Friday, March 28, 2014

misc job market notes

  1. The sensation of probability distributions collapsing is very, very, satisfying.
  2. When you've been on a different timezone every couple days for a month, there seems to be no inappropriate time to partake of the free beer on international long haul flights...
  3. Airports that only have seats with immovable armrests are at the top of my list of pet peeves. The floors are almost always less confortable than just sleeping sitting up, or draped awkwardly over your luggage in an adjacent seat.
  4. Jetlag is a great sign: it means you're not so sleep deprived that your body is happy to sleep at absolutely any hour.
  5. The effort I put into appearances dropped quite steeply as sleep deprivation accumulated. Straightening your hair goes out the window in favor of a somewhat messy looking hairclip and half an hour of extra sleep, and touch-up ironing hardly seems worthwhile at midnight.
  6. I am always star-struck when economists I respect are enthusiastic about my paper. And I always conceitedly assume the ones who like it must be particularly smart :) (Really, it's much more correlated with acceptance that economics is more than the study of markets and monetary decisions, but I also assume that economists who accept that are particularly smart... At least, it's definitely true that persistent skepticism of the relevance of behavioral-type motivations and phenomena are irrelevant to classical economic domains, even macroeconomically, is so obtuse it almost has to be deliberate.)
  7. I have no idea whether having this blog hurt me (or helped me, less likely) on the job market. Several people said they liked it, a couple enthusiastically, but as many others said things like "I came across your blog. You write a lot." or wanted to know why I do it, which in equilibrium has to signal a negative opinion. So who knows. I don't particularly care, since I'm certainly not going to stop a fun hobby for the sake of fitting a more hireable mold, but I was curious whether it would come up and to what effect.
  8. After several flyouts, my presentation was completely rote, and there were particular slides I skipped in hour long versions, etc. I'm definitely variably good at making myself talk slowly (which I'm pretty sure almost cost me the job I ended up accepting, so thank goodness that worked out!), but other than that I'm pretty sure I presented extremely similarly at each place. And yet some seemed to go so much better than others. In fact, the more hard questions I got, the better it seemed like it went. The only place that jumped on my from the very beginning and throughout the whole presentation was definitely the most fun (and as a result, it was extremely hard to turn down their job offer, especially since it was already my 2nd choice school), and another school that came close was almost as fun (despite the fact there were many non-economists in that crowd, so I actually had to think before answering some of the questions.) My conclusion is that the audience makes all the difference, which means that both the culture of the department (engaged and aggressive, in a friendly way of course, or passive) and the specialty of the department (it's hard to present to a room of macroeconomists), make all the difference. But it seems like my likelihood of getting an offer was also correlated with how fun the presentation was, which depended on the audience, so that's a little concerning as far as the degree of control you have over your fate goes.
  9. Also when it comes to the degree of control you have over your fate, it's very frustrating how badly the matching mechanism works. And the sad thing is that the economics job market seems to be *much much* more efficient than any other academic job market. Timing issues are the worst (offers expiring before you can interview with other schools). Who wants to start a petition to Al Roth to fix some of these things? It seems like there should be room for improvement even if each candidate and each school can rank a small subset of the complementary population. Surely that's the case in the residency matching program as well? I'm not sure of the details there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


This essay was given a Sydney award by David Brooks last December and I finally got around to reading it. Highly, highly, highly recommended; I'm thoroughly emotionally drained at its conclusion.

Did you know that up to three quarters of the sounds they make are inaudible to humans? And that they can communicate seismically through foot stamping miles away? Incredible.

Monday, March 24, 2014

dubiously rational preferences, continued

So I've established that my preferences are definitely "behavioral", but possibly still technically rational. Maybe...

After a lot of agonizing over choices, I'm in fact pretty sure that my preferences are at least transitive, but only with a lot of intentional mental effort, which doesn't bode well for less thoroughly considered preferences. But hopefully lack of consideration is directly correlated with inconsequentiality, so that it's still rationalizeable.

The difficulty with transitivity, I'm pretty sure, has to do with comparing multiple attributes simultaneously. Small differences in one dimension are easy to ignore compared to single large differences, and that leads to cycles:

Hummus crackers or broccoli and cheese? That's easy, the latter is vastly more delicious, and they're both reasonably healthy and easy. Cheesy broccoli or ramen? That's easy, ramen you just stick in the microwave for a couple minutes and cheesy broccoli requires an actual pan on an actual stove. Hummus crackers or ramen? That's easy, hummus crackers are way healthier.

Cheesy broccoli > hummus crackers > ramen > cheesy broccoli.

But with additional mental effort, I can take multiple attributes into account simultaneously. Broccoli wins with 17 points. Trust me, this is much much harder with schools with a dozen attribute dimensions with much higher stakes...

But why is it so hard? If it's hard to combine multiple attributes it must be that they're not so intuitively fungible. But if that's true, why is it easy to discern small differences from big differences? Are we only gauging differences in a single dimension compared to the possible maximum difference in that dimension, rather than according to its actual influence on total overall utility? That seems about right, maybe.

Maybe having to make decisions that necessarily involve trade-offs along many dimensions is the only thing that forces us to assess overall utility, and all those dimensions really aren't fungible, and behavioral economics boils down to the problems with treating them like they are.


So after I wrote that, Eva (thanks for the link!) posted something extremely similar, and linked to this, which goes over some of the classic examples of nontransitivity, which I always found slightly unsatisfying since they rest on indifference. My example, if you were to translate it into that language, would be exactly the same as the ornament example, but I still don't like the requirement, necessary to generate a prediction, that certain items are indistinguishable on certain dimensions. I'm completely sure that hummus crackers are better than cheesy broccoli on both the health and convenience dimensions, but I ignore those small differences and focus on the one large difference instead. Salience (or something more fundamental that produces an illusion of salience) is the issue.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

dubiously rational preferences

I suppose first I should announce, for context, that this August I will be joining the University of Queensland School of Economics as an assistant professor.* I'm very very excited!

That's not the dubiously rational decision I'm referring to, of course :)

During the job market I was in the strange position of having to pick a single option from a set lacking any objective measure of overall quality and in a very high-stakes situation. That means, unlike most (ambiguous) decisions that I make out of habit or simple guiding principle or quick gut instinct or based on a simple measure like "price" or "amazon rating", I actually had to carefully figure out what my preferences were in order to maximize utility. And in doing so, I identified a couple of systematic irrationalities - or at least, behavioral-econonomicy aspects - to my decision making.

First of all, and most clearly, my preferences are definitely over choice sets in addition to outcomes. In at least two separate cases, I prefer school A from the set {A,B}, prefer school C from the set {A,B,C}, but prefer choice set {A,B} to {A,B,C}.

