Assorted links

by on January 1, 2014 at 1:17 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. La Repubblica covers Average is Over, in Italian.

2. Various economists on what we learned from 2013.

3. Scott Sumner also will be doing some guest-blogging at EconLog.

4. Scientists’ favorite jokes.

5. James Hamilton is right about Craig Pirrong.

6. Can you be paid to teach a university course which simply does not exist?

Charlie January 1, 2014 at 1:25 pm

#6. The only thing sillier is ethnic studies classes that actually do meet.

Rahul January 2, 2014 at 4:05 am

At the University convocation it was interesting to note that the number of distinct majors, programs & certificates that have steadily mushroomed under the Humanities School. They are literally taking dissertation topics and upgrading them to a major.

It’d be like offering a BS in “Perl & Python Studies” or “Interdisciplinary Program in Steel Ladder Fabrication”.

Z January 2, 2014 at 9:57 am

I would argue that at least a third of the students in American colleges have no business in college. The number is probably much higher as I have been accused of being a sunny optimist. The proliferation of ridiculous majors is part of the weird money chase brought on by subsidized student loans and college subsidies. If you are accepting an army of dimwits onto your campus (toting a government check), you better find a way to keep them busy. The minorities can be shuffled off into ethnic studies departments, the lesbians and homely women into womyn’s studies, the jocks into kinesiology and communications. Then there’s the education major where you put the dimwits who want to change the world.

College, it seems, is our society’s way of buying time as we figure out what to do with the left side of the bell curve who used to man the assembly lines and farm implements.

KLO January 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

There are too many people who don’t belong in college for them to all be majoring in ethnic or gender studies. In reality, very few people major in these subjects, notwithstanding the attention they are given by internet commenters. Most dolts major in business, psychology, nursing, education or communications (the latter two you mentioned). As a percentage of the total, very few people major in the social sciences.

Rahul January 2, 2014 at 10:42 am

There are plenty of legitimate employment options for nursing majors (dolts notwithstanding) but I strain to think of jobs for gender or ethnic studies.

The number of students majoring in gender studies is not as important as the excess over how many ought to be majoring in it. If any.

JWatts January 2, 2014 at 10:51 am

” As a percentage of the total, very few people major in the social sciences.”

Actually, it looks like you’re mistaken.

“Of the 1,650,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2009–10, the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (358,000); social sciences and history (173,000); health professions and related programs (130,000); and education (101,000).”

Thor January 2, 2014 at 11:57 am

The dolts are in Business. (Econ requires more math.) Or rather: there are many many dolts taking Business.

Look at enrolment in Business across the nation: a whole order of magnitude greater than Social Sci.

Z January 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm

At least with business, they may be getting some vocational training. Like education, this is better done in a trade school that combines classwork with an apprenticeship.

JWatts January 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

“Look at enrolment in Business across the nation: a whole order of magnitude greater than Social Sci.”

Business – 358,000
social sciences and history – 173,000

Is x2 “an order of magnitude greater” in Social Sciences speak? ;)

KLO January 2, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Social sciences are roughly 10% of the majors. That is pretty small when you consider that “social sciences” is a broad category and virtually every school offers majors in more than one social science subject. Business is a single subject and twice as many people major in it. Education is a single major not offered by quite a few schools, yet 60% as many peoples major in it as in all the social sciences. I think my point stands.

byomtov_ January 2, 2014 at 10:51 am

Is the history and experience of blacks in the US inherently unworthy of study?

Would you consider a class that was about the history or literature of the South equally unworthy?

