Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Today's Wall Street Journal has a marvelous article about the increasing use by economics of instrumental variables in doing empirical work. The focus is on the work of Michael Waldman of Cornell, who wanted to test the hypothesis that increased television viewing by the very young causes autism. He used records on rain and snowfall precipitation in Washington, Oregon, and California as an instrument for the number of hours spent watching television on the theory that children spend more time before the TV when there is inclement weather.
The article, available here, also has a table summarizing other prominent empirical studies by economists using instrumental variables.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
In today's Wall Street Journal, John Mortimer -- author of the delightful Rumpole novels -- today lists his five favorite works of fiction about the law, available here. The only one that I haven't read is Mortimer's number one choice -- Anthony Trollope's Orley Farm -- which I intend to read soon. Number two is Charles Dickens' Bleak House, a choice with which I agree wholeheartedly. I can't recommend highly enough the PBS Masterpiece Theatre six-part dramatization of Bleak House. Here's the PBS website on the production with links to the PBS Shop, where one can purchase the DVD.
Friday, February 16, 2007
I very highly recommend Daniel McFadden (2000 recipient of the Royal Bank of Sweden Prize in the Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel), "A Dog's Breakfast," in today's Wall Street Journal. The article, available here, begins with a very useful survey of the state of the U.S. health care market and then turns to a report on McFadden's group's evaluation of the first year of the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plan. He gives it a qualified endorsement.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Today's Times has an obituary of the famous (to people of my generation) fireballing softballer, Eddie Feigner, who died yesterday in Huntsville, Alabama, at the age of 81. Feigner used to tour the country with three other people under the name "The King and His Court," taking on professional teams of 9 people in softball and clobbering them. He would throw strikes blindfolded. He would throw them behind his back, between his legs, and from his knees on second base. He once struck out Willie Mays. In 2002 ESPN listed him, along with Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax, as one of the 10 greatest pitchers ever. A great but little-appreciated talent, Feigner said, "I'm a pipsqueak because I'm caught in a nothing game. It's like being a world-champion nose blower."
During the last decade law-and-economics scholars have expressed a great deal of interest in the ability of private or public prizes to induce research into important innovations. See Steve Shavell and Tanguy van Ypersele, "Rewards Versus Intellectual Property Rights," 44 J. Law & Econ. 525 (2001) and the wonderful account of John Harrison's clocks in Dava Sobel, Longitude (1996). John Tierney's "Findings" column in today's "Science Times" section of The New York Times, see here, has a report of a new prize. Richard Branson, the owner of the Virgin companies, has offered $25 million to whoever can devise a means of removing one billion tons per year of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
The February 5, 2007, New Yorker magazine contains a short, interesting article by Jeffrey Toobin, "Annals of Law: Google's Moon Shot," that I highly recommend. (You can find the article here.) The article describes the ambitious Google Book Search project (in which Google plans to digitize through scanning as many of the world's books as it can, thereby making the books searchable using the Google search engine) and the legal controversies that the project has created. Among the many fascinating tidbits that the article contains are these: there are approximately 32 million books listed in WorldCat (a compendium of the holdings of 25,000 libraries) -- the best estimate we have of the total number of books in the world; that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google, are worth about $14 billion each; and that the usage of the Stanford Library's collection increased about 50 percent after the Library digitized its card catalog.
Toobin's view is that the machinery of the law is so cumbersome that the project will be nearly done by the time the legal controversies are resolved.