Tuesday, 22 September 2015

EconTalk this week

There is only one country in the world where a person can sell a kidney to another citizen who buys it. That country is Iran. Tina Rosenberg of The New York Times talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the Iranian kidney market--how it works, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether its lessons apply to the United States or elsewhere.

There is a direct link to the audio available here.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Questions on trade

Tyler Cowen – for his upcoming conversation at the Mercatus Center with Dani Rodrik – asked on his blog for suggestions of questions that he might put to Professor Rodrik. Don Boudreaux suggested that Tyler ask Professor Rodrik the following question:
Rodrik was quoted in a 2007 New York Times report as saying that, while he follows the methods of modern economics, he rejects the “faith” [his word] – that says, among other things, that free trade is always good. And, of course, Rodrik is known for his ‘heterodox’ refusal to join in mainstream economists’ embrace of free trade.

So, ask Rodrik if economists who embrace free trade within a country are guilty of faith-based policy recommendations in the same way that he thinks economists who embrace free trade between countries are guilty of faith-based policy recommendations? If he answers no, ask him to summarize the relevant differences that separate intranational from international trade, and press him explain why these differences are real or strong enough to shift the burden of persuasion away from those who oppose a general policy of free trade and onto supporters of free trade.
Rodrik's answer to this question is given here. While Boudreaux's response to this answer is here.

A discussion well worth following.

EconTalk last week

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a Broadway show? This week's EconTalk lifts the curtain on the magical world of Broadway: Mitch Weiss, co-author of The Business of Broadway, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book and what it's like to manage the production of a blockbuster musical in New York City. Topics discussed include the eight-performance-per-week grind, the how and why of creating a Broadway set, the challenges of wardrobes (domestic and international) and the pluses and minuses of unions which are a central part of the Broadway workplace.

A direct link to the audio is available here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Conversation on free banking theory between Larry White and Juan Ramón Rallo

Lawrence H. White is economics professor at George Mason University and Juan Ramón Rallo is also economist and director of Instituto Juan de Mariana.

EconTalk for two weeks

How much care do you take when you make a donation to a charity? What careers make the biggest difference when it comes to helping others? William MacAskill of Oxford University and the author of Doing Good Better talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the book and the idea of effective altruism. MacAskill urges donors to spend their money more effectively and argues that the impact on human well-being can be immense. MacAskill wants donors to rely on scientific assessments of effectiveness. Roberts pushes back on the reliability of such assessments. Other topics include sweatshops, choosing a career to have the biggest impact on others, and the interaction between private philanthropy and political action.

A direct link to the audio is available here.

Are human beings naturally cooperative or selfish? Can people thrive without government law? Paul Robinson of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Pirates, Prisoners and Lepers talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts the ideas in his book. Robinson argues that without government sanctions or legislation, there is an evolutionary drive to cooperate even in life-and-death situations. In such situations private punishment and norms play a crucial role in sustaining cooperative solutions. The last part of the conversation deals with the criminal justice system and how attitudes toward the system affect society-wide cooperation and crime.

A direct link to the audio is available here.

School vouchers: a survey of the economics literature

For those interested in the area there is a new NBER working paper out on School Vouchers: A Survey of the Economics Literature by Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano and Miguel Urquiola.

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. In this substantial body of work, many studies find insignificant effects of vouchers on educational outcomes; however, multiple positive findings support continued exploration. Specifically, the empirical research on small scale programs does not suggest that awarding students a voucher is a systematically reliable way to improve educational outcomes. Nevertheless, in some settings, or for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. Studies of large scale voucher programs find student sorting as a result of their implementation, although of varying magnitude. Evidence on both small scale and large scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. Moreover, research is making progress on understanding how vouchers may be designed to limit adverse effects from sorting while preserving positive effects related to competition. Finally, our sense is that work originating in a single case (e.g., a given country) or in a single research approach (e.g., experimental designs) will not provide a full understanding of voucher effects; fairly wide ranging empirical and theoretical work will be necessary to make progress.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

EconTalk this week

Thousands of bears in New Jersey. Humpback whales near New York City. Acres devoted to farming stable or declining even as food production soars. Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the return of nature. Ausubel shows how technology has reduced many of the dimensions of the human footprint even as population rises and why this trend is likely to continue into the future. The conversation concludes with Ausubel's cautious optimism about the impact of climate change.

A direct link to the audio is available here.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Chris Trotter misunderstands economics

Over at the Offsetting Behaviour blog Eric Crampton notes that Chris Trotter has been writing In praise of Bryce Wilkinson. And justly so.

But at one point Trotter writes,
Economics II was staffed by young economists who had studied at universities in the United States where the monetarist theories of Milton Friedman, and the ideas of neo-classical economics generally, were already well-entrenched.
"[T]he ideas of neo-classical economics generally, were already well-entrenched". Is this in anyway surprising? This comment seems to show a rather large misunderstanding of the development of economics.

I mean neo-classical economics developed in the 1870s with the work of Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons and Léon Walras. So by the 1970s and 1980s it had been around for 100 years. It had been the standard in economics textbooks since, at least, Alfred Marshall's Principles of Economics in 1890s. So I am confused as to why Trotter thinks its worth noting that Treasury economists were trained in it. Every economics student, then as now, is trained in it. Its the standard, there is nothing unusual or noteworthy about it.

What would be worthy of note is if they were using non neo-classical ideas. And it is, because they were. Many of the ideas introduced by treasury economists of this time where ideas which moved thinking outside of the purely neo-classical box. They were thinking Coaseian thoughts by applying ideas from the law and economics literature and the new institutional economics to the New Zealand policy scene. They also utilised ideas from contract theory, in the main principal-agent theory, and the transaction cost economies of Oliver Williamson,

This kind of thinking is non neo-classical thinking. It moves away from the ideas of perfect markets, perfect information, zero transaction costs and institution free worlds. So one of the most important things we should be grateful to Wilkinson et al for is the introduction of non neo-classical thinking into New Zealand policy making. It is a great and lasting contribution, a contribution for which they can be justly praised.

Hal Varian interviews Alvin Roth

Hal Varian interviews Alvin Roth about Roth's new book "Who Gets What — and Why," at Google.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

EconTalk this week

Rachel Laudan, visiting scholar at the University of Texas and author of Cuisine and Empire, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of food. Topics covered include the importance of grain, the spread of various styles of cooking, why French cooking has elite status, and the reach of McDonald's. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the appeal of local food and other recent food passions.

A direct link to the audio is available here.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

EconTalk this week

Summer Brennan, author of The Oyster War, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her book and the fight between the Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the federal government over farming oysters in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Along the way they discuss the economics of oyster farming, the nature of wilderness, and the challenge of land use in national parks and seashores.

A direct link to the audio is available here.