Results for “department why not”
169 found

Why do intellectuals oppose capitalism?

This essay by the deceased Robert Nozick has a few years on it, but I never knew there was an on-line version. It is the best piece I know on why so many intellectuals oppose capitalism. See my earlier blog post on the inability of some researchers to find a single registered Republican within some departments of MIT and other universities (of course Republicans commonly fail capitalism but I suspect that is not the objection of the MIT faculty). With thanks to Cato, Newmarksdoor, and BrianMicklethwait.com.

Here is one excellent sentence of many:

“The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large.”

The Myth of Primitive Communism

AEON: Today, many writers and academics still treat primitive communism as a historical fact. To take an influential example, the economists Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi have argued for 20 years that property rights coevolved with farming. For them, the question is less whether private property predated farming, but rather why it appeared at that time. In 2017, an article in The Atlantic covering their work asserted plainly: ‘For most of human history, there was no such thing as private property.’ A leading anthropology textbook captures the supposed consensus when it states: ‘The concept of private property is far from universal and tends to occur only in complex societies with social inequality.’

A Yagua (Yahua) tribeman demonstrating the use of blowgun (blow dart), at one of the Amazonian islands near Iquitos, Peru. JialiangGao www.peace-on-earth.org

In fact, although some tribes had communal sharing of (some) food, most did not. Private property, far from being unknown, was normal among all hunter-gatherers that have been studied. Manvir Singh writing in Aeon continues:

Agta hunters in the Philippines set aside meat to trade with farmers. Meat brought in by a solitary Efe hunter in Central Africa was ‘entirely his to allocate’. And among the Sirionó, an Amazonian people who speak a language closely related to the Aché, people could do little about food-hoarding ‘except to go out and look for their own’. Aché sharing might embody primitive communism. Yet, Hill admits, ‘the Aché are probably the extreme case.’

More damning, however, is a starker, simpler fact. All hunter-gatherers had private property, even the Aché….Individual Aché owned bows, arrows, axes and cooking implements. Women owned the fruit they collected. Even meat became private property as it was handed out. Hill explained: ‘If I set my armadillo leg on [a fern leaf] and went out for a minute to take a pee in the forest and came back and somebody took it? Yeah, that was stealing.’

Some proponents of primitive communism concede that foragers owned small trinkets but insist they didn’t own wild resources. But this too is mistaken. Shoshone families owned eagle nests. Bearlake Athabaskans owned beaver dens and fishing sites. Especially common is the ownership of trees. When an Andaman Islander man stumbled upon a tree suitable for making canoes, he told his group mates about it. From then, it was his and his alone. Similar rules existed among the Deg Hit’an of Alaska, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin, and the Enlhet of the arid Paraguayan plains. In fact, by one economist ’s estimate, more than 70 per cent of hunter-gatherer societies recognised private ownership over land or trees.

Moreover, the sharing that some hunter-gatherers practiced was functional rather than ethical.

Whatever we call it, the sharing economy that Hill observed with the Aché does not reflect some lost Edenic goodness. Rather, it sprang from a simpler source: interdependence. Aché families relied on each other for survival. We share with you today so that you can share with us next week, or when we get sick, or when we are pregnant.

take away the function and the sharing disappeared, often brutally:

In their book Aché Life History (1996), Hill and the anthropologist Ana Magdalena Hurtado listed many Aché people who were killed, abandoned or buried alive: widows, sick people, a blind woman, an infant born too soon, a boy with a paralysed hand, a child who was ‘funny looking’, a girl with bad haemorrhoids. Such opportunism suffuses all social interactions. But it is acute for foragers living at the edge of subsistence, for whom cooperation is essential and wasted efforts can be fatal.

None of this should be surprising to anyone familiar with the property-rights tradition of Demsetz and Barzel. The primitive communism of hunter-gatherers is no different in principle from the primitive communism of the wifi service at Starbucks, the modern day police and fire departments, or the use of Shakespeare’s works. As Barzel put it, “New rights are created in response to new economic forces that increase the value of the rights.” Thus, in this respect, there are no major differences among peoples, only differences in transaction costs, externalities, and technologies of inclusion and exclusion.

Monday assorted links

1. Summers on the Fed and whether we can expect inflation to diminish much.  Some points I have not seen him make in earlier presentations.

2. A hypothesis as to why Russia is focusing on Mariupol.

3. Can you beat the football bookmakers?

4. “…we estimate that juvenile detention leads to a 31% decline in the likelihood of graduating high school and a 25% increase in the likelihood of being arrested as an adult.

5. New results on whether NBA referees are racially biased.

6. UCLA zero wage job listing update.  I blame the whole fracas on HR departments, not that UCLA as a school did anything wrong.

How the job market works at top schools

At least pre-Covid, most of the faculty would get together and rate the graduate students (I am not sure how it has operated for the last two years, though I suspect the same, only over Zoom).  Some but not all of the students would be designated as “should work at a top school.”  If you were not so rated, your chance of being hired at a top school was slim.  Other schools, of course, would know not to pursue the top candidates, and would shoot lower, though some foolhardy places might try to lure them anyway.  But basically if you were hiring at a high level, you would call the placement officer at a top school, and they would tier the candidates, based on where you were calling from, and recommend accordingly.

Of course this process has very little transparency and not much in the way of appeal, or even competition, or for that matter accountability to outside parties.  Might it also be a factor behind a lot of the academic conformism we witness?  You go through the early part of your career knowing that you are auditioning for a committee.  Can any voice wreck you?  Or is it majority rule?  You will never know!

Unlike a lot of the whiners, I am not saying this system is necessarily bad — I am genuinely unsure, in part because of the lack of transparency, not to mention that the relevant alternative is possibly something worse yet.  In any case, I find it striking how little discussion this method has received.  It allocates most of the best jobs in the economics profession, and it does not obviously satisfy many of the ideals that at least some of us pay lip service to.  John List, now tenured at the University of Chicago, received his initial Ph.D from University of Wyoming, not a top school, but that kind of climb up the academic ladder is extremely rare in economics.

