Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Variance

I've reversed my earlier decision to move this blog to Medium and will instead keep it here at Blogger. No school like the old school, &c.

OK, so where was I? Oh yeah, I said I was going back to school to finish up my Econ degree and that I would start blogging about it again. Well, here we are almost half way through the semester and I haven't blogged a bit. Time to fix that.

The semester so far has been a bit of a mixed bag.

I'm really enjoying my Economic Statistics class. The professor, who has been teaching this course at UT for over 20 years, is an excellent teacher. The course is carefully designed and includes a good mix of lectures, reading, homework assignments, quizzes, in-class exercises, and exams. And the subject matter is challenging without being overwhelming. We just got our first midterm exam scores, and I'm happy (and relieved) to report that I scored 101.7%. That exam only counts for 15% of the overall grade in the class so I certainly can't coast, but I'm feeling good about it.

My Macro Theory class is proving to be a different story. The professor is a newly-minted Ph.D. and while he has mastered the material, he hasn't yet mastered the art of teaching. Lectures consist of his presenting prepared slides, occasionally going off on some arcane mathematical proof, and not much else. There isn't much time for discussion, which is a shame given how interesting and consequential the material is. There are no graded homework assignments, no papers, no quizzes, and no textbook. I feel like I haven't learned much so far, which makes the midterm coming up next week rather daunting.

Yesterday the professor posted a sample midterm, giving the first concrete idea of what next week's exam will look like. If I were to take the sample exam without any further preparation, I estimate my grade would be in the 20's. So, lots of studying to do before next Tuesday.

To prepare, I'll study the lecture slides and accompanying notes, re-read the corresponding sections in a widely-used intermediate macro textbook, and make sure my answers to the provided practice problems somewhat match the given solutions. I'll do what it takes to perform well on the test, but I'm left with the feeling I could have gotten just as much from reading a textbook as I will from taking this course.

Overall, I'm satisfied with my decision to go back to school. But I'm reminded that the value of the experience is largely dependent on the quality of the professors, which can be uneven.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Next New Thing in Economics

I come from the technology world, which regularly reinvents itself. 30 years ago, the personal computer dominated the industry. 20 years ago, it was the internet. Ten years ago, the iPhone was announced, which would ultimately become the world's first trillion-dollar product. Today the tech world has moved on—to machine learning, virtual reality, and drones.

I wonder if the same is true in economics. Does the world economy change so dramatically as to change the focus of the field of economics, or is it all just different incarnations of Adam Smith's pin factory? Or could it be that our understanding of forces that have existed forever is what's changing? 

Ten years ago behavioral economics was coming into vogue. But this was clearly a case where it was our understanding of economic behavior that was changing, not the behavior (or the force driving it) itself.

Topics in economics that seem newly relevant today include negative interest rates and universal basic income (or negative income tax). Maybe, like artificial intelligence, these are simply modern applications of ideas that have been around for decades.

Perhaps the biggest change in economics will be a shift from scarcity to abundance. After all, economics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated. What happens when there's more than enough of everything to satisfy demand (at P=0)?

So, what's the next new thing in economics?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Readmitted (and It Feels So Good)

(Apologies to Peaches & Herb.)

Well, I've been granted readmission to UT, so that's good. My registration period opens in a couple of days.

To complete the degree requirements (and thereby formally add an economics major to my degree), I have to take five more econ classes: 329 (statistics), 320L (macro theory), 341K (econometrics), and two upper division econ electives. I plan to do that over three semesters, which will have me finishing up in December 2018.

I also have to satisfy a bunch of new requirements that have been added since I was last in school, including a visual and performing arts class, an ethics and leadership class, and several multicultural classes. But according to my advisor and from what I've read, I should be able to successfully petition the department to apply courses I've already taken to satisfy those requirements. Worst case, I might need to take one class, which could actually be fun.

So, once again unto the breach. I'm excited. I think being in school will help me structure my time and my thinking a bit more, which I really want right now. If I get the classes I want in the Fall, I'll be on campus TTH 9:30-5:00, which is a reasonable if not ideal schedule.

What else? Once I actually get registered—fingers crossed that I'll get the classes I need—I'll need a parking permit (for which registration opens in July). And… actually I think that's it. Huh. Great.

