megaprojects are a rip-off

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I’ve always known that some city projects are simply bad deals, like sport stadiums. What I didn’t know is that there is new research showing that maga-projects of all types are a giant rip-off. Bent Flyvberg of Oxford discusses this finding a new Econ Talk podcast. What Flyvberg did was collect data on “mega-projects” – construction efforts that cost at least a billion dollars and affects a million people. What was found is that 90% of the time, mega projects are over budget, not completed on time, or do not attract the customers that were predicted (i.e., the demand was wildly over estimated). This applies to both private and public sector projects. Flyvberg also reports that smaller projects tend to do much better, for a variety of reasons.

A few comments here:

  • This is pretty strong evidence that states should completely avoid the expensive mega-sports projects like stadiums above a certain size. The Olympics, for example, should only be hosted in nations that have preexisting facilities.
  • Flyvberg points out that mega projects can even destroy the engineers and other professionals who build them. The architect of the Sydney opera only did one building in his life. The cost-overruns and delays ruined his reputation.
  • It is mainly state actors, contractors, and land owners who receive benefits.
  • I recently saw the Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Big project, but built little by little over a 100 years. A better model?
  • There are some cases of success, but they seem hard to predict ex-ante.

Bottom line: The next time they tell you that we need this multi-billion dollar road, just say no.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 28, 2015 at 12:01 am

book naming contest winner….

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The accounting firm of Weber, Durkheim and Simmel has carefully counted the votes from last week’s book naming contest. The winner will get $20 (via PayPal or ASA handoff) or one my sociology books (From Black Power or Party in the Street) or ten copies of Grad Skool Rulz mailed to friends. The winner will also be given a place of honor in the acknowledgements should the book ever get published. Drum roll, please…

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Written by fabiorojas

July 23, 2015 at 1:36 am

Posted in books, fabio, just theory

party in the streeet: response to econlog commenters

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Last week, Bryan Caplan wrote two lengthy posts about Party in the Street (here and here). He focuses on a few issues: the differences between Republican and Democratic administrations on war policy and the exaggeration of differences by activists. Bryan also argues that the arguments typically made by peace activists aren’t those he would make. Rather than condemn specific politicians or make blanket statements about war, he focuses on the death of innocents and war’s unpredictability (e.g., it is hard to judge if wars work ex ante).

The commenters raised a number of questions and issues. Here are a few:

  • Jacob Geller asks whether the collapse of the peace movement is spurious and could be attributed to other factors (e.g., the economy). Answer: There are multiple ways to assess this claim – the movement began its slide pre-recession (true), partisans are more likely to disappear than non-partisans during the recession (true), and the movement did not revive post-recession (true – e.g., few democrats have protested Obama’s war policies). Movements rise and fall for many reasons, but in this case, partisanship is almost certainly a factor.
  • Michael suggested that there was a Democratic war policy difference in that Al Gore would not have fought Iraq. One can’t establish anything with certainty using counter factual history, but Frank Harvey suggested that President Gore would like have fought Iraq, given the long standing enmity and low level armed conflict between Iraq and the Clinton administration  (including Gore).
  • Also, a few people raised the issue of voting and if the antiwar issue was salient for Democrats. A few comments – one is that in data about activists, Democrats tended to view Obama’s management of war in better terms than non-partisans. Another point is that opinions on the war affected vote choice in multiple elections. The issue, though, isn’t whether Democrats were motivated by their attitudes on the Iraq War. The issue is how that is linked to movement participation and how that changes over time, given electoral events. All evidence suggests that the democratic party and the antiwar movement dissociated over time, leading to the peace movement’s collapse.

Thanks for the comments!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

org bleg: looking for comp exam reading lists in organizations

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[Edited to add: Since posting this, lists of various sorts have come in from Indiana, Notre Dame, Michigan, Stanford, UIC, and Chicago…thanks to all who have sent them, and more are welcome!]

I need to update the core reading list for our comprehensive exam in organizations. In my department, the nature of these lists vary from field to field. Some subfields provide a well-defined reading list, some are pretty student-driven, and some (including orgs) have a core list which students supplement with additional readings in their areas of interest.

Only a few sociology departments (Arizona, Maryland, Toronto) post standard lists for qualifying exam areas. A few more post past exam questions (Wisconsin), sometimes with a few reading lists (Texas). And not all these places offer organizations comps, of course. I am not finding any equivalent lists from business schools. Organizations syllabi are, of course, easier to find, but aren’t quite the same.

If you’ve given or taken a comprehensive exam in organizations in the last five years (or a closely related area, like “work and organizations”), I’d love to see a copy of the reading list to help update ours. I will keep these private, but if I receive several, can post some summary information here on what sorts of material people are including. You can email me at Comments on what should be included or excluded or general reading list advice are also welcome below.

