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Guest Blogger: Ed Lopez

Ed Lopez, co-author with Wayne Leighton of Madmen, Intellectuals and Academic Scribblers and president of the Public Choice Society, will be guest blogging at Marginal Revolution this week. Madmen is about the process of political change, where we are, where we should go and how can we get there given the insights of public choice economics. If, to quote Jim Buchanan, public choice is “politics without romance,” then Madmen is about revolution without romance–how political change can occur in a democracy. One of my favorite stories in Madmen is about Coase’s idea to auction spectrum rights.

But to allow the market to determine even the question of assignment meant a significant change in the status quo. When he was called to testify before the agency shortly before his FCC paper was published [in 1959, AT], Coase’s reception was indicative of how political institutions—especially Congress but also the FCC—would view his idea for decades to come. Commissioner Philip Cross began with the question, “Is this all a big joke?”

A decade later one former FCC commissioner wrote:

The Commission has absolutely no intention of considering them now or in the foreseeable future. They are purely the mind-spinning of an academic bureaucrat.

Most interestingly, in 1969 the RAND Corporation commissioned Coase, along with William Meckling and Jora Minasian, to produce a report on “Problems of Radio Frequency Allocation.” The Coase/Meckling/Minasian report was written in 1969 but not released until 1995! The report had been deemed too politically sensitive to publish and had been suppressed.

Eventually, however, first academics then many politicians and then even the FCC became convinced that spectrum auctions were feasible and as it became clear that money was to made that they were also desirable. Even after the idea earned fairly widespread acceptance, however, it took many years to be implemented because the Congressional committees with oversight of the FCC and the industry did not want to give up power. The right to allocate spectrum gave the members of these committees power which they transformed into campaign contributions and political support.Spectrum auctions were not implemented until they were also crafted to give advantages to some groups that these committees wanted supported. The payoffs to the new technologies, however, were so large that even with transaction costs and rent seeking a bargain was possible, a truly Coasian bargain.

My Conversation with Leopoldo López

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

As an inquisitive reader, books were a cherished commodity for Leopoldo López when he was a political prisoner in his home country of Venezuela. His prison guards eventually observed the strength and focus López gained from reading. In an attempt to stifle his spirit, the guards confiscated his books and locked them in a neighboring cell where he could see but not access them. But López didn’t let this stop him from writing or discourage his resolve to fight for freedom. A Venezuelan opposition leader and freedom activist, today López works to research and resist oppressive autocratic regimes globally.

López joined Tyler to discuss Venezuela’s recent political and economic history, the effectiveness of sanctions, his experiences in politics and activism, how happiness is about finding purpose, how he organized a protest from prison, the ideal daily routine of a political prisoner, how extreme sports prepared him for prison, his work to improve the lives of the Venezuelan people, and more.

And one excerpt:

COWEN: In 1970, you were richer than Spain, Greece, or Israel, which I find remarkable. But do you, today, ever look, say, at Qatar or United Arab Emirates, Dubai, and think the problem actually was democracy, and that here are oil-rich places that have stayed stable, in fact, but through autocratic rule, and that it’s the intermediate situation that doesn’t work?

LÓPEZ: Well, I think that I, personally, will always be in favor of a democratic regime, a democratic system that promotes a rule of law, the respect for human rights, the respect of freedoms. I think that’s a priority. For me it is, and I believe it’s a priority also for the large, large majority of the Venezuelan people that want to live in a democracy.

However, there has been great mismanagement due to misconceptions of the economy, to a state-led economy that did not open possibilities for a private sector to flourish independently of the state, but also with the level of corruption that we have seen, particularly over the past 22 years — it’s what has led Venezuela to the situation in which we are.

In Venezuela, you could argue that we did much, much better economically, and in terms of all of the social and economic standards, than what happened during these last 20 years of autocracy. This autocracy had the largest windfall and the largest humanitarian crisis.

