Though You Probably Weren’t

Category: Though You Probably Weren’t

InDirect Effects

A bit more on the potential NFL strike — my friend and colleague, Rodney Paul, is on NPR’s Marketplace talking about the dark days looming for DirecTV if owners and players fail to come to terms on a new labor agreement.

For those of you who don’t follow these sorts of things, DirecTV is a satellite television service that serves as the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket, which has beaucoup benefits for the football fan. Specifically, the Sunday Ticket provides access to pretty much every NFL game, allowing for orgiastic quantities of football viewing.

Yet, I find this absolutely astonishing:

regardless of whether or not there is a season, the company (DirecTV) still has to make roughly $1 billion in payments (to the NFL).

Wow!  That seems like a lot of money.  But my guess is that it could have been even more.  To wit, I wonder if they didn’t consider the strike as a possibility, or they negotiated a lower price based on continuing payments to the NFL even in the event of a work stoppage?

Civil(?) Servants, and a handbook for aliens

I recently picked up again one of my favorite books, How to be an Alien by George Mikes. (It’s online, without the wonderful illustrations, here. If you look for it online, don’t be fooled by the inferior “Penguin Readers” version, which is… well, for aliens.)

Mikes was a Hungarian writer who moved to England in 1938. One of the chapters, on Civil Servants, immediately reminded me of some of our discussions in the Schumpeter Roundtable. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (CSD), Schumpeter sometimes idolizes those experts who know how to run things rationally. Contrast that with these words from Mikes: Continue reading Civil(?) Servants, and a handbook for aliens

Investment Advice from a Pro

Hoard nickels.

US five cent coins contain over 7 cents worth of raw material as of this afternoon, mostly copper and of course, nickel. If there is inflation, the prices of metal will increase, and the coin will have 8, 9, 10 cents worth of metal. Pre-1965 dimes contain over $2.42 of metal today, while pre-1965 quarters have over $6 worth of metal.

There is an old saying, “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” which seems ridiculous on the face of it, because why would a “nickel” be made of wood?

Perhaps that was the point.

And you might just need that Kindle…

GQ gives us a rather grim preview of the upcoming movie season:

[L]et’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.


Via Kottke.

Economists in Love

Looking for a last-minute gift for that special someone (or would-be someone) in your life? Well, Pilgrim, it’s your lucky day. Spousonomics — “using economics to master love, marriage, and the dirty dishes” —  has hit the shelves, and with it a barrage of Valentine’s-related articles accompanying its release. Wow, check out this saucy Bloomberg headline.  Or this WSJ graphic.

Yes, it’s true, economists often find themselves partnered up, and not just at consulting firms (Who can forget this classic quote?).  And, what better way to get past the “animal spirits” stage of the relationship than this handy guide?  Check it out if you need to get that special someone up to speed on benefit-cost analysis, why sunk costs are sunk, and the wonders of marginal analysis.

You might also pick up a box of chocolates just in case.

Local Sports Team in Contest of Interest

Steely McBeam

The pride of the Fox Valley, the Green Bay Packers, will be mixing it up with my former hometown heroes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Super Bowl.  The game will take place, weather permitting, this Sunday in balmy Dallas, Texas.

Although the contest itself is predominantly of interest to denizens of northeastern Wisconsin and southwestern Pennsylvania, many from across the nation and around the world will tune in for antics of the mascots (pictured), the often-irreverent commercials, the many wagering opportunities, or simply as an excuse to feast on some tasty snacks (despite some unexpected side effects).  Yum.

This year, we are also treated to some added intrigue by a number of touching personal-interest stories.  Or if you aren’t into Olympics-coverage style tearjerkers, perhaps you’d like to see how some famous movie directors have portrayed the Big Game.

Econ majors might be interested in some of the simple economics of the Super Bowl (summary here), such as secondary-market ticket prices (more than you think) and estimated economic impacts (less than you think).  You might also be interested to know that Green Bay punter Tim Masthay abandoned a lucrative career as an economics tutor at the University of Kentucky, where “he picked up anywhere from three to six hours a day as a tutor, helping student athletes … with economics and finance courses. That paid $10 an hour.”

