Saturday, October 31, 2020

Why I have signed election day letters

 I am a reluctant letter signer, but this election season I have signed two open letters.  My reluctance stems in part from the fact that, when I am one among many who sign a letter, I'm often prominently mentioned in the resulting news stories, even though my expertise on the subject of the letter is no more than the other signers.

But, we are entering on an important election, and I'm a concerned citizen.  So, I let myself be counted (even if over-counted), and when asked to explain, I sometimes feel moved to respond.

Here's the latest, from Business Insider:

More than 1,000 economists have now signed letter urging voters to reject 'reckless and selfish' Trump on Election Day. Alvin Roth, a Nobel winner, tells us why he's among them.

by Kate Duffy.

"As of Friday, 1,027 prominent economists from major institutions across America, including numerous Nobel winners, had signed the open letter, which is being updated until Election Day.

"The number of signatures has increased by more than 300 since last Friday, when it was first created.

"Alvin Roth, who shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2012, told Business Insider he signed the letter because he was "concerned that some voters might believe President Trump's essentially false claims that his careless stewardship has been good for the US economy."

"Roth said: "That certainly isn't the view of those who study these things. Letters like this may also help many people know that they are not the only ones to notice that the current president is trying to keep us divided and misinformed." He added that "democracy depends on reliable information, and the letter was meant to provide some of that."


"Roth, an economics professor at Stanford University, believes the re-election of Trump could severely damage the US economy. ...economic progress in the US is made through working with trading partners, he said.  

"But "President Trump prefers trade wars, with government subsidies to help staunch the bleeding in those parts of the economy that are harmed," such as the damage to American overseas agricultural markets, Roth added.

"Roth said that if Biden were elected as president, he would most likely appoint advisors who have knowledge in their areas of responsibility, and could therefore "restore America's relations with our allies and trading partners."

"Biden's tax and economic policies will not aim to benefit only the wealthiest Americans and political supporters, according to Roth, who emphasized how divided the country he believes the country is."


Related posts:

Monday, October 26, 2020

Friday, October 30, 2020

Challenge trials for Covid-19 vaccine are being planned (and a recent NBER cost/benefit analysis)

 Here's the NY Times:

To Test Virus Vaccines, U.K. Study Will Intentionally Infect Volunteers--The hotly contested strategy of deliberate exposure, known as a human challenge trial, could speed up the process of identifying effective coronavirus vaccines.  By Benjamin Mueller

"Scientists at Imperial College London plan to deliberately infect volunteers with the coronavirus early next year, launching the world’s first effort to study how vaccinated people respond to being intentionally exposed to the virus and opening up a new, uncertain path to identifying an effective vaccine.

"The hotly contested strategy, known as a human challenge trial, could potentially shave crucial time in the race to winnow a number of vaccine candidates. Rather than conducting the sort of trials now underway around the world, in which scientists wait for vaccinated people to encounter the virus in their homes and communities, researchers would purposely infect them in a hospital isolation unit.

"Scientists have used this method for decades to test vaccines for typhoid, cholera and other diseases, even asking volunteers in the case of malaria to expose their arms to boxes full of mosquitoes to be bitten and infected. But whereas the infected could be cured of those diseases, Covid-19 has few widely used treatments and no known cure, putting the scientists in charge of Britain’s study in largely uncharted ethical territory.


"The volunteers in London will be paid roughly Britain’s minimum wage, which is about £9, or $11, per hour, for their time in taking part in the trial and their two to three weeks in mandatory quarantine. The researchers said they were wary of offering additional incentives that could cloud the judgment of volunteers."


And here's a recent NBER paper on the efficiency of challenge trials:

A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Clinical Trial Designs for COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates

Donald A. Berry, Scott Berry, Peter Hale, Leah Isakov, Andrew W. Lo, Kien Wei Siah & Chi Heem Wong

ID w27882, DOI 10.3386/w27882, October 2020

Abstract: We compare and contrast the expected duration and number of infections and deaths averted among several designs for clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, including traditional randomized clinical trials and adaptive and human challenge trials. Using epidemiological models calibrated to the current pandemic, we simulate the time course of each clinical trial design for 504 unique combinations of parameters, allowing us to determine which trial design is most effective for a given scenario. A human challenge trial provides maximal net benefits—averting an additional 1.1M infections and 8,000 deaths in the U.S. compared to the next best clinical trial design—if its set-up time is short or the pandemic spreads slowly. In most of the other cases, an adaptive trial provides greater net benefits.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Paying participants in challenge trials of Covid-19 vaccines, by Ambuehl, Ockenfels, and Roth

 Here's a new short paper in Journal of Medical Ethics: (it's ungated, you can read it all at the link): 

Payment in challenge studies from an economics perspective 

by Sandro Ambuehl, Axel Ockenfels, and Alvin E. Roth

published online early, Oct 28, 2020.

