Friday, December 2, 2016

Final Blog Post: Class Governance Decisions

The two governance decisions made in the class had a significant effect on the amount of effort that students put into the live class session. I believe our first decision about classroom attendance did more harm to the learning experience of students than it did help. In my previous experience, I have found that mandatory attendance class policies, while frustrating in some instances, generally encourages greater student participation and enthusiasm. As we have discussed multiple times in class, many students are concerned with their G.P.A. in school. Rightfully so, getting good grades is an important aspect of college. However, coming to class (especially in a smaller room environment) helps students meet and interact with their classmates and professors. In my previous experience, I feel I was more involved and engrossed in the courses that had some type of mandatory attendance policy. Also, this serves as no excuse for students that skipped class purely because attending was not required, myself included. If attendance plays a role in assessing a student’s performance in the class, students will have greater incentive to give more effort of themselves to the class.
On the other hand, making attendance mandatory will not necessarily increase attendance or student grades as a whole. Students will skip class regardless, but perhaps the overall attendance of our class would have increased had we had a policy that was mandatory in some way. Our classroom attendance was around 50% of the students enrolled in the class and I found that to be disappointing because the material was unique and different from any economics class I had taken previously. In classes I have taken previously, having pop quizzes or unannounced in-class assignments encouraged attendance from students as they did not know when a portion of their grade would take place. Thus, they wanted to be there when it happened.  Perhaps students would feel more motivated to come to class then if class were entirely optional.
Our second governance decision, allowing electronic devices had both positive and negative effects. Personally, I prefer to leave my laptop in my backpack because I know I will ultimately become distracted by it. I normally check my phone throughout class but try to stay off social media and other sites not pertaining to in-class material. I have found that I pay more attention to the professor and the material if I am not overly distracted. This is not the case for every student, just a personal preference.

In some instances, I found that students were willing to defer to whatever was on their laptop rather than pay attention. It was especially frustrating when Professor Arvan would ask a question and students would stare at their laptops even though they had not spoken or contributed to the class discussion. It is so easy to get lost in the internet but it can be rude to the professor and distracting to the individuals within proximity. I feel that having laptops out really harmed our class discussion more than it helped. Students were more concerned with what was on their screens than the discussion and the environment of the class struggled because of it. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Personal Reputation

I believe personal reputations play a major role in an individual’s decision-making and behavior. If we think about personal reputation by its dictionary definition, one’s reputation revolves around what other people think about the individual—both positively and negatively. Some may place greater value on how they are perceived while others are relatively indifferent. In the workplace, having a positive outside perception of yourself may be helpful in moving up in the company or organization. To clarify, having a reputation as a trustworthy, punctual and efficient employee may indicate to superiors in the hierarchy of the company that you are worthwhile to the firm.

First, I will discuss how this topic applies in my life and then I want to tie how personal reputations play a role in HBO’s show, Westworld. For the past two summers, I worked at a chemical plant on the south side of Chicago. I worked in the general office, but I was in and out of the plant every day. In terms of intensity, the plant was relatively clean and not as loud or dangerous as a steel mill for example. The work was not that demanding and relatively easy to accomplish. One of my friend’s Dad works at the plant and helped connect me with the right people to get the internship. So I felt an obligation to work well and efficiently so my friend’s Dad looked credible by bringing in a productive worker. Similarly, I wanted to build a good reputation with the individuals at the plant to make my day-to-day experience more enjoyable as well as gaining the trust of my supervisors. In order to build this reputation, I would complete the work given to me in a timely and efficient manner. I wanted to come across as productive and easy to work with so my superiors would trust me to get my work done and not have to check up on how I was progressing. In addition, I normally worked in a group with two other interns on a task. Our director would give us an objective for the day and once we finished, we were free to carry out the rest of the day with relative ease. In short, it was relatively straightforward for the other interns and myself to sell ourselves as productive workers. The full-time employees at the plant also noticed that our group of three worked diligently and were easy to talk to. Subsequently, they were more willing to interact with us and I began to develop positive relationships with several people there. In having the full-time employees trust us to do our work however, some conflict of interest can arise. If our supervisor was not checking on us, we would slack off and not get our work done. Since we were doing mostly busy work, we were not doing the company much harm by not finishing it. The motivation behind this was mostly laziness as we were paid by the hour.

As I mentioned previously, Westworld is based around the concept of creating an entirely new reputation in a syndicate world. The show is a sci-fi drama where modern-day human beings travel to a theme-park set in the 1800s wild west inhabited by artificial robots that look and act exactly as a human being would. I left a link to HBO’s summary of the show here to give a better sense of the plot.