Most lesser ranked schools, including GMU, do not rank their candidates collectively in the same manner.  There is no collective ranking, rather individual faculty, or perhaps small working groups, recommend their favored candidates.  In part they are competing against the other recommending faculty in their own department.  There is no “secret, collusive meeting,” and so you might think there is an incentive to over-recommend and to deplete the collective credibility of the department.  The market, however, understands that and takes it into account, and in that sense the credibility of the department “starts off depleted” to begin with.  The recommendations then have to be somewhat exaggerated simply to “break even” in the resulting signal-jamming equilibrium.

Lower-ranked schools don’t have the option of sending most of their Ph.D. students to Tier 1 research universities, so the notion of a uniform ranking probably doesn’t make sense there.  And if you have only three graduating Ph.D. students in a year, and two of them are returning home to Asia, as is the case in many of the lower-ranked programs, does it really make sense to rank them?  Furthermore, the lower-ranked schools may have a higher variance of faculty quality, which would render a consensus ranking of the graduates more difficult to achieve.  In contrast, almost all of the faculty at Harvard have a pretty good sense of “what it takes” to succeed at MIT or Princeton as a junior faculty member.

Which method is better?  Is the current state of affairs, with a split system, optimal?  Is the current system due to break down in some way?  Why don’t the economists at top schools talk about this much?  Is the whole thing just a plain, flat outrage?  Here is one of the few discussions I can find, and yes it does affirm that the practice occurs, though it overstates its universality.

What do you all think?

The economics of exploding job market offers

I am hearing various Twitter reports that in the absence of AEA scheduling coordination, the junior economics job market is involving a lot of departments jumping the gun, interviewing early, and then making “exploding offers” with a short fuse, hoping to snap up desperate candidates.  I am not personally involved in that market this year, but my sources seem credible.  In any case, this is a problem worth thinking through.

As an economist, how should we think about exploding job market offers?

1. If you are a decently strong candidate who is highly risk-averse, you will end up with too low quality a job.  That said, the market is satisfying your risk-averse preference just as it does when you buy insurance.  And if you are so risk-averse, maybe your research record won’t be so important anyway, even if you manage to publish well.  I guess I am not that worried about these people.  I am happy enough to tax their risk-aversion, and in fact I suspect we should tax their risk-aversion all the more.

2. You might argue there are “thick market externalities,” and so it is efficient if most of the offers/trading occur closely bunched in time (see Niederle and Roth).  After all, many asset price markets have designated trading hours, rather than full blast trading 24/7.  While I find that analogy plausible, keep in mind what the efficiency here consists of, namely placing the more highly rated candidates in the more highly rated schools.  Is it so terrible if a “market inefficiency” shakes up that system a bit?  I thought the system was too elitist anyway.  Some would say “too white male patriarchical, etc.” anyway.  That is not exactly my view, but I agree that status quo ex ante methods were hardly sacrosanct.

2b. I am not one to trust a “managed intervention” into the previous job market methods more than a general disruption of trading.  Of course if you are an AEA elite leader, you might differ on this.

3. Private sector offers for economists are “always there,” as for instance Amazon and Uber are not locked into the same hiring schedule as academic departments are.  So at the margin these exploding offers will push more economists into the private sector.  I am fine with that, as arguably economists are currently excessively subsidized into academic institutions by government support.

4. Possibly the longer-term equilibrium is that everyone is pushed into acting in November, and perhaps with fewer flyouts.  I am not sure that is a bad option.  Is much extra, true information revealed between November and January?  If you are a good department and afraid of losing good candidates to exploding offers, can’t you just hurry up yourself?  That speed-up of the entire process also gives the secondary market, for those who did not get offers on the first round, more time to operate.  Surely there is room for the entire process to hurry up, yes?

4b. The more quickly the first tier of offers is cleared up, the more efficiently the queued candidates (say second or third in line for an offer) will be allocated.  Isn’t that important too?  For an egalitarian maybe more important?  And rapid, exploding offers may take some top candidates off the market more quickly, in a good way, and stop the places that have no chance at them from chasing after them and wasting time?

5. A speedier overall job market presumably would help the job candidates who are anti-procrastinators and hurt the candidates who are procrastinators.  I am fine with that!  On the offering side, maybe it would help private universities, which tend to be speedier, and hurt public universities?  YMMV.

6. Through the use of letters and phone calls and exclusivity norms, there has been a de facto preemptive market for the top schools for a long time.  And now others are jumping in early!?  Just exactly who is supposed to be fooled here?

7. What is the actual initial job market distortion we might want any change to address or improve?  Might it be that job market candidates are too “Top Five” oriented and too risk-averse?  I am genuinely unsure here.  But if that is the problem, I don’t see why having more exploding offers should be so terrible.

8. Aren’t a lot of the most important opportunities in your life to come similar to “exploding offers”?  Is it so terrible if you have to get used to this method early on?

9. If you really hate exploding offers, work on weakening the supposition that a candidate is not allowed to take one and then a month later “quit” and take another, better job.  Discussed here.

10. The best argument for a coordinated market is simply that it serves the interests of the top schools, and makes sure they get the best candidates, even the risk-averse ones.  Yet everyone is afraid to come out and make this explicitly elitist, anti-egalitarian, and so they resort to a lot of loose moralizing rhetoric (“ooh, it stresses people!” or “ooh, it’s unfair!”) that does not really befit how economists ought to be thinking about the problem.

Here are my earlier remarks on related issues.

How do geologists think?

From Dinwar, in the comments:

As for what it means to think like a geologist….it’s complicated. There definitely is a particular way of thinking unique to geologists. I’m convinced that it’s something you’re either born with or not; training just finishes what you started. Engineers and geologists think VERY differently, in nearly incompatible ways, which is fun because we work together all the time.

