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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

Be Green: Buy a Coal Mine!

6 days ago

It’s time to reup the idea of buying coal mines and shuttering them. I wrote about this a few years ago based on Bard Harstad’s piece in the JPE and it came up again on twitter so I went looking for a coal mine to buy. Here’s a coal mine for sale in West Virginia for only $7.8 million! According to the ad, the mine produces 10,000 tons of coal monthly and has reserves of 8 million tons. Now here are some back of the envelope calculations.
(Warning: There may be errors since there are a lot of unit conversions. I invite someone with expertise in the industry to do a more serious analysis.)
Each ton of coal burned produces about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide (you get more carbon dioxide since the carbon combines with oxygen). Sources: 2.86 short tons. 2.086 short tons.
It costs about $100 to

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The First Nobel Prize for Marginal Revolution University!

13 days ago

The Nobel Prize in economics this year goes to David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens. I describe their contributions in greater detail in A Nobel Prize for the Credibility Revolution.
It’s also fun to note that Joshua Angrist mostly teaches at MIT but he also teaches a course on Mastering Econometrics at Marginal Revolution University so this is our first Nobel Prize! Here is Master Joshua on instrumental variables.

The post The First Nobel Prize for Marginal Revolution University! appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CommentsIn reply to Calvin Hobbes. Or should it be “Immigratino IS … by Calvin HobbesIn reply to Barkley Rosser. Immigratino are not mentioned in … by Calvin HobbesI have some objections to popular interpretations of David … by Dave CIn reply

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A Nobel Prize for the Credibility Revolution

13 days ago

The Nobel Prize goes to David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens. If you seek their monuments look around you. Almost all of the empirical work in economics that you read in the popular press (and plenty that doesn’t make the popular press) is due to analyzing natural experiments using techniques such as difference in differences, instrumental variables and regression discontinuity. The techniques are powerful but the ideas behind them are also understandable by the person in the street which has given economists a tremendous advantage when talking with the public. Take, for example, the famous minimum wage study of Card and Krueger (1994) (and here). The study is well known because of its paradoxical finding that New Jersey’s increase in the minimum wage in 1992 didn’t reduce

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The Future is Getting Farther Away

16 days ago

In Launching the Innovation Renaissance I said that “If total factor productivity had continued to grow at its 1957 to 1973 rate then we today would be living in the world of 2076 rather than in the world of 2014.” Sadly, the future is continuing to recede. Consider the graph below. If growth had continued at the rate expected by the CBO in 2005 then we today would be living in the world of 2037 rather than in the world of 2021. (n.b. I am eyeballing.)
By the way, don’t blame the forecasters. The forecast was reasonable, the reality is below expectation.

Hat tip: Matt Yglesias reupping a graph originally produced by Claudia Sahm who I thought had a different interpretation but maybe not!.
The post The Future is Getting Farther Away appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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The New Top Chef

17 days ago

During the pandemic a pasta restaurant launched on UberEats in Paris. Cala quickly attracted a top 1% rating for it’s high quality to price ratio. Only now has it been revealed that the chef is a robot.
“We wanted to make sure that the quality of the product was what was really driving customers to come to a restaurant,” says Ylan Richard, who founded Cala in 2019, when he was 19 . “No one knew there was a robot behind the restaurant on the platforms.”
The economics are interesting.
Most restaurants spend roughly 30% of their costs on food; 30% on labour and 30% on real estate (rent, maintenance, electricity, heating and cleaning.)
In Cala’s restaurant, the kitchen is entirely removed and replaced by the robot, which measures 3m2 — significantly reducing the space needed. The

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The Promising Pathway Act

18 days ago

Operation Warp Speed showed that we can move much faster. FDA delay in approving rapid tests shows that we should move much faster. There is a window of opportunity for reform. The excellent Bart Madden and Siri Terjesen argue for the Promising Pathways Act.
One particularly exciting development is the Promising Pathway Act (PPA), recently introduced in Congress. PPA would reduce bureaucracy via legal changes and provide individuals with efficient early access to potential new drugs.
Under PPA, new drugs will receive provisional approval five to seven years earlier than the status quo via a two-year provisional approval. Drugs that demonstrate patient benefits could be renewed for a maximum of six years, and the FDA could grant full approval at any time based on real-world as opposed to

