Friday, August 31, 2012

Bad market design by design at U of Central Florida...and Craigslist?

Course registration can be a pain, but at the University of Central Florida they apparently don't want anyone trying to make it easier: Student Is Punished for Creating Class-Registration Web

"A student at the University of Central Florida has been placed on academic probation for creating a Web site that tells students when a seat becomes available in a given class.

"Tim Arnold, a senior at Central Florida, built the U Could Finish site this year. The site became available in June, but, within days, was blocked from accessing the university site without notice. The Office of Student Conduct then told Mr. Arnold that he had violated university policy regarding technology use..."

It's easier to see how Craigslist might have a legitimate interest in preventing entrepreneurs from developing superior front ends (recall eBay vs. Bidder's Edge): The SF Chronicle has the story.
3taps, PadMapper face Craigslist challenge

"Kidd's 3taps and a website that uses the data it collects, PadMapper, are the latest in a long line of Web developers to face legal action from Craigslist, the San Francisco company that has dominated the online classified advertising market for 17 years. Since 2008, at least three dozen similar services such as MapsKreig, Craiglook and CraigsFish have received cease-and-desist letters from Craigslist, most for building websites that presented Craigslist listings in ways they considered to be more dynamic, visually appealing and helpful.
"Craigslist has never added features such as mapping, videos and mobile apps, or any other tools that would improve user experiences. It still sorts items in chronological order, and doesn't allow nationwide searches of all its local websites at once. Its reluctance to update its Web services has opened the door for Kidd and other developers like him.

"Some of the developers shut down by Craigslist pulled data directly from its website, but 3taps uses a novel approach - searching Craigslist through Google, copying the data off Google, reordering it and then formatting it in a way other websites can easily display. PadMapper uses content generated by 3taps for its mapping services.

"Kidd noted that Craigslist chooses to allow price, location and description information from listings to appear on Google. As a result, he said, it shouldn't be allowed to stop other websites from displaying the same information in unique maps and tables. And the online classifieds leader certainly can't claim that data points as crucial to commerce as prices, locations and basic descriptions can be copyrighted.

"Legal experts say presenting the entirety of listings in the same format as Craigslist would be troublesome, but that's not what PadMapper is doing. And a 1991 case dealing with phone books suggests that the bare-bones data in listings is not subject to copyright law, these experts say.
"Craigslist and its lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. In the lawsuit, Craigslist says that "the originality, simplicity, and clarity" of its website "are fundamental to Craigslist's reputation and garner substantial and valuable goodwill with users." 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kidney donation and (loss of) medical insurance

Some things are so far off the equilibrium path that they drive me crazy: The Reward for Donating a Kidney: No Insurance

"Like most other kidney donors, Mr. Royer, a retired teacher in Eveleth, Minn., was carefully screened and is in good health. But Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota rejected his application for coverage last year, as well as his appeals, on the grounds that he has chronic kidney disease, even though many people live with one kidney and his nephrologist testified that his kidney is healthy. Mr. Royer was also unable to purchase life insurance."

File this under "negative compensation for donors."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Collusion, for fun and profit: Marshall and Marx

I was delighted to receive in the mail the new book The Economics of Collusion: Cartels and Bidding Rings, by Robert C. Marshall and Leslie M. Marx.

The book is devoted to the description and analysis of explicit collusion (their emphasis). I haven't read it yet, but one of the things that makes explicit collusion so entertaining to study and read about is that there are often detailed accounts (typically from court cases) about just how the collusion was accomplished.

Marshall:  "Collusive Bidder Behavior at Single Object Second price and English Auctions," with D. Graham, Journal of Political Economy, 1987, 95, 1217-1239.

American Economic Review, v100(3), 724-762, 2010. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Circumcision: maybe not so repugnant after all

While a German court's ban on circumcision earlier this summer continues to be debated in Germany (where criminal charges have now been filed against a mohel--a religious circumciser), the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, and that it should be covered by medical insurance.

Here's the NY Times story: Benefits of Circumcision Are Said to Outweigh Risks

"The American Academy of Pediatrics has shifted its stance on infant male circumcision, announcing on Monday that new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.

"But the academy stopped short of recommending routine circumcision for all baby boys, saying the decision remains a family matter. The academy had previously taken a neutral position on circumcision.

"The new policy statement, the first update of the academy’s circumcision policy in over a decade, appears in the Aug. 27 issue of the journal Pediatrics. The group’s guidelines greatly influence pediatric care and decisions about coverage by insurers; in the new statement, the academy also said that circumcision should be covered by insurance.

"The long-delayed policy update comes as sentiment against circumcision is gaining strength in the United States and parts of Europe. Circumcision rates in the United States declined to 54.5 percent in 2009 from 62.7 percent in 1999, according to one federal estimate. Critics succeeded last year in placing a circumcision ban on the ballot in San Francisco, but a judge ruled against including the measure.

"In Europe, a government ethics committee in Germany last week overruled a court decision that removing a child’s foreskin was “grievous bodily harm” and therefore illegal. The country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the ethics committee ruling “a scandal.”

"A provincial official in Austria has told state-run hospitals in the region to stop performing circumcisions, and the Danish authorities have commissioned a report to investigate whether medical doctors are present during religious circumcision rituals as required.

"Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which for several years have been pondering circumcision recommendations of their own, have yet to weigh in and declined to comment on the academy’s new stance. Medicaid programs in several states have stopped paying for the routine circumcision of infants."

