Does college turn people into liberals?

Does going to college make students into political liberals?  Conservative activists have claimed that universities brainwash students and indoctrinate them into believing a liberal ideology. The line of reasoning goes like this: Liberal college professors tell students “what to think,” and “what to think” is that conservatives and their positions are to be dismissed. A state lawmaker in Iowa has even suggested universities consider political affiliation in connection with hiring practices in order to balance out the distribution of political representation on the faculty. Continue reading

Richard Thaler Wins the 2017 Economics Nobel Prize

The 2017 Nobel Prize in economics was won by the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler.  The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences gave the prize “for his contributions to behavioural economics,” which is the integration of economics with psychology.  The award was not a total surprise since Thaler’s name was floated earlier on the list of potential winners. Continue reading

Four Key Facts about Fireworks

The 4th of July is a day for many people of parades, barbeque and of course fireworks.  The tradition got its start when the founding fathers met in Philadelphia to write and sign the Declaration of Independence.  The day after the Continental Congress voted for independence, John Adams, the future U.S. president, wrote to his wife Abigail.  At the end of his letter he stated that Independence day

“ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

One year later in 1777 Philadelphia had fireworks, which Adams called “illuminations,” plus a parade commemorating Independence Day.  Since the 4th is so closely associated with fireworks here are four key points to talk about between explosions. Continue reading

Is Marriage Becoming Obsolete?

June kicks off the wedding season in the U.S.!  No matter whether you love or hate them, an astounding trend is happening.  There are fewer weddings every year.

The number of U.S. marriage ceremonies peaked in the early 1980s.  Back then there were almost 2.5 million marriages recorded each year.  Since the early 1980s, however, the total number of people getting married each year has steadily fallen.  Now, in the mid-2010s, only about 2 million marriages happen a year.  This is a drop of almost half-a-million marriages a year since the early 1980s peak.  To provide a frame of reference the reduction in weddings means more people are now injured in U.S. car crashes than getting married each year. Continue reading

Are Blondes Really Dumb?

Blondes are often stereotyped as dumb. The dumb female blonde is a staple of Hollywood movies such as Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde.” Amazon currently sells many joke books that poke fun at blondes’ lack of intelligence. While they are derided for their supposed stupidity, until now no one has actually investigated “Are blondes really dumb?” Continue reading

An Amazing Adventure: Bicycling In Rwanda

I recently completed an amazing journey; three days of mountain biking on Rwanda’s Congo-Nile Trail. The bike trip offered incredible scenery, a tremendous physical challenge and a chance to better understand one of the more intriguing countries in Africa.

Since I was short on both time and experience navigating around Rwanda, I booked the trip through Rwandan Adventures. They (especially Joanna) took care of providing bikes, a guide and bookings for accommodations, all at a very reasonable price and with amazing service. Continue reading

What Should I Take To Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?

In October my wife and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. A friend is contemplating doing the same climb and asked me for some advice on the type of gear he should use while climbing the Mountain so I am writing this for both him and anyone else interested in the climb. I am a 50+ year old college professor, not a professional climber or guide. This means the below suggestions might not match the route or conditions that you will encounter. We did a six day-five night climb with the African Walking Company up the Rongai Route, which goes up the north side of the mountain. Continue reading

Should People Be Arrested for Painting Crosswalks?

About 15 years ago Robert Putnam wrote an interesting book called “Bowling Alone.”  The book used data on participation in bowling teams, parent-teacher organizations (PTA), church attendance and other social activities to argue that the US was experiencing a breakdown in the bonds that held communities together.  Today, a man was cited by the police for repainting his town’s crosswalks after the town repeatedly delayed fixing them.  Should people be arrested for engaging in community improving activities?

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The Secret On How To Ace Large Multiple Choice Tests

Every spring for the last dozen years, I have taught and graded a giant introductory course with enrollments anywhere from 180 to 450 students. Over the years, many students have asked me the same question; “How can I improve my score on the exams?” This blog provides one of the secrets that I have learned on how to ace large multiple choice tests. Continue reading

Can Someone Explain the “Exploding Kittens” Fad?

Can someone please explain the “Exploding Kittens” fad? Exploding Kittens is one of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns. There are 3 days left to go and the company has raised about $6.5 million. What does the company plan to do?  They expect to sell a deck of playing cards. With the deck you play a straightforward game that ends when someone draws from the deck a card with a picture of an exploding cat. Continue reading

Whose College Football Team is More Profitable: OSU’s or Oregon’s?

Wow, on January 1st in New Orleans the Buckeyes toppled the number one ranked team, Alabama, in the Sugar Bowl.  This is great news since Ohio State’s team is going to play in the first national championship on January 12th against the University of Oregon’s “Mighty Ducks.”  This will clearly boost applications, increase local pride and help with donations.  Sports writers and bloggers around the country have begun comparing the two teams’ offenses, defenses and famous supporters.  As an economist my thoughts naturally wandered towards money.  I wondered which football team is more “profitable?” Continue reading

What is the Impact of College’s Desire for Ever Increasing SAT and ACT Scores?

