Monday, January 26, 2015

Jiang at NYU Law & Economics Colloqium Jan. 27


Wei Jiang, Columbia Business School
Paper Topic:  How Quickly Do Markets Learn?  Private Information Dissemination in a Natural Experiment

January 26, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Honor of Richard Craswell

I first encountered Professor Craswell's scholarship when I started studying the effect of judicial errors on people's incentives to obey the law. In particular, his joint works with John Calfee were quite illuminating. I have recently been informed about Stanford's conference in honor of Professor Craswell. I wanted to pass along the information:

Who Knows?: Law in an Information Society
A Festschrift in Honor of Richard Craswell
Feb. 6-7, 2015 on the SLS campus
We live in a time when information—about costs, parties, alternatives, and laws—is more important than ever before. This symposium brings together 25 leading scholars in law and economics, contracts, commercial law, antitrust law, and other topics relating to how litigants, regulators, and policymakers can use information to inform their decisionmaking.
The Stanford Law Review is pleased to present this symposium to celebrate Professor Craswell and his tremendous contributions across many areas of law. Articles will be presented by Ian Ayres and Barry Nalebuff, Louis Kaplow, Alan Schwartz, Christine Jolls, and Tess Wilkinson-Ryan and David Hoffman, and papers will be presented by Matthew Spitzer and Richard Brooks. Many other noted scholars from around the country will serve as discussants.
Attendance is free: See a full schedule and register here!

January 21, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Spread of Fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit

    The Earned Income Tax Credit has the good intention of subsidizing the employment of poor people. A huge amount of it, though, is fraud, because the penalties and the chances of getting caught are small.

    Raj Chetty gave the Ely Lecture at the AEA meetings in Boston in January 2015, and it was well worth listening to. He is very clear in his presentation, and he chooses interesting research topics.  One paper he talked about was about how the Earned Income Tax Credit leads to a sharp bunching of people’s reported self-employment income at the level where the check from the government is highest--- $12,600, I think, at some point in time, with a ehceck of about $500 if you report no children, $3,000 for one, and $5,000 for two (   That differs between states, though. In 1996, there was a lot of bunching in Texas, but not much in Indiana. By 2008, Indiana had a lot more. Chetty calls this information diffusion, but he really should make clear that this is diffusion of information about how to defraud the government, since the best explanation is the spread of fraud, both from tax preparers and from people who buy the social security numbers of other people so as to file fraudulent returns for them.  I wonder how much organized crime is involved.  This seems to be a substantial incentive for poor people to have children, though it’s probably easier just to claim children and not actually have to take care of them. P1


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January 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gelber, Isen, & Kessler: A Big Data Randomized Experiment on Summer Jobs

The Effects of Youth Employment: Evidence from New York City Summer Youth Employment Program Lotteries" Fee Download 
NBER Working Paper No. w20810

ALEXANDER GELBERNational Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), University of California, Berkeley
ADAM ISENGovernment of the United States of America - Department of the Treasury
JUDD B. KESSLERUniversity of Pennsylvania - Business & Public Policy Department

[Ed: A cool project linking a randomized NYC summer jobs program with massive tax and correctional administrative data to track the effects of admission to the program.  The main payoff: "SYEP participation decreases the probability of incarceration and decreases the probability of mortality, which has important and potentially pivotal implications for analyzing the net benefits of the program."

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January 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Biasi & Moser offer empirical evidence of the negative externalities of copyright

"Does Cheap Access Encourage Science? Evidence from the WWII Book Replication Program" Free Download

BARBARA BIASIStanford University - Department of Economics, Bocconi University
PETRA MOSERStanford University - Department of Economics, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

"This paper examines the effects of the 1942 Book Republication Program (BRP), which allowed US publishers to replicate science books that German publishers had copyrighted in the United States, on the production of new knowledge in mathematics and chemistry. Citations data indicate a dramatic increase in citations to BRP books after 1942 compared with Swiss books in the same fields. 

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January 15, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fennell and McAdams on Redistributive Law

"The Distributive Deficit in Law and Economics" Free Download 
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 498

LEE ANNE FENNELLUniversity of Chicago Law School
RICHARD H. MCADAMSUniversity of Chicago Law School

"Critics have observed that optimal redistribution through tax may be politically infeasible, but have generally overlooked the rejoinder that the same political impediments to redistribution through tax will block redistribution through legal rules."

