Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scalping Hamilton

The NY Times has the story: How Scalpers Make Their Millions With ‘Hamilton’

"For most of May, the median price of a ticket on the secondary market was around $850. Between the Tonys and the July 9 performances, it pushed toward $1,600. Before Mr. Miranda’s announcement of his departure, ticket holders were offering a seat for the July 9 performance at an average of $2,700. With the news of his exit, the average asking price quickly climbed to $10,900 a seat.

"Mind you, the average face value of a “Hamilton” ticket was $189.
"Scalping can be explained with high school textbook economics. When ticket prices are set too low to balance demand against the supply of seats, any person holding a ticket can find a sea of buyers willing to pay more than asking price for the seat.

"Increasingly, that ticket holder is not a guy at the theater door with an extra ticket. It’s a person employing sophisticated software, a so-called ticket bot, to buy a huge number of tickets moments after the theater releases them. In the time a human buyer can find the calendar feature on a ticket site, a scalper’s network of hundreds of bots has already bought the maximum limit of tickets for multiple days of shows.
"Because the secondary market is scattered across dozens of websites and storefront services, its size is hard to establish. Overlapping ticket inventories also make prices hard to track. Websites like StubHub, SeatGeek and Ticketmaster re-list more than 35 percent of the 1,321 seats sold in the Richard Rodgers Theater, on average, for each of the eight “Hamilton” performances a week. By placing initial box office sales and secondary market resales side by side, they provide a veneer of legitimacy (and an illusion of regulatory transparency) for scalpers.

"Such a strong scalper-driven secondary market is relatively new to Broadway, though sports fans and concert goers have long encountered inflated prices for big games or Beyoncé concerts.

Every performance of “Hamilton” is a miniature Super Bowl, in terms of demand and resale activity. Fans can still get a seat at “Hamilton” for less than a thousand dollars, if they are willing to wait for it — either buying months in advance from the theater or just hours before a performance, as scalpers drop their asking price.

"Looking across nearly 100 days of “Hamilton” performances, we found that the median resale ticket price was nearly $1,120 a seat. By our analysis, scalpers were earning more than six times what they paid for their tickets.

"The “cheap” seats in the mezzanine and orchestra sides sell for more than 10 times their face value on average. Premium orchestra seats sell for nearly six times their face value on average.
"For a website that is trying to detect scalping, the challenge is finding the bots among the humans. It is not as easy as it sounds. To avoid detection, sophisticated scalpers use bots designed to look like humans, although they use the website far more efficiently. Bots don’t misclick or need to use the delete key, though they may do that as well, in order to further obscure the evidence of a nonhuman purchase.

"The masquerade is important because “Hamilton” cancels what it deems to be bulk ticket purchases. The lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, has described canceling the purchases of one bot that had accumulated 20,000 tickets for “Hamilton.”

It is an uphill battle. Bot-driven ticket buying has been illegal in New York since 2010, yet its use is still widespread. When they are networked, bots can play a big role in distorting ticket prices. Bots can drive significant traffic on, up to 90 percent of ticketing-purchasing activity at times."

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Exorcism: "Mistress dispellers" in China

The NY Times has the story: China’s Cheating Husbands Fuel an Industry of ‘Mistress Dispellers’

"Mistress-dispelling services, increasingly common in China’s larger cities, specialize in ending affairs between married men and their extramarital lovers.

"Typically hired by a scorned wife, they coach women on how to save their marriages, while inducing the mistress to disappear. For a fee that can start in the tens of thousands of dollars, they will subtly infiltrate the mistress’s life, winning her friendship and trust in an attempt to break up the affair. The services have emerged as China’s economy has opened up in recent decades, and as extramarital affairs grew more common.
"Mistress dispelling typically begins with research on the targeted woman, said Shu Xin, Weiqing’s director. An investigation team — often including a psychotherapist and, to keep on the safe side, a lawyer — analyzes her family, friends, education and job before sending in an employee that Weiqing calls a counselor.

“Once we figure out what type of mistress she is — in it for money, love or sex — we draw up a plan,” Mr. Shu said.

"The counselor might move into the mistress’s apartment building or start working out at her gym, getting to know her, becoming her confidante and eventually turning her feelings against her partner. Sometimes, the counselor finds her a new lover, a job opening in another city or otherwise convinces her to leave the married man. Weiqing and other agencies said its counselors were prohibited from becoming intimately involved with the mistress or from using or threatening violence.
"The companies say it typically takes about three months to dispel a mistress. Yu Feng, director of the Chongqing Jialijiawai Marriage and Family Service Center, said his team has dispelled 260 mistresses in the last two years."

Friday, July 29, 2016

British immigration: more time combating clandestine immigrants means less time investigating scams

What do immigration inspectors do?

