Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PA considering online gambling ... bill introduced to committee

Story here.

The problem with this bill is that it's only "intra-state", i.e., it will be only within Pennsylvania.  For poker, the player pool will therefore be extremely limited, and I would be initially doubtful of that site's reliability.  

This line gives me some hope, however ...

"Pennsylvania would not be opposed to considering interstate compacts with other states, such as Nevada, in the future"

More on Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

1.  The American Economic Review had an article about the PLCB:

Volume 103, issue 2, 2013

Public Monopoly and Economic Efficiency: Evidence from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's Entry Decisions pp. 831-62 Downloads
By: Katja Seim and Joel Waldfogel
It shows an interesting model (well, economists may find it interesting), but the conclusion makes it clear that this paper has no relevance to the current debate on whether to privatize.  
In the conclusion, the authors discuss how their model assumes that government run stores are as efficient as non-government run stores.  I.e., they don't assume the case where government stores are less efficient.  That's the main argument for abolishing the PLCB: that these stores are inefficient and it likely would take fewer workers to sell the same amount of beer and wine if there was more competition.  So ... while the paper has interesting models, it unfortunately has zero bearing on the current debate.

2. As you may recall, the PA house passed a bill to privatize liquor sales.  Now the PA Senate is considering the bill.  

3.  A nice (new) oped on the issue.  Here's my old oped on the issue.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My oped on the prevailing wage

My oped on the prevailing wage law (and repealing it) ran in Sunday's Harrisburg Patriot News.

Link here.

An excerpt:

"Both Democrats and Republicans should want to eliminate the prevailing wage law, although for different reasons. While Democrats often want an expansion of government services and Republicans often want a smaller government, both parties should want our government to be efficient."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Assorted Links on Fracking

1. Tim Kelsey from Penn State comments in a story here ....

2. An article from the UK.  A quote from an MP here ... 

"It is still too soon to call whether shale gas will provide the silver bullet needed to solve our energy problems. Although the US shale gas has seen a dramatic fall in domestic gas prices, a similar ‘revolution’ here is not certain"

3.  The EPA reports lowers estimates of the environmental damage from Fracking - apparently from their regulations.  You should read the whole article, but here's an excerpt:

"Experts on both sides of the debate say the leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance and monitoring. Such fixes are also thought to be cost-effective, since the industry ends up with more product to sell.
"That is money going up into the air," said Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, adding he isn't surprised the EPA's new data show more widespread use of pollution control equipment. Pielke noted that the success of the pollution controls also means that the industry "probably can go further" in reducing leaks.
Representatives of the oil and gas industry said the EPA revisions show emissions from the fracking boom can be managed.
"The methane `leak' claim just got a lot more difficult for opponents" of natural gas, noted Steve Everley, with Energy In Depth, an industry-funded group.
In a separate blog post, Everley predicted future reductions, too."

Friday, April 26, 2013

The need for objective research on fracking ...

There's controversy in NY about a group that released a fracking report and their potential industry ties.  Story here.

A quote:

"The state released the company’s letter after a top good-government group and Democrats in the Legislature held a news conference earlier Monday, calling called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rescind the DEC’s’s lengthy review of fracking because of Ecology and Environment’s “clear conflict of interest.”

"The consulting company’s work on the DEC’s lengthy environmental review has been criticized by fracking critics since it was released in September 2011."

Of course, these Democrats and the "good-government group" (whatever that means) don't like fracking, so they have a conflict of interest too, right?
I have no idea whether this report has merit. However, the problem with research on fracking is that it is so controversial many will believe there is a conflict of interest, regardless of the opinion.  If you have ties to the industry, that will cause some who have concerns over the validity of the research.  I don't think this is limited to groups with ties to industry, however. Some of the people without industry ties that have condcuted research on fracking publish it on sites calling for bans or moratoriums. (E.g., see here.)  This causes others to have concerns over the validity of the research.

