1. Jacobs was born in Scranton, PA, but moved to NYC in 1932 and as early as 1935 she had published some of her impressions of the city in a multi-part series in Vogue magazine.  Earlier, she had written poetry for the Girl Scouts’s magazine, American Girl.

2. She published a 1941 book on the intellectual foundations of the American Constitution, with Columbia University Press under her maiden name Jane Butzner and the title Constitutional Chaff.  At about the same time her manuscript was being accepted, she was kicked out of Columbia for taking too many extended studies classes, and not allowed admission to Barnard.

3. In 1940 she wrote an article based on her study of the embossed acronyms on manhole covers.

4. She then worked as writer during WWII for the Office of War Information and the State Department.  Before Pearl Harbor, she had been an isolationist.

5. Henri Pirenne’s work on medieval cities was one of the biggest influences on her.

6. In the 1940s, she also worked for a metals industry magazine, and smoked a pipe in her office.  They started to wonder whether she was a troublemaker.

7. She married an architect in 1944, then taking the name Jacobs.  They enjoyed bicycling and sociometry together.  She had sons in 1948 and 1950.

8. Alger Hiss had been her superior at the State Department, and in the late 1940s Jacobs was investigated for possible Communist ties, in part because she had tried to apply for a visa to Siberia, using Hiss as her contact.  She stated in response that she abhorred communism and favored radical decentralization.

There is much more!  But that is a taste from the new and excellent Becoming Jane Jacobs, a runs-up-through 1972 biography by Peter L. Laurence, definitely one of the best books of the year.  This is the biography of Jacobs I have wanted to read for forty years.

Addendum: There is a new Jane Jacobs movie coming to the Toronto film festival.

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.

There is a new NBER paper on this topic by Fali Huang, Ginger Zhe Jin, and Lixin Colin Xu, the results are striking:

While parental matchmaking has been widespread throughout history and across countries, we know little about the relationship between parental matchmaking and marriage outcomes. Does parental involvement in matchmaking help ensure their needs are better taken care of by married children? This paper finds supportive evidence using a survey of Chinese couples. In particular, parental involvement in matchmaking is associated with having a more submissive wife, a greater number of children, a higher likelihood of having any male children, and a stronger belief of the husband in providing old age support to his parents. These benefits, however, are achieved at the cost of less marital harmony within the couple and lower market income of the wife. The results render support to and extend the findings of Becker, Murphy and Spenkuch (2015) where parents meddle with children’s preferences to ensure their commitment to providing parental goods such as old age support.

Here is an earlier SSRN version.

A miniature donkey can change your life. Ten of them can change it a lot.


Five years ago, Mr. Stiert was a software engineer at IBM. A bunch of things happened — divorce, a layoff, a sort of reckoning. Now, at 57, he says, “Every day is donkey day.”


Ms. Hill, 26, said she kept returning because donkeys “don’t judge.”

“They understand, even though they don’t talk,” she said.

And the dreaded regulatory state raises its feared hand:

(Before you run out to shop for donkeys yourself, make sure they’re legal in your town. They are not in New York City, for instance, where the Health Code bans “all odd-toed ungulates” — hoofed animals — other than domesticated horses, “including, but not limited to, zebra, rhinoceros and tapir.”)

Those are not the only good sentences about miniature donkey therapy meet-ups, Andy Newman at the NYT has more.  Here is a final winner:

For all their surprising virtues, donkeys can be a little stubborn.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Rowe that college has been oversold and that we need a greater focus on and respect for vocational education. I’ve also been impressed with Rowe’s honesty and intelligence as is evident in this recent post discussing his work with Charles Koch on vocational education.

If you haven’t seen it, my name appeared a few weeks ago in a headline next to Koch Industries. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s have a look.

Pablo Elvira says…Mike – I’ve never written a “protest” email before now, but I’m compelled. Your association with The Koch Brothers has obliterated my trust in you.

Steven Stahl writes… I have lost a huge amount of respect for you. Mike, you are better than this.

Mande Smogor says…Charles Koch promotes fear mongering on climate change, and basically destroy minorities, the elderly, anyone who isn’t rich, and unions. Morally and ethically I am profoundly disconnected from Mike Rowe right now. #SoLongDecadeLongCelebrityCrush…etc, etc.