Z January 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

You’re franticly mixing apples and oranges in an attempt to play the morality card. A class on African American history as part of an American history major is fine. Same with a class on the history of Florida or Texas or whatever narrow specialty that falls under the umbrella of the major. Setting up a department for these things and creating college majors from them is the issue. Handing out degrees in gym is simply ridiculous.

prior_approval January 1, 2014 at 1:32 pm

1. Using google Übersetzer, it sounds as if you spent most of your effort in avoiding the questions that were being asked. Must be strange actually facing people who don’t accept the basic premises of the framework so carefully nurtured in certain settings, like Hazel Hall. Especially interesting was how the last question, about how ’70 per cent of the GDP comes from middle-class consumption. Social consequences that can have its own progressive impoverishment?’ was answered by talking about crime rates, and how an aging population is more important in the long term than inequality.

So much for easy talking points.

mike January 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm

#6 – The story wants to make this all about the one guy, when it should really be about the thousands of people and the culture that was complicit in this throughout his entire career. Including, notably, the New York Times.

md January 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Charges of fraud in African and Afro-American studies department? That’s pretty tautological.

karl January 1, 2014 at 1:54 pm

First: I’m enjoying the knee-jerk reactions to #6 — do none of you want to find out if the athletic department (or other high-profile entities) is implicated?
Second: I would happily be paid to teach courses that don’t exist — $12,000 will go a long way at my house. Where do I send my CV?
Third: when I took humanities and social science courses back in the 1970s they could easily have been considered “white male studies.” How many of you would have complained about that?

KS January 1, 2014 at 3:38 pm

As a former student I can state for a fact that this has also happened in other portions of the university (also related to the athletics department) Maybe they should be looking at why this keeps happening in classes with ties to the athletics program instead.

mike January 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Please tell me what is the link between African American Studies and athletics.

Nathan Goldblum January 2, 2014 at 6:41 am

18 out of 19 students in the class mentioned were football players. It seems obvious that the university uses such courses to fulfill the grade requirements for student athletes.

Careless January 4, 2014 at 12:28 am

We’ve all seen the Julius Peppers transcript, right?

byomtov January 1, 2014 at 4:27 pm


It’s interesting that people want to talk about the racial aspect and ignore the athletic side of it. This kind of nonsense goes on all over the place, with lots of different kinds of courses. Gotta keep those athletes eligible.

Corruption is rampant in big-time college athletics but hey, let’s sneer at ethnic studies classes in between watching bowl games.

mike January 1, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Of course the athletic department was involved, duh, everyone knows that. But how did they know which department they could go to where the professors would go along with it, nobody would notice, and even non-athletes would look the other way? Why did they choose this department for the total headcases and dumb as a box of rocks guys who they couldn’t even get to pass regular crib classes. You want to act like this is somehow just “athletics” and “big money” and therefore pin it on your ideological enemies because you think those are things they support. Well I for one hate college sports because of the low quality of play but mostly because of the extreme corruption and perversion of the student-athlete system. And I know as well that this happens to some extent in other departments and even with some white athletes. But to try to hand-wave this away as not really about blacks or ethnic studies at all is like bringing up the Unabomber when someone raises uncomfortable truths about Islamic terrorism. That kind of limp-wristed equivocation is a sure fire way to ensure that no one can even pin down the problem, let alone do anything about it.

mike January 1, 2014 at 8:10 pm

By the way, I just wanted to add that my first comment wasn’t about blacks qua blacks, but about the sick culture of political correctness and affirmative action (not just the official kind) and looking the other way and refusing to acknowledge patterns or look for problems in certain places for fear of what you might find, defining deviancy down and even celebrating it when it can’t be defined down any further, and above all the screeching, swarming, unforgiving enforcement of this culture by elite institutions (which is why I named the New York Times) which cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with, and do not feel remorse, nor pity, nor fear.

byomtov_ January 2, 2014 at 10:48 am

about the sick culture of political correctness and affirmative action (not just the official kind) and looking the other way and refusing to acknowledge patterns or look for problems in certain places for fear of what you might find,

I’d say the “sick culture” involved is the culture of college athletics. Jocks were getting free academic rides before there were such things as ethnic studies. To single out this case for your rant is about blacks and black studies whether you admit it or not. So is your amazed “even white athletes do it” in your 7:07PM comment, and your claim that it is wrong “to hand-wave this away as not really about blacks or ethnic studies.”

