Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Economics and Art History

I'm currently reading Sassoon's Becoming Mona Lisa, a book about how Leonado Da Vinci's most famous painting became... well... his most famous painting, and likely the most famous painting in the world. Aside from the art history component of the Mona Lisa's story, there's a fair amount on the economics of art, production, and re-production:

The unique work of art is, by definition, in a position of monopoly. There is after all, only one Mona Lisa; there will never be another one. In a world dominated by reproducible commodities whose value plummet as technology lowers production costs and makes them available to an ever expanding mass of consumers, to be the “one and only” becomes a major selling point. For this to happen, it is necessary that the producer should be exceptional; better still, a certified artistic genius. A painting by an unaccredited artists, an amateur, someone not previously authenticated, is of little or no met value. Past masters have the advantage over their contemporary rivals of having had their fame repeatedly endorsed by a succession of arbiters of taste. ...

It is, of course, a tautological circle. A museum masterpiece can only have been painted by an established master; an established master is ones whose works are to be found in a major museum. (p. 78)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do Incentives Affect Fertility? The Case of Quebec

Quebec has been experiencing lower-than-average birthrates for some time. Going back to 1997, the porvincial government has attempted to increase birthrates, the number of monthers returning to the labor force and fathers' involvement in child rearing through a set of policies grouped under the rubric of "Family Policy." A recent episode of the Current discusses these policies and their effects. From the episode:
The Quebec Government is pulling out all the stops for parents these days. If you're a working couple with two children in Ottawa, you'll probably pay 80 to 100 dollars-a-day for childcare. Across the river in Gatineau, Quebec ... you'd pay 14-dollars-a-day. You'd get better parental leave too. There's even a special leave just for Dads. And as of last month, if you're infertile, the Quebec Government will cover the cost of In Vitro Fertilization.

The Quebec Government has spent 13 years overhauling its Family Policy. The goal has been to boost two demographics ... new births and working women. As part of our project Shift, our Quebec Producer Susan McKenzie decided to take a look at whether the program has worked and whether it's sustainable. We aired her documentary, Baby Bump.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Joe Siglitz on a foreclosure moratorium

Here's an interview with Columbia University economics professor and Nobel Laureate Joesph Stiglitz on, among other things, creating a moratorium on housing foreclosures in the U.S. While I found the whole interview interesting, I was particularly intrigued by his arguments regarding the role of fairness in policy. It's one of the few times I've seen direct incorporation of "social preferences" directly into policy discussions (outside of purely academic circles).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Countersignalling and the genius of John Cage

There's a paper by Kim-Sau Chung and Peter Eso on signaling when an individual has career concerns. This paper has been around for a couple of years, but this is the first time I saw it applied to music and particularly John Cage's 4'33". From Jeff Ely's Cheap Talk blog on economics and more:

Which type of artist debuts with obscure experimental work, the genius or the fraud? Kim-Sau Chung and Peter Eso have a new paper which answers the question: it’s both of these types.

Suppose that a new composer is choosing a debut project and he can try a composition in a conventional style or he can write 4’33″, the infamous John Cage composition consisting of three movements of total silence. Critics understand the conventional style well enough to assess the talent of a composer who goes that route. Nobody understands 4’33″ and so the experimental composer generates no public information about his talent.

There are three types of composer. Those that know they are talented enough to have a long career, those that know they are not talented enough and will soon drop out, and then the middle type: those that don’t know yet whether they are talented enough and will learn more from the success of their debut. In the Chung-Eso model, the first two types go the experimental route and only the middle type debuts with a conventional work.

The reason is intuitive. First, the average talent of experimental artists must be higher than conventional artists. Because if it were the other way around, i.e. conventional debuts signaled talent then all types would choose a conventional debut, making it not a signal at all. The middle types would because they want that positive signal and they want the more informative project. The high and low types would because the positive signal is all they care about.

Then, once we see that the experimental project signals higher than average talent, we can infer that it’s the high types and the low types that go experimental. Both of these types are willing to take the positive signal from the style of work in exchange for generating less information by the actual composition. The middle types on the other hand are willing to forego the buzz they would generate by going experimental in return for the chance to learn about their talent. So they debut conventionally.

Now, as the economics PhD job market approaches, which fields in economics are the experimental ones (generates buzz but nobody understands it, populated by the geniuses as well as the frauds) and which ones are conventional (easy to assess, but generally dull and signals a middling type) ?

If you're not familiar with John cage's famous piece, here's a rendition of it:

If you haven't read the Cheap Talk blog before, its worth checking out. Also, Jeff Ely's web page has a great version of the classic Asteroids game.

Monday, October 18, 2010

University funding through industry contracts

Lately, I've found myself in conversations with various people here at the University regarding providing university funding via contracts/agreements with industry partners wherein some of the projects are directed by industry interests and questions.

Today, there is an interview with Jennifer Washburn on Democracy Now on just this topic. From the interview:

Nine of the ten agreements allow the industry sponsor to basically control the overall governance of the research alliance on campus. The reason that’s important is because these alliances are long-term alliances that last anywhere from five to eight to ten years. So they really institutionalize the relationship between the outside oil company sponsors and the university. In eight of the ten agreements, the industry sponsors control the evaluation and selection of research proposals. None of the agreements that I looked at require any kind of independent expert peer review of faculty research.