You can set your watch by it. Whenever my name appears next to an individual on someone’s “List of Known Enemies,” people line up to tell me why they can no longer be my friend, or watch my shows, or support my foundation. From Glenn Beck to Bill Maher, my proximity over the years to the “wrong guy” has prompted hundreds of Facebook friends to scoop up their marbles and stomp off in a huff….

Like most of you, my opinion of public figures is influenced by what I read in the press, and what I read about The Brothers Koch leaves little doubt they they ride with The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse. Over the last few years though, my opinion has changed. Partly, because I took it upon myself to read beyond the headlines, and partly because I came to learn that our foundations are aligned on a number of issues important to me.

…We met a few years ago in California. I had just given a speech about the disastrous consequences of removing vocational education from high schools, and Charles was in the audience. One of his people invited me to lunch, and I said sure. I was eager to see the horns and smell the sulphur for myself. Surprisingly, I found neither. What I found, was a 78-year-old man with more energy and enthusiasm than I could match. We spoke at length, and I learned a number of surprising things.

I learned for instance, about his passion for criminal justice reform. He’s frustrated by the fact that punishments no longer fit the crime, and angered that minor drug offenders and rapists often serve comparable sentences. He’s proud that Koch Industries does not ask those applying for employment to “check the box” with regard to previous incarceration. He told me that once a debt is paid, the balance sheet should be clear. I was surprised, because the man I had read about seemed very much at odds with a crusader for the formerly incarcerated.

We then talked at length about the dangers of a two-tiered economic system, and his belief that cronyism was at the heart of so much unfairness in today’s society. Charles told me about a documentary his foundation funded that exposed the obscene policy of charging people (black women, primarily) thousands of dollars for a license that allows them to legally braid hair in their communities. I watched it later, and it made me angry. It also made me think about the hundreds of entrepreneurs I’d met over the years who expressed similar frustrations in their own industries. Again, I was surprised. I had read nothing from anyone about Koch’s concern for the little guy. Not what I expected.

But I was most surprised by his commitment to reinvigorate the skilled trades. I knew his foundation focused on many forms of higher education, but I had no idea we shared a common view regarding the skills gap. He pointed out that countless small businesses begin with a tradesperson who learned a skill that was in demand. I shared my belief that a chronic skills gap was more troubling than chronic unemployment, because the existence of opportunity that people don’t care about is more alarming than a lack of opportunity overall.

In short, we found ourselves in violent agreement on a number of things important to us both, and after lunch, he told me to let him know if mikeroweWORKS could ever use his help. (In hindsight, it’s entirely possible he was just being polite, but he would soon learn just how literal I can be.)

When I got involved with Project Jumpstart in Baltimore, I called Charles and told him about their incredible track record preparing inner city kids and non-violent offenders for a career in the trades. At base, Jumpstart is a pre-apprenticeship program for the construction trades. The placement rate is an astonishing 80%. Jumpstart not only trains people for the job at hand, it helps them solve problems that often prevent people in their position from succeeding. They pay a stipend, for instance, while being trained. They help with transportation to the job site, and provide extraordinary mentorship and follow up. But there are also consequences. Trainees can lose their stipends if they don’t comply with the rules. I spoke with many of the graduates, and they all talked about how important the “real world training” was to their success. When I told Charles about the program, his foundation stepped up.

When SkillsUSA came around this year, I told him I was speaking at their opening ceremony. He wasn’t familiar with the program. When I explained its impact on the next generation of skilled tradespeople, he was once again intrigued. He wanted to know how an organization that did so much good, and consisted of nearly 400,000 kids, was unknown to so many. I told him the challenge facing SkillsUSA was not so different than the challenge facing many companies looking to recruit skilled labor – basic awareness. I told him my foundation made sure that kids who qualified for the National Finals had their transportation and lodging covered, if they couldn’t afford to get there on their own. Charles liked that, and he doubled the resources we had allocated for this year’s event.

Most recently, The Koch Foundation allowed mikeroweWORKS to help more people than ever before through our Work Ethic Scholarship Program….

So – to Pablo, Steven, Mande, and anyone else compelled to share their disappointment – I get it. But look – if I only associate with “approved people,” or limit my relationships to those who see the world exactly as I do, then I might as well build a church and preach only to the choir. Where is the fun in that? The truth is, progress only happens when people find common ground and build something on it. And when it comes to closing the skills gap, we need progress.

