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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gangsters, Scoundrels, and Thieves: Teaching Economics Using Nefarious Historical Characters

This weekend I am giving a presentation at the UNCW Economics Teaching Conference regarding using the Gold Rush confidence man 'Soapy' Smith to teach the notion of product differentiation. Telling stories is an excellent way to engage students and add some fun to your lecture (for both you and the students!)

You can find my slides for the presentation below and a copy of the paper, which is forthcoming in the Journal of Economic and Finance Education.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fall plans, training update, and race report

After experiencing a disappointing spring track season due to strange breathing issues (which we now think was vocal chord dysfunction after undergoing eight tests and consults to rule out more serious causes) I took the second half of June off from running and swam minimally. Starting in July, Coach Tom put me on a 10 week base-building plan after a few weeks of getting my running legs back and Coach Brett got my swimming rolling.

During those 10 weeks I built my running mileage up to 70 miles a week, did up to sixty minutes of Mill Mountain repeats a week (with my partner in crime Sarah), and swam four days a week consistently. I enjoy long hill repeats (for example 4 sets of 10:00 up Mill Mountain, jog down recovery) because of the focus on form and positive self-talk rather than splits, which is particularly helpful when just coming back into form in the heat/humidity of summer.

Three weeks ago we moved from base training to speed adaptation. Rather than having 2-3 workouts a week consisting of hills (Tuesday), aerobic threshold (Thursday), and a long run-workout (AT in middle of long run), I have 2-3 workouts a week consisting of tempo/speed mix (Tuesday), tempo (Thursday), and long run-workout (AT in middle of long run.) The purpose of this phase is to reintroduce my legs to running fast while still building strength. For example, this past Tuesday I hit the track for 3 sets of 2,000 meters at tempo effort (6:25-6:30), 1:00 jog, 1 x 300 meters at mile pace (58-59) (4:00 jogs between sets.)

I the past I have raced too soon and let the poor results get in my head. This season Coach Tom told me that I could not even pick out a race until he said so. I listened and actually enjoyed embracing the grind of training. He gave me the OK to pick a race a few weeks ago and I selected the Virginia 10 Miler 4 Mile event. The course is brutal and I have never done it (I have done the 10 Mile race several times), so there was no pressure.

Virginia 10 Miler 4 Mile Race
September 24, 2016 was a warm day for the 10 Miler competitors, but not an issue for those of us in the shorter event. I ran the first downhill mile and a half very controlled (first mile 6:07), focused on form and grinding up the hills from 1.5 to 3.5 (mile 2: 6:26, mile 3: 6:32), and giving it my all into the finish (mile 4: 6:17.) I was pleased with my strength and form and how I kicked any negative thoughts out of my head when they popped up. I won the female masters and overall race in just over 25:30 (6:25/mile average; the course was 4.03 miles) which was exciting. The biggest surprise was the $250 prize for the win (I didn't even look at prizes before the race!) 

At the top of the last big climb
 I am pleased with my early season fitness and firmly believe in my training plan. (I ignore those who mock my slow miles on recovery days.) 

The rest of my season looks like this:

October 7 - Royal Invitational 5K (Charlotte, NC; cross country)
November 6 - USATF Masters Cross Country Championships (Tallahassee, FL; 5K)
November 24 - Wrightsville Beach Turkey Trot (Wilmington, NC; road 5K)
December 2 - Homer Bast Invitational (5k, indoor track, Roanoke College)
December 10 - USATF Club Cross Country Championships (Tallahassee, FL; 6K)

Additionally I am swimming in two swim meets (October 22-23 in Charlotte and November 20 in Greensboro.)

 Good luck in your season and I will leave you with a few MAlice pictures from the 4 Miler,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Updates on the Virginia Economy

Over the past few weeks the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research has released two of my reports regarding the Virginia economy: one on consumer sentiment and inflation expectations and one regarding the real estate market.

You can read each by using the links below. As you will see, sentiments in the Commonwealth are strong and households report rising incomes (which is in keeping with national results.) There is a sentiment disparity by party as shown in the graphic below (VAICS=Virginia Index of Consumer Sentiment.) This survey was conducted before the recent gasoline shortage.

In the real estate markets, inventories are falling resulting in rising home prices. In the graphic below for sale inventories = green bars, median list price = blue line (all data from but graphic is my own.)

