Joy’s Cartoon is in a French Textbook

This is my day in the sun. A decade ago, I started ecoNomNomNomics.com. Back then, I knew that my dream job was “economics professor”, but I was years away and also thousands of miles away from where I am now. I have barely updated the site since 2011, but every now and then new people find it. My hope has always been that it would be both helpful and happy.

A French publisher reached out to me and asked for permission to use one of my cartoons in their workbooks that will reach actual French students. I was delighted to say yes.

Allons-y! With their permission, I reproduce the page that has my picture:

Continue reading

Growing a Financial Advisory Practice Using Data

Lance Rybka is a current finance major at Samford University. He hopes to start a business that uses data analytics to help fee-based financial advisers grow firms.

According to data from the most recent Tiburon Summit, small fee-based financial advisers are increasingly facing pricing pressures that place their businesses at risk. Since 2009 the average fees charged by these advisors have decreased from 1.2% of AUM to .96%,, and 86% of Tiburon CEOs believe that these fees will continue to decrease over the next five years. While robo-advisers and data analytics are partially responsible for this restrictive pricing trend, many traditionalists do not realize the potential they have to grow their practice by embracing this technology instead of resisting it.

Continue reading

Thank you Tyler and Alex

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have done really good work on saving America and beyond from Covid and from bad Covid takes. It’s worth saying this in more places.

Here is Alex on how great Tyler’s work has been on advancing disease-fighting science. Here is Ezra Klein (NYT) on how Alex’s advocacy.

Recall how this all started, as per the Econtalk podcast record in March 2020:

Tyler Cowen: I have been hunkered down at home every day, with some quick trips outside, typically to use the printer at work or maybe to refresh some grocery supplies as quickly as I can. But, , I wake up; I get onto my sofa; I get into information-absorption mode, and just let it rip until it’s time to go to bed at night. And, I’ve been blogging and writing about this the whole time, and really not doing very much else. Although I am spending more time cooking.

So, what I see as the data come in is we ought to have greater concern as to the possible risks here, for this being a very large scale negative event.

… And in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been busier in my entire life. Reading materials, writing, passing along advice, just processing information. Every day feels like an enormous rush of things I have to do, even though in the sense of my physical surroundings it’s quite static.

No one had all the right answers in the Spring of 2002. How many people devoted themselves to figuring it out? Who was reading dense medical research papers instead of watching extra Netflix, after being forced into semi-quarantine? There have been many heroes of the pandemic (see data heroes). The Marginal Revolution blogging team is certainly among them.

I have a virtual heap of notes on pieces I would like to write. I made notes a few years ago for an essay with the working title “Tyler Cowen as pro life economist” (which has nothing to do with abortion, by the way). I was going to construct an original argument and pull together disparate facts. Someday, maybe I will write it, but now I’ll be leading with the example of the pandemic response. It’s so obviously “a matter of life and death”. If they caused the vaccine to arrive a month sooner, then we can count the lives saved.

I didn’t plan to phrase it this way, in my original essay, but everything is life and death to economists. Occupational licensing is life and death. Deflation is life and death, because if economic output is lost due to deflation that will be someone’s prescription payment and someone else’s ability to live a full life. Economic growth is life and death. Tyler is one of the few people pointing out that it’s not only today’s low-income people but also future generations that will have longer fuller lives if economic growth is higher.

Tesla and Data Privacy

Samford business school student A.K. Vance writes:

As technology and data have become more prevalent in our daily lives, concern about privacy grows. Governments and countries now worry about “commercial espionage” on citizens. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Trefor Moss discusses the implications of the ability for companies like Tesla to collect data on its consumers. China is currently attempting to restrict its citizens’ access to Tesla cars which have the capability to track and collect data on its owner. The Chinese government cites the fear that data including images which can be taken by the cars will be sold or given to the American government. Beijing has gone so far as to restrict the use of Tesla cars “by military personnel or employees of some state-owned companies”. Elon Musk has publicly stated that no data will be released to the United States or any other nation. The results of selling or giving such data or information to other governments could lead to many negative effects for Tesla and could cause a huge loss of Tesla’s business. In the last year, China made up a quarter of Tesla car sales. If Tesla did use their data capabilities to collect and give information to the United States government, they would risk losing a huge market for their product. Musk goes on to claim that such a violation of privacy could lead to a “shut down everywhere which is a very strong incentive for us [Tesla] to be very confidential”.

Related concerns over the Chinese application, TikTok, led to an attempt to ban the application in the United States due to its potential of collecting data on American citizens which could be used by the Chinese government to spy. As products become more integrated into the internet, privacy concerns may affect international trade. Companies might have a private incentive to protect customers, but that might not be sufficient. Legislation is still catching up to the changes in technology and new capacity to track individuals via “commercial espionage”.

Moneyball for March Madness

Sinclaire Green, a Samford business school student, writes:

Since Billy Beane transformed the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team by utilizing data analytics, propelling the team to a 20 consecutive game win streak, sports fans, coaches, and players have all become more attuned to the role data can play in baseball. As a result, professional basketball teams also began to use data analytics to improve their game plans, skills, and recruiting. In the past few years, Colton Houston and Matt Dover have begun to use data analytics to help college basketball teams similarly to how Billy Beane helped transform the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s.

