Saturday, August 23, 2014

Debate on kidney markets in the NY Times

How Much for a Kidney?

INTRODUCTION

kidney transplantsAccording to the World Health Organization, 80,000 kidney transplants are performed worldwide each year. Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
The demand for transplantable organs far exceeds the supply. That has led to an increase in the illegal trafficking of kidneys, which represent the majority of living-donor transplants because a person can live with only one.
Should people in need of a kidney transplant be allowed to pay someone to donate one of theirs, or would that let the rich exploit the poor?
READ THE DISCUSSION »

DEBATERS

Friday, August 22, 2014

Banning trade in ivory: two stories about enforcement in the U.S.

The NY Times has a story on the new NY law on ivory: Battling the Ivory Trade

"New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed one of the toughest laws in the nation banning the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns as a “stand against a dangerous and cruel industry.”

The new law, which goes into effect immediately, was written to protect elephants that are being slaughtered at the rate of 96 a day in Africa. If it works as intended, the flow of ivory into New York — often ranked the number one importer of ivory in the United States — should soon slow to virtually nothing.

In the past, traders have found a way to get around bans, often by simply providing fraudulent paper work. But the new law is much stricter. New York will not allow trade in anything but 100-year-old antiques with small amounts of ivory (and documented proof of provenance), musical instruments made before 1975, pieces used for education or scientific purposes such as museums and items handed down through estates.

Even more important, the law dramatically increases penalties for those caught trading in these products. "
***************

Sometimes enforcement leads to silly incidents: Teens' Bagpipes Seized at US Border Over Ivory

"Campbell Webster, of Concord, and his friend Eryk Bean, of Londonderry, were returning from Canada on Sunday after a bagpipe competition that served as a tuneup for the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland. The 17-year-olds, fresh off winning several top prizes in Canada, got to a small border crossing in Vermont when they were told they'd have to relinquish their pipes because they contain ivory.

The U.S. prohibits importing ivory taken after 1976. Even though the boys had certificates showing their ivory is older — Campbell's pipes date to 1936 — U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the pipes in Highgate Springs, Vermont. Well, not all of them: The boys took every other part possible and left the ivory with Border Patrol so nobody else could make a full set out of the parts.

"This has been an awful headache," said Lezlie Webster, Campbell's mother. "At one point at the Canadian border, they said, 'no way are we going to get our pipes back.'"

After contacting New Hampshire's congressional delegation and gathering more than 3,000 signatures on an online petition, the boys are getting their pipes back and were set to fly from Boston to Scotland on Tuesday. But the hassle is lingering like a sour note: Lezlie Webster said the boys had to shell out $576 in extra fees because they took the pipes across the border at a "non-designated crossing.""

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An interview in which I was asked if we should change the way we teach economics

Here's a set of questions and answers exchanged over email last month with a reporter in Brazil (my answers in italics):

Dear Professor Roth,

I work for Exame, which has been the best-selling economic magazine in Brazil for the last 40 years. I’m now writing a piece on whether the content of economics degrees should or should not change and I wonder if I could ask you some questions. The questions are below. You could either write the answers or I can call you anytime you like before Thursday, 24th.

Best wishes,

Eduardo Salgado


1) Should the content of economics degrees change? Why? Why not?
I guess you mean should we change what we teach young economists, and of course the only answer is “of course!”  What we teach young physicists and biologists and doctors and civil engineers changes as we learn more about those things, and economics is no different.

2) Has the criticism of economics been exaggerated after the 2008 crisis? To what extent is the current debate on content useful?
I think the 2008 crisis has been useful for pointing out that economics is, in many of its parts, still a very young science. For an analogy, think of medicine, which is the part of biology that we most often look to for advice, and is also a young science in many of its parts. Each year we worry that there might be an influenza epidemic due to whatever new strain of flu is observed in Asia that year, and each year vaccines are prepared, in an attempt to avert a disaster like the influenza pandemic of 1918. So far we’ve been lucky, but it’s not because we have a deep understanding of what could cause another epidemic or how to prevent it. But if another epidemic occurs, we’ll need to rely more on doctors and medicine, not less. So, while we need to understand epidemics better, that’s not a deep criticism of medicine, just an acknowledgement of some of its current limitations. Similarly for economic crises, and economics.

3) What changes should be made?
One of the things we’re devoting more attention to at Stanford is the kind of economic engineering called market design, which pays attention to the detailed rules by which particular marketplaces operate, and to experimental economics, which gives us a tool to better understand how people behave in economic environments.

4) Has economics teaching become too wedded to scientific pretension? Was excessive faith invested in abstract mathematical models?
Abstract mathematical models are very useful, in combination with other kinds of investigation. A lot of my work is devoted to market design, and my colleagues and I build a lot of marketplaces that have some of their ancestry in abstract mathematical models (including some of those explored by the famous Brazilian economist Marilda Sotomayor, in whose honor there is a conference next week).  Mathematical models are becoming increasingly important as we start to explore really big data sets, since not only do you need mathematical tools to test hypotheses on data, you need models to even suggest what hypotheses you should be testing. Theory and observation work best in combination…

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why Don’t We Eat Swans?

