Roberto Ferdman reports:

Ratner has a new study titled ‘Inhibited from Bowling Alone,’ a nod to Robert Putnam’s book about Americans’ waning participation in group activities, that’s set to publish in the Journal of Consumer Research in August. In it, she and co-writer Rebecca Hamilton, a professor marketing at the McDonough School of Business, describe their findings: that people consistently underestimate how much they will enjoy seeing a show, going to a museum, visiting a theater, or eating at a restaurant alone. That miscalculation, she argues, is only becoming more problematic, because people are working more, marrying later, and, ultimately, finding themselves with smaller chunks of free time.

Might part of the problem be narcissism?:

“The reason is we think we won’t have fun because we’re worried about what other people will think,” said Ratner. “We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we’re afraid others will think they’re a loser.”

But other people, as it turns out, actually aren’t thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There’s a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs.

There is more here.  For the pointer I thank Claire Morgan.

I’m passing through Baltimore on the train today (a talk at U. Penn and chatting with Ashok Rao), so I have license to do this.  Here goes:

1. Author: There is plenty to choose from here, including Poe, James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Frank O’Hara, and H.L. Mencken.  I do not love F. Scott Fitzgerald as many do, same with Upton Sinclair, but they deserve mention.  I’ll opt for Poe, with Gold-Bug as my favorite story.  Hammett’s Red Harvest I also enjoy and have taught a few times, delicious incoherence.  Anne Tyler has a few good books, but stop reading after one or two of them.

2. Philosopher: John Rawls, though since we’re talking about Baltimore I feel I should call him Jack.

3. Painter: Morris Louis or Grace Hartigan?  I feel I can do better, help out people.

4. Popular music: Tori Amos grew up in Baltimore, I like her Little Earthquakes and various singles, live cuts, and cover versions, available only in scattered form as far as I know.  Is Dan Deacon popular?  Frank Zappa is a remarkable musical talent, but I don’t actually enjoy listening to him.

5. Jazz: Eubie Blake, there is also Bill Frisell and Billie Holiday.

6. Classical music: Philip Glass was born there, though I associate him with NYC.

7. Baseball: I still remember that old Orioles rotation with Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Dobson, all twenty-game winners in the same year.

8. Soviet spy: Alger Hiss.

9. Movie, set in: I don’t love Diner or Avalon, how about The Accidental Tourist, or Twelve Monkeys?  The first half of Silence of the Lambs is excellent.

For good measure toss in Thurgood Marshall, Tim Page, Babe Ruth, The Wire, Walters Art Museum, the underrated BSO, and Brooks Robinson.  Who or what else am I forgetting?

The bottom line: Lots for one city!  Let’s hope it gets better soon.

Here is a long and excellent post, whereby Robin outs himself as a strange kind of environmentalist.  Do need the whole thing, but here is one summary excerpt:

So, bottom line, the future great filter scenario that most concerns me is one where our solar-system-bound descendants have killed most of nature, can’t yet colonize other stars, are general predators and prey of each other, and have fallen into a short-term-predatory-focus equilibrium where predators can easily see and travel to most all prey. Yes there are about a hundred billion comets way out there circling the sun, but even that seems a small enough number for predators to careful map and track all of them.

“At first they came for the rabbits…and then they came for me.”  I find that intriguing, but I have a more marginalist approach, and perhaps one which encompasses Robin’s hypothesis as a special case.  The death of human (and other) civilizations may be a bit like the death of the human body through old age, namely a whole bunch of things go wrong at once.  If there were a single key problem, it would be easier to find a patch and prolong things for just a bit more.  But if we have reason to believe that, eventually, many things will go wrong at once…such a concatenation of problems is more likely to defeat us.  So my nomination for The Great Filter, in a nutshell, is “everything going wrong at once.”  The simplest underlying model here is that a) problems accumulate, b) resources can be directed to help solve problems, and c) sometimes problems accumulate more rapidly than they can be solved.

This is also why, in many cases, there is no simple “fact of the matter” answer as to why various mighty empires fell in the past.  Here is my earlier review of Apocalypto, a remarkable and still underrated movie.

