Category: Data Source

Against family and entourage?

Many individuals travel between countries as part of their professional routines. How do they perform during those short trips abroad? To begin to answer this question, I analyzed the outcomes of over 5 million chess games played around the world. Importantly, tournament chess provides a clean setting in which location-dependent factors are mostly irrelevant; the audiences are quiet and the referees make hardly any judgments. Controlling for differences in chess skills, I found enhanced performance among players who were competing outside of their home countries. This finding was robust to additional controls such as age, sex, and skill momentum or game practice, and to the inclusion of individual or country fixed effects. This advantage, an approximately 2% increase in game outcome, suggests that traveling has a positive effect on performance.

Here is the full paper by Uri Zak, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

U.S.A. fact of the day

Hispanics are slightly less likely to be jailed than whites…

Council on Criminal Justice analysis found that in 2000, the rate of being on probation was 1.6 times higher and the rate of being parole was 3.6 times higher for Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. But by 2016, the probation disparity had disappeared and the parole disparity had shrunk by 85%. Hispanics still faced a 60% higher risk of being incarcerated in a state prison. This is an enormous and worrying disparity, but the Council noted that it decreased by 60% since 2000…

The dwindling of Hispanic-white disparities is even more remarkable in light of criminal behavior being so heavily concentrated in adolescence and young adulthood,. The median age for Hispanics is 29.8 years versus 43.7 for whites, meaning even in a system free of prejudice that punished solely on the basis of crimes committed, we would expect criminal justice disparities between the populations to be growing, not shrinking.

That is from the Matt Yglesias Substack, but the actual writer is Keith N. Humphreys.

How sad that our regulatory state is still failing us

When Pfizer representatives met with senior U.S. government health officials on July 12, they laid out why they thought booster shots would soon be necessary in the United States. Data from Israel showed the vaccine’s effectiveness waned over time, especially in older and immunocompromised people.

But officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, saying their own data showed something quite different, according to four people with direct knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Other senior health officials in the meeting were stunned. Why hadn’t the CDC looped other government officials on the data? Could the agency share it — at least with the Food and Drug Administration, which was responsible for deciding whether booster shots were necessary? But CDC officials demurred, saying they planned to publish it soon.

That episode, say senior administration officials and outside experts, illustrates the growing frustration with the CDC’s slow and siloed approach to sharing data, which prevented officials across the government from getting real-time information about how the delta variant was bearing down on the United States and behaving with greater ferocity than earlier variants — an information gap they say stymied the response…

“It’s not acceptable how long it takes for this data to be made available,” said a senior CDC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “It’s done in a very academic way. Cross every ‘t,’ and dot every ‘i,’ and unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury in a global pandemic. There’s going to be a need to have a significant cultural shift in the agency.”

Here is the full Washington Post story by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena H. Sun.

Who are the most rational people?

From John A. Doces and Amy Wolaver:

We examine the question of rationality, replicating two core experiments used to establish that people deviate from the rational actor model. Our analysis extends existing research to a developing country context. Based on our theoretical expectations, we test if respondents make decisions consistent with the rational actor framework. Experimental surveys were administered in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, two developing countries in West Africa, focusing on issues of risk aversion and framing. Findings indicate that respondents make decisions more consistent with the rational actor model than has been found in the developed world. Extending our analysis to test if the differences in responses are due to other demographic differences between the African samples and the United States, we replicated these experiments on a nationally representative analysis in the U.S., finding results primarily consistent with the seminal findings of irrationality. In the U.S. and Côte d’Ivoire, highly educated people make decisions that are less consistent with the rational model while low-income respondents make decisions more consistent with the rational model. The degree to which people are irrational thus is contextual, possibly western, and not nearly as universal as has been concluded.

Speculative, and not replicated, but the point remains of definite interest.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Slow economists, crowding each other out

Publishing in economics proceeds much more slowly on average than in the natural sciences, and more slowly than in other social sciences and finance. It is even relatively slower at the extremes. We demonstrate that much of the lag, especially at the extremes, arises from authors’ dilatory behavior in revising their work. The marginal product of an additional round of re-submission at the top economics journals is productive of additional subsequent citations; but conditional on re-submission, journals taking more time is not productive, and authors spending more time is associated with reduced scholarly impact. We offer several proposals to speed up the publication process. These include no-revisions policies; limits on authors’ time revising articles, and limits on editors waiting for dilatory referees.

