Thursday, December 3, 2015

Data science at Cal

This spring, Data Science 8: Foundations of Data Science, returns to Cal in its second appearance since its debut this fall. And also I'll be teaching L&S 88: Health, Human Behavior, and Data, a 2-unit connector course that accompanies DS 8, for the second time. Here's a YouTube video presentation about the course by springtime lead DS8 instructor John DeNero, in which I appear at about the 34 minute mark to talk about L&S 88.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Climate, growth, and conflict

The Times takes the long view of economic growth, conflict, and sustainable development, and its pessimism is well summarized by the invocation of "Blade Runner," "Mad Max," and "The Hunger Games." It's fun to read and probably to write pop-news pieces that unite like-minded strands of thinkers to push a particular theme. But it also seems like a disservice to spin apocalyptical yarns during a period when we should all be taking action on climate change more seriously.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Student loan geography

Vox shows us maps of student loan total debt and delinquencies around Washington, DC.  The two are not the same, revealing that the absolute level of student loan debt is not (at first at least) indicative of trouble. I'd love to see a map of percent with completed degrees, because my prior is that it's student loan debt that is accrued without an accompanying degree that's probably the most pernicious.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Climate change Q&A&D

The "D" in Q&A&D stands for "Despair" in this helpful piece by the NY Times. The Paris meetings appear to have given the Times carte blanche to make us blanch at the prospect of unaddressed climate change. By cracking a joke I guess I'm part of the problem, but I wish the tenor of the conversation hadn't suddenly become so despairing when confident exhortations are probably more strategically sound.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Real costs of gender pay gap

The headline grabs attention and is a very valid point, but I wish the methodology behind Hillary Clinton's citation of a position paper by the Institute for Women's Policy Research claiming the gender pay gap costs us $447.6 billion in GDP weren't so utterly misleading about the true costs of the gender pay gap.

The position paper lays out an accounting exercise that scales up the earnings losses attributable to unequal pay by gender across the nation, and then expresses that as a share of GDP. There is no scenario under which this is a reasonable claim to make. GDP is the product of our hours worked combined with our ingenuity and our capital formation. It won't change overnight by paying factors more, unless --- critically --- it raises their supplies.

That's the real policy issue, whether women are supplying their full potential to markets for labor and for ideas, or if they are held back by unequal pay, stigma, or other barriers. MIT's Esther Duflo has a nice J Econ Lit piece on these topics, and the subject has been discussed in the development literature for some time.

In probably a sign of its limited impact, I had a tough time tracking down a reference to a 2009 press event featuring Nobelists Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider in which they highlighted barriers to women in developing research careers. Not exactly a pay gap formally, but exactly the kind of thing we should be talking about as a barrier for advancement of female well-being and of national economic well-being more generally.

Fallout from 1-child change

Today the Times revisits the change in China's 1-child policy with a focus on the only-children themselves. Earlier the Times had reported Thursday, October 29, 2015 as the date of the official announcement ending the policy. In addition to a lack of siblings for the only-child generation, born between about 1980 and 2015, the policy has also resulted in a complete absence of aunts and uncles for the children of that only-child generation. It is often said that support of elderly parents falls to children in Confucian societies, but the deficit of uncles and aunts can't help.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Revisiting blood pressure guidelines

As a followup to a September piece in the Times on a blood pressure study halted prematurely, the Times reports on a NEJM paper out today. The study showed costs of systolic BP maintained at 120 or below compared to 140 or below;  not injurious falls, but hypotension, syncope (fainting), electrolyte abnormalities, and acute kidney injury or failure. But it also showed a hazard ratio of 0.73 (i.e., mortality was 27 percent lower) for the treatment group with a target of 120.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

More on the Berkeley soda tax

At APHA15, researchers reported a new study about the Berkeley soda tax. I posted a link to John Cawley's paper on the topic in an earlier post. The APHA paper appeared to show larger price effects than what Cawley and coauthor had found, and the Public Health Institute tweeted in response that it was the largest evaluation to date.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Case and Deaton on rising mortality at ages 45-55

