Month: November 2012

Conor Friedersdorf nails it

Before rank-and-file conservatives ask, “What went wrong?”, they should ask themselves a question every bit as important: “Why were we the last to realize that things were going wrong for us?”

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike 4 years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise.

Here is a key sentence:

They were operating at a self-imposed information disadvantage.

Read the whole thing.  They should elevate him to something too.  And as Matt Lewis said on Twitter:

Conservative media outlets promote too many voices who mislead the base AND turnoff independents. Good for ratings & clicks/bad for America.

Marijuana, Prescription Requirements and the Doctrine of Informed Consent

It used to be common for physicians to withhold information and even to misinform patients “for their own good.” Authorities as venerable as Hippocrates advocated that some information be concealed from patients. Today, most of us would find it outrageous if a physician misinformed his patient to perform surgery regardless of the reasons. Changes in public opinion and a series of court cases have overruled medical paternalism. In the 1914 case Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital, Benjamin Cardozo wrote:

Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient’s consent commits an assault for which he is liable in damages. This is true except in cases of emergency where the patient is unconscious and where it is necessary to operate before consent can be obtained.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s and in particular the 1957 case Salgo v. Leland Stanford, however, that the doctrine of informed consent (DIC) became well accepted in practice and in medical ethics. The doctrine of informed consent has both consequentialist and deontological justifications. On the consequentialist side, informed consent generally leads to better medical outcomes. Patients are also better able to understand their own overall interests than are others so the DIC leads to better overall welfare. On the deontological side, it is today widely accepted that all patients have a right to autonomy and that physicians cannot justly abrogate that right even in the patient’s own interest. It would be wrong to require someone to undergo surgery even if such surgery was necessary to save their life.

In an interesting paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics Jessica Flanigan argues that the same reasons which support the doctrine of informed consent also support a patient’s right to use pharmaceuticals without a doctor’s prescription. Based on Peltzman and Temin she argues that the consequential outcomes of prescription-only have not been good, at least not overwhelmingly so. Most importantly, patient autonomy applies just as much to the choice to medicate as to the refusal to medicate:

Citizens have rights of self-medication for the same reasons that they have rights of informed consent. The prescription drug system has bad consequences and it privileges regulators’ and physicians’ judgements about a patient’s health over the patient’s judgement about her overall well-being. Most troublingly, the prescription drug system violates patients’ rights.

Instead, I propose that prohibitive pharmaceutical policies, which are a kind of strong paternalism, be replaced by nonprohibitive policies that enable patients to obtain whatever medicines they choose while promoting informed consumer choices by making expert advice readily available.

Notice that the argument is not simply that prescription only requirements are against social welfare but rather that support for the doctrine of informed consent also supports the right to use pharmaceuticals without getting the consent of an official.

I am pleased that the voters in Colorado and Washington approved adults to use marijuana for any purpose. In the future people will be shocked that we arrested millions for marijuana use in the same way that we are shocked that doctors used to perform surgeries without a patient’s informed consent.

Women, education, and earnings

From the job market paper of Miriam Gensowski, from University of Chicago:

Yet for education levels beyond the bachelor’s, higher education is associated with slightly lower earnings through marriage. The more highly educated women are less likely to be married, and thus lose the opportunity to bolster their own earnings with their husband’s. In the case of women with a Masters degree, the negative effect is clearly related to lower probability of being married – as Fig. 8 shows. A woman’s propensity to be married is much lower for women with a master’s as opposed to a bachelor’s degree or high school diploma. Most interestingly, the exceptional women who obtained a Doctorate degree did not suffer significantly in the marriage market, as one might have anticipated. Even though they were significantly less likely to be married, when they were married their husbands had higher-than-average earnings, so overall the impact of their high education on the returns to marriage are not statistically different from zero.

Of course there is a tricky causal issue.  If you truly feel like getting a Masters degree, that may be enough to indicate your marriage prospects are lower and refraining from the Masters may not much help.  We don’t know.

The paper is interesting throughout.  For instance it finds a high return to education even after adjusting for IQ and personality traits.  It ascertains which male personality types benefit the most from education.  It also finds that the personality trait of neuroticism increases male earnings if correlated with a Masters or Ph.d but not otherwise.

From Scott Sumner

In this election Romney destroyed Obama in West Virginia, winning by around 27 points, his biggest margin east of the Mississippi.  A swing of 42 points from the 1996 election.  And Romney didn’t just win West Virginia, he swept the entire Appalachian region.  Meanwhile Obama won Virginia for the second time in a row.

West Virginia symbolizes the future of the GOP, while Virginia symbolizes the future of the Democratic Party.  Which party has a brighter future?

PS.  Thank God for the voters of Colorado.  For the first time in American history a state voted to legalize marijuana, and not just “for medicinal purposes.”  Maybe I should retire there, instead of California.

The link is here.  Scott and I are both market liberals, and we both basically know that the GOP needs to start all over again.  That process could start with a recognition of demographics.  I don’t however expect our point of view to have any more influence in the short run.  Someone should elevate Reihan Salaam to something or other, as soon as possible.

GMOs won handily in California, a victory for science and common sense.  In how many races last night did “demonization” win?  Bad night for the demons, or good night perhaps, depending on your point of view.  Like Gideon Rachmann, I still think Romney would have been fine as a President, but the broader array of interest groups, to support the real Romney, comes from another time and place.  In any case America still has the most enviable set of problems in the world and let’s build on that.  Now that the election is over, maybe the quality of discourse in the blogosphere will rise a bit too.

