Education

The next three will be with Luigi Zingales, Dani Rodrik, and Clifford Asness, you will find the details here, all coming this fall!

The consumers, most of all.  But how about amongst the workers?  I think you have to slot French taxi drivers under “don’t benefit.”  And otherwise?  That is the topic of my latest New York Times column for The Upshot:

On the positive side, the so-called sharing economy allows workers to use their time more flexibly. Drivers can earn money without working full time, and without having to wait around at taxi stands for the next passenger. The workers can use their newly acquired spare time for other purposes, including studying for college, teaching themselves programming or simultaneously offering themselves out for different sharing services: If no one wants a ride, go help someone with repairs around the house.

In short, these developments benefit those workers who are willing and able to turn their spare time to productive uses. These workers tend to be self-starters and people who are good at shifting roles quickly. Think of them as disciplined and ambitious task switchers. That describes a lot of people, but of course, it isn’t everybody.

That’s where some of the problems come in. Uber drivers are much more likely to have a college degree than are taxi drivers or chauffeurs, according to the Hall and Krueger study. It found striking differences between the two groups: 48 percent of Uber drivers have a college degree or higher, whereas that figure is only 18 percent for taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

Only some workers benefit when each hour, or each 15-minute gap, is up for sale. One way to put the general principle is this: The more efficient market technologies become, the more important are human capabilities and backgrounds in determining who prospers and who does not.

The piece offers other ideas of interest, including about education.  For instance, corporate investments in worker training may decline as the likelihood of freelance work rises.  That too favors self-starters, who can learn on their own.  Do read the whole thing.

 One of the biggest threats it faces is the rise of smartphones as the dominant personal computing device. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 39 of the top 50 news sites received more traffic from mobile devices than from desktop and laptop computers, sales of which have declined for years.

This is a challenge for Wikipedia, which has always depended on contributors hunched over keyboards searching references, discussing changes and writing articles using a special markup code. Even before smartphones were widespread, studies consistently showed that these are daunting tasks for newcomers. “Not even our youngest and most computer-savvy participants accomplished these tasks with ease,” a 2009 user test concluded. The difficulty of bringing on new volunteers has resulted in seven straight years of declining editor participation.

In 2005, during Wikipedia’s peak years, there were months when more than 60 editors were made administrator — a position with special privileges in editing the English-language edition. For the past year, it has sometimes struggled to promote even one per month.

The pool of potential Wikipedia editors could dry up as the number of mobile users keeps growing; it’s simply too hard to manipulate complex code on a tiny screen.

That is from Andrew Lih.  We do indeed face the danger that the quality of our digital universe may be deteriorating.  The inframarginal users who are benefiting are those who highly value texting, Facebook, and mobile access.  The relative losers include…?

Burliuk

Claims about Germany

by on June 20, 2015 at 2:41 pm in Education, Philosophy | Permalink

When I say that growing up in Germany helps bestow independent thinking skills, I’m not saying that it’s because they’re all taught [the] Straussian art of close reading. Instead I’m arguing that society has suppressed the value of certain status indicators, and that encourages people to think for themselves. To put it another way, there are fewer tournaments for kids to go through, and the value of winning them is not so high. Germans I’ve met are incredibly humble. Nobody feels the need to perpetrate an international hoax about how desirable they are. In addition, people aren’t all drawn to the same fields like finance and consulting. They take up professions like baking or manufacturing, and work with the earnestness that comes from knowing that their work is dignified; it’s easier for them to do the equivalent of moving to Dayton to study widget machines.

That is from Dan Wang, who also offers remarks on the philosophy and writings of Peter Thiel.  My reservation about Dan’s argument is that Germans may use their independent thinking skills to question the entire value of traditional metrics of success, thereby making Germany less suited to produce certain kinds of innovations.

Here is an interesting Simon Kuper FT piece on Germans, mostly positive although “Germans are frequently wrong.”

Stephen Curry set a record In May of this year:

It took Reggie Miller 22 games to set an NBA playoff record of 58 three-pointers for the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 playoffs. Now, Stephen Curry has broken that mark in just 13 games.