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FDA Approves American Rapid Antigen Test

19 days ago

I wrote earlier:
What makes the FDAs failure to approve more rapid antigen tests even more galling is that the test being sold cheaply in the Amsterdam supermarket is the Flowflex, an American test made by Acon Labs in San Diego.
Well the FDA has finally approved the Acon test! Apparently it is good enough for the Germans and for US citizens. Hoorah! USA Today notes:
ACON expects to make 100 million tests per month by the end of this year. Production could double to 200 million monthly tests by February, according to the FDA.
…The United Kingdom and Germany have made significant purchases of home tests and widely distributed them to their residents to slow the spread of coronavirus. Such large government purchases allowed manufacturers to continue making tests even when demand softened

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DNA Virus Creates Computer Virus

20 days ago

From Wired:
…a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it’s one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.
The post DNA Virus Creates Computer Virus appeared first on

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UV-C and the Future

20 days ago

Are you surprised that the airport pictured below (I assure you, it is a real place) has also installed high-capacity air filters and UV sanitization?
Since the onset of COVID-19, the air-conditioning system filters across the passenger terminals have been upgraded from MERV-7-rated models to MERV-14-rated ones. These higher grade filters can effectively remove about 85 per cent of the particles of 0.3 to 1.0 micrometres in size in the air, smaller than the size of a COVID-19 particle in a respiratory droplet.
To ensure the MERV-14 rated filters continue to operate at effective efficiency, they are replaced every one to two months, depending on the condition of use. All used filters are sealed for proper disposal by maintenance workers donning the highest level of personal protective

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How Much Would Bach Make on Spotify?

23 days ago

Bach gets 6.7 million streams a month which pay .0037 per stream or about $25,000 a month or nearly 300k a year. (That is the total payment, however, composer royalties would be lower but he could also sell some T-shirts.) Not superstar earnings but much more than they earned in their lifetimes even after adjusting for inflation.
In other news, an AI working with a group of musicologists is about to release a newly completed Beethoven’s tenth symphony.
Hat tip: Ted Gioia.

The post How Much Would Bach Make on Spotify? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CommentsIn reply to dan1111. Adjusting for sterling inflation, Bach … by DismalistIn order to collect his dough, Bach would have had to make … by FazeI am surprised Beethoven and Debussy are that high. Most … by

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Revisionism on Deborah Birx, Trump, and the CDC

25 days ago

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
In October of 2020 Science published a long article by Charles Piller titled Undermining CDC with the subtitle “Deborah Birx, President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator, helped shake the foundation of a premier public health agency.” The article focuses on a battle between Deborah Birx and the CDC over collecting data from hospitals with the basic message that Birx was an arrogant Trump tool who interfered with the great CDC. One year later, much of the article has a different cast beginning with “premier public health agency”. Hmmpfff. The opening now reads to me as almost laughable:
Zaidi lifted her mask slightly to be heard and delivered a fait accompli: Birx, who was not present, had pulled the plug on the Centers for

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Air Filtration and UV Disinfection Greatly Reduce Viruses in Hospital Wards

27 days ago

As I wrote earlier it’s puzzling that there isn’t more attention given to air filtration and UV light disinfection in hospitals, since these techniques have been shown to kill superbugs.
A recent paper also shows that air filtration and UV disinfection can greatly reduces SARS-COV-II in hospital wards. The authors installed portable air filters with UV disinfection on two COVID hospital wards in the UK. The air was tested for viruses, bacteria and fungi before the filters were turned on, during the time the filters were on and then again after the filters were turned off.
The results:
Airborne SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the ward on all five days before activation of air/UV filtration, but on none of the five days when the air/UV filter was operational; SARS-CoV-2 was again detected on

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Building Capacity versus Getting Things Done

