Saturday, July 31, 2010

The market for professionally taken digital photographs

I was recently the subject of a magazine story, and, before it was published, the photographer Shawn Henry came to campus to "take my picture". That phrase doesn't do justice to what he actually did, which resulted in 148 photographs, eventually edited down to 30, and then to 5 that were sent to the magazine editors to choose the final one.

Mr Henry has given me permission to link to his copyrighted photos, in case you want to see how this sausage was made: here are the 148 pictures, the 30 pictures, and the final one (this link may take a minute to load, it's to the Forbes article...)

These pictures didn't take a lot of time for him to make; as I recall, we were together for about half an hour. (Even though we were outdoors, he deployed some lights and reflectors.)

Seeing how a pro works has made me feel better both about how I often don't like either how I look in pictures, or how other people look in pictures that I take.  Many of the pictures linked above were not so flattering (particularly in the set of 148), but I liked the final one. So selection from a wide variety helps. (And now I just need to lose a little weight:)

Modern electronics have probably changed not only the equipment that photographers use, but also how they work.

The market for boasting

How did people boast signal before they had blogs?

Not long ago I was the subject of a flattering profile in Forbes (which I wrote about in this earlier blog boast post).
Yesterday I received a letter in the mail from a company that "specializes in turning articles into custom designed plaques."

It's not a bad idea, and if I were a restaurant, I'd buy one right away, and post it next to the menu, preferably where it could be read from the street.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kidney transplantation advice from the Netherlands

Two recent reports from the Netherlands give advice drawn from their active transplant program.

The (American) National Guideline Clearinghouse highlights one set of recommendations: Kidney donation. In: Guidelines on renal transplantation. European Association of Urology - Medical Specialty Society. 2009 Mar. 23 pages. NGC:007337 (full text here.)

The first three recommendations under the first category of recommendations, "Ethical Issues in Transplantation," illustrate some of the conflicting forces at work:

  • "It is the right of individuals to donate as well as to receive an organ.
  • "Commercially motivated renal transplantation is unacceptable. It has been widely prohibited by law and is strongly opposed by the International Society of Transplantation.
  • "With the increasing success of living-donor transplants, as judged by graft and patient survival, and with the scarcity of deceased donor organs, living-donor transplants should be encouraged. "
  • The altruistic living donor must give informed consent, which can only be obtained if he or she has a proper understanding of the risk involved.

They have this to say about kidney exchange:

  • Paired kidney exchange if permitted by national law is a way of increasing the number of kidney transplants..

Another report, focused specifically on kidney exchange is from Clinical Transplants 2009:247-52, "On chain lengths, domino-paired and unbalanced altruistic kidney donations," by de Klerk M, Zuidema WC, Ijzermans JN, Weimar W. Dept of Internal Medicine - Transplantation, Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

"Abstract: Kidney transplantations with living related and unrelated donors are the optimal option for patients with end-stage renal disease. For patients with a willing--but blood-type or HLA incompatible donor--a living-donor kidney exchange program could be an opportunity. In Asia, the United States and Europe, kidney exchange programs were developed under different conditions, with different exchange algorithms, and with different match results. The easiest way to organize a living-donor kidney exchange program is to enlist national or regional cooperation, initiated by an independent organization that is already responsible for the allocation of deceased donor organs. For logistic reasons, the optimal maximum chain length should be three pairs. To optimize cross-match procedures a central laboratory is recommended. Anonymity between the matched pairs depends on the culture and logistics of the various countries. For incompatible donor-recipient pairs who have been unsuccessful in finding suitable matches in an exchange program, domino-paired kidney transplantations triggered by Good Samaritan donors is the next alternative. To expand transplantations with living donors, we advise integrating such a program into a national exchange program under supervision of an independent allocation authority. If no Good Samaritan donors are available, an unbalanced kidney paired-exchange program with compatible and incompatible pairs is another strategy that merits future development."
PMID: 20524290 [PubMed - in process]

Their conclusion that "the optimal maximal chain length should be three pairs" has certainly not been the U.S. experience: my conjecture is that they are limited to the operating rooms they can organize in a single hospital.

Kidney exchange in Haaretz

Here's an article (in Hebrew) on kidney exchange, featuring the work of Itai Ashlagi. (The article is also here.)

Update: it wasn't in Haaretz itself, but in an accompanying magazine supplement.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Economics and computer science

The links between economics and computer science are growing steadily closer, judging from this report conveyed by Noam Nisan about the Shanghai summer school in algorithmic game theory.

Paul Klemperer's "product mix auction"

Paul Klemperer writes from Oxford:

"the Bank of England has now been running my "product mix auction" for the last two months almost exactly as set out in Section 2 of "The Product-Mix Auction: a New Auction Design for Differentiated Goods" (including "paired bids" etc.)

"Although I designed it for the financial crisis when I was consulted in 2007 after Northern Rock bank run, full implementation was slow. But it is now fully implemented and running regularly (in part, so using it is not seen as a signal of crisis).

"It's perhaps best understood as a "proxy" version of a simultaneous multiple round auction. That is, bidders input their preferences, and the auction chooses the outcome that an SMRA would select assuming straightforward bidding. Because the auction is "sealed bid", it runs instantaneously (important in the Bank's financial-market context), and it therefore also less vulnerable to collusion. Another novel feature is that the auctioneer also bids its preferences about how the proportions of different varieties that it will sell will depend upon the auction prices. (By contrast, SMRA implementations I am aware of specify the number of each type of good to be sold in advance.) It's also related to Paul Milgrom's independently-invented assignment auction, but the way bidders represent their preferences is different (easier and more general in some ways).

"The Bank's specific problem is to auction loans linked to varying qualities of collateral [to inject liquidity into the banking system rapidly], but
        --charge different borrowers different interest rates reflecting the different collateral-qualities [to reduce moral hazard];
        --allow market conditions, as revealed by the bids, to determine BOTH the interest-rate-premium for inferior collateral AND the proportion of inferior collateral accepted [because the Bank may neither be sufficiently informed about conditions, nor wish to send a 'signal' to the market];
        --permit borrowers to specify how the collateral they supply will depend upon the auction outcome [because the interest-rate-premium is not - see above - pre-specified]

"I've advised other Central Banks. Other future applications might include other purchasing "toxic assets", selling electricity, and trading biodiversity."

Peer to peer overnight accommodations

The NY Times reviews sites of "social network bed and breakfasts" on which you can reserve rooms for overnight stays in cities around the world: Europe Without Hotels.

The sites have various ways to protect against scams:

"In Paris, AirBnB has places in every arrondissement, including $13-a-night rooms in the western suburbs and $285-a-night houseboats on the Seine. As the first Web site of its kind to grab the headlines, the system has already developed a large and loyal user base. Some properties have as many as 70 user-generated reviews, which give paying guests a greater sense of confidence. It is similar to how eBay works: you’re more likely to buy from an eBay seller with good feedback." ...

