Michael Kremer, Nobel laureate

To Alex’s excellent treatment I will add a short discussion of Kremer’s work on deworming (with co-authors, most of all Edward Miguel), here is one summary treatment:

Intestinal helminths—including hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and schistosomiasis—infect more than one-quarter of the world’s population. Studies in which medical treatment is randomized at the individual level potentially doubly underestimate the benefits of treatment, missing externality benefits to the comparison group from reduced disease transmission, and therefore also underestimating benefits for the treatment group. We evaluate a Kenyan project in which school-based mass treatment with deworming drugs was randomly phased into schools, rather than to individuals, allowing estimation of overall program effects. The program reduced school absenteeism in treatment schools by one-quarter, and was far cheaper than alternative ways of boosting school participation. Deworming substantially improved health and school participation among untreated children in both treatment schools and neighboring schools, and these externalities are large enough to justify fully subsidizing treatment. Yet we do not find evidence that deworming improved academic test scores.

If you do not today have a worm, there is some chance you have Michael Kremer to thank!

With Blanchard, Kremer also has an excellent and these days somewhat neglected piece on central planning and complexity:

Under central planning, many firms relied on a single supplier for critical inputs. Transition has led to decentralized bargaining between suppliers and buyers. Under incomplete contracts or asymmetric information, bargaining may inefficiently break down, and if chains of production link many specialized producers, output will decline sharply. Mechanisms that mitigate these problems in the West, such as reputation, can only play a limited role in transition. The empirical evidence suggests that output has fallen farthest for the goods with the most complex production process, and that disorganization has been more important in the former Soviet Union than in Central Europe.

Kremer with co-authors also did excellent work on the benefits of school vouchers in Colombia.  And here is Kremer’s work on teacher incentives — incentives matter!  His early piece on wage inequality with Maskin, from 1996, was way ahead of its time.  And don’t forget his piece on peer effects and alcohol use: many college students think the others are drinking more than in fact they are, and publicizing the lower actual level of drinking can diminish alcohol abuse problems.  The Hajj has an impact on the views of its participants, and “… these results suggest that students become more empathetic with the social groups to which their roommates belong,.” link here.

And don’t forget his famous paper titled “Elephants.”  Under some assumptions, the government should buy up a large stock of ivory tusks, and dump them on the market strategically, to ruin the returns of elephant speculators at just the right time.  No one has ever worked through the issue before of how to stop speculation in such forbidden and undesirable commodities.

Michael Kremer has produced a truly amazing set of papers.

The Nobel Prize in Economic Science Goes to Banerjee, Duflo, and Kremer

The Nobel Prize goes to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer (links to home pages) for field experiments in development economics. Esther Duflo was a John Bates Clark Medal winner, a MacArthur “genius” award winner, and is now the second woman to win the economics Nobel and by far the youngest person to ever win the economics Nobel (Arrow was the previous youngest winner!). Duflo and Banerjee are married so these are also the first spouses to win the economics Nobel although not the first spouses to win Nobel prizes–there was even one member of a Nobel prize winning spouse-couple who won the Nobel prize in economics. Can you name the spouses?

Michael Kremer wrote two of my favorite papers ever. The first is Patent Buyouts which you can find in my book Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science. The idea of a patent buyout is for the government to buy a patent and rip it up, opening the idea to the public domain. How much should the government pay? To decide this they can hold an auction. Anyone can bid in the auction but the winner receives the patent only say 10% of the time–the other 90% of the time the patent is bought by the government at the market price. The value of this procedure is that 90% of the time we get all the incentive properties of the patent without any of the monopoly costs. Thus, we eliminate the innovation tradeoff. Indeed, the government can even top the market price up by say 15% in order to increase the incentive to innovate. You might think the patent buyout idea is unrealistic. But in fact, Kremer went on to pioneer an important version of the idea, the Advance Market Commitment for Vaccines which was used to guarantee a market for the pneumococcal vaccine which has now been given to some 143 million children. Bill Gates was involved with governments in supporting the project.

My second Kremer paper is Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990. An economist examining one million years of the economy! I like to say that there are two views of humanity, people are stomachs or people are brains. In the people are stomachs view, more people means more eaters, more takers, less for everyone else. In the people are brains view, more people means more brains, more ideas, more for everyone else. The people are brains view is my view and Paul Romer’s view (ideas are nonrivalrous). Kremer tests the two views. He shows that over the long run economic growth increased with population growth. People are brains.