The main thing is, geologists think in terms of the context of deep time. We view everything from the perspective of millions of years, minimum. When a geologist looks at a stream they see the depositional zones, the erosional zones, the flood plane–and they are thinking both how the local geology affected it and how the stream will look in five million years. (As an aside, you get really strange looks when you discuss this with your eight-year-old son at a park.) And I do mean EVERYTHING. I remember drinking some loose-leaf tea once, adding the tea to the cup then the water, and realizing as the leaves settled that the high surface-area-to-volume ratio combined with cell damage from desiccation made them get water-logged very quickly, allowing for certain flood deposits to form. I’d always been curious about that.

Another thing to remember is that geologists by definition are polymaths. You can’t be a third-rate geologist unless you have a deep understanding of physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, fluid dynamics, engineering, astronomy, and a host of other fields. Geology is what you get when those fields overlap. I learned as much about brachiopod anatomy from a structural geologist as I did from any paleontologist, and my minerology class started with “Here’s the nuclear physics of stellar evolution.” We’re expected to know drilling and surveying and cartography and…well, pretty much anything that could possibly affect dirt.

Ultimately, since we are dealing with historical sciences, we are detectives. We examine clues, make hypotheses, and look for evidence to support or refute them (for a fantastic discussion of this find the paper “Strong Inference”–that’s held as an ideal for geologic thinking). Like any scientist we look for subtle things, things that have a bearing on our particular field of study. I’m convinced, for example, that the soil in one area I work in has two distinct layers: a loose, fluffy depositional layer of clay, and a more firm layer of clay derived from the limestone bedrock dissolving. This is due to subtle variations in firmness, moisture content, color, whether or not limestone pieces are in the material, etc.–stuff that most people don’t notice. It’s no special ability on my part–my mother notices things about the weave of cloth that are invisible to me, because she makes the stuff. It’s all training. But the desire to look for it? That’s personality.

Field geologists are even worse–we do all that, only in conditions that would make any sane person run screaming. We’re expected to be athletes, MacGyver, scientists, managers, and Les Stroud all rolled into one. On bad days we add combat medic to the list. Hiking on a broken leg isn’t considered an unreasonable expectation (bear in mind I’m talking about the geologists–my safety manager would be VERY cranky to hear about someone doing that!). People who do this sort of thing routinely view the world in slightly different ways from most ordinary people. Most geologists go through a course called Field Camp, which is an introduction to field work. Walk into any geology department that has this and you can tell who’s gone through the class and who hasn’t.

Revisionism on Deborah Birx, Trump, and the CDC

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

In October of 2020 Science published a long article by Charles Piller titled Undermining CDC with the subtitle “Deborah Birx, President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator, helped shake the foundation of a premier public health agency.” The article focuses on a battle between Deborah Birx and the CDC over collecting data from hospitals with the basic message that Birx was an arrogant Trump tool who interfered with the great CDC. One year later, much of the article has a different cast beginning with “premier public health agency”. Hmmpfff. The opening now reads to me as almost laughable:

Zaidi lifted her mask slightly to be heard and delivered a fait accompli: Birx, who was not present, had pulled the plug on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) system for collecting hospital data and turned much of the responsibility over to a private contractor, Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking Technologies Inc., a hospital data management company. The reason: CDC had not met Birx’s demand that hospitals report 100% of their COVID-19 data every day.

According to two officials in the meeting, one CDC staffer left and immediately began to sob, saying, “I refuse to do this. I cannot work with people like this. It is so toxic.” That person soon resigned from the pandemic data team, sources say.

Other CDC staffers considered the decision arbitrary and destructive. “Anyone who knows the data supply chain in the U.S. knows [getting all the data daily] is impossible” during a pandemic, says one high-level expert at CDC. And they considered Birx’s imperative unnecessary because staffers with decades of experience could confidently estimate missing numbers from partial data.

“Why are they not listening to us?” a CDC official at the meeting recalls thinking. Several CDC staffers predicted the new data system would fail, with ominous implications. “Birx has been on a months long rampage against our data,” one texted to a colleague shortly afterward. “Good f—ing luck getting the hospitals to clean up their data and update daily.”

Scott Gottlieb tells this same story very differently in Uncontrolled Spread (my WSJ review).

Deborah Birx convinced the Coronavirus Task Force to direct money to the CDC to modernize its reporting of the COVID hospital data, but the CDC said no.

…The federal government had bought the entire available supply [of remedsivir], and HHS needed to know where to ship its limited doses [but]…the CDC didn’t have actual data on who was currently hospitalized for COVID, just estimates built off a model….Birx said that the government couldn’t ship scarce doses of the valuable medicine to treat estimated patients that were hypothetically hospitalized according to a mathematical formula. So she gave hospitals an ultimatum. If they wanted to get access to remedsivir, they would need to start reporting real data on the total number of COVID patients that they admitted each day. Hospitals quickly started to comply…Rather than cajole the CDC into fixing its reporting system, Ambassador Birx and Secretary Azar decided to recreate that structure outside the agency. The had concluded that getting the CDC to change its own scheme, and abandon its historical approach to modeling these data, would have been too hard.

…Under the new reporting system, 95% of US hospitals soon provided 100 percent of their daily hospital admission data. In an unfortunate twist, the CDC declined to work with the new data, worrying that since it wasn’t their data, they couldn’t assure its providence and couldn’t fully trust its reliability. As one senior HHS official put it to me, the CDC “took their ball and went home.”

…The cofounders of the COVID Tracking Project, one of the most authoritative and closely watched enterprises to report bottom-line information about the pandemic, would later say of the [HHS/Teletracking data], “the data set that we trust the most–and that we believe dose not come with major questions–is the hospitalization data overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. At this point, virtually every hospital in America is reporting to the department as required. We now have a good sense of how many patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 around the country.” [Link here, AT]

Gottlieb’s story strikes me as much closer to the truth. Why? Notice that on most of the facts the stories agree. Gottlieb says the CDC refused to work with the HHS data and took their ball and went home. The Piller story has CDC people sobbing, angry, and saying “I refuse to do this.” Check. What differs is the interpretation and everything in Piller’s story is infected by an anti-Trump perspective. I don’t blame Piller for being anti-Trump but Trump plays no role in the story he just hovers in the background like a bogeyman. Piller says, for example:

…Birx’s hospital data takeover fits a pattern in which she opposed CDC guidance, sometimes promoting President Donald Trump’s policies or views against scientific consensus.

