Mike, a loyal MR reader, asks me:

How do you recommend approaching a book like Capital in the Twenty-First Century?  I’m a reasonably smart guy, undergrad econ, ee, mba from good schools, somewhat well read, etc., but the density, length and relative subjectivity(?) of Piketty’s topic has me hesitant.

Do I start with the reviews or another book(s), dive right in or find a discussion group (usually lucky if anyone actually reads even part it).  Maybe I approach it like the bible, one paragraph at a time over several years :)

For truly serious books, I recommend the following.  Read it once, straight through, with a minimum of fuss.  If you get truly, totally stuck on some point, which the rest of the book depends upon, find somebody to ask.  Otherwise just keep on plowing straight through.

Then write a review of the book.  Or jot down your notes, but in any case force yourself to take definite stances by putting words down on paper (or screen).

Then reread the book carefully, because now you know what you are looking for.  Revise what you wrote.

Of course only a few books a year (if that many) need to be read this way.

Starting by reading reviews of the book is fine for most people, but usually I prefer not to.  I read just enough of reviews to discern whether I wish to read the book (or watch the movie) at all.  Then I stop reading the review, as I do not wish to be contaminated by the reviewer’s perspective and I feel I usually have enough background to make sense of the book without the assistance.  I intend no slight toward reviewers, but the whole point of the reading/review process is to get some independent draws from the urn rather than a cascade of overly mutually influenced opinion.  That said, I recommend this “skip reviews” approach only to people who read a great deal very seriously.

Reading groups can be useful to either a) force you to read a book you won’t otherwise pick up, b) force you to defend your point of view on a book, or c) induct you into knowing a book really really well when currently you only know the book well.  Or, most of all, d) bond a group of people together.  All that is fine.  But I don’t see readings groups as very useful for simply “reading books.”  As Robin Hanson might say, readings groups aren’t about reading, or for that matter books.

Few people can stay interested reading one paragraph a day from a book.  One underrated virtue of fast reading is that you make enough progress to keep yourself interested and this also can improve comprehension.

After he won the Nobel, Tom Sargent was “interviewed” in an ad for Ally bank in which his response was simply (and correctly), “no.” The joke is even better than I realized because Sargent has a history of giving very short speeches. In 2007 he gave a graduation speech to Berkeley undergraduates summarizing economics in just 335 words.

It’s a damn fine speech.

I remember how happy I felt when I graduated from Berkeley many years ago. But I thought the graduation speeches were long. I will economize on words.

Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts,
and their preferences than you do.

4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That
is why social safety nets don’t always end up working as intended.

5. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.

6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their
choices. That is why it is difficult for well meaning outsiders to change
things for better or worse.

7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are
some promises that you’d like to make but can’t. No one will believe those
promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to
deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about
whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change.
This is how you earn a reputation.

8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made.

9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is
what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do
(but not the social security system of Singapore).

10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or
tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation.

11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government
transfers (especially transfers to themselves).

12. Because market prices aggregate traders’ information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates.

Hat tip to Utopia–you are standing on it via Newmark’s Door.

I enjoyed this piece by Sarah Turcotte:

Tour caddies are well-compensated. The winning looper this week will pocket a nice $144,000. But they earn that 10 percent. A long-running joke among caddies is that there are only three rules: Show up, keep up and shut up. Truth is, their jobs might be tougher than the players’. Well maybe not quite, but it’s close. Caddies are part pack mule, part meteorologist, part psychologist (BIG part), part mathematician, part scapegoat, part psychic and sometimes even part bartender. When I played in the LPGA’s Michelob Ultra Open a few years back, a veteran caddie suggested to the man on my bag a little Drambuie and Sprite to calm my nerves. (Full disclosure: He did have a water bottle filled with Chardonnay available at all times. We never used it, but it was a comfort knowing it was there.)

Caddies do not appear to do very much, yet most people could not hold a job as an effective caddy for a good golf professional.  This, in a nutshell, is why the transition toward the new service sector jobs will not run smoothly for everybody.

And even if you really do make the grade, “…job security for caddies is non-existent.”

