Fri, 4 May 2018
This week's episode is a little different. There's an ongoing controversy related to a two-time guest of this show, Robin Hanson. I talk through the scandal, giving a whole decade of background so you can understand where this scandal comes from.
There are many links for this episode. Here they are in the order they are discussed:
"Unequal Beauty Silence" October 19, 2009
"Pretty Smart Healthy Privilege" September 26, 2014
"Inequality Talk Is About Grabbing" August 7, 2013
"Two Types of Envy" April 26, 2018
"Why Economics Is, And Should Be, Creepy" May 2, 2018
Fri, 27 April 2018
Andrea Matranga of the New Economics School in Moscow joins the podcast with a fascinating question: Why did humans adopt agriculture in the times and places they did? His research paper, The Ant and the Grasshopper: Seasonality and the Invention of Agriculture, offers a potential solution. Here's the abstract:
During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture. In this paper, I argue that this innovation was a response to a large increase in climatic seasonality. Hunter-gatherers in the most affected regions became sedentary in order to store food and smooth their consumption. I present a model capturing the key incentives for adopting agriculture, and I test the resulting predictions against a global panel dataset of climate conditions and Neolithic adoption dates. I find that invention and adoption were both systematically more likely in places with higher seasonality. The findings of this paper imply that seasonality patterns 10,000 years ago were amongst the major determinants of the present day global distribution of crop productivities, ethnic groups, cultural traditions, and political institutions.
Figure 2 in the paper illustrates the locations and times of the adoption of agriculture:
Andrea looks at both these adoption dates and the rapidity of the spread of agriculture from these locations and compares them to the climatic seasonality of those locations, finding a strong connection between seasonality and adoption of agriculture. He argues that the need to store food caused people to become sedentary as opposed to nomadic, and once they were sedentary the opportunity cost of farming was greatly reduced.
Fri, 23 February 2018
Today's guest is Russ Roberts, host of the quintessential economics podcast EconTalk. (If you haven't heard EconTalk, go subscribe to it right now, because it is excellent!)
We discuss EconTalk's role in the economics profession, the things Russ has learned in the course of making it, the importance of intellectual honesty, and the enduring insights of Adam Smith.
Here's the EconTalk interview with Bryan Caplan that I mentioned in the episode. Stay tuned for my own interview with Bryan!
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself---and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman
Fri, 2 February 2018
Sam Hammond returns to the podcast today to discuss the free market welfare state. He and Will Wilkinson have both written articles in this area recently, and we discuss some of the concepts they bring up.
People tend to think of government functions on a one-dimensional spectrum with "big government" on one end and "small government" at the other. Sam points out that the welfare state is separable from the other functions of government (regulation, command and control, protectionism, etc.). Not only is this true in theory, but it is played out in practice, with Nordic countries having very large welfare states as well as high economic freedom.
We discuss some of the problems with current welfare states and some ways to improve them.
"Food Stamp Entrepreneurs," a study that shows that access to food stamps makes people more likely to start businesses.
Fri, 26 January 2018
My guest for this episode is Scott Cunningham of Baylor University. We discuss his work on the decriminalization of indoor sex work and on the impact of Craigslist's erotic services page on violence against women.
The working paper on Craigslist generated a lot of media attention, with articles at Huffington Post and ThinkProgress. The most quoted statistic is that "Craigslist erotic services reduced the female homicide rate by 17.4 percent." We discuss this statistic, its possible causes, and whether or not it is implausibly large.
Scott mentions John Snow, the scientist who first discovered that cholera was spread by contaminated water sources. Here's the first video in a series on him.
Fri, 8 December 2017
Today's guest is Kyle Coates and our topic is pro wrestling and the intellectual property problems that arise from it. So prepare to be amazed as we BODY SLAM this topic, or something.
Who owns a wrestler's name, gimmick, and persona? Kyle was inspired to do research in this area when he heard about a legal dispute between the wrestlers Jeff and Matt Hardy and the wrestling network TNA. The Hardys changed networks and wanted to continue using a gimmick they had developed while performing for TNA.
