Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I'm back

after a nice, long vacation among a number of friends and economists much smarter than I. Posting should resume soon; for now, there's too much abandoned work to catch up on.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Border Between Red Sox Nation and Yankee Nation

The New York times runs a fun article about the writer's trip visiting towns to determine a rough border between Red Sox Nation and Yankee Nation. Nothing particularly scientific, of course, but a fun read nonetheless.

Here's the map:
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


I'm headed off for some vacation with family and friends over the next ten days or so, and with no idea of how much (a) internet access I'll have or (b) how much news reading and blogging I'd do anyway, I would expect that there will be very limited posting until at least August 29.

If you're new, why not take the time to scroll through some of the archives:
Thanks for reading. See you soon!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

He Must Have Voted for Katherine McPhee

Another Piracy Lawsuit

But this time, it's the peer-to-peer companies suing each other. Altnet, holders of the "TrueNames" patents (US patent nos. 5,978791, 6,415,280, and 6,928,442) which cover the use of hashes in peer-to-peer networks (don't ask me the technical details), has filed a patent infringement suit against StreamCast, makers of the Morpheus P2P client. An Altnet representative states, with no sense of irony since Altnet distributes licensed material over P2P networks primarily used for unlicensed material: "StreamCast's brazen patent piracy underpins its massive copyright infringement business. They are simply running out of opportunities to go legal."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Mystery Man is....

A while back, this story was all the buzz, detailing the animosity between the editor of Sociological Methodology and an unnamed "Thin-Skinned Scholar." It seems that the scholar has named himself (it was, as rumored in some places, James Heckman, Clark Medalist and Nobel Prize winner) and has created a website detailing the whole sorted affair. (Of course, from his perspective.)

I've not yet read through the whole site, but thought I'd pass it along...

(H/T to Andrew Gelman)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Poll Numbers

From The Social Econ Blog:
This is scary:
NEW YORK A new Gallup poll finds that many Americans -- what it calls "substantial minorities" -- harbor "negative feelings or prejudices against people of the Muslim faith" in this country. Nearly one in four Americans, 22%, say they would not like to have a Muslim as a neighbor.

While Americans tend to disagree with the notion that Muslims living in the United States are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, a significant 34% believe they do back al-Qaeda. And fewer than half -- 49% -- believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States.

Almost four in ten, 39%, advocate that Muslims here should carry special I.D. That same number admit that they do hold some "prejudice" against Muslims. Forty-four percent say their religious views are too "extreme."

In every case, Americans who actually know any Muslims are more sympathethic.

The poll was taken at the end of July and surveyed 1,007 adult Americans.
Some quick comments:
  1. Follow the link, and see that the poll is from July. In light of recent events, these numbers are surely higher right now.
  2. 40% admit that they hold some "prejudice" against Muslims. What percentage, then, actually do harbor some prejudice against Muslims? On the other hand, "some" prejudice is a pretty low bar, so maybe that number shouldn't be that shocking. Of course, it lines up with the special ID card requirement, which is frightening all on its own.
  3. I'd be really interested in a geographic break-down of these numbers. Are these numbers even across the country? Do they follow the "blue/red" divide? Are they split urban/rural? It's not clear to me where these prejudices would be strongest. Either way, Iwouldn't want to be a gay Muslim living in the US right now.
  4. This "special ID card" is beyond ridiculous... how would one even go about implementing that?
  5. These numbers give you an idea of why the founders made it so dificult to amend the constitituion. At any point in time, a lot of people can believe truly scary things.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I Can't Help It... Some Gas Station Stats

I don't want to rekindle the debate (here, here, and here) because we are not likely to agree, but in the course of looking up some other information yesterday, I noticed that the 1997 Economic Census numbers that we threw around in our previous debate about full-service gas station laws have been updated now with the 2002 Economic Census. If you recall, we agreed that self-serve stations are better able to sell ancillary goods through convenience stores, and thus more likely to have convenience stores.

