• Archive for December, 2009

    Audio: Prof Birdthistle – Student Workshop on Mutual Fund Litigation

    by  • December 21, 2009 • Faculty Commentary, Faculty Workshops/ Conferences, Multimedia • 0 Comments

    This past fall the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Jones v. Harris Associates, a case concerning discrepancies in mutual fund fee arrangements.  With such a major mutual find case hitting the court, our very own mutual fund expert, Professor William Birdthistle, was interviewed by a range of media outlets and multiple posts appeared here in this blog on his various contributions to the issue, including discussion of his amicus brief in the case.  Professor Birdthistle also agreed to give a workshop to the Chicago-Kent student body on the litigation, just days before arguments were heard by the court.  You can listen to his talk by clicking play below.

    Prof. Birdthistle – Mutual Fund Litigation

    The Behavioral Economics of Gift-giving, or How to Increase Net Social Welfare this Holiday Season

    by  • December 14, 2009 • Faculty Commentary • 2 Comments

    By Christopher Buccafusco


    smiley face Economist Joel Waldfogel has posted an interesting piece on Slate discussing the economic irrationality of gift-giving.  In summary (and not attempting to do the argument justice), Waldfogel argues that the $50 someone might spend on a sweater for you would be better spent on themselves, because gift-givers have limited knowledge about others’ preferences.  Between the giver and the receiver, the receiver is in a much better position to know what she wants and will enjoy.  He bases this conclusion on surveys that he has analyzed showing that people normally value the things they buy for themselves at or above what they pay for them, but they value the gifts they receive substantially less than was paid for them.  Thus, rather than giving your mother a gift this year (and certainly instead of a donation to the Human Fund), you should give her a card noting that you have spent the money on yourself instead because doing so increases net social welfare (NB Waldfogel doesn’t suggest this.  He recommends cash, gift cards, or donations).

    A couple of thoughts about Waldfogel’s insight.  First, the gift valuation discrepancy that Waldfogel detects may have relatively little to do with preference satisfaction and a lot more to do with quasi-rational psychological phenomena.  Considerable research suggests that people are often poor predictors of their own hedonic experiences, leading them to make choices that don’t in fact make them as happy as they thought (e.g., the sweater I’m wearing today.  I thought I would like it more than I do).  Additionally, other similarly situated people often provide a very good gauge of how well you are going to like something, even if they seem to be quite different from you.  While grandma’s choice of tie might not be a winner, a colleague’s wine, music, or book selection might be very successful (a point Waldfogel acknowledges).  And perhaps most importantly, there is good reason to think that the added value people ascribe to the things they purchase is the result of some combination of ownership effects and dissonance reduction.  People might (subconsciously) say to themselves, “I picked out that sweater.  I like myself an awful lot.  Therefore, I must like that sweater an awful lot, too.”  Moreover, having spent $50 on the sweater, they are motivated by a desire to reduce cognitive dissonance and claim that they do in fact value it that much, even if they would never pay that much for it again.

    Second, I want to suggest that everyone think about how to give happiness-maximizing, non-adaptable gifts for the holidays this year.  So many of the things that we give and receive provide only transient joy – perhaps a little fun and surprise when unwrapping the gift, and then some rapidly decreasing enjoyment over the next several days and weeks.  I don’t have kids, but I’d guess that the moment-by-moment happiness that children experience in the days after Christmas returns to pre-holiday levels pretty rapidly.  Having spent hundreds of dollars on your children, are they any happier on January 20th than they were on December 20th?  If not, what kinds of gifts can we give to others that will provide them with longer-lasting pleasure?  I imagine that these answers might be somewhat idiosyncratic.  I, for example, enjoy receiving cellar-worthy bottles of wine.  I feel like I get extended pleasure from thinking about drinking the wine for years, finally drinking the wine with the person who gave it to me, and then remembering drinking the wine in the following years.  Perhaps the least idiosyncratic answer is that we should give the gifts of fellowship, and society.  Spending time with family and friends in social settings receives among the highest happiness ratings, and overall social time is highly predictive of general life satisfaction.  So forget the fancy gifts and must-have toys.  Spend your holiday time with the people you care about.

    Do you have other suggestions for non-adaptable holiday gifts?

    Student Brief: The Palmer Prize for Civil Liberties: Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times

    by  • December 14, 2009 • Faculty Workshops/ Conferences, Multimedia, Student Contributions • 0 Comments

    By student blogger Orijit Ghoshal

    (Listen to the webcast of Professor Matheson’s talk here.)

    The Palmer Prize for Civil Liberties was awarded to Professor Scott M. Matheson, Jr. on Friday, November, 20th for his book, Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times. Established three years ago by Roy and Susan Palmer, the Palmer Prize is awarded to scholars who examine current issues affecting individual rights in tension with governmental responsibilities. Dean Krent awarded the prize and introduced Matheson in his current role as Professor of Law at the University Of Utah College Of Law, as former Dean of the same school, and former US Attorney for the District of Utah.

    (more…)

    Copyrights, Contracts, and E-Books

    by  • December 12, 2009 • Faculty Commentary • 0 Comments

    By Christopher Buccafusco


    The NY Times has just published a story on the renewed controversy concerning publication rights in electronic versions of books originally published in the days before digital book readers.  Copyright students will recall the lawsuit from 2002 pitting dead-tree-book publishers like Random House against digital publishers like RosettaBooks.  They will also recall that these cases tend to be resolved according to contractual interpretation (i.e., did the original licensing agreement include new media or not?) rather than copyright doctrine.  I guess with the exploding success of Kindle, &c. the publishers have decided that the issue is worth re-litigating.

    Are there important social, cultural, or economic implications of these suits or is does it just come down to who gets paid for already-created works?  Should one party be made to bear the risk of not specifically including or excluding new technologies from licensing?  Could the law assign the rights to unforeseeable media to one party or the other to reduce transaction costs?

    “You’re So Vain”: I Bet You Think Suit is About You

    by  • December 4, 2009 • Faculty Commentary • 1 Comment

    By Christopher Buccafusco


    Carly Simon’s 1972 song “You’re So Vain” was a #1 hit and ranked 72nd on Billboard’s list of the greatest songs of all-time.  But was it also defamation?
     
    Let’s assume for purposes of this post, that the reference to spending time with “the wife of a close friend” is defamatory and untruthful.  Also, let’s ignore various constitutional issues about malice, public figures, and damages.  All of these are big assumptions, but, hey, it’s a blog post.

    The key issue then becomes whether a plaintiff could establish that the song was “of and concerning” him.  Over the years, a number of men have been suggested as the song’s object, including Warren Beatty, James Taylor, and Mick Jagger.  Simon has avoided identifying the song’s subject, saying that he is a composite of three different men.  Apparently, however, she has at least told NBC President Dick Ebersol, who paid $50,000 in an auction for the right to learn.

    Could any or all of these men successfully claim that the song was of and concerning them?  Could Ebersol be compelled to testify?  And, could Simon defend herself because, after all, the song isn’t really about whomever it is supposedly about?  Of course, anyone who did bring suit would only be confirming Simon’s initial observation of his vanity.

    With assistance from 1L GSOT Daniel Taylor.