Now, to a non-economist, that might seem pretty straightforwardly irrational, or perhaps perfectly straightforwardly rational if my first instinct is a product of thinking like a classical economist for too long.** The technical definition of rationality is "complete and transitive preferences" (completeness being trivially satisfied in any real-world scenario I can think of). And preferences over contingent choices, i.e. over choices in combination with the choice set from which they were selected, can be transitive just as easily as preferences over outcomes alone. But that's certainly not something classical economics is concerned with.

It's reminiscent of Gul and Pesendorfers model of self-control, actually, but in a slightly twisted way. They say that self-control is demonstrated by manipulating your choice set to remove the tempting option. Seems reasonable. But in some sense, my reasons for preferring smaller choice sets are the exact opposite - I wanted my choice set to exclude options I should take, for some definition of "should", so I could choose what I wanted to choose freely. Now, this definition of "should" in the self-control model is a feeling that the individual unambiguously agrees with - the value of going to the gym, for example. For me, I knew that others would think I should unambiguously go with choice C, and I myself had very conflicting feelings about it, and preferred not to have to deal with the cognitive dissonance at all.

I guess it amounted to some combination of 1) wanting to avoid succumbing to peer pressure, 2) wanting to avoid being forced to update my preferences based on the information contained in everyone else's opinion, essentially changing my mind from thinking McDonalds is guilt-freely great to reluctantly agreeing I should go to the gym instead, or 3) avoiding the mental effort of the whole process. I'm not sure. I suspect 2 is the most correct, because I'm historically very immune (often to the extent of intentionally going the other way, so my mom would probably say) to peer pressure and certainly was already putting plenty of mental effort into the decision. But if that's the case, that's pretty unambiguously/uncomfortably irrational (in the colloquial sense of the word, again.)

Hmm, this might be the basis of a decent axiomatic economic definition of stubbornness...

Anyway, I prefer to ignore these uncomfortable inclinations and tell myself I just have abnormally high utility from weather/nature and abnormally low marginal utility of wealth :)

OK this blog post is getting too long, so I'll write about technically-irrational preferences (non-transitivity) separately...


*Actually they call it a "lecturer" position in Australia, but it's the equivalent of a tenure-track assistant professorship in American vernacular.

**You know, like when economists are surprised by things like dictator game sharing. I swear it has nothing to do with economists being greedy people, either - they just see a dictator game, immediately model it with their handy classical economics tools in order to solve the problem of what they should do, and then forget that they used to be a normal human with with behavioral complications like "fairness norms". A better example might be the economists who choose 0 in the beauty contest game, because that's the obvious "answer".

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notes from Japan

  1. You know how "Japanese tourists" is kind of a negative stereotype? Turns out this is a fantastic thing when you're the tourist. (It doesn't bother me in general, but for those it does, here's a flip side to recognize.) Not only are they not bothered by you taking a billion pictures of everything, holding up lines to stop and take another shot and such, they jump in and pose. Maybe it's a camera-specific thing to some degree; I've never seen so many people walking around with big fancy cameras and telephoto lenses.
  2. It's really hard to get around when you can't even recognize the alphabet (and thus can't recognize placenames phonetically, recognize two words as the same, etc.) It's a good thing I have a good sense of directly, and an even better thing that Hiroshima has several rivers to follow. I did finally find one location by matching characters tediously between road signs and picture I took with some vague directions on a sign, but that was hard enough even with a 3-character word... (and then if you add multiple fonts into the mix, you're really in trouble!)
  3. I expected to feel much more out of place than I did. I felt exceedingly out of the place for the one day I was in Morocco, and suspected that Asia in general would induce the same sort of feeling (like where you're a little afraid to move because you don't know if it might be offensive, and people look at you with a bit of a hostile undertone). But that wasn't so true in Japan, less than even in Britain. There are some strange formalities, like bowing to everyone to say thank you or hello or show respect in general, taking your shoes off everywhere, etc, but those are pretty straightforward things. And for the rest, they don't seem to hold it against you.
  4. What's with the shoe thing anyway? More strangely, why are the house shoes that are provided in various places so horribly designed? I couldn't make it two steps without one falling off. Is there a substantial difference in foot shape between asians and europeans?
  5. I also felt less bad not knowing any japanese except "arigato" than I did stumbling around in extremely primitive Spanish and German. Virtually no one spoke English (except at the university, of course), and they still seemed more entertained than annoyed at having to communicate with me with hand signs. And when I left with an "arigato" they invariably smiled warmly and said "hai, arigato [some other stuff]!" Germans are more likely to sigh, hold back an eyeroll, switch to English as soon as they detect your accent, and of course smiling is out of the question.
  6. I wonder why those anti-allergenic face masks haven't caught on in Oklahoma (or other hay-fever ridden places)? They're sure popular in Japan.
  7. I think part of the "Japanese tourist" stereotype actually doesn't have anything to do with their tourist habits. It's just that those gaudy items and attire sold in tourist shops are fairly similar in style to a lot of things worn on an everyday basis in Japan. So many random things have giant technicolor cartoons on them, it's bizarre. And I definitely saw two high school girls wearing sequined mickey mouse backpacks with ears that no one would wear outside of Disneyland in the U.S.
  8. Lots of people get around by bicycle. But, somewhat comically, they don't seem to have figured out that you can ride much more comfortably and efficiently if the seat is brought up to an appropriate height. A majority of people are short enough that it works out fine, but you definitely see plenty of lankier men riding around with their knees sticking out.
  9. I also only saw one road bike; the tall hybrid style is ubiquitous. Maybe there's a common explanation for this and the seat height neglect: the bike lanes are integrated with the sidewalks instead of the main roads, so you can't go too fast anyway. I actually think that's a better way to do things, since a vast majority of people bike so slowly, but for people like Matt (or even me) it would be incredibly frustrating.
  10. When an entire city is less than 70 years old, it becomes clear how bad late-20th-century architecture was. Although I'm sure the difficult economic recovery was also a contributing factor, as you also notice by comparing East Berlin to West Berlin post-war reconstruction.
  11. Know what's more depressing than a holocaust museum? An A-bomb museum. Hooooly crap. It was a fantastic museum though, outside of the emotional toll.
  12. In visiting Germany and then Japan, I really became aware of the fact that I never really formally studied 20th century history. Every history class I took went over colonial/revolutionary/civil war history in excruciating detail, but then ran out of time as we approached world war 1. Everything I know about the 20th century comes from a play we did in 5th grade on the 30s and 50s (the other classes did the other decades, so I don't remember those), studying the Kennedy assassination in 8th grade gifted ed, my own personal obsession with the space program in middle school, living through the 90's personally, and living in Berlin for 6 months, where every other destination has to do with WW2 or the cold war. I didn't know much about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Japanese involvement in the war in general, and still don't know squat about WW1 (or the decade before) or the 80s.
  13. Japanese and Korean food are my least favorite varieties overall (with notable exceptions), and I'm pretty skeptical of strange pickled and/or raw seafood, so my strategy was to get the cheapest rice balls at 7-11, hoping that price was correlated with strange seafood. That mostly worked out ok, except that when I ordered a set of three rice balls at a cafe, one had some incredibly potently gross ginger-pickled-seafood-something-or-other filling that I picked out. Dinner with the folks at Hiroshima university was entirely delicious, though (including the 6 varieties of sake and Japanese beer...) And okonomiyaki, which I had twice in Hiroshima, is one of the best local specialty foods anywhere. I photographed each step of the process (they make it in front of you on a giant griddle) so I can figure it out as soon as I get home.
  14. I saw exactly one non-Japanese person in Hiroshima who looked like they might actually live there. It's even more homogeneous than I expected (although I'm sure a lot of heterogeneity is invisible to me since I can't tell the difference between different east asian groups).
  15. There are vending machines for cigarettes on street corners, but I didn't see a single person smoking one.
  16. They sure love carp. If I interpreted a poster correctly, they have a baseball team named after it.
  17. I suspect that the head bowing habit produces a high level of respect between all individuals. That'd be nice to duplicate in the U.S.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Notes from Germany