So I thought I would put together the data of the number of gas stations by state and the number of gas stations with convenience stores by state, and see what it produced. Here's the list of the top 5 states in terms of the percentage of gas stations that have convenience stores attached:
% of Gas Stations w/ Conv. Store
South Carolina
I'm not sure what states you'd expect to see here, but they do seem to be southern, "hot" states. For what it's worth, the next 5 are also southern states (Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Nevada, and North Carolina); Colorado (#11) and Wisconsin (#14) are the only nothern states in the top 15.

So what are the bottom 5 states? I think we certainly expect to see New Jersey and Oregon as the bottom two, and (one would guess) both with % far lower than anywhere else. For New Jersey, that turns out to be the case:
% of Gas Stations w/ Conv. Store
New Jersey
New York
I'm shocked that Oregon is not second behind New Jersey; in fact, Massachusetts has a lower percentage of convenience store gas stations than Oregon does. What's more striking is that Oregon has a % that is more than twice as high as New Jersey! Why is that? Looking at the states on that list (and Rhode Island just missed at 59.8%), I could only hazard a guess that small states (where short drives are more common, or a larger fraction of roads are highways?) are less likely to have convenience stores in their gas stations than big states, where people may get out and buy snacks/drinks/etc., if it is true that their average drives are longer. Of course, California is #37 on the overall list, so maybe that's a goofy theory....

How many convenience store-gas stations combos do you think Oregon would have in the absence of the full-service law? It's an interesting question, but at the very least there does seem to be a real difference between New Jersey and Oregon here.

P.S. I've lived my whole life in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York, and I would have guessed that a much higher fraction of gas stations have convenience stores in them. Three possibilities there: (a) the data are wrong (unlikely), (b) I'm not paying much attention (possible), or (c) I subconsciously choose to go to stations with convenience store to buy a Diet Coke when I fill up (extremely likely).

An Update on the IP of Baseball Stats

A couple of months ago, I commented on the lawsuit focused on whether or not CBC (a company that runs fantasy sports leagues) had to pay a license to MLB in order to use the statistics from games (and the names of the players that generate those statistics). The legal issue focused on the "right of publicity" of the players, but from an economic perspective, the case is a no-brainer, as I wrote in the original post:
As a matter of economics, I can't see any basis for not allowing the use of baseball statistics in these services. It is not misrepresenting any facet of the service, and doesn't reduce the incentives to produce the "infringed" product, or any other future innovation derived from it. ("It" being baseball statistics, games, or players.) What it does do, though, is allow MLB to restrict the number of (and suppliers of) fantasy games that use baseball statistics. As the article points out, while 3 years ago there were dozens of options for fantasy baseball services, there are now only 7 licensed services. And that doesn't seem good at all.
A ruling came down in the suit today, finding in favor of CBC. Maury Brown has the details, as well as links to the ruling. Some highlights:
The court further finds that the undisputed facts establish that the names and playing records of Major League baseball players as used in CBC’s fantasy games are not copyrightable and, therefore, federal copyright law does not preempt the players’ claimed right of publicity. Additionally, the court finds that the no-challenge provision of the 2002 Agreement between CBC and the Players’ Association and the provision of this Agreement which prohibits CBC from using players’ names and playing records after the expiration of the Agreement are unenforceable based on public policy considerations.
I particularly like that the prohibition against using the names of players in this context is "unenforceable based on public policy considerations." I don't know the judge's social welfare function, but it seems to be working properly here. More:
This court has also noted above that Major League baseball players make a living from playing baseball and from endorsements; that they are well compensated for these endeavors; but that CBC’s use of players’ names and records in its fantasy games does not go to the heart of the players’ ability to earn a living.
[Emphasis mine.] The judge's rationale is not just a legal one, but an economic one, following the logic that I layed out in the earlier post and quoted above. The "infringement" at dispute here is not impacting the incentives to provide professional baseball, and the judge recognizes that point as important. If CBC's use of player's names and statistics was reducing the earnings of those that "supply" baseball, then their actions might well be harming social welfare and worthy of stopping from an economic perspective. ("Sorry Timmy, there's no Cubs game today because CBC told people that Juan Pierre went 1 for 4 with a stolen base last night.... the bastards!") But that's just not the case.

