Friday, October 31, 2014

Deceased donor waiting times, and OrganJet

Here's an article by Daniela Lamas in the Atlantic on waiting times by region, and how to register at a transplant center outside of your home region:

A Private Jet Is Waiting to Take You to Your Kidney Transplant
"Waiting lists for donations can vary dramatically between cities--so OrganJet provides planes to fly patients to their new organs."

The article focuses on Sridhar Tayur, and OrganJet: my previous posts on OrganJet are here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Traditional auction houses move online

Competition, like similarity, isn't as symmetric as we think. Where once eBay competed with established auctioneers like Christies and Sotheby's, now they are playing catchup in the market that eBay pioneered.

Carol Vogel in the NY Times has the story: Gone, in an Instant Auction

"Right now it’s possible to click on and bid on a Warhol drawing, a Helmut Newton photograph and an ostrich Hermès Birkin bag. Often there is a selection of rare wines to be purchased there, too.
And last year, the auction house introduced a buy-it-now feature echoing eBay that offers a head-spinning variety of watches that can be snapped up instantly. “The main objective here is the acquisition of new clients,” said Steven P. Murphy, Christie’s chief executive. “We’re building our online business the old-fashioned way, brick by brick.”
So far the auction house says it has invested $50 million in hiring experts and building its own infrastructure. It dipped its toes in online-only auctions in 2011 with a sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s clothes and jewelry. That effort ramped up considerably last year when Christie’s held 51 online-only sales. Officials there said that number was increasing by 50 percent this year.
Both Christie’s and its rival Sotheby’s introduced online bidding during their live auctions about four years ago. Their success, coupled with the realization that a new population of online shoppers is waiting to be tapped around the world, is what is driving their focus on online-only sales.
While Christie’s is promoting its homegrown e-commerce business, Sotheby’s is taking a different route. In July it announced a partnership with eBay. In the next few months Sotheby’s plans to broadcast most of its live auctions on a new area of eBay’s website. And over time Sotheby’s and eBay will add more options for shoppers, including online-only sales. Sotheby’s hopes to lure eBay’s nearly 150 million customers into being as comfortable buying a 19th-century dining room table or Damien Hirst print as they are a new suitcase or a pair of sneakers.
“Both auction houses are racing to catch up with luxury retailing that has been a huge success online,” said Josh Baer, an art adviser who publishes the Baerfaxt, an industry newsletter, and who was hired by eBay last year to help shape its art programs. “It is now clear to everyone in the art business that it is no longer if online sales of art can happen, but who executes them best.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Personalization of prices, and other things, on the web

Elizabeth Dwoskin has the story in the WSJ:
Why You Can’t Trust You’re Getting the Best Deal Online
A Study Finds Discriminatory Pricing on E-Commerce Sites Is More Widespread Than Thought

"The study, by a team of computer scientists at Northeastern University, tracked searches on 16 popular e-commerce sites. Six of those sites used the pricing techniques; none of the sites alerted consumers to that fact.

"Among the study’s findings: Travel-booking sites Cheaptickets and Orbitz charged some users searching hotel rates an average $12 more per night if they weren’t logged into the sites, and Travelocity charged users of Apple Inc. ’s iOS mobile operating system $15 less for hotels than other users.

"Home Depot Inc. shows mobile-device users products that are roughly $100 more expensive than those offered to desktop-computer users. And Expedia and steer users at random to pricier products, the study said.

“In the real world, there are coupons and loyalty cards, and people are fine with that,” said Christo Wilson, an assistant professor at Northeastern who led the research team. “Here, there’s a transparency problem. The algorithms change regularly, so you don’t know if other people are getting the same results.”

Here's the paper that sparked the newspaper story:
Measuring Price Discrimination and Steering on E-commerce Web Sites
by Aniko Hannak, Gary Soeller, David Lazer, Alan Mislove,  and Christo Wilson (all at Northeastern University).

and here's the website of the group: Personalization Research @ Northeastern

Monday, October 27, 2014

Microeconomics and computer science at Cornell: auctions and privacy

Gates Hall isn't a bad name for a building in which to schedule a seminar in which economics and computers are the subject...

