Tuesday, October 31, 2023

US halts export of most civilian firearms and ammunition for 90 days.

One of many things that makes the U.S. unusual is the Constitutionally protected status of gun ownership and gun sales here.  Guns being guns, this comes with some built in negative externalities that we struggle to contain.  But we also export guns, to legal markets in other countries (as well as sometimes to illegal ones)  and this can impose negative externalities elsewhere.   Apparently the Commerce Department is reviewing the situation.

 The Guardian has the story (from the Reuters news service):

US halts export of most civilian firearms and ammunition for 90 days. Commerce department cites foreign policy interests and says it will review ‘risk of firearms’ diverted’ to ‘violate human rights’

"The US has stopped issuing export licenses for most civilian firearms and ammunition for 90 days for all non-governmental users, the commerce department said on Friday, citing national security and foreign policy interests.

"The commerce department did not provide further details for the pause, which also includes shotguns and optical sights, but said an urgent review will assess the “risk of firearms being diverted to entities or activities that promote regional instability, violate human rights, or fuel criminal activities”.



Sunday, January 22, 2023

Monday, October 30, 2023

Simple Proofs of Important Results in Market Design-- (video of my talk at Berkeley's Simons Institute)

Here's a video of the talk I gave on Friday at the Simons Institute, on simple proofs of important theorems about matching, that have had impact on practical market design.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Transcript withholding by colleges and universities to be regulated

 Inside Higher Ed has the story:

U.S. Bans Most Withholding of Transcripts. The Education Department strengthens its oversight of institutions with a sweeping set of rules finalized this week.  By  Katherine Knott

"Afederal policy change could give thousands of students access to transcripts and academic credits their colleges have withheld because they owed the institutions money. The new rule, part of a broad package of regulations the U.S. Education Department unveiled Tuesday, could amount to a national ban on the practice of transcript withholding, experts say.

Institutions sometimes withhold transcripts to force a student to pay a balance on their account. Without their transcripts, students often can’t continue their education elsewhere without starting over, and they cannot apply for certain jobs. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with dozens of states enacting their own bans.

The department’s new rule is broader than what the agency proposed in May and would prevent a college or university from withholding a student’s transcript for terms in which a student received federal financial aid and paid off the balance for the term. Research from Ithaka S+R, a research and consulting group, has shown that about six million students have what are called stranded credits because of transcript withholding.


“For a large number of students and former students who are impacted by transcript withholding, this should solve a significant portion of the problem,” said Edward Conroy, a policy fellow at New America, a left-leaning think tank. “Because in most cases, even when former students owe larger debts, nobody owes a debt for the entirety of their degree. It might be for their last semester or something like that.”

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Magic mushrooms as therapy

 The legal use of psychedelics in therapy is growing.

The NYT has the story:

A New Era of Psychedelics in Oregon. The state has pioneered a therapeutic market for psychedelic mushrooms. Researchers are watching with a mix of excitement and unease.  By Mike Baker

"Stigmatized in law and medicine for the past half-century, psychedelics are in the midst of a sudden revival, with a growing body of research suggesting that the mind-altering compounds could upend psychiatric care. Governments in several places have cautiously started to open access, and as Oregon voters approved a broad drug decriminalization plan in 2020, they also backed an initiative to allow the use of mushrooms as therapy.


"For those who have long worked on psychedelics research, the sudden expansion in access in Oregon and Colorado, along with cities like Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., have prompted a mix of elation and trepidation. Oregon has settled on a middle-of-the-road approach, requiring neither a doctor’s supervision nor a specific medical diagnosis, but providing for strict oversight of supply and use.


"While some form of legalized marijuana is authorized in all but 12 states, creating a huge, multi-billion-dollar industry, the psilocybin market remains small, with an uncertain financial outlook for those entering it. Only five businesses are approved to manufacture the therapeutic-use fungi in Oregon, with 13 sites approved to host dosing sessions.


"Officials in other states are watching what happens in Oregon. Voters in Colorado approved a measure last year to decriminalize psilocybin and to set the state on the path to a legal therapeutic market. In other states, including Texas, lawmakers have authorized studies of psilocybin for treating ailments such as PTSD. The F.D.A. has granted the drug “breakthrough therapy” status, which allows for expedited review of substances that have demonstrated substantial promise.

