Education

The Upshot surveys some optimistic and pessimistic views.  I thought it would be useful to restate my views in a single, simple blog post, here is the enumeration:

1. The law of comparative advantage has not been repealed.  Machines take away some jobs and create others, while producing more output overall.

2. That said, some particular kinds of machines increase the relative return to skilled labor.  If the new jobs require working with computers, and working with computers effectively is hard, reemploying lower-skilled workers at good wages may be difficult.

3. Smart software, factor price equalization, and better measurement of value have all boosted income inequality.  Returns to working for low-skilled workers have fallen or stagnated in many regions (not North Dakota).  Returns for many higher skilled workers have risen, but most of them were working and working hard already.

4. Lower returns to unskilled labor mean (on average) that low-skilled laborers will work less.  This effect may interact with government benefits but sometimes people decide to work less or search less hard for a job for reasons unrelated to benefits.  These decisions may produce feedback which weakens pro-work norms in the broader culture.

5. The employment to population ratio will be lower than it otherwise would have been, because of “robots” but not only robots.  The natural rate of unemployment will be higher too.

6. Many of the new service sectors jobs will be better suited to women rather than the most unruly men.  Physical strength will matter less, conscientiousness and teamwork will matter more, and much of the burden of these adjustments will fall on lesser educated men.

7. Facebook makes it easier to get sex and keep friends without having a job.

8. There is good evidence for each of these propositions, although it may be questioned how great is their combined import.  In the meantime, yes robots may lower employment, although the catchphrase “robots are destroying jobs” is misleading rather than illuminating.

A.O. Scott considers that question in The New York Times.   I am not sure I can sum up his view in a sentence, so I don’t know if this is criticizing him or partially agreeing with him.  In any case, I don’t see growing income inequality as the main driving force behind the decline of middlebrow American culture.  An individual’s level of education often predicts cultural consumption better than does his or her income, and education has not in general declined in this country.

Furthermore many forms of culture have grown much cheaper.  Once you are paying for cable, the marginal dollar cost of watching a show or a movie at home is zero.  Songs and music are much cheaper than twenty years ago, and eBooks make many (not all) books cheaper.  In other words, if stagnant income groups wanted middlebrow culture, they still could afford it.

Global markets are growing and those markets are often relatively middlebrow in their orientation, which should maintain the return to producing middlebrow culture.  And the United States continues to grow in population, even though the middle is shrinking in percentage terms.  The supply of creative activity is quite elastic, so it is hard to argue the wealthy have placed all relevant artists in their employ and thus choked or starved the middle.

It is much more expensive to organize a middlebrow art exhibit than fifteen years ago, and we see fewer good ones, but that is mainly because of 9/11 and insurance rates and related institutional issues, not income inequality.

My view is a lot of people never wanted middlebrow culture in the first place, at least not in every sphere of their cultural consumption.  The internet gave them more choice, they took it, and much of middlebrow culture lost its support base.  Consider one area where the internet still doesn’t play that much of a role and that is theatrical productions.  You can watch plenty of theatre on YouTube, but it’s not such a close substitute to seeing the show live.  And if you look at Broadway theatre, it seems more relentlessly and aggressively middlebrow than ever before.  Ugh, that is why I stopped going.  NFL football seems middlebrow to me and the audience base still is there, again because the internet has not come up with a close competitor.  If the sport has a problem it is the violence and injury, not that we’ve evolved into a mix of polo ponies and roller derby.

Nearly 30% of children in India (ages 6-14) attend private schools and in some states and many urban regions a majority of the students attend private schools. Compared to the government schools, private schools perform modestly better on measures of learning (Muraldiharan and Sundararaman 2013, Tabarrok 2011) and much better on cost-efficiency. Moreover, even though the private schools are low cost and mostly serve very poor students they also have better facilities such as electricity, toilets, blackboards, desks, drinking water etc. than the government schools (e.g. here and here).

In an op-ed Vipin Veetil and Akshaya Vijayalakshmi argue that the private schools may also reduce caste discrimination:

It’s no secret that government schools in India are of poor quality. Yet few know that they are also breeding grounds for caste-based discrimination, with lower-caste students in government schools often asked to sit separately in the classroom, insulted in front of their peers and even forced to clean toilets. This despite the fact that caste discrimination is illegal in India.

