Tuesday, January 31, 2012

School choice in Denver: communication, communication, and communication

Shannon Fitzgerald, director of choice and enrollment services for Denver Public Schools, explains what parents need to know about a strategy proof system:

“All you have to put on the form is what you really want for your kid. There is no strategy that you can really employ … All parents needs to do is tell us is what they really want.”

Congestion is deadly in South Africa university admissions

We're accustomed to seeing market failures due to congestion, but seldom so clearly as in the last round of admissions at the University of Johannesburg, where the BBC reports

"One person has died after a stampede broke out among crowds of people trying to enrol at a university in the South African city of Johannesburg."
"Tuesday's incident occurred as students queued for last-minute places at the university, registrar Marie Muller told eNews channel.
"We rushed the gates and people fell. We couldn't stop," said Mr Matiba, who was trying to enrol for a BSc degree in Zoology.
Mr Matiba said prospective students were desperate and felt left without any alternative other than storming the entrance.
"We need education. We need to register. We needed to get inside," he said.
An eyewitness who spoke to BBC News said the numbers queuing were especially high because the queue combined new applicants and students returning for further study.
The eyewitness - who did not want to be named - said people had travelled to the university from around the country, many making overnight journeys.
She said there had been a similar crush on Monday, and that when it started to happen again on Tuesday "we just ran away because we knew we we were going to get hurt".
The University of Johannesburg, which describes itself as "one of the largest, multi-campus, residential universities in South Africa", was created when several institutions merged in 2005.
It is reported to be one of few which accept last-minute applications in January, after high-school final exams are released and some students realise they are eligible for university.
It used an SMS campaign to alert students to the possibility of last-minute places and on Monday, the normally quiet streets around the university's Bunting Road campus entrance were packed with traffic and a kilometre-long line of applicants had formed at the main gate."

HT: Sven Seuken

Monday, January 30, 2012


I always knew that parking is a sexy topic*, but it takes a first rate journalist like Leon Neyfakh at the Boston Globe to explain clearly the kinds of things that excite economists: The case for the $6 parking meter

"For many people, what’s disconcerting about demand-based parking is the same thing that excites economists: It introduces market forces to an aspect of public life that historically has been largely protected from them. Like highway tolls that go up during rush hour, or the “congestion fees” some crowded cities have imposed, the Shoup model of street parking is part of a broader conversation about the trade-off between efficiency and equal access — and about what aspects of our lives should be treated as commodities as opposed to inalienable civic resources."

The late Clark Kerr on the subject: "The three purposes of the University?--To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Repugnance creates arbitrage opportunities

I was recently party to an email conversation with Judd Kessler and Luke Coffman, about the   NY Times articles about working conditions at Chinese plants that manufacture Apple (and other) products: In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.

Judd pointed to the line
“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”

To which Luke responded
"...differences in repugnance create arbitrage opportunities. This is very obvious in things like organ sales (people fly to Asia to get a kidney), but I hadn't thought about it in business before... It's a compelling thought."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

We pay for dialysis but not for transplants...

The NY Times headlines one more inconsistency in health policy: For Illegal Immigrant, Line Is Drawn at Transplant

"He was also an illegal immigrant. So when his younger brother volunteered to donate a kidney to restore him to normal life, they encountered a health care paradox: the government would pay for a lifetime of dialysis, costing $75,000 a year, but not for the $100,000 transplant that would make it unnecessary."

Friday, January 27, 2012

German university admissions

I'll be teaching the first class of the semester of Experimental Economics today, so readers of this blog may see more of the intersection between market design and experiments, like the following paper on the university admission system in Germany, and how it might be redesigned...

Sebastian Braun

Nadja Dwenger

Dorothea Kübler

Alexander Westkamp


Quotas for special groups of students often apply in school or university admission procedures. This paper studies the performance of two mechanisms to implement such quotas in a lab experiment. The first mechanism is a simplified version of the mechanism currently employed by the German central clearinghouse for university admissions, which first allocates seats in the quota for top-grade students before allocating all other seats among remaining applicants. The second is a modified version of the student-proposing deferred acceptance (SDA) algorithm, which simultaneously allocates seats in all quotas. Our main result is that the current procedure, designed to give top-grade students an advantage, actually harms them, as students often fail to grasp the strategic issues involved. The modified SDA algorithm significantly improves the matching for top-grade students and could thus be a valuable tool for redesigning university admissions in Germany.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Experiments and market design in Switzerland in April

Institutions and Behavior
April 19-21, 2012 in Kreuzlingen (CH)
Organized by the Thurgau Institute of Economics at the University of Konstanz
Organizers: Urs Fischbacher, Lisa Bruttel, Gerald Eisenkopf, Ulrich Wacker
Institutions are designed in order to create incentives for people to behave in a way desired by the designer of the institution. For example, legally enforced contracts allow interacting parties to rely on each other when trust alone is not a sufficiently solid foundation. However, we frequently observe that institutions do not induce the desired behavior. People question the fairness or legitimacy of an institution, or they exploit deficits in the design of institutions in an opportunistic way. Not knowing how people respond to institutional incentives creates also a difficult problem for the designer of institutions. This conference invites contributions investigating how institutions shape behavior and vice versa how institutions are actually designed. We welcome experimental, theoretical and empirical research from economics and other related disciplines.
Keynote speakers at the workshop:
Rebecca B. Morton Rebecca B. Morton is professor of politics at the New York University. She is a leading researcher in experimental political sciences, in particular voting behavior and electoral processes. She has published in the best journals in both economics and political sciences. Her most recent publications focus, inter alia, on the decision making of swing voters and the behavior in standing expert committees. (http://politics.as.nyu.edu/object/RebeccaBMorton)
Frans van Winden Frans van Winden is professor of economics at the Amsterdam School of Economics and at the Cognitive Science Center Amsterdam. Excellent publications document his main research interests in the fields of political economy, behavioral economics, neuroeconomics and experimental economics. In his recent projects he investigates, for example, the behavioral economics of crime and of social ties or compares tax regimes experimentally. (http://www.creedexperiment.nl/creed/people/winden)
If you would like to present your research at this meeting please submit a paper or an extended abstract here.
Here you can additionally register for the conference. The registration fee for the conference is 150 CHF including meals, coffee breaks, the conference dinner on Thursday evening and a social event on Friday evening.
February 1, 2012 Submission deadline
March 1, 2012 Notification of acceptance
March 15, 2012 Registration deadline for presenters
April 2, 2012 Registration deadline for non-presenting participants
theem is kindly supported by

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is economic repugnance closely related to biological disgust?

