Thursday, December 1, 2016

Last Blog Post Williamson-like critique

With regards to the first governance decision made about the syllabus attendance not being required definitely effected my own behavior. Throughout the course of the semester I definitely missed a few classes. Personally, I only skip class when I believe the opportunity cost of going to class is too great. This generally only happens when I have an exam in one of my next classes and I believe that the hour and a half I can spend studying is more valuable than the hour and a half spent in class. However, I know that I wouldn't feel this way if class attendance was a big part of our class grade. 

Knowing from past experience, I haven't missed a single class that made class attendance mandatory in my college career thus far. Many people may argue the fact that by not offering extrinsic incentives people will develop intrinsic motivations more concretely. Personally, I believe that class time is very valuable both from a monetary perspective and a learning perspective. Regardless of my reasoning for going to class I always try to make the most of the time. That being said, I don't believe that for me personally it matters why I initially decided to go to a class. Once I'm there I generally find that I pay attention the same regardless of whether I went to class through intrinsic incentives (like just simply wanting to go and learn) or extrinsic incentives (graded attendance). Of course this isn't the same for all students. Many students go to class and don't pay attention and intrinsic motivation may be the necessary component to fostering general education. However, I find that the first step to increasing my knowledge and education personally is to go to class and classes that have graded attendance seem to get me to class more certainly. 

Making attendance optional definitely effected the perspective of the class as a whole. The general underlying principle behind the psychology of slacking off in a group setting is that if one person slacks off and gets away with it, other people are going to think that it's okay for them to slack off as well. I went to the majority of the live class sessions held this semester, perhaps missing two or three tops since my enrollment, so I was able to see people's general consistencies of attendance. Since the class size is so small, it's clear to see who comes to class regularly and who comes only once in a while. It's my believe that because students were seeing their classmates not show up to some sessions and then show up to others like nothing is wrong diminished the value of attendance in a sense. Students that missed a class were not penalized, call out, and most importantly didn't seem like they missed out on a whole lot on a surface level. This begs the question to every student, "What's the point of coming to class if I'm probably not going to miss out on anything important anyways?". Of course this may be subjective as well considering the discrepancies between student engagement in discussions in class, but in a general sense it's not unreasonable to assume. 

With regards to the second governance decision made about allowing students to use their portable electronic devices in class I find this to always be a controversial topic between teachers and between students alike. One of my psychology professors believes the use of electronic devices is distracting to both the owner and the students within proximity. Another one of my professors believes electronic devices can be useful, but students who use them in class should be separated from students who don't so she makes students who want to use their laptops sit in specific areas in the room. Personally, I don't find usage of electronic devices all that beneficial in a live class session. In fact, I find it to be distracting. It's too easy to give in to temptation with all the possibilities available for distraction on an electronic device. Whether I was allowed to use my portable electronic devices in class or not I wouldn't use them anyways so this governance didn't effect my behavior in this way. 

The allowance of usage of electronic devices in class still did, though, effect my class experience and the perspectives of my other classmates. It's quite plain to see that not all students using their electronic devices were using them for relevant and academic tasks. I often saw students either working on work for other classes, shopping online, watching leisure online videos, reading non-class related articles, or simply just on social media the entire class session. I personally found this to be distracting sometimes. 

From a class perspective, I believe that allowing laptop usage during class "harmed" the live sessions. While I respect that different students learn differently and electronic devices may be utilized differently from student to student, I fail to see how viewing irrelevant material unrelated to class aids student learning in that particular class. While I'm not claiming that EVERY student in class was using their laptops for non-class related domains, I can confidently say that this was the case for many. I felt like this diminished classroom participation in discussion mode because many students were distracted by what they were viewing on their laptop and therefore weren't engaged enough to contribute to the discussion to push the class forward. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Reputations often reflect the perceptions others have of us as a result of primary or secondary sources. Depending on the level of interpretation another person or persons has of another's skill, character, personality, etc. may result in that person not "living up to their reputation". Reputations often come with expectations of how a person will perform or act given a situation and other people aware of said reputations may prepare or respond accordingly. While reputations can often be used in positive lights such as companies having good reputations for quality and long lasting products, they may also be a root source of disappointment.

