Friday, October 31, 2008

Market for toilets: NYC marathon

Providing Toilets for 39,000 Runners

The NYC marathon is a peak load event:
"Gathering and placing 2,250 portable toilets for a one-day event — and then removing them almost immediately — is a daunting task. The marathon represents the third-largest annual assemblage of portable toilets in the country, behind the Rose Bowl college football game and parade and the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. Placed side by side, the 4-foot-wide toilets would stretch 1.7 miles. "

Apparently portable potties have a natural life cycle:
"The average special-event life of a portable toilet, Malone said, is two years — shorter if it attends a lot of concerts — before it is assigned to duty at construction sites, the “bread and butter” of the business. "


The LA Times reports: Somalia's pirate problem grows more rampant

"Entire villages along the coast now engage in piracy. Unemployed youths provide the muscle. Idle fishermen offer boats and knowledge of the coastline. Foreign businessmen provide the money for guns, radios and satellite phones. Islamic hard-liners are lured by the chance to attack Western interests offshore.
The result is a criminal free-for-all. Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have tripled over the last three years, with nearly three a week in 2008, maritime officials say. Currently there are about a dozen hijacked ships, with more than 300 crew members, being held hostage. Ransom payments are often as high as $2 million."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Market for marketing professors

Dan Goldstein at LBS has published his impressions of and advice about the interviewing process at the American Marketing Association annual meetings: If you can get through this, you can be a marketing professor, EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE AMA INTERVIEWS (2008 edition)

The Marketing meetings come half a year earlier than the Economics meetings, but they have a family resemblance. (I gather that years ago the Marketing job market meetings happened at the same time as Economics, as part of the ASSA meetings, but that the Marketing market unraveled...)

HT to Katy Milkman (who is on the market this year)

Market for masseurs in S. Korea

SKorean Court Rules in Favor of Blind Masseurs

"A law that allows only visually impaired people to become licensed masseurs does not violate South Korea's constitution, a court ruled Thursday in a victory for the blind.
The decision brings an end to a fierce legal battle over whether the sighted should be allowed to become professional masseurs, a trade that has been reserved for the blind for nearly a century. The debate has sparked fervent protests by the blind, who say massage is their only chance at making a living."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Market for elephant ivory

The Times of London reports on a government sponsored sale of legal elephant ivory (I presume taken from elephants that died a natural death):
Ivory from 10,000 elephants on sale amid fears of new slaughter

"Wildlife groups and other African nations fear that the controversial sell-off could breathe life back into the ivory trade, banned in 1989, and trigger a resurgence of the poaching that devastated Africa’s elephant populations in the 1970s and 1980s.
Julian Newman, campaigns director with the Environmental Investigation Agency, said that the move could once again open the floodgates to poaching, which reduced Africa’s total elephant population from five million in the 1930s to about 600,000 today. “This [auction], coupled with a lack of sufficient checks in importing countries such as China and instability in some African range states, could easily drag us back to the dark and bloody days of the 1980s when we were seeing around 200 elephants killed by poachers each week.” Conservationists argue that a lack of proper oversight will allow poachers to mix illegal and legal ivory and slip it past regulators, many of them corrupt. "

Market for bribes and corrupt influence

A MA state senator has been charged with accepting bribes to influence the issuing of a liquor license. The criminal complaint describes how the transactions are alleged to have been carried out. It turns out to be unwise to take bribes from a cooperating witness.

Blood supply safety--paid versus unpaid

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for keeping the blood suppy safe. As anyone who gives blood knows, before you can give blood you have to be interviewed about your sexual habits and other potential risk factors. Some donors are turned away, "deferred," based on their answers. (There are recently limits on how much cumulative time overseas a donor can have had, which exclude me.)

Here is a transcript of an FDA conference on Behavior-Based Donor Deferrals in the NAT Era (NAT is nucleic acid testing, i.e. it refers to the non-behavioral ways of screening the blood supply). It has some interesting points, including this on paid versus unpaid donation:

"But looking a little bit more closely at the role that has been played by behavioral exclusion, this is just an example for viral hepatitis. In the 1970s there was concomitant introduction of labeling of paid versus volunteer donation for blood for transfusion, which was at the same time as the first generation of the test for HBsAg, and the combined effect was a very dramatic, approximately 90 percent, reduction. We have never completely teased out how much of this was due solely to the change in labeling which eliminated paid donation, but we do know from the antecedent literature that paid donation was highly associated with transmission of hepatitis."