The Telegraph has the story: Overwhelmed border guards diverted from other immigration scams to deal with threefold increase in migrants arriving by lorry and Channel Tunnel

“It's worrying that problems at the border meant that that organised crime and sham marriages were not properly investigated. In addition overstayers were not returned and illegal working was not tackled."

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Refugees from Central America

The NY times has the story: U.S. to Admit More Central American Refugees

"The White House on Tuesday announced a substantial expansion of a program to admit Central American refugees to the United States, conceding that its efforts to protect migrants fleeing dangerous conditions had left too many people with no recourse.

The administration said it would broaden an initiative that currently lets unaccompanied Central American children enter the United States as refugees, allowing their entire families to qualify, including siblings older than 21, parents and other relatives who act as caregivers.

It is unclear how many refugees might be eligible, but during its two years, the program for children has drawn 9,500 applicants, which could eventually grow to many times that with the broader criteria.

The expansion was denounced by Republicans and it sharpened a contrast with Donald J. Trump, who has centered much of his presidential campaign on a call to shut out immigrants.

Republicans said the Obama administration should be focused on tackling what they called a border crisis. The expansion would instead essentially open an entirely new channel for Central American families escaping endemic violence to gain legal entrance to the United States.

“What we have seen is that our current efforts to date have been insufficient to address the number of people who may have legitimate refugee claims, and there are insufficient pathways for those people to present their claims,” Amy Pope, a deputy Homeland Security adviser, said in a conference call to announce the changes. She said the revisions showed a recognition that “the criteria is too narrow to meet the categories of people who we believe would qualify under our refugee laws, but they just don’t have the mechanism to apply.”

The White House also said it had reached an agreement with Costa Rica to serve as a temporary host site for the most vulnerable migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras while they wait to be processed as refugees. These migrants would first undergo security screening in their home countries. Costa Rica would accept up to 200 people at a time among those who are found to be eligible, for periods of six months.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has agreed to set up an unusual process to review requests from potential refugees while they are in their home countries. Administration officials also said they would begin reviewing applications from refugees in their home countries, a step they hoped would discourage people from making the dangerous trip to the United States border.

Republicans said the expansion was the latest example of the White House’s misuse of its authority."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An unusual kind of sex worker in Malawi

Here's a story (and video) and then a followup story from the BBC that reports a surprising twist in sex for hire: The man employed to have sex with teenage girls
"In some remote regions of Malawi, it's traditional for parents to employ a man to have sex with their daughter when she reaches puberty."

And here:
"In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it's traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a paid sex worker known as a "hyena" once they reach puberty. The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual "cleansing". However, as Ed Butler reports, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing - a way of spreading disease.
"Aniva is by all accounts the pre-eminent "hyena" in this village. It's a traditional title given to a man hired by communities in several remote parts of southern Malawi to provide what's called sexual "cleansing". If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him. If a woman has an abortion, again sexual cleansing is required.
And most shockingly, here in Nsanje, teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girls refuse, it's believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.
"Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls," Aniva tells me."
"All of those involved in these rituals are aware that these customs are condemned by outsiders - not just by the church, but by NGOs and the government as well, which has launched a campaign against so-called "harmful cultural practices".
"We are not going to condemn these people," says Dr May Shaba, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Welfare. "But we are going to give them information that they need to change their rituals."

And here is the followup story, yesterday:
Malawian 'hyena man' arrested for having sex with children

"An HIV-positive Malawian man, who says he is paid to have sex with children as part of initiation rites, has been arrested on the president's orders.
Eric Aniva, a sex worker known in Malawi as a "hyena", was the subject of a BBC feature last week.
He told the BBC that he did not mention his HIV status to those who hire him.
President Peter Mutharika said the police should investigate and charge him over the cases of defilement he had seemingly confessed to.
""While we must promote positive cultural values and positive socialisation of our children, the president says harmful cultural and traditional practices cannot be accepted in this country," presidential spokesman Mgeme Kalilani said in a statement
Mr Aniva would "further be investigated for exposing the young girls to contracting HIV and further be charged accordingly", he said.
The president had also ordered all men and parents involved to be investigated, Mr Kalilani said.
"All people involved in this malpractice should be held accountable for subjecting their children and women to this despicable evil," the statement said.
"These horrific practices although done by a few also tarnish the image of the whole nation of Malawi internationally and bring shame to us all."
Last year Malawi banned child marriage, raising the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 - something activists hoped would put an end to early sexual initiations."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sperm banks may need some regulation

The NY Times has the story: Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors

Some of the problems reported in the story are of the banking sort: when depositors sought to withdraw the sperm they had deposited (e.g. before undergoing chemo for testicular cancer) they found the bank no longer had it.  Others problems have had to do with incorrect information about donors...