I have stories of not living up to the reputation people had of me. One time in particular was with regards to my athletic ability. I was a part of the Track and Field team for the entirety of my high school career participating in both the winter indoor seasons as well as the spring outdoor seasons. Naturally I began to grow in popularity as well as stature among the coaches and my fellow teammates. Everyone on the team knew of me come my senior year except the new Freshman, who would soon learn of who I was as a result of my leadership position as an upperclassman on the team. Despite being one of the older and more "experienced" members on the team, I was far from the most athletic.

In Track and Field it's very easy to compare members on a team because of the fact that race results are so concrete. For example, if one racer could run a 200 meter race in 29 seconds and another could do it in 23 seconds, it's without question that the person who ran it in the shorter time span was faster and "better" at this particular race. Of course there are other factors that may play into account such as different rates of growth and potential of the runners, but in a given moment one person is strictly faster than the other. While this may be a rather controversial statement, Track and Field to my high school was all about results. Of course there were people on the team that weren't fast enough to win races, yet stuck around for the community and cheered on the ones that did have the chance to win events. However, like with any sports team, it's discouraging to continuously lose.

It's not unreasonable to say upperclassmen in high school generally were better in Track and Field events than underclassmen overall (of course there are many exceptions to this statement). As a result, the underclassmen developed expectations of the older kids. For me in particular, I was one of the few upperclassmen that participated in the triple jump event for the school. Although I wasn't very good, I was very experienced with participating in the event because I had done so for many years prior. In addition, I could do the triple jump event better than anyone on the team. This was partly because the triple jump event takes a very long time to get the hang of and as a result not many students wanted to participate in this particular event. During the preseason as well as the time period before our first major competition, I continued to perform better than anyone on the team and because of this my teammates often referred to me as a "genius" in the triple jump event. Through word by mouth, my reputation as a talented triple jumper began to spread throughout the team and it stuck until our first track meet.

My high school track team wasn't very good, but we would win events here and there which would boost our team's moral. As a result of the hype my teammates had given me, many people expected me to do very well in the triple jump event and score points for our school. However, I knew that I wasn't good enough to win the event. Although I was the best triple jumper on the team, I was pale in comparison to other schools. In fact, track meet after track meet I would fail to place in the event and my reputation as a "genius" triple jumper faded as I was unable to meet expectations.

This reputation wasn't something I ever wanted for myself. In fact, from the start I knew I wasn't that great at the event which I had tried to explain to my underclassmen. My reputation was only developed because my teammates didn't know any better and didn't realize the sample size of our team isn't an accurate representation of the competitors in the triple jump event from other schools. My reputation stayed intact and continued to grow because my teammates would spread the word about me without being properly informed of my ability in relative comparison. If I wanted to enhance it I would have had to performed very well in competitions to validate and grow the \ expectations of me.

Personally, there are many occasions when I wish I didn't have the reputation that I did. With my reputation came many expectations from both the coaching staff and fellow team members that I struggled and/or failed to meet altogether. For example my coaches would be extra hard on me to set an example for my team members. In addition, it was a lot of pressure when my team members were counting on me to individually win points for the team and sometimes I got very disappointed in myself for not being able to meet expectations. While I never wanted the reputation I was given, there were definitely beneficial effects of it that were used to help grow the team. I always gave my best effort and did my best to encourage my teammates. I believe by having such a heavy reputation, people were more willing to listen to me. Although I would've still tried to assume the same position regardless of whether I had this reputation or not. From the start I never connected the value of my reputation with the ability my reputation said I should have so I didn't act too differently and therefore never had the chance to voluntarily "abandon" my reputation nor did I ever fill like I "cashed in". My reputation did, however, disappear on its own over time as I was unable to meet the expectations that came with it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Triangular Principal Model

Many economic models often only incorporate the demand and level of value of the buyers and the supply and cost of the sellers. This may be because it makes economic theories easier to understand on a more general level as well as allows these simpler models to be flexible to fit many situations. In the real world there are many examples in which a bilateral model wouldn't be the best fit to a situation.