That is, donors can be paid for blood donation, but paid donations must be labelled as such.

Universities in the current economy

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports: Booming States Lure Academics From Those With Financial Woes (un-gated version here for five days).

Texas, anyone?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auctions for seats at sporting events

The Jets Gross $16 Million in a Seat-License Auction

The days when sports teams sold tickets at below market clearing prices to fans who waited on long lines are fading fast.

NBER working papers on design of partnerships and auctions

Two new NBER papers touch on market design: Hilt and O'Banion discuss the introduction of limited partnerships, and Bajari and Yeo look at how changes in the rules of FCC spectrum auctions changed bidding behavior.

The Limited Partnership in New York, 1822-1853: Partnerships without Kinship
by Eric Hilt, Katharine E. O'Banion - #14412 (DAE LE)


In 1822, New York became the first common-law state to authorize the formation of limited partnerships, and over the ensuing decades, many other states followed. Most prior research has suggested that these statutes were utilized only rarely, but little is known about their
effects. Using newly collected data, this paper analyzes the use of the limited partnership in nineteenth-century New York City. We find that the limited partnership form was adopted by a surprising number of firms, and that limited partnerships had more capital, failed at lower rates, and were less likely to be formed on the basis of kinship ties, compared to ordinary partnerships. The latter differences were not simply due to selection: even though the merchants who invested in limited partnerships were a wealthy and successful elite, their own ordinary partnerships were quite different from their limited partnerships. The results suggest that the limited partnership facilitated investments outside kinship networks, and into the hands of talented young merchants.

Auction Design and Tacit Collusion in FCC Spectrum Auctions by Patrick Bajari, Jungwon Yeo - #14441 (IO)


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has used auctions to award spectrum since 1994. During this time period, the FCC has experimented with a variety of auctions rules including click box bidding and anonymous bidding. These rule changes make the actions of bidders less visible during the auction and also limit the set of bids which can be submitted by a bidder during a particular round. Economic theory suggests that tacit collusion may be more difficult as a result. We examine this proposition using data from 4 auctions: the PCS C Block, Auction 35, the Advanced Wireless Service auction and the 700 Mhz auction. We examine the frequency of jump bids, retaliatory bids and straightforward bids across these auctions. While this simple descriptive exercise has a number of limitations, the data suggests that these rule changes did limit firms' ability to tacitly collude.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Court Finds Niger Guilty on Slavery Charge

"A West African regional court found the government of Niger guilty on Monday of failing to protect a young woman who was sold into slavery at the age of 12. ...
"Slavery is outlawed in Niger and the rest of Africa, but it persists in pockets of Niger, Mali and Mauritania. Ms. Mani’s experience was typical of the practice. Her impoverished family sold her to a farmer named Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about $500."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Business networking thrives in a recession

Business networking is countercyclical: the Financial Times reports
"Professional networks such as LinkedIn and Xing, a European rival, have surged in popularity amid the economic crisis, as people look for advice and jobs from their online contacts."

"Online recruitment sites, such as Monster, Careerbuilder and Yahoo’s HotJobs, saw visitors leap 42 per cent in the same period.
“Financial services is one of our fastest-growing sectors,” said Mr Nye, with activity – frequency and duration of visits – up 50 per cent in August and September.
“Clearly people are joining as they are thinking about their employment situation. People are also getting advice from their network, reference-checking vendors or searching for candidates to fill positions.”
Xing now hosts a 2,000-strong group for “Lehman Brothers Alumni”.
Lars Hinrichs, chairman and chief executive of Xing, said: “We see the crisis as very beneficial for business networks because you are spending more time on your career than on luxuries.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Property rights

A lack of well defined property rights can hamper efficiency. A case in point: Christians Feud Over Church of Holy Sepulcher

"The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the plan is on hold because the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built. In another example, a ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down."

