Monday, September 30, 2013

Assorted links

1. Nuriel Roubini, party animal.

2. A cool new job as "Chief Analytics Officer" for my friend and co-author Kermit Daniel.

3. Rebranding Popeyes.

4. How to tell if your dog is involved in a sex scandal.

5. NYC defines the frontier in public management.

Hat tip on #1 to Charlie Brown and on #4 and #5 to Dan Black.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Washington 31, Arizona 13

A great victory in truly miserable weather in Husky Stadium. And another piece on the defense.

Washington is 4-0 for the first time since 2001.

And for those in Ann Arbor who are missing Rich Rodriguez, you can hear his thoughts as well. He has calmed down a lot at this point from how he looked during the game, when the television coverage showed him screaming and cursing at his players.

Bonus 1: the story from last week's blowout of Idaho State, which I never got around to posting.

Bonus 2: Lane Kiffen fired as coach at USC. That's all good fun, but I worry that the first alternative USC will think of is Steve Sarkisian. I hope UW can keep him around.

Charlie Weis at Kansas

An interesting piece about former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis' challenges as head coach at the University of Kansas.

I did not realize that Jake Heaps, who was very heavily recruited by Washington back in the day, had left BYU.

Hat tip: Dan Black

1st Grade Soccer: Shooting Stars 10, Wolfpack 1

I attended my first ever sporting event involving my daughter yesterday. She and some of her compatriots from the Emerson School have a soccer team in a league run by the Ann Arbor parks and recreation department. Their team is called the Shooting Stars and they won big yesterday, in part because one of girls on her team is quite a strong player, being responsible for five of the 10 goals, including three in a two-minute stretch right after halftime.

The strong player was pulled from the game right after that scoring stretch and replaced with my daughter, I assume because the coach wanted to slow down the pace of the scoring. But, bless her heart, my daughter scored her first-ever goal about a minute later.

All in all, much more fun than I expected, with the added bonus that I got to chat with one of my colleagues after the game, as his son's team was playing in the next match on the same field.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

New paper on the Workforce Investment Act

Does Federally-Funded Job Training Work? Nonexperimental Estimates of WIA Training Impacts Using Longitudinal Data on Workers and Firms

Fredrik Andersson
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

Harry J. Holzer
Georgetown University and American Institutes for Research

Julia I. Lane
American Institutes for Research, BETA University of Strasbourg,
CNRS University of Melbourne and IZA

David Rosenblum
Moody’s Analytics

Jeffrey Smith
University of Michigan, NBER and IZA

September 10, 2013

We study the job training provided under the US Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to adults and dislocated workers in two states. Our substantive contributions center on impacts estimated non-experimentally using administrative data. These impacts compare WIA participants who do and do not receive training. In addition to the usual impacts on earnings and employment, we link our state data to the Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) data at the U.S. Census Bureau, which allows us to estimate impacts on the characteristics of the firms at which participants find employment. We find moderate positive impacts on employment, earnings and desirable firm characteristics for adults, but not for dislocated workers. Our primary methodological contribution consists of assessing the value of the additional conditioning information provided by the LEHD relative to the data available in state Unemployment Insurance (UI) earnings records. We find that value to be zero.

The paper is on my web page.

Cory Booker and the stripper

This is great stuff ... I especially like the spin:
Booker spokesman Kevin Giffis told the Daily Intelligencer, 'I think it's pretty well known that the mayor talks with people from all walks of life on Twitter'
My guess is that the effect of this "scandal" is to improve Booker's performance in the polls.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Economics Moment of Zen #10

"Surveys make the unobservable observable"

Charlie Brown

Rules for the job market

I learned this today:

Shapiro's Third Law of the Job Market: "You are not allowed to have preferences until you have at least two offers."


Addendum: further research yielded the first two laws:

1. Take your best offer

2. You only need one job

Susan Murphy is a genius!

Congratulations to my friend and Michigan colleague Susan Murphy, who has received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant!

Addendum: more on Susan from the MacArthur Foundation.

Hat tips to Jess Goldberg and Sue Dynarski

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Assorted links

1. The decline of great brands from the past.

2. Louis C.K. on smartphones on Conan.

3. Frontiers of applied socialism: toilet paper in Venezuela. Those who don't learn from history blah blah ...

4. CATO decides Canada is not all bad.

5. French ghost town.

Hat tip on #2 to ASAK and on #4 to Charlie Brown.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Assorted links

1. Scary administrators at U. of Oregon. One wonders whether the fact that so many administrators act like power-mad weasels - it happens here too - is selection or treatment effect.

2. "Old" versions of famous websites.

3. It's for the children, really. I failed a drug test related to our adoption due to having had a poppyseed bagel. Fortunately, the people interpreting the test were not idiots in my case.

4. Astoundingly, this NSA job posting is not from the Onion.

5. Interview with science fiction author John Scalzi, who, as I recall, was editor of the Chicago Maroon at some point when I was in gradual school.

#1 and #3 via instapundit. Hat tip on #4 to Dan Black.

Michigan 24, Connecticut 21

Another bullet dodged.

