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Jean Tirole, chairman of the Foundation Jean-Jacques Laffont/Toulouse School of Economics and scientific director of the Institute for Industrial Economics, University of Toulouse Capitole in France, is the recipient of the 2014 Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics.
The prize carries a $200,000 stipend, among the largest monetary awards in the United States for outstanding achievements in economics. The 2014 prize marks the 11th time Northwestern has awarded the prize. The Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics and the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition will both be announced this spring.
The Nemmers prizes are given in recognition of major contributions to new knowledge or the development of significant new modes of analysis. Six out of the past 10 Nemmers economics prize winners have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. (Those who already have won a Nobel Prize are ineligible to receive a Nemmers prize.)
Looking forward to hanging out with Jean next year.
The standard story about Obamacare has two steps: (1) We need young people to join so that average costs are low. Prices will reflect average cost because of insurer competition and so healthy young people will cross subsidize less healthy older people. (2) This cross subsidy will only operate if the young get Obamacare. They may not because the price is greater than their payoff from going without insurance. Hence, the individual mandate is necessary to hold this together. If the tax is too small or the website failure too forbidding, young people will not join and the whole thing will collapse as adverse selection drives up prices and further reduces participation etc – the so-called “death spiral”.
But this story is persuasive if young and old people are in the same pool. Obamacare allows pricing based on age so young and old people are in different pools. The young do not subsidize the old. If the young do not get Obamacare the old still get their insurance and they can live happily ever after (or at least get statins and heart bypasses). At a second cut there is a bit of a cross subsidy because Obamacare imposes a 3-to-1 ratio on prices of older age groups versus new. If this constraint does not bind, no problem. Even if it binds, it is relaxed if the young do not participate in their pool so prices go up in that pool allowing higher prices in the older pools.
Still, within a fixed age based pool there can be adverse selection. How big is it? There is a working paper by Handel, Hendel and Whinston that gives us an idea. There is an impact of adverse selection because at least when you allow just two plans, one covering 90% of costs and the other 60%, only the latter trades. But what happens if you also drop the individual mandate? The last column of Table 12 on page 41 gives their forecast based on their model and the data. Participation is 87%-90% for those 50 and older. But is only 63-70% for those 25-40.
This is the death spiral, but only among the young. It does not affect the older population. First, age-based discrimination innoculates the old from the non-participation of the young. Second, the 50+ crowd (which I am fast approaching!) need health insurance so they all get it.
(Also, this analysis ignores subsidies which would increase participation further even in 25-40 age group…)
Melissa Harris at the Chicago Tribune has written a nice story about Purple Pricing at NU. (The photographer asked us to look serious and we complied!) Melissa also interviewed Nick Kokonas whom we talked to originally. He decided not to use auctions for Next restaurant tickets. Here is his current rationale:
“Even if we could charge more, I don’t want to,” he said. “The economists say I’m being inefficient; that it’s a rational thing to take more money, if people are willing to pay it. But I’m convinced people would be willing to pay it only once. If we allowed people to pay $2,000 to eat at Next, but it feels like it’s worth $500, they’re not coming back. And I’m not in this for a one-time sale of some gizmo. We want to be around for 20 years.”
But here is the point: Since the tickets can be resold, they end up on Craiglist etc and people pay $2000. People do not end up with the great deal Kokonas wants to give them to persuade them to be repeat customers. They still end up paying $2000 for a $500 meal but the extra $1500 goes to a scalper and not to Kokonas. The scalpers are exploiting Kokonas’s “irrationality” to make money. So, if Kokonas really wants to achieve his objective he must be more old school and sell tickets at the door. This subverts his business model as Next becomes more like Frontera Grill with a set menu and random revenue stream. A compromise might be to auction off some fraction of seats and sell some at the door. This at least captures scalper surplus. If you do not want the extra money, use it to set up a Achatz- Kokonos Institute for the Culinary Arts (AKICA).
In the Tribune article, Jeff talks about interesting ideas to leverage the secondary market if resale can be fully controlled by the originator. When this happens, it would be possible to implement the Kokonas social welfare function: Set a price P for a ticket. All resale has to go through your system and the resale price must be P. You can set P as low or as high as you want depending on your desire to give consumers a good deal.
