Category Archives: Uncategorized

January 6 hearings on the US Capitol Insurrection

Dear friends, family, and colleagues,

I cannot resist sharing some thoughts and links on last night’s Jan 6 hearings.

The January 6 public hearings at the US capital last night are a momentous event that I encourage you to watch.

We should all want to figure out how to avoid such violence in the future.

Several new facts emerged which are central to understanding Donald Trump’s guilt in causing the insurrection.

Trump’s Attorney General William Barr repeatedly told the president in November 2020 that there was no evidence of voting fraud and that his efforts to overcome the election were bullshit. Barr then resigned.

Ivanka Trump stated in her testimony that she respected William Barr and accepted what he was saying about the election.

Vice president Mike Pence repeatedly called to try to get additional police and military support that day, but the president did not.

The Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, numbering in the hundreds at the insurrection, were already on their way to the Capital at 10:00 am well before Trump gave his empowering speeches to the crowds at the White House, confirming that it had to have been preplanned.

Donald Trump and his inner circle met in December 2020 secretly, without their lawyers present, to plot the insurrection, and immediately began promoting the January 6 rally with “Will be wild” tweets.

Here are three different summaries (NYTimes, NPR, and Wall Street Journal) if you don’t have time to watch the two hours of hearings themselves, which are posted online here.  (Requires a subscription to read the full article.)

The magnitude of the attack and the violence was much greater than the previously released videos have shown.

This 11:37 video was shown at the hearing. It is remarkable how restrained the capital police were throughout the attack.

Watch: Jan. 6 Committee Plays Never-Before-Seen Video of Capitol Attack

Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards was a hero and remarkable spokesperson for humanity at the hearing.

For an informative and humorous comic overview, Stephen Colbert’s 11 minute live monologue is also worth a watch.

Favorite blogs about COVID-19

I have not talked or written about COVID-19 much recently, although it is still clearly a very big topic.


The following links, many of which some of you may have already shared, provide a useful background about COVID-19.


From BU SPH, on 2021-12-2 where a BU infectious disease expert talks about the new Omicron variant. (2 minutes)


From Yale School of Medicine, the best Youtube video explaining the biology of how COVID works. 8 minutes. COVID 19 an illustrated scientific summary. Well worth if if you have ever taken a biology class.

Video showing how the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is manufactured, tested and distributed, showing the complexity of massively increasing the scale of production. Sadly the NYT took down the audio for nonsubscribers… Pfizer vaccine production is now at the rate of 2.5 billion doses per year.


Ellis Blog 2021-1-1 and JAMA article 2021-3-17 comparing the effectiveness of the US three approved various vaccine types.

2021-3-19 Ellis blog Risk of dying from an allergic reaction from receiving a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 is lower than the risk of being hit and dying from lightning, JAMA study shows.


2020-5-7 Obesity is the hidden explanation for why COVID-19 is so much worse in the US than in many other countries.

2021-3-2 Yes, even rich white people in the US get bad health care. JAMA study

2021-3-14 Ellis blog Humor about a masked dog


BUHealth humor: final entries in the masked dog photo caption contest

Final entries in the masked dog photo caption contest

Masked Sadie 20210314Waiting for the dog vaccine rollout.”

"Wearing a mask is so easy even my dog can do it!"

“Sadie says: Even I wear a mask when not eating!”

“I hate it when I can’t lick and my hair gets all frizzy!”

“How do you like my matching blue accessories?”

“It takes a smart dog to wear a mask!  How smart does that make you?”

”Don't worry. I’m all bark and no cough.”

“I miss Uncle Phil!!!!“

“I've had enough of being walked by the neighbors during lockdowns ... now I deserve this seat!”

“If I should meet thee
After long quarantine
How should I greet thee?
With silence,
With mask.“

“Stop barking about your rights being violated! It’s a mask, not a muzzle!”

“Stinks in here…”

“I really wasn’t barking all that much.  I wish I lived in Texas!”

“I hate it when I can't lick my butt!”

Thanks for all your great entries! Excellent new entries could be added to this posting.

BUHealth: Being less racist makes some of us less comfortable

The New York Times had a very interesting article on March 5 which documented differences in rates of vaccination by race across the 50 US states. Whereas some states (Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin and Connecticut (?!?) have vaccination rates for blacks that are less than half of the state average, in Massachusetts the rate for blacks is about 85% of the state average, reflecting the states recommitment to serving needier minorities in the state.




Screenshot 2021-03-08 105954













This weekend when I was vaccinated, it was not at my convenient Vanguard primary care provider’s office or at Boston University, which would have mostly served people of privilege, but it was instead provided by a neighborhood community health group in the preschool of a housing project in Brighton MA. Less convenient for me, but much better for the nearby residents.

I am proud of MA for its better-than-average performance on racial equity of COVID-19 vaccinations, even though I know it underlies the enormous dissatisfaction of some of my neighbors and friends of privilege who feel they should have been placed at a higher priority. Being less racist makes some of us uncomfortable, and hopefully also puts more pressure on our government to be sure that everyone who wishes to can get a vaccination. All too often, market systems start by satisfying the needs of the wealthy and privileged (think education, health insurance, zoning, public streets over public transport, etc) and then decide it is not worth doing more for the poor and less privileged. In this case, by vaccinating more minorities, we may also be reducing the overall rates of infection, since infection rates have been much higher in minority groups.

Being less racist makes some of us less comfortable, but in the long run, it may make all of us better off.

BUHealth: I am vaccinated!

A wise friend who read my previous BUHealth post comparing different vaccines warned me that it could be interpreted as saying “Wait to get a vaccine until you get the one you like the most.” I do not recommend that. I care too much about my friends. Instead, you should get a vaccine the first time it is offered to you, whatever one it is.  For me, the first offer was yesterday, when a friend alerted me about a small surplus at one community health center. It was Moderna. I had found it hard to sign up via the weblinks. (I am over age 65, which has blanket permission to get a “jab” in the US now.) Look at how happy it made me.













You too could look like this when you get vaccinated.

I did have a little pain in the arm and a low-grade temperature 99.2o F compared to my norm of 97.7 for the first 24 hours. But it ended. And now I can party continue wearing a mask carefully out of solidarity and because of the nasty new strains that are still popping up.


BUHealth: latest research in JAMA on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness

One JAMA Network article this week and an accompanying editorial about COVID-19 are the first I have seen to carefully present the research about recent SARS-CoV-2 strains/variants, different types of vaccines, effects of one versus two doses, advice for people who were previously infected by SARS-CoV-2, what we know so far about their effectiveness against different strains, and what seems likely in the future. I put links in at the bottom after my summary.

The editorial by Drs. Mascola, Graham, and Fauci provides an accessible overview to brush up on your high-school level biology. It starts with a discussion of the distinction between lineage, variants, and strains: new genetic virus variants are organized into lineages when one variant builds upon another, and when the variants become sufficiently different in behavior from the original SARS-2 virus strain - such as by being more resistant to antibodies, or to vaccines, or more infective or fatal - then they are called a strain. There are dozens of new variants of SARS-2 virus, suggesting it is mutating rapidly.  The UK, South Africa (SA) and Brazil strains are getting a lot of media attention, as they should. There is also a new variant found in southern California which they are trying to figure out its lineage, but it now represents 44 percent of the cases sequenced. Merely by its rapid appearance as the dominant strain in CA, we know it is a virulent strain.

 The article by John Moore (PhD) of Dartmouth was the most relevant to me.

Here are a few quotes from Moore with interpretation in italics.

“Two categories of variants have different implications for vaccine efficacy. …The first category involves variants “…[that]… “spread more rapidly in a population.”

