Saturday, October 30, 2021

Some behavioral economics links for IB economics students

'Behavioral economics' is the new kid on the block for IB economics students (syllabus section 2.4).  Specifically the new IB Economics syllabus expects candidates not only to be able to explain  (AO2) but also to be able to respond to essay questions that have 'discuss', 'evaluate', 'examine', to what extent' etc. (AO3) as command terms (also using real world examples).  The following is directly from the 2020 syllabus:

Behavioral economics—limitations of the assumptions of rational consumer choice

  • Biases—rule of thumb, anchoring and framing, availability
  • Bounded rationality
  • Bounded self-control
  • Bounded selfishness
  • Imperfect information

Behavioral economics in action (HL only)

  • Choice architecture—default, restricted, and mandated choices
  • Nudge theory

There are plenty of sources for instructors to use beyond IB dedicated Textbooks and Study Guides.  I asked my Year 1 kids to prepare and present BE LOs in class.  I gave them lots of articles, papers, interviews, talks on these issues to consult.  I initially had assigned the works for all so that all would study and take notes on all issues (it would be like a flipped classroom thing that I rarely, if ever, attempt) and then, the day before the presentations, I narrowed down to a specific bias or issue for each student (or duet) to 'teach'.  It worked out ok; a few kids did a superb job.

There is one more site that I did not give my students before this assignment (now they are obviously aware of it) that I think may prove very useful for all.  It has tons of interesting and useful information, the surface of which I have only scratched.

These are a few links related to issues of (at least some) interest to IB Economics students:

Anchoring bias  

The availability heuristic

The framing effect

The restraint bias (self-control)

On bounded rationality

On heuristics - rules of thumb

On Herbert Simon

On Richard Thaler

On Daniel Kahneman

All of the above and much more are found here, at The Decision Lab.  Definitely worth visiting.

Another related and very interesting site worth visiting is BEworks (also a Canadian consulting firm; Dan Ariely is co-founder and chief behavioral scientist there - he has an interesting article in the 2021 BE works Choice Architecture Report that one may download for free.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

"...bottom line is that climate policy has not progressed over the last three decades": The "wobbly" Paris Agreement and the "syndrome of free riding"

The two opening paragraphs of the article this post is all about should really catch the attention of all IB Higher level and Standard level candidates (and, teachers IMO).  Section 2.8 of the new (current) syllabus is "Market failure—externalities and common pool or common access resources". Candidates are expected to know how to clearly and with the use of appropriate diagrams explain negative externalities of production as well as common access resources and to also explain responses that include international agreements.  

Of particular interest and significance is the next learning outcome which is an AO3.  AO3 means that these topics can feature in questions that use as command terms 'evaluate', 'discuss' and 'examine', typical in part (b) of Paper 1 (HL&SL) essays where real world examples are expected (and will make the difference in allocating marks).  Here is the learning outcome: "Strengths and limitations of government policies to correct externalities and approaches to managing common pool resources of effectiveness'.  The syllabus continues with this AO3 learning outcome: Importance of international cooperation" that includes "Challenges faced in international cooperation" as well as "Monitoring, enforcement".

It should be clear from the above that IB Economics students (HL&SL) should invest some time on studying the 2015 Paris Agreement as they should be able to present, explain and evaluate / discuss this agreement as a most important 'example' of international cooperation  (you can read the official agreement here and read about it in a nutshell from the UNCC here). 

The article I was referring to in the opening sentence of this post was published in Foreign Affairs.  It is by William Nordhaus, who received in 2018 the Nobel Prize "for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis" (see also this to get an idea about his most impressive career/work and interests).  The article is titled "The Climate Club: How to Fix a Failing Global Effort".  These are the opening paragraphs:

Climate change is the major environmental challenge facing nations today, and it is increasingly viewed as one of the central issues in international relations. Yet governments have used a flawed architecture in their attempts to forge treaties to counter it. The key agreements, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris climate accord, have relied on voluntary arrangements, which induce free-riding that undermines any agreement.

