Thursday, February 28, 2008

Me and Obama

Hi James!!!

I just saw this article from TNR:

and saw this passage:

"For example, one key behavioral finding is that people often fail to set aside money for retirement even when their employers offer generous 401(k) plans. If, on the other hand, you automatically enroll workers in 401(k)s but allow them to opt out, most stick with it. Obama's savings plan exploits this so-called 'status quo' bias."

Dude, are you an Obama advisor??? Are you going to be? This is amazing! If you get a job in the cabinet let me know, I have a thing or two to say about science policy...
--AET. Just for the record, I am not advising Obama!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Save the ATUS!

Funding for the American Time Use Survey is being cut in the new federal budget. Read the Freakonomics blog post here about why this survey is important. Sign a petition for saving the survey here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You may be a part of an experiment

Whatever else it accomplishes, [Dan Ariely's book] “Predictably Irrational” demonstrates that behavioral economists are willing to experiment on just about anybody.
--Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, on the shamelessness of behavioral economists

Friday, February 15, 2008

From academic thought piece to policy proposal

In this paper, we discuss a range of regulations that buttress consumers’ long-term behavioral intentions and reduce the likelihood that momentary impulses will undermine those intentions. All of these regulations, which we call Early Decision regulations, encourage consumers to make forward-looking decisions that they cannot easily reverse later. ...

Self-regulation refers to a broad category of schemes that allow the consumer to create her own regulatory constraints. With self-regulation, the consumer is only constrained if she wants to be. ...

In the simplest case of self-regulation, buying cigarettes would require a cigarette photo ID card. To obtain a cigarette card, a consumer would fill out a (confidential) application form, obtain an appropriate photograph, and submit her application to the regulator with a modest annual fee (e.g., $20). After an intentional delay of one month, two copies of the card would be delivered, and the cards would expire a year after receipt. The consumer would reapply every twelve months to maintain a current card.

Such a system would have the following benefits. First, a card system makes it possible for a smoker to commit to temporarily stop smoking by simply cutting up her current cards. Second, for a smoker who is trying to quit, the expiration date of her current cards creates a salient quit date. Third, a card system creates a default of not smoking, since not applying for the cigarette card is the path of least resistance. Fourth, the card system discourages impulse initiation or resumption of smoking, since application delays make it impossible for a person without a card to immediately obtain one.
--John Beshears, James Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte Madrian, "Early Decisions: A Regulatory Framework"

Smokers could be forced to pay £10 for a permit to buy tobacco if a government health advisory body gets its way.

No one would be able to buy cigarettes without the permit, under the idea proposed by Health England.

Its chairman, Professor Julian Le Grand, told BBC Radio 5 Live the scheme would make a big difference to the number of people giving up smoking.

He said it was the inconvenience of getting a permit - as much as the cost - that would deter people from persisting with the smoking habit. ...

"You've got to get a form, a complex form - the government's good at complex forms; you have got to get a photograph.

"It's a little bit of a problem to actually do it, so you have got to make a conscious decision every year to opt in to being a smoker."
--BBC on the first serious Early Decision movement

Hilariously uncool Hillary promo

Somebody put this video out of its misery.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't leave home without it

A specially engineered version of kimchi, South Korea's beloved pickle dish, has been cleared for a historic space mission this year, officials said Wednesday.

The bacteria-free kimchi, developed by top Korean scientists, will blast off along with the country's first astronaut after being approved by Russian space authorities, they said.
--AFP on overcoming the primary technological hurdle to sending a Korean into space

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The next PED

One of the great unanswered questions in physiology is why muscles get tired. The experience is universal, common to creatures that have muscles, but the answer has been elusive until now.

Scientists at Columbia say they have not only come up with an answer, but have also devised, for mice, an experimental drug that can revive the animals and let them keep running long after they would normally flop down in exhaustion.
--Gina Kolata, NYT, on the next performance-enhancing drug

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Love conquers all

"Do you want to know how to eliminate terrorism? I'll tell you. In fact, I'll tell you about something that no one else knows. Something that has never been written about. You will be amazed, but it is true. Listen."

The speaker knew what he was talking about. Just a few years before, he had been a terrorist—a senior commander of al-Fatah, the largest constituent element of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the group that was founded, in 1959, and has been led ever since by Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the PLO. The speaker was now a brigadier general in one of the Palestine Authority's myriad security and intelligence services. ...

"Arafat and the PLO," the general said, "had a big problem in the 1970s. We had a group called the Black September Organization. It was the most elite unit we had." ...

The problem, however, was that Black September had served its purpose. The PLO and its chairman had the recognition and acceptance they craved. Indeed, any continuation of these terrorist activities, ironically, now threatened to undermine all that had been achieved. ... Thus, according to my host, Arafat ordered Abu Iyad "to turn Black September off." My host, who was one of Abu Iyad's most trusted deputies, was charged with devising a solution. For months both men thought of various ways to solve the Black September problem, discussing and debating what they could possibly do, short of killing all these young men, to stop them from committing further acts of terror.