"But there is uncertainty about the best path forward. California lawmakers approved a bill this year to decriminalize several hallucinogens, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure, saying the state needs to first set up regulated treatment guidelines. The American Psychiatric Association has urged caution, saying treatments should be limited to research studies for now."

Friday, October 27, 2023

HBS Dean Datar's statement about Hamas, Gaza, and antisemitism on campus

During World War II, many anti-Nazi people of good will  might have been disturbed by the firebombing of Dresden (sometimes said to be in retaliation for the firebombing of Coventry).   But I imagine that it would have been clear that their opposition to bombing the city of Dresden was not in any way support for the Nazi regime and its aims in the war and in the Holocaust. 

One of the disturbing things about current campus protests in support of the dire situation in which civilians find themselves in Gaza is that they often seem to be expressed as support for Hamas, and the goals that Hamas has so clearly expressed in words and in actions, to kill all the Jews living in Israel and perhaps elsewhere. Indeed the celebrations of Hamas began before Israel began to counterattack, while Hamas was still killing civilians in Israel.

Another disturbing thing is that American university leaders, who have often made clear moral statements about other matters, seem to subscribe to the view that regarding Hamas, 'there are fine people on both sides.'

I don't doubt that some demonstrators are supporting Hamas out of ignorance or indifference to its goals and its atrocities, not to mention of its mis-governance of Gaza.  But others are clearly anti-Semitic, and support genocide against Jews.

Harvard Business School's dean, Srikant Datar, has (in contrast to Harvard's top leadership), issued a statement that seems to me to include both recognition of the tangled politics of the Middle East, and a distinction between political opinions and hate speech. (Universities, which aren't government bodies, have some flexibility about regulating speech on campus, and don't universally protect hate speech, e.g. in general swastikas and nooses are condemned, even though the First Amendment to the Constitution limits what government bodies in the U.S. can do to curtail even hate speech.)

Here is Dean Datar's nuanced letter (that still manages to have relevant content):

Our Values 24 Oct 2023

 "Dear members of the HBS community,

Two weeks have passed since the horrific attack by Hamas on Israeli citizens. As I noted in my letter on October 10th, terrorist actions against civilians are not only unconscionable, they are inconsistent with our most fundamental values; as humans, we must condemn them. The atrocities carried out were heinous and they have left the Israeli and Jewish members of our community, and all of us, reeling.

The ensuing days also have been deeply unsettling as the conflict has escalated in the Middle East. Shock has given way to deep pain and grief, sadness, and anger. Many in our community are afraid: uncertain whether they are welcome at Harvard Business School, unsure how to engage in class discussions, and even feeling physically unsafe for themselves and their loved ones. In the U.S. and around the world, examples of antisemitic hate speech, graffiti, vandalism, riots, and fire bombings, as well as violence such as the stabbing of a young Palestinian boy and his mother in Chicago, have only heightened this fear. Other individuals are afraid in a different way: that what they say might offend or make people angry, that they don’t understand the history behind the current events, and that if they try to offer support or speak up, they will get it wrong and be seen as insensitive or even complicit.

Moreover, the pro-Palestinian demonstration that crossed from Cambridge onto our campus last Wednesday, which included a troubling confrontation between one of our MBA students and a subset of the protestors, has left many of our students shaken. Reports have been filed with HUPD and the FBI, the facts are being evaluated, and it will be some time before we learn the results of an investigation. But the protest has raised questions about how we address freedom of speech, hateful speech that goes against our community values, and security and safety for everyone at the School.

In this context, I am reaching out to all members of the Harvard Business School community to discuss these and other issues that are affecting our School and campus. This is my purview as Dean and this is my responsibility to each of you.

Our Values

“And Thinking” is the idea that we can go beyond traditional either/or dichotomies and think expansively about the challenges we face. Hearing the pain and anguish so many of you have shared, I have debated whether to apply And Thinking to the moment we are facing now—it may be perceived as being too equivocal, or the wrong moment. But, not saying And has perhaps kept me from saying things that are important to say.