The American pediatricians are unlikely to have much impact on the debate in Europe, but their opinion might make it even harder for attempts to ban circumcision in the U.S., like the failed attempt in California.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Iraqi arranged marriages--the suicide constraint

The individual rationality constraint isn't very binding when individuals don't have good outside options, but it doesn't entirely go away. In Iraq, it's taking the form of suicide by unwilling brides in arranged marriages: Where Arranged Marriages Are Customary, Suicides Grow More Common

"In this desolate and tradition-bound community in the northwest corner of Iraq, at the foot of a mountain range bordering Syria, Ms. Merza’s reaction to the ancient custom of arranged marriage is becoming more common. Officials are alarmed by what they describe as a worsening epidemic of suicides, particularly among young women tormented by being forced to marry too young, to someone they do not love.

"While reliable statistics on anything are hard to come by in Iraq, officials say there have been as many as 50 suicides this year in this city of 350,000 — at least double the rate in the United States — compared with 80 all of last year. The most common methods among women are self-immolation and gunshots.

"Among the many explanations given, like poverty and madness, one is offered most frequently: access to the Internet and to satellite television, which came after the start of the war. This has given young women glimpses of a better life, unencumbered by the traditions that have constricted women for centuries to a life of obedience and child-rearing, one devoid of romance.

"Ms. Merza’s father, Barkat Hussein, interviewed later in private, said he was aware that the shooting was not an accident.

“We gave her to her cousin less than 20 days ago,” he said. “She accepted him. Like anyone who gets married, she should be happy.”

"He said he would not force her to return to her husband, who lives next door. But, he said: “I hope she will go back to him. His father is my brother.”

"He, too, blamed the Turkish soap opera for his daughter’s unhappiness, and he nodded toward the room where his wife was working. “I got married to my cousin,” he said. “I wasn’t in love with her, but we are here, living together. That’s what happens here, we marry our relatives.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Call for Papers: "Special Issue on Matching under Preferences" - Algorithms

Mike Ostrovsky forwards me this announcement he received by email:

Call for Papers: Special Issue: "Special Issue on Matching under Preferences" - Algorithms (ISSN 1999-4893)

The following Special Issue will be published in Algorithms (, ISSN 1999-4893), and is now open to receive submissions of full research papers and comprehensive review articles for peer-review and possible publication:

Special Issue: Special Issue on Matching under Preferences
Guest Editors: Dr. David Manlove and Dr. Péter Biró Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2012

Article Processing Charges are waived for well prepared manuscripts in this Special Issue.

You may send your manuscript now or up until the deadline.
Submitted papers should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. We also encourage authors to send us their tentative title and short abstract by e-mail for approval to the Editorial Office at

This Special Issue will be fully open access. Open access (unlimited and free access by readers) increases publicity and promotes more frequent citations as indicated by several studies.
More information is available at

Algorithms (ISSN 1999-4893) is an open access journal of computer science, theory, methods and interdisciplinary applications, data and information systems, software engineering, artificial intelligence, automation and control systems, is published online quarterly by MDPI. It maintains a rigorous and fast peer-review system and accepted papers are immediately published online. Because it is an online and open access journal, papers published in Algorithms will receive high publicity.

Please visit the website of Instructions for Authors before submitting a paper at
Manuscripts should be submitted through the online manuscript submission and editorial system at

MDPI publishes several peer-reviewed, open access journals listed at The Editorial Board members, including several Nobel Laureates (, are all leading active scholars. All MDPI journals maintain rapid, yet rigorous, peer- review, manuscript handling and editorial processes. MDPI journals have increased their impact factors, see "2011 Newly Released Impact Factors",

In case of questions, please contact the Editorial Office at:

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,
Chelly Cheng

On behalf of the Guest Editors

Dr. David Manlove
School of Computing Science
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ


Dr. Péter Biró
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Institute of Economics, Budapest
1112 Budaörsi út. 45.

Algorithms Editorial Office
Kandererstrasse 25
CH-4057 Basel, Switzerland
Tel. +41 61 683 77 34
Fax: +41 61 302 89 18

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Regulating prostitution in New Zealand

An incentive issue (although they are not the focus of this story):
"But the Prostitutes Collective warned that outlawing popular streets would encourage sex workers to stop carrying condoms in case they are questioned by police."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Incentives and organ donation in Germany

Bettina Klaus writes:  There is an article about a recent organ donation scandal at the university hospital Goettingen

One of the transplant surgeons there seems to have manipulated patient files (25 cases are currently under investigation) in order to push his patients up on the waiting list. Interestingly his salary depended on the numbers of transplants he did and the article states that under his lead the number of liver transplants at the university hospital Goettingen had significantly increased in 2009 and 2010. 

Here's an English account of that, and organ sales as well: Desperation, Greed and the Global Organ Trade 

Something similar  to the Goettingen events led to a change in the deceased-donor liver allocation system in the U.S.

See also, for a related story (also in German), which focuses on recent changes in the German transplant and organ donation systems. (HT Rosemarie Nagel)

And Markus Mobius points to this article (also in German, but the headline is clear): Transplantationsskandal

He writes "The article says that an increasing share of transplants in Germany are now bypassing the waiting list and go straight to in-house patients.
"10 years ago, 9.1% of livers, 8.4% of hearts, 10.6% of lungs and 6.3% of pancreas bypassed the waiting list. Now the shares are 37.1%, 25.8%, 30.3% and 43.7%, respectively. "

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Assisted dying: still illegal, still controversial

The death yesterday of a British advocate for medically assisted death for terminally ill patients brings back the debate about whether physician assisted suicide should always be a repugnant transaction.

