tech support?

Jeremy used to maintain the look of this blog. Is there anybody with admin privileges who can figure out why the format went wonky and fix it? I think this involves knowing things about WordPress. If you know how to fix it but don’t have admin privileges, let me know and I can fix your permissions.

“the history and politics of public finance” grad student workshop at ssha

Are you a graduate student interested in the history of public finance and all things tax-related? Are you free on Wednesday, November 16th? If so, you should apply to the 8th Annual Graduate Student Workshop on The History and Politics of Public Finance, taking place the day before the Social Science History Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. It’s a great event, and a wonderful group of scholars. The details are below. There will also be many panels related to public finance at SSHA, organized by the new Public Finance network. Non-graduate students interested in participating in those should contact the organizers as well.

Continue reading ““the history and politics of public finance” grad student workshop at ssha”

“the big short” and the most ironic quote misattribution ever

I really enjoyed The Big Short. It’s totally entertaining, and captures some hard to explain and very interesting dynamics in the lead-up to the housing crisis and the eventual bursting of the bubble. That said, the movie had some significant issues. For example, it overstates how few people saw the crash coming. Many people were aware of the housing bubble, but only a few were able to figure out how to make money off of it – and just had bad it was going to get. Michael Grunwald has a new piece that does a nice job pointing to three other problems: the movie overstates the importance of complex derivatives, understates the role of stupidity vs. evil, and downplays the significance of post-crisis reforms.

These are all good points, though not completely without controversy. I think an economic sociology class that spent several weeks on the crisis could usefully watch this movie and read some of the criticisms and have a very healthy discussion of crises, responsibility, and how we narrate the past (and maybe maybe throw in a discussion of sexism in both the financial industry and in Hollywood).

All of that’s really just setup though, to my biggest pet peeve about the movie. Continue reading ““the big short” and the most ironic quote misattribution ever”

they like us, they really like us! hoff and stiglitz on sociology

Karla Hoff of the World Bank and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia have a new working paper out, Striving for Balance in Economics: Towards a Theory of the Social Determination of Behavior. The paper is an attempt to convince economists to go beyond the psychologically-informed actor of behavioral economics and embrace an “enculturated actor”, rooted in research from social psychology and even our own sociology. I found the table on page 10 especially useful as a summary one could share with students of the contrast between the “standard” economics of perfect rationality to the now-traditional behavioral economics actor of imperfect rationality and the enculturated actor informed by sociology.

Continue reading “they like us, they really like us! hoff and stiglitz on sociology”

online student evaluations?

The topic here is online vs. paper evaluations of course by students. I’m a department chair. The staff person who handles our paper evaluations (mandatory for instructors to administer) says we’d save a lot of labor with online evaluations, agrees that the problem with online evaluations is low response rates, and asks whether this could be solved by not releasing a student’s grade until they have done the evaluation. What is the experience on other campuses? What are response rates to online evaluations? Are there any systems in place to require that students evaluate? NOTE: Students can turn in a blank evaluation form or refuse to fill it out, and the staff member proposes that the student’s right not to respond could be coupled with mandatory evaluation by having the first question be “I prefer not to answer” which would get credit for doing the evaluation. What are your campus’s policies?

new dissertation fellowship from the center for engaged scholarship

A correspondent passed along this call for a new year-long dissertation fellowship from the Center for Engaged Scholarship. Application due January 31, 2016. Details below the cut.

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racial disparities in police killings using bayes theorem

The Washington Post has been tracking police killings across the nation. Last week, Peter Aldhous published an analysis of these data.1 He figured that blacks suspects were 37.8% of all unarmed suspects killed by police. White suspects made up a nearly similar percentage of unarmed suspects killed by police, despite the fact that there are almost five times as many whites in the United States as blacks.

This does not provide the best evidence to adjudicate racial disparities in police violence, however. Aldous writes:

Video of McDonald’s last moments, shot 16 times by a white officer, made a stark contrast with images of a handcuffed Robert Lewis Dear, the white suspect in the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs — as activists were quick to point out.

Rather than figure out the probability that an unarmed suspect was black, it would be important to know the probability that a black suspect shotkilled by police was unarmed. We care less whether an unarmed victim was black as we do whether a black victim was unarmed. That would be more in line with, though not exactly equivalent to, what Aldhous wrote.2

Below, I try to explain how we can use rules of probability to explain this problem to an introductory statistics class. Continue reading “racial disparities in police killings using bayes theorem”