  1. They have some strange priorities. Jaywalking is enforced, but walking around with open alcohol is totally fine.
  2. I sat down at the philharmonic and immediately fumbled around for my seatbelt. I've definitely been on too many flights lately.
  3. Speaking of the Berlin Phil, why on earth would you waste their skill on some contemporary intentional noise? A junior high orchestra would pull that off even better.
  4. English is truly the international language of Europe. I heard at least as many non-native-English speakers speaking English to each other than I saw English speakers speaking it with Germans. There are people from every part of the world in Berlin in large numbers.
  5. Buttered hot soft pretzels: best snack ever invented. Why haven't I seen that before?
  6. And speaking of pretzels, how are the Germans so good at making them?? How does that skill transfer so imperfectly to imitators in the U.S.? Most of them come from Germany in the first place! I definitely haven't eaten so many bread-products in a week since, um, probably sometime in college during a noodles-only phase.
  7. Bread and meat made up almost the entirety of my diet, actually. Döner kebap, bretzel, currywurst (mit pommes, natürlich), beer, Nordsee. Rinse and repeat. Then go back to California and eat a fridge full of salad.
  8. When I lived there in 1999, there were definitely street food carts selling bretzels and currywurst, etc. Now only permanent installments do so, except for a handful of guys who run around with a mobile sausage cart attached to their waists. How much do you want to bet there's some new ridiculous regulation about street vendors? The Germans do love their vendor regulations...
  9. Why do people keep pointing out to me "You know, no one actually eats currywurst in Berlin..." Who cares? It's delicious. If they're Germans who don't want to be associated with such a low grade of sausage, I suggest getting over it and be proud of inventing something so fantastic. If they're Americans who love jumping on the opportunity to prove that they're not ignorant American tourists, well, may I suggest learning to love life without needing a stamp of approval first?*

*Can you tell I'm just about ready to get out of the bay area..?

Friday, March 7, 2014

notes from Australia

  1. It was a little bizarre watching the superbowl in Australia at 9am. I don't really have a problem with American patriotism (to the extent that our national identity is one of respect and opportunity equally for all, I think that's something to be proud of. Other crap masquerading as patriotism is obviously more irritating, but so is the snobby anti-patriotism of the upper-middle-class left.) but it's a bit self-consciousness inducing to watch your national anthem played over a 100 yard American flag from another country.
  2. Australian people take "friendly" to a new level. Not just polite and helpful, but gratuitously smiley. Even the taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, fast food order takers, and any other menial laborers that probably hate their jobs, smile and say hello unpromptedly and joke around with you and generally seem inexplicably cheerful. It's fantastic. Kinda similar to middle-America friendliness, except I'm not worried about being found out as a dirty liberal atheist.
  3. They're so friendly and cheerful, in fact, that it felt downright oppressive to interact with anyone the one evening when I was walking around Brisbane depressed about some job market developments.
  4. They're also very welcoming to foreigners. I get the impression that they like you just for having the sense to come visit. And they apparently think American accents are funny, instead of being an immediate signal of brash loud obnoxiousness that Europeans take it as. A lot of them also apparently think American are nicer than Australians, which is pretty hilarious, but maybe those are the ones who visited the non-coasts. One definitely was, actually; I ran into an Australian girl who of all things had previously lived in Oklahoma City when her boyfriend lived there.
  5. I don't understand how, but someone the descendents of British convicts ended up vastly nicer people than the Brits themselves.
  6. How on earth did "breakfast" become "brekkie"? I crack up every time I see or hear that.
  7. I don't understand why Australian schools have trouble recruiting American faculty. The salaries aren't as high, but comparable or higher than Europe, and several departments (like UQ :) are quite highly ranked globally. And c'mon, where in the world would you rather live?
  8. I looove the accent! The vowels are mostly inimitable tripthongs.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

job market in airports

(Finally back home, so I'll post a backlog of travel notes over the next few days...)

San Francisco, Washington D.C., Hartford, Charlotte, San Francisco, Oakland, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, London, Durham, London, Madrid, Santiago, Panama City, Boston, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix, Houston, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Newark, Oslo, Manchester, Berlin, Copenhagen, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Tokyo, San Francisco.

(Consecutive duplicates omitted.)

That adds up to 5 continents, 6 countries (plus 4 in only the airports), 21 cities visited (plus 15 only in the airports), time zone changed 20 times (plus 7 only in the airports).

I'm done flying for a very long time. Well at least, for almost a month.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

classical perfection

I'm gonna geek out about classical music for a minute or many.

I'm in Berlin and in three days have seen two of the best classical concerts of my life (and I've seen a lot[1]). Of course, I should admit that my enjoyment of a concert (in any genre) is quite strongly correlated with how familiar I am with the music ahead of time; I'm very artistically dense and have to hear things a few dozen times before I appreciate them. And both of these concerts (or, the parts I intend to ramble about) were performances of music I was already familiar with, in extreme detail when it comes to the Appassionata. But even controlling for familiarity, they were exceptional.

The first was the Berlin Philharmonic, led by Sir Simon Rattle, performing Brahms' 3rd symphony, Debussy's La Mer, and some awful contemporary premiere that I'd prefer not to dwell on. I'm not a huge fan of Debussy, but when played live by the Berlin Philharmonic, it's definitely not bad. But the Brahms was what really blew me away. I'd have been happy shelling out the exorbitant last minute 64 Euro price just for that (and it makes me willing to overlook the Haas... though I really shouldn't have to plug my ears when I go to the symphony!)

