Monday, December 07, 2009

Genius of Google

Google continues to innovate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sex Toys

I'm looking forward to the results of this study from Ariely.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better Data

We need better data.

The shortcomings of the data-gathering system came through loud and clear here Friday and Saturday at a first-of-its-kind gathering of economists from academia and government determined to come up with a more accurate statistical picture.

The fundamental shortcoming is in the way imports are accounted for. A carburetor bought for $50 in China as a component of an American-made car, for example, more often than not shows up in the statistics as if it were the American-made version valued at, say, $100. The failure to distinguish adequately between what is made in America and what is made abroad falsely inflates the gross domestic product, which sums up all value added within the country.

American workers lose their jobs when carburetors they once made are imported instead. The federal data notices the decline in employment but fails to revalue the carburetors or even pinpoint that they are foreign-made. Because it seems as if $100 carburetors are being produced but fewer workers are needed to do so, productivity falsely rises — in the national statistics.

“We don’t have the data collection structure to capture what is happening in a real time way, or what is being traded and how it is affecting workers,” said Susan Houseman, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has done pioneering research in the field. “We have no idea how to measure the occupations being offshored or what is being inshored.”

Monday, November 09, 2009

Increasingly Selective

UW-L is has increased selectivity over the years, often attributed to the rising quality of faculty. A much as I like the compliment it is probably not causal. I think this comports better with my views on why that has happened. From MarginalRevolution

Caroline Hoxby reports:
This paper shows that although the top ten percent of colleges are substantially more selective now than they were 5 decades ago, most colleges are not more selective. Moreover, at least 50 percent of colleges are substantially less selective now than they were then. This paper demonstrates that competition for space--the number of students who wish to attend college growing faster than the number of spaces available--does not explain changing selectivity. The explanation is, instead, that the elasticity of a student's preference for a college with respect to its proximity to his home has fallen substantially over time and there has been a corresponding increase in the elasticity of his preference for a college with respect to its resources and peers. In other words, students used to attend a local college regardless of their abilities and its characteristics. Now, their choices are driven far less by distance and far more by a college's resources and student body. It is the consequent re-sorting of students among colleges that has, at once, caused selectivity to rise in a small number of colleges while simultaneously causing it to fall in other colleges. I show that the integration of the market for college education has had profound implications on the peers whom college students experience, the resources invested in their education, the tuition they pay, and the subsidies they enjoy. An important finding is that, even though tuition has been rising rapidly at the most selective schools, the deal students get there has arguably improved greatly. The result is that the "stakes" associated with admission to these colleges are much higher now than in the past.

A summary of the paper. The ungated version is here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Debt

I'm often asked about the "problem" our debt represents. Below is a largely good video explaining who holds the debt and the "problem" it presents. One VERY important caveat. While the author gets the idea correct that what matters is publicly outstanding debt, since inter-government debt is merely a wash, he does not accurately address this same issue when talking about bonds as financial assets. Remember that a US government bond is an asset to the holder, but a liability to the tax payer. We care about our net position as tax payers. Also, from an economic perspective, bond holders and tax payers are not the same people, so there are distributional consequences to changes in the level of the debt. But with that said this might help somewhat.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Useful Posts

Here are a few posts that BUS 230 students should find useful over the coming weeks.

Nancy Duarte on "Creating Waves" in presentations.

Seth Godin on making graphs that work.

Garr Reynolds on the art of the "Focal Point" and the art of "Less" in presentation design.

And two on the value of data visualization. Here and here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Great Questions

Pulled from Marginal Revolution:
What will result from the intersection of two possible trends: insistence on a greater equality in health care outcomes, and the development of new technologies -- some at the genetic level for the individual -- which will lead to a greater inequality of health care outcomes?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sales Tax

The Tax Foundation has updated their data on state and local sales tax here.


More interesting discussion of the placebo effect. Side effects that change with the drug being tested? Here is a good explanation on the possible source:

So, was the "nocebo effect" really making people feel worse? It could well have been, although there are other interpretations. People might just be more willing to report symptoms that they believe are drug side effects. Researchers might be more likely to write them down. And different kinds of people end up in trials of different drugs . . . Nevertheless, there's an important lesson here. Anecdotal evidence about drug's side effects shouldn't be accepted at face value, any more than anecdotes about their benefits. Drugs do, of course, cause adverse effects. But some drugs have worse reputations than they deserve in this regard. In such cases, nocebo effects might account for some of the reported problems.

Pricing Bareback

A new take on the Levitt's prostitution paper.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Credit Scores

Credit Scores by email address. Google beats Yahoo.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Finances Altered?

