Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Joe Flacco's record (as a choke artist)

Joe Flacco has won a record 6 road playoff games, showing that he "wins when it counts."

But there is a catch. Joe Flacco is also tied for fewest Super Bowl wins in NFL history.

In fact, here is a list of the biggest games for each of Flacco's past four seasons.

Comp %
L (14-23)
L (3-20)
L (24-31)
L (20-23)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Subway's Footlong Controversy

Subway is under fire for selling 11 inch "Footlong" subs as first point out with this Facebook photo:

The less covered aspect of the story is that Subway is also being sued for selling 5.5 inch "6 inch" subs for years.

Imagine how many men could be sued if promising 6 inches and then not measuring up were a crime.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hipster Vacation

Some hipster filmed a movie entirely inside of Disney World theme parks.
“Escape from Tomorrow” is [...] a commentary on [...] the supposed bliss of an American family’s day at Disney World. [...]The film [is] a criticism of [...] of the unattainable family perfection promised by a day spent at the park.
I doubt it is as good as the original but it will expose some "art-house indie flick" fans to the thought provoking insights of John Hughes.

The inside word is that, for his next project, the director plans to surreptitiously break into a suburban Chicago mansion to film a hipster-fied version of Home Alone.

HT: Marginal Revolution

MA files restraining order against Bernard Pollard

The entire New England Patriots team has been granted restraining orders against Bernard "The Patriot Killer" Pollard in the wake of Pollard's latest conquest. The Ravens safety was accused of injuring four key Patriots players over the past 5 years--Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Stevan Ridley--and the entire team complained that they "do not feel safe in his presence." A senior NFL analyst comment that "[he] wouldn't either after that ass-whooping," referring to the Raven's complete and under manhandling of the Patriots in the second half of last Sunday's game.

Gov. Deval Patrick is urging every resident of MA to file a restraining order against Pollard, going so far as to instruct the state government to print out a petition for every man, woman and child in the commonwealth. A spokesperson for the governor said only that "he have to waste there unfairly high taxes on something, and drapes can only cost so much."

Pollard will reportedly challenge the constitutionality of the petitions, which will effectively bar him from entering the state, as a violation of his constitutional rights. When asked to specify what right and what it was mentioned in the constitution, Pollard's counsel admitted that "[they] didn't actually mean it was protected by the constitution . . . just that it should be."

The case is expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court where the justices will cast a regional-lines votes with Yale Law graduates upholding the ban and Harvard Law graduates defending the ban. The swing votes are expected to be Ginsberg, Scalia, and Kagan, all natives of the New York City area who attended school in Massachusetts.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bernard Pollard: The Patriot Killer

Bernard Pollard ended Tom Brady's season on week 1 in 2008.

He was the closest player to Wes Welker when Welker blew out his knee in 2009.

Last year he rolled onto Gronk's ankle and crippled him for the Super Bowl.

And about 2 minutes ago he also certainly gave* Stevan Ridley a concussion.

* - It was really Ridley who rammed his own head into Pollard. But we'll give Pollard credit for the hit.

Reid announces plan for gun control

Andy Reid, the recently fired head coach of the Philidelphia Eagles, has announced a plan for "gun control." Sources familiar with the plan report that it would ban the "pistol formation"in the NFL.

Analysts are ESPN have suggested the plan is an attempt at preserving Reid's viability as a head coach in the league. Last season the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers obliterated Reid's Philadelphia Eagles, in part by using the pistol offense and their elite running quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. Both QBs accounted for 4 touchdowns against the Eagles in their first meetings of the season with Griffin averaging a punishing 7 yards per carry.

CNN political analysts say Andy's Reid's plan has a better chance of passing than Harry Reid's plan for gun control because the two teams that stand to lose the most, the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, can do nothing to filibuster the bill. After being inundated with letters from constituents, Washington state's two female senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, released a joint statement indicating that they "do not know the fuck the pistol formation or read-option are" and have no plans to investigate further. Washington D.C., of course, has no representation in the U.S. congress because 50.7% of the residents are black.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll issued this one sentence statement after learning about the plan.
The ban on performance enhancing drugs did not stop us, so the coaching staff is not particularly concerned with pending rule changes.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

People or Places?

Something that bothers me about "development" and "regional" economics is the focus on places instead of people. I'll give three examples of what I mean by that and then come back to the unifying theme.