Joint Microeconomics and Computer Science Workshop, Aaron Roth

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 4:00pm

Aaron Roth

University of Pennsylvania

310 Gates Hall


Event Categories: Microeconomic Theory
Private and (Asymptotically) Truthful Combinatorial Auctions

Aaron Roth
Monday, October 27, 2014
4:00pm 310 Gates Hall
Consider the following problem: a large public electricity provider (say, in California) faces a situation where demand for electricity might, without intervention, rise above the utility's ability to generate power. Rather than resorting to rolling brown-outs, however, a forward-thinking ballot initiative has given the utility the ability to shut off the air-conditioners of individual buildings remotely. Using this ability, the utility hopes, they might be able to coordinate shut-offs so that nobody is ever uncomfortable (say, guaranteeing that every apartment's air conditioner runs during some 10 minute interval of every hour in which the apartment is occupied), but so that peak electricity usage never rises above peak power production.
While this combinatorial optimization approach to the problem might be preferable to rolling brown outs, it introduces a privacy concern: the utility will now be making decisions as a function of when customers report they are at home, which can be highly sensitive information. Is there a way to solve this problem so that no coalition of customers j != i can learn about the schedule of customer i? Moreover, can we pair such a solution with a schedule of electricity rates so that no player has more than a vanishing incentive to misreport their demands?

We show that the answer is "yes" to this problem, and to a broad class of welfare maximization problems that can be posed as convex programs. We give a method to compute near optimal solutions to such problems under the formal constraint of ``differential privacy'', while giving Walrasian-equilibrium like item/resource pricings which result in truth-telling as an asymptotically dominant strategy, as the size of the economy grows large (in a mild way). 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A call for reimbursing the costs of kidney donation

The New Republic carries a passionate appeal by Sigrid Fry-Revere and David Donadio under the headline America's Organ Transplant Law Is Criminally Unfair to Donors

They write

"As a result of the National Organ Transplant Act, more Americans have lost their lives waiting for an organ than died in world wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined. The law bans almost any non-medical payment to living organ donors, whether by the government, health insurance companies, or charities. Recipients themselves can reimburse donors’ travel, lodging, and lost wages, which helpsbut only when the recipients have the means and will to do so.
"The solution is not to create a market in organs, but to help living donors meet the considerable expenses they incur in saving others’ lives. Giving an organ costs an average of $5,000, but as the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology notes, can be as much as $20,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of American households have no discretionary funds at all, and only 8 percent can afford to spend $5,000 donating organs without dipping into their savings or going into debt.
"In the coming weeks, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, the American Renal Society, and the American Society for Transplantation will all release white papers arguing for studies on compensated organ donation. While there is no harm in studying the creation of incentives, the first step should be to get rid of the financial disincentives that currently keep thousands of living donors from being able to donate. One sensible proposal would be creating a debit card-based system not unlike the one the government employs for the victims of natural disasters, enabling government programs, private medical charities, and other people to cover donors’ expenses as they occur."

Writing about the history of the NOTA, they write
"The law resulted 30 years ago from righteous revulsion at a proposal by Dr. Barry Jacobs that the government pay people to come to the U.S. to donate their kidneys. Jacobs wanted to start his own business marketing organs, and figured that the government could spend relatively little compensating these donorsmaybe only $1,000 eachand then send them on their way.
"Initially, Congress had simply been considering a low-profile law implementing a nationwide network to distribute cadaver organs, but when Jacobs suggested his idea in official testimony, it immediately got representatives’ attention. The prospect that the U.S. would ship thousands of impoverished people here from developing nations so that rich Americans could harvest their kidneys read like the plot of a science fiction novel.
"Dr. Paul Terasaki, president of one of the three main American transplant societies, testified before Congress in 1983 that physicians “strongly condemn the recent scheme for commercial purchase of organs from living donors,” and that it is a “completely morally and ethically irresponsible proposal.” Congress reacted by adding a provision that banned all but very specific types of payment in relation to organ donation, and the rest is history."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Matching German lawyers to their first jobs

There's a lot of interesting market design problems being studied in Germany these days.  Here's a recent working paper from the Department of Economics at Humboldt University in Berlin:

Matching with Waiting Times: The German Entry-Level Labour Market for Lawyers by Philipp D. Dimakopoulos and C.-Philipp Heller

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nominating a repugnant transaction

I use this blog to describe a lot of repugnant transactions, but I try not to pass judgement on them, since the nature of repugnant transactions is that some people want to engage in them and others think they shouldn't, and who am I to judge?

But this recent NY Times story almost tempted me to become judgmental. I think it was this picture that did it.

Here's the story, by Liz Alderman: Chefs Fight for Songbird. The Ortolan: A Tiny Bird as a French Cause Célèbre

"the ortolan, a tiny songbird that gourmands, including former President François Mitterrand, used to covet, consuming the head, bones and body in a single, steaming mouthful, while covering their faces with a white napkin to conceal the act.
Now, Mr. Guérard and three other celebrity chefs who hail from southwest France — Alain DucasseJean Coussau andAlain Dutournier — are trying to engineer a public comeback for the ortolan, an overhunted species that France banished from restaurant menus in 1999. If they get their way, the forbidden food will be legally offered to napkin-wearing diners at restaurants in Landes for one weekend a year 
Maybe there should be a special surcharge for anyone who gets to eat the last ortolan...

