Sunday, March 31, 2013

A month in the life of an economist

How does an economist at a liberal arts college/university spend his/her time?  Well, I can't speak for all economists, but here I'll provide a review of one month in my life.

March has been fun.  One note.  This month is a bit different than many, in that it contains our university's spring break.  That certainly made it a bit more lively than most months for me!

Thursday, February 28th  OK, this isn't March, but I'm including it as I taught two classes on this day, Principles of Microeconomics and Political Economic Thought.  It's the last class before spring break for the students.

Early in the evening on the 28th, I talk to a reporter from the Chicago Tribune about an economic impact study that's released showing misleading estimates.  It ends up getting published on Tuesday, March 5th.  (Story here.)

On Thursday nights, I play in a weekly trivia league.  Here's a picture of our team ...

Friday, March 1st.
This is a typical day for me when I don't teach. I spend time working on research projects.  (I have 3-4 new papers being written now, plus plenty of other projects in various stages.)  I also spend quite a bit of time preparing for my classes.  I don't teach again until Tuesday, March 12th, when spring break ends, but since my break will be busy both with work and leisure, I get going now.

Sunday, March 3rd and Monday, March 4th
This Sunday and Monday are both busy work days!  I am on the board of trustees at Susquehanna University.  There are two faculty member representatives, and I was honored to be elected as one of them last spring.  These two days were spent in board meetings.  Fun, instructive, and tiring.

Tuesday, March 5th and Wednesday, March 6th.  

Our family took a two day trip to NYC.  I talked about that here.  Very fun times.

Thursday, March 7th

I fly to Phoenix to spend time with my parents and my brother.  Joe Flacco was on my flight, and I felt very little shame asking him to pose in a picture with me.  He was very nice with the fans who were talking to him.

He didn't need to ask me for a loan.

Friday, March 8th

I golfed 9 holes before rain kicked us off the course, saw Zero Dark Thirty (good film!) and had fun relaxing with my family.  And, after years of being a Pulp Fiction fan, I finally tried a Big Kahuna Burger.  It was quite tasty!

Today wasn't all leisure, however.  In the morning, I presented some of my reserach at Arizona State University.

Saturday, March 9th

I played poker at Casino Arizona.

I hadn't played in over 6 months, but that didn't matter.  With 390 participants, I entered the final table of 10 as a massive chip leader.  We made a deal then where I accepted an amount between first- and second-place money and the rest of the table took much less.  I'd cashed in two World Series of Poker events before, but this was actually my biggest "live" (not online) poker win ever!  Here's a picture I took ...

It's fun to win poker tournaments!

Sunday, March 10th

It's 70 in AZ, and my dad is cooking on the grill.

A day of golf, and hanging out with family in 70 degree weather.  It was a great day.  Then I took a red-eye flight back home.

Tuesday, March 12th

Back in the classroom!  These are such fun classes to teach.  In Political Economic Thought, we began a book by Conard called "Unintended Consequences".  Great book, and quite controversial.  Made for great discussion in class.

Wednesday, March 13th

Grading, meeting with students, and preparing for classes on Thursday.  Busy.

Thursday, March 14th 

Teaching again!  Trivia again, as it's Thursday night

Friday, March 15th

I spend time grading, preparing for Tuesday's classes, and meeting students.  I also have a couple meetings on research and I spend to to prepare for a research presentation on Monday.

Monday, March 18th

I am in Buffalo, giving a presentation at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  They have a number of good researchers doing work on issues related to cigarettes and  tobacco and I've been fortunate to collaborate with a number of them.

I met with several great researchers, talking about important research issues.  I also gave a talk ...

Tuesday, March 19th


Wednesday, March 20th

During the day, I did my usual ... work on teaching prep, meeting with students during office hours, work on research, etc.

At night, I saw a great lecture by Lyle Orwig.

Mr. Orwig talked about many issues related to food security and sustainability.  His question and answer period was one of the best I've ever seen.  He took hostile questions from the crowd and handled them with ease.  (And entertained the crowd while doing it!)  It was great!

Thursday, March 21st

Teaching again in the day.  Trivia at night.

Friday, March 22nd

In the morning and early afternoon, I spend time grading, working on class preparations, and a bit of research.