Colleagues often send me articles related to this blog, but the one I have received the most copies of recently is yesterday's NY Times article: Survival’s Ick Factor, about recent studies related to the emotion of disgust, and its possible evolutionary significance in e.g. keeping people away from sources of infection such as feces.

Many people have sent me the article because of my own interest in ickonomics, aka repugnant markets and transactions. A repugnant transaction is one that some people want to engage in, and others think they shouldn't be allowed to. I'm willing to exclude the case of ordinary, pecuniary negative externalities. The issue that initially made all of this very salient to me is the ban, almost everywhere, on buying and selling kidneys (which generated my interest in kidney exchange). But I quickly realized that there are lots of repugnant transactions, and I began a 2007 article on the subject by asking why you can't eat horse meat in California. (It's against the law, passed by popular referendum in 1998.)

Which brings me to the point of this post.

I don’t think the kind of repugnance I study is fundamentally related to biological/evolutionary disgust. The reason there are laws against eating horsemeat, for example, is that it isn’t innately disgusting, so some people want to do it, and others don’t want them to. But there aren’t any laws against eating feces…(sorry, yuck).

Now, I bet that your brain is economical, and that you might recruit some of the same neurons you use to feel disgust to remind you of things you don't like. So I'm not surprised that there are correlates between propensity to feel disgust and some political opinions, for example.

But, to come back to kidney sales, I can't see that the repugnance to selling transplant kidneys for money can be closely related to the disgust that may be inspired by transplantation itself (and the associated blood and guts), since transplantation itself is almost universally regarded as a good thing. That is, the part of the transaction that involves bodily fluids, and might inspire the kind of disgust that would keep you from contamination in other people's innards, isn't regarded as repugnant. Nor is kidney donation, which involves the surgical removal of a kidney. It's only the introduction of money into the transplant transaction that makes it repugnant. (And as we've recently seen with bone marrow, this repugnance to introducing money is alive and well, and crosses party lines.)

And I'm pretty sure there's no evolutionary disgust aroused by money (if only because money was invented pretty late in the evolutionary game...).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Is the market for professors of English becoming less thick?

That's the question raised by a recent article on the job market organized by the Modern Language Association: Realities of the Endless Search

 "The MLA meeting (until recently in late December and now in early January) has for decades been the primary place where search committees in English and foreign languages interviewed a large number of candidates and then selected a small group for campus visits. So the fall was the time for the initial vetting of the large pool to determine who was worthy of an MLA interview. Now, the schedule is much less firm. Susan Miller, English chair at Santa Fe College, a Florida community college, said that she has had searches in which money wasn’t available on the regular schedule, but then materialized late in the year. So the college advertised a job last March, "a really awkward time for a fall opening." But she said that the department didn’t want to lose its shot at the position, so it went ahead as soon as it could -- and in fact rushed the process, feeling that until someone had signed a contract, the position might disappear."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Justice department appeals recent court ruling allowing bone marrow donors to be compensated

I recently posted about the 9th circuit court of appeals' decision to allow some bone marrow donors to be compensated: Paying bone marrow donors is now legal (depending on how it's done)
Here's the court's decision.

But it turns out that transactions mostly don't become illegal without someone finding them repugnant. Just in case you thought bone marrow had been accidentally included in the ban on compensating donors, the latest news (pointed out to me by Joseph Colucci) is that the Justice Department is contesting the recent court decision:  Government fights court decision that says bone marrow donors may be paid .

"the Obama administration last week asked a San Francisco appeals court to overturn a recent decision that said bone marrow donors can be paid for what their bodies produce.
"A unanimous three-judge panel last month ruled for a nonprofit group, MoreMarrowDonors.org, that wants to encourage bone marrow donations by offering $3,000 scholarships, housing allowances or charitable donations to those who are matched with blood disease patients.
"When the transplant act was written in 1984, marrow extraction was painful. Needles thick enough to suck out the fatty marrow were inserted into a donor’s anesthetized hip bones, and the cells were taken from the marrow.
Today, a process called apheresis is used about 70 percent of the time. Donors are injected with a medication that accelerates blood stem cell production so there are more cells in the bloodstream. The donor sits for hours in a recliner as a machine collects the “peripheral” blood stem cells and recycles the blood back into the donor.
The donor group said the application of the organ transplant law violated the equal-protection clause, because there is no rational basis for government to treat donors undergoing apheresis differently from blood or sperm donors.
But the three-judge panel said there was no reason to reach the constitutional question. It is up to Congress if it wants to include blood marrow in its list of items that cannot be sold, the court said. But the apheresis method extracts only blood and thus there is no prohibition on paying for it, the court said.
“It may be that ‘bone marrow transplant’ is an anachronism that will soon fade away” as the blood extraction method replaces needle-extraction of bone marrow, Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld wrote, “much as ‘dial the phone’ is fading away now that telephones do not have dials.”
The Justice Department and the National Marrow Donor Program have moved quickly to try to get the decision overturned.
“The panel’s ruling rests on legal errors of exceptional importance, threatens to disrupt current patient care and undermines Congress’s clear policy of encouraging voluntary bone marrow donations,” the Justice Department said in asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to rehear the case.
The donor registry, which last year matched 5,000 patients with unrelated donors, said in a statement that the decision could have “unexpected and disastrous consequences” for patients.
The panel’s decision in Flynn v. Holder noted that there are obvious reasons for prohibiting selling organs or even blood marrow cells, which requires a precise genetic match. “Congress might have been concerned that every last cent could be extracted from sick patients needful of transplants, by well-matched potential donors making ‘your money or your life’ offers,” the opinion said.
The donor registry said its experience is that “a donor system that relies on the human desire to help others is far superior to one that focuses on self-gain.”
Mitchell and Institute for Justice lawyer Jeff Rowes got both more and less than they wanted from the 9th Circuit decision. Mitchell said the ruling indicates that his group could directly pay donors rather than offering scholarships or charitable donations.
Rowes, meanwhile, said he had hoped the court would look at the constitutional question and whether the government had a rational basis for including bone marrow in its list of organs. His group is eager for the Supreme Court to weigh in on that test, which he said is “code for the government gets to do whatever it wants.”
Depending on what the 9th Circuit does with the government’s appeal, he still might get the chance."