Princeton's Anne Case and Angus Deaton deliver some shocking news: in a just-released PNAS piece, they show that among non-Hispanic whites aged 45-55, mortality rates have risen since 1999. Their table 1 in the paper shows that mortality fell slightly or strongly for blacks and Hispanics, and for whites with some college or more education. The story that emerges: accidental poisonings linked to opioid misuse and chronic pain (mis)management.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Marital ambivalence" and hypertension

The Times reports on a new study of the benefits of marriage for cardiovascular health. The study covered 94 married couples, recruited from Salt Lake City according to the Times. Their average age of participants was 30, two thirds had college degrees, and 83% were white. Participation meant answering psychosocial questions and wearing a blood pressure monitor for a day. Researchers were looking for a relationship between marital quality and blood pressure.

The psychologists who ran the study measured ambivalence among 77% of spouses, which I think means some good and bad responses to questions like, "When you are really excited, happy, or proud of something, how positive is your spouse?", and "How upsetting is your spouse?"

Their punchline was that ambivalence was associated with higher blood pressure, both for self and spouse; the more ambivalent one's marriage is, the less protective for cardiovascular health, presumably.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

Berkeley soda tax raised price less than 1-for-1

Cawley and Frisvold compare soda prices in Berkeley and San Francisco before and after the new soda tax took effect in Berkeley. They find that Berkeley prices rose by less than half of the new tax, and they discuss a variety of reasons why that may have happened. Particularly interesting was the concomitant response of (same-brand?) diet soda prices, which could have been a response to shifted demand but is worrisome for a policy that tries to make calories more expensive.

Friday, August 14, 2015

UPPs & downers in contact lens prices

In March, the Times reported on the new Unilateral Pricing Policies (UPPs) of contact lens manufacturers, who have set retail price floors vendors that are substantially higher than what 1-800 Contacts, Costco, and many other retailers were charging. Pricing policies have been nutty ever since I can remember, with manufacturers' rebate plans that have all kinds of fine print.

The article quotes Johnson & Johnson as stating that 60% of their products' consumers actually saw lower prices as a result of this new price floor, because the rebate policies were simultaneously retired. But as a dedicated user of those rebates, I was looking at about a 33% increase in the price of my contacts.

To complicate matters, it also appears that my health insurance plan, new as of this year, partially covers the cost of contact lenses. I discovered this after speaking over the phone with an associate at my optometrist's office, or exactly whom the manufacturer was probably hoping I would turn to after the pricing policy was enacted. On net, I suspect my out-of-pocket expenditures on lenses may end up falling by almost 40% because of new insurance coverage and my optometrist's promotional discount.

The Times article quotes a trade publication that in turn reported remarks from the president of Johnson & Johnson in a 2014 letter to optometrists. She described their UPP as "refocus[ing] the conversation between the doctor and the patient on eye health and product performance rather than price," and as "giv[ing] the optometrist the ability to improve his or her capture rate in the office." In my case, the second of those two goals was definitely achieved. But as a long-time wearer of the same brand of contacts, I experienced precisely zero refocusing of the conversation about eye health and product performance.  The idea that a pricing floor is an effective mechanism for improving the quality of eye care seems dubious at best.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Changing female career aspirations

The NY Times reports on changes in female career and family aspirations across cohorts. One angle: millennials have seen their parents' struggles and are trying to plan to avoid or minimize them.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Women's suffrage and the sex ratio

Would you believe that in the Census of 1870, there were more than 10 men for every woman in the state of Wyoming? Per a History Channel page, passage of women's suffrage in Wyoming in 1869 had in some part to do with the massively imbalanced sex ratio.  Here's a plot, data courtesy of IPUMS, of the sex ratios in the 47 states and the District of Columbia in 1870 (horizontal axis) vs. sex ratios in 1880. The red line is the 45-degree line.  By 1880, the sex ratio in Wyoming had fallen from above 10 to just over 2 males per female, lower than that in Montana and Arizona.
Over a decade, part of this could be attributable not only to in-migration of females (and/or out-migration of males!), but to presumably enhanced fertility in the state, which would tend to pull the sex ratio back toward 1.