The real estate index varies considerably across the Commonwealth. The break even value for the index is zero where equal shares of respondents believe the current real estate market has improved over the last year as those who believe it has worsened. The figure below shows the strength in the Tidewater, Central Virginia, and the Tidewater particularly relative to Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

Read the full reports here: 

Keep your sentiments up,

Monday, June 27, 2016

My interview with Good Day Virginia on Brexit and the US economy...and a hilarious freeze frame

Per my last post, today I did an interview with a local morning news show (Good Day Virginia) on Brexit and the US economy. You can watch that interview by clicking here.

When you click on the link be sure to get a good chuckle out of the freeze frame for the video.

Brexit at Wimbledon,

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A few economics statistics regarding Brexit

Tomorrow morning I will be on Good Day Virginia (WFXR, Fox) to talk about the economics of Brexit. I pulled some data and created some graphics during my preparation this weekend. Since I cannot share the visuals on TV, I thought that I would post them here. You can click on them to enlarge.

I will post a link to the interview later, or you can watch it live around 8:00 am on WFXR (Fox)!

See you tomorrow morning,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Health care in the workplace - A presentation

Tonight I presented on health care in the workplace to the Roanoke College Management Institute Class of 2016. We had informative conversations and I learned as much (if not more) from them as they did from me. You can see my slides below.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

2016 First Quarter Consumer Sentiment some new questions regarding gas prices

My Virginia Consumer Sentiment and Price Expectations Report came out on Tuesday (originally we planned on Monday, but Trump came to the area, and I would definitely lose a media battle with him!)

Given the low gas prices, we added some questions regarding uses of the savings at the pump. Eighty-seven percent of respondents report savings, but only a third plan to spend that money. The graphic below shows the top four areas those respondents plan to spend their money:

You can read the full report here and listen to my brief interview with WFIR here.

Here is to better sentiment,

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Organized crime murders in Chicago, 1894-1930

Ever wonder how many murders were tied to organized crime in Chicago? Perhaps an odd thing to think about for some, but not for someone researching a book regarding the economics of crime and Capone's Chicago.

Northwestern University School of Law digitized Chicago homicide data from 1870-1930 and made it available to the public. I pulled those homicides related to organized crime and sorted by method. There is no record of an organized crime related homicide in Chicago until 1894: Gus Colliander, shot outside a polling place by an unknown man November 6, 1894. According to articles from the Chicago Tribune archives, Colliander was shot during a gang raid of a polling place at No. 117 Oak Street.
Source: Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1894 (online archives)
Organized crime homicides in Chicago thus began long before Al Capone. The number of organized crime related homicides drastically increased during the Capone era (at his peak between 1925 and 1930.) The most common methods of organized crime killing was the infamous "hit," or murder for hire, followed by drive by shootings. The table below shows these two methods over time, with the Capone era marked off by black lines. The peak year for mob hits during this time was 1930 with 28 incidences; the total number of homicides recorded that year in Chicago was 763 (of which 56 were mob related.)

Source: "Homocide in Chicago" and author's calculations

One soul among the 28 hits in 1930 was Walter Wakefield. Wakefield, a known Capone gang member, was shot in his home (2900 South Wells Street) by Frank 'Dale' Delbano on April 20, 1930. Two other men (Frank Debra and Joseph Special) were also shot and killed. Delbano was arrested the following day, but no charges were ever filed.

What would you like to know about the Capone era in Chicago?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Economic history of Chicago: Part I

I am in the early stages of working on my first book. The book will examine all things Al Capone through an economist's lens (Gangster Spirits). Clearly such a book must provide context: the economic and social setting of Chicago and the US in the 1920's and 1930's.

Luckily others before me collated socioeconomic data from various government agencies for Chicago from the mid-19th century through the late 20th century. I have been cleaning and merging these databases and using some basic statistics to flesh out the stories of the era.

Below is a look at the relationship between the economy (as measured by the unemployment rate) and the marriage and divorce rates in Cook County.

The earliest date available for the marriage and divorce rates at the county level is 1890. County level unemployment data is not available until 1990, so the national metric is used. For the periods that national and county level data is available (monthly, 1990-2015) the national unemployment rate explains 92% of the variation in the Cook County unemployment rate, so the national measure is assumed to be a strong proxy for the county level measure in the period shown in the chart above.