"Frozen sperm has become a major industry, dominated by a few large sperm banks, but with smaller stocks of sperm maintained at hundreds of assisted-reproduction centers nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration requires that donor sperm be tested for infectious diseases. Beyond that, sperm banks are lightly regulated. Several states require health department licensing of the labs, but only New York conducts routine inspections.

"Some of the new cases accuse sperm banks of careless record-keeping, or mishandling or misappropriation of sperm banked for a client’s personal use. Others say the banks use hyped, misleading descriptions to market their donors.

"Several cases accuse a Georgia facility of marketing sperm as belonging to a neuroscientist with a genius-level I.Q. who turned out to be a schizophrenic felon, and who has fathered at least 36 children.
"Sperm banks are not required to verify the information provided by donors, and lawyers familiar with the industry say many do not. They set their own limits on how many children a donor can sire, but unless the mothers voluntarily report the births, they may not know how many half-siblings are out there. Some, including the two largest, California Cryobank in Los Angeles and Fairfax Cryobank, headquartered in Virginia, test for many genetic conditions, while others test for very few.

"So it is buyer-beware — for people banking their own sperm for personal use after cancer treatment, and for those relying on a sperm bank’s description of an anonymous donor.

"Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, said his group does not see a need for further regulation and believes that the industry is generally reliable.

“All indications are that sperm donation has been a terrific way to help people start a family even if, as with anything that involves humans, there are mistakes and some less-than-perfect actors,” he said."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trust and crime: Reputation in the (illegal) market for sex

Quartz has an article on how sex workers can vet new customers, in the age of the internet: Sex workers have created the perfect method for keeping people honest online. (I like the url better than the headline:

"If you work at Goldman Sachs in New York City and you want to tie up a woman and then have sex with her, there’s a good chance you’ll first have to speak to Rita.
She’ll insist on calling your office, speaking to the switchboard operator, and being patched through to your desk. Then she will want to check out your profile on the company website and LinkedIn. She’ll demand you send her message from your work email, and require a scan of either your passport or driver’s license.
"Mid-range prostitution is a relatively new market, enabled by technology. Before the internet, it was hard for escorts to find customers: They had to either walk the streets searching for customers (the lower end of the market), rely on word-of-mouth, or work with agencies. Walking the streets was dangerous, while agencies ate up a large share of workers’ profit and autonomy, and created a bottleneck to entering the market. The internet changed all that.

“Before the internet, agencies provided the steady flow of clients and screening, but their capacity was capped,” Baylor University economist Scott Cunningham said. Soon after Craigslist launched in 1995, US escorts quickly started marketing directly to customers online. This newfound ability to advertise on the internet grew the market, said Cunningham, because more women and men could work independently
"Even criminals need someone they can trust

"If you’re selling something illegal, you can’t rely on the law to make sure the buyer upholds their end of the deal. Once the bill comes, clients might turn violent, or turn out to be cops. That means trust commands a large premium and that’s the centerpiece of Rita’s business model: watertight background checks on would-be johns.

"Rita represents sex workers who offer BDSM in addition to sex. When rough play is on the list of services you offer, a high level of trust is essential; hence, Rita’s elaborate screening process, which can take days. “I am looking to weed out police and crazies,” she said. She estimates that only one in four potential customers ultimately passes. Those who do win some time with a professional escort/dominatrix, but it comes at a hefty price: Each hour can cost up to $800, and Rita’s cut is 30%."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Repugnance watch: Pokemon in Saudi Arabia

Reuters has the story:
Top Saudi clerical body renews fatwa against Pokemon

"The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars said it had revived a 2001 decree against a Pokemon card game in response to queries from believers.

The Council argued that the mutations of the creatures in the game, who are given specific powers, amounted to blasphemy by promoting the theory of natural evolution.

"It is shocking that the word 'evolution' has been much on the tongues of children," the fatwa read.

It also said the game contained other elements prohibited by Islamic law, including "polytheism against God by multiplying the number of deities, and gambling, which God has forbidden in the Quran and likened to wine and idols".

The fatwa added that symbols used in the game promoted Japan's Shinto religion, Christianity, Freemasonry and "global Zionism".

In conservative Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest sites, cinemas are banned and women's sports are discouraged as promoting sin."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bride Price and Female Education by Ashraf, Bau, Nunn and Voena

A new NBER working paper suggests that the institution of bride price, often regarded as a repugnant transaction, may provide incentives to educate girls, which increases their price.

