Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Priorities Matter: Energy and Beyond

I am speaking at a plenary session tomorrow during the the Energy Impacts Symposium at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Conference Center in Columbus, Ohio. The program is exciting, and I look forward to being a part of it.  The program is described as follows: 

Energy Impacts 2017 is a energy research conference and workshop, organized by a 9-member interdisciplinary steering committee, focused on synthesis, comparison, and innovation among established and emerging energy impacts scholars from North America and abroad. We invite participation from sociologists, geographers, political scientists, economists, anthropologists, practitioners, and other interested parties whose work addresses impacts of new energy development for host communities and landscapes.

The pace, scale, and intensity of new energy development around the world demands credible and informed research about potential impacts to human communities that host energy developments. From new electrical transmission lines needed for a growing renewable energy sector to hydraulically fracturing shale for oil and gas, energy development can have broad and diverse impacts on the communities where it occurs. While a fast-growing cadre of researchers has emerged to produce important new research on the social, economic, and behavioral impacts from large-scale energy development for host communities and landscapes, their discoveries are often isolated within disciplinary boundaries.

Through facilitated interactive workshop activities, invited experts and symposium participants will produce a roadmap for future cross-disciplinary research priorities.

I will be talking about Community Development and the North Dakota Sovereign Wealth Fund, and we'll discuss the implications of the resource curse.  I am of the view that the resource curse is correlative, not causative, and that natural resource extraction can prove harmful to local communities, but that it doesn't have to be.  From North Dakota's $4.33 billion fund to Norway's Government Pension Fund Global, there are examples of funding that can provide for the future. But there are numerous examples of struggling communities and bankrupt local governments where funds benefited few. And even North Dakota and Norway provide stark contrasts in how the funds are used. The point, for me, is that generalizations overstate the role of the resource and understate the role of local decision making.  What we prioritize matters, and often, I think, we can do better.  It's not preordained.  We can do better, as long as we decide to do so. 

July 25, 2017 in Behavioral Economics, Conferences, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Legislation, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wisniewski, Yekini, and Omar on “Psychopathic Traits of Corporate Leadership as Predictors of Future Stock Returns”

Tomasz Piotr Wisniewski, Liafisu Sina Yekini, and Ayman M. A. Omar posted “Psychopathic Traits of Corporate Leadership as Predictors of Future Stock Returns” on SSRN on June 13, 2017. You can find their abstract here

I was particularly interested in how the authors measured psychopathy. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Using UK data, we construct a number of corporate psychopathy indicators and link them to the returns that ensue over the next 250 trading days - a period roughly equivalent to one calendar year.

Even if clear guidance exists on how to diagnose psychopathic personality disorder in humans (Hare 1991, 2003), the practical difficulty is that executives will be generally unwilling to participate in time consuming surveys, particularly those that are likely to expose the dark side of their character. We choose to follow a more pragmatic approach and, similarly to Chatterjee and Hambrick (2007), collect information in an unobtrusive way by going through company-related archives and data. Firstly, using automated content analysis we assess to what extent the language in annual report narratives is symptomatic of psychopathy. This is done by counting the frequency of words that are aggressive, characteristic of speakers who are self-absorbed and who have the tendency to assign blame to others. Secondly, we look at likely correlates of managerial integrity. More specifically, we try to identify companies whose auditors have expressed reservations in the Emphasis of Matter section of the annual report and those that have experienced a publicized Financial Reporting Council (FRC) intervention. Thirdly, we consider a measure that derives from the observation that psychopaths require stronger external stimuli to experience emotions and, therefore, have the tendency to take high risks. We assume that excessive exposure in a corporation will result in a high degree of idiosyncratic risk. This type of risk, which is entirely company-specific and unrelated to the broader economy, is measured in our empirical inquiry. Lastly, we construct a variable to capture the reluctance of a company to donate to charitable causes.

Our empirical investigation documents a negative association between the presence of managerial psychopathic traits and future return on common equity.

July 6, 2017 in Behavioral Economics, Corporate Governance, Management, Psychology, Research/Scholarhip, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Controlling Corruption: Possibilities, Practical Suggestions & Best Practices

On Friday, I will present as part of the American Society of International Law’s two-day conference entitled Controlling Corruption: Possibilities, Practical Suggestions & Best Practices. The ASIL Conference is co-sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, the Business Ethics Program of the University of Miami School of Business Administration, UM Ethics Programs & the Arsht Initiatives, the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Bentley University, and University of Richmond School of Law.

