Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The fruits of doing only one thing in one week

Besides watching "Spotlight" in the plane and the Sanders-Clinton debate due to the time zone, last week in Cali (Colombia) I concentrated on an unusual rather one-dimensional effort: teaching a 6 hours per day course in Applied Microeconomics, and interacting with students and faculty at Universidad Javeriana. The result of this lack of other common distractions was learning, having time to process insights and ideas from students, professors, and even from myself. For example, I realized that when students are motivated adults and have high ethical standards, one needs to spend less monitoring effort during the final exam (they just don't want to cheat). A great illustration of the interaction between internal and external institutions. Social norms save energy, which one can allocate to more productive uses. I also learned from a Cuban professor, when I asked him about the socio-political future in his country, that a likely scenario there is a political and business alliance between the military and the oligarchy in the exile, which will probably be bad for democracy, but good for stability. Another professor has done some work on large sports events, and he had developed more extensively a thought I also had at some point: these large events are wasteful to some extent, but it is difficult to achieve the same degree of coordination (including popular support) for other purposes, which implies that a coordinated effort to transform a city can hardly be done through means that are not one of these events. I also realized that there is a very simple way to classify incentives. These are not just extrinsic or intrinsic as I had been explaining in the recent past in my classes. A better classification keeps this initial taxonomy, but expands the extrinsic branch with monetary and non-monetary incentives, where the non-monetary part includes prizes, distinctions, applauses or similar extrinsic motivations. Simple, but useful.

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