Friday, May 29, 2009

A "Losing" Bet: Can Wagering on Your Own Diet Help You Succeed?

Can wagering on one's own weight loss goals lead to greater dieting success? (Well, it worked for me once. But more on that later.)

According to a BBC report, "bet dieting" has spread across the pond from the US to the UK. In the betting schemes, dieters use a web site to pony up a monetary stake at the front end of their diets. The stake is held in an account as the diet progresses, unless the dieter fails to meets his or her goals. In that event, the money is deducted from the dieter's account and given to the charity of the dieter's choice.

Talk about incentive-compatibility constraints! It's like the dieter is both principal and agent in a principal-agent problem. And if the risk of financial loss isn't great enough to keep dieters on track, they can also supply the email addresses of people they want notified should they fall off their dieting path--potentially subjecting them to a mix of shame, ridicule, and (hopefully) encouragement.

According to the BBC story, dieters in the US version of the scheme enjoy a success rate near 85 percent. But one should wonder about the sort of person who would voluntarily enroll in such a scheme. My suspicion is that people who are likely to succeed are exactly the people who would be attracted. Stated another way, I imagine that a random sample of overweight people would be much more likely to fail--even after risking some of their finances.

Besides, it's not like the financial consequences are all that strong. After all, the money goes to a charity the dieter picked, where it will do something that presumably makes the dieter happy.

Hmmm . . . , maybe rotund republicans should pick ACORN as their charity, and plump democrats should pick the National Rifle Association. That could strengthen incentives a lot, I imagine.

Which brings me to my personal story about wagering on my own diet success.

Last fall, faculty and staff at Hope College were invited to make a renewed commitment to health for the Holiday Season through the KWIC Holiday Challenge.

KWIC? KWIC stands for Keeping Weight in Check.

According to the communication sent from our college's wellness program,
Some Americans have been known to gain 5-10 pounds over the holidays (aka "the seasonal seven"). In reality, the average weight gain is actually less than 1 pound. The problem with this 1 pound gain, is that most people do not lose the extra weight within the next calendar year, and it thus contributes to the slow creeping weight gain that leads to obesity.
So how were the KWIC incentives structured? Here's the challenge:

Each interested employee needed to weigh in before Thanksgiving, and then again in January. All participants who either maintained or lost weight were rewarded.

We began with a pot of $500, generously financed by the college. Participants were required to add $10 (their bet) to the pot during the initial weigh-in. Everyone who maintained or lost weight over the break would earn an equal share of the final jackpot.

Therefore, successful participants would get their own money back, and more! The unsuccessful would be out ten bucks, which would filter into the pockets of their slimmer coworkers.

The initial weigh-ins were held in the Exercise Science Lab in the DeVos Fieldhouse on Nov. 24 & 25, and follow-up weigh-ins were Jan. 5-7.

On January 12, we learned the results. The campaign was a tremendous success, as 77 of the 83 who weighed in maintained or lost weight. There was a total of 219 pounds lost campuswide, which averages out to over 2.8 pounds per person. Three people even lost eight pounds.


And how did I do? I lost weight: 3.5 pounds, to be precise. And I was paid a sweet $19 in January. BIG wow! A 90 percent return on my initial investment--and in these economic times!!

Now think about our success rate. 77 out of 83 works out to be about a 93 percent success rate. And though Andy Williams reminds us each holiday season that it's the "most wonderful time of the year," it really is the worst time of the year for watching one's waistline.

So how did we do so well? Was it the fortitude of the Dutch descendants I work with? Was it the lure of financial incentives?

Well, knowing many of the folks who participated, and also having looked around the room at both the pre- and post-weigh-ins, I'm pretty sure everybody who opted in knew already they were betting on a winner when they bet on themselves. Otherwise, they would have kept their ten dollars in their pockets--especially since there is nothing random about the outcome. Everyone controlled his or her own result.