I am glad they have a week off to sort things out before playing Minnesota on Oct. 5.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview with the owners of Literati

From the Michigan Daily, a fine interview with the owners of Ann Arbor's new downtown bookstore.

Assorted links

1. Your death has been postponed ... or, priorities in Florida.

2. 10 email commandments from Tim Harford. I particularly agree with (4) and (6). I have not yet given up on filing. Perhaps I should.

3. The mysterious Miss Uzbekistan, who has apparently faked her way into the Miss World pageant. Is nothing sacred anymore?

4. The Onion on wedding websites.

5. Should you ask a question during seminar?

Hat tip on #1 and #3 to Charlie Brown and on #5 to ASAK. Link fixed on #5.

Cranky analyst on sex and wages

My friend and colleague Sue Dynarski thinks that the recent paper claiming that more sex causes higher wages is an intellectual offer she can very happily refuse.

A bonus hat tip to Ken Troske, who forwarded me the same paper. Sue's review is better than mine would have been.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Michigan 28, Akron 24

Dodging a bullet does not even begin to describe this near debacle, with Akron having shots into the end zone on the final four plays!

Local news coverage here.

Game: The Room

My daughter and I have been playing "The Room" for the last couple of weeks. It is more of a puzzle than a game, and we have been doing it cooperatively rather than competitively which makes it even less game-like, but it is great fun. The puzzles are hard enough that you have to think a bit, but not so hard that you don't figure them out in finite time (and, of course, there are walkthroughs to be had all over the interwebs). And the game is visually stunning. Indeed, that may be its strongest feature. The sounds are fun too.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Obama has lost Second City


In praise of payday lenders

From the Atlantic, something I never thought I would see: a thoughtful, empirically grounded defense of payday lenders and other alternative financial service providers for the poor written by a non-economist.

The piece does a very good job of highlighting the strengths of ethnographic work.

Of course, the policy paragraph at the end falls short of the standard set by the remainder of the discussion, but I suppose one can't have everything.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interdisciplinary Seminar in Quantitative Methods

Local readers will be keenly aware that the most obvious thing that we lack around here is enough seminars to go to each week. After all, there are only two labor seminars, two public finance seminars, two development seminars, two macro seminars, an economic history seminar, an econometric seminar, a Ford School faculty work-in-progress seminar, two international / trade seminars, a health economics seminar, a new energy / environment economics seminar, two applied micro / IO seminars, a high theory seminar, the population center seminar, the survey research center seminars (including the joint program in survey methodology as well as a series specific to the PSID and another series), the quantitative methodology program seminar, the STEIT seminar, the research center on group dynamics seminar and probably some others that I am forgetting.

Given that we live in the center of a "seminar desert", I am delighted to note the arrival of a new seminar that looks to become one of my favorites: the ISQM or Interdisciplinary Seminar on Quantative Methods. You can find the schedule here. The initial meeting today features my friend Susan Murphy from the statistics department on (what I would call) statistical treatment rules. I'll be there.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cheaters welcome at Harvard

This survey of the incoming class, reported in the Harvard Crimson, is a bit troubling.

Of course, this is what folks at Chicago suspected all along.

Hat tip: anonymous insider

Fantasy economics

A proposal (apparently serious) for a REPEC fantasy economist league.

I am speechless.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Monday, September 9, 2013

Assorted links

1. How to save Microsoft? Sounds like things have come a long way from when they used to mock the corporate culture at IBM (e.g. "the guy with the neuron is in today").

2. Dissecting a year of ESPN SportsCenter.

3. Klaus Zimmerman on how Europeans can learn useful lessons about inequality from the US.

4. Being an "ambassador" for the UM-Notre Dame night game.

5. Advice on applied econometrics from David Giles. I would generalize (1) to "get to know the basic patterns in the data really well before doing anything too sophisticated." I would tone down (7) a bit, but not too much. I would translate (9) as "be a casual Bayesian".

Hat tip on #2 to ASAK.

Florida kills its economics doctoral program

Coverage from the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Florida Alligator (alternative) student newspaper.

How can you be a flagship and not really have an economics department - let alone imagine that you will make it into the upper tier of public universities?

How can you deal with 600-some undergraduate majors with six faculty members and no gradual students?

More broadly, something is very wrong with Florida's accounting process. Economics majors are really cheap to produce: they consume almost entirely large chalk-and-talk lecture classes, along with a bit of computing. There are no expensive labs or other equipment, and not many small classes. The university should see the department as a profit center. That they do not suggests something is amiss with their budget process (probably having to do with accounting across units, in this case the busyness school and the arts and sciences faculty, as hinted at in the article).

Another way to think about this is as a selective salary cut for the remaining economics faculty. Graduate programs are essentially part of faculty compensation along with being an input into undergraduate teaching. Killing the doctoral program is an indirect reduction in faculty compensation, one that Florida can probably get away with given that the few faculty remaining in the department are relatively close to retirement and so unlikely to move.


Hat tips: Sarah Hamersma who, thankfully, has escaped to Syracuse.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ronald Coase, RIP

Sad news about the passing of Ronald Coase, but it is hard to argue with living to 102.