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January 14, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jackson, Jiang, & Mitts on the Speed of Markets


"How Quickly Do Markets Learn? Private Information Dissemination in a Natural Experiment" Free Download

ROBERT J. JACKSONColumbia Law School
WEI JIANGColumbia Business School - Finance and Economics
JOSHUA MITTSColumbia Law School

Using data from a unique episode in which the SEC disseminated securities filings to a small group of private investors before releasing them to the public, we provide a direct test of the process through which private information is impounded into stock prices.

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January 13, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Government-Encouraged Fraud in the 1986 Illegal Alien Amnesty

    One of the AEA sessions in Boston in January 2015 was on illegal immigration and crime.  A couple of the papers looked at the effect of the 1986 amnesty in the U.S. I learned that the amnesty was rife with fraud. It was  supposed to just give amnesty to two groups: people who had been illegally in the country continuously for at least 5 years (1.8 million applicants), and people who had worked at least 90 days in agriculture in the past three years (the SAW program, 1.3 million applicamts). Interviews were required. The local offices recommended denial of 883,000 applicants (though there will still 300,000 pending at that time). Only 352,000 were actually denied though--- the higher-ups were much more generous. The 700,000 SAW applicants in California were actually twice as high as anyone’s estimate of the total agricultural work force in the state--- legal and illegal alike! David North says,

     There was, for instance, a conscientious first-line interviewer who knew something about the rural life and who faced many SAW applicants who did not. She developed a loose-leaf notebook with no text. It consisted of pictures of, and dried leaves from, the kinds of crops that were grown in her area. If someone said that they had picked strawberries, she asked them to show her the strawberry plants in the book; if they could not properly identify them she recommended a denial.

      I remember asking the Deputy Assistant Commissioner in charge of the SAW program why the CO had not instructed field offices to replicate what she had done, and he said, in effect, there was no political will for spending time and energy on such things when the courts were constantly ruling against INS....

     Similarly, there was a gold mine of computerized information in the files of the California Department of Employment Security on wages paid to farm workers by growers; it related to the state’s temporary disability insurance program. There was no effort made by INS to verify claims by California SAWs that they had worked for a specific employer by checking the state’s tax records for that employer....

     One nicely documented example of such a transfer was reported by Interpreter Releases, the immigration bar’s scholarly trade paper. An assistant INS commissioner announced that $50 million in what he termed excess SAW fees were going to be used to buy INS a whole new generation of computers.23 When I reported, during the Ford-supported research, that this money could have been, and should have been, used to identify fraudulent SAW applicants, that assistant commissioner (who will remain nameless) literally screamed at me; I had apparently touched a raw nerve....

In short, one of the reasons why there was so much fraud in the SAW program was because INS siphoned off $180 million or so away from fraud detection.

    This one thing Congress needs to keep in mind when passing legislation, especially concerning immigration. The Executive and the Judiciary can turn a statute into something very different from what Congress intended.

David North  (2010) “A Bailout for Illegal Immigrants? Lessons from the Implementation of the 1986 IRCA Amnesty,”


January 12, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Winterizing's Not Worth It, Despite What the EPA Says

 I heard  a paper by Fowlie, Greenston and Wolfram presented at the AEA meetings in Boston in January 2015 on winterizing homes. Three questions addressed were:

  1. Why don't poor people apply for free winterizing?

  2. How much energy does winterizing save, and is it worth the cost?

  3. Do people use more energy after winterization, given that less is wasted?

 They spent $50 per household on encouragement of people to apply for the program--- 7,000 initial in-person house visits and 2,700 follow-up visits to help with enrollment, 23,500 robo-calls and 9,000 personal phone calls, for a cost of  $445,000 for 8,648 households. This resulted in  a 5% increase in the number of households participating in the program. That's  432 households. So the cost per household signed up wasn't $50--- it was about $1,000. It was hard to get people to sign up even though the average expenditure on fixing up houses for those who did sign up was about $5,000.

     The energy auditors estimated an average of 46% reduction in people's gas bills.  The actual reductions were about 12%.  This meant the winterization flunks cost-benefit analysis, even putting in some extra nudges for global warming.

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January 10, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mancur Olson and Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century has got to be The Economics book of 2014.  For those of you who have not yet managed to pull the 577-pager off their shelves, Piketty's account that increasing wealth inequality is a one-way ratchet: wealth inevitably concentrates in the hands of a few, gradually and over time. By "gradually," he means a long time: we are headed back to the vast differences in wealth in place at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that process has been slowed by two world wars and the Great Depression, which knocked everybody back, so that the world became more equal. Wealth inequality has not yet, by Piketty's account, recovered from those economic catastrophes, but will.

