Monday, August 31, 2009

So You Want to Be Fed Chair After Bernanke? Try Your Hand at This Game!

In case you missed it, President Obama announced the reappointment of Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve last week.

Which means you won't be betting the job anytime soon.

Better practice, though. Try your hand at steering our economy by taking charge of our central bank and playing the Fed Chairman Game at the San Francisco Fed's web site.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are There Really 46 Million Medically-Uninsured Americans?

In another great feature, NPR's Morning Edition took a closer look at the composition of the estimated 46 million medically-uninsured living in America:
. . . are there really 46 million uninsured? It's the current best guess, but it might be off by several million. . . .

Are Doctors More Like Moms Or Mechanics?

NPR's Morning Edition Friday included two wonderful features. The first considers the principal-agent problem applied to medicine: Are doctors looking out for you? Or for themselves?

That is, is your doctor more like your mom or an auto mechanic?

A 300-year-old Example of Quantitative Easing

From the Economist:

“IF FIVE hundred millions of paper had been of such advantage, five hundred millions additional would be of still greater advantage.” So Charles Mackay, author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, described the “quantitative easing” tactics of the French regent and his economic adviser, John Law, at the time of the Mississippi bubble in the early 18th century. The Mississippi scheme was a precursor of modern attempts to reflate the economy with unorthodox monetary policies. It is hard not to be struck by parallels with recent events.

Law was a brilliant mathematician who used his understanding of probability to help his gambling habit. Escaping from his native Scotland after killing a rival in a duel, he made friends with the Duke of Orleans, the regent of the young king Louis XV.

The finances of the French government were in a terrible mess. Louis XIV had spent much of his long reign fighting expensive wars. Tax collection was in the hands of various agents, who were more concerned with enriching themselves than the state. Not only was the monarchy struggling to pay the interest on its debt, there was also a credit crunch in the form of a shortage of the gold and silver coins needed to fund economic activity.

Law’s insight was that economic activity could be boosted by the use of paper money that was not backed by gold and silver. He was well ahead of his time. . . . (more)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wisdom of Crowds? Or Wisdom of Wombats?

A few years ago, New Yorker financial writer James Surowiecki published The Wisdom of Crowds, explaining that often, "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." ABC's 20/20 considered this idea in a recent report, featuring business professor Michael Mauboussin. You can view an excerpt of the report, or read it in its entirety.

But have you heard of a "wisdom of wombats?"

Just like we use special words we already know to describe groups of species--"gaggle" of geese, "pride" of lions, "herd" of cattle--there are plenty of these you may have never heard of:

a murder of crows, a cackle of hyenas, a wisdom of wombats.

You can read even more, courtesy of the San Diego Zoo.

So when a bunch of wombats get together, make way for the wisdom.

Cash for Clunkers "Crowding Out" Mechanics

As this CNN segment illustrates, auto mechanics are nervous that the crushing of all the clunkers in the CARS program will lead to a drop in the demand for their services.

Higher Education's Disinvestment in Faculty

From Mark Perry's Carpe Diem blog:
The chart above is based on data in the American Federation of Teachers study "The State of the Higher Education Workforce 1997-2007," released in May 2009, and college enrollment data available here. The report presents a troubling picture of the higher education teaching profession because colleges and universities have been "disinvesting" in full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty while at the same time "investing" in more and more administrators, and hiring more and more part-time faculty.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bob Lucas Defends My Profession!

Noble laureate Robert Lucas defends my profession in the Economist:

THERE is widespread disappointment with economists now because we did not forecast or prevent the financial crisis of 2008. . . .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

twitter's Broken

cnet reports that twitter went down this morning. Perhaps a case of negative network externalities.

(I'd tweet this, but, well, . . . ).
Twitter was inaccessible for at least a half hour on Thursday morning, followed by a period of slowness and sporadic timeouts (and more outright downtime). It's not clear what has caused this. My theory is that it was the volume of millions of people tweeting complaints about why it can't be Friday yet. . . .

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Video about Holland, Michigan

There's a new video on the net about lovely Holland, Michigan. (If the link doesn't work, you can view it embedded on this web site.)

Shot last year, the video is designed to describe life in town to anyone thinking about making a move here.

The film includes a segment about our town's intellectual life, found between the 5:00 and 5:30 marks. And if you take a look, you'll see yours truly in action in the classroom.