Monthly Archives: June 2015

Documenting your work as you go with GNU Make

I’ve long been a convert to using ‘Make’ to turn LaTeX into a PDF. However, you can also easily use Make to backup your work as you go along and take “snapshots” of what a draft looked like at a moment in time (see example Makefile below). This complements using both github, Dropbox and some external backup (I might add another block to the Makefile that pushes a snapshot to Amazon S3).

My folder structure for a project:

  • writeup (where I store the LaTeX & BibTeX)
  • code
  • data
  • backups (where I store entire snapshots of the directory, w/o backups included, for obvious reasons)
  • snapshots (where just the PDF draft is stored)

How much *should* MTurk cost (if you’re Amazon)?

Amazon recently announced that they are going to double their percentage fee, from 10% to 20%. At least among the people I follow on Twitter (lots of academics that use MTurk for research), this has caused much consternation. A price increase is clearly bad for workers and bad for requestors (who gets hurt worse will depend on relative elasticities), but what about Amazon?

When I first got interested in online labor markets, I wrote  a short paper (“Online Labor Markets” ) in which I tried to figure out what was the optimal ad valorem charge from the platform’s perspective.  The relevant section is below, but the main conclusion was that most online platforms were pricing as if demand and/or supply was highly elastic.  In other words, that even a small increase in price would send nearly all customers elsewhere.

Screenshot 2015-06-25 09.04.14

The basic reason is that when the platform doubles its fees from 10% to 20%, they double their revenue (if everything stays the same) but only increase the cost of Using MTurk for users by about 10%. Of course, there is some decline in usage (demand curves slope down)  which reduces profits, but it has to be a huge reduction to make up for the direct increase in revenue to the platform. This is more or less the same argument for why cutting taxes doesn’t increase revenue unless tax rates are incredibly high—the consensus estimate is that the revenue maximizing tax rate is in the mid 70%.

My guess is that MTurk has fairly few substitutes and someone at Amazon decided it should be making more money as a service. Fortunately for us as observers, because of the great work of Panos Ipeirotis, we’ll get to see what happens.





The impact & potential of online work – some new references

In the last month, two new reports have come up looking at online work and online labor markets, with a focus on their potential for economic development.

There is:

  • A report from the McKinsey Global Institute, “Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age” The McKinsey report covers a lot of the economic rationale for online work and digitization a bit more broadly.
  • A report from the World Bank “Jobs without Borders” (pdf) which focuses more on what these markets could do for workers in less developed countries. It brings together quite  a bit of disparate data on the size on online marketplaces, worker composition and so on.

The McKinsey report relies on some of the work that  went into my NBER working paper w/ Ajay Agrawal, Liz Lyons and Nico Lacetera on “Digitization and the Contract Labor Market” which in turn leans heavily on data from oDesk (now Upwork). This paper—along with all the others from the conference—are now available as a book from the University of Chicago Press.