A couple of days ago, someone who currently has individual insurance could either sign up for insurance on an Obamacare exchange or pay a penalty. Now, these people can keep their current insurance and they will not have to pay a tax penalty. In other words, their outside option to the exchanges just got better.
But what about the inside option? First, the policies traded on exchanges are regulated. They have a cap on the maximum amount consumers can be charged per year. They cover pre-existing conditions etc. They are higher quality than the contracts traded outside the exchange. Second, the plans on the exchange are subsidized based on income. These two factors can imply the inside option is better than even the new outside option.
There are two countervailing effects. First, given the disfunctionality of healthcare.gov, it is impossible to calculate the inside option! Second, there could be a selection effect that makes the prices increase on the exchanges and leads to a “death spiral”. Specifically, if the people who currently have individual insurance are healthy and stay out of the exchanges, and there are a large number of them, prices could skyrocket in the exchanges. Then, paying the tax penalty makes more sense and the exchanges collapse.
Surely resolving the first countervailing effect is only a matter of time. This debacle should have been avoided but it is possible to fix. The second effect is potentially more problematic. It should be possible to estimate the size of the death spiral with enough data. Jon Gruber should be able to do it. I don’t have the data and can only offer an anecdote. On my way to the airport, my cab driver and I started discussing Obamacare. He and his two kids are on his wife’s individual insurance which costs them $1600/month and has huge deductibles. He was looking forward to getting Obamacare. He did not know about the subsidies. When I told him he got very excited. I used by smartphone to access the Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator to guess what his family would have to pay for a silver plan. It was well below their current payments because they got a big subsidy. But how many people like him are there? How many people are buying plans in the individual marketplace in the first place? Someone should work this out.
Amazon wants to use small bricks-and-mortar retailers to sell more Kindles and eBooks. They are trying to incentivize them to execute their business strategy:
Retailers can choose between two programs:
1) Bookseller Program: Earn 10% of the price of every Kindle book purchased by their customers from their Kindle devices for two years from device purchase. This is in addition to the discount the bookseller receives when purchasing the devices and accessories from Amazon.
2) General Retail Program: Receive a larger discount when purchasing the devices from Amazon, but do not receive revenue from their customers’ Kindle book purchases.
EBooks are an existential threat to retailers. But no one small bookstore can have a significant effect on the probability of the success of the eBook market through its own choice of whether to join Amazon’s program or not. Hence, it can ignore this existential issue in making its own choice. Suppose it is beneficial for a small bookstore owner to join the program ceteris paribus. After all, people are coming in, browsing and then heading to Amazon to buy eBooks – why not capture some of that revenue? Many owners independently make the decision to join the program. Kindle and eBook penetration increases even further and small bookstores disappear.
UnitedHealth will “watch and see” how the exchanges evolve and expects the first enrollees will have “a pent-up appetite” for medical care, Hemsley said. “We are approaching them with some degree of caution because of that.”
An interpretation from Think Progress:
Get that? The company packed its bags and dumped its beneficiaries because it wants its competitors to swallow the first wave of sicker enrollees only to re-enter the market later and profit from the healthy people who still haven’t signed up for coverage.
So the question is do we want to stop Obamacare or do we want to stop the debt ceiling increase? My view is that we cannot do both at the same time. We might dare to dream, but the debt ceiling will be increased one way or the other.
Right now the GOP is holding up very well in the press and public opinion because it is clear they want negotiations. The GOP keeps passing legislation to fund departments of government. It has put the Democrats in an awkward position.
But the moment the GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, we are going to have problems. Remember, the last time you and I wanted the GOP to fight on the debt ceiling, the attacks from our own side were particularly vicious.
They’ve been vicious over the shutdown too, but now that we are here, the water ain’t so bad and only a few ankle biting yappers continue to take shots at conservatives from the GOP side.
It will not be so with the debt ceiling. And the GOP will no longer seem very reasonable. The debt ceiling fight will become an impediment to undermining Obamacare.
The main target is defunding Obamacare. Since the House will cave on the debt limit, not good to link defunding Obamacare to the debt ceiling. Link it to CR. Logic seems good if you like the objective. Also, it reveals that right believes debt limit will be raised. Hence, bondholders can relax.
Here’s my accurate but unsubtle description of Coase’s methodology (listen to audio for my brief moment of fame). Reporter does a good job though.