Let me start, then, by acknowledging that antisemitism exists on our campus, and stating unequivocally there is no place for it here. We have a strong and deeply valued Jewish and Israeli community at Harvard Business School. In recent days, many have shared with me their anger at Harvard’s history of antisemitism and their dismay that it continues today. We can and must start by making a difference at HBS. Antisemitism is insidious and we simply cannot allow it to persist in any form. We must ensure that our Jewish and Israeli faculty, staff, students, and alumni feel not only safe and supported by our community, but also a deep sense of belonging and understanding.

And, let me say emphatically that Islamophobia exists at HBS, and has no place on our campus either. We have a strong and deeply valued Muslim and Arab community. We must ensure that these faculty, staff, students, and alumni feel safe, supported, and at home at our School; Islamophobia, too, is insidious and cannot be allowed. We must be a place that embraces diversity—of culture, of religion, of ethnicity, and of every other aspect of identity and experience. This is what enriches our classroom discussions and the learning environment, and this principle is codified in our community value of respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others. We must ensure we live up to that value.

Let me also state that I condemn violence and hateful speech, words, and actions like doxing that damage the fabric of our community, detract from learning, and can incite violence. Some protestors at Wednesday’s demonstration held banners and chanted words widely understood to call for the end of Israel—inciting the eradication of a nation and its people. There is no place for hateful speech on our campus. It violates our community values—values that hold all of us to a higher standard than simply protecting free speech.

And, we must enable robust dialogue and the expression of divergent points of view. At a University whose motto is Veritas, we should strive to ensure that our arguments and claims are true and rooted in fact. But we must be okay with being uncomfortable, even offended, at times. We must allow peaceful protests, demonstrations, and gatherings, and I will defend the right to voice dissent without hate. This is a fundamental principle of a strong democratic society that respects civil liberties.

I believe that we can do more than one thing at the same time—and that we must do so now, when there are many values we must uphold. I also believe that, by doing so, we can come together as a community and deliver on the promise we make to the students who come to our School: an engaging learning experience, and an education in business, management, and leadership. Yet we must also create the space necessary to grieve, to console, to express, to understand, to challenge, to debate, and to inspire.


It also is a time for action. Let me outline efforts either underway or planned to launch this week.

First, we will undertake an effort to understand the experience of antisemitism at Harvard Business School—investigating more deeply the concern I have heard that noxious elements of antisemitism persist on our campus and in our classrooms. After this assessment—which will engage faculty, staff, students, and alumni—is complete, we then will develop an action plan outlining specific steps we might take to address antisemitism at the School. The lessons we learn from this effort will help us examine other hidden forms of discrimination that persist at HBS, including Islamophobia. Throughout my time as Dean, I have expressed my aspiration that Harvard Business School be a place where every individual is able to be the best they can be. It pains me to acknowledge this is not our current reality, and so we must take on this work with energy and urgency. Toward that end, we will announce the leadership and composition of this group before the end of the month.

Second, I am mobilizing small groups of faculty, staff, and students to revisit and clarify aspects of our campus culture. One group will look at our classroom norms and how we continue to deliver our planned curriculum while providing opportunities to discuss and deepen understanding of the conflict. A second group will examine demonstration guidelines, ensuring we protect and balance our community values, rights of expression, restrictions on hateful speech, and the safety and well-being of every member of our community. This will necessitate developing a deeper and shared understanding of hate speech: what constitutes it, how we define it, and the repercussions for members of our community who use it. Both groups will be asked to develop recommendations we can implement quickly and modify as circumstances change.

Finally, we are taking additional steps to ensure the safety and well-being of our community. We have a sophisticated security plan as our baseline, including a state-of-the-art Security Operations Center that is staffed 24/7 and the ability, for example, to lock down a classroom, an office, or a building almost instantly. Campus security can be reached, night and day, by calling 617.495.5577, and HUPD is available at 617.495.1212 if any individual senses a threat to their personal safety. Both HUPD and HBS have increased patrols by officers and other security personnel. And our Operations team works daily with HUPD, local, state, and federal agencies to evaluate threat levels and to support events and campus activities in a coordinated way. While no credible threat has yet been identified, we are considering additional steps such as requiring ID-card access to more buildings on campus.

