28 Nov 2018

BMS Ep. 6: Steve Landsburg on Learning Economics From Friedman and Stigler

Bob Murphy Show 10 Comments

Oh this is another good one, folks. Steve talks about grad school at Chicago. Beyond economics, we also talk about the time he was picketed by campus feminists.

10 Responses to “BMS Ep. 6: Steve Landsburg on Learning Economics From Friedman and Stigler”

  1. Tel says:

    Based on an embarrassing amount of time spent passing through Sydney railway stations, pretty much every station has three modes available in parallel: escalators, elevators, and stairs (you can choose any one of those, not all three). The elevator is largely used by special needs type people such as wheelchairs, granny with the walker, mums with babies in the pram, etc. Usually the elevator is slow but requires very little effort to use, except that if you are in good health you will be looked upon as uncouth to use this (like you are depriving needy people or some such thing).

    That leaves the escalator or the stairs, and my observation is that the majority of people choose the escalator with one side standing still, and the other side walking upwards (there’s just space for two rows of people on the escalator). So if you want to optimize for minimum trip time then you keep walking on the escalator, if you want to optimize for minimum effort expended and don’t care about longer trip time then you stand still on the escalator.

    Personally I choose the stairs because I optimize for maximum effort bounded by the constraint that I need to at least give the appearance of doing my job. During the crowded times, the quickest trip time is running up the stairs and you can only do that on the stairs because there’s more space and fewer people in the way … but you have to be eager to run up the stairs.

    If you choose to take the stairs and then rest halfway up you don’t optimize for anything, you just look silly getting puffed out after choosing the stairs. Everyone looks across at you from the escalator and says, “Geee, glad I’m not puffed out like that guy!”

    • Matt M says:

      In those type of escalator situations, it’s rare that you’ll get the opportunity to walk up unimpeded without encountering someone standing on the left side, blocking the way.

      Which means that unless it’s a short escalator and/or you can clearly see that you have enough room to walk all the way up, the stairs will almost always be faster.

      • Tel says:

        In Australia everything is upside down because we are hanging around down under the world … so the standing side is on the left and the walking side is on the right.

        If you refuse to walk with the others at a busy station … let’s just say it’s as crowded as Tokyo and somewhat less polite. What’s that thing governments do? Nudge! That’s it, you will get a nudge. All good. Seems like the same thing happens worldwide to a greater or lesser degree,


        But one thing unites all the cities that do have a system – there’s conflict when people obstruct the walking lane.

        “Able-bodied people standing on the downward escalator are in effect robbing the people behind them of time,” says Hamilton Nolan, who writes for Gawker and regularly uses the New York subway.

        “Their presumptuous need for leisure may cause everyone behind them to miss a train they would have otherwise caught. Then those people are forced to stand and wait on a subway platform for many extra minutes. Those are precious minutes of life that none of us will get back.”

        It’s not open war, he adds, it’s a war waged in the privacy of the enraged minds of walkers who are forced to stand impatiently behind as the escalator slowly descends.

        Oh in Sydney that rage comes right out in the open!

    • Harold says:

      On the Tube in London there were recently moves to stop this practice as the very long escalators are often only half full – the walking lane is almost empty, resulting in longer queues.

      In effect, keeping that lane available for the few who want to walk means that the walkers are robbing everyone else of time.


      • Tel says:

        In effect, keeping that lane available for the few who want to walk means that the walkers are robbing everyone else of time.

        That’s ridiculous, anyone who wants to walk can walk, and if they are short of time that’s the best option. Those people choosing not to walk on the escalator are clearly not in a hurry and have therefore been robbed of nothing.

        This is driven by the “Elfin Safey” dingbats who feel a desperate need to get noticed doing something “important”. If they genuinely cared about safety they would not have built a single escalator 20m long but you won’t hear anyone admitting fault.

        • Transformer says:

          Assume the elevator holds 200 (100 on either side) and 1000 people need to get from one end to the other and it takes 2 minutes standing and 1 minute walking.

          If the elevator has a walking side and a standing side then if both sides are fully used it will take about 6 1/2 minutes to transport the entire 1000 people. If the walking side is less than fully occupied then this time increases. if no-one walks (and that side is empty) it will take 20 minutes to get everyone moved.

          I’e probably screwed the calculations up but I’m sure that’s the kind of thing they have in mind.

          The standers should probably pay a toll to stand that is used to subsidize people to walk until both sides are fully used (or at least there is an equilibrium established between willingness to pay and desire for a shorter ride time.).

        • Transformer says:

          Note: You have to take into account not only ride time but wait time to actually get on the escalator

          • Tel says:

            If you are in a hurry then use the walking side with zero wait time AND faster ride time.

            If that’s too much effort then you are not in a hurry.

            Ergo, not one person is delayed.

            • Transformer says:

              Based on my (now quite distant) experience of Holborn tube station there is just one mass of people trying to get on the elevators during rush hour – so you have to wait even if you want to walk – so I think its possible that if you abolish the walking side then total travel time may be reduced even for those who would like to walk.

            • Harold says:

              It is trivially obvious that an escalator with one standing lane and one walking lane with both fully occupied will be faster than an escalator with two standing lanes. It is also trivially obvious that one with one standing lane and one empty lane will be slower than an escalator with two standing lanes.

              If the cost of using the walking lane is too high, then this lane will be under-used and the overall efficiency will be reduced. We can see this if we charge £10,000 to use the walking lane. Nobody will use the lane. The dead weight loss is that everybody has to wait longer to travel on a half empty escalator. there is dead weight loss just as a tax that is too high to raise revenue still has dead weight loss.

              The real cost is not £10,000 but the effort required to walk up the whole length of the escalator. Resting is not allowed as you would then be blocking the lane. If this cost is too high for most people then efficiency will be lower because of the dead weight loss. Efficiency would be greater if the walking lane were abandoned and both lanes used as standing lanes.

              We can’t know from first principles which will be greater, but if we observe that the walking lane is always empty then we know the cost is too high, the dead weight loss is greater than the benefit of having the walking lane.

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