"After the brief tour, I gave Mr. Mostaedi the code that allows him to collect my payment from iStopOver. That’s one of the safeguards that iStopOver offers to guests. If a listing turns out to be fraudulent or misstated, you can refuse to give the owner the code, and the fee is refunded in full. Other services offer similar protections: AirBnB withholds a host’s payment until 24 hours after guests check into an accommodation in order to fend off potential scammers, and Crashpadder uses credit card payments to verify guest identities (though it says it will monitor but not otherwise involve itself in any disputes)."
Here are the sites mentioned:
"AIRBNB.COM, founded in 2007 in San Francisco, is the largest of this new generation of social B&Bs and has the most user reviews.
Where: About 5,378 cities in 146 countries.
Accommodations: Air mattresses to entire villas.
Price: In New York, from $10 for a room to $3,000 for a loft.
IStopOver, founded in 2009 in Toronto, specializes in big events, like this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Where: Mostly North America, Europe and South Africa.
Accommodations: Apartments and houses.
Price: $10 to $8,000 a night.
Founded in 2008 in London, operates mostly in Britain, with a surge expected during the 2010 Olympics in London.
Where: 898 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in London.
Accommodations: Bedrooms to houses.
Price: From £15 (about $21 at $1.43 to the pound) a night, plus £3 booking fee.
Founded in 2008, focuses on higher-end properties, especially in New York City.
Where: 36 cities, including more than 1,000 listings in New York.
Accommodations: Bedrooms to houses.
Price: From $30 to $5,000, plus an 8 to 12 percent booking fee. "

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unraveling of law firm interviews of 2nd year students

Catherine Rampell has an informative article about The Other Law School Arms Race.  The date at which large law firms interview 2nd year law students (for summer associate positions that are the entry path to permanent positions after graduation) has moved earlier, to the summer before the second year begins.

"Speaking of the career paths for new lawyers, we’ve noted before that the sour legal job market has encouraged law schools to find creative ways to make their students look more attractive to employers, at least when compared with students from other schools. Intentional grade inflation is one particularly controversial tool schools have been using.

"But the arms race has found another battlefield as well: on-campus interview week.At most top schools, early in the second year of law school, dozens of law firms visit campus to conduct a round-robin of job interviews with students. These interviews are the first step to a summer associate job after the second year, and oftentimes a permanent job offer after graduation following the third year of school.

"The exact timing of this “on-campus interview week” has traditionally varied by school, and from firm to firm, thereby allowing different firms to send recruiters to Harvard one week, Columbia the next, Chicago the following week, and so on.

"But with the job market so tight, last year schools began worrying that if law firms visited them later in the fall, the few job offers available would already be gone. So many top schools bumped up their on-campus interview weeks from October to September to finally August, before the school year even starts, because they wanted their students to have a chance to claim a job slot before their counterparts at other schools did."
"In February the organization that creates guidelines for legal recruiting process, NALP, released new rules about how long job offers could stay open, a measure intended to curb this interviewing arms race. But the new guidelines have not so far inspired any coordinated new schedule for interviewing process. "
The article closes with a news release from Northwestern: Northwestern Law, Jones Day Agree to On-Campus Interviewing in September

"CHICAGO --- Northwestern University School of Law and the global law firm Jones Day announced today July 26 that the firm will conduct its on-campus interviews for 2011 summer associates in September instead of during the law school's official on-campus interviewing (OCI) program, which begins Aug. 11. In a move benefiting both students and law firms, Jones Day will conduct interviews on behalf of its 14 U.S. offices on Monday, Sept. 13.

"Jones Day joins Northwestern Law in the belief that the current recruitment system has created a competitive race among law schools and law firms to conduct on-campus interviews earlier. The result is an inefficient system that does not serve employers or student applicants well, according to the law school and law firm.

"The current system discourages the efforts of law firms to learn about all the competencies (over and above grades) of potential associates," according to David Van Zandt, dean, Northwestern Law. "It also requires firms to make employment decisions and predictions about their hiring needs too far in advance of permanent start dates.

"The compression of summer associate interviews in August is also problematic for students since it constrains their time to make sensible decisions about with whom to interview, to adjust interviewing techniques based on what they learn during the process, or to make sound decisions about offers of employment," said Van Zandt. "It contributes to a frequent lack of fit between graduates and the law firms, which inevitably leads to higher attrition levels for the firms."

"Taking this step with Northwestern will help show that a more balanced, less frenzied approach to on-campus recruiting is not only still possible, but indeed desirable for all concerned -- students, law schools and law firms," said Greg Shumaker, firmwide hiring partner at Jones Day.

HT: Eric Budish

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Squirrel game theory

Natalie Angier reports on squirrel game theorists in the NY Times: Nut? What Nut? The Squirrel Outwits to Survive

"But the squirrels don’t just bury an acorn and come back in winter. They bury the seed, dig it up shortly afterward, rebury it elsewhere, dig it up again. “We’ve seen seeds that were recached as many as five times,” said Dr. Steele. The squirrels recache to deter theft, lest another squirrel spied the burial the first X times. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth. “Deceptive caching involves some pretty serious decision making,” Dr. Steele said. “It meets the criteria of tactical deception, which previously was thought to only occur in primates.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paid drug trials

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a (gated) story about professional volunteers for drug trials: Inside the Risky World of Drug-Trial 'Guinea Pigs'

"Since 1980, when Phase 1 drug tests on prisoners were banned in the United States, university medical schools and pharmaceutical companies have depended on volunteers like Mr. Little to test the safety of new drugs. Bioethicists have devoted thousands of pages to debates about the system. Some fear that high payments for volunteers are an "undue inducement" that might tempt them to take risks against their better judgment. Others say that people like Mr. Little are consenting adults who are reasonably capable of assessing danger.
"Most of those debates have been conducted in the abstract. But now an anthropologist has produced a study of several dozen medical volunteers, including Mr. Little. Roberto L. Abadie, a visiting scholar in the health-sciences program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, spent a year living in youth hostels and group houses in Philadelphia, trying to get a sense of why volunteers do what they do and how they understand their risks.
"He offers his findings in The Professional Guinea Pig: Big Pharma and the Risky World of Human Subjects (Duke University Press, August). The book's primary purpose is to offer a detailed description of medical volunteering and its contexts, not to weigh in on the ethics of clinical trials. But after his year in the field, Mr. Abadie does have opinions about policy: Volunteers underestimate their long-term risks, he says, and universities should do more to protect them."...
"Mr. Abadie spent time with anarchist activists who are attracted to guinea-pigging because of the flexibility it offers. Between 1996 and 2002, that milieu was documented in Guinea Pig Zero, a Philadelphia zine published by and for activist medical volunteers.
"But Mr. Abadie's book also examines two other types of medical volunteer. First, he describes transient, economically struggling people who travel from place to place in search of lucrative trials. These volunteers are often less educated and more socially isolated than the anarchists.
"Second, Mr. Abadie spent months at an HIV clinic where patients were participating in long-term trials to determine the effectiveness of new drug combinations. That environment is very different from the Phase 1 trials described elsewhere in the book. At the clinic, the HIV patients knew they had a personal stake in the development of new drugs, and the financial compensation they received was much smaller. Even though they were taking risks by participating in the drug studies, Mr. Abadie says, those volunteers seemed to reap psychological gains."