Bride Price and Female Education

Nava AshrafNatalie BauNathan NunnAlessandra Voena

NBER Working Paper No. 22417
Issued in July 2016
Traditional cultural practices can play an important role in development, but can also inspire condemnation. The custom of bride price, prevalent throughout sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia as a payment by the groom to the family of the bride, is one example. In this paper, we show a perhaps surprising economic consequence of this practice. We revisit one of the best-studied historical development projects, the INPRES school construction program in Indonesia, and show that previously found small effects on female enrollment mask heterogeneity by bride price tradition. Ethnic groups that traditionally engage in bride price payments at marriage increased female enrollment in response to the program. Within these ethnic groups, higher female education at marriage is associated with a higher bride price payment received, providing a greater incentive for parents to invest in girls' education and take advantage of the increased supply of schools. However, we see no increase in education following school construction for girls from ethnicities without a bride price tradition. We replicate these findings in Zambia, where we exploit a similar school expansion program that took place in the early 2000s. While there may be significant downsides to a bride price tradition, our results suggest that any change to this cultural custom should likely be considered alongside additional policies to promote female education.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Matching Markets and Market Design: Theory and Application at the NBER on Tuesday July 26

Here's the email from the NBER

"As a reminder, on Tuesday afternoon, July 26, Alvin Roth, Parag Pathak, Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Nikhil Agarwal and Itai Ashlag will be delivering a set of lectures on "Theory and Applications of Market Design" at the NBER Summer Institute.  An outline for the lectures can be found at:

The lectures will be presented in Ballroom A, West Tower, second floor, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA beginning at 1:15 pm.  The lectures will also be recorded and posted on the NBER's website.  To assist us with our space planning, we ask that everyone who is planning to attend register by July 22 through the Conference Department's web reply form at  ."

A reading list is here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Update on compensation for bone marrow donors

Frank McCormick emails about a new movie concerning the 9th Circuit court case which ruled that it might be legal to compensate certain kind of bone marrow/blood stem-cell donors, and the subsequent administrative battle to prevent that: Film inspired by Lewiston mom premieres

"A mission to help her three young daughters — Jordan, Julia and Jorja Flynn — stay healthy despite their Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic blood disorder that destroyed their bone marrow and made them extremely susceptible to cancer.
She's fighting to increase America's pool of bone-marrow donors by getting the federal government to allow some donors to be paid — a significant change she believed would help both donors and those in need, like her daughters.
Four years later, the Lewiston mom is still fighting, both for her daughters' health and against the federal government. But she's getting attention for it in a new way.
Today, a short film inspired by her battles will premiere at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.
"Hoping to help donors ease the financial burden of donation and give them an incentive to see the process through, Gummoe became lead plaintiff in a lawsuit spearheaded by the Institute for Justice.
For years, federal law has prohibited bone-marrow donors — and organ donors — from being compensated. The suit argued that advances in medicine made bone-marrow donation more like plasma donation, which can be compensated under the law, than to kidney donation, which cannot.
In traditional bone-marrow harvesting, doctors stick a needle through a hip bone and remove bone marrow. The alternative method, peripheral blood stem cell donation, is now used most of the time. In stem cell donation, donors receive injections to increase the production of blood-forming stem cells that are then siphoned out of their blood in a process similar to dialysis.
The lawsuit was successful: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the new form of bone-marrow donation did not fall under the category of organ donation as the law was written and could be compensated. At least one nonprofit was planning a pilot program to see how compensation — a $3,000 housing allowance, scholarship or charity donation — might boost bone-marrow donation.
But in 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule that would explicitly include peripheral blood stem cell donation in the definition of organ donation. With that looming for nearly three years, no group has felt comfortable moving forward with a pilot program to compensate donors.
"If they were to raise money and start pursuing this research and then the department issued its rule and blocked it, it would be a waste of their time and resources, which are precious," Kramer said. "In good faith, they couldn't move forward."
The department has until the end of this year to either move forward to prohibit bone-marrow donors from being compensated or drop the issue. A Health and Human Services spokesman said Wednesday that the department was "working toward being responsive to this deadline."
The department has said a ban on compensation would help ensure that, among other things, donors aren't coerced or exploited.
Gummoe and the Institute for Justice believe a ban only ensures that there aren't enough people willing to donate.  "

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Black market" surrogacy in England, and subsequent legal complications

Organizing markets without a strong legal framework can be tricky; here's a British surrogacy story from the law blog Above the Law: I Want To Put A Baby In You: Underground Surrogacy And The Burger King Baby

