Friday, February 09, 2007

Violence in Sports

Italian soccer has been in the news lately because there were riots at a soccer match in Sicily where a police officer was killed. They cancelled the professional matches in Italy last weekend, and this weekend, they are playing the games, but not letting any fans watch them in the stadiums. European soccer has a reputation for hooliganism and has struggled to limit the violence around matches for decades.

Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, asks why there is so much less violence in American sports than in European soccer, especially since the US has a higher overall rate of violent crime.

He offers the following possible theories:
1. Many soccer matches are more local affairs than U.S. sporting events, thereby attracting a lot of fans for both teams, who are more likely to mix it up than if 95% of the fans are rooting for the same team.
2. We have better security.
3. We drink less; many U.S. stadiums and arenas now cut off the sale of beer, e.g., before the end of the game.
4. Perhaps the audiences at U.S. sporting events don’t include the criminal element — the result, perhaps, of high ticket prices.
5. For years, there has been talk of how American sports, particularly football, are a proxy for war and true violence; maybe this is actually true.
What do you think? Any of these convincing or is there something else? Don't give an answer like "Europeans are just more fanatical about soccer" unless you have an explanation for where that fanaticism comes from.

(Source: Freakonomics Blog)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sunday Alcohol Sales

There is a current proposal in the Georgia House to repeal the law that bans the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays (laws like this are also called "blue laws"). [Technically, it is a law to allow local jurisidictions to decide the issue.] The ban currently covers liquor stores and sales of beer in grocery stores, but does not cover drinks purchased in restaurants. Do you think this will have any economic impact?

(Source: Drew W.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Setting Your Watch Fast

Tim Harford also has a column in the Financial Times called "Dear Economist," where he answers "Dear Abby"-type questions with an economist's perspective. Here is one recent question:
Dear Economist,
I have the habit of setting my watch five minutes fast. This fools me into avoiding being three minutes late for meetings, or the train – well, more often than not – and instead being two minutes early. But if I am a rational economic agent, how do I succeed in fooling myself so systematically?
Yours (in haste),
Mark, Oxford
I am familiar with this because in past years in my classroom I would set the clock 3-4 minutes slow, which typically prevented students from packing up their books when there was still 5 minutes left in class.

Your first instinct would be that people learn the pattern pretty quickly and adjust their mental clocks to account for the difference. But it still works. Why do you think people succeed in fooling themselves and rational others with this?

Here is Harford's answer.

Here is a clock that assists people in fooling themselves by randomizing how fast the clock actually is (within a range).

Giving Money to a Bum

Many people would like to give money to homeless people on the street, but are hesitant because they are not sure where the money is going or whether the person really needs it. If you could be assured that a panhandler was truly in need and not going to spend the money on drugs or alcohol, many more people would give a few dollars or cents.

Tim Harford (who wrote the article you are reading this week in class) uses this idea to formulate a question: if you could ask 10 bums one common question, and give money to only one of them based on their answer, what would the question be?

One thing to keep in mind is that the bums know what you are doing, and therefore, are tempted to lie.

What would you ask and how would you decide who to give the money to?

Here are some possibilities from the economists who write for Marginal Revolution.