During the democratic period of 40 years, Venezuela became one of the most literate countries in Latin America, with the largest amount of professionals being graduated every year, with the best in social, health, and education standards, vaccination rates, housing programs that were in Latin America. So, we did perform much better under the democratic period than has been the performance by any means in the autocratic regimes of the last 22 years.

Interesting throughout.

What should I ask Leopoldo López?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, do read his whole Wikipedia page but here is part of it:

Leopoldo Eduardo López Mendoza (born 29 April 1971) is a Venezuelan opposition leader. He co-founded the political party Primero Justicia in 2000 with Henrique Capriles and Julio Borges and was elected mayor of the Chacao Municipality of Caracas in the regional elections held in July 2000. He is the National Coordinator of another political party, Voluntad Popular, which he founded in 2009…

In September 2015, he was found guilty of public incitement to violence through supposed subliminal messages, being involved with criminal association, and was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison.

He served seven of those years and now is free and has left Venezuela.  He is also an economist, with a Kennedy School background, and has written a book on energy issues.

So what should I ask him?

Don’t blame the Fed so much

Slow labor market recovery does not have to mean the core fix is or was nominal in nature, even if the original negative shock was nominal:

Recent critiques have demonstrated that existing attempts to account for the unemployment volatility puzzle of search models are inconsistent with the procylicality of the opportunity cost of employment, the cyclicality of wages, and the volatility of risk-free rates. We propose a model that is immune to these critiques and solves this puzzle by allowing for preferences that generate time-varying risk over the cycle, and so account for observed asset pricing fluctuations, and for human capital accumulation on the job, consistent with existing estimates of returns to labor market experience. Our model reproduces the observed fluctuations in unemployment because hiring a worker is a risky investment with long-duration surplus flows. Intuitively, since the price of risk in our model sharply increases in recessions as observed in the data, the benefit from creating new matches greatly drops, leading to a large decline in job vacancies and an increase in unemployment of the same magnitude as in the data.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Patrick J. Kehoe, Pierlauro Lopez, Virgiliu Midrigan, and Elena Pastorino.  Essentially it is a story of real stickiness, institutional failure yes but not primarily nominal in nature.

Perhaps more explicitly yet, from the new AER Macro journal, by Sylvain Leduc and Zheng Liu:

We show that cyclical fluctuations in search and recruiting intensity are quantitatively important for explaining the weak job recovery from the Great Recession. We demonstrate this result using an estimated labor search model that features endogenous search and recruiting intensity. Since the textbook model with free entry implies constant recruiting intensity, we introduce a cost of vacancy creation, so that firms respond to aggregate shocks by adjusting both vacancies and recruiting intensity. Fluctuations in search and recruiting intensity driven by shocks to productivity and the discount factor help bridge the gap between the actual and model-predicted job-filling rate.

Again, a form of real stickiness more than nominal stickiness.  The claim here is not that the market is doing a perfect job, or that the Great Depression was all about a big holiday, or something about video games that you might see mocked on Twitter.  There is a very real and non-Pareto optimal coordination problem.  Still, this model does not suggest that “lower interest rates” or a higher price inflation target from the Fed, say circa 2015, would have led to a quicker labor market recovery.

Even though the original shock had a huge negative blow to ngdp as a major part of it (which could have been countered more effectively by the Fed at the time).


I am not sure there is any analytical inaccuracy I see on Twitter more often than this one, namely to blame the Fed for being too conservative with monetary policy over the last few years.

And please note these pieces are not weird innovations, they are at the core of modern labor and macro and they are using fully standard methods.  Yet the implications of such search models are hardly ever explored on social media, not even on Facebook or Instagram!  You have a better chance finding them analyzed on

Tuesday assorted links

1. “The results indicate that schools have significant monopsony power over their tenure track faculty.

2. “The coaching interventions make some students realize that more effort is needed to attain good grades but, rather than working harder, they settle by adjusting grade expectations downwards.

