Can video games help us predict the evolution of pandemics?

With the outbreak of Covid-19, a 15 years old event surfaced; the World of Warcraft (WOW) pandemic. At the time, discussions appeared about how online video games could be revolutionary tools to predict the evolution of outbreaks. The current events make these discussions more newsworthy than ever. 

The corrupted blood epidemy

In 2005, this massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) experienced an epidemic due to an unexpected consequence of software update. The developers introduced an additional area in the game with a new enemy to fight. It was meant for high-level players (at the beginning of WOW a player’s avatar starts at level 1, and throughout the game he can increase its level and therefore access more content). Indeed, to make the combat more interesting, the avatars were sometimes infected by a disease called “Corrupted Blood” which was not supposed to spread outside this area. However, developers made a coding mistake and the disease did not disappear once players completed this additional section. Soon, an outbreak occurred because of the avatars’ capacity to teleport themselves in cities, the infection of their pets, and the infection of the non-player characters (characters who are not controlled by players but are part of the game contents, like shopkeepers). Lower-level players died, and cities were literally covered with their bodies. So, before the developers resolved this issue, a quarantine was established both by developers and players. Indeed, because a character resurrection implies to lose some resources or capacities gained during the game, death is undesirable.

Some interesting aspects for epidemiology

This event held epidemiologist’s attention because the “Corrupted Blood” outbreak seemed like a credible representation of reality (Oultram, 2013). Firstly, the abilities of players such as teleportation could be assimilated to airline travel, an important parameter when studying pandemics. Secondly, the capacity of the “Corrupted Blood” to jump between species (between pets and characters) was similar to some real diseases like the avian flu due to the H5N1 virus. Thirdly, there were asymptomatic carriers such as the non-player characters, which the Covid-19 epidemic showed as an important aspect to take into account to halt an outbreak. Finally, the evolution of the “Corrupted Blood” epidemic was influenced by the behaviour of players; some were curious and went to the infected areas, others tried to heal the infected low-level players but contributed to spread the disease instead, and some others deliberately infected players.

Moreover, epidemiologists saw the potential of such data because MMORPG are not only played on a large-scale (5.5 million players reported in 2015 by Blizzard Entertainment, the company selling WOW) but are implying an important commitment from players who play regularly. Therefore, the evolution of their avatars becomes integrated with their real-life preoccupations, making their virtual behaviour comparable to their real-life behaviour (Lofgren and Fefferman, 2007). This commitment can also be expressed by the monthly fee to access MMORPG platforms. For instance, it is approximately 12 euros per month for WOW.

An apparent breakthrough in pandemic studies

There are two main sources of data for epidemiologists. First, traditional epidemiological studies which consist in observation of past epidemics because of the perpetual problem of morality when implementing controlled experiments in this area. Second, large-scale computer simulations where all the parameters are controlled, and which often rely on an economic borrowed axiom; the rational choice theory (Lehdonvirta, 2005). The behaviour of people is modelled by considering that an agent always makes the more rational choice. With MMORPG these two sources were combined; unprogrammed human behaviour on a large-scale with the possibility to control disease’s parameters (Lofgren and Fefferman, 2007). Therefore, it seemed to be a way to settle both the immorality of real-life experiments and the controversy of rational behaviour in modelling. Consequently, epidemiological modelling could be improved through a better representation of behaviour.

Some difficult issues to resolve

This event happened 15 years ago but still today no concrete application has emerged. However, some scientists claim that the “Corrupted Blood” outbreak influenced how they construct pandemics models. For instance, Dr Nina Fefferman who wrote one of the early papers on the WOW pandemic said that its work is still largely influenced by the social side the WOW outbreak revealed as an important aspect of epidemics’ evolution. When the outbreak occurred, players decided to quarantine their avatars because they discussed the risk to spread the disease and came to an agreement. Dr Nina Fefferman states that this type of apparent informal interactions can have important consequences for the whole society. She tries to construct models with a better representation of people’s behaviours in epidemics, based on these observations. But this is an improvement of computer modelling through a more realistic programmed human behaviour and not through an unprogrammed behaviour. In reality, there are difficult issues to resolve to be able to represent unprogrammed human behaviour in a controlled environment.