           Humans experience no physical harm in the park but can inflict as much damage to the hosts (artificial humans) as they wish. Essentially, there are no rules and a decreased sense of consequences for one’s actions. Knowing that they are essentially gods to these robot humans, humans give little regard to their personal reputation. Further, the truest self of the visitors come out. They can be ruthless and cruel but only act in their own self-interest. In fact, this deviant behavior is encouraged as humans can build a reputation for how poor of a human they can really be. With little to no consequences, humans can stray from any reputation they have in the real world and participate in actions that would otherwise result in imprisonment.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Principle Agents Discussion

As we have discussed in class, the principal-agent problem involves one party working for another party in return for an incentive. The first party is the agent and the second is the principal in this case. As the agent makes decisions on behalf of the principal, certain costs or issues may arise. In particular, morally hazardous decisions as well as potential conflicts of interest can lead to problems between the two sides. Speaking to the prompt, the principal-agent problem often involves more than just two sides. I want to examine the example of a salesman in a car dealership and the moral hazards that are present.  
Car dealerships are a frustrating and difficult place to be more times than not, partially due to the different motives that many individuals have there. Let’s first examine who is the agent and principal in this case. For argument’s sake, there is a three tier system: first, the owner of car dealership is in control (principal#1), the car salesman (agent) is responsible for both the satisfaction of the owner as well as the customer (principal #2). The salesman is obligated to both. In terms of obligation to the owner, the salesman must sell a certain amount of cars in order to maintain his job. There may not be a minimum amount of cars he must sell, but if low performance is the salesman’s norm then he will more than likely be replaced.  Similarly, the salesman’s goal is to sell the car for as close to list price as possible. Not only will the dealership make more money, but the salesman will make higher commission as well.
In terms of serving the customer, the car dealer will go to extreme lengths to ensure the sale of the vehicle. However, the customer is seeking the lowest possible price so the salesman must tailor his sales pitch to that fact. So, in order to make commission, the salesman may be willing to sacrifice a higher sale price of the vehicle for a lower one. This may compromise the owner of the dealership’s desire to earn the highest revenue possible. In other words, the contracts between the owner, salesman, and customer are misaligned.
For example, if the list price of the vehicle is $30,000 but the salesman and the customer have negotiated the price down to $27,000 an interesting dilemma arises. Let’s also assume the commission rate is 10% for simplicity’s sake. Ultimately, the difference between commission ($300) is much less for the salesman than it is between the owner ($3000). Therefore, the salesman probably will not go to such extreme measures as to make sure that he reaches the firm’s set price. Similarly, the car salesman has the opportunity to make up the difference in commission by increasing the rate at which he sells cars.

In terms of resolving this dual obligation, I feel there are few solutions to offer. One that may be viable, however, is meeting halfway between the dealership’s and the customer’s price. As previously discussed, the incentive for the salesman to do so is not exceedingly high. More times than not, the agent will fail in fully satisfying the two principles but the main objective is achieved. To clarify, the salesman both sold a car (satisfying principal #1) and the customer received a car (principal #2). The difference in price is a smaller issue than if the salesman were not selling cars on a consistent basis. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Conflict Analysis

The internal conflict that I want to discuss comes from a movie of which I am very fond of: The Departed. In short, the film revolves around the Boston Police Department's relentless quest to catch Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and hold him accountable for the crimes he has committed over the past several decades. In order to do so, the BPD must employ the use of a rat to infiltrate Costello's inner circle. The rat in this case is Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). 

Now that there is some background on the principal issue of the film, I want to examine an ongoing conflict that takes place between Costigan and his superiors at the BPD. After originally gaining access to Costello’s group, Costigan is forced to partake in activities that are not only illegal but take a toll on him as a human being (arson, murder, assault, etc.). After multiple months of leading a completely different and brutal lifestyle, Costigan confronts his superiors Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). As Costigan explains: “I can’t be a new person every day! I’m going crazy!” Costigan and Dignam continue to exchange fierce words between each other and eventually come to blows. From Costigan’s perspective, if he is caught by Costello then he most likely will be murdered by the mob and quickly forgotten despite his sacrifices made to catch Costello. Similarly, as Dignam and Queenan explain, he is on no official record as actually being a cop (for Costigan’s own protection) meaning there will be no funeral with bagpipes and rifle salutations to commemorate him. Costigan’s workload and risk in this operation is extremely high in comparison to Queenan’s and Dignam’s. Costigan rightfully has reason to question a) if he can deliver the proper evidence the BPD b) is this operation truly worth the investment to become a fully recognized cop.