In my limited historical understanding, Bach perfected and completed the baroque era. Beethoven perfected classical and started and defined the romantic era. Brahms perfected and completed the romantic era[3]. As you might expect from that categorization and my partiality towards romantic era music, I don't think I've ever heard anything by Brahms that I didn't like. He was maybe not quite the genius that Beethoven was, but much more consistently mindbogglingly wonderful.

Anyway, not only is Brahms' third symphony wonderful, the Berlin Philharmonic is the greatest orchestra in the world. And it's been so long since I've seen a really top notch symphony, I was re-surprised[4] by how noticeable the difference in quality is[5]. Each individual appeared to be as intensely focused and engaged with the music as you might expect from a concerto soloist.

And so accurate. The difficulty with string instruments is that it is really, really, really hard to be exactly in tune all the time. Even the greatest violinists in history, playing solo rather than trying to match a group[6], play plenty of notes that are a bit uncomfortably too high or too low, if you train your ear to notice[8]. So you can imagine the difficulty in getting 40 different string instruments to simultaneously be perfectly in tune. That's what makes orchestras sound distinctly like large groups of instruments, with a somewhat harsh edge to them. I'm convinced that a big part of the reason why violins have a bit of a bad reputation for being irritatingly harsh is because they're most commonly heard in orchestras instead of solo (or played by mediocre soloists...). But the magic of the Berlin Phil is that it sounds like one huge perfectly integrated instrument. It's absolutely stunning.

I guess my overall point here is that I find it fairly unfortunate what a high percentage of variance in quality in string music is attributable to intonation. Obviously stylistic differences are just as large as between, e.g., pianists, but those differences take a back seat: I'd rather hear a very good performance with excellent intonation than an excellent performance with very good intonation, and that is very frequently the real tradeoff between musicians in the highest echelons[9]. None are perfect. (Itzhak Perlman, and more relevantly the Berlin Philharmonic, get close :)

The second concert was a solo piano performance of three Beethoven sonatas and some variations on a theme, played by Lief Ove Andsnes. This was partly a ridiculously fantastic concert because I was seated right there on the podium, about 8 feet from the piano, with a clear view of the whole keyboard. There is literally no other seat in the entire room I would've wanted to trade with, and it was also the cheapest ticket, by some great mystery of the universe[10].

The key part of the concert for me was, of course the Appassionata, which I've probably listened to 200 times in the last six months or so, to a whole bunch of different recordings before settling on one of Sviatoslav Richter's as the best. I like to think I know this piece about as well as a non-musician can.

Listening to this recording, in mental comparison to Richter's, was another illustration of the tradeoff between technical prowess and artistic styling. Not to say that Andsnes isn't technically outstanding (I'll get back to that in a minute) but his interpretation of the third movement might make you think he isn't at Richter's level. For the first movement, I thought the two performances were on equal footing. Andsnes perhaps pulled a little ahead due to his more dramatic rendition. But Richter is a little ahead in that dimension that I don't have a name for but which I'll try to describe: You know how when music seems to depart from the underlying rhythmic structure, but then circles back to it, kind of like a generalized version of syncopation? Sort of like in a lot of African music in which you can never tell where the measures are because the different instruments and different parts of the song weave in and out of different patterns of emphases so smoothly? Some musicians do that so well that you immediately mentally switch to the alternative rhythm and then have to readjust to the underlying framework when it circles back around. And other musicians get there a little more forcefully, so that you can always hear the underlying structure but with some forced off-beat accents. That's the other dimension in which Richter and Andsnes differed a bit. Richter is able to more perfectly fluently switch between metrics. For some reason that mental state of being not quite sure where the true rhythmic framework lays is a really satisfying attribute of any music that uses it well (i.e., again, a lot of African music).

In the second movement, Andsnes was unambiguously preferable to Richter, due to his artistry. And that's all I have to say about that.

In the third movement though (the really famous one), Richter is clearly ahead. This movement is brutal: the faster the better, unlike almost anything else.  It ideally needs to wash over you like a 12 foot wave of indistinguishable notes, so that the melody that occurs at the full-measure frequency scale comes through as the dominant thread, even though four or eight times as many notes as that are happening. I can't even think it as fast as it should be played (as Richter plays it).

I personally don't think Richter sacrifices any artistry in his rendition, although maybe a robot with arbitrarily fast fingers could be programmed to add a bit more of that and I just can't imagine what it would sound like. So when I hear anyone play it slower, I assume they just can't play it faster. For example, compare the above link to this one. The overarching melody drags unbearably and I have to stop it after a few seconds.

So, when Andsnes started the third movement about 30% slower than Richter does, I chalked it up to a (very excusable!) lack of Richter's superhuman skills. It was still very very good, of course, but Richter really spoils you[11]. But then, to my surprise, in the last break before the final wave (at 6:12 in the first link), he picked up the pace to match Richters. And he's right to do so! There should be a jump in speed there, but when you're going as fast as you possibly can to start with, that jump isn't achievable. But nonetheless, I much prefer that tiny oversight/sacrifice of Richter's to a wave of notes that's more gelatinous than fluid, even on top of the slight noticeable sloppiness of some tiny bits in Richter's[12] that is probably as inevitable as imperfect intonation is for violinists. If Andsnes can keep up the pace he had at the end for the rest of the movement, he can do it.

And now it's 3:40am and I'm going to end this ridiculously long blog post and go to bed.


[1] In junior high orchestra, we got extra credit for going to concerts if we brought back a program signed by our parents. I brought these back almost every week[2], and one Monday brought in three at once, from the previous Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. My orchestra teacher, with an expression of sudden realization, said to me "you have to actually go to them!" I was quite indignant at the suggestion I might be lying about it or silly enough to think that bringing in random programs was sufficient, but luckily he believed me.

[2] People really underestimate small college towns, for this reason. There were so many concerts or other cultural offerings through the university and not enough of a population to drive the price above nearly zero. And I could bike to them all.

[3] Well, there's Rachmaninoff et al... but that kind of romantic music has a distinct later flavor. And Rachmaninoff died in 1943, well into the contemporary period.

[4] I also saw the Berlin Philharmonic play Beethoven's 7th symphony in 1999, which also makes my list of best concerts ever, although the conductor's interpretation wasn't my favorite.

[5] To be fair, part of the greatness of the experience was due to the audience, which was informed enough to clap at the right times instead of stutteringly shattering the intentional silent transitions between movements, and was also very polite: hardly anyone even coughed, the ones that did almost all saved it for the gaps, and you can bet your life no one's phone even vibrated. Makes an enormous difference! Especially compared to free concerts in the park, which have been most of my symphony experiences for many years.

[6] That is, it's much easier to notice when two simultaneous notes are 1 hz off from each other than when the gap between two consecutive notes is 1 hz larger than it should be. Soloists really have a lot of leeway for that reason[7], and really fantastic string quartets are the ones who have been playing together for so long that they've learned to tune to each other nearly perfectly.