We discuss some of the lawsuits and disputes that have occurred in the pro wrestling sphere, and how to courts have treated these issues. And yes, we answer the most important question: If Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson runs for President, will he be able to use Rock puns in his campaign ads? Listen to the episode to learn the answer!
Fri, 17 November 2017
Today's guest is Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution. We discuss infrastructure, particularly roads and airports, and the incentives faced by their users. Bad incentives create congestion problems that can't be solved by simply throwing more money into infrastructure; you need to fix the incentives! Clifford's work on privatization shows how it could improve incentives and reduce the costs of congestion.
Clifford argues that self-driving cars will fix some of the problems created by bad policy. We also discuss the letter grades issued for infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers and what they do and don't tell us about the quality of American infrastructure.
Fri, 29 September 2017
My guest today is Karl Smith, he is the director of economic research at the Niskanen center.
Our topic for today will be market power. Karl has written a series of posts on the Niskanen center blog discussing markups and market power. The debate was sparked by a paper by Loecker and Eeckhout that claimed that average markups in the American economy had risen from 18 percent in 1980 to 67 percent today.
There are many different interpretations one might have for this data. What Karl points out is that these markups have mainly risen among smaller firms. Wal-Mart has very low markups, but niche specialty firms such as the local vegan café have relatively high markups. This makes sense in the context of monopolistic competition, where consumers pay a small premium in return for greater product differentiation.
Noah Smith had this response to Karl's article:
"Robin Hanson and Karl Smith both have posts responding to De Loecker and Eeckhout’s paper and attacking the Market Power Story. Both give reasons why they think rising markups indicate monopolistic competition, rather than entry barriers. But both seem to forget that monopolistic competition causes deadweight loss. Just because it has the word 'competition' in it does NOT mean that monopolistic competition is efficient. It is not."
As Tyler Cowen points out, this is not necessarily the case. What is inefficient in a partial equilibrium model may not be inefficient in a general equilibrium model.
Fri, 25 August 2017
Samuel Hammond is returning to the podcast today to discuss the relationship between capitalism and social justice.
The controversial ad featured generic protesters and Kendall Jenner sharing a Pepsi with police. While the ad was insensitive and more than a little absurd, Sam pointed out that Pepsi has a history of promoting social justice and racial harmony through its marketing.
Back in 1940, Pepsi was a small player compared to Coca-Cola; the latter selling 25 sodas for each one Pepsi sold. In order to compete, Pepsi's CEO Walter S. Mack Jr. decided to do something the other companies weren't doing: marketing specifically to African Americans:
"In 1947, [Mack Jr.] hired Edward F. Boyd, an African-American adman who later became known as one of the fathers of niche-marketing. Boyd crafted ads for Pepsi that celebrated black cultural and professional achievements, and above all portrayed African-Americans as normal, middle-class consumers. It was this marketing push that ultimately drove Pepsi’s rise to the number two soda company in America."
In pre-civil-rights America, this was a major achievement, and it served a deeper social purpose by extending social recognition to black Americans.
We also discuss some other interesting niche marketing campaigns, like Subaru's marketing strategy targeting lesbians in the 1990s. Finally, we tie it all back to capitalism as a force promoting diversity and inclusion, with references to Becker's work on taste-based discrimination.
Fri, 7 July 2017
The guest for this episode is Jonathan Morduch, he is a professor of public policy and economics at NYU and the author of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, co-authored with Rachel Schneider.
The book looks at the financial situations of ordinary American families. It is centered around a detailed survey of 235 households where they recorded what they earned and what they spent at an extremely granular level.
From a truck mechanic whose income depends on bad weather wearing out the parts on trucks to a blackjack dealer whose tips literally depend on her customers' winnings at the blackjack table, the surveys reveal a huge amount of variance in the incomes and expenses of these households. This variance is not captured in annualized statistics, but it has profound implications for the way these households spend and save.
We discuss financial literacy in the context of the real problems people face and relate the stories to some results from behavioural and experimental economics.