Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Google knocks on Uber's door with a ride-sharing service using Waze

The WSJ has the story about how Google/Alphabet will capitalize on Waze/Google Maps to offer drivers ride shares with people on their routes:
Google Takes on Uber With New Ride-Share Service -- Alphabet’s carpooling program in San Francisco offers rides at cheaper rates

"Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., began a pilot program around its California headquarters in May that enables several thousand area workers at specific firms to use the Waze app to connect with fellow commuters. It plans to open the program to all San Francisco-area Waze users this fall, the person said. Waze, which Google acquired in 2013, offers real-time driving directions based on information from other drivers.

"Unlike Uber and its crosstown San Francisco rival Lyft Inc., which each largely operate as on-demand taxi businesses, Waze wants to connect riders with drivers who are already headed in the same direction. The company has said it aims to make fares low enough to discourage drivers from operating as taxi drivers. Waze’s current pilot program charges riders at most 54 cents a mile—less than most Uber and Lyft rides—and, for now, Google doesn’t take a fee.
"In the San Francisco pilot, any local Waze user can sign up as a driver, but ridership is limited to roughly 25,000 San Francisco-area employees of several large firms, including Google, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. Riders are limited to two rides a day—intended to ferry them to and from work.

"In the planned expansion, anyone with the Waze app in the San Francisco area could sign up to be a rider or driver, the person said. Though Google currently doesn’t collect a fee, the company is exploring different rates in Israel and San Francisco, the person familiar with the matter said."

I can't say I'm completely surprised. Here's an earlier post (which ended with "Stay tuned...":

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The American Economic Association celebrates Hal Varian as a Distinguished Fellow

"Hal R. Varian is the Chief Economist at Google, which he joined first as a consultant in 2002. He is also an emeritus Professor in the School of Information, the Haas School of Business, and the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Varian’s work has covered a wide range of topics during his 45 years of academic publications. He has made pioneering contributions in the area of industrial organization, including models of price discrimination, consumer search, and an important model of sales. In the area of public economics, he is the author of a very significant paper on optimal conditions for the public contribution to public goods.

"Varian has also published a series of influential contributions on nonparametric approaches to consumer demand, including developing a widely-used measure of consumer deviations from the Generalized Axiom of Revealed Preferences. Interestingly, this measure has been employed recently in an area he may not have envisioned, as a measure of deviation from rationality in laboratory experiments.

"Hal Varian has also been a household name for generations of both undergraduate and graduate students studying economics, as his two textbooks Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach and Microeconomic Analysis have been read by many economists at the beginning of their careers, distilling in his trademark voice the range of diverse topics which comprise the basics of economics. One could hardly find a better person to write such textbooks, given his wide range of interests, his omnivorous curiosity, and his clarity in exposition, including, to the delight of the reader, the well-placed witty remark.

"Remarkably, Varian has not only established himself as a towering figure in economics, but has also contributed to other scientific disciplines. His book Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy (authored with Carl Shapiro) has become an influential early guide to the information economy. In this vein, Varian has also made a number of contributions to strategic choices at Google, including work on the design of Google’s IPO which was executed as an auction.

"His most recent research has focused, among other topics, on how the information embedded in Internet searches contains very valuable information for future outcomes. In his work on nowcasting, Varian (with Hyunyoung Choi) shows that the number of searches online for cars or unemployment benefits allows one to obtain measures, respectively, for car sales and jobless claims weeks ahead of the official data release. This research has spawned substantial interest in the area, including the widespread use of the Google Trends service.

"Hal Varian started his career as an economist at the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his PhD in 1973. After teaching at MIT and at the University of Michigan, he returned to UC Berkeley in 1995 as the founding dean of the School of Information. He was a coeditor for the American Economic Review from 1987 to 1990, and is a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the Econometric Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also holds honorary doctorates from the University of Oulu, Finland and the University of Karlsruhe, Germany."

French court suspends burkini ban: repugnant or protected (or both)?

There was something appropriate about swim suits being banned in France for being insufficiently revealing, but it turns out French citizens may have rights...

French court suspends burkini ban
Highest administrative court says prohibition goes against ‘fundamental liberties’ of citizens

"France’s highest administrative court has suspended a ban on the body-covering burkini swimsuits, saying that it went “against fundamental liberties” of French citizens to choose what to wear in public.

"The Conseil d’Etat said on Friday the ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet was “illegal”, adding that the ruling set a precedent that applied to all of the towns that have banned the garment this summer.

"The debate over the burkini has split France’s government and society. It has also drawn anger abroad after images showed French police appearing to force a Muslim woman to take off her tunic on a beach.