Who better than Kim Krawiec to blog about the legal decision to allow compensation for bone marrow donors under some circumstances (if the marrow is gotten from the blood rather than the bone).

She points to an article by Harvard Law prof I. Glenn Cohen in the New England Journal of Medicine, Selling Bone Marrow — Flynn v. Holder, which says that the ruling is a narrow one, that is unlikely to impact the debate about compensation for other kinds of donation. (That was of course under the assumption that the court's decision will stand...)

The true meaning of "fashion forward." Coordinating dates in NY, London, Paris, and Milan

The fashion forward among you will probably be as relieved as I am to know that New York Fashion Week Finally Has An Official Start Date: September 6th

The back story comes to me via Assaf Romm and Dvorah Marciano. They write as follows.

"So Fashion Week is a concept invented in NYC around 1943 (back then it was called "Press Week") when there was not enough French fashion coming from across the ocean due to the German occupation. Around 1993 it took its current form in which there are a lot of fashion people and media coming to one place to plan their Fall/Spring buys and so on. Furthermore, the Fashion Week was copied by many other cities. Specifically, the main events are the Fashion Weeks in NYC, London, Paris and Milan. These events take place consecutively twice a year (around February for the Fall collection, and around September for the Spring collection of next year): 

"It should be mentioned that these Fashion Weeks compete on fashion buyers, media coverage and even models. For example:

"Apparently, scheduling the Fashion Weeks between the big four cities is an ongoing saga, with dates moving earlier and earlier (...I don't have specific data yet). That's why they signed a three-year agreement in 2008 to determine schedules. Obviously, recently there were some issues with Milan moving its dates to coincide with the NYC and London weeks in September 2012. And it seems like Paris also joined in to the fight:

"Finally, it looks like today a final agreement has been reached: [see top of post]. 

"To conclude, this looks like a great unraveling story, because you obviously cannot move Fashion Weeks too early (well, according to Dvorah, you just cannot introduce new fashion too early, or otherwise it wouldn't be fashionable by the time it reaches the consumers....). Also, it seems like fashion highly depends on information. That is, fashion is a form of art, and it is determined by current events ..."

And here's the International Fashion Week Dates Agreement of 2008

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Games 2012, World Congress of the Game Theory Society, July 22-26.

 The fourth World Congress of the Game Theory Society, Games 2012, will be held Sunday July 22 - Thursday July 26, 2012 at Istanbul Bilgi University, in Istanbul, Turkey.

The plenary speakers are Paul Milgrom, Jean-Francois Mertens, Parag Pathak, Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson, and there are and 32 semi-plenary speakers

The deadline for submission of papers is February 1.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Internet dating not working for you? Hire a wingman or wingwoman

I'm sure there's a Shakespeare comedy about this latest twist on the dating game...

On a Wingman and a Prayer: Singles Bow to Cupids-for-Hire

"As romantics grow weary of the digital dating game, so-called wingman and wingwoman services are taking them back in time. Such outfits, which popped up in cities like Boston and New York as long as eight years ago, are promoting the old-fashioned tête-à-tête. They're gaining traction at a time when Internet dating sites are attracting fewer visitors.

"Susan Baxter, founder of "Hire a Boston Wingwoman," says she launched her business specifically because her friends were fatigued by online dating. She sensed a good niche.

"You go to meet [the person] and realize their picture was taken 10 years ago and that they are not who you thought," says Ms. Baxter, 32 years old. Paired with a confident wingwoman, her customers "can see prospective partners right away, and know right then and there if there is chemistry."

"Ms. Baxter, whose fees start at $130, insists that clients who go out with a pro have better odds of success than those who troll with an untrained male buddy. Often, the friend "says stupid stuff, like 'my friend thinks you're hot,'" she says.

"The service's slogan: "We're better at hitting on women than you are."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pre-K blues

If attendance at a public school is in principle a right, complicated by shortages of good places, attendance at pre-kindergarten is just complicated. And the demand for pre-K is expanded by the fact that a student who gets into a school's pre-K program is often guaranteed a place in its Kindergarten program as well, so that even parents who feel their toddler is too young for school may be sorely tempted by the chance to avoid a difficult matching process at a later age.