Good for Rowe! It’s well known, of course, but my own institution, George Mason, has also benefited from Charles Koch’s investments in education.

Here is one bit from Steve Lohr’s longer article at the NYT:

For the moment, Amazon seems to be the most aggressive recruiter of economists. It even has an Amazon Economists website for soliciting résumés. In a video on the site, Patrick Bajari, the company’s chief economist, says the economics team has contributed to decisions that have had “multibillion-dollar impacts” for the company.

Another Amazon jobs site lists openings for economists. As of Friday, there were 34.

Seeing this emerging job market, the National Association for Business Economics held its first meeting for technology company economists in April in San Francisco. Another is set for October in Silicon Valley.

The article has many other interesting segments.

In the four years that Ayanna Chisholm has worked collecting tolls out of tiny glass booths at the Holland Tunnel and elsewhere in New Jersey, there have been several constants. There are familiar commuters, malfunctioning toll arms, occasional scofflaws — and an incessant barrage of come-ons, sexual comments, lecherous stares and crude gestures from male motorists.

Some of Ms. Chisholm’s colleagues say they have been subjected to drivers exposing themselves. The fusillade is especially menacing because it is inescapable, the workers confined to small hutches on the highway.

Like other women in her profession, Ms. Chisholm, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has learned to wear little makeup, crack her booth’s window open as little as possible, and drop change into waiting hands to avoid drivers who try to stroke her palm.

That is from the NYT, and of course the same was true decades ago.  No one from New Jersey should be surprised at how most internet comments have turned out.

How do partisans of the signaling model of education explain female wage growth over the last few decades?  It’s easy for the human capital theory: female education went up and so did female productivity (plus discrimination fell, but let’s put that aside for now).

But if those women were just signaling, their productivities are about the same and yet their wages are way higher.  Are they now massively overpaid?  That hardly seems possible — when will the en masse firing begin?

Alternatively, perhaps the women were considerably underpaid in 1963, because their lack of interest in educational signaling branded them as lower quality workers.  (Again, this has to be an effect net of discrimination.)  But why would that have been a rational inference for employers to make?  If a woman didn’t go to college or graduate school back in 1963, there were plenty of obvious sociological reasons why not, and it didn’t much signal low intelligence or low conscientiousness.  It shouldn’t have lowered wages, not in the signaling model.  So in 1963 there was a discrimination-based underpayment, but it is hard to argue for a signaling-based underpayment to women as a class.

You also might think that female wages have gone up since 1963 because women have been socialized to desire work and money more.  But if that socialization raises productivity, it still won’t support a signaling story, which treats productivity as fixed due to type.  Furthermore then the door is open for socialization theories of education, even if college is not the only source of socialization.

So why then have net-of-discrimination female wages gone up so much, if not for the human capital story?

You will note that the signaling theory seems most plausible as an explanation of what happens right after people get out of college, and thus it appeals to many students and also to some academics.  Signaling theories of wages are least plausible as they try to explain broad patterns of wage movements over time, and then you must bring in human capital considerations.  In similar fashion, signaling theories won’t explain the relative wage stagnation since 1999 and many other longer-term puzzles; they just don’t play in this arena.

Here are some data on female wages and labor supply over this period.

Addendum: Bryan Caplan refers me to this piece of his on related issues.  And here is my Econ Duel with Alex on education and signaling.

Group selection bleg

by on September 2, 2016 at 12:56 pm in Books, Education, History, Science | Permalink

What are the best arguments for and against explanations relying on the concept of group selection?  I would like to read more in this area, your suggestions are welcome, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks!

Here’s an excellent letter from Don Boudreaux. I admit he had me at the title, Thinking At the Margin: It’s Revolutionary:

…I agree that most people are troubled that the likes of Tom Brady and Jennifer Lawrence earn far higher pay than does any firefighter or school teacher.  But this reality reflects not people’s correct understanding of a failing economy but people’s incorrect understanding of a successful economy.  It reflects also a failure of economists to better teach basic economics to the general public.  So let me ask: would you prefer to live in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is large but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is very tiny, or in a world in which the number of people who can skillfully fight fires and teach children is very tiny but the number of people who can skillfully play sports and act is large?