As noted before, myself and Dave Ramsaran, professor of Sociology, are researching the sociological and economic impacts of fracking.  We form what could be called an "adversarial collaboration".  That's not to say we're personal adversaries, but politically, we have different views.  I have quotes from Milton Friedman on my wall, while he has a poster of Che Guevara on his.  The benefit of our teaming up is that you should feel assured that our results are not the result of some preconceived political philosophy.  

The first papers from us on this project should be out in the late summer.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Assorted Links

1. A story on Maryland's new "Rain Tax".  What I find fascinating is that Maryland wants to punish those who don't have lawns that absorb the rain, while Las Vegas has, for years, tried to reduce the number of lawns (to save water).

2. Bill Barnwell is my favorite sports writer.  He takes an analytical approach to sports decision-making, and his columns are almost always informative.  I really like this article where he discusses the difficulty in making predictions about potential NFL draft picks.  If you read and like this, I would recommend Nate Silver's book.

3.  I've stayed away from the Boston terrorism coverage, as much as possible. (I don't like terrorists influencing my life, if I can help it.  The less we focus on it, the less the terrorists "win")  If this news story is true, however, and the terrorists were getting taxpayer money in the form of welfare that may have subsidized their terror activities, that would add another layer of disgust to the situation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The origins of prevailing wage laws ...

There is a push by some to repeal Pennsylvania's prevailing wage rates.  This is a good thing for many reasons.  Before getting into the reasons (I will be doing this over the next few days), it's good to remind people of the origins of these laws.  


That's what prompted lawmakers to pass prevailing wage laws.  Here's the Wikipedia page for the Davis-Bacon act ... 

A quote from that page:

"John J. Cochran of Missouri reported that he had "received numerous complaints in recent months about southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South".[7] Representative Clayton Allgood, reported on "cheap colored labor" that "is in competition with white labor throughout the country".[7][26] [27]"

Racism.  This law was passed by sleazy racists.  Don't forget that when you see lawmakers defending this law.

When left-wing groups try to tell you things like "Consistent with the original rationale for establishing prevailing laws" (As the Keystone group claims) you now know that the original reason for this law was to keep African Americans from competing with white workers.  That also should be enough information for you to realize you shouldn't trust anything these groups say about prevailing wage laws.

More on prevailing wages later this week ...

Monday, April 22, 2013

What I've been reading ...

During the semester, I have to cut back on my reading quite a bit. This is especially true for semesters like this one when I teach Political Economic Thought, as we read ten different books by economists this semester. (A review on those ten books coming later.) However, I did find some time recently to read a few books ... here are my thoughts on them

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. As I've been thinking about writing more op eds and blogging more regularly, Hyatt's book has been valuable. Highly recommended for anybody interested in blogging, writing a book, sales, etc.

The Signal and the Noise. By Nate Silver. This book is amazing. Silver is good at explaining how to think about predictions, statistical variance, noise, and more. It is well written with some interesting stories as well. As someone who likes games, I really enjoyed the sections on basketball and chess. His story on poker matches my experience as a semi-professional player from 2004-2011, and was also fun to read. This might be the best book I've read in the past year.

Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac: 8,888 Questions in 365 Days. Given that I can't play poker online anymore, I've gotten more into trivia. I don't think I'll ever be as good at trivia as I was at poker, but I still enjoy trying to get better. This book is fun, and has a great mix of easier and more-difficult (and some virtually impossible) questions.

Unnaturally Green: One girl's journey along a yellow brick road less traveled. I've seen Wicked twice. (My wife and I saw it, then my in-laws wanted to bring our whole family (mainly kids) to see it.) Although it isn't my favorite show - some people are obsessive about Wicked - I did enjoy it. This book does a nice job at providing details of some of the behind-the-scenes issues that a lady went through in her transition from a non-Broadway job to playing the lead role in Wicked (Elphaba). Highly recommended for fans of Broadway musicals.

