The Cat's Cradle

"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's . . . No damn cat, no damn cradle." -- Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

As long as we're on the subject...

It seems that sports is not the only arena in which people argue over hall of fame selection.

We study the results of elections of Fellows of the Econometric Society. We are motivated largely by the question of whether these elections are “fair,” where our definition of fairness is that votes are based solely on the quality of the candidates. If so, then conditional on quality other characteristics of the candidates (such as geographic location or subspecialty) should not influence the probability of election. We find that, conditional on a number of measures of the quality of the candidates, other characteristics do significantly predict election. For example, an Australian econometrician is less likely to be elected than a North America-based economic theorist. This is true whether or not we control for quality measures.

This from Hamermesh and Schmidt, The Determinants of Econometric Society Fellows Elections (subscription required). So while market size may not matter in baseball, it appears both market size and position matter for economists.

Now I just have to figure out how to get my HOF research published in Econometrica.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Does winning matter for Hall of Fame Induction (comments)?

From the comments of part four.

Guy said...
Interesting analysis. A few suggestions for your model:

1) Most important: only count HOFers chosen by the writers. That is the standard we care about, and including Vet Comm choices really lowers the standards. That's the main reason so many of your contemporary players are getting unrealistically high probability scores.

2) You need some measure of how brightly the candle burned, not just how long. The same linear weights total over 14 years is a very different player than spread over 19 years. Easiest thing is something like OPS or OPS+.

3) It would also help to capture peak performance better. If you have top-5 or top-10 MVP (not just winner), would probably strengthen the model. And add some variables that measure dominance in key categories, such as "Black Ink" and/or Silver sluggers.

4) Piazza's absurdly low rating makes me think that the position dummies aren't doing as much as you want them to. Better would be position-adjusting each hitter's OPS+. (But that would be a lot of work.)
Guy said...
To follow up, you won't be sure if your team win% and World Series variables really matter until your model better captures players' rate value (as opposed to cumulative value). Otherwise, it's possible those 2 variables are capturing these other elements.

Thinking some more about this, you might want to include OBP+ and SLG+ separately, rather than OPS+, in that HOF voters may value SLG more highly.

Small point: It might be better to use AB/PA or G, rather than seasons. It will help value players who missed a lot of playing time, like Larkin and Larry Walker, more accurately.

Guy makes some very good points.

1. Some part of me feels like what we're really interested in is who gets in, not just who is elected by the writers. On the other hand I agree that it is part of what is causing problems for the recent players. I think the next step is to drop the probit model and examine votes cast rather than the binary induction variable.

2/3. I think 2&3 are related and I think Guy is right. If you look at the career totals of Larry Doyle and Joe Jackson they are very similar. On the other hand Jackson hit .356 and Doyle .290. Doyle scored 70.7% and Jackson 27.1% -- this difference likely comes from their positions – Doyle was a second baseman and Jackson an outfielder. Usually we think of Jackson as a lock for the hall of fame.

Name Start End G AB R H 2B 3B
Larry Doyle 1907 1920 1766 6509 960 1887 299 123
Joe Jackson 1908 1920 1332 4981 873 1772 307 168

Larry Doyle 74 793 298 27 625 0.290
Joe Jackson 54 785 202 61 519 0.356

Silver sluggers would be the easiest way to measure this since I have the code written to extract gold glove and MVPs. Unfortunately they have only been around since 1980. I think the black ink test might be a better way. Linear weights per year might also be a good way to go. Right now I think the year variable is capturing two effects: longevity and how long a time it took a player to put up his stats.

4. I don’t think the position effect is constant over time. Now we expect an all-star shortstop to hit .320 with 35 HRs and play good defense. 30 years ago an all-star shortstop hit .280 with 10 HRs. Similar shifts have taken place for second and third basemen. I need to figure out a good way to control for these changes in expectations.

A related point, I think, is the effect of expansion. This leads to more variance in the talent level and is not picked up by the runs per game based league factor. As a result a player like Craig Biggio puts up much better stats today than he would have without expansion (he gets half his at bats against pitchers who would be in the minor leagues). I need to find a better way to address this problem.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Does winning matter for Hall of Fame Induction (part 4)?

(see part 1, part 2 and part 3 in previous posts)

Below are the current and recently retired players with predicted probabilities over .5, as well as a few other players of interest. Players who have been elected are denoted “*” and players who are eligible are denoted “+”.

The real surprises here are the players at the end of the list, several of whom might be first-ballot hall of famers were there no steroids controversy. There are also several players who are generally considered "borderline" candidates who score particularly well. I’m not sure exactly what to make of the seemingly poor performance of the models in addressing the performance of recent players.