I believe the findings of this survey, support what I have been saying.
"This new survey points to a profound shift in the way people think about their saving and spending," said Eric Eve, senior vice president of global community relations at Citi. "The current economic environment is altering, perhaps permanently, the way we think about spending money."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grab -N- Go

Adult Entertainment meets coffee...and runs afoul of the local police.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Kanye=Douche and Beyonce=Class.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sticky Wages?

This LATimes article talks about the troubles in the Porn industry. Its a good example of an industry where wages are downwardly quite flexible.
Caroline Pierce, an adult film performer who lives in Las Vegas but flies to Los Angeles for work, said many companies have pressured her to do more scenes for less money.

"Instead of paying you $800 to do one, they'll pay you $1,200 for both," she explained.

As economic pressures increase, many performers have also changed their minds about what they are willing do on-screen. Previously, women earned hefty bonuses for unusual sex scenes. That's often no longer the case.

"A few years ago the girls we got were OK, but not stellar models, and we were sometimes paying $2,500," said porn director Matt Morningwood, referring to a website he shoots for that features one woman and multiple male partners.

"Nowadays some of the top-tier models will do that scene for us and you're looking at maybe $1,800. I'm happy for the production, but I feel bad for exploiting the girls' situation."

Monday, September 07, 2009

Porn Marketing

Porn marketing, not the most original. Is it because they have no budget, their creators are uncreative marketers, or their customers or simple?

Market Timing

I should be called the market anti-timer. Whatever I do, do the opposite and you will profit. I recently had central air installed and it has been one of the coldest summers on record. Just look for the biggest blue ball below, and underneath you will find my home. Link here.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


xkcd with a funny comic.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Phelps on Rawls

I think I read Rawls wrong as an undergrad. Phelps sets the record straight:
For sure I always had an interest in justice and fairness, even as a high school student and certainly in college. But Rawls (1971) was almost the only piece of work that was a systematic examination of what we might mean by economic justice. It was this that got me going. Until then I was interested in the subject but my interest had been confined to providing people with social entitlements to provide for basic needs if they couldn’t provide for them themselves. (By the way, I was one of a small group of economists advising Robert Kennedy in 1968 prior to his expected campaign for the presidency; of course, he was shot before he got the nomination.) What was fascinating about Rawls was that he wasn’t talking about some sort of broader justice on, say, the division of land or schooling. He was talking about dividing the social surplus that comes about when people cooperate in production. Although he didn’t use the term “economic justice,” this was really what it was all about. I thought that his work was such a breath of fresh air—we don’t have to be talking about everything at once any more, we can talk about this for a while and get it straight, and then we can think about entitlements for people who don’t work and who are not part of the economy.
Then a funny thing happened. When I was writing my textbook Political Economy (Phelps, 1985), I knew I had this chapter coming up on economic justice in connection with taxation and whatnot. At the same time, I knew that professors in law schools had Rawls standing for something quite different—for some unspecified version of social justice and extreme egalitarianism. So I wrote Rawls a long letter from Amsterdam in 1981 or ’82, where I was one summer, asking him to confirm that my interpretation of him was right: that he’s not talking about the distribution of wealth, he’s essentially talking about the principles for a just pattern of wages to apportion the surplus that gets created when people of diverse talents and backgrounds cooperate with one another. He didn’t answer the letter. Finally I finished my textbook and sent him a copy, whereupon he wrote back a lovely comment saying that I had accurately represented his position.
But people continued to misrepresent him, and in 1991 we had lunch in New York together, and I was complaining to him about this and his apparent reluctance to say anything in print to disavow any of these other guys with their rival interpretations. There was one guy—a philosopher of sorts—who interviewed him in a book–length way towards the end of his career, and he asked Rawls this question: what’s this economic justice about, who’s it for, what sort of conditions do you have to meet to get this payment or whatever it is? And Rawls just comes out and says in a perfectly blunt way: “Look, it’s not for beach bums” [laughter]. And I felt so relieved and gratified that my little campaign to set people right on Rawls had been vindicated. But twice I had to come to his rescue in the Wall Street Journal (Phelps, 2002, 2007). Twice they smeared 120 Journal of Economic Perspectives him with the most naive thinking—as a rank egalitarian. I replied once in what I thought was a very eloquent letter setting them straight, but then they did it again about three years ago, calling him a socialist, and I again had to pick up my pen.
Then a few months later, I got an email from Rawls’s eldest son who wrote how disturbed he was about how his father had been portrayed. So I wrote back (and here I was sticking my neck out a little bit) that I knew him, that I’d been around at Stanford when he was writing his book, and that I thought he was motivated by the huge social problems in the U.S. associated with the difficulties young blacks were having connecting with the American economy. And I said I thought that Rawls was doing a tremendous service to an American capitalism jeopardized by the social problems that were becoming so inflamed at that time. His son wrote back that I was right on the mark.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I am merely a casual observer of the world of typography. And this story was fascinating. I also highly recommend the documentary on Helvetica.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I'm working on finishing a paper to be presented at the WEAI at the end of June. The chart below is the proportion of ever married people that have responded yes to the following question: Have you ever had sex with someone other than your husband or wife while you were married?