Here's the BBC's story: Right-to-die man Tony Nicklinson dead after refusing food

"Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome who fought for the right to legally end his life, has died.

"The 58-year-old was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke in 2005 and described his life as a "living nightmare".

"Last week Mr Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, lost his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life.

"Mr Nicklinson's family solicitor said that he had refused food from last week."

Here's the NY Times: British Man Who Fought for Assisted Suicide Is Dead

"A 58-year-old British man suffering from so-called locked-in syndrome died on Wednesday, six days after the nation’s High Court rejected his request for help in ending his life. His death is certain to galvanize the already contentious debate about assisted suicide in Britain."

And here's an article about the controversy, in favor of a change in the laws against assisted suicice, published a few days earlier (it appears): The case for assisted dying

"The case for a law to legalise the choice of physician-assisted dying for mentally competent people with terminal illness, who have expressed a settled wish to die, is very easily stated. Unbearable suffering, prolonged by medical care, and inflicted on a dying patient against their will, is an unequivocal evil. What’s more, the right to have your choices supported by others, to determine your own best interest, when you are of sound mind, is sovereign. And this is accepted by a steady 80-plus per cent of the UK population in successive surveys.

"Even so, after decades of campaigning, the law has yet to change. How can this be? The answer is simple: there has been a highly organised opposition by individuals and groups, largely with strong religious beliefs that forbid assistance to die. "

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Selective abortion based on gender: illegal in Britain but not in the U.S.

Two stories, the first from the Telegraph and the second from the Washington Post, reveal the different legal status of abortions for the purpose of choosing the gender of a child in Britain and the U.S.

Abortion investigation: doctors filmed agreeing illegal abortions 'no questions asked'. Women are being granted illegal abortions by doctors based on the sex of their unborn baby, an undercover investigation by The Daily Telegraph reveals.

"Doctors at British clinics have been secretly filmed agreeing to terminate foetuses purely because they are either male or female. Clinicians admitted they were prepared to falsify paperwork to arrange the abortions even though it is illegal to conduct such “sex-selection” procedures."

Bill banning ‘sex-selective abortions’ fails in the House

"A measure to ban abortions based on the sex of a child failed Thursday to earn enough support in the House, and abortion opponents said they plan to use the vote to paint Democrats as disingenuously supporting women’s rights because they voted against a bill protecting unborn baby girls.
Lawmakers voted 246 to 168 on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), which would punish doctors with up to five years in prison for performing abortions because the parents are seeking a child of the other sex. But the bill failed to pass as House Republicans brought it up under a suspension of normal rules that required it to earn a two-thirds majority vote. Twenty Democratic lawmakers voted for the bill; seven Republicans voted against it.
"Several nations, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, ban sex-selective abortions. The United States has no such law, even though the State Department has published reports critical of other countries, including China, for widely accepting the procedure.
Sex-selective abortions are so common in some Asian and Eastern European countries, including China, India, Armenia and Serbia, that the number of boys being born is much greater than the number of girls,according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research center. In the U.S., 105 boys are born for every 100 girls, a ratio that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers stable. But limited studies have found that the practice is common among Asian American communities, where women cite family pressure to have male children.
Efforts to combat sex-selective abortions are more active at the state level. Eight states have introduced measures this year to ban the procedure, and three states — Arizona, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma — ban sex-selective abortions. A similar law in Illinois was scrapped by state courts.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Organs and tissue markets and black markets

NPR has a series of posts on tissue donation, which includes bones and sinews, and for which there's a regulated market, but also a black market.

Human Tissue Donation

Calculating The Value Of Human Tissue Donation(68) 

Chris Truitt holds a photo of his daughter, Alyssa, who died when she was 2, at his home in De Forest Wis. After donating her organs and tissues, he decided on a career change that made him rethink tissue donation.
July 17, 2012 Many organ donors are unaware they've also agreed to donate their veins, bones, skin and other tissue, which can be used not only to save a life, but also to help a cosmetic surgery patient. It's a $1 billion a year industry many know little about.

Little Regulation Poses Problems Tracking Tissue(15) 

Unlike organs, tissue doesn't need to be transplanted immediately.  Storage facilities like Tissue Banks International in San Rafael, Calif., process and store donated tissue for later use in medical products or as transplants.
July 18, 2012 An NPR News investigation has found there's little scrutiny at key points in the tissue donation and transplant process, which could lead to serious medical mistakes.

Am I A Tissue Donor, Too?(23)  

Organ and tissue donation forms vary from state to state. Some are very general, while others allow people to choose or restrict what they want to donate.
July 18, 2012 NPR's Joseph Shapiro knew he had signed up to be an organ donor, but he didn't realize the red heart on his driver's license signifies that he also agreed to donate his tendons, bones, veins and other tissue.

The Seamy Side Of The Human Tissue Business(26)  

Michael Mastromarino (center) appeared in a New York City courtroom for sentencing on charges of corruption, body stealing and reckless endangerment, as the mastermind behind a scheme to loot hundreds of corpses and sell bone and tissue for transplants.
July 19, 2012 Body-stealing cases like that of Michael Mastromarino illustrate how an industry built on altruism can fall into the hands of the greedy.

Andrew Sullivan has a video: The Global Cadaver Trade


In my 2007 article Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets I wrote about the case of Alistair Cooke, whose body parts were misappropriated after his death. Here's a colorful recounting of that and related stories from a 2006  New York Magazine story called The Organ Grinder.

