Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ian McKellen teaches the Cookie Monster self-control

As part of Sesame Street's push to teach children about self-regulation, here's a good video in which Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf) teaches the Cookie Monster to resist the siren call of a delicious cookie.

Sylvia Nasar – Grand Pursuit

Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit is a history of economic ideas, as told through the lives of some of the greatest economic thinkers. Sylvia’s previous book A Beautiful Mind is a biography of game theorist John Nash, most famous to the general public for the film adaptation starring Russell Crowe (a film I will always hilariously remember for an incorrect explanation of the concept of Nash equilibrium in a hammy bar scene).

One thing I loved about Grand Pursuit is the window it gives to the unexpected sides of some great economic thinkers. It paints a portrait of Karl Marx as a leisurely spendthrift, who left the messy work of actually investigating the working conditions of factories to his friend (and often benefactor) Friedrich Engels. Marx managed to blow several inheritances from various family members in the 20 years he took to polish off Das Kapital. Similarly unexpected was the tale of a young Milton Friedman working on Keynesian policies in the US government (Friedman later became famous for the view that governments should interfere as little as possible in the economy). Another personal highlight was Irving Fisher’s views on the importance of self-control.

The book also puts into perspective how periods of economic crisis, as in the present day, are often the best catalyst for revolutions in economic theory. The present day may seem exceptional, but there have been many similar episodes. Larry Summers, for example, has recently proposed that we may be facing a period of “secular stagnation” -- potentially ending the rates of economic growth that the developed world has grown accustomed to since the industrial revolution. But similar ideas have been popular during each past economic crisis, ever since Malthus. As Keynes wrote, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Upcoming events in StirBSC in February-March 2015

From the "Upcoming Events" tab:


Wednesday February 4: Behavioural Science Seminar: Professor Rory O'Connor (Glasgow). 

Wednesday February 11: Behavioural Science Seminar: Professor Mandy Ryan (Aberdeen) 

Wednesday February 18: Behavioural Science Seminar; Dr. Pete Lunn (ESRI). 

Wednesday February 25: Behavioural Science Seminar: Professor Nick Hanley (St. Andrews) 

Friday February 27thESRC Workshop on Biomarkers and Social Science.

MARCH 2015

Wednesday March 4: Behavioural Science Seminar: Dr. Peter Matthews (Stirling)

Wednesday March 11: Behavioural Science Seminar: Dr Stian Reimers (City University London).

Wednesday March 18: Behavioural Science Seminar: Dr Eva Rafetseder (Stirling)

Wednesday-Thursday March 18-19: Advanced Stata for Behavioural Science

Wednesday March 25: Behavioural Science Seminar: Professor Marjon Van Pol (Aberdeen)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Joshua Angrist on EconTalk

Related to Liam's previous post on the new Angrist & Pischke book "Mastering Metrics", here is a recent EconTalk interview with Angrist where he discusses the book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mastering Metrics

I went through a copy of Mastering Metrics by Joshua Angrist and Steve Pischke. Their previous book Mostly Harmless Econometrics is widely used as a companion to advanced undergraduate and introductory graduate courses in Microeconometrics. Both books are very useful. Mastering Metrics has six chapters on: 1. Randomised Trials; 2. Regression; 3. Instrumental Variables; 4. Regression Discontinuity Designs; 5. Differences in Differences and 6. The Wages of Schooling.

The RCT chapter is a clean and concise overview of the main economic parameters that can be estimated with an RCT and provides a good and well worked-through example. The chapters on regression and IV don't cover too much more ground than in their previous work but have some very interesting extra examples that students will find useful. Similarly, RDD and Difference-in-Difference designs are covered in Mostly Harmless Econometrics but are extended with more examples in this book. The final chapter goes through in detail the case of estimating returns to education and goes through the problem of omitted variable bias in depth. Each of the chapters will certainly be very useful companion chapters to lectures on the topics.

The style of both MHE and MM (whether you appreciate the jokes or not) is rightly popular among students, combining informal text with worked examples and appendices providing the mathematical foundations. Many people's first introduction to topics like IV or RDD is in the context of highly formal and stylised mathematical models and the approach here has probably led to many students figuring out for the first time that the key concepts are interesting and applicable. Armed with these insights it is easier to step back into the fight with the notation.

It is clear they have the potential to continue this into a series of short and accessible books.  I think a clear demand from my students would be to extend the RCT chapter into a book that addressed not just the basic parameters but the wider set of parameters that can obtained from RCTs as well as how to think about common problems with RCT designs in a more formal way.

Raj Chetty's slides on BE & Public Policy

Raj Chetty of Harvard has a new, very accessible 62-slide presentation online called Behavioral Economics and Public Policy A Pragmatic Perspective. His main takeaways are that BE makes three contributions to public policy (i) New policy tools (e.g. defaults, framing), (ii) Better predictions of the effects of existing policies (e.g. taxes), (iii) New welfare implications.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Study on Self-Control - Stirling Participants

We are searching for students and staff from Stirling University to participate in a study on self-control. Participants told me that it is an interesting study and you'll get Gift Certificates in return. The study will take place in the end of January. More details below. 

Please feel free to register for the study here and spread the word.


Complete a questionnaire on self-control (and your behaviours, emotions, motivations, and preferences). In Stirling, already 96 participated (you cannot participate again).

When  Thursday 29th January, 11.00 - 13.00 (Room 2A15)
              Thursday 29th January, 14.00 - 16.00 (Room 2A15)
              Friday 30th January, 11.00 - 13.00 (Room 2A15)
              Friday 30th January, 14.00 - 16.00 (Room 1A11)

In return, we’ll send you Gift Certificates worth between £8 and £16 (average so far: £14.40 for  70 minutes)

Please follow this link or register on the Stirling Portal.

The study is organized by Professor Liam Delaney and Dr Leonhard Lades ( from the Stirling Behavioural Science Centre.