“The second category involves variants that are more concerning, represented by the B.1.351 and P.1 lineages that emerged in South Africa and Brazil, respectively….[that help the viruses resist antibodies created by vaccines or previous infections].

“The combination of a high virus replication rate within an individual (a high viral load) and a suboptimal level of neutralizing antibodies is the exact environment in which resistant viruses are considered likely to emerge and spread.3,4

In other words, people who have had only one dose of a vaccine are more likely to promote new variants since they do not have enough neutralizing antibodies. This motivates the emphasis in the US for two vaccine doses, close together.

“At present, most scientists active in this area are reasonably optimistic that the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines [Moderna and Pfizer] will not be substantially compromised by the B.1.351 and P.1 [SA and Brazil] variants, …”

This is great news if true, but there is little clinical evidence so far..

In order to reduce the creation of new variants, Moore recommends Pfizer, Moderna, and (when approved) Novavax 2 dose vaccines if available, since they give strong antibody protection.

“The Johnson & Johnson 1-dose adenovirus vector vaccine … is less effective than the Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax 2-dose designs.”

Moore recommends use of Johnson and Johnson one-dose on younger people (aged <40 years) who tend to have naturally lower “viral replication rates” and hence will not give the SARS-COV-2 as much chance to mutate then they get infected.

“All leading vaccine companies are now redesigning their S-protein components to counter new variants, particularly B.1.351 [SA].”

“Another issue with significant implications involves what happens when a mRNA vaccine [Pfizer or Moderna] is given to a person who has recovered from COVID-19. Small-scale studies have shown that a single mRNA vaccine dose rapidly boosts neutralizing antibody titers to very high levels, perhaps rendering the second dose redundant in this special circumstance.10 … A related issue is that the mRNA vaccines appear to trigger strong (although short-lived) adverse effects (such as headaches and mild fever) in people who have previously been infected with COVID-19.”

In light of this, I am planning to get the Pfizer and Moderna rather than J&J, and await further research for the second dose.

Novovax is a huge potential entrant into this vaccine race with its recombinant protein nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine. It is not yet approved for use in the US, but is hoping for May. It is gearing  up for production at the rate of 2 billion doses per year to be produced in India and Japan. Early clinical results from tests I SA and Brazil are encouraging.

I foresee a long future for vaccines in the world.  

JAMA Viewpoint

March 4, 2021

Approaches for Optimal Use of Different COVID-19 Vaccines: Issues of Viral Variants and Vaccine Efficacy

John PMoore, PhD

Abstract Full Text

free access is active quiz has multimedia online first

JAMA. 2021; doi: 10.1001/jama.2021.3465

This Viewpoint proposes ways to maximize vaccine efficacy and allocation given the rise of coronavirus variants and authorization of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including reserving the latter for younger healthier populations, boosting it with a single-dose messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccination, and single mRNA immunization of people with prior documented SARS-CoV-2 infection.


February 11, 2021

SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants—Tackling a Moving Target

John R. Mascola, MD1; Barney S. Graham, MD, PhD1; Anthony S. Fauci, MD2

Author Affiliations Article Information

JAMA. Published online February 11, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.2088


Novavax press release Jan 28, 2021 at 4:05 PM EST

Company web site.

Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Demonstrates 89.3% Efficacy in UK Phase 3 Trial


Yes, even rich white people in the US get bad health care

Despite the abundant evidence2 showing that health care outcomes in the US are much worse than in every other OECD country, I still hear arguments that this is because uninsured, Medicaid, minorities, or low-income people in the US bring down our health outcomes. This myth is repeated3-5, and believed by a majority of Americans. 6 This JAMA study shows that this is not true. Even high-income white people get worse health outcomes than the average result in OECD countries. Time to change to a better health care system!


Key Points

Question  Are the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties better than the health outcomes of average residents in other developed countries?

Findings  In this comparative effectiveness study of 6 health outcomes, White US citizens in the 1% and 5% highest-income counties obtained better health outcomes than average US citizens but had worse outcomes for infant and maternal mortality, colon cancer, childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia, and acute myocardial infarction compared with average citizens of other developed countries.

Meaning  For 6 health outcomes, the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties are better than those of average US citizens but are not consistently better than those of average residents in many other developed countries, suggesting that in the US, even if everyone achieved the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties, health indicators would still lag behind those in many other countries.

JAMA Intern Med. 2021;181(3):339-344. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.7484

Comparing Health Outcomes of Privileged US Citizens With Those of Average Residents of Other Developed Countries

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD; Emily Gudbranson, BA; Jessica Van Parys, PhD; et al.

December 28, 2020

A Momentous Day for Democracy!

Today is a momentous day for the US and for democracy, so I thought I would comment on it. I did not expect to be so happy today.

The Associated Press has not yet called the second of the two Georgia senate elections but I trust the NY Times report (see article below) that Georgia voters will ultimately elect two democratic senators, which will give the democrats the leadership in our Senate to combine with our democratic majority in the House and allow the Biden administration to negotiate key legislation in coming months.

Also momentous will be when our senate and house today vote to affirm the results of our electoral college, and bring to an end the legislative attempted coup still in play that our current president and a disturbing number of anti-democratic Republicans are still pursuing today.

Today has to be viewed as a success for all who believe in popular democracy in which elections are decided by voters and not just by money and voter suppression, for minorities and other lower caste members* whose voice is too often suppressed and ignored, for citizens who want a congress that debates and enacts legislation rather than simply issuing executive orders that undoes legislation, and for those who want to see government leadership on the environment, COVID-19, immigration, trade, education, racial equality, infrastructure, science-based decision-making, and so much more.

It will not be an easy path forward, but at least it looks like we can move off of the backwards path of the past four years. We will see if our new leadership is up to the challenge, and whether there are spillover effects on the rest of the world.

Happy New Year! Stay healthy! Stay active.

*Read or listen to Isabel Wilkerson’s book “CASTE: The Origins of Our Discontent” to better understand why so many Americans continue to support Trumpism.

Revised new mantra:

Mask, distance, vaccinate, go outside, wash, be patient, be upbeat, be skeptical, pray, believe.®i_id=70443472&segment_id=48472&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2Fce92a687-4340-546c-b15f-fdf3630c9082&user_id=a11a0fb3219327339070986d47ec0036

BU interviews, blogs, and news releases.

This blog documents various public interviews and news reports and is mostly a place to keep track of them for my BU Annual Report

Conversations with Economists.  Zoom discussion by Randall P Ellis and Laurence Kotlikoff on  COVID-19 and the US economy with follow up questions from attendees. Passcode: $iH^XM50   October 27, 2020 (time 1:29:12)

Achieving universal insurance Prepared talk for MA League of Women Voters, October 29, 2020 (Time: 8:46)

BU Alumni Magazine CAS Arts and Sciences.

Boston Bird Bingo

I took time to make the following game board because I greatly love bird-watching and also love games. I invite you to view it. School teachers or parents might enjoy it as well.

Boston Bird Bingo

I admit that our bird-watching is much better through having a bird-feeder in the back yard, which accounts for probably half of the species we have seen.


Each picture is of a bird or animal seen, heard or smelled in Newton  Massachusetts in March 2020.