I'm reminded that we teach kids that the tooth fairy buys their baby teeth for money. But of course many sales of body parts are regarded as repugnant transactions and are illegal, while paid drug trials are legal.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Internet dating moves (back) into the real world

Computers can provide a multitude of services, and a new class of dating services uses them not to help people meet others, but to preserve their anonymity until they decide to relinquish it: The New Dating Tools: A Card and a Wink.

"This is the next generation of online dating. Unlike traditional dating sites where members spend hours on computers writing autobiographies and scrutinizing photographs, a raft of newfangled dating tools are striving to better bridge the gap between online and real-world romance.

"Some companies offer a combination of flirty calling cards and Web pages. Others operate dating applications that use the global positioning systems in cellphones to help local singles find one another.

"All of them contend they are superior to big online dating sites like; because meeting people is faster, more organic and less formal. And participants are not limited to a database of members: the world is their dating pool.

“It’s almost like you’re shopping online,” said Ms. Cheek, “but you’re shopping in real life.”

"At the same time, these hybrid dating tools still enable users to keep their names and personal information private for as long as they like.

"Ms. Cheek, an architect who works part-time in sales for a high-end Manhattan furniture company, founded one such venture, Cheek’d, which had its debut in May. Users receive calling cards to dole out to alluring strangers they encounter in their everyday lives, be it in a club or in a subway on their morning commute. Recipients of the cards can use the identification code printed on them to log onto;and send a message to their admirer. A pack of 50 cards and a month’s subscription to Cheek’d, where users can receive messages and post information about themselves, is $25. There is no fee for those who receive cards to communicate with an admirer through the site."
"On each red FlipMe! card is an explanation for the recipient: “I’ve said ‘what if’ too many times ... not this time.” A pack of 30 cards and a three-month membership to is $24.99. The cards, which all say the same thing, are sold online and in some salons and spas in the Northeast. A cellphone application is in the works."
"Card users said companies like FlipMe! and Cheek’d are emboldening them to approach people who might otherwise have been missed connections. They also appreciate how the companies reverse the online dating process — observe someone in person first, then send an electronic message. There’s no need to contend with false advertising on dating Web sites."
"Other companies are helping singles connect through location-based technology on their mobile phones. In the last few years the number of Web sites and applications like Grindr, Are You Interested? and Urban Signals, has swelled.

"One of the biggest is the free iPhone dating application Skout, which recently surpassed its millionth member. Skout uses a cellphone’s global positioning system to help users to find like-minded people within a walkable radius of one another. (For safety reasons, Skout does not identify a user’s precise location.) Those who sign up for the application create basic profiles with photographs and then use an instant message feature to communicate when they are within range of each other. Then, they can arrange a mutual meeting spot.

“It’s really combining the best of online dating and real-world people discovery,” said Christian Wiklund, Skout’s founder."

Dan Ariely on online dating

A transcript and a video interview here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Advice for Wake County schools

It sounds like the troubled Wake County school system is about to get some advice on school choice.  But, to the extent that you can judge from a newspaper story, they may not be looking for the right kind of advice, or in the right places (more about right places at the end...)

Here's the problem. Suppose you want a school choice plan, and would like to be able to say that it results in lots of families getting their first choice. That might be hard, if the most popular schools are overdemanded.  But you could adopt a choice procedure that is punitive to those who fail to get the school they list as their first choice. That would present families who liked overdemanded schools with a risky decision, and the safe choice would be to choose a school (e.g. their local school) that they could be pretty confident of getting into, and saying that was their first choice. When parents feel compelled to play it safe this way, it looks like they are getting their first choice, even though they aren't really. Once upon a time that was how schools were chosen in Boston, and that kind of system is still used in some places, including Cambridge, MA.

So, here's the news story that makes me worry about this.

Idea intrigues Wake school board factions
"A controlled choice model for Wake would create a dozen or more attendance zones, each of which would reflect the makeup of Wake County - no rich zones or poor zones, said Massachusetts education consultant Michael Alves, who's helped design dozens of such systems nationally.

"Parents would be able to choose from a wide range of school offerings in their zone, with a lottery to make another choice when schools are too crowded or apply to a countywide system of magnets, Alves said. He will be in Raleigh on Tuesday for a presentation before the board committee charged with developing a new plan. Parents would not be guaranteed of getting their first choice, but in systems that use controlled choice, such as Lee County, Fla., and Cambridge, Mass., a large majority do.

"We've been looking at a number of plans from a number of districts across the country," board chairman Ron Margiotta said Wednesday. "He's very close to what we have in mind, to my understanding."

Here's some background on School choice that pays attention to making it safe for families to reveal their true preferences. Which brings me to where the Wake County school board can look for advice. 

One of the world's experts on the design of school choice systems is Atila Abdulkadiroglu, who is a professor at Duke, in Raleigh NC, the largest city in Wake County. So he's on location.  Here is Atila's blog on school choice.

Here are my previous posts on Wake County: School choice in North Carolina, School choice gets contentious in Wake County, NC

Abandoned horses not headed for foreign tables

Speaking of the pony express, Activists Keep Nev. Horses From Going to Slaughter
"With the financial backing of the wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and others, activists on Saturday purchased almost all 174 horses up for sale at a state-sanctioned auction in Nevada to keep the horses from going to the slaughterhouse.

"Stephanie Hoefener of the Lancaster, Calif.-based Livesavers Wild Horse Rescue group said activists purchased 172 horses for $31,415. The other two horses were acquired by private individuals for their personal use, she said.
"The horses were rounded up by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management last month near the Nevada-Utah line and turned over to the Nevada Department of Agriculture for disposal.

"Agriculture department officials acknowledge the stray horses could have wound up at slaughterhouses because they did not have the federal protections afforded to wild-roaming horses.
"The horses are believed to be strays or descendants of horses abandoned by private owners over the years in Pilot Valley north of West Wendover.

''For advocacy groups to step up to the plate and make a financial commitment like this to save the horses, we think this is a wonderful thing,'' Nevada Department of Agriculture spokesman Ed Foster said.

"Jill Starr, president of Lifesavers, said the purchase of the horses at the Fallon auction was made possible by the financial backing of Madeleine Pickens and other donors.

"Starr said high bidders of such horses usually are representatives of slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. The meat of the horses is processed for sale in Europe and Asia, where it fetches as much as $25 a pound, she added. "

For previous posts on the American repugnance for the use of horse meat for human consumption, as compared to the high prices it fetches overseas, see here.