Good work, Judge Medler!

CEO Tastes and Firm Choices

Microeconomic students should all be familiar with the concept of the "principal-agent problem." A common example used for this is that the people that make decisions (the CEO) on behalf of the owners of a firm (the stockholders) will have different incentives, and thus make different choices. For example, a CEO might care less about the long-term prospects of a firm, and thus take steps to make current performance look great, leading to instant riches from stock options or a switch to another job, and then leave the company to fend for itself later on. Or a business traveler might choose to fly on American Airlines because they have a frequent flier account with American, even though a flight on Continental might be cheaper, and thus better for the firm. Anyway, open an intermediate micro text, and you'll find plenty of examples.

But today I found an interesting example over at Marginal Revolution, which should be required daily reading for economists and economic students. Tyler Cowen quotes an article on what CEOs watch, read, etc and has this bit from Allstate Insurance Chief Marketing Officer(!) Joe Tripodi:
I have iPods (regular, Nano and Shuffle), three TiVos (sacrilege, I know, but time is too short to watch all the commercials), 8700c Blackberry, DirecTV, HDTV, etc.
So the CMO of Allstate Insurance has 3 Tivo DVRs, and uses them to jump through commercials. I thought that was interesting, and so did a Google search and found a WSJ article on Allstate's television advertising:
Allstate Insurance Co. used to be a loyal network-television advertiser. For years, during an annual industry get-together known as the “upfront,” Allstate would pony up about $100 million to buy spots on national TV for the following year.
For the current season... (t)he insurer slashed its upfront spending to $10 million from $70 million two years ago.
Now, it may well be the case that cutting network TV advertising is a good idea because there are lots of people like Tripoldi that skip TV ads. (Though 13% of users frequently forget they can fast-forward.) So maybe this is in the best interest of Allstate shareholders. But it interesting to read that the head of marketing for Allstate both (a) cut Allstate's TV advertising drastically and (b) doesn't like to watch commercials himself.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Don't Drink That Indian Coke (or Pepsi)

This is interesting.... the Indian government has widened a ban on Coke and Pepsi, after testing revealed excessively high levels of pesticides in the soft drinks. This is apparently not all that strange in India, where large amounts of pesticides make their way into ground water. As a result of this controversy, the Indian Supremem Court ruled on Friday that Coke must reveal its secret recipe so that the cause of the increased pesticide levels can be properly researched. (Why wasn't the same ruling levied at Pepsi?) Coke, of course, is unlikely to do this; according to the article, Coke pulled out of India in 1977 rather than follow a similar order.

Coke and Pepsi have been the subject of many protests recently, due to a combination of both anti-Americanism/globalization of which the giant multinational are taken to be a symbal and the recent findings of unhealthy levels of pesticides. However, of all the things in the article that I found fascinating, I must admit that this was the most interesting:
Cans of Coca-Cola were poured down the throats of donkeys in one protest this weekend, while activists from regional political parties smashed cola bottles made by both companies and attacked several shops in Delhi where the drinks were on sale. Protesters in Calcutta burned bottles of Coca-Cola.
First, I'm not sure what the poor donkeys did to deserve pesticide-ladened Coke; why wouldn't you just pour them out or smash the bottles? I wonder if they bought the Coke to do this, as reportedly happened during the anti-French protests in the US leading up to the invasion of Iraq, when protesters would buy French wine in order to pour it out in protest.

Second, how exactly do you burn bottles of soda???

Gasoline Prices

The NY Times is reporting that after an accident at an Alaska oil field, oil prices jumped by $2 a barrel today. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), oil was going at $66.57/barrel at the end of July. As we all know, oil prices have skyrocketed in recent years, as a barrel was $50.59 at the end of July 2005, $35.14 at the end of July 2004, and $26.72 at the end of July 2003.