Firstly, some authors challenged the idea that the negative outcome following a death in WOW (loss of resources or abilities) was sufficient to represent a real-life situation (Oultram, 2013). In the early papers, authors corrected this issue by introducing a risk parameter when modelling behaviour. In video games, this parameter is by definition low because you are not risking your life, but authors argued that by increasing it you could model a situation where your life is really at stake (Lofgren and Fefferman, 2007). However, it did not convince the scientific community, as a high-level of risk is still different from the threat of death (Oultram, 2013).

Secondly, the major issue is probably the divergence of interests between scientists and the gaming industry. Designing a game where epidemiologists could set all the parameters, from the basic reproduction number (how many people one person can infect) to the mortality rate of the disease, implies important constraints which are not necessarily aligned with the players’ expectations. It is unlikely that a gaming company targeting millions of players would risk developing a game entirely designed by epidemiologists. Certainly, scientists’ primary concern is not entertainment, and that could result in the development of less interesting games for players.

However, there are some examples of such partnerships but they always involve fewer players and are relevant only for educational games. For instance, Harvard University developed the River City Project, a computer simulation disguised in a multi-player video game where students can experience the spread of a disease and try to stop it. Thanks to the funding of a US public agency, scholars created this game for learning purposes in collaboration with a gaming company. It seems that in 2009 the project was abandoned because of lack of additional funds. The creation of a MMORPG would require even more funds to target a wider audience, so it seems quite complicated to develop such a game, particularly in the light of the River City Project example.

Another issue, related to the previous one, which was encountered in the field of economics and that one can easily imagine being a problem for epidemiologists too, is the complexity of games created by scholars. Economists have studied video games economics for a while now; from applying microeconomic theory through the rules of demand (Smith, 2017) to comparing guilds (groups of players with a common objective) as alternatives to markets (Lehdonvirta, 2005). In particular, the MMORPG Eve: Online has the advantage to have been developed in collaboration with an economist, making its economy particularly realistic and interesting to study. But this example of collaboration between ex-scholars and the gaming industry did not seem to have been a great success. Indeed, Eve: Online players’ commentaries about the game are reflecting the difficulty to get familiar with it. It seems that the complexity introduced to represent reality with accuracy is not an obvious recipe for a business success. Eve: Online has still a lot of players (around 400,000 players today) but when comparing to the 5.5 millions of WOW, one could wonder once again if it is the best strategy for the gaming industry to bet on scholars, due to the excessive complexity their participation can imply.

Conclusion

As the pandemic of WOW showed, MMORPG could improve considerably epidemiological modelling by combining unprogrammed human behaviour with a controlled environment, through similarities such games share with reality, and the degree of commitment players usually adopt. However, the last decade did not bring a satisfying evolution to this potentiality, only some observations based on the “Corrupted Blood” outbreak were used to improve behaviour representation in computer models. The main hindrance seems to be the lack of incentives from the gaming industry to develop a game exclusively designed by epidemiologists to the detriments of its attractiveness. Only educational games with fewer players succeed in such cooperation. But as the Covid-19 showed, it can be interesting not to give up the idea, as it could really improve the prediction of outbreak evolution in the future.

References

Fenlon, Wes. “The Researchers Who Once Studied WoW’s Corrupted Blood Plague Are Now Fighting the Coronavirus.” Pcgamer. Last modified March 13, 2020. https://www.pcgamer.com/the-researchers-who-once-studied-wows-corrupted-blood-plague-are-now-fighting-the-coronavirus/.

Lehdonvirta, Vili. “Virtual Economics: Applying Economics to the Study of Game Worlds.” , Proceedings of the 2005 Conference on Future Play (Future Play 2005), Lansing, MI, October 13-15, 2005.

https://ssrn.com/abstract=1630302

Lofgren, Eric T., and Nina H. Fefferman. “The untapped potential of virtual game worlds to

shed light on real world epidemics.” The Lancet Infectious Diseases 7, no. 9 (2007), 625-629.

doi:10.1016/s1473-3099(07)70212-8.

Oultram, Stuart. “Virtual plagues and real-world pandemics: reflecting on the potential for

online computer role-playing games to inform real world epidemic research.” Medical

Humanities 39, no. 2 (2013), 115-118. doi:10.1136/medhum-2012-010299.

