supply and demand for people with that skill set (and about compensating differences at the margin). Indeed, one might even suggest the truly shocking view that even people without student loans should pay attention to the market prices for differnet types of labor when making human capital investment decisions.

A timely discussion about the financial crisis from last week

This discussion from early last week with Ken Rogoff, John Cochrane and another person I had not heard of makes John look pretty prescient, given that passing the bailout/pork combo meal bill did not seem to do a very good job of calming the markets down.

Left, right and varieties of libertarianism

This old post by Will Wilkinson on his (well worth reading) "Fly Bottle" blog is a mini-introduction to the various flavors of libertarianism as well as providing a short history of the libertarian conservative alliance during the cold war and what has become of it since the fall of communism.

The truly remarkable thing is how well it reflects my own views. The rights based view appeals to my knee, especially when it is jerking, but the right way is really rule utilitarianism with freedom an imporant argument, but not the only argument, in the utility function.

Disciplinary (but maybe not disciplined) writing

From an ad for an art exhibit at UM:

"The various media reflect and undermine each other's reports, detecting gaps, contradiction and bias in the perception and mediation of the series of encounters which set the trail of records in motion. Together these records form a manifold document that questions the stability of any rendering of such encounters. More Information"

One of the (few) costs of being an economist is not being able to write sentences like these.

An upbeat view from Chicago

Thoughts from Casey Mulligan in the NYT.

I still find the 1987 "crash" a puzzle. It did seem to have few effects on the remainder of the economy but I do not have a good model of why that is. Maybe the macro folks do.

Hat tip: Ken Troske

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reaction to John Cochrane's bailout letter

Paul Romer takes issue with the thinking behind John Cochrane's letter on the bailout here.

Hat tips: Greg Mankiw, Lars Skipper

Monday, October 6, 2008

Movies: Burn After Reading, Eagle Eye, XXY

Burn After Reading

The Coen brothers strike again. This really captures the spirit of life in DC with all the insanity, self-0bsession, bureaucratic foolishness and lack of depth that I remember from four years just outside the district but well inside the beltway. There is a bit of hamming it up by George Clooney and Brad Pitt but it sort of fits with the spirit of the thing. Clooney as the jogging lothario and Frances McDormand as the fitness worker who must have plastic surgery at all costs are highlights. Highly recommended.

Eagle Eye

This is standard Hollywood paranoia. Someone at the department of defense builds the amazing but misguided machine which then tries to take over due to having been given the world's least clever guidance program and can only be stopped by the attractive, romantic slacker and his single mom sidekick. Yawn. Have we heard this one somewhere before? Oh, and the technology part is ridiculous. Not recommended.


Normally you would not think "let's go see the movie about the hermaphrodite" would be something to offer up, say, on a date, but in fact this movie is simply wonderful. The acting and writing are both first rate and the movie raises, but does not glibly answer, important questions about gender, individuality, what it means to be helpful and what it means to be authentic. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Here is an announcement for a discussion of overcoming rankism at the Ross School.

There is actually much less of this sort of thing at Michigan than I was expecting ex ante. Indeed, my experience has been much less political correctness here than at Maryland, which was not my expectation.

Like many such things, some of what underlies "rankism" is not completely crazy. There are real issues in, for example, health care, between doctors and nurses. Nurses could do many things that doctors presently do at least as well but do not, for various reasons relating to psychology, sociology and economics of organizations and professions. Whether the name rankism and the conceptual outlook it implies, which suggest some sort of simple taste-based discrimination that shares parallels with racism, are helpful ways to think about these real issues, seems more dubious to me.

Veep debate liveblog

I missed the VP debate because I was on a plane to BWI (though I would not have watched it even if I was not on the plane) but reading this liveblog by Will Wilkinson makes me feel just like I did watch it after all.

A couple of highlights to encourage you to read it all:

"9:11 - Palin: Doggone it, Joe! It’s not about Bush. God bless your teacher wife, Joe. Teachers should get more dough, because my whole family is teachers. I am SO RELATABLE."

"9:20 - Biden: My weakness. Excessive passion. Ask Mrs. Biden. I’m a total busybody. And I was a single parent. And know what it’s like to worry. And I’m a totally sensitive guy and I just might cry, I want this job so much."

One more time: there is no better evidence for the existence of a higher power than that things work at all (i.e. most Americans have (too much) food, clothing, cable tv etc.) even though people like these two bozos and their friends, enablers and sycophants are in charge.

Hat tip:

Junior job market

The junior job market in economics is gearing up for 2008-09. There has been a flood of practice job talks this past month at Michigan and I have started the process of writing the seven (!) letters for students on the job market that I have to write. Our placement meeting, at which the department faculty discuss and then rank the students into a set of categories is coming up fairly soon. It is the rankings from this meeting that determine what names get shared with employers who call us and ask who they should look at. A lot of the game is right here: on the demand side we basically do not look at anyone who is not recommended to us via the similar semi-orders constructed at other departments, unless there are very powerful back channel signals.

Here is a website where rumors (or even actual information) can be shared.

There was a similar (though less well laid out) site last year that I looked at a bit (and that some of our gradual students looked at a lot). I would caution students reading the site to watch out for deliberate misinformation and other nastiness. There was some of this last year in relation to a student of mine.

Economists on McCain and Obama

Here is a summary of the results from a poll of professional economists (in which I participated) on the economic views, advisors and so on of Obama and McCain.