Express mail 1.0

The Pony Rides Again (and again)
" The heroic, nearly 2,000-mile delivery of mail across the country hemorrhaged money, from the first day a rider saddled up until the click of the transcontinental telegraph shut it down 78 weeks later. "

Friday, July 23, 2010

Matching Marine officers to MOS

A reader writes:
"Dear Al,

I was a grad student a few years ago in your econ 2010a segment.

I came across a market design problem recently that I thought you might find interesting.  My brother is a Marine officer and is approaching the point when he gets matched to his "Military Occupational Specialty"-his future job (infantry, engineering, logistics etc).  As in matching medical residents, upcoming officers provide a ranking of their preferences.  Then the Marine administration ranks all the upcoming candidates on the basis of their performance in basic training (their overall average grade in "military skills, leadership, and academics").

The matching process is as follows: in a class of 100 officers, the officer ranked #1 gets his first choice, the 33rd ranked officer gets his first choice, then the 67th ranked officer gets his first choice.  Then the #2 ranked guy gets his top choice of the remaining jobs, then 34th, 68th, 3rd, 35th, 69th etc.

The intended purpose is clearly to ensure that there is an even distribution of "quality" in all specialties (you don't want all the best officers doing infantry (highest prestige) and all the worst officers managing logistics or supply).  (Actually this seems like a good idea for doctors too.)  However, the mechanism is clearly not incentive compatible-the 32nd ranked guy tries to fail his last tests to drop in rank to 33...

More details are here:  I also believe that the Army and other branches use similar systems.

Anyway, perhaps you've already seen this. And perhaps the Marines are totally uninterested in changing a "tried and true" system. But it sounded like an interesting question on a socially important topic.


Misc. repugnant transactions

A transaction is repugnant if some people don't want other people to do it. Here are some recent developments:

International Space Station sex ban : "Commanders do not allow sexual intercourse on the International Space Station, it has been disclosed"

The journal of the American Enterprise Institute has an article by a father-daughter kidney recipient and kidney donor called Our Deeply Unethical National Organ Policy. It argues in favor of compensating organ donors. It ends with this list of further readings on the subject:
"FURTHER READING: Gershowitz earlier offered, with Stephen Porter and Stephen Fuller, “A Stimulus That Would Work.” Dr. Sally Satel discussed “The National Kidney Foundation’s Bizarre Logic” against rewarding kidney donors, and “The Limits of Bioethics.” Satel lauded Israel’s steps to solve its organ shortage in “Kidney Mitzvah,” and just published a book on compensating kidney donors: When Altruism Isn’t Enough."

Argentina Approves Gay Marriage, in a First for Region July 15, 201 BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved a law early on Thursday authorizing same-sex marriages, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed.

"After nearly 15 hours of debate, the Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of the measure, which was sponsored by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. For weeks, she waged a bitter war of words with the Roman Catholic Churchover the issue, saying that it would be a “terrible distortion of democracy” to deny gay couples the right to wed and that it was time for religious leaders to recognize how much more liberal and less discriminatory the nation’s social mores had become.

"In its race to derail the change, the church organized large protests involving tens of thousands of opponents of the measure, with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, calling the bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”

"Portugal and Iceland also legalized gay marriage this year, adding to the small but steadily expanding list of nations, most of them in Europe, to do so."

Vatican Revises Abuse Process, but Causes Stir July 15, 2010 VATICAN CITY — "The Vatican issued revisions to its internal laws on Thursday making it easier to discipline sex-abuser priests, but caused confusion by also stating that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

School choice gets contentious in Wake County, NC

19 arrested as protesters claim school plan would resegregate system
"Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, arrested 19 people at a rancorous school board meeting Tuesday afternoon where protesters accused the Wake County School Board of adopting a plan that will resegregate the school system.
The Wake County School School Board voted in March to stop the decade-long practice of socio-economic school assignment and assign students to their neighborhood schools. The system plans to transition into the new practice in the next 15 months."

The story includes a video of the arrests, that makes me think that the school board meetings I've been to haven't really been so bad...

My previous posts on Wake County schools are
Blog on school choice by Atila Abdulkadiroglu and School choice in North Carolina

HT: Parag Pathak

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Me and market design, in Forbes

Susan Adams in the August Forbes magazine (but online now) has a nice article about me and market design called (maybe for search engine reasons)" Un-Freakonomics: A Harvard professor uses economics to save lives, assign doctors and get kids into the right high school."

Here's the sentence I liked best:
"Leaning over a cup of Turkish coffee at a cafe across the Charles River from his messy journal-strewn corner office, he bends over backward to give credit to his younger protégés, students and coauthors. "Market design is a team sport," he insists."

If you want to see me bend over backwards while leaning over a cup of coffee, we'll have to have a cup of coffee:) But seriously, Ms. Adams got that part very right--lots of people have to do lots of things before a new marketplace is designed, adopted, and implemented. I'm very lucky in my colleagues.

The article title might suggest I have some sort of quarrel with Freakonomics, but that's not the case, although my work is very different. I recall reading Freakonomics and being full of admiration for the way it brought Steve Levitt's work to a general audience. I wouldn't mind doing that someday with market design, and maybe Ms. Adam's generous article will be a step towards making market design known to a wider public.

F.C.C. Indecency Policy Rejected on Appeal

The NY Times reports the story: A federal appeals court struck down a Federal Communications Commission policy on indecency Tuesday, saying that regulations barring the use of “fleeting expletives” on radio and television violated the First Amendment because they were vague and could inhibit free speech.

"The decision, which many constitutional scholars expect to be appealed to the Supreme Court, stems from a challenge by Fox, CBS and other broadcasters to the F.C.C.’s decision in 2004 to begin enforcing a stricter standard of what kind of language is allowed on free, over-the-air television.

"The stricter policy followed several incidents that drew widespread public complaint, including Janet Jackson’s breast-baring episode at the 2004 Super Bowl and repeated instances of profanity by celebrities, including Cher, Paris Hilton and Bono, during the live broadcasts of awards programs. The Janet Jackson incident did not involve speech but it drew wide public outrage that spurred a crackdown by the F.C.C.

"In a unanimous three-judge decision, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said that the F.C.C.’s current policy created “a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here” because it left broadcasters without a reliable guide to what the commission would find offensive.

"The appeals court emphasized that it was not precluding federal regulation of broadcast standards. “We do not suggest that the F.C.C. could not create a constitutional policy,” the court said. “We hold only that the F.C.C.’s current policy fails constitutional scrutiny.” "

Here's my earlier post on the case: Fleeting expletives and wardrobe malfunctions: FCC vs Fox Television and CBS

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kidney exchange story at NEPKE

Market design is full of both frustration and satisfaction. Kidney exchange provides an unusual amount of each. Sometimes the satisfactions come in unexpected ways. Below is an email I received yesterday, whose author gave me permission to share it here, along with the photo.