The River City Project. “The River City Project: Introduction.” Harvard University. Last

modified June 17, 2009. https://muve.gse.harvard.edu/rivercityproject/index.html.

Smith, Christopher. “EVE: Online as a Potential Microeconomic Model.” Master’s thesis, UW

Oshkosh , 2017.

https://minds.wisconsin.edu/bitstream/handle/1793/79143/11460%20OshScholar18%20Smith.

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By Louise Damade

Out of school, excluded from a human right

In Article 26.1, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to education, education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. (…)”. (United Nations, 1948). It has been stated that it should not only be a right but also, to a certain extent, an obligation. Every member of the society is responsible for their own future and determines the future of the society they belong to. Thus, the lack of basic education can limit the ability of citizens to take decisions that are consistent with their interests.

Given the possibility of access to education, it is in everyone’s responsibility to make use of the education system to acquire the required knowledge, and therefore participate in the development of society. Nevertheless, is education really as free as it should be? Is universal access to education easily achieved?

The data in the field of education access is both striking and discouraging. Although school attendance has improved over the years, still more than one in seven children in primary school age does not go to school in low-income countries. This rate declines as income increases, amounting to 9.3 percent for low-middle income countries, 7 percent for middle-income countries, 3 percent for upper-middle and only 1 percent for high-income countries (UIS data, 2020). Globally, more than 59 million children cannot access primary school, which shows clearly that this Universal Right has not yet been fulfilled. Consequently, the United Nations has stressed the necessity to work toward improving schooling by establishing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4. It aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. One may wonder what are the causes that lie behind the exclusion of these children from education, who are these “excluded”, and what is the magnitude of the challenge.

The causes are diverse. Living in a country in conflict is an obvious reason; children there are twice as likely to be out of school as in non-conflict areas (UNESCO, 2015c). Wars prevent the government from functioning properly, and keep children from accessing their schools which are often destroyed. A similar problem scheme applies to areas affected by natural disasters. Without support, communities are often incapable of rebuilding their schooling facilities, resulting in children losing their opportunity to access education.

Constraints related to family background or financial capacity are also causes of exclusion. Poorer households face budgetary constraints that prevent them even from affording this “free” education. In the pursuit of universal primary education, many developing countries have eliminated school access fees. However, some families still cannot afford to send several children to school due to other costs that are not covered, such as uniforms, food, transport, and books. This is the case in rural Ghana where these costs still represent a barrier to education (Akagury, L., 2014). These costs may particularly affect ethnic minorities living in remote areas of developing countries.

In addition, one must take into account the opportunity cost of attending school. Chandrasekhar and Mukhopadhyay (2006) analysed the case of India, finding that these indirect costs of schooling indeed reduce the likelihood of children attendance. As the authors state, this factor can even “offset the improved probability of attending school on account of slashing of direct costs of schooling”. Thus, it becomes essential that governments consider these extra costs to promote primary education attendance.

Marginalised groups, such as children with disabilities, face even higher obstacles in accessing education. Fortunately, substantial improvements have been made over the past decade to expand access to education for these children, both in developed and developing countries. Nonetheless, for some of the latter this remains a challenge that has not been fully met with solutions. Several issues have been identified. One of them is the lack of data which makes it more difficult to identify the population in need. How can we tackle a problem that we do not even know the extent of? In addition, the lack of resources to make education more inclusive is also critical. Strengthening the abilities of teachers and investing in proper training has indeed been set as one of the targets of the 4th SDG. Finally, the accessibility of schools and the provision of adapted equipment is a third issue that discourages disabled children from engaging in the current education system.

As analysed by the 2015 World Education Forum, from the point of view of investment in human capital, the lack of investment in learners with disabilities carries a substantial cost to society. The returns on investment in their education are actually two to three times higher than those of people without disabilities (UNESCO, 2015a). Thus, neither from an ethical point of view, nor from an economical perspective, should inclusive education be neglected.

Although the number of out-of-school children is smaller for developed countries, some children still face barriers that cause them to drop out of school. For many OECD countries, refugees’ integration in education has become one of the crucial challenges of recent years. Their integration into the educational system would foster their social integration and subsequent contribution to the labour market. Therefore, overcoming barriers such as social norms, language learning or access to the educational system plays a crucial role in preventing their marginalisation.

