Assorted links

by on January 7, 2013 at 8:02 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Satmar markets in everything.

2. Canada is a forerunner again.

3. The clones are breeding.

4. The frustrating fiscal stimulus debate.

5. Do reusable grocery bags contain potentially harmful bacteria?

6. New thoughts on the economics of MOOCs (it implies that Texas Ranger jackets may be currently the main source of Coursera revenue).

Ashok Rao January 7, 2013 at 8:21 am

It’s unlikely that Coursera and peers will be monetized in any meaningful way soon. I don’t see the demand anytime soon. I think the most pragmatic approach will be to start charging for certificates (something nominal, say $50). However, for this to succeed they need to really institute some form of proctoring that is both largely effective and cheap. A GRE type security just can’t work, but the institutes should be able to, with confidence, stamp their approval.

While people talk about selling data for top recruiters like Google, I just don’t see this working to any meaningful extent. This will certainly get rid of some frictions, but that’s it. For one, it is almost exclusive to tech companies that can make a sound judgement based on a student’s written algorithm, or ability to derive an equation. While this represents a good plurality of Coursera students, it doesn’t represent the majority.

Finally, I just don’t think there will be many people from Coursera recruited by Apple and friends. We’ve heard amazing stories, of teaming up with these companies to create recruitment environments, but I think the bang-for-buck by instituting good recruitment fairs at universities will still outweigh the Coursera platform, at least for the time being.

Ultimately, Coursera can monetize quickly if it needs to. However, there really isn’t a demand for this to be profitable, as of yet. It serves as an amazing way for educators in the US to gain international fame and goodwill. While I don’t at all believe this is why most professors help Coursera, I do think places like Penn and Harvard earn goodwill from these endeavors. High end R&D helps the people, but in indirect and delayed ways. This helps the world immediately and in very noticeable ways.

A professor usually cannot earn such large audiences, but Coursera solves that problem. In five to ten years I have no doubt that right-wing critics will be raving about how these online mechanisms are brainwashing not just American, but international, students towards “liberal” ideals. (To note, I don’t think liberalism is at all a goal for these educators, but it will weasel it’s way in, no doubt, from the outside).

Ultimately, the investments made don’t seem like huge sums for any of the universities involved. This speaks volumes of the huge bang-for-buck of these institutions. I think the eventual goodwill these universities will earn (and the good they will no doubt do) through these avenues is worthwhile as an end. When Harvard pays the top five managers of it’s hedge fund (sorry, “endowment”) $70 million a year, I don’t think edX will hold it back any.

Therapsid January 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

“For one, it is almost exclusive to tech companies that can make a sound judgement based on a student’s written algorithm, or ability to derive an equation.”

Nonsense. The ability to write algorithms or derive equations is highly correlated with g, which is the single best predictor of work performance. Such a test would tell employers at least as much as a student’s alma mater. Unfortunately, we’ve regulated into place a system nearly as rigid as the Chinese imperial examination. If the best online courses and certificates can do is create “goodwill” for elite universities, who parenthetically select applicants by the most egregiously arbitrary and self-serving criteria (race), then its further evidence of the risk-adverse, status quo based political system and society that have contributed to Tyler’s stagnation.

Ashok Rao January 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

Right – as a student of computer science I completely agree with the sentiment behind your comment. However, I think other businesses will be far wearier to start a recruitment feed based only on algorithmic competence. Succeeding at such courses bodes really well for work at a tech firm, and might bode well (via correlation) for work in other fields, however, I presume there are other soft, important skills for which algorithmic thinking, by itself, cannot judge.

Big consulting firms, in general, seem to want kids who are exceptionally gifted quantitatively. However, I don’t think McKinsey will be as successful at starting a recruitment forum via Coursera as would be Google. That and Google is far more farsighted with regard to these endeavors. It will take far longer for the more brick-and-mortar companies to catch up.

Sam January 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm

“I don’t see the demand anytime soon.”

What do you mean? The demand is already there. If recognition of these certificates keeps increasing then a course with 100,000 completion at $10 a certificate would earn the site a million dollars! This is why the *massive* aspect is so important – strength… revenues in numbers. There are already hundreds of thousands taking these courses. “Effective” accreditation would make that number balloon. My prediction is that the long term equilibrium price of a university course will wind up being less than the cost of shipping to deliver your hard copy diploma.

8 January 7, 2013 at 8:28 am

Lat year, the Australians made a 1-ton coin, worth more than $50 million. But they only a $1 million denomination. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/8852246/Worlds-largest-gold-coin-unveiled-in-Australia.html

Australian’s win again. And I will take the $1 million 1-ton gold coin over the 1-ounce $1 trillion platinum coin.

Yancey Ward January 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

What? You get your economics Ph.D. out of a Cracker Jack box?