"Dear Dr. Roth,

I want to thank you for your role in establishing the New England Program for Kidney Exchange. On July 8 my husband Bryan, in a 3-way swap with donor/ recipient pairs at Hopkins, RIH/ Brown and Dartmouth, received his new kidney after years of failing health. He is already feeling remarkably better, and his new kidney is functioning well.

Here is a photo of our 3-year-old, Lincoln, and 3-month-old, Haven, thanking Bryan's brother for donating his kidney to a stranger at Hopkins so Bryan could receive one from Dartmouth. I can imagine that theoretical academic work can lack a human face at times, so I wanted to assure you that your work is truly changing lives. I can't thank you enough for giving my boys their Daddy back.

Katie Silberman

Market design in Australia?

The Australian prime minister Julia Gillard makes a speech in which she refers to "market design." (I can't tell exactly what that means in Australian...). The story, in The Australian today, is headlined Gillard banks on Per Capita think tank.

"In her speech to Per Capita last year, she said the approach she had taken to education would provide the template for further work on policy design, innovation, research and evaluation.

"This included starting with the needs of students and focusing on the performance of institutions, rather than allowing the focus of policy to rest only on "systems, structures and sectoral concerns".

"She said this came with an emphasis on equity for the disadvantaged, a preoccupation with transparency and a concern with "market design".

"The idea of "market design" is a key theme for Per Capita. Governments have always had a role in setting the rules of conduct for markets through trade practices. Per Capita argues that with due government guidance, markets can perform a powerful role in delivering human services, such as the jobs network.

"Gillard returned to market design in her speech to the National Press Club on economic policy last week.

"As far as I am concerned, there is no inherent superiority in a public sector or a private sector provider, certainly not on ideological grounds. The challenge is not whether to combine public and private resources in these essential sectors, but how best to do it," she said. "

Update: Joshua Gans tells me that "market design" means the same thing in Australia that it does in Boston, and he points me to a talk on the subject he gave to the thinktank in question: Emerging Concepts in Market Design. (And here's Joshua's post on the subject today, to close the loop:) What is market design anyway?

Misc. kidney exchanges and chains

At the University of Wisconsin hospital, a non-directed donor chain involving four donors and four recipients was completed in a day: At UW Hospital, four kidney transplants in one day and eight people are connected forever

Here's a 21 minute video interview of Dr. Matthew Cooper at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, about a 4 transplant non-directed donor kidney exchange chain conducted there over two days. Among the logistical issues he mentions (e.g. 8 operating room teams) are those involving protecting the privacy of all the donors and recipients (around minute 3:45). And (around 9:15, and not making any specific comparisons to other hospitals) "We take no shortcuts at the University of Maryland," he says. Here is another short video, with some OR footage. More videos here from UMMC.

Here's a 4 minute video, "United by their gifts," about the meeting of the donors and recipients in the three way NEPKE exchange I posted about earlier (Kidney exchange at NEPKE ).

There have been some delays in starting a national kidney exchange program in Australia: Waiting for Kidney eXchange "One of the driving forces behind the exchange program is Professor Paolo Ferrari. He helped introduce it in Western Australia in 2007.
"We really hope it can be rolled out nationally before an election is called," he said.
"Otherwise it will be pushed back months."
A spokeswoman for the Organ and Tissue Donation Authority said the exchange program was expected to begin in Australian hospitals in August or September.
"The first step will be to enrol potential participants in the program, followed by the clinical process of matching donors and recipients, followed by the surgical processes," she said.
The spokeswoman said all states and territories had now considered the detail of the program.
"This process, through senior medical representatives, was completed last week, paving the way for health ministers to be briefed during July."
It took the UK three years to set up its kidney exchange program. "

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Signaling preferences in matching markets

Preference Signaling in Matching Markets, by Peter Coles, Alexey Kushnir, and Muriel Niederle, NBER Working Paper No. 16185, July 2010. (Here's an ungated version.)

"Abstract: Many labor markets share three stylized facts: employers cannot give full attention to all candidates, candidates are ready to provide information about their preferences for particular employers, and employers value and are prepared to act on this information. In this paper we study how a signaling mechanism, where each worker can send a signal of interest to one employer, facilitates matches in such markets. We find that introducing a signaling mechanism increases the welfare of workers and the number of matches, while the change in firm welfare is ambiguous. A signaling mechanism adds the most value for balanced markets."

Two of the three authors of this paper are on the AEA job market committee that instituted the AEA's job market signaling mechanism. This new working paper brings some theory to the party.

See also

Peter Coles, John Cawley, Phillip B. Levine, Muriel Niederle, Alvin E. Roth, and John J. Siegfried , " The Job Market for New Economists: A Market Design Perspective," revised April 6, 2010, forthcoming in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2010.

Sex domain .xxx approved by regulators .
"ICANN, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, which is responsible for overseeing the creation and distribution of web addresses, finally gave the go-ahead for the special .xxx domain name at a meeting in Brussels.

The adult entertainment industry has long campaigned in favour of a special .xxx suffix, similar to the .com and domain names used by other companies."

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Polyandry is much less common in the world than the other form of polygamy, polygyny, in which a man has two or more wives. In polyandrous households, one wife has two or more husbands. It was a form of plural marriage in resource poor regions.

In the remote villages of this Himalayan valley, polyandry, the practice of multiple men marrying one wife, was for centuries a practical solution to a set of geographic, economic and meteorological problems.
"People here survived off small farms hewed from the mountainsides at an altitude of 11,000 feet, and dividing property among several sons would leave each with too little land to feed a family. A harsh mountain winter ends the short planting season abruptly. The margin between starvation and survival is slender."...

"Polyandry has been practiced here for centuries, but in a single generation it has all but vanished. "...

"Polyandry has never been common in India, but pockets have persisted, especially among the Hindu and Buddhist communities of the Himalayas, where India abuts Tibet."

David Blackwell

David H. Blackwell dies at 91; pioneering statistician at Howard and Berkeley
"David H. Blackwell, 91, who rose from poverty in Southern Illinois to become one of the country's most prominent statisticians and the first African American to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, died July 8 at a hospital in Berkeley, Calif., of complications from a stroke.

"Dr. Blackwell was also the first black tenured professor at the University of California at Berkeley, where he became chairman of the statistics department. ...

"While in Washington, he became interested in statistics after hearing a lecture by Agriculture Department statistician Meyer A. Girshick. After Dr. Blackwell challenged one of Girshick's assertions, the two met and became friends and colleagues.

"They wrote a 1954 book, "The Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions." It established them as leaders in the burgeoning field of game theory, which uses mathematics to understand winning strategies in situations that can be applied to economics, biology, engineering, political science and international relations. "

Friday, July 16, 2010

Consolidation and competition among economics jobs aggregators

At VoxEu, there's an announcement today (July 16) of a new service and a combining of forces: Introducing a free database of nearly all jobs for PhD economists by Raphael Auer and Richard Baldwin, founders of and Vox respectively.
They write:
"To help grow the next generation of economists, has teamed with to form the world’s largest database of job openings for PhD economists. In addition to this comprehensive database of nearly all job openings for PhDs in economics and related fields, our partner also offers a free online application system allowing the exchange of all application documents and reference letters."