State education expenditures

I quite liked this CATO site that grades states on the transparency of their published numbers on educational expenditures (and not just because the title is a great pun).

Particularly interesting is the evidence on the lack of public knowledge of expenditure levels presented under the "Why Care" tab.

Play: My Name is Asher Lev

My Name is Asher Lev has one more week to go at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor and is well worth the time. All three actors, especially John Seibert who plays several roles, turn in strong performances.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Book: Paying for the Party by Armstrong and Hamilton

Armstrong, Elizabeth and Laura Hamilton. 2013. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

This book describes the results of a five year study of the residents of one (all-female) floor of one dormitory in one year at a very-thinly disguised Indiana University. It features an impressive amount of interview and observational evidence gathered in part via the extended presence on the dorm floor of members of the research team (one of whom is in the sociology department here at Michigan).

The book divides the students into three tracks: socialite, striver and achiever, and then describes, in two chapters for each path, the students who were more and less successful at the path. Lurking in the background - this is sociology, and usefully so - are the institutional constraints that channel students into particular paths and out of others and that help determine who succeeds and who fails within a chosen path. For the socialite path, for example, it is relevant that the university offers a number of degree programs that reward social skills as much as academic ones.

I found three aspects of the book particularly useful. First, the book is fantastic on the micro-foundations of mismatch. The mismatch emphasized here, unlike that in the economics literature, is social class mismatch, rather than academic preparation mismatch. I think the economics literature (including my papers) misses an important part of the story in that sense. This aspect of the book reminded me of the descriptions of class-based mismatch in Black Ice, which I read a long time ago (and also recommend).

Second, the book illustrates what it looks like when students from families where no one has gone to a four-year university (or maybe even a community college) show up on campus without much information about how things work and without much in the way of resources to help them figure it out. It is a real challenge for researchers in this area, who know how higher education works inside and out, to put themselves in the shoes of students who, not unreasonably given their environment, appear astoundingly clueless at times. This lack of information is important when thinking about dropout rates and about time-to-degree. Paying for the Party provides a good reminder of how it feels not to understand the institution very well.

Third, I found (as I nearly always do) the discussions of research methodology quite interesting. Some of them are relegated to an appendix. If you get the book, you should read them anyway. I thought they were some of the most interesting bits. This sort of ethnography with a group of subjects who all know each other and so talk about each other and talk about the research with each other raises all sorts of interesting questions that I had not thought about before in terms of research design and research ethics.

One always approaches the policy chapter in social science books by non-economists with some trepidation. Perhaps because my expectations were so low, this one was better than I expected. It still has some howlers, such as the pointless suggestion of doing away with the university's semi-pro basketball and football teams. But more broadly what it does (though not always on purpose) is illustrate that Americans expect universities to be lots of different things: finishing school for rich girls, gateway to social mobility for the rural and urban working class (and occasionally the poor), social class replication device for the upper middle class, bastion of the life of the mind, research powerhouse, and so on.

What I took away from the book is not that one of these purposes should predominate but that the university should try to make sure that students can make informed and successful choices about which aspects they want to indulge. It is very clear that the university studied in this book does not do a good job of this. First and foremost, it assigns students who are not party animals to the party dorm and then leaves them there without clear and easy pathways to get out. Moreover, the book is full of tales of hopeless counselors and of students who have no idea how to navigate the university and no idea how to get someone to help them do so. These are customer service basics for a university.

The authors want to draw broader conclusions than simply how to better run a large public university. I was fine with some of what they had to say, but in other cases I thought that they went astray by over-generalizing from one floor in one (party) dorm in one cohort.  Still, Paying for the Party is very much recommended for those interested in the inner workers of academia from the student's viewpoint.

San Francisco Lusty Lady closes

The Atlantic reports on the demise of what is surely the only unionized, worker-owned peep show.

I liked this line: "... to dismiss the idea that vulgarity and uplift can coexist side-by-side is to deny the degenerate magic of San Francisco."

My post about the Seattle Lusty Lady closing a few years ago is here.

Assorted links

1. Michigan dorm cafeterias drop their trays. Does this count as an application of behavioral economics?

2. Seattle Public Library breaks the record for book dominoes.

3. The war on (some) drugs just keeps on giving. Can we stop now?

4. Great stuff from Camille Paglia.

5. Prospective grad student fail. At Western Ontario, we had a job candidate tell us that their adviser said they could be the "next big thing".

Hat tip on #2 to Charlie Brown. #3 and #4 via instapundit.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hooking up with the data

Another moral panic done in by empirical work.

What if all of the moral panics were just ways to sell newspapers (or their more modern equivalents) and to bring money, power, and ill-gotten warm glow to those who exploit them?

Washington 38, Boise State 6

First, the most obvious take-away from watching a game featuring two teams running fast offenses is that it is just a lot more fun to watch because there is less downtime between plays.

Second, wow! The Huskies looked great and Boise State looked, especially in the second half, frustrated and flat.

Seattle Times coverage here.

Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9

Michigan's victory over "will lose for food" Central Michigan was as dominating as it was dull to watch. coverage here.

Next week against Notre Dame should be more interesting.