Additionally, two Harvard-wide Community Spaces—one to support Jewish, and one to support Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian community members—have been launched which aim to foster a sense of belonging through dialogue with peers. Gatherings have been scheduled through the end of the month and additional details can be found here in the Quick Links. The University also has published a Guide for Protecting Against Online Abuse and Harassment, which can be found here. We will work closely and individually with any student, faculty member, or staff member who comes to us with concern, and are open to other suggestions and ideas. We want our campus to be safe, secure, and vibrant.

Closing Thoughts

We must find a way forward. Why? Because if we can’t do it here—drawing on the strength of our community, the knowledge and experience among us, and the resources of Harvard University—then where else can this work be done? I recognize the grief and pain of so many at the School. I feel it myself. I also firmly believe that by educating leaders who make a difference in the world, and by learning and working together across our differences, we can contribute to peace and prosperity around the globe. Now is the time to recommit to our mission with a sense of urgency and purpose."


Earlier related posts:

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Online and Matching-Based Market Design, Simons Institute, Berkeley. Oct. 26 – , Oct. 27,

 To celebrate the book of the same name, the Simons Institute is hosting a conference today and tomorrow on

Online and Matching-Based Market Design, Simons Institute, Berkeley.  Calvin Lab Auditorium, Thursday, Oct. 26 – Friday, Oct. 27, 2023

"All talks can also be viewed live on our YouTube channel, and recordings of each talk will also be available following each presentation unless otherwise noted. YouTube Live Stream: https://www.youtube.com/user/SimonsInstitute/live."

Thursday, Oct 26:

Update: the links in the final program now also include videos of most of the talks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Why living kidney donors in England should be financially compensated

 Here's an article suggesting why England should pilot a program to compensate kidney donors.  Perhaps the argument is generalizable to other countries as well...

Rodger, Daniel, and BonnieVenter,  A fair exchange: why living kidney donors in England should be financially compensated. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11019-023-10171-x

Abstract: Every year, hundreds of patients in England die whilst waiting for a kidney transplant, and this is evidence that the current system of altruistic-based donation is not sufficient to address the shortage of kidneys available for transplant. To address this problem, we propose a monopsony system whereby kidney donors can opt-in to receive financial compensation, whilst still preserving the right of individuals to donate without receiving any compensation. A monopsony system describes a market structure where there is only one ‘buyer’—in this case the National Health Service. By doing so, several hundred lives could be saved each year in England, wait times for a kidney transplant could be significantly reduced, and it would lessen the burden on dialysis services. Furthermore, compensation would help alleviate the common disincentives to living kidney donation, such as its potential associated health and psychological costs, and it would also help to increase awareness of living kidney donation. The proposed system would also result in significant cost savings that could then be redirected towards preventing kidney disease and reducing health disparities. While concerns about exploitation, coercion, and the ‘crowding out’ of altruistic donors exist, we believe that careful implementation can mitigate these issues. Therefore, we recommend piloting financial compensation for living kidney donors at a transplant centre in England."

They set the stage in their Introduction:

"In 2019, the Human Tissue Act 2004 (HT Act) was amended to allow England to adopt an opt-out system of organ donation, which was subsequently passed as The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 and implemented in May 2020. This amendment aims to change the way donor consent is given for transplantable organs and tissues. Its intention is to increase the number of organs available for transplantation to save lives and improve the quality of life of those on the wait list. It was estimated by the United Kingdom (UK) Government that this amendment would save 700 lives per year (Dyer 2019). Despite these intentions, this amendment is unlikely to make a significant difference to the number of available organs.

"Currently, there is no definitive evidence to suggest that merely adopting an opt-out system will increase the pool of available organs (Etheredge 2021). Nevertheless, even if the pool of organs were to increase, it is not necessarily a panacea. Spain, though not strictly an opt-out system because it does not have an opt-out register (Etheredge 2021), is considered the gold-standard system for organ transplantation. But despite their success, Spain still has an insufficient number of organs, a growing kidney transplant wait list, and patients still die waiting for a transplant (Crespo et al. 2021). Kidney transplant wait lists continue to increase despite improving infrastructure, education, and the adoption of opt-out systems. Because only around 1% of people who die each year in the UK are eligible to donate their organs (NHS Blood and Transplant, 2022), it is becoming increasingly necessary to consider alternative approaches to increase the number of available organs for transplant."

