Monday, August 21, 2023

SJSU Online Economics B.A. - Sample Econometrics Curriculum and Textbooks

SJSU classes started today on campus in San Jose, and online for our SJSU Online Economics B.A. students. Our SJSU Online program launched last Spring, and today we're welcoming our third cohort. In this post I'd like to share a little about my role in the development of the curriculum and content of our SJSU Online Economics B.A. courses, focusing on our Introduction to Econometrics and Research Methods course, ECON 103a.

Friday, March 10, 2023

YOU can use R in the cloud to do original research in less than a minute!

Here's a program in R that runs in the cloud and produces a CSV file with a table showing the most popular college majors and average earnings by major for any occupation. 

UPDATE: Here's a video showing you how to use the program!

You can get a free Posit Cloud subscription and try out R without having to download R software or any data.

I tried to make running the code as easy as possible so someone with no experience with coding can run it, and then modify the code and rerun it. A user can select any occupation. Depending on what occupation they pick, it is quite possible no one has ever carried out the analysis before, so this program gives the user a chance to do real, original research. (In fact, the program generalizes the analysis done by John Winters in, "Is economics a good major for future lawyers? Evidence from earnings data," published in The Journal of Economic Education in 2016.

The instructions for using the file are embedded in the first lines of the code to the program linked to above, so click the link and give it a try today! Please leave a comment if you do!

Monday, April 11, 2022

Methods in Open Policy Analysis: An Application to California's Building Energy Codes

 I have just posted a new working paper, "Methods in Open Policy Analysis: An Application to California's Building Energy Codes."

Abstract: Have building energy codes succeeded in lowering energy consumption, and have their benefits outweighed their costs? Using survey data from the 2000 US Census, I estimate household electricity and natural gas expenditures by decade of home construction, controlling for household and home characteristics, to study the impact of the first decade of California's energy codes. I then use the estimates in a social cost-benefit analysis (CBA) for a representative household. I find homes built in the 1980s used \$35 less in electricity and \$46 less in natural gas, per year, compared to homes built in the 1970s. For the Sacramento region, the energy codes pass a cost-benefit test (the present value of social benefits exceed compliance costs) when the best-case (low-end) policy cost estimates are used, but fail the test with base-case (mid-point) policy costs. This study paves the way for future analysis by clarifying how a CBA for a representative household fits into a comprehensive CBA.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Analyzing Donut Consumption in Springfield

 Michael Bailey's econometrics textbook Real Econometrics begins in Chapter 1 with a small, 13-person data set consisting of characters from the Simpson's animated series (Homer, Marge, Comic Book Guy...). Although the variables are limited to weight and donut consumption (we can also infer gender from the names) it turns out one can use these data set to illustrate many of the core econometric techniques taught in an introductory, undergraduate econometrics course.

I've created two R scripts that contain code examples illustrating these fundamental techniques (such as displaying and summarizing data, calculating and comparing averages, bivariate and multivariate regressions with binary and continuous variables, nonlinear models, and producing tables and figures for use in word processing programs) all using Bailey's Simpsons data. The first one here is intended as an introduction and to help brand new students get started. The second one here illustrates more advanced techniques like nonlinear models and linear probability models. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Replicate and Extend: An Approach to Teaching Research Methods and R Programming

This is the title of a talk I gave in the 45th annual Social Science Research and Instructional Council conference, which I helped organize. You can watch a video of it here. The talk describes the way my forthcoming book, Data and the American Dream, can be used in teaching econometrics and statistical research methods.

This page contains a link to the presentation slides. Below I also link to web pages I discuss in the presentation.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Where do most people work from home?

It has been one month since San Francisco where I live declared Shelter in Place. My family has had to adapt to the reality of working from home without child care. It hasn't been easy but it hasn't been too bad, either. Most of my work is on a computer. One of my friends who lives in Ohio has it harder. He owns a manufacturing facility and today on Facebook I saw he has moved some production to his garage at home. Clearly, it is easier for some people to work from home than others. We all benefit from reducing the spread of the virus, but the burden is not born equally across places and occupations.

The American Community Survey asks respondent how they usually get to work. In this post I examine these data, to suggest which metro areas are hardest hit by shelter-in-place orders. I also present statistics on which occupations are most likely to work from home.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Using R to select your college major

Many students arrive at college undecided as to what they should study. To help students like these, as well as students who wish to learn the R programming language, I created an R program that runs entirely in the cloud. First, register for a free R Studio Cloud account here, and then access the program I wrote here.

I have created a short video on using the script which you can find here.

Incorporating Published Research in Introductory Econometrics Courses

Today, many instructors are looking for ways to transition their courses to an online environment. One of the ways to do this in introductory econometrics courses is to give students examples of actual published research that uses the methods they are learning, provide them with R scripts or Stata do files to replicate the analysis, and have them explain the methods used in the studies, the findings, and to carry out extensions, either in term papers or shorter assignments.

