Wednesday, July 21, 2010

quoted in the Daily Item

I was quoted in a short write-up on unemployment benefits. I presented both the pros and cons of unemployment benefits, without injecting my opinion. For those unfamiliar with principles of economics classes, this is stressed - there are positive views (facts) and normative views (opinions one derives based on facts along with your own value system).

The other economist quoted, Dr. Moohr, clearly didn't seek to share the pros and cons of extending unemployment benefits, just his reasoning for why he wanted these benefits extended. He dodged the issue of whether the government should be adding to our debt by claiming the payments will happen regardless. Also, this is a rare instance where you will hear an economist try to claim that incentives don't matter. The heart of economic analysis (and one of Greg Mankiw's 10 principles of economics) is that people respond to incentives.
As coincidence would have it, two weeks ago I spoke with a friend who had been laid off by his company for lack of demand, but he was called back to work. I was very excited for him and saying congratulations and that it must be a big relief to be back at work. He said not really - because he was enjoying the time off with his unemployment benefits.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another tourney win

I won a seat to a $2400 tourney at Turning Stone casino in NY - about 4 hours north of where I live.
Will be playing starting August 14th. GL me!

The Value of Expensive Colleges

A recent study examined the "value" of colleges. Our local newspaper covered the story, saying:

Tuition last year at Bucknell University in Lewisburg was $40,594. ...

The university may have one of the highest tuition rates in the Valley, but it also ranked No. 2 recently among all liberal arts institutions with its graduates obtaining the highest mid-career salaries — an average of $115,000 a year. The average starting salary is $56,100.

The story, and a sidebar that accompanied the print version of the newspaper, essentially went on to say that despite the fact that Bucknell (and to a lesser extent, Susquehanna) was so expensive, it is a great value because the starting salaries of Bucknell (Susquehanna) graduates are so much higher than average.

This report and story are an excellent example of people not thinking through issues before releasing a study. Bucknell is an extremely prestigious school. It's students, on average, will be much more intelligent than your average college student and also come from much wealthier families than your average college student. These two factor's play a huge role into determining lifetime earnings. Of course Bucknell students will have higher average salaries, but to credit the institution with adding value to these students is off-the-mark. In fact, a study several years ago found that students who got accepted to Harvard but went elsewhere did just as well as those who attended Harvard.

As an educator at a private college, I am biased towards these institutions. I see first hand the opportunities our students, especially our good students, can get upon graduation. I also know that this is an amazing environment for a student to spend his or her college years. But to credit the increase in salaries to the institution is crazy. Perhaps a small part of the starting salary differences could be from a college, but smarter kids going into college will make more money upon graduation - regardless of where they attend college.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Full trip report from World Series of Poker

Here is a link to the full trip report from my WSOP event this year.

Warning - all sorts of poker lingo.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Applying game theory to political campaigns

For much of the past 7-8 months, I helped a local candidate for congress run for office. It was a wonderful opportunity to take the game theory principles I teach and attempt to apply them to the real world. In the end, my candidate lost, getting a very respectable 28% of the vote in a 3-person race despite being outspent by both of the other candidates (and by over 4-1 by the winner).

Some very practical things I learned out on the campaign trail:

1. Staying on message is crucial. The campaign is a fight for ideas. The candidate I supported did well despite the money disadvantage because he was always going back to the 3-4 key points that he wanted voters to remember. Most voters won’t have time to concern themselves with dozens of policy positions so will make their choice based on a few issues.

2. These key points should simultaneously:

a. Point out strengths of the candidate.

b. Imply weaknesses of the other candidates.

c. Be general enough that a majority of voters will look at these favorably.

3. If you are a candidate, being a “full time” candidate (i.e., not having a day job) is a big benefit.

4. Having full time help to coordinate volunteers/support is crucial in a big district.

5. Personalized phone calls are huge. They are time consuming, but huge. We did personalized phone calls to several counties – mostly around the home district. We did great there. We also made calls to individuals in one smaller outlying county, and it probably gained several extra percentage points of the vote. Getting volunteers early is crucial.

Overall, it was really a great experience for my first dip into politics. It helped that I worked for a really great person who was running, so my time wasn’t just an academic exercise: I also felt like I was doing a service to society by helping out this candidate.