My first example is that a lot of development policy people like to use measures like GDP to measure who things are going in a country. Aside from generic problems with GDP, that makes sense if you care about the country itself and the people who live there at any given time, but not per se about the people. You can see why from this clever little example oft repeated by economists. Suppose a Mexican computer programmer moves to the U.S. to get a job. He gets an internship making $25,000, which is more than he made in Mexico, but less than the average American. By moving he dragged down the GDP of two countries even though he helped himself and had very little effect on everyone else (maybe negative, probably positive). If you care about countries he made two countries worse. If you care about people, one person gained and everyone else didn't care. So if you care about Mexicans you probably want a measure that sums up the income of all Mexicans instead of the GDP of Mexico.

A second example focuses on regions. A lot of Americans are upset by the urban decay in the D.C.-New York corridor. This New York Times article presents the concerns in broad terms, and gets across how they care concerns about the cities, not the people who live (or used to) live there. This city-centric gives you the sense that the people of these regions have not benefit from the enormous progress in America over the past fifty years. They have been forgotten, and ignored. But the story forgets to mention that many or most (depending on how you count) of the people of these cities moved to green pastures, so the decline of the cities didn't matter to them.

This table shows the population of the four large cities mentioned in the Times article today and what they would be if they "grew" like New York City. Since New York was in urban decline for most of the time since 1950 this is obviously a vast underestimate of how many people "escaped" the urban decline by moving.

Would-Be Population
Actual Population

But the lower bound is still 33% of people are living somewhere else. A more natural estimate, based on natural population growth for the country as a whole (ignoring immigration), is that the populations of these cities should have grown 78% to 6.7 million meaning that 62.6% of the would-be population escaped the urban decline by leaving.

My last example, which to my knowledge isn't discussed in the economics literature much, is from education economics. A lot of discussion about improving the quality of education in America focuses on finding or training better quality teachers so that we can get a better quality teachers into every classroom. Strategies for that range from better training, but most are skeptical of that because no one is willing to run an experiment test if teachers trained through their program are any better at teaching. The most politically charged strategy is to just fire bad teachers and continue hiring replacements until you find one that is good. This way you can ensure a minimum quality level for some share of the classrooms (see papers by Doug Staiger and Jonah Rockoff).

But there is another way to look at the problem, as above, that focuses on the students instead of the teachers. Instead of trying to put a good teachers in each classroom, treating the students in each classroom as fixed, you can think about moving students into better classrooms. Just like how people avoid poverty by leaving a dump like Baltimore to live in Houston, students can avoid having a bad teacher by moving from a bad classroom to a good one. Calibration of a simple model suggests that you can get 25% of the improvement on test scores from shifting kids as you could by recruiting better teachers, but you don't have to fire anyone or battle unions.

So by now the unifying theme is probably clear. It's that people when people are free to move around you don't have to worry much about the quality of cities, or regions, or classrooms, people will move to the good ones. The flip side is that when people can't move, because of immigration restrictions or because they are assigned a classroom, you are harming a lot of people by not allowing them to move around. Michael Clemens estimates the gains from removing barriers to immigration are substantially greater than removing barriers to free trade.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The American justice system works like this: a prosecutor gets a case and then throws the book at the accused and threatens to add more counts unless the accused takes a plea bargain and serves a tiny fraction of the maximum.

More details here.

A lot of people are saying that Carmen Ortiz should be fired for throwing the book at Aaron Swartz and that everything she did--like indicting him on enough counts to potentially send him to jail for the rest of his life--was completely out of whack with the principle of proportionality.

I don't get that. She did what prosecutors do.

I haven't seen many people commenting on the fact that Ortiz offered Swartz a plea of 4 months of jail time. And that was probably not her final offer. My guess is that many people aren't aware of the plea offer or that almost all cases are settled with plea deals, so they think Swartz actually was at risk of serving decades in jail.


I think I understand what confuses people about the the tuck rule and the NFL in general.

We talk about the rules and the rulebook but the officials judge plays by conventions and they aren't written down anywhere. The rulebook is a pretty good guide to the conventions but there is plenty that is left out.

Consider the penalty of holding. Based on what is written in the rulebook, offensive linemen hold on most plays or at least a significant minority of plays. But holding only called about 1.8% of the time on non-special teams plays.

There are conventions that govern what counts as a "hold, but let them play" as opposed to a "hold, and I have to throw the flag." One convention is that if a defensive player twists and falls, you throw the flag, even if you didn't see why. When a defensive lineman twists and falls the official assumes it was because an O-lineman tugged at him from inside the shoulder pad as he charged at the QB.

It turns out that a decent share of the time that intuition is wrong. The most famous example is when the Seahawks (7 minutes in) got fucked in Super Bowl XL.

Another convention is that, while the rulebook says these are example of defensive pass interference there are cases when they are not:

(a) Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver’s opportunity to make the catch. 
(b) Playing through the back of a receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball. 
(c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass. 