I'm currently writing a book that describes how to do this, but it won't be finished for another eight months. So for now, I am sharing R scripts, Stata do files and data sets needed to run some of the replications. My hope is to make it easier for instructors to include examples of real research in their classes.

At this link, I include links to the articles as well as replication files, and list the course topics and learning objectives that relate to each study.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A book contract

A got a nice present at the end of last month, which was a contract to publish my book from Palgrave Macmillan. The book is part of a project I've been describing in articles on this blog over the last year. The title is, Data and the American Dream, Contemporary Social Controversies and the American Community Survey.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Gig Economy and the ACS

This month I am beginning some new research on self-employment. There has been renewed interest in this topic due to technological advancement and the rise of the so-called "gig economy," but measuring it has been an empirical challenge. Thus I happy to share a figure I created, using data from the American Community Survey (ACS), that shows a very noticeable "Uber" effect:

Figure: Fraction of Workers in Taxi and Limousine Industry who are Self-employed (and unincorporated) in the ACS

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Research data for The Impact of Urban Form on Vehicle Ownership

One of the attractive features of the ACS data is the ability to ask several types of transportation questions, to millions of Americans. I exploit this fact in my new research results on the effect of land use patterns on vehicle demand. This article is forthcoming in the journal Economics Letters.

The data and code for this study are hosted at Open ICPSR. The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research was conceived in the 1960s as a place where universities share data, and has thus been in the data game for a long time. In the past their data archiving has been more curated, and the new "Open" ICPSR is a new and exciting development. I plan to continue to use OpenICPSR to archive the research data for my projects.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Downloading Census Micro Data: IPUMS or

My current book project reviews studies that use the American Community Survey (ACS) micro data in a way that sheds relevant light on contemporary social controversies, illustrates best statistical practices, or both.

Most of the studies I include in the book use data from a database at the University of Minnesota called "IPUMS" (which stands for The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.) It is also possible, at least for some years, to directly download the ACS data from the web page. Which option is preferable?  In this post I provide some answers to this question, as well as share a data file illustrating all the variables available by directly downloading the ACS data from the webpage.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Replicating Costa and Kahn (2011), part II

In my last two posts here and here, I discussed a reproduction and replication of Costa and Kahn's (2011) study on electricity consumption by California households. The difference between the two previous posts is that in one I used data supplied by the authors, and in the other I used data that I downloaded from IPUMS-USA, a publicly-available source. In this post I am reporting new estimates of the same model, but using the most recent data from the 2012-2017 American Community Survey.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Replicating Costa and Kahn (2011)

In my last post, I described how I reproduced the analysis of Costa and Kahn (2011) which was originally done in Stata, using the R programming language.  There I said I'm calling it a reproduction because, even though I was using different software, I was using the author-provided data.

A different question I address in this post is, can their results be replicated using what should be the same data obtained from a different source? It turns out it can and my R script is available here. This is a relevant question because for example sometimes data sets are updated (e.g. if errors are discovered). In addition, the data supplied by Costa and Kahn is only a small subset of the 2000 Census data, which only contains California homeowners in single-family homes. This is enough to reproduce their results, but it severely limits the types of extensions that one can do with their data (for example, if one wanted to estimate the baseline model on Florida households or for households in multi-family housing.)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The first result from my current replication book project

 I am sharing data and replication files I wrote for an article published in 2016 by John V. Winters titled, “Is economics a good major for future lawyers? Evidence from earnings data,” here on my blog. The replication files are at the bottom of this page. This is the first time I’ve produced and shared replication files, but over the next year, I hope to add replication files for an additional 10-15 more previously published studies.
Update December 3, 2020: Please visit the finished book's companion site for all data and code files.  

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Where is the City's Center? On the Recent use of Measures of Central City Location

The title of this post is taken from a manuscript I just wrote and hope to have published soon. [Update: it is now published and available here] I will update this blog article with a link to that article once it is finished, but I am posting this now because I wanted to share the data and analysis file I used in writing the article.

The XLSX file is here.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Economics of a Border Wall

A recent study by economists Treb Allen, Melanie Morten and Caue Dobbin (2018) is not yet published but has already has received much publicity. The authors study the economic impacts of the border fences that already exist on the US-Mexico border. The authors write:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hip Hop and Econometrics

Yesterday I gave a lecture on an econometric technique known as instrumental variables regression. I drew upon Professor Scott Cunningham's excellent new book, Causal Inference: The Mixtape.