I am particularly excited for this conference because it brings law, business, and ethics professors together with practitioners from around the world. My panel includes:

Marcia Narine Weldon, St. Thomas University School of Law, “The Conflicted Gatekeeper: The Changing Role of In-House Counsel and Compliance Officers in the Age of Whistle Blowing and Anticorruption Compliance”

Todd Haugh, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, “The Ethics of Intercorporate Behavioral Ethics”

Shirleen Chin, Institute for Environmental Security, Netherlands, “Reducing the Size of the Loopholes Caused by the Veil of Incorporation May lead to Better Transparency”

Edwin Broecker, Quarles &Brady LLP, Indiana,& Fernanda Beraldi Cummins, Inc, Indiana, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Possible Unintended Consequences of Enforcing Supply Chain Transparency”

Stuart Deming, Deming PLLC, Michigan, “Internal Controls and Compliance Programs”

John W. Fanning, Kroll Compliance, “Lessons from ‘Sully’: Parallels of Flight 1549 and the Path to Compliance and Organizational Excellence”

I will discuss some of the same themes that I blogged about here last July related to how the Department of Justice Yates Memo (requiring companies to turn over culpable individuals in order to get cooperation credit) and to a lesser extent the SEC Dodd-Frank Whistleblower program may alter the delicate balance of trust in the attorney-client relationship. Additionally, I will address how President-elect Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton may change the SEC’s FCPA enforcement priorities from pursuing companies to pursuing individuals, and how that will change corporate investigations. If you’re in Miami on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, please consider attending the conference.

January 13, 2017 in Behavioral Economics, Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Note to Trump and the New Congress: Play Conservative and Leave It Alone

When it comes to regulations and economic policy, I am quite conservative.  Not a Republican-type conservative (probably more Libertarian in a political sense), but in the sense that I often advocate for less regulation, and even more often, for less changes to laws and regulations. People need to be able to count on a system and work within it. As such, whether it is related to securities law, energy and environmental law, or other areas of the law, I find myself advocating for staying the course rather than adding new laws and regulations.  

For example, a while back, co-blogger Joan Heminway quoted one of my comments about securities law, where I noted "my ever-growing sense that maybe we should just take a break from tweaking securities laws and focus on enforcing rules and sniffing out fraud. A constantly changing securities regime is increasingly costly, complex, and potentially counterproductive." 

After the BP oil blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, I similarly argued that we should approach new laws with caution, and that we might be better served with existing law, rather than seeking new laws and regulation in a hasty manner. I explained, 

[T]here are times when new laws and regulations are necessary to handle new ways of perpetrating a fraud or to address new information about what was previously viewed as acceptable conduct. But often, new laws and regulations are not a reaction to new information or technology; they are a reaction to a unique and unfortunate set of facts that is more likely related to timing or circumstances than an emerging trend. Other times, it is a lack of enforcement of existing protections meaning the problem is not the law itself; it is the enforcement of the law that is the problem.

Choosing a Better Path: The Misguided Appeal of Increased Criminal Liability After Deepwater Horizon, 36 Wm. & Mary Envt'l L & Pol. Rev. 1, 19 (2011) (footnotes omitted). More recently, I have taken the same view with regard to hydraulic fracturing regulations:

There may well be a need for new regulations to improve oversight of hydraulic fracturing and other industries that pose environmental risks, but new regulations do not necessary lead to better oversight. . . . There is a strong argument that the problems related to hydraulic fracturing (and, for that matter, coal extraction, chemical storage, and hazardous waste operations) are more linked to a lack of enforcement and not a lack of regulation.

Facts, Fiction, and Perception in Hydraulic Fracturing: Illuminating Act 13 and Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 116 W. Va. L. Rev. 819, 847 (2014). 