Oh, and can I add a third Kremer paper? The O-Ring Model of Development is a great and deep paper. (MRU video on the O-ring model).

The work for which the Nobel was given is for field experiments in development economics. Kremer began this area of research with randomized trials of educational policies in Kenya. Duflo and Banerjee then deepened and broadened the use of field experiments and in 2003 established the Poverty Action Lab which has been the nexus for field experiments in development economics carried on by hundreds of researchers around the world.

Much has been learned in field experiments about what does and also doesn’t work. In Incentives Work, Dufflo, Hanna and Ryan created a successful program to monitor and reduce teacher absenteeism in India, a problem that Michael Kremer had shown in Missing in Action was very serious with some 30% of teachers not showing up on a typical day. But when they tried to institute a similar program for nurses in Putting a Band-Aid on A Corpse the program was soon undermined by local politicians and “Eighteen months after its inception, the program had become completely ineffective.” Similarly, Banerjee, Duflo, Glennerster and Kinnan find that Microfinance is ok but no miracle (sorry fellow laureate Muhammad Yunus). A frustrating lesson has been the context dependent nature of results and the difficult of finding external validity. (Lant Pritchett in a critique of the “randomistas” argues that real development is based on macro-policy rather than micro-experiment. See also Bill Easterly on the success of the Washington Consensus.)

Duflo, Kremer and Robinson study How High Are Rates of Return to Fertilizer? Evidence from Field Experiments in Kenya. This is an especially interest piece of research because they find that rates of return are very high but that farmers don’t use much fertilizer. Why not? The reasons seem to have much more to do with behavioral biases than rationality. Some interventions help:

Our findings suggest that simple interventions that affect neither the cost of, nor the payoff to, fertilizer can substantially increase fertilizer use. In particular, offering farmers the option to buy fertilizer (at the full market price, but with free delivery) immediately after the harvest leads to an increase of at least 33 percent in the proportion of farmers using fertilizer, an effect comparable to that of a 50 percent reduction in the price of fertilizer (in contrast, there is no impact on fertilizer adoption of offering free delivery at the time fertilizer is actually needed for top dressing). This finding seems inconsistent with the idea that low adoption is due to low returns or credit constraints, and suggests there may be a role for non–fully rational behavior in explaining production decisions.

This is reminiscent of people in developed countries who don’t adjust their retirement savings rates to take advantage of employer matches. (A connection to Thaler’s work).

Duflo and Banerjee have conducted many of their field experiments in India and have looked at not just conventional questions of development economics but also at politics. In 1993, India introduced a constitutional rule that said that each state had to reserve a third of all positions as chair of village councils for women. In a series of papers, Duflo studies this natural experiment which involved randomization of villages with women chairs. In Women as Policy Makers (with Chattopadhyay) she finds that female politicians change the allocation of resources towards infrastructure of relevance to women. In Powerful Women (Beaman et al.) she finds that having once had a female village leader increases the prospects of future female leaders, i.e. exposure reduces bias.

Before Banerjee became a randomistas he was a theorist. His A Simple Model of Herd Behavior is also a favorite. The essence of the model can be explained in a simple example (from the paper). Suppose there are two restaurants A and B. The prior probability is that A is slightly more likely to be a better restaurant than B but in fact B is the better restaurant. People arrive at the restaurants in sequence and as they do they get a signal of which restaurant is better and they also see what choice the person in front of them made. Suppose the first person in line gets a signal that the better restaurant is A (contrary to fact). They choose A. The second person then gets a signal that the better restaurant is B. The second person in line also sees that the first person chose A, so they now know one signal is for A and one is for B and the prior is A so the weight of the evidence is for A—the second person also chooses restaurant A. The next person in line also gets the B signal but for the same reasons they also choose A. In fact, everyone chooses A even if 99 out of 100 signals are B. We get a herd. The sequential information structure means that the information is wasted. Thus, how information is distributed can make a huge difference to what happens. A lot of lessons here for tweeting and Facebook!

Banerjee is also the author of some original and key pieces on Indian economic history, most notably History, Institutions, and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India (with Iyer).

Duflo’s TED Talk. Previous Duflo posts; Kremer posts; Banerjee posts on MR.