Two other interesting thoughts I had during the challenge:
1) Tempting the other "players" with sweet treats, thereby sabotaging their efforts in order to gain a potentially larger payout for me.
2) Selling insurance to the players. Maybe some would have been willing to pay, say, two bucks in November to make sure they got their ten bucks back in January.

Does thinking those thoughts make me a cold-hearted economist?

Shudder. Shudder indeed.

Colleague's Book on Affordable Housing Finance Set for Publication in October

Kim Hawtrey, one of my wonderful economics colleagues at Hope College, has a timely book set for release in October. Affordable Housing Finance, part of the Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Banking and Financial Institutions series,

is concerned with new financial solutions for the problem of housing stress--which has emerged as a major international challenge for advanced economies.

Kim previously was Chief Economist at Colonial Bank in Australia, and Economic Advisor with the Central Bank. He chaired a major national inquiry on housing, and has published several books and numerous scholarly papers on financial economics.

The volume is set for release on October 13. I will post again as a reminder upon its publication.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Update: No Free Cars, Rain Just 0.43 Inches

UPDATE: The final rainfall total has been released for yesterday in Greeley, Colorado, and now one insurance company can breathe a heavy sigh of relief.

As a promotional gimmick, a Greeley car dealer had promised to give all the money back to everyone who had bought a car between May 13 and 16, as long as it rained at least one inch between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Memorial Day. That is, if Memorial Day brought at least an inch of rain at the official weather station at the Greeley airport, all 34 cars would have been free.

Even though an inch of rain in 12 hours in May was unlikely, the dealership had nevertheless found an insurance company willing to accept money from the car dealer in exchange for taking over the obligation to pay out the $800,000 should the heavens open.

Well, the official rainfall measurement was announced moments ago, and just 0.43 inches of the wet stuff were recorded: unusually high rainfall for such a short period, but less than half of what was required to make the insurer of the deal pay off.

Memorial Day Surprise: Day Brings Rain!

In an earlier post I shared that a car dealer in Greeley, Colorado, agreed to give away the 34 cars sold during May 13-16 if the official airport weather station indicated that Memorial Day brought rainfall of an inch or more between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Now the dealer did not assume all of the risk: he paid an insurance company to take over the risk, and make the $800,000 in payments should it rain.

Well, it did indeed rain in Greeley yesterday. And the official reading will be announced later today.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Positive Externalities Indeed: Grand Rapids Press Reporter Reviews Private Sting Concert from Neighboring Driveway

In today's Grand Rapids Press, entertainment reporter John Sinkevics reviews last night's private Sting concert for Amway distributors held in the amphitheater at Meijer Gardens.

Though the press were barred from the event, Sinkevics took advantage of the positive external benefits of an open-air concert to file his review. Here's a snippet:

Talk about an unusual night on the concert beat ...

Although I've reviewed roughly 90 percent of the concerts held at the amphitheater the past six years, Amway staunchly declined to allow me or any other media types (as near as I can tell) within 500 yards of the Gardens stage Sunday night, citing contractual restrictions. Apparently, Sting didn't want me there as he crooned for a hefty paycheck at this corporate 50th anniversary show, which apparently was in the works for well over a year. . . .

No matter.

I was bound and determined to experience the show anyway, joining about 15 fellow "concertgoers" in the driveway of the home of Jean Silbar and Dan Voorhees on Bradford, just east of East Beltline Avenue NE. Silbar and Voorhees frequently host friends, co-workers and neighbors in their front yard for summer Gardens concerts, with folks snacking on food and drinks while listening to the strains of whatever artist or group happens to be playing that night.

Just call them "The Outsiders." Even though this fine collection of partyers didn't qualify as Sting groupies, they all seemed to agree he was putting on quite an impressive show with however many band members he brought with him ... as near they could tell.

"Two thumbs up. He sounds very good," raved Brian Justema, of Grand Rapids, sitting in his chair a quarter-mile away from the Sting-man, who may or may not have been sporting a beard ... or any hair or clothes, for all we knew.