"Last month, an English court held that a surrogate to an “underground” arrangement could nevertheless keep custody of the baby she carried. This was despite the fact that the surrogate was not genetically related to the child. Instead, she was hired via a “secret” matching service and matched with a gay couple. They hoped to be parents through surrogacy for a second time.
The intended parents and surrogate met only once for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the meeting was at a Burger King. And now, this poor child is forever linked to the fast-food franchise.
After the meeting, the surrogate was flown to Cyprus. (As I mentioned previously, Cyprus is a hot destination for surrogacy arrangements.) There, she underwent the transfer of two embryos to her uterus. The eggs were from a donor, and one was fertilized by one of the intended parents and the second egg was fertilized with sperm from the other intended parent. The transfer was successful, and the surrogate became pregnant with twins. But sadly, she later miscarried one of the babies.
Issues continued to mount. The intended parents missed payment deadlines. The surrogate learned that the couple’s first surrogate had a negative review of the intended parents. Ultimately, the surrogate decided to keep the remaining child. She lied, and told the intended parents that she had miscarried both babies. But she was caught when the intended parents saw her very pregnant toward the end of the pregnancy.
The intended parents brought legal action against the surrogate to try to obtain their child. But they also had unclean hands. They had offered to “pay” the surrogate 9,000 pounds in exchange for carrying the baby. While British law allows “reimbursement” of expenses to a compassionate surrogate, no “paying” of a surrogate is permitted. Additionally, the court held that the surrogate herself had a learning difficulty that made her consent to the agreement invalid.
Ultimately, the court awarded full custody to the surrogate—I hope that learning difficulty isn’t too severe—while the intended parents get very limited visitation rights:  one weekend every eight weeks.
While it sounds shocking to award a surrogate the parental rights over a child to which they have no genetic connection, this unfortunately happens throughout the world. Even in the United States. And “underground” surrogacy arrangements are not unusual.
"the Chinese Ministry of Heath all but outlawed surrogacy in 2001. So the estimated 10,000 surrogacy births in China a year are all via its underground surrogacy industry. And due to the illegality of the arrangement, intended parents in China can lack legitimate parental rights to their children born via surrogacy."
"It Happens To U.S. Too. Surrogates change their minds in the United States as well. In the Robinson case, a gay couple in New Jersey asked the sister of one of the men to carry their children for them. Like the China case, this one also involves twin girls. The children were not related to the sister, but the result of an anonymous egg donor and the sperm from the spouse of her brother. After the girls were born, the relationship between the surrogate and the intended parents deteriorated..."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Acquiring the first thousand customers in a two-sided market

HBS Working Knowledge has a nice piece about a case study by Professor Thales Teixeira,

How Uber, Airbnb, and Etsy Attracted Their First 1,000 Customers

On Airbnb:
"founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia thought like customers themselves, trying to figure out where they would go if Airbnb didn’t exist. It didn’t take them long to figure out the answer: Craigslist. The entrepreneurs figured they could do a better job of making apartments appealing than the online classified site, but first they had to siphon away its customers. To do that, Chesky and Gebbia created software to hack Craigslist to extract the contact info of property owners, then sent them a pitch to list on Airbnb as well.

The strategy worked. With nothing to lose, property owners doubled their chances of finding a potential renter, and Airbnb had a ready supply of homes with which it could attract customers."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Repugnant transactions in Saudi

The NY Times has an interesting story on Saudi Arabia: A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam. Then the Death Threats Began.

Some of the story focuses on repugnant transactions:

"Their embrace of technology runs counter to the history of Wahhabi clerics rejecting nearly everything new as a threat to the religion. Formerly banned items include the telegraph, the radio, the camera, soccer, girls’ education and televisions, whose introduction in the 1960s caused outrage."
"The government has sought to control the flow of religious opinions with official fatwa institutions. But state-sanctioned fatwas have provoked laughter, too, like the fatwa calling spending money on Pokemon products “cooperation in sin and transgression.
While the government seeks to get more women into the work force, the state fatwa organization preaches on the “danger of women joining men in the workplace,” which it calls “the reason behind the destruction of societies.”
And there are fatwas that arm extremists with religious justification. There is one fatwa, still available in English on a government website and signed by the previous grand mufti, that states, “Whoever refuses to follow the straight path deserves to be killed or enslaved in order to establish justice, maintain security and peace and safeguard lives, honor and property.”
It goes on: “Slavery in Islam is like a purifying machine or sauna in which those who are captured enter to wash off their dirt and then they come out clean, pure and safe, from another door.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Scott Kominers celebrated at Chicago--market design and inequality

3 Questions with Scott Kominers, from the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group

Friday, July 15, 2016

Medical tourism: cataract surgery in Britain

Britain is both an origin and a destination for medical tourism--travel to get better or cheaper medical care--and not everyone is happy to be on the receiving end.

The Telegraph has the story: Health tourists jump queue for cataract operations on NHS as British patients wait up to eight months

"Health tourists are being given cataract surgery on the NHS ahead of British patients because their conditions are considered more of a priority, it has emerged.

Hundreds of people from countries including Zimbabwe and Nigeria have been offered the eye operations before UK taxpayers, official figures show.

They have been fast-tracked by medics as their conditions are said to be "very complex and urgent", while some hospitals have waiting times of almost eight months.

