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Brainiac

Uncommon Knowledge: No business on TV

Gordon Ramsay’s two shows (“Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hotel Hell”) were “equally (in)effective at saving failing businesses, having [average annual failure rates] about 80 percent to 85 percent higher than the relevant industry averages.”
Gordon Ramsay’s two shows (“Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hotel Hell”) were “equally (in)effective at saving failing businesses, having [average annual failure rates] about 80 percent to 85 percent higher than the relevant industry averages.” Wong Maye-E/AP/file

No business on TV

Economists set out to determine whether reality shows where expert hosts try to fix businesses actually work as advertised. “To conduct our analysis, we compile data on every establishment that has appeared on all 11 different TV shows (over 500 total businesses), examine thousands of actual customer reviews, conduct phone interviews with business owners, watch hundreds of hours of the actual shows, and compile first-hand accounts from owners, employees, and local reporters.” Post-intervention outcomes were generally consistent with pre-intervention customer reviews and industry failure rates. There was “no systematic or robust evidence that the shows themselves matter, or that the shows produce results that differ in any way attributable to the host.” For example, Gordon Ramsay’s two shows (“Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hotel Hell”) were “equally (in)effective at saving failing businesses, having [average annual failure rates] about 80 percent to 85 percent higher than the relevant industry averages.” The good news for these shows is that higher failure rates were correlated with higher viewership.

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Sobel, R. et al., “How Effective Are Expert TV Hosts at Saving Failing Businesses?” Contemporary Economic Policy (forthcoming).

Friending, unfriending, and judgment

Researchers found that the ease with which people think they can form and end social relationships — termed “relational mobility” — causes changes in basic judgment. In surveys in different countries, relational mobility was associated with thinking that personality rather than social pressure motivates behavior, and paying less attention to context. This was confirmed in an experiment: Americans who were asked to imagine working at a company with high (vs. low) relational mobility subsequently put more weight on personality and paid less attention to context.

San Martin, A. et al., “Relational Mobility and Cultural Differences in Analytic and Holistic Thinking,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

On a roll . . . to bias

Analyzing a couple decades of NBA data, a professor at Harvard Business School found that players got more playing time under a coach of the same race, particularly when the team had won most of its recent games, controlling for player performance. This was not the case in the playoffs, suggesting that bias only manifested when performance pressure was reduced (i.e., during regular-season winning streaks).

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Zhang, L., “Who Loses When a Team Wins? Better Performance Increases Racial Bias,” Organization Science (forthcoming).

Security blanket

A study found that increasing the US troop presence in a country increased the risk that the country would have a financial crisis. The explanation: The countries became more empowered to adopt expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, adopt deposit insurance, and have more private debt, foreign liabilities, exposure to US banks, and stronger exchange rates.

Aklin, M. & Kern, A., “Moral Hazard and Financial Crises: Evidence from American Troop Deployments,” International Studies Quarterly (forthcoming).

The political economy of pogroms

Analyzing data on anti-Jewish mob violence in Eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, researchers found that “pogroms occurred primarily in localities where Jews dominated intermediary occupations related to agriculture (i.e., moneylending and grain trading) when economic shocks, caused by severe crop failures and increases in grain prices, coincided with political turmoil threatening the political and social order. Economic crises did not lead to pogroms if they were not concomitant with political turmoil. Economic shocks together with political shocks did not result in pogroms in localities where the Jewish community specialized in other occupations, including middleman occupations unrelated to agriculture.”

Grosfeld, I. et al., “Middleman Minorities and Ethnic Violence: Anti-Jewish Pogroms in the Russian Empire,” Review of Economic Studies (forthcoming).

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Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.