Look, let's just say it's a challenge reviewing a concert without getting to see the headliner, sort of like playing tennis blindfolded, or maybe, trying to sell soap and fire up distributors when you've got laryngitis. Or something like that. But as Silbar so aptly put it, "Just get over it."

So I did, and this is what I know for sure . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Are They Barter Clubs? Or Merely Flea Markets with a Local Currency?

This week CNN reported that "Barter Clubs" are experiencing a revival in Argentina, largely in response to poor economic times. In the barter clubs, people may bring goods that they want to unload in exchange for goods brought to markets by other members. Barter clubs first popped up during tough times in 2001, and are now experiencing a revival.

According to the report, barter clubs are catching on in Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela as well. There's also a growing barter club network in Spain, and one can even find barter-clubbing in Hong Kong.

Now, to "barter," one technically needs to exchange directly goods for goods. And as a consequence, bartering normally is a costly way to make exchanges, since it requires what economists call a "double coincidence of wants." What that means is that--in a barter economy--a person needs to search for and find another person who (1) happens to have exactly what the first person desires, and (2) also happens to desire what the first person is attempting to trade away.

But even that is not quite enough to get the trade accomplished. A final requirement is that each of the two parties needs to be holding enough of each item so that a mutually-beneficial trade can take place.

So if you had to make a trade by bartering, it may prove "costly" to you in the sense that it could require lots of searching for a partner who has what you want, wants what you have, and has enough of what you want to make the trade attractive to you (and vice versa).

The barter clubs are an attempt to reduce such bartering transactions costs by bringing potential trading partners together in the same location, with their wares--new or used--in plain sight where others can see them easily.

But as the two videos (one for Argentina, and one for Hong Kong) from CNN illustrate, the barter clubs are not pure barter markets. That is, if you look closely at the transactions taking place, you will not see goods being exchanged directly for goods. In fact, in each transaction you witness you will see goods being exchanged for pieces of paper--just like the transactions we witness everywhere, everyday.

So though the article and videos make little mention of this element of the "barter" club, what has happened is that the clubs have printed their own unique currencies, to help reduce transactions costs further still. That is, the barter club "economies" are not pure barter economies at all.

The clubs use their own paper money--that's right, money--as the actual medium of exchange. That way the buyer/seller club members are free to sell something in exchange for the local form of money (the special club currency), with the confidence that they can then take that money to "go shopping" elsewhere in the club and spend the club currency on whatever they want.

No "double coincidence of wants" is required. Have vegetable oil to sell and want some jeans? No need to strike a deal to trade oil with the fellow selling jeans; sell your oil for club currency, then spend the club money over at the jeans table.

So view the videos below; the first is for Argentina, and the second for Hong Kong. And if you want to read further details regarding the amazing role money of all kinds plays in reducing transactions costs, etc., I've embedded, below the videos, a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the functions and forms of money.

1 Money & Banking 1 Money & Banking Daniyal

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Oldie but Goodie: Stand-Up-Economist Simplifies Greg Mankiw's Ten Principles of Economics

Yoram Bauman simplifies the ten principles of economics given in the front of N. Gregory Mankiw's principles of economics text.

Note: Might be funnier if you've had at least one economics class . . .

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Guatemala Plane Crash Takes Lives of Professors

It is with great sadness that I share that a small-plane crash, shortly after takeoff, took the lives of several professors and friends of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, including Claudia Araneda, who so capably and good-naturedly orchestrated the general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Guatemala in 2006, as well as the APEE meeting I attended just two months ago. Claudia was also deputy director of the Henry Hazlitt program at UFM, making sure all of the university's students, regardless of program, studied sound economics.

Rafael, her husband, died with her. With the Aranedas were Juan Roberto Brenes, a UFM grad who taught social philosophy of Hayek, and Helmut Wintzer who taught international commerce in the School of Economic Sciences. The group was on a small plane chartered to fly to Belize for a diving holiday.