Compensating Differentials

by on April 8, 2015 at 7:28 am in Books, Economics, Education, Film | Permalink

The latest section of our Principles of Economics course at MRU is up today and it covers price discrimination and labor markets.

In this video, The Tradeoff Between Fun and Wages, we introduce the idea of compensating differentials in wages, an idea that goes back to Adam Smith.

Sharp readers will notice a homage near the beginning in what might otherwise appear to be an odd scene setting.

If we are going to have a nuclear agreement with them, we might as well eat their food and watch their movies.  And Abbas Kiarostami is not only the premier Iranian director, he is a visionary with a major body of work and fans all over the world.  But where to start?  To the uninitiated, his movies seem like endless meandering and most of them have not received any U.S. release beyond New York and Los Angeles.

Here are my tips:

1. If you haven’t seen any Iranian movies before, go watch some others before trying Kiarostami.  A Separation is sufficiently plot-rich to be a good place to start.  Then return to this post.

2. Taste of Cherry is perhaps his best-known creation in the West, because it won the 1997 Cannes Palme D’Or.  But, while it is a fine movie, it requires repeated viewings before it makes sense and anyway it is about death.  It should not be one of the first three Kiarostami films you watch.

3. Ten is the best place to start.  A woman drives around Teheran, taking on a changing variety of passengers, and the movie is structured around ten different conversations, all in the claustrophobic setting of the vehicle.  That may not sound like much, but the viewer is gripped immediately.  Could it be the best road movie ever made?

4. The charming Where is the Friend’s Home? is the most accessible of the early works.  A child wants to return a friend’s notebook in a neighboring village and eventually it becomes magical.  Here is from Wikipedia:

Jonathan Rosenbaum called Kiarostami the greatest living filmmaker and called the film (along with Through the Olive Trees and Life and Nothing More) “sustained meditations on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; obsessional quests that take on the contours of parables; concentrated inquiries that raise more questions than they answer; and comic as well as cosmic poems about dealing with personal and impersonal disaster. They’re about making discoveries and cherishing what’s in the world–including things that we can’t understand.”

5. There is no other movie in all of cinema like the brilliant Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche (in French and English, not Farsi).  For the first forty minutes or so, you think you are watching a stupid, cliched film, as if Kiarostami had sold out to reach the French art house audience.  Eventually the narrative transforms into something quite different (I won’t spoil it for you) and you realize it was brilliant all along, not to mention a commentary on Vertigo.  It is relatively briskly paced, but until you see the “trick” it does require some patience.  You should all watch this one, especially if you are married, but you should not regard it as representative Kiarostami.

6. Shirin shows nothing other than the faces of Iranian women watching a theatrical production of a Persian mythological romance.  I recommend this one for a very captivating fifteen minutes, but I am not sure you need more than that.  It is also not representative Kiarostami.  His Japanese movie “Like Someone in Love” showcases his versatility as well.

7. Once you like some of his movies, you will end up liking all of them.  It just takes a while.  And they all reward repeated viewings.

Will Radford and Mathias Gallé have a new and interesting paper on this topic, here is one excerpt:

Law and corporate professions had around 15% of female representation…the medical domain (doctors) had a female probability of 0.23…Religion does not score at the bottom with regards to female presentation (although very low with 0.08). From the professions we selected, Engineering was the lowest (0.05). The highest scoring profession was IT (0.52), which is partly due to the fact that many computer voices were female (computer had 460 female occurrences, versus 247 male ones; and enterprise computer from “Star Trek” was almost exclusively female)

By the way, the number of female writers and directors (in their IMDB database) was at a six year low in 2014.

If you look at most frequent roles for gender, women are assigned hostess, girl, woman, waitress, and mother.  For men, the list swings toward narrator, announcer, doctor, detective, bartender, soldier, and police officer.

In 1980-200, the top “newly popular” role (for both sexes) was “additional voices.”  For the time period 2000-present it was “zombie,” next was “housemate.”

The paper is here (pdf), hat tip goes to Samir Varma.

Here is a new and interesting article on whether there is greater female influence over cinematic box office these days.

Tradeable Pollution Permits

by on March 23, 2015 at 7:37 am in Economics, Education, Film | Permalink

The latest release of our principles of economics class covers Externalities, Costs and Profit Maximization, Competition and the Invisible Hand, and Monopoly.

