Michael Chwe explains common knowledge, and why it matters to Mark Zuckerberg

Michael Chwe for UCOMM - 130321Michael Chwe, whose book, Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge has, in his words, “made its way out of the backwaters of course syllabi” to catch the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, had a terrific piece on the Monkey Cage blog of the Washington Post explaining exactly what common knowledge is, and why it’s so important. According to Chwe, common knowledge is generated by large scale social media platforms like Facebook, and this matters because of the many ways it can be leveraged, among them, stopping violence against women, and helping to foster collective political action.

From his piece on the Washington Post:

When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg chose my book “Rational Ritual” last week for his “A Year of Books” book club, I was surprised. “Rational Ritual” came out in 2001, and has somehow slowly made its way out of the backwaters of course syllabi into the elevated spheres of technology companies. This is gratifying to me, because even though it is a scholarly book published by a university press, “Rational Ritual” is essentially a popularization.

“Rational Ritual” tries to popularize the concept of “common knowledge” as defined by the philosopher David Lewis and the sociologist Morris Friedell in 1969. A fact or event is common knowledge among a group of people if everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows it, and so on.

When I was a graduate student in economics in the late 1980s, most people considered common knowledge as an idea of only theoretical interest. People who thought about collective action (and its flip side, political repression) were mostly interested in the problem of free riding, rather than how people communicate. But social change isn’t just about tackling incentives to free ride – it’s also a problem of coordination.

Read the rest here.

Recently, Michael Chwe, a master of interdisciplinary applications for otherwise “rarified mathematical theories” has been particularly active in exploring how game theory can help curb sexual violence. Check out his piece on the topic on the PBS Newshour blog here. His recent Q&A with Facebook Books is up here.

Math Drives Careers: Author Ignacio Palacios-Huerta

Logical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to recognize patterns are crucial in an array of fields that overlap with mathematics, including economics. But what does math (or economics, for that matter) have to do with the world’s most popular sport? Economist Ignacio Palacios-Huerta’s recent book, Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics  made a splash during the last World Cup, showing how universal economic principles can be understood through soccer. Read on for his thoughts on why the language of modern economics, including behavioral economics, is mathematics.

The Role of Mathematics in my Life as an Economist

To describe the role of mathematics in my life as an economist, I first need to explain what, to me, Economics is all about. So let me take you to one of my favorite books, A Treatise of Human Nature, written almost 300 years ago by David Hume.

Beautiful Game TheoryIn the introduction Hume writes, “‘Tis evident that all the sciences have a relation, more or less, to human nature … Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of Man, [which is] the only solid foundation for the other sciences”. By the science of man Hume means the understanding of all facets of human nature, including preferences, senses, passions, imagination, morality, justice, and society. This science applies wherever men are making decisions, be it running public institutions or countries, as employees in firms, or as individuals investing in education, taking risks in financial markets, or making family decisions. This science of man is thus what one may initially be tempted to call Economics for, as George Bernard Shaw puts it in my favorite definition, “Economy is the art of making the most of life”.

But of course this definition is incomplete because other social sciences (e.g., sociology, history, psychology, political science) are also concerned with human behavior. So what makes Economics “different”? Here is the difference: the difference is not the subject matter but the approach. The approach is totally different, and a very mathematical one. As such, mathematics plays a critical role in the life of any economist.

Let me elaborate. Continuing with Hume, it turns out that he also anticipated our methodological approach in modern Economics: observation and logical arguments. Which can be translated as: data and data analysis (what we call econometrics), and mathematics, for mathematics is, after all, the language of logic. So in Economics, as in physics, we write down our ideas and theories in mathematical terms to make logical arguments, and then we use more math (statistical, econometrics, etc) to check whether the data appear to be consistent with the theoretical arguments. If they are, the evidence can be said to support the theory; if they aren’t, the theory needs to be refined or discarded. Yes, lots of math and related techniques provide what is our distinct “economics approach to human behavior.” It is not the subject matter but the approach that is different, and it heavily relies on mathematics.

To economists and other social scientists, mathematics has many methodological virtues: it can lend precision to theories, can uncover inconsistencies, can generate hypothesis, can enable concision and promote intelligibility, and can sort out complex interactions, while statistical and econometric analysis can organize and carefully interpret voluminous data.

None of this is obvious when you begin studying Economics (“Why should I take all this math, statistics and econometrics? Why all this pain?”). But I think most of us soon learn to appreciate that the language of modern economics is mathematics, and that it is rightly so. And this is not math for the sake of math (as in pure mathematics), but math with a purpose: modeling human behavior.