  • Study it to learn the local birds and common mammals.
  • Print it out and see if you can see five in a row, column or diagonal.
  • See how many species you can see, hear or smell.
  • Click on the links to listen to the sounds, and then listen for them outside.
  • Print out the second page and see how many names you can remember.
  • Have someone tell you a name, and see if you can find it on the second page.
  • Try taking your own pictures or make your own recordings.
  • Learn the differences between male and female books. Look at the Cardinals! How different is the male and female house sparrow? Which one is shown here?
  • Use the embedded sounds to listen and learn, and then have someone else play them to see if you can identify them. How many can you guess correctly?
  • If you play all of the sounds quickly in sequence and on a recurring loop, you can turn your room into a bird sanctuary with all the sounds going at once. See if you can recognize them as they a sung.
  • These are mostly winter and year round birds just now. Soon arriving will be many migrants, including the red-wing blackbirds, kinglets, flycatchers, warblers, owls, hawks, ducks and geese. Then come the summer resident birds. See how many you can find on your own!
  • I have personally seen 15 wild mammals in Newton MA. Can you think of what they might have been?
  • Start your own life lists!

This blog is posted here.

Feel free to share with your friends. Some teachers might even want to use this.

Boston Bird Bingo

My new COVID19 mantra of March 28, 2020:

Stay at home.

If needed, send out one person every three days to buy food. Wear a mask if you go out. It need not be perfect, but any mask or scarf is better than nothing when around other people.

Maintain 2 meter distance if you do go outside. Jogging is fine.

Wash hands and things you touch compulsively. Wear gloves of any kind when you go out to stores.

Stay connected online to stay socially connected. Don’t watch too many news broadcasts.

This at home quarantine may only have to last for two months if we continue the dance well.

Low cost antibody testing kits are rapidly becoming available and will greatly help the dance.


Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University


Guidance for a Constructive Culture of Exchange, plus two addenda

This blog contains the excellent advice of Nancy Rose to MIT faculty and students, along with my own two addenda on Etiquette and Advice to Presenters. Here is a pdf version if you wish to print and post or forward it.

Subject:           Some guidance for our upcoming seminars

Date:   Tue, 22 Jan 2019 10:11:02 -0500

From: Nancy Rose <>

To:       All faculty, visitors and graduate students


Dear Faculty and Student Colleagues,

Many of us have been thinking about how we can respond, individually and as a department, to concerns about the climate of the economics profession, and how best to affirm our mutual commitment to a supportive environment that empowers each of us to realize our full potential and contribute the best of our talents.

As one step in that ongoing effort, I am writing to share with you some guidance in advance of our department’s job market talks, which begin tomorrow.  These are not meant as rules written in stone.  But I hope they will prompt each of us to reflect on how we can ensure – in seminars and in our departmental interactions more generally – that MIT Economics combines intellectual vitality with an inclusive and respectful environment in which to exchange ideas and advance knowledge.

I hope that each of you will join me in making sure that our department’s seminar culture not only achieves our shared goals for job market seminars, but also serves as a role model for others.  I welcome feedback at the conclusion of our hiring season, as we continue our efforts to sustain a welcoming environment for all.

Thank you for your engagement on this important issue--

Guidance for a Constructive Culture of Exchange in MIT Economics Seminars

Research seminars are one of the highlights of our department’s academic life.  They provide opportunities for participants to learn about and probe the boundaries of new research, for presenters to gain the benefit of constructive feedback, and for students to develop skills as participants in research discussions.  All of these are best achieved when the seminar environment is respectful and inclusive, and when all participants keep these goals in mind.

Building on recent discussions at the AEA meetings and elsewhere on the culture of seminars in our profession, and informed by a number of conversations with our faculty and students, this memo shares some guidance for “best practices” to help ensure that department seminars promote an open and vibrant exchange of ideas within a positive environment for both presenters and participants.

1)    Allow presenters time at the beginning to frame their talk without interruption.  A “10 minute rule” has been successfully implemented in several field seminars, allowing only brief clarifying questions during this initial period. And as that leaves 70 more minutes, please don’t feel you must get all your questions in at minute 11!

2)    Share the floor. Please remember seminar time is a scarce resource.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the paper, please try to determine whether the paper addresses your question before you ask it.  If you have already asked several questions, you might consider allowing a bit of time and space to see if others wish to contribute.

3)    Raise your hand to indicate that you wish to ask a question or contribute to the discussion.  This gives the presenter agency to mediate the discussion by calling on audience members, and avoids interrupting the presenter mid-thought, a courtesy that may be especially appreciated in job talks.  If the presenter doesn’t see someone’s hand, the organizer can help by pointing that out.  A question or comment often leads naturally to some back and forth exchange with the speaker.  But if you continue to be dissatisfied with a response, please don’t hold the talk hostage.  Instead, allow the presenter to move on, and follow up offline.  Please make every effort not to interrupt or talk over the presenter or another participant.

4)    Avoid sidebar conversations with other participants.  Keep whispers to no more than a short (clarifying) question or response.  Anything more should be deferred or asked publicly; please raise your hand and share your question or concern for the benefit of all.   Even quiet sidebar conversations between participants rarely are as unobtrusive as intended, and distract the speaker and others in the audience.

5)    Strive for fair and equal treatment.  Many studies suggest that women are likely to be interrupted more often than are men in settings like this.  The same may be true for softer-spoken participants regardless of gender.  Resist contributing to that disparity!

6)    Organizers: Please be prepared to intervene in real time if necessary to call attention to someone whose raised hand has been overlooked, to return the floor to the presenter, or to remind participants of our norms of courtesy and respect.

Thank you!

Nancy L. Rose

Department Head and Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics


MIT Department of Economics

The Morris and Sophie Chang Building, E52-318A

50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA  02142

(617) 253-8956



Addendum to Nancy Rose’s excellent email. Randy Ellis, March, 2019


Common Courtesies

7) Show up on time for the seminar.

8) Stay until the end of the seminar. If you must leave early, it is much more polite if you arrive early and privately tell the speaker that you have another commitment and will have to leave promptly at time X:XX.

9) Mute your cell phone. (If you are presenting, you could intentionally do this just before your talk, even if it was already mute, to signal to others that they should remember to do that as well.)

10) No answering phone calls in the seminar room. If you do answer a cell phone call (from vibrate mode!!!) never talk until you have left the seminar room. Mute or hang up and call back later, or make the caller wait ten seconds while you leave the room.

11) No email or web surfing in the front three rows. If you plan to be looking at your cellphone or laptop or read papers during a talk: a) try not to, or b) sit in the back of the room.

->I was at a seminar in Spain given by a woman, and every man in the room was checking their cellphone or laptop for messages, while only one of the ten women were. This was not a coincidence.

12) No napping. If you are prone to napping or had a bad night’s sleep, sit in the back of the room or don’t come.

13) Keep questions brief. Many professors think they are making brilliant comments, which others feel are bad or unnecessarily long. Err on the side of too few, and ask questions instead of giving advice.)

14) Write down your thoughts.  If you have a lot of comments or uncertainties about a presentation, write them down. Discuss or give them to the presenter at the end of the talk. Most presenters are delighted to get constructive comments after their talk.

->I have always been immensely grateful to Daniel McFadden, who instead of interrupting my job market paper presentation, gave me a page of very high-quality comments.

15) No questions during the final three minutes. Let the presenter summarize and conclude the presentation.



Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University     Off: +1 617-353-2741


Advice to presenters facing inappropriate, intrusive or awkward questions, by Randy Ellis November 2019

  1. Don’t recognize any hands up or intrusions when still on your introductory few slides or five minutes. Nod them away or if rude, say “Please let me finish my overview first.” Then finish your overview while trying to anticipate questions.
  2. Never interrupt your talk in the middle of a sentence to react to a person raising their hand. Finish your sentence.
  3. Nod at someone who has their hand up to recognize them and then return later (hopefully soon) to let them ask their question.
  4. Try to give succinct answers, saving your own time.
  5. It is OK to say “I don’t know” for a factual question. Just not too often. Avoid speculation.
  6. If lots of hands go up, try to choose someone who has not already spoken. Also, take it as a signal that you have just said something confusing and try to clarify it.
  7. Learn to distinguish a comment (or suggestion) from a question.
  8. Try to have the confidence to move on with a comment rather than a question. Just say “Interesting comment” or “Thank you.” Others who agree that the comment is a tangent or of secondary importance, or rude, will respect, not disrespect, you for this.
  9. Take the comments and questions of junior faculty and people in your field more seriously than those of old farts.
  10. Restate a question if it is unclear and answer your version. Also, restate it if it was said too quietly.
  11. Be willing to repeat something you have already said, in a slightly different way, to try to improve comprehension.
  12. Try to use specific examples to motivate concepts: Pizza rather than good Q, Bart instead of Agent J.
  13. Pick on someone in the audience if it will add humor and concreteness.
  14. Feel free to say “That is a good question. I will get to that in a few more slides. Ask again if I don’t.”
  15. If the question is tangential to the point you are making in your paper, consider saying “That is an interesting point, perhaps we can discuss it after the seminar.”
  16. Writing down new ideas is a good idea, but not if the point is something obvious you should have already thought of, which makes you look foolish. Even if you already know about the idea, acknowledging the idea, such as by writing down a single word, may be good.
  17. Ask a coauthor, colleague, or friend in the audience to take notes. Tracking your time on the intro/data/ methods/results/extensions/conclusions is also helpful.
  18. Don’t say too often: “That is a really good question.” If so, you should have answered it already.
  19. If someone else is giving a very long speech, and you think others will recognize that it is inappropriate or too long, be willing to interrupt or cut it short. “I think I get what you are saying…”
  20. Don’t allow faculty sitting in the front row to ask you private questions that everyone can’t hear or understand. Interrupt them and say “Could you please speak up so that others can hear you.”
  21. If you feel that the questions have interrupted you too much to finish your talk, say “I see my time is running short. I need the next few minutes to cover XXX (my methods or results or conclusions or whatever) without interruption and get back on track." You can do this before the final five minutes.
  22. Try not to be snarky, dismissive or rude. Strive to be gracious and open to suggestions.
  23. Assume you will have intrusions and plan a shorter talk with extra bonus slides if you have time.
  24. Assume you won’t have enough time to cover sensitivity analysis and extensions and plan accordingly.
  25. Always take your final three minutes without interruptions. Tell the audience you need to do that to finish your talk. Have a strong conclusion to use, even if you didn’t finish your results.
  26. Be sure your name is on the final slide. Don’t just show “Thank You,” but rather show your name. affiliation and paper title, as on your first slide. If you end on your conclusions, include your name. It is the single most important thing you want people to remember.
  27. Pay attention to other strong presenters (men and women) and try to imitate them.

Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University     Off: +1 617-353-2741

Time to try something really different

Although I subscribe to and watch essentially every posting in The Incidental Economist, this one on value-based payment for Medicare is worth reposting and viewing. It is only 4:48  long.

Video: The Many Attempts to Improve the Value of Medicare

Upshot article by BU colleague Austin Frakt last month in the New York Times contains the cites and links for the above:

Value’ of Care Was a Big Goal. How Did It Work Out?

This video, which finds a lack of meaningful cost savings  or quality improvement, is consistent with my general view of health insurance innovations in the US:

Every 5-7 years the US health insurance industry has to come out with a new approach to address out-of-control costs and preempt true reform. These have included:

  • HMO – narrow networks
  • HMO – IPAs (Independent Physician Associations) HMOs with no teeth
  • PPOs (weaker than HMOs, but more palatable to consumers)
  • POS (Point of service) plans (combining the above two
  • CDHC - Consumer-driven health care (more choice with higher cost-sharing)
  • HDHP - High deductible plans with health savings accounts
  • Pay for performance
  • Accountable Care Organizations
  • Tiered cost-sharing
  • Value-based purchasing.

With the exception of narrow network HMOs like Kaiser (A supply-side innovation), none of these have ultimately proven to save more than 1-2 percent of costs or slow down cost growth.

The main reason for this is that all of them rely upon competition, demand-side incentives, and consumer choice driving down costs. But we have very weak competition and very poor consumer information. Plus consumers rarely change choices even when information is available.  It is true that shifting a huge financial burdens onto consumers, like high deductible strategies, can save 3-5 percent on total costs, but most people (including the wealthy) would be willing to pay this amount to avoid this level of time and financial burden. The true attraction of these approaches is as a selection tool to attract healthy people into your plan.


Note that CDHC and HDHP which rely on tax-exempt savings accounts are only attractive to wealthier people for whom the tax deductibility has value. Low-income people don’t benefit from these tax-favored plans, it only adds complexity to their already difficult lives.


All of the above strategies also increase costs by raising administrative complexity and costs for consumers, employers, health plans and providers of all types.


Why are new ideas adopted every five to seven years? Because that is how long it takes to try out new reforms and determine that they are not working.


True cost containment will take leadership and a willingness to use supply-side reforms and regulation, which is what Europe and almost other high countries use to control costs.


There are many challenges of dramatic restructuring and regulation such as is implied by “Medicare for All” but it is going to take something dramatic to lower cost growth to be meaningfully less than the rate of general inflation. To continue current trends will only worsen health and income inequities, worsen public burdens of government-sponsored care, and hurt US competitiveness with the rest of the world. It is easier to be critical rather than constructive, but it is time to discuss more fundamental reforms.




Congratulations to BU’s Class of 2018 Economics graduates!

I have been on sabbatical, and hence am late to do this calculation and blog. Alas my sabbatical has come to an end.

Please celebrate the BU students who earned 590 degrees in Economics at Commencement this May!

This year the program honors:

18 Ph.D. recipients

231 Master’s degree recipients (MA, MAPE, MAEP, MAGDE MA/MBA, BA/MA)

341 BA recipients (including BA/MA)

This total of 590 degrees is up from 556 (6%) since 2017, following a 12% increase in 2017.

These numbers may undercount the total for the year since they may exclude some students who graduated in January.

In 2018 there were 18 PhDs, 231 Master’s degree recipients, and 341 BA recipients

In 2017 there were 14 PhDs, 215 Master’s degree recipients, and 327 BA recipients

In 2016 there were 22 PhDs, 203 Master’s degree recipients, and 273 BA recipients

In 2015 there were 22 PhDs, 155 Master’s degree recipients, and 305 BA recipients.

In 2014 there were 17 PhDs, 207 Master’s degree recipients, and 256 BA recipients.

Altogether 19 Ph.D. students agreed to be shown as obtaining jobs on our placements web site this year (versus 13 in 2017 and 23 in 2016). Not all graduates choose to be listed.

To see the Ph.D. placements visit the web site linked here.

The department’s  website now lists 38 regular faculty (down one from last year) with titles of assistant, associate or full professors, a number which is 3 below the number of professors in 2014 (our peak year) as listed on the commencement programs. Here are the recent counts of faculty.

2018: 38 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 4 are women (10%); 12 non-TT faculty, of which 3 are women (25%); 50 total faculty, of which 7 are women (14%). Of the TT faculty, there are 11 assistant (2 women), 7 associates (1 woman), and 23 full professors (1 woman)

2017: 39 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 3 are women (8%); 12 non-TT faculty, of which 3 are women (25%); 51 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2016: 38 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (8%);  7 non-TT faculty, of which 1 are women (14%); 47 total faculty, of which 6 are women (12%)

2015: 40 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 5 are women (12%); 7 non-TT faculty, of which 2 are women (29%); 47 total faculty, of which 7 are women (15%)

2014: 41 tenured or tenure-track faculty, of which 6 are women (15%); 4 non-TT faculty, of which 1 is a woman (25%); 45 total faculty, of which 7 are women (16%)

Congratulations to all!