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Scientists deliberately gave women Zika--challenge trials for diseases whose incidence has dropped too far for conventional clinical trials

 Nature has the story (despite the somewhat inflammatory headline).

Scientists deliberately gave women Zika — here’s why. ‘Human challenge’ results suggest that such trials could be used to test vaccines when Zika incidence is low.  by Mariana Lenharo, Nature, 21 October 2023

"For the first time, scientists have deliberately infected people with Zika virus to learn whether such a strategy could help to test vaccines against the pathogen.

The virus can cause severe birth abnormalities in babies born to parents infected during pregnancy. It also has been associated with neurological problems in adults, although those cases are rare. But infected study participants had only mild symptoms, and none became pregnant during or immediately after the trial. The results raise hopes that ‘human challenge’ programmes — in which volunteers are exposed to a pathogen in a controlled setting — could make it feasible to test vaccines at a time when Zika incidence is low.

“This is a great scientific gain in terms of the development of a vaccine,” said Rafael Franca, an immunologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil. The results are scheduled to be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Chicago, Illinois.


"In 2022, after a long process to address ethical concerns around the study, Durbin and her team recruited 28 healthy women, aged 18 to 40, who were neither pregnant nor lactating. All agreed to be admitted to a research facility and remain there until they were no longer infectious; they stayed at the unit for 9 to 16 days. They were tested for pregnancy several times before receiving the virus, to avoid the risk of congenital problems associated with Zika, and were counselled to use birth control for at least two months after the study.

Hope for smaller trials

The researchers injected 20 participants with one of two strains of Zika virus and eight with placebo. All of the participants who received the virus were infected; of those, 95% developed a rash — a common symptom of Zika — and 65% had joint pain. None of the placebo recipients had those symptoms.

Durbin says the findings indicate that the two strains of Zika administered in the trial can be safely and effectively used to infect participants in a Zika vaccine trial. She estimates that the controlled human infection model could be used in a phase III clinical trial for vaccine efficacy with as few as 50 to 100 participants. “With the challenge model, where you have 100% of infections, you could get an efficacy result with many fewer people” than in a conventional trial, says Durbin.


The new study represents a turnaround in the thinking about challenge trials. In early 2017, a report by researchers convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research concluded that the risks of a human-infection study for Zika, at that time, surpassed the potential benefits.


But “from that time to now, we learnt a lot,” says Palacios. “Now we know that the risk of the virus being transmitted to another person through sexual relationships is limited and something that can be controlled,” he says. And regulators have signalled that they might consider data from human challenge trials in vaccine development, “in particular for those diseases that don’t have enough incidence to test in the field.”

Despite the low number of Zika cases, researchers say that it’s important to continue the efforts to develop a vaccine, because the virus might make a comeback. “Infections are much lower than they were during the epidemic in 2016. However, they are still occurring,” says Neil French, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Liverpool, UK, who is involved in a Zika vaccine-development project. “The justification for a vaccine remains strong.”

Monday, October 23, 2023

Waitlist equity, when not everyone can wait a long time, by Afshin Nikzad and Philipp Strack

 Patients waiting for deceased donor kidneys are given priority in part by how long they have been on dialysis, while patients waiting for livers are prioritized according to how sick they are, sickest first.  When the wait is long, not everyone has an equal chance of surviving long enough to receive an organ. Here's a paper that suggests that service in random order (SIRO) has desirable equity properties. Efficiency depends on how patients' welfare and future prospects change while they wait.