Coase was the last “classical” economist. His style is closer to Marshall than to Samuelson. He asked deep questions and proposed simple but deep answers without using maths. So, a certain style of doing economics passes away with him.
The work of his I am most familiar with concerns the theory of the firm: Why are some transactions mediated through markets while others take place within firms? Suppose Microsoft and Nokia have to work together to supply phones. MS can own human capital that generates software, Nokia can generate the hardware and they can exist as separate firms and trade. Or MS can produce the end software/hardware product and employ Nokia workers in an integrated firm. Coase’s point is that if there are no transactions costs, there is property-right neutrality. Both institutions should generate the same joint surplus and it does not matter whether they are integrated or not. People often stop there and that is all they know about the “Coase Theorem”. But in fact, Coase’s second point is that property right neutrality is crazy hence there must be transactions costs and we must study these as well as the usual costs of production we normally invoke. Once we have a good understanding of transactions costs, we will understand why some transactions take place through firms and other through markets.
The downside of having a classical style is that no-one really understands what you mean. First, there was controversy about the Coase Theorem itself – was it in fact a theorem? Coase never called it that (I think it was Stigler who coined the phrase) and Samuelson though it was wrong. But, I think by now we do believe it is a theorem and the property right neutrality obtains for transferable utility (MasColell, Whinston and Green has a simple argument). But what are these pesky transactions costs that determine the boundary of the firm? There we have no consensus. One leading theory invokes costs of haggling ex post if two firms are not integrated (Wiliamson got the Nobel Prize for this theory). The other says there are no costs of haggling ex post and bargaining in efficient but there is a hold up problem in bargaining as surplus is split. Knowing this firms underinvest ex ante. The allocation of property rights affects the ex post division of surplus and hence this leads to a theory of optimal property rights (this theory has been developed by Oliver Hart with his co-authors Sandy Grossman and John Moore (GHM)).
The counterargument to Williamson’s theory is typically that if haggling generates transactions costs, we should see vertical integration and no outsourcing. No interior solutions! The counterargument to GHM is more esoteric. It turns out that there are contracting solutions that are consistent with typical GHM solutions and resolve the hold-up problem. In some sense, the Coase Theorem goes through in GHM models.
So what can we learn from the Nokia and MS merger? It seems they are looking for a Ballmer replacement who is working at Nokia. And there are intellectual property issues:
Mr. Ballmer said Microsoft and Nokia had not been as agile separately as they would be jointly, citing how development could be slowed down when intellectual property rights were held by two different companies.
But also from the same NYT article:
Large acquisitions are fraught with peril, especially in the technology business, where there are challenges to integrating employees from different backgrounds into a coherent whole.
First, Coase is right – there are transactions costs that destroy property right neutrality. Second, both Williamson and GHM theories are consistent with the facts. Maybe ex post efficient trades are not occurring because of haggling over MS’s and Nokia’s intellectual property. Or knowing that surplus will be extracted by the other party ex post given its monopoly power over its patents, neither firms is fully invested in the joint venture.
So, the bottom line is that Coase had some simple but deep insights and we are still working out the implications.
I talked to my father a couple of days ago. He’s excited ahead of his trip to India because the British pound is trading at 100 Rupees!
Why is that and what does it have to do with the Food Security Bill that gives some minimal level of food support to the Indian population?
1. Rupee fluctuations:
The basic economics of this is pretty simple. Imagine a huge stock of hard-currency-denominated investible funds, forever sloshing around in search of the best returns. For a developing country, the urge to tap into these funds is immense……. And so it was that India started on the Great Upward Path: money pouring into its coffers from abroad, accompanying tariff and quota liberalization then permitting easy purchase of foreign goods without a huge depreciation in the rupee, the outward drain being more than easily matched by the inward flow.
QE, by keeping interest rates very low in the United States and the rest of the “developed world,” certainly helped here, as hot money scrambled to take advantage of relatively attractive portfolios in emerging markets.
And what money goes in comes out after the Fed hints that their easy money policy may be coming to an end and interest rates are on the rise. Hence fluctuations
2. Food Security Bill:
It is interesting that the very same business interests which have completely disregarded the dangers I’ve discussed are now floundering around for a scapegoat. Let’s see now: it must be the damn Government which is to blame. And we’re off to the usual races: cut back government spending, and yes, social spending for those lazy masses must be the first to go….