[7] And even better, play a fretted instrument... a BIG part of the reason why Chris Thile's mandolin renditions of Bach's solo violin partitas are so wonderful is that every single note is exactly on. Plus the ability to do 3 or 4 part harmony. Plus... it's Chris Thile. This is also why I love classical guitar and piano music; I can listen to it without my subconscious being slightly on edge about the possibility or remembered reality that the next note might not be exactly what I want it to be. Speaking of which, why is there no such thing as a fretted violin? Sure it would limit a lot of things, but in many cases I think that would be a great tradeoff. It would certainly make grade school orchestra concerts a lot more bearable...

[8] And so the danger in my habit of listening to the same piece on repeat for a hundred times in a row until it's essentially in my ears' muscle memory is that those uncomfortable notes become ingrained in my brain in association with the piece. I'd suggest iterating between several recordings, but that's often not possible: no one plays the Beethoven violin concerto like Perlman, and there's only one recording (to my knowledge) of him doing so.

[9] Then again, once again, I'm artistically anti-gifted, so maybe that's just me.

[10] As a stereotypical economist, I was elated before the performance even started by this outrageously good deal. 8 euro! And to think I was about to pay 35 euro for a seat up in the rafters when the website cut off pre-sales and claimed it was sold out! And what a stroke of luck that I showed up to see about last minute tickets at exactly the right time to get to the front of the line, and then left for dinner and came back once again at exactly the right time to get to the front of the open-podium-seating line.

[11] For this reason, I have no desire to ever hear the Beethoven violin concerto played live unless it's performed by Perlman. It's impossible that I wouldn't be disappointed with such a high reference point.

[12] There's one wrong note in the recording I've listened to a hundred times, and it's ingrained in my memory (see [8]) and drives me crazy. I need to go back and find another of his great recordings (there are several, but some definitely better than others) without it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Ridiculous things I've said, or come close enough to saying that I ended up stuttering around for long enough that my interlocutor just interrupted me in English (which isn't saying much - this usually takes about two seconds. Everyone speaks English and rarely lets me get through a complete sentence in German, so consistently that I often forget I'm in a foreign country and say 'hi' or 'sorry'):
  1. Currywurst con pommes.
  2. Dos stücke, bitte.
  3. Un brezl.
  4. Die sekretariat de schule...
  5. Gracias, tschüss.
  6. Wo sind los toilettes?
  7. Si. Er, oui. Er... *nods*. (At least a dozen times, it's crazy. There is no easier German word than 'ja'.)
This is why I like ASL (well one of the many reasons). When I'm trying to come up with the word 'hilfen', I never inadvertently stick my right fist out on my left palm.

I'm so bad at languages; it's a wonder I'm the offspring of a linguist. (Although, still not as weird as being descended from a long line of church organists...)

Friday, February 21, 2014

half an hour in Oslo

I'll come back to Australia later and Germany...

Two fantastic things heard during my stop in Norway:
  1. "It's a beautiful day here in Oslo, at negative 3 degrees."
  2. "May the odds forever be in your favor."
Also, I don't think I can honestly consider myself blonde anymore.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Sudoku gets boring very quickly, but there are two other new types of puzzles that use very similar reasoning processes, the satisfying sort of mostly-algorithmic thinking that brains love, that seem much more fun. But they're hard to find. So someone please write a good generator for them :)

The first are regular expression crosswords. Beyond that introductory site, this is the only really good one I've found. So. much. fun.

The second comes from the wonderful NYT Numberplay column. It's called Combonoku, and like Sudoku involves putting numbers in certain allowable combinations. Maybe I liked it so much because there was only one hard one to work through so it didn't have a chance to get boring, but I guess I'll have to wait until one of you writes a generator for them to find out.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

targeted advertising

Matt hates advertising, so when I couldn't get him to watch the puppy commercial I ended up defending ads. Mostly, of course, ads provide me with all kinds of amazing free services (subsidized by people who don't bother installing adblocker...) But they're also occasionally informative. For example, I'm quite happy I saw an ad for Doritos locos tacos when they were invented :)

The weird thing is, untargeted ads are the ones that are more likely to actually succeed at getting me to buy something. There are of course the trivial comically extreme cases of failing targeted advertising, like when you buy one pair of leg warmers on amazon and then are bombared by ads for legwarmers, as though you might want 12 more pairs, but that's not even what I mean. Telling me about economics books or hard drives or telescopes is never going to be a successful strategy (unless maybe it's a special discount sale) because I already know what I want in those areas.

But ads for cars keep me informed as what's available nowadays so I know what I want to look for when I get a new car eventually, likewise for phones or computers, fast food ads regularly get me to try new junk food inventions, special sale ads for grocery or department stores or restaurants are useful, etc. Ads for baby products and cosmetics and jewelry are never useful, but anything in that valley between "irrelevant" and "highly relevant" has a decent shot at being useful.

I wonder if it's just me, or if companies haven't yet figured out how to get at that sweet spot.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Notes from Chile