Houston and Dover’s company, HD Intelligence, provides a service to college basketball that was previously only feasible for professional teams. HD Intelligence eliminates the need for internal data analysts. Analysists at HD Intelligence compile data and present it to college basketball coaches to improve decision making. HD Intelligence prides themselves on making meaningful insights that coaches can understand. Instead of coaches having to rely on watching video and looking at statistics from box scores, HD Intelligence provides reports for teams. Coaches can know their team better, know their opponent better, evaluate recruits effectively, and optimize their schedules.

In the 2019-2020 basketball season, HD Intelligence had two primary college basketball clients, The University of Dayton Flyers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Similar to the Oakland A’s, Dayton does not have quite as robust of a budget as many of the nation’s other top programs. Also similar to the Oakland A’s, the Flyers had a 20-game win streak last year and many basketball aficionados think that Dayton would have won the NCAA tournament had the COVID-19 pandemic not halted the tournament. Similarly, Alabama basketball has had an excellent 2020-2021 season. The program has risen within the SEC to win the 2021 conference tournament. More importantly, the Tide made themselves a legitimate contender for the national title by making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Even though Alabama did not make it to the Elite Eight, they had a great season with many wins. HD Intelligence helped both Dayton and Alabama optimize their talent and resources by providing data analysis of each game and by assisting with pre-season non-conference scheduling for the two programs. Looking to next basketball season, Houston and Dover have over 10 schools who they will assist with data analytics.

The Future of the World’s Tiniest Billboards

Ben Lange, a business student at Samford, writes:

In January of this year, Apple made a big announcement. It wasn’t about a new iPhone. Apple announced that it will soon release an update to their software that allows users to choose whether they give permissions to apps such as Facebook to track their browsing history on other companies’ apps and websites.(WSJ) This has implications for data usage and availability in advertising. As technology has advanced, regulations surrounding exactly what a company is allowed to do with your data has  stayed relatively stagnant, especially for smartphones. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter are allowed to monitor your searches not only on their apps, but also on your phone browser and other apps.

Continue reading

Can 5G Hurt You?

One of the many self-inflicted wounds on humanity right now is a fear of new vaccines that is somehow associated with fear of new 5G cell phone technology. This BBC story documents some really nutty stuff including a cell phone tower being attacked in Bolivia where there is not yet any 5G service.

I have my opinion of these people, but what’s the point of printing that? Let’s try to shed some light on what 5G actually is.

Continue reading

Power Drill Versus Python 3.9

I wrote this Complaint on Wednesday:

Consider the power drill. I learned how to use one when I was a child. I have one today that I occasionally bring out for home repair projects. It works just the way it did when I was 8 years old, and I expect nothing to change. There is something nice about tools that function the way they worked the last time you pulled them out of the basement.

Consider programming a web app. Two years ago, I created a web app that I will refer to as Buchanan2. This week I wanted to create a new web app, called Buchanan3. I thought, if I’m lucky, I can use Buchanan2 code as a scaffold upon which to build Buchanan3 in a matter of hours.

To build Buchanan2, I used ToolA and ToolB and Python-based coding. When I opened up ToolA, I got a message that Old ToolA would be deleting next month, so I better upgrade to New ToolA. Ok. I upgraded, hoping it wouldn’t break Buchanan2. Then I opened up ToolB, and it was worse in the sense that more had changed. Also, Buchanan2 had been build using Old Python. New ToolA will not tolerate Old Python. I must figure out how to upgrade to New Python. I fear that Buchanan2 will break if I make all these changes.

While navigating all the changes and upgrades, I fight to stay on the free tier of ToolB, since I already pay for ToolA.

I spent hours searching through documentation. Maybe I could have worked faster. The flesh rebels against this labyrinth, as you would flee a room when the fire alarm sounds. Suddenly, I was on Twitter, and then I was in the kitchen getting snacks.

These situations make me very frustrated, but not hopeless. I have faith that if I bang my head against the desk enough times, and read one more message board reply, that Buchanan3 will work. It has to work. It will work, eventually. I hate New Python, and New ToolB, and anyone who would force me to learn new things all over again. Yet, in this fashion, I somehow got Buchanan2 to work, years ago.

I will keep at it, as a reluctant irritable self-taught programmer.

Today is Sunday. Since writing that, I have progressed and I feel much better. One thing that helped was getting on the lowest paid tier of Tool B and writing an email directly to the creator of Tool B. He wrote back quickly and helped me see my user error. If I’m lucky, Buchanan3 will be working within 2 weeks.

This situation reminds of research by David Deming and Kadeem Noray of Harvard. They find that recent STEM graduates make more money than their peers who picked softer subjects to study in college. Demin and Noray suggest that technical skills become obsolete in a matter of years and thus the wage premium for studying STEM in college declines over the first decade of working life.

My experience is just one anecdote, but there is no way that my college education a decade ago could have exactly prepared me for New Python, New ToolA and New ToolB. Those tools didn’t exist back then.