Wanna Buy a Brett Favre Jersey?

December 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

After last season, the Jets traded away Chad Pennington in order to get the future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Favre then spent the latter half of the season leading the Jets out of the playoffs.

Steven Dubner of Freakonomics writes what purports to be a post about “deadweight loss” and the inefficiency of gifts but is really a disappointed fan’s angry kvetch. In between nasty digs at the great QB (all supported by data), Dubner asks the economic question:

So how do all those people who paid $80 for Favre Jets jerseys feel today? Do they wish they’d spent their money elsewhere? How much would they pay for the same jersey today? Did they derive $80 worth of pleasure from it up to this point — i.e., was the thrill of the first two-thirds of the season worth the pain of the last third?

To answer the question, I checked Craig’s List, and apparently the owners of those Favre jerseys are not rushing to unload them at any cost. I looked in Sporting Goods and Clothing. Here are the results
  • Individuals selling Favre jerseys: 2
  • Asking price: $60
(Three other sellers had the Jets #4, but they were commercial dealers not disgruntled fans.)

For comparison, I also checked Eli Manning jerseys. (The Giants are in the playoffs, having won their division handily with a 12-4 record.)
  • Individuals selling Manning jerseys: 2
  • Asking price: $60
(Jets fans note: dealers on Craig’s List in Miami are asking $55 for Chad Pennington jerseys.)

Job Search - Parody Version

December 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The MLA parodists, Aaron Winter and Andy Warren, are worth detour. This year, they’ve done letters of application and recommendation.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The allusions are literary, but you don’t have to be an insider to get most of them. (I never took Latin, but I’m guessing that the motto of their Riverdale University,
Ex limoni ut mellitus, is something like, “When you have lemons, make lemonade.”)

The full file, with links to back issues, is here.

Ideological Purity . . . and Danger

December 28, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jenn Lena blogged recently about Chip Saltsman, who wants to be head of the Republican National Committee. To woo Republicans, Saltsman released a CD of anti-Democratic song parodies like “Love Client #9” (raise your hand if you remember The Clovers. No, not The Searchers, The Clovers). OK, Spitzer is fair game, and maybe the song is actually funny.

But what’s interesting is how offensive most of the titles are: “The Star-Spanglish Banner,” “Ivory and Ebony,” and (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up) “Barack the Magic Negro.”

The CD title is “We Hate the USA.”

I hope the RNC picks Saltsman. It looks like he’s the man to complete the process started by George W. Bush and pushed along briefly by Sarah Palin: turning the Republicans from a majority party into small cult of the self-righteous.

Their message is, “If you don’t agree with us, you must hate the USA.” Or as Sarah Palin implied, you are not a “real American.” That’s a good strategy for solidifying “the base.” The danger is that it drives away potential adherents. What a contrast with Obama’s message of inclusiveness.

Claiming sole ownership of virtue and truth runs against the American grain. We have an ethic of tolerance for diversity. “My way or the highway” may be O.K. for football coaches, but when national politicians start shouting it, a lot of people discover the attractive features of the broad highway with all those different cars and trucks and buses.

Apparently that includes the highway to Heaven. Most Americans, when asked which religions can “lead to eternal life,” say that the gate of Heaven is open to religions other than their own. By more than 2-1, Americans choose, “Many religions can lead to eternal life” over “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.”

Even among white evangelicals, despite the message their preachers repeat regularly, a majority thought that Jews and Catholics could make it past St. Peter’s velvet rope. And about a third of white evangelicals thought that Heaven was open to Hindus, Muslims, and people with no religious faith.
(For a larger view, click on the image.)

I draw two lessons from this
  • People at the top are more ideologically consistent than are the rank and file.
  • The rank and file are more tolerant of diversity than are the leaders.
I suspect that the first is an axiom of organizational theory. After all, the leaders are in the ideology business. They spend a lot of time thinking about it, so they cannot ignore or deny inconsistencies. But the second may be a particularly American variation.

The data are from a Pew report. The New York Times converted Pew’s tables to graphs (including three in addition to the ones above) to accompany a nice op-ed by Charles M. Blow on the Pew study.

Taking a Mulligan on the Economy

December 27, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

I often use unemployment when I’m trying to explain the difference between social facts and individual facts. To explain why an individual doesn’t have a job, use individual facts – lack of education, bad work habits, etc. But when the unemployment rate rises by a few tenths of a percent, when hundreds of thousands of people who were working a few months ago are now jobless, we think not about individual characteristics but about “the economy.”

Mills uses this example in The Sociological Imagination, and it’s an easy one for intro sociology students to grasp. But maybe Mills and I are wrong.

Are Employers Unwilling to Hire,

or Are Some Workers Unwilling to Work?

By Casey B. Mulligan

Casey B. Mulligan is an economist at the University of Chicago.

The recent decrease in employment may be due less to employers’ unwillingness to hire more workers and more to workers’ unwillingness to work. . . .

Of course, people have not suddenly become lazy, but the experiment gives similar results to the actual situation in which some employees face financial incentives that encourage them not to work and some employers face financial incentives not to create jobs. [Emphasis added.]

Mulligan must be right. After all, the New York Times is publishing this (on Dec. 24, a Christmas gift to workers), and Mulligan is a professor of economics at Chicago. He must know.

Back in October, the Times published another Mulligan piece saying that “the economy doesn’t really need saving. It’s stronger than we think. . . . If you are not employed by the financial industry (94 percent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is not alarming.”

The unemployment rate for November was up to 6.7%, also not alarming, I suppose – just another half million people responding to those incentives not to work.

I always thought that the unemployment rate measured only people who were looking for work. Those who had given up and dropped out of the labor force were not officially “unemployed.” So I’m not sure what Mulligan means by “incentives that encourage them not to work.” Whatever. In any case, in the past year, the number of the officially unemployed in the US has risen by nearly 3 million, bringing the total to 10 million.

That's a lot of people with no incentive to work. But I’m sticking with Mulligan. Not to worry. No cause for alarm. It’s not the economy, stupid.