What we have is a bill that purports to bring food security to the majority of India’s population, and possibly the overwhelming majority of India’s poor, plus the additional benefits to mothers and children, for about 6% of the Indian government budget. Not for 12%, as in defense, or 9%, as in the fuel subsidy. And certainly not for the same impact, rupee for rupee, on India’s international deficit.
It’s crazy to link 2. with 1. Must the poor and innocent always pay for the vagaries of financial markets? I hope not.
India’s two most prominent economists have never really seen eye-to-eye. Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winner and Harvard professor, believes in public interventions to alleviate extreme poverty and reduce inequality while Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor at Columbia and author of the bestselling book In Defense of Globalization, favors a more free-market, growth-first approach.
In recent weeks, the two have caused something of an uproar — “Academic Brawl,” proclaims the Economic Times – with a terse back-and-forth in the letters page of the Economist.
What is it all about? For the answer, I turned to the blog of a third prominent Indian economist (and apparently excellent cook) Debraj Ray:
1. Economic growth is fundamentally uneven.
2. Looking at rates of growth per person will fail to reveal this basic fact. High growth and extreme inequalities can co-exist. Indeed, they often do.
3. There are a number of ways to deal with uneven growth. The most important of these is occupational choice: education and training to enter new sectors. But occupational choice is slow (it will often take a generation), and it is imprecise (by the time we’re done retraining, the economy may have hared off somewhere else).
4. So other ways need to be found to even out that unevenness.
5. But wait — why won’t the good old market take care of it? It might: if growth in one sector trickles to another via expanding demand. If software engineers like potatoes, the potato farmer stands to gain. Or the tourist industry. Or hairdressers. Just how strong these intersectoral bonds are is a profoundly empirical question. Is there enough work on assessing these strengths? The simple answer is no: not nearly enough. To simply hope that the bonds will work is no good.
We have now arrived at the heart of the matter: is (5) enough? That is what the debate needs to be about. Not about Bhagwati, and not about Sen.
6. And if (5) isn’t enough, what then? Then we are left with two alternatives:
7. Active and sustained government intervention to even things out. Social spending on education. On health. [On] nutrition. On transportation and communication networks. On minimal safety nets. The market can take care of the cool stuff. The public sector gets a less sexy role: getting the basics right. That is what Drèze and Sen (and frankly, many others) are about.
Failing (7) and provided that (5) fails as well, we have just one option:
8. Sustained, crippling social conflict, not just cutting across class lines but along any marker which can be arrogated for the purpose: religion, caste, geography, language.
[B]efore Apple launched its own iOS Maps app, Google Maps for iOS was already markedly inferior to Google Maps for Android. Not because Google was incapable of producing a great Google Maps app for iOS but because they didn’t want to make one.
To get out of that bind, Apple has never needed to make a product that’s actually superior to Google Maps. What they’ve needed to do is produce an application that clears two bars. One is that it has to be good enough that your typcial doesn’t-care-too-much phone consumer doesn’t reject iOS out of hand. The other is that it has to be good enough such that if Google doesn’t want to lose the entire iOS customer base it has to scramble and release a great Google Maps app for iOS and not just for Android. Apple’s Maps app easily clears both of those bars. Before the release of iOS 6, the inferiority of Apple’s Google-powered iOS Maps app to Android’s Google maps was a real reason to prefer an Android phone. Today, there is no such reason. Not because Apple Maps is as good at Google Maps, but because Google Maps for iOS is as good as Google Maps for Android.
Dani Rodrik will be the Albert O. Hirschman Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton as of July 1, 2013. Before then, he was the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He has published widely in the areas of international economics, economic development, and political economy. His research focuses on what constitutes good economic policy and why some governments are better than others in adopting it.
A prominent and well-connected economist who has openly supported opposition figures has resigned from several posts and abruptly left Russia under mounting pressure from investigators, officials of the university he leads said on Wednesday.
The economist, Sergei Guriev, has been questioned repeatedly in a case that stems from a report that he co-wrote that harshly criticized the treatment of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oil tycoon and one-time political rival to President Vladimir V. Putin.
