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College and the Widening Wealth Gap

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a few Economic Policy Institute snapshots might be the Great Novel of our time. A few weeks ago, Heidi Shierholz at EPI brought us yet another harrowing tale from the front lines of the recession generation. In an “Economic Snapshot,” she writes:

As college students head back to the classroom this semester, a harsh reality confronts them — the rewards for the time, energy, and money that young people put into college are less than they were a decade ago. Since 2000, America’s young college graduates have seen wages, adjusted for inflation, deteriorate. This lack of wage growth may be particularly surprising to those used to reading about the vast unfilled need for college graduates, which if true would lead to increases in their earnings.

But how is this happening? Maybe it has something to do with a more recent snapshot from Lawrence Mishel at EPI on the growing wealth gap in America. He writes: Read More »



Deforestation, and the Incentivized Eco-Crime of Indonesia

There are books that governments keep officially, and then there are the other books – accounts of what people are actually doing and profiting from that are never mentioned in any legal context. A team of researchers from MIT, the University of Maryland, the London School of Economics and the World Bank cleverly used MODIS satellite imagery to uncover this kind of discrepancy as they investigated deforestation in Indonesia.

The satellite pictures allowed for comparison of legal and illegal logging operations. What they found (and write about in a new paper for NBER) shows how an increasingly decentralized government, coupled with very real monetary incentives for local officials, leads to eco-crime.

Indonesia contains one of the largest pieces of tropical forest in the world, rivaled only by Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s also the third largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China, due largely to its “forest extraction” practices. The paper examines three main forces that affect the decision-making and corruption of bureaucrats and government officials in charge of the logging-heavy jurisdictions of Indonesia. Read More »



Pay to Play: Should Registered Organ Donors Get Priority as Recipients?

The organ donor waiting list in America is a long one. There’s far too much demand for a very limited supply. In 2010, 89,316 people were on the kidney transplant waiting list, while the number of living donors was only 6,282, and the number of deceased donor transplants was 10,622. Freakonomics is no stranger to the repugnant discussion of the organ market. America’s particular organ donation policies, however, aren’t practiced everywhere. Singapore and Israel give priority to potential recipients who were already registered donors. A new working paper written by Judd B. Kessler of Wharton, and Alvin E. Roth from Harvard further tests this idea of priority-to-participants in an incentivized game. Here’s the abstract: Read More »



Will Rahm Emanuel’s Merit-pay System Work Where Others Haven’t?

Last week, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he’s rolling out a merit pay program specifically for school principals, using $5 million in donated funds. The plan is particularly bold considering its announcement comes on the heels of quite a bit of evidence, from research to scandals, showing the faults of merit pay.

In March, we wrote about Harvard economist Roland Fryer‘s study on New York City’s failed merit pay experiment, the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program, which was shutdown last month. A subsequent RAND report echoes much of Fryer’s findings:

…the theory underlying school-based pay-for-performance programs may be flawed. Motivation alone might not be sufficient. Even if the bonus here had inspired teachers to improve, they might have lacked the capacity or resources — such as school leadership, expertise, instructional materials, or time — to bring about improvement.

Read More »



The Economic Value of (Very) Personal Data

Graphic designer Nicholas Felton keeps track of how many miles he walks each day. He also records how many book pages he reads, how many work e-mails he sends, and what songs he listens to. Felton’s become somewhat famous for his obsessive self-tracking, and the slick info-graphics he produces on himself each year. Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate have made videos about him, here and here.

Felton began tracking his daily habits and compiling a Personal Annual Report in 2005, available at his website. Read More »