Essentially, the source of the problem is the divide between administration and employees. The administration (Dignam and Queenan) have a different opinion on which manner they should expose Costello. Costigan, having seen first-hand Costello’s cruelty and power, wants to arrest him on the crimes that he has partook in. On the other hand, Dignam and Queenan want to progressively build a case and capitalize on Costello when he is weakest. Unfortunately for Costigan, the operation requires him to give much more of himself in order to complete the mission. However, Dignam and Queenan need Costigan to keep his cover from being blown and carry on with the objective. Consequently, the administrators do not necessarily make the job easier for Costigan, but provide him with psychiatric help and are slightly more tolerant to his outbursts.

In a high-stress situation such as infiltrating a mob, conflict is bound to occur as many ideologies wrestle to discover the most optimal path to achieve success. Once the first conflict became apparent (in the film, it is Di Caprio’s outburst) the dynamic of the group is altered. In The Departed, Costigan’s character is viewed less as a soldier on the ground and his emotional state as a human being is taken into consideration finally. Conversely, the administration recognizes that their plan may not be as straightforward as originally planned. Similarly, overall group collaboration is improved because the three are willing to open up and describe what could be changed and altered to reach the goal of catching Costello. Throughout the film, more conflict ensues between Dignam/Queenan and Costigan as more obstacles arise. However, I feel this conflict did not hurt the group dynamic but rather improved it. There was mutual respect gained between the group in addition adapting their plan to catch Costello.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Team Production & Gift Exchange

My initial reaction to the articles was about class participation and attendance. As I am sure most individuals have had both mandatory and non-mandatory attendance classes, I wanted to examine the incentive behind both options. The structure of the class plays an important role in the reasoning behind making class attendance mandatory or not. For example, an English class of 30 students has greater incentive to encourage attendance than a 500 person Econ 303 lecture would. Being a discussion-based class, the most important aspect is having students there to bring different opinions and perspectives on the literature being debated on. In terms of gift exchange, the teacher accomplishes their lesson plan much easier with students actually in class and the students enhance their learning experience by bouncing ideas/concepts off one another. In a class with no attendance requirement, the incentive to learn and obtain a decent grade rests entirely on the student rather than the process of give and take between the student and teacher.
            However, this process does not necessarily press the “shared spoils button” that Jonathan Haidt discusses in his piece. In fact, there can be very little reason for the class to act cooperatively unless the teacher threatens to drop the entire group’s grade. Certainly, the class is much more enjoyable if students put in effort and actually apply themselves to the material, but in my past experience, students prefer to focus on their own G.P.A. than the educational experience. I feel as though the tougher the class material gets, the higher frequency students are willing to share information and course materials with one another. For example, many of my friends that are in difficult engineering courses often talk about the collaboration between students. If a student struggles with a homework assignment and asks for help from a friend, they most likely will reciprocate later on in the class. With this strategy, the grade the student receives partially depends on what their friend did as well as their own work. This falls in line with the already present marble example in Haidt’s piece; the student with the answers to the homework will not be willing to share as often if the recipient has nothing to offer.
            A final example that comes to mind is taking a group road trip, especially around spring break. Many of my friends drove from Champaign to ft. Lauderdale for spring break last year and they discussed how each member in the car drove their fair share. Their strategy was that each person (4 in total) would drive a full tank of gas and then pass the duty off to someone else. By splitting up the driving in this manner, the frustration of driving for an extended period of time is shared by all four members while getting closer to the destination at the same pace. Similarly, the cost of filling up one tank for one individual will be equal or similar to that of every other person.
            Communication plays a vital role in ensuring that a group performs well. In particular, informing a teammate of unfair treatment is difficult but necessary in creating greater group cohesion. Understanding that a teammate is upset forces the other group members to change their current strategy to better suit the rest of the group. For example, while it is difficult to call out a group member for subpar or nonexistent work, the entire group collaboration is improved if done correctly. By making the group member realize mutual grade reduction, they (more than likely) will change the manner with which they act.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Post College Risk Evaluation

In all likelihood, my career path will lead me to pursue a graduate degree. I hope to earn a law degree following my graduation from the U of I. I am still a junior, but the process of testing and applying to law school is quickly approaching. Evaluating the cost of earning a law degree is tricky and has several aspects to it. Firstly, the mental dedication and determination required to earn the degree is no small task. Consulting with family friends and other acquaintances in the field, I have found that many do not recommend partaking on such a arduous journey. Despite doubts from some individuals, I have also received advice that earning a law degree can be very rewarding. In addition, they stated that I would have to be passionate, focused, and willing to sacrifice pleasure for work on a daily basis. Similarly, they stated that making money should not be my main goal in earning a law degree. They also explained that salaries can be lucrative and that I would be more likely to have a stable job for a least 15 years if I graduated in the top 15% of my class.  For me, this is the most important aspect of my decision: am I passionate enough about this educational opportunity to make all the costs that come with worthwhile.