"Debates over Muslim integration in France have been tense following a series of terrorist attacks in the country by Islamist extremists. The discourse over the issue has been particularly polemical as politicians are gearing up for the presidential elections next year.

"Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls came out in support of the local burkini bans earlier this month, saying the swimsuit, which typically covers the body but not the face, reflects a world view based on “the enslavement of women”.

"The court on Friday said the decree to ban burkinis in Villeneuve-Loubet “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”.

"The suspension of the ban comes pending a definitive ruling. The court will take more time to prepare a judgment on the underlying legality of the case."

Some other photos from recent news stories come to mind.
Here's one from Roger Cohen in the NYT on the Olympics:

And here's one recovered from the archives, of a policeman giving a bikini-clad woman a ticket for inappropriate beach attire in Italy in 1957.

These days we've seen the opposite picture in France:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Harvard and Stanford compared and contrasted, in French: la guerre de l’excellence

Les Echos has the story: Harvard-Stanford, la guerre de l’excellence, by
Lucie Robequain

Ms. Robequain spent some time on both campuses, and so her article is full of quotes from people you may know, about universities and university design...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cocks Not Glocks at the University of Texas: Repugnant and protected transactions

The law allowing students to bring their guns to campus (if they are licensed and at least 21 years old) has now gone into effect, and has been greeted by protesters carrying dildos, which as it happens are banned on campus as obscene. The Chronicle of Higher Ed has the story (actually two):

A Provocative Protest Pits Pro- and Anti-Gun Activists

"Students rallying behind the "Cocks Not Glocks" theme distributed nearly 5,000 donated sex toys, which they encouraged students to brandish during a raucous daylong protest on Wednesday.
"By calling attention to the idea that displaying a sex toy could violate university rules, but carrying a gun into a classroom might not, "we wanted to fight absurdity with absurdity," said Ana López, a sophomore who opposes a state law expanding gun rights on campus."

Meet the Sex Shops in Austin, Tex., That Put the Cocks in ‘Cocks Not Glocks’

"Until 2008 it was illegal in Texas to sell or promote sex objects such as dildos and fake vaginas. The store’s legal problems and Texas’ law, Ms. Raridon said, attracted a film crew to document Forbidden Fruit’s story, eventually producing Dildo Diaries.
"In Texas, guns were legal but dildos were not," she said.
A similar scenario is playing out this year at the University of Texas at Austin, where, because of the state’s new campus-carry law, university rules allow students with permits to carry concealed guns, but prohibit the display of dildos, sex toys that resemble penises.
In protest, on Wednesday afternoon, the first day of classes, many Austin students strapped dildos to their backpacks. Their aim? To "fight absurdity with absurdity." The protest was dubbed "Cocks Not Glocks," after a popular brand of handgun.
Ever since the state ban on sex objects was overturned, Forbidden Fruit has made its mission not just the sale of sex toys but the destigmatization of sex and sexuality, Ms. Raridon said."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Iranian market for kidneys

The AP has published this descriptive story about the Iranian market for kidneys:

Some paragraphs from the story:

"The AP gained rare access to Iran's program, visiting patients on dialysis waiting for an organ, speaking to a man preparing to sell one of his kidneys and watching surgeons in Tehran perform a transplant. All of those interviewed stressed the altruistic nature of the program - even as graffiti scrawled on walls and trees near hospitals in Iran's capital advertised people offering to sell a kidney for cash.
Iran started kidney transplants in 1967 but surgeries slowed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, in part due to sanctions. Iran allowed patients to travel abroad through much of the 1980s for transplants - including to America. But high costs, an ever-growing waiting list of patients and Iran's grinding eight-year war with Iraq forced the country to abandon the travel-abroad program.

In 1988, Iran created the program it has today. A person needing a kidney is referred to the Dialysis and Transplant Patients Association, which matches those needing a kidney with a potential healthy adult donor. The government pays for the surgeries, while the donor gets health coverage for at least a year and reduced rates on health insurance for years after that from government hospitals.

Those who broker the connection receive no payment. They help negotiate whatever financial compensation the donor receives, usually the equivalent of $4,500. They also help determine when Iranian charities or wealthy individuals cover the costs for those who cannot afford to pay for a kidney.

Today, more than 1,480 people receive a kidney transplant from a living donor in Iran each year, about 55 percent of the total of 2,700 transplants annually, according to government figures. Some 25,000 people undergo dialysis each year, but most don't seek transplants because they suffer other major health problems or are too old.

Some 8 to 10 percent of those who do apply are rejected due to poor health and other concerns. The average survival rate of those receiving a new kidney is between seven to 10 years, though some live longer, according to Iranian reports.