If a play is "bang-bang" where a defender crashes into the receiver around the same he catches the ball, it is not a penalty. This opens up the defensive technique of tackling the receive just before he gets his hands on the ball. Rex Ryan has exploited the conventions with great success in New York and his legacy survives in Baltimore.

My least favorite convention concerns offensive pass interference. If the ball is in the air and a receiver needs to push off to slow down, create space, or change direction to catch the ball, it is legal. I call it the Jordan after Jordan's last shot with the Bulls.

Torrie Smith used a push-off to slow down and reel in a Joe Flacco bomb last week (4:00 mark). Hines Ward used in typical extreme fashion in in Super Bowl XL after Seattle had been, many say unfairly, flagged for a similar move that negated a touchdown (both at that link). Braylon Edwards used (6:30 mark) it to set up a short field goal to win in the wild-card round two years ago. (If it seems like I'm singling out Ryan's Jets as a dirty team its probably because they are.)

The Tuck Rule, the most controversial rule in the NFL, is poorly understood because the conventions that govern it are almost the exact opposite of what you would expect:
When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble
The convention used is that when a QB losses the ball as he is making a throw, even if its pretty clear from the motion of the ball that is was thrown forward, it is a fumble. This is despite language saying "any forward movement of the hand starts a forward pass." You can see applications of this convention in last week's Bronco's game and the last offensive play for the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. In contrast, if the ball is lost while is clearly not being thrown forward, even if it is lost after it has been tucked, it is an incomplete pass. This is the convention that was applied in the Tuck Rule Game (4:25 mark) where Brady had both hands on the ball near his chest and was looking downfield for his reads. Many read the rule and point out that that "the player ha[d] tucked the ball into his body and then lo[st] possession, it [was] a fumble"but on a "bang-bang" play the convention is that you need to have the ball clearly tucked away for a considerable period of time before you are "eligible" to fumble.

SF may name Airport after Sean Penn role

San Francisco is considering a proposal to name it's airport after Harvey Milk, a character Sean Penn portrayed in the 2008 film Milk. Penn's work in the film earned him his second Academy Award for Best Actor at the 2009 awards ceremony.

The character was based on a San Francisco politician and gay-icon of the same name. The real Milk was the first openly gay man elected to office in the United States and was tragically assassinated by a political rival. Milk was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, largely due to notoriety generated by the film and President Obama's desire to pander to the gay community.

In San Francisco residents are split over the proposal. Film buffs and Los Angeles transplants are generally in favor. Bill White, an IMDb Pro subscriber, commented that it is a "no-brainer" to honor Penn and that "in fact, Milk wasn't even really Sean Penn's best role, that was Markum" referring to Penn's other Academy-Award winning role.

Gay activists are generally opposed to the renaming, complaining that the honor should be reserved for an actual homosexual. Chad Stuart, an openly gay architect, plans to vote against the measure because "it's really an insult to Milk's legacy."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guns in the short-run, and the long-run

Economists like to focus on the short run because, like Yogi Berra said, "prediction is hard, especially about the future."

Economics is a very imperfect science so its easier to focus on the near future. At best you can run an experiment and, say, offer to pay people's taxes for a year and see how it impacts their income. If not you might be able to find a natural experiment that answers your question of interest--maybe a country temporarily lowered taxes for a while--but the laws will probably change again shortly after, so you'll probably only figure out how people respond to the tax cut over a short time period. And in any event it will be hard to figure out how the economy as a whole might respond since all these kinds of studies will have some people affected by the change and some people not.

But the thing is, for a lot of policy questions, the most important thing is the long run. A lot of debate about the optimal tax level focuses on whether people work harder than taxes are temporarily lower: will people work more hours because of the Bush tax cuts? A lot more? Will they not really care? The answer is mostly that they will work a little bit more.

The catch is that, as Greg Mankiw likes to note, how people respond in the long run might be very different. In the long run people can adjust what professions they choose, where they live, what kind of house to buy, and even social norms long how many days of the week are work days and how many hours a week is "full-time" can change. In all likelihood, the amount of work people do will probably respond more to taxes in the long run than the short run since more variables are free to vary.

That is one explanation often cited for why cross-country evidence suggests taxes matter so much for work. Americans have lower taxes than Europeans and work more hours and within Europe countries with lower taxes work more as well. Those comparisons are between countries that have reached an equilibrium in adjusting their social norms, conventions, and aspirations to their tax laws.

The title of this post says this is about guns, not taxes, so what is the link?