Three-ish weeks late as well...
  1. Flew to Santiago via Madrid. Passport stamp says that counts.
  2. Santiago looks just like LA. Palm trees everywhere, some nice areas and some poor areas, hispanic population, same latitude, same weather, same slightly-inland location.
  3. Chile confusingly uses the same "$" sign for its currency, but the exchange rate is around 500 pesos to the dollar, and they Europeanly switch the role of dots and commas in numbers, so everything looks half as expensive as it really is. Ie $10. means approximately 20 USD. I discovered this when I accidentally withdrew twice as much as I intended from an ATM.
  4. The southern hemisphere must really have a recruiting advantage in the economics job market. It's summer and beautiful.
  5. Doing Spanish Rosetta stone for a few weeks a couple years ago totally paid off. With just that limited vocabulary, I can decipher most signs. Spanish is so easy, it's actually pronounceable, and phonetic, and genders are obvious.
  6. The kindle free 3G model is still the best thing I've ever bought for international travel.
  7. I wanted a convenience store to buy diet coke in Santiago. I searched google maps for "supermercado", "Mercado", "bodega" and "tienda". No luck. Walked around and discovered they're all called "market" or "mart"...
  8. Similarly, a Chilean who went to grad school in the US laughed at the fact that what Americans calls "plazas", Chileans call "malls".
  9. Comparing average prices between Chile and the U.S. indicates that they're about the same. But variance is key. Restaurants seem to be either substantially cheaper or substantially more expensive than the U.S. Downtown in the main market, every meal costs about $20 or more, but a few blocks away, you can get chicken and salad and bread with French fries or rice for less than $3.
  10. And real estate is cheap. If you can move there on an American salary, you can live very very well. (Hint hint: if you've been stuck in Oklahoma for awhile and can no longer afford to trade your house back in for one in your preferred major American city, consider Santiago...)
  11. And despite that, it's more civilized than, say, Oakland... Safety statistics are better in every dimension. And I never once smelled urine! Or any of the other mysterious scents of the Mission.
  12. And there's a fantastic subway. The city is overall about as accessible as New York. It's not open 24 hours a day, but it's incredibly cheap, clean, and comfortable. And if you're out late, the taxis are MUCH cheaper as well. 50 cents to start instead of $2.50 or whatever it is now, and about half the per mile rate.
  13. Like Gabon, stray dogs are everywhere, and they're incredibly sweet (but healthier and better fed than in Gabon). This is a major, but unintentional, public good :)
  14. I definitely took many wrong turns due to the sun being to the north instead of the south.
  15. Also like Gabon, the standard food paradigm seems to be choice of meat + choice of carb. No matter where else in the world I travel I seem to come back to California craving vegetables like crazy.
  16. Gabon is actually entirely dissimilar to Chile despite the two comparisons above; funnily, however, a couple professors seemed a little sceptical that I might want to come to a "less developed" country, and asked if I'd travelled in less developed areas at all, and I said well I went to Gabon for a month, and that seemed to reassure him. That really cracked me up. Despite the fact Gabon is doing very well compared to most of sub-Saharan Africa, Santiago is much more like a standard American or European city than anywhere there.
  17. In fact, the most significant aggravating thing I heard that there is to deal with is poor customer service. This stems from a general lack of trust/trustworthiness, which in some ways isn't so bad if you're American, because they know you're trustworthy. Getting an apartment is apparently trivial as soon as you show up as a tall blonde person.
  18. Santiago is also a paradise for anyone who likes the outdoors. In the same day you can *easily* go surfing and skiing in the same day, and stop at a volcano and a glacier in between.
  19. I was surprised, however, how much I stuck out just by being blonde. Anyone who spoke English automatically addressed me in English.
  20. Watching the NFL in Spanish was exceedingly entertaining. If I concentrated I could understand a bit of what they were saying, but it's bizarre to have Spanish followed not by mariachi but by the NFL theme music.
  21. To watch the conference championship games, I went to "California Cantina", a bar filled with ex-pats. But despite the fact the workers and clientele were predominantly American, the first menu section was "California favorites", from which I didn't recognize a single dish.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Notes from Britain

Three weeks late, but frankly I'm surprised only that. With all this exciting international travel, this is gonna have to turn into a more personal blog for a little while...
  1. The British seem to be very stubborn about the necessity for everyone else in the world to learn their language before visiting. First, in the customs line, a group of Chinese tourists were standing together trying to figure out which line to get into, and finally one came up to the Heathrow staff member, pointed to their boarding pass, and said "Glasgow?", obviously asking "Is this the right line to get into if I'm going to Glasgow?" The staff member, instead of nodding helpfully, scoffs disdainfully and says, oh so informatively "Use your head! Everyone else here is waiting in line." (apparently oblivious to the fact that there were half a dozen other lines to choose from as well.) I tried to nod and point helpfully, but then luckily an English speaking Chinese tourist jumped in and explained that they were in the right place. Later, walking through the departures lounge, I saw two foreign people trying to order a muffin from a coffee stand, and the woman asked if they wanted a box, which they didn't understand. A normal person in this situation would have done the internationally understandable thing of pointing to a box, raising their eyebrows to indicate a question, and repeating the question. Instead, she just said the same thing again louder, and then gave up and put it in the box anyway. Then even I, an English-speaking American, was treated like a dirty foreigner when I asked where I needed to go to rebook my ticket, since I'd missed my connection. The conversation went like this: "Pardon me, I missed my connection; could you tell me where I can rebook my British airways flight?" "Airline connections are downstairs." "Oh - what are airline connections?" "AIR-LINE CONN-EC-TIONS." "Um, ok, and that's where I can rebook my flight?" "Follow the signs." It's apparently inconceivable that anyone wouldn't know that's what they call the rebooking desk for all airlines, rather than the direction to go towards other flights or something...
  2. The British Airways staff, on the other hand, were super friendly and helpful. Ahh, that wonderful profit motive at work again...
  3. A sign in the US saying "A day without wine is like a day without sunshine" (in Heathrow) would be scandalized for promoting alcoholism. It's so unbelievably obvious that the cultural treatment of a substance will dictate how responsibly it is used. But you still get people like David Brooks who rationalize their socially conservative gut instincts with unbelievably transparent B.S. like this... David, with this single article you've destroyed your credibility with me. Now when I read your articles praising the social constructs of organized religion and stable families, which I agree with despite having no personal interest in organized religion or stereotypical 1950's families, I'm going to know that you're just rationalizing your preferences instead of uniting left and right with the aspects of social conservatism that serve the left's interests.
  4. The British are so proper I feel perpetually like a loud slob. It's bizarre that they can be so puritanical about those things but so unpuritanical when it comes to alcohol.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

getting kids to like school

There are a couple of self-reinforcing cycles that people tend to underestimate:
  1. You like what you're good at, and you're good at what you like. The first causal relationship is well-understood: of course people like to feel good about themselves, and likes are arbitrary enough that's it's easy to "decide" to like what you're good at and rationalize those preferences as necessary. The second causal relationship is underestimated: If I like something, I'm likely to spend some time doing it immediately, which means I'm going to get better at it, and have even more reason to like it.
  2. You do what your identity prescribes, and your identity is shaped by what you do. If I think of myself as a morning person, I'm going to remember that when I set my alarm clock, and I'll set it early. If I think of myself as a punctual person, I want to live up to that by being on time. But conversely, if I play with math somewhat as a kid, and notice that other people don't do that as much, then I might define myself (necessarily in contrast to others; no one's self-concept is based on their humanity) as a math geek.
These are powerful cycles to exploit, because positive reinforcement leads to exponential processes: The more you learn today, the more you can learn tomorrow. The more you invest today, the more you'll have available to invest tomorrow. There are two aspects of exploiting them:
  1. Get on the right cycle: Teenagerhood is considered a high risk time of one's life because that's when we define ourselves. And teachers are always trying to convince us that "math is fun!" so we'll take an interest in it and get better at it.*
  2. Get on the cycle early, so exponential growth gets going: There's plenty of effort to get young girls interested in math and science, and virtually nothing to convince them to study math and science when they get to college. It's much more powerful to get to them early on.
So this is a very long roundabout way of getting to my true point: using financial incentives on kids to get them to do better in school is usually met with extreme skepticism, because extrinsic motivation might crowd out intrinsic motivation, and/or the money sends the signal that doing well in school is something so unpleasant that they have to be paid to do it. But what about when you're dealing with young disadvantaged inner city kids who already believe they can't be good in school, a belief which is reinforced by teachers and parents who by high school will tell them to stop wasting time and get a job? I believe that a well-crafted** financial incentive could be just the thing to trigger young kids into liking the right things and choosing the right identity. If a kid decides to go after a monetary prize for doing something academic, he just might find that he's better at it than he expected, or likes it more than he expected, and voila, either way he's on a virtuous cycle starting from a young age.