A NYC mom writes about the difficulties of getting into pre-K (and the subsequent difficulties of forming a parent co-op): The Pre-K Underground

"Everyone knows that getting into private preschool in New York City can be absurdly cutthroat and wildly expensive, but getting into public pre-K is not any easier. For the current school year, there were 28,817 applicants for 19,834 slots in the city’s public pre-K programs. Those numbers do not tell the entire story. The school on our street had 432 applicants — for 36 seats. With 12 children fighting for each slot, lots of families shared our predicament."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why can't college athletes be paid?

The NY Times Sunday Magazine on how anomalous it is that we regard paying college athletes as repugnant: Let's Start Paying College Athletes

"The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Boston school choice politics

The Globe reports that Boston Mayor Menino has weighed in on the long running debate on the size of the zones in which school choice should operate: Menino vows change in school assignment system

"Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed last night to radically change Boston’s school assignment lottery, taking aim at a system forged in the racially charged days of busing and pledging to create a plan that will send more children to classes closer to home.

"In his annual State of the City address, Menino decried a system that “ships our kids to schools across our city’’ and tears at the fabric of communities. The school-day Diaspora prevents bonds from developing among neighbors, Menino said, because parents do not car pool and their children are less likely to play together.

"As recently as 2008, Menino made the same promise in another State of the City address. At that time, the mayor said he would not “pour dollar after dollar into gas tanks’’ as he vowed to “rethink our school assignment zones.’’ In last night’s speech, he acknowledged past efforts, but promised that this year would be different.

"He is ordering Superintendent Carol R. Johnson to appoint a citywide task force to design a new system and determine how it should be implemented.

"Councilor Tito Jackson said after the speech: “I want to know what the radical change is. I know what the problem is.’’

"Jackson said that all parents want the same opportunities for their children, but lamented that schools in his Grove Hall neighborhood lack advanced classes offered elsewhere. “The problem is we need quality schools across the city,” Jackson said, adding, “We’re not there yet.’’
"In 2009, Johnson proposed five student assignment zones, but the plan collapsed under public scrutiny, mostly because of a lack of good-quality schools.

"Since then, the School Department has closed several low-performing schools, expanded some high-performing schools, and improved support for schools in a swath of the city that includes much of Roxbury and Dorchester. Administrators have also made fundamental changes at 11 state-designated underperforming schools, and some show signs of a turnaround.

“The Boston public schools have come a long way in the last 20 years,’’ Menino said in last night’s speech. “I’m committing tonight that one year from now Boston will have adopted a radically different student assignment plan, one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes.’’

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Market design courses here and there

Here are some courses I know about this semester (or one of the upcoming quarters), please feel free to add more in the comments or by email so I can update...

Scott Kominers at Chicago (now): Topics in Matching and Market Design

Eric Budish at Chicago Booth (in the Spring): Market Design

Paul Milgrom at Stanford (now): Theory and Practice of Auction Market Design

Mike Ostrovsky at Stanford GSB isn't teaching his topics in market design course this year, but writes: "I will teach the basic first-year course, which covers many standard market design topics (auctions, matching, etc.). There is no linkable webpage yet (the class begins in the Spring quarter, in April), but the description is available on this page:
http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/research/courses/phdecon.html. The course is MGTECON 602; here is the description, copied from past years: "This course covers auction theory, matching, and related parts of the literature on bargaining and pricing. Key papers in the early part of the course are Myerson and Satterthwaite on bargaining, Myerson on optimal auctions, and Milgrom and Weber's classic work. We then turn to markets in which complicated preferences and constraints, limitations on the use of cash, or variations in contract details among bidders play an important role. Emphasis is on matching markets such as the National Resident Matching Program and asset auctions such as the spectrum auctions."

Parag Pathak at MIT writes (from Ankgor Wat) that "I have a course but the web page isn't up yet - its an undergrad course called market design 14.19 at MIT.  I'll send over the specifics when it is up (we still don't start for a couple weeks)"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Paywalls create conflict of interest between newspapers and journalists

Journalists, like academics, want their writing to be read. Newspapers, like academic publishers, like to be paid for what they sell. Journalists, like academics like to make their papers available on the web. A recent email from the editor of the Boston Globe Ideas Section makes this clear:

"As you may know, this fall the Globe launched a spiffy new web site devoted exclusively to the newspaper. You may also have noticed it means Ideas is now behind a paywall. However, we have a "one click free" policy from any outside links -- and to provide you those links, and an easy way to keep up with Ideas, we've started a Boston Globe Ideas Facebook page. We also have a Twitter feed, @globeideas. Of course we'd love it if you subscribed to Bostonglobe.com -- but we're also making it easy for you to read and share Ideas stories for free by following one of our accounts."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The culture of science, and its absence. The dog that hasn't barked in many years in the Arab world

In connection with my series of posts on the market for universities, and how easy or hard they may be to transplant, the following long and interesting article caught my attention. It suggests that the decline in science in the Arab world coincided with the end of a period in which foreign writings (in this case Greek) were often translated into Arabic: Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science

"As Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an influential figure in contemporary pan-Islamism, said in the late nineteenth century, “It is permissible ... to ask oneself why Arab civilization, after having thrown such a live light on the world, suddenly became extinguished; why this torch has not been relit since; and why the Arab world still remains buried in profound darkness.

Just as there is no simple explanation for the success of Arabic science, there is no simple explanation for its gradual — not sudden, as al-Afghani claims — demise. The most significant factor was physical and geopolitical. As early as the tenth or eleventh century, the Abbasid empire began to factionalize and fragment due to increased provincial autonomy and frequent uprisings. By 1258, the little that was left of the Abbasid state was swept away by the Mongol invasion. And in Spain, Christians reconquered Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248. But the Islamic turn away from scholarship actually preceded the civilization’s geopolitical decline — it can be traced back to the rise of the anti-philosophical Ash’arism school among Sunni Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Muslim world.