“Fits a pattern.” Uh huh.

Birx sometimes “promoted President Donald Trump’s policies.” Promoting the policies of the President of the United States? Why that’s practically treason!

Promoting views that go “against scientific consensus” Yeah, the “scientific consensus” of workers at the CDC.

Trump obviously had no interest in how hospital data was collected yet he is portrayed throughout as the hidden puppeteer behind the story.

Gottlieb’s story removes Trump from the equation and that rings true because we now know that the Biden administration has been as frustrated with the CDC as was the Trump administration. Politico writes, for example:

…senior officials from the White House Covid-19 task force and the Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly accused CDC of withholding critical data needed to develop the booster shot plan…

…the CDC advisory committee episode in late August only reinforced perceptions in the [Biden] White House that the agency represents the weakest link in a Covid-19 response…

The agency has for years struggled with obtaining accurate disease data from state health departments, and the pandemic strained the country’s public health infrastructure, causing massive delays in reporting and case investigation.

Withholding critical data. Struggling to obtain accurate data. Massive delays. Sound familiar? Indeed, if these parallels weren’t enough we even have CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruling CDC scientists to allow boosters–but Walensky, unlike Birx, gets the benefit of the doubt so the story isn’t sold as Walensky going against scientific consensus to promote President Biden.

Evaluations of Trump colored evaluations of all the people and policies of the Trump administration leading to reporting that was sometimes unjust and inaccurate. It will take time to sort it all out.

Emergent Ventures India, new winners, third Indian cohort

Angad Daryani / Praan

Angad Daryani is 22-year-old social entrepreneur and inventor from Mumbai, and his goal is to find solutions for clean air at a low cost, accessible to all. He received his EV grant to build ultra-low cost, filter-less outdoor air purification systems for deployment in open areas through his startup Praan. Angad’s work was recently covered by the BBC here.

Swasthik Padma

Swasthik Padma is a 19-year-old inventor and researcher. He received his EV grant to develop PLASCRETE, a high-strength composite material made from non-recyclable plastic (post-consumer plastic waste which consists of Multilayer, Film Grade Plastics and Sand) in a device called PLASCREATOR, also developed by Swasthik. The final product serves as a stronger, cost-effective, non-corrosive, and sustainable alternative to concrete and wood as a building material. He is also working on agritech solutions, desalination devices, and low cost solutions to combat climate change.

Ajay Shah

Ajay Shah is an economist, the founder of the LEAP blog, and the coauthor (with Vijay Kelkar) of In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy, an excellent book, covered by Alex here. He received his EV grant for creating a community of scholars and policymakers to work on vaccine production, distribution, and pricing, and the role of the government and private sector given India’s state capacity.

Meghraj Suthar

Meghraj Suthar, is an entrepreneur, software engineer, and author from Jodhpur. He founded Localites, a global community (6,000 members from more than 130 countries) of travelers and those who like to show around their cities to travelers for free or on an hourly charge. He also writes inspirational fiction. He has published two books: The Dreamers and The Believers and is working on his next book. He received his EV grant to develop his new project Growcify– helping small & medium-sized businesses in smaller Indian cities to go online with their own end-to-end integrated e-commerce app at very affordable pricing.

Jamie Martin/ The Queen’s English 

Jamie Martin and Sandeep Mallareddy founded The Queen’s English to develop a tool to help speak English. Indians who speak English earn 5x more than those who don’t. The Queen’s English provides 300 hours of totally scripted lesson plans on a simple Android app for high quality teaching by allowing anyone who can speak English to teach high quality spoken English lessons using just a mobile phone.

Rubén Poblete-Cazenave

Rubén Poblete-Cazenave is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His work has focused on studying topics on political economy, development economics and economics of crime, with a particular interest in India. Rubén received his EV grant to study the dynamic effects of lockdowns on criminal activity and police performance in Bihar, and on violence against women in India.

Chandra Bhan Prasad

Chandra Bhan Prasad is an Indian scholar, political commentator, and author of the Bhopal Document, Dalit Phobia: Why Do They Hate Us?, What is Ambedkarism?, Dalit Diary, 1999-2003: Reflections on Apartheid in India, and co-author author (with D Shyam Babu and Devesh Kapur) of Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs. He is also the founder of the ByDalits.com e-commerce platform and the editor of Dalit Enterprise magazine. He received his EV grant to pursue his research on Dalit capitalism as a movement for self-respect.

Praveen Tiwari

Praveen Tiwari is a rural education entrepreneur in India. At 17, he started Power of Youth to increase education and awareness among rural students in his district. To cope with the Covid lockdown he started the Study Garh with a YouTube channel to provide better quality educational content to rural students in their regional language (Hindi).

Preetham R and Vinayak Vineeth

Preetham R. and Vinayak Vineeth are 17-year-old high-schoolers from Bangalore. Preetham is interested in computing, futurism and space; and Vinayak is thinking about projects ranging from automation to web development. They received their EV grant for a semantic text analysis system based on graph similarity scores. The system (currently called the Knowledge Engine) will be used for perfectly private contextual advertising and will soon be expanded for other uses like better search engines, research tools and improved video streaming experiences. They hope to launch it commercially by the end of 2022.

Shriya Shankar:

Shriya Shankar is a 20-year-old social entrepreneur and computer science engineer from Bangalore and the founder of Project Sitara Foundation, which provides accessible STEM education to children from underserved communities. She received her EV grant to develop an accessible ed-tech series focused on contextualizing mathematics in Kannada to make learning more relatable and inclusive for children.