Next step: registration next Wednesday, June 7 at 8a. Tally ho!

Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Happening Again

Seven years ago I put my economics studies on hold to start a company, which I wound up getting funded, growing, and ultimately selling.

This morning I submitted my application for readmission to UT to finish adding an Econ degree to my CS degree. If all goes as planned, I'll resume my studies in the Fall 2017 semester. Lots has happened since then, but luckily both my UT EID and this blog still exist and I plan to put them both to good use.

Hook 'em horns!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Economics Loses Two of Its Best

I just removed Greg Mankiw's and Paul Krugman's blogs from my feed reader's "Economics" section. While both of them are trained as economists and incredibly accomplished in the field, neither of them writes anything I find educational these days. They've both become shrill, hyper-partisan talking heads. Which is a shame.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Ever-Increasing Productivity of Machines

I have a lot to say about this but not enough time right now to say it. So this post is a placeholder for a future discussion.

But here's the short version: you need to get on the correct side of this curve. If you're competing with computers instead of benefiting from them, you're toast.

FX-AA660_FXCapE_E_20110928131121.png

Also: Seth Godin nails it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bummer! I wasn't selected to attend the Startup-Onomics conference.

I just got the email from the organizers of Startup-Onomics: The Behavioral Economics Summit for Startups:

At this time we have sent out the first round of invites. We had an overwhelming amount of startups apply to come and we were only able to invite 20% based on our space limitations. There will be a second round of invitations sent on a rolling basis. This will be limited. But don't worry. If you have not received an invite at this time, you can still participate. We will be live streaming the event for our friends abroad and those who cannot attend. We will send an update about this as the event comes closer.

Thanks for your interest in the StartupOnomics Summit and we hope to catch you next time around!


I'm totally bummed.

I was really looking forward to it, and thought I would be an ideal candidate to attend. I'm the founder of a startup in a space that is rife with behavioral economics issues, I'm an economics student with a specific interest in behavioral economics, and I'm already planning to be in San Francisco for a week immediately after the conference.

If anyone has an "in" with the organizers (Hal cough Varian cough Google cough cough) I'm certainly not above having strings pulled in my favor.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Economics I Can Believe In

Son 1 has fixed my blog problem. I'm going to make him a carrot cake. Comparative and absolute advantage....Sun Jul 17 08:54:28 via Twitter for Mac

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jeremy Grantham Goes Malthusian

From Business Insider, JEREMY GRANTHAM: We're Headed For A Disaster Of Biblical Proportions

Specifically, Grantham says, the phenomenon of ever-more humans using a finite supply of natural resources cannot continue forever--and the prices of metals, hydrocarbons (oil), and food are now beginning to reflect that.


Now, I'm not as learned as Mr. Grantham, but I disagree. There are substitutes for metals and hydrocarbons, and anyone who has driven across the United States can tell you that we're nowhere near running out of capacity to grow more food.

Then again, the switch to substitutes takes time, as does bringing online new food production capacity. In the mean time, if demand significantly outstrips supply, things could get ugly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Homo economicus?

From How, and When, to Make a Decision in The Economist's More Intelligent Life magazine:

If all our decisions are so influenced by external factors, that raises an inevitable question: to what extent are we involved in our own decision-making? Professor Ackerman believes the answer is very little: “All of these subtle influences suggest that most of what is causing our behaviour we are really not aware of. People are just very good at post-hoc reasons for their behaviour.


Tastes and preferences, mentioned and then immediately set aside in most microeconomics courses, seem to me to be the overriding inputs in almost all personal decisions. Marketers figured this out a long time ago. What's taking economists so long?

Friday, June 3, 2011

ZMP's Revisited

Tyler Cowan, following up on last summer's discussion of Zero Marginal Product workers (ZMP's, as he calls them), offers a proof point:

People unemployed over 6 months rose by a whopping 361k, 44% of all unemployed.


But again, unless each worker's productivity remains constant over time (it doesn't) it doesn't follow that the currently unemployed weren't productive when they were working. It could just be that the currently employed are working harder, which stands to reason.