He is now up in the 80s I believe.  Curry, by the way, is NBA MVP and his team is probably on the verge of winning the Finals.  The three-point strategy seems to be working: for Curry, for the Golden State Warriors, and also for last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

Yet the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979 (!), and for most of those years it was not a dominant weapon.

What took so long?  At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick.  Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training.  Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too.  The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays).  General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke.  People had to ponder the expected value concept a little more carefully.  Line-ups had to be smaller.  And so on.  Most of all, coaches and general managers needed the vision to see how all these pieces could fit together — Arnold Kling’s patterns of sustainable trade and specialization.

In other words, this “technology” has been legal since 1979, yet only recently has it started to come into its own.  (Some teams still haven’t figured out how to use it properly.)  And what a simple technology it is: it involves only placing your feet on a different spot on the floor and then moving your arms and legs in a coordinated (one hopes) motion.  The incentives of money, fame, and sex to get this right have been high from the beginning, and there are plenty of different players and teams in the NBA, not to mention college or even high school ball, to figure it out.  There is plenty of objective data in basketball, most of all when it comes to scoring.

Dell Curry, Stephen’s father, was in his time also known as a three-point shooter in the NBA.  But he didn’t come close to his son’s later three-point performance.

So how long do ordinary scientific inventions need to serve up their fruits?  I am a big fan of Stephen Curry, but in fact his family tale is ultimately a sobering one.

Addendum: Tom Haberstroh fills in the history.

Cameron Campbell writes to me:

There was indeed betting on the outcomes of the examinations, at least in Guangdong province in the 19th century.  At least one form of betting was on the surnames that would be represented in the pool of successful candidates. Such betting was quite widespread, so for example, there were publications dedicated to providing punters with background on exam takers.

It also seems that a Professor Haifeng Liu at Xiamen University last year gave a talk titled 闈姓賭博:清代廣東與澳門的科舉習俗, or “Examination hall surname gambling: Qing Guangdong and Macao examination customs.” (Cowen’s Second Law, though perhaps he still needs to write it up)

Here is my previous post on this topic.  Here is Campbell’s blog.  Campbell is still trying to find out whether the telegraph story cited in my earlier post can be verified, I thank him for his efforts, Robin Hanson will be happy.

Lindsey M. Burke reports:

On Tuesday night, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval signed into law the nation’s first universal school-choice program. That in and of itself is groundbreaking: The state has created an option open to every single public-school student. Even better, this option improves upon the traditional voucher model, coming in the form of an education savings account (ESA) that parents control and can use to fully customize their children’s education.

…As of next year, parents in Nevada can have 90 percent (100 percent for children with special needs and children from low-income families) of the funds that would have been spent on their child in their public school deposited into a restricted-use spending account. That amounts to between $5,100 and $5,700 annually, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Those funds are deposited quarterly onto a debit card, which parents can use to pay for a variety of education-related services and products — things such as private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, books, tutors, and dual-enrollment college courses. It’s an à la carte education, and the menu of options will be as hearty as the supply-side response — which, as it is whenever markets replace monopolies, is likely to be robust.

The pointer is from Adam Ozimek.

Alexandra M. de Pleijt has a new paper on that topic (pdf):

Did human capital contribute to economic growth in England? In this paper the stock of total years of schooling present in the population between 1300 and 1900 is quantified. The stock incorporates extensive source material on literacy rates, the number of primary and secondary schools and enrollment figures. The trends in the data suggest that, whilst human capital facilitated pre-industrial economic development, it had no role to play during the Industrial Revolution itself: there was a strong decline in educational attainment between ca. 1750 and 1830. A time series analysis has been carried out that confirms this conclusion.

The reference there is from Ben Southwood.

I don’t have a strong opinion on this topic, but I hear so much weak argumentation for the “yes” conclusion that the contrarian in me rebels.

Yes, I know it looks good and feels good that an exclusive institution for the wealthy might deign to confer some of its benefits on less wealthy (but still smart) students.  It sounds like a kind of Progressive dream.  How could you be for greater social justice and oppose opening the gates of Harvard to some more students, preferably lower income ones?

