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Expected value is a concept that allows us to factor in the probability of an uncertain event into our calculations. Imagine that you have a summer roofing job in Sandy, Oregon. I chose Sandy because it gets 182 precipitation days per year so on any given day there is a 50% chance of not working due to the weather. If you get paid $80 per day worked and $20 when you do not work due to rain, what should you expect to make in a twelve-week summer? Let’s break this down into a smaller problem.

The expected value of any given workday is the average of the payment received for working ($80) and not working ($20), which is $50. This is because there is an equal chance of either type of day occurring. By extension, the expected value of a five-day work week is $250 and of total summer income is $3,000.

What does this have to do with betting? A fair bet has an expected value of zero. For example, a bet of $10 on a coin flip is fair. There is an equal chance of losing or gaining $10. The average of these two values (+10 and -10) is zero. Casinos make their money by offering unfair bets. The expected value of (almost) every casino bet is negative (and none of them are positive). They cannot collect a guaranteed profit from a fair game so they count on you to play a rigged one. What do you suspect about the expected value of casino profits?

Economists and accountants are often thrown into the same category. Accountants look at dollar values. What differentiates the economist is the addition of a concept called opportunity cost. One of my favorite examples of this involves a friend offering you $500 to help him move. If this is an uneventful day, you will probably help. If it is a holiday, you may decline. If it is Super Bowl Sunday and you have tickets to the game, you most likely will decline. The key is that you have to weigh all of your other options before making a decision.

Jack ClementsIn his book, The Baseball Economist, J.C. Bradbury offers one of the most intelligent arguments I have ever heard for the absence of left-handed catchers. Since 1902, a left-handed catcher has been used in only sixty-three games. Bradbury sifts through some of the common arguments of why they rarely exist (difficulty throwing to third base, coordination with pitchers, throwing errors, etc.). Through cost-benefit analysis, he dismisses most of these as insignificant.

Where he concludes is extremely insightful. Being a catcher requires intelligence, a strong arm, and good vision. If you are left-handed and have these qualities, your coach is most likely not going to position you as a catcher. He will use you where your talents are most valuable–as a pitcher. No real bias against left-handed catchers exists. The cost is just too great to waste a southpaw at catcher when he could be stepping on the mound.

Picture a Coke machine next to a Pepsi machine. Let’s say a Coke and Pepsi each cost $1 today. Tomorrow, the price of Coke jumps up to $2. What do you expect will happen? Two things should come to mind. First, fewer people will buy Coke. It’s more expensive. This is the law of demand. The second effect is that some people will now switch from Coke to Pepsi. They are substitutes–when the price of one increases, people buy more of the other. Here are some interesting examples:

Certain nationalities have a relatively harder time gaining American citizenship through immigration and/or naturalization. We’d expect to see an increase in demand for substitutes among these groups. The closest substitute for naturalization is marriage to a U.S. citizen. U.S. immigration policy not only shapes the international marriage market, it does so with national bias.

In times of economic trouble, finding work can be tedious. It requires dedication, persistence, and patience among other things. When job search costs are high, we expect to see an increase in demand for substitutes. The three that come to mind are government assistance, crime, and civil lawsuits.

Huffing is the act of getting high by inhaling toxic fumes. Minor headlines revolve around fears of epidemics among teens. How can we reduce the amount of huffing? Increase the availability of substitutes. Keep some beer in the garage next to the paint. Fewer kids will choose a chemical high when alcohol becomes more available.

“My boss can’t find anything without me.”

“He’s a slob–his mother constantly cleaned up after him.”

“I can’t spell–I’ve got spell-check.”

Simply put, economics is nothing more than the study of decision making. Whether we’re car shopping, eating out, or contemplating stealing, part of us asks “What will this really cost me?”  This implies that weaker punishments lead to more crime, but what about incentives involved in everyday bad behavior?

Night DriveHousekeepers reduce the cost of untidiness; so those who use these services are messier than they would be without them. Similarly, spell-check reduces the cost of misspellings; while administrative assistants maintain the incentive for the big boss to remain unorganized. The stakes can get larger, however.