In the United States, about a third of kidney donations come from living donors. The average kidney from a deceased donor lasts 10 years, while one from a living donor averages about 15 years, according to Dr. David Klassen of the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the U.S. transplant system. Recipients of living-donor kidneys in the U.S. fare better in part because they haven't been on dialysis as long before their transplant."

Friday, August 26, 2016

John Dickerson defends his Ph.D. thesis at CMU, on kidney exchange

John Dickerson will defend today:
Computer Science Thesis Defense, Friday, August 26, 2016 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
8102 Gates-Hillman Center (or, via Skype, for those of us who are far away).

Here's his summary of what he's preparing to defend:

"The exchange of indivisible goods without money addresses a variety of constrained economic settings where a medium of exchange — such as money — is considered inappropriate. Participants are either matched directly with another participant or, in more complex domains, in barter cycles and chains with many other participants before exchanging their endowed goods. This thesis addresses the design, analysis, and real-world fielding of dynamic matching markets and barter exchanges. We present new mathematical models for static and dynamic barter exchange that more accurately reflect reality, prove theoretical statements about the characteristics and behavior of these markets, and develop provably optimal market clearing algorithms for models of these markets that can be deployed in practice. We show that taking a holistic approach to balancing efficiency and fairness can often practically circumvent negative theoretical results. We support the theoretical claims made in this thesis with extensive experiments on data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Kidney Paired Donation Pilot Program, a large kidney exchange clearinghouse in the US with which we have been actively involved. Specifically, we study three competing dimensions found in both matching markets and barter exchange: uncertainty over the existence of possible trades (represented as edges in a graph constructed from participants in the market), balancing efficiency and fairness, and inherent dynamism. For each individual dimension, we provide new theoretical insights as to the effect on market efficiency and match composition of clearing markets under models that explicitly consider those dimensions. We support each theoretical construct with new optimization models and techniques, and validate them on simulated and real kidney exchange data. In the cases of edge failure and dynamic matching, where edges and vertices arrive and depart over time, our algorithms perform substantially better than the status quo deterministic myopic matching algorithms used in practice, and also scale to larger instance sizes than prior methods. In the fairness case, we empirically quantify the loss in system efficiency under a variety of equitable matching rules. Next, we combine all of the dimensions, along with high-level human-provided guidance, into a unified framework for learning to match in a general dynamic model. This framework, which we coin FutureMatch, takes as input a high-level objective (e.g., "maximize graft survival of transplants over time") decided on by experts, then automatically (i) learns based on data how to make this objective concrete and (ii) learns the "means" to accomplish this goal — a task that, in our experience, humans handle poorly. We validate FutureMatch on UNOS exchange data and make policy recommendations based on it. Finally, we present a model for liver exchange and a model for multi-organ exchange; for the latter, we show that it theoretically and empirically will result in greater social welfare than multiple individual exchanges. Thesis Committee: Tuomas Sandholm (Chair) Avrim Blum Zico Kolter Ariel Procaccia Craig Boutilier (Google/University of Toronto) Alvin Roth (Stanford University)"

He'll be teaching CS at Maryland in the Fall.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Compensating bone marrow (blood stem cell) donors: still in legal limbo

Whether it will remain legal to compensate donors of bone marrow (blood stem cells) remains in limbo (see my various posts on the subject here).  The WSJ has an op-ed that summarizes the situation: 

Briefly, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the ban on paying blood stem cell donors (if the technology was non-surgical), but the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new regulation that would restore the ban. The regulation went out for public comment, and many comments were received, mostly against reinstating the ban.  The WSJ op-ed writes about that this way (in a way that makes me reflect on some of the oddities of news coverage):

"But a year after Ms. Flynn won her case, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it might enact a regulation effectively nullifying the court’s ruling—and thus Ms. Flynn’s victory. In September 2013, HHS sought public comment. Hundreds of comments poured in favoring compensation for blood stem-cell donors who use apheresis, including support from Nobel Prize-winning economist Alvin Roth, who has long written on organ-donation policy. Only a handful of comments were opposed."

As you can imagine, I was one among many signers of the comment that I supported (which you can read here): the others, all economists, were
Theodore Bergstrom, University of California at S. Barbara, Stefano DellaVigna, University of
California at Berkeley, Julio J. Elias, Universidad del CEMA, Argentina,
Rodney Garratt, University of California at S. Barbara,
Michael Gibbs, University of Chicago, Judd Kessler, University of Pennsylvania, Nicola Lacetera,
University of Toronto, Stephen Leider, University of Michigan, John List, University of Chicago,
Mario Macis, Johns Hopkins University, Daniel McFadden, University of California at Berkeley, Matthew Rabin, University of California at Berkeley, Alvin Roth, Stanford University, Damien Sheehan-Connor, Wesleyan University, Robert Slonim, University of Sydney, Alex Tabarrok, George Mason University