At this point, with the hullabaloo mostly over, it is worth wondering if there is anything new about Piketty's account. He has the benefit of much more data than earlier writers. For me, I find some interesting parallels with the late Mancur Olson's The Rise and Decline of Nations in which he described a one-way ratchet of increasing unemployment, stagflation, and the ultimate economic decline of nations. Over time, Olson argues, a country with a stable political environment allows special interest groups to develop. Special interest groups exist only to engage in rent-seeking – the achievement of favorable government policy that secures above-normal rents for members of the special interest group. Why else would members of special interest group pay dues, unless they expect the group to obtain benefits they could not obtain themselves as individuals? Drawing upon Olson's earlier magnum opusThe Logic of Collective Action, how else can one even explain the existence of special interest groups, given the potential for within-group free-riding?

The provocative result of Olson's work is that this decline is almost inevitable. Over time, special interest groups form, they secure enough above-normal wealth, and what is left over is below-normal wealth for everybody else. Once special interest groups gain a foothold, their influence over policy grows, and their gains at the expense of society accumulate. Exceptions to inexorable decline exist, but are uncommon. A large and sudden shock from a trade liberalization might scramble the economic order faster than special interest groups can form or mobilize. Or, disruptive technologies might lead to a creative destruction. But absent such serendipitous shocks, the die is cast. 

While Olson is primarily concerned with allocative inefficiency and Piketty with distributive effects, it is striking to notice the parallels of their theses. Both see a one-way ratchet, not a cycle. Both see their stories as mostly inevitable, checked only by random, infrequent, exogenous shocks. Both see a narrow segment of society – Piketty's one percent and Olson's special interest groups (though there is clearly overlap) – garnering above-normal rents to the detriment of the broader polity.

Is it possible that Piketty and Olson are actually talking about the same thing? Certainly, Olson's stagflation and unemployment is integral to the part of Piketty's now-iconic  r > g relation. Ultimately, there is some link between the allocative efficiency Olson worried about and the inequality that Piketty worries about. That nature and extent of that link is unclear.


January 9, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Calabresi Returns to the Cathedral

A Broader View of the Cathedral: The Significance of the Liability Rule, Correcting a Misapprehension

Guido Calabresi 

Yale Law School; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 77, No. 2, 2014 
Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 503 
Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 515 


Recent years have seen a resurgence of Torts viewed as a purely private legal arrangement: whether described in terms of compensatory justice — the right of an injured party to be made whole — or of redress for civil wrongs — the right of an injured person to get back at the one who injured him. These positions reject the approach of the system builders (to use Izhak Englard’s felicitous phrase), those who see torts as part of a legal-political-economic structure of a polity. This latter, “public,” view of torts has been dominant, at least since my first article, and Walter J. Blum and Harry Kalven’s answer to it, aptly titled "Public Law Perspectives on a Private Law Problem." It is of the relationship between these approaches, and of the inevitability of the public-law (and hence, in part, economic) view of torts that I wish to write today. In doing so, however, I mainly want to correct an error that many system builders have made: that is, of viewing the liability rule (in torts and in its cognates) as a “second best” way of mimicking markets when markets “will not work,” or “are not available.” I want to claim a more significant economic role for the liability rule, and hence for torts, than that. For reasons that will be clear in due course, I call this "A Broader View of the Cathedral."

January 7, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Boussalis, Feldman, & Smith: An Experiment on the Optimal Specificity of Rules

"An Experimental Analysis of the Effect of Specificity on Compliance and Performance" Free Download

CONSTANTINE BOUSSALISTrinity College (Dublin) - Department of Political Science
YUVAL FELDMANBar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law, Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
HENRY E. SMITHHarvard Law School