…Government-school teachers aren’t necessarily more prejudiced than their private-school counterparts. But private-school teachers find it more costly to discriminate. In a survey of over 5,000 children, academic researchers James Tooley and Pauline Dixon found that students in private schools felt more respected by their teachers than children in government schools.

Caste discrimination in the government schools is also one of the reasons why the private schools focus on teaching English. Among the Dalits, English is understood as the language of liberation not just because it offers greater job prospects but even more because Hindi, Sanskrit and the regional languages are burdened by and interwoven with a history of Dalit oppression. As one Dalit put it“No one knows how to curse me as well as in Tamil.”

He has a very good column on this topic today, here is one excerpt:

“The returns to growth are going to people in other countries, most notably China, and generally to people with high I.Q., no matter where they live,” said Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a contributor to the Economic View column in The New York Times. “I don’t really know how you could undermine this dynamic, short of wrecking the world. Trying to deny that logic is going to fail or worse, backfire.”

Mr. Cowen, who describes himself as a libertarian with a lowercase “l,” is the author of “Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation,” (Dutton, 2013), which posits that technology and globalization have essentially split the labor market in two: high and low earners. Far fewer stable jobs are left over in the middle to support what through much of the 20th century we called the middle class.

In his view, the defining challenge of our era is that workers in the bottom half of the distribution can no longer trust that their living standard will double every generation. “The right moral question is ‘are poor people rising to a higher standard of living?’ Inequality itself is the wrong thing to look at,” he told me. The real problem is slow growth.

“The best way to address rising inequality is to focus on increasing educational attainment,” Professor Mankiw said. Mr. Cowen adds other potentially useful policies, like expanding the earned-income tax credit or using urban policy to, say, make it easier for people who are not rich to live in San Francisco.

The full story is here, interesting throughout.

These were the results:

1. People responded to first messages 44% more often.

2. “conversations went deeper”

3. Contact details were exchanged more quickly.

Furthermore:

When the photos were restored at 4PM, 2,200 people were in the middle of conversations that had started “blind”. Those conversations melted away.

That said, the people who actually used the “Blind Date App” if anything seemed slightly happier with their dates.  The full report from OKCupid is here.  Yet here is the combined chart drawn from when people score “looks” and “personality” separately.

By the way, I would never try to match you up with a book I fear you may not like, at least not without telling you or otherwise signaling that incompatibility in advance.

…trade typically favors the poor, who concentrate spending in more traded sectors.

That is from Pablo D. Fajgelbaum and Amit K. Khandelwal, the full paper is here.

SES [socio-economic status] correlates to willingness to use military force, but not one’s assessment of the need for it.

That is from a fascinating and just-released book I have been reading from Jonathan D. Caverley, A Theory of Democratic Militarism: Voting, Wealth, and War.

In most Darwinian models there is competition across siblings for resources and parental attention, from the womb but also stretching into adulthood.  Siblings who do well therefore will be hyper-aware of the strategies employed by their brothers and sisters.  They will need to counter those strategies on a very regular basis and furthermore they will on average be deploying similar strategies themselves.

At the same time, siblings probably won’t see each other as so evil by nature.  They will be realistic about motives — some would say cynical — while at the same time recognizing that the siblings are probably, on average, no worse than themselves.  Plus there is a natural genetic and also family affinity.

How about mothers?  Genetically speaking, mothers often adopt the interests of the sibling as “their own.”  For instance a lot of mothers died in childbirth before modern medicine, when alternative biological arrangements would have given the mothers greater protection.  So the children can commandeer the loyalty of the mother (and sometimes the father) more readily than they can commandeer the loyalties of their siblings.

Mothers are therefore often deceived about or simply tolerant of the manipulations employed by their children on them.  In other words, mothers worry less about moral hazard problems with respect to their children.  The siblings will in some respects understand these strategies better than the mother will.

The other children may feel that a mother should punish (or possibly but less likely reward) the other siblings more.  And “Johnny is being a stinker” will be a more frequent complaint than “Johnny is possessed with Original Sin.”