I am especially fond of our video, Trading Pollution, which explains the economics of tradeable pollution permits. Tyler and I worked with the incredibly talented team at Tilapia Film for a long time on a montage involving jigsaw puzzle pieces that’s near the middle of the video. The montage is only a few seconds long but I think it’s a beautiful way of illustrating how the price system draws upon information that is dispersed across many minds. There is a lot of deep economics behind the visual metaphors.

Addendum: For those of you using our textbook, this video and others are available directly from the textbook (using QR codes) and also available with assessment in our course management system, Launchpad.

Jan asks:

Why is the (global) state of subtitling and closed captioning so bad?

a/ Subtitling and closed captioning are extremely efficient ways of learning new languages, for example for immigrants wanting to learn the language of their new country.

b/ Furthermore video is now offered on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, televisions… but very frequently these videos cannot be played with sound on (a phone on public transport, a laptop in public places, televisions in busy places like bars or shops,…).

c/ And most importantly of all, it is crucial for the deaf and hard of hearing.

So why is it so disappointingly bad? Is it just the price (lots of manual work still, despite assistive speech-to-text technologies)? Or don’t producers care?

UberAlex responded:

It’s interesting to look at the fan-sub community, where they can be a labour of love. They are often considered far superior translations to the official ones.

You can sign up for rsvp or the live stream here, the chat with Peter Thiel is March 31, 2-3:30 p.m. EST, held at the Arlington campus of George Mason University.  It is part of a new event series Conversations with Tyler.

The chat with Jeffrey Sachs is April 7, 3:30 to 5 p.m., again EST in Arlington.  There will be more to come in the Fall.

I will host and talk with guests, but without formalities.  I won’t ask “So tell us about your new book,” or any of the usual soporific chit-chatty questions.  I will try to replicate the conversations I would have with these same individuals in a private setting, except that you all get to listen.  That means launching into substance immediately and seeing how far the back and forth can be pushed.  It also means asking questions that not everyone listening will understand and willing to let parts of the audience suffer in their confusion.  I want these dialogues to be as smart as possible, based on the premise that each guest, no matter how renowned he or she may be, is nonetheless a radically underrated thinker.

The goal is to be never hostile or combative, but always probing.  I’m aiming for the chat to be 1/3 me vs. 2/3 guest, more or less, but about the ideas and contributions of the guest most of all.

Mexican government officials were allowed to make casting decisions and changes to the script of the upcoming James Bond movie, after giving the film’s producers millions in financial incentives, according to a report based on emails leaked in the Sony hack.

The government reportedly offered the makers of the upcoming “Spectre,” directed by Sam Mendes, $14 million in exchange for four minutes of the film portraying the country in a positive light.

Emails released from the Sony hack, published by tax policy website Tax Analysis, show that the studio was concerned that the film’s costs had spiraled, to a gross budget of $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made. Executives pressured the filmmakers to make changes to the script that would keep the Mexican money coming in.

“You have done a great job in getting us the Mexican incentive,” wrote Jonathan Glickman, president of MGM’s motion picture group, in an email to the film’s producers. “Let’s continue to pursue whatever avenues we have available to maximize this incentive.”

…emails revealed that Mexico asked that the character of a Mexican governor, who was the target of an assassination, be replaced with an international leader, and that Mexican police be replaced with “some special police force” instead.

A further $6 million was said to have been achieved by means such as replacing a cage fighting scene with footage of Mexico’s popular Day of the Dead festivities, and highlighting Mexico City’s “modern” skyline, the Telegraph reported.

There is more here, via Fred Smalkin.

This Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) movie has received only lukewarm reviews, but while highly imperfect it is more interesting than most critics seem to realize.  The initial premise is that in a few years’ time South Africa resorts to AI-driven, robot policemen.  I see the film as revolving around three key questions:

1. What will a robot be like, if he grows up under rather brutal conditions?  This is first and foremost a movie about education, and it could have been written by John Gray.  Don’t assume that people (robots) have an irrevocable tendency to support liberal values, at least not when the chips are down and they have been beaten up.  The gang motive is both popular and enduring.

