Archives for University of Chicago



The Middle of Everywhere: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

You know how there are people who get talked about a lot and then there are people who actually do a lot?

It strikes me that the same could be said of cities. And I’d put Chicago near the top of any list of cities that have done a lot. From an East Coast view, or West, it can appear that Chicago is the middle of nowhere. In this week’s podcast, we make the argument that Chicago is, in fact, the middle of everywhere. (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode features Thomas Dyja, the author of several books, most recently The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream. He talks about 10 things that Chicago gave the world, some of them surprising and some just forgotten. Dyja isn’t arguing that Chicago is still in its heyday — it is almost certainly not — but he make a persuasive case that it is underappreciated on many dimensions, and that the world would be a very different place if Chicago hadn’t been so busy being Chicago. Read More »



A Youth Intervention in Chicago That Works

A new NBER working paper (abstract; PDF) by University of Chicago researchers Sara Heller, Harold A. Pollack, Roseanna Ander, and Jens Ludwig analyzes the effects of a Chicago program targeted at “disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods.”  The results of the intervention look promising:

Improving the long-term life outcomes of disadvantaged youth remains a top policy priority in the United States, although identifying successful interventions for adolescents – particularly males – has proven challenging. This paper reports results from a large randomized controlled trial of an intervention for disadvantaged male youth grades 7-10 from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods. The intervention was delivered by two local non-profits and included regular interactions with a pro-social adult, after-school programming, and – perhaps the most novel ingredient – in-school programming designed to reduce common judgment and decision-making problems related to automatic behavior and biased beliefs, or what psychologists call cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). We randomly assigned 2,740 youth to programming or to a control group; about half those offered programming participated, with the average participant attending 13 sessions. Program participation reduced violent-crime arrests during the program year by 8.1 per 100 youth (a 44 percent reduction). It also generated sustained gains in schooling outcomes equal to 0.14 standard deviations during the program year and 0.19 standard deviations during the follow-up year, which we estimate could lead to higher graduation rates of 3-10 percentage points (7-22 percent). Depending on how one monetizes the social costs of crime, the benefit-cost ratio may be as high as 30:1 from reductions in criminal activity alone.



Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo on the U.S. Labor Market

Three of my colleagues and friends at the University of Chicago – Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo — recently presented some new research that aims to understand the ups and downs in the U.S. labor market.  It’s more serious and important than the usual stuff we deal with on the blog, but every once in a while we deviate from trivialities when something really good comes along. 

They’ve been kind enough to put together a layperson’s version of the research below.  For those looking for the full-blown academic version, you can find that here.

A Structural Explanation for the Weak Labor Market
By  Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the labor market has remained anemic.  Between 2007 and 2010, the employment-to-population ratio of men between the ages of 21 and 55 with less than a four-year degree fell from 82.8 percent to 73.8 percent.  As of mid-2012, the employment-to-population ratio for these men remained depressed at 75.6 percent.[1] 

In our new working paper (abstract; full PDF), we show that the recent sluggish labor market in the U.S. – particularly for prime age workers without a college degree – can be traced back to the large sectoral decline in manufacturing employment that occurred during the 2000s.  After decades of relative stability, total manufacturing employment in the U.S. fell by 3.5 million jobs between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2007 (see chart below).  These manufacturing jobs were lost even before the Great Recession started.  During the recent recession, another 2 million manufacturing jobs were lost.  While there is talk of a recent manufacturing rebound in the U.S., the recent increase is only a tiny fraction of the total manufacturing jobs lost during the 2000s. Read More »



The Secret Consensus Among Economists

If you follow the economic policy debate in the popular press, you would be excused for missing one of our best-kept secrets: There’s remarkable agreement among economists on most policy questions.  Unfortunately, this consensus remains obscured by the two laws of punditry: First, for any issue, there’s always at least one idiot willing to claim the spotlight to argue for it; and second, that idiot may sound more respectable if he calls himself an economist. 

How then can the quiet consensus compete with these squawking heads?  A wonderful innovation run by Brian Barry and Anil Kashyap at the University of Chicago’s Booth School Initial on Global Markets provides one answer: Data.  Their “Economic Experts Panel” involves 40 of the leading economists across the US who have agreed to respond on the economic policy question du jour.  The panel involves a geographically and ideologically diverse array of leading economists working across different fields.  The main thing that unites them is that they are outstanding economists who care about public policy.  The most striking result is just how often even this very diverse group of economists agree, even when there’s stark disagreement in Washington. 

That observation is the starting point for my latest column with Betsey StevensonRead More »



If All the Economists Were Laid End to End, Would They Reach a Conclusion?

There is an old quip, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that if all the economists were laid end to end, they’d never reach a conclusion.

My own experience has always been just the opposite. Most economists think very much alike.

If you want to feel like the smartest person in the room, often a good way to accomplish this is to be the only economist. Frequently, the one economist will say things that make a lot of sense that no one else would ever come up with. When I am that one economist, I sometimes feel like a genius. Until a second economist enters the room, that is. Because when the second economist shows up, he or she often says all the smart things I was going to say, before I can say them. It turns out, it is not the economist who is brilliant, but rather the training we get as economists which leads us to think differently from non-economists, that sometimes makes us seem smart. Read More »



Goodbye, Turkey Sandwich

Last week, I was out in Chicago for a couple of days working with Levitt. We had lunch at the Booth School cafeteria (with its great soda design) — or at least we tried to have lunch. There was a nice-looking case of sandwiches, and I asked the guy behind the counter for one of the turkey-cranberry sandwiches.

“No,” he said. “I can’t sell it to you.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“We’re closing. I can’t sell it to you.”

It was about 2:32 p.m. on a weekday afternoon. The sandwich I was eyeing was one of maybe 15 or 20 in the case. And then the guy behind the counter drags over a big trash can and throws my sandwich into it, and then all the other sandwiches too. It might have been my imagination — or maybe just hunger — but he seemed to take delight in throwing away the food for which I was ready to pay full price. Read More »



Are Sex Offender Laws Backfiring?

A pair of new studies raise questions as to whether sex offender registries and community notification laws actually reduce recidivism of sex offenders, or even lead to lower sex crime rates overall. Both are published in the University of Chicago’s Journal of Law and Economics.

The first study by Jonah Rockoff of Columbia Business School, and J.J. Prescott, a law professor at the University of Michigan, parses out the effectiveness of the two basic types of sex offender laws. While they find that the registration of released sex offenders is associated with a 13% decrease in crime from the sample mean, public notification laws proved to be counterproductive, and led to slightly higher rates of sex crime because of what the authors refer to as a “relative utility effect”:

Our results suggest that community notification deters first-time sex offenders, but may increase recidivism by registered offenders by increasing the relative attractiveness of criminal behavior. This finding is consistent with work by criminologists showing that notification may contribute to recidivism by imposing social and financial costs on registered sex offenders and, as a result, making non-criminal activity relatively less attractive.
…[C]onvicted sex offenders become more likely to commit crime when their information is made public because the associated psychological, social, or financial costs make crime more attractive.

Read More »



How Tough a Place Is the University of Chicago?

Just about every university has an alumni magazine, and they all follow the same tried-and-true recipe: highly partisan stories touting the wonderful accomplishments of the faculty, students, athletics, and alumni.

I had always thought of my university’s alumni magazine as being cut from the same cloth.

Until I read the most recent issue, that is. Read More »