I believe that my decision to choose Economics as a major was a very practical one. Originally, I had hoped to transfer into the College of Business from Division of General Studies. As the deadline approached, I realized twofold the difference in earning potential between Business and Econ is very slim and I would not enjoy the work in the College of Business. Thus, I decided to apply to the Economics program. The College of Business has many great career opportunities and there is high earning potential, but I feel that Economics offers opportunities equivalent to or greater than those offered by the Business school. Similarly, I know a couple of Economics graduates from the U of I that are earning more than their peers in finance or accounting. I also felt that picking a major in Liberal Arts and Sciences would be more relevant to my career path. In the case I did not choose law school, I wanted to strengthen my resume so I picked up a Business minor.

My older sister graduated from the U of I in 2013 and subsequently entered the workforce. As she explained to me, graduating from college does not mean your entire career path is laid out before you. More plainly, she was happy to be earning salary in the professional world but hated the actual work she was doing. She stayed at her first job for two years until she found another job more aligned with her personal tastes. Unfortunately, her new jobs salary is less than her original one. Even at this new job, she understands that she will not be with the company for the rest of her career. While I feel there is value in exploring different jobs and companies, it also poses great risk towards earning more income. Constantly switching jobs forfeits the raises in income she may have received if she stayed put. I believe her advice is very valuable especially at this point in my life. It only reinforces that working towards something you are passionate for and want to excel at is much more rewarding than doing a job because it has a high salary.

Although I am unsure of where my career path will lead, I certainly hope that the decisions I have made in the past will help me reduce income risk.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Connecting the Dots

Following my review of previous blogs, one connection that was most apparent was between the Opportunism and Illinibucks blogs. Although my analysis/anecdote for opportunism was not entirely accurate, I feel that my understanding of the subject has grown since then. In particular, the ethical dilemma that comes with acting in an opportunistic manner. Knowing that principle nor planning have little/no effect on one's decision making, it is obvious that opportunism is a driving force behind the practicality of Illinibucks. An example that I used in the Illinibucks piece was in regards to the book-buying process and the painful annoyance it sometimes can be. If Illinibucks were in use, they could be employed to skip the entire line to reach the checkout at the bookstore. Using Illinibucks in that situation is opportunism. The incentive to get out of line faster and carry on with the day outweighs the cost of making the students without Illinibucks angry. Similarly, no planning is involved.

On a different note, my blog about a successful team I was apart of connects well to the alignment problem concept. In class we discussed the format of our classroom in a physical sense. The seating is not optimal due to the necessity to fit approximately 30 people in a small space. The organization that controls the desks that are placed into the classroom and the University itself may be on separate agendas. This outlines one reason why big organizations may not work harmoniously. Thus, we discussed how the university is not fulfilling their goal to provide a transformative learning environment in this isolated example. This concept of mismatched planning and execution can be applied to the struggles my football team initially experienced in high school. All team members want to win as many games as possible. However, the team struggled in achieving that goal as the team was not as organized/disciplined as it could have been. For example, some players would provide lackluster effort in practice, thereby affecting their game performance. Conversely, there were players that provided consistency as they always gave their best attempt. A major reason for the turnaround from a 2-4 record to being one of the last 8 teams in playoffs can be attributed to recognition of this problem by leaders on the team and their response to it. With all team members conscious of their contribution, the team's overall performance improved instantly.

My approach to blogging has absolutely changed since I began the class. At the onset of the semester, I was very casual with the amount of research and effort that I put into my posts. I find that attending class and taking Professor Arvan's constructive comments and applying them towards my next post play an integral role in improving the quality of my writing. After we discuss these economic concepts in class, I feel more confident in constructing a worthwhile argument and contributing to our discussion of these topics. I believe that writing about real-life situations greatly broadens our ability to make connections from one concept to the next.

In the future, I look forward to seeing my comprehension of topics in the class growing. I feel as though my blogs discuss the more general facts about the topic or concept. As we get further into the course, my goal is to be able to understand the complexities of the material and apply the concepts to what is going on in the world outside of the classroom. I feel that reading more on the topics will be extremely beneficial to my learning experience.  I also believe that reading more of other students blogs will aid my understanding as well. That way, I can recognize what they did correctly and what was incorrect and apply it to my analysis of the concept. I am intrigued to see how my experience will grow and change as the class progresses.