In the afternoon, I have a faculty meeting where we discuss how to structure the research requirements for the business school.  I am not a big fan of going to meetings, but this was productive and a useful meeting.

Sunday, March 24th

I attend a ceremony for our top students who have been chosen to be inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the top honors organization for business schools.  This year, I also get inducted, but I attend annually as it's fun to see our top students getting honored for their great work.

Monday, March 25th

Today is mostly devoted to meeting advisees.  It's pre-registration week, so I meet with advisees to give advice on courses to take, study abroad options, internship and career advice, and more.

Tuesday, March 26th

I teach again.  We're going through Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" in Political Economic Thought.  We cover authors from left-to-right in that class, and it's Friedman's turn.  I found some great videos that we watched in class.  Here are a couple:

Wednesday, March 27th

I spend time on the radio in the morning.  I've been blessed to be an educator, and I enjoy that I can share economic knowledge in settings other than the classroom.  I don't think this is my best performance on the radio, but it's not bad.  Link is here.  I come on after about 15 minutes.

I prepare for classes and meet with advisees for the rest of the day.

Thursday, March 28th

Teaching and advising!

Friday-Sunday, March 29th-31st

While I do a bit of work, I mostly spend time with my family.  With a business trip in early April, I try not to do too much work over the Easter weekend.

Overall Thoughts on March

This month was atypical.  I traveled more often than normal, and some super-fun and rare things occurred (meeting the Super Bowl MVP and winning a poker tournament).  It isn't that unusual, however.  As for April - I head off to Vienna and Munich early in the month to give three research presentations.

Being an economist is fun!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I agree with Obama again!

This makes it twice this year!

Obama signed a protection act about GM foods that has some leftist groups in an uproar.  Before I saw anything about this, I was pretty sure that Obama must have done the right thing.  If Obama signs something about GM foods, and the anti-science left is upset, it had to be a good law, right?

Jayson Lusk's blog has a nice write up and finds other sources as well..  It seems quite clear this is a good law.

The main point seems to be (see link from Bier):

"The so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” actually does nothing to protect Monsanto. Rather, it protects the farmers that bought Monsanto seeds and planted them under the belief that it was legal to do so by granting them temporary permits for the existing crops in the ground, which have already been subjected to extensive USDA scrutiny."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gun control, MOOCs, and other links

1.  Tyler Cowen finds this article describing the dangers of MOOCs and wisely compares it to the Candle Makers Petition.  For those who don't know, this is the satiric article where candle makers asked to put in restrictions on the sun because it hurt their business.

2. John Lott lists some people who wish to ban guns.  (Except for themselves, of course.)

3. A story describing how difficult it is to fire government workers.

4.  The Economist chimes in on Pennsylvania's antiquated liquor laws.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Misleading poll - Minimum wage edition

The results of a poll always depend on who is polled.

Economist's vote on the impact of minimum wage. This panel, as they say, is built "to be geographically diverse, and to include Democrats, Republicans and Independents". This panel was split about 50/50 on the harmful effects.

But this sample isn't likely a representative sample of economists. (My glance noted many left-wing economists.) Further, it's from mostly academic economists, who tend to be more left-wing than non-academics.

Robert Murphy's blog post here has a better grasp on the situation.

What he points out (from other work):

"A 2000 survey by Dan Fuller and Doris Geide-Stevenson reports that of a sample of 308 economists surveyed by the American Economic Association, 45.6% fully agreed with the statement, “a minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers”, 27.9% agreed with provisos ..."


"Another survey in 2007 conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 73% of labor economists surveyed in the United States believed 150% of the then-current minimum wage would result in employment losses and 68% believed a mandated minimum wage would cause an increase in hiring of workers with greater skills. 31% felt that no hiring changes would result."

Those 27.9-31% - I would like to know who they are. I don't care what their credentials supposedly are, I don't think people should take them seriously as economists. To think that a minimum wage increase wouldn't increase unemployment means their ideology is overwhelming any impartial analysis. (Note, even those who support an increase should know that it increases unemployment.)

I'll be on the radio tomorrow

I'm joining the On The Mark program on WKOK (AM 1070) tomorrow morning.  I'll be on the air from about 8:40-10:00 AM.