Juan Roberto and Helmut were both bachelors. Claudia and Rafael leave five children, including Mariandree and Stephanie, who were at their mother’s side, pitching in at both the MPS and APEE meetings.

UFM's press release is here, in Spanish. For an English version by Google (this is an automatic translation, not professional), click here.

Free Viagra for the Unemployed

From the Grand Rapids Press:

That isn't a fake headline intended to get your attention.

Pfizer is going to give away those popular little blue pills to any American who lost their job since Jan. 1 and had been taking the drug for three months or more.

Because it's good to keep busy when you're unemployed.

Call (866) 706-2400.

Just don't forget that there are no free lunches, there is no free ice cream, and there is no free Viagra.

Backchecking the Economist: Magazine Misses on Eurovision Forecast

In light of the trend of Eurovision winners to come from further and further east, the Economist predicted another winner from Eastern Europe. Their prediction was accompanied by the graphic below.

Of course, Norway took this year's prize, breaking the trend and rendering the magazine's forecast off the mark.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rainy Days & Risk: Colorado Car Dealer Promises $800K in Refunds if Memorial Day Brings 1+ in. of Rain

As a promotional gimmick, a Greeley, Colorado, GM dealership made this promise:

Buy a new car from Wednesday, May 13, through Saturday, May 16. Then keep an eye on rainfall totals between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25. If it rains at least one inch at the official weather station at the Greeley/Weld County Airport, then each one of those buyers will get his money back--and keep the car as well.

The dealer's sales totals for the promotional period were about $800,000. Yet Lee Yoder, owner of Weld County Garage, appears unconcerned, claiming to have purchased insurance on the promotion in the event of a literal rainy day on Monday.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Substitute Goods for Consumers: New and Used Cars

Wonderful article from the Kalamazoo Gazette regarding the interactions of two related markets: new cars & used cars.

Extensive cool relationships discussed. Here's just one taste:

With prices on used vehicles continuing to rise and the market offering less selection on some models for used-car buyers, some dealers speculate it may not be long before buying new comes back around.

"Pretty soon it's going to get to the point where a new car's only going to cost you $2,000 more than a used car," Kocefas said.

The Associated Press reported last month that the balance may have already shifted in favor of new cars and that some new cars may actually be cheaper. It reported, for instance, that the average cost of a used 2008 Honda Accord EX sedan certified by the dealership was $21,544 in early March, according to car-buying Web site A new 2009 model cost $80 less. . . .

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Norwegian Singer and Violinist Alexander Rybak Smashes All Points Records to Win Eurovision 2009

Twenty-one-year-old Alexander Rybak won Eurovision 2009 Saturday night, smashing all prior records for point totals en route to taking the title as Norway's representative. Eurovision is an international pop song contest. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey all finished in the top ten.

Here is the winner's official preview video of his winning entry, "Fairytale," a song he penned himself:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Eurovision Song Contest Finals Are Saturday: 25 Finalists Now Revealed

Following two semifinals held earlier this week, the finalists for the 2009 Eurovision song contest are now known. Read Shane Jarvis discuss the merits of the contest, and David Sim handicap the field of 25, both for the Telegraph.

Interesting geopolitics in light of recent moves toward normalizing diplomacy between Armenia & Turkey, as well as Armenia & Azerbaijan, since Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey have all arrived at the finals.

Here's Armenia's entry, "Jan Jan," performed by Inga & Anush:

And if you'd like to learn their "nor par" (new dance), here's a short video to help:

Follow-Up: Male-Female Wage Differentials

It is well-documented that women, on average, earn less than men do. If you are interested in some background, William Darity and Patrick Mason (Journal of Economic Perspectives, 1998) give a thorough overview of the theory and evidence regarding discrimination in employment.