Baishali Bomjan and Bhuvana Anand

Baishali and Bhuvana are the co-founders of Trayas Foundation, an independent research and policy advisory organization that champions constitutional, social, and market liberalism in India through data-informed public discourse. Their particular focus is on dismantling regulatory bottlenecks to individual opportunity, dignity and freedom. The EV grant will support Trayas’s work for reforms in state labor regulations that ease doing business and further prosperity, and help end legal restrictions placed on women’s employment under India’s labor protection framework to engender economic agency for millions of Indians.

Akash Bhatia and Puru Botla / Infinite Analytics

Infinite Analytics received their first grant for developing the Sherlock platform to help Indian state governments with mobility analysis to combat Covid spread. Their second EV grant is to scale their platform and analyze patterns to understand the spread of the Delta variant in the 2021 Covid wave in India. They will analyze religious congregations, election rallies, crematoria footfalls and regular daily/weekly bazaars, and create capabilities to understand the spread of the virus in every city/town in India.

PS Vishnuprasad

Vishnuprasad is a 21-year-old BS-MS student at IISER Tirupati. He is interested in the intersection of political polarization and network science and focused on the emergence and spread of disinformation and fake news. He is working on the spread of disinformation and propaganda in spaces Indians use to access information on the internet. He received his EV grant to build a tool that tracks cross-platform spread of disinformation and propaganda on social media. He is also interested in the science of cooking and is a stand-up comedian and writer.

Prem Panicker:

Prem Panicker is a journalist, cricket writer, and founding editor of peepli.org, a site dedicated to multimedia long form journalism focused on the environment, man/animal conflict, and development. He received an EV grant to explore India’s 7,400 km coastline, with an emphasis on coastal erosion, environmental degradation, and the consequent loss of lives and livelihoods.

Vaidehi Tandel

Vaidehi Tandel is an urban economist and Lecturer at the Henley Business School in University of Reading. She is interested in understanding the challenges and potential of India’s urban transformation and her EV grant will support her ongoing research on the political economy of urbanization in India. She was part of the team led by Malani that won the EV Covid India prize.

Abhinav Singh

Abhinav recently completed his Masters in the Behavioral and Computational Economics program at Chapman University’s Economic Science Institute. His goal is to make political economy ideas accessible to young Indians, and support those interested in advancing critical thinking over policy questions. He received his EV grant to start Polekon, a platform that will host educational content and organize seminars on key political economy issues and build a community of young thinkers interested in political economy in India.

Bevin A./Contact

CONTACT was founded by two engineers Ann Joys and Bevin A. as a low-cost, voluntary, contact tracing solution. They used RFID tags and readers for consenting individuals to log their locations at various points like shops, hotels, educational institutions, etc. These data are anonymized and analyzed to track mobility and develop better Covid policies, while maintaining user anonymity.

Onkar Singh Batra

Onkar Singh is a 16-year-old developer/researcher and high school student in Jammu. He received his first EV grant for his Covid Care Jammu project. His goal is to develop India’s First Open-Source Satellite, and he is founder of Paradox Sonic Space Research Agency, a non-profit aerospace research organization developing inexpensive and open-source technologies. Onkar received his second EV grant to develop a high efficiency, low cost, nano satellite. Along with EV his project is also supported by an Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) grant. Onkar has a working engineering model and is developing the final flight model for launch in 2022.

StorySurf

Storysurf, founded by Omkar Sane and Chirag Anand, is based on the idea that stories are the simplest form of wisdom and that developing an ocean of stories is the antidote to social media polarization. They are developing both a network of writers, and a range of stories between 6-300 words in a user-friendly app to encourage people to read narratives. Through their stories, they hope to help more readers consume information and ideas through stories.

Naman Pushp/ Airbound

Airbound is cofounded by its CEO Naman Pushp, a 16 year old high-schooler from Mumbai passionate about engineering and robotics, and COO Faraaz Baig, a 20 year old self-taught programmer and robotics engineers from Bangalore. Airbound aims to make delivery accessible by developing a VTOL drone design that can use small businesses as takeoff/landing locations. They have also created the first blended wing body tail sitter (along with a whole host of other optimizations) to make this kind of drone delivery possible, safe and accessible.

Anup Malani / CMIE / Prabhat Jha

An joint grant to (1) Anup Malani, Professor at the University of Chicago, (2) The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), and (3) Prabhat Jha, Professor at University of Toronto and the Centre for Global Health Research, to determine the extent to which reported excess deaths in India are due to Covid. Recent studies show that that the pandemic in India may be associated with between 3 million to 4.9 million excess deaths, roughly 8-12 times officially reported number of COVID deaths. To determine how many of these deaths are statistically attributable to Covid, they will conduct verbal autopsies on roughly 20,000 deaths, with the results to be made publicly available.

And finally:

Aditya Dar/The Violence Archive

A joint grant to Aaditya Dar, an economist at Indian School of Business, Kiran Garimella, a computer scientist at Rutgers University and Vasundhara Sirnate, a political scientist and journalist for creating the India Violence Archive. They will use machine learning and natural language processing to develop an open-source historical record of collective public violence in India over 100 years. The goal is to create accessible and high-quality public data so civil society can pursue justice and governments can make better policy.

Those unfamiliar with Emergent Ventures can learn more here and here. EV India announcement here. More about the winners of EV India second cohort here. To apply for EV India, use the EV application click the “Apply Now” button and select India from the “My Project Will Affect” drop-down menu.

Note that EV India is led and run by Shruti Rajagopalan, I thank her for all of her excellent work on this!

Here is Shruti on Twitter, and here is her excellent Ideas of India podcast.  Shruti is herself an earlier Emergent Ventures winner, and while she is very highly rated remains grossly underrated.

The 1991 Project

In 1991 on the verge of bankruptcy, India abandoned the License-Raj and freed its economy from many socialist shackles. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao announced to the nation:

We believe that a bulk of government regulations and controls on economic activity have outlived their utility. They are stifling the creativity and innovativeness of our people. Excessive controls have also bred corruption. Indeed, they have come in the way of achieving our objectives of expanding employment opportunities, reducing rural-urban disparities and ensuring greater social justice.