Scott has generously made this book available as a free PDF download. He has a refreshing and unique perspective on modern econometric methods as well as some inspiring personal stories and maybe best of all, poetry of hip hop lyrics. Matching song lyrics to econometric concepts is fun and pedagogically effective.  In learning foreign languages, I often found song lyrics easier to remember, and more enjoyable to read than other mediums, and I think the same could be true for many econometrics students.
At the moment I am working on a new econometric study of commuting behavior using American Community Survey microdata.  The instrument is an indicator variable denoting that the children in a household have the same gender. (See Grazi et al. for an example of the use of this instrument to study travel behavior.) This made me think of the following lines from "Get By":

Mi abuela raised three daughters all by herself, with no help.
I think about her struggle and I find the strength in myself. 

                                                                    - Talib Kweli

This lyric is a powerful reminder that the people in our data sets have real lives and aren't "just statistics". But at the same time, in the context of instrumental variables regression, the fact that his abuela's children were all female may predict choices she made. For example, in my preliminary results I am finding a small but statistically significant effect where households with different gender siblings have more bedrooms on average than observationally identical households with same gender siblings.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Movie Review--Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Yesterday was a busy 24-hour period, so today I treated myself to a matinee, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, a documentary that portrays one of the great urban thinkers of the 20th century.

My presentation at the 2017 California Transportation Planning Conference

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the CTPC conference yesterday, in a session titled, "Transportation and a Vibrant Economy: Economic Assessment's Role and Application in Transportation Investments and Economic Development"  My talk focused on the role of Benefit-Cost Analysis as a tool in guiding public investment decisions, and I described my recently published report on benefit-cost analysis for transportation planning and public policy, as well as some of the new directions I plan to pursue.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Environmental Impacts of Construction: Photos from San Francisco's Building Boom

My co-author Jae-ho Pyeon and I are putting the finishing touches on a draft manuscript that we've been working on titled "Analyzing the Potential of Hybrid and Electric Off-Road Equipment in Reducing Carbon Emissions from Construction Industries."  This manuscript is the result of a project sponsored by the US Department of Transportation.  (The DOT builds and funds a lot of highway construction, and apparently this explains their interest in this topic.)

In the course of carrying out this research I've learned a lot about construction equipment and this has at times made me feel like a kid playing in the sandbox again.  In addition this project has raised as many questions for me about urban air pollution as we have answered, and I plan to keep studying construction topics.  In this post, I am sharing some observations, questions and photos from walks I've taken around construction sites in San Francisco.  Next month, I will post the draft manuscript.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Using a spreadsheet to calculate the distance between two points

This article describes how to use my spreadsheet tool to calculate the distance between two points.

Merging data from different sources using spreadsheets

Students in my classes have been busy searching for data for their term papers.  Often, the variables needed for an analysis are contained in separate files and must be merged.  Merging, an importing data management task, can be accomplished using a spreadsheet like MS Excel or a statistical software package like Stata.  This article describes how to complete a merge in Excel, and is written for students or others who are completely new to data management and spreadsheets.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Announcing the 40th Annual CSU, SSRIC Social Science Student Symposium

This semester, I became San Jose State University's campus representative to the Social Science Research and Instructional Council.  The SSRIC provides valuable resources to the California State University campuses, including access to a variety of data.  I personally have made extensive use of their subscriptions to ICPSR and Field Poll surveys in my past research (here is one example).

In May of next year, the 40th Annual CSU, SSRIC Social Science Student Symposium will be held at CSU Sacramento.  Details are here.  In 2013, one of my co-authors, Marc Joffe, was a winner of the Gloria Rummels Award for Best Use of Quantitative Data.  I hope one of my students can take a prize in the near future!

Monday, November 23, 2015

How not to get ripped off by Safeway

In my classes where we study or review statistical inference, I often give the following example of a hypothesis test concerning a single mean: you suspect your sardine cans contain fewer sardines than indicated on the packaging.  The packaging says there are 10 sardines per can but you are often finding 8 or 9.  So, you open up 100 cans and find the average is 9.5 with a standard deviation of 1.  Is this evidence that the tins are lighter than advertised?

Monday, November 2, 2015

University Scholar Series

I was honored to be invited to give a talk in SJSU's University Scholar Series on September 30th, 2015. 

The topic was Trends and Relationships Related to Air Pollution, Regulations, and Economic Growth.

This talk was recorded, and I will update this post with a link to the video once it becomes available.  For now, I include a link to my presentation slides.

The first part of my talk stressed fascinating trends in U.S. transportation and residential selection patterns, especially the fall in driving and growth of cities over the last few years.  I then discussed both my US and California research, and I briefly discussed my India research.  Finally, I discussed some of my thoughts on SJSU's South Campus, an area that straddles some of San Jose's most beautiful parks, and some of the country's worst hazardous waste sites.  Here I applied the results of my US and California research to make urban planning suggestions for San Jose.

