Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Van Huyck, 1956-2014

John and Patsy and their (then) two boys spent a memorable year visiting at Pittsburgh when Emilie and I were there. I teach his papers just about every year.

Here's the obituary: the link at the end leads to a page on which condolences and memories can be left.

July 17, 1956 – September 11, 2014

John Bronston Van Huyck, age 58, died in his home in College Station, TX, on September 11, 2014. The Funeral Service will be held at 11:00am on Thursday, September 18th, at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 603 Church Avenue, College Station, with Deacon Ted Baker presiding. A reception will follow immediately after in the parish activity center. John's remains will be laid to rest at the family farm in Virginia.

John was born in Aberdeen, MD, July 17, 1956, the son of Alfred and Mary Elizabeth Van Huyck. He lived for four years in India growing up, and traveled widely throughout his life, including biking across Europe and driving across the continental US. He dreamed of eventually sailing across the Mediterranean in a small boat with his friends and family, and enjoyed taking multiple trips to Europe with his sons, of which he had three from his marriage to Patsy Johnson. John graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor's degree, and went on to Brown University where he earned both a Masters and a Doctorate in economics.

He applied his talents to the study and teaching of economics as the Rex B. Grey professor at Texas A&M University. In this role, he was a scholar’s scholar and as such made contributions that changed the way economists look at the world. From the very beginning of his academic career, John produced influential works over a broad range of subjects. He began this work with contributions to the way the economy in general is understood and progressed to becoming one of the world’s premier figures in experimental economics and economic game theory.

John played a large part in the acceptance of experiments as a method to improve understanding of economic behavior and to predict the impact of events on the economy. He was instrumental in illustrating how people learn from events and how this learning contributes to stability in the complex economic world. John’s work in no small way contributed to the fundamental acceptance of experimental methods in economics, a branch that has produced several Nobel Laureates.

"Today, economists have absorbed so well what Van Huyck, [Raymond C.] Battalio and [Richard O.] Beil showed that we find it natural, but it was a big surprise when they published the first paper... He had three experiments... that helped economists understand why coordination is hard, even when it’s in everyone’s interest to coordinate. He showed it with a set of experiments using games in which even though everyone knew that everyone wanted to coordinate on a high number, the fear that someone else would slip up caused coordination to fail." (Alvin E. Roth, Nobel Laureate)

He was more than just an academic thinker. He was a true renaissance man. He was deeply interested in the relation between governmental actions, political behavior and the freedom of individuals to pursue their own independent interests. Any one of the many economists who had the privilege of interacting with John came away with a better understanding of the world around them.

Above all else, John loved being a father. He sometimes told the story of how he had wished for a son at a neighborhood wishing well, and was overjoyed to be given three. John served as a Cub Scout den leader for Pack 317, and his oldest two sons both achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He kept himself abreast of the advances in technology, taking advantage of new forms of media to create home video recordings of his family's life, and teaching his sons computer programming. John held himself to high standards in his work and his personal life, and strove to be a great man of virtue and character.

He is survived by his beloved sons, Carl Phillips, Don Ashfield and Bjorn Bennett Van Huyck; their mother, Patsy; his parents, Alfred and Betty Van Huyck; and his sister, Nancy Chockley, her husband, Frederick, and their children, Katherine and Wilson.

The family requests memorial contributions be made towards the funding of a scholarship in John's name at Texas A&M University. Please send contributions to Texas A&M Foundation in memory of John B. Van Huyck, Ph.D., 301 Coke Building, 4223 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843-4223.

Please share memories and tributes to John at www.hillierfuneralhome.com.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Profile of Ken Arrow

My office neighbor Ken Arrow is profiled by Janet Stotsky in the September 2014 issue of the IMF's magazine Finance and Development. At 93, he continues to be a role model: Path Breaker 

Here are the concluding paragraphs:

"Arrow, 93, said he has always been more stimulated by working out problems and that once he works them out “I must say I kind of lose interest.” That’s why even though he received a Nobel Prize for his work on general equilibrium theory, he is prouder of his work on social choice theory.
Several other researchers, such as the late Lionel McKenzie, were working on the same problems in general equilibrium theory at the time Arrow and Debreu formulated their model. “In some respects . . . if I weren’t there, it wouldn’t have made that much difference.”
But no one else was asking the social choice questions. “So that I am proud of.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Living kidney donors to get expenses reimbursed in Ireland

Here's the story from the Irish Times: Living kidney donors to get expenses reimbursed. Note the "fine balance" the director of organ donation speaks of--the question of compensation for donors remains one that people treat very gingerly.

"People who donate their kidneys while alive are to get out-of-pocket expenses paid back in a scheme to encourage more organ donation.
"The Department of Social Protection has agreed to continue payments to living kidney donors during the period of donation and recuperation, according to a briefing note prepared for Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.
"It says the removal of financial disincentives would potentially increase the number of living donors. “It is generally accepted that living kidney donors should not be unduly burdened with the financial costs associated with donation. Several countries currently provide reimbursement of non-medical expenses associated with donation.”

"Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland director Dr Jim Egan said good progress had been made on the policy and it would be ready soon. A fine balance has to be struck between covering legitimate expenses and not “incentivising” people to donate organs, he said.Although the briefing note says the policy would go to Mr Varadkar “shortly” for approval and would start at the beginning of September, the deadline was not met.
"Last year, there were 294 transplants, of which 185 were kidney transplants. The organs came from 86 deceased and 38 living donors. The number of living donors is up from two in 2005, when the practice began."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Obesity is a growing medical problem...in unexpected ways

Obesity contributes to many diseases, including kidney and liver diseases that eventually require transplants. But it impacts the medical system in other ways. The Telegraph has the story:  Hospitals buy special fridges to store overweight bodies as obesity crisis escalates: Doctors warn Britain's obesity crisis could 'cripple' the NHS as hospitals are being forced to buy and rent specialist equipment to deal with overweight patients

"Britain’s obesity crisis is so serious that hospitals are buying specialist equipment to keep bodies cool because they are too large to fit into mortuary fridges."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Speaking about school choice to high school teachers (video)

I recently gave a talk at SIEPR, to high school teachers, about school choice. They had good questions, which start after minute 38 in the video (the early questions are hard to hear, but you can infer their gist from my answers, and the later questioners have a microphone...)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Many groups are starting to advocate experiments on compensating organ donors

There's a lot of discussion these days about clinical trials of incentives for organ donation as a way of increasing supply.

Here's a blog post from the AST, the American Society of Transplantation, on removing financial disincentives:  The Cost of Giving

" it is increasingly obvious that we impose on donors’ financial risk, a concept that threatens our perceptions of donation as an altruistic act. Gill et al (JASN, 2014 Jul 17, epub) documented, in the recent economic downturn, greatest decline in living donation among those most challenged socioeconomically, indicating the role of financial risk in discouraging “altruistic” donors.
All this is occurring against a backdrop of intense controversy regarding “incentives” for donation that has raged for years, incorporating both national and global perspectives on ethics, economics, black markets, free markets, and so on. Amidst so much controversy, though, some light is beginning to emerge. Strong ethical and economic arguments can be advanced for and against incentives. The Declaration of Istanbul outlines important precepts that address unethical practices, including underground markets, on a global basis. However, in the United States, with a well-developed organ recovery infrastructure and rule of law, examples from the underground market (as were the basis of a recent New York Times expose) may be less relevant. There is emerging support in the US for a regulated infrastructure that could address the financial implications of organ donation. The National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) already offers limited assistance for those means-tested as unable themselves to underwrite the cost of donation. Extending assistance to eliminate all financial costs regardless of means, including access to healthcare, is now considered a mainstream view (far from the reception for a similar proposal from a small working group eight years ago: Gaston et al, AJT 6: 2548, 2006).
"Participants in two recent meetings (both held in Chicago in June and sponsored in part by AST) will soon be publishing white papers that seek to clarify the discussion regarding compensation of living donors in the US. It is obvious that a great deal can be done within NOTA to remove disincentives (as both white papers are likely to endorse). In medicine, it is usually desirable to address controversy with evidence, as might be obtained via limited demonstration projects of targeted incentives. Though these would likely require amendment of NOTA, such has already occurred twice with the Charlie Norwood and HOPE acts, both crafted in response to a changing environment and both endorsed by AST. Our task, if we are to do everything possible for our wait-listed patients and protecting all the interests of potential donors, is to make sure we get the nuances right."

And here is an open letter, signed by a variety of interested parties

"We support current efforts to prevent diabetes and hypertension and to make the donation process fairer and more efficient, but they will not resolve the shortage. Additional approaches must be tried. Sadly, transplant policy has been governed by an unsubstantiated assumption: that donors cannot receive benefits for donating without being exploited or coerced. It is critical to examine that assumption. We hereby call for the swift initiation of evidence-based research on ways to offer benefits to organ donors in order to expand the availability of transplants."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brand names and informed consumers--pharmacists seem to like generic drugs

Here's an illuminating look at the economics of brands, as in brand-name products, when there are close substitutes available.

"Do Pharmacists Buy Bayer? Sophisticated Shoppers and the Brand Premium" 
Chicago Booth Research Paper No. 14-17

We estimate the effect of information on consumers’ willingness to pay for branded goods in physically homogeneous consumer packaged goods categories. In a case study of headache remedies, we find that college education, working in a healthcare occupation, and other proxies for product knowledge predict more purchases of private labels relative to brands. Pharmacists devote almost 90 percent of headache remedy purchases to private labels, against 71 percent for the average consumer. The effect of knowledge is similar across a broad set of health products, and in a set of relatively homogeneous food products, but smaller for food and drink products overall. We conclude that a significant share of the willingness to pay for brands in these categories would disappear in a world where consumers were fully informed.