It looks like this puts them in pretty direct competition with the combination of with the European Economic Association. And they are both competing with software providers who deal directly with the HR departments of universities and provide university-specific web sites for handling the information flow of job applications. (The AEA's Job Openings for Economists doesn't propose to handle the application process, but of course it is another big aggregator of job ads.)

We anticipated some of this in our forthcoming paper
  • Peter Coles, John Cawley, Phillip B. Levine, Muriel Niederle, Alvin E. Roth, and John J. Siegfried , " The Job Market for New Economists: A Market Design Perspective," revised April 6, 2010, forthcoming in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2010.

  • In that paper we wrote
    "Two kinds of web applications have a presence in the market. Some departments are in institutions that use a university-wide platform, usually purchased commercially and then operated by the Human Resources department. Such university-specific systems impose high costs on applicants and references because they require individual uploading for each application and letter of reference.

    "Other employers use third-party services such as, (run by Duke’s Math Department, offering services to all sorts of departments), and others such as Academic Careers Online (, Economist Jobs (, EconCareers (, and The job listing aggregator may also start such a service. The website of (accessed March 1, 2010) indicates some consolidation: their service has been merged with that of the European Economic Association and has been endorsed by other economics organizations."

    Dov Samet on marrying well

    Dubi Samet has a paper on stable marriage, explaining why you might have married as well as you did, and explaining how, when there is substantial agreement on rankings, you and your spouse can't have done too differently well.
    (I conclude that if, like me, you "married up" it is because your spouse has contrarian tastes.)

    "Abstract: When men and women are objectively ranked in a marriage problem, say by beauty, then pairing individuals of equal rank is the only stable matching. We generalize this observation by providing bounds on the size of the rank gap between mates in a stable matchings in terms of the size of the ranking sets. Using a metric on the set of matchings, we provide bounds on the diameter of the core---the set of stable matchings---in terms of the size of the ranking sets and in terms of the size of the rank gap. We conclude that when the set of rankings is small, so are the core and the rank gap in stable matchings."

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Game theory from A to Z

    I'll be travelling this morning to Stony Brook, to participate in the part of their annual festival that is celebrating Bob Aumann's 80th birthday, and Shmuel Zamir's 70th.

    Here's a picture I took of the two of them at a Stony Brook party in honor of Lloyd Shapley in the summer of 2003.

    "Aumann" and "Zamir" were two of the first names I learned to conjure with, when I started studying game theory in the 1970's.

    יום הולדת שמח, Happy birthday Bob and Shmuel.

    And here's the program.

    The Stony Brook Game Theory Festival of the Game Theory Society in Honor of Robert Aumann’s Eightieth Birthday

    July 15, 2010 in Honor of Shmuel Zamir’s Seventieth Birthday

    9:00 - 9:45

    Olivier Gossner (Paris School of Economics & London School of Economics)
    The robustness of incomplete codes of law

    9:45 - 10:00

    Coffee Break

    10:00 - 10:30

    Alfredo Di Tillio (Bocconi University)
    Reasoning about Conditional Probability and Counterfactuals

    10:30 - 11:00

    Eduardo Faingold (Yale University)
    The strategic impact of higher-order beliefs

    11:00 - 11:15

    Coffee Break

    11:15 - 11:45

    Marco Scarsini (LUISS)
    On the Core of Dynamic Cooperative Games

    11:45 - 12:15

    Todd Kaplan (University of Haifa)
    The Benefits of Costly Voting

    12:15 - 13:45

    Lunch Break

    13:45 - 14:30

    Robert John Aumann (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
    My Shmuel

    14:30 - 14:45

    Coffee Break

    14:45 - 15:30

    Abraham Neyman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
    The Rate of Convergence in Repeated Games with Incomplete Information

    15:30 - 16:15

    Shmuel Zamir (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
    On Bayesian-Nash Equilibria Satisfying the Condorcet Jury Theorem: The Dependent Case

    16:15 - 16:30

    Coffee Break

    16:30 - 17:15

    Al Roth (Harvard University)
    Matching with Couples: Stability and Incentives in Large Markets

    18:00 - 21:30

    Reception Dinner (Three Village Inn)

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Hiring Indian wombs

    Steve Leider writes:

    The Indian Parliament will be considering legislation to regulate the practice of commercial surrogacy in India. There are approximately 350 clinics overseeing an estimated 1500 pregnancy attempts annually, one third of which involve foreigners, making up a $445 million industry. Surrogacy in India is much cheaper than in the United States: “The entire process costs customers around $23,000 — less than one-fifth of the going rate in the U.S. — of which the surrogate mother usually receives about $7,500 in installments.”

    Surrogacy in India has been largely unregulated since being legalized in 2002 - the Indian Council of Medical Research issued guidelines in 2005, but IVF clinics often establish their own policies. The draft legislation proposes several substantial restrictions:

    “Exploitation of surrogates by infertile couples, and vice versa, has been a serious concern ever since in-vitro fertilization (IVF) started in India. ‘But this will put an end to it. Infertile couples don't have to go hunting for surrogate mothers. The bank will help them get one. As a result, the couple will have all information about her background and medical history before hiring her womb,’ said Dr R S Sharma, deputy director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who has been involved in the process of drafting the Bill.”

    “These banks - both private and government - will be accredited by state boards. The board will also have a registration authority which will maintain a list of all IVF centres and monitor their functioning. ‘So far we didn't have any law regarding surrogacy. This is a step towards legalizing surrogacy and fixing responsibilities of the parties involved in the process," said Dr Sharma’”….

    “These ART [Assisted Reproductive Technology] banks will be independent of IVF clinics. Oocyte (unfertilized egg) and semen preservation will be their main focus. ‘In the past few years, IVF clinics have mushroomed in the country. There is no check on their practices. There is no quality check on the semen and oocytes preserved by them and offered to infertile couples. These banks will have a proper system, where every minor detail about gametes and surrogates will be documented,’ said a senior doctor at AIIMS who too is involved in the drafting of the bill.”

    “Experts say that once a bank is in place, it will maintain a database of surrogate mothers. A woman is allowed five live births, including her own children. ‘It has been seen that poor women sell their womb several times for money. This has a damaging effect on their body. The new bill clearly states that a woman can't have more than five live births and donate oocytes more than six times in her life,’ said Dr Sharma.”….

    “The bill proposes stringent rules for foreigners looking for surrogate mothers. It will be mandatory for foreign couples to submit two certificates - one on their country's policy on surrogacy and the other stating that the child born to the surrogate mother will get their country's citizenship. "They also have to nominate a local guardian, who will take care of the surrogate during the gestation period," said Dr Sharma.”

