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I read the Nobel “Scientific Background” to find out what her research is about.  Turns out a much better summary is the video here at EatMeDaily.

  1. In the 1990’s you could pay $2 per minute for this.
  2. Lose fat! fat! fatfatfat!
  3. Spain’s first goths out of the closet.

I believe that the study referred to in this CNN piece is pure noise.  (Don’t bother watching it.  Bottom line:  1 in 5 teens admits to “sexting.”)  But that doesn’t mean that it carries no information.  The mere fact that this claim would be repeated, at the expense of the marginal piece of news, turns pure noise into information.


Tom Schelling has a famous example illustrating how to solve coordination problems.  Suppose you are supposed to meet someone in New York City but you forgot to specify a location to meet.  This was before the era of cell phones so there is no opportunity for cooperation before you pick a place to go.  Where do you go?  You go where your friend thinks you are most likely to go, which is of course where she thinks you think she thinks you are most likely to go, etc.

Notice that convenience or taste or proximity have no direct bearing on your choice.  These considerations may indirectly influence your choice, but only if she thinks you think she thinks … that they will influence your choice.

There was an old game show called the Newlywed Game where I learned some of my very early training as a game theorist in my living room roughly at the age of 7.  Here is how the show works.  4 pairs of newlyweds were competing.  The husbands, say, would be on stage first, with the wives in an isolated room.  The husbands would be asked a series of questions about their wives, say “What wedding gift from your family does your wife hate the most?” and the husbands would have to guess what the wives would say.  (This was the 70’s so every episode had at least one question about “making whoopee,” like “what movie star would your wife say you best remind her of when you’re makin’ whoopee?”)

When you watch this show every night for as long as I did you soon figure out that the way to win this show is to disregard completely the question and just find something to say that you wife is likely to say, which is of course what she thinks you think she is likely to say, etc.  You could try to make a plan with your newlywed spouse beforehand about what to say, something like the first answer is “the crock pot”, the second answer is “burt reynolds” etc.  But this looks awkward when the first question turns out to be “What is your wife’s favorite room to make whoopee?” etc.

So the problem is just like Schelling’s meeting problem.  The truth is of secondary importance.  You want to find the most obvious answer, i.e. the one your wife is most likely to give because she thinks you are most likely to give it, etc.    For example, if the question is, “Which Smurf will your wife say best describes your style of makin’ whoopee?” then even though you think the answer is probably “Clumsy Smurf” or “Sloppy Smurf”, you say “Hefty Smurf” because that is the obvious answer.


Ok, all of this is setup to tell you that Gary Becker is clearly a better game theorist than Steve Levitt.  Via Freakonomics, Levitt tells the story of a Chicago economics faculty Newlywed game played at their annual skit party.  (Northwestern is one of the few top departments that doesn’t have one of these.  That sucks.)  Becker and Levitt were newlyweds.  According to Levitt they did poorly, but it looks like Becker was onto the right strategy, but Levitt was trying to figure out the right answers:

The first question was, “Who is Gary’s favorite economist?” I thought I knew this one for sure. I guessed Milton Friedman. Gary answered Adam Smith. (Although he later apologized to me and said Friedman was the right answer.)

Then they asked, “In Gary’s opinion, how many more quarters will the current recession last?” I guessed he would say three more quarters, but his actual answer was two more quarters.

The next question was, “Who does Gary think will win the next Nobel prize in economics?” This is a hard one, because there are so many reasonable guesses. I figured if Becker writes a blog with Posner, he might think Posner would win the Nobel prize, so that was my answer. Gary said Gene Fama instead.

The last question we got wrong was one that was posed to Gary, asking which of the following three people I would most like to have lunch with: Marilyn Monroe, Napolean, or Karl Marx. I know Gary has a major crush on Marilyn Monroe, so that was the answer I gave, even though the question was about who I would want to have lunch with, not who Gary would want to have lunch with. Gary answered Karl Marx (which makes me wonder what he thinks of me), but did volunteer, as I strongly suspected, that he himself would of course prefer Marilyn to either of the other two.

The French Open began on Sunday and if you are an avid fan like me the first thing you noticed is that the Tennis Channel has taken a deeper cut of the exclusive cable television broadcast in the United States.  I don’t subscribe to the Tennis channel and until this year they have been only a slight nuisance, taking a few hours here and there and the doubles finals. But as I look over the TV schedule for the next two weeks I see signs of a sea change.