$10 an hour?  Not bad.

I'll just have the salad

My allegiances here are more with the black-and-gold than the green-and-gold.  Indeed, earlier this year communications director Rick Peterson introduced me as “a big Steelers fan,” so there you have it.  I also made a friendly wager with Professor John Brandenberger on the outcome of the game (even spotting him the three points that the Packers were favored by at the time of the bet).   I have a feeling I’m going to be buying over at Lombardi’s.

Though my heart is with the Steelers, I’m guessing that the general spirit of the community and quality of the celebratory culinary fare will be better with a Packers win.

Grading Criteria FAQ

For those of you finishing up a final paper or a thesis this term, be sure to check out the full requirements, including the snake wrestling.  This part often confuses students, but we don’t believe there is “one” way to measure academic performance:

Q: Would someone who wrote a bad thesis and defeated a large snake get the same grade as someone who wrote a good thesis and defeated a small snake?

A: Yes.

Moral (Among Other) Hazards

Continuing on with our Halloween theme, here’s an old story just posted at Marginal Revolution that  illustrates the basic problems of moral hazard.

L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent in Chipley, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included the following: a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel.

“There was another man who took out insurance with 28 or 38 companies,” said Murray Armstrong, an insurance official for Liberty National. “He was a farmer and ordinarily drove around the farm in his stick shift pickup. This day – the day of the accident – he drove his wife’s automatic transmission car and he lost his left foot. If he’d been driving his pickup, he’d have had to use that foot for the clutch. He also had a tourniquet in his pocket. We asked why he had it and he said, ‘Snakes. In case of snake bite.’ He’d taken out so much insurance he was paying premiums that cost more than his income. He wasn’t poor, either. Middle class. He collected more than $1-million from all the companies. It was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his foot.”

It’s not often that I come across source material like this that I will use every single time a topic comes up in class.  I tested it out on Econ 300 today and I daresay the image is a lasting one.

April 1 Comes Early

Though I’m not one to pile onto the United States Postal Service, it is probably worth noting this news item — Postal Union Election Delayed After Ballots Lost in Mail.

Coming on the heels of a post where everyone seems to have an opinion, I would guess that in this case you just have to shake your head and laugh.

So this post isn’t totally bereft of content, I point you to Rick Geddes’ review of postal reform in the Economics Journal Watch.

This essay examines the published views of vital economists regarding postal reform. I define a vital economist as one who has produced scholarly research on this issue, and who has expressed an opinion about the direction reform should take. The ten vital economists surveyed here express surprisingly similar opinions on the proper direction for postal reform. The vast majority advocate some combination of privatization and elimination or relaxation of the delivery monopoly. Those opinions are in stark contrast to the published views of economists who have not carefully examined this issue.

Geddes himself is pretty much the noted expert on the subject, so when he says it’s surprising, it may well be surprising.

Have a good weekend, Lawrentians.  Perhaps I’ll see you out at the festivities.  Watch out for that Nobel announcement.

Caveat Emptor

It might shock, shock many honor-bound Lawrentians that there are college students out there that don’t do their own work.  In fact, as many of you are likely aware, there is a robust market for term papers out there that allow you to buy papers from levels from high school to Ph.D. on topics ranging from, well, from Moses Abramovitz to Frederik Ludvig Bang Zeuthen.  It appears the going rate is about $10-$15 per page depending on how soon you need it.

This is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Years back, Seth Stevenson surveyed the market and gave a few pointers for cheaters and lazeabouts to choose the right site to purchase a paper, and he looks at some of the market characteristics.  For example, a custom paper is about twice as expensive as an off-the-rack piece.

