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A Model of Government Efficiency (Not a Typo)

Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan use the example of New York City’s surprisingly efficient passport office to explore an interesting question: “Why do some government offices perform well and others poorly, even when they’re providing the same services and working with comparable resources?” Fisman and Sullivan think it’s all about the management:

There’s an emerging body of research that chalks up these productivity gaps to the all-too-human ways that different companies (and divisions within a single organization) are managed. The fact that management matters—a lot—shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has ever worked under a good manager and also a bad one: Good managers coach, listen, support, and make their employees feel like they’re making progress. Bad ones don’t—often in uniquely horrible ways. And if this is true at for-profit companies, why wouldn’t it be true for branches of the government?

At the Hudson Street New York Passport Office, the management is Michael Hoffman: Read More »



How to Replenish 11,000 Calories

In our “A Burger A Day” podcast (which generated a lot of debate), we debated the nutritious merits of the McDouble. At least one Canadian finds that McDonald’s is a cheap and easy way to fill up. As Dan Fumano writes in The Province, Colin Pither tackled the challenging “Grouse Grind” climb 15 times in one day:

At the crack of noon on Friday, ten hours after Colin Pither finished his 15th consecutive Grouse Grind and tied the record for climbs in a single day, he rose from bed and began his greasy road to recovery.

“I’m pretty destroyed. But I’ve eaten like 20 burgers, so I’m a little better now,” he said.

By Pither’s calculations, he burned about 11,000 calories yesterday as he hiked almost 50 kilometres up and down the mountain. The average daily caloric intake required for a male his age is between 2,500 and 3,000.

So it’s understandable he’s a bit hungry.

You can see in the photo what Pither’s caloric intake of choice was.



Want to Quit Smoking? Get Your Spouse to Do It First

Smoking is one of our favorite topics on this blog – from the ethics of not hiring smokers to the use of commitment devices to quit. A new NBER paper (gated) by Kerry Anne McGeary looks at smoking in marriages. It finds that one spouse quitting causes the other to quit, through bargaining:

Previous research studying the correlation in smoking behavior between spouses has discounted the role of bargaining or learning. Using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which contains information on smoking cessation and spouse’s preferences, this paper presents an essential investigation of the importance of spousal bargaining or learning on the decision to cease smoking. We find, regardless of gender, when one member of [a] couple ceases smoking this induces the other member to cease smoking through bargaining. Further, we find females demonstrate either altruistic behavior toward a spouse, who has suffered a health shock, or learning from their spouse’s health shock.



FREAK-est Links

1. Drew Brees criticized for not tipping enough for takeout. (HT: Steve Schwinger)

2. The People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Center: where the Chinese government collects data on Chinese public opinion.

3. The women of the “Opt-Out Revolution” are ready to lean in.

4. In South Korea, where 93 percent of students graduate from high school, “rock star” teachers earn millions.
5. Is Boeing buying back old 747s to drive demand for new ones?



Coffee and Suicide

In our hour-long podcast “The Suicide Paradox,” we explored some of the facts and myths about suicide. A new Harvard study highlights another interesting fact: coffee drinkers have a lower risk of suicide. From Time:

According to a study performed by the Harvard School of Public Health and published this month in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, people who drink two to four cups of java each day are less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t drink coffee, drink decaf, or drink fewer than two cups each day. The study followed over 200,000 people for at least 16 years. And it’s not just a weak link: the researchers found that the suicide risk was cut by around 50 percent for caffeine fiends.

The study doesn’t establish causation, but lead researcher Michel Lucas confirmed in a statement that it’s definitely caffeine, which previous research indicates may act as a mild antidepressant, that’s driving the results.  “Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee,” he says.



Good News for Child Obesity

We’ve blogged before about America’s rising obesity rate and how to fight it, but the battle may have just gotten a little easier. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows obesity rates dropping for low-income preschool children in 19 states between 2008 and 2011. From the Wall Street Journal:

The obesity analysis, by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, was based on data from 11.6 million children age 2 to 4. The survey group included children eligible for federally funded programs of maternal and child health and nutrition, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as the WIC program.

The decline was greatest in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the obesity rate in such children fell to 11% in 2011 from 13.6% in 2008. Drops of more than one percentage point were also seen in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Missouri, and South Dakota.

Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, called the results a “bright spot” and a “tipping point.”

“For the first time in a generation, we’re seeing it go in the right direction in 2- to 4-year-olds,” he said on a conference call with reporters, calling the changes “small but statistically significant.” He was quick to add, “We’re very, very far from being out of the woods.”

Of the 43 states measured, obesity rates for preschool children rose in 3 states and remained the same same in 21 states.



Why Do Some Jobs Pay So Little?

A recent one-day strike by fast-food workers has called attention to the low wages in the industry. James Surowiecki offers one reason that the issue’s visibility has increased recently:

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

Given that reality, Surowiecki writes, raising the minimum wage by a few bucks a hour won’t fix the problem. His prescription: more truly middle-class jobs and an expansion of the social safety net. “Fast-food jobs in Germany and the Netherlands,” he writes, “aren’t much better-paid than in the U.S., but a stronger safety net makes workers much better off.”



How LinkedIn Is Changing Recruiting

Sarah Halzack, writing for The Washington Post, explores how LinkedIn is changing job-searching and recruiting:

As LinkedIn has exploded — perhaps because it has exploded — there has been a major shift in the way employers find new workers. Gone are the days of “post and pray,” a recruiter’s adage for the practice of advertising a job opening and then idly hoping that good candidates swim up to the bait.

Now the process of talent acquisition is something of a hunt.

“We’re really at a point now where all of your employees are vulnerable to being poached. Every single one,” said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of talent consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte.

The change is happening rapidly: A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. And among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they are using LinkedIn.

Recruiter Chris Scalia told Halzack that the type of candidates he sees on LinkedIn is also changing. “LinkedIn was always known for where you would go to find that really critical, challenging hire,” Scalia said. “It was never really where you would go for a PC technician or something at the lower end of the career mobility scale. Now I see both. It is completely flooded.”

(HT: The Big Picture)