Where females are concerned, data suggest that their earnings are currently just 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. This was highlighted two weeks ago on the National Committee on Pay Equity's "Equal Pay Day." Each year's Equal Pay Day is held on the day of the current calendar year marking the point at which females have earned enough additional money beyond their earnings in the prior year to match what men earned in the year ending Dec 31. This year's Equal Pay Day was April 29; only by then had an average woman earned enough additional money to equal what an average male had earned in 2008.

Now this 78:100 ratio is not uniformly true across all jobs and sectors in the economy: it is only an average. In some industries, women on average make considerably more than men. See this piece on CNN's web site for a list of occupations in which women outearn men. And CNN's Jeanne Sahadi notes that simply comparing average to average is a limited way of looking at the world of pay.

Nevertheless, a disparity exists between these two averages. And economists, psychologists, and sociologists tell each other lots of different stories regarding why such differences exist. And the new story in yesterday's BBC online quiz and accompanying article is that men are more likely to negotiate salary and raises than are women. According to author Marilyn Davidson, a professor of work psychology at Manchester Business School, women may be less comfortable in such conversations, or be relatively more focused than men on job satisfaction rather pay itself.

Carnegie Mellon economics professor Linda Babcock found similar evidence in an experimental setting, but also points out that (1) females might benefit from a softer, less aggressive approach to the subject, and (2) the results may vary depending upon whether the other party is male or female.

Traditionally economists have focused upon two micro-theoretic sources of employer discrimination. First, employers may have a preconception that one group of workers is more productive than another--either based upon an unfair stereotype or upon some sloppy anecdotal form of statistical inference. If so, the employer will discriminate.

In another story, made famous by Gary Becker of the University of Chicago in his 1957 classic The Economics of Discrimination,

employers may simply have a "taste for discrimination," and make hiring and pay decisions in light of her preference for one group over another. In either case, though, when a market is sufficiently competitive, hiring or paying workers based upon physical characteristics unrelated to job performance--rather than hiring and paying workers based upon how those decisions will help one's firm--paves the road to ruin for firms stupid enough to persist in such practices.

So over time we would expect that, as long as firms are operating in markets where they face sufficient competitive pressure, the unwise, mean-spirited firms would fall by the wayside and go out of business. And a straightforward extension is that, over time, we should expect to see wage equalization across all professions, regardless of sex, race, etc.

But there is not equal pay across the sexes: men really do earn more than women, at least on average. Are there micro-based theories that pass the smell test? That is, are there theories that predict that successful firms might nevertheless engage in discriminatory practices?

One theory suggests that it's not the employers who are the bigots, but their customers. So savvy firms might be led to do what successful firms usually do: give customers what they want. If so, and firms are successful as a result, discrimination in employment and compensation by firms might lead to long-term viability--though the theory is unsavory indeed.

Another theory suggests that the pay differences have more to do with what specific objectives women seek in the labor market relative to their male counterparts. If the career and earnings objectives of females are more interesting and varied than those of males, then perhaps the pay differences we see have less to do with discrimination than we'd thought.

In his controversial book, Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap and What You Can Do About It, author Warren Farrell argues that women earn less than men do because they seek a more rich array of sources of satisfaction in their lives--

some of which prove so deeply satisfying that they are willing to work for a bit less money in order to gain the satisfaction they derive in exchange.

Carrie Lucas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum, echoed these sentiments in a 2007 article in the Washington Post. And more recently, in the week leading up to Equal Pay Day, Libby Purves penned a similar commentary for the Times of London.

In the same day that Ms. Purves's reflection appeared, Brits learned that under the new Equalities Bill, firms "will be forced by law to disclose how much they pay men compared with women in a surprise government move to narrow the pay gap." Though the gap is narrower in the UK (where women earn 17 percent less than males) than in the US, and the bill's authors admit that women may seek different objectives than men, they nevertheless believe that "companies are still paying men more than women for similar work, in the belief that that no one will discuss their salary level so they will not be caught breaking the law."

The equalities bill has now passed a second reading.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wages Woes: Must XX Think Like XY to Earn More K?