To understand this anti-rationalist movement, we once again turn our gaze back to the time of the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun. Al-Mamun picked up the pro-science torch lit by the second caliph, al-Mansur, and ran with it. He responded to a crisis of legitimacy by attempting to undermine traditionalist religious scholars while actively sponsoring a doctrine called Mu’tazilism that was deeply influenced by Greek rationalism, particularly Aristotelianism. To this end, he imposed an inquisition, under which those who refused to profess their allegiance to Mu’tazilism were punished by flogging, imprisonment, or beheading. But the caliphs who followed al-Mamun upheld the doctrine with less fervor, and within a few decades, adherence to it became a punishable offense. The backlash against Mu’tazilism was tremendously successful: by 885, a half century after al-Mamun’s death, it even became a crime to copy books of philosophy. The beginning of the de-Hellenization of Arabic high culture was underway. By the twelfth or thirteenth century, the influence of Mu’tazilism was nearly completely marginalized.

In its place arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life. While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable. At the heart of Ash’ari metaphysics is the idea of occasionalism, a doctrine that denies natural causality. Put simply, it suggests natural necessity cannot exist because God’s will is completely free. Ash’arites believed that God is the only cause, so that the world is a series of discrete physical events each willed by God.
"The greatest and most influential voice of the Ash’arites was the medieval theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (also known as Algazel; died 1111). In his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazali vigorously attacked philosophy and philosophers — both the Greek philosophers themselves and their followers in the Muslim world (such as al-Farabi and Avicenna). Al-Ghazali was worried that when people become favorably influenced by philosophical arguments, they will also come to trust the philosophers on matters of religion, thus making Muslims less pious. Reason, because it teaches us to discover, question, and innovate, was the enemy; al-Ghazali argued that in assuming necessity in nature, philosophy was incompatible with Islamic teaching, which recognizes that nature is entirely subject to God’s will: “Nothing in nature,” he wrote, “can act spontaneously and apart from God.” 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sorcery as a repugnant transaction--and a capital crime

The Saudi's seriously don't like sorcery: Saudi Woman Beheaded for 'Witchcraft'

"A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing "witchcraft and sorcery," according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

"The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

"A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar's home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of "an unknown liquid used for sorcery" among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

Luther said that a charge of sorcery is often used by the Saudi government as a smokescreen under which they punish people for exercising freedom of speech.

"Nassar was not the first person to be executed for alleged witchcraft by the Saudi government this year. In September, a Sudanese man was publicly decapitated with a sword in the city of Medina after he was found guilty of the same crime."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Assisted suicide: the British debate continues

Allow assisted suicide for those with less than a year to live

"The independent Commission on Assisted Dying, whose members include several prominent peers and medics, wants GPs to be able to prescribe lethal doses of medication for dying people to take themselves."

Even the name of the Commission makes clear why assisted suicide is often regarded as a repugnant transaction, and why the discussion of how doctors may reasonably treat terminally ill patients is so fraught.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Peter Singer on suicide

Suicide, and doctor-assisted suicide, remains a subject of (repugnant transaction) controversy. Here's Princeton's Peter Singer: A Death of One's Own

"A friend told Clendinen that he needed to buy a gun. In the United States, you can buy a gun and put a bullet through your brain without breaking any laws. But if you are a law-abiding person who is already too ill to buy a gun, or to use one, or if shooting yourself doesn’t strike you as a peaceful and dignified way to end your life, or if you just don’t want to leave a mess for others to clean up, what are you to do? You can’t ask someone else to shoot you, and, in most countries, if you tell your doctor that you have had enough, and that you would like his or her assistance in dying, you are asking your doctor to commit a crime.

"Last month, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada, chaired by Udo Schüklenk, a professor of bioethics at Queens University, released a report on decision-making at the end of life. The report provides a strong argument for allowing doctors to help their patients to die, provided that the patients are competent and freely request such assistance.

"The ethical basis of the panel’s argument is not so much the avoidance of unnecessary suffering in terminally ill patients, but rather the core value of individual autonomy or self-determination. “The manner of our dying,” the panel concludes, “reflects our sense of what is important just as much as do the other central decisions in our lives.” In a state that protects individual rights, therefore, deciding how to die ought to be recognized as such a right.

"The report also offers an up-to-date review of how assistance by physicians in ending life is working in the “living laboratories” – the jurisdictions where it is legal. In Switzerland, as well as in the US states of Oregon, Washington, and Montana, the law now permits physicians, on request, to supply a terminally ill patient with a prescription for a drug that will bring about a peaceful death. In The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, doctors have the additional option of responding to the patient’s request by giving the patient a lethal injection.

"The panel examined reports from each of these jurisdictions, with the exception of Montana (where legalization of assistance in dying occurred only in 2009, and reliable data are not yet available). In The Netherlands, voluntary euthanasia accounted for 1.7% of all deaths in 2005 – exactly the same level as in 1990. Moreover, the frequency of ending a patient’s life without an explicit request from the patient fell by half during the same period, from 0.8% to 0.4%."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Economics of the dark side...

Karim Sadrieh is hosting a conference on the dark side of the (economic) force:

Magdeburg Workshop on Anti-Social Economic Behavior 2012

January 13, 2012

Faculty Center
Faculty of Economics and Management
University of Magdeburg

The M-WASEB 2012 is a gathering of experimental economists pioneering the new field of anti-social economic behavior. The workshop intends to stimulate and to coordinate the research in this young field with exciting academic presentations and discussions on a relaxed schedule. 