Why Don’t We Eat Swans Anymore? asks an article in Modern Farmer. They are eaten, after all, on the TV series Game of Thrones, and medieval recipes survive.  But not just anyone could eat a swan then, and apparently not today either, at least in England:

"Often served at feasts, roast swan was a favored dish in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, particularly when skinned and redressed in its feathers and served with a yellow pepper sauce; others preferred to stuff the bird with a series of increasingly smaller birds, in the style of a turducken. Swans have been the property of the Crown since around the twelfth century, but Edward IV’s Act Concerning Swans in 1482 clearly defined that ownership. To this day, Queen Elizabeth II participates in the yearly Swan Upping, in which the royal Swan Master counts and marks swans on the Thames, and the kidnapping and eating of swans can be considered a treasonous crime. Great Britain’s royals are still allowed to eat swan, as are the fellows of St. John’s College of Cambridge, but to the best of our knowledge, they no longer do. Thanks to stories like Leda and the Swan and Lohengrin, the birds appear almost mythical; a restaurant on the Baltic island of Ruegen had swan on their menu for a short time, before protests began and it was swiftly removed."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Religion and deceased donation in Israel

The NY Times accompanies its story on kidney brokers with one on why deceased donation is complicated in Israel
A Clash of Religion and Bioethics Complicates Organ Donation in Israel

The story begins with a photo from the funeral of the soccer player Avi Cohen, who was a registered organ donor at the time of his death, but whose organs weren't donated when religious objections to brain death were raised.

" In the Book of Genesis, it is written that when the great flood submerged the land it extinguished “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life.” Across nearly 2,000 years of Talmudic debate, Jewish scholars have returned to that verse in holding that life ends at the moment when breathing stops. One 19th-century code instructed that if a person appeared lifeless, a light feather was to be placed before his nose: “If it does not flutter,” the text advised, “he is certainly dead.”
The sages could not have anticipated that their writings would provide the underpinnings for cultural resistance to organ donation from the deceased in 21st-century Israel. But their definition of mortality, which can conflict with modern acceptance of brain death, is cited among several reasons Israel has among the lowest rates of deceased organ donation of any developed country."

Kidney brokers

Costa Rica cracks down on commercial sales of kidneys, some involving patients and brokers from Israel: The New York Times has the story.
Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa Rica
By KEVIN SACK  AUG. 17, 2014

"Some physicians and ethicists question the relative morality of allowing thousands to die just because the means of saving them is considered repugnant. A regulated marketplace, they say, could all but eliminate the shortage. It is no accident, they argue, that the only country that allows compensation for donors — Iran — effectively has no waiting list.
Experts list China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics as hot spots for organ trafficking. But illicit transplants usually go undetected unless there is a surgical mistake or a payment dispute. Prosecutions are thwarted by false affidavits, toothless laws and lack of international cooperation, particularly regarding extradition.
Over the last decade, the authorities have pursued only a handful of cases worldwide. Few have sidelined the brokers, who seem bolder than ever. Some, like Mr. Volfman, who leases office space atop a mirrored skyscraper in Ramat Gan, have moved out of the shadows. They brazenly ply their trade even while under police scrutiny, posting Facebook photos of the luxury cars and five-star hotel rooms they rent on the road.
The Times found that brokers in recent years typically have charged clients $100,000 to $200,000 to cover expenses associated with a transplant. As with other scarce luxuries, pricing can be elastic."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Romesh Vaitilingam previews market design at Lindau

The economics writer Romesh Vaitilingam writes about my upcoming participation in the Lindau meetings:
Virtual Visit at Alvin Roth’s Lab: Designing Markets

Sunday, August 17, 2014

5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, August 19-23

I'll be travelling to Germany to meet with students from many universities around the world at the

5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences


19-23 August 2014

Lindau Meeting of the Laureates of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

The 5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences will provide an open exchange of economic expertise and inspire cross-cultural and inter-generational encounters among economists from all over the world. The diverse methodological approaches to economics will be widely discussed between the Laureates and the young participants.

There will be approximately 450 young economists from more than 80 countries participating in the 5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences.


Programme


The scientific programme of the 5th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences will comprise lectures and panel discussions (accessible for all registered meeting participants and guests), as well as discussion sessions and master classes (both accessible only for participating Nobel Laureates and young scientists).

A detailed version of the programme including all lecture titles of the participating laureates with links to their abstracts is available in the Lindau Mediatheque. To get an overview of the meeting schedule you can also download the programme structure.