Do you think about pay like a man would tend to, or a woman? Test yourself by answering this five-question quiz. Then read (below the quiz) Marilyn Davidson's BBC article on why women need to think like men if they want more cash.

Tomorrow I will follow up with my own take.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

High School Senior's Essay: "My Hometown Should Be the Next Gitmo"

From the PBS website:
Jordan Minnick of Hardin, Montana, explains her town's request to hold the terrorism suspects from the soon-to-be-closed military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jordan thinks transfering the prisoners to Hardin would create jobs.
Read her entire essay.

While There Are No Free Lunches, Nor Free Ice Cream, Häagen-Dazs® Is Giving It Away Today

You certainly have heard the expression, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Though the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs points out that this was originally a colloquial watchword in economics, the expression has moved into broader use. And as the expression has evolved in everyday parlance, it has wandered from its meaning as economists use it.

In the contemporary vernacular, when people say that there's no such thing as a free lunch, they probably mean something like "if someone offers to give you a free lunch, you'd better watch out because there is probably a catch, and the person offering the lunch will want something from you after all."

But that usage misses the point. Suppose that someone offers an economist a free lunch. When the economist laments that no lunch is really free, what he means is that opting to eat the free lunch means not doing something else instead. For example, by eating the lunch the economist consumes his own time (with which he could have done something else), he consumes calories (perhaps he is watching his waistline), and he consumes space in his stomach (that could have been filled with alternative eats). Not to mention that he will also "consume" the company of the person offering the free meal--company that might be pleasant or unpleasant.

So the "no free lunch consideration" really is this: If you accept a free lunch offer, how costly will it be to you personally to accept, given what you would be doing instead if you did not accept? Because you always give up something to accept an opportunity like a free lunch. The only question is how valuable the free lunch looks in comparison to your next best option.

Having said all that, here's a tip: there's free ice cream at participating Häagen-Dazs® shops today from 4-8 p.m. And only you can decide whether it's worth the time and calories to take Häagen-Dazs® up on its offer.

(Hat-tip: Ruth Arevalo)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Don't Blame "Free Trade" for Losses of Sweet Jobs in Hershey, PA: Blame Sour Sugar Policy

As a campaign-season article by Max Deveson for the BBC pointed out, unionized workers in Hershey, Pennsylvania blame free trade for the potential relocation of hundreds of jobs from dear sweet Hershey to Mexico. Their claim is that trade deals like NAFTA make it impossible for American workers to compete with cheap foreign labor.

Now, I am no apologist for massive, complicated, rent-seeking alleged "free trade" deals like NAFTA. In fact, I am quite sympathetic to arguments made by Joseph Stiglitz in Fair Trade for All that when the West brokers so-called "free trade" deals, they deliberately slant the global table to make things better for themselves, under the guise of helping the global poor.

After all, our American 50 states have had truly free trade among them since the beginning, given the traditional interpretation of the Constitution's commerce clause. That is why we don't see Arkansas erecting trade barriers against Michigan, for example. And that freedom to trade among all our citizens has led to rapid increases in the quality of life for all Americans--regardless of which specific state they happen to call home. So we have bona fide free trade among our 50 states, it has led to amazing long-term growth, and it has all happened with just a few words included in the constitution--not some massive, bloated piece of legislation that's enormous because of all the rent-seeking attempts of those who might stand to benefit.

But the BBC article overlooks something very important. While the Chocolate Workers union was quick to blame free trade for US job losses in the confectionary industry during the last election cycle, that blame is misplaced. In fact, a more serious threat stems from a US policy designed to protect jobs for Americans: sugar price supports.

Federal legislation designed to protect the jobs of US sugar growers--mostly cane growers in Florida and beet growers in Michigan--keeps the price that we all pay for sugar in the US market artificially above the price at which sugar trades in global markets. So US consumers pay higher prices for sugar at the grocery, and confectioners pay a premium price for a key input (meaning higher candy prices for you and me)--all in an effort to make sure US demanders keep buying sugar from relatively wealthy US growers, rather than from poorer international growers.