ZMP's indeed. ZMV econ bloggers maybe.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Startup-Onomics: The Behavioral Economics Summit for Startups

polaroid.png Has it really been more than seven months since I last posted to this blog? Yikes! Well, at least I have a good excuse: I've spun a new company out of Spanning Sync, raised a round of venture funding, hired an incredible team of engineers, salespeople, and marketers, and entered full startup mode.

My formal economics studies have been put on hold for the moment, but my extra-curricular studies continue unabated. Keynes, Varian, Harford, Ariely, Ahamed, Levy, Benioff, Hazlitt, Thaler, Cowan, Rosen, Carr. My Kindle runneth over.

And then this morning comes the uncannily-timed news of a summit on behavioral economics. For startups. Spooky. And it's in San Francisco just before Dreamforce, which is already on my calendar. Extra-spooky.

I've submitted my application and hope to be accepted to attend. If so, I'll document the whole thing extensively here. Our business, after all, is one that is greatly affected by our prospective customers' ability to gauge risk, a classic problem in behavioral economics. Fingers crossed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The New York Times on Why Economists Disagree

From The X Factor of Economics: People:

“But there’s a good reason that human irrationality isn’t part of the standard economic models, and this gets to the dilemma of economics. If you have a simple problem, you can offer a simple solution. But the economy is a hugely complex problem. So we either simplify the problem and offer a solution, or embrace the complexity and do nothing.”


Excellent article.

And yes, I'm still here. Sadly, I've had to put my formal economics studies on hold while (happily) I pursue an aggressive expansion of my business. I'll be posting thoughts about the economics of that business here on The 40-Year-Old Freshman, so don't unsubscribe from the feed just yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Intermission

I'm taking this semester off from my economics studies to devote more time and thought to my business, and our new product in particular. I plan to resume my studies in the Spring.

Update: My break wound up being a little longer than a semester. Ha!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hard Economics Times

From: Kerry A Pasquale <kerry@austin.utexas.edu>
Subject: INFORMATIONAL: ECO 351K Cancelled for Fall
Date: August 13, 2010 12:07:00 PM MDT
To: la-eco-students@utlists.utexas.edu


Dear Students,

If you are registered for ECO 351K- Current Issues in Business Economics for the Fall semester, please note that this class WILL BE CANCELLED. Unfortunately, the Department Chair was unable to find anyone to teach this class.

Once your next registration access occurs, please make any necessary adjustments to your schedule to accommodate this change.

If you are having difficulty finding another Economics class, please let us know and we’ll see how we can assist you.

Sincerely,

Economics Undergraduate Advising

Kerry Pasquale
Undergraduate Advising Center Coordinator
Department of Economics - UT Austin
512-471-2973


Monday, July 19, 2010

Diminishing Marginal Utility of Business School

This ad for UT's MBA program is probably truer than it was intended to be:

dim-MU-of-b-school.png

Zero Marginal Product Workers

There's an interesting debate going on over at Tyler Cowan's Marginal Revolution blog about Zero marginal product workers. Here's my theory, which I posted in the comments there:

Let's say Jack and John are both employed doing the same work while employment is high (and fear of unemployment is therefore low--if either loses his job he can likely find another one). Then the economy craters and Jack loses his job. John's fear of unemployment is now higher than it was, since he sees not only his colleague Jack get laid off but also dire unemployment figures in the news. Now fearful, John works harder to keep his job than he did when the economy was good, and by so doing makes up for the productivity lost by Jack's layoff.

To management, who measures only total productivity and not per-worker productivity, it looks like Jack was a zero marginal productivity worker. As the economy rebounds they're under no pressure to rehire Jack, so unemployment stays high.

I'd be interested in any reactions to this theory, and in finding out how one would formally describe it in economic terms.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

NNT on engineers, mathematicians, and economists

The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb makes so secret of his disdain for economics and most economists.

Engineers can compute but not define, mathematicians can define but not compute, economists can neither compute nor define.Fri Jun 18 11:50:04 via UberTwitter



Since I have a computer science degree with a math minor and am working on an economics degree, apparently I'm in the process of wiping out my abilities to compute and define. Ha.