But that was nearly 10 years ago, and certainly the market has matured by then.  For a more recent treatment, behavioral economist Dan Ariely dipped his toe in to see what he could find, and what he found was well worth reading. Here are a few snippets:

We ordered a typical college term paper from four different essay mills, and as the topic of the paper we chose…  (surprise!) Cheating…  We submitted the four essays to, a website that inspects papers for plagiarism and found that two of the papers were 35-39% copied from existing works.

Someone plunks down $100 for a paper, and still gets dinged for cheating?  Now that smarts.  Exactly what recourse do you have in that situation?  I guess you ask for your money back:

We decided to take action with the two largely plagiarized papers, and contacted the essay mills requesting our money back. Despite the solid proof that we provided, the companies insisted that they did not plagiarize. One company even tried to threaten us by saying that they will get in touch with the dean at Duke to alert them to the fact that we submitted work that is not ours.

I like their moxie — deny, deny, deny, threaten.

The comments to Ariely’s post are also interesting.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day over at The Mudd, and elsewhere.

Perhaps you should celebrate by reading Peter Leeson’s The Invisible Hook, an economic analysis of piratical organization.  Or perhaps the JPE piece it was based on. Or even one of its many favorable reviews.

Here’s the gist:

The idea of the invisible hook is that pirates, though they’re criminals, are still driven by their self-interest. So they were driven to build systems of government and social structures that allowed them to better pursue their criminal ends.

I read this over the summer and found it interesting that the classic pirates created reasonably democratic governance structures with built-in checks and balances, whereas most organized crime we think of today — including modern-day pirates, I’d guess — is more conventionally hierarchical.

Prof. Brozek Screens Forbidden Planet, Tues at 9:30

Is there a bigger champion of the educational movie on campus than Professor Brozek?  I think the answer is decidedly not.   In the spirit (sort of) of last year’s international film series, this term he brings us Forbidden Planet to entertain and enlighten us in ways that only sci-fi movies from the 1950s can.

The movie screens Tuesday, September 21 at 9:30 p.m. in Warch Cinema.  Everyone in Freshman Studies (and beyond?) is invited.

For those of you who had a reasonably normal childhood, here’s the basic storyline:


Forbidden Planet is an adaptation of The Tempest set on the planet Altair IV in the year 2257 – Shakespeare in space suits, essentially. The parallels between the movie and the play are numerous – Dr. Morbius and his daughter, Altaira, are the only human inhabitants of the planet, although they have a faithful servant in Robby the Robot. When a mission from Earth comes to rescue Dr. Morbius, they discover threats (a machine that creates monsters in the crew’s subconscious) as well as romance (Altaira and a young Leslie Nielson as Commander Adams).

Part of the fun of Forbidden Planet – especially in the context of Freshman Studies – is picking out the parallels between the film and the play. It’s also interesting, though, to look at the spots where they diverge – SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT I CAN’T BELIEVE HE SENT ME ALL THESE SPOILERS

If you’d like to read more, check out “Shakespeare in Outer Space: Forbidden Planet as Adaptation of The Tempest,” by Miguel Angel Gonzalez Campos at the University of Malaga.

The target audience is Freshman Studies students, but I don’t think we’re quite that picky.  See you there.

Robot Traders

There’s a peculiar piece in The Atlantic about peculiar behavior of robot traders.

As usual, I have no idea what these robots are up to, but it probably isn’t about making me rich. The picture shows “an extreme closeup of just one second of trading of the stock SHG, the Shinhan Financial Group. This is 760 quotes from a total of 10,000 made in 12 seconds.”

1000 quotes per second, baby

Now, why would a robot do that?  There’s no telling with these robot traders.

My suggestion is to take these pictures and ask Professor Azzi.

I bet he has an explanation.

Know Your LU Econ Bloggers

I came across a research note on how bloggers reveal their personality types through their word choices.

More neurotic bloggers used more words associated with negative emotions; extravert bloggers used more words pertaining to positive emotions; high scorers on agreeableness avoided swear words and used more words related to communality; and conscientious bloggers mentioned more words with achievement connotations. These were all as expected. More of a surprise was the lack of a link between the Big Five personality factor of ‘openness to experience’ and word categories related to intellectual or sensory experience. Instead openness was associated with more use of prepositions, more formal language and longer words.