I would be surprised if there wasn’t:

Mr. Pilley told me, “The big lesson is to recognize that dogs are smarter than we think, and given time, patience and enough enjoyable reinforcement, we can teach them just about anything.”

It’s true that dogs everywhere are doing things that would have been unimaginable in the Alpo era. Last year, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center trained a team of shepherds and retrievers to sniff out lab samples containing ovarian cancer. Scent hounds are also being used to forecast epileptic seizures and potentially life-threatening infections. A black Labrador from the St. Sugar Cancer-Sniffing Dog Training Center in Chiba, Japan, was accurate 98 percent of the time in picking up early-stage signs of colon cancer. As Mr. Hare, from Duke, said, “I will take a dog smelling my breath over a colonoscopy any day of the week, even if it’s just an experiment.”

From David Hochman, there is more here.

I enjoyed this book, and I recommend that you get it for your kid.  Here is one bit of many:

Good help is hard to find.  Really hard to find.  Sure, there are lots of people with the right degrees and résumés, but the kind of employee we yearn for sticks out almost immediately.

You can buy the book here.

Yes, it seems that may be so.  There is a new paper (pdf) by John M. Nunley, Adam Pugh, Nicholas Romero, and R. Alan Seals, the abstract is this:

We use experimental data from a resume-audit study to estimate the impact of particular college majors and internship experience on employment prospects. Our experimental design relies on the randomization of resume characteristics to identify the causal e ffects of these attributes on job opportunities. Despite applying exclusively to business-related job openings, we nd no evidence that business degrees improve employment prospects. Furthermore, we find no evidence linking particular degrees to interview-request rates. By contrast, internship experience increases the interview-request rate by about 14 percent. In addition, the “returns” to internship experience are larger for non-business majors than for business majors.

Their underemployment paper (pdf) is also interesting:

We conduct a resume audit to estimate the impact of unemployment and underemployment on the employment prospects facing recent college graduates. We find no evidence that employers use current or past unemployment spells, regardless of their length, to inform hiring decisions. By contrast, college graduates who became underemployed after graduation receive about 15-30 percent fewer interview requests than job seekers who became “adequately” employed after graduation. Internship experience obtained while completing one’s degree reduces the negative e ffects of underemployment substantially.

No wonder the market-clearing rate for internship is so…low.

Alabama Texas fact of the day

by on April 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm in Education, Sports | Permalink

 ”Revenues derived from college athletics is greater than the aggregate revenues of the NBA and the NHL,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor at City University of New York who specializes in sports and antitrust law. He also noted that Alabama’s athletic revenues last year, which totaled $143 million, exceeded those of all 30 NHL teams and 25 of the 30 NBA teams.

Texas is the largest athletic department, earning more than $165 million last year in revenue — with $109 million coming from football, according to Education Department data. The university netted $27 million after expenses.

Other major programs such as Florida ($129 million), Ohio State ($123 million), Michigan ($122 million), Southern California ($97 million) and Oregon ($81 million) also are grossing massive dollars.

Those numbers of course are not counting the fundraising value of collegiate athletics.  There is more here, via Michael Makowsky.

Here is our previous post on higher education and athletics.

We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

…the median respondent was about 1,800 miles off — roughly the distance from Chicago to Los Angeles — locating Ukraine somewhere in an area bordered by Portugal on the west, Sudan on the south, Kazakhstan on the east, and Finland on the north.

That is from Monkey Cage, there is more here.  The guesses look like this:


For points I thank Kevin Lewis and Samir Varma.

From 2004 to 2011, community colleges’ inflation-adjusted educational spending — on instruction, public service and academic support — declined, while their athletic spending increased 35 percent per athlete, the report said. Overall spending per student grew 2.6 percent.

Inflation-adjusted athletic spending also increased, by 24.8 percent, at public four-year colleges in all divisions in those years, while spending on instruction and academic support remained nearly flat, and public service and research expenditures declined, the report said. Their overall spending per student grew 1.6 percent.

The fastest growth in athletic spending was at Division III schools without football programs, where median inflation-adjusted spending for each student-athlete more than doubled from 2004 to 2012.

There is more here, by Tamar Lewin, interesting throughout.

Vox is up!

by on April 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm in Current Affairs, Education, History, Web/Tech | Permalink

You will find the introductory video here.