I just started Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot- It's good so far ...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great article on the "gender wage gap" and other links

1. Great Time article on the wage gap.  Every person in America should read this article.  Then we'd stop having ignorant people running around quoting the "$0.77 on the dollar" line.  Here is my favorite part:

"Take 77 cents to the dollar: that figure is actually the annual median earnings of women to men for 2010, based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The other figure you often hear, 81 cents to the dollar, is the average median weekly earnings of women to men for 2012, based on data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In both cases, the comparison is on an extremely broad level “that doesn’t account for differences in occupation, in experience level and a lot of other things that affect income,” says Tom Nardone, the associate commissioner for employment and unemployment statistics at the BLS, who makes a point of adding such a caveat in the second paragraph of a 91-page report on women’s earnings. ”We at statistical agencies try to be very careful about defining our data, but we can’t control how other people use the information.”

The weekly earnings data are for wage and salary workers only and do not include self-employed workers. That means most of them work more than 35 hours a week, which minimizes the difference in the number of hours men and women work in general. (Yes, men work more.) "

2. The government is protecting people from themselves, by shutting down a ride at Disneyland.  Between OSHA and Disney to keep me safe - I trust Disney more.

3. Nice Story about using media in economics courses. 

A great visit by Timothy Sandefur

On Wednesday, April 17 Susquehanna University hosted Timothy Sandefur, from Pacific Legal Foundation.  It was a great visit.

On his schedule: 

He met with two sophomore legal environment classes (mostly business students) in the morning, and pre-law students in the afternoon.

Wednesday night he gave a public lecture .  He gave a talk to between 80-100 people.  His talk was titled "The Right to Earn a Living", and it was loosely based on his book.

He finished with a Thursday morning visit to a political science class.

Here are some things I learned/liked:

* The origins of the phrase the "dismal science".  It was by a racist who objected to the fact that economist John Stuart Mill thought "all peoples on Earth, from all races and colours, were basically the same".  Economists can rightfully be proud that their profession has usually been on the right side of arguments over discrimination.  

* He made the claim (and I agree) that one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that poor people need to be protected from free markets.  In fact, as he said, poor people are the ones who need free and unrestricted markets the most. Crony capitalists often try to prevent the poor from earning a living to make themselves wealthier.  The poor need the freedom of purely capitalist market much more than the rich.

* I learned a great new term: "Demand-Supply Deniers".  He coined it (to my knowledge), and it's obviously a take on the left's use of climate change deniers.  Unfortunately, there are many demand-supply deniers out there.

Overall, students and non-students alike all were impressed.  My students loved his energy and his ideas.  I enjoyed chatting with him and learning some new things myself.  For those looking for a good speaker to talk about issues of freedom and the right to earn a living, I highly recommend Timothy Sandefur!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Assorted Links

1.  The Commonwealth Foundation makes the case for switching from pensions to 401-K style plans.

2.  Marginal Revolution discusses Levitt and Fryer on race.  This seems to be consistent with Murray's book Growing Apart.  Culture matters a lot.  Social programs like welfare that discourage work have caused so much harm it's tough to quantify.

3.  Story on how New Jersey might influence other states to legalize online poker.  I would love it if Pennsylvania licensed with New Jersey on online poker.  It's a way to increase personal freedom and earn additional tax revenue at the same time.  Seems like a no-brainer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

John Stossel video ...

My Political Economic Thought class is currently reading Stossel. His "No They Can't" book is timely and well-written. I highly recommend it. The next (and final) book we're reading is Nudge, by the liberal economists Thaler and Sunstein. That will be the 10th book they've read.  With authors ranging from Friedman to Krugman and Stiglitz to Sowell, I think the students have received a good overview of different sides of the political spectrum.

This video is from John Stossel's show and it's about six months old.  Once again, since I just found it, it's new to me. 

I especially like the discussion of Great Depression - it is 100% spot-on! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review of Jayson Lusk's The Food Police

Some regular readers will recognize Jayson Lusk's name as I link to his website from time-to-time.