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Technology. Data.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

La Crosse Area Economic Forum

Here are the slides from my presentation.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Progress. Wolfram Alpha. One step towards the dream of instantly accessible data.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Google Data

Want to see the current unemployment rate for La Crosse plotted against previous observations? Simply type "unemployment rate la crosse" into google and the first hit will produce a google chart. Or hit the link here.

Hat tip: Lifehacker.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Correlation does not equal causation. Here is a classic example of an observational study leading to the wrong conclusion. Sadly the original studies continue to be promoted, despite their shortcomings and empirical refutation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Simple Regression

For my econometrics class. Here is a nice example of a simple regression and an excellent graph.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kidney Donation

Looks like the fear that donating a kidney reduces life expectancy is unfounded. Maybe this will clear the way for selling kidneys and saving lives?

People who donate a kidney live just as long and are just as healthy as those with two kidneys, according to a new study by University of Minnesota researchers that is the largest ever done on the long-term health consequences of donation.

The study provides a reassurance that experts hope will encourage more organ donations at a time when the need for such life-saving transplants is on the rise. Today there are 78,000 people on the kidney transplant list, and most will not survive the five- to seven-year wait for a kidney from a deceased donor.

Researchers tracked down nearly all of the 3,700 people who had donated kidneys at the university’s transplant center between 1963 and 2007.

The findings will be published today in the New England Journal of Medicine with an editorial that described the results as surprising and quite reassuring.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Autism and Vaccination

This appears to be another blow for those that think there is a causal link between the two.
THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, I turn the mic over to Morgan Freeman. The great actor with a simple idea.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Visualizing Store Openings

A dynamic map, plotting the openings of Target and another of Walmart openings. Both chains clearly have very different geographic strategies.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Charity Porn

Via Marginal Revolution: Charity Porn.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Buyer Beware

Fail to pay a bride price, and get charged with statutory rape. A Oaxacan man in California sold his daughter:

Martinez had arranged through a third party to have his daughter marry the older teenager, identified by authorities as Margarito de Jesus Galindo, of Gonzales, California. In exchange, Galindo was to pay Martinez $16,000 and provide him with 160 cases of beer, 100 cases of soda, 50 cases of Gatorade, two cases of wine, and six cases of meat, Greenfield Police Chief Joe Grebmeier told CNN.

All those involved in the case are from the western Mexican state of Oaxaca, the police chief said. In the Oaxacan community, such an agreement is "normal and honorable," he said. "In California, it's against the law." Video Watch for a list of the groceries dad reportedly wanted »

In Oaxacan culture, the food and beverages are provided by a prospective bridegroom for the wedding, Grebmeier said.

Authorities believe the young girl went with Galindo willingly, and no coercion was involved, he said. However, the girl is four years younger than California's age of consent, although the law does allow 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent.

"The 14-year-old juvenile moved in with Galindo and when payments were not received, the father, Martinez, called Greenfield PD to bring back the daughter," according to a written police statement.

The girl was reported as a runaway juvenile on December 18, Grebmeier said, and police took a missing-persons report and put out a flier.

But "as we investigated, it started to develop into something that may not have been a runaway," he said, and police began to believe Martinez wanted them to bring back his daughter, since he had received no payment.

On January 2, Galindo and the girl returned from a trip to Soledad, a town a few miles north of Greenfield, and were interviewed. Police learned the couple had never married, but had engaged in sexual relations, Grebmeier said.

Galindo and Martinez were neighbors at an apartment complex and were apparently from the same area in Mexico, the police chief said. A third party was brokering the marriage deal, he said, and is cooperating with authorities. But the young couple apparently left for Soledad before the negotiations were complete.

Martinez was arrested Sunday after undergoing additional questioning by police, Grebmeier said. He remained jailed Tuesday.

Galindo was cited for statutory rape and released, Grebmeier said. The girl was returned to her family, he said, as authorities believe she is in no danger. However, police reported the case to child protection officials.

