MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and Visiting Scientist Barbara Dyer
Last week, Aetna, Inc., one of the largest healthcare insurers in America, made news when it announced it would boost its minimum wage base to $16 an hour for its lowest-earning employees. Aetna AET 0.35% also pledged to cover more of its employee’s health costs. In a Wall Street Journal interview, CEO Mark Bertolini said the company hopes to reduce its $120 million annual turnover costs and will monitor how this investment plays out.
While a firm’s decision to increase pay for lower-wage workers should certainly be applauded, it also begs the question: Why is the decision to pay workers $16 per hour breaking news?
My answer: because of the message it sends to investors and shareholders.
We usually think of ethnic diversity as a matter of social policy, not a factor that could impede market bubbles. But new research by me and a team of colleagues suggests a surprising new reason to consider diversity as a hedge against speculative bubbles: in two studies, we find that markets comprised of ethnically diverse traders are more accurate in pricing assets than ethnically homogeneous ones. Our paper, which came out Nov. 17 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that ethnic diversity leads all traders, whether of majority or minority ethnicity, to price more accurately and thwart bubbles. The reason isn’t because minority traders had special information or differential skills; rather, their mere presence changed how everyone approached decision-making. Traders were more apt to carefully scrutinize others’ transactions and less likely to copy others’ errors in diverse markets, and this reduced the incidence of bubbles.
To conduct our research, we constructed experimental markets in the United States and Singapore in which participants traded stocks to earn real money. We randomly assigned participants to ethnically homogenous or diverse markets. We found that markets comprised of diverse traders did a 58 percent better job at pricing assets to their true value. Overpricing was higher in homogenous markets because traders are more likely to accept speculative prices, we found. Their pricing errors were more correlated than in diverse markets. And when bubbles burst, homogenous markets crashed more severely.
Knowledge and innovation generated at universities can lead to the creation of high-impact spin-off businesses. Whether it is through the licensing of intellectual property, partnerships or other informal arrangements, the tech transfer process can play a critical role in shaping new industries and regional economic development.
Research by Eesley and Miller and Eesley and Roberts has demonstrated the role Stanford University has played in shaping the development of Silicon Valley and MIT’s contribution to building a world-class innovation hub in the Kendall Square district of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
While those are examples of successful academic-industry-government ecosystems, the technology transfer system at many universities in the US and Europe is in need of a major overhaul. Its focus is historically rooted in revenue generation rather than in helping innovation. Technology transfer offices in many universities can act as bottlenecks rather than partners in knowledge transfer for economic and societal good.
Thomas J. Allen is the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, Emeritus and Professor of Organizations Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Dr Rory O’Shea is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also serves as a faculty member at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business, UCD.
Rather than dipping too deeply into the tax break tool box to attract new business, state and local governments might do just as well to make their local skies more friendly. Some research I’ve recently completed suggests that the easier it is for venture capitalists to travel by air, the better the companies in which they invest do.
When my colleagues (Shai Bernstein at Stanford University and Richard Townsend at Dartmouth College) and I analyzed what happened when new airline routes were introduced that reduced the travel time between venture capitalists and companies in which they had invested, we found a robust result: the travel time reduction leads to an increase in innovation as well as a greater likelihood of an IPO. Moreover, the greater the reduction in travel time, the stronger the positive effect on portfolio companies.
Our results indicate that VC involvement is an important determinant of innovation and success. Far from just sitting back to see if their investments pay off, venture capitalists tend to be active investors. They want to be up close and personal with their companies. Better flight connections that enable them to do so lead to greater company success, we found.
U.S. inflation has been accelerating in recent months, presenting the Federal Reserve with a tricky question as it decides how quickly to remove stimulus from the U.S. economy: Is the rise in prices a precursor of things to come or simply a “catching up” phase as people begin to spend again after a brutal winter?
Recent data from the U.S. Labor Department have led some to suggest that the long run of very low U.S. inflation could be ending. From Dec. 31 through May 31, the consumer price index — not seasonally adjusted — rose a cumulative 2.1 percent. That’s equivalent to an annualized inflation rate of more than 5 percent, far exceeding the Fed’s target of about 2 percent.
If this is more than a temporary phenomenon, the Fed might have to respond by raising interest rates sooner than expected — a move that would restrain economic growth and could trigger sharp declines in stock and bond markets.
Some officials at the Fed, though, reportedly do not believe that the surge in consumer prices represents the beginning of a new inflationary trend. After all, in the period just before the winter, from Sept. 30 to Dec. 31, prices actually fell by a cumulative 0.5 percent. Combine the two periods, one with an increase and one with a small drop, and you get an annualized inflation rate since September of about 2.4 percent.