Orthogonal Projections

Biased but consistent commentary on economics, politics, sports, and life.

It is not just China…

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Paris needs a congestion tax, or at least, stronger regulation on its vehicle emissions. The smog levels have been so high that there were reports that the Eiffel Tower – Paris’s signature attraction – could not be seen from the distance. Apparently, the government banned one-half of the vehicle from the road by requiring cars with odd –  and even – numbered license  plates to alternate days, but this type of restriction seems unlikely to solve the larger problem. 

Congestion taxes, while politically unpopular, would likely help to alleviate this problem. By charging people a per-trip tax for entry in the city, many will either substitute to public transportation or, maybe, just decide not to come. Economists like myself prefer this sort of “Pigouvian” tax to the more heavy -handed approach implied by strict regulations. Many of these regulations can backfire, especially when people find ways around them as in the case of Mexico City, where pollution actually increased in the wake of such bans. 

Regardless, the media’s constant  harping on Chinese pollution needs to be refocused on France. Perhaps, if Paris sees a drop in tourist dollars (along with an increase in associated health costs), they will take seriously the need to deal with this pollution problem.

Written by marcdcase

March 21, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Punishment, Delayed

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Ray Nagin, the former mayor of New Orleans, has been convicted for corruption. Apparently, he used his position as mayor during the post-Katrina period to buttress the profits of a business run by his sons.

While I know nothing about the proof of his guilt, I suppose that he would eventually  receive punishment. In some respects, he did nothing different than most mayors; it is common to observe city contracts directed to the supporters of the winning side. I write this not because I’m inherently skeptical of municipal leadership; horse trading is inherent in politics.

Nevertheless, I recall telling a friend that Nagin had done himself an extreme disservice when he remarked in a press conference that he wanted New Orleans to remain a “Chocolate City.” He also made reference to people in “Uptown,” a neighborhood where many wealthy whites live. Many of these people initially supported electing Nagin given his background as a corporate executive and his strong business contact. He was the darling of these people. Unfortunately, he broke that contract by publicly insulting them; he had to be punished.



Written by marcdcase

February 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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I remain cognitively paralyzed by the Newtown, CT massacre.  In some moments, I fell tremendous grief for the parents; in others, immense confusion over why someone would deliberately murder small children. As new and corrected details emerge I find myself  even more befuddled: he had no connection to the school and actually passed two others on the way to kill at Sandy Hook. His only goal was to  kill. Children.

I don’t understand it. Of course, it is not possible to rationalize what is irrational under conventional norms of behavior. Nevertheless, I find myself  pondering what must have been going through his head as he drive to the school with pistols and an AR- 15. Disturbing.

Written by marcdcase

February 12, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Grading yourself

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A NY Times article discusses a curious finding across the country: when school systems implement a teacher evaluation system, almost all the teachers receive good ratings. Given the conventional wisdom about the decline in US public education, finding that most teachers are quite competent would indeed be curious to most.

Of course, it depends on the threshold for competency. Evidence suggests this threshold is quite low:

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome.

They should be worried. The question is one of incentives and shared interest. Teacher unions are against evaluation in part because it partially unravels the pact that unions make with their constituents: namely, that in exchange for finance and  obedience, the union will organize a united front to ensure that there are no losers within the group. The consequences of this contract are job security for members with the trade off of wage compression where high performers receive less and poor performers receive more to maintain parity. In extreme cases, the only thing that matters for wages is seniority and possession of master’s degree. Hence, evaluations  help to unravel this pact because if they are accurate, they have the potential to cause dissension within the ranks especially if they are paired with merit pay.

Further, the switch to formal evaluations has been fraught with problems in part because evaluations help set up adversarial relationships between administrators (previous teachers) and teachers.

So how do we avoid all these problems? Set the thresholds so low that all but the most inept will pass. Thus, you reinforce parity among teachers, don’t screw over your  friends, and don’t piss off the unions.

Its not clear what is the best design, but the current one is not working.


Written by marcdcase

March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am

Posted in Education, Policy

Some Sunday Reading…

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  • The mismatch argument revisted in the NY Times yet again.
  • Another teenager down in Chicago.
  • Jeff Toobin’s take on disappearing Republicans.
  • Has the DC Press really turned on Paul Ryan?

Written by marcdcase

March 17, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Reflections From A Perceived War Zone

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As a native Chicagoan and, after some time away, a current resident, I have to take issue with the way Chicago has been  recently characterized by certain media outlets and pundits. While murders are still quite high and we have way too many tragedies where innocents have been taken, Chicago is a great place to live. Even the Southside is not as Kevin Williamson describes it, a “wasteland,” below 35th St, although some areas sure look like it.

Of course, this is not to say that poor people are not catching it here and that more could be done. It is easy for me to say that it’s not that bad as I am fairly privileged now; my kids  have little worry in my current neighborhood. Nevertheless, by characterizing Chicago as a “war zone,” one  diminishes the plight of the poor in the city and poor suburbs and especially those people who live in actual war zones.

Written by marcdcase

March 12, 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

I think most Assistant Professors would agree

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Chris Blattman links to a recent NBER working paper by Card and Dellavigna by half-seriously noting that his anxiety levels (about tenure) are relatively high:

The first four facts:

  1. Annual submissions to the top-5 journals nearly doubled from 1990 to 2012.
  2. The total number of articles published in these journals actually declined from 400 per year in the late 1970s to 300 per year most recently. As a result, the acceptance rate has fallen from 15% to 6%, with potential implications for the career progression of young scholars.
  3. One journal, the American Economic Review, now accounts for 40% of top-5 publications, up from 25% in the 1970s.
  4. Recently published papers are on average 3 times longer than they were in the 1970s, contributing to the relative shortage of journal space.

A new paper by David Card and Stefano Dellavigna. NBER version here. Link to an ungated copy on Dellavigna’s website here.

I’m even more anxious than he is.

Written by marcdcase

January 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Posted in Economics


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