28 days ago

Lant Pritchett makes an excellent point that building capacity and getting things done are sometimes in conflict.
A third common flaw in development efforts is to “cocoon” projects from the normal channels of implementation. If one feels very strongly that something needs to be done and one knows that the existing national mechanisms are to weak to do it, there is a temptation to bring in foreign contractors and import the capability. Given the resources and capabilities of American government and contracting firms, of course many things can be done quickly. But this usually not just does not build capability, it both undermines the building of national capability and does not improve a government’s legitimacy. Moreover, this gets done at costs that are astronomical relative to what the

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The Hanson Grabby Aliens Model

September 24, 2021

Robin is more inclined to draw big conclusions from absences than I am but this is a cool video on the Grabby Aliens Model.  And here is the Robin Hanson, Daniel Martin, Calvin McCarter, Jonathan Paulson paper forthcoming in Astrophysical Journal.

The post The Hanson Grabby Aliens Model appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CommentsIn reply to Anti-Gnostic. “Robin Hanson is legitimately a … by BoontonIn reply to Boonton. Robin Hanson is legitimately a member of … by Anti-GnosticIn reply to Wondering. We could use more Triptree citations … by mkt42In reply to God of Thunder. Thank you, too, for taking a look. by Edward BurkeIn reply to Dinwar. Indeed. I wonder suppose we were the … by BoontonPlus 10 more…Related StoriesHerding, Warfare, and a Culture of

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One Billion Vaccinations in a Month!

September 22, 2021

The news on world vaccinations is good. As of late September of 2021 we have vaccinated 3.43 billion people (2.51 billion people with 2 doses). Even more impressive over the last 30 days the world vaccinated one billion people. That is a tremendous achievement. There are about 7.9 billion people in the world so 44% of the world has had at least one dose and nearly a third of the world population has  had two doses. We are on track to fully vaccinate 70% of all adults in 2021 and most of the world that wants a dose by early 2022. Judging by the US, demand will be more of a constraint than supply as we hit ~60% of the world population.
The post One Billion Vaccinations in a Month! appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CommentsActually, children under 18 years of age cannot –

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The NYTimes on the FDA and Rapid Tests

September 22, 2021

In July of 2020 I wrote in Frequent, Fast, and Cheap is Better than Sensitive:
A number of firms have developed cheap, paper-strip tests for coronavirus that report results at-home in about 15 minutes but they have yet to be approved for use by the FDA because the FDA appears to be demanding that all tests reach accuracy levels similar to the PCR test. This is another deadly FDA mistake.
…The PCR tests can discover virus at significantly lower concentration levels than the cheap tests but that extra sensitivity doesn’t matter much in practice. Why not? First, at the lowest levels that the PCR test can detect, the person tested probably isn’t infectious. The cheap test is better at telling whether you are infectious than whether you are infected but the former is what we need to know to

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The Kids Are Also Polarized

September 21, 2021

Adolescents used to identify with a party but polarization was muted by a general warmth towards authority figures. Today, however, the warmth is gone and adolescents are as polarized as adults which has implications for future polarization and generalized distrust. New paper by Iyengar and Tyler (note the data is pre-pandemic):
We have shown that the onset of partisan polarization occurs early in the life cycle with very little change thereafter. Today, high levels of in-group favoritism and out-group distrust are in place well before early adulthood. In fact, our 2019 results suggest that the learning curve for polarization plateaus by the age of 11. This is very unlike the developmental pattern that held in the 1970s and 1980s, when early childhood was characterized by blanket

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MRU Around the World

September 20, 2021

Here’s a message I received from Amol Shaila Suresh:
Hi Prof. Alex,
Last year, I started preparing for entrance exams of India’s premiere universities for masters in economics. I am an ‘engineering’ undergrad, turned to development sector. When I decided to do masters in economics, I had a huge 6 years educational gap and was amateur to the field. Mrs. Ashwini Kulkarni (whom you visited in Nashik, India to understand onion market) recommended me to check out “Marginal Revolution University” website for econ videos.
Following her advice, I completed micro and macro courses on and only then touched other reference books (be it Mankiw, Blanchard, Varian, Debraj, etc.) MRU videos helped me immensely in grasping basic economics concepts and made my preparation so smooth that I scored

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What’s the Right Dose for Boosters?