Cataract surgery is the most common treatment provided on the NHS and 300,000 operations are carried out each year."
For some medical tourism that takes British citizens abroad, see e.g. these earlier posts...

What do British fertility tourists choose in America? It's a girl!

Indian surrogates bearing British babies

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Donating a kidney today, and getting a promise of a living donor kidney in the future for someone you specify

Here's a news release from UCLA: ‘Gift certificate’ enables kidney donation when convenient and transplant when needed

"The program allows for living donors to donate a kidney in advance of when a friend or family member might require a kidney transplant.
"It is such a simple concept," Veale said. "It's the brainchild of a grandfather who wanted to donate a kidney to his grandson nearing dialysis dependency, but the grandfather felt he would be too old to donate in a few years when his grandson would likely need a transplant."

The release goes on to mention two such advanced donations that have already been made.

Here's a related announcement: Voucher Allows You To Donate A Kidney Now, Secure One For Later

"Already, 9 other hospitals across the U.S. have joined UCLA and agreed to honor the voucher program. Recently, the Ethics Committee of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons also voted in favor of the voucher program and sent the matter to their executive committee for formal approval.  "

HT: Frank McCormick, Philip Held

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Causal Inference and Big Data in PNAS

From PNAS (hard to pronounce, but has some good papers:)

Sackler Colloquium on Drawing Causal Inference from Big Data (Free Online)
Richard M. Shiffrin
Colloquium Papers
Hal R. Varian
Dean Eckles, René F. Kizilcec, and Eytan Bakshy
Steven D. Levitt, John A. List, Susanne Neckermann, and David Nelson
George Hripcsak, Patrick B. Ryan, Jon D. Duke, Nigam H. Shah, Rae Woong Park, Vojtech Huser, Marc A. Suchard, Martijn J. Schuemie, Frank J. DeFalco, Adler Perotte, Juan M. Banda, Christian G. Reich, Lisa M. Schilling, Michael E. Matheny, Daniella Meeker, Nicole Pratt, and David Madigan
Michael Hawrylycz, Costas Anastassiou, Anton Arkhipov, Jim Berg, Michael Buice, Nicholas Cain, Nathan W. Gouwens, Sergey Gratiy, Ramakrishnan Iyer, Jung Hoon Lee, Stefan Mihalas, Catalin Mitelut, Shawn Olsen, R. Clay Reid, Corinne Teeter, Saskia de Vries, Jack Waters, Hongkui Zeng, Christof Koch, and MindScope
Elias Bareinboim and Judea Pearl
Susan Athey and Guido Imbens
Nicolai Meinshausen, Alain Hauser, Joris M. Mooij, Jonas Peters, Philip Versteeg, and Peter Bühlmann
Michael J. Higgins, Fredrik Sävje, and Jasjeet S. Sekhon
David Heckerman, Deepti Gurdasani, Carl Kadie, Cristina Pomilla, Tommy Carstensen, Hilary Martin, Kenneth Ekoru, Rebecca N. Nsubuga, Gerald Ssenyomo, Anatoli Kamali, Pontiano Kaleebu, Christian Widmer, and Manjinder S. Sandhu
Adam Bloniarz, Hanzhong Liu, Cun-Hui Zhang, Jasjeet S. Sekhon, and Bin Yu

Bernhard Schölkopf, David W. Hogg, Dun Wang, Daniel Foreman-Mackey, Dominik Janzing, Carl-Johann Simon-Gabriel, and Jonas Peters

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Investing in countries of first refuge, in return for integrating refugees into their economy

The NY Times has a story about Jordan: If a Carrot for Jordan Works, Syrian Refugees Will Stay Put

"Jordan, which has 650,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations inside its borders, has long made it nearly impossible for them to work legally, citing concerns about high unemployment among its citizens. But under the new experiment, the government has given out 13,000 work permits to Syrians, and is promising to issue up to 50,000 by year’s end — and tens of thousands more in the future.

"In exchange, the World Bank is giving Jordan a $300 million interest-free loan, the likes of which are traditionally reserved for extremely poor countries in Africa. Western nations, including the United States, have offered roughly $60 million to build schools to accommodate Syrian children. And Jordan is close to clinching what it wants most: tax-free exports to the European Union, especially garments stitched in its industrial export zones.

"In short, Western leaders are using their financial and political leverage to convince Jordan that it is worthwhile to help refugees improve their lot in this country so they do not cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy rafts in search of a better life in Europe. It is a stark shift for both donor countries and Jordan, which, after absorbing generations of refugees from wars across the Middle East, had tried to keep Syrians from establishing a permanent foothold.

“Some may say this is the one shot that the government has to extract a lot of money,” Stefan Dercon, a professor at Oxford University and the chief economist at the British government’s development aid agency, which supports the effort in Jordan. “I would say it is also the only shot that it will have to really reform its economy and create jobs, with substantial international funding.”