Monday, June 7, 2010

So I actually earned that A after all

Last week I sent this email to Dr. Watson regarding my ECO 420K grade:

Dr. Watson-

I'm happy and relieved to see on the registrar's site that I received an A in your 420K class, but I have to say I'm a little surprised too. I wasn't at all sure I had done well on the final exam. I don't see a grade for it on Blackboard--can you tell me how I did?

Thanks,
Charlie


This morning he responded:

Charlie,

On the final exam you scored 73.5 out of 90, compared with a class average of 44. That is an excellent score, and it was in fact the second highest score in a class of 48 students.

Congratulations on your overall performance, which was well deserving of your A. Thanks for your participation in the class, and best of luck with your future studies.

Randal Watson


Whew!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blackboard for iPad

UT uses an online system called BlackBoard that lets instructors post assignments, grades, course documents, etc. Blackboard now has an iPad app:

bb-ipad.jpg

Cool!

Friday, May 21, 2010

420K Grade

420k-grade.png

I'll be collecting my thoughts about this course and posting them later. But for now, I'll just say I'm glad it's over and that I did well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just registered for the Fall semester

I had planned on taking statistics next semester, but after micro theory I need something more interesting to keep me engaged. So instead of 329 I registered for Dr. Miravete's 351K: Current Issues in Business Economics. Here's a syllabus (PDF) from the last time he taught this class.

I'm really looking forward to it. Plus, after three classes in a row in the detestable UTC building, Waggener Hall will be a welcome change.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Train wreck

train-wreck.jpg I'm not sure I've ever done that badly on a midterm exam before. It was brutal.

I counted 16 points worth of questions (out of 100) I didn't even get to attempt to answer before time ran out, and at least that many that I left partially answered. If we had been given three hours in which to complete the exam, I still would have been rushed. We had 75 minutes. It was not pretty.

This weekend I will make a sacrifice on the alter of the God of the Curve.

Update: I got a B on the exam. Looks like I'll have my work cut out for me on the final, which is three weeks from Friday.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Still not a freshman, but finally 40

When I started this blog I was 38, so the title "The 40-Year Old Freshman" was wrong on two counts. (I wasn't a freshman, but rather what the University calls a "degree-holding senior", which I still am.) Now it's only wrong on one count.

Also, I've now attended UT in four of out of the five decades in which I've been alive. Ha!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cost vs expected utility? Ha! We do what feels good.

From Costco by Jonah Lehrer:

As I note in How We Decide, this data directly contradicts the rational models of microeconomics. Consumers aren't always driven by careful considerations of price and expected utility. We don't look at the electric grill or box of chocolates and perform an explicit cost-benefit analysis. Instead, we outsource much of this calculation to our emotional brain, and rely on relative amounts of pleasure versus pain to tell us what to purchase.


Is it true that UT has no undergraduate classes in behavioral economics? If so, that's a shame.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finally, the theory of the firm

Just as I was about to give up hope that micro theory could be interesting, yesterday we finished the Theory of the Consumer section and turned to the Theory of the Firm.

Looking back I see that just over one year ago, I was just as excited when we made the same shift in my principles class.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mid-semester update

I scored a 46.5/50 (93%) on the first midterm, which is OK but not great. Ironically, I got all the economics right but flubbed some of the algebra.

I'm finding Micro Theory to be a bit dry. I suppose that should come as no surprise, since it's really just a rehash of Micro Principles but with more math. I'm eager to get on to some of the upper-division electives.

The second midterm is in two weeks. The last day of class is May 7.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hal Varian speaks!

Well, writes! This time, on Computer Mediated Transactions. Set ye your coffee down and read and become smarter.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tell me more lies

I was so hungry I ate until my stomach hurt, at which point I realized I had actually been thirsty. Tell me again about rational consumers.

First micro theory test is in the books

I hate this part. The waiting. The nagging self-doubt. The creeping suspicion that I didn't do nearly as well as I thought I did.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am willing to pay money—good money—to get my grade back faster. Surely there's no conflict there, and the TA's could undoubtedly use the money. Maybe I'll talk to the department about that.

Anyway, right now I think I did well. That estimate will steadily decrease until I actually get my grade back. By next week I'll be convinced I totally screwed the pooch. Since I know that I suppose I can discount it.