But why in fact should Harvard enroll more students?  That probably would mean a lowering of standards, maybe not for the students, but for the faculty who would be hired to teach them.  On average, those turned down for tenure at Harvard, or not considered, really are worse.   A bigger school is a less cohesive school with lower standards for faculty quality stretching into the indefinite future, or at least that likely would be the case with Harvard.

Academic research is often a superstars market, where a relatively small number of people at the very top produce a disproportionate share of the value.  We should keep their working conditions and environment as high quality as possible, no?  Above all, that should apply to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, and a few others too.

One not always-admitted little secret of our world is that a small bit of elitism goes a long way toward supporting a large amount of egalitarianism elsewhere in the economy.

And what about Harvard’s obligations?  We would reject the premise that above-average institutions have an obligation to lower their quality to meet the average of a broader pool of institutions, simply to serve more students.  That would imply a race to the bottom.  I don’t have a clear account of why we should stop at one average-lowering decision margin and not another, but I suspect you don’t either.  So maybe Harvard is OK to stay put at its currently high level of average faculty quality.

Keep in mind that enrolling those students at some other institution is a relevant alternative.  If anyone should accept more students, it is the University of Virginia, no?  They have fewer research superstars and furthermore it is a public institution, supported by state funds.  And yet they turn away large numbers of Asians — among others — with very high test scores and apparently impeccable records.

Or look at it from an ethical point of view.  You might believe we owe the less fortunate a “good education,” but surely you don’t believe we owe them a “Harvard education.”  Or do you?

(NB: It is exactly the wrong response to simply blurt out:  “But they all should accept more students!”  It remains a question whether, under the preferred change, Harvard should be accepting any of the burden at all.)

Another policy alternative, which at least the committed egalitarian ought to consider, is to send that marginal Harvard student to the local community college rather than giving him or her an educational upgrade to Quincy Street.

Yes, I understand this is not the only side of the argument and yes I am undecided on this whole question.  But if you wish to convince me that Harvard should take in larger classes, you will do this best by a) refusing to appeal to emotional, mood-affiliated yet insincere attacks on elites and elitism, and b) considering the least favorable comparisons for your arguments, such as letting more students into UVA instead.  Surely the stellar faculty at Harvard have trained you to reason in exactly that manner…because they do it so well themselves…

Uber for private tutors

by on June 5, 2015 at 11:50 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

You do know that private tutors are the missing secret element in MOOCs, right?  All sorts of internet learning will go better when private tutors are available on demand.  Yet for the non-wealthy it does not always make sense to hire a private tutor on an ongoing basis.  Still, you might have a few questions which can be cleared up in fifteen minutes or so, if only the person were available on relatively short notice.

Let’s bring private tutors into the sharing economy.

Recently I heard of a new Dutch start-up, Konnektid.com, which is trying to do exactly this.  I am hopeful.

Until “effective altruism” figures out what drives innovation, those recommendations simply aren’t that reliable.

Addendum: John Sterling just wrote this in the MR comments section:

I think Steven Landsburg made the definitive “pro-Paulson gift” argument in his classic Slate piece defending Ebenezer Scrooge. Paulson could have pulled a “Larry Ellison” and built himself a $200 mm yacht. He decided to forgo (some) of his conspicuous consumption and instead let the Harvard Management Company steward some additional capital.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the Harvard endowment is the ultimate way to be an “effective altruist” for an Austrian-leaning type. If you believe, like Baldy Harper did, “that savings invested in privately owned economic tools of production amount to … the greatest economic charity of all.” then the Harvard endowment makes a pretty interesting beneficiary. I can’t think of another institution in the world today that is more likely to hold on to its capital in perpetuity than the folks in Cambridge.

I am not saying he is right, just don’t be so quick to conclude he is wrong.  By the way, I do not in fact donate my own money to Harvard.

I don’t think so, not really.  Here is one explanation:

The proposed changes would also remove tenure protections from state law. Darling and Harsdorf both said that Wisconsin is the only state that enshrines tenure in its statutes.

The GOP proposal puts the decision of whether to have tenure and how to define it in the hands of the Board of Regents.

