Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Economics of Covid: The 31st Jerusalem Advanced School in Economic Theory (June 28-30)

This year's event doesn't involve travel. (Next year in Jerusalem!)

The 31st Jerusalem Advanced School in Economic Theory: The Economics of COVID-19 (Online event)

Mon, 28/06/2021 to Wed, 30/06/2021


General Director: Eric Maskin (Harvard University)

Co-directorElchanan Ben-Porath (The Hebrew University)


List of lecturers and topics:

Glenn Ellison, MIT: Epidemiological models
Ben Golub, Northwestern University: Supply Chains
Michael Kremer, University of Chicago: Vaccines
Eric Maskin, Harvard University: Mechanism Design for Pandemics
Emily Oster, Brown University: Schools

Parag Pathak, MIT: Priority Schemes 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Fur for fashion banned in Israel

 Here's the story from Ynet:

Israel becomes first country to ban sale of fur in fashion trade.  

"Israel announced a ban Wednesday on the sale of fur in the fashion trade, winning applause from the International Anti-Fur Coalition as the "first entire nation" to impose such a ban

"Environmental Protection Ministry said commerce in animal fur, imports and exports, will be banned except for the needs of research, study or certain religious traditions.

"Fur is used for hats called "shtreimels" worn by some ultra-Orthodox Jews.

"On this historic day, Israel has set an ethical precedent and hopefully other nations shall join them and ban the sale of barbaric and cruel blood fashion fur," the Anti-Fur coalition wrote on its Facebook page.


"The ministerial decree is to take effect in six months."


And from the Jerusalem Post:

Israel bans sale of fur to fashion industry, first country to do so  by Aaron Reich

"“The fur industry causes the deaths of hundreds of millions of animals worldwide, and inflicts indescribable cruelty and suffering,” Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said in a statement after signing the amendment, which goes into effect in six months. “Using the skin and fur of wildlife for the fashion industry is immoral and is certainly unnecessary. Animal fur coats cannot cover the brutal murder industry that makes them. Signing these regulations will make the Israeli fashion market more environmentally friendly and far kinder to animals.”

Friday, June 18, 2021

An Organ Donation Clarification Act is introduced again

 Here's a new bill introduced into Congress by Matt Cartwright:

To amend the National Organ Transplant Act to clarify the definition of valuable consideration, to clarify that pilot programs that honor and promote organ donation do not violate that Act, and for other purposes. 

The background material it refers to (cost savings, Israeli law, etc.) will be familiar to readers of this blog. (See my past posts about Congressman Cartwright's previous efforts.)  

Here's a press release from co-sponsor Joe Wilson:


"On May 28, Congressmen Joe Wilson (R-SC-02) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08) re-introduced the Organ Donation Clarification Act, a bill with Democratic and Republican support to reduce barriers to organ donation and allow for a pilot program to test the effectiveness of non-cash incentives to increase the supply of organs for transplantation.


"The Organ Donation Clarification Act would:

Clarify that certain reimbursements are not valuable consideration but are reimbursements for expenses a donor incurs; and

Allow government-run pilot programs to test the effect of providing non-cash benefits to promote organ donation.

This bipartisan legislation is endorsed by the American Medical Association, Americans for Tax Reform, American Transplant Foundation, Foundation for Kidney Transplant Research, National Kidney Donation Organization and Wait List Zero.

Additional co-sponsors in the U.S. House are Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Mike Kelly (R-PA-16), David McKinley (R-WV-01), Del. Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam-At Large), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), William Timmons (R-SC-04) and Don Young (R-AK-At Large)"

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Amartya Sen celebrated in the Harvard Gazette

 Amartya Sen’s nine-decade journey from colonial India to Nobel Prize and beyond

"Many economists focus on explaining and predicting what is happening in the world. But Sen, considered the key figure at the convergence of economics and philosophy, turned his attention instead to what the reality should be and why we fall short.

“I think he’s the greatest living figure in normative economics, which asks not ‘What do we see?’ but ‘What should we aspire to?’ and ‘How do we even work out what we should aspire to?’” said Eric S. Maskin ’72, Ph.D. ’76, Adams University Professor and professor of economics and mathematics.

"Over his 65-year career, Sen’s research and ideas have touched many areas of the field. He’s credited as one of the founding fathers of modern social-choice theory with his landmark 1970 book, “Collective Choice and Social Welfare.” The book took up the late Harvard economist Kenneth Arrow’s ideas from the early 1950s about how to combine different individuals’ well-being into a measure of social well-being, intensifying interest in and expanding upon Arrow’s work.