Feel free to suggest transactions that strike you as (possibly) repugnant...
(to get your creative juices flowing, here's a photo of a dog to go in Vietnam, sent to me by Bernhard von Stengel..

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Approximately school optimal student-truthful school matching via differential privacy

The paper below  by Kannan, Morgenster, Roth and Wu is being presented today at 12:15 at the Stanford computer science theory seminar (in Gates 4b).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan

Al Jazeera has the story on blasphemy as a capital crime in Pakistan:

Court rejects appeal of 50-year-old mother of five, found guilty of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2010
A Pakistani court has upheld the death sentence of a Christian woman whose 2010 conviction for blasphemy led to the assassination of two politicians who supported her, a defense lawyer said Friday.
Asia Bibi, a 50-year-old mother of five, had appealed before the Lahore High Court against the ruling, in which she was found guilty of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad, but the court rejected her appeal Thursday, her lawyer said.
"We have the right to appeal in 30 days, and we will continue this legal battle by approaching the Supreme Court of Pakistan," Sardar Mushtaq said.
Bibi's case drew global criticism in 2011 when Pakistan's minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and eastern Punjab governor Salman Taseer were killed for supporting her and opposing blasphemy laws. Taseer was killed in the capital Islamabad by one of his police guards after visiting Bibi in jail. Bhati was killed months later by the Pakistani Taliban, who called him an "infidel Christian."
Under Pakistani blasphemy laws, insulting the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad can be punished with life imprisonment or death. Experts say the laws often are exploited for personal gain.
Pakistan imposed a moratorium on executions in 2008 and has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy. Instead, such cases usually linger on appeal.
Mushtaq said Bibi was arrested after Muslim women told a cleric in a village in the eastern Punjab province that she had made "derogatory remarks" about the prophet. He said the trouble began when the women objected to Bibi using their drinking glass because she was not a Muslim, setting off a heated verbal exchange.
"We have a strong case, and we will try our best to save her life," he told The Associated Press.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Recent articles on kidney exchange

On my reading list...

Kidney paired donation: principles, protocols and programs

  1. Kathryn J. Tinckam8,9
      1. Nephrol. Dial. Transplant.doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfu309
-Author Affiliations
  1. 1Department of NephrologyFremantle HospitalFremantle, WA, Australia
  2. 2School of Medicine and PharmacologyUniversity of Western AustraliaPerth, Australia
  3. 3Organ and Tissue AuthorityCanberraACT, Australia
  4. 4Department of Internal Medicine and TransplantationErasmus MC, University Medical CenterRotterdam, The Netherlands
  5. 5Dutch Transplant Foundation, Leiden, The Netherlands
  6. 6NHS Blood and TransplantNHSBristol, UK
  7. 7Department of NephrologySir Charles Gairdner HospitalPerth, Australia
  8. 8Division of Nephrology, Department of Medicine and HLA Laboratory, Laboratory Medicine ProgramUniversity Health NetworkToronto, ON, Canada
  9. 9Canadian Blood ServicesOrgan Donation and Transplantation,Toronto, ON, Canada

Kidney exchange: Further utilization of donors via listed exchange

College of Administrative Science and Economics, Koç University, Sarıyer, İstanbul, 34450, Turkey


There is a set of incompatible patient–donor pairs and these pairs are matched pairwise. A match between two pairs corresponds to a paired kidney donation, where pairs exchange donated kidneys, or a paired listed exchange, where the first donor donates a kidney to the deceased donor wait-list, the first patient receives the kidney of the second donor, and the second patient receives a priority on the wait-list. We characterize the set of exchanges with the maximum number of transplants from the set of pairs. This characterization generalizes the well-known Gallai–Edmonds Decomposition Theorem.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Conference today on Economic Incentives for Gender Parity

I'll be a guest today at a conference that SIEPR is hosting for the Forum of Young Global Leaders, Economic Incentives for Gender Parity.

I plan to speak briefly about some of the difficulties that confront two-career couples in navigating the job market, and how those have evolved in the last half century.

Here's the morning agenda; I understand that there are also breakout sessions in the afternoon.