3. Mulvaney, good piece.

4. AMLO is upending the finance of Mexican government.

5. Why top film schools rejected Steven Spielberg.

6. The role of software in Apollo 11 (WSJ).

The future of football, revisited

On one hand:

Ratings for regular-season games fell 17 percent over the past two years, according to Nielsen, and after one week of play in the new season, viewership has been flat. February marked the third-straight year of audience decline for the Super Bowl and the smallest audience since 2009. Youth participation in tackle football, meanwhile, has declined by nearly 22 percent since 2012 in the face of an emerging scientific consensus that the game destroys the brains of its players.

On the other hand, how many other focal experiences are left:

Yet even a middling franchise, the Carolina Panthers, sold in May for a league record  $2.3 billion. Advertisers spent a record $4.6 billion for spots during NFL games last season, as well as an all-time high $5.24 million per 30 seconds of Super Bowl time. The reason is clear: In 2017, 37 of the top 50 broadcasts on U.S. television were NFL games, including four of the top five.

The Green Bay Packers, the only NFL team that shares financial statements with the public, has posted revenue increases for 15 straight seasons. Leaguewide revenue has grown more than 47 percent since 2012. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s official target is $25 billion in revenue by 2027, or roughly 6 percent annual growth.

“The business of the NFL is very strong and continues to get stronger,” says Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., and an unofficial surrogate for league owners.

But what will happen if the number of brain damage cases continues to rise?  Here is more from Ira Boudway and Eben Novy-Williams at Bloomberg.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

North Korean tragedy markets in everything

The Indonesian woman arrested for suspected involvement in the killing of the North Korean leader’s half brother in Malaysia was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank, Indonesia’s national police chief said Friday, citing information received from Malaysian authorities.

Tito Karnavian told reporters in Indonesia’s Aceh province that Siti Aisyah, 25, was paid to be involved in “Just For Laughs” style pranks, a reference to a popular hidden camera show.

He said she and another woman performed stunts which involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water.

Here is the story, via Ray Lopez.

Duterte’s Coasean pivot away from the United States

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States on Thursday, declaring that it had “lost” and he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.

Duterte made his comments in China, where he is visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally the United States deteriorate.

His trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said $13.5 billion in deals would be signed

Duterte’s efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes in favor of the Philippines, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.

“America has lost now,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People, attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” he added.

“With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said to applause. “I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”

Here is the Reuters story.

Same sex parents and adopted children

The largest-ever study of same-sex parents found their children turn out healthier and happier than the general population.

A new study of 315 same-sex parents and 500 children in Australia found that, after correcting for socioeconomic factors, their children fared well on several measures, including asthma, dental care, behavioral issues, learning, sleep, and speech.

Do note this:

Perceived stigmas were associated with worse scores for physical activity, mental health, family cohesion, and emotional outcomes. The stigmas, however, were not prevalent enough to negatively tilt the children’s outcomes in a comparison to outcomes across the general population.

There is more here, from German Lopez, the study itself is here.

A simple theory of liberal arts education

At the margin, that is.

Information in the modern world is virtually free, and well-defined tasks can be outsourced very cheaply, if need be.  Don’t specialize in those.

Bias is everywhere, and overcoming bias yields great gains.  Empirically, our biases stem strongly from our nationality, our language, and our cultural background.  (It is, by the way, remarkable how much libertarianism is an Anglo-American phenomenon.)

To overcome those biases we should travel, spend some time living in other countries, and learn other languages.  In other words, the more knowledge is held in the minds of other people, the more competent we wish to be in assessing who is right and who is wrong, and that requires exposure to lots of different points of view.

Judgment, judgment, judgment.  That’s the scarce asset which most people underinvest in, and which yields especially high returns.  It can’t be outsourced very well either.

Marketing is becoming all-important as well.  That also requires judgment and the ability to see things from other people’s points of view.  Again, live abroad and learn other languages.

At the very least, date foreign women (or men).