September 15, 2021

The Biden administration says booster shots are coming, but the FDA hasn’t decided on the dose. Moderna wants a half-shot booster. Pfizer a full shot. But could the best dose for Americans and for the world be even less?
COVID-19 vaccines are the first successful use of mRNA vaccine technology, so a lot remains unknown. But identifying the smallest dose needed to provide effective boosting is critical to protect Americans from adverse effects, increase confidence in vaccines, and mitigate global vaccine inequity.
We’ve known since earlier this year that a half-dose of the Moderna vaccine produces antibody levels similar to the standard-dose and newer information suggests that even a quarter-dose vaccine may do the same. If a half or quarter dose is nearly as effective as a standard dose

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What to Watch

September 14, 2021

A few things I have watched recently:
The Courier–a taut, spy drama about the true story of Greville Wynne, an ordinary British businessman who was recruited by the British and American spy services to courier information in the 1960s from Russian agent Oleg Penkovsky–information that proved crucial to the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan. On Amazon Prime.
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard–I thought this action-comedy was hilarious (in the spirit of Deadpool). The plot makes no sense but who cares? It stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek all of whom are clearly having a good time. Salma Hayek’s over-the-top performance makes the film. It even has an attack on occupational licensing.

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Operation Warp Speed: A Story Yet to be Told

September 13, 2021

Operation Warp Speed was by far the most successful government program against COVID. But as of yet there is very little discussion or history of the program. As just an indication I looked for references in a bunch of pandemic books to General Perna who co-led OWS with Moncef Slaoui. Michael Lewis in The Premonition never mentions Perna. Neither does Slavitt in Preventable. Nor does Wright in The Plague Year. Nor does Gottlieb in Uncontrolled Spread. Abutaleb and Paletta in Nightmare Scenario have just two index entries for Perna basically just stating his appointment and meeting with Trump.
Yet there are many questions to be asked about OWS. Who wrote the contracts? Who chose the vaccines? Who found the money? Who ran the day to day operation? Why was the state and local rollout so slow

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The Ig Nobel Prizes

September 12, 2021

The Ig Nobel Prize in Economics this year went to Pavlo Blavatskyy for Obesity of politicians and corruption in post-Soviet countries:
We collected 299 frontal face images of 2017 cabinet ministers from 15 post-Soviet states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan). For each image, the minister’s body-mass index is estimated using a computer vision algorithm. The median estimated body-mass index of cabinet ministers is highly correlated with conventional measures of corruption (Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, World Bank worldwide governance indicator Control of Corruption, Index of Public Integrity). This result suggests that physical

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Strategic Citing

September 8, 2021

Amir Rubin and Eran Rubin have a clever new paper in the JPE on strategic citations (SSRN). In order to obtain publications in top-tiered journals, get invited to conferences, become a reference and so forth:
…authors may cite top-tier journals as a way to enhance their relationships with those journals.They may further consider the preferences of top-tier journals’ referees for such citations. Typically, these referees serve more than one top-tier journal, which they potentially even more appreciate as quality signals and whose top-tier status they wish to preserve by receiving citations. Consequently, authors may consider the expected positive impact of top-tier journal citations in satisfying referees.
Rubin and Rubin have a unique test of this behavior. For administrative reasons,

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Organic Disaster

September 7, 2021

Sri Lanka’s President abruptly banned chemical fertilizers earlier this year in a bid to become 100% organic. The ban has resulted in reduced production and soaring prices that, together with declining tourism and the pandemic, have created an economic crisis.
According to major Sri Lankan tea conglomerate Herman Gunaratne, one of 46 experts picked by President Rajapaksa to spearhead the organic shift, the move’s consequences for the country are unimaginable.
“The ban has drawn the tea industry into complete disarray… If we go completely organic, we will lose 50 per cent of the crop, (but) we are not going to get 50 per cent higher prices,” he reportedly said.
…Former central bank deputy governor W.A. Wijewardena reportedly termed the organic plan as a “dream with unimaginable social,

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Markets in Everything: Spy Cable

September 5, 2021

A web server, keylogger and radio built into an ordinary looking cable.
Hat tip: ED.