Before last year’s Nobel announcement Tyler wrote:

I’ve never once gotten it right, at least not for exact timing, so my apologies to anyone I pick (sorry Bill Baumol!). Nonetheless this year I am in for Esther Duflo and Abihijit Banerjee, possibly with Michael Kremer, for randomized control trials in development economics.

As Tyler predicted he was wrong and also right. Thus, this years win is well-timed and well-deserved. Congratulations to all.

Kremer’s Prize

The Advance Market Commitment for vaccines launched on friday.  Under the commitment a group of developed nations (Canada, Italy, Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom) and Bill Gates! (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) promises to pay for a pneumococcal vaccine suitable in price and effectiveness for the developing world.  The idea, the brain child of economist Michael Kremer, could save millions of lives over the next several decades.  Kremer deserves a Prize for his Prize – in Peace or Economics.

Owen, who played a part in the project, has more background and musings.

Implementing Michael Kremer’s vaccines idea

…finance ministers from at least three Western countries are scheduled to meet in Rome next week to announce a pilot program for delivering next-generation vaccines more rapidly to poor nations.  An official for the GAVI Alliance, an international vaccines group, confirmed that the project would be the first step of a controversial plan to pay qualifying vaccine makers a higher price than they would ordinarily receive for their products in impoverished areas hard hit by infectious diseases.

Here is the full story.  Here is Alex on Kremer’s idea.

Every Stock is a Vaccine Stock

Barrons: General Electric stock was racing higher Tuesday, but not because of anything the company did or announced. Recent Covid-19 vaccine news is serving as a catalyst, and every stock these days feels like a vaccine stock.

Indeed, every stock is a vaccine stock. When vaccines or other treatments do well, all stocks do well which is why stock prices are now highly correlated:

Bloomberg: From beginning the year with a correlation of 0.19, the gauge of how closely the top stocks in the S&P 500 move in relation to one another spiked to 0.85 in mid-March, toward the peak of the coronavirus sell-off before leveling off around 0.8. A maximum possible correlation of 1.0 would signify all stocks are moving in lockstep.

It’s not surprising that when Moderna reports good vaccine results, Moderna does well. It’s more surprising that Boeing and GE not only do well they increase in value far more than Moderna. On May 18, for example, when Moderna announced very preliminary positive results on its vaccine it’s market capitalization rose by $5b. But GE’s market capitalization rose by $6.82 billion and Boeing increased in value by $8.73 billion.

A cure for COVID-19 would be worth trillions to the world but only billions to the creator. The stock market is illustrating the massive externalities created by innovation. Nordhaus estimated that only 2.2% of the value of innovation was captured by innovators. For vaccine manufacturers it’s probably closer to .2%.

Who can internalize the externalities? Moderna clearly can’t because if they could then on May 18 Moderna would have increased in value by $20.52b ($4.97b+$6.82b+$8.73b) and GE and Boeing wouldn’t have gone up at all. Massive externalities.

A clever institutional investor like Blackrock or Vanguard could internalize some of the externalities by encouraging Moderna to work even faster and invest even more, even to the extent of lowering Moderna’s profits. Blackrock would more than make up for the losses on Moderna by bigger gains on other firms in its portfolio. Blackrock does indeed understand the incentives, although its unclear how much beyond jawboning they can actually do, legally.

I’d like to see more innovation in mechanisms to internalize externalities–perhaps in a pandemic vaccine firms should be given stock options on the S&P 500. Until we develop those innovations, however, the government is the best bet at internalizing the externality by paying vaccine manufacturers to increase capacity and move more quickly than their own incentives would dictate. Billions in costs, trillions in benefits.

Vaccines: Billions in Costs, Trillions in Benefits

Bloomberg: As sections of the global economy tip-toe toward reopening, it’s becoming clearer that a full recovery from the worst slump since the 1930s will be impossible until a vaccine or treatment is found for the deadly coronavirus.

Consumers will stay on edge and companies will be held back as temperature checks and distancing rules are set to remain in workplaces, restaurants, schools, airports, sports stadiums and more.

China — the first major economy consumed by the virus and the first to emerge on the other side — has been able to revive production but not demand. The lesson for other economies: it’ll be a stop-start path back toward normal.

There’s also the risk of new flare-ups. Some 108 million people in China’s northeast region have been put back under varying degrees of lockdown amid a new cluster of infections. Doctors there are also seeing the coronavirus manifest differently, suggesting that it may be changing in unknown ways.
In South Korea – where the virus was controlled without a hard lockdown – consumer spending remains weak as infections continue to pop up.