In The Armchair Economist, Steven Landsburg suggests that safety regulations (seatbelt laws, mandatory air bags, etc.) increase the number of accidents. He argues that the cost of driving carelessly is lowered in terms of expected injury or death. Likewise, competent nurses diminish the costs of doctors making mistakes, leading to more errors. Birth control reduces the cost of unprotected sex, thereby increasing its frequency.

What about those who never had the incentive to learn how to be good drivers, competent doctors, or responsible sexual partners? Much like spell-check users on a handwritten exam, when these individuals leave their coddled environment, they cannot simply switch to demonstrating good behavior because they never learned good habits in the first place. Once they lose their safety nets, the potential damage they can inflict greatly increases.

Recently, an interesting feature has been made available on many new jukeboxes. It charges customers a higher amount (usually double the regular cost) to hear selections immediately.

jukebox

This factor aims to take advantage of the diverse time preferences (what economists call discount rates) that exist among customers. Those who are more determined to hear songs now (and therefore pay extra) are said to have a relatively high discount rate, those who are more willing to wait have a relatively low discount rate.

Compared to the system of “first come, first served”, this is a downgrade for most consumers. Ideally, these additional fees would be transferred to individuals that were skipped to reimburse them for doing so. You can sense the inefficiency because jukebox makers can generate additional revenue by producing no additional service. They do this by pitting customers against each other, essentially accepting bribes to let some avoid waiting.

I do not suggest this system cannot produce better results, only that at a low price, it won’t, due to overuse. After a point, the more customers that use the feature, the worse are the results. Simply illustrated, the worst case scenario occurs when everyone has a high discount rate and pays extra for the option. This has the same result as if none of them do, but costs twice as much.

Will an option to skip someone’s song ever be offered? Jukebox owners would have opportunities to charge double and produce zero. Sounds like a cushy job to me.

The role of government has been debated since the days of Plato. The debate may never be settled. There may something many can agree on, however. The ideals of soft paternalism suggest that the state can often point you in the right direction without removing freedom of choice from the situation. By changing the default setting, behavior can be changed.

To many economists, this doesn’t make sense. For example, imagine two boxes. One has a cupcake and the other a donut. I allow you to pick a box, I take the other, and we open both. Once you’ve seen both items, I give you the choice of the two. Economic theory states that you always select the item you prefer more. This is not what always occurs. People tend towards the status quo–choosing the one they received first. For more on this see this article by Jack L. Knetsch.

An article from The Economist states that 49% of people who start a new job will sign up for a pension plan if paperwork is required to join, where 86% will remain in the pension if paperwork is required to opt out. If we believe more people should be saving for retirement, changing this default value can make society better off, while still preserving individual choice. Recently, organ donor programs have been pushing for a similar change in the status quo. See the USA Today article on opt-out donor programs.

Earlier this year an article by Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo et al. in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that moderately lowering salt in diets should be a public health target. While some view this as the long arm of government reaching too far into our kitchens, I see it as another form of soft paternalism. As any chef will attest, you can’t cook salt out of a dish. Now those who prefer lower salt meals can have them and those who want to add salt can do so freely. The spectrum of choice is greater and the change in the status quo might end up promoting public health.

In the spring of 2011, Ray Lewis made the prediction that crime would increase if the NFL lockout prevents the football season from occurring. For some people, like the kids mentioned in his statement, football is a substitute for causing trouble. Ray Lewis (and subsequently LaVar Arrington) left out half the story. A group exists that causes crime because of football. Examples include football drunks and overly aggressive fans (e.g. the baseball incident in May 2011). Without football, the first group will cause more crime while the second group will commit less crime. Due to the uncertainty of the relative sizes of these two groups, predicting the end result is not so easy. I would’ve suggested that crime would decrease, but I am no better of a predictor as we are all victims of the same type of bias.