Impact of the GOP tax reform on tax-favored donations

This extended blog will mostly be of interest to Americans thinking about end of year tax strategies. It extends a discussion among some Yale colleagues about the current tax bill as well as some calculations based on web sources. This blog focuses on the new high standard deduction and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) provisions, and what it means for charitable donations. Much of it is oriented toward income earners earning $150k-500k. There are of course many, many other features of the new tax bill not examined.

My glimpse at the new tax tables, included below, are that most people in the range from $150-500k will see tax cuts of their marginal rate of about 2-6%, unless they are affected by the AMT. Those affected by the AMT will see significant lump sum gains but marginal rates that are similar to this years, at 26 or 28 percent.

This discussion will be complex for many unless you are used to thinking about the tax subsidies for donations and the implications for timing of donation. (Most people donate because it just feels good.)

My bottom line is at the bottom of this email. COMMENTS/CORRECTIONS WELCOME.

I am not a tax expert and you should get expert advice before acting on anything you read here.

The standard deduction is proposed to be raised to $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly. More important are the AMT changes for high income people.

So under the new system a married couple can claim itemized deductions (look at Sch A of your return for last year for this amount) of a minimum of $24,000, ($12k if single) even if they have no itemized deductions.

The main itemized deductions for most people are mortgage interest, state and local income and property taxes, and charitable contributions.

Base case: Assume you don’t have any mortgage interest and your 2017 itemized deductions are say $40,000 in state income and property taxes, and $5,000 in charitable contributions:

Under current law you claim itemized deductions of $45,000 which is more than the standard deduction.

Under proposed 2018 law the allowable itemized deductions will be $10,000 state income and property taxes plus $5,000 for the donations. So if a person claims the standard deduction of $24,000 – he gets this regardless of whether he makes a charitable contribution of nil or $14,000.  So the first 14k of charitable deductions doesn’t produce a tax benefit.

Wrinkle 1:


If you have deductible mortgage interest next year (Say $10,000) from an existing first mortgage next year, then the interest on it can be added to your $10,000 of local property taxes and the threshold for donations affecting your taxes would be only $4000. Since 10k+10k+4k=$24,000.

Wrinkle 1a: home equity line of credit mortgage interest is no longer deductible at all.

Wrinkle 1b: for any new mortgages taken out after Dec 15, 2017, only the interest on the first $750k of home mortgage will be deductible.


Important Wrinkle 2:

If your income is subject to the alternative  minimum  tax (AMT) for 2017 then the marginal value of a deduction this year is either 26 or 28 percent, depending on where you are in the phase out of the AMT, since these are the AMT income marginal rates. Your AMT is calculated from your income without taking most deductions but after a moderately large exemption. The AMT is based on your Alternative Minimum Taxable Income AMTI (See intuitive discussion  below).  Call this Y. Taxes are applied to Y minus the AMT standard exemption, call it Z, which is $84,500 for joint filers and $54,300 for others. The exemption starts to phase out once your income exceeds Q=$160,900 for joint filers, and $120,700 for singles. Under the proposed new tax bill, the AMT exemption (Z) is increased and the point at which the exemptions begin to be phased out are increased, but the tax rates remain the same. Z is decreased by $.25 for each dollar  of AMTI above the phase out threshold Q.


The following focuses on joint filers and are based on a recent article by the Tax foundation (Link below).


Currently, if Y your AMT income is $160,900 then the AMT tax is

AMT=.26*(Y-Z) = .26*(160,900-84,500)=$19,864


If your AMT income is 250k then your AMT tax would be




Z = 84,500-.25(250,000-160,900)  (reflecting the phase out of the exemption starting at 160,900)

AMT=0.28*(Y-Z) = .28*(250000-62225) = $52,577


If your income is 500,000 at which the exemption Z is currently fully phased out, then your AMT would be

AMT = .28*(500000 – 0) = $140k.


(The .26 rate applies when your Y = AMTI is less than $187,800, while the “higher rate”  of 28% applies to more than that. This step also creates modest infra-marginal changes that I have ignored. Silly complexity…)


The current law raises the exemption amounts, and also raises the threshold at which the exemption starts to be  phased out.


“Exemption amounts under the conference agreement are increased from their current level of $84,500 for joint filers and $54,300 for other filers to $109,400 and $70,300, respectively.”


More importantly, the AMT exemption does not begin to phase out until alternative minimum taxable income exceeds $1 million for joint filing households. So for the three households just examined the new AMT amounts would be:


AMT only kicks in at AMTI >= 160,900.


At Y = 160,900: AMT=.26*(Y-Z) = .26*(160,900-109,400)=$13,390 a reduction of $6,474 from the existing AMT tax.

At Y = $250,000 AMT = .28*(Y-Z) = .28*(250,000-109,400)=$36,556 a reduction of $16,021

At Y=$500,000: AMT = .28*(Y-Z) = 0.28*(500,000-109,400) = $109,400 a reduction of $30,632

You can interpolate pretty well between these amounts using the following figure. The slight nonlinearity results from the change from 26% to 28% at Y=187, reform fig 1 2017


These AMT amounts are only relevant when they are more than the taxable income calculated using the normal way (using deductions and the standard exemptions). For many, these AMT changes are the gifts of the current tax reform.


So the AMT, which currently affects about half of all HH  with incomes above $200k is projected to affect a smaller number of people after the reform mostly because of the higher exemption.


This AMT change is a big cost component of the current reform, but gets less attention since it is harder to explain.


“All told, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that these [AMT] changes would reduce federal revenues by $637.1 billion over the next decade, compared to current law.” This is 42% of the total deficit increase!


Here is a brief, non-technical discussion of the Alternative Minimum Taxable Income AMTI.

Some of these items added back into your income include personal exemptions, state and local income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions and mortgage interest on home equity debt. Accordingly, you’re more likely affected by AMT if you have a high number of exemptions (a larger family), high state income and property taxes and/or high miscellaneous itemized deductions like significant investment management fees.

You may also have to include certain types of income that you wouldn’t normally count in your regular taxable income, such as exercising incentive stock options or tax-exempt interest from private activity bonds. The disallowance of deductions and addition of income leads to your Alternative Minimum Taxable Income (AMTI).

For 2017, you pay a tax rate of 26% on AMTI of $187,800 or less for those filing single, married filing jointly, head of household or qualify widower. For married filing separate taxpayers, the income threshold stops at $93,900.  The tax rate grows to 28% of income over those amounts. Multiplying your AMTI minus your exemption times the corresponding tax rate gives you your tentative minimum tax.

You may have some additional tax due if you reported capital gains distributions, qualified dividends, and/or used the foreign tax credit, but your software should add those for you.

You should note that AMT is only the difference between your regular income tax and the tentative minimum tax amount calculated through AMT. For example, if you owed $30,000 in regular income tax and your tentative minimum tax amount was $33,000, AMT of $3000 will show up on line 45 of your Form 1040.



Here is another discussion from CBSNews.


What's the deal with the alternative minimum tax?

For corporations, the AMT disappears.

That's not the case for individual filers, but fewer will have to pay it, at least.

  • Exemption amounts will increase from $84,000 for joint filers under the current law level to $109,400. Single filers will see that number increase from $54,300 to $70,300.
  • The exemption currently phases out for joint filers at $160,900, and $120,700 for individuals. Under the tax bill, that phaseout would kick in at $1 million for married filers and $500,000 for those who are single. Above the threshold, filers lose 25 percent of their exemption, that is, $0.25 on every dollar in income.

