FREAK-est Links

1. Does having a strip club in your neighborhood increase crime rates?

2. Did a poorly designed skyscraper melt a car with its reflection?

3. A paper that crowdsources black-market drug prices.

4. How techies process census data.

The Gender Gap in Organ Donors in Taiwan

Al Roth reports on an interesting gender gap in Taiwan: according to an article in Focus Taiwan, "Of the 620,000 people on Taiwan's organ donation list, 65 percent are women..."  The article goes on to point out that:

The trend is more pronounced in the largest demographic of organ donors, those aged 21-50, which features 2.2 times more women than men, Wu [Ying-lai] said, based on an analysis of the 223,250 people who have signed up for the national organ donation program in the past 10 years.

Looking at the data more closely, the largest groups of donors are women aged 31-40, followed by women aged 41-50, women aged 21-30, men aged 31-40, and men aged 41-50, she noted.

How Google Fights Obesity

Last year, Google realized that its employees were eating too much free candy -- M&Ms, specifically.  So the company conducted a little experiment, and carefully tracked the results. Cecilia Kang, writing in the Washington Post, summaries:

What if the company kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars? The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks. That’s a decrease of nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms for each of the office’s 2,000 employees.

The company has conducted similar experiments in an effort to reduce consumption of sugary drinks and encourage employees to consume less calories in the company's cafeterias.  “With a company as big as Google, you have to start small to make a difference. We apply the same level of rigor, analysis and experimentation on people as we do the tech side,” says Jennifer Kurkoski, a member of Google's HR team.

FREAK-est Links

1. Today in aptonyms: a trainer named Michael Jock. (HT: Stephanie D)

2. Certain homes in Gary, Indiana going for $1 a house -- but most buyers don't fit the qualifications. (HT: Dave McCall)

3. Drive-in "sex boxes" in Zurich designed to make work less dangerous for sex workers.

4. Consider the price of lobster: cheap at the bay this year, still expensive at restaurants.

5. Does birth order matter? (HT: Eric M. Jones)

Try Your Hand at Economic Forecasting

Think you can do a better job at predicting the economic future than all those economists and pundits?  Here's your chance to prove it:

Members of the public are being encouraged to take on the Bank of England by betting on the U.K.'s future inflation and unemployment rates.

Free-market think tank the Adam Smith Institute on Wednesday launched two betting markets in an attempt to use the "wisdom of crowds" to beat the Bank of England's official forecasters. Punters can place bets on what the rate of both U.K. inflation and unemployment will be on June 1, 2015.

Sam Bowman, the research director of the Adam Smith Institute, believes the new markets will "out-predict" official Bank of England predictions.  "If these markets catch on, the government should consider outsourcing all of its forecasts to prediction markets instead of expert forecasters," he said.

A New Way to Deal With Telemarketing Calls

A man in the U.K. is charging telemarketers for calling him. From BBC News:

A man targeted by marketing companies is making money from cold calls with his own higher-rate phone number.

In November 2011 Lee Beaumont paid £10 plus VAT to set up his personal 0871 line - so to call him now costs 10p, from which he receives 7p.

The Leeds businessman told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme that the line had so far made £300.

Phone Pay Plus, which regulates premium numbers, said it strongly discouraged people from adopting the idea.

Beaumont says that he's following the rules of premium numbers by informing all telemarketers exactly how much they're being charged for calling him, and suggesting they email him if they don't like the charges.

(HT: James Kraft)

How Many Years Does It Take to Learn to Be a Lawyer?

President Obama recently proposed an interesting solution to the skyrocketing cost (and declining popularity) of law school: make it shorter:

“This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I’m in my second term so I can say it,” Obama said during a stop at the State University of New York at Binghamton. “I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years because [….] in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom.”

In the third year, he said, “they’d be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren’t getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.”

The Daily Dish reports on various responses to Obama's suggestion.  For example, law professor Matt Bodie wonders if the change would really decrease costs:

Paying Less … Without Health Insurance

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Singer describes a patient who came in for a "simple outpatient surgical procedure" and discovered it was cheaper to just ignore his "low-cost 'indemnity' type of health insurance policy."  The patient's estimated costs had he used his health insurance plan: approximately $20,000 (out of the estimated hospital charge of $23,000).  After speaking to the patient, Singer realized that he wasn't bound by a "preferred provider" contractual arrangement and offered the patient a solution that saved him $17,000:

I explained that just because he had health insurance didn't mean he had to use it in every situation. After all, when people have a minor fender-bender, they often settle it privately rather than file an insurance claim. Because of the nature of this man's policy, he could do the same thing for his medical procedure. However, had I been bound by a preferred-provider contract or by Medicare, I wouldn't have been able to enlighten him....

Most people are unaware that if they don't use insurance, they can negotiate upfront cash prices with hospitals and providers substantially below the "list" price. Doctors are happy to do this. We get paid promptly, without paying office staff to wade through the insurance-payment morass.

So we canceled the surgery and started the scheduling process all over again, this time classifying my patient as a "self-pay" (or uninsured) patient. I quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price, as did the anesthesiologist. We contacted a different hospital and they quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price for the outpatient surgical/nursing services. He underwent his operation the very next day, with a total bill of just a little over $3,000, including doctor and hospital fees. He ended up saving $17,000 by not using insurance.

(HT: Jason Hirschhorn)

FREAK-est Links

1. Do calls to prison cost too much?

2. History of the world -- in one 1931 map.

3. The boomerang generation: "Some 21.6m Americans aged 18 to 31—36% of the total—still languish in the parental home." (HT: Chakrit Achava-amrung)

4. The pricing truth behind season tickets. (HT: V. Brenner)

5. Bullying in the army: will dismissing bad leaders make the organization more "efficient"?

Do Recessions Increase Productivity?

During recent recessions, worker productivity has actually risen -- but economists have been unsure if the result is driven by a changing workforce composition (i.e. more productive workers retaining their jobs) or an increase in effort and productivity on the part of individual workers. In a new paper (gated; working version here), called "Making Do With Less: Working Harder During Recessions," economists Edward P. LazearKathryn L. Shaw, and Christopher Stanton find that it's the latter.  Here's the abstract:

There are two obvious possibilities that can account for the rise in productivity during recent recessions. The first is that the decline in the workforce was not random, and that the average worker was of higher quality during the recession than in the preceding period. The second is that each worker produced more while holding worker quality constant. We call the second effect, “making do with less,” that is, getting more effort from fewer workers. Using data spanning June 2006 to May 2010 on individual worker productivity from a large firm, it is possible to measure the increase in productivity due to effort and sorting. For this firm, the second effect—that workers’ effort increases—dominates the first effect—that the composition of the workforce differs over the business cycle.