2. Can a society dependent on robots for law enforcement become/remain a liberal society?  Or will the “arms race” between the law and the criminals result in brutality and a loss of liberty?

3. How robust is a robot society to the eventual possibility of human error and depravity?

Along the way there are references to Asimov, “Silent Running,” Blade Runner, Verhoeven of course, and other android sources.  I can’t endorse every angle of the ending, or every character decision, but still I didn’t consider leaving this one.

Those questions are considered by Jeffrey Ely, Alexander Frankel, and Emir Kamenica in their new JPE paper “Suspense and Surprise.”  Here is one to the point excerpt:

In the context of a mystery novel, these dynamics imply the following familiar plot structure.  At each point in the book, the readers thinks that the weight of evidence suggests that the protagonist accused of murder is either guilty or innocent.  But in any given chapter, there is a chance of a plot twist that reverses the reader’s beliefs.  As the book continues along, plot twists become less likely but more dramatic.

In the context of sports, our results imply that most existing rules cannot be suspense-optimal.  In soccer, for example, the probability that the leading team will win depends not only on the period of the game but also on whether it is a tight game or a blowout…

Optimal dynamics could be induced by the following set of rules.  We declare the winner to be the last team to score.  Moreover, scoring becomes more difficult as the game progresses (e.g., the goal shrinks over time).  The former ensures that uncertainty declines over time while the latter generates a decreasing arrival rate of plot twists.  (In this context, plot twists are lead changes.)

There are ungated versions of the paper here.  Note that at the very end of the paper…well, I’ll just let you read it for yourselves.

The largest conglomerates are still in the lead:

When we sum up the many networks owned by each media conglomerate, we can see how mighty these giants truly are. Netflix may be the largest “cable channel” by more than 100%, but it ranks 7th among cable television groups. Add in broadcast, and the delta is even greater. Not only is Disney more than three times as large as Netflix, but the OTT service makes up only 5% of total US video consumption per month. It may be that no single channel has the breadth of content and scale to be a serious Netflix competitor, but their parents certainly do.

That is from Liam Boluk.  Here is Boluk on the economics of Youtube: “Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) is already more popular than scores of Hollywood TV and film celebrities.”

I, Rose

by on February 9, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education, Film | Permalink

Valentine’s Day is this week and what better way to celebrate than to appreciate the economics of roses!

A rose isn’t just a symbol of love it’s a symbol of global cooperation coordinated by the invisible hand. In The Price System, the just released section of our principles of microeconomics course, we feature two rose videos (along with videos on the great economic problem, speculation, prediction markets and more). Here’s the first; I, Rose. Tomorrow, A Price is a Signal Wrapped up in an Incentive. Enjoy.

Pink explosion markets in everything

by on February 6, 2015 at 12:48 pm in Economics, Film | Permalink

When their new $70,000 princess-themed playroom is finished in March, Stella, 4 years old, and Presley, 2½, will have a faux gem-encrusted performance stage, a treehouse loft, and a mini-French cafe. A $20,000 custom carpet with colorful pathways will lead the girls to the various play areas.

“It’s going to be a pink explosion, with hearts and bows and crowns and tassels,” says their mother, Lindsay Dickhout, chief executive of a company that makes tanning products. The playroom will occupy about 1,500 square feet on the ground floor of the family’s 7,000-square foot home in Newport Beach, Calif.

Upstairs are the girls’ royal bedrooms, in which Stella sleeps in a $6,000 custom-made castle bed, and Presley’s pink-and-white striped wallpaper is illuminated by a crown-shaped chandelier.

Princesses have long enchanted little girls. But cultural flash points in recent years, such as Disney ’s blockbuster “Frozen” and Prince William’s royal wedding, have fueled demand for increasingly elaborate—and expensive—fantasy rooms.

Enjoying the spoils are interior designers who specialize in decorating kids’ ultimate bedrooms. Specialty furniture companies deal in lavish royal-boudoir accouterments, from $3,000 Cinderella lamps to $35,000 carriage-shaped beds. As the style becomes more popular, more mass-market companies have rolled out crown-shaped cornices, tulle canopies, and Rococo children’s furniture.

The full Katy McLaughlin WSJ article is here, the photos are superb.  For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.