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On On Leaving Academia

Several people in my influencesphere have linked to this essay by a CS prof who's leaving academia to join Google in order to "make a positive difference in the world." I am, of course, wholly supportive of such a program, if not of his precise rationale, which is a ...

2012-07-24 08:51 PM

College Savings Plans are the Modern Dowry

Because baby Madeline is half-Indian and half-regular-person, she has both Indian friends and regular-person friends. The parents of her Indian friends worry about dowries, which are expensive gifts that they have to hand over when their daughters marry, and that they have to save for until then. The parents of ...

2011-08-07 08:11 PM

Will Someone Please Invent the Virtual Locker Room

Bill Gates, always a man with big ideas, suspects that the internet is going to shake up our educational system:

“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe ...

2010-08-09 09:02 AM

The Gold Standard of Health Care Reform

Back during the debate over the Obamacare bill I vehemently insisted that it wouldn't be "real" health care reform unless it addressed the shameful practice of not requiring people who buy and sell gold coins to file IRS form 1099 for most of their transactions. Thankfully, it looks like ...

2010-07-21 09:42 AM

The Validity of Keynesian Economics

This morning I saw a bus ad for City University reading "This traffic jam proves the validity of Keynesian economic theory."

This is actually one of the better defenses I've seen of Keynesian economics; nonetheless, there was no traffic jam at the time.

2010-07-15 11:43 AM

Smash the Synthesizers

There's a scourge stalking Broadway. It's called the "synthesizer," and it uses "technology" to generate sounds that heretofore could only be generated by human "musicians." And like other human-supplanting devices such as mechanized looms, grain threshers, and sex robots, the "synthesizer" must be stopped.

So warns violinist Paul ...

2010-07-11 03:07 PM

Tough Times for Generation Y

Another day, another sob story in the New York Times. Today's involves Scott Nicholson, who -- like so many in his "lost generation" -- had his expensive political science degree completely paid for by his grandparents, turned down a \$40k/year job because it was less than his brother makes, and ...

2010-07-07 08:28 AM

The Modern Panoptic University

I've attended two schools with honor codes. At Rice, where I was an undergrad, we used to pledge in writing not to cheat on exams, all the while taking an in-retrospect-bizarre pride that the "honor code" (and by extension "honor") applied only to schoolwork and not to (for example ...

2010-07-06 03:37 PM

Cars + Freedom = Taxpayer-funded Bailouts?

Next time we take several billion dollars from taxpayers and use it to bailout a private automaker, we should probably think about attaching a condition that forbids that company from running jingoistic commercials depicting a Dukes-of-Hazzard-style revolutionary war battle with George Washington driving a black Dodge Challenger, all while the ...

2010-07-04 06:06 PM

Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Illinois Legislature

There are a number of somewhat incredible articles floating around about the grotesque insolvency of the state of Illinois. Many parts are appalling, but what leapt out at me most was the following:

The state’s last elected governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, is on trial for racketeering and extortion. But ...

2010-07-04 09:36 AM

On the value of a college degree

I believe this is what they call "throwing good money after bad":

She's making so little money with a college degree, she's considering returning to school for her master's.

And don't even get me started on how a BusinessWeek writer has absolutely no clue what ROI ...

2010-06-29 02:44 PM

Seth Godin on Postal Monopolies (sort of)

Seth Godin discovers that stamps.com is trying to scam him out of money and asks:

How is that a sleepy, conservative organization like the postal service ends up licensing its brand to a company that can't resist every honey pot scheme and opt out technique in the book ...

2010-06-25 04:22 PM

Department of Lousy Journalism

How on earth can you write an entire article about the growing "market power" of Chinese women looking for husbands without even mentioning China's severe gender imbalance?

2010-06-22 08:03 AM

New Coffee Plan Is Bad Karma

People throw away a lot of coffee cups. That was the motivation behind the BetaCup Challenge, a competition to create a more "sustainable" alternative to the disposable coffee cup.

If I'd found out about the competition while it was going on, I might have entered my "dig paper cups ...

2010-06-21 08:49 AM

Great Ethicists, Webcomics, Game Theory, and the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma

The webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal today covers one of my favorite topics: Game Theory and the Social Contract.

The game theory, unfortunately, is not done very carefully. Here's the Prisoner's Dilemma setup:

                      RAT OUT                 REMAIN SILENT

RAT OUT Both get 1 year in 1 goes free, 2 ...

2010-06-05 06:26 PM

Time Is Money

I just had an awesome idea for getting the economy going again. Instead of trading money for things, we'll just trade "time" for things. I know what you're thinking -- that sounds a lot like barter and we'll just run into the double coincidence of wants problem. But ...

2010-06-04 08:13 AM

Helping BP Stay in Business

In an upcoming New York Times piece, David Leonhardt points out that people aren't good at reasoning about low-probability events:

We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes. When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its likelihood. This is the proverbial black swan. Most ...

2010-06-01 05:13 PM

How Megan McArdle Is Ruining the Future of Entertainment

Megan McArdle has just returned from a time-machine visit to the year 2000, and she's worried about a new scourge called Napster:

People have been pirating intellectual property for centuries, but it used to be a time-consuming way to generate markedly inferior copies. These days, high-quality copies are effortless ...

2010-05-30 08:25 AM

Bootleggers, Baptists, Unions, Unions, and Small Grocers

Here in Washington State, hard liquor can only be purchased at dreary, state-run liquor stores. Most have DMV-ish levels of charm, DMV-ish levels of customer service, DMV-ish hours, DMV-ish selection, and DMV-ish prices.

Every few years someone will propose getting the state out of the liquor-store business, or at least ...

2010-05-27 08:31 AM

Off & Away, Gambling, and the Strategy of the Dollar Auction

A common demonstration in economics classes is the dollar auction, in which the teacher offers a \$20 bill to the highest bidder. The twist -- when economists are involved there is always a twist -- is that both the highest bidder and the second-highest bidder have to pay their bids, although only ...

2010-05-26 02:30 PM

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