I swear I have a point, beyond just quoting myself.  Here it is: I'd like to urge the President-Elect and the 115th Congress to sit back and stay the course for a little bit to see where things are headed. I have a strong suspicion things are headed in the right direction from an economic perspective. This is not to suggest that there are not holes in the economy or people in desperate need of jobs, training, and education (there are -- I live in West Virginia. I know.). But with a White House and a Congress controlled by the same party, the GOP play should be simply: we're in charge now, and the economy is ready to move ahead.  

We have already seen it -- the stock market is up and economic indicators look better.  And there has been no new legislation or regulation (or repeals of either).  It's just consumers believing the economy will get better.  And consumer confidence is key to expansion.  Who cares that it started before the election?  What matters is whether we're going in the right direction.  And it seems we are. The Financial Times reported today

A gauge of US consumer sentiment has hit a post-recession high, painting a positive outlook ahead of the key holiday shopping season as recent data point to a strengthening US economy.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index climbed to 107.1 in November from 100.8 in October, the highest since July 2007 and above analysts’ forecast of 101.5.

Most of the survey was conducted before the presidential election on November 8. But “it appears from the small sample of post-election responses that consumers’ optimism was not impacted by the outcome,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board. “With the holiday season upon us, a more confident consumer should be welcome news for retailers.”

 

And, just to reinforce that is not a post-election position, I have been making this argument on this blog since at least 2010, when I wrote, How to Fix the "Broken" Financial System: Stop Trying to Fix It

So, let's stay the course for a bit and see how people respond to a little stability. Let's see what a surge in consumer confidence can do for the U.S. and world economies. Let's make sure it's broken (and if so, how), before anyone tries to fix it. And maybe, in the meantime, we can spend a little time treating each other better.

November 29, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Current Affairs, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Legislation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 12, 2016

[Over]confidence in the C-Suite, Politics, and the Employment Interview Process

Interesting research has been done on overconfidence in business leadership (see, e.g., herehere, and here) and political behavior (see, e.g., here and here).  I periodically consult the literature in this area for use in my work.  It is fascinating and often helpful.

In my continuing career development advice to law students, and as a member of our faculty appointments committee at UT Law this year, however, I recently have come to notice and be concerned about overconfidence in job searches.  Specifically, I see law students who, in testing out a new confidence in their knowledge and skills, overdo it a bit and over-claim or come across as unduly self-important.  I also see faculty candidates who have registered for the Association of American Law Schools Faculty Appointments Register (FAR) puff and oversell--using the comment areas to make cringe-worthy self-aggrandizing statements about their teaching or scholarly background or abilities.

Most of us prefer to associate with confident people.  Confidence in a leader or colleague is an attractive trait--one that we associate with strong governance and high levels of performance.  Confidence wins appointments, elections, and jobs.  Yet overconfidence, if recognized, is unattractive and often means lost opportunities.

Overconfidence is common.  Don Moore, a faculty member at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, notes this in a recent blog post on Overconfidence in Politics.

I study overconfidence among all sorts of people, from business leaders and politicians to college students and office workers. And my research shows that most people are vulnerable to overconfidence. We are excessively confident that we know the truth and have correctly seen the right path forward to prosperity, economic growth and moral standing. Research results consistently show that people express far more faith in the quality of their judgment than it actually warrants. . . .

How do those of us who advise law students enable them to be confident and show confidence without becoming overconfident--or projecting overconfidence?  In his post on résumés and interviews two years ago, co-blogger Haskell Murray advised students to avoid overstating their accomplishments.

Lawyers, perhaps more than other professionals, will call you out on any overstated items on your resume. While I have met plenty of arrogant lawyers, and perhaps was one, arrogance isn’t going to win you many supporters in the interview. Avoid vague self-congratulations (e.g., “provided excellent customer service.”). Stick to the specific, verifiable facts (e.g., “voted employee of the month in April 2012” or “responsible for a 35% increase in revenue from my clients.”).

I totally agree.  I also made a related point regarding the written word in my post on cover letters back in January.

. . . I see a significant number of cover letters that use strident adjectives and adverbs to help make their points. The sentences in these letters tend to smack of over-claiming. Also, in many cases, these adjectives and adverbs represent poor substitutes for well-chosen . . . stories. Most employers are likely to be more favorably disposed to the documentation of specific facts substantiating an applicant's suitability for an open position than they would be to sentences consisting of self-selected (and sometimes over-blown) characterizations of the applicant's suitability for that position.