HT: Steve Leider

Monday, August 20, 2012

Moving address

My new address:
Al Roth
Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6072

(Previous announcement here:)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two-tier tuition and foreign students at British universities

How foreign students with lower grades jump the university queue:
 Exclusive: Foreign students are being offered places at top British universities with far lower A-level grades than school pupils in this country, a Daily Telegraph investigation discloses.

"Universities were accused of profiteering by rejecting tens of thousands of British teenagers, currently sitting A-levels, so they can fill places with more profitable foreign students.

"Universities say that even the new £9,000-a-year tuition fees for British and European Union students do not cover their costs, and they need to turn to foreigners who are charged 50 per cent more."

I'm reminded of the line from Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Whales as food: the rise of a repugnant transaction

Pablo Guillen points me to the work of his Sydney Uni colleague Charlotte Epstein: The Power of Words in International Relations--Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse

"In the second half of the twentieth century, worldwide attitudes toward whaling shifted from widespread acceptance to moral censure. Why? Whaling, once as important to the global economy as oil is now, had long been uneconomical. Major species were long known to be endangered. Yet nations had continued to support whaling. In The Power of Words in International Relations, Charlotte Epstein argues that the change was brought about not by changing material interests but by a powerful anti-whaling discourse that successfully recast whales as extraordinary and intelligent endangered mammals that needed to be saved. Epstein views whaling both as an object of analysis in its own right and as a lens for examining discursive power, and how language, materiality, and action interact to shape international relations. By focusing on discourse, she develops an approach to the study of agency and the construction of interests that brings non-state actors and individuals into the analysis of international politics. Epstein analyzes the "society of whaling states" as a set of historical practices where the dominant discourse of the day legitimated the killing of whales rather than their protection. She then looks at this whaling world's mirror image: the rise from the political margins of an anti-whaling discourse, which orchestrated one of the first successful global environmental campaigns..."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Matching to conceal homosexuality in China

Here's an unusual twist on repugnant transactions, from The Economist: Gay marriage gone wrong

"In recent years some have found a solution, of sorts., a website with some 153,000 members, helps gay men meet lesbian women for matrimonial purposes. Individuals upload personal details, such as monthly income, hobbies and Zodiac signs. Some seek cohabitation without sexual contact. Others want children.

"Zhuang Xiang, a 30-year-old accountant from Shanghai, came to understand why he was drawn to boys when he was 17. On flicking through a gay comic book in a shop, he had his great “a-ha!” moment. He met his boyfriend in 2004. And then he married his lesbian wife in 2009. He and his wife don’t live together, but they visit each other’s parents once a week. Mr Zhuang even keeps some of her clothes on display at home, in case of unannounced visitors.

"Mr Zhuang says he is lucky to live in a big city like Shanghai, where such a solution is possible. But he wants to live in a country where gay men are accepted. His parents have started to talk about a grandchild. Mr Zhuang and his lesbian wife will likely get a forged certificate of infertility. Keeping up the appearance of their marriage feels like a never-ending battle, he says. But sometimes lies are more sensible than the truth."

HT: Laszlo Sandor

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Preparing for sorority rush

The college kids who grew up on test preparation courses are now taking sorority rush preparation get a head start on rush...

For an old paper on this important matching market, check out
Mongell, S. and Roth, A.E., "Sorority Rush as a Two-Sided Matching Mechanism," American Economic Review, vol. 81, June 1991, 441-464

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Salaries of new law grads

Salaries of new law grads have been bimodal for some time (at least since 2000), with the high mode being hires at large law firms. That mode, which is very narrow (all the big firms pay the same wage) has stayed at $160,000/year for the last several years. Here's a report from the NALP: Salaries for New Lawyers: An Update on Where We Are and How We Got Here by Judith N. Collins.

The paper contains graphs of the salary distributions for 1991, 1996, 2000, 2006, and 2011.

"As the 1990s progressed, the curve maintained its basic shape, though salary increases at large firms gradually moved more of the salaries to the right of the $70,000 mark. In 1996, salaries of $75,000 and $85,000 became more common than salaries of $70,000, but $75,000 and $85,000 still each represented just 6% of salaries, and 45% of salaries were in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.

"In 1998 and 1999, the marker again moved to the right, to $90,000, and about 6% of salaries. This corresponds with a period of salary increases, moving the median at firms of 251+ lawyers from $72,000 in 1995 to over $90,000 in 1999. The shift notwithstanding, the overall distribution maintained the basic, though lopsided, bell shape.

That shape changed dramatically in 2000 as large firms increased their starting salaries to $125,000. Beyond just the amount of the increase, of more consequence for the salary distribution was how widespread the increase was. Suddenly nearly 14% of salaries were reported at $125,000, a proportion that can only be partially explained by an increasing percentage of jobs taken in large firms. The result was, for the first time, two peaks, with the other encompassing the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Thus, even though the peak to the left was now fatter and accounted for more salaries — 48% versus the 14% at $125,000 — never before had a single salary so dominated the landscape. The $125,000 peak remained through 2005."

See previous posts on the various markets for lawyers, which are pretty interesting (the markets if not the posts...). For one thing, the market for new associates at big law firms is  unraveled in time, with new hires most often coming through the pipeline as second year summer associates, presently being hired at the beginning of their second year of law school.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

College football playoffs on the horizon?