The other interesting result is the difference in the two specifications for players who most their entire career with good teams (e.g. Jeter, Manny, Chipper) or poor teams (e.g. Dawson, Sosa, Sandberg – why are they all Cubs?). I think this definitely suggests that winning makes a difference, though I think model 3 might overstate its impact.

Next time I’ll look at how changes in productivity or team performance might have affected players’ hall of fame chances. Due to other projects, this may not happen until sometime next week.

Prob. Of Induction
Name endyr position Model 1 Model 3
Barry Bonds2006OF100%100%
Rickey Henderson2003OF100%100%
*Cal Ripken2001SS98.9%98.3%
*Dave Winfield1995OF96.2%95.0%
*Eddie Murray19971B96.0%97.9%
Craig Biggio20062B94.1%94.3%
Frank Thomas20061B92.8%96.4%
Rafael Palmeiro20051B91.1%90.0%
Ken Griffey2006OF89.2%73.8%
*Paul Molitor19983B86.2%93.6%
Roberto Alomar20042B86.1%82.9%
Jeff Bagwell20051B85.0%85.4%
*Tony Gwynn2001OF83.2%76.3%
Tim Raines2002OF80.4%84.9%
Alex Rodriguez2006SS78.3%57.7%
*Wade Boggs19993B77.8%89.3%
+Andre Dawson1996OF74.4%58.0%
Barry Larkin2004SS71.6%70.9%
Gary Sheffield2006OF71.0%74.4%
*Ozzie Smith1996SS68.7%68.0%
*Ryne Sandberg19972B68.4%34.9%
Ivan Rodriguez2006C66.7%69.5%
Fred McGriff20041B54.9%53.8%
Larry Walker2005OF54.6%38.7%
Sammy Sosa2005OF46.1%25.1%
Mike Piazza2006C45.6%47.2%
Chipper Jones20063B24.1%58.6%
Derek Jeter2006SS21.1%58.8%
+Mark McGwire20011B21.1%22.9%
Manny Ramirez2006OF19.3%54.9%

Does winning matter for Hall of Fame Induction (part 3)?

(see part 1 and part 2 in previous posts)

Of the major league players in the hall of fame, the two with the lowest predicted probability of enshrinement are Willard Brown and Monte Irvin, both of whom spent the majority of their careers in the Negro Leagues. Because their major league statistics are not the basis for their induction they were dropped from regressions and do not appear in the table below.

Based on its performance, I have elected to drop model 2 and only report the two specifications that use adjusted linear weights. The table reports players for whom one of the models predicts lower than a 15% chance of induction.

Professor Bradbury declined to post his version of these results for fear of upsetting people. Perhaps I should have posted anonymously – I hope to be on the job market soon.

The fact that Mazeroski fares so poorly is not, to me, evidence that he does not belong. Instead I think it reflects the lack of quality defensive statistics. The other thing that stands out is the value of having been immortalized in verse (though Johnny Evers fared much better with scores of 66.4% and 82.9%).

Prob. Of Induction
Name endyr position Model 1 Model 3
Bill Mazeroski19722B1.4%1.1%
Tommy McCarthy1896OF2.1%4.3%
Chick Hafey1937OF2.8%2.9%
Freddie Lindstrom19363B3.4%3.4%
Kirby Puckett1995OF4.2%3.7%
George Kelly19321B4.2%4.6%
Ross Youngs1926OF4.3%21.7%
Red Schoendienst19632B4.9%8.9%
Frank Chance19141B7.5%37.2%
King Kelly1893OF8.6%21.0%
Jimmy Collins19083B8.8%6.9%
Hack Wilson1934OF11.4%14.1%
Joe Tinker1916SS13.8%44.4%
Ray Schalk1929C14%25.3%
Earle Combs1935OF14.3%54.2%
George Kell19573B19.7%11.6%
Richie Ashburn1962OF32.0%13.6%
Ralph Kiner1955OF32.4%6.3%

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Does winning matter for Hall of Fame Induction (part 2)?

(see intro in previous post)

Below I present results for three probit models. The first table shows compares goodness-of-fit measures. The row designated “P > .5” shows the correlation coefficient between HOF induction and whether the predicted probability is over .5. The second table lists predicted probabilities for selected players.