I wasn’t really sure of what to make of that (did they misspell extrovert?), but fortunately, the comments section directed me to the site — a site that allows me to take a look for myself.  A few clicks later and it turns out that we fall into the category, The Thinkers.

The logical and analytical type. [LU Econ Bloggers] are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. [LU Econ Bloggers] are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications. (emphasis added)

That sounds about right.  And it continues…

[LU Econ Bloggers] enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality.

Wow, they sure have us pegged.

Since [LU Econ Bloggers] are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Well, you can’t win ’em all.

What’s with the Funny Hat?

The flowing robes, the grace... striking
The flowing robes, the grace... striking

In our continuing attempt to understand the world around us, today we will talk about the tradition of wearing cap & gowns for graduation ceremonies.

Well, the first thing you need to know is that this dates back nearly 1000 years, and the academy is a notoriously conservative place. In the words of F.M. Conrford, in his advice to young academics, “Nothing should ever be done for the first time.”* The corollary is that once we get started on something, it’s tough getting us to stop.

With that in mind, tackles the regalia question for us:

Standard fashion around 1100 and 1200 A.D. dictated long, flowing robes and hoods for warmth; the greater a person’s wealth, the higher the quality of the fabrics. This attire went out of style around the Renaissance. But sumptuary laws, often designed to prevent people from dressing above their class, kept academics (who were relatively low in the social hierarchy) in simple, unostentatious robes through the 16th century. Thereafter, academics and students at many universities wore robes for tradition’s sake. At Oxford, robes were de rigueur until the 1960s and are still required at graduation and during exams.

And, of course, the Americans played along:

When American universities sprang up in the 17th and 18th centuries, they adopted many Oxbridge academic traditions, including robe-wearing…

Continue reading What’s with the Funny Hat?

“I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me”

Is that a Mike-n-Ike?

In another sure sign of the apocalypse, college students these days just don’t care that much about their fellow man.

Compared with college students of the late 1970s, current students are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective,” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”

The researchers put together a survey that elicits an “empathy” score (you can take the test yourself) and today’s kids scored 40% lower than generations of yore. That seems like a lot.  From this, the authors of the study conclude that people in my generation are more likely to donate a vital organ to a complete stranger, whereas today’s generation is more prone to knock over its grandmother for the last Mike-n-Ike’s.

Seriously, though, I wonder how much today’s lower score has to do with the language of the survey.  It seems a bit dated to me.  On the other hand, it’s hard to believe anyone ever talked that way.  I also wonder how such specious unpublished research winds up at the top of my RSS feed.

I just wanted to share that with you all.  I worry, you know.  Have a good weekend!

But What About the Cool ‘Stache?

It never occurred to me to ask the question: LawrenceVikings

Vikings did not wear horned helmets. According to [Cecil Adams], “contemporary Viking era artwork shows roughly half of Vikings in battle bareheaded, while the rest wear unremarkable dome-shaped or conical helmets.” The idea that Nordic invaders of the ninth and 10th centuries wore headgear festooned with ox horns developed a thousand years after the fact, when a Swedish artist illustrated them as such for a poem based on an old, Icelandic saga.

Here’s the source.

And, evidently, there’s a good reason why:

No self-respecting Viking warrior ever wore a horned helmet in battle–they weren’t that dumb. As anyone who has done any slaughtering can tell you, horns provide nothing more than a good handhold to steady your work while you’re slitting someone’s throat.

Keep that in mind next time you enter hand-to-hand combat.

Steven Strogatz explains calculus

OK, this may not be all you need to satisfy the calculus prerequisite for Micro Theory, but Steven Strogatz’s columns on mathematics are always fun and educational. In this most recent one he explains how calculus is “change we can believe in,” relating to hiking in the snow, Michael Jordan’s jumps, and the short days of winter.