9am  Keynote Address:
  • Al Roth, Nobel Prize Recipient in Economic Sciences
  • Leila Janah, Founder and CEO, Samasource

9:30am  Panel 1: The Future of Philanthropy through a Gender Lens
Leader: Kate Roberts, Co-Founder The Women’s Investment Network and SVP PSI
Jocelyn Wyatt, Co-Lead and Executive Director of
  • Pam Scott, Philanthropist and Founder of The Curious Company
  • Rebecca Van Dyke, CMO of Facebook
  • Patricia Devereux, Executive Director, The Mastercard Foundation
  • Jenn Alcorn, Private Donor Engagement for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
10:30am Panel 2: Women in Technology and Social Entrepreneurship
Leader: Soulaima Gourani, 40 under 40, Rising Star and Talent 2014, Top 100 Talent Europe, YGL
  • Telle Whitney, President and CEO, Anita Borg Institute, Fast Company's list of Most Influential Women in Technology in 2011
  • Leila Janah, CEO Samasource, Entrepreneur's 7 most powerful people to watch in 2014, Forbe's 30 under 30, YGL
  • Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished author and journalist, Time’s list of the Top 40 Most Influential Minds in Tech

11:15am Panel 3: Women and Leadership in Global Organizations
Leader: Analisa Balares, CEO of Womensphere, Chair of Womensphere Foundation, YGL
  • Susan Athey, Former Chief Economist, Microsoft, John Bates Clark Medal recipient
  • Sonita Lontoh – Head of Marketing, Trilliant; Chairman, Indonesian Diaspora Foundation
  • Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, CEO, Global Fund for Women; Board Member, CARE
  • Rajiv Pant, Chief Technology Officer, The New York Times; YGL
  • Lila Ibrahim, President, Coursera; Founder & CEO, Team4Tech; YGL

12:00pm Panel 4: Women and Entrepreneurship
Leader: Deborah Kan, Executive Producer Wall Street Journal, YGL

  • Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO,, Time Magazine's list of 100 most influential people
  • Shaherose Charania, Founder and CEO, Women 2.0 and Founder Labs; CEOWorld Magazine's list of Most Influential Women in Tech to Follow on Twitter 
  • Danae Ringelmann, Founder and Chief Development Officer at Indiegogo; Top 50 Most Influential Women in Technology by Fast Company
  • Miriam Rivera, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel for Minerva; Stanford Board of Trustees; Top 10 Corporate Attorneys in the United States by Corporate Counsel Magazine in 2005; Top 100 Women of Influence in Silicon Valley by Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal in 2011
  • Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media; Editor-in-chief of Dot Complicated; Former Director of Market Development and Spokeswoman for Facebook 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Near Feasible Stable Matchings with Complementarities, by Nguyen and Vohra

Here's an interesting new paper on couples in matching markets. When couples are present, the set of stable matchings may be empty, but a "small" perturbation of the problem that increases the capacities of some employers and decreases the capacity of others, restores the existence of stable matchings.  (I haven't yet fully absorbed this, e.g. its impact on overall employment...)

Near Feasible Stable Matchings with Complementarities
Thanh Nguyen and Rakesh Vohra

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sign spotted: Don't take your organs to heaven

Sign spotted in the emergency room by a colleague...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Boot camps for new software developers

Tamar Lewin in the NY Times has the story on a new kind of educational institution, designed to quickly produce software developers: Web-Era Trade Schools, Feeding a Need for Code

"SAN FRANCISCO — A new educational institution, the coding boot camp, is quietly emerging as the vocational school for the digital age, devoted to creating software developers.
These boot camps reflect the start-up ethic: small for-profit enterprises that are fast (classes are two to four months), nimble (revising curriculum to meet industry needs) and unconcerned with SAT scores or diplomas. Most are expensive, but some accept a share of the graduates’ first-year earnings or a finder’s fee from employers as payment.
Most important, at a time when so many young people are underemployed, most graduates, especially those from highly selective boot camps, quickly find well-paying jobs. In a recent survey of 48 boot camps, Course Report, an online boot camp directory, found that three-quarters of graduates were employed, with raises averaging 44 percent from their pre-boot camp pay and an average salary of $76,000."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I'll speak today at San Jose State U. on "The Economist as Engineer"

If you're in the neighborhood, come on by...

Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium - Alvin E. Roth

Alvin Roth
Since Fall 2002, the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering has hosted the Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium (SVLS). The Symposium hosts industry and technology leaders to talk about business and technology trends. It also features prominent leaders who discuss broader societal and political issues that shape our life and society.
Speaker: Alvin E. Roth, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences 2012, Professor, Harvard University and Stanford University

Thursday, 10/16/14


Website: Click to Visit



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Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium

San Jose State University
Engineering Building Room 189
San JoseCA 95192

Website: Click to Visit

Here is the full Fall schedule of speakers. The symposia take place every Thursday from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm in the Engineering building auditorium, ENG 189.