Many of the scholars in the small and internationally dispersed group of experimental economists, who are active in the field of anti- social economic behavior and motivation, will present their newest research on the "Dark Side" of human nature. The list of the speakers includes Klaus Abbink, Monash University Michèle Belot, Oxford University Enrique Fatas, University of East Anglia Sascha Füllbrunn, Luxembourg School of Finance Benedikt Herrmann, European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Ispra Henrik Orzen, University of Mannheim Yoshi Saijo, University of Osaka Marina Schröder, University of Madgeburg Christiane Schwieren, University of Heidelberg Daniel Zizzo, University of East Anglia 

The workshop will take place at our faculty center at the University of  Magdeburg on Friday, Jan 13, 2012, with arrivals on the evening before (Jan 12, 2012) and departures on the day after (Jan 14, 2012).

If you are interested in participating, please, contact Marina Schröder (marina.schroeder@ovgu.de) as soon as possible. Note, however, that due to the very limited capacity of our venue, we unfortunately can only offer very few seats for additional audience. 

Looking forward to the advancement of research on anti-social behavior, yet sincerely wishing you all the best for the year 2012, 


Prof. Dr. Abdolkarim Sadrieh
Chair in E-Business
Faculty of Economics and Management
University of Magdeburg
Postbox 4120, 39016 Magdeburg, Germany
+49 391 67-18492  (fax: -11355)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Denver's new school choice plan: communication is paramount

One of the challenges of introducing a new market design is communicating effectively with participants. Even a strategy-proof system that makes it safe to list your preferences straightforwardly may cause parents to worry whether this is the case. The new school choice system in Denver is dealing with this: Denver Public Schools' new school choice system stressing out some parents

"Denver Public Schools is rolling out a new school-choice process that centralizes school enrollment, and parents are feeling the stress of learning the new ropes.

"The process is still not entirely clear to me," said Tracy Edwards- Konkol, a parent of a fifth-grade daughter in the market for a middle school.

"Edwards-Konkol has delayed her return of the new four-page application — due Jan. 31 — that requires parents to submit a list of their top five school choices in order of preference.

"A line in the application that states that enrolling at a school other than the neighborhood school means forefeiting that guaranteed seat — has some parents thinking twice about choice.

"Fearing that not getting into the first- or second-pick school would place her child at the end of the line to get into their own — likely full — neighborhood school, Edwards-Konkol considered not even applying at Denver School of the Arts, her daughter's first choice.

"When I downloaded the form and saw that line, I panicked," Edwards-Konkol said. "Several parents I've talked to in fact are now looking at this new school in Stapleton because there might be more room at that school. Parents are looking for a safe school."

"But DPS director of choice and enrollment Shannon Fitzgerald said that understanding is incorrect.

"Even if the neighborhood school is not included in the list of top-five choices, if there was no room to enroll the child at the five preferred schools, the child would still have a guaranteed spot at their home school.

"Every student is allowed to hold a spot at one school at any given time," Fitzgerald said.

"It's only when a student is actually placed or enrolled at another school of choice that the neighborhood seat would be offered to a student from outside the neighborhood, she said."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Revising the size of Boston school choice districts?

School choice in Boston mostly focuses on allowing families to choose a school in the school zone that they live in.  The Globe reports that the city is thinking of having more, smaller zones.

Boston careful in school-assignment overhaul: Prior 2 attempts faced heated public opposition

"The city is currently divided into three regions, providing parents and students a choice of roughly two dozen elementary, middle, and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools. (High schools are open to students across the city.)

"When the three zones were implemented in 1989, replacing a court-ordered forced-busing plan to desegregate the city’s schools, the creators anticipated that as schools improved academically the three zones would be replaced in a few years with nine smaller assignment areas.

"But every attempt to create smaller zones over the last two decades has failed because there have not been enough high-quality schools to go around. Some neighborhoods, such as West Roxbury, have a strong selection of solid-performing schools, while Roxbury and some other areas have a concentration of the worst-performing schools in the state.

That reality will loom over the process as the School Department again assesses the feasibility of creating smaller zones."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New AEA conflict of interest disclosure rules

Economics becomes a bit more like medicine. Let's hope these rules work better in Economics...

January 5, 2012
American Economic Association Adopts Extensions to Principles for Author
Disclosure of Conflict of Interest

At its meeting today, the Executive Committee of the American Economic Association adopted extensions to its principles for authors’ disclosures of potential conflicts of interest in the AEA’s publications. The added principles are:

(1) Every submitted article should state the sources of financial support for the particular
research it describes. If none, that fact should be stated.

(2) Each author of a submitted article should identify each interested party from whom he or she has received significant financial support, summing to at least $10,000 in the past three years, in the form of consultant fees, retainers, grants and the like. The disclosure requirement also includes in-kind support, such as providing access to data. If the support in question comes with a non-disclosure obligation, that fact should be stated, along with as much information as the obligation permits. If there are no such sources of funds, that fact should be stated explicitly.  An “interested” party is any individual, group, or organization that has a financial, ideological, or political stake related to the article.

 (3) Each author should disclose any paid or unpaid positions as officer, director, or board   member of relevant non-profit advocacy organizations or profit-making entities. A "relevant” organization is one whose policy positions, goals, or financial interests relate to the article.

(4) The disclosures required above apply to any close relative or partner of any author.

(5) Each author must disclose if another party had the right to review the paper prior to its circulation.

(6) For published articles, information on relevant potential conflicts of interest will be made available to the public.

(7) The AEA urges its members and other economists to apply the above principles in other publications: scholarly journals, op-ed pieces, newspaper and magazine columns, radio and television commentaries, as well as in testimony before federal and state legislative committees and other agencies.

School choice: what makes schools popular in Boston

One of the benefits of a strategy-proof school choice mechanism is that it yields meaningful data on parent preferences.  The Boston Globe has a story describing some of those preferences, as revealed through the rankings of schools submitted for the school choice algorithm. (The reporter, Akilah Johnson, thinks that some good schools are being missed, and that the poorest families often fail to participate in the school choice system.)

