Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Should prostitution remain illegal in the U.S?

The NY Times is on the case:

Should Prostitution Be a Crime?

A growing movement of sex workers and activists is making the decriminalization of sex work a feminist issue.
"Three months earlier, at a meeting attended by about 500 delegates from 80 countries, Amnesty voted to adopt a proposal in favor of the “full decriminalization of consensual sex work,” sparking a storm of controversy. Members of the human rights group in Norway and Sweden resigned en masse, saying the organization’s goal should be to end demand for prostitution, not condone it. Around the world, on social media and in the press, opponents blasted Amnesty.
"In the United States and around the globe, many sex workers (the term activists prefer to “prostitute”) are trying to change how they are perceived and policed. They are fighting the legal status quo, social mores and also mainstream feminism, which has typically focused on saving women from the sex trade rather than supporting sex workers who demand greater rights. But in the last decade, sex-worker activists have gained new allies. If Amnesty’s international board approves a final policy in favor of decriminalization in the next month, it will join forces with public-health organizations that have successfully worked for years with groups of sex workers to halt the spread of H.I.V. and AIDS, especially in developing countries. “The urgency of the H.I.V. epidemic really exploded a lot of taboos,” says Catherine Murphy, an Amnesty policy adviser.
"At the Amnesty conference, Muñoz told the crowd that she thinks decriminalization would have benefits for many people by bringing the sex trade out from underground. “I believe in the empowered sex worker,” she said. “I was one. But the empowered sex worker isn’t representative of the majority of sex workers. It’s O.K. for us to be honest about this.” She was referring to the social and economic divide in the profession. Activists in the sex-workers’ movement tend to be educated and make hundreds of dollars an hour. The words they often use to describe themselves — dominatrix, fetishist, sensual masseuse, courtesan, sugar baby, whore, witch, pervert — can be self-consciously half-wicked.

Some of their concerns can seem far removed from those of women who feel they must sell sex to survive — a mother trying to scrape together the rent, say, or a runaway teenager. People in those situations generally don’t call themselves “sex workers” or see themselves as part of a movement. “It’s not something people we work with would ever talk about,” says Deon Haywood, the director of Women With a Vision in New Orleans, an African-American health collective that works with low-income women and trans clients. Some of them sell sex, Haywood says, because it’s more flexible and pays better than low-wage work at businesses like McDonald’s.

Human rights advocates tend to focus on people in grim circumstances. “Like many feminists, I’m conflicted about sex work,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, which took a stand in favor of decriminalization four years ago. “You’re often talking about women who have extremely limited choices. Would I like to live in a world where no one has to do sex work? Absolutely. But that’s not the case. So I want to live in a world where women do it largely voluntarily, in a way that is safe.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Buying old drugs and raising their price is a repugnant transaction on Capitol Hill

Valeant Chief, at Senate Hearing, Concedes Mistakes on Steep Drug Prices

"The chief executive of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, which has been harshly criticized for its practice of raising prices on old drugs, said during a tense hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday that the company had made “mistakes,” while lawmakers accused him and others connected to Valeant of favoring profits over patients’ needs.

“Let me state plainly that it was a mistake to pursue, and in hindsight I regret pursuing, transactions where a central premise was a planned increase in the prices of the medicines,” J. Michael Pearson, the chief executive, said at the hearing."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Los Angeles starts to discuss common enrollment school choice

The LA Times has the story:
How realistic is L.A. Unified's common enrollment application plan?

"According to a report that district employees prepared for the board of education in October and obtained by The Times in April, the district would favor a website like that of Boston Unified School District, in which parents can come to one website, enter their preferences for their child and receive suggestions on schools that fit the criteria. The information technology department recommended hiring a vendor to create this "search engine," according to the report.

The paper also suggests moving the application timeline to the fall semester, and creating one common application for all L.A. Unified schools. This would allow the district to compete with charter schools that have their lotteries early in the school year.

Unlike some other districts that have adopted this kind of process, L.A. Unified would not include independent charters. During a budget meeting in March, superintendent Michelle King told board members this single enrollment system would be a way to keep students, and the revenues they bring, in traditional public schools.

The discussions come as more students abandon district schools in favor of charter schools.

Right now there are about 10 kinds of public school options for families, including neighborhood schools, magnets, open enrollment, and zones of choice. Even if parents know that they have options and figure out what the alphabet soup of words means, the enrollment and application dates are at different times of the year, from October through March."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Interview about Who Gets What and Why at the American Academy in Berlin (audio, 10 minutes)

When I was in Berlin in March I gave an interview which I just noticed is on the web...