And he was serious–in the plan, tariffs and controls were lifted, thousands of licenses eliminated, entire departments undone. A No Confidence motion was mounted in parliament but the opponents made a tactical error and walked out, leaving just enough votes for Rao’s government to survive and the plan to pass. The result was an economic revolution. Economic growth increased and millions were lifted out of poverty. Yet, the 1991 Project was incomplete and many young Indian’s today have little appreciation of the gains that have been made or why they happened.

The 1991 Project is about understanding the history of economic liberalization in order to better chart the future. It begins with a superb essay by Shruti Rajagopalan on living under India’s socialist system. Did you know that under the License-Raj you needed a government permit to own a bicycle in some parts of the country?

Bicycles saw increasing demand as urban populations increased. Steel was government controlled and, given the heavy demand from the construction industry, only limited allotments were made to bicycle manufacturers. To increase their allotment of steel and meet the increasing demand for bicycles, they needed an expansion permit, which was rarely approved by the government given the shortage of steel.

The license and permit system for steel also created a shortage in bicycles, which was followed by the inevitable price controls. To ensure that demand was legitimate and all available bicycles were used, owning and riding a bicycle required a government-issued token in some parts of the country. Inspectors thrived on the bribes paid when they caught anyone riding without the requisite permit.

The middle class didn’t escape the problem, either. Through a collaboration with Vespa, Bajaj manufactured scooters in India, and they became popular with the middle-class. Denied permission to expand to meet the rising demand, the waitlist for a Bajaj scooter was ten years by the late 1970s.

Even though dowry is not just illegal but is a crime in India, the entrenched dowry culture in the arranged marriage system enables grooms to make outrageous demands of the bride’s family. A Bajaj scooter became a top dowry ask. Given the decade-long waiting period, parents took to purchasing them on the black market, and by the late 1970s the price of a secondhand/used Bajaj scooter available immediately was much higher than that of a brand-new vehicle with a 5- to 10-year waiting period.

It got so bad that when a girl child was born, well-wishers would – only half in jest – suggest to the parents that they should immediately book a scooter so it would arrive in time for the wedding. This was reminiscent of the old Soviet Union joke about a man paying for an automobile. The clerk tells him it will be delivered in ten years. The man asks, “Morning or afternoon?” “What difference does it make?” responds the clerk. “Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.”

Check out The 1991 Project and Rajagopalan’s essay.

Photo Credit: Manmohan Singh with PM Narasimha Rao in 1994. Photo: Sanjay Sharma/Hindustan Times

$1000 submission fee to the AER?

I saw that circulating as an April Fool’s joke, but is it such a crazy idea?  Here would be a few effects:

1. Submissions would decline, thus liberating some time for editors and referees.  This is valuable in its own right, and furthermore remaining decisions might be made with greater care.  And presumably the remaining submissions would be those with a higher chance of acceptance.

2. To some extent departments would pick up the submission fee.  This would favor researchers in wealthier departments, though whether this is good or bad I am not sure.  And even the most flush departments would find this pretty steep and I don’t think would offer carte blanche reimbursement.

3. It would favor senior and wealthier colleagues over junior colleagues.  That sounds bad to most people, but is it?  Favoring the wealthier senior colleagues might help limit the arms race for “here is my 90-page paper that has performed every possible cross-check of the results.”  It also might lower the return to technique, as younger researchers tend to be more up on the latest math but they are also less broad and by definition less experienced.

4. Graduate students in particular would be less likely to submit, especially from lower-tier departments.  It would be harder for job candidates from the non-top schools to prove themselves by publishing in the AER.

5. Papers would be “shopped around” more to seminars before being submitted.

6. Papers would become longer, which is probably a bad thing.

7. It might select for overconfident economists from wealthier families.

8. The AER would no longer “get all the best papers,” at least as such things are perceived.  That could very well be good!  Why should one journal have such a lock?

Would the AEA take in more revenue with this plan?

What else? What is in fact the optimal submission fee for a journal where publications can be worth tens of thousands of dollars (or sometimes much more) there?  Why should the authors/submitters be charged so little?

Personnel economics working in the supermarket

Yesterday I outlined my supermarket job from ages 16-18 in suburban New Jersey.  I did know plenty of economics at that time, including Adam Smith and Paul Heyne and most of classical economics, and here are some of the observations I made.  Please note this is all n = 1 or n = 2, these may or may not be generalizable.  Here goes:

1. Mockery was the relevant incentive at the margin, and the “enforcer of first resort.”  If you did something wrong you were mocked, sometimes mercilessly.  My first night on the job I put too many fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, relative to expectations, and so I heard about that multiple times on my next appearance.  The jokes at my expense were funny.

2. There was strong competition to win overtime hours. Working Sunday 12-5 was a prime slot, and not hard work either because customer demand was slow that day.  Saturday 1-9:30 had extra payoffs as well.  These labor supply curves definitely sloped upwards.  And allocation of overtime hours served to keep the better workers around.

3. My sense was that the demand for labor was pretty inelastic in the following sense: once you were soundly established as someone who would show up, complete your list of tasks, and not steal too much, they really were not looking to fire you.  You were “a keeper,” and in principle they would pay you more in response to a minimum wage hike, rather than firing you.

4. My sense was that the demand for labor was quite elastic in the following sense: the lower-tier workers were given a lot of luxury hours.  For one thing, if you didn’t get an average of at least fifteen hours a week, you might leave for another job.  Second, and more importantly, a lot of the night hours were optional.  Did they really need you back there that Tuesday night after 6 or 7 p.m.?  Well, maybe yes, maybe no.  There was a sense that if customers came by with questions, it was useful to have someone around to help them.  But if the produce department was not making a lot of money, they would cut back on these hours quite readily.  In slow times I didn’t get the 5-10 p.m. slot a whole lot.

