Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Patently Worthless Patent System

Anyone who is interested in American innovation should read The Case Against Patents by Michael Boldrin and David Levine in the latest JEP. This article resonates with me because I have had my doubts about the patent system for some time. I would like to hear a strong case from anyone who believes that a patent should last for twenty years, which is the current U.S. law. I fully grasp the theory that patents give firms an incentive to innovate by allowing them to capture profits related to their innovations, I'm just in the camp that believes competition is a more effective mechanism at achieving innovation than granting 20 year monopolies will ever be.

This is something that Congress needs to take a serious look at.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Check out my "Prosperity Watch" Post

This summer I am working for the North Carolina Justice Center, an non-profit group that advocates for low-income and moderate income working families in the state. I am working for their in-house research group called The Budget and Tax Center (woot woot!) that publishes reports and briefs on state fiscal issues such as the budget, the personal income tax, the EITC, and many other topics related to state fiscal policy. We are essentially the data and Excel junkies of the office that love a good chart or graph.

I wrote a short post on the status of the jobs recovery in NC in a section of the Justice Center's website called "Prosperity Watch," so please check it out. It is Issue 14, No. 4 at the very top.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Free JEP Full Text Issue for Kindle

The American Economic Institute has a free download of the Journal of Economic Perspectives Winter 2012 issue. There are multiple formats including the Kindle format and a pdf version. It's not clear whether this is a promotional, one-time thing or if they will be doing this for subsequent issues.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some history of my alma mater

This video explains the architectural history of Boston University. If you have ever been on campus, this is fascinating.

Watch this video on YouTube

For more, check out the article and interactive pictures.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I don't believe if I have ever seen Amazon book reviews that are this polarized! reviews

The e-book The Rent is Too Damn High by blogger Matt Yglesias is currently selling for less than five bucks on Amazon. My goal is to read it this weekend and see where I fall in the distribution, although it's likely in one tail or the other.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

From a Bill James piece on Grantland.
The difference between an average team and a championship team, in a season, is only about 150 runs. Saying that the fielding difference between two right fielders is 25 runs is a little like saying that a 150-pound woman gave birth to a 25-pound baby. I'm not saying it's not possible; it's just hard to believe.
Later this week, I'll be listening to father of sabermetrics speak on a panel about Baseball Analytics at the Sloan Sports Conference. Looking forward to more analogies like this one.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Weblining and Online Privacy

Via the NY Times:
In the 1970s, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University named John McKnight popularized the term “redlining” to describe the failure of banks, insurers and other institutions to offer their services to inner city neighborhoods. The term came from the practice of bank officials who drew a red line on a map to indicate where they wouldn’t invest. But use of the term expanded to cover a wide array of racially discriminatory practices, such as not offering home loans to African-Americans, even those who were wealthy or middle class.

Now the map used in redlining is not a geographic map, but the map of your travels across the Web. The term Weblining describes the practice of denying people opportunities based on their digital selves. You might be refused health insurance based on a Google search you did about a medical condition. You might be shown a credit card with a lower credit limit, not because of your credit history, but because of your race, sex or ZIP code or the types of Web sites you visit.
More social surplus will inevitably be captured by producers if this trend continues (assuming the information allows them to more appropriately price their products and potentially engage in price discrimination). Is that a bad thing for society? Many consumers will certainly lose out, but what about society as a whole?

For a more upbeat perspective about online data issues, read this Nick Schulz piece about Facebook's decision to go public and how it could actually be a good thing for its users.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Political Faux Pas

Mitt Romney's comments about the very poor have gotten a lot of attention over the last week. One of my professors, who blogs over at Applied Rationality, wrote this in response to Romney's comments.
With respect to the Governor's 90-95 percent figure, he might be surprised (if he cared) to discover that 46.2 million Americans, 15.1 percent of our population, were officially poor in 2010. One third of Americans--more than 100 million people--lived in households with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line and were considered poor or near poor.  6.7 percent of American were in deep poverty, meaning that they were living in households with incomes that were less than half of the poverty threshold. Those are sizable groups that Governor Romney is tagging as un-American and unworthy of his concern.
Well said. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Internet Freedom and Blackout Wednesday

This via Wikipedia today:
SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. SOPA and PIPA would build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

In a world in which politicians regulate the Internet based on the influence of big money, Wikipedia — and sites like it — cannot survive.

Congress says it's trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the "cure" that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease. SOPA and PIPA are not the answer: they would fatally damage the free and open Internet.
As noted above, SOPA and PIPA would impose large cost on existing firms that could some companies out of the market. In addition, these laws could act as a barrier to entry for new firms in the user-content realm. Is this a good or bad thing? It comes down to one's beliefs on the following question? Does the freedom currently enjoyed on the internet in the United States have a net positive or negative externality for society?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Market for Twitter Followers

A man is being sued for keeping Twitter followers that he attracted while working for a US mobile news website.
How much are these online followers worth?
The company is now seeking damages of $2.50 (£1.60) per user, per month - a total of $370,000.
The original article is here. Although $2.50 per user likely overstates the value of the users to the company, the claimed value is nonetheless substantial. It would be more informative to know how much the company would be willing to pay the former employee for the Twitter followers if their lawsuit were to fail... $2.50 per user seems high.

This site actually claims to sell Twitter followers (for much less per user), although it's not clear how the transaction works, or if it is a complete scam or not.