Equity and Efficiency in Dynamic Matching: Extreme Waitlist Policies, by Afshin Nikzad and Philipp Strack, Management Science, forthcoming, Published Online:3 Oct 2023https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2023.01212

Abstract: Waitlists are commonly used to allocate scarce resources, such as public housing or organs. Waitlist policies attempt to prioritize agents who wait longer by assigning them priority points (à la first come, first served). We show that such point systems can lead to severe inequality across the agents’ assignment probabilities unless they use randomization. In particular, deterministic point systems lead to a more unequal allocation than any other rule that prioritizes earlier arrivals, an axiom that ensures that agents who wait longer are treated (weakly) better. Among the policies abiding by this axiom, we show that service in random order (SIRO) leads to the most equal allocation. From a utilitarian perspective, we show that the planner faces no trade-off between equity and efficiency when the flow utility from waiting is nonnegative or negative and increasing over time. In these cases, SIRO is also the most efficient policy. However, when the flow cost of waiting increases over time, then the planner may face an efficiency–equity trade-off: SIRO remains the most equitable policy but may not be the most efficient one.

1. Introduction: Waitlists are a common way to allocate scarce resources, such as public housing,1 organs,2 or services such as call center support.3 There are many ways to decide who among the waiting agents receives an object once it becomes available. Some waitlists operate in a service-in-random-order (SIRO) manner and use lotteries to allocate objects to waiting agents, such as in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program in the United States4 or Beijing’s license plate allocation.5 Many other waitlists follow designs akin to first come, first served (FCFS), in which whoever has waited for the longest time receives (priority points for) an object. For example, in the national kidney transplant waitlist in the United States, enrolled patients earn priority points for each day that they remain on the waitlist.6 Such rules ensure that an agent who waits longer is not treated worse than an agent with a shorter waiting time and otherwise identical characteristics.

"Prioritizing agents with longer waiting times, however, has a drawback: it implies that an agent with a longer lifetime, that is, an agent who can wait longer for an object, has a higher probability of receiving an object. This naturally leads to inequality in assignment probabilities across agents with varying lifetimes. For example, a first-come, first-served list would lead to many of the sickest patients never receiving an organ as they depart the system before having waited long enough to receive an organ. Such equity concerns, for example, play an important role in the context of organ allocations (Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network 2015). The high-level question we ask here is, what policy induces the least inequality among policies that give priority to agents who arrive earlier? Furthermore, is minimizing inequality aligned with the objective of a planner who maximizes the average of the agents’ utilities, or are there efficiency–equity trade-offs to be considered here?"

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Markets, Virtues and Ethics

 Do markets complement virtues, or sideline them?  Here's another entry into that discussion.

Reese, A., Pies, I. Solidarity Among Strangers During Natural Disasters: How Economic Insights May Improve Our Understanding of Virtues. J Ethics (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10892-023-09460-7

"Abstract: The renaissance of Aristotelian virtue ethics has produced an extensive philosophical literature that criticizes markets for a lack of virtues. Drawing on Michael Sandel’s virtue-ethical critique of price gouging during natural disasters, we (1) identify and clarify serious misunderstandings in recurring price-gouging debates between virtue-ethical critics and economists. Subsequently, (2) we respond to Sandel’s call for interdisciplinary dialogue. However, instead of solely calling on economics to embrace insights from virtue ethics, we prefer a two-sided version of interdisciplinary dialogue and argue that virtue ethics should embrace economic insights. In particular, we argue that if virtue ethics is to preserve its social relevance under modern conditions, it should re-conceptualize its notion of virtue and re-evaluate the self-interested but effective—and in this sense solidary—help among strangers via markets as virtuous rather than devaluate it as greed, that is, as vicious price gouging.


"Most forms of virtue ethics share a central concern for the moral character of a person, the development of excellence, and an emphasis on avoiding vices and pursuing virtues. This means that in essence, the virtue ethics perspective focuses on good intentions and intended consequences. In contrast, modern economics fosters a systems approach to situational incentives and thus shifts the perspective to focus on the unintended consequences of intentional actions.


" Roth (2007) acknowledges repugnance and other kinds of assumed moral inappropriateness as real constraints on market design. He takes moral feelings seriously and proposes market arrangements that do not evoke such feelings. For example, many people experience a feeling of unease with the idea of being able to buy and sell kidneys, which is currently possible for Iranians in the Islamic Republic of Iran. By designing in-kind kidney exchanges, Roth has shown ways to facilitate market transactions that operate entirely without money and, as such, do not evoke repugnant reactions (Leider and Roth 2010; Roth 2016). Surely, there are still too many people desperately waiting for a kidney. However, the implementation of in-kind exchanges has saved lives. It has helped a significant number of people obtain a kidney that would have obtained none without such a system. In line with Roth, we take the virtue argument seriously. However, we choose a longer time horizon where the assumed moral inappropriateness is no longer a given constraint on market design but becomes, at least in principle, a variable.