What if I give to charity?

The charitable deduction will remain as it is. So, if you itemize your deductions, you may be able to deduct charitable contributions that are made to qualifying organizations. According to the IRS, you may deduct up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income, although some filers are limited to 20 percent and 30 percent.


Here are the current “final” tax rates and intervals as of 10:30 am Tuesday morning.

See below for a breakdown of the proposed income tax brackets for singles.

Rate Taxable Income Bracket
10% 0 to $9,525
12% $9,525 to $38,700
22% $38,700 to $82,500
24% $82,500 to $157,500
32% $157,500 to $200,000
35% $200,000 to $500,000
37% $500,000 and up

Here are the proposed rates for married couples who file jointly.

Rate Taxable Income Bracket
10% 0 to $19,050
12% $19,050 to $77,400
22% $77,400 to $165,000
24% $165,000 to $315,000
32% $315,000 to $400,000
35% $400,000 to $600,000
37% $600,000 and up

For comparison, here would be the 2018 brackets under current tax law, adjusted for inflation.

Rate Taxable Income Bracket-Single Taxable Income Bracket-Married Filing Jointly
10% 0 to $9,525 0 to $19,050
15% $9,525 to $38,700 $19,050 to $77,400
25% $38,700 to $93,700 $77,400 to $156,150
28% $93,700 to $195,450 $156,150 to $237,950
33% $195,450 to $424,950 $237,950 to $424,950
35% $424,950 to $426,700 $424,950 to $480,050
39.60% $426,700 and up $480,050 and up


Here it is in a graph for joint filers. This assumes everyone just takes the standard deduction of $24,000.

tax reform fig 2 2017

Of course, low income people are not likely to have deduction that exceed the $24,000 standard deduction while high income people are more likely to. Most of the changes are only visible at the higher income levels…


Putting together the new tax schedule with the new AMT taxes, and assuming joint filers only take the $24,000 standard deduction, the following reveals the key role that the new AMT plays.

tax reform fig 3 2017


For people who have lots of possible deductions under the new tax system, the AMT places a much lower minimum on tax payments than the old one.

The new AMT schedule is substantially more attractive to high income salary earners affected by the AMT. The relevant tax rate for them is 28%.

Not shown in this figure is that eventually the difference between the existing and new AMT disappears at about $1.4 million.


My bottom line from this is:


In general, under the new tax program, bunching of charitable donations and concentration of deductions into a single year will be attractive, so that you  might take the standard deduction one year and not the next.


The AMT makes it unclear whether bunching in 2017 is particularly worthwhile relative to 2018, since the 26% or 28% rates in the AMT may be less than the new marginal rate next year when combined with a more favorable AMT in future years. In short, a large donation this year may mean that on the margin you only get a 26-28% tax subsidy, while a donation next year may have a 33-37% deduction for large donors with moderately high incomes (<$500k).


For salary earners not affected by the AMT, donations this year are likely to be more favored than next year, when the lower rates and higher thresholds for tax rates will matter.


If you want to take a deduction for a donation THIS YEAR but decide who it goes to next year, you could open a  Donor advised fund, such as at Fidelity.


My bottom, bottom line is that I don’t expect large tax savings from moving around deductions between this year and next if you are affected by the AMT. A good strategy is to give what feels right.


Of course, all of this is based on the current tax bill, which could change or not be passed…



(This warning is mostly to protect me in case I am wrong.)


BU to be well represented at the ASSA 2018 annual meetings

Dear BU colleagues, students, alumni, and friends,

Even though I am just beginning my sabbatical, I thought I would do this tabulation from the preliminary program of the ASSA (Allied Social Science Association) annual meetings which will be in Philadelphia January 5-7, which is linked here.  .

I apologize for any names that I have inadvertently missed, but creating this list requires looking through 11,000 names of authors, chairs and discussants for familiar names, and sometimes checking their affiliations. If you send corrections to me, I will correct them on my blog which is linked here.

BU will not quite set a record for presence at the 2018 ASSA (commonly called simply the AEA American Economics Association) meetings with BU faculty, students or alumni names appearing 71 times.  The last time I counted was for the 2015 ASSA meetings, which were held in Boston, and BU had 83 appearances, but with a home field  advantage.


Of those 71 appearances there are

43 presenters or coauthors (ASSA does not differentiate them in the program)

18 discussants

10 session chairs.


Of those 71 appearances,

34 are by CAS Economics Department faculty (20 distinct names – two more than the Boston ASSA!)

14 are by Questrom School of Business faculty (6 distinct names)

22 are by current or former BU students. (20 distinct names)


The busiest participant this year will be our new associate professor Tarek Hassan, with four papers presented and one session chaired. This impressive activity spearheads the remarkable ten appearances from the five new BU faculty joining us in Economics this fall. Others who will be busy with three appearances each include Kevin Lang, Robert Margo, Pascual Restrepo.

Join me in congratulating our busiest scholars who are presenting (or coauthored a presentation), chairing and discussing at the ASSA in January. There will be a BU reception on Saturday evening as usual - look for announcements in the fall for the time and room.

A detailed list of papers and names that may help with planning your travel, learning what your colleagues are up to or making corrections are below. They are sorted chronologically by time.

It is not too early to begin planning which paper you want to present at the ASSA 2019 (Atlanta).


Here are the details

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Liberty Ballroom Salon A

Forecasting Economic Activity With Yelp Data

Michael Luca, Harvard Business School View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon C

The Role of Countercyclical Fiscal Policy in a Low r* World

Alisdair Mckay, Boston University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-A

Trade in Unhealthy Foods and Obesity: Evidence From Mexico

Osea Giuntella, University of Pittsburgh View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 306

Issues in Development 

Discussant(s) Silvia Prina, Case Western Reserve University


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 112-A

Surviving the Great Depression: Firms, Workers, and Banks

Discussant(s) Robert Margo, Boston University


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon J

Discussant(s) James Rebitzer, Boston University

How Important Is Price Variation Between Health Insurers?

Keith Ericson, Boston University, View Abstract

How Does Hospital-physician Integration Affect Hospital Prices?

Haizhen Lin, Indiana University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 105-A


Chair: Pascual Restrepo, Boston University


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 111-A

Household Diversification: The Vehicle Portfolio Effect

David Rapson, University of California-Davis View Abstract

Mind the Gap! Tax Incentives and Incentives for Manipulating Fuel Efficiency in the Automobile Industry

Shinsuke Tanaka, Tufts University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-B

The Demise of the Treaty of Detroit and (Dis)inflation Dynamics

Jae Sim, Federal Reserve Board View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-A

Sectoral Wage Gaps and the Returns to Migration

Discussant(s) Samuel Bazzi, Boston University


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 109-A

Migrants, Ancestors, and Foreign Investments

Tarek A. Hassan, Boston University, NBER, and CEPR View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Loews Philadelphia, Commonwealth Hall D

Misvaluation of Investment Options

Evgeny Lyandres, Boston University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon J

Screening in Contract Design: Evidence From the ACA Health Insurance Exchanges

Timothy Layton, Harvard University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 202-B

Domestic Outsourcing of Labor Services in the United States: 1996-2015

Johannes F. Schmieder, Boston University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon F

Automation and Jobs: When Technology Boosts Employment

James Bessen, Boston University View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-A

The Provision and Valuation of Non-wage Job Attributes

Chair: Kevin Lang, Boston University

Discussant(s) Kevin Lang, Boston University


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Loews Philadelphia, Regency Ballroom C1

Macro Finance

Discussant(s)  Simon Gilchrist, Boston University (now NYU!)