During my sophomore year in college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I worked as a student patrol officer and our system was definitely of a triangular nature. One of the most important and staple tasks we performed was "SafeWalks" which was a service provided by the University of Illinois Police Department in an effort to ensure that students got home safe at night. SafeWalks works by students calling a phone number, found online, on the back of student ID cards, and advertised around campus, which would direct their call to the University Police Department. From there, the University Police Department would call student patrol and redirect the call to us. Once we're on the phone with the student we're able to get their name and location so that we can find them and escort them to wherever they're trying to get to. Due to the nature of the job and our status as students, SafeWalks were only offered between the hours of approximately 9PM to 3AM.

Clearly this is a triangular model. The student requesting the service has to go through a "third party" before being able to communicate to us. Objectively, the student desiring an escort isn't requesting anything from the University Police Department, however the calls must first be directed to the police before the police redirects them to us (the ones actually providing the service). This begs the question, "Why can't the calls just be sent directly to student patrol instead of having to be redirected by a third party?". Personally I don't know the original intentions when the system was first created. However, I can understand the benefits of having this triangular system that is seemingly inefficient.

One of the major reasons for having the calls directed to the police department first may simply be because the police department wants to make sure the caller is getting the appropriate course of action on a circumstantial basis. When someone calls the SafeWalks number, we initially don't know why they're calling. While we assume that a student is just calling because they need an escort home late at night, that may not always be the case. In an event in which a trained and licensed police officer is necessary instead of a student patrol the police department may deem it necessary for them to respond to the call instead of us. It's a common misconception that student patrol officers are police officers. Although we are equipped by the Division of Public Safety, we definitely are no police officers and have no real authority and relatively limited training. If a student calls SafeWalks under the assumption that they're calling the police, it's safer to go through the trouble of making sure they're not in any real danger by having someone respond who has the capability to act appropriately first. Situations like these, those that require a police officer's attention, have a high probability of needing immediate course of action while situations where a student can wait to go home aren't as pressing.

Student patrol officers are agents of both the student requesting the SafeWalk and the University Police Department. Although not incredibly often, students will have a different view of how we should perform other than how the University Police Department believes we should act. On a few occasions students that we have escorted have expressed discomfort around us. Naturally, especially for first time callers, students don't know who is going to physically respond to their request. The stereotype students have of student patrol officers is that we're all tall, big, and muscular, but in reality only a handful of student patrol officers fit all three of those categories. However, all student patrols are equipped with a radio that has direct line to the police department as well as extensive training making us capable of handling a wide range of situations. While many students may view us as physically beefy officers that owe them this service, the University Police Department views us simply as extra eyes and ears on the street to help take the load off their nights as best as we are capable. The police understands that we are students as well and aren't trained professionals. This gap in expectations may create a clash in views between both parties of how we should perform, however in the end student patrol officers are able to handle the tasks given to them and execute the promise of our job.

In the end I don't think there's an easy way for student patrol officers to shatter preconceptions of callers. While many students expect us to be professional police officers, that simply isn't something we can give them. Our performance relative to our service offered is adequate and the University Police Department agrees. The Division of Public Safety expects us to perform our job to the description and act professionally. Our job is to make sure students are safe, not necessarily comfortable. We always choose to satisfy the University Police Department and the Division of Public Safety because we know that by satisfying them we are doing what we're supposed to. Callers that expect anything far more than what the police department expects of us may just need to lower their expectations to resolve conflict. Of course, I talked on the small minority of students that had expectations too far. The vast majority of students are very grateful to us and the service we provide.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Group Dynamics and Conflict

In my summer preceding my senior year in high school, I was one out of 20 other students from my school that was selected to participate in a Habitat for Humanity project. Our mission was to work with a local construction company to build homes for financially unstable families in the area of South Bend, Indiana. While many of the students applied to participate out of interest and a genuine desire to help, others applied in order to fulfill volunteer hours and get school credit. People's incentives for participating in the project, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, definitely showed in some more than others. Students that genuinely wanted to help out definitely put in more effort while students that clearly only came for the extrinsic rewards put in minimal effort.

