Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Winter 2013 Journal of Economic Perspectives

The Winter 2013 issue of my own Journal of Economic Perspectives is now available on-line. Like all issues of JEP back to the first issue in 1987, it is freely available here, courtesy of the American Economic Association. I will probably put put some posts about individual articles in the next week or so, but here is an overview. The issue has two symposia of four papers each: one on the economics of patents and the other on tradeable pollution allowances. There are a couple of individual papers, one on the empirical work about prospect theory 30 years after that theory was formulated, and the other a look back at the famous RAND health insurance experiment. My own "Recommendations for Further Reading" rounds out the issue. Here are abstracts for the papers, with links to the text.

Symposium on Patents

"The Case against Patents," by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine

The case against patents can be summarized briefly: there is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. Both theory and evidence suggest that while patents can have a partial equilibrium effect of improving incentives to invent, the general equilibrium effect on innovation can be negative. A properly designed patent system might serve to increase innovation at a certain time and place. Unfortunately, the political economy of government-operated patent systems indicates that such systems are susceptible to pressures that cause the ill effects of patents to grow over time. Our preferred policy solution is to abolish patents entirely and to find other legislative instruments, less open to lobbying and rent seeking, to foster innovation when there is clear evidence that laissez-faire undersupplies it. However, if that policy change seems too large to swallow, we discuss in the conclusion a set of partial reforms that could be implemented.
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"Patents and Innovation: Evidence from Economic History," by Petra Moser

What is the optimal system of intellectual property rights to encourage innovation? Empirical evidence from economic history can help to inform important policy questions that have been difficult to answer with modern data: For example, does the existence of strong patent laws encourage innovation? What proportion of innovations is patented? Is this share constant across industries and over time? How does patenting affect the diffusion of knowledge? How effective are prominent mechanisms, such as patent pools and compulsory licensing, that have been proposed to address problems with the patent system? This essay summarizes results of existing research and highlights promising areas for future research.
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"The New Patent Intermediaries: Platforms, Defensive Aggregators, and Super-Aggregators," by Andrei Hagiu and David B. Yoffie

The patent market consists mainly of privately negotiated, bilateral transactions, either sales or cross-licenses, between large companies. There is no eBay, Amazon, New York Stock Exchange, or Kelley's Blue Book equivalent for patents, and when buyers and sellers do manage to find each other, they usually negotiate under enormous uncertainty: prices of similar patents vary widely from transaction to transaction and the terms of the transactions (including prices) are often secret and confidential. Inefficient and illiquid markets, such as the one for patents, generally create profit opportunities for intermediaries. We begin with an overview of the problems that arise in patent markets, and how traditional institutions like patent brokers, patent pools, and standard-setting organizations have sought to address them. During the last decade, a variety of novel patent intermediaries has emerged. We discuss how several online platforms have started services for buying and selling patents but have failed to gain meaningful traction. And new intermediaries that we call defensive patent aggregators and superaggregators have become quite influential and controversial in the technology industries they touch. The goal of this paper is to shed light on the role and efficiency tradeoffs of these new patent intermediaries. Finally, we offer a provisional assessment of how the new patent intermediary institutions affect economic welfare.
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"Of Smart Phone Wars and Software Patents," by Stuart Graham and Saurabh Vishnubhakat

Among the main criticisms currently confronting the US Patent and Trademark Office are concerns about software patents and what role they play in the web of litigation now proceeding in the smart phone industry. We will examine the evidence on the litigation and the treatment by the Patent Office of patents that include software elements. We present specific empirical evidence regarding the examination by the Patent Office of software patents, their validity, and their role in the smart phone wars. More broadly, this article discusses the competing values at work in the patent system and how the system has dealt with disputes that, like the smart phone wars, routinely erupt over time, in fact dating back to the very founding of the United States. The article concludes with an outlook for systematic policymaking within the patent system in the wake of major recent legislative and administrative reforms. Principally, the article highlights how the US Patent Office acts responsibly when it engages constructively with principled criticisms and calls for reform, as it has during the passage and now implementation of the landmark Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011.
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Symposium on Tradeable Pollution Allowances

"Markets for Pollution Allowances: What Are the (New) Lessons?" by Lawrence H. Goulder

About 45 years ago a few economists offered the novel idea of trading pollution rights as a way of meeting environmental goals. Such trading was touted as a more cost-effective alternative to traditional forms of regulation, such as specific technology requirements or performance standards. The principal form of trading in pollution rights is a cap-and-trade system, whose essential elements are few and simple: first, the regulatory authority specifies the cap—the total pollution allowed by all of the facilities covered by the regulatory program; second, the regulatory authority distributes the allowances, either by auction or through free provision; third, the system provides for trading of allowances. Since the 1980s the use of cap and trade has grown substantially. In this overview article, I consider some key lessons about when cap-and-trade programs work well, when they perform less effectively, how they work compared with other policy options, and how they might need to be modified to address issues that had not been anticipated.
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"The SO2 Allowance Trading System: The Ironic History of a Grand Policy Experiment," by Richard Schmalensee and Robert N. Stavins 