Mr. Lewis and Mr. Arrington believe the number of aspiring players is larger than unruly fans. I suggest the opposite. Why? Tversky and Kahneman’s availability heuristic suggests that we tend to think there are more of the types of people or things that can easily be brought to mind. The aforementioned NFL players believe that in the average community there are more aspiring athletes than fans. They grew up in such communities. I grew up in a place with relatively more fans, so I fall for the same type of selection bias by asserting the contrary. None of us has experienced the random sample necessary to make a reliable estimate. One of us is likely right, but based on poor methods of estimation.

  • Intermediate Microeconomics:
    Fall 2014-Loyola (1)* | Fall 2014-Loyola (2)* | Fall 2010-UIC

  • Intermediate Macroeconomics:
    Summer 2012-NEIU**


UIC | NEIU | Loyola

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* Awaiting responses
** Not available because of technical issues with new online evaluation system

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I was fortunate to have some outstanding teachers in my life. They shaped me as a person, a student, and a teacher. As they inspired my learning, they also created my passion for teaching. In the last few years, I have taken almost every teaching opportunity I can. The process inspires new ideas for my research, strengthens my communication of the material, and renews my passion for the field.

Good teaching requires empathy and enthusiasm. I have been a student my entire life. This gives me the ability to understand what students expect and also what they should be given by their instructors. Students can sense when people do not care about what they are presenting. I am lucky to be teaching something that I am truly passionate about. I am rewarded when I see understanding in my students.

I push my students hard. I have a reputation as a rigorous instructor and a fair grader. Education is what you make of it. Students often enter my classes very concerned about grades. They quickly learn that I am concerned about their understanding of the material. Attendance is taken in all my classes. My exams are tough. I curve grades, but each semester I have a handful of students that require no curve to achieve a natural A. I often encourage these students to aim higher than simply graduating.

I believe in outside reading. I love books. In almost every class that I teach there is a required book other than the textbook. Economics is about telling good stories. There is no shortage of quality writing outside of journals and textbooks. I embrace these works in the classroom and my spare time.

I treat every class I teach as a performance. A quality education should combine good stories with a memorable delivery. While presentation is important, content is king. I believe this to be very true in higher education. I strive to bring the clearest, most relevant, and most memorable content into my classroom.

Technology is changing the way we learn. This year, I have incorporated clicker response systems into my courses. It has changed the dynamic of the classroom and allows students to observe their own economic behavior in real time instead of some given data. Also this year, I began creating content for a company that specializes in non-linear learning. It is as if a virtual tutor is guiding you through the material. This is the future path of learning.

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THEME: The common thread of all my research thus far is the existence of natural experiments that cover the entire United States over extended periods of time. This has required that I create very large datasets often converting qualitative public records into usable quantitative formats.

FINDINGS: The research I have conducted thus far suggests that smoking bans have a positive effect on bar and restaurant employment unless it easy to avoid such policies with travel; that these same smoking bans increase drunk driving fatalities in border areas where policies are inconsistent; that placing pseudoephedrine behind the counter in pharmacies only reduces the number of methamphetamine labs if all neighboring states have the same policy; that members of congress ask for more public subsidies and fewer private subsidies as they gain experience; and that making the playoffs in major league sports is beneficial for local economies, while winning a championship is not.

GOALS: My ideal school is one where I find both a research mentor and co-authors, whether they be within economics or across other disciplines. The teaching load at my current position combined with the job market has not allowed me to achieve my goal of publication this semester. I hope to accomplish that objective in early 2015.

TECHNOLOGY: Aside from using standard statistical software such as Stata, R, and RATS, I have relied heavily on ArcGIS, Tableau, and GoogleVis to make interesting infographics and animations that can reach a greater audience. The next step is to make these data visualizations interactive and accessible. I would like to be a pioneer of such change.

FUTURE: The current problem I am trying to solve involves a drop in the number of non-alcohol related traffic fatalities in the mid 2000’s. Once solved, three other papers will have the appropriate control variables necessary to evaluate their respective natural experiments. The model I have created to control for spillover effects is well suited to investigate participation in Medicare expansion, the role of local and state taxes on vices, and an unlimited number of characteristics linked to health that vary from place to place. The research possibilities are seemingly endless.

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