If you have the time, you can read all 527 comments here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Economists getting jobs as engineers

Bloomberg (Noah Smith) notices market design: All of a Sudden, Economists Are Getting Real Jobs

" Instead of holding forth on policy issues or the welfare of nations, many  are working with companies to create the kind of ideal markets that were previously confined to the pages of their academic papers. In other words, Keynes’ dream of economic dentistry -- or, more accurately, economic engineering -- might at last be coming true."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More on starting kidney exchange chains with deceased donor kidneys

Here's a forthcoming letter to the editor in the American Journal of Transplantation: We need to take the next step, by Marc L. Melcher, John P. Roberts, Alan B. Leichtman, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees

It replies to another letter: A potential solution to make best use of living donor- deceased donor list exchange by VB Kute, HV Patel, PR Shah, PR Modi, VR Shah, HL Trivedi

which was prompted by our earlier article: Melcher, Marc L., John P. Roberts, Alan B. Leichtman, Alvin E. Roth, and Michael A. Rees, “Utilization of Deceased Donor Kidneys to Initiate Living Donor Chains,” American Journal of Transplantation, 16, 5, May 2016, 1367–1370.

Here's a post about that earlier article:

Using deceased donor kidneys to start living donor kidney exchange chains

and here's a post about the followup we hope to do:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Quality control of transplant centers, and the choice of who to transplant (and which organs to accept)

Transplant centers are regulated by measures such as their one-year graft-survival rate, so they feel pressure not to transplant patients, or organs, that have too high a risk to meet the required measure of success.

Here's a recent paper from the Journal of the American College of Surgeons that discusses some of the consequences:


The central tenet of liver transplant organ allocation is to prioritize the sickest patients first. However, a 2007 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulatory policy, Conditions of Participation (COP), which mandates publically reported transplant center performance assessment and outcomes-based auditing, critically altered waitlist management and clinical decision making. We examine the extent to which COP implementation is associated with increased removal of the “sickest” patients from the liver transplant waitlist.

Study Design

This study included 90,765 adult (aged 18 years and older) deceased donor liver transplant candidates listed at 102 transplant centers from April 2002 through December 2012 (Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients). We quantified the effect of COP implementation on trends in waitlist removal due to illness severity and 1-year post-transplant mortality using interrupted time series segmented Poisson regression analysis.


We observed increasing trends in delisting due to illness severity in the setting of comparable demographic and clinical characteristics. Delisting abruptly increased by 16% at the time of COP implementation, and likelihood of being delisted continued to increase by 3% per quarter thereafter, without attenuation (p < 0.001). Results remained consistent after stratifying on key variables (ie, Model for End-Stage Liver Disease and age). The COP did not significantly impact 1-year post-transplant mortality (p = 0.38).


Although the 2007 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services COP policy was a quality initiative designed to improve patient outcomes, in reality, it failed to show beneficial effects in the liver transplant population. Patients who could potentially benefit from transplantation are increasingly being denied this lifesaving procedure while transplant mortality rates remain unaffected. Policy makers and clinicians should strive to balance candidate and recipient needs from a population-benefit perspective when designing performance metrics and during clinical decision making for patients on the waitlist.
It drew this headline in the news:
Hospitals are throwing out organs and denying transplants to meet federal standards

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Who Gets What and Why shortlisted for German Business Book Prize (to be announced in October)

Deutscher Wirtschaftsbuchpreis 2016: Die Shortlist

Google translates: Dusseldorf (ots) - The finalists of the German Business Book Prize have been announced: Ten books have made ​​it to the final round for 2016th A distinguished jury selected this year for the tenth time from the titles shortlisted the best business book of the year. The Executive Jury has Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt. The prize will be awarded on 21 October at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The German Business Book Award is themed "Understanding Business".Handelsblatt, the Frankfurt Book Fair and the investment bank Goldman Sachs award the prize to promote the economic literature. The three partners aim to emphasize the distinction the importance of economy section in mediating economic relationships. The selection criteria therefore include not only innovative agenda-setting or a new perspective and understanding and readability. The prize is endowed with 10,000 euros.
The ten books shortlisted provides Handelsblatt in the weeks prior to the literature page in the weekend edition. All other information on the award, the jury and of the initiators can be found at:

Die Shortlist 2016:
George Akerlof, Robert Shiller: Phishing for Fools. Manipulation und Täuschung in der freien Marktwirtschaft. Econ, Berlin 2016, 416 Seiten, 24 Euro
Adam Grant: Nonkonformisten. Warum Originalität die Welt bewegt. Droemer, München 2016, 384 Seiten, 22,99 Euro
Christoph Keese: Silicon Germany. Wie wir die digitale Transformation schaffen. Knaus, München 2016, 368 Seiten, 22,99 Euro
Paul Mason: Postkapitalismus. Grundrisse einer kommenden Ökonomie. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2016, 430 Seiten, 26,95 Euro
Alec Ross: Die Wirtschaftswelt der Zukunft. Plassen, Kulmbach 2016, 400 Seiten, 24,99 Euro
Alvin E. Roth: Wer kriegt was und warum? Bildung, Jobs und Partnerwahl: Wie Märkte funktionieren. Siedler, München 2016, 304 Seiten, 24,99 Euro
Wolfgang Schäuble (und Michel Sapin): Anders gemeinsam (im Gespräch mit Ulrich Wickert). Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 2016, 256 Seiten, 22 Euro
Mark C. Schneider: Volkswagen. Eine deutsche Geschichte. Berlin Verlag, 2016, 304 Seiten, 22 Euro
Hans-Werner Sinn: Der Euro. Von der Friedensidee zum Zankapfel. Hanser, München 2016, 560 Seiten, 24,90 Euro
Sahra Wagenknecht: Reichtum ohne Gier. Wie wir uns vor dem Kapitalismus retten. Campus, Frankfurt 2016, 292 Seiten, 19,95 Euro

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Differential privacy at Apple

The MIT Technology Review has an article about Apple's use of differential privacy, that caught my eye for several reasons: Apple’s New Privacy Technology May Pressure Competitors to Better Protect Our Data: The technology is almost a decade-old idea that’s finally coming to fruition.

"On a quarterly investor call last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook boasted that the technology would let his company “deliver the kinds of services we dream of without compromising on individual privacy.” Apple will initially use the technique to track trends in what people type and tap on their phones to improve its predictive keyboard and Spotlight search tool, without learning what exactly any individual typed or clicked.
“It’s exciting that things we knew how to do in principle are being embraced and widely deployed,” says Aaron Roth, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania who has written a textbook on differential privacy. “Apple seems to be betting that by including privacy protections, and advertising that fact, they will make their product more attractive.”
In the version of differential privacy Apple is using, known as the local model, software on a person’s device adds noise to data before it is transmitted to Apple. The company never gets hold of the raw data. Its data scientists can still examine trends in how people use their phones by accounting for the noise, but are unable to tell anything about the specific activity of any one individual.
Apple is not the first technology giant to implement differential privacy. In 2014 Google released code for a system called RAPPOR that it uses to collect data from the Chrome Web browser using the local model of differential privacy. But Google has not promoted its use of the technology as aggressively as Apple, which has this year made a new effort to highlight its attention to privacy (see “Apple Rolls Out Privacy-Sensitive Artificial Intelligence”)."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Interview with a kidney buyer and seller in Syria

Here's an interview with a displaced person in Syria (an internal refugee) and the Syrian woman to whom he sold his kidney:
The woman in need of a kidney and the man willing to sell one to her: ‘I’m at the end of the line’

Here's the prolog:
"Regime forces burst into a village in the east Homs countryside last November to drive the Islamic State out. Fadi a-Salamah, 36, fled Mahin with his family and headed 160 km south to Damascus.

When he arrived in the capital, a-Salamah began working the graveyard shift in a fast food restaurant. After four months, he was stopped and interrogated one night at a checkpoint.

Fearing for his life, a-Salamah quit his job.

Unable to find work, he exhausted his SP400,000 savings (about $2,000). His landlord threatened to kick him, his wife and his three young children out of their house.

Desperate to keep his family off the streets, a-Salamah turned to what he considers all he has left to sell—his kidney, for $4,000.

A-Salamah went to a nearby hospital where he conducted a kidney screening and tissue-type test. He left his number with the doctor in the event a patient with compatible blood and tissue types needed a kidney.

On June 20, a-Salamah received a call from a 50-year-old Damascene woman with failing kidneys. The woman is the aunt of Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier, and asked that her name not be published.

After 20 years of kidney disease, the woman says her doctor told her that weekly dialysis treatments were no longer effective.

When the doctor told her that her and a-Salameh’s tissue were 100 percent compatible, “I almost couldn’t contain my joy.”

“At the same time, I feel guilty because I’m taking advantage of someone’s financial need.”

At the time of the interview, a-Salamah and the woman were waiting for the doctor to set an appointment for the operation."

