Man Bites Dog

Tag: Man Bites Dog

People, It is a Commodities Boom

If you didn’t know already, the U.S. and many other parts of the world are amidst an epic energy boom that has sent natural gas prices tumbling.  One back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that consumers have benefited to the tune of more than $100 billion (that’s a lot); another suggests it’s more like $300 billion annually (that’s even more).

So, with that in mind, which group of graduates on average do you think earned a higher starting salary last year — those from Harvard University or those from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology?

Answer here, if you haven’t already guessed.

Plenty more at the Mark Perry’s blog.

The Marketplace CAFE

Yes, I made it to the national airwaves this past week, thanks for asking (and thanks to Adrienne Hill for the interview).

The topic was the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which have been controversial for a variety of reasons since their inception in the 1970s. The basic idea is simple enough, though: if the federal government mandates greater fuel efficiency, people will use less gas.  Because the CAFE standards are politically viable and gasoline taxes are not, the CAFE standards have withstood the test of time, including a beefier rule promulgated by the Obama Administration in 2009.

This week’s issue arose because gasoline tax revenue is funneled back to fund highways and mass transit. Ergo, if we use less fuel, there will be less tax revenue for highways and mass transit.  That is the conclusion of a Congressional Budget Office report from last week:

An increase of about 5 cents per gallon in the gasoline tax would be required to make up the shortfall in revenue projected as a result of the proposed CAFE standards.

And, so, man bites dog and consuming less fuel could lead to an increase in gasoline taxes, and the net result could be higher prices at the pump (Of course, federal gas taxes last went up during the pre-industrial era.  A primary reason for CAFE standards is that Congress is unwilling to move the gas tax off its $0.186/gallon level).

The report generated a minor media buzz, including this very short report on National Public Radio’s Marketplace program where I provided some unsurprising insight.

My authority on the subject stems from a paper I co-authored back in the day, “The Economics of CAFE Reconsidered: A Response to CAFE Critics and A Case for Fuel Economy Standards,” where we make a case that the CAFE standards are a reasonable complement to stiffer gasoline taxes (we also argue for much stiffer gasoline taxes).  I also have talked to US News and the Financial Times, among others. And I will talk to you, too, if you ask me about it.

For a very nice recent treatment, you might check this recent paper, “Automobile Fuel Economy Standards: Impacts, Efficiency, and Alternatives,” in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

For some extremely tasty data, check out Environmental Protection Agency’s Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends.  They’ve been doing this report for years, and I always learn something when I go through the new one.

Keynes, Cowen & Capitalism — Related Items

I checked my RSS feeds today and saw two interesting items, spot on in terms of our class discussion.  First up, an important technological breakthrough in medicine?  Here’s Walter Russell Mead:

The medical world may be on the verge of a major breakthrough on par with the discovery of penicillin. As profiled in this NYT piece, a number of Silicon Valley companies and entrepreneurs are looking to lower the price of genome sequencing to the point that it will be within reach of the average consumer (below $1,000)—a development which could lead to the biggest revolution in drugs and medical treatments in years.

On par with penicillin? That’s a lot of value.

Now for something completely different, Derek Lowe suggests that maybe, just maybe, we don’t need more scientists after all. Hmm. I’m not sure I agree with that whole bit. Nonetheless, it’s thought provoking.

As a bonus, he cites a fantastically titled piece by Virginia Postrel, “How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy.” Postrel seems to agree with his point:

The argument that public policy should herd students into [Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics] is as wrong-headed as the notion that industrial policy should drive investment into manufacturing or “green” industries. It’s just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise. It misses the complexity and diversity of occupations in a modern economy, forgets the dispersed knowledge of aptitudes, preferences and job requirements that makes labor markets work, and ignores the profound uncertainty about what skills will be valuable not just next year but decades in the future.

If you are interested in the average salaries and unemployment rates for different college major choices, Postrel cites this report out of Georgetown University that has some very illuminating figures.