Here is an explainer for Game of Thrones.

Here is Ezra on how politics makes us stupid.

Those two articles are very good, and “work” in the intended manner.  Here is the regular home page

Is it possible their real competition is Coursera?

As STEM fields become increasingly popular, it is important that we teach young people about the incentives and protections available to them through the patent system. IPO Education Foundation is excited about the opportunity to work with the GSCNC and the USPTO to bring the patent system to girls through the IP patch…

There is more here, via Mark Thorson.

George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management just announced that it is launching a new masters program in international lobbying.

There is more here, via Peter Metrinko.

Going Postal: My First Job

by on April 4, 2014 at 10:14 am in Economics, Education, History | Permalink

In this article some Nobel prize winners talk about their first jobs and the lessons they learned. One of my first jobs was as a scab.

One summer when I was a teenager, the Canadian postal union workers went on strike and I was hired to deliver the mail. The pay was astounding, something like $25 an hour plus benefits when I was earning $4 an hour as a stock boy. The first day was disorganized and we never got out of the depot where we were supposed to be assigned to a postal station. The second day we were taken in a van to a station but the striking workers rocked and shook the van violently and we barely made it in. The company feared for our safety so we spent the entire day twiddling our thumbs. It was boring sitting around for 8 hours but I was thrilled to head home with $200. The third day we were again trucked to a postal station but there was no mail to deliver and by early afternoon it was clear we were going nowhere and doing nothing. I decided to leave. The guy in charge looked at me incredulously but said it was my call. I slipped out a back door but several burly postal workers saw me and started to chase. I hopped over a fence into, of all places, a graveyard. I ran through the graveyard and eluded a beating. The strike ended the next day. For several years afterwards I collected some kind of pension/overtime benefit.

The summer after that I ran away and joined the circus. I worked selling tickets and cleaning up after the elephants. That was also fun.

I learned a lot from both jobs.

That is a new Quora forum, via Justin Wolfers, and the question is referring to the last several decades.  There are interesting answers by Summers, Jeremy Bulow, Preston McAfee, and others.  My answer was this:

I see greater changes than some of these answers are suggesting.

Textbooks are much clearer, better written, and the quality of problem sets and auxiliary materials is much higher.  Instructors can assign video supplements or other web materials, in a way that was not possible in earlier times.

Interactive homework sites help students discover what they know, or not.  Aplia led a huge revolution, which is not over.

In terms of content, in current texts there is much more on economic growth and institutions and incentives.  The macro models are much clearer, even if they are still not always intuitive.  Every part of the book is expected to cover and explain its material very well, a quality which was not the case in most of the earlier texts, perhaps all of them.

Overall I don’t see the difference between “content” and “presentation” as being so clear at that level of learning.  So improvements in presentation are also improvements in content.  I might have added that the use of “clickers” allows students to be tested in real time, as a professor is lecturing (the professor asks a question and each student has to click on the right answer, with immediate feedback), and this technique seems to be an effective one.


Does classroom time matter?

by on April 2, 2014 at 6:35 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Maybe not so much.  There is a new NBER working paper by Theodore J. JoyceSean CrockettDavid A. JaegerOnur Altindag, and Stephen D. O’Connell, the abstract is here:

We test whether students in a hybrid format of introductory microeconomics, which met once per week, performed as well as students in a traditional lecture format of the same class, which met twice per week. We randomized 725 students at a large, urban public university into the two formats, and unlike past studies, had a very high participation rate of 96 percent. Two experienced professors taught one section of each format, and students in both formats had access to the same online materials. We find that students in the traditional format scored 2.3 percentage points more on a 100-point scale on the combined midterm and final. There were no differences between formats in non-cognitive effort (attendance, time spent with online materials) nor in withdrawal from the class. Comparing our experimental estimates of the effect of attendance with non-experimental estimates using only students in the traditional format, we find that the non-experimental were 2.5 times larger, suggesting that the large effects of attending lectures found in the previous literature are likely due to selection bias. Overall our results suggest that hybrid classes may offer a cost effective alternative to traditional lectures while having a small impact on student performance.

I do not see an ungated copy, do any of you find one?