New issue of Econ Journal Watch

It is here, along with the table of contents.  Here are two segments, reproduced from the front page of the journal:

Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and the Guy Next Door: Race, Ethnicity, and Baseball Card Prices

David Findlay and John Santos replicate an analysis of the market for baseball Hall-of-Famer rookie cards produced since 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut. The earlier study did not find evidence of significant racial discrimination by card buyers. Having detected a pattern of data errors in that study, Findlay and Santos correct the errors, extend the analysis, and include Hispanics. Their more powerful analysis also finds no evidence of significant racial or ethnic discrimination.

  • The Findlay and Santos article
  • Robert Muñoz—one of the authors of the original study—acknowledges the corrections, applauds the extensions, and explores dimensions of the discrimination question that are not well illuminated by the findings of the investigation.

Characteristics of the Members of Twelve Economic Associations:

Using survey responses from 299 U.S. economics professors, the authors report on membership in the professional economic associations with names including the following terms: American, Eastern, Southern, Western, Econometric, Evolutionary Economics, Private Enterprise Education, Feminist Economics, Public Choice, Socio-Economics, Austrian Economics, and Radical Political Economics. Association membership is related to voting, policy views, and favorite economists.


This seems like a tough study to do right. There are only a few cards that will command significant premiums, and one of them is the Mickey Mantle rookie card, which is simultaneously
1) One of the greatest and most hyped rookies ever
2) One of the greatest and most iconic players ever
3) Produced in very limited quantities late in the year (legend has it that most copies of the card were dumped in the ocean)
4) The most famous baseball card ever

The way you deal with those four factors could completely determine your results.

... discard the outlier?

Is it me, or are those two abstracts particularly compelling data points in support of the argument that there is too much academic research of marginal value?

+1. It's not just you. These would be great classroom exercises but are not worthwhile for a research journal.

Well, that 's a relief. I'm not sure I'd be able to sleep at night, knowing there were racist baseball card collectors out there.

Indeed, most academic reseach is of dubious value (both in terms of total value and at the margin), but the problem is the "hindsight effect" -- we don't know ahead of time what research is worthwhile until far later in the future, because what is of value is decided by the relevant research community and by external social forces as well -- thus, we must not only tolerate, but also celebrate marginal research in order to extract the occasional gem from the pile

Enrique- point taken. But seriously, going in, would it not be clear that assessing the racism of baseball cards trades is just a teensy bit ... I dunno ... Neither here nor there?

But what if the authors had stumbled upon an amazing new technique for analysing the data that could be applied to other, much more worthwhile, situations.

Are there any baseball card collectors who aren't white? Any baseball statistics analysts who aren't white? If there are, they aren't numerous.

Dmitri Young would like a word with you:

It`s great when economists think about the great problems like baseball cards. Forget the business cycle, forget growth.

Karl; there is no "business cycle", there is just optimization along an imbalanced path!

About the study - so what? So what if baseball card collectors don't favor the cards of colored athletes?

Most baseball card collectors are non-colored. So too are most coin shop owners and sports memorabilia shop owners. Americans have the right to like who they want to and dislike who they don't. Let Obama start buying colored players' sports memorabilia and maybe his demand can artificially spike the price/value of that crap.

Beckett (the price guide which the authors use) grades cards themselves for a fee. Because of this, the prices that are used by both sets of authors in their studies are subject to a moral hazard problem in that the individual firm that reports the prices also influences the prices by controlling some of the supply of high-graded cards. Moreover, the prices reported in the price guides are for ungraded cards, but the bulk of vintage cards are graded. These facts were unmentioned by both sets of authors.

It would have been nice if the authors who tried to replicate this study took completed auctions of PSA-graded cards from eBay and other auction houses to build their price series. That approach would have generated a more compelling price series to test the racial assertions, since those prices are market outcomes. However, since the prices used don't represent the market in any way (nobody in the market uses Beckett any longer, and Beckett has moved away from its price guide portion of the business) it's difficult to say that this replication sheds any more light on the question than the original study, since neither study really captures the dynamics of the baseball card industry with any precision.

Some great responses, guys. You may consider reading my response piece. I speak to larger issues to take into consideration in I what believe to be compelling manner. Click on above for access to the PDF.

Comments for this post are closed