Dad-or-Daughter Contest: We Have a Winner

I’m happy to announce that Elizabeth Simpson won the Dad-or-Daughter Songwriting Contest by correctly identifying Friend Zone as the song that I coauthored with my daughter, as well as correctly identifying a line in that song that I composed (“But you just laughed it off and said we’d always be bros”), and a line in the song that Anna composed (“I bought a shirt today with your favorite band.”).

Elizabeth turns out to be a former student from my 2006 small group in contracts. In her email, she describes the method behind her entry:

How to Be Sure Your Waiter Brings You Decaf (And Thwart Tiger Attacks Too!)

You’ve just finished a dinner at a nice restaurant and you order decaf coffee instead of regular so that you won’t have trouble falling asleep. A few minutes later, your server brings you a steaming cup of Joe. You want to drink, but you’re worried it might have caffeine. At this point, I normally ask something like “Are you sure this is decaffeinated?”

But my friend (and newly tenured colleague) Yair Listokin tells me that Oprah suggests that we ask instead: “Is this regular coffee?” Or, “Are you sure this is regular coffee?”

It’s not fool proof, but asking “is it regular” will let you find out whether the waiter is willing to say “yes” to any question, possibly to avoid the extra work of having to go get a replacement? Framing the question doesn’t work if the restaurant follows the “after 8 p.m. or so, all the coffee is decaf” convention.

A Dad-or-Daughter Songwriting Contest

My daughter, Anna, spent a bunch of time this past summer writing songs. One thing led to another and we ended up coauthoring a song together. I have more than 50 academic coauthors, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried writing music with someone.

Is it easy for people to tell the difference between songs she wrote by herself and a song where I wrote most of the lyrics? Is it possible for a 52-year-old lawyer/economist to emulate the lyrics of a 14-year-old Gleek? I think a lot of people would have a surprisingly hard time. But the question is testable.

So today I’m announcing a contest where you could earn a chance of winning an iTunes gift card worth somewhere between $50-$500. To play, just click through and listen to these three songs – Friend Zone, Longer, & Your Way, and then leave a comment to this post or as a YouTube comment to one of the three songs saying: i) which of the three songs you think I coauthored; ii) identifying a line in that song you believe I wrote; and iii) identifying a line in that song you believe Anna wrote. Here they are:

A Common Joke About Common Knowledge

If you enjoy this joke (which is discussed here, and comes from the folks at Spiked Math Comics) as much as I do, you might be a gearhead.

It illustrates one of the many surprising and subtle impacts of common knowledge. Yale's John Geanakoplos provides an even more perverse version of the bar cartoon, in this incredibly helpful chapter :

Imagine three girls sitting in a circle, each wearing either a red hat or a white hat. Suppose that all the hats are red. When the teacher asks if any student can identify the color of her own hat, the answer is always negative, since nobody can see her own hat. But if the teacher happens to remark that there is at least one red hat in the room, a fact which is well-known to every child (who can see two red hats in the room) then the answers change. The first student who is asked cannot tell, nor can the second. But the third will be able to answer with confidence that she is indeed wearing a red hat.

Probabalistic Auctions: Why Don't Universities Raffle off Chair Endowments?

A recent post of mine was addressed to the super-rich who are considering endowing a chair in order to garner public recognition. But what about the merely rich who wish to have their names recognized in perpetuity with an eponymous endowed chair at their university? Is there anything they can do?

Yes. There are two things.

First, a much larger swath of people can follow the Benjamin Franklin strategy and endow a delayed chair. Franklin famously bequeathed about $4,000 in 1790 to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Franklin:

instructed that [his bequest] be invested for two hundred years and at the end of that period, the money should be used to do good. Franklin died in 1790. In 1990, his gift had grown to over $2 million.

Will First-to-File Hurt Small Inventors?

The U.S. just passed the first major patent reform in nearly sixty years – which includes as a central provision a change to the patent priority rule. Instead of awarding a patent to the first person to invent, we will join other nations in awarding patents to the first person to file an invention.