In turn, mothers may worry more about problems of type.  If a mother is hyper-aware of the faults of her children, she may do a better job of protecting them or teaching them how to overcome those limitations.

A world where fewer people have siblings may be a world where recognizing moral hazard problems may be for many people less intuitive.  Is it also possible that men may on average be more aware of moral hazard problems than are women?  And women more aware of problems of type?

The subtitle is An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness, and the author is Russ Roberts.  The focus is on Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and why that is an important book.  This is Russ’s best book in my opinion, so you should consider buying it here.  My favorite section is the discussion of the Chilean maid, definitely recommended.

It seems not.  Responding to an earlier piece by Ray Fisman, Tino Sanandaji writes:

Fisman doesn’t cite any plausible mechanism through which private schools could have dragged down the test scores of the 86 percent of Swedish pupils who attend public schools. The explanation cannot be that private schools have drained public schools of resources, as private schools on average get 4 percent less funding than public schools.

One-third of Sweden’s municipalities still have no private schools. Social Democratic strongholds in northern Sweden in particular were less enthusiastic about licensing such institutions, and if private schools were causing the Swedish school crisis, we would expect municipalities with no privatization to outperform the rest of the country. Two studies by Böhlmark och Lindahl suggest that school results, if anything, fell more in regions with no private schools.

He also argues:

…in my view, the main culprit was the experiment with radically new pedagogical methods. The Swedish school system used to rely on traditional teaching methods. In recent decades, modern “individualist” or “progressive” pedagogic ideas took hold. The idea is that pupils should not be forced to learn using external incentives such as grades, and children should take responsibility for their own learning, driven by internal motivation. Rote memorization and repetition are viewed as old-fashioned relics. Teacher-led lectures have increasingly been replaced by group work and “research projects.”

And this:

The private Swedish schools are not really allowed to innovate where it matters, with their pedagogic methods. The curriculum and rules in the classroom are determined by the state, which also trains teachers in the so called “modern” pedagogic theories. “Swedish schools have comparatively low levels of autonomy over curricula and assessments,” PISA notes.

In practice, what private Swedish schools have control over is management and cost control, and this is where they have directed their efforts. But since the public Swedish schools were pretty well managed to start with, productivity gains from privatization were limited.

For the pointer I thank Daniel B. Klein and Niclas Berggren.

The excellent Brendan J. Nyhan directs my attention to this forthcoming paper by Anna Getmansky and Thomas Zeitzoff (pdf):

How does the threat of becoming a victim of terrorism affect voting behavior? Localities in southern Israel have been exposed to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001. Relying on variation across time and space in the range of rockets, we identify the effect of this threat on voting in Israeli elections. We first show that the evolution of the rockets’ range leads to exogenous variation in the threat of terrorism. We then compare voting in national elections within and outside the rockets’ range. Our results suggest that right-wing vote-share is 2 to 6 percentage points higher in localities that are within the range– a substantively significant effect. Unlike previous studies that explore the role of actual exposure to terrorism on political preferences and behavior, we show that the mere threat of an attack affects voting.

Here is a related post from Monkey Cage.

*The Falling Sky*

by on July 15, 2014 at 2:06 am in Books, Education, Medicine, Philosophy | Permalink

The subtitle is Words of a Yanomami Shaman, and the shaman is Davi Kopenawa from the Amazon, with transcription and assistance from French anthropologist Bruce Albert.  Imagine 487 pp. of a highly intelligent, articulate shaman telling you what he thinks, and perhaps more importantly telling you what he thinks about.  Here is one bit:

As children, we gradually start to think straight.  We realize that the xapiri [spirits] really exist and that the elders’ words are true.  Little by little, we understand that the shamans do not behave as ghosts without a reason.  Our thought fixes itself on the spirits’ words, and then we really want to see them.  We take hold of the idea that later we will be able to ask the elders to blow the yakoana into our nostrils and give us the xapiri’s songs.  This is how it happened for me a long time ago.  The spirits often came to visit me in dreams.  This is how they started to know me well.

