When I was a first-year graduate student in an economics Ph.D. program, I was taking a class we called Math Econ (taught by Dr. Omar Al-Ubaydli, at the time). I also was lucky to be renting a house along with several other women in the same program. For a few weeks, our group study sessions featured epsilon and delta.
Like many aspiring economists, I had taken Real Analysis at my undergraduate institution to bulk up on math skill and impress the admissions committee.*
I never had a chance to join a sorority as an undergraduate student. It does look fun to walk around wearing a Greek code that is only fully understood by other members of a club. So, in grad school, I wanted to make shirts for what I called our “epsilon delta sorority”. We had Greek letters and a sisterhood (brotherhood). There are lots of women and men who are in the epsilon delta sorority.
We have accessories, too. Why not? Life is too short to not put this on a mug. Someone already told me they want to give this to their daughter, so I added kids’ sizes.
I pulled out an old paper from my Math Econ course binder for this post. Here is something I had written for the class:
*If you are looking for an introduction, try Khan Academy. Taking Real Analysis before you get to an economics Ph.D. program is helpful, although not always necessary. Multivariable calculus is more practical than Real Analysis and used on a more routine basis for economists. Some subfields require more formal proofs than others.
When natural disasters and other emergencies strike, two things are certain. First, many essential goods will run out of stock at stores. Second, economists will complain that if only prices would rise in response to the increase in demand, shortages could be avoided.
Let’s take the current winter storm passing through much of the center of the nation, importantly including the southern US where both individuals and governments are unprepared for major winter storms. Here is a sign up at Home Depot in Arkansas:
I can verify that many people in Arkansas don’t have snow shovels. I’ve seen folks using dust pans and leaf rakes to try and clear their driveway. This video is a few years old, but I have no doubt that someone in Arkansas right now is strapping a widescreen TV box to their lawn tractor to clear snow.
So why no snow shovels in Arkansas at Home Depot? The common answer: it doesn’t snow much here, so the stores don’t stock many, and then when it does snow everyone rushes out to buy them.
Simple enough, but the economist says: WRONG! The reason Home Depot doesn’t have any snow shovels in Arkansas is because they didn’t raise the price. Why do economists insist on this?
There are reality TV shows dedicated to the spectacle of Americans drowning in their own material goods. What a year to be alive. Household income is rising around the world, as will clutter issues.
For now, I’m abstracting away from irrational hoarders. Lots of people have items that they would happily sell at a small price if only a buyer would come to their home. I see people posting items for sale all the time online, with the condition that the buyer come to them. (Most of these items are “used”, but some are brand new in the box.)
Why is there not a truck circling every American neighborhood offering to haul away unwanted stuff in exchange for a small payment?
Two recent books warn Americans that our society stagnated after the moon landing: The Decadent Society and The Complacent Class. Both imply that the 2000’s are running on the fumes of the Saturn V rocket. We have barely altered our physical world in decades, improvements in cell phones notwithstanding.
This has launched an interesting debate (you could even call it a game) where people look for counterexamples. Here’s the most recent one I’ve seen
This week I saw a reinforcing example of stagnation.
In the 1990’s I used to read the American Girl doll catalogue from cover to cover every year. Everything is terribly expensive but also delightful to look at. I had the Molly doll and I read a few AG books about how she was inconvenienced on the homefront during World War II. She complained about having to eat turnips from a Victory garden, but she was encouraged to be patriotic and support a cause greater than herself. Her father is away with the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
I was a little dismayed when I saw that you can now buy a mini Molly doll for your 80’s doll. My life is now “historical”, so I am officially old. Great.
It’s not lost on me that American Girl is playing on nostalgia to sell more product. Millennials like myself might buy this mini Molly doll so we can re-live memories of childhood vicariously. However, I’m going to use this to illustrate “the great stagnation”.
You can be inwardly focused or outwardly focused. The WWII war effort was a time when America was dynamic and focused on achieving great things.
“Courtney” the 80’s doll is pictured next to a Pac-Man arcade machine. Her goal is to keep herself sufficiently entertained. She can listen to her Walkman if Pac-Man gets boring.
Today, 40 years later, people are still starting at screens just like Courtney the 80’s doll. The reason we are buying a mini 1940’s doll to gift to a 1980’s doll is because so little has happened since 1980.
You can make jokes about an infinite recursion of American Girl dolls. It’s funny because it won’t happen. You can be inwardly focused or outwardly focused. Molly’s America is outwardly focused, and that makes her exciting.
I don’t think anyone is going to give a 2050 doll a mini Courtney 80’s doll. I’m even more certain that no 2050 doll is going to get a mini 2010 doll complete with tiny 2010 iPhone.
Maybe by 2040, there will be something new to ignite the imagination.
For the past two weeks, several of us have been describing books and items we enjoy. I’ll summarize all of these potential gifts for both adults and children here. We’ve got everything from what goes in a perfect cocktail to gifts under $20 for toddlers. Hopefully this helps you cross someone off your holiday shopping list.
Jeremy says Werner Troesken’s book The Pox of Liberty is a great book for understanding the current pandemic. Interestingly, it was published in 2016! We have been vulnerable to a disease outbreak for a long time.
Doug recommends The Sabbath. Doug made a great point in his review that people in quarantine might not be getting any rest even though their schedule might look empty. A quote from Doug’s review: “genuine rest — not diversion — seems necessary in the tensions of our present moment.”
Joy suggests several different toys for kids. See the blog for a bike and a tablet game. A fail-safe mid-budget present for a 4-8 year-old is this remote control car ($25). For the even younger crowd (I suppose geared toward girls) is Minnie Wooden Magnetic Dress-Up ($10).