Model 1 is based on Professor Bradbury’s specification. The differences in his predictions and model 1 are likely the result of differences in the way certain variables were calculated. Offensive production is measured using career linear weights, adjusted for ballpark factor and league run environment. Additionally I use the number of gold glove awards and the number MVP awards, as well as a dummy indicating whether the individual retired before 1960 (the first gold gloves were awarded in 1957). Finally the regression includes the number of years played and a dummy variable indicating the position at which the player played the most games (all outfielders are grouped together).

Model 2 replaces linear weights with career hits, runs, home runs and stolen bases. Additionally it includes controls for ballpark factor and run environment. I was personally surprised at how poorly it performed relative to the original model. This suggests that even though voters may not understand linear weights they look at more than just a few statistical categories.

Model 3 adds to model 1 the average winning percentage of a players teams as well as a dummy variable indicating whether he won a world series. I also experimented with variables that captured whether a player played in a major market, but these seemed unimportant. This specification might perform somewhat better, but the difference is likely small.

Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Pseudo-R2 0.7657 0.7684 0.7989
Log-Likelihood -152.42 -150.31 -130.82
P > .5 0.7033 0.5102 0.7556
P > .05 0.6064 0.5313 0.6430
P > .01 0.5279 0.4686 0.5623

Prob. Of Induction
Name startyr endyr position Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Pete Rose 1963 1986 OF 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Bill Dahlen 1891 1911 SS 95.0% 93.0% 98.0%
Joe Torre 1960 1977 C 78.5% 69.4% 73.7%
George Van Haltren 1887 1903 OF 76.5% 76.9% 63.0%
Sherry Magee 1904 1919 OF 73.1% 42.7% 70.5%
Bob Elliott 1939 1953 3B 71.1% 61.4% 57.5%
Larry Doyle 1907 1920 2B 70.7% 55.4% 75.5%
Stan Hack 1932 1947 3B 70.2% 47.5% 74.0%
Dwight Evans 1972 1991 OF 66.1% 64.9% 69.7%
Rusty Staub 1963 1985 OF 65.4% 33.5% 39.3%
Jimmy Ryan 1885 1903 OF 63.5% 81.5% 49.0%
Bob Johnson 1933 1945 OF 63.3% 72.2% 21.8%
Dick Bartell 1927 1946 SS 57.6% 58.5% 43.5%
Dale Murphy 1976 1993 OF 55.7% 57.7% 14.1%
Keith Hernandez 1974 1990 1B 55.2% 21.3% 47.5%
Phil Cavarretta 1934 1955 1B 54.9% 38.9% 38.8%
Ted Simmons 1968 1988 C 52.9% 60.9% 41.2%
Vern Stephens 1941 1955 SS 46.8% 62.8% 35.8%
Dave Parker 1973 1991 OF 45.4% 65.2% 41.0%
George Burns 1911 1925 OF 42.5% 37.4% 76.3%
Joe Gordon 1938 1950 2B 39.8% 55.2% 74.8%
Joe Jackson 1908 1920 OF 27.1% 8.3% 28.7%
Jim Rice 1974 1989 OF 25.1% 45.1% 23.8%
Steve Garvey 1969 1987 1B 24.4% 45.0% 40.4%

The real difference between models 1 and 3 shows up when comparing players. Model 3 was particularly harsh on Professor Bradbury’s favorite player, Dale Murphy. According to it, Murphy’s chances were hurt by his lack of a World Series ring and the .443 winning percentage of the teams he played on.

I surprised by how well Joe Torre scored and also by how poorly Jim Rice scored. I should note that though predictions were generated for them, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson were not included in the initial regressions.

Next time I’ll look at the players who are enshrined with the lowest predicted probabilities.

2/9/07 Update: while working on the next parts I discovered a couple of minor mistakes in my code. The results did not change much, but the tables have been updated.

Does winning matter for Hall of Fame Induction (part 1)?

Last year JC Bradbury at Sabernomics created a list of position players who are not in the baseball hall of fame, but should be (more recent update here). I was intrigued by the list, but felt that, fair or not, winning and postseason success likely factor into voters decisions. I also wondered whether traditional stats such as hits and home runs might not predict voter behavior better than linear weights (about which voters are likely poorly informed).

Accordingly, I set about to reproduce Professor Bradbury’s results and attempt to answer my questions. First a disclaimer: I am not making normative statements about who should be in the hall of fame or what the hall of fame criteria should be. All I can do is identify who best matches players already in the hall of fame.

The project became a bit long for one post so I’ll do it in parts. The next post (part 2) will compare model specifications and provide lists of players who are not enshrined, but best match the players already in the hall. Next I will look at hall of famers who had the lowest probability of induction and current or recently retired players who have the best chance of induction. Finally I may look at how changes in productivity would have affected players’ hall of fame chances (e.g. what difference would an additional all-star caliber season have made for Dale Murphy). For the last section I’m happy to take suggestions.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Corruption and illegal parking

Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials' corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.