Man Bites Dog Reading Book

It is well known that author’s clamor for Oprah’s endorsement because the book sales go bonkers, and sales of the author’s other books also go bonkers.  The conventional wisdom is that publishers love Oprah because she pumps up book sales.

On the other side of Chicago, however, Northwestern’s Craig Garthwaite has another tale to tell:  Oprah’s endorsements reduce overall book sales:

In the publishing sector, endorsements from the Oprah Winfrey Book Club are found to be a business stealing form of advertising that raises title level sales without increasing the market size. The endorsements decrease aggregate adult fiction sales; likely as a result of the endorsed books being more difficult than those that otherwise would have been purchased.

It is I who emphasized that startling finding. Here’s how Garthwaite describes it:

At the genre level, the post-endorsement period is marked by large sales declines in the romance, mystery, and action categories. These genres were popular prior to the endorsements in the geographic areas demonstrating the largest endorsement responses. Using quantitative measures of text readability, I show that endorsed titles require one additional year of education to read than is typical for romance, mystery and action books. Furthermore, the post-endorsement sales decline was largest following the endorsement of classic novels, which require nearly four more years of education to comprehend than typical romance, mystery, or action titles. Since the cost of consuming a book is the combination of the retail price and the opportunity cost of the time spent reading the text, the post-endorsement sales decline in publishing should be considered similar to endorsements in other sectors that shift consumers towards more expensive products.

The Late, Great Bubba Smith

I read through the paper this evening, and this will likely wind up on my Industrial Organization reading list for next year. We’ve seen a similar phenomenon in our analysis of the beer industry — advertising doesn’t increase overall sales so much as it redistributes sales within the sector. Indeed, we kick off that class with a simple advertising game model, where advertising expenditures are treated as a prisoner’s dilemma, and we learn why incumbents are often copacetic with an advertising ban.  The analogy here, I guess, is that a beer producer that heavily advertises a new, difficult-to-drink product could cause an overall beer consumption to go down (possible ad line: New Bud Super Dark: It’s Like Drinking a Bagel ! ).

I wonder if the “light beerrevolution of the 1970s had the opposite effect?

Via the fellas at Marginal Revolution.

Capitalism and Friedman

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address that exhorted Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Although the expression is iconic and emblematic of the selfless nature of public service, not everyone was impressed.  Indeed, free-market champion Milton Friedman opens his libertarian polemic, Capitalism and Freedom, with this:

IN A MUCH QUOTED PASSAGE in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic “what your country can do for you” implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man’s belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, “what you can do for your country” implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather “What can I and my compatriots do through government” to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.

Well, that’s a take I didn’t hear in my civics classes.

I was reminded of this in a recent discussion of theory of advocacy revolving around Schumpeter and Marx, where Friedman’s name came up.  Schumpeter fleshes out the implications of science and ideology in his brilliant 1948 address to the American Economics Association, “Science and Ideology.”

Political Scientists Eat Their Own

Here’s an interesting fact — a legislator with a degree in political science is more likely to vote to cut research funding for, wait for it, political science. Perhaps they know something?

Here’s from Uscinski and Klofstad.

In October 2009, political scientists learned of a Senate amendment sponsored by Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would eliminate political science funding from the National Science Foundation budget. The American Political Science Association condemned the proposed amendment, and concerned political scientists contacted their senators to urge the amendment’s defeat. On November 5, 2009, the amendment was defeated 36-62 after little debate. This article examines the vote on the Coburn Amendment to understand the role that senators’ personal, constituency, and institutional characteristics played in their votes. Logit analysis reveals that even after controlling for party, several factors significantly predict the vote, including the number of top-tier political science Ph.D. programs in the senator’s state and whether the senator graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.


Joseph Uscinski and Casey A. Klofstad. 2010. “Who Likes Political Science?: Determinants of Senators’ Votes on the Coburn Amendment”. PS: Political Science and Politics October: 701-706.