Friday, April 1, 2011

A "me" update

Sorry for the slow blogging lately - it's likely to continue. Indeed, this may be the end of regular posting at Facts and Other Stubborn Things. Instead, I will sporadically update it, but also post things I'm doing on my new website. It's just a simple Google Site. Let me know what you think, and what you like in personal websites. I have a lot of content pages right now on interests of mine, but I'm not sure I'll keep these up. It's still a work in progress.

The immediate cause of the slow blogging has been a paper I've been writing (draft finished and passed on to co-authors two days ago) on title insurance for HUD. It's been an unexpectedly interesting study. One citation I wanted to share here was Baker et al. on "Optimal Title Search". Title agents research the ownership history of a property before a real estate transaction happens to guarantee the title chain is accurate, that there are no liens against the house, etc. These people have to search, but of course a full search going back to the time that man first crossed the Bering Strait isn't optimal! At some point you have to say "that's all I'm searching and we'll take the risk I missed something further back". This paper estimates what the "optimal" title search is based on a variety of risk factors. This optimal search time, of course, varies by locality. What they find is that the estimated optimal search times match very well with minimum search times mandated by the state. What I like about this paper is that it really highlights this fallacy that a lot of people have of assuming that emergent order is somehow different from "the state" as an institution. It's not. The state is an emergent social institution too and under certain conditions it (just like the market under its own conditions) converges on a relatively efficient result. Also like the market, states have major blind spots and can be sub-optimal in predictable ways. We should always note this - but noting that is very different from this tendency to juxtapose emergent order and the state. All human social action has emergent properties that good scientists need to study and understand, rather than dogmatize.

But that title insurance paper, for the time being at least, is out of my hands. Now I have picked up my engineering workforce paper again, which will be my major project for the rest of the spring (hopefully I'll have a decent draft by early summer).

My mind has also moved on to graduate school. This fall, I am going to be taking Microeconomic Analysis I, Mathematical Economic Analysis, and Economic Thought. It's a little odd that there's no first semester macro or econometrics course, but that's apparently how they arrange things. I'm guessing the Economic Thought class has a paper. If it does, I'd like to further explore my interest in the coming of Keynesianism to America. A lot of recent writers have been pretty glib on this point - arguing that Keynesianism caught on because it was good for politicians. This seems like a lazy conclusion to me, and I'd like to take a closer look at the early reception of Keynes here. There is certainly plenty of material on this topic.

I'm also thinking a little about my dissertation, which I still expect to write on worker flows, wage adjustment, and the business cycle. Lately, though, I've been thinking I could write a dissertation on this science and engineering workforce stuff - but I should try to resist that. While I'd like to keep that on my research agenda, I want a dissertation that will give me broad appeal on the job market - cutting edge research topics, a subject of interest to macro and labor people, and to academic and non-academic employers. I'd also like something with hefty theoretical and empirical components, since I've mostly done empirical work in my career.

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