Full paper here. Slightly older, non-gated version here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Shantytown, Fl

Take Back the Land. Liberty City residents and supporters, led by the Center for Pan-African Development, squat on public land, to build housing for our own community. No government permission or money. We are liberating the land for our people.

I wonder how long the city of Miami will put up with this. Thanks to Liana for the pointer.

Monday, November 13, 2006

This is getting ugly

From the Rocky Mountain News (h/t Newmark's Door).

BOULDER - The planet may be warming, but what started out as a polite discussion about hurricane trends turned plain hot here Wednesday. At issue was the role - if any - that global warming plays in fueling monster storms.

But illustrating the volatile nature of the debate, the scientific conference descended into name calling.

Colorado State University's William Gray, one of the nation's preeminent hurricane forecasters, called noted Boulder climate researcher Kevin Trenberth an opportunist and a Svengali who "sold his soul to the devil to get (global warming) research funding."

Trenberth countered that Gray is not a credible scientist.

"Not any more. He was at one time, but he's not any more," Trenberth said of Gray, one of a handful of prominent U.S. scientists who question whether humans play a significant role in warming the planet by burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases.

"He's one of the contrarians, some of whom get money to spread lies about global warming," Trenberth said...
I must admit to being agnostic about the anthropogenic nature of global warming. However, I do believe there are huge costs to being wrong in either case. If the scientists of the apocalypse are right, the potential costs of global flooding, hurricanes, drought, are immense. On the other hand if we undertake significant action to battle the proposed causes of global warming but the skeptics are right, the economic costs are also very large.

It seems that the worst thing we can do is make half-hearted attempts such as the Kyoto Treaty which would require a 30-35% cut in projected emissions levels by 2010. Despite the costs, Kyoto, if fully ratified and enforced is expected by 2100 to mitigate .1-.2 degrees of a projected 2-4 degree temperature rise.

The example of Kyoto serves to underscore the importance of the question we now face.

On a lighter note, see the 1975 Newsweek article entitled "The Cooling World." The author suggests that governments should begin stockpiling food to prepare for the impending Ice Age.

What happened to the Republicans?

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence has announced his candidacy for minority leader in the House. This letter to his colleagues was linked to by Vox Baby and Power Line. An excerpt:

After 1994, we were a Majority committed to a balanced federal budget, entitlement reform and the principles of a limited federal government. We delivered on balanced federal budgets, welfare reform and responded to a national emergency with defense spending, homeland security and tax cuts that put our economy back on its feet.

However, in recent years, to the chagrin of millions of Republicans, our Majority also voted to expand the federal government's role in education by nearly 100% and created the largest new entitlement in 40 years. We also pursued domestic spending policies that created record deficits, national debt and earmark spending that has embarrassed us and caused many Americans to question our commitment to fiscal responsibility.

This was not in the Contract with America.

Our opponents will say that the American people rejected our Republican vision. I say the American people did not quit on the Contract with America, we did. In so doing, we severed the bonds of trust between our party and millions of our most ardent supporters.

I agree that the American people did not reject the “Republican vision,” the Republicans in congress (and the White House) forgot what it is. For example, Jon Gruber cites Gokhale and Smetters who report that the 2003 prescription drug benefit added $16 trillion to the long-run fiscal imbalance. At the time the national debt was approximately $3.5 trillion. This does not sound like the traditional Republican mantra of limited government. The Republican Party forgot what they were supposed to represent and the American people called them on it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oregon Pictures

It's been a hectic couple of weeks, thus the infrequent posts. I will get back to posting more regularly again soon. Until then, here are several pictures from our recent trip to Portland. More accurately the pictures are from the day and a half we took before Lindsay's conference in Portland.

The first picture is the Columbia River Gorge. The next two are Multnomah Falls and the last is Mt. Hood. Of course they come with the standard disclaimer that pictures do not do justice to the sights. Click on any picture for a larger version.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Teach for America

At the beginning of my Monday Public Economics class Kaitlin Moyer, one of Teach for America's UF student recruiters presented her sales pitch. I'm familiar with much of it, having read about TFA at A Constrained Vision. TFA takes graduating college seniors from all disciplines and places them at schools in low-income communities for two years. A TFA post tends to be very prestigious and thus TFA has no trouble recruiting top students:

In a growing economy, when jobless claims are at the lowest point in four years, Teach For America has received a record 17,000 applicants. Twelve percent of the senior classes of Yale and Spelman, 11 percent of Dartmouth's senior class, 9 percent of the senior classes of Princeton and Harvard, and 4 percent of the University of Michigan's senior class have chosen to compete to join Teach For America.