It is outstanding!
To preface ... I've known Jayson for over 10 years.  As a grad student who was using experimental auctions for his dissertation, I was told by a colleague to call Jayson about an experimental design issue.  Not only was he very helpful and kind to a grad student (from a different university), but we even figured out a project on which we could collaborate.  Over the years, we've had a few papers together.  I've been the main beneficiary of our relationship, as Jayson is one of the most prolific and skilled agricultural economists you'll find, and might be the most-cited agricultural economist of the past decade.

When I heard he had a book coming out, I was curious.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear the title of the book, and I thought he would do a thorough and scholarly job discussing the many restrictions advocated for by the food police.  I wasn't wrong.  This book is amazing at how it thoroughly describes the how the food police screw things up, increase costs, hurt the environment, and ultimately, cost us freedom.

Some of my favorite lines:

Page 70: "Here is the irony.  The behavioral economists have told us for years that humans make mistakes by exaggerating the importance of low-probability risks.  Yet I have not seen a single behavioral economist use this insight to tell the food police to relax and put their fears about growth hormones, genetically modified food, or pesticide into perspective"

Page 148: "If we really wanted to curb fat through taxes ... it would probably be more efficient to tax fat people than fat food.  ... I have yet to see a compelling argument why taxing fatty foods is any more righteous than taxing fatty folk."
When discussing why just saying "eat local foods" to improve the environment could be counterproductive, on page 168: "Of all the global warming impacts that are said to come from food consumption, only 10 percent is due to transportation, whereas 80 percent is a result of activities on the farm.  The implication for those worried about global warming is clear: to reduce the carbon impacts from food consumption, one should grow food on farms where production is more efficient and then ship it to the consumer."

Are there negatives to the  book?  Yes, but not many.  The tone, at times, is a bit non-academic and overly confrontational.  (There's a recipe in there that I think is a bit over-the-top.)  This is a relatively minor concern, however.

Everybody should read this book.  Anybody upset with The Food Police will gain from it, as it will help give an economic foundation to why many of the activities the food police are advocating are wrong.  You will find it both enjoyable and educational.  Anybody who's initial bias is to restrict food consumption choices, i.e., you are the food police -- I hope you have the courage to read this book to at least understand the other side of the argument.  Who knows, maybe you'll even change your opinion!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I'm teaching microeconomics "online" this summer

I have decided that next fall I will "flip" the classroom.  I will be having my students next fall watch lectures before class (and take notes), and then most of the in-class time will be devoted to activities/experiments/etc.

Because I'm planning to record my lectures anyway, I thought I would also take a shot teaching an online version of microeconomics this summer through Susquehanna University.  I've never done it before, so there will be some learning.  Here is my first attempt at a game theory lecture (part 1) ...

(If you'd rather see through it on youtube, the link is here.)

Note ... since this is my first time doing online lectures, comments/suggestions/etc. are definitely welcome!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The McDonald's minimum wage story

This story happened when I was abroad ... but since it's new to me, I'll still post here.

A falsely listed ad led to these stories ... McDonald's requires college degree to be a cashier.  Another story here.

It turns out it's false and it was just an error in the listing.

I still think this story is interesting.  This is easily something you could see in the near future, given the left's hope to increase minimum wages.   If there was no minimum wage, then low-skilled workers might be able to better obtain this job by offering to work for lower wages.

In Massachusetts  however, the minimum wage is $8/hour.  Obama wants to raise the national minimum wage to $9/hour  How will lower-skilled workers be able to compete when a firm could hire a college graduate for just slightly more?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quick thoughts on Munich

Last weekend, I had about 27 hours to explore Munich before heading to Friesing (a northern suburb) to meet with my colleague from TUM and present a paper.

What I liked about by brief time in Munich:

The local pub (click here for link):

It was great.  I sat right at the corner of the bar and enjoyed a beer and a meal.  The bartender was very nice and spoke perfect English.  (As someone who speaks English and only knows a bit of Spanish, I am always awed by those who are perfectly bilingual.)  He recommended a very tasty beer and an authentic Bavarian meal.  It was a type of brat/sausage that you had to cut "gently" and peel the skin off prior to eating.    Yum!