Well, as with taxes, gun research tends to focus on the short run and isolated areas. We can look at what happens when a city changes a law and another city does not. Maybe we could even measure gun violence in FL before they passed a gun control law and after and compare that to what happened in Georgia which didn't pass a law. Most of the public debate about gun control focuses on the short run too. Criminals will still have guns, at least for a while, with so many guns available and accessible, so people need to be able to arm as well.

In the long run, though, everything is different. In the long run total elimination of gun rights is almost surely going to make everyone safer. Criminals won't have guns. No one will have guns perhaps the police. As with taxes, I'm told, the cross-country evidence which compares countries in their new post-gun equilibria show exactly what you would expect: gun control lowers crime.

The public debate fixates on the short run but it should be considering the long run. The short run impact of gun control is probably to make us all safer, but if criminals take advantage of the decline in gun ownership maybe it won't. That is a big if, but a convincing if to a country that is by and large pretty paranoid (hi, Mom!). But in the long run gun control will almost surely make the U.S. safer and the more of it we have, the safer we will be.

"Where do you draw the line?"

There is this phrase, "where do you draw the line?" I hate it.

It's a rhetorical question, but unlike most of them, it's asked in a way so that you avoid thinking about the question.

But it is such an important question it has to asked repeatedly.

The answer, of course, is that you always draw the line where costs start to exceed the benefits.

But figuring out the costs is benefits is really, really hard.

And its not just estimating the costs or the benefits: even making sure the list includes all of them is an enormous challenge for most policy issues.

Consider some transportation policies issues. Many of them are going to hinge on the cost of cars, trains, etc. so focus on cars. When you think about the costs of driving you're thinking about the cost of gas and how wear and tears will add up, and maybe even about the pollution we're putting up in the air. But the two biggest costs of driving are the ones that go unseen, for the most part: fatalities and congestion.

Each year Americans buy around 6 million cars, worth about $20,000 each. Meanwhile 30,000 people are slaughtered on the roads. If you value each life at $4 million then the risk of dying is, exactly, just as big a cost of driving as the cost of the car itself. (Studies suggest that when we make public policies decisions we value our lives at about 33% of that level.)

Traffic is terrible. And its only terrible because everyone is driving so much. Suppose you're a commuter in metro Washington or Orlando, and you deal with terrible congestion each and every day that adds 30 minutes to your commute. How much would you pay to get 100+ hours a year at night with your kids and to low your blood pressure by 10 mmHg? Probably a lot. Now add that up for everyone and the toll from congestion is enormous, and generally ignored. It took a lot of smart economists a lot of thought to figure that out.

So "line-drawing" problems are hard. That is the point of asking "where do you draw the line?" But that should never be an argument against thinking about where to draw the line. It has to be drawn somewhere and its worth thinking hard about where.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

NFL fans demand return of replacement refs

Twitter was blanketed by NFL fans demanding a return of the replacement refs after the Baltimore-Denver game ran for 4 hours and 20 minutes, littered with long delays, production gaffes, and replays.

An anonymous NFL production assistants comment that they had a "strange sense of foreboding" when the game began after realizing that the head official's microphone was not functioning. Several bad calls when unexplained to the TV audience due to the technical problem, but most of the mishaps came during the game's second half.

During a strength of several minutes in the third quarter only 2:50 seconds of game time expired during a 30 minute stretch of television. Most of the delays was attributed to the 236 flags thrown during the interval, although 9:50 of it that period was spent with referees conferences on where to spot the ball after a double hands-to-the-face penalty. One NFL fans commented on Twitter that "[he] knows its hard to believe, but [he has] a life outside of watching football."

The game entered football lore on an incomplete pass in the third quarter as Tuck Rule II. The play should have been ruled an incomplete pass due to the infamous Tuck Rule, so when the head ref returned and ruled the play a fumble everyone from Dan Dierdorf in the commenting booth to all the fans watching at home to chief Denver rival Tom Brady went apoplectic. (Brady has always insisted that a similar play, with the opposite ruling, that paved the way to his first title was called correctly.)

As the game stretched past four hours and into overtime the entire male population of the United States started commenting on the terrible playing calling and production quality of the game. A pass interference call in the 4th quarter drew particular ire to the point where fans started petitioning for the return of Lance Easley, the replacement official who completely fucked up the Seahawks-Packers game  earlier in the seasons with what was, before today, the worst call of the season.

Easley could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin e-mailed a statement trying to capitalize on the unionized NFL-ref's incompetence by arguing that "no job so essentially to the welfare of our nation should be in the hands of unaccountable unionized employees isolated from the consequences of their poor performance."

An America Federation of Teachers spokesperson noted that "Gov. Walker may have a point, even we might support firing these bums."

* - All numbers in this article have been exaggerated due to laziness. The real figures are even more shocking because they are, in fact, the real numbers.