    Prominent IVF doctors like Dr. Nayna Patel (who was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007) have objected to the new regulations:

    It's a suggestion that has caused a stir in the medical community. Patel insists that she will not accept a surrogate sent to Akanksha unless she herself is permitted to perform medical and background checks. She maintains that ART banks will not have enough experience to determine whether a woman is fit for surrogacy, let alone replicate the personal bonds she cultivates with her surrogates. ‘The trust they have with me is what makes the whole thing secure and safe,’ she says. ‘And at the end, when they want to buy a house or a piece of land for farming, we get them the best deal. With this bill, we will not know what they are going to do with such a big amount of money.’”

    Two recent court cases highlighted the need for increased regulation. In 2008 a Japanese couple divorced during the surrogacy:

    “The husband still wanted to raise Manji, but his ex-wife did not. The father found himself in a catch-22. India requires that a child be legally adopted before leaving the country, but bars single men from adopting. Manji's father was denied travel documents for the baby. The situation was widely covered in Indian and global media, and grew into a legal and diplomatic crisis. Manji was eventually permitted to leave for Japan [after custody was granted to the child’s grandmother].”

    A German couple also experienced legal problems:

    “Since the day they were delivered more than two years ago, twin toddlers Nikolas and Leonard Balaz have been stateless and stranded in India. Their parents are German nationals, but the woman to whom the babies were born is a 20-something Indian surrogate from Gujarat. The boys were refused German passports because the country does not recognize surrogacy as a legitimate means of parenthood. And India doesn't typically confer citizenship on surrogate-born children conceived by foreigners. Last week, Germany relented, issuing the Balazes travel visas, and the entire family is finally going home.”

    Surrogacy is also subject to substantial disapproval within India, being criticized as the "commoditisation of motherhood" and “a peculiar form of prostitution”. Surrogates often hide their pregnancy by moving away from friends and family temporarily: "Otherwise, we'll be treated like social pariahs… This isn't a respectable thing to do in our society." Others say it is their husbands’ baby, and then after giving the baby to the intended parents say the newborn has died. The Catholic Church has also opposed the new law for legitimizing surrogacy:

    “An Oriental-rite Catholic Church in Kerala says it plans to try and torpedo an upcoming bill to legalize surrogacy in India, which it says will destabilize a family system already struggling ‘under Western influence.’ ‘The Church will take all possible steps to stop the bill and will alert elected state representatives about the impact it will have on family life,’ Syro-Malabar Church spokesman Father Paul Thelakat told on June 24. ‘We have been teaching our faithful about moral living, so if the government enacts a bill which is against our teachings, how can we sit idle,’ the priest said.”

    A documentary focusing on the outsourcing of surrogacy (particularly to India) called Google Baby recently premiered on HBO (an additional trailer is available on the director’s website).

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    The market for musicians (in top orchestras)

    Need a Job? Help Wanted at the N.Y. Philharmonic . These posts, naturally, are rarefied and have little to do with the normal job picture nationwide. But the number of openings prompts the question of why so many spots stand vacant in a market glutted with talented musicians looking to move up to better orchestras or just to find jobs.

    "The economy has had an effect. It is cheaper to leave jobs unfilled and to pay substitutes, who usually receive close to the minimum base pay and fewer benefits. Starting salaries at the 10 top-paying orchestras next season range from $101,600 (Minnesota) to $136,500 (Los Angeles), but principal players can earn two or three times that.

    “It happens that you do save money,” Mr. Mehta acknowledged, but he said the lingering vacancies in New York were not cost-saving measures."...

    "The elaborate logistical demands of orchestral auditions cause delays. First auditions are advertised. Then time must pass for applicants to send in résumés and tapes and practice the assigned excerpts from the orchestral literature. A committee of players, usually in the section, has to be formed, and preliminary rounds of auditions have to be scheduled. After the finalists are chosen, a time must be found when the busy music director and committee members can hear them. The process can easily stretch out for many months.

    "Often no winner is chosen. That happened last year with the Philharmonic’s principal clarinet job. Two rounds of auditions for associate principal horn player and a double bassist also produced no result. The music director in New York has final say but makes the decision in consultation with the committee.

    "The Boston Symphony usually has a high number of openings, because the demands on the players — the Tanglewood festival, the Boston Pops and regular concerts — make scheduling auditions especially difficult, as does the orchestra’s system of hiring based on a two-thirds majority in committee.

    "The finest musician can have a bad day: it’s a paradox of the process, in which less than an hour of playing is supposed to determine whether a musician is suitable for the continual day in, day out life of an orchestra member. And in another contradiction, the aspirants play alone for a job that depends on group effort. (Winners are usually on probation for a year or two, effectively a tryout with the ensemble.) On occasion, when no winner is chosen, established orchestral players from elsewhere will be invited to play as guests in a kind of informal tryout. It’s an imperfect system, but no one has figured out a better one."

    The orchestra audition process is the topic of the paper"Orchestrating Impartiality: The Effect of 'Blind' Auditions on Female Musicians" by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse American Economic Review (September 2000)

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    "The practical power of game theory"

    That's the title of Northwestern's news release about my 2010 Nancy L. Schwartz Memorial Lecture. (The title of the lecture was "Market Design," and after some general introduction to market design I focused mostly on kidney exchange.) Here's the video (1 hour, 20 minutes).

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Egg shortage in Britain

    Desperate hunt for donor eggs forces couples to seek IVF abroad, the Telegraph reports.

    "Waiting lists for fertility treatment involving donated eggs have risen in this country since laws were changed to prevent women from donating anonymously.
    "Now research shows the national shortage is the main reason couples go abroad for fertility treatment, with almost half of British "fertility tourists" going to Spain, where anonymity is allowed, and donors receive generous compensation.
    "The study for the Economic and Social Research Council found that women who left Britain for IVF treatment were most likely to do so in search of a donor eggs, after encountering long waits in this country. "...
    "Almost half of the women went to Spain thanks to policies which pay women up to 1000 euros to donate eggs, while remaining anonymous.
    "Next was the Czech Republic, which also allows anonymous donation, and more generous payments than this country, where clinics are only allowed to provide £250 to those who donate eggs.
    "Others went to the United States, South Africa, Barbados, Russia and Ukraine."...
    "Research collaborator Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert from Sheffield University, said the findings of the research suggested more should be done to encourage egg donation in this country, including more generous compensation payments for those who underwent the procedure.
    "Since legislation was passed in 2004 ending donor anonymity, the number of egg donors fell for three years, only rising marginally in 2008, the last year for which figures are held, when 1,084 eggs were donated.
    "Experts believe more than double that number of donations would be required to meet current demand.
    "Dr Pacey said he believed the shortage of donors in Britain was more to do with the small amount of compensation women were given rather than the lack of anonymity.
    "Egg donation is a pretty horrendous thing to go through, so I think you could easily argue that £250 [the limit set in Britain] is not sufficient," he said.
    "Regulators are currently reviewing the rules they set in 2006 which set the current limits.
    "Prof Lisa Jardine, the chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has said that a rise in payment levels could encourage more women to donate eggs, meaning fewer infertile women would feel forced to seek treatment abroad."