Written by epopp

July 21, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Posted in academia, bleg, sociology

how to increase sociology’s paycheck

with 7 comments

On Twitter, Elizabeth noted that the typical economics assistant professor makes 50% more than the typical sociologist. Rather than twist our hands and foam at the mouth, I’d like to start a more constructive conversation about how sociology might increase its paycheck.

To start, you have to understand how academic salaries are set. It goes like this: every year, your college gets a big chunk of money and part of that chunk goes to faculty salaries. Roughly speaking, the faculty salary chunk has a few major chunks – one for part timers/adjuncts; grad students; professional school faculty; and all other faculty. Within each segment, people get “around” the same amount. I am not saying that older faculty aren’t paid more. Rather, most older faculty make what younger people make plus a third, at most. At some schools, full profs make only a tiny bit more than associates or assistants. What you don’t see is senior faculty making double or triple what entry level professors make. The only exception are faculty of world class reputation (e.g., Nobel prize winners).

So how does one improve the overall economic standing of your academic discipline? How does one not get paid the same salary that the rest of the university is getting paid? One strategy is to move to a professional schools. For example, economists in business schools usually make more than those in arts and sciences. But that begs the question – why do they get paid more? Why aren’t MD’s paid what arts and sciences biologists get paid?

Answer: provide actual value to outsiders. If you can do this, you will increase the value of your discipline in two ways. First, outsiders will compete for professors in your area. Second, outsiders will pay academics and increase their salaries through grants, donations, and sponsored research. They will provide an independent pool of income in addition to what your college gives you and it won’t be taken by competing groups (e.g., the Spanish Department).

I think sociology has a lot to offer – we have invented a fair number of things that the wider world uses like focus groups and network analysis. Also, sociologists were pioneers in survey analysis. But nobody seems to know that. So here are some suggestions:

  • Change our public image from “critical” to “we know social behavior.” Note: that doesn’t mean we stop being critical, it’s about packaging.
  • Emphasize our advantage: we are the cool jack of all trades social science.
  • For the BA degree, create a track for applied (e.g., ethnography at work or big data).
  • At the PhD level, celebrate and encourage students who go to the private sector. That ethnographer who is now working in tech? Invite them for a talk!
  • At the faculty level, create “pathways” between high level policy and private jobs. For example, in economics, economists who work at the Fed frequently find their ways back to top econ programs.
  • Break out of the arts and sciences. The pool of income is highly constrained. ASU, for example, has had some success in being a stand alone social science school of sociology.

I think sociology is great, but it is not wise to take things for granted. We should innovate where we can and try to create a new niche for ourselves.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 21, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

dude, i am not white… but, um, thanks… not that there’s anything wrong with that

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A few semesters ago, one of my social theory students asked me in class how I racially identified myself. I explained that my father was from South America (Colombia) but could trace (most) of his line back to Spain while my mother was almost certainly some mix of Indian and maybe some Spanish from Costa Rica. When I asked my aunt about this, she was a bit surprised. I asked where my grandmother’s ancestors where from and she said Guanacaste, which according to wiki has a population of people with Chorotega and Spanish background. The wiki also points out that Guanacaste’s population includes people from the African Diaspora. She ceded my point.

So I told my student that I’m “toasty brown.” This was the teachable moment. Racial groups are social things, which means that to be a member of the group you need to (a) consider yourself part of the group and (b) have other people affirm that membership. If we use the standard US classification, then I don’t fit in anywhere. I don’t consider myself white, or Black, and certainly not Asian. On a technical level, one might consider me some sort of European and Indian mix, but it would be very misleading to present myself as a tribal member. So that makes me just “kind of brown.”


On bureaucratic forms, I check off “non-white Hispanic” when possible but that’s not always an option. I don’t think that “mixed race” is appropriate since that seems to indicate a person who has parents from two of the “major” census groups (White, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American). But often I am at a loss since the “Hispanic” question assumes that the “Big Four” accounts for nearly everyone in the next question. Ie, all Hispanic self-identifiers are Black, White, Asian or Native American. There seems to be little appreciation that there is a mestizo identity and that is different than White or Black. A recent Pew survey highlights this issues. According to a recent press release, about one third of American Latinos do not consider themselves in the Big Four. Most just prefer “Hispanic” (20%) and others consider themselves to be “mixed race” (13%). The bottom line is that in American culture, mestizaje is still under the radar. It will be interesting to see how that changes as Latinos become a larger portion of the population.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 20, 2015 at 4:27 am

Posted in demography, fabio, race

ibraham maalouf

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I was not familiar with this musician, but I really enjoyed this combination of free and smooth jazz, with Middle eastern harmonies tossed in. He is also involved in hip-hop. Check out his web site.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 19, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in awesome, fabio


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