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When Is It Inconsiderate to Press A Crosswalk Button?

I have no problem with pedestrians pressing crosswalk buttons when they wait for the crossing light to change before crossing the intersection.  Crossing lights and crosswalk buttons serve important safety function at busy intersections especially for disabled or elderly pedestrians who need a bit more time crossing the street.

But some pedestrians press the button with a conditional intention to cross the street before the crossing light changes if there is a break in the traffic.  One often sees pedestrians approach an intersection, press the button, and then immediately cross the street, before the crossing light changes. 

The pedestrian probably reasons a) “I have a right to press the button”;  and b) having pushed it, I now see I can walk without inconveniencing anyone because there aren’t any cars coming. Read More »



Timing Matters for Armstrong, Clemens and Lin

One of the great lessons of contracts (and of the law more generally) is that the timing of actions can dramatically change legal consequences.  An offeree who says “I accept” a moment after the offer is withdrawn is in a very different position than an offeree who says the same thing a moment before an attempt to withdrawn.

This past summer three sports stories seemed to turn on matters of timing. Les Carpenter writes that Lance Armstrong could have avoided is downfall if he had stayed retired:

The irony is that Armstrong could have remained a hero. He could have been a saint, as well as a beacon of light to millions who never would have thought he had cheated throughout his career. All he had to do was stay retired.

Read More »



UK Game Show Golden Balls: A New Solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Several years ago, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Joel Waldfogel and Matthew W. White, published a fascinating empirical article about the prisoner’s dilemma game embedded in the short-lived U.S. game show “Friend or Foe.”  Their core findings:

Using data from two seasons of a television game show, we provide evidence about how individuals implement conditionally cooperative preferences. We show that (1) contestants forgo large sums of money to be cooperative, (2) players cooperate at heightened levels when their opponents are predictably cooperative, and (3) players whose observable characteristics predict less cooperation fare worse (monetarily) over time, as opponents avoid cooperating with them. 

I always thought it might be nice to update the study to test to see whether different kinds of “cheap talk” were more or less effective in establishing cooperation. Read More »



(Almost) The Triumph of Game Theory at the Super Bowl

One of the amazing things about the Super Bowl game this past weekend was that both coaches understood that the Patriots would be better off if the Giants scored a touchdown late in the game and reportedly instructed their teams accordingly.  To my mind, this represents a high point in the prevalence of strategic thinking. 

Was the failure of Ahmad Bradshaw to follow through on his coach’s instruction merely a failure of execution?

But I wonder whether the Giants failed to strategically optimize on the very next play selection.  With about a minute left in the game (and with a timeout remaining for the Patriots), the Giants choose to go for a two-point conversion.  My question is not about whether they should have kicked a point after.  No, I wonder whether they might have done better by handing the ball to a swift runner, who might have even more perversely attempted to forgo scoring two points and instead tried to burn as many seconds off the clock as possible by merely running away from the other team (toward, but not into, the other endzone!).   Read More »



What Makes Chuck Skinny?

Weight Watchers has ads in heavy rotation with Charles Barkley saying: “lose weight like a man.” 

You can also hear him mention his success in his Saturday Night Live monologue.

Something is working. Since starting WW, he’s lost 38 pounds. But what about the Weight Watchers program that has him shedding so much weight?

Is it the group weigh-ins?

Is it the famous Weight Watchers point system? 

Or is it something else? Read More »



Of Lags and Caps: Possible Implementations of a Brandeis Tax

Last Monday, Aaron Edlin and I published a cri de coeur op-ed in the New York Times calling for a Brandeis tax, an automatic tax that would put the brakes on income inequality. This is the third in a series of posts (the first and second posts are here and here) explaining more about our rationale and providing more details on how a Brandeis tax might be implemented. You can also listen to my hour-long interview on Connecticut Public Radio’s “Where we Live” here.

Of Lags and Caps: More Details About Possible Implementations of a Brandeis Tax
By Ian Ayres & Aaron Edlin

Remarkably of the hundreds of emails we received in reaction to our op-ed, almost no one questioned Brandeis’s idea that we can have great concentrations of wealth, or democracy but not both. People questioned other aspects of our proposal, asking questions like (1) how would it work in a world of income bunching; (2) would people still have the incentive to work hard; and (2) is it fair to have very high tax rates on the affluent.

Our last post talked about alternative potential triggers. Here we tackle some more detailed questions about implementation including how to trade off different kinds of distortions. Read More »



An Inequality Tax Trigger: The Brandeis Ratio Explained

On Monday, Aaron Edlin and I published a cri de coeur op-ed in the New York Times calling for a Brandeis tax, an automatic tax that would put the brakes on income inequality. This is the second in a series of posts (the first post is here) explaining more about our rationale and providing more details on how a Brandeis tax might be implemented.

An Inequality Tax Trigger
By Ian Ayres and Aaron Edlin

A central idea behind our Brandeis tax proposal was to have a tax that is triggered by increases in inequality. Our Brandeis tax does not target excessive income per se; it only caps inequality. Billionaires could double their current income without the tax kicking in — as long as the median income also doubles. The sky is the limit for the rich as long as the “rising tide lifts all boats.” Indeed, the tax gives job creators an extra reason to make sure that corporate wealth does in fact trickle down. Read More »



There Will Be Rich Always: Finding a New Way to Think About Income Inequality

On Monday, Aaron Edlin and I published a cri de coeur op-ed in the New York Times calling for a Brandeis tax, an automatic tax that would put the brakes on income inequality. In the next few days, Aaron and I will be publishing a series of posts explaining more about our rationale and providing more details on how a Brandeis tax might be implemented.

There Will Be Rich Always
By Ian Ayres & Aaron Edlin

In one of the more memorable lyrics from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar (based on Matthew 26:11), Jesus tells his disciples “There will be poor always.”

The same is true of the rich. There will always be a top 1 percent of income earners. But what it takes to be rich can change drastically over the course of even a single generation. In 1980, you would have had to earn at least $158,000 to be a one-percenter; but by 2006 the qualifying amount had more than doubled to $332,000. (You can produce an estimate of your own household income percentile – albeit using a different definition of income that produces a much higher 1 percent cutoff – at this wsj.com site.) The rise is not due to inflation as both these numbers are expressed in inflation-adjusted, constant 2006 dollars. Read More »