A centrist figure who is at home among Russia’s power brokers, Mr. Guriev drew attention a year ago for publicly declaring his support for the anti-corruption blogger Aleksei Navalny.
I’ve read Guriev’s papers in the past but his name seemed particularly familiar. I realized the Mikhail Golosov has presented a joint paper with Guriev and others at the Nemmers Conference just last week. Some people think Stalin’s policies were necessary to push labor from the countryside to industry and hence the hardship they caused, while cruel, had some long term positive economic impact. Chermukin, Golosov, Guriev and Tysvinki argue, using data they collected and a two sector growth model, that Stalin’s policies reduced welfare significantly in the long run.
This guy is hardly a radical.
Airlines that offer this either send travellers an email inviting them to upgrade or travellers can go direct to the airline’s website.Once you’re on their site, rather than them saying, ‘you can pay £400 to upgrade’, you can now say, ‘I’ll pay £300’,” explains Ken Harris chief executive of Plusgrade, the technology company behind the platform. “There may be a minimum upgrade price and there will be an indicator which shows the strength of your offer.” The airline will then email you at least 72 hours before your flight to tell you if your bid has been successful; if not, you retain your original reservation.
Taking things to another comfort level:
Along with upgrades, you can also pay a nominal fee to ensure the seat next to you is not occupied.
To extract surplus and reduce information rents from high types, “low” types must be punished with inefficient allocations. Expect to be seated en masse if you do not purchase an upgrade even if the plane is half empty.
“Thibs is a guru,” Gibson said. “He understands the game plan.
“He had me guarding Ray Allen. That’s how much confidence he has in everybody’s ability to guard on defense. He really drew up and knew what the team was gonna do.
Every time they ran down and ran offense, it was exactly what Thibs showed us on paper.”
I enjoy my Mother’s cooking all too rarely. This is good for my waist line but bad for my taste buds. I have resorted to consumption of frozen Indian food as a poor substitute. I was surprised to find that Whole Foods carries a reasonable brand, Tandoor Chef, that has some decent options. Of course, these products come with a Whole Foods price tag.
On a recent trip to Devon Av., I happened to notice that the Fresh Farms supermarket carried these same products. Unfortunately, the prices are benchmarked against Whole Foods – no good deal there. But the supermarket also carries much cheaper products by Healthy Tiffin and they bear a remarkable resemblance to the Tandoor Chef products, e.g. both have Paneer Tikka Masala cooked in a relatively healthy way (if that is possible!). On closer inspection, Healthy Tiffin and Tandoor Chef are both made by Deep Products. I have been enjoying the arbitrage opportunity for a few months now. I worry that Deep Foods will reduce the quality of the Healthy Tiffin products to prevent arbitrage!
In a few years, this blog will focus on the concerns of “fifty-something” professors. Retirement communities in Florida and California will be the main topic of discussion. Before that comes the fiftieth birthday party. Should it be “celebrated” with a public gathering of some sort, ignored completely, or with some significant event involving just the nuclear family? In investigating the final option a few years in advance, expecting to be really decrepid by then and hence need a lot of help to move around, I looked at the National Geographic tours. They have a sophisticated pricing scheme:
Our trip costs are determined by group size. (As you can imagine, we’re able to secure lower per-person rates with
larger groups.) When you sign up for a trip, its highest cost will be noted on your initial invoice and then adjusted 30
days prior to your departure. If for any reason the group falls below the minimum number of guests, a small group
surcharge may be applied. (We have found that our guests prefer to pay a bit more rather than have their trip canceled.)
Please note that trip physicians, lecturers, and GeoEx staff are not included in the guest count to determine per-person
For an exotic trip to Turkey, this boiled down to: $9350 (6–7 guests), $7950 (8–9 guests), $7450 (10–11 guests), $6350 (12 guests).
The higher the volume, the lower the price. No penalty for booking early. But at these prices, I’m leaning towards ignoring the 50th landmark completely and putting the money down for a foreclosed home in Florida.
I just flew to La Guardia from O’Hare. It is spring break so the plane was full. The United agent tried to persuade two people to take a later flight. Initially, she offered $300. No-one took the bait. She upped the ante to $400. Still no volunteers. Then, she raised the stakes to $400 plus a first class seat.
Maybe no-one was willing to delay their trip. Or perhaps now the blandishment was ever increasing, people were waiting for the better deal.