As I mentioned, I will updating this post as soon as I have the link to the video.  For now I'm glad to be done giving talks and teaching a while, and getting back to my India research!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Teaching Industrial Organization in Silicon Valley

Last night I gave the first lecture in our graduate IO course.  I have taught the undergraduate version of this course more than a half dozen times, but this is only my second time for the grad class.  For the first part of the class, the main textbook is Hal Varian's Intermediate Microeconomics with Calculus.  Why is this a good choice for a IO class in San Jose, California?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Econometrics and Kung Fu

What do econometrics and Kung Fu have in common?

(This post has been updated to include links to teaching resources at the end.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Technology investments for Ukraine

What types of technology investments would most benefit Ukrainian society?  Military?  Social media?  Smart energy?  As a man of peace, I will focus on the latter two in this post.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Online Education: My New Discussion Paper

Last Spring I taught two sections on Principles of Microeconomics, one online, and one in a traditional format.  I have spent some time comparing the outcomes, and wrote up my findings in this discussion paper.  Here is the abstract:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

3 Revised Papers

I have not been blogging much lately, but I have been busy with other writing projects.  Over the last couple of months, I've been working with co-authors and today posted revised manuscripts to the web for the following three papers; the first two papers relate rather closely to one another, while the third is part of a very different research program:

1. Household Carbon Emissions from Driving and Center City Quality of Life  (with Matt Kahn)
2.  Household Demand for Low Carbon Policies: Evidence from California (with Matt Kahn)
3. An Agent-Based Model of Entrepreneurship (with Graham Newell)

Below are abstracts for each paper:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Review of Open Microeconomics Textbooks

Last month I did some work for the California Open Education Resources Council (COERC).  I reviewed three "open" principles of microeconomics textbooks for them.  After I completed this job, I decided to write up and elaborate on my review, and I'm now sharing it here.

I have used two of the three books in my own teaching, and in general I've paid close attention to this segment of the textbook market.  As a result I am able to comment on not only the books themselves, but also developments in this industry.  If you are an instructor considering adopting an "open" textbook, my review is for you. 

If you are a donor who wants to support the development of open educaitonal resources, my review is also for you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Visualizing Bike Trip Data

In an earlier post I discussed the Bay Area Bike Share program, which is coming up on its one year anniversary.  BABS has released several detailed data sets that cover the first half year of operations, and held a challenge for "...anyone with a bit of curiosity to present the data in visually compelling ways."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Planning methods that result in a bias against high-density and infill development

One of my colleagues in the economics department at SJSU, Tom Means, is the former mayor of Mountain View.  He tells some interesting stories about how a lack of economic understanding on the part of some urban planners leads to poor decision making. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The "Decade of the City?" New Census data sheds light

In 1910, 25% of metropolitan (non-rural) residents lived in suburbs; by 2000, this figure had more than doubled, with 62% of Americans who lived in metropolitan areas living outside of central cities.  (these calculations come from data presented on p. 33 of this Census publication.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Which states use Benefit Cost Analysis?

Last year, a report by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis, evaluated the use of Cost-Benefit Analysis by states.  Among the questions it asked were, "Are states conducting cost-benefit analyses?" and "Do they use the results when making policy and budget decisions?"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why are there so few basements in California?

In California and some other parts of the country, very few homes have basements.  The reason for this remains a mystery to me.  Many cite earthquakes as the reason but I don't find this a compelling explanation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Multimedia Principles of Economics Textbook

There are two types of links on this page: 1.) All 14 chapters below are available here as a combined PDF, and 2.) the Table of Contents below contains Video links that will take you to the YouTube videos that I've created that correspond with that section of the textbook.

The Table of Contents below lists chapters of the Principles of Economics textbook by Libby Rittenberg and Tim Tregarthen. These were released under a Creative Commons license.

Please email me with any questions or suggestions at

Updated 1/23/2019

Table of Contents

Using Excel to Teach Principles of Economics

Using spreadsheets to teach economics principles is not a new idea, but the accessibility of spreadsheets makes them attractive for use in an online course like the one I'm teaching this semester.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cost-Benefit Anlaysis at Caltrans

Earlier this month I was in Sacramento to learn about Benefit-Cost Analysis at Caltrans.  We interviewed staff at the Department of Transportation as part of my current research project with the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Their building reminded me of the buildings on our campus at San Jose State University; it looks pretty good here with the California sunshine in the reflection:

Generating Greater Interest in Transportation Economics

The International Transportation Economics Association is a small organization that occasionally puts out a newsletter.  Two recent newsletter articles caught my attention.  I discuss the first here and the second in a subsequent post.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Principles of Microeconomics, My Online, Self-Directed Course

Update (3/17/2014): I discovered a better way of distributing these video lectures; see this subsequent blog post:

Saturday, January 12, 2013