The graph suggests a couple of things:
1) marriage and divorce rates "move" together contemporaneously in Cook County
2) marriage and divorce rates appear to move cyclically (inversely with unemployment)

Correlation coefficients provide additional support for these observations. The correlation coefficients between the unemployment rate and the Cook County marriage and divorce rates are -0.42 and -0.27, respectively. That between the marriage and divorce rates in Cook County is 0.33.

Finally, two simple linear regressions generate the following estimates:

The sample size for each regression is 84 and all estimated coefficients are statistically significant at the 0.05 level or better. The negative signs for the marginal effects support point #2. The values are interpreted as:
a) for each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, the Cook County divorce rate falls by 0.07 percentage points.
b) for each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, the Cook County marriage rate falls by 0.16 percentage points.

This negative relationship is supported by other research done at the state level.

Why? First lets look at the divorce rate. As the economy worsens, couples are less likely to divorce in Cook County. Perhaps hard economic times is associated with couples bonding together and fighting for their marriage. Or...its too damn expensive (explicitly and implicitly) to get a divorce.

The marriage rate estimates can be explained similarly. When times are tough, getting married is financially less attractive. Additionally, people could be spending more time looking for a job and a way to get by than looking for a mate.

During Prohibition and the heyday of Al Capone the average values for unemployment, and Cook County marriage and divorce rates were 8.6, 11.8, and 2.4, respectively. Compare these values to their pre-Prohibition values (1890-1919): 6.7, 16.5, and 1.2.

Of course more robust analysis is required, but it appears that Prohibition was a period of higher unemployment and divorce rates and lower marriage rates than previously experienced by Cook County residents.

Do you see any other patterns or have other explanations for the estimates and trends shown above?


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fall season recap, winter/spring goals

The fall season is over and I am happy to report that things continued in the positive direction and that MAlice was showing up at races again. My key races this fall were the USATF Masters 12K National Championships and the Wrightsville Beach 5k Turkey Trot.

I did several races along the way including the Great Race 10K in Pittsburgh (1st Master (only because the first over 40 woman was one of the overall winners:)), the Vinton Fall Festival 5K (2nd female, 1st master, 19:19), and the Runway 5k in Charlotte (3rd female, 1st master, 18:52). Other than the Vinton Fall Festival where I felt flat, the races went very well. At the Runway 5K I got to "catch up" with my William and Mary team mate Laurie on the cool down. She is as sweet as ever and it felt like old times chatting away and sharing laughs. (She just ran a blistering 1:13.48 at the Jax Half Marathon last weekend as she prepares for the third Olympic Marathon Trials in February.)
Laurie Knowles and me after the 5K

At the USATF Masters National Championships in Alexandria, VA I finished 6th overall and 5th in my age group between two masters rock stars: Alisa Harvey and Cassandra Hinkiel. This was my first Masters National Championship and the atmosphere was electric. I negative splitted the race going through the mile in 6:32, 5K in 19:56, 8K 31:45, 10K in 39:47, and finishing in 47:31 (6:23/mile pace). Needless to say I was all smiles for days. I competed, I pushed when it hurt, and used positive self-talk in the tough miles. You can see the Masters results here.
Last 400 meters in the 12K (Photo: Clay Shaw)
My workouts and confidence remained strong heading into the final race of the season: the Wrightsville Beach Turkey Trot 5k. A fun race on Thanksgiving morning, fast course, lots of Without Limits friends, and a great calorie burner heading into holiday eating. I will admit to being nervous prior the race given several fast ladies were toeing the line. That lasted until the gun went off. Then I competed. I ran with the pack although I got out kicked at the end to finish second on gun time (18:43) although first with chip time (18:40...that's the time (not the place) that I am taking!) That is the fastest road 5K that I have run in at least 4 years, so I was very happy.

My plan for the winter and spring is to work on strength and endurance (both in running and swimming) through the Quintiles Half Marathon in March (with some indoor mile-5K races) and then go for some outdoor track PRs in the 1500-5K. My resolution is to consistently strength train 2-3 times per week, an important element to success in both running and swimming, but one that I frequently neglect more than I should. Masters studette Sonja Friend-Uhl gave me some great training tips and reading that I will incorporate to keep this 41-year-young body moving fast!

Speaking of 41...Erin Hogston joined me for 41 x 400 meters on December 24 (my 41st birthday)!

What are your plans for the winter and spring?