Request day

I hereby take requests for special topics to be covered.  I make no promises, but here is your chance.  As usual, weak monotonicity holds, meaning that a request can’t lower your chance of coverage.  Comments are open…


What are your thoughts on the new dynamic optimal public finance policy models being built and simulated? Will they yield any new insights applicable for the real world, or are they a fad?

Latin American politics. Why do our politicians suck.

Should we refrain from consuming the cultural products of those producers who hold morally objectionable views, when our consumption of such products will benefit said producers?

I have in mind something like you going to see Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (though if that example doesn't fit the model for you, you can find your own example). The thinking in this particular case would be, why provide the monetary and expressive support to Gibson by seeing his movie, given that he seems to hold morally objectionable views? Sure, if you didn't see the movie, you wouldn't get the two or so hours of possible artistic enjoyment, but that is a small price to pay for doing what seems to be the right thing. Your thoughts?

A series of posts on basic economic principles, I already mentioned inflation as an example. I realize this may not be what many of your readers expect, but it's got to be more interesting than the hightened sexuality of soccer enthusiasts

I asked for this one last time, and I seem to be the only one interested, but here goes nothing...What is currency and what are the potential implications of a completely digital currency that could have unlimited meta information attached to it? [Some obvious implications would be tracking transactions and the government's ability to enforce taxes, etc., some more esoteric stuff would be attaching conditions much like covenants, say that a particular payment could only be used to buy products that were carbon neutral, possibly down the road having policy implications.]

How'd you like Civilization? I just bought it and I can't beat it.

Explore the economics of the Tom Leykis model of human behavior: under a surprisingly broad set of conditions, women are more attracted to men who treat them poorly, don't spend money on them, etc., while nice guys finish last.

progressive taxation as price discimination

If you do want to weigh all existing and future individuals’ welfare equally (i.e. people now and those individuals that 'will' come into existence) when doing an intergenerational CBA on certain investments and/or savings what discount rate should you use? In other words I am asking if there is a technical answer on what the discount rate should be if we have accepted a utilitarian normative argument about how to weigh current welfare against future welfare.

I am thinking of Stern's treatment CBA on global warming. As far as I understand it Stern's normative argument amounts, roughly, to the following:

1) A supposedly zero rate of time preference where 1% of consumption today should be valued as equal in welfare terms to 1% of consumption in the next generation. Following Stern being impartial about whose welfare is improved by a certain policy would requires us to forgo 1% of our consumption as an investment in future consumption if the benefit to the future generation would be anything > that 1% of what their consumption would have been without our investment. Thus zero discounting of future consumption is suppose to be the same things as a zero time preference for any particular generation’s welfare.

2) A very low amount of discounting because of the risk of extinction.

Let us assume that the non-identity problem is no problem (some plausible solutions exist), and that we are positive to a roughly utilitarian approach to assessing intergenerational justice (i.e. despite a host of other problems). Even given these assumptions 1) seems to be wrong. This is because people in the future are expected to be significantly richer that current people in terms of consumption and Stern’s approach does not discount for the declining marginal utility of increases in consumption levels. What would the discount rate be if we were to discount for the declining marginal utility of increases in consumption levels?

I am not an economist so I might have misunderstood Stern, but maybe there is still something to say about my question as it is formulated in the first paragraph.

1) Is the university tenure system compatible with eliminating mandatory retirement?

2) Why is Europe becoming ever more secular?

Your preferred policy towards unions.

Whether the taxation of income should be replaced in part by the taxation of the use of carbon-based fuels.

Professor Cowen,

Has anyone gone through the expenditure side of the federal budget to see how progressive/regressive it is?

a vote for your thoughts on fiat currency vs currencies backed by precious metals. could a return to the gold standard for the US dollar, as advocated by US congressman ron paul, bring about a superior economic system?

Are the markets adapting to the warmer world. Almost all research/reports I see evaluate (i) either the causes (e.g. Sun, CO2) and consequences (e.g. costs, polar bears) of global warming and (ii) what can we do to slow/stop it.

Is anyone studying the market reaction to an (arguably)unstoppable weather phenomenon? E.g.