Laws can be written along a spectrum of specificity, ranging from vague standards to more detailed rules with particular examples. Behavioral and legal scholarship each present conflicting views about the optimal degree of specificity with which laws should be designed. From a behavioral standpoint, specificity is important to help people understand their goals and use their cognitive resources in a focused manner. At the same time, ambiguity in the law can even encourage good people to engage in creative interpretations of legal requirements, allowing them to justify unethical behavior, with limited awareness of the meaning of that behavior. By contrast, theories of crowding out, trust, and cooperation suggest that specificity can create resentment and lead to under-compliance and under-performance. These conflicting views about the effects of specificity serve as the background for this experimental project. This paper studies the effects of specificity on behavior in response to a directive that shares important features with the law. First, we examine the effect of specificity on compliance (following a directive) versus performance (beyond a minimum threshold). Second, we compare the controlling, limiting effects of specificity with its instructive, informative effects by comparing the interaction between specificity and monitoring with the interaction between specificity and good faith. We hypothesized that the combination of specificity and monitoring enhances the effect of specificity on compliance but harms performance and trust, whereas the combination of specificity and good faith enhances both the informative goal-setting aspects of specificity and people’s sense of commitment. The study employs an experimental design in which subjects edit a document after being exposed to detailed (vague) instructions, with (without) a reference to good faith, and with (without) monitoring (through sanctioning). The assignments were designed in such a way that people could engage in various levels of editing (both required and not required, reasonable and more than reasonable), allowing us to measure distinctly both compliance and performance. Our results suggest that when participants require information and guidance, as in the case of editing a document, specificity increases performance even beyond what is required relative to a vague standard condition.

January 6, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Finance Theory and Global Warming--Hedging, Revolutions, and Free Riding

  I just attended a good American Finance Association session  featuring prominent economists talking about the finance aspects of global warming (discounting, risk aversion, fat-tailed risk, insurance, etc.)  Present were Kent Daniel, Robert Barro, Rajnish Mehra, Lars Hansen, and Robert Litterman.  In preparation, I drank half a cup of Starbucks after not drinking coffee for two months, so I am hyper enough to write up a blogpost. Below are three unrelated ideas the session stimulated, on university portolios as hedging carbon risk, carbon wars and revolutions, and the free-riding problem.


1.  UNIVERSITY PORTFOLIOS AS  HEDGING CARBON RISK. Here's the question I asked out loud, with elaboration.  Bob Litterman said that WWF has gone short on carbon-intensive stocks, those that would be hurt by a carbon tax. He said that this was because the market currently underestimates the probability of such taxes, so he can beat the market. That's OK---  with political  and scientific issues like this, maybe he can. (Question, though: why is Wall Street so very wrong, when they have a lot of smart experts?) Then Bob Barro said he thought the reason to short was hedging, for insurance against high carbon prices.  If carbon prices rise (or they don't, but warming hurts wealth severely and causes all stocks to drop), then carbon stocks will fall, but if warming turns out not to be a problem, carbon stocks will rise or stay the same. Thus, if the investor holds other wealth that will be hurt by high carbon prices or warming, he should hedge by shorting carbon stocks (also he should hedge because prices of consumption goods will go up).

   But that's wrong, at least for university investors.

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January 3, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! A List of Good Things

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of a dozen good things I discovered during the year. Not much law and econ, I'm afraid, but here's my list--- Happy New Year!


1. Sabrina (1954) is a movie with Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden, directed by Billy Wilder. How could it not be good?

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January 1, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Annals of Peer Review

From The New Yorker:

"Geim and Novosolev wrote a three-page paper describing their discoveries.  It was twice rejected by Nature, where one [reviewer] stated ... that it was not 'a sufficient scientific advance.'"  


"In 2010, six years after Geim and Novosolev published their paper, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics" for the discoveries decribed in it.

December 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How Should We Address the Problem of Wrongful Shootings by Policemen?

The wrongful police killings that happen in America are mistakes: the policemen is careless, shoots a bystander, raids the wrong house, etc. There are also the wrongful killings that are not the fault of the policeman: the victim points a toy gun at him, or moves to pull something out of his jacket while being arrested. There, the solution is not to put the policeman in prison, but to make him personally liable for damages and to fire him. Trying to go the criminal route ends up with zero penalty instead, because it seems too extreme and because it is hard to convict for a mistake when the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly if the defendant is trying to to his job as opposed to recklessly enjoying himself. Moreover, the most important thing in such cases is to incapacitate the offender. That means firing him from his job as a policeman, so he won't get a chance to make the same mistake again.

It would be interesting to look at a random sample of killings by police and see what happens. We already know that there are very few convictions, and that doesn't tell us much. What is more interesting would be to find out how often the police department or policeman (or does he have immunity?) pays damages, either with or without a formal lawsuit, and what happens to the career of the policeman when he is at fault.

December 24, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The U.S. Crude Oil Export Ban is a Simple Transfer Payment from Motorists to Domestic Refiners

The United States can end the export ban and simultaneously stabilize the insolvent Highway Trust Fund. Bridges are collapsing and 18-wheelers are falling into potholes the size of Rhode Island, and we complain that Congress has not raised the gasoline tax since 1993. That tree-hugging pit of Marxism, the US Chamber of Commerce, has called for a gas tax increase.