The Greenfield area has had a large influx of Oaxacans. A presentation on understanding Oaxacan culture is posted on the Greenfield police Web site.

"Arranged marriages are common in several cultures, and this is not an issue among consenting adults over the age of 18," police said in the statement. "But California has several laws regarding minors, the age of consent and human trafficking."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Game

Essence has an article based on a poll they conducted.
Infidelity by the Numbers
By Jeannine Amber

How many Black men say they’ve never cheated on a partner? Does he use a condom when he steps out on you? Where did he meet the other woman? In an unprecedented exploration of male infidelity, ESSENCE polled almost 25,000 Black men and women to get the answers to these questions and more. Here, the top ten most shocking stats our survey revealed:

Almost 70% of brothers think it’s possible for Black men to be monogamous. But only 35% of them say they’ve never cheated on a partner.

53% of men and 41% of women say they “only sometimes” or “never” use protection when they cheat on their partner.

If your partner is cheating on you, chances are he’s juggling more than one woman! We asked unfaithful men how many women they’re currently involved with outside of their primary relationship. Here’s what they told us:

More than 50% of men and women who responded to our survey say their fathers cheated.

One in four men thinks having an intimate phone call with someone outside the relationship is okay. Only one in six women agrees.

Respondents listed every location you could think of—including places that he goes with you:
online. . .at the club. . .at church. . .on vacation . . . at a party with my wife. . .at the grocery store. . .at a ball game. . . on the train. . .at my child’s football practice . . .while sitting in traffic. . .at my job. . .while we were both patients in the hospital.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to stay with their partner for more than a year after finding out he’s cheated.

Coupled men and women admitted to being unfaithful in other ways than having intercourse with someone. 31% of men and 21% of women kissed someone other than their partner.
28% of men and 16% of women fondled someone else.
And 40% of men along with 30% of women had an intimate phone call or conversation with another person.

Men were more than twice as likely as women to cite physical attraction as the number one reason for being unfaithful.
Women, on the other hand, are nearly three times as likely as men to step out on their partners as revenge
for being cheated on.

27% of men who’ve stepped out said they were busted by their partner’s snooping.
17% said they confessed.
Some men said they were just plain sloppy:
“I gave her an STD.”
“She found a hickey on my neck.”
“I left the condom wrapper in my pocket and it came out in the wash.”
“I got a text message from the other woman while my girl was using my phone.”

Did He Step Out On You? Tell Us What Happened.
Only 13% of women ESSENCE surveyed had never had a partner cheat on them. Are you part of the 87% who have? Share your story of infidelity below.

For more of our exclusive study and interviews on why men cheat, pick up the October 2008 issue of ESSENCE.

Adult Entertainment and the Economy

It looks like the recession is hitting the adult entertainment sector pretty hard. A Detroit strip club lowered its table dance prices:

The topless club in the suburb of Warren -- where General Motors and Chrysler employ upwards of 20,000 people -- cut the cost of a table dance in half, from $20 to $10, in mid-November. The dancer gets all the money plus any tips, while food and drinks generate the club's income, general manager Kelly Sander said Tuesday.

Jon Jon's has lowered prices on drinks, but business is still down 50 percent from a year ago, Sander said. She now opens the club at 6 p.m. instead of 11 a.m.

"People can't afford to go out and have fun the way they used to," said Sander, whose club on Mound Road is located roughly halfway between GM's Technical Center and the GM Powertrain and Chrysler pickup truck assembly plants. "Of course it has to do with the economy."

The price cut in table dances, in which dancers perform at or on the patron's table, gave business a bit of a boost, Sander said, but added: "The regulars still come in but they don't stay as long. We do what we have to do keep going."

For Sander, that included pink-slipping one of her managers, who had worked 24 years for the club. "Everybody's in a pinch," she said. "I've got to make some cuts. It doesn't matter what kind of business it is."

Others adult-oriented businesses haven't been immune from the region's economic sickness, either. The Greektown Casino in downtown Detroit is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the MGM Grand Detroit hotel and casino laid off several dozen employees in October.

Unemployment in Detroit and its closest suburbs, including Warren, was 8.8 percent in October, up from 8.3 percent in September.

Business has been unpredictable at the Booby Trap, a strip club on 8 Mile in Detroit, said general manager Brian Klinec.

"We're holding our own, let's put it that way," he said. "You've got your good nights and your bad nights. There are more bad nights. It's tough. People don't have disposable income right now."

Cheap drinks and football on TV remain big draws, Klinec said, but he expected more uncertainty in the near future: "After Jan. 1, everybody's got their bills to pay from the holidays."