8 January 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm

My experience is that the value of the money eventually falls to its intrinsic value. Especially when the government starts denominating money in trillions.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 8:29 am

2. Canada, yer doin’ it wrong.

john personna January 7, 2013 at 8:59 am

The Million coin is pretty good, and also the “1/2 oz Fine Silver – Farewell to the Penny (2012)”. In killing the penny they prove once again they are saner than us.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 9:15 am

Maybe cash and coin should be adjusted for inflation.

john personna January 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

A computer programmer’s answer is that “naming is arbitrary.” If a nickle is the new penny (smallest production coin), so be it. Relative to 1900, the quarter is the new penny. And so we can push down coinage to adjust for inflation, yes.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

A new monetary policy tool is born!

IVV January 7, 2013 at 9:23 am

I like how they have a polar bear on their $2 coin.

Then again, we have Duke Ellington on some of our coins, which is even better.

Charlie January 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Except that nobody ever sees them because of the refusal to scrap the dollar bill.

IVV January 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Not sure what you mean?

The smallest Canadian bill is a $5 bill, so the polar bear toonie sees circulation.

The Duke Ellington coin is the American quarter with the District of Columbia reverse. That gets use.

Orange14 January 7, 2013 at 8:30 am

#5 – one of the absolutely dumbest policy moves in recent time. Plastic grocery bags really don’t contribute much to pollution and most communities were doing an excellent job of recycling them. We still have newspapers delivered in such bags and they are also available for free in grocery stores to package produce, meat, and other stuff; you just cannot get them at checkout. It’s interesting that at our local Whole Foods all the checkout clerks wear plastic gloves (presumably for protection against food borne contaminants). I always bag my meat purchase even if they are already prepackaged.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

The gloves are probably for the money. And didn’t someone point out that the reusable bags cost more on net than the plastic ones? Another example, this time environmental theater.

Orange14 January 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

Money??? LOL, I cannot even remember the last time someone used money at either of the two grocery stores that I frequent.

Andrew January 7, 2013 at 9:17 am

Then maybe they wear the gloves to protect against reusable grocery bags.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 9:18 am

Or the rewards card that spends 99.9% of the day inches from my anus.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 9:20 am

Disposable gloves to protect against reusable bags…that’s even funnier than I thought when I wrote it.

Rahul January 7, 2013 at 11:45 pm

For a moment I was having distressing thoughts about just where Andrew stores his Rewards Card.

john personna January 7, 2013 at 9:06 am

I get enough plastic grocery bags to use for my kitchen trash pail (with bag “ears”). I use reusable bags also, throwing them in the washer whenever I buy chicken. How hard is that?

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

I wonder why it’s not more intuitive that a 0.5 mil polyethylene membrane that can carry 30 pounds of packaged foods is probably not our big problem.

john personna January 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

They are commonly reused by dog owners as well. On the other hand, I have been places where they are just unsightly. Freeway offramps with 5 or 10 bags in the chain link fence. I really don’t have a problem with the “burden” of my reusable bags if people want to reduce visible garbage. Fine either way.

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 10:51 am

I’d medium to strongly recommend against re-using the bags after using them for your dog.

zbicyclist January 7, 2013 at 10:19 am

I’ve never understood paying for a re-usable bag when the brown paper bags are so reusable themselves, along with being compostable. Those Trader Joe’s bags are clearly engineered for multiple uses.

Plus, is there any study showing how often the average reusable bag is used? (and, under some assumptions, what the ecological “breakeven” point is)?

john personna January 7, 2013 at 11:30 am

Trade-show cotton bags work fine too. I just bought groceries with my Oracle bag.

zbicyclist January 9, 2013 at 9:55 am

I see an answer to my question was in the linked paper: “the UK Environment Agency (2011) estimated that a
cotton bag would need to be used 131 times before it overcame the initial environmental deficit it
represented relative to a plastic bag (assuming the plastic bag was used once and discarded).”

Marie January 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm

The aim in a lot of places was to reduce littering, not particularly waste.

I use all three – paper, plastic, and cloth. Paper bags hold the rest of the recycling until it’s ready to go to the bins. Plastic for cleaning the litter box. When I reach a critical mass of the first two I use my cloth bags. I don’t worry about separating my grocery order (nor do I particularly care if foods on my plate touch). Thus far we have not died of dysentery.

I would say that most people don’t realize they can recycle the plastic bags at the grocery store.

Rich Berger January 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

4. It seems to me that most of Mr. Church’s frustration with the fiscal stimulus debate is that some economists have the temerity to be opposed to fiscal stimulus.

Lion of the Blogosphere January 7, 2013 at 10:47 am

Regarding MOOCs, an online degree is worthless unless employers value it, and I haven’t seen any evidence that employers value it.

One of the primary benefits of a conventional degree is that you get to participate in on-campus recruiting.