IHS Energy, a consulting group headed by energy writer and wonk Daniel Yergin, released a report earlier this year advocating for an end to the domestic crude oil export ban. The IHS report, downloadable from this IHS page, reports that lifting a crude oil ban would create an average of almost 400,000 jobs between 2016 and 2030.

Surprisingly, and importantly ending the ban would lower gasoline prices by an average of 8 cents per gallon. This is because US gasoline prices are set by global crude oil prices not domestic production costs, and lifting a US export ban would add to the world supply by a significant amount. The only losers would be domestic refiners such as Valero, which has opposed lifting the ban. The Crude Oil Export Ban is a simple transfer payment from American motorists to domestic refiners.

So here is an idea: lift the ban, and at the same time impose a gas tax of 8 cents per gallon. The gasoline consumer is no worse off, because the gas tax only counteracts the lower gas prices resulting from ending the export ban, and generate about $9.7 billion annually for the Highway Trust Fund (135 billion gallons of gasoline were consumed in the United States last year, 13 billion of which were ethanol). Ideally, the crude oil export ban should be accompanied by an $9 per ton of CO2 carbon tax, but that's another story.

Enacted as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, the crude oil export ban was meant to secure energy supplies in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo that shocked an energy-complacent United States. The actual legislation just provides that "[t]he President may, by rule, under such terms and Export conditions as he determines to be appropriate and necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act, restrict exports of -- ... coal, petroleum products, natural gas, or petrochemical feedstocks. .." Section 103 goes on to provide that the "President shall exercise the authority provided for in Exemption, subsection (a) to promulgate a rule prohibiting the export of crude oil and natural gas produced in the United States, except that the President may, ... exempt from such prohibition such crude oil or natural gas exports which he determines to be consistent with the national interest..." So it is pretty clear that the ban is a matter of executive discretion. It is just that Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all decided that exporting oil was not in the national interest.

But that was 1975, and the United States is now one of the major oil producers of the world today. Much of the EPCA's provisions, aimed at insulating the United States from volatile global energy prices, still seem useful today, like the Strategic Oil Reserve and fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles. But lifting the crude oil ban now has bipartisan interest. 


December 17, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Interesting Thoughts on the Health Care Cost Curve

...from friend of the blog Alan Weil, the editor at Health Affairs.

Worth a read!

December 16, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quotes on Lucky Generals and Tariff Mothers

I wonder if any readers can help me track down a couple of quotations.

1. Napoleon said something like "I choose my generals because they're lucky, not because they're smart." I googled around and found lots of variants (and not just because of translation differences), no French original, and the most precise source saying he said it in 1813. Anyone know anything more?

2. "The tariff is the mother of the trust". Havemeyer in June 1899 testimony before the "Industrial Commission"-- said something like this, but not so neatly. He said, "The mother of all trusts is the custom-tariff bill". Quoted in: BYRON W. HOLT, THE TARIFF THE MOTHER OF TRUSTS. DELIVERED BEFORE THE CHICAGO CONFERENCE ON TRUSTS, Sept. 14, 1899. Anybody have any further insights?

December 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The New York Times on What Happened in Ferguson

  I'm still interested in comment on police  use of force in the hypotheticals I blogged about a couple of days ago. If we turn to the actual Ferguson situation, the other question is (a) what the facts actually are, and (b) how we interpret them. I was pleased to see that the New York Times reported the facts, though not completely without selection. The Times says: 

"Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson leave Ferguson Market and Liquor. Surveillance video shows Mr. Brown stealing some cigarillos....Officer Darren Wilson arrives, alone in his police vehicle. Speaking through his window, he tells the two men to move to the sidewalk. He sees that Mr. Brown fits the description of a suspect in a convenience store theft....Officer Wilson makes a call to the dispatcher about the two men. He positions his S.U.V. to block the the two men as well as traffic....There is an altercation between Officer Wilson and Mr. Brown, who is standing at the window of the vehicle. Officer Wilson fires two shots from inside the vehicle, one likely grazing Mr. Brown’s thumb, and the other missing him. Mr. Brown runs east.... Examiners found Mr. Brown’s blood or other DNA outside the driver’s door, outside the left rear passenger door, inside the driver’s door, on the upper left thigh of Officer Wilson’s pants and on Officer Wilson’s shirt and weapon....A medical examination indicated that Officer Wilson had some swelling and redness on his face.

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December 9, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (3)