It is in contrast a common presumption that learning other languages, for English speakers, is becoming obsolete, if only because so many other people speak English.  I would think this raises rather than lowers the return to learning other languages.  Last fall, while visiting at Middlebury economics, I voiced these opinions and encountered little agreement.

Addendum: Here is commentary from Ed Lopez.

Robert D. Tollison, RIP

tollisionThe great Robert Tollison has passed. No one was better than him at seeing the implications of a theory and finding a way to test it. He always had ideas, many adopted by GMU graduate students. A pioneer of sportometrics, public choice, public choice and antitrust, economics and religion, the economic analysis of economists and many other areas.

Bob was an immensely productive scholar with at least 12 books as author or co-author, 22 edited collections, 7 editions of a textbook, 110 articles in books, 220 journal articles, 44 journal notes/comments…and more. He was also senior editor at Public Choice for 17 years and he held positions in government as a Senior Staff Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (1971-72) and Director of the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission (1981-83).

Bob had many, many students.

I will post links to remembrances here.

Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek.

Mark Thornton.

Bryan Caplan.

Ed Lopez.

Peter Boettke’s excellent remarks.

David Henderson.

Bobby McCormick.

Skip Sauer.

Regulatory Capture and Judicial Incentives

John Kay recounts the classic story of regulatory capture:

In 1887, Congress passed an act to regulate the US railroad industry. The legislation originated in the demands of farmers and merchants for protection against the “robber barons”.

Despite this background, railroad interests supported the bill. Charles Adams, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, explained his reasoning to a sympathetic congressman, John D. Long. “What is desired,” he wrote, “is something having a good sound, but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when, in reality, very little is intended to be done.”

On the whole, he got what he wanted. The Interstate Commerce Commission established by the act was chaired by a lawyer with experience of the railroad industry – acquired, naturally, by acting on behalf of his railroad clients. When, a decade later, the Supreme Court ruled that a rate-fixing agreement between railroads was illegal, the ICC was crestfallen: surely, the commission said, it should not be unlawful to confer, to achieve what the law enjoins – the setting of just and reasonable rates. Soon after, Congress approved legislation making it a criminal offence to offer rebates on tariffs the ICC had approved, and the commission thereafter operated as the manager of a railroad cartel.

Kay is a little too quick, however, to argue in favor of judges.  Aside from the tradeoff (which Kay notes) that Judges will be less informed than people closer to the industry (the bias-efficiency tradeoff familiar from econometrics), judges also have their own set of interests and incentives.  Elected judges, for example, tend to be biased towards plaintiffs (voters) and against out-of-state corporate defendants (non-voters).  More generally, I think Kay understands politics without romance but still sees law with a romantic lens.

The application of public choice insights to legal institutions, "law without romance," is a new and growing field. If you are interested, I recommend The Pursuit of Justice, a very good new book on this topic (edited by Ed Lopez, I was general editor.)

Condom Law: NSFW

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is lobbying California to require the use of condoms in porn movies. Their argument is that this is an employee safety issue–like requiring workers to wear hard hats–and so should fall under the Cal/OSHA laws.

But in an op-ed at Alex Padilla points out that to fall under the law will require classifying porn stars as employees rather than as performers and that has surprising consequences. 

…the adult film industry would have to make every performer an employee to satisfy the California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, laws. This would be detrimental: California's anti-discrimination laws prohibit requiring an HIV test as a condition of employment; therefore the adult film industry's current testing process, in which every performer is tested for HIV monthly, would be illegal. Nor would adult film producers be allowed to "discriminate" by refusing employment to HIV-positive performers. As a result, untested and HIV-positive performers would be able to work in the industry, raising the risks of HIV outbreaks–particularly since condom breakage or slippage can occur.

My suspicion is that the AIDS lobbyists are not really so concerned with the performers but they do want to increase condom use by the general public and they think seeing more condoms in porn movies will help with that goal.  A legitimate goal perhaps, but more likely the industry will move to Nevada or will further go online amateur.

Hat tip to Ed Lopez at Division of Labor.