I am looking forward to the year to come, and as always thank you all for reading.

Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations?

The subtitle of the paper is Evidence from a Large Scale Natural Field Experiment and the authors are Andreas Leibbrandt and John List.  Here is the abstract:

One explanation advanced for the persistent gender pay differences in labor markets is that women avoid salary negotiations. By using a natural field experiment that randomizes nearly 2,500 job-seekers into jobs that vary important details of the labor contract, we are able to observe both the nature of sorting and the extent of salary negotiations. We observe interesting data patterns. For example, we find that when there is no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men are more likely to negotiate than women. However, when we explicitly mention the possibility that wages are negotiable, this difference disappears, and even tends to reverse. In terms of sorting, we find that men in contrast to women prefer job environments where the ‘rules of wage determination’ are ambiguous. This leads to the gender gap being much more pronounced in jobs that leave negotiation of wage ambiguous.

An ungated copy I do not see, does anyone?

Assorted links

1. Is the romantic view more true for the weird?

2. Elliott Carter passes away at 103; here is my favorite Carter CD.

3. Miles Kimball refines the “abolish currency” proposal.

4. More on the GMU expansion to Songdo, South Korea.

5. How the Japanese cut cucumbers (video).

6. Gas for sex price controls don’t work markets in everything.

7. A loyal MR reader writes to me: “You may have seen he updated his profile: This very OKCupid profile has been linked from Marginal Revolution (one of the most popular econblogs). I swear I am not making this up.”  Link here.

8. Will top economists be swapped in Catalonia?  Here is the latest rumor (in Spanish).

*The Redistribution Recession*

That’s the new book by Casey Mulligan, and the subtitle is How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy.  To get to the point, it’s quite good.

Maybe you’ve already read some of the other blogosphere reviews, a few of which are cited here.  Atrios calls him “the worst person in the world,” without showing he has read the book, and there is further invective from other sources.  The critics all misrepresent his arguments, and/or respond to the weakest rather than the strongest version of his arguments (“soup kitchens caused the Great Depression”).  They are not criticizing him from the vantage point of science.

The contributions of this book include:

1. Using data from seasonal cycles and seasonal changes to better understand supply-demand relationships during the Great Recession.  These sections are excellent and highly original.

2. Showing that the normal laws of supply and demand still held and that we were not living in anything resembling wrong-ways sloping AD curves.

3. Calculation of various implicit marginal tax rates during the Great Recession and showing their relevance for labor supply decisions.

By no means am I fully on board.  I believe he specifies the aggregate demand view incorrectly and significantly under-measures the impact of aggregate demand.  I don’t think the AD view has to imply sticky prices or completely inelastic labor demand, for instance, although one version of that view does (p.208).  I see Mulligan as underestimating labor supply composition effects and overestimating productivity growth during the period under consideration.  There are other points one can complain about and overall he ends up overstating the size of the effects he is measuring.

Still, there are only a few readable books which integrate actual empirical research with a look at the Great Recession.  This is by no means the whole story, but this is a book which anyone seriously interested in the topic should read.  People still will be consulting it after the invective against it has long since died away.

Markets in everything, gifts for science geeks edition

Here is one example:

9. Klein Bottle

If you want to give a mathematician something to try to wrap their head around, a Klein bottle is a good place to start. A real Klein bottle is an object with no inside and no outside that can only exist in four dimensions. These glass models exist in three, which means that unlike the real thing, they can actually hold liquid.

The difference between the models and the real thing is that by adding an extra dimension, you can make it so that the neck of the bottle doesn’t actually intersect the side of the bottle. Take a couple aspirin and try to picture that in your head.

Price: $35

There are many others here.  For the pointer I thank @induction_econ.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covers MRU

Mr. Cowen hopes the site will become a library of explanatory videos about economics, not all of which will be organized into courses. He pictures a day when professors routinely make videos to explain their latest research findings to supplement their scholarly papers. “In less than five years most papers of every note will have a five-minute video,” Mr. Cowen predicts. “People can view it, rewind, rewatch, relisten. You can show it to classes.”

Here is more (listed as gated, but it wasn’t for me).

And here is good additional Washington Post coverage.

Project Blue Sky, from Pearson

Project Blue Sky allows instructors to search, select, and seamlessly integrate Open Educational Resources with Pearson learning materials. Using text, video, simulations, Power Point and more, instructors can create the digital course materials that are just right for their courses and their students. Pearson’s Project Blue Sky is powered by Gooru Learning, a search engine for learning materials.

The site is here, press coverage is here.

How not to regulate driverless cars

One issue is that the laws are requiring licensed drivers to sit in the driving seat, eliminating one of the main advantages of the technology.  Yet there are more problems.  From Marc Scribner:

Bizarrely, Cheh’s bill also requires that autonomous vehicles operate only on alternative fuels.


Another flaw in Cheh’s bill is that it would impose a special tax on drivers of autonomous vehicles. Instead of paying fuel taxes, “Owners of autonomous vehicles shall pay a vehicle-miles travelled (VMT) fee of 1.875 cents per mile.” Administrative details aside, a VMT tax would require drivers to install a recording device to be periodically audited by the government. There may be good reasons to replace fuel taxes with VMT fees, but greatly restricting the use of a potentially revolutionary new technology by singling it out for a new tax system would be a mistake.

Cheh is on the D.C. City Council.

What would it look like if we were to rewrite all of the regulations for “drivered” cars today?