Monday, May 31, 2010

Winner's Curse or Delaying Recalculation?

When I first, saw this article about the local highway construction, my first thought was "winner's curse":
The Indiana Department of Transportation has awarded Milestone Contractors -- whose bid was $3 million less than the second nearest bidder -- the contract for the 45/46 bypass expansion project in Bloomington. But some area contractors are wondering just how Milestone’s bid could be so low.
However, the article has several interviews that suggest that many contractors are intentionally going below cost in an effort to retain good employees until the recession passes:
“We surveyed our members in late December, early January and 10 percent of them told us that they were actually bidding projects below cost,” Turmail said. “In other words we call that buying work where they’re willing to take a loss on the work simply to keep their teams together and busy.”


“If you have good construction workers that you can rely on you absolutely want to do everything you can to keep them on staff because ultimately the success of the contractors is based on being able to get the job done right the first time.”
If you stick around to the end of the story, however, the winning company thinks that they believe the state engineer systematically overestimates the true cost of projects by 25-30 percent, so that they expect to turn a profit on their bid-price. A couple of remaining thoughts:
  1. For students, when does it make sense to undertake a project despite an expected loss? i.e. What are the relevant costs to this decision?
  2. I know there is a literature on the state revenue forecaster rationality/bias, but is there one on state engineer cost estimates? This would be a much more difficult question to address, but one that might make an interesting dissertation for some enterprising doctoral student with interests in public choice and industrial organization.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Juicing the Mitchell in Peru

Members of Congress in Peru dance to Thriller for Keiko Fujimori's birthday (links to spanish, but Google translates). The video is hilarious.

Imagine the time that went into that choreography. And, frankly, I cannot think of a better use of their time.

It's somewhat ironic that they mixed in a few lines from "Jailhouse Rock." Recall that Keiko's father, former President Alberto Fujimori, is currently incarcerated for corruption and human rights abuses.

[HT: Astrid]

Saturday, May 22, 2010

NYT Editors Should Read Bob Higgs

As Art Carden points out, this NYT Editorial suggest "we have work to do."
It was government that rescued the economy from the Depression and promoted safety and equality in the workplace.
Perhaps the fine folks at the Independent Institute could send the editorial staff a copy of Higgs' Depression, War, and Cold War.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Theories of Jupiter Cloud Belt Disappearance

On Facebook, Matt blames Earth's global warming for the disappearance of the Jupiter Cloud Belt. The data, however, makes me skeptical:
"The SEB fades at irregular intervals, most recently in 1973-75, 1989-90, 1993, 2007, 2010," said John Rogers, director of the British Astronomical Association's Jupiter Section. "The 2007 fading was terminated rather early, but in the other years, the SEB was almost absent, as at present."
Contra Matt, I would point to the fact that three of the first four SEB fades occurred during the year of a NBER business cycle peak: 1973, 1990, and 2007. Whether the Jupiter cloud belt is a lagging or leading indicator, I cannot be sure. Regardless, I think the writing is on the wall (er, Jupiter atmosphere) that we are about to experience a double-dip recession.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Less-than-Blockquoting X

It's time for me to pull my best Will Luther and provide a quote for guessing!

Given the evolution of macroeconomics over the years-- and especially in light of Hayek's Nobel Prize speech-- I was pleased to read the following:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Author below the fold.


Economic freedom, culture, and growth

TPS Blogger Claudia Williamson with Rachel Mathers, at Public Choice:
How do economic freedom and culture impact economic growth? This paper argues that culture, as measured by the World Values Surveys, and economic institutions associated with economic freedom are both independently important for economic prosperity, but the strength of their impact can be better understood only when both are included in the growth regression. Our results indicate that economic freedom is more important than culture for growth outcomes, suggesting substitutability between the two. We posit that culture is important for growth when economic freedom is absent, diminishing in significance once economic freedom is established.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The War on Duh

In this article from the AP, former U.S. drug czar John Walters says of the War on Drugs:
Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says.
It's true. If you look at the past 40 years of drug abuse data, identify the year in which the maximum observation occurs, it turns out every other year will be less than that. Well done, sir, well done.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Want to Trade Your Water? Here's How It's Done In California!

Just follow the water decision tree!!
Can be found as Figure 1 here. Click to enlarge.

The Private Provision of Public Goods: The Bones of Santa Claus

From Time:
In 1087, the Italian town of Bari hired men — some accounts call them pirates while others refer to them as "privileged mariners" — to steal St. Nicholas from Myra, a town in present-day Turkey. The theft of Santa's bones is still celebrated in Bari with an annual parade and fireworks.
According to this website, this project was launched as a joint venture organized by private merchants and a Bari church. It also says that the church double crossed the pirates and never paid them. They overcame the free-rider problem nonetheless.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Weather Forecasts

A colleague of mine, Antony Davies, sends along this information about Pittsburgh's upcoming weather:

Weatherbug says the prob of rain from 9:00 to midnight is 96%. says the prob of rain from 9:00 to midnight is 10%.

I've always thought that weather forecasts were biased towards poorer weather-- if there's to be error, you'd rather it in that direction-- but that is a remarkable spread.

Does anyone know of any systematic studies on weather forecasts and bias?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Visa Concierge Service

Have you heard about this? This post by Sir John Hargrave is not only descriptive of the program, but also incredibly funny.
How many times have you been at a restaurant, arguing with your friends about which President was the fattest, or whether Kevin Bacon has ever done a nude scene? Now you don’t need to pull out your smartphone and Google it, you can just call Visa and have them look it up for you.

Having a Visa worker do your bidding: much classier than an iPhone.
Have any of you tried this service? I would love to hear more.

[HT: Astrid]