Month: July 2012

What does a contract with Coursera look like?

The contract [with University of Michigan] reveals that even Coursera isn’t yet sure how it will bring in revenue. A section at the end of the agreement, titled “Possible Company Monetization Strategies,” lists eight potential business models, including having companies sponsor courses. That means students taking a free course from Stanford University may eventually be barraged by banner ads or promotional messages. But the universities have the opportunity to veto any revenue-generating idea on a course-by-course basis, so very little is set in stone.

And this stunner:

When and if money does come in, the universities will get 6 to 15 percent of the revenue, depending on how long they offer the course (and thus how long Coursera has to profit from it). The institutions will also get 20 percent of the gross profits, after accounting for costs and previous revenue paid. That means the company gets the vast majority of the cash flow.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank my colleague Debra Lattanzi.

Is Modern Music Boring?

Here, via Kevin Drum, is statistical evidence that modern pop music is boring or at least more homogeneous than in the past (yes, Tyler already linked to Kevin’s post but I wanted to link to the underlying dataset (see below)).

We find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels.

The picture at right shows the timbral variety:

Smaller values of β indicate less timbral variety: frequent codewords become more frequent, and infrequent ones become even less frequent. This evidences a growing homogenization of the global timbral palette. It also points towards a progressive tendency to follow more fashionable, mainstream sonorities.

The underlying data is from the Million Song Dataset which looks pretty cool and is open.

Medicaid wars, continuing

Phil Galewitz and Matthew Fleming surveyed all 50 states to find out how Medicaid budgets are changing. They found that 13 states had made cuts this year..Seven have Democratic governors; six are led by Republicans. Three are in the south and an equal number are in New England. Two, California and Connecticut, seem to really like the Medicaid program: They volunteered to start the health law’s Medicaid expansion early, well before it’s required in 2014. Others, like Louisiana and Florida, are not fans at all: They plan to sit out that Obamacare provision.

All told, it’s pretty hard to find any narrative that explains why these states have cut their Medicaid programs, aside from some broad truths: Budgets are still squeezed and Medicaid is eating up a growing chunk of state spending.

From Sarah Kliff, here is more.

Markets in everything, Indonesian traffic jockeys

To reduce the number of cars on the road, lawmakers have designated several main arteries as what they call “Three in One zones.” During the morning and afternoon rush, you can’t drive there unless you have at least three people on board. That’s why, near the entrances to the zones, men, women and children line up – raising their index finger – offering to rent themselves to commuters in a hurry.

20-year-old Litjak climbs into a black sedan, cradling her 2-month-old daughter Nabilah. Together, they’ll help a college student get to class on time. The baby gives Litjak a competitive advantage, providing two passengers for the price of one.

Litjak says she can make at least two trips in a morning, collecting two or three dollars to help pay for household expenses. She never worries about her safety, and she likes the work. People who can afford to pay have nice cars, so she sits in air conditioned comfort, listening to the radio.

She and others in this line of work are called traffic jockeys. They dress neatly each day and may have regular customers. For some, it’s their only income. Others, like 21-year-old Adik, see this as an easy way to make extra cash when he’s not on the job parking cars.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Nick Lawler.  It is not legal to work as a traffic jockey in Indonesia.

Assorted links

1. Why is UK employment up and output down?

2. Genetics vs. paleoanthropology?

3. Price inflation and stock returns (pdf), and here, and here, and most recently here; “There is a consistent lack of positive relation between stock returns and inflation in most of the countries.”  I am urging a) a bit of caution, and b) engagement with the literature on this topic.  I do favor a more expansionary monetary policy, but I see the balance of evidence as different from how it is frequently portrayed in the blogosphere.

4. New archery gold medal winner is legally blind, and here.

Who reads Chinese fashion magazines?

 Lena Yang, general manager of Hearst Magazines China, who oversees nine publications including Elle and Marie Claire, says that the typical reader of Hearst Magazines in China is a 29.5-year-old woman who is more likely to be single than married. She has an average income of about $1,431 a month and spends $938 a season on luxury watches, $982 on handbags and shoes and $1,066 on clothes.

Ms. Yang says these women often live at home and turn to their parents and grandparents to pay for them. The study also showed that many readers in their 20s saved little.

“Most of them, they are a single child,” Ms. Yang said. “That means they don’t have to pay for their rent. So all of that goes to pocket money. They have the parents support them and the grandparents. They actually have six persons to support them.”

Here is more.


Just half of those given a prescription to prevent heart disease actually adhere to refilling their medications, researchers find in the Journal of American Medicine. That lack of compliance, they estimate, results in 113,00 deaths annually.

That is from Sarah Kliff, here is more.

Pharmaceutical innovation is very, very good

From Frank Lichtenberg:

We examine the impact of pharmaceutical innovation, as measured by the vintage of prescription drugs used, on longevity, using longitudinal, country-level data on 30 developing and high-income countries during the period 2000-2009. We control for fixed country and year effects, real per capita income, the unemployment rate, mean years of schooling, the urbanization rate, real per capita health expenditure (public and private), the DPT immunization rate, HIV prevalence and tuberculosis incidence. Life expectancy at all ages and survival rates above age 25 increased faster in countries with larger increases in drug vintage. The increase in drug vintage was the only variable that was significantly related to all of these measures of longevity growth. Controlling for all of the other potential determinants of longevity did not reduce the vintage coefficient by more than 20%. Pharmaceutical innovation is estimated to have accounted for almost three-fourths of the 1.74-year increase in life expectancy at birth in the 30 countries in our sample between 2000 and 2009, and for about one third of the 9.1-year difference in life expectancy at birth in 2009 between the top 5 countries (ranked by drug vintage in 2009) and the bottom 5 countries (ranked by the same criterion).

Dani Rodrik redoes his convergence result with better data

And it still holds up.  He concludes with this scary bit:

Almost all of the growth miracles of the last 60 years were based on rapid industrialization. Today, technological changes and global competition are fostering rapid de-industrialization (in terms of employment shares) almost everywhere.  This makes me wonder whether the kind of rapid growth experienced by countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and China will ever become possible elsewhere.

The new paper can be downloaded here.

Eight top young economists on where the field is going

It starts with Nicholas Bloom and Raj Chetty, and includes Ali Wyne and Peter Leeson and Justin Wolfers,  among other luminaries,  courtesy of Big Think.  Here is Bloom:

I do not think that any one single breakthrough will happen.  The progress is likely to be heavily empirical—simply because more and more data is becoming available, and it is easy to analyze with fast computers (so empirics is now advancing faster than theory)—and spread across many hundreds of topics.  So economics has gone from Victorian science, where one genius in his shed could invent the steam engine over the weekend, to industrial science, where innovation comes in thousands of tiny steps made by dozens of research teams.

Here is Wolfers:

Economic theory will become a tool we use to structure our investigation of the data.  Equally, economics is not the only social science engaged in this race: our friends in political science and sociology use similar tools; computer scientists are grappling with “big data” and machine learning; and statisticians are developing new tools.  Whichever field adapts best will win.  I think it will be economics.

China piranha arbitrage

The local government of Liuzhou in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has ended its hunt for rogue piranha fish after offering a reward which attracted thousands of hopeful fishers to local rivers. The quest to capture the troublesome fish — whose presence in the river is unexplained — has become farcical, with online retailers offering to sell and deliver piranhas to the region for 12 yuan (US$1.80) apiece.

The story is here and for the pointer I thank Peter Metrinko.