Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hard Work at Public Universities

I just gave my last lecture for the Winter 2013 quarter at UCLA.  There were 100 students registered for my undergraduate environmental economics class.  You can look at all of the class material here.    UCLA did not assign a graduate Teaching Assistant for this class. Instead, I hired a very talented undergraduate to work with me on the course but she didn't do any grading for the class.  By the end of this class, I will have graded one midterm, one final exam, five homeworks and one 600 word paper for each student.  The course was supposed to have a 70 person cap but being a sucker, I signed in an extra 30 students.  There were some excellent students in my class but these classes are too big.  I would like to teach smaller classes.  The solution to this challenge of enrollment in upper division courses is that my University must raise its endowment.   When I taught at Harvard in 1997, I had an excellent Teaching Assistant in a class with just six students!

Switching subjects, I want to talk about dead pigs floating into Shanghai.  While I don't know all of the details, this is a nice example of the Tragedy of the Commons and the Law of Unintended Consequences and the connection between agricultural regulation and city quality of life.   How could there be over 6000 dead pigs in the Huangpu River?

"The surge in the dumping of dead pigs, believed to be from farms upriver in Zhejiang Province, followed police campaigns to curb the illicit trade of pork products harvested from diseased pigs."

So, as the rural police addressed the nasty pork problem (and its threat to the food supply's quality), the owners of the dead pigs disposed of the bodies in a Mafia Style by dumping them in the river and they flowed down to the mega city causing challenges there. Since the river is public property, this was a rational (but socially inefficient) solution for the farm owners.