Latest Publications

How many economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Are you need of a good laugh about economics? If so, you probably shouldn’t listen to Planet Money’s recent podcast titled Two Radio Guys Walk Into a Bar. (Warning: Much second-hand embarrassment to be felt, though it’s worth checking out because the jokes are kind of funny.)

These two could’ve taken a lesson from Yoram Bauman, the Stand-Up Economist, who I’ve written about before. Economists can be funny, I swear!

Buy or Bite?

I might be a few days late for Halloween, but I finally got the chance to listen to the latest Freakonomics podcast: What Can Vampires Teach Us About Economics? (For new readers to this blog, I am a huge fan of applying economic principles to unconventional topics.)

The podcast interviews Glen Whitman, an economist and editor of Economics of the Undead. The book is filled with 23 short essays exploring different issues affecting vampires and the undead, from planning for a very long retirement to post-apocalyptic survival. One essay discussed, “Buy or Bite”, presents that the violence of vampires is caused by a legal failure of not having a market for blood and making it easily available for purchase.

As a newcomer to the Buffy/Angel fandom, this book seems like a fun read that I will be picking up.

Rationality Checklist

The Center for Applied Rationality has a handy “Checklist of Rationality Habits” on their website that you can use to help develop better rationality habits.

From my own checklist, I’ve found that I’m great at reacting to evidence and arguments I haven’t heard before and analyzing beliefs, but I can improve on handling inner conflicts and implementing new behavior patterns for myself.

I love this! Be sure to check out the other resources on their website as well. I’ve read a couple of the books on their recommended reading page and they have some great choices.

Are female hurricanes really more deadly than male hurricanes?

A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at hurricanes in America between 1950 and 2012 and found that hurricanes with female names kill more people than hurricanes with male names, an average of 45 to 23.

If I have taught you anything on Rational Reactor, it is that things are not always what they seem on the surface. Hurricane names are chosen years in advance and placed in alphabetical order. Male and female names are usually alternated, so it’s completely random what gender a storm’s name is assigned.

So why the difference in deaths? The study believes this may be because people subconsciously view a feminine-named storm as being less of a threat, resulting in a lower perceived risk and therefore less preparedness.

“People imagining a ‘female’ hurricane were not as willing to seek shelter,” said the study’s co-author Sharon Shavitt. “The stereotypes that underlie these judgments are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women — they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”

Perhaps with this insight, we should begin naming all hurricanes after villains. Hurricane Voldemort, anyone?

Negative Interest Rates

The European Central Bank announced this morning that they will cut their deposit rate from zero to -0.10%, making it the first major central bank to institute a negative rate. (For individuals saving money, the benchmark interest rate has also been lowered from 0.25% to 0.15%.)

This sounds crazy, right? But the eurozone is looking to jump start their economy due to fears of oncoming deflation and increased unemployment. The negative deposit interest rate means that the European Central Bank will begin charging banks interest on deposits held in the ECB’s reserves. It will encourage banks to invest their excess cash, such as lending to households and businesses, which in turn will theoretically benefit the economy.

The problem is that this has never been tried before on such a large scale. Smaller countries of Sweden and Denmark have tried similar policies, but it had little impact either way.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of this effect this has not only in Europe, but throughout the global economy.

For further reading, The New York Times published a great article that breaks this down even further.