This is a bit dated but still interesting: Inside Higher Ed reports on Playoff Politics

"The move to a playoff does represent “a little bit of bowing” to pressure from fans and sports media who are dissatisfied with the system currently used to pick a Division I champion, Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz said. That system uses a combination of mathematical formulas and sportswriter and coaches’ polls to select the teams that will compete in the Bowl Championship Series title game – and it has come to questionable results more than once.
This year, for instance, the system bypassed Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma State University to pit Southeastern Conference champion Louisiana State University against that same conference’s runner-up, the University of Alabama (a repeat, furthermore, of a ridiculously hyped match-up earlier in the season dubbed the “game of the century”).
But there's far more at stake than just who gets into the national championship. The fate of the other four prized BCS bowl games -- the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls -- hangs in the balance.
While all 12 conference commissioners have sat in on the meetings that are shaping the playoff, those who run the six BCS conferences make the most money and carry the most weight. And before the BCS did away with the “automatic qualifier” designation last month, which automatically placed the champion of each BCS conference into one of the four top bowls, they also had direct, lucrative ties to one of those five widely watched games. (It also likely played a role in the frenzy of conference realignment in recent years.)
So while commissioners like Larry Scott of the Pacific-12 Conference and Jim Delany of the Big 10 Conference have cited the tradition and sentimentality of the bowls as reason to keep them intact moving forward, there are also financial benefits to doing so. That's why talk of a tournament has revolved around keeping the bowls intact in some form, and tacking a four-team playoff onto that. 
In the meantime, Big 12, SEC Agree to Pit Champions in Bowl

"The Big 12 and Southeastern Conference champions will meet in a new game starting after the 2014 season, unless one or both are selected to play in a planned four-team national playoff, the Big 12 announced today. If a champion reaches the playoff, another team from the same conference will be selected for the game. The bowl game’s location will be announced at a later date.

"The news comes as leaders of the Bowl Championship Series negotiate major-college football’s first playoff, which would replace the current one-game BCS championship and begin after the 2014 season. BCS leaders hope to have the new playoff format finalized by midsummer and discuss a new TV deal with ESPN, which has first negotiating rights, in October.

"The pact is reminiscent of the longstanding arrangement between the Big Ten and the Pac-12, whose champions usually meet in the Rose Bowl.

"The new bowl represents a potential threat to the Fiesta Bowl, which since the start of the BCS has pitted the Big 12 champion against an at-large team.

"The BCS’s 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick are meeting with their constituents about the particulars of the potential playoff, and will meet again June 20. If the four-team plan is approved, it will move to the BCS presidential oversight committee for approval in early July."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Death and choices

Two apparently unrelated stories in the NY Times both raise the issue of what choices about the end of life are and should be available, for the terminally ill, and for others.  One concerns the experience of Oregon and Washington* with physician assisted death for terminally ill patients, the other concerns the sale of life insurance contracts to investors.  Both involve transactions that used to be, and still often are, regarded as repugnant, in one case between doctors and patients, and in the other between patients (or simply the elderly) and anonymous investors.

Assisted suicide for the terminally ill has long been controversial, and the Washington law insists that prescription drugs be "self administered" which can be a problem when movement and swallowing become hard.  On the insurance side, "viatical settlements" are often regarded as repugnant because the investors win when you die, as opposed to life insurance companies which make their money while you live. But, of course, insurance companies also offer annuities, in which they win when you lose... (See my 2009 post on "Death Pools".)

Here are some quick summary quotes from the two stories...

A Surprise Reflection of Who Picks Assisted Suicide

"Washington followed Oregon in allowing terminally ill patients to get a prescription for drugs that will hasten death. Critics of such laws feared that poor people would be pressured to kill themselves because they or their families could not afford end-of-life care. But the demographics of patients who have gotten the prescriptions are surprisingly different than expected, according to data collected by Oregon and Washington through 2011.
"While preparing advance medical directives and choosing hospice and palliative care over aggressive treatment have become mainstream options, physician-assisted dying remains taboo for many people. Voters in Massachusetts will consider a ballot initiative in November on a law nearly identical to those in the Pacific Northwest, but high-profile legalization efforts have failed in California, Hawaii and Maine.

"Oregon put its Death With Dignity Act in place in 1997, and Washington’s law went into effect in 2009. Some officials worried that thousands of people would migrate to both states for the drugs.

“There was a lot of fear that the elderly would be lined up in their R.V.’s at the Oregon border,” said Barbara Glidewell, an assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

"That has not happened, although the number of people who have taken advantage of the law has risen over time. In the first years, Oregon residents who died using drugs they received under the law accounted for one in 1,000 deaths. The number is now roughly one in 500 deaths. At least 596 Oregonians have died that way since 1997. In Washington, 157 such deaths have been reported, roughly one in 1,000.

"n Oregon, the number of men and women who have died that way is roughly equal, and their median age is 71. Eighty-one percent have had cancer, and 7 percent A.L.S., which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The rest have had a variety of illnesses, including lung and heart disease. The statistics are similar in Washington.

Are You Worth More Dead Than Alive?
"Fiedler, who owns a firm called Innovative Settlements, knew that a life-insurance policy is an asset that can be resold to a friend or stranger just as a car, boat or house can. In a transaction known as a viatical settlement (for terminally ill patients) or a life settlement (for everyone else), the person selling his insurance gets an immediate cash payment. The buyer, in exchange, is named as the beneficiary and pays the premiums until the insured person dies. Life no longer afforded Robles a traditional way to make money, but to the right investor, Fiedler advised, his imminent death was worth a great deal.
"Betting on when somebody will die seems so creepy that it’s hard to believe the practice is legal. Sure, people pay good money to buy life-insurance policies, so perhaps that should confer the right to sell them as well. But the freedoms of ownership are not unlimited, especially when it comes to anything related to life and limb. Possession of and control over what happens to your own body is a fundamental human right. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped cultures from banning prostitution, organ sales or for-profit surrogate parenthood. The justification for such infringements upon bodily sovereignty is that people should be protected from financial incentives to harm themselves, and you could argue that a life settlement creates just such an incentive."


