Are we normalizing Hitler too much?

by on October 5, 2015 at 12:59 am in Books, Education, History | Permalink

There are now websites dedicated to “kitlers” (cats that look like Hitler),YouTube videos that remix documentary footage to turn Hitler into a dexterous disco dancer, and innumerable parodic appropriations of Bruno Ganz’s psychotic rants in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film Downfall that are refashioned to criticize a plethora of contemporary cultural discontents ranging from Kim Kardashian, traffic jams and Indian call centres to Rebecca Black’s song “Friday.”  Disparate as they may sound, thse phenomena are, according to the American historian Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, all signs of a widespread “normalization” of Nazism in contemporary culture.

That is from Anna Katharina Schaffner’s review of Rosenfeld’s Hi Hitler! How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture, September 11th issue of the TLS.

In that same TLS is this extraordinary Lidija Haas review of Ferrante, one of the best book reviews I’ve read in years.

And here is an interesting article on Nazi porcelain.

I have been predicting this, Emma Jacobs covers it in the FT:

This new breed of tutors catering to undergraduates is growing (admittedly from a low base). Once the guilty secret of schoolchildren seeking to get into selective schools or gain top marks in exams, private tutors are now helping British undergraduates and even postgraduates at universities. As many teenagers and twenty-somethings start their new university terms, some will be seeking the help of tutors, like Ms Kasson. Some even assist graduates applying for jobs in banks and professional services firms.

Edd Stockwell, co-founder of Tutorfair, a non-profit organisation that also provides tutoring to children whose parents cannot afford the fees, has seen the number of requests for degree-level tutorials double in the past year. Luke Shelley, director of Tavistock Tutors, says its services for undergraduates have grown “rapidly” in the past six years.

There will be very large classes, such as MOOCs and based on the kind of resources you find on  And there will be very small classes, perhaps of one or two.  It’s the in-between class size, of say two hundred students, that doesn’t always make sense.

Do however note this:

In Ms Mali’s experience it is the parents that are driving the undergraduate tuition business. “Sometimes you do wonder if [the child would be more successful] if they allowed them to fail.”

This is an under-discussed point in today’s ideological environment.

The incompetence of thieves

by on October 4, 2015 at 2:07 am in Economics, Education, Law | Permalink

I investigate self-reported theft data in the NLSY 1997 Cohort for the years 1997–2011. Several striking patterns emerge. First, individuals appear to be active thieves for extremely short periods – in most cases in only one year, and fewer than 5% of thieves for more than three years out of the 15 years of data. Second, self-reported earnings from theft are generally very low and there is little evidence of “successful” criminals or consistent earnings from theft. Third, measures that proxy impatience (smoking, for example) are highly correlated with theft. Fourthly, thieves and non-thieves have similar earnings during the years of peak theft activity, but thieves have lower earnings in their late 20s (after most have long since stopped committing theft). Attrition of survey respondents, underreporting and incapacitation effects do not appear to explain this. There may be “professional thieves” too rare to show up in even large samples such as the NLSY. Theft in the United States thus appears to be substantially a phenomenon of individuals entering a temporary period of intensified risk-taking in adolescence.

That is from a new Geoffrey Fain Williams paper in JEBO, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also links to new evidence that concealed carry laws are orthogonal to crime rates.

You can already rate restaurants, hotels, movies, college classes, government agencies and bowel movements online.

So the most surprising thing about Peeple — basically Yelp, but for humans — may be the fact that no one has yet had the gall to launch something like it.

When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad, inaccurate or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.

Imagine every interaction you’ve ever had suddenly open to the scrutiny of the Internet public.

The piece is by the excellent Caitlin Dewey.  Currently the company is valued at $7.6 million.

Asymmetric Information and Signaling

by on September 29, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

MRUniversity now has its own video production team! We are continuing to work with the artists at Tilapia films to produce outstanding videos for teaching economics–these videos work great with our textbook, Modern Principles. Our in-house production team will be working to polish our “regular” videos in a way that enhances the learning experience. You can see an example of the new style in the video below featuring Tyler on signaling.

Our Principles of Economics course is now complete. You can guess what is coming soon!

I’ve found Geoffrey Miller’s earlier books quite interesting, even if I didn’t always agree with them.  A few years ago, however, he had a um…Twitter mishap…and since then I’ve been wondering what would emerge from that process.

His new book is…different.  Think of it as a guide to dating and mating for males, but unlike the pick-up artists he (with Max) focuses on the separating rather than the pooling equilibrium.  That is, he advises men to actually be better men, and not just to send clever signals, and so the subtitle is Become the Man Women Want.  Hard to argue with that, right?

The advice covers such recommendations as “Focus on the women who seem interested in you.” (p.257) and “Hang out with Intelligent People” (p.127), among other maxims.  Didn’t Nietzsche come up with a few of those?  Or was it Norman Vincent Peale?

