Thursday, December 5, 2019

The still struggling legal market for cannabis

Here's an indirect update on the state of the American cannabis market, from the WSJ (hemp is a source for cannabidiol, or CBD):

Farmers Rushed Into Hemp. Now They Face a Glut.
Prices for the crops are falling, and some growers are struggling to unload their product

"A rush of farmers seeking to grow hemp, which became legal to cultivate in the U.S. last year, is creating a glut, damping prices and leaving some farmers struggling to unload their product. It is among the growing pains in the nascent industry for hemp-derived products—a potentially lucrative market, but one beset by regulatory uncertainty, financing constraints and other challenges.
"Hemp—which is the same plant species as marijuana, but with a minimal amount of the psychoactive compound in pot—was farmed legally in the U.S. until a 1937 federal law began a period of hemp prohibition. It became legal again because of a provision of the 2018 federal farm bill."

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Congestion and competition in college admissions (in the WSJ)

Is college admissions ripe for re-design?  (The problems outlined are real, but I'm skeptical that there's the consensus needed for a major overhaul...)

How to Fix College Admissions
Getting into a top school is a stressful, unpredictable process. Here are 10 ways to make it fairer and more transparent.  By Melissa Korn

"We asked college admissions officers, high school and private counselors, parents, students and others for ways to make the system fairer, more transparent and less painful for everyone involved. Here are 10 of their ideas—some easy to implement, others just meant to start a conversation—to reform the status quo.
"2. Limit the number of colleges to which students may apply. Thanks in part to the ease of applying online—especially through the Common Application, which allows applicants to use one basic form for hundreds of colleges—36% of students submitted seven or more applications in 2017, up from 10% in 1995. “The number of clicks you can make on the Common App causes congestion in the system,” says Alvin Roth, a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University economist who helped to design the system that matches new doctors with residency programs.

"Schools pursue aggressive outreach, urging even fairly unqualified applicants to apply, then boast every spring about how many they rejected, as if exclusivity is proof of quality. Ballooning application numbers, combined with stagnant class sizes, cause acceptance rates to slide even lower into the single digits at places like Columbia and Pomona. As a result, high-school seniors apply to more schools just in case, and the vicious cycle continues—creating havoc for schools that can’t predict their yields. The overall yield rate for new freshmen at U.S. colleges fell to 34% in 2017 from 48% in 2007.
"Almost nobody needs to submit 20 applications; a reasonable limit would be as low as a half dozen, assuming that students receive meaningful counseling. High schools could enforce the cap by only agreeing to submit a certain number of official transcripts to colleges. The College Board and ACT could also limit distribution of SAT and ACT results, but they have little incentive to do so, since they make money from sending scores.
"9. ...Even more radical, schools could try some version of the algorithm used to determine matches for medical residency programs, which involves programs and medical students ranking one another and then being paired up by a computer system. This would be a heavy lift, however, as colleges would need to coordinate their procedures to rank candidates, run the computer program and inform all parties about the outcomes."

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Seema Jayachandran on the Banerjee, Duflo, Kremer Nobel, in the NYT

The Economic View column of the NY Times, by someone who knows the subject, and the subjects very well:

When a Disappointment Helped Lead to a Nobel Prize
The winners of this year’s Nobel in economics did pioneering field experiments that sometimes didn’t work as expected.  By Seema Jayachandran

"The negative finding about textbooks was important in the development of Mr. Kremer’s career. “I’m happier when I find that something works,” he said. “But I’m not in despair if I don’t — the key thing is listen and learn from it.”

Monday, December 2, 2019

Who is a refugee? Remembering U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata

The Lancet recalls the life and work of Sadako Ogata, born 16 September 1927; died 22 October 2019.

Sadako Ogata
"Sadako Ogata began to transform UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, almost as soon as she became UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991. At the time, the Gulf War had displaced more than a million Iraqi Kurds and thousands were blocked from crossing into Turkey. They were in desperate need just inside the Iraqi border. Ogata quickly sought to expand UNHCR's rules to allow it to provide aid not only to refugees but also to people displaced within their own country. “Most of the senior leaders in UNHCR were against providing assistance to those Kurdish refugees because they were inside Iraq”, said Izumi Nakamitsu, who was based in Turkey at the time for UNHCR and accompanied Ogata on her first mission as High Commissioner to visit the displaced Kurds. “The refugee law says that you're not a refugee until you cross the border and senior officials advised her against providing protection and assistance. But she instinctively felt this was wrong”, said Nakamitsu, who is now a UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. Ogata's insistence that UNHCR provide aid to people who are internally displaced is one of her lasting legacies."

And from the Guardian:

Sadako Ogata obituary
Independent-minded head of the UN agency for refugees, who expanded its role to help millions more displaced people

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Divorce as a repugnant transaction

A recent obituary reminds me that divorce used to be a repugnant transaction, to which there were barriers even when both partners in a marriage were eager to end it on agreed upon terms.  It was a repugnant transaction because of the way we regard marriage as a protected transaction.

Jerome Wilson, Key in Revamping New York Divorce Law, Dies at 88
As a legislator in 1966, he led a commission that pushed to broaden the legal grounds for divorce. New York had been the last state to recognize only adultery.

"Jerome L. Wilson, a former Democratic state senator from Manhattan who helped liberalize a rigorous 18th-century law that had left New York as the sole state that required a spouse to prove adultery as the only legal ground for divorce, died on Friday
"The amended act, which took effect on Sept. 1, 1967, added four other grounds for divorce: cruel treatment, abandonment for two years, the sentencing of a spouse to prison for five years or more and a couple’s living voluntarily apart for at least two years.
"In the second year after the law went into effect, the number of divorces granted in New York ballooned to 18,000 in all five categories, compared with 4,000 granted only for adultery during the last year that the old law was in effect.

"Supporters of the changes said the new law also reduced instances of perjury (because so many estranged spouses had to lie about allegations of adultery) and end runs by wealthier couples who could afford to fly to Mexico or Nevada and remain there for two weeks to qualify for a divorce.
"Mr. Wilson’s first marriage, in 1957 to Frances Roberts, ended in divorce."

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Video: Big Data and Global Kidney Matching

Here's a talk, just recently posted on the web, that I gave in China at the Luohan Academy in Hangzhou, in June 2019.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Paying participants in economic experiments, in Ireland, in jeopardy

On Wednesday I received some email correspondence about a difficulty being faced by experimental economists in Ireland, who may be forbidden from paying participants in experiments, at least if the money comes from research grants

The issue has to do with this sentence on page 6 of the research grant guidelines of the Irish Research Council.
"Participants in surveys/focus groups/workshops or other such project related activities may not
be paid..." although their travel expenses can be reimbursed.

I dashed off the following statement in support of efforts to make sure that this policy isn't interpreted as preventing standard economics experiments.

“Laboratory experiments in Economics largely depend on specifying precisely and attempting to measure or  control  the incentives of the participants in an experiment. Almost always this involves paying the participants in ways that conform to the incentives the experimenter is trying to create.  [Paying subjects] is a well established and almost universal practice in experimental economics, and often necessary for publication in internationally recognized economics journals.”