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Updates from Chicago Booth

By Michael Maiello – Yale University’s Bryan T. Kelly, Chicago Booth’s Dacheng Xiu, and Booth PhD candidate Shihao Gu investigated 30,000 individual stocks that traded between 1957 and 2016, examining hundreds of possibly predictive signals using several techniques of machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence.

They conclude that ML had significant advantages over conventional analysis in this challenging task.

ML uses statistical techniques to give computers abilities that mimic and sometimes exceed human learning. The idea is that computers will be able to build on solutions to previous problems to eventually tackle issues they weren’t explicitly programmed to take on.

“At the broadest level, we find that machine learning offers an improved description of asset price behavior relative to traditional methods,” the researchers write, suggesting that ML could become the engine of effective portfolio management, able to predict asset-price movements better than human managers.

Of almost 100 characteristics the researchers investigated, the most successful predictors were price trends, liquidity, and volatility. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why corporate social responsibility can backfire
By Alina Dizik – As CSR has become ingrained in the workplace and even in some brands, researchers are finding drawbacks to how employees react to these initiatives.

More than 90 percent of the 250 largest global companies by revenue now publish detailed annual reports of their corporate-responsibility practices, according to KPMG’s 2017 survey of corporate-responsibility reporting.

So what are the problems?

For one thing, participating in a company’s CSR initiatives can lead to what researchers call moral self-licensing, where a positive action is offset by harmful behavior later on. In cases of moral licensing, company-sponsored social initiatives can trigger poor employee performance because doing good deeds in one area encourages the employee to behave unethically in another, according to research by List and University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar Fatemeh Momeni. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

By John Wasik – Finland sits at the top of the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, which ranked more than 150 countries by their happiness level. The country that gave the world the mobile game Angry Birds scored high on all six variables that the report deems pillars of happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. News reports touted Finland’s stability, its free health care and higher education, and even the saunas and metal bands for which it’s famous.

Yet abundance does not equate to happiness, according to research—even on a longer time frame. In most developed countries, the average person is rich by the standards of a century ago. Millions more people have access to safe food, clean drinking water, and in most cases state-funded health care.

And in countries with a growing middle class, millions more are now finding themselves able to purchase big-screen televisions, smart phones, and cars.

But this growth in wealth hasn’t made people happier.

People gain more happiness when they satisfy their inherent rather than learned preferences—needs rather than wants. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Behavioral economics from nuts to ‘nudges’
By Richard H. Thaler – In the beginning there were stories.

People think in stories, or at least I do. My research in the field now known as behavioral economics started from real-life stories I observed while I was a graduate student at the University of Rochester. Economists often sneer at anecdotal data, and I had less than that—a collection of anecdotes without a hint of data. Yet each story captured something about human behavior that seemed inconsistent with the economic theory I was struggling to master in graduate school.

But I had no idea what to do with these stories. A collection of anecdotes was not enough to produce a publishable paper, much less a research paradigm. And, certainly, no one could have expected these stories to someday lead to a Nobel Prize.

Behavioral economics has come a long way from my initial set of stories. Behavioral economists of the current generation are using all the modern tools of economics, from theory to big data to structural models to neuroscience, and they are applying those tools to most of the domains in which economists practice their craft. This is crucial to making descriptive economics more accurate.

Although not every application of behavioral economics will make the world a better place, I believe that giving economics a more human dimension and creating theories that apply to humans, not just econs, will make our discipline stronger, more useful, and undoubtedly more accurate. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Are you ready for personalized pricing?
By Brian Wallheimer – The introduction of the price tag was a big step forward for American retailing, and you can thank John Wanamaker. In the 1870s, Wanamaker purchased a former Philadelphia railroad depot and expanded his men’s clothing business to include women’s clothing and dry goods.

Along with Macy’s in New York and other department stores popping up in major cities, Wanamaker’s Grand Depot revolutionized how people shopped, primarily by placing many different items under one roof. But it went a step further and changed not only where people purchased items but how they paid. It adopted the price tag.

Until that point, pricing had involved a dance between clerk and customer. When a customer picked up a shirt and admired it, a clerk had to know how much the product cost the store, the overhead associated with storing it, competitors’ prices, and more. Meanwhile, he had to figure out, was the customer in a hurry and willing to pay more, or had he come prepared to negotiate for a steeper discount?

With more than 100 product counters to staff, Wanamaker didn’t have time to teach employees the fine art of haggling. Instead, he affixed a note to every item in the store with the amount a customer was expected to pay. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Globalization is close to its ‘holy cow’ moment. Why we must rethink our outdated ideas about international trade.
By Richard Baldwin – Globalization has changed.

The globalization we knew and understood for most of the 20th century resembled more the globalization that emerged from the Industrial Revolution than it did the globalization we experience today.