Over the same time, gasoline prices have, of course, also skyrocketed. Again according to the EIA, the average gasoline price in the US was $3.05 at the end of July, a big increase in the $2.33 a year earlier, $1.95 in July 2004 and $1.56 in 2003.

How related are these things? Here's a graph of crude oil prices and retail gasoline prices at the end of the first week of each month since 2000:
In case you can't read the regression result there, it's saying that since Jan 2000, the average retail price of gasoline has gone up by 1.45 cents for every cent the price of a gallon of crude oil has increased. Since there are 42 gallons in a barrel, todays $2 increase, if sustained, could amount to another 7 cent increase in retail gasoline prices. Now, of course, this is a pretty simple regression, and certainly there are other things that have affected gasoline prices recently other than crude oil prices (for example, the switch from MTBE to ethanol as an oxygenate), but that's a pretty striking graph. Let's assume, for the sake of a post, that we should believe that relationship. (I find it highly unlikely that the real relationship is that different.)

To put that cents/gallon figure in a little context, U.S Total gasoline sales were 60,282,975 gallons PER DAY in 2005. That's 22 billion gallons of gas per year! So a 7 cent increase (assuming no drop in usage, and since usage hasn't dropped since 1999-2000, that's not a crazy assumption) amounts to an increase in gasoline spending of $1.5 billion. And the $1.50/gallon increase over the past few years means Americans are spending another $33 billion on gasoline, or about 0.3% of the $12.5 trillion in GDP in 2005! Remember, that's just on driving around, not actually buying anything.

So that little story in The Times just annoucned that we've shifted another $1.5 billion of our GDP to gasoline consumption. Something to think about, especially when you consider how inelastic gasoline consumption is. I wonder what we are crowding out? Since the savings rate is negative, even though we are supposedly in a relatively good macroeconomic period, I wonder if, to some extent, this is pushings savings aside...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Airline Seat Selection

I've just run across SeatGuru, an online encyclopedia of airline seat information. This website allows you to select the airline and the model of plane you are going to fly on, and then provides you with detailed information about the seats on the plane, including which seats have more or less space, more or less recline space, misaligned windows, underseat storage, electrical power, etc.

As a frequent (long-distance) traveler who is bigger than average and finds it impossible to sleep on a plane this is fantastic information to have in making seat selections online. Though I'm not sure why I'd want to share this information; if everyone knows about it, then I can't really gain a seat-selection advantage over everyone else. So forget I ever said anything....

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Go Get 'Em, Lefty!

A new paper by Christopher S. Ruebeck, Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. and Robert Moffitt studies the job-market outcomes of left-handed vs. right-handed people:
We examine whether handedness is related to performance in the labor market and, in particular, earnings. We find a significant wage effect for left-handed men with high levels of education. This positive wage effect is strongest among those who have lower than average earnings relative to those of similar high education. This effect is not found among women.
A strange result... why would this effect exist? And why would it exist only for men, and not for women? And for highly educated men, but not for less educated men? I wonder if this is not just a "random" result.

Unless someone has a reasonable theory, I'm likely to dismiss the result as a strange fact, likely due to randomness in the data (the relationship between education and handedness has a t-stat of only 2 in the first regression, Table 2, and more detailed looks at this result that follow also seem to have just-signigificant statistics). For what it's worth, the authors also fail to provide a reasonable theory:
We explore some possible explanations for these findings but are not able to provide concrete evidence leading to a theory that can reconcile all of the various facts we identify. We recommend this as an avenue for future research.

Small Sample Size Warni... Nah, Forget It!

David Ortiz is just incredible, really. He hit another game-ending home run for the Red Sox last night, a 3-run homer down by two with one out in the ninth. That makes, apparently 7 walk-off home runs with the Red Sox in the regular season, plus of course two more in the 2004 post-season. (He also hit a walk-off home run for the Twins in 2002. The Twins then released him after that season, to the Red Sox's good fortune.)