McCain is not, I think, as anti-intellectual as Bush (despite the statement reported in the article) but that is setting a very low bar indeed.

Like the other respondents, I have nothing but praise Doug Holtz-Eakin of the McCain team. Steve Davis, who is also a fine economist, has been working with McCain too, but as the economist piece notes, the democrats have a larger pool to draw on because they attract a lot of economists with centrist economic and political views (or even relatively classical liberal ones) who simply cannot abide the social conservatism of the Republicans.

Note, too, the high fraction of survey respondents not identifying with either component of the demopublicans.

IgNobel prizes

This year's Ignobel prize in medicine went to economist Dan Ariely from Duke, for a study (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) showing that the announced price of a placebo painkiller affects its pain reducing capabilities.

My surprise here is that in fact there is a whole literature that dates back at least a couple of decades demonstrating this and related points. You can find one (gated) publication from the early 1980s here. That study, which Lester Telser mentioned in class when I was a graduate student at Chicago, shows in a double-blind clinical trial that branded aspirin works better than unbranded aspirin which works better than a branded placebo which works better than an unbranded placebo.

This line of work has very important implications for the economics of advertising, particularly the welfare economics of advertising. When I was in graduate school this literature had a bit of a moral flavor, with "informative" advertising (the classifieds being the usual example) viewed as valuable information transmission and "image" advertising (think Coke or Bud Light ads) serving no useful purpose. But if image advertising, which works to build up brand recognition and capital, actually changes the utility derived from a product, then it is essentially part of the product and so quite valuable rather than merely some sort of necessary evil.

The actual economics Ignobel prize went to "Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer's ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings." A gated version of the paper is here.

I should mention too, that while Michigan economics has no Noble prize winners, it does have one Ignoble prize winner, namely my colleague Joel Slemrod, who won in 2001 for his work (co-authored with Wojciech Kopczuk) on the elasticity of death with respect to taxes. A gated version of the paper is here.

Oh, and one really cannot leave out the Swiss winning the peace prize for this. Better yet, someone from the Swiss plant ethics committee actually attended the Ignoble prize ceremony.

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw

Illinois 45 Michigan 20

I did not get to see Michigan's upset win over Wisconsin last week, but it seems awfully mysterious after watching yesterday's effort.

This is still very much a rebuilding year for Michigan. Threet looked very young and the Illinois offense did pretty much whatever it wanted to do for much of the day.

A2 News column by Jim Carty here.

Arizona 48 Washington 14

It wasn't that close.

Washington is now 0-5 for the first time since I was seven years old. They hold the nation's longest losing streak at seven games.

They are starting to play like they did during Gilbertson's one-win season after the sudden departure of Slick Rick, the year before Willingham arrived.

Part of this is a deluge of injuries, to be sure, but that is not all of it or really even most of it when losing this badly to a team that is going to be a lot less happy when they face some of the better teams in the Pac-10.

In keeping with the recent Benji theme, here is the Seattle Times column from Jerry Brewer about his childhood pet, and his wish that that Lord would "please take him".

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Innovation in sports

The Seattle Times reports on tryouts for the Seattle Mist, which will be one of the teams in the new Lingerie Football League.

"I'm willing to show some skin in the name of football," said Alicia McLaughlin, 23, of Tacoma. "I feel like it's my true calling. And there's going to be haters, people scoffing at it, but there's a big enough demographic that it shouldn't have any problems creating a fan base."

League website here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Respecting Tyrone Willingham

Thoughts from Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More financial crisis humor

Thoughts on the financial crisis from Ph.D. comics.

One reaction to the financial crisis

I think I would carry this sign outside the capital rather than on Wall Street but the point is more or less the same. Plus building height limits in DC would limit what could be accomplished.

Note also the misspelling of the key word.

Hat tips: Bill Evans and Melissa Kearney

Letter from European economists on the credit crisis

See here.

It is interesting that both the tone - we know how to solve these problems but may lack the political will - and important aspects of the problem - coordination across countries is important and Europe but less so in the US - differ relative to the letters that have been circulated in the US (one of which I link to below, the other of which I could not find a web page for).

How Hillary is dealing with her loss

From the Onion.

Hat tip: Anya Chung

Children in political ads

Michael Moynihan of reason tags the Obama singing children video just right here.

Whoever is doing it, I have never understood the point of using children as trained seals in political ads. Usually this is done in ads for school-related bond issues or initiatives.

First, it seems to me that this is essentially de facto child abuse; put differently this is essentially unpaid child labor where paid child labor would be illegal.

Second, how can the viewer possibly interpret this in a positive way? Essentially the use of small children in political advertising says that the people behind whatever person or issue is being advertised either could not find a compelling adult to be in their ad, which is something you would think they would prefer to keep under wraps, or they think that voters are so pathetic that they would base their choices on statements by people whom society views as too young to have thoughtful opinions and therefore too young to vote.

Movie: Ghost Town

A fine bit of Hollywood fluff. Ricky Gervais, the brit who plays the lead, is hilarious, though his character transformation is not quite convincing. Tea Leoni is gorgeous. Among the funniest bits are the parodies of the hospital staff, including a doctor obsessed by her fake tan, during Gervais' two visits to the hospital.

Recommended conditional on being a romantic comedy.

Addendum: Among the many movies with "Ghost Town" in their titles is 1983's "Benji in Ghost Town". Sorry I missed that one.