The Global Education Monitoring Report (UNESCO, 2019) emphasizes the estimated annual funding gap that existed in low- and lower-middle-income countries. It amounts to at least $39 billion dollars a year from 2015 to 2030. Although further reforms and additional investments should come from the countries concerned, international cooperation has also been called for. On this regard the chasm seems too large for low-income countries, making it difficult to close it by domestic resources alone. The gap could, however, be filled if all OECD Development Assistance Committee donors and selected non-DAC donors assigned 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income to aid, allocating 10 percent of their aid to basic and secondary education. (UNESCO, 2015b).

In conclusion, what is defined as a Universal Human Right and a compulsory provision, is not yet achieved. Poor households, minorities, disabled children, and migrants are some of the groups that still face major hindrances to accessing primary education. In both developing countries and developed ones, commitments must be made. Improving inclusion capacities for these excluded children, analysing context-specific policies, and increasing international aid on education are necessary and urgent steps forward.

References

Chandrasekhar, S., & Mukhopadhyay, A. (2006). Primary education as a fundamental right: cost implications. Economic and Political Weekly, 3797-3804.

Luke Akaguri (2014) Fee-free public or low-fee private basic education in rural Ghana: how does the cost influence the choice of the poor?, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 44:2, 140-161

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III).

UNESCO (2015a) World Education Forum 2015, Final Report. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000243724

UNESCO (2015b). Pricing the Right to Education: the Cost of Reaching New Targets by 2030. Paris, UNESCO.

UNESCO. (2015c). Humanitarian aid for education: why it matters and why more is needed. Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper 21.

UNESCO (2019) Global Education Monitoring Report 2019:  Migration, Displacement and Education – Building Bridges, not Walls. París, UNESCO. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2020). Rate of out-of-school children of primary school age (%). Retrieved in January 2020. Accesible in: UIS.Stat

by Marina Navarro

Should prisons be privatised?

“I believe a big part of our problem is that the very violent inmates, like the three that escaped, [were] sent to private prisons that were just not up to the job”, argued Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard following the escape of three murderers from Arizona’s Kingman private prison on 30 July 2010. According to the state report released after the events, the private prison faced numerous security breaches that night, bringing the case of private prisons to the forefront. This debate is still alive today.

The long lasting story of private prisons

Prisons have been private, since the medieval age–for almost a thousand years. They were meant to make profit for the owner and the prisoners had to pay for their punishment when the poorest among them depended on bequest and alms. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, some entrepreneurs specialised in transporting prisoners to the colonies and made large profits. Prisons only became public in the twentieth century following the desire of most countries to get their hands back on incarceration.

This has been the norm for many decades. However, it is progressively questioned in many Anglo-Saxon countries, among which the US. Since the 1990’s the private sector has become increasingly present in American prisons, either through partnerships with public facilities or with total ownership of the prison. The private sector has grown considerably with about 1,200 “private prisoners” in 1985 to almost 50,000 inmates in 1994 and 120,000 in 2017. However, this figure remains less than 10% of the total state and federal prison population.

In general, opponents to prison privatisation consider private prisons as cheap and poor quality facilities, while public prisons are considered to be more expensive but also safer and of better quality. In order to elucidate the debate, one should first investigate whether this popular view is fact or fiction.

Public Vs Private: a tradeoff between cost and safety?

According to D. Perrone et al. (2009), “the empirical evidence regarding whether private prisons are more cost-effective and whether they provide a higher quality of confinement to inmates, however, is inconclusive.”

Nevertheless, in the vast majority of the studies conducted (B. Lundahl et al. (2007)), publicly managed prisons perform better in terms of public safety with clearly better training programs and fewer complaints or grievances.

The Arizona Department of Corrections report of 2011 has shown that if private prisons are cheaper, it is because they host low-cost inmates and leave the sickest and most costly convicts to the public sector. Private prisons also often pay lower wages and hire less-skilled workers. Since labour accounts for two-thirds of the cost of incarceration, this can represent savings of up to 10%. However, the quality of service deteriorates with more violence and deaths due to inexperienced guards.

Consequently, assuming that private prisons are cheaper, a trade-off seems to exist between quality and cost. The basic idea is that, ignoring the effect of competition, the main difference between private or public ownership is the allocation of residual control rights. For instance, if I have my own business rather than working for someone else, I have the residual control rights. This would certainly have consequences! But how and why does it change the way I would work?