Let me conclude by saying that since the economic approach is applicable to all human behavior, any type of data about human activity can be useful to evaluate economic theories. This includes, why not, sports data, which in many ways can be just perfect for testing economic theories: the data are abundant, the goals of the participants are clear, the outcomes are easy to observe, the stakes are high, and the subjects are professionals with experience. If a theory is “correct”, sport is a good setting to check it.

So just as data involving falling stones and apples were useful to Galileo Galilei and  Isaac Newton to test for the first time theories that were important in physics, data from sports can be useful in Economics to do exactly the same. As such in some of my contributions to Economics I have used math to develop theoretical models, and further mathematical tools applied to this type of data to test them.

Interview with Adam Levine, author of American Insecurity on MSNBC.com

Adam Levine talked with MSNBC co-host Krystall Ball on her popular vodcast Krystal Clear about his new book, American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction. Check out the first chapter of American Insecurity for free, here.


 

bookjacket American Insecurity:
Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction

Adam Seth Levine

Author profile: Ken Elzinga

An inside look at one of the men behind the Henry Spearman Mystery trilogy.

If you haven’t picked up copies of the mysteries, check out the first chapters of each for free (linked below). You will not be disappointed.

A Deadly Indifference: A Henry Spearman Mystery
Murder at the Margin: A Henry Spearman Mystery
The Mystery of the Invisible Hand: A Henry Spearman Mystery

 


 

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A Deadly Indifference:
A Henry Spearman Mystery

Marshall Jevons

 

bookjacket

Murder at the Margin:
A Henry Spearman Mystery

Marshall Jevons
With a new foreword by Herbert Stein and a new afterword by the author
bookjacket

The Mystery of the Invisible Hand:
A Henry Spearman Mystery

Marshall Jevons

Mass Flourishing by Edmund Phelps is a certified bestseller in China

Nobel prize-winning economist, Edmund Phelps’s book Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change is a bestseller in China. Phelps’s success in China includes the prestigious Friendship Award, “China’s highest honor for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country’s economic and social progress.” He was also named dean of China’s New Huadu Business School, which operates in Fuzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai. More information on Phelps’s achievements in China can be found, here.

Congratulations to Edmund Phelps!


 

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Mass Flourishing:
How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change
Edmund Phelps

Congratulations to Jean Tirole, recipient of 2014 Nobel Prize in Economic Science

Around this time last year the Press could not have been more excited. Why? Two of the three 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences awards went to PUP authors Lars Peter Hansen and Robert J. Shiller, authors of Robustness and Irrational Exuberance, respectively. To see just how excited we were, click here, here, or here. Amazingly enough, there was no shortage of excitement at the Press following this year’s announcement of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences award as Jean Tirole, author of Financial Crises, Liquidity, and the International Monetary System, The Theory of Corporate Finance, and co-author of Balancing the Banks: Global Lessons from the Financial Crisis, is the sole recipient.


“If we had more researchers like Jean Tirole it would be a very good thing for the world.”


The official Nobel Prize press release states Jean Tirole, head of economics at Toulouse University in France, won The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for 2014, “for his analysis of market power and regulation,” but this is just a fraction of the contribution he has made to economic theory and its real world implications. In an interview (which can be seen below) Chairman of the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, Tore Ellingsen, praised Tirole for his tireless efforts to better understand and explain how governments could regulate industries dominated by monopolies. When asked if it was difficult to choose a winner for the award this year, Ellingsen explained, “Yes and no. It’s been clear for some time now that Jean Tirole is a worthy recipient, but the question has been for what, alone or with whom, and when?” The interview concludes with wishful thinking; “If we had more researches like Jean Tirole it would be a very good thing for the world.”

Tirole has been an active member and contributor to economic theory since the 1980’s, and although “his work is largely theoretical…it has translated easily to practical use.” As a New York Times article further notes, “[Tirole’s] work is also wide ranging. A description of his influence published by the prize committee cited more than 60 papers, an unusually large number.”

Peter J. Dougherty, Director of Princeton University Press had the following to say about Tirole’s impact on the field of economics and his much deserved recognition. “Jean Tirole’s 2006 book, The Theory of Corporate Finance, marked an important moment in economics as well as in the history of Princeton’s economics list. We extend our most heartfelt congratulations to Professor Tirole on the occasion of his Nobel prize.”

Again, on behalf of all of us at PUP, we would like to congratulate and thank Jean Tirole for keeping the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences award in house. And who knows, maybe next year we’ll be posting about a three-peat… fingers crossed!

Book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox


Princeton University Press senior designer Jason Alejandro created this book trailer for Atlas of Cities edited by Paul Knox. (The catchy song in the background is the aptly named “Weekend in the City” by Silent Partner.)