First of all, only the TC had the French Open on Memorial Day, yesterday.  This I think was true last year as well, but now this year all of the early session live coverage for the entire tournament is exclusive on TC.  ESPN2 takes over for the afternoon session and will broadcast early session games on tape.

This got me thinking about the economics of broadcasting rights.  I poked around and discovered in fact that the TC owns all US cable broadcasting rights for the French Open many years to come.  ESPN2 is subleasing those rights from TC for the segments they are airing.  So that is interesting.  Why is TC outbidding ESPN2 for the rights and then selling most of them back?

Two forces are at work here.  First, ESPN2 as a general sports broadcaster has more valuable alternative uses for the air time and so their opportunity cost of airing the French Open is higher.  But of course the other side is that ESPN2 can generate a larger audience just from spillovers and self-advertising than TC so their value for rights to the French Open is higher. One of these effects outweighs the other and so on net the French Open is more valuable to one of these two networks.  Naively we should think that whoever that is would outbid the other and air the tournament.  So what explains this hybrid arrangement?

My answer is that there is uncertainty about the TC’s ability to generate enough audience for a grand slam to make it more valuable for TC than for ESPN.  In face of this TC wants a deal which allows it to experiment on a small scale and find out what it can do but also leaves it the option of selling back the rights if the news is bad.  TC can manufacture such a deal by buying the exclusive rights.  ESPN2 knows its net value for the French Open and will bid that value for the original rights.  And if it loses the bidding it will always be willing to buy those rights at the same price on the secondary market from TC. TC will outbid ESPN2 because the value of the option is at least the resale price and in fact strictly higher if there is a chance that the news is good.

So, the fact that TC has steadily reduced the amount of time it is selling back to ESPN2 suggests that so far the news is looking good and there is a good chance that soon the TC will be the exclusive cable broadcaster for the French Open and maybe even other grand slams.

Bad news for me because in my area the TC is not broadcast in HD and so it is simply not worth the extra cost to subscribe. While we are on the subject, here is my French Open outlook

  1. Federer beat Nadal convincingly in Madrid last week.  I expect them in the final and this could bode well for Federer.
  2. If there is anybody who will spoil that outcome it will be Verdasco who I believe is in Nadal’s half of the draw.  The best match of the tournament will be Nadal-Verdasco if they meet.
  3. The Frenchmen are all fun but they don’t seem to have the staying power.  Andy Murray lost a lot psychologically when he was crowing going into this year’s Australian and lost early.
  4. I always root for Tipsarevich.  And against Roddick.
  5. All of the excitement on the women’s side from the past few years seems to have completely disappeared with the retirement of Henin, the injury to Sharapova and the meltdown of the Serbs.  I expect a Williams-Williams yawner.

I went to Boston a few weeks ago and had dinner with an old friend and his family.  This friend is an economist but, apart from that, we could not be more different.   But he and I share one thing in common: we love Top Chef!  His family just discovered the show and watched all the seasons over the last few months.  I’m clearly more TV-centered because I’ve watched it for years.  Anyway, we’re all in withdrawal as the show is over this season.

So, I can’t help but notice references to it.  One Top Chef contestant was cooking at the Obama family Easter egg roll.  Others seems to be doing well with their own restaurants in NYC.  The host Tom Colicchio lives in a cool apartment witha small kitchen.  Our own Chicagoan Dale Levitski is cooking up a special dinner every Thursday at the Relax Lounge.  And Stephanie Izzard is so famous that she was on the Interview Show before Jeff and me.

Like my friend, I think my wife and I are going to reproduce Top Chef at home with two parent-kid teams facing off.  All we have to find are some judges.

You are the household’s representative agent.  You watch two programs:  the Daily Show (broadcast in standard definition 4×3) and Good Eats (on the Food Network-HD, widescreen.)  Exercise: find a  utility function for which the following is the optimal shape of your television.  (via kottke)


Hint I think you will have a hard time coming up with one. Below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

If you Google “Top Chef”, the first news link is this.  It seems I agree with the overwhelming majority of viewers that the wrong guy, Hosea, won the season.  Hosea did do the best cooking in the final and so there was nothing unfair in him winning.   The other two contestants had “fatal flaws”.  Stefan is overconfident and Carla is too laid-back.  Hosea is a solid and consistent performer.  As the other contestants gave in to their flaws in the final show, Hosea ran past them onto the winner’s podium.  Good luck to him.

The fault lay in the initial choice of contestants.  Despite this show being in New York, there just wasn’t a great selection of good, young chefs.  It’s the producers who lost.

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