Obvious solution is to give insurance: if the deal gets better, the people who bit first get the better deal too.
Do you favor or oppose taxes on bank depositors?
I am totally against it. First, deposits under 100,000 are insured. What happened to that insurance? How could the euro group agree to taxing deposits as small as one euro? What is the meaning of deposit insurance in the euro zone? Second, deposits include the savings of honest people who have paid their taxes and saved for retirement, to buy a home, educate their children or whatever. Why pay a hefty additional tax? And how would these people feel when they woke up on Saturday morning to be told, “Sorry guys, we are not letting you withdraw your money anymore, until we sort out how to take a big chunk away from you.” And why? Because two banks out of the tens operating in Cyprus made bad investment decisions three years ago to help Greece out of its crisis, and got hit by the troika. What’s the incentive that banks now have in the European Union to treat risky investments with caution? If one of them takes bad risks the others will pay for it; if it works well for it, it will keep the profits. A classic scenario for market breakdown.
Trade of shares is going to be taxed by some countries inside the EU. The usual counter argument is that this will simply cause trading to move outside the tax zone to, in this case, the U.K. and the U.S. To try to get around this, the countries involved require that the tax be paid wherever the trade takes place:
The tax would be owed no matter where the trade took place, as long as a European security or European institution was involved. The law has been written so broadly that if a French bank bought shares in an American company on the New York Stock Exchange, the tax would be owed.
But who is going to report the trade? The EU authorities are relying on a prisoner’s dilemma to do the monitoring for them:
There is every chance that markets from other countries will not be very cooperative, meaning that to learn if a German bank traded in New York the authorities might have to rely on the bank to report it to them. But then there would be the risk that the tax authorities would learn of it otherwise, perhaps through an audit or from a report by an Italian bank that happened to be on the other side of that trade.
Mr. Bergmann, himself an economist, compared that to “the prisoners’ dilemma,” a classic concept in economics in which two people arrested for a crime would do best if neither confessed, but either would do very badly if he did not confess while the other did. If the authorities did find out, it would be tax fraud under the proposed law.
If the Italian bank reports the trade but the German bank does not, does the Italian bank get a reward? Is the tax forgiven? This is not clear from the article. (I also had a hard time finding the actual law but perhaps I did not look hard enough.) If the Italian bank is liable for tax if it unilaterally reveals the trade, then the game is a coordination game:
If the German bank does not reveal the trade, the Italian bank avoids the tax if it does not reveal but pays the tax if it does. Hence, not revealing is a strict best response to not revealing by the opponent. On the other hand, if the German bank is expected to reveal the trade, if the Italian bank does not reveal the trade, it pays a big fine. If it also reveals the trade, it just pays the tax. Hence, reveal is a strict best response to reveal. Then, the blog post should be called Coordination Games Everywhere.
Would love to know what the facts are. Or are they ambiguous? This would introduce uncertainty and then papers can be written about this possibly…
Interesting article about the Cameron government’s use of Thaler tricks to improve government servies and save money:
Take the job centre in Loughton, where he describes – step by step – the minutiae of how his team has encouraged advisers to be forward-looking, specific and to give their clients a sense of progress; all of which, studies have shown, have a big impact on people reaching their goals, he says.
“So instead of jobseekers having to show they’ve looked for at least three jobs in the last two weeks, advisers will now say, ‘OK, let’s talk about what you are going to do in the next two weeks’. They will ask what their client needs to work on. ‘So, you said you needed to work on your CV. So when will you do that. OK, Wednesday morning after breakfast.’ The client is then encouraged to write it down in a little booklet they get. And all the things you need to do before you get your job have been compressed on to one side of paper and designed in such a way that when you go through it with the adviser, you’ve done a third of it straight away. That in itself gives you a strong, immediate sense of progress.”
The results speak for themselves. On the top floor of the job centre where it was trialled for three months, about a fifth more jobseekers were off their books in 13 weeks compared with the floor below where processes remained unchanged.
I still need a nudge to buy the book though.
[T]he Jets have invested an enormous amount of energy and money in Sanchez, and, assuming that no one will trade for him, they are contracted to pay him $8.25 million next year, whether he plays or not….
