Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Canadian Olympians and Social Values

"Athletes Should Get the First Jab", 14 Oct 2009, Calgary Herald, Page A8.

In today's Calgary Herald there is a report that the medical officer for the Canadian Olympic Committee is calling for Canada's Olympic Athletes to be at the front of the line for H1N1 vaccination.

"Dr. Bob McCormack, chief medical officer for Canadian Olympic Committee, said Tuesday that, although the policy may seem unfair to other at-risk groups for the flu, including pregnant women, the elderly and aboriginals, the country’s elite athletes should be safeguarded from sickness during their time on the international stage. ..
The example that will make most sense to Canadians is, what if the men’s hockey team got swine flu and were unable to achieve their goal of a gold medal? Canadians would be very disappointed,” said McCormack. "

I am not a fan of having public monies spent to host the Olympic Games at the best of times but to me, this story highlights how out of whack social values seem to be when it comes to the Olympics. This goes beyond the displacement of vulnerable low income groups during the construction period, the diversion of public money away from other less sexy spending categories like education, and the legacy of public debt that all Canadians will inevitably be saddled with after Vancouver. It goes beyond the affront to social justice encountered by female ski jumpers who are legally appealing their exclusion from the Vancouver games.

I guess what I am left wondering is exactly what value do Canadians put on Olympic medals. Is a gold medal in Men's hockey at the Olympics really a higher priority than preventing deaths amongst vulnerable members of our society?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Elinor Ostrom presents her analysis of the commons

Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel prize in economics yesterday (along with Oliver Williamson). Here is a video by Prof. Ostrom explaining her take on the commons.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

U of C's Miraculous Faculty

The Times Higher Education supplement has published its world university rankings. Hard to know what to make of it. Calgary moved up to around 150th place. There are several "reputation" measures which one might think are soft; and there are also some harder numbers that might be meaningful. Our university has the lowest rank out of all 200 universities listed for staff/student ratio -- i.e. the fewest staff per student. But it also ranks at the very top for citations per staff member (along with Harvard and Stanford). If true, then faculty here apparently teach very heavy loads and yet are exceedingly productive in research.

While the obvious explanation is that the faculty of this university are remarkable in every way, cynics may suspect that the rankings authors input an incorrectly low faculty number, which would explain both our extraordinarily high citations/faculty and our extraordinarily low staff/student ratio.

In any case, at least for showing progress, U of C has done remarkably. In 2006, it ranked 266. In 2007, 166. In 2008, 170. In 2009, 149.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zombie Economics (John Quiggin)

Economist John Quiggin has a new book (in progress) entitled Zombie Economics. Now, don't think its about a microeconomic analysis of the undead's behavior or the costs and benefits of eating brains. Rather,

Before the global financial crisis ideas like the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and the Great Moderation were very much alive. Their advocates dominated mainstream economics and their influence, acknowledged or not, guided the thinking of the practical men and women whose decisions created a financial system in which tens of trillions of dollars of interlinked obligations were built on a foundation of speculative, or entirely spurious investments, and a global economy in which both households and nations lived far beyond their means.

Today these ideas appear to be defunct. Commentators who were proclaiming, a year or two ago, that the business cycle had been tamed, and replaced by a Great Moderation in economic activity, have admitted their error or, more commonly, moved on to talk of other things. The claim that financial markets make the best possible use of economic information, and can never be subject to irrational bubbles, is rarely made, and usually hedged with all kinds of qualifications and escape clauses.

But habits of mind and thought are hard to change, especially when there is no ready-made alternative. The ideas that brought the global financial system to the brink of meltdown, and have already caused thousands of firms to fail and cost millions of workers their jobs, still underlie the thinking of those who are trying to respond to the crisis and, to a large extent, of the commentators and analysts who assess those responses. These ideas are neither alive nor dead; rather, they are undead, or zombie ideas. Hence the title of this book.

Its worth reading. His analysis and the resulting implications of the efficient market hypothesis (and other theories) are insightful and well-written.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Narayana Kocherlakota on the state of macroeconomics

I was recently asked by a student in my intermediate micro class about whether she should take a course in macroeconomics. Her concern was that she hadn't found the information in her introductory macro class to be... well... interesting. I tried to explain that there is more to macro economics than what she read in her introductory textbook and encouraged her to look into taking an intermediate macro class.

Below is a recent piece by Narayana Kocherlakota documenting his thoughts on macroeconomics. I thought the last point he makes is particularly germane to the discussion I had with my student.