HT: Jonathan Spencer

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Transplant surgeons meet in Hong Kong amid questions about China's continued use of organs from executed prisoners

The NY Times has the story: Debate Flares on China’s Use of Prisoners’ Organs as Experts Meet in Hong Kong

It discusses a recent article in the American Journal of Transplantation:
Transplant Medicine in China: Need for Transparency and International Scrutiny Remains by T. Trey, A. Sharif, A. Schwarz, M. Fiatarone Singh, and J. Lavee

Here's the abstract of the article:
"Previous publications have described unethical organ procurement procedures in the People's Republic of China. International awareness and condemnation contributed to the announcement abolishing the procurement of organs from executed prisoners starting from January 2015. Eighteen months after the announcement, and aligned with the upcoming International Congress of the Transplantation Society in Hong Kong, this paper revisits the topic and discusses whether the declared reform has indeed been implemented. It is noticeable that China has neither addressed nor included in the reform a pledge to end the procurement of organs from prisoners of conscience, nor have they initiated any legislative amendments. Recent reports have discussed an implausible discrepancy of officially reported steady annual transplant numbers and a steep expansion of the transplant infrastructure in China. This paper expresses the viewpoint that, in the current context, it is not possible to verify the veracity of the announced changes and it thus remains premature to include China as an ethical partner in the international transplant community. Until we have independent and objective evidence of a complete cessation of unethical organ procurement from prisoners, the medical community has a professional responsibility to maintain the academic embargo on Chinese transplant professionals."

The NY Times story includes this:
"In an interview conducted on the messaging app WeChat, Huang Jiefu, a senior Chinese transplant official and a former deputy minister of health, appeared to defend the changes but simultaneously acknowledge they were far from perfect.

“We have finished walking the first step of a long march of 10,000 li, the task is heavy and the road far, but we are walking on a path of light,” he wrote. "

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Salary negotiation: some Massachusetts market design

The NY Times has the story: Massachusetts Bans Employers From Asking Applicants About Previous Pay

"In a groundbreaking effort to close the wage gap between men and women, Massachusetts has become the first state to bar employers from asking about applicants’ salaries before making them job offers.

"The new law will require hiring managers to offer a compensation figure upfront — based on what the applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made at a previous position.
"No longer will job seekers be compelled to disclose their salary or wages at their current or previous jobs — which often leaves applicants with the nagging suspicion that they might have been offered more money if the earlier figure had been higher. Job candidates will still be allowed to volunteer their salary information.

"The Massachusetts law, which will take effect in July 2018, takes aim at the subtle factors that often play into compensation decisions. Companies will not be allowed to prohibit their workers from telling others how much they are paid, a move that advocates say can increase salary transparency and help employees uncover disparities."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The intention is to free people from being forever constrained by their salary history. Employers will be worried about the winner's curse...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Who Gets What and Why, in Russian

Here is the Russian translation of Who Gets What and Why...

Monday, August 15, 2016

There is a port in Oakland

In Pittsburgh it was sometimes said that Gertrude Stein's famous line about Oakland: "there's no there there," is about the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where Andy Warhol grew up. (But there seems to be good evidence the quote is about Oakland CA: Gertrude Stein’s Oakland.)  These days there's plenty of there in Oakland California, and the port there is active lately in, of all things, empty containers.

The WSJ has the story: Port of Oakland Reports Record Container Volumes in July--Movement of empty TEUs sparks upsurge

"The Port of Oakland, Calif., reported record container volumes in July, driven by a surge in empty containers on both the export and import side.

Dockworkers handled nearly 30% more empty containers—48,521 20-foot equivalent units for export and 17,017 import TEUs—in July. Empty containers are usually moved, in anticipation of trade growth, to places where they’re expected to be filled with goods before shipping back.

“With holiday shipments set to commence, this could be the start of something good,” said the port’s maritime director, John Driscoll.
Oakland is a major hub for U.S. agricultural exports other shipments destined for Asian markets.
Officials said July was the port’s busiest month in 10 years. During the month of July, the port received 153 visits from container ships, up from 136 during the same period in 2015."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Conversations about Who Gets What and Why (now in paperback)

After my book Who Gets What and Why came out in paperback, I did several radio interviews about it. Three of them have shown up on the web:

6/16/16: Alvin E. Roth – Economist – “Who Gets What – and Why” (14 minutes)

This youtube is another audio conversation, on June 20 (about 20 minutes)

Monday, June 27, station WISR in Pittsburgh (starts right before minute 1:02, and with a brief break for ads around 1:13, continues until 1:22)
 audio link

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Gaming the waiting list for a heart transplant

The heart transplant waiting list is game-able, since your place on the list depends on what treatment you are getting. So your doctor can "treat your priority" as well as treat your medical condition.  Here's the story from NPR:
Should Doctors Game The Transplant Wait List To Help Their Patients?