No it’s not about “blacks.” It’s about one department that catered to athletes, as too many at too many universities do, to both white and black athletes. You think all those “sports management” and physical ed classes are hard work?

mike January 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

You’re Exhibit A, my friend.

byomtov January 2, 2014 at 9:49 pm

As, from my POV, are you.

mike January 4, 2014 at 12:18 am

Yes I’m you’d “say that” but you’re full of shit so who cares

Rahul January 2, 2014 at 3:59 am

At my University the football airheads looking for easy classes didn’t flock to African American Studies any particularly more than they did to womens studies, kinesology, latino studies, feminist studies and any one of the many humanities majors that were reputed to be easy.

I’m not sure of @mike’s rant towards African American studies in particular is empirically justified. There’s a bunch of such joke classes & majors.

Sheeeeiit January 1, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Is our student-afletes learning?

Ray Lopez January 1, 2014 at 2:13 pm

@#5 – this is simply “confirmation bias” Ever since Fox News advocacy it’s common to pander to the audience, hence journalists are not as objective as they once were. I also find it curious that economists don’t say, in response to the allegation that they are being paid by vested interests, the defense of: ‘of course we accept money from the people we study, since it gives us incentive to study them’. Instead, they often will say that they don’t get any money from the subjects they study, which is a good defense to be sure but not the only defense.

ad*m January 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm

In the middle of the largest famine in the world to that date which ended up killing over 8 million people in the Ukraine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Walter Duranty wrote in the New York Times, August 23, 1933:

“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda. ”

It seems journalists pandering to their audience is a bit older than Fox News, and that the New York Times, with the Soviet Pravda, is probably one of the more outrageous examples of how journalists tend to pander to their audience.

karl January 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I don’t think Duranty was a panderer to his audience as other NYT writers were far more critical of Stalin and called a famine a famine. Isn’t the ‘party line’ these days more that Duranty was simply lying due to political conviction?

derek January 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm

His audience were the Pulitzer Prize judges.

TMC January 1, 2014 at 3:16 pm

“Ever since Fox News advocacy” ??

Fox opinion shows, not so much the new is advocacy.
And was in reaction to the advocacy of the other networks news shows.

Al January 1, 2014 at 5:01 pm

In response to market opportunities, you meant to say. If Fox News literally approached their tone to counter the tone of other organizations, then they would explicitly be a propagandist tool.

JWatts January 2, 2014 at 10:55 am

“If Fox News literally approached their tone to counter the tone of other organizations, then they would explicitly be a propagandist tool. ”

Umm, so MSNBC then?

mike January 4, 2014 at 12:21 am

Not quite because Fox was created to make money, while MSNBC is subsidized even though it loses money because the cultural elites want to spread the message that Martin Bashir sends I guess (shove human feces down Sarah Palin’s mouth, yeah that’s the ticket)

Donald Pretari January 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm

#2…I hate to begin the year on a sour note, but I don’t think these economists learned a damned thing in 2013. We, however, learned in this post what these economists will be saying next year this time, come what may.

Rahul January 2, 2014 at 12:44 am

@Tyler: What did you learn from 2013?

dearieme January 1, 2014 at 5:42 pm

“2. Various economists on what we learned from 2013.” It hadn’t occurred to me that economists are wont to learn from history. But then “we” is ambiguous.

JC January 1, 2014 at 10:49 pm

“Can you be paid to teach a university course which simply does not exist?”

You clearly aren’t a fan of the TV show Community. They did a whole episode on this exact subject.

zbicyclist January 2, 2014 at 2:08 am

Which episode?
Is this episode worth watching? (for someone who’s not familiar with the show)

dearieme January 2, 2014 at 7:20 am

The best documentary ever made on politics was the BBC comedy show “Yes, Minister”. You should dig out the episode about the hospital with no patients.