…Harvard University professor Carmen Reinhart, who is the incoming chief economist of the World Bank, had a similar message. “We’re not going to have something akin to full normalization unless we (a) have a vaccine and (b) — and this is a big if — that vaccine is accessible to the global population at large,” she told the Harvard Gazette.

The virus is being beaten back and there are reasons for optimism but I agree with Reinhart that we won’t get full normalization without a vaccine. The world economy is on the order of $90 trillion and the IMF is projecting a 3% decline instead of an expected 3.3% increase so a loss to the world economy of around $6 trillion in 2020. Growth will probably return in 2021 and there will be some catchup but the IMF projects a cumulative loss of 9 trillion. Ending the pandemic early could generate hundreds of billions, even trillions, in output–that’s why Susan Athey, Nobel laureate Michael Kremer, Chris Snyder and myself advocate for going big on vaccines. It’s billions in costs and trillions in benefits. Warp speed ahead!

Human Challenge Trials

What if we develop a vaccine for COVID-19 but can’t find enough patients to run a randomized clinical trial? It sounds absurd, but this problem has happened in the past. Ebola was identified in 1976, and candidate vaccines were proven safe and effective in mice and primates in 2004 and 2005, respectively. But no human vaccine was produced [at that time] because it was extremely difficult, bordering on impossible, to trial an Ebola vaccine. The problem? Ebola is so deadly that people take precautionary measures long before a vaccine can be tested.

A few pieces have been written about human challenge trials, clinical trials in which healthy people are infected with a disease in order to see if a treatment or vaccine works, but most of them focus on the ethical issues. I don’t think there are serious ethical issues so writing at The National Interest I focus on why challenge trials are useful statistically and why they may even be necessary.

Even health care workers, however, have a low enough infection rate that you either need many months to determine if there is a significant effect, or you need large populations. In Italy, about 6,000 doctors were infected over two months, out of a population of about 241,000 Italian doctors. This is a monthly infection rate of 1.2 percent. If the vaccine is 50 percent effective, then to detect this within a month, you need a sample size of 7,776 people equally divided between a vaccinated group and a non-vaccinated group. You could run the test in a smaller sample of 1,322 but then the trial would take six months. A more effective vaccine would make detecting an effect easier, but flu vaccines work at 40 to 60 percent effectiveness, so an assumption of 50 percent is not unreasonable.

But will Italian doctors still be getting infected at a rate of 1.2 percent per month when a vaccine becomes available for trial in six months or a year? We hope not. The hope is that social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment will have greatly lowered the infection rate. A low infection rate is great, unless you want to properly test a vaccine.

…The virtue of a challenge trial is that the results would be available very quickly, within a few weeks, and using only a small population. If the vaccine is 50 percent effective, for example, then we would need around 100 volunteers or perhaps even fewer depending on how many people exposed to the virus in laboratory conditions contract the disease.

By advancing a vaccine by many months, a challenge trial could save many thousands of lives and spare the world the huge economic costs of the lockdowns and social distancing that we will be using to combat the virus.

Challenge trials, however, don’t solve all problems. In particular, to limit the risk we would want to restrict the patients in a challenge trial to be young and healthy. But that raises a problem of external validity. We also want the vaccine to be safe and effective in less healthy and elderly people which requires secondary challenge trials or field testing in that population. Nevertheless, as Athey, Kremer, Synder and myself argue in our NYTimes op-ed, the high risk of vaccine failure means that we would like 15-20 vaccine candidates and challenge trials could help us whittle this number down to the best two to three substantially speeding up the vaccine discovery process.

One more point is worth bearing in mind.

[A]n ordinary vaccine trial is not without risk—a vaccine could backfire and make the disease worse—so exposing fifty or so volunteers to the virus in a challenge trial must be balanced against exposing thousands to a potentially dangerous vaccine in an ordinary clinical trial.

Thus, the total risk may be lower with a combination of challenge trials and longer, larger field trials.

Challenge trials have a long history in medicine and their statistical advantages make them powerful and even necessary. As The Guardian notes:

Scientists, however, increasingly agree that such trials should be considered, and the WHO is the latest body to indicate conditional support for the idea.

“There’s this emerging consensus among everyone who has thought about this seriously,” said Prof Nir Eyal, the director of Rutgers University’s Center for Population-Level Bioethics in the US.