For those who are willing to swerve in the direction of the mystical, I recommend this strongly, read the Amazon reviews at the first link above.  Here is a brief excerpt from one: “This is an astonishing book, a gripping story, and a poetic revelation of an entirely different world view than our own. Every single page sparkles with provocative meditations on the impact that industrial societies have on the environment and the role of Yanomami shamans in protecting it for the sake of all humanity.”  You won’t find cost-benefit analysis here.  Here are some selections from the book.  Here is one blog review from LSE.  Google is not turning up too many other reviews, but this came out in late 2013 and it is a truly significant work deserving of further attention and it is rather dramatically under-reviewed.

1. From 1964: “Eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch is obnoxious. She dresses like a boy, throws temper tantrums, swears at her parents and thinks terribly unkind thoughts. She refuses to eat anything but tomato sandwiches for lunch. She even invents her own middle initial.”

2. She also keeps a notebook, spies on everyone, and writes down the truth about them.  Her notebook is made public and she is disgraced, until making a comeback as the elected editor of the school newspaper (though see below).  At the end she learns that some lying is necessary.

3. One message of this book is that writers, and journalists in particular, are neurotics.  And liars.  A more core message is that heroines are allowed to be nasty and tell the truth.  Harriet throws a pencil in the face of Beth Ellen.  Compare this with the goody two-shoes Nancy Drew.

3b. “Harriet…Are you still writing down mean things about people?” “No. I am writing my memoirs.”  When I first read this book at age ten or so, I didn’t get the jokes.  Note also the phallic wurst joke on p.105.  Food/sex references run throughout, and there is a running contrast between Harriet’s duty to be an onion (hard, gets cut down the middle) with her desire to instead do nothing but munch on tomato sandwiches.

4. The opening of the book makes Harriet sound like an macroeconomist: “Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town.  “See, first you make up the name of the town.  Then you write down the names of all the people who live in it.  You can’t have too many or it gets too hard.””

5. Harriet the infovore announces her intention to know “everything in the world, everything, everything.”

6. On p.278 author Fitzhugh indicates to us that she is not herself telling us the entire truth about growing up.  It is yet more brutal than this book is allowed to let on.  After that page, everything which happens in the text is a lie, designed to make the casual reader feel better and to sell more copies.  Harriet is not in fact voted editor of the school newspaper and not allowed to publish her critical rants to general acclaim with only a few retractions.  This is a Straussian text and it makes fun of the reader’s willingness to believe in happy endings.  The opening “make believe” scene mirrors these later deceptions.

7. This short essay compares Harriet to To Kill a Mockingbird.  Other commentators stress that Louise Fitzhugh, the author, was a lesbian and perhaps Harriet is a budding lesbian too (she dresses like a boy and has a tomboyish haircut).  I view Sport’s father, who is obsessed with getting a $$ advance for his book, as the stand-in character for Fitzhugh (start at p.260 and see also p.52 on the obsession with writing and money).  Luxury is portrayed as corrupting and leading to indolence, so becoming a successful writer is a self-destructive process, noting that Fitzhugh herself stagnated after this hugely successful book.

8. In this book parents are typically indifferent, brutally indifferent I would say, toward their children.

9. In the movie version “…Harriet competes against Marion Hawthorne to see who has a better blog.”

10. This is a deep work, rich in jokes, and more than worthy of its iconic status.  I am very glad to have reread it.

Here is my previous post on Catcher in the Rye.

That is a new website from Daniel Klein and the Adam Smith Institute, “A review of the changes 1880-1940 to the central semantics of liberal civilization.”

The largest-ever study of same-sex parents found their children turn out healthier and happier than the general population.

A new study of 315 same-sex parents and 500 children in Australia found that, after correcting for socioeconomic factors, their children fared well on several measures, including asthma, dental care, behavioral issues, learning, sleep, and speech.

Do note this:

Perceived stigmas were associated with worse scores for physical activity, mental health, family cohesion, and emotional outcomes. The stigmas, however, were not prevalent enough to negatively tilt the children’s outcomes in a comparison to outcomes across the general population.

There is more here, from German Lopez, the study itself is here.