As an economist I would put this as: the "model"*** above predicts a positive correlation between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, unlike other models that predict a crowding out effect.


*Hint: gradeschool math is not math. Calculation is tedious and boring, no matter how relevant/relatable you make it. Math is fun, so teach it! Kids don't care whether things are useful, they care whether they're fun. They just say "who cares?" when they're trying to justify their disinterest.

**I have more to say about how to craft them well, but later. Actually it was a conversation with a development/education economist, Francisco Gallego, about what my job market paper has to say about designing education programs in these scenarios that got me thinking about the topic in general. The job market is exhausting but the upside is the fresh mental stimulation from meeting all kinds of new smart people.

***Quotation marks are mandatory here. I will never give in to the sociology definition of "model" :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

non-economic notes from AEA

  1. These are some of the best things I've ever spent $12 on. Squish-into-briefcase-able waterproof black comfortable dashing-through-the-snow shoes!
  2. Economist frugality has gone too far when they schedule the largest annual meeting in a place like Philadelphia in January instead of giving people an excuse to go somewhere they actually WANT to go. 
  3. The interviews I was most intimidated by were the most fun, overall.
  4. I'm an easy sell. Or just getting pretty good at focusing on the good sides to each job possibility. After just about every single interview I told Matt "hey such and such place could be really great! listen to this!"
  5. I'm officially cured of my hesitation regarding 5-hour energy drinks. They're gross, but do the job.
  6. One of those, along with 72 ounces of redbull, 2 liters and 3 cans of diet coke, and two excedrin, definitely set a personal record for caffeine consumption over three days... Someone better hire me, at least so I have health insurance for when my kidneys fail.
  7. Not all interviews start with "So tell us about your job market paper." "So how's your Portuguese?" wasn't anywhere on the list of questions to prepare for...
  8. And "Hi, I'm X, from Y College. I'm the economics department." was an entertainingly creative introduction. (And literally true.)
  9. I am almost physically averse to describing my job market paper in 3-5 minutes a single additional time. By the end of day one it was in such rote form that I knew exactly which phrases I changed between iterations.
  10. As a result, I probably sounded even more like a manic overly-caffeinated nerveball with speech set to "fast forward". Who hadn't slept in a week.
  11. Football (which I already like normally) is way more fun when your brain is too fried to think any other thoughts. Maybe that's also why its entertainment value is correlated with beer intake. And why certain people think it's anticorrelated with, er, intellectualism, although I strongly disagree - they just don't know how much awesome strategy and statistics are involved. (Go Niners!)
  12. Now I know what old people who say funny things like "this cold weather is bad for my hip" mean. Within about a mile of speed-walking through the snow in 15 degree weather I'd aggravated both running injuries that I'd thought were long gone.
  13. Cheese steaks are pretty good but a far inferior local specialty food compared to Mission burritos, New York pizza, Chicago pizza, döner kebabs, Buffalo wings, or southern BBQ (any variety).
  14. Utz pretzels on the other hand...Yum.
  15. In naps on two flights, overnight in an airport, and on my couch this afternoon, I've dreamed about nothing except email conversations scheduling flyouts with schools or receiving rejection news, disaster striking on flyouts, getting good news from schools I'm particularly excited about and then waking up to realize it didn't happen.... I expect to be an insomniac for awhile until signing a job offer.
  16. My Chinese fortune cookie said "Investigate the new opportunity that will soon become an option". Ten minutes later I was invited to Santiago, Chile :D
  17. Speaking of Chile, why on earth did people settle North America when South America and Australia were available? Have you seen pictures of Chile, or the climate averages? Yeah yeah I know the real reasons, but still.
  18. I'm a little ashamed at being so happy to receive a miniature travel iron for Christmas. I'm a devout believer in Downy wrinkle releaser and in NOT putting so much effort into superficial things like creases (which I don't know how to do properly anyway). Oh well, hopefully I'm sending the right combination of "cares about this interview enough to worry about the superficial things" and "too excited about and wrapped up in research to care about it normally" signals.
  19. They say the post-interviews waiting period is the hardest, but I don't know why, because I plan to sleep through almost all of it. Perpetual interview nightmares and all. Goodnight.

Friday, January 3, 2014

gender parity

We're never going to have gender parity in economics until they make pantyhose with zippered crotches, so I don't have to spend 5 minutes undressing and redressing every time I want to go to the restroom during a 30 minute break between AEA interviews for dashing 8 blocks through the snow and waiting for elevators in busy 20-story hotels and fiddling with map and schedule printouts while my male colleagues are in and out in 30 seconds and spend the spare time reviewing their notes :)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The role of theory in experiments

This is really great (and not nearly as long as its breakdown into chapters would suggest!) It (hopefully!) won't contain much new information for economists past the first year or two of grad school, but nonetheless, I thought his explanation of how misinterpretation of p-values is an instance of base-rate neglect was clearer than any other discussion of problematic interpretation of p-values that I've read. I've taught base-rate neglect a few times in behavioral economics classes without realizing the connection.

That then made me realize a more rigorous justification for economic theory, beyond the standard "it forces you to think very carefully and clearly about what your assumptions imply, and helps you discover subtler implications that don't intuitively jump from your assumptions." Economists routinely say things like "Our experiment design should be informed by theory" or "Our analysis should be informed by theory" which is pretty vague and doesn't imply anything deeper than the justification above.

But if you want to understand the chances of your statistically significant result being a false positive, rather than simply the chance that random data could have produced it, you need both a p-value and a prior belief. If an outcome is different between two treatments with p=0.05, but there was only a 1% chance that those treatments actually produce different outcomes on average, there's a pretty small chance that your result in fact isn't a fluke, even though random data would only produce your result 5% of the time. But if you are already sure of the assumptions of a model, and the model predicts a difference, your prior should be much higher than 1%. Any statistically significant results that corroborate the theory are much more informative than they otherwise would be.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Things sure have changed since the last time I was at my parent's church, last Christmas eve. Like, what part of Jesus do you suppose is missing from the gluten-free communion wafers?

Matt: The glutes, of course.


Nabokov is my favorite writer, and it turns out he was also a lepidopterist. I can't tell if this is a wonderful essay or it's inevitably wonderful given the topic.

I think Nabokov would be one of my fantasy-dinner-party invitees.

[Perhaps stolen from MR, don't remember...]