Here is the full paper by Aboozar Hadavand, Daniel S. Hamermesh, and Wesley W. Wilson.  And from Lester R. Lusher, Winnie Yang, and Scott E. Carrell, here is a related study:

Publishing takes a long time in economics. Consequently, many authors release “working” versions of their papers. Using data on the NBER working paper series, we show that the dissemination of economics research suffers from an overcrowding problem: An increase in the number of weekly released working papers on average reduces downloads, abstract views, and media attention for each paper. Subsequent publishing and citation outcomes are harmed as well. Furthermore, descriptive evidence on viewership and downloads suggests working papers significantly substitute for the dissemination function of publication. These results highlight inefficiencies in the dissemination of economic research even among the most exclusive working paper series and suggest large social losses due to the slow publication process.

Is less attention for each paper necessarily a bad thing?

Felines as labor market outlier?

When given the choice between a free meal and performing a task for a meal, cats would prefer the meal that doesn’t require much effort. While that might not come as a surprise to some cat lovers, it does to cat behaviorists. Most animals prefer to work for their food — a behavior called contrafreeloading.

A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine showed most domestic cats choose not to contrafreeload. The study found that cats would rather eat from a tray of easily available food rather than work out a simple puzzle to get their food.

“There is an entire body of research that shows that most species including birds, rodents, wolves, primates — even giraffes — prefer to work for their food,” said lead author Mikel Delgado, a cat behaviorist and research affiliate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “What’s surprising is out of all these species cats seem to be the only ones that showed no strong tendency to contrafreeload.”

Here is the link, via E Durbrow.  Having grown up with multiple cats, I can attest that part of the results should come as no surprise.  But why do other animals prefer to work for their food?

Why Didn’t the 2009 Recovery Act Improve the Nation’s Highways and Bridges?

Kevin Lewis has been on such a roll lately, I am pleased to bring you all more content that he has sent my way:

Although the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act) provided nearly $28 billion to state governments for improving U.S. highways, the highway system saw no significant improvement. For example, relative to the years before the act, the number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges was nearly unchanged, the number of workers on highway and bridge construction did not significantly increase, and the annual value of construction put in place for public highways barely budged. The author shows that as states spent Recovery Act highway grants, many simultaneously slashed their own contributions to highway infrastructure, freeing up state dollars for other uses. Next, using a cross-sectional analysis of state highway spending, the author shows that a state’s receipt of Recovery Act highway dollars had no statistically significant causal impact on that state’s total highway spending. Thus, the amount of actual highway infrastructure investment following the act’s passage was likely very similar to that under a no-stimulus counterfactual.

The paper is by Bill Dupor, of the St. Louis Fed.  Kevin is a shy, unassuming man, a family man at that, and still deeply underrated!

The value of seat space during a pandemic

Delta Air Lines did not sell the middle seat in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its principal rivals sold all seats starting in July 2020.

Delta raised its fares by 15%.

Passengers paid $23 to prevent a stranger from sitting next to them.

Delta had to operate more flights, so this was not a profit-enhancing strategy.

Here is the paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Fluvoxamine seems to work against Covid-19

That is from a project funded by Fast Grants.

In other words, it wasn’t much of a real estate bubble

We reevaluate the 2000s housing cycle from the perspective of 2020. National real house prices grew steadily between 2012 and 2019, with the largest price growth in the same areas that had the largest booms between 1997 and 2006 and busts between 2006 and 2012. As a result, the areas that had the largest booms also had higher long-run price growth over the entire 1997-2019 period. With “2020 hindsight,” the 2000s housing cycle is not a boom-bust but rather a boom-bust-rebound.

We argue that this pattern reflects a larger role for fundamentals than previously thought.

As I see it, there was a “negative bubble” circa 2008-2009, based on panic about the shadow banking system that was at the time reasonable but also turned out to be wrong.  You can argue however that there was a small bubble at the time (see Figure 1 in the paper, and compare that say to the Japanese stock market), or a bubble in a few particular regions.  And do you know who got this right at the time?  Our own Alex T., perhaps he will tell you the story in more detail.

The authors continue:

A few papers ascribe a role to fundamental factors in the 2000s cycle as we do. Writing near the peak of the boom, Himmelberg et al. (2005) found “little evidence of a housing bubble” because of fundamental growth, undervaluation in the 1990s, and low interest rates. Ferreira and Gyourko (2018) estimate the timing of the boom across cities and show that the beginning of the boom was “fundamentally based to a significant extent” but that fundamentals revert in roughly three years. We similarly conclude that fundamentals played a significant role in the boom, but based on different methods that focus on long-term fundamentals rather than short-term income growth. More recently, Howard and Liebersohn (2021) propose an explanation for housing cycles based on divergence in regional income growth, in which fluctuations in fundamentals fully explain the cycle, and Schubert (2021) identifies spillovers of fundamentals across cities via migration networks.