But I have learned that the line between confidence and overconfidence, as important as it is in the job search process, can be a thin one.  And decisions about how to confidently--but not overconfidently--communicate with contacts, mentors, and prospective employers (among others) often must be made on one's own and quickly.  So, my bottom line advice to students is to focus generally in all communications, oral and written, on being other-regarding.  This article written by a Forbes Contributor makes some great observations and offers tips along those lines.  And if you can ask a trusted mentor to help you prepare for common questions or review the text of emails or letters, that's great.  

What else?  You tell me.  I am not confident that I know more . . . .  :>)

September 12, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Joan Heminway, Jobs, Psychology | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Observations from Writing a Book that May Help You Finish Your Next Article

Last week on the blog I featured the smart book Empire of the Fund by sharing excerpts from a conversation with author, Professor William Birdthistle.  In discussing the book, he shared with me some insights on writing a book:  its process, genesis and use in the classroom.  I am fascinated by other's people writing process in the continual effort to improve my own.

writing a book...

[W]riting a book was more of a challenge than I expected, even though I told myself it was simply a collection of law review articles.  It turns out that the blinking cursor on an empty screen is more taunting when you're obliged to fill hundreds of pages.  Brief stints of productivity need to be repeated again and again and, until it all exists, nothing really exists.  I developed a convoluted system of drafting notes, then sitting down with a research assistant to record a chat about those notes, then working that recording into an outline.  That process still left me with plenty of writing to do, but I found it much easier to expand, polish, and revise those outlines than to fight the demon blank page.

Talking through your ideas forces you to synthesize the materials. It also retains the humanity behind the arguments.  This method makes a lot of sense when you read Professor Birdthistle's book because it feels like he is talking to you— just in a way that is smarter, better organized and more pithy than most of us can muster in the average conversation.  His book doesn't read like the belabored, bloated, and laborious sections that all too often find their way in law review articles (my own included).

genesis for the book...

The contents, to a large extent, have actually come from the classroom -- as these materials serve as the syllabus for a seminar I've taught for a few years.  The seminar, called Investment Funds, is almost always popular: in a go-go market, all the students want to hear about private equity and hedge funds; then in downturns, I get a sober audience of students who want to know more about their 401(k)s. 

application to broader classes...

I often work this material in to my BusOrg and SecReg classes too: so, I emphasize the role of funds on topics like corporate purpose (does charitable giving look different if the corporate funds might otherwise go to 401(k) holders), proxy contests (in which mutual funds are major institutional investors but often conspicuously absent from these fights), shorting (where the securities are often borrowed from mutual funds and ETFs), and behavioral versus neoclassical theory (quoting heavily from a wonderful disagreement between Judges Easterbrook and Posner in Jones v. Harris before it went to the Supreme Court).  

Since almost all students will soon be figuring out their own 401(k) and mutual fund investments, I've found that it's easy to make business issues far more salient to their lives.  Even to the saints who'll soon have a 403(b).

the role of behavioral work...

Finally, I highlight Professor Birdthistle's observations about changes to the corporate law landscape made space for a book like his to contribute, in a serious way, to the academic and popular debate about the efficacy of the mutual fund market.

I've been struck by the change in our intellectual and academic disposition towards investing problems.  I've been in the academy for a decade now and, when I began, the rational investor model was so thoroughgoing that it was difficult to discuss problems of individual investing.  Many conversations -- and job talks -- required a first-principles exegesis about how this market might possibly be anything other than highly efficient.  But a tide of behavioral work in recent years has helped explain why investors might struggle, and a good deal of empirical work has concretely shown how they struggle.  So conversations today focus more upon solutions rather than on whether there is even a problem.

To this last point, I wonder what ideas and principles, which seem untouchable today, will give way to the next generation's breakthrough.  I think is a particularly heartening message for young scholars--not all of the work has been done! Keep at it!  And it is an important message for folks who aren't writing in the mainstream. For folks who are passionate about their work, but feeling like their ideas aren't garnering the right cache with the right audiences. This is where you persevere so long as the work is thorough and well researched.  Maybe you and your work are contributing to an important intellectual advancement.  You could be changing the tides in ways that in presently imperceptible, but significant nonetheless.  So as the August submission deadline looms and the summer hours threaten to languish, press on!