*The Washington Death with Dignity Act, Initiative 1000, codified as RCW 70.245, passed on November 4, 2008 and went into effect on March 5, 2009.
This act allows terminally ill adults seeking to end their life to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians. These terminally ill patients must be Washington residents who have less than six months to live.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Performance enhancing drugs for academic competition (highschool version)

Bicycle racers use them. Special Ops troops do too. So we shouldn't be surprised that performance enhancing drugs are in the high schools too. The NY Times reports: Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill

"The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin (methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use.

"Madeleine estimated that one-third of her classmates at her small school, most of whom she knew well, used stimulants without a prescription to boost their scholastic performance. Many students across the United States made similar estimates for their schools, all of them emphasizing that the drugs were used not to get high, but mostly by conscientious students to work harder and meet ever-rising academic expectations.

"These estimates can be neither confirmed nor refuted because little data captures this specific type of drug misuse. A respected annual survey financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Monitoring the Future,” reports that abuse of prescription amphetamines by 10th and 12th graders nationally has actually dipped from the 1990s and is remaining relatively steady at about 10 percent.
However, some experts note that the survey does not focus on the demographic where they believe such abuse is rising steadily — students at high-pressure high schools — and also that many teenagers barely know that what they often call “study drugs” are in fact illegal amphetamines.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

More beans, less cod in Boston next year?

"For the second straight year, the federal government is expected to lower catch limits on certain New England groundfish that swim close to the sea bottom, including cod.

"In the current 2012 season, the fishing industry's total allowable catch for Gulf of Maine cod was reduced by 22% to 6,700 metric tons. The 2013 season, which starts next May, is expected to be worse, and for more types of groundfish.

"A preliminary report from the New England Fishery Management Council suggests the next season's catch limits could include a 70% or more reduction from 2012 levels in the number of cod allowed to be caught in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, a stretch of Atlantic Ocean sea floor between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. The council is the regional policy-making arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.

"Fishery officials say the once abundant groundfish in the region were diminished by years of overfishing, and that even with catch quotas, stocks have not yet replenished as scientists expected. Federal and regional fishery scientists and policy makers determine quotas by measuring stocks of fish. Data comes from surveys by fishing trawlers as well as records submitted by fishermen and dealers about what they are catching and buying.
"Meanwhile, the Atlantic lobster industry is facing its own challenges—caused by too many lobsters. The glut has driven down prices to the lowest in decades. Maine lobstermen often send their catch to Canada to be processed, but lobstermen there are protesting and demanding the plants not accept Maine's catch. The Canadians fear Maine's low prices will drive down their own."

Friday, August 10, 2012

Our boys in uniform: is it ok to be gay?

The answer is evolving for our boys (and girls) in military uniform, but it is still no for boy scouts.
Two signs of the times:

Why Do the Boy Scouts Exclude Gays?

"Many doors have opened for gays and lesbians in the 12 years since the Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Boy Scouts of America to expel openly gay leaders and members; in many states, same-sex couples can marry, and the military now recruits gays and lesbians instead of kicking them out.

So why did the Boy Scouts of America decide to uphold its ban on Tuesday? What are the benefits for the organization, and what will be the costs?"

California: Soldiers Can Parade in Uniform, This Time

"The Department of Defense said Thursday that it would allow service members to march in uniform in a gay pride parade for the first time in history. The Pentagon issued a militarywide directive saying it was making an exception to its policy that generally bars troops from marching in uniform in parades. The Defense Department said it was making the exception for San Diego’s Gay Pride Parade on Saturday because organizers had invited service members to march in uniform and the matter was getting national attention. The exception does not extend beyond this year’s event, the Pentagon said."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NBER Market Design conference--call for papers (Oct 19-20, 2012)

From: Susan Athey and Parag Pathak
To: NBER Market Design Working Group

The National Bureau of Economic Research workshop on Market Design is a forum to discuss new academic research related to the design of market institutions, broadly defined. The next meeting will be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Friday and Saturday, October 19-20, 2012.

We welcome new and interesting research, and are happy to see papers from a variety of fields. Participants in the past meeting covered a range of topics and methodological approaches.  Last year's program can be viewed

The conference does not publish proceedings or issue NBER working papers - most of the presented papers are presumed to be published later in journals.

There is no requirement to be an NBER-affiliated researcher to participate.  Younger researchers are especially encouraged to submit papers.  If you are interested in presenting a paper this year, please upload a PDF version by September 3, 2012 to this

Preference will be given to papers for which at least a preliminary draft is ready by the time of submission. Only authors of accepted papers will be contacted.

For presenters and discussants in North America, the NBER will cover the travel and hotel costs. For speakers from outside North America, while the NBER will not be able to cover the airfare, it can provide support for hotel accommodation.

There are a limited number of spaces available for graduate students to attend to conference, though we cannot cover their costs. Please email a short nominating paragraph.

Please forward this announcement to any potentially interested scholars.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Matching in the August AER

Three papers in the August issue of the American Economic Review suggests that the study of matching is thriving.