Popularity matters in school lottery: The district’s hidden gems struggle to gain attention from parents.

""The principal of Higginson-Lewis K-8 School and one of her first-grade teachers stood amid a swirl of school-shopping families at the Showcase of Schools, waiting to deliver their sales pitch.
"It’s like being a Hilton Hotel in between two Ritzes,’’ Simmons, the first-grade teacher, said of the schools to her right and left, Hernandez K-8 and Kilmer K-8, both with more applicants than prekindergarten seats. The inverse is true at Higginson-Lewis, making it one of the least sought-after schools in Boston - at least according to a school district tally akin to a judge’s score sheet.

"The city uses a lottery system that was intended to give all students access to high-achieving classrooms, regardless of neighborhood or life circumstance. But families fixate on a collection of well-known, fiercely sought-after schools, largely ignoring those with lesser reputations. And over the past two decades, popularity has often become a proxy for quality, making it even harder for schools to get off that second rung.

"Popularity is driven by parents with time, inclination, and sometimes the means to enter the school lottery early, armed with information and expectations. Their preferences create a system of prized schools, and those in low demand - schools whose reputations have suffered because they are in higher-crime neighborhoods, serve predominantly poor students, and have, in some cases, test scores lower than average.
"Each year, the district creates a “demand report’’ to help inform parents’ decisions. It shows how many parents listed a school among their top three picks. Parents look at the list and seize on schools they like, but also immediately see the schools they want to avoid, schools they often know little about.
"The answer lies in who is, and who is not, choosing a school and when they choose. Popular schools have become synonymous with the choices of white middle-class families, principals and families say. And the demand report reflects the choices of families who choose early.

"Oliver said parents of color and those in low-income communities “don’t always go in to make choices when the lottery starts. We have a lot of people who can’t make a commitment until June or even Labor Day.’’
"The lottery system was created in the name of giving parents more choice. Still, Boston’s dreams of equal access to quality remain deferred, with many of the least-selected schools lacking racial and economic diversity. The Higginson-Lewis has only 10 white students in a school of about 425, and Marshall has just eight white students in a school of 713.

“People will come to visit and they will say: ‘How many white students are in the class? I don’t want my child to be the only one,’ ’’ said Oliver, the Higginson principal.
"Middle-class parents often aren’t willing to send their children to a school next to Malcolm X Park in Roxbury or on a street sandwiched between Geneva Avenue and Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, where neighborhood violence has, at times, landed on the school’s doorstep.
"School choice is “pretty complicated stuff, and people are always eager to come up with pretty simple solutions,’’ said Curt Dudley-Marling, a Boston College professor who studies patterns of school failure and success. “It always seems to me that it’s rigged for parents who have the most resources.’’

"Not all families have the benefit of active parent groups that organize school tours to help families vet their options, which in Boston could mean as many as 20 public school options, not including charters. Single parents, families new to the country, parents of disabled children, or families struggling with the demands of life often are unable to investigate every option.

“I can’t imagine they have time, much less the resources, to go to fairs and all these things,’’ Dudley-Marling said. Instead, they, like most people, default to what they have heard within their circle of influence."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A quarter century since the founding of the Economic Science Association

At the ASSA meetings in Chicago:
Jan 07, 2012 10:15 am, Hyatt Regency, Skyway 260
History of Economics Society/Economic Science Association

PresidingHARRO MAAS (University of Utrecht)
Historical Perspective on ESA's First Quarter Century
ANDREJ SVORENCIK (University of Utrecht)
The Prologue to ESA from Today's Perspective
JOHN KAGEL (Ohio State University)
Structural Changes to ESA in 1995-1997: The Journal and International Meetings
THOMAS PALFREY (California Institute of Technology)
Making ESA International
MARTIN WEBER (University of Mannheim)
VERNON SMITH (Chapman University)
STEVEN MEDEMA (University of Colorado-Denver)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Market design at the ASSA meetings in Chicago

First, good luck to all those on the job market at the ASSA meetings going on in Chicago now.

The ASSA meetings aren't only a job market, however, and there are a number of sessions in which papers on matching and market design are being presented . These are the ones I noticed on scanning the program:

Jan 06, 2012 12:30 pm, Hyatt Regency, New Orleans 
Transportation & Public Utilities Group

Auction Design (L9)
PresidingERIC RALPH (Federal Communications Commission)
Auction Design for Universal Service
LARRY AUSUBEL (University of Maryland)
Procurement auctions to supply broadband over differing regions with quality differentiation
GIUSEPPE LOPOMO (Duke University)
LESLIE MARX (Duke University)
SANDRO BRUSCO (State University of New York-Stony Brook)
Distributing Universal Service Subsidies by Competitive Bidding
THOMAS HAZLETT (George Mason University)
GREG ROSSTON (Stanford University)


Jan 06, 2012 2:30 pm, Hyatt Regency, Columbus EF 
American Economic Association

Incentives and Matching in Marriage and Dating Markets (J1)
PresidingGARY BECKER (University of Chicago)
Matching with a Handicap: The Economics of Marital Smoking
PIERRE-ANDRÉ CHIAPPORI (Columbia University)
SONIA OREFFICE (University of Alicante)
CLIMENT QUINTANA-DOMEQUE (University of Alicante)
Peer Effects in Sexual Initiation: Separating Demand from Supply
SETH RICHARDS-SHUBIK (Carnegie-Mellon University)
[Download Preview]
Terms of Endearment: An Equilibrium Model Of Sex and Matching
MARJORIE MCELROY (Duke University)
[Download Preview]
Dating Market Incentives to Improve Physical Appearance
LORENS HELMCHEN (George Mason University)
TIMOTHY CLASSEN (Loyola University Chicago)
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM (Baylor University)
JEREMY FOX (University of Michigan)
ALOYSIUS SIOW (University of Toronto)
JOHN CAWLEY (Cornell University)