Finally they hit upon an idea. Why not simply marry them off? In other words, why not find a way to give these men—the most dedicated, competent, and implacable fighters in the entire PLO—a reason to live rather than to die? ...

They traveled to Palestinian refugee camps, to PLO offices and associated organizations, and to the capitals of all Middle Eastern countries with large Palestinian communities. Systematically identifying the most attractive young Palestinian women they could find, they put before these women what they hoped would be an irresistible proposition: Your fatherland needs you. Will you accept a critical mission of the utmost importance to the Palestinian people? Will you come to Beirut, for a reason to be disclosed upon your arrival, but one decreed by no higher authority than Chairman Arafat himself? How could a true patriot refuse?

So approximately a hundred of these beautiful young women were brought to Beirut. There, in a sort of PLO version of a college mixer, boy met girl, boy fell in love with girl, boy would, it was hoped, marry girl. There was an additional incentive, designed to facilitate not just amorous connections but long-lasting relationships. The hundred or so Black Septemberists were told that if they married these women, they would be paid $3,000; given an apartment in Beirut with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in some nonviolent capacity. Any of these couples that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000.

Both Abu Iyad and the future general worried that their scheme would never work. But, as the general recounted, without exception the Black Septemberists fell in love, got married, settled down, and in most cases started a family. To make sure that none ever strayed, the two men devised a test. Periodically, the former terrorists would be handed legitimate passports and asked to go to the organization's offices in Geneva or Paris or some other city on genuine nonviolent PLO business. But, the general explained, not one of them would agree to travel abroad, for fear of being arrested and losing all that they had—that is, being deprived of their wives and children. "And so," my host told me, "that is how we shut down Black September and eliminated terrorism. It is the only successful case that I know of."
--Bruce Hoffman, Atlantic Monthly, on the power of love to quell violence


Then there’s my friend Chris, a single 35-year-old marketing consultant who for three years dated someone he calls “the perfect woman”—a kind and beautiful surgeon. She broke off the relationship several times because, she told him with regret, she didn’t think she wanted to spend her life with him. Each time, Chris would persuade her to reconsider, until finally she called it off for good, saying that she just couldn’t marry somebody she wasn’t in love with. Chris was devastated, but now that his ex-girlfriend has reached 35, he’s suddenly hopeful about their future.

“By the time she turns 37,” Chris said confidently, “she’ll come back. And I’ll bet she’ll marry me then. I know she wants to have kids.” I asked Chris why he would want to be with a woman who wasn’t in love with him. Wouldn’t he be settling, too, by marrying someone who would be using him to have a family? Chris didn’t see it that way at all. “She’ll be settling,” Chris said cheerfully. “But not me. I get to marry the woman of my dreams. That’s not settling. That’s the fantasy.”
--Lori Gottlieb, Atlantic Monthly, on humility in the marriage market

Thursday, February 7, 2008

An unexpected benefit of an Obama presidency?

Tony-T interrupted me: “Let me tell you something about a black man as president. Everyone on the streets better get ready, because the police will get fierce.”

Shine saw that I didn’t understand, so he went on: “See, a black man has to get tough on his own people, show he’s tough. That’s the only way white folk will support him. That’s why, when you got black folk leading the police, you get more [black men] getting their asses kicked.” (Economists? Criminologists? Freaks? Is there a correlation between crime and the ethnic makeup of the commander?)

Flavor laughed, “See, that’s why Marlo is going to go crazy on the streets! Because that white mayor won’t have the balls to do nothing. But a black man as president? Whoo! I’m getting out of the game if that happens. Black on black policing. That’s a b—h.”
--Sudhir Venkatesh, Freakonomics blog, on what real-life criminals think of an Obama presidency

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Jokes that aren't jokes

On Friday morning [at Davos] I went to a breakfast with President Musharraf from Pakistan to hear him speak. At the beginning of the breakfast, one of his friends and supporters began to introduce him by saying that he had to deliver the bad news to Musharraf that his reputation wasn't so good in the west and that he needed to do events like this one to communicate with people better. Then he went on to say how sometimes when someone delivers bad news like that, you shoot the messenger, but Musharraf was kind and didn't shoot him.

Musharraf's first words after that:

"But I do shoot people..."

Everyone in the room simultaneously looked shocked and started laughing.

It was clearly intended to be a joke, but wow.
--Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook note, on his favorite moment at Davos

Premature aging

Some years ago, I read on a birthday card that you know you are old when you spend more time thinking about money than sex. If so, we economists must age prematurely. After all, it’s our job to think about money, both our own and other people’s.
--Greg Mankiw, NYT, on why economists are so stodgy