States need to reconceptualize climate agreements and replace the current flawed model with an alternative that has a different incentive structure—what I would call the “Climate Club.” Nations can overcome the syndrome of free-riding in international climate agreements if they adopt the club model and include penalties for nations that do not participate. Otherwise, the global effort to curb climate change is sure to fail.

The problem with the Paris Agreement is that after 25  "climate meetings (COPs) (and here) there is very little progress in meeting the goals as "there is no binding international agreement on climate change". 

As mentioned in the title of this post, at the heart of the problem is the 'syndrome of free riding':

The reason is free-riding, spurred by the tendency for countries to pursue their national interests. Free-riding occurs when a party receives the benefits of a public good without contributing to the costs. In the case of international climate change policy, countries have an incentive to rely on the emission reductions of others without making costly domestic reductions themselves.

Nations have failed to stop nuclear proliferation, overfishing in the oceans, littering in space, and transnational cybercrime. 

and, Nordhaus continues:

When it comes to climate change policies today, nations speak loudly but carry no stick at all.

Are we doomed? Are there 'solutions' as a dear colleague likes saying? 

The key to an effective climate treaty is to change the architecture, from a voluntary agreement to one with strong incentives to participate. 

Successful international agreements function as a kind of club of nations. Although most people belong to clubs, they seldom consider their structure. A club is a voluntary group deriving mutual benefits from sharing the costs of producing a shared good or service. The gains from a successful club are sufficiently large that members will pay dues and adhere to club rules to get the benefits of membership.

The principal conditions for a successful club include that there is a public-good-type resource that can be shared (whether the benefits from a military alliance or the enjoyment of low-cost goods from around the world); that the cooperative arrangement, including the costs or dues, is beneficial for each of the members; that nonmembers can be excluded or penalized at relatively low cost to members; and that the membership is stable in the sense that no one wants to leave.

So, what are the conditions?

The first is that participating countries would agree to undertake harmonized emission reductions designed to meet a climate objective (such as a two-degree temperature limit). The second and critical difference is that nations that do not participate or do not meet their obligations would incur penalties. 

Please, do read the article for the specifics that Nordhaus proposes.

And, do jot down a few points to remember in a May or November IB Economics exam.

Remember, that questions relating to issues of global importance are always sought by examiners / question-setters.  It only makes sense. 

PS: You could also read about the main points of the Nordhaus article 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Maxims for thinking analytically

A very interesting book recently came to my attention while I was visiting the US.  It's title is "Maxims for Thinking Analytically: The Wisdom of Legendary Harvard Professor Richard Zeckhauser".  It is exactly what the title suggests.  I managed to read only about half of it as I bought it only a couple of days before my return flight so I had to mail it back home together with quite a few other books I had purchased (max 23 kilos allowed...).  Still, not here...

I can't wait to get it and finish reading it.  Easy to read but forces you to reflect and to often re-evaluate decisions made without deeper thinking.

This is from a post in Jeffrey Frankel's blog Views on the Economy and the World (Frankel, a renowned macroeconomist, is a colleague of Zeckhauser at Harvard) on this book:

I recommend it highly. This is not a collection of tangential papers published together in someone’s honor.  Rather each chapter consists of an immortal maxim of Richard’s together with applications to real-world decision-making, whether at the personal or public-policy level. There are 19 such pithy insights, such as “Think probabilistically about the world,” or “Good decisions sometimes have poor outcomes,” or “Eliminate regret.”  Dan skillfully weaves into each of his chapters concise contributions from a big set of Zeckhauser-admirers, including Max Bazerman, Jason Furman, Hsien Loong Lee, Jennifer Lerner, Barry Nalebuff, Larry Summers, among many others. My own contribution is to Chapter 10.  Richard’s 10th maxim is: “Errors of commission should be weighted the same as errors of omission.” 

Worth reading the rest of Frankel's post and, of course, buying and reading Zeckhoauser's book!