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Same sex marriage in Kagan's confirmation hearings

    The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan provide an excuse for a NY Times OpEd by Jonathan Rauch to speculate on how she might feel about same sex marriage, based on some general principles she admitted to. (Rauch writes that he is himself a spouse in a same sex marriage that is recognized where he works, in Washington DC, but not where he lives, in Virginia.) A ‘Kagan Doctrine’ on Gay Marriage

    "Civil rights, she implies, are important, but so is judicial modesty, and a sensible judge balances the two. A sensible judge can say something like, “Same-sex marriage may indeed be a civil right, but not all civil rights demand immediate judicial intervention, and other important interests militate against imposing this one on the whole country right now.”

    "Viewed in that light, the argument for upholding California’s gay marriage ban has merit — not because the policy is fair or wise (it isn’t) but because it represents a reasonable judgment that the people of California are entitled to make. Barring gay marriage but providing civil unions is not the balance I would choose, but it is a defensible balance to strike, one that arguably takes “a cautious approach to making such a significant change to the institution of marriage” (as the lawyers defending Proposition 8 write in one of their briefs) while going a long way toward meeting gay couples’ needs."

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Boston Judge Rules Federal Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

    Judge Rules Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
    "A U.S. judge in Boston has ruled that a federal gay marriage ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage.

    "U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro on Thursday ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.

    "The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

    "Tauro agreed, and said the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens.

    "The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid," Tauro wrote in a ruling in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

    "Ruling in a separate case filed by Gays & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Tauro found that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    "We've maintained from the very beginning that there was absolutely no basis for this law treating one class of married Massachusetts couples different from everybody else and the court has recognized that," said Gary Buseck, GLAD's legal director.

    "The Justice Department argued the federal government has the right to set eligibility requirements for federal benefits -- including requiring that those benefits only go to couples in marriages between a man and a woman.

    "The law was enacted by Congress in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples.

    "Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage."

    Here's an earlier post: Same sex spouses versus Defense of Marriage Act, and here's an even earlier one: When a protected transaction meets a repugnant one: The MA suit over the Defense of Marriage Act

    Deceased organ donor registry in NY

    The NY Organ Donor Network has issued the following news release about a change in NY State to facilitate online registration. NEW YORK ORGAN DONOR NETWORK APPLAUDS GOVERNOR PATERSON’S SIGNING OF ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE ACT

    "New York, NY - July 8, 2010: Governor David Paterson today signed into law an electronic signature bill that will dramatically improve the organ donation process in New York. The law will allow New Yorkers to register online to become organ donors. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously on April 27 and the Senate on May 12. The Electronic Signature Act eliminates the need to download enrollment forms and mail them in."

    Here's a previous post on the issue.

    HT Judd Kessler

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Cryonics as a repugnant transaction

    The NY Times has an article on those who wish to have their remains frozen after death, in the hope of eventual resurrection at a time when medical technology might make that feasible. Much of the story focuses on economist Robin Hanson of GMU, and his wife Peggy Jackson, a hospice worker who finds the idea unpleasant. The article goes on to say that this is quite common: many people, in particular the spouses of enthusiasts, find the idea repugnant. (It's not every NY Times article about an economist that includes references to Gilgamesh and Voldemort...)

    Until Cryonics Do Us Part

    "Robin, a deep thinker most at home in thought experiments, says he believes that there is some small chance his brain will be resurrected, that its time in cryopreservation will be merely a brief pause in the course of his life. Peggy finds the quest an act of cosmic selfishness. And within a particular American subculture, the pair are practically a cliché.

    "Among cryonicists, Peggy’s reaction might be referred to as an instance of the “hostile-wife phenomenon,” as discussed in a 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz.“From its inception in 1964,” they write, “cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.” The opposition of romantic partners, Aschwin told me last year, is something that “everyone” involved in cryonics knows about but that he and Chana, his wife, find difficult to understand. To someone who believes that low-temperature preservation offers a legitimate chance at extending life, obstructionism can seem as willfully cruel as withholding medical treatment. Even if you don’t want to join your husband in storage, ask believers, what is to be lost by respecting a man’s wishes with regard to the treatment of his own remains? Would-be cryonicists forced to give it all up, the de Wolfs and Federowicz write, “face certain death.”

    "Premonitions of this problem can be found in the deepest reaches of cryonicist history, starting with the prime mover. Robert Ettinger is the father of cryonics, his 1964 book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” its founding text. “This is not a hobby or conversation piece,” he wrote in 1968, adding, “it is the struggle for survival. Drive a used car if the cost of a new one interferes. Divorce your wife if she will not cooperate.” Today, with just fewer than200 patients preserved within the two major cryonics facilities, the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute and the Arizona-based Alcor, and with 10 times as many signed up to be stored upon their legal deaths, cryonicists have created support networks with which to tackle marital strife. Cryonet, a mailing list on “cryonics-related issues,” takes as one of its issues the opposition of wives. (The ratio of men to women among living cyronicists is roughly three to one.) “She thinks the whole idea is sick, twisted and generally spooky,” wrote one man newly acquainted with the hostile-wife phenomenon. “She is more intelligent than me, insatiably curious and lovingly devoted to me and our 2-year-old daughter. So why is this happening?” "
    "Whether or not the human race subconsciously equates attempts to defeat death with treachery, it’s true that a general air of menace hangs over the quest for immortality in Western literature. Think Gilgamesh or Voldemort. “There is a lot of ancient cultural stereotyping about the motives and moral character of people who pursue life extension,” says James Hughes, the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, a nonprofit organization enamored of life extension. Hughes has chosen not to participate in what he considers a worthy experiment. “Although it’s a rather marginal bet for a potentially huge payoff,” he says, “I value my relationship with my wife.” "

    HT to Tyler Cowen at MR, whose post contains some related links.

    The Market for scientists

    "It’s not an education story, it’s a labor market story,” says Harold Salzman in a Miller-McCune story by Beryl Lieff Benderly about the market for scientists:The Real Science Gap

    "It’s not insufficient schooling or a shortage of scientists. It’s a lack of job opportunities. Americans need the reasonable hope that spending their youth preparing to do science will provide a satisfactory career."...

    "Many young Americans bright enough to do the math therefore conclude that instead of gambling 12 years on the small chance of becoming an assistant professor, they can invest that time in becoming a neurosurgeon, or a quarter of it in becoming a lawyer or a sixth in earning an MBA. And many who do earn doctorates in math-based subjects opt to use their skills devising mathematical models on Wall Street, rather than solving scientific puzzles in university labs, hoping a professorship opens up."