Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Trump administration considers, and reconsiders, another approach to saving elephants

Here's a story about a policy the Trump administration announced and then paused on:

The Washington Post has the first story here
Trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe were banned in the U.S. Trump just reversed that.  By Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears November 16

"The Trump administration is now allowing the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported to the United States as trophies, with officials signaling they will expand efforts to promote trophy hunting as a form of conservation.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement late Wednesday.
Under the Obama administration, elephant-hunting trophies were allowed in South Africa and Namibia but not in Zimbabwe because Fish and Wildlife decided in 2015 that the nation had failed to prove that its management of elephants enhanced the population. At the time, Zimbabwe could not confirm its elephant population in a way that was acceptable to U.S. officials and did not demonstrate an ability to implement laws to protect it.
"The change applies to elephants shot in Zimbabwe on or after Jan. 21, 2016, and to those legally permitted to be hunted before the end of next year.
The African elephant population in that country has fallen 6 percent in recent years, according to the Great Elephant Census project. It is relatively stable in Zambia, which has decided to renew hunting after having previously banned it because of several decades of sharp decline.
"The shift in U.S. policy comes just days after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke established an “International Wildlife Conservation Council” to advise him on how to increase Americans’ public awareness of conservation, wildlife enforcement and the “economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling abroad to hunt.”

And here's the second installment:
Trump halts big-game trophy decision By Ashley Parker November 17
"President Trump abruptly reversed his administration’s Thursday decision to allow elephants shot for sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported back to the United States as trophies, saying in a tweet Friday night that he was putting the decision “on hold” until further review.
"Trump’s sudden tweet halted a decision by his own administration, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, to end a 2014 government ban on big-game trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia, saying it would help the conservation of the species."

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Open algorithms" law proposed in New York City

Here is a bill that has been proposed (and sent to committee) by the New York City Council:
Automated processing of data for the purposes of targeting services, penalties, or policing to persons.
Title: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to automated processing of data for the purposes of targeting services, penalties, or policing to persons
Summary:This bill would require agencies that use algorithms or other automated processing methods that target services, impose penalties, or police persons to publish the source code used for such processing. It would also require agencies to accept user-submitted data sets that can be processed by the agencies’ algorithms and provide the outputs to the user.

Here's a story about the proposed bill, in Education Week, which focuses on the NYC high school school-choice algorithm (which is a version of the deferred acceptance algorithm)

'Open Algorithms' Bill Would Jolt New York City Schools, Public Agencies
By Benjamin Herold

"The New York City Council is considering a requirement that all city agencies publish the source code behind algorithms they use to target services to city residents, raising the specter of significant changes in how the country's largest school district assigns students to high school, evaluates teachers, and buys instructional software.

"In an age where public officials increasingly rely on big data to make decisions, proponents describe the measure as a first-of-its-kind attempt to bolster government transparency and accountability.

"While it is undeniable that these tools help city agencies operate more effectively and offer residents more targeted impactful services, algorithms are not without issue," said the bill's author, Councilmember James Vacca, during a hearing last month on the proposed legislation.

"In our city, it is not always clear when and why agencies deploy algorithms, and when they do, it is often unclear what assumptions [those algorithms] are based upon and what data they even consider."

"The bill has sparked strong, and mixed, reactions.

"The office of Mayor Bill de Blasio says it supports the measure's intent, but objects to its scope. Other observers point to the possibility of unintended consequences, including potential security risks and a possible chilling effect on businesses worried about protecting their proprietary computer code. And the creator of the 1.1-million student New York City school system's most well-known automated decision-making system says its algorithms are already open—but that hasn't prevented widespread confusion and complaints.
"Indeed, one of the examples that Vacca has cited repeatedly when discussing the bill is New York's complicated high-school assignment system, one of several across the country that relies on software to match students with schools. (For a detailed description of how the system works, see this 2013 Education Week story.)
"I strongly believe the public has a right to know when decisions are made using algorithms, and they have a right to know how these decisions are made," Vacca said during the October hearing. "When the Department of Education uses an algorithm to assign children to different high schools, and a child is assigned to their sixth choice, they and their family have a right to know how that algorithm determined that their child would get their sixth choice."
In written response to questions from Education Week, Vacca said he hoped his legislation would also bring transparency and improvements to the district's "inaccurate or erratic teacher evaluations," which he said "can occasionally spit out pretty different scores for the same teachers from year to year, or low scores for good teachers."
And outside observers point out that nearly all schools, including those in New York, use a wide range of instructional and administrative software programs that rely on algorithms.
"It would be fascinating to get a peek under the hood of proprietary educational software that purports to be adaptive and personalized," said Fontaine of Data & Society. "In addition, many charter-management organizations are deeply invested in data-driven decision-making and invest significant resources in the collection, aggregation, and presentation of data to demonstrate their effectiveness."

