Egg Donors Fight the Oocyte Cartel

Alex Tabarrok explores the world of egg donation, which is heavily regulated by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).  The two organizations effectively limit egg donor compensation to $5,000-$10,000, acting as a "buyer's cartel," in Tabarrok's words:

In 2011, Lindsay Kamakahi launched a class action suit against ASRM-SART challenging their horizontal price-fixing agreement as per se illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act. ASRM-SART tried to have the case dismissed but a judge recently denied the dismissal in the process making it clear that the plaintiffs have a good case.

ASRM-SART argue that their maximum price is really about protecting women and that compensation “should not be so excessive as to constitute undue inducement.” Egg donation does involve extensive screening, time and some health risks. One would think, however, that the proper response for those interested in protecting women would be to ensure that the women are fully informed and that they are paid high wages not low wages.

A Wake-Up App That Economists Would Love

Cartoonist Manu Cornet has a simple economic fix for oversleeping.

(HT: Hans van der Drift)

Is Paying for Blood a Good Idea After All?

An article in Science by Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis, and Robert Slonim summarizes their research on economic incentives and blood donation (abstract; PDF). Contrary to previous studies, the researchers found that various incentives, from gift cards to a day off, increased blood donation: 

Overall, 18 of the 19 distinct incentive items offered in observational and field experimental studies increased blood donations, and the effects were larger for items of higher monetary value; only one reward offer, a free cholesterol test, had no effect. When data were available (for 15 of the items), no effect on blood safety was detected. Finally, although temporary rewards might affect long-term motivations, no post intervention effects on donations were found, including any negative effects deriving from potential motivation loss.

How Dirty Diapers End Up in the Recyling Bin

While it is true that human waste can indeed be recycled -- as a medical "transpoosion," as auto fuel, as heat for your home -- that is not what's happening in Portland, Oregon. People are indeed placing human waste in Portland's recycling bins -- in the form of baby diapers -- but not because they want are recycling nuts. They just want to get rid of it, but the city has made trash pickup less frequent:

“It started when the city went to every other week garbage pickup,” said Far West Fibers President Keith Ristau. “Prior to that you’d get a dirty diaper maybe once a month. Now we get 60 pounds per shift. It’s not pretty.”

When the city of Portland launched its curbside composting program in October 2011, it simultaneously reduced trash pickups from once a week to once every two weeks. But recycling and compost bins are still emptied weekly.

(HT: Scott Hendricks)

Convincing Kids to Go to College

A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes.  Here's the abstract:

We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.

Paying People to Lose Weight

From Science World Report:

The participants were told to achieve the goal of losing 4 pounds per month up to a predetermined goal weight. The researchers kept track of their body weight every month for almost one year. The researchers told the participants in the incentive groups that they would receive $20 per month if they achieved the goal. And those who failed to achieve the goal would need to pay $20 each month that gets into the bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who finished the study were entitled to win the pool by lottery.

The researchers noticed that 62 percent of the participants in the incentive group achieved the goal, while just 26 percent from the non-incentive group hit the target. The mean weight loss of participants from the incentive group was 9.08 pounds and the mean weight loss for the non incentive group was 2.34 pounds.

"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives," lead author Steven Driver, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, said in a press statement. "The financial incentives can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence."

Question of the Day: How to Get Roommates to Share in Cleaning?

A reader named Jason Stauffer writes:

I live with four guys in a house. We had no cleaning schedule until about a month ago, but the house was never cluttered, and was more than clean enough for actual women to feel comfortable visiting. Even the bathroom was clean enough for the girls to freely use it without vomiting. However since we have implemented our cleaning schedule the house has gotten into worse and worse shape. The toilet downstairs is even looking so bad I don't want to use it. What gives?

Okay, everybody, let's hear what you have to say about private vs. public incentives, moral hazard, and the general cleanliness of men.

Reverse Fiscal Federalism

The Texas Legislature is back in session, providing its usual cookie jar of absurd economic proposals.  A real winner is House Bill 649, which would provide compensatory tax reductions to companies that become taxed under the Affordable Care Act because their employer-provided health insurance fails to cover employees’ emergency contraception.  Such a bill means Texas would be giving firms incentives to thwart federal law. It also opens up the possibility of much broader tax offsets.  I’m certain that our governor and legislature dislike the recent imposition of higher federal income tax rates on high-income families. Why not take the logic of this bill one step further and offer tax reductions (sales tax, since we have no income tax) to very high-income families?  Indeed, the reductio ad absurdum would construct all state tax policy to offset to the extent possible any incentives provided by federal tax policy.

Jimmy Kimmel Thinks Like a Freak

Starbucks recently came out with an ultra-high end cup of coffee. Wondering whether that cup of coffee was really worth $7, Kimmel took to the streets and ran some experiments.  He didn’t however, do what you might expect.  Rather, he pulled a page out of the old wine tasting experiment I ran twenty years ago. It is definitely worth watching. 

Here's a School Incentive You Probably Never Thought of (and That's a Good Thing)

Fourth-graders in Declo, Idaho, faced an unusual incentive scheme for reading: if they didn't complete their work they could either forgo recess or have others kids draw on their face with marker. Several kids chose the latter punishment and, as you can imagine, this didn't go over so well. It should be noted that the teacher had let the students choose these rules. From the Times-News:

When Cindy Hurst’s 10-year-old son arrived home from school Nov. 5, his entire face, hairline to chin, was scribbled on in red marker — including his eyelids. He also had green, red and purple scribble marks over the red, and his face was scratched by a marker that had a rough edge.

“He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face,” said Hurst. “He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it.” ...

As more and more schools look for better ways to motivate students, I am guessing this tactic won't gain a lot of traction.

(HT: C.P.)