As you might expect, TFA students have been very effective as teachers. The statistic from Kaitlin's presentation that impresses me the most, however, is that 66% of TFA graduates stay in education. Despite the low salaries and difficult conditions TFA has found a way to put bright motivated students into education and make them what to stay there. Amazing!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Living in a black neighborhood could be harmful to your health

Apparently the full study has not been published yet, but according to the press release:

In a study examining the relationship between racial/ethnic neighborhood concentration and self-reported health, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that individuals living in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Blacks were twice as likely to report poor health when compared to their counterparts living in neighborhoods with a lower concentration of Blacks. Based on data from more than 2,800 people who self-identified as white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, this is the first study to examine the effects of racial/ethnic neighborhood concentration and self-reported health in New York City.
"We used proportion of Black residents living in a zip code as a measure of residential segregation. Residential segregation is the damaging form of racial discrimination in this country and one that affects everyone regardless of their race or ethnicity." said Luisa N. Borrell, DDS, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and co-author of the study. "This study demonstrates that poor self-reported health was associated with patterns of concentration of Blacks in a neighborhood.
"Although the deleterious effects of residential segregation on health are not well-understood, residential segregation has implications for most of the disparities of interest in the U.S., such as racial/ethnic, socioeconomic position, and geographic region," observed Dr. Borrell.
Perhaps I'm missing something, but I think we might have an identification problem. Repeat after me, class: "correlation does not imply causation."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ice that burns

Japanese scientists are reporting discovery of an additive that can speed up the formation of methane hydrates. Those strange substances have sparked excitement about their potential as a new energy resource and a deep freeze to store greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

From an American Chemical Society news release.

This is just one example of why I am not worried that the world will run out of oil. I don't know the science behind the discovery, but it seems like more evidence to support Julian Simon's insight that innovation and human creativity are the Ultimate Resource.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Wizard of Oz

On ESPN tonight they ranked the top ten defensive (baseball) plays of all-time. I have issues with most of the selections, but at least they got number one right. A young Ozzie Smith dove for a ground ball up the middle, only to have it hit a rock and bounce the other way. Ozzie reached above and behind his horizontal body to pluck the ball out of the air with his bare hand. He came up throwing and got the runner at first by half a step. If you've never seen it, it's the first play on this highlight video.

What's the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni?

It sounds like a bad joke, but the punch line isn't so funny. Jeff Stein reports in The New York Times that many U.S. counterterrorism officials don't know the answer (free account needed):

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago. Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

Mr. Everett got the last sentence right. To be honest I didn't know much about the difference, but I knew more than some people interviewed; plus I'm not creating our nation's antiterrorism policy. If you're interested, here are the wikipedia entries for Sunni and Shiite.

Update: Here is a link to the NYT article that does not require an account.

Pigouvian taxes for computer games

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution asks the following question:

Let's say, for purely hypothetical purposes, that the perpetually restless, short attention span, technologically inept me wanted to make an initial foray into computer games. Where should I start? How should I start? What mistakes should I avoid?
My personal advice is “run away!” There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that computer games can be addictive. Further, I think that certain types of games can be especially difficult for people of above average intelligence (as Dr. Cowen certainly is). I still remember discovering SimCity at the age of ten or eleven. Fortunately, my parents had the good sense to recognize that spending hours a day playing SimCity might not be the best thing for a ten year old.

There is a long but interesting post at Soul Kerfuffle by a recovering World of Warcraft addict. There are over 700 comments on the post, many detailing how a game addiction cost them their friends, family or career. One particularly interesting comment compares the game makers to tobacco companies:

…[the makers of World of Warcraft] rake in about $140M/month in revenue. They're not gamers anymore. They're "business men" managing serious money. Just like tobacco companies, they design their products for addiction. What's happened in our lives isn't by accident. It's intended.
Now I’m not claiming that software companies are evil – of course they should design products to keep people coming back for more. However, I wonder if from a welfare point of view we should consider using Pigouvian taxation to lower consumption. Granted, the externalities from World of Warcraft are small relative to smoking, but perhaps the Becker and Murphy rational addiction model does not perfectly apply.

If people do not understand the addictive nature of these games or they overestimate their own self control they may not be maximizing their utility when choosing to play. In this case we may also be concerned with the “internalities” of computer games. Is there evidence that people want to quit but cannot or that they wish they had never begun playing?