Jan 06, 2012 2:30 pm, Hyatt Regency, Regency D 
American Economic Association
New Challenges for Market Design (A1)
PresidingMURIEL NIEDERLE (Stanford University)
Individual Rationality and Participation in Large Scale, Multi-Hospital Kidney Exchange
ITAI ASHLAGI (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
ALVIN E. ROTH (Harvard Business School)
Holdout in the Assembly of Complements: A Problem for Market Design
SCOTT DUKE KOMINERS (University of Chicago)
ERIC GLEN WEYL (University of Chicago)
[Download Preview]
Improving Efficiency in Matching Markets with Regional Caps: The Case of the Japan Residency Matching Program
FUHITO KOJIMA (Stanford University)
YUICHIRO KAMADA (Harvard University)
[Download Preview]
Price Controls, Non-Price Quality Competition, and the Nonexistence of Competitive Equilibrium
JOHN WILLIAM HATFIELD (Stanford University)
CHARLES R. PLOTT (California Institute of Technology)
TOMOMI TANAKA (Arizona State University)
[Download Preview]
PARAG PATHAK (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
THOMAS PALFREY (California Institute of Technology)
PAUL MILGROM (Stanford University)
MURIEL NIEDERLE (Stanford University)


Jan 07, 2012 8:00 am, Hyatt Regency, Columbus KL 
American Economic Association
Price Theory and Market Design (D4)
PresidingERIC BUDISH (University of chicago)
Market Power Screens Willingness-to-Pay
ERIC GLEN WEYL (University of Chicago)
JEAN TIROLE (Toulouse School of Economics)
[Download Preview]
The Form of Incentive Contracts: Agency with Moral Hazard, Risk Neutrality, and Limited Liability
JOAQUÍN POBLETE (London School of Economics)
DANIEL SPULBER (Northwestern University)
[Download Preview]
A Supply and Demand Framework for Two-Sided Matching Markets
EDUARDO M AZEVEDO (Harvard University)
JACOB LESHNO (Harvard Business School)
[Download Preview]
Multilateral Matching
JOHN WILLIAM HATFIELD (Stanford University)
SCOTT DUKE KOMINERS (University of Chicago)
[Download Preview]
PIERRE-ANDRE CHIAPPORI (Columbia University)
DAVID SRAER (Princeton University)
THEODORE BERGSTROM (University of California-Santa Barbara)
ALI HORTACSU (University of Chicago)


Jan 08, 2012 8:00 am, Hyatt Regency, Atlanta 
American Economic Association

Advance in the Theory of Contests and Tournaments (C7)
PresidingRON SIEGEL (Northwestern University)
Head Starts in Contests
RON SIEGEL (Northwestern University)
[Download Preview]
Contests with Endogenous and Stochastic Entry
QIANG FU (National University of Singapore)
QIAN JIAO (National University of Singapore)
JINGFENG LU (National University of Singapore)
[Download Preview]
Sequential All-Pay Auctions with Head Starts and Noisy Outputs
ELLA SEGEV (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
ANER SELA (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
[Download Preview]
The Optimal Design of Rewards in Contests
TODD R. KAPLAN (University of Exeter and University of Haifa)
DAVID WETTSTEIN (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
[Download Preview]
RON SIEGEL (Northwestern University)
QIANG FU (National University of Singapore)
ELLA SEGEV (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
TODD R. KAPLAN (University of Exeter and University of Haifa)


Jan 08, 2012 10:15 am, Hyatt Regency, Wrigley 
Econometric Society

Economics of Internet Markets (L1)
PresidingJONATHAN LEVIN (Stanford University)
Multidimensional Heterogeneity and Platform Design
ANDRE FILIPE VEIGA (Toulouse School of Economics)
ERIC GLEN WEYL (Univerity of Chicago)
Price Discrimination in Many-to-Many Matching Markets
RENATO DIAS GOMES (Northwestern University)
ALESSANDRO PAVAN (Northwestern University)
Social Advertising
CATHERINE TUCKER (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Sales Mechanisms in Online Markets: What Happened to Internet Auctions?
LIRAN EINAV (Stanford University)
CHIARA FARRONATO (Stanford University)
JONATHAN LEVIN (Stanford University)
PRESTON MCAFEE (Research Yahoo!)
JONATHAN BAKER (American Universityi)


Jan 08, 2012 1:00 pm, Hyatt Regency, Columbus CD 
American Economic Association
Designing Effective School Choice Mechanisms (I2)
PresidingDIANE SCHANZENBACH (Northwestern University)
School Choice, School Quality and College Attendance
DAVID DEMING (Harvard University)
JUSTINE HASTINGS (Brown University)
THOMAS KANE (Harvard University)
DOUGLAS STAIGER (Dartmouth University)
[Download Preview]
Charter School Entry and Student Choice: The Case of Washington, D.C.
MARIA M FERREYRA (Carnegie Mellon University)
GRIGORY KOSENOK (New Economic School-Moscow)
[Download Preview]
Promoting School Competition through School Choice: A Market Design Approach
JOHN W. HATFIELD (Stanford University)
FUHITO KOJIMA (Stanford University)
YUSUKE NARITA (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
[Download Preview]
From Boston to Shanghai to Deferred Acceptance: Theory and Experiments on A Family of School Choice Mechanisms
ONUR KESTEN (Carnegie Mellon University)
YAN CHEN (University of Michigan)
KEVIN STANGE (University of Michigan)
JUSTINE HASTINGS (Brown University)
ONUR KESTEN (Carnegie Mellon University)
FUHITO KOJIMA (Stanford University)