(2) A Field Study on Matching with Network Externalities
Mariagiovanna Baccara, Ayşe İmrohoroğlu, Alistair J. Wilson and Leeat Yariv
We study the effects of network externalities within a protocol for matching faculty to offices in a new building. Using web and survey data on faculty's attributes and choices, we identify the different layers of the social network: institutional affiliation, coauthorships, and friendships. We quantify the effects of network externalities on choices and outcomes, disentangle the layers of the networks, and quantify their relative influence. Finally, we assess the protocol used from a welfare perspective. Our study suggests the importance and feasibility of accounting for network externalities in assignment problems and evaluates techniques that can be employed to this end. (JEL C78, C93, D62, D85, Z13)
(10) Organ Allocation Policy and the Decision to Donate
Judd B. Kessler and Alvin E. Roth
Organ donations from deceased donors provide the majority of transplanted organs in the United States, and one deceased donor can save numerous lives by providing multiple organs. Nevertheless, most Americans are not registered organ donors despite the relative ease of becoming one. We study in the laboratory an experimental game modeled on the decision to register as an organ donor and investigate how changes in the management of organ waiting lists might impact donations. We find that an organ allocation policy giving priority on waiting lists to those who previously registered as donors has a significant positive impact on registration. (JEL C91, D64, I11)
(17) The Multi-unit Assignment Problem: Theory and Evidence from Course Allocation at Harvard
Eric Budish and Estelle Cantillon
We use theory and field data to study the draft mechanism used to allocate courses at Harvard Business School. We show that the draft is manipulable in theory, manipulated in practice, and that these manipulations cause significant welfare loss. Nevertheless, we find that welfare is higher than under its widely studied strategyproof alternative. We identify a new link between fairness and welfare that explains why the draft performs well despite the costs of strategic behavior, and then design a new draft that reduces these costs. We draw several broader lessons for market design, regarding Pareto efficiency, fairness, and strategyproofness. (JEL D63, D82, I23)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Economics of Spam by Rao and Reiley

In the latest Journal of Economic Perspectives: The Economics of Spam (open access).

Justin M. Rao and David H. Reiley
"We estimate that American firms and consumers experience costs of almost $20 billion annually due to spam. Our figure is more conservative than the $50 billion figure often cited by other authors, and we also note that the figure would be much higher if it were not for private investment in anti-spam technology by firms, which we detail further on. Based on the work of crafty computer scientists who have infiltrated and monitored spammers' activity, we estimate that spammers and spam-advertised merchants collect gross worldwide revenues on the order of $200 million per year. Thus, the "externality ratio" of external costs to internal benefits for spam is around 100:1. In this paper, we start by describing the history of the market for spam, highlighting the strategic cat-and-mouse game between spammers and email providers. We discuss how th e market structure for spamming has evolved from a diffuse network of independent spammers running their own online stores to a highly specialized industry featuring a well-organized network of merchants, spam distributors (botnets), and spammers (or "advertisers"). We then put the spam market's externality ratio of 100 into context by comparing it to other activities with negative externalities. Lastly, we evaluate various policy proposals designed to solve the spam problem, cautioning that these proposals may err in assuming away the spammers' ability to adapt."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Towards a standard acquisition charge for living donor kidney exchange

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has awarded a grant to the Alliance for Paired Donation to explore a standard acquisition charge for living kidney donors.

(See this paper for a description of the problem:  Call to develop a standard acquisition charge model for kidney paired donation. Rees MA, Schnitzler MA, Zavala EY, Cutler JA, Roth AE, Irwin FD, Crawford SW, Leichtman AB, Am J Transplant. 2012, Jun; 12(6), 1392-7.)

Here's part of the press release:

 "A pilot project led by The University of Toledo that could increase the number of kidneys available for transplant by the thousands and save U.S. taxpayers millions if implemented nationwide has been funded by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

 “Many tests need to be conducted to ensure that a kidney donor and recipient are compatible and that it is safe for the donor to donate,” said Dr. Michael Rees, a University of Toledo Medical Center transplant surgeon and principle investigator of the four-year, $2 million grant. “One of the primary barriers to greater kidney availability is that once an insurance company or Medicare learns that Donor A’s kidney isn’t compatible with Recipient A, they stop funding the tests and no transplant occurs.

This grant will enable us to create an entity that pays to complete Donor A’s tests, which allows us to discover that Recipient B in another part of the country is compatible,” Rees said. “Once Donor A gives to Recipient B, the insurance company for Recipient B will reimburse the entity for the cost of Donor A’s tests. In a similar way, it may be Donor K or Donor W who ultimately ends up being compatible with Recipient A.

"Rees estimated that if such a model was expanded nationwide, as many as 1,000 to 3,000 additional kidney transplants would be possible each year.

“The savings to Medicare and insurance companies could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars due to the elimination of regular treatments like dialysis and other medical efforts for those waiting for an organ,” Rees said.

"To execute the pilot project, UT will partner with the Southwest Transplant Alliance and the Alliance for Paired Donation, an organization founded by Rees to help incompatible kidney donors and recipients find alternative compatible matches. The Alliance for Paired Donation is a Northwest Ohio-based not-for-profit entity that has partnered with more than 80 transplant centers across America to find matches for their patients.

"Gold and Rees thanked U.S. Senator from Ohio Rob Portman and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur for their help in advocating for the value of the grant to those in need of a kidney transplant.
"By establishing a standardized charge nationwide for the compatibility testing, removal and transplantation of a kidney, the United States could remove the business disincentive currently in place that inhibits kidney donations across states, across different insurance companies, and between Medicare and Medicaid and private insurers, Rees said.