For the most part, my group seemed to care very much about the quality of work we put out. We were constantly reminded that a family was going to live in the house we were building and our craftsmanship will correlate with how long the house will last for that family as well as how positively it will impact their lives. The main goal was to build the house to a high quality as if we were normal construction workers so that the families wouldn't have to pay any money to repair or tune any mishaps that we may create as a result of our limited knowledge and abilities. Of course, we were supervised and taught by our teachers as well as onsite professionals when dealing with more technical tasks such as tasks that required the usage of power tools.

I applied to participate in the program because it was going to be one of my last summers before I go off to college and I wanted to see and assist a community that may be less fortunate financially than the one I was born into to gain a little more perspective on life outside of my bubble. Unfortunately, not everyone participating felt as enthusiastic as me. One boy in particular, John Doe, was constantly complaining about how early we had to wake up, slacking off onsite, and not putting very much effort into his building tasks. Personally, I really dislike when people shirk in group activities when their input is necessary. At the time the most experience I had with working in groups was group projects, which I severely disliked, but in group projects everyone in the group will get a grade which is mostly enough incentive even for lazy students to participate. However, for volunteer work, such as this Habitat for Humanity project, students aren't promised anything extrinsic for participating. Even the credits offered were simply granted to us students for just being there. John Doe realized there was no extra reward for putting in extra effort so he put in the bare minimum amount of effort that still deemed him as participating.

As I continued to see the poor work John Doe was putting out, I started to get frustrated. If his craftsmanship was simply poor as a result of his lack of knowledge and skills I would understand because many of us, including me, made plenty of mistakes. However, even in simple tasks such as digging dirt or planting flowers John's work was always only partially finished to par. Hoping that he would change his outlook, I took the opportunity when we were alone to talk to him about putting in a bit more effort. I explained to him that our work here, even if it seems small, insignificant, or unrewarding, could mean the world to someone else. We grew up in a neighborhood where most people were relatively financially stable and I wanted him to understand not everyone was as privileged as us so that he might find meaning in the mundane tasks we were performing.

My perspective was that we were there to give and not to gain. It occurred to me after our conversation that he was there to gain and less to give. He explained that he was only participating because he needed the credits to graduate high school. While me and John were not hostile towards one another, it was evident to other people in our group that we had different internal goals. Other students began to realize this and even our teaching supervisors did as well. What ended up happening was we were generally placed at different tasks each day. The last thing that we needed in a service project was hostility between members so it made sense to keep us away from each other.

I can't say that it ultimately resolved "well", but we both didn't reach a "breaking point" either. After we were separated day after day we didn't have to interact with each other and entered an "out of sight out of mind" season. I still didn't like his lack of effort, but I began to let it go. I'm not so ignorant as to say "I couldn't have done anything to solve the conflict" because I know that there must have been something I could've done or said that would've resulted in less tension between us. For instance, while I thought I was being sensitive about calling him out on his work when I made sure no one was around to hear our talk, perhaps I could've phrased my concerns differently. At the time I was just frustrated because I felt bad for the people that would have to suffer because of his lack of effort and I may have projected that onto him. In retrospect, I could've been kinder when confronting him or I could've addressed my concerns directly to a supervisor. In many aspects of life we are required to work concordant with other people so learning how to handle conflicts is very valuable.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Team Production and Gift Exchange

When I think of team production with gift exchange I think of small businesses with one boss over a handful of employees. The employees each do their own unique job tasks and collaborate with one another in order for the business to run while the boss supervises and manages. It's clear that, in a small business model such as this, the boss is higher up on the hierarchy and most commonly receives a larger portion of the business's overall profits and distributes agreed upon wages to his/her employees. Even though the boss is receiving more money, it doesn't necessarily mean he/she is working harder than his/her employees, though. Similar to Jonathan Haidt's example of two children getting different amounts of marbles, the boss may get a higher payout simply because he is in the position to.

On a regular basis a business will make money, the boss will pay due wages to his employees, pocket a more generous share of the income for him/herself, and then reallocate the remainder of the money to other expenses to resupply or help the company grow. The employees are on set wages so as long as their marginal cost is less than their marginal benefit the boss is happy and the business will expand. However, perhaps on a given pay period the boss calculates that the business's revenue is substantially larger than it's previous periods. The boss could keep this information a secret, because it may be unobservable data to the employees, and just increase the amount of money he/she keeps from him/herself or increase the amount of money that goes into capital for the company. Another option would perhaps be an example of gift exchange in the form of a pay bonus.