Two decades have passed since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 launched a grand experiment in market-based environmental policy: the SO2 cap-and-trade system. That system performed well but created four striking ironies: First, by creating this system to reduce SO2 emissions to curb acid rain, the government did the right thing for the wrong reason. Second, a substantial source of this system's cost-effectiveness was an unanticipated consequence of earlier railroad deregulation. Third, it is ironic that cap-and-trade has come to be demonized by conservative politicians in recent years, as this market-based, cost-effective policy innovation was initially championed and implemented by Republican administrations. Fourth, court decisions and subsequent regulatory responses have led to the collapse of the SO2 market, demonstrating that what the government gives, the government can take away.
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"Carbon Markets 15 Years after Kyoto: Lessons Learned, New Challenges," by Richard G. Newell, William A. Pizer and Daniel Raimi

Carbon markets are substantial and they are expanding. There are many lessons from market experiences over the past eight years: there should be fewer free allowances, better management of market-sensitive information, and a recognition that trading systems require adjustments that have consequences for market participants and market confidence. Moreover, the emerging market architecture features separate emissions trading systems serving distinct jurisdictions and a variety of other types of policies exist alongside the carbon markets.This situation is in sharp contrast to the top-down, integrated global trading architecture envisioned 15 years ago by the designers of the Kyoto Protocol and raises a suite of new questions. In this new architecture, jurisdictions with emissions trading have to decide how, whether, and when to link with one another. Stakeholders and policymakers must confront how to measure the comparability of efforts among markets as well as relative to a variety of other policy approaches. International negotiators must in turn work out a global agreement that can accommodate and support increasingly bottom-up approaches to carbon markets and climate change mitigation.
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"Moving Pollution Trading from Air to Water: Potential, Problems, and Prognosis," by Karen Fisher-Vanden and Sheila Olmstead

This paper seeks to assess the current status of water quality trading and to identify possible problems and solutions. Water pollution permit trading programs have rarely been comprehensively described and analyzed in the peer-reviewed literature. Including active programs and completed or otherwise inactive programs, we identify approximately three dozen initiatives. We describe six criteria for successful pollution trading programs and consider how these apply to standard water quality problems, as compared to air quality. We then highlight some important issues to be resolved if current water quality trading programs are to function as the "leading edge" of a new frontier in cost-effective pollution permit trading in the United States.
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Individual articles

"Thirty Years of Prospect Theory in Economics: A Review and Assessment," by Nicholas C. Barberis

In 1979, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, published a paper in Econometrica titled "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk." The paper presented a new model of risk attitudes called "prospect theory," which elegantly captured the experimental evidence on risk taking, including the documented violations of expected utility. More than 30 years later, prospect theory is still widely viewed as the best available description of how people evaluate risk in experimental settings. However, there are still relatively few well-known and broadly accepted applications of prospect theory in economics. One might be tempted to conclude that, even if prospect theory is an excellent description of behavior in experimental settings, it is less relevant outside the laboratory. In my view, this lesson would be incorrect. Over the past decade, researchers in the field of behavioral economics have put a lot of thought into how prospect theory should be applied in economic settings. This effort is bearing fruit. A significant body of theoretical work now incorporates the ideas in prospect theory into more traditional models of economic behavior, and a growing body of empirical work tests the predictions of these new theories. I am optimistic that some insights of prospect theory will eventually find a permanent and significant place in mainstream economic analysis.
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"The RAND Health Insurance Experiment, Three Decades Later," by Aviva Aron-Dine, Liran Einav and Amy Finkelstein 

Between 1974 and 1981, the RAND health insurance experiment provided health insurance to more than 5,800 individuals from about 2,000 households in six different locations across the United States, a sample designed to be representative of families with adults under the age of 62. More than three decades later, the RAND results are still widely held to be the "gold standard" of evidence for predicting the likely impact of health insurance reforms on medical spending, as well as for designing actual insurance policies. On cost grounds alone, we are unlikely to see something like the RAND experiment again. In this essay, we reexamine the core findings of the RAND health insurance experiment in light of the subsequent three decades of work on the analysis of randomized experiments and the economics of moral hazard. First, we re-present the main findings of the RAND experiment in a manner more similar to the way they would be presented today. Second, we reexamine the validity of the experimental treatment effects. Finally, we reconsider the famous RAND estimate that the elasticity of medical spending with respect to its out-of pocket price is -0.2. We draw a contrast between how this elasticity was originally estimated and how it has been subsequently applied, and more generally we caution against trying to summarize the experimental treatment effects from nonlinear health insurance contracts using a single price elasticity.
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"Recommendations for Further Reading," by Timothy Taylor
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