Footnote: for more on the “internalities” of smoking see Jonathan Gruber’s “Tobacco at the Crossroads: The Past and Future of Smoking Regulation” in the spring 2001 issue of JEP.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Writing tips for Ph.D. students

Aaron Gubin points to John Cochrane's "Writing Tips for Ph.D. Students" at his new finblog. My favorite point from Cochrane:
Explain the economic significance of your results. Explain the economic magnitude of the central numbers, not just their statistical significance. Especially in large panel data sets even the tiniest of effects is “statistically significant.”

Mike Tyson's plan for eliminating black poverty

According to Ace of Spades HQ, Tyson also endorsed Republican senator Michael Steele. What frightens me is that I actually think he's on the right track with his three point plan.

He also suggested a three point plan for eliminating black poverty: 1)school choice, 2) increased emphasis on parental responsibility, and 3) biting the ear off of black poverty.

Michael Steele was reportedly "pleasantly surprised" by Tyson's offer to campaign with him, as well as "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought."

Study finds that college students are volunteering more

If true, I wonder how much has to do with an increased focus on resume building. Based on the data, I'm not exactly sure how they infer that the 9/11 attack led to a spike...

The number of college students volunteering grew more than 20 percent, from 2.7 million to 3.3 million, between 2002 and 2005, according to a study being released Monday by the Corporation for National & Community Service...

The study uses data from the Current Population Survey, a regular household survey conducted by the government that in 2002 began asking questions about volunteerism.

That means the study doesn't show the trend before 2002, but much of the spike in volunteerism seems to date to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Coasian Bargaining and the NCAA

King Banian suggests at The Sports Economist that a simple Coasian solution between the NCAA and schools might provide an efficient outcome to the offensive Native American mascot problem. Many of the comments are very good and worth reading. I've reposted my comment below.

I think the problem with a Coasian solution is the property rights and the transaction costs. The negative externality is presumably imposed primarily on the members of the tribes, not the NCAA. Therefore, if the NCAA was not involved and bargaining was costless (no free rider/holdout problem), an efficient solution would be reached between the tribe members and the schools. The direction of the payments would be determined by the court's assignment of property rights.

The first problem is that the NCAA has appropriated the property rights. The externality is not being imposed on or by the NCAA. Thus bargaining between the NCAA and either of the affected parties will not necessarily yield an efficient outcome. The NCAA is effectively a government taking a regulatory approach.

The second problem is that there are many people affected (tribe members), thus bargaining is not costless and we may run into a free rider/holdout problem. A third issue to consider is that, at least in theory, we need perfect information to guarantee an efficient result. In practice we might get to an efficient outcome, but I doubt the parties affected have anything resembling perfect information.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mars Rover at Victoria Crater imaged from orbit

An amazing picture.

Thomas C. Schelling on nuclear inhibitions

In light of this morning's apparent nuclear test by North Korea, I found this article by Thomas C. Schelling especially apropos.

On the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Alvin M. Weinberg wrote an editorial in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (December 1985). In 1941, Weinberg had joined the University of Chicago group that developed the first chain reactor which produced the plutonium ultimately used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagaski. In his editorial, Weinberg expressed his conviction that both American and Japanese lives were saved by the use of the bomb in Japan, and that long-term good might result from the Hiroshima bomb:

"Are we witnessing a gradual sanctification of Hiroshima--that is, the elevation of the Hiroshima event to the status of a profoundly mystical event, an event ultimately of the same religious force as biblical events? I cannot prove it, but I am convinced that the 40th Anniversary of Hiroshima, with its vast outpouring of concern, its huge demonstrations, its wide media coverage, bears resemblance to the observance of major religious holidays.... This sanctification of Hiroshima is one of the most hopeful developments of the nuclear era."

A crucial question is whether the antinuclear instinct so well expressed by Weinberg is confined to Christian or "Western" culture. As we look to North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, India, or Iraq as potential wielders of nuclear weapons, we cannot be sure that they inherit this tradition with any great force.

Forty years ago, however, we might have thought that the Soviet leadership would be immune to the spirit of Hiroshima as expressed by Weinberg--immune to the popular revulsion toward nuclear weapons, immune to the overhang of all those peril-filled years that awed President Johnson. In any attempt to extrapolate Western nuclear attitudes toward the areas of the world where nuclear proliferation begins to frighten us, the remarkable conformity of Soviet and Western ideology is a reassuring point of departure.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for the link.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Clinton on "abuse of power" by American presidents

This afternoon, the "Discovery Times" channel showed a program entitled "Decisions That Shook the World: FDR and World War II." At one point the show details FDR's secret wiretapping program (that defied Congress and the Supreme Court) and how he created ways to circumvent American laws preventing him from sending weapons to any nation at war. Shortly thereafter, the program shows part of an interview with Bill Clinton.

In light of recent controversies I found the following statement by Clinton interesting.
Roosevelt was pretty close to the edge of the law a couple of times. But, it didn't constitute an abuse of power. An abuse of power is when a president violates the letter and the spirit of the law for some narrow, mean ends or to increase his own position or unfairly damage someone else. Roosevelt was trying to save America and freedom.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Public Economics notes

For those who are interested, I've temporarily posted notes for the first half of ECO 4504, Public Economics, here. I promised the class I would leave them up through the exam next Wednesday. The accompanying text is Jonathan Gruber's Public Finance and Public Policy.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Four from the "you couldn't make this up" department

Breast implants act as airbags, save woman's life. A police spokesman noted, however, that they are not as safe as the real thing, since they exploded on impact.

A car commercial proclaiming a jihad on the U.S. auto market and offering "Fatwa Fridays" with free swords for the kids is upsetting Muslims in Columbus, Ohio. Story here.

A man returns to his car to find that city workers have painted a no-parking zone around it, then issued a ticket. Story here.

And finally, people continue to drink "healing" water flowing from Lucille Pope's oak tree even after learning that the roots have tapped into a municipal water line. Story here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Playing bully poker

From tomorrow's Sydney Morning Herald:

THE US Government stunned the online gambling industry over the weekend by passing laws that effectively ban the services from their biggest market....

The US Senate, which was expected to block the legislation, sneaked the bill through early Saturday morning US time, following some last-minute manoeuvring ahead of the Senate break for mid-term elections.

The bill outlaws the processing of bets for online gaming companies, effectively preventing US banks and credit card companies from doing business with the operators. It could be signed into law by President Bush as early as this week.

The bill excludes US-based online betting on services like horse racing and lotteries and has no impact on American casinos and other gambling operations.

Full story here.

It's hard to see how this benefits anyone other than a few American companies who often have local monopolies in the market for gambling services. Certainly consumers are worse off (despite claims that the ban will help reduce the incidence of gambling addiction) as a result of having fewer choices. Online gaming companies headquartered in London are expected to lose 50%-80% of revenue. Also taking a blow are software providers and payment processing companies.

I have no evidence that it is true, but I wonder if the major American gaming companies had a hand in this.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Earth Day Footprint Quiz

Take the Earth Day Footprint Quiz. According to the quiz, my ecological footprint matches the U.S. national average of 24 acres. They say if everyone in the world lived like me, we would need 5.3 planets.

I wonder, when they refer to planets, do they mean earth as it is now? When they say "lived like me," what exactly do they mean? What if everyone in the world lived like me (or most others in the U.S.)? What if the rest of the world enjoyed the same economic freedom that we enjoy in the U.S.? What if the rest of the world had the same average level of human capital as the U.S.?

If the quality of labor employed rises, the result is more output for a given level of capital. If everyone really lived like me, the production possibility frontier would be shifted dramatically outward relative to where it is now. In that case, I find it hard to believe that one planet could not sustain my standard of living for everyone.

What to do when you can't afford a funeral

Click here for one of the all-time great phone pranks. This is from the inimitable Willie P. Richardson, who claims he grew up in a neighborhood so tough that "they had pictures of missing policemen on milk cartons."

Pollution and human capital

This weekend's Wall Street Journal cited the Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing which said that 34% of children in China have blood-lead levels that exceed the World Health Organization's limit. Given that reductions in IQ can occur even at levels below the WHO limit (10 micrograms per deciliter), this could have tremendous implications for future levels of human capital in China. By allowing factories to continue producing high levels of lead emissions, the Chinese government is effectively trading future growth for short-term production.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What does Berlin's Deutsche Oper have in common with the Pope and Comedy Central?

They have both chosen to kowtow to the "Islamo-censors." From the National Post:

A controversial, modernist production of Mozart's opera Idomeneo by Berlin's eutsche Oper, to be staged in November, was cancelled by the opera company uesday out of fear it might offend Muslims. The production was to feature a grizzly cene depicting the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon, as well as ohammed. In light of this year's outrage among Muslims over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and over recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI aken out of context, this might have provoked riots in the Muslim world and angry emonstrations by Muslims across Europe.
You may recall that Comedy Central chose to censor an image of Mohammed in a recent episode of South Park. Comedy Central's response to complaints from viewers is posted here (interestingly, in the same episode Comedy Central had no problem showing Jesus defecating on President Bush and the American flag).