That globalization was based on the movement of goods across borders—measurable, limited by physical infrastructure, and parried by policies such as tariffs. But globalization today is about more than trading goods; it’s about trading ideas and, increasingly, services.

Our 20th-century paradigms of globalization are ill-equipped to understand what cross-border trade means for the present and near future. Globalization has changed, but the way we think about it hasn’t.

The one thing that hasn’t changed about globalization is that it is a phenomenon with the power to change the world. If you trace the share of world income going to two groups of countries—India and China in one group and the G7 countries in the other group—back to the year 1000, you’ll see that back then, India and China had about half the world’s GDP, and the G7 had less than 10 percent of it.

Starting around the 1820s—the decade economists Kevin H. O’Rourke of Oxford and Jeffrey G. Williamson of Harvard have pegged as the start of modern globalization—the G7 share starts to swell. Over the course of about 170 years, it goes from about one-fifth up to about two-thirds of world income. That’s how powerful globalization—the movement of goods across borders—was.

Globalization is arbitrage. What is arbitrage? It’s taking advantage of a variation in price between two markets. When the relative prices of some goods are cheap in Mexico, that’s what they sell to us, and when other goods are relatively cheap in the US, that’s what we sell to them. A two-way, buy-low/sell-high deal—that’s arbitrage, and trade theory is all about what the direction of arbitrage, and especially arbitrage in goods, is. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why policy makers should nudge more
By Alex Verkhivker – When policy makers around the world want to influence their constituents’ behavior, they have a few options. They can offer a carrot, such as a tax incentive, stipend, or other reward. They can use the legislative stick by passing a mandate or a ban.

But research suggests they should turn more often to a third tool, a “nudge,” which in many cases is the most cost-effective option.

Nudging is the word used in behavioral science for structuring policies and programs in ways that encourage, but don’t compel, particular choices. For instance, requiring people to opt out of rather than into a program, such as a retirement savings plan, might nudge them toward participating. So might reducing the paperwork necessary to enroll. more>

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updates from Chicago Booth

Why it’s so hard to simplify the tax code
By Dee Gill – Simplifying the tax code ostensibly has bipartisan backing. Both the Bush and Obama administrations advocated for simplification, in reports, as have House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat of Massachusetts). But when the Senate passed a tax bill this past December, there was no postcard.

What happened? The same thing that always does, suggest researchers. While simplicity is a stated goal, complexity wins the day. Hence companies and individuals will hire accountants to wade through the latest bill, interpret the new rules, offer guidance, and help work through the inevitable corrections and amendments.

And this comes at an economic cost. Research by James Mahon and Chicago Booth’s Eric Zwick, and others, collectively indicates that the complexity leads individuals and companies to fail to take advantage of billions of dollars in offered breaks, many of them presumably intended to stimulate the economy. In this way, complexity undermines what tax incentives are purported to accomplish. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why hasn’t technology sped up productivity?
By Chad Syverson – You can think of all productivity measures as ratios of output to input. The most common one you hear about is labor productivity, or output per worker hour.

This is the one that economists have been following the longest, and we have good confidence that we measure it as well as we can. It’s also where technological progress ought to show up: these new technologies ought to let us make great new things without having to put new resources into the production of those things.

Making better things using the same amount of resources, or making the same things using fewer resources, is, in the end, where economic growth comes from. If this phenomenon is taking place, you should see it in the data reflected as productivity growth. The problem is, if you go look for it in the United States, you don’t find it. Productivity growth hasn’t stopped altogether, but since the mid-2000s, the rate of growth has fallen considerably.

These studies typically produce figures in the neighborhood of $100 billion–$200 billion in the US. That’s not pocket change, but it’s nothing compared to the $3 trillion of output that is missing because productivity growth has slowed.

So how worried should you be? If productivity growth stays where it is, you should be worried. We are going to be considerably poorer than we would be otherwise. We already are. Ten years into the slowdown, we’re each already $9,000 poorer per year. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Google and Facebook have an effective duopoly on online advertising. For the average person, why is that a problem? Prices haven’t gone up. Why should we care?
By Luigi Zingales, Tyler Cowen – Most people don’t perceive that as a problem. The perceived price [for using Google or Facebook] is zero. It’s not really zero, because we are giving up our data in exchange. Google and Facebook’s market power in advertising increases the cost of advertising, which eventually will be reflected in the price of goods.

Antitrust in Europe is much more effective. Look at the price of cell phones and cell-phone services. They are a fraction of the price in the US, with better services. The EU is at the front end of enforcement of competition, while the US has become complacent. In the EU, they have a new directive requiring every bank to give customers access to their data at the customer’s request. That transfer creates competition because it reduces the friction and creates more opportunity for new entry. The monopoly that Facebook and Google have of our data, number one, prevents entry, and number two, gives them tremendous power. more>

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