Be aware that “She’s been dealing with creepy douchebags for a long time”; that’s a subheader (p.35).

Is it true that “Most guys have sexually repulsive feet, and women notice.”? (p.206)  MR readers are not always the ones to ask.

At first I thought I’ve never seen a market product so cleverly designed to segregate the actual buyers from those who will find it of value, but it has lots of five-star reviews on Amazon.  Sadly enough, maybe America really needs this book.

Addendum: Here is Robin Hanson’s review.

That is the title of my new piece in MIT Technology Review. It’s about a near future where bosses can measure the productivity of workers through software and surveillance more accurately than is now the case.  Productivity will go up, but it is not all rosy, here is one excerpt:

Individuals don’t in fact enjoy being evaluated all the time, especially when the results are not always stellar: for most people, one piece of negative feedback outweighs five pieces of positive feedback. To the extent that measurement raises income inequality, perhaps it makes relations among the workers tenser and less friendly. Life under a meritocracy can be a little tough, unfriendly, and discouraging, especially for those whose morale is easily damaged. Privacy in this world will be harder to come by, and perhaps “second chances” will be more difficult to find, given the permanence of electronic data. We may end up favoring “goody two-shoes” personality types who were on the straight and narrow from their earliest years and disfavor those who rebelled at young ages, even if those people might end up being more creative later on.

The closer is this:

I wonder, by the way, if MIT Technology Review will tell me how many people clicked on this article.

Do read the whole thing.

Bryan Caplan is homeschooling his twin sons, and some of that involves bringing them into Carow Hall and GMU to hang around the rest of us.  They are perhaps the only twelve year olds taking an advanced undergraduate class in labor economics; I think they can handle it.

Bryan asked if I would give them a lecture of sorts, of course I sad yes, and, oddly or not, he chose the topic of Art History for me (others around know some economics too, so perhaps that is indeed my comparative advantage).  I found it an interesting exercise to ponder what I would start telling them about, given they have virtually no background in the area, and perhaps I’ll get back to that in a future post.

In the meantime, I have two general points.  First, introducing your children to additional role models and sources of inspiration — your friends and co-workers, or so one should hope — is one of the best things you can do for them.  Most wealthy, famous, and well-educated parents under-invest in this activity.  The bottom line is that after some margin you stop influencing them, but they don’t stop looking around for sources of influence.

Second, if you are well-known, or have lots of well-known and/or talented friends, or maybe even if not, you should consider homeschooling your children for a while in this manner, if only for a month or two over the summer.  Your friends will be willing to give some form of instruction to your children, and they will be way, way better than normal teachers.

My next lecture for Bryan’s children will be History of American Popular Song, complemented with musical tracks of course, though no singing.

Addendum: Here are comments from Stationary Waves.

I very much enjoyed the new LRB piece by Amia Srinivasan.  Here is a good “standing on one foot” statement of what effective altruism recommends:

The results of all this number-crunching are sometimes satisfyingly counterintuitive. Deworming has better educational outcomes among Kenyan schoolchildren than increasing the numbers of textbooks or teachers. If you want to improve animal welfare, it’s better to stop eating eggs than beef, since caged layer hens live worse lives than farmed cows, and because eating eggs consumes more animals than eating beef: the average American consumes 0.8 layer hens but only 0.1 beef cows per year. Buying Fairtrade goods can be worse than buying regular goods, since the extra cost goes mostly to middlemen rather than farmers, and when it doesn’t, it benefits farmers in relatively rich countries: because Fairtrade standards are hard to meet, most Fairtrade coffee production comes from Mexico and Costa Rica rather than, say, Ethiopia, where the marginal pound would go much further. The green value of buying locally grown food is overblown, too, since transport accounts for only 10 per cent of the carbon footprint of food, while 80 per cent of it is generated in production; tomatoes grown in the UK can have five times the carbon footprint of tomatoes shipped from Spain because of the energy required to hothouse them. If you’re really committed to minimising your carbon footprint, MacAskill recommends donating to the carbon offsetting charity Cool Earth; he estimates that the average American could offset all his carbon emissions by donating $105 a year. There isn’t much point in unplugging your electricals, either: leaving your mobile phone charger plugged in for a whole year contributes less to your carbon footprint than one hot bath.

