Tag: Monkeynomics

Weekend Audio

Some interesting interviews for those of you out cleaning the garage this weekend.

The first is Raghu Rajan, a favorite of Professor Finkler (I’m guessing from this link), in a Vox interview, “Fault lines: how hidden fractures still threaten the world economy.” From the abstract:

Raghuram Rajan of the University of Chicago talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his new book Fault Lines, in which he outlines the deep systemic problems in the world economy that threaten further financial crises – high US inequality, patched over by easy credit; excessive stimulus to sustain job creation in times of downturn; and the choices of Germany, Japan, and China to focus on export-led growth rather than domestic consumption. The interview was recorded in London in July 2010.

The second is a favorite of mine, Political Scientist David Brady, over at EconTalk.

David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the electorate and what current and past political science have to say about the upcoming midterm elections. Drawing on his own survey work and that of others, Brady uses current opinion polls to predict a range of likely outcomes in the House and Senate in November. He then discusses the role of recent health care legislation in the upcoming election as well as Obama’s approval ratings. The conversation concludes with Brady’s assessment of how Congress might deal with the demographic challenge facing entitlement programs.

Brady has a good sense of politics and political history, in addition to being an excellent social scientist. In my policy making institutions course at Carnegie Mellon, I used Brady & Volden’s Revolving Gridlock as an introduction to a simple spatial model and an overview of the past 40 years of American politics (Just don’t tell Professor Hixon).

And, I buried the lead here.  Laurie Santos talks about monkey decision making over at TED.  Who knew monkeys were so irrational? She does some monkey experiments and finds that monkeys consistently make the types of “irrational” errors that humans make.

Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in “monkeynomics” shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.

I coined the tag “monkeynomics,” not realizing that there actually was monkeynomics.  Click on the tag for more monkey business.

Monkey business

In Introductory Microeconomics, we have been discussing trade. We all know that Adam Smith wrote that trade was a result of people’s “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” But did you know that he also wrote “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.” (Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter II) This video calls all of that into question, it would seem (thanks to Adam King). On a related note, listen to this podcast from NPR to get an interesting perspective on early trade (thanks to Max Randolph).

Food for Thought, Students Going Bananas

This question came up in class the other day — are you peeling your bananas wrong?   As usual, the Armchair Economist Steven Landsburg has something to say about the matter:

My friend Petal peels her bananas from the bottom. Well, it’s the top, actually, since bananas grow upside down. Come to think of it, that’s not quite right either—bananas grow the way they grow, which should be right-side up by definition, even if we think of them as upside down. So let me start over. Petal peels her bananas from the end without the stem.

Petal’s method is counterintuitive and thus instantly appealing to economists, who love nothing more than to overturn conventional wisdom. Multiple experiments (well, two experiments, actually, since we only had two bananas) quickly convinced a majority of the department that Petal’s way is—surprisingly—easier than the traditional method, though the econometricians thought you’d need to test at least 30 bananas to report that result with confidence. The labor economists immediately resolved to apply for a grant.

Still not convinced?  Well, you aren’t alone.  But the peel-from-the-bottom case is a compelling one:

In the anti-Petal camp, we have the theorists who argue that peeling from the stem end must be optimal because that’s what people do. But Petal counters—and indeed this is her clincher argument—that monkeys do it her way (though I think it would be more accurate to say that she does it the monkeys’ way) and monkeys are the real experts.

If such knotty problems interest you, you should consider taking Econ 300 with me this fall.   In fact, you should consider it anyway.