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Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a professor of economics at George Mason University. He specializes in patent-system reform, the effectiveness of bounty hunters compared to the police, how judicial elections bias judges, and how local poverty rates impact trial decisions by juries. He also examines methods for increasing the supply of human organs for transplant, the regulation of pharmaceuticals by the FDA, and voting systems.

Articles by Alex Tabarrok

The Deleted Clause of the Declaration of Independence

2 days ago

When Thomas Jefferson included a passage attacking slavery in his draft of the Declaration of Independence it initiated the most intense debate among the delegates gathered at Philadelphia in the spring and early  summer of 1776.  Jefferson’s passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document.  It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.”  Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Jefferson’s original passage on slavery appears below.
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most

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Madden on the FDA

2 days ago

Here is the excellent Bartley Madden interviewed on the FDA and Free To Choose Medicine. See also Bart’s rejoinder to a critique of Free To Choose Medicine in Japan published in Science.

The post Madden on the FDA appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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When Police Kill

5 days ago

When Police Kill is the 2017 book by criminologist Franklin Zimring. Some insights from the book.
Official data dramatically undercount the number of people killed by the police. Both the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest-Related Deaths and the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports estimated around 400-500 police kills a year, circa 2010. But the two series have shockingly low overlap–homicides counted in one series are not counted in the other and vice-versa. A statistical estimate based on the lack of overlap suggests a true rate of around 1000 police killings per year.
The best data come from newspaper reports which also show around 1000-1300 police killings a year (Zimring focuses his analysis on The Guardian’s database.) Fixing the data problem should be a high priority. But the FBI

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How to Live in a World Gone Mad?

6 days ago

A long-time reader asks for advice:
I’ve been a MR reader for years. It sounds like you’re concerned about cancel culture and the associated political situation. I’m from eastern europe and caught the tail end of communism. What’s happening now in the US terrifies me. It seems like every week I learn that someone I respect is being tried in a court of public opinion for crimes that didn’t exist six months ago.
I’m in Silicon Valley, and realistically it’s impossible to operate here without lying. And I’m not right wing either, I’ve always considered myself a liberal! Some people seem to be dealing with it all right, but having to maintain a facade really eats at me. I effectively have to self-quarantine in a political closet. I hate it. I never could have imagined that I would need to

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Can Philosophy Make People Generous?

8 days ago

Schwitzgebel and Rust famously found that professors of ethics are no more ethical than other professors. Peter Singer being perhaps a famous exception to the rule. In follow-up research Schwitzgebel and psychologist Fiery Cushman tried to find philosophical arguments to change people’s willingness to donate to charity. They were unable to find any. But perhaps they just weren’t good at coming up with effective philosophical arguments. Thus, they challenged moral philosophers and psychologists to a contest:
Can you write a philosophical argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate money to charity?
By a philosophical argument they meant an argument and not an appeal to pity or emotion. No pictures of people clubbing baby seals. The contest had 100 entrants which were

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Ubundling the Police in NYC

10 days ago

In Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety? I argued for unbundling the police–i.e. taking some of the tasks traditionally assigned to police such as road safety and turning them over to unarmed agencies more suited to the task. A new report from Transportation Alternatives adds to the case. The report notes that the police in NYC aren’t even doing a good job on road safety.
For example, in 2017, there were 46,000 hit-and-run crashes in New York City. Yet police officers arrested just one percent of all hit-and-run drivers. In the past five years, hit-and-run crashes in New York City have increased by 26 percent. By comparison, DOT infrastructure projects designed to reduce these traffic crashes have proven effective and scalable.
Streetsblog (cited in the report and quoted here) also

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The Gaslighting of Parasite

11 days ago

I am late to this but Parasite, now available on streaming services, is the most willfully misinterpreted movie that I have ever seen. The conventional interpretation is so obviously wrong that I cannot but think that it is anything but a collective gaslighting. The conventional interpretation is that the film is about inequality and on the surface that makes sense. After all, there is a rich family and a poor family, and an upstairs and a downstairs, and everyone knows that inequality is the problem of our age so despite the subtitles this Korean film must be a version of what we expect to see. Hence, Manohla Dargis writing at the New York Times says “The story takes place in South Korea but could easily unfold in Los Angeles or London.” True but not in the way she imagines! Rather than a