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Matching with (sexual) contracts, by Arcidiacono, Beauchamp, and McElroy

Quantitative Economics, Volume 7, Issue 1 (March 2016)

Terms Of Endearment: An Equilibrium Model Of Sex And Matching

Peter Arcidiacono, Andrew Beauchamp, Marjorie McElroy


We develop a two‐sided directed search model of relationship formation that can be used to disentangle male and female preferences over partner characteristics and over relationship terms from only a cross section of observed matches. Individuals direct their search for a partner on the basis of (i) the terms of the relationship, (ii) the partners' characteristics, and (iii) the endogenously determined probability of matching. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we estimate an equilibrium matching model of high school relationships. Variation in gender ratios is used to uncover male and female preferences. Estimates from the structural model match subjective responses on whether sex would occur in one's ideal relationship. The estimates show that some women would ideally not have sex, but do so out of matching concerns; the reverse is true for men. Counterfactual simulations show that the matching environment black women face is the primary driver of the large differences in sexual activity among white and black women.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The college admissions scramble is now open: many colleges still accepting applications

There is still time to find a college, and here is a link to a listing of colleges still seeking students:

College Openings Update 2016

NACAC’s annual College Openings Update: Options for Qualified Students (formerly the Space Availability Survey) is a voluntary listing of NACAC member postsecondary institutions that are still accepting applications from prospective freshman and/or transfer students for the upcoming fall term. Now in its 29th year, the College Openings Update is designed as a tool for counselors, parents and others assisting students who have not yet completed the college admission process. Typically, colleges will continued to join the update after the May 5 public release date, so check back periodically to see additional colleges still accepting applications.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Burning ivory to educate the world about the illegal poaching of elephants

Kenya burns world's biggest ivory stockpile worth $105m in conservation effort

"Kenya set light to 105 tonnes of elephant ivory in the biggest burn in history on Saturday, aimed at crushing poaching and the illicit wildlife trade.

The country’s president set light to 11 pyres containing a total of 25,000 pieces of wildlife contraband including elephant tusks, rhino horns, exotic animal skins and medicinal bark.
"If sold on the black market, the tusks alone, from around 8,000 elephants, would fetch more than $105m. But the Kenyan authorities are burning burn the ivory to show the world it should have no value without a live elephant attached to it.
"Speaking to delegates at the Giants’ Club summit of conservation experts, Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president, said poaching was not just about animals, it was holding Africa back.

“There is convincing evidence poaching is aided by international criminal syndicates; it fuels corruption; it undermines the rule of law and security; it even provides funding for other trans-national crime,” he said.

“This directly threatens the capacity of our nations to achieve sustainable and meaningful socio-economic development.”

"Each year, between 20,000 and 33,000 elephants are thought to be lost to poaching, which is driven by a mainly Chinese market for their tusks to be carved into trinkets and jewellery.

"Despite millions of dollars in foreign aid and from local government budgets being poured into clamping down on poachers and criminal syndicates, elephants are still being killed faster than they are being born. As few as 470,000 African elephants are now thought to remain in the wild.

"This year so far, Kenya lost at least 94 elephants to poachers and, according to Dr Richard Leakey, the renowned palaeontologist and chair of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, the country’s pachyderm population remains in a “terrible, perilous state”.

We are burning the ivory because we believe ivory should be worthless. We believe not just in putting it out of economic reach but getting rid of it completely forever,” he said.

"Advertisements for the burn were broadcast on big screens onto Shanghai’s Bund building in its equivalent of Times Square and live-streamed on the internet accompanied by commentaries by some of the country’s best-known celebrities.

"Aisling Ryan, from the American charity WildAid which has focused on disrupting the Chinese market, said the Chinese word for “tusk” is the same as for “teeth” and many consumers had been unaware an elephant had to die for it to be harvested."

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Refugees: "no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land"--from "Home" by Warsan Shire

I only belatedly came across the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire, from which the iconic line that is the title of this post comes...

“Home” by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Effect of Rules on Market Performance: a guest post by James Case

Jim Case, the author of Competition: The Birth of a New Science , who also frequently reviews books for the SIAM Review, writes that I could have written a different book than Who Gets What and Why, and offers some thoughts on what it might cover. Here's his guest post.