'Complicated Material'

In a statement, the 1.1-million student New York City school system said that is reviewing the bill's potential impact.
Neil Dorosin had a more substantive take, highlighting some of the on-the-ground challenges associated with making automated decision-making accessible to the public.
Now the executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, or IIPSC, Dorosin previously worked as the director of high-school-admissions operations for the New York City schools, where he helped implement the algorithm-driven high-school-assignment process that is in place today.
In an interview, Dorosin said parents and the general public are certainly entitled to know how students are assigned to schools, including the specific algorithms at work.
The problem, he said, is that the algorithm in question ... is already open to public inspection. It's called the Gale-Shapley algorithm. You can find it on Wikipedia. One of its creators, Lloyd S. Shapley, shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics with Alvin Roth, who chairs IIPSC's scientific advisory board.
In the context of New York City schools, the algorithm works by analyzing information from students and parents themselves (a rank-order listing of schools they want to attend) and from the Department of Education (each school's admissions rules and preferences.) Dorosin pointed out that the latter set of information is also public, in the district's annual high school directory."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Nava Ashraf interviews me about market design (video, 11 minutes)

Nava Ashraf and I talk about market design in this video recorded when I visited the LSE:


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

OneMatch for Indianapolis schools opens today

Here's an article that I think does an unusually good job of explaining both the benefits of a unified enrollment school choice system, and some of the objections it is facing as it is introduced.

1 Application Will Cover Enrollment For IPS And Indy Charter Schools  by ERIC WEDDLE.

"A new online enrollment system for families to enroll their kids in grades K-12 for the 2018-19 school year at Indianapolis Public Schools and most Marion County charter schools begins Wednesday.

"The so-called common enrollment process is a major shift for city parents and schools. Families will longer fill out separate paperwork for IPS magnet schools and neighborhood schools, or need to remember a smattering of enrollment deadlines among dozens of charter schools.

"Instead, families will log on to a website, pick the schools they want to attend, rank them in order by preference and wait to find out which school their child will attend. The first enrollment round begins Wednesday, Nov. 15, and ends January 15. Enrollment results will be announced February 15

"Cities, including Denver and New Orleans, offer a variation of the one-application approach. Support in Indianapolis has come IPS, the Mayor’s Office, most of the city’s charter schools and local education reform group The Mind Trust.

"As the new system has been rolled out some have raised concerns over the complexity and transparency of the process. 

"Caitlin Hannon, founder of Enroll Indy, the local nonprofit managing the OneMatch enrollment system, says it creates equity by simplifying where families get information about schools and using a computer algorithm to match a child with an open seat.

“It doesn't matter who your parent is,” Hannon says about how students are selected to attend schools with long waiting lists.  “It doesn't matter who you know or how much money you have or if you bake brownies for the school secretary.”

"The technology behind the system is similar to what is used for National Resident Matching Program through which most American doctors get their first job, according to the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice which creates the algorithm used by OneMatch.

"Families are expected to use Enroll Indy’s website to find a school that matches their need and interest, such as it academic performance, after-school care and transportation options.

"Though OneMatch, also part of the Enroll Indy website, families can choose up to ten schools they would want their child to attend and rank the schools in priority.

"The algorithm factors in priories associated with each student -- such as whether they live in a pre-drawn school boundary zone, if a sibling already attends a school and if a parent works for IPS -- and assigns a random lottery number.

The system runs everyone’s choice at the same time and fills open seats based on those factors, Hannon says. IPS will no longer offer waitlist positions for programs that reach capacity. Rather, Hannon says, students will be assigned their top option based on availability.

“This is not about putting you in a school that isn't a school that you want,” says Hannon, a former IPS School Board commissioner. “This is about you telling us what you want, the priorities of the school, and your random lottery number. Those are the only three factors.”

"Unlike in the past, Hannon says, the system will also explain to families why they did not get the school they wanted.

"The new system requires all schools taking part to use a single enrollment application, follow three enrollment windows and use a random lottery process to select which students make it into popular academic programs.

"But not all Indianapolis charter schools are taking part, including Christel House Academy.

Carey Dahncke, head of schools, says the charter network is taking a wait-and-see approach to OneMatch for its two schools.

“Our enrollment has been strong, so the idea of changing practice just didn't seem necessary,” he says.