Joy reviews several books for kids. Most recently, I have been reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with my elementary-aged son and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s important to read fiction together. We are having great talks about these vignettes on the sea voyage.
Continuing with our gift recommendations, Joy has asked us to recommend another gift besides a book (see my recommendation of The Pox of Liberty last week). I have one clear recommendation: ice. But not just any ice: clear ice.
Some of you might wonder what all the fuss about ice is. But if you have every been to a cocktail bar, you can clearly see the difference: clear ice just looks better. I won’t make any strong claim that clear is has better flavor. This value is primarily aesthetic. It’s a little indulgent. But it’s worth it. Since we’re all drinking more at home, recreating the charms of a good bar is half of the fun.
How do you get clear ice? You might find many suggestions on the internet, such as using distilled water or boiling your water. These don’t work. A few years ago, you only had two good options: buy a Kold-Draft machine for several thousand dollar, or get your ice out of a lake.
Thankfully today, there are many ice cube molds on the market that simulate the way nature makes ice: slow, directional freezing. The best one I know of is called True Ice, but you can find other similar molds. These are all around $40. Perhaps it is a bit much for yourself, but the point of gift giving is to find something the recipient wouldn’t have thought to purchase themselves, and they still enjoy. Otherwise, just give them cash!
And furthermore, while $40 for a mold that produces something your refrigerator already makes might seem silly, keep in mind that ice has a long history of being a luxury product. For fascinating history of the early commercialization of ice, read this article about Frederic “The Ice King” Tudor (for a longer treatment read The Frozen Water Trade).
Of course, I am assuming that you already have a basic 2 inch ice cube tray. If you don’t already, start with the Tovolo King Cube Mold before you really get into clear ice. These cubes are great for drinks that don’t need a clear cube since they aren’t clear themselves. They are also the perfect size for shaking cocktails.
And one last thing: fancy ice cubes aren’t just for alcoholic cocktails. Kids love them too. Put some plastic army men or other little toys in the ice cubes as they freeze, and they make great bath toys.
One final tip: if you pull an ice cube directly from the freezer and pour room-temperature liquid over it, the ice will break, ruining your beautiful creation. Set the ice out for about 60 seconds before pouring that delicious drink.
It is that time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the days are getting shorter, the nights longer, and the sun hangs lower in the sky. Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) probably affects all of us to some extent. What to do?
Well, I understand that studies have shown that exposing your retinas to bright light, in the sunlight wavelengths, can improve mood and functioning. A variety of therapeutic lamps are available. Some of the least expensive ones sit on your table or desk, and shine up at a slight angle while you read or watch a movie. An example of this type is the Nature Bright SunTouch Plus ( $49 ), shown below. The lamp is ideally positioned quite close to your eyes, say 12 inches (30 cm), in order to get the recommended photons into them.
Our family has gotten a lot of mileage out of a somewhat more expensive but more versatile lamp. This is the Day-Light Sky lamp ($113).
It has joints at the top and the bottom of its support arm, so you can use it like a desk lamp, to give strong lighting to some project you are working on, or have it therapeutically shine into your eyes, like this happy camper:
In that mode, you’d want to keep your gaze level or only slightly downward, since not much light would get into your pupils if you had your head down reading. Our family uses this on the counter or table whilst preparing or eating breakfast (it is best to get your photons in early in the day). It also works well positioned beside your shoulder as a cheery reading light.
We at EWED are making recommendations for holiday gifts. This post is about items that my kids are actually using.
I’ll be putting up links for your convenience. I have gotten lots of kid stuff from neighbors, either buying through websites or just be getting hand me downs. I love the idea of re-using kid items and clothes.
FUN remote-control car. “RC Cars Stunt Car Toy, Amicool 4WD” It doesn’t get stuck. It can flip over and go over many terrain types. It’s not large, meaning it doesn’t take up a lot of room in your house, but it delivers a lot of fun! Can be fun both indoors and outdoors. ($25)
Bikes: You have probably heard about balance bikes. We started on a Strider balance bike (no wheels, kids just kick to go forward).
I wanted to make the transition from balance bike to pedal bike and skip the training wheels stage. I was able to do that, but another item was necessary. Get a pedal bike that is SMALL. I actually got mine from a neighbor, but I found a link that looks similar. The bike in the link has training wheels, but I assume you can take them off. If the wheels of their first pedal bike are SMALL, then they can’t get hurt and the can’t go very fast. My 5-year-old thinks this is really fun. I don’t have the headaches of either him getting injured or worrying that he’ll take off and be out of sight quickly.
Great cheap toy for a toddler. My 2 year old loves the Melissa & Doug Minnie Wooden Magnetic Dress-Up. This has inspired hours of play and conversation. ($10)
Let’s be honest. The kids are getting screen time. When the pandemic hit and daycare (temporarily) closed, I decided to get much more lenient than I had been before about screen time.
Magnus Kingdom of Chess is a great tablet game ($8). My 5-year-old son plays it on an iPad mini. I had made some unsuccessful efforts to interest him in real chess before buying the game. He loves the video game, but what’s amazing is that since he’s started playing the video game, he has become much more interested in playing actual chess with me. In fact, he asks me to play him in chess now. Before I used to worry that how would he even succeed if he hadn’t mastered chess by age 5. Now, he’s actually asking me to play him in chess and I’m thinking secretly ‘I don’t have time for this. Shouldn’t you be playing outside?’. (In our case, my son got some help from parents with playing the game. He might have had a hard time doing it completely by himself.) Let me be quite clear, my son has NOT mastered chess, but his understanding of the pieces really went up because of the video game.
There are also several completely free great apps made by Khan Kids and PBS Kids.