In a purely rational world, Sanchez’s guaranteed salary would be irrelevant to the decision of whether or not to start him (since the Jets have to pay it either way). But in the real world sunk costs are hard to ignore. Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University who has spent much of his career studying the subject, explains, “Abandoning a project that you’ve invested a lot in feels like you’ve wasted everything, and waste is something we’re told to avoid.” This means that we often end up sticking with something when we’d be better off cutting our losses—sitting through a bad movie, say, just because we’ve paid for the ticket. In business and government, the effect pushes people to throw good money after bad.
Jeff and I have a paper, Mnemonomics: The Sunk Cost Fallacy As A Memory Kludge, that offers a primitive theory of this “Concorde effect” as a response to limited memory. Mark Sanchez was hired years ago. At that time there was a rationale for why he would be a great QB for the Jets and hence he was paid a high salary. This rationale for his hiring has been lost in the mists of time but his salary is recalled perfectly. His salary encodes the rationale for his hiring – the higher the salary the better must have been the rationale for his hiring. Even if we have forgotten the details, the rationale must have been good if Sanchez was paid a high salary. Therefore the higher the salary, the greater the chances of retention even when future events creates costs of retention. This is the Concorde effect. As far as Mark Sanchez goes, mnemonomics does not do too bad a job.
But an obvious alternate theory rests on reputation:
“Taking the original decision-maker out of the picture and letting a fresh pair of eyes look at the pros and cons can help,” Arkes says. He points to a…study of a bank that found that loan officers were reluctant to acknowledge that loans they’d made had gone bad, whereas new executives were far more likely to take the loss and move on. Whoever becomes the Jets’ new general manager will have no personal or reputational investment in Sanchez, which should make it easier for him to be more objective, though he’ll still have to persuade the head coach and the owner.
There’s surely a lot of truth to this theory. But there is a countervailing effect too. Managerial turnover generates limited memory – who knows why the previous CEO made the decisions he did? If he was smart, it would be good to accord his decisions some respect and see them through before trying out new ideas. Perhaps the best CEOs understand this. From our paper:
For example, when John Akers stepped down and Lou Gerstner became C.E.O. of IBM in 1993, he was determined to “carry out a set of policies put in place by none other than the much-maligned Akers.” He was not “rushing to make significant changes in vision” but was “still following through on Akers’ two-year-old restructuring.” He believed that “IBM has yet to test fully many if the changes Akers put in place” and said, “I want to make sure the current system is implemented before we try any alternatives.” We interpret Gerstner’s decision-making as follows: Akers’ old plans were initiated using information known to him at the time. By the time Gerstner arrived, the direct information was lost but was manifested indirectly in the strategic plan he inherited. Hence, this generated a bias to implement the old plan.
You dig your car out of the snow, run an errand or two and come back home to discover…someone else has parked in “your” spot! This free rider problem reduces your incentive to dig your car out in the first place. If only property rights could be enforced, your incentives would be good. It turns out that Bostonians have solved this problem:
Cold-weather cities like Boston, however, have gone so far as to enact laws on the subject. The Post reports that in Boston, “a city law says that if you dig out your car in a snow emergency, a lawn chair or trash can renders the spot yours for at least two days while you’re away at work.”
The Windy City is relying on social norms instead:
In Chicago, the article adds, citizens cannot legally block a parking spot but even city officials acknowledge an “informal rule of dibs” in favor of the person who has dug out the spot.
Hat Tip: Andrew Ellis, job candidate from B.U.
The Observer‘s panel of stock-picking professionals has been undone in our 2012 investment challenge by a ginger feline called Orlando who spent time paw-ing over the FT.
The Observer portfolio challenge pitted professionals Justin Urquhart Stewart of wealth managers Seven Investment Management, Paul Kavanagh of stockbrokers Killick & Co, and Schroders fund manager Andy Brough against students from John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – and Orlando.
Each team invested a notional £5,000 in five companies from the FTSE All-Share index at the start of the year. After every three months, they could exchange any stocks, replacing them with others from the index.
By the end of September the professionals had generated £497 of profit compared with £292 managed by Orlando. But an unexpected turnaround in the final quarter has resulted in the cat’s portfolio increasing by an average of 4.2% to end the year at £5,542.60, compared with the professionals’ £5,176.60.