# Are the prices of real estate in cooler areas of the world going up at the expense of the prices in warmer areas of the world?
# Is R&D money being invested in cheaper and more efficient cooling systems for buildings, cars, individual people?
# Are the shares of wine producers in the UK or Germany going up? As the south of the UK gets warmer, the quality of the wine should increase. What is happening to wines from regions where grapes won't grow in the future?
# How about ski resorts? Would you start a new one now?


How come parking in New York City (well, Manhattan, at least) is always priced so that the first hour is very expensive ($10-ish), but staying for the whole day is only slightly more expensive (typically about double the one hour rate). Everywhere else in the country it's pretty much a flat rate of $X/hour give or take a bit. You'd think the high land value of Manhattan implies the largest cost of running a parking lot was "rent" so prices would be closer to a per-hour charge.

I am interested in the economics of tipping. This seems appropriate, since you seem to eat out a lot. Why in the United States is the pay of waitstaff structured like it is as compared to elsewhere, where tipping is less expected? I never really understood this concept. Thanks.

How about the economics of credit card fraud and/or identity fraud from the perspective of individual, information custodian, and society? What is your reaction to the TJX breach of 10 million credit cards or the VA's loss of 26 million identities, for example? How does/should the number of records that are lost, the volume of overall activity (both good and bad), the number of attackers, and the nature of the data impact decisions and outcomes?


My topic suggestion:

Economic Development for the heterogeneous Latin America. Or how the social, economic and cultural heterogeneity between and within latin american countries affect their development prospects and/or strategies.

You have mentioned that a stronger (not bigger) state seems necessary; but does that mean different things for Bolivia, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru, versus Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Argentina? (I am particularly interested in the first group mentioned due to the within-heterogeneity and inequality).

I vote for policies towards Africa and/or Latin America, which seem to be common questions.

a related subquestion: is the flow of research against malaria and other targeted diseases good or bad (or mixed) for the recipients? I have been a believer that eliminating diseases would have a big impact on economic growth, but Foreign Affairs recently had an article attacking the concentration of charity dollars in a few diseases as tending to distort funding allocations away from the most important local needs.

Anything on Kurzweil's theories viz lengthening the lifespan. What will be the economic and social consequences if his predictions come to pass.

I think you should cover the best young artists, musicians and writers under thirty.

How do the incentives of giving a corporation the rights of a legal "person" play out with respect to "corporate" responsibility? Do the legal structures of S-Corps, C-Corps, LLCs, etc. provide perverse incentives for executives and entrepreneurs to take risks that they otherwise would not, and is this a bad thing?

(1) Prospects for a single land tax (ala Henry George) as an economic reform to help declining cities such as Syracuse, Rochester, etc.

(1b) If you write on this, what are the implications of this policy on eminent domain.

(2) Do we need the tenure system anymore in higher education? I do not believe we need the protections in the name of academic freedom if we are all as pluralistic as we claim to be.

Prof. Cowen-
I really enjoy your blog. I was wondering if you could talk about community rating in health insurance regulation. Thanks.

You said: I could do "My Favorite Things German" for weeks.

Please do. :)

Economic sanctions (Iran, Cuba, North Korea) - do they work? Can a libertarian support them?

Rational/just behavior in totalitarian societies: To join the ruling party, to get a good job and to collaborate with the regime (because you don't know whether it ends during your lifetime; in order to to secure good prospects for your kids; in order to reform the regime from within; in order to prevent less moral people from occupying all the important positions...)? To be as inconspicuous as possible, not to provoke "them", to live in your inner world, to read a lot of books, to try not to care about politics? To fight the regime actively with the risk of being jailed, spoiling the future of your family, spending your best years in menial jobs but to live in peace with yourself?

A follow-up: After the fall of the regime, how should be the above groups evaluated? Should the former collaborators be punished? Or is it better for the society to integrate them and use their human capital?

Why does McDonald's cut the price of their Filet-O-Fish sandwiches during lent?

What would economic growth be if the government followed optimal policies to achieve growth? What are the most consequential policies that affect growth?
When one goes to a restaurant of a cuisine one has never tried, what should one order?

Why are there so few privately owned and operated mass transit systems?

As a parent, what should one want their children to learn?

My votes: (1) math, (2) languages, (3) to appreciate history and literature, and (4) the ability to traverse cultures.

I would love to see your take on the bell curve wars.