The Effect of Rules on Market Performance  by Jim Case

          The early chapters of Who Gets What and Why argue, by means of examples, that the success or failure of individual markets often depends less on the details of supply and demand than on the way the markets are organized, and the rules (written or unwritten) that govern participant behavior. History offers any number of memorable examples, of which the following seem particularly instructive:
The parimutuel system of betting at racetracks was invented in 1867. The large amount of calculation involved led to the development of a specialized mechanical calculating machine known as a “totalizator,” or “tote board”. The first one was installed at a track in New Zealand in 1913. The U.S. introduction was in 1927, at Arlington Park, near Chicago. The system was immediately popular with gamblers, for allowing them to bet against other gamblers, rather than “the house,” invariably suspected of acting on inside information.
Air-Brakes on Railroads engaged in interstate commerce were mandated by federal law in 1893. Before that, no individual road could afford the expense of installing such brakes. When all were required to have them, however, freight and passenger rates could be raised sufficiently to make them affordable. Railroad profits actually increased, due to the feasibility of operating longer trains in relative safety!
The Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) was allotted the task, during the 1920s, of regulating in-state oil production on the ground that (pipelines being yet few and far between) crude was mainly transported in railroad tank cars, limited numbers of which were available. After the discovery of the East Texas Field in 1931, the supply of crude oil so far outpaced demand that the price fell to 10 cents a barrel, ironically bringing many producers of “black gold” to the verge of bankruptcy. The commission responded by imposing limits on the fraction of rated capacity well owners were permitted to produce. Initially, they were allowed as little as ten percent, or three “producing days” per month. Texas oil men grew rich only after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the TRC was indeed within its rights to enforce such regulation by whatever means necessary.

The Securities and Exchange Commission was established in 1934 to regulate trade in stocks, bonds, and other securities. Before that time, controls on the issuing and trading of securities had been virtually nonexistent, allowing all manner of fraud and manipulation. Drastic measures were required to restore public confidence (and participation) in the stock market following the crash of 1929. The business community, ever wary of New Deal reforms, was mollified by the effective yet business-friendly chairmanships of Joseph P. Kennedy and William O. Douglas.
The Regulation of Radio Communication has been ongoing in the US since 1912. Military, emergency responder, police, and entertainment enterprises all wanted the ability to get their signals out over the airwaves to target audiences without interference. The Radio Act of 1912 authorized the establishment of a commission to designate which airwaves would be reserved for public use and which would be available to private users. In 1926, at the request of the nascent broadcasting industry, the Federal Radio Commission was established for the immediate purpose of assigning non-interfering radio frequencies to near-by broadcasters. Advertising time became markedly easier to sell when potential buyers could be assured that their messages would be audible to target audiences. It was exactly the boost the fledgling industry needed at the time, and hastened the day when governments could generate significant revenue by auctioning radio frequencies. The Communications Act of 1934 replaced the Federal Radio Commission with the Federal Communications Commission, holding dominion over telephone as well as radio (& later TV) traffic.
The New Jersey Holding Company Act of 1893: Large corporations were illegal under English common law, which formed the basis of state law in most of the United States. Wholesale mergers and acquisitions therefore remained impossible until legal obstacles were eliminated. The critical piece of legislation is generally held to be the New Jersey Holding Company Act of 1889, which reversed the common law taboo forbidding corporations to buy and hold stock in other corporations. Further restrictions were removed in 1893 and 1896. The result was the consolidation of some 5300 original manufacturing firms into just 318 large corporations between 1897 and the panic of 1903, mostly under New Jersey law. By 1920, most US industries had become oligopolies, with consequences the economics profession has been reluctant to acknowledge.

          It should be added that failure to modify the rules of conduct within specific markets can lead directly to market failure. Congress’ failure to regulate the sale and purchase of derivative securities during the 1990s, and its continued failure to impose a carbon tax, are but two of many cases in point.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Interview about market design in the economics newspaper Wirtschafts Woche (in German)

I was interviewed about market design by Hans Jakob Ginsburg for Wirtschafts Woche
"Märkte gestalten heißt nicht Märkte abschaffen"

Discussion of Who Gets What and Why in Japan: a book review and an article (in Japanese)

A book review and an article about my lecture at Tokyo Institute of Technology:

Matching of the economy: "Who Gets What" by Noburi Ikeda

At 10:00 on April 25, 2016

  • Add to Hatena bookmark
Who Gets What - new economics of matchmaking and market design
Alvin · E · Ross
Japan Jingji News Publishing

With Akira Ikegami at Tokyo Institute of Technology

Saturday, April 30, 2016

April was National Donate Life Month

I received a variety of emails this past month related to National Donate Life Month, and I liked this image (from the Alliance for Paired Donation) the best:

Friday, April 29, 2016

Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen channel Condorcet on American and Indian politics, in the NY Times

How Majority Rule Might Have Stopped Donald Trump

Zurich celebrates Tuomas Sandholm: Symposium on Electronic Market Design

A symposium and more in honor of Tuomas Sandholm:


The symposium will take place at the Department of Education of the University of Zurich (building KAB), at Kantonsschulstrasse 3, 8001 Zurich in room G-01 (interactive map).
A map is available below.