Allocation of control rights under incomplete contracting 

Under complete contracting, allocation does not matter. The government should be able to sustain the first-best level of action whether or not he is owning the facility.

However, under incomplete contracting, residual control rights provide incentives to agents in different ways (Grossam and Hart, 1995). An owner of a nonhuman asset possesses residual control rights on this asset; optimal allocation of these control rights can be found. In other words, is it optimal to give the control rights to the manager? How does this affect his incentives to reduce costs or quality? Before answering this question, we must understand why building complete contracts is more or less impossible.

Contracts can never be complete, especially in the case of incarceration services. Even if a broad set of standards is established, many events are still too difficult to describe in a contract, or too difficult to predict, leaving the prison governor some leeway.

The American Correctional Association is a private association that sets prison quality standards and accredits institutions that meet those standards. These hundreds of standards cover a wide range of issues such as administration and management of prisons (personnel policies, staff training, etc.) physical plant, operations, services and inmate programs. These norms are used by the U.S. government to establish the most comprehensive contracts possible.

However, no matter the number and complexity of these standards, they still does not make a fully complete set of contracts feasible. First, they are based on process rather than outcomes. This guarantees that the facilities have rules and staff dedicated to deal with a specific matter; but does not specify the content of the rule. Second, two areas considered crucial for good quality prisons are not properly supervised: the use of force and the quality of personnel. For the use of force, it is only stated that “written policy, procedure, and practice restrict the use of physical force to instances of justifiable self-defence, protection of others, protection of property, and prevention of escapes, and then only as a last resort and in accordance with appropriate statutory authority. […] A written report is prepared following all uses of force and is submitted to administrative staff for review.” It is just as vague for the use of firearms with relatively low restrictions. With regard to the quality of staff, the vacancy rate and the number of hours of training to be provided are specified, but little is said about the quality of the training or the officers that can be employed. Few standards for recruitment requirements are clearly stated and contractors have considerable latitude to save on staff costs. These grey areas leave some room for manoeuvre for the manager, which can have an adverse impact on quality.

The state of New Jersey experienced the unfortunate consequences of incomplete contracting with the case of the ESMOR’s detention centre in Elizabeth. In the 2000s, ESMOR won the contract by underbidding its competitors because it had assumed lower wages for the prison staff in its bid. Due to difficulties in hiring guards at that price, they ended up hiring people who had previously kept goods in warehouses. As a result, the facility was severely understaffed and when a riot broke out, the guards ran away and called the police.

Do private prisons have more incentive to lower quality ?

Both private and public facilities are equally affected by incomplete contracting. However, we do not observe such behaviours in public prisons. Incentives are indeed different depending on, as we said earlier, the allocation of residual control rights. Private contractors seem to have more incentives to lower quality to save costs.

The model of O. Hart et al. (1997) attempts to explain both why private contracts are generally cheaper and why, in some cases, they may offer a lower level of quality than services provided in-house by the government.

In this model, the manager of a given facility can invest his time in two types of investments: cost reduction or quality innovation. Cost reducing investments are detrimental to quality, e.g. because less qualified guards are hired. Consequently, there is something of a trade-off between cost and quality, as introduced in the examples given above. Quality innovations, meanwhile, can, if implemented, increase prisoner rehabilitation or reduce the chances of escape for instance. Neither of these investments is contractible ex-ante.

The government wishes to implement the optimal level of investment in cost reduction and quality improvement in all prisons. Note that the first-best level of cost-cutting is not zero and that it is optimal to damage quality to some extent to save money. This optimal level is determined by the principal taking into account the damages caused to society (here to convicts and citizens living around guardhouses). As these investments are not contractible, discretion, such as the level of investment implemented, is left to the prison director.

If the prison governor is a state employee, he can be replaced by the government. The employee is not a residual claimant on cost savings he implements; the government and manager bargain over the surplus created if the latter is not fired. Consequently, the incentive to do effort either in cost reduction or innovation is too weak. The level of investment for both actions is inefficiently low. If the provider is a private contractor, he is a residual claimant on cost-reducing innovations.