"Phalen Leadership Academy also did not sign on but two IPS innovation schools managed by the company will use OneMatch.

"The two networks will continue to enroll students using their own system and deadlines.

"The IPS Community Coalition, a group critical of ongoing changes within IPS, has described the OneMatch system as being akin to the dystopian Hunger Games series. In a recent Facebook post, the group said the enrollment system dictates schools choice, not the parents.

"The parents only provide the list of 10. This starts to look like some strange robotic, authoritarian system of the allocation of scarce resources (the 'good' schools), kind of like the Hunger Games. This looks like an inhumane system, not a parent and child-friendly one," the group wrote.

"In a public response, Hannon disputed the notion that families are not choosing their schools.

"We don’t decide anything for families -- they just apply and we run a lottery -- the same way it’s been done for years but in a more efficient place so families don’t have to apply all over the city," she wrote.

"Enrollment for 2018-19 will be held during three rounds: Nov. 15 - Jan. 15 with results on Feb. 15; Jan. 16 - April 15 with results on May 15; April 16 - June 15 with results on June 30. Late enrollment starts July 1.

Enrollment for IPS preschool students will continue to be handled by the SchoolMint application system."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Economics in the Age of Algorithms, Experiments, and A.I., in Seattle

The NABE Tech Economics Conference, Career Fair and Expo will be on the theme   Economics in the Age of Algorithms, Experiments, and A.I.,  tomorrow and Thursday, November 15-16 in Seattle.

I'll speak at lunch tomorrow, on
 Marketplaces and Market Design - Matching Markets and Kidney Exchange

Here's the program.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How often should a kidney exchange network run matches? (Often, it turns out...)

Forthcoming in the American Journal of Transplantation:

The effect of match-run frequencies on the number of transplants and waiting times in kidney exchange


  • This article has been accepted for publication and undergone full peer review but has not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination and proofreading process, which may lead to differences between this version and the Version of Record. Please cite this article as doi: 10.1111/ajt.14566


Numerous kidney exchange (kidney paired donor (KPD)) registries in the U.S have gradually shifted to high frequency match-runs, raising the question of whether this harms the number of transplants. We conduct simulations using clinical data from two KPD registries—the Alliance for Paired Donation, which runs multi-hospital exchanges, and Methodist San Antonio, which runs single center exchanges–to study how the frequency of match-runs impacts the number of transplants and the average waiting times. We simulate the options facing each of the two registries by repeated resampling from their historical pools of patient-donor pairs and non-directed donors, with arrival and departure rates corresponding to the historical data. We find that longer intervals between match-runs do not increase the total number of transplants, and that prioritizing highly sensitized patients is more effective than waiting longer between match-runs for transplanting highly sensitized patients. While we do not find that frequent match-runs result in fewer transplanted pairs we do find that increasing arrival rates of new pairs improves both the fraction of transplanted pairs and waiting times.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Corruption as an equilibrium

WHY I AM CORRUPT | In Defense of Nigerians by Ayo Sogunro

"I am corrupt because the alternative is dangerous. In the final analysis, the price of honesty outweighs the consequences of corruption. Because there is no safety net for the honest person. Because a N100 note privately donated to the policeman is less cumbersome and less problematic than an honest trip to a Nigerian police station. I am corrupt because corruption is a logical process, because integrity is unreasonable. I am corrupt because corruption is ordinary: a mundane fact of life. I am corrupt because corruption works."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Alabama adopts a paid leave program for organ donations

Here's the story:
Alabama adopts a paid leave program for organ donations

"Under a new state provision, a permanent employee with at least one year of state service may be granted living donor leave, with pay, for donating an organ or bone marrow.
"Based on physician orders, the employer may receive up to 30 days to donate an organ and up to seven days to donate bone marrow. The employee does not have to exhaust his or her leave accruals for the procedures."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Buying body parts is easy, as long as you don't use them for transplants

Cashing in on the donated dead: The Body Trade

Part 1: When Americans leave their bodies to science, they are also donating to commerce: Cadavers and body parts, especially those of the poor, are sold in a thriving and largely unregulated market. Grisly abuses abound.
"Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.
"Because only four states closely track donations and sales, the breadth of the market for body parts remains unknown. But data obtained under public record laws from those states – New York, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida – provide a snapshot. Reuters calculated that from 2011 through 2015, private brokers received at least 50,000 bodies and distributed more than 182,000 body parts."

Part 2: After a few emails, a body broker sold reporter Brian Grow two heads and a cervical spine. The spine came from a young man whose parents were too poor to bury him – and they say they never knew his body would be sold.