14:00 - 15:00Prof. Tuomas Sandholm
Carnegie Mellon University, USA
Keynote: Journey and new results in combinatorial auctions, automated mechanism design for revenue maximization, and kidney exchanges
15:00 - 15:45Prof. Martin Bichler
TU Munich, Germany
All models are wrong, but some are useful: About spectrum auction design and challenges in market design
15:45 - 16:15Coffee Break
16:15 - 17:00Prof. Sven Seuken
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Designing better combinatorial auctions: Algorithms, incentives, and bidding languages
17:00 - 17:45Prof. Axel Ockenfels
University of Cologne, Germany
Engineering trust on eBay

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stanford celebrates Paul Milgrom and the Incentive Auction "Dream Team"

New on the SIEPR webpage, by Krysten Crawford: To secure a mobile future, Stanford expert creates an auction like no other (the url is more informative than the headline:

"More than two decades ago, Stanford economist Paul Milgrom played a key role in the design of the first wireless spectrum auction. Since then, the framework he helped create has been used in more than 80 auctions in the United States, generated billions of dollars in government licensing fees — and been replicated around the world.

"So it made sense for the Federal Communications Commission to tap Milgrom in 2011 when the agency needed a new way to free up more broadband for mobile devices. It took him and a small band of fellow economists and computer scientists 18 months to design the auction, which finally opened last month after years of regulatory procedures, software development and presentations to potential bidders.

"When the auction ends later this year, the country’s wireless landscape will never look the same.
"For help, Milgrom pulled together an interdisciplinary “dream team” of top experts in economics and computer science: Jonathan Levin, also a SIEPR senior fellow and faculty member in economics; Ilya Segal, a professor of economics at Stanford; and Kevin Leyton-Brown, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia who earned his PhD from Stanford."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hank Greely on future possibilities for human reproduction

One of the 2012 Nobel Laureates in Medicine was Shinya Yamanaka whose work allows stem cells to be generated from skin cells. My Stanford colleague Hank Greely has now written a book, The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, contemplating some of the possibilities--some of them possibly repugnant transactions--for human reproduction. Here's a Stanford news article: Changes in human reproduction raise legal, ethical issues, Stanford scholar says

"Yet, by the same token, the ability to make gametes from skin cells might have some undesirable consequences. For example, Greely pointed out that someone could take a paper coffee cup that you casually tossed in the trash and turn you into a parent without your knowledge or consent.
“We probably need some laws to deal with that; unconsenting parenthood seems like a bad idea,” Greely said. 

Complicated questions

One possibility he proposes would be to require documentation of the provenance of any cells used to derive eggs or sperm.
“I think there are a lot of complicated questions, and for some of them, there is no particular law book to turn to,” Greely said.
Fairness is a central issue, Greely said. What if some people have access to the technology and others don’t? He predicts that in rich countries this child-making process will be subsidized, making it effectively free for prospective parents.
“In part,” he said, that will happen “because it will save the health care system a lot of money. You don’t need to prevent the births of very many really sick babies to pay for hundreds or thousands of attempts at making babies through easy PGD.”
But even so, there will certainly be international disparities, and possibly national ones as well. 

People with disabilities

Greely also raises challenging issues with respect to people with disabilities.
“If you’ve got a genetic disease and this means far fewer people are going to be born with your disease, well, in one sense that’s a good thing, but in another sense that lowers the research interest in your disease, the social support for your disease, and it kind of says your society thinks you shouldn’t have been born,” he said.
Citing the examples of heritable deafness and dwarfism, he noted that it’s plausible that parents would want a child like them.
“If a parent deafened a living baby, we’d certainly take the baby away and we’d prosecute the parent. If parents choose an embryo because it’s deaf, like themselves, in order to preserve deaf culture from genocide, what do we do then?”
Greely seeks to spark broad discussions about policies regarding these issues.
“I think something that changes the way we conceive babies affects everyone in such basic ways that it’s not a topic that should be left solely to the law professors or to the bioethicists or to the ob-gyns or to the fertility clinics,” he said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Theory and application, and age...