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A Burning

12 days ago

A Burning, the debut novel by Megha Majumdar, received a very unusual stellar review by James Wood in the New Yorker:
Majumdar marshals a much smaller cast of speakers than Faulkner did, and her spare plot moves with arrowlike determination. It begins with a crime, continues with a false charge and imprisonment, and ends with a trial. The book has some of the elements of a thriller or a police procedural, but one shouldn’t mistake its extraordinary directness and openness to life with the formulaic accelerations of genre: Majumdar’s novel is compelling, yet its compulsions have to do with an immersive present rather than with a skidding sequence. Her characters start telling us about their lives, and those lives are suddenly palpable, vital, voiced. I can’t remember when I last read a

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The Tabarrok-Carvalho Discussion

14 days ago

The excellent Carlos Carvalho, Bayesian statistician at The University of Texas at Austin, and I discuss COVID including why government failure can provide an argument against free trade, why I thought COVID was going to be a problem early on, how more sex can be safer sex and more. Self-recommending.

The post The Tabarrok-Carvalho Discussion appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Get BARDA More Money!

16 days ago

The NYTimes headline is Coronavirus Attacks the Lungs. A Federal Agency Just Halted Funding for New Lung Treatments and they do try their best to make this a scandal:

When the coronavirus kills, it attacks the lungs, filling them with fluid and robbing the body of oxygen. In chest X-rays, clear lungs turn white, a sign of how dangerously sick patients are.
But earlier this month, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, a federal health agency, abruptly notified companies and researchers that it was halting funding for treatments for this severe form of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The new policy highlights how staunchly the Trump administration has placed its bet on vaccines as the way to return American society and the economy to normal in a

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Juneteenth: Celebrate Freedom!

17 days ago

I have long favored a new national holiday so I am delighted that VA has recognized Juneteenth and I look forward to this being a national holiday. Juneteenth is a good bookend to July 4, a second day of independence that helped to fulfill the promise of the first. The National Museum of African American History and Culture notes:
Although the Emancipation Proclamation officially took effect on January 1, 1863, freedom did not immediately come for all enslaved people because Confederate-controlled states refused to implement it. Freedom finally came nationally on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by

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FDA Allows Pooled Tests and a Call for Prizes

18 days ago

The FDA has announced they will no longer forbid pooled testing:
In order to preserve testing resources, many developers are interested in performing their testing using a technique of “pooling” samples. This technique allows a lab to mix several samples together in a “batch” or pooled sample and then test the pooled sample with a diagnostic test. For example, four samples may be tested together, using only the resources needed for a single test. If the pooled sample is negative, it can be deduced that all patients were negative. If the pooled sample comes back positive, then each sample needs to be tested individually to find out which was positive.
…Today, the FDA is taking another step forward by updating templates for test developers that outline the validation expectations for these

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Comparative Institutional Failure

19 days ago

The common element to our twin crises is that many of the government agencies we thought were keeping us safe and secure—the CDC, the FDA, the Police–have either failed or, worse, have been revealed to be active creators of danger and insecurity. Alex Tabarrok.
Derek Thompson writing at The Atlantic uses my quote as a jumping off point for a good piece on the failure of American institutions. He does a good job of covering the failures of the CDC, the FDA and the police but most interestingly asks why the FED has acted very differently.
While too many American police are escalating encounters like it’s 1990, and the FDA is slow-playing regulatory approval as if these are normal times, and the CDC is somehow still using fax machines, the Federal Reserve has junked old shibboleths about

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Bloody Well Pay Them

20 days ago

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where plasma donors are paid and it is responsible for 70% of the global supply of plasma. If you add in the other countries that allow donors to be paid, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Czechia, the paid-donor countries account for nearly 90% of the total supply.
Countries that follow the WHOs guidance to rely exclusively on voluntary, unpaid donors all have shortages of plasma (hmmm…what’s the WHOs track record like?) So what do these countries do? Import plasma from the paid-donor countries. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and some Canadian provinces, for example, prohibit paid donors and they import a majority of their plasma from paid donor countries. (See chart at right).
As Nobel prize winner Al Roth puts

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Contingent Wage Subsidies

21 days ago

Robertas Zubricka has a clever idea, Contingent Wage Subsidies. Many macroeconomic problems are caused by a coordination failure–you don’t spend because I’m not spending and vice-versa and so the economy becomes trapped in a low-spending, low-employment equilibrium. Zubrickas shows how to solve these coordination problems. The government announces a contingent wage subsidy, a subsidy that is paid only if hiring is low. If a firm hires and others do not they get the subsidy. If a firm hires and others do hire they get the demand. A no-lose proposition. Hence, all firms hire and the subsidy never has to be paid. Instead of a big push, a zero push! Here’s Zubrickas:
New hiring by one firm is a reason for new hiring by other firms because of employment externalities related to additional