"Whether Restore Life vetted the buyer is unclear. But if workers there had verified their customer’s identity, they would have learned he was a reporter from Reuters. The news agency was seeking to determine how easy it might be to buy human body parts and whether those parts would be useful for medical research. In addition to the spine, Reuters later purchased two human heads from Restore Life, each priced at $300.

"The transactions demonstrate the startling ease with which human body parts may be bought and sold in the United States. Neither the sales nor the shipments violated any laws, say lawyers, professors and government officials who follow the issue closely. Although it’s illegal to sell organs used for transplants, it’s perfectly legal in most states to sell body parts that were donated for research or education. Buying wine over the Internet is arguably more tightly controlled, generally requiring at minimum proof of age.

Part 3: Science Care reaps $27 million in annual revenue by recruiting body donors through hospices, funeral homes and online ads.

"The typical pitch to the dying and their families is two-pronged. The first is altruism: The gift of a body will benefit medical science and, by extension, others in need.

"The second is financial: Body donation saves a family money. The average funeral, including coffin, memorial service and burial, costs about $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Simple cremation, an increasingly popular option, costs $400 to $1,000 or more.

"Body brokers like Science Care offer the cheapest option: free cremation in exchange for the body. The deal: Science Care pays for the cremation of a donor’s unused remains and for returning the ashes to the bereaved family, usually after a few weeks."

Part 4: Arthur Rathburn is accused of dismembering donated bodies with a chainsaw and renting HIV-infected parts to medical professionals. Prosecutors hailed his arrest as a crackdown. But for years, Reuters found, authorities let him do business despite signs of his bizarre practices.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Legal prostitution and crime in the Netherlands

Here's a new paper on the relationship of legal prostitution and crime.

Street Prostitution Zones and Crime 
Paul Bisschop, Stephen Kastoryano, and Bas van der Klaauw,
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2017, 9(4): 28–63

Abstract: "This paper studies the effects of legal street prostitution zones on registered and perceived crime. We exploit a unique setting in the Netherlands where these tippelzones were opened in nine cities under different regulation systems. Our difference-in-difference analysis of 25 Dutch cities between 1994-2011 shows that opening a tippelzone decreases registered sexual abuse and rape by about 30-40 percent in the first two years. For cities which enforced licensing in tippelzones, we also find reductions in drug-related crime and long-term effects on sexual assaults. Effects on perceived drug nuisance depend on the regulation system and the proximity of respondents to the tippelzone."

See my earlier post, about a paper drawing similar conclusions from a different kind of natural experiment.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kidney exchange authorized in Argentina

A judicially-authorized kidney exchange already took place in Argentina (involving a well known journalist, Jorge Lanata), but now, Julio Elias points out to me,  a regular program of kidney exchange has been authorized:

Donación de órganos
Aprueban la donación renal cruzada, que posibilitó el inédito trasplante de Lanata
El Incucai autorizó el programa que busca reducir los tiempos de espera para quienes necesitan un trasplante de riñón.
[They approve the crossed renal donation, that made possible the unpublished transplant of Lanata
The Incucai authorized the program that seeks to reduce the waiting times for those who need a kidney transplant.]

The formal description of the program's rules is here (in pdf in Spanish):

See my earlier post:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kidney exchange talk at INCUCAI in Buenos Aires

On my visit to Argentina last week I gave a talk Wednesday on kidney exchange at the Argentine transplant coordination authority INCUCAI, which was followed by a lively and largely positive discussion of how (and whether) to try to bring kidney exchange to Argentina...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

School choice in Indianapolis, and elsewhere

The Indy Star has the story on the imminent rollout of centralized school choice in Indianapolis:
Major changes await those wanting to enroll at IPS and charters, but no wait lists

"Wait lists for a spot in Indianapolis' most-desired schools are about to be a thing of the past.

Nearly all of the city's charter schools and all Indianapolis Public Schools programs will have a common application through the a new unified enrollment system called Enroll Indy. Starting next month, families can apply for a spot in up to 10 schools for the 2018-19 school year with just one application. "

Earlier posts on school choice in Indianapolis here. Indianapolis has a full school choice system that elicits a rank order preference list of schools from each family and assigns each student to the single most preferred available.  This is the kind of school choice system that has been promoted by  IIPSC.

This is not to be confused with school systems that offer a common application, without centralized admissions. These remove the congestion involved in making multiple applications, but don't do anything about the congestion involved in some students receiving multiple offers which must be resolved before other students can be assigned to a school. (This raises a number of potential problems.)