In the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine, We Must Go Big

Today in the New York Times I have an op-ed with Susan Athey, Michael Kremer and Christopher Snyder. We argue for a big program to invest in vaccine capacity before any vaccine is tested and approved. We agree with Bill Gates that we want the vaccine factories to be warmed up by the time a vaccine is approved. We can’t leave it all to Gates, however. The US economy is hemorrhaging $150-$350 billion a month so the benefits of a vaccine to society are huge and we should go big.

Today, the U.S. government could go big and create a Covid-19 vaccine A.M.C., guaranteeing to spend about $70 billion on new vaccines — enough to make direct investments to support capacity installation or to repurpose capacity and to pay, say, $100 per person for the first 300 million people vaccinated.

An investment of that size can anticipate and overcome several challenges typical of vaccine development. If we want to achieve a 90 percent probability of success, we must take into account historical rates of success from publicly available data; doing that suggests that we need to actively pursue not two or three vaccine candidates, but 15 to 20.

…Usually, to avoid the risk of investing in capacity that eventually proves worthless, firms invest in large-scale capacity only after the vaccine has proved effective. But in the middle of a pandemic, there are huge social and economic advantages to having vaccines ready to use as soon as they have been approved. If we leave it entirely to the market, we will get too little vaccine too late.

An advance market commitment for Covid-19 should combine “push” and “pull” incentives. The “pull” incentive is the commitment to buy 300 million courses of vaccine at a per-person price of $100, for vaccines produced within a specified time frame. If multiple vaccines are developed, the A.M.C. fund will have authority to choose products to purchase based on efficacy, the availability of sufficient vaccine for timely vaccination or suitability for different population groups. So firms compete to serve the first 300 million people with the most attractive vaccines, and the “pull” component provides strong incentives for both speed and quality.

The “push” incentive guarantees firms partial reimbursement for production capacity built or repurposed at risk and partial reimbursement as they achieve milestones. The partial reimbursement ensures that manufacturers have “skin in the game,” while inducing them to build large-scale capacity before approval is certain.

More than usual, read the whole thing and please do help to circulate the ideas by posting and tweeting.

The op-ed draws on the work of a large team of economists and statisticians who have been working days and nights for weeks. You can find out more at AcceleratingHT where we will soon be posting additional analysis and tools.

It’s a great privilege for me to be working with this group. One day I will write the story but for now let me just say that I have never seen such a brilliant and dedicated group come together to apply their skills to a problem of such importance and urgency.

The Advance Market Commitment

NBER: Ten years ago, donors committed $1.5 billion to a pilot Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to help purchase pneumococcal vaccine for low-income countries. The AMC aimed to encourage the development of such vaccines, ensure distribution to children in low-income countries, and pilot the AMC mechanism for possible future use. Three vaccines have been developed and more than 150 million children immunized, saving an estimated 700,000 lives. This paper reviews the economic logic behind AMCs, the experience with the pilot, and key issues for future AMCs.

That’s Kremer, Levin and Snyder. Definitely deserving of a Nobel and kudos to Bill and Melinda Gates for being early and major supporters.

My spring 2020 Industrial Organization reading list and syllabus

It is long, do note that many topics are covered in the other half of the class, I tried to put this beneath the fold, but today WordPress software is not cooperating…

  1. Productivity

American Economic Review Symposium, May 2010, starts with “Why do Firms in Developing Countries Have Low Productivity?” runs pp.620-633.

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen, “Recent Advances in the Empirics of Organizational Economics,”

Serguey Braguinsky, Lee G. Branstetter, and Andre Regateiro,The Incredible Shrinking Portuguese Firm,” 

Bloom, Nicholas, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen. “Management as a Technology?” National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 22327, June 2016.

David Lagakos, “Explaining Cross-Country Productivity Differences in Retail Trade,” Journal of Political Economy, April 2016, 124, 2, 1-49.

Dani Rodrik, “A Surprising Convergence Result,”, and his paper here

Tyler Cowen, The Complacent Class, chapter four, “Why Americans Stopped Creating,” 2017.

Ufuk Akcigit and Sina T. Ates, “Ten Facts on Declining Business Dynamism and Lessons from Endogenous Growth Theory,” NBER working paper 25755, April 2019.

Syerson, Chad “What Determines Productivity?” Journal of Economic Literature, June 2011, XLIX, 2, 326-365. 

