Friday, February 11, 2011


The last 48 hours are a dim haze. I was working for at least 30 of them. Between 10:00 AM Wednesday, when I finished teaching my classes, and 11:00 PM Thursday, when I emailed my paper to a professor, I was working at a computer the entire time except for restroom breaks and about six hours of sleeping. My sustenance during that time was in the form of two loaves of oatmeal bread from my bread machine, some leftovers, lettuce and hummus, and granola bars, all eaten at my desk.

I have vague memories of reading dozens of articles, building mathematical models and proofs, formatting and manipulating piles of data, learning how to write Stata code and do-files, downloading image conversion software to my computer, dealing with formatting issues in LateX code, and of course writing up the actual paper and proofreading it for the increasingly bizarre typos that accumulated along with the fatigue poisons in my body.

Most econ research is really complicated and can only be understood by specialists. But while you need to be a specialist to understand how I got my results, and to see how they might be improved, the output of my paper can be understood by anyone who has taken a course in basic Econ. The end result of my work is basically this:

"In this paper, I estimate the demand curve for American citizenship and the associated revenue-maximizing quantity of immigrants to admit each year. I use a model where willingness to pay is based on moving costs and the net present value of the difference in income that immigrants could obtain by moving to the USA. I calculate the demand curve using data on worldwide income distributions and applications to the Diversity Visa program. I estimate that if the BCIS issued 1.37 million citizenships annually and sold them at auction, the equilibrium price would be $97,000 and annual revenues would be about $133 billion. Revenues in the first years of the program would likely be higher, because of a large backlog of demand.

...lots of math...

For the past decade, the USA naturalized around a million people each year. If those million citizenships had been auctioned off, I estimate that this would have generated about $124 billion in revenue each year."

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