Anyway, over at the Sons of Sam Horn website, someone went through the Red Sox game logs and came up with David Ortiz's hitting statistics in "walk-off" situations, defined as a plate appearance in which it is possible to win the game. From the post, these are his statistics since joining the Red Sox in such a situation: [Note: the poster, joyofsox, has a blog, and the info is there too...]
2003: 2-for-5, HR, 2 RBI, BB

RS: 2-for-8, HR, 3 RBI
PS: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 5 RBI, BB

2005: 3-for-3, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB

2006: 5-for-6, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB
That makes him 15 for 27 (.555) with 9 HR in those situations. Note that the Red Sox won the game on all of those 15 hits, and in several situations where he walked or got out. (For example, he failed in two attempts to win Game 5 of the 2003 ALCS before getting a game-winning single, and popped out to end the 9th on Game 4 of the 2003 ALCS before his game-winning HR.

Here's the whole list from the post:

Date Opp Inn On Out Score Pitcher Result

06-15 Hou 10 1 1 2-2 Dotel BBI
12 0 0 2-2 Bland 3U (Sox win 3-2 in 14)
07-19 Tor 9 1 2 4-4 Acevado 4-3 (Sox win 5-4 in 10)
07-26 NYY 9 2 2 4-4 Benitez Singles to CF (Sox win 5-4)
08-23 Sea 10 1 1 6-6 Rhodes P6 (Sox win 7-6)
09-23 Bal 10 0 0 5-5 Ainsworth HR (Sox win 6-5)

04-11 Tor 9 1 2 4-4 Kershner F8 at track
12 1 0 4-4 Lopez 2-run HR to LF (Sox win 6-4)
04-15 Bal 9 0 1 7-7 Ryan F8 (Sox lose 12-7 in 11)
05-07 KC 9 0 0 6-6 Macdougal K (Sox win 7-6)
05-29 Sea 9 1 2 4-5 Guardado F8 (Sox lose 5-4)
05-30 Sea 11 0 1 7-7 Putz K (Sox win 9-7 in 12)
06-11 LAD 9 2 0 1-1 Martin Single to right (Sox win 2-1)
09-23 Bal 9 2 2 7-9 Ryan F9 (Sox lose 9-7)

2004 Post-Season
10-08 Ana 10 1 2 6-6 Washburn 2-run HR to LF (Sox win ALDS 8-6)
10-17 NYY 9 3 2 4-4 Rivera P4
12 1 0 4-4 Quantrill 2-run HR to RF (Sox win 6-4 in 12)
10-18 NYY 10 0 0 4-4 Heredia K
12 0 1 4-4 Loaiza BB
14 2 2 4-4 Loaiza Single to CF (Sox win 5-4)

06-02 Bal 9 2 2 3-4 Ryan 3-run HR to CF (Sox win 6-5)
08-30 TB 9 0 1 6-6 Borowski BB (Sox win 7-6)
09-06 LAA 9 0 1 2-2 Shields Solo HR to RF (Sox win 3-2)
09-16 Oak 10 2 1 2-2 Cruz BBI (Sox win 3-2)
09-29 Tor 9 2 1 4-4 Batista Single to LF (Sox win 5-4)

06-11 Tex 9 2 2 2-4 Otsuka 3-run HR to RF (Sox win 5-4)
06-24 Phi 10 1 1 3-3 Gordon 2-run HR to CF (Sox win 5-3)
06-26 Phi 9 0 0 6-6 Cormier 4-1
11 1 1 6-6 Gordon BBI
12 2 2 7-7 Condrey Single to left-center (Sox win 8-7)
07-29 LAA 9 1 1 6-6 Rodriguez BBI
11 2 1 6-6 Romero Single to left (Sox win 7-6)
07-31 Cle 9 2 1 6-8 Carmona 3-run HR to CF (Sox win 9-8)