Colleges and universities each year brag about the qualities of their incoming freshman class.  Today Ohio State released its annual report on the type of students who enrolled there.  OSU, like most selective colleges and universities, trumpeted the achievements of its entering class and like many other schools bragged that it has been ever more selective by bringing in applicants with ever higher SAT and ACT scores.  The report caused me to stop and ask myself the question, “Is there a downside to the desire by colleges to focus on continually boosting the credentials of the incoming freshman class?” Continue reading

Does Adrian Peterson Represent a New Trend in Child Abuse?

Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, is currently facing child abuse charges for using a switch (a tree branch) to discipline his 4 year old child.  The personal lives of professional athletes, famous actors and important politicians are intensely scrutinized today and often provide glimpses into new trends that are starting in the general population.  Almost all the media reports have focused on this particular case but little attention has been paid to the bigger question, “Is child abuse increasing in the USA?”

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Should We Trust the Polls on Whether Scotland Should Leave the U.K.?

On Thursday (Sept. 18th) residents of Scotland will vote on whether they should break away from the United Kingdom.  Today polls show the vote is too close to call. Moreover, the polls are much less accurate than usual.  Why are these particular polls so untrustworthy? Continue reading

Advice for First Time College Students

Summer is over and another college year is starting.  The campus is full of eager first time students.  Unfortunately, some of these new scholars will drop out, be asked to leave or simply disappear before the academic year is over.  I have noticed that students who do three simple things have a much better chance of academic success. Continue reading

How Many are Coming to My Party or Wedding?

Have you ever given a party or planned a wedding and been stressed about ordering or cooking enough food?  If you knew exactly how many people were coming, the party would be much less stressful!  The problem is that today many people cannot or will not tell you ahead of time if they are coming.  People are so last minute in making up their minds.  Given this problem, how do you figure out weeks or days ahead of time “how many people are coming to the party” so you can tell the caterer or purchase food for the right number?

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Will Fast Food Kill You?

I have recently been doing research into the question “Is it Really Just the Poor Who Eat Fast Food?”  when I came across an amazing article by Rudelt, French, and Hamack.  The article came out in September in the journal “Public Health Nutrition,” which is not a magazine most people read on a daily basis so I want to point it out here.

The authors look at how much sodium (Na) is in the food sold by fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell. Most sodium in our food comes from table salt, which is sodium chloride.  They write sodium is important because “High blood pressure is the most common risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and fourth leading causes of death  in the USA. High-Na diets are also associated with kidney disease and osteoporosis as well as stomach cancer.”

We all know fast food has a lot of salt.  Not only does the article point out how much, it shows the changes at 7 points in time from 1997 to 2009.  The article shows how much sodium is in the typical (median) lunch/dinner entree.  In 1997 the typical burger or chicken meal had 883 mg.  By 2009 the sodium content of the typical entree had risen to 1,015 mg, which is a 15% increase.  Fast food restaurants on average have been boosting the amount of salt by roughly 1% each year.

The CDC recommends that adults should have less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and that people over 51 should limit themselves to 1,500 mg.  In simple terms eating two burgers at McDonalds almost puts you at your daily limit, before you start in on the fries.

The rising levels of salt bring up an interesting economic problem.  Consumers clearly like their fast food.  These same consumers clearly dislike the rapid rise in medical care costs and insurance the US has been experiencing.  When is it right for the government to control or mandate how much salt we eat in fast food restaurants to protect health?  Should the government have no control over the rising levels of fast food salt and leave us free to make our own decisions, or should the government begin to regulate hamburgers, much like it regulates cigarettes?

Advice to High School Students: Why Should You Go To College?

I teach a large Introduction to Macroeconomics class every Spring.  For a number of years one of the local charter high schools has sent a group of their seniors to my class to give them a taste of college.  A few days ago I went to the charter high school to meet the 13 students who will be taking my class.  One of the things I talked to them about was why it is important to go and finish college.

As an economist I laid out a pretty simple argument.  If you get a 4 year college degree you earn a lot more money.  I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics quarterly “Usual weekly earnings of wage and salary workers” news release as the basis for my argument.  The numbers I used came from table 5 of the Nov 1, 2013 release, but the answers haven’t changed much from year to year.

I divided the class up into men and women and had each gender look at the table and do their own calculations.  The table shows the median weekly earnings for people with just a high school degree were $742 a week for men and $569 a week for women.  The median weekly earnings for people with just a bachelor’s degree and no higher education were $1,267 for men and $941 a week for women.

While there are many more complex and correct ways to calculate lifetime wages (see my Business Macroeconomics textbook’s Chapter 14 section 3) I had them do a simple calculation.  First they multiplied the weekly figures by 52 to turn the numbers into yearly averages.  Then they multiplied the result by 40 since the average person spends about 40 years in the labor force.  We finally rounded the results and got the following table.

Men With Just a High School Degree $1.5 million lifetime earnings

Men with a College Degree $2.6 million lifetime earnings

Additional amount earned by going to college $1.1 million


Women With Just a High School Degree $1.2 million lifetime earnings

Women with a College Degree $2.0 million lifetime earnings

Additional amount earned by going to college $800 thousand

There were two reactions to the table.  The first was anger by a lot of women about the large difference in lifetime pay.  The second was the recognition that even if college is expensive it clearly seems worth it to go and graduate.  I don’t know if the promise of more gold at the end of the rainbow will help some of them complete college but it is eye-opening how large the pay gap is currently between high school graduates and college graduates.