I’m sure that you’d much prefer to live in a world in which skills at fighting fires and teaching children are more abundant than are skills at playing sports and acting.  Precisely because saving lives and teaching children are indeed far more important on the whole than is entertainment, we are extraordinarily fortunate that the numbers of our fellow human beings who possess the skills and willingness to save lives and to teach children are much greater than are the numbers who can skillfully play sports and act.

The lower pay of fire fighters and school teachers simply reflects the happy reality that we’re blessed with a much larger supply of superb first-responders and educators than we are of superb jocks and thespians.  Were it the other way around, then while we’d be better entertained with more top-flight sporting events and movies, all but the richest amongst us would suffer significantly greater risks of being unable to educate our children and of dying in house fires and from other mishaps.

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

…new evidence on mutual fund managers suggests that the managers from poorer backgrounds beat the performance of wealthier peers. And it’s not a small effect: Managers from families in the bottom quintile of wealth appear to outperform those from families in the top quintile by 2.16 percent a year, in risk-adjusted terms.

That is one result from a new study by Oleg Chuprinin of University of New South Wales Business School and Denis Sosyura at the University of Michigan Business School.

Why might that be?:

Most individuals from less wealthy backgrounds don’t get to be mutual fund managers at all, and so as an entire class they do underperform. But if they do become fund managers, that may indicate superior smarts and hustle and eventually higher returns. Those from wealthier families, in contrast, maybe had to work less hard and be less smart to get those posts, and that may be reflected in their subsequent performance.

This hypothesis is supported by several features of the data.  For instance, the managers from wealthier families had a higher dispersion of returns. In other words, some of them did very, very well but others were lemons. That distribution is a classic sign of a relatively loose quality filter, and on strictly meritocratic grounds some of those managers probably didn’t deserve to be there.

Along those lines, the data show also that the fund managers from the wealthier families were more likely to receive promotions when their returns were subpar. The returns of the managers from the poorer families were much more tightly bunched, which is consistent with the notion that they passed through much tougher quality filters.

There are some relevant caveats, however, so do read the whole thing.

This is from the Telegraph obit:

“However, not many, perhaps, were aware that the serial was commissioned with a serious political purpose: to popularise public choice theory. It is because it succeeded spectacularly that Jay received a knighthood in 1988.”

There are numerous interesting points in the obituary, for instance:

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was said to be a No 1 fan.

For the pointer I thank David Stein.  And here is my earlier Conversation with Margalit Fox, senior obituary writer for The New York Times.

The subtitle is The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, and it is Tim’s best and deepest book.  You’ll be hearing more about it in due time, the publication date is October 4, you can pre-order it here.

No, that is not enlightenment about life, that is enlightenment about Enlightenment, as in the eighteenth century phenomenon.  P., a loyal MR reader, wrote to me with such a request, noting correctly that “I usually find that broad, ambitious survey books are not the answer.”

That survey would be Peter Gay, recently a bestseller in China by the way, and then Ernst Cassirer, Jonathan Israel, and Roy Porter, but let me outline an alternative program of study.  The goal here is to be practical, engaging, and vivid, not comprehensive or scholarly per se:


Geoffrey Clive’s short book The Romantic Enlightenment.

James Boswell, Journals, selected excerpts, he was an early blogger by the way, and David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  I find that to be one of the wittiest of books.  Plus Hume’s Essays.

Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, and Rousseau’s Second Discourse.  Condorcet, Essay on the Progress of the Human Mind.  Voltaire I consider overrated.

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, yes I know it is arguably “anti-Enlightenment,” better yet.  If you insist on another Irishman, Bishop Berkeley is an entertaining writer as well.

Founding documents of the United States, and Ben Franklin, Autobiography.

Kant, Perpetual Peace, “What is Enlightenment?”, and Lessing, Nathan the Wise.

Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments.

If you have the time to tackle longer books, start with Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Boswell’s Life of Johnson and then Casanova and Tristram Shandy (there is by the way a splendid book on the postmodern in the Enlightenment but I can no longer remember the cite).  Leave Montesquieu to the Straussians, although the returns are high if you are so inclined.