For a school district that has just adopted a common application without a centralized school assignment, see e.g. Houston:
50 Houston Charter Schools Accept New Common Application, whose common app is here: Welcome to ApplyHouston!, organized by Schoolmint

Monday, November 6, 2017

The American market for machine guns

Here's an extensive excerpt from a long article on on the (complicated) legal status of machine gun sales in the U.S. (Machine guns have some similarities to artifacts made of elephant ivory: it is legal to own old ones but not new ones...)

Machine Guns Are Legal: A Practical Guide to Full Auto

"For the sake of this article, the word “machine gun” will meet the ATF’s definition: Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.
The machine gun was invented by American Hiram Maxim, and interestingly enough, the USA is one of the few countries on the planet where regular folks can in fact own a fully automatic firearm. In fact, machine guns have never been illegal in the USA on a federal level. They are heavily regulated, but not illegal at all.
The timeline of machine gun legislation is as follows:
Prior to 1934, machine guns were not regulated any differently than any other firearm. You could quite literally order a machine gun from a mail order catalog… and people did. Thompsons for example initially did not interest the military too terribly much, but the gunsfound a niche with individuals seeking personal protection, police agencies, and unfortunately, gangsters.  ...
"Prompted by prohibition era gangsters and the rise of organized crime (law enforcement was seriously outgunned by the likes of bad guy like Dillinger), the United States drafted the National Firearms Act which passed in 1934. The National Firearms Act did not ban machine guns, but it made them impossible to afford for most people. To buy a machine gun under the 1934 NFA, an individual needs to submit the following (the procedure remains unchanged even today):
  • Pay a tax of $200, which in 1934 was worth over $3,500
  • Fill out a lengthy application to register your gun with the federal government
  • Submit photographs
  • Submit passport photos
  • Get your chief law enforcement official to sign your application
  • Wait for the results of your background check to come back
A violation of the national firearms act results in a felony punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison, a $100,000 fine, and forfeiture of the individual’s right to own or possess firearms in the future.
The next big piece of legislation pertinent to machine guns occurred in 1968 with the GunControl Act. The Gun Control Act established that imported firearms that had “no sporting purpose” were not able to be sold to civilians. Machine guns as a whole were determined to have no sporting purpose, and thus any MG imported after ’68 are able to be owned only by dealers, military, and police agencies. One bit of good this act did was allowed for a registration amnesty. It became apparent that there were so many unregistered machine gunsin the US that had been brought back by veterans, that they should be able to register them tax free. Luckily many of them did, but the amnesty ended after just one month (the feds owe us another few months, this humble author believes).
The last piece of machine gun legislation is to many the coup de grace. In 1986 the FirearmOwners Protection Act was intended to prevent the federal government from creating a registry of gun owners. At the last minute, William Hughes added an amendment that called for the banning of machine guns. Charlie Rangel said that the “amendment in the nature of a substitute, as amended, was agreed to.” However, after the voice vote on the Hughes Amendment, Rangel ignored a plea to take a recorded vote and moved on to Recorded Vote 74 where the Hughes Amendment failed. The bill passed on a motion to recommit. Despite the controversial amendment, the Senate adopted H.R. 4332 as an amendment to the final bill. The bill was subsequently passed and signed on May 19, 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. Thus, Reagan’s signature banned the registration of new machine guns in the USA.
So what does this mean? This is where it gets complicated:
  • Machine guns are not illegal, but it is illegal to make and register new ones on a form 1 (as you would do for an SBR)
  • There is no way around the May 19th, 1986 date. if the machine gun in question was made after that date, you may not own it (unless you are a dealer)
Also, there are three types of machine guns that determine the gun’s legal status:
  • Transferable: Guns registered prior to May 19th, 1986 that are able to be owned by everyone. There are only 182,619 transferable machine guns according to the ATF.
  • Pre-Samples: Machine guns imported after 1968 but before May 19th, 1986. The 1968 GCA established that machine guns with no sporting purposes could not be sold to civilians. Dealers can however buy them and keep them after they give up their licenses. As a general rule, pre-samples cost about half that of a transferable.
  • Post-Samples: Machine guns made after the May 19th, 1986 cutoff date. These are only for dealers, manufacturers, military, and police. A manufacturer who pays $500 a year is permitted by the federal government to manufacture these. A dealer (who is not a manufacturer) may acquire these if a police agency provides a “demo letter”. A demo letter is simply a letter from a PD asking you to acquire a sample gun for them to test and evaluate for potential purchase. Unfortunately dealers must sell or destroy post samples when they give up their license.