“We believe in empowering the Board of Regents and the chancellors throughout the state of Wisconsin to be able to manage the System,” Nygren said. “I think this is a tool to enable them to do that.”

Cross and Board of Regents vice president Regina Miller pledged to uphold the tenets of shared governance and tenure in their policies.

For sure that is a decline in the relative status of tenure, but not an end to tenure itself.

By the way, I’ve seen so many criticisms of the $400 million Paulson gift to Harvard, almost making it sound worse than if he had kept the money for himself, as most people do with $400 million.  Without a well-worked out theory of university endowments, and their importance and function (they do seem to matter), I don’t see a hard and shut case for condemning this gift.  At the very least, it is likely to boost investment’ note that about 15% of Harvard’s endowment goes to private equity or venture capital.  I do understand however that this gift sends an anti-egalitarian message about status relations and where investment should go.

The education myth?

by on June 1, 2015 at 1:48 pm in Data Source, Economics, Education | Permalink

Ricardo Hausmann has an excellent and provocative column, here is part of it:

In the 50 years from 1960 to 2010, the global labor force’s average time in school essentially tripled, from 2.8 years to 8.3 years. This means that the average worker in a median country went from less than half a primary education to more than half a high school education.

How much richer should these countries have expected to become? In 1965, France had a labor force that averaged less than five years of schooling and a per capita income of $14,000 (at 2005 prices). In 2010, countries with a similar level of education had a per capita income of less than $1,000.

In 1960, countries with an education level of 8.3 years of schooling were 5.5 times richer than those with 2.8 year of schooling. By contrast, countries that had increased their education from 2.8 years of schooling in 1960 to 8.3 years of schooling in 2010 were only 167% richer. Moreover, much of this increase cannot possibly be attributed to education, as workers in 2010 had the advantage of technologies that were 50 years more advanced than those in 1960. Clearly, something other than education is needed to generate prosperity.

As is often the case, the experience of individual countries is more revealing than the averages. China started with less education than Tunisia, Mexico, Kenya, or Iran in 1960, and had made less progress than them by 2010. And yet, in terms of economic growth, China blew all of them out of the water. The same can be said of Thailand and Indonesia vis-à-vis the Philippines, Cameroon, Ghana, or Panama. Again, the fast growers must be doing something in addition to providing education.

The piece is interesting throughout.

R. asks me:

I’ve been reading your blog for years and it remains my favorite. I am an attorney planning to travel for 1-2 months in Eastern/Northern Asia and Europe this fall before starting work at a law firm. Since you are so widely traveled, I would love to read a post listing the most memorable places you’ve traveled or travel experiences you’ve had.

An answer to that could fill many books, but here is a simple rule to start: follow the per capita gdp.  Perhaps my favorite travel experience of all time is Tokyo, but more generally I say master the area lying between London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid, give or take.  There are so many high quality sights and experiences to be had there you can chunk it many different ways.

If you wish to visit the United States, specialize in the eastern seaboard, Chicago, but most of all southern Utah down to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, much better than the southern rim but book in advance.  That latter part of the country has perhaps the world’s most compelling natural beauty, plus a good look at real American culture along the way.  For all its fame, it remains oddly under-visited (thank goodness).  Toss in San Francisco for good measure, and then drive through some godforsaken parts for a few days, the worse the better.

For the emerging economies, I say Beijing and Mumbai are good places to start, how can you not wish to be introduced to a country of a billion people or more?  Mexico City is extremely underrated, especially if you live nearby in North America, just don’t expect English to be spoken.  By the way, it is safer than you might think.  Then spend some serious time in the countryside, almost any safe (or unsafe) emerging economy can serve this function.

Voila!

For most people, weight is a private issue. That looks like it could be a thing of the past for anyone who gets a WiFi Body Scale that has come to the market. It is set up to auto tweet, or auto post to Facebook each time you step on it. Is this designed to keep people accountable, or just plain stupid?

This scale is retailing for just under $150 by a company called Withings. Previous versions of this scale allowed you to track your weight and other data such as heart rate and body fat percentage from your Apple Iphone. I guess they needed to take it a step further and allow you to auto tweet or facebook your weight for the world to see.

There is more here, via Fred Smalkin.