Instead of selfishly increasing his/her own income, the boss could gift some of that money to one or multiple employees in the form of a bonus. The boss's allocation of who to give the bonus money to could have multiple possibilities. Perhaps the boss gives all of the employees an equal sum to reward their work as a collective group. If all of the employees got the same bonus it's possible that this gift would increase everyone's motivation to do good work for the business in order to receive the same results. However, the problem with this approach may be that it was really only the increased efforts of one or two employees that resulted in the business's increased financial success. If this were the case, the employees that did their job as they always have would be rewarded for doing nothing more than what they already have been doing.

In this hypothetical, but not too unrealistic, situation the employees that put in extra effort might feel like they are being gipped. From a "fairness" perspective it's not unreasonable for the employees who worked harder to desire a larger bonus than their teammates who hadn't worked as hard. What's interesting is that the harder working employees would most likely be more satisfied to have earned a larger bonus than their teammates even if that meant they were getting a sum equal to or less than the amount they were given. To put it in numbers, if the boss gave every employee in the company an extra $1,000 regardless of how hard they worked then the ones that worked harder would feel cheated. However if the boss gave the employees that worked harder an extra $800 and the ones that didn't work as hard an extra $100, then the ones that worked harder would most likely feel satisfied even though they would be getting less money.

Another interesting idea that I'm proposing is that there would be less animosity between the employees if the boss didn't give out any bonuses compared to giving all the employees an equal bonus. The extra income the business made is potentially unobservable data and the boss didn't have to share the fact that they had made more than before. The employees would have been paid their regular wages and continued to work as usual. In addition, the harder working employees most likely weren't working harder than everyone else as a result of economic motivation. After all, they weren't promised more money if they worked harder and therefore they didn't work harder than their teammates to make more money. Their motivation to take it upon themselves to put in the effort to increase the productions of the business most likely stemmed intrinsically. Implementing a gift exchange in the form of economic motivation may have negative results by diminishing this intrinsic motivation to work hard as explained in "The Power of Altruism".

The reason that the monkey who received the cucumber as opposed to the grape felt angry and that the child who received only one marble as opposed to three felt entitled to one of his teammate's marbles is because they believed they completed the same task and therefore deserved the same reward.  In my example, a similar psychology in economics is taking place. If putting in the same effort and doing an equal task as someone else nets you the same reward, then putting in more effort and doing more than someone else should, theoretically, net you more than that person. As related to in "The Power of Altruism" gift exchange, though sometimes it may seem harmless or positive, may result in worse outcomes in team production.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Managing Income Risk

Even at a young age kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up. However, for many it only really becomes a source of stress in the teen years when we start to understand how the world operates from a basic economic perspective. We are then faced with the issue of choosing an occupation that could potentially follow and define us for the rest of our lives. Not only do many people worry about choosing a specific path, but many also worry about choosing between jobs that would make them happy and jobs that would make them the most money. While some are fortunate for these two priorities to align it's quite commonplace for people to give up on their dreams to pursue more financially stable and less risky occupations.

My brother graduated from the University of Iowa majoring in Human Physiology due to his natural love of taking care of people. His plan was to go to graduate school after his undergrad completion, however he figured his experience in healthcare and school performance weren't adequate enough to be accepted into many graduate programs so he decided he would go back home and work for some years before pursuing his advanced degree. Unfortunately, an undergraduate degree in Human Physiology paired with his lack of work experience and relatively weaker grade point average led him to an extremely difficult job search.

It took my brother eight months after his graduation date to find a steady job in his field. In addition, he only got his job after applying to an incredible number of other jobs and going through many interviews. Hearing bad news after bad news was extremely difficult for my brother and he began to wonder if he should've went into a less "risky" field that would've net him a more clear cut job with only an undergraduate degree such as engineering. In those jobless eight months my brother stayed at home with my parents and struggled emotionally as he felt like he was just taking up space and resources and wasn't able to grow himself financially. However, with encouragement and perseverance my brother was finally able to find a job and now feels as confident as ever. He bought his first car in September of 2016 which was his first ever large personal financial expenditure.