This grant will show this idea can work,” Rees said. “The next step will be convincing all parties involved that the concept works and then scaling this project up to the national level using the experience gained to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars every year going forward.”

"In June, Rees and UTMC earned national acclaim for coordinating the first international altruistic kidney donation chain. An earlier chain that began in 2009 has also been covered by People Magazine and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How Much Is Your Kidney Worth?

Virginia Postrel uses the recent sentencing in a kidney brokering and sales case to consider How Much Is Your Kidney Worth?

HT: Jonathan Cantor

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Altruistic donor chain in NY

A news story about a recent non-directed donor kidney exchange chain at Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center caught my eye for several reasons.

There was a wide range of ages of the donors:
"The series of operation on Wednesday and Thursday, which required 10 separate surgical teams and weeks of coordination, was made up of a series of swaps within a group of men and women between the ages of 23 and 68 and with compatible blood types, all motivated by a mix of compassion and commitment to their loved ones."

The senior surgeon, Dr. Lloyd Ratner, is one of the heroes of kidney transplantation, since he did the first laproscopic live donor nephrectomy, which makes it easier for donors to donate, since smaller incisions are involved than with the surgery that had been commonplace before that.

Lily Kuo, the reporter who wrote the story, notes the important role played by the press:
"After every chain that gets some publicity, there's a flood of potential donors contacting kidney exchange networks and individual transplant centers," Alvin Roth, an economics professor at the Harvard Business School said."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Anatomist and grave robber

His biographer writes about The Beauty of Bodysnatching: Astley Cooper (1768–1841), an English surgeon and anatomist, is remembered for his contributions to vascular surgery and other specialties.

Since dissection was repugnant, cadavers were obtained illegally from grave robbers ("resurrection men").

"in those days to study anatomy required stealing corpses. Cooper went from digging them up himself in the dead of night to running an international network of men who did it for him. As king of the body snatchers he acquired human dead in every state of liquefaction and decay."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Timing of theater reviews

I have a longstanding interest in the timing of transactions (such as unraveling, when transactions become early, or sniping, when they become late, or congestion, when they take a long time, or deadlines). So I read with interest Catherine Rampell's piece on Theater Review Economics, about the timing of theater reviews. (Apparently she's a theater reviewer as well as an economics correspondent.  I guess I won't tell you what I do when not reviewing economics...)

It turns out that when she interviews show producers, one of the answers she gets concerns unraveling (although she discounts this possibility...).

" some of you may know, we have an odd little tradition in theater criticism, in that we (almost) never publish a review until after a production’s official opening night. I’ve long wondered about whether it makes good business sense for productions to enforce this embargo.

"While reviews run after opening night, they’re rarely based on a viewing of the actual opening night performance; the curtain generally falls much too late for critics to meet their deadlines for the next day’s paper. Instead, critics usually are invited to attend one of the preview performances after the show has already been “set” or “frozen” — that is, after the director and rest of the creative team have decided not to make any more major changes.

"The time between freezing and opening varies, but it’s generally somewhere from a couple of days to a week.

"I’ve been especially curious about review embargoes lately because summer theater productions usually have very short runs, and should theoretically want reviews published as early as possible — well before the show closes, anyway. Most of the shows I review during the rest of the year have pretty short runs, too, including some productions that last less than two weeks.

"I understand the desire to turn opening night into a big event to magnify press attention, as is done with the openings of big, star-studded movies and their sumptuous red carpets.

"But for a vast majority of theatrical events, little attention is paid to the opening-night parties and such. Even when publications do run photos of the pomp and circumstance of a play’s opening night — if Scarlett Johansson is starring in the show, say — that coverage usually appears in news articles and Us Weekly spreads, not critical reviews.

"Eager for the perspective of those who have money on the line, I called two longtime producers for their thoughts.

"The first was Roger Berlind, a phenomenally successful theater producer who has won 18 Tonys and mounted 80 Broadway shows since 1976, four of which are still running. (Another, “Annie,” opens in November.)

"He noted that when he began producing shows, critics attended on opening night and wrote a review for the late edition of the next day’s paper, since deadlines were often later then. He didn’t sound all too thrilled that the policy had changed.

"Today, he said, producers and press reps encourage the big critics to come a day or two before opening night, even though attending earlier is an option, because the show continues to improve up through the opening night even after the show is set. He said he worried that if critics were able to publish as soon as they saw the show, more of them would rush to see the production as early as possible because “critics are extremely competitive.” That rush would place pressure on the cast and creative team to polish the performances earlier. “Then you’d have to back up the entire process starting with the first day of rehearsal, and I don’t think that would be productive,” he said. “It’s expensive to go through the rehearsal process already.”

I wonder whether the embargo on theater reviews might serve some of the same function that embargoes on news releases do...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Middle school basketball recruiting

Middle School Is Basketball’s Fiercest Recruiting Battleground

"The high caliber of high school basketball in this region and the resulting pressure placed on coaches to win have fostered a fierce recruiting environment focused on players who are much too young to drive anywhere but to the basket.

"Although private schools recruit middle school students in other major metropolitan areas, both openly and discreetly, the minimal regulation of the practice here and the desire to uncover the next Kevin Durant — a product of a Washington-area private school who has blossomed into an N.B.A. star with Oklahoma City — has led to an aggressive pursuit of players beginning with fifth graders.

"All of this, though, is a gamble, done even though coaches realize that, because of teenagers’ natural growth process, players who are stars in sixth grade may never make it past the junior varsity in high school.