However, if the contractor wishes to implement quality improvements, the surplus generated by this action is split according to the respective bargaining power each party. The contractor would to renegotiate their contract with the government to be rewarded for this innovation. The incentive for the private contractor to exert effort for both innovations is greater than for the government employee. However, it is not high enough for quality innovation since the private manager is still not a residual claimant. Moreover, the social harm of cost reduction is an externality that is not internalised by the private manager. The result is an inefficiently high level of cost reduction which is detrimental to the quality of the service provided.

A compromise appears, either to have an expensive and good quality public prison or to contract with cheap private prisons whose quality of service is degraded. Even if, according to the model, more quality innovations are made in private prisons, they continue to perform poorly.

To conclude, what should we do?

The answer to this question depends on the extent of the social harm deemed acceptable. In the United States, maximum-security prisons are never privately owned to avoid the risk of escape due to lack of security. Which values do we have as a society? A major objection to privatisation is the fear that private providers will hire unqualified guards to save money, thereby compromising the safety and security of the prison. In my view, the fact that high-security prisons are never privately owned suggests that the security and protection of society as a whole are more important than the living conditions of those behind bars. In a sense, this problem is intractable and depends on the philosophy of sentencing and the nation’s sensitivity to the fate of those who have made mistakes.

A more interesting question, for an economist, is to wonder how we could improve the quality of the service provided by private prisons.

First of all, the simplest solution would be to try to build more comprehensive contracts, specifying, for example, recruitment procedures. One could also try to modify the incentives, focusing on outcomes rather than specific tasks. However, this might be difficult to put into practice due to uncertainty. Changing the prisoner assignment process to strengthen ex-post competition and provide additional incentives to improve quality, might be a more effective solution. This could be done by allowing inmates to choose their prison, but this would be a bad idea as they might choose the most lenient prisons. Prisons would have an incentive to “allow gangs, drugs, and perhaps easy escapes” (Hart et al., 1997). A better idea might be to let judges choose the prison for convicts. However, this idea is not perfect either, as some judges could choose bad prisons to impose harsher sentences and others soft prisons to soften the sentence. Moreover, given the shortage of prison capacity in the United States, this idea seems difficult to implement.

The Bureau of Prisons currently “place[s] the prisoner in a facility as close as practicable to the prisoner’s primary residence, subject to bed availability” taking into account such things as “the prisoner’s security designation, the prisoner’s programmatic needs, the prisoner’s mental and medical health needs”.

To conclude on a more personal note, private prisons appear to be a way to save thousands of dollars at the expense of convicts’ human rights. As an economist, it is not always easy to look at the big picture, as it could intractably complicate the analysis. However, violence and deaths due to accidents or abuse should be quantified in monetary terms. Besides, if private prisons are more innovative than public prisons and have better reintegration rates, this should also be taken into account. Nevertheless, given that the value of statistical life is $10 million in the United-States, the death of a guard or prisoner avoided through better management should certainly favour public prisons over private ones. Assuming that the life of a prisoner and an average American citizen are valued in the same way.

References :

Arizona Department Of Corrections (2011), Biennial Comparison Of “Private Versus Public Provision Of Services”.

B. Lundahl, C. Kunz Cyndi Brownell Norma Harris, R. Van Vleet (2007), Prison Privatization: A Meta-Analysis of Cost Effectiveness and Quality of Confinement Indicators. Utah Criminal Justice Center College of Social Work University of Utah

D. Perrone, T. C. Pratt (2009), Comparing the Quality of Confinement and Cost-Effectiveness of Public Versus Private Prisons: What We Know, Why We Do Not Know More, and Where to Go from Here. The Prison Journal, Vol. 83 No. 3, September 2009 301-322 DOI: 10.1177/0032885503256329

 M. Mumford, D. Whitmore Schanzenbach, R. Nunn (2016), The Economics of Private Prisons. The Hamilton Project. Economic analysis.

O. Hart, A. Shleifer, R. W. Vishny (1997), The Proper Scope of Government: Theory and an Application to Prisons Author(s): Contracting for Imprisonment in the Federal Prison System. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 112, No. 4 (Nov., 1997), pp. 1127-1161.

O. Hart (2002), Incomplete Contracts and Public Ownership: Remarks, and an Application to Public-Private Partnerships. CMPO Working Paper Series No. 03/061.