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Tim Harford on Catastrophe and Innovation

23 days ago

Tim Harford has an excellent piece in the Financial Times that covers my work with the Kremer team on accelerating vaccines but weaves it into a larger panorama on the innovation slowdown and how barriers to innovation can sometimes break down with catastrophes.
There is no guarantee that a crisis always brings fresh ideas; sometimes a catastrophe is just a catastrophe. Still, there is no shortage of examples for when necessity proved the mother of invention, sometimes many times over.
The Economist points to the case of Karl von Drais, who invented an early model of the bicycle in the shadow of “the year without a summer” — when in 1816 European harvests were devastated by the after-effects of the gargantuan eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Horses were starved of oats; von Drais’s

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Not From the Onion: Grenade Launchers for School Police

23 days ago

LATimes: Los Angeles Unified school police officials said Tuesday that the department will relinquish some of the military weaponry it acquired through a federal program that furnishes local law enforcement with surplus equipment. The move comes as education and civil rights groups have called on the U.S. Department of Defense to halt the practice for schools.
The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program.
A school police department with grenade launchers and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle! Only in America.
The article is from 2014 but relevant to current discussions of

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The NIH Should Run Human Challenge Trials for COVID

24 days ago

As I have been warning, social distancing measures are making it more difficult to test COVID vaccines even as the cost of COVID remains very high.
WashPost: The Oxford group earlier boasted that it had an 80 percent chance of developing an effective vaccine by September. Hill said the difficulty of testing the vaccine in Britain may mean there’s only a 50 percent chance of success within that time frame now.
The probability of an Oxford vaccine by September has fallen by 30 percentage points. Oxford isn’t the only vaccine and we may be able to find clinical trial candidates in Brazil and the United States where infections continue to occur. So let’s be generous and convert this into say a 10% increase in a one month’s delay of any vaccine. The world economy is losing $375 billion a month

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Underpoliced and Overprisoned, revisited

25 days ago

I’ve been writing for years that the United States is underpoliced and overprisoned. Time for a review:

NYTimes: “The United States today is the only country I know of that spends more on prisons than police,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, an American criminologist on the faculties of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University in Britain. “In England and Wales, the spending on police is twice as high as on corrections. In Australia it’s more than three times higher. In Japan it’s seven times higher. Only in the United States is it lower, and only in our recent history.”
…Dr. Ludwig and Philip J. Cook, a Duke University economist, calculate that nationwide, money diverted from prison to policing would buy at least four times as much reduction in crime. They suggest shrinking the

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Colin Camerer: Economist in the Wild

26 days ago

The latest video in the MRU series, Economists in the Wild, features the excellent Colin Camerer talking about his research comparing what people say they will do with what they actually do and then asking whether you can use brain imaging to better predict what people will actually do. Very cool.
Each of these videos also includes a teacher’s resource, a set of questions that teachers can assign to students.

The post Colin Camerer: Economist in the Wild appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Why Are the Police in Charge of Road Safety?

27 days ago

It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets? Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police. I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped. It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy. Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable. Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops. But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?
Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a

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Revisiting Camden

28 days ago

One of the few bright spots over the past week was Camden, NJ where instead of beating protesters the police joined them. Protests in Camden were peaceful and orderly and there was little to no looting. As I wrote last year, Camden disbanded its police force in 2013, nullifying the old union contract, and rebuilt.
Jim Epstein described the situation prior to rebuilding:
Camden’s old city-run police force abused its power and abrogated its duties. It took Camden cops one hour on average to respond to 911 calls, or more than six times the national average. They didn’t show up for work 30 percent of the time, and an inordinate number of Camden police were working desk jobs. A union contract required the city to entice officers with extra pay to get them to accept crime-fighting shifts outside

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Operation Warp Speed Needs to Go to Warp 10

June 5, 2020

Operation Warp Speed is following the right plan by paying for vaccine capacity to be built even before clinical trials are completed. OWS, however, should be bigger and should have more diverse vaccine candidates. OWS has spent well under $5 billion. At current rates, the US economy is losing about $40 billion a week. Thus, if $20 billion could advance a vaccine by just one week that would be a good deal. As I said in the LA Times, “It might seem expensive to invest in capacity for a vaccine that is never approved, but it’s even more expensive to delay a vaccine that could end the pandemic.”
I am also concerned that OWS is narrowing down the list of candidates too early:
NYTimes: Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the Oxford-AstraZeneca group have already received a total of $2.2 billion in