Because this post is a compilation of quotes, I now turn to Garrison Keeler to close:

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Anne Tucker*

*Query:  Are the best motivational speeches are the ones you write for yourself?

July 20, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Behavioral Economics, Business Associations, Corporations, Financial Markets, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Socio-Economics: Challenging Mainstream Economic Models and Policies"

The University of Akron Law Review recently published its Symposium on Law and SocioEconomics.  You can find a full list of the contributions here (Volume 49, Issue 2).  As one of the organizers of the symposium, I had the honor of writing a conclusion to the issue, titled Socio-Economics: Challenging Mainstream Economic Models and Policies.  I provide the abstract below, and you can read the entire piece here.

At a time when many people are questioning the ability of our current system to provide economic justice, the Socio-Economic perspective is particularly relevant to finding new solutions and ways forward. In this relatively short conclusion to the Akron Law Review’s publication, Law and Socio-Economics: A Symposium, I have separated the Symposium articles into three groups for review: (1) those that can be read as challenging mainstream economic models, (2) those that can be read as challenging mainstream policy conclusions, and (3) those that provide a good example of both. My reviews essentially take the form of providing a short excerpt from the relevant article that will give the reader a sense of what the piece is about and hopefully encourage those who have not yet done so to read the entire article.

July 3, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Law Reviews, Philosophy, Research/Scholarhip, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Trump Not Pro-Business, Just Pro-Trump

The New York Times ran the article How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions last weekend. It's an interesting piece that provides a look at Donald Trump's east coast casino experience.  The article is, as one might expect, critical of his dealings and notes that Trump made money even when his ventures when bankrupt.  

Though I will not defend any of Trump's dealings, there are few issues raised that I think are worthy of a some discussion and clarification.1  The post that follows suggests how to consider Trump's business history and place that history in a political context.

Continue reading

June 14, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Milkman on Temptation Bundling

I recently listened to a podcast on temptation bundling, featuring the work of Katherine Milkman (Wharton)

Temptation bundling is explained here and here by Katherine Milkman, who (I believe) coined the term.

In short, temptation bundling is putting something you want to do together with something you should do. 

Temptation bundling can make both activities more enjoyable --- you feel better about the want activity because you also accomplished a should activity, and the should activity is less difficult because it is married with a want activity. For example, temptation bundling is what I have been doing with podcast listening; I only listen to podcasts (want) when I workout (should).

Below are a few temptation bundles that might work for professors:

  • Drinking caffeinated drinks only while researching;
  • Listening to your favorite music only while grading; and
  • Eating chocolate only when in faculty meetings.

January 8, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Haskell Murray, Psychology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Forming Habits in the New Year

Happy New Year!

Last year I wrote a bit about New Year's resolutions.

As some of you know, I wasn't able to go the full year without checking my e-mail on Saturdays. In fact, that resolution was toast a few weeks into 2015.

One of the problems, I think, was that I had 20 resolutions in 2015. We all have limited self-control, and we can experience overload in January.

I have been doing New Year's resolutions for as long as I can remember, with varied amounts of success, but I am going to try something a bit different this year.

The Cass Sunstein article I included last year gave me the idea. In the article, he states "But how can we ensure that our resolutions actually stick? Behavioral economists have three answers: Make them easy and automatic, make them a matter of habit, and make them fun. A resolution is more likely to work if it is concrete and can be translated into a simple routine."

This year, instead of a long list of resolutions, I plan to focus on forming one habit each month. I hope the habits will continue after that month, but after one month of intense focus, hopefully the habit will have moved into the less laborious System 1.

Interested to see how this works. It may be a more sustainable solution. If you form the right habits, then it is less likely that you will have to continue setting the same goals (like "lose weight" and "save more") each year. For example, my saving-related resolutions are always the simplest to keep because I just change my direct deposit rules and let it run its course. Direct deposit acts a bit like an already formed habit - easy and automatic. Of course, many habits are quite difficult to form, but I think focusing on one a month sounds doable. Whether I can keep all 12 going in December 2016 (and beyond) remains to be seen.

Good luck to all those making resolutions! 

January 1, 2016 in Behavioral Economics, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Psychology | Permalink | Comments (2)