Michael Kremer, “The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 1993, 108, 3, 551-575.

Song, Jae, David J. Price, Fatih Guvenen, and Nicholas Bloom. “Firming Up Inequality,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis working paper 750, April 2018.  Do not bother with the very long appendix.

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen, the slides for “Americans do I.T. Better: US Multinationals and the Productivity Miracle,”, the paper is here but I recommend focusing on the slides. 

Tyler Cowen and Ben Southwood, “Is the rate of scientific progress slowing down?”, 

Patrick Collison and Michael Nielsen, “Science is Getting Less Bang for its Buck,” Atlantic, November 16, 2018, 

Decker, Ryan and John Haltiwanger, Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. “Where Has all the Skewness Gone?  The Decline in High-Growth (Young) Firms in the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 21776, December 2015.

Furman, Jason and Peter Orszag. “A Firm-Level Perspective on the Role of Rents in the Rise in Inequality.” October 16, 2015.


2. Competition and monopoly

Bresnahan, Timothy F. “Competition and Collusion in the American Automobile Industry: the 1955 Price War,” Journal of Industrial Economics, 1987, 35(4), 457-82.

Asker, John, “A Study of the Internal Organization of a Bidding Cartel,” American Economic Review, (June 2010), 724-762.

Tim Sablik and Nicholas Trachter, “Are Markets Becoming Less Competitive?” Economic Brief, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, June 2019.

Susanto Basu, “Are Price-Cost Markups Rising in the United States? A Discussion of the Evidence,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2019, 33, 3, 3-22.

Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, Pierre-Daniel Sarte, and Nicholas Trachter, “Diverging Trends in National and Local Concentration,” NBER Working Paper 25066, Septemmber 2018.

David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence Katz, Christina Patterson, John Van Reenen, “The Fall of the Labor Share and the Rise of Superstar Firms,”, make sure you get the Oct. 2019 version, not the earlier NBER paper.

Whinston, Michael D., “Antitrust Policy Toward Horizontal Mergers,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, vol.III, chapter 36, see also chapter 35 by John Sutton.

Jan De Loecker and Jan Eeckhout, “The Rise of Market Power and its Macroeconomic Implications,”  My comment on it is here: and see also me on intangible capital,

Chang-Tai Hsieh and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, “The Industrial Revolution in Services, September 20, 2019, on-line.

Klein, Benjamin and Leffler, Keith. “The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance.”  Journal of Political Economy 89 (1981): 615-641.

Breit, William. “Resale Price Maintenance: What do Economists Know and When Did They Know It?” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (1991).

Bogdan Genchev, and Julie Holland Mortimer. “Empirical Evidence on Conditional Pricing Practices.” NBER working paper 22313, June 2016.

Sproul, Michael.  “Antitrust and Prices.”  Journal of Political Economy (August 1993): 741-754.

McCutcheon, Barbara. “Do Meetings in Smoke-Filled Rooms Facilitate Collusion?”  Journal of Political Economy (April 1997): 336-350.

Crandall, Robert and Winston, Clifford, “Does Antitrust Improve Consumer Welfare?: Assessing the Evidence,”  Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 2003), 3-26, available at

FTC, Bureau of Competition, website,, an optional browse, perhaps read about some current cases and also read the merger guidelines.

Parente, Stephen L. and Prescott, Edward. “Monopoly Rights: A Barrier to Riches.”  American Economic Review 89, 5 (December 1999): 1216-1233.

Demsetz, Harold.  “Why Regulate Utilities?”  Journal of Law and Economics (April 1968): 347-359.

Armstrong, Mark and Sappington, David, “Recent Developments in the Theory of Regulation,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, chapter 27, also on-line.

Shleifer, Andrei. “State vs. Private Ownership.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 1998): 133-151.

Xavier Gabaix and David Laibson, “Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets,”

Strictly optional, most of you shouldn’t read this: Ariel Pakes and dynamic computational approaches to modeling oligopoly:


III. Economics of Tech


Farrell, Joseph and Klemperer, Paul, “Coordination and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, vol.III, chapter 31, also on-line.

Weyl, E. Glenn. “A Price Theory of Multi-Sided Platforms.” American Economic Review, September 2010, 100, 4, 1642-1672.

Gompers, Paul and Lerner, Josh. “The Venture Capital Revolution.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 2001): 145-168.