5. Department managers, including in produce, were paid an “efficiency wage time profile” of returns, a’ la Eddie Lazear.  That is, in early years they would pay you below marginal product, but pay you above marginal product in the later, outer years.  That schedule would keep you in line, because you needed to avoid getting fired to reap the high later returns.  That said, in the outer years you would end up getting canned, because the prescription is not entirely time consistent.  Why keep someone around who is getting paid above marginal product?  It was called “getting busted.”  At that point you would typically start all over again with another supermarket.  (I did understand this all at the time, though I hadn’t yet read Lazear and a lot of the work hadn’t yet been published.)  A minority of department managers ended up promoted to store managers, but that was hard to pull off, especially without a college degree.

6. There was plenty of employee theft, though never from me.  Things disappeared off the back of trucks, and in this time there was no CCTV.  At a smaller scale, to be caught eating or taking food without a receipt was considered a fireable offense, though if you were a good worker and kept it to brief snacking within limits they did not try too hard to catch you.  They didn’t want to have to fire you, yet they did want to keep the rule in place.  Collusion between male line workers and female cashiers sometimes was a problem, as it meant some people would just take foodstuffs home.

6b. Shoplifting was rampant, though much more in the meat department than in produce.  Overall, the customers and workers were less honest than the bosses.

7. Correctly or not, the line workers typically were cynical about the union.  You paid dues to it, and you were told it gave you higher wages, but otherwise it had no presence in your life.  People saw the dues that left their paycheck, but were not convinced they were getting comparably high wages because of the union.

8. Due to gas prices and commuting costs (you had to keep your car in OK shape, which took competence as well as money), there was a modest degree of monopsony.  Still, everyone understood that a higher cost of labor meant fewer hours and in the longer run fewer hires.  No one thought that allowing vastly more shoplifting would lead the company to hire more labor, which is in fact what the more radical monopsony models imply.  Nope, it wasn’t monopsony of that sort.

9. The store manager, and in turn the department manager, would be terrified when the regional boss would do a store walk-through, and typically that happened by surprise.  That was when they really wanted you to scurry and have everything looking spic and span.

10. Workers had various personality types, and within a given type only so much motivation was possible, no matter what the rewards.  All rewards were seen as temporary, and to be followed by an eventual firing or demotion.  Slackers were slackers, and you had to accept that and work around them accordingly.

“New York’s mass-vaccination plans are shelved as Cuomo takes different path”

County officials who have for years been planning for a mass vaccination said they are seeing that training and preparation — much of it funded by millions of dollars in federal grants — pushed aside as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has retained control of the state’s coronavirus vaccination program, including having hospitals rather than local health departments administer the doses.

Interviews with multiple county officials over the past week confirm that many are unclear why the governor’s administration has not activated the county-by-county system, a plan that included recent practice sessions in which members of the public received regular flu vaccines at drive-thru sites.

…In Albany County, officials have privately said they could vaccinate the population of the southern half of the county in a few days if they were given the coronavirus vaccines and allowed to mobilize their plan.

Here is the full, gory story.  It is clear they have just begun thinking about this.  I really do not understand why Paul Krugman has been praising the New York State response for so many months, they have gone from one disgrace to another.  Ross Barkan offers further commentary.  And here is de Blasio on Cuomo.

As a side note this is interesting: “The Times Union is not disclosing the [vaccination] location because county officials contend the vaccination sites should not be publicly disclosed for security purposes.”

To be clear, other states are messing up too, some of them worse than NY.

Paul Milgrom, Nobel Laureate

Most of all this is a game theory prize and an economics of information prize, including game theory and asymmetric information.  Much of the work has had applications to auctions and finance.  Basically Milgrom was the most important theorist of the 1980s, during the high point of economic theory and its influence.

Here is Milgrom’s (very useful and detailed) Wikipedia page.  Most of his career he has been associated with Stanford University, with one stint at Yale for a few years.  Here is Milgrom on scholar.google.com.  A very good choice and widely anticipated, in the best sense of that term.  Here is his YouTube presence.  Here is his home page.

Milgrom, working with Nancy Stokey, developed what is called the “no trade” theorem, namely the conditions under which market participants will not wish to trade with each other.  Obviously if someone wants to trade with you, you have to wonder — what does he/she know that I do not?  Under most reasonable assumptions, it is hard to generate a high level of trading volume, and that has remained a puzzle in theories of finance and asset pricing.  People are still working on this problem, and of course it relates to work by Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann on when people should rationally disagree with each other.

Building on this no-trade result, Milgrom wrote a seminal piece with Lawrence Glosten on bid-ask spread.  What determines bid-ask spread in securities markets?  It is the risk that the person you are trading with might know more than you do.  You will trade with them only when the price is somewhat more advantageous to you, so markets with higher degrees of asymmetric information will have higher bid-ask spreads.  This is Milgrom’s most widely cited paper and it is personally my favorite piece of his, it had a real impact on me when I read it.  You can see that the themes of common knowledge and asymmetric information, so important for the auctions work, already are rampant.

Alex will tell you more about auctions, but Milgrom working with Wilson has designed some auctions in a significant way, see Wikipedia:

Milgrom and his thesis advisor Robert B. Wilson designed the auction protocol the FCC uses to determine which phone company gets what cellular frequencies. Milgrom also led the team that designed the 2016-17 incentive auction, which was a two-sided auction to reallocate radio frequencies from TV broadcast to wireless broadband uses.

Here is Milgrom’s 277-page book on putting auction theory to practical use.  Here is his highly readable JEP survey article on auctions and bidding, for an introduction to Milgrom’s prize maybe start there?

Here is Milgrom’s main theoretical piece on auctions, dating from Econometrica 1982 and co-authored with Robert J. Weber.  it compared the revenue properties of different auctions and showed that under risk-neutrality a second-price auction would yield the highest price.  Also returning to the theme of imperfect information and bid-ask spread, it showed that an expert appraisal would make bidders more eager to bid and thus raise the expected price.  I think of Milgrom’s work as having very consistent strands.