OK, to say I "liked" this is the wrong term.  It's done very well, however.  It is pretty haunting to be in the exact spot where so  many were tortured and died.  

I planned my Sunday figuring I would visit Dachau in the morning.  I knew that would be pretty depressing/heavy, so I intentionally put something fun in the afternoon.  The "2nd-tier" soccer team in Munich, 1860 Munich, played at Allienz stadium (the big stadium in Munich that hosts the world cup).  I got great seats from a scalper for a reasonable price (much less than list price).  

Here is the view from my seat.  (Note - my camera doesn't zoom):

The fans on both sides did all sorts of fun chants (one was Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" in German) - and I loved the theme song:

That was a fun 27 hours!  From there I was off to Friesing to meet my colleagues and present a paper!  An update on that will be coming soon.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Timothy Sandefur giving talk - April 17th

Link to SU press release here.

Text is here:
Timothy Sandefur, law instructor at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., will discuss issues addressed in his book “The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law” April 17 at 7 p.m. in Seibert Hall’s Isaacs Auditorium, at Susquehanna University.Timothy Sandefur The lecture, sponsored by the Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society, is free and open to the public.
Timothy Sandefur is a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento. As the lead attorney for the foundation’s Economic Liberty Project, he has undertaken several projects designed to limit government regulation. He has also worked to prevent the expansion of eminent domain laws, having litigated important cases in California, Missouri and elsewhere, and filed briefs in many significant cases, including Kelo v. New London.
“I am excited that Mr. Sandefur is presenting at Susquehanna,” said Matthew Rousu, associate professor of economics. “His scholarship examining laws the U.S. government has used to restrict people from earning a living is impressive, and both students and nonstudents will benefit when he shares his insights with the campus community.”
In addition to “The Right to Earn A Living,” Sandefur is the author of “Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st-Century America,” as well as some 40 scholarly articles on subjects ranging from eminent domain and economic liberty to copyright, evolution and creationism, and the legal issues of slavery and the Civil War. His articles have appeared in Liberty, National Review online, The Claremont Review of Books, Forbes online, The San Francisco Chronicle, Regulation and The Washington Times, among others.
In February 2006, he became one of the youngest attorneys ever featured on the cover of California Lawyer magazine. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs, including “The Armstrong and Getty Show,” “PBS NewsHour” and NPR’s “This American Life.” Sandefur is a graduate of Chapman University School of Law and Hillsdale College.
The Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society at Susquehanna exposes and explores the rich intersections between law and other disciplines in society. The center provides a forum and research opportunities for examining issues that affect human rights and social responsibility, involve science and technology, or require constitutional interpretation.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Quick thoughts on Vienna

What I liked:

 * Hofburg Palace

I got the ticket for the apartments and the Sisi museum, studying Elizabeth, the wife of the Franz Joseph. Very interesting how they tried to make her a celebrity after her assassination.  Seems to be some parallels to Princess Di.

* State Opera House

I am not a huge opera person, but got a standing room ticket for €3!  I only stayed for 30 minutes , but well worth it!

* The Karntner Strasse (main shopping street)

     * Also, all of these are within a few blocks!

* Good food at food stands!  I had a great brat and some great Greek food.  (Don't even know the name - it was in a tortilla with meat, a white sauce, and veggies.) 

What I didn't like:

* Smoking in bars/restaurants
In Pennsylvania and London - cannot smoke indoors at restaurants. 

* Tax rates in Austria. This is brutal.  This doesn't even count the social security taxes. 

up to €10,999
€11,000 – €25,000
€25,001 – €60,000
Over €60,000

About the conference:

An outstanding conference!  I made two presentations, saw several good presentations, and also met lots of great people.  They have another conference in Philadelphia in October.  I wasn't planning on attending, but this conference was so good I think I may submit a paper.  

I arrived in Munich today (Saturday) ... I meet with colleagues tomorrow night and make another presentation on Monday.  Fun times!