While the professionals used their decades of investment knowledge and traditional stock-picking methods, the cat selected stocks by throwing his favourite toy mouse on a grid of numbers allocated to different companies.
“JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) asked more than 2,000 current and former employees to contribute to a settlement with the U.K.’s tax authority over their use of an offshore trust for bonus payments, according to a person briefed on the situation…..
People who used JPMorgan’s trust told the FT they were asked to participate in a so-called blind auction, in which they would volunteer to pay a tax rate of their choosing.
If the auction fails to generate enough money to fund the settlement, people who submitted less than the average bid would be excluded from the deal and face a 52 percent tax rate when the trust’s assets are liquidated, the newspaper said.
People who don’t wish to participate can try to fight the government’s demand, the person briefed on the situation said.”
The rules of the auction are not 100% clear from the article. Taken at face value, there is the possibility of multiple coordination equilibria. If I expect everyone else to contribute a lot but not enough to pay off the tax debt, then I will contribute a lot too to avoid the 52% tax. If I expect everyone to contribute a little, so will I hoping people who decided not to participate or contributed less than the average bid will bear the punishment. Finally, if I expect total contributions to exceed the tax debt, I will contribute zero. Uncertainty about everyone’s willingness to pay, deep pockets etc will generate randomness and perhaps refine equilibria but leave open the possibility of multiplicity. Also, there will be positive probability that the auction does not fully recompense the tax authorities. This is also true in mixed strategy equilibria of the complete information game.
To increase contributions and guarantee success, the auction should specify that everyone who contributes more than the average bid will escape the 52% tax if total contributions are lacking. Then, people will submit more than the average just to be safe. Then, the average expected bid will go up. Then, they’ll submit even more etc.
From NYT, a proposed tax on beer has French imbibers, producers and intermediaries upset. E.g., from a bar owner:
“The increase is brutal; 160 percent is a lot,” said Mr. Thillou, 36, who prides himself on promoting French microbreweries. On a barrel near the entrance, a pile of fliers that say “+160% taxes on beer: Who is going to pay the price?” shows what he thinks of the government’s latest plan for raising revenue.
But the goverment may be rasing revenue the right way, by taxing goods with inelastic demand:
Philippe Lessevre, 26, who had come for a beer, said higher prices would not change his drinking. “It will affect my wallet,” Mr. Lessevre allowed, “but not my consumption.”
But Mr. Charvier was still skeptical about the government’s professed concerns for public health. “It’s the same as for cigarettes: If a percentage of the price goes into their pocket, they still need people to continue buying,” he said. “It’s hypocritical.”
But, of course, there are always lobbyists:
Many opponents of the bill suggested that wine was exempted because the industry has greater political clout, given that it is one of the country’s top three exporters and employs 250,000 people. Wine is currently taxed around the same rate as beer, per hectoliter, but unlike the rates for beer, its rates do not increase with the degrees of alcohol.
According to Jean-Jacques Dethier, a development economist at the World Bank:
Plot: Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) wants to use an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear weapon to bring London to its knees and destroy the Bank of England, but not before electronically stealing millions of pounds from the Bank’s systems.
Plausibility: First of all, wouldn’t destroying London and the Bank of England render the pounds you’ve stolen largely worthless? “Not exactly worthless, but close,” says Dethier. Would you be able to convert it? “It’s actually very hard to convert huge amounts of something, which is a problem the Chinese now know well with all their American dollar holdings,” he says. So Trevelyan would have to spend all those pounds in the one country that’d take them: Britain. Whose economy he’s just destroyed.
I’ve decided to lump speed together with all of these other (hypothesized) factors under the general heading of “Floor Stretch”. We’ll use it for an exercise in theoretical sports economics…Whatever it is that truly makes up “Floor Stretch”, it has to be sufficiently valuable that it offsets the lower raw productivity of the smaller players….
Floor Stretch, however, is really a relative function. Having 5 point guards on the floor only stretches the other team if they don’t also have 5 point guards playing. In this sense, what we really care about is the ratio of Floor Stretch between the two teams competing. Theoretically, the Floor Stretch ratio is what the raw productivity must be balanced against in order to determine the best mix of players. This, then, gets us into some classical Game Theory….
I’m too focussed on the election to digest fully. But I got this from Goolsbee’s Twitter feed today – he must be confident?