"Jordan is not the only country trying to leverage Europe’s anxiety about refugees and migrants. Turkey has negotiated a deal that involves taking back most of those who traveled across the Aegean Sea into Greece in exchange for $6.6 billion in European aid and a proposed waiver of visas for Turks entering Europe.

"Europe is also promising over $4 billion in aid to several African countries in exchange for their help in stemming the exodus out of the continent. Even Sudan, long under European and American sanctions for its human rights record, is reaping money as part of the package. Libya is getting assistance from Europe to keep migrant boats from crossing the Mediterranean, an approach that Human Rights Watch describes as outsourcing “the dirty work to Libyan forces.”
"The Jordan deal, announced in February as part of the Jordan Compact, is described optimistically by its framers as “turning the Syrian refugee crisis into a development opportunity.” Its goal is to draw new foreign investment and create jobs for both Jordanians and Syrians. The risk, its proponents privately point out, is that no new investments will pour in, Jordan’s economy will continue to languish and local resentment will grow.

"Until recently, barely 5,000 Syrian refugees had work permits. The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency that supports and devises work policies, estimated that 50,000 people in Jordan worked off the books — roughly the number that the government is promising to legalize this year alone.

For Jordan’s leaders, grappling with debt and an economy growing at an anemic 2.4 percent, access to the European market is a critical incentive."

Monday, July 11, 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives expresses concerns about organ transplants in China

The House of Representatives has passed a resolution of concern:

Summary: H.Res.343 — 114th Congress (2015-2016)All Bill Information (Except Text)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Market design and cultural context: from an interview in Japan

When I was in Japan in April I spoke at Tokyo Institute of Technology. Here's a brief account that just appeared in English, highlighting some remarks I made that markets have cultural contexts: Professor Alvin E. Roth interviewed in Contemporary Society class

"A student asked why Roth engages in fieldwork such as operating room visits to conduct his research. The professor pointed out that markets have too many unwritten rules and are too complex to understand only through books. There are also many culture-related rules that need to be learned through direct experience. If someone designs the Japanese market, that person should be Japanese, someone who truly understands Japanese culture. This comment visibly moved the audience and will undoubtedly motivate students as they pursue their future study and research activities."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Howard Raiffa (1924-2016)

Multiple emails this morning tell that Howard Raiffa passed away peacefully last night. He was an early game theorist, a hero of decision theory, and an institution builder (as well as an institution) at Harvard and elsewhere. (He was also the advisor of my advisor, Bob Wilson.) A gentle man and an intellectual giant.

Here is a picture of Howard and Estelle I took at dinner in Cambridge in 2012. They were high school sweethearts, throughout their long life together.

Estelle and Howard Raiffa in 2012


July 11: here's the email announcement from HBS
"To:  HBS Community
From:  Nitin Nohria
Re:  Sad news -- Howard Raiffa

I am very sorry to let you know that Howard Raiffa died peacefully at his home in Arizona on Friday July 8 following a long battle with Parkinson's.  He was 92 years old.  He is survived by his wife, Estelle, and his two children, Mark and Judy.

Howard, the Frank Plumpton Ramsey Professor of Managerial Economics, came to Harvard Business School in 1957 through the generosity of the Ford Foundation as one of a small cadre of discipline-based scholars.  He was interested in the resolution of conflict through mediation and arbitration, and several times during his career he either invented an entirely new field or changed an existing field so fundamentally that he earned recognition as its reinventor -- from decision analysis to game theory to negotiation analysis.  He authored and co-authored seminal works such as Applied Statistical Decision Theory and Decisions With Multiple Objectives.  An epitome of One Harvard before the phrase was coined, he interests spanned boundaries, and he is credited as a founder of the modern Kennedy School (where he held a joint appointment beginning in 1969) and had close ties as well with the Law School and School of Public Health.  He also served as the founding director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

Here at HBS, he was gentle and demanding mentor to many, and a friend and colleague to many more.  While he officially retired from the faculty in 1994 he remained on as an advisor for some time after.

While we do not yet know of plans for a memorial service, we will be sure to communicate any information as it is learned, as well as a full obituary once it is finalized.

Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and other loved ones."

Here's the Kennedy School obituary: Harvard Kennedy School Remembers Howard Raiffa, July 11, 2016, By Doug Gavel

Here's the IIASA obituary (Howard was IIASA's founding director):  Howard Raiffa 1924-2016

July 12: Here's the INFORMS obituary
Howard Raiffa January 24, 1924 – July 8, 2016

July 13: here's the NYT obit
Howard Raiffa, Mathematician Who Studied Decision Making, Dies at 92
"Howard Raiffa was born in the Bronx on Jan. 24, 1924, the son of Jacob Raiffa, who sold wool products, and the former Hilda Kaplan. He graduated from Evander Childs High School, where he was captain of the basketball team. Math was his best subject, but he dreamed of being a basketball player or coach.