Yancey Ward January 7, 2013 at 11:53 am

That’s worth $100K!

Though, I agree with your point about employers. That is where the break will eventually come.

Lion of the Blogosphere January 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm

On-campus recruiting at Harvard is worth every penny. At a state school, not so much.

Claudia January 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

4. A well meaning, but misguided article. In a sterile classroom example, many mainstream economists would give you the same answer. So what? That is not how the world works. (Macro)economic policy is not just economics. It is also politics, psychology, measurement, etc. It is simply not possible for this statement: “Krugman said he thinks there’s a lot of slack in the economy right now and Ramey said she thinks there’s very little slack in the economy right now.” and for these two to agree on macroeconomics. Sure there’s much they would agree on, but they are looking at the same world and seeing fundamentally different conditions. Why? I don’t expect political pundits to have the same views, though I suspect many share some basic principles, so are economists too boring to have debates?

Andrew' January 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I’ve never gotten an answer, but then again I only come here. Why does a glut of houses, homebuilding, and home mortgage origination and packaged finance prove a general glut? Yes, we have sectoral gluts and that is why these sectors went bust. Next comes the assertion that we should borrow because we can. A free lunch. But then why must we raise taxes on the rich?

Claudia January 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Maybe it’s how you ask the question… Economists do not offer proof…we look for signs or suggestions of a condition. This is why well-meaning economists can come to different conclusions. Yes, the inter-connectedness of the economy makes this hard. I think it would be a tortured argument to say that all the current weakness in the US economy is in the housing sector, and yet it (and the related financing) is probably a biggest source of the deep recession and the sluggish recovery. Problems in one part of the economy spread, through many channels. Going bust may be necessary but it creates a lot of pain too. Of course, no one should borrow for the heck of it…it’s a tool for managing spending over a lifetime. I still think expectations are important and undervalued in the narrative. As for taxes on the rich, when your kid spills a glass of milk who cleans it up? I tried to let my son do clean up the other day, but he’s two and can only do so much, so I had to finish the job. I didn’t make the mess, but I enjoy a house without green stuff growing on the floor. I know this didn’t answer your questions, but still.

Ryan January 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

But still, government is not a home, except when it is.

Lion of the Blogosphere January 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm

“But then why must we raise taxes on the rich?”

Rich people voted for Obama, so they want their taxes raised, and better them than me.

Ray Lopez January 7, 2013 at 1:24 pm

@1 – Satmar – “Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev argued that the move was an alleged election bribe, adding that “Satmar Hasidim have a right to boycott the elections, but they must not offer a bribe to others. They must be informed that the Israeli law also applies to them.” ”

Technically, under US law I once read it’s considered a bribe for a politician to offer money to potential voters for them to vote for them. But the law is narrowly construed, so that only cash offered for votes is a violation, not for example promises to cut taxes or offer benefits to prospective voters. Otherwise all of DC’s politicians would be in jail, arguably where they belong.

Bumper sticker: Term Limits Now: One term in office and one term in jail.

z223 January 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Regarding fiscal stimulus, I’ve found Jim Manzi very thoughtful. He devotes some attention to it in his book Uncontrolled, as well as in a related Econtalk podcast. Basic point: it’s extremely difficult to evaluate stimulus policies on internal validity grounds – way too many confounding variables. Thus, it’s prudent to be suspicious of anyone making sweeping claims about the Recovery Act’s efficacy (in either the positive or the negative). I agree with Krugman re: household deleveraging, but don’t think one can immediately make the jump to a massive fiscal stimulus. As Ramey’s work shows, the multiplier is highly uncertain and no doubt varies from one episode to the next, making it difficult to correctly size the package. One might say “error on the side of caution, make it HUGE,” to which another might say, “Don’t waste the money on a potentially ineffective policy.” These competing claims illustrate the general incoherence of the precautionary principle, so I don’t think a stimulus can be justified on those grounds. Whether it can be justified or rejected on Krugman’s or Ramey’s line of reasoning is, as Matt Yglesias argues, a matter of utterly frustating debate. For more reading, see Manzi or various blog posts and I think a chapter from John Taylor in his book First Principles. Parting thought: Is the effectiveness of stimulus policy the new holy grail of macroeconomics? That is, has stimulus policy – or should it – replace an explanation for the Great Depresstion as THE major question in empirical macro research?

DocMerlin January 8, 2013 at 9:03 am

” As Ramey’s work shows, the multiplier is highly uncertain and no doubt varies from one episode to the next, making it difficult to correctly size the package.”

This means that “the multiplier” isn’t a multiplier. Its ignored variables.

critic January 7, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Forerunner?! Is this word going the way of “peruse” and some others?

jorod January 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

My grandfather always used the same bag when he went to market. Is it the bag or the people using the bag?

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