Greatest Hits

Tag: Greatest Hits

Our Annual Holiday Message: Give Her Something Expensive and Useless

Although most of LU is closed today due to the blizzardy conditions, the Lawrence Economics Blog trudges ahead.  And, what better way to celebrate the snowfall than to look ahead to the holiday gift-giving season?  As last year’s economists’ buying guide went over so well, I’ve decided to repost it here. So here we go…

Oh, Santa, how did you know?!

It’s that time of year where we bid you Happy Holidays from the Economics profession.

Up first, we have a truly heroic figure, Joel Waldfogel, author of Scroogeonomics.*  I don’t know your preferences as well as you do, so whatever I give you is probably sub-optimal, unless you tell me exactly what you want.  And even then, wouldn’t you rather just have the cash anyway?  For those of you intermediate micro students, you know that kids prefer cash over any in-kind equivalent.

Kudos to Professor Waldfogel for willing to be “that guy.”

Speaking of Scrooge, was he really such a bad guy?  Not so, says Steven Landsburg. Let’s give it up for our annual Scrooge endorsement from this classic Slate piece:

In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser–the man who could deplete the world’s resources but chooses not to. The only difference between miserliness and philanthropy is that the philanthropist serves a favored few while the miser spreads his largess far and wide.

If you build a house and refuse to buy a house, the rest of the world is one house richer. If you earn a dollar and refuse to spend a dollar, the rest of the world is one dollar richer–because you produced a dollar’s worth of goods and didn’t consume them.

Ah, I just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Moving on to The Atlantic, where we have “The Behavioral Economist’s Guide to Buying Presents.” Now this is some truly indispensable advice.  Like Waldfogel above, the money point is to just give money. But, for the true romantics who feel compelled to give a gift, the behavioralists recommend this:

Buying for a guy? Get him a gadget. Buying for a girl? Get her something expensive and useless.

The gadget I get.**  The expensive and useless? That’s from Geoffrey Miller’s, The Mating Mind.  Here’s a brief explanation of courtship:

The wastefulness of courtship is what makes it romantic. The wasteful dancing, the wasteful gift-giving, the wasteful conversation, the wasteful laughter, the wasteful foreplay, the wasteful adventures.  From the viewpoint of “survival of the fittest” the waste looks mad and pointless and maladaptive… However, from the viewpoint of fitness indicator theory, this waste is the most efficient and reliable way to discover someone’s fitness. Where you see conspicuous waste in nature, sexual choice has often been at work.

This presents something of a conundrum because “expensive and useless” seems to be at odds with Waldfogel’s hyper-utilitarian cold, hard cash suggestion.

Last year I suggested that we could solve the puzzle by giving her Euro!, but it seems that the EU keeps plodding along. Perhaps a holiday shrub?

* The book is a follow up to the classic, “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.”  Clearly, the book title Scroogonomics can be chalked up to the value-added of the publishing house.

**Conceptually, that is. I generally get ties and socks.


Anton Valukas to Speak at Commencment

Last year the Lawrence Scholars in Law program was fortunate to feature alumnus Tony Valukas in one of the better alumni talks you are likely to see.  This year, Mr. Valukas is back as our commencement speaker.   So, those of you commencing are in for a treat.  Much of the rest of this post is from the LSL blog post from last year.

This is from his  biography:

Mr. Valukas has been a partner with Jenner & Block from 1976 through the present, with the exception of his tenure as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 1985 through 1989.  Prior to Jenner & Block, Mr. Valukas held several positions with the U.S. Department of Justice, including Assistant United States Attorney (1970-1974), Chief of the Special Prosecutions Division (1974), and First Assistant United States Attorney (1975-1976)…  Mr. Valukas was appointed in 1991 as Special Counsel to the City of Chicago to investigate and report on the City’s health care system.  He was selected Special Inspector General to the Chicago Transit Authority to investigate vendor fraud, and counsel to the Chicago Housing Authority to investigate vendor and pension fraud.  He has also served as chairman of the Governor’s Task Force on Crime and Corrections for the State of Illinois, a 2-year effort which led to the passage of major prison reform legislation in 1993.

Mr. Valukas is also a former member of the Lawrence Board of Trustees.

That seems like quite a lot, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Indeed, Mr. Valukas was appointed by federal court to determine the causes of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the largest bankruptcy filing in US history. According to the Wall Street Journal:

This was no small undertaking. At the New York offices, the Lehman team commandeered half of a floor previously used as storage space. The heat sporadically cut off as the work continued overnight. “A lot of the associates looked like longshoreman wearing caps and hooded sweatshirts,” said Patrick Trostle, a Jenner & Block partner who worked on the case.

By the time the investigation was over, more than 200 attorneys had worked on the case, reviewing 34 million pages of documents. Investigators also conducted roughly 250 interviews, ranging from Warren Buffett to Ben Bernanke.

The result is nine-volume, 2200-page report known as “The Valukas Report.”

That must be some dry reading, eh?  Not from a Lawrence alum!   In fact, it comes highly recommended (from the WSJ blog):

It is long, but Judge James M. Peck of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan said the recently released report on the causes for the Lehman Brothers Holdings bankruptcy reads like a “best seller.”

If he can turn a 2200-page bankruptcy report sound like a best seller, I am certainly looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

See you there.

And they’re off… 2011 Commencement

The flowing robes, the grace... striking

We say farewell to our seniors with a repost from last year.

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 And they’re off… 2011 Commencement