Harvard Shuts Down its Nobel Prize Pool

Last week we posted about Harvard's Nobel Prize Pool, where people could place bets predicting this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for $1 per entry. The Harvard economics faculty ran the site for a few years, dubbing it, "the world’s most accurate prediction market." Apparently, Harvard wasn't too keen on the idea, as the following notice now appears on the site:

Unfortunately, we have been advised by Harvard University to immediately shut down the Nobel pool due to legal reasons, and we have decided to comply with this request. We will fully reimburse the money of all participants, and we apologize for any inconvenience this creates for you. All participants will be contacted by email.

For anyone who watched the site closely over the last week, do you remember the odds for the actual winners, Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims?

The Orwellian Efficiency of a "Being Fat" Tax

The Danish policymakers who implemented the world’s first “fat tax” last week are remarkable not for their directness in addressing the growing Western challenge of obesity, but for their indifference to the plight of the poor, their deference to political correctness at the cost of economic efficiency, and their willingness to punish certain segments of society.

The Danes may have been the first, but headlines throughout the western world assessed the likelihood of other countries to follow, including this one. A fat tax in the U.S. (or the U.K. for that matter) would add to the growing thicket of regulations across local and federal jurisdictions intended to address weight gain and the external costs that obesity imposes on society— both through higher private insurance premiums and ballooning government outlays for the uninsured.

Whether the tax will improve health outcomes is an empirical question that won’t be answered for several years or more.

Predicting the Nobel Prize

Next Monday, the Nobel Prize Committee will announce the recipient(s) of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. If you think you know who's going to score this year's prize, head on over to Harvard's Nobel Pool, "the world's most accurate prediction market."

Each entry will cost you $1; all entries and bets must be received by 11:59 PM on Sunday, October 9th. If you're looking for inspiration, past predictions can be found here. And if you haven't already, listen to our Freakonomics Radio podcast, "The Folly of Predictions," to find out where we stand on the whole notion of predictions.

So Freakonomics readers, who are you betting on?

New Blog Explores Economics of Digital World: Digitopoly

Our friend Joshua Gans, along with some colleagues, has launched a new blog devoted to the economics of digitization called digitopoly.org. Here, in a guest post, he explains the origins of the site, and what it's all about.

 

Digonomics
By Joshua Gans

Some of the most popular blogs are tech blogs (Gizmodo, Engadget, TechCrunch) or blogs that place a tech perspective on social commentary (e.g., BoingBoing). And, as we know, economics blogs also tend to be popular. What was missing though was a blog devoted to the economics and competitive issues that arise in the digital age. What’s more, thanks to the NBER’s new Program on the Economics of Digitization (funded by the Sloan Foundation), there is a wealth of new research in this area. That’s how we came to setup a blog devoted to digital issues from an economics perspective.

The 21st Century Another American Century? Don't Bet on It

In conjunction with our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, "The Folly of Prediction," I decided to reach out to a former professor of mine, Raymond Horton, whose modern political economy class is a student favorite at Columbia Business School. I wanted to know what Horton thought the worst prediction ever was, particularly regarding the intersection of politics and economics. He immediately pointed to a Foreign Affairs essay written by Mortimer Zuckerman in 1998, in which Zuckerman boldly lays out the case that, like the 20th century, the 21st will also be marked by American dominance.

We're barely a decade into the new century, so you may think it's too early to pass judgment on Zuckerman's prediction. But given the way things have played out over the last several years, it does look to be on shaky ground. At least that's the opinion of Ray Horton.

Once you've finished reading Horton's essay, we'd love to hear what you think count as some of the worst predictions ever.

Hurricane Shopping in NYC: And Then There Were But Keychain Flashlights Left

A weird week in New York City is only getting weirder. On Tuesday, for the first time since 1884, earthquake tremors were felt in the Big Apple; which, not surprisingly, came with no warning from earthquake prognosticators. Now, NYC is bracing for its first hurricane since 1985. (Any readers game for trying to calculate the odds of NYC getting hit by an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, I'd love to see your estimates.) As I write, I'm watching out my window as people in the building across the street tape their windows. Which reminds me, I need duct tape!

Now that the MTA has announced that all NYC public transportation will be shut down beginning on noon Saturday, people are out in force doing some last minute hurricane shopping. So we decided to venture out and do a little reporting on what's left, and what's not.

The Economics of Economics Blogs

Last week, the World Bank blog Development Impact wrote about the influence of economics blogs on downloads of research papers. It included Freakonomics.com, as well as 5 other blogs -- Aid Watch, Chris Blattman, NYT's Economix, Marginal Revolution, and Paul Krugman. Using stats from Research Papers in Economics, it found spikes after blogs cover a paper. For us, it found a 450-470 increase in abstract views and downloads. Check out their cool graph:

In New York City, It Still Pays to Hop the Subway Turnstile

A report by New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority seems to prove that hopping a subway turnstile is worth the risk of getting caught and fined. The MTA estimates that riders entered the subway without paying 18.5 million times in 2009 (an average of 50,684 a day) while the police issued just 120,000 summonses, or 1 for every 154 jumps.

The report figures that a regular turnstile jumper has a chance of getting caught only once every 6 to 13 weeks. At $100 per fine, this works out to be cheaper than a $27 weekly unlimited Metrocard that would cost $162 over six weeks. So the fare-skipper who gets nabbed only once in that period still comes out ahead by $62. And that was in 2009. While the price for a weekly pass has since increased to $29, the cost of the fine has not, so in 2011 it pays even more to hop the turnstile.

From the Daily News:

"This basic street economics might explain observed evasion behaviors," the authors of the report wrote, arguing stiffer penalties might cut down on scofflaws. "Higher fines or arrests may have better deterrent effects."

Our Daily Bleg: What Economic Concepts Should Kids Know?

This bleg comes from reader Wayne Smith, who asks for suggestions on which economic concepts are the most important for kids to learn:

What topics do the Freakonomics readers feel are most important to teach kids 8-13 years old? Aside, of course, from the fact that the man keeps you down.

I was listening to The History of Sesame Street audio book the other day and thought that it would be nice to come up with a YouTube show with decent production value that outlines basic economic concepts in an entertaining way. Concepts like capital, value, supply/demand, trade, time value of money, interest, saving and borrowing, opportunity cost, taxation,and so on. This would be more narrative than something like Khan Academy. Naturally each concept can have an episode devoted to it and each concept can be addressed in different ways in different episodes, but in scenarios geared toward kids. What do the readers think about this as a concept?

The Comparative Advantage Juice

We came close to overturning comparative advantage last night with our new juice-squeezer. Using it requires peeling the oranges, which involves rolling them around, making two circumferential cuts, and then stripping the flesh out. Only then can the flesh be thrown in the squeezer. After doing this together, my wife announced that I was so incompetent that the elapsed time in the first three steps would be less if she did everything and I watched. What she really meant was, "Daniel, your marginal productivity is very low! (But it wasn't negative: I was able to put the oranges in the squeezer, but she could have done that too, and the "assembly line" would have moved faster.)

How many household production activities are there where even the second cook “spoils the broth”?