You can listen live here.  

Should be fun!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Poster for Timothy Sandefur visit

Timothy Sandefur is coming to Susquehanna University on April 17th.  Here is the "fresh off the presses" poster we are using to promote his visit.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More freedom of choice coming to PA?

The Pennsylvania State House passed a bill for liquor store privatization. 

Story here.

Commentary here.

This legislation still has to pass the PA Senate to become law, but this is a start.

As I've stated before, I think the state should allow alcohol sales at more locations.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Daily Item discusses one of my research projects

This was in Saturday's paper (March 16).  There is no online version of the article, so you'll have to read below if you want details.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More false claims of National Parks creating an economic impact

I'm in the midst of writing a paper on the proper methodology for estimating the economic impact of national parks.  That will be out soon.  

Meanwhile, the false claims are flying around.  Link here.  This study, from the National Parks Conservation Association, says the following:

"National parks support more than $30 billion in economic activity and more than a quarter million 
private-sector jobs. Many of these jobs are in rural and urban communities that are gateways to these 
popular travel destinations."

This is misleading at best, an outright lie at worst.  It is true that individual parks almost always have an economic impact on the local areas they serve.  However, to claim that this is extra economic activity for the country is completely wrong.  These parks are funded by US taxpayer dollars.  For every dollar that supports jobs, that's one less dollar Americans can spend to support other jobs.  

The only economic impact that National Parks should be claiming for the national economy is the money from out-of-country tourists that wouldn't have made the trip if not for the parks, or Americans that visit the parks that would have traveled out of country if not for the parks.  This must be at tiny fraction of park spending.  Hence, the national economic impact of National Parks is tiny.

For reviews of several studies on the economic impact of parks and recreation areas, go to my website,  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Assorted Links

1.  John Lott exposes Media Matters.  I've always viewed Media Matters (and those who follow them) as quite pathetic.  They appeal to those who a) want to ban speech they disagree with and b) people who aren't sophisticated enough to fact check and are dumb enough to take their word.  Further, it's funded by George Soros.  He is a disgusting human being.

2.  There's a new documentary, FrackNation, that claims to expose "Gasland" (which was an anti-fracking documentary).  I haven't seen it.  I haven't seen Gasland, either.

3. The mayor of Philadelphia supports free speech ... except when he doesn't like it. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Assorted Links

1. Bloomberg's soda law gets shot down.  Great news, but sad that the nanny state is so bad that it got to this stage in the first place.

2. Here's a clip where Jayson Lusk is on the John Stossel show (he's on starting at the 2 minute mark).  It's not often an agricultural economist gets on national TV - congrats Jayson!  Also, there's a story on fracking.

3. Bill Gates didn't like the book "Why Nations Fail".  The authors respond here.

4. Caplan on the minimum wage.  Note, I think the top comment is spot on.  While Card and Krueger made a serious attempt, there are so many questions that it's tough for me to take it seriously.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Economic Concepts in Broadway Musicals

Over SU's spring break, our family took a quick 1-night/2-day trip to New York City.  We've been to NYC before, so we didn't feel compelled to hit the Empire State Building or Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty again, which gave us freedom to see lots of other places and a couple Broadway shows. 

We went to Central Park, FAO Schwarz, American Girl world, Nintendo World, St. Patrick's cathedral, the NY public library, and more. It was a great trip.  We also saw two musicals that were not only outstanding, but hit on economic themes.

Newsies is based on an 1899 strike by paper deliverers.  The show is outstanding (and our seats were awesome) and the whole family liked it.  This song is about the point when the newsies decide to strike after Mr. Pulitzer decides to decrease the their wages.

There is some room for debating whether they the newsies were "in the right".  In a market that's not competitive, a union could be socially useful by countering the market power of the company.  However, in New York City there are hundreds of employers, so could the newspaper owners really have that much pricing power? 

Further, if 100 people have a job but 100 others are willing to do the same work for less money, is it right to restrict those willing to work for less from taking those jobs?  (In the show, the newsies think that it is OK.).  I don't think so, but that's certainly another contentious issue.  Regardless of the pro-union bias of the musical  it's still a great show.  Here's another clip.

Hands on a Hardbody

We also saw a show in previews called "Hands on a Hardbody".  This show is based on true story.  In it, 10 Texans entered a contest and started by putting their hands on a truck.  When a person removes his/her hands, he/she loses.  The last one to not remove his/her hands wins the truck.  This was another great musical that covered economic topics.  The 10 contestants all had their own individual issues, including one who was struggling to get a job, another who needed money to pay for school, and other economics related topics. 

The whole theme of the show, however, illustrates the concept of "rent seeking".  We teach in principles of microeconomics that when you have a  fixed prize that will be awarded in a contest, too much useless effort will be devoted to win the contest.  That's precisely what happens here, as this contest goes for days.

There isn't much yet on youtube about this show, but here's a clip from it's pre-Broadway days.

I highly recommend both shows - both are amazingly entertaining and give an opportunity to think through economic issues. What could be better?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I'm quoted in Chicago Tribune story about economic impact study

Link here.  (But it's behind a paywall, so I think to get to it for free you have to google it. (Google "12 billion tollway doesn't add up"  ... then you can access for free.)

Kudos for the Tribune for not just running with the misleading numbers provided by these government officials.  By speaking to me and two other economists, they ran a great story.

Here are two sections:

"Tollway officials tout a potential $21 billion economic boon. But that's about the same amount as the tolls that will be paid.
Several economists who reviewed the program not only question the validity of the job calculations — they also challenge the notion that there's even going to be a net economic benefit.
For them, Move Illinois is a "zero-sum" exercise. That is because the program takes money from the pockets of toll payers and puts it in others' pockets — specifically, of those who would benefit from highway construction and related development.
"When people estimate a fabulously large economic benefit, most of the time it's completely false," said Matthew Rousu, an economics professor at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. "You're merely shifting money from one part of a region to another.""


"Because most of the toll revenue that funds Move Illinois is generated locally, the program is essentially just shifting money around, economists say.
"If you spend money on the tollways, where is that money coming from? It's not as if this is brand-new money," said Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College. "If people have to spend more money on tolls, then they have less to spend on other things. It comes at the expense of other economic activity."
Rousu agreed that the net impact will be close to zero.
"You are taking a small amount of money from everybody who drives (on tollways) — maybe $10 a week," Rousu said. "That's $500 less per year that individual has to spend. So they don't go out to eat as often, don't buy extra tickets to a play or don't send their kids to ballet lessons.""

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Charles Krauthammer on the sequester.

Charles Krauthammer on the sequester.

Lines worth reading ... 
- Government spending is "now double what Bill Clinton spent in his last year".

- "The problem with sequestration, of course, is that the cuts are across the board and do not allow money to move between accounts. It’s dumb because it doesn't discriminate."
  • I agree with this.  There are entire agencies that could be eliminated and entitlements spending should be reduced.

- "Obama’s incentive to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible (say, oh, releasing illegal immigrants from prison) is enormous. And alarming."
  • Unfortunately, this is also true.  

Don't believe these economic impact numbers ...

I have a "Google Alert" set up to tell me when new economic impact studies are released.  I have been altered to more stories in the past few days on National Parks than I have ever seen before.  It couldn't have anything to do with the sequestration, could it?

You should be suspicious about these results.  Here are a few results recently released:

Natchez Trace - $93 million impact.

Independence National Historic Park - $150 million impact.

I am presenting a paper outlining many of the issues involved in estimating the economic impact of parks and recreation areas in early April.  Once it's ready to share, I will post it here.

One thing of note - at best, the impacts in the top three studies are for the local areas only.  The economic impact for the local area could be overstated, but many of these national parks do have a positive economic impact on the local area.  (By taking tax dollars from everywhere else in the country to fund the park.)

Each individual park, however, has an economic impact on the country that is much lower - very close to zero, in fact.  So if Independence National Historic Park really does have a $150 million impact on the Philadelphia area (I am skeptical), it probably has an economic impact of less than $5 million on the national economy.  That's because very few people, if this park didn't exist, would choose to spend their money outside the country instead of visiting that park.  The study showing a $30 billion economic impact of all National Parks in the country is completely flawed.