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Police Union Privileges Revisited

June 2, 2020

The post below, Police Union Privileges, from 2018 is worth revisiting. As I wrote in a follow-up, police union privileges are only one part of a system and reform requires system-thinking. Nevertheless, getting rid of these special privileges, including so-called qualified immunity and restoring the equal rule of law are good places to start. Need I also mention that police should not keep fines and forfeitures–the negative consequences of which I documented in To Serve and Collect, my paper with Makowsky and Stratmann.
——————
Earlier I wrote about how police unions in some parts of the country (especially common in NJ and NY, yet a firing offense in some other jurisdictions, edit 2020) give to every officer dozens of “get out of jail” cards to give to friends, family, politicians,

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Fight the Virus!

June 1, 2020

I was asked by the LATimes to contribute to a panel on economic and pandemic policy. The other contributors are Joseph E. Stiglitz, Christina Romer, Alicia H. Munnell, Jason Furman, Anat R. Admati, James Doti, Simon Johnson, Ayse Imrohoroglu and Shanthi Nataraj. Here’s my contribution:
If an invader rained missiles down on cities across the United States killing thousands of people, we would fight back. Yet despite spending trillions on unemployment insurance and relief to deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19, we have spent comparatively little fighting the virus directly.
Testing capacity has slowly increased, but where is the national program to create a dozen labs each running 200,000 tests a day? It’s technologically feasible but months into the crisis, we have only just

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Christo, RIP

May 31, 2020

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, true visionaries among many fakes.

The post Christo, RIP appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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Social Planners Do Not Exist

May 31, 2020

Enrico Spolaore on his friend, co-author, and mentor Alberto Alesina:
I first met Alberto thirty years ago at Harvard, where he had received his Ph.D. in Economics in 1986, and had returned as faculty, after a couple of years at Carnegie-Mellon. He was already deservedly famous. In 1988, The Economist had presciently picked him as one of the decade’s eight best young economists, as he was transforming the way we approach macroeconomics and economic policy by explicitly bringing politics into the analysis. In his influential contribution to the NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1988, he had forcefully stated that “social planners do not exist.” Economists should not just assume that governments would implement optimal policies (presumably following the economists’ own  recommendations). Instead,

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AcceleratingHT

May 30, 2020

I’ve been working with Michael Kremer, Susan Athey, Chris Snyder and others to design incentives to speed vaccines and other health technologies. AcceleratingHT is our website and now features a detailed set of slides which explain the calculations behind our global plan. The global plan is similar in style to the US plan although on a larger scale. The key idea is that the global economy is losing $350 billion a month so speed pays. One way to speed a vaccine is to invest in capacity for 15-20 vaccine candidates before any candidates are approved, so that the moment a candidate is approved we can begin production (one can store doses in advance of approval). Most of the capacity will be wasted but that is a price worth paying. As Larry Summer says if you will die of starvation if you

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Every Stock is a Vaccine Stock

May 28, 2020

Barrons: General Electric stock was racing higher Tuesday, but not because of anything the company did or announced. Recent Covid-19 vaccine news is serving as a catalyst, and every stock these days feels like a vaccine stock.
Indeed, every stock is a vaccine stock. When vaccines or other treatments do well, all stocks do well which is why stock prices are now highly correlated:
Bloomberg: From beginning the year with a correlation of 0.19, the gauge of how closely the top stocks in the S&P 500 move in relation to one another spiked to 0.85 in mid-March, toward the peak of the coronavirus sell-off before leveling off around 0.8. A maximum possible correlation of 1.0 would signify all stocks are moving in lockstep.
It’s not surprising that when Moderna reports good vaccine results, Moderna

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Vaccine Testing May Fail Without Human Challenge Trials

May 25, 2020

In Why Human Challenge Trials Will Be Necessary to Get a Coronavirus Vaccine I asked, “What if we develop a vaccine for COVID-19 but can’t find enough patients–healthy yet who might get sick–to run a randomized clinical trial?” Exactly that problem is now facing the Oxford vaccine in Britain.
An Oxford University vaccine trial has only a 50 per cent chance of success because coronavirus is fading so rapidly in Britain, a project co-leader has warned.
…Hill said that of 10,000 people recruited to test the vaccine in the coming weeks — some of whom will be given a placebo — he expected fewer than 50 people to catch the virus. If fewer than 20 test positive, then the results might be useless, he warned.

As I wrote, “A low infection rate is great, unless you want to properly test a vaccine.”

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