While I was already an Economics major before my brother graduated and struggled with the job market his experiences after graduating undergrad definitely effect the decisions I make now with regards to minimizing my own income-risk. I've come to the understanding that Economics is a very broad field and figuring out what I want to do and what I'm able to do with a degree in Economics is very crucial to me having a less difficult time in the job market when I graduate. My brother described how he always felt extremely inexperienced when applying for jobs so currently I am trying to build my resume with useful work experience. In addition, I'm trying to keep my grade point average as high as possible on the chance that it becomes a deciding factor as to whether I get a job or not in the future.

Paying off college debt is a very prominent topic in today's culture where a college degree seems to be a necessity to a high paying job. However, paying off loans can be extremely difficult if you can't find a job with the degree you've spent so much money on. By gaining work experience and connections, raising my grade point average, and developing social skills here at college I'm trying to decrease the risk of not being able to find a job once I graduate. Personally, I'm not an avid risk taker and therefore most of my actions in college are geared towards preparing me for the future financially. Aside from a few slip ups such as procrastination or activities relieving stress I don't make many choices that "seem good in the here and now" unless it both benefits me now and will benefit me later.  

In summary, I'm very frightened by risk and uncertainty. I'm currently trying to make use of every opportunity that is offered here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign such that when I graduate I will be faced with less uncertainty in the job market and have less income-risks. While other students may not live out their college life in the same way I personally find this to be the most beneficial use of this four year window in my life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Blog Post Reflections

After briefly reading over my previous blog posts thus far I've come to a conclusion that they do have small "themes" or similarities that tie them to me as a writer more so than to each other. Due to the nature of the prompts  my blog posts are generally about my own experiences. However, within those experiences I try to implement a level of relatability so that readers who are unfamiliar with the topics I write about can still pull my underlying messages out of the text. For example in my blog post entitled "Opportunism" I write about my Track and Field teammate who gave up winning a race to support a rival. While many people may not understand what it's like to compete in a Track and Field event, everyone can imagine what it's like to make a difficult sacrifice. In my blog post "Experience with Organizations and Transaction Costs" I talk about my employment as a Student Patrol Officer. Even though I explained my trainings, duties, and potential situations on the job I don't expect anyone to empathize with student patrol officers. However, I'm sure most people know what it's like to prepare for high pressure situations.

I'm sure there are ways to connect my blog posts to course themes. I believe simply answering the prompts without thinking about how it relates to the course may be rather redundant. With that being said, I do think some prompts felt more difficult to connect to the class than others when I was first given the prompt. In particular the post about opportunism. While I do still feel like I gave an example of opportunism in my post, after dissecting the purpose of talking about opportunism in the following class I realize that I perhaps could have used an example more relatable to the economic of organizations. I didn't give answers to the questions "How can we prevent opportunism?" or "What might be a reason to be and not to be opportunistic?" which are very important topics in economics with regards to opportunism.

I do believe my posts have evolved and will continue to evolve. Initially I felt like I was just answering the prompts and trying to make connections to the course after seeing what I came up with. However, now I see that I should be thinking about both the prompt and how it relates to the course together when writing my posts. Before even writing my posts I've been taking the time to brainstorm and think about how the prompt can be connected to the course. This way my posts don't stray away from what the course is trying to teach.

I would like to see more prompts with no subliminal "correct" answer so that we as students may strengthen our own personal interpretation skills. Being able to think and write without worrying about our grades being penalized as a result of a subjective "correct" answer can sometimes restrict a student's thought bubble. Being afraid of being wrong or of being unsure if Professor Arvan will agree objectively with what I want to write about are extremely limiting feelings. Personally, I really enjoyed the "Illinibucks" prompt because it allowed for relatively open interpretations while still keeping the topic and questions confined. All students were given the same abstract questions, yet our posts were still relatively unique which I enjoyed. In addition, I found myself reading more of other people's posts about "Illinbucks" more so than the other prompts. This is because everyone answered the same questions under the same specific topic of Illinibucks so I was able to compare and contrast other people's opinions easily as opposed to people telling long stories that I generally can't relate to. Having the same topic to write about allows students to communicate different ideas of the same topic easier.