And here is part of the critique:

MacAskill is evidently comfortable with ways of talking that are familiar from the exponents of global capitalism: the will to quantify, the essential comparability of all goods and all evils, the obsession with productivity and efficiency, the conviction that there is a happy convergence between self-interest and morality, the seeming confidence that there is no crisis whose solution is beyond the ingenuity of man. He repeatedly talks about philanthropy as a deal too good to pass up: ‘It’s like a 99 per cent off sale, or buy one, get 99 free. It might be the most amazing deal you’ll see in your life.’ There is a seemingly unanswerable logic, at once natural and magical, simple and totalising, to both global capitalism and effective altruism. That he speaks in the proprietary language of the illness – global inequality – whose symptoms he proposes to mop up is an irony on which he doesn’t comment. Perhaps he senses that his potential followers – privileged, ambitious millennials – don’t want to hear about the iniquities of the system that has shaped their worldview. Or perhaps he thinks there’s no irony here at all: capitalism, as always, produces the means of its own correction, and effective altruism is just the latest instance.

Not my view, but well written as a piece and definitely recommended.  Here is comment from Scott Alexander.

One of the UK’s biggest graduate recruiters is to remove degree classification from the entry criteria for its hiring programmes, having found “no evidence” that success at university was correlated with achievement in professional qualifications.

Accountancy firm Ernst and Young, known as EY, will no longer require students to have a 2:1 degree and the equivalent of three B grades at A level to be considered for its graduate programmes.

Instead, the company will use numerical tests and online “strength” assessments to assess the potential of applicants.

There is more here, via the excellent Jake Seliger.

Yes, the set up is important, but let’s cut to the chase:

The experimental behaviors of these three subject classes—once again, making real allocations with real money—revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice among ordinary Americans and among the elite. To begin with, the Berkeley and Yale subjects were twice as likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. In this respect, intermediate and extreme elites stand together with each other, and stand apart from the rest of the country.

What’s more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans. And this time, the bias toward efficiency increases with each increment of eliteness. The ALP subjects split roughly evenly between focusing on efficiency and focusing on equality; the Berkeley students favored efficiency over equality by a factor of roughly 3-to-2; and the Yale Law students favored efficiency by a factor of 4-to-1.

Yale Law students’ overwhelming, indeed almost eccentric, commitment to efficiency over equality is all the more astonishing given that the students self-identified as Democrats rather than Republicans—and thus sided with the party that claims to represent economic equality in partisan politics—by a factor of more than 10-to-1. An elite constituted by highly partisan Democrats thus showed an immensely greater commitment to efficiency over equality than the bipartisan population at large.

That is from Ray Fisman and Daniel Markowits, do read the whole thing.  I say that is mostly good news, and I disagree with the claim of the authors that a new class war is on its way.

The next Conversations with Tyler comes next Thursday, six days from now, and it is with Dani Rodrik.  Of course you should show up, or watch the LiveStream (see the link).  But in the meantime, what should I ask him?

Again, here is the previous session with Luigi Zingales.

Here is the latest, I do not know the backstory but this seems to be of interest:

Many social sciences and humanities faculties in Japan are to close after universities were ordered to “serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

Of the 60 national universities that offer courses in these disciplines, 26 have confirmed that they will either close or scale back their relevant faculties at the behest of Japan’s government.

It follows a letter from education minister Hakuban Shimomura sent to all of Japan’s 86 national universities, which called on them to take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”.

The ministerial decree has been denounced by one university president as “anti-intellectual”, while the universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, regarded as the country’s most prestigious, have said that they will not comply with the request.

However, 17 national universities will stop recruiting students to humanities and social science courses – including law and economics, according to a survey of university presidents by The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which was reported by the blog Social Science Space.

The article is here, a petition to protest is here.  If you know more about this episode, please inform us in the comments, thanks.

Ten years after enrollment

by on September 14, 2015 at 1:20 am in Data Source, Economics, Education | Permalink

At Bennington College in Vermont, over 48 percent of former students were earning less than $25,000 per year. A quarter were earning less than $10,600 per year. At Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, the median annual earnings were only $35,700. Results at the University of New Mexico were almost exactly the same.

There is more here from Kevin Carey.  There is the well-known debate between human capital and signaling theories, but sometimes education is neither…

But the recent recruiting success of Stanford shows something broader about how the economics profession is changing. The specialties of the new recruits vary, but they are all examples of how the momentum in economics has shifted away from theoretical modeling and toward “empirical microeconomics,” the analysis of how things work in the real world, often arranging complex experiments or exploiting large sets of data. That kind of work requires lots of research assistants, work across disciplines including fields like sociology and computer science, and the use of advanced computational techniques unavailable a generation ago.

That trend is evident across leading economics departments — the traditional powerhouses have plenty of scholars doing work in the same vein, including work by Esther Duflo at M.I.T. on how to test ways to fight global poverty and by Roland G. Fryer Jr. at Harvard on the roots of racial inequality. But the scholars who have newly signed on with Stanford described a university particularly well suited to research in that vein, with a combination of lab space, strong budgets for research support and proximity to engineering talent.

The article is interesting throughout.