Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is it Racist? I Do Not Know

A recent study shows that, when you hold constant for nearly everything imaginable, minority students, on average, receive lower law school grades than white students. This has some commentators , who find the study "carefully done" and compelling, wringing their hands about what can be done.

I have no doubt about the outcome of the study but the actual color of the students -- since there is blind grading -- cannot be the cause.  Unless I missed something in high school biology, there is no correlation between pigmentation alone and anything else. There is a causal factor, to be sure but, before coming up with solutions, how about putting social class into the equation or anything that can actually explain the outcome. 

 There is something going on and studies like this do make while people feel righteous but they are useless at identifying  specific remedies. Plus, as with all  averages, unless one is ready to say every minority student, even those who made high grades, suffered the same level of disadvantage, generalized findings do not lead anywhere.

 Increasingly I think white liberals want to classify deep social issues as exclusively matters of race. This means they can continue to ignore matters of class -- of which there is a great variety within races --  more generally. The reason for this is easy. Class differences, more than race differences, are responsible for their successes and we would not want the legitimacy of their success questioned, now would we?

In fact, something makes me uncomfortable about the use of race as a variable in a study about grades or scores that are blind graded. Some of that discomfort comes from the possibility of stereotyping -- minority students do worse can too easily become all minority students do worse. Or, worse yet: Since you are a minority student, you will do worse.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Commercial Monetary Policy Conference

I have been in hot water lately with most academics because I took a vacation and did not figure out a way to get my School to pay for it. Several faculty complained to the Dean. I  was so out of line, I complained about me.

Problem solved. I was checking out of the 7 room Volcano Hotel and asked if they took US dollars. They do but I did not quite have enough to cover the tab. Together the manager and I determined how many dollars and how many Iceland Krone (the coins are so cute, the have fish on them, more fish more value).

We took some time and  I realized we were having a CONFERENCE on Contract Law and International Currency. And, it was kind of a conference version of cinema verite. So I had some programs printed up and they looked like this:


July 15, 2015

Volcano Hotel  (about 10 miles west of Vik,  Iceland)

Meeting Room: Check Out Desk in Entry Area

Speakers: Jeffrey Harrison
Jeff's wife, Sarah

Papers Delivered: On the Complexity of Dividing Everything By 750.

Skype is available for those unable to attend.

Registration Fee: $500
Late Registration $300
No Registration $200.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Competition and Consumer Surplus and unSurplus

Is there another area of law so buried in an outmoded analysis as antitrust? My goodness, allocative efficiency is "wealth maximization" labeled differently. Richard Posner made a disasterous effort to claim wealth maximization was tethered to a desirable normative outcome and got clobbered for it in the early 1980s. It was not that hard since wealth maximization was cobbled together by Kaldor and Hicks in the last century to support a claim that economics could be an aid to forming public policy.  It can be, but no one has figured what it is saying.

Stranger than allocative efficiency is consumer surplus. It is the different between what you must pay for an item and the most you would have paid. The problem is "most you would have paid" is assessed before you actually pay or know the outcome.  So it is your hunch about the how happy you will be about making the purchase.

That is hardly any surplus in any rational sense. Consumer surplus should be the difference between what you paid  and the how much you valued what you actually got. A good way of showing this is the graph above. D1 is the usual one based on expectations. D2 based on the most you would have paid had you know what the experience would be like. Yes, this reflects disappointment. The curve could shift up or even stay the same. My hunch is that shifts down because sellers are so intend on raising expectations. In time the market night draw the curves closer but who knows?

As you see, the consumer surplus as traditionally described is PCA. Experienced consumer surplus is PEB. Lower, right? No  it is even lower than that.  All those who bought units Q1-Q2 actually are worse off (negative consumer surplus). That loss in consumer surplus must be substracted from PEB. So actual consumer surplus is PFDB. Yet antitrust policy is designed to push purchases out to Q1 when Q2 is actually more consistent with maximizing consumer surplus.

Of course, I am just playing around with some ideas suggested by the work of Kahneman and others on the difference between expected or decisional utility and experienced utility.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Elusive Excess Capacity on Law Faculties

Alternative Title: "I would do anything for law but I won't do that."