And here's an old (2013) editorial on the subject in The Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation:
The urgent priority for transplantation is to trim the waiting list by Lynne Warner Stevenson:

"Current definitions of priority levels have been based both on medical rationale and the attempt to protect the system from being “gamed.” When the requirements for inotropic therapy for Status IB and pulmonary artery catheters for Status IA were adopted in the USA, it was with optimism that they would be used only when absolutely necessary to prevent imminent death, because continuous inotropic infusions and indwelling pulmonary artery catheters are inconvenient and costly and have been associated with serious complications. Although individual cases trigger heated controversy in regional committees, it is generally agreed that these therapies are being overused in patients awaiting transplantation.

If high priorities defined by therapies are the only route to access donor hearts, we face conflicted incentives as advocates for our patients. This is serious enough with incentives to inflate the description of severity of illness, but even more serious with incentive to impose interventions with complications, such as indwelling pulmonary artery catheters. One of the major conditions currently cited as justification for Status IA exceptions is vascular complications of indwelling catheters that preclude further catheterization. This complication on the list was virtually never seen before pulmonary artery catheters became an index of priority (although arrhythmia device leads have also added to the vascular complication rate).

The strength of inverse incentives in care of our waiting patients is indexed to the concern that they will die before a transplant, or will develop unnecessary risk such as from cachexia before they finally enter into transplant. The priority status will more truly reflect patient illness when the listing physicians have reasonable confidence that patients will receive a heart in a timely manner, a confidence eroded by the lengthening waiting times, which in turn reflect the anasarca of the waiting list."

HT: Marc Melcher

Friday, August 12, 2016

Market Design, and NSF support of economics

Market design plays a role in the arguments both pro and con, in the recent symposium in the Journal of Economic Perspectives:

Symposium: NSF Funding for Economists

In Defense of the NSF Economics Program (#11)
Robert A. Moffitt
A Skeptical View of the National Science Foundation's Role in Economic Research (#12)
Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

 Moffitt mentions auction design, kidney exchange and school choice (with a more general reference to deferred acceptance clearinghouses) as beneficiaries of NSF funding. Cowen and Tabarrok single out auction design as something whose private benefits might argue against government funding: "Indeed, few areas in economics have been as privately remunerative as auction theory."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Matt Jackson, profiled in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Matt Jackson in the PNAS: Profile of Matthew O. Jackson

Here's the 'Extract' (the full article seems to be gated but this gives you the idea):

During a lunchtime chat in 1993, Matthew Jackson first became interested in social and economic networks. Jackson and a colleague were discussing how power depends on networks of relationships. As an economist, Jackson had always been interested in modeling and analyzing social interactions and human decision-making. Soon, he and his colleague followed up on their lunchtime discussion by building game theoretic models of how people choose to form relationships (1). “Once I started getting interested in the subject, there were lots of different angles on it that became interesting, and I just started working on it more and more,” he says.
Jackson, the William D. Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, has spent most of his distinguished career studying networks and game theory. He has studied how networks form in varied settings, including research on the root of racial biases in high school friendships and how microfinance spreads in rural Indian villages (23). Jackson’s research has illuminated the role of networks in influencing access to jobs and information (4). “Understanding networks can really help us understand a lot of persistence in inequality and differences across groups in labor markets,” he says. More recently, Jackson has examined why nations go to war (5) and how social structure affects beliefs (6). For his many contributions to the field, Jackson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015.

Role of Social and Economic Networks

During the course of Jackson’s career, social and economic networks have become a prominent focus of study for economists. Through the work of Jackson and others, it has become clear that understanding networks has wide-ranging applications.
“One area in which it has become obvious to people that networks of interactions matter lately is understanding financial …

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

House swapping in the UK

Neil Thakral writes:

Regarding ... public-housing residents switching units, I mentioned that this happens in the UK ( 
["You can swap your council or housing association home with another tenant if you follow certain rules and get permission from your landlord. This is often called ‘mutual exchange’."]

I thought there was something like this on Al's blog, and I found posts on buying/selling private homes ( and trading homes for vacations (

["The House Exchange website automatically matches house-seekers with properties that meet their needs. Once a social housing provider signs up with House Exchange, all its tenants can use the service for free. In Leeds, 100 per cent of social landlords have signed up, meaning all 102,000 social households across the city are able to use the service."]