For history, read up on eighteenth century scientific societies, Robert Darnton on the rise of publishing and the book trade, Habermas on the coffeehouse debate culture and the public sphere, and Brewer and McKendrick on the rise of consumer society in England.  Try Wikipedia for Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and other rulers of the time.  There is also Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment, and books on 18th century Freemasonry.  The French Revolution seems to require its own blog post, as does the Industrial Revolution, slavery too, in a pinch resort to the MR search function box on this blog.  Foucault will give you a sense of the dark side of the Enlightenment, his history is unreliable but read him on Discipline and Punishment and on ideology try the rather dense The Order of Things.

That all said, I would start with music and the arts first.


Haydn, the London symphonies and late piano sonatas and string quartets Op.76.

Mozart, the major operas, including reading through the libretti while listening.  If you can only do one thing on this list…

Gluck, assorted operas, noting he is not nearly the equal of Haydn or Mozart as a composer but he did capture the spirit of Enlightenment.

C.P.E. Bach, the Prussian Sonatas.


Study French painting from Chardin through David, picture books will do if you can’t visit the original works.  Focus on Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Vigée-Le Brun, Boilly, Hubert Robert, and others, how their works tie into the history of the period and how the styles transformed over time.  Visit Paris, Huntington Gardens, and Tiepolo’s work in the Residenz in Würzburg.  Do a tour of Georgian architecture in England, in a pinch visit the derivative works at Harvard, Yale, and Alexandria, Virginia.  Study Tiepolo more generally, Goya, and also Antonio Canova.



Why not?  I’ll toss up Dangerous Liaisons (Vadim and Malkovich versions), Barry Lyndon, Casanova, Amadeus, A Royal Affair (can’t forget Denmark!), Marie Antoinette, Ridicule, and The Madness of King George.

What did I leave out that is of utmost importance?

Interview with Erik Hurst

by on August 28, 2016 at 12:15 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

From the Richmond Fed, it is excellent and interesting throughout, here is one good bit of many:

EF: Given the wage premium associated with a four-year degree and the availability of education financing, it seems like a real puzzle why more people are not obtaining degrees.

Hurst: I have been thinking a lot about that. What is it that’s causing so many young people, particularly young males, to not obtain skills required to be successful in today’s workforce? I have been working with Mark Aguiar and Kerwin Charles and Mark Bils to try to understand what these people’s lives look like. There’s a budget constraint that still has to hold. They have to eat. What you’re finding is that a lot of them are living in their parents’ basements or their cousin’s basement. So many are relying on family support. And a lot of them just aren’t even working at all. So when you go and take a look at the fraction of people in their 20s who haven’t worked in the prior 12 months in 2015, it’s 20 percent for men with less than a four-year college degree. In 1990, that number was 4 percent. So the first thing we are doing is documenting these facts and trying to find out what their lives look like: how they’re eating, what their living situations are like, what attachment they have to the labor force.

The second part we’re trying to think about is why. What we are considering is whether it’s possible that a leisure lifestyle is easier now in your 20s than it was in the past. In 1980, if you were in your 20s and you weren’t working, you were pretty isolated. You were sitting by yourself. You could watch a few channels on TV but no one else was out there. Now if you’re not working, you could be online on social media or you could be playing videogames in an interactive way, things that make not working more attractive than before. And those videogames and leisure goods generally are relatively cheap compared to what they were in 1980. So when you’re making your choice of working relative to your reservation wage, your reservation wage has gone up some because the outside option of not working is a lot more attractive. So that’s what we’re thinking but I don’t know how we’re going to test it.

Also, eventually these people will get older, of course, and many will have a spouse or kids. When that happens, their income requirements go up and they need jobs, but they probably haven’t been building the type of skills required to get a job. So that’s hard to understand. I have never written a paper before where people were myopic, but the behavior of a lot of people in their 20s now seems myopic.

I wish to suggest a related observation.  If one argues that some percentage of unemployment is “voluntary” in this manner, one is often met with scorn, and with a not entirely accurate redescription of the view, based on a rebuttal that a sudden outbreak of laziness is unlikely.  However if the return to higher education goes up, and the elasticity response is mediocre, sociological explanations are somehow entirely acceptable and perhaps even mandatory.  You might call this Quantity Stickiness for Me But Not For Thee.  It’s a bit like how wage stickiness is an acceptable behavioral postulate but employers’ “firing aversion” is not.

Hat tip goes to Justin Wolfers.