The post Markets in Everything: Spy Cable appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CommentsIn reply to Roland. You will run into problems with employees … by RicardoIn reply to YetAnotherGeorge. Misogynist. Ageist. by WIn reply to Equestrian. Do you do double dactyls? by WThe obvious solution to creepy employers spying on employees is … by Rolandmarkets in ever thing fake statistics -washington posthole … by letterkennycanuckPlus 10 more…Related StoriesDoes the expectation of technological progress worsen the experience of the present?My Conversation with Zeynep TufekciThe Most Impressive AI Demo I Have Ever Seen

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Authoritarian Australia

September 3, 2021

Australia is now one of the most authoritarian states in the world. Conor Friedersdorf writes:
Australia is undoubtedly a democracy, with multiple political parties, regular elections, and the peaceful transfer of power. But if a country indefinitely forbids its own citizens from leaving its borders, strands tens of thousands of its citizens abroad, puts strict rules on intrastate travel, prohibits citizens from leaving home without an excuse from an official government list, mandates masks even when people are outdoors and socially distanced, deploys the military to enforce those rules, bans protest, and arrests and fines dissenters, is that country still a liberal democracy?
As I noted earlier, Australia is in clear contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 of

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The Kids are Doing Alright

September 2, 2021

You may have seen the viral tweet suggesting that boomers own all the wealth and millennials are poor. It’s hard for me to get worked up. Talk about a problem that will solve itself!
The problem that the graph suggests, however, is not even correct. Why are we looking at generational wealth shares when we could be looking at the much more straightforward statistic, wealth per capita. Jeremy Horpedahl does just that:

Looking at the exact same data (from the Fed Distributional Financial Accounts) from a different perspective gives us a much different picture of recent history. In this version, Gen X is now richer (30% richer!) than Boomers were at the same age (late 40s). Millennials don’t yet have a year of overlap with Boomers, but they are tracking Gen X almost exactly. There is no

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Econ 101, the Drug War, and Afghanistan

August 31, 2021

Jeffrey Clemens has an excellent piece summarizing his work on the economics of opium production and foreign policy:
From the perspective of Eurasian heroin traffickers, raw opium accounts for a small share of the cost of reaching either their middle- or high-income consumers. Most of the cost is driven by the expenses and risks associated with trafficking itself—bribery, money laundering, document forgery, and, when attempts to evade the authorities fail, violence. As a result, traffickers’ demand for the opium produced by Afghan farmers is inelastic, meaning that even a substantial change in the prices required by farmers will have a modest effect on the quantity the traffickers choose to acquire. This meant that the government’s efforts to reduce poppy cultivation had a greater effect

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Hispanic and White Criminality are Converging

August 29, 2021

Keith Humphreys has a good post at the excellent Slow Boring on how Hispanics and White statistics on crime are converging.
An otherwise dull new government report on incarceration contains a startling fact: Hispanics are slightly less likely to be jailed than whites. It’s one of multiple unappreciated signs of fading disparities between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in the criminal justice system, a phenomenon with substantial implications both for the future of reform and electoral politics.

To be clear this is about jails not prisons where there are still differences but those differences are also rapidly converging. Hispanics are also joining police forces in much higher numbers.
Parallel changes appear in who the criminal justice system employs. From 1997 to 2016, the

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Crypto-Volcano Sentence of the Day

August 26, 2021

The 40-year-old president also wants to lure foreign investors to develop geothermal power from volcanoes to supply the large amounts of electricity needed for mining the cryptocurrency.
This is from the WSJ’s article on El Salvador’s adoption of bitcoin.
Hat tip: Scott Lincicome.
The post Crypto-Volcano Sentence of the Day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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