With Bengt Holmstrom, also a Nobel winner, Milgrom wrote on principal-agent theory with multiple tasks, basically trying to explain why explicit workplace incentives and bonuses are not used more widely.  Simple linear incentives can be optimal because they do not distort the allocation of effort across tasks so much, and it turned out that the multi-task principal agent problem was quite different from the single-task problem.

People used to think that John Roberts would be a co-winner, based on the famous Milgrom and Roberts paper on entry deterrence.  Basically incumbent monopolists can signal their cost advantage by making costly choices and thereby scare away potential entrants.  And the incumbent wishes to be tough with early entrants to signal to later entrants that they better had stay away. In essence, this paper was viewed as a major rebuttal to the Chicago School economists, who had argued that predatory behavior from incumbents typically was costly, irratoinal, and would not persist.

The absence of Roberts’s name on this award indicates a nudge in the direction of auction design and away from game theory a bit — the Nobel Committee just loves mechanism design!

That said, it is worth noting that the work of Milgrom and co-authors intellectually dominated the 1980s and can be identified with the peak of influence of game theory at that period of time.  (Since then empirical economics has become more prominent in relative terms.)

Milgrom and Roberts also published a once-famous paper on supermodular games in 1990.  I’ve never read it, but I think it has something to do with the possible bounding of strategies in complex settings, but based on general principles.  This was in turn an attempt to make game theory more general.  I am not sure it succeeded.

Milgrom and Roberts also produced a well-known paper finding the possible equilibria in a signaling model of advertising.

Milgrom and Roberts also wrote a series of papers on rent-seeking and “influence activities” within firms.  It always seemed to me this was his underrated work and it deserved more attention.  Among other things, this work shows how hard it is to limit internal rent-seeking by financial incentives (which in fact can make the problem worse), and you will see this relates to Milgrom’s broader work on multi-task principal-agent problems.

Milgrom also has a famous paper with Kreps, Wilson, and Roberts, so maybe Kreps isn’t going to win either.  They show how a multi-period prisoner’s dilemma might sustain cooperating rather than “Finking” if there is asymmetric information about types and behavior.  This paper increased estimates of the stability of tit-for-tat strategies, if only because with uncertainty you might end up in a highly rewarding loop of ongoing cooperation.  This combination of authors is referred to as the “Gang of Four,” given their common interests at the time and some common ties to Stanford.  You will note it is really Milgrom (and co-authors) who put Stanford economics on the map, following on the Kenneth Arrow era (when Stanford was not quite yet a truly top department).

Not what he is famous for, but here is Milgrom’s paper with Roberts trying to rationalize some of the key features of modern manufacturing.  If nothing else, this shows the breadth of his interests and how he tries to apply game theory generally.  One question they consider is why modern manufacturing has moved so strongly in the direction of greater flexibility.

Milgrom also has a 1990 piece with North and Weingast on the medieval merchant guilds and the economics of reputation, showing his more applied side.  In essence the Law Merchant served as a multilateral reputation mechanism and enforced cooperation.  Here is a 1994 follow-up.  This work paved the way for later work by Avner Greif on related themes.

Another undervalued Milgrom piece is with Sharon Oster (mother of Emily Oster), or try this link for it.  Here is the abstract:

The Invisibility Hypothesis holds that the job skills of disadvantaged workers are not easily discovered by potential new employers, but that promotion enhances visibility and alleviates this problem. Then, at a competitive labor market equilibrium, firms profit by hiding talented disadvantaged workers in low-level jobs.Consequently, those workers are paid less on average and promoted less often than others with the same education and ability. As a result of the inefficient and discriminatory wage and promotion policies, disadvantaged workers experience lower returns to investments in human capital than other workers.

With multiple, prestigious co-authors he has written in favor of prediction markets.

He was the doctoral advisor of Susan Athey, and in Alex’s post you can read about his auction advising and the companies he has started.

His wife, Eva Meyersson Milgrom, is herself a renowned social scientist and sociologist, and he met her in 1996 while seated next to her at a Nobel Prize dinner in Stockholm.  Here is one of his papers with her (and Ravi Singh), on whether firms should share control with outsiders.  Here is the story of their courtship.

How is Defunding the Police Going in Minneapolis?

Not well.

MPR News: The meeting was slated as a Minneapolis City Council study session on police reform.

But for much of the two-hour meeting, council members told police Chief Medaria Arradondo that their constituents are seeing and hearing street racing which sometimes results in crashes, brazen daylight carjackings, robberies, assaults and shootings. And they asked Arradondo what the department is doing about it.

…Just months after leading an effort that would have defunded the police department, City Council members at Tuesday’s work session pushed chief Medaria Arradondo to tell them how the department is responding to the violence…More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of 2020 than were slain in all of last year. Property crimes, like burglaries and auto thefts, are also up. Incidents of arson have increased 55 percent over the total at this point in 2019.

Bear in mind this is coming after just a few months of reduced policing, due in part to extra demands and difficulty and probably in part due to police pulling back either out of fear or reluctance (blue flu) as also happened in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing and consequent protests and riots.

A few true believers still remain:

Cunningham also criticized some of his colleagues for seeming to waver on the promises they made earlier this year to transform the city’s public safety system.

“What I am sort of flabbergasted by right now is colleagues, who a very short time ago were calling for abolition, are now suggesting we should be putting more resources and funding into MPD,” Cunningham said.

I’m a supporter of unbundling the police and improving policing but the idea that we can defund the police and crime will just melt away is a fantasy. As with bail reform the defunders risk a backlash. Let’s start by decriminalizing more victimless crimes, as we have done in many states with marijuana laws. Let’s work on creating bureaus of road safety. But one of the reasons we do these things is so that we can increase the number of police on the street. The United States is underpoliced and the consequences of underpolicing, as well as overpolicing, fall on minority communities. As I have argued before, we need better policing so that we can all be comfortable with more policing. Getting there, however, will take time.