Here's the formal part of the program:
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20TH
08:30 - 09:00
Lecture
Lars Peter Hansen
Uncertainty and Valuation
09:00 - 09:30
Lecture
Alvin E. Roth
Repugnant Markets and Prohibited Transactions
09:30 - 10:00
Lecture
Edmund S. Phelps
Bringing Dynamism, Homegrown Innovation and Human Flourishing into Economics
10:00 - 10:30
Coffee Break
10:30 - 11:00
Lecture
Christopher A. Sims
Inflation, Fear of Inflation, and Public Debt
11:00 - 11:30
Lecture
Vernon L. Smith
Rethinking Market Experiments in the Shadow of Recessions: The Good and the Sometimes Ugly; Propositions on Recessions
11:30 - 14:00
Lunch Break
14:00 - 15:00
Opening Ceremony
15:00 - 15:30
Break
16:00 - 17:30
Discussion
Discussions 
Discussions with Laureates Hansen, Phelps, Roth, Sims, Smith
17:00 - 20:00
Break
20:00 - 23:00
International Get-Together
THURSDAY, AUGUST 21ST
07:00 - 09:00
Discussion
Science Breakfast
Paths to Innovation: Restoring Grassroots Dynamism to Address Global Challenges; Hosted by Mars, Incorporated - Upon invitation only
09:00 - 09:30
Lecture
Joseph E. Stiglitz
Inequality, Wealth, and Growth: Why Capitalism is Failing
09:30 - 10:00
Lecture
Eric S. Maskin
Why Haven’t Global Markets Reduced Inequality in Developing Economies?
10:00 - 10:30
Lecture
Finn E. Kydland
Economic Policy and the Growth of Nations
10:30 - 11:30
Coffee Break
11:30 - 12:00
Lecture
Robert J. Aumann
Collectives as Individuals
12:00 - 12:30
Lecture
Reinhard Selten
From Learning Direction Theory to Generalized Impulse Balance
12:30 - 13:00
Lecture
William F. Sharpe
Economic Analysis of Retirement Income Strategies
13:00 - 15:00
Lunch Break
15:00 - 16:30
Discussion
Panel Discussion
The Future of Econometrics: Structural Restrictions, Parametric Methods and Big Data; Panelists Hansen, McFadden, Sims
16:30 - 17:00
Break
17:00 - 18:30
Discussion
Master Classes
Master Classes with Myerson and Hansen
17:00 - 18:30
Discussion
Discussions 
Discussions with Laureates Aumann, Kydland, Maskin, Selten, Sharpe, Stiglitz
18:30 - 19:00
Break
19:00 - 20:00
Lecture
Mario Vargas Llosa
A Panoramic View on the Situation and Perspectives in Latin America
20:00 - 23:00
Dinner and Free Evening
FRIDAY, AUGUST 22ND
07:00 - 09:00
Discussion
Science Breakfast
Innovation from the Edge - How could we possibly solve the “Innovator’s Dilemma” through the Power of Diversity?; Hosted by SAP SE - Upon invitation only
07:00 - 09:00
Discussion
Science Breakfast
Banking and Banking Regulation after the Financial Crisis; Hosted by UBS AG - Upon invitation only
09:00 - 09:30
Lecture
Robert C. Merton
Measuring the Connectedness of the Financial System: Implications for Systemic Risk Measurement and Management
09:30 - 10:00
Lecture
Daniel L. McFadden
The New Science of Pleasure
10:00 - 10:30
Lecture
Sir James A. Mirrlees
Some Interesting Taxes and Subsidies
10:30 - 11:30
Coffee Break
11:30 - 12:00
Lecture
Roger B. Myerson
Moral-Hazard Credit Cycles with Risk-Averse Agents
12:00 - 12:30
Lecture
Edward C. Prescott
The Revolution in Aggregate Economics
12:30 - 13:00
Lecture
Peter A. Diamond
Unemployment
13:00 - 15:00
Lunch Break
15:00 - 16:30
Discussion
Panel Discussion
Strategic Behavior, Incentives, and Mechanism Design; Panelists Maskin, Mirrlees, Myerson
16:30 - 17:00
Break
17:00 - 18:30
Discussion
Discussions
Discussions with Laureates Diamond, McFadden, Merton, Mirrlees, Myerson, Prescott
18:30 - 20:00
Break
20:00 - 23:00
Bavarian Evening supported by the Free State of Bavaria
SATURDAY, AUGUST 23RD
07:15 - 10:20
Boat Trip to Mainau Island supported by SAP SE
11:00 - 13:00
Discussion
Panel Discussion
How Useful is Economics - How is Economics Useful? Panelists Diamond, Merton, Roth
13:00 - 15:15
Lunch Break
15:15 - 15:45
Farewell Ceremony
16:15 - 18:30
Boat Trip to Lindau supported by SAP SE
Here's a link to the 'Nobel Labs 360' set of photographic, clickable interviews (including mine) in which you can direct some of the action and fly around the room using your mouse...