"Sandel insists on deciding case by case whether we should give the virtue of (probably less effective) selfless help precedence over the assumed repugnance of (probably more effective) self-interested help via markets, or vice versa.


"Reassessments of social practices are not uncommon throughout history. Most people today perceive the practices of charging interest rates, dueling, and paying opera singers for their performance differently than their ancestors. 

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Repugnance is hard to predict

Widespread repugnance, or its absence, is hard to predict.  Why do the U.S. and western Europe have almost opposite positions on the legality of surrogacy and prostitution for example? 

Here's a paper that carefully looked for, and failed to find evidence of a repugnance reaction from consumers about a scandal involving a company spokesperson (but unrelated to the company's business).

The Role of Repugnance in Markets: How the Jared Fogle Scandal Affected Patronage of Subway  by John Cawley, Julia Eddelbuettel, Scott Cunningham, Matthew D. Eisenberg, Alan D. Mathios & Rosemary J. Avery NBER WORKING PAPER 31782 DOI 10.3386/w31782  October 2023

Economics has long studied how consumers respond to the disclosure of information about firms. We study a case in which the disclosed information is unrelated to the product or firm leadership, but which could still potentially affect consumer patronage through the mechanism of repugnance, as described in Roth (2007). The information in this case concerns the arrest of Jared Fogle, the advertising pitchman for the Subway sandwich franchise, who was arrested in 2015 on charges of sex with a minor and child pornography. We study how the disclosure of this information, which was widely covered in the media, affected patronage of Subway. We estimate synthetic control models using data from a large nationwide survey of consumers regarding the restaurants they patronize. Despite the close and long-standing association of Jared Fogle with Subway, and heavy publicity of his crimes, we consistently fail to detect any effect of the Jared Fogle scandal on the probability of visiting a Subway restaurant. These results contrast with past studies of negative information disclosure, which tend to find negative impacts on sales, revenue, or stock price of the relevant companies. The absence of an effect in this case suggests that repugnance did not drive demand, and that consumers largely separated the offenses of a symbol of the firm from the products of the firm.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Blood donor questions, revamped.

 One of the curious things about donating blood is that you are asked about your sex life. Last Thursday the Stanford Blood Center  implemented the updated FDA blood donation guidelines known as the Individual Donor Assessment, emphasizing a more equitable and inclusive donor assessment process.  

"As of Thursday, October 19, Stanford Blood Center (SBC) has implemented the updated FDA blood donation guidelines, which eliminate questions based on sexual orientation. 


About the Individual Donor Assessment (IDA)
"The new process focuses on assessing all donors equally, regardless of gender, reflecting a data-driven approach to maintaining blood safety. This ensures fairness and recognizes that infectious diseases can affect anyone. Ultimately, a thorough donor history questionnaire and extensive testing remain in place to ensure the safety of our blood supply.

The Changes
"Previously, a man who had sex with another man within the last three months was deferred for three months following their last sexual encounter. Additionally, a woman was deferred in the past three months if she had sex with a man who had sex with another man in the past three months. Individuals were assessed based on the gender they identified with, and nonbinary individuals were evaluated using both criteria.

Under the new guidance, the FDA recommends an “individual donor risk assessment” approach that does not depend on gender or sexual orientation, and all donors will be asked the same questions about high-risk sexual behavior. More specifically, any donor who reports having a new partner or more than one partner in the past three months will be asked a follow-up question about anal sex. If anal sex with a new partner or multiple partners is reported in the past three months, the donor will be deferred for three months following the sexual encounter.

The new guidance also requires a three-month deferral for anyone who has taken an oral PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) medication to prevent HIV transmission. A two-year deferral is required if an injectable, long-acting PrEP or PEP medication is taken. A permanent deferral remains for anyone with a history of HIV infection."