Saturday, December 21, 2013

minimum wage versus EITC

This is interesting. (File under "things every citizen should understand about economics" and "things about economics I should've been familiar with already but was not because I'm almost more of a mathematical sociologist than what most people would think of as an economist* and because politics depresses the living hell out of me so I try not to read too much about it**.")

First look at this graph, showing that the diminishing real wages of minimum wage workers often reported has been compensated for by increases in often neglected EITC (see this for more details):

Then go read this short and extremely clear post by Steven Landsberg on why we should be happy that EITC has replaced minimum wage as the social safety net mechanism, which is also stated in the NYTimes article but without much elaboration.

Steven Landsberg is great; you should read him in general. He explains things more clearly than any other blogger I know of. Sometimes a little too virulent for my taste, but hey, considering the target is consistently Paul Krugman, it's only fair... And he makes up for it with fun math puzzles.

*Pssst, don't tell the job market people :)

**See number 3. I highly recommend this list, even though 1, 5, and 10 are still challenging for me. (But on that point, see the coda.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

written kitten

Someone please turn this into an emacs plugin!! I want it for writing my next paper.

(Thanks to my friend Yang for mentioning this site :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Amazon is a fierce price competitor. It's awesome. It's a mighty engine of consumer surplus.

So it's a little weird that they keep squeezing resellers. When I first started reselling books on amazon, they took a fixed 15% cut and I made a ton of money, even on books that sold for 1 cent, because the shipping charges were a bit higher than the actual cost. Now amazon takes a much higher, increasing percentage, and also digs into the shipping charges. I haven't posted a book on there in several years because it's never worth the hassle.

So I was surprised to discover recently that still only takes a 15% commission, and has the same shipping charges as amazon. In the last couple months I've already sold a dozen books on there for plenty of cash.

Why is amazon ruthless about cutting its profits in order to gain market share in every other domain except reselling?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

US health outcomes

The whole "US pays more for worse health outcomes" always sounded too bad to be true, and doesn't jibe with all those accounts from Britain and other single-payer systems about having to wait months and months for urgent care. And based on this table from this presentation, which shocked me despite my prior expectation that health care is probably in fact better in the US than other places held up as models by single-payer advocates, it sure looks to me like that rhetoric is greatly exaggerated...

By the way, the most frequent statistics I hear quoted as part of that silly meme are related to life expectancy, and that presentation also shows that when you adjust those figures (as you obviously should) to remove fatal accidents, the US jumps from 19th to 1st in the OECD and Japan falls from 1st to 9th.

None of this, of course, has much to do with cost efficiency, and I'm guessing the US is pretty bad on that front, perhaps largely because it's richer and therefore spends more on healthcare and marginal benefit is decreasing. I'm not going to ignorantly speculate further, but wanted to at least point out I'm not making claims on that dimension.

[stolen from MR]

Friday, November 15, 2013

guaranteed minimum income

Hey, maybe it's more politically feasible than I'd hoped! Switzerland is considering a minimum income program!

The major, supremely disappointing thing about that article is the lack of any mention (in fact, an implication to the contrary) of implicit marginal tax rates. It's not that hard to talk about without economics jargon that it can conscionably be omitted from a new york times article on the topic.

The reason I like the idea of a guaranteed income (for everyone, no matter how rich or poor) as the social safety net is exactly because* it solves the problem of the perverse incentives to not work harder, not maintain financial stable relationships, not take care to only have children you can afford to take care of, etc, introduced by the patchwork of welfare programs that currently exist. Poor Americans have less incentive to work harder than anyone else, because the more money they make the fewer benefits they get from the government. Talk about a backasswards approach to the social safety net. A guaranteed income for everyone doesn't introduce the same perverse incentives.

(Unfortunately it seems like the Alberta experiment was still based on income, so it's not actually a guaranteed income policy at all. I hope to god that Switzerland tries it out and does it right.)

*at least, economically speaking. Morally speaking I also strongly prefer welfare policies that don't inadvertently punish responsibility... and of course, those two reasons are intimately related.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

forms and more forms

This is probably the funniest thing I'll encounter in this process of filling out 250 web applications for jobs:

"Email address (If you do not have an email address, please go to hotmail or yahoo to sign up for an internet email account):"


I know I shouldn't complain, because the economics job market is so fantastically organized compared to every other field. But why do 90% of schools insist on having their own application websites, 98% of which are built with exactly the same software, instead of just using I now have my four references' phone numbers memorized...

Someone please hire me so I can stop this nonsense.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

sexist pronouns

One nice thing about being female is that I can use "he" as the default singular pronoun to my heart's content without being accused of sexism :)

In lots of game theory models there are two players, which is perfect because one can be "he" and the other "she". But my job market paper models a single individual's choices in a game with an amorphous crowd of observers. So he's just a he. Gender balance be damned.

I respect my readers enough to trust that they will not read anything more into my pronoun use than convenience of language (which exists naturally in so many other gendered languages, just not English...)

Monday, October 28, 2013


I'm giving a seminar tomorrow, so of course rather than practicing it again, I think about these other things...

Why do I/we go to seminars? It's an immensely inefficient way to obtain information. Half an hour with the paper is most definitely better than an hour and a half listening to someone talk about it, and that's if I manage to pay attention the whole time (ha!*)

So why do I still go? (...when I do?)

  1. Social image. If I never show up, what will people think of me? 
  2. Learning what kinds of questions people have, and therefore how to anticipate questions to my own work.
  3. Learning how to present, by watching others present. 
  4. A commitment device, to force myself to spend some time thinking about an interesting paper that isn't directly enough related to my research that I'd read the paper before letting it stagnate in my Mendeley "to read" folder for six months, or a year, or indefinitely... 
  5. To be able to keep up with talk around the water cooler. There may be more interesting papers to read than whichever random one is being presented, but if everyone in the office just saw the same presentation, we can have an interesting discussion about it.

What else? Is it just me?

Relatedly: I hear Jeff Bezos, in place of traditional meetings, requires people to write up reports, which everyone in the meeting reads silently and simultaneously before discussing it. He says it's impossible to write a report without thinking clearly about what you're saying, and reading is more efficient than listening. For this among other reasons, I rather idolize him...

*To be fair, the reason it's hard to pay attention the whole time is partly because it's an inefficient way to obtain information, so that's a little bit circular.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Economics is most definitely a science

I'm not even sure where the ridiculous notion that it's not got any footing.

Perfect on the topic.

(Until I have a job, hopefully less than six months from now, this blog probably won't contain much more than an occasional link :)

Monday, October 7, 2013


People always mention students' excitement/moments of clarity as the most gratifying parts of teaching, but I have to say, another big one (though perhaps only the first or second time you teach a class) is realizing you know a subject so well you barely have to prepare.

I guess I learned something in grad school!