Animal rights and food production in CA--Proposition 2

Animal rights, and what kinds of food can be sold, continue to be an issue in California (and not just in connection with the 1998 referendum banning the sale of horse meat). Here are two stories about Proposition 2, on this year's ballot:
A California Ballot Measure Offers Rights for Farm Animals , and
The Barnyard Strategist

"Proposition 2, co-sponsored by the Humane Society and Farm Sanctuary, the biggest farm-animal-rights group in the United States, focuses on what are considered the worst animal-confinement systems in factory farms. The ballot initiative, which voters will decide on Nov. 4, requires that by 2015 farm animals be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and fully extend their limbs. In effect that translates into a ban on the two-foot-wide crates that tightly confine pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal — a space so small that they can’t turn around. And it would eliminate so-called battery cages where four or more hens share a space about the size of a file drawer."

Some years ago, New Zealand's Animal Welfare Act of 1999 gave considerable deference to the rights of "Non-Human Hominids," such as chimps and other 'great apes'. I recall Ted Bergstrom remarking at the time that there weren't many chimps in New Zealand, and that New Zealanders could have made more of a statement by giving rights to sheep. It looks like Californians are going to have an option like that at the polls next week.

Market for coffee

I wonder what a recession will do to high end coffee shops. Will Americans back away from $4.00 cappuchinos? Or will those seem like a still-affordable luxury--just as luxurious (in their own way) as a Rolls Royce, but cheaper... The NY Times reports on high end coffee shops in NYC: Bean Town

Friday, October 24, 2008

Assisted suicide and "death tourism"

The Times of London follows the Swiss suicide ‘clinic’ Dignitas

"The Crown Prosecution Service is deciding whether to press charges against the parents of Daniel James after it learnt that they had accompanied him to Dignitas, where he ended his life last month. The case has provoked sympathy and condemnation in almost equal measure because, unlike most previous cases, Mr James was not terminally ill. ..."

"Switzerland allows assisted suicide by a nondoctor provided that it is not done for profit. That is the most liberal ruling in Europe and its principles were set out as early as 1918: “In modern penal law suicide is not a crime . . . aiding and abetting suicide can themselves be inspired by altruistic motives.”Even critics of Dignitas such as Andreas Brunner, the state prosecutor in Zurich, accept the principle. “But there should be tighter controls, regulating the quality of the help offered,” Mr Brunner argued. “And more transparency when it comes to individual cases, to finances and to the organisation itself.”The real concern is not the practice of helping people to die – one Swiss organisation, Exit, has helped more than 700 Swiss citizens and has escaped most political criticism – but the tarnished image that comes with being seen as the suicide capital of Europe. Opponents call it “death tourism”."

An accompanying story explains Why I prescribe drugs for suicide, by Dignitas doctor

Britain's National Health Service and private medicine

Up until now, Britain's NHS has insisted that patients either accept the NHS's formulary which does not cover some expensive drugs, or give up all access to NHS care; i.e. patients who pay for some of their own drugs have been required to pay for all of their drugs and treatment, even those that would have been free to other British citizens. Now, the Telegraph reports:
"NHS patients will be allowed to pay for private 'top up' care: Patients will be allowed to pay privately for drugs and still receive NHS treatment under plans to be announced by the Government in the next fortnight. "

"Under current rules, hospitals may withdraw treatment from patients who want to use their own money to buy drugs not available on the health service.
But Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, is preparing to announce that so-called top-up payments will be allowed. "
"Concerns have been raised that such a move would create a two-tier health service where wealthy patients buy life saving treatments denied to those who cannot afford them.
...The Government ordered a review into top-up payments earlier in the year. There has been a public outcry after some NHS hospitals refused to treat those paying for their own drugs or other treatments."

Freakonomics on legalizing prostitution

Should Prostitution Be Decriminalized?, a thoughtful post on the subject at Freakonomics.

eBay hasn't replaced garage sales

The credit crunch is bringing them back: Garage Sales on Rise With Economic Downturn

Debt and fairness

Margaret Atwood points out that credit and debt are not only economically important but highly emotive, and that solutions to the credit crisis will also involve deeply held beliefs about fairness:
A Matter of Life and Debt

Not so many centuries ago, debt transactions were considered repugnant in many parts of the world (and are still so considered in parts of the Islamic world).