Here are two platforms that seem to arrange this:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Repugnance watch: Deaccessioning art (i.e. selling it)

Some time ago I had a set of posts on Brandeis University's plan to sell some of its art. Apparently the professional ethics of museums allows art to be sold to buy other art, but not to fix the roof or pay for other things.  Sometimes a sale would violate the terms of the gift of the art, but apparently the repugnance applies even when it would not. Now comes a story (in the NY Times) about similar considerations at Fisk University: A Prized Stettheimer Painting, Sold Under the Radar by a University

"When Fisk University, the historically black school in Nashville, tried to sell two paintings several years ago from its storied Alfred Stieglitz art collection, a firestorm erupted. The proposed sale violated conditions of the gift of the collection from Stieglitz’s widow, Georgia O’Keeffe, according to her foundation.

"A drawn-out legal challenge ended in a compromise in 2012 that allowed Fisk to share its collection with Crystal Bridges, the Arkansas museum founded by Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress, bringing the struggling university an infusion of $30 million.

"But what was not revealed at the time, and has only recently come to light, is that before the agreement was completed — and with the debate over the future of Fisk itself swirling around her — Hazel O’Leary, then the university’s president, on behalf of the school quietly sold off two other paintings owned by Fisk.

"The institution was “under duress,” said Patrick Albano of Aaron Galleries, an art dealer from Illinois whom Ms. O’Leary asked to broker the sale.
"According to Mr. Albano, Fisk decided to sell work by Stettheimer and the painter and illustrator Rockwell Kent, which had been donated to the university with “no strings attached.”

“Shame on them,” said Lyndel King, director of the Weisman Museum at the University of Minnesota and a chairwoman of the Task Force for the Protection of University Collections, referring to Fisk’s actions. “It’s very much against the ethics of our profession.”

"Though the task force does not have legal authority over universities, its members, who represent several museum associations, can censure those who sell art to pay operating expenses, putting pressure on them not to treat art as an A.T.M. That practice “alienates donors and undermines the purpose of having a museum on campus,” Ms. King said.

"Various museum associations say that deaccessioning art, if not in violation of the original gift, is justified if the proceeds are used to buy more art. It is the cherry-picking of a painting here and a painting there to bolster an endowment or support operating expenses that is frowned upon.

"Universities, however, have argued in several settings that they must consider such sales when the fiscal alternatives — cutting programs or staff — are untenable."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Organ Donation after euthanasia, in the Netherlands

The American Journal of Transplantation discusses the fraught issue of patients who wish to end their lives with medical assistance, and then become deceased donors.

Organ Donation After Euthanasia: A Dutch Practical Manual

  1. J. Bollen1,*
  2. W. de Jongh2
  3. J. Hagenaars3,
  4. G. van Dijk4
  5. R. ten Hoopen5
  6. D. Ysebaert6
  7. J. Ijzermans7
  8. E. van Heurn8 and
  9. W. van Mook1
Version of Record online: 10 MAR 2016
DOI: 10.1111/ajt.13746
American Journal of Transplantation

American Journal of Transplantation

Volume 16Issue 7pages 1967–1972July 2016

Abstract: "Many physicians and patients do not realize that it is legally and medically possible to donate organs after euthanasia. The combination of euthanasia and organ donation is not a common practice, often limited by the patient's underlying pathology, but nevertheless has been performed >40 times in Belgium and the Netherlands since 2005. In anticipation of patients' requests for organ donation after euthanasia and contributing to awareness of the possibility of this combination among general practitioners and medical specialists, the Maastricht University Medical Center and the Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam have developed a multidisciplinary practical manual in which the organizational steps regarding this combined procedure are described and explained. This practical manual lists the various criteria to fulfill and the rules and regulations the different stakeholders involved need to comply with to meet all due diligence requirements. Although an ethicist was involved in writing this paper, this report is not specifically meant to comprehensively address the ethical issues surrounding the topic. This paper is focused on the operational aspects of the protocol."

"Introduction: In September 2013, an article addressing organ donation after active euthanasia was published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine (1). A patient suffering from a progressive neurodegenerative disease was able to donate his liver and both kidneys. Organ donation after euthanasia has been described previously, with excellent transplant outcome (2).

"Prior to December 2015, organ donation after euthanasia was performed 15 times in the Netherlands and resulted in donation of eight pairs of lungs, 13 livers, 13 pancreases and 29 kidneys. These developments necessitated the creation of a practical manual addressing the combination of both procedures because of the unique and complex legal and ethical issues, together with the appropriate medical care (3). This manual can be used as a framework for hospitals that wish to facilitate such successive procedures. The essential components of the practical manual, developed by the collaborative efforts of the Maastricht University Medical Center and the Erasmus Medical University Medical Center Rotterdam, are discussed below.

"Although the manual addresses euthanasia and organ donation in the Netherlands, many of the issues raised and discussed may be similar or comparable to those in any country that allows organ donation in the setting of euthanasia. A discussion of ethical considerations is not included in this paper, but this is not intended to dismiss the necessary ethical discussions to be held in this domain."