Rahul January 2, 2014 at 7:23 am

….oh, bringing in patients would only make the hospital dirty.

Thor January 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

“Yes, Minister” (and “Yes, Prime Minister”) and “The Office.”

That’s the public sector and the private sector right there, in two rather similar nutshells.

FC January 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

“Parks and Recreation” is a tragically realistic take on local government.

Mr. Econotarian January 2, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I prefer “Veep” on HBO as the best analysis of politicians and public choice theory.

“Borgen” is also good, although it portrays all the other politicians and press people in Denmark as being power-mad and corrupt except, of course, for Ms. Borgen herself who is above all that (yeah, right).

FC January 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

“Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”, and yes it is worth watching.

CPV January 2, 2014 at 7:42 am

Some notes on #5:

1. As one who was intimately involved in the beginnings of the commodity index business on Wall Street I can tell you that there is definitely a set of academics who can be interested in writing papers based on Wall Street payments to them. The papers aren’t necessarily fabricated. But it’s like journalism, a lot of the point is what is emphasized, what is not, what is left in the paper, what is left out, what questions are asked, etc. There have been academics writing puff pieces on managed futures ( and hedge funds) for a long time for example. Commodity indexes benefited from fairly simplistic bought and paid for academic papers for a while, then there was a backlash as more unbiased academics got interested in the topic. One of the academics mentioned in the TImes article has had the reputation as an academic friendly to the managed futures business for a long time.

2. In terms of the speculative effect on commodity prices, the main effect wasn’t on spot prices but on the term structure of the prices (calendar spreads). There isn’t anyone involved in the commodity markets who would claim these haven’t been affected by the rush of money into passive indexing. One of the main motivations of the indexes in the first place c 1990 was the persistence of inexplicable backwardation in certain markets (like crude oil)in the from months. Therefore a “roll yield” could be captured by rolling front month contracts forward without spot prices changing. The indexing boom has eliminated that backwardation and in fact caused somewhat distorted contangos in the front months of many contracts. Therefore most of these passive indexes as extremely expensive to roll forward now.

JWatts January 2, 2014 at 10:59 am

Yes, but none-the-less, Kocieniewski’s article is a piece of propaganda not a serious news article.

CPV January 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm

The article has problems, but the issues it raises are real.

CPV January 2, 2014 at 4:37 pm

When your consulting income dwarfs your academic income, it’s not credible to suggest bias will not be the result in many if not most cases.. This argument is similar to journalists cozying up to politicians for increased access to information (data). It’s a dangerous game.

Aaron January 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

#5: Hamilton is also right about Scott Irwin.

CPV January 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm

There are many knowledgeable people who would disagree with you about that, although probably not publicly.

Aaron January 2, 2014 at 11:44 pm

You should not believe everything you hear. Nor should you make slanderous statements from behind a veil of anonymity.

Mike W January 2, 2014 at 12:08 pm

“The university provost, James W. Dean Jr., said in an interview that there had been no way to anticipate such behavior on a large scale in an institution that relies on the professionalism and basic good will of its employees.”

“Universities for a very long time have been based on trust,” Mr. Dean said. “One of the ramifications of this is that now we can no longer operate on trust.”

If universities want to “operate on trust”…i.e., without internal controls…how about they do it without taxpayer money.

brad January 2, 2014 at 12:43 pm

It seems a bit much to go on and on about the ad hominem fallacy, when you make a living trafficking in the appeal to authority fallacy. The former is a reasonable response to the latter.

freethinker January 2, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I don’t think any country,needs more than two gender studies/ ethnic studies and philosophy departments supported by the state. The rest should be shut down unless the market supports them. .The redundant faculty will find more useful things to do … if they have any useful skills left

ThomasH January 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm

#4 EE’s

Q: Do electrons yield to Ampere pressure?
A: Ohm, Watt a reVolting pun!

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