8-7 Atlas of Cities Atlas of Cities
Edited by Paul Knox

 

And the REAL World Cup Winner is…

IPHWell, surely everybody knows by now – the 2014 World Cup is over, and Germany went home with the trophy.

But there’s another “winner” worth mentioning: Princeton University Press author and London School of Economics professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, whose latest book, Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics, garnered some wonderful press over the course of the tournament. Mr. Palacios-Heurta not only received a mention in the Science section of the New York Times and was the subject of a full-length article in strategy+business; he also penned an op-ed for the New York Times’s Sunday Review and was featured in stories in both the Financial Times and Worldcrunch.

Sure, he can’t rally like Ronaldo or kick it like Klose; but this fùtbol fanatic’s research presents advantages that extend far beyond the pitch.

Palacios-Huerta is unique in that he utilizes soccer data to test economic theories. In his op-ed in the Times, Palacios-Huerta lays out the basics of this experiment by explaining its origins in the Nash Equilibrium, which analyzes how people should behave in “strategic situations” and stresses that, in order to “win,” they shouldn’t repeat their choices. He says that, “according to Mr. Nash’s theory, in a zero-sum game (i.e., where a win for one player entails a corresponding loss for the other) the best approach is to vary your moves unpredictably and in such proportions that your probability of winning is the same for each move.”

He chooses penalty kicks to demonstrate this theory because they’re zero-sum games, wherein it’s ill-advised to use a strategy repeatedly. The explanation for this is relatively simple: a player’s shots become predictable if he always kicks to the same side of the net, making them easier to block. A lot of legwork (pun somewhat-intended) has gone into proving this idea: Palacios-Huerta analyzed 9,017 penalty kicks between 1995 and 2012, to find that successful players typically distributed their shots unpredictably and in just the right proportions. We won’t get into the numbers here, but they’re abundant in both the book and the op-ed.


Other research by me and others has shown that data from soccer can shed light on the economics of discrimination, fear, corruption and the dark side of incentives in organizations. In other words, aspects of the beautiful game that are less than beautiful from a fan’s perspective can still be illuminating for economists.”


And penalty kicks are just one handy example. Data from soccer can also illuminate one of the most prominent theories of the stock market: the efficient-market hypothesis, which essentially posits that the market processes economic data so quickly that any news relating to a stock is incorporated into its price before anyone can even act on it, diminishing the risk of insider trading.

We’re excited to see more of what these soccer stats can do to advance economic theory, and more importantly, how Palacios-Huerta can translate something so complicated, using something so, well…beautiful.

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Ignacio Palacios-Huerta is the author of:

BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 | Reviews Table of Contents   Introduction[PDF] 

Congratulations Martin Ruhs, Winner of the 2014 Best Book Award for the Migration and Citizenship Section of the American Political Science Association

Martin RuhsThe Migration and Citizenship Section of the American Political Science Association has named Martin Ruhs’s The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration  the winner of the 2014 Best Book Award in the Migration and Citizenship category. The judging committee lauded Ruhs for his “innovative, rigorous, and very comprehensive treatment of the subject of international labor migration” saying additionally that his “command of knowledge and research skills demonstrates the best practices of scholarship.”

Martin Ruhs is an Associate Professor of Political Economy at the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and a Senior Researcher at COMPAS. He is also an Associate Member of the Department of Economics, the Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the Blavatnik School of Government. Ruhs’s research focuses on the economics and politics of international labor migration within an internationally comparative framework, which he draws on to comment on migration issues in the media and to provide policy analysis and advice for various national governments and institutions.

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Martin Ruhs is the author of:

The Price of Rights The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration by Martin Ruhs
Hardcover | 2013 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691132914
272 pp. | 6 x 9 | 13 line illus. 16 tables. |eBook | ISBN: 9781400848607 | Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]

Butting Heads (and iPhones): Economists Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr Duke it Out in the Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: WSJ.comNorthwestern Professors of Economics Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr just can’t seem to get along.

In this past weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, the two voice some distinctly adverse ideas about technological innovation in the twenty-first century – on the one hand, its success, and on the other, its stagnation.

Professor Mokyr, author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy and co-author of The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times is an economic historian who’s altogether positive about the economic direction of the world-at-large. But this isn’t just blind optimism; in fact, it’s due in large part to the rapid rate of technological innovation. Mokyr notes that “new tools have led to economic breakthroughs,” and that since the field of technology is vast and unremitting, we’re hardly in danger of economic collapse.


“The divergent views are more than academic. For many Americans, the recession left behind the scars of lost jobs, lower wages and depressed home prices. The question is whether tough times are here for good. The answer depends on who you ask.”