GAZETTE: In 1998, you were awarded the economics Nobel for your many theoretical, empirical, and ethical contributions to the field. Yet it doesn’t seem to have been the career capstone for you that it often is for other laureates. You remain as busy as ever writing, working, traveling, teaching. Why?

SEN: People have given up hope that I might retire. But I like working, I must say. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never done, when I think about it, work that I was not interested in. That is a very good reason to go on.

"I’m 87. Something I enjoy most is teaching. It may not be a natural age for teaching, I guess, but I absolutely love it. And since my students also seem not unhappy with my teaching, I think it’s a very good idea to continue doing it."

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

New legislation expressing repugnance to gender transition

 Trans people are facing new obstacles from state legislatures, concerning sports teams, healthcare, and toilets.  Here's a story from the Guardian.

Mapping the anti-trans laws sweeping America: ‘A war on 100 fronts’. In an extraordinary attack on trans rights, conservative state lawmakers proposed more than 110 anti-trans bills this year  by Sam Levin

"On the first day of Pride month, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, signed a law banning transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams in middle school through college.

"It was just one of 13 anti-trans bills conservative lawmakers in the US passed this year, and one of more than 110 bills that were proposed – by far the largest number in US history.


The most common anti-trans proposals were focused on sports, many of them specifically seeking to ban trans girls from competing on girls’ teams.


"The bulk of the other anti-trans bills sought to outlaw gender-affirming healthcare, with at least 36 proposals related to medical treatments across 21 states.

"In April, Arkansas passed the first ban on affirming healthcare for youth, with a policy that threatens to discipline or revoke the licenses of doctors who provide it. Experts and clinicians had strongly objected, arguing that the state was prohibiting care that is considered standard and best practice, and advocates said it was one of the most extreme anti-trans bills to ever be enacted.


"Five states also considered anti-trans bathroom bills, with Tennessee ultimately passing two separate laws. One prohibits trans kids from using bathrooms and locker rooms at school that match their gender. Another requires that if businesses allow trans people to use the correct bathrooms, they have to post a sign that says, “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”


And elsewhere (from the WSJ):

Hungary Bill to Restrict How Media Depicts Homosexuality, Transgender Rights. Legislation restricts content depicting individuals who are gay or who no longer identify with the gender they were assigned at birth  By Drew Hinshaw

"The bill—which prompted thousands of protesters to throng the capital of Budapest on Monday—is part of a wider battle within Europe, as a small camp of Central and Eastern European governments, led mainly by socially conservative nationalists, pass legislation aimed at slowing the rising acceptance of gay and transgender rights on the continent.

The region, along with neighboring Russia, has seen a series of laws and government-backed measures similar to the bill passed in Hungary. In 2013, Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a federal law banning the dissemination of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.

"More recently, nearly 100 local governments in Poland declared themselves “Free from LGBT Ideology,” with signs posted around small towns that read “LGBT Free Zone.” Those moves prompted the EU to cancel some funding that would have gone to infrastructure and economic development in those parts of Poland.

"Last year, Romania’s parliament adopted a bill, later scrapped by a high court, restricting schools and colleges from teaching that “gender is a concept different to biological sex.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Redesigning the US Army's Branching Process, by Kyle Greenberg, Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez,

 Here's a new NBER working paper that marks a significant step forward in matching soldiers to positions.

Mechanism Design meets Priority Design: Redesigning the US Army's Branching Process by Kyle Greenberg, Parag A. Pathak & Tayfun Sönmez, NBER WORKING PAPER 28911 DOI 10.3386/w28911,  June 2021

Army cadets obtain occupations through a centralized process. Three objectives – increasing retention, aligning talent, and enhancing trust – have guided reforms to this process since 2006. West Point’s mechanism for the Class of 2020 exacerbated challenges implementing Army policy aims. We formulate these desiderata as axioms and study their implications theoretically and with administrative data. We show that the Army’s objectives not only determine an allocation mechanism, but also a specific priority policy, a uniqueness result that integrates mechanism and priority design. These results led to a re-design of the mechanism, now adopted at both West Point and ROTC.

One of the unusual features of this paper is that the first author is both an economist and an Army officer, working in West Point's Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis:

"MAJ Greenberg is an Assistant Professor of Economics in the Department of Social Sciences and is OEMA’s Director of Long-Term Research. His primary areas of research are labor economics and public finance, with a focus on veteran employment, disability compensation, and military labor markets. Currently a Major in the U.S. Army, Kyle served tours in Iraq and Germany prior to teaching at the United States Military Academy. He earned a BS in Mathematics from the United States Military Academy in 2005 and a Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015."