Paul Graham, essays,, to browse as you find useful or not.

Acemoglu, Daron and Autor, David, “Skills, Tasks, and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings,”

Robert J. Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker, “Unresolved Issues in the Rise of American Inequality,”

Browse through the first issue of on blockchain governance, read (or not) as you find useful.


IV. Organization and capital structure


Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson on the firm, if you haven’t already read them, but limited doses should suffice.

Gibbons, Robert, “Four Formal(izable) Theories of the Firm,” on-line at

Van den Steen, Eric, “Interpersonal Authority in a Theory of the Firm,” American Economic Review, 2010, 100:1, 466-490.

Lazear, Edward P. “Leadership: A Personnel Economics Approach,” NBER Working Paper 15918, 2010.

Oyer, Paul and Schaefer, Scott, “Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives,” NBER Working Paper 15977, 2010.

Tyler Cowen chapter on CEO pay in big Business, to be distributed.

Ben-David, Itzhak, and John R. Graham and Campbell R. Harvey, “Managerial Miscalibration,” NBER working paper 16215, July 2010.

Glenn Ellison, “Bounded rationality in Industrial Organization,” 

Miller, Merton, and commentators.  “The Modigliani-Miller Propositions After Thirty Years,” and comments, Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 1988): 99-158.

Myers, Stewart. “Capital Structure.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 2001): 81-102.

Hansemann, Henry.  “The Role of Non-Profit Enterprise.” Yale Law Journal (1980): 835-901.

Kotchen, Matthew J. and Moon, Jon Jungbien, “Corporate Social Responsibility for Irresponsibility,” NBER working paper 17254, July 2011.

Strictly optional but recommended for the serious: Ponder reading some books on competitive strategy, for MBA students.  Here is one list of recommendations:

Furman, Jason. ”Business Investment in the United States: Facts, Explanations, Puzzles, and Policy.” Remarks delivered at the Progressive Policy Institute, September 30, 2015, on-line at

Scharfstein, David S. and Stein, Jeremy C.  “Herd Behavior and Investment.”  American Economic Review 80 (June 1990): 465-479.

Stein, Jeremy C. “Efficient Capital Markets, Inefficient Firms: A Model of Myopic Corporate Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 104 (November 1989): 655-670.


V. Sectors: finance, health care, education, international trade, others 

Gorton, Gary B. “Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand: Banking and the Panic of 2007,”, published on-line in 2009. 

Erel, Isil, Nadault, Taylor D., and Stulz, Rene M., “Why Did U.S. Banks Invest in Highly-Rated Securitization Tranches?” NBER Working Paper 17269, August 2011. 

Healy, Kieran. “The Persistence of the Old Regime.” Crooked Timber blog, August 6, 2014.

More to be added here, depending on your interests.

Most Popular Posts of 2019

Here are the top MR posts for 2019, as measured by landing pages. The most popular post was Tyler’s

1. How I practice at what I do

Alas, I don’t think that will help to create more Tylers. Coming in at number two was my post:

2. What is the Probability of a Nuclear War?

Other posts in the top five were 3. Pretty stunning data on dating from Tyler and my posts, 4. One of the Greatest Environmental Crimes of the 20th Century,and 5. The NYTimes is Woke.

My post on The Baumol Effect which introduced my new book Why are the Prices So Damned High (one of Mercatus’s most downloaded items ever) was number 6 and rounding out the top ten were a bunch from Tyler, including 7. Has anyone said this yet?, 8. What is wrong with social justice warriors?, 9. Reading and rabbit holes and my post Is Elon Musk Prepping for State Failure?.

Other big hits from me included

Tyler had some truly great posts in the last few days of 2019 including what I thought was the post of the year (and not just on MR!) Work on these things.

Also important were:

Happy holidays everyone!

Public health is no longer an O-Ring production function

In the bad old days, health care in poor countries was just terrible. It wasn’t only the poverty, lack of hospitals and pharmaceuticals, and unsanitary conditions.  In addition, doctors gave very bad advice and they also didn’t work very hard, as outlined in this paper.  Citizens suffered accordingly.

Those conditions have improved somewhat, but actual health outcomes have improved a lot.  You still can’t trust the local medical advice in Tanzania, but guess what?  You have much better vaccines, greater access to antibiotics, more NGOs running health clinics, and better health care information, sometimes through the internet.  If your kid has diarrhea, let the kid drink water, even unclean water!  As for antibiotics (NYT):

Two doses a year of an antibiotic can sharply cut death rates among infants in poor countries, perhaps by as much as 25 percent among the very young, researchers reported on Wednesday.