I'd be interested in your response to this:

As you know, colleges set their sticker prices by picking some absurdly high figure, like $46,732 per year, then discount like crazy, although they call their discounts "financial aid." But, they discount the way economic theory predicts a monopolist would - by perfect price discrimination, setting the profit-maximizing price for each potential customer. You learn in Econ 101 that in the real world, this theoretical result is seldom achieved because firms can't obtain all detail necessary about each customer for setting the perfect price. If your econ professor has s a rogue wit, he will then point out that there is a single exception: American colleges, which insist upon complete financial disclosure from applicants for "financial aid."

-Steve Sailer

Are parents being economically rational if they don't seem to perform any kind of value-for-money calculation when the send their kids to private school? There aren't a lot of studies on the subject, but it seems that after adjusting for socioeconomic status, kids at private schools slightly underperform kids at public schools. Yet parents will pay any price to send their kids to private schools. What's more, there's very little difference in price between different private schools -- the bad charge pretty much the same as the good. How does any of this make any economic sense?

Remind us what the ultimate justification for freedom is.

You've said you're a pluralist. Did you mean Isaiah Berlin-style?

If suburban sprawl does really have so many environmental costs as some people, why does it continue? Why isn't living in an urban environment significantly cheaper?

Also, why are there so few inspiring cities/neighborhoods built after WWII?

Your thoughts on whether okapis are the cutest looking animals.

Will the use of hard currency (paper and coins) ever fully go away in the US to be replaced completely by the various electronic means that we use today?


To what extent does progressive taxation cause a move to places that are both cheaper to live in and have lower pay scales (thus lower federal taxation)?

How much does progressive taxation reduce the incentive/reward to further education?

Why does a parking lot in Maryland I occasionally use charge $5 for the day if you arrive before 9am and $8 if you arrive after 9am. Some sort of price discrimination based on assuming people who come later in the day are not working in the nearby offices...perhaps these leisure drivers/visitors don't have as much info. on other area parking options or are simply people with significant lesiure time/wealth who are not much affected by high parking rates, or perhaps if they only use the lot once or occasionally they are less price sensitive (for that one visit) than someone who goes there often.

Somebody else has already mentioned Land Value Tax, so how about:

Why is no-one discussing it? Is it better to introduce it before, or after, the housing bubble bursts?

What are the microfoundations of pro-growth institutions? That is to say, what causes things like property rights or constraints on government (a la North & Weingast) or rule of law to emerge on their own in England, Holland, or Somaliland (per Kristof yesterday), but not in Russia, Haiti, etc.

Given the big drop in the stock markets yesterday, I've always wondered if the "circuit breakers" make any sort of sense:

Do they make sense to you? Or would the market be better off "unfettered" in the long run?

I second the request for comments on dollarization.

Could you explain why Cuba has a child mortality level on par with the United States despite the fact that their GDP per capita is more than ten times lower?

Assuming it truly exists (i.e. it's indeed a recent trend rather than something that's always been true), how to explain the recent "epidemic" of extreme thinness and eating disorders among fashion models?

What are the microfoundations of macro supposed to be?

In my graduate macro courses we start out with a macro theory, say, the Solow growth model, then proceed to build its 'microfoundations', in this case the Ramsey model, but then we're basically back to our original model, so what was the point of the exercise? Presumably, the microfoundations should have some bigger role to play regarding the macro theory? Or is it all window dressing? The fact that the foundations for the most part are all crazy and not even a remote approximation of reality adds to this suspicion. It certainly does not seem like to be about building a theory up from what we believe is going on on the level of individual behavior.

My high school history teacher and I were discussing tenure, teaching and research at colleges and universities. Currently at a lot of colleges, tenure is granted based on getting published or pulling in research grants. Unfortunately some of these people are not good at teaching and view it as a hindrance to their research/publishing. In these cases both students and researchers lose. Students could have better teachers, and teachers have better uses for their time. This is especially disappointing coming from a private high school, where hiring and firing are based only on how well you can teach kids. How come more colleges can't grant tenure to great teachers, especially the ones that excel at teaching 400-person intro lecture courses? Are there any rankings of schools on tenure-for-teaching ratios?

And on a completely different note:

Why hasn't there been an intervention in Darfur? Everyone seems to be waiting for the UN to do something, which is almost the same thing as waiting for Superman to do something.

To phrase it less polemically: What conditions will have to arise to precipitate an intervention in Darfur?

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