David Abrams and Polk Wagner have a great paper looking at whether the proposed change in our patent system from a “first to invent” regime to a “first to file” regime is likely to disadvantage individual inventors. The concern is that corporate inventors will have an easier time than the individual in gearing up to draft and file a patent application.

The paper ingeniously looks to see what happened when Canada introduced a similar reform in 1989. The paper is also a great way to teach yourself about the difference-in-difference approach to estimation. The paper first estimates the pre-reform difference between the U.S. and Canada in the proportion of patents going to individual inventors. It then looks to see whether this difference changed – that is, whether there was a difference in the difference – after the Canadian first-to-file reform went into effect.

Wanna Buy a Tony Award?

People give to charities for all kinds of reasons – some more noble than others. But one important motivation is recognition. If Yale mandated that it would only accept anonymous donations, its fundraising would be decimated.

There are a lot of different ways to garner public recognition. If I had 3 million bucks to throw around, I’d think long and hard about trying instead to buy myself a Tony Award. For as little as $200,000, you might be able to purchase an 8% chance at winning a Tony.

Let me emphasize that this is at best a crude ballpark estimate. Over the last 5 years, 12.2 new plays have been produced on Broadway each year. For a play, which generally runs about $2.5-3 million these days, my friend Jack Thomas at Bulldog Theatrical tells me you can usually find yourself among those listed above the title for about $200,000. Some investors split this minimum ante and put up or raise just $100,000 each and get listed as Bulldog Theatrical / Cantab Theatrical.

The Liberation of Use-Them-Or-Lose-Them Frequent Flyer Miles

This year, Daniel Kahneman has me wondering about what is the best way to organize my vacation time. In this great TED talk – The Riddle of Experience versus Memory, he talks about the tradeoffs we must make in increasing our moment-to-moment experience of happiness versus increasing our memories of happiness.

If you want to maximize your memories of happiness, you should spend more time taking pictures of your vacation and jam more events into each day. If you want to maximize your moment-to-moment experience of happiness, you spend less time recording your experience and more time experiencing them directly.

Education As Incapacitation: Why Are States Making it Harder to Get a Learner's Permit?

I got in trouble earlier this summer when a teacher caught me surfing the Internet during a “Safe Driving Practices” class I had to attend so that my son could get his Connecticut driver's license. While a parent has to attend for 2 hours, a 16-year-old must attend for a mind-numbing 8 hours before qualifying to take a written test. The mandatory class is part of Connecticut’s graduated driver licensing requirements, which make it (i) harder for a 16 or 17-year-old to get a learner’s permit, (ii) harder to get a license, and (iii) severely limits the kinds of driving you can do with these licenses.

I was surfing the Internet during class, because something the instructor said about accident statistics since the program was rolled out in 2008 seemed defensive – so I started to look up Connecticut statistics online.

Having attended 2 hours of the training, I seriously doubted that the 8-hour classes serve an educational function.  Nonetheless, surfing made me feel somewhat better about having to sit there because I learned that the new requirements are having an impact: they’re deterring young people from getting their licenses. Look, for example, at what happened to the number of 16 and 17-year-olds receiving learner permits in 2008 when the law took effect (which I calculated from this data):

Is the Debt Cap Unconstitutional? A "Thought Experiment" from 1998

Recent discussions of whether the Fourteenth Amendment's Public Debt Clause would allow the president to ignore the debt limit reminded me of a paper on the topic that a former student of mine, Michael Abramowicz, wrote under my supervision almost fifteen years ago. Michael has since become a prolific scholar on other topics, and this year he had the rare distinction of publishing articles in both the Harvard Law Review (here) and the Yale Law Journal (here). Meanwhile, he and I have recently coauthored twice, on randomizing law (also with my colleague Yair Listokin) and on using bonds as commitment devices. I tried to find Michael's old article with Google and couldn't, so I wrote to him asking about it. With his permission, I include here his reply: