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.

How to be a good professor

by on September 10, 2015 at 1:31 am in Education, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

Robert J. Bloomfield has a new paper with that title, the abstract is this:

A good Professor achieves a three part mission of research, teaching and service. After elaborating on this mission, I provide some broad strategies for accomplishing it: know when to say no; don’t try to win the measurement game; don’t be a jerk (in the technical sense); “think otherwise”, but judiciously; and be your own adversary. I then spell out specific learning objectives, explain why they matter, and provide advice on how to achieve them. Stated in the language of instructional design, a good Professor will be able to: communicate effectively; craft constructive reviews and effective response memos; put philosophical insights to practical use; motivate students; share in the governance of your institution; and blend work and life so that each enriches the other.

For the pointer I thank…a good professor.

This position can be seen as a variation on the theme of the “strong situation hypothesis” (Cooper and Withey, 2009).  This hypothesis, based on the work of Mischel (1977), proposes that personality differences are especially like to be outwardly expressed in “weak” situations offering no clear situational clues and a wide range of possibilities as to how to behave.  Conversely, individual differences are expected to have less room for expression in “strong” situations where the choice of behavioral outcomes is severely limited and where everyone is bound to behave in a similar way.

…Thus, individual risks could play a magnified role in highly disadvantaged neighborhood contexts.

That is from Tama Leventhal, Véronique Dupéré, and Elizabeth A. Shuey, “Children in Neighborhoods,” In Handbook of Child Psychology and Development Science, edited by Marc H. Bornstein and Tama Leventhal. New York: Wiley, 2015, p.520, academically gated link here, an excellent and consistently interesting survey piece complementing the recent economic studies by Chetty and others.

Ungated Cooper and Withey is here (pdf), also worth your time.  Here is a related Wikipedia entry, perhaps not as clear as it might be.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with Luigi next Wednesday, eight days from now (do sign up!).  He is a brilliant and multi-faceted economist, and an Italian — what should I ask him?

This is quite long, so it goes under the fold…class starts tomorrow night! Read More →

How left-leaning are lawyers?

by on August 28, 2015 at 10:07 am in Data Source, Education, Law | Permalink

Adam Bonica, Adam S. Chilton, and Maya Sen have an extensive new paper (pdf) on this subject:

American lawyers lean to the left of the ideological spectrum. To help place this in context, the mean DIME score among the attorney population is -0.31 compared to -0.05 for the entire population of donors. Moreover, some 62% of the sample of attorneys are positioned to the left of the midpoint between the party means for members of Congress. Morover, the modal CFscore is in the center-left. This places the average American lawyer’s ideology close to the ideology of Bill Clinton. To be more precise, the modal CFscore for American lawyers is -0.52 and Bill Clinton’s CFscore is -0.68. This confirms prior scholarship and journalism that has argued that the legal profession is liberal on balance. To our knowledge, however, this figure represents the most comprehensive picture of the ideology of American lawyers ever assembled.

There is however a (quite slight) bimodal nature to the distribution and a cluster of right-leaning attorneys has views similar to those of Mitt Romney.  Not so many lawyers are true extremists, at least not in this data set.  Figure 2 on p.19 will not reproduce for me but it is an excellent picture of the data, including comparisons with other professions.

We learn also that female attorneys are considerably more liberal than male attorneys, but the number of years of work predicts a conservative pull.  Being a law firm partner also predicts views which are more conservative than average.  If you consider “Big Law” attorneys, while they are overall to the Left, they are more conservative on average than the cities they live in, such as NYC or Los Angeles.  Lawyers in Washington, D.C. are especially left-leaning.

The top fourteen law schools all have distributions which lean to the Left (pp.28-29), and UC Berkeley has the most left-leaning alumni.  The five law schools, of the fifty surveyed, with right-leaning alumni are University of Oklahoma, Texas A&M University, University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, and Brigham Young University.  Pages 38-40 of the paper rank different major law firms by how left- or right-leaning their employees are.

Oil and gas, M&A, and energy lawyers are relatively conservative, see p.45.  Entertainment lawyers are relatively left-leaning, same for civil rights and personal injury lawyers.  Don’t even ask about law professors.  Public defenders are far more left-leaning than prosecutors, though prosecutors are still more left-leaning than lawyers as a whole.

This paper is interesting throughout.

I very much enjoyed this Live Chat, and I thank the participants for all of their stimulating questions and remarks.  Here is one excerpt:

Ben Casnocha:

How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20’s? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you’re glad the internet didn’t exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.

Tyler Cowen:

I am glad I was forced to live in “book culture” and “meat space’ for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It’s like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move is.

[and later] …contemporary academic is overly bureaucratized and there is a very good chance I would [if I were starting today] look for another model of success and contentment. It is an open question whether or not I could find one. Whatever its limitations, there is still a followable formula for academic success, which of course is part of the problem.

Other topics include when is the best age to live in various parts of the world, Alban Berg and Rilke, Marc Andreessen, my one hidden talent, Rene Girard, labor market networks, optimal travel into the past, and which is the most underrated or overrated wisdom tradition.  Do read the whole thing.

*Divergent Paths*

by on August 26, 2015 at 3:16 pm in Books, Economics, Education, Law, Philosophy | Permalink

That is the new forthcoming Richard Posner book and the subtitle is The Academy and the Judiciary.  Virtually everything by Posner is worth reading, and this comparison of the worlds of the professor and the judge is no exception.


While Anastasia Garvey, an actress and model, doesn’t have office pressure, she says she is constantly on edge wondering if she’ll get a certain job. She has developed a regimen of ways to disconnect: meditation, acupuncture, cupping therapy, monthly trips to a reservation-only spa and most recently cryotherapy — as in spending some time being blasted by air cooled to minus 260 degrees.

It only lasts three minutes, plus time to warm up again on a stationary bike, but it costs $90 a session, she said. She goes three times a week.

“The first time I did it I couldn’t remember my name,” she said. “You’re in a freezer. You’re so cold you can’t think of anything.”

There are many interesting ideas and bits in this NYT Paul Sullivan piece: “As for the seeming contradiction of the Buddhist boxer…”

Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste. If you’ve eaten at Noma, you’ve had an experience a very tiny fraction of the world will be lucky enough to experience, whereas if you name any musical artist, I can likely find their music and be listening to it within a few mouse clicks. Legally, too, which removes even more of the caché that came with illicit downloading, the thrill of being a digital bootlegger.

Once, it felt like watching music videos on MTV was a form of rebellion in plain sight. Nowadays, the channel doesn’t play any music videos. Instead, we have dozens of food and cooking shows, even entire channels like The Food Network dedicated to the topic. Chefs have become elevated to the status of master craftsmen, with names that have risen above the status of their restaurants, and diners revere someone like Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame the way a previous generation worshipped the guitar sound of a rock god like Jimi Hendrix.

The food scene today offers a seemingly never-ending supply of scarce experiences, ingredients, and dishes. Cronuts you have to wait in line for a few hours to get your hands on. Pop-up restaurants that serve only on a few nights a week for a few weeks, then disappear forever. Restaurants that you have to sacrifice a goat to just to get a reservation, and then they’ll actually take that goat you killed and prepare your entire dinner from it, nose to tail. A white truffle add-on that tacks $80 on to a single piece of cured hamachi, and oh, the truffle is only available for four weeks a year and came over on a gondola from Alba, Italy, and the hamachi is one of the last of three members of its species so you know, you should probably try it before…oops, sorry, the chef says someone just ordered the last of it. Yep, it’s that couple at the corner table, and that’s the last plate that she’s Instagramming right now.

That is from Eugene Wei, with more of interest at the link, via Graham Rowe.