You are not going to hear many mea culpas on this one, but a quick look at today’s housing market makes it pretty clear who was right and who was wrong.

Here is the NBER working paper from Gabriel Chodorow-Reich, Adam M. Guren, and Timothy J. McQuade.

The performance of the NIH during the pandemic in 2020

“A new research study by one of us and his Johns Hopkins colleagues found that of the $42 billion the National Institutes of Health spent on research last year, less than 2% went to Covid clinical research…

Here is the WSJ source.  Here is the full report from Johns Hopkins, and here is the executive summary:

● Of the $42 Billion 2020 NIH annual budget, 5.7% was spent on
COVID-19 research
● Public health research was underfunded at 0.4% of the 2020 NIH
● Only 1.8% of the 2020 NIH budget was spent on COVID-19 clinical
● Average COVID-19 NIH funding cycle was 5 months
● Aging was funded 2.2 times more than COVID-19 research
● By May 1, 2020, 3 months into the pandemic, the NIH spent 0.05%
annual budget on COVID-19 research
● Of the 1419 grants funded by the NIH:
• NO grants on kids and masks specifically
• 58 studies on social determinants of health
• 57 grants on substance abuse
• 107 grants on developing COVID-19 medications
• 43 of the 107 medication grants repurposed existing drugs

Ouch.  Here is a not entirely random sentence from the report:

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the NIH institutional challenges and inability to reallocate funds quickly to
critical research.

Here is another damning sentence, though it damns someone other than the NIH:

…to date, no research has investigated NIH COVID-19 funding patterns to the best of our knowledge.

Double ouch.  Might the NIH have too much influence over the allocation of funds to be investigated properly?  Rooftops, people…

Iceland and Covid


As you may know, Iceland is one of the most fully vaccinated countries in the world:


All via Eric Topol.  No, I am not arguing we should give up or stop looking for policy and most of all biomedical improvements.  All the more reason to do so!  But…this does indicate we will need to find some way of living with such case numbers, without falling apart and pulling the plug on economic activity.

Inequality sentence fragments to ponder

…wealth inequality varies greatly across countries, and there is no clear correlation with countries’ levels of income inequality.

Sweden for instance has reasonable income equality but very high wealth inequality.  Many of the southern European nations are the opposite.

So which is it that matters?  Is it income inequality that matters when you wish to praise Sweden over the United States, but wealth inequality that matters when you wish to argue for a wealth tax?

By the way, the distribution of housing equity is a critical factor for understanding how income variables translate into wealth variables.

That is all from Fabian T. Pfeffer and Nora Waitkus.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The Political-Economic Causes of the Soviet Great Famine, 1932–33

This study constructs a large new dataset to investigate whether state policy led to ethnic Ukrainians experiencing higher mortality during the 1932–33 Soviet Great Famine. All else equal, famine (excess) mortality rates were positively associated with ethnic Ukrainian population share across provinces, as well as across districts within provinces. Ukrainian ethnicity, rather than the administrative boundaries of the Ukrainian republic, mattered for famine mortality. These and many additional results provide strong evidence that higher Ukrainian famine mortality was an outcome of policy, and suggestive evidence on the political-economic drivers of repression. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that bias against Ukrainians explains up to 77% of famine deaths in the three republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and up to 92% in Ukraine.

That is a new NBER working paper by Andrei Markevich, Natalya Naumenko (my colleague at GMU), and Nancy Qian.  The paper represents a significant advance in terms of basic data, and the core hypothesis of ethnic favoritism is strongly validated.

Lapses in insurance payments

Most individual life insurance policies lapse, with lapsers cross-subsidizing non-lapsers. We show that policies and lapse patterns predicted by standard rational expectations models are the opposite of those observed empirically. We propose two behavioral models consistent with the evidence: (i) consumers forget to pay premiums and (ii) consumers understate future liquidity needs. We conduct two surveys with a large insurer. New buyers believe that their own lapse probabilities are small compared to the insurer’s actual experience. For recent lapsers, forgetfulness accounts for 37.8 percent of lapses while unexpected liquidity accounts for 15.4 percent.

Here is the full AER article by Daniel Gottlieb and Kent Smetters.