Innovating with Bitcoin at MIT — Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

MIT Sloan Professor Christian Catalini

From Xconomy

In November, we began distributing $100 in Bitcoin to every undergraduate student at MIT. A large share of the 4,500 eligible students participated in the project.

Bitcoin is an innovative payment network that allows for instant peer-to-peer transactions with zero or very low processing fees on a worldwide scale. The objective of the study is to observe the diffusion of Bitcoin, a software-based, open-source, peer-to-peer payment system on the MIT campus.

The initiative began in April 2014 when students Jeremy Rubin and Dan Elitzer organized the idea, raised the funds from donors, and launched the MIT Bitcoin Project. I started working with these students when it quickly became clear that the project had to become a full research study and had to meet the rigorous requirements of academic research at MIT.

Observing the ways students will innovate because of their newfound Bitcoin cash should be fascinating: MIT students are tech savvy, not set in their ways, generally a bit cash strapped anyway, and often open to new innovations. In the same way that MIT gave students early access to computing resources through the Athena project in 1983, this project intends to give participants early access to a digital currency.

Read the full post at Xconomy.

Christian Catalini is the Fred Kayne (1960) Career Development Professor of Entrepreneurship and Assistant Professor of Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Behind the hype over Aetna’s minimum wage boost — Barbara Dyer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and Visiting Scientist Barbara Dyer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and Visiting Scientist Barbara Dyer

From Fortune

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.

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Diversity and markets — Evan Apfelbaum

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Evan Apfelbaum

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.

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Bridging the knowledge gap on governments as financial institutions – Deborah Lucas

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Lucas

Ask most finance experts about the “world’s largest financial institutions,” and you’ll hear names like Citigroup, ICBC (China’s largest bank) and HSBC. However, governments top the list of large financial institutions, with investment and insurance operations that dwarf those of any private enterprise. For instance, last year the U.S. federal government made almost all student loans and backed over 97% of newly originated mortgages. Add to that Uncle Sam’s lending activities for agriculture, small business, energy and trade, plus its provision of insurance for private pensions and deposits, and you’ll discover it’s an $18-trillion financial institution. By comparison, JP Morgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, had assets totaling about $2.4 trillion.

While government practices differ across countries, the basic story is much the same everywhere. As the world’s largest and most interconnected financial institutions — and through their activities as rule-makers and regulators — governments have an enormous influence on the allocation of capital and risk in society. And as financial actors they are confronted with the same critical issues as their private-sector peers: How should a government assess its cost of capital? How should its financial activities be accounted for? What are the systemic and macroeconomic effects? Are the institutions well-managed? Are its financial products well-designed?

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Here’s proof that Wall Street regulators listen to you — Andrei Kirilenko

MIT Sloan Professor Andrei Kirilenko

MIT Sloan Professor Andrei Kirilenko

From MarketWatch

Especially concerning business regulations, critics argue, an inside the Beltway mentality prevails. Only the lobbyists and industry insiders are heard.

I am sensitive to this criticism. Five and half years ago, the United States experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In response to the crisis, Congress passed the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. One part of the legislation instructed a financial regulatory agency called the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to write rules that regulate “swaps” — the same derivatives that had been implicated in the financial crisis. As the Chief Economist of the CFTC during 2010-2012, I helped with the rulemaking process.

After leaving the federal government in December 2012 to join MIT Sloan School of Management as a finance professor, I set out to study the work that I and other staff members had done on designing new Wall Street regulations.

My goal was to create a scientific tool to evaluate whether thousands of public comments that were delivered in response to the rules proposed by the CFTC were meaningfully taken into account. I wanted to study how responsive the government is to its constituents. Is the government really for the people?

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