In other words, the quality of the most important part of health care treatments bypassed the rest of the problems in poor economies and grew rapidly, even in countries with only so-so economic growth.  The rate of reduction in child mortality has tripled in many countries since the 1990s, and by no means are those locales major economic winners as say Singapore and South Korea were.

Therein lies one of the most important (and under-reported) global changes in the last twenty years.  It is now possible to have a decent public health system in a country with poor or mediocre political and economic institutions.

In other words, public health is no longer such an O-Ring service, an O-Ring service being one where everything has to go right for the service to be of decent quality.  And advances are much, much easier when the O-Ring structure no longer rules.

The O-Ring citation is to a famous Michael Kremer paper — a trip to the moon is definitely an O-Ring process, because if one step is off the whole mission probably is a failure.  But tasty fish curry is not — you can get a splendid version in some pretty dumpy countries, maybe even a better version in poorer places.

Electricity, however, it seems is still an O-Ring service, as evidenced by the recent power blackouts in South Africa.

What else is likely to become less of an O-Ring good or service in the next few decades to come?  And what can we do to hasten such progress?  Is there any chance of quality software production making that same kind of transition?  Or might some goods and services return to a greater connection with the O-Ring model?

For this post I am very much indebted to a conversation with Garett Jones.

More Sex is Safer Sex

I had forgotten that Steven Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex (link to the 1997 NYTimes version, book here) was inspired by a paper by new Nobelist Michael Kremer. Here’s the recap:

You’ve read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity. Let me tell you about the sin of self-restraint.

Consider Martin, a charming and generally prudent young man with a limited sexual history, who has been gently flirting with his coworker Joan. As last week’s office party approached, both Joan and Martin silently and separately entertained the prospect that they just might be going home together. Unfortunately, Fate, through its agents at the Centers for Disease Control, intervened. The morning of the party, Martin happened to notice one of those CDC-sponsored subway ads touting the virtues of abstinence. Chastened, he decided to stay home. In Martin’s absence, Joan hooked up with the equally charming but considerably less prudent Maxwell – and Joan got AIDS.

When the cautious Martin withdraws from the mating game, he makes it easier for the reckless Maxwell to prey on the hapless Joan. If those subway ads are more effective against Martin than against Maxwell, they are a threat to Joan’s safety. This is especially so when they displace Calvin Klein ads, which might have put Martin in a more socially beneficent mood.

If the Martins of the world would loosen up a little, we could slow the spread of AIDS. Of course, we wouldn’t want to push this too far: if Martin loosens up too much, he becomes as dangerous as Maxwell. But when sexual conservatives increase their activity by moderate amounts, they do the rest of us a lot of good. Harvard professor Michael Kremer estimates that the spread of AIDS in England could plausibly be retarded if everyone with fewer than about 2.25 partners per year were to take additional partners more frequently.

And here is Kremer’s original paper (with Charles Morcom). Landsburg suggests that a subsidy for condoms would be optimal in this situation. Read the whole thing.

Addendum: I later pointed out that the Kremer model appears to fit what happened in Thailand quite well.

The O-Ring Model of Development

Michael Kremer’s Nobel prize (with Duflo and Banerjee) reminded me of his important paper The O-Ring Theory of Development. I also rewatched my video on this paper from Tyler’s and my online class, Development Economics. This was from our powerpoint and iPad days so there are no fancy graphics but the video holds up! Mostly because it’s a great model with lots of interesting implications not just for development but also for the structure of the US economy. See also Jason Collins on Garett Jones’s extension of the model.

Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990

That is an older paper by the excellent Michael Kremer, worth keeping in mind, here is the abstract:

The nonrivalry of technology, as modeled in the endogenous growth literature, implies that high population spurs technological change. This paper constructs and empirically tests a model of long-run world population growth combining this implication with the Malthusian assumption that technology limits population. The model predicts that over most of history, the growth rate of population will be proportional to its level. Empirical tests support this prediction and show that historically, among societies with no possibility for technological contact, those with larger initial populations have had faster technological change and population growth.

This bears on my earlier Bloomberg column, today cited by Mike Lee, suggesting that having more children is likely to help out on the climate change issue.