But like most policy changes, sugar price supports deliver unintended consequences. For example, according to an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

Between 1997 and 2002, nearly 10,000 American jobs were cut as U.S. manufacturers such as Hershey's relocated their plants to Canada and Mexico, where they can tap into world sugar prices.

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimated in 2006 that for each job growing and harvesting sugar that was saved through high U.S. sugar prices, nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs were lost (bold and italics added for emphasis).

We tasted the bitter end of the sugar price program right here in West Michigan a few years ago. Kraft Foods, parent company of Life Savers candy, suspended US production of Life Savers and consolidated all operations in Canada, where it could pay the lower world price for its main ingredient. So the Holland, Michigan facility closed its doors after 35 years of operation, and put 600 or so local residents out of work. You can read detailed coverage from the Michigan Daily, as well as a repost of a feature from the Los Angeles Times.

So rather than blame free trade for job losses in Hershey, perhaps the protectionist sugar price support program is the real culprit.

Chuck Daly Passes Away: Coached Eight Seasons of HS BB at My Alma Mater

From today's Punxsutawney Spirit:
PUNXSUTAWNEY — In the national spotlight, Chuck Daly may be remembered best as a man who coached the first Dream Team that included the likes of Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to an Olympic gold medal in 1992.

To those in Punxsutawney who knew him before he became recognized as one of the most heralded basketball coaches in the sport’s history, Daly was remembered as a man who was disciplined and focused as a coach, and kind and genuine as a person.

Daly, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March, died Saturday at the age of 78.

Born July 20, 1930, in St. Marys, Daly played college basketball at St. Bonaventure and Bloomsburg University. After two years in the military, his first coaching position took place at Punxsutawney High School, where he was the head basketball coach for eight years, from 1955 to 1963. He would also coach golf for a few years in addition to being an English and speech teacher at the high school.
Read more about Punxsutawney High's best-known basketball coach in the full article.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Growth Industry Even in the Downturn: Funeral Business

If the recession has left you displaced from your job in the real estate or automobile industries, perhaps you can consider moving into an industry with growing demand: the funeral industry. An aging cohort of baby-boomers is fueling demands for final services, as the video below illustrates. And workers who have been dislocated by the downturn are finding new careers.

Which reminds me of an old joke my father used to tell me when we were out riding in the car. As we would pass a cemetery, he would remark, matter-of-factly, "You know, that's a very popular cemetery."

Then he'd turn to me, look me right in the eye, and grin as he quipped, "People are just dying to get in there."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Business Week Cover Story: "What Good Are Economists Anyway?"

The April 27 cover story in Business Week asks the chilling question--especially for us economists--"What good are economists anyway?"

And I must admit I encounter similar feelings lately, around almost any corner. As an economist, volunteering to attend a cocktail party these days feels a bit like volunteering to catch falling knives: I'm going to get hurt. And the only thing to be determined is at what point in the party the bloodying will happen (when someone turns the conversation to economic questions), and the extent of the damage (how deep the insults are).

Check out the intro to the Business Week feature:

Economists mostly failed to predict the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Now they can't agree how to solve it. People are starting to wonder: What good are economists anyway? A commenter on a housing blog wrote recently that economists did a worse job of forecasting the housing market than either his father, who has no formal education, or his mother, who got up to second grade. "If you are an economist and did not see this coming, you should seriously reconsider the value of your education and maybe do something with a tangible value to society, like picking vegetables," he wrote on

Take that, you pointy-headed failures! Go jump off a supply curve!

"Pointy-headed failures?" "[P]icking vegetables?" Ouch.

Thankfully the article concludes its indictment of my chosen profession with a reminder to all of us that -- love them or hate them -- economists make us ultimately better off than we might be otherwise. And I'm especially thankful my wife is already a believer, and has never lost faith in her personal economist.