Here's a related earlier post, in which Major Greenberg discusses some of the design issues still facing the Army's assignment systems.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Crisis in Catalonia, and Andreu Mas-Colell

 Catalonia's crisis has been in the news again, with different parts of the Spanish government taking different views about reconciliation.  Here's one story, from the Guardian:

Spanish right rallies against plans to pardon Catalan separatists.  Protest at Plaza de Colón in Madrid draws 25,000 people, including leaders of three rightwing parties. by Sam Jones

But outside of any news stories I've seen, there is a set of administrative actions that threaten a variety of Catalan people who have had public service jobs, including a number of economists, among them one of the world's leading economic theorists, Andreu Mas-Colell.

On twitter, his son, the economist Alex Mas, tells some of the alarming story:

Alex Mas @AlexMasPton

"Normally I would not be posting personal developments on this website, but in this case I have a pressing concern. My dad, Spanish economist Andreu Mas-Colell, is dealing with an incredibly difficult and unjust situation.  1/

"In two weeks my parents home, his pension and his bank account may be seized by state authorities, without due process. This has to do with events in Catalonia over the last few years. That’s a lot to digest, so let me give some background.

"Following the global financial crisis my dad was called on to head the department in charge of finance and the budget in the government of Catalonia to help in the recovery from one of the worst recessions in history.

"He left his comfortable position as Secretary General of the European Research Council to take on this challenge. This was not surprising. He has been committed to public service from well before leaving Harvard in 1995 to help establish a new university in Barcelona.

"After my dad retired from public service in 2015, a new government formed. Catalonia then underwent a period of turmoil precipitated by a referendum for independence in October 2017.


"My dad did not have anything to do with the organization of the referendum, or the events that transpired. He has been living a retired life for years. And now, a full six year after retirement, he has been targeted for severe financial punishment.

"Last month, a politicized, non-judicial “tribunal” of controllers (“Tribunal de Cuentas”) made personally responsible 39 former government officials for the bulk of the expenses (back to 2011) of an entire section of the Catalan government: that concerned with foreign relations.

"The claim is that the Catalan government used public funds to promote Catalan independence, and specifically the 2017 referendum, abroad.

"What's my dad’s connection? The 18,000+ page document of accusations he was sent, and given ten days to respond to in writing (his only chance to defend himself in all this), does not specify.

"Though not stated, he seems to be targeted because he was, in the last resort, responsible for implementing the budgets voted on by parliament. It appears that for that he is now being held personally liable for a total amount that may add up to tens of millions of dollars.

"In what I understand is highly unusual, a member of the tribunal issued a written dissent against the decision. She says that the tribunal was not impartial, the decision was based on unproven allegations and contains exaggerations.


 "There will be no trial. There is simply a penalty that is handed down. The appeals will take years and can reach the EU Courts of Human Rights, but the neat trick is that in the meantime the accused will have to put up a guarantee for the full amount requested.

"Because the penalty could far exceed the combined net worth of all targeted individuals, they could have *all* of their personal property, assets and income seized. It will be complete and arbitrary expropriation. Without due process.

"This administrative body has taken this action in past cases.


"The penalties will be levied on June 29, coincidentally the day of his 77th birthday. Before then the best thing we can do is raise awareness. If you are able, I would be grateful if you can share what is going on with others, on social media or simply in real life. Thank you."


Here's a related story, for which Google Translate works reasonably well:


Professor Dora Costa has started a petition of support on, here

Monday, June 14, 2021

Repugnance to high incentives, by Robert Stüber

Here's a paper that seeks to understand why some transactions are permitted when only low incentives are offered, but banned when high incentives are offered. (Donation of human eggs is one example; high payments to participate in experiments is another...)


WZB Berlin March 2021

Abstract: A key feature of markets for repugnant transactions is that certain transactions seem to raise moral concerns only when they involve high monetary incentives. Using a framed field experiment with a representative sample, I show that these preferences exist, and I investigate why people display it. Participants can permit or prevent a third party from being financially compensated for registering as a stem cell and bone marrow donor. I find that a substantial fraction of individuals permit a low payment but prevent high monetary incentives. With the help of experimental treatment variation, I show that their preference to prevent high incentive offers is caused by the desire to protect individuals with high reservation prices. Evidence from a survey experiment with ethic committees emphasizes the practical importance of this finding. These results imply that shortages in the supply of controversial goods are unlikely to be solvable by providing higher incentives. 


Here's a short video presentation of (an early version of) the paper by Dr Stüber.  I understand that he will be moving from the WZP to NYU Abu Dhabi in September.