When we choose not to express ourselves because we are afraid of some threat, real or not, we are giving up our right to free speech. In the words of one South Park character:

Freedom of speech is at stake here, don't you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Mohammed and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want. Look people, it's been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won't defend it.

Doing my part to promote free speech, here is a link to a collection of cartoons depicting Mohammed.

(H/T to EclectEcon for pointing out the Deutsche Oper decision)

10/2/06 Update: From Little Green Footballs:
A painfully sad symbol of Spain’s surrender, as festivals commemorating the liberation of Spain from seven centuries of Muslim domination (the Reconquista)are being altered—out of fear of the new Muslim invaders.

The passing of a legend

For those who may not know, golfer Byron Nelson died Tuesday at the age of 94. Nelson was famous for his streak of 11 straight tournament wins as well as his work as an ambassador for the game.

Nelson’s winning streak becomes more amazing when you realize that Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods are next in line, each having won six consecutive tournaments. I cannot think of another record in sports with such a gap separating the record holder from everyone else (Ricky Henderson has 50% more career stolen bases than Lou Brock).

Perhaps more amazing than the win streak, however, is Nelson’s 65 consecutive top 10 finishes. In contrast, Tiger Woods’ longest streak of top 20 finishes is 21. Nelson retired at age 34, though he continued to play in a few events each year. When he finished, he had won 52 tournaments, 5 of those were major tournaments. He estimated his career winnings totaled $180,000.

Nelson’s best years came during World War II when he was prohibited from serving in the military due to a blood condition. The fact that many of the top touring pros served in the war must have helped his record and especially the two streaks mentioned above. However, the war probably reduced his major tournament wins since at least eight major tournaments were cancelled during the war.

To my generation, Byron Nelson is remembered most as one of the great representatives of golf. Many remember his role as ceremonial starter at the Masters; he opened the tournament with a drive until 2001. According to Ken Venturi, "You can always argue who was the greatest player, but Byron is the finest gentleman the game has ever known."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thank goodness we have the NYC health department to tell us what we can eat

All restaurants in New York City would have to remove most artificial trans fat from foods, and the typical fast food restaurant would have to list calories for each item on its menu boards if two new proposed regulations in New York City are adopted.

Full news release here.

Operation Hug-a-Thug disrupting drug markets

In an operation termed Hug-a-Thug (subscription required), police in High Point and Winston-Salem NC are trying to disrupt the local drug market by reforming non-violent dealers. From today's Wall Street Journal:

In May 2004, after accumulating evidence in the West End, police chief James Fealy invited 12 suspected dealers to a meeting at the police station, with a promise that they wouldn't be arrested that night. Encouraged by their "influentials," nine showed up.

In one room, they met with about 30 clergy, social workers and other community members who confronted them with the harm they were doing, implored them to stop dealing, and offered them help. The suspects, however, "were slouching in their seats and one guy even seemed to be dozing off," recalls Don Stevenson, pastor of a local congregation, the First Reformed United Church of Christ. "Their attitude was, 'This is just another program and it will blow over.'"

Then the alleged dealers moved to a second room where they encountered a phalanx of law-enforcement officials: police, a district attorney, an assistant U.S. attorney, and representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and others. Around the room hung poster-size photos of crack houses that had been the dealers' headquarters. In front of each alleged dealer was a binder, laying out the evidence against him or her. There were even arrest warrants, lacking only the signature of a judge.

The law-enforcement officials made an ultimatum: stop dealing or go to jail. Several suspected dealers with violent records had already been arrested and were facing maximum charges. The same fate, officials emphasized, awaited anyone in the room who returned to dealing drugs. The district attorney promised to seek the maximum possible sentences, and the assistant U.S. attorney threatened to bring federal charges, which, he stressed, don't allow for parole. Police from surrounding areas warned them against trying to relocate operations, noting that their names were flagged on statewide law-enforcement computers.

According to the WSJ article, the West End street market closed "overnight." It makes for a great story and I sincerely hope that some of the dealers can get their lives turned around.

However, as the story notes, many buyers came to the West End from the suburbs. While the program may have disrupted the supply side of the West End market, the consumers likely shifted their purchases to a different area. Even if the police get to all of the dealers in an area, as long as the demand is there the effect will only be temporary. If there is money to be made the suppliers will find people to sell the drugs.