U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (2019), Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification.

 P. Aghion, R. Holden (2011), Incomplete Contracts and the Theory of the Firm: What Have We Learned over the Past 25 Years?. Journal of Economic Perspectives, VOL. 25, NO. 2, SPRING 2011, pp. 181-97.

S. Cabral, S. Saussier (2013), Organizing Prisons through Public-Private Partnerships: a CrossCountry Investigation. BAR, Rio de Janeiro, v. 10, n. 1, art. 6, pp. 100-120, Jan./Mar. 2013.

By Pierre Vannetzel

M2 Choice – Public Policy and Development (PPD)

Rene Stryja - Ihr Fotograf in Tübingen, Reutlingen, Esslingen,Current student – Stefan Preuß

 Which was your favourite course(s) and why? 

There were many great classes. My top three are that on the role of institutions in development by Victor Gay, that on econometrics by Paul Seabright/Ana Gazmurri, and that on economic history by Mohamed Saleh. In all of them, the lecturers were able to convey their fascination for the field, to stimulate vivid discussions on the papers, and to give helpful explanations whenever questions came up. The in-depth view on current research that the three courses provided deepened my understanding of the challenges for developing economies and the use of potential remedies.

Which aspects of your chosen program were the most challenging?

In many courses grading is based on term papers or projects rather than exams. While the professors provided some initial assistance, we were left to our own devices for the most time of the project. It was therefore necessary to have a creative idea for the topic and then to demonstrate a high degree of autonomy in implementing it. I found it challenging to take this responsibility, particularly in those – inevitable – moments when facing obstacles in the selected approach. At the same time, I consider it to be a highly valuable preparation for what is to come after the studies.

What do you plan to do next?

To complete the PPD, one must either write a Master thesis or do an internship, of which I chose the latter. For that purpose, I will go to the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs. After that, I will attempt to get into the German diplomatic service, hopefully benefitting from the international experience I gained in my studies at TSE.

M2 Choice – Economic Theory and Econometrics (ETE)

M2ETE_CurrentStudentCurrent student – Till Kov

Which aspects of your chosen program were the most challenging?

ETE is a very theoretical and mathematical program. For me, the most challenging aspect was the level of mathematics which is required for some courses. But this is also due to the fact that I have a less strong background in mathematics than many other ETE-students because I did my undergrad studies in Sociology, Politics and Economics.

Which was your favourite course(s) and why?

In the first semester, my favourite course was Game Theory. The teaching style and the structure of the course were both really good. However, it had quite some overlap with content that we covered in the M1. In the second semester, my favourite course so far is the optional course in Environmental economics. The course mainly consists in reading and critically discussing current papers from the field, which helps me in developing own research ideas for the M2 thesis and for the PhD.

What do you plan to do next?

Over the summer, all ETE students will write their M2 thesis. After that, I will take some time to relax before I will start doing a PhD with a focus on environmental economics.

Alumni – Oscar JaraM2ETE_Alumni

What are you up to now?

I am currently following the DEEQA program, which is the first year of the PhD at the Toulouse School of Economics. In DEEQA,  you must choose seven courses that are related to your field interests and write a paper at the end of it. During this year we can also attend seminars and workshops, where scholars from the most prestigious Universities of the world come to TSE to present their latest and most significant work. I have been in many of these and not only it is academically enriching, but also gives you a sense of the academic community that we are intended to join in the (near) future.

What skills acquired from TSE do you find useful in your work?

In DEEQA we have two main duties: attend and participate actively in lectures and write a paper at the end of it. For the lectures, since most of the workload is focused on discussing and giving critical opinions about papers, it is necessary to have a solid background in economics. In the core and elective courses of the M2 ETE, we were required to learn the main economic principles – which demanded many hours of dedication and effort. For the DEEQA paper, the M2 ETE is of great help because at the end of it we had to submit and defend a paper. After one year learning the different economic theories, one is supposed to come up with a research question and work on it. This is the first time when we are supposed to actually create a model regarding a question that we think is both interesting and relevant. The exercise of thinking the best way to express ideas into equations is really challenging and compels you to go deeper in the related literature. In DEEQA, we can continue working on the ETE’s thesis or find another more interesting – and relevant –  research question.