Nathan Smith has a very thoughtful speculative essay on that topic. Here is one interesting bit of many:

I would tentatively envision the US experience under open borders as resembling the British and Roman cases, inasmuch as the protocols and ideals of the US polity, as well as its merely ethnic characteristics, would persist in attenuated form, but governing a much larger population would necessitate improvisational and sometimes authoritarian expedients that would cumulatively transform the polity into something quite different, even as it claimed descent from the historic constitutional polity of the United States as we know it. The illusion of continuity would deceive the subjects of the new polity, native-born and immigrant, to a considerable extent, though on the other hand there would be a good deal of lamentation and triumphalism, and only after several generations would historians be able to look back and assess the bewildering transformation in a sober, balanced way.

Certain American ideals would die of their own increasing impracticality, e.g., “equality of opportunity,” the social safety net, one person, one vote, or non-discrimination in employment. Americans might continue to feel that these ideals were right long after they had ceased to be practiced, as the Romans seemed to feel that Rome ought to be governed by its Senate long after real governance had passed to the emperors. I don’t see how public schools could adapt to a far larger and more diverse student body.

In sum:

I think the most wild-eyed predictions of the open borders optimists will come true, and to spare, but I think a lot of the forebodings of the grimmest open border pessimists will also prove more than justified.

The article is interesting throughout, do read the whole thing.

That is a new NBER paper from David J. Deming:

The slow growth of high-paying jobs in the U.S. since 2000 and rapid advances in computer technology have sparked fears that human labor will eventually be rendered obsolete. Yet while computers perform cognitive tasks of rapidly increasing complexity, simple human interaction has proven difficult to automate. In this paper, I show that the labor market increasingly rewards social skills. Since 1980, jobs with high social skill requirements have experienced greater relative growth throughout the wage distribution. Moreover, employment and wage growth has been strongest in jobs that require high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill. To understand these patterns, I develop a model of team production where workers “trade tasks” to exploit their comparative advantage. In the model, social skills reduce coordination costs, allowing workers to specialize and trade more efficiently. The model generates predictions about sorting and the relative returns to skill across occupations, which I test and confirm using data from the NLSY79. The female advantage in social skills may have played some role in the narrowing of gender gaps in labor market outcomes since 1980.

There is an ungated copy here.

Russia fact of the day

by on August 20, 2015 at 3:04 pm in Books, Education, History | Permalink

In 1912 Russia had only 1.2 teachers per thousand people.

That is from the new and interesting The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I & Revolution, by Dominic Lieven.  I liked the first sentence of the book:

As much as anything, World War I turned on the fate of Ukraine.

That is not, of course, a good news sentence.

One of the tragedies of Katrina was that so many of New Orleans’ residents were forced to move. But the severity of that tragedy is a function of where they were forced to move to. Was it somewhere on the Salt Lake City end of the continuum? Or was it a place like Fayetteville? The best answer we have is from the work of the sociologist Corina Graif, who tracked down the new addresses of seven hundred women displaced by Katrina—most of them lower-income and black. By virtually every measure, their new neighborhoods were better than the ones they had left behind in New Orleans. Median family income was forty-four hundred dollars higher. Ethnic diversity was greater. More people had jobs. Their exposure to “concentrated disadvantage”—an index that factors in several measures of poverty—fell by half a standard deviation.

That is from Malcolm Gladwell, interesting throughout.

At least at Northwestern University, the answer seems to be no.  Figlio, Schapiro, and Soter report:

This study makes use of detailed student-level data from eight cohorts of first-year students at Northwestern University to investigate the relative effects of tenure track/tenured versus contingent faculty on student learning. We focus on classes taken during a student’s first term at Northwestern and employ an identification strategy in which we control for both student-level fixed effects and next-class-taken fixed effects to measure the degree to which contingent faculty contribute more or less to lasting student learning than do other faculty. We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from contingent faculty in their first-term courses. This result is driven by the fact that the bottom quarter of tenure track/tenured faculty (as indicted by our measure of teaching effectiveness) has lower “value added” than their contingent counterparts. Differences between contingent and tenure track/tenured faculty are present across a wide variety of subject areas and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern’s averages and less-qualified students.

Emphasis is added by me.  I wonder how much of the problem is that the bottom quarter of the tenure track instructors are more likely not to have English as a first language?

The pointer is from Ben Southwood.