He was attending City College when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where he was a radar specialist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1946, a master’s in statistics and a doctorate in mathematics, all from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In 1945, he married Estelle Schwartz. She and his daughter survive him, as do a son, Mark, and four grandchildren."

Kidney exchange and school choice in German (two interviews)

In Stern, in German, Bernhard Albrecht talks to  me about Tauschbörse für Organe, "Exchange of Organs."

Offering kidney, seeking kidney
Filesharing are in vogue. Some exchange Sammelbildchen, other clothing. The Nobel laureate economist Alvin Roth has developed a system to swap bodies. Who could benefit?

And today in Berliner Zeitung,  Nobel Prize winner Alvin Roth about the chaos at school choice and organ donation  (Nobelpreisträger Alvin Roth über das Chaos bei Schulwahl und Organspende)

(The latter interview comes without a byline, but I believe the interviewer was by the political correspondent Tobias Peter.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

School choice in Indianapolis

The Indy Star has the story on the changes to come: School choice made easier for Indy parents

"The good news is that change is coming. A new non-profit organization, Enroll Indy, launched by a Mind Trust Education Entrepreneur Fellowship, is working with Indianapolis Public Schools, the Mayor’s Office and the State Charter School Board to streamline the school application process for public school families. Its plan includes a new school information source for parents to learn about their options; a robust effort to work directly with families on navigating the process; a streamlined application that includes both IPS and charter schools; a shared deadline across all schools and a much-needed window of transparency into school enrollment.
For nearly a year, stakeholders in both IPS and the charter sector have worked together on recommendations focused on making enrollment more efficient, equitable and transparent. As such, Enroll Indy is poised to launch a system this fall that will dramatically improve access for all families.
This new system not only will make the enrollment process easier for all families, but it will provide robust data and information to our city as a whole. It will provide new information on the type of schools families want and where they want them, meaning districts and authorizers will be able to collaborate strategically to meet the needs of families, rather than starting schools with no information on the neighborhood’s needs or wants. This data also will enable us to ensure schools are behaving fairly and serving all students, not just those who are easiest to educate."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The global system of refugee protection

I'm at the Center for Migration Studies (CMS*) in New York, attending a conference on the global system of refugee protection, and how it interacts with a myriad of related concerns, among which security has become prominent.

Refugee protection/resettlement is a wicked problem, in all the senses of the word. After the first day of discussion I have to admit its complexity is head-breaking.

Everything having to do with refugee resettlement is complicated by the highly charged political environment in which it is now discussed, and the big consequences this can have. For example, Fiona Adamson of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies showed some refugee/migrant-inspired posters from the recent Brexit campaign to take Britain out of Europe, like this one.

*As it happens I began the week at the other CMS, in Baltimore, talking about kidney exchange.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Campaign against research misconduct in the Netherlands

Inside Higher Ed has the story: The Dutch Fight for Research Integrity (and the url is more informative than the headline-- )

"There are two parts of the Dutch investigation into research integrity: a program called Fostering Responsible Research Practices, which will include a national survey of researchers and research grants into the area, and a fund for replication studies of important “cornerstone” research that has been relied on to make policy or has attracted lots of media attention.
The programs are set to be signed off soon and calls for proposals are expected before the end of the summer.
The mass survey of researchers in the Netherlands will encompass all disciplines, including humanities scholars, who, like scientists, can be “selective” in their use of sources, he said. The anonymized results will be reported back to universities so they can judge the extent of the problem."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Charter schools and school choice

Souls, a journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, has a special issue on New Orleans schools.

  • Taylor & Francis


A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society

1099-9949 (Print), 1548-3843 (Online)

The papers are by and large critical of recent reforms, including school choice.  New Orleans Recovery School District has mostly charter schools.

And here's a paper just published in the AER that looks at the effects of charter schools, using the fact that some non-charters have been taken over, which changes the selection criteria (students already in a takeover school are grandfathered in...)

American Economic Review 2016, 106(7): 1878–1920
Atila Abdulkadiroğlu, Joshua D. Angrist, Peter D. Hull and Parag A. Pathak
Charter takeovers are traditional public schools restarted as charter schools. We develop a grandfathering instrument for takeover attendance that compares students at schools designated for takeover with a matched sample of students attending similar schools not yet taken over. Grandfathering estimates from New Orleans show substantial gains from takeover enrollment. In Boston, grandfathered students see achievement gains at least as large as the gains for students assigned charter seats in lotteries. A non-charter Boston turnaround intervention that had much in common with the takeover strategy generated gains as large as those seen for takeovers, while other more modest turnaround interventions yielded smaller effects.