I&E reading group

Tag: I&E reading group

Professor Corry Picks Up Some Hardware

Goofier than you might think...

Assistant Professor of Mathematics and charter member of the I&E Reading Group, Scott Corry, won the Young Teacher Award for — you guessed it — his teaching excellence.  Provost Burrows awarded Corry with the honor at the 2011 Lawrence University commencement ceremonies this past Sunday.

Professor Corry exhibits the characteristics of a prototypical liberal arts teacher-scholar. In addition to being a gifted mathematician, he is a man of varied intellectual pursuits — a champion of the Freshman Studies program, an avid community reader, and probably a lot of other things he doesn’t tell me about.

For us down on Briggs 2nd, he has established himself as a pillar of our  I&E Reading Group, having plowed through the likes of Schumpeter, Kirzner, and now Drucker. We look forward to reading and discussion with him for years to come.

So a warm congratulations from your friends in the economics department!

Is Major League Baseball Competitive?

A couple of final words on the summer I&E Reading Group selection, Moneyball.   As was argued by Michael Lewis, Billy Beane capitalized by exploiting what appeared to be a market inefficiency.  Indeed, economists Jahn Hakes and Skip Sauer found empirical support for this proposition .

An interesting question, then, is why other teams didn’t innovate via these quantitative techniques sooner? In an archived EconTalk interview with Professor Sauer, Russ Roberts suggests that Major League Baseball may well not be a competitive industry. That is, owners are “playing a different game” and that the costs of having a bad team aren’t really that high.  In fact, Roberts argues (at about 28:00), the absence of competition would allow owners can indulge stupid management practices without a significant hit to the bottom line.  It would also allow teams to do things like discriminate on the basis of race, or simply not aggressively try to win, where the costs would not be that high. When is the last time a team went bankrupt? Or sold at a steep discount?

That’s an interesting point because a standard economics argument is that competitive markets are quick to punish firms that fail to adopt best practices. Firm that adopt racist or sexist hiring or compensatory practices will loses out to those that don’t.  And the larger point, of course, is that robust competition pushes firms to innovate, or at least to adopt practices once others have done so.  In the context of baseball this is transparent.  When there was a color line and African Americans were excluded, then teams didn’t suffer for their racist practices.  However, once teams started to sign the best African Americans players, then racist policies had a price; that is, teams that didn’t discriminate on the basis of race had access to the best African-American ballplayers — refusing to sign Willie Mays doesn’t help your chances of winning.

Sauer also addresses Steve Levitt’s criticisms (which I share) about the source of the A’s dominance was actually their dominant starting pitchers (at about 38:00).  Sauer responds that, regardless of the reason for the A’s success, the numbers seem to show an inefficiency on the offensive side.

You can also catch Roberts interviewing Michael Lewis on the topic of Moneyball.

Who Takes the Summers Off? I&E Reading Group Announces Its Summer Selections

Given the dwindling attendance in my courses, either the weather has become appreciably better, Midwestern style, or Professor Finkler is giving another macro exam. Both are sure signs that summer is just around the corner.  That means it’s time to unveil the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group‘s summer books.

The first book comes recommended from Professor Garth Bond, who offers us Moneyball: The Art of Winning and Unfair Game.  I’ll let him tell you about it:

It’s a bit off the beaten path, but it is a great  read and certainly raises questions about innovation in a decidedly different context: Michael Lewis’s Moneyball.  If you’re not familiar  with it, it’s basically a book about the sabermetric revolution in  baseball, focusing on Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s.  It is decidedly about the difficulties involved in introducing  innovation into baseball, exploring where and how new ideas arose and  how they actually came to be implemented (and ultimately copied).  I  think it might be particularly interesting because many of us have a  hard time thinking of sports as just another industry, so that it can  challenge our abstract theories by applying them to matters of the  heart.  The other nice thing about the book is that it is extremely  approachable and short.

That is a clear winner.

If you are still on the fence after that, consider that Hollywood is (potentially) making a movie version of the book that will star Brad Pitt.  Here is a review — of the book, not the movie — from the San Francisco Chronicle.

The second book is The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Reaction in the American University by Louis Menand.  This is a provocative piece about why although academics tend to be liberal as a bunch, but institutional change within the academy is slow going.

Menand is a brilliant writer, and the book certainly adds much to the discussion of  “how can we at Lawrence be more innovative.”  Here is the review at Slate that tipped me off to the book.

Also a clear winner.

The tentative meeting date for the faculty group will be in late July.  You should be able to find out more right here on this blog, or on our group site on The Moodle. In early July, I will begin “live blogging” and posting some associated content. As was the case with the first book, any students interested in reading should let me know so we can get together to discuss it.

Those of you not interested in the I&E Reading Group might find some of these useful.

I&E Reading Group, Prophet of Innovation

I’m sure that I am not the only member of the I&E Reading Group plodding through Thomas McCraw’s enthralling Prophet of Innovation this week.  I will also start in on the “live blog,” as promised.

The book is a linear progression through both his life and his thinking about economics.  One of the clear messages, and, indeed, a clear message of virtually any history of thought book, is that the thinker is shaped by his or her environment (see, for example, The Worldly Philosophers and New Ideas from Dead Economists).   McCraw certainly paints Schumpeter (a.k.a., Jozsi, Schum, Schumy, Schump, Go-Go) as a product of his environment.   From his mother’s social climbing (Chapter 2 Summary:  Jozsi was something of a mama’s boy) to the horror and devastation of World War I to his spectacular failure as an investment banker, each of these experiences is linked to Schumpeter’s intellectual and professional trajectories.

McCraw divides this world up into three parts: L’Enfant TerribleThe Adult, and The Sage.  By the time he’s 40, he’s already “played many parts — boy genius, Austrian aristocrat, English gentleman, Cairo attorney, Viennese economist, university professor, minister of finance, investment banker, socialite, and free-spirited Casanova” (124). Not to mention, triumphant swordsman in a duel with an uncooperative librarian (I’m looking at you, Mr. Gilbert).  That’s quite a whirlwind.  Not incidentally, he had also written some defining pieces, including The Theory of Economic Development and “The Crisis of the Tax State,” which made him almost world famous.

So, this week and next, I will be “live blogging” the book.  Rather than recounting the fascinating details of Schumpeter’s life in the “live” blog, I am simply going to offer up some thoughts and topics for discussion that I have carved out and that other members of the group have provided me.   I will likely have my first post up later tonight.

You can get a listing of our progress by clicking on the tag “live blog” below.   I hope it’s helpful.