"Participants in medical studies perform a service. Outside the domain of research participation, there is nearly universal agreement that workers providing a service should be compensated fairly, and that work involving more discomfort and risk should be compensated more generously. Accordingly, labour regulations impose floors (minimum wage laws), not caps on compensation. Caps, even if intended to protect against undue inducement, also raise concerns about illegal price-fixing that disadvantages workers. Such limits on payment for egg donors have successfully been challenged in court.


"Payment caps can lead to attempts to circumvent the regulation. For example, many countries that prevent payment for the donation of blood plasma instead import it from the USA where payment is legal—the volume of the US export market for plasma products approaches $20 billion per year.ii Similarly, restrictions on CHIM trial payments may lead to an increase in trials in countries with less stringent regulation.


"we note that increasing hourly pay by a risk-compensation percentage as proposed in the target article provides compensation proportional to risk only if the risk increases proportionally with the number of hours worked. (Some risky tasks take little time; imagine challenge trials to test bulletproof vests.) To ensure that equal consequences are compensated with equal amounts across a wide variety of studies, we instead recommend a three-part contract consisting of: (1) salary for time involvement that is adjusted to account for the amount of discomfort experienced during participation, (2) insurance against ex post adverse outcomes and (3) ex ante compensation for risks that cannot be compensated ex post (such as death). Such a scheme also increases transparency about what is requested from participants and thus contributes to high-quality participation decisions."


"The current discussion about payment in challenge trials is important because the potential benefits of well-designed challenge trials that could accelerate the development of safe and effective vaccines are enormous. Overall, economic research has shown, first, that ethical concerns over high payments may rely on intuitive predictions about behavioural effects that find little or no empirical support, and that the dangers of underpayment are at least as real as those of overpayment. Second, a part of the ethics literature attaches significantly more weight to concerns of undue inducement than the general population. Accordingly, it appears to us that there is sufficient public support for preparing for challenge trials, with paid participants, without a need for excessive ethical concern that payments might inadvertently become too generous to trial participants."


Our article is an invited commentary on

Related comments appear in

  1. Compensating for research risk: permissible but not obligatory
    Holly Fernandez Lynch et al., J Med Ethics
  2. Payment of COVID-19 challenge trials: underpayment is a bigger worry than overpayment
    Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby et al., J Med Ethics, 2020
  3. How much money would it take for you to be infected with COVID-19 for research?
    By Olivia Grimwade and Julian Savulescu., JME blog, 2020

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Citizenship for sale

 The Financial Times has the latest:

Cyprus scandal exposes EU ‘golden passport’ problem by Michael Peel

"No sooner had Cyprus moved this week to suspend its scandal-ridden programme that offered EU “golden passports” to rich investors than others began jostling to fill the gap.

“Choose Montenegro citizenship instead of Cyprus!” trumpeted the website of Discus Holdings, an official agent of the Montenegrin scheme, pointing to the visa-free access available to Europe’s 26-country common Schengen travel zone.


"Attention has focused on the three EU members — Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria — that offer full citizenship in exchange for investment. But many other European countries, including France, the UK and Austria, offer “golden visas” granting a right of abode to the wealthy — and a potential path to nationality after a qualifying period of residence."

Monday, October 26, 2020

Vote! Here's another open letter, this one from business school professors

 Open letters are in season, and I've signed another one.  You can too, at the link.

An Open Letter & Call for Action - Signed by Business School Professors from Across America
Click here to add your name.

Related recent post

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Economist reflects on market designers as economic engineers, in celebration of the Milgrom-Wilson Nobel

 Here is The Economist on Milgrom and Wilson:

The Nobel prize in economics rewards advances in auction theory--For the third time since 2007, it goes to designers of market mechanisms

HT: Mary Wilson


Related recent posts:

Monday, October 12, 2020

Medically assisted dying and the U.S. Supreme Court

 The Washington Post has the story:

Judge Amy Coney Barrett and the future of physician-assisted suicide  by 

Charles Lane

"Barrett co-wrote a 1998 law review article in which she distinguished the dilemmas Catholic judges might face in following church teachings against capital punishment, as well as what she called a more “absolute” doctrine banning abortion and euthanasia, which “take away innocent life.”


"Eight of the 50 states and D.C. have permitted physician-assisted suicide, by statute or referendum. (In one, Montana, the state Supreme Court decreed it as a matter of state law, and legislators have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to overturn that ruling.)