From the perspective of family economics, enhanced female empowerment would be an outcome to expect when the sex ratio is so heavy imbalanced in favor of females. Suffrage is one dimension, and it would be interesting to compare others.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Deferred compen-sensation

A good friend found this article from NBC HardballTalk on the plethora of deferred compensation a.k.a. generous annuity plans still payable in major league baseball. It's impressive how players and agents set up such plans in the first place. Even more impressive is how they've taken clubs and financial markets to the cleaners with the enormous present value of those plans, given how interest rates have remained at historic lows especially since the Great Recession but even stretching back to the tech bust of 2001.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CA mandates vaccinations

Amid controversy, California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a new law requiring children in public schools to be vaccinated. Recent work on this topic by Malia Jones and Alison Buttenheim had made the case that Californian parents were otherwise likely to continue filing for personal belief exemptions (PBEs) allowing postponement of vaccinations.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

UK demography

The Guardian reports on UK population trends, including an historical look at natural increase and net immigration, and a sideways age pyramid.

Friday, April 17, 2015

MaCurdy on the minimum wage

Here in Berkeley, CA, there was a Fight for 15 march this past Wednesday, where the 15 is the minimum wage target of interest. Thomas MaCurdy recently wrote an op-ed summary of his hot-off-the-presses JPE paper (link to a helpful Marginal Revolution page) on the minimum wage.

MaCurdy takes at face value the New Minimum Wage literature of the 1990s that found tiny reductions or even increases in employment following minimum wage increases. Rather, his focus is on producers' price setting responses, and he shows that minimum wage increases are "at best a scattershot approach to raising the income of poor families" because minimum wages raise earnings of many workers in many families across the income spectrum, while they raise the prices of goods purchased more typically by low-income families.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christie on entitlements

Yesterday, NJ governor Chris Christie delivered this speech on entitlement reform. If you ignore the partisan invectives at the beginning and the end, it's an absolutely remarkable read. This guy or his speechwriters really get it. His means-testing proposals are legitimate solutions, in stark contrast to the completely unrealistic budget plan presented by the GOP's Paul Ryan, which relies heavily on the falsehood of revenue-increasing tax cuts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hoynes on EITC

Today at Berkeley, Hilary Hoynes spoke about the impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit on female labor supply. She and a coauthor find increases in working of about 6 percentage points among single mothers after the EITC expansion of the early 1990s, compared to single women without kids. Moms with more kids and thus more tax credits also worked (even) more.

This is a bread-and-butter labor supply issue, great for applied teaching. To paraphrase her words, the substitution effect dominates, and moms who see higher after-tax wages because of the EITC substitute away from leisure and toward working even though their incomes also rose.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

PTSD as moral exile

David Brooks summarizes this view today. With self-reported exposure to combat near an all-time high among the current cohort of war veterans, understanding how PTSD works is vital. The shocking thing is that the WWII cohort reported similarly high rates of exposure, but it was only after Vietnam that medicine started taking a modern approach toward PTSD.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

In praise of immigrants and rails

In today's NY Times, an ode to a Galway great-grandfather, the transcontinental railroad, and Leland Stanford, Sr.  Capital infrastructure projects require workers, and it's hard not to notice the traffic congestion now in the Golden State.  Standard caveats apply; LAX and SFO also employ people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Immigration and opinion

A fair amount of both has been circulating recently. Yesterday's Room-for-Debate centered on U.S. immigration, spurred by a rather snarky opinion piece in the Atlantic that helpfully cites several immigration economists on either side of the debate. Meanwhile, the AEI president opined about Europe's problems being primarily demographic, mirroring remarks recently made by Pope Francis.

Monday, January 5, 2015

ACA at Harvard

Newsflash: Not all Harvard faculty are economists. Neither are most Americans, so the flap over rising copayments triggered by Obamacare profiled in the Times today offers a look at concerns that may be felt broadly by the public. It's worth noting that Harvard faculty were never meant to be the main beneficiaries of the ACA!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Football & war

Post-bellum attitudes toward football as training for warfare are profiled in the Times. The 1905 injury and fatality statistics are eye opening.