But Professor Gordon, a macroeconomist and author of the forthcoming book Beyond the Rainbow: The American Standard of Living Since the Civil War (Princeton), and of the best-selling textbook, Macroeconomics, is hugely skeptical of such theories. He asks us to compare useful and revolutionary objects, like the flushing toilet, to the newest iPad; the former, already invented, is indispensable. Everything created thereafter is simply excess – the cherry on top, if you will. And, as new developments become only incrementally more advanced than their predecessors, technological progress will slowly grind to an anticlimactic halt.

The op-ed also gives some interesting background on both Gordon and Mokyr and tries to posit the origins of their respective beliefs, whether positive or negative. Despite their conflicts, the two can concede to one point: that the twenty-first century is unarguably the best time to be born, and the revelation is certainly an encouraging one.

Ian Goldin explains “The Butterfly Defect”

Ian Goldin is director of the Oxford Martin School and professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford. He has served as vice president of the World Bank and an advisor to President Nelson Mandela. His many books include Divided Nations, Globalization for Development, and Exceptional People (Princeton). His most recent book is The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It, co-authored with Mike Mariathasan, which you can sample for free here [PDF].

 

bookjacket The Butterfly Defect
How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It
Ian Goldin & Mike Mariathasan

Quick Questions for Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, author of Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics

5-28 Palacios-HuertaIgnacio Palacios-Huerta is professor of management, economics, and strategy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago, where he also completed his Ph.D. in Economics. Palacios-Huerta is also the Head of Talent Identification at the Athletic Club de Bilbao and is a Senior Fellow at the Ikerbasque-Basque Foundation for Science at UPV/EVU.

Dr. Palacios-Huerta is a contributing editor of In 100 Years (MIT), an engaging text that draws on the expertise and imagination of ten prominent economists to “present their ideas about the world of the twenty-second century,” considering topics like “the transformation of work and wages, the continuing increase in inequality, and the economic rise of China and India,” among others. He continues to produce scholarship on economic theory and has several articles, like “Consumer Inertia, Choice Dependence and Learning from Experience in a Repeated Decision Problem” (Review of Economics and Statistics), up for publication in 2014.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: In recent decades, economics has extended across many fields and areas previously considered to belong to sociology, political science, psychology, and several other sciences. What distinguishes this book is that its basic idea is just the opposite: it is not what economics can do for area or field X, but what X can do for economics. And so it takes exactly the opposite route. In the book X is, of course, soccer. And the idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior using data and settings from soccer. This is what distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports, and I think it is its most important contribution. After all, if the economic approach is applicable to all human behavior, then any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about what you do? (I.e., is it anthropology? Economics? etc.)
I think this picture (taken from N. Gregory Mankiw’s blog) captures quite well a number of misunderstandings:

What+Economits+Do[1]

What are you reading right now?
A novel by Ramiro Pinilla, Aquella Edad Inolvidable, a biography of British graffiti artist Banksy by Will Ellsworth-Jones, and Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I would say, for different reasons, these three books are tied in first place:

Economic Theory by Gary S. Becker; A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume; and The Passions and the Interests by Albert Hirschman (Princeton).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
The actual writing took me around 4-5 months, but I was thinking about it for a long time, probably around 3-4 years, collecting data, developing experiments, running the different empirical tests, and reading and keeping relevant stories and anecdotes in my mind to make the book as engaging as possible.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
Lack of time: time to think, and time to work and write.


“The idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior and data settings from soccer. […] I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior.”


Why did you write this book?
Two reasons. First, as indicated in the first question, there is a clear aspect that distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports. To the best of my knowledge this is the first book that takes this novel approach, and so I felt that, from this perspective, there was a genuine chance to present a unique contribution. Second, I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior. And so, if any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories, what could possibly be most appealing to a wide audience than data from sports, and in particular data from the world’s most popular sport?

Who do you see as the audience for this book?
Anyone interested in economics, anyone interested in sports, and anyone who thinks that he or she might perhaps become interested in economics and/or in sports, especially if he or she has a curious or scientific mind.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?
The title was a suggestion by the initial editor of the book at Princeton University Press, Richard Baggaley, and by my colleague at the London School of Economics, David De Meza. They both, independently of each other, had the same suggestion. And as soon as they suggested this title, I thought it was great. I really liked it and instinctively knew that it would be the title of the book.

With respect to the jacket, it was a suggestion by an excellent designer at Princeton University Press. I suggested some ideas, and one of them was distantly related to the one in the final jacket since it contained a “bicycle kick.” But the jacket is more striking and spectacular than anything I could have come up with. I really like it.

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Ignacio is the author of:

5-28 Palacios-Huerta BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]