An op-ed yesterday by Manil Suri in the NY Times, celebrating the 90th birthday of the mathematician Ivo Babuska, was in part a meditation on "pure" versus applied math, that should ring a bell for economists and game theorists too: The Mathematician’s 90th-Birthday Party.

Suri contrasts Babuska's career with the famous views of G.H. Hardy (he of "A Mathematician's Apology")

"Hardy believed that the only important questions in the field arose internally from this game, that the sole purpose of a mathematician was to create beautiful and “almost wholly useless” theorems.

"But ever since its inception, mathematics has also been driven by another powerful force: applications. From the early commerce and measurement needs that motivated the Sumerians to the subject’s symbiotic co-development with physics, mathematical inquiry has been spurred by questions from external fields. Although Hardy disparaged any math that could be applied to real life as “ugly,” “dull” and “trivial,” surely usefulness should be an additional measure for a mathematician’s worth?
"Hardy dismissed exposition as “work for second-rate minds,” but such activity is critical for a field notoriously inept at communicating its results to outsiders.

"It’s of course unfair to criticize Hardy, given how much the world has changed since his day. The division he created between “beautiful but useless” and “useful but ugly” mathematics has long been breached; even his own “useless” research area of number theory has become essential in cryptography and cybersecurity. Conversely, many elegant and aesthetically pleasing mathematical theories have emerged from the most utilitarian applications — even from the analysis of machine parts, as I can personally attest.

"Let’s cherish Hardy’s theorems, not his opinions, and recognize mathematics as a field with diverse goals and needs, where people can expect to make useful contributions regardless of gender or age."

Monday, April 25, 2016

The first successful heart-lung transplantation

"On March 9, 1981, just minutes past midnight, Mary Gohlke, a 45-year-old Arizona woman dying of primary pulmonary hypertension, was wheeled into a Stanford Hospital operating room for a heart-lung transplant surgery that would become a medical milestone.
"Lung transplants were technically feasible, but no human lung transplant patient had survived more than 23 days. The only antirejection drugs then approved for use interfered with the healing of the surgical wounds where new lungs connected to the patient’s airway. After Gohlke read a newspaper story about the successful heart-lung transplants Stanford cardiothoracic surgeon Bruce Reitz, MD, had done on rhesus monkeys, she telephoned him. Reitz took the call. She asked him how many heart-lung transplants he planned to do that year on humans. He said 10. She told him she’d like to be the tenth so she “could see how the rest of them turn out,” and Reitz responded with a chuckle.

"The holdup, however, was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It had approved a better antirejection drug, cyclosporin A, for heart-transplant patients, but not for other transplant patients.  Stanford had asked the FDA to approve cyclosporin A for heart-lung transplant patients, too — and then waited and waited. Gohlke, increasingly desperate, asked her former boss, the executive editor of the Mesa Tribune, to help. He made calls to then-U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Arizona, and about an hour later the FDA approved the drug for use in heart-lung transplantation at all qualified hospitals. Gohlke received her new heart and lungs — becoming the first patient in the world to undergo a successful heart-lung transplant — and lived for five years with her new organs."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Discriminatory pricing for discriminatory services

I remember initially being surprised that security lines at airlines would be shorter for higher fare travelers, but Americans are getting used to class distinctions. The NY Times has this story, focused on cruise ships: In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat: "Companies are becoming adept at identifying wealthy customers and marketing to them, creating a money-based caste system."

"In theory, according to Steve Tadelis, a professor of economics at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, “when an industry is able to create a richer line of products for people looking to spend their money, that makes everybody happier. But getting it right in reality is very, very hard.”

"As companies separate their clientele, a debate has developed over just how obvious the distinctions should be. Some experts, like David Clarke, who works with leisure industry giants as a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, say that it is best to be open about what amounts to a money-based caste system.

“It’s about transparency,” he said. “What customers hate is when you’re trying to hide stuff and are not being honest with them.”

"Many companies, though, have discovered that offering ordinary customers just a whiff of the rarefied air can actually enhance the bottom line, even if it stirs a certain amount of envy and resentment.
"Even though this kind of pampering might be good for business, and delight those on the right side of the velvet rope, the gap between the privileged and the rest may ultimately leave everyone feeling uneasy, said Barry J. Nalebuff, a professor of management at Yale.

“If I’m in the back of the plane, I want to hiss at the people in first class,” said Mr. Nalebuff, who has advised many Fortune 100 companies. “If I’m up front, I cringe as people walk by.”