Yesterday I blogged that I have never heard a law professor say "great job, I am only working at 60% capacity." It was in the context of hard working law profs who seem to have unlimited time to do more but only if it means a little extra dough. If there is no extra money, they are currently  fully employed. The problem has a Catch 22 element to it. If they have extra time to pick up some extra coin then they actually do have excess capacity.  If there is no money involved, they have no excess capacity. So which is it? And, if they have excess capacity but only if there some extra money involved, how about a refund for all those years they were not working full time.

When I though about it, I realized I was wrong that they never say I am only working at 60% (which is another way of saying I am overpaid.)  I can think of three examples.

1. At my School we have the usually array of foreign programs. I think they are required to break even or make money but I am not sure that happens. But how about this argument for how to make them profitable -- staff them with people who are already on 12 month contracts. That way you do not have to incur the marginal costs usually associated with staffing those programs. But . . . .but . . . . but. Weren't those administrators already fully employed to earn their base salary plus 33%  more. Well, were they or not?  I mean if they can go away six weeks this year, could we please get a refund for all the times they did not go away because obviously they were not fully employed.

2. We run a massive externship program. It's the program where students pay the school and firms employ the students but do not pay them them. Yes, it's a pay to get to work program. To boost law school revenues someone got the bright idea to pay professors several thousand dollars to line these things up and to chat with the students from time to time. But wait, some of these folks also teach or do research in the summer. But suddenly they had excess capacity when there was a chance to pick up some more money. I am pretty sure at my school you can teach, do research, and do the externship things and get paid for all three. Plus, if another money making opportunity comes along there will be plenty of excess capacity for that.

3. From time to time law schools hire staff people for various institutes to write grant proposals and do research. That's all fine. They are full time employees. Then they propose to teach a course and it is approved and life goes on. If I teach a three hour course I devote as little as 5 hours a week to it a week and as much (I hate to admit) as many as 12. I assume these staff/teachers are the same (unless they are into asynchronous taping.) So what were they paid for before?  Weren't the fully employed. If not, will there be a refund?

Law schools seem to have unlimited excess capacity but it never appears until someone wants a side deal.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Just When I Was Losing My Rile the Side Deal Came Back

News of yet another side deal [I was going to list all the possible side deals but it would explode the internet] at my Law School came just in time. I had just about lost all my rile. It  felt pretty good not having rile but my rile rallied.

My Rile O Meter went up when I thought:  what  happened to just having a salary. For example, suppose I am making $200K a year and someone suddenly does not return in the fall and the course needs to be covered. The dean may ask me to do it. Should I be paid more? Why? Clearly, if I teach the course I will cut back on research and committee work.  Doesn't it work out? Of course, if I were not working at full capacity and am asked to teach one more course, I could do it without cutting back. That raises another issue and I do not claim to have an answer: what is full capacity for a law professor?  Is that even a relevant question?  Have you ever heard a full time professor say: what a great job. I only work at 60% capacity.

Let's say I worked at the local grocery store as a stocker. Someone does not show up in the deli that day and the manager asks me to move over to the deli. Does that person get to say, "sure but only for another $5.00 an hour." Of course not -- you cannot stock and make subs at the same time. So what is it about law professors who want to cash in anytime there is something different? 

This comes into play at my school where have the wacky program called super sabbaticals. We all get a semester off with full pay every 6th or 7th year. Or you can take a year off with half pay. There is some nominal requirement that you do scholarship. Perhaps it is more than nominal. A third possibility is a year off with full pay if you teach an extra course the year before. If you normally teach 9 hours, for that year you go to 12. A nine hour load is what you get if you claim to be doing research. Plus, the extra course can be on BOGO. Yes you can tape a course and that can be your extra course even if it is broadcast while you are in Africa and again and again.

So back to the stockers and deli.  For 9 credit hours I am a stocker and for 3 I work in the deli. Now the boss comes along and tells me if I will spend all 12 hours stocking and 0 in the deli,  I can have a year sabbatical with pay. But wait? Did I actually do anything more that I was doing? I can't teach (stock) 12 hours and do the same amount of research(deli work). How did I earn anything? If you think about it, the whole super sabbatical idea could be seen as based on the notion that everyone is underemployed.

If I had my way, faculty would be on 9 month or 12 month salaries and, aside for summer grants for truly doing something in the summer, that would be it. All this extra for this, extra for that, makes no sense.

Of course if I had my way, I would see and live that  new play Intimate Fantasies.