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 202-B

Right to Work and Small "d" Democracy

James Feigenbaum, Princeton University (now at BU) View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 203-A

Missing Bids

Juan Ortner, Boston University View Abstract

The Competitive Effects of Information Sharing

Jihye Jeon, Boston University  View Abstract


Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Loews Philadelphia, Adams

The Importance of Deposit Insurance Credibility

Joao Santos, Federal Reserve Bank of New York View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 201-A

Housing Wealth Effects: The Long View

Alisdair McKay, Boston University View Abstract

Adam Guren, Boston University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 112-A

Monetary Policy and Financial Intermediation

Chair: Simon Gilchrist, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon A

Noncompete Agreements

Chair: Michael Lipsitz, Boston University

Restricting Mobility to Extract Surplus: Why Low-wage Workers are Signing Noncompete Agreements

Michael Lipsitz, Boston University View Abstract

Matthew S. Johnson, Duke University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 308

Whither the Future of Economic History?

Chair: Robert Margo, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 405

Firm Responses to Incentives and Regulation

Discussant(s) Marc Rysman, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 409

Trade, Multinationals, and Firm Dynamics

Chair: Stefania Garetto, Boston University

Becoming a Multinational: An Analysis of Market Access and Risk Through Mergers

Stefania Garetto, Boston University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon J

Coordination Within Teams and The Cost of Health Care

Keith Ericson, Boston University View Abstract

Benjamin Lupin, Boston University  View Abstract

James Rebitzer, Boston University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 202-A

Economics of Voting

Chair: Steven Sprick Schuster, Colgate University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon J

Gender in the Workplace

Discussant(s) Kevin Lang, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Loews Philadelphia, Regency Ballroom C1

Currency Manipulation

Tarek A. Hassan, Boston University, NBER, and CEPR View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Loews Philadelphia, Commonwealth Hall A2

Sex, Race and Finance

Discussants(s) Shulamit Kahn, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 414

Network and Panel Quantile Effects Via Distribution Regression

Ivan Fernandez-Val, Boston University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 415

Local Labor Markets and Human Capital Investments

Russell Weinstein, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 305

Technology and Jobs in the Long Run

James Bessen, Boston University View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 203-B

Economic Growth and Banking Credit in India

Subhash Pemmaraju, Boston University View Abstract



Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon C

Recent Studies in Applied Microeconomics

Discussant(s) Jihye Jeon, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 308

CSMGEP Dissertation Session

Discussant(s) Robert Margo, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon E

Demographics and Robots

Pascual Restrepo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (now at BU) View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 202-B

Foreign STEM Students and Immigration Policy

Chair: Shulamit Kahn, Boston University

Explaining the Place Premium in STEM Careers

Shulamit Kahn, Boston University View Abstract

Megan MacGarvie, Boston University and NBER View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 107-B

Childhood Exposure to Armed Conflict and Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence

Giulia La Mattina, University of South Florida View Abstract


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 105-A

Policy Implications of Suboptimal Choice: Theory and Evidence

Discussant(s) Keith Ericson, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 414

Market Microstructure

Discussant(s) Juan Ortner, Boston University


Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 406

Predicting Outcomes in Games: New Directions

Discussant(s) Bart Lipman, Boston University


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Grand Ballroom Salon E

The Race between Machine and Man: Implications of Technology for Employment, Factor Shares and Growth

Pascual Restrepo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 204-C

Political Risk: Origins, Measurement, and Effects

Chair: Tarek A. Hassan, Boston University, NBER, and CEPR

Discussant(s) Stephen Terry, Boston University

Firm-level Political Risk: Measurement and Effects

Tarek A. Hassan, Boston University, NBER, and CEPR View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 309

Changes in Marriage and Divorce as Drivers of Employment and Retirement of Older Women

Dana Rotz, Mathematica View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 410

Estimation and Inference with a (Nearly) Singular Jacobian

Adam McCloskey, Brown University View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 415

Top Income Inequality

Discussant(s) Johannes F. Schmieder, Boston University


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 309

Sovereign Default

Discussant(s)Tamon Asonuma, International Monetary Fund

Sovereign Bond Prices, Haircuts and Maturity

Tamon Asonuma, International Monetary Fund View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Loews Philadelphia, Commonwealth Hall C

Firm Selection and Corporate Cash Holdings

Berardino Palazzo, Boston University View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM Loews Philadelphia, Commonwealth Hall A2

What Do Insiders Know? Evidence From Insider Trading Around Share Repurchases and SEOs

Evgeny Lyandres, Boston University View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-B

African Leaders, Longevity, Policies, and Impacts

Discussant(s) Kehinde Ajayi, Boston University


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Pennsylvania Convention Center, 104-A

Vertical Integration in the Health Care Market

Chair: Haizhen Lin, Indiana University

What Came First – Loyalty or Integration? A Look at the Motivation for Hospital-physician Alignment

Haizhen Lin, Indiana University and NBER View Abstract


Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 410

Robust Likelihood-ratio Tests for Incomplete Economic Models

Hiroaki Kaido, Boston University View Abstract

Yi Zhang, Boston University View Abstract



Performance Timer is excellent App

I was at a conference last week and learned about a terrific timer for my iPhone called Performance Timer. It counts down your specified time, and then changes from green to red as you go over.

What makes it superior to the default iPhone timer is its large font, there is no alarm when time is up, and your screen never goes blank, so you can read it for your entire talk. Really easy interface for the stressful time that you are setting it up. Or, if you are the timekeeper for someone else, they will be able to read it from 20 feet.

It is free in the Apple App store.  I looked but did not find the Android version.

Here is a review from the web.

Performance Timer on the App Store - iTunes - Apple

Rating: 5 - ‎9 reviews - ‎Free - ‎iOS - ‎Utilities/Tools


Performance Timer is a large-display countdown timer developed to be used to monitor the time remaining in a performance, presentation, etc. Performance Timer does not sound an alarm when the time runs out. Rather, when the timer reaches zero, the numbers turn red and the timer starts counting up so that you can see how long you've gone over your target time. The time can be set from 1 to 99 minutes.

Let the Children and Grandchildren Pay (More)

This blog revisits a posting from four years ago, in a series on Time to Change the Tax Discussion.

Whenever Congress (federal or state) proposes legislation that cuts taxes or increases net spending so that our national debt will increase, they should have to end every statement about why they favor their proposal with ...

Because I want our children and grandchildren to pay for it.

Even if congress or the executive branch won't say this, that is what they are doing.

The US House yesterday passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill by a narrow margin that dramatically cuts taxes on the wealthy and raises burdens on the poor without even waiting for the CBO or others to calculate the impact on our total budget of this new trillion dollar proposal. The earlier AHCA bill was scored by the CBO as reducing the federal deficit, but doing so in a very painful, unfair way.

Since I have also urged people to think of bills in terms of their cost per household, not just in terms of billions and trillions of dollars, I present the numbers here as costs per US household (all 125 million of them).

The March 13, 2017 CBO scoring of the previous, kinder, version of the AHCA projected that the bill would cut taxes in the amount of $900 billion over ten years, which is $7200 per US household. This is a huge wealth transfer, the majority of which go to the wealthy. The CBO cites Urban Institute researchers in their estimate that 70.6% of the tax cuts go to the 6% of households with incomes over $200,000. These cuts largely arise from eliminating the Medicare payroll tax rate for high-income taxpayers, the surtax on those taxpayers’ net investment income, and the annual fees imposed on health insurers. These tax cuts have virtually no effect on health care spending or the delivery system, but are a give-away to high income Americans, imposing burdens on our children and grandchildren. They are the preamble to the much larger tax cuts that president Trump proposed on April 26 in his one-page tax cut "proposal", which is a simplified version of his campaign proposal in 2015. Both tax cuts greatly increase the national debt by tens of thousands of dollars per household, yet have arguably received less attention in the media than the $2 per household cut in the Planned Parenthood budget (CBO, 2017 AHCA report, Table 2).

Offsetting these large tax cuts, the March 13 CBO rating of the AHCA projects that it will cut direct spending by $1,219 billion ($9,752 per household) over ten years. Unlike the tax cuts, which favor the wealthy, the spending cuts impact disproportionately the poor, the sick, and the old. The Urban Institute estimates that almost 77 percent of the federal funding losses come from families learning less than $30,000. So the bottom 36 percent of households is sacrificing $1000 of health support so that the top 6 percent of households can save an average of roughly $6,000 each.

Unlike the tax cuts for the wealthy, which will mostly increase savings and wealth, spending cuts on the poor directly affects their consumption spending, debt, and spending. The AHCA spending cuts will directly affect children since nearly half of them are close to poverty. We are not talking about making future children pay, but today's children.

The following figure, based on data in the CBO report on the AHCA, show how different the tax cuts are from the benefit decreases. the forecast was made by the Urban Institute for 2022, hence reflects the fully phased in impact of the changes.

The AHCA is being sold to the public as promoting growth (implausible when it comes out of current consumption), lowering premiums (the opposite of the CBO projections), and avoiding the "catastrophe of the ACA" (not the consensus view).  Cutting the ACA subsidies and protections will force many not to buy health insurance, or to pay much more for their health care if they do. How can this stimulate the economy?

Taxes will never be attractive, but why should we LET THE CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN PAY?

$147 Billion: The Economic Cost of Trump Racism

Bottom line:

Trump’s racism predicted to cost US households $147 billion in extra payments to the rest of the world.

Like many people, I am appalled by president Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees - and even US legal immigrants  - from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. In the process, Trump has also angered most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, comprising about 23% of the global population. Many of these countries (e.g,. OPEC members) hold major financial assets in the US. President Trump has also been active about insulting Mexico and China, two other huge financial partners with the US.

Since Trump is a businessman, I am going to focus on why this racism is a really bad idea for the US economy.

According to US Treasury, US national debt held by the public as of last Friday, Jan 26, 2017 was 14.4 trillion dollars.  That is over $42,000 borrowed on your behalf per US resident. Last year (2016), the interest paid on that debt was $432 billion, or over $3,456 per American household  per year. (US census numbers estimate 125 million households currently). Of that total debt, about 34% is owned by international Investors, and we are paying them the interest on their holdings. So that is $1,175 per US household being paid out to foreigners last year before Trump became president.

Although my good colleague Larry Kotlikoff worries that this level of debt, particularly to foreigners, is not sustainable, that is not what I want to focus on here. I want to focus instead on the CHANGE in these debt payments to foreigners that can be attributed to scary Trump’s racism. According to the current US Treasury documents, the long term interest rate has increased by more than a half percentage point since Trump was elected. Look at the figure yourself. The increase when Trump was elected was immediate. Even faster than the stock market advance.

Increasing the interest rate on the national debt from 2 percent to 2.5 percent costs Americans an extra $294 per household EVERY YEAR until our debt is paid off, which will probably be never.

Now imagine that OPEC, or the Chinese, or the Mexicans decide that they are not so happy with the US anymore and decide to start dumping their $6.8 trillion of US debt. We should all expect that  Trumps racist policies will cause federal interest rates to increase to 4% per year, up another 2% above its rates before Trump. This doubling of US debt interest rates will result in an additional $1,175 per US household per year being paid out to foreigners. Or another $147 billion in total interest paid out to the rest of the world for our debts.

That is my prediction of what will happen if Trump does not change his racist policies.

Notice that I did not have to do any calculations based on the effects of Trump’s racism on foreign tourism in the US ($168 billion in 2012), spending on US universities by foreigners ($30 billion in 2015), or US exports to China  ($113 billion in 2015) or Mexico ($267 billion in2015).  Trump’s tax cuts and deficit spending policies are also likely to increase interest rates. It would be easy for much larger estimates to be generated.

Take home lessons:

  • Racist policies are bad ethically and bad for our economy.
  • There is a real danger of serious interest rate increases that will cost everyone a lot of money.
  • Bond prices are likely to fall and long term bonds seem like a poor investment choice.
  • It helps with your arguments if you use facts and citations instead of making things up.
  • So far, instead of having Mexico pay for Trump’s Stupid Wall, Trump's racist policies are making Americans pay more to Mexico and China and Iran and Saudi Arabia, and....




BU Grads Ranked among the World’s Most Employable

One more ranking in which BU rates very highly in the world.

BU Grads Ranked among the World's Most Employable
11th worldwide, 7th in the nation in international survey

The employability of BU graduates was recently ranked 11th in the world and 7th in the nation in a report published in Times Higher Education. The Global University Employability Ranking 2016 was designed by French human resources company Emerging, which sent an online survey asking the opinions of thousands of recruiters at a management level and of managing directors of international companies.

The California Institute of Technology was ranked number one on the list, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, and Stanford University.

“It’s very heartening that so many employers recognize that our graduates are very well-prepared in their fields and have the skills and habits to perform at a high level,” says President Robert A. Brown. “Helping to successfully launch the careers of our graduates is a focus of the University.”

Except is from Bostonia Magazine.

Recent Marketplace Premium Increases are No Big Deal

By Randall P. Ellis, Boston University, Department of Economics October 28, 2016

A great deal has been made recently about the large increases in certain Health Insurance Marketplace premiums  announced for 2017. I present here five arguments for why these increases are no big deal, and are not the right thing to focus on when evaluating the success of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Argument 1: The Marketplace exchanges in which premiums are increasing are very small part of the US Health Care Market. 97% of Americans are not in them. And 80% of the enrollees who are in the Marketplace get government subsidies for their premiums. (Thomas G. McGuire, unpublished figure).

TM US Market Composition 2014

Argument #2: When the ACA Marketplace was started in 2014, its premiums were unexpectedly low, not high, in most markets. Everyone commented on this. The same thing happened when Medicare Part D was introduced. Many economists believe this was because health plans were trying to capture market share by offering low premiums. Such low premiums were not sustainable. Two years into the Marketplace, plans are trying to catch up with the much higher employer sponsored premiums. This should not be treated as a failure of Obamacare.

Argument #3: Many health insurance markets in the US are already highly concentrated. For example Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama has a 90 percent market share. (, 2014)  We cannot expect competitive premium pricing with such market power. As I discuss in Ellis (2012): Leemore Dafny, Mark Duggan, and Subramaniam Ramanarayanan in the American Economic Review 2012, using data from the American Medical Association (AMA), show that 94% of 314 US market areas have “highly concentrated” insurance markets. This concentration cannot be blamed on the ACA, since it predated it.

Argument #4: The main goal and achievement of the ACA has been that it has reduced the number of uninsured. The data clearly show this, and the largest percentage increase has been in private insurance, not government insurance programs.

Recent Health Insurance coverage

Argument 5: The unexpected wonderful cost impact of the ACA has been favorable: lowering the average rate of increase in health care spending throughout the country. (Barack Obama, JAMA, 2016)


This has been particularly true for the Medicare program. US government statistics (CBO and OMB) show enormous savings in Medicare since 2010.


While the ACA has not eliminated uninsurance or